Fic: Jam Every Other Day
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard pre-slash
Notes: Thanks to lady_jane for the last minute edit, many pronouns would be wrong and tenses would be slipped without her. This didn't end up quite as Wonderland-y as I had planned, but I also hadn't planned on it being 11,000 + words either. O_O That said, I hope you like it weasleysangel! Happy birthday!
Summary: ""It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day' ," objected
Atlantis looked wrong with her halls empty and dark. A familiar storm was raging outside the windows, and yay!, his arm had a big bleeding hole in it. He'd already done this song and dance and was not thrilled by the thought of a re-visit. Not to mention the chance of getting either shot, drowned, or electrocuted, depending on which set of circumstances won out in the repeat scenario. He needed to find the virus, or get out of this system setting, preferably both. And sooner rather than later.
On the plus side, the fact that the whole city was evacuated during this period reduced the number of factors to only a small infinity. He'd take what he could get. Not to mention the fact that his life signs detector seemed to be picking up the virus as a separate entity from the Protection and the Colonel. One wonders what the actual data stream represented. Perhaps some kind of self diagnostic, or maybe a search engine, and that was kind of odd, actually. Two dots very close together, probably the Protection and Sheppard, one standing still and one moving very rapidly towards the lone still dot. Which was probably himself. On one hand, not going to have to run all over a rapidly disintegrating pseudo-Atlantis. On the other hand, frustrated Wraith virus heading straight for him. At least he was also pseudo-armed. In the sense that his mind interpreting something as a side-arm theoretically meant it was capable of doing some damage. Time to test that theory.
And… apparently he was not the lone life-sign, since when he moved, so did the paired signal. Which meant either the ship was hovering and Sheppard was in trouble, Sheppard was hovering and the Protection was in trouble, or the virus was hovering and they were all in trouble. He wasn't sure which option was actually worse, but anyway you looked at it, cutting the moving sign off at the pass couldn't hurt. Running was probably also a good idea.
Ahead, ahead, and down this hallway, cut through this lab, and he hadn't realized he knew Atlantis this well, or maybe he didn't. Maybe things were arranging themselves to suit him, or perhaps navigation was easier when his brain was just interpreting data into movement, or…
There. He'd gotten ahead of it and it should be…. Him? No, Skippy. Fuck, he'd been making angry chit-chat with the Wraith virus while locked in a closet and concussed.
"Well. If it isn't the destroyer of a whole solar system! Hey, Rodney, long time no see."
Was everyone going to rub his nose in that for the rest of eternity? He would like to point out that no one ever mentioned Carter's sun exploding incident out of simple courtesy and respect for the woman who saved their asses on a regular basis. Would it have been too much to ask for his people to extend that same politeness? Gun out, check. Safety off, check. Aim, check. "Five-sixths. And where did you dig that tidbit up from?"
It was very surreal to see the cold, toothy smile he'd last seen from a few feet away with a ZPM in hand and his full clip at his feet stretched across his own face. "Oh well, I have access to the hard drives same as anyone else. Or rather anyone else who isn't you. Your loud little friend stinks of old times. His blood calls, you know. We can hear it. It shouldn't be too hard to track him down. And even if I don't, he already starts to bleed into this vessel. I may not get the joy of seeing his face as I kill him, but I will learn his secrets as I learn hers and he will die all the same. She will not be able to stop me, and neither will you. Death is inevitable."
Huh. Added concern. Not only could they all be killed, but should he fail, the Wraith will have learned all about Atlantis' continued existence as well as the Protection's home. As if there hadn't been enough pressure before. "If death is so inevitable, why are you sitting here chatting with me?"
It made a vague gesture towards the gun. "You seem rather insistent. Far be it from I to argue. I have the time to play a little while."
He carefully lifted the life-signs detector to sit beside his view of Skippy the virus—two dots facing, and one speeding towards the distant other. Guess it was either the ship or Sheppard who'd been hovering, then. Which was reassuring in a creepy stalker sort of way. "Do you?"
