Heart of Ice
Rating: NC-17 — for adults only
Summary: "That's the problem," Rodney said. "You don't care about anything."
Thanks: To Tex, Lamardeuse and WPAdmirer for beta.
Warnings: Dubious consent
Notes: Written for SGA_Flashfic's Fairy Tale challenge. Loosely based on the fairy tale of the same name. Set in a slightly mythical time, after Season 4, but with cliffhangers resolved and Season 4 cast. Not mine.
"I am sorry," Rodney said with what he thought was considerable diplomacy, "but you are keeping him here against his will, and there is no way we are going to allow that. Did I mention that we can take out your entire city with a press of a button? Because we can, and we will if we—oh."
Rodney skidded to a stop in the doorway, because John was there, right there in the room at the end of the hall, not bound or confined or anything, just standing there holding something that looked like an Ancient medical scanner. He was leaning over a narrow bed containing a pale, elderly woman, like it was some sort of scene out of Chicago Hope or possibly Marcus Welby, M.D., and seriously, what the hell?
"Hi, Rodney," John said. "Ronon, Teyla."
"Sheppard," Rodney said, and maybe his voice kind of cracked a little on the name, but damn it, John had been missing for twenty-seven days. They'd thought he was dead. "Thank God. Well, come on, consider yourself rescued. We're getting out of here."
"I said that he may go if he chooses," Chancellor Mok said, coming up beside Rodney. "He has important work here. He may very well choose to stay."
Rodney whirled to face him. Mok looked insufferably smug, like he knew something they didn't. "What, are you nuts? Why would he want to stay? And what the hell have you done, made him into some sort of doctor? You have to know he's not trained for that."
Mok didn't answer, but John spoke up, so casual it was surreal. "I can operate the equipment. They don't have anyone else who has the gene."
"Right, right, so you've helped them out, been a model prisoner, whatever," Rodney said, and waved a hand toward the door. "I'll make sure you get bonus points for that. Now can we go?"
But John only cocked his head. "I'm not sure I want to."
"Oh my God," Rodney said. He sensed rather than saw Teyla step up next to him, and Ronon on his other side. "They've brainwashed you. Look, you are Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Military Commander of Atlantis, and you need to go back home where we can fix whatever the hell they've done to you."
But John just looked at them like they were inviting him to dinner when he'd already eaten. "I don't have amnesia," he said. "I know who I am."
"Great," Rodney said, and yes, it came out sounding fake, but he had no idea how to deal with this. "Then you know that you're coming with us."
John folded his arms over his chest and stayed right where he was. "The food's pretty good here. And nobody shoots at me."
"Oh, for Pete's sake," Rodney said, and Ronon said, "Can I shoot him?"
Rodney opened his mouth to say yes, but Teyla frowned at them both, and then stepped forward, one hand outstretched, like she was reaching for a child's hand.
"John, you must come with us. You have been . . . injured somehow by these people, and our doctors will make you better."
"I don't need a doctor," John said, and waved the scanner in his hand, like it was the be all and end all of diagnosis. "I'm fine."
"You're not fine," Rodney said, because damn it, this was insane. This was worse than insane. They needed John, he needed John, and oh God, this had better not be permanent. "You're not even you. And trust me, the old you, the real you, would really, really want this fixed."
John frowned at him. "You don't know that. I mean, it's not like this has ever happened to me before."
"Yes, okay, maybe not exactly," Rodney started, but Ronon cut him off.
"We've got tuilis fruit," he said. "New shipment just came in. Mess is making pie tonight."
John unfolded his arms, and for the first time his face looked almost interested.
"Yes," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "Pie. And coffee, I bet you can't get coffee here. Or turkey sandwiches. Buttered sweet corn. Chocolate cake."
John set the scanner down and looked around the lab, then back at the team. Rodney braced himself for an argument, but then John said, "Okay," and took a step toward them.
Rodney blinked, because seriously? "Wait, that's it? You're coming with us so you can have pie?"
"Sure," John said. "Is there any ice cream?"
"Oh, for—" Rodney began, but Teyla was already saying, "Yes, John, there is ice cream. Vanilla, I think, and something called 'Chubby Hubby.'"
"That's good," John said. "I like that one."
"Wonderful," Rodney said. "Now, can we go?"
"Not so fast," Chancellor Mok said, and of course it couldn't be this easy. Nothing was ever this easy.
"Now, hold on a second," Rodney said. "You said he could go if he chooses."
"He has not yet chosen," Mok said. "John, you don't need to go. We will be having roast arnah tonight, with miki berry sauce."
"Oh," John said. "That's good, that's my favorite."
"Better than ice cream?" Rodney tried.
"Huh." John's face went puzzled, and God, it hurt, it physically hurt to see him so bizarrely mentally deficient, and what the hell had these people done to him, to make him like this? "I don't know. I kind of miss ice cream. And pie." "Yes, yes, pie," Rodney said. "Come with us and you can have as many slices as you like."
"There are more pleasures than simple food," Mok said. "If you would like someone in your bed tonight, John, I can arrange for that. We have many beautiful girls, and boys, too. You may have your choice."
"Cool," John said, and smiled for the first time. It was enough to make Rodney want to hit him. "Okay, yeah. That sounds good. Guess I'll stay."
