It is done. *dance of joy* Will I probably continue to fiddle with it? The sun still rises, right?
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, with a few other cameos
Spoilers: Not a one.
Feedback: Will be hugged like a puppy. Even if it bites.
Summary: The smart ones never play fair.
Because theantimodel is both terribly cool and swifter than the bunny, you now have the option of reading this in a much nicer form. Go here instead, and avoid all the hopscotching. Unless you like that sort of thing.
Author’s notes (pre-story):
This is a response to the Atlantis Urban Legends Slash Challenge. The specific prompt in question is this one. aurora_84 and lydiabell graciously stepped in to beta this into shape. If it's at all legible, it’s probably their fault. The much adored raucousraven brought the Betasticks of Immense Power and encouraged me throughout. She also listened to me whine - often - and battled all 42.5 drafts I sent her way. Any lines that you happen to think sound a bit neat are likely her doing. All hail the mighty Raven! rivier braved the advance copy and didn’t profess the need to sob brokenly at the horror. My thanks to all of you for your efforts.
All of the above parties have plausible deniablity to everything in here. All mistakes/structural oddities are fully my own doing and likely snuck in when they weren’t looking. In short, mea culpa.
If you want to be a spoilsport, you can cheat and find the list of other pairings at the end of the fic here. Other than that, you’re on your own.
Because LJ is evil like that, parts II and III are linked. (And if you know a better way to do it, please advise me. This is my first attempt at such maneuvers).
The soft noise Sheppard made wasn’t enough to draw Rodney’s attention. He would have missed it entirely if his focus hadn’t secretly been on Sheppard to start with.
He’d been not-watching since the man sauntered into his lab. Rodney had been making his way through the assorted ancient knicknacks turned up by city explorations, giving each item at least a cursory examination before classifying it as either interesting technology, probable junk, or possibly both. Sheppard was much more entertaining.
For appearances’ sake, Rodney continued fondling the device in his hands - the same one that had failed to do much of anything for the last half hour. He mustered an appropriately aggrieved expression and gave up pretending not to look. “What?”
“Oh, nothing. I just think I may have turned this thing on.” Sheppard’s voice was far too controlled to be natural.
Rodney sighed. “Of course. It and every other atomic-based form of matter in the galaxy. What’s it doing?”
John looked puzzled, frowning and narrowing his eyes. “Not sure. Maybe… buzzing a little?”
Rodney stood to crowd him more effectively. “How typical. You’ve been here five minutes.”
Sheppard smirked. “What can I say? Some people just have the touch.”
“Yes, and they’re usually the ones with all the venereal diseases.” Rodney snapped his fingers. “Hand it over.”
Sheppard, being Sheppard, pulled his hand back. “Just give me a minute.”
Rodney drummed impatiently on his pants leg. “Well, try something.”
Sheppard’s cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah, that’s specific.”
“Look, if you’re not going to be cooperative, you can just hand it over and go away.”
He was half right.
Thirty seconds of stunned blinking and three minutes of frantic radio calls later, Sheppard responded.
“Well, that was a rush.”
Rodney was lucky to be alone in the lab. The first few sounds out of his mouth weren’t quite language. The next few were, but not of the sort used in polite company. Finally, he settled on, “Sheppard, what the hell did you just do?”
The voice over his headset sounded entirely too pleased with itself. “Learn how to walk through walls, apparently.”
“You learned… wait, what?”
He could hear the insufferable grin. “Yeah. I think I’m about three rooms down from you. From the rolls of toilet paper, I’m guessing supply closet.”
Thirty seconds later Rodney was yanking the closet door open to reveal the predicted smirk. He really only noticed it in passing, though, since his eyes were busy cataloguing the rest of Sheppard. John seemed to take it in stride, leaning against some shelving and looking somewhere between smug and excited. It was about this time that the sound of Elizabeth demanding an update finally registered in Rodney’s ear. He cued the mic distractedly, eyes still on Sheppard. “He’s fine. I’ll get back to you.” He flipped it off. “Okay. So you don’t seem to be damaged. Well, no more than before, at any rate. Would you like to tell me how you got from there to here?”
John’s eyes were shining and he abruptly lost the forced casual pose. “I walked.”
Rodney nodded. “Yes, yes, we’ve covered that. Apparently through walls, and would you care to elaborate on how?”
Sheppard shrugged. “You tell me. This thing starts wiggling on me, I look down, and when I look up the world is kind of… fuzzy.”
“Like caterpillar fuzzy, or acid trip fuzzy?”
Sheppard gave him an appraising look. “More like bad time-travel special effect fuzzy. Hazy, maybe. When I tried moving around, I wound up here. A little bit goes a long way, I think.”
