Shed Your Skin (The Sledgehammer Remix)

by Kass

A remix of Jenn's gorgeous Shed Your Skin. I adore her story, and it was so much fun to remix!
Deep thanks to Isagel for the beta.

"You can't be serious."

Rodney's too startled to be angry, at first. But the way Carson tightens his lips, the tiny shake of his head, are all the confirmation he needs.

"I'm afraid I am," Carson says.

"Are you certain this is wise?" Teyla asks. Her voice is sharp and her expression is sharper. "I do not believe Colonel Sheppard should be alone."

"He's in no danger," Carson protests.

"That is not what I meant."

"Okay, he might have said to keep everybody out? But he didn't mean me," Rodney insists. "Carson, don't be ridiculous; I was in there this morning. I brought him gifts. He was happy to see me."

"Mm, yes, I suppose you're the one responsible for bringing the Colonel candy bars." Carson's trying to sound stern, but his amusement shows through. "You might have asked whether that would interfere with his treatment regimen."

"Oh, come on, I've seen the formulas for what you're giving him." It's starting to sink in -- John's shutting them all out, even him -- and Rodney's exasperation is transmuting to anger. It burns white-hot and satisfying.

"It is not Carson's fault that Sheppard wishes to be alone," Teyla begins, but Rodney's having none of that.

"Give me a fucking break," Rodney yells. "He's been through more trauma than any of us can imagine, and you're going to let him shut us out? That's the last thing in the world he needs, I can't believe you're even considering acquiescing to this!"

"Rodney," Carson says firmly. "He wants to be alone. I have to respect that."

"And I want a fully-charged ZPM and a year's supply of espresso beans! You can't always get what you want."

He doesn't like the way the bitterness shows through. Of all the things he wants and isn't supposed to have, John is top on the list. But being locked out of John's private infirmary room? After what they went through to try to get those eggs? That just adds insult to injury.

"Come," Teyla says, and places a hand on his arm. Rodney shakes it off, but something in her touch is already calming him. He doesn't want to be comforted; he wants to see John. And if he can't have that, he wants to be angry.

"What?" Rodney says.

"Spar with me. It will ease your frustration."

"I have work to do," Rodney says, curtly, and glares at Carson. "You should know better," he snaps, a weak parting shot across the bow, before turning on his heel and walking away.

"You are a petty and difficult man," Radek says amiably as he slides into the chair opposite Rodney's. They are in the mess hall, it is early morning, and Rodney is still inhaling his first vast coffee of the day.

"Good morning to you too," Rodney says. "What brought that on? Not that I'm disagreeing with you, obviously, but it's kind of a non sequitur."

"Until this moment we were not conversing," Radek points out. "Nothing follows on silence."

"Yes. Fine. Your point?"

"Locking Carson into his quarters was not nice."

Rodney huffs a little laugh. "So?"

"It is not Carson's policy keeping you away from Colonel Sheppard."

"No, but Carson gave in to John's ridiculous demands," Rodney points out.

"That is really not my problem," Radek says, diving in to his breakfast. He was smart enough to grab several little foil packets of syrup; it's not real maple, which offends Rodney's sensibilities, but the pancakes need something, and Rodney has already used up the two he picked up. But he catches Rodney eyeing them, and tucks them beneath his left hand protectively.

"Oh, fine," Rodney says, perturbed, "I'll get my own."

When he returns to the table, Radek is mostly through with his own breakfast, but he's still sitting there. "You should talk to Carson."

"I don't think he's going to change his mind." Rodney would like to think he could talk Carson into letting him in to John's room, but rationally he knows there's not a chance.

"You might still be able to learn something about how Colonel Sheppard is doing."

"Fair," Rodney concedes, and douses his remaining pancake with enough fake syrup to cover the plate.

After breakfast, before going to the lab, he swings by the infirmary.

"I didn't think you'd be gracing me with your presence today," Carson says, sounding annoyed. "Locking me into my quarters, that's very mature."

"Anytime." Rodney leans against a counter. "So how is he?"

