The Te of John
Author's Note: For Amnesty 2007; a belated "Wordless" flashfiction. Thanks to Terri and Shalott and Giddy and Lim for beta, esp. Lim who made me cut and cut and cut. ( And it's still too long! It's the oh so poorly named "wordless" flashfiction.)
It took forever to get McKay out of the temple. "Can you walk?" John asked, and McKay nodded vaguely without meeting his eyes. John hooked McKay's arm around his neck to steady him; his feet were clumsy, like he was trying to walk through molasses.
The monks fluttered around them, keeping their distance and wringing their hands. "You should not take him yet," one said. "He is too fragile," but goddammit, they were going home; John was betting they could still reverse the damage. "He is not yet his new self," another moaned, and John couldn't help biting out, "I don't want his new self! I want him just like he was!"
Teyla was outside the temple when John flung open the door, and she immediately went to McKay's other side. "Rodney, are you..." but McKay didn't so much as look at her, and Teyla looked worriedly to John. "What has happened? What have they—"
"Tell you later," John grunted, and together they walked McKay down the steps.
McKay showed a spark of life in the jumper, refusing to go into the passenger section. Instead, he pushed away from John and sat down heavily on one of the cargo benches. John was going to argue, then decided not to overrule this first glimmer of willfulness.
"Leave him alone," John said, waving Teyla toward the cockpit. "Strap yourselves in. Lieutenant!" he called to Harrow, who'd flown the jumper out to them. "Get us out of here!" and the jumper lifted off and made a beeline for the gate. John, braced in the doorway between compartments, turned to tell McKay to hang on, they'd be home in a—and then he stepped back and hit the switch, closing the bulkhead door, cutting them off from the cockpit.
McKay had turned to the wall, his face buried in the crook of his elbow. His shoulders were shaking. John turned away, leaning into the door and ducking his head; he wanted to give McKay what privacy he could. He'd seen guys lose it like this in Afghanistan: sudden crying jags, little moments of PTSD. You couldn't leave a guy alone in that, but you couldn't get in his face either. Behind him, McKay was sobbing, though John tried hard not to listen, tightening his hands into fists and letting bombs go off behind his closed eyes, instead.
A medical team met them with a gurney, and they gave McKay a light sedative and wheeled him away. John followed, feeling drained, weighted down by yet another fuck-up; days like this he hated his job, or maybe it was himself that he hated. Teyla and Ronon followed him to the infirmary and waited with him for news. John explained that he was pretty sure that Orla was designed to help people ascend, and Teyla lied to him with her distinctive kindness, telling him that there was no way he could have known that and absolutely nothing he could have done.
It was a couple of hours before the doctor on duty, Stevenson, came out to see them. John got immediately to his feet; Teyla and Ronon looked up expectantly. "He's fine," Stevenson said, and John heard Teyla's relieved exhalation. "He's—there's nothing wrong with him, far as I can tell."
"Okay, but—" John frowned. "Has he said anything yet?"
Stevenson looked squirrely. "Well, no, but—"
He could almost hear McKay yelling about those goddamned incompetent witchdoctors down in the infirmary; Carson had been the only one he could stand. "It's been hours. And he hasn't said anything?" and man, he didn't want to be rude, but Jesus H. Christ. "Dr. Rodney McKay hasn't said anything, and you don't think something's wrong?"
"I just mean," Stevenson said defensively, "that's we've run numerous tests and—"
"Your tests are wrong," John interrupted.
"Colonel, please, would you let me finish?" Stevenson was starting to lose his cool, now. "You said that Dr. McKay had been exposed to some kind of ascension accelerator. You asked us to check his current condition against his last healthy readouts as well as against the unusual brainwave patterns we documented the last time he was artificially pushed to ascend. Well, we've done that, Colonel, and by those criteria, Dr. McKay is perfectly normal: his DNA is the same, brain scans are the same; his heart rate, EEG, endocrine levels, all normal."
"Except Dr. Motormouth's gone incommunicado," John pointed out.
"Right. Yes," Stevenson said faintly. "I'll call Dr. Heightmeyer."
John crossed his arms over his chest. "Why don't you call Dr. Heightmeyer?" and man, these goddamned incompetent witchdoctors were really something else.
