John had never been one for believing in fate, but irony? Yeah, that he believed in 100%.
So it was pretty fucking ironic that the day Rodney McKay accidentally got engaged, John wasn't even on Atlantis.
Rodney had been tucked up safely in his lab when John left to ferry Teyla and some trade goods to the Athosians. There had been absolutely no reason to think anything would go wrong.
When he got back it was late, the city filled with the quiet of the night shift, and John slunk down to the infirmary so that the doctor on duty could splint his fingers. He'd already decided on manly silence as the only response to the questions she was bound to ask, because there was no way he was admitting that Jinto had taken him down. Who knew the kid would develop such a mean left-handed punt with a football? There was just no way to spin that -- John had been racking his brain for something, anything, all the way home -- and if he lied, Teyla would take great delight in blowing him out of the water as soon as she got back.
So that was the kind of mood he was in when he made his low-key entrance, trying to spot one of the nurses who was sweet on him and might be inveigled to keep her mouth shut. Instead he found the infirmary abustle, with Rodney center stage, screeching, "What do you mean, you can't get it off?" and waving his wrist around. There was a bright, shiny bracelet snugged around it, with colored lights flashing in some kind of pattern: red, green, green, blue, white.
Keller was wearing her white coat, but beneath the hem, John could see a pair of bunny slippers.
"I mean we can't, at present, get it off, Rodney," Keller said. Her arms were crossed and one of her slippers was tap-tap-tapping, its rabbit ears flopping back and forth. "It's made of a naquada alloy, and we don't have anything that will safely cut it without also cutting off your hand."
His own injury forgotten, John strode over to get a better look at the device. "What did you do?" he demanded of Rodney. All his instincts were clamoring danger danger danger, and he was having visions of Rodney's hand being blown off any second.
Rodney turned around and glared at him. "What did I do?" He pointed an accusing finger at two of the new scientists, a squirrel-faced man and a tall, horsy woman, who were standing off to one side looking concerned -- Rodney had dubbed them Abbott and Costello after a previous disaster involving liquid soap and the automated cleaning droids, and now John couldn't for the life of him remember their real names. "If your definition of 'doing something' includes being saddled with rhesus monkeys as assistants, then that's what I did."
John eyed them, and felt a vicious satisfaction when they both took a step backwards. He turned back to Rodney. "What is it?" he asked, and in the brief silence that followed, the oh shit feeling intensified tenfold.
"We don't know," Rodney admitted reluctantly. "It doesn't seem to contain any explosives or major power generation capabilities." Some of the tension in John's gut eased. "It's not Ancient. We think it must be some kind of museum piece from another planet. Which is why," he cast a poisonous glance at the two culprits, "we had it in the 'Do not touch' box."
"I'm sure Zelenka and Carter will find something," Keller soothed, but her arms were still crossed and her gimlet eye was now on John's hand, which was resting on Rodney's shoulder, looking scratched up and bruised.
So then it was John's turn to get yelled at by Rodney for being a moron, while Keller did her thing; Abbot and Costello, showing they weren't completely brainless, took their chance and made their escape.
Fifteen minutes later, John's hand was done; but no amount of wheedling could convince Keller to let Rodney go.
John stood at the edge of the privacy curtain, ready to get out of Dodge. Rodney was sitting on the infirmary bed, shoulders hunched, morosely tracing a finger around and around the rim of the device.
"It's probably just a bracelet," Rodney said. "Knowing my luck, one made for a thirteen year old girl."
"We can but dream," John muttered. With a put-upon sigh, he settled into the hard-backed chair next to the bed. "35,999."
Rodney looked up and snorted. "Oh, please. That's just insulting. Prime. 131,071." His hand lay forgotten in his lap.
"I'd hardly call a Mersenne the big guns, Rodney." John bit back a smile and stretched out a little more in the chair. It was going to be a long night. "Prime. 6,972,593."
The next morning, Rodney had been allowed out of the infirmary under strict instructions to stay in populated areas of the city with his radio on standby.
He stomped into the mess looking grumpy and unrested. "I hate my life." He slammed his tray down on the table. "I hate you all." Even a giant gulp of coffee didn't dim the aura of Stygian darkness surrounding him.
Teyla lifted an eyebrow. John was about to ask if there had been any news, but was beaten to the punch by Ronon, who glanced at the bracelet -- lights still flashing away on Rodney's wrist -- and said, "I could have told you we weren't Saiwala gemetta without the jewelry."
Rodney's mug barely clinked as he carefully set it down. "Saiwala gemetta." It wasn't a question; he looked resigned. Rodney always took it personally when an 'uneducated Pegasus barbarian' solved a puzzle his department had been grappling with. "Of course."
