Rodney had decided that this had actually turned out to be a pretty damn good day. First and foremost there had been Sheppard. John. It actually gave him a little thrill every time he called him that, that he could call him that and be rewarded with a smile, a touch, a kiss, an indication that John liked the sound of it on Rodney’s lips as much as Rodney liked the feel of it there. Never mind that Rodney could only call him that in private, in a way that was fine because it usually led to the need for privacy in the end anyway. And that was always better than fine; that was amazing.
Believe it or not, it was more than just the sex, not that the sex wasn’t great because… wow! But just the knowing was more than enough. Knowing there was a warm body to sleep next to at night. Knowing that no matter how angry they may get with one another, that wouldn’t change. Knowing this was more than just the wow sex. Knowing Sheppard couldn’t quite put a name on what they were doing but knowing he had no intentions on giving up on trying any time soon. That was more than McKay could have ever hoped for.
And maybe that was why he had admitted what he had that morning. The sound of John’s voice at his ear, the smell of him lingering on the pillow and hovering above him, the feel of his lips on his body, all of it seemed so natural, so normal, so much a part of how Rodney was starting to define himself, how could he not say it? There was an unspoken ‘and’ that was hovering between them. He could feel it in John’s fingertips, taste on his skin, hear it in the way John would call his name quietly in the dark. John and Rodney. Sheppard and McKay. For a man that had never liked to share anything, it shocked him sometimes that he found that conjunction so comforting.
So just standing there next to Sheppard in the village with the promise of sex and dessert buzzing around in his head had been good enough for Rodney. And if he could just figure out how to get rid of that flirty physician, things would be even better. But when the village holy woman, Keelay, came out and announced that McKay was to come with her, all thoughts of slutty doctors and pudding cups disappeared.
Rodney had shot a slightly anxious look toward Sheppard at the summons. The team didn’t typically split up when they were off-world, not if they could avoid it unless they knew they could trust the local inhabitants. Which, in this particular situation, they couldn’t.
True to form, the colonel had stepped forward, effectively placing himself between his team and any perceived threat, and Rodney felt Ronon and Teyla move up behind him. “Where, exactly, are you taking him?”
“The sanctuary,” she informed them simply.
Raising a finger for clarification, McKay peeked around Sheppard’s shoulder. “The sanctuary where the shrine is maintained? The shrine with the device?”
Holy crap, they were going to let him see it up close! Rodney couldn’t believe his luck. Stepping around John, he rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Well, then, by all means, let’s get going.”
When Sheppard started to follow, Keelay shook her head. “You will remain here. Tombo will address you shortly.”
John stopped, placing a hand on Rodney’s arm to halt his excited progress forward. “Ronon, you go with him then.”
“You misunderstand, Sheppard.” The woman blocked the entrance when the Satedan fell into step with McKay. “Only McKay will be granted entry to the sanctuary. If he truly is your most trusted, then only he will be allowed in.”
John’s frown told Rodney exactly how much the team leader liked that plan… not at all. But Rodney, with his goal in sight, felt it was more than worth the risk. Glancing down at the hand still on his arm, he asked impatiently, “Sheppard?”
The hand didn’t let go, in fact, it tightened as the colonel turned so that his back was to the shaman. “I don’t like this, McKay,” he told him in a low voice. “It just feels… wrong.”
“They’re going to let me see the device. What’s wrong with that?”
The rest of the team had gathered around them and Teyla offered, “They have not posed a threat to us so far. Even when they felt they had been betrayed by Major Lorne, they have been willing to try to find a way to negotiate with us.”
“Of course they have,” Rodney snorted with a hand waving to encompass the village. “They live in mud huts and use birds as their main source of clothing. They would be fools not to realize what we have to offer them. Why would they try to do something to me and jeopardize any chance of trading with us?”
“Maybe they plan to ransom you back to us seeing as you’re my ‘most trusted advisor’.”
McKay blinked in surprise. He hadn’t though of that. “Oh.” Then he shook it off. “It’s not like the three of you couldn’t overpower them and get me back if they did.”
“He has a point there, Sheppard.”
“See? Even Ronon agrees with me.”
“Reinker, what do you think?”
Adjusting his glasses as he shrugged in consideration of John’s question, the anthropologist finally admitted, “They haven’t shown any aggression towards us so far.”
“It’s the so far part that I’m not that crazy about.” Fighting the curse that he wanted to release, John finally decided to release Rodney’s arm instead. “You stay in constant radio contact. Got it?”
“You know how I love to chat.” McKay grinned happily as he bucked Sheppard on the shoulder then followed Keelay into the sanctuary.
