Being Right Is Everything
Author's Note: For the SGA_Flashfic "Sekrit Superpower" challenge; thanks to shalott and Terri for beta.
"You don't have to stay, you know," and that was Beckett's "kindly" voice. God, John hated hearing that voice; it always meant that something had gone wrong. "He'll be fine, I promise you."
"No, I know," John said, and ran a hand over his head to the back of his neck. "All the same, I'd feel better if he just woke up already."
"He will." Beckett came over and adjusted a small sensor attached to McKay's temple. "See, look there," he said, and pointed at the monitor, where a complex array of multicolored lines were pulsating. "Perfectly acceptable levels, nothing like a coma. He'll wake up when he's ready to."
"Ready to?" John repeated, trying to drown out the rushing voice in the back of his mind: you're in over your head; you should have seen it coming; you got caught with your pants down. "You're saying he's doing this intentionally?"
"Well, perhaps I've overstated it; intentionally, yes; consciously, no, if you see the distinction. Although, if anyone were to decide to just live inside their own heads, it would be Rodney." Beckett flashed him a grin, but John wasn't ready to make jokes at Rodney's expense; not with that voice still whispering you should have seen it coming.
John stared at Rodney's brain scan: green outlined with pink outlined with orange. "Is that Ancient tech?"
"Aye," Becket replied, patting the monitor proudly. "One of the few pieces of medical technology we've been able to master. It does all the conventional brain scans we require—EEG, CT, MRI, PET—and a few more that are new to us. See?" he said, and pointed toward the lime green area of Rodney's brain. "That's perfectly normal brain activity; in fact, it's a bit overactive, but this is Rodney we're talking about—"
"Is he dreaming?" John asked.
Beckett looked surprised. "Possibly. We still don't know where in the brain dreams originate, or even what a dream is, neurologically speaking, but that being said—"
"—people think they're connected to the organization of long-term memories in the cerebral cortex," John murmured, and when Beckett's frown deepened, he shrugged and said, "I've done a little reading on it."
"Well, apparently!" Beckett was watching him curiously, and John tried not to squirm under his gaze; if he could just hold out a little longer, Beckett would go off-shift and leave him alone. "That's not most people's idea of beach reading, Colonel."
John forced a quick smile. "That's because I wasn't on a beach," he explained with mock gravity. "I was at McMurdo, and I had a lot of time on my hands," and he'd been going crazy, dreaming from the moment he went to sleep till the moment he woke up. From the very first night in Antarctica, his mind had been full of people he didn't know, anxieties that weren't his own; the dreams of other people: fellow pilots, the geologists at the Crary Center, the SGC, whispering about the chair, the city, the gate. All night long his brain had whirled through people's deepest embarrassments, neuroses, and sexual fantasies: wetting the bed, teeth crumbling into bits, stepping through closets into other rooms, crouching in corners, screaming at fathers who weren't his father, being pushed back, pushed down, fucked. He'd also wandered his way through surrealistic mindscapes: children blowing out candles, men clutching small, furry animals to their chests, women disinterestedly watching their fingers melt off. One memorable night, John had followed a young man in an old-fashioned uniform back and back through a maze-like twist of rooms until the scenery (long, dim corridors and heavy wood doors) had gotten monotonous, and then John had peeled off and opened a door into someone else's dream where a woman was eating an ice cream sundae in a Howard Johnson's that looked like all the Howard Johnson's of his childhood—orange roof, shag rug, everything. The next morning, McMurdo had been full of the news that General James McPherson had died, age 75, and John had recognized him from a sepia picture tacked onto the base noticeboard.
"Honestly," Beckett was saying, "he'd probably wake up if you gave him a good, hard shake or two, but it's better to let him come out of it naturally. The brain has its reasons," and John nodded slowly.
After Beckett finally left, John leaned his forearms against the metal bed railings and watched Rodney's brain work. The dreams—the weird incursion of everyone's dreams into his head—had stopped the day he rode that elevator down through the ice. It was the chair, of course; something agitated and frustrated in him had gone quiet the moment he sat in the chair, like it had been calling to him, trying to reach him by probing the cracks in his psyche.
Now he rarely dreamed—or if he did, he couldn't tell: all of Atlantis seemed to have come right out of his subconscious. He slept well in Atlantis, better than he ever had on Earth, aside from the occasional Wraith-related nightmare. Still, the mist-people had said that John was uniquely capable of manipulating their fabricated reality, and yeah, John tended to find the alternative and virtual realities he fell into neither alternative nor virtual: discuss. But mindfucks by aliens notwithstanding, his psyche seemed to have settled down into something approaching normal.
