Okay, yeah, so John wasn't afraid to admit the old clue bus could really sneak up on him, and when it did, pow. Headshot.
But this, well, this was a new low.
"It's," he said, staring at it. "It's a."
"A litter box, yes, gold star for you, Colonel," Rodney flung over his shoulder, like he was flinging tiny chunks of super-absorbent clay onto the floor with his digging. John poked at a piece with a toe. It was kind of sharp.
"I mean," he said, shaking the litter off. "It's for--"
"Shit, yes, and piss, you're quite extraordinarily observant. Though, one notable time I had a cat who vomited directly into his excremental array. Very convenient. He never did it again, of course. Typical." Rodney's biceps flexed as he hoicked the 40-pound bag of Cherished Kitty Ultra-Sorb Litter ("Eighteen point one four kilograms, Sheppard! Join the civilized world--") and poured a hefty amount into the deluxe-sized tray.
John frowned. The biceps were always distracting. Unfair. "Cats poop in there," he tried again.
That got enough of Rodney's attention that he turned around, slowly, with the exact look of scornful incredulity John'd known was in store and which John sometimes, actually really most of the time, tried to provoke because A) fun B) it got him consistently incredible sex.
Still: Cat poop.
"You've bled, pissed, and puked all over yourself," Rodney said flatly, lowering the scoop and affixing him with a quality of contempt the English language had no words for, "other people have bled, pissed, and puked all over yourself; you've been possessed by a malevolent alien crystal entity, turned into a bug, fed upon by lifesucking space vampires, and I'm not even close to done with the list and this is the hygienic hill you want to die on."
"Can we not talk about the bug thing," John said.
"Clumps of neatly disposable cat piss and desiccated feces, all in one convenient location--"
"And this is worse than policing dog turds, how? I'd argue it's a better deal. Odor-neutralizing crystals! The miracles of modern chemistry! No need for the humiliating performance of bending over to collect rancid coils of dogshit; no insipid little plastic shitbags to tote around which are, by the way, terrible for the environment--"
"What happens if it goes outside the box?"
"That's a good question!" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Oh, oh, I know! Why not make a sculpture out of it?"
"Or, here's a novel idea, how about cleaning products and paper towels? 'What happens if it goes outside the box.' I have no idea why the Department of Defense let you fly their aircraft. Unbelievable."
John ignored the cheap shot. "It's, it's unsanitary, is all."
He'd had never had a pet as a kid. Too dirty, John. John, they're so unruly. Horses not good enough for you, John? Maybe it'd rubbed off on him. He set his jaw. People who had no use for animals except what they could take from them...
"Sheppard," Rodney said, dismissing John and his perfectly valid ethical and sanitation concerns with a wave of the litter scoop as he turned back to his work, "I hope, for the sake of the future of all mankind, that you do not wish to become a parent."
The cat at issue, a tufty, orange-striped kitten, sauntered in, stretched, and promptly sank his front claws into John's bare leg.
"Don't you kinda have to agree to that too? Ow." The kitten dug in its back claws and started climbing John's leg. "Ow, Jesus, ow!"
At his first yell Rodney snapped around lightning-quick, wearing an all-too-familiar expression of alarm. His reaction time was still good, John thought irrelevantly as he clenched against the pain, damn good.
For all the good it did now.
Rodney shuddered. "Don't do that to me."
John glanced off to the side. "Sorry."
Rodney's shoulders relaxed into a slump. His eyes traveled up, down John's body. He blinked at the cat. Blinked up at John's face. Bit his lip--
"Don't you even," John muttered at the floor.
--and exploded laughing.
"I said don't even!" He shook his leg a little, not too hard, trying to dislodge the thing. It wasn't working. He made a grab for the kitten and it latched onto his hand. With teeth.
"Son of a motherfuck!"
Rodney just laughed harder, smacking the litter scoop on the ground in percussive bursts. The kitten jerked, vaulted with a sproingy leap out of John's hand, tagging it with his back claws on the way. The patter of tiny skittering feet vanished down the hall.
Eight out of ten. Very artistic. Execution could use some work.
"Well," John said, examining his mangled hand and blood-pricked leg. "That's one way to do it. Even cats are afraid of your laugh, McKay."
"Look who's--who's talking," Rodney gasped, beating the floor a few more times. He calmed down finally, quieted, looked up at John with one of the smiles he probably thought was full of things like artifice and coy, and held out his hands. "Ugh. I hate getting old. Help me up."
"Gross, go wash those first," John muttered, but did it anyway, using momentum to bring him in close, because there was a hell of a lot of stuff he wouldn't talk about even with Rodney but there was absogoddamlutely nothing he wouldn't do for him.
Maybe even clean a box of cat shit. If he really, really had to.
"Look, I'll deal with it, okay," Rodney mumbled into his arm, "if you'll just try not to be more of a freak than is permissible by law. You won't smell a thing. I have a, a system."
"You know I'm just jealous you'll leave me for a younger cooler cat, baby," John purred, and Rodney's arms tightened around him like it maybe wasn't wrong, even as he said,
"Did I get the wrong make and model of John Sheppard, were you body-swapped, I had zero impression you were cool at all--ow!!"
John grinned and plucked the kitten out of Rodney's leg. Rodney gaped at it, burst out,
"Oh my god, oh my god, how does something so small hurt so much--infection? Infection! Do you know how many microbes per square millimetre are lurking on a single cat claw--" and he was off.
John followed the sound of running water. "Y'know," he stage-yelled to the kitten in his arms, "I don't think we need any more kids around here, do you?"
"I heard that!"
"Shut up and help me before I turn septic and die!"
And so John used his amazing field medic skills to tend the heroic battle wounds, brushing away the hands that kept drifting toward his own, and finished it off with an Iron Man band-aid because Rodney would bitch all damn day if he got a mediocre superhero like Spider-Man on his ouchie.
"I knew you wouldn't let me down with a mediocre superhero like Spider-Man," Rodney said happily, admiring it. "But Batman would have been better."
"DC superhero band-aids and Marvel superhero band-aids wouldn't be caught dead in the same box together," John pointed out.
"Huh. Savor me saying this exactly once to you in my entire life, but you're right. Maybe there is a brain under all that--"
"I'm really okay without kids," John blurted, staring at the band-aid, because he suddenly kinda had to. "I kinda like things the way they are. Just...so you know."
He heard Rodney take a deep breath and let it out. "Yeah...me too. Except for, ah, one thing."
John looked up, to be met with a sad slanty-lipped pout and big watery blue eyes, the face of an evil, evil man who knew it would make John give him whatever he wanted.
John was kinda okay with that too.
"You didn't kiss it better."