Equal and Opposite Reaction

by darsynia

Notes: Written for mcsmooch. Beta'd by unamaga and dedicated to equusentric. Written: 6/17/08.


During the rare moments when Rodney isn’t lying to himself about it, he admits he’s in love with John. Most of the time he thinks of it as an understandable crush—John is hot, after all, and he does save Rodney’s life an awful lot, and really, all that adrenaline and tension has to be released somehow, right? When pressed (which has been a total of twice, and, incidentally, both times rank very high on his List of Events and Places I’d Really Rather Forget About, Thanks), Rodney denies everything with a vehemence usually reserved for demanding citrus-free food and his fair share of the dwindling coffee supply.

Unfortunately, about four hours into their most recent mission Rodney starts to suspect that he’s about to come up on instance number three—with the added bonus of John actually being present, this time.

Rodney has a theory about Stargate placement and its correlation to strangeness in alien cultures. It’s very simple really: the closer the gate is to their seat of government and/or religion, the crazier the natives. So, when they walk through the Stargate into a vaulted marble building, Rodney instantly homes in on the DHD, intending to dial Atlantis and escape whatever potential insanity MZ1-090 has in store for them before he’s punctured or gassed or decorated (#2 on the aforementioned List). He also makes a mental note not to ever trust Sam’s assessment of whether a planet is safe for recon ever again without demanding to see the M.A.L.P.’s video feed for himself.

“Rodney?” John says, the unasked (and stupid) question hovering in the air between them.

“I’m getting us out of here. You can thank me later,” Rodney says distractedly, eyeing his life-signs detector.

“I can see that, but we haven’t even—” John objects, moving toward Rodney.

“Need I remind you of the banana-like fruit from—”

“Don’t say it, McKay,” Ronon calls out unexpectedly.

“Yes, I believe actual oath-swearing was involved about whether or not to speak of that again,” Teyla says with an edge of warning in her voice.

Rodney throws up his hands and glowers at Sheppard, who has managed to block Rodney’s path to the DHD, thanks to their teammates’ distraction. “Don’t look at me like that! He’s the one who refuses to recognize the obvious pattern, here!” he says, jabbing a finger towards John.

“I refuse to be superstitious about coincidences,” John says defensively. “Just because—”

Which is when the room starts to glow orange and Rodney’s body begins to feel numb, starting from his head and spreading downward. It’s really unfair, because Sheppard really deserves the ‘I told you so,’ but they’re all too busy falling into unconsciousness to point that out.


He wakes up feeling slightly cold (which figures), without his gear (which is annoying but livable), and completely untied (which is more worrying by virtue of its deviating from the norm). After blinking away the blurriness in his eyes, Rodney struggles to his feet and looks around at his… well, he supposes it’s a cell, but it’s definitely unlike anything he’s ever seen before, and that’s really saying something.

The floor is made of some sort of slippery material that slopes up in all directions from the small, flat section where he’d been lying. Rodney turns in a circle, taking in the window-like structures that frame the room, joining the wall to the ceiling. It’s fascinating enough that Rodney completely misses the fact that he’s not alone until John groans and lifts himself up onto his knees and elbows.

“Hmm,” John says, which Rodney translates into ‘I may have been wrong, but there’s no way I’ll admit it to you.’ “Odd room,” he adds conversationally.

“That it is,” Rodney replies dryly.

“Doesn’t look much like a jail cell, does it?” John muses, pulling himself to his feet. He places his boot carefully against the curved angle of the floor in front of him and leans his weight onto it, testing. When it catches rather than slips, John throws Rodney a grin and starts climbing. His firm grip on the edge of the wall (or the windowsill, Rodney isn’t sure what to call it, really) lasts about three seconds before he lets go with a sharp cry and comes tumbling back down to rest at Rodney’s feet.

“You were saying?” Rodney says, raising an eyebrow.

“This is stupid,” John says for the eighth time. “No communication, no exit, no access to our stuff…” he stops talking and winces as he rests his weight on his left arm. It’s the fourth time Sheppard’s done that since they woke up, and while Rodney admires the symmetry, he’s pretty sure John hurt himself playing guinea pig.