Rodney frowned thoughtfully, mentally tallying a)possible ways the Ancients’ device was manipulating matter, b)probable range of motion and c)how many new and different ways Sheppard could find to get hurt and/or die. “So how did you turn it off?”
“No idea. Maybe thought ‘stop’ at it?” Sheppard looked momentarily discomfited, and then brightened. He held up the device and flicked a look at Rodney from under his brows. “Still, this is –“
“-very cool,” Rodney finished for him, nodding.
When Elizabeth, Carson and the medical team arrived a moment later, they found the two grinning at each other. Elizabeth looked uneasy; Carson only sighed and began to tally his medical supplies.
Carson removed the blood pressure cuff and made a note in a chart already several inches thick. “As near as I can tell - and bear in mind I don’t have the full blood results or DNA workup back yet - the Colonel here seems fine. No apparent effects whatsoever from whatever that device did.”
Sheppard was still smiling widely, and Rodney was casting impatient looks between the patient and the device, currently resting on a tray beside him. It reminded Elizabeth of nothing so much as a small, metallic sea urchin. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, bowing to the inevitable. Rodney was just opening his mouth and wearing an expression so innocent a blind man would have been wary when she cut him off. “I’m well aware you two will follow me around until I let you play with this thing. In the interests of time and sanity, I’ll give the go-ahead, but gentlemen – you break it, you bought it. Am I clear?”
They were nodding at her in tandem. Rodney got in the first word. “Absolutely.”
“It will all be extremely safe.”
“We’ll be careful.”
She gave the unladylike snort she seemed to have picked up in this galaxy and shook her head. “Just try to keep yourselves in one piece, okay?”
They nodded some more, and then Sheppard hopped down from the infirmary bed and the two of them headed for the exit, heads together and hands flying. She shared a look with Carson, quirking an eyebrow. If they were lucky, there would be a few days of peace before the explosion.
If they were very lucky, it wouldn’t be a literal one.
Two days later they came to her with a working theory.
Rodney was pacing, obviously too keyed up to sit; he held up a finger, waving it emphatically as he explained. “Here’s the interesting part: the results came back the same as when he was just standing there with it off. Temperature, elemental content, pressure. All except the light spectrum analysis. The air in Colonel Sheppard’s ‘bubble’ – for lack of a better word – was far denser than it should have been. Less dense than a human body, obviously, but still more than your average blank space.”
Radek, apparently having been drafted, jumped in. “And here is the other thing: we could not get readings on this ‘bubble’ from outside – only when Colonel Sheppard was holding the recording equipment, and the data only registered for a fraction of a second before and after he disappeared. It is remarkable!”
They were looking at her expectantly. Sometimes, they forgot her qualifications weren’t in the physical sciences. Sometimes, they forgot everyone’s weren’t. “Okay, and that translates as…?”
Rodney blinked. “It’s a matter destabilizer. We think it works like a combination of technologies we’re already familiar with: gate transport, the innercity transporters, the personal shield I found last year. Probably even some of the inertial dampening capabilities of the jumpers, to allow movement control and the like. Which, by the way, is apparently possible despite the fact that the user is molecularly deconstructed.” He was practically bouncing.
Sheppard chimed in from his position on the bench along the wall. “Basically, it breaks me down into little bits moving really fast. It gets them small enough to pass through things that are usually pretty solid.”
That… sounded rather alarming, actually. It must have shown on her face, because Rodney leapt forward to reassure her. “It’s really all perfectly safe. We think it tags all the atoms inside the ‘bubble’ and then sets up a force field specific to them. Somehow, it’s programmed to allow gas exchange between the two zones without letting any of the… er, traveler… escape. Pretty much the way the personal shield did, really. At least we think so, since Sheppard didn’t suffocate.” He grimaced for a moment, then waved it off. “The great part is, it lets matter that isn’t tagged pass right through it, seemingly unaffected. And when it’s turned off, poof! All the little bits come back together.”
She was still doing her best to take it all in. “And exactly what is the purpose of this device? Outside of entertainment, that is.”
Radek was rubbing his hands together gleefully. “It does not have a convenient instruction manual, but it seems likely the device was part of the Ancients’ experiments toward ascension.”
Rodney nodded eagerly. “Incorporeality would be a big step on that road. When you think about it, all they need is the glowing and they’re most of the way there.”
Elizabeth decided to let that one pass. “All right gentlemen, what now?”
Rodney answered first. “Well, obviously I need to get some more first-hand experience with this thing. I took it on a few test runs in the labs and –“
Sheppard’s throat-clearing rose from behind the two scientists staring hopefully at her. “Yes, John?”
