The Geek's Field Guide to Arachnids
Abridged Edition for Ease of Use by Goons
arach·nid (E raech nihd),noun, air-breathing arthropods characterized by simple eyes and four pairs of legs, such as spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks.
Geek Addendum: This term may also be applied to alien organisms that are similar to the Earth creatures in form and function, as well as any alien mechanisms designed to resemble said organisms. As a result, the term arachnophobia may also be applied to the fear associated with these alien creatures and any running and screaming in terror from such, especially when they are attacking you or anyone you know with venom-drenched fangs or laser-blasting eyes, is a perfectly reasonable response. In fact, it is the recommended response as this is probably the first indication that your assigned Goon will have that your collective asses are in imminent danger and he should immediately set to blowing said organism or facsimile thereof into oblivion.
"John." I leaned forward toward the mirror and ran the razor up my neck. "John," I called again when I was answered by silence. I rinsed the shaving cream off the blade and prepared for another pass. Still no response. With a frustrated sigh I tilted back so that I could peek out the doorway of the bathroom and see into the dimly lit bedroom. "John!" I watched as the bare back in the bed shifted slightly as if burrowing in deeper with only a pillow-muffled grunt as reply.
"Oh, for god's sake." It was the same thing every damn morning. Honestly, I had no idea how he ever got out of bed before he met me. I looked around for something a little more attention demanding and settled on John's toothbrush, deciding to hold back on the big guns for a while longer. With a flick, I sent the projectile flipping end over end through the air with the dexterity of a ninja throwing star to land with a stinging thwap on his shoulder.
"Ow! Cut it out!" Ah, the sweet sound of victory. Then again… John did nothing more than put the pillow over his head.
"Fine. If that's the way you want it." I picked up the deodorant stick next, sacred though it was due to the scarcity of the product until the next Daedalus run, and threw it at the bed. It hit the mark between his shoulder blades with deadly accuracy. And he had the audacity to say I threw like a girl.
"Goddammit, McKay, I said cut it out!" John flung the pillow awkwardly behind him from where he lay, so that it landed harmlessly a good foot from the bathroom door.
"Then get the hell out of bed. We have a briefing in less than an hour."
With a small growl, he flipped over and sat up, effectively tangling the sheets across his lower body, and rubbed at his offended shoulder. "Jesus, that hurt," he whined.
"Well, yeah, that was the whole point of throwing the damn thing. If you would just get up when you were supposed to, I wouldn't have to resort to domestic violence. I will never know how you can sleep as much as you do anyway."
And it was true. Years of academic and laboratory conditioning had pretty much leached away the need for more than four or five hours of sleep a night for me. Although I had slowly acclimated to at least six, usually uninterrupted at that, since I began sharing a bed with Sheppard. The first week that we had moved in together, John had been shocked by how many times I was called to one of the labs in the middle of the night. For me it was just the routine. After all, it was a well known fact that the research here on Atlantis would come to a screeching halt if not for me and the guidance that I provided. It was just to be expected that my brilliance would be necessary to keep things running, even at two in the morning. However, after the fifth time in three nights, John started accompanying me to see what crisis was so critical that the head of the science department had to oversee it. As I tried to explain to him, all of them were or they wouldn't call them crises. He made the trip about four times before my staff decided that taking the extra time to figure out the answer themselves was better than having an overprotective and sleep-deprived Air Force officer glowering over their shoulder while they worked. Not surprisingly, the midnight interruptions decreased significantly. Although I was completely convinced that his little stint as knight in shining armor resulted in god only knows how many delays in our research, no matter how good the intentions. Still, the key to a successful relationship is compromise, or at least that's what the three-year-old copy of 'Cosmo' that Carson had sitting in the waiting area of the infirmary claimed. So I was willing to sit back and let the science staff flounder a little if it meant John felt he had made life a little easier for me.
Add to that the natural sleep-inducement of regular sex and I was more rested than I'd been since before college. You'd be amazed how relaxing the rhythm of a steady heart beat in your ear can be, and add to that the way those long fingers of his plotted out patterns on my back, even the constant worries that tended to always scroll endlessly through my mind whenever I did get a chance to sleep seemed to just melt away. It's so damned soothing it took me almost two weeks to realize he was graphing hyperbolic equations and using my spine as the y axis. Still, even with my expanded sleep schedule, it didn't come close to what Sheppard seemed capable of.
John swung his legs off the bed and stretched. With a scrub of his face, he groggily stood and staggered toward the bathroom, running a distracted hand through already ruffled hair. Lord, if I had thought it was bad before, I was blown away with how mussed it could get post-sex. It was as if his brain sent a signal straight to his hair follicles to randomize upon orgasm. Of course, I credited that to my prowess between the sheets more than anything else.
Satisfied that I had accomplished one task, I set to finishing my original one of shaving as John relieved himself in the bizarre energy field that passed as a toilet on Atlantis. I was just wiping the last of the shaving cream from my face when he walked up behind me, dropping a sleepy chin on my left shoulder with his typical greeting.
"Morning," he mumbled with eyes more closed than open.
"Yes, yes it is. How astute of you to come to that conclusion."
"I had a little help." He reached around me, running his fingers the length of my left arm until his hand rested on top of the one I had sitting on the edge of the sink. He rubbed his hand back and forth causing the two silver bands on our hands to clink together metallically. "Mmmm, that's a nice sound," he nuzzled contentedly into my neck, his scruff a sharp contrast to my newly smooth face.
I closed my eyes and savored the brush of lips on collar bone. With an indulgent smile, I splayed my hand so that our fingers could intertwine. "You're right about that."
John surprised me with the rings. Shocked the hell out of me actually. Who would have guessed the romantic streak I had seen hints of really ran so wide? He had one of the Athosian artisans fashion the polished bands decorated with only a simple engraved wave pattern to represent Atlantis. When John sheepishly showed them to me the day before the wedding, I will admit that I was caught completely off guard. There I was, the man that had faced down Wraith, Genii, and sentient energy-sucking shadows, only to be left breathless by two little circles of silver. It was just a matter of time before I embarrassed myself totally, so I pointing out half-heartedly around the lump in my throat that the pattern was too symmetrical to be considered ocean waves, then started to bolt from the room.
John had seemed on the verge of panic himself with my reaction. "Look," he called to my retreating form, "if you don't want to wear rings, I'm okay…"
I had turned then, catching him in an all encompassing embrace from behind. "Just shut the hell up," I whispered huskily into his ear. "I love them, all right? They're fucking perfect, just like you, you romantic son of a bitch."
I gave his hand a squeeze pressing the metal into our fingers. "Hey, you know what else is a nice sound?" I asked with fake enthusiasm.
John nibbled at my ear even as his other hand moved to the towel around my waist. "That noise you made in the back of your throat last night?"
I trapped the hand tugging at the towel and shrugged away from the tingling kiss before my eyes rolled back in my head. With a small laugh I admitted, "Well, if you enjoyed hearing it, you have no idea how much I enjoyed making it."
John wasn't deterred by the gentle rebuff. He's persistent, I'll give him that. "So should we see if you can make it again this morning?" He moved himself in tighter behind so that I could feel a distinct firmness pressing into my hip.
"My god, did I unwittingly marry a nineteen year old? You're like the human ring toss this morning, for christ's sake. No, the sound I'm talking about is the sound of the shower running and you opening the stall door and getting in."
John slumped against me like a dejected teenager. "Can't we just be late for the meeting?"
"Oh, no. We've already been late for way too many, and there are only so many excuses we can use. It's not like we're back on Earth and can blame traffic or a flat tire."
"Just tell them you were having sex with the hottest man on Atlantis," John suggested with a smirk, securing his arms around me even tighter, and I felt my resolve start to crack. But I had things to do, places to go, idiots to belittle, and galaxies to save.
"Like they don't already know that. Besides, I'm not one to kiss and tell." Okay, that wasn't exactly true. I wobbled my head in consolation. "Although I did tell that to Bates once when he was glowering at me for holding him up. And I told it to Kavanagh, just to rub in the fact that I'm getting laid regularly and he isn't. And Radek for pretty much the same reason. And Kate was looking kind of down one day, so I told her." I shook my head firmly at John's frown. "But I draw the line at telling it to Elizabeth. On top of that, I need to meet with Radek here in about ten minutes, he has something he thinks I should see in the lab, so I have to get dressed now and you need to shower."
John let out a little whimper of protest as I reluctantly extricated myself from his hold, then dolefully started the shower. "Pouting isn't one of your strong suits," I told him as I let the towel drop to the floor and pulled on a pair of boxers.
"Yeah, not like being an asshole is one of yours," John sulked. "And pick up your damned towel. Believe it or not, this isn't a locker room."
I rolled my eyes but did as requested, knowing he was resorting to bitching about my neatness, or lack thereof, as a result of his perceived rejection. "Trust me, you'll get over it. I'll meet you for breakfast if you can get your ass in gear and out of here in time for the briefing." I pulled on a pair of expedition khakis and a belt.
John climbed into the hot water with a frown. "I'll be there, just see if you can pull yourself away from the lab long enough to eat sitting down instead of carrying a plate as we walk down the hall."
Right, he was one to talk. Mister 'I'll just grab a piece of toast and a cup of coffee'. What's the point of sitting and eating if you can eat the entire meal without the use of silverware. And don't think I missed that little jab about how much time I spent in the lab. "I'll be with Radek twenty minutes, tops, then I'll meet you."
My voice must have been muffled by the blue shirt I tugged over my head, because John called, "What?" from the shower.
I ignored him for the time being, concentrating instead on locating my second boot. Finding it under the bed, I sat, put on socks and shoes and went into the bathroom to say my final goodbyes.
"So, I'll see you in the cafeteria in about twenty…hello!" I opened the shower door to be met by John having a personal moment with himself. "Sorry to interrupt."
John smiled brightly. "Well, you could always come on in and join the fun if you want. Wouldn't want you to get jealous, now."
"Ha! As if. First of all, that is your right hand and not mine, and believe me, the 'little colonel' there knows the difference. Second, although my hand may not be the one doing the 'saluting', shall we say, I am well aware of what your hand is capable of and I think you will be just fine. And finally, there is no way in hell it is going to make that noise I did last night so I'm sure I have nothing to worry about."
"Spoil sport," John called as I closed the stall again.
"I'm sure I'll find some way for you to forgive me. I'll see you in twenty minutes."
John stuck his head out the shower door. "I might be late; I may be enjoying myself so much that I may not want to leave."
I shook my head with a snort. "Love you," I called in a sing-songy voice over my shoulder.
"Yeah, so you claim."
"Twenty minutes," I confirmed as I the opened the door of the living quarters, leaving the sound of the shower behind me as I entered the city corridor and headed for the lab. I tried my best to ignore the growing pressure in my groin and the growing desire to say 'to hell with it' and go back and climb in the steamy water with John.
Human ring-toss, my ass. Some of us just had a normal allotment of hormones. So sue me. Not that McKay didn't have his fair share, no matter how much he might celebrate his vaunted and mostly delusional self-control. It sure as hell hadn't been Chaya that had sent me to a chortling Carson with a pulled groin muscle.
I scrubbed my wet hair with a towel, then hung the rough terry cloth around my neck. Military issue…toilet paper or towels, it was all the same consistency: sandpaper. Running a hand through my hair to spike it, I then reached for my toothbrush, swore, and trudged back to the bed to retrieve it along with the deodorant. For a man whose work and often life depended on exacting precision and order, he damn sure could wreak havoc on the homefront.
Hell, he could wreak havoc anywhere, although he seemed less fond of the nuclear kind these days. My reflection in the bathroom mirror grimaced around a mouthful of toothbrush and bubbling foam. Now that was not a thought to begin the day. Close calls and broken noses. The grunts from the Daedalus had gotten a helluva kick watching Atlantis' head geek knock an Air Force major on his ass. Back from the dead to flat on my back in less than two seconds. Spitting in the sink, I tried for a grin. My lips curved obediently in the mirror. "I'm still good-looking though," I muttered smugly. "Like a god."
I didn't blame him, hadn't ever. Not for a moment. Considering my less-than-fucking-eloquent 'so long, Rodney' and that he had for all intents and purposes built the bomb I'd used in my kamikaze run…a bomb that had missed killing me by seconds, he had been pretty damn restrained. But not so restrained that I hadn't had my suspicions. Then a month or two later the sky fell…or, more accurately, the ceiling of an ice tunnel did. When it was nearly too late, I finally, finally caught a clue. And I liked having a clue; I liked it a lot.
Master of the understatement, that was me.
I dressed in black pants and black shirt. If I ran into Radek, there'd be no way to avoid an impromptu verse of a Johnny Cash song rendered in a cheerfully thick Czech accent. Philosophically resigned to my fate, I grabbed my holster and nine-millimeter. There'd been a time I hadn't automatically carried a weapon with me on Atlantis. That was before we'd found out a Wraith had lived in the unoccupied part of the city for weeks and no one but Teyla's subconscious had known. I went armed everywhere now and kept the gun on the bedside table when I slept. The first time Rodney had nearly shot himself trying to turn off the ancient version of an alarm clock we'd switched sides. He slept next to the wall and I slept between him and the door…like I'd wanted to in the beginning. The man called me overprotective, could you believe it? And when I'd told him I'd do the same for any geek I slept with, he was less than impressed.
The next time I showered all my body hair had fallen out, courtesy of the brand new sweet-smelling soap McKay had sworn was a gift from Teyla. I considered myself lucky he hadn't screwed with my shampoo and apologized with butterscotch pudding swiped from the kitchen's secret stash. The fact that I'd ended up licking if off of him hadn't hurt my cause any.
Out in the hall I checked my watch. I still had a minute to spare on Rodney's promised twenty minutes, but I didn't delude myself into actually believing he was going to be waiting for me in the cafeteria. He complained he couldn't get me out of bed in the morning. I couldn't get him out of the lab…ever. I was honestly surprised we weren't living there on a cot in a corner. Washing our clothes in a sink, living on MREs…labrat utopia. Snorting, I turned towards the lab with every intention of grabbing the ear of the smartest man in Atlantis and dragging his ass to the cafeteria where I could eat real food and do it without the stench of burning circuitry in my nose and the bitching of Kavanagh in my ear. A man had his limits. I was a nice guy…a helluva nice guy in fact. I spread goodwill wherever I went. Charm and diplomacy, that's what I was about. Not flirting like a sperm evolved to sentient life, no matter what a certain snarky SOB said.
Either way, I liked to think I was easy going, but just get some breakfast in me first before you start throwing snotty engineers, explosions, and smells that could gag a skunk in my direction. That's all I asked. I was nearly halfway there when I heard the rumble of a Scottish brogue behind me. "Colonel Sheppard, you wouldn't be headed to the lab, now would you?"
I stopped and swiveled. "As always," I grumbled as my stomach grumbled along with me. "You need something, Doc?"
"Oh, aye. Aye, I do." With blue eyes sharp with annoyance and hand rubbing that perpetually unshaven chin, Beckett went on grimly, "The infirmary has locked us out, bloody minded Ancient technology. I was coming on to relieve Dr. Wing. She met me in the hall with a coffee, good lass. The door shut behind her and here we are. Scratching our arses."
