Title: The Taming of The Fly
Word Count: ~13,000
Warnings: M/M sex, not-quite-human
Summary: Rodney wants to regain the Colonel's trust, so he's going to help him get over that little mutating-into-a-bug problem.
A/N: Written for slashfest. I owe a debt of inspiration to Seperis's Shed Your Skin and Martha Wilson's Transition Point. I was thinking of doing something like this before I found the request for it, so the story sort of ran away with me.
There was a guard outside the door to the cell room. Well, of course there is! Rodney chided himself nervously. He gave the guard a nod. "How's he, uh . . . well. Has he been, ah, quiet?"
The guard considered this as if it were a deep question. "Made some noise when we put him in there at first."
No one had liked the idea of putting Sheppard in a cell, but Carson insisted they couldn't keep him sedated into unconsciousness for the weeks he would need to return to normal, and the viral inhibitor would work against the corrective retrovirus as well as the first one. Restraints or confinement seemed to be the only options left. Since Carson had said this while sporting a badly bruised jaw and treating a nurse for a broken wrist, it was hard to argue with him. Rodney had tried even so, but nobody really listened to him except when it involved blowing things up or preventing things from blowing up.
Rodney lifted his chin. "So, I've, uh, come to visit him."
The guard nodded calmly. "Ms. Emmagen's been by a couple of times."
"Sings to him, I think."
Rodney blinked. "Does he like it?"
The guard shrugged. "Couldn't say. She seems to think so."
"Oh." Rodney looked down at his feet, at the floor, at the laptop under his arm. Apparently his idea wasn't very original, or even very likely to help anything. Teyla was much better at this sort of thing -- at dealing with convalescents, or people of any kind, really -- than he was. If she couldn't get a reaction from Sheppard, what did Rodney hope to accomplish?
He really just wanted to show Sheppard that he could be trusted, that he could contribute more than his technological brilliance -- not that that wasn't plenty! -- and that they could be friends again. Maybe this wasn't the best way to do it; if Sheppard couldn't remember language or basic common sense like don't beat up the nice man who controls your supply of painkillers, he wasn't going to remember who Rodney was, or that they'd argued, or what it was about, or why Rodney should be forgiven.
But it was the principle of the thing, after all. Duranda -- and Olesia, and the Aurora -- had brought it home to Rodney that he had to work on being a better friend, had to learn to pay back kindness with more of the same, even if he wasn't very good at it. He'd felt pretty awful thinking that Sheppard was going to die with their friendship still on rocky ground, and he'd wanted a chance to say something, to find some words that would make a difference. And now here was his chance.
It wouldn't be completely wasted, he supposed. If Sheppard really was completely non-verbal, Rodney could use this opportunity to practice saying nice -- or at least not wholly contemptuous -- things without putting his foot in his mouth every other sentence. By the time Sheppard understood English again, Rodney could be a glib master of the smooth apology and the gracious compliment.
He squared his shoulders. "Could I, uh . . . ?" He waved at the door.
"Sure." The guard checked his life-signs detector, then swiped a hand across the door sensor. "There's a chair in the corner, if you're going to stay a while."
"Yes, ah, thank you." Rodney squinted in the dim blue-green lighting around the cell. They must have been designed especially for holding Wraith; at least, they were certainly lit that way.
There was no one in the cell, just a heap of blankets too small to conceal a person.
Rodney waved the closing door to a stop. "Wait, where is he? Did he escape or something?"
The guard glanced at his detector again, then pointed toward the ceiling. There was a shadow up there, clinging to the bars that formed the top of the cell. "He likes it up there."
"Oh. Right." Rodney had no idea how Sheppard was able to hold on without triggering the force field. "Maybe he'd come down if he had a proper bed or something? That doesn't look very comfortable."
The guard gave him a sidelong look, half-pitying. "He tore the bed frame apart and tried to use the pieces as weapons."
"Oh. I see." Rodney looked a little doubtfully at the pile of blankets and decided there wasn't much harm that could be done with them. On the other side of a force field.
"Call if you need anything, Dr. McKay." The guard waved the door shut.
Rodney stepped up close to the bars and looked at the dark figure suspended near the ceiling. "So, uh. Sheppard. Colonel. I thought you might like, uh, some company. We've all missed you." He tried to laugh, but it wasn't very convincing. "You know, the scientists miss having you distract them from their work, and Teyla misses beating you with sticks, and Ronon misses outrunning you."
The shadow didn't move.
"And I thought, you know, maybe you were missing us, too. So I came by to, uh, to spend a little time with you. Catch you up on all the news. But, I suppose Teyla's been doing that, has she?"
