Rating: PG-13 (if that. Where did my porn go?)
Length: 2900 words
Notes: For the B-Movie Ficathon Challenge. My prompt: Attack of the Crab Monsters. This fic required effort. I had to, like, research stuff and my Dorling Kindersly Children’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia was invaluable...
Huge thanks to janne_d for beta. Any bits that don’t suck are due to her.
ETA on 02.11.10 - the lovely reena_jenkins has recorded a podfic of this story here.
Rodney didn’t like MJ7-5HU from the moment they stepped through the ‘gate.
Up until that point, he’d been prepared to like it very much. Teyla had said – casually. Casually after Rodney had been asking her for nearly two years – that the inhabitants grew a bean very like java, which produced a drink very like coffee.
It was possible – although he’d deny it to his dying day, and please God don’t let that be today – that he’d skipped through the ‘gate.
On the other side of the wormhole, things were not quite as he had expected. Instead of the rolling hills of lush, green grass Teyla had promised them there was one small island, about ten foot across, surrounded by what looked like a whole planet of ocean. And instead of friendly natives brandishing hot mugs of real coffee, there were crabs. Giant crabs. Lots and lots of them. So far they’d kept their distance, probably frightened by the wormhole, scuttling a little way out of the water then darting back in to disappear under the waves.
Of all the ways to die in Pegasus, Rodney had not yet considered death by crab. It was now somewhere near the top of his list.
“Uh, Elizabeth,” Sheppard was saying into his comm. “I think we might have to cross this one off our go-to list. We’ll be dialling back in now.” He turned to Rodney, “McKay. Dial us out of here.”
“I’d love to Colonel,” Rodney said. He automatically took a step back when one of the crabs – and God they were big, easily five foot from evil looking pincer to evil looking pincer – came within the truce line they’d so far maintained. He bumped into Ronon who for once just steadied him and didn’t snarl. “But the DHD is slightly… not here.”
“What?” Sheppard swung around, P90 still clutched in his hands.
Rodney held out his arms and indicated the small expanse of nothing they were standing on. Sheppard went pale.
“Elizabeth?” Sheppard’s voice was calm and slow like it got when he was considering being freaked out. “We’re trapped. How quick d’you reckon the Daedalus can get here?”
Two hours later, they were still there. Stuck on a ten-by-ten island made entirely of mud – really disgusting, slimy mud – in the middle of an ocean full of crabs of as yet undetermined temperament.
Sheppard sat down beside him and bumped their shoulders together. “Cheer up, Rodney. It could be worse.”
Rodney didn’t even bother to reply. He just stared moodily out toward the water’s edge, where Ronon and one of the crabs seemed to be involved in a riveting game of chicken.
“Caldwell will be here in another five hours, even you can’t die of hunger in that time.” Sheppard’s smile was hopeful and he fluttered his eyelashes in a truly ludicrous way; Rodney had to work not to laugh.
“No.” he said, “But we can all die of being eaten by giant crabs. Not to mention the tide’s rising.” At a rate of eleven inches per half hour – not that Rodney was keeping note.
“Huh.” Sheppard's smile faded and he scratched the back of his neck, “I kinda hoped you hadn’t noticed that.”
Rodney rolled his eyes and gave him his Hello? Genius here? look. Sheppard had seen it so many times he should be able to recognise it.
“If it stays constant we’ll still be fine ‘til Caldwell gets here.”
“As long as we’re not eaten.” Rodney murmured.
Sheppard grinned and tipped his head in acknowledgement, “As long as we’re not eaten.” He squeezed Rodney’s shoulder then got up and went to tell Ronon to stop annoying the natives – even if they were crabs.
Four hours later, it was pretty damn clear that the rate the tide was rising was not going to remain constant. The water lapping within a foot of Rodney’s boots as he sat with his back pressed to the ‘gate was not his first clue. But it was a pretty damn good one.
“Colonel,” Teyla said, turning toward them from the other side of the ring.