"That is some bad luck. Did you forget to pay the rent?" My mouth twitched with amusement, but unfortunately I could see the potentially unpleasant ramifications easily enough.
"You're quite the comedian this fine morning, Colonel, but I'm willing to wager it'll be less funny if you fall and break your leg. An hour or two without painkillers might be just the thing," he retorted, folded arms and giving me a jaundiced glare. "Now why don't you scurry your scrawny bum along and fetch Rodney or Radek back to the infirmary. And tell them to bring a crowbar. I've already worn out my good leg on that right bastard of a door."
I hastily put a hand up to rub my mouth, covering up the grin. It was hard to keep a straight face at the mental image of Beckett kicking the infirmary door and swearing at the top of his lungs. But I'd been on the end of Carson revenge on more than one occasion, and I'd make the effort to keep that to a minimum. "Will do. McKay and I have a briefing for the mission tomorrow, but I'll have Dr. Z run right over."
"All right then," he said mollified. "And, lad? You may want to tell Elizabeth that until I have complete faith the system is fixed, there won't be any missions—tomorrow or any other day. I can't do blood transfusions with a milkshake straw from the cafeteria." With that he turned and disappeared down the hall.
Actually, that probably wasn't true. Beckett was an amazing doctor, but that didn't mean I wanted to wake up with a chocolate stained twisty straw stuck in my arm. Almost unconsciously I patted my pocket for the preloaded epinephrine syringes. I slipped two in my pocket every morning. It was a habit as ingrained as pissing, showering and dressing. Reassured at the minute clink beneath my fingers, I checked my watch and groaned. At this rate we'd both be eating our breakfast walking down the hall. I picked up the pace and reached the lab within five minutes. The door must have been open because I could hear voices drifting down the hall as I approached.
"Ah…Rodney, I believe you have new friend." Zelenka's voice was brightly amused. "Look. It is giving you hug."
"When it's latched onto your thigh, it's not a hug," I heard Rodney snap irritably. "Now get this leg humping monstrosity the hell off of me. I already have one at home."
Hey, was that necessary? True maybe, but necessary?
Neither scientist sounded particular concerned. Amused and annoyed, yeah, but not panic-stricken—so I took my time, meandering up to the door and peering around the edge. This promised to be good. Too bad I didn't have a camera with me. I repeated the thought wholeheartedly when I saw the scene before me.
Rodney was leaning back precariously against a lab table and scowling with disfavor at a round dark bronze colored metal sphere that was clamped to his thigh with two segmented tentacles. The thing was the size of a basketball and had a single ring of glowing lights encircling it. They were a mellow blue, blinking slowly, and didn't seem at all put out when Rodney began shaking his leg spastically. "This is not Ancient technology, Radek," he bit off. "How did you come to that utterly erroneous conclusion? Check it for a Made in Atlantis stamp? Surf the Atlantis Home Shopping Network for horny robots to compare it to? What?"
"Is not Ancient?" Zelenka bent over and peered at it closely. "How do you know?"
"Because I'm thinking off, all right?" He threw up his hands. "I'm thinking off, let go, inactivate, cease functioning, retract tentacles…do you want me to go on?"
"Could still be Ancient," Radek denied stubbornly. "Maybe I should get Colonel Sheppard. His gene is natural, stronger. Maybe it listen to him."
"Stronger? What do you mean stronger? I'll have you know my gene, via transfer or not, is just as…."
Okay, this could go on all day. I moved fully into the doorway, leaned against the frame, and drawled, "Stepping out on me already, McKay? You cheating bastard."
Blue eyes found me—several sets of them. The more intimately familiar pair were glittering with irritation. The others…they instantly turned red. The tentacles released Rodney's leg and the sphere hit the floor, where it sprouted six more legs that pushed it up to a height of about four feet. It skittered several feet closer to me, then stopped. The red eyes turned dead black. "Uh oh," I said mildly, straightening. "The bimbos always like me best, even the metal ones." In the field I would've made my own decision on whether to nail a potential threat or not, concluded whether it was a menace or just curious. But this was geek territory and I had my own unwritten chain of command to respect. "Okay, Rodney, do I shoot it or not?" The machine began to hum, a teeth rattling buzz-saw whine that shook your back teeth. "Take your time," I added with a dry edge to my voice. "No rush."
The irritation had faded instantly and his face was set in an expression I recognized too well. Rapid calculation over a worry he'd flatly refuse to acknowledge if pressed. Whether it was a particularly nasty Brotherhood puzzle or trying to defend a city full of people with the equivalent of a double D battery and rubberband, I used to wonder if it was actually worry he felt or general pissiness that the universe refused to go his way. I'd figured it out…after one heartfelt 'I'm sorry,' I'd figured it out. Rodney worried like hell over all the thousands, millions of things that could go wrong, he simply didn't let it stop him from doing what needed to be done in a crisis. He covered it up with bluster and acid sarcasm, and he got the job done.
The same as he was doing now.
"No, no shooting," he said instantly. "Don't antagonize it. And for God's sake whatever you do don't flirt with it."
"Funny," I scowled, keeping a wary eye on the metal spider and a casual hand hovering near my holster. "You taking that act on the road or saving it for the annual talent show?"
"Shut up," he ordered as he took a careful step towards the robot. "Unless there was a picture of this goddamn thing on the MENSA test, just be quiet and let me see what I can do. Okay? Just give me a minute. One minute." The corner of his mouth crooked reassuringly. "Then you can shoot it."
But I never got the chance, and McKay didn't get his minute.
I saw the same shimmer that heralded a Wraith stun pulse. But this wasn't a stun blast. That didn't hurt. It enveloped you in numbness as you lost consciousness faster than falling down a well. This…this hurt. It hurt like fucking hell. Like a bolt of lightning, the pain burned through my chest. I felt myself flying through the air to hit a surface hard and unyielding…the wall of the corridor. I ended up on the floor, staring at the ceiling with starbursts blooming scarlet in my vision and trying not too successfully to breathe through the clawing agony that squatted on my chest.
My hearing wasn't all there either, but I heard my name shouted, shattering glass, and gunshots. Then I didn't hear anything. Didn't see anything. Didn't feel anything.
I was gone.
Never had a word been so aptly applied to a person in both accuracy and frequency than to Colonel John Sheppard, U.S. Air Force. And no one was better qualified to apply it than me who had experienced it in all its glory more times than I could count. At times the application could be stupendously amazing, with the end result being that my eyes rolled back in my head and I was reduced to a quivering mound of incoherent flesh. At others it could be fabulously horrific with the end result being that his eyes rolled back in his head and he was reduced to a quivering mound of incoherent flesh…only with the delightful addition of a pool of his own blood forming around his body. This was definitely shaping up as one of the fabulously horrific moments as I watched a pulse exit the robot and John's body go sailing out the door and across the hallway. My first thought was, I don't see blood. My second thought was, it could just be a stun blast. My third thought after quickly calculating the distance he was thrown was, yeah, right. De-fucking-lightful. Like a goddamn lemon bar served up on a paper doily.
So, it bore repeating. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
"John!" The name left my lips as naturally as the breath I drew to scream it. And in a funhouse mirror distortion of that very morning, there was no response.
The robot took a determined step toward Sheppard's body and I took the two steps to my work bench and pulled the handgun from the drawer. John had called it an anniversary present, I had called it a poor substitute for chocolate, but right then I called it a godsend. I emptied half the clip into the metallic spider, causing it to do little more than stagger on its intended course. Then I emptied the rest of the ammo into a shelf above the device, causing the box of wires and circuitry stored there to tumble down on top of it. The spindly legs twisted and caught in the tangle of conduit and I took my chance to move out of the lab and over to Sheppard.
I handed the empty gun to a wide-eyed Radek who stood beside me. He took it and in a near panic asked, "What do I do?"
"Reload," I told him, although it was Sheppard's voice that I heard echoing back from that desert planet with the Energizer Bunny of Wraiths looming over him. I had saved his ass then, I could do it again.
From behind me, I could hear Radek mumbling, "Right. Reload. Is most obvious." He had managed to graduate from Geek bootcamp, so I figured he should at least be able to do that much without shooting his foot off.
I dropped to the floor beside John, calling his name again even as I put fingers to throat in search of a pulse. Nothing. Oh, Vishnu on a popsicle stick! I placed my head on his chest, hoping against all hope that my hands had just been shaking so hard that I had missed it. Silence. No heartbeat, no breathing, nothing. Just silence. Dead fucking silence in the most literal sense possible.
How the hell was I ever going to sleep again without the sound of that heart beating?
I tilted his head back, trying my best not to think about that sensitive spot right at the base of his chin, pinched his nose and placed my mouth over his. As I blew in a breath, every fiber of my being was screaming this is wrong, wrong, wrong. No warm lips pressing back, no tongue darting in my mouth, no hand in my hair pulling me closer.
I pulled away, took a breath, and tried to ignore the blue tint around his lips as I closed my mouth over his once more. Why didn't I just tell him to shoot the damn thing when he had the chance? Not that it really would have mattered, considering how it reacted when I shot it, but it might have just given him the chance that he needed to avoid the blast.
I began chest compressions, counting out the fifteen reps while making a mental note to self. The next time John asks you to join him in the goddamned shower, do it. You could be basking in the afterglow right now, but nooooo, you had to go see what Radek had in the lab. Well, you saw, didn't you? You fucking well saw.
Behind me I heard gunshots and turned to see Radek firing wild at the robot, which had managed to free itself from the wires. "Shit!" I pulled the nine-millimeter from the holster at John's side, firing at the machine as it worked its way toward us. The bullets sparked off the outer shell, but it just kept coming until I managed to hit it at the joint between body and leg. It wobbled slightly as one leg no longer responded. The black eyes turned amber and the unit stood as if processing, considering it options, then skittered to a wall access panel dragging its nonfunctioning appendage, blasted the cover away and crawled inside. I wasn't sure if I should have been relieved that it was gone or scared shitless that it was loose in the ductwork of Atlantis. I decided that I was a good enough multitasker to do both, and then turned back to John.
When I finished the third set of rescue breaths, Radek dropped beside me. "I have called Carson, he and medical team are on their way."
"Thanks, but that still doesn't make up for this," I spat at him as I returned to the chest compressions.
"How is this my fault?"
"Oh, I don't know, it was just your goddamn robot that shot my husband, that's all."
Radek regarded me sullenly. "I thought correct term was partner."
"Oh, yes, let's be sure to be completely PC during the life or death moment. Okay, your goddamn robot shot my life partner, the love of my life, my reason for living. I hope you were paying attention and noticed that the common denominator in all those terms dealt with life and living. I have no desire to take advantage of the whole 'till death do you part' loophole. Something your robot seems intent on shoving down my throat."
"Was not my robot! Stackhouse brought it back from last mission. Besides it was just pretty shiny ball with lights until you and Colonel showed up."
I ignored him while I blew two more breaths into John, then picked up the conversation. "Well, I can safely say that that thing is not Ancient."
Radek nodded his head in agreement. "It is Wraith, yes?"
"What clued you in? The fact that it tried to kill the first natural ATA gene it came in contact with or the amazing similarity the blast had to a stunner."
"Only is not a stunner," he said grimly, "is phaser set to kill."
"Yeah, but this time it's not going to be successful." I looked at John, eyes closed, mouth open, his body jerking slightly with each compression. All right, you lazy piece of shit, time to wake up, I thought as I checked his pulse. Nothing. Fuck!
I gave another set of breaths then took up the compressions again. "Dr. Zelenka, this is Dr. Weir, I just heard your call for medical support for Colonel Sheppard. Is there anything I should be aware of?"
Oh, hell, of course I should have let Elizabeth know about the threat. However, I felt I was perfectly justified in being a little preoccupied.
Radek gave me an unsure glance before responding. "Colonel Sheppard… he seems to have accidentally activated attack drone." I glared at his implication of John as the cause of this entire incident even as I gave another set of breaths. "It appears to be armed with lethal capabilities."
"What kind of attack drone?" she asked.
"Key my radio," I told Radek testily, not wanting to break the rhythm of my work and not wanting him to distort the facts any more than he already had. He did as directed and I called, "Elizabeth, this is McKay. We have an alien infiltration situation. Recommend we go to a Code Red lockdown until it is under control."
"Alien? Are you sure?" she asked.
"Pretty damn sure."
"Rodney, what happened?"
"The mechanism shot John. I managed to damage one of its legs, but it escaped into the ductwork. At this point it could be just about anywhere in the city."
"Is the Colonel all right?" she asked apprehensively.
I looked down on the nonresponsive body under my hands. "No, not really."
"Understand, on both accounts. I'll initiate the lockdown. Keep me posted on John."
I didn't respond as I was too busy breathing into John once again. I heard Elizabeth make the announcement restricting movement of all personnel and went back to the compressions.
"Rodney, is Colonel Sheppard's heart beating yet?" Carson asked across the radio.
"You mean without me forcing it to? No, no it isn't. Oh, and hey, Carson? Just where the fuck are you anyway?"
"We're retrieving a defibrillator unit from one of the jumpers. We'll be there momentarily."
"Do it faster." I could feel the sweat work its way down my back, could hear my breath start to gasp a little as I spoke.
"Rodney, we're moving as fast as we can. You need to calm down."
"Tell that to me again the next time you're on the verge of becoming a damned widower."
Another set of compressions down, another two breaths. I hung my head for a second, feeling the burning in my shoulders and upper back, before I started up again. Are you just going to lie around all goddamn day? Wake up.
From beside me, Radek spoke hesitantly. "Rodney, maybe I take over for you, yes?"
"But you are getting tired…"
"Dammit, I said no! This is my responsibility. He is my responsibility. He is mine. He's…" My voice hitched and I swallowed painfully. Dammit, McKay, keep it together. You do not have time for this. There is too much riding on this to let emotions come into play. "Just, no!"
To pinpoint it would be impossible; to take a pencil and circle on a calendar the exact time and date I fell in love. Because, honestly, I didn't believe I actually ever did fall in love so much as grow into it, that the transition from tolerance to amusement to friendship to love had been so seamlessly natural that I hadn't realized it had happened until I just inherently felt it in my bones that it would make more sense to say I'm going to go without breathing for the next forty years than to think of spending that same amount of time without John. No, I couldn't say when it had happened but I could say when I knew it.
We had been trapped, John and I, the ceiling of the frozen tunnel raining down on us, effectively pinning my lower body under a pile of rock and ice. A rescue team was working to dig us out from the other side, John maintaining contact with them by radio as he eased his way under my upper body, trying to provide as much warmth and comfort, both physically and emotionally, as he could to me, his best friend. I'll admit I had been terrified, not because I was in pain, but because of just the opposite. Surely there should have been pain but in that situation there wasn't any and that couldn't be a good sign. John, trying to cover the same desperate fears, talked to me the entire time, about anything and everything.
We had talked before, of course. At that point, he probably knew more about me than anyone else ever had. We had swapped stories of our equally dysfunctional if totally different childhoods and families. Talked long into the night over Athosian homebrew and Zelenka's own Smurf piss on topics as varied as the girl that got away to the Wraith that didn't and everything in between. But this time it was different, this time we talked about hopes and fears in both the past and present tense, aspirations lost and yet to be attained. And at some point, I flexed the cold hand John had been warming in his grip and our fingers slid together in the most amazingly perfect way that when they laced together and he ran a lingering thumb along my own, a part of me seemed to exhale a breath and declare "Finally!"
