The black noise machine has been on for an hour but John can't relax, let alone fall asleep. He had a glass of warm tea, he'd counted some sheep, but his body's still wired, mind spinning, the sheets tangled around his legs from when he'd flipped over to lie flat on his back. His fingers jitter out indiscernible patterns on his chest, tapping ribs like they're piano keys. What he really wants is to be on the box, tracking down a medicinal chemist who's willing to work on the outer edges of experimentation. He wants to boot up and comb the boards for cryptic posts from Ford.
He found a lead tonight, an amazing lead, and he can't blow it. He's gotta pull it together for a meet in less than five hours. Squeezing his eyes shut, John steadies his breathing, forces his hands to stillness, and thinks about how close he is, how much rides on what happens tomorrow.
An unexpected knock on the door dissipates the brief calm he's achieved, and John rolls onto his stomach, reaching for his gun. It's a little late for room service.
The knock comes again, and he recognizes the pattern from the old ditty shave-and-a-haircut. A wave of relief sweeps John up and propels him to the door.
"McKay," he says, as the door whooshes open.
"Sheppard," Rodney says, equally formal. He's looking more tattered than when John saw him several hours earlier, with a tired sheen to his eyes and scuffs of violet bruising on his wrists. Rodney catches him looking and crosses his arms, the jut of his chin a dare that John ignores.
"Carson released you, right? I'm not going to get a hysterical phone call?" Clicking on the safety, John slides his piece into his shoulder holster in a practiced move.
Rodney pins him with a sniffy look. John takes a step back, and Rodney slinks into the room. John blinks, amused. He didn't know that Rodney could slink.
Pulling a silver doo-dad out of his jacket pocket, Rodney shakes it, making it light up green, and then he circles around John's room, waving it up and down at the walls.
After a quick scan of the hallway, John closes and locks the door, then leans on it and watches while Rodney does his sweep.
The doo-dad's not shrieking in alarm and Rodney shakes it again, powering it down, and does a final turn, inspecting John's décor as though seeing it all for the first time. His gaze alights on John's unmade bed.
"Were you asleep?"
"No," John says. There's no sense in lying. John's trained in evasion, but Rodney's trained in everything including pinpoints.
Rodney flicks a glance at John's holster, then nods as though John's given more than a one-word answer. Fumbling in his pocket, he pulls out another doo-dad, this one cylindrical, and when he shakes it, a pointed edge flicks out. Poking it carefully into the slat on top of the noise machine, Rodney tilts his head, apparently waiting for something to happen.
The doo-dad dings. Rodney nods again, satisfied. John's reminded of the timers in industrial bakeries of yore, remembers seeing footage of kids peering into a long glass case, pointing at slices of cakes. His grandma used to talk about cookies dipped in cinnamon sugar, and how she knew they were done because she'd smell their scent on the breeze. They've still got cinnamon, just not the breeze.
Rodney turns wounded cow eyes on him. "He had me in restraints!"
John smiles. That's classic Rodney, picking up the conversation from five minutes ago, easy as anything. "Because you kept trying to escape."
"I was not!" Rodney returns hotly. "Was I? I... don't." He rubs his forehead, then sits down on the end of the bed. "I think he brainwashed me."
John hooks an ankle around the desk chair and pulls it over. "He probably tried."
"Shit," Rodney swears. "I knew it was going to be crazy, because, you know, Ford's crazy, but John..." His breath hitches and John sits down in the chair so he won't do anything stupid like wrap his arms around Rodney.
"I guess I didn't want him to be crazy," Rodney says, and John's chest tightens. "I wanted to get in there and have him remember you, what it used to be like, and then you guys would talk, and then there'd be some manly hugging and he'd forget about – about –"
There's a pause during which Rodney stares at the floor and picks at his cuticles, and John shuffles through his limited mental Rolodex of Comforting Things to Say (after your ex-partner went batshit on Z and held your current partner hostage and tried to brainwash him). He's almost decided on "At least he didn't succeed!" when Rodney looks at him with watery eyes and John bites his tongue, hard, because Rodney does not want to hear meaningless platitudes.
"Did you save some? You did, didn't you," Rodney says, and he licks his lips.
"Absolutely not," John says. "No way."
