Disclaimer: Neither Stargates nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me. I claim no ownership of them and recognize that they belong to the various people and companies who own them. I do this solely for my own enjoyment and, should our interests mesh, the enjoyment of others. I have made no money off of this and do not ever plan to. Anything that even looks vaguely familiar (such as brand names, culture references, etc) also does not belong to me.
Series: Return to the Blood Lands
Story: The Ancient Prophecy
He didn’t deal with stress well. Unresolved disputes tended to stress him out the most and, if his and Xander’s relationship was anything, it was unresolved disputes layered over unresolved disputes, flavored with unrequited crushes held by weirdo creepers.
Giving it some thought, Rodney came to a conclusion- he needed to treat the cause in order to get rid of the effect. He was a man who very much liked a world that laid itself neatly in causes and effects, and it seemed quite obvious to him that the cause of this ‘effect’ was Xander’s place in Rodney’s department. A place that Rodney didn’t even think Xander should BE in, he remembered self-righteously. While Xander didn’t become the downtrodden gopher of Rodney’s nightmares, he did become the unvalued and unappreciated research assistant of the stereotype, forever doomed to do inventory and label experiments and file paperwork.
Rodney paced some more.
Attraction required at least one component that he knew of: proximity. All other elements of attraction puzzled him on a good day, but he at least knew that, in order for Person A to fall for Person B, Persons A and B had to interact on some level at some point- hence, the need for proximity. At the moment, Xander was very in Rodney’s proximity.
Rodney’s step faltered a bit. Why was that a bad thing again? He thought about it. Oh right. He started pacing again.
It seemed quite obvious to him that the effect of Xander’s proximity would lessen or even disappear if Xander’s presence were to be removed from the department entirely. Rodney ran with that idea.
“So I’ll just kick him out of the department!” Rodney said to himself. “Say he hasn’t been doing his work and… then the lessons would be over and then he’d have no reason to continue the training… or would that be the perfect reason for him to carry on with it?” It was hard to tell what Xander would take offense at.
Of course, if it was him they were talking about (and Xander was in Rodney’s position), attraction or not, there would be hell to pay if he was kicked out of his department. Or even demoted. Or thrown off to another country. For Rodney, that was not the number one relationship killer, but it was pretty far up there.
And Rodney STILL wanted Xander as a friend.
He slowed to a halt in his pacing and stared at the floor. It occurred to him that, by trying to salvage the friendship they had, he could effectively be ending everything between them forever. It was like trying to save a hand by amputating the arm. Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. If only they could talk about this in some kind of logical, dignified manner!
Of course, how did one say “I can’t be around you, because you make my brain go stupid” in a way that wasn’t just… weird?
Oh god, he hoped Xander didn't think he was weird.
The door to his office opened suddenly. “Rodney!” Radek bounced over the threshold, looking excited. He had a piece of paper and one of the lab’s data pads. “I have something to show-”
“I’m kicking him out of the department,” Rodney announced without preamble. Radek hovered a bit in place, trying to connect the random comment to some sort of logical conclusion. There was no question who ‘he’ was, and the rest he figured it out quickly. Radek quickly donned his most mulish expression, looking a bit like a kid whose parents were discussing the practical possibility of ignoring Christmas that year.
“No, you are not,” Radek said firmly. Rodney, a bit miffed at his ‘second in command’ being insubordinate, straightened up, scowling at the smaller man from his superior height. Radek was, predictably, unimpressed, wordlessly demanding an answer the longer he stood there. Rodney hesitated. There was a part of him that rose up in offense, wanting to say ‘au contraire?’ to Radek’s refusal, but there was a much larger part that stomped feet petulantly and demanded, ‘why not?’ After a brief tussle, the bratty part won.
“Why not?” Hearing the whine, Rodney hurried to defend himself. “It’s not just for personal reasons!”
Radek looked confused. “Personal…?”
Rodney ignored him, pacing the floor of his office. “I’m sure if I think hard enough, I can find professional ones.” He gave it a moment’s thought, then snapped his fingers. “Destruction of property. There. Now I have a professional reason.” Rodney beamed.
“Look, Rodney… whatever, I do not care.” Radek dismissed Rodney’s current life-altering dilemma with a wave of his hand. He seemed annoyed and excited at the same time, watching as Rodney started going back and forth again in his pacing. “But did you know Xander could read ANCIENT?”
“I’m telling you, the proximity of the- What?” Rodney blinked as Radek’s words suddenly sunk in. “…That can’t be right.” Rodney reached for what Radek was holding- a data pad with an Ancient report, and a single piece of paper with Xander’s familiar sprawling handwriting. His eyes darted back and forth, going from familiar Ancient term to familiar Ancient term and then to the barely grammatically correct English.
