Elizabeth slid her tray onto the mess table across from John and gave him one of her patented Looks. John gazed lovingly at his plate as though baked tava beans on toast was the most interesting dish on the planet. In the galaxy. Yum, tava beans in sauce, so fascinating. He risked a quick peek up from beneath his lashes: it wasn’t working. His grip tightened on his spork; he knew that look and it always meant she wanted him to do something.
She cleared her throat delicately. “So, how do you think Rodney’s doing, John?”
How did he think McKay was? What sort of question was that? McKay was McKay: obsessive, brilliant, a pain in the ass, wrong about flux capacitors. Fucked, of course, they were all pretty fucked after endless crises, near-death experiences, the Wraith, more crises, blowing up most of a solar system, the Wraith, the Genii, being turned into a bug, almost drowning in a puddlejumper. Okay, so the drowning thing had been real tough on Rodney and he wasn’t nearly over it; John’d had to chivvy him into the shower when he’d gotten kinda whiffy, but…
“John?” Elizabeth was squinting at him, brow creased in a worried frown. He took a calming breath and straightened the spork back out. Goddam cheap-ass military flatware.
“Um…as well as can be expected?” He wasn’t Heightmeyer, for Christ’s sake.
“You don’t think he needs a break?”
Well of course Rodney needed a break; they all needed a goddam break! He rolled his eyes, even though doing it to Elizabeth made him feel all of fourteen and facing Miss Goldberg his favorite homeroom teacher. But he’d had a crush on Miss Goldberg and he didn’t have one on Elizabeth. Not much of one, anyway. Only when she told him off, but he didn’t think she’d seen him readjust his pants during the dressing down after the nanovirus quarantine fuck-up.
Crap, she was looking more than worried now. Positively concerned. Sympathetic, even. He was fine, she didn’t need to look at him like that. Rodney was fine too, or he would be. “Yeah, he could do with a break, but you know what he’s like, he’s a workaholic. No-one can get through to him, he just lives in the damn lab. It’s how he copes.”
Elizabeth nodded and took a sip of some sort of herbal tea. Better her than John; it smelled like a damp dog. “I’m worried about him, John. Can you try and persuade him to take a little leave? Anything - a trip back to Earth, a couple of weeks on that spa planet, whatever he wants.”
Yeah, good luck with that, McKay was the most stubborn…John sighed. “I already tried, but I’ll ask him again. He thinks the city’ll implode if he goes away. Hell, maybe she will for all I know.” He rubbed his temples, the ghost of a headache lurking beneath tense scalp muscles.
“I think we’ll survive, Radek’s very competent.” They stared bleakly at each other for a moment, he could use a break too floating unspoken between them. Elizabeth shot him a wry smile and shrugged. Yeah. “You could use some downtime yourself,” she said softly. Right back atcha.
He drank his coffee; it was lukewarm and not a patch on the good stuff Rodney hoarded in his quarters. “Yeah, well…” he said, looking off out the windows where it was another beautiful morning in the Pegasus galaxy. He wondered what would try to kill them today.
Elizabeth sighed again. “Just try to persuade him, okay, John?”
There was no off-world mission scheduled. Ronon was recuperating from a sprained ankle so John, scheming to get Rodney alone and have another go at him about the leave issue, persuaded the rest of his team to explore one of the closed-off sections of the city. Radek came along as he’d found a database record of something being stored in that sector that sounded interesting. No-one had been sure of the translation though, something about “power to transform” or “power to shift”. Rodney had rolled his eyes and muttered that it was most likely a glorified Ancient forklift, but the prospect of any sort of “power” had sucked him in, even though there were no anomalous readings from the area.
The most promising room was a disused lab with several disassembled objects like miniature remote controls lying around on the benches. None of them initialized though, for Rodney or for John.
“All are broken, or under repair, I think,” Radek murmured, turning one over, fingers delicate on the miniature crystals. “I doubt we can fix without better understanding the purpose. If we can locate in database…” He trailed off, flapping a hand dispiritedly.
Yeah, right, thought John. The database’s search function was irritatingly opaque and its indexing system was a nightmare. They had been chipping away at the more accessible sections in tiny increments but Rodney always bitched that the search software defied the laws of physics. As far as John could tell it was something of a crap-shoot, often returning random records with little connection to the search terms entered.
He circled the room, opening all the cabinets to check for any more artefacts. Nothing but dust and ancient sludge. Sighing, he turned back to start wrapping up the excursion so that they could get back in time for lunch. It was shepherd’s pie, which was usually pretty good even though the mashed tubers were pink. Worth enduring McKay’s predictable digs about him being on the menu, anyway. Last month Rodney had wolfed down forkfuls of the dish, interspersing the words “shepherd’s” and “pie” with orgasmic sex moans. John had had to leave the mess with his jacket clutched strategically in front of his groin.
Trying to think up cool retorts to Rodney’s inevitable puns, he glanced over, only to be greeted by the sight of Rodney’s ass pointed directly at him, BDUs stretched tight over the lush curves as he bent at the waist and scrabbled about under a bench. Jesus, couldn’t McKay bend his knees like a normal person? Did he have to torment John with the sight of his…of those…
“Careful now, McKay,” John rasped, sweat prickling along his spine. “You don’t know what sort of crap might be down there after 10,000 years not to mention the flooding. What the hell are you doing, anyway?”
“Hang on…Colonel…” wheezed Rodney, down on his knees now on the dirt-encrusted floor with one arm thrust in up to his armpit, under the lowest shelf. “Thought I saw something…lit up…almost…”
“Rodney,” John warned, an edge of command in his tone because it just wasn’t safe to be groping about in the muck like that. “Will you quit dicking–”, and he really hadn’t been expecting the flash of bright light, or for Rodney to morph into a man-sized, sandy colored cat, kind of like a puma.
“Mreeeoooow!” yowled the cat – McKay – whatever, and whirled, tendons and muscles flexing smoothly under its coat, lithe in a way that Rodney would never be even if he worked out with Teyla every single day for a century. The cat bent, grabbed a blue glowing thing up from the floor in its teeth, then crouched and leapt up onto the bench, flashed past a stunned Radek in a streak of tan fur and black-tipped tail, and vanished out the door.
“Oookay, that was unexpected,” said John. “And also, what the fuck?”
John surfaced from sleep, not feeling noticeably rested. They had searched the city for hours after McKay had transformed into a feline, but there was no sign of him, and his transmitter hadn’t registered – presumably some side-effect of the transformation. At least he had to be in the city, it being a floating island. Cats hated water, didn’t they? He vaguely recalled some Discovery Channel thing with a black panther swimming a river, but Rodney was kind of phobic about the ocean after his time in the jumper, and he wasn’t a black panther anyway. Jesus. John sat on the side of the bed and rubbed his face tiredly. Sometimes he really hated this galaxy, and the fucking Ancients.
He stood and stretched, then noticed a note on the table, weighted by his miniature golf-bag pen-holder. Huh.
Rise and shine, flyboy.
Meet me on the north
pier by transporter 61 when you
drag your lazy ass out of bed.
