Rating: Adult (NC-17)
Disclaimer: The usual. Not mine, just for fun, etc.
Author's Notes: I really hope I managed to get most of the requests in here. Probably not as kinky as Reddwarfer wanted, and I’m sorry about that, but the guys apparently are being pretty cautious here. This is a Conversion-AU where John doesn’t fully revert, and all the angst that goes along with that, although I do believe in silver linings. Please note I wrote most of this while delirious with pneumonia, so it might reflect that. I tried, I tried!
Summary: Sheppard has a no-cross personal DMZ around him…until he doesn’t.
John's mother touched him all the time, holding him in her arms and hugging him and messing up his hair while she laughed. When David was born, it wasn't an excuse for her to hold someone else, but was cause for late afternoon snuggles on her large bed with the baby between them. John was not sure if he even remembered his father before his mother's death.
He remembered him afterward, though, telling him to act like a big boy and stop clinging. His father shook his hand when John graduated from high school, and the fact that John remembered that moment so clearly, even twenty years later, spoke volumes about their relationship.
But the die was cast by his mother's death, and John retreated deep within his own skin and expected to stay there for the rest of his life.
Until his skin became corrupted and turned inside out.
Carson tsk'ed next to the bed, not at John particularly, but at everything. A deeply unhappy Carson resembled nothing so much as a depressed puppy, all slumped over and doe-eyed.
"I'm sorry," Carson said with a whine of regret. John held himself back from cringing.
"I can't work like this. The SGC will recall me, and I'll be grounded."
Carson looked devastated. "Genetics are a tricky business, Colonel."
"You said the retrovirus would put me back to normal. The stem cells would rewrite everything." John snapped, keeping his mouth closed as much as possible.
Still looking like he had been kicked, Carson's voice took on the assured edge it got when he was explaining medical concepts. "It's like this: you cut your skin, you scar. The skin doesn't heal back over the same way. Your genetic code was altered traumatically and extensively over a short period of time, and the retrovirus was not turning back the clock so much as writing over the changes."
John took a moment to separate out the analogies. "You're saying my genetics have scarred over?"
"Aye. Although that's a highly inaccurate description, it does rather capture the idea. Rodney might say, there were two virus codes battling it out, and there was, er, collateral damage?"
John held his hand up to stop the wayward metaphors. His blackish blue claws glittered in the light like really bad goth nail polish. The hysterical thought ran through John's mind that his father would have really disapproved, which was the least of his problems.
"Am I fit for duty?"
"Oh, er…ah, I think so?"
John glared at him.
"Well, we need to run some tests, find out the extent of the alterations now that the transformation has stabilized. The final decision is Elizabeth's, I'm afraid."
Carson left him with that, but Elizabeth pulled the security detail and let John go back to his room, even if she did not allow him to resume his duties until Carson's extensive battery of tests resulted in some kind of concrete confirmation of John's status, one way or the other.
John did not like the stench of his room, though. Even his method of smelling was different. Carson did not need to run any tests for John to figure out that his taste buds were much more sensitive, which was why he tried to keep his mouth shut because it still felt weird to smell with his tongue. The joke "mouth breather" was becoming less and less funny every day that passed. He tried cleaning but the industrial solvent that was the generic version of Pine Sol he requested and got from Lorne smelled like poison to him, harsh and vile and dangerous while the room smelled hot and salty. Between the two extremes John was going crazy until he remembered one of his nanny's liked to use vinegar to clean everything. Lorne brought him a bottle and John spent hours scrubbing every inch of the place until all he could taste was the deep, cold, clean smell of vinegar. It was still too dry, crisp and painful, but there wasn't much he could do about that since it was too confusing for Atlantis's systems to keep a room both cold and damp. John kept the windows open to bring in the humid sea breeze.
Even so, it still took John another week to fully comprehend the depths to which he had been changed, simply because there had just been so much damn changing going on. First he Lt. Col. John Sheppard, normal-ish kind of guy; then he was The Bug stalking (crawling) the halls looking for his queen's nest; then he was John-in-recovery with black claws for fingernails and short, sensitive hairs on the palms of his hands and feet. The very idea of shaving them nearly made him cry; fortunately they were short enough that he didn't think anyone would notice them, but shoes hurt so he stayed barefoot, which people did notice. There was no way he could win that battle.
"He's still John!"
"He's still partially a bug!" Elizabeth threw back. She was angry but Rodney was fine with that, he could match her all the way down that road if he had too.
"Less than .03%! That's nearly infinitesimal!"
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed and Rodney knew he had made a tactical error.
"Nearly infinitesimal, Rodney? Is that a technical term?"
"You know what I meant!" Rodney felt his arms swinging around in protest. Elizabeth had a way of reducing him to semaphore, which he hated even though he admired her for it.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth sighed and crumbled into her desk chair. "I do. I know what you mean, and I agree, but I'm pretty convinced the SGC -- not to mention the United States Air Force -- is not going to be forgiving here, Rodney. I have to make the best decision for Atlantis, which means taking into account whether John's going to be yanked back to Earth the second Colonel Caldwell gets back here on the Daedalus in five months."
Her quiet logic took all the wind of his sails, and Rodney sat down with a thump in one of the office chairs.
"He's changed, Rodney. And I don't know what to do with that." Elizabeth rarely let her armor down, at least not around him, so Rodney just sat there while she talked. "He's got black claws, which is noticeable enough, but the skin mottling and, according to Carson, changes to his sensory organs and…Lorne is unsure of whether Colonel Sheppard is even flight worthy anymore by Air Force standards."
Rodney frowned. He had thought Lorne was on their side.
"Don't get mad at Lorne, I'm the one who asked him about it."
"Fine. How about I get mad at you?"
"I expected you to."
"Good! Because I am!"