Carson shakes his head. "The treatment's working, but he's miserable."

"I could have told you that," Rodney snaps, but Carson doesn't take the bait.

"He's scratching himself in his sleep," Carson says, flatly. "The -- molting -- doesn't seem to be painful, but I get the feeling the itching is pretty uncomfortable."

Rodney winces. He had an allergic reaction once that progressed from hives to an eruption of itching on his skin. Being awake was hellish, but sleeping wasn't an option; the itching was too intense. He remembers limping to the bathroom, soaking a washcloth with cold water, and plastering it against his skin. And he remembers wanting to scream when the soothing cold was outweighed by the abrasive qualities of the terrycloth.

"Don't we have anything --"

"The first cream we tried was excruciatingly painful."

And that's a mental image Rodney wishes he could un-see. "Surely we have more than one option we can try?"

"And the second one was apparently worse."

Rodney waits, but Carson doesn't say anything else. "What -- that's it?"

"I shouldn't have told you even this much," Carson backpedals, and Rodney holds up a hand.

"Please. For all you know I've already hacked into his medical records."

The alarm in Carson's eyes is pretty funny. "Rodney, don't even joke about things like that!"

"Relax," Rodney says. "I didn't. I wouldn't." Well, he might, but he's not about to tell Carson that. "Isn't there anything you can do?"

"His skin doesn't respond the way we thought it would," Carson says. "I'm not a dermatologist."

"Even if you were," Rodney admits, "this would be --"

"Outside my area of expertise, yes," Carson says. "And I'm a wee bit busy. The Colonel's not the only person under my care, you know."

Rodney isn't busy. Not with anything that matters. "Fine. Let me help."

"He was quite explicit about not wanting company," Carson begins.

"No no no, that's not what I meant." Rodney snaps his fingers and points at the biohazard container. "Give me some...bits of skin," he says. "I'll see what I can come up with that won't be reactive."

Carson raises an eyebrow. "You'll deign to dabble in chemistry?" But he's already getting up and fetching a handful of petri dishes, clear plastic pucks.

"Yes, well, it's not a pure science, but I'm willing to lower my standards just this once."

"Let me know if you get anywhere with it," Carson says, and pulls on a pair of sterile latex gloves, and unscrews the first petri dish to delicately drop a shred of blue inside.

He's really not busy, for once, and assuming that the Wraith continue to leave them alone for the moment that status shouldn't change.

Yes, he's supposed to be resequencing part of the power grid for greater efficiency, but he can hand that off to Radek, and he does. The team is grounded until John's himself again anyway, and Elizabeth seems to assume that he and Ronon and Teyla will take some time off while they wait for John to heal.

Instead Rodney commandeers a lab no one else is using, and starts experimenting with different kinds of salve.

His best guess is that reactive oxygen radicals had something to do with the pain John experienced. He needs a good polymerization inhibitor, ideally a synergistic antioxidant combination...

"So this is why you suddenly decided to give me the power grid project," Radek says, from the doorway, and Rodney jumps a little, startled.

"I got tired of listening to you bitch about how you thought I should improve things," Rodney says. He means for the words to fly at Radek like darts, but they come out more like a badminton birdie, easy to parry.

"The vote of confidence is appreciated," Radek says mildly. He comes over to peer over Rodney's shoulder. "I knew a man in Bratislava who made lubricant in his lab after-hours."

"Out of what, cornstarch and water?"

"That was one option, but it had the unfortunate tendency to turn into glue."

Rodney snorts. He's only half-listening; he's thinking about the properties of polyethylene oxide.

"But that is not what you are doing."

"I might be," Rodney says. "There are a lot of women in Atlantis who are interested in me."

"Not women only," Radek says, and Rodney looks up and glares at him for that.

"Did you have some reason to be here, or are you just demonstrating the myriad ways in which you're not actually working on the power grid calculations?"

"Simulation is running," Radek tells him. "I was curious to see what you were doing."

"And now you know. Shoo."

"You have considered hydroxy-methyl cellulose?"