Sadly, while he admittedly had better things to do after a rousing success than look in a mirror, he was pretty sure that smug look pasted on Skippy's face was a fairly close approximation of his own. "Oh yes. You on the other hand." Casual shrug. "It's been nice talking to you Rodney, but I have bigger fish to fry. Try and die well, huh?"
He only had a split second to be confused while Skippy made a run for it, then the whole hallway began to shudder as the windows imploded and rain started pouring in. This was not what had happened, but shit, how was he supposed to stop the storm from swamping Atlantis when it wasn't actually happening in the first place? He didn't have the kind of time he'd need to pull the lightning/shield trick again, and besides, the important thing was stopping Skippy from getting to Sheppard, and really just stopping Skippy period. According to the detector, all dots seemed to be converging on the control room—big surprise—so that would be the best place to run himself. Besides, it would probably hold up the longest against the storm, whatever the hell that was representing, though the tsunami would total pretty much everything and it would be a great idea to be not here then. And it would have been really nice if reality had kept rearranging itself to suit his needs instead of stubbornly insisting that he had to transverse a third of the city to get where he needed to be.
He wasn't going to make it in time. He could see the wave through the shattered windows that lined the hallway to the center tower, and he was so doomed and hadn't he drowned enough for one lifetime? Alternate time-lines, sunken puddle jumpers, he might as well grow gills because it was obviously becoming a trend.
Hands grabbed the back of his tac-vest and yanked hard just as the crest of the wave was arcing towards them and everything seemed to blur and recede and he was staring at white again, but cool dark white reflecting glowing blue and above him spun the Milky Way in all it's star-filled glory and—
"Are you okay?"
He pushed himself back as far as the arms locked around him allowed and looked down at the ship—it was defiantly the ship. Sheppard, while he could be protective, did not tend to cuddle per se. "That depends. Am I sitting in your lap, in the command chair, in
The ship shrugged casually and shifted him around a little. "So it seems. Your brain has an interesting way of interpreting rescue from near death situations. Not that we're complaining, mind you. But for future reference? When the virus cataclysmically crashes the navigational system, you might want to not be in it. Since you are our only hope and all."
Death? There was the potential of dying involved? "Near death? Am I or am I not in a virtual environment here?"
It—or if Skippy were to be believed she, though that just seemed weird attached to Sheppard's face—went still and tense, lips pressed together in a familiarly repressive thin line. "Ever hear of psychosomatic reactions? It's your brain receiving this data not your body, but if you become convinced you're dying your body can go into shock or cardiac arrest. And while your friends have managed to find our various physical bodies, it's uncertain how successful they'd be at resuscitating you."
Well damn. "Okay. So, if I die in here, odds favor that I'll die out there as well. Good to know." The hands clenched in his vest showed no sign of letting go anytime soon. "Umm… Can I get up now, or is there a specific reason you need me here?"
Slowly arms slid down and away. "No. We both have work to do. Just… Be more careful in the future, okay? We can't afford to lose you."
"I'm always careful." He ignored the raised eyebrow of disagreement and frowned. Had Protection been referring to herself as 'We'? "Please tell me that was a general plural?"
A wince and marked lack of eye contact. "Yes?"
So that hadn't been a general plural. "How much have you two integrated? I mean, I can't have been in here that long!"
"Actually, time is relative to the observer. Also, we're being driven slowly insane, so our sense of external time is really lousy right now. Sorry Rodney."
Not reassuring! "Is it possible for me to actually talk to the Colonel? As opposed to you? I would kind of like to know that it's still actually possible."
When Sheppard tilts his head in that considering fashion, it actually reminded him of the dogs in those old RCA commercials—really, practically the same angle and the same mildly confused expression. "Actually, Rodney, we kind of think you are now. More or less. Protection has most of her attention on trying to contain the damage from the nav-system crashing. Not to mention figuring out how to stop the virus from setting another booby-trap like it."
The use of 'we' is still a really bad sign. "Well then, would you care to speculate on how the hell you ended up merged with an alien A.I. in the first place?"
