One – the way to a raccoon’s heart
If John and Rodney hadn’t been arguing about who was more badass, Jessica Rabbit or Rocket Raccoon, the whole thing might never have happened. Then again, John reflected as he negotiated the rough track to the Stargate with some difficulty, unable to use his arms to steady himself, if they’d been arguing about Godzilla versus King Kong as they usually did, it’d have been a million times worse.
John couldn’t use his arms for balance because he was carrying Rodney. Or, well, they were pretty sure it was Rodney, even if he did look identical to an Earth-type raccoon. One second Rodney’d been working on the console in the ruined outpost and arguing about animal cartoons with John who was on guard at the entrance, and the next there was a beam of blue-white light and whammo—a dazed-looking raccoon was struggling out of a heap of clothing where Rodney’d been standing.
Ronon had pulled John back to stop him dashing inside. “Ancestor gene triggered,” he’d said. “Stay here, Teyla’ll get him.” John’s protests had gone unheard – Ronon glared him down, and there was no moving Ronon when he thought you were being an idiot.
Teyla emerged holding . . . Rodney? Holding a hissing, disoriented raccoon, anyway.
“John, I—ow!” She glared at the raccoon. “Rodney, I know you are very frightened, but it is not nice to bite.” The raccoon hissed some more and struggled fiercely in her grip, trying to get free.
Ronon released John abruptly and he lurched over to take the animal from Teyla. The last thing they needed was Rodney dashing off into the forest. If raccoons were native to this world, they’d never track him down.
Teyla lost her grip on the wriggling animal and John’s sudden appearance didn’t help. The raccoon jumped free and evaded Ronon’s outstretched hands. John cursed and launched himself after it in a flying tackle but it was too fast and the fluffy, banded tail slipped through his fingers as it dashed into the undergrowth.
“Shit!” spat John, scrambling up onto one knee and knocking mud and twigs off his tac vest and P-90. “We’re never gonna catch him now.”
Ronon had slipped into the trees. Teyla helped John up and brushed leaves from his hair. “I am so sorry, John, but he was remarkably strong and quite difficult to grasp.”
“Not your fault, Teyla. Goddamn ancient tech again. But why in hell’s he a raccoon?”
“That is what you call this animal?” Teyla nodded. “In Pegasus they are called vaskits. They eat plants, berries and small creatures and are known for their intelligence. Children sometimes keep them as pets.”
“Yeah, sounds like raccoons. I guess the Ancients brought some Earth animals to Pegasus, or took Pegasus ones to Earth, or some damn thing.”
“Hey, the vaskit’s up here. I can see him!” Ronon called. John and Teyla jogged into the bushes, to find Ronon standing at the base of a large tree, peering up. “Tracked him here. He’s about twenty lengths up.”
“About thirty feet,” Teyla translated. “What is he doing?”
“Nothing much, he’s on a branch,” Ronon said. “I can see his eyes.”
“D’you think he knows us?” John asked, tilting his head back to peer up into the gloom where the conifer canopy blocked much of the light. He caught a flash of movement, something pale—maybe a tail? He shone his P-90 light up into the branches and two red dots glowed, then vanished.
“He did not appear to respond to me before,” Teyla said, with a helpless shrug. “But he will have been confused after the change.”
“Yeah, probably.” No one knew how this transformation shit worked, but ancient tech generally left people with some memory of who they’d been before, even if they did have an overlay of otherness. When he’d been changing into an Iratus he’d known who he was for several days, but the bug instincts had gotten inexorably stronger and John knew he’d have lost himself in the end. This was different though, more like the instant genetic rewrite the ascension machine had given Rodney, so Christ knew what was going on.
“Guess we’ll have to wait ’til he calms down and hope Rodney’s still in there,” John said. “At least the trees are spread out enough I doubt he can jump to the next one.”
“That is true,” Teyla said. She touched his arm. “Come, we will rest, and have tea.”
Ronon began gathering branches for a fire and John divested himself of his bulkier gear so as to move quickly if Rodney made a run for it. He tried not to let his fears show. What if they never got Rodney back? What if he got eaten by a predator before they could catch him? What if they got him back and he stayed a raccoon? He shook the worries off and hunkered down at the foot of Rodney’s tree to wait, cocking his head back at intervals to reassure himself with a glimpse of banded tail.
“John.” Teyla fitted his hand around the handle of an aluminum mug filled with tea. He nodded his thanks. It had been ten, maybe fifteen minutes and his neck was getting sore from being craned back so much. John blew on the tea and took a sip, then rolled his head to ease the sore muscles.
