John perched on the infirmary bed, hands in his lap and heels drumming restlessly against the metal frame.
“You know that you broke our streak, right?” Rodney accused – albeit mildly – from where he’d settled on an empty gurney on the other side of the infirmary. “We were eleven for eleven on offworld missions with no injuries since we’ve been back in Pegasus.”
John snorted noisily. “I didn’t break the streak, Rodney,” he protested. “Ronon broke it two missions ago when he got that giant ass splinter in his thigh.” He leaned around Doctor Biro, who was checking his heart rate with the chestpiece of a stethoscope pressed at his side, above his ribs, and instructing him to take deep breaths. “Besides, we haven’t confirmed that I’m even injured yet,” he added before inhaling.
Doctor Biro put a hand on his shoulder to push him upright. “Not yet, but I can guarantee you will be if you don’t cooperate during your exam.”
John gave his best apologetic grin. “Sorry, Doc.”
Luckily for him, Doctor Biro wasn’t totally immune to his charm. She rolled her eyes, but her mouth curved in a gruff smile. “Just keep still while I run the ancient medscanner and we won’t have any trouble.” How she managed to sound so threatening and pleasant at the same time was anyone’s guess.
Rodney had strategically placed himself well outside of ‘poking with sharp implement’ range, so Biro could do little more than turn to glare at him when he started up again. “Ronon maintains that the splinter incident doesn’t count because he didn’t come to the infirmary.”
Doctor Biro made a noise that was suspiciously growl-like and John had to check the urge to flinch. “Yes, well, Ronon should have come to the infirmary for that,” she broke in to the conversation. “He’s lucky he didn’t end up with a massive infection.”
John couldn’t answer because he was holding still while Biro used the handheld scanner, focusing on the area at the base of his skull where he’d been punctured by the ancient equivalent of a massage chair.
“To be fair to Ronon,” Rodney started, and John tried to caution him to be quiet by blinking furiously, but Rodney wasn’t looking at him, “it really was just a big splinter. He didn't necessarily skip coming to the infirmary because of the streak, but because,” he shrugged helplessly, "it was a splinter. You know Ronon. Nothing short of a mortal injury would force him here."
John flinched when Biro yanked at the neck of his T-shirt with a bit more force than necessary. "Stubborn idiot," she grumbled. John hoped she was referring to Ronon.
“Well, either way," Rodney said, gesturing to John with a vague roll of his hand, "I guess we’ll see if the streak is broken depending on what happens here.” He said it lightly, but John could hear an undercurrent of something querulous in his tone. He tried to read what might be causing it in Rodney’s expression, but Rodney was looking down at the floor so John couldn’t see much except the top of his head.
Biro stopped her scan and wagged a cautioning finger at Rodney. “I’d just better not hear that one of you is avoiding the infirmary just to maintain some silly streak.”
John figured that it probably wasn’t a good idea to bring up the bet they had going with Lorne’s team about who could keep their streak going the longest.
Rodney, meanwhile, held up his hands defensively. “No, no. Of course not. You know me, Doctor. I’m the first to the infirmary if I even suspect anything hinky is going on.”
“Well maybe you could convince the rest of your team to abide by such cautionary habits. It’s a wonder Carson still has hair as much as he did after dealing with all of you. And not just the injuries, but the stubbornness as well." She sidestepped over to the diagnostic computer on its cart, bringing up various screens and typing in data. "I'm actually surprised not to be tripping over Ronon and Teyla right now," Biro added, somewhat distracted, as she continued to work.
"We figured that since nothing terrible happened immediately, it wouldn't hurt for them to stick around on the planet and finish up the talks." John explained.
Rodney glowered. "What he means is that he down-played the whole incident and I'm the one who had to convince him to come back to the city and get checked out." He crossed his arms and lifted his chin. "Luckily Teyla was on my side."
John shrugged. He’d been kind of annoyed at Rodney getting Teyla to pull her ‘I’m very disappointed in you, John’ Mom-routine. Mostly because it almost always worked. She’d been bad enough before Torren, but now that the kid was heading into toddler years and she was getting more practice, she just got way too good at cutting off some of his (and Ronon’s and Rodney’s) more… childish ideas.
“Alright,” Biro said a few minutes later, setting the scanner aside, “much as I hate to say it for fear of encouraging your team’s reckless behavior, I think your streak is safe. Your scans have all come back clean. I’m just going to do another blood draw and then you can be on your way.” She grabbed another syringe and wielded it in what John might have been able to call a menacing way.
“Alright, you’re done.” Biro said a few minutes later, patting her hand over the band-aid she’d placed on his arm from where she’d taken her sample. “Now get out of my infirmary.”
“Aww, don’t I even get a lollipop?” he cajoled as he hopped down from the table. “Carson would’ve given me one.”
Biro rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, Carson can give you all the lollipops he wants when he gets back from his sabbatical and takes his damn job back.” She started putting gear away with somewhat forceful motions. “I don’t blame Doctor Keller for staying behind on Earth. I’d much rather get back to my research than deal with the all the crazy stuff that inevitably happens when you and your teams go through that gate.”
John snuck a sideward glance at Rodney when Biro mentioned Keller. It’d been some months back, when Atlantis – and as a result, the team – were still on their enforced leave on Earth, that Keller had been offered a position at Area 51 to head their Xenobiological Medicine and Research program. It was exactly what she’d wanted; the kind of thing she’d been originally brought to Atlantis for before Carson’s death had pushed her into a job she didn't want.
The offer to return to Pegasus wasn’t enough to tempt her to turn it down, and there was no way Rodney was going to stay behind on earth while Atlantis returned home. Their break-up had seemed amicable enough, but John sometimes saw Rodney looking a little forlorn or wistful when he thought no one was watching.
“C’mon,” Rodney said, not seeming to take note of Biro’s words, instead grabbing John by the arm for a moment to steer him down the hall towards command. “Woolsey wants a debriefing on what happened on MSJ-495.”
John sighed, but let himself be tugged along for a moment, and then fell into step next to Rodney once Rodney’s hand fell away from his arm. “Right, forgot that Woosley’s sticking to his guns on his post-mission debriefing rules. Almost wish Teyla and Ronon would’ve come back with us so they could’ve handled this part.”
Rodney shot him a look.
“Okay,” he amended with a knowing grin, “so Teyla could’ve taken care of this part while I was getting checked out. I swear, one of these days Woolsey’s gonna win that contest of wills and Ronon will actually give a real mission report.”
“And on that day, the Wraith will become vegetarians and ZedPMs will grow on trees.” Rodney sing-songed mock-wistfully and bumped his shoulder into John’s.
John snorted out a laugh. "Yeah, true." He returned Rodney's jostling. Maybe it was Rodney's relief after the infirmary visit, but John loved when he got like this. He was playful and affectionate and it made John smile.
"Although," Rodney said speculatively, "if Woolsey ever got his hands on that treatise Ronon wrote for that Belshain emissary on M5R-326, he'd never give up on getting the big guy to do his reports."
"Yeah, Ronon's gonna milk that caveman act with Woolsey for as long as he can, I think." He pointed at Rodney before taking a seat in the main operations conference room. "Mark my words, sooner or later it's going to come out that he's too smart for his own good and can think circles around half the people here."
"Well, we all have our roles to play." Rodney's expression flattened as he sat down opposite John at the table. "Like you and your self-destructive, hero-complex."
John frowned. "What's that's supposed to mean?"
“You shouldn’t have sat down,” Rodney grumbled. “Why do you always have to touch the ancient devices?"
“I only sat down because you told me to,” John protested. He clearly remembered Rodney saying something to that effect. Granted, he’d been too busy watching Rodney down on one knee, and sort of leaning forwards, to work on the console’s guts.
“No,” Rodney shook his head, slowly, like he was speaking to someone less intelligent. Well, which for Rodney was nearly everyone, but this was more like his ‘speaking to the pre-industrial natives’ slow. “I said that I wished I could find out what would happen if someone sat down in the ancient device that was clearly not just a chair and was some kind of nightmare waiting to happen.”
John wagged a finger at him, “Ah, there, you see. You did say it. You wished that someone would sit down in the chair.”
Rodney ran an aggravated hand through his hair. He’d been wearing it shorter than usual lately, but the action still mussed it up into a frizzy mess. Fortunately they were sitting on opposite sides of the table because otherwise John might have had to fight down the temptation to reach out and comb it back into some semblance of order with his fingers. Still the tips of his fingers twitched slightly.
“I didn’t say ‘Colonel Sheppard sit down in the chair’ did I? No. I just said I wished I could get readings with someone sitting there.” His eyes narrowed. “The same way I’d say: ‘I wish the Wraith would all blow each other up’ or ‘I wish that the people the SGA keeps sending to my labs weren’t so incompetent’ or even ‘I wish they’d serve lemonbars less often in the mess’. It was totally speculative.”
John waved that away. “You were interested in the readings and I was just helping out. I knew that you’d ask me to sit down in it eventually.”
“Well,” Rodney spluttered, “no… okay yes, eventually. But not until I’d had more of a chance to examine it.”
John nodded significantly, like he'd won the point, but was interrupted before he could say anything else by Woolsey’s entrance into the conference room. He was followed a moment later by Doctor Biro. John lifted a hand to wave at her.
“Colonel, Doctor McKay.” Woolsey greeted, taking a seat at the end of the table. “I’ve just heard from Chuck that Teyla and Ronon have made significant progress with the people of M3J-495. They except to complete the negotiations on schedule.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I don’t see why they’re even negotiating this one anymore. They already let us in to the Ancient facility.” He shook his head mock-sadly. “Much as I don’t want to encourage extortion, or holding ancient tech hostage, they really should’ve tried a little harder. Now they don’t have any leverage.”
“Kinda like ‘why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free’, right Rodney?” John smirked across the table at him.
Rodney’s eyes rolled in the other direction. It was actually kind of cute how he did that. John realized he was staring when Rodney narrowed his eyes at him, so he coughed and hurriedly shifted his attention back to Woolsey.
“And Colonel Sheppard is suffering no ill-effects from the device?” Woolsey asked, fortunately oblivious to John’s distraction.
John shook his head. “Nope. Feel fine.”
Woolsey ignored him and looked at Doctor Biro. She looked down at her data pad and tapped a few times on the touchscreen. “The scans don’t show any anomalies and physically he checks out just fine. I’m still running his blood work, but preliminary readings are clean. Until I get the final results I’d like the Colonel to stay in the city, but otherwise I’d say no, no ill-effects.”
“Good.” Woolsey nodded. “Thank you, Doctor.” He turned to John then. “Well, now that we know that you’re going to be fine, would you and Doctor McKay care to fill me in on what happened?”
Rodney deferred to John with a nod of his head.
“Well,” John began, “we gated to M3J-495 and were greeted immediately by some very lovely representatives of the indigenous population.” He saw Rodney hide a smirk. The people of M3J-495 were very pleasant, and eager to deal with the team from Atlantis, but they were a fragrant bunch. They’d apparently arrived at a time when ritual bathing was suspended as part of some religious observation. Which was pretty funny because Teyla had spent a lot of time pre-mission telling them about the luxuries of the bath-houses and natural mineral hot-springs.
He went on to explain that they’d done the usual meet-and-greet with the Elder’s Council and were immediately invited to the ‘sacred temple’ to view the Throne of the Ancestors. Word was apparently getting around in Pegasus that the Atlanteans were eager to trade all sorts of wonderful goods in exchange for access to ruins and relics.
The temple they’d been taken to turned out to be, as Rodney had postulated based on some cross-referencing of the Ancient database, an underground lab. Most of the outer chamber was empty of anything useful – having been scavenged millennia ago – but there was an inner chamber, only recently accessed, that the people of M3J-495 had taken great care to leave undisturbed.
Which of course meant that Rodney had bullied his way inside and started turning on consoles and taking readings before their guides could really do much to stop him. The entire chamber was built around a central dais upon which sat something that looked very much like a control chair.
“A control chair?” Woolsey interrupted. “This isn’t like the situation on Eldred's planet where you discovered a sister-city to Atlantis is it?”
John shook his head, but Rodney was the one who spoke. “Nope, nothing like that at all. It was just that room with the chair and consoles.” He looked at John, who nodded, and took over the reins of providing the explanation. “I was able to power-up the workstation and get some initial readings on the chair. From what I’d been able to extrapolate before Colonel ‘Has-to-touch-everything’ over here sat down,” –John scowled but refrained from sticking out his tongue- “it’s a very scaled back system that seems to support some kind of training programs. I would’ve gotten more, but the Colonel decided to sit down in the chair while I happened to be accessing the system’s controls and that’s when the chair activated.”
“Yeah,” John scratched at the back of his neck, “see, I thought Rodney asked me to sit down so he could get readings.” Which didn’t sound like a very responsible thing to admit, so he added, “I was expecting the thing to interface with me like the control chair does.”
Woolsey’s expression definitely wasn’t happy, but he just prompted, “And then what happened?”
“Well, the chair lit-up and tipped back, like the control chair does, but then these restraints closed over my wrists and ankles.”
“Which I didn’t cause,” Rodney interrupted.
And okay, maybe John’s first reaction to that happening had been to say, “Rodney, what the hell did you do?” so he could understand Rodney jumping to his own defense there.
“No,” John agreed, “I think that was just part of the activation process with the chair. Anyway, once the restraints were in place, I felt something at the back of my neck moving. And then it was like it stung me.”
“So this was what you were referring to when you dialed back in and requested a medical team because Colonel Sheppard had been,” he looked down at his data pad, “possibly injected with an unknown substance by an ancient device?”