The flood of relief took him by surprise and he had to sit back down for a moment to collect himself. Rodney was okay. He must have changed back to his usual form to write this, no way a cat could have held a pen, and that was his usual writing. Bastard had snuck in and left the note, and what was with the cryptic message? Of course McKay could persuade the damn door to open for him, he’d done that plenty of times before, but why did he want John to meet him way out there where there was no-one…right, that was probably why. He should probably call Elizabeth, but he wanted to see Rodney for himself first, and he didn’t want to have to take a bunch of marines and scientists with him. He opened his emails to find a terse message from Rodney to Elizabeth and Zelenka, ccd to his own address.
I’m fine so don’t panic, Sheppard will give you a briefing later today.
Oh great, thanks a bunch for that, Rodney. Now Elizabeth was going to think they were in cahoots. Which he supposed they were. John sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair, then he was up and dressing, not to full mission readiness but definitely taking his thigh-holster and sidearm. They never used that pier so who knew what was out there: best to play it safe.
The transporter door hissed open and he emerged cautiously, scanning the area as rapidly as he could. There was a lot of open space, maybe a landing area, edged by buildings that could be workshops. A soft noise above had him whirling and dropping into a defensive crouch, hand on his weapon. Rodney was sitting on a low roof above the transporter about ten feet off the ground. He was in a T and jeans and was kicking his bare feet nonchalantly.
“Fuck, McKay, don’t do that. And where the fuck have you been?”
Rodney grinned and waved a hand. “Exploring. I’d like to say hunting but there are no rodents in the city so I had to change back in the end and raid my MRE stash. That’s when I left you the note.”
“Yeah, and about that, will you quit hacking my door lock–”
“Yes, yes, whatever. But listen, this is the best fun, it’s amazing.”
“What, being a cat? I knew you were into your creature comforts, McKay, but–”
“It’s way more than that, the cat’s just the start of it. It’s like a guide to animals, like a…a bestiary, you know, like those illustrated medieval texts with the animals – and birds and fish – but instead of just pictures and text it changes you into the animals for the full sensurround experience. I’ve only just scratched the surface, stuck to Earth life-forms, but there are so many in here, it’s kind of overwhelming.” He touched his chest, peering down, then pulled the neck of his T-shirt down to show a glowing blue rectangle embedded just below the top of the sternum. “I was carrying it in my hand – well, mouth – at first, then I saw in the interface that it’s meant to be lodged here, so you don’t lose it. Can’t figure out how to get it off of me now, but that doesn’t matter, I’m still testing its capacities so–”
“Jesus, Rodney, you can’t just mess about with Ancient tech like that without supervision, it could do anything!” John couldn’t stop the stress of the last day, hell, the last year, corroding his voice. “What if you change into a – I don’t know – a goddam alien slime-monster and dissolve the city or some weird shit. Fuck.” He glared up at McKay, squinting into the bright blue sky and getting a crick in his neck. “And will you get the fuck down here already? You’re a pain in the neck alright. Anyway, you’re scared of heights, so how come–”
His jaw dropped as Rodney scrambled to his feet and pulled off his clothes and oh wow, he really hadn’t asked for a strip show this early in the morning even if they did have the pier to themselves. Then the bundle of clothing was tumbling to the deck at his feet and Rodney was gone, vanished in another flash of light and a sparrow was flitting about him, circling his head, then alighting on his raised hand, and somehow, the damn thing was brim full of Rodneyness, from the bright, sharp eye regarding him to the cheeky cock of its head.
He raised his other hand shakily, and stroked down the bird’s – Rodney’s – back very gently. The sparrow cheeped noisily and spread its wings, lifting off John’s hand to flutter about him, talking non-stop all the while, before landing next to the clothes and morphing back into Rodney.
“Yeah, not so bothered by the heights thing now, for obvious reasons, Colonel.” Rodney grinned and then flushed and grabbed up his bundle of clothing, holding it against his groin. “I, er, haven’t quite figured out what to do about my clothes, yet. They don’t seem to make the transition, just get vaporised or something if I’m wearing them. Lost my ‘Gravity Sucks’ T that way, which, let me tell you, I am seriously pissed about.”
“I…” John tried, still feeling stunned. “You–”
“Shit, sorry.” Rodney had a hand on his elbow and was pulling him over to the sun-warmed wall, pushing him down to sit on the metal deck. He knelt down clumsily beside John then sat back beside him, clothes piled in his lap, and leaned back, sighing. “I forget how weird it must be for you to see me change. I’ve been playing with the thing since yesterday so I’m getting almost used to it, well, a little bit anyway, given I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can–”
“You flew…” John couldn’t keep the wonder, and the longing, out of his voice. “Jesus, Rodney, you…” he swallowed around a sudden tightness in his throat, trying not to let the wash of envy overwhelm him.
“Ah, right, of course,” Rodney said carefully. He bit his lip, frowning. “It’s embedded, John, I can’t…You know I’d let you use it if I could, right?”
John nodded, swallowing. “S’okay. Anyway, you shouldn’t be fucking around with it yourself, let alone me…” A bird, Rodney could be a bird, he could fly. He closed his eyes, letting the sun soak into him as he imagined soaring high above the city, his wings perfectly angled to catch the thermals. He tamped it down, hard. Just one more thing he couldn’t have.
Rodney was talking quietly. “I’ll try, though. I went back to that lab last night and there’s another one there, it looks nearly identical. It’s not working at the moment but I think I’ve a better chance of finding these devices in the database, now that we know what they’re for. So I’ll try and fix it, John, I’ll keep working on it.”
“Yeah, in your spare time,” John said, trying not to let a bitter edge tinge his voice. “I won’t hold my breath.”
“Well…” said Rodney, sitting up straighter and crossing his legs, which brought his warm so warm knee into close proximity with John’s thigh. John tried not to like it quite as much as he did. Rodney continued, shooting him a sidelong glance. “You know how Elizabeth’s been on at me to take some leave…well, I thought I might do that.”
John’s stomach dropped. McKay with the thing, off-world somewhere where anything could happen, anything could go wrong. Oh man, surely he didn’t mean to take it back to Earth, what if he–
Rodney’s hand closed on his wrist. “Jesus, calm down, I can feel your pulse hammering. No, Colonel protective, I’m not planning on going away anywhere, I’m not that much of a moron. But I need to get out of the labs, even I know that, it’s just I can’t…do nothing, you know. I can’t lie on a beach and veg out, it’s never been my thing. Brain won’t stop, drives me crazy. So this is perfect for me. I can explore the Bestiary, play around with it, but it’s not like work, and it’s fun, god, John, you have no idea what fun it is. Oh crap, I so have to get the other one working for you, I–”
John pulled his arm free and cuffed McKay lightly on the back of his head. Soft hair: he resisted ruffling it. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s okay. So you’ll stick around here, then, while you’re using the thing?”
“Here and the mainland. I’ll be okay, honest, you know we’ve surveyed it pretty thoroughly. And the sea around the city. I figure the marine forms will help me get over…you know.”
John nodded. Having gills or whatever would certainly tend to make you less worried about drowning. He was struck by another pang of envy, imagining Rodney eeling through the water as a dolphin…or a shark…whoa. “I dunno about that. We don’t know enough about the ocean yet, McKay, and those whales were fucking huge.”