The barely grammatically correct English with the CORRECT translation.
What that meant hit Rodney hard. “Oh hell…”
“He thought he was just reading it,” Radek inserted helpfully. When Rodney looked up, the scientist’s expression was smug. “See? You cannot fire him. It would be, as you say… cutting off your foot to spite your leg.”
“I think you’re getting your phrases mixed up,” Rodney said, searching for what little errors he could search for. Xander’s punctuation was deplorable, and the less that was said about his spelling, the better, but what little technology specific Ancient Rodney knew offhand was translated correctly.
“So?” Radek was grinning- actually grinning. He was excited by this. Xander’s language abilities would factor greatly in Radek’s ongoing battle with the Ancient archives, Rodney knew. But for Rodney…
Rodney stared sightlessly down at the floor, something like misery battering at his mind. He looked up and forced a neutral expression. “Whatever.” Rodney turned around, putting his back to the door as he vengefully flipped through his notes.
There was a rush of inhaled air behind him- like Radek was going to say something. Demand explanations, issue sound scoldings, restate his argument why having an Ancient translator was a good thing. In the end, he said nothing, letting out that air out in a sigh. A second later, Rodney heard the office doors close.
Once the other scientist was gone, Rodney turned back around and leaned heavily on his desk for support. “Crap…” he said softly, rubbing at his eyes. This was so not good. Xander, without realizing it, had forever cemented his place in their department, and there was nothing Rodney could do about it.
So much for his proximity hypothesis.
The mess was cracking into the MREs already. The first time was that day at lunch. That was Xander’s first MRE experience ever. He was kind of excited about it all, despite knowing that the presence of the field rations in place of real food was a sign that Atlantis was quickly running out of supplies. They were going to reach the planet soon anyway, he reasoned. They’d stock up then and everything would be fine.
It was dinner time now. He dropped his tray in front of Sarah, smiling at her when she looked up. “You look tired,” he observed.
“You look rested,” Sarah countered, stirring around the slop of what was allegedly spaghetti but tasted vaguely like (according to what Xander was told) a cross between old cheese and chicken. “Long shift last night.”
“Yeah, about that…” Xander said, frowning at her. “You do know you can switch around, right?”
“Sure.” Sarah nodded.
“Oh, okay,” Xander said stupidly. He suddenly felt awkward, so he changed the subject. “Did you hear about the major? Poor guy is in the infirmary. They say it was stress.”
“Stress?” Sarah echoed softly. She seemed to think about it and nodded. “Yeah, it’s been pretty stressful.” She went quiet, ducking her head down as she traced symbols in the spaghetti sauce. The longest strand of her loose blond hair almost scraped the dish but she didn’t notice. Shrugging amiably, Xander busied himself with what was said to be meatloaf and what oddly tasted like… meatloaf. Hm. Not too bad.
Sarah set down her fork slowly, peering at Xander underneath her lashes. “Xander, how do the shields work?” Her question was oddly forceful. He felt her breath stir a bit over his face.
Xander felt aware of himself suddenly- the solid pressure of the table under his elbows, the tight grasp of the collar of his shirt over his neck, the weight of Drusilla’s necklace, the abrupt heat of it. Rubbing his hands together nervously, he leaned back a bit, trying to make the move casual. Some of the tables were too damn small, he realized. Maybe the Ancients were smaller people- or just had a different concept of personal space.
“Shields work by shielding,” Xander said wryly. There was a little bit of sauce on the end of her hair. He reached out for it, sliding the sauce off. Overcompensating for his anxiety, maybe, but Xander wasn’t the type of person to let a friend wander off with food in her hair.
The marine was frowning at him. “Yeah, but…” Sarah stilled, allowing him to finish. Once he was done, she continued talking. “I wonder sometimes.” Her gaze was intent, fixated on his face. “What if they collapsed suddenly? What would we do?”
“Easy,” Xander said, leaning harder against the back of his chair. “We’d die.” Sarah’s head shot up. Rather than looking properly horrified, she instead looked conflicted- but who was he to judge the mercurial temper of a woman? He could barely decide on what to think himself. Focusing on wrestling the wrapper off of his desert, he shrugged and said, “Atlantis has plenty of fail-safes to prevent that, so don’t worry.”
