Moxie Brown (moxie_brown) wrote in artword,
Moxie Brown

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Challenge 009: The Exclusion Principle

Author: briar_pipe
Artist: moxie_brown
Challenge: 009
Pairing: Rodney/team, OT4
Rating: Hard R or light NC-17
Word count: ~9,300
Spoilers: minor for Sateda, Sunday, and Tao.
Author's Notes: Special thanks to moxie_brown (who said the magical words "Teyla as Venus"), to Anonymouse for talking me down off the ceiling, and to lavvyan for graciously allowing the use her flowers. No tulips were harmed in the making of this fic.
Artist's Notes: As usual, I bite off more than I can chew. I have a more ambitious piece to accompany briar_pipe's wonderful story, but the fic cover will do for now (speaking of which, I give most artistic credit to the wonderful brushes and patterns from Brusheezy and Design Fruit).

Summary: "It was sex pollen," Rodney hissed. "You have to cure me before people start ripping my clothes off!"

The Exclusion Principle

In the days following the mission, Carson tried to understand Rodney's reaction. Heightmeyer wasn't giving up the idea that it was entirely psychological, but Carson liked to think he knew Rodney's neuroses pretty well. While hypochondria was a very McKay-appropriate response to stress, voluntarily confining himself to the infirmary was most definitely not.

"Tell me about the planet," Carson urged. "Not what ye've put in the reports. Tell me what it was like to be there."

"It was like walking in Eden," Rodney sighed.


"Well, a freakishly oversized Eden where it felt like we were acting out a parody of Wind in the Willows, but yes."

"Were ye Ratty or Mole?"

Rodney's lips twitched. "Toad, of course. My brilliance is often misunderstood."


It was a beautiful spring day on picturesque P5W-D40. The sun was shining, the disturbingly large flowers were waving in the breeze, and pollen drifted lazily down from the Redwood-sized trees on every side.

Rodney sneezed again, hard.

"Bless you," Sheppard said, at the same time Teyla murmured, "Ward thee."

Ronon offered him another handkerchief.

Instead of blowing his nose, Rodney unfolded the cloth and folded it over his nose and mouth, tying the ends behind his head.

"Dat's bettah."

When he was high on antihistamines, Rodney tended to focus on the oddest things. Right now he was looking at Sheppard's left ear, so he noticed when Sheppard got that constipated look that meant he was trying not to make a bad joke (probably Butch Cassidy related). Oh, and that was the pained grimace he made when someone stomped on his instep. Firmly. With steel-toed boots.

"Rodney," Teyla said gently, as Sheppard winced and shook out his foot, "we can return home if you wish."

"No, no, I'b fine."

Sheppard chimed in. "-Because Lorne's team can probably take this one. It's not that complicated."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Ib we send a biologist, dey'll nevah come back."

"Have it your way." Sheppard shrugged and took point, though the angle of his shoulders said he wasn't expecting trouble.

Good. Half the real reason Rodney wasn't calling it a day on account of allergies was the completely selfless (well, enlightened self-interest-ed) belief that his team needed an easy mission. One, dammit. Preferably sometime before the heat death of the universe.

Yeah, yeah, brilliant in the field, blah blah. But, while Rodney might be (probably was) the brightest mind of his generation, he didn't actually sign on to join the fucking superfriends. Saving the Pegasus Galaxy one half-assed plan at a time was not nearly as much fun when you were actually doing it, rather than sitting around the mess telling stories about it afterwards.

Okay, possibly the pollen was making him grumpy. But still - cure for cancer. He could fit that on his resume, right under limitless source of clean energy.

"Do you hab da picture?" he asked. Teyla held up the cube. Rodney took it, turning it this way and that, trying once more to make sense of the images.

Wiping at his eyes, he asked Ronon, "You see anythin' dis color?"

"You mean that color?" Ronon pointed into the distance.

Rodney squinted and pulled out the binoculars. "Oh my god, dat's got to be a' least two kliks frob here! Uphill! And - huh. You'be got good eyes."

Ronon smirked.


"It's got to be those flowers."

I can see that, Colonel Obvious, Rodney wanted to say, but nasal congestion robbed his comebacks of their usual snap. He rolled the cube slowly back and forth in his hand. Leaf, root, petal, what? It was all very unclear.

"Dig it up," he said.

Ronon and Sheppard blinked. "McKay, it's a six-foot sunflower. And blue."

So? "Who knows what par's the Anshents used? Biology is the study ob libing things. Or so dey tell me."

Sheppard sighed. "Okay, we'll dig it up. But then we're going for a swim in that lake we passed on the way up here."


He settled himself under a tulip Yes, work. He should run some preliminary scans while-

Oh, who was he kidding? Ronon and Sheppard had already stripped off their vests and begun attacking the ground with their little folding shovels. Teyla was scanning the underbrush with her P-90. Rodney settled in to watch the show.

He absolutely did not have a thing for hot, sweaty men - unless they were hot, sweaty, men with whom he was forced to share a shower almost every time they came back from offworld. His only regret was that Teyla got her own.

"God, these roots go all the way to China," Sheppard wheezed, pulling up another shovel-full of dirt and small rocks. His forearms bulged with the strain. So did Rodney's lap, but he was a master of the strategically placed scanner (he reminded himself to delete those readings later).

"Where's China?" panted Ronon.

"Earth." Gasp.

"That's far." Grunt.

It took them a few more minutes and about a trillion more sex noises, but they finally reached the bottom of the taproot and levered the flower out of the ground. Then there was the bagging - Teyla put her gun down to help with that - and the filling of the bag with dirt. Then there was the argument about who got to carry it.

"I will do it," Teyla finally said, in her I cannot believe you men voice. "John will help me."

"Sure," Sheppard agreed, far too quickly. He flashed Ronon a look that said I'll be stealing your pudding cups later, to which Ronon replied with the all-purpose you can try face, and that pretty much concluded the testosterone portion of today's show, so Rodney thought about Siberia and Carson's mom and stood up.