“Food might do it,” Ronon said abruptly. “If he’s still McKay.”
“Yeah, good point,” John said. “And even if he’s thinking more like a raccoon it might work. That and curiosity.” He poked in his tac vest and found a couple of Rodney’s favorite Power Bars. Then he frowned and discarded the chocolate one. It was poisonous for dogs, so maybe chocolate was no good for raccoons either. Oatmeal cranberry—that ought to be okay. Teyla had also located a couple of bars as well. “Not the chocolate ones,” John said. “Might make him sick.” She nodded and put one away.
Ronon snorted. “McKay never worried about making himself sick on them before.”
“Yeah, but he’s a lot smaller now, and his metabolism’s different,” John said.
“You are well-versed in animal lore.” Teyla smiled kindly.
“Not really. I like animals, though. Used to have a dog when I was a kid, and we had horses.”
“Let us hope he will respond to you,” Teyla said, looking upwards again. “I believe that you have the best chance of reassuring him.”
“Sure hope so.” John unwrapped the oatmeal bar and stood under Rodney’s tree. “Hey, buddy,” he called. “Got a snack here for you. Nice oatmeal cranberry Power Bar. C’mon—you must be getting a bit peckish by now. Can’t have you dizzy from hypoglycemia when you’re up a tree, right?” He kneeled and sat back on his heels so as to leap up more easily, then held up the unwrapped bar and waved it at the scrap of striped tail he could see moving. “C’mon, Rodney. I’ll just sit here and you can come and get lunch.”
Nothing happened for about five minutes, then the raccoon edged down the tree tail first, legs splayed wide, clawed feet clutching the trunk. When it reached the lowest branch it turned and paused, then crept down head first, stopping about three yards up, nose raised, testing the air, bright dark eyes fixed on the Power Bar in John’s hand.
They all sat very still and John kept up a quiet litany of “C’mon, buddy” and “No one’s gonna hurt you,” and “Come get dinner, Rodney.” When he said Rodney’s name, the raccoon shifted his attention briefly from the power bar to John, and John bit his lip, suddenly sure Rodney really was in there.
Still cautious, the raccoon paused at the base of the tree, sitting up on his haunches, nose twitching and pointed at the food. “Yeah, that’s right,” John said softly. “Come on, Rodney, it’s okay.”
He laid the unwrapped bar down and Rodney dropped onto all fours and edged closer, until he was able to reach the Power Bar. He picked it up daintily and held it in his paws, gnawing at the end with sharp teeth.
Still talking quiet, reassuring nonsense, John leaned in closer. “You got some nice fur there, buddy. Soft and silky, y’know? I’m just gonna give you a little stroke, okay? Nothing to get alarmed about.” The raccoon made a soft chattering noise, slightly muffled by a mouth full of Power Bar.
“Still like talking with your mouth full, huh?” John said, grinning. He stroked a finger gently down the raccoon’s head—no, he should call him Rodney, ’cause this was definitely Rodney in some form. Rodney’s eyes shut briefly, then he chattered some more. He didn’t sound upset, just conversational.
“Uh huh,” John said. “Guess you can say anything you want now and we won’t know what you’re on about.” The raccoon chattered more loudly, a beady look of amusement in his eye. “Yeah,” John said. “So what’s new, right? I hear you, buddy.” The raccoon bared his teeth in what might have been a grin. If raccoons grinned, which John was pretty sure they didn’t. But then, this wasn’t really a raccoon.
“You speak vaskit?” Ronon asked, his voice a soft rumble.
“Nah,” John said. “But I speak Rodney.”
Two – office hours
The infirmary was a disaster. Radek watched from the doorway with Ronon and Teyla as Rodney erupted into snarls and hisses at the very sight of Carson. Probably Rodney was upset at the prospect of human-sized needles, Radek thought— he was not very fond of them himself. Rodney got away from Colonel Sheppard and it took two hours and some tinned shrimp to coax him out from under one of the pharmacy shelving units.
Eventually, after everything had calmed down, Rodney let Dr. Garcia, a zoologist, check him over.
“Is better, anyway,” Radek said to the Colonel who was standing by the lab table on which Garcia was listening to Rodney’s belly with a stethoscope. Rodney didn’t like Colonel Sheppard to be too far away, especially when he was nervous, like now. Radek saw that the Colonel kept a hand on him, stroking his back soothingly, and Radek could see the small body quivering under his touch. “What Carson knows about health of raccoons could be written on a postage stamp. On a microdot.” Radek shrugged. “Garcia, he trusts. I even heard him say once that Garcia was ‘not a complete moron.’”