“Xander…” Sarah leaned into the table. He looked up, blinking at her wordlessly. Her eyes were wide and pale in her face. Lines of exhaustion curved underneath her lashes and partially down her cheeks but, despite her obvious fatigue, she looked more alert now than Xander did even after a week of full nights of sleep. She extended one thin hand out towards him, her fingers curling up like claws. “Give me your fruit cup.”
After a moment of silence, Xander snickered. “No way,” he said, popping a hearty spoonful into his mouth. “‘et ‘ur own.”
Sarah stared at him for a moment and then, all of the sudden, started to laugh. She rubbed at her eyes “You look like a child, Xan,” she said affectionately. And yet, there was something very sad about her expression. She reached across the table and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. Her eyes were warm. “You’ve been very kind to me, even when you didn’t have to.”
“Hey, I’ve been in your place,” Xander said lightly, brushing off the gratitude. “Your place sucks, by the way.” He looked at her for a moment, noticing the downward incline of her head. He extended the last piece of his meal towards her, attempting a friendly smile. “Cracker?”
“Thank you.” Sarah tore it apart in her hands, seemingly more interested in destroying it than she was in eating it. She looked away. Her eyes cut suddenly back to Xander, the look as abrupt as her topic change. “There’s a part of the city that was submerged. I patrol around there at night. Weird stuff happens.”
“Like what?” Xander asked, mildly interested. He leaned forward, folding his arms on the table. “Flashing lights, ghostly screams?”
Sarah was overly solemn. “I don’t know, but I get scared sometimes.”
Xander’s eyebrows hiked up. “You? A marine?”
“Marines get scared too.” Sarah looked down at the table, biting her lip. “Anyway, I wanted to know if you had an extra flashlight, help light up the corners?” She looked up, something a little hopeful in her expression.
“Patrol with you?” Xander asked, drumming a beat on the table with his fingers. “Around you? In the same vicinity as you?”
“If you want.” Sarah tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I mean, you have more free time now, right?” She seemed slightly desperate, but in that aloof, casual way that usually meant, in Xander's world, that the other was too cool to hang out with him- but, in this case, she was arguing for the opposite.
Since Heightmeyer put her dainty foot down, he did have some free time. It wasn't like he went LOOKING for trouble nowadays anyway- his free time schedule usually consisted of eating, sleeping, and socializing. He could squeeze in some patrolling, no problem.
“Yeah, sure.” Xander shrugged. “Why not?”
Rodney stared blankly into the distance, wincing slightly at the headache building up behind his eyes, but was otherwise generally unresponsive- to time, to thought, to any other stimulus. His blood was loud in his ears, a roaring ocean wave of sound, and he thought there was something about that, some memory or knowledge that made that significant. Something about the idiotic romanticism about people and sea shells.
But whatever the thought was, it was beyond him, lingering just out of his reach. He did not strain to touch it. It was not important.
He could have sat there for a few minutes or for many hours, but when the door opened, much of the numbness that had clouded his brain had faded, burned off. So when Xander paused in front of him, head cocked to the side and his face pulled in an expression of confusion, Rodney found himself racing for an explanation- a rational one. Because the one that leapt to the forefront of his mind (he was in there because he just HAD to be in there) was NOT a rational explanation.
But Rodney’s mind was utterly blank of rational explanations. He tried, instead, to take a page out of John’s book, giving Xander his best ‘I’m charming, don’t be mad’ smile. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Xander said slowly, tucking his hands under his elbows. He said nothing more, merely raising his eyebrows.
Urgency fluttered under Rodney’s skin like a frightened bird. He was conflicted, pulled between different desires, neither stronger than the other. One a compulsion, the other an obsession, and to do one would be to ignore the other, and he just could NOT do that. Ignoring them both would be just as bad, and he was already well aware he sucked at ignoring Xander.
The steady throbbing of his skull suddenly jumped up on the Pain Scale from four to nine, like someone was giving him a lobotomy with a dull ice pick. Rodney flinched and pressed his palm against his eye, trying to will the pain away.
“McKay?” Xander was looking worried now, his arms untangling from each other as he closed the distance between them quickly.
Rodney was in Xander’s room. On Xander’s bed. With Xander’s hand reaching out to him.
God, what was he doing in here? And why? HOW? He didn’t remember… He had to say something. Anything!
“Just where the hell have you been?” Oh. Well. He was off to a fabulous start…
Xander’s hand abruptly closed into a fist. He straightened suddenly, pulling away. “Patrolling.”
