Distraction - posted March 3, 2006
Word Count: ~ 9100
Summary: “Have you tried ear plugs?” Rodney
“It’s in my
head, Rodney. Ear plugs don’t do a lot when the voices are inside your
Reference to “The Long Goodbye.” Written for the Urban Legends
Challenge by flordeneu. My challenge selection was: Some older models of cordless phones call
911 by themselves when their batteries are dying.
has no idea how long there’s been knocking at the door. Long enough
that the last remnants of his dream—puddlejumper soaring effortlessly
through the skies, straight as an arrow—are marked by a sudden banging
that makes Rodney wonder if the ship’s about to shimmy apart in new and
frightening ways. Once he realizes the noise is external to his dream,
he manages to pull himself out of sleep and stumble through the dark,
hand hitting the access panel. He blinks owlishly as the light from the
hallway hits him full in the face.
Even bleary-eyed and tired,
he recognizes the silhouette in front of his door, and with a
long-suffering sigh turns sideways to let Colonel Sheppard into his
“This better be good,” Rodney mutters, flipping on his
bedside lamp. It’s three in the morning, and he only just remembers
tumbling into bed sometime around two. He makes a haphazard attempt to
straighten the sheets before he flops down, but they’re mostly a lost
cause. Sheppard grabs the desk chair, sitting down and running both
hands through his hair; he doesn’t look like he’s slept at all,
although Rodney can’t tell from the hair. It always looks like Sheppard
just rolled out of bed.
“John?” Rodney reaches out and pushes at John’s shoulder. “What?”
“I think I’m going nuts.”
just stares. He knows John well enough to know it’s cost him a great
deal to come here, to say something like this, so Rodney holds the
sarcasm that’s resting on his tongue and grabs the bottle of Canadian
whiskey he keeps in his closet for emergencies. He pours them each a
shot. When John downs his without a comment, Rodney knows exactly how
bad things are. John doesn’t even like whiskey.
pours them each another drink, then settles back onto his bed. His
patience with John’s silence lasts approximately eight seconds before
he rolls his eyes and huffs loudly. “You can’t come here in the middle
of the night and say something like that without expecting me to ask
questions. And if I’m wasting my purloined liquor on you without a good
“Purloined?” John asks, raising an eyebrow, and Rodney
almost grins back except he knows allowing Sheppard to get sidetracked
won’t get him any answers.
“We live in the lost city of Atlantis
and routinely escape death at the hands—literally—of Marilyn Manson
wannabe space vampires. So why exactly do you think you’re going nuts?”
Rodney asks, deciding to cut through to the heart of the problem, and
he sees John make a face around his last swallow of whiskey, knows how
John’s regretting his choice of words even now. Probably regretting his
choice of confidante even more. John’s here because there isn’t anyone
else he can talk to, and somehow that’s not as comforting as it should
“It’s not—I shouldn’t have—”
“Oh, please. I’m not
going to tell Heightmeyer or Elizabeth, unless of course you really are
going nuts and you’re about to endanger our lives.” Rodney studies
John’s face carefully, wondering if he should start keeping one of
those Wraith stunners in his quarters just in case. “You’re not, are
“No.” John’s voice is slightly exasperated, and when he
sets the glass down on the desktop Rodney doesn’t offer him another.
He’s remembering John taken over by an alien consciousness; John,
and accurate and one step ahead of them all the way.
“It’s a legitimate question considering—”
Rodney sets his own empty glass aside and clasps his hands together to
stop from tapping restlessly. “So, are you going to tell me what’s
wrong or are you going to pretend this never happened?”
looks self-conscious, fidgets in the chair, and finally leans his head
back and stares at the ceiling. “It’s hard to explain.”
understands how difficult it is to put words to things here. It’s
harder on Atlantis than on Earth. He understood the laws of physics
there, everything working in logical, predictable ways. Since he’s been
here, logic seems to regularly take vacations and the laws of physics
have let him down more than once. He still hasn’t gotten used to having
to rely on his intuition—which generally sucks when it comes to reading
people, and isn’t much more reliable when dealing with ancient
“It’s like Atlantis is trying to tell me something.”
John’s speaking slowly and carefully, words being meted out like
rations. “It’s like a hum in the back of my brain. At first it was only
there at night—while I was sleeping—but now it’s there all the time.”
always envied John his connection to Atlantis. His gene is stronger,
purer than the rest, and as much as Rodney wishes the artificial gene
was as potent as the real thing, he’s come to terms with the fact that
Atlantis will always be John Sheppard’s city. It doesn’t mean Rodney
loves her any less, though. He loves Atlantis enough he’s willing to
share, and truthfully he can’t say that about many things in his life.
“What kind of a hum?” he presses. “Electronic? Like the background
sound of equipment or—”
like a whisper. Shifting tones. It’s like a conversation underwater,
and I know I should understand it, but I can’t quite make out the
“Is it English? Ancient?” Rodney’s fascinated—he can’t help it—and John
shakes his head.
“I’m not one of your experiments.” He starts to get up from the chair,
but Rodney’s off the bed and holding him by the elbow.
be an idiot,” he says. “You’re hearing voices and that’s never a good
sign, but I’m not about to pack you off to Heightmeyer and a rubber
room without more information. You came here for help, so let me help.
Tell me what you think it is.”
“I don’t know!” The frustration
is clear in John’s voice, and Rodney steers him back towards the chair.
He looks at John’s tired eyes, the tension in the slope of his
“Okay.” Rodney rubs at his eyes and tries to clear
his head. “Humour the scientist. I need a baseline to work from. When
did this start?”
“Maybe a week ago.”
“And you didn’t say
anything?” Rodney wants to tell him how utterly stupid that is, but he
suspects John can read it in his face, the tone of his voice. They
haven’t survived two years on missions together without being able to
read one another pretty well. Most of the time.