“Yes,” Rodney swiveled his chair to point at the wall-mounted monitor at the end of the room. He tapped a few times at the laptop in front of him and an image of the chair popped up on the screen. “As you can see from this picture there’s a small, retractable arm just below the headrest.” He tapped another key and the screen zoomed in. “It’s got an injection port on the end, which is what punctured the Colonel’s neck.” He turned his head to look over his shoulder at John and his expression was hard to read. “That’s when we decided it was better to err on the side of caution and bring the Colonel back home.”
A bit puzzled by Rodney’s scrutiny, John ducked his head away, focusing on the screen instead. “We tried to see if we could determine if it had actually injected me with something, or if took a sample, but couldn’t come to any conclusion before we left.” He shrugged and rubbed at the back of his neck. He could still feel the slight bump where the needle had pricked.
“And you’ve detected no sign of anything unusual in the Colonel’s bloodstream?” This to Doctor Biro.
She shook her head. “No, as I said, his preliminary scans all came up clean.”
“Maybe it was out of juice?” John postulated. The lab had, after all, been sitting dormant for thousands of years.
“Possibly,” Woolsey agreed. “Well, thank you for your report, Colonel. As Doctor Biro has suggested, I’d like to keep you around the city until the final results are in.”
John frowned. “I’d really rather not leave half of my team offworld.”
Woolsey looked like he’d been expecting that. John really couldn’t blame him. “I’ve already informed Teyla and Ronon to return to the city when they conclude their discussions. They’re scheduled to gate back at seventeen hundred hours."
"Thanks," John said, genuinely meaning it. There were some things that Woolsey might not 'get', but he didn't question them. Unspoken team rules were a big one and John appreciated that about the man.
"Of course, Colonel."
John woke the next morning later than usual. His alarm had apparently gone off at its usual time, but he'd slept through the incessant bleating for over twenty minutes. The morning itself seemed grey and dull, even when he threw back the curtains to let the natural light stream in. The sky didn’t look cloudy and he could see the sun just cresting the watery horizon, but its light was diffuse and not nearly as bright as he’d become accustomed.
He shrugged it off – unconcerned with some minor weather phenomena - and went to take a shower. After he got done, he started to wonder if maybe it wasn't the weather, but instead if something might have been going on with City systems, because even the water pressure in the shower felt weaker than it should have.
At breakfast he sat down across from Ronon and Teyla. The whole team had met up for dinner the night before, once Teyla and Ronon had come back from M3J-495, but hadn't really gotten to hang out. Ronon had plans with Amelia later in the evening and Teyla wanted to spend a quiet night with Kanaan and Torren, so John and Rodney had borrowed Lorne's Nintendo Wii and played Wii Sports Resort until after midnight.
John wondered if that's why he was feeling so off. Ronon was complaining about the salsa on their eggs being too heavy on the jalapeno, but John couldn't really taste much in the way of heat. He shrugged it off, focusing instead on trying to arrange a team night. It'd been far too long since just he and Rodney and Ronon and Teyla had all gotten together for movies and popcorn.
He left the breakfast table for the Bi-Monthly Department head staff meeting with promises from the both of them to find a free day in their busy schedules.
John took his usual spot in the meeting, and no one who knew better tried to sit on the seat to his right. That was Rodney's chair. And considering that Rodney usually shuffled in late to this particular meeting (he called it the worst exercise in bureaucracy that Woolsey had ever imposed in the city - mostly because he hated sitting through the updates from the heads of any of the 'soft sciences') he got pretty irate if he didn't have a place to sit down.
This morning he was even later than usual and completely preoccupied by something, and wasn't even good company for John, who found the whole meeting unusually tedious. He was having trouble hearing some of the people speaking and made a note to suggest to Woolsey that they make all department heads take a mandatory public speaking course. The one that Halling ran where he made the attendees sing and dress in local native costumes.
When it was finally over, just shy of two and a half hours later, Rodney followed him out of the conference room, and moved to walk by his side when they got out to the control room. “How could you handle that?” he hissed, voice pitched for John’s ears alone.
John stopped at the railing that over looked the gate and rested his elbows on the rail. “Handle what?” he asked, “Woolsey’s bi-monthly department status meeting?”
“No,” Rodney leaned his back on the rail, close enough that his shoulder bumped John’s. “Doctor Whitfield’s perfume. I mean, at least I had a spacer with you in between us, but you were right next to her. It must’ve been overwhelming.”
John frowned. He hadn’t smelled perfume. The only thing that he’d noticed about Whitfield was the fact that she’d seemed overly enamored of the insect specimens she was delivering her report on. She’d droned on about these things – heck, after a while her voice had even begun to sound buzzy - until even Woolsey looked like he’d wanted to leave the room. “Didn’t notice.” He shrugged.
“Didn’t notice?” Rodney frowned. “I thought Atlantis’ decon protocols were going to initiate it was so strong.”
“Huh, really? That strong?” John shrugged. “I really didn’t smell anything. But I’m starting to wonder if I’m getting a cold or something,” he admitted, “because breakfast this morning had almost no flavor. I’m not stuffed up or anything, though.” He inhaled deeply through his nose, and surreptitiously leaned a bit closer to Rodney while he did so.
He could smell Rodney. Nothing strong or overt; just the familiar combination of Rodney’s soap and deodorant and that kind of pervasive lab smell he got when he’d been surrounded by people working on ancient electronic gizmos for hours at a time.
Rodney’s mouth was still cast at a downward angle, and the left side tugged even lower still. “See, now that’s even more concerning because I know you had the huevos rancheros with that sinfully delicious pork we get from the Pashonians. Even Ronon thought the chefs put a little too much jalapeño in the salsa.” He waved his hand in front of his mouth, miming something hot.
"How do you know what I had for breakfast?"
"Oh, I ran into Ronon on the way to the meeting. He warned me about the salsa. Said he was surprised that you didn't seem to mind the extra heat."
John hefted his shoulders again. “I don’t know what to tell you Rodney. It was all pretty bland to me.”
“So taste and smell are affected. Are you noticing anything else strange?”
He shifted to lean on one elbow and brought his other hand up to rub at the back of his neck. “I don’t really know. I guess that the lighting around here has seemed kind of dull.”
“Ah!” Rodney jabbed his pointer finger towards John. “Ahh, see, you’re rubbing your neck where the chair stabbed you. It can’t be a coincidence.”
“Rodney, Biro cleared me. My scans came back clean.”
"Well there must be something going on," Rodney insisted, "because clearly your senses are out of whack."
John wasn’t at all surprised when a voice came over his comm not five seconds later. “Colonel Sheppard?”
He tapped his earpiece, "This is Sheppard.”
He held up a forestalling hand when Rodney looked like he was going to say something.
“This is Doctor Biro. I need you to come to the infirmary as soon as you’ve got a minute.”
“Roger that, Doc. I’m on my way. Sheppard out.” He smirked at Rodney. “That was Biro. I’m headed back to the infirmary.”
He started walking and wasn’t surprised when Rodney followed along.
“Did she say why?”
John shook his head. “Nope, but I’m not going to be surprised if she found something after all.” He turned to Rodney, sheepish. “I suppose you're right. I didn't think much of it at first, but my sense of hearing, taste and smell all being dull? That's too much coincidence for this galaxy."
“So what’s the verdict, Doc?” John asked as he sauntered back into the Infirmary. This place was just way too familiar.
Biro didn’t look at all surprised to see that Rodney came in with him.
“Have a seat on the table, Colonel.”
John did, while Rodney took up his spot on the empty gurney, kicking his heels against the base. “Let me guess," Rodney said, not bothering to hide his usual 'voodoo practitioner' snark, "you found something in the bloodwork?”
“Not exactly,” Biro said, “but there was an anomaly in the test results and I want to re-run some of your scans.” She put him under the whole body scanner this time, and took another blood sample and checked his vitals again.
“So, you didn’t seem too surprised by my call, John. What’ve you noticed?” Biro asked after the full body scan was completed. She had that look on her face – almost eager – that sometimes made John feel like nothing more than a lab rat.
“Just some small things,” he admitted. “This morning I slept through my alarm because sounds have been kind of muffled. And my breakfast tasted really bland. Which normally wouldn’t be something I’d be surprised by,” he said with a wry smile, “but Ronon actually thought the salsa on our eggs was too hot and I didn’t taste that.”
“And the perfume,” Rodney added helpfully.
“Right, there was a Doctor in the staff meeting who was apparently wearing some pretty strong perfume, but I couldn’t smell it.”
Biro nodded thoughtfully. “Anything else?”
John hesitated. Would it be weird to mention that he could still smell Rodney? “Uh, my sense of smell doesn’t seem completely affected.”
Rodney looked intrigued.
John’s gaze shifted to the floor. “I was standing next to Rodney after the meeting and I could still smell him, so maybe it’s a proximity thing?”
“What?” Rodney squawked, “I smell?”
“Not bad, Rodney. Just like...” he flipped a hand over, “you know, normal clean smell.”
“Well what’s a ‘normal, clean smell’ smell like?”
“I don’t know, Rodney,” John sighed, exasperated. “Like soap and laundry detergent and stuff. Just… clean.”
Biro ignored their banter and just made a ‘hmmmm’ noise.
“Okay,” Rodney barked out. “You obviously know something. Care to clue us in?”
“I’m still waiting to confirm,” she gestured to the computer where the results of John’s scan were compiling, “but there was a strange anomaly in the data. Not from the test itself, but almost as if there was another device feeding input into the scanner. I didn’t notice it earlier because the scanner recognized it and accepted the data without notifying me.”
Rodney’s mouth was titled in that crooked, puzzled frown that John always just wanted to tug at – with his fingers or maybe his lips – to straighten out. “So the scanner’s getting data from another source?” Rodney asked.
Rodney’s eyes went suddenly wide. “Oh no.” He hopped off the table and rushed over to the medical computer.
“What?” John asked, feeling panic start to flutter in his gut.
“The injection,” Rodney spat out, fingers flying over the keyboard. “What if it wasn’t a substance, like a drug, but something else?”
The panic resolved itself into a tight knot. “Oh crap.” He swallowed hard. “You’re thinking nanites, aren’t you?”
Before Rodney could reply, Biro shook her head. “No, it can’t be. The scanner is calibrated to detect nanites.”
“But you said that the scanner recognized whatever was providing this additional input,” John stated, following Rodney’s train of logic. “What if whatever this was didn’t show on the scans for that reason?”
“Right,” Rodney said, somewhat distracted as he studied the screen. “The injection was made by an Ancient device, so it was…” he trailed off.
“Rodney?” John asked, hating how high his voice had gotten?
“Got it,” Rodney exclaimed. “It’s not nanites.”
“Oh thank god,” John exhaled sharply, feeling the knot uncoil slightly. “Wait, what is it?”
Rodney pivoted the computer screen. “It looks like a micro-capsule.” He pointed to a scan of John’s head, and John blanched when he spotted it. A bright white dot settled right in-between the left and right hemisphere of his brain, just above the brainstem. There was something in his brain. When Rodney zoomed in on the image, he could see that it was shaped just like a tiny pill-capsule.
“What the hell is a microcapsule and what the hell is it doing in my brain?” he demanded. All that he could think of was the last time a member of his team had something in their brain affecting their faculties. He looked at Rodney, saw a kind of sad desperation in his eyes, and knew he was thinking about the same thing.
“It appears to be directly affecting your brain activity through stimulation via micro-filaments that have extended out from the capsule and into specific locations in the brain matter.” Biro shouldered Rodney out of the way and made more adjustments to the screen. The image zoomed in further and John could see tiny wires extending out of the thing in every direction.
“So why the hell didn’t the scans pick it up yesterday?” he challenged Biro.
"It looks like the capsule wasn’t actually activated until it received a transmission from the Ancient Medical Scanner. So when your initial tests were done yesterday, the capsule was inert. Whatever this thing does, it’s programmed to work in response to communication it receives from the scanner.”
“Any idea what it’s doing to him?” Rodney asked anxiously.
Biro studied the data on the screen. “Actually, yes. I’m seeing odd activity in your temporal, parietal and occipital lobes, but especially the parietal. Each of these parts of the brain affects how we process sensory input. It appears that your senses, taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight are all being dampened for some reason. Right now it seems to be affecting the insular cortex and the orbitofrontal lobe the strongest, which would explain why your sense of smell and taste are the most strongly impacted.
"Your cutaneous receptors are being impacted also, though to a lesser degree, which means that they may not respond to touch, pressure, or temperature. Luckily this seems to be localized to external senses, leaving your internal senses, or interoception alone. Your vestibular system appears perfectly normal, so you won’t have any trouble with your balance and the parietal cortex also looks untouched, so your proprioception – your awareness of your own body – should remain unaffected as well. ”
“So basically I’m losing the traditional five senses?”
Biro nodded. “In a nutshell.”
“So why can I still smell Rodney?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “Perhaps it has something to do with your reception of certain types of odors.” She stepped closer to the table, “Can you smell me?”
Feeling incredibly awkward, John hesitated.
“C’mon Colonel,” she snapped, “now is no time to be shy.”
Feeling the tips of his ears reddening, he leaned in and breathed deep and then shook his head in the negative. “Nope, can’t smell a thing.”
Biro tugged Rodney over then and pushed him towards John. “What about Doctor McKay. Can you still smell him?”
The heat spread across John’s cheeks and down his neck. There were plenty of times he’d wanted to get close to Rodney and sniff him, but in the medical bay with his Doctor watching wasn’t one of them. He took a quick sniff. The familiar scent was almost overwhelming in the absence of other smells. He took another deep whiff just for the comfort it offered. “Yeah,” he choked out, forcing himself to back away. “Yeah, I can still smell him.”
Rodney looked odd – puzzled maybe – and Biro was clearly perplexed. “Or maybe it’s due to familiarity. We should get Ronon and Teyla in here and see if you can still smell them as well.”
“No,” John protested, “we should get back to the planet and find out what we can about the machine that jabbed this thing into me. I can sniff Ronon and Teyla on the way.”
