John didn't sleep as deeply anymore, not since he'd died. He didn't remember his dreams, either, or maybe he didn't dream the same as he used to. He tried not to think about it, though, because Beckett had finally cleared him for off-world missions and he didn't want to screw that up; he was a lousy invalid and the last week of enforced bed rest in his quarters had made him twitchy and irritable.
Besides, he was really less worried about the changes in his sleep patterns than he was about the ones in his eating habits. He was hungry enough—hell, his stomach had hurt with it when he woke up in the infirmary—but the thought of food left him cold and almost queasy, and it all tasted like sawdust anyway.
Given a choice between sawdust and fresh air, he'd take fresh air, thanks, so he'd skipped breakfast today in favor of running a few laps around one of the more deserted piers. He was still weaker than he'd like, but Beckett had promised he'd get his strength back pretty quickly. He sure as hell hoped so, because he'd probably only run about a mile and sweat was already dripping into his eyes and his lungs were burning. His right side ached and he finally had to stop, hands planted on his thighs to keep himself from falling over as he sucked in deep, ragged breaths. He was used to his body performing like a precision machine; it was unnerving to lose that, to have to fight to regain something he'd come to take for granted. The sense of helplessness brought back long-buried memories so vivid that he could almost be back at Lackland, his DI's voice loud in his ear.
"Come on, ladies, is that the best you can do? What a bunch of pussies. Get those asses moving! Trainee Sheppard, what the fuck do you think you're doing? Did I give you permission to stop? You'd better be puking or dying, boy."
The adrenaline spike set his heart hammering wildly and his hand was reaching for a sidearm that wasn't there even as he was spinning around. His brain was working faster than his body, though, and he identified the voice before he finished turning. "Jesus Christ, McKay. Are you trying to kill me?"
And then his body caught up with his brain and his mouth, and he was looking at a whole hell of a lot more of Rodney McKay than he was used to seeing. McKay must've been swimming in the ocean, because his hair and skin were glistening with water droplets and he was wearing nothing but a pair of plaid boxers that clung wetly to his hips, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Years of locker-room experience kicked in and John's gaze shifted quickly to McKay's face.
"Sorry," McKay said almost too nonchalantly, his shrug a tight little motion that told John more than half an hour of conversation would have. "Um, d'you mind?" he asked, motioning behind John with his chin.
For a second he thought McKay wanted him to turn around, wanted some privacy, but as he turned his head he saw the pile of clothing up against the wall, a towel draped across the top. He grabbed the towel and jogged over to where McKay still stood at the edge of the pier.
"Isn't the water a little cold for swimming?" he asked, carefully not looking at McKay's peaked nipples.
"Right," McKay said, reaching for the proffered towel, "because you know what an ascetic I am. It is, however, cold out of the water, so if you wouldn't mind?" He made a gimme gesture with his outstretched hand and John suddenly caught a hint of something—a smell, rich and sweet and incredibly appetizing—lingering underneath the tang of the salt water. His arm dropped to his side and he stepped in close to McKay, trying to figure out its source.
"I was thinking more masochist than ascetic, actually," he said distractedly. He leaned forward, his face almost touching McKay's neck, and breathed in the mouth-watering scent. It was definitely coming from McKay. He licked a stripe up McKay's neck, but tasted only salt and skin. McKay's breathing was loud and ragged in his ear as he repeated the gesture more slowly, just to be sure he hadn't missed something before.
His radio crackled slightly and then Elizabeth said, "Major Sheppard?"
"Hmmm?" As McKay grabbed the towel from his hand and ducked around him, John remembered the briefing. "Crap. Sorry, I'll be there in ten."
When he turned around, McKay was gone.
~ * ~ * ~
The briefing was pretty routine, except for the fact that McKay wouldn't meet his eyes. Not that John blamed him; the whole thing made John feel creepy and stalker-ish, so he could imagine how McKay must feel. The awkwardness couldn't continue, though, or the team would suffer. They had to clear the air.
When the meeting broke up, McKay was out the door before John even had a chance to stand up. He really didn't want to go chasing McKay through the city, but they needed to talk before this afternoon's mission. He left the briefing room at normal speed, then broke into a jog as soon as he was alone.
He caught sight of McKay further down the corridor. "McKay," he called, but the figure didn't even slow. "Rodney!"
One more corner and they were suddenly face to face. He rushed into the apology he'd practiced silently all the way from the pier to the briefing room. "Listen, I just wanted to say I'm sorry about this morning, okay? I don't know what came over me, but I promise it won't happen again."
