People were trying to work. Four hours later and the novelty had worn off a bit; excitement had a short shelf-life on Atlantis. So the normal chatter of the labs had risen back to its normal level, white-clad bodies moving around industrially—or at least pretending to—everyone studiously ignoring the tight knot of people in the far corner.
“They don’t actually close,” John said, leaning forward with his hands firmly clasped behind his back. “It’s like he’s squinting.”
“They don’t really have eyelids, not like humans do,” the very pretty, very flustered Doctor Alverez said. She examined her hands again, thin eyebrows furrowing as she took in the long, wicked look scratches that covered the back and palm of her hands. There’d been a serious scuffle before the cavalry had arrived. “So that’s normal.”
Ronon scowled. “Are you saying he’s not normal?” He drew his arms more tightly to his chest, cradling their small passenger close. “You said he was normal, before.”
“He is!” Alverez repeated, head bobbing so hard that frizzy wisps of black hair escaped their ponytail. “He’s completely normal, Mr. Dex, and as far as I can tell, he’s healthy, too. If he’d let me look at him—” She broke off, raising her clawed hands and backing away almost involuntarily.
“Calm down, big guy,” John ordered, trying not to let his amusement show. A year and more in Ronon’s company and he forgot how terrifying his glower really was. Poor Alverez looked like she was going to run any second.
Although that may not entirely be due to Ronon.
A tiny sneeze broke the tableau. Baleful eyes—blue, still, and that was disconcerting even for John who knew blue eyes were not normal in a species other than human—glared up at Alverez and then John. Yawning to show off very white, very pointy teeth that hurt a fucking lot when clamped into skin, Rodney the Cat made a meh noise of annoyance—sleeping now!—before retucking himself against Ronon’s forearm, eyes tightly closed again.
At least three people not in their immediate vicinity said awww.
* * *
“So he’s all right?” Elizabeth had her hands firmly clasped together on the table. Her knuckles were white, but John was pretty sure only he could see that. Before them, Rodney presented both of them with his rump, tail high in the air—then abruptly sat, surveying the group like he was the one who called and would be leading this meeting.
It wasn’t really far wrong; no one could look away from him for long.
“Is his coloration indicative of anything?” Teyla asked. She was allowed to pet Rodney if he happened to wander close enough, one of the few. “The way there is only brown around his ears, the rest of him such an oddly pure white.”
Alverez, who had lost her nervousness around the time she realized no one was going to make her care for Rodney on a regular basis, shook her head. “He’s pure white now because he hasn’t had a chance to get dirty yet. Wait until he starts wading into something.”
Rodney twisted his body easily, giving her a glare of perfect contempt before turning back to Teyla. His eyes were luminous under the fluorescents, reflecting eerily.
Rolling her eyes, Alverez continued, “But that’s fairly standard colorization for the type of short-hair he’s become so I don’t think it’s anything other than, uh. The way his DNA transformed when. When he did.”
Newbies, John thought. Always faltering over the phrases that defy conventional reality, a concept that didn’t exist on Atlantis. “And we all know his hair is thinning, but he doesn’t have that pronounced of a bald-patch yet,” he said, referring to the way the brown shaded back to white at the top of the cat’s head, mostly to make Rodney crouch and hiss, furious at the imprecation.
Except instead of just crouching and hissing, Rodney then stalked over to Ronon, tail up and twitching at the tip before he jumped lightly onto the big man’s shoulders. Settling deep within the dreds Ronon obligingly shook forward, only a pair of bright blue eyes were visible.
John clenched his hands. He wasn’t jealous. There was absolutely no reason for him to be jealous. Which didn’t explain while he felt such a tide of red-tinged envy ripping through him, bile thick and bitter in the back of his throat. He didn’t even like cats. It was a well-known, documented event, preceded by Rodney blathering for hours about his own missed—
“Hey,” he said, sitting up. “You know, he looks a lot like his cat. I mean, his actual cat. The one he left on Earth.” What the hell had Rodney named it? Usually he referred to it as ‘my cat’, but it had to have a name. Rodney named his pens, for God’s sake. “Is that significant?”
Carson and Alverez looked at each other, melding for a moment as they thought in medical babble. Rodney had that part right, at least. “I don’t see why it would be,” Carson said with a shrug.
Across from them, Radek was nodding. “Is interesting, yes, but this artifact actually comes with an instruction manual.” He threw a dark look at Rodney who had, of course, touched without bothering to translate the literature into English. “To what purpose the Ancients wished to be cats I could not tell you, but once it is finished recharging we will be able to return McKay to human-form. Is very simple.”
“You’re certain?” Elizabeth asked. “Not that I don’t trust you, Dr. Zelenka, but... ”
“Yes, yes, our track-record is perfectly abysmal in these situations. I can only tell you what I know, which is that the device should work as programmed.”
“How long until it will be recharged, then?”
“Tomorrow,” Radek answered, and there wasn’t a trace of innocence about him, despite John knowing for a fact that the device would be ready in about five more hours. No one wanted to get up at 0-dark-thirty if they didn’t have to, though, so John wasn’t about to call him on it. “Perhaps around ten-hundred?”