On the bed below him, Rodney's closed eyes flickered back and forth, back and forth.
John closed his eyes and concentrated; he had a terrible image of Rodney trapped, like General McPherson before him, in some nightmare maze of rooms and freaking out. He thought that if he really tried, he might be able to—well, to do it on purpose: to use the power of the chair to surf right into Rodney's brain and lead him out of whatever mental rut he'd gotten himself stuck in. John let himself go hazy, let himself slide a little toward the dream state, reaching out with the tiny fingers of his own consciousness for anything that felt like the edge of Rodney's—but there was nothing, and he sighed and opened his eyes to the room's soft orange light.
Except it wasn't quite orange anymore: a diffuse yellow light was coming from the machine, turning it yellow, and then gold. The light solidified and stretched out like fog off the machine and into the air above Rodney's bed, and John just stared at the floating tendrils of golden smoke for a moment before reaching out to disperse them with a wave of his fingertips—
—and was nearly hit by a speeding cyclist who turned his helmeted head back and yelled, "Asshole! Get out of the way!"
But John couldn't move; he was frozen by the astounding strangeness of the place: blue sky, grass and trees, the press of people milling all around him, and beyond that, apartment buildings, billboards, Coke Is It!, and Jesus, it was all stranger and more alien than anything he'd seen in years. A group of boys playing hackeysack in baggy shorts, spandex-clad joggers with their sculpted sneakers and their headphones, a cluster of women pushing strollers—okay, fine, a park, in what had to be a major American city. He felt claustrophobic all of a sudden, and while part of that was the Pegasus Galaxy (the 200 colonists of Atlantis, the many small local villages, the echoing emptiness of industrialized worlds post-culling), part of that was just him: he'd lived in remote areas all his life (Antarctica, Kabul, Nevada) and secretly thought that more than five people was a party. But this was not remote, not by a long shot, and the sheer number of people was making his skin crawl: two bikini-clad sunbathers on a blanket not ten feet away from a guy with a dog and a woman reading on a bench and a man selling hot dogs and a woman doing tai chi.
Jesus. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his brain, to think about what to do next—when he heard Rodney's voice, clear and loud and hearteningly familiar.
"Oh, come on! You're not seriously giving me shit about this!" and John turned toward the sound and—
He was looking for a uniform, a tac vest, a scanner. But the Rodney McKay who was standing there was almost unrecognizable: God, young, ten years younger at least, and looking thin, almost lanky, in jeans and a polo shirt two sizes too big. Rodney had an overstuffed leather satchel slung over his shoulder, its flap hanging open to reveal a jumble of books and hastily jammed-in papers. He needed a haircut, and badly; his hair was growing down past his ears and was blonder than John remembered it being. But the frustrated arm-flapping was the same, distinctive as a fingerprint, and John started toward him. "You can not possibly be siding with Henderson against—"
"Yes! Yes, I am, Rodney!" and the girl was—geez, pretty, with faintly freckled skin and warm brown hair. She was wearing a denim skirt and a white ruffled top, and reminded John of the neighbor girl when he'd been in high school—well, the third high school, just before his dad had sent him to St. John's Military Academy. "Look, don't you get it?" and she was small, but she was feisty, getting right up into Rodney's face. "It doesn't matter that you're right! Who do you think is going to be recommending you for jobs? Henderson! And what do you think he's going to say about you after you made him look like an idiot?"
"I didn't make him look like an idiot!" Rodney said, shoving his fists onto his hips, his satchel swinging widely. "He did that all by himself. You know, he could have checked the math—"
"He would have gotten to the same place in the end, Rodney," and the girl now had a sadness in her tone that made John shiver; he knew what that tone meant. "It's the basic principle that counts, and somebody would have caught the math sooner or later—"
"Yes, me. Me, Lindy. I'm the one who checks the math—"
"Someone who isn't you, okay? Somebody else. You don't have to be right all the time!—and you know what Henderson's going to say about you?" and here it was, and John felt his whole body tensing. "He's going to say, 'Don't bother.' He's going to say, 'Brilliant but not worth the effort.' And then all of it, all your hard work—everything you've done is going to be for nothing, don't you see that?"