It was one of the only stone buildings in the village, the rest were little more than grass huts with small family gardens around them. The lack of windows to allow a breeze to move around the humid air made it feel stuffy and the thick with the smell of burning herbs and smoke from the torches used for lighting only made it worse. When his eyes had adjusted to the dim light, he saw there were two other women present, each holding a tray. One with food, the other with a pitcher of what appeared to be the fruit beverage they had been served upon their arrival the day before. It was sweet, tasting a little like partially fermented watermelons, but it had been cool and kind of tasty in the heat of the tropical sun.
Keelay motioned to a table and had the women set down their trays before dismissing them out a back door. “Sit, McKay. Drink. Eat if you like.”
“Uhm, what about the device?” He pointed longingly toward the fist-sized contraption that sat on a stone altar surrounded by flowers and grasses woven into elaborate textures.
“Drink.” Keelay pushed the cup into his hand. “This you must do first.”
What was it with these people and ceremony? It seemed the more primitive the society the more they wanted you to genuflect and face the right direction and drink to the health of their livestock. Always something. Taking the cup, he drank deeply. The sooner it was over, the sooner he could get to the good stuff. He crinkled his nose… today the drink was a little more acidic than it had been the day before and kind of gritty. Must be a bad batch, he thought to himself.
“Rodney, what the hell happened to constant radio contact?”
Sheppard’s voice in his ear had him tapping his radio. “Here. I’m here. Just finishing up a little ceremonial snack before I get to work.” Rodney tugged uncomfortably at his vest. It really was hot in here without the air circulation.
“Look, Tombo’s here and I’m having to deal with a little situation with him.”
“What sort of situation?” It would figure that the team would be worried about him and then they would get in trouble. “Is everything all right?”
“It’s fine. Slightly humiliating, but fine. I’ll fill you in later… much later. But keep your radio open so that if there’s any trouble I can hear it. Okay?”
“Yes, yes. The channel is open. Go have fun with the Chief; you know where I’ll be.” Having taken care of Sheppard, he set to work on finishing the drink. Once that was done, the scientist turned back to Keelay. “Okay, now can I see it?”
The woman seemed to waver slightly before him, as if he were looking through a microscope and adjusting the focus in then out. “The spirits will guide you soon, McKay. If they find you and Sheppard worthy and truthful then you will be allowed to handle the talisman.”
“Spirits? What spirits?” Placing a hand out to steady himself, Rodney wiped at the sweat that seemed to be running into his eyes, blinking to try to bring the room back into focus. Evidently it was hotter in here than he had realized.
“Rodney?” Sheppard’s voice was soft, barely able to be heard, and it was lost in a dozen other voices suddenly whispering his name so that he couldn’t be sure it was even his teammate speaking.
“Fear not, McKay. All will be well if you have been honest.”
“Why wouldn’t we have been honest?” Rodney demanded of the holy woman. “Why would you think we lied to you? Who keeps calling me?” Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a shadow, but when he turned there was nothing.
Keelay smiled at his reaction. “The spirits, they have arrived. They will soon take you on your journey.”
“Journey? What the hell sort of journey do you think I’m going on?” He clutched desperately at the table when the ground seemed to roll under him.
“McKay, answer me.”
That was definitely Sheppard’s voice mixed in with the others. “Sheppard…” Another dark shape fluttered past, brushing against his shoulder and he flinched away but when he looked, it was gone. “What the fuck!”
“Rodney,” John called in forced calm. “Tell me what’s going on.”
But how could he tell him when he didn’t know himself? How could he even talk when he was being drowned out by the sounds of voice, calling him, beckoning him, ordering him… go, go, go.
“I… I don’t… they won’t stop….” The shadows were growing in number, reaching out to touch him as they flickered along the walls. Grabbing at him. Pushing him. “I can’t make them…” Cold. Each contact icy cold to the point that it burned. And yet, he couldn’t see them, not directly. Not yet. But they were growing, merging, coalescing into something that was bad. Really, really bad. And then… “John?” Right then, he needed him, if only to tell him what to do, how to make the shadows and the voices and all of it stop.
“We’re coming.” They were on their way… John… his team. He tried to answer him, let him know he heard, he understood, but he couldn’t. Couldn’t speak, couldn’t silence the voices, and more than anything, he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t stay in this room for one second longer. Because it was coming, taking over everything, dousing the light, sucking the air from the room. He couldn’t breathe. It was too hot, too closed. Shaking fingers worked to unclasp his vest because it felt like it was just getting tighter and tighter, squeezing the life out of him. With a frantic twirl around he dropped it the floor and finally saw his escape. Saw the door the serving women had slipped through. “Rodney, did you hear me?”
