Pairing: Team gen
Rating: PG for... snuggling?
Author's Notes: saffronhouse was a generous requester; one of the many possibilities was Rodney-centric h/c and while I thought this was going to head the John/Rodney route, it seemed to want to stay team gen.
Summary: After Rodney's break-up with Jennifer, he throws himself into his work. Perhaps a bit too literally.
"Now what?" John asks, staring down at Rodney's body, thinner than John's ever seen him, hooked up to IVs on both sides and a catheter discreetly coming out from under the blanket someone'd thrown over his unzipped pants. "We can't just leave him in there until he figures out he needs to come out."
Radek shakes his head vehemently from where he's standing, hovering over a complex console with six different laptops jacked into it. "I will need time to figure out what he was doing, exactly, and how long he has been doing it."
"What do you mean how long?" John asks, tamping down on the rage that he can feel coming. "I saw him last night, it can't be more than ten hours, max."
Radek glares at him. "He didn't lose that much weight in ten hours, Colonel. And something has been strange about his work for months."
"What do you mean, months?" John asks, stalking over to look at the console himself. Maybe he can get a vibe off it.
"Months," Radek says, shooing him away from the tiered setup of tablets on the left side. "Since he and Dr. Keller broke it off." He sighs heavily. "I thought he was simply throwing himself into his work. The results were hard to argue with."
John has to agree with that one; Rodney'd improved every defensive, offensive, and power system they had and given John six or seven new leads on tracking down the last dregs of the Wraith and Michael's followers. They'd all but wiped them out. Dr. Keller had been no slouch either; she'd undone the genetic engineering Michael had subjected his followers to and made great strides on engineering a cure for the Hoffan disease.
"So he's been... what, coming in here to work more instead of sleeping?"
"I do not think that is all," Radek says. "He has been working on creating ZPMs. I would say we were working on it together, but he would come in every day with weeks' worth of work done."
"So, what, you think he's..." John doesn't even know what.
"We've got him on monitors, Colonel," Biro interrupts. "He's perfectly stable and healthy, though the weight loss is worrisome. We'll keep an eye on him from upstairs and leave you to your work."
"Thanks," John says, wiping a hand down his face. "I appreciate it."
"Of course," Biro answers. "But call me if you intend to do anything else so I can be here just in case."
John nods and waves as she and her team leave the room. When he lowers his hand, he sets it on the console to see if he can get anything out of it. It's warm, and it heats up even more under his hand. "Stop, Colonel!" Radek cries. The printouts running across the screens speed up and John lifts his hand off. It doesn't change the data now scrolling across the screens at double-time.
"What have you done?" Radek asks, frantically looking from screen to screen. "What did you tell it?"
John frowns guiltily. "I told Atlantis to tell Rodney to hurry up."
"Oh, that is wonderful," Radek says. "You have increased the time dilation."
"Time dilation?" John squawks. "You didn't say anything about time dilation!"
"Because you didn't give me a chance to say anything before touching the console!" Radek hooks his tablet into another tablet and something starts scrolling across his screen.
"Isn't there an off button?" John asks. It seems like there should be a big red button that says STOP.
"It is not so simple," Radek says. "VE is created together with the person's mind; we do not know how much is in the computer and how much is in Rodney's brain. The only safe option is for Rodney to think himself out."
"Well, I can go in and tell him to come out, right?"
Radek looks at Rodney and then the rows of pods along the wall. "We don't know if they are interconnected. If Rodney was keeping this to himself, then he would not want anyone else tapped into his neural loop."
"Can't you connect them?" John asks. "They had hundreds of those things connected in the Aurora. It can't be that hard."
Radek glares at him again. "Do you wish me to spend my time trying to connect pods - which I have no specific knowledge of - or trying to get Rodney out of there, something I have at least a passing familiarity with?"
John sighs. "Well, I'm going to try another pod. Maybe they come interconnected."
"I do not think that's a good idea," Radek says. "Rodney obviously made adjustments to his pod-" and that's the understatement of the year, John thinks, looking at Rodney in his open-air pod "-and there's no way to know, if they are linked, that his adjustments wouldn't hurt someone in one of the non-tinkered-with pods. It is not safe."
Compared to most of the stuff in the Pegasus galaxy, though, this is a cakewalk. John makes up his mind and crosses the room to one of the empty pods. "It'll only take a minute. I'll think myself in, tell him to get the hell out here, and think myself out."