Biro shook her head. “That’s not going to happen, Colonel.”
“We need to go back to the planet and find out what that chair was for!”
“Oh, I agree that we need that information, but the rest of your team is going to have to go without you.”
“I can’t just let them go alone, Doc. They’re my team and they need me,” John argued. He’d occasionally been able to wheedle Beckett into letting him out of the infirmary with that argument, but Biro was made of sterner stuff.
“And I can’t let you go, Colonel.” Biro was firm and unwavering. “Right now a couple of your senses are almost completely impeded, and the rest are also being lessened. There’s no accurate way to tell how fast this is going to progress, and which senses will be affected next. You could lose your sight completely, or all somatosensory response entirely which could mean that you wouldn’t be able to react to stimulus like heat or electric shock. As of right now it’s not permanently affecting anything, just…”-she spread her hands, looking for an apt analogy-“just turning them off, but I don’t want you out of my sight in case that changes.”
What John really wanted to know was: “Can you take the capsule out?”
“While it’s affecting your brain so directly?” She shook her head. “I’d rather not attempt it if I didn’t have to. I think we should better understand why it’s doing what it’s doing and whether or not this is something that will run through a programmed course.”
“Which you won’t know until you have the data from the planet.”
“Right,” Rodney said. “Which is why I’m going to take Ronon and Teyla and a science team back to M3J-495and find out what that chair is for.”
He walked across the room and tapped at his earpiece and John could hear him radio Woolsey with an explanation and the request to take a team back to the planet. John found it odd that he could pick up even the subtle nuances of Rodney’s tone when he was across the room, while Biro – who was standing next to him – was starting to sound further and further away. He wondered if she was right about familiarity. Maybe he was just so attuned to Rodney’s voice that he could pick up on it better than anyone else’s.
Rodney strode back over after a very short time. He’d pretty much bulldozed over Woolsey with his demands to pull a science team together and have everyone assembled and ready to go at the gate in fifteen minutes.
“Woolsey gave the go-ahead,” he said unnecessarily. “I’m bringing Zelenka and that new guy, Adams, who’s moderately decent at deciphering Ancient code.” John bit back a grin. From Rodney that was high praise indeed.
John nodded. “Thanks, Rodney.”
Rodney lifted his chin defensively. “Right, well I’m not going to let some Ancient barcalounger mess with a member of my team, am I?”
A rush of warmth spread through John’s chest. “No,” he said with a tight, small smile. “No you won’t.”
Rodney placed a hand on John’s shoulder and John nearly flinched at how… good… comforting… overwhelming … it felt. He hadn’t realized just how much sensation he was losing. He leaned into the touch a bit desperately for a moment.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Rodney said, giving a last squeeze before drawing his hand away.
Without even realizing he was moving, John got up to follow that touch. Biro pushed him back down. “You can’t go with them, Colonel,” she said, though not unkindly.
"Yeah," he said glumly, settling back to wait, "I know."
John couldn’t recall a time where he’d felt more like a lab animal; even when he’d turned into a damn bug Carson hadn’t run this many tests on him. Biro had him running through a series of data-mining tests every fifteen minutes, checking the decline rate in each of his senses.
The scariest part was that with all the testing, he could tell how much worse things were getting. He couldn’t smell anything anymore; not even the ammonia from smelling salts that had Nurse Jackson’s eyes watering while holding them at arm’s length. The gas they emitted still irritated his nostrils and made him inhale, but that felt especially strange with none of the associated smell.
He was rapidly losing physical sensation as well. Biro had started out with light electrical stimulation to test his reception to touch, and he could see her upping the amperage with each interval. It was the oddest sensation – or lack thereof. He could feel the pressure of touch when someone squeezed an arm or maneuvered him in some way when they wanted to scan him again, but the feeling was internal; almost as if he didn’t have any skin.
Biro also had to resort to writing things down for him on a small whiteboard, because his hearing was getting so bad. It was like trying to listen to someone speaking while wearing headphones, or underwater. Even the sound of his own voice was becoming lost to him.
The worst, though, was his vision. The grey pall that had seemed to cover everything this morning just got darker and darker. Within just a couple of hours all but the brightest lights had gone dim. Doctor Biro and the nurses that were assisting her with the tests became dark smudges against a growing inky blackness. He knew that soon he wouldn’t be able to read the reassuring comments she hurried to write down and show to him each time she completed a test.
He tried not to let it overwhelm him, but he was heading into total sensory deprivation here. He’d experienced that in the more ‘traditional’ sense – locked in a sound proof room with no lights and no contact with people for days on end - in the past during some particularly unpleasant imprisonments. It certainly made for effective torture. At least then he’d been able to feel the walls of the room and taste the bland, metallic tang of the tepid water he’d been provided, and hear his own voice when the silence got to be too much.
He really couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like when all his senses went completely offline. When he could no longer feel a person’s touch, or hear them talking or see them… or him, as his brain so helpfully provided.
God, he had to acknowledge it. It wasn’t just the thought of being cut off from people in general, but not being able to see or hear or touch Rodney – his team as a whole, but Rodney especially - that he dreaded most. All those little too-risky-to-acknowledge moments that he secretly, even sometimes subconsciously catalogued and cherished: goofy smiles they’d exchange over a shared joke, or ‘you’re such an idiot, I don’t know why I put up with you’ scowls, or moments when they walked down the hall and their arms bumped companionably, and the friendly pats on the back or even mocking thwaps to the back of the head. All of it. He was going to lose all that.
He could only hope that Rodney got back before everything was gone entirely. Even if he was going to lose all of his senses for a period of time – he wasn’t even going to consider that this would be permanent, Rodney would find a way to fix him! – John thought he might be able to get through it with one last glimpse of his friend to hold on too.
John was pulled from those maudlin thoughts by Doctor Biro shaking his shoulder. He could tell it was her by the silhouette, but he couldn’t hear her speaking at all. She held something in front of him that blocked out more light, but showed dim words that were barely visible. He realized that she must’ve typed up what she wanted to say on a tablet and adjusted it so that the words were glaring white against black. He squinted to read them:
‘TEAM BACK! RODNEY HAS NEWS! HOLD ON, JOHN!’
John gave a sigh of relief. He could only hope it was good news.
He didn’t have to wait long to hear it. Literally.
Rodney’s’ voice: coming loud – so very loud – and clear and echoing to suggest he was still in the hallway. “No I don’t have time to debrief even briefly; I need to get to Sheppard right away.” He was obviously having a conversation that John couldn’t hear the other side of. “Yes, if you get to the Infirmary in the next thirty seconds,” Rodney snapped.
“I can still hear Rodney!” John shouted, amazed. Well, as far as he knew he shouted. He couldn’t hear himself at all.
“Yes, and I can hear you too, Sheppard. So could this entire half of the city, so tone it down a little, would you?”
And oh god, Rodney’s bluster was l like music to his ears; especially because he could almost feel the concern beneath the words as a palpable thing. Despite everything a grin split his face and he focused his gaze on where he thought Rodney’s voice was coming from, hoping for even the barest, greyed-out glimpse…
Not only could he hear Rodney, he could see him as well. “What the hell, Rodney?”
It was like Rodney was the only lit object in a wholly dark room. He was entirely outlined by that black nothingness, but every detail of the man himself was as bright as normal under infirmary lighting and clear as crystal.
Rodney waved as he crossed the room, and his expression was aggravated and grim and something else strange that John couldn’t put a finger on. Obviously he knew what was going on here and wasn’t all that happy about it. “Look,” Rodney was saying, his head turned to look off to the side. “I’ll explain it all to Sheppard and you can all listen. Yes,” he barked out, clearly getting annoyed at the interruptions, “he can see me too. Hell, I’m sure he’ll be able to feel me, smell me and even taste me if he wanted to!”
Rodney’s mouth clamped shut for a moment and his cheeks flashed pink. “Um, not that… I mean...” He threw up his hands. “Just everybody else shut up and let me get through this!” Rodney drew even closer and then he moved oddly, like he was shifting his hips for some reason…
Oh, John realized with a start, Rodney was sitting down, but John couldn’t see the stool that he’d settled on. Weird.
“So here’s the thing, Sheppard. The simplest explanation is that you’ve become my Padawan.” He whipped his head to the side to glare daggers at someone, and obviously they either thought better of continuing or he wasn’t going to dignify their interruption with a comment, and then turned back to John. “We were right earlier when we started to analyze the data from the control chair that it’s a training implement. Its purpose is to create a special kind of bond between trainer and trainee. Or, well, mentor and student is probably a better description.” He shrugged.
“I’ve still got Adams reviewing the database for more information on this process, but apparently it was a very special and rarely used practice. The purpose is to make the student wholly reliant on the mentor and to literally erase any outside influence that might distract him from his focus.” A scowl pulled angrily at his mouth. “And guess what the ultimate purpose was?” he asked, sarcasm all but dripping from the words.
John didn’t have to guess. “Ascension,” he stated.
“Yep.” Rodney shook his head in disgust. “The thought was that if a student could learn to put aside all of their ‘real world’”-his hands came up to do exaggerated air quotes-“concerns, without going crazy from lack of sensory input, they could find the kind of concentration and level of inner peace necessary to achieve ascension.”
John huffed out a non-laugh. He was only surprised by how little the whole scenario surprised him. “So uh, how did I end up with you as my mentor?” he asked, trying to keep his voice at a normal level. He could just faintly hear his own words echoing off of Rodney which helped a little.
Rodney’s expression went kind of sheepish. “I was the one who activated the console and it coded to me when you sat down.” He shook his head, a small smile playing at his lips. “Typical for us. Wrong place, wrong time and wrong ancient ascension device.”
John gave a soft chuckle at that. He didn’t realize how intimate this whole exchange felt until he saw Rodney turn his head again, and say, “Yes, yes. I’m getting to that.”
Shit, he’d forgotten that they were in a roomful of people.
“The good thing, Sheppard, is that this is most definitely a temporary condition.” John sighed in relief.
Rodney went on, “I’ve got Zelenka and Adams working out whether or not we can make adjustments using either the Ancient Med-Scanner or the control chair to shorten the duration but we’re looking at,” the corner of his mouth turned down, “just under two weeks.”
Two weeks? John didn’t know how he was going to handle two more hours of this without going crazy. It must’ve shown on his face because Rodney hurried to say, “I know, John. We’re going to do everything we can to fix this sooner. Look,” he stood, “I need to talk to Woolsey about how we’re going to proceed and get some logistics figured out, and Doctor Biro’s going to run some more tests.”
John started to protest. He didn’t want Rodney leaving; not when he was John’s only connection to anything other than a sense of nothingness.
“Don’t worry, Sheppard.” Rodney told him reassuringly, “I’ll make sure I stay in line-of-sight. And I’ll let you know what Biro’s up to.”
So once more, John let himself be prodded and manhandled and all the while listened as Rodney kept up a fairly successful division between running commentary on the medical staff’s activities and discussion with Woolsey about his scheduling and the science team’s workload. In the end Woolsey was more than happy to agree that Rodney could focus on John’s ‘predicament’ (from the way that Rodney said the word, John knew he’d been directly quoting the disturbed tone as well as the word).
Biro insisted on repeating several of her tests with Rodney there, and in visual, auditory or physical proximity to John, to see how the results differed. Fortunately, she didn’t push on the taste and sense of smell.
“It’s really quite fascinating,” she ‘said’ with Rodney parroting her every word, describing the differences in screens that John could no longer see. “The individual sensory functions are almost entirely blocked by the device, but when the sensor gets confirmation that it’s me,” Rodney pointed to himself, “who’s interacting with you, function returns almost immediately and almost at one hundred percent or better.”
John nodded. They’d also discovered that he could see things if Rodney was holding them and they were small enough. He’d tried holding on to Doctor Biro, but while John could see the areas around Rodney’s hands where he was gripping her arms, the rest of her was just a dark blur. Smaller items held in front of Rodney’s body, like Rodney’s laptop, stayed visible if a bit indistinct.
Through Rodney, Biro outlined her requirements for releasing him from the infirmary. John had to make sure he kept up with meals and he absolutely had to come back every day for follow-up testing.
“Alright, Sheppard.” Rodney said, taking hold of his hands and pulling him up from the exam table. “Let’s go.”
“Go?” John asked, puzzled and also distracted by the feel of Rodney’s hands gripping his. They felt warm and big and he really didn’t want them to let go. “Go where?” He figured with this situation he’d be stuck with medical supervision for the next two weeks.
Plus he’d been so focused on just letting the timbre and pitch of Rodney’s voice center him, that he’d completely lost track of what he’d been talking about for the last little while. The last thing he could specifically recall Rodney had been demanding access to the Ancient Med-Scanner from Doctor Biro, and from the sound of things she’d been putting up a fight.
“Your quarters,” Rodney said. “Or mine. You know, maybe mine would be easier.” He frowned and seemed to think about it. “No, let’s make it yours. You may not be able to see, but I’m sure you’ll do better at stumbling around them in the dark.”
“Gee, thanks, Rodney.”
Rodney dropped one of John’s hands, but kept a tight grip on the other and led him out of the infirmary. Being able to see Rodney’s back and hear him talking made navigating the hallways of the city easier than he’d expected.
Not that it didn’t freak him out entirely when he looked away for a moment and the world went black. But then Rodney would just snap at him to, “C’mon, Sheppard. This’ll be easier when I don’t have to be your guide dog.”
They made it to John’s quarters without incident. Well, that John knew of. For all he knew, every single person in Atlantis could’ve followed them there. Although, Rodney didn’t speak to anyone but him on the way, so he assumed they were incident-free.
