Fic: DADT, Damyata, Dayadhvam
Length: ~8600 words
Summary: He was aware of the controversy surrounding the application of DADT policy to an international expedition—and an international expedition to another galaxy at that—but in the end, it didn’t matter. Everyone got the chip, or they didn’t go.
A/N: Written for artword challenge 004A and dedicated to amireal for many reasons, but also just because. Huge thanks to siriaeve, wychwood, and aurora_84 for their invaluable help and suggestions.
DADT, Damyata, Dayadhvam
It was almost a deal breaker. But he was young, and he wanted the job—couldn’t ignore that it would offer him more opportunities than anything else, more opportunities by far. Besides, while they weren’t willing to bend on that one particular point, they were quite happy to offer him a variety of other bonuses and enticements, because they wanted him, too—had made that very clear—and were willing to go to extra lengths to secure the full cooperation of any Canadian citizen willing to sign a contract with the United States government. Especially one as brilliant as him.
So Rodney signed the paper, and Rodney submitted to the procedure—which was, as they had assured him, painless. And when he saw the full extent of the facilities at Area 51, he was glad that he hadn’t let such a trivial thing keep him from this. Sure, the policy was idiotic and backward, but it wasn’t like it had anything to do with him.
He was young.
It was always there, at the back of his mind (ha ha), but he never really thought about it.
It simply had no bearing on his day to day existence. His own sex life fell perfectly within the prescribed parameters, and it wasn’t like he was going to waste his time worrying or caring about anyone else’s. He was aware of the controversy surrounding the application of DADT policy to an international expedition—and an international expedition to another galaxy at that—but he didn’t especially care one way or the other which side prevailed, aside from feeling vaguely annoyed at the idea that some of the project’s non-American newcomers might be granted a courtesy that he himself had been denied in the fury of the program’s early days. It ended up being moot, however. Everyone got the chip, or they didn’t go.
It was on Atlantis that he first saw DADT in effect. He had never thought of himself as sheltered, but it was still a shock to him to see the Marine—one of Sumner’s men, he realized: of course, of course—to see him shiver and shake and collapse against the far wall of the corridor. One of his friends helped him up and walked him away on shaky legs; he was young, very young. He hadn’t expected it to be like that, either.
Rodney turned back to Sheppard, shaking a little himself. Sheppard’s face was studiously blank, like he had seen it all before. He probably had, Rodney realized. Heard it all, too.
Rodney didn’t care, but he did begin to wonder.
But he was still trying to make sense of this. “He was,” he started, glancing back down the hall after the departing Marine. “He was trying to call you a—”
“Don’t say it,” Sheppard snapped. “Do you want a DADT shock, too?”
“No,” Rodney said, emphatically. “I’m just—that’s all it takes? Really?”
The look Sheppard gave him—gave his left shoulder, his flag patch—was very near disgust. “You just agreed to let them put that thing in you? Without knowing anything about it?”
“Voodoo,” Rodney said instantly. “Medicine is voodoo.”
“This isn’t medicine,” Sheppard said, and walked away.
It was on Atlantis that he felt the effects of DADT for the first time, too. Or rather, it was off-world. M3D-238: a hospitable planet, a very, very hospitable planet. They had great wine and, shockingly, semi-intelligent people. Rodney stayed up long after the others had gone to bed, talking and drinking with Dian. Eventually, she, too, departed for her sleeping chamber, and well, that could have gone better, but mostly, Rodney was too drunk to care. He stumbled toward his room.
The lights were out and he didn’t bother turning them on, just started yanking off his shoes and pants, then struggling to remove his shirt. It got caught on his ears twice, but finally he managed to pry it off. He dropped it on the ground, on top of his boots. Funny, he thought he had been wearing sneakers.
Slipping into bed—soft, cool sheets, firm mattress—he rolled over onto his side to pull the other pillow to his chest. Instead his fingers connected with something solid and warm and—
Like a lightning bolt, stabbing into his brain; a hot, metal sting working its way down his spinal cord. He fell back convulsing, mouth open, too stunned to scream.
When he could open his eyes again, the lights were on and he had never felt more sober in his entire life.
Sheppard was next to him, carefully not touching, holding out a glass of water. Rodney took it and gulped down the liquid, but before he could finish, his rising sense of indignation boiled to the top. “What the fuck was that?” he demanded. “I didn’t—”
“You—” Sheppard couldn’t even say it: You got into bed with me. Instead he rolled his shoulders and settled for the more obvious. “Wrong bed.”
“It was an accident!” Rodney said. “I was drunk!”
Sheppard shrugged again. “It can’t know that. And do you really think it would care if it did?”
“But I’m not—” Rodney started—and there it was again, less intense this time for the more minor infraction, but still: white hot. Pain. Water sloshed onto his wrist.
Sheppard pried the glass from his fingers and set it on the nightstand. Then he picked up Rodney’s pants from the floor and passed them over, his face turned away. Rodney blushed, newly aware that he was naked, but he dragged himself shakily to his feet and started pulling on his clothes.
“This is bullshit,” he said, and it was like other discoveries he had made, in the past: suddenly obvious, like he had been looking at the truth all the time. “This whole thing—total bullshit.”
“How nice that’s finally registered for you, McKay,” Sheppard said, the utter lack of sympathy in his voice almost as shocking as the DADT had been. He stared down at Rodney with cool eyes as he hopped into his shoes. “You think you can make it to your own room this time, or do you need an escort? Someone to fluff your pillow?”
It almost sounded like innuendo. But it couldn’t have been: otherwise, Sheppard would not have been smiling like that. Wire-tight. Sharp.