“Since when?” Rodney scooted away, needing the distance. He needed… time. He needed to figure out what was going on. He needed to THINK- and Rodney knew he couldn’t think when Xander was in the room. He was distracting. So very, very distracting…
Rodney continued on the same vein. “You have other things to do. Like translating Ancient into English.” That last barb was flung almost accusingly, like Rodney blamed Xander about not making a full disclosure about his skills and lack thereof- which he didn’t. There were other things he was annoyed about, a whole plethora of them, and Xander’s likely ill-gotten skill didn’t make his top ten list, or even his top hundred.
Xander was making a face. “I’d rather not. It gives me a headache.”
Xander didn’t even know what a headache was, Rodney thought fervently. Any headache he got was a loving pat from the god of headaches. What Rodney was feeling right now was a kick to the groin- but in the head.
Even facetiously created gods of misfortune preferred Xander to him, Rodney thought. He couldn’t blame them.
“Well, I’d rather not have you in my department, but we don’t all get what we want.”
And that was, Rodney realized suddenly, an incredibly mean thing to say. Such a TERRIBLE thing to say, after all the lessons Xander sat through, after all the hours he clocked as an assistant, after… everything. As usual, Rodney only got the full impact of the words after they left his fool mouth, and he sat there, chewing over the sound of them, regretting it, hating himself, wanting to say something to make up for it.
That other thing from before, whatever it was… it suddenly wasn’t important anymore. Not in the ensuing silence that followed Rodney’s harsh words, not while Xander did an admirable imitation of John’s detachment face.
Rodney labored through creating an apology but couldn’t seem to choke out the necessary words to start with. “…I didn’t mean to snap at you,” he said instead.
And, just like that, that horrid blankness was gone. A good natured smile slipped into place. “You’d snap less if you slept more,” was all Xander said.
“So says the person who was gone all night,” Rodney commented wryly.
Xander tilted his head to the side. “How can you tell I was gone all night?”
“You’re wearing the same thing you wore yesterday. Since Teyla provided you with a wardrobe, you’ve done very well working in with a little bit of diversity into your everyday wear.” Must I explain everything, Rodney thought with a roll of his eyes.
Xander paused for a moment, considering that. He fell back lightly against the door, his arms rising to cross over his chest. “…You notice when I wear different clothes?”
“Anyone with eyes would notice,” Rodney said impatiently.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with vision,” Xander said, with that annoying ‘got one over on you’ tilt of his head. “It has everything to do with focus.”
Rodney’s heart beat sped up a little bit. Was Xander really going to try now for being the observant one? When Rodney was, to be honest, too tired to hide? When Xander was, for once, absolutely right? Rodney’s focus on Xander was abnormal and he knew it. It wasn’t abnormal in the sense that some people decried homosexuality, no, it was abnormal because Rodney. Just. Didn’t. Do. THIS.
“What do you mean?” Rodney asked casually, ignoring the heat rolling under the skin of his face. And he didn’t BLUSH, damn it!
“Well…” Xander said, drawing out the word. He seemed to be actually thinking about it. “For instance, there’s this girl I’ve known pretty much my whole life. I’ve seen her from childhood to adulthood and all hoods between. I know her face better than I know my own.” The bittersweet nostalgic expression that overtook his face almost immediately shifted into sheepishness. “Once, it took me two weeks to figure out she cut her hair.”
Rodney couldn’t help his smile. “That’s pretty bad.”
“Yeah.” Xander got that distant vague look everyone got when they tried to remember something, and Rodney knew his ploy had worked- Xander had been well and thoroughly distracted. Xander shook his head, walking past Rodney as he dismissed him with a flick of his hand. “Anyway, I refuse any early morning lessons today. After the night I’ve had, it’s just un-American.”
Rodney frowned, trying to puzzle that one out. “But I’m Canadian.” He got up though, slowly making his way to the door. He needed to leave. Like, five minutes ago. He needed Carson, John, Radek, or Elizabeth- some calm voice of logic that would tell him, no, he wasn’t crazy, and, yes, people lost track of what they were doing when they were tired.
Because if it was anything other than fatigue, Rodney might REALLY go insane.
“Exactly. Thanks for agreeing with me.”
Rodney snorted. A thought occurred to him and he turned to Xander. “But you’re not even-” About to complain about misplaced patriotism, he almost swallowed his tongue when he realized what he was looking at.
Xander looked up, pulling the rest of his arms out of the sleeves. “Not even what?” He casually tossed his shirt to the side, his fingers going for the wrappings over his left arm.
A mule could have kicked Rodney in the gut, and he would have reacted better.