Heightmeyer hurried into the infirmary and came out forty minutes later, looking thoughtful. "Well, it's difficult to say," she told John. "Obviously he's experienced some kind of trauma—"
John lost what was left of his temper all at once. "That's what you've got? Five hours and nobody's been able to tell me a single thing I didn't know already. 'Some kind of trauma'—wow, that's really brilliant. Are you going to send me a bill for that?"
Unlike Stevenson, Heightmeyer didn't get ruffled. "Colonel, it's difficult to know what to think when he won't tell us anything," she said. "The experience may simply be too new and raw for him to process. These things take time," and John blew out a furious breath and made a swift, graceless gesture to show what he thought about that. But Heightmeyer held her ground. "It's going to take time. Meanwhile, there doesn't appear to be any physical damage—"
John put his hands on his hips and glowered at her. "Or they didn't leave marks."
Heightmeyer slowly tilted her head in assent. "That's a possibility, yes," she admitted. "But it seems likely his distress is emotional. We won't know till he tells us."
When they finally let John inside, he found McKay struggling to button up his shirt and vaguely batting away Stevenson and two nurses. "I am not releasing you," Stevenson sighed. "So I don't know where you think you're—" "You should lie down," one of the nurses was saying. "You're not—" "Please, Doctor McKay," the other said, more gently. "You need to—"
And then McKay caught sight of him. "John," he said, and everyone shut up, and looked at John, and then back at McKay, like he'd done some sort of magic trick.
John just nodded slowly. "Yeah," he said. "How're you doing, McKay?"
But McKay seemed to have blown his conversational wad: he just looked meaningfully at John and made a sudden, flailing gesture of frustration at Stevenson and the nurses.
"Okay, yeah; we're outta here," John said, going in swiftly and taking McKay by the arm. The look of relief on McKay's face was positively heartwarming.
"Colonel," Stevenson said, a warning note in his voice. "You really shouldn't—"
"Yeah, you know, I get that a lot," John said, and hustled McKay out the door.
"Where do you want to go?" John asked. "Your room?" and McKay rubbed his face and nodded tiredly, looking almost disgusted. John walked him over and followed him inside without asking. He figured McKay would dive for his laptop or the coffee machine, and got a sinking feeling when McKay just sat down on the foot of his bed and put his head in his hands.
"Look, I know these doctors are trolls, but you're scaring the hell out of me," John said.
But McKay didn't look up, and so John grabbed the desk chair and rolled it over. "Hey!" he said angrily, and McKay at least had the courtesy to meet his eyes. But he looked haunted, and it suddenly occurred to John that McKay was maybe keeping silent so as not to inflict this misery on anybody else. "Jesus, McKay," he said in a low voice. "What the hell happened?"
McKay licked his lips and looked away again. John reached out and grabbed his arm tight. "I need you to tell me," he said, and McKay's troubled eyes came back to his. "I know you can talk," John said, almost dangerously. "I just heard you, so—"
"I'm sorry." McKay's voice sounded strangled, and then he took a deep breath—and how wrong was it that the first thing out of McKay's mouth was an apology? "I'm not trying to be—difficult," he managed, then stopped: swallowed. "It's just—hard to say."
"Hard to say, like it physically hurts?" John asked, leaning in so they were knee to knee, almost forehead to forehead. "Or hard to say like..." He trailed off inarticulately, waved a hand.
McKay nodded immediately. "Like that."
"Okay. Okay. I just—" need to know who to kill, John thought. "Maybe we take it slow, okay? I could ask you stuff, and you can tell me yes or no; how does that sound?" McKay nodded again; okay, good. "They took you up to the temple?"
This time, McKay shook his head. "Library first."
"Library, right." John was watching McKay closely for cues. "How was that?"
McKay licked his lips, jerked a nod. "Interesting," he said. "There's..." McKay stopped and pressed the heels of his hands to his temples, like he had a headache coming on, or—shit: like he was trying to make himself concentrate. "There's a good collection of Ancient documents," he said finally, each word coming out deliberately, like he was translating from another language. "Not—the scientific works and technical manuals I was hoping for, but—other things. Cultural—literary—" He stopped, took a breath, and said, "Someone should look into it. Not me."