“I’ll be fine,” Rodney replied nastily, and left with as much dignity as he could muster.
He really hated the American military right then.
But in the morning, Sheppard acted like nothing was different, like nothing had changed. So nothing did change. At least not between them. They fought and they bickered and Rodney liked Sheppard, in spite of them both.
But Rodney had felt another flare rise up inside him, racing in the other direction from the one that had rippled down his spine. He supposed he should feel shallow and self-involved, only feeling his ire rise when he became affected, but, well. He had long ago accepted that he was who he was. And what he was now was angry.
He wrote up a plan and sent it to Elizabeth. Its salient points boiled down to: 1) This is bullshit 2) There’s a chance it’s damaging my valuable brain cells, and did I mention, bullshit? And 3) There’s a real possibility that we’re never going to regain contact with Earth; why should we continue to adhere to a policy that’s offensive and stupid and dictated by an organization that most of us don’t belong to anyway?
Elizabeth called him into her office. “Have you figured out how to disable the DADT?” was the first thing she asked.
“Well...no,” he admitted. He had actually been responsible and was waiting for her permission first. “But I sincerely doubt it will pose the slightest problem.” This was him they were talking about.
Elizabeth sighed. “It does pose a problem,” she said. She stared up at him, at the look of surprise and anger spreading across his face. “Rodney,” she said tiredly, “please sit down.”
Numbly, he sat.
Hands folded, “I am under strict orders not to allow tampering with the DADT,” she said. “If I do, and then contact with Earth is re-established, I could face criminal proceedings.”
“Bullshit, yes, you said.” Elizabeth’s smile was grim. Leaning forward, “Rodney, do you mind if I ask—why your sudden interest in this?”
He flushed. “I, I had a little accident. Not—nothing like! I’m perfectly,” he scrambled a moment for the acceptable phrase, “normal.”
“Rodney,” said Elizabeth gently, “that’s obviously not what I was asking.”
Oh, right, of course not. Or she wouldn’t be looking so calm now. So collected.
“Have you been to see Doctor Iselin?” Elizabeth asked.
Rodney wasn’t entirely sure who Doctor Iselin was. He’d started seeing Heightmeyer.
“Doctor Iselin is the DADT expert sent along to aid Doctor Beckett,” Elizabeth explained. “Carson’s training was not considered...adequate.”
Or they didn’t trust a Scot, Rodney thought. “Why would I want to go see him?”
“Her,” Elizabeth corrected, somewhat pointedly. “And if you think your chip is misfiring, she’s the one you ought to consult.”
Rodney wanted to flush again, but he forced his embarrassment down. “My chip is not misfiring! It’s working exactly as it was designed to work, and the way it was designed to work is barbaric!”
He was standing again. He felt light-headed. He also felt better for having said it, and he felt a stab of fear and relief that he was still allowed to say this much, at least.
“Rodney,” Elizabeth said carefully, after a minute. “I don’t...disagree. But my hands are...” Folded on the desk, she thumped them once against the surface, firmly. “My hands are tied.”
“Right,” he said. “Hands tied, lips sealed. Of course.”
He stormed out of the office, furious.
He intended to maintain the same level of anger, he really did, but what with the fighting for his life—for all their lives—he got somewhat distracted. He still seethed whenever his mind strayed to DADT, but it was just another item on the long list of things that earned his bile. Maybe it was true: maybe he was just an angry man.
He certainly wanted to strangle Lieutenant Cadman after she pulled that little stunt when she was stuck inside his head. “Carson!” she had shouted, pushing to the front, shoving him aside. “I just want you to know, I would ki—” And then that white-hot burst of pain, ripping down the back of his skull—something neither of them needed when they were already having seizures.
It must have hit him worse than it did her, because she maintained control when they came out of it. “Oh, for God’s sake! This is Laura! Laura would kiss Carson!” She, they, stepped back. “Just do it.”
When he was alone in his head again, she apologized. “I hate that thing,” she whispered. Like she was afraid of it.
“Yeah, me, too,” he admitted. Too tired to hate her after all.
That was the last time, for a long time, that he got shocked. It really didn’t happen very often—to anybody. They all knew well enough what they could and could not do. What lines they weren’t allowed to cross.
And while Rodney was not the type to be deliberately provocative, it started to bother him. Watching Major Lorne’s team getting ready to go through the gate, seeing him pause with his hand above Doctor Parrish’s shoulder, pull back from what was surely going to be nothing more than a reassuring back pat. And him, him himself, flinching as Colonel Sheppard laid his hands over Rodney’s to guide him through a jumper maneuver. Like his touch was poison.
He tried not to see the flash of anger in Sheppard’s eyes. Wanted to ignore it, like everything else he had been feeling lately. But he’d been ignoring things far too long already.
“Sorry,” he said, reaching up, guiding Sheppard’s hands back. Sending clear messages to his brain that this touch was not sexual in any way. Educational. Yes. “Been having these weird spasms in my wrists. I probably have Carpal Tunnel. Wouldn’t that be fitting.”
Sheppard laughed, breath warm on his neck. His thumb swooped down, pushing Rodney’s into the correct position as they went into the spin. “You’re fine, Rodney,” he said. “You’re doing fine.”
After that, something shifted subtly, in his mind, in his body. He was intensely aware of Sheppard: without looking, certainly without feeling, he knew whenever Sheppard had entered a room. He could feel his presence across fields, across crowds. He was hyper-aware of him.