He couldn’t hear anything but the voices, couldn’t feel anything except the absolute need to get out of there and away from the stifling room and the cold touch of the shadows.
That’s exactly what he did, dashing into the green of the forest, broad leaves slapping against him as he ran, staggered, fell, pushed himself up and started again. The time wishing he’d never stepped foot on this fucking planet in the first place.
* * * *
John wasn’t exactly sure how a day that had started off so good could turn to shit so quickly. He often felt there was some great cosmic scale that took a measure of how goddamn happy he was and decided that he needed an equal amount of worry and misery to balance things out.
He hadn’t wanted to let Rodney out of his sight. And the fact that he was now officially and admittedly head over heels smitten with the guy had nothing to do with it… well, very little to do with it. This was Sheppard’s team, his responsibility and he’d always taken that responsibility seriously. So seriously that he’d once ridden a disintegrating moon on its collision course with a planet just to save Teyla. So seriously that he’d killed at least twenty Wraith trying to save Ronon as he was being hunted like a animal on Sateda. So seriously that he had risked drowning in a Jumper to keep McKay from doing the same… and attached himself to the hull of a Hive ship bound for Earth… and faced down Kolya… and a ten thousand year old Wraith… all to keep his team alive. To keep Rodney alive.
And he took it so seriously that he wasted no time zipping his pants, telling the other two men with him to do the same, as he started toward the temple. “Rodney’s in trouble.”
Sheppard hadn’t needed to say it; the others had heard McKay through the radio just as clearly as he had. But if he did say it, then that meant he was going to do something to fix it. And he sure the fuck was going to fix it. Ronon and Teyla were quick to flank him and he stopped Dr. Reinker with an order over his shoulder. “See is you can find out what the hell they’re up to.”
The anthropologist hastily fell into discussions with the Chief as the other three started up the steps to the sanctuary. Keelay met them at the door and John clenched his fists to keep from taking her by the throat and demand what was wrong with Rodney. Instead, he growled, “Where is he?”
“The spirits have taken him.”
Sheppard felt his insides twist at the answer, felt them clench tight the same way they had when Rodney had last spoken to him… scared, confused, unsure… and called him by his first name. That was what had his blood running cold. To hear something that intimate and vulnerable, something that should have been gasped against his neck or murmured sleepily into his hair, something that had become a symbol of home and safety, to hear that voiced in desperation through a radio in the field had him struggling to keep it together so he could get Rodney back and everything could go back to the way it had been a few hours earlier.
John pushed passed the woman and barely registered that she hadn’t tried to stop him. “McKay?’ His voice echoed off the stone walls of the sanctuary, bouncing around the empty space of the room and doing little to fill the empty space that was forming in his chest when he received no answer. “Rodney?” Using the light on his P90, he scanned the room, the vacant room. Nobody. Okay, that could be good, he told himself. Because if there was nobody, that meant he hadn’t found a dead body, and that meant Rodney could still be alive… somewhere.
“Anything?” Sheppard asked his other two teammates. Because they needed something to work with if they were going to find him. Teyla mutely lifted his discarded field vest and showed it to the other two. But what did that tell them besides McKay was a little more vulnerable than he had been before? Jack shit, that’s what it said, and John was doing his best to convince himself that’s what it meant, too.
His flashlight skimmed over the altar and the untouched device there and around to the table with it’s tray of refreshment. The food! “Rodney said he had a snack.”
Ronon was closest to the table, immediately picking up the empty cup and sniffing curiously. He crinkled his nose then ran his fingers along the inside, rubbing them together before announcing, “There’s something in the drink.”
“Drug or poison?” John asked tensely.
His only answer was an inconclusive shrug from the Satedan.
“I know of one who probably would know.” Teyla’s brown eyes flashed threateningly as she tilted her head toward the entrance where they had left Keelay.
“Then I say we go find out.”
But they hadn’t taken two steps toward the door before Dr. Reinker came rushing in. “They think you’re mated!”
“What?” John demanded as the man came to a skidding stop, gulping air from his short run.
“Most trusted… that’s the Dadinki term for a mated couple.” The anthropologist sucked in another breath before continuing his explanation. “When Tombo told you Keelay was his ‘most trusted’, he meant that she is his wife. Needless to say, Colonel, when you said Dr. McKay was your most trusted, they thought it was a little odd.”
“Son of a bitch!” John looked around for something, anything, to kick and settled on the wooden stool by the table that shattered against the rock wall.
“So they poisoned McKay because they think he’s married to Sheppard?”