"Don't worry, Major." McKay glared at him. "I won't tell anyone. I wouldn't want to ruin your hard-earned reputation as a shallow womanizer."
But he wasn't really paying attention anymore because there it was, that rich, sweet smell that made him dizzy with hunger. All he could think of was finding out if the taste was as good. McKay's shirt unzipped easily and then John's hand was against McKay's bare chest, pressing him back against the wall, and McKay's heart was beating fast against his palm.
The skin at the join of McKay's neck and shoulder was still salty from the seawater, but John could taste a hint of what he was craving just below the surface. Gently he bit and then sucked, swirling his tongue over the slick skin until it was hot and swollen.
When he stopped sucking, McKay whimpered softly, the sound sending a jolt of electricity to John's cock by way of the pit of his stomach. He licked the bruised flesh and moved his attentions further up on McKay's neck, starting all over again with his teeth and tongue as he fumbled one-handed with his fly. The button and zipper refused to cooperate—or maybe it was his fingers that were suddenly not working right—then McKay grabbed at him, fingers clenching around his biceps, and everything seemed to slot into place like a completed circuit.
Time distorted, or maybe it was just his perception of it, and he stroked himself faster, aware of everything and nothing at the same time. Under his mouth, McKay's pulse pounded; he sucked harder, the taste he was searching for almost, almost....
Then he was coming, hard, his mouth no longer on McKay's neck as he gasped for breath, and McKay was leaning against the wall, eyes closed and chest heaving. John stood frozen for an eternity that couldn't have lasted more than a second and then a sense of wrongness overwhelmed him, made him step back. McKay released the bruising grip on his biceps, and John shoved his now-limp dick back into his pants and fastened them with numb fingers.
McKay's face was flushed with color, his eyes now wide and dark. John opened his mouth to say...something, but all the words were blurry around the edges and he couldn't find any that fit together.
It wasn't until he hit the wall on the opposite side of the corridor that he realized he'd still been backing away. The hard, cool surface seemed to ground him, sharpening his vision and clearing his head. McKay's eyes met his and the reality of the past few minutes crashed down on him like an icy wave. Fighting the rising nausea, he turned and ran.
~ * ~ * ~
"Elizabeth." He could barely force the word past the tightness in his throat and it came out sounding strangled.
She looked up from behind her desk, concern plain in her expression. "Yes?"
It wasn't easy to say, but he didn't have a choice. His behavior had been— He couldn't even think about it without his stomach churning. "I'm relieving myself of duty and placing myself under arrest. Bates—"
She interrupted him. "What? Why would you need to be relieved of duty?"
He tasted bile in the back of his throat and for a second he wasn't sure he could answer her, wasn't sure he could get the words out without vomiting. "I sexually assaulted Dr. McKay." Elizabeth's eyes widened and he pressed on, needing to get everything said before the nausea overwhelmed him, "He'll need to talk to Dr. Heightmeyer, and Dr. Beckett should probably check him over, too."
He made it to the infirmary without vomiting, but just barely. Beckett held the basin for him and Elizabeth offered him a glass of water to rinse his mouth when the dry heaves had finally stopped.
He handed the glass back and Elizabeth exchanged a glance with Beckett. "I'll go check on Dr. McKay," she said.
Once she was gone, Beckett steered John gently to one of the private rooms and helped him out of his clothes and into a gown. "Hang on to those," John said as he sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the drape across his lap. "There's probably evidence on them."
Beckett left with the uniform and then returned almost immediately, brandishing a syringe. "Just a mild sedative, Major. It should calm you a wee bit."
It took a minute to kick in, but once it did it was like having a layer of cotton between himself and his emotions; he knew they were there, but they didn't feel as immediate, as sharp or painful, anymore. He wasn't sure how long it was before Elizabeth returned—the drug seemed to screw with his time sense—and she and Beckett left the room to talk. When they returned, Elizabeth smiled reassuringly at him.
"How is he?" he asked before she could say anything. Some small, cowardly part of him didn't really want to ask, terrified of what Elizabeth's answer would be, but he had to. It was his fault, his responsibility.
"He's fine, John," she said, but her expression had an edge of worry to it. "I've heard Rodney's version of events and now I'd like to hear yours. Do you think you can talk about it?" Elizabeth's voice was gentle, like she was talking to a wounded animal, and that just made everything harder. He didn't deserve her tenderness. He nodded anyway; he owed at least this much to McKay. "Can you start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened?"