“Yes, but they were basically benign, and I’ll re-read the marine biologists’ reports again before trying it. I don’t recall anything worrying in terms of predators from their research to date and they haven’t stopped people from swimming off the East Pier, but I tend not to take much notice of the biologists as you know, so I’ll make sure to double check.”
Hmmm. John considered that. No. “Really not too happy with you messing about all by yourself with this shit, Rodney. You know it’s not safe alone and it’s against all our protocols for exploring the Ancient tech. Elizabeth’s never going to buy it, even though she does want you to take a break.”
“Um, yes, about that? I was kind of hoping you could talk to her for me? Sell her the leave plan? I’m more inclined to brazen it out with her afterwards than try to talk with her in advance.” Rodney turned and looked at him, eyebrows raised hopefully.
“Gee, thanks, ’cause you know I’m just a natural negotiator, McKay. She’s gonna shoot me down in flames in five seconds. Nope, the only way I can get her on board – the only way I’m even gonna try – is if we agree on some ground rules. Like Rule One is me being there whenever you do the morphing thing. As far as I can, anyway, I know I can’t swim far, or fly…except maybe in a jumper, but I wouldn’t want to hurt you…”
“The jumpers have got collision-protection systems against flying life-forms. Very eco-sensitive of the Ancients, I’m sure. But you’d be too cumbersome to maneuver I think, unless there’s some sort of giant Mothra thing in here, which I guess there might be…”
“Yeah, but then again, no. No alien life-forms yet, McKay, too many variables. That’s Rule Two. You gotta stick to Terran animals, birds, fish, whatever. And only ones we know a bit about, you know? Nothing too weird or unpredictable. Like no velociraptors, okay? There’s a limit to how fast I can run.”
“Oh hardy har. You can’t even outrun Ronon, Colonel my-knees-have-seen-better-days. Well, not unless you’re turning blue, that is.” That earned him another cuff. “Ouch! Okay, sorry, touchy subject, enough with the head trauma. No, no dinosaurs…not yet, anyway, because Jesus, John, Jesus, imagine it, I could be a T Rex, or no, wait, they had miniscule brains, but that doesn’t seem to matter, I’m still me inside, still conscious, but there’s this amazing animal overlay with the senses, the instincts. Oh crap crap crap, I have to get the other one fixed.”
Really not arguing with you there, Buddy. John sighed and leaned his head back on the warm wall behind them. “Okay, so we’re clear? I’m your chaperone, and you stick to things we know something about – right? Oh, and Rule Three: no bugs.”
“Yes, yes, okay. It’s a start, anyway.” Rodney was quiet for a while, then he elbowed John in the ribs. “Hey, I’m kind of liking this cat form – I think it’s a mountain lion or something, and man, can it move. What d’you say to a bit of a run? See if you can take me when I’m not in pasty-assed nerd-format, yeah?”
“You’re not so bad as you are, McKay,” John said, then flushed, and covered it by scrambling to his feet and looking away. “Yeah, that’d be cool, I could do with some exercise.”
He missed the flash, and by the time he turned back, blinking, the tawny cat was shaking itself and stretching langorously, rubbing itself against his thighs. Damn, Rodney, way to blow the personal boundaries right there. But it was nice, having the big cat pressed against his legs. Warm and muscular and soft fur and he couldn’t help stroking its back. Rodney’s back. Oh sweet Jesus, this was seriously fucking with his head.
The cat made a coughing, purring noise, sort of like a laugh, and butted his thigh, pushing its head into his hand. Then it took off down the deck toward a small tower at the tip of the pier. John made a snap decision then unbuckled his thigh-holster and took off his shirt, leaving on just his BDUs and T. The cat danced back, teasing him, then took off again, and he followed this time, running full tilt, dodging and weaving to try and catch its mobile, dark-tipped tail, laughing like a fool and feeling all of five years old. They played hide and seek in among some outcroppings at the tower’s base, maybe drone emplacements or equipment caches, then he finally cornered the animal in a cul-de-sac and got a good grip on its ruff, calling up his wrestling training from College days as they rolled and grappled. Rodney snarled a little when he played dirty, clenching that inviting tail in his fist, and he ended up flat on his back with the big cat straddling him, strong limbs effortlessly holding him down while it licked up his neck with a wet, rasping tongue.
“Uncle! Uncle! Quit that, Rodney, yeccchh.” He could barely speak for laughing, wriggling helplessly under the warm, furry weight as the cat’s whiskers tickled his face. Rodney’s whiskers. Rodney’s warm, furry weight. Fuck. He felt himself get hard, pressed against the cat’s groin. Shit, would Rodney notice? How sensitive was he down there, and what would it feel like anyway, did cats have…? Yes of course they did, and Rodney was still male, a male animal. And it was that thought that undid him, making his hips thrust up involuntarily, eyes shutting as his head fell back. The cat – Rodney – settled more heavily against him, purring now, the deep vibrations an added torment as he tried not to let go and just rub himself off frantically against the strong, furred haunch pressing down on his dick. On his very hard dick, oh fucking hell. He couldn’t stop his arms from coming up and wrapping about the cat’s torso. Hot fur, and soft and the muscles flexing as Rodney sniffed behind his ear and smooched him again, and it was just too much, too damn good finally to have his arms full of Rodney, musky and male and furry, and fuck did he have a kink for this, was he going to have to get a plushie suit or some weird shit?
Rodney nosed John’s throat just under his jaw and he arched his neck back, head turned aside in instinctive submission, shuddering at the thought of those sharp teeth right over his jugular and how helpless and pinned he was. That made his hips thrust up again, and he gasped, giving in to it, letting himself move against Rodney’s body as he wanted, as he needed, thrusting his aching cock up against Rodney’s soft-strong groin again and again. Rodney growled softly, writhing against his dick in an unmistakeably sexual way. It was so good, being trapped under all this weight and warmth, held down by something this powerful, this animal. He moaned and just went for it, hips bucking as Rodney pressed back against him, flanks rippling under John’s hands as John’s fingers dug into his fur, god, his fur.
Okay, definitely a kink, he thought dazedly, sucking in shaky breaths and feeling the spreading wetness in his shorts. Had Rodney come too? The cat had quieted but its warm weight still pinned him, its head raised a little, looking down at his face with golden eyes. It leaned in, purring, and pressed its wet black nose to his cheek. John kissed its fur, closing his eyes. Oh, man, Rodney.
There was a strange moment of dislocation before he realised that the weight on him was human now. Less soft, more angular. He missed the fur, he realised with an inner eyeroll, but it was still very pleasant to have an armful of sun-warmed, naked McKay.
“Hey,” Rodney said softly. “You okay there? You came pretty hard, you almost passed out.”
“Er, yeah,” said John, his face hot. “Not quite how I’d pictured our first time panning out, but it was pretty fucking memorable.”
“Mmmm.” Rodney flexed his hips suggestively, still channeling the cat. He leaned in and kissed John gently, licking along his lips. John’s mouth fell open with a groan of pleasure and he sucked at Rodney’s tongue. It felt so damn good, to be all relaxed and loose with his arms around McKay at last. Rodney pulled back and eyed him, looking mischievous. “So you’d pictured it, huh?”
