Some Sort of Epiphany
So, it went something like this:
Ronon and Teyla had gone ahead to check out the perimeter, while John stayed behind to guard McKay’s ass while he unearthed the source of the weird energy readings he’d found. It would have been asking too much for a ZPM, but McKay’d yapped something about it being as close to a similar energy source as they’d get, and he looked like a maniac when he began punching in codes and numbers into his pad, so John rolled his eyes, nodded to the others to go around and do recon, and checked that he had full magazines in his guns. They could be here a while.
It hadn’t even been fifteen minutes when McKay squealed and John’s ears rang – “Ow!” “What now?” “Could you use a lower frequency when you do that?” “Oh, like your pain is important when I may have just found the key to my research!” – and burrowed deeper into the leafy cover over the cave mouth. His excited babble echoed around the hollow chamber, and John sighed.
“Hey, could you let me know what you’re doing? We don’t know what the hell is in there, you can’t just go charging --”
“What, what?” John whipped around and followed McKay inside, feet and gun first.
“The- the- the that, what the hell is that?”
He found McKay backed up against the cave wall, outstretched hand shaking, looking pale as a sheet in the reflected light of his sensor. John peered in the direction he was pointing and gave McKay a nod. “Stay here, I’ll go check it out. Don’t do anything until I tell you to, got it?”
“N-not a problem, sure, sounds good.” McKay’s voice was doing that high-pitched thing it did whenever he was terrified, which had been happening a lot less as of late, so maybe something was actually up. John’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, though he was still have trouble seeing anything ahead of him, much less the Whatever that McKay was freaking out about.
“I can’t see a damn thing except for the walls.” He squinted. “Are you sure you’re not hallucinating? That Athosian attempt at power bars may have --”
“I am not high, Colonel, there is something out there!” McKay’s voice sounded a bit less frantic now, with the good ol’ note of condescension creeping back in.
“Is it the truth, Rodney?” John smirked at his own joke, and practically heard McKay’s eyes roll around his head.
“Oh, very funny, haha, he watches bad television, give the man a medal. Now would you please just do your job and kill that which could be attacking me at any second now?”
“Calm down, Rodney, I can’t see anything – something must be interfering. We’ve been here long enough for whatever it is you’re pointing at to have killed us six different ways from Sunday already, and it hasn’t yet. I’m guessing it’s either biding its time-“ McKay whimpered behind him, “- or there’s nothing out there. I choose option number two, okay?”
“Well, that’s very well and good, but I can still see it!”
Their voices were echoing all around the cave, and as much as John would have preferred this whole thing to just be part of McKay’s warped imagination and twisted sense of danger, he’d learned better. In truth, it was seriously starting to freak him the fuck out that he couldn’t see anything while McKay was still wibbling about That Something Over There, and he might have kept wondering and walking forward indefinitely had he not collided with something solid and invisible and been thrown backwards on his ass while McKay yelped behind him. Then, everything went totally dark.
John opened his eyes one at a time, gauging the situation as he did so. Head, pounding – check. Limbs, bruised but vaguely intact – check. McKay, still freaking out, therefore alive and well – check. John grunted as he began levering himself up on his elbows.
“Oh, thank God!” A new solid thump hit him, though this time it was infinitely warmer and squishier. He instinctively brought an arm around McKay before he could think about it, and then thumped his back to make it look like an accident.
“There, there?” He let his palm slide over McKay’s jacket and finally pushed him away on the pretence of wanting to get up and get on with the situation. His back was killing him, and he thought he felt something warm at the back of his head, but didn’t feel like checking. McKay shuffled off and was now sitting against the wall of the cave, hunched in on himself. It looked so out of whack and wrong that John changed his mind about getting up and scooted closer. “What is it, what’s wrong? What the hell happened?”
“It was a force field.” Rodney’s voice sounded formal and hollow. “You couldn’t see it because it’s only visible from a certain angle, exactly --”
“Where you were standing,” John concluded and slumped as McKay nodded. “What did it look like?”
“Like a filmy sort of- thing. Ghost, or something. Similar to the visions I saw during the nano-virus outbreak.” McKay’s hands, what John could see of them, emphasized the ‘way back when’ feeling of it. No wonder he freaked out – if you saw what you generally associated with ‘certain impending death,’ not even a brilliant scientific mind would stop you panicking. John reached out and forced himself to give McKay’s shoulder a friendly pat.
“It’s all right, Rodney, it isn’t a nano-virus. Though you gotta wonder-“
“How it’s related,” McKay finished, his voice flat.
John ran a hand through his sticky hair. His scalp stung, which meant he had a small wound, but it didn’t feel serious, so he let it go, wiping his hand on the seat of his pants. “Did you have any luck figuring out who’d designed the virus?”