It took nearly five hours to dig us out. Five hours in which we talked about everything except the fact that John had spent most of that time tracing the lines of my palm, that is when I wasn't absently curling and uncurling my hand so that my fingers were running between his knuckles. When the first flashlight shined through the small hole the team had created, John untangled our fingers and called to the rescuers. Suddenly the warmth and comfort that had gotten me through the entire ordeal were gone and for a moment, I wasn't sure John had even been holding my hand at all, that maybe it had all been some sort of bizarre dream brought about by my injures. But then he looked down at me with an unreadable expression and brushed the back of his fingers against my cheekbone and I turned my face into the touch to make it last a millisecond longer, knowing full well it would be the last for a while to come.
I had been lucky, minor nerve damage and bruised vertebrae, nothing that would cause a permanent disability. However, the recovery was slow and the rehabilitation more painful than the injury ever was. John was there the entire time, but back into the routine we had maintained for so long. It was easy to do on Atlantis with all the eyes lingering with concern and friendship, it was pretty much impossible for him to do anything more than give a pat on my shoulder or a hand under my elbow for support. Nothing more than the brotherly love everyone knew and expected from the two of us. Only I knew it was more than brotherly love, it had left brotherly love in the dust long before and grown into so much more. I found myself searching John's face for any indication that he had acknowledged those same facts himself. And when I couldn't see it, I found it was just easier to go along than hope for more.
When Carson finally released me from the infirmary and sent me back to my quarters on limited duty, John came along to help settle me in and keep me company until I returned to the lab the next morning. We sat on my bed, propped back against the wall, using my laptop to watch DVDs that John had picked up from one of the new marines that had come on the Daedalus. We sat shoulder to shoulder so that we could both see and hear the movies on the small screen. I felt like I was about to crawl out of my skin from being so close and yet unsure if I should try for anything more. Because as horrible as the thought of never moving beyond friends was for me, the thought of chasing John completely from my life was unthinkable.
Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to try something, something I could always pass off as an innocent bump. I sat waiting for just the right moment, inwardly rolling my eyes that I had sunk to such a junior high school level. Eventually, I was able to situate my hand on my leg so that it was next to John's hand on his leg and without taking my eyes from the screen I stretched out my index finger to brush against his own. John's reaction was instantaneous, hooking his finger with mine and squeezing as if his life depended on it. I thought I might actually weep in relief with all that simple gesture meant, but instead I leaned my head against his shoulder. I felt John turn, nuzzle his nose into my hair and press his lips against my temple. I looked up then and finally, finally, finally saw what I had been searching for in John's expression for the past several weeks and I knew that there was no turning back from this, even if we wanted to.
I closed my eyes as John leaned toward me and his lips brushed gently against my own, then he moved in for a firmer contact only to break away much too soon for my taste. I took my free hand and cupped his face, drawing him back into a deep kiss. He shifted his body on the bed so that he could run his hand up my arm and around to my back to pull me into a full embrace. I sunk into his arms, moaning lightly because, god, what that man's tongue was doing in my mouth. I pulled away with a final nibble on John's lower lip before running my tongue along his jawline, feeling his ever-present stubble, noting absently that I would have to get used to that reverse cat-tongue sensation as I made my way to his ear. He released a breathy, "Jesus, McKay," as I sucked and nipped at the lobe in my mouth. With a final groan, he pushed me back on the bed, kissing the base of my throat and working his way up my neck, biting playfully at my chin before smothering my mouth with his own.
For a while, I thought I could just do that forever, lie in the bed and make out like a couple of teenagers after the school dance, but after a time the kisses and the caresses reached an intensity that wouldn't be satisfied without more. My fingers ached for the feel of flesh instead of fabric, of skin and muscle unhindered by shirts and pants. I needed to get closer to John and by the way he was tugging desperately at the bottom of my shirt, trying to push it up over my chest, I had absolutely no doubt that the man felt the same way. And soon our clothes were crumpled on the floor and the sheets were crumpled at our feet and with a final toe-curling release, we were crumpled into a mass of arms and legs, flesh and fluids and at that moment I didn't want to do anything ever again that didn't have the end result of being tangled up with John exactly like that.
I drifted off to the sound of his light snores in my ear and the warm feel of his breath on my neck. When I woke again, the first rays of the Atlantean sun were shining through my window. I opened my eyes to find myself looking into the sleep-smooth face of John, lips parted slightly as he exhaled a small breath. He looked so young, so goddamned boyish, like that part of his personality manifested itself physically in his sleep when he didn't have the weight of Atlantis resting on his shoulders. I couldn't help but smile, but then, I couldn't help but let all the old insecurities creep in. What if John woke and decided it had all been a mistake? What then? I was already formulating my response, my 'of course you're right how could this ever work?' response. My 'just consider yourself lucky you experienced the superior lay from Rodney McKay and we'll go about our lives, business as usual," response.
But the words died on my lips when he opened his eyes, fixed me with a sleepy smile, stretched languorously even as he scooched over and snuggled into my chest with a drowsy "Morning," before promptly falling back asleep. I wrapped my arms around the man that was using me as a pillow, resting my cheek against the spiky-haired head, and held on for dear life. Because wrapped up with John, both physically and emotionally, was exactly where I intended to spend the rest of it.
And here I was, doing everything in my power to keep that life from slipping away. There was no way in hell I was letting anyone else touch him without more advanced medical equipment than my arms, my mouth, and my sheer willpower.
The sound of running footsteps echoed down the hallway and I let out an exhausted, "Thank god."
"Rodney, we're here," Carson called as soon as he saw us.
"Christ, Carson, do you think you could have taken any longer? Did you have a fucking haggis in the oven? Couldn't pull yourself away from the centerfold of this month's 'Livestock Journal'?"
The medical team dropped down to the floor and I dropped back on my haunches, quaking from the exertions and fear that I had been tenuously holding at bay.
I watched as one of the medics placed a mask over his face, squeezing a bag to provide air to his lungs. Another medic cut his shirt away, and I absently thought, well there goes another one and you can only Velcro back together so many for the male stripper fantasy.
Carson placed the pads of the autodefibrillator unit on John's chest, the same type that had been used to stop his heart when he had that overgrown tick on his neck. What the hell was it with John, cardiac arrest and arachnids? He overrode the automatic setting and set it on manual controls. "Clear," he called and activated the unit. John's body bucked then came to rest on the floor. Carson watched the heart rhythm blip and falter and shook his head. "Let's give him some epi and try again."
I hung my head and my sights came to rest on his ring. Absently my fingers on my right hand went to the identical one on my left. Don't do this to me, John. There was nothing in the vows that said anything about watching you die as a result of an alien robot spider attack. Believe me; I would have remembered that one.
"Sir, our kit doesn't have any epinephrine," the second marine told him and I couldn't help but wonder where Carson's field kit was.
Carson cursed under his breath even as I dug into my own pocket. "My autoinjectors!" I exclaimed as I pulled out the pens and handed them forward. "It's epinephrine."
He shook his head sadly. "Lad, the dosage is too low. We need at least twice as much as you have there to do any good. We'll just have to try again without it."
He reset the machine and waited for the charge. Then it came to me. "John!" I dove toward his body and began digging in his pockets.
"Rodney, you need to back away. I can't discharge the unit while you're touching him."
With a smile of triumph I pulled out the two injectors that he always carried with him. Thank god that he was overprotective to the point of obsession.
Carson smiled and nodded his head in return. He handed them to the medics. "Bust them open and hand me that syringe." One of the medics took up chest compressions again as Carson and the other marine worked. After a flurry of motion, Carson injected the drugs into John's inner arm and called out again, "Clear."
The electrical jolt passed through his body again, followed by a weak, but steady beat. Carson smiled in success and I couldn't stop the little whimper that escaped as I closed my eyes in relief.
"He's still not breathing," one of the medics informed Carson and his smile turned into a concerned frown.
"We'll have to bag him until we get him to the ventilator," Carson directed and turned to me as the medics went to work. "Do you have any idea what this thing did to him?"
I just kept talking over his shocked outburst. "It seems to work similar to the stunners, although obviously does much more damage."
"Well, whatever it was, it shut down his entire cardiopulmonary system."
"Really, Carson? And you went to medical school for… what, all of five minutes to be able to come to that conclusion?"
He pulled in a resigned breath, frowning slightly but holding his tongue. "I need to figure out how to get him breathing on his own. Right now that little Ambu bag is all that is keeping oxygen in his system."
"Well, then, lets get him to the infirmary and breathing again. Lord, knows he can't afford to lose anymore mental capacity due to oxygen deprivation and besides we've been out in the damned hallway too long as it is."
He frowned deeper at my jab about his tardiness then let out a sigh of frustration. "We can't."
"Can't? Can't what?"
"We can't take him to the infirmary."
"Why the hell not?"
"The infirmary is locked, door's malfunctioning; we can't get in. Sheppard was supposed to send you or Radek down to fix it."
I crossed my arms and scowled. "Well, evidently he was a little busy dying to get around to telling us."
"It doesn't matter why he didn't tell you, the point is we can't bloody well get into the infirmary."
"Dammit, Carson, he needs to be on a ventilator, now."
He just frowned right back, digging in his heels like the jackass that he was. "Don't you think I know that, Rodney? But you yelling about it isn't going to get us into the infirmary."
I turned to the military medic lifting the gurney to its full wheeled height. I snapped my fingers impatiently. "You, C-4 on the door, now."
He blinked at me in surprise. "I'm a medic; I don't carry C-4."
I eyed him suspiciously. "Highly unlikely reasoning, but I don't have time for a strip search. Go to the armory and get some, then."
"Rodney, you can't just blow the door off, you could damage some of the more delicate equipment," Carson insisted.
Radek raised his finger. "Perhaps I could get door open?"
I just regarded him blandly. "You have until Gomer gets back with the C-4, then we're blowing it." Radek ducked his head once then darted down the hall. I turned to see the marine still standing there. "Why the hell are you still here?" His eyes flicked between me and Carson. "Now!"
"Rodney, you cannot blow off the door."
"The hell I can't. I've seen it done enough times that I could do it myself if I have to."
"Rodney…" John called faintly behind me.
I turned back to the marine. "Do they teach you that vacant stare in basic training or do we have you're first cousin parents to thank for that? Move your ass now!"
"Rodney…" Sheppard tried again.
"Carson, you're not going to win this one. If I have to detonate the entire wing to get him into the infirmary, I will do it."
"McKay…." John called with a little more gusto.
Oh, for god's sake, could the man not see I was busy here. "What?" I demanded as I turned and saw John smiling weakly at me. He was breathing, his heart was beating, hell even his color was improving by the second. I pulled in a trembling breath and stared at him in wide-eyed amazement.
"Leave Carson and his door alone." His voice was barely more than a hoarse whisper but he gave me one of his goddamned lopsided smirks. The same damn smirk he had on his face when he came back from that fucking suicide run to the Hive ship.
I stood there shaking from worry and anger and muscle exertion brought about by performing chest compressions on his sorry ass and he just lay there with a goddamned smirk on his face. I honestly couldn't decide if I wanted to punch him again or kiss him. I gave myself the three short steps it took to reach the gurney to make up my mind.
I decided on the latter.
He winced and said "ow" against my mouth and I just kissed him harder, because every fiber of my being was screaming this is right, right, right. And in the midst of cold fear melting away against warm lips, I heard Carson ask a question.
"What the bloody hell is that thing?"
Some mornings it doesn't pay to drag your ass out of bed. It just doesn't.
Those were the days you had to skip slow and warm morning sex because of an early briefing or a lab catastrophe that absolutely demanded Rodney's attention. Or it could be you open your eyes just in time to have a wet sloppy sneeze hit you in the face and you realize you're going to be pulling flu duty for the next week. Then there's the one where you wake up alone and for a brief second you think it was all a dream…none of it had ever happened, none of it was ever real. Your heart begins to pound painfully and your lungs freeze, but then you hear the shower start to run. And it's that corny Dallas episode all over again and you can actually breathe once more.
Or you could wake up and discover you're not in your bed at all, but lying on a gurney in a hallway while Rodney yells bloody murder at Beckett. Your chest hurts like hell, you're exhausted with a headache that won't quit, and you don't have the slightest idea what the fuck is going on.
The last thing I remembered was going to bed, some pretty friggin' amazing sex, and falling asleep trying to decide if that sound Rodney made in the back of his throat was a moan, a purring hum, or a combination of the two. Now that was the way to fall asleep….
This, however, this was not particularly the best way to wake up.
Rodney's back was to me and I could see the minute tremors of his shoulders. His spine was painfully rigid and his voice…his voice was the typical McKay-the-world-is-ending voice. Except…not. It was more than that. He was mad…furious really, and he was scared. More than scared. Terrified. And Rodney didn't get terrified. He had too much ego for that. Even when things were at their most bleak, he always had the tiniest scrap of belief in reserve that he might be able to pull something out of his hat at the last minute. That no matter how impossible, he might just be able to do it, because after all…he is Dr. Rodney McKay. The Rodney McKay, and he fully, firmly believed his own press.
But then I began to pay attention to what he was yelling and not just the tone. He wanted to blow up the infirmary. No, that didn't make any sense. The door…he wanted to blow up the door. It was locked. Now who the hell would lock Carson out of the infirmary…that didn't make any sense either. When Rodney snapped that he'd blow up the entire wing to get him into the infirmary, I let the issue of the locked door go and concentrated on something else: since I was lying on a gurney, I figured the him had to be me.
That was what had Rodney so damn freaked.
He'd ignored me the first two times I'd tried to get his attention, typical when he was in the zone, and I put a little more effort into my third attempt. "McKay."
It finally had him shifting his focus. He turned and snarled, "What?"
I wasn't offended. Hell, it seemed like I was the reason he was raving like a lunatic anyway. Credit where credit is due. I gave him a smile, not much of one…but the best I could do considering even my face hurt. I wasn't sure it improved the situation anyway. He stared at me…just stared, sucking in a breath that seemed to hitch painfully. His eyes, shadowed and a little glassy, studied me as if they couldn't quite comprehend what the hell I was.
Now he was really beginning to worry me. I summoned up a smirk, the one I knew had him wanting to swat me on the side of the head every time he saw it, and said, "Leave Carson and his door alone."
His mouth, which had been open just slightly, snapped shut and he took three steps over to me and I swear to God I thought it was a Daedalus déjà vu in the making, my nose even gave a phantom twinge. But I was wrong. This time he didn't punch me. He kissed me. In public. Hard. "Ow," I muttered, only to be utterly ignored as he kissed me again. Once again, I had to point out…in public. McKay had no particular problems with PDAs, but I still had the knee jerk response of policies gone by. I liked to think I made up for it behind closed doors, in deserted jumpers, and by the fact I hung slumped over his shoulder in the lab at least ten or twenty times a day. And though Rodney gave me hell about my 'repressed Victorian prudery', like he gave me hell about everything else, on this he gave me a break and usually didn't try to lay a little tongue on me in the morning briefing or in line at the cafeteria. I still hadn't figured out though how I could be a prude and a Kirk all in one.