It didn’t help that Sheppard wouldn’t stop touching him. He was careful at first, waiting to see how Rodney would respond. Respond to Sheppard making subtle adjustments to his tac vest, hands skittering across his chest; or to fingers lightly brushing the back of his neck, fixing an exposed tag; or to Sheppard’s chest against his back, his arm along his arm, as the Colonel taught him how to be a true military man, how to hit his target every time.
He waited for Rodney’s reaction, which was, somewhat to Rodney’s surprise, to lean into every touch, to crave them, to feel the tiny hairs on top of his skin rise whenever John was near in anticipation of the slightest nudge, bump, stroke.
They never talked about it. Couldn’t have if they had wanted to. And then suddenly, there was no more time for talking.
Sheppard was right next to him and then he wasn’t, he was lying on the ground, gasping, blood oozing up out of his chest. Rodney dropped to his knees. Dimly, he was aware of Ronon and Teyla taking out their attackers—Genii, by the looks of them, probably one of the few remaining groups of Cowen loyalists. Not that it mattered: they were dead, dead for what they had done. John’s blood all over Rodney’s hands, and John’s breath coming weaker and weaker. “You’re going to be okay!” His own voice, babbling. “John, goddammit, don’t do this, you’re going to be okay, don’t don’t do this—”
“Rodney,” John rasped, and Rodney bent closer, trying to hear him.
Some reserve of strength: John lifted his head, and he kissed him.
It was barely a kiss at all, just the slightest brush of lips, but it sent pain rocketing into the back of Rodney’s skull. Still, he didn’t want it to end: he wanted to cling to John, to have this—this horrible parody of this—while he still could.
He nearly blacked out. When his vision cleared, the first thing he saw was that John had. Then Ronon was jerking him sharply to his feet, saying simply, “Pull yourself together, McKay.” And Teyla said, “We need to get him through the gate.” So the two of them picked John up and carried him while Rodney stumbled, uselessly, behind.
Equally useless, he sat in the infirmary while they operated on John, and still, on into the night, as John lay in recovery. Carson came by and sat with him for a while, at one point going so far as to almost squeeze his shoulder. Then he got pulled into a consultation with a motherly looking woman on whom Rodney’s gaze lingered only because he was so surprised to see someone wearing heels. No one on Atlantis wore heels. Rodney drew his eyes back up to her face: she looked vaguely familiar.
Then all at once, he recognized her: Doctor Iselin.
He felt a stab of pure hatred, almost more brutal than the DADT shock had been. It was followed almost immediately by an intense pang of...guilt? Yes, guilt: he was afraid that she would look at him, and she would know.
For that, he hated her even more.
He got up and left the infirmary. In his room he paced, furious and frustrated and sad. He thought about how easily he had signed that contract, so many years ago. Token protest—I’m Canadian. We think the whole DADT policy is ridiculous. I’m not even part of your military. What does it have to do with me?—but that was it, his name on the sheet. His head in their hands. He’d let them—he’d let them—
At the hospital, This is painless, right? You said—
Yes, Doctor McKay, perfectly painless.
Harumph. I don’t know why I have to have this done, anyway. I don’t give a crap what anyone else does, and besides, I’m straight.
Normal, Doctor McKay. Please refrain from use of the other. It’s on our list of proscribed terms.
As for your implied question, what you are is of no concern to us. You can be whatever you like. What you do and what you say, however: those are the matters that concern us. And we like to take every due precaution.
Now close your eyes. This won’t hurt a bit.
Sinking onto his bed, he put his head in his hands. He never would have thought that he could be that stupid. That blind.
He went to see Sheppard several times in the infirmary, but he didn’t stay very long. He wanted to talk and they couldn’t talk there. They couldn’t talk.
Two nights after he was released, Rodney walked into his room to find Sheppard waiting for him. He stood as Rodney entered—shakily, still too thin, too weak. But his smile was strong and broad. “How’s your Euphemism?” he asked.
“Euphemism?” said Rodney.
“It’s a little language we learn to speak. Constantly evolving, because whenever They,” Sheppard grinned ruefully at the pronounced capital T, “figure out a new bit of the cypher, They make adjustments to the code.” He tapped his skull.
“I’m...I’m not really good at subterfuge,” Rodney admitted. His chest felt tight, compressed by a heavy weight. He wanted—so much he wanted to say and do...
“Fast learner, though, right?” Sheppard took a step closer to him. “Go ahead,” he said. “Ask me what you want to ask.”
So he wasn’t going to make this easy for him. That was probably fair, Rodney thought bitterly. Twisting his fingers between his hands, he chose his words carefully. “Why did you—didn’t it hurt?”
Sheppard’s laugh was bitter, too. “Rodney, I was in so much pain right then, a little more wasn’t going to make any difference.” He paused, licked his lips. “Did it hurt you?”
“Yes,” Rodney said honestly.
“I’m sorry,” Sheppard said.
Rodney took a breath. “I’m not,” he said and there—there! He had said it! His lungs felt light; he could breathe again. He turned toward John, smile bright, beaming. He felt wonderful.
But then the pain was back, not in his head but in his fingers, his hands, his lips—he wanted to touch him again. He’d never—so badly, he wanted to touch him.
He let out a groan of frustration and sat down on the bed. “Hey,” said John, hovering above him. “Listen, I know—I know what it’s like.”
“I want,” Rodney said, then cut himself off, defeated.
“I know what it’s like,” John repeated, and Rodney looked up, saw the heavy weariness in his eyes and face. Slowly, he started to understand the full meaning of the experience John spoke of: years and years of this choked, stoppered feeling—unbearable to him, already. Years and years and years...