“I was actually thinking I should maybe hang on to it. For strategic purposes.”
Rodney let out a sound best likened to a squawk. “What? What ‘strategic purposes’ could possibly require that you walk through walls?”
“Maybe the next time the Genii show up. Or the next time we get stuck on a hive ship? Or, hey, the next mission where you get kidnapped for your ability to produce brainy offspring?” Sheppard was lounging smugly.
“Okay, the first two? Pretty much hoping those were one-time-only events.”
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. “And the last one?”
Rodney looked uncomfortable. “Well, that wasn’t actually so bad. The food was decent, at least.”
Elizabeth decided it was time to intervene. “Okay. Here’s what we do. Rodney, you and Radek have a week to do some more research on this thing.” McKay smiled triumphantly. Zelenka didn’t. “After that, Colonel Sheppard gets custody.”
She held up a hand to forestall Rodney’s indignant protest. “You’ll still have visitation rights. It will just live with John on a regular basis.”
Neither McKay nor Sheppard looked particularly pleased, but they seemed to sense she wouldn’t reconsider. Both of them slunk out of the office, more or less together. She looked up at Radek, who was staring after the others with something akin to dread in his expression. “I take it you disagree?”
He shook his head, still watching them. “No. I do not think there is any correct answer to this issue.” He turned to look at her, a wry grin forming. “I am simply waiting to see the fallout. It should be most interesting.”
She wondered whether the Czech language shared proverbs with Chinese.
Everything went smoothly enough until the handover.
Sheppard waited with admirable patience throughout the seventh day. He waited rather less patiently throughout the eighth. By the evening of the ninth, he’d had enough.
Rodney answered his door with his chin set and eyes glittering. This was never a good sign.
“Ah, Colonel. What can I do for you?” There was just a hint of something taunting in his voice.
“Cut the crap, McKay. I want the kooshball.” He tried glaring menacingly for good measure, even though Rodney had never before been appropriately menaced.
Rodney dropped all efforts at concealment. Now he just looked very self-satisfied. “By all means, go ahead and take it.”
John stepped warily past him into his quarters and eyed the room. “Where is it?”
The bastard was giving him that lopsided, eyes-half-closed expression of contentment. “That is the question, isn’t it?”
“McKay…” He tried growling for effect, not really expecting to have any.
“My, my, my. I seem to have forgotten where I put it. It’s getting late now, and I’ll have to look for it tomorrow. Why don’t you come back then.”
Sheppard knew damn well McKay’s day would last at least another five to six hours. Rather than push the issue, however, he fell back on the method that had unbalanced more superior officers than any other. He smiled widely. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’ll turn up.”
Rodney’s look of unease as John walked away was a thing of beauty.
Rodney had full confidence in his own genius for three full days.
It was on the morning of the fourth that he crawled out of bed, made his way to the labs, and moved to make the first batch of coffee of the day. Given that he had the better part of an hour before anyone should realistically bother him, he felt safe in breaking out his private stash. He’d had to bribe three Daedalus crew members and two SGC airmen to acquire the few pounds of Jamaican Blue he kept in stock. It wasn’t until he’d removed the control panel behind which he’d been hiding the precious beans that he realized anything was wrong.
The matter destabilizer which had been residing there for the last few days – and which Rodney studiously refused to call ‘the kooshball’ – was gone.
So was the coffee.
Sheppard was a dead man.
By the time he caught up to him, Rodney was fuming. “I can’t believe you!”
Sheppard, meanwhile, was far too amused. “This coming from the guy who’s been playing keep-away for the last week?”
Rodney knew perfectly well those were not equal sins. “You can’t take a man’s caffeine and expect to get away with it. Hand over the coffee and I might not make your life a living hell. Remember: I know where you live.”
Sheppard, cocky as ever, pulled the matter destabilizer out of his jacket pocket and tossed it lazily from hand to hand. “Huh. Funny thing is, I really don’t remember where I put it. Why don’t you come back later. Maybe I’ll have a clue.”
While Rodney flirted with an aneurysm, Sheppard waved and winked out of visibility.
Well, that settled it. The gauntlet had been thrown. This was war.
Sheppard was well aware he was playing with fire. Rodney, for all his quirks, really was a genius. He was also a vindictive little shit.
It was fun while it lasted, though.
He’d quickly realized the necessity of having a hiding place for the kooshball, not to mention the emancipated coffee. He couldn’t hold the device at all times, and occasionally it wasn’t practical to have it near him. He wasn’t quite ready to take it on missions, for instance. The last thing they needed was one more thing they couldn’t necessarily control, or for it to fall into someone else’s hands.