"Okay," John said, trying to sound reassuring: you're doing great, pal; you're doing real good. "We'll get someone on that." He gave McKay a moment to collect himself and then said, as casually as he could, "So then you went to the temple?" and McKay's whole body tensed up. "Easy," John said quietly. "Deep breath, all right?" He nodded approvingly as McKay breathed in deep, breathed out slow. "They took you up to the temple?"
"Yes," McKay said in a harsh whisper, like his lungs were on fire.
"So what happened? You got there and...?"
McKay shocked him by breaking out into a sharp, almost hysterical laugh and saying, "It was the temple of enlightenment, John! I got enlightened," and then he was laughing again. For a terrible moment, John was sure he was going to have to slap him, and then suddenly McKay was gasping raggedly and saying, "Oh my God, it was horrible," and covering his face.
John just sat there, helpless. "Jesus, McKay!" he said, almost horrified. "Pull yourself together!" and McKay took a couple of quick breaths and dropped his hands; he looked almost normal.
"Yes. Yes. I'm fine," McKay said, blinking rapidly, and then: "Look, I just need some sleep. I'm exhausted, and no one will give me a minute to—" and yeah, he had serious doubts about leaving McKay alone right now. But McKay must have seen that on his face, and so he said, almost irritably, "Colonel, I'm fine," and then: "Well, no. Actually, I'm not. God, I'm so fucking tired," but that was good; a pissed-off McKay was halfway back to normal. "Look, please, seriously, would you just leave me alone to be unconscious for a few hours?"
John sighed and said, "Yeah. Okay. All right." He stood up. "But you better be at breakfast tomorrow."
"Yes, yes, of course," McKay replied, rolling his eyes. "You can check my vitals over an egg McMuffin," and at least McKay was starting to sound like himself.
McKay was already in the mess when John got there the next morning, distractedly stirring a bowl of porridge with a spoon. John slid into the chair opposite, bit into an apple, and studied him; McKay seemed quieter than usual, and a little paler, but he looked pretty much okay.
"Sleep okay?" John asked. "How're you feeling?"
"Fine." McKay's smile was just a wry twist of lips. "About thirteen percent less crazy."
"Cool," John said, and took another bite. "If that rate holds steady," he added, chewing and waving the half-eaten apple at him, "you'll end up saner than when you started."
He'd sent Ronon and Teyla back to Orla for more information, since they seemed impervious to being screwed over by Ancient technology. Teyla came back through the gate looking apologetic. Beside her, Ronon was grinning like a lunatic and victoriously holding up a box.
"They do not actually know what the chamber does," Teyla said, sounding almost angry as John fumbled with the box's latches. "They themselves do not possess the ancestors' ATA gene. In fact, I believe their society was formed from those descendants in whom the gene was recessive or entirely absent. So they have dedicated themselves to helping others ascend."
"Those who can't, teach," John muttered, and got the box open. Inside, nestled carefully in a form-fitting outline, were two ZPMs. A kind of insane glee burst inside him: he didn't normally get all horny around ZPMs the way McKay did, but he had to admit, he was feeling kind of hot.
"They're really sorry they broke McKay," Ronon deadpanned, "but they sent these along as a consolation prize." He stopped, and his mouth twitched mischievously. "I say it was worth it."
John grinned, hit him, and slammed the lid down. "Well. Let's see if McKay thinks so."
He'd thought McKay would cream himself, but McKay just looked down curiously while the other scientists waved their arms and pumped their fists and formed a sprawling, impromptu conga line: zee pee, zee pee emm—dah!
"Oh, great, they said they'd send those," McKay said, lifting one to inspect it and then neatly fitting it back into its case. "I can think of ten projects that will—" and John must have been actually gaping, because McKay stopped and said, "What?"
"You're okay, right?" John asked, not wanting to say that he'd half-expected McKay to clutch one of the ZPMs to his chest and run away down the hall, shrieking like Daffy Duck.
"I'm fine," McKay said defensively, and then, maybe in response to John's evident disbelief. "Thirty-two percent less crazy," and when that didn't fly either: "Look, I'm tired. I told you."
"Just—maybe you ought to go back to the infirmary," John suggested softly, adding in a louder voice, when the scientists started the disco blasting. "Maybe you have a bug or something."
"A bug." McKay snorted faintly and raised his eyebrow. "Colonel," he said. "This is the Pegasus galaxy. If I had a bug, believe me: you'd know it."