“Can we,” Rodney said, shaking his hands helplessly. “Is there anything we—” And oh! His eyes lit up as a crazy (brilliant?) idea struck him. “Can you build up an immunity to it?” Even as he made the suggestion, he was struck by the almost pleasurable surprise of realizing that he would, that he honestly would be willing to go through that for John.
But John shook his head. “No,” he said. “No immunity.”
He sounded like he had tried.
“But,” John continued, “there are ways of, well—”
He looked Rodney over. “Stand up,” he instructed.
As a statue.
“Okay.” And John moved forward slowly, carefully, casually brushing his arm against Rodney’s as he passed.
It felt good, that small sliver of contact. But still—“That’s it?” Rodney said. “That’s all? That’s just like—” All the other meaningless touches, he thought. But suddenly, he understood. They didn’t have to be meaningless. Hadn’t been, for quite a while. Could be: far, far more.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh, okay. Let me try.”
Across from him, John smiled but kept still. Waiting.
Rodney thought for a moment, then took a pen from his pocket and let it fall to the floor. He leaned down and picked it up. “You dropped this,” he said, taking John’s hand into his, as slowly as he dared, opening the closed fingers with a gentle brush of his own. He pressed the pen into John’s palm, then slowly curled John’s fingers back over it, squeezing the knuckles, feeling the slight scrape of his nails, memorizing the patterns of lines and ridges.
He stepped back, breathing hard.
“See?” said John, a slight hitch in his own chest. “Fast learner.”
They held the gaze as long as they could, just looking at each other. And that was good, too. But not as good as John whispering, “Your shoe’s untied”—bending down, running his hands along the sides of Rodney’s foot. Slowly undoing the lace, then carefully retying it. Rodney’s hand hovered above the top of John’s head: he was brutally, brutally aware of what John’s mouth was almost on level with. He swallowed, biting his tongue. He couldn’t get hard. It didn’t matter how innocent the touch: the DADT would go off if he got hard.
“There,” John said, drawing the bow tight, smoothing the laces down across the top of Rodney’s foot. His fingers brushed over Rodney’s ankle as he stood. So light: barely even there.
“I—” Rodney said.
“Shh,” said John. “One more. You have to ration them out. That’s what you have to do.”
Rodney nodded. “Okay,” he whispered. “Okay”: walking toward John, standing side by side with him, not quite face to face but arm to arm. His fingers, yes: he let his fingers brush lightly against John’s, like an accident, like something likely to happen in line at the supermarket, or riding on a bus. Knuckle brushing over knuckle, and he couldn’t help turning in to John with a sigh. His head touched down on John’s shoulder and John stifled a gasp. They should stop. This had gone too far and it had to stop.
Either way, it was going to hurt.
“Rodney,” John said, “Rodney...” and their hands turned inward, fingers locking, locked.
Holding hands through the pain didn’t help—it made it worse, made it escalate and grow. Still, Rodney was reluctant to let John go, and in the end it was John who pulled away, crawling backward toward the wall, rocking as he rode out the rest of the tremors.
Rodney stared at him from across the room, from across the necessary space between them. He knew his face was stained with tears and snot—that had hurt; more than the kiss even, he thought. And he hated them, hated Them, for doing this, for twisting their own good emotions—his and John’s—against them.
“This has to stop,” he said, as soon as he could speak.
John hung his head, weary, nodding. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry I—I’m sorry I dragged you into it.”
He pulled himself to his feet, biting his lip and clearly hating himself when he had to pause, lean back against the wall. He was leaving, Rodney realized. Giving up. He still didn’t trust Rodney enough for this.
“Are you crazy?” Rodney barked. His voice cracked—there was still pain—but he kept going. “I didn’t mean—” Us, he couldn’t even say us in this context. “This,” he said, tapping his skull like John had. “I mean this. We’re going to bring them down.”
John rolled his eyes, but at least he was no longer making a determined line for the door. “Do you really think people haven’t tried that?”
“No,” said Rodney, struggling up. Everything hurt, but really, he didn’t fucking care. “I’m sure they have. But their I’m sure very fine efforts were of course hindered by one important fact.” He paused. “They weren’t me.”
John’s face broke into a genuine smile. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’re really going to...?”
Rodney nodded. To stomp out this horrible, impotent feeling? To see John smile like that? Damn right he would.
“I,” John said, stepping forward, holding his hand out, several safe inches away from Rodney’s face. “I...I hate you, Rodney.”
And this was a language he could learn. “I hate you, too,” he said: but his eyes said different; they screamed it.
“Carson,” Rodney said, running his fingers idly over one of the shelves in Beckett’s office, “what do you know about how the DADT chip works?”
If Carson shot him an odd look, he quickly hid it behind the chart he was perusing. “Not much, thank goodness. That’s what Doctor Iselin is for.”
“And do you have access to her files?” Rodney was breathing too heavily; they really should have had John do this, but John would have needed an excuse to spend such a long time in Carson’s office. People knew they weren’t close friends.
“If a patient’s DADT might have any bearing on their general condition, then yes, I can consult her records.” His lips formed the beginning of the word several times before actually uttering it. “Why?”
“Just curious,” Rodney said. He folded his hands in his lap, kept them still. Tried to think about how much harder it would be to never let them—to never—
“Do you think you could get me a basic diagram of the inside of a DADT?” he said, looking up at Carson and trying to smile in a manner he hoped was serene and not tense as fuck. “I’ve always been—”
“Curious, yes you said.” Carson sat down, unable to keep up the disinterested act any longer. “Rodney,” he hissed. “I can’t—you know I— They could—”
Rodney dropped his act, too; it had sucked, anyway. “I’m sick of being afraid,” he said. “The Wraith are frightening enough, but to have to fear every—”
He took a breath. “You feel bad about the retrovirus, don’t you?” he said.
