Characters: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard
Prompt: #086 Choices
Word Count: ~10,300
Genre: Fairytale AU
Summary: He says his name is John and he's a prince. Rodney, born to anti-establishment parents and raised by a witch with plans for world domination, takes his word for it.
A/N: Shamelessly inspired by skoosiepants' hysterical versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. I considered placing John in the role of Rapunzel, given the hair, but the idea of Rodney locked in a tower was just so much better.
Thanks to my beta littlebuttercup who found time for this in her crazy, hectic life.
The worst part of the whole arrangement, Rodney thinks, is that his parents aren't even vegetarians.
After watching his mother enlarge for nine months - he's only eight years old and scarred for life – Rodney vows to never, ever, do that to a woman. He's not exactly a feminist, but it strikes him as extremely cruel.
Then there're the cravings.
His father says it's part of the package, along with swollen ankles, terrifying mood swings, and the need to cry over baby blankets, but Rodney thinks pregnancy is no excuse for wanting to eat pickles wrapped in bacon dipped in honey.
His father is not a bad man, but he's basically horse-whipped, and so when Rodney's mother demands salad, he rushes out to pick lettuce. Unfortunately he chooses to do so from Dame Weir's garden, and everyone knows Dame Weir is a witch. People whisper it in a way that suggests it's rhyming slang.
When she catches him in the act, Rodney's father babbles on about a pregnant wife, and how he can't go home again without the lettuce, and her garden is so much closer than the local marketplace, adding that he recently injured his back and any kind of prolonged travel is agony. Dame Weir's eyes start to glaze over, and then demands the soon-to-be-born child as payment – for reasons Rodney, who overhears this story later at dinner, can't possibly fathom.
Needless to say, this doesn't go over well with Rodney's mother.
'But it's going to be a girl!' She strokes her stomach and munches on the lettuce without bothering to dress it up first – just as she goes into labor. 'I can feel it. I always wanted a girl!'
Rodney happens to think his parents are idiots. It's not a revelation, just a slow, certain knowledge that creeps up on him over the eight years of his life. He knows, and they know, that he's smarter than they are; he has no appreciation for the 'finer' things in life, inflicts his poor temper on anyone in his way, and has an allergy to fresh air and sunshine. He knows he's not exactly fun to be around. Which is why he's not all together surprised by the events that follow.
When Dame Weir appears at their door the following week to collect newly-christened baby Jeannie, Rodney's mother drags him out of his room like livestock on parade.
'I was busy working on a streamlined flying carriage,' says Rodney irritably. 'Hours of slaving over books on thermodynamics – wasted! Thanks ever so, Mother.'
Then he catches sight of Dame Weir; witches are supposed to be all about the warts and hooked noses. Someone had forgotten to include her in the proclamation.
Rodney says, 'Oh, hello. Come for Jeannie have you? It's about time, please, take her away, the crying keeps me up at night.'
'Take him instead,' his mother says, shoving him towards the witch. 'He's older, and obnoxiously clever, and while perhaps not suited to hard labor, he can at least manage a broom and will do the washing up.'
Rodney's never really liked his parents, but it's not until this moment that he realizes the feeling's mutual.
Dame Weir says, 'Very well. He'll do.'
Do what? Rodney wonders, as he's dragged from the house by his shirt collar, waving goodbye to the parents who have already forgotten him.
He's taken to a beautiful, haunted ruin in the middle of nowhere on Atlantis Island, surrounded by water for miles in every direction, and locked in a tower with a tremendous laboratory at the very top.
His first reaction is, Oh, cool, followed immediately by the need to rush around touching things just to make sure they're real. Everything that science and magic combined could think of is in that room, and Rodney's in heaven, despite the lack of doors.
Dame Weir smiles and tells him all the exciting projects he'll be assisting her with, and he's half in love with her already.
He's so distracted by the shiny new toys that he completely disregards the fact that he's just been locked in a tower, and when Dame Weir disappears in a puff of red smoke, Rodney only coughs and turns back to the stack of grimoires - that sit beside the particle accelerator.
Dame Weir's henchmen (assistants, she calls them) Carson and Radek are jointly the most frustrating men Rodney has ever known.
For the first few months of his confinement, they come in to 'tutor' him, to bring him up to speed on the way things are done in Atlantis.
Seeing as he's a prisoner, Rodney doesn't feel all that compelled to comply. He doesn't rebel, exactly, but he spends one month acting purposefully stupid before he realizes the sarcasm goes completely over their heads, and the only person he's punishing is himself.