“Let me see that,” Rodney snaps irritably, reaching over the foot and a half of space between them to close his hand around Sheppard’s cloth-covered bicep, feeling for bumps and watching for a reaction. He gets one he wasn’t expecting, however—the floor below them starts to rise, very slowly.

“What the hell—?” John says, scrambling to his feet. Rodney does the same, letting go as a matter of course. By the time he reaches his feet, the floor is already lowering itself just as slowly until it settles at the same level it was before.

“I didn’t imagine that out of boredom, did I?” John asks him, brows furrowed.

“Don’t think so, no,” Rodney says, circling around John to examine the glossy material closely. “Though it would be intriguing if you had,” he adds, hearing the interest in his own voice and regulating it ever so slightly towards scientific rather than personal curiosity. “It would provide an unique insight into your problem-solving skills.”

“Oh really?” John says, settling himself back down in the center of the room and looking at him with an expression that Rodney could only describe as ornery. It had taken Rodney over two years to recognize that look, and he still fell for it every so often. Not today, though.

“Oh no, Colonel Cranky, I am not your entertainment,” he says firmly. “I want to find out what triggered the floor, and you’re not any help to me while you’re lying on it.” Rodney walks over and holds out his hand as leverage for Sheppard to get up. He ignores (well, okay, tries to ignore) the heat he feels when John takes it without hesitation. The other man doesn’t move to get up, though, and Rodney can sense the edges of his ears start to grow warm. It takes him a few moments to realize that the floor has started its upward climb again.

“You know, I think you’re actually wrong about that,” John objects, pointing straight up. The ceiling is moving at the same steady pace as the floor; the circular section directly above them is retracting, though its progress is painfully slow and gives no hint as to what it might be uncovering.

“Hmm,” Rodney says, pulling his hand out of John’s grasp a bit reluctantly. The effect on the room is immediate—the floor starts to reverse direction, and the ceiling glides quietly back into place. John watches this happen with the kind of frustrated reverence he usually reserves for Ancient technology, and completely ignores Rodney when he demands John’s hand again. Rodney’s reduced to snapping his fingers impatiently, but this time, Sheppard stands first. Though John’s expression is definitely preoccupied as he slides his hand down to match their palms together, Rodney can barely focus on anything else.

Self-preservation, however, requires action. “Uh, Colonel,” Rodney says, raising their joined hands and studiously ignoring the shiver of excitement that radiates up his arm and across his body in a wash of warmth. “I doubt we need to hold hands—”

“I thought you were supposed to be a scientist, Rodney,” John says, squeezing a bit. Their orientation relative to the windows is ever so slightly higher, and Rodney suddenly realizes what John’s saying with a thrill of horrified excitement. A room whose escape solution involves holding John Sheppard’s hand? Rodney’s enthusiasm is slightly dampened by his awareness of just how fast his heart is beating, and the likelihood of John figuring out the reasons for that. He reminds himself he’s a genius—he’ll think of some plausible explanation, surely—but just as abruptly as it had begun, the room stops its transformation.

“I’m almost starting to miss the spears and axes,” John complains. Rodney moves to tug his hand away, pasting on a wry smile, but Sheppard tightens his grip. “Hold on,” he says. “We don’t want to have to start over.”

“Of course not,” Rodney agrees, clearing his throat nervously. He’s painfully aware that he’s sweating and more than a little turned on, both of which he knows he’s going to regret if John’s as smart as Rodney knows he is. As if to prove this, the other man reaches out to grasp Rodney’s free hand, and the room reinitiates its strange conversion process.

Rodney doesn’t really know what to say, but John doesn’t appear to, either. They simply stand like this for a minute or two, bodies oriented away from each other uncomfortably, until the inevitable happens.

The room’s progress stops again.

There’s a long silence that stretches for minutes before Rodney mentally smacks himself, remembering that this is John Sheppard, the undisputed leader of the emotionally repressed. Rodney really wishes he could know what’s going on in John’s head right now, given the fact that if he were asked to pick the two things John is mostly likely to avoid (which in Rodney’s mind includes things like suicide missions and impossible rescue scenarios), touching and talking about his feelings would be at the very top of the list. Though, of course, for Sheppard, this situation isn’t really about feelings per se—not like it is for Rodney, anyway. He sighs.