“Yeah, right, McKay, like you never noticed me flirting with you.” John snorted and brought his hand up to ruffle Rodney’s hair, because he could. Rodney arched into his hand, still so catlike. Probably took a while to wear off, after changing back. They’d have to watch that, wouldn’t do to for him to stay in animal-form too long and forget how to be human.
John rolled them onto their sides, finally feeling a little breathless under Rodney’s full weight. He slid his hand down Rodney’s naked chest and smiled; still a little fur there to feed his new kink. Then down to cup that spectacular ass, now naked to the sky. Tricky that, the clothes thing. Good thing there was no-one else here and it was a nice day, ’cause Rodney was going to have to make it back to the transporter au naturel.
Rodney closed his eyes and whimpered. He writhed against John and his hand came up and pulled John’s around to his dick, which was hard and eager against John’s thigh. Okay, so that answered that one: Rodney hadn’t come yet. John rolled them again, McKay on his back and half under him, and took his cock in hand, stroking lightly up the shaft as he leaned in for another kiss. Mmmm, warm, wet, and he was hungry for more, sucking on Rodney’s tongue again but it wasn’t enough even though Rodney was moaning and thrusting up into his hand, cock slick in his grasp.
Not letting go, John got his legs between Rodney’s then braced on his left arm and slid down the solid frame, pausing briefly to suck on his nipples, pink nubs that hardened under his tongue causing Rodney to give a choked cry and flex up into his mouth. Sensitive there, okay. He relinquished Rodney’s cock reluctantly and held himself up on both arms above the pale body quivering beneath him. He spread his thighs, forcing Rodney to spread his legs wider in turn, and lowered himself down to tongue Rodney’s navel and lick down the soft brown hair arrowing down to his cock, which was standing up, leaking and just fucking begging to be sucked.
John’s mouth flooded with saliva and he couldn’t wait any longer, couldn’t stand to tease any more. By the look of him, Rodney couldn’t take much more teasing, anyway, he was moments away from coming without a hand on him, hips bucking helplessly under John, legs trembling to either side as he sobbed out incoherent pleas. John’s cock twitched in his damp BDUs but his turnaround time was way longer than that these days. He was loving this though, hungry to taste Rodney, arousal centered in his mouth, never mind that the plumbing was taking a break.
He bent his head and took the crown of Rodney’s cock into his mouth, just holding it softly, his mouth wet with wanting as Rodney gasped and groaned, thighs tense as he tried not to come just from the contact. Judging him to have regained a little control, John slid his mouth down, letting the thick, smooth cock slide against his soft palate as he pressed his tongue against it. It tasted of musk and salt bitterness, the smell pure, concentrated Rodney and he moaned, couldn’t help himself. He pulled off, flicking his tongue across the crown and then opened his throat and took it all down again. Rodney cried out and pulsed into his throat, jerking helplessly under him as he sucked and swallowed, eyes watering.
He held Rodney’s softening cock in his mouth for a while, face buried in the damp, fragrant hair in his groin, until there was a tug on his collar and a hand in his hair. John moved back up and Rodney wrapped his arms around him, fitting himself to John. Even with one of them naked and the other fully clothed, it felt perfect, right, and he buried his head in Rodney’s sweaty neck and let himself drift off right there in the warm sun, Atlantis humming quietly beneath him.
“Look, I know you don’t like it, but there’s not a lot we can do,” John told Elizabeth, blowing out a breath and slumping down onto his elbows on the conference table. “He’s goddam stubborn when he gets a new project, and at least he’s having fun with this. It’s the only way we’re gonna get him to take a breather from the labs.”
“When I asked you to get him to take a break, this was not what I had in mind.” Her back was straight, hands clasped tightly before her on the table, her face set. “It’s dreadfully risky, John. A new Ancient device, untested, and him off by himself experimenting with it unsupervised.”
“Hey!” John protested. “I’m gonna be there, I at least got him to agree to that.”
Elizabeth shot him a look that managed to combine scorn and weariness, like a burnt out kindergarten teacher.
What? He could be responsible. He tried to quell the sense memory of arching up into warm furry good, frowning and putting on his best adult front. “It’ll be okay, Elizabeth, really. It’s a teaching device, just a real-life encyclopedia of life forms. There’s no way they’d have let it be harmful – probably an Ancient grade school thing for all we know. I’ll keep a close eye on him and he’s not gonna use it to turn into anything weird like a…a triffid or something. We agreed – just normal Earth-type animals that we’re used to.” He played his trump card, doing the hopeful puppy-dog face just a little. “And you did say I should take a break as well. I gotta admit, it’s fun, like we’re playing. It’ll be good for us both.”
She pulled a wry face but he could see that that had done it. He tamped down the rush of triumph, smoothing his face into a bland mask of maturity. Oh yeah, game on.
“Now, about borrowing a jumper,” he tried, while he was on a roll.
It took the rest of the day to put cover in place with Lorne and Zelenka, tying up loose ends, delegating tasks and signing a raft of damn forms that Lorne insisted couldn’t wait any longer. Rodney had promised he’d use the time combing the database anyway, so he wasn’t too worried about him. He was sure Rodney would play fair and not morph until they got back together later on. Pretty sure.
Knowing that any contact would suck him back into work again, Rodney had decided to avoid everyone and had activated a database terminal in an unused lab out on the north pier. John had checked out some quarters there and it was perfectly safe, even relatively clean. He’d fetched Rodney supplies, bedding and his laptop, before sitting down with Elizabeth to fess up to the plan.
He got the mess staff to pack him up a meal to go, then ate dinner with the rest of his team, ignoring the mildly disapproving vibes radiating off Teyla, who clearly thought both he and McKay needed a minder. Ronon just gave him a knowing look and grinned. John raised one eyebrow, aiming for how-dare-you-question-your-taskmaster, but Ronon just snorted, smirking down into his not-beef stew.
“At least take your radio, John,” Teyla insisted. “You can set it to an emergency channel so that we may make contact if needed, but no-one can bother you with trivialities.”
Actually, not a bad idea. “Yeah, okay, that makes sense.” Not that he’d be wearing it if Rodney was in fish-mode, but best to be on the safe side. “Rodney'll keep in touch by email,” John reassured her.
“You should get him to be a tribble,” Ronon offered indistinctly, around a mouthful of bread.
“Look, big man, that may be your favorite Trek episode but I hate to break it to you: they’re fictional. And even if they weren’t it’d be a no. Hundreds of multiplying McKays everywhere? I don’t think so.”
“I like ’em, they’re cute,” said Ronon, grinning. “And they sure can eat, just like McKay.”
John pulled a face at him, then remembered he was an adult. Teyla shook her head.
Rodney shook him awake far too early the next morning: “Come on Colonel, rise and shine!”
“Mmngh!” protested John. “Geroff!” He burrowed back into the pile of wonderfully warm sleeping bags. They hadn’t stayed up all that late the night before, but they had been quite physically active and his thighs still ached pleasantly. Rodney didn’t care about his thighs needing a bit of time off, though, pulling the bedding off despite John’s protests.
Somewhat later, mollified by coffee and left over day-old muffins from the mess, he helped Rodney get organised at the edge of the pier.
“Brrrrr. What I do in the name of scientific discovery.” Rodney peered reluctantly down at the blue-green water.