"We are completely unsure of what these changes really mean to him, and you know it. Lorne told me Sheppard spent hours cleaning every square inch of his room with vinegar. Including the walls."
"I'm glad you agree." Elizabeth leaned back in her chair. Rodney was still mad, but he was mature enough -- despite accusations to the contrary -- to know that mostly he was just mad at the situation. He knew there was more wrong with Sheppard than the genetics involved with the transformation, but without being able to really know what the problem was, there was no way Rodney could even start to attack it.
It made sense to him, when John was back in his right mind, that he kissed Teyla instead of Rodney. Not that he didn't find Teyla hot as hell, because even a dead man would get it up for her, but she was attractive in a way that was once removed from John's own sexuality, through no fault of her own. John's libido had been carrying a torch for Rodney for a while, so when he kissed Teyla at the onset of the Iratus bug transformation, he was even more surprised than she was.
After John's brain rewired itself, though, he understood with a deep, unsettling horror that it wasn't his teammate Teyla he had been drawn to at the time, but the Wraith genes she carried. Parsing out the jargon Carson threw at him, John realized that he had been turning into something even less self-aware than the Wraith drones. What he had been seeking out was his queen.
He kept this understanding to himself, in the deep far reaches of his subconscious, hopefully never to see the light of day again. But he was John Sheppard, and he knew better than to believe he was that lucky as he stared at his claws in the privacy of his darkened room. While Elizabeth worried the legalities and John was on indefinite stand down and Rodney chewed the scenery, John had time to find his zen again, but the only thing he was finding was just how screwed he really was.
Rodney knew when something was broken. He didn’t need math for that; in fact that talent was the baseline of all his skills as long as he could remember thinking coherently. Everyone he ever talked to (really talked to, like his sister and Teyla and Carson) believed that his genius was in being able to find what’s right, to find the solution to a problem that no one else can see.
Rodney, though, knew that his skill was actually about finding what was wrong, over and over again, until it wasn’t wrong anymore. It was not the same thing as finding what is right. Zelenka could do that, and also two of the electrical engineers, and while Rodney would never admit it, he admired them, he truly did. It took a unique skill to look at a problem and find the solution. Rodney couldn’t do that, and never did: he looks at a problem and finds what he can fix to make it less wrong.
A subtle distinction, perhaps, but one he knew was crucial. It’s why he was bad with people, with emotions and sharing and relationships, because people expected him to know the solution when all he really knew was what was wrong. People were not as malleable as mathematical variables, and less willing to be tilted on one axis and then another while Rodney sorted out the wrongness. They accused him of playing games or being insensitive. He didn’t know the solution to normal human interaction, and never has, and probably never will because people are never really honest about what’s wrong in the first place.
Sheppard, though, was so broken that he did not expect anyone to have a solution, which made Rodney’s job easy. All he had to do was navigate the broken bits of Sheppard’s psyche and try to make things less wrong only when he spotted something particularly out of whack. Sheppard was willing to accept that, in the form of Rodney’s ham-fisted overtures at friendship (who would want to race RC cars half the night, anyway? Even among a floating city full of card-carrying geeks, there were no other takers) and their friendly bickering. Rodney was not trying to fix much anyway. He liked Sheppard the way he was, except for possibly that suicidal self-martyrdom streak, which was proving to be a problem with the firmware, not the software, so Rodney was half-way to simply accepting that as a “wrong” which was probably “right”, kind of like Windows 7.
Sheppard turning into a bug was wrong, of course, and thankfully not permanent. But Sheppard not returning to “normal” wasn’t really wrong, medically speaking. Carson had explained everything with some horribly inaccurate analogy about scar tissue (scarred genes? Rodney wondered about the state of Scottish medical education) but it made sense. What Rodney knew for a fact from theoretical physics was that you could not fuck with the building blocks without building something different than what you started with, and that was as true for genetics as for quantum physics.
What Rodney knew was broken, then, was Sheppard himself -- even more, or at least, differently, than before. This was Rodney’s worst nightmare: needing to find the solution to a friend, when all Rodney knew how to do was toss variables around until the wrongness ended. He wasn’t sure how he could do that without, possibly, ending Sheppard. Or their friendship.
He remembered the cave, in dreams. It was clean, cold, and damp. The odors of the others brushed over his skin, reassuring him and trusting him in return. In the half-life of his subconscious the cave was awake when he walked in, instead of asleep, and the raucous chittering noises were like laughter, bold in the dark, welcoming him home to be one with the others. Part of a whole, John slipped into the cave of his dreams as if crawling into his queen's nest, ready to serve and desperate for union.
He would wake up sweaty and stinking of confusion, wrapped up deep inside the bed sheets, the short sensory whiskers that covered most of his exposed skin twitching painfully against the cotton while John humped at the mattress, desperate for release, the strange plates that still settled at the back of this throat clicking madly when he came.
Most people seemed okay with John keeping his distance. He was not too upset by that, feeling like his life was an out-of-body experience anyway, but it hurt the way Teyla flinched when he came close to her, and how Ronon tracked John with his eyes as if watching prey. They said the right supportive words but the legends of the Iratus bugs and the Wraith were buried too deep in their psyches to ignore. If nothing else, Teyla clearly registered John's presence as Wraith-like, something John talked to Lorne about as a security hazard. If Teyla's Wraith-dar was unreliable because John's presence scrambled the signals for her, it could put the whole expedition at risk. Lorne frowned but dropped the subject, saying only he would make a note of it for Carson's report.
Unsurprisingly, Rodney was not quite as sanguine.
"So what are you saying? We should drop you off on a random planet so you don't clog Teyla's receptors?" Rodney asked with a full dose of sneer in his voice, his opinion of the situation more than clear.
"I'm a hazard, Rodney." John clicked his throat plates in irritation before he could stop himself. It was happening more often.