“It looks like the… process prefers skin on skin contact,” Rodney says, drawing on every ounce of clinical detachment that’s left in his body. John is looking reproachfully up at the petal-like cracks in the ceiling that remind Rodney a little of the iris on Earth’s Stargate. “We could… well, we could take off our shirts, maybe?” he suggests in a miserable tone that he doesn’t even bother trying to conceal. John isn’t likely to figure out the real reason behind that, anyway.

“We’d have to let go to do that, though,” John points out.

“Not if we get creative! It just takes a little logistical…” His train of thought is interrupted by John, who steps closer in one swift movement, centering himself in front of Rodney. “What are you—?” Rodney starts to say, and falters.

“Getting creative,” John says, almost gruffly. With a tiny beat of hesitation, he leans forward and rests his forehead on Rodney’s shoulder. John’s cheek is flush with Rodney’s neck and jawline, and it takes a great deal of effort for Rodney not to make ridiculous out of context comparisons between these actions and the floor moving beneath their feet.

He’s trembling a little, and his wrist hurts from the odd angle. Without thinking, he shifts his hand to relieve the ache and has to shut his eyes against the huff of breath along his neck from John’s frustrated exhale—the floor has stopped moving again.

“That wasn’t— At least, I don’t think it was me,” Rodney says softly, acutely aware of the fact that John’s ear is very close to his mouth. All he has to do is tip his head to the left, and…

“It wasn’t,” John says with certainty, his breath warm and moist against the fabric of Rodney’s shirt. “They’ve all been predictable intervals.” Rodney realizes that on any other mission, he’d be the one to point this out, but he’s ten kinds of distracted and this proximity thing isn’t helping at all. Especially not since he was already half-hard from the hand holding, and when that had progressed to hot breath against his neck, well…

“How close are we?” John asks, and for one wild second Rodney assumes he means physically, and, Jesus, he really needs to get laid; this fixation is going to cost him his job. He looks around carefully, feeling every brush of John’s skin against his own as if Sheppard were touching him purposefully, intimately.

“Nowhere near close enough,” he reports. John lifts his head slightly, probably to check for himself; he presses his cheek and nose against Rodney’s neck to compensate for the lack of contact from his forehead. Rodney focuses on standing perfectly still and not swearing.

“Yeah, this is clearly… not enough,” John says with hardly any inflection in his voice. Without warning, John steps unbearably closer, doing so before Rodney can conceal any part of his body’s reaction. The room obliges, heedless of Rodney’s aroused misery. It’s monumentally unfair, because even when they’re hiding he can shift subtly away, but not now. Rodney just wants to put his head down and beg for this to be a particularly cruel (albeit creative) nightmare, but there’s nowhere for him to rest his head but on John. Given the way John froze the instant they came into contact, Rodney’s pretty sure that enough of him is touching Sheppard right now, thank you very much. The period of silence that follows can’t be as long as the previous one, but to Rodney it feels interminable.

“Having a bit of a dry spell?” John asks quietly. Rodney jerks away in shock, cut to the quick by Sheppard’s cavalier reaction. The rational part of his mind tries to argue that this is what John does, he jokes, he tries to diffuse the situation, but every single part of Rodney—including his mind—feels naked, and he just wants to get away.

“Woah, woah! Hey,” John says, finally releasing one of Rodney’s hands before he can start seriously considering leaving his fingers behind, but it turns out that this is just so John can drag Rodney back against him. The reciprocating motion of the floor matches the tumult in Rodney’s head, neither of which cease shifting when John twines their fingers together tightly and lays his free hand on the place where his head had been resting. Their faces are mere inches apart, and Rodney finds to his horror that he can’t look away. He’s pinned in place by John’s eyes, his hands, his—god, his body. Rodney’s own doesn’t seem to care whether the object of his desire is interested or not; no matter how much he tries to will it away, he’s still just as hard as he was earlier, despite the feelings of shame that wash through him. John is his best friend, for crying out loud.