“You sure it’s gonna be safe, McKay?” John asked dubiously. “You checked the marine biologists’ reports, right?”
“Yes, yes, naturally. The ocean here’s nearly identical to Earth-normal: very similar salinity, a tad less mercury, slightly more iron, but it’s pretty much the same. Terran marine animals should be fine.”
John scanned the horizon anxiously. “And no whales around, right? ’Cause I don’t know what they eat but I’m sure those big suckers had pointy teeth, and that’s not a well known feature of vegetarians.”
“No, Colonel, I’ve been monitoring the area with a life signs detector. No large life-forms at all, except us. Calm down and get into that wetsuit.”
Pulling the thick, clammy suit on over his boxers, John was thankful that the marine biologists had brought diving gear with their scientific equipment. No way he was letting Rodney get into that water alone even if a swim was the last thing he and his recuperating thighs really wanted. Even in summer the sea around Atlantis barely warmed up at all, due to some vagary of the deep ocean currents.
It was the transition from the ocean back onto Atlantis that would be difficult. Rodney planned to jump and change, hitting the water already in fish form, but he couldn’t manage that the other way. John knotted a rope around a post at the end of the railing and let it fall into the sea. They would have to clamber out here, using the rope to help them find footholds as they hauled themselves up the metal side of the pier. John had suggested Rodney adopt a bird or flying fish form, but Rodney was afraid to misjudge it.
After a few more minutes of anxious dithering, Rodney leapt upwards and out with a yell, windmilling his arms, then the flash, almost lost in the sun’s reflections on the water. A sleek, fat, football of a fish with sharply angular fins plummeted down into the sea, big silver body flexing as it cut the surface and vanished. John held his snorkel mask on and jumped, nearly tripping on his flippers. Fuck, but it was cold, deep green swirling up around him as he pushed back to the surface, peeing inside the suit in an old surfer’s warm-up trick. He sorted his mask out and blew the snorkel clear, then tipped forward and peered about for McKay. Yes – there. A faint silver flash in the blue-green depths, and man he was moving, those tuna were all muscle.
The big fish swept past him, rolling lazily and raking him with a silver eye. What was Rodney seeing: did fish have color vision? John stared nervously down into the endless, dark blue depths. No life sign detector with them here, and why did it have to feel like a scene out of fucking Jaws; he could almost hear the thudding sound-track heralding the goddam shark. No, that was just his own pulse, for fuck’s sake. Cool it, John, cool it. He took his hand off the diving knife strapped to his left forearm.
Rodney was flashing about, zooming off with powerful flicks of his tapering body, rolling and diving back as he wove a flashing silver pattern around John. Way to go, Rodney, John thought, as Rodney swept away into the depths again.
Zap! The bright light again, somewhere off in the murky depths. What the fuck? Had he morphed again? Could he do that underwater? John paddled furiously, mask submerged and scanning about for the tuna, and there he was. Oh, not a tuna, and John grinned in relief as the reassuringly familiar, bottlenosed face of a dolphin swam up to him, chittering high-pitched and Rodney-like, right in his face, then nudging his shoulder before swerving away with a tail-flick.
Rodney seemed to enjoy being a dolphin, playing and cavorting, pulling John along and then breaking away to slice up into the morning sunlight in an arc of droplets. He talked non-stop, high frequency trills, squeaks and whistles: typical McKay. Finally John had had enough, the water’s chill leaching through the wetsuit and into his bones. He swam over to the dangling rope and Rodney followed him, somersaulting lazily as John gestured toward the deck and mimed hugging himself and shivering. The dolphin let out a loud trill and then suddenly there was just Rodney, flailing in the water beside him, naked and chilled. John had to get him up to the deck as fast as possible now, before he locked up and couldn’t use his muscles. He grabbed Rodney and dragged him to the rope, then got underneath and boosted him up. Rodney pulled himself up hand over hand, feet scrabbling for purchase, and thank god for those muscular shoulders. John made sure he was clear and then pulled off his flippers, flinging them up onto the pier one after the other, and followed Rodney up the rope and onto the sun-warmed metal deck, pulling off his mask and rolling face up to get his breath back.
“Wow, John, what a trip!” Rodney had clambered up and was staring out to sea, rubbing his arms which were covered in gooseflesh. John hoisted himself up and grabbed the towels they’d left nearby, throwing one at McKay and peeling the wetsuit down to hang about his waist.
“Yeah? You seemed to like being a dolphin better than a tuna.”
“Mmmph.” Rodney’s voice was muffled as he toweled his head. He emerged, hair standing up in spiky tufts, eyes wide and filled with the ocean. “Yes, the fish was too weird, it was oddly alien in a way none of the other forms I’ve tried so far have been. Too different, I guess, its sensory system too divergent from what I’m used to. Mammals are a lot more familiar, even the dolphin. And dolphins are smart – not that it really matters because I’m still me underneath, in some way I can’t really explain, which believe me, seriously bugs me. But oh, man, to be both me and a super smart cetacean, all at once, oh yes, that was a buzz. And Jesus, Jesus, the effortless control, John, all that power right there in the flick of your tail.”
Suddenly he had an armful of damp, cool-skinned Rodney, hugging him close.
“Thank you, John, thank you. For helping me. For letting me…just, thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Buddy,” John murmured into his salty neck, and meant it.
Rodney was the worst dog ever.
He was a Jack Russell, of course – and how had John not seen that coming? Obsessive, stubborn, hyperactive: ring any bells? The moment his solid little body and short legs hit the deck he was barreling around John and yapping his head off.
They’d rested in the sun for a while to dissipate the chill of their ocean dip, then Rodney had tried out some smaller animals, hopping around busily as a pink-nosed white rabbit like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and sitting on John’s palm as a small gray mouse, whiskers twitching as he groomed himself. Then he’d decided to try being a dog.
He skittered over to their duffel and pawed through the contents while John watched, bemused, until he emerged, triumphant, with a pair of rolled up socks in his mouth. Then he demanded that John throw the makeshift ball until the damn thing was wet with dog spit and ragged, because he couldn’t just fetch the fucking thing and let John have it, could he? Hell no, it was all fierce growling and a tug of war. Every goddam time. Finally, John gave up and sat down near the transporter in narrow strip of shade, to recuperate and have lunch. He broke out a mock-turkey sandwich, figuring McKay would get tired soon and smell the food. He was chasing his tail now, barking hysterically; John wondered if dogs got low blood sugar.
Sure enough, Rodney’s nose went up, sniffing, and he trotted over then yapped in a bossy manner until John unwrapped him a sandwich. He ate it greedily, then lay down and rolled onto his back, legs in the air, and went to sleep in the sun beside John’s thigh like a switch turning off, snoring gently. John stroked his white-haired pink belly, causing him to snuffle and twitch his limbs as though he were chasing dream-ZPMs. John took the chance for a nap as well, waking to Rodney nose-deep in his own doggy groin, snuffling away as he licked himself.
“Jeez, McKay, knock it off – that’s just disgusting!”