"And that's when I was attacked by a giant tulip." Rodney sat back and crossed his arms.

Carson's eyebrows went up. "Tulip."

"Giant. Man-eating, even."


Rodney glared. "Where do you think Ronon got that green stuff on his vest?"

"From a giant tuplip, obviously."

"Fine, be that way."


"Get it obb me!" Rodney swatted around his head, only succeeding in battering the giant petals and sending more giant yellow snowflakes raining down on his head. He sneezed violently, like he could somehow fight off this giant, over-affectionate stamens with the power of his sinuses alone.

"Ronon," Sheppard drawled, "would you please help McKay out with his flower problem?"

Rodney didn't hear Ronon's reply - probably there wasn't one, verbally at least - but he did hear the extremely soft scrape of the sword coming out of its bindings and the two quick grunts before the head of the blossom fell at Rodney's feet. After bouncing off his head on the way down, of course. He rubbed at the spot.


"No problem."

Rodney sneaked a peek, but Ronon wasn't even smirking. He had bright green plant sap splashed across his cheek and his vest like glow-in-the-dark poster paint from Rodney's high school days, when the girls would always make pretty backdrops for their science projects, even when Rodney explained (yelled) that all they really needed was an actual working project and a report that made sense.

Speaking of reports, he wondered what he was going to put in this one. Attacked by flora. Forced to defend ourselves from a member of the plantae</i> kingdom.</i> Maybe he could leave out the question of animal, vegetable, or mineral entirely. It was dark under the trees. A drive-by dusting!

"McKay," Ronon said, interrupting his increasingly erratic thoughts. "Here."

Another handkerchief. Oh, he could use that.

Rodney blew his nose for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only three minutes or so. And yes, he noticed the rest of his team looking off into the distance, pretending not to know him. In the middle an empty field on an uninhabited planet. Some habits were hard to break.

He surfaced and took an experimental sniff. "Hey." He breathed deeper. "I don't sound like Porky Pig anymore."

"Daffy Duck," Sheppard said, and they got into an argument that carried them all the way down the mountain and swerved to include such tangents as 'Alice in Wonderland, better to give Teyla and Ronon the book or the cartoon?' (Rodney stoutly defended the BBC special) and 'Giant sunflower - who should carry it next?' (Rodney got off the hook by sneezing again).

Back in the field, the tulip twitched once and lay still.


"Did you try to wash the pollen off at any point?"

Rodney blinked, eyes wide. "You know, it didn't even occur to me."

Carson frowned. "That's odd."

"No kidding."


When they reached the lake, Teyla called a halt.

They were in the bowl of the valley, the ring of mountaintops reflected on the still water. Knee-high grass waved gently along the entire shore. Rodney imagined a dock with a beach chair, an umbrella, and a cooler full of Molson's. He could lie there for hours and contemplate the mingling of light on the surface, the full-integer spins of photons allowing them to occupy the same space at the same time, matter softened into waves, all pressures erased in favor of motion, direction, refraction-

"Earth to McKay," Sheppard called softly. "You want to check the water?"

Rodney shook himself awake. "What, now I'm a chemist? I may be brilliant, but I'm not your Swiss Army scientist."

"You're the best tool for the job," Sheppard laughed as he and Teyla untied the rope-belt and set the sunflower on the ground.

Ronon handed Rodney the water-testing kit and then stood there expectantly, so Rodney sighed and showed him how to test for Ph levels and various heavy metals that would react instantly to the chemical compounds in the kit.

"-then we take three samples for Carson in case someone comes down with the Pegasus equivalent of a bladder infection - stop laughing, it happens all the time on Earth - and then we tell those two eager beavers that - oh my god!"

"What?" Sheppard asked, looking around. His hair was sticking up like a question mark. He was also not wearing pants.

Rodney slapped a hand over his own eyes. "You couldn't even wait for the results? What if there'd been mercury, or - when did this become a skinny-dipping party?"

"Um, pretty much when we didn't pack swimsuits, Rodney."

"My people have always bathed without clothing. Is it not the same with yours?"

"Not in public." Rodney fumbled the kit, pushing it in Ronon's general direction. "Are you planning to get naked, too? Because if you are, I'm, uh, standing guard. Facing the other way."

"You think I'm ugly, McKay?"

Rodney blinked hard. "Um, no?"

Ronon's grin came through in his voice. "Good."

Pretty soon Rodney had three naked teammates (Three! Naked! Teammates!), two piles of gear, a giant sunflower, and his scanner. He was studiously looking at the last and not the first, trying to figure out what the ghost in the machine was. Because there was definitely one lurking. Ten thousand (or more) year old equipment tended to break in a variety of interesting ways (far more interesting than the splash fight currently happening in the water, oh yes); this one was no exception.

Now you see us - now you don't.

Human life, even shielded human life, wouldn't faze in and out like that, half there and gone and back again. Large animal life might if it were burrowing, but Rodney trusted Ronon's opinion more than the scanner's, at the moment. If Ronon said 'nothing bigger than a doormouse', then there probably weren't even squirrels. In the middle of this hot, hazy day, there weren't even bugs flittering around by the lake's edge. It was a vegetative paradise.

The only steady readings were the four dots right in the middle. Well, one dot in the middle and three off to the side, having fun. Honestly, who knew Teyla could squeal like that?

Okay, this wasn't working. He put the scanner down and looked for somewhere else to rest his eyes. Oh, hey, there was the sky, all blue and summery. And over there, the sunflower, drooping in its makeshift plastic pot. Hm.

Gathering the empty sample bottles from Ronon's pack, Rodney made his way to the water's edge and squatted on the muddy bank. He filled all four bottles and stretched his hands around them, trundling over to the sad-looking flower.

"Don't be like that," Rodney told it, dampening the soil packed around its roots. "You'll love the greenhouse. It's very, um. Green. And the botanists really like their plants. They talk to them all the time. It's kind of creepy, to tell the truth. Oh god, I'm doing it now - did I tell you I dated Katie Brown two separate times? I knew insanity was contagious. Like mono."