They extol Dame Weir's virtues, and talk about the amazing things she plans to accomplish for mankind as a whole. They prattle on about scientific discovery, and magical opportunities. If one isn't talking, the other one almost certainly is. They send Rodney his food on silver platters, ('There isn't any lemon in this,' he says, 'because I'm deathly allergic, you know that?') and they're very careful not to discuss the outside world.
Dame Weir herself isn't all that terrible; she's quite beautiful, for a start, a fact Rodney appreciates more as he grows older and she stays exactly the same. She has quite a lot of knowledge and encourages Rodney's own intellectual growth, carefully cultivating it like the garden she keeps as a hobby. In fact, Rodney would respect her a great deal if it weren't for the fact that she requested a human being in exchange for a vegetable that's 90% water. It's hard to respect someone who's completely insane.
His first project that's physical rather than theoretical is to build a bomb.
Rodney thinks, Finally, I can blow a hole in this stupid tower and get on with living my life. He has no definite plans for what he'll do on the 'outside' (he certainly won't be looking up the parents that sold him into servitude), it's just one of those things that he assumes he has to do.
However when the work is complete and he knows the theory behind it is sound, he can't go through with the escape plan. By this time he's been in the tower for two years with a laboratory and materials he'll never find anywhere else, and there's simply too much to do to leave now.
Because Carson and Radek are such excellent minions, Rodney doesn't find out about the explosion that takes out his entire family, though he wonders about the noise.
When he turns eleven, he finally gets up the nerve to ask Dame Weir why she decided to lock him in a tower – admittedly the coolest tower he's ever seen, but still, a tower.
'I had barely known you five seconds, Rodney,' she tells him, smiling sweetly, 'before I knew that you wouldn't play well with others. With your genius and your poor people skills, this is the safest place for you.'
It's sort of a compliment, but really not.
By the time he's thirteen he hasn't left the tower once in five years, and has pretty much stopped thinking about it. He's got it pretty good; all his meals are transported by Carson or Radek – citrus free – the work is pretty fascinating, he's learned more in five years than he probably would have his entire life, and Dame Weir magicked up a bathroom once it became apparent that that would be a problem. There's no danger, no bugs, no allergens of any sort. It's almost like living in a hermetically sealed bubble, except for the one window.
One afternoon, he's supposed to be studying alternative energy sources; Atlantis is starting to fail, and that makes Dame Weir Very Unhappy. An unhappy witch is not a pleasant companion for anyone, but instead of doing his work, Rodney's amusing himself with a game of prime/not prime, which is admittedly a little difficult to play by himself.
'10627,' he says out loud. 'Prime. 47297. Prime. 4263.'
Rodney jumps, and scans the room for intruders. 'Carson? Radek?'
There's no answer, so Rodney decides he's been overworked and has started to imagine things.
The voice is hollow, as if coming from a distance. There is absolutely no one else in the lab, Rodney's sure about that (unless he's got invisible boots, and hey, that'd be cool), so the next logical choice is to look out the window.
There is definitely a figure down below (that in itself is a shock), someone young who looks as if he's being eaten by his own hair. Rodney flips the latch, and pushes the glass open.
'Hi!' the boy calls up, and waves. It's been so long since Rodney's heard a child's voice that he almost doesn't recognize it. 'Can you come out and play?'
He says his name is John and he's a prince. Rodney, born to anti-establishment parents and raised by a witch with plans for world domination, takes his word for it.
He treats John's suggestion to 'come out and play' with all the derision it deserves, and expects that will send him on his way. Instead, the other boy just slouches against the smooth metal tower and shouts conversationally, 'So what do you do for fun?'
Rodney can't make out more than the top of John's head, but finds himself leaning out the window so he can be heard. Fortunately, the acoustics wherever they are happen to be great.
He knows better than to tell a perfect stranger about his top-secret science projects, so he's left with little to say. What he does have, he makes count.
'Their names are Carson and Radek,' he tells John, though he's not entirely sure why. 'They have the brains of chickens and the personality of cabbage. I have no idea what they even do when they're not bothering me.'
John lets him talk for as long as he wants, but can't really get past the tower thing. Rodney says it's no big deal, it's not like he's being starved, or beaten, or eaten by rats, but John's not convinced.
When Dame Weir appears in her typical puff of smoke, Rodney's still got his head out the window.