Rodney lifted his head and stared up at John, mouth open in an evil, panting grin, then dived back down into his groin. John leaned over and hoisted him up, holding Rodney in mid-air in front of him. “No. Bad dog, McKay, knock it off.” Rodney wriggled and fought, yipping obnoxiously until John put him down, then promptly stuck his head deep in John’s crotch, snuffling in ecstasy while John tried to fend him off, scrambling away and back up to his feet, cursing. He twisted, stretching the kinks out of his back muscles, when his leg was suddenly seized in a frantic embrace and goddam McKay was humping his calf, tail wagging furiously.
“Off, you little bastard!” John shook his leg ineffectually. “Christ, Rodney, will you just–”
A white swoop of wings, and one of the Lantean seabirds landed on the deck not far away. Rodney was up and after it in a flash, barking joyously as he chased the bird off down the length of the pier, small legs churning beneath him as he ran. John laughed to see him go, and then froze, worried by how quickly the end of the pier was approaching.
“Rodney, watch out, you’ll fall–no!”
He lurched forward, running fit to bust but knowing it was too late, he was too far away. The seabird swerved and flapped up, out and away from the end of the pier and the small white (insane) dog leapt valiantly after it. The dog writhed in midair, suspended briefly above the cold green waves below until flash and there were two white seabirds, wheeling and turning and filling the air with harsh, mournful cries as they spiralled away into the blue.
John thudded to a halt, panting open-mouthed, fists clenched involuntarily. His chest was tight as he squinted into the brightness where two diminishing scraps of white rode the air. Rodney would come back, of course he would come back. He remembered a dumb Jonathan Livingstone Seagull poster his mom had put on his wall when he was a kid. Some trite crap about “if you love something let it go”. He didn’t want to let Rodney go.
John forced himself to relax and returned to the transporter again, slumping back against the wall to wait and trying not to hate Rodney. For abandoning him. For flying. He closed his eyes and forced it all down. When he opened his eyes again the gull was flapping to a landing near his feet, turning to cast a yellow eye on him before morphing back into a sheepish looking Rodney.
“Ah, yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you like that…just got carried away. They’re very intense dogs, those Jack Russells.”
“Ya don’t say?” John lifted an eyebrow.
Rodney slid down beside him. He was pretty cavalier now about being naked around John – maybe the fact that animals didn’t bother with clothes was wearing off on him. It was kind of nice, but also quite distracting.
“Look, I’m sorry about the bird thing, too. I won’t…it’s not fair on you…” Rodney shot him a worried sidelong look. “I won’t do a bird-form again. Not until…”
John sighed: “It’s okay. You should go for it while you can, hell, I would.”
Rodney snorted. “Yes, I can imagine.” He scrubbed a hand through his touseled hair. “I’ll work on it some more tonight, John. You know I’ll fix it for you if I can…”
“Yeah, Buddy, I know,” John said softly. It wasn’t something he could let himself hope for though – hurt too damn much just to think about it.
He closed his eyes then, so he missed the flash and only realised that Rodney had changed again when a warm, soft head butted up against his jeans and a fluffy white cat climbed determinedly into his lap and settled, purring, against his chest. John slid his arms around Rodney and sank his face into the thick, soft fur, letting the soothing vibrations wash through him as they rested there together watching the sun sink slowly down to the horizon in a mass of golden clouds.
That night, Rodney made him lie still while he stroked and licked John’s body for what seemed like hours. He touched every smooth plane, every hard curve of muscle, sliding his tongue into every vulnerable place until John was shaking apart, spiralling higher and higher. Rodney swallowed John’s cock down, sucking with slowly increasing intensity until John felt his hips rise up off the bed, felt himself arch and explode like a goddam skyrocket, shattering into a thousand points of light. Rodney jerked off desperately afterwards, kneeling between John’s legs as he lay there still stunned with pleasure, sobbing out his own release across John’s belly before collapsing down onto him and crashing into unconsciousness. Almost like flying flickered faintly across John’s thoughts before sleep hit him like a baseball bat to the back of the head.
They went to the mainland the next day, Rodney saying he was fed up with the metal decks and hallways of Atlantis – he needed real soil, trees, and grass to roll in.
John arranged a jumper and packed up a picnic and camping gear, just in case. He’d had to call in and report to Elizabeth: that was the promise he’d made when negotiating the use of a jumper to begin with.
“So it’s going well, then?” She eyed him dubiously. “You think he’s relaxing?”
John thought of the frenetic Jack Russell chasing his own tail, the dolphin arcing up out of the ocean. “Yeah, sure, he’s having a ball.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “And no problems with the device, you’re being careful with that?”
“Of course.” He injected a little wounded innocence into his voice, but that only made her narrow her eyes at him. “It’s all carefully controlled, nothing dangerous.” The deep blue depths of the ocean falling away beneath them into vastness, Rodney twisting in mid-air off the end of the deck before morphing into a gull. “I’m supervising closely.”
“Mmmm, I can imagine.” Elizabeth made a face and shook her head. “Alright, but be careful on the mainland, John. It’s not a controlled environment like here.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He rose to his feet, giving her a mock salute. No, not like Atlantis where nanoviruses from Ancient labs made your brain bleed out, where freak storms threatened to capsize the whole damn city. He made his escape.
It was great to be back in a jumper again, the interface soothing him with its rightness as his awareness expanded out into the machine’s sensors. If this was the closest he would ever come to true flight, it was enough. It had to be.
Rodney got him to call up survey maps on the HUD and directed him inland where a wide, grassy plain met the forest. John set the jumper down in a hollow next to a small stream and then cloaked it. They were right at the edge of the trees and the damp green scent of vegetation flooded in when Rodney opened the hatch. John’s nostrils flared, and he imagined how much more intense Rodney’s sensory experiences must be in animal form. Rodney was clearly eager to find out, striding off down the ramp toward a gap in the trees.
He grabbed his P-90 and set off in pursuit. “Wait up, McKay, jeez, don’t charge off like that. We’ve done an initial survey but we still can’t be certain what’s out there, so will you let me get your six, for Christ’s sake?”
Rodney turned back, hands on hips. “Yes, yes, Colonel fusspot. Move it, will you? I want to get up into those trees. I haven’t had a chance yet to try any arboreal forms.” But he waited until John caught up and ambled along happily enough as they threaded their way through the ferns and scraggly bushes, tall trunks rising up on either side to the canopy of branches far above.
John looked up and swallowed. “Look, just be careful up there, okay? It’s a helluva long way down and even if you’re more naturally suited to climbing, that doesn’t mean you can’t fall. Maybe you shouldn’t change forms while you’re in the branches; you might fall during the transition before you get your bearings.”
“I’ll be fine, John, I’ve thought it all through. I’ll wedge myself into the crook of a branch by the trunk if I’m going to change. Safe as houses. Well, as houses in Rivendell, anyway.”
John smirked: “Oh, very LoTR. Just remember Rule Two: no Ents, right?” They emerged into a mossy, fern-filled clearing: it was very like the Pacific Northwest. “No werewolves, either.”
“Yes, yes, vanilla animals only. Sheesh, you’re no fun.” Rodney divested himself of his clothes with brisk efficiency, stacking them in a neat pile on a fallen log. He stood in the clearing, hair on end, his eyes wide and dark, pale skin dappled in the greenish half-light with the blue device glowing from his chest, and John’s breath caught at how elven he suddenly seemed: fey and alien. Rodney inhaled, shut his eyes, and again, the now familiar flash of light. On the forest floor a gray squirrel was poised, tail raised and twitching, The squirrel sat back on its haunches, peered up at John for a moment then turned and dashed straight up the trunk of the nearest tree.