"What is that noise?" Rodney looked up from where he was rewiring the monitor. The interface with Ancient technology was not as smooth as it could be, and monitors in particular caused the Atlantis systems no end of grief. It was simply that the Ancients had progressed far beyond primitive two dimensional image representation, so Atlantis kept blowing up monitors trying to get them to do things they were not designed to do. Rodney was determined to set up a 24" monitor in John's room for movie watching, though, even if building a monitor from scratch might have been faster.
"Your throat? It sounds like castanets." Rodney frowned at him.
John ground his teeth, one of the few parts of his body that had not transformed in any way. "Apparently Iratus digestive systems are armored and segmented."
Rodney's mouth opened and closed exactly three times before he turned silently back to the half-gutted monitor. In truth, John was having more fun watching Rodney tinker with the equipment than sitting around feeling uncomfortable, watching a movie while pretending that he wasn't listing over in an attempt to get closer to Rodney's clean warmth.
Iratus bugs (and Wraith, his mind helpfully supplied) were hive creatures who lived in constant contact with their brothers. A queen might be desired out of duty and biology but what he needed was a warm body next to him, touching him, welcoming him home.
John was getting hard just thinking about it.
"That's enough, McKay, time for all good little scientists to go get some sleep." John sat up in the chair he had sprawled out on, trying to make his hard-on less visible.
"It's late. Time for bed."
Rodney actually blushed, which didn't help John's heart rate.
"Oh. Ah. Well, okay." Flustered, Rodney fumbled at putting his tool kit away. John could smell the arousal pouring off of Rodney's skin, sweet and syrupy, coating his tongue with desire.
"You don't want this, McKay," John rasped, his voice raw. His skin thrummed wantonly, craving touch and taste.
Rodney turned to him, shocked. "I…I…how do you know?"
"I can smell you," John ran his tongue over his lips, chasing the taste of Rodney's pheromones as they permeated the room, overpowering even the ugly taste of salt.
"You can? That's, uh, bizarre. And, uhm, just because my sexuality might be a bit more fluid than I have previously let on doesn't mean that—"
"Get out, Rodney." John curled forward in the chair, desperate, trying to hold on to his humanity and his friendship with Rodney. Whatever Rodney was picking up on, it couldn't be good for either of them.
Startled by John's defensive posture or the look on his face—John was laying 50/50 odds either way, knowing he probably looked one step short of bug-crazy—Rodney grabbed his tool kit and backed towards the door.
"You? You, uh, me? I didn't—"
"Gone! Going! Gone!" Rodney turned tail and fled.
Rodney spent the next forty-eight hours buried in the database.
He had been attracted to Sheppard for a long time, but for all his blushing-virgin ways which drove him insane but hadn’t changed from the first time he put the moves on Shirley Islesworth his first year of college (he was fourteen, it shouldn’t have counted), Sheppard had never picked up on it before. Not once. Not ever.
Also, Sheppard was straight, so if he had picked up on it there was no precedence for reacting the way he did the night before. Given some of the situations they found themselves in off world, Rodney knew that Sheppard wasn’t homophobic, in fact he was pretty open minded about what other people did, in public harvest rituals no less. In fact he took the sexcapades of the Pegasus galaxy in stride, while Rodney often felt himself blushing and trying to hide under the tablecloth. Rodney had always put that down to the military mindset, after all, with all those single men in the barracks and stuff, they probably all shared the craziest porn. Which, honestly, was not in any way as crazy as the hentai that the botany department tried to pass off with file names like “gleicheniaceae-root bound” (the worst euphemisms ever, not that Rodney could call them on it without tipping his hand).
But open-mindedness did not equal “bi-curious,” as Rodney knew to his detriment. Sheppard had flirted with only one gender, and that gender was female. Being in the American military would make anyone cautious, Rodney reasoned, but still, offworld there were few hard and fast rules, and it wasn’t as if Sheppard hadn’t been flirted with by both men and woman. Rodney had never even caught Sheppard checking other guys out. The math in this case was pretty easy to add up: Sheppard was straight.
So either Rodney had been very, very wrong this whole time, which was not an answer he was ever willing to entertain about anything, or something had changed. Obviously something had changed, after all Sheppard had blue mottling over half is face (leading most of the science team to start calling him Sheppard Dax behind his back, including Zelenka, despite Rodney’s threats to release a DS9 episode-eating virus into the network) but the question that bothered Rodney was specifically what might have changed in regards to Sheppard’s sexual orientation.
For two days he read some of the most boring science he had ever suffered through about Iratus bugs and the Wraith, but it wasn’t until he saw Miko pouring the Athosian version of honey into her coffee that the pieces all fell together.
Carson looked surprised to see him. "We did a draw down yesterday, Colonel, I don't need extra today," he said gently, as if he might hurt John's feelings by not drawing blood on request.
"Need to talk." John tried not to shuffle on his feet like a schoolboy, his hands shoved into his pockets. It was becoming more of a habit as he spent a lot of time trying to hide his claws.
"Oh? Well, my office then." Carson handed off the sample he was working on to his assistant and led John to the small room that Carson referred to as his "master suite."
"I have a question."
"I probably don't have an answer." Carson looked sad as he sat down on one of the rolling stools. John took the one opposite him.
"Is it possible that something I do can make people do things?"
Carson looked confused.
"I mean, maybe, a smell I'm putting out or—"
"Aye, it's always possible, Colonel, but damned unlikely. Why do you ask?"
Deciding to grab the lesser of two evils, John explained about Teyla, how he had kissed her during the change, and that now she could sense him.
"Lorne did mention some worries along that line, but I have'na talked to Teyla about it. Does she sense you as a Wraith?" Carson pulled out his tablet and began typing.
"No, she says it's different, but similar."