"Look, you're maybe not a brain surgeon, but you're not stupid or anything," Rodney told her, and John knew that in his own way, Rodney was being sincere. "There isn't some other world where it's okay to be wrong—for a moment, a second, ten seconds or ten minutes. This is for real, this is for keeps; this is about trying to say things that are true, not playing grabbity-ass at some M.I.T. cocktail party!"
Sorrowful shadows were deepening on the girl's face. "Rodney, I just—I can't live with you," and Rodney let his head fall back and sort of spun around a couple of times. "Oh, Jesus," he said. "Not this again—"
The girl pushed fingers through her dark waves. "I can't keep watching you sabotage yourself—"
"God, I'm not!" and Rodney's voice was near to cracking under the strain. "I just—I can't do what you want me to do, all right? Understand? Perfectly clear? Because being right is everything!" and the girl's face was crumpling now, her lip sort of trembling. Rodney tried to get close to her, but she had raised her hand and was waving him off, and then she turned away and said, "I can't do this with you anymore," before hurrying off down the path. Rodney stood there for a moment, staring after her in shock, before managing to say, "Okay, fine! Fine, then!" and when he turned away, he looked pale and sort of sick. "That's just—fine, one less thing to—" and he took a couple of unsteady steps to a nearby bench and sat down hard, his satchel crashing down to the grass and vomiting paper everywhere.
John took a single, slow step backward; he wondered if he could just turn and wander away. This wasn't the kind of rut he'd imagined Rodney to be stuck in, and probably the best thing to do was to get the hell out of here, now—and then the world went into a fast and blurry rewind, and Rodney was saying, "Look, you're maybe not a brain surgeon, but you're not stupid or anything," and Lindy was back and standing in front of him, her sorrowful face turned up to his. "There isn't some other world where it's okay to be—" and then Lindy popped out of existence and Rodney was turned around with his arms crossed protectively over his chest and staring down at the grass. "Fine," he said. "That's just—" and then Lindy was back and saying, in a strained voice, "I can't do this with you anymore. Understand?" and John realized then that this was a rut after all, and Rodney was well and truly stuck in it.
John began to look around the immediate area for something—anything—he could use to break Rodney's concentration; he could, he supposed, throw a Frisbee at Rodney's head, or cut the dog loose, or something. Behind him, the argument was starting over again ("I can't keep watching you sabotage yourself—" "God, I'm not!") when suddenly a hand landed on his shoulder, and John jumped and spun and nearly fell backward over a nearby bench when Rodney frowned at him and said, "What are you doing here? You're not in this one."
"I, um—I'm not?" John asked, and swallowed.
"Uh, no," Rodney said, as if that were obvious and John were being deliberately dumbass about it, "you're not. You've never been in this dream before, and I'm not sure what you're doing here now, especially all..." and Rodney suddenly waved a hand up and down John's body, "...not dead. In fact," Rodney added, with a frown, "you don't even look wounded or anything..."
"Wait a minute," John interrupted, feeling a little shocked. "You dream that I'm dead?"
"...unless that's the point," Rodney was saying, more to himself than to John. He twirled a finger rapidly in the air and said, "I mean, maybe my subconscious wants to remind me that—" before suddenly snapping back into their conversation. "Well, not exactly dream, no," and John held his breath as Rodney unselfconsciously pressed his hand to John's chest, just over his heart.
"Definitely beating," Rodney said, forcing a grin before sitting down hard on the bench and absently scrubbing at his too-long, too blond hair. "So that must mean something; maybe we're not dead, after all."
John sat down beside him and clutched his arm. "We're not dead, Rodney; we're fine, we made it. I mean, Ronon broke his arm, and Teyla needed some stitches—but we're fine: we're absolutely fine," and that was true, because Rodney would be fine if he would just wake up already.
But Rodney just snorted. "What do you know, you're just a projection of my subconscious. You don't know what happened—"
John was taken aback. "Uh, no, I do. Really, I—"
"No, you don't, you can't, you're a psychological manifestation," Rodney shot back. "Believe me, Colonel, I've been here before; you're not the first person I've conjured up in a crisis. This isn't my first time at the rodeo."
"O-kay," John said, trying and failing to keep an edge out of his voice, "but this isn't my first time at the rodeo either and—Jesus, what rodeo have you ever been to?"
