Word count: ~6,000
Spoilers: er... not really, although a few vague mentions of stuff in past episodes (up to only Epiphany)
Summary: He was an intelligent, intuitive pet, but he wasn’t going to start sniffing out ZPMs or hidden Ancient weaponry or detailed instructions on how to kill a Wraith with a common household item. A pen, for instance.
A/N: This is nearly incoherent cracky cheese-fluff with little to no plot at all, and I wash my hands of it. Seriously, I'm all over the place with this. Next, I'm going back to AUs. Back to the 80s, even.
rensreality101: check out her Ernie icon!
By crimsonclad: Ernie with pen
By nunshavingfun: Ernie sketch
Wonderful Ernie pic below by dacey.
Rodney poked at the creature with his pen, watching the furry tentacles wrap around the tip, almost a caress, before tightening and snapping the plastic in half. He dropped the remains and took a hasty step backwards.
“What did you do?” Radek asked curiously, peeking over his shoulder.
The thing warbled in his throat, a happy, muffled gurgling.
“He broke my pen.” Rodney glared at him. Good pens were hard to come by.
“You may have mine,” Radek said graciously, and the beast gave an excited chirp and undulated and then slipped off the edge of the lab table.
Rodney eyed him suspiciously as he slumped onto the floor. “I don’t see why he couldn’t stay with the biologists,” he groused, though Rodney knew exactly why he couldn’t stay with the biologists. He apparently didn’t like the biologists. He had, in fact, tried to eat Hernandez.
He seemed to love the physics labs, though - Rodney’s area in particular - and Elizabeth admonished them all to be hospitable, so the surprisingly strong, schnauzer-sized furry octopus-like alien creature had a basket lined with a discarded USAF tee and a water bowl with the moniker ‘Ernie’ markered on it in one corner of the room.
Radek tapped a pen identical to the destroyed one on his arm, and Rodney grumbled a thanks. Then jumped with a small, startled yelp when Ernie snaked a thin limb around his ankle. “I’m keeping this one,” he snapped down at him.
“So do not poke him,” Radek advised, nodding, then went on in a slightly sheepish tone, “I lost three yesterday to same fate.”
Ernie waved his tentacles, tiny white sucker cups winking out from under the long black-brown fur. Garble, garble, chirrup, bleat.
“No, no,” Rodney shook off the loose grip, “this is mine. Mine. As in not yours. You,” he gestured towards Ernie’s corner, “go play with that squeaky ball Parrish gave you.”
Ernie tugged at his pants, fur tickling the bare skin just above his sock as he slipped an appendage under the cloth and around Rodney’s ankle again. Three other tentacles strained almost straight as they stretched up to grab at Rodney’s wrist, and despite his stubborn death grip on the implement, Ernie had no trouble wrestling it from between his fingers.
This time, he shook the pen in the air and squealed before splintering the casing, spilling blue ink all over himself as well as the floor, Rodney’s pants, and the seat of Rodney’s favorite stool, grooved just so to the curve of his ass.
“Ernie,” he snapped reprovingly, and Radek clucked in sympathy, bending down to swipe the liquid off the visibly distressed alien with the edge of his jacket.
Ernie cooed at the attention and skimmed his arms over Radek’s cheeks, shoulders, down his sides to dig in his back pocket, coo morphing into a triumphant bleat as he pulled out another pen.
“Okay,” Rodney narrowed his eyes at him, “I think we’re missing something important about the pens.”
Dr. Parrish had originally found the furry, many-limbed creature lurking in an upper level experimental greenhouse, and one of the zoologists – not Hernandez – had poked around in his wide, toothy maw, surmising that he was likely very, very old. And also probably female, but the marines had already taken to calling him Ernie and using “he” instead of “it” and everyone got tired of correcting everyone else. So the name stuck, and John just hoped it didn’t give the thing a complex.
No one was quite sure what he actually was, though. The Ancient databases had a surprisingly limited search function when it came to biological organisms, so the fastest way to identify species was to scroll through the extensive photo-library, which ended up being not fast at all. But whether the creature had hopped out of a faulty stasis pod – unlikely, according to Carson, but possible – or managed to follow a team back through the ‘gate, Atlantis didn’t put up much of a fuss about him. No alarms sounded, no enforced quarantine, and he was really kind of cute.