“Dressed. I mean, naked. You’re not. Well, you’re half. A third, really. Naked, that is.” And he was. Xander's planet must have a loose sense of propriety, Rodney reasoned quickly. No real taboos against undressing in front of others, no real body shame- not that Xander had a body to be ashamed about. No no no, with a body with that, his ego should have been twice the size of Rodney's. Three times, even.
Wincing at the sound of his own thoughts, Rodney closed his eyes and gestured blindly to the door. “…Excuse me, I seem to have left my brain out in the hallway.” He turned quickly and waved his hand over the door. Once, twice, three times- nothing. Rodney whirled on Xander. “You locked the door!”
“What?” It was Xander’s turn to look startled. “I don’t even have the-” He stalked over and waved his hand rapidly over the crystals. Nothing happened.
And then something did happen- the lights turned off. The room was plunged into a thick darkness.
“What did you DO?” Rodney demanded in a rush of air.
“I didn’t do anything!” Xander complained defensively.
“And why is your chest glowing? Are you bio-luminescent?” There was a faint fog of brightness coming from Xander's direction, giving off the kind of light only a very cheap, very used glow stick would give after a day. It disappeared for a second, as if an obstacle (like a hand) raised over it, and then reappeared.
Xander's voice was very, very terse. “One, you’re an idiot. Two, I don’t even know what that means-”
“Three, YOU’RE the idiot. Four-”
“Look, it’s just a necklace,” Xander snapped, sounding irritated. He was right there in front of Rodney suddenly. A heated weight was pressed into Rodney's hand- and the glow suddenly went up several notches from a dim haze to a candle flame.
It was just enough to light up Xander’s concerned face. In pink. “McKay, are you HURT?”
Rodney was distracted. “Couldn’t have gotten this in a different color?”
“I mean, pink. Pink! I’m not one for gender stereotypes but…”
“I don’t remember how I got here,” Rodney burst out suddenly. The confession seemed to come right from his chest and it hurt- but in a cleansing way, putting words to the feeling of wrongness he had from the moment he realized he was in Xander’s room. “I’m supposed to do something now, but I can’t remember WHAT.”
Rodney shifted away from Xander self-consciously and something loosened from his waist. There was a metal thud on the ground. Xander looked down for a second and then his head disappeared into the darkness. There was a soft sound of metal scraping against metal, and then Xander reappeared again, his pensive expression swiftly turning grave.
“…You in the habit of walking around with your handgun, McKay?”
Rodney stared at it. “Not usually,” he said faintly, wincing as his headache went up a notch.
The light from the necklace suddenly flared bright, so bright it was almost white. Too busy blinking away the spots in his vision, Rodney didn’t notice Xander reaching for him until he felt the bite of fingertips in his arm.
“What’s wrong?” Xander asked, concerned. Rodney was backed up into a wall before he realized it but was grateful because it kept him vertical. His ears were ringing and his skull pounded vengefully all the while the floor seemed to buck and roll beneath him like waves under a ship- but it couldn’t have because Xander was standing in front of him, and HE looked fine…
“Infirmary. Carson.” He pressed his lips together, riding a moment of dizziness. “Whichever is closer.” Which was neither, of course, because the power running to Xander’s room had randomly shut off, locking them in there, and he was NOT going to panic at that thought, which was frightening on more levels than the absurdly obvious. He just needed to think of something else.
Yes, think. He could think.
Somebody would figure out he was missing way before he even passed out from hunger, let alone died from it, and the systems providing oxygen to Atlantis ran on a power system far more basic than either the system that controlled the doors or the system that controlled the lights, and it was very, very hard to get Atlantis to turn off or alter such a basic system voluntarily, even if said system put more oxygen into the air than was actually needed for most modern humans and-
His head was starting to feel better already. Huh. Mind over matter really worked.
He cautiously dropped his hands from his head and peered into the darkness, holding up the crystal (which never really left his hand since Xander gave it to him) to aid his poor night vision. He rolled his eyes once he realized what he was looking at.
Xander, the idiot, was trying to force the door open. Forget the fact the door operated on a left to right plane (and the fact that he was trying to open it by pushing it OUT), the doors were pressurized and of the kind of quality that could keep both the pressure of the sea and the pressure of space out. No man (unless he was Superman) could force it open like that.
And Rodney was kinda doubting Superman could either.
“Do you or do you not remember that the door doesn’t work?” Rodney pushed himself away from the wall and took a few unsteady steps forward. Oh yeah. He could handle this. He made as if to pull out his laptop but remembered, rather belatedly, where he was. “Tell me you have a computer in here.”
He could hack the door. Right? That wouldn't solve the power problem, but it would be SOMEthing. He could figure out what went wrong, at the very least.