Okay, something bad had obviously happened and with me on the gurney with sliced up shirt and a defib unit in my lap, it wasn't heard to conclude that what had happened had happened to me. And that badness had been enough to have Rodney still shaking as his hand latched onto my shoulder with painful tightness and his lips found mine. Sometimes extraordinary occasions call for extraordinary measures…so I kissed him back. And the only comment from the peanut gallery was "What the bloody hell is that thing?"
I barely had a chance to wonder if that was a comment on our skills or lack thereof before Rodney fisted in his hands in my shirt, yanked me over the side of the gurney, and hit the floor with me. He did his best to control the fall and save me from the Atlantean version of road rash, but we still hit with a thump that shook my ribs and head and had my breath stuttering in my lungs.
"No. No, you son of a bitch, don't you fucking dare." A mouth fastened over mine and blew in air hard…air that tasted of desperation and coffee. "This is no time to fucking backslide." His mouth headed for mine again and I managed to get a hand up to stop it. A blue eye glared between my spread fingers as I struggled to speak.
"Knocked…breath…out," I dropped my hand as the glare became laser sharp and I felt the threat of teeth against my palm, "out…of me. Christ."
"You are so never getting any again for the rest of your miserable life. And it will be miserable, trust me," he hissed as he completely ignored the way his hand looped around my wrist and squeezed in ferocious fear and absolute affection. "I'll make sure of that. Every single day you'll curse the very…."
He didn't have a chance to finish. I caught a glimpse of what Carson had been talking about and my eyes widened. "Seriously," I interrupted. "What the hell is that thing?"
Once again my ribs howled with agony as Rodney launched himself on top of me. Covering me like a living blanket, he pulled a nine-millimeter from where it had been tucked into his back waistband and fired. The thing, whatever the fuck it was, was scrambling across the ceiling directly above us. It was a big metal ball with lots and lots of legs, eyes that flashed from orange to black and back again, and a piss-poor attitude. How did I know? Because it fired at us at the same time Rodney fired at it, maybe even slightly before. And if it hadn't been for one weasel-quick Czech, it would've hit us too.
Cursing speedily in Czech, Radek pushed the gurney with all the force that wiry little frame could muster. Metal framework, attached mattress, and a sheet smelling strongly of bleach came tumbling down on top of both Rodney and me just in time to take the brunt of the robot's pulse. The ribs simply gave up, decided they were probably broken, and began hurting full time in earnest.
Rodney in the mean time had fired his two shots and was pulling a trigger on an empty clip. "Shit. Shit. Shit," he swore, patting my pockets desperately. "You have any more clips?"
How would I know? Then again, I was in regular walking-around and going to briefing wear, not kit out for a mission. So chances were….
"No," I wheezed. McKay was as toned and muscled as he'd ever been in his life thanks to a jog with the helpful and healthful Colonel Sheppard for every pudding cup consumed, and you know what they say: muscle weighs more than fat. He was all hard elbows, knees and he was crushing me. Funny how in some situations that sort of thing works and in some it totally does not. "Use…my gun."
"This is your gun." His arm drew back and I heard the metallic bong as the gun hit the homicidal Charlotte dead center.
"Yeah, that's helpful. I can't believe I let your ass skip bootcamp." Fit or not, there was still the hint of a love handle and I got my own elbow into one and tried to push him off. I wasn't going to lie there wearing him like some sort of less-than-Wraith-proof vest. And that thing was Wraith, no doubt about it. The blast had looked exactly like a Wraith stun pulse, although Rodney seemed to be taking it somewhat more seriously than that. "McKay, get off!"
"No fucking way," he snapped, nose to nose. "Why? Because, oh I don't know, you were dead. Okay? Dead. That thing killed you and the next time it does I doubt we'll get you back. I doubt I'll get you back. You're not good at waking up. You never are and that sure as fuck hasn't changed today. You just lay there and you don't listen…you never fucking listen. So just shut…oh hell…Carson, run! The lab, go…oh goddamn it!"
The bug was scooting off, fast as a water bug skimming along the surface of a pond. I lifted my head and could see it was heading straight towards Beckett. Carson's a lot of things. A helluva doctor, a razor sharp master of vengeance, a damn good head in a quarantine crisis…but when it came to combat, even the man himself recognized his skills lay elsewhere. And why shouldn't they? He was a doctor and doctors should never have to be soldiers; they've dedicated their lives to the exact opposite.
And this doctor…the one who'd saved my life more times than I wanted to think about and saved Rodney's life more times than I could think about…this doctor froze as a spider from Wraith hell rushed towards him.
"Dr. Beckett, is your ATA gene. You must…." Zelenka grabbed Carson's arm and began to drag him towards the lab. If they could get in there, they could close the door and that thing could go back to trying to kill us. Okay, it wasn't much of a plan, but at the moment it was all we had.
Too bad it wasn't going to work. Spidey was quicker than a geek dragging a doctor, even when Beckett started moving under his own power and threatened to outstrip Dr. Z. It simply wasn't going to be enough. It just wasn't and there wasn't anything we could do about it. We had no weapons and no time. And while I didn't remember getting out of bed this morning….
I wished like hell I never had.
About the time Carson finally jumpstarted John's heart, I had resolved myself to the fact that I would probably never get a full night's sleep ever again, as I would be waking every twenty minutes or so to confirm that John's heart was indeed still beating. However, looking up and watching that damn spider robot skitter across the ceiling like that, I gave up on the twenty minutes in between checks and decided I would never be able to sleep again, period.
They weren't going to make it. Radek and Carson both in the crosshairs, scrambling as fast as they could for the lab and there was just no way in hell they were going to make it before that thing blasted them away like it had blasted John. The robot made that horrible buzzing sound and I knew the pulse was imminent. "Radek!" I yelled, but he had heard it too and knew as well as I did what the sound meant.
He dropped to the floor, yanking Carson along with him so that they landed in a heap. The blast skimmed just above their heads and I heard something shatter in the lab from the impact of the pulse. Carson was rolling off of Radek, who was scrambling backward to get out from under him and regain his feet. The robot simply turned its sights toward the two, then adjusted slightly so that it was aiming directly at Carson and buzzed again.
Carson lay on his back, wide-eyed and helpless. I knew exactly how he felt. Radek could do nothing more than reach a hand out and scream, "No!" while I lay shielding John and wishing I could close my eyes against the scene I knew was coming but unable to do anything to prevent.
And that's when the cavalry arrived. Second only to the sleepy "Morning" that John greeted me with each day, there was no sound I looked forward to more than the stuttering crack of a P90 coming to the rescue. Or in this case several of them. The bullets echoed metallically off the robot's body and both Radek and Carson curled into balls on the floor as pieces of ceiling tiles and wall rained down on us. John pulled my head down, wrapping his arms protectively around it even as he tried to flip us over so that he would be covering me. But I had the advantage of weight, strength, and determination of staying exactly where I was, so he simply turned his face into my neck and held tighter. For a few eternal seconds we could do nothing more than cling to each other and wait for the ricochet of bullets and debris to stop and hope like hell that the rescue didn't kill us just a surely as the creature would have.
Finally, the noise died down and I heard Teyla call out, "Dr. McKay, are you unharmed?"
I lay there for a moment, doing a silent inventory of my body, trying to figure out if any of the stinging debris could have actually been a stray bullet. When I didn't answer immediately, John's hands starting moving over my back as if searching for an injury. "Rodney?" his worried voice called in my ear.
"I'm fine," I reassured him. He let out a relieved sigh even as one hand found its way to ruffle my hair and he pressed his cheek against mine for a second, then he released me so that I could push up and answer Teyla. "We're okay."
I rolled off John who let out a groan and cradled his ribs and I gave a sympathetic squeeze to the wrist I still held. I looked to Carson and Radek who were hesitantly uncurling on the floor. "You two all right?"
Radek pushed his glasses up, looking around as if amazed he was still alive. He definitely wasn't the only one. "Yes, yes, fine."
"I thought you had gone to fix the door," I accused.
"Yes, but saw robot on the way. Came back to warn you."
"Well, thanks….for the warning," I waved an all encompassing hand, "and the gurney and … just thanks."
He smiled faintly with a nod of his head. "You are welcome."
Carson ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Well, this started off as a piss poor day and has managed to turn to fuckin' shite!" The edge of panic was evident in his voice. "Where the bloody hell did that damned spider thing get off to anyhow? And why was it so intent on killing me?"
"It's your gene," I explained. "Evidently the Wraith were able to turn the Ancient's defense against them by adapting their gene-detecting technology and incorporating it into a weapon that would kill the Ancients without taking out the rest of their food supply."
"Great, just one more reason to curse that damnable ancestor in my family line. You know, my mum believed I should have become a dentist. I always thought that I would have been bored out of my head. I'm beginning to think that boredom is highly underrated."
"As to where it is," I conceded, "that's a very good question."
Teyla dropped to a squat on the floor beside us, her P90 swinging agilely behind her. "It escaped up into the ceiling. I am sorry we were not able to destroy it."
"I'm just glad you showed up when you did," John assured her.
She smiled down on him and squeezed his arm. "Colonel Sheppard, it is good to see you…alive."
John smirked back at her with a flick of his eyebrows, "Well, it's good to be…alive."
I rolled my eyes. There he was moments back from the return trip from death, bare-chested, flirting with a beautiful alien. Could he get any more James T. than that? I squeezed as tight as I could around his wrist. He winced and glared at me. Teyla simply tilted her head quizzically with a raised eyebrow then shot a knowing grin in my direction. I didn't worry about Teyla, mainly because she wasn't interested in John sexually. If anything, long ago, she had been interested in him romantically, but never sexually. John however had been just the opposite, wanting nothing more than to get his hands on that hot body of hers. Sure, he respected her as a warrior and a team member, and a friend. As did I, probably more than John even did, because Teyla and I were two of the few people that could effectively put John in his place. But she would always be the conquest never made, which is why he flirted with her constantly. Not that I was insecure about that. If nothing else, John Sheppard was loyal and stood by his commitments. And he was totally and unequivocally committed to me, I had no doubts. Still waters run deep, they say, and as prudishly still as he could be in public with me, in private his passions ran deep indeed. That didn't mean I had to like it when he turned his shallow Kirk side loose. And there was that thing about putting him in his place.
Teyla reached out and took my free hand with an affectionate squeeze just for me. "It is good to see you both well. Come, we should get you all to safety while we have the chance. If the machine is truly after your ATA genes you two and Dr. Beckett are all still in much danger here."
"Best plan I've heard all day," John told her even as he reached out to use me to pull up.
"It's the only plan you've heard all day, at least that you remember." I hauled him up to a sitting position, placing a stabilizing arm around him as he swayed weakly. "After everything that's happened, I doubt you could remember what we had for breakfast this morning."
John leaned his head on my shoulder for a moment as if letting a dizzy spell pass. "Seeing as we are outside your lab right now, I have a sneaking suspicion that we never even got to eat breakfast this morning."
"Oh you would jump to that conclusion, wouldn't you?" I snapped. Of course it was true, but as long as he wasn't remembering things so well, no reason not to turn that to my advantage. And honestly, if that thing hadn't decided to try to procreate with my leg, I would have met him on time. I felt that sexual assault by alien robot was a perfectly valid excuse for being late for breakfast. "We were on our way when it attacked you."
"Why do I have trouble believing that?" he asked as I slung his arm around my shoulder.
"Look, if you had had just the smallest amount of faith that I would have been in the cafeteria instead of just assuming that I wouldn't be and you would have to come and find me, then none of this ever would have happened." Teyla helped me hoist him to a standing position.
"But you obviously weren't going to be in the cafeteria if you were still in the lab when I got here."
"That is not the point. The point is you just assumed I would still be in the lab."
"Yeah, and obviously I was right in that assumption."
Teyla released John's arm and watched to make sure he didn't tumble over even as he leaned heavily into me. "Perhaps you should discuss this matter later, after the threat of attack is over," she suggested pleasantly.
I ignored her. "It doesn't matter if you were right. It's the principle of the whole thing that you feel you can't give me the benefit of the doubt now and again."
"Goddamn, McKay, if you would just show up for a meal on time, just once, I would be more than happy to give you the benefit of every damned doubt I have."
"Oh, now that is just completely unfair. I show up on time plenty of times…"
John rolled his eyes and addressed Teyla. "Could we please go find this damned robot and let it shoot me again and put me out of my misery once and for all."
My arm tightened possessively around his waist. "Don't even fucking joke about that, you son of a bitch," I hissed viciously. That wound was still too raw to point and laugh. It would be for a long while to come.
He tried for a grin, but his hand grasping my shoulder squeezed gently in apology, "I guess timing is everything in comedy."
"Yeah, well your timing sucks. In fact, it has all day."
"I'll just have to take your word on that, Rodney." He turned to Teyla. "Where are we going?"
"The control room is the most heavily guarded area in the city right now," she informed us. "That would be the best place. We should be able to fend off any attack from there."
"Lots of guns, access to the jumpers and the gate, sounds like my kind of place," John drawled.
The sound of gunfire erupted down the hall and Teyla pulled her P90 into position. John reached for his nine-millimeter only to let out a curse when his met an empty holster. "Teyla, give me your sidearm."
She pulled the gun and handed it to him and I felt his arm around my shoulder tighten protectively. I forced myself not to snort, seeing as he could barely lift the damn gun, and prepared to drag him into the lab if necessary. Radek and Carson were already inside the door when the robot showed itself once again. The three marines that had accompanied Teyla were already firing. The mechanical spider scurried up the wall and over their heads with lightning speed and headed straight toward us. I pulled John toward the lab only to have the mechanism drop down between us and the door. It faltered a moment even as we backstepped, as if trying to decide if it should go after Carson in the lab or me and John in the hallway.
Radek and Carson looked out at us as if trying to decide if they should close the door to the lab or leave it open in case we made a mad dash.
"Close the goddamned door!" John yelled at them.
Both sets of eyes darted to me. "Now!" I confirmed. And the door slid shut, causing the spider to give us its undivided attention.
I looked around desperately. Well, what the fuck now? Get the hell out of the hallway, that's what. Because I was getting damn tired of being there waiting for one or both of us to die. The robot started to whir and Teyla fired the P90. John raised his hand to fire the gun and I tackled him to the ground once again even as the blast hit the wall above us.
"Goddammit…McKay…cut it…out!" John wheezed below me.
All around us bullets whizzed. "Can you run if I help you?" I asked, yelling to be heard over the sound of gunfire.
"If you get off of me, I'll fucking fly."
You know, just a little gratitude for saving his miserable life would be nice. "Enjoy it while you can," I threatened, "because you won't be experiencing it again any time soon, you ungrateful piece of shit."
I rolled off of him and yanked him to a stand. "Teyla!" I called.
"Go! We will cover your escape!"
With a nod of my head, I turned John and started leading him further down the hallway in the absolute wrong direction. The control room, the jumpers, the gate, the weapons, the fucking Atlantean Marine Corp. all lay behind us. But so did a robot spider than made the Terminator look easy to kill with only a small band of allies buying us an even smaller amount of time.
I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to do. All I did know was that John was alive, we were together and that I am Dr. Rodney McKay, The Rodney McKay and I had no doubt that I would eventually think of something.
