It wouldn’t have been possible to plaster a more surprised and flummoxed expression on Woolsey’s face than the one he was wearing. By contrast, across the conference table, John Sheppard was nothing if not collected and cool. A moment ticked by after John had finished talking, then Woolsey said, “Please explain this to me again.”
Rodney groaned, Ronon looked like he wanted to shoot something, Teyla rolled her neck to camouflage her rolled eyes, and John said, “We started out at 1900 to the,” he raised his brows significantly, “Nintendo village—” Rodney nearly didn’t snicker at the name that time.
“Which, as I said before, is actually pronounced ‘Nineteen-dough,’” Teyla interjected.
Ronon leaned forward in his seat with a look considerably less patient than Teyla’s. “I don’t see what’s so funny. It just means ‘the village people’ in Old Yeddon.”
“’The Village People’?” Rodney choked out incredulously. Ronon narrowed his eyes.
“As John was saying,” Teyla prompted.
John nodded. “The Nintendo village,” he continued.
The Nintendo village sprawled across a wide valley nestled between snowcapped mountains. Rodney wanted to barter for the ore in the mountains the moment he’d found out about it by word of mouth on PX4-662. The ore in the mountain range made it difficult to obtain sensor readings. Owing to it, the Nintendo were never culled by the Wraith. The Gate was located out of the way and a heavy shroud of mist from that perspective obscured any scrutiny into the valley.
They came to trade, but the Headman was less than impressed with a group of travelers from the city of the Ancients.
“We don’t need any new allies.” The word ‘stoic’ would have been an understatement for the Headman’s deadpan demeanor. If he were any stonier, he’d be growing out of a quarry.
The team sat at a round table in a cavernous hall in the main building. The Headman’s place at the table was evidenced by his pelt-draped, antler-ornamented chair and the woven tapestry hung up over it.
“Baba, it’s true that your village is strong and your wares are prized as among the finest in the galaxy,” Teyla admitted. “But they say that a people’s strength is not in their wealth when times are good but their support when times are bad. You must have heard of our endeavors—”
“I haven’t,” the Headman interrupted flatly.
This was clearly not going anywhere. John slouched in his chair and waited for Teyla to bring it back. AR-1 was assembled with masters of pulling it out of the bag and if Teyla had a special attack, it was hardball negotiation.
“We have a variety of medicines greatly improving on those—”
“We don’t need medicine,” the Headman interrupted.
“And we are advanced in areas other than medicine. We have many technological—”
“We’re satisfied with our technology.”
“Well, there you go,” Rodney muttered. “Clearly we have nothing to offer.”
“Those,” the Headman said, pointing at John’s wrist. “What are those?”
John looked down at his wrist band. Rodney looked at Teyla and Teyla looked confused. “This?” John asked. The Headman stared implacably at John, silently waiting for a reply. “It’s a wristband.” John slid the band off his wrist. “Here, check it out,” he said, handing it over.
The Headman took John’s wristband and lifted it up to inspect it, stretching it out over his hands and letting it retract to its natural shape. “It insulates the wrists from the cold?” he asked. It sounded like a rhetorical question.
Sure, they could go with that. John started mentally generating new and exotic uses for a sweatband. A jar grip, a pot holder, rope alternative, children’s ear muff… He pointed, and there you go – a thousand uses. “It insulates wherever you put it,” he suggested helpfully.
Rodney poorly stifled a groan. “Only in the Pegasus galaxy, cultures trade vital ore for John Sheppard’s accessories,” he muttered to Ronon. Ronon arched a heavy eyebrow and probably thought that his Satedan accessories were comparatively cooler and inarguably more hardcore. There was no winning that one.
John raised his eyebrows. “You could even stack them.”
“On the arms, yes,” the Headman interrupted. He put the band on his wrist and considered it. Teyla watched with disbelief. “We could trade for these.” The Headman straightened up. “But we live in strict accordance with the traditions of our Elders and we can’t consider trading unless you’ve gone through the rite of adulthood. It would be ridiculous.”
Teyla’s smile and Rodney’s grimace were pure annoyance. John’s grin was less so. At least they were getting somewhere. “Sure,” he said, “As long as no one has to walk on glass or something.”
“Which, I assume, wasn’t part of the agreement,” Woolsey primly interjected.
John shook his head. “No, sir,” he replied, “walking on glass was not a term of the agreement.”
“Incidentally,” Rodney put in.
Teyla folded her hands on the table. “My people have never traded with the Nintendo in the past,” she explained. “We have never offered anything of…sufficient interest to trade.”
“So she didn’t know about the ritual thing,” Ronon said. Teyla arched an eyebrow at him.
“And so Colonel Sheppard volunteered,” Woolsey prompted. And considering how many times they’d been over it, he should know the story by rote.
“As the leader of our team, Colonel Sheppard was selected to undergo the rite,” Teyla replied.
“Yes,” Rodney said breezily, “as it turns out, alien priestess clichés and ascended Ancients are not the only denizens of the Pegasus galaxy who are vulnerable to the Colonel’s charms.” John narrowed his eyes at Rodney and Woolsey looked like he was already uncomfortable with where this was going.
“As Ronon stated before, we were unaware of what the Nintendo rite of passage entailed. The Nintendo are notoriously secretive. Some might say that they are what you call snobs.” Ronon snorted at Teyla’s apt description. “As the subject of the ritual, only John was allowed into the temple where the rite is performed.”
“The rest of us were herded away to the village square,” Rodney said. “So we were thankfully spared the long-winded, earth day, naturalistic exposition of the performance.” John narrowed his eyes at him and Rodney shook his head.
Woolsey frowned. “And as far as the…performance of the ritual… Can any of you explain what actually occurred?”
“The Headman explained to us that the ritual is all about connecting with your,” John almost coughed, “spirit animal.”