Garcia grinned. “High praise,” he said. “May I see your teeth please, Dr. McKay?”
Rodney hesitated, then opened his jaws wide, letting Garcia peer inside. “Very good, thank you,” Garcia said, and stepped back. “Well, he’s not keen to have a blood test so we’ll forgo that, but as far as I can tell he’s a perfectly healthy raccoon.”
The Colonel nodded, seeming relieved. Rodney sat up and chattered in an annoyed manner. Colonel Sheppard got out half a gnawed Power Bar and passed it over, and he lay down with it clasped between his front paws, chewing away happily. “I think he said he was on the verge of hypoglycemia and you’re an idiot,” the Colonel said apologetically.
Garcia sighed, long suffering. “Yes, yes, but I am his doctor for now, so don’t let him live on Power Bars alone. Nuts, a little dried fruit, greens, crustaceans. Half an egg now and then. Not too much sweet stuff and no cheese or chocolate. Absolutely no coffee.”
Rodney made a rude farting noise and bared his teeth.
“Sorry, doc, he’s had a trying day,” Colonel Sheppard said, scooping him up. Rodney nestled sullenly in his arms, clutching the remains of his snack and chattering angrily under his breath.
“Haven’t we all,” Garcia agreed. “Call me any time, Colonel.”
Radek accompanied them back toward the administrative section. “I will see the kitchen staff and get you some supplies,” he promised.
Rodney yawned widely, sprawled in the Colonel’s arms. The Colonel nodded. “Thanks, Radek. We’ll chill out in my office for a while—there’s some paperwork I should get onto, anyway.”
Radek enlisted Teyla’s aid and they packed a couple of boxes with supplies – a blanket-filled crate in case Rodney could be induced to sleep anywhere instead of on top of Atlantis’s military commander, a bag of the Pegasus spinach called yalla, peanuts and currants, and more tinned shrimp. Ronon was setting up a dirt box in the Colonel’s bathroom, using shredded bark provided by Dr. Parrish.
After leaving the supplies in the Colonel’s room, Radek made his way back to Colonel Sheppard’s office. Major Lorne was in the outer room, working on his laptop. He looked up. “Hi, doc.”
“Just to say that I and Ronon and Teyla have set up the Colonel’s room,” Radek reported.
“Great, thanks.” Lorne chewed on his lip. “You got any idea how to . . . fix this?”
Radek shrugged. “Is some damned ancient device, of course. I have a team searching the database, but . . .”
“Yeah,” Lorne said, looking glum. They all knew how that went: slowly and largely unproductively. It was the key area—other than their mania for ascension, which Radek would never understand—where the Ancients were at their most alien. There seemed no organising principle to the database, and yet he knew there must be. It was a mystery, and a source of considerable frustration.
“We must hope the effect is temporary.” Radek nodded at the inner office. “They are all right? The Colonel was planning to deal with some paperwork.”
Lorne smirked and gestured with a thumb. “Take a look.”
Radek poked his head inside. Colonel Sheppard was lying back, his chair fully reclined, boots up on the desk. Rodney was flopped on his chest, legs hanging down. They were both snoring.
“A productive afternoon, I see,” Radek said, failing to suppress a smile.
The Major rolled his eyes. “He’ll do anything to escape reading Performance Reviews.”
“Indeed,” Radek said. “Even change into a raccoon.”
They both grinned.
Three – leadership
Rodney wasn’t an early riser as a raccoon, so most mornings John was able to transfer him to his sleeping crate, curled up in a ball, and go for his usual run with Ronon.
After the run, John took a shower while Rodney used his dirt box and had a good scratch, grooming himself and chasing imaginary fleas. Atlantis wasn’t plagued by that sort of insect life, being low on soft furnishings and animal free—other than one raccoon, some Pegasus critters in Xenobiology, and Carson’s mice.
Cockroaches, on the other hand, seemed impossible to eradicate. Dr. Yeung from entomology said they came in with the supplies from the Daedalus. Space roaches, thought John, shaving carefully under his jaw. Still, they were a source of amusement and nourishment for Rodney, who was prone to suddenly dive under cupboards or behind furniture and emerge, antennae sticking out the corners of his mouth as he crunched happily away. The kitchen staff were delighted to have Rodney patrol the storage pantries every day, and slipped him treats like walnuts or bits of dried apricot.