But McKay seemed to be making himself suspiciously scarce, at least in his off hours. Okay, yeah, he was doing his usual crisis management, and he did at least show up for meals and mandatory briefings and things. But he didn't come by John's room, or show up when the team met in the mess for a midnight snack. And John couldn't run him to ground for chess.
It wasn't until he went by the lab only to be told that, get this: McKay had "left work early," that John decided that a confrontation was in order. He went to McKay's room, banged on the door, and then said, before it was even fully open, "Since when are you Mr. Home From Work Early?"
McKay leaned against the doorframe and blearily rubbed at his eyes. "I don't know, Captain Dangerous. Probably since we came back from Orla. As I've told you a thousand times—"
"Yeah, yeah, you're tired," John drawled. "But you won't go to the infirmary, and you don't get excited about ZPMs, because that was the old Rodney. The new Rodney—" and suddenly he realized that the new Rodney was still oh so casually leaning against the doorjamb, not just tiredly but angled so as to take up maximum space: blocking his way into the room.
Suddenly it seemed really important to get in there, and he shoved forward, telling himself that McKay'd probably managed to get himself a pre-beta copy of Hellgate London or something, even as he knew that was bullshit. He knew exactly what he was going to see a moment before he saw it: the pillow on the floor beside the bed, the synaptic energy monitor, the metal headband. Anger choked the words inside of him, stoppering them up. He couldn't manage to get anything out, not "What the fuck are you doing?" or "You goddamned lying bastard," or even "How could you?" Instead, John drifted over to the monitor and nudged the headband with the toe of his boot. His face felt numb, but he was roiling inside. He let his legs fold under him, sat down on the floor beside the bed, and idly picked up the monitor. Synaptic activity: 86 percent. EEG level: 9 Hertz.
"So I, um," McKay began, nervously locking his hands behind his back. "I realize you're probably pretty disappointed in me..." and John was trying to decide between You bet your ass I'm disappointed, and Hey, no skin off my nose; nice knowing you, asshole, when McKay finished, "...but I think I want to go." John just sat there, staring up at McKay. "To ascend," McKay clarified, as if John maybe thought he meant to go to Sears, or something: Disneyland. "I mean, I really want it this time," McKay said, and then, swallowing and looking away awkwardly, "I don't suppose you'd help me."
John let his head fall back against McKay's bed; his mind was swimming with words, banging and crashing into each other. Help? He would never fucking help, he didn't care if McKay wanted it; how the hell could McKay want it? Cowardly! Fucking! Lame-ass! Ancients! What the hell had they done to him, to make him want this?
McKay sat down beside him on the floor and let his own head fall back against the bed. Together, they stared up at the ceiling, and John couldn't help thinking about the monitor. 86 percent. 9 Hertz. God, McKay was so fucking close.
"Look, I've got to know," John said finally. "What the hell, Rodney?"
For a long time, McKay didn't say anything. Then he sighed and rubbed his head with both hands. "Did you ever read the Hitchhiker's Guide?"
No. Yes. Yeah, okay; yes. "What about it?"
"Do you remember the Total Perspective Vortex?" and John had to think: it was part of the plot that happened to Zaphod, wasn't it? McKay apparently didn't trust his memory, because he said, with faint impatience, "It was a machine, a torture device, that showed you the whole vastness of space-time, with a sign pointing to a miniscule dot on a dot that said—"
"You are here," John said, abruptly remembering.
"Right. And then your brain explodes," and John frowned at McKay, who stared back at him, pale and completely serious. "It wasn't like that, the temple. Not—exactly. But that's the only way I can think of to describe...." His voice was suddenly thick with emotion: "You see, it wasn't false advertising: it was true, it was real, everything they said. Ultimate knowledge of the universe, and it was, because you realize that—you realize—"
McKay was going red, and John seized his arm, hard. "Stop it, McKay," he said roughly. "Just stop it right—"
"—that we're just bits of flesh animated by electricity, grotesque and miniscule in a great sea of energy. The briefest flash—"
"Stop it," and John's voice was cracking, and so he dug his fingers in hard enough to hurt. McKay didn't even notice, he was so gripped by the horror of what he was saying.
"— a single spark, and then nothing, blown out into darkness and—"
"McKay," and crap, was he supposed to slap him, or—?