Ronon ate a piece of bacon. "Long time since I've seen one of those. Always thought they were kind of stupid." He shrugged. "Good for trading, though."
"The Saiwala gemetta are real, then?" Teyla said, examining the device with interest. "I had always thought they were a myth."
"Real enough. The first family had one, back on Sateda."
"So," John said, casually, "You know what that bracelet thing is, then."
Ronon looked up from his bacon, suddenly alert. He took in Rodney's slumped shoulders, John's careful slouch. "You don't know," he said.
John figured there was no point trying to hide the truth; the comedy twins would have spread it far and wide by now anyway. "Let's just say, Rodney had some help getting it on."
The corners of Ronon's eyes crinkled. Teyla pressed a hand to her mouth.
"Yes, yes," Rodney said. "It's hilarious. Go ahead. Laugh at the scientist. There's nothing like having an unknown alien device attached to my body to instill an appreciation for the absurd."
Ronon let out a deep-chested snicker, his dreads pogoing around his head. Teyla hiccupped out a chuckle too, although she smothered it fast.
John felt cautiously relieved -- the device was obviously nothing too dangerous.
"I hate everything in the entirety of spacetime and in every dimension," Rodney said, but he'd stopped hunching and was glaring at them all over the top of his coffee cup.
Teyla took pity on him and explained, her eyes still twinkling. "It is a way to find the first love of your heart."
Okay, so that just had to be a joke. Smirking, John said, "You mean like a soul mate detector?" and nudged Rodney under the table with his foot.
"Ha ha, very funny," Rodney said, trying to kick him back. "There's no such thing as a soul. Let alone anything as absurd as a 'soul mate' detector."
Teyla's expression had turned serious, the twinkle gone. "I would not tease you about such a thing."
John started to get a really bad feeling that it wasn't a joke after all.
Clearly uninterested in metaphysics, Ronon spoke around a mouthful of food: "It comes off when you mate."
Rodney perked up. "I just have to have sex? Well why didn't you say--"
"No. Not sex." Ronon made a kind of hand-clasping gesture. "A partner. You know."
"Marriage," John grated out.
"Yeah," Ronon agreed.
"This could turn out to be a blessing," Teyla said, touching Rodney's hand. "You have long said, Rodney, that you wish to find a wife."
"Not like this!" Rodney said, but he was looking less freaked out and more curious now. "How does it work?"
Ronon grinned, showing all of his teeth. "You court the one you love until they love you back. Then it comes off."
John toyed with his butter knife. It wasn't like they'd tried brute force yet.
"Oh," Rodney said, all sarcasm. "Is that all. No problem then."
"That is one way," Teyla said. "It is also acceptable to invite people to take it off."
"Just like Cinderella in reverse, Rodney," John said meanly.
"Oh, come on." Rodney thrust his hand out at Teyla. "Take it off, then."
Teyla smiled at him, "I would be honored, Rodney," and gently put her hand on the device. As soon as she touched it, every light went out.
Rodney sucked in a loud breath, but before he could say anything all the lights came back on at once, flashing amber.
When Teyla tugged at it, the bracelet remained firmly attached to Rodney's wrist. She let go, and immediately the lights went back to flashing in random patterns: green, red, red, blue, white.
John silently let out the breath he'd been holding.
"It seems I am not your Saiwala gemetta," Teyla said.
If John didn't know better, he would have said she sounded kind of disappointed.
Rodney looked like he was starting to believe the whole soul-mate thing, and didn't like it one bit. "But finding someone who loves me, that could take--" he waved his hands, "months. Years! What are the odds that anyone on the expedition would want to marry me!"
John leaned back in his chair; he was starting to see the funny side. "Will it do any harm?" he asked, just to be sure.
Ronon reached out and snagged Rodney's second muffin, taking a huge bite before answering. "The Protector's oldest daughter wore hers for fourteen years. Seemed fine afterwards."
"Fourteen years," Rodney shrieked, "I can't wear this for fourteen years!"
John rubbed the back of his neck. Yeah, the situation definitely had some humor value. "I guess you'd better start looking then."
"That's just the sort of thing you would say, Kirk." Rodney's chin jerked up. "Some of us have more discrimination than that."
"Whatever you say, buddy," John said. He could afford to be the bigger man.
At first, Rodney seemed to be as good as his word: nothing much changed. The gossip about Rodney and the device flashed through the base like wildfire, and there was the expected innuendo and sleazy jokes at his expense. But Rodney himself just sighed, tucked the device into his sleeve and got on with things.