"Look," Rodney said in a tone that brooked no dissent, "it is perfectly clear to me that my subconscious has yanked you into this scenario in a vain attempt to convince me that that—" Rodney flung his hand in the direction of Lindy's tearful departure "—was not the pathetic mistake I now know it to be. I could have had something different, don't you understand? I could have had—I mean, that was pretty much my only chance at—" and Rodney turned to stare longingly down the path, and John knew that in another second, Lindy would reappear and she and Rodney would start another round of arguments.
He dug his fingers hard into Rodney's arm, and Rodney jerked around to look at him. Behind him, Lindy popped into and out of existence: hi, Lindy; bye, Lindy. "She was actually very bright, you know," Rodney said, more to himself than to John, since he didn't seem to think John was actually there. "Theoretical math, though she was working in collaboration with some people in chemistry, which is a rapidly disintegrating field, by the way. Computational methods in quantum chemistry, can you believe it?! And she said I was self-sabotaging!"
"Wow. Yeah. That's an outrage," John said.
"I think she got tenure at Penn or somewhere. Somebody said she was on the long-list for the Nobel in 2002, but I think they were just trying to make me miserable. See," Rodney said, turning to wave his hand down the path where Lindy had gone, "if I'd played that differently, right there, I could be living in Philadelphia right now. Waterfront apartment, a couple of kids, and all the cheese steak I could eat.""That's a lot of cheese steak," John said, and rolled his eyes when Rodney glared at him. "Look, you live on Atlantis, in the Pegasus Galaxy , doing the most exciting scientific work in the history of ever. And you've got a waterfront apartment, so shut up!"
"Yes, yes, where I'm shot at all the time and attacked by space vampires and forced to do impossible things or be responsible for killing all my friends —case in point, hello," he said, and waved his hand at John.
"I'm not dead, Rodney. None of us are, I swear," John said. "Wake up and see."
"I can't," Rodney said with terrifying casualness. "I'm sorry. I mean, you look fine, but that's probably me just comforting myself—" and John felt the true beginnings of panic.
"Look, I'm real, okay? Weird as it may sound, Rodney, I'm actually here—" and then John stopped talking, because Rodney was grinning at him like he'd said something funny.
"You know, you always say that," Rodney said, sounding almost fond, "but you never are," and then Rodney's hands were gripping his face and pulling him close and Jesus, that wasn't a kiss, that was Rodney practically fucking him with his mouth and tongue and the clutch of his hot, sweaty palms. John reeled for a moment and then gave in to it completely, and Rodney was a much better kisser than John had imagined even in his own wildest scenarios.
"Jesus, Sheppard," Rodney breathed against his mouth, "what I'd do to you if you'd let me—" and John groaned and held on as reality twisted and bent around them, and then Rodney was on him and in him and over him, and they were sweating and rolling around and bucking hard against each other, and John curled an arm around Rodney's neck and felt Rodney's thighs push heavily against his, and Jesus, Rodney was shuddering and coming inside of him, and John arched up and came, too.
When he pulled away, still shuddering, they were back on the bench, and he said, shakily, "You have that dream often, McKay?" and Rodney frowned and said, "Yes, all the time." John nodded slowly, then took a couple of deep breaths and concentrated—and this time, reality spun itself to his specifications, and they were in his quarters—not his real quarters, but the quarters he wanted, way up at the top of the southwest tower, too far away from the command center in case of emergency. The floor to ceiling windows glinted with light and opened up to a world of clouds and sky, and John pushed McKay down onto the curved sofa before slowly straddling his lap, one knee on each side of him, and unzipping his fly.
"Oh my God," Rodney breathed, staring up at John with huge eyes. "John," and then he was pushing John's BDUs down his hips and leaning forward to take the tip of John's cock into his mouth, and John was stretching up and leaning into his mouth, one hand curving around his head and—
John fell back against the bench, panting, as Rodney pushed hard at his shoulder. "Holy crap, Sheppard," Rodney said, looking like the old, familiar Rodney, and John found he was more than willing to trade half an inch of hairline for the sight of Rodney McKay in his Atlantis uniform. "You're really here, how the hell are you—?"
John felt both wildly relieved and disappointed; he could still feel Rodney's mouth on him. "I don't know, exactly," he said. "Just, since Antarctica, I can surf dreams. What made you finally—"
Rodney didn't meet his eyes. "I don't have that kind of erotic imagination," he confessed.
"Oh," John said.