When they got inside, Rodney led him right over to the bed, dutifully narrating his actions. John settled down on to it gingerly, still adjusting to the ‘not there’ not-feeling. He knew he was sitting, but it was like sitting while his ass was numb. He caught Rodney looking at him strangely and sort of hovering only a few feet away. “What?”
Rodney made a weird gesture with his hand. “Um, you sort of sat down funny. Is… it okay? I mean, how does it feel? Or, not feel as the case may be.”
John sighed. He didn’t quite know how to explain it.
Wait, yes he did.
“So, did you ever have your foot or leg fall asleep and you stood up on it. That feeling where you know there’s pressure on it and you’re standing, but you can’t quite feel it yet?”
Rodney nodded. “Oh yeah. I hate that. Especially once the pins and needles start.”
“Well, it’s like that.” He cocked his head. “Well, without the pins and needles.” Small mercy, that.
“Huh, that is weird.”
“Um,” Rodney’s hands were kind of fluttering around, like he was trying to pluck the right words from the air.
“Look,” John started, to save him the trouble. “I think I’m going to lie down for a bit. See if I can get some rest.” He didn’t want to admit he was afraid he might not be able to fall asleep. “Uh, you’ll ah…” he jerked his chin in the direction he thought his desk might be.
“Oh, yes!” Rodney hurried to say, “yes, I’m sticking around. I don’t plan on going anywhere. Um, Teyla and Ronon radioed. They want to stop by in a little while if that’s okay?”
John nodded. Even if he couldn’t see them or even hear them, having his team nearby was always a comfort. “Yeah, that’ll be good.”
“Great, I’ll let them know.” He backed up towards the desk. “I’ll just be here, working. Adams contacted me when we were still in the infirmary and had some updates on the device. So let me know if you need me, uh, for anything.”
“Will do, Rodney.” He gave a quick sort of half-smirk and then settled further back onto the bed, lifting his feet up and lying down.
He closed his eyes. Not that he needed to, but he hoped it would help him to feel a little more normal.
Yeah, normal lasted all of two minutes.
It was just too damn quiet. He was used to falling asleep with his windows open, hearing the distant sound of wind and water, and having quiet but ever-present hum of the city herself lull him to sleep.
Now there was nothing. Except the apparently endless thoughts in his head that he couldn’t shut off.
“Hey, Rodney?” He hoped his voice sounded calm and low; he didn’t want to sound as close to desperate panic as he really felt.
Rodney’s response was almost immediate. “Yeah?”
He didn’t know how to ask for what he wanted. He was always pretty good at deflection though. “Or should I call you Obi Wan?” He smirked.
The sound Rodney made was somewhere between a snort and a scoff. “No, of course not.” John was about to reply when Rodney went on, “because if I’m Obi Wan that makes you Anakin and ugh, nope.”
Even with his eyes still closed, John heard the exaggerated shudder Rodney gave. “You’ve got a point. Okay, so then I’m Obi Wan which would make you Qui Gon, right?”
“I can agree to that,” Rodney relented. “Qui Gon was pretty badass. Granted, he got impaled by Darth Maul, but prior to that he was pretty much the ideal Jedi.”
John chuckled. “Yeah, that’s you, Rodney.”
“So, Obi, what did you want anyway?” And of course Rodney wasn’t going to be distracted.
Reaching up a hand, ostensibly to scrub at his hair, though he couldn’t help if it strayed over his mouth to muffle his, “Don’t suppose you could hum or something?”
Fluent in John-speak, no matter how garbled, Rodney just repeated, “You want me to hum?”
John shrugged. “Or, uh… sing or even just read out loud? I just…” he lifted his hands helplessly. “It’s just too quiet. I can’t sleep with it this quiet.”
“Oh. Um yeah. I can do that.” He made a hrmm noise. Not humming, just a trying to think noise. “I don’t exactly have the best singing voice, you know,” he cautioned, “but I’ll see what I can do.”
He started off quietly, humming a familiar melody, but considering there was no other noise to muffle the sound of it, John heard it clear enough.
John settled deeper into a pillow he couldn’t wholly feel and focused all his attention on the sound of Rodney’s voice. “Danny Boy?” He asked once Rodney started on the lyrics.
Rodney stopped. “Do you want me to do this or not?” He sounded embarrassed. “I mean, unless you have some specific request, I thought something that was melodic, kind of like a lullaby would be good to help you sleep. It’s either that or Rock-a-bye Baby.”
“No it’s good, Rodney. I appreciate it. Just surprised me, is all. Please,” he added softly, “keep going.”
Rodney did. His voice was a little shaky but not unpleasant and he got more confident the longer he went on. When the first song was done, he switched to something that John only vaguely recognized as a ballad by a Canadian songwriter. It suited Rodney’s voice even better and John let it become the only thing in his universe, until he finally succumbed to the pull of sleep.
John slowly drifted awake, letting consciousness wash over him in lazy, lapping waves. He shifted sleep-heavy limbs, waiting for the familiar feel of his comfortable mattress beneath him and listening for the soft susurrus of blankets sliding on sheets.
There was nothing.
He opened his eyes to blackness.
His hands clenched and it felt like they closed around empty space.
He shot up, flailing against the lack of sensation.
“John!” Rodney was suddenly there, at John's side. “I’m here. I’m right here.”
John forced his eyes open and they sought and found Rodney immediately. He reached out desperately, hands gripping Rodney’s shoulders, while Rodney’s hands closed around his forearms. With the feel… the firm, solid, substantial feel of Rodney beneath his hands, and Rodney’s hands on him, completing some kind of circuit of sensation, John felt the panic begin to recede.
“Shit,” he gasped out, trying to bring his breathing under control. “That was awful.”
“What happened? Are you okay?” Rodney looked almost as freaked as John felt.
“I just… when I woke up, I’d forgotten about this whole thing.” It wasn’t easy to marshal his thoughts, but he realized what caused the reaction. “I think,” he started, feeling out the idea, “I think it changes when I’m sleeping.” His brow furrowed. “I don’t know if the probe shuts down when I’m asleep, but I think it might. Or at least it scales back, because right when I was starting to wake up, I felt normal.” He took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “But then as soon as I was awake enough to be cognizant of my senses, everything was gone again.”
He was already starting to feel a little sheepish about the whole thing. He pulled a hand back to scrub through his hair, hating how he couldn’t feel the strands drag between his fingers. “How long was I out?”
“Just a couple of hours. Maybe three. Look, I’m sorry, John.” Rodney’s, expression went even more downcast, if that was possible. “I shouldn’t have let you wake up like that.”
John shook his head, frowning. “What? Why? What are you supposed to do? Watch over me while I sleep and anticipate when I’m going to wake up?”
Rodney shrugged. “Possibly. Or… I don’t know, maybe I should wake you up periodically.”
“Honestly, I don’t think that scheduled bed checks are going to be much help. I think it’s just the nature of this thing.”
Rodney wouldn’t be swayed, however. “I still should’ve anticipated that something like this might happen.”
“How could you know, Rodney?” John asked, completely confused about why Rodney was being so adamant.
“I should’ve,” he insisted, chin jutting stubbornly. “Look, I still remember when I had that parasite in my head and I woke up in the infirmary and no one was there. I couldn’t understand where you all were.” He voice was sharp and spoken through gritted teeth. “I still remember just how lost and confused I was. And I could actually still see and hear; I just couldn’t think.” He hunched a shoulder up in a culpable shrug, “I should’ve realized just how terrible it would be for you to wake up to this.”
John’s heart lurched. The memory of Rodney pounding on his door, calling out John’s name in that frantic, panicked voice was one that John didn’t like to revisit too often. He knew his expression probably looked a little gut-punched. “Geez, Rodney. You shouldn’t think like that. This… thing I’m going through is nothing like that.”
“Look,” Rodney interrupted, unusually fierce even for him, “I don’t like the idea of you waking up like that. What if you were to freak out and fall out of your bed and crack your skull or something?” He shook his head adamantly. “I don’t want to risk that.”
“Rodney,” John drew the name out, trying to buy time while he figured out what he could say to that.
“Don’t ‘Rodney’ me, Sheppard.” He hesitated then, and John could see that he was working to say something. Something that made him very uncomfortable. “Look, you don’t have to answer me now, but I want you to think about this, okay?”
“Uh, what am I thinking about?”
Rodney opened his mouth, closed it again, and then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I want you to sleep with me.” His eyes snapped open.
John’s jaw dropped. “I’m sorry, Rodney, but did you just ask me to sleep with you?” There was no way Rodney was asking him that. John had to have misheard him. Maybe this stupid microcapsule was making him hear things he wanted to hear.
Rodney held up a forestalling hand. “Yes, but before you shoot down the idea immediately, hear me out.” He shifted closer and ducked his head a little so he could look John in the eye. “I think it will keep you from experiencing… well, what you experienced when you woke up. I think that if you’ve got me to wake up too, I mean, as the only person who you can see or feel…” He spread his hands helplessly. “I don’t want this to get weird. Well, weirder than it already is, but if I can help to prevent you from going through that every time you wake up… I want to do it. I think it’s the only way.”
“Rodney, I --“
“Look,” Rodney interrupted before John could say anything, “don’t answer now. Give it some thought. Will you do that?”
John was grateful for the reprieve, because how would it have looked if he jumped at the offer with an immediate and enthusiastic ‘Yes!’. Of course, the idea of sleeping – even just sleeping – with Rodney brought its own concerns. With his senses on almost complete lockdown they were ultra-sensitive to Rodney. But he already knew that was a fair trade as far as his mind was concerned. There was no way he was going to turn down Rodney’s offer.
He nodded slowly. “Yeah, Rodney, I’ll think about it.”
Rodney blew out a relieved breath. John couldn’t blame him. It was a brave thing for Rodney to offer. “Great. Thanks.”
John figured that while they were on more personal topics, it was a good time to bring up something he’d been noticing since he woke up. “Um, not to make things more unbearably uncomfortable, but I’ve gotta go to the bathroom. Think you could walk me in there?”
Once again, Rodney looked a little bit startled. “Of course, yeah.” John figured that there were going to be more and more little things like this that they usually took for granted that they’d actually have to stop and think about and coordinate. Rodney didn’t hesitate; he just took John’s arms and guided him across the room. Rodney made a pretty good navigator – steering him out of the way of obstacles and talking to him about the things he was passing so John could at least get a mental image of the space around him.
In the bathroom, he stopped John and very firmly spun him around. “Okay, you’re facing the toilet and the lid is up. It’s just uh, point and shoot from here, right?” He laughed, but it was a high, reedy sound. Definitely Rodney’s ‘trying not to freak out’ laugh.
John reached down to his waist, but he already knew the zipper on the BDUs was going to be trouble. “Uh, Rodney…” he didn’t think he needed to finish that sentence.
“Crap,” Rodney muttered, then likely realized that wasn’t the best choice of words in this situation and he grimaced. “I didn’t think about that. Okay, here.” He moved around John and pushed John’s hands out of the way. “Just… I’ll be, uh, careful.”
John very deliberately forced his gaze to fix on nothing, and not on Rodney’s hands. Hands that he could feel. Rodney’s knuckles scraped against John’s belly and even through the material of his T-shirt it was like an electric shock. He bit down on a gasp and clenched his fists at his sides.
“There.” Rodney said after a moment, snatching his hands away quickly. “Um, do you need any other help?” His voice practically squeaked on the last word.
“Look, Rodney,” John said gently, “we can just get one of the nurses in here. You don’t need to be doing stuff like this.”
Rodney shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Sheppard. This is not a big deal. Just tell me if you need me to like, help and I will. It’s not like I’ve never we’ve never had to do the whole,” he lifted his hands, fingers flicking out air quotes, “pretend we’re not two feet away when someone else is using the primitive excuse for a toilet in some offworld prison cells.” He shrugged, looking quite pragmatic about the situation suddenly. “This is really no different. Hell, at least we don’t have the joy of leering guards.”
John couldn’t help but grin. Leave it to Rodney to put a spin on it that they could both grasp on to for some sense of normalcy. “Right. No guards and we don’t have to form a human wall to give Teyla privacy.” He chuckled at the memory. Teyla and Ronon had been a lot more blasé about the whole thing, while Rodney’d kept up a constant stream of nervous babble and then apologized to Teyla about a dozen times after they’d finally been released from the cell.
“So?” Rodney barreled on, “do you need help?”
John nodded. “Yeah, uh, BDUs and boxers. I can’t really get a good feel for them.”
“Right,” Rodney returned the nod with a quick, tight bob of his chin. “Okay, we can do this.”
John finally just settled for having Rodney help him sit down on the toilet, and Rodney stayed in the room, but moved to the far side with his back turned and – much as John had suspected he would – kept talking.
When he was done and washed up – water was really weird - and re-clothed, Rodney led him back into the room and helped him get settled back on the bed.
Rodney turned around towards the door, then back to John. “Teyla and Ronon are here. Do you mind if they come in?” He sounded a bit relieved by their arrival. John couldn’t blame him.
“Yeah, sure. Let ‘em in.”
He gave a lazy wave in the direction that he thought might be towards the door (Rodney’d been looking that way at least) and smiled. “Hey guys.”
If they replied, he couldn’t hear. He hated that he couldn’t even tell that they were actually in the room.
“You’re going to have to put up with my translating everything,” Rodney told him, pulling up a chair to place himself between John and his guests. “They’re sitting on that travesty you call a couch, by the way.” He slowly turned his gaze in that direction so that John could follow his lead.
“So how are you guys?” John asked, trying to sound as upbeat as he could manage.
A few moments of silence passed while Rodney nodded and then frowned and finally held up a hand. “Whoa whoa… one at a time.” He nodded again while listening, rolled his eyes – John assumed that was to something Ronon said, since Rodney rarely rolled his eyes at Teyla - and then turned to John.