Eyebrows knit together in a frown of concentration. "Actually more than half of us was organically grown—doesn't that make us more of a cyborg or something? And we think it actually has something to do with the ATA gene. Protection's systems have a fairly strong telepathic component so between going in after you and the virus attacking, we sort of ended up stuck with each other. On the other hand, we're getting kind of sick of being forced to shoot at people we care about, and having narrowly escaped becoming a bug, we aren't thrilled with the idea of becoming a human/spaceship hybrid instead."
"Yes, well, I'd better get to work on preventing that."
Lips quirked up slightly as a familiar devilish twinkle indicated that he was about to get zinged. "To do that, you probably have to get out of our lap."
"Er, yes. That would probably be, umm. Yeah." Stood up and rubbed his hands together more to get rid of the warm tingling sensation in them than anything else, and nodded. "Right then. I'll just," Waved towards the exit, "get on that then, shall I?"
He'd swear that look was downright fond. "Yeah, you do that Rodney. We'll keep making sure it doesn't kill our bodies while we're in here." He paused and shook his head. "That made so much more sense in our head than it did out loud."
Pronoun confusion—and he'd thought it was mostly a writer's dilemma. "It could hardly make less, Colonel."
Smug grin. "After everything we've been through, you could use 'John' once in a while. You'd think by now we'd be on a first name basis."
Stress, so much stress, Doranda, the wraith enzyme, thinking to himself 'they're dead and you did all that and they died anyway'. Yeah, he could totally understand where the Protection was coming from. Because he didn't want to fail like that again. And he didn't dare, he really didn't, at least with titles and surnames there was the illusion of distance. Because at this point lying to himself was pretty much how he got through the day. He wasn’t going to almost die, and he wasn't going to have to kill anything, and he wasn't going to lose another person who depended on him, and he was never, ever, going to have to watch as his team died and know that he'd failed miserably at the one best thing that had ever happened to him.
But he'd been too silent for too long, and the grin was fading into that thin lipped repressed look and he couldn't, couldn't, it was lose/lose and at least one of them should be happy. "John, be careful, okay?"
Slow bright grin that he'd not seen since before the siege, "Well, hey, we're always careful, aren't we. Make sure whatever crazy stunt you pull to save our asses doesn't get you killed, okay?"
He could feel John's eyes burning into his back long after he'd left the instillation.
Snow and snow and more snow. And only three dots showing. One very large one behind him, presumably ship/John—and the fact he had tacked them together like that was more frightening than he wanted to think about, and one ahead of him, presumably Skippy. Though God only know what he'd look like this time. There was certainly no requirement that he be human looking. Or even humanoid looking. Or even animate for that matter, though one would presume that it would be easier to wreak havoc in something mobile. But he kept tracking the dot, and it kept not being in sight. Behind him was nothing but a long trail of footsteps in the drifts, and ahead was nothing but snow, snow, snow, and hallway.
He'd crossed over to a new system. And he wished he'd noticed how he'd done it, because it would come in handy should all the ocean in the world choose to crash down upon his head. Again. He was reaching the point where he'd happily devote himself to figuring out how to make the city fly just so they could move it to dry freaking land. Not that he hadn't been fairly interested in that before, if only because it would make a 'damn that's cool' expression on John's face to rival none other, and really not the point, because here he was in a dark and deserted Atlantis again, and who knew his brain was this repetitive?
But then, everything came down to Atlantis in the end. Atlantis and the people in her. The first real home he'd ever had, and he'd had to travel to a whole other Galaxy to get it. If he screwed this up, there was no
So best he just not screw up, save up all the angst for the next time he needed to spit out an extremely acidic tongue-lashing for some major piece of stupidity. Quick glance at the detector showed—nothing but himself.