"Right. So, uh, I'll just sit here and, uh, read my email, and I can tell you what's been going on in the science division. Kavanagh's asking to come back, did you know that? And Caldwell has been changing all the, uh -- well, Elizabeth's keeping him in line, more or less." In the corner, Rodney found a folding chair apparently stolen from the mess and brought it forward so he could sit and use his laptop while he talked.
He read some of his emails out loud, with editorial comments. He talked about the jockeying for credit among the biologists and the medical group following Sheppard's successful -- or expected to be successful -- treatment. Then he got distracted by Optican's latest creative but ultimately impractical flight of fancy. By the time he'd sent her a reply detailing all the ways in which she was pathetically mistaken, half an hour had passed and he'd almost forgotten Sheppard was there.
The shadow was gone.
Rodney looked around frantically and finally located Sheppard on the bars of the cage almost directly above him. Sheppard seemed to be watching Rodney, untroubled by his head-down position on the bars. He was wearing white infirmary scrubs, with nothing on his feet -- which seemed to be gripping the bars in a way that Rodney couldn't quite make out from this angle.
"That's, uh, really cool, you know," Rodney ventured. "Sort of like Spiderman climbing the walls. Maybe you'd like it if I made you a web-slinger?"
"No, of course not, silly of me, you wouldn't want to be any more like, like them than you already, uh. Yes. Well." Them being the Iratus bugs or the Wraith or both; Sheppard hated them about equally. "I suppose if you could choose a superhero, you would be Batman? Since, you know. Since bats eat bugs? Not that you'd want to eat them of course, but natural enemies and all that, right? Batman was always my favorite, anyway. You'd need a lot of gadgets, of course, but I could take care of that side of it . . . and Batman can -- well, not really fly, but sort of glide. I'm sure you'd like that part."
Had Sheppard moved at the mention of flying? Rodney wasn't sure.
"Anyway." Rodney swallowed nervously. He really had no idea what to say to Sheppard. "Oh, I know! I could play some music for you, since, uh, since Teyla thought you enjoyed that. I have lots of music to choose from, a wide variety of classical and alternative -- well, hmm. I suppose your taste probably doesn't overlap with mine very much. And of course the speakers on this laptop aren't very good. I could bring in my other -- well, no, why don't I just see if you like it first?"
Rodney selected his entire music library -- including some stuff he almost never listened to, inherited over the years from former girlfriends and lab assistants and Jeannie -- and put it on random. First up was one of the Japanese things Miko had given him, which Rodney had never warmed to. Next was a Bach quartet, pleasant and ornamental but not exactly moving. The third selection made Rodney sit up, though: the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony came up. It was sadly diminished by the poor speakers, but still beautiful.
"This is one of the most passionate pieces of music ever written," Rodney said thoughtfully. "It was a love letter from Mahler to his fiancee." He lifted a hand to follow the swell of the music, and sighed. "It's sad; you can hear how the musical themes are kept apart, just like the two lovers. But so sure and, and enduring, even so. They must have had great, ah, trust in each other." He swallowed and ducked his head. "Anyway. I'll get back to my emails. Let me know if any of the music strikes your fancy."
When he glanced up, he thought Sheppard had moved down a rung or two.
The music played on while Rodney went over Optican's idea again. Although her development was flawed, the underlying premise might be applicable in other ways. While he concentrated, the music flowed from Mahler to some Middle-Eastern thing (ex-girlfriend -- the relationship hadn't lasted long, but that had more to do with her expectations of romance than her taste in music) to Stan Rogers (Jeannie) to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet -- apparently they couldn't get away from the love music. Sheppard responded with an odd noise to the wailing of the Egyptian music, almost as if he were trying to answer or imitate the polytonic intervals, but when Rodney repeated the selection, Sheppard remained silent. It wasn't until David Bowie's Space Oddity (girlfriend? Or was that left over from Rodney's teenage years?) came on that Sheppard really reacted. He swarmed down the bars until he was level with Rodney's head and bobbed up and down, keening and chittering to the music.
Rodney drew back at first, but eventually realized Sheppard wasn't upset or enraged by the music; he was singing along, after a fashion. Familiar was bound to be good, wasn't it? Rodney combed through his collection for anything he thought Sheppard might recognize. More Bowie, a little bit of Talking Heads (former lab assistant). Would Sheppard know Laurie Anderson (girlfriend)? Yes, Rodney decided, he probably would. Three albums later, Sheppard was settled on the floor, staring intently through the bars at Rodney's laptop.
The battery was nearly dead, and Rodney was debating whether to go get a replacement or just take another stab at talking to Sheppard himself, when the door slid open.