“I thought it would go away!” John’s got his arms crossed over his
chest now, slouched posture anything but relaxed.
“And obviously you were wrong,” Rodney snaps back. Maybe John really
does need his head examined. “And it’s getting worse?”
John looks more exhausted than Rodney’s ever seen him. “The last two
days it’s been almost constant. It’s starting to give me a headache.”
“Have you tried ear plugs?” Rodney asks.
“It’s in my head, Rodney. Ear plugs don’t do a lot when the
voices are inside your brain! Did ear plugs help when Cadman was—”
“Okay, okay!” Rodney holds up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Is
it there now?”
John pauses, tilting his head to the side like he’s listening. “It’s
there, but it’s not as noticeable.”
wants to smile at that, but he figures John will just use it as an
excuse to tease him about his lack of an inside voice, how Rodney can
drown out anything. “If you’re distracted, it’s better?”
John thinks for a moment, then nods. “Seems that way.”
you need something to distract you!” Rodney’s pleased with himself for
finding a quick-fix solution that will buy him some time to figure this
out. He notices John’s raised eyebrow, and the way the desk chair is
closer to the bed than it was before. Rodney’s sitting on the edge, one
hand on John’s knee, and suddenly Rodney’s far too aware of all the
things they don’t say. The way casual touches aren’t always casual.
know what you meant, Rodney,” John says, softly, saving them both from
further embarrassment. This really isn’t the time to be trying to
figure out what’s never going to be less than complicated.
the last time you slept?” Rodney asks suddenly. John’s wearing a soft
black tee shirt and sweats, so Rodney figures he at least made an
attempt at getting some rest, however unsuccessful. In the time it
takes Sheppard to shrug evasively—as if the shadows under his eyes
aren’t already telling Rodney it’s been at least a couple of
days—Rodney’s popped open the control panel nearest his bed and tapped
into the musical database. The strains of a Bach cantata are filling
“I made a few adjustments to the comm. system,” Rodney offers in
response to Sheppard’s curious stare.
closes his eyes and Rodney watches him. Sees a smile steal over his
lips, as he nods, understanding. “I think that might work,” John
murmurs. When he opens his eyes, he seems less worried, more hopeful.
“Can I get my room to—”
“No. Sorry.” Rodney’s genuinely
apologetic. “I mean, I could set it up for you, but it would take a
couple of hours. I was just playing with the circuits one day, seeing
what I could do.” Rodney knows he doesn’t have to tell Sheppard how
difficult it is to stop working sometimes. How the silence and the
sound of the waves can be overwhelming.
“Well,” John starts. “I
guess I should go.” He stands up, stepping back and away, but Rodney’s
on his feet in an instant, a hand on John’s arm.
“You can stay.”
He flushes, and stumbles over the words. “I mean, the music might help,
and the last thing Atlantis needs is an exhausted military commander.
Besides, you need to sleep, and I’m already awake, so you should just
lie down and I’ll start making some notes on—”
smile is affectionate. “I’m not kicking you out of your bed. I’ve only
got a few hours until I’ve got to be up anyway.”
“So you should stay here and get some sleep.”
“Only if you do the same.”
determination surprises him, but Rodney can see John wants to stay.
It’s in the way his eyes are straying longingly to the bed, and Rodney
doesn’t even care that it probably has nothing to do with him. John’s
exhausted, Atlantis is whispering in his brain, and if life goes the
way it normally does, Rodney’s pretty sure things are going to get
worse before they get better. They’re both going to need sleep. They’ve
shared quarters and tents on off-world missions; Rodney supposes this
really isn’t any different.
Bach gives way to
something slow and sweet by Brahms as Rodney turns out the bedside
light. He gives John a small shove towards the bed, figuring there are
definite advantages to a pushy personality. “Come on, John. Sleep. I
promise to behave myself.” He laughs, hoping it’s convincing. “We’ll
figure it out in the morning.”
John lies down on his side,
facing away from Rodney, only pausing long enough to toe off his boots.
He doesn’t have his gun or his radio with him, and he looks oddly
vulnerable in the pale light. Cautiously, Rodney sits on the edge of
the narrow bed before taking a breath and lying down, back to Sheppard.
It seems the safest route.
He lies there, listening to the soft
strains of a violin fade, replaced by something that sounds like
classical guitar. Rodney hopes the database doesn’t offer up “The
William Tell Overture” or anything with loud cymbal crashes before
morning. Somehow, he suspects it won’t. He reaches down and tugs the
blankets up, covers them both.
“Thanks for the distraction,” John murmurs.
welcome.” Rodney falls asleep with music in his ears and John Sheppard
warm against his back. It’s the closest he’s felt to truly happy in a
John smells coffee and hears Rodney’s
voice before he opens his eyes. In the back of his head, he can still
hear the faint hum of Atlantis—or something like Atlantis—trying to get
his attention, but he pushes it away and concentrates on the tones of
Rodney’s voice. He’s arguing with someone—quietly—over the radio, and
John realizes Rodney’s keeping his voice low because he thinks John’s
“No, no, no! Under no circumstances are you to let
Masterson anywhere near that control panel. He’s got the fine motor
skills of an elephant. He should be digging potatoes with those hands,
not recalibrating equipment. Put him somewhere he won’t do any harm.”
There’s a pause and John knows Rodney’s rolling his eyes in response to
whatever the other person—probably Zelenka—is saying. “Fine. But you’re
responsible if he blows himself up. I’ll check in later so I can say ‘I
told you so.’ … Yes, all right. Fine.”
John listens, but doesn’t
open his eyes. It’s rare he gets to see Rodney like this. Unguarded. He
can hear Rodney moving around, tapping something on his laptop, sipping
at his coffee. There’s still music playing in the background, and John
recognizes the strains of something familiar, although he can’t quite
place it. Something classical. Mozart maybe. He isn’t sure. Piano
lessons were another lifetime ago.