It's plant-based; in a pinch he could ask botany for plant matter to work with. Though he's never made any secret of how inane he thinks botany is, how dull and mundane compared with the heights of astrophysics, and he doesn't suspect that's made him any friends in that department. Besides, too much potassium hydroxide and he's likely to give John a chemical burn.

"Glycerine's going to work better," Rodney says. It will help moisturize John's skin, and doesn't seem to be reactive with the alien tissue. Of course, it will also be obscenely slippery. Now there's a pretty mental image, one Rodney can't resist. He can imagine rubbing the stuff into John's skin. Feeling John respond beneath his fingers.

The back of Rodney's neck prickles uncomfortably. He shouldn't be thinking about this.

"Seriously, go away," Rodney says.

"Fine," Radek raises his palms, "I'll see you later."

The door whooshes shut and Rodney takes a deep breath, returning his focus to his work.

If he does manage to get this stuff calibrated -- and he doesn't doubt for a moment that he will; this isn't rocket science -- he knows the appropriate thing to do will be to hand it off to Carson. Get one of the nurses who works in the infirmary to apply it. Keep everything above-board and clinical.

But damn it, he doesn't want to. John locking them out just makes him want in, even more than usual.

He wants John to have relief, but more than that, he wants to be the one who brings it to him. Wants to make John confront how much John needs him.

Sure, he's curious; he wants to see more of what John looks like, now, before the effects of the virus disappear. But he doesn't just want to look. He wants to touch. Those scales: are they leathery to the touch? The bumps and ridges: hard or flexible? What's more sensitive: his alien skin, or the pale human skin growing back in beneath?

Carson mentioned restraints, which gives Rodney far too many inappropriate ideas. He imagines John tied to the bed, yearning up toward his hands.

It's probably not healthy that he's fantasizing about John like this. That he's considering acting on it, too.

But this is John. They've been on a slow trajectory toward collision since they first got to Atlantis. And having almost lost him (again) to the goddamned iratus bugs (again) makes Rodney feel reckless. Like it's about time he exerted a little more gravitational force, because it's possible they won't have all the time in the world to keep orbiting one another.

Maybe the burning desire to touch has something to do with the need to reassure himself that John is real, and alive, and breathing. And maybe it's just the thing he's always wanted -- the thing he's pretty sure John's wanted, too -- and this is, finally, the chance he can't resist.

Rationally he knows this will constitute taking advantage. John couldn't be much clearer about wanting walls. Distance. Defenses. But -- damn it, John had to know that pushing Rodney away was only going to make him find a way to break in. There's nothing like a barrier to make him want to push through.

And besides, he can't shake the feeling that John thinks they're afraid of him. Or should be. And that's actually more than Rodney can bear.

"McKay to Beckett," he says, into his radio.

A moment later Carson's voice is in his ear. "What is it, Rodney?"

"I think I'm onto something," he says. "Glycerine base. I'm in one of the labs on the east pier, can you swing by this afternoon?"

"I'll make the time," Carson promises, sounding grateful.

"McKay out," Rodney says, and disconnects.

It's not hard to find out who's working third shift in the infirmary. Five nurses, though only two of their names are familiar. Susie Lavande is French and younger than Rodney. She likes to drink. He emails her an offer of a bottle of Athosian brandy -- incredibly expensive now that the vineyards of Athos are not only untended but destroyed -- and she accepts instantly. She's in his pocket now.

Rodney wants to groan with exasperation when he sees the next name: Chris Kaplan. Kaplan is a pain in the ass. He tried to start a multiplayer Quake server not long after they got to Atlantis. Only someone on the support staff -- and Rodney can't help seeing the nurses and the cooks that way -- could fail to understand why people like Rodney don't want to spend their spare time shooting at things. Rodney scowls at his computer, but just like that, the answer's obvious: Kaplan's been lusting after Rodney's X-Box ever since it arrived.