The sedative made it all easier to think about. John detailed his first encounter that morning with McKay, out on the pier, then said, "I wanted to apologize but he avoided me at the briefing so I followed him to the corridor outside his lab.
"He just smelled...edible," he said, eyes focused on where his fingers were clenched in the hospital drape in his lap, uncomfortably aware of how the words sounded. "Like someone had dipped him in chocolate or something." And there was a mental image he really didn't need right now: himself licking trails of rich, bittersweet chocolate off McKay's warm skin. He clenched his jaw and looked up to meet Elizabeth's gaze. "I, um, I had to lick him. His neck."
Elizabeth looked more serious than ever, a frown creasing her forehead. "And you couldn't control these desires?" she asked.
His face heated uncontrollably and his first reaction was to deny it—he hated people who used "I couldn't help myself" as an excuse for their behavior—but Elizabeth looked like she was really trying to understand. She and Beckett seemed to believe this was a serious medical situation, not just sudden insanity on his part. He closed his eyes and thought hard for a minute about how he'd felt when he was close to McKay, smelling whatever it was that lurked just beneath the surface of McKay's skin, and then he tried to put the feeling into words.
"It was more like it didn't occur to me that I should control them. Like there was nothing wrong with what I was doing."
Beckett cleared his throat. "And this feeling abated when?" he asked.
"It eased up some after I...," he stumbled over the words for a second, "...after I came. Climaxed." And it was like being back in elementary school, in that first, horribly awkward sex-ed class, trying to look and sound grown up while feeling so embarrassed that he wished the floor would just open up and swallow him. "And then it faded completely once I was about six feet away from him."
Beckett looked even more uncomfortable, and John knew he wasn't going to like the doctor's next question. "Can you describe your physiological response?"
Right. That was about the last thing he wanted to do. Still, he closed his eyes again, called up the memory as clearly as he could and tried to distance himself from the overwhelming tactile quality of it, glad for the numbing effect of the sedative.
"First thing I noticed was the smell," he said, his voice sounding tight and strained even to himself. "It was almost a food smell and it made my stomach hurt, made me hungry. As I got closer to him, the smell got stronger and my heart rate increased. By the time I touched him, I was turned on."
It was difficult describing everything that had happened, but he forced himself to tell them every detail. You never knew what might be important.
Elizabeth opened her mouth as though to say something, then stopped. Finally, she said, "Earlier, I told Kavanagh that for as long as we're cut off from Earth, Atlantis is effectively a colony and I'm the Governor. Do you accept that, John? That we're not governed by the rules and regulations of the United States military—or even by the laws of the United States?"
He wasn't sure what she was getting at, but even when he disagreed with her he still trusted Elizabeth implicitly, so he nodded.
She returned the gesture. "Have you been attracted to men before now?"
He barely managed to turn the laugh into a cough. He knew it was just a knee-jerk response to the stress because really, nothing about the situation was the least bit funny. Leave it to Elizabeth to worry about "don't ask, don't tell" on his behalf, though.
"Occasionally," he admitted, "but I haven't...acted on those attractions since college."
Now Beckett looked thoughtful, which made John nervous. "Major, would you mind trying an experiment?"
~ * ~ * ~
They had gathered up a dozen or so assorted scientists and military personnel who weren't occupied with critical tasks and lined them up on the far wall of the infirmary. Each person stepped forward in turn, starting with Elizabeth and Beckett themselves, and John was expected to smell them.
He felt like an idiot.
Especially after he'd sniffed his way through the line-up and hadn't reacted to any of them the way he had to McKay. The doors closed behind Ford, and John was left alone with Beckett and Elizabeth again. He dropped his face into his hands and sighed.
"We could bring Rodney in—" Elizabeth started and John looked up sharply.
"No." He'd put McKay through enough.
Elizabeth put a hand on his arm. "I know you feel guilty, John, but when I spoke to Rodney he seemed fine. He agreed to meet with Dr. Heightmeyer in order to put any remaining concerns I might have to rest, but I really didn't get the sense that he's been traumatized in the way you think he has."
John shook his head. She had no idea what she was talking about; she couldn't. He had been there.
Beckett, who had been pacing a small square in the middle of the room, suddenly stopped. "What has Rodney been in close contact with lately? Is he working on any particular projects or with any specific members of the science team?"
"He and Dr. Zelenka have been evaluating Ancient artifacts as we come across them," Elizabeth answered. "Why?"
