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Like a lot of things in life, the room got their attention by being insignificant.
As soon as Rodney pointed it out to him, John knew he was right. A narrow door at the end of the medical wing, not on the transporter grids, with no information on the most detailed map in the archive except a notation that meant something like "going back" or "do over." Which could have meant a recycling facility or a lost-and-found, but probably not. Something that called so little attention to itself, he insisted, must be very interesting.
"See?" he said when John waved his hand over the panel and nothing happened. Most of the things in Atlantis were very happy to do anything John asked. John found it new and interesting to have to insist.
He did insist, though, and the door opened -- not sluggishly or unwillingly, just the way a computer would ask, "Are you sure?" before it erased your hard drive. Almost disappointing, really, though what had he expected it to do, make him solve a puzzle first? Maybe Rodney would discover something interesting.
Rodney had already sat down in the chair and rotated the panel so it faced him, as if he'd been in this room a thousand times and already knew how everything worked. He was wearing a Med-Alert bracelet that Sam Carter had sent him, even though John was pretty sure Carter had meant it as a joke. Rodney's fingers were wider at the tips, just a little. They looked blunt and strong, but not like fingers that would be able to cope with delicate work, and yet --
Aw, christ, he was doing it again. He gave himself a stern internal smack. Back to work, Sheppard.
These things happened, when you lived in each other's pockets and saved each other's lives; the military's policy was screwed up in a million ways, but it wouldn't exist if every guy was as straight under fire as he was back home. But the thing was, you got over it. You took breaks, you went back to normal life, and things returned to looking the way they were supposed to. Buddies went back to being buddies.
He'd had lots of practice pulling his imagination back in line. It usually wasn't this difficult.
The room was the size of a small hospital room, with nothing in it but a couch and a chair and the familiar slanted instrument panel. It had been a mistake to be in such a small space with Rodney. He could smell him, for christ's sake, that special hand cream he concocted, and what the hell was John doing nursing a passion for the kind of guy who made his own hand cream? It was nuts. He flung himself down on the couch.
The door hissed shut.
"Wait. Why'd you do that?"
"I didn't do it on purpose." The door didn't open when he got up from the couch, and it didn't open when he waved his hand in front of the panel. Instead, an orange light came up on the door, and another orange light lit up a circle on the instrument panel.
"It's started some process and hasn't finished it yet," Rodney said. "It's like the x-ray at the dentist. Oh, god, what if we're being bombarded with cancer-causing radiation?"
"It's probably just on a timer," John said. "Bet that's what the circle's for. It counts down sixty seconds, it goes ding, it opens the door." The truth was, he was relieved Rodney was freaking out, because it distracted him from the excessive and unwelcome awareness that he was trapped with Rodney McKay in a small room with a couch in it, and they hadn't told anybody where they were, which meant they had pretty much the only genuine privacy in Pegasus, and, oh, look, he was thinking about it after all.
Rodney frantically pressed the lighted areas on the panel. The heavy bracelet slid down against the back of his hand. "I -- might have mentioned that I have a touch of -- just a little quite reasonable wariness about being trapped in an enclosed space."
"Take it easy. We're not trapped. We're just -- detained."
"Yes, because Americans using the word 'detained' makes me feel so much safer." Rodney's voice was beginning to climb, and he was already dangerously close to hyperventilating.
"Take it easy," John said. "What's the deal, Rodney? You've faced worse dangers than this. Hell, you've been trapped --" and Rodney jerked around to look at him, eyes wide."You've been enclosed in smaller spaces than this."
"It's -- just -- forget it." He really looked bad, all red and fidgeting. John hoped he wasn't having some kind of flashback. "I could never explain it to you."
"Take a breath before you pass out."
Rodney shot him a look of pure malice out from under his eyelashes, a look that promised torments untold to punish him for not taking their predicament seriously. He pressed one hand against his chest, probably feeling around to see if he was having a heart attack yet, and the bracelet slid back up until the width of his forearm stopped it. John felt the chill in his chest that always came before he spontaneously did something stupid.
Next thing he knew he had the collar of Rodney's jacket in his hand and was blindly pressing a clumsy kiss to the side of his head.
They stood like that for a long minute, John with his eyes shut and his mouth pressed stupidly somewhere in the vicinity of Rodney's temple. Then Rodney cleared his throat and said in a small voice, "This is one of those methods of dealing with hysterics, isn't it? Though I have to tell you that a slap would have been kinder, all other things being equal." John registered that Rodney's body was not just still but frozen, locked into position as though he were afraid to move a muscle.