"I think you should ask Mr. Woolsey first," Radek says, but John knows that Woolsey will probably nix the idea, so that's right out. "And if not," Radek says, clearly reading John's stubbornness, "then at least Dr. Biro."
That's a fair compromise, so John clicks his radio on and has Biro turn around and come back to the pod room. When she gets there, she clucks at him going into a sealed pod.
"I can't hook you up to any monitoring equipment, much less IVs or other things."
"I won't need them," John assures her, sounding certain even to himself. "I'll only be in there a minute, tops."
"A minute on this side or a minute on that side?" Radek asks. "Because a minute on this side is eight hours on that side."
"Damn," John says, because he knew that the time would be different, just based on his time in the Cloister, but he hadn't realized what kind of scale he was looking at. "Well, it won't be long, at any rate. If it's more than eight hours, I'll just think myself out and give you guys a report."
Radek takes a second to frown at him directly and then waves his hand and goes back to frowning at the equipment. "Be careful," he says, like John isn't always careful.
John crawls into the pod and it's exactly as awkward as it was on the Aurora. There is no smooth way to get yourself into one of those pods. He looks up at Biro. "Go on, push me in."
She nods and gives the pod a shove. He closes his eyes, taking several deep breaths to calm his nerves, which have suddenly gotten worse, and waits while the pod hums and reads his brain.
The blinding brightness of the room he's in makes him slam his eyes shut before they can really even open. There's a whisper in his brain, not quite words, asking him to set up his VE.
"I want to be in Rodney's VE," he says out loud, because he hates having conversations without words, and brain-talking is something he never wants to do if he can help it.
A soft indescribable voice says, "Please set scenario parameters."
"Come on!" John yells, walking over and thumping the nearest wall. "I know you know what I'm talking about. Show me Rodney."
The wall becomes translucent and John gets up close, his nose nearly to the wall that feels like silicone but looks like frosted glass. He can't really see anything at first, just blurs of color, but after a moment, one of the blurs resolves into a human shape. It could be Rodney, but he can't be sure, everything is out of focus and fuzzy. It unresolves just as fast, a blur of color racing about the space. Must be the time dilation. If it's eight hours to a minute, that's eight minutes for every second. Rodney never stands still for eight minutes at a time.
"That's the best you can do?" John says, trying to goad Atlantis as its questioning fingers search in his mind.
When he glances back into the white room, it's starting to collect random furniture. There's the bed he and Nancy slept in - the most comfortable bed he'd ever had, and one of the toughest concessions of their divorce - and an armchair like his uncle's, the one he loved to lounge in as a kid when they went to visit. There's the weird triangular conference room table from their first year in Pegasus - where had that gone, anyway? - and the tentacle chair from MX3-946. He squints at it to be sure that's the same chair. The tentacles wave at him invitingly and he shivers. He doesn't even like that chair.
He looks back through the frosted glass window into Rodney's VE, trying to push his way through the barrier. The wall is solid, more solid than it looks. He tries to worm his fingers into the silicone stuff, but it's surprisingly unyielding. "Rodney!" he yells, but the blurs keep moving on the other side of the barrier.
"I need to be over there," John says, punching the wall. "Get me in there, I don't -"
"- think so," John finishes saying, though he's sure it's not his own sentence he's finishing. He's looking straight at Rodney, who's got his back to John as he writes complex equations on a whiteboard. There's a weird disconnect as John realizes this is not his body, or at least, it's not how his body normally feels, though a glance down assures him he looks like himself.
"Well, how?" Rodney demands, snapping his fingers. "I don't keep you around for your pretty face."
"Rodney?" John asks, though it's not really a question. He just doesn't know what else to say, standing in Rodney's VE with a body that feels like a person suit, and one that doesn't quite fit at that.
"Yes?" Rodney says irritably. "I'm waiting. You've never hesitated to give your opinion before."
"Rodney, it's me," John says, and that sounds almost as inane as using Rodney's name as a question. "The real me. I'm in here." He points a finger at himself, still feeling like his body is going to slide off him if he moves too much.
Rodney's eyes go wide. "That's impossible. This is a one person VE, I isolated the neural loop."
John can't help smiling, and his cheeks feel like they might crack. "I asked Atlantis to let me in."
"Oh no," Rodney says, still wide-eyed, ticking through possible scenarios fast enough to make John's head spin. "What happened? Is someone in trouble? Is something wrong with Atlantis? Are you dying?"