John craned back, legs braced as he tried to catch glimpses of pale fur high above the ground. A faint, excited chittering floated down, and John grinned. Always with the running commentary. He watched for glimpses of the small animal, hoping Rodney was being careful because it was a fuck of a long way up. Obviously he was over his nervousness about heights, and anyway, if the worst happened he could just morph into a blue jay, or something. Or a woodpecker. John snorted: yeah, that was more McKay’s speed, hammering away at something until it gave. But he’d said no more bird forms. Stupid – John hoped he wouldn’t hold back if he needed wings to save himself. Or there were those flying squirrels, they had built-in parachutes.
A muted flash of light from way up the trunk of a nearby tree, and John peered upwards, neck aching a little, wondering what form McKay had taken now. He didn’t have to wait long; a lithe compact shape swung from branch to branch, then scrambled down the trunk and bounded across to bounce excitedly in front of him. A monkey, slightly out of place in this conifer forest, but what the hell. John thought it was a Capuchin, a pale ruff of fur around its mischievous, bright, dark eyes and little-old-man face. He squatted down and suddenly had an armful of fur and limbs and tail, knocking him back onto his butt in the pine needles as the monkey scaled him, perching on his chest and pulling his hair as he flailed about, cursing. As though his hair wasn’t out of control enough already, without Rodney’s help; he batted the small hands away. The monkey chittered in admonishment and leapt for the nearest branch, swinging away before dropping and scampering back up to him.
“No fair with the damn hair pulling, Rodney,” John said, pouting.
The monkey chittered scornfully, and John could almost hear McKay’s rapid-fire speech. It’d be something about endless hours in front of the mirror with product, or Colonel Narcissus – the usual jibes.
There was a crashing in the undergrowth from beyond the far side of the clearing, and John scrambled hastily to his feet, scrabbling in the ferns for his weapon and cursing himself for an negligent idiot: some bodyguard he was. Fuck, but that sounded huge. There was a life signs detector in his tac-vest pocket but he didn’t have time to get it out, and anyway, he didn’t need it to know there was something alive across there in the trees, and it was a big goddam bastard, whatever it was. Could it be a Wraith, crash-landed in the wilderness? No way, but he readied his P-90 just in case, then remembered Rodney. The monkey, where was the goddam monkey? That was answered as it flashed past him, up into the trees and across to where the crashing sounds were fast approaching the clearing. Fuck, no, Rodney was going to scout it out or try to distract it or some damn fool thing.
Gritting his teeth, John ran toward where McKay had vanished into the trees, only to lurch back as a huge shaggy bear-thing lumbered into the clearing, swinging its blunt, snarling snout from side to side and fixing evil little beady eyes on him. It opened its mouth wide in a roar and there were far too many teeth, two concentric rows of them so, okay, not a bear.
John took a slow step back and the not-a-bear reared up on its back legs and roared again and oh, man, there was the fucking monkey again, darting in to harass it, pulling at its long, matted fur.
“Don’t! McKay, don’t!” The stupid little fucker was going to get himself killed. One swat from those huge clawed paws was all it would take, and what in Christ’s name was that damn monkey doing now? He was crouched there in between John and the not-a-bear, all two feet of him screaming defiance, and ruining John’s chances of a decent shot as the bear-thing thudded back down onto all fours. Did Rodney think he could fight it? Oh Jesus, he thought he could morph into something big didn’t he? But there were no Terran animals quite that size, well, apart from a rhino or an elephant, but even an elephant wouldn’t come away from a fight with that fucker unscathed.
“Get the fuck out of my line of fire, McKay,” John yelled, panicked at the thought of Rodney taking on this behemoth.
The monkey screamed angrily again, and then oh Jesus, no, there was Rodney in a heap on the forest floor, pale and human and defenseless, and John threw himself forward, standing over him, and emptied his clip into the snarling fanged mouth, shattering the thing’s skull until it fell sideways into the undergrowth with a reverberating crash, just in front of them.
John grabbed Rodney and dragged him off a ways, watching the fallen monster with Rodney held tight in one arm, the other gripping his gun. The creature seemed to be dead, though, so finally he let the weapon slip to the ground and put both arms around Rodney’s trembling body, burying his head in Rodney’s neck.
“Don’t you ever…you stupid… you could have been…” His voice was raw, muffled, his face pressed into Rodney’s hair. He was trembling too, he realised, it wasn’t just Rodney.
“Sorry, John, sorry–” McKay gave a choked sob. “Oh, fuck, I thought it was going to kill you.” He clutched at John, shuddering. “I was trying to change again, going for a polar bear, but all I got was this error message in Ancient: multiple transforms prohibited – returning to default. I think it’s a fail-safe to stop kids from endlessly channel-surfing life-forms. Probably not good for you or something; they must only allow one form-to-form change before it reverts to human again. Oh man, talk about bad timing.”
Rodney got dressed, still shaky, and they made their way back to the jumper. John felt a bit shell-shocked so they rested and ate lunch, sitting on the floor side by side, leaning back on the benches in the rear compartment. Damn, he would have to tell Elizabeth about the creature; couldn’t risk anyone else stumbling across one on a botany field trip. This was going to curtail his and Rodney’s adventures, once he fessed up to their close shave. Better make the most of it, then.
After they’d eaten, John spread out the sleeping bags and stripped them both, pushing Rodney back, kissing and touching him, holding him down as he pressed his body against all of Rodney’s. He felt half-crazed, biting the place where shoulder became neck, grinding their cocks together and trying to burrow inside Rodney’s skin, forcing his mouth open with rough, wet kisses. Rodney whimpered as John pushed him down on all fours and kneed his thighs apart, slicking him quick and messy. Rodney was trembling again, but not from fear as he moaned yes John yes ohgodyes, and John opened him and pushed inside. Hot, tight oh Jesus and he thrust in, clenching Rodney to him convulsively, forcing his upper body down to fuck into him harder, face mashed sobbing against Rodney’s back as they jerked together in a haze of mindless desperation until pleasure crested and broke, leaving them both washed up, limp and dazed, in the musky heap of bedding.
They slept for a while, curled together like kittens, the puddlejumper raising the ambient temp to a comfortable level at a drowsy thought from John.
John woke, dressed himself and then slipped outside to empty his bladder. It was mid-afternoon and the near-disaster with the bear-thing already felt surreal and distant. He leaned on the warm metal of the jumper and gazed about. The plains stretched as far as he could see, long grass rippling in a light wind. John stretched and, turning, saw Rodney emerge down the ramp in just a T-shirt, hugging himself against the breeze. He relieved himself, too, then they leaned there together in the sun.
“Maybe you’ve had enough excitement for one day,” Rodney began, ducking his chin down uncertainly and glancing sideways at John, “but there was a reason I brought us out here, to the edge of the plain.” He leaned his head back on the jumper and rolled it to look at John. “I thought it might be nice to enjoy an animal-form together.” John’s heart leapt. “No–shit, I didn’t mean–” He put his hand on John’s arm. “Sorry, I still haven’t been able…but I’m still trying…Anyway. What I meant was that I thought I could try a form you can have some fun with as well. Not that the mountain lion wasn’t…yes, well.” He moved out in front of John and said “Close your eyes, now.”