“Okay, Teyla says she’s doing very well and that she wanted you to know that the rest of the mission on MLV-471 went very smoothly. The agreement was negotiated satisfactorily for all parties. And Ronon said that he’s fine too, and that they had a nice meal at the end of the trade session.” Rodney ducked to the side suddenly, saying, “Alright geez. You don’t have to hit. Okay, Ronon is annoyed that I didn’t mention that he felt the feast was much nicer since I wasn’t there to fight with over the dessert, and he got to eat my share.”
John chuckled. Even when he couldn’t hear it, the familiarity of banter between his team always brought comfort. “Well I’m glad it went well. Considering that we may need to get access to that chair again soon, it’s good to know the locals are cooperating.”
“Oh,” Rodney looked guilty. “No, I didn’t tell him yet,” he snapped off to his left. Probably to Teyla, because despite the snappish tone, he looked contrite. “Well yes, I’m working on it right now if you’d just let me talk.” And that was definitely to Ronon, because Rodney looked ready to dodge another of Ronon’s shoulder-punches.
“What didn’t you tell me?” John asked. Rodney didn’t look alarmed, so John wasn’t quite nervous…yet.
“Oh, just that Radek and a team are already back on the planet with the chair. The last update I got looked encouraging as far as re-interfacing with the chair is concerned.”
“Definitely. And with the data I’ve been working on, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to find a way to reprogram the microcapsule.” Rodney nodded across the room. “Yes, that would mean we might be able to turn it off.”
"I'm sure you and your team are going to figure it out." John told him confidently.
“No," Rodney said to someone, "I’m not asking him that.” Rodney shook his head. “Fine, fine, but if it offends him it’s not my fault.” He turned to John with a face that clearly telegraphed his opinion about translating this particular message. “Ronon wants to know whether or not you’d feel it if he punched you in the arm.”
John’s brows went up as he thought about it. “Possibly,” he hefted his shoulders up slowly. “Uh, you can try it if you want.”
“Not too--“ Rodney started but trailed off with a garbled sound.
John definitely ‘felt’ when Ronon’s fist impacted with his arm. And it definitely hurt. John’s whole body rocked to the side from the impact. But it was just like all the other sensations: dulled, like he was feeling it not directly on his body but instead through a thick layer cotton batting.
“Not so hard!” Rodney squawked.
“It’s okay,” John hurried to say, since Rodney was looking a bit growly. “I wanted to see what would happen too.”
Rodney blinked suddenly, looked startled a moment and then immediately sheepish. “Sorry, Teyla, I didn’t mean to ignore you. Just well,” he lifted a hand in a gesture that John guessed was made towards Ronon, “him. But yes, I’ll ask him. John, Teyla wants to know if you could describe what that was like. If you don’t mind?”
“Nah, it’s good, Teyla.” John thought back to his earlier description to Rodney, and borrowed on that. “It was a little bit like that muffled sensation of being shot while wearing body armor. But it's also like when a part of you falls asleep and you can’t feel it. It’s like my whole body fell asleep, I guess.” He shrugged.
“But without the pins and needles,” Rodney added helpfully.
“Right,” John agreed. “Thankfully no pins and needles.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed as he frowned. “Ronon asked if it was like shititious lameitis, but all-over? Ronon, what the hell is…” he trailed off for a moment, then scoffed if disgust. “Oh c’mon, really?”
John chuckled. He suspect Ronon picked that one up from one of the Marines. “Back in basic they used to call that getting latrine palsy.”
Rodney smile suddenly; far too sweetly. “Teyla wants to know about this malady you speak of.”
John was pretty sure he had to be blushing, although he couldn’t feel the heat of it. He was also pretty sure that Teyla knew what they were talking about, but was just messing with them. “Uh, it’s when you sit on the toilet so long that your legs fall asleep.”
“You can’t see her, Sheppard, but Teyla’s expression is just as disgusted as mine.” He rolled his eyes. “Ronon, of course, thinks it’s funny.”
“Sorry, Teyla. But really, it’s kind of what it’s like. The falling asleep thing,” he hurried to add, “not the sitting on the toilet thing.”
“Seriously?” Rodney asked in mock-disbelief. “You’re using my valuable services as a translator to make poop jokes?” He looked to the side and nodded. “Teyla says that on that note, they’ll leave you… err us. Oh, and if you need anything, I can let them know.” He made a disgruntled noise. “I’m not everyone’s messenger service, you know.”
John could practically hear Teyla reassure Rodney, based on the way he preened. “Well, of course I would. And I know you’d do the same for me.” John saw the faint smudge of a hand on Rodney’s arm.
“Thanks for stopping by, you guys. Sorry I’m not the best host right now.”
“Teyla says she was glad to see you and will stop by to check on you tomorrow.” Rodney supplied, and John felt a faint pressure on his bicep. “That’s Teyla’s hand by the way.”
John smiled and nodded.
“And that’s Ronon’s,” Rodney added unnecessarily as John felt another, stronger pressure on the opposite shoulder.
“Ronon says that if you feel like sparring like this, he’s happy to oblige.”
John shook his head, laughing. “Yeah, thanks big guy, but I think I'll give it a pass.”
“Ronon and Teyla brought dinner, by the way.” Rodney said after he’d escorted Ronon and Teyla out. “And Doctor Biro wants to make sure you eat, since you didn’t have anything since breakfast.”
John was about to protest that he wasn’t hungry when he felt his stomach rumble; loudly, apparently, based on Rodney’s significantly raised brow.
“See,” Rodney pointed out, “your body agrees with me. You need to eat.”
John watched him moving around. He could occasionally pick up hints of what Rodney was doing, especially when he held things in his hands, or moved them in front of his body.
“It’s just sandwiches, and chips and some fresh fruit,” Rodney explained. He pushed John's small table close to the bed, sat down across from John and held out an unwrapped sandwich. “It’s all stuff that should be easy for you to eat, but don’t be stubborn, okay?”
John took the sandwich carefully, a little unsure of his grip. Once in his hands he couldn’t see it anymore, but his spatial awareness wasn’t affected so he managed to bring it too his mouth and take a bite. It was like biting into cardboard, although he suspected cardboard would be more flavorful. Fortunately, whatever what affecting his sense of touch seemed to be limited to his epidermis and he could feel the texture of the sandwich as he chewed.
“Anything?” Rodney asked, swallowing his own mouthful.
John shook his head. “Nope. Completely tasteless.”
“So, not that different from normal, then?”
That got a laugh out of John. “Yeah, maybe it’s a good thing? I mean, I could be eating that pickled wildebeest from M5T-504 and I wouldn’t know it.”
“Teyla says that stuff is prized on many worlds for being so high in protein and nutrients.” Rodney pointed out; though he was wearing the exact same grimace he’d had on his face when they’d been served it at a ceremonial dinner.
“Still tastes like ass, though.”
“No arguments from me,” Rodney agreed.
Eating wasn’t as difficult as he’d worried it would be; at least with the items that his team had brought. He wasn’t at all surprised by their thoughtfulness. As long as he set things down in relatively the same spot, he could reach out to pick them up again. Based on the occasional subtle hand motion, Rodney was shifting things around now and then for him, but since he didn’t make a big deal of it, John didn’t either.
“What’s sad,” John said after he’d finished the sandwich and chips and was clumsily picking at the plate of fruit he held in one hand (he ended up squishing a couple of grapes between his fingers, trying to get the right force in his grip), “is that by the time this is done and over, I’ll probably be so desperate to taste anything that even pickled wildebeest would taste good.” He tried to make it light – a careless, throwaway comment - but from the way Rodney’s mouth slanted downward, he didn’t succeed.
“We’re trying to get this fixed.” Rodney said urgently. “While you were sleeping, I had Radek send me over the data he extracted from the Med-Scanner that activated the capsule, and I’ve been going through the code to see if I can reverse engineer it.”
“I know, Rodney. You don’t need to convince me that you’re doing your damnedest. I know how you operate.” He reached out to touch Rodney’s arm. “Jedi Master, right?” He was trying not to let these brief moments of connection be the only thing that grounded him, but he was starting to worry that he was already past that point.
Rodney gave a weak smile. “Right.
“Chess?” Rodney asked a few minutes later, breaking the growing silence.
John nodded. “Sure. Although you’re going to have to move the pieces for me.”
“Yeah, I know. And, I want to try something.” Rodney slid over sideways in an oddly smooth move and it took John a moment to realize he’d rolled John’s desk chair back to the desk. “I’ve been going over Adams’ reports and from what he’s been able to surmise based on the entry in the database as well as some data they retrieved from the chair room, it may be possible for me to influence some of your…” he gestured broadly at John. “Well, to make you more aware of things. I want to see if I can get you to actually see the chess board during our match if it's in front me and I'm looking at it as well.”
“Oh yeah?” If Rodney could help him get back even a little bit of any of his senses, then John was all for it. “Great, let’s give it a try.”
Rodney set-up the chessboard, and John tried to focus his attention even more intently on what Rodney was doing. “So, I’m going to keep my hand on the board. If you can keep a hand on my arm, I’m going to see what happens. Just concentrate on trying to see what I'm seeing, okay? The first game went slowly, but as it progressed, he started to see the pieces even when Rodney wasn't holding them in his hands. Of course not being able to see the whole board put a damper on his play style and he lost in fewer moves than ever.
They played two more games, and each time John found he could bring a little bit more of the board into view. By the last game he’d even made half of his own moves. He was about to suggest another game when he saw Rodney trying to stifle a yawn.
He felt a pang of guilt then. He had no idea what time it was. Probably pretty late considering that he’d gone to the infirmary at just after eleven that morning, and spent most of the day there and snuck in a nap.
“I’m sorry, Rodney. I got that nap earlier. I didn’t realize how late it was.”
Rodney waved that off. “Oh, it’s not a big deal, Sheppard. I can go for lots longer without sleep if I need to. But, since I don’t actually need to go without, I could definitely be persuaded to fall asleep.” He sat up a little more stiffly in his chair. “Um, did you give any thought to my earlier offer? Well, not so much an offer as a strong suggestion, but did you think about it?” He looked torn somewhere between anxious and afraid of the answer.
“Yeah, Rodney, I did.” John said, wanting to put Rodney’s mind at ease. “If you’re really okay with the idea, then I think we should give it a try.”
Rodney’s head jerked back. “Really?”
John frowned. “Yeah really. Why? What’s so surprising about that?”
“Oh, nothing,” Rodney gave another of those dismissive hand-waves. “I just… well, I know you’re not the most tactile or emotionally demonstrative of people and I thought you might find the idea… um, unpleasant?”
“Wait,” John said, because there were two ways he could read that. “You mean you think I’d find it unpleasant because it would mean being close to another human being, or that I’d find it unpleasant because it would mean being close to you?”
Caught out, Rodney could only duck his chin. “Both. Either? I don’t know.”
“Look, Rodney. I’m perfectly okay with the idea. You’re right that I’d really like to be able to sleep without freaking out about what it’s going to be like when I wake up. It sucked once; I don’t wanna go through it every morning for the next two weeks. And, the only thing I’m concerned about is that I need you to understand that this,” he pointed at – what he hoped was – his head, “Is not something I can control. You are the only person probably in the known universe I can even remotely see or hear or feel. It’s a little overwhelming. So as long as you’re okay with the idea that I can’t necessarily control how I react, I mean, physically, then I’m fine too.”
Rodney looked mollified and also a little wide-eyed in wonder. “Okay good. Good. And, I understand, John. I mean, I’m glad you’re okay with this idea and don’t worry, I’m not going to freak out at anything.”
“Okay, then we’re both good. So, let’s get to sleep. Wha’dya say?”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, okay. Let me just get ready for bed.” He got up and then paused, mid-step. “Oh, wait, you’re going to need to get ready too.”
“Oh yeah.” John hadn’t considered the logistics of that. He was still in his BDUs and black t-shirt (as far as he knew) and while napping in them had been okay, he really didn’t want to sleep through the night in his clothes. He mentally shrugged, because it’s not like he’d really know the difference. Still, he’d like to brush his teeth. Just because he couldn’t taste anything, didn’t mean he wanted bad breath. Especially if he was going to be sleeping next to Rodney.
“Look, let me just run back to my quarters and get a few things. When I come back I can help you with all that,” he flipped a hand, “pajama, teeth-brushing stuff.”
“Okay, I’ll just wait here, then.” He gave a curt nod.
Rodney frowned sympathetically. “I’ll be quick,” he said, and then he was gone.
The complete and utter blank, nothingness he’d experienced in the infirmary returned for the first time since Rodney came back. Even when Rodney’d had to leave John’s site to use the bathroom, he’d kept talking. Mostly about how weird it was to be carrying on a conversation while he was peeing, but it was still conversation.
John took a deep, steadying breath. Like before, when he’d been trying to take a nap, the only thing he could focus on were the non-stop thoughts in his head. He tried to shut them out, but there was nothing else to concentrate on.
He recalled his extended stay in the time dilation field a few years ago, and the hours spent in meditation. He’d never been very good at it, using the random sessions he attended every few days mostly to nap, but he’d gleaned enough to try to help Rodney when he'd had his own run-in with an Ancient Ascension device. Maybe he could use it on himself to get him through this. He slowed his breathing, and brought a simple image to mind.
He focused on the image. The same one he'd made Rodney imagine: clear blue skies. Instead of letting his mind drift through that soft blue space, his brain kept bringing him back to the time that Rodney almost ascended.
“Hey John, I’m ba… what are you doing?”
John looked up to see Rodney standing there staring at him in concern, and the tension just flowed out of him. “Hey. I was just passing the time. Figured I’d try meditating. See if it might help.”
Rodney hurried over. “What the hell, John? You know that’s the purpose of this whole scenario right? To make it easier for you to find the peace of mind necessary to ascend.”
“C’mon, Rodney, I’m not trying to ascend. I was just…” he shrugged, “I was trying to pass the time without losing my mind, to be honest.”