And so, before they’d left to negotiate for trade with the Gefillins, Sheppard had carefully stashed his prize - along with the coveted beans - in the one place he felt most confident he knew better than Rodney.
He knew something was wrong the second he set foot in the armory. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his skin prickled with the sensation. He had a pretty good idea of what he’d find, anyway.
When he moved the artfully arranged crates and lifted the lid of the relevant trunk, it didn’t come as all that much of a surprise to find both items gone. The explosive charge, however, did catch him off guard.
He stood very still for a moment, dripping and blinking slowly. It was then that he noticed the sign.
Duct taped to the inside of the trunk lid was a large note in McKay’s handwriting. Even the letters seemed to mock him. It said, “Really, Colonel. You thought I wouldn’t look for them with the big guns? Oh, and the kids on M7G-677 send their regards. Remember, it washes off. Eventually.”
Sheppard ripped the note off with a curse and stalked toward his quarters. Along the way, he passed several marines and one very startled botanist. All were wise enough not to comment.
Parrish stared at the ceiling. “You know, this can’t end well.”
Beside him, Lorne chuckled. “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s kind of entertaining. It’s like watching a pair of kindergarteners.”
Parrish looked at him incredulously. “Yes. Kindergarteners with munitions training and an understanding of nuclear fission, respectively.”
Lorne remained unconcerned. “They’ll be fine. I can’t say I understand it, but Sheppard seems kind of attached to McKay. They’ll have their fun for a while, and then they’ll get over it.”
“It’s not them I’m worried about. Sheppard was blue. Do you really think he’ll just let that slide? Nooo. He’s going to do something to McKay, and McKay will do something in return, and before you know it –” Lorne cut him off at the lips.
“You worry too much.”
Elizabeth sometimes thought fingerpaints and Play-Doh should have been part of the standard mission equipment when they packed for the Pegasus galaxy. She also suspected that somewhere on a little blue planet in the Milky Way, Jack O’Neill was laughing his ass off.
The head of Atlantis’ military contingent was staring balefully at her from across her desk. The fact that he was a mottled shade of indigo didn’t really surprise her as much as it should.
That the head of Atlantis’ science department was standing next to him, looking all too pleased with himself, wasn’t much of a shock either.
They opened their mouths at the same time, and she cut them both off. “I don’t know what’s going on, and quite frankly I don’t want to. If you harm anyone in this city, I will have you quarantined to your rooms for the foreseeable future. That do-no-harm includes each other. Other than that, I don’t want to hear about it and I don’t want to see it. Work it out.”
Their mouths snapped shut, and they looked distinctly nonplussed. Finally, they trudged out with tails appropriately between their legs.
She made sure they were far out of range of sight or sound before she curled over her ribs, laughing hard enough to hurt.
John hit the mat for the third time in as many minutes. If he stayed there a little longer each time, it was understandable. He was regrouping.
Teyla gave him the look from under her eyebrows that meant she was too polite to laugh. He rolled back to his feet with an unnecessary flourish, and the corner of her mouth turned up.
“You are preoccupied.”
He twirled one stick to buy time. “Nah. Just having an off day.”
“Perhaps it is your new coloration. It does not suit you.” She circled lithely, only the subtle placement of her feet warning of her readiness.
He couldn’t argue with that. The blue had faded enough that he just looked vaguely ill. “Take it up with McKay.”
He feinted left, then attacked low with both weapons. She didn’t bother following the first move, and simply leapt over the second.
Four times. His ribs hurt.
“I would, if I believed Rodney solely at fault.” She offered him a hand, and he took it, trying to look wounded and innocent.
“C’mon. The kooshball is mine. I just… returned it to its rightful owner, after all. He’s the one who’s gone all master thief.” He caught the sticks as she tossed them back. “Do you really think he should have it?” He pouted winningly.
“You are both far too valuable to the safety of the city to possess such an unknown device.” She looked far too serene about that declaration.
He knew it was a mistake to ask. “What should we do with it, then?”
“I think Major Lorne should be given its keeping. He has the gene, and is of slightly less vital standing within the command structure. He is also directly responsible for city security. As such, he is the most ideal candidate to wield such a weapon and to bear its consequences.”
She attacked while he was still trying to make his mouth work. Five times, now.
She wasn’t finished, either. At least he was already on the mat. “I also do not think you are seeking the device.”
He raised his head and squinted up at her. “Oh yeah? What am I after?”
“Rodney.” She turned away to grab her towel, and he tried to get his face back to blank. “His attention, that is. You are unchallenged without it. Unfocused. It is why you spend as much time among the scientists as you do here.”