Rodney doesn't give a damn about the X-Box. Video games that used to seem so inventive have, not so oddly, lost their lustre here. It's hard for anything on a little screen to compare with the actual adrenaline rush of life in Pegasus. He emails Kaplan and offers to trade the X-Box if Kaplan will look the other way. Kaplan responds so quickly Rodney rolls his eyes. That's two.

Sutter, Fine, and Okuma he has to look up on the internal staff database, because he has no idea who they are. That's a challenge; it means he doesn't know what kind of bribe will work. Fine's picture looks dimly familiar; he thinks maybe he's seen her with some of the Marines in the mess hall? He emails Lorne, asks if Nurse Fine would have any reason to do Sheppard a favor.

And then he turns his attention to the security feed. Getting his hands on nighttime footage isn't hard; he knows where the buffer files are. All he really has to do there is hack into the system, loop the footage, and create a macro so that a quick combination of keystrokes will shift the actual camera feed to his feed.

Making the digital time readout in the corner of the screen continue to creep forward, on top of the looped footage, is slightly harder, but Rodney figures it out in about twenty minutes. Of course, he wants to page John and crow about the discovery, but he can't.

By then Lorne has written back. Fine doesn't really know the Colonel, he says. She seems kind of scared of him, actually. These days. That's exactly what Rodney needs, though anger thrums like a tight tripwire in his gut. It's no wonder John has a complex if his own nurses are frightened of being around him.

Rodney finds Janice Fine in her quarters.

"Dr. McKay?" She looks sleepy; she's wearing a faded t-shirt and flannel pyjama bottoms, and her hair is loose around her shoulders. And she's looking at him like he's the last person on Atlantis she expected to show up randomly at her door.

"Sorry I woke you," he says, walking in to her room. The door whooshes shut behind him. "You're on duty tonight?"

"Yes," she says, crossing her arms defensively. Or maybe she's hiding her nipples. Like he gives a damn.

"Around one in the morning, the lights are going to flicker at the far end of the infirmary. I'd like you to take Sutter and Okuma to investigate, see if something's wrong."

She's not stupid; he can see her putting the pieces together.

"I'm not comfortable leaving Colonel Sheppard unattended," she says.

"Okay, first of all, you're not comfortable attending him either," Rodney snaps, and he can see from her flinch that he's scored a hit. "And secondly he won't be unattended, because I'll be with him."

There's a pause. He stares at her, practically daring her to argue. He knows she won't fight him on this, and sure enough, she doesn't.

"Fine," she says. "What about --"

"Don't worry about Kaplan and Lavande," he says. "Go back to sleep."

"I'm up now," she says, sulking a little.

"My apologies. I'll just -- let myself out, shall I?"

As he walks back to his lab, he's already thinking about nightfall.

Precisely at one in the morning, the far infirmary lights flicker. He sees Fine and Sutter and Okuma skittering off to check what's wrong, like a pack of little rodents.

Rodney presses the button on his laptop that will start the phony security feed. Tomorrow morning Radek will know what he did -- and will intuit why -- but he can't worry about that now. He enters the infirmary, nods to Lavande and Kaplan, and slips past them into John's darkened cell.

The door closes behind him and the room is silent except for John's shallow breathing.

John tied to the bed is every bit as arousing, and disturbing, as Rodney expected. For a moment Rodney tries to imagine they're in John's quarters -- his Johnny Cash poster hanging overhead, the dull sparkle of the old Lantean curtains -- but the mental image falters. This is the infirmary, plain and antiseptic, and the thought of John alone in here fills Rodney's heart with compassion that almost hurts.

He sets that aside. It's not what he needs right now. Besides, he's pretty sure it'll look like pity to John, and that's definitely not the mood he's going for.

He sits gently at the edge of the bed, and John stirs but doesn't wake. He can't be comfortable like that -- wrists and ankles cuffed, just enough play to let him move around but not enough to allow him to do any kind of damage to himself -- and in the dim light the bluish tinge that sweeps across his face looks like a shadow.

It's now or never.

"You know, if I were a less honorable man," he says, "I'd have a camera for this moment. Total internet porn moment. Colonel in restraints. You realize how much this would go for?"