“And surprisingly, yours wasn’t Elmo,” Rodney quipped.
“Everyone likes being tickled, Rodney,” John retorted. McKay went red from his collar to his scalp, all but squirming.
“It’s a common motif in the spiritual disciplines of planets in that region,” Teyla said. “Dr. Weir once mentioned a similar practice among peoples in your galaxy – chosen animals representing a group’s ancestral lineage. My people traded extensively with a group who used similar symbolism as a form of ancestor worship, so I understood the Nintendo’s practice to be a familiar but more individual approach.”
“Which is why you went along with it,” Woolsey said.
John looked at his team. There were arched eyebrows all around. John cleared his throat. “Yes, sir,” he said. “We thought that the Head Council and I would go in, smoke a peace pipe, and start negotiations. Which is, exactly, why I went along with it.”
“And not at all because of the pictographs of predatory land mammals around the village,” Rodney put in airily. Ronon grinned. Rodney leaned forward to look at John from the end of the table. “The ones that you said were ‘pretty cool.’”
“And not because of the wolf pictographs around the village,” John said to Woolsey, “that were pretty cool.”
Woolsey grimaced. “Let’s go over what happened to Colonel Sheppard again,” he said, “and leave out nothing.”
What happened was that they had to wait nearly an hour for the Head Council to reconvene on the wide flagstone terrace outside the main hall (thirty of those minutes were comprised of a mid-noon break for ale the team wasn’t invited to). While they weren’t winning any awards for impeccable hosting, compared to some of the crap the team had gone through on other planets, the Nintendo’s predisposition to stonewalling and snobbery really didn’t make the list of most frustrating missions John had ever been on. On a sliding scale of uncomfortable experiences, it was somewhere between the planet where they’d had to mud wrestle for the right to visit Ancient ruins and the planet where they’d had to choose one from among them to participate in a wet T-shirt contest for a room in the only inn in town (it was more than a little creepy how much Ronon seemed to enjoy it).
“And how much longer do we think this will be?” Rodney asked, checking his wristwatch.
“Shouldn’t be too long,” John replied. He swatted at Rodney’s hand – it only made the wait seem longer. Rodney gaped in offense. The late morning sun lit up his sandy blond hair and the cool air brought up color in his face. John looked away and tried not to notice how ruffled Rodney’s hair was or think about waking up with his cheek against the back of Rodney’s head (which had never happened, but he did like the idea a little). If Rodney noticed John staring, he didn’t show it.
“This is a lot of hassle for a rock,” Ronon grumbled at John’s side.
Before John had time to reply, Teyla strode up, her arms full of stall food from the market in the square below. “You all owe me 24 quimark,” she announced, handing Ronon what looked like a Nintendo version of a foot-long bratwurst wrapped in paper.
Rodney eagerly held out his hand for his. “Remind me what the conversion rate is on that?”
“Perhaps you can repair my shower and we will call it even,” Teyla replied.
“I shudder to think of what my hourly rate is for that.” Rodney took a bite of his Nintendo hotdog and coughed, frantically waving a hand at his mouth. “Hot, hot, hot!” he gasped. “What, they gave you a discount for complimentary third degree burns?”
John grimaced. “C’mon, didn’t anyone tell you to eat with your mouth closed?” he complained.
“Why?” Rodney demanded. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and shielded his open mouth with his hand. “No one ever told Ronon.” Ronon ignored him and ate half his brat in one bite.
John shook his head exasperatedly. There was no way he’d ever successfully train Rodney.
“What, you aren’t hungry?” Rodney asked. He edged closer to talk and gestured to John’s uneaten brat.
John playfully turned his shoulder into himself, guarding his food from Rodney. His chest tightened as his side brushed McKay’s, feeling the closeness and heat between them. “I’m not giving it to you, so don’t even bother asking.”
“Like I need to ask.”
John almost coughed at what sounded a lot like flirtation in Rodney’s tone. He shot a look at him and saw something almost unreadable and nervous in Rodney’s face. Since Rodney’s relationship with Keller had petered out the year before or maybe even a little sooner, John had noticed Rodney looking at him like that. The scientist lifted his chin but his blue eyes didn’t leave John’s face. John’s heart thudded heavily.
“Looks like they’re ready,” Ronon said through the brat he’d shoved in his mouth.
John followed Ronon’s gaze across the square as the Head Council filed out of the main building. He straightened up when the Headman looked over and gestured for them to come. John handed his brat to Rodney. “Here,” he said cautiously, “Don’t eat it.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Please, there is such thing as self control.” He’d barely said it before Ronon took the food from his hands. “Hey!”
“Should we stay behind or wait by the temple?” Teyla asked.
Rodney watched John over her shoulder and warmth spread through John’s chest. He’d noticed McKay looking at him more often these days, but he didn’t know if it was just his imagination. He shook his head. “You guys stay here. Couldn’t take more than,” he checked his watch, “a couple hours, right?”
Rodney grimaced. “You wish. I bet you’re in there four, at least.”
“The Satedan rite of passage takes six hours,” Ronon said. “The Derdzi take two days.”
“My own passage of adulthood consisted of a week-long hunting trip in the forest,” Teyla put in helpfully. Rodney’s grimace deepened with every suggestion.
“But this one will only take a couple hours,” John said emphatically – at least he really hoped that the Head Council would’ve mentioned it if this was going to take six days or something. “Hopefully.”
“Hopefully,” Rodney repeated after him.
“We’ll be waiting.”
As John turned to go, he noticed Rodney still staring at him. He gave the team a brief wink and thumbs-up and walked over to the Head Council. All systems go. He joined the group and they all went down a set of stairs at the west side of the building. The ritual took place at a stone temple perched on an outcropping of rock high over the rest of the village. Like the other buildings, it was elevated and accessed by a wending staircase cut into the face of the mountain.