Carson paled. “I—”
“What you did,” Rodney said—more harshly than he should, but he needed this to be harsh; his friendship—God, his friendship, like so many things, had to be a potential casualty to this. “What you did, they are doing to us every day: controlling us, changing us. And they’re doing it with full knowledge of what they’re doing. They’re doing it on purpose.”
Beckett’s mouth hung open, speechless. Rodney knew how that felt, but he couldn’t find sympathy for it, not in this case. “Look,” he said, standing up. “You don’t have to listen to me. I’m sure you suspect I’m—” He swallowed, not sure if he could say this, even though he was pretty sure he could say it. “—Biased. But ask your girlfriend. See what she thinks.”
He walked out.
The next evening, John came by the labs, carrying a manila folder under his arm. He dropped it on Rodney’s desk. “Look what Lieutenant Cadman gave me with her inventory reports.”
Rodney’s thumb scraped over John’s as he passed off the folder. Another brief brief touch, but for the first time, it carried the promise of so much more.
Rodney ended up recruiting Radek to help him come up with a plan to subvert the DADTs. He knew he could trust Radek—he remembered him as being one of the most vocal protesters during the initial controversy regarding non-American members of the Atlantis expedition. He’d spoken up again when the SGC—or the people behind it—had started discussing requiring the Athosians or any other alien peoples (Ronon’s name was mentioned) who had prolonged contact with members of the military to undergo the DADT procedure, too. “They will be requiring everyone in their country to have it next!” Radek had said, and neither Elizabeth nor Caldwell had been able to deny it. Later, Elizabeth had told him that similar legislation had been drafted a long time ago: They were just waiting for the opportune moment, for the cooperation of a last few key members of Congress.
Radek’s eyes lit up when he saw the DADT schematics. He flipped through the pages, pupils moving rapidly. “Ah, I knew it,” he said. “They have EMP shielding; highly complex.” He glanced up at Rodney. “I never thought I would be impressed by anything engineered by the U.S. government.”
“I think they were highly motivated,” Rodney said, bitterly.
“But not as motivated as we are,” said Radek.
Rodney’s lip twitched. “No.”
Aside from making sure Atlantis didn’t sink or explode, the chip became their first priority. On Radek’s advice, they informed Miko and Kavanagh—“Kavanagh? Really?” “Why do you think he is so angry all the time? He has good reason”—of what they were doing, and got them to cover for them with most of their other work. Rodney went through the schematics again and again, until the pages were smudged with fingerprints, until his back ached. John brought them cups of coffee, always pausing to brush Rodney’s hand or wrist as he passed his off. It was better than a back massage; it was all he needed to keep him focused, keep him going.
“It’s not enough,” John said one night. They were in Rodney’s room, sitting on the floor: Rodney with his back against the side of the bed, and John propped against the far wall. Their legs were spread out in front of them so that John’s ankles fell level with Rodney’s. They weren’t touching, but occasionally, as they shifted, their toes would knock.
“It isn’t enough,” John said, “to just shut off our DADTs, or the DADTs of everyone in Atlantis, or even the DADTs of everyone on Earth. They’ll just turn them back on, or create something new, something,” distaste dripping off his lips, “better. No,” he said, “we have to make sure that they never, ever try something like this again.”
“They won’t,” Rodney promised. A momentary sweep of one socked foot against another. “When I’m done with them, they won’t.”
It was done. They couldn’t test it, not to their satisfaction, but both he and Radek had been over it a hundred times—Miko and Kavanagh had been over it a hundred times. (And Rodney would never forget the grimly satisfied look on Kavanagh’s face when he’d finished checking over the completed device. Like for the first time in his life, he felt righteous.)
They were ready. Only one thing, now, one last step. To activate the device, they had to be on Earth. To be on Earth meant a ride on the Daedalus. And a ride on the Daedalus meant telling Elizabeth.
“We can trust Elizabeth,” Rodney said, remembering her face the last time he had spoken to her about something like this. I don’t...disagree. But my hands are tied.
John squeezed his shoulder—hard, fast, perfectly platonic squeeze—and nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
Elizabeth shut the door as soon as she saw the looks on their faces. “What can I do for you, gentlemen?” she asked, walking back behind her desk. Rodney looked at John, then took out the device and set it down right in the middle of her blotter.
She eyed it: small, black cube punctuated by a slightly off-center button. She raised an eyebrow. “And this is...?”
“The end to DADT,” Rodney said proudly. Beside him, John flashed a shark-like grin.
Elizabeth blinked. “And why are you showing me this?”
“Because we need your official permission to take a trip to Earth on the Daedalus. So we can set it off.”
Elizabeth picked up the device and turned it over in her hands. “What does it do?”
“In layman’s terms?” Rodney said, leaning forward eagerly. “It’ll cut into the central DADT maintenance signal and change some key parameters. Disallow certain actions that have previously,” and Rodney felt a bit of John’s grin creep onto his face, “been considered permissible.”
“Wait,” said Elizabeth, brow furrowing, “you’re going to prohibit more behaviors?”
“That’s right,” said John, smiling, sneering, “it’s time to give the normals a taste of their own medicine.”
