McKay sat down at the table opposite Sheppard with a heavy thump, his eyes wide. The small table rocked slightly and Sheppard sighed and grabbed at his pen, catching it before it rolled away. The intricately drawn plans of the hive ship were beginning to blur in front of his eyes but it didn't mean that he welcomed the interruption.
"I was looking for you."
"Well, now you've found me."
McKay glanced around the small room. "Why aren't you doing this in the main room? The light's better."
"People kept talking to me," Sheppard said pointedly.
"I hate it when that happens," McKay said. "But you learn to ignore it." Before Sheppard could voice his thoughts on McKay's ability to tolerate interruptions, he said, "I've just been watching Teyla and Ronon fight."
"Spar," Sheppard corrected automatically. McKay frowned and he shrugged. "Less blood."
"Really? Because from where I was hunched and cowering, there was blood. And fists and feet and they were smiling. It was deeply disturbing."
"Yeah..." Sheppard rolled up the plans and pushed them aside, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes. "They'll live."
"Oh, they're fine," McKay assured him. "But what about me?"
"What about you?"
"Can I do that now, do you think? Fight like that, I mean?"
"In your dreams." One thing about talking to McKay; you could be as blunt as you liked. and still not come close to his paralysing frankness.
"You're not getting the full dose." McKay looked unconvinced and Sheppard sighed. "It's making them better, Rodney. It's not giving them an ability they didn't have before. Even if you were on the full dose you'd have to train and, well, no offence --"
"And yet I'm sure I'll be offended."
"-- but physically you're not on their level to start with. You're not even close."
McKay considered that, his fingers drumming restlessly against the edge of the table. "I suppose I can't really argue with that," he said reluctantly.
"You've no idea how relieved I am to hear it," Sheppard answered.
"It doesn't seem fair though." The words burst out of McKay's mouth, petulant bullets of pique. "I've been drugged against my will with Wraith enzymes." He shuddered. "Wraith in me. It's... hideous."
"I know," Sheppard said quietly, reaching across to pat Rodney's shoulder, sharing his revulsion. "Believe me I --"
"And what do I get for it? Nothing!"
"What do you get?" The sympathy he'd felt shrank a little.
Rodney's eyes were glittering feverishly. "I'm all on edge. I'm all... jittery."
"But am I stronger?"
"Probably not much."
Rodney moaned. "See? It's not fair!" He licked his lips. "I might be though. I ate more than the rest of you, after all, and I'm still getting some of the drug."
"I don't know what you want me to say here, Rodney."
"I just --" Rodney jumped up and began to pace, his face wearing the intent, focused look that Sheppard, in his weaker moments, found oddly endearing. "I want to know what it's doing to me. Some way of measuring my current abilities against what I used to be able to do."
"Good luck with that," Sheppard said, reaching for the plans again. "Just don't ask Teyla to show you some moves, or I'll be peeling you off the wall."
Rodney snorted. "I'm drugged, not insane. No... something less dangerous but still..." He threw his hands up. "Of course!"
The plans, the pen and Sheppard's notes were swept to the floor.
Rodney sat down again, smiling now, all eagerness which was still, somehow, on the appealing side. He planted one elbow on the table, wriggling his fingers suggestively. "Arm wrestling."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"No. We did it once before, remember? For the last piece of blueberry cheesecake?"
"I remember." Rodney had lost spectacularly fast, and had watched each forkful travel from plate to mouth with a brooding passion that had left Sheppard with acid indigestion and an aversion to dessert that had lasted a full week.
"You beat me then with a quite impressive, I suspect intuitive, grasp of the principles of leverage and elbow placement --"
"Rodney. Kind of busy here?"
"Then get on with it, Colonel."
"Fine," Sheppard snapped.
Rodney's hand and his smacked together.
It took precisely three seconds for both of them to realise that something had changed. From the crow of satisfaction and triumph Rodney gave, nearly costing him the match as his concentration wavered, he clearly felt that there'd been an improvement in his strength.
He was right; Sheppard wasn't trying as hard as he could, but he could feel a resistance that hadn't been there before.
It just wasn't the only difference.
Rodney's palm was snug against his, his fingers wrapped around Sheppard's hand. They were staring into each other's eyes, breathing in ragged unison and Sheppard was lost in an arousal as sudden and jolting as the pain from his tightly squeezed hand.
"Oh, you're mine, all mine," Rodney crooned, forcing Sheppard's hand an inch closer to the table.
Rodney's thumb shifted slightly, rubbing along the back of a knuckle and sending a tremor through Sheppard's forearm. Wetting his lips, he fought back, muscles tensing, sweat prickling his forehead.
"Okay, now that's it? That's all you've got?" McKay demanded, sounding aggrieved. "Because I can tell when you're not trying, you know."
"It's all I've got," Sheppard said huskily, glaring at him. "Will you stop talking?"
"Why? Is it distracting you? It's not against the rules is it?"