John watched everyone pretty closely for the first two weeks, because no matter how stupid the whole thing was, he had McKay's back; but then Jaarman's team stumbled into a nest of stinging scorpion-bird-things up in the north-west tower and managed to infect everyone on Atlantis with musical hives. People were too busy slathering on calamine lotion and trying to stop humming power ballads to care about one non-Ancient device that didn't actually do anything but flash a few colored lights.
The scratching had just about died down when Parrish accidentally found the Ancient compost room, fell in, started the machinery, and nearly ended up fertilizing the arboretum.
And then right on the heels of fixing that, there was a Goa'uld scare, which actually turned out to be a parasitic slug from M4G-990. Keller extracted it from Miko just before it started laying eggs.
Next, a lone Replicator managed to replace Doctor Ng during a mission to Helliona; it almost over-rode the gate long enough to send out an SOS, and was only stopped by, of all things, Abbott and Costello's juiced up automated cleaning droids.
By that point, it was six weeks since Rodney had gone APE ('After Phantom Engagement', as Zelenka had coined it) and while John hadn't exactly forgotten about the whole Saiwala gemetta thing, it had dropped so far down on his list of potential threats that he might as well have.
It didn't come up again until Rodney returned from visiting Jeanne for Christmas.
The wormhole had barely snapped closed on a sunburned but happy looking Rodney when John stumbled across him blushing and asking one of the female marines -- a pert blonde called Rossmoyne -- if she'd take off his bracelet.
"What are the odds?" Rodney was saying, smiling nervously, and looking kind of adorable.
Rossmoyne rolled her eyes, but her mouth was twitching in a half-suppressed smile. "Why not?" she drawled. "Live dangerously -- that's my motto," and before John could take even a single step forward, her fingers were pressed against the device.
It went dark for a long, long moment, and then flashed amber.
"Oh, well," Rossmoyne said, at the same time Rodney said, "Crap." They laughed together, embarrassed and awkward, but friendly as well, Rossmoyne's hand still resting on Rodney's wrist.
John ducked back around the corner before she or Rodney spotted him and leaned against the wall, breathing hard.
After that, it got worse.
At first John thought Rodney was being methodical, asking all the women on base. But no. He was deliberately ignoring Miko's hopeful eyes, and didn't even seem to notice Corporal Anders 'bumping' into him every afternoon in the mess.
He did ask Doctors Chavez (redhead), Nordstrom (blonde), Reece (fake blonde), and Bergman (blonde), a couple of other scientists John didn't know (all blonde), the Athosian woman, Damai (auburn) who helped Teyla train the marines, and a handful of John's soldiers (all blonde, large-framed, and able to snap Rodney like a twig). All of them said yes to touching the device; none of them were Rodney's Saiwala gemetta.
Then they hit P6J-113.
The village leader, Cwen, was a tall, gorgeous blonde with a mind as sharp as a tack and a way of talking to Rodney that brought out his best.
They were sitting around the bargaining dinner, Teyla holding her own, as always, when Cwen noticed the device. Rodney was reaching forward to snag seconds of the sautéed mushrooms, and his sleeve had rucked up to reveal the flashing lights.
"You are on a quest for your Saiwala gemetta," Cwen said, her eyes shining with admiration, her lips very, very red from the berry wine.
"Hmm," Rodney said, around his mouthful of mushrooms, then looked down at the device and blushed. "Oh. Oh, yes. I guess you could say that, although it's just a--"
"May I?" Cwen licked her lips, and offered up her hand.
Rodney's eyes went huge, and a mushroom fell off his spoon into his lap. Neither of them seemed to notice. "Yes! I mean-- Really?" He dropped the spoon into his bowl. "The chances are miniscule, of course, but if you want, then you're welcome to--"
Cwen smiled and placed her hand on the device. "It would be a great honor."
John didn't breathe again until the device flashed amber.
"Oh," Rodney said, staring at the device as though it had betrayed him. "That's--"
"Perhaps," Cwen purred, "if we get to know each other a little better, it will improve the odds."
Rodney made a gulping sound. "That's an interesting theory. Maybe we should--"
John accidentally kicked the decanter of berry wine into the fire, and the resulting explosion arced up so high it set the eaves of the meeting house on fire. "Oops," he said, grabbing Rodney by his tac vest and manhandling him outside.
Rodney was tight-lipped all the way back to the gate, even though Teyla had managed to salvage the negotiation, forming a solid trading agreement with Cwen and her people.
John figured it was just Rodney being understandably annoyed at missing out on a chance to bed a hot alien babe... right up until Rodney cornered him in the armory and jabbed him in the chest.
"You did that on purpose."