Even Rodney stopped raving about rampant space rabies and deadly pathogens after only a few days. He was furry. And made these adorable garbled noises, like a mix between a morning dove and a sheep and something large and watery. Like a hippo just under the surface of a pond.
The pen fetish was weird, but convenient, since Ernie’d follow anyone just about anywhere if they flashed a pen at him. He learned not to crush them, too, but John got the overall impression that Ernie was, well… disappointed.
He held a pen curled in each tentacle as he moved about Atlantis, but would easily abandon one or more when new ones were presented, greeting each with a firm shake and a happy noise that faded into a garbled, almost put-upon sigh after only a few seconds of frantic movement. And he kept more by his bed, a small horde of pens and a few mechanical pencils, stuffed under his basket and in the sharp corner where the curved wicker left a triangular-shaped opening against the wall.
Major Lorne, during one particularly boring day off, tried to show him how a pen really worked, uncapping it and spelling out E R N I E on a large piece of Athosian papyrus, then using one of the creature’s tentacles to trace the lettering. Ernie, though, just seemed sort of upset that he’d decapitated his pen and forced it to bleed.
The first time he saw Ronon, Ernie let out a loud warbling bleat, dropped all his pens, and squirmed up next to him at the conference room table. Then he tangled himself in Ronon’s hair, burrowing under the dreads and wrapping his arms around his neck, skull, one tip poking at the corner of Ronon’s mouth. And John really had to applaud the guy’s composure. Ronon took the molestation in stride, big shoulders shrugging, and Ernie communed with his hair for nearly an hour before getting bored and slipping off to pick up his pens.
After that, though, he’d let out an extra noise whenever he caught sight of the back of Ronon’s head.
Rodney said it proved he was just a simple, stupid beast, but John thought it just proved he was lonesome.
“It is as if he is searching for a certain object,” Teyla said insightfully one day when they found Rodney waving a pen around and Ernie trumpeting angrily up at him, tentacles whipping the air.
“Look, you imbecile, I need this. You have five billion pens in your bed so just let me have this one.” The weary, desperate edge to Rodney’s voice tipped John off that he’d probably been battling Ernie for quite a while.
“What’s the problem, McKay?” John asked, crossing his arms over his chest and sharing a conspiratorial grin with Teyla.
“Nothing,” Rodney snapped irritably. Ernie was trying his last nerve, and he didn’t have all that many to begin with. “Absolutely nothing, Colonel, except for the fact that I can’t write Simpson a scathing note about how utterly absurd her concept of reality seems to be since this insane space octopus here has serious issues with sharing—”
“Dr. McKay,” Teyla interrupted smoothly, stepping further into the lab and nodding past his shoulder. “I believe Ernie has found something.”
“What?” Rodney spun around, spotting the creature with his tentacles and half his body stuffed in an opened cabinet next to his desk. “Ernie—get out of there!”
Ernie shuffled through the drawer of small-sized Ancient artifacts, tossing a few out to clatter on the floor, rumbling a gravelly purr as he ignored Rodney, easily keeping his position when he tried to bodily pry him out of the cabinet.
“Colonel, a little help?” Rodney demanded, yanking one tentacle off only to have another effortlessly take its place.
John thought they should just let him be, though, since he figured Teyla was right. The little guy was looking for something. Maybe he’d find just the right pen to make him happy. “He’s not going to hurt anything, Rodney,” he drawled, and Rodney sent him a withering glare.
“Yes, of course, he’s only manhandling delicate artifacts that are thousands of years old. Let go, let go, let go,” Rodney huffed, but Ernie just purred louder, giving Rodney an occasional indignant chirp if he squeezed a limb too hard. And then suddenly he let out a high-pitched warble and relaxed into Rodney’s arms.
Rodney staggered backwards, catching himself just before tripping, Ernie’s tentacles banding over his chest and holding onto his biceps, and he was shaking yet another pen in the air. Except it wasn’t a pen. And the shaking caused it to glow blue-green, spreading a low-level hum over Rodney’s skin.