"No," John says, trying to be calm in the face of Rodney's hysteria. "You missed team breakfast. When we went looking for you, we found you in here."
"Oh, thank god," Rodney says, deflating with a groan of relief. "Fine, fine, let's go, I'll get some breakfast."
"No way," John says, reaching out to grab Rodney's arm. His muscles don't work right, though, and Rodney twists out of the way before John can get a hand on him. "What the hell were you thinking, doing all this in secret? Don't you know better than that?"
Rodney looks away guiltily and John sighs in exasperation. "You know that Biro and Radek are out there, and Woolsey knows about this and is going to expect you in his office as soon as Biro signs off."
"I thought you said you came looking for me," Rodney whines. "Why did you have to call in reinforcements?"
John frowns. "You should have seen yourself. You looked emaciated in that chair."
"I don't look emaciated," Rodney says.
John looks Rodney up and down and realizes that Rodney looks like John remembers him from before - solid, broad shoulders, decent muscle and maybe a little loose in the abdomen. He doesn't look like the skinny Rodney lying in the chair with tubes stuck in him everywhere. "You don't like that anymore," John says. "You need to take a look in the mirror when you get out."
Rodney frowns. "It's not that big a deal. I'm just giving myself more time. Look how much I've gotten done!"
"You're working yourself to death, Rodney," John says, feeling miserable for not having picked up on the cues. "And you've done more than enough - Atlantis is jacked up to the nines, Michael's gang is gone, the Wraith are almost gone... it's enough."
"It's never enough," Rodney says. "We're this close to understanding how ZPMs are made - and I can do the test builds in here."
"Rodney," John says, putting on team leader voice. "Stop. You need to rest and eat-"
"I do rest!" Rodney says, whizzing past John and out of the lab. John tries to grab him but he can't do more than feel Rodney's sleeve under his fingers before he's gone. He turns to follow and thankfully Rodney hasn't gone far. "See?" Rodney says, waving his arms around the room across the hall. John walks carefully, feeling with each step like he might lose his body, and having the distinct feeling he wouldn't like what happens if he does.
When he gets to the doorway, he sees a giant bed with a pile of fluffy pillows and soft-looking blankets. Ronon's standing next to the bed, and when he takes a step into the room, he sees a massage table with Teyla standing solemnly next to it.
"Rodney," John says, because if Rodney's having sex with blow-up dolls of his teammates in his VE, that's something John would have really rather gone his whole life without knowing.
"What?" Rodney says. "I told you, I sleep."
Teyla and Ronon are unmoving; John knows they can be still, but it's creepy seeing them like this.
"Oh," Rodney says glancing at the Ronon and Teyla statues and snapping his fingers. They seem to wake up, Teyla smiling and Ronon scowling.
"Would you like a massage?" Teyla asks.
John frowns. Rodney sees him and starts babbling. "No, Colonel, no, I assure you it's not like that. Teyla has strong hands, and..." Rodney looks at the bed. "And it gets lonely in here. I like having people I know around, that's why I made these fake-yous. It's not really Teyla, but it sounds like her. She sings lullabyes to me sometimes."
Rodney's eyes come back to John's, his face pinched up with worry. John raises an eyebrow and flicks a glance at Ronon, standing next to the bed with his arms crossed.
"Oh, no," Rodney says, "No - none of this is about sex. I..." Rodney swallows. "I've been lonely, okay? The sex, whatever, I don't care about that as much. But I can't sleep in a bed alone anymore."
John can feel his eyes widening, but Rodney starts babbling before his thought even finishes taking shape.
"Ronon makes me feel safe, okay?" Rodney says, his face bright red. John can't help a pang of understanding. "He makes me feel small and loved and sometimes you and Teyla join us and Teyla sings. It helps me sleep, okay?"
John nods. There are days - more and more these days, as there's less adrenaline in the Pegasus galaxy adventures - that he wishes he had someone to curl up with at night.
"Seriously, though," John says. "Why are you not eating? You look like a skeleton. I thought you'd have a personal chef in here."
"Oh," Rodney says. "I took away hunger and pain. I didn't want to have to worry about it in here. I guess I just forget about it out there."
"How long have you been doing this?" John asks. "And how long did it take you to get that setup working?"
Rodney shrugs. "I wanted the VE pretty badly after Jennifer. It only took a couple of weeks to set everything up, including the time dilation."
"Oh," John says, squinting. "I... think I upped that accidentally, by the way."