"I don't know," Sheppard ground out. "Can we say that it is?" He could hear the crunch and slide of the bones in his hand. "McKay --"
Sheppard's hand was dipping down, dangerously close to the point where it'd all be over. His shoulder was aching and his hand was throbbing, each finger suffused with blood, squeezed up by McKay's clutching, tight grip. And when Sheppard flashed on an image of just what he'd prefer those fingers to be curled around, with maybe a touch less enthusiasm, his cock throbbed too.
Closing his eyes for a moment, he tried to sort through his reactions, but he hadn't got past, 'it's been way too long since I got laid' when a white-hot flash of agony forced them open again.
"Ow!" He compressed his lips. "What the hell are you doing?"
Rodney's gaze didn't waver. "Winning. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Then stop whining."
"You're breaking my fingers!"
Rodney did spare their linked hands a glance at that. "They're moving. They can't be broken."
Sheppard whimpered before he could stop himself. 'They're writhing in agony, you idiot."
Taking a shallow breath, Sheppard forced Rodney's hand up an inch, teeth bared in a grin as he saw Rodney's lips purse up in what looked like a pout and wasn't at all attractive, thank God.
"You hate this don't you?" Rodney demanded. "The chance that I might beat you at something physical."
"I don't mind that," Sheppard panted, his vision starting to blur. "And some of the side effects are interesting."
"Side effects?" Rodney frowned, distracted again. "Such as?"
Rodney's hand slammed down against the rough wood of the table, the sound loud in the sudden silence.
Sheppard eased his hand free, sighing with relief for a second and then groaning and cradling it to him as the numbness wore off and the pain struck.
"Okay, I think that proves --" he began.
"You despicable, lying, small-minded cheat!"
"You need to work on your gracious loser speech, Rodney."
"You'd do anything, anything to win, wouldn't you?"
"Pot, kettle." Sheppard stared across the table. "Rodney, in case it's escaped your notice, I'm hurting here. Can you wait to insult me until I've got the feeling back in my fingers?"
Rodney sounded genuinely upset. Coming from a man who'd memorised every nick and rub on a well-used pack of cards and only confessed after three hours of winning every hand of poker, that seemed a bit strange.
"How did I cheat?"
Rodney's mouth was compressed, his lips turned down. "Oh, I don't know. Possibly the inappropriate sexual innuendo designed to fluster me?"
"I demand an apology."
"Not going to get one."
Rodney's tense shoulders curved inward and he rested his arms on the table, his expression puzzled and lost. "I don't understand why you said that."
"Because it was true?"
"No, it wasn't."
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "How do you know?"
"Why would me hurting you get you -- oh my God."
"Relax, Rodney," Sheppard said, waving his uninjured hand in the air and smothering a grin at Rodney's bulging eyes and gaping mouth. "I wasn't getting off on that. Wrong kind of hurt."
"There's a right kind?"
"You know, let's not go there, shall we?" Sheppard was fighting not to let his amusement show.
"No, no, I'm broad-minded." Rodney nodded, blinking rapidly. "And there was this one time in college with a sophomore and a ping-pong bat --"
"Sorry." Rodney waved his hand in a vague apology. "I have this problem with knowing what's too much information and what's sharing something personal with a friend."
Guilt washed over Sheppard. "That... can be tricky," he said cautiously. "Rodney --"
"Is this the part where you tell me you're still lying and enjoying yourself at my expense?" There was a bitter resignation to his words.
"I don't get off on pain --" Actually, thinking about it, that probably wasn't entirely true. It didn't ever slow him down, in a fight, or in bed. "But I wasn't lying about being -- you know."
"Or admit to cheating. And lying. And being a sore loser."
Rodney folded his arms across his chest. "I'm sorry; is your needle stuck?"
"That's really not a useful phrase any more, is it?"
"But at least you've stopped saying 'what'."
"Rodney, I can't prove it because it's not -- I'm not. Not any more."
He hadn't realised Rodney could smirk that widely. "Performance anxiety? I'm sure Beckett could prescribe something --"
"Oh, go to hell!"
Rodney flexed his fingers, studying them. "Maybe I'll look up Ronon. See if he wants to take me on."
Vindictive, sadistic -- "Don't."
Good question. Because he didn't like the thought of Ronon and McKay holding hands? Yeah, that was definitely mixed in there, but it was more that Ronon would probably rip McKay's hand off at the wrist, dammit.
"Because you'll lose -- again -- and then you'll sulk, and --"
"I don't sulk!"
"You've raised pouting to a science, Rodney."
"Re-match." Rodney glared at him. "In total, complete and utter silence."
Sheppard shook his head. "No."
"Why not? Afraid you'll get a 'side effect' -- " Rodney air quoted the words with a challenging stare.
Sheppard held up his hand. The flush of fading scarlet on his skin was already peppered with bruises, purple and blue, his fingers swollen. "Unless I use my other hand --"
"Oh my God." McKay came around the table and grabbed Sheppard's wrist. "I did that?"