Sheppard disappeared. Rodney, starting to get the hang of this, looked upward. He could just make out a deeper patch of shadow in the dimmest corner of the ceiling.
"Oh," said Elizabeth from the doorway. She was carrying a tray from the mess. "Rodney. I didn't know you were here."
Rodney closed his laptop and stood up, suddenly embarrassed. "Yes, I was, ah . . . working. You know, I can do my work -- well, some of it anyway -- from here just as well as anywhere else. And I thought, ah, it might be . . . peaceful?"
Elizabeth knew how inept he was at small talk even with people who understood a significant fraction of his vocabulary, if not the concepts behind his words. Would she laugh at his attempts to befriend The Fly?
But although her mouth quirked oddly, Elizabeth only said, "That's very thoughtful of you, Rodney. I'm sure he appreciates the company."
"Well, ah, I'm not," said Rodney. "But it must be pretty boring in here, so maybe it helps to have something to listen to." He felt a momentary urge to boast that Sheppard had reacted to some of Rodney's music, where he hadn't to Teyla's singing. But a stronger impulse kept him quiet; it felt like a private thing, somehow.
"Something to listen to, that's exactly what I was thinking," said Elizabeth, and pointed her chin at the tray. Rodney saw a book there next to the dishes -- Sheppard's perennial copy of War and Peace, in fact. "I thought I could read to him while we have dinner."
"Dinner?" Rodney checked his watch. "How'd it get so late? Oh -- is that what they're serving in the mess?" He sniffed cautiously at the glop.
Elizabeth grimaced. "Carson says Colonel Sheppard can metabolize human food. But so far he doesn't seem very interested in it. I'm hoping that will change soon." She nodded to the door guard, who keyed off the force field and held his stunner at the ready while she slipped the tray through the bars. The force field was back up within a few seconds.
Rodney was suddenly sure that he didn't want to watch Sheppard eat, or whatever he might choose to do with the food. He'd had enough weirdness for the day. So he tucked the laptop under his arm, said vaguely, "Yes. So, dinner," and headed out the door.
The next day, Rodney brought a small set of detachable speakers, a spare laptop battery, and a disk with Sheppard's own MP3 collection on it. Much of it was familiar from his own youth, while some of the twangy ballads made him wince, but Sheppard seemed to like them. He crouched on his blanket, frog-like -- or should that be cricket-like? -- and crooned along with the music in a voice that was already noticeably less insectish. Sometimes he even succeeded in holding a tune for a minute or two. And when dinner came, Sheppard ate with his hands, making no more mess than Ronon on an average day.
The third day, Rodney found no guard waiting outside the cell room, and no Sheppard inside. When he called Ops in a panic, thinking that pursuit must already be in progress, he was told that Sheppard had been moved back to the infirmary.
"Aye, we've got him in isolation," said Carson when Rodney arrived. "He's conscious, but restrained. Fortunately, his strength seems to have come down to -- well, it's not back to normal, but at least within the range we can manage."
"But why did you bring him back here?" Rodney pressed. "Is something going wrong with the treatment?"
"No, that seems to be progressing steadily, if not quite as fast as we'd hoped. I'd estimate he'll be lucid enough to get out of here in a couple of weeks, and completely back to normal a week or two after that."
"So?" Rodney said.
"So, why did you bring him back to the infirmary if the treatment is going well?"
"Oh, that. We were afraid he'd do himself an injury."
Rodney blinked. "With what, a blanket? Was he going to eat it? Smother himself with it?" Hang himself? he thought belatedly. Maybe it wasn't so implausible after all.
"No no, nothing like that. He was scratching himself."
"Scratching," said Rodney slowly, still envisioning modes of suicide by blanket. Even the Athosian fibers weren't that bad -- irritating, yes, but hardly dangerous.
Carson leaned closer and murmured confidentially, "He's begun to moult, y'see."
"Oh! You mean the --" Rodney gestured at his own forearm.
"The scales and such that grew on his skin are starting to come off, and apparently it itches something fierce. He just won't let it alone, so we've got his hands tied down now. To be fair, I don't think he'll try to hurt anyone, not again. He seemed to recognize me, at least a little."
"Well." Rodney considered. "So could I see him, then? I've been, um, sitting with him -- sort of bonding, you know -- the past couple of days, and --"
"Oh aye, I'm sure he could use the distraction."
Rodney stepped into the isolation room cautiously. Sheppard was on the bed, staring at him with those eerie, slit-pupiled eyes.
"Uh, hi," said Rodney. "It's me. Again. I thought you might, ah, like the company."
Sheppard made an odd noise, sort of like the ones he made when 'singing' along to the music.