John lifted his brows, amused, but did as he was told. He heard Rodney discard the shirt, felt more than heard the flash, and opened his eyes to find a chestnut stallion standing there, snorting softly and looking at John through long, dark lashes.
“Oh, you’re a beauty,” exclaimed John, unguarded, stepping forward to stroke Rodney’s velvety nose and slide a hand down the taut, warm neck, thick with muscle. He had grown up with horses, learned to ride before he was ten. He hadn’t realised how much he’d missed their strength and grace, the dense, sweet, salty smell. He pressed his face into the stallion’s neck, inhaling deeply. The stables had always been his safe place, the place he could go to as a kid and forget about his father’s latest criticism, his mother’s illness.
The stallion whickered, turning to nuzzle him, nudging him a little.
“You want me to get on?” He could ride bareback of course, had done it plenty of times when he was young, but not for many years. Hard to get on without stirrups or a fence, though, and he tried, slipping off and landing on his butt again. Gotta stop doing that.
The stallion rolled a sarcastic eye at him then bent one knee in a graceful bow and whickered again.
“Okay, thanks for the help, Buddy. Strangely, I’m not as spry as I was when I was twelve.” Rodney gave a horsey snicker, rising carefully up again as John settled in on his back. “Yeah, yeah, enough with the snark there, you’re no spring chicken yourself.”
As though in definitive refutation, the stallion gathered himself and wheeled, trotting off down the grassy rise while John knotted his hands in the thick mane and centered his weight, leaning forward against Rodney’s neck and gripping with his knees. “Okay, ready,” he murmured, and Rodney began to gallop.
The long grass seemed to part before the stallion as he thundered out across the plain, head stretched forward eagerly. John gave himself over to the exhilaration of speed, another way of flying, grinning into the wind at the sheer bodice-ripper hotness of having Rodney flexing and pounding between his legs, powerful and warm. He sat up a little and gave in to his baser instincts, throwing his head back and yelling “Yeee-haaa!” for all he was worth. The stallion neighed in response and galloped on, snorting as they arced out across the grasslands for what seemed like miles before slowly circling back toward the jumper. Tiring at last, John slumped forward and slid his arms around Rodney’s strong neck, clinging there and letting himself be taken home, safe on Rodney’s broad back as he was carried across the curve of the plain in the gathering dusk.
John brought the jumper safely to rest in its bay again. The tech there assured them that he’d inform Elizabeth they’d arrived back safely. They had agreed to return to the north pier room again, as Rodney was still keen not to get sucked back into the city’s endless minor crises before their unofficial leave came to an end.
They staggered off down the hallway, John leaning heavily on Rodney. Every muscle ached after his long ride.
“I was the one doing all the work, Sheppard!” Rodney grumbled.
“Riding is work, McKay, and I’m kinda out of practice. Oh shit, I need some goddam painkillers.” There was aspirin in the camping pack’s first aid kit so he washed it down, ate some left over cold pizza and crashed into the sleeping bags, utterly wiped.
Rodney lay beside him on one elbow, stroking his hair. “So, a good day? Apart from the nearly getting killed bit, anyway.”
“Especially the nearly getting killed bit, I mean the not getting killed bit was excellent, not the damn bear-thing. Yeah, it was fun. Thanks.” He reached up and pulled Rodney down for a kiss, too exhausted to make it more than a soft press of lips. “Wish I could ride you some more, but I’m gonna need some recovery time here. You tuckered me out.”
“I see that.” Rodney smiled crookedly. “Last day of this, tomorrow. Elizabeth said we had to report in after that.”
“Yeah, I know.” He pulled Rodney down and snuggled in drowsily, letting sleep take him.
Some time later he half-woke, vaguely aware that Rodney wasn’t in the bed but too tired to get up. Half conscious of Rodney cursing softly across the far side of the room, and of quiet metallic sounds, he let himself slide back into restless dreams in which he was a great black horse, racing across endless grassland with Rodney effortlessly keeping pace at his side as they ran. But whether toward or away from something, John couldn’t tell.
He snapped awake in the first light of dawn, the harsh skreeing cry that had wrenched him from slumber echoing around the room. What the fuck?
Getting up was awkward, his muscles still aching, but he felt better than the night before. The cry came again – was it one of those seabirds outside the window? He wondered briefly if he should gear up before checking, it felt vulnerable to be wearing just his shorts. Shrugging, he stepped out onto the balcony of the quarters, then stumbled back against the wall.
A large bird of prey was perched on the railing. John had gone through a phase as a kid when he was obsessed with falconry, and he recognised it as a gyrfalcon. It fixed him with a bright, dark eye, and he hadn’t thought a raptor could look smug, but this one managed it. That, and the blue control buried in its breast feathers, gave it away.
“Morning, McKay,” John said, staring at the intricately patterned gray and white of the bird’s feathers, its wings half-folded. It gave him the eye again then opened its hooked beak and shrieked irritably, clearly conveying "about time". The falcon spread its wings, flapping a little, and he caught his breath, paralysed by the sheer aerodynamic wonder of it as the great bird balanced, perfectly poised in the morning breeze. It skreed again, imperiously, and shuffled one foot.
Another control. Clenched in its foot was a second blue-glowing rectangle. The bird whistled impatiently, lifting the object in its foot, and John reached forward and took it. He stared down at the thing, feeling the interface shake hands with his brain and flood him with data. Dimly, he was aware of the falcon chivvying him, flapping its wings and whistling until he pressed the device to his chest and felt it lodge there, embedding painlessly. Possibilities unfolded, and he reeled, falling back against the wall. The bird bounced up and down a few times, cheeping in an agitated manner, so goddam Rodneylike that he grinned.
“Yeah, yeah, McKay, don’t get your feathers in a whirl, it’s just a lot to take in.” He was getting on top of it now, grasping the interface intuitively, his usual facility with Ancient tech smoothing the integration. So many choices, but he knew which one he wanted.
The gyrfalcon on the railing flapped wildly as John vanished in a puff of light, leaving a second bird hopping on the balcony floor, a tufted eagle with black plumage and, yeah, a wild dark tuft of feathers crowning its head. He figured Rodney would enjoy the reference. The falcon gave a derisive shriek and rolled its eye, lifting off to flap away as it rose up into the pearly dawn sky.
John flew up to the railing with an effortless flap of his wings – of his wings! He perched there for a moment, spreading his pinions and testing his balance, then leapt out into the air, revelling in the rush of the wind, the ready pull and thrust of flight muscles as his wings beat at the air and propelled him upwards.
They circled the central tower then spiralled far beyond it, up into the wide open bowl of the sky, using thermals to gain height, all John’s pilot training echoed and enhanced by the overlay of the eagle’s instincts and senses.
Rodney gave that wild skreeing call again and John rose up to join him, outstretched wings gleaming in the first slanting rays of the sun. He was filled by a rush of exaltation, a flood of fierce joy as he heard Rodney’s cry and understood it.
“Rise and shine, flyboy, rise and shine.”