Hey,” John repeats gently. “I didn’t know, okay? I just don’t—” John breaks off and lets out a long breath, as though he’s been holding it ever since he touched Rodney the first time. Rodney can feel it against his lips and it’s this that breaks the spell, allowing him to shut his eyes against the flush he feels creeping up his neck and onto his face.

“You just never see this coming,” Rodney finishes for him, his try at irony failing as his voice drags glumly through the words. The room’s stopped moving, he notices with dread, and Rodney’s psyching himself up to suggest the shirts thing again when John’s thumb brushes against his neck gently. Rodney summons all the reproach he can muster before opening his eyes, meaning to chastise John, maybe even gain the upper hand by virtue of being wronged—but John’s just… looking at him. In maybe the kind of way that Rodney never lets himself look at John, except perhaps in his dreams, and he can’t control those. John, though—John’s the most controlled person he knows (which always makes his moments of ‘calculated risk’ all the more painful to watch), so this is unexpected, to say the least.

“Looks like I’m not the only one,” John says, and his other hand is shifting positions, his fingers sliding along the sensitive skin between Rodney’s own. Something about the contact triggers the room, but Rodney barely notices, because John’s pressing himself closer, chest to chest, thigh to thigh. Rodney can’t stop the groan that escapes his lips, because he can feel John; they’re as close as they’ve ever been and all Rodney wants is more.

The thread of uncertainty is still there, though. “I—you don’t have to— I mean, just so we can—”

John’s answer is to dip his head toward Rodney’s, halting his protests and stealing away his breath. He nips softly at Rodney’s lower lip in a way that communicates ‘Shut up, Rodney’ better than any of the times he’s said it verbally. Rodney tightens the grip he didn’t know he had on John’s arm, rubbing his fingers in circles under the edge of his sleeve as he gives himself up to John, thrilling in the way John cards his hand through Rodney’s hair and holds his head in place. It’s restrained, kinetic, and finally Rodney hears himself make a soft noise of frustration as he moves to touch John’s face, to brush his thumb against John’s lower lip and open his mouth.

Rodney feels off-balance as the floor lifts beneath them, and John’s tongue sweeping against his is electric—shocking and hot and insolent, as if John knows exactly how many brain cells he’s disabling with each new angle they try. Their interlaced fingers spark and rub against each other, Rodney’s hand trapped between John’s leg and the warm heat of his palm. They’re kissing as if each of them is battling for submission, sliding away to nibble or lick at the other’s mouth desperately each time they’re in control of the kiss. It’s confusing and sexy as hell, and Rodney feels trapped, what with John refusing to release one hand and Rodney refusing to move the other from John’s face, even when John turns his head unexpectedly and sucks on the thumb Rodney can’t stop brushing across John’s lower lip.

With a groan, Rodney buries his head in John’s shoulder and pants until John bites down on his thumb and Rodney’s head comes back up in indignation.

“It worked,” John says, nodding at their surroundings. They’re in a square room with a low ceiling and a reassuringly flat floor. Rodney carefully peels himself off of Sheppard and looks around, his body still thrumming with enough excitement and want that he forgets they’re still ostensibly holding hands. He looks up at John and blushes—John’s lips are red, obviously kissed, and he’s breathing just as heavily as Rodney is. Still, Rodney quirks his eyes toward their hands in a silent question. A dull flush crosses John’s cheeks and he looks down and away, scuffing the toe of his boot against the patterned floor as if to check its integrity.

“Wouldn’t want to reverse the process,” he says in a voice that’s rough, like he hardly ever uses it. With a blush of his own, Rodney realizes that hey, he probably doesn’t.

“What do you suppose that was?” Rodney says, nearly jumping out of his skin in surprise and lust when John swipes his thumb strongly against Rodney’s sweaty palm. John isn’t looking at him when he replies, but he doesn’t stop the lazy, sweat-slick movements either.

“Maybe touch was the catalyst,” he says, and Rodney finds that he likes John’s stupid hair much more when he’s partly responsible for its disarray, likes his ridiculously pointed ears a lot better when they’re flushed pink.