The Headman looked his dad’s age but he took the steps like a spry old guy. John followed the Head Council at the tail end of the group and wondered if they’d choose his spirit guide arbitrarily or if the process would be more involved, like a personality test. Hopefully, there would be minimal nudity and no questions about John’s feelings. Or anyone else’s.
From the top of the stairs, John could see the entire village sprawling out across the valley – he visored his eyes with his hand and looked out at the main hall. From there, he could see what he thought was Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla walking away from the main building. The village looked like an ant mound with dozens of little hills topped with houses and smoking chimneys, and they were the ants.
The Headman lagged by the tall front doors. “It’s in here,” he called like John hadn’t known that. As John walked over, the Headman muttered something to a Council member beside him who laughed at his statement. John didn’t even want to know but could guess it was at his expense.
Inside, the temple was large and mostly empty. There were rugs overlapped on the floor against the walls and along the far wall was a line of benches presumably for the Head Council. Sunlight came in through an aperture in the thatched roof, mirroring a circle made of darker blue stone in the floor. The walls were covered by tapestries of wolves, birds, insects, and what looked like anthropomorphic creatures somewhere between any of those variants and men.
The twelve Head Council members settled on the low wooden chairs against the wall and a moment later, a half dozen robed young people, women and men, came in to light cones of musky incense and arrange various mirrored lanterns in the shadier parts of the room.
The Headman was no more interested in the proceedings than he’d been in the idea of trading. He settled on a bench against the far wall with six Council members on one side and a half dozen Council members on the other. He was probably talking about the Nintendo version of golfing with the guy next to him.
John ambled over to stand in the center of the room but before his boot touched the blue stone, one of the Council members, a gawky kid who looked all of twenty, said, “Stand against the wall until you’re called into the Sacred Center.” John smiled his easy-going smile and dutifully strolled over to the wall to wait. And wait.
It was another thousand years (or hour or something) before they really got rolling. By that time, the sunlight had shifted and the circle in the floor was primarily lit by the lamps, candles, torches, and other burning apparatuses around the room instead of the sunshine.
John was discreetly checking his watch when a wizened old woman came in through a side door. She looked about ninety years old, stooped with old age. She was dressed in red, wearing what looked like a giant blue platter on her head and a string of orange beads the size of tangerines around her neck. “This is the one?” she asked, dubiously looking John up and down.
John ticked out a smile and the Headman said, “That’s the one. Go on.” He was still wearing John’s sweatband.
“For the duration of this ritual, no one will step into the Sacred Circle but the youth,” the old woman said. John forced a smile and thought that they seriously should have reworked the ritual for their adult trading partners. She raised her arms and closed her eyes. “Until now, you have walked through your life, an innocent.” John’s smile threatened to become a grimace. “The sapling has become a tree.” John was definitely cringing now. “Let’s praise the spirit of the wood.”
What followed was difficult to describe and painful to remember. It was the closest facsimile to musical theatre the Pegasus galaxy had to offer. If that wasn’t enough, some of the dancers wore masks out of Guillermo del Toro’s nightmares. He recognized some of the animals the masks represented but there were some that looked like fantasy creatures and one that looked like a Furby. He waited for the old lady to bang the gong by the wall and say, “Your spirit animal is the Gremlin.” He didn’t know how he’d feel about that. It was nothing he could brag about.
When the old lady did bang the gong, she said, “Step into the circle, young one.”
John stepped into the circle. As his feet hit the ground, the blue stones lit up. Before he had a chance to move, a wave of light burst out over the circle from the cracks between the paving stones under his feet. John felt the hairs on his arms raise as the energy field crackled over him. It was there in an instant, ionizing his hair and whispering over his body, and then the energy field snapped off and he was still standing in the center of the circle.
“The transformation is complete,” announced the old woman. “Go on your journey and return at dawn. Then you will be a man.”
John’s heart was thundering. Anytime he or one of his team mates was transformed by an Ancient device, it was never good news. He looked down at his hands, expecting blue scales, antennae, fur, but his hands were the same as they’d always been – tanned wrists, knobby knuckles. He was still wearing the same clothes, the same black boots, he had the same legs, same torso – and despite a moment of panic, the same essential male organs he’d come in with. He felt his face and everything was right there, too. Maybe his hair was more tousled and cowlick-y, but no, he had to admit that was all his genes at work and not the Ancient device.
As the Headman stood up and the young priests and priestesses started cleaning up, the old woman shuffled over. “Your friends can join you now that we’re done,” she said.
“Hey, wait a minute,” John interrupted her, grasping her arm. “What the hell just happened?”
The old woman squinted at him. “Did you fall asleep or something?” she asked. “The rite began with your transformation and it’ll end at dawn when we complete the circle and you transform into your original shape.” She shook her head and huffed in annoyance.
John was getting a little annoyed, too. “I’m just a little confused,” John growled. “I thought that getting in touch with your spirit animal was a little less full-body contact. Nobody said anything about physical transformations.”
The old woman swatted his hand. “The transformation is a given.”
John narrowed his eyes. “I don’t remember reading that in the fine print on the contract,” he retorted. After the Iratus bug thing, he was really not okay with people screwing with his DNA.
“Cranky child!” the old woman complained. “Settle down. Take this as a lesson in patience. Can’t you be patient for one evening?”
“Just an evening?” John asked. Just an evening being something other than one hundred percent John Sheppard, and then they could negotiate for the ore Rodney wanted. He felt something in him twisting, and, damn it, he knew he was going to give in and deal instead of demanding to be changed back immediately. If it was just one evening…
“Boys never listen!” Her considerably advanced age and John’s own annoyance took some of the sting out of her reprimand. “You change back at dawn.”