Elizabeth seemed taken aback. “There are plenty of perfectly innocent people who you’ll be subjecting to—”
“Pain?” said John. “A bit of discomfort? A few days of abstinence, maybe?” He made no pretence of the fact that he was sneering now. “I think they’ll live.”
“Rodney,” she said, turning to him, clearly laboring under the mistaken impression that he was the more reasonable one. “You know that there’s not always a choice—”
“Anyone who signed that form is culpable, Elizabeth,” Rodney said firmly. “There are no innocents in this.”
“But,” Elizabeth said. “What can you hope to achieve? Revenge, surely, but—”
“You really think they’re going to stand for this?” John said, leaning forward. “When they can’t go home and fuck their wives without experiencing excruciating pain? Or their mistresses? Their call-girls?” Reining himself in a little, he said, “How long did you give them, Rodney?”
“Two days,” Rodney said. “Tops.”
“Twenty-four hours,” John said. “And only because they’ll try everything else first before realizing that they have no choice but to...shut it off.”
“We’ll have to do the ones on Atlantis separately, of course,” Rodney said. “But at that point? I don’t think it’ll pose a problem at all.”
Elizabeth put the device down on her desk and leaned back in her chair. There was an odd tenseness to her shoulders. “It’s a good plan, gentlemen,” she said. “And I—I really wish you hadn’t come to me with it.”
“Shit,” John said, already reaching for his sidearm, but it was too late. Rodney could feel the cold muzzle of a gun pressing into his neck. “Please stand, Doctor McKay,” said a cold, commanding voice. “Colonel Sheppard, don’t move, or I’m afraid I will have to—well,” she said crisply, “I’m sure you can guess.”
Pulled to his feet, Rodney found himself jerked back sharply against the ample bosom of Doctor Iselin. He hadn’t even heard her come in, but Elizabeth must have, Elizabeth had known. He stared at her, sickened and betrayed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Doctor Iselin is here to monitor everything to do with DADT. I told you,” and she wrung them, helplessly, as if to illustrate, “my hands are tied.”
“While I’m sure Doctor McKay and Colonel Sheppard are touched,” Doctor Iselin said, “this is all irrelevant. And unfortunate.” She withdrew the point of the pistol a slight distance from Rodney’s jugular and pointed it at John. “Colonel Sheppard, please place your sidearm on the desk and pick up the device.”
All the color had gone out of John’s eyes: they looked like black holes, unfathomable and deadly. But he didn’t have any choice. He did as Iselin instructed.
“Good,” she said, “now bring it to me.”
He did. Rodney watched him hand it off, saw how it was the complete reverse of every exchange they had ever made, how he took care not to touch her at all.
As soon as the device was in her hand, Doctor Iselin was letting go of him, pushing him against the far wall. He hit it, hard, but he had gotten used to pain. He grunted but kept his feet, watched as Iselin gestured with the gun, indicating that John should follow.
He took his place beside Rodney with a seeming lack of fuss. “Execution by firing squad?” he said.
“Hardly,” said Iselin. “Why, both of you are far too important to this mission to eliminate just because of a few unfortunate...quirks.” She smiled at them, like a proud and doting mother. “Besides, this is very exciting! Your timing could not have been better, gentleman. You both like experimental technology, do you not?” The device dropped from her hand and clunked to the floor. “Of course you do,” she said, grinding her heel down on it, hard. Rodney didn’t try to stop his flinch. “And you, Doctor McKay. I believe you have served as a test subject before?”
“What?” said Elizabeth. Rodney could see her behind Iselin’s back, standing: whiter than a sheet.
“Don’t worry, Doctor Weir,” Iselin said, not turning around. “The procedure is still in experimental stages. But don’t worry; rest assured that when we’re ready, you will be fully briefed.
“Now,” Iselin added, eyeing John in particular. “I do believe you’ll both be taking a ride on the Daedalus after all, as I lack the proper facilities and equipment. So you have three choices. I can lead you out of here like this, humiliate you in front of your subordinates and friends. Or I can sedate you—for the entire trip, if need be. Or, you can come willingly. I promise,” she said, smiling benignly, “you’ll thank me, in the end.”
“I’d rather shock myself into oblivion,” John said, his eyes flickering to Rodney’s, which went wide. “C’mon, Rodney,” he said, reaching for his hand, “let’s go out with a bang.”
Their fingers brushed and Doctor Iselin collapsed to the floor, senseless.
“I really hope,” said Elizabeth, shaking the broken pieces of pottery out of her hands and over Iselin’s prone form, “that you had back-ups of that device.”
“What do you think I am, stupid?” Rodney said.
Leaning against her desk—exhausted, saddened, relieved—“Thank God you’re not.”
Colonel Caldwell didn’t ask anything more than the most cursory questions about Elizabeth’s sudden request to allow John and Rodney to travel back to Earth on the Daedalus, and neither of them volunteered any additional information. Elizabeth called them into her office (newly swept, cleaner than it had ever looked) one last time before they left. “Don’t worry,” Rodney started to say, “we’re not going to implicate—”
Elizabeth waved the words away, a gesture he recognized as being disturbingly like one of his own. “I don’t care about that. I just need Colonel Sheppard’s advice on who among the military personnel I can trust to—”
“Cadman and Lorne,” John said instantly. “And anyone they vouch for.”
“Lorne?” Elizabeth confirmed, then winced somewhat, for once her question implying exactly what it seemed to imply. She took a breath, holding her head in her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said, like she wanted to say it again, like she wanted to say it a thousand more times. “I—”
Rodney was not the type to offer forgiveness, less to take penance, but he felt like he was speaking with some authority as he said, “You did the right thing in the end. That’s as much—that’s all that any of us can say.”