Xander’s back was still to him, a faint gleam of pale color in the pink-tinted world of his room. Rodney, after a moment of blank staring, walked up to him. The sudden compulsion to touch Xander was almost overwhelming and Rodney found himself snatching back his hand before it ever touched bare skin. The realization of his tenuous grip on his self-control made his tone, when he spoke again, incredibly sour.
“What the hell are you doing? Trying to become one with the door?”
Xander shot him a glare over his shoulder. “Shut up, I’m trying to concentrate.”
The light of the crystals that operated the door flashed one after the other in a random sequence.
It occurred to Rodney that Xander might actually be trying to open the door with his mind- not an outlandish thing to try, granted. John did it all the time. But that was when the power was ON. Could an ATA user operate a piece of Ancient technology when there was no power going to that device?
Rodney thought about it. Theoretically… yes. What little information they did possess on the phenomenon suggested that the interaction between ATA gene and technology somehow produced a tiny bit of power, a spark, powerful enough to turn on the device for a few seconds. How that was even POSSIBLE was beyond Rodney. But he accepted it, like he accepted a lot of weird Ancient things (like Ascension) that science couldn’t necessarily explain.
“There’s a manual override-” He gestured towards the second crystal.
Xander was nodding, raising one hand away from the door. “Yeah, I-” The door opened so fast, he almost fell right through it. As it was, he stumbled for several steps before straightening. He hopped back around with a ‘ta-da!’ expression, his grin tinged with sheepishness.
He was adorable. He was stupid. He was adorably stupid. And Rodney was certifiably INSANE for wanting that adorably stupid moron.
“Now we can go see Carson,” the moron was saying.
“What? Why? Oh, right.” He glanced at the control crystals, watching as they lost power, leaving Xander’s room gaping open. Seven seconds. His spontaneous creation of energy had lasted for a whole SEVEN seconds. It was bizarre.
If only Rodney could figure out how that worked, it would solve all of Atlantis’ energy problems for good. If the interaction of an ATA gene and a certain device could generate energy, could they not create a device strong enough and specialized enough to generate an output of energy rivaling a ZedPM?
Tap. Tap. Tapping. Rodney raised his head and glared at Xander, who had the gall to lift his eyebrows up at him, his boot never stopping with its impatient twitching. Turning around quickly, Rodney scooped up an armful of cloth and hurried out the door.
He hurled the fabric at Xander's face, and then the necklace. “Shirt and necklace. Show off.” And then Rodney strode off by himself, trying to show he wasn’t as weak as he felt, and yet was absurdly grateful for the quick beats of Xander’s steps behind him, the press of Xander’s hand on his arm.
The hand disappeared for a moment and fabric started to rustle loudly to his left, and Rodney wasn't looking- damn it, he WAS looking. But it was practically sacrilege not to look. Blasphemy. A violation of the universe's natural order.
Then Xander's head popped through the collar, and, la la la, Rodney wasn't looking- wasn't the floor FASCINATING?
Xander's hand was on his arm again, the grip firm.“You’re kinda weaving in and out there, buddy.”
“I was walking in a perfectly straight line!” Rodney snapped.
“If that’s your idea of straight…”
Besides a few hushed murmurs from the other side of the department, the back part of the infirmary was mostly silent. There were three beds back there and two of them were occupied. The one farthest down was occupied by his second in command, Lorne, who hadn’t woken up in two days but was allegedly getting better- according to the doctors, anyway. John would believe it when he saw it. Right now, he just wasn’t seeing it.
The second used bed was being occupied by none other than Rodney- a scowling, pissy, paranoid Rodney, who was more frightened than angry and more sullen than frightened. He was sitting on the bed closest to the small archway through which John was staring, the sight of him sometimes obscured by Carson’s white coat and back. Rodney’s expression shifted from annoyed to concerned to worried back to annoyed again- and John wasn’t even close enough to hear what they were talking about, having been banished to the middle of the infirmary.
Recrossing his arms over his chest, John sighed heavily, feeling the breath whoosh out of him almost painfully. He was as frustrated as hell. All Carson would tell him at the moment was that the initial blood tests showed signs of a similar organism that had been in Lorne’s blood an hour after he was dragged to the infirmary. And since Lorne’s new name was Coma Boy, that wasn’t very comforting at all.
John glanced over at Xander, frowning a bit. They were both waiting for Carson to finish his tests. While John’s reaction was to plant himself in the middle of the room and not move, Xander was wandering around, touching things, pointedly not looking at John. John thought that might have been his fault, really- when he heard Rodney was in the infirmary, he rushed over and demanded information from the guy. Xander didn’t give him anything, but a gun. Rodney’s gun.