"Hmmm. And do you have any, ah, inappropriate feelings for her now?"
"No." John left out the inappropriate feelings for Rodney, which were long standing and immaterial. What mattered was what kind of influence he might have on Rodney.
"And obviously, she doesn't for you, correct?"
Carson stopped typing and looked thoughtful for a moment. John often forgot, spending so much time with Rodney, that pretty much every scientist on the expedition was a genius, some more than others. Carson was easy to dismiss with his easy-going personality and his boyish charm, but his mind was like a steel trap. John could almost hear the synapses firing.
"Teyla's own genes probably played on you during the change. You may have been looking for, ah, kin? Or a queen, maybe?"
John nodded dumbly, unwilling to describe it. Carson shrugged as if it were obvious, which to him it probably was. There were rare days when John sincerely missed being the smartest person in the room.
"Makes sense, Colonel. Like seeks like, after all."
"Could there be…could there be any residual effects?"
"Oh aye, of course, but I have no idea what they could be. Oh, you were asking about pheromones?" Carson blushed spectacularly, which John thought medical doctors were trained not to do. After a nervous cough, Carson visibly pulled himself together. "You find you might be having an, ah, effect on someone?"
Carson rolled his eyes. John definitely missed being the smartest person in the room.
"Colonel, I believe you are leaving something out of this discussion." Carson folded his arms, looking stern.
"I don't want to mention names."
"I don't think that's the important part you are leaving out."
John closed his eyes, cursing silently. "I'm having dreams. And…urges."
Carson waited patiently, but John was only willing to go so far and no further.
"Urges, then. Just, urges?" Carson prodded.
"I have to ask, since you are not being very cooperative here."
"I came to you!"
"And I can go to Elizabeth."
John backed down. "Don't. It's not like that, anyway, not the way it was with Teyla. Now it's with someone I've, uh, been interested in for a while." John rubbed the back of his neck.
Carson, the bastard, sat there and stared at him until he cracked.
"I just know for a fact that this person was, uh, not interested in me. I don't think, anyway. So there you go."
Carson sighed. "That was as helpful as fog on a black night. But if I'm reading this right, you are experiencing an attraction to someone you have previously been attracted to and who maybe might 'ave been attracted to you before as well. If there are pheromones at work here, Colonel, I'll be betting they are the perfectly normal, human kind." Carson grinned at him.
John nodded enough to get him the hell out of there, retreating to his room and not even letting Lorne in later that day. He knew he was in trouble that night, though, when he found himself following Rodney's scent down the corridors, trying to find him because he wasn't in the labs or his room. John’s need to know where everyone on his team was located, and to keep them close by, was as unnerving as it was impossible to ignore, but it was nothing compared to the raw need he felt about Rodney.
He stomped down the hallways on Rodney's trail, his mouth open to take in Rodney's odor and his palms facing forward to sense any change in the air currents and his brain screaming at him to stop, just stop, STOP.
“What are you doing?” Rodney stood in front of him, looking confused and smelling aggressive.
“Looking for you.” John opened and closed his fists, trying to contain himself. He could control this. He had to control it, for Rodney’s sake.
“Why?” Rodney looked around, suddenly putting out fear and worry, his concern replaced by anxiousness.
“I was lonely,” John said, the words spilling out from a part of his brain he had no control over. Mortified, he stepped backwards.
“Oh.” Rodney did not look as surprised by that as John thought he should. Suspicious, John took another step backwards, locking his jaw to keep from making another outburst.
Rodney held his tablet in front of himself, as if showing John something. “Yeah, I was thinking about that. It makes sense.”
John took another step backwards, thinking that he would force Carson to do more tests in the morning.
“No! Listen! Iratus bugs, they’re hive creatures. They, you know, live in hives.”
For all of his genius, when Rodney really wanted to explain something, he often went into babble mode, as if his mouth couldn’t keep up with his thoughts. A real possibility, for Rodney, but still not helpful. “No kidding.”
Rodney grimaced but took a step forward. “No, I mean, it makes sense. The whole, uh, me thing.”
“The ‘you thing’?” John did not like where this was going, but by that point his back had hit the wall of the hallway and he had nowhere to go but sidle sideways like a crab, which was a visual that was amazingly unhelpful, in context.
Surprisingly, Rodney took a step backwards, as if picking up on John’s sense of being cornered. “You’re kind of a loner, Colonel Sheppard.” He stated the fact while primly tucking his laptop under his arm again. “Which works for you. You, uh, wear the ‘solitary man’ thing well.”
John’s eyebrows rose of their own accord.
“What? I know Johnny Cash as well as the next guy!”
John had to laugh, which brought the tension down between them. “Thanks, McKay.”
“I just mean, think about it. You’ve gone from lone wolf flyboy to some kind of half-hive minded bug man.”
“You really know how to bring out the silver lining.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, you know what I mean! You’ve changed!”
“Yeah. I do know what you mean,” John said, feeling himself closing up. This was not quite the discussion he wanted to have, ever, with anyone. But trust in Rodney to go there.
“So your interest in me is just some kind of blowback…oh, bad choice of words, uh, collateral damage of the change. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just some kind of left over bug thing.”
“…left over bug thing?”
“Why are you repeating what I say? Yes, left over bug thing! It’s not you! So, uh, as your friend, who, you know, cares about you as a friend, I can just ignore it. We’ll ignore it. Because it’s not you.”
John folded his arms, feeling more defensive than confidant. “I smelled it on you. I smell it now,” he said, opening his mouth and breathing deep to make his point. His throat plates clanged once, loudly, something new and interesting and weird.
It had the effect he aimed for: Rodney paled and stepped backwards. “Look, okay, maybe I’m a little more sexually flexible than the average member of the U.S. military is supposed to be, but you know, lots of people are, and I know you aren’t some small minded redneck homophobe so can we just move on?”