"There are beautiful people on Atlantis, too," Rodney countered, and yes, he was grasping, but they couldn't lose John now. Not like this.
"I know," John said, tilting his head. "But they never seem to have sex with me. That's the problem. I never get enough sex."
Desperate times called for desperate measures. "You can have sex if you come with us," Rodney promised. "Lots of sex. With whoever you want. You just say the word, and they'll be in your bed tonight. I swear."
"Okaaay." And whatever they'd done to John's brain, they'd apparently hadn't removed his bullshit detector, because that sounded more like John. "So you're saying if I wanted you, you'd have sex with me?"
Rodney glanced left at Ronon, and right at Teyla, but John was still looking straight at him. "Me? You want to have sex with me? But we aren't—we don't—You said . . ." But right, no, he couldn't say that here.
"So I take it that's a no," John said, and his lips pressed together.
"No!" Rodney said. And crap, John was going to kill him for this when he was back in his right mind. Which he was absolutely going to be, just as soon as Keller could fix him. "No, I mean, that's not a no, it's a yes. Yes, I'll have sex with you. Tonight or whenever you want. I promise. All you have to do is come home with us."
"Okay," John said, and this time he crossed the room to where they were all standing by the doorway. "I'm ready."
"You don't have to go," Mok said, and Rodney had never wanted to shoot an unarmed man so much in his life. "There are many pleasures here you have not yet tried. You have never tasted Pomero-tongue soup. Or had a full-body massage from one of our talented lethisi. Or if you prefer, you many have more than one companion in your bed tonight. You need only say the word."
Rodney bit the inside of his cheek hard, because yes, he was perfectly willing to promise John the galaxy here, but if John really didn't have amnesia, he'd know that there were no masseuses on Atlantis, and that the chance of an orgy was basically zero. But John just shrugged.
"That's okay. Rodney said he'd have sex with me." And he smiled.
Mok straightened to his full height, disapproval radiating from every vertebra. "You would choose this," he said, and his smile was more of a sneer, "over your important work here and the honor and pleasures we can give you."
John frowned, like he had to think it over, and Rodney resisted the urge to kick him. "Yeah, I think so," he said after a moment. "I mean, it's Rodney."
It took every bit of self-control Rodney had not to argue with that, because John had just proved he did have amnesia, or something very like it.
"Yes," Rodney said. "It's me. But we can't actually get to the sex part until we get home, so come on. Time to go." And to his astonishment, this time John actually walked right past them and headed down the corridor, turning back only to see if they were coming. Ronon and Teyla were already moving, so Rodney trotted to catch up. "Honored Sheppard," Mok said, following them down the corridor, "you are making a mistake."
But John just kind of shook himself and said, "I don't think so," and in moments they were in the puddlejumper and headed home, and Rodney could finally, finally remember how to breathe.
* * *
"It's brain damage," Rodney said, probably a little too loudly, but John seemed enthralled by his package of Oreos. "It has to be. He's lost all of his higher functions."
"There's nothing on the scans," Keller countered, gesturing to her computer screen. "I ran them three times, and everything checks out perfectly normal."
"You can't tell me that that—" Rodney gestured with his thumb "—is normal. He's acting like he's lost fifty IQ points!"
"Actually," Keller said mildly, "his higher cognitive functions appear to be fine."
"Oh, really?" Rodney said. "Try this. Sheppard, what's Euler's number?"
John looked up from his cookie package and made a face. "Two point seven one eight," he said, "or do you want more decimal places? It's the base of the natural logarithm, otherwise known as the number whose exponential function is its own derivative."
"Huh," Rodney said, still not entirely mollified. "Well, that was pretty much a gimme."
"I ran a full battery of tests," Keller said. "Honestly, I can't find a thing wrong."
"So when are we going to have sex?" John asked, crumpling his empty cookie package in his hands. "You promised we'd have sex."
"See that?" Rodney said, shaking a finger in John's direction. "That is not normal. That is not remotely normal. Don't you have a test that can pick that up?"
Keller was staring open-mouthed at John. "Okay, you have a point there."
"I also promised you pie," Rodney told John. "So I better hit the mess before they run out."
"Okay," John said, and swung his feet over the side of the bed.
"No, no, no, wait," Rodney said. "You have to stay here and get poked and prodded a little more. I'm going to go get the pie. I'll bring it back here for you, as many pieces as you want."
John frowned. "And after that, we'll have sex?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, fine," he lied, because what was one more lie on top of the heap? "After that we'll have sex. Well, after Dr. Keller clears you to leave the infirmary, because I am certainly not going to have sex here."
Keller was watching him, her eyebrows almost at her hairline.
"I'm stalling," Rodney whispered. "Fix this."
"I'm doing my best," Keller said, and Rodney took his chance to escape.
* * *
Teyla was with John when Rodney got back, which was a relief. She was busy telling him the story of the mutant squirrel that had gotten through the gate while John was away, and he was laughing in all the right places, but there was still something off. He was acting like it was a story about people he'd heard of, but never met. And he didn't even wince when she got to the part where Lieutenant Petrenko broke his ankle.
"I brought your dinner," Rodney said.
"Cool," John said, and reached for the tray.
Rodney watched as he ignored the meatloaf and veggies and downed a piece of pie in five forkfuls.