Then Rodney’s subdued voice
is cutting through everything, obviously in answer to a radio page.
“Yes, Elizabeth. I know that. … Well, we’re going to be late.” John
remembers the 10:00 briefing and wonders if it’s possible he’s slept
that long. “He’s not answering his radio because he’s here. He’s still
asleep.” That’s almost enough to pull John out of the warmth and
comfort of Rodney’s bed. He opens his eyes and Rodney gives him a small
smile before rolling his eyes at whatever Elizabeth’s saying. “Oh,
for—look, he’s been having headaches, hearing—we’ll explain when we get
there! You’d better bring Carson in on this one. … What? No, he’s fine.
Mostly. … I’m not a doctor! Well, okay, I am, but—seriously, we’ll be
there in half an hour. Apparently he’s awake now, so I’m going
to—Elizabeth, I swear, it’ll all make sense in a half hour. Or at least
as much sense as it can. McKay out.”
With that, Rodney tears off
the ear piece and tosses it onto the desk. “Fuck,” he says. “If I’d
known missing a staff meeting was this much trouble, I would’ve just
gone without you. I didn’t know Elizabeth was going to call out the
dogs when she couldn’t locate you.”
John props himself up on his elbows. “So Elizabeth knows I spent the
she called to find out if I knew where you were, and obviously …”
Rodney stutters to a halt. “She’s not going to—I mean, she won’t
assume.” His cheeks turn slightly pink and his eyes won’t hold John’s
gaze. “Fuck. I didn’t think it was a problem. Everyone knows we’re
“It’s fine.” John tugs back the covers and rolls to a
sitting position. He feels better. Rested. He remembers dreams that
were mainly a kaleidoscope of sounds and colours. Piano and violin,
guitar and harp. Blues and ambers sliding together like waves upon a
shore. The hum settles into the back of his brain and quietly murmurs
to him in words he can’t understand, but it doesn’t feel as
overwhelming as it did the night before.
“It’s fine,” he
repeats, reaching out and squeezing Rodney’s arm. “We’re a long way
from Earth, and I’ve never cared much for that crap. People will think
what they want regardless of the truth.” There have been rumours long
before this, and John knows he’s not the only one that’s heard them.
According to Atlantis’s well-greased rumour mill he’s slept with most
of the women on base, and at least half the men. If it’s not Rodney
who’s sharing his bed, it’s Ronon. Or Elizabeth. Or Teyla. John’s
learned to ignore the talk. He and his right hand have been getting
along just fine without the need for anyone else. It’s easier that way.
heads for the bathroom, runs the shower as hot as he can stand it, and
lets the water wash over him. He breathes in steam and watches his toes
turn pink against the cream-coloured tiles of the floor. The shampoo is
hypo-allergenic and unscented, and John smiles as he lathers it into
his dark hair. He doesn’t think Rodney will mind. He’s rinsing the last
of the bubbles out when he hears the bathroom door open.
“How’s your head?” Rodney asks casually, as if John had come by simply
complaining of a headache last night.
“Better,” John admits. “The hum’s still there, but I slept. The music
helped.” So did you,
John wants to say, but he isn’t sure how that will sound. They’d kept
to their sides of the bed, no unnecessary touching, but John hadn’t
realized what a relief it was just to have Rodney close by, to know he
“Good.” Rodney sounds distracted, and John wonders how much sleep he
got. “I’m just going to grab us some food from the mess. I’ll be back
The door closes again and Rodney’s gone. John leans against the tiles
and jerks off slowly, concentrates on the sensation of his hand on his
cock. When he comes, it’s enough to give him a few minutes of blessed
silence in his brain. He rinses off and steps into the bath, snagging
the towel Rodney’s left for him, neatly folded on the rack. There’s a
dark grey t-shirt folded and hung beside the towel, and John slips it
on over his head. It’s Rodney’s, obviously, from the way it hangs on
John—looser than his own by a mile—but it’s soft and comfortable, and
he needs that today. He doesn’t even care that people are going to get
the wrong impression. He almost hopes they do because at least it would
give him something real to deal with besides the half-whispers
cluttering up his thoughts.
On the edge of the sink there’s a
package of boxers, pale blue and cotton, still sealed, and John tears
them open and slips them on, not really surprised that Rodney has new
underwear, hermetically sealed. He’s almost disappointed that they’re
new, that they’ve never touched Rodney’s skin. He thinks he’d like
that—knowing he was wearing something that had lingered against
Rodney’s flesh. John rubs a hand lightly over the t-shirt and marvels
at how soft it feels. It’s probably his imagination, but he thinks it
smells a little like Rodney, or at least whatever hypo-allergenic soap
he insists on using for his laundry.
John tugs on the rest of
his clothes, scrubs his hands through his damp hair and determines it’s
a lost cause. By the time Rodney shows up with a plate of muffins and
fruit, John’s sitting on the edge of the bed tying his boots.
Rodney says, stopping to look at him for a minute. John remembers how
he felt when Vivian Small wore his letterman jacket in high school. How
it gave him a tiny proprietary burst of joy every time he saw her with
his over-sized jacket draped around her shoulders. How he couldn’t help
thinking mine. He wonders if that’s what Rodney’s thinking. If
he’s thinking anything at all.
John says, grabbing a muffin. He gestures at the food, but he means for
the shirt and the underwear and the three a.m. whiskey too. Rodney
seems to know that when he nods and says, “any time.”
“Ready to try and explain this to Elizabeth?” Rodney asks, slipping on
his jacket and grabbing his laptop.