"McKay!" Ronon called out.

"Rodneeeey!" That was Sheppard. "We need a fourth! Last chance to get wet!"

"No thanks!" Rodney shouted, waving over his shoulder like he was passing on a pickup game of American football on the Southwest Pier. "You know," he murmured, leaning closer to the flower, "usually I don't care, but sometimes it really sucks being the logical one. I mean, what grown, sober adult wades into an alien pond and thinks 'I know, let's play chicken'?" He emptied each bottle carefully, spreading the water out so it didn't wash the dirt away from the roots. "Or what about that time they started a snowball fight on planet 'oh god, we should've brought skis'? I had to hide under a log for almost an hour before they realized I was missing."

The blue petals shivered as if in sympathy.

"And that's not even mentioning the jogging and the sparring and the drinking and whatever else they get up to back home." Rodney started putting the bottles away shaking each one out before twisting on the cap. "The golf I can do without - actually, I can do without all of it - but sometimes it feels like I never left grade school. The cool kids are all still waiting for recess, and I'm still hiding behind a tree with a math book."

Ronon let out a playful roar behind him, Teyla whooped, and Sheppard shouted, "No tickling! Augh!" There was a gurgle tacked onto the end.

Rodney sighed. "At least they get along. If they were like Stackhouse's team, I might consider breaking my own legs to get away. Though I'd probably break theirs first."

More shrieking. Sheppard seemed to be retaliating. Rodney calculated the angle of the sun and sat down where the flower's head would shade his face.

"You know, you're kind of pretty from this angle," he told it. "Framed by the light."

Splash. Shriek, giggle. Splash.

He snorted. "I think you're also the first person who's listened to me for more than thirty seconds since Zelenka had those new headphones shipped on the Daedalus. I know he's just acting out over that minor electric shock, but it's annoying. He's like a free electron, roaming through other people's labs to avoid me. You know, I had a professor back in undergrad who used to say that human relations mirrored subatomic ones. He was always going on about weak and strong forces and the rigidity of matter, how fermions have a certain amount of personal space and refused to share it with other fermions, and that's why we can stand on the ground instead of sinking through it. Sit, in your case. Though of course metals have degenerate electrons, but they're inherently somewhat unstable."

He considered for a moment, head cocked to the side. "Which I don't think is the case with club pretty over there, though I certainly wouldn't say no if one of them - but that would never happen."

"Talking to the flower, Rodney?" Sheppard asked, slogging his way through the shallows to the shore.

Rodney jumped at the sound, then stared resolutely into the flower's face. "If you must know, we were discussing quantum mechanics."

"Cool," Sheppard said. "Speaking of philosophy, I really, really wish I were twenty-five again."

"No you don't," Rodney told him firmly. "Then you'd just have to do many, many stupid things all over again."

"Yeah, but my joints wouldn't creak while I did them. Ah, there. I'm pants-enabled now, you can talk to my face."

Rodney turned to take in Sheppard, with his wet hair and his bright eyes, and admitted, "I really have nothing to say."

Sheppard frowned, but then Ronon came out of the water carrying Teyla like a bride while she laughed and pretended to beat on his chest, and Rodney turned away to dig through the grass for his scanner. When he turned back, the party was over.


"What happened then?"

"Then? We ran a lot."


"This day - officially - sucks," Rodney wheezed, running like a - well, like a mostly sedentary middle-aged man. Which he was. So, although Ronon grabbing him under the armpits and lifting him over the writhing daisies might leave something to be desired in the dignity department (the way his legs pumped air like a small child's or a cartoon character's was a bit much), Rodney appreciated it from a purely survival standpoint.

He could still feel the scratches from the excessively amorous vines, but the overlay of Sheppard's hands patting him down afterwards muted his usual panic and twisted it.

Sheppard. Patting him down. He never got that treatment when he actually complained. His lizard brain insisted that he must be dying. His higher brain wasn't sure what to think.

Teyla currently had a hand in the small of his back, steering him as he used her naquadah compass to point them in the general direction of the gate. The scanner had finally given up the ghost right around the time the trees leaned in and the forest took on a menacing quality straight out of a Bradbury tale. Rodney could think of better timing.

Meanwhile, all around him he felt more than heard the rise and fall of alien whispers, harsh against his spine. The only time he'd mentioned it, though, Ronon had stared at him blankly.

What sucked more than anything, though, was that before everything went to hell, he'd been getting a free show. A slightly uncomfortable show, true, because normally Rodney preferred people to keep their foreplay behind closed doors. But even the slight squirm in his belly hadn't stopped him from appreciating (in an aesthetic sense) the beauty of his teammates touching each other at every opportunity. Inventing opportunities, if he were to be honest. Sometimes they'd forgotten, too, and the touching had stretched to include him. He would regret it later, he always did, but right then he'd been happy to bask in the reflected tension of their eyes striking sparks off each other's skin.

Then, of course, they'd had to run for their lives.

When he tripped and fell, knocking the breath out of his lungs, Ronon picked him up off the ground and half-carried him forward.

"Wanna go home," Rodney whimpered into the armpit mashed under his face.

There was a pause in the air, the kind of expectancy that came before thunderstorms. The quality of the whispering changed. His team slowed, jogging lightly, hesitantly, P-90s aimed into the woods.

Then the path opened up and the ring stood before them, bright in the sun. Rodney thought he had never seen anything so beautiful.

Oddly, Ronon didn't let go.


Rodney had been in the gateroom for all of three seconds before people started touching him. By which he meant his team was touching him, because Elizabeth hadn't gotten close enough yet, though she was working her way down the steps with her hand out.

"Don't!" he said, stepping back almost into Teyla. She steadied him with a palm between his shoulder blades, rubbing gentle circles for a moment before moving away. "I think I'm - there's something - Carson!"

His radio clicked. "On my way, Rodney. Is it urgent?"

"Never mind," Rodney said. "I'm coming to you."