John wiped the soap away and leaned on the vanity, inspecting himself in the mirror. He smirked: he was so going to give Rodney hell later for eating roaches like that dude Igor, Frankenstein’s sidekick, once Rodney was . . .
He dropped his head and grimaced. He wanted so badly to believe Rodney was going to change back, but it had been a week and no dice with the database, and Rodney was still way too furry. He sighed and splashed water on his face. “C’mon, buddy, let’s go get breakfast.”
Everyone was used to the team’s table now sporting a raccoon, chewing on a chunk of hard boiled egg and trying—without success—to steal Ronon’s bacon. Teyla gave Rodney several raisins and sprinkled the rest on her yoghurt.
They were off the mission roster for now and Ronon and Teyla had picked up some additional training sessions with the newer Marines. John largely hung out with Rodney while Lorne handled his administrative duties, so no change there.
After breakfast, Rodney trotted purposefully off toward the labs, stopping to check out a promising crevice behind an empty potted plant holder on the way while John leaned on the wall and teased him. He gave Rodney a lift up the stairs, and carried him into the main physics lab, as Rodney liked to be at least chest height to his minions, the better to dress them down when he was displeased.
Today he wanted to check out something Dr. Tennison was working on. Tennison was a new guy John had barely met, who’d filled up a whiteboard with calculations that John thought were something do with the city’s shield. John held Rodney up to the whiteboard while Tennison talked them through his theory, glancing down at Rodney in disbelief from time to time as though he couldn’t quite believe he was presenting his work to a raccoon.
Toward the end of Tennison’s spiel Rodney stiffened and growled, then chattered loudly. He waved a paw demandingly and John got him a marker pen. The first time Rodney’d scrawled calculations on a whiteboard it’d felt like a miracle, confirmation for any doubting Thomases that this was indeed Dr. Rodney McKay. His math seemed intact, but he never wrote words and seemed to prefer raccoon lingo to drawing pictures or signs. It was okay; John could mostly get his drift.
Now, Rodney slashed a line through a series of offensive symbols, snarling and hissing. John peered at them. “Oh yeah, see,” he said to Tennison. “That one there, that should’ve been base 8. Dunno why, but the Ancients did everything in base eight.”
Rodney reared up in agreement, spitting and hissing and then threw the marker at Tennison who’d backed away, alarmed. “No, see, that’s just rude, McKay. I’m not gonna translate that for you,” John said. He made a face at Tennison. “Sorry, doc. Rodney gets very . . . excited about math errors.” Rodney chittered furiously and bared his fangs at Tennison. “Yeah, yeah, we know it could kill us all, we get it,” John said placatingly.
Radek appeared. “I think that is enough constructive criticism for one morning,” he said. “I will ensure Dr. Tennison does not make such a mistake again.”
Rodney made a derisive hissing noise, and John figured he didn’t need to translate that one. He backed toward the door, leaving Radek to comfort Tennison. “Okay, we’ll just go see how the botanists are . . . um, so long.” Rodney was fond of botany these days. There was little risk of bad math, and they often had berries for him.
Botany started out okay—they didn’t have any berries, but Dr. Pollard slipped Rodney a few cashews and Parrish lulled him to sleep with a report on the new hydroponic nutrient mix they were trying for the tomatoes. So Rodney had a nap, and John nodded and smiled, and it should have been plain sailing, until the thing with Katie Brown.
Maybe it was John’s fault, a little. He knew Rodney was grouchy right after being woken up, and he probably should’ve fended her off, but she thought Rodney was cute, and he was cute, sure, but he was still Rodney.
“Who da fluffy boy?” Katie cooed, patting Rodney, who was blinking irritably.
John could tell Rodney was pissed. “Uh, maybe you better not–”
Katie ignored him, chucking Rodney under the chin as she beamed up at John. “He’s so much nicer like th–”, which was when Rodney bit her.
“It’s not like he’s rabid,” John said apologetically the next morning at Senior Staff. “And, I mean, she was being kinda rude, y’know.” Standing up in his lap, forepaws braced on the table, Rodney growled agreement.
“Even so,” Elizabeth said, frowning. “We can’t have him–”
“Yeah, yeah, we got a new rule,” John said hastily. “No biting. Right, buddy?” Rodney hissed, clearly reserving judgement.
“People must learn that Rodney is not a pet,” Teyla said earnestly.
“Pissed as a vaskit,” Ronon said. “It’s what people say.” He grinned at Rodney, who was grumbling under his breath. “Suits McKay.”
Elizabeth sighed, and turned to Radek. “And are we any further ahead?”
Radek shrugged apologetically. “The database has not offered up its secrets, no.”