'Who are you talking to?' she asks, tone just a little colder than usual.
'No one,' Rodney says quickly, and John disappears. 'It's not like I actually have someone to talk to.'
Dame Weir peers over his shoulder, out the window, then turns and goes to check his equations.
'Carson and Radek visit with you,' she says mildly, scanning the page. 'You haven't finished this last problem.'
'Carson and Radek are goons,' Rodney says, perhaps a little more harshly than he means. They're well-intentioned goons. 'Besides, it'd be nice to actually talk to someone my own age.'
Dame Weir looks thoughtful, and taps the paper with one crimson fingernail. 'Finish your work, on time, and I'll see what I can do.'
His reward for being brilliant and restoring Atlantis Island to its former glory is named Teyla.
She's a witch-in-training, just as pretty as Dame Weir if not prettier, and flies into the tower once a week where she and Rodney stare at each other for hours until Teyla decides to go home. There's the occasional awkward smile, and once Rodney accidentally spills tuttle-root soup down her nice black dress. He expects her to yell, or hit him, or something, but she just smiles, waves a hand over her chest, and magicks away the stain before flying out the window.
John, on the other hand, starts coming around every day. Rodney has no idea what he looks like, or how old he is, or really anything about him other than he's a prince and has great hair. It never occurs to him to wonder why John hangs around a tall metal tower talking to a shut-in, or even how he got to the island in the first place. John just slouches, sometimes sits, and asks Rodney questions like:
'So do you sleep up there?'
'Of course I do,' Rodney replies, leaning his elbows on the window frame. John can be so annoying. 'I eat, sleep, and work here. It's what I do.'
'And don't you ever get sick of the monotony?'
Monotony isn't a concept Rodney understands, and not grasping a concept is like a physical pain, a pinch between the shoulder blades that he can't quite reach.
So he shrugs even though John can't see. 'What else is there?'
'Well,' and it seems like John might be at a loss for words. 'Everything.'
John tells Rodney about hunting magical beasts, and learning to swordfight, and the first big political dinner he didn't sleep through. He talks about the food, real food, and how sometimes cooking it is half the fun. He describes waterfalls, wheat fields, and the view of the sunset from his palace. He has a funny, charming way of talking about his life like it isn't very important, and doesn't mind when Rodney uses words he doesn't understand.
It takes Rodney awhile to realize he's jealous; he's never had a reason to be before.
More than a year passes in this fashion, and Rodney and Teyla reach the stage of actual communication, something more substantial than hello, goodbye, and That's a lovely shade of black.
'Elizabeth has you perform experiments for her,' Teyla says, exploring the room. She picks up Rodney's latest creation, a spring-loaded stun spell, and carefully places it back on the table before his heart has a chance to stop completely.
'That's right,' he says.
Rodney has no idea, but he's not about to let Teyla know that. 'She trusts me. She practically raised me.'
Teyla turns, arching one eyebrow. 'And you do not find that the least bit strange?'
Well, of course it's strange. It's strange that his parents gave him up after eight years to a certifiable witch with a lettuce fixation. It's strange that he's lived in a single-room dwelling for nearly seven years without stepping foot outside. It's strange that he no longer wants to go outside. Everything about his life is strange, but that just makes strange normal. If things were normal, that would really be strange.
The summer Rodney turns fifteen, John makes a discovery by accident.
'We've been through this before,' Rodney says in his 'talking to the goons' voice. 'No door. No door means no visit. I've told you, Dame Weir comes in a puff of smoke, and Teyla can fly, so unless you've got some magical powers you forgot to mention, you're not getting in here.'
John, Rodney's learned, does not accept defeat easily.
'Haven't you got a rope?'
Rodney makes a sound somewhere between disbelief and disgust. 'For what possible reason would I have a rope?'
Rodney rolls his eyes; sometimes John is just dumb. 'Right, because I'm sure that the witch who put me in here would do something so stupid as to leave me a means of escape – if I wanted to, which I don't. Besides, she frowns on visitors or she would have built a door.'
'So...no rope then?'
John asks, 'How long's your hair?'
Rodney's reply is profane. 'I am not dignifying that with a response. You are not getting anywhere near my follicles, and, besides, I happen to cut it every three months. You've got plenty of hair, you try throwing it up here and seeing how well that works.'