“Move on to where, McKay? Where do you think I’m going, the second Caldwell gets back and sees me like this? It’s one thing for the SGC to let Teal’c on SG-1, it’s another entirely for one of their own to get mutated. I can barely stand myself anymore, my troops either hate me or fear me, my own friends can’t stand to be around me, and I need…damnit!” He turned and punched the wall, his reinforced skeletal structure as unbending as the metal he hit, furious at losing his temper and control of his mouth. His anger was blinding, stronger and more uncontrollable than it used to be, and that frightened him. He needed touch and belonging and taste and it was bizarre and frustrating and nauseating.
Heat blazed over his skin as he tried to heal himself; the bones hadn’t cracked but his very human skin had been torn apart and there was blood over his hand and the wall. He heard Rodney approaching him, and he froze, unwilling to do anything Rodney might think was threatening. Well, anything more than he already had.
Rodney took his hand with gentle fingers, holding him lightly and studying the damage.
“It’s already starting to heal,” Rodney said wonderingly.
“Bonus points for me,” John growled, holding himself absolutely still.
John leaned in and put his nose to Rodney’s neck, his mouth open, and lashed his tongue out to taste. The sensation nearly brought him to his knees from the flavor of Rodney’s heat and arousal and concern. John flashed on the question of what the Wraith word for this connection really was, because “brother” was not the word John could use to describe it. Lover, friend, mate, companion…something more than all of that. Home. Rodney was home.
John hurled himself backwards, away from Rodney. “We can’t, I can’t…I won’t.” He held his hands up to keep Rodney at bay, his claws glittering in the light.
Rodney went from turned on to defeated in a heartbeat. “I know. I know it’s not me, not really. Maybe Teyla? Or, or somebody? Because you need someone, Sheppard. It’s here, I read it in old Ancient studies, what happened to male Iratus bugs kept isolated: they went mad. Wraith do to; any Wraith held prisoner and returned to his hive is immediately killed, for fear of his having gone insane.”
John blinked a few times, trying to take in what Rodney was saying.
“Don’t you get it? You have to have this. You need to connect, you need a, a…nest-mate? I don’t know what to call it. I’d, well, you can tell how I feel I guess.” Rodney slumped down further. “I would, for you, if you need. I mean, if it was what you really wanted and not some bug-genes forcing it on you.”
He heard all of it and part of him wanted to reassure Rodney it wasn’t just the bug-genes, but his mind kept looping around to what Rodney had revealed. “I’m going to go insane? Like this?”
“No. You don’t have to. I mean, I don’t think so? I’m not an expert on this biological mumbo jumbo. You should talk to Carson, I sent him the file translations.”
“You have to lock me up.”
“What? No! Is that all you got out of this conversation?”
John turned and walked off. Waking Elizabeth up in the middle of the night was never a fun thing to do, she was definitely not someone who launched out of bed ready to go, but he needed someone to do what needed to be done, and Rodney was simply too hard up for sex to do the right thing.
On his list of Top Ten Awful Things (not to be confused with his Top Ten Horrible Things, or his Top Ten Deadly Things), surprise departmental meetings at three a.m. was at least a number seven. He glared at Sheppard over his large cup of stale, stale coffee.
“I’ve looked at the files Rodney sent me, and I don’t find them conclusive, but they are highly suggestive.” Carson said, his brogue nearly indecipherable as he blinked sleepily at the others.
“Colonel Sheppard, a lot of this rests on you,” Elizabeth opened the floor diplomatically, but Sheppard just turned his glare on her.
“You need to lock me up.”
“What she means to ask, Colonel, is how do you feel right now?”
“Liar,” Rodney snorted. “You were looking for me earlier because you were lonely. Does that sound like normal behavior for you?”
John gave him a look of pure betrayal. Rodney figured that was too bad; if the Colonel was willing to wake up the entire leadership team at midnight to bring this to the table, then Rodney was going to take it to the wall. He had offered, despite his better judgment, but if John would rather get his ass locked up than have Rodney’s ass, then that was how it was going to.
“We all get lonely sometimes, Rodney,” Carson chastised.
“He’s right. I was lonely, so I went looking for Rodney. I was actually tracking him by smell.” Sheppard was grinding his teeth hard enough for all of them to hear.
“Well, that there is aberrant behavior, for the Colonel. If ye don’ mind me saying so.” Carson tipped his head towards Sheppard.
Sheppard shook his head once. “I don’t. This is why I’ve requested that you lock me up.” he turned his blistering glare back to Elizabeth. “I still have super strength, my muscles are more powerful, my bones stronger, and I can climb walls. I’m dangerous.”
Elizabeth, no morning glory herself, rubbed her face with both hands. She looked over at Lorne, who like most of the military could roll out of bed looking as if they had been awake for five hours already. Nonetheless, Lorne had a pale sort of tension set to his face.
“If the Colonel thinks he’s a danger to the mission, I have to trust his word on that, even if I don’t want to. It’s not going to look very good on my own record to lock up my CO, you know.” He gave her a tired grin, then turned serious again. “Right now he’s the best judge of his own threat level.”
Sheppard nodded him approvingly. “Thank you, Major.”
“You’re welcome, Sir.”
“Oh shut up, you morons.” Rodney snapped, waving his hand around to bring the focus back to him. “The studies clearly show that both Iratus bugs and Wraith go insane in isolation. They were not built to be alone, yada yada, okay, we get it. Isolating Colonel Sheppard isn’t going to solve the problem, it’s going to make it worse.”
“McKay—” John started, but Elizabeth interrupted.
“He’s got a point.”
“Aye, that’s true.” Carson nodded.
Rodney turned to Sheppard. “So shack up with someone. Anyone. Doesn’t matter. As long as you aren’t sleeping alone, you’ll be fine.”