Reinker shook his head at Ronon’s conclusion. “No, it’s a test. They think you’re lying to them, trying to trick them to get the shield adaptor. And after the results of the last assessment they just gave us…”
John rolled his hand, trying to move the scientist along. “What exactly is this test? What did they do to McKay?”
“From what I can gather, they drugged him to make him visible to the spirit world. It’s probably some sort of hallucinogen. That’s actually very typical with tribes back on Earth…”
“Dwight,” Sheppard ground out threateningly at the side trip to the Milky Way this conversation was taking, “what did they do to Rodney?”
“According to Keelay and Tombo, the spirits are leading him on a journey. And according to the beliefs of the Dadinki, only his most trusted… his soul mate, if you will… can know him well enough to be able find him in time to give him the antidote. They believe if you’re lying, then the spirits will be able to keep him hidden until the drugs kill him.”
“Kill him?” Oh, fuck. Oh, Jesus. How in THE HELL did things get so screwed up so goddamn fast?
“How long do we have before the drugs become lethal?”
Good question. Leave it to Teyla to come up with the good questions.
“Their concept of time is a little difficult to follow but I think they’re talking about roughly seventy minutes. Give or take.” John absolutely refused to let his knees give out like they wanted to do at the anthropologist’s assessment.
“We’ll find him in less than an hour,” Ronon assured. And John knew that if anyone could track Rodney, it would be Teyla and Ronon. He had the life signs detector, but if he had headed into the jungle, there was so much wildlife that it would be almost impossible to distinguish McKay from the animals.
“Where is the antidote?” And once again, thank God, Teyla was thinking straight.
“Keelay is making it now. It’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“Teyla?” Sheppard couldn’t wait a few minutes, couldn’t wait a few seconds. Rodney was out there, somewhere. And the longer he was gone, the harder it was going to be to find him.
“Go,” she told them. “You and Ronon find his trail and I will follow as soon as the antidote is complete.”
John did nothing more than nod his head and fall into step behind Ronon who was already heading toward a back door that John hadn’t even noticed. That had to be the way Rodney had gone since he had never come out the front. Christ, get it together, Sheppard, he chastised silently. Because now was not the time to be sloppy if he expected to find McKay alive.
Ronon moved quickly through the dense foliage, and even John could see the course Rodney had taken. He’d fallen at least twice, his broad palm print obvious in the muddy path. He was running, Ronon had pointed out, showing the indentation of his boots that indicated he was stumbling, his weight distribution indicating he was looking back as he went, as though he were being pursued. But there was only his set of prints, so whatever he thought was after him was only in his mind.
“Rodney, do you copy?” John had forced his voice to be calm, comforting. If McKay thought he was being chased, if he was that terrified that he was running blindly through the jungle, then Sheppard needed to do everything possible to try to cut through that fog and get him to answer his fucking radio. “McKay, please respond.” But he never got an answer back no matter how many times he tried and when they finally found his discarded radio along the path he realized how goddamn absolutely useless the attempt had been in the first place.
After almost a half hour, they saw where he had lost his footing and slid down about ten feet into a ravine. At the bottom, where he had come to rest, Ronon pointed out blood on a leaf, still bright red. “He’s not more than five minutes ahead of us, if that.”
“RODNEY!” John yelled, hoping the man was close enough that he would hear Sheppard’s voice, a voice he knew, a voice he trusted, a voice he… Don’t go there, Sheppard reminded himself. He had a job to do– find his teammate. Everything else could wait, had to wait.
“MCKAY!” Ronon joined in.
In the distance, they heard a crack of breaking wood, and something between a curse and a scream. John was running before he even knew his feet were moving, vaulting over a downed tree, recovering his footing when it slipped in the mud on the other side. “Rodney!”
He caught a flash of black up ahead, a flicker of light brown hair moving low along the undergrowth, as if he were trying to stay out of sight. “Rodney, stop!”
It didn’t take much for Sheppard to overtake him, hunkering as low as the scientist so that he was almost crawling when he grabbed the back of Rodney’s shirt. The touch had McKay cowering against the nearest tree, covering his head and yelling for him to go away. Dropping to his knees in front of the distraught scientist, John reached out a tentative hand, pulling it back when Rodney flailed away. But McKay wasn’t running anymore, so he took the time to unclip his P90 and give him a quick once over. Large areas of the man were coated with mud and the associated mulch that had plastered to it. The gash on Rodney’s arm was bleeding steadily, but didn’t seem to be too serious. Not nearly as serious as the state he was in due to the drugs.
Ronon jogged up behind him and John ordered, “Find out where Teyla is with that antidote.” Checking his watch, they still had at least twenty minutes… if Reinker could tell Dadinki time. In the meantime, John needed to try to calm McKay down or they would never get him to take the antidote when it got there.