The two weeks aboard the Daedalus went torturously slow. Rodney spent most of his time either trying to persuade Hermiod to speak or sitting in his quarters or John’s, playing cards. They’d stopped even their old—it seemed wrong to call it a game; stopped allowing themselves even their old recourse. There was no touching, none at all. For the same reason, Rodney thought, that they had agreed to shut off Radek’s DADT in the test: they were going to see this through to the end. Both of them. They knew it without words, without either of them saying anything at all.
On Earth, they deflected General Landry’s surprised stares with a few well-chosen phrases from Elizabeth. “Here?” John whispered, as soon as they had been cleared by medical.
“No,” Rodney said, practically vibrating from excitement and fear. “On the surface. Just in case.”
The ride up in the elevator seemed to take longer than the entire Daedalus trip. Rodney couldn’t help bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Stop it,” John hissed, “you’re going to make somebody suspicious.”
“In the elevator?”
“Outside the elevator.” Then: the most contact they had had in weeks, far less than he had become accustomed to: John’s finger ghosting lightly across his wrist. “Soon,” he promised. “Soon.”
They signed out one of the generic sedans the SGC had a fleet of, nodded back to the guard at the gate, and then they were outside: on Earth, in Colorado, the world beneath them and waiting for them. “Now?” John said. And for the last time, Rodney shook his head. “Pull over up ahead. We’ll do it there.”
It was a pale stretch of road, the same as any other. But there was a little dip, enough room for John to pull onto the shoulder and shut off the engine. Wordlessly, they both got out of the car. They stood, looking out at the world around them. Trees and scratchy grass and asphalt running for miles in both directions. Rodney doubted that there would ever be a plaque at this spot, marking it for what it was, but he never doubted for a second that what he was doing would change the world.
What he did was: look John in the eye, and press a button.
Nothing that they saw. But they would. They would see. They would all see.
“And now?” said John.
Rodney said, “We wait.”
They got a motel room. There were two beds, but they sat next to each other on the one closest to the TV. Still not touching, of course. But soon, soon, soon.
With every breath and every heartbeat, Rodney thought: soon.
John held the remote. He flipped back and forth between CNN, MSNBC, the local news channel. “How many people do you think were having sex right when we switched it on?” he asked.
“Ow,” said Rodney. “That had to have sucked.”
Hours passed. They ordered some pizza. Rodney was almost too nervous to eat, but not quite. They watched a piece about a waterskiing squirrel on the local news. They switched over to FOX and made rude gestures at Bill O’Reilly. They laughed at typos in the MSNBC crawl. They nearly fell asleep watching CNN.
“Top members of the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have called an emergency meeting to discuss an apparent malfunction in reported thousands of DADT chips...”
The story unfolded right in front of them. Rodney gripped the blankets. He held his breath.
Hours later, when the anchor announced that they (Them) had authorized a “temporary emergency shutdown” of all DADTs, Rodney finally let it go with an ecstatic whoop. “We did it!” he shouted. “They broke.” He glanced at his watch. “You were right—less than twenty-four hours.”
Beside him, John still looked unsure. “Temporary,” he said. “They said ‘temporary.’”
Rodney scoffed. “It’s over,” he said. “Finished. The program I created is self-replicating; every time they turn it back on, it will lock onto my protocol. Besides, do you really think that anyone is going to approve a new version after this colossal meltdown? And...and even if they do,” Rodney said, looking John in the eye. “I can think of a lot of people who won’t accept it so readily this time. Who won’t shrug. Who won’t sign.
“Look,” he said, picking up the remote from where John had dropped it. Flipping through the channels: protesters in front of the White House and the Pentagon; the United States Armed Forces’ best, brightest, and comeliest conveying their disgust; a handsome Air Force captain bitterly recollecting how his DADT had fired while he was making love to his young, pregnant wife, terrifying her; pundits shaking their heads in bitter distaste; the President stating that he was shocked—shocked!; the ACLU speaking up and for once being heard. “Look. Look.
“It’s over,” Rodney said, reaching toward John. “We won.”
John, however, drew back. Scrambled off the bed, backed himself up against the far wall. His palms turned inward, like he was making sure the surface was solid, was real.
“Are they off, do you think?”
Rodney nodded slowly. John needed to do this in his own time, he knew. And he’d waited this long.
“They’re off.” John seemed to taste the words on his tongue, rolling them around, repeating them. “They’re off.” Then he laughed: suddenly, drunkenly. “Ding-dong the DADT is dead!”
Rodney snorted. “Forget behavioral modification, I’m surprised everybody didn’t know you were gay.”
He would always wonder, later, how it had managed to come out so casually. But it had, and it did, and it hung between them, that word, so loaded with meaning; hung between them like a flower or a piece of fruit, beautiful and precious, waiting there for John to pluck.
Reaching out, slowly moving, tongue and lips and teeth: “I’m gay,” John said. Marveling, “I like men. I like cock. I’m gay.”
“Really?” said Rodney, because it was wonderful, and he wanted to hear John say it again. And again. And again.
“Yep,” said John, compliant. He spread his arms, spread his lips: wide, brilliant smile. “I’m gay. In every sense of the word. Gay!”
“I—” Rodney started, and why was this suddenly harder for him? But then he looked at John—incredible, amazing, hot brave dorky John—and it wasn’t anymore, not really.