Rodney makes a little tch noise. "I know you saved some. I know you, John," he says, nearly crooning. He smooths his hands down his thighs and John's eyes are drawn to the movement. If John didn't know better, he'd think it was a come-on.
"Mmmmm," Rodney hums, and he arches his back, stretching, falling back on his elbows, legs spread wide.
Now that's an invitation. John stares at him, a lump thick in his throat. Rodney's posturing is an uncomfortable parallel of Ford's last visit, when he'd hit on John and they'd fallen into bed together, except John had realized that Ford was spaced, seriously spaced, and then he'd found the vial of Z in Ford's jeans. Ford had laughed, told John to loosen up, ranted on and on about wasted potential, about how he wanted John to be a part of some grandiose plan that ended in a non-specific blaze of glory, or immolation, depending on how you viewed these things.
The main difference here is that while John had liked Ford enough to hook up with him, it's not even close to how John feels about Rodney. John's worked very hard over the past two years to not irrevocably fuck up their friendship by doing something as base as making a move.
Christ, he wants to.
It's not because he thinks Rodney would turn him down, not with the amount of time they spend together outside of work, not with all of the one-armed hugs and shoulder bumps, and the pride in Rodney's voice when he mentions John to his sister on the box. But John has seniority, which means something since they're both ex-military, and anyway, they might get split up, which would be unacceptable.
Idly, Rodney plays with the hem of his T-shirt. "Ask me, go ahead and ask."
John swallows wrong and coughs, stalling for time. "Ask you what?"
Rodney sighs. "Where to find Radek."
John's heart skips a beat. He tries to sound as nonchalant as possible. "Don't care."
"Don't you lie to me," Rodney says, going from loose to fierce in the space of a moment, and he glares at John.
"Fine," John says, making sure not to drop his gaze. "Where's Radek?"
"See, I knew you saved some," Rodney says, sounding triumphant.
Radek's the best chemist in the globe, and John's uneasy, knowing what Rodney wants in trade. His relationship with Ford had devolved into trades and exchanges, too, spiraling down into lending Ford currants and then having to get the locks changed.
"If I had, don't you think I would have given it to Ford?" John asks, watching Rodney's expressive face as he digests the question.
Rodney regards him steadily, and after a weighty pause, he says, "No. No, I don't think you would have."
They'd been in the transport when Ford's dose had worn off, and John had watched dispassionately as Ford went into convulsions, his body seizing, a froth of light pink saliva dribbling down his chin. Rodney had been gone by then, released in the middle of what used to be downtown, and John had stared at the spot where Rodney had stood long after he disappeared from sight. Thank god Rodney's training had kicked in; he teleported right into Carson's safe room and collapsed on a prized pile of rare, exorbitantly priced sheepskins.
"Do you want to know what I think?" Rodney asks, leaning forward, toeing off his boots. "Don't answer that, of course you do."
The lilt of Rodney's voice is lulling and John listens, his focus narrowing in until there's a tickle in his brain and the rush-snap of awareness. John digs his fingernails into his palms to stave off the numbness. Son of a bitch. Rodney's trying to hypnotize him.
"I think," Rodney starts, and then he slides off the end of the bed, thumping to his knees.
John's frozen, stuck in his seat, tongue thick in his mouth.
"I think that you'll keep looking for him, because that's who you are, because you won't ever own up to the fact that Ford got lost a long time ago, probably even before you met him." Rodney eyes the carpet as though considering getting down on all fours, and John stifles a groan at the thought of Rodney on his hands and knees, Rodney crawling, crawling to him.
"But," Rodney says, and he regards John intently, "the minute that he put us – me – in danger, you stopped giving a damn."
This is the deepest, most reflective thing that John's ever heard come out of Rodney's mouth, and he recognizes one of the side effects of Z: soul-searching observations that slide out with very little provocation. It's one of the reasons that the military had developed it from their serology studies.
It's also close to the truth, and John's not willing to dissect how or what he feels about Ford. Ever.
"Carson let you go a little too soon, hm?" he asks, aiming for light-hearted.
There's a flash of mischief on Rodney's face and he slants a sly look at John. "Wasn't really up to Carson."
It's not a natural talent like John's, but Rodney can conjure up a bit of bewitchery when he really, really wants something.
"I'm surprised you made it here," John says. He tips back in the chair, keeping an eye on Rodney, who's still on the floor, on his knees, and not complaining about either fact.