"I'm not sure." Beckett tapped his earpiece. "Radek, Carson here. Can I see you in the infirmary for a mo?"
In less than five minutes the doors slid open and Zelenka stepped through. "You wanted to see me?"
Elizabeth gestured him over to where they were standing at John's bedside. Zelenka was still a foot away from him when John caught the first whiff of the food smell. He closed his eyes, leaned in a little, and inhaled deeply, trying to work out the subtle differences between Zelenka's smell and McKay's. When he opened his eyes again, Zelenka was staring at him, eyes wide with recognition.
"Upir," Zelenka said softly. When Elizabeth repeated the word, making it a question, Zelenka blinked and shook his head, taking several steps back. "Ah, I think you would call him 'vampire' in English."
John couldn't help but laugh. Right. He was a vampire.
But Beckett was looking thoughtful again, and suddenly John's stomach was tied in knots. After all, the Wraith were vampires—kind of—and if they could exist here then why not other kinds of vampires as well?
"I'm going to need some blood samples, I think," Beckett announced.
~ * ~ * ~
In the end it had taken almost twenty-four hours, half a dozen tubes of John's blood—analyzed six ways from Sunday—and a surprisingly brief examination of McKay and Zelenka's medical records for Beckett to come up with both a reasonable diagnosis and a treatment.
"Are you sure this will work?" John felt like a cross between a guinea pig and a pincushion, wires and tubes trailing off him and into the cluster of machines surrounding his bed.
Beckett looked up from his clipboard. "Aye," he said, his confidence reassuring John at least a little. "Hemodialysis should get rid of the microbes the Wraith parasite introduced into your system. Back home it would take a number of treatments, but with the aid of Ancient technology," he patted a softly whirring device affectionately, "you should start feeling better within a few minutes. Relax. I'll be back to check on you soon."
John leaned back against the pile of pillows and tried to relax, but it was hard to do when his imagination had grabbed hold of the image of himself as a vampire and wouldn't let go of the B-movie cliches. Ford and Teyla had stopped by to check on him earlier; maybe someone else would show up and distract him.
The door chose that moment to slide open and admit McKay, almost like John had conjured a visitor by simply wishing. Except that McKay was probably the last person John wanted to see, right now and for the foreseeable future. He couldn't quite meet McKay's eyes, but the alternative was worse because his gaze was instantly drawn to the livid bruising on McKay's neck, visible even with McKay's shirt fully zipped. The sight made John queasy and he focused instead on his own hands. That wasn't much better; it was far too easy to remember the feel of McKay's chest under his palm, heart pounding in fear.
The silence was getting awkward and even though he didn't know what to say to make things better—hell, he didn't know if they could be made better—he had to say something. "I know that 'I'm sorry' doesn't really cut it in this situation, Dr. McKay—"
"Rodney, please," McKay interrupted drily. John looked up at him, surprised by the lack of hostility, but there was nothing strained about McKay's wry smile as he continued, "I mean, I've had your semen decorating the front of my shirt; I think that automatically puts us on a first-name basis."
And truly, John did not need to be reminded of that. Blood rushed to his face at the sense memory McKay's words evoked and he was humiliated to find that it still turned him on a little, even as it nauseated him. "God, Rodney," he tried again, refusing to let himself break eye contact, no matter how uncomfortable he was, "you have no idea how sorry I am. My behavior was completely unacceptable. It was...monstrous."
"Oh, please." McKay rolled his eyes. "You went all Lestat on us for a while, but Carson tells me you're well on your way to recovery now."
John shook his head. McKay could be so frustratingly obtuse, sometimes. Most times. "It's not my well-being I'm worried about. Did I hurt you? Other than," a vague gesture toward his own neck, "you know."
"I'm fine. Though I do have quite the hickey." McKay smirked at him.
He closed his eyes and started counting backwards from a hundred. By eights. "That doesn't change the fact that I could have hurt you."
"Do you really think I couldn't have stopped you—or at the very least shouted for help—if I felt my virtue was in danger of being compromised?" McKay almost looked offended. "Although, to be honest, I could have done without the grand noble gesture afterwards; your guilty confession to Elizabeth is going to seriously damage my manly image. Perkins has Photoshop on her laptop. I'm giving it about twelve hours before I find my likeness in place of the heroine's on the cover of some torrid bodice-ripper. Very undignified."
John had thought he had a handle on the situation, thought that he'd understood McKay's reaction as one based in denial, but he was beginning to wonder if he'd been wrong. "How can you be okay with this? I...assaulted...you."