"—pointless, utterly, utterly—" and McKay stared blindly into space for a moment before blinking and saying to John, with unbearable sincerity, "It's the only way, ascension. It's physics, basic thermodynamics. We become energy one way or another, through death, decay, increasing...." McKay yanked his arm away and snapped his fingers abstractedly, "...disorder in the system, but entropic energy is useless; it dissipates. Ascension allows our personal thermodynamic energy to merge with the energy of the—goddammit, John," McKay said, suddenly clutching at John's shoulders, "it's literally all the power in the universe! Don't you see? It's not a metaphor: it's what power is: matter converted to energy, bodies in heat, particles vibrating and—"
"Okay," John said carefully, resisting the urge to jerk away; McKay was on a ledge, and he had to talk him down. "Take it easy, McKay. It's going to be all—"
"Never mind that it's the answer to every question. Ascension leads to ultimate knowledge, just like they said: individual energy merging with the collective as our consciousness joins the whole. We ascend or we dissipate, it's our only choice, if we can make it, and they say—" McKay's fingers tightened painfully. "They told me you could. Ascend. Any time you wanted. Which doesn't—that doesn't surprise me," McKay said, his hands abruptly lifting off John's shoulders. "You're already made of light."
"I'm not going to fucking ascend!" John shouted, and his own vehemence surprised him, but Jesus, why could no one get this through their heads? "So just forget it already—" but McKay was already backing off, pulling away, and it suddenly seemed really important to maintain a connection. John resisted the urge to just grab him, and then he had an idea and cautiously put his hands on McKay's upper arms, tugging gently, like Teyla would have done. McKay resisted for a moment, but then he let John pull him forward, bring their foreheads together, which—all right, weird, having McKay's hard, broad forehead against his, but it was good, too, to feel that warm pressure. John closed his eyes and tried to beam some common sense direct from his brain to McKay's. He wondered if that was what Teyla was trying to do most of the time.
They just breathed together for a while, and then McKay said, softly, "Will you help me?" and John thought, I'm trying to, Rodney. Jesus. I'm trying to.
No fucking way was he going to help McKay ascend, but he couldn't leave him alone, either, because Jesus: 86 percent. 9 Hertz. He felt like if he turned his back for five minutes, McKay would go up like one of the drummers from Spinal Tap: flash! gone! Still, John was relatively calm most of the time, because Atlantis still provided enough regularly scheduled crises to keep McKay frantic and angry and in a thoroughly unrelaxed state. But John hovered during off-hours and downtimes, even mealtimes ever since McKay scared the shit out of him by going all faraway and dreamy while staring into a cup of chocolate pudding. John had roughly elbowed him, knocking the plastic cup from his hand, and then kicked him, hard.
Now that he knew what was up, John crashed into McKay's room most nights and tried to distract him with stupidity and idle chatter. "I don't see why it's so damn important," John said, haphazardly bouncing his new favorite toy, a racquetball he'd stolen from one of the Marines, against the wall over McKay's head. He thought it was pretty annoying—thwap, bang!— but McKay seemed to be able to block it out most of the time. "I mean, okay, fine; I understand your goddamned thermodynamic depression," John said, and threw the ball hard—THWAP, BANG!; the display flicked up to 12 Hz: score one for him—"but I don't see why you have to go now. What the hell's the rush?"
McKay just lay there placidly in his stupid metal headband, the display holding steady at 12 Hz. "Look, you don't understand," he said. "It's not a matter of rushing. It's more like—once you know how the game ends, why would you keep playing?"
"Because it's fun?" John said savagely, and threw the ball hard: thwap-bang!
McKay sighed, opened his eyes, lifted his head a little. "Would you mind just— That's really not helping."
John ignored him. "When I die, they can just throw me in a hole. I don't care," he said, and this seemed to get to McKay; the monitor flicked to 14 Hz, then back down to 13 Hz.
"You don't mean that," McKay said, forehead creasing.
"I do, I one-hundred-percent do," John swore, and meant it. "Or I mean—I'm unlikely to get a hole, being a pilot, but blowing up is okay, too. I'll blow up, or burn up; I've seen guys burn up, and that's okay—"
14, 15, 16. "All right, you really need to stop talking now," McKay said tightly.