Not, in other words, trying to get away.
Without opening his eyes, he shifted, brushing his mouth slowly down over Rodney's cheek.
Rodney raised his chin, and their lips met.
Strange that this was all it took to change his life forever: Rodney's lips warm and briefly still under his, the tension he could feel vibrating in Rodney's body and the effort Rodney was making to keep still. Because he was committed, now; his long tradition of keeping sex and friendship strictly separated was broken. Even if they decided not to take it any further, it was too much to ask for Rodney to keep his mouth shut. It would come up again.
Besides, John didn't want to stop. He wanted Rodney's hands on him, wanted it with months' worth of longing.
And it was too late to change his mind.
He nudged Rodney's mouth open.
Rodney's hands waved in the air beside him for a second, and then hesitantly came down to rest on John's hips. That was all the permission he was likely to get, and John ran with it, crowding into Rodney's personal space, licking more aggressively into his mouth -- and Rodney's almost-creepy cooperation gave way suddenly to demand. His arms came hard around John's lower back and the back of John's neck, and, god, Rodney had thought about this, John would bet money. He'd been imagining it, too.
Maybe it would have been a good idea to take things slow, but having come this far, having thrown everything overboard for this, John wanted everything, everything, all at once. He shoved Rodney back against the wall, two stumbling steps, and groped unerringly at the front of Rodney's pants, gratified but not surprised when Rodney's head fell back and his hips shoved forward, pressing his hard cock against John's hand.
The next second John was fumbling for the buttons, and Rodney was helping, or hindering, clumsy with what might have been shock or arousal but definitely wasn't reluctance.
Rodney's shorts were old and threadbare, the elastic loose against John's wrist, and Rodney's cock was hard and hot and alive in his hand. Rodney's mouth went suddenly frantic against his, and Rodney's hips rocked in a rhythm that suggested he was settling into for the long haul. John had been sort of absently expecting Rodney to stop them long enough to undo some of John's own clothes, even it up a little, but Rodney was way beyond that now, red-faced and panting -- jesus, Rodney wanted John to make him come, and John was on his knees by the time he'd completed the thought.
Rodney went totally still again at the first touch of John's mouth. John, who'd been ready for him to go even crazier, looked up his body -- white-knuckled fists, heaving chest -- and saw Rodney staring down at him with his mouth open. He shut his eyes and got to it.
With no clues from Rodney's body language, John played around for a bit, just long enough to get Rodney's cock and his own hand thoroughly slick, and then set up the kind of rhythm he liked himself. Not too hard, lots of tongue, fast enough to be hot but slow enough that you wouldn't come right away before you really had a chance to enjoy it.
Far above him Rodney was whispering something. John wished he'd speak up; if he was half as articulate now as he was when he was describing someone's incompetence, that would be something to hear.
After a while, Rodney's legs began to tremble. John braced him hard against the wall with a hand on his hip, and above him the whispered words trailed off in a gasp. Rodney gave four fast shallow thrusts and John sucked hard to feel him coming.
John was hanging in there, soft-mouthed and gentle, trying to really get the most out of it, when Rodney said, "Jesus, come here, come on, quick," and grabbed at his shoulders and his jacket, like he could lift him up by it. John stood up and leaned half on Rodney and half against the wall while Rodney undid John's pants with much more dexterity than he'd had for his own.
"I'm going to do that to you next time," Rodney said right in his ear, breath making John shiver. He licked at his hand -- delicate work, John remembered thinking, and his stomach tightened -- and then jerked him hard and slow. "But right now I want -- I need to know -- what on earth were you thinking? We could have -- we could have been -- you idiot. The time we've wasted, when all you had to do was --"
John had been pretty far gone from sucking Rodney -- it had been a hell of a long time -- and between that and the additional stimulation of Rodney winding up for a good scold, he could feel himself losing it. Rodney was saying, "and all this time -- how long? What on earth made you --" and John gasped out, "The jewelry, McKay," and came.
There was a moment of silence -- when John wouldn't have been able to hear anyway over the roaring in his ears -- and then Rodney said, "Wow, really? I didn't know you had a fetish," and held up his wet hand to examine the bracelet in the light.
John laughed weakly. "Well, I didn't before."