“You don’t think another trip to the planet would help?”
Radek shook his head. “Device is non-functional—changing Rodney was its last hurrah. Is dead now, and there are no inscriptions on the walls. The crystals are fused and we cannot extract any information from them.”
Rodney hopped up onto the table and began to groom his nether regions.
“I’ll take that as a sign to move on to the next agenda item,” Elizabeth said dryly. “Major Lorne, you want to run some training exercises on the mainland?”
After the meeting, John sat Rodney down on his desk. “We gotta have a talk, buddy,” he said. “No biting the scientists, okay?” Rodney sniffed derisively. “Yeah, I know they can be annoying, and I’ll try to stop them molesting you, but no biting them. Or my Marines, or anyone.” Rodney fixed him with a beady glare. “Well yeah, okay, you can bite Kolya if we run into him. Or Lucius.”
Rodney managed an eye roll and chattered angrily.
John sighed. “Yeah, well I know it’s kind of boring being cooped up here, but you know we can’t go on missions until this is . . . sorted.”
Rodney gazed up at him sadly, and John’s throat tightened.
“It’ll be okay, buddy, you’ll see. Hang in there.”
Rodney pawed at John’s breast pocket. John fished out the remains of a Power Bar he’d stashed there. “One day at a time, buddy. One day at a time.”
Rodney sighed, then grabbed the bar from him and hunkered down, chewing.
Four – seize the day
The alarm woke them at three a.m. and John lurched upright, causing a startled Rodney to fall off him and bounce on the bed. Rodney’d taken to sleeping draped over John at night, which led to a lot of drowsy grumbling on both their parts whenever John changed position.
John snatched up his radio, already shoving his feet into his boots—left unlaced for that purpose. He was just wearing sweats and his old sleeping tee, but it’d do.
Chuck cut in. “Dr. Zelenka says there’s a power system overload in the East Pier circuit. He’s in the ZPM room trying to re-route it centrally, but can you get Dr. McKay, er, that is, if you think he–”
“On it,” John said. “The East Pier switching room?”
“Yes,” Chuck said. “Dr. Z says it’s urgent. It could go any–”
“On our way,” John said, and grabbed Rodney, thinking open at the door as he charged out.
“Power overload, East Pier,” he gasped as he ran. Rodney couldn’t wear a radio so he’d been out of the loop in the three weeks he’d been a raccoon. “Radek’s in the ZPM room. We gotta get to the East Pier switching room before it blows.”
Rodney chattered angrily in his arms.
“Going as fast as I can, buddy,” John panted, “and no, it wouldn’t be quicker just to let you run. You’re gonna need my help opening the door when we get there.” Four legs might be quicker for short sprints, but no way was John letting Rodney charge off into danger by himself.
The switching room door slid back on John’s command as they approached, and he sensed where the fault was immediately, a dead core inside a nexus of rapidly building wrongness. He skidded to a stop, pulled out the relevant crystal rack and then pushed over a bench so Rodney could get at it.
The dead crystal was obvious, cracked and dull, not glowing like the others. The rest were glowing too brightly, and pulsing. It did something bad to his head, made his brain hurt.
“Shit,” John said, dry mouthed, his heart pounding. “I didn’t bring your tool bag or laptop. Do you need me to get–” But there was no time to go back, and the tools and spare parts weren’t even in John’s bedroom. They were in Rodney’s room, which was further away.
Rodney flapped a paw in negation, and God, it was such a Rodney gesture. He made criss-crossing motions with his forearms.
“You can swap them?” Rodney nodded. He tapped a glowing crystal on the outer rim with his claw and peered up at John, intent. “That one? I should pull it? It’s not gonna fry me?” One paw rotated impatiently in Rodney’s usual for fuck’s sake get on with it gesture. John leaned over and carefully pulled the crystal. It went dark as soon as it came free of the housing but the pulsing overload pressure in John’s head didn’t change. Rodney made grabby hands motions and took the crystal he’d pulled from him, holding it in both paws. He pointed his quivering nose at a crystal further in, near the dead one. It wasn’t obviously broken but it was pulsing a lot faster than the others.
“That one as well?” Rodney hissed angrily, nodding. John reached in and touched it gingerly. He hated working with live crystals—too many shocks across the years. This one made his fingers tingle but once again there was no jolt of current. He pulled it and set it aside. Rodney indicated another crystal on the outer rim, and John extracted that. Rodney placed the crystal he was holding into the free slot and tapped it gently. It slid home and lit up. He took the other crystal from John and pointed at the dead one with his nose. John reached over and pulled it.