“Yeah, Teyla?” Sheppard shuffled sideways so he could see her; his fingers brushed Rodney’s knee when he turned around.
“I believe something may be about the happen. The crabs are retreating.”
Rodney looked toward their side of the island and sure enough every crab – and had he mentioned there were a lot? – had disappeared into the water. “This is probably a bad sign, isn’t it? Let’s take it as a bad sign.”
“Don’t worry McKay, it’s probably time for their favourite TV show or…” Sheppard broke off as the island they were marooned on suddenly shifted. And Rodney was no geologist, but he was pretty certain islands weren’t meant to do that.
“Uh?” he said, when the island – the suddenly moving island – had settled down again.
“Yeah,” Sheppard slowly loosened his hand from where he’d clutched the ‘gate. “We can take it as a bad sign.”
The island lurched again, this time with a sickeningly slow roll, and Rodney thought that this would be really shitty time to rediscover his childhood motion sickness.
“Fuck,” Sheppard said succinctly and when Rodney forced his eyes open he saw Sheppard looking as green as he felt.
“Yes, uh, well,” Rodney realised he was clutching Sheppard's arm and forced himself to let go. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. I didn’t enjoy my breakfast that much the first time, I have no desire to get reacquainted with it.”
“Rodney,” Sheppard said urgently, “Where are Teyla and Ronon?”
Sheppard’s face was pale and set and it took Rodney a beat to tear his eyes away. He looked around their bit of island and saw… nothing. The ‘gate still stood, erect and tall, but now listing somewhat from where the land had settled back unevenly. Sheppard stood beside him, a couple of crabs were lumbering, slow and uneven – probably confused by the earthquake – on the other side. And that was it.
No Ronon. And no Teyla.
“Oh God,” And Rodney had said it so many times, on so many different planets, but this was the only time he’d ever, truly, believed it. “We’re going to die.”
Rodney had met John Sheppard nearly two years ago; ten months ago they'd started having sex. He’d never been deluded enough to imagine he knew him, but he had at least thought he knew all of Sheppard’s expressions.
He’d never seen this one before.
Sheppard looked stunned. Shattered. He was staring at the empty expanse of mud where two minutes previously the other half of their team had been standing. He looked as if he couldn’t quite believe it had happened and Rodney didn't blame him. He’d always expected Ronon and Teyla to go down like the fierce warriors they were, to die in the middle of some bloody battle, not on the set of some bad B-movie.
Rodney shuffled the extra half step he needed to press himself against Sheppard’s side. “Colonel?”
Caught in the silver light bouncing off the water, the pale, almost white, light from the sun directly above them, Sheppard was pale, his eyes glittering and dark.
Sometimes, late at night, when Sheppard had squeezed his shoulder, pressed a dry kiss to his cheek, and left, in that time of night when little problems become big and Atlantis’ problems made him want to scream, Rodney had driven himself crazy thinking about Sheppard dying. He’d never thought he’d be there to see it.
The ground moved again and they grabbed at each other. Rodney made a decision.
“John,” he said at exactly the moment that Sheppard said, “Rodney.” And maybe it was just that this was the first time Rodney had ever said John outside the bedroom, but Sheppard paused and Rodney took the chance – his last chance – to speak.
“I need to tell you something,”
But Sheppard interrupted him, which was something Sheppard never did because Sheppard was a gentleman and mannered and a million things Rodney had never had time to learn how to be. Things he’d never wanted to be and never thought he’d find attractive. Except he did, he really did.
“There’s something you should probably know.”
“Colonel, I’m trying to…”
“God dammit, Rodney, I need to…”
“Tell you that…”
“I like you, okay? I really like you.”
Rodney stopped, startled, taking a moment to check that he hadn’t been the one to say it, but no, Sheppard was looking at him. slight flush stark against his still pale cheeks.
“Oh.” Then “Oh.” Then “I thought it was just a buddy fuck.”