"Okay," Rodney said, because he was beyond desperate here. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
John glanced up. There was tuilis berry juice in the corners of his mouth, and he hadn't bothered to use the napkin Rodney had brought. "Nothing. I told you, I'm fine."
"You're eating dessert first."
"I know," John said, and reached for another piece of pie. "Tastes good."
"You never eat dessert first," Rodney said. "Seriously, what the hell did they do to you?"
"Oh," John said around a mouthful of pastry. "They put some kind of weird gadget to my head. It made a funny noise when they turned it on. Didn't hurt, though."
"Oh, God," Rodney said. "Did you mention this to Dr. Keller?"
"She didn't ask," John said, and reached for the dish of melting ice cream.
"Excuse me a moment," Rodney said, and Teyla nodded to him as he sprinted for Keller's office.
* * *
Four hours later, they still didn't have an answer. Rodney was pacing around Keller's office, no longer shouting, but still waving his hands. Not that it was doing any good.
"I'm sorry, whatever they did to him is just too subtle for me to be able to pinpoint how it's affecting him," Keller said, and rubbed her eyes. "I've tried every diagnostic tool we have."
"I can see how it's affecting him," Rodney said. "I mean, it is really not normal for him to be propositioning me in the middle of the infirmary."
Keller flushed. "Look, I don't know how to ask this," she said, looking down, away, obviously anywhere but Rodney's face, "but you two aren't . . ."
"No," Rodney said. "Certainly not. I mean, obviously we've never . . . done anything like that." And never mind that it wasn't by his choice. Keller didn't need to know that part.
"Right, of course not." But the flush didn't fade. "Okay, look. What we need to do is identify exactly what was done to him. It's our only hope of finding a way to reverse it."
Rodney's heart fell. Not that he'd thought it was going to come to anything else, he'd just been hoping he'd never have to see Chancellor Mok again. "So we have to go back and find the device they used on him."
"I'm afraid it's our best chance right now."
"Great," Rodney said. "Do you want to tell Sam, or should I?"
"Rodney," Keller said, placing a hand on his arm. "It's past midnight, and he's been this way for weeks. He's safe here. One more day isn't going to make a difference, and you need to sleep."
"Right," Rodney said. "Right, I suppose that's . . . yes, sleep. We all need sleep."
He dared a glance out Keller's door and across the infirmary. Teyla was gone, but John was, thank God, still in his bed. Sprawled on his back with his eyes closed, while a nurse worked quietly at a station nearby.
"Okay, first thing in the morning," Rodney said. I'll meet you and Sam here at 0800."
"I'll be here," Keller said. "Listen, we'll figure this out. We're going to fix him."
"We'd better," Rodney muttered as he turned to go, "because this is killing me."
* * *
Hands were stroking him. Warm, interested hands, sliding up his stomach to his chest, and, oh God, tweaking a nipple.
He was awake. He was really awake, and the hands . . . were still there. Under his t-shirt, and now one was sliding down into his boxers and this was really not the sort of thing that happened to him, even in his dreams.
There was a breathless chuckle, right in his ear, like he'd said that out loud.
"Wait," Rodney said, blinking up in the darkness. "What?"
"C'mon, Rodney," John said, low in his ear. "Wake up. I want to play."
"Oh, God," Rodney said, jerking away from those hands and yanking the covers up over himself. "I can't . . . you can't . . . seriously, we can't do this. Your brain's been scrambled. And it's—" He checked his nightstand clock. "—four o'clock in the morning."
"I don't care," John said, and climbed on top of him, straddling his legs over the blanket. "I feel fine. And you promised you'd have sex with me." Rodney batted ineffectively at the hands roaming up his sides. "No, no, I mean it. You can't . . . you have to trust me when I say you wouldn't want this if you were in your right mind. You didn't want this. And you're wrong about not having amnesia, because if you remembered everything you'd know that I asked you—two months ago—and you said no."
John's hands stopped moving, his palms flat against Rodney's chest. "I remember," he said quietly. "You kissed me."
John remembered. It should have been a relief to hear that, but somehow it wasn't. At all. "Yes, I kissed you, and thank you very much for reminding me of my utter humiliation. I kissed you and you pushed me away and said you weren't attracted to me. So believe me, whatever they've done to your brain, this isn't you."
John slid his hands down to the mattress and leaned in, so close Rodney could feel his breath when he spoke. "I lied."
"Oh, God," Rodney said, and then John was kissing him, warm and soft and very, very wrong.
"I can't do this," Rodney said, twisting away. "I can't. We're going to figure this out and Keller's going to fix you, and you will never, ever forgive me."
"I don't care," John said, and turned his head to suck on the skin of Rodney's jaw. "I don't care about any of that."
"Yes," Rodney said, ridiculously short of breath. "I realize that. You don't care now. But you're going to care later, and I am sorry, but one night of pleasure, delightful as I'm sure it will be, is not going to make up for the . . . for the . . . oh, God." Because John was plastered full length against him, now, and he could feel the ridge of John's erection through blanket and the sheet and his own boxers and how the hell had he failed to notice that John was completely naked?
"Come on, you want this. I want this. What's the problem?"