"Yes, music, I brought the music," Rodney said, busying himself with setting up his laptop.
He didn't want to look straight at Sheppard, but it wasn't that he was disturbed by the blue scales or yellow eyes. Actually, he found those rather fascinating. But in the last two days, he'd gotten accustomed to looking at the colonel obliquely, from the corner of his eyes. Anytime Rodney looked directly at him, Sheppard would turn his face away or shift into a patch of shadow. He might be non-verbal, but he communicated clearly enough that he didn't like to be stared at.
Now he was tied to a bed in the middle of a brightly-lit room, with a blanket slipping off his legs and his scrubs twisted around awkwardly. The violation was wrong, almost obscene -- more so than the transformation itself, at least to Rodney's thinking. Sheppard's infection with the retrovirus had been an accident, unintentional and unforeseeable. His restraints were very much intentional, even if they were for his own good. It bothered Rodney. He wondered if Sheppard would be more comfortable with the lights turned down a little.
"Oh, hey!" Rodney snapped his fingers and Sheppard's eyes fixed on them at once. "I just thought of something. You'll like this. But I have to go get some stuff first." He stood up.
Sheppard made an odd noise -- not the 'singing' sound, but something more plaintive. A protest.
"Oh. I can leave the laptop here playing music, if you want." Rodney set the computer on the chair he had just vacated.
Sheppard's pale gaze went from Rodney to the chair and back. He made the protesting noise again.
"No, really, you're going to like this. I'll be back in just a few minutes, I promise." Rodney hurried out.
It took more than a few minutes; Rodney had to commandeer some equipment from people who didn't want to give it up, then he had to get it to the infirmary, and then he had to negotiate with the nurses about what power sources could be freed up. But finally he had the Ancient video screen hanging at the foot of Sheppard's bed and hooked up to the laptop, and he dimmed the room lights with a thought.
"Here we go," he said, stopping the music and bringing up another program. "See if you recognize anything about this."
Sheppard remained transfixed throughout the Boston College-Miami game. Near the end, as the famous 'Hail Mary' pass approached, Rodney noticed him starting to get excited. He tugged at his restraints and leaned forward in the bed. When the crowd screamed in appreciation of the successful pass, Sheppard whined along with them.
The recording ended, and Rodney brought the lights up just a little to see Sheppard staring at him beseechingly.
"What? You want to see it again? Well, sorry, I don't. We can watch something else. Let's see what else you have in your collection." Rodney went through the disks he'd grabbed from Sheppard's desk drawer, reading off the file names and checking for a reaction. He skipped over a disk that appeared to be porn; he didn't want to get into that with nurses possibly stopping in at any minute. Even if he was just a little curious about how Sheppard would react to it -- whether he would get aroused, and what arousal might look like in his current state. But not curious enough to experiment in the semi-public of the infirmary. Rodney could check out those files later in his own quarters.
He might have been imagining it, but Rodney thought there was a stronger interest in Sheppard's eyes when he named Back to the Future. He groaned, but queued up the file anyway. "Only the first movie, though. I'm not watching them butcher the principles of temporal dynamics the way they do in the second and third. Bad enough that Christopher Lloyd can't pronounce 'gigawatt' properly."
Sheppard made a curious low noise -- satisfaction? Agreement? -- as the movie started up. Rodney decided to take that as permission to continue pointing out the numerous flaws in the plot. Sheppard never made any noises that sounded like 'shut up,' anyway.
On the fourth day (evening, actually, since the afternoon had been taken up with practically rebuilding the desalination system from scratch while chewing out his subordinates for letting it get damaged), Rodney came prepared. He would have enjoyed watching something new -- he hadn't seen the latest Batman movie yet, and there were rumors around the science department about new episodes of Dr. Who -- but that would be something to do on his own time, or possibly with Sheppard after his recovery, if the man was still talking to Rodney by then. Right now, Sheppard needed to be reminded of the familiar, so Rodney had taken some guesses about what might be the colonel's old favorites. He had them loaded on his laptop and ready to go, but he hadn't finished getting the screen set up when Sheppard made a noise. Or actually, not a noise -- it sounded like speech. Like a word.
Rodney turned and frowned. "What was that?"
"Ow," said Sheppard distinctly.
Rodney moved closer to the bed, looking the patient over. "You're in pain?"
Sheppard blinked. "Ow."
"Right. I'll get Carson."
But Carson wasn't available, according to the nurse. When Rodney said that Sheppard was talking and in pain, the nurse rolled her eyes. "He's been doing that all day. He just wants to get out of the restraints."