He walked past Elizabeth, dodging her hand and her questions. Behind him, he heard his team arguing about biologists and babysitting plants.


Rodney came out of the shower damp, much less yellow, and trying to cover his ass in one of those awful hospital gowns. He hopped up onto the bed before anyone could see his backside. One size fits all, yeah right.

Across the infirmary he could see Ronon and Sheppard lounging together in the unofficial waiting room. Waiting for Teyla, no doubt. Despite Ronon's shirtlessness (or because of it?) Sheppard was giving his best effort, lounging so hard it was almost a sprawl. It absolutely was not hot. Nor was Ronon's answering slouch, which seemed to push his muscles into sharp relief like a Renaissance sculpture in marble, complete with the faintest tinge of green. His ruined vest lay on the chair beside him. Rodney wondered if he was going to demand payment.

Okay, that? Was a bad thought to be having in a hospital gown.

Could he really help it, though, if his standard Ronon-fantasy involved being saved in a dramatic (and timely) fashion off-world? He imagined leaving the infirmary to discover Ronon leaning against the wall outside, all feline grace and nonchalance, the 'you wanna?' written in the arch of one eyebrow. They would saunter down the hall in a very manly way, Rodney wiping his palms on his BDUs where no one could see. Oh, and Ronon would still be wearing his field gear. That was important.

Rodney's cock twitched. He glared at it. Antiseptic smells, he reminded it. Papery gown. Public humiliation. That seemed to do the trick.

He didn't dare go all the way with the fantasy, not here, but he could see the door of the storage closet in his mind, could watch it open with a brush of the crystals under his sweaty palms and then Ronon moving inside, leaning back against one of the crates and Rodney going to his knees, pulling open the ties-

Yeah, okay, that was enough. He squeezed lightly through the gown and shifted, patting himself back into place.

(And that was when, for a brief moment, he saw the scene from Ronon's point of view: staring down at himself on his knees, mouth wet, fingers busy, frantically pulling and muttering and-)

Jeesus, fuck! He pressed the heel of his hand down hard, frantically thinking Antarctica, Radek's mother, ZPM depletion, Chaya. Oh, thank god, that did the trick.

But seriously, what the hell?

"Rodney?" Carson's voice made him jerk his head up. "Teyla said you ran into a wee bit of a problem offworld?"

"Um," said Rodney, and swallowed.


If Rodney had to describe the conversation he least wanted to have with Carson in the infirmary (okay, other than ones involving alien STDs or exploding testicles or whatever), it would go something like this:

"You have to help me," he whispered.

"Rodney," Carson replied in a normal tone, "the tests came back negative. Tell me what you think the problem is."

"It was sex pollen," Rodney hissed. "You have to cure me before people start ripping my clothes off!"

Across the room, Sheppard fell out of his chair.


Beckett gave up and put Rodney in quarantine.

"For the record, I don't think there's anything actually wrong with him," Carson told Elizabeth.

"But you'll run every test you can think of anyway."

"Aye, that I will."

Her face was gentle as she put one hand against the plastic. "Can he see us?"

"When he thinks to look up from his bloody computer, yes."

One corner of her mouth tucked in. "I won't wait around, then."

Inside the bubble, Rodney typed out a brilliant and devastating response to Hewston's latest flight of fancy. He didn't notice them both leave.


That night, the lights dimmed before he was ready. So did the laptop screen.

"No, nonono, oh come on." He slammed the laptop closed and glared at the ceiling. "Carson!"

"Bedtime, Rodney!" came the cheerful voice.

Rodney growled.

"Doctor's orders. If you are actually ill - of even if you're not - you need to take better care of yourself."

"I hate you," Rodney mumbled as he pulled the covers up to his chin.

"Sweet dreams, Rodney."

He didn't need to hear it to know Carson was giving orders to the duty nurse regarding midnight snacks and the appropriate content thereof. Rodney despised people he couldn't intimidate.

That was his last thought before slipping into sleep. (Well, that and the impact of the exotic particle data on the color properties of gluons, but that part of his brain never shut off, even in sleep. The puzzle followed him down and occupied his cheerfully firing neurons, his fingers twitching like they could hold matter so small he would never see it. Like a Rubix Cube, he could twist the pieces around into different combinations, blue and white and orange, green, yellow, oh, like holding fire in his hands.

(His father laughed, warm in his ear. "Don't burn yourself, little." He flicked the device on and off, fascinated by the color, by the triggering mechanism, by the way air shimmered above the flame.

(His father shifted carefully. They were sitting on the ground, an arm like a small tree branch wrapped around his tiny waist. It felt good to just settle into someone's lap and let the world recede. He could reach out as much as he wanted, explore as far as his mind took him, and then return here like an animal to its den, safe and warm.

("Little," said his father, lifting the device from his hands. "We cannot burn it out. Use such things only in need." He felt himself nodding.

(His father laughed. "My wise little - would you like a story?"

(Rodney clapped. Oh yes, yes, nobody ever told him stories except sad ones. He wanted something beautiful like the stars, something that would hold him like his father held him now, that would let him sleep in the dark alone.

("I want-" he said, turning-

(-and saw the face of his not-father, felt the shock of betrayal deep in his bones. "You- who-"

(The stranger's face shattered into a thousand pieces, smaller than any gluon, smaller than oblivion. In the distance a woman screamed like a Doppler effect, growing fainter by the moment.

Rodney woke in a rush. He was already sitting up, his shirt and shorts sticky with sweat. "Ugh." He knew better than to sleep on his back. He only did that in hospitals; his body was conditioned to think something was wrong. Lifting the sheets, he rolled over and pressed his cheek into the crinkled pillow.


"So, McKay's hypochondria has finally stretched to include the rest of us?"

"It looks that way, Colonel."

"Guess we should be flattered." Sheppard rolled up his left sleeve and let Carson tap inside his elbow with the rubber hammer. Not that he couldn't find their veins in his sleep, by now, but it paid to be professional when he had the time.

"Aye," he agreed, prepping the needle, "it's his way of saying he cares."