Which really made no sense at all. Unless the whatever code was functioning as the detector didn't work across system sections? Which would mean that the virus either crossed this system while he wasn't looking, or doubled back into another system. Or that the detector was broken, but really that wasn't something he wanted to consider. So, empty, dark, creepy gate-room without even so much as the Wraith Virus he was stalking for company. Wonderful. He'd might as well go back and try the snow field again, see if it had doubled back towards John and the doors wouldn't open. That, that was distinctly bad, and John was going to be very, very annoyed if he got killed in another of the virus' traps and Jesus, there was water flooding in here. Again. Apparently he wasn't the only one in a rut because really, he wasn't that traumatized by the idea of drowning—not that much more so than any other of the plethora of various messy deaths available anyway. Really, he'd be a whole lot more traumatized by getting eaten by a Wraith, and since the virus is pulling data about him from the same source as the Protection—that is John—does that mean that he's the one who's obsessed with the whole drowning thing? Because if so? They really need to have a talk because he could live without this, he really, really could and oh God the water's to the balcony and he really needed to think of a way out of this, because John wasn't around to pull him out this time and the water was rising, rising, over his head, pushing him up and pulling him down at the same time and it hurt, burning cold and pressure and he needed to breathe but no, he couldn't he had to do something, save, he had to save John. Not John. Both of them, he had to, and this wasn't real, this wasn't real, he didn't need to breath and wasn’t drowning—again—and all he had to do was calm down and figure out a way to change systems. Last time Atlantis had been the navigation systems, so maybe this version was weapons? Engines? And his chest wasn't burning for oxygen, and he wasn't under an ocean, and he wasn't dying, and damn it brain, work faster, because people were counting on him, John was counting on him and he had to reach out and he had to find someplace that wasn't here, John—
Contrast, actual heat beneath his fingers and something was pulling, yanking him forward and through and out and he was huddled, gasping and dripping, in the back of a 'jumper—John's favorite, the one that had gone down the gullet of a hive ship with a bomb in the back—and got pulled up and closer and John's shoulder was actually a remarkably comfortable head rest for something covered in a tac-vest. "Jesus, McKay. You scared the shit out of me."
John looked worried, but no, not John, ship. The Protection. Or maybe John, actually, because this seemed an awful lot like John, were the man in the habit of hugging him, of course. "Yes, well, believe me I am going to endeavor to avoid doing it again. I've drown more than enough for any one lifetime, thank you. From now on, I decree that all my near-death experiences must exclude water."
Arms tighten, and he's going to have finger shaped bruises, or would were any of this actually happening, which now that he thought about it, it wasn't. Though, of course, there was the psychosomatic effect to take into account, and possibly he was also actually suffering from hypothermia because usually his thoughts were a little less disjointed even after a near death experience.
Warmth across the back of his head, ruffled his damp hair in a ticklish but still comforting way. "You have to be more careful, Rodney. You're hardly going to be able to save the day and our asses if you get yourself killed."
He frowned into the Kevlar-y surface beneath his cheek. "Hmm. You know, if you worry this much about me drowning, you need to get over it. Because really, I'm getting burnt out on drowning. Your shoes get all squishy. And it's cold. And don't even ask me about the whole underwear thing."
Breath was all stuttered and if that was laughing he was going to make him regret it. Later. When he wasn't so tired. "Yes, well, we'll try and make sure not to do that, Rodney."
He sighed. "I'm really tired." Too tired, actually. He didn't feel like this the last time, maybe it was because he'd been 'underwater' for so long? Maybe his body was having some kind of shock reaction?
Fingers ran through his hair, chaffed at his arms, trying to warm him up, but it wasn't this part of him that was cold. That part was out there somewhere locked into a closet. "Rest for a little while."
Now that was just wrong. No time. Because John was still saying 'we' and was still turning into a ship, and probably getting all sorts of traumatized with Skippy rummaging through his head like it were his own personal photo album, and, "No. We don't have time. You don't have time."
Shivered and shifted and something changed just a little, but it was enough for him to tell. "How much time left before there isn't a you and a him anymore?"
Fingers never stopped the petting, and that was nice, but he needed to know how bad it was and the clock was ticking, and he was running out of energy. If he had to reach out and pull himself like that again, it was probably going to be the end of that.
"We, we are, it is hard to say. It is hard to say even now what was Protection and what was Sheppard. We can't really tell you how much time is left. There is still some small amount of separation, and we are trying to maintain it, but…"
But every time the virus attacked them, every time they had to help him, that margin got smaller. "Can you still be separated?"