“Rodney,” he tried again, reaching out and touching the fine brown hair that was darkened with dirt and leaves. McKay flinched again but dared to look up with wide blue eyes nearly black with dilated pupils. But there was a note of recognition there, too.
Sheppard smiled, in relief, in reassurance, in an attempt to hold back the other emotions that were battling for control at finding Rodney alive. “Hey.”
“John.” This time his name was being spoken into his chest where McKay had buried his face, wrapping arms around Sheppard as tight as he could given the presence of the bulk of the field vest between them.
John barely even wasted the time to glance back and see how Ronon was reacting to Rodney’s response. At that moment, he really didn’t care. He simple pulled McKay in closer and rested his cheek against the top of the dirty head. “You’re okay. All right? You’re okay.”
“Make them stop,” Rodney begged. “Make them go away.”
“I will, I promise. Teyla will be here soon and everything’s going to be fine. You’re safe. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You know that. So just stay here with me, okay?”
Rodney just held tighter, as if he were afraid that John would simply vanish if he loosened his grip, and mumbled a fervent mantra of, “Thank God, thank God, thank God…..”
Behind them, Ronon cleared his throat. “Teyla’s at the ravine now. She should be here in a few minutes.”
“Is she alone?” Because if it came down to it, Sheppard figured he could trust Teyla and Ronon, the two of them were practically family, after all. He was actually a little surprised that they hadn’t figured things out before now. Reinker, however, was another story. But he honestly didn’t think he could let go of Rodney at that moment even if his career depended on it.
“She’s alone. Reinker stayed behind to… negotiate.” John simply nodded, exhaling heavily as he ran long fingers through Rodney’s hair to free it of a few twigs, feeling the trembling in his arms subside slightly. The intimate act had Ronon commenting, “So, evidently the Dadinki weren’t too far off with the whole most trusted concept, huh?”
The grin on the Satedan’s face was more teasing than menacing and Sheppard shrugged. “I’m not sure I’d go as far as buying into the whole spirits only allowing his soul mate to find him thing.”
“I don’t know,” Ronon observed with a contemplative tilt of his head. “You were the one that ultimately did find him, not me.”
When Ronon started back down the trail to meet Teyla, John called after him. “So, you’re not… you know… going to say anything are you? Because the United States military doesn’t exactly approve of this sort of thing.”
Ronon stopped long enough to spread his arms wide. “I don’t remember joining the United States military. As far as I’m concerned, it’s none of their business.” With a final grin, he disappeared into the plant growth.
Resting his hand on the back of Rodney’s neck, John asked quietly, “You sticking with me?” When he was answered by a wordless nod into his chest, John squeezed. “So, how’re you doing?”
“Horrible,” came the immediate answer against his field vest. “But better. What does that tell you about how my days been going?”
“I don’t know, aside from you being poisoned and scaring me into needing a clean pair of underwear when you disappeared, I’ve had a pretty good day.”
“You refused to have sex with me in order to keep us a secret, and, as a direct result, we’ve now been outed by an alien society.” A shudder passed through Rodney and John ran his thumb soothingly along the muscle of his neck.
“The only people that are going to know it was anything except a big cultural misunderstanding are Teyla and Ronon. And they won’t say anything.”
“I still don’t see how that qualifies as a good day.” Rodney was trying to steady his breathing and still had a long way to go but John would give him credit that he was doing pretty damn good job considering he was still under the influence of the drugs and seeing God only knew what.
“I got to sleep in with you this morning, I managed to get myself demoted so I don’t have to deal with Tombo any more, and I learned that I have a soul mate.” Through the trees, he could just make out Teyla and Ronon, his own tense muscles relaxing a bit knowing the antidote was within reach.
McKay whimpered, cringing away from an unseen phantom and John cupped the back of his head and murmured reassurances until the terror passed and he finally managed to speak again. “Soul mates? Is that finally a complex enough word for what we are?”
“It’ll do until I find something better.”
“Be careful what you wish for, Colonel. You might eventually find something that does work better. Then what will you do?”
Problem was, John wasn’t known for being careful about anything, and that included wishing. Which went a long way in explaining the man he currently couldn’t seem to let go of.
“I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
It also went a long way in explaining why he couldn’t imagine there was anything better in the world than what he had right here.
* * * *
Rodney drowsed, his eyes drifting closed then reopening when he realized he could no longer see John. Even though he could feel Sheppard’s thigh under his head, no matter that his fingers slipped with a repetitive laziness through Rodney’s hair, he still wanted to see John just to make sure he was really still there and the shadow creatures were gone. As he had been all the other times, John was there, staring down at him with a languid grin on his face.