But John steps out the door behind Rodney and walks beside him all the
way to the briefing room. Rodney’s humming the score to South
under his breath as they walk, and John doesn’t say anything, just
smirks and concentrates on the familiar rise and fall of tones, the
cadences of Rodney’s voice. The hum in his brain recedes a little
further, and John knows somehow they’ll figure this out. Together.
meeting goes about as well as Rodney expected. There’s exactly the same
amount of yelling as there normally is and most of it is directed at
him, which is also normal.
“You should’ve brought him to the infirmary as soon as he told you,”
Carson says, already sticking an otoscope in John’s ear.
“Are you all right?” Elizabeth’s hovering, one hand on John’s shoulder.
“Can I get you anything?”
murmurs softly about dimming the lights and playing soft music, and a
cup of that really dark roast coffee might be nice. When it looks like
Elizabeth’s half a step away from giving John a back rub, Rodney loses
it completely: “Oh, that’s just perfect. He’s quite possibly poised to
be taken over by some alien consciousness—again—and all you people can
do is offer him coffee and shine a light in his ear. I can already tell
you what you’re going to find, Carson. Nothing.”
slightly offended at that, and Elizabeth’s got her arms crossed over
her chest like a mother about to defend her difficult child. Rodney’s
not about to be swayed by Sheppard’s charm. “Look, this could be a huge
security risk. Not to mention how uncomfortable it is to have another
consciousness in your brain. Been there! He needs neurological scans to
“Rodney,” Carson interrupts. “If you were so worried, why didn’t you
bring him to me last night?”
lets out an exasperated sigh. “I knew where he was. Plus, I pulled his
security clearances as soon as he was asleep.” John raises an eyebrow
at him, but it’s not disapproving. If anything John looks pleased, and
Rodney looks away before he starts to blush. He seriously needs to get
over his desire to prove he’s a worthwhile member of John’s team. “I’ve
also got Radek running diagnostics on Atlantis’s systems, and the
Colonel’s quarters in particular. If something’s transmitting a signal,
we’ll find it.”
“Very good, Rodney.” Elizabeth still looks like
she wants to bundle Sheppard up and take him home. Rodney isn’t sure
why that disturbs him so much, and he really doesn’t want to examine it
too closely. They’ve all been through so much together, he knows it’s
natural to feel a little possessive towards the members of his team. Or
at least his team leader. Perfectly natural.
have you down to the infirmary where I can run some tests, shall we?
That’ll give Rodney a chance to finish checking the systems and seeing
if we can eliminate an external cause.”
John nods. He hasn’t
said much during the meeting other than to clarify Rodney’s outbursts
or provide more exact descriptions of the sounds he’s hearing. He seems
distracted and Rodney fires off a quick email to Radek asking him to
have someone grab whatever passes for music in Sheppard’s quarters—an
iPod, a cd player—and deliver it to the infirmary. It occurs to Rodney
that Sheppard could have easily gone back to his own quarters last
night. He knows John’s got an appalling collection of country and
western CDs and he’s certain there’s at least one Greatest Hits of
in the mix. Looking at him in Rodney’s too-big t-shirt, his eyes still
tired, hair sticking up in all directions, Rodney has to resist the
urge to take him back to his quarters. Sheppard isn’t supposed to look
“Rodney?” He realizes they’re all looking at
him, faces pale and concerned, and he mumbles something about needing
to see Radek. John nods, but he looks disappointed. Rodney pats him
awkwardly on the shoulder on the way out. Sheppard isn’t the only one
who needs a distraction, and work is the best one he can think of.
“Radek,” Rodney says into his radio as he strides down the hall. “I’m
on my way. Bring me up to speed on what you’ve found.”
they’ve found is exactly nothing. After three different types of
diagnostics and Rodney ripping apart the control panel in Sheppard’s
wall, there’s nothing to indicate a problem with the system.
power fluctuations, no equipment that shouldn’t be here, nothing.”
Radek pushes his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose, and shakes
his head. “If the Colonel is hearing things, it is not from any part of
the communications system. Atlantis is not talking to him, as far as I
Rodney nods absently. He’s been over the entire
system. So has Radek. It’s beginning to look more and more like the
voices are in John’s head, and Rodney doesn’t know what that means. For
any of them. He’s used to Sheppard being a steady dependable presence
in a crisis.
“I will check everything again,” Radek says,
patting Rodney on the shoulder. “You go see the Colonel, see if there
is anything else he can tell us.”
Rodney nods and leaves Radek
to keep looking for answers Rodney isn’t sure are there. He heads to
the infirmary, half-hoping, half-dreading that Carson’s found something.
Carson says. John’s sitting on the edge of one of the infirmary beds,
legs dangling over the side. He’s still wearing Rodney’s t-shirt, and
it brings a smile to Rodney’s face as he catches Sheppard’s eyes.
“Nothing?” Rodney repeats. He hops up on the bed beside John.
brain damage, no tumors, nothing on the scans. Nothing at all to
explain it.” John’s voice is full of frustration. His hair looks like
its been repeatedly ruffled by impatient hands, and Rodney’s got to
resist the urge to run a hand through it. He can only imagine the look
John would give him, but Rodney wants to touch, needs to do something
to say things are going to be okay. He settles for bumping a shoulder
against John’s, feels John press closer to his side. It’s enough.
“We’ve just started running diagnostics,” Rodney says. “We’ll figure
out what’s causing this.”
leaves them alone. John’s got his iPod connected to one ear, and when
he asks Rodney to tell him the details of all the tests they’ve run,
Rodney understands that John needs to be kept in the loop. He needs
something to concentrate on other than the whispers in his head. So
Rodney explains the intricacies of Atlantis’s circuitry, their attempts
to access the communication systems, and concludes by letting John know
he’s going to spend the afternoon configuring the controls so John can
access Atlantis’s entire musical database.