Briefly, John considered playing dumb, but Rodney had a rabid-terrier look about him -- the look he usually bestowed on the moronic minion of the week -- so John reluctantly ditched that idea and went with Plan B. "Well, yeah."
"You--" Rodney sputtered. "You're not even denying it!"
"Rodney," John said reasonably, "she wasn't just fooling around. She was trying to marry you, and she's an alien. There's no way it could have ended well."
Rodney's face just got redder, even though John could see his words hit home. "That's for me to decide. You have no right to interfere with my sex life."
"You're right," John said, holding up his hands. "I should have let you deal with it."
"Yes, well." Rodney looked as though he didn't quite know how to react to John's agreement. "Just as long as you know it."
"I do," John said. "It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't." Rodney poked him once more in the chest to ram the point home, and then turned and stalked off muttering to himself that Some people can't keep their sticky noses out of other people's business.
John rubbed his eyes, and then went back to stowing his gear. That had been close. Way too close. From now on, he was going to have to be more careful.
Three missions later they went back to finalize the deal with Cwen and her people, and it was almost an action replay. Except this time John kept his feet to himself, and let Rodney do whatever the fuck he was going to do.
It turned out Rodney was going to spend twenty minutes in Cwen's personal tent, and then stagger out holding his wrist, as the device flashed blue-blue-blue. Cwen was hovering by his side, looking distraught. "Rodney," she said. "Let me help you."
"Stop touching me." Rodney pushed her aside, swayed alarmingly, croaked out, "John," and then faceplanted into the grass.
"Don't even say it," Rodney muttered from his infirmary bed, glaring at John.
"Wouldn't dream of it," John said, keeping a close reign on his delight. Keller had already been and gone with test results, letting them know it was just a depressant and it was already dissipating out of Rodney's system.
Rodney was not amused. He turned accusing eyes on Ronon and Teyla. "I can't believe you didn't warn me about this."
Teyla said, "I certainly would have done so, Rodney, had I known."
Ronon just shrugged. "It's a quest, McKay. There's always a price to pay for a quest. Thought you'd know that."
Rodney replied, "Right, because I've been on so many quests. You might as well call me Sir Rodney of Camelot. Not to mention that enforced celibacy is obviously the way to find true love."
"Means you won't get distracted," Ronon agreed, and beneath the humor, it was suddenly easy to see the single-minded drive that had allowed him to survive on the run for seven years.
Two days later, in the mess hall, in front of God and everyone, Rodney asked Carter if she'd take the device off.
She hesitated for a moment, and then reached out and put both hands around Rodney's wrist.
They stood like that, not looking down.
"I'm sorry," Carter said.
Rodney nodded. He didn't look at all surprised. "I know."
When they separated, the lights were amber all the way around.
Afterwards, Rodney slid into the seat next to John as though nothing had happened, and tucked in to his Chicken Kiev like a man without a care in the world.
John didn't know what to say, so in the end he said nothing at all. Just shifted in his chair so that his shoulder was rubbing against Rodney's, and pushed his pudding over onto Rodney's tray.
John had become used to the speed with which everything could go to shit, but that didn't make it any easier to see the chain of events unfolding: Corporal Tatum casually throwing a silver-backed gum wrapper over his shoulder; the paper drifting down to land, in a million-to-one shot, in the open panel Zelenka had been working on a moment ago; the arc of blue light skipping across the silver-paper bridge, momentarily linking one crystal to another--
--and then the deep, bass clang of several tons of metal dropping with no warning; Zelenka's terrified curse; Rodney's scream.
John had never run so fast in his life. He found Zelenka lying on the floor, stunned. Took two more steps, and there was Rodney, on his knees next to the airlock, one hand trapped beneath the giant door.
John fell to his knees by his side, one hand automatically going to Rodney's shoulder. "Rodney--"
Rodney's face was white, but he didn't actually seem to be in pain. "The bracelet," he said, and when John bent down and looked he could see that the airlock wasn't entirely closed, that there was a narrow sliver of space, Rodney's hand safe and uncrushed inside it. The naquada of the device around his wrist not even bent with the pressure.
"Fuck," John said.
"My sentiments exactly," Rodney said, and then they were grinning madly at each other, laughing, and in the background Zelenka was saying, in a shaky voice, "You are one lucky, lucky nemanželský."
Six hours later, it didn't seem so funny.
The power was burnt out in the whole section; the door had defaulted to lock-down mode and couldn't be pried up manually with the tools and space they had; the angles made explosives dangerous; and Rodney had already needed to pee in a jar twice.