The radio crackled. “Colonel Sheppard, this is Radek. I am about to disengage the ZPM.”
It was the safest thing, but it meant a city-wide power cut. No cloak, no shield, and a whole lot of experiments ruined. John had been leaning in very close to Rodney, who’d overheard. He chattered loudly, clearly disagreeing.
“Hang on, Radek. Rodney’s got it covered. He’s inserting the last crystal now.” John sure as hell hoped Rodney did have it covered, anyway. The pressure in his head was worse and he didn’t think they had more than a minute before the room blew.
Rodney slid the final crystal into the slot where the dud had been but nothing happened. He growled and tapped it sharply and it lit up. Instantly the pressure in John’s head subsided and the whole rack of crystals faded from blinding blue-white to the usual soft blue.
“Colonel? Good work. Grid has stabilised, thank you.”
“Thank Rodney, not me,” John said. “He’s the one who knew what to do.”
Suddenly exhausted, he slid down to the ground, his back to the smooth, cool wall. Rodney peered down at him, then jumped onto his stomach, making John oof out a breath.
“Colonel? You are all right?”
“Yeah, Radek, we’re fine, just a bit shaky. Well, I am. Rodney’s looking very bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Literally.”
“Yes, yes, and I will never hear the end of how even as a raccoon, he is smarter than me. Something to look forward to.” Radek sighed. “I will come now with spare crystals and finish the repairs there. Radek out.”
Rodney was grooming himself with a decidedly smug air. John stroked his head. “You did good, lil’ buddy. Saved the day.” Rodney gave him a sardonic look. “Yeah, yeah, again,” John added. Rodney chirruped cheerfully and went back to his grooming.
They got back to bed just before dawn and crashed out until noon, curled up together with John spooned around Rodney’s small, warm form. No one disturbed them. Once they were up, they touched base with Elizabeth who’d already heard all about it from Zelenka. Teyla was visiting the Athosians on the mainland and Ronon had gone with her, so they had a leisurely brunch, sharing a table. A few people dropped by to bring Rodney a treat and he’d stuffed himself by the time John figured he’d better get him out of there before Rodney exploded.
“Reckon we could both do with a break,” John said. “C’mon, let’s go for a spin.”
In the Jumper Bay, he radioed Lorne. “Rodney wants to check out the repairs Radek did on Jumper Five. I thought we’d take a little test drive.”
“Copy that, sir.” Lorne’s voice was amused. “Have fun. Lorne out.”
They did have fun. After the tension of the night before, it was good to be soaring free, the jumper responding to his every thought.
Once they were in orbit, Rodney wanted to try piloting. “Think you can fly in a straight line?” John teased him, grinning. Rodney hissed at him, annoyed.
In fact, Rodney couldn’t fly at all—he didn’t have the gene, as a raccoon. He moped for a while, but John got him to hold his paws up like he was using a steering wheel so as to tell John where to take them, and that worked, Rodney chattering excitedly as he waved his forearms to and fro and veered them left and right, the bright stars wheeling around them as they flew.
That night was Movie Night with Teyla and Ronon, and of course Rodney insisted on watching Over the Hedge, slumped back against the couch with a small pile of popcorn on his furry belly, squeaking derisively.
“You spoil him,” Teyla observed, smiling.
“Yeah, I know,” John said ruefully. “He’s just so damn cute like this.”
“You do not usually find him cute?” John shot her a look and she grinned impishly. “I am not asking,” she said, turning back to the movie.
He thought about that later, when Rodney was a warm sleeping weight draped over him in bed. It seemed like bad luck to imagine Rodney as Rodney, now they were in the fourth week of him being stuck as a raccoon. Rodney was cute like this, yes, but John would give anything to have him back in human form. Hell, he could always get a real vaskit as a pet.
John wanted his friend back.
Five – be careful what you wish for
John struggled awake from a dream of being crushed by a rock fall, to find a heavy human being sacked out on top of him. Still half asleep, he flailed and struggled. There was a thump, groans and protests, and John peered over the side of the bed to find Rodney sitting naked on the floor, cursing and rubbing his elbow.
“Thanks very much for the rude awakening, Sheppard!”
“In every sense,” John said, grinning. “Welcome back.”
“Stop smirking and get me some clothes, you, you voyeur. Just because I’ve lost my fur coat . . .”
“And a very nice fur coat it was, too,” John said, grabbing a tee and sweats from his wardrobe and throwing them to Rodney. “I’m gonna miss that fluffy tail.”