Ernie’s next garble was like a swelling gulp that ended with a clipped, “Mine.”
“He doesn’t seem to have a broad repertoire of words, does he?” Rodney mused to John over lunch.
“Mine!” Ernie brandished what they’d taken to calling an artificial larynx – although Ernie never let them near enough to it to be precisely sure of its function - as well as three pens. He hadn’t given them up, despite having found what he’d presumably been looking for, though he didn’t seem quite so zealous in his protection of them.
The linguists had had a field day with him… for about ten minutes. Until it was made abundantly clear that his near litany of “mine” was only broken occasionally by strangely pointed “yours.”
The inflection was almost always different, though, and anything loud and demanding, as near as they could figure, was apparently a call for Rodney. Everything else was anybody’s guess.
All in all, they decided his brain capacity was on par with a monkey, but they likened him more to a highly intelligent golden retriever.
“Mine!” Ernie bleated again, and Rodney stabbed his fork towards him.
“Yes, yes, we hear you, we see you, everyone look at Ernie, his, his, whatever,” he cracked, rolling his eyes.
John frowned at him. “Be nice, Rodney.”
“You don’t honestly think he understands a word I’m saying, do you?”
“He might,” John drawled, frown turning thoughtful as he slid his gaze over to Ernie, who was clacking two pens on the tabletop in unmeasured beats, four surprisingly pretty eyes - irises a light yellow-green, striped and double-lidded like a cat’s - wide on Rodney. “I’d be willing to bet he can interpret your tone.”
Actually, John had a feeling that Ernie knew much more than he was letting on. Or that he could let on. Squished up next to Rodney, he snatched food off his tray, gaze splitting time between John and Rodney, occasionally snaking a tentacle across the table to pat John’s hand, soft gurgles bubbling up his throat, spilling out as sly, “Yours, yours.”
It was more than a little creepy, really.
“He is smart,” Radek stated proudly, setting his tray down next to John.
“He can fetch his squeaky ball,” Rodney countered dryly.
“Mine!” Ernie squawked.
“And seriously,” Rodney’s face scrunched up, “what exactly is the point of that voice box if all he says is ‘mine’?”
Radek ignored Rodney and slipped Ernie a purple sparkly pen he’d stolen from Elizabeth’s office. She would not miss it.
“Miiiinnne,” Ernie cooed, low and soft and melodious, petting the new pen with the tips of two tentacles.
Radek was sure that particular inflection meant, “I like you best.”
Quite possibly the saddest thing ever, John thought, was Ernie curled up in a tight, furry ball, wedged against the door to Rodney’s quarters. A red and black Mickey Mouse pen was tucked in the curve of a tentacle, his voice box a dull blue as he murmured quiet hiccups of, “Mine, mine,” over and over again. His eyes were half-closed, and he didn’t seem to notice John’s presence until he hunched down in front of him.
“Come on, little fella,” John coaxed, gathering the sleepy creature into his arms, jostling a mild squeak out of him. And then Ernie latched on tightly, hooking tentacles over his arms, around his waist, chest, neck, small cries of “Mine” changing over to softly affectionate, “Yours.”
“Good boy,” he praised, then kicked a foot into Rodney’s door. “Open up, McKay.”
It was late. Rodney was most likely asleep, so he waited a respectable five minutes before thinking the door open himself.
In the dim-dark room the lights flickered low for John, and Rodney struggled upright in bed, hair mussed, leaning heavily on one hand, the other pressed over half his face as he gave John a sleepy glare.
“Colonel,” he groused.
“McKay,” John drawled slowly, “I’m going to assume you didn’t realize little Ernie here was camped out on your doorstep.”
Rodney’s face lost some of its open disgruntlement. “What?”
“Mine!” Ernie chirped excitedly, two tentacles loosening their hold on John to wave at Rodney.
“Be glad you didn’t witness it.” John nodded earnestly, stepping inside, letting the door slide closed behind him. “He must’ve followed you back from the lab.”