'There's got to be something,' John says, running his hands along the base of the tower. Suddenly, something does happen. The whole thing lights up like a firefly, and a rough-cut door appears, flashing itself at John to grab his attention. Before Rodney can say anything to warn him, the door slides open and he's disappeared inside.
Minutes go by, and Rodney has terrifying visions of John having been eaten by a troll set to guard Rodney's prison. He's about to start calling Teyla for help, when the floorboards beneath his feet shift, and a trapdoor springs open, knocking him onto his ass.
'This is a pretty sweet setup,' says John's voice, a little deeper than Rodney's used to. 'I guess I can understand why you wouldn't want to leave.'
By the time Rodney gets to his feet again, dumbfounded, John's climbed through, and they look at each other face to face for the first time.
John has a lazy smile, hazel eyes that are clearly hiding something, and that hair, wow, the distance did not exaggerate. He's taller than Rodney expected, though he slouches all the time, so it's difficult to tell. Rodney also has to admit there's something princely about him – an attitude, maybe, that indicates he's got a hero complex. It's not like he's wearing fancy robes, or sparkly jewels, or a crown or anything; if anything John looks a little scruffy, and there's dirt on his breeches.
Still, he kind of oozes leadership and power, and despite the peasant clothes, Rodney has no trouble picturing John on a throne.
'Huh,' says Rodney, looking him up and down, feeling something tighten in his chest, as well as a little further south. It's a new sensation. 'Not bad.'
John's entire face lights up for a second, like a flash of lightning. 'Not so bad yourself,' he says.
Confident that Dame Weir and her cronies won't be checking in on him for hours, Rodney shows John around the lab, pointing out the high quantities of rare chemicals, brand-new books on astronomy and astrology fresh off the printing press, and the high-powered telescope he keeps near the window – and which he has not used to spy on John, absolutely not, and that has nothing to do with the fact that the telescope can't reach the right angle.
John nods and smiles at all the right places, but his glance keeps going towards the makeshift cot crammed into one corner, half buried under books and paperwork.
'So you really do sleep up here,' he comments, cutting Rodney off in the middle of a lecture on fluid dynamics. 'There's not even another room.'
Then he turns to look at Rodney and flashes him a half smile.
John says, 'That's really pretty screwed up, you know.'
When it's time for his dinner to be delivered, Rodney pushes John out of the lab, certain that the circumstances will be dire if they get caught. Plus, he doesn't want to share.
John says, with a playful shove, 'Come with me.'
And Rodney looks at the way out and says, 'No.'
He's sure that's it, that he'll never see John again, but John's back the next day, running his hands all over the tower in a way that's obscene, and climbing through the trapdoor, only to sit there and distract Rodney from his work.
John, Rodney learns, does not have a very good grasp on 'subtlety', which is surprising since as the days, and weeks, and months pass, he's absolutely sure John is keeping something from him.
John brings him trashy books - novels - music players that have recorded some of the most famous symphonies of the world, and food, the kind of snack foods that Dame Weir has never seen fit to show him, probably because they rot the teeth, or something.
Once he brings a lemon bar, to which Rodney says, 'Oh, real nice, attempted murder. Couldn't you at least try to disguise the animosity?'
John says, 'So you're allergic to citrus. I'll file that one away.'
Rodney sits looking confused for some time, because that doesn't sound like an insult.
'Look, not that I don't like your company,' Rodney says, 'because, for whatever reason, I do, but if I don't get these plans done by next week, I'm going to have a very pissed off sorceress on my hands, and then I'll be forced to blame you and she'll probably turn you into a toad.'
'Then let me help,' John says, hair flopping into his eyes as he stares at Rodney in a meaningful way.
'Oh, you know a lot about wind resistance, combustible engines, and pressure spells, do you?' Rodney asks sarcastically.
'No,' John replies, not bothered in the least, and that's something else Rodney's learned about John; he's almost completely imperturbable. 'My tutors are morons, I think they've given up on me.'
Something turns over in Rodney's stomach, and he thinks he might be blushing. Then John has to go and say the five most fantastic words in the English language.
'Why don't you teach me?'
And, of course, because he's John, he has to ruin it by adding, 'Since you think you're so smart.'
'Fine,' says Rodney, blinking. 'Thrust is equal to drag and lift is equal to weight. If for any reason the drag is larger than the thrust, the object upon which this force is being enacted will slow, and conversely, if the thrust is greater than the drag, the craft will speed up. With me so far or am I going too quickly for your miniscule brain?'