That didn’t go over so well.
But that was thirty minutes ago, a half an hour of stony silence. He’d figure the time was enough to cool the both of them off- or, at the very least, induce such a state of boredom that little things like edgy colonels snapping at kids could be easily forgiven.
“How have you been fitting in?”
Relieved, Xander pivoted sharply on his foot, facing John. Boredom it was. The kid paused for a second, clearly considering his answer. He stepped closer and shrugged, his hands wandering from gripping his arms, to settling on his hips, to, finally, digging into his pockets.
“Like a square peg in a round hole,” Xander admitted wryly, his sheepish smile taking on a dimension of loneliness that was just… sad.
Before John could comment on it, Carson turned and gestured for them to come over. Xander made a sweeping motion with his arm, as if saying ‘after you’, so John went first. Xander followed close behind, his footsteps an almost inaudible series of thumps to even John’s well trained ears. The kid was scary good- not that Ronon couldn't or wouldn't kick his ass, but still. Scary. And good.
Carson chirped a greeting but didn’t stay to chat, citing test results as his excuse. With one last worried look in Rodney’s direction, Carson walked off to the ‘working’ station of the infirmary, settling a hand on a nurse’s shoulder and murmuring a soft query, nodding as the man pointed something out on a display screen.
Back at the bed, it was distressingly silent. Rodney didn’t look up even when John clapped his hands together. Feeling a heavy sense of unease settling in his gut, John plastered a cheerful expression on his face.
“So. What is it?”
“Nish’ta,” Rodney said miserably, staring at his hands blindly.
John frowned. “Gesundheit.”
“No, it’s…” Rodney looked up then, losing his train of thought as his eyes found Xander. His attention turned back to John as Xander leaned up against the wall on the other side of the bed. “Goa’uld technology.”
Xander had a pinched look on his face, like he was dying to ask what ‘Goa’uld’ was. Or maybe ‘nish’ta’. Or both. But he kept his mouth shut, crossing his arms hard over his chest instead. When he noticed John’s attention on him, he shrugged with a ‘don’t ask me’ expression and looked back down at Rodney.
“So…” John drawled, because Rodney was staring at Xander again. No subtlety whatsoever. Rodney’s head swiveled back in his direction. “What does that mean?”
“What it MEANS, Colonel,” Rodney said caustically, “is that I’ve obviously been programmed to be an assassin.”
There was silence for a moment as everyone stopped to take this new development in. Rodney had a distressed look on his face and he chewed fretfully on his bottom lip. Xander’s brow was deeply furrowed and his mouth was covered by a half-curled hand in a gesture of thought.
John couldn’t help it- he laughed. And he laughed. And he laughed some more. Once he started, it was like he couldn’t stop, like all the tension in him was suddenly exploding out with noise. Rodney went from concerned to sour within seconds.
“Are you done?”
“Almost.” John thought about it again and giggled. Over the bed, his and Xander’s gaze met, and he was glad to see he wasn’t the only one tickled pink by this development. Xander’s eyes glittered with amusement and the raised hand, John saw suddenly, had been covering a smile.
“I HATE you,” Rodney informed him sulkily. He was slightly flushed, his mouth twisting in a bitter expression, but it was thoughtful, like maybe he was reconsidering his automatic conclusion about the current events. The bitter expression shifted slightly into ruefulness as he too considered how stupid the idea was, and then his eyes shot over to Xander, narrowing at him.
“Shut UP,” he said.
“Didn’t say anything,” Xander protested.
“You were THINKING it,” Rodney retorted. He turned an exasperated expression on John. “It made sense, okay? So maybe I had espionage on the brain, so what? The evidence fits the explanation.” He raised a hand and started ticking off points. “I don’t ever carry a handgun around Atlantis. I had no reason to be in Xander’s room tonight-”
“You don’t have any reason to be in my room EVER,” Xander said mildly.
Rodney continued on, as if he didn’t hear a word. “And I don’t remember how I got there, or how I was programmed.” Rodney froze for a moment, then crossed his arms over his chest, settling back into the bed, the very picture of haughtiness. “As it was meant to be, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” John said with a little laugh. He grabbed the nearest chair and dragged it over to Rodney’s bed, twisting it around and straddling it. “You do know what this means, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Heightmeyer.”