Sheppard’s tongue flicked his lips and he rubbed the back of his neck. He looked incredibly embarrassed for someone making a deathbed confession. “Not for me.”
“Oh.” Rodney swallowed. “Me neither.”
They stared at each other, and despite the water now licking the toes of his boots, and the now near constant tremor of the ground under their feet, Rodney felt himself smile. Sheppard was grinning and the smile came closer than Rodney had ever seen to reaching his eyes.
Just then a particularly vicious tremor broke up their sickly Harlequin moment and Rodney lurched into Sheppard’s personal space.
“Woah,” Sheppard squeezed his arms as he caught him. He glanced up then turned back to Rodney. “C’mon, up here.” Sheppard climbed into the central ring of the ‘gate, feet positioned over two of the chevrons needed to dial home. Rodney wondered if that was coincidence.
He accepted Sheppard’s hand and clambered up beside him, pleased when Sheppard didn’t let go of his hand. Sheppard leaned around Rodney, bracing a hand around the inner wall, effectively trapping Rodney between himself and the Stargate.
This wasn’t exactly how Rodney had pictured his death, but he couldn’t help admire the poetry of dying surrounded by the Stargate and by Sheppard.
Not that he was going to die here. They’d probably be washed into the water and Rodney knew – because he’d looked it up, because Fate was a bitch and seemed determined to make him die by drowning – that it takes the average man sixty seconds to drown. Not that Rodney was average, but in death even he was equal.
“Rodney,” Sheppard said, leaning forward so his words puffed across Rodney’s lips, “Stop freaking out.”
“‘Stop freaking out?’” Rodney demanded, but only half-heartedly, because Sheppard’s lips were close enough that he could feel their heat. “We’re about to die. I think this is an excellent time to freak out.”
“Nope,” Sheppard said and, damn him, he was still smirking. “I can think of better things to do.”
Rodney had kissed Sheppard a thousand times, but always on the way to something else, and never like this. In bed, in the dark, Sheppard’s kisses were desperate and messy. He bit at Rodney’s mouth and his tongue was never still. His kisses could get Rodney from zero to hard in point three seconds, but they were always sex. This was different.
Sheppard kissed him slowly and meticulously, cataloguing every inch of Rodney’s mouth, lips parted and gentle, tongue slick and slow. Rodney whimpered and squeezed Sheppard’s hand.
After what felt like eternity, but couldn’t be because they were still alive, Sheppard drew back. He smiled into Rodney’s eyes for a moment, then suddenly his eyes flickered over Rodney’s shoulder and widened.
“Teyla,” he said hoarsely.
“What?” Rodney turned around awkwardly and saw. Teyla. Oh God.
Teyla stepped out of the waves, like Aphrodite or the Little Mermaid at the end of the Disney version. Beads of water rolling down her tanned arms and legs, reflecting light like diamonds.
“Teyla,” Rodney choked, “What the hell?”
“Colonel Sheppard, Dr McKay,” she said quickly, “I don’t have time to explain, but you must step into the water.”
“Like hell,” Rodney exclaimed. Beside him, Sheppard just looked stunned.
“Dr McKay, please, you need to trust me. It appears that every few centuries this planet experiences a process of flooding and land realignment, which is what gives them their fertile soils and lush harvest. Knowing this, the Ancestors erected a defence, like the shield we found on M7G-677, the planet with all the children, but somewhat different. This defence turns all who succumb to the floods into a species that survive the water. Once the flood has subsided they are returned to human and the population survives. It is quite ingenious, do you not think?”
“It’s,” Rodney tried a few words out; none of them seemed to convey the exact level of stupidity he was aiming for, “Preposterous,”
“And yet, Dr McKay,” she said serenely, with the kind of smile that told him he was pissing her off. “If it were not true, then Ronon and I would be dead.”
“Where is Ronon?” Sheppard asked, speaking for the first time. His hand was still in Rodney’s and Rodney gave it a squeeze – Sheppard was still disturbingly pale.