Rodney looked concerned for exactly three seconds, then he snapped, “And you brought him in here why exactly?”
John shrugged. “I didn’t want him sleeping in the hall.”
“He has a basket in the lab,” Rodney scowled.
“But he’s lonely.”
“Then why don’t you take him, Colonel?”
“Miiiiine!” Ernie’s plea was loud and strident and John shushed him absently before arching a brow at Rodney.
“I would,” he said, “except he was curled up by your door. Kinda leads me to believe he wants to be with you.”
Rodney glowered at him, then fluttered his hands impatiently, waving John further into the room. “Fine, fine. Give him here.” He shifted on the bed, sliding his legs off the edge and baring half of one pale thigh. Black socks slouched low on his ankles and stretched out at the toes, and John quirked a smile as he walked towards him.
And then Ernie snaked his two free arms around Rodney’s neck and constricted the ones still clutching John and somehow, someway, John found himself on the bed, perched over Rodney’s lap. It was all very embarrassing.
“Yours,” Ernie purred happily.
“Well,” Rodney huffed, warm breath against John’s cheek, Ernie’s fuzzy body pressed up against their chests, John’s hands braced on Rodney’s thighs, one leg sliding almost in between them, “this is awkward.”
Rodney shifted, and Ernie tightened his tentacles, and John did not whimper when his knee slipped more firmly up against Rodney’s groin.
And Rodney might’ve groaned and probably would’ve fallen back against the covers if Ernie had been at all inclined to let him go, and his hips might have pushed up in counterpoint to John’s forward momentum, but he wasn’t going to mention it if John didn’t.
“Okay,” John breathed, “yeah, awkward.” And the worst part, or possibly the best part – because John was clearly a masochist and not immune to the perverse charms of one Dr. Rodney McKay, Super Genius - was that they couldn’t pull away, and whenever they tried, Ernie just squeezed them tighter together.
They ended up radioing Carson, who brought Cadman and a handful of thin-tipped red sharpies. After Cadman stopped laughing – which was a while, since every time she scraped up enough self-control to stop convulsing with giggles, she’d glance at Rodney’s pinched expression and lose it all over again - it took about fifteen minutes to get all of Ernie’s arms off John and Rodney and occupied with cooing over his new markers at the foot of the bed.
“We will never speak of this,” Rodney said stiffly, glaring at each of them in turn.
Carson tried very hard to keep a straight face, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Of course not, Rodney,” he managed.
“Oh, come on,” Cadman complained. “This is too good not to—”
“Lieutenant.” John arched one brow at her.
“Yes, sir,” she said dejectedly, because, damn it, torturing McKay was one of her favorite joys in life.
“He… what?” Rodney stared at Kate blankly.
She laced her fingers together on the table. “I believe he’s suffering from acute separation anxiety,” she reiterated.
“You’ve got him in counseling?” he bit out harshly in disbelief. “Are you sure you’re qualified to diagnose a space octopus?”
“Rodney,” Kate said with quiet censure, “it took nearly two hours to calm him down after you left, and even then Carson had to use a mild sedative.”
“Okay, here’s where I point out that we’ve been off-world before, and he’s been absolutely fine. And I left specific instructions on how not to let Kavanagh watch him,” he groused. “This has nothing to do with separation anxiety, and everything to do with deep mental scarring from that idiot’s lax care.”
John leaned back in his chair. “Whose bright idea was it to let him watch us leave, anyhow?” he asked in a deceptively mild tone.
“It was an accident, John,” Elizabeth replied, nodding slightly. “He was following Dr. Zelenka, and no one noticed him until he started screaming.”
Rodney grimaced. “Well, we’ll just have to make sure he’s never in the ‘gate room when we leave.”
“I’m afraid it’s a wee bit more complicated than that, Rodney,” Carson said, gaining his feet. And then he proceeded to explain, to Rodney’s increasing horror, how they’d finally found the information on Ernie’s species – a lell – in the Ancient databases, only they’d been looking in the entirely wrong area. He was a genetic experiment, not an indigenous biological organism, created for the express purpose of helping the impaired. Although they never quite got him right, and he ended up a co-dependent mess, prone to depression and obsessive behavior, and the bottom line was, “You’re going to have to move in together.” Carson bounced his gaze between John and Rodney.