"Wow." Rodney stepped back -- John hadn't realized he was leaning quite so heavily -- and staggered back to sit on the couch. "That's all it took, huh? I guess Sam did me even more of a favor than I thought, and, oh, my god, you're freaking out, aren't you? You are. You're standing right there freaking out."
"No," John said. "It's fine," and Rodney let out a breath and smiled, relaxing back against the couch. In fact John was freaking out, in a quiet sort of way. Now that he'd done it, he realized that despite all his resolutions, in the back of his mind he'd always known this was bound to happen sooner or later. It wasn't as though his military life so far had been distinguished by any particular dedication to the letter of the law.
At least it was Rodney.
He idly counted down the ways his life would have to change. Lying, of course, hiding, various kinds of subterfuge aimed at not giving Caldwell any excuse to look into his private life. Rules about where and when. Some sort of code language. Rodney seemed like he'd be hopeless at keeping secrets, but John had seen his security clearance, so he must be better than he looked.
Still, inevitably somebody would find out. Even on Earth it was impossible to keep a secret forever. He'd have to be ready with plausible explanations that everybody could pretend to accept. And, for when those failed, bribes.
He looked at his reward for this new life of deception. Rodney was slouched on the couch, pants hastily done up, staring at John like he was made of ice cream.
John kind of wanted to run away, and he kind of wanted to blow him again.
"So, um." Rodney was pushing the bracelet up and down on his wrist. "We can, if you want to -- well, let's just say that I'm certainly willing to, um, to take this, well, really, any way you --"
There was a loud, annoyed beep from the control panel, and the orange circle started flashing. They both jumped, like necking teenagers who'd just heard a cop bang on the car window.
John turned; the panel was right next to him, and the orange was going to red. He had a little familiarity with Ancient, but he got lost pretty fast when the language got technical. There was a circle with two movable arrows pointing inward, and a big, round button.
So he pushed the button.
A line of bluish light hissed along the length of the couch, over Rodney's reclining body, and vanished.
Rodney sat up suddenly, twisting sideways to see him. "Sheppard? What just happened? How did we get here from the mess? And is there any chance we could get back before someone else takes that last cranberry muffin?"
"A short-term memory loss machine?" Rodney said, staring down at it.
"Couple hours, I'd say, if the last thing you remember is before you snarfed the last muffin."
"You're sure you didn't just hit me over the head the way you're always threatening to do?" Rodney absently pushed the bracelet off his hand, and it slid right down again. "What if I had a valuable insight? I mean, of course I must have had some valuable insights. You may have just robbed Atlantis of a chain of reasoning that could have saved all our lives. What? Why are you smirking? What did we spend the last two hours doing, playing mumblety-peg?"
He opened his mouth to say, We spent most of it having sex, and then shut it again.
It would be totally out of left field. Rodney probably wouldn't believe it. Hell, he hardly believed it. Looking at Rodney now, John couldn't believe he'd had his mouth around Rodney's cock, Rodney's hand down John's pants.
Already he knew he wasn't going to say it. The risk, the lying, the inevitable discovery: he'd just been handed a chance to undo it all.
He pulled his jacket closed; it had gotten chilly in here. "We showed up, we got the door open, we set off the machine."
"Short-term memory erasure," Rodney said. "Why? What on earth could they have done with that? I can see if it were portable; it would be very useful to disconcert your enemies. But next to the med wing? What could it be good for?"
"Therapy maybe. Erase a trauma?"
"Oh, yes, therapy by artificial amnesia. The perfect solution in Sheppard's world." Rodney made one last circuit of the room. One part of the wall pretty much looked like another. There was no trace of what had happened here. "OK, let's go before I lose any more precious moments of insight." He shook back the bracelet, so that it disappeared into his sleeve. "Colonel? Did you want me to relieve you of some of your brain cells, or were we ready?"
He rolled his eyes and was out the door. Everything was the same as it had always been.
"Well, gentlemen? What did you discover?" Elizabeth looked like she was expecting the answer to be amusing.
"It causes short-term memory loss," Rodney said. "As I can personally attest, since the colonel saw fit to use me as a guinea pig."
"Hey, you thought it was a brainwave enhancer. You totally volunteered."
"So you claim," Rodney said darkly. "I, of course, have no independent way of verifying this. For all I know, I lost hours, even days, while you used me for your own diabolical purposes."
That was too close to true. "Right," John said slowly, leaning back and crossing his arms, pure theater: "I hooked you up to the city to see if it would run on the pure power of complaints."