Rodney stared at her. "You think he's lying? But why would he . . . Look, have you checked to make sure he isn't really in pain? I mean, how would you know? He's the one connected to his nervous system."
The nurse sighed and headed for the isolation room. "In fact, some of the Ancient medical devices can measure pain reliably on a standard system. But they don't seem to work very well in the Colonel's current state; Dr. Beckett tried." She reached the room and turned up the lights Rodney had dimmed in anticipation of the movie.
Sheppard flinched and squinted, his pupils narrowing to thin slits.
"Ow," said Rodney sympathetically.
The nurse shot him a dark look, then walked to the foot of Sheppard's bed with put her hands on her hips. "Well, Colonel? What seems to be the problem?"
"Ow," said Sheppard. His arms twisted at the restraints.
"I'm not going to let you go, so you can stop asking," said the nurse. But she did examine Sheppard quickly and gently, starting with his wrists. "Need to pee, huh?" she said, pressing on his abdomen.
Sheppard squirmed. "Ow."
The nurse stepped out of the room a moment and returned with one of the hand-held urinals that Rodney recognized unfondly from some of his own stays in the infirmary. "Uh," said Rodney, fading toward the door. This looked like something he didn't need to be present for.
But Sheppard scowled at the urinal and said distinctly, "No."
"Oh, hey!" said Rodney. "Looks like he does know what he's saying!" It seemed like a very appropriate response to him.
The nurse returned Sheppard's frown. "It's this or a catheter."
Sheppard's wrinkled blue lip protruded in a very un-bug-like pout. "No."
"You need a bed-pan instead? Or a diaper?"
"No." Sheppard pulled on the restraints again. "Ow."
"Look," said Rodney. "He seems, uh, sort of lucid. Why can't he just use the toilet? It's right here." Necessarily, the isolation area included a small bathroom in the corner.
The nurse sighed. "We tried that earlier, and he refused to go with someone accompanying him."
"So . . .?"
"Dr. Beckett doesn't want him left alone, even briefly, because he might hurt himself. Look." She pulled up the left sleeve of Sheppard's scrub shirt to reveal four parallel scratches on his forearm, scabbed over in a deep purple that stood out vividly from the mottled pale-blue skin. Below the wrist cuff, Sheppard's dark-clawed fingers twitched restlessly.
"Oh. Hey, maybe that's the pain he's complaining about?"
"He didn't react when I touched the arm," said the nurse. "I'm pretty sure he just needs to pee. Isn't that right, Colonel?"
Sheppard nodded. "Ow."
"So what'll it be? The urinal, or a catheter?"
Sheppard frowned at the urinal. Then he glanced toward the bathroom, looked at Rodney, and back at the bathroom.
Rodney gulped. "He can use the toilet if, uh, if someone accompanies him?"
The nurse gave him a doubtful look. "You have to watch closely. He'll try to scratch."
"Oh. Uh. I can do that, I guess." Rodney turned to Sheppard. "Is that what you want? For me to, uh, go with you?"
Sheppard nodded slowly.
The nurse gave an unhappy sigh. "Colonel, look at me." She held the yellow gaze firmly. "I need you to promise you won't hurt yourself. That means no scratching. Do you understand?"
"All right. I'm going to close the isolation room door, so you know you can't escape -- but I'll be watching from the other side. If you try to hurt yourself, or if you give Dr. McKay any trouble, I'll call Security in here to stun you."
Rodney swallowed hard and lifted his chin. "We'll be fine," he said, wishing his voice wouldn't squeak.
The nurse gave him a nod and left, closing the airtight door behind her. Rodney was alone with the half-man, half-monster and the certainty of watching eyes.
"Right," he said tightly. "Here we go." He fumbled the blankets away from the bottom of the bed so he could get at the ankle restraints. Sheppard's feet, he saw, had grown long jointed claws where the toes should have been. They gripped at the bed like fingers, poking holes in the sheet and mattress. Rodney didn't comment as he ripped open the velcro from the paddled nylon webbing, but he had trouble taking his eyes away from the blue-cased digits.
The claws on Sheppard's hands were really the same, but Rodney hadn't quite realized it at first. The skin had thickened almost to a carapace, and Sheppard's fingers moved in pairs as if they had nearly fused together. When Rodney released Sheppard's left hand, it immediately moved up to the Colonel's face, touching uncertainly. Apparently the fingers still had some sensitivty despite their covering. Sheppard frowned as he traced the rows of spikes and bumps along his jaw.
"Okay!" said Rodney brightly, undoing the last strap. "All set. Let's do this." He waved at the door to the tiny bathroom.
Sheppard pushed the blankets down and climbed out of the bed slowly. Rodney couldn't be sure if he was just stiff or uncertain about the working of his changing body; his gait seemed normal enough, if hesitant.