John blinked. “What?”
“I’m sorry, we have to…?” Rodney leant forward, head tilted.
“Studies have shown that without proper companionship, lells tended to… waste away,” Carson said, face perfectly serious.
As if the whole thing wasn’t some horrible joke.
“We realize this is a potentially weighty decision in any relationship,” Elizabeth offered sincerely, “one you’d rather have come to on your own, under your own terms. But right now we believe the important thing is giving Ernie a cohesive family unit.”
Incredulously, Rodney mouthed a faint, “Cohesive family…” and John croaked out, almost desperately, “Caldwell.”
Elizabeth smiled at them. “Colonel Caldwell agrees that Ernie’s health, in this case, takes precedence over appearances.”
It was a bit more than appearances, really, although the crux of the matter, the burning question, was what the hell was everybody on?
“I still don’t see—”
“You’re going to have to work through your commitment issues, Colonel,” Carson said firmly, cutting him off, “for Ernie’s sake.”
Rodney, face purple-red, finally snapped, “Have you all lost your minds? No, don’t answer that.” He jabbed a finger at Carson. “This. You. I can’t even properly articulate how much of an ass you are. What part of ‘we will never speak of this’ did you not comprehend?”
Carson gaped in surprise. “I didna say a word about tha—”
“Shut up! All of you, just.” Rodney slammed his laptop shut and shot to his feet, only to lift his chin and glare at Elizabeth and say stiffly, “I’m assuming this meeting is over?”
Elizabeth nodded slowly, eyes wide with concern, and after Rodney stalked out the door, she turned an apologetic frown on John. “Maybe you should go talk to him.”
John just stared at her, wondering what sort of crazy pills everyone was taking, and contemplating asking for some himself.
Rodney wouldn’t speak to anyone but Radek for the rest of the day, and John pouted because it wasn’t like he had done anything.
And then Rodney wasn’t speaking to Radek, either, because apparently every single person on Atlantis thought John and Rodney were dating. In a serious monogamous relationship. With each other. His one disastrous attempt at seeing Katie Brown only seemed to have cemented the rumors.
Although Radek didn’t exactly think that, but he thought the whole situation was hilarious given that John and Rodney were “secretly yet so-very-openly in love.”
Rodney threw a handful of Ernie’s pens at him and the Czech ducked out of the lab, snorting laughter and trying to hide behind Miko.
“I feel kinda cheated.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed on John as he leant negligently against the doorjamb, having ignored the man’s shout of “go away,” overriding the lock with a sweet mental purr towards Atlantis.
“Apparently,” John went on, straightening and stepping into the room, “we’ve been together since the whole,” he grimaced slightly, “Chaya debacle.”
Rodney growled under his breath.
“According to Dr. Parrish,” John went on, “who heard it from Stackhouse, who heard it from Simpson, your courtship of me was all sunshine and romance and involved cookies, Athosian yak yogurt and that Ancient device everyone thinks is a vibrator even though you’ve got it labeled as a farming implement.”
Rodney made an incoherent choking sound, knuckles whitening as he gripped the edge of his desk.
“You know,” John’s brow furrowed, “I have a feeling this was some sort of joke that just got wildly out of hand.”
“Are you done, Colonel?” Rodney asked tightly, and he wasn’t quite sure why he was so angry, since John was clearly amused by it all, but something bitter and thick was lodged in the base of his throat. Although really. Yak yogurt? “Yak yogurt?”
John smirked, and Rodney’s anger deflated. He sagged into his desk chair, eyes closing with a sigh.
“So. What do we do now?” John asked.
Rodney tilted his head to the side and cracked an eyelid open at him. “We don’t do anything.”
“Right.” Nothing at all. John tried to convince himself he wasn’t disappointed.
It took a few days to convince Elizabeth that there really was nothing at all going on between him and Rodney. She kept pursing her lips and nodding her head and saying, “Okay,” when she obviously meant, “Damnable lies!” and saying, “I understand completely, John,” when she really meant, “Your fear of commitment is placing Ernie in grave jeopardy!”