"The problem," Rodney said, "the problem, oh yes, the problem." Only he couldn't think straight, because John had rolled off him and was tugging the blanket down. "The problem is that you're going to hate me. And I really, really don't want you to hate me."
"Come on, it's not that big a deal," John said, and slid his hand deliberately down the front of Rodney's boxers. "You can't say you don't want me."
It most certainly was a big deal. It was the biggest deal ever. But oh, John's hand was hot and knowing, and it was getting very difficult to remember why he was supposed to be resisting.
"This is so unfair," Rodney whimpered as John's hands tugged at his boxers. "You know willpower has never been my strong suit."
"That's what I'm counting on," John said, and then his mouth closed, warm and wet, over the tip of Rodney's cock.
"Oh, God." Rodney's hips jerked up, seeking more of that wonderful wet suction. "Oh, God, ohgodohgod."
"Mmph," John said around him, and started doing something depraved with his tongue, and Rodney was just gone, because maybe it wasn't really John, not John the way he was supposed to be, but he still sounded like John, still felt like John, and if he remembered being John, maybe that meant . . .
Maybe that meant he really had lied. That he'd wanted Rodney all along. That he'd refused out of some ridiculous, misplaced sense of propriety, and this John, this John who didn't care, was closer to the real John, which meant that the John who'd said no was just . . .
"Wait," Rodney said. "Wait, where'd you go?" Because John had pulled off, had gotten off the bed entirely, and a moment later Rodney was squinting against the brightness of his bedside lamp as John rummaged through the drawers of his nightstand.
"You've got to have some kind of lube somewhere," John said. "Oh, hey, this'll do." And he pulled out the tube of hand lotion Rodney sometimes used for jerking off. "No," Rodney said, and it wasn't that he didn't want to be fucked. It was just, Christ, in his right mind, John would never . . . "No, that has oil in it. It's not compatible with latex."
John shot him a look like he was crazy and flipped the tube open. "I don't care."
"I realize that," Rodney said. "But you will care when you're back to yourself, and I just, I can't do this. Really." And maybe it was a ridiculous place to draw the line when he'd already stepped so far beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, but he wasn't going to budge on this one. "Seriously, stop that." Because John had squeezed lotion on his fingers. "I have lube, real lube, in the bathroom. On the shelf next to the condoms." Which was, okay, not a very convenient place to keep it, but it wasn't like he got much use out of it, anyway.
John's mouth tightened. "You don't have to get all pissy about it."
"Yes, I do," Rodney said. "Do you have any idea what kind of—oh, right, never mind, you don't care. But I do and this is my call and I'm not going to have sex with you if you don't do it my way."
John wrinkled his nose for a moment, but then he rubbed the lotion off on his thighs. "Okay, whatever," he said, and headed for the bathroom.
Rodney watched him go (it wasn't like he had any moral high ground to fall from), watched the bounce and bob of John's erection, the play of muscles in his ass and legs. It was hard not knowing whether to feel sick to his stomach or grateful that he was getting this chance. If he were a better man, he would pull some clothes on and run, but he wasn't a better man—really, he was far closer to the pathetic end of the spectrum—and now that John was the one asking, he just didn't have the strength to say no. Even if John wasn't himself. Even if.
When John came back, he was carrying the bottle of lube and a full strip of condoms.
Rodney might have squeaked a little. "Are you, um, are you planning on using all of those?"
John set the lube and condoms down and reached down to yank Rodney's boxers down over his knees and off his legs entirely. "Why not?" John said. "We've got the rest of the night."
"I have to be up in three hours," Rodney said. "I can't just— oh. Oh, God." Because John was licking him, long wet, sloppy licks all over the head of his cock, like he tasted as good as pie and ice cream served together.
Rodney let his head fall back on the pillow and closed his eyes. He had no idea how they had gotten here, to where he was a pleasure equivalent to a sugar overdose. He only knew that John had chosen him—John could have crawled into anyone's bed tonight, and he'd chosen Rodney's.
That had to mean something. It had to.
John pulled off and nuzzled the crease of his leg for a moment, then sat up and reached to the nightstand for a condom packet. Like they were ready for that, which . . . okay, Rodney was not averse to getting fucked. He loved getting fucked. But it had been awhile, actually, it had been a really long time, and he needed a little preparation. He reached for the bottle of lube as John tore the condom open, but as he was fumbling with the cap, he felt something soft against the tip of his cock and oh, oh. John was putting the condom on him.
"Oh," Rodney said. "Right, okay, that works. We can do it, um, like this."
John grinned. "Cool." And held his hand out for the lube.
Rodney watched, mouth dry, as John prepped himself with two fingers, hard and fast. And then John was straddling him, eyes on Rodney's as he sank down onto Rodney's cock.
"Fuck," John said softly, and Rodney clenched his teeth and willed himself not to push up into that tight, tight heat.
"We don't have to," Rodney said. "Seriously, we can do it the other way around. It doesn't matter to me. I . . . really, I like it both ways." "It's okay," John said, and pushed down a little further. "Just didn't remember the burn."
Oh, God. "How long has it been?"
John bit his lip and eased down a little farther. "Almost twenty years."
"Jesus," Rodney said. "But you, you didn't . . . you said you were gay. You told me. You know, with the—back when we—before I kissed you."