I was laying down on the job.
There was no way around it. I could lie to myself maybe, but I'd never been very good at that. Lie to yourself in the military and you last a week, two at best past basic training. You had to face reality, no matter how grim or bleak, if you had any chance of surviving it. And surviving we were…for the moment, but it was no thanks to me.
Rodney was all but dragging me down the corridor. Okay, my feet were moving, but not especially fast or efficiently. Instead of leading the way, I was being led. And I didn't like it. My place was watching out for my geeks…my geek, and I wasn't able to do that right now. Being the walking wounded kept me from doing my job and I hated that. Hated it like hell. Not that that made the slightest bit of difference. As much as I cursed my body, it refused to get its shit together.
My chest was still killing me, every breath I took felt like someone was stabbing me…and with a helluva lot of enthusiasm. Cracked, my ribs had to be cracked, and what the hell had that damn metallic beach ball done to me anyway? Shot me, then jumped up and down on me with all eight feet? Wasn't that overkill? I'd apparently already been down and out. A blast from that thing killed from what I gathered. Rodney said I had died…that I was dead. It must somehow act like an electrical shock…shortcircuit the cardiopulmonary…oh. Oh, shit…how stupid was I? Pretty goddamn…Christ.
CPR. That's why my chest hurt. And since Carson tended to avoid the lab at all costs, the ongoing feud with Kavanagh still in full swing, I doubted the doctor had been the one to start resuscitation. He might've finished it, but he hadn't started it. I'd been on the giving end of the CPR process before…sucked was not the word. My arm was still slung over Rodney's shoulders and I shifted it so that I could grip the one farthest from me. I cleared my throat, "Just tell me Dr Z didn't give me mouth to mouth. My rep is bad enough already."
"No." The quirky mouth tightened. "That was all my complete and utter lack of pleasure. And despite your wildly delusional confidence in your massive sex appeal, Radek didn't have the slightest desire to swap spit with you. If I had asked him to, he probably would've run down the hall screeching at the top of his lungs. And who could blame him? Not me. Certainly not me. Now, how about less useless conversation and more useful running? You know, just if you don't have anything better to do."
Yeah, the put me out of my misery remark had been one of the more idiotic things I'd said in my lifetime. And that was saying something. Squeezing his shoulder again, I said sincerely, "I'm sorry. Really. Sorry as hell."
McKay exhaled and slid sober blue eyes in my direction. "Just try not to die again, okay? Ever. Because that would be good. Really, really good." He didn't give me a chance to respond, continuing, "Teyla will make sure all the other ATA-geners are pulled up to the control room, although…." He frowned, fingers tapping in a quick pattern on my wrist. "I'm not sure our happy, hopping little arachnid friend will go for those of us that received our gene via transfer. It didn't have any particular homicidal interest until you showed up. Actually, you could say it was a little too friendly before then." His eyes rolled and he snorted. "In fact, if it hadn't gone for Carson, I would think it was after your horny gene, not the Atlantean one. The two of you could hump legs in unison."
Man, I really was never getting any again.
I tightened my grip on Teyla's nine-mil as I heard the distant chatter of P-90 fire. "I say we head for the cafeteria. We never did have breakfast," I drawled, "and we can pelt that damn thing with last night's meat loaf. That'll put a dent in it."
"That would put a dent in the moon itself. I think I chipped a tooth on it yesterday. Who needs maniacal Wraith probes when our own people are trying to kill us." Despite its WMD capabilities, we bypassed the mess hall, but where was Rodney…ah. Transporter. It was a good idea…obviously, considering the source…and it ought to lose that eight-legged little shit for a while.
And speaking of…I thought I heard the pitter-patter of little metal feet. I doubled my speed, but you didn't have to be a math whiz to know if you double nothing…you're still left with jack shit. "So how are we going to kill this thing?" I asked. "We could use your theoretical C4 that had Beckett's panties in such a wad…if we could get Charlotte to hold still long enough. Maybe we could trap it in the containment cell." I looked back over my shoulder. Nothing. Not yet. "We could lure it in. We could use me as ba…."
I only got half the word out before Rodney's hand thwapped the back of my head smartly. "You really are pushing my buttons today, Colonel," he commented with suspicious mildness. "Remember how you promised that the next suicidal thing that came out of your mouth and you'd let Heightmeyer and me whip up a little homemade shock therapy for you?" He made a sizzling sound that mimicked a bug zapper almost perfectly. "I regret I have but one life to give…ZAP ZAP. Greater love hath no man that he give up his life…ZAP ZAP."
"No, I don't remember," I said suspiciously. "When was this? And cut that out. It's creepy."
"This morning," he shot back promptly. "We had a long talk during which you saw the error of your ways. The many, many errors of your many, many ways, and you promised to do better. You also promised to do laundry for the next two weeks, which I greatly appreciate by the way. Not too much fabric softener though. It makes me sneeze."
I definitely heard the rattle of metal against metal and decided to discuss McKay's blatant fibbery with him later. "It's coming."
"And we're going. How convenient." The transporter loomed before us, the doors opened, and we lunged through…trampling Kavanagh in the process.
He yelped and went down, arms flailing. McKay ignored him, released me, and triggered the doors. I leaned down over him in narrow eyed contemplation. "Kavanagh, why the hell didn't you stay put? It's a Code Red. Unless you're a marine with a P-90, your ass isn't supposed to be roaming the halls." The nine-mil pointed towards the floor and I wrapped my spare arm around my ribs. "Our new hall monitor is one cranky son of a bitch." And just because it was after ATA geners didn't mean it wouldn't kill anyone who got in its way. It hadn't sent a blast towards Teyla or the goons, but it just may not have felt threatened enough.
Before he could respond, I added, "And Rodney, why the hell aren't we going anywhere?" You didn't feel movement with the transporter and you didn't exactly feel your molecules broken down and put back together either. But you did feel something. It was hard to explain…a tingle, a tickle…a subcellular twitch. You felt something, and right now I wasn't feeling a damn thing.
"It's the lockdown." He'd pulled a tiny screwdriver out of his pocket and was ripping away the control panel. "This isn't a transport unit designated for the response team. It's supposed to be frozen by the computer." The panel hit the floor and McKay stuck both hands into the guts of the control pad. "Easy enough to override…at least for a genius, right? Right? Well, yes, it is right. But someone, not a genius by the way, has already bypassed the lockdown and done a piss-fucking-poor job of it. He's crippled the damn thing and probably killed us all. But, hey, it's just another productive day for Dr. I'm-a-Shithead Kavanagh."
Kavanagh scowled instantly and scrambled back to his feet. His pale face was flushed. "I was down in hydroponics working on the water recycling unit. And if you think I was going to stay down there by myself, then your ego actually has eaten what remains of your brain, McKay. As for bypassing the circuits, if you had an engineering degree then maybe it wouldn't be quite so difficult." Then in a move as bold as I'd ever seen from him, he tried to shoulder Rodney away from the control panel. "Let me do it."
I was almost sorry the bug showed up. And not because of the whole dying thing, but because I really wanted to see who went down first. Honestly, I knew it would be Kavanagh, but the four-eyed weasel was sneaky. He might get a blow in here or there before Rodney beat him to a pulp. Throw in a little mud and we'd have a new weekend diversion. Geek Mudwrestling. Come one, come all.
But no such luck. There was a loud thud on the transporter doors, and a split second later, two metal tentacle tips slithered between the doors to begin pushing them apart. They were joined instantly by three more sets. "Holy shit. I've seen this movie." I grabbed a handful of Kavanagh's labcoat as he stood frozen between Rodney and me. Giving him a hard push, I shoved up against the transporter wall. Eyes wide, he hit and stayed there, hands splayed out at his sides. McKay was covered, more or less, by the side wall of the transport. "If you could speed it up a little, Rodney, that would be great," I said grimly as I extended my gun towards the doors. There was a screech of complaining metal and they slid open several inches. I fired at the first thing I saw. One blinking pumpkin-orange eye. There was a geyser of sparks, foul smelling smoke, and the tentacles disappeared. The doors slammed shut. "Heeeere's Spidey," I murmured, then looked over Rodney's shoulder.
"Yes, yes, I'm hurrying," he snapped, hands moving with magician's speed. I half expected him to pull a rabbit out of the compartment and then promptly try to stuff it down Kavanagh's throat. "It's a good thing I work well under pressure." There was another thud at the door, louder this time. "Never a word of complaint." And another and another. "Dr. Rodney Little Mary Fucking Sunshine McKay, that's me."
"I was hoping for Dr. Rodney Houdini McKay, and are you saying we're screwed?" My lips twitched despite the situation.
He spared a quick glance over his shoulder at me, his own lips quirking in mirror response. "Aren't we always?"
He had me there.
With the next flurry of blows the transporter doors began to buckle slightly and Kavanagh muttered, "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God." There are no atheists in foxholes and apparently none in disintegrating transporters either. Another tentacle winnowed its way in, but this time it was alone. The space between the doors was now too small to fire through unless I got closer. Before I had a chance, the segmented metal elongated and whipped around my wrist. It either wanted my gun or me and neither one was exactly on the top of my list.
"Keep on it, McKay," I gritted between clenched teeth. "And I'm not flirting. She started it." I dug my feet in as it pulled at me. But digging your feet in on slick Ancient tile gets you exactly nowhere. I was slammed up against the transporter doors. "Motherf…."
"She? It's a girl?"
I rolled my eyes in Rodney's direction. He was still working feverishly fast, the line beside his mouth pulled tight. "Did you see any ball bearings hanging below?" It slammed me against the door again and my ribs howled in protest. "And if this isn't PMS…." Slam. "…I don't know what is." I staggered backwards, pulling the tentacle with me. For a moment I thought it was giving up. I thought wrong. When I reached the back of the transport, the metal grip tightened on my wrist, I was yanked through the air, and then….
Then there was that twitch, that molecular quiver, and the doors were whole again. Unmarred. Kavanagh was sliding to the floor, Rodney was giving me his how-great-am-I grin, and I was sitting on my ass with a bronze length of metal hanging from my wrist. Neatly amputated about three feet from the tip, it slowly slid off my arm and fell to the floor.
"Abracadabra," McKay said smugly.
John sat on the floor of the transporter and pulled his hand back from the remnants of the tentacle that clanked to the floor. He shuddered then shot a smile in my direction. "Feel free to take this the absolute wrong way, McKay, but I think I want to kiss you."
"Oh, god, please don't," Kavanagh groaned from the floor across from John. "My stomach just can't handle that right now, or ever, actually."
I glowered at him, then gave John a sideways glance. "Don't worry, I have no intentions of doing any such thing. And it has nothing to do with your delicate constitution. Right now I would welcome a chance to watch you retch violently, it would save me the time and effort of my own form of violence I'm tempted to exact on your person."
Kavanagh rolled his eyes. "And I suppose that somehow this is all my fault now. That I somehow managed to activate that…whatever it was that nearly ate Mrs. McKay here."
I took a step forward intending to finish what he had started when he tried to bump me out of the access panel, but stopped at John's voice.
"Hey, that's Colonel McKay to you, asshole." John frowned viciously at Kavanagh, then shot a wink in my direction.
We had an unwritten, unspoken rule. John handled the geeks when it came to derogatory comments about our relationship and I handled the goons. Honestly, the vast majority of people on Atlantis accepted our marriage. A few simply tolerated it while other encouraged it wholeheartedly. But a select few also took an altogether hateful stand. Kavanagh being one of them, although I believed it had more to do with the fact that it was me and John than any predisposed disagreement with the idea of same sex marriage. President Hayes had done away with the 'don't ask don't tell policy' long since. My personal opinion was that it had more to do with the rumors surrounding General O'Neil and Daniel Jackson than any personal belief in fairness and constitutional law. And although those rumors were absolutely false, he couldn't exactly take the chance of an investigation and potential for discharge of the man that had saved the galaxy more times than the President had need to Grecian Formula his hair. But whatever the reason, we had embraced the opportunity presented. Still, that didn't stop some of the old school military types from giving disapproving looks at the rings we wore.
This was especially true when the Daedalus was in dock, and John seemed to be even more puritanically distant in public when that was the case. Colonel Caldwell and John bristled enough without adding another issue to flame the fires, so if he liked to think of me as Sheppard's roommate, who just happened to wear a matching "roommate" ring, then so be it. We weren't having him over for dinner any time soon anyway. But John didn't need to be handling the comments coming from the peons beneath him. He prided himself on his even handed command of his subordinates and refused to show favoritism or disfavoritism that could be directly linked to an opinion about his personal life. So, that's where I came in, along with the assistance of Radek and a few others. It didn't take long for new arrivals to learn that a disparaging comment could get them an electrical charge that wouldn't dissipate for at least a week, a bedroom door that tended to open on its own at very inopportune times, such as when he was completely naked from the shower and the morning-shift nurse he had been flirting with for a week was coming on duty, or an energy field toilet that went on the fritz and backflowed every night.
John, seeing turn about as fair play, had taken it upon himself to handle the scientists, for much the same reason. I could belittle staff members for their incompetence until I was red faced from screaming and they were red eyed from crying, and John wouldn't interfere. But if any of them were to make a comment like Kavanagh just had, he wouldn't tolerate me fighting those battles. Sheppard protected his geeks with a ferociousness that staggered me, but even they weren't immune to his backlash if they went after his own private geek. And even though I didn't need it, he was hellbent on protecting me from any accusations of preferential treatment or punishment, just as I protected him from the same thing.
"What, no hyphen? How very traditional of you, Colonel." Kavanagh droned dryly.
The muscles in John's jaw flinched minutely and unspoken rule or not, I couldn't take his shit any more. "Either shut up and make yourself less useless than you already are or I will be more than happy to lock you in this transporter and send you right back up to where our eight legged friend is waiting."
Kavanagh's eyes widened slightly and he started to speak, but in a rare moment of good judgment, he thought better of it.
John toed the disjointed arm on the floor. "Seven legged," he corrected. "Too bad more of her wasn't in the transporter, probably could have done enough damage to completely disable the bitch. Demoleculorize her main processor core, or something."
"Yes, that is a shame. Of course the down side of having more of it in the transporter would have been the fact that it could have done more than just hold hands with you. Like, oh maybe blast you with its death ray again."
Kavanagh squeaked from his position on the floor, "It shoots a death ray?"
I turned a sour and impatient face at him. "Yes, yes it does. A very effective one at that, unlike some people's work, or lack thereof, that I know about. They eat through their goddamn hands and I would kill to have just one Wraith on my staff. Sure he would suck the life out of me, but it's not like you people aren't already doing that slowly as it is, and at least I know their engineering designs work."
John winced from the floor. "Let's make a deal; I don't joke about getting killed by the robot and you don't joke about being fed upon by the Wraith."
I had seen the effects of a Wraith feeding and watched Gall end his life as a result. But Sheppard had witnessed the real thing and he had ended Sumner's life for him when the man couldn't end it on his own. Even before I experienced the aftermath of his nightmares first hand, reaching out to touch sweat soaked skin as he sat panting in the dark, feeling him flinch away only to cling all the tighter when he finally recognized the hands pulling him close, I knew he was haunted by that image and the images his mind extrapolated on its own.