Rodney glanced toward the camera he knew was monitoring the room. "I guess, uh, I guess I'd better go in with you." He shrugged apologetically.
Sheppard ignored him and moved into the closet-sized room. He seemed captivated for a minute by his own appearance in the small mirror. Then he jerked his head aside sharply and faced the toilet instead.
Rodney had promised to keep an eye on Sheppard, but he didn't have to watch the personal stuff. He tried to keep his gaze fixed on the broad shoulders draped in white cotton. But his control wasn't perfect -- after all, guys check each other out all the time, right? -- and he caught a glimpse of an indigo-hued carapaace before jerking his eyes upward again to fix on Sheppard's left ear. The ear was surprisingly unchanged, aside from a slight bluish tinge. In the last two years Rodney had developed a secret fondness for Sheppard's odd triangular ears, so he was in a position to know it looked pretty normal.
Sheppard finished his business -- that looked pretty normal also, Rodney noted in another uncontrolled glance -- and turned back to the mirror. He just stared for a long minute, and Rodney couldn't think of what to say.
"It's, uh, getting better?" He tried, lamely. "I mean, I'm sure those bumps aren't as prominent as they were a couple of days ago. And, uh --"
Sheppard's hands flashed up to his face with claws curled as if he meant to rip his own skin off.
"No!" Rodney blurted, and somehow found his own fingers tangled with Sheppard's. He hadn't even known he was reaching out. "Dont. You -- you promised," he said weakly. "And, um. Ow?" The powerful fingers were crushing his own.
Sheppard's hands eased their grip immediately, but he didn't let go. Instead, he turned their joined hands back and forth, studying them closely. After a moment, Rodney realized he was looking for scratches.
"No, uh, you didn't hurt me. It just pinched a little, that's all." Rodney looked up to find the yellow eyes gazing into his own, the pupils broadened into fat spindles. "It's okay," Rodney assured him.
"Oh . . . kay," said Sheppard slowly. He let Rodney's hands go. For a moment it looked as if he would try to scratch his face again, but at the last moment he turned his wrist and rubbed his cheek on the sleeve.
Rodney knew it was just the scratching of an itch, but the gesture made him think of tears, and unaccountably his own eyes stung, too. "Come on," he said gruffly. "I've got some stuff lined up to watch. I think you'll like it. You remember Top Gun?"
Sheppard blinked, and his cheek twitched as if he were trying to remember how to smile. "Okay."
Rodney smiled hard enough for both of them.
They went back to the main room, and Sheppard climbed into the bed. Rodney was tempted to leave his restraints off, since the colonel obviously wasn't dangerous -- but even as he considered it, Sheppard idly raised a hand to rub at his chest. The sharp blue claws ripped right through the cotton shirt, and Sheppard looked down in surprise at the beads of bright red welling where he had scratched. "Ow?" he said in a sheepish tone, glancing obliquely at Rodney.
"Right, ow," Rodney agreed. "I guess it'll have to be the restraints again. I was wondering why Carson didn't just wrap your hands in gauze, or put gloves on you or something, but now I see that wouldn't work. Here, give me your arm."
The nurse reappeared in time to help Rodney with the last restraint. She cleaned the cut on his chest while glaring impartially at the two of them, even though Rodney tried to assure her it was an accident. At last she left the room, and Rodney was able to turn the lights down to a level that didn't make Sheppard squint.
Rodney supposed the colonel must have seen this movie multiple times, but it still kept his attention riveted. Rodney himself had only a vague memory of the plot, but he was alerted whenever a good scene was coming by Sheppard's intent reaction.
Despite the distraction, though, it was clear Sheppard was still troubled by the itching. He squirmed his body back and forth, rubbed his elbows against the sheets, and turned his head often to rub each cheek on the pillow. By the time the movie was over, Rodney couldn't take it anymore. He went to the nurse -- unfortunately, he noted, the shift hadn't changed yet -- and asked for something to ease the itch.
"I'm not sure what we can give him," she said, studying the shelves of supplies. "We tried analgesics, and that just seemed to make it worse -- possibly an allergic reaction. Dr. Beckett didn't even want to consider cortisone because of the possibility of immune suppression."
"What about just a hand lotion or something?" Rodney urged.
She snapped her fingers, startling him. "I know! There should be some around here somewhere . . . I know I saw it not long ago . . . there!" She handed Rodney a tall bottle that looked like it might hold shampoo or hair gel or something.
"What is it?"
"Mostly aloe gel, with some additional moisturizers. Simple, non-reactive, soothing for a wide variety of, um, skin types."