"—because it's a clean death, anyway. A flash and then nothing: spark blown out, like you said. But that's okay with me," John said, winding up. "I'm not cut out for this ascension bullshit—"
McKay's hand flew out and snatched the ball out of the air. "That's crazy," McKay said, and sat up. "You're more than cut out for it. You're designed for it—"
"Dead in a hole was good enough for my grandfather," John said, laying back angrily with an arm tucked behind his head.
"You're fucking with me," McKay said incredulously, and honestly, one of things that he'd miss most when McKay cashed in his thermodynamic chips was how he went for it every time, like Charlie Brown and the football. "I can't believe you; I ask you for help and you sit around reading magazines and throwing things at my head." McKay blew out a breath, straightened his metal headband, and laid back on the floor, fingers laced over his stomach. "If you're not here to help, then what are you doing here?"
"I'm fucking with you," John replied.
"Oh, that's nice. Very nice. Thank you, as always, for your support, you asshole."
"Picture a dark storm swirling around your head. A jumbo jet breaks out of the clouds. It's on fire: first, one wing falls off, then it explodes, shrapnel everywhere, body parts and—"
"I can't even believe what an asshole you are. It's like you're going for some sort of personal best."
"—and then the alien explodes out of John Hurt's stomach," John said meanly.
"I don't know why you keep coming over." McKay sighed, though he was still letting John in, which John thought was a good sign. "Other than that you hate me." McKay turned back toward his bed and the monitor, which now seemed locked at 15 Hz.
"No, that's it," John agreed, as the door slid shut. "Besides." He shrugged. "It's not like we've got television."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Oh, great." He sat down cross-legged on the floor, picked up the stupid metal headband, and fitted it round his head. "I'm glad you're finding this so entertaining."
"Oh, I am." John sat down and leaned back against McKay's bed. He snatched McKay's pillow off the floor and tucked it behind his neck. "I think you should ascend during sweeps week."
McKay didn't laugh; instead, his face went tight and pinched, and John was suddenly sure McKay was going to throw him out. He changed his tone.
"Look, somebody should be here," John said. "To witness—" but he couldn't say it, not for serious. "Just in case something happens. It doesn't—" John hesitated; this was a dangerous offer, but he thought he owed it to McKay to make it. "It doesn't have to be me," John said finally.
The conflict was visible on McKay's face. "Well. I guess that makes sense," he said, shifting uncomfortably. "And I—wouldn't want anyone else. So." McKay looked like he was going to say something else, but he shook it off and extended his hand. "Give me my pillow."
John made a show of reluctance. "Aw, come on," he said, handing it over. "What do you need a pillow for? You're not going to need a pillow when you're a beam of energy."
"I'm not a beam of energy yet," McKay replied, lying back and closing his eyes.
The monitor hummed steadily. McKay'd managed to get back down to 11 Hz, but he seemed to be stuck there, which—great, good! John idly paged through his magazine, checking out the ads and the stance tips. He mostly ignored the headlines, which were a couple of years old, now. Instead, he read an article comparing a bunch of new, high-tech wedges, then turned the page to read: "Tip From The Top: Step Back On Steep Slopes."
This seemed like good advice, and so John lifted his head to tell McKay, except he was just lying there with his eyes closed, unnaturally still, the only motion being the gentle rise and fall of his chest. The monitor was changing, EEG numbers dropping—9 Hz—8—5—synaptic activity cresting up to 92 percent, and John lashed out with his booted foot, kicking McKay hard.
McKay jerked, startled, and rose up on his elbows to stare at him, but, to John's dismay, the monitor held steady at 4 Hz, 93 percent, and—Jesus, he was going to throw up.
McKay just seemed confused. "Why did you—?" he began, and then it was like he read some message on John's face. He sat up. "Oh, John, don't," McKay said, and John could have killed him, this kind stranger wearing Rodney McKay's face. "It'll be all right," he said. "I swear. I promise you—"
"Don't—" John threatened, just barely controlling himself. "Don't you dare console me."
McKay immediately raised his hands. "All right. I won't." Behind him, the monitor dropped another notch, to 3 Hz; McKay seemed to be in a state of deep and terrifying calm. "Is there anything else I can—do for you?" McKay asked uncertainly, and this was maybe it: the last few moments between them. John felt strangled, bottled-up.
"Nah," John said finally, his voice scraping out of his throat. "I'm good. Do your thing."