“Change?” Teyla’s voice emanated from the open doorway.
“Changed into what?” Rodney asked from behind her. His eyebrows furled in concern.
John frowned. That was his question. He wasn’t crazy about them changing him into some weird…well, he wasn’t sure what they’d changed him into, even if they were going to change him back in the morning. He narrowed his eyes at the old woman but before he said anything, she spoke.
“His spirit animal is the Bat Man.”
“Batman?” Rodney echoed incredulously. “What the hell?”
John tentatively grinned and when he did, he felt his teeth scrape against his bottom lip. Teyla and Ronon narrowed their eyes and Rodney blanched. John’s smile furled into a frown. “Ah….” He probed at his teeth with his tongue and felt the sharp points of fangs. “Ah. Oh, crap.”
“A vampire?” Woolsey repeated dumbly. He was the only one who still seemed surprised by it.
“Yes, sir,” John replied evenly, “a vampire.”
John nodded. “I had fangs, yeah.”
“You believe that the people of Nintendo transformed you into a vampire,” Woolsey repeated.
“Well, not the people, no – but the Ancient technology in their temple, definitely,” Rodney said, leaning forward. “Fangs, pointy ears – well, pointier ears – superabilities, he was a vampire. Like in movies. And books. And television. Oh, and special edition comic books—”
“What McKay’s getting at is that, yes, they turned me into a vampire.”
“But how—?” Woolsey asked.
“An Ancient device in the temple activated when Colonel Sheppard and other gene carriers stepped into the circle. Because of the disruptive frequency of the ore, we didn’t detect any unusual energy readings when I periodically checked my sensors,” Rodney explained.
“Until it was too late,” John put in, “and I was already a vampire.” He pitched his voice low. “The Bat Man,” he added to bug Rodney. Rodney narrowed his eyes enviously.
“But how could you tell that all of this wasn’t just a superficial change?” Woolsey asked. “Did you—?”
John squirmed uncomfortably with the line of questioning. “Certain impulses,” he replied, “tipped me off to my really being a…a vampire.”
“Urges?” Woolsey asked and trailed off abruptly.
“Blood lust,” Ronon put in unexpectedly. Everyone looked at him. Teyla cringed delicately. “What?” he asked. He shrugged his shoulders unapologetically.
“Did you…? You didn’t…drink any blood, though, Colonel Sheppard?” Woolsey asked, pale with queasiness.
John’s hazel eyes slid to Rodney and Rodney colored deeply. “Um, well…,” John began.
It was just ten hours. He could hold out that long, no problem. He’d had to hold out that long before whenever he was keeping his head down without provisions. He figured, ten hours – no blood, no problem. Except that the hunger John felt was nothing like actual hunger.
It didn’t start out that way. After the transformation, John felt stronger than he’d ever been. And aside from the serious sunburn he got when he accidentally stepped into the sunlight streaming through the aperture in the temple roof, he saw more upsides than down.
While Ronon and Teyla radioed back home to report that they’d be staying overnight, John wrapped a scarf over his face as makeshift sunscreen and ran out to the nearby inn with Rodney. Until nightfall they tested John’s temporary powers in the inn. Like Rodney’s invincibility with the shield – it was totally awesome (except better).
After nightfall, they decided to go outside and test out John’s vampiric skill set in the wide open. First they tested John’s speed and John was pleasantly surprised at his top speeds. Sure, it wasn’t piloting a puddlejumper, but it was pretty amazing to be moving so fast, running top speed as Rodney timed him. As impressed as they both were with that, it had nothing on John’s next suggestion.
He couldn’t climb up walls like in Dracula, but he could bend metal with his bare hands. He figured they shouldn’t abandon the classics just yet. “Turning into a bat,” John pronounced.
Rodney’s eyes lit up. “Oh, there’s no way—”
“Why not?” John asked. He jogged up the steps to the inn and met Rodney on the stone terrace. “They did call me the Bat Man.”
Rodney rolled his eyes and waved his hand. “All right, all right, try it.”
“Do you want to bet money?” John teased, stepping closer.
Rodney scoffed. “You probably already know if it’ll work.”
John grinned at Rodney and looked up at the sky. He bunched his muscles, crouching like he would at the starting line of a race. Rodney backed up to watch from a safe distance. John launched himself into the night sky. He cleared the roofline of the inn and laughed. He could hear Rodney’s exclamation below and felt the air whistle over his clothes and he grinned.
He didn’t know how he knew he could do it but he felt his newfound abilities instinctively. Something told him he could change, that he wanted to, and he pushed something like a mental door. As soon as he did, his body dissipated into a flurry of bats beating their wings (his wings) on the sky. He took flight over the rooftops and around the city, freewheeling where he felt like going. It was incredible.
When he was done, he didn’t need any force of will to bring himself together – his feet touched the ground and he was whole, dressed and everything. He turned and found McKay grinning at him, his blue eyes saucer-wide.
“Yes! That was incredible!” Rodney exclaimed. His endorsement went straight to John’s heart and he knew he was grinning back. “So that’s a check on the bat thing,” Rodney said, ticking it off on his fingers.
“Check,” John repeated, grinning. His body was buzzing from his flight.
“So that’s transformation, super-strength—”
“Super-speed,” John cut in.
“—Super-speed, what else?”
“Mind control,” John suggested, smirking.
Rodney snapped his fingers. “Yes, yes, yes! Mind control! Try that!”
John closed his eyes and concentrated, focusing. Ronon and Teyla had gotten tired of the transformation thing two hours ago and they’d gone into the inn to get a drink on the main floor. John focused on them, mentally recreating the image of the warm room and the two of them at one of the round tables, drinking mugs of spiced beer. He tried to extend a mental imperative. He didn’t feel anything like he had with the flying. He shook his head and opened his eyes. “I don’t think I have it.”