What was worse, though, was when she finally did believe him, and her face sort of… crumpled, voice breaking on, “Oh, John.” And then she hugged him, and John thought she might’ve missed the point.
Rodney didn’t notice the difference at first, because, generally speaking, he wasn’t well liked. But there was definitely a larger than normal amount of people glowering at him, grumbling under their breath, whispering behind his back, vocally wishing for his death. He wasn’t quite sure what brought it all on, though, couldn’t remember being anymore abrasive than he usually was, until he rounded a corner and skidded to a stop at a raised shout of, “That bastard!” followed by an immediate volley of, “I know! Did you see his face at lunch? The colonel’s completely crushed,” and all the pieces slid into place.
He tapped his radio. “Colonel?”
“Yeah, Rodney,” John said, a little out of breath, and Rodney thought he was either running or in the gym, but probably running, since chances were he wouldn’t have answered if Teyla’d been beating him down.
Rodney scowled off into the middle distance. “When you said you explained everything to Elizabeth, did you, by any chance, tell her I broke your heart?”
John choked and there was a loud thunk, and then he panted, “What?”
“Everyone hates me!” Rodney yelled, then glared at a pair of grunts who were openly goggling at him before ducking into an empty corridor.
Chuckling, John said, “I don’t think that’s new.”
“Oh very funny, Colonel, thank you, that helps the situation so very much.” He slumped back against the wall and banged his head. Repeatedly. “I can’t believe you told Elizabeth I dumped you. Are you on drugs? Seriously?”
“I’m pretty sure everyone else is,” John muttered, then went on louder, “Look, Rodney, I didn’t tell her that. I explained that we weren’t in any kind of relationship, and she just… heard what she wanted to hear. Not my fault.”
“Right. Of course not,” Rodney snapped, and then he sighed and dug a palm into his eye socket and told himself that he never really cared about what people thought of him anyhow.
Ernie pressed close to Rodney’s legs, threading three of his arms around his left ankle. “Mine,” he chirped up at him, only it sounded a little like a question, and Rodney reached down and patted his head.
“I’m fine, Ernie.”
Radek arched his brows at him over the top of his laptop. “You are miserable,” he said. “Everyone hates you.”
“I’m fine,” Rodney protested stiffly, tilting his chin up, and Radek bobbed his head, glasses slipping down his nose.
“You must make up with Colonel Sheppard. Then you will be fine.”
Rodney growled, and Radek flashed him a sharp, knowing grin, and Simpson gave him her best Kavanagh impression as she passed, and Rodney pulled his coffee cup in a little closer, since he was not entirely sure his staff wasn’t plotting to poison him.
“What about those six months in that cloister, eh?” Rodney shouted at the room in general, perfectly aware he was feeding the beast. “There is every possibility that he was cheating on me!”
Radek eyed him with amusement.
“Oh, shut up,” Rodney groused, palming his forehead and leaning onto his elbow.
Sometimes, crazy pills couldn’t even explain it, because as far as John was concerned, Ernie was perfectly well-adjusted. So he freaked out if he saw John or Rodney go anywhere near the control room. So he clutched his Mickey Mouse pen in his sleep and color coordinated the others around his basket in the lab. It was Ernie. That’s what he did.
John and Rodney’s relationship, or lack thereof, had no impact on him whatsoever.
Everyone else, though.
John started seeking out Rodney’s company more often, since he was practically the only one not looking at him with puppy eyes or offering to cook him hot meals or massage his shoulders or clean his guns or tidy up his quarters or sharpen his knives – which was, you know, pretty cool at first, but there was only so much of John to go around, and some of the botanists were scarily persistent. Also, John was pretty sure a lot of the offers were thinly-veiled innuendo.
So. He hid out in Rodney’s room. Given the collective delusional circumstances, it was the last place anyone would bother to look.
John settled down on the bed and toed his sneakers off, then tugged the bowl of popcorn onto his lap. “How come we’ve never done this before?” he asked, tossing a few fluffy kernels into his mouth.