"Right, sounds like a plan," I agreed with a weak smile.
He leaned a weary head back against the wall of the transporter, holding his ribs. "Got any other plans rolling around in that amazing brain of yours?"
I bobbled my head. "Maybe," I conceded as I tried to work out a few details in my mind, like how feasible it would be to reroute a transporter to the gateroom. It would just be a matter of removing the receiving interface crystal and tying it into the power grid for the gate. Question was, could I integrate the two systems to provide sufficient power to the transplanted regenerating unit while still keeping the gate operational.
"Want to share it with the rest of us?" John shifted and hissed with pain.
"Not just yet," I answered distractedly, more concerned with him and his obvious discomfort. "You all right?"
"My ribs have just come in contact with one hard surface too many. Hell, make that ten hard surfaces too many." He snorted and grinned. "I think I know what it must feel like to slam into the gate shield."
I shook my finger in his direction with a growing smile. "That's it! I don't need to power a transplanted unit; the gate already has a regenerator built into the system. I just need to install the receiving crystal and interface it with the unit in the gate system. Sheppard, you're a genius!"
He grinned back at me proudly. "Of course I am, couldn't spend as much time as I do around you and not have some of it rub off. Mind telling me exactly what genius thing I did? I do so many its easy to get them confused."
Kavanagh furrowed his brow in wary realization. "He's going to turn the gate into a transporter destination."
I smiled smugly and rocked on my heels. "Yes, yes I am."
"You're going to transport us to the gateroom?" John asked in surprise.
I rolled my eyes. "No, I have to make some modifications to the gate system itself before I can use it as a transporter destination, which means I have to be there to do it, which means we will be there." I told him pointedly. "If we're already there, why would I need to transport us? No, I'm going to transport the spider to the gate."
"Oh, well there's a horrible idea if I ever heard one," Kavanagh threw in with a sneer. "Just drop an alien threat right into the middle of the one area that should be protected above all others."
I sneered right back. "It's not going to get loose in the gateroom, in fact it will never even show its multitentacled body in the room."
"And just how do you propose to keep that from happening?"
I shook my head with a sigh at how a man with multiple PhDs could be so moronically dim witted. "Remolecularization takes place at the event horizon, which is why we have a shield up a few microns past that. We get it in a transporter, demolecularize it, send the rerouted signal to the gate regenerator, raise the shield and it goes splat like a bug on the proverbial windshield."
"Why not just demolecularize it in the transporter and do nothing? Just let it stay a million little molecules floating around." John asked with a twirl of his hands.
"Won't work," I shook my head. "Safety feature on the transporters won't allow the system to break an object down unless it has a viable receiving station to send it to. No, it has to go somewhere, and the gate is the best place."
"So, what do we do now?" John asked as he tried to push himself up.
I slung his arm back around my shoulder and helped him stand. "We need to get a receiving crystal to the gateroom." I keyed my radio. "Zelenka, this is McKay."
"Rodney," came his relieved voice, "you and Colonel are safe?" Distantly behind him, I could hear gunfire.
"For the time being. And so is Kavanagh for that matter, if you care."
"No, not really." My lips twitched at his response and John actually snickered.
Kavanagh just glared at us with crossed arms as I asked Radek, "Are you and Carson still in the lab?"
"No, Teyla and marines escorted us to control room. All personnel with ATA gene are here, well except for you and Colonel Sheppard, and so is robot."
"It's in the control room?" John asked in alarm.
"No, no, it is outside room trying to get in. Lots of guns, lots of shooting, would be very exciting if it were movie with Bruce Willis and not imminent death for all of us here."
"I think I have a way to stop it," I told him, "but I need to install a transporter destination crystal into the gate system."
"You want to transport it into shield!" I could hear a note of approval in his voice, as well there should have been.
"That's the plan, anyway."
"But you will need to reprogram transporter to recognize gate as valid destination."
"Yes, Radek, thank you for stating the obvious. I planned to do that after I got the gate configured properly."
"I can do that from here if I have the proper crystal."
"Are you sure?"
Radek sighed dramatically. "It will be difficult, but somehow I manage to dress myself without assistance of glorious McKay on a daily basis. I will somehow muddle through this as well."
"Fine, I'm sure you could, but it is kind of a moot point seeing as your homicidal spider is currently between us and the gateroom at the moment."
Radek mumbled in Czech what I was sure was some derogatory comment about my lineage. "Is not my robot! Did I say, 'is Rodney's exploding waffle iron' when device blew up last week? Did I say 'is McKay's fault that fire suppression system coated us in Ancient shaving cream' when it happened? No, I did not."
"Dr. Z," Sheppard cut in when I opened my mouth to defend myself against his completely overblown and highly exaggerated comments, "have someone fly one of the jumpers to the Southeast Pier. We'll meet you there in say…twenty-five minutes."
I nodded and smiled in approval, squeezing the arm around me, "And send a laptop," I added. "I'm going to need it for the reprogramming."
"It will be waiting for you there. Zelenka out."
I started moving us toward the door of the transporter. John stopped us, held up his gun, then peeked around the corner. Satisfied that the robot was indeed still at the gateroom and the marines weren't just firing precious ammo at empty air he hitched his head and we moved out.
Three steps down the corridor I stopped and with a sigh called back to Kavanagh, "Are you coming with us or planning on playing sit and spin with your thumb up your ass like you usually spend your days?"
His pony-tailed head poked out, looked both ways as if he were about to cross a busy intersection instead of step out into an empty hallway, and followed us. I rolled my eyes as I told him, "You should go back to the electric blue hair color, it really set off your eyes. I'm sure Carson could whip up some more dye if you want."
"I think I preferred the green," John volunteered, "it didn't make his skin look as pasty as usual."
"The purple was nice, too," I admitted.
Kavanagh gave a frustrated growl behind us. "Is this all you two miscreants are going to do, make fun of my misfortunes?"
John gave me a mock confused look. "Miscreants? I didn't know we were miscreants."
"I didn't know he even knew what the word meant." I looked back over my shoulder. "Impressive. And you even used it correctly in a sentence. Remind me to give you a gold star when all this is over."
"All this is over," he huffed. "You don't actually think this plan of yours is going to work, do you? Even if…and I stress if…you and Zelenka can get the transporter and gate to do what you want, how do you plan to get that thing to go in the transporter? Have you been practicing your alien robot mating call?"
"I have at least fifty minutes before I have to worry about that. That's more time than I usually have in a crisis situation. Wouldn't you agree, Colonel?"
"We may even have time to throw in a power nap with all the free time you'll have," John granted.
"Good idea," I told him. "So, now we swing by the transporter nearest the pier, grab the crystal, and the two of you can go back to the control room while I reprogram the transporter closest to the gateroom."
John tensed in my hold. "What's this 'I' shit, McKay?"
"I, as in I am going to reprogram the unit while you, as in you go back where it is safe." I braced myself for the storm I knew was coming.
I waited for him to say more but he didn't. "No? That's it? No giant rant about how I can't watch out for myself, how I need you to protect me, how my genius doesn't extend to watching my back? Just…no?"
My god, he knew how to push my buttons. "Well, how the hell am I supposed to argue with that?"
Like hell I couldn't. "You can barely stand on your own, if anything, you will attract this thing to my location with your gene, and I'm going to have to split my attention between trying to program the transporter panel and making sure you're still breathing. Just how is that supposed to be of any benefit to me or the success of this plan?"
He stopped us in the hallway and regarded me with resolute eyes. "Look, you know as well as I do that I am not getting on that jumper, and you damn well know why, so just shut up, stop wasting time and let's go kill a damned spider."
I sighed, not happy, but knowing that the chances of getting him to leave were slim to none. Not that I could blame him, if the situation was reversed, I wouldn't get on the jumper either.
From behind us, Kavanagh informed us in no uncertain terms, "Well, I sure as hell am getting on the jumper."
"No shit," we said in unison, both turning to frown at him. Then I started leading us on toward the transporter and the Southeast Pier.
McKay was a born leader. A born alpha science dog—woof woof. A born bossy, pain-in-the-ass, son of a bitch. If you ran into a pack of labcoats, you could bet your last dollar Rodney would be riding herd on them. And if there was a weak gazelle in the bunch, you could bet that dollar again that it would go down. Where those who couldn't hack it went, I never bothered to find out. Maybe they went back on the Daedalus; maybe McKay had then turned into soylent green powerbars—it was probably better I didn't know. All I did know was that Rodney was Napoleon with a double PhD. And when the man came up with a plan, he had near megalomaniacal faith in it and himself…which was a good thing. Without that massive ego, no mere mortal astrophysicist would've dared trying pulling off one-fifth the shit Rodney did on a daily basis, much less succeeding.
Yeah, McKay had utter and complete faith in himself. So did I. But I also had faith in life being a ball-busting bitch who enjoyed nothing more than throwing you a curve ball when you least expected it. The kind that not only neatly avoided your bat, but followed up by conking you right in the head. And there's no worse feeling than lying on the ground and watching the sky spin lazily as you try to figure out just where you went wrong.
I wasn't the one lying on the ground this time, and I didn't have time to wonder where I'd gone wrong. I didn't have time to wonder anything other than just how much C-4 it was going to take.
The plan had started out going smoothly enough…didn't they always?
"It's never going to work," Kavanagh muttered under his breath. "This reminds me of the time you blew yourself up trying to repair the Stargate. You bypassed all the safety features, you treated the immutable laws of physics as if they were saltwater taffy. You all but tied them in a knot, McKay, and that moderate sized explosion was probably the very least of what could've happened."
"If I tied them in a knot, then the laws aren't quite as immutable as you think, now are they?" Rodney was only half-listening to his least favorite bete noire, I could tell. He had the majority of his attention on the calculator in his hand with enough left over to occasionally reach out and pat my arm as if reassuring himself I was still there. Which, the more I thought about it, was precisely what he was doing. I'd had close calls before, it went without saying, and after each of them Rodney had a routine. It usually lasted a week, sometimes two. If we were in the same room, he would touch me…a tap on the arm, a pat on the shoulder, a quick, absent-minded kiss on the nape of my neck if we were in private…anything that let him tactilely back up what his eyes were seeing. If I weren't in the room, if I was running security checks, flying to the mainland, pushing dead squarks back into the water off the pier, he would just show up. Casually. Sometimes he would just peer around the corner, take me in, and pop back out of sight to head back to the lab. Sometimes he had some elaborate excuse that he needed my help on something. Activating the Atlantean version of a toilet paper dispenser, because he conveniently forgot he had the gene or asking me to calculate something so the non-caveman portion of my brain wouldn't atrophy and rot away.
I didn't mind. I had my own routine too. I went to the gym and hit things. A lot of things…a lot of times. The word was out: the second McKay was discharged from the infirmary, the gym would become a ghost town. Even Teyla didn't like to spar with me those times. She said I was too reckless then, too emotional, and her arm got tired from repeatedly whacking me in the legs.
I grinned to myself then looked over McKay's shoulder as we walked. "It's four, Rodney. Two plus two is four."
He rolled his eyes. "Thank you so very much. And by the way, Colonel? Most people don't take pride in being an idiot savant. I'm a very good pilot. Very good very good," he mimicked. "There are two thousand and seventy-three porno magazines on the floor. Two thousand and seventy-three. Two thousand and seventy-three."
Actually there weren't any porn magazines anywhere. The stash under my bed disappeared the first week into the relationship, and the next time I showed up at the lab every geek there had red, tired eyes and repetitive motion injuries to their right wrists. Except Dr. Werry Sing. He's a lefty.
"Oh God, are we there yet?" Kavanagh scrubbed his face with both hands and hurried away from us. It didn't take him two seconds to remember there was a lethal Wraith probe that could possibly be waiting around the corner. He stopped instantly.
"Junior's getting cranky," I murmured to Rodney.
There was another eye roll, this time accompanied by a curl of a lip. "I can't believe his pony-tail grew back so fast. The brain of a newt, yet he can grow hair like a Greek stevedore. Where is the justice?" I watched with sympathetic amusement as unconsciously his hand moved up to smooth over his high forehead and short hair. "I don't hear the jumper," he raised his voice to say with gloomy expectation. "Do you hear it? I should've known. Trust Radek with transportation? You just know he's at the mainland chasing Athosian tail. I've told him once, if I've told him a thousand times…."
Teyla stepped around the corner and raised one smoothly curious eyebrow. "And what tail would you be referring to, Dr. McKay? It is an expression I am unfamiliar with. Perhaps you could explain."
As Rodney swallowed his tongue, I fished in my pocket and handed over the crystal he'd removed from the transporter several hallways and one level back. She accepted it and looked back over her shoulder. "I should hurry. When I left, the probe was becoming quite aggressive. I am not sure how much longer it can be held off."
"Who flew?" I asked, nodding.
"Sergeant Hohenecker." She smiled. "He is almost as good a pilot as you, Colonel."
"Hey!" I protested. That was totally uncalled for. "The son of a bitch puked his first time in a 'jumper. Did he tell you that? Forget the inertial dampeners, he made like Linda Blair all over the front screen. I had to have techs detail the damn thing twice before I could get back in it."
"Yes, and that is the most important thing here," McKay sniped as he took the laptop in carrier with strap from Teyla's shoulder. "Tell Radek he has thirty minutes to get the gate set as destination. I figure it will take me only ten minutes, but we do still have to walk to the transporter and, well, I am the most brilliant man on Atlantis, but I'm compassionate too. I'll grant him a few extra minutes to try and keep up with me."
"I will be sure to tell him," she responded gravely, "when I ask him what Athosian tail means." Dipping her head, she turned and headed back in the direction of the pier followed closely by Kavanagh.
"The son of a bitch didn't even look back, did he?" I snorted. "Why the hell doesn't he just go back on the Daedalus?"
"Well, the pay is outstanding." Rodney tucked the laptop under his arm and gave me a crooked grin. "Truly outstanding. Phenomenal really. I mean your President doesn't even come close to making…."
"Yeah, yeah. I've heard it before, Dr. Moneybags." I nudged him into motion. "Nice to know I have someone to support me when I'm old, gray, and living on an Air Force pension."
"Oh, I have faith you'll earn it." His grin widened. "I'll make sure of that." Putting the calculator in his pocket, he slapped his hands together and said briskly, "Now, let's make like a can of Raid and exterminate this mechanical bitch."
Like I'd said, always the man with the plan. We double-timed it to the transporter closest to the gate room and the less said about that experience, the better. After the fifth time of Rodney asking if I was all right, I answered that no, I wasn't all right. I hurt like motherfucking hell, but the sooner we killed that damn thing the sooner I could get some good drugs. Assuming Einstein's self-proclaimed successor could open the infirmary doors. He responded by calling me a stubborn, inconsiderate, thankless son of a bitch. I didn't take it to heart. He called me the same thing the last time I used the last clean towel.
By the time we reached the transporter, I was sweating buckets. I leaned against the wall and gave strong consideration to pulling a Hohenecker. We'd made fair time though and that made it worth it. I closed my eyes and swallowed thickly. Almost. A hand landed on my shoulder and an annoyed, worried voice said sharply, "For Christ's sake, at least sit down."
"If I do, I don't think I'll be able to get back up." I opened my eyes and frowned. "What are you standing around for, McKay? I thought you had reprogramming to do."