“What?” Rodney asked, disappointed. “Who’d you try it on?”
John shrugged. “I tried to get Ronon out here but I don’t think he got the message.”
“Maybe you could try it on someone with a brain to control,” Rodney quipped.
“Be nice, Rodney,” he reminded him warningly.
Rodney shook his head remorselessly. They both knew he didn’t really mean it. Ronon and Rodney were thick as thieves. “Okay, then what about super-sight?”
John made a face. “Are you sure you’re not thinking about Superman?” he asked.
“I’m thinking about – you know, actually, I am thinking about Superman.”
John smirked and bumped his shoulder. Actually, it wasn’t just transfiguration, super-speed, and super-strength he’d gotten – he could smell Rodney and Rodney smelled amazing. As he thought about it, his stomach growled. John could scent the heat from Rodney’s body mingled with the clean smell of soap. The thought flitted through John’s head that that scent must be all over his sheets in Atlantis – clean, warm, male, and as indefinably Rodney as his voice or his blue eyes. And under it, there was an unfamiliar, spicy scent that was undeniably compelling. His stomach growled again and John rubbed at it.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Rodney said smartly.
John rolled his eyes. “Okay, so what’s next?”
What was next was trying to control animal familiars but that one didn’t go over as well as the flying or pipe-bending and John had to book it away from the dog he’d tried to charm. By the time they came inside, Ronon and Teyla were mellow with a few drinks and ready to go upstairs.
They played evens-odds for rooms and John got Rodney. Luckily, one of the Head Council members was the owner of the inn and had agreed to let them stay the night for a small fee. They even had two rooms, though it meant tacking another IOU into Teyla’s ledger (she was a demon about account-keeping).
By the time they got upstairs, John’s stomach was growling insistently. He took off his gun and his vest and put it aside as Rodney locked the door (better safe than sorry).
“Jesus, is that your stomach?” Rodney asked incredulously.
John rolled his eyes. “No, Rodney, it’s a far off train.” He snorted. “Of course it’s my stomach.” He shrugged. “I haven’t eaten since we left Atlantis.”
Rodney considered him. “That long?” he asked. “It’s been seven hours.”
John shrugged. “Well, what’re you going to do?” he asked. It wasn’t like he could go Dracula and drink blood or something (even if the idea made his stomach growl more forcefully).
Rodney stopped short as he pulled back the blankets on his bed. “Wait, wait, wait. If vampires exist on this world, maybe they have some blood banks or—”
“I don’t think they do exist here, Rodney,” John interrupted. He sat down heavily on his bed and pulled off his boots. “I don’t think the device needs an actual genetic template to make the change.”
“So no blood banks.” Rodney furled his brows. “What time is it?” He checked his watch. “We have seven hours until dawn.” He looked at John delicately. “Can you hold out that long?”
John leaned against the headboard and sighed, rubbing his stomach. “Maybe if you don’t bug me, Rodney,” he said, “but if you do, I might be tempted not to.”
Rodney tossed his second pillow at John’s foot. “Oh, please.”
Actually, John thought as he leaned back in bed, he wasn’t going to say how much he wanted to. All he wanted to do was sink his teeth into Rodney’s neck and suck. He closed his eyes and rubbed his stomach, not bothering with the rest of his clothes. “Night,” he said. He heard the rustling of Rodney’s sheets as he crawled into bed. He wondered if he’d stripped to his boxers but didn’t look to see.
“Good night,” Rodney said.
John swallowed, nodding. How hard could it be to go seven hours without food?
John heard a shout and jerked awake. The fuzzy world came into focus as his dreams retreated. He frowned in irritation. His muscles were warm with sleep but tense. He was lying in bed – or, no, not lying in bed, but on his knees in bed (and that was definitely unusual). He was tangled in blankets, his arms tense and his fangs scoring his bottom lip. “Wha-Rodney?” he asked groggily.
“For god’s sake, wake up!” Rodney called out from beneath him.
John came fully to and he realized that he wasn’t even in his own bed – he was in Rodney’s. Holy fucking shit. He recoiled, stumbling back across the room, just as Ronon came banging on the door.
“McKay!” Ronon shouted.
John shivered, looking from Rodney down to his clothes. His clothes were rumpled – so were Rodney’s – but thankfully, it didn’t look like he’d bitten Rodney. Or was that something to be thankful for? Hunger gnawed in his stomach and ached in his veins, and on the bed, Rodney smelled irresistible.
Rodney stared at him from the crumpled bed, his blue eyes wide. His chest rose and fell quickly as he panted. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Jesus, McKay, I’m sorry,” John choked out. “Sorry!”
“McKay!” Ronon shouted again, banging on the door.
Rodney seemed to come to himself like John did, his eyebrows descending moodily over his blue eyes. “Minute! A minute!” he called out, scrambling out of bed. He tripped on the tangle of bed linens on his way to the door and cursed, kicking them out of the way.
“Shit,” John muttered. He fisted his hands on his forearms and tried to block out how good McKay smelled – how he could practically hear and taste his blood. He backed up against the wall. “McKay,” he tried again but what could he say to explain that he’d just accidentally tried to suck Rodney’s blood after he’d basically promised he wouldn’t. And, damn it, this was going to get ugly and awkward when Rodney told Ronon that John was sleep-drinking, and John had to be tied to a stake or something until morning so he wouldn’t attack his team mates. The fact that they didn’t have criminal charges for that kind of weird crap on Earth didn’t mean he wasn’t a little worried he’d get charged for something.
Rodney wrenched the door open and looked up into Ronon’s stormy face. “Fine! We’re fine!” he reported breathlessly. “It was-it was just a nightmare.”