Rodney’s eyes got big. “No. No no no!” His gaze darted around the isolated part of the infirmary, as if to find someone who would back him up, but the only people who were there were either distinctly unsympathetic or comatose. John saw the second that Rodney surrendered to resignation and heard the second that the whine wheedled its way into Rodney’s tone. “I can refuse, can’t I?”
John shrugged. “Theoretically, I suppose…”
“Hey, I like Heightmeyer,” Xander said defensively.
“Of course you do,” Rodney said, whirling on him. John had a feeling that the look Rodney threw Xander wasn’t half as biting as it should have been. “You’re the ideal patient- always willing to TALK and share your FEELINGS.”
There was something deeply sardonic in the simple roll of the native's eyes. “Don’t judge me,” Xander said dryly. “It’s a survival instinct.”
“Just quarantine me,” Rodney demanded faintly, falling back to the pillow. What a big faker, John thought, grinning. “I’m highly contagious.”
“He is NOT,” Carson called from across the room.
“He lies,” Rodney hissed loudly. Xander let out a half-laugh.
Carson walked over, glancing at the clipboard in his hand. “The nish’ta organisms died about an hour ago. They should pose no more threat to Rodney’s free will.” The doctor frowned suddenly, obviously bewildered. “In fact, they should have had little effect on Rodney in the first place. This breed of nish’ta is organic, unlike the type the SGC has noted on file, which was artificial and partially mechanical.”
John crossed his arms over the back of the chair. “Organic. Like…”
“Parasites.” Wincing a little at Rodney’s muttered ‘great’, Carson bravely continued. “We must have picked up a species of plant that the organisms use as parasites.” The frown on his face lightened up into a pained smile. “They’re incredibly weak but they do leave minds open to some level of suggestion. Also, they tend to lower… inhibition.”
“Mind control,” John concluded, tensing up. All amusement drained out of him. The idea of Rodney as an assassin was ridiculous, even borderline hilarious. But mind control? In John’s book, that was so outside of the realm of funny, it practically existed in another universe.
“Very, very weak, Colonel,” Carson was quick to say. “It might have been strong enough to provoke a suggestion at its peak, but, as the organisms die, its power unravels very quickly- if one isn't continuously exposed, that is. Once a good number of organisms have died in his system, he will have developed a resistance to nish'ta and will never be susceptible to its influence ever again.” His gaze shifted from John to Rodney. “It’s very possible that any suggestion made to you was made purely by accident, Rodney.”
All of his attempts at reassurances was crap. He wasn't mentioning the other symptom of infection, that big pink elephant in the room named Lorne. Everyone knew it, everyone thought it- everyone set it aside, for now. The 'mind control' thing was a little more present than the 'going to sleep forever' thing.
Rodney opened his mouth and closed it just as suddenly, biting back whatever he was about to say. That the organisms infected him by chance was hard enough to accept. But to accept that the suggestion to go into Xander’s room with a GUN was just as much of a coincidence? Rodney was struggling hard with that- and failing, judging by his frustrated expression.
John knew Rodney too well.
He looked up at Xander, trying to gauge his expression. The guy didn’t look bothered by the idea of mind control, floating parasites in the air supply, or anything else. John wished he had half of Xander’s calm but had to wonder, based on his observations of the kid, how much of that calm was real and how much of it, like John’s own, was faked.
“Why me and my room, though?” Xander mused.
John thought of at least one thing Rodney might want to do if his inhibitions were lowered, and started to smirk. He looked down at Rodney and flinched, because Rodney was glaring daggers at him, like he could pick up John’s thoughts.
“GUN, Colonel,” he reminded frostily.
John had considered that. “That doesn’t necessarily-”
John hung his head- mostly to hide his grin. “Sorry, sorry.” When he looked up, Xander was casting a confused look between the two of them, eyes narrowed and lips pulled down in a frown.
“Are you all quite done?” Carson said with a touch of impatience. He shot John a look, something in his expression betraying his deep worry- a worry much deeper than the one he was voicing. The doctor turned slightly, gesturing some distance away. “If you don’t mind, Colonel, I would like to speak to you…”
“No problem,” John said easily, feeling the dread settle down in the pit of his stomach like a heavy lead weight. He pushed himself out of his chair, tossing Xander and Rodney one last look. “Don’t break anything, kids.”
Rodney sputtered something scandalous at John’s back but he was already walking, already following Carson away, hating and dreading and waiting for Carson to turn around and tell him that Rodney, like Lorne before him, was going to fall asleep and never wake up again. And then John would never see his eyes, never hear his voice, never tease him about Xander-
John blinked back heat and grinded his teeth together.
Damn it. Damn, damn, DAMN.