“I also appear to be gay,” he said. His brow furrowed. “Or possibly bi. But in general, yes with the liking of the men and the cock. Um. In theory.” He glanced up at John, pausing to shake away his surprise at actually being able to ask these things. “Have you ever—?”
John nodded. “Right before I had the procedure. Another recruit and I. The night before. I—I wanted to know what I would be missing. What I was giving up.”
Rodney didn’t ask, Was it worth it?; he didn’t want to think anymore about the past, about past mistakes, when in front of them was still so much glorious future—
“Why aren’t we touching?” he asked instead. “Did the DADTs fry our brains? What are we waiting for?”
He was kind of half-expecting John to jump him; had been, for several minutes running. But as he watched John walk slowly toward the bed, he realized that it wasn’t that simple. They were both still tender, gun-shy. But they had time. For once, they had plenty of time.
John’s shoes were already off, but he threw his socks to the floor before kneeling next to Rodney on the bed. Everything else stayed on. They were still so hesitant, he realized, so cocooned. Touch me, he wanted to say. Touch me, touch me, touch me!
He said, “John.”
“I don’t hate you.”
A smile. “I don’t hate you, either.”
“And I want to—can I?”
His hand touched softly down on John’s wrist. Rodney had to force himself not to draw back the moment the contact became real, became prolonged. He raised his head and looked John in the eye. They were both breathing too hard, too fast.
“Go ahead,” John said. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Touch me.”
Slowly, Rodney ran his hand up John’s arm. He was wearing a t-shirt so his forearms were bare: there was nothing, no barrier between skin on skin. He could feel John’s blood running and the shape of his bones, feel every individual hair and goose pimple. John made a low noise deep in his throat. Rodney hadn’t even reached his elbow.
“I could come just from this,” John whispered.
“Oh, God, me too,” Rodney said. Then he said, “Let’s not though, okay?”
John grinned. “Agreed.”
Then he reached forward and put a hand on Rodney’s thigh.
Rodney jumped. John chuckled and gave Rodney’s leg a squeeze. His expression took on an air of mock concern. “You have had some sex before, right?”
“Yes!” Rodney said, less indignantly than he would have in almost any other situation. “Just...not for a long time. And,” he moved his hand farther up, closing over John’s strongly muscled shoulder. “Not with you.”
“Oh, God,” John said. “The things I want to do to you.”
“The things I’m going to do to you,” Rodney countered, then realized with a start that so far he’d: 1) touched John’s arm, and 2) had his leg touched by John. Prior to signing on the dotted line, there were people he’d made it farther with by mistake.
He made a sudden decision, and bowled John over onto his back.
John let out a surprised grunt and then an inarticulate moan as Rodney’s hips settled over his. Their dicks were touching, rubbing up against each other through their pants, and maybe this had been a mistake: they were both already hard, from the touch of nothing more than hand to arm and hand to leg, and Rodney had to bite his tongue to keep from coming right then.
But it was his first time with a man, his first time with John, and he wasn’t going to come in his pants. So: “Off, off,” he said, scrambling at his buttons. John pushed him off his thighs and started tugging his own pants down. Later, Rodney thought, hopping out of his, sparing a passing thought, a passing smile for M3D-238: later he would undress John slowly, lingering over every touch, every inch of his body and everything that it could be made to feel. But they’d both waited too long already. They needed this, deserved it now.
He ripped his shirt over his head just as John grabbed him around the waist and hurled him back onto the bed. He bounced: bounced right back up into John’s warm body, skin and hair and sweat, and his legs between Rodney’s legs, and his arms braced on Rodney’s arms, and their cocks finding each other, lining up, stroking together until they were done.
John collapsed against him, quivering. Rodney felt it too, shaking through his fingers and toes. Breathless, he brought a hand up, hesitating only a moment before letting it touch down, trailing through John’s hair, caressing his scalp, his neck.
John’s own fingers were tracing patterns across Rodney’s chest, knowing it, learning it. His lips against Rodney’s collarbone: “I hope there is so much gay sex going on in this country right now,” he said. “Seriously: sodomy everywhere.”
Rodney couldn’t help shivering a little bit, just at the word sodomy. “And lesbians,” he pointed out. “Don’t forget the lesbians.”
John raised his head and smiled up at him. “I could never forget the lesbians,” he said.
Rodney realized he was staring at his lips. He flushed. “I—I want to kiss you,” he blurted.
The smile John gave him, then, was worth fighting for: this battle and a million more. And then those lips parted, and they said, simply, “You can.”
They hesitated another moment, unsure, and then John’s head was tilting down and Rodney’s was lifting up. John raised a hand: he cupped Rodney’s cheek. Rodney could feel his fingertips against his eyelashes as they fluttered closed.
Moving, without seeing, without needing to see: exercising a basic human instinct, just like any other: they kissed. John’s lips were firm but giving, opening for him, opening, as Rodney had opened himself to a wider world.
Rodney kissed John and he felt it rippling through his body: shocks of understanding, of joy.
1. Title is an allusion to “The Waste Land.” (I know you’re all shocked—shocked!—that I would allude to Eliot. It took me by surprise, too. *g*) Eliot himself is alluding to a Hindu fable. The translation, as it would work in this title, would be, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; Practice Self-Control; Have Compassion.” An evolution, if you will.
2. Joss Whedon is obviously not the first person to utilize a behavioral modification chip, but Spike’s chip was probably what most influenced my writing of it. Buffy owns me.
3. Doctor Iselin is named after/based on Mrs. Iselin from The Manchurian Candidate. When I was writing that part, I tried to conjure up the scariest thing I could think of. Apparently, that is Angela Lansbury.