John’s heart banged around in his chest. He looked wildly from Rodney to Ronon. He remembered belatedly to keep his lips pulled over his fangs.
“A nightmare?” Ronon asked doubtfully. He scrutinized John.
John twitched his lips up in a smile and felt ridiculous. They were team mates and Ronon was looking at him with narrow suspicion.
“Yes, a nightmare.” Rodney’s eyes darted to John and John grimaced. “Colonel, please corroborate because apparently my word is insufficient.”
John narrowed his eyes at Rodney. What the hell was he doing? If they didn’t come clean about this then they couldn’t make sure John didn’t make any further vampiric advances…in his sleep. Criminal charges or no, John might be dangerous in the shape he was in. He found himself agreeing anyway. “A nightmare,” he said clumsily, his mouth awkwardly shaping the words around his fangs.
Rodney nodded uncomfortably. “So-so there you have it,” he said.
Ronon still looked unconvinced. He exhaled slowly and turned his hazel eyes on both of them in turn. “You sure about that?” he asked. And maybe he didn’t mistrust John personally, but John didn’t exactly trust himself completely right then. Ronon looked like he had his doubts.
“Absolutely,” Rodney said. His face was flushed bright red and he looked choked with embarrassment.
Ronon huffed and the suspicion in his eyes faded. “Look, I’m next door,” he growled, “so keep it down.” His tone left no doubt as to the meaning of his words. Rodney gaped and Ronon left without another word. A second later, the sound of Ronon’s shutting door echoed down the hall.
Rodney closed theirs and turned to John. “I thought you said you were going to try not to eat me!” he hissed.
John rubbed his hand over his face, sagging. “Look, McKay, I’m sorry, I did try,” he sighed. He puffed out his chest and pointed at him. “But you’ve got to know that that wasn’t actually my fault – how was I supposed to know I’d go autopilot in my sleep?” He shook his head and felt his face heating up. It was more than a little embarrassing how his fangs kept scraping his lower lip. It was like an unholy erection he couldn’t get rid of.
“Okay, fine,” Rodney said. “What time is it?”
John checked his watch. “I have one fifteen.”
Rodney smiled. “See?” he asked. “Only five more hours.”
John got up and slumped onto his own bed and felt less optimistic. He’d gone to sleep, thinking that he could sleep through the worst of the hunger, but his body had different ideas. Who knew how long he could go before he lost control again? “Look, maybe we should try taking some preventative measures.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “If I’m tied up….”
Rodney shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous.” At first, John thought he was going to deny that John was going to do anything and that the power of their friendship would prohibit him from making any more mistakes, but instead, Rodney said, “Even if we used handcuffs, you could break out.”
Actually, John didn’t feel flattered by that. The idea that he needed handcuffs to keep him off Rodney was a little worrying. “Okay, then what about something else?” he asked.
“I think the only option is keeping you awake.”
John screwed up his eyes at him. “You’re kidding, right? Just because I’m awake doesn’t mean I won’t do anything.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I think you’re exaggerating—”
“No, Rodney, I’m not!” John snapped. He deflated at the look on Rodney’s face. He sighed and dropped his gaze to the floorboards. “I don’t know if I can resist this.” He could hear a steady thrum and realized that it was McKay’s heartbeat. Rodney’s pulse was racing. John pressed his lips together. He realized that he hadn’t felt the same strong desire for Ronon’s blood that he’d felt for Rodney’s. For whatever reason, he must have been listening harder to Rodney’s blood, and Rodney being Rodney strengthened his hunger. He shook his head.
“Okay,” Rodney said shakily. “If you don’t… If you doubt that you can make it until morning without doing-doing something you’d regret, then…then….” He exhaled a ragged breath. “Then just do it.”
John’s head shot up. “What the hell?” he asked. His eyebrows knit. “Rodney, you can’t—”
“Look, I don’t want to explain this to anyone – you don’t want to explain this to anyone. Trussing up our team leader would be a little ridiculous, don’t you think?” he asked.
“Not in this case,” John retorted. But, Jesus, it would be embarrassing if this got back to Atlantis.
“Yes, right,” Rodney pronounced succinctly, “and if you don’t think you can hold off until morning then-then just don’t.”
“Rodney, you know I can’t do that,” John growled.
“Why not?” Rodney asked sharply. “I know that you’d do the same for me. I am,” he shook his head, “grateful for the sacrifices you’ve made for me, our friendship, over the years and…I can reciprocate.”
John grimaced. “It’s just five hours. I can….” But he didn’t know if he could, not when his body was working under imperatives of its own.
“Because you’ve resisted so perfectly up till now,” Rodney shot back.
John glared at him. He’d tried. He really had tried to resist his instincts. How could he have known that he didn’t have a choice about it? He stubbornly turned his head.
Something in him twisted at the sound of his name. It had nothing to do with his blood and everything to do with McKay. He felt himself slipping already. He could practically feel the slide of his lips on McKay’s skin and the heat of Rodney’s body permeating his arms. He’d spent so long resisting the impulse to reach out and touch him that the urge to drink his blood was the breaking point of a dam on bursting. A shudder ran through his body. “Shit,” he cursed.
Rodney sighed. “I’m fine with it.”
He didn’t sound fine with it. There was a fine tremor in his voice that belied his cool demeanor. John lifted his head and looked at him. “Fine,” he heard himself say. His own voice was remarkably even. “Just don’t blame me if things get out of hand.” Rodney sat down beside him and pulled the collar of his shirt away from his neck. John bit his lip hard at the sight of the blue vein flickering beneath his skin. He reached out and Rodney flinched as he laid his hand on his shoulder, suddenly pulling back.
“Just not too hard, all right?” Rodney asked.