“What about Teyla? She’d—”
“No.” Sheppard snapped at Rodney’s suggestion. “I’m not going to ask her to camp out in my room because she doesn’t even like being in the same room with me anymore.”
There was dead silence at the table as everyone took that in. Rodney had not really thought about the effects of Sheppard’s changes on her, but now that he did, it nearly broke him. Their team, everything that John fought so hard for, was already fractured. He realized that even Ronon had been MIA whenever Sheppard was around, and Rodney’s stomach plummeted. John really was more alone than they had realized.
“Anyone. Just pick someone,” he said weakly, knowing exactly what Sheppard was going to say.
“I’m not going to inflict myself on anyone like this.”
Elizabeth broke in. “You have to, or go insane. It’s not much of a choice, John.”
She only used Sheppard’s first name with the shit was getting serious, so Rodney sat up and took note.
Elizabeth turned to Carson. “Is this about proximity? Or, ah, mating?” She blushed on the last word.
Sheppard turned scarlet, which made the blue mottling on his face go an angry purple, but kept silent while Carson pondered the question. Rodney sucked at his coffee to keep from saying anything.
“No, if it were a mating urge he’d be looking for a queen; it’d be about sex, not loneliness. The specimens studied were not suffering from a mating urge, that was clearly stated. The research I read tonight was more about, hmmm, socialization? Proximity to family, you might say. Iratii are born in hives, raised together, die together. If this phenomenon is what is haunting Colonel Sheppard, I suspect simply having one or two people in the same room would be enough.” Carson leaned back, suddenly looking older than Rodney had ever imagined him looking. It caught him by surprise but Carson kept talking. “And this is all pure speculation, Elizabeth. I understand the Colonel’s concerns—” He turned to look at Sheppard. “And you’ve mentioned enough to me to make me give this serious consideration as an issue. However, your situation is totally unique. What happened to Iratus specimens studied centuries ago under controlled conditions might not apply to you at all.”
Sheppard tensed. “It applies. I’m getting worse.”
Carson frowned. “Worse, how?”
Rodney heard distinct soft clicking noises as Sheppard worked his jaw before speaking. “More desperate.”
Even Lorne frowned at that.
“There’s a simple solution,” Rodney sing-songed into his mug just to be annoying. It worked on Elizabeth, at least.
“Yes, there is, Rodney, but I don’t see you in line to ‘shack up’ with Colonel Sheppard. This isn’t something we can just order one of the Marines to do.”
“I’m glad you think so, mam,” Lorne said, relieved.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I did offer to do it, and that’s why we’re here.”
“Shut the fuck up, McKay.”
“Don’t start with me, Sheppard! You didn’t run off to Elizabeth until I put my offer on the table!”
“Goddamnit, McKay, this isn’t about you! You can’t be sure—“
“I know it’s not about me! It’s not about sex, either, or weren’t you listening when Carson was speaking? This is about team!”
Sheppard opened his mouth to start yelling again, but his throat castanets went off again. Elizabeth physically recoiled and Lorne tensed up, ready for action. Sheppard saw their reactions and snapped his mouth shut.
“And? His throat plates rattle when he gets angry,” Rodney sighed.
Carson was studying Sheppard’s neck like a vampire. “Fascinating.”
“Yes, thank you, sheep-herding Spock.” He turned to Elizabeth. “He doesn’t bother me. We’re friends, we’re team mates. I’m used to his train-like snoring. All I need to do is sleep on his floor. Or, actually, I have a prescription mattress, he should sleep on my floor—“
“Rodney, it really depends on Colonel Sheppard,” Elizabeth said gently. “John?”
Sheppard looked ready to tear Rodney limb from limb, but nodded. “We can try it.”
Lorne was the one who nearly collapsed with gratitude, giving Rodney a deeply relieved expression. Rodney really didn’t understand the military; there were times in his life he would have been thrilled to lock up his supervisor. It seemed such a waste to throw away that kind of opportunity, but he was glad Lorne was willing to.
Elizabeth dismissed everyone with a listless wave, and they all peeled out of their chairs to head back to their rooms. Sheppard followed Rodney like a Vulcan wife, two paces behind. The only reason Rodney knew he was there was because he kept looking back to check; barefoot and even more silent in movement than he was before The Change, Sheppard was the personification of a walking enigma. Not that Rodney ever pretended he knew Sheppard all that well; he knew when something was broken, but really, was that enough to base a friendship on?
Rodney’s room smelled terrible. Sweet and sticky, hot and dry – it was everything that grated his nerves. John wanted to grab a jug of vinegar and scrub the place down, drop the temperature to 60F, and add a humidor. He smirked just thinking of Rodney’s reaction to that.
At least the holding cell in the brig was cave-like. Even if he would have been alone there.
Shuddering at the thought, he stepped up a bit closer to Rodney instinctively. His brain fired off warning messages, but John was too desperate to care. He wasn’t lying when he said it was getting worse, and now with the anticipation of spending the night close to Rodney, John’s nerves were excitable and on edge.
“Oh, uh. Okay, maybe we should have stopped by your place for extra blankets? Maybe you need a sleeping bag?”
The room was too hot for that; John did not want to stew in his own juices. He shook his head.
“You keep the place warm enough. I’ll be fine. I’ll crash on your sofa.”
Rodney yelped. “That’s not even a love seat! Your feet’ll hang off the edge!”
“It doesn’t matter, McKay, I just need to sleep. I honestly don’t like the floor any more than you do.”
“Really? I figured being military you were immune to that kind of thing.”
“What, hard surfaces? No, I still don’t like them. Of course the Marines would just say that’s because I’m Air Force.”
They stood still, Rodney fidgeting while John kept his mouth closed in an effort not to smell Rodney, not to need as much as he wanted.