"I mean, I've played out any number of sexual scenarios with you and that, uh, wasn't one of them." Rodney coughed briefly into his fist and added: "Besides, I had no idea that you wanted to live in the southwest tower. Though I could probably rig up a transporter for you, if you were still set on the idea."
"Yeah, that'd be great," John said, and then, fidgeting: "What sexual scenarios?"
"Oh, you know. The usual," Rodney said, flushing a deep pink, and the world blurred him through a too-rapid series of sucks and fucks that left him hard and gasping raggedly: Rodney on his knees and clutching John's hips, John doing Rodney hard and fast over the lab desk, Rodney lying back on his bed with one hand deep in his pants. He was also pretty sure he'd seen an intriguing if almost subliminal image of himself tied up with some kind of rope.
Breathlessly, John leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Rodney's; Rodney's skin was warm and slightly sweaty, and he was breathing hard, too. "Look," he said, "I can't make myself feel sorry that you lost your grand shot at happy heterosexuality. And I can't be sorry that you came to Atlantis. I mean," he said, as Rodney pulled back to stare at him, "I’m sorry we don't have cheese steak, but all our lives depend on you, all right? I'd be dead if you weren’t so—what means 'anal' but in a nice way?"
Rodney thought about that for a moment. "Meticulous?"
"Meticulous, yeah," John said, relieved. "Maybe because it's my ass on the line, but I'm glad you have to be right all the time. Believe me, I can fuck up enough for—" but Rodney was suddenly clutching his head and kissing him, and reality bent and John was on his back with his arms splayed wide and Rodney spread out on top of him.
"That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," Rodney said, and kissed his face, his neck, his ear.
"I—" and God, that felt good. "Yes," he said, as Rodney worried his ear with his teeth. "No," he said, because this was—Jesus, this was way too easy, and if they weren't careful, they would both end up stuck here. "Wait," he said, and pushed on Rodney's shoulder. "Let's go back first."
"I don't want—" Rodney began, but John shoved him off and onto his side. "What if this is just a dream after all?" Rodney asked as John began hunting for his clothes—or hey, any clothes. "What if my erotic imagination has just taken a giant leap of creativity, and meanwhile, out there in the real world, you and Teyla and Ronon are all dead and I've just had both my legs amputated?"
John turned to glare at him, then pulled the bedsheet off and wrapped it around his waist, leaving Rodney naked and—okay, he had to surf out of here right now. "Sorry, you'll just have to take that chance," John said, and flipped the excess bedsheet over his shoulder like a toga.
Rodney scrabbled into a sitting position. "Or what if you don't remember promising to have sex with me?" John ignored him and hunted around for a door, and when he didn't find one, tried to will one into existence. "What if you're there when I wake up, but you're just doing your whole lanky, snarky, leaning-against-the-wall thing—"
"My lanky, snarky what?" A door began to take shape in the wall, but it wouldn't quite form, and John wondered if Rodney was actively working against it; it was his dream, after all.
"—and then you say, 'Oh, look, you're awake,' and go off to do your sexy stick fighting with Teyla."
John sighed and turned around, hands on his hips. "You want me to sign something?"
"You know, when I dreamed you, you were a lot less annoying," Rodney said. "Plus you brought snacks."
"So there you go," John said. "Now you know it's really me. Open the goddamned door, Rodney," and Rodney sighed and his shoulders slumped, but the door instantly solidified into three dimensions. John pulled the ornate gold handle and said, "See you on the other side, okay?"—and for a moment, he was sure that he'd miscalculated, and that Rodney wasn't coming; damn, he should just have grabbed Rodney and dragged him through.
And then he heard Rodney calling, "All right, wait up! I'm—"
—and Rodney's eyes were already open when John looked down at him. He was a little pasty, and he had faint violet circles under his eyes, but he looked basically okay, and John gripped the bedrail in relief.
"Oh, look," he said, "you're awake," and Rodney's eyes widened before John reached down to hook his finger around Rodney's finger. A tiny jolt of electricity passed between them, and Rodney exhaled all in a rush and clutched convulsively at his hand. John squeezed back hard; Rodney's hand was warm and strong and real.
"Oh, thank God," Rodney said, swallowing, and, "Jesus," and "You're such an asshole."
"Yeah," John said, smiling. "I know," and John didn't think he'd ever had a dream as good as this one.
The EndLeave a comment at sga_flashfic