“Cool,” John says
quietly, and for the rest of the day Rodney’s got an assistant. Rodney
keeps up a steady stream of chatter, answering questions with more
patience than he usually manages, and by the time the sun’s gone down,
they’re no closer to understanding what’s happening to John, but at
least Rodney feels like they’re making progress.
supper in the mess, and Rodney ignores the curious glances cast their
way. In spite of Elizabeth’s best efforts, Rodney knows rumours have
already started to surface. Sheppard’s been taken off-duty, the team’s
essentially grounded. Teyla and Ronon have taken Sergeant Stackhouse
and a jumper to the mainland to inquire if there are any stories of the
Ancestors that might explain what Sheppard’s going through. The
whispers are quiet, but they’re there. Rodney glares at anyone who
looks at them askance and stabs at his food with a vengeance.
“Hey,” John says, partway through dinner. “What did that chicken ever
do to you?”
“It’s not chicken,” Rodney retorts. “It’s some sort of speckled blue
grouse the Athosians set traps for.”
“Tastes like chicken.”
about to argue, but John’s smirking at him and Rodney tosses a roll at
John’s head instead. The laugh that follows is the best thing Rodney’s
heard all day.
“Want to watch a movie?” John asks, and before
long they’re settled in Rodney’s quarters, a foot apart on the bed,
making fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The whiskey comes out halfway
through the second film, and Rodney knows the hum in John’s head is
getting worse when he closes his eyes and reaches for the pillow.
“What can I do?” Rodney feels helpless. He watches the muscle in John’s
jaw clench and unclench.
“I don’t know.”
“Is it worse? Is there anything—”
louder.” John’s eyes are still closed. He leans back against the
pillow, and Rodney turns off the laptop, sets it on the floor. In a
moment he’s got classical music pouring into the room, the lights set
on dim, and he’s sitting beside John feeling lost.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he says. “I don’t know how to
reaches for him, manages to get both hands on Rodney’s arms, pulling
him closer. Rodney overbalances and falls into John, but somehow it
doesn’t matter. He’s grabbing at John’s shirt, his own t-shirt, and
then John’s in his arms, face buried against Rodney’s shoulder, and
he’s talking so quietly Rodney has to strain to hear him.
seriously losing my mind here, Rodney. All I can hear is whispers in my
head, and when I close my eyes there are lights flashing gold and
orange. I feel like I should know what it’s telling me, but all I want
is for it to stop. Just stop.”
Rodney slides his hands up into John’s hair as if somehow he can keep
the noise out by holding John’s head.
this hair and not an ounce of protection for that brain of yours,” he
murmurs, and Rodney feels John laughing against his shoulder. It’s not
much, but it’s something, and Rodney manages to get both of them
reclined on the bed without too much fuss. John’s still got his eyes
closed tight and Rodney holds him awkwardly, their legs tangled
together along the length of the bed.
“Rodney.” John’s voice is
pleading, but Rodney isn’t sure he’s ready for this, if they’re ready
for this. He presses a finger to John’s lips.
“Just talk to me,” John says, giving him an out. “Just talk.”
can do that.” Rodney talks about everything and nothing, fills John’s
head with a different kind of noise until he falls asleep. Rodney
presses his lips to John’s forehead and thinks about how close they are
to crossing the line. When John whimpers in his sleep, Rodney pulls him
tighter and murmurs in his ear. By the time he falls asleep, he’s
almost managed to convince himself this is what friends do.
next two days John slips further away from them. Rodney tears the
entire communications grid apart looking for answers. John’s iPod is a
constant presence and Rodney registers the gradual increase of the
volume, as if it can block out what John’s hearing and seeing. He’s
taken to wearing his shades around Atlantis now, and Rodney sees
himself reflected in the mirrored lenses and thinks maybe he’s going
crazy too. John disappears into his quarters late in the afternoon, but
Rodney keeps working until he can’t see straight. Radek sends him away.
He goes to the infirmary to find out if Carson’s got any news.
had a bunch of people in here complaining of headaches” he says. A hum
in the back of their brains. Flickering lights at the edges of thought.
ATA gene carriers,” Carson explains. Rodney stops and tries to
determine if he’s got any symptoms, but it seems like it’s only those
with the natural genes.
“Could it be a virus?” Rodney asks. “Something to target people with
no physical evidence of a virus,” Carson says. “John’s gene is stronger
than most. It’s why he was affected first, but I still can’t tell
what’s causing it.”
Carson looks exhausted, and Rodney remembers
Carson must be feeling the effects now too. Elizabeth’s face is lined
“What if it’s not physical?”
Rodney shakes his head. “I’ve been through every system. There’s
nothing coming from within Atlantis.”
“What about from outside Atlantis?” Elizabeth asks. “Some kind of
holds up a finger to dismiss the idea, but stops. A signal. Telepathic,
perhaps. Sub-sonic. Rodney hits the radio and tells Radek to start
scanning for long-range signals on all registers. Sub-space. Anything
that might be used to transmit a message that could be picked up by the
He hurries to his quarters to tell John what they’ve
found. When he gets there, the room is flooded with music, Beethoven’s
ninth, choir in full voice, and John’s huddled on the bed with his
hands over his eyes.
“John!” Rodney crawls onto the bed beside
him and touches him. It’s one of the things that’s been keeping John
grounded, and he leans into Rodney as if he’s been starving for his
“I can’t take much more of this.” His hands are tugging Rodney closer,
curling in the fabric of his shirt.
know.” Rodney presses a cool hand to John’s sweating face, tells him to
open his eyes. “What can I do? Tell me. Anything.” Rodney’s desperate
enough to mean it, to make his voice and his hands give John permission
“Distract me,” John murmurs, and it’s enough.
living in a world that hums. Like a thousand cicadas lazing in the
summer heat, and in the background the low sustain of a bass guitar,
and somewhere else there are shadow mouths whispering to him, singing
words he can’t understand, but thinks he should know.
his eyelids he sees only colour. Amber, deep and dark like the sap of
maples in spring, and sometimes the lights flicker red and orange,
sunsets and fireflies and the afterburners of an F-15 at night.