“Look about earlier, I, uh, I’m good with this being a team thing. Being roommates while you figure this out.”
John nodded as Rodney stammered out his not-apology. “Don’t worry about it.” He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He had managed to stop gouging himself with the claws, but it was close thing when he was as tired as he was then. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Rodney nodded and stiffly went through his bedtime routine while John stretched out on the small sofa. His feet did hang off the edge, but that was the least of his problems. Overheated and nauseous from the odor, it was all John could do to get comfortable.
Rodney turned the lights out and crawled into his bed, wearing boxers and an old tee shirt. “So, good night?”
“You can call me Rodney, you know.”
“Good night, Rodney.”
“Uh, okay. Goodnight.”
John stayed awake while Rodney crashed into slumber. Eventually he adjusted to the smell but the heat was too much. He asked Atlantis, his one stalwart companion, to lower the temperature, hoping that Rodney was too asleep to notice.
As the morning crept along, and Rodney snored like a power saw, John tried to distract himself. He did not think being in the same room was going to be enough, but was damned if he brought that up in the meeting earlier. He had to give their suggestions a chance before they would seriously consider the logical choice, which was to lock him up.
It was not that the need was foreign to him. He had suffered from touch deprivation since his mother died, and as an adult he could name that issue and deal with it. Staying locked inside himself had worked well, so well that in fact everyone assumed he was both straight and self-protective. Even Teyla had known from the start to keep a good strong distance between them. In the space between himself and others, John Sheppard could hold onto the man he had become.
Now he was pushing into that space out of a foreign instinct and desire, and it was as if he was letting an important part of himself go.
Rodney grew up cold. His father was miserly and they lived in Canada and his mother never fought her own battles, so the temperature in the house never went above 18C unless it was dead of summer. In the winter, his father refused to turn the heat on until the house went below 10C, telling everyone they could wear sweaters to bed. It was his one great joy, when he finally moved away from home, to set the thermostat at 24C and keep it there. He would buy cheap food in bulk and count pennies for tips but when it came to the utility bill, no price was too high.
It had made both Siberia and Antarctica special jokes on him, because he could not keep his rooms that warm without melting the whole fucking complex. He thought half his motivation for going on the Atlantis expedition was just the hope of getting warm again.
So there was something very familiar about being huddled under the blankets, warding off the cold, while luxuriating in the warmth he was wrapped up in.
Literally. Wrapped up. By Sheppard.
Which was not familiar at all.
Rodney was on his left side, as usual, and Sheppard was the ‘big spoon’ curled behind him, one strong arm locked around his waist and one leg thrown over Rodney’s, holding him down. It was strangely comforting, even down to the faint clicking noises that were the new, improved version of snoring that Sheppard had now with the throat plates.
Rodney tried to stay still, but when he was awake he became fidgety, so it was just a matter of time before he heard Sheppard sputter and click and tense up.
“I’m glad we’re still on a first name basis, here, John.” Rodney snapped, his uncertainty making him defensive.
Sheppard paused for a long time, still tensed up as if ready to leap out of bed, but he stayed where he was, one hand tucked up under Rodney’s shirt, palming his belly. “I’m okay with that.”
“Well good, seeing as you are a stealth snuggler.” The jibe did not come out as caustic as he meant it to, and John did not let go like he expected.
“I don’t really remember getting here. Just…you were close by.” John was whispering into the back of Rodney’s neck, which was not helping Rodney’s morning wood, at least not in the way Rodney wanted it gone. John sighed, sounding almost content, rubbing Rodney’s belly in slow circles that were erotic and intimate. “I can taste you with my hands.”
Rodney blinked. “What?”
“Sense receptors in some of the hairs.”
“Like antennae?” Rodney couldn’t help but be curious, despite his arousal. He thought that John’s new quirks should be a turn off, but then, Rodney McKay knew his tastes had never run to the vanilla. A man could only own so much tentacle porn before he had to admit to his deviancy.
“Mmm.” John shuffled closer, pressing his hips to Rodney’s ass, his erection hot even through the layers of fabric between them.
“John, if you—“
“I’m not straight, Rodney.” John sighed, pulling back a little. “But if you’re uncomfortable with—“
“Wait, what? You aren’t straight? Since when?” Rodney sat up and turned to look down on John.
“Since I was eleven? For fuck’s sake, you want a sworn affidavit?” John crossed his arms over his chest.
“Yes! I mean, this is new! At least, new to me. You never said! Or did! Now suddenly?”
John squinted at him. “Were any of those complete sentences?”
“Asshole!” Rodney stabbed him in the chest with a finger. “Stay on topic!”
John grabbed his wrist and pulled Rodney’s hand down to his chest. His expression was dark. “I need this. Touch. I haven’t in a long time. Never? I shouldn’t need it. That’s not me, until now, and it’s bringing everything else along for the ride.”
Rodney’s fingers flexed against John’s tee shirt. “You don’t like touching.”
“It was always too dangerous before. Now it’s too dangerous not to. Fuck.” John let go and covered his face with his hands, the mottled skin dark in the early morning light, his nails black and lethal looking. They were beautiful to Rodney in a way he could not admit without sounding like a pervert, but he could not help tracing the mottling down one finger to John’s wrist. John gasped.
“I don’t want to go crazy. I might anyway. It’s this or lock me up. Just…lock me up. Before I do something we’ll both regret.”
“Hmmmm.” Rodney prevaricated, knowing that John’s martyr impulse was the main force in play at the moment. But even so, Rodney wasn’t blinded by that; he saw what was wrong, and for once, knew he had the solution. “No, I don’t think so.”
John peeked through his fingers. “Don’t think so, what?”
“I don’t think we’ll regret it,” Rodney answered as he leaned down to kiss him. He did not expect John to react at first, in fact he was not expecting much of anything. John had a DMZ around him that could repel physical contact from even the most determined people; being forced to change that due to bug-infested genes was not something Rodney thought John would cave to easily.