“So I’m bored. It’s a little harmless fun. He’s doing it, too.” Okay, so it wasn’t the most mature answer he could have fielded.
And there was that look again. The laughing on the inside one. Then she raised her brow and tossed another towel his way.
He draped it over his face and let his head fall back against the floor.
Any good commander knew when to call in the reinforcements. With Teyla officially off the roster, his options were narrower.
Sheppard found Ronon cleaning his weapons in the dining hall. When all was said and done, the man had a natural love of attention and a twisted sense of humor. There was a three table radius of empty around him.
At first, Ronon just raised an eyebrow and kept cleaning.
Sheppard made his voice a bit more wheedling. “He did something to the controls to lock me out. I’m not sure how he managed it, and it still lets him in just fine.” He went a little heavier on the conspiratorial air. “I just want to see whether or not it reacts to everybody else the same way, or if it’s just me.”
Ronon looked torn. Sheppard decided to press the advantage. “Come on, buddy. It’ll be fun.”
Ronon seemed to think about it, flipping the knife in one hand absently. Finally, he shrugged and put down the rag. He sheathed the knife. “I was bored anyway.”
When Radek stumbled upon them near Rodney’s door, Ronon looked very, very angry. It was one of the two expressions Zelenka had learned to recognize on him, the other being gleeful. He could never decide which was more frightening.
The current look was definitely fury, however. If nothing else, the hair gave it away. At the moment it was looking singed, and the smell in the air was one of burning.
Dex gave one final growl at Sheppard and stalked away, leaving the Colonel alone at the drawing board with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. Radek turned on his heel and started back the way he’d come, hoping -
“Zelenka! Just the man I need to see.” So much for that.
He suspected he would regret it, but turned anyway. “Yes, Colonel?”
Sheppard’s eyes gleamed evilly, and his smile showed far too many teeth. “So I heard you had a fight with Rodney the other day. Something about relay conduits?”
It was a fair attempt. He had a fight with Rodney approximately once every 4.6 days, by his count. The latest had been about power allocation to the farthest reaches of the city’s underwater shields, but close enough.
Sheppard seemed to take his silence for assent. “How would you like to give a little bit back to him?”
Radek knew this was most likely a very, very bad idea. McKay was very smart, and very creative. McKay was not always so smart as he thought, however, and Radek couldn’t pass up the chance to prove it.
“What did you have in mind, Colonel?”
When Rodney reached under his bed to retrieve the device, his hand hit paper. He pulled out the note, which read simply:
Lorne let out a sound that wouldn’t have been dignified in a ten year old girl, let alone a man of his years and experience. The man sitting in his quarters, however, definitely wasn’t the one he’d become accustomed to seeing there.
“Dr. McKay! What…Sir, what the hell are you doing here?” He had his handgun half out of its holster and was reluctant to release it. Not that he’d ever shoot McKay. On purpose.
McKay was in the shadows at the back of the room. “Colonel Sheppard has crossed the line this time. I know perfectly well only one person in this city has the skill level to have hacked the system I arranged without getting enough pure current through their shifty little body to make them think twice.” Lorne thought he could hear knuckles cracking. “Zelenka’s turned traitor.”
“Yeah… Alright. How exactly does this involve me?” Lorne had a sneaking suspicion he already knew, but hoped he was wrong.
“It’s time to fight dirty. I like the poetry of it. He recruits my second in command, I recruit his.” McKay sounded far too rational to be sane.
Lorne squinted at him sideways. “That’s nice. What’s in it for me, outside of humiliation and the promise of immediate and painful disciplinary action?”
“Oh, not much. Just the sudden necessity of a trip to the mainland to study the plants there. Say, one member of the botany department and a single escort for a few days.”
As McKay outlined his plan, complete with assurances of success and anonymity, Lorne thought, David’s going to kill me. But how often did you get the equivalent of an all-expenses paid vacation in the Pegasus galaxy?
Sheppard hadn’t expected to be training today. He should have been spending some down time in his room, progressing through War and Peace. Or possibly Tess of the D’Ubervilles. He’d decided to add some variety.
Instead, he’d spent the morning running drills with Lorne throughout the city. He couldn’t fault his 2IC’s dedication, but his timing needed work. Of course, Sheppard was well aware that was McKay’s fault.
It was so obviously a setup that John almost felt bad for him. He’d tucked the kooshball into a pocket of his vest before leaving his quarters, fully expecting them to be thoroughly ransacked.
When his door opened to reveal an untouched room, he felt a prickle of unease. He reached for his pocket, lifting the velcro to find…
Taped to the inside of his door was another note. It read, “Ha. And also, HA!”
Time to stop messing around.