"Ha, ha, very funny; it's easy to be flippant when you don't use a fraction of the brain cells you already have."
"Is it permanent?" Elizabeth said.
John went cold. Stupidly, this had never occurred to him. Those memories might not be gone forever. They might come back.
"Hm. Far as we know, but we didn't explore it in much detail," Rodney said, not seeming too concerned. "I'm going to check the Ancient database when I get a chance, but I'm not eager to submit the best brain in the galaxy to any further rummaging even for the sake of getting those two hours back. Given the company I spent them in, they're unlikely to be a big loss."
Ow, damn it. "Yeah," John said, too slow. "Probably not," and Rodney gave him a look that said he was disappointed in John for not keeping up his end of the game, so he rallied: "Actually I beat you four times in chess."
"Uh-huh," Rodney said skeptically.
So Rodney wasn't going to go and get his memory restored on purpose. That was good, as far as it went. But the effect might be temporary. He really ought to fess up before Rodney remembered on his own.
"Hey, wait up," he said as Rodney left the meeting room.
"Mm?" Rodney's brain had clearly moved on to the next problem on today's list. He was fiddling with the bracelet. John had an abrupt memory of the way it had felt against his belly as Rodney jerked him off; it knocked the breath out of him.
"Never mind," he said.
Maybe it would have made more sense to try to be far, far away if the memory came back, but he'd never been the type who was happier knowing something awful was happening where he couldn't see it. So he hung around in the lab. An hour passed, and two, and Rodney began saying things like, "I do realize that mostly your job is to walk around and smirk, but," and, "I could employ you as a paperweight if that would make you feel useful," and, "Oh, my god, something else happened, didn't it? You hit me over the head and now you're keeping me under observation for brain damage," so John left and went to chat with the newest Marines about how they were adapting to being in a hostile galaxy with no Funyuns.
Next day at breakfast he walked into the mess half expecting to have something hurled at his head, but Rodney had two PDAs and a laptop going, and did nothing but look up and grunt something through a mouthful of pancakes.
Evidently he had dodged a bullet. The memory seemed to be wiped out of Rodney's brain forever.
The thing was, it wasn't gone from John's. He remembered every moment. The long, drawn-out sigh Rodney had uttered as he came, almost more like relief than like pleasure. The sly sidelong smile he'd worn while he jerked John off, immensely pleased with himself, as though reducing John to a state of wordless insanity were a great scientific achievement. The way his hair had looked after John had had his hands all over it.
The worst things to remember, though, were the things he'd only imagined, the things that hadn't happened yet. Not the lying and the fighting, but the lazy downtime mornings, the frenzied post-mission nights, the things they'd do to each other once they knew each other's bodies as well as their own.
He'd never exactly dated a guy before, and there were things he'd never tried because they weren't something you did with strangers. He'd been kind of looking forward to seeing what they were like.
It was a slow week, which was why they'd had time for exploration in the first place. John wrote two reports and put an enormous pile of paper in files. He went through his whole range of time-killing activities: firing range and weight room and jogging track. Everything but the labs.
The more he tried not to think about it, the more he thought about it. Rodney's clenched fists and panting breaths and strange, effortful stillness. Rodney's voice in his ear, surprised and happy, as Rodney took him apart like a control panel.
Lying, he reminded himself, bribery, subterfuge. Arguments, unspoken expectations, pressure. The tedious necessity of constantly monitoring the emotional state of another human being. The creepy awareness that another human being was monitoring your emotional state. Except this was Rodney, and he was used to Rodney talking everything to death. Plus there'd be sex, whereas now he had all the talking and none of the blowjobs.
I'm going to do this to you next time.
Jesus. He stopped dead in his tracks, right there between the mess and the gateroom. He had to get it out of his head.
The infirmary, luckily, was empty except for that guy from Botany who was the last one left of the Athosian Death By Dehydration Flu. Outside the amnesia room, John went through the door-opening ritual one more time, that little nudge to confirm that this was what he really wanted, and then there it was. Chair. Couch. Control panel.
Now that he knew what the room was for, it was pretty easy to confirm the settings. The dial's two arrows were to set the start and end of the erasure, and then there was a big Do It button.
He'd been hoping for a delayed-effect setting, like you'd use with a camera to take a picture of yourself, but there wasn't one. The Ancients had considered this serious enough business that they'd made sure you couldn't do it alone.