Sheppard pulled a face. "He could say it with flowers. Or, hm, chocolate."

"I say we put him on a diet," Ronon suggested. "While he's stuck here."

"I do not believe that would be effective," Teyla opined quietly. She held a piece of gauze to her arm with her usual grace, but her color wasn't good. Carson had seen them all in varying states, and he'd bet real coffee that Teyla hadn't slept well last night. Ach, well, he'd get her aside later and see if she wouldn't talk to Heightmeyer. Those lasses got on well enough. Though if it were Wraith again-


"Sorry, sorry!" Carson pulled the needle out and tried again.

"No problem, doc," said Sheppard's mouth, but Sheppard's eyes were saying, what's up?

Carson's gaze trailed to Teyla again, and he could feel the moment Sheppard understood, because the man's wrist tensed. "Easy, lad," he said. Sheppard deliberately relaxed.

"I got it," the Colonel said.

Which was Lantean for team business, bugger off. Carson sighed. "Let me just get a sample from Ronon and then you can see the monster who's been driving my staff half mad."

Ronon tilted his head. "Only half?"

If Rodney had been there, he would have rolled his eyes and said, "Yes, yes, bait the physicist who saves your life, mountain man," but here and now there was only a strained silence on the heels of the laughter, leaving everyone uncomfortable.


The worst part about being in quarantine, Rodney thought after his team left, was that he couldn't jerk off.

He was under supervision 24/7, and his showers were limited to ten minutes. He barely had time to rinse the soap out of his hair before the beefy Nurse Pincer ("Pinse. Get it right.") was calling him over the intercom, saying, "McKay, do I need to turn the cameras on?"

"No! No. Getting out now, no peeking-"

"Two minutes."

Rodney grumbled, but the shock had killed his hard on. Thank god.

He dried off and climbed into a clean pair of boxers and a t-shirt. The nice thing about quarantine was that he spent most of it in bed, except for the mandatory exercise periods. Therefore, he had no need to wear pants. His mind always equated a lack of pants with things like Christmas morning and summers in grad school, when the kiddies were all gone and the real students had the labs to themselves. When the air conditioner died, sometimes the girls ( okay, all two of them) would strip down to panties and bras. Rodney remembered those days quite fondly.

Sometimes he imagined that happening in Atlantis. He was too much of a wimp to picture Simpson in her underwear; he knew she would use it against him if she ever found out. Kusanagi, though, would be cute. She would have little bows on her hips, and probably one right between her breasts. Hewston would be hot, too, if she would just shut up about her stupid spin theory, which was so obviously wrong, wrong, stupid, and wrong. Esposito... mmmm. He bet she wore a thong.

Without warning, his traitorous brain kicked up an image of Teyla in the sparring room, unlacing her top and pulling it over her head. "It is warm in here," she said, her boobs bouncing in a totally inappropriate and inviting way. "McKay, what is wrong in there?"


"Okay, that's it, I'm turning on the cameras-"

"What? No! I'm fine. Coming out now!"

He ducked into the main room to find Nurse Pincer staring at him through the bubble, suspicion written all over the man's face.

"New theory, got distracted," Rodney said loudly, waving his arms. He launched himself at the bed and pulled his laptop onto his thighs. To cover a lot of things, but mostly his bright red face as he ducked behind the screen.

This was why quarantine sucked. If his frustration levels got any higher, Rodney wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't just walk out of this bubble and let himself be fucked into next week. It was... not as chilling a thought as it had been two days ago. Hm.


(The woman's face was familiar, but he couldn't place it. Beautiful, in a girl-next-door-grew-up kind of way. She was looking at him with an emptiness in her eyes that wasn't right.

("I can't do this," she said, and Rodney asked, "Do what?"

(That was the wrong question, apparently, because she jerked away from his hand on her arm, her face twisted into a scowl.

(Oh, he knew that scowl, knew those twisted lips and wrinkled brow. Wrong face, who, who-

("Sheppard?" he asked, and the woman looked shocked for a moment before she dissolved into fragments of light on a mirror. Sheppard was in the glass, staring back at him with an expression of pure disbelief. "Rodney?"

("Who was that?" Rodney asked. Who looked at Sheppard like that, empty? Nobody he knew.

(Sheppard's face closed. "That was my wife."



("Oh. Well." There was a long silence. Rodney felt the moment slipping away even while he tried to think of something to say. Which was normal, for him. But still. "Wanna play Chinese Checkers?"

(Sheppard blinked. "You cheat."

("I'll let you cheat."


Rodney woke slowly, feeling that he'd forgotten something important. Maybe there was an experiment still running somewhere. He'd have to tell Zelenka.

He turned his head and mashed the other side of his face into the pillow, letting his mind drift off.


"You're what?"

"Letting you out," Carson said again, in his 'patient with the patients' voice. "My scans show nothing wrong with you or the rest of your team except slightly elevated blood pressure and alpha brain waves, which is normal for someone working themselves into a state over nothing."

"What about the touching?" Rodney asked, desperate. He felt sweat trickle down his sides.

"Rodney." Carson's face softened. "Perhaps you have nae noticed, but most of the gate teams are physically affectionate with one another."

"Not with me," Rodney muttered, crossing his arms.

Carson blew out a breath. "Well, I can see why. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a concussive to check."

"If I have a brain aneurism-" Rodney called after his retreating back.

"Out, Rodney!"

Rodney stomped off.


The mess was full, and that was probably why Rodney didn't notice at first that the woman standing next to him was unfamiliar. Also, he never kept track of the soft sciences or medical, so that wasn't entirely unusual. Except, well, it had been two months since the Daedalus. Okay, so maybe he didn't so much not notice as allow his subconscious to worry at the problem by itself for a while. The conscious part was taken up with wondering which roast beast was currently being served under gravy and what was in that pie he could see at the end of the line.

"Mango-thingie," Private Leffler said cheerfully when she saw him looking. "The one Major Lorne's team brought back."

"You mean the nipple-fruit?" Rodney asked. She scowled at him. "What? That's what everyone calls them."