“Because,” Rodney slipped in the DVD and adjusted the angle of the laptop screen, “you’re my team leader, we’ve got a common lounge if we ever needed to watch something together, and I don’t think we’ve ever wanted to watch something together.”
“But we’re friends, and friends hang—”
“We’re not friends,” Rodney interrupted, clicking play and then sprawling out between John and Ernie, who was cuddled up by his pillow and blinking sleepily at them.
A handful of popcorn froze on its way to his mouth. “We’re not?”
Rodney gazed at him, head tipped to the side. “No,” he drew out slowly. “I mean. I never would’ve said that before.”
“Right,” John agreed shortly.
“Not that we’re not close,” Rodney backtracked at the sudden hardness in John’s tone, “what with the saving each other’s lives all the time and the… closeness,” he ended lamely.
John eyed him speculatively. “So we’re close, but we’re not friends.”
“Oh!” Rodney snapped his fingers. “And we fight. Like, all the time.”
“Bicker,” John countered.
Rodney flapped a hand. “Same thing.” Then he dropped his gaze, picking at the thin fabric covering a knee, half-frowning.
“And you insult me, and I taunt you,” John went on, leaning into Rodney’s side, and Rodney glanced up at him, blue eyes widening with slowly dawning horror and no wonder…
“We’re like Sal and Ida!” Rodney exclaimed, immediately regretting it, but squaring his jaw in a show of, ‘yes, you heard me, Sal and Ida,’ though John clearly had no idea who Sal and Ida were.
“Who?” he asked, bewildered, and Rodney very cleverly dodged the question by staring intently at the computer screen, reading the white scroll of words as Spaceballs started and shrugging nonchalantly.
And when John persisted with a, “Rodney, who—?” he cut him off with a sharp, “Drop it and I’ll grant you Yogurt-quoting immunity for the next three days,” and John was only human. He never underestimated the power of the Schwartz.
When Ernie disappeared two days later, John did not panic.
Rodney, on the other hand, sat abnormally quiet during the briefing, hands clenched together, eyes bruised from more than just a sleepless night, since sleepless nights had grown so common that they hardly ever affected him at all.
Radek had apparently adopted Rodney’s usual fidgeting, and bounced both his knees and tapped his fingers on the tabletop and grimaced as the sound gave a hollow echo around the near-silent room.
Everyone’s expressions were drawn and solemn and Elizabeth finally said, “We’ll send out teams of two,” and no one bothered to mention that the life-signs detector, once everyone had been called back to a single sector, had already ruled out five-sixths of the city.
John didn’t panic, though, because he figured there was still one place they hadn’t checked. “I’d just like to point out once again,” he drawled, “that we’re dealing with a creature who looks like an octopus.”
“He may bear a superficial resemblance to one, yes,” a biologist hedged impatiently, “but their physiological make-ups are inherently different. Ernie is a dry-air-breathing mammal, Colonel. We’re not going to find him at the bottom of the ocean.”
John spread his hands out. “I’m just saying—”
“I think we should check,” Rodney cut in, jaw tight. It was the first he’d spoken all morning.
Elizabeth gave him a slow, measuring look, lips pursed, then nodded. “All right. After we sweep the city.”
John paired up with Rodney because it was easy, and because Rodney kinda looked like he was going to cry. He shouldered his P-90, and Rodney eyed the long length of the first pier they came across, sniffling suspiciously and rubbing a hand over his mouth.
Moving to the lip, boots sloshing in the spill of choppy waves drenching the edge, John stared into the water. It was dark down there. The sun shimmered a glare across the surface, and John slipped his sunglasses onto his nose.
Rodney took a deep, shuddery breath, then turned back towards the doors, head bowed over his handheld.
“So,” John scrubbed a hand through his hair, “who’re Sal and Ida?”
Tapping a few notes, Rodney murmured absently, “My mother’s parents. Argued all the time, but I stumbled across them once in the basement and, god, had nightmares from the moans alone.” Then he paused and glanced at him, visibly frazzled. “Wait, what?”
John furrowed his brow. “You think we’re like your grandparents?” he asked incredulously.