"It doesn't have any salt water in it?" Rodney squinted at the fine-print ingredients.
"It shouldn't. Why?"
"Those, um, those bugs hate the stuff. I think it actually hurts them. If Sheppard's skin is like that . . ."
"Test it," said the nurse. "Put a small amount on his neck and see if there's any inflammation."
Rodney snorted. "I don't know what that would look like, either," he muttered. But he supposed he'd be able to tell from Sheppard's reaction, so he didn't wait around for more suggestions.
Rodney spread a little of the thick, clear gel on Sheppard's neck -- the deep indigo part, where the Iratus bug had latched on to him over a year ago. "Does that hurt?"
Sheppard just blinked at him.
"Any itching, burning, stinging?"
Slowly, Sheppard shook his head.
"All right, let's give it a try, then. Where does it itch the most?"
Sheppard's yellow eyes roved across his body. "Ow," he said.
"Yes I know, ow, but where is it the worst?"
The spindle pupils just stared back at him.
"Fine. We'll start with your face, since that's easiest." And Rodney had thought it would be sort of impersonal, too, since the face was a part of the body that was always naked, always out there in public. But it turned out to be strangely intimate, brushing the slick gel across Sheppard's cheekbones and around his lips. His fingers trembled a little as he stroked the stuff onto Sheppard's closed eyelids.
Sheppard's neck was easier; the little blue nubs standing up from his skin made it seem less personal and more medical, somehow. At least until Rodney noticed the subtle iridescence tracing up the sides of Sheppard's neck, along the same track as the blue bumps. It fascinated him for a couple of minutes and he kept angling his head to try to get the light on it differently. Then he realized his face was only inches from Sheppard's -- and Sheppard was watching him intently, trustingly -- and he pulled away, embarrassed.
"Okay, uh . . ." Rodney could feel his cheeks burning. "To take off your shirt, I'll have to unstrap your wrists again. You promise, no scratching?"
Sheppard nodded, curling his hands into loose fists to keep the claws out of the way -- or maybe to hide them from view; Rodney wasn't sure which.
With the white scrub top removed, Rodney could see a lot more of the infection's progress, which was both interesting and disturbing. Sheppard's right arm, where Ellia had grabbed him, was more changed than the left; a darker blue, with larger bumpy scales and a sort of carapace developing over his elbow like the armored knuckles that had grown into claws. The other center of infection was the bug scar on Sheppard's neck, also on the right side. The two areas had sort of blended together, so that Sheppard's whole shoulder was changed into something spiky and alien. Strange swirling patterns of iridescence alternating with bumps had sprung up across his chest, and the nipples were -- Rodney looked away, but it was too late -- hard cones of midnight blue.
Sheppard's left arm was a paler sky shade, and the scales were smaller there as well. Only a small patch of armor covered the back of this elbow, even though the hand looked almost as alien as the right one. Rodney started with this arm, rubbing the aloe gel over it in handfuls.
Sheppard arched his neck back -- there was a pattern of shiny scales right over his adam's apple -- and made a sound deep in his throat. "Yum," he said.
Rodney paused. "'Yum?' Did you taste this stuff or something? I don't think it's supposed to be ingested."
Sheppard blinked at him, then glanced at Rodney's still hands. "Ow?"
"What, now I'm hurting you?"
Sheppard shook his head. "No ow." He started to reach for Rodney's hand, then curled his claws away and instead tried to worm his forearm back into Rodney's grip. "Yes."
"Ah. I think I see." Rodney squirted some more gunk out of the bottle and resumed spreading it around. "We don't really have any good words in the English language for 'That feels good,' do we? I mean, there's 'Mmm,' and 'Ohhh,' and 'Ahhh,' but they're pretty non-specific."
"Mmmm," said Sheppard, twisting his arm into Rodney's touch. "Mmm-yummm."
"Right. 'Yum' works as well as anything, I suppose." Rodney had finished with Sheppard's left arm, so he moved up to the shoulder and chest area. Then he noticed something on his own hands and turned them up to the light. His palms were covered with tiny blue scales. "Huh. Carson wasn't kidding when he said you were 'moulting,' was he? I suppose I should use gloves for this." Rodney glanced uncertainly toward the supply shelf.
"Owww," Sheppard prompted, nudging Rodney's hand with his knuckles.
"Oh well," Rodney sighed, resuming the application. "It's probably okay. I don't have any cuts on my hand -- I have to keep track of that, you know, with all the chemicals I handle, sometimes. And I've never been bitten by an Iratus bug -- though, not for lack of trying, really. You know we walked into a whole nest full of those things? Well, of course you do, you were there. Although, I'm not sure you were entirely there, if you know what I mean. I'm just saying, I hope you appreciate what we've done for you --"
"Yum," said Sheppard, bobbing his head.