Rodney laughs. "With the call you're putting out? John," he chides. "You're so wound up that I felt your vibration print halfway here."
"Okay," John says. "Say I did save some."
Rodney's eyes light up in a way that John associates with math pamphlets and chicory sludge, and lately, when he catches sight of John across the room.
Z's an interesting compound. It makes people malleable but not weak-willed, even though there are ways around stubbornness. John would never use any of those methods on Rodney; for one thing, they hurt. It's also been used as an aphrodisiac, a painkiller, and a backdoor to dream sleep. Quick-acting and long-lasting, Z allows people to access greater brainpower, manifests as temporary strength and agility, and is deadly addictive.
"I'll need to know where Radek is," John says. He unbuckles the strap that connects the holster to his belt and shrugs out of the padded harness, hooking it carefully on the back of his chair.
Rodney's hand flutters up in a dismissive gesture. "I'd tell you that anyway. It's relevant to the case."
One of the scarier side effects is that the more you ingest, the more you want, which doesn't sound so bad, except that John's witnessed trials where subjects had been given the option of spousal homicide in exchange for more Z. He'd been unprepared for the fervor with which men and women jabbed repeatedly at the murder button, as though that might deliver the Z faster. He's damn lucky that Ford had kept Rodney on a restricted dosage.
Christ, he can't believe he's even considering this. He probably can't subdue Rodney with force, but there's a seda-needle in the nightstand and a teleportation nodule implanted in John's wrist. He could get them someplace off the grid, where Rodney won't be able to access his training, somewhere safe for a real detox regimen.
It's ridiculous to think that he can control anything, but what comes out of his mouth surprises him, and Rodney too, from the look on his face.
"One more time," John says. "Once more, Rodney, and then you have to stop." He knows it's senseless to expect any rational decisions right now, but he owes Rodney a fair warning, whether he's hearing it or not.
Rodney's shaking his head. "I don't know if I can," he says. "I have all these ideas, I'm seeing everything differently, how information's spawned and shared. I don't know if I can give that up. If I want to."
There's a demented glint in his eyes that John wants gone. Like, yesterday.
To say that their partnership is one of codependency is an understatement on the scale of 'nuclear winter? brr, nippy.' John's pulled strings and shaken hands on some deals where he's lost out, all to keep Rodney by his side; he needs Rodney alive and whole, arguing and bickering, not going into near-death throes on the transport, laid bare in front of dozens of sets of curious eyes.
John clears his throat. "What would you do for it?"
Rodney makes a short keening noise. "Anything."
"Anything," John repeats, tasting the word. He's both turned off and turned on, wondering if Rodney would be telling a stranger that he'd do anything, mind skipping ahead to all of the things that he wants Rodney to do.
"Tell me what to do and I'll do it," Rodney says, expression guileless, and he rocks forward, kneeling up.
"You would, wouldn't you," John muses. It strikes him that if all Rodney wanted was Z, he could have - should have - gone to any number of known dealer blocks, but instead he'd come to John.
Rodney responds as though he can read John's mind. "I know you won't hurt me."
Exploding up out of his chair, John crosses the space to where Rodney's kneeling in two rapid steps, wraps one hand around Rodney's shoulder and the other around his throat, pulling him up and then shoving him backwards. Rodney falls, landing on the cushion of the bed, his eyes wild with undefinable emotion, and when he opens his mouth, John tightens his grip.
John snarls. "No, you don't." He'd thought his voice might sound shaky, but his tone is even. He sounds mean. "You stupid bastard."
He knows it's not Rodney's fault; he knows Ford planned it all out, used inside information, and John hadn't blocked Ford out like he should have, but Christ, Rodney could have died, he still could die, they don't know, it's Z, for fuck's sake.
Rodney's face turns red as he chokes, and John squeezes harder, feeling reckless and malicious, wanting to see some suffering. Rodney takes it, not fighting or trying to get away, just blinking up at John, his blue eyes filled with trust.
"Christ," John says, looking away and dropping his hand, scrubbing his knuckles across his forehead.
Rodney pants lightly, then says in a ragged whisper, "Sorry."
They'd set up the snatch so it looked like Rodney hadn't seen it coming, so the division would have to send in John, so they could try and work Ford down from the inside. John hadn't expected Ford to pull the trick with the Z, which was his damn fault, because of course Ford would do whatever it took to guarantee John's cooperation.