“Oh,” Rodney frowned, “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t think it would be that bad. I should’ve taken you with me. Next time I need to leave, I’ll take you with me.”
John waved it away. "It's okay, Rodney. I'm okay. I promise no more meditation sessions if you do have to leave, alright?"
"Fine, just remember, ascending is not an option."
"Right, gotcha. No ascending."
"Alright, c'mon, let's get ready for bed." He towed John into the bathroom and helped him with the toothbrush. John decided against messing around with getting into pajamas and decided he'd be fine in boxers and his regular T-Shirt. He waited just outside the room while Rodney did his own changing and tooth brushing, and continued talking all the while (except when he was gargling with mouthwash, but even then John could hear the burbling, gurgling noises he made).
Rodney helped him into bed first and then got in on the other side. It’s was completely different from when he was lying in bed for his nap. Now he could feel Rodney next to him and hear him making noises as he settled down. Thanks to their efforts over the chess game he could even hear the sheets rustling as Rodney shifted them into place. John rolled onto his side and let his hand hover over Rodney’s chest.
Rodney spotted it. “It’s okay to keep a hand on me. I’m not going to freak out.”
“You sure?” John probably would’ve clung like a limpet if he didn’t want to seem too desperate.
Rodney didn’t answer, but he grabbed John’s hand and drew it across him. John’s options were to let himself be pulled closer or draw away, and it wasn’t a tough decision to make. He pressed the line of his body against Rodney’s side and rested his head on Rodney’s shoulder.
“Just tell me if you get uncomfortable, okay?”
He felt Rodney nod, chin rubbing the top of John’s head. “Don’t worry; I’m selfish when I sleep. I’ll move you around if I need to…” his sentence broke off on a yawn.
John knew he should close his eyes and try to sleep, but he didn’t want to. For the first time since this all started, John was surrounded by sensation. He shifted a little, getting his nose closer to Rodney’s skin so he could smell him better and feel the warmth of him.
“You okay?” Rodney asked, voice slurring drowsily. “Need me to hum again?”
“Naw, I’m okay, Rodney. G’night.”
“Night,” Rodney murmured on a long exhale and slipped into sleep on the next breath.
Despite his earlier nap, not to mention his desire to just lie there and bask in having his senses back to a small degree thanks to Rodney's proximity, the long and stressful day took its toll. Lying next to someone who was sleeping as deeply and peacefully as Rodney was a soporific all its own, and John finally closed his eyes and let himself relax.
The morning brought with it the uncomfortable scenario that John had feared. He woke up to the blissful sensation of being entangled with another warm body. Sometime during the night, Rodney had cuddled even further onto the bed and John ended up sprawled over him. Thanks to his being particularly attuned to Rodney, he could tell that Rodney was awake and that certain parts of both of their anatomy were … intrigued by the proceedings.
John should pull away. He knew that, but he was loathe to give this up. He felt Rodney’s chest rise and fall beneath him in a deeper breath and he braced himself for Rodney’s freak out.
“You awake?” Rodney asked softly.
“Yeah,” John replied hesitantly.
John nodded. “Yeah,” he repeated.
Rodney sighed, sounding relieved. “Oh good. That’s good. I hope I didn’t wake you up when I woke up?”
John was a little preoccupied by the fact that Rodney was not freaking out. In fact, Rodney had a hand over John’s side and was absently sliding it up and down, from the curve of John’s shoulder to the dip of his spine. “Uh, no,” he finally managed, realizing Rodney was waiting for an answer. “No, I woke up on my own.”
“Good. I wanted to make sure you got enough sleep.” He scooted up the bed somewhat, propping himself up on John’s pillow and John fought very hard not to react to Rodney essentially dragging his body under his. “But, if I don’t get out of bed now, I’m going to be wrecked for the rest of the day. I swear, too much sleep doesn’t leave me well-rested, it just makes me tireder… More tired?” He huffed out a laugh. “See?”
John figured he’d better follow suit with getting up, so he rolled off Rodney, but didn’t break contact entirely, leaving his entire right side in contact with Rodney’s left.
“You going to be okay if I get up now.” Rodney asked. He was looking at John with some concern. Apparently John wasn’t doing as good a job hiding his befuddlement from Rodney as he thought. “I don’t want it to be a shock to your system, you know? I thought maybe if we separated gradually?”
“Uh, yeah. Let’s do that.”
Rodney got out of the bed slowly, pulling away from John one point of contact at a time. When he was finally standing he raised his arms to stretch. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that his T-shirt was riding up and he was tenting his boxers. John looked away quickly. He didn’t want Rodney to become uncomfortable with his constant staring. It wasn’t Rodney’s fault that he was the only thing John could see.
“Sheppard?” Rodney’s voice was hesitant. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he hurried to reply, but he could feel the raggedness of his voice in his own throat and knew there was no way that Rodney was going to miss that.
“Um, I’m going to go into the bathroom and get dressed and stuff. I was thinking I’d take a shower. I’m guessing you might want one at some point?”
John could only nod.
Rodney started into the bathroom but then stopped and walked over to sit down at John’s desk instead. “You know, John, with the information we’ve already got I may not be able to deactivate the microcapsule yet, but I might be able to reprogram the chair to modify who your mentor… or uh, Jedi Master is.”
“You can change that?” John asked, shocked by that revelation.
Rodney held his hand out and waggled it back and forth. “Possibly. No,” he corrected after pursing his mouth in thought for a moment, “probably. That side of the equation is easier to address than the capsule itself because we have direct access to the chair and its programming, while anything we do to the capsule will have to be done using the chair and Ancient Med-Scanner. I mean, obviously this hasn’t been the focus of our work, but if you’d rather have someone else…” he trailed off, frowning.
“Would you rather I picked someone else?” John asked. Why else would Rodney offer if that wasn’t what he wanted? Obviously as hard as he’d been pretending otherwise, the whole morning and waking up with John clinging to him and John’s eyes constantly fixed on him were making him uncomfortable.
Rodney’s chin jutted stubbornly. “It’s not about what I want, John. It’s about what you’d be the most comfortable with.” He gestured past John, towards the bed, John assumed. “I know this isn’t exactly your ideal situation.” He cleared his throat and looked away. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t change it to Teyla or Ronon, because integration with the chair controls requires the gene, but maybe one of the nurses or a marine?”
John frowned and though he couldn’t sense anything on the outside, he could definitely feel the way his stomach clenched at the thought that Rodney wanted to give this up. John didn’t want to have this kind of connection with anyone else in the city. If he’d had to pick someone else, obviously it would’ve been Teyla or Ronon, but Rodney would always have been his first choice.
“I guess,” he finally said, reluctant to agree. “I mean, if you think it’s for the best?”
Rodney eyes locked back on his. “I don’t know what’s best here, John. That’s why I’m asking you.”
“Well I don’t want you to keep putting up with me if you don’t have to. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do.”
Rodney’s expression fell momentarily and then schooled itself into utter blankness that was unnerving to look at. “Fine, who would you like me to consider then?” He said it stiffly.
“I don’t know,” John said, floundering. “There isn’t anyone I can think of. I’d rather have…” he let the thought go unfinished.
“Who?” Rodney asked, a modicum of bitterness leaking into his tone. “You’d rather have who?”
“Who do you think, Rodney?” John ground out. “I’d rather it was you, of course. Who the hell else would I want to go through something like this with? Christ.”
Rodney’s mouth fell open. “But I… I,” he sputtered. “I thought you didn’t want it to be me. I know I made you uncomfortable this morning. And I don’t want to keep putting you through that.”
What the hell? John shook his head, “No, Rodney. I just don’t want you sticking with this because you feel obligated. I don’t want you to be stuck with me when I’m like this. I was the one who made you uncomfortable this morning.”
“What?” Rodney shook his head. “No, that’s not what happened. John, I saw the way you were looking at me. I know you can’t help it, but your expressions are…” he was getting animated as he spoke, gesticulating with fluttery sweeps of his hands. “Well let’s just say that they’re more open than usual. You tend to hide some of your uh… shall we say more extreme feelings behind this complete mask of indifference. You normally have this really odd duality of the worst and yet most effective poker face I’ve ever seen. I think people think they can read what you’re feeling most of the time, but it’s become really clear to me now just how much you hide.”
“So this morning…?” John prompted, when Rodney seemed to have lost track of his point.
“This morning, I uh… well, I woke up after sleeping in a bed with another person. I reacted. My body did, I mean. It was purely physiological,” he hurried to reassure. “But still, you looked so freaked out, John. This whole scenario is difficult enough for you. I don’t want to make it worse by putting you in situations like that.”
John rolled his eyes and let out a groaning sort of laugh. He couldn’t help it. “Jesus, Rodney, that’s not what was bothering me this morning. I was freaking out because I thought you were being forced into a situation where you had to act perfectly normal after waking up with your best friend wrapped around you like an octopus with a raging hard-on. And you weren’t freaking out, and I hated that you had to pretend just so you didn’t make me feel bad.”
Rodney bit at both of his lips. “So umm… you were freaking out because I wasn’t freaking out?”
John gave an exaggerated nod. “Yes, exactly. And that’s why I figured you might want to let someone take over being my babysitter.”
“Oh, right. Well, I’m not your babysitter,” Rodney snapped, though his eyes were shining suspiciously, “I’m your Jedi Master; get it right, my young Padawan.”
“Right, Master McKay.” He blinked. Crap, that didn’t sound good. “Yanno, maybe we shouldn’t repeat that whole Master/Padawan thing outside of this room.”
Rodney nodded quickly. “Yeah, good idea.” He cocked his head to the side, studying John for a minute. John tried not to let it unnerve him – especially because that’s probably just how he’d been watching Rodney for practically the past twenty-four hours. “So, we’re good, right? We’re sticking with things just as they are?”
“Yep,” John confirmed.
“Good. So, why don’t we get this whole business of getting dressed and showered and all of that sorted, then I’ll have someone bring us breakfast.” He pointed a finger at John. “And then I’m going over the data from the Ancient Med-Scanner and you’re going to help me.”
John figured that the best thing to do was nod dutifully. “Sounds good, Rodney.”
Oddly, with all of that out of the way, the ‘getting showered and dressed’ thing went surprisingly smoothly. Rodney helped him get undressed and got him in the shower, and then waited outside of it while John scrubbed himself off. He could ‘feel’ enough of the impact of the water hitting beneath his skin that he was able to get himself pretty effectively cleaned up.
Rodney handed him his soap and shampoo and conditioner when he asked for it, but otherwise he sat down on a chair he’d wheeled in the large bathroom and kept up a lively conversation. He was griping about one of the new personnel who’d joined the expedition after Atlantis had been allowed to return to Pegasus when John declared himself done.
Rodney brought him a towel, and then helped dry him off when John fumbled with it. John kept expecting things to get weird, but the only thing that was weird was how…un-weird it all was. He got John his clothes and provided a steady arm or guiding hand as needed while John navigated the difficulties of getting dressed without being able to feel his clothes. He even got John’s toothbrush ready, but John drew the line at letting him do the actual brushing.
A marine delivered their breakfast, sticking with finger food per Rodney’s instructions. John ate dutifully, mostly because he knew Biro would follow-through on her threat to tube feed him if he didn’t. Rodney seemed to enjoy breakfast though.
“So, I’m working on reviewing this data from the Ancient Med-Scanner” Rodney explained after they were done eating. “Why don’t you sit next to me and we’ll see if you can view the screens if I’m looking at them as well as touching the laptops.” He arranged the chairs and guided John to one. “If that works, then I’ll have you read through the data that Adams’ has been compiling from the database.”
If he kept an arm around Rodney’s shoulders or looped through one of his, while Rodney kept a hand touching the laptop, John could read the leftmost screen. He didn’t get much more out of the data that Rodney hadn’t already told him, but it felt good to be doing something proactive regarding his own situation.
“Oh, this is interesting,” Rodney suddenly blurted. He’d been making little curious noises while examining the data, but otherwise been quiet.
“What’s that?” John asked; glad to take a break from his own reading.
“Just that there’s a definite correlation between the data that activated the microcapsule and information retrieved by the Med-Scanner."
“Which means what, exactly?”
Rodney grinned. “I think I may be able to modify the Med-Scanner to communicate with the microcapsule to change its instructions by syncing it up to the chair.” He held up a hand to ward off any of John’s questions. “It’s going to take a bit more work on recoding the chair, but I think Radek can manage that. I’m going to have to convince Biro to let me modify the Med-Scanner though.”
“Yeah, she’s not going to be happy about that.” The handheld Ancient Med-Scanner was one of her favorite devices, and she was slightly protective of it. It wasn’t as detailed as the full-body scanner, but it was almost like a tricorder in the way it worked for quick diagnoses.
“Well,” Rodney shrugged, “she won’t have a choice. Woolsey will back me if she argues. He doesn’t want the City’s Military Commander out of service any longer than absolutely necessary.” He checked his watch. “We’ve an appointment with her in just a few minutes anyway. We can ask her about it then.”
They worked for a bit longer, and then reported to the infirmary for John’s scheduled appointment. Rodney greeted a few people as they made their way through the hallways and passed along their words for John. John nodded but otherwise didn’t say anything.
Biro was apparently excited to see them, if the way she grabbed onto John’s arm and dragged him to the full body scanner was any indication. He was reluctant to lose contact with Rodney, but from the insistent tugging on his arm, he knew he'd have to cooperate. Rodney provided the required translation: “Doctor Biro wants to compare your current brain activity to the final results from yesterday. She also wants to rerun some of the tests with both of us. She's encouraged by the notes I provided earlier regarding our success with the chess board and the computer screens this morning."