Another shift, nervous and restive. "We think so. If we were able to get full access to our power supply and enough time we could easily disentangle ourselves. Especially with your help. But, we doubt that the virus would allow us that time, even if we could get a hold of the power."
Not what he had wanted to hear. "Worst case scenario?"
His head lifted and fell with the sigh. "If we could access our power supply, we can still disentangle. It won't be perfect, and it will hurt like a bitch, but it can be done. It is a delicate and wholly untested process, but with your assistance we could make sure that all that is Sheppard returns to him. However, large parts of Protection would go with. It is likely that much of that information would fade with time—lack of context, lack of conceptual network to place it in, the fact that human bodies don't have some of the necessary sensory ability that a space vessel does. But some parts will always remain and there is nothing we can do about that. We have done you harm when you have strove to aid us. We have caused you grief, and for that we are sorry."
Stupid martyr complex. "Everything isn't your fault you know. You didn't ask for a virus, you didn't ask for me to stick my hand in that interface, and you didn't ask for John to decide to leap into your head feet first. But how exactly do you plan on getting rid of the virus if John could get this entangled with you in a fraction of the time? Ripping it out would take most of you with it, wouldn't it?"
The body beneath him went perfectly still. He looked up to see eyes wide and surprised—had to be the Protection; John might be that surprised by things but he'd never let anyone actually know. "We… Had not thought of that. Expelling the virus would indeed rip out the majority of our self. Both of us." The foreign surprise gave way to intense concentration—staring down at nine symbols with his life on the line, following a possessed F-302 into a sun, explaining to him that he was not allowed to die of hypothermia after he and Radek had gone to all the trouble of rescuing him from the bottom of the ocean—it was an expression he saw more often than he would like, and it was followed by an expression he personally had only seen once. "An act of will can sever the repair connection between your mind and the system." And he had never wanted to see again.
Lips brushed against his forehead as he was gently propped up against the wall, an extra jacket draped over him. "Be ready to disconnect when I give the signal. You'll know it when you see it."
Running down the ramp and out the door and he was lunging up and lurching after, couldn't let it happen again, "Don't you dare do this to me again John Sheppard! John!"
Beyond the portal there was blank nothing, no ground, no sky, no void of space, and most of all, no John.
At least this time the man had the good sense not to leave with a 'so long, Rodney'. But the man was still going to get a punch in the fucking nose for this later. Because while he didn't doubt the Protection's ability to be stupidly self-sacrificial, he knew that 'no greater love hath man' gleam and it was wholly John-like. And they didn't get to do this to him. Neither of them.
There was no way he was going to be able to run around after them, not as worn out as he was. Besides, somewhere between submergence and whatever he did to pull himself into the puddle jumper, he'd lost his signs detector. But if he had managed to pull himself to John once there was no reason he couldn't again if he were desperate enough. And desperate he was, because he was not going to stand by and helplessly watch John die a third time. Wasn't going to happen. He needed to be where John was, needed to be there, needed to see, to help, to provide back up, John had saved him once today and now it was his damn turn and he was not going to do this again! John, John, John, John….
"Jesus Rodney, for once couldn't you just do what I told you to?"
"Hey, you didn't drown! How utterly disappointing of you. You really just can't do anything the way you're supposed to, can you McKay?"
So he was staring at ship/John, ship/John was watching the virus, and the virus was watching him. It was like some surreal interpretation of a Mexican stand-off, lacking only in a lone tumbleweed rolling past. And no, brain, that was not a cue to produce one, thank you. "No. John, Protection, whichever the hell you are at the moment, you are not doing this. I swear, only you could possibly end up merging with a personality who has even less self-preservation instinct than you do. You can indulge your martyr complex some time after never, because I'm not about to let you suicide for two, so don't even consider trying!"
Tiny glimpse of hazel and a slouched shrug. "You were right, though. I have no chance of rejecting the virus at this point. It's too entrenched. Losing battle."