He scowled and tapped knuckles on my chin. "I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I'll try to do better next time." Turning, he triggered the transporter doors and disappeared inside. I could still hear him muttering to himself though, plain as day. There were things about me…about my mother…about my mother's mother and about the monkey that fell out of a tree, humped an Ancient's leg, and spawned my ancestral line. "My theory," he went on over the clacking of lap top keys, "is that there was only one Ancient screwing his way through the local wildlife. Every ATA gener can be traced back to one oversexed Ancient, and I'm thinking a certain spiky haired acorn didn't fall too far from that tree."
There was more…there was always more; that was one of a thousand things that I liked…hell, loved about Rodney. I liked fast things…planes, cars, rollercoasters. He was all of those rolled into one snipey, snarky whole and he kept me on my toes like no one else ever had. Like no one else ever would. But this time I let his diatribe, otherwise known as bitching and moaning, fade into the background as something else caught my attention. It was the distant sound of shattering glass. My gun was still in my hand and I tightened my grip on it. "McKay," I stated quietly. "I'm going down the hall for a second. Keep working. I'll be right back."
"I cannot believe those idiotic words actually came out of your idiotic mouth." He appeared at my side and quieted for a moment to listen. Exhaling, he straightened his shoulders, "Well, we knew we were going to have to lure it into the transporter. We should be jumping for joy it's going to be so easy to find. If only the rebel Genii were so cooperative, we could use my warhead for something other than a paperweight."
"Okay." The crashes were growing more frenzied now. "You finish up reprogamming the transporter and I'll go get the girlfriend."
"I am finished," he responded loftily. "Turns out I underestimated myself. It's rare, but it happens." Keying his communicator, he rapped out, "Radek, we're ready."
There was a pause and then Dr. Z's voice hissed in both our ears, "How wonderful for you. I am not. Need ten more minutes."
"You have five," Rodney shot back as he folded up the laptop and stashed it carefully in an alcove next to us.
"Five is nice number. Very prime. All the same I need ten and you will give ten or little death machine will pop back out of transporter like homicidal jack-in-box. I will then get your job, which is nice for me…I deserve promotion, but will be bad for you as you will be dead."
"Radek," he snapped, hands working as if he could imagine them around a human neck…which considering I'd seen them around a neck or two in my day, probably wasn't a stretch of the imagination for him. "We're all very impressed with your visualizations skills, but we don't have…."
"Ten minutes, Rodney. Call me then." There was a click in my ear and Zelenka was gone.
"He hung up on me," McKay said incredulously. "That Wizard of Oz munchkin reject hung up on me. Oh, he is so pulling KP for a month. He'll wash every bottle in every lab on Atlantis. And then I'll send him over to the mainland to milk goats. He claims to be such a breast man, just wait until he has double handfuls of manure smelling goat teats every damn morning. He'll never look down Elizabeth's shirt again. I'll give him a mammary phobia he'll never get over. I'll…."
I started down the corridor without him. A moment later I felt a hand resting lightly on my back in support. "If you could be a little faster with the ducking this time," he said with a fractured calm, "I'd consider it a personal favor, okay?"
There wasn't much I could say to that except… "Okay," I promised. "I guess I probably didn't play it too safe last time." Not that I remembered anything. "I'll play it safe now."
"Yes, well, about that…." He hesitated, then went on smoothly, "Never mind. Let's get this thing into the newly patented McKay Robot Roach Motel and slam a shoe down on its metal ass."
We moved the rest of the way in silence other than a hissed whisper in my ear to stop sweating ATA genes as I went. And, sorry, but there wasn't much I could do about that. It turned out the sounds were coming from one of the Animal Science labs. Sliding carefully along the wall, I reached the shattered remains of the door and peered through the wreckage. I could feel the weight of Rodney against my back as he took a look as well.
"Well," he said in a barely audible whisper, "there's something you don't see every day."
It was killing mice. And the poor goddamn things were everywhere. Hundreds of white mice were out of their destroyed cages and tearing around the room, squealing and climbing anything in their path, as the robot raced along the walls firing at them. With each hit a mouse would fall, curl up, and not move again. Sometimes there was blood around their mouths and some actually blew up. Just…blew up. It was…damn, it was kind of horrible.
"Holy shit," I muttered, appalled. "It's like a massacre at Disney's House of Mouse. What the fuck is it doing?"
"It's the ATA mice." His hand tugged a handful of my shirt as his big brain made the connection. "They're Carson's gene therapy reservoir. That damn stupid thing is zapping ATA mice. And I wanted a Wraith on staff. Okay, mind you, that's taking effectiveness to the nth degree and I admire that, but the devil is in the details, people. And wasting a perfectly good death ray on a mouse is hardly efficient use of power, now is it?"
"You're all heart." I shifted backwards an inch or two as the robot jumped from wall to ceiling. "Okay, this is what we're going to do…."
It was as far as I got. Apparently a hundred and seventy-pound Colonel chock full of ATA-ness was more noticeable than hundreds of tiny mice. Another tentacle…two down, six to go…whipped through the door, wrapped around my upper body and yanked me into the lab.
So much for my ducking skills.
There was a difference between irony and fucking irony. Irony was that instead of amazing shower sex this morning I ended up being molested by a mechanical spider while an amused Czech looked on. Irony was that John was too impatient to eat a late breakfast and so we never did eat breakfast at all. Fucking irony was that by coming to find me for breakfast, John managed to distract said arachnid away from me before it could shudder and leave a hydraulic fluid stain on my thigh but got himself killed in the process.
Irony was that I was able to come up with a way to save him, save all the ATA geners, hell, save the city itself and in the end fall victim to something so ridiculously stupid that it defied all logic. Fucking irony was listening to John demand C-4 off the same poor inbred medic that had eyed me nervously when I had done the same a few hours earlier.
This brought us back to another ironic moment, one when I anxiously wanted to hear John's plan for luring spidey out of the lab and into the transporter, only to have the same damn creature pull him violently into the lab instead.
John's eyes widened as he started to disappear through the doorway. God fucking dammit! All he had to do was duck. Was that really too much to ask? I did the only thing I could think to do at the time; I dove and grabbed his lower body, trying to plant my feet and pull back. The extra weight alone seemed to slow his progression toward the spider, but we were both being steadily dragged along.
"Shoot it!" I screamed.
"What the fuck do you think I'm trying to do?" he yelled back. He tried to shift his body to see where he was aiming, but between the hold both the robot and I had on him, it was pretty much hopeless. With a frustrated growl he simply pointed the gun behind him and fired. The bullet clanged off the body but ricocheted away to impact with another of the enclosures in the lab.
Sheppard had noticed the mice when he first looked in the lab, and believe me; they were kind of hard to miss. But I had been down in this lab several times before and knew they were just a small portion of the zoological collection that the xenobiologists kept down here. There were tanks with native fish species, cages with various reptiles and mammals, even a mated pair of ravenous frogs, and although they had yet to produce any of their miniature hell spawn, the biologists felt they had accomplished quite a bit by finding a pair that didn't try to eat each other on a daily basis. I took their word for it, going nowhere near the happy couple in question.
But the bullet impacted with what looked like an elaborate ant farm, only they weren't ants, they were a colony of what was for all practical purposes a species of burrowing hornets. Hornets with red wings and yellow bodies and big stingers and nasty venom. The glass shattered sending sand and stinging insects pouring to the ground. I cringed, wishing he had hit the fucking frog tank instead.
Sheppard fired again, this time managing to connect with the tentacle that held him, the hold on him weakened slightly and I felt him shift minutely toward me. I leaned back as best I could as he fired a third time and the robot's hold on him slackened to the point that I was able to pull him out of the loop of metal. We both landed hard on our butts and one injured tentacle retracted as another shot out. We scattered out of the way along with the mice, John ducking behind an incubation unit while I crawled behind a work bench. Feathers and glass flew as the probe fired and destroyed the incubation unit and whatever poor species was keeping warm inside.
"God damn," John swore and I let out a relieved breath at the sound of his voice as he scurried behind a work bench opposite the one I was behind. Another Stuart Little of the ATA variety scurried across the table top and dropped without a sound as a pulse engulfed it.
"I have an idea."
A mouse ran across my leg as another pulse took out one of its siblings and I subconsciously jerked away from paws on pant leg, scraping it through sand and glass.
"Does it involve getting shot by an alien spider death ray?" I asked.
"God, I hope not."
"Okay, I'm game."
"Just get ready to move out to the transporter."
"What about you?"
A tentacle shot out toward the direction of his voice, crashing through a set of beakers on the table top. John rolled clumsily out of its way with a grunt of pain.
"If it goes right, I'll be there before you," he assured me.
"And if it doesn't go right?"
"Let's not dwell on that right now, okay?"
John stood as a tentacle darted toward him and he held up a piece of framing from a destroyed cage. The tentacle wrapped around the piece of metal and he jerked as hard as he could. The spider went sailing across the lab, bounced off the wall and landed in a large aquarium tank. The robot thrashed in the water as one curious, glowing squark bumped at it tentatively.
"Wow, that worked better than I thought." He grinned. "I think our luck may be changing, McKay."
But I barely heard what he said, I was a little preoccupied at the time staring at the stinger sticking in my palm from the hornet that I had squashed as I pushed up from the floor. "Yeah, you could say that," I responded absently even as the distinctive taste of strawberries burst in the back of my throat.
He must've heard something in my voice because he regarded me with wary eyes. "Rodney?"
I walked toward the door, holding my open hand in front of him as I passed him to show him the remnants of red wings and yellow body. "I think we need to get to Carson," and I felt the first signs of constriction in my airway.
His eyes widened and he took me by the wrist, leading me quickly out into the hallway. The spider had already reached one tentacle toward the table and was trying to pull itself out of the water. "It's all right, Rodney. I've got it all under control." He reached into his pocket and his body froze for a split second and a look of confusion passed over his features. He started patting his other pockets. "Where the hell are my epinephrine syringes?"
"In you," I wheezed.
"What?" he demanded.
I patted on my chest. "To restart… your heart."
The look of confusion turned to alarm and he began patting at my pockets. "Where are yours?"
"In you." And I reached out for him as each breath became a struggle.
He grasped my searching hand and held it up against his chest. I could feel his heart pounding and it actually helped to hold off my own panic because he was alive… he was alive.
"Okay, we're going to get you to Carson. He's in the gateroom."
I shook my head. "Too far." Wheeze.
"The hell it is." He keyed his radio even as he led me down the hall. "Zelenka is the transporter ready?"
Radek let out a frustrated sigh. "Ah, has Rodney forgotten how to tell time or is he too scared to ask question that he must have you do it now? I have told him already…."
"I don't give a fuck what you told him, is it ready?"
"It..it will be ready momentarily, Colonel." Radek's tone was subdued. John liked Radek, the two of them often tag teamed me with verbal barbs and sarcasm. I couldn't remember a time John had ever spoken to the Czech the way he just had and obviously neither could Zelenka.
"You tell me the second that it is functional, do you hear me? The goddamn second, and have Beckett standing by."
"Colonel, is something wrong?" Carson asked.
The grip on my hand tightened possessively. "Rodney was stung by a bee."
"Give him an injection of epinephrine."
"I already thought of that, but evidently we don't have any with us."
"But you always…. Oh," and that little word said it all. "Bloody hell."
"We're coming through the transporter as soon as Radek has it operational."
He pulled me into the transporter and eased me down to the floor to lean against a side wall. Squatting in front of me, he took both my hands in his.
"How's his breathing, Colonel?"
I pulled in a struggling breath. "Labored," he told him matter-of-factly, "and getting worse by the minute."
"Understand, John. We'll be waiting for you."
"Come on Dr. Z," he mumbled under his breath and I squeezed his hands as the next breath was even harder than the previous. He turned hazel eyes to my frightened face, regarding me with worry and fear and love. And I clung to him tighter because if there was anything in the universe that could keep me on the living side of death's door, it was John. "Okay, Rodney, right here, you keep those baby blues right here on me and we're going to breathe together, okay?"
I nodded and he took in a deep breath, so goddamn easy and lung filling that my own oxygen deprived brain wanted to call him a gloating son of a bitch right then and there. Instead it sucked in what it could with a rasping sound that made the muscles in his jaw flinch. "Good," he lied and did it again. The next time, my rasping was worse.
"Zalenka, where's that transporter?"
"It is almost… Hernajz proč, nebude tebe práce … It will not… One moment more," he said shortly and was gone.
"Fuck!" And I could hear the anger as John bit off the curse and swallowed, then entwined his fingers with mine. I licked tingling lips, leaned my head back against the wall and wheezed shallowly. Radek was good, but this time I knew he wasn't going to be good enough. The little engineer that could just couldn't make it up that hill fast enough today. The breath John pulled in next stuttered almost as much as my own. "Fuck." And the anger was joined by resignation and resolve as his grip tightened painfully on my hands.
Down the hall I could hear the sound of metal legs on Atlantean tile and with another curse John activated the door closed. One narrow tentacle wormed its way in before it could shut completely. "She has got to be the most persistent admirer I have ever had. Hell, compared to her, Chaya practically blew me off."
"Should have… let you shoot… her in… first place" and I tried for a weak smile.
He gave me an odd look then curved his lips at me. "The spider or Chaya?"
The door opened a fraction and another tentacle worked its way in. John didn't even bother to draw his gun and I knew why. It was written on his face; either we lived together or died together in this transporter and since he couldn't go into anaphylactic shock courtesy of a stinging insect, he would be willing to go the way of another mechanical bug. And at that moment is seemed like a damn fine plan to me. I reached up one of my hands to cup his face, ran my thumb along his cheekbone. The door opened a little more and I dragged in another gasping breath. John never took his eyes from mine, his lips quirking. "It's been a hell of ride with you, McKay. Best of my life."
The metal screeched as the spider's body pushed in between the two panels and Radek's voice came through the radio. "Colonel, transporter is ready!"
"Fuckin' A! We're on our way with company." And the robot plopped on the floor the same instant that John activated the transporter.
The wall I had been leaning against was gone and I tumbled backwards onto the gate platform still holding John's hands. He shifted to his knees beside me even as the spider tried to reestablish what its target was. Marines started firing on it, the force of the weapons fire pushing it back a step and holding it at bay as Teyla appeared at John's shoulder. I looked up past them into the empty curve of the stargate towering high above us and I knew how to get rid of the murderous arachnid once and for all.
I grabbed the scraps of John's shirt and pulled him down to me. "Dial… gate."
He gave me a look like I had gone crazy then realized what I had in mind. He keyed his radio and yelled to be heard over the gunfire, "Dial the gate!"
Elizabeth's voice came across. "To where?"
"It doesn't matter, just form a wormhole."
"Copy that. Clear the embarkation area."
And the marine's fell back and John and Teyla moved me out of the line of fire, and the wormhole whooshed into existence capturing that little fucker in the backwash and scattering its molecules to the nether regions of the universe.
I would have let out a relieved sigh but I couldn't spare the breath. I suddenly felt Carson's hand on my chest. "Rodney, we still can't get into the infirmary and the only way I can keep your airway open until we do is to intubate you."
I nodded my understanding even as he told the medics, Teyla and John, "Hold him down, I don't have anything to sedate him."