She slapped a slice of beast down on his plate, splattering gravy. "Not in front of the women, they don't."

"Oh," said Rodney. Then, smaller, "I really wish someone would tell me these things."

The woman beside him laughed.

He turned, attuned to the sound of anything female who thought he was more amusing than annoying. It was pretty much the only way he got dates.

The blonde was wearing a medical uniform but had her hair cut short the way he liked (in an abstract, aesthetic sense - in reality, he would take anyone who would take him), and her eyes looked straight at him. Most people's (strangers') eyes tended to skitter away, finding his presence uncomfortable or offensive, he wasn't sure which. All he knew was that this woman looked at him like Teyla had come to, finally, or like Sheppard had from the start.

Before he could let the whole sex-pollen thing overwhelm his bad judgement, he smiled back.

She vanished.


"Excuse me," Rodney said, set his tray down carefully on the line, and ran for the bathroom.


"McKay, open up!" Bang bang bang. "I know you're in there." Bang.

"Yes, obviously, since over a hundred people saw me come in, it stands to reason one or two of them would remember that fact thirty seconds later." Rodney leaned forward on the weirdly shaped Ancient toilet and put his head in his hands.

"Okay," Sheppard said, seemingly giving up on the banging part of the exercise. "You want to tell me what's up?"

Rodney took a deep breath. "I need to go back into quarantine."

"Are you sick?"

"Something - something's wrong with me."

"What's wrong?" Sheppard's voice softened, encouraging confidences. "What is it, Rodney?"

He felt himself slip, his mouth opening to let it all pour out, when the door swished open and Dex said, "He okay?"

Rodney's mouth clicked shut. Oh god, just last week he'd imagined blowing Dex in the bathroom, in this bathroom, sex noises and cold tile against his knees-

He turned around and threw up.

"Rodney? Rodney!"

"Call Carson," Dex said. "I'll bust down the door."

Mercifully, that's when Rodney passed out.


("His blood sugar's a wee bit low. Did he eat any lunch?"

"Leffler said he dropped his tray and bolted. Maybe it's a stomach bug?"

"No, his white cell count is normal. But his synaptic activity in certain regions is high for someone who's unconscious."

"Might it not be a relapse, Dr. Beckett?"

"I don't think so, lass. His DNA shows no signs of mutation, and Radek tells me there are still several pieces of furniture piled in front of the door to that chamber. I doubt Rodney will be turning back into a half-Ascended supergenius anytime soon."

"What if it's-"

Rodney blinked his eyes open. The light was muted, but he recognized the familiar wheeze of the air recyclers, which meant he was back inside the bubble. He felt a rush of relief. Carson would fix this and, in the meantime, nothing could touch him. He was safe.

"Where is everybody?" he asked the ceiling.

Nurse Pincer's voice came back. "You're awake? I'll go get Dr. Beckett."

"But he was right here," Rodney murmured. No one was listening.


Days passed. Rodney was aware of this in an abstract way, though he had long since lost count of the exact hours. Images flickered at the corners of his sight, making him think of stimulants and blackouts, dazed with desperation at the end of the world. Only there was nothing to do, nowhere to ground this strange feeling. They were just hallucinations anyway. No tremors, no thumping of his heart loud in his ears. Just faces and sounds he should have known but didn't.

Hands pressed against the outside of the bubble, pushing inwards. Faces, blurry at the edges. Jeannie. His mother. Sheppard's ex-wife, the pretty doctor from the mess. Halling, younger and more desperate. A woman with him who might have been Jinto's mother.

I see dead people, Rodney wanted to say, but he didn't know who was real enough to joke to.

Carson came in and out, taking blood, running scans. Rodney whimpered every time he unzipped the door, but the Scot seemed real enough. So did Nurse Pincer, who put on scrubs and a mask to help Rodney eat, shower, change clothes. He was getting too distracted to do it himself.

Then came the moment when his whole team was there, not just two of them at a time. Sheppard was saying, "God dammit, Rodney," and Ronon was reaching down to unzip the bubble.

Rodney curled up and whimpered, "Nononono-!" They were going to let in all the faces, the blurry people who watched with their deep, unreadable expressions, holding understanding over his head the way the boys on the bus had held his books, always just out of reach and laughing at his panic.

"Rodney." Teyla ducked under the flap and came straight to his side, pressing her forehead to his temple. Her sweet scent surrounded him. "Rodney, why will you not see us?"

Rodney closed his eyes.

"Beckett said he should be somewhere familiar." That was Ronon, one hand spread on Rodney's nape, the other behind his knee.

"Teyla's room," Sheppard said. Sheppard wasn't Sheppard, though, because he had his fingers wrapped around one of Rodney's ankles, the one that was sticking out from under the blanket. The real Sheppard limited himself to shoulder-squeezes and back-slaps, with the occasional head-thwap for variety. But if Sheppard wasn't Sheppard, then Teyla and Ronon weren't real, either. That was sad and freeing at once; he tasted salt as he turned and pressed his lips blindly to the corner of Teyla's mouth.

"Don't leave," he whispered. The strength of them washed the other dreams away.

"We are taking you out of this place," she said, then Ronon was lifting him and there was a sagging wheelchair, a whirl of hallways (was he dreaming this, too?), and then a wash of incense and afternoon light that eased the tight places in his throat.

Ronon lifted his clumsy body again with a soft grunt. Instead of laying him out on the bed, though, he turned and sat there himself, cradling Rodney's head against his chest with one big hand.

"His skin feels weird," Ronon said.

Teyla's hand folded along Rodney's cheek, slipped down to his neck. "He is chilled but sweating."

"Stress," said Sheppard. "He sweats like a pig when he's scared."

"I do not," Rodney insisted, and Teyla jumped. "Rodney? You can hear us?"

"Always could."

Ronon's grip tightened. Rodney could feel his chest vibrate a moment before his mouth opened. "You hid from us."