Rodney flushed pink, then snapped back testily, “Colonel, do you honestly think this is the time to be discussing our relationship?”
“I think this is exactly the time,” John said, crossing his arms over his chest, because there was a very real possibility that Elizabeth and Carson had been right, and Ernie’d run away because he wasn’t getting the familial support he needed from them.
But then his radio crackled to life and they were both rushing towards pier 87, and Ernie was wet and bedraggled and gripping five gray-pink stones in his tentacles, blinking his four cat-eyes at them with something akin to bemusement.
Because it was Atlantis, everyone had assumed Ernie was smarter than he really was. He was a pet. He was an intelligent, intuitive pet, but he wasn’t going to start sniffing out ZPMs or hidden Ancient weaponry or detailed instructions on how to kill a Wraith with a common household item. A pen, for instance.
Because it was Atlantis, at first everyone assumed the gray-pink stones were more than stones, but it turned out that Ernie just liked pretty things, and after extensive testing, Ernie happily tucked them underneath his USAF tee, towards the back of his basket, where he’d started collecting bits of shiny foil from the kitchens.
Because it was Atlantis, John decided that if he was going to remind Rodney of either Sal or Ida, he might as well be reaping the benefits of the role.
“You think we’re like an old married couple. Sal and Ida.”
“Yes, and occasionally I see flashes of Riggs and Murtaugh, only with less hair,” Rodney said without looking at him, bent over his laptop. “Doesn’t mean anything.”
John’s mouth quirked up and he moved further into the lab, sauntering over towards Rodney’s console and leaning a hip against the table. “So,” he toyed absently with an egg-shaped artifact, and Rodney snatched it out of his hands, slanting him a glower. Palms out, he smirked at him. “Apparently,” he started again, “cohesive family unit is code for spacious tower quarters with a wrap-around balcony.”
Rodney snorted. “Are you kidding? Ernie can’t have access to open spaces that high up. With his penchant for wandering, that’s just asking for disaster.”
John blinked, smirk fading. He really thought Rodney’s chief protest would’ve had a much different angle to it. “Well,” he drew out, “I’m sure we could ask Elizabeth for something more… pet friendly.”
“Fine, yes. Do that,” Rodney said dismissively, shuffling a few papers that didn’t actually need shuffling. He was hoping John wouldn’t notice.
“Right.” John scratched his head, ducking slightly. “Um—”
A grin pulled his lips at Rodney’s curt tone. “Not really, no.” John glanced surreptitiously around the lab. A couple scientists were on the other end, arguing in low, heated voices, and Zelenka was bent over the exposed guts of something that looked like a metal turtle, very carefully not looking at them. So he leaned closer to Rodney, skimming tentative fingers over the line of his shoulders, pausing to press lightly at the bare skin just above his collar.
Rodney’s breath hitched and he froze, staring blankly at this laptop screen. His arm was warm against John’s stomach, and he bit his lip to stop a sigh as John’s hand moved to cup his nape, thumb teasing the short hairs, the soft patch of skin just below his ear.
John grinned wider. “Yeah?”
He slanted a slightly incredulous look up at him, then stammered, “I. Are you—?“ then cut himself off and spun around to glare at Radek, who’d given up any pretence of ignorance and was watching them with blatant amusement, absently humming the Love Theme from Flashdance, chin in hand, elbow leaning on the base of his console.
Ernie was settled on his lap, a piece of foil comically placed over one eye, the other three focused curiously on John and Rodney. He bleated, “Mine!” when he caught Rodney’s gaze, scrambling off of Radek and rushing over and then climbing John’s leg to wrap his tentacles around John’s wrist and Rodney’s shoulders and Radek looked very close to laughing.
Rodney tightened his jaw, scowling, but then John squeezed the back of his neck, and Simpson grinned at him and Kusanagi slid a full, steaming mug of coffee onto his desk as she passed, and Rodney, magnanimously ignoring the doe-eyed, adoring look she tossed John, decided that it probably wasn’t poisoned.
Ernie warbled tunelessly. Rodney thought he sounded a little smug, but he wasn’t going to complain.