“Oh ha ha, very amusing.” Rodney wriggled awkwardly into the sweats on the floor, keeping the bed between him and John. He stood to pull on the t-shirt then scrubbed his hands through his hair, which was sticking up every which way. “Eugh. I haven’t showered in four weeks.”
“You didn’t smell bad as a raccoon,” John said, unable to take his eyes off Rodney’s solid, undeniably human form. “Just, y’know, like a raccoon.”
“God, I’m probably covered in raccoon spit or something,” Rodney moaned. “What time is it?”
John glanced at the clock. “ ’bout 6am.”
“Right, well, um, thanks. I’ll just . . .” Rodney made his familiar finger twirling gesture, then the door swished open and shut again, and he was gone.
John stood there a while longer, trying to figure out why he felt weird. They had Rodney back as Rodney, and that was great. It was what he’d wanted, wasn’t it? He looked at the clock again. No point trying to sleep now, so he might as well see if Ronon wanted to start their run earlier.
He barely saw Rodney for the next few days, except at Senior Staff, where Rodney expostulated at length about the extensive idiocies his underlings had perpetrated while he was in raccoon mode, and lamented that no one brought him treats any more.
Radek grimaced. “Is tempting to bribe you to shut up, Rodney, but rewarding bad behavior is not good policy in the long run.”
“At least I can drink coffee again,” Rodney said smugly, burying his nose in his travel mug.
Carson pursed his lips. “You’d be well advised to use the fact that you’ve had none for a month to cut back a wee bit, Rodney. Your blood pressure’d thank you.”
“Jeez, you’re such a bunch of killjoys. Give me a break – I’ve only been human for a couple of days!”
“That is a matter of opinion,” muttered Radek.
The truth was, John missed Rodney. Missed the contact, the trusting way Rodney had let himself be held and stroked. Missed his chirruping and chattering and the beady-eyed looks of shared amusement. Missed having the small warm body curled up with him at night or draped over him, snoring. Everything had been fucked up, sure, but in some ways it had been simpler.
Ronon and Teyla noticed, after a few days. “You okay?” Ronon asked one morning, when they were cooling down after a run.
“Yeah, just . . .” John waved a hand. “Takes some getting used to.”
Ronon grunted. “He was easier to take as a vaskit. Less mouthy.”
“Mmm,” John said noncommittally, but it wasn’t the mouthiness, he liked that about Rodney, always had.
“It is natural to miss him, John,” Teyla said, as they warmed up for bantos practice. “Vaskits are lovable, as long as they can be trained not to bite.”
“Y’know, I don’t think he’d be thrilled that I liked him better as a raccoon,” John said ruefully, pushing down in a hamstring stretch.
“I doubt it is that simple,” Teyla said. “As a raccoon, some things were . . . permitted, which had not been before.”
“Uh . . .” John said, flushing, pretending to focus on his triceps.
“He is still your friend, John. Talk to him.”
“Yeah, I was afraid you were gonna say that,” John said gloomily, and raised his sticks.
In the end he wimped out, and didn’t so much try to talk with Rodney as lure him in. They’d both been busy—Lorne was far less accommodating about the paperwork now John didn’t have vaskit-sitting as an excuse—but they saw each other at meetings, sometimes at meals, and the team were back on the mission roster again from next week.
Things were the same as before, except for how they weren’t. Rodney was quieter, and John sometimes caught him studying him when he thought John wasn’t looking. He always flushed and looked away when that happened, changing the subject. John was a little better at covert ops and he tried not to let Rodney catch him doing the same, but sometimes he slipped up. So, yeah. Awkward.
He’d hoped he’d get over it, hoped as the days passed that he’d stop missing the warm weight of Rodney in his arms, the softness of his fur, the contented chirrups he’d made when John stroked him. He didn’t get over it—if anything, it got worse.
Finally, one night when John knew Rodney was working late in the labs, he waited until all the sensible people had gone to bed, then left three raisins outside Rodney’s door. He left another raisin a couple of yards away, then another by the wall at the hallway junction, and so on every few yards, all the way to John’s room. Rodney might not notice them at all, and John could plausibly deny any involvement if need be, but one thing Rodney’d retained from his time on four legs was a fondness for raisins, and John figured there was an even chance he’d notice the ones outside his door.
He went to bed and read himself to sleep with a particularly tedious passage from War and Peace, only to be woken from fitful dreams by his door swishing open. John rubbed his eyes and brought the lights up halfway.