This? Rodney could answer. "Hadrons come in two forms, mesons and baryons. Mesons are made up of a quark and an antiquark. Baryons are made up," here, he stumbled, "of th-three quarks. There is no known hadron made up of three quarks and an antiquark."

Thwap! Ah, the real Sheppard was back. "Rodney, just in case you didn't get the memo, human beings are not subatomic particles."

"And in case you didn't get the memo, I'm not about to barge in on your little threesome like a desperate - like a desperate-"

"Put him down." Sheppard's voice was hard.

Rodney whimpered as Ronon shifted and stretched, stealing away the warmth that had been pressed along his side. "At least tuck me in before you go."

"We're not going anywhere," Sheppard said, and then Rodney was on his back on Teyla's small bed, looking up at three pairs of glittering eyes. "Listen up, McKay, because I'm only going to say this once. There is no threesome, there is no us. We were waiting for you."

Rodney blinked. Oh. Oh. "You mean-"

That was as far as he got before Ronon leaned over and pressed Rodney's torso into the bed with his weight, stretching across his chest and claiming his lips.

Up to that point in his life, Rodney would have said that the best kisser he ever met was his hallucination of Sam Carter. There was just something about the combination of a life-or-death situation, a sexy bathing suit, and a woman who knew exactly what he liked.

He had to revise that opinion now.

Ronon kissed like he had nowhere better to be, no one more important to be with than one slightly pudgy, aging physicist. Ronon's lips roamed and his tongue sneaked out, a hint of teeth scraping along Rodney's lower lip. The mechanics were no different from many other kisses Rodney had participated in, but here there was no pressure, no sense of testing. No if you're good at this, then we can move forward. It was kissing for its own sake, as if everything else were a foregone conclusion. That thought made Rodney's dick sit up and take notice.

Ronon noticed, too. He grinned against Rodney's lips, nipped a little, chuckled. A big hand slipped down over Rodney's belly to his groin, where he was probably poking Ronon in the hip (at least, he thought that was Ronon's hip). One finger traced teasingly along Rodney's length through the boxers, oh god, "C'mon, just - yeah."

Ronon chuckled and cupped him more firmly, squeezing just a little. Somewhere on the outer edges of his consciousness, Sheppard was saying, "Ronon, you're overdressed. Also, stop hogging the scientist."

Ronon grumbled and levered himself up. Rodney whimpered at the loss.

A moment later, Sheppard landed full-body on the bed beside him and bounced, grinning. "Hi," he said.

Rodney eyed him cautiously. "Hi?"

"Don't sound so enthusiastic," Sheppard deadpanned, using two fingers to turn Rodney's chin towards him. "Oh, and Teyla said she doesn't want you looking yet."

That was guaranteed to make Rodney roll his eyes to the side trying to catch a glimpse, but a moment later Sheppard's mouth covered his and the world dissolved into skin, oh god, skin and warm, lips, tongue.

Sheppard was the exact opposite of lazy when he kissed. He was about ten kinds of urgent - pushy and demanding and pretty much directing everything until Rodney lost it and put his hands on Sheppard's shoulders and pushed. For a moment Sheppard blinked up at Rodney, lips wet and pupils wide, but he let his eyes drift shut as Rodney leaned down.

This time they took it slow, the tips of their tongues saying 'hi' in a different language. Rodney's hands introduced themselves to Sheppard's sides, stroking down to his hips and back up.

Sheppard broke the kiss with a gasp, jerking away. "Ah! Ticklish."

"Sorry," Rodney said, thinking that he should have known that somehow. He was too mellow to care, though, staring down at Sheppard's wide-eyed face, at his hair, which looked as well-kissed as he did. Rodney slipped one hand into it. Huh, soft.

The bed behind him dipped, and then he felt breasts press up against his back as small arms slipped around his waist.

"Hm." Ronon made his thinking noise, which was essentially a modified grunt, and suddenly the bed was dipping in another direction. Rodney glanced down in time to see Ronon crawl up between their legs and bury his face in Sheppard's crotch.

Then he was too busy watching Sheppard's eyes bug out and his hands shake, and also too busy feeling Teyla's hands slide into his boxers.

"Careful, those're-" he wanted to say sensitive, but he was too busy gasping as she rolled his balls around in her palm. Her hands were tiny, but she knew what to do with them. Rodney's noises mingled with Sheppard's as she began to double-fist him, squeezing the head on every upstroke.

"Oh god, oh god!" He wasn't going to last, but from the sound of it Sheppard wasn't either. Ronon was making encouraging noises in his throat and Teyla was whispering wetly in his ear, describing something that sounded suspiciously like titty-fucking. With a heartfelt groan, Rodney closed his eyes and came all over his own belly and Sheppard's exposed hip.

He was still coming down when Sheppard made his own choked noise. Ronon swallowed loudly, which should not have been hot but Rodney was willing to let it slide, and then they were just lying there breathing, two sweaty, sated men and two, well. Huh.

"My turn," said Ronon.

Teyla just laughed.


Afterwards, they ended up with Ronon lying along one edge of the bed with his legs stretched out. The rest of them rested their heads on various parts of his body and let their legs dangle off the side.

"This bed," Rodney declared, staring up at the ceiling, "is three sizes too small. Also, I hate sleeping on my back."

"Hn." Ronon reached out one giant paw and rolled Rodney over until his cheek mashed into the big man's stomach.

"Okay." His voice was muffled. "But that still doesn't fix the bed."

"Perhaps we could seek out a larger one?"

"Tomorrow." Sheppard yawned.

"I'm holding you to that."

"New rule," Ronon said. "Sleep after sex. And no talking."

"Amen," Sheppard muttered, and they all settled in.


That night, Rodney dreamed of skin. No faces, just forearms and knees and bellies, the soft spots under chins and the curve where thighs met groins. Bodies jumbled through his mind, but not disconnected, never unreal. He dreamed of team and woke surrounded by all the things he'd dreamt.

In the fuzzy stage before he was fully awake (i.e., before he'd had two cups of coffee), Rodney stared at the hair on Ronon's chest and thought of leaves, of slender stems, soft petals and (shudder) stamens, oh god-

He sat up. "What the fuck?"