“Focus on me. Listen to me.”
a moment, John does. Blinking away phantom lights and noises, he can
feel Rodney’s hands on his face, can hear the sound of Rodney’s voice,
loud and sharp and scared. John isn’t sure why.
“John, look at me. Look into my eyes.”
The amber fades away and is replaced by the purest blue John’s ever
seen. It’s the sky on a cloudless day, Atlantis’s ocean. It’s riding
the surf off the coast of Oahu, the first bike he had when he was a
kid, the plates his mother used when company came. It’s Rodney, and
John wants that more than anything.
“That’s it. Stay with me.”
Rodney’s eyes hold John like anchors while all of Rodney’s words crash
over him: telling him he’s not alone, that others are experiencing it
too, and Radek’s looking for a signal. Rodney’s certain they’re going
to find something. John just has to hold on.
“I can’t,” John
says, shaking his head, and the blue spirals into gold and the world
starts to hum again. “I’m supposed to understand this. It’s all I can
think about, all I can hear. Sounds and lights, and I’m supposed to
know what they mean. It’s so close I can feel it.”
distract you,” Rodney says, and the hands on John’s face are sliding
lower, tugging at the soft grey shirt that’s Rodney’s. John’s washed it
twice, but he can’t give it back, and John fights a little as Rodney
tries to take it off.
“You can keep the damn shirt, John.”
There’s an irritated chuckle in Rodney’s voice, and then his hands are
sliding underneath the shirt, stroking cool against hot skin, and John
thinks this is the best idea ever. Rodney’s mouth is hesitant, but it’s
there, pressed against the edge of John’s lips, his cheeks, his chin.
Teeth scraping the line of his jaw, tongue tracing his throat, and then
John’s frantically tugging Rodney closer, hungry for connection, for
something real and solid, and Rodney’s mouth is everything he wants it
to be. Hot and hard and too demanding to ignore.
manages to say. “God, yes, Rodney, keep doing that.” The hum starts to
fade, the amber lights dim, and John hears his breathing and his heart,
hears Rodney murmuring hot dirty things against his mouth, and John
can’t get naked fast enough. Shirts disappear, hands fumble at belt
buckles and buttons, and somewhere in the middle the light goes
careening off the bedside table, leaving them in darkness.
world becomes a small space of flesh and bone, blood rushing in his
veins and drowning out every other sound except for Rodney’s
encouraging moans. When Rodney gets a hand on him, strokes him hard
with rhythmic pulls, the world goes white. No sound, no colour, just
the silent pulse of pleasure, and John slips over the edge and knows
Radek radios Rodney in the middle of the night to tell him he’s found
be right there.” Rodney extricates himself from John’s sleeping form
and pulls on the pants tangled on the floor. He’s got a foot in one
pair before he realizes they’re John’s and there’s no way he’s going to
be able to get them past his knee.
“Skinny bastard,” he says
fondly, searching for the right pants. He grabs a clean t-shirt out of
his drawer and wonders how many of his t-shirts are going to find their
way into John’s quarters. He can’t say he really minds. John’s
shoulders are bare, and Rodney pulls the blankets up and kisses him
softly on the mouth.
Radek’s waiting for him in the control room when Rodney stumbles in.
“What did you find?”
signal, very faint. Seems to be originating from this area. Here.”
Radek pulls a star chart up and points to a small system of planets.
“We haven’t even been there, have we?” Rodney says, tapping into the
“No. No contact.”
“Why the hell are we getting an almost undetectable signal from a
planet we’ve never been to?”
is Ancient in design,” Radek says. “It’s purpose is not clear, but it
seems unlikely it is intended to cause harm. Perhaps—”
“Sheppard’s practically incapacitated,” Rodney snaps. “It’s irrelevant
whether they intended any harm or not.”
“I’ve alerted Dr. Weir. She is on her way down. Major Lorne is
assembling a team.”
Rodney checks the star chart again. “There are at least six planets in
that system. How are we supposed to know where to start?”
start running analysis. Will be done by morning.” Radek prods Rodney in
the side. “Go back to Colonel Sheppard. Make sure he is all right.”
“I’m sure he’s—”
sighs. “Rodney, just go. You are tired. Your shirt is inside out, and
someone will need to review data in the morning when I am too tired to
see straight. Go to bed. I will call you if anything changes.”
“Okay,” Rodney agrees reluctantly, wondering what kind of state he’s
going to find John in when he returns to his quarters.
feels the hum moving throughout his body. It’s louder than it was
before—a thousand times louder—and he imagines he can see the blood
trilling through his veins. His naked skin looks golden, and he raises
a hand to study the glow. Each mark on his skin looks like the outline
of a gothic window, dark and leaden, breaking his palm into fractional
segments, the colour of liquid gold.
recognizes the voice, remembers the hands that touched him earlier, and
he wishes he could concentrate, but there’s something more important
he’s needed for. He watches the gold spreading outward from his
fingers, and the silhouette of another person is framed in brilliant
“John, can you hear me?”
There is pressure where
fingers are touching his skin, measuring his pulse. Lips touch his,
pleading with him to focus, and he wants to, he really does. He
remembers blue and oceans and the sting of salt, the cool dampness of
sweat. He knows the voice that whispers in his ear, the hands that are
mapping the lines of his body.