"I like men," John said, holding still and breathing through his nose. "I like getting fucked." But his face clouded over. "I just haven't done it. Not for a long time."
"I'm sorry," Rodney said quietly, because he didn't know what else to say.
But John just shook his head. "I don't care." And Christ, that was getting to be a mantra. "I can have this, now." And with a quick hiss and a tensing of his thighs, he slid the rest of the way down.
Rodney held still and tried to control his breathing, which wasn't exactly easy. But then John started to move, and he gave up all hope of control. His hips snapped up, and John grunted, but then John arched his back, and when Rodney thrust again, his groan was pure pleasure.
John lifted himself up, then lowered himself back down in perfect time to Rodney's next thrust, and this time they both groaned.
"Good?" Rodney said, even though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
"Fuck, yes," John said, and pressed down again.
"Good," Rodney said. "That's good. That's really, Jesus, really good."
John was moving faster now, riding him hard and panting above him, every stroke a slam of bliss that whited out everything else. Rodney had wanted this for so long, he couldn't even remember when he hadn't—although, somehow he'd never pictured it like this.
Not that he was complaining, because this was, Jesus, amazing, but still, there was something surreal about it. John was lost in his own pleasure, his head thrown back, his chest heaving, beautiful and strangely distant, like he'd forgotten it was Rodney inside him, like he'd forgotten everything but sensation.
"John," Rodney said, just a whisper, but John's head came forward and his eyes opened again.
"Yeah," John said, and leaned forward to brace his hands on Rodney's shoulders, eyes focused and suddenly present. Rodney groaned and thrust up into him, hard.
"Yeah, like that," John said. "Like that, just . . . harder."
"I'm trying," Rodney said. "It's not like I can get a whole lot of leverage in this position."
"Okay, c'mere," John said, and leaned forward and rolled, dragging Rodney with him. And somehow Rodney was still inside him, and John was twisting and tugging until they were centered and Rodney was on top, finally free to move.
"Like this?" Rodney asked with a shove, and he could see John's face better this way, could see the fullness of his parted lips, the sheen of sweat on his forehead, plastering one strand of hair down flat while the rest stuck every which way in wild, damp spikes.
"God, yes," John said. "Exactly like this."
John lifted his hips, arching off the bed, and Rodney pounded into him, trying to memorize the sensation, to hold onto what he shouldn't have, what he was never going to have again. But John's muscles were tensing under and around him, and John's breath was coming in short, sharp gasps, and then John ground out, "Fuck, I've missed this," and came, and the bitter, bitter sweetness of it pushed Rodney over the edge, too.
He collapsed down onto John, burying his face in John's shoulder until the last of their shudders quieted. Then he pulled out carefully and rolled over to take care of the condom, and the full weight of what he'd just done hit him.
Because okay, he was aware that he was a selfish and petty man, but this was a new low for him. He'd taken advantage, and it didn't matter that John had been the one asking. John was damaged. And yes, Rodney was going to fix him, but in some ways, that only made it worse, because once Rodney got done with the fixing thing, John would never forgive him. Rodney sighed and rolled back over. John was sprawled next to him, taking up most of the bed, his eyes closed and his breathing low and steady.
Rodney sighed. "Move over." But John didn't even stir. He looked so peaceful, so unlike the old John Sheppard, that Rodney didn't have the heart to shake him awake.
"Right," Rodney said, and stretched out on his side to pillow his head on John's shoulder. Because yes, this was a disaster, and he was going to have to face it in the morning, but right now John was here, and Rodney was feeling selfish enough to take advantage of that, too. He slid one arm over John's warm, sticky stomach and closed his eyes.
* * *
There was a tinny voice coming from under the bed, saying something he couldn't quite make out. Rodney rolled over—well, he tried to roll over. There was an arm slung across him, pinning him to the bed.
"My radio," Rodney said. "I have to answer it."
John grunted and tightened his arm, pulling Rodney against his morning erection.
"Seriously," Rodney said. "It's, oh God, it's eight o'clock already. I'm supposed to be meeting with Keller."
"Aw, come on," John said, rubbing against him. "Let's have some more sex."
"Oh, God," Rodney said, and with supreme effort managed to wrench himself away. He dove for his earpiece, which had somehow fallen under the bed.
"Dr. Keller? Ah, look, I'm afraid something came up this morning." And he wasn't even looking at John, but he could feel his smirk. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Have you seen Colonel Sheppard?" Keller asked. "He disappeared from the infirmary sometime last night."
"I'll find him," Rodney said. "No problem. I'll bring him with me when I come."
"Good luck with that," Keller said, and signed off.
"Come on, we have to get up," Rodney said, because John was stretching himself, lazy and inviting, like he honestly thought Rodney was going to come back to bed. "We need to take showers, or they're going to be able to smell exactly how we spent the night."
John just rolled his eyes and let his legs fall open, tipping his hips up suggestively. "I don't care."
"Yes, I know," Rodney said. "That's the problem, you don't care about anything. I suppose that means I'm just going to have to care for both of us. So I'll just be . . . getting in the shower now."
"Cool," John said, and got up off the bed.
Which was how Rodney found himself on his knees a few minutes later, sucking hard and jerking himself as the water poured down over them both.