Oh God. They've gone back to using 'I' as a pronoun. We are so far past bad we can't even see it from here. "Of course I'm right. I usually am. That doesn't change the fact that if you die, you take us all with you, and I for very much against that."
A flash of an achingly familiar grin. He'd first seen it right after getting tossed off a balcony, actually. "Relax McKay. I have a plan."
And those were in no way the worst words to hear ever. "Well great. I have no words for how much that does not reassure me!"
Serious look, "No, really. Just come here."
He was already edging carefully towards them even as he started arguing. As if he could ever win against that look. Besides, it was taking most of his concentration to just keep himself from falling over on his face. "You know, much as I'm all for team togetherness, don't you think we should do something about that guy over there who wants to kill us?"
Warm hand wrapped around his elbow, pulled him closer and a little bit behind, shielding. "If your plan is to act as a meat-shield, I'm am so going to get
He could catch the very edge of a smirk, "No. And what? We're going to be discussing that later. My plan is brilliant in its simplicity."
But who's plan was it? John's or the ship's? "Oh, this should be good. What is this excellent plan of yours? Please enlighten me, because this will undoubtedly be—"
Warm, safe, engulfing, everything condensed to the feeling of arms around him, lips on his, and burning, burning, burning through him, inside him, rushing in time to his pulse, it's pulse, their pulse, all and everything and so very there and then…gone. John dead-weight in his arms and hands on his shoulders, sharp prick of talons through his shirt, and a swift glance over his shoulder yields a glimpse of crimson and gold feathers and eyes like the sky. Then the hands push and they're falling, flying, and everything was bleeding into color and light and noise and the last thing he heard was a soft sad voice saying goodbye.
Then he was standing on grass, staring at trees, and trying to hold up the weight of a full grown man plus weaponry—and no matter how skinny the man was, unconscious John weighed a ton. Ronon and Teyla were staring tense and wide-eyed over his shoulder, and an awkward attempt to haul both John and himself around resulted in his ass hitting dirt and John draped half over him, chin digging sharply into his shoulder. However it did allow him to watch as the Protection flickered and seemed to melt, twisting in on itself with a scream of protesting metal alloys before vanishing entirely.
He found himself rather surprised by the sense of loss he felt. He had only known her for a few, albeit very intense, hours. She wasn't team, she wasn't Atlantian, or even from Earth but….
John—no, Sheppard. It was a bad habit to fall into and he was going to have to train himself out of it again—stirred, digging his chin a little harder into the space between neck and shoulder. "She overloaded her intergalactic drives, essentially smearing herself all over a few dozen pocket dimensions."
He looked down to see… Mostly hair, actually, which was doing a great job of making it difficult to breath without getting a mouth full, more or less reply.
"She couldn't let the Wraith learn about her home galaxy, or Atlantis for that matter, so she jacked into her drives in order to use the power to separate from me, boot us off the system and then beam us all out here. The fact that also red-lined them to the point of implosion she pretty much saw as an added bonus."
Teyla's hand touched down lightly on his shoulder, bird in flight. "Colonel, Dr. McKay. Are either of you injured?"
Now there was a question. A very good question. He had a feeling that both of them were going to have to think a while before coming to a conclusion on it. Not that it mattered since the answer given would be, "Fine. I'm fine. But Rodney probably still has a concussion."
Huh. He'd forgotten about that. "The least of the reasons for my headache, Colonel, I assure you. She had a point. It is like herding cats. Though if anyone were to be herding anything, you have the more appropriate name, Colonel." He was going to miss her.
Hands reached up to squeeze his shoulders just there, he knew, he knew because he had been her but now he wasn't and who had it been in the first place, really? "No second h. Two p's. And it'll be alright. After all, you like cats."
He tilted his head back to stare up into the sky—and if that made a more comfortable nook for Sheppard to hide in, it was merest coincidence—and heard again 'goodbye, take care of him, I love you'. And wondered which of them it was addressed to.
And then he felt Teyla's hand on his shoulder, caught Ronon's shadow from the corner of his eye, listened to Sheppard breathing against his neck and realized that it didn't matter.