Teyla had said the antidote would make him sleepy, that Keelay had said that was one of the signs that it was working properly. He remembered hearing that through the other voices telling him he wasn’t safe, he had to leave. He also remembered the blackness that had shrouded her when she spoke, obscuring her face, dripping from her hair, inky tendrils reaching for him. And he remembered the need to run from them as fast as he could. But John had held him in place, swore he wouldn’t let anything hurt him, promised if he drank the bitter substance it would all be better. And that was the only thing that held him in place.
So he had swallowed it down, leaned back against Sheppard and turned his face into John’s neck to wait for the visions to stop. There was a part of him that knew he shouldn’t do that. They were in the field, they were where others could see them, they were risking John being sent away from Atlantis forever. But when the man in danger of losing everything simply wrapped an arm around Rodney’s chest and slumped down into a more comfortable position against the tree, Rodney decided if John didn’t care, he didn’t care either.
Doing his best to concentrate on the steady in and out rhythm of Sheppard’s breathing, he was barely aware of Teyla bandaging his arm. Everything was getting a little fuzzier around the edges, including the visions and the sounds of the voices, all of it fading into a warm floating sensation, so that he actually jerked awake when Teyla spoke.
“I will join Ronon in standing watch.” She patted his arm lightly with a caring smile after she placed it back in his lap.
Protect the team; that’s what Teyla and Ronon would do. Whether it was from a band of rebel Genii, a contingent of Wraith, or prying eyes that could see something that was none of their damn business, Rodney knew their two Pegasus-native teammates would keep them safe.
John had taken the opportunity to shift Rodney to lay down with his head on his leg and McKay yawned broadly. “We should be going back to the village, shouldn’t we?”
“When you can travel, we’ll go. In the meantime, let the antidote do its thing.”
The air was warm but a breeze kept it from being too muggy, and the green leaves spun lackadaisically against the background of blue sky above the face that stared down at him. John thumbed away a smudge of dirt on Rodney’s forehead and McKay thought he’d never been more comfortable in his entire life.
His eyes drifted to half-mast before he opened them again when he remembered something. “Oh, Keelay said I could have the device if I lived. Don’t let her forget that.”
“I told you, Rodney, I’ve been demoted. I’m not the one negotiating with the Chief anymore.”
Something tugged at the back of Rodney’s mind and he decided John had never told him why he had lost the ranking position on the team, or if Sheppard had, Rodney’d been so freaked out of his mind that he forgot. “Why is that again?”
The sigh was pained and John shook his head in disgrace. “Tombo decided there was only one way to settle things once and for all as to whom he should be negotiating with and that was to measure our manhood… literally.”
Rodney’s eyes widened in surprise. “That manhood?”
“So now Ronon is our official delegate to Dadinki?” He could just see the negotiations now, heads being lopped off every time someone didn’t give into an Atlantean demand.
But Sheppard just shook his head in the negative. “Nope.”
“Well, surely you don’t mean Teyla.” When he received a snort in response his mouth fell open in shock. “Dwight???” Rodney actually lifted his head from his human pillow at the news.
“The man is hung like a Seabiscuit.” His grimace only grew as he told McKay, “I honestly don’t know how he zips his pants. It’s like his underwear has a secret portal to an alternate dimension just to store the damn thing.”
“Good thing I was drugged and didn’t have to see it else you may have never found me as I ran screaming through the trees.” Rodney lay back down, yawning once again. “Although, if I had been there, I would be the one negotiating with Tombo now.”
Hazel eyes rolled at the suggestion. “Yes, the angelic choir and beam of golden light that blinded the tribe when you lowered you shorts would have had them worshipping you like unto a god.”
“I have no doubt,” Rodney sniffed haughtily, his eyes sliding closed once more as John carded his fingers through his hair. God that felt good. So good that by the time he opened his eyes again, he wasn’t sure if several seconds or several hours had passed.
“Go to sleep, McKay. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”
Linking fingers with the hand that rested on his chest, he did just that.
By the time he woke again and they made their way back to the village a few hours later, Dwight and all his manly glory had secured the shield adaptor upon delivery of the agreed upon supplies and the promise the device would be returned for use by the Dadinki on three holy days during the year.
Rodney had grumbled that he just hoped the Wraith were considerate enough not to attack the city on one of those three days. But given that he had been exposed to a toxic substance, he and John had had their relationship exposed to a few people, and Sheppard had had to expose himself all because of the damn contraption, McKay actually couldn’t complain too much about the results.