Stretching out alongside Rodney, John puts his hand on Rodney's stomach, carefully, fingers splayed, feeling the heat from Rodney's body soaking through his T-shirt.
"How much longer?"
Rodney turns his head toward John. "Twenty minutes, maybe."
"I should have asked what you would do for me," John says, and Rodney's eyes go dark with lust.
"That's how I interpreted it," Rodney says, a faint smile on his lips.
John bares his teeth. "Now who's lying."
The smile melts off Rodney's face. "Anything," he says, his voice tremulous. His chest rises and falls with quick, shallow breaths, his nipples a hard outline through his shirt. "I'd do anything for you."
"Would you have crawled to me?" John asks, cock hardening at the thought.
"Yes," Rodney breathes out. "Rubbed my cheek on your thigh. Licked your cock until you made me swallow it."
Rodney's eyelids flutter shut when John moves closer, rolling some of his weight onto Rodney's side, and trapping Rodney's arm between them.
"Don't move," John says, and Rodney sighs.
His fingers are warm enough that Rodney doesn't flinch when John slides his hand under Rodney's shirt, rucking it up and popping open the fasteners on his pants. He nudges Rodney's dick to the side, pushing deeper, cupping his hand and rubbing his thumb over the hot, silky skin behind Rodney's balls.
"Unh," Rodney says, like he's wounded, and John lips at the rim of Rodney's ear.
Rodney's free arm jerks when John slides the tips of his fingers across Rodney's asshole, circling, pressing in gently and listening to the hitch of Rodney's breaths.
When John pulls his hand from Rodney's pants, Rodney tries to raise his head, protesting, and John bites at the column of Rodney's throat. "Lie still," he orders. "Or I'll stop."
John doesn't need to see Rodney to know that he's glowering. Propping his arm up, John meets Rodney's glare and holds it as he scratches his thumbnail across the poke of Rodney's nipple through the soft fabric of his shirt. Rodney's mouth opens around a moan, his body suddenly tense; he looks as though he's fighting to stay still and not arch up into John's touch.
John gives Rodney a distraction by sliding fingers into his own mouth, sucking on them wetly, watching Rodney's eyes track the movement, in, and out, and in. He works his hand back into Rodney's pants, tickling his balls lightly and then pushing a finger inside.
Rodney whimpers, the muscles in his thigh flexing against John's leg. If it was reversed, with Rodney's fingers buried inside of him, John would want to fling his legs apart, offer himself up to Rodney, move around, and fuck himself on Rodney's hand. He pushes in another finger, rubbing steady circles with his thumb, and Rodney gasps out, "John. John."
Tugging down one side of Rodney's pants gives John more room and a better angle to twist his wrist. He rests his cheek on Rodney's chest, drags sideways until he finds a nipple, and then John sets his chin down on it, moving his head back and forth, grinding down.
"Oh, fffffuck," Rodney says, and his hips lurch up, just once.
John throws his leg across Rodney's calves, then moves his hand faster, thrusting, adding a third finger when Rodney mewls, sounding strained and broken.
Surging up, John kisses Rodney, a peck on the mouth, and says, "Touch yourself," and Rodney complies instantly, relief melting away the tension in his shoulders.
The staccato of Rodney's pleasured "oh – oh – oh –" fills the room. John catches Rodney's bottom lip and rakes his teeth down it, and Rodney arches up off the mattress as he comes.
John's cock throbs and he wants to kiss Rodney for real, hot and messy, with lots of tongue. He settles for watching Rodney shiver and suck on his lower lip.
Rodney lets out a big sigh, then turns his head, smiling at John. "That was surprisingly straightforward," he says. "I was expecting something a little more depraved, to be honest."
"I know," John says, and then, "Don't worry. There's something else I want."
"What's that?" Rodney asks, a sparkle in his eyes.
John flips off the cap and depresses the syringe into Rodney's arm.
"What – oh, you unbelievable asshole..." Rodney's voice trails off as he passes out.
"When you're right," John says. He's got about five minutes before the Z chews through the low-level sedative; he can't trust that Rodney timed the crash correctly.
Three minutes later, they're both wearing vests, masks and boots. John's got his weapons and his pack, and he inputs the coordinates on his wristband, then wraps both arms around Rodney and hits send.