Right, well, it wasn't like he had any principles left, anyway.
* * *
The trip back to M2W-473 turned out to be anticlimactic. The nice sort of anticlimactic that happened when you showed up with a dozen marines armed to the teeth.
"The device you used on him," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "We need it. Now."
Chancellor Mok glanced at the marines, and then back at Rodney. "You leave me little choice."
"That's the idea," Rodney said.
"Well, then, follow me."
The device looked like a cross between a handheld scanner and a tiara, but Rodney kept carefully out of range as Mok explained how it worked, which turned out to be just exactly the way John had described it.
"So how do you reverse the effects?" Rodney asked.
Mok looked pained, though it was probably more because of the marines than true regret. "I am unaware of any way to restore a person once he has been treated."
"Yes, well, obviously you don't know everything," Rodney said with more confidence than he actually felt. "I'm sure we'll be able to figure it out. Ronon?"
Ronon stepped forward and held out his hand for the device, and Mok handed it over without even a token resistance. "We ready to go?" Ronon asked.
"Yes," Rodney said, "we have what we came for." But as the turned to go, he couldn't stop himself. "Well, except for one thing. Perhaps you can tell us exactly what this thing does."
"It's very simple," Mok said. "It removes a person's capacity to love."
"What? How is that even—okay, what kind of love are we talking about?" Because it didn't make any—oh, but it did. John didn't care anymore. He didn't care.
"All kinds of love," Mok said. "Love of family, of friends, of home, of duty."
"But not of pie," Rodney said sourly.
"Our sense of pleasure," Mok said, "is not the same as love. Love is a far more complex emotion."
That hurt. That hurt all the more because Rodney knew it was true. "So you just go and destroy that? Take the deepest, most complicated part of a person and rip it away?"
"We find that love tends to interfere with a person's ability to make a useful contribution to society," Mok said. "Those who are motivated only by pleasure and pain are more . . . predictable."
"Okay, now, as a philosophy of life? That is seriously disturbing."
"McKay," Ronon said softly.
"Yes, yes, we have everything we need here. Let's go." And if Rodney shot Mok a poisonous look when they left, well, that was no one's business but his own.
* * *
It was always nice when a bit of natural caution about one's abilities proved unfounded. With a bit of minor input from Keller and, okay, a few lines of code from Zelenka, Rodney was able to re-engineer the device to reverse its effect within a few hours. Which would have taken even less time if John hadn't been hanging around the lab, looking over his shoulder and eating a ridiculous quantity of junk food.
"Shouldn't you be going running or sparring with Ronon or something?"
But John just leaned back in his chair and reached for another handful of Cheetos. "I don't like running," he said. "It hurts my knees. And sparring hurts everywhere."
Rodney gaped at him, entirely distracted from the problem on his screen. "You go running every day. You spar with Ronon or Teyla at least that often. No, seriously, you're telling me you have to force yourself to do it?" John shrugged and ripped open a Twinkie. "I don't know. Guess so."
"Christ," Rodney said. "I didn't know . . ." You he wanted to say. Because he hadn't known John, not at all, not if love was what made him do all of the things that made him him.
Of course, apparently love was also what made him not have sex with Rodney, which was just, okay, no. No, he was very carefully not thinking about that, because if he started thinking about that, he'd never be able to finish what he was working on, and he needed to finish. He needed John to be John again. Even if it meant they never had sex again.
The results of the final simulation popped up on his screen, neatly eliminating the need to finish his sentence. "Okay, that's it, that's the final check. Let's head over to the infirmary."
John's feet hit the floor with a thump. "Wait, you did it?"
"Yes, well, of course it wasn't a simple task by any means, but certainly nothing beyond my ability."
"Wow," John said slowly. "I, uh, I didn't think you'd actually—"
"Mmm, well, thank you for the vote of confidence," Rodney said. "Shall we?"
John followed him out of the lab and down the three floors to the infirmary, and Rodney was imagining that his step was dragging. It was just his natural laziness, or rather his unnatural laziness. It didn't mean anything. But when they found Dr. Keller and she asked John to have a seat on an infirmary bed, he suddenly balked.
"Okay, look," John said, looking at Keller, not Rodney. "I know you think you're doing me a favor here, but I don't think I want to do this."
"What?" Rodney said, and Keller said, "It shouldn't hurt, Colonel. No worse than the first time."
But John crossed his arms over his chest and got a mulish expression. "It's my brain," he said. "I think it should be my decision."
"It's not like you're in any shape to be making decisions," Rodney said. "I mean it. You would have wanted this."
"Maybe before," John said. "But I don't want it now."
"No, no, no," Rodney said. "You can't possibly refuse. You can't even do your job like this. If you don't let us fix you, you're going to have to resign."
"I don't care," John said.
"I know," Rodney said. "You don't care, you don't care, you don't care. And quite frankly, if I have to hear you don't care one more time, I'll—I'll—well, whatever I do, I will not be responsible for my actions."
"Maybe you can tell me," Keller said gently, "why you don't want to do it. Perhaps there's some sort of misunderstanding we can clear up."
But John shook his head. "I'm not amnesic," he said. "I remember what it was like, being like . . . like you. And I don't want to be that way."
"There's nothing wrong with love," Rodney said, and wow, that wasn't a sentence he'd ever expected to utter. "It's the natural human condition."