"If we drape him in kevlar," Zelenka was saying, pulling at his hair. He and Carter had an array of laptops set up on top of a waste-water treatment tank just out of earshot of Rodney.
"Maybe," Carter replied. "It's worth checking out," but it sounded more like, We both know that won't work. The lines around her eyes were deep with strain, and she suddenly looked old.
John slipped away.
Rodney was sitting in an awkward hunch, his head resting against the door, eyes closed.
"Hey, buddy," John said, sitting down next to him. "How's things?"
"Ha ha. Very funny. How do you think 'things' are?" But when Rodney's eyes opened they were filled with hope. "Please tell me you're here with a plan."
"I'm here with a plan," John said.
"Oh, thank god. Wait." He looked at John suspiciously. "This plan doesn't involve explosives or bone saws, does it?"
"No," John said, hyper-aware of the two medical staff nearby, monitoring Rodney's vitals, and the handful of scientists and marines all sitting around in hurry-up-and-wait mode. "No explosives or bone saws."
"All right then," Rodney said, and launched into twenty questions. "So what exactly have the wonder twins come up--"
John slid his hand in beside Rodney's and rested his fingers against the cool metal of the device.
"--what on earth are you--"
There was a tiny snick, barely audible, and with a look of wonder, Rodney jerked his hand free of the device and held it in front of him, staring at it.
"You..." he said.
"Yeah," John said, "me," and levered himself to his feet.
The medical staff had figured out something had happened, and were staring at them. "Oh my god," one of them gasped, causing the scientists and marines to turn and look.
Zelenka pushed his way through the throng, glasses glinting manically. "What? What's happened." He stopped dead. "What did you do?"
"Fixed the problem," John said. "Make sure McKay gets to the infirmary." And with the heavy weight of a dozen eyes on his back, he walked out of the room.
John didn't bother trying to hide. What was done was done, the chips would fall, or they wouldn't. So he went to the mess and got himself coffee and a piece of pie.
He'd only eaten a few bites when Carter found him. She slid into the seat opposite and mapped a crack in the table with one finger.
After a long silence, in which John continued to eat his pie, Carter said, "We should have known it would respond to the ATA gene. It was stupid that we didn't try it earlier."
John swallowed his mouthful and met her gaze. Her eyes were clear blue and knowing.
"Thank you," John said, because he really hadn't wanted to give up the sky.
"No," Carter said. "The other way around." She reached out and touched his hand, and then she got up and left him to his pie.
Rodney found him when he was on his second piece of pie.
"I've been looking for you everywhere," Rodney said, and sat with a noisy scrape of the chair's feet against the polymer floor.
"Been right here," John said.
"Yes, yes. Very deep." Rodney made an impatient hand gesture. "But can we take this somewhere a little less public?"
John looked around. A dozen heads ducked to avoid his gaze. "Why?" He wasn't really in the mood for being yelled at right now, especially by Rodney.
"Why?" Rodney yelled. In response to John's narrow-eyed look he lowered the volume to barely audible, and leaned in closer. "Because I want to have sex with you, that's why."
John turned the idea over. He was pretty sure it was still just as terrible as it had been yesterday. "Okay," he said, and stood up. He didn't bother to wait, just headed off to Rodney's quarters.
He made it there just a few steps ahead, Rodney barreling through the door behind him.
"You are unbelievable, do you know that?" Rodney said, poking John in the chest. "I knew you were blowing smoke about Cwen! Exactly how long have you known--"
John thought lock savagely at the door and shoved Rodney up against the wall. He plastered himself against Rodney and took what he wanted. Rodney's mouth was hot and wet, and when John bit his bottom lip, Rodney moaned and arced against him like electricity.
"Don't think this conversation is over," Rodney panted, attacking John's neck with his teeth, like a man pushed beyond reason.
John gripped Rodney's upper arms and pried him away. "It better not be over," he said, and it came out sounding rough as gravel and full of violence. "Nothing had better be over." He shoved Rodney back against the wall again, hard. "I'm not doing a one-off with you."
Rodney's eyes went glassy, and both his hands came up and wrapped around John's arms, just as hard as John's were on his. "Don't be a moron," he said. "I'm so in love with you it's embarrassing. And don't think I'm letting you wriggle off the hook. You're marrying me the minute the law changes."
John could feel a vein throbbing in his forehead and he felt like he was going to explode; so he said, snidely, "And they all lived happily ever after."
"Oh, shut up," Rodney snapped, "and suck my dick."
"You shut up and suck mine," John countered.
Rodney glared at him. "Are we really going to fight about this?"
"Yeah," John said, "yeah, we are. All the time," and pulled Rodney into a deep, dark kiss that went on and on.