'I don't know what it is about you,' John says, a smile reaching all the way to his hazel eyes, and Rodney gulps, 'but I find this oddly attractive.'
Rodney has the sexual awareness of a goldfish.
He can recite pi to a hundred digits. He knows how to calculate the distance between two stars, and can construct a model probe for space exploration out of toothpicks. Ask him anything regarding energy output and he's happy. He knows a fair amount about magic as well, thanks to Dame Weir and her fascinating books. Magic is quite a bit like science, in the sense that it requires tests and experimentation, not to mention it has rules and guidelines, and can't just be played with willy-nilly. Given Rodney's disdain for anything fanciful, he declares magic a science in its own right.
Science, he understands.
So he tries to reduce sex to science, but it doesn't really work because while it's fairly easy to understand the mechanics of the whole process, he just can't get a grasp on the feelings. It's the one area of his education that Dame Weir has completely neglected, and though he occasionally overhears Carson or Radek talk about women like they're objects of desire, he just doesn't get it.
Once the thoughts start getting in his head, however, he can't help noticing that Teyla has been very patiently waiting for him to make a move, and this sends him into a panic which reduces him to hello, goodbye, and That's a lovely shade of black.
He hates the hurt and confusion in her eyes, and he wants to apologize and tell her that while he admires her a great deal, he just doesn't feel that way - whatever that way is, he's sure he doesn't feel it. He would know if he felt it – he thinks.
Then there's John.
John flirts shamelessly, studies hard, and surprises Rodney by actually having a brain. Somehow the title 'prince' and the word 'nitwit' had fitted themselves together in his mind, and for the first time in his life, he's glad to be wrong.
John's education is patchy at best, but he's not stupid so he actually catches up to Rodney within a year, and starts assisting on the experiments Rodney's supposed to be doing by himself.
And though he knows he could get in tremendous trouble were Dame Weir ever to find out, he can't help it – letting John assist him is what he thinks of as 'foreplay'.
It's fairly obvious, he thinks, that John feels the same way.
Every day in the two years since John finds a way into the tower, he invites Rodney to come with him when he leaves. Though the destination is never specified, Rodney always declines because he has too much work to do.
'Why do you even still come here?' Rodney snaps one day, because John is incredibly good-looking and won't make a move. It's frustrating, but, worse, Rodney has never dealt with this situation before, so he doesn't know how to handle it, and that hurts.
'Well, you won't come out to me,' says John, handing Rodney the grimoire he's snapping his fingers impatiently for, 'so I have to come to you.'
John's fingers rest lightly on the inside of Rodney's wrist, and Rodney can feel his pulse quicken. Before he can move away, hide how deeply just one touch is affecting him, John has leaned across the table and kissed him gently on the lips.
'Um,' says Rodney, feeling the heat radiate off his face. 'I sort of don't understand how this works.'
John's eyebrows jump to his hairline and he looks as if he's fighting back the urge to laugh hysterically.
'What do you mean "how this works"?'
'I've read, you know, books,' Rodney says, waving his hand about as if this will somehow indicate just how poor his education on the subject has been.
John's eyes widen just a little. 'Oh. Oh. God, Rodney, I'm sorry. I've heard you talk about Teyla, and I assumed...I didn't think...'
Then he's touching Rodney again, and Rodney's thoughts start tumbling all over themselves in some confused tangle of thought-limbs. Speech is out of the question.
'The only question that you really need to answer before we go any farther,' John murmurs, fingers drumming lightly on the inside of Rodney's forearm, 'is: did you like it?'
What, is he serious?
'Yes,' Rodney croaks, and John's face breaks into that fantastic smile.
John says, 'Good answer. Now it's my turn to teach you.'
John happens to be a fantastic teacher.
The first kiss was just to test the waters, John explains. He takes Rodney's hand and very slowly leans in, brushing his lips against the corner of Rodney's mouth, testing for resistance. When there is none, because Rodney isn't crazy, he probes deeper.
Rodney's not sure what he expects. Sparks? Fireworks? Spit?
John's free hand comes up behind Rodney's head, cradling it at the base of the skull, and Rodney sort of just melts, putting both his hands on John's hips and pulling as close as he can get, fumbling with buttons and tugging at the cloth that stands in his way.
So this is what it's all about, Rodney thinks, because he can't turn his brain off even while he's getting groped and someone is nibbling on his lower lip. I could get used to this.
Onward to Part II...