John looked down, his hands making fists against his arms. "It hurts."
"Yes," Rodney said. "Yes, it hurts. But it's what makes us human. What makes us alive. And without it you're just a shell of a man eating Doritos and Ho Hos all day. We don't have an endless supply of that stuff, you know. You'll run out in a day or two, anyway."
"I was saving it," John said, almost sadly. "I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea."
Rodney lifted his chin. "Apparently, it had something to do with love."
"Colonel," Keller said, placing a hand on his arm. "We need to do this. We need to make you yourself again."
But John just pulled away. "I don't want to. I don't want to be that way. I just want to stay like this and have more sex with Rodney."
"Oh, God," Rodney muttered as Keller shot him an accusatory glance. "Um, look, can we have a little privacy?"
"Anything he says in front of me is covered by doctor-patient confidentiality."
"Yes, yes, whatever. Some privacy?"
Keller sighed, her lips still pressed together in a disapproving line. "You can use my office."
Rodney grabbed John's arm and yanked, manhandling him into the little office and closing the door firmly. "Did you have to say that? I thought you had a little discretion. I mean, obviously you've managed to stay in the Air Force for nearly twenty years. And if you're really not amnesic, you must remember why you're not supposed to talk about things like this. No, no, don't tell me. You don't care."
"Rodney," John said, and tried to lean in to kiss him.
"No," Rodney said, pulling back. "No, I am not going to kiss you. I am not going to have sex with you, not until you let Keller use that damn device on you."
"Yeah, you will," John said, moving in again with intent. "Come on, we both know all about your willpower."
"Okay, fine," Rodney said. "You could probably convince me. But it's not going to matter anyway, since you're not going to be able to stay here."
John frowned at him.
"Oh, please, you know I'm right. This is a military base. You can't do your job like this, and the SGC is certainly not going to let an impaired civilian stay here. They'd send you home. To Earth," he clarified, because he was pretty sure John thought of Atlantis as home. "Otherwise you're a complete liability."
"Crap," John said, and his face fell.
"Look," Rodney said, because that face twisted him up in ways he couldn't think about right now. "We can have sex afterward. All the sex you want, once you remember how to be discreet."
But John just shook his head. "I don't think so. I remember. I remember, Rodney. And I don't think I'm going to be able to."
"Well it's not like you have much of a choice, now, is it?"
John bowed his head, his hands opening and closing at his sides. And maybe he couldn't love, maybe he couldn't care, but he obviously felt something.
"Seriously," Rodney said. "It's not like you're happy now, anyway."
"Okay," John said quietly. "Okay, I'll do it."
* * *
Keller had John lie down, just in case, but when she touched the device to his forehead and initiated the reversal, he didn't so much as flinch. After a minute, she pulled it away.
"Are you all right? Did it work?" John sat up slowly. His eyes stuttered to meet Rodney's, and then just as quickly slid away. "Yeah," he said, low and hoarse. "It worked."
"I'll need to run a few scans," Keller said. "Just to make sure everything checks out."
"Run as many as you need," John said. But then he squinted over at Rodney and said, "McKay, you mind?"
Rodney had thought he'd been braced for the blow, but he really, really hadn't. "I'm sure I have . . . important things to do. Very important. In my lab. So I'll just be . . . going now."
"See you later," John said, in some strange parody of normality.
"Yes," Rodney said, striving for the same false casual tone and missing by a light year. "Yes, of course."
* * *
But as it turned out, he didn't see John. Not in the lab, not in the Gateroom, not even at dinner. It had to be deliberate, because they usually ran into each other at least two or three times a day, even when things were crazy.
Rodney spent the evening in his lab, staring at his screen without seeing the display. He knew John had a right to be angry. He had a right to never speak to Rodney again, if that was what he wanted. But after a day of misery, Rodney couldn't take it anymore.
John answered his door looking as wrecked as Rodney felt, his hair even more disheveled than usual and a livid bruise on his left cheek.
"Jesus," Rodney said. "What happened to you?"
John shrugged. "Sparring with Ronon. I'm a little out of practice."
Yes, right, of course. Not that Rodney needed any further proof that John was himself again. "Can I come in? I think what I have to say is probably better not discussed in public, or semi-public, or whatever this qualifies as."
For a moment he thought John was going to say no, but then he stepped to one side and let Rodney pass.
Rodney would have been more comfortable sitting down, but John was still on his feet. So Rodney just braced himself, hands clasped behind his back, and forced the words out.
"I . . . came here to apologize. I am painfully aware that what I did was wrong, and I have no excuse, apart from the fact that I . . . well, we've already discussed my willpower, and I . . . I really don't know what else to say. Except that I hope that someday you'll be able to see your way to . . . to forgiving me."
"Christ," John said, and turned away. "I told you, I don't have amnesia. I know what I did to you."
Rodney blinked, because that really didn't sound like anger. "But I . . . I took advantage of you when you weren't in your right mind."
John laughed, short and sharp. "If anyone took advantage, it was me. I accosted you in your sleep, Rodney. Trust me, I knew what I was doing. I planned it pretty damn carefully."
"Yes, well," Rodney said, at a complete loss for words, because this wasn't how the conversation was supposed to go at all. "So does this mean my apology is accepted?"