"Rodney?" Sheppard's hair in the morning was, if anything, a little more subdued than usual. "Problem?"

"Pollen," Rodney explained. "Pollen!"

"Rodney," Teyla said gently, "we did not join with you because of-"

"No sex pollen," Ronon rumbled, probably as horrified by the idea of Teyla saying those words as Rodney felt. "Just us." He put a hand on Rodney's belly.

That was nice, but "Nonono," Rodney said, waving his hands. They didn't get it. "Telepathy pollen."

"What?" Sheppard's eyes narrowed.

Rodney backpedaled. "The flower! I meant the flower."

"Telepathic flowers?"

"Telepathic ex-bugs taking human form, Mr. Mensa?"

"Point." He scrubbed at his hair. "What do we do now?"

Rodney sighed. "I guess I talk to it."


Rodney stepped around the MALP with some trepidation. The last time he'd been on this planet, there'd been attack vines and suicidal tulips and naked skin - oh, hm. Good point.

He picked up the pace a little, grinning.

Ronon and Sheppard came through behind him, carrying the sunflower on the same rope-belt system they'd used last time. As they moved forward, the flower seemed to perk up, its leaves uncurling and its petals opening to the sun.

"Are you feeling anything unusual?" Teyla asked quietly.

"Um." Rodney considered. "Maybe a strong urge to sunbathe?"

"We should hurry."


Halfway up the mountain, Rodney was wheezing and wondering, if he just lay down right here, would they carry him, too?

"Buck up, McKay," Sheppard said.

Ronon pointed. "There."

Sure enough, there was a deep depression in the ground, smoothed over by rain but still going down at least four feet. Off to the side, the rotting remnants of a tulip lay like a casualty of war.

"We should bury it," Ronon said.

Teyla nodded. "I agree."

They dug the hole for the sunflower first, Sheppard and Ronon pulling out the shovels again. The work went quicker this time, but Rodney made them sprinkle the dirt back in lightly afterwards, like Parrish had said to. Then he poured water from the sample bottles around the roots.

While Teyla sang softly and the others dug a shallow pit, Rodney wandered over to the tulip's stem, still jutting straight up from the ground. The wound from Ronon's sword had greened over. Looking closer, he saw the tiny buds of new leaves in several places along the stem.

("Earth tulips are perenials," Katie Brown said, playing with her jacket zip and not looking at him. "They're bulb-based. People cut the flowers all the time. All it does is save the plant the energy required to produce offspring."

"It doesn't kill them?" Rodney had wanted to be absolutely certain.

"Not on Earth," she said. "It's been two weeks. You should look for new growth."

"Which looks like?"

She finally glanced at him. "Paler green. Soft. You're really bad at this, aren't you?"

"I'll get better," he assured her. Not about plants, of course, but. "You don't mind, do you?"

Her smile was a little sad but mostly kind. "No. I don't mind.")

And now here they were, the soft unfurling leaves of a decidedly not-dead plant.

"Oh," Rodney said quietly so no one else could hear. "First off, I'm really really sorry for ruining your sex life for the year. I might have kind of overreacted a little bit. And I'm sorry for kidnapping your," he waved his hand, "whatever. Kid? She doesn't look a thing like you, but my sister and I don't look much alike, so I guess. Well. I guess what I mean to say is that I'm sorry and I wish we could start over, because the people who were here before us said you had something that could save a lot of lives - our lives, human lives - but we've kind of screwed that up, haven't we? I'm sorry. I keep saying that, but I don't know what else to say."

He felt something brush his shoulder. "Ronon, I'm-"

It wasn't Ronon.

A sunflower stood behind him - a proper one this time, fanned-out Fibonacci petals like a neon yellow mane - though he was absolutely certain no flower had been standing there a moment ago. Instead of facing the sun, it was facing him.

"Um, er. Hi?"

The singing broke off behind him. Sheppard's voice rang out. "Rodney?"

"Don't quote me on this," Rodney called back, "but I think we might need a botanist."

Then he sneezed.



"So it turned out to be entirely medical," Rodney said, hands waving breezily through the air. He could afford to be magnanimous; he'd been right. Mostly.

More right than anyone else.

"I see," Heightmeyer said. "And now?"

"I get great sex." Rodney's second grin threatened to out-smug his first by a factor of ten. "All the time. And I don't have to bring flowers." He thought about it. "Actually, I probably shouldn't bring flowers. I think this is one of those nipple-fruit things."

"Nipple-fruit things?"

"Things I'm not supposed to do or say because they're insensitive and make me look like a jerk."

"Is that a quote?"


"Hm." She looked like she was fighting a smile herself. "And how are your... teammates?"

"Um, well, let's see. Teyla has nightmares and won't go back to sleep unless somebody holds her. Sheppard keeps breaking his body in new and interesting ways that force us to get really creative with the sex or leave him to just watch, which makes him cranky, so we don't do that anymore. Ronon has communication issues that make Sheppard look verbose. And I'm just plain needy."

"Perfectly normal, then."

Rodney nodded. "I think so."

"Well, if that's all," she said, rising to stretch, "I think our hour is up for this week."

For a moment, Rodney appreciated the shape of her body, the way her boobs lifted when her arms did, the flash of skin under the edge of her shirt. Then it was gone, chased out by the memory of, "Oh, is it four already? We have a team barbecue in half an hour. I have to go 'rustle up'-" he put that in air quotes "-something combustible. Hopefully something that won't set Ronon's hair on fire."

She laughed. "I'll leave you to it, then."

"See you next week."

Out in the hallway, Teyla was lurking gracefully. She raised one eyebrow at him.

"I didn't forget," he assured her. "And I have an idea."

She put her hand on his back and steered him down the hall as he talked.

Click for full-size
Tags: 009 - freedom, art: covers, artist: moxie_brown, author: briar_pipe, fandom: stargate: atlantis, pairing: team (ot4)

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