John wakes with a start, thrashing against his bonds as though he wants instinctively to adopt a defensive posture. But he can't; he's bound.

"What the --"

"Shhh," Rodney says, clapping his hand over John's mouth. Touching John feels electric, like the best kind of transgression, and he's weirdly glad to have an excuse to leave his hand there. John's eyes gleam, alien, and Rodney's pretty sure they're trying to convey that John is angry -- and, despite himself, impressed.

John nods, slowly, and Rodney tilts his head, wondering. He doesn't really want to take his hand away, but then again, this stalemate could get pretty old pretty quick. "If I take my hand off, will you yell? Because if you yell, I will strip you naked before they get here and tell them you asked me in here for sex."

It's arguably more than a little revelatory, that being the first threat that comes out of his mouth, but Rodney doesn't care. It's the middle of the night, and this whole situation feels so surreal that admitting how often he thinks about fucking John doesn't even rate on the weird-o-meter.

But John nods again, this time with some vehemence, and his eyes are pleading with Rodney to back off and take his hand away. Taking a deep breath, Rodney pulls his hand back, shifting position and leaning back on one arm. "Inside voice, Colonel," he says. "These walls are soundproof, but I'd rather not test it."

Well, actually, he'd quite like to test it, but that's another story.

If he's lucky, they might just wind up there. Feeling deliciously predatory, he grins.

"Goodnight, Dr. McKay," Lavande says quietly as Rodney walks past. She's reading a book under a swing-arm lamp; Fine is sleeping on an unused cot in the corner. He doesn't know where the other three of them are, and he doesn't care.

"Night," he says curtly, and keeps going. He leaves a vial of lotion on Carson's desk; he saw the stuff in beta during the afternoon, he'll recognize it.

Of course, that also means he'll figure out that Rodney was here after hours, but Rodney's not concerned about that.

It's barely two in the morning; not all that late, by Rodney's standards, but the city has a familiar hushed feeling, like an airliner where everyone's sleeping except the crew. He goes to the nearest transporter on autopilot, and is back on his own corridor before he realizes it.

He doesn't allow the giddiness to bubble through until he steps into his quarters and the door closes behind him.

"Nice work," he says to himself in the mirror, yanking his shirt off over his head and grinning goofily at his reflection.

Though his glee dims a little when he remembers John saying I didn't know who I was. What I was. Idiot. John honestly thought he'd lost himself. Okay, maybe John had, a little, but -- he thought he had to do all of the finding, too. Like he can't lean on the team. Like they won't want him if he doesn't have a complete grip on who he's supposed to be.

That train of thought bothers him through brushing his teeth, kicking off his trousers, climbing into bed. But then he leans down, rummages on the floor until he finds his pocket, and withdraws the dish of salve. He remembers what it felt like on his fingertips. How John reacted to the lotion, and to Rodney's touch. It won't feel as good to him as it did to John, obviously -- he's not molting, for fuck's sake -- but he wants to try it anyway.

He pushes his boxers down his hips and slathers a handful of the stuff on his cock, which has been semi-hard since he first touched John tonight. The lotion is slick, it feels luxurious, and he remembers the way John bit back a gasp when he touched John's nipple. How John arched into his hands.

Rodney's cock throbs, at that, and for a minute he just holds his hand steady, pretending he's not going to move. It's as if his hand remembers what it felt like to clasp John's dick, hard and hot and filling his palm, and now his own dick is closing the circuit.

Unlike John, he's not tied to his bed; Rodney kicks the sheet away, bends his knees and plants his feet, and lets his hips thrust up a little. Picking up the pace. His other hand reaching down to cup his balls (John liked that; he's pretty sure John whimpered), rubbing just there --

He's fucking up into his closed fist, now, the salve making obscene slick sucking sounds as he moves. Remembering how it felt to skim his fingertips along the ridges on John's neck and jaw, the bumps and scales on his chest. How John's own skin looked alien where Rodney peeled the blue away.