John swallowed and shook his head. He didn’t trust himself to speak. He leaned close and heard Rodney’s breathing hitch. Relax, he wanted to say but he couldn’t reassure him. His voice wasn’t his own right then.
He could smell the heat of Rodney’s skin, the faint scent of sweat and soap and, god, this wasn’t as simple as eating a burger or something. His senses were on fire being this close. He swiped his tongue over Rodney’s pulse point and the scientist started. He breathed in the scent of his skin and bit his neck.
Blood rushed into his mouth and John moaned as it hit his tongue. It wasn’t anything like when he’d tasted blood from a split lip or a paper cut. It was just McKay. It was more McKay than anything else was. He sucked and brought off another mouthful and felt his fingers kneading McKay’s arms. He was getting painfully hard in his BDUs and he breathed raggedly as he sucked from the wound.
Rodney was rigid against him. Fine tremors ran down his arms and John felt them all acutely. He heard the tightness of his breath and the aborted whine in Rodney’s throat.
John stroked his shoulder comfortingly and when Rodney shuddered and gasped, John pulled back. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Oh, god’s sake, yes,” Rodney gasped, “just—” He turned and his face filled John’s field of vision. He paused, hesitating, then he pulled John decisively back down to his neck. His hand clenched on John’s nape as John started drinking, breathing hard and fast. “God, this is-this is….” It was definitely out of control.
John fisted his hand in the back of his shirt and pulled him down into the softness of the mattress. He lay against Rodney’s side, his hips canted into the mattress to conceal the hardness of his cock, but maybe plausible deniability was out the window now. He lapped at Rodney’s neck, sucking at the cut then under Rodney’s jaw line. It was probably too late to pretend that this was something totally normal anyway.
Rodney’s spine bent like a bow, pressing up into him but he wasn’t pushing away. He grasped John’s head and kissed his mouth. It was messy, imperfect, and he cut his lip on John’s fangs, but it was exactly what John wanted. John surged against him, lapping ecstatically at the blood on Rodney’s lips. “Yes, just-just keep-and, for god’s sake, don’t stop.”
John grinned into his neck and wound one leg between McKay’s thighs. He moaned when he felt Rodney’s dick, hard, against his leg. “Okay, I think I can arrange that.”
The sound of Rodney’s heart pounding and the taste of his blood on John’s tongue and the feeling of his body under John’s was overwhelming. He felt it all in one huge impression. He’d never, not in his wildest dreams, envisioned that it might work out this way. He grasped Rodney’s shoulders and wished it wouldn’t end.
They wrestled into a better position, cursing and fidgeting, and then Rodney said, “Wait, wait—” and worked his hand into John’s BDUs and it was absolutely perfect. John swallowed down the beating of his heart and kissed him.
“Ouch, teeth!” Rodney complained.
“Fangs,” John corrected breathlessly, his mouth curved in a grin. Rodney didn’t have any additional complaints when John worked his hand into the button fly on his boxers and slipped his hand around his length.
“Oh, oh my—” Rodney jerked into John’s hand, going rigid all over.
“C’mon, Rodney,” John encouraged, “like that.”
“Like that,” Rodney repeated thinly. “Oh, god.”
John shuddered, licking the blood from Rodney’s neck and thrusting into Rodney’s hand. He could feel his release building in him, working on all his nerve endings. He abandoned Rodney’s neck and held his shoulder down, kissing his way into Rodney’s mouth, sucking and worrying the scientist’s lips. And then it hit him, tumbling him over the edge. He jerked against Rodney and cried out, spattering them with ejaculate.
“Oh, my – that’s,” Rodney gasped. “That’s just—” He whimpered and dropped his hand onto John’s, guiding his fist over his cock. He arched his back, digging his heels into the bed and John lapped at his neck, lazily drinking from the wound. “Oh, my god,” Rodney whined and came in John’s hand. It was about the sexiest thing John had ever seen.
John rested against Rodney, catching his breath and feeling boneless. His thoughts sharpened and cleared and John realized with a dull start that he’d made a mistake. He shouldn’t have gotten so carried away. He’d sated his hunger but he’d done what he’d told himself he wouldn’t. Except that Rodney had kissed him first. He couldn’t begin to process that information.
“Your fangs,” Rodney observed sleepily beneath him.
“What?” John asked. He pushed himself up and off, trying to keep cool. He put his clothes right as he probed at his fangs with his tongue.
“What?” John asked. But, damn, they really were.
“They were a lot longer before. Now they’re – almost normal, actually.”
John looked at Rodney narrowly. “No immature jokes,” he warned. Rodney snorted, laughing into his hand. Jeez, was it blood loss or something? Shouldn’t he be freaking out? Wasn’t Rodney the one who freaked out?
“Do you think that’s enough?” Rodney asked. “If your fangs are any indication, maybe you’re not that hungry anymore.”
John felt his stomach. Rodney was right. He wasn’t hungry anymore. His fangs had retracted when he’d fed. He didn’t know what to think of that. “I’m not.”
Rodney swallowed, staring at him. His lips twitched upward. “Okay,” he said. “Right, well, then….” He rolled out of John’s bed and got into his own. “Yes, right, um, good night.”
John tried not to grimace. As far as dismounts from awkward moments went, that had to be one of the most painful. “Hey, you’re not feeling weak, are you? Because I have a powerbar—”
“No,” Rodney said. “No worse than giving blood.” He grimaced. “Maybe a little better.”
“Okay.” John nodded. He ruffled his hair awkwardly. “Look, we’re not…?”
“I don’t see why control has to know about this.”
Okay. Actually, that was really generous. Who knew what kind of professional repercussions there might be to vampiric necking, let alone the mutual hand-jobs, if anyone found out about it. It only made sense to keep it a secret. But did he mean a secret like between the two of them or was the topic taboo altogether? “Right, yeah, sure.”