Rodney bounced a handful of raisins in one palm. “I’m not planning to eat these, you know. I don’t have the cast-iron digestive system I had as a raccoon and these definitely fail the five second rule.” He put the pile of raisins on John’s desk.
“Rodney,” John said drowsily, sitting up.
“John,” Rodney replied. He looked at John, face for once unreadable. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, I . . .” John pushed the covers back and got up, standing awkwardly. “Beer?”
“It’s three a.m.” Rodney pointed out.
“Yeah,” John said.
“Yes, okay,” Rodney said, and plonked himself down on the side of John’s bed, rubbing his face. “I’ve been trying to crack the goddamn database again. There must be a way to figure out how the bastards organised it.”
“Base eight,” John said, and handed him a bottle, sitting down on the bed beside him and taking a long swallow.
“Oh well, that goes without saying,” Rodney agreed. “But then what? We’ve tried numeric, alphabetic, likely topic headings based on everything we’re learned about the Ancients across the years. None of it works. There’s no in-built search function so we had to program our own, but we don’t know the main organizing principles, so–”
“Probably in code,” John said, yawning.
“Yes of course, but they had their own programming languages; they didn’t use C++ or Java. And anyway we cracked all their programming languages a year ago, and still no joy.”
John had another drink and wiped his mouth. “No, I meant like World War II. Bletchley Park, Alan Turing and all that. The Ancients were at war and they had to leave the city behind. Even submerged, she was a risk. They didn’t want the Wraith to follow them.”
“Jesus,” Rodney said, mouth open, staring at nothing. He put the bottle down and started to get up.
John grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Fuck’s sake, Rodney, we’ve managed for years chipping away at the damn thing. It’ll wait ’til the morning.”
Rodney looked down at John’s hand on his arm, then up at John, questioningly.
John let go and huffed out a breath. “Yeah, well. I . . . I just wanted to. Look, I’ve missed you.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed. “Missed me or missed your pet raccoon?”
“You weren’t ever a pet! Jeez, Rodney, you re-routed the crystals and saved the damn city.”
Rodney sighed. “Yeah, slightly more sophisticated than Lassie, I grant you, but I kind of was.” He picked at the bedcover. When he spoke again, John could barely hear him. “I liked it.”
“Yeah?” John couldn’t keep the hope out of his voice.
Rodney glared at him. “If one more person tells me I was a lot nicer as a raccoon, I swear to God I’ll bite them. So watch it.”
John grinned. “You were feisty; I liked that.”
Rodney cracked a faint smile. “What else did you like? And don’t say the lack of backchat or I’m out of here.”
“Nah. You communicate pretty clearly, whatever form you’re in.” John drained his beer bottle and set it aside, then looked down at his hands. “I liked that you trusted me to look after you. I liked touching you.”
Rodney was silent for a while. “I still do. Trust you to look after me, I mean.” He finished his beer and threw the empty into the bin under John’s desk. “And I liked the touching, too.”
John turned, and Rodney was staring at him, blue eyes wide. He reached out and slid his hand behind Rodney’s head, into his hair. It was soft—not quite as soft as Rodney’s fur had been as a raccoon, but it felt good.
He pulled Rodney in and kissed him, tentatively at first, then letting Rodney feel his longing, his loneliness, and how much John wanted him. John pulled him down onto the bed and held him and touched him and stroked him all over, and Rodney held him back, and touched him back, and that was new, and God, it was wonderful.
After, they lay curled together, like they had when Rodney’d been small and furry. “You used to purr,” John said. “I didn’t know raccoons purred.”
Rodney grinned sleepily. “If I could, I’d be purring now.” He rubbed his face against John’s shoulder.
John played with Rodney’s chest hair, carding it through his fingers, and Rodney looked down, his face wry. “Yeah, not so furry now, am I? We’ll have to be more creative in catering to your kink.”
“ ’s not a kink,” John mumbled, rubbing his nose in Rodney’s chest hair. “It was just so soft, and your tail was epic.”
“It is so a kink, you giant dork, and that’s fine. I can wear fur, or velvet, or whatever turns you on.”
John shivered and felt his cock stir. “Yeah, okay, maybe sometimes,” he muttered, kissing Rodney’s chest. “What would you like?”
“Just hold me,” Rodney said softly. “I really liked being held.”
“C’mere,” John said, pushing Rodney over and spooning up behind. He settled his arm protectively around his waist and pulled him close, his nose in Rodney’s hair. Mmm, soft.
“G’night,” he whispered.
Rodney sighed and relaxed back into him. “Night, John.”
- the end -