They're going to do this again. He's going to torment John again tomorrow night: more stories, another handjob. Maybe even the night after that. And by the time John gets out of the infirmary he'll be eager for payback. He'll hold Rodney down and suck his dick, maybe. Or -- oh -- turn him over and fuck him. John could probably make him beg, if he set his mind to it.

And even when John's body is back the way it was, Rodney will remember this. And so will John. That's what does it for him: the thought of John moving in him, payback for how he slid inside John's defenses. John, fueled by these memories, fucking him slow and hard and so, so good.

He can hear their voices from down the hall, Ronon's low rumble and Teyla's delighted laughter.

"Rodney, thank you," Carson says, as Rodney walks by. "The lotion's quite successful, I think it's already improved matters significantly."

Like Rodney doesn't already know that. "Obviously," Rodney says.

"Dropped by on the late side last night, did you?" Carson's voice goes up a little on that last bit, but Rodney ignores him, breezing in to John's room.

The head of John's bed is tilted up slightly, so he can sit up to converse with his visitors, and of course the restraints are nowhere to be seen. John won't scratch himself while he's awake. His hands are under the sheet, though; apparently his willingness to let the team see him only extends so far.

"What took you so long," Ronon asks.

"Radek and I were having a conversation about power fluctuations," Rodney says.

"I wasn't sure you were coming," John offers, nonchalant as can be.

Rodney's insides do a somersault, at that. He's pretty sure what John's really saying is, I thought you'd changed your mind.

On some level he's disturbingly flattered by the notion that he could so easily turn John Sheppard into a jilted teenaged girl, but that's not a part of him he wants to indulge. Besides, the power differential between them right now is incredibly fucked-up. It's not like he's not going to enjoy that while it lasts, but he wants to make sure John gets it. Weird sexy power games? Absolutely. Actual emotional manipulation? Not his idea of a good time.

"Not a chance," Rodney says, yanking a chair over and letting himself sprawl there. Taking up space. "You're so not getting rid of me that easily."

"Great," John says, rolling his slightly yellowed alien eyes.

"So McKay's full of shit again," Ronon says lightly.

"What?" Rodney tries to look daggers at him, but Ronon's smirking, and his amusement is contagious. "What are you --"

"I read that book you said was so good? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? It's ridiculous."

"Oh, good one, McKay," John says.

"I do not believe the name is familiar to me," Teyla says, her eyebrows all quizzical.

"It's an Earth classic among my people," Rodney says.

"Which people are those, again? I want to make sure I don't read any more of their books."

"Canadians," Teyla offers. "Is that not correct, Rodney?"

"The book isn't Canadian," Rodney begins, but John talks right over him.

"Ronon, I can come up with better recommendations than that," John says.

"Mm, yes, Mister I-Can't-Work-My-Way-Through-Tolstoy," Rodney snipes.

"That's Colonel et cetera to you," John points out.

"I ought to make you listen to Rings of Light," Ronon grouses, giving Rodney an appraising look.

"What, are they a bad hair metal band?" Rodney asks.

"Satedan epic poem," Ronon says. "I used to know the first few tengars by heart."

"Maybe you should recite them for the Colonel here," Rodney suggests. "It's not like he has anywhere to go."

"Careful," John says. "One of these days Carson's going to let me out of here..."

"Ah, but until then?" Rodney holds up a finger, admonishing. "I'm untouchable."

"We'll see about that," John mutters. Just like that, heat flares up Rodney's spine. He remembers John straining to reach him, his whole body arched like a bow. The hunger. The kiss.

"I should, ah, I told Zelenka I wouldn't be gone long," Rodney says hastily. Ronon and Teyla are going to figure them out, but it's too soon; he doesn't want them to know yet, and he's afraid if he keeps sitting there he'll give it away. He stands and folds his tablet under his arm.

"Leaving so soon?" Teyla asks, and the way she's looking right through his defenses makes Rodney wonder whether she isn't figuring them out already.

"I'll swing by later," he says to John.

"See you, McKay," John says, and -- slowly, lazily -- smiles.

The End