"Yeah," John said, without looking at him. "It does."
"So we can be, ah, cordial again?"
This time John did look up, his eyes as bruised as his cheek. "Look, I'm trying," he said. "I just . . . I'm not used to this, yet."
"Oh," Rodney said stupidly. "So it . . ."
"Hurts like hell," John said. "Funny, it's actually worse than I remembered. Guess you can forget a lot, in twenty-eight days."
"I didn't know," Rodney said quietly. "I didn't realize it was like that for you."
"Join the club," John said, and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
The right thing to do would be to say a quick good-bye and leave. Rodney knew that, well, intellectually, anyway. But he couldn't stop himself. "So maybe you can tell me something," he said. "Because I've been wondering. I mean, why . . . why did you pick me? Was it just that I was a sure thing? Because I can live with that. I just . . . I'd really like to know."
"Crap," John said, and his whole face went dark. "Look, it's not that simple, okay?"
"Because I can understand if you're in love with someone else. I really can. I just . . . well, why didn't you ask them instead of me? Or is it just that it's some kind of impossible, unrequited thing? I mean, I would have thought that when you didn't care, you would have at least tried, because the whole rejection thing wouldn't have hurt so much. Unless, of course, you're still carrying a torch for someone back on Earth, but honestly that doesn't seem terribly likely. I like to think I know you better than that, even if, in some ways I apparently don't know you very well at all."
"Rodney," John said, and it sounded like a warning.
"No, really, I . . . the idea of you nursing some sort of secret passion is just . . . okay, I never really pictured that. I just thought you weren't attracted to me. But you are, aren't you? Enough to sneak into my bed when my defenses were down, and—"
"Fuck," John said, and sat down hard on his bed, burying his head in his hands.
"I'm not asking you to have sex with me," Rodney said, which was the truth even if it wasn't what he wanted. "I'm just trying to understand, here."
For a long moment, John was silent, his head bowed. "I was married, you know," he said finally, without looking up.
"Yes, I . . . I was aware of that," Rodney said, trying and failing to find a point to the non sequitur. "Actually, that was why I found the whole gay thing so surprising."
"Funny thing was, I did love her," John said. "I always thought that would be enough."
"But it wasn't," Rodney said, still trying to understand. "You know, it's strange. I'm not even sure I did love Katie. So I guess I made the right decision, after all."
"Yeah," John said softly. "But sometimes even the right decision . . ."
"Hurts like hell," Rodney said, and John nodded once, sharply, like that answered all of Rodney's questions. Only it didn't. It really didn't, unless the decision John was talking about was . . .
"Oh, my God," Rodney said, and the next thing he knew, he was on his knees on the floor, looking up into John's hidden face. "It wasn't just because I was a sure thing," he said, flush with the impossibility of it. "You're in—"
"Rodney," John said. "Don't. It's still the right decision."
"You idiot," Rodney said, the unbelievable truth of it bubbling up in his veins. "You lied to me. You lied through your teeth, for some stupid, misplaced notion that we'd be better off apart than together. Do you have any idea how long I've—"
"It's still a bad idea," John said, but his hands dropped to his knees. "Do I have to list the reasons?"
"No, actually," Rodney said. "No, I don't think that would be helpful at all." And he pushed in and pressed his mouth to John's.
He half-expected John to push him away, but John's hands fisted in the fabric of his jacket and John's mouth opened, hot and wanting against his.
There was nothing wanton or soulless about this kiss. It was searing and painful and perfect. Rodney slid his arms around John's shoulders and held on, his lips offering counterarguments to every single one of John's objections.
"Fuck," John said, when he finally pulled back. "We are so screwed."
"Okay, yes," Rodney said. "So maybe it's not going to be easy. But we can't unknow what we already know, and if we're going to have the painful part, we might as well have the good part, too."
John just looked at him, like he was still trying to process. "So what happens when one of us fucks it up? 'Cause from where I'm standing, that's looking pretty damn likely, given our track records."
"Think of it this way," Rodney said, because damn it, he wasn't giving up now. "We've known each other four years, and we're still speaking to each other. I actually think our track record with each other is pretty good. It's just other people that are the problem."
"Huh," John said, and Rodney distracted him with a kiss. "You could have a point there."
"Of course I have a point. Smartest man in two galaxies, remember?"
John snorted at that, but then he leaned forward and closed his hands around Rodney's arms, tugging him up until they were sprawled together on the bed. "I didn't want to give this up," John said, soft against Rodney's mouth. "I didn't love you, but I still wanted this."
"Yes, well, I wanted it, too," Rodney said. "I just, you know, wanted it to actually be you."
John's hand touched his cheek, one thumb rubbing his stubble against the grain. "I'm glad you made me do it."
"It was pure selfishness," Rodney said. "I really didn't want them to send you back to Earth, where you'd forget all about me the first time someone handed you a slice of pie."
John smiled at him, that open, almost shy smile Rodney so rarely saw. "I wouldn't have forgotten," he said, leaning in to nibble the side of Rodney's neck.
"Really? That's good. That's . . . quite reassuring, actually."
"Well," John said, lifting his head. His lips were swollen, which was actually a pretty good look on him. "Not unless it was really good pie."