Rodney paused. "Ah, yes. Well, good. You should appreciate it. Feel free to thank me with some chocolate -- later, I mean, when you're back to normal again." He finished liberally slathering stuff on Sheppard's right arm. "Okay, sit forward so I can reach your back."
Sheppard's back looked really odd: except for the top few inches it was mostly normal skin, with a ridge of blue scales growing down over his spine. Little spikes extended sideways over each rib, favoring Sheppards right side more than the left. The armor petered out into a smattering of blue spots by the time it reached the small of Sheppard's back. Rodney rubbed gel onto anything that was discolored, especially at the edges of the hard chitin-like stuff. He imagined that must chafe, even if it mostly moved with Sheppard's body.
Then he had Sheppard lie back again so he could do the chest and belly. The little purring noises of appreciation that greeted his touch started to make him feel even more self-conscious. A dab of aloe rubbed shyly around one of those hard nipples made Sheppard arch and groan again. Rodney gulped and moved his ministrations further down Sheppard's belly, where there was still a smattering of body hair and normal-texture skin, even though the blue coloring reached all the way down Sheppard's right side to disappear into the waistband of his pants.
This time when Sheppard arched into Rodney's touch, there was an unmistakable lift of his hips. At the same time, Rodney realized he was unthinkingly grinding his own erection into the edge of the bed. He pulled back sharply, trying to get himself under control. Sheppard gave him a reproachful look.
"Okay!" Rodney gasped. "Let's just get your shirt back on, and --"
"Owww," Sheppard said insistently.
"Yes, I'm sorry, but even aloe isn't going to fix everything. I did the best I could. I hope -- that is, I'm -- that's all I can do. I'm sorry." Rodney fumbled Sheppard's shirt back on hastily, trying not to touch him again -- which was absurd, since he had blue smears of Sheppard all over his hands. Then the restraints went back on (Sheppard pouted, but didn't resist), and then Rodney was done. "Right! Well, ah, time for me to go now. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"No," said Sheppard stubbornly.
Rodney ignored him and rushed out of the infirmary. It wasn't until he reached his room that he realized he had left his laptop behind (not a problem, since he had several others) and brought the bottle of aloe gel with him. He thumped the bottle down on his nightstand and headed for the bathroom to wash the blue-tinted goop off his hands. And maybe take a not-very-warm shower, while he was at it.
He lay awake a while that night thinking about his unusual reaction to Sheppard. Or, well, actually not that unusual -- he'd felt an attraction to the exasperating pilot since their first meeting. But up to now he'd always managed to keep it under control, keep it hidden, because he knew how that sort of advance was greeted by athletic, military, lady-killer types.
What was really strange was that he was more attracted to Sheppard in his current condition. The bug-thing should have been disgusting, but mostly Rodney just found it fascinating. And just possibly it played into a few of the darker kinks that he knew were hidden deep down in his psyche. He didn't indulge that sort of thing, but he knew it was there because it popped up sometimes in his dreams or fantasies. There was just something about the idea of sex with not-quite-humans -- sex with robots, or aliens, or sentient animals, or whatever. There had been one really disturbing (and strangely hot) dream involving a Goa'uld . . . but that was neither here nor there.
Then there was Sheppard's semi-verbal semi-helplessness. He needed Rodney. Needed someone to advocate for him with the nurses, and spend some time with him, and even comfort him. Normally that sort of thing wouldn't be Rodney's forte, but it seemed like no one else was stepping up to the plate just at the moment -- and, surprise! It turned out Rodney could be comforting too. Apparently his relationship with Sheppard really did go beyond petty insults and adolescent competitiveness and bonding over old science-fiction TV shows. And there was something really . . . encouraging, really liberating, about finding that out.
It all came down to Rodney being more vulnerable than usual to his attraction to Sheppard. There was nothing wrong in admitting that and accepting himself as he was. But he wasn't going to act on it, of course. It wouldn't be fair to Sheppard as he was now, unable to give fully informed consent. And it would be a death-blow to any future friendship between them, once Sheppard got back to normal. Rodney was supposed to be earning back the colonel's trust, not violating it beyond any hope of repair.
So Rodney knew what to do: admit his kinky side, accept it, and set it aside as inappropriate. It was something that just didn't belong in the real world.
But in the fantasy world, Rodney could imagine a very different ending to this evening's session in the infirmary. His eyes fluttered closed and his hand crept under the waistband of his boxers as he pictured some alternate uses for that aloe gel . . .