"Sure, Doc. Whatever you say." John wasn't necessarily feeling as cooperative as he let on, but he'd learned long ago - after too many stays in the infirmary - that if you let the Doctors have their 'fun', they were much more pliable when it came to things like getting early release.
The nice thing about this series of tests was that once she was satisfied that his baseline readings hadn't changed, she was much more curious about the progress he and Rodney had made. Which meant that he got to keep in close proximity to Rodney, and frequently in physical contact.
Rodney was also being uncharacteristically compliant, but John knew he was just waiting to spring with his need to 'borrow' the scanner.
"So, how're we doing, Doc?" John asked when Rodney passed along the message that they were finally done.
"The progress is fascinating apparently," Rodney repeated. "And the Doc would like us to continue to work on extending the influence.”
John nodded. He and Rodney had already planned on that anyway, but if it made Biro happy and got him out of the infirmary, he'd agree just for forms sake.
“She thinks that if we can figure out a way to decrease the duration of this particular form of ancient torture, it might have therapeutic purposes for people suffering from brain injury in the future." He snorted disagreeably, “She also wants to get that microcapsule from your brain as soon as possible to examine. Doctors,” he shook his head, “vultures the lot of you.”
"Yes," Rodney said after listening to more instruction, "he's eating fine." He paused and shook his head. "Of course I'm not going to let him get away with that," he shot John a look that said 'tell you later'. "Right, of course. I'll remember that. Yes, yes, that too."
John tried not to laugh. Rodney was the one getting bombarded with all of the last-minute instructions that usually got dumped on John whenever he was a patient. He waited for the discussion about the scanner, curious to watch it all from Rodney's side of things. He liked watching an indignant and self-righteous Rodney, especially when he got on a roll of belittlement and condescension. Unfortunately, it seemed that Radek had already asked Woolsey to intervene, and Biro had already given the Med-Scanner to him.
"Sneaky little Czech," Rodney grumbled as he led John out the Infirmary. "I told him I wanted to do the work on the scanner myself."
"Can he do it?" John asked, genuinely curious. He knew Radek was brilliant, but there were just some things that he preferred to trust to Rodney. His brain function being one of them.
Reluctantly, Rodney admitted, "Well, yes. He's more than capable of doing the reprogramming." He tapped his headset, "Radek, I just talked to Biro."
John tuned out the conversation, which carried on during the entire walk back to John's quarters and for awhile after that. Rodney guided John back to the chairs they'd been sitting in earlier, and sat down next to him. Without needing prompting, he held out an elbow so John could hook a hand around it.
They spent the afternoon like that: Rodney working on the coding and John at his side – always touching so that John could read the laptop screen. Radek called in several times, and John tried to pay attention to Rodney’s side of the conversation – things were starting to sound pretty positive – but after a while the technobabble got to be a bit too much.
"Dinner," Rodney reported suddenly, and John corralled his wandering thoughts. "Give me one second, John." He got up and went to the door and came back carrying a tray that John could sort-of see. "Hrmm," he said as he returned to his seat and moved laptops out of harm's way. "Not the most... sensory-limited friendly sort of meal. Looks like we've got more sandwiches, but also some kind of salad and ohh," he grinned as he lifted something - a lid apparently, "dessert. Rovian cherry cobbler."
He looked up a John to share his pleasure, and then abruptly remembered. "Oh crap. I'm sorry, John. I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay, Rodney. You shouldn't deny yourself just because I can't enjoy it." He grinned playfully, "I'll just live vicariously through you. How 'bout that." He scowled suddenly. "Although I don't know how I'm going to manage the salad."
"Why don't you just take half of my sandwich and I'll have your salad."
"Rodney," John went mock wide-eyed, "you'd eat a salad for me?"
"Smartass," Rodney said, but he was grinning as he handed over half of his. "And you're forfeiting your dessert for that remark."
"That's fine, Rodney." John ate carefully, forcing the tasteless thing down. "Hey?" he said, an idea suddenly coming to mind. "We haven't tried me eating while we're in contact, have we?"
Rodney shook his head. "No, we haven't. Why the hell haven’t we tried that yet?" He reached out immediately and clasped John's wrist.
John took an experimental bite. His eyes flew open for real this time. He hurried to chew and swallow so he could report, "I can taste it! I mean, it's faint, but at least it's not that cardboard nothingness."
Rodney beamed at him, "Okay, for that I'll rescind my claim on your dessert."
"Damn right you will." John said with a buoyant laugh. It proved a little bit awkward to eat that way - because if Rodney removed his arm while John was chewing, the sensation of taste faded almost immediately, but they were both more than willing to endure a little awkwardness so that John could actually enjoy his meal. He polished off Rodney’s half sandwich and all of his and then waited impatiently for Rodney to finish his salad - which was especially difficult to eat while holding on to someone's arm.
"Dessert time!" He declared eagerly when Rodney was done. He held a hand out for his fork. Rodney placed it in his hand and closed his fingers around it. Which was all well and good, but John couldn't actually see the dish. "Just, see if you can aim my hand towards the plate?"
They tried to coordinate it, but the crumb-topped fruit compote wasn't the most cooperative of desserts and it kept sliding off John's fork because he couldn't get the angle right without being able to see it in action. Finally Rodney just yanked John's fork from him and clamped his other arm down to the table, pinning it there. "Okay, you just stay still, and I'll feed it too you, alright?" he shook his head in feigned disgust, though John could see that his eyes looked a little too wary. "No sense in you wasting something so good."
"Okay," John agreed, but he understood Rodney's reaction. Literal spoon feeding was heading into more of that weird territory. He kept a loose grip on Rodney's free arm, and then just opened his mouth as Rodney guided the fork towards him. He closed his lips around the fork when he felt it touch his tongue and Rodney drew the utensil slowly back out.
It was delicious. The taste was even more pronounced than with the sandwich. He let out a low groan. "Oh god, that's good."
"Yeah?" Rodney asked, looking even more wild-eyed than before, and even a little flushed.
John knew then that he should put a stop to this. He could feel his own body reacting - and holy hell did getting a hard-on when you couldn't actually feel your own dick count as one of the most surreal experience of his life! The internal tension and that balls-deep ache were there, but none of the external sensations that went along with it.
Despite that, John couldn't bring himself to stop. It had only been a little over a day, but he was already starving for sensory input. And while sound and sight were being placated almost continuously to some extent, and touch and smell were occasionally receiving input as well, taste had been almost wholly neglected.
"It's really good, Rodney. Thanks for doing this."
Rodney just held out another forkful, though John didn't miss the fact that his cheeks were growing steadily pinker with every consecutive bite. John tried to keep the appreciative noises under controls, but they slipped out here and there. He reached a point where he couldn't even look Rodney straight in the eye while he ate.
All too soon or not soon enough – John really hadn’t decided which - Rodney was scraping the fork around the plate for the last morsels. "Okay," he said, voice shaky, "last bite."
John opened his mouth wide for it, and then closed his mouth around the tines, sucking the last bits of cream and cherry and crisped oats from the fork. He savored it, swirling it around his mouth and letting it hit every one of his taste buds before swallowing it down.
"You've got a bit of cherry by your mouth." Rodney said, and then shook his head when John tried to lick at the corners of his mouth. “No, there on the…no, will you just…” Finally Rodney just sighed impatiently and reached across the table to swipe his thumb across John's bottom lip. John's tongue, which had still been seeking out that last errant bit of flavor, swept over the pad of Rodney's thumb and the sticky cherry at the same time.
If tasting the dessert while keeping his hand on Rodney's arm and being fork-fed was a firecracker of sensation, then this was a damned supernova.
"John?" Rodney was saying, "are you okay?"
John swallowed hard. "Uh yeah." He nodded slowly. That gut-clenching arousal he'd felt when this whole experiment began ratcheted exponentially. "So, uh, it turns out that uh, you feeding me seems to have a direct impact on whatever the hell it is in my brain that controls my sense of taste."
"Really?" Rodney looked intrigued, and it was that dangerous, scientific kind of curiosity that often overrode his good sense. He plucked a full cherry from his own plate and held it out. "So if you were to take this directly from my fingers?"
John nodded. He knew Rodney was going to try it. He knew he should try to stop it. No good could come of this.
He didn’t stop it, but he did try to brace for the rush of sensation.
The fruit and Rodney’s fingers hit John’s tongue at the same time and he couldn’t prevent himself from sucking them both into his mouth. He pressed the cherry up against the roof of his mouth, squishing it so that the juice and pulp mingled with Rodney’s fingers.
It was damn near one of the most orgasmic experiences of his life. He swallowed, relishing the dichotomy of sweet fruit and salt skin…and realized far too long of a time later that he’d still not let Rodney’s fingers go. Nor had Rodney made any move to pull them from his mouth.
Shit. He had to stop this.
John jerked his head back and shoved himself away from the table. He spun away from Rodney, but stopped before he started to stumble away because he couldn’t see where he was going. “Christ, I’m sorry, Rodney,” he choked out.
“No, shit, John. I’m the one who’s sorry.” He heard Rodney come closer, and squeezed his eyes shut as Rodney’s hand curled over his shoulder and Rodney turned him back around. “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m… I just thought…”
Much as John hated how he guilty he felt, he hated even more how small and lost Rodney sounded. He opened his eyes to see Rodney staring at him and looking just wrecked. “No, don’t apologize, Rodney. I knew it was going to be…” he shrugged lightly, not wanting to throw off Rodney’s hand. “I shouldn’t have let you do that. I’m sorry about how…” he couldn’t find the right words to convey what he was feeling.
“It’s okay, John. No harm done, right? I mean, a little weirdness, but we’re good?”
“Right,” John agreed, grasping desperately at the straws Rodney was offering. “We’re good. Still sticking with things as they are.”
They managed to follow that up a little bit of small talk while Rodney finished his dinner (and John very deliberately did not watch him eat his dessert). Rodney continued on with his usual griping about his subordinates, trying to set the tone back to something resembling normalcy. John continued the effort by offering to play more chess.
“Let's try playing cards tonight instead of chess." Rodney suggested. "I want to find out if we can get you to see the cards in your own hand if you're in contact with me and I’m not in contact with the cards and can’t see them either."
"Sure, sounds good." John agreed, though the casual tone was a little bit forced. He couldn't get dessert out of his head. He wanted to repeat the experiment. He was craving sensation more than ever, and the knowledge that he could get all of it from Rodney was hard to ignore.
Rodney must've sensed some of this, because he set them up on opposite sides of John's small table, and then once he was done shuffling and dealing, he laid his arm across the tabletop, holding John's cards out to him. "Okay, take your cards with your left hand and put your right over my forearm. Let's see if we can get you to see what’s in your hand.”
They played for a couple of hours. He got better with each progressive hand. By the time they decided to call it quits for the night, he could see the cards he held in his left hand while his right hand loosely grasped Rodney’s fingers.
They were a little more hesitant in getting ready for bed than they’d been doing the opposite earlier that morning, and John hoped that the dessert incident didn’t continue to dampen the comfortable status-quo they’d established before.
John let Rodney get him settled on his side of the bed, and then he waited – body thrumming with tension – as Rodney climbed onto the bed. John held himself away from Rodney, fight the urge to throw an arm around him. He didn’t know how welcome his touch would be.
“John,” Rodney said in a tight voice. “Look, the whole point of my staying here with you… in your bed, is because I don’t want you to feel isolated. If you stay hunched over on your side of the bed, it sort of defeats the purpose.”
John laughed softly. Leave it to Rodney to be the brave one here. Even after John put him in that uncomfortable position earlier, he was still willing to offer whatever John needed. “You’re right, Rodney. I’m sorry I’m letting that weirdness from earlier make this weird now.” He rolled to his side, resuming the position he’d slept in the night before, and draped an arm over Rodney. The rush of warmth and reassurance from the touch was immediate.
Rodney pulled John closer again, “Yeah well, we excel at weirdness. Just…if you get uncomfortable at all, I mean, if I do something that bothers you, just let me know, okay.” He laid a hand on John’s arm, giving a squeeze of reassurance. “I’ll try to make sure I keep all of that… under control, you know?”
“Yeah,” John agreed, snuggling closer to Rodney, and breathing him in. He frowned suddenly, when the meaning of Rodney’s words sunk in. “Wait, what?” He lifted his head off of Rodney’s shoulder. “What are you talking about? I’m the one who needs to keep things… uh, under control. It’s not your fault if things,” he flopped his hand on Rodney’s chest, “you know, happen.”
“John, you don’t need to take responsibility for things that happen. I’m an adult and I should be able to keep all of that under control. Like I said this morning, it’s just… being close.”
John sat up further. “Okay, Rodney, now I’m really confused. Maybe we should stop all this damn euphemistic double-talk.” He drew in a deep draught of air and exhaled it in a tight stream. He could do this. “Frankly speaking, it is not your fault if I get turned on, and you shouldn’t try to make it your fault. I… it feels good to be able to feel, and that’s what my body is reacting to.”
“Okay,” Rodney levered himself up too, settling in a recline against John’s headboard. “Wait. Why are you talking about getting turned on? I’m not saying it’s my fault if you get turned on, I’m saying it’s my fault if I get turned on.”
This was getting confusing. “Why are you getting turned on?”
Rodney made a truly exasperated noise. “Do I really have to explain this to you, Sheppard?”
“Yeah, Rodney,” John said, unable to control the growl, “you really do. Because I’m talking about the fact that being in this bed with you and smelling you and holding you is damn near impossible to ignore. And no matter how much I try to say this is all about this whole brain sensation thing, it’s not, okay?”
“What?” Rodney’s voice had gone into the truly incredulous octaves.
And shit, John really hadn’t meant to blurt that all out. John flopped back down on the bed. Which would’ve been a lot more effective if he could’ve felt the bounce of the mattress underneath him. “Oh hell.”
“Yeah,” Rodney said, nodding fervently. “You did just say all of that.”