“No, it was too intricately encoded, and then, with one thing and another –“ John felt McKay shifting, then warm breath slid over his side. McKay had moved closer. “Zelenka thinks it could have been a breakaway sect of the Ancients, maybe purists of some kind.”
John forced himself to ignore how close Rodney was sitting, because it had been weird enough with the hug. He shifted uncomfortably and concentrated on their conversation, as opposed to why “the hug” suddenly felt like it’d grown quotation marks. “Purists? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but maybe they knew that eventually, what with the Wraith and their chances of winning – or, losing, more precisely – they would be spread thin, and the gene-“
“The gene would, too?” John moved away with hardly making a sound, his gut clenching.
“Something like that. In either case, maybe they wanted to preserve it through this sort of…unnatural selection.” McKay’s jacket made a swishing sound against the wall. John felt, more than saw, Rodney’s body moving away. His side grew colder and clammier. Why were they still sitting here, anyway?
“So, some of the Ancients weren’t such good guys. Makes sense, I guess,” he said and, after assessing that his legs would hold him up, finally got up. “Ugh. All right, so what about this energy source?” He extended his hand to help McKay up and felt his warm hand tug at him as Rodney staggered up.
“Well, partly, it was the force field, but I don’t believe that- what is that, why is your hand all…sticky?”
“What? Oh.” John snatched his hand back and wiped it more thoroughly on his pants. “It’s nothing, hit my head when I went down.”
“You’re bleeding? Oh my God, what if you have a concussion? How many fingers am I holding up?” Rodney’s hand came up directly under John’s nose and John slapped it away.
“I’m fine, Rodney! I do not have a concussion.” He was pretty sure, anyway.
Rodney huffed and stepped back. “Well, pardon me for worrying about your safety. My mistake. Won’t happen again, I assure you, Colonel.”
John deflated and followed Rodney to the mouth of the cave, while Rodney huffed and bitched about the dark. They stopped to feel around and pick up their equipment, bumping into each other by accident. John thought that maybe he had hit his head too hard, because every time his body connected with Rodney’s, even peripherally, it sent a small zing down his spine, made his skin shiver. Which was entirely ridiculous, because this was McKay he was talking about here. Infuriating, grating, possible hypochondriac, brilliant - did he mention irritating? - McKay. He was not having some sort of epiphany over an astrophysicist who didn’t even have a pair of boobs – not at this stage of the game. No. Absolutely not, he wasn’t, he wasn’t even thinking about it, much less –
“Colonel?” McKay was right near his ear again, and John turned his head to shoo him out of the way, make him step as far away as he could without pushing, when their noses bumped. They must have moved closer to the mouth of the cave, because John could see him better now, streaked with pale echoes of the sun through the leaves, a ray right over his eyes, his eyelashes long and – and their noses were still touching, and Rodney had that slight point to his, and it was now brushing against John’s, and if he moved his lips just a little bit – a little bit closer –
McKay’s breath slid over John’s mouth and they were so close, they were almost touching, and then McKay leaned all of his weight forward and stepped on John’s foot.
“Ow!” John jerked away instinctively and winced in pain just as McKay staggered back and went even paler than before.
“Oh- oh my God, I- I’m so- I- I gotta g-“
John lunged forward, trying to ignore the pain in his foot, and grabbed Rodney by the lapels. They’d been that close, and sure, McKay was kind of awkward, and he wasn’t winning any people skill awards anytime this century or the next, but suddenly, that didn’t matter one little bit, because he was Rodney and John, his stomach fluttering, realized he was apparently kind of screwed.
“Shut up, Rodney,” he breathed right before he pressed their lips together and tasted those crooked lips and warm breath and sharp tongue.
Rodney’s hands clenched around his sides almost painfully and John felt himself smile into the kiss.
After they got back up to the surface and radioed in to let Ronon and Teyla know that they’d found something worth investigating further, John tried to busy himself with rearranging his gear. It was harder to look at Rodney out in the sunlight, but when he finally forced himself to, he decided the awkwardness was kind of worth it. Rodney’s cheeks were flushed, and his eyes looked a bit bigger than usual. His hands didn’t know where to land, and like John, he pretended to be busy rearranging his equipment. John smirked and cleared his throat.
Rodney’s head snapped up and he looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “Yes, Colonel?”
“Wanna learn to play golf?”
McKay blinked, then looked down, a small smile creeping up his cheeks. John just waited, eyebrow raised, like he was totally relaxed about this. “I suppose if I am to lower myself to such depths as playing a sport, golf would not be such a horrible foray into the world of athletics.” Rodney bent down to tie his shoe. John came closer until McKay was forced to lift his head and looked up at him from a pretty nice level.
“It’s an exercise in patience, actually,” John drawled. “I think you might need a lesson or two.” McKay seemed to bite back another smirk in response.
And that was how John found himself picking up golf balls from the entire length of the East Pier in the dark into the wee hours of the Atlantean morning. Rodney didn’t even complain about the cold.