"I wouldn't call it assault, really. It was more like," McKay paused thoughtfully, "a force of nature. A little overwhelming, but devoid of malicious intent. And, um, not altogether unpleasant, actually."
At a loss for words, he just stared at McKay, who fidgeted slightly under his scrutiny. It was a hell of an admission to make, and he admired McKay's guts, even if he still wasn't completely convinced that McKay wasn't insane, or at least deluding himself.
Finally, he pulled his thoughts together enough to say, "You're probably wondering why you, out of everyone in Atlantis."
"No, no, no. Carson explained all that and it makes perfect sense." McKay moved closer, pushing aside a rat's nest of tubes and perching on the edge of the bed. "You were only responding to people whose blood type was compatible with yours. Since you're AB negative any AB0 type would work, but you needed people who were specifically Rh negative. Like me, or Zelenka."
John closed his eyes. Even with Beckett's assurances that the treatment would begin helping immediately, he wasn't sure he trusted himself this close to McKay. He tried to keep his breathing even and calm, tried to avoid alarming McKay.
"John?" McKay's voice was more tentative than he was used to. He opened his eyes to find McKay looking at him, his concern evident. "Are you okay? Carson said that proximity wasn't an issue anymore, but if you need me to move—" And McKay was already shifting away, ready to stand up.
"No, I'm okay," John said, surprised to find out that it was the truth. He couldn't smell McKay anymore—well, not the food smell, at any rate—and he still felt pretty much in control of himself.
"All right, good," McKay continued easily, settling back down onto the bed, "Anyway, it's not surprising that no one picked up on this sooner. I mean, statistically speaking it's relatively rare to be Rh negative. Only sixteen percent of people are; in a population sample as small as we have here, it could have theoretically been days or even weeks before you came in close enough contact with someone of the right blood type."
McKay had risked something to tell John a very personal truth earlier. It was only fair he do the same in return. "I think maybe it would have been different if it had been someone other than you," he said. When McKay just looked at him with a faintly puzzled expression, he continued, "When I smelled Zelenka, I wanted to taste him but...there didn't seem to be the same sexual component." He ignored the heat he could feel flushing his cheeks, keeping his gaze fixed on McKay to see how he reacted to the admission.
"Hmm." McKay sounded like he'd noticed an odd sensor reading, and John's stomach knotted at the casual tone. Then a smile tugged at the corner of McKay's mouth. "I have some theories about that; I think they might merit further investigation. Once you're feeling better, of course."
And that was a little surprising, because there was a pretty big difference between 'I didn't really mind' and 'I'd like to try that again,' and John had at least a little bit of doubt still worrying at him. "Are you sure?" he asked. "I mean, no offense but at the time you didn't seem very...enthusiastic." He thought McKay had seemed terrified, actually, but he didn't want to say that.
McKay snorted. "It's a little difficult to think straight, let alone reciprocate, when you're in the middle of Hurricane Sheppard. I just grabbed onto something sturdy and tried to ride out the storm. I didn't know you'd disappear so quickly afterwards or I would've made more of an effort to communicate my, ah, appreciation. If you're still in doubt, though," he took John's hand and pressed it firmly against the front of his khakis, letting John feel how hard he was, "this should provide you with some pretty convincing empirical evidence."
John curled his fingers around the outline of McKay's erection, finally letting himself believe what McKay had been telling him. "That is some pretty hard evidence," he said, carefully keeping his expression blank despite the urge to grin like an idiot. "Of course, it could just mean that you have a thing for wiring." He nodded toward the tangle of wires that tethered him to the biomonitor, all too aware that the quiet beep marking his heartbeat had been steadily increasing in tempo as he responded to McKay's arousal.
"Actually," McKay said with a flirtatious smile, "I have a thing for hospital gowns. And, ah, for sexy Air Force majors, too." McKay's dick twitched under John's hand. "You're kind of a double threat at the moment."
And that was just one more hit than John's self-control could take without cracking. He wrapped his free hand around the back of McKay's neck and tugged gently. McKay didn't resist but instead leaned into the kiss, his mouth hot and eager, and John tried not to think about how that mouth would feel on his dick. McKay was the first to pull away, resting his forehead against John's as they both tried to catch their breath.
"Well," McKay said unsteadily. "That was, um. When exactly is Carson letting you out of here?"
"It better be soon." John gave up and let the idiot grin happen. "I am so stealing one of these gowns when I leave."