McKay crouched down and began to gently knead Sheppard's hand, wiggling each swollen finger cautiously. "Can you move them? Does this hurt? Ice; we need ice. Except there isn't any ice. Cold water? I could get some cold water --"
"Rodney --" McKay glanced up and Sheppard stroked his cheek consolingly. "It's fine. I'm fine. Really."
McKay sighed and sat back on his heels. "Yes, of course you are. Sorry. Not thinking straight. You're used to fighting battles with limbs hanging on by a thread, aren't you?"
"Well... no, but I'm really not going to die from a few bruises."
McKay's expression downgraded from tragic to mildly guilty as he started to get to his feet. "I should hope not."
"Did me lying bother you?" Sheppard's cock was hard again. McKay on his knees fussing over him did it every time.
McKay smiled. "Thinking about it, I suppose you telling the truth would have been more disturbing."
Sheppard crinkled his eyes up in a smile, ignoring the lurch of disappointment. "I guess it would."
McKay cleared his throat. "So you were lying --" His gaze dropped down. "Oh."
"What?" As an attempt to brazen things out it was a good failure. Difficult to hide something that emphatically there.
Rodney swallowed. "Nothing."
"That's not very flattering."
"What do you want me to say?" Rodney's voice was rising. "We're drugged prisoners about to die in a doomed plan designed by a lunatic and you want me to be flattering about the size of your penis?"
"It's a nice penis! I'm sure you have lots of fun with it!"
"I'd have been glad to have had the chance to get to know it better, oh, let me see, on Atlantis. Where there are rooms that lock and beds and a lack of lunatics, unless you broaden the definition to include Kavanagh --"
Sheppard stood up and said softly, "I'm sorry. For all of it. Really."
McKay's gaze searched his face, his eyes wide and wild. "Oddly, that's not what I wanted to hear."
Sheppard frowned. "I don't get it."
"No, that's because you're often amazingly stupid."
McKay nodded jerkily.
"So you want to talk about this when we get back home?" Sheppard asked tentatively.
"I'll probably spend too much time thinking about it between now and then and it won't go well. I'll say something stupid to annoy you and you'll wish you hadn't bothered."
"Oh." Sheppard waited for more but McKay was just staring at him with a painful anxiety. "Rodney... I'm used to you doing that. And it doesn't -- always -- annoy me. I sort of like it when you're stupid for a change. Okay, that didn't come out right."
"Oh." Rodney straightened his shoulders. "Well, in that case, maybe. Possibly. When we're back in Atlantis."
"I'll hold you to that," Sheppard said.
"Yes, well." Rodney edged past him. "Until then -- I mean, I'd better go. Let you get on with whatever it was I interrupted. Probably something really... military."
Sheppard halted him with a hand on his arm. "You won, Rodney. You'd have beaten me if I hadn't said that."
Rodney's eyes met his. "You're being nice to me. We're going to die, aren't we?"
"I hope that's not your attitude when we're back on Atlantis and I'm being very nice to you."
Rodney's lips twitched in a reluctant grin. "That depends."
"It does? Why?"
"Panic gets me, well, it has ..."
"Yes?" Sheppard said, drawling it out over a grin because he knew exactly what Rodney was going to say.
"Side effects," Rodney blurted out, his face reddening.
"That's... not uncommon."
"Really?" McKay frowned. "Hmm. Interesting."
McKay hesitated and then walked towards the open doorway. He paused without turning. "John?"
"If we weren't about to die, would you still have told --"
"Because I'll understand if you don't want to mention this again, assuming we do survive, which isn't looking likely, and then there's the addiction to the Wraith enzyme to consider, and --"
Rodney turned and gave him a twitch-lipped smile. "Right. Well, I'll just go and -- could you do something for me? Could you just kiss me, just once, not because I don't believe you, of course I do, of course, but just because if we're going to die, I'd like to have something to --mmphm."
Kissing someone as they carried on babbling was an interesting experience but it got so much better when Rodney stopped trying to talk and kissed him back, all desperate determination and heat, his hands coming up to cup Sheppard's face, fingers spread wide.
"Rodney..." Sheppard whispered against his mouth. "We're not going to die. Say it after me."
"We're not going to die," Rodney said, unexpectedly obedient for once. "Except we probably will."
He got prodded by a finger. "You're supposed to kiss me again to shut me up."
"Oh." Sheppard considered that. "Okay."
Voices and footsteps in the corridor --
Sheppard gave Rodney one last, swift kiss, wishing he hadn't because it was even harder to stop than the last time. "Don't die," he said.
Rodney nodded slowly and backed away. "You, too."
Sheppard waited, listening to Rodney hold Ford and his followers in a conversation that wasn't going anywhere, and then bent to pick up the plans from the floor.
Not dying wasn't any more important now than it had been half an hour before.
But it was good to have another reason to survive.