He broke out the tube and regarded me with sympathetic eyes. "Sorry, lad, this is going to be rough."
Well that was the fucking understatement of the century. As much as my brain knew that the rough plastic being shoved down my throat was the only chance I had to live, my body refused to listen. I felt weight of other bodies on my arms and legs as my limbs fought and flailed to get at the tube and yank the foreign object out of my windpipe. At the top of my head I could hear John calling my name in a frantically calming voice even as his hands held my head firmly in place so that Carson could work.
Carson squeezed my shoulder. "There, at least we'll keep your breathing."
I closed my eyes, fighting not to gag on the object and failing miserably. John still held my head in his hands, trembling fingers brushing at my hairline, pressing his lips to my forehead before resting his own on mine. I felt his thumb wipe away a tear that trailed down my temple from my clenched eyes and I focused on his voice whispering words of comfort and love and soothing. And after a time, my body finally stopped bucking and with a final caress, John lifted his head from mine.
"I want C-4 on the infirmary door," the quake in his intonation as subtle as the touch of his fingers, "and I want it done yesterday."
"But, sir, I'm a medic," came a familiar voice and protest. "I don't carry C-4."
Now was that fucking irony or what?
Once he managed to straighten out just who was in possession of the explosive, John leaned near my ear. "I'll be right back," he promised and he was gone. Then the hands were back, lifting me onto the gurney. A detonation echoed through the corridors, and Teyla squeezed my right hand in encouragement at the sound even as Carson sighed as they walked beside me as I was rolled down the hallway. Halfway to the infirmary, John's hand enclosed my left again and he never let go even after we arrived, after Carson started the IV of epinephrine and after the sedative started taking effect. And the last thing I knew before I drifted off to oblivion was the feel of John's fingers tracing the lines of my palm.
In the moment before I woke, I was convinced I was trapped in an ice tunnel, the sensation of John's hand linked with mine reviving the memories. But then I heard the tiny clink of metal on metal and couldn't help but think what a nice sound that really was. I opened my eyes slowly to see him watching me from a chair beside my bed, trying his best to form a tight small smile. "Hey," I whispered hoarsely.
"Hey, yourself." His eyes skipped away from my own, around the room, and came to rest on my hand again. I raised that same hand, reaching weakly for his face. He leaned into it, trapping it again in his own and kissing the palm.
When I got upset, I got loud…. Well, louder. When John got upset, he got quiet, violent but quiet. And the more upset the quieter he became. And this silence spoke volumes.
There were times when we needed to be Sheppard and McKay, the dynamic duo that kicked ass, took names, and integrated technologies separated by centuries and light years to do it. That's when the adrenaline was flowing, the testosterone was raging, and the banter was at its most biting. At other times we just needed to be John and Rodney, the best buds, the two guys that were inseparable either arguing over the use of a piece of Ancient Technology in the lab or snipping over who got the biggest portion of potatoes in the cafeteria or watching movies with our friends on the big screen. Then there were times like this, times when we needed to be us, and that was a different beast all together.
I hitched my head in a silent beckon and without hesitation he crawled up the bed and wrapped himself around me, sighing heavily as he placed his head on my chest. For the first time I realized he was dressed in infirmary scrubs just like the ones I wore and I spared a glance to see the bed beside mine had been occupied but vacated.
I squeezed his shoulder. "I keep telling Carson he needs to get a queen sized hospital bed, but he just won't do it."
A small laugh vibrated through his body. "I think he's going to be more interested in getting a new door than a bed for us."
I smiled into his hair. "God, I would have loved to have seen that. He must have had his kilt in a wad over that one. Was he really pissed?"
He shrugged against me. "Not that you could tell, but I think he's volunteered us for some research on the differences between natural and manufactured ATA genes. He talked about lots and lots of blood samples being required….and fasting."
"Great. I just don't understand how a man who grew up amongst the most docile creatures every to roam the Earth can be so vindictive. It makes me wonder what sheep do when we're not looking. I fear they may be planning a take over of Orwellian proportions, a veritable coup de baaa."
"Sheep in wolves clothing, how very paranoid of you, Rodney."
I sighed. "Well, at least he can't do anything to us until he sends us home, Hippocratic Oath and all."
He snuggled in closer. "I can't wait to go home."
I hugged him back, feeling his heart beat against my chest, knowing he was listening to my breathing with the same sense of relief. "Yeah, me either." But the ironic thing was that with John in my arms, I already was home.
They let us out of the infirmary at ten the next morning. At ten ten I was at the gym.
Okay, that was an exaggeration. Actually at ten ten I was back in our quarters sitting on the edge of our bed while Rodney stripped off my scrub top. After the X-ray Beckett had determined my ribs weren't broken, but two were cracked due to poor CPR technique. He said it more than loudly enough for Rodney to hear because, yeah, Carson loved to yank both our chains on a regular basis. But he also did it I thought to jar Rodney into an argument and out of his mood.
And fuck was he in one.
I'd fallen asleep the night before sprawled on top of Rodney in a narrow infirmary bed. We were in the isolation room, not because we were infectious, but because Beckett said we depressed the hell out the single nurses and didn't do a whole lot for his digestion. When I woke up, Rodney was already awake. His fingers were threaded in my hair and rubbing slowly and methodically at my scalp. I'd yawned, snuffled his scrub top, and grinned hazily, "It's mine, McKay. You can't have it."
He snorted back, "As if I'd want that catastrophe on top of your head. Even Bushmen couldn't find their way through that mess."
"Jealous bastard." I planted a kiss on his chin and then his mouth. Normal morning breath was replaced with a medicinal one, probably on both our parts. His from sedation and mine from pain killers. "Gah," I muttered, then kissed him one last time. There was warmth under my lips…warmth and movement and under the infirmary taint the heady taste of pure McKay. Oddly enough from the first time we had kissed, I thought he tasted like lemons. Something that was deadly as poison to Rodney, yet that's what he tasted like. Sharp and bright, tart and challenging.
I laid my head back down on his chest for a moment to listen. And there it was. Smooth and deep. Clear and open, no wheeze. Not a hint of constriction. Smooth sailing. I felt my jaw tighten before I gave an internal sigh. Now wasn't the time or the place. Sitting up, I started to stretch, gave what was probably an unmanly as hell yelp, and folded in on myself a little. "Shit," I groaned.
"Aye, shite indeed. Even near death doesn't slow you horny bastards down. And that's what cracked ribs get when they contort themselves into a bed meant for one not two." Beckett stood in the doorway giving the both of us a jaundiced look from faintly bloodshot eyes. We'd had a hard day yesterday, but his hadn't been all peaches and cream either. He'd had to drag both of us back from the brink of death and he had to do it with each of us hanging over his shoulder shouting pretty nonhelpful things.
"Oh really?" Rodney shifted and sat up with me. "Well, perhaps when you could possibly manage to not lock yourself out of your own infirmary, I'll consider your advice worth listening to."
And the mood started.
That's when Carson had sprung the CPR remark and I had to give him credit. Normally it would've worked. There was nothing more that Rodney liked than a good knock down drag out argument. It perked him right up. What he was doing now wasn't his usual snarkastic smackdown. He was pissy as hell, and I let it go. Sometimes you had to let a McKay mood run its course. This was shaping up to be one of those times.
Soon enough we were given the heave ho. Rodney was free and clear for duty and I was off for two days and then on light for two weeks. On the way back to our quarters, an entire medical shoebox of epinephrine syringes under my arm, I watched as Rodney ravaged everyone who crossed our path. They didn't even have to say anything; they only had to be in the general vicinity. Soon several of them were fleeing before us, like lemmings towards the sea. Luckily we made it into our room before harm was done to anyone. Well, permanent harm anyway.
"Jesus Christ," I complained. "I just wanted to stop and grab some lunch. Sitting at a cafeteria table isn't that much exertion."
He pointed to the edge of our bed and repeated, "Sit."
There are some times a Colonel has to bow to a higher command…or face doing without for a long time. I sat. Rodney eased my scrub top off and frowned. I looked down to see bruising over my sternum. "Hey," I murmured. "You saved my life, Supergeek. A few bruises are worth it."
But it wasn't as easy as all that, was it? I'd held him down. I'd held Rodney down while Beckett shoved a tube down his throat and I refused…I absolutely refused to acknowledge that each breath could be his last. I'd told him everything was fine, that he wasn't going anywhere without me…and when that didn't work, I told him other things. Private things. And if Beckett heard them, he pretended he didn't.
Then I blew the doors to the infirmary and took a good part of the wall out too. I held Rodney's hand as epinephrine brought him back from a teetering edge and kept on holding when a sedative took him down to a peaceful sleep he more than deserved. I waited until I was sure he was thoroughly out before I went to the bathroom and puked up the breakfast neither of us had eaten.
No, it wasn't that easy.
"I should've told you to shoot it in the first place." The bile this time was aimed at himself. "You wanted to, but no. No. I had to do it another way. I had to think about it, because God forbid I should admit that I'm not the end-all be-all expert on every goddamn thing under the sun."
I blinked. That's what this was about. There had been one or two peculiar silences yesterday while we were on the run and this was why. "Shooting didn't seem to do much good anyway," I pointed out. "I doubt my making like Billy the Kid would've changed the outcome any. And what was it doing anyway when I wanted to shoot it?"
The corners of his mouth twitched as he balled up my shirt and tossed it on the floor. Hurricane McKay strikes again. "Actually…humping my leg."
"Really?" I grinned.
"Really," he confirmed with an aggrieved sigh.
"Then you're right. I should've shot it off the bat. I'm a jealous guy." I snagged the shirt on the floor with my foot and kicked it pointedly onto his. "Besides, my not-so-fucking-amazing shooting dumped a swarm of hornets on you. You know what they say: if it wasn't for bad luck…." I tried for flip, but it didn't come out that way. I was good at fooling most people, but I'd never been any good at fooling McKay. Not from moment one. "I almost killed you." My lips tightened and my eyes dropped to the shirt. The stupid goddamn shirt because that was easier to look at than what I'd almost lost.
"I did kill you." A hand cupped the back of my neck and squeezed desperately tight.
I thought about it for a moment, then felt a sliver of humor part the gloom. I snorted. "You always have to win, don't you?" I raised my eyes to his and watched the blue lighten.
"That's my special gene." His mouth crooked and he dropped his hand to trace the bruise over my chest. "And my CPR technique was flawless; I don't care what that sheep dip concocting Scot says." The hand flattened to do what it had done several times during the night…feel for my heartbeat. "Did you see a tunnel? Legions of old lovers waiting to kick your scrawny ass? A bright light?"
I didn't have to think about that one. "Hey, my bright light is right here."
He stared at me and shook his head in disbelief. "You know, it truly amazes me that you ever got laid before I came along."
"Corny?" I winced, then grinned.
"As Kavanagh's hair during African Heritage week." He bent and pressed a kiss to my jaw. "But I think I'll keep you regardless. I'm far too busy a man to look for a replacement and we can't spare the parts to build one."
Five minutes later I was lying down with the blanket pulled up to my chest, the taste of new painkillers lingering in my mouth, and an order to nap until Rodney got back from the lab. He wanted to check out the damage the robot had done and he promised to bring back lunch, all of this within twenty minutes. It was a familiar sounding number and it should've been. Nothing in McKay time took longer than twenty minutes. To us lesser beings it more likely measured out to an hour or two…there was nothing like the ability of nongeniuses to tell time to ruin a genius' day.
I figured I had plenty of time to hit the gym and be back before he even came close to hitting the dessert end of the cafeteria line. Okay, punching and kicking things didn't fit in with the discharge instructions Beckett had given me, but what he didn't know would only hurt me. And sometimes a little pain was a good thing. It took your mind off a bigger one. I needed this…I always did. I had painkillers on board, an occupied astrophysicist, and a deep dark urge to hit something. What I didn't have, however, was a place to put all that to good use.
Sergeant Bates was guarding the gym door.
"You've got to be kidding me," I scowled. "You're ass is so on my list, Bates, if you don't get out of my way right now."
The dark eyes measured me and found me to be somewhat less terrifying than one smart-mouthed Canadian. "Let me take that bag for you, Sir." The large hand took my gym bag. "Dr. McKay says you can have it back in two weeks and two days." There was a slow blink. "If you're good."
"Bates, you insubordinate son of a bitch…."
"I'm sorry, Sir, but I've been ionized before. I didn't enjoy it. Shall we go back to your quarters?"
I ended up taking a nap after all…after I'd bent down, groaning and cursing, to pick up the shirt still lying on the floor. The pain wasn't really that bad under the masking warmth of Codeine, but it was the principle of the matter. I grumbled, dumped the scrub top in the hamper, and went to bed. I didn't expect to sleep, but with the lights low and the heat of covers pulled up over my gym sweats, I dropped off almost instantly. I woke up sometime later to the sound of running water. Yawning heavily, I sat up stiffly, ran a hand through my hair, and staggered into the bathroom.
Rodney was brushing his teeth. It was a good idea. I was tired of tasting the infirmary every time I swallowed. I moved up behind him, rested my chin on his shoulder, and dropped my hand on top of his as it rested on the sink. Then I did what I did every day. Every single day. I clinked our rings together and murmured, "Mmmm. That's a nice sound." It was my way of saying…what I needed to say.
He finished rinsing his toothbrush, dropped it in the sink and leaned back against me. He was silent for a moment. His hand then moved under mine, fingers separating until ours were intertwined. "You know what else is a nice sound?" There was an unusual note under the affection in his voice…it sounded almost like apology.
"That sound you made in the back of your throat the other night?" I kissed the nape of his neck. "Because, damn, that was nice."
"A rerun of a one track mind," he said cryptically before turning, wrapping arms around my waist, and locking hands in the small of my back. "Actually, the sound I'm thinking about is the sound of the shower running and you getting in."
"Oh," I sighed, disappointed and experiencing a weird feeling of deja vu.
"And inviting me in," he finished, a wicked gleam in his eyes.
"Oh," I grinned. "I knew there was a reason you're always claiming to be a genius."
"And I suppose since you're on light duty, I'll have to do all the work," he added with mock indignation. "Of course that's nothing new. I always have to do all the work on Atlantis, day in and day out. Why should this be any different?" He leaned forward and sucked lightly over the pulse in my neck. "It's fortunate I'm a workaholic. Class A personality all the way."
"Hey, you won't get any complaints from me." Short, light brown hair tickled my nose as he worked his way to the other side of my neck and I nuzzled it with enthusiasm. "But you're sure you don't have some emergency brewing somewhere? Someplace important to be?" A thought hit me. "Weren't we supposed to have a briefing yesterday? Does Dr. Weir want us to…."
"I think you need to worry about what I want." He maneuvered me backward to the shower, stuck a hand in and triggered the water. "I don't have anything pressing brewing and this is the most important place I could possibly be. So take off your clothes already and let's go. Chop chop."
The sense of déjà vu had disappeared, and what was left in its place was heat, a sense of belonging, and a feeling that I'd had since that icy sky had fallen over a year ago…a feeling that things were right. Finally right. Completely right. And it wasn't until the hot water hit me and hotter hands were touching me that something hit me in a burst of memory… I spit water and scowled outraged.
"Did you call me a human ring toss?"