John wakes to the familiar hush-hush of Atlantis's ocean and Rodney's fear-wide eyes. He elbows his way up from the floor and says, "What happened?" because Rodney only looks like that when something unexpected and very, very bad has happened.
Before Rodney can speak, John recognises the change in his centre of gravity; his body is light, light, light in a way it's never been. He wonders if they're still in Atlantis, if they're still on the same planet, if this is some kind of VR.
"You..." Rodney says, his mouth working on a slew of words that never leave his tongue. One hand flies to John's shoulder and then halts, just shy of touch. He looks shocky, maybe a little horrified.
"Are you okay?" John asks, and twitches in puzzlement because even his voice is light. He watches guilt flash across Rodney's face; his hand still hovering above John's shoulder, showing no signs of settling. "Am I okay? Did I die or something? Did you give me CPR?"
"What?" Rodney rocks back on his heels, guilt instantly replaced by annoyance. "No! Of course not. I'm fine. You're fi-- Well. It's... you're..."
It's not like Rodney to be lost for words for so long, and John begins to really worry. He sits up, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, trying to put the pieces together--
Poking around in a room near the north pier. Finding the octagonal thing. Rodney saying, "It's dead." John saying, "No, it's not." Reaching out; a familiar, electric connection beneath his hand.
--and then John stops, mid-rub, because his hand feels different--small and light--and when he jerks it away from his neck, holds it in front of his face, it's not his hand. It's someone else's hand; elegant and narrow... and then he blinks and sees his own hand after all, wattled with familiar gun-calluses and scars. His own hand, but not.
"I'm sure I can fix it!" Rodney says, sounding panicked. "Reverse it. I just need some time to figure out..." He waves at the octagonal Ancient device a few feet away. "It'll be okay. You'll be okay."
The device wasn't dead before, but when John looks at it now, there's nothing active reaching out to his mind. The cover is reflective, its silver burnished and bright with the sunlight pouring in through the windows arching high overhead, and he and Rodney are captured in it--John sitting on the floor, Rodney kneeling next to him--and John can't tear his gaze away from his own face, even when Rodney finally starts to rant, spewing forth theories at the speed of light, "superficial transformation" and "possible quantum event" and "too rapid to be on a genetic level."
When Carson and the medical team finally arrive, John is still staring. Carson touches him gently, and John starts; it takes an effort not to let what he's feeling show.
"John?" Carson says, cautiously, only to be snapped at by Rodney:
"Of course it's the colonel. Are you blind?" Rodney's arms are crossed and he looks about three breaths away from passing out.
"Hey," John says, as the medical team bustles about them, lowering the gurney, checking he and Rodney for wounds. "It's okay." He puts his too small (just right) hand on Rodney's arm. "I'm okay."
Rodney turns his head away, unable to meet John's gaze, swallowing hard.
John strokes his arm once and then forces himself to let go, saying, "Come on, McKay. What are a couple of X chromosomes between friends?"
Rodney chokes out a laugh, and John takes that for a win. He turns to Carson, who has schooled his expression into something reassuringly doctorish.
"Up on the gurney then," Carson manages in a normal tone, but then his voice breaks around the word, "laddie."
"Sure," John says, lifting his hips, sliding his legs into place, feeling the press of his breasts against his uniform with every movement, every breath, and it's all he can do to lie still and let them wheel him away, when all he wants to do is run and run and run until he's somewhere private, somewhere he can touch himself.
The infirmary is quiet and almost empty, but it doesn't stay that way long. Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Lorne and Zelenka all turn up and stare for long seconds before tearing their gazes away and pretending they were never staring at all. When they look again, the guarded tracks of their eyes have weight, making John feel alien and freakish in the face of their discomfort. He pulls at the neck of his scrubs, wanting to be naked again; the flash of skin as he changed still etched in his mind.
Elizabeth recovers her poise first. "Well. It could have been worse, I suppose."
John isn't stupid enough to think there won't be a lecture later, but right now Elizabeth is radiating sympathy.
"Oh my god," Rodney says. "How? How could it be worse?"
Rodney isn't like the others. He looks at John the same way John wants to look at himself. It makes John shiver, gooseflesh chasing across his skin every time he catches Rodney at it. Rodney has never looked at John this way before; until now, all the looking has been in the other direction.
Teyla lifts an eyebrow. "Being a woman is not such a terrible burden, Rodney."
"It is for a man!" Rodney's hands wave wildly. "Which the colonel is. Usually. In case you've forgotten."
"Um," John says, and everyone turns to look at him. "Can I go?" He tugs at the neckline of the scrubs again, feeling boxed in and desperate. "I really, you know, want to be alone for a while. Get my head around it."
Carson looks doubtful.
"I promise to go and see Dr Heightmeyer tomorrow." John makes his eyes go big and pleading, the way he always does when he really needs to be discharged.
Instead of a sigh and a muttered Gaelic curse, Carson flushes a brilliant vermilion, like a sunrise before a storm, and stutters, "Aye. Off you go then."
John's up and out of the bed before Carson can have second thoughts. He grabs his uniform, and heads straight for the bathroom, because desperate though he is, he's not quite game to walk through Atlantis in just the scrubs. Not looking like this.
Behind him, he hears Rodney say, faintly, "Oh my god. Did he just flirt with Carson?"
Inside the bathroom with the door safely locked, John stands for a moment, back pressed against the cool tiles, just breathing. He's not in line of sight of the mirror, but he doesn't want that now. Doesn't want to see a second-hand copy of himself, reversed and backwards and wrong.
He breathes, in, out, and then pulls the scrub top over his head and drops it onto the floor, where it drapes over the discarded pile of his uniform.
When he finally looks down, he finds his chest is smooth and small-breasted, his stomach slightly rounded, his hips flaring out before disappearing into the baggy scrub pants. His skin feels different both inside and out. Cooler. More elastic.
He lifts his arm and sniffs his armpit, dragging in long breaths. His scent has changed; it's sweeter, less spicy.
Impatient now, he pushes down the scrub pants and steps out of them, kicking them aside. He discovers hair on his calves but not his thighs. His feet are small.
His pubic hair crinkles beneath his fingers. His labia is smooth and slick when he touches it. He brings his finger up to his tongue, tasting the familiar bland-sweet-fishiness of a woman.
This, he thinks, savouring the taste, savouring the thought, this is me. And then his whole body clenches, tingling and tight and perfect, and he presses his hand back between his legs, pushing up, awkward and hard, until he shudders and comes against his wrist and his fingers, light bursting bright behind his eyelids, and it's so good, so right, and he's high, so high, all slick and wet and no dick, Rodney looking at him the way he never has before...
...and then suddenly the good feeling turns inside out, going bitter, sour, leaving him alone and temporary in this new skin, as he remembers Rodney panicked and guilty, Rodney saying--
"I'm sure I can fix it."
--and John knows that means Rodney probably, almost definitely, will fix it, and that sooner or later John will stop being this.
The thought swirls around and around, and John feels sick. He drops to his knees, dizzy, so dizzy, his hands clammy with sweat and slipping against the floor tiles when he tries to brace himself. He slides forward, until he's stretched out, face down, and it hurts where his breasts and hipbones are crushed against the ungiving surface; hurts like he's always wanted it to. Hurts like this is real.
Hurts, maybe, the way it would hurt if he couldn't fly.