“I mean,” Rodney said suddenly, “things happen and—”
“Absolutely,” John cut him off before he could say anything really damaging. “Right – absolutely. Um, so, anyway, thanks.”
“No problem,” Rodney said. “Goodnight.” He turned to the wall.
John watched Rodney’s back for several minutes. He worried his lip and didn’t even break the skin. He hadn’t imagined it or something. Rodney had kissed him first. Whatever John did after that, that was something else, but initially, Rodney kissed him. He was so preoccupied thinking about it that he didn’t realize when he fell asleep. He just woke to the sound of knocking on the door before dawn and it was time to go back to the temple.
“No,” John said quickly, looking sidelong at Rodney. “No blood drinking.”
Woolsey looked visibly concerned. “Well, since you’ve been checked out and you’re all well—”
“And human,” Ronon put in.
Teyla laughed softly and Woolsey grimaced. “Yes, and human,” he said, “then I think that about answers my questions.”
John smiled and thought, About time. His eyes slid to Rodney as the civilian commander of Atlantis stood up, shuffling his papers into order. They hadn’t exactly had time to talk about what happened on Nintendo and he still wasn’t sure what he should say. But Rodney had been the one who’d kissed him. His heart pounded at the thought.
“Well, then,” Teyla announced, “I think I will go see my son. Kanaan said that he was a handful last night.”
“Say hi for me,” John told her.
Teyla nodded and laid her hand briefly on Rodney’s shoulder. “I will expect you tomorrow for the shower repair, if all things work out.”
Rodney looked at her and sighed. “Damn. I’d hoped you’d forget about that.”
“I have not,” she said cheerfully. “I’m looking forward to having hot water again.” She nodded at them and waved to Ronon. “See you both at breakfast.”
John nodded his head and watched her catch up with Woolsey to talk. He started stacking his report when he noticed Rodney packing his things to go. Rodney finished first and said goodnight, heading off through the open door. John tried not to curse and dropped his papers on the floor.
Ronon looked down like he was thinking about helping out but decided not to. He chuckled softly. “Night, Sheppard,” he said.
John made a face at him. “You’re not going to help?” he asked incredulously.
Ronon grinned. “Not my mess.” He waved a hand. “Don’t eat anyone.”
John rolled his eyes and smiled. “No promises,” he said as Ronon walked out the door. With everyone gone and the room empty, John just grabbed his papers, no semblance of order, and shoved them into his file folder. He could sort them out later, but right then he wanted to talk to McKay.
He jogged out into the corridor and found it empty. He hustled to the end of the hall. He turned the corner and saw Rodney’s solid frame receding in the distance of the hallway. Seeing his back, John hesitated. It was different deciding to talk and actually doing it. He waffled for half a minute, long enough for McKay to cover half the length of the hallway – and, jeez, despite Rodney’s well-documented aversion to short sprints for survival and offworld treks, the guy really hustled down the halls.
Damn it. John knew that if he missed him, it would mean two weeks of near-misses, covert glances, and scrutinizing his every move at meal times, wondering if it was a fluke or if what had happened had meant something.
The thing was that John had waited. He’d never actively thought about it, or he’d tried not to, anyway. His feelings about McKay took him by surprise. Before he’d known it, he’d fallen for him. He’d tried not to think about it. He’d tried to ignore it the best that he could. He’d taken it for granted that it would never happen between them. All thinking about it did was hurt.
“McKay!” John called out, catching up with Rodney outside the transporter. He didn’t have his senses anymore but being next to him did something to John. He could still remember the feeling of McKay washing over him as he’d fed and he felt himself getting hard and flustered. He flashed a grin at the scientist. “Going to dinner?” he asked. It was the exact opposite of what he should be saying. He should be fishing out some way to make things perfectly normal.
Rodney tilted his chin up and considered John. His blue eyes seemed more perceptive than usual. John had spent six years feeling frustrated and grateful in turns for his obliviousness – it was strange now that he seemed to see John so clearly. “Dinner?” he asked.
John hit the button on the transporter door. “To make up for your, um, donation.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be a Coke and a cookie?” Rodney asked. “When you donate – at least when I’ve gone—” He stopped as the transporter doors slid open. The two science officers inside looked panicked and hurried out. Whether that was of the recent vampire or their department head was unclear. Rodney and John watched them as they turned the corner before they looked at each other again.
He started, his mouth falling open. “Wait, are you asking me out?”
John squirmed. “Rodney,” he began.
Rodney impatiently waved a hand. “Fine, fine, fine – if this is something about not asking and not telling, then—”
John swallowed, heat rising in his face and his heart pounding in his ribcage. “If you weren’t asking, I wouldn’t be telling,” John cut him off. His face felt hot. “And if you were, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I am.’”
Color suffused Rodney’s face. “So it wasn’t just a vampiric erection.”
John groaned. “Rodney!”
“If you were to say, ‘Yes, you are,’” Rodney said lowly, “I…I would say…” He lifted his chin and swallowed. “I would say, ‘I accept your offer.’”
John’s mouth went dry. He stared at Rodney, feeling the tight knot of nervousness in his chest loosen. His face and his eyes were hot. “Okay then—” His words were cut off by McKay’s mouth over his. His back hit the back wall of the transporter and he moaned against Rodney’s lips. It was all McKay and it was perfect. He fisted his hands in Rodney’s shirt and kissed him back. “Jeez, McKay, I—”
“Me, too,” Rodney replied breathlessly, “definitely.”
John pulled back to look at him, floundering and lost for words. “Really?” he asked.
Rodney scoffed. “Come on, how could I not?” A smile flirted with the edges of his lips. “Like they said – you’re Batman.” When John kissed him, he was smiling and John didn’t have any fangs to cover at all.