"Okay," McKay said, smiling at him, and then he crossed his legs and closed his eyes. John couldn't look away—he was afraid even to blink—and only vaguely became aware that he was shredding the magazine in his lap, fingers ripping it to pieces. He worked a bit of glossy paper into a ball, then shot it at McKay, flicking it with his nail. McKay flinched and opened his eyes. John flicked another paper pellet at him, and then another, hard. McKay recoiled as if stung.
"Okay, so that's—" McKay said, covering his exposed arm. "Really annoying."
John licked the next one, aimed carefully, and managed to hit the side of McKay's neck; the pellet didn't stick, though, just skittered away along the nightstand. "Good," he said, as McKay clapped his hand to his neck, like he'd been bitten. "Consider it your incentive to buzz off."
"Look, I know you're upset," McKay said. "Most people don't like to confront their own—ow!—mortality if they can help it, and let's face it, Colonel; you're a lot worse than the average bear when it comes to—Christ, would you fucking lay off—?!"
"Save it, Rodney. Fuck off. Go be a beam of light."
Angrily, McKay exhaled through his teeth and closed his eyes, nobly trying to ignore John's flying spitballs. "You'd think I'd be allowed a little dignity," McKay said, as a tiny white paper ball bounced off his forehead. "At a moment like this—" and that's when John really lost it.
"No!" John yelled, and threw the whole magazine at McKay's head. "No! There's no dignity in this, you delusional, egomaniacal—" and the last thing he saw before McKay launched himself across the floor and tackled him, hands slapping wildly at his head, was the rapid flicker of the numbers spiraling upward.
7 8 9 10 11-12-13-14-15—and then McKay's body blocked out the light, and John's skull connected solidly with the floor as he fell sideways with McKay heavy on top of him, his clammy, flailing hands still smacking him about the face. John flung his forearms up to block him, and then they were struggling together, rolling, scrabbling, panting in each other's faces.
"Always have to ruin—everything—" McKay gasped, and John tried to grab and control his hands, tried to roll on top of him and pin him down. McKay was total crap at hand to hand combat, but here, fighting on the floor like a girl, he was pretty good: he knew how to use his body, wrapping his legs around John's and twisting his arm nearly to the point of breaking, plus it turned out he wasn't above pulling hair, which gave him a really unfair advantage.
"Ow, seriously, ow, Jesus, you stupid asshole," John said, and kneed him in the nuts. McKay yelped, and John heaved him over onto his back and pinned him down, using his whole body, arms and legs sprawling everywhere. But McKay half-shoved him off, got an arm free, and pushed at his nose, and they rolled again, scrabbling and struggling, crashing into the leg of the desk, and when John next got on top, he was hard and gasping and shoving his cock against McKay's thigh. "I want to put my dick in you. I want to fuck you through the floor—"
"Oh my God," McKay said breathlessly. "You crazy bastard: I'm not gay," except it was the most spectacularly mixed message ever, because McKay was dragging him down for the hottest, dirtiest kiss he'd ever gotten: all wet mouth and tongue and intent to fuck. John tried to give that back with interest, to say, hey, you want to fuck, I'll fuck you blind—but then McKay clumsily shoved his face away with his splayed, sweaty hands. "Wait!"
"What?" John demanded.
McKay's cheeks and ears were flushed; his forehead was glistening with sweat. "I'm processing!" he said, staring up at John. "Okay: I've processed," he announced, and pushed his mouth back against John's. John immediately slid his tongue over McKay's lips, which opened wider for the kiss, signaling yes and all right and come on, already. Groaning, John tried to hold on to the kiss and fumble his belt open at the same time.
McKay had the same idea and wasn't wearing a belt, so John's hand was suddenly pressed against the hot, silky skin of McKay's hard-on. He groped it, and McKay made a gratifyingly broken sound, so John squeezed more purposefully, clutching the smooth, leaking head in his fist before sliding down to choke it a little. McKay let out a wet, stuttering gasp and shoved his hand into John's pants, and John's hips jerked wildly, pushing his cock into Rodney's palm.