“It’s a date then. Dismissed gentlemen, Teyla, Doctor.” Nodding at them, Elizabeth walked off with light steps; problems with potentially easy solutions were rare and valuable things, and since Rodney had done his own study of the device and the documentation about it—painstakingly read aloud by Teyla, who was the most fluent in Ancient beside Elizabeth—coming away with a cat’s disdain intact, no one else was going to worry either.
Not after the hissy fits he threw when Alverez had incorrectly identified his sub-species the first time, too stunned by the request to take certain factors into account. That had been all the proof they’d needed; Rodney was still there, still fully aware of everything that went on around him. He honestly wasn’t even acting that different. There was more disconcerting staring and the presentation of his rump, plus less screeching, but still—basically the same.
Teyla rose, leaning forward to scratch Rodney’s head, heedless of the way her arm brushed Ronon’s nose. “I bid you good evening, gentlemen,” she said, walking away with a small smile. Rodney kehed after her, burrowing even more deeply into Ronon’s hair.
Which left John slumped in his seat while Ronon eyed him. “I’m taller,” he said abruptly.
Rodney seemed to support the non-sequitur, whatever it meant, leaping down to sit tall and proud on Ronon’s crossed forearms. He was a little too big for his perch, but a few dug-in claws gave him balance and Ronon never even flinched. Rodney’s eyes were huge and steady as they glared at John.
“Uh. Okay?” John said. “You’re taller. You’re taller than pretty much everyone.”
Ronon nodded. “Exactly.”
Still no less baffled, John figured it was time to get out before he reached out and grabbed Rodney, like force could keep cats or Rodneys where they should be—both had a terrible habit of going only where they wanted, bedamned what everyone else might suggest, even if it meant their safety. Right. Not jealous. He absolutely wasn’t at all jealous of the way Rodney had draped himself all over Ronon, the way Ronon had had his shoulder ridden around Atlantis, or the way only he or Teyla were really allowed to pet him.
Heading back to his quarters, stewing over things he couldn’t control anyway, it wasn’t until he reached the transporter that he realized that Ronon—and Rodney—were following him. Both were watching him with an equally disconcerting stare, like the power of their gaze alone would tear secrets free from John’s mind, baubles for them to play with.
“We should set up some kind of litter box,” he said when the silence was too much. Alverez had said she’d prepare materials.
“I’ll get it,” Ronon volunteered.
Well. That only made sense since they’d probably be set up in Ronon’s room.
John didn’t feel the need to oversee the construction of a litter-box, so he headed for his own room and not Ronon’s, fully intending to shut the door in Ronon’s face if that was what it took. He wasn’t in the mood for any of this.
Except the moment he got his door open Rodney gave a flying leap, skidding on the floor as he attempted to land and turn at the same time, disappearing into the shadows the hall-light didn’t illuminate. Something echoed as it was knocked over, a short mrrowl of annoyance proclaiming Rodney the culprit.
John stared. “Uh?”
Ronon clapped him on the shoulder, hard enough to make him stagger. “I’ll bring the stuff over.”
Okay. That—didn’t actually make sense, but fine. Rodney was in his room and, when John finally entered enough to see him curled up on John’s pillow, didn’t seem to want to leave. In fact, he didn’t object at all when John picked him up, one arm cradling his rump even as his legs splayed everywhere, completely limp and pliant as he was tucked into John’s lap. He purred when John pet him.
Neither of them moved when Ronon came by with the litter box, set up efficiently in the bathroom, as well as dinner for both of them. Rodney was doing his best impression of a motorboat, and John was finding the deep thrumming relaxing. Comforting, really, because if John stopped petting he’d get a head-butt or a claw in a silent demand for more.
The silent part was new. The demands, not so much.
That night Rodney slept in a fluffy ball on John’s chest. Waking up to that sight was a little terrifying—there was a cat, and it took awhile to remember said cat was Rodney—and then hysterical because Rodney looked thoroughly seasick when John started laughing, refusing to move. Eventually he slid, tail and legs everywhere, glowering with his usual force when John just half-rolled over him, still laughing.
This time, John didn’t object when Rodney went bounding for Ronon, settling onto his shoulder the moment he saw him at breakfast. He was a lot taller than John. And his hair made a really good curtain for napping.
* * *
It was three days before they finally got Rodney turned back into a human. No one, least of all Rodney, was particularly surprised by the delay. It didn’t seem to bother him, though. Every morning Ronon would pick up John for their run, returning to play chauffeur for Rodney, who surveyed the world from this unusual perch. Rodney spent his mornings in the lab, prowling through people’s work and clawing and biting those he felt were particularly stupid. By lunch he’d be exhausted, napping while Ronon or John or Teyla watched over him, going about their daily business.
Each night was spent with John, Rodney sleeping on some part of him, leaving it numb and tingling come morning.
Since that was pretty much how Rodney slept as a human, John wasn’t sure he had any room to complain.
He did bitch when the cat pushed him out of bed, though.
Fortunately, Rodney was willing to make it up to him once he was a human again. And he tried his best to purr when John thanked him, later.