“I believe he is having fun,” Teyla smile and inclined her head, to where two crabs could be seen a little way out. One had a pale brown shell, decorated in a ropey pattern that could have once been dreds. The two seemed to be trying to drown each other, but then, Rodney mused, that probably would be fun for Ronon.
“So, you’re saying if we go into the water, we turn into crabs?” Sheppard asked.
“Yes. The experience is a little… strange, but not unpleasant.”
“Hang on,” Rodney’s scientific brain was aching. “If those,” he shuddered, “Crabs are actually people, why were you able to turn back into yourself, but they’re not.”
“They are.” she said, “The decision to change back appears to be mentally controlled. However, during the flood food and shelter is only available to them in their present form. It is seen as taboo in their culture to take on the human form during the flood.”
“Right. Well, I guess it’s better than drowning.” Sheppard sounded like he wasn’t entirely sure on that point. “Rodney?”
“What? Oh no, no way. Yes, it’s better than drowning, but no way am I voluntarily going in there.” Because water and knowing Rodney’s luck and Fate’s twisted sense of humour the transformation wouldn’t work on him.
There was a groaning sound as the earth moved again and the ‘gate lurched downward, leaving them less than a foot above the foam.
“I don’t think we’re gonna have much choice,” Sheppard said. “Okay, Rodney. On three.” He ran his thumb over the back of Rodney’s knuckles, completely distracting Rodney as he said “One.”
Their eyes met and Rodney took a deep breath.
Rodney jumped, almost ending up in the water. Sheppard’s arm around his waist steadied him even as he hit his comm.
“Colonel Caldwell, good to hear you, sir.”
“You ready to be picked up?”
“That’d be good, sir.” Rodney sagged against Sheppard, felt him press a smile into his hair.
There was pause then: “I’m only reading three human life signs, Colonel.”
“Yeah, working on that, sir.” He turned to Teyla, “See if you can get Ronon to stop playing with his buddy, would you?”
She smiled and nodded and dropped down into the water. Rodney blinked at where she had been until he saw a crab, red-brown and graceful, running across the muddy bottom of the lake that had once been their island.
“That’s, uh, freaky.”
Sheppard could only nod.
Two minutes later, when the Stargate was about an inch off the water and Rodney was reassessing his die versus turn into a giant crab priorities, there were two splashes – one considerably less graceful than the other – and Ronon and Teyla rose out of the water, climbing up onto the ‘gate beside them.
Ronon’s elbow dug painfully into Rodney’s back. “Hey, watch it, crab-boy,” he muttered.
Ronon growled and Sheppard laughed. When Rodney looked up, Ronon was giving Sheppard a look which eloquently said, “Say nothing, you turned into a bug.”
Sheppard only grinned wider and the expression of happiness and relief on his face made Rodney’s heart turn over.
“Colonel,” Sheppard said, tapping his comm. “Any time now would be good.”
There was a flash of white, just as he felt the ground give out below his feet and then the instant of now familiar tingle-stretch as they were demolecularised and the bump as they remolecularised in a heap on the Daedelus’s bridge.
Rodney had Ronon’s knee in his face, and Teyla’s head in his stomach, but Sheppard’s fingers wrapped around his bicep, and Rodney thought that was a fair trade.
“Colonel Sheppard,” Caldwell’s voice was amused, “I think I’m looking forward to reading this report.”
“Yes sir,” Sheppard rolled to his feet, but kept his hand on Rodney long enough to help him up as well. “It’ll be a doozy.”
Rodney groaned as he rubbed his back. He was going to have bruises dammit. And he really needed a shower. Possibly with Sheppard. He caught Sheppard looking at him and amended that: definitely with Sheppard. He smiled. Seven hours back to Atlantis and then a shower, Sheppard, bed, and a nice hot cup of…
“Hang on,” Rodney said, turning to Sheppard, “We can go back there once the flood’s gone, right? I still didn’t get my coffee.”