None of the furniture would move. When he was on the couch, he couldn't reach the panel. When he was at the panel, he couldn't put any part of him on the couch. He couldn't get around the panel, or over it, fast enough to outrun the beam.
So he could either go find somebody who wouldn't ask a million embarrassing questions, or he could get Rodney back in here.
He found him grumbling quietly to himself while Zelenka gave him a look of longsuffering nobility. Cutting off Rodney's efforts to explain their disagreement -- he didn't have six hours to spare -- he just said, "I need your help," and Rodney stopped talking in midsentence.
When he saw where they were headed, Rodney shot John an alarmed look. "No more," he said, but he followed John right in and let him close the door behind them. "I can't afford to lose any more time. My every memory could be key to the city's survival." He held up both hands like a mime, and the damned bracelet slid back against where his forearm broadened, and John heard himself saying, "I need you to get your two hours back."
"Why? I thought you said it wasn't important."
"It wasn't important. It just feels weird, knowing something you don't."
"You don't say," Rodney said sharply.
"Rodney, just get it back, all right?"
"There is no way to get it back," Rodney said. "Do you see anything that looks like it says, 'Oh, changed my mind, so give my colleague his brain cells back, please?' Of course, you could restore my lost memory by simply, oh, I don't know, telling me what happened."
Oh, christ. "I -- no," John said. "If you can't fix yours, OK, fine, then erase mine." Rodney looked at him incredulously. "I don't care. I don't care. Get it into your head or get it out of mine, but one way or another you've got to fix this."
Rodney stared at him some more, long enough that he started to squirm. "I'm finding your behavior odd and unnerving," Rodney said. "Just what's so important that you belatedly decide you can't bear for me to lose the memory, and yet you also can't bear to tell me what happened?"
"Well," John said, and then his chest cavity went cold again, and he wrapped his hand around Rodney's wrist, palming the skin-warmed metal, and said, "It kind of went down like this."
This time he moved slowly, sliding his hand up Rodney's arm, over his shoulder, around the back of his neck, pulling him closer. This time he kept his eyes open. The muscles around Rodney's eyes went taut and then suddenly relaxed, and his eyelids fluttered halfway down.
"OK," he said.
John paused. "OK?"
Rodney opened his eyes all the way, glaring. "OK, yes, fine, go ahead, full throttle or whatever it is you people say," and, god, yes. It was that Rodney, that other Rodney, the one he'd only ever seen in this room. The one he'd thought he was losing for good. John was grinning when he kissed him.
"So this," Rodney gasped a while later, when John let loose of his mouth long enough to shove his shirt off over his head.
"Pretty much," John said, dropping his own shirt. Oh, god, so much skin. He couldn't believe he'd thought he could pass this up. "Not quite like -- christ, yes, do that," because Rodney had pushed him around and was now working his way down John's shoulder blade: lips, tongue, teeth.
Rodney straightened up and wrapped his arms around John from behind, using his head to nudge John to look at the couch. "And this time," he began. Each word made an almost-kiss against the back of John's neck. John leaned back into the feel of Rodney's cock against his ass, and then his knees went to jelly as Rodney's hand slid down and started undoing buttons, quickly, deftly, the links of the bracelet catching in the hair on his belly. "This time you're not going to --"
"I didn't. I didn't mean to, I swear, it was --" and Rodney must have believed him, because his thumb was in John's navel and his tongue was in John's ear, and getting far enough apart to get naked was going to kill them both.
And the rest was easy, that was the crazy thing. Easy to shove Rodney up against the wall again, lick everywhere he could reach, easy to totally throw his dignity out the window and just rut up against all that hot skin. Easy to grab Rodney's ass and pull him in harder and say, "Yeah," and not even be able to tell who came first.
For a minute Rodney leaned against him, panting, and then he raised his head with the look of someone preparing for bad news and said, "You swear it was an accident?"
"I had no idea what it was going to do," John said. "I just wanted it to stop making that god-awful noise, I swear."
"You don't want to erase me?"
"What?" John stared at him, and he looked down, fiddling with that bracelet again. "Jesus, Rodney, I've been going crazy here. No."
Rodney laid his head back against the wall, looking relieved. "Good," he said. "I've always hated the idea of being forgotten."
John leaned against him -- damn it, the next time they were doing this someplace where they could lie down. But not on that couch. "I really don't think you need to worry about that," he said.
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Back to in medias Res
February 19, 2007