But he caved, eagerly and desperately, his claws scraping Rodney’s skin lightly as they tore through his tee shirt when John grabbed it to pull him closer. Surprised, Rodney fell forward onto his elbows, letting John drag him down into one of the sloppiest, hottest kisses Rodney had ever experienced in his life. He shifted his hips around so he was more horizontal again, threading his legs between John’s. He felt John’s erection against his thigh and humped down blindly, making John groan.
“Rodney…Rodney!” John demanded, pulling Rodney’s shirt off.
“What? What? I’m here.”
“Yeah, okay. Mmmm.” John opened his mouth and moved as if to kiss Rodney’s neck, but held his lips just off his skin, breathing deep and humming.
“Oh my god, you’re smelling me!”
“Mmmm hmmm,” John murmured, nuzzling into Rodney’s neck, his arms snaking around his back to yank him down all the way on top of him.
“Oof,” Rodney griped the moment before he felt John’s hip rolling up to cradle Rodney’s cock. “Ohhh, okay, yeah. John! Ow!” He cringed as John’s claws left puncture wounds on his back. “Hey, careful!”
“Sorry. Look, we can—”
“No no, I didn’t say stop. Just, those are lethal weapons. Use with caution.”
John snorted, giving Rodney a sly smirk. “I’m a lethal weapon, baby, watch out.”
Rodney pulled himself up on his hands. “You did not just say that.”
John’s eyes, which looked human again but Rodney knew to be more sensitive to light, were nearly black with the pupil blown wide by arousal. Rodney shuddered as John ran the tips of his claws down Rodney’s back and over his ass, pulling down his boxers as they went. “Get back down here, Rodney.”
“Right. Right, okay,” Rodney nodded, dropping back down. John’s arm immediately locked around him. John shoved his legs between Rodney’s, forcing Rodney to spread himself wide over John’s hips. Scrambling with fumbling hands, Rodney pushed both of their boxers down far enough to get skin friction.
“Oh yeah. You’re a genius, Rodney.”
“I keep…oh, yeah…I keep telling you…”
John nodded, thrusting up madly, rubbing their cocks together. Rodney pumped down, and they built up a steady rhythm between them for a few minutes, strong and hot but not hard enough to push either of them over. Slick with sweat, Rodney finally pulled out of the long kiss and sat back on his heels. John clucked at him with his throat plates.
“Wait, I just want to touch,” Rodney explained, taking John’s cock in his hand and stroking it hard. The skin around the base of the scrotum felt thick and leathery, but the rest of John felt normal enough in his hand, a long hard dick that any man would be proud of. In the darkened room, Rodney couldn’t tell for sure, but looked like the skin mottling went all the way down.
John was twisting and squirming and chittering under him, moving strangely and petting at Rodney’s thighs while Rodney jacked him. One hand reached up as if the grab Rodney’s dick in reciprocation, but John pulled it back into a fist.
“You can touch me,” Rodney gasped, pumping John’s dick while John fucked his hand.
“Claws…claws, scratch…fuck! Rodney!” John arched, his throat plates letting out an impressive staccato beat as John’s cock pumped out, throbbing between Rodney’s fingers. John’s body was one long cord of muscle for a moment while he came, perfect and lean and beautiful.
“You’re beautiful, oh god, so beautiful, John!” Rodney grabbed his dick, his hand slick with John’s cum, and began pumping like a madman, desperate to go over.
“Rodney.” John slurred his name, looking up at him with a sated, debauched expression. He reached out and unfurled his claws, running them lightly over Rodney’s shoulders, and that was it, Rodney was done. He came with a shout, shuddering through the explosion of all his nerve endings. Shaking, he sat there on his haunches, blinking back tears. John sat up and with hardly any effort lifted Rodney off of him and levered him down to his side. He pulled Rodney close to him and Rodney didn’t care about the mess in his desperation to shake himself out in John’s arms.
“That helped,” John said after they had both started breathing normally again. He stroked Rodney’s side. Rodney could just barely feel the light whisps of hair on John’s hands, tasting him, sensing him in ways Rodney would never fully understand.
“Helped? As in, you’re not crazy?”
John snorted. “I wasn’t crazy, Rodney.” He pushed his body closer, pressing his face into Rodney’s shoulder. “No yet, anyway,” he added quietly.
Rodney couldn’t muster a reply. They were not done sifting through the changes in their lives yet. Teyla and Ronon were still problems to be solved, wary of John’s metamorphosis but clearly unhappy with the disintegration of the team. The Daedalus – along with by-the-book-Caldwell – would be back in less than five months. The marines were evenly divided on the issue, but even Elizabeth and Carson were obviously not keen on integrating John back into the leadership of Atlantis. It was ironic that Major Lorne seemed to be their one true ally in the whole mess, but then so was Zelenka, and where one had both a loyal Air Force officer and a nefarious Czech bastard on one’s side, certain victory was assured.
Or something like that. Rodney knew that Teyla and Ronon would come around, eventually, and if worse came to worse…he decided not to think about those options for the moment. He had John and Atlantis, and Rodney was willing to be grateful for that much. It was in fact more than he had ever dreamed to ask for. John was home, for him, and always would be. It was just that simple, like addition.
John dreamed of his mother, for the first time in decades. She sat like a queen in a Wraith throne chair, smiling warmly, her pale hands out-stretched. John saw himself as a child, climbing into her lap, where she whispered in his ear sweet nothings full of love and approval. After running her clawed fingers through his hair, she pushed him off of her lap with laughter in her eyes, directing him towards a young blond boy with curly hair who sat on the steps below. John grabbed Rodney’s hand and dragged him into the sweet, cool depths of their hive.