“God, John. Stay with me. Please.”
arms are around him, and he registers the bite and suck of teeth at his
neck, the rough tongue that strokes his ear. The hum is quieter—the
roar of the ocean—but the world is still a treasure chest of golden
coins scattered across his skin. Rodney’s blue eyes are distant
galaxies, and even the touch of strong fingers can’t pull him entirely
away from the pulsing rhythm that’s trapped inside his head.
mouth moves over John’s skin, moves lower until his breath is tickling
the fine hair at the base of John’s cock. Fingers spread him further,
rub tender balls and the sensitive underside of his cock, and finally
John’s feels himself sucked into a dark warm cave, lips sliding up and
down his shaft with careful strokes. John’s hard, and in his mind, the
hum pulls away from his mind, rushes through his veins and settles in
the tip of his cock, where Rodney’s tongue is teasing him with short,
careful strokes. Then Rodney’s swallowing him down, alternating sucking
and licking, and John’s brain keeps painting the room in amber until
he’s sure his cock is glowing under Rodney’s tongue, glowing as bright
and powerful as a fucking …
“Oh, God,” John yells as he comes in a burst of light. “I know, Rodney.
I know what it means.”
“A ZPM?” Elizabeth says incredulously.
what he says.” Rodney’s pacing back and forth in her office, watching
John talking to Radek. He’s wearing another one of Rodney’s
t-shirts—blue, this time—and Rodney notices the sunglasses are back,
the headphones too. John’s been wavering back and forth between full
coherence and mystic gibberish for the better part of an hour now, and
Rodney’s ready for this all to be over.
“So the hum, the visions?”
“All trying to point him in the direction of a ZPM.”
“He thinks.” Elizabeth looks skeptical. “Is there anything to confirm
can’t exactly say that John had his epiphany while Rodney was sucking
his cock, so he settles on the only answer that seems to make sense.
“Well, there is a signal coming from that area of space, but
beyond that, we won’t be able to tell what’s out there until we send a
team. We’re too far away to tell if there’s an energy signature there.”
sits on the edge of her desk and fixes Rodney with a serious stare.
He’s seen it far too often on her face. She doesn’t like uncertainty,
doesn’t like risking her people when she doesn’t know the odds.
“Rodney, I need to know your scientific assessment.”
knows what that means. She won’t come right out and ask if he can be
impartial, probably knows damn well he lost that ability with John a
long time ago, but she’s trying to weigh the odds and he’s got to be as
honest as he can. She can’t help but notice he’s freshly showered, just
like John, and Rodney knows it’s just as obvious as if they’d shown up
smelling like sex.
“He’s not crazy,” Rodney says. “The signal’s
affecting him, and will probably continue to affect him until something
changes—either we find a way to turn it off, or it stops broadcasting
on its own.”
“And John’s sure it’s a ZPM.”
hopes he sounds convincing. John’s explanation during a hasty shower
had a lot to do with seeing fragments of amber and yellow light, and
sure, that could mean a ZPM, but it could mean a thousand other things
too. Still, Rodney’s willing to risk it if there’s a chance of finding
a power source. And keeping John sane. He’s willing to do almost
anything if he can have John back to normal.
“All right. See if you can narrow down the choices, then I’ll decide if
Lorne’s team is going.”
sitting in front of the control panel, listening to Radek murmur in
Czech. It’s not as distracting as Rodney’s familiar patter, but it’s
something, and John tries to focus on it, pushing the hum to the edge
of his mind. It’s hard. It’s louder than ever, and the patterns of
light are flickering in front of his eyes even when they’re open. The
pieces are sliding into bars of gold, Tiffany lamps of yellow and
orange, and he’s sure, more sure than ever there’s a ZPM at the end of
the rainbow. If only he can see this through.
He wants to give
Rodney something for keeping him together. For distracting him in the
best possible ways. For caring. A ZPM seems like the least he can do.
hears Rodney approaching, listens to him berate someone for leaning on
the console, and then he’s kneeling in front of John and telling him to
“Think about where it is,” Rodney says, settling
his hands on John’s knees. John remembers the warmth of Rodney’s big
hands sliding down his thighs, stroking his cock, and he can feel his
face flush when Rodney shakes his shoulder gently. “Colonel. Stay with
me. Where’s the signal coming from? Try to picture it.”
light scatters behind his eyelids, forming into pinpricks against a
dark sky. Constellations. Symbols. John pushes Rodney back and reaches
for the DHD, lets his hands move over the panel pressing the pieces in
an order he knows is correct. He hears the whoosh of a wormhole
forming, Elizabeth in the background asking what’s going on, Rodney
telling Lorne to send the MALP through.
“I have to go,” John says, and Rodney’s blue eyes are wide even as he
nods. “I have to go with them.”
keeps his hand on John’s arm as they find vests and holsters, and
Rodney straps on John’s sidearm with shaking hands. John looks down and
strokes a hand through Rodney’s hair, body recalling the memory of
Rodney pressed against him, warm mouth breathing into his, scattering
kisses across his belly, his chest. Lips and tongue sliding lower,
taking him inside, until John didn’t know anything except Rodney. He’s
aching with a need that isn’t entirely physical, and when Rodney
brushes a cheek against John’s groin, he groans and pulls Rodney to his
They’re in the locker room nearest the gate. Not far
enough away for privacy of any kind, but John kisses Rodney anyway.
Finds his mouth and slides inside, tongue pushing into every open spot,
and Rodney doesn’t resist—just wraps his arms around John’s waist and
“We’ll find it,” Rodney whispers into his mouth, and
John nods and kisses him once more. He doesn’t care that they both look
wrecked when they stumble into the gate room.
He doesn’t care at all.
find the ZPM hidden in the base of an altar in the middle of a ruined
temple. John’s like a human divining rod and leads them straight to it,
eyes closed and hands outstretched, and Rodney’s never felt so far away
from someone who’s standing right beside him.