“Fine, I said all that,” John grumped, “but that still doesn’t explain what you were saying.”
Rodney scooched back down the bed, putting his head at the same level as John’s. John could feel the bed rocking slightly and he realized Rodney was laughing. “I don’t even know what I was saying anymore.”
John dug an elbow into Rodney’s ribs. “Hey, you were the one who said it was your fault that you were getting turned on. And then I asked why you were getting turned on, and then you ignored the question.”
“I didn’t ignore it,” Rodney protested, but John could hear in his tone that he was still smiling. “I just didn’t answer because I didn’t think I needed to explain why lying in bed with an attractive guy that I care for who’s wrapped around me like an octopus would cause a physical response.”
John swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “Um, Rodney, I have to ask…” but he couldn’t get the words out.
“Yes,” Rodney said, all hints of frivolity gone from his voice. “Yes it’s because it’s you, John.”
“So that thing earlier with the dessert?”
Rodney chuckled again. “Was all kinds of torture.”
“Tell me about it,” John said, letting some of the exasperation he’d experienced come to the fore. “It wasn’t just the cherries, you know.” He moved closer, shifting a leg up and over Rodney like he’d been positioned when he’d woken up that morning. His movements became more sure when Rodney’s hand smoothed over the skin above his hip.
“Oh?” Rodney prompted, voice dropping into a rough, husky timbre that made the skin along John’s ribs judder. “What was it?”
Like he’d wanted to do since he first got a whiff of Rodney’s skin, John let his lips trace the line of Rodney’s throat. “The way you tasted,” he breathed, and then followed the same path with his tongue. Rodney’s skin was salt-sweat and sweet and amazing. “God, Rodney, I want to taste you all over.”
“I uh…” Rodney squirmed when John pushed his T-shirt up and continued his exploration of Rodney’s skin down the center of Rodney’s chest. “Yeah,” he gasped, “you can totally do that.”
John felt Rodney’s fingers push through his hair; fingertips dragging against his scalp and then down the back of his neck. He arched up into it the touch.
“What do you want, John?”
“I want you to touch me, Rodney. I need to feel you.”
“Skin,” Rodney agreed, “naked skin would be good.” He worked John’s T-Shirt over his head, and then shimmied out of his own.
John let out a low, reedy groan when he pressed his bare chest down against Rodney. After the sheer absence of feeling anything against his skin, this was almost too much. He gripped desperately at Rodney’s hip and bicep, mouthing kisses and suckling bites along Rodney’s collar bone.
“C’mere,” Rodney urged, pulling at John’s shoulders until their faces were level and their bodies aligned. “Yeah,” Rodney said hungrily, “’c’mere.” He pressed his lips to John’s. Lightly at first, and John was glad of that because anything more would likely have shorted out his brain.
He’d never realized just how many of his senses were involved in kissing, but every single one of them strained for more. The taste of Rodney’s tongue; the wet, lush sounds lips meeting and parting; the sweetness of the breath being exhaled against him; the glint in Rodney’s cobalt eyes in that moment before he had to close his own; and the feel of it all… soft and firm and wet and hot and luscious press and tangle and slide of lips and tongue and teeth.
“Oh god,” he breathed, “kissing is the best.”
Rodney huffed a laugh against his mouth. “Oh yeah.” He traced a hand down John’s ribs and scraped it across John’s belly, before tucking his fingers beneath the waistband of John’s boxers. “I can think of a few more good things though.” John could only pant raggedly against Rodney’s neck when he felt Rodney’s hand close around him.
“Oh my god, Rodney,” John finally gasped, “you have … you have no idea how that feels.”
Another laugh tickled John’s ear. “I think I can imagine, but you know if you want to share the experience, you’re more than welcome.”
John took the hint. He copied Rodney’s earlier move, sliding his fingers slowly down Rodney’s chest and over his ribs – Rodney’s whole body twitched. “Tickles,” he muttered. John did it again, feeling Rodney’s skin flinch and twitch under his fingertips. “Stop that,” Rodney complained, giving a warning squeeze around John’s dick.
It was John’s turn to flinch, though not from pain merely from the ridiculous overflow of ‘ohmygod good’ flooding his system. “Okay,” he relented, “okay, no more tickling.” He proved that by letting his hand determinedly continue its downward course. He ghosted his hand over the front of Rodney’s boxers, feeling his hardness straining against the thin cotton.
“I love that I can feel you,” John whispered, squeezing Rodney through the material. “God I’m so glad that if I had to have this happen it happened with you, Rodney.”
Rodney’s hips jerked when John finally worked his fingers underneath the boxers to curl delicately around the hot, silky skin of Rodney’s shaft. He traced lightly at first, with just the pads of his fingers, then smoothed the flat of his palm over the tip.
“Shit,” Rodney swore gutturally. “Yeah, yeah” he breathed, pushing his hips into John’s tightening grasp. “I’m glad too,” he finally managed to spit out. “Not that this happened, I hate that. I hate seeing you like this. But that… it was me…” He threw his free arm around John’s shoulder and pulled him even closer. John could feel both of their hands between them and he rutted helplessly against Rodney’s hip and rhythmically squeezing fingers.
“I know, Rodney. I know…” John breathed, and then lost words all together. He tried to focus on keeping up a steady pace, giving short, sharp jerks of his arm, but Rodney kissed him again and that was all John knew for an eternity.
His orgasm, when it came, was blinding in its intensity. He was so wrung out by it that he could do little more than keep his hand curled tight as Rodney’s hips thrust faster and faster into the grip of his fist. The hot rush as Rodney spilled over John’s fingers was almost as intense a sensation as his own release.
John slumped halfway back down to his side of the bed, though Rodney’s arm around his shoulders tightened to keep him from slipping too far away from him.
"Wow," Rodney mumbled.
"Yeah," John agreed. "I think that was the most intense orgasm of my life."
"Really?" Rodney sounded ridiculously smug.
"Yeah," he had a ridiculous thought and couldn't keep from voicing it. "Yes, the apprentice has become the Master."
Rodney sporfled a wet laugh against John's shoulder. "Seriously, my young Padawan? You think you've bested me in Jedi skills?"
"Maybe, maybe not." John stretched out, hooking a leg around Rodney's and pulling him in close. "Maybe we can both work on some of those special Jedi skills tomorrow. What'dya say, Master Rodney?"
Rodney settled his chin into the curve of John's shoulder and yawned. "I say that sounds good, but right now it's time for all good Padawans to go to sleep." He pulled the blanket over them.
"Night, Obi Wan."
John woke up the next morning to the feeling of arms around him. He opened his eyes to darkness, and then rolled his head on the pillow of Rodney’s’ shoulder, bringing the sudden bright glow of Rodney’s face into view.
Rodney was already awake and staring at him. “Hey, g’morning.” John said, knowing that there was a goofy smile already forming on his face.
“I’ve got breakfast coming.” Rodney said, looking back at him with the same ridiculous fondness, “and Radek radioed that he’s got some good news.”
John blinked. “How did I miss all of that?”
“Well, to be fair that whole not being able to hear thing is probably why you didn’t hear my comm going off, but to the other, I was just being quiet.” He grinned and there was something especially eager about it.
“Radek’s got a solution, doesn’t he? He can get this damn thing out of my head early, right?”
Rodney nodded enthusiastically, “Yep, he’s pretty sure that he does. Why don’t we get up, get showered, have that breakfast and then head down to the lab.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” John said, pressing a kiss to Rodney’s neck.
It took them a little bit longer than they planned to get to the labs (mostly due to the fact that Rodney joined John in the shower that morning, and then they had to repeat some of the experiments with the tasting over breakfast) but Radek wasn’t at all put off by their late arrival.
“Do you have it?” Rodney asked without preamble as he led John into the lab. John couldn’t hear the reply but from Rodney’s relieved exhale, he figured he could interpret well enough. “Okay,” Rodney said, taking on an authoritative tone. “Radek I’m going to notify the rest of my team. You and Adams get the Med-Scanner and meet us in the Gateroom in twenty, okay?”
Twenty minutes plus a rather harrowing walk through the ruins of the small settlement and then the underground tunnels to the Ancient outpost later, Rodney finally stopped dragging John after him. “Okay, Sheppard, we’re here.” He maneuvered John a bit more, “I’m just going to be over there,” Rodney pointed, “but I need you to stay against that wall. I don’t want to risk having more than one gene-carrier too close to any of this equipment.” John felt Rodney’s had leave his arm, but then the pressure of another hand replacing it followed immediately after. “Teyla’s got you, Sheppard, and Ronon is on the other side Just give me and the team a few minutes to get everything up and running.”
John nodded. He really couldn’t do anything else. “Thanks, you guys,” he said into the darkness, wanting to let Teyla and Ronon, and everyone else who came along, know how much he appreciated their support.
The wait felt interminable, especially without having Rodney by his side. Not that he wasn’t watching Rodney work and listening to him shout out instructions. In fact, it was kind of reminiscent of the first time they were there. Once again, he’d been so focused on watching Rodney, that he didn’t hear it when Rodney started calling his name.
“Hey Sheppard,” Rodney snapped and from the tone and volume it was at least the third repetition.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I said it’s time to get in the chair.” He came over and took Sheppard’s arm.
John nodded. Then he paused and looked pointedly at Rodney. “You’re for sure telling me to sit down, right? Not just wishing that I would?” he asked, unable to keep the smarm out of his voice.
Rodney put on a good show of glowering, but John could see the amusement teasing at the slant of his lips. “Yes, I’m absolutely, completely instructing you to sit down in the ancient barkalounger.”
“Got it,” John said with a dutiful bob of his head. He was actually a little leery about sitting in the thing again, considering the last time it had stung him, but his desire to get the microcapsule turned off and removed from his brain overrode any hesitation.
“Okay that’s just messed up,” John said aloud as Rodney guided him into it. “I can feel the damn chair.” John sat back in the seat, setting his arms on the rests and leaning back just like he would if it were the City’s control chair.
“Well, that makes sense,” Rodney said. “You need to be able to interface with it to active the capsule insertion or removal protocol. And speaking of,” John looked over to see that he’d moved back to where John knew the control console stood. “We’ve overridden the training programming and are ready to initiate the removal process.” He looked up at John and met his gaze, a barely-there smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “You ready?”
“Oh hell yes.” John declared. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the bioelectric gelpadded headrest.
He heard Rodney laugh and the felt the chair come to ‘life’ beneath him. The restraints closed over his wrists and ankles, but he'd been expecting it this time. The familiar sensation of ancient technology interfacing with his brain was undercut by an odd sensation at the base of his skull. There was another sharp prick of pain, like being stung by a bee, and then the chair rotated and returned to its resting position.
John tentatively opened his eyes and then blinked rapidly. He’d forgotten how bright everything was. “It worked,” he croaked, his voice suddenly hoarse. He eased his eyes open again, letting them adjust to the light. Then he started taking it all in. Rodney stood at the console looking all kinds of relieved and anxious. Radek and another scientist – John assumed it was Adams – were with him, while the three marines on Adams’ team stood nearby. Teyla and Ronon were waiting against the back wall, and he smiled broadly at the sight of them.
He pushed himself up out of the chair and rushed over to them. He figured he could be forgiven his sudden need to hug people just this one. “Hey, guys. Long time no see!” He pulled Teyla into a one-armed embrace and then they both got engulfed in Ronon’s long arms. John could feel all of it, could hear the warmth and joy in their laughter, could smell the familiar, homey scents of them.
“It is good to have you back, John.” Teyla said.
“Yeah, good to have you back to normal, Sheppard.” Ronon grumbled, “Rodney was terrible at relaying messages.”
John laughed as he heard the expected squawk of protest. He extricated himself from the two of them enough to wave Rodney over. “C’mon, Rodney.”
Rodney acted put upon, but John knew he was just as eager to be included in the team moment. John stepped aside to allow Rodney into their little circle, and then closed it back up again, throwing an arm over Rodney’s shoulder. And despite the fact that Rodney’d been his only point of contact for the past two days, it still felt good to have an arm around him. He’d make sure to tell him that later.
“So you’re all good, now?” Ronon asked. “Can taste and smell and everything.”
John inhaled deeply. “Oh yeah. Can smell that you’re wearing that cologne Amelia bought you back on P4J-355. And as for taste, we are sooo having team night tonight, and I’m bringing the popcorn.” His mouth actually started to water at the thought of it.
“Well, that sounds good,” Rodney said, pulling away from the group, “but we’ve gotta get the Med-Scanner back to Biro and get started on analyzing this data.”
Radek stepped forward. “Rodney go, be with your team.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Adams can take charge of the data analysis.” The young scientist eagerly rocked up and down on the balls of his feet, clearly pleased by that suggestion, “and I’ll face the wrath of Doctor Biro for you stealing her scanner.”
“Oh, alright,” Rodney said, looking secretly pleased. “I suppose I can suffer through a night with my team.” He shot a quick, significant look to John, and then turned a frown on Adams. “I want to see a report on my desk by the end of the week.” He couldn’t hold the severe expression, “And good work, Adams.” The young man preened.
“Are we ready to go home then?” Teyla asked pointedly.
John nodded. “We are definitely ready to go home. I can’t wait to see my beautiful city.” Ronon and Teyla led the way out of the chamber, and John and Rodney followed after. John checked that Radek and Adams and the three marines weren’t following and then he let his fingers dance out to catch at Rodney’s hand.
Rodney looked a bit startled, but then his face relaxed into a smile. He squeezed John’s fingers tight and didn’t let go. John didn’t plan on letting him.
“Hey Sheppard,” Ronon called back over his shoulder.
“You know you broke our streak, right?”
John sputtered out a laugh and bumped his shoulder against Rodney’s and argued the nature of ‘injury’ versus ‘intervention of an ancient device’ the whole way back to the gate.