Dr. Rhymes was on duty when they arrived back at Atlantis and when she saw the results of Rodney’s blood tests, she felt he should remain in the infirmary until the drugs had completely left his system. But Rodney wanted to go home… his place, he figured, since it was Friday and the mission had ended with him in the infirmary instead of Sheppard… and the colonel did his best to convince the physician that he would personally escort Rodney home and make sure the scientist stayed in bed and rested even if he had to sleep on the floor and block the door.
Rodney would remain in the infirmary for a few more hours, just to make sure that he didn’t have any delayed reactions, and if all looked good at that time, he’d be free to go with his self-appointed chaperone. Sheppard took advantage of the time to brief Elizabeth and fill out mission paperwork while Rodney snoozed and had a pleasant conversation with Dr. Rhymes.
John returned exactly three hours after he left, walked McKay back to his quarters as he had promised Katelin he would, and promptly pulled Rodney’s clothes off of him before pulling him into the shower. Once there, he set to work removing every sign that Rodney had ever disappeared into the Dadinki jungle. Rodney braced himself against the wall and watched the muddy residue spiral its way down the drain as Sheppard scrubbed it and what felt like a few dermal layers off of Rodney’s body. Then he set to kissing better every inch of raw skin he had caused. When he finished, Rodney’s toes were pruning and he felt like he had been drugged all over again… only this time with really happy, satiating drugs that made his pruney toes tingle.
But it didn’t stop him from taking John to bed and kissing better the raw edges of fear and worry that still lingered on the fringe of his every touch, every word, every sideways glance. By the time John was squirming restlessly under his fingertips, the anxiety was fading. By the time Rodney took him in his mouth, the only thing John was saying was, “oh, fuck yes!” And by the time Rodney finished up, John couldn’t seem to focus his vision on much of anything, which was fine by McKay. He simply collapsed on top of him in a sweaty, sticky heap, wished he could stay like that forever, and slept like the dead.
* * * *
When Sheppard woke the next morning, Rodney wordlessly crawled out of bed right behind him. “What are you doing? You don’t have to get up for another two hours.”
“Golf,” McKay answered succinctly, scratching at his stubble and staggering into the bathroom.
“You hate golf,” John reminded him, leaning in the doorway with arms crossed as he studied Rodney studying a mark on his neck in the bathroom mirror.
“Yes, but I don’t hate you, despite the fact that I will once again have to wear a high collared shirt, you careless bastard.” Blue eyes blazed in a combination of anger and conceit. “And that puts me in a bit of dilemma.”
John slid up behind Rodney, wrapping arms around his waist and kissing gently on the offended spot. “You look good in that shirt.” He kissed again with a grin. “You look even better sprawled spread eagle in bed.”
“I’m starting to think you’re trying to distract me, Colonel.” By the slightly glazed look in Rodney’s eyes reflected in the mirror, the nip at the soft flesh behind his ear was definitely doing it whether that was John’s intentions or not.
“Colonel, huh?” The voice turned husky as one hand traveled lower. “Are you ready for another lesson on how to fly an Apache? I’ll let you take the stick next.”
“Oh, my God, Sheppard, you are trying to distract me!”
Caught in the act. Slumping against Rodney’s back, he whined, “Why do you want to go golfing anyway, McKay?”
“You know exactly why… exactly who.”
“But you know I’d never do anything with her.”
“Then you shouldn’t mind me going with you. In fact, might I remind you, you asked me to go.”
“Yeah,” John moped, “that’s because I thought you wouldn’t take me up on it.”
“Live and learn.” Turning, Rodney gave him a quick kiss. “Now, get out of here and back to your room and shower away the evidence and I’ll do the same. It’s bad enough I have to hide my hickeys like a teenage girl, I don’t need to be reeking of Lieutenant Colonel in the breakfast line on top of it all.”
John sighed, went back out into the other room and started pulling on clothes. He raised his voice to be heard over the running water of the shower. “Just promise me you won’t do anything stupid on the driving range.”
Leaning back out the bathroom door, Rodney rolled his eyes. “Please, as long as I weight the body properly, no one will ever even know I was there.”
Groaning one final time, John left, and he didn’t look any happier when Rodney met him at his room about half an hour later. McKay, on the other hand, was practically bouncing on his toes.
“Are you ready?”
Trying for one final way out, Sheppard suggested, “Why don’t we grab something to eat first?”
Rocking back on his heels, Rodney gave one broad shake of his head. “Nope. If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss her. Now don’t forget your stick thingy so we can have a valid excuse to be there.” With a twirl of hand toward the club that was leaning just inside the door, he started down the hall.