It takes four
marines to pry the altar apart, but when John touches the ZPM there’s
one truly terrifying moment where everything turns golden and Rodney’s
sure he’s blinded for life. The walls are rattling with the hum of
energy released, and when everything slides back into focus, John’s
lying unconscious on the stone floor, ZPM clutched tightly to his
chest. Rodney drops to his knees, feels for a pulse, for breath, and
tries to remember why they don’t bring a medic along on these missions
as standard operating procedure. It would certainly make sense.
fine,” Major Lorne says, checking the same vitals that Rodney did, and
Rodney lets out an exasperated “I knew that,” but it lacks his usual
bite. He doesn’t interfere as two of the marines produce a stretcher
and roll Sheppard onto it. Rodney just keeps one hand on the ZPM and
one on John’s arm all the way back to the gate. He knows this mission
is over, that John won’t be hearing voices anymore, won’t need Rodney’s
particular brand of distraction to keep him sane.
sure how he feels about that. He rubs the golden edge of the ZPM and
tries not to think of it as a consolation prize.
rechargeable,” Rodney says with excitement. He’s still wearing his lab
coat when he bursts into Elizabeth’s office, interrupting a meeting
“No, my brain. Of course, the ZPM!
At first, it looked the same as all the rest, but there’s an extra
component—one we haven’t even begun to figure out yet—but it looks like
it’s meant to hold energy that can be transferred to the main unit.
Kind of like a battery unit almost.”
Elizabeth’s looking at him with the kind of hope he hasn’t seen on her
face in a long time. “Do you know what this means?”
means a Nobel Prize,” Rodney says, ignoring John’s eye roll. “If we can
figure out how it works, it’s possible we can convert other units to
this type. We still haven’t figured out how to recharge it, but—”
it’s only a matter of time before you do,” Elizabeth finishes. “Rodney,
I have complete confidence in you and the science team.”
“She’s right, Rodney. If anyone can figure it out, you can.” Sheppard’s
voice is sincere.
steps back, realizing he hasn’t talked to Sheppard since Carson let him
out of the infirmary. Truthfully, Rodney’s been spending all of his
time working on the new ZPM, trying to determine if they can use it
without completely draining it. It’s low on power, and so far the
methods they’ve used to attempt recharging it have all failed.
“Well,” Rodney says awkwardly. “I should get back.”
walk with you,” John says, getting up, and Rodney feels something catch
in his chest. He was needed in the labs; he hasn’t really been avoiding
Sheppard, as much as it might seem that way. And if he stumbles into
his quarters at three in the morning and falls asleep listening to Bach
and clutching a worn t-shirt, it really doesn’t mean anything either.
They walk in silence down the first corridor before John asks, “Did you
figure out why it decided to get inside my head?”
nods. “The Ancients were apparently experimenting—we haven’t come
across any other ZPMs like this one. Near as we can surmise, they
outfitted this model with a sub-space transmitter. When the ZPM reached
a certain level of depletion, it triggered a signal that would alert
the nearest Ancient gene carrier.”
“ZPM phone home?”
“More like a maintenance call, but yeah. Basically.”
I was nothing more than a ZPM repairman? That’s a hell of a paging
system they’ve got.” John still sounds tired, but Carson’s assured all
of them there were no residual effects. The other gene carriers never
experienced anything more than mild headaches and minor visual
“It’s kind of like those old models of cordless phones that used to
call 911 when their batteries were dying.”
“I thought that was an urban legend,” John says suspiciously.
“So was Atlantis.”
When they reach the transporter, Rodney moves to press the location
nearest the labs, but John catches his hand.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been avoiding me.”
glances away. He knows everything he feels shows on his face, and he
doesn’t want to have this conversation with John now. Possibly ever.
John says, letting out a breath. “I know things got kind of … well,
crazy. I couldn’t have gotten through that without you, and I just
wanted to say—”
“You’re welcome,” Rodney cuts him off, feeling
embarrassed. He tugs his hand free from John’s grip and hits the
transporter pad blindly. He isn’t entirely surprised when the door
slides open onto the residential wing.
“Fine. We’ll do this the
hard way. Your quarters,” John says, taking the lead, and Rodney
considers stepping back into the transporter and escaping, but he knows
John would only track him down in the labs. Better to have this
conversation in private if they have to have it at all. Rodney really
doesn’t want to hear the “I appreciate what you did, but it can never
happen again” talk.
They’re barely inside when John presses
Rodney against the door, arms tight on his biceps, hazel eyes flashing
green in anger. “Is that really what you think of me? That I would use
you, use our friendship, and just walk away?”
Rodney’s words are caught in his throat. He’s seen John angry before,
but not like this.
was going out of my mind, and you were the only thing keeping me sane.
When you touched me, I could forget everything else, block out the
sound and the light.”
“I was a distraction,” Rodney says, and the bitterness is coming
through loud and clear.
John agrees, and Rodney feels his stomach clench. He pushes back into
the door, hating that there’s nowhere to run. Then Sheppard’s hand is
cupping his face, firmly, and he’s shaking his head. “But that’s not
all you were, Rodney. It was never just that.”
John leans in and
kisses him, lips gentle and uncertain. Rodney kisses him back, never
taking his eyes from John’s. “Are you sure?”
“Are you sure you weren’t just taking one for the team? Letting me have
what I needed when you really didn’t want it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rodney says, slipping his arms around John’s
waist. “Who wouldn’t want you?”
John rolls his eyes, but doesn’t resist when Rodney kisses him again,
mouths exploring one another in slow, tender caresses.
know,” Rodney whispers in between kisses. “With all the work I’ve got
to do, I could really use a distraction now and again.”
that can be arranged,” John says with a smirk. He slides a hand down
Rodney’s chest, fingers slipping into the waistband of his pants. “That
can definitely be arranged.”
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