"Really?" Rodney asks, grinning like a kid at Christmas. "I thought I had it maxed out!"
John shrugs. "I touched the console and the readouts started going double time."
Rodney's eyes widen. "Double? That's amazing!" He grins again. "Three days in ten minutes! You could give everyone in Atlantis a 3 day R&R in under two days."
John tilts his head, looking at Rodney carefully. "How much time have you been spending in here? You don't even recognize yourself - you don't look like that anymore."
Rodney's grin fades and he shrugs, looking at his feet. "I only come in for an hour at a time. And no more than twice a day."
"An hour?" John nearly yells. "That's nearly three weeks!"
"No," Rodney says, putting his hands up, "no, it was only ten days, remember, you're the one that doubled it, not me. Ten days - I was locked in my lab in college longer than that some months - and I'm sleeping here. I sleep ten hours a night, more than I can get back in the real world."
"But we need you in the real world," John says quietly. "And you're spending too much time in here."
Rodney nods, looking defeated. "I know. It didn't start that way. I just... I can't sleep out there."
John's too far away to touch Rodney, not even sure he could in his ill-fitting Sheppard suit, but he says, quietly, "I know, buddy."
Getting out actually works as planned; John goes back into his own VE with a thought, and out into the real world with another thought. By the time he's climbing out of his pod, Rodney is conscious and yelling at Radek to leave things alone, he has them finely calibrated.
Radek throws his hands up and leaves, mumbling in Czech things John's probably glad he doesn't understand. "You're welcome," he shouts back at Rodney, who's now on to shouting at Biro.
"Thanks," John says as Radek passes, and he stops for a second to look John in the eye and nod. "You are welcome. I don't know why I..."
Radek continues grumbling as he leaves the room and John smiles, watching Rodney insist the IVs and catheter be removed. He clicks on his radio. "Ronon, Teyla. I need you to meet me in the infirmary in fifteen minutes."
Biro relents, finally, removing the IVs and catheter, and Rodney walks to the infirmary under his own steam. Ronon and Teyla are waiting for them when they get there, and Rodney looks miserable when he sees them. "I'm okay," he says, when Teyla takes his hand. "I'm fine."
"I know," she says simply, and holds his hand for a moment until he needs it to undress for Biro's exam.
Biro's insisting on a full exam and lab panel, and she tells the team they can come back for him in two hours. "Not a minute before," she says, shooing them out the door.
That's just enough time, John thinks.
"I don't know why I need to keep my eyes closed going into my own quarters," Rodney complains, but he keeps them shut anyway.
The door whooshes open and John checks to make sure everything is in place before he says, "Okay."
Rodney opens his eyes and chokes in a breath. "For me?" he asks, like it could be for anyone else.
He looks over the spread of food on the table and Ronon looking down at the turkey legs hungrily, and says, "Let's eat."
They sit around and chat, Teyla talking about Torren's first steps and Ronon talking about the iPod full of classic rock that Lorne gave him. Rodney mentions a few things he's been working on, the ZPMs and one last-ditch effort to find Todd, even though they're pretty sure he's hibernating.
There's only mulled wine to drink, but it's enough, a pleasant warmth and nice way for them all to unwind. When Teyla asks Rodney if he'd like a backrub, Rodney eyes snap to her face and then over to John accusingly.
"It's okay," Teyla says. "We just wish you had come to us first."
Ronon gets up and yanks on the curtain that's been rigged up between Rodney's living area and his bedroom. There's a king size bed all set up, dozens of pillows and more than a few blankets, and Ronon jumps on, stretching out and letting one hand rest on his distended belly. "Come on, McKay," he says, patting the bed next to him. "The tryptophan is doing its work."
Rodney scowls at Ronon and then at John. "Don't look at me," John says. "I didn't tell him about tryptophan."
"Come," Teyla says, gently tugging on Rodney's arm to get him out of his chair. "We could all use a rest."
Rodney's flushing, but he goes with Teyla, scooting on the bed and squawking when Ronon puts an arm around his middle and makes him the little spoon. Teyla curls up next to him, taking his hand again, and John sneaks in behind her, propping himself up with a couple of extra-fluffy pillows so he can look down at them all.
"Thank you," Rodney says, still blushing.
"You're welcome, Rodney," John says, looking down at him with only a little exasperation. "You're always welcome."
Rodney nods, and Ronon squeezes his bicep just as Teyla starts to sing.