Christ, for a supposedly straight guy, McKay gave a really great hand-job. John broke off the kiss to gasp, "oh, yeah, Christ, yes," because they'd gotten a rhythm, now, and if he looked down their tangled bodies, he could see everything: his hand curled around McKay's heavy cock, his own dick fucking McKay's fist. He felt the first, rumbling tremors of orgasm and curled his arm around McKay's neck, kissing him roughly as his hips jerked into high gear—close, close, so—
John closed his eyes, felt McKay whisper, "oh, fuck," hot against his face, and came hard, trying and failing to stop his own embarrassing pleasure noises. He was still coming, cock jerking in McKay's fist. His t-shirt was rucked up, the floor cold against his burning skin. Come was splattering his belly. McKay was already complaining. "God. Sheppard. You bastard, I'm not there yet, what about—"
He took couple of deep breaths. When he stopped feeling dizzy, he lifted his head, and when that felt okay, he lurched up and shoved McKay over and onto his back.
"Hey!" McKay protested, and then, when John's mouth skimmed down his belly, "Oh," and then, in a smaller voice: "oh." John gently traced his fingers over the warm skin of McKay's hip as he bent to take McKay's cock in his mouth. "Oh god,"— and John really liked his body: McKay was pale and a little flabby, but he had soft skin, lightly dusted with blond-brown hairs, and a beautiful cock. John worked it up and down, wetting it, tightening his lips round the head. He closed his eyes. He listened to the sweet, desperate sounds McKay was making. Quick, harsh breaths, fingers knotting in his hair, and then the sudden, helpless thrusting that was McKay losing it, and John inhaled quick through his nose and let McKay come in his mouth.
After a while he couldn't breathe, though, and he let McKay slide out, over his lips, and turned to press his face into the flesh above McKay's right hip. McKay's hand tightened in his hair, like he was afraid that John might run away or something—which was, okay, possible, because Jesus, he'd sucked Rodney McKay off and that just had to be a mistake.
"I'm not gay either," John mumbled, and then added: "Much," and then: "Anymore."
"Oh, really?" McKay sounded satisfyingly pleasure-weak. "Just gay for me, then?"
Oh, Christ. Such a mistake. "No," John managed to grit out. "It's not just—"
"Because believe me, that's pretty flattering. I never even knew you ca—"
"I don't," John said, instantly lifting his head, which ow, because McKay didn't let go of his hair. "I really, really don't," he said, with as much sincerity as he could muster.
McKay twisted his head awkwardly so that he could peer down his body. "Oh my God," he said, his face changing. "You're mad at me. You just gave me a blow job and you're still mad at me!"
"Yes! Yes, I am!" John shouted, shocked to hear himself say it. "I'm always mad at you. Mad is my default state with you. Because you're an asshole, and a blowhard, and—"
"Oh, I am not," McKay scoffed.
"—and everything's about you all the time," and then, because McKay was still clutching at his hair, John let his head drop back down to McKay's hip. He groaned against the soft, freckled skin and felt that whatever contest this was, he was losing; losing bad. "And I don't know," John sighed. "You always make me feel like I should have studied harder—"
"You're not serious. Tell me you're not—"
"Oh, shut up. Well, I could've. Just, I don't know, I was mad at my father and—"
"This isn't happening. I don't believe this is happening."
"—I couldn't focus," John admitted. "Mainly, I just wanted to get out of the house."
"Okay, wait, just—stop," McKay said. "I mean, I'm sorry to make this about me, but I think this really is about me, isn't it? Or—all right, fine, if you want to talk about your childhood, I'm all ears, and yes, I'm ready to agree that you're a tragic waste of potential, but—"
"I don't want you to ascend," John said, and then, deciding he needed to be even more straightforward, "I'll be really fucking angry at you if you ascend. I'll hate you forever."
McKay didn't say anything for a long moment. And then he said, in a strange-sounding voice, "Oh my God, you really do love me—"
"Egotistical bastard. I don't," but John was mashing his face pretty hard into McKay's flab, his nose bending to one side, so he wasn't sure McKay could hear him.
"You do. You so do," and he could almost see McKay's smug, dreamy smile. "I don't know how I didn't see it before. Probably because I didn't know that we could—you know, do this. But I thought it went pretty well, didn't you? For a first time? I'm really sold on the idea."
"I'm such an idiot. I should have let you disintegrate."
"Go on, say it," McKay said, and poked his head. "Say you love me, and I won't ascend."
"Bite me, McKay," John muttered. "Go suck a lemon," but he slid his arm around McKay's too-soft, too-pale body, and held on tight.