Grabbing the driver, John trailed after him. “I don’t need to remind you, do I,” John hissed when he caught up with the determined man, “that Ronon and Teyla are willing to keep what they know about us to themselves. But that whole secret thing kind of goes out the window if you go into a jealous fit in front another expedition member.”
“You really think so little of my self control?” Rodney tsked even as he stepped in and activated the transporter.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of your lack of self control, McKay. It took almost two weeks for the rug burns to heal.”
Rodney gave him a gloating grin before the doors opened to deposit them on the level that would lead to the pier. “That was fun; we should do it again. Just remind me to pick up some throat lozenges so you don’t lose your voice this time.”
John swallowed down a combination of trepidation and anticipation at the offer before following McKay out into the hallway on the lower level. The door leading to the driving range was open, letting in a fresh light wind that ruffled Rodney’s hair and tasted faintly of sea spray. It also carried a familiar male voice accompanied by a different, yet familiar, female giggle.
Sheppard furrowed his brow in confusion, but McKay’s smile just grew when they got close enough to make out two figures out on the range. Dr. Dwight Reinker, anthropologist, was gripping a driver in his hands, lining up over the tee, while Dr. Katelin Rhymes, physician, stood with her arms wrapped around him from behind helping to position him properly.
“And you said people didn’t really do that,” McKay scoffed just low enough that the two people laughing on the driving range couldn’t hear him.
“How the hell…?” John just shook his head in amazement.
“Ends up Dwight’s a lefty, too,” Rodney told him, hands shoved in his pockets as he rocked back happily. “That and he’s hung like a racehorse.”
“And exactly how did Dr. Rhymes happen to find out about Dr. Reinker’s anatomical wonders?”
McKay shrugged. “You know, word gets out through the usual channels.”
“Like a patient under observation in the infirmary?” John accused.
“We chatted,” was the evasive answer.
Narrowing his eyes at the way Rodney seemed so pleased with himself, Sheppard inquired, “And did you happen to chat about me during this conversation?”
“I may have mentioned that she really dodged a little tiny bullet with you.” Rodney emphasized the point with thumb and forefinger nearly pinched together demonstrating the small size. “Especially given her other more impressive alternatives.”
Rodney didn’t even attempt to look ashamed of his tale. “What? It’s the truth. I just happened to leave out the fact that the bullet she dodged was one from my nine millimeter.” McKay waved an arm toward the couple who were completely oblivious that anyone was even watching them as they laughed and cheered when Dwight managed to actually hit the ball. “Besides, they look happy, don’t they? And what’s more important, I look happy.”
John couldn’t argue with that; the man truly did look happy. It was the same smile he saw half a hundred times a week when Rodney had just proven himself to be the smartest person in the room… yet again.
“So, I guess no golf today?” Sheppard rested his driver across his shoulders and draped his wrists on the shaft as he took a step into Rodney’s personal space. A space he had come to like a whole hell of a lot.
“No golf today.” McKay closed the gap a little further, crooked smile as smug as the glimmer in his eyes. “Admit it, I’m a genius.”
“You’re a genius.”
Rodney took a deep, satisfied breath. “I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said that.”
“Would you settle for kisses instead?”
“That’s a lot of kisses you’re talking about, Colonel,” Rodney observed with raised eyebrows.
John sighed dramatically with a final look toward the flirting golfers. “It’s not like I have anything else to do this morning, thanks to you.” Hitching his head with a grin he started toward to transporter again.
“You’re welcome,” Rodney told him as he fell into step by his side.
“I’m never going to live this down, am I?”
“What? The fact that I found a way to get Dr. McSlutty off your trail or your paltry showing in the penile games?”
“Hey,” Sheppard defended, “It wasn’t paltry.”
“Yes, I’m sure you came in a close second.”
John’s scowl just grew to see his own mocking expression thrown back at him. “Besides, I was at an unfair disadvantage. I was experiencing shrinkage out of worry over you.”
“Well, then, let’s see if I can alleviate that problem.”
The hand on his crotch had John jumping back and looking both directions down the hall to make sure no one was coming.
“Christ, McKay, do you even know the meaning of low profile?”
“It’s not like there’s anyone around. Well, at least anyone that’s even aware that we’re here.”
Of course there wasn’t anyone. This corridor was used pretty much exclusively for access to the pier and they would have seen anyone exiting the transporter. And as far as Dwight and Katelin went, they were too preoccupied with each other to notice anything else. But still…
“I know, it’s just…” John bobbled his head. “I just wish you’d be a little more careful is all.”
“Fine, I’ll shut the door to the transporter before I do you.” Rodney rolled his eyes as he yanked him into the compartment.
And a few minutes later, with his pants puddled around his ankles, John decided that careful wishing was highly overrated.
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