Summary: Sheppard suddenly has a female body and Rodney can't stop looking.
Title, Author and URL of original story: "Sheppard's Choice," by cupidsbow, located here.
Notes: Many thanks to helens78 for her excellent beta, and to both darkrosetiger and kyuuketsukirui for listening to me go on about this. Finally, thanks go to cupidsbow for writing such an awesome story; I really enjoyed digging in and rereading it many times.
Rodney tells them he destroyed the device once Sheppard was back to being himself again.
He doesn't of course. He keeps it locked up in a room that only he--and maybe Sheppard, if he knew the room was there, which he doesn't--can enter.
Late at night, when he can't sleep, he sits, palms sweating and looks at it.
* * *
The minute they stepped in the room, Rodney felt it: a buzz in the back of his head like the sound of an angry swarm of bees. For one, panicky moment, he looked around, afraid that there actually were bees in the room with them.
Then Sheppard found the octagonal device in a corner. He got that absent look on his face, the same one he often had while using the chair, and reached out.
Rodney told him it was dead, knowing damn well it wasn't.
But whatever Rodney was feeling as a warning, Sheppard felt as an invitation to touch.
The flash was green and then blue and then such a bright white that Rodney had to look away. Sheppard screamed, high and sharp, and then the light vanished and he fell to the floor. Still blinking, Rodney thumped down on his knees next to him, reaching for a pulse even as he turned on his radio yelling for Carson and a medical team.
Sheppard was breathing and his pulse was steady, although a little faster than Rodney thought it was supposed to be. It was only when Rodney rolled him over, looking for any sign of physical injury, that he saw what had happened.
For a moment, during which Rodney's heart began to pound far too quickly in his chest, he was sure he was hallucinating or that the bright light had done something to his vision. But no, even if vision issues could explain away the way Sheppard's face seemed smoother, softer--oh my God, no stubble--there was no rational explanation for the smallish, but unmistakable swell of breasts under Sheppard's uniform.
Occam's Razor, he told himself a little hysterically. That machine turned Sheppard into...into a woman.
Rodney's heart pounded even harder.
The little murmur Sheppard made as he woke up sounded just like the noise Rodney's girlfriend Anna had made as she woke up. Rodney reached out to touch his shoulder and then pulled back, staring at Sheppard as his eyes, framed by much longer lashes, opened.
When Sheppard asked what had happened, his voice was high and light, a soprano at least. Rodney stared, unable to answer, and Sheppard moved, his face frowning as something about the change registered. His eyebrows, Rodney noted with some hysteria, were just as mobile and absurd as ever.
* * *
Everyone, even Sheppard, thinks the machine really did go dead after Rodney tinkered with it and got it to the point where he could use it to change Sheppard back.
As he sits, brooding over it in the middle of the night, Rodney wonders why he, of all the gene carriers in Atlantis, can still feel it buzzing, like a swarm of sleepy bees now, in the back of his head.
When he's being honest with himself, he knows why.
* * *
Sheppard looked a little panicky once he was in the infirmary and everyone was crowded around him. Rodney hated the way they all flinched and looked at him sideways, lowering or averting their eyes whenever Sheppard caught them looking. Rodney was the only one who kept looking, who couldn't seem to take his eyes off Sheppard and although he felt a little guilty, he noticed that Sheppard didn't seem to be annoyed by his attention.
Sheppard was a beautiful woman.
It wasn't that Rodney hadn't thought that Sheppard was a good looking guy, but...to be honest, in spite of his family's assumptions, Rodney really wasn't and never had been the least bit gay. If he'd noticed Sheppard's looks or physique before it was only to see things that Rodney wished he himself had.
Now he noticed a pretty, curved mouth with a lush lower lip. He noticed the sweet curve of Sheppard's waist that led to slim, but still evident, hips. He noticed the fine, long fingers that he knew would still have gun calluses, that he could almost feel on his skin....
If, as they discussed Sheppard's transformation, Rodney sounded even more hysterical or angry then he usually did, he figured people would just assume he was worried about his friend. Which he really should have been instead of mentally undressing him or, even worse, fantasizing about him in the middle of a crisis.
He just wished Sheppard didn't look so damn lost and confused. Rodney was well aware that chivalry was something that most modern women abhorred and that a man like Sheppard wouldn't appreciate it at all, but still, Rodney wanted to step in and protect him from Carson's prying and Elizabeth's bright-eyed curiosity and Ronon's confused regard.
Sheppard flirted with Carson to be allowed to leave, and even as Rodney commented on it loudly, he knew it for what it was. Sheppard, it seemed, picked things up pretty damn quickly.
* * *
The mirrored surfaces of the device, all eight of them, are undoubtedly symbolic. Rodney's learned enough about the Ancient's design aesthetic to know that very few of their decorative elements serve only one purpose.
He stares at himself in the mirror, mapping out his crooked mouth and high forehead. He watches as his fingers travel over a day's worth of stubble. He knows this face, knows it and is comfortable with it in a way he's often not comfortable with the rest of himself.
The device changes everything and Rodney wonders, in a very uncharacteristic flight of fancy, what it sees when it looks at him.
* * *
Rodney had though that Sheppard was hard to read with a male face, but that was nothing on him with a female face. He seemed bound and determined to act like nothing had happened, to act as if the whole thing was nothing more than a mildly amusing walk on the wild side.
Rodney was sure it was hell on him though. He knew how much Sheppard hated it when people paid attention to him; he'd seen him wince when alien princesses--and, a time or two, alien princes--or besotted scientists stared at him and then flirted. Pretending to not notice was a pretty good cover for what Rodney assumed was embarrassment or even active dislike.
Which made it even weirder that Sheppard seemed not to mind the way Rodney looked at him.
For the two weeks that it took Rodney to figure out how to take apart and then reset the device, Sheppard spent a lot of time in his quarters or in Rodney's lab. Rodney worked hard, and was mostly successful at behaving himself. The one time he tried to stammer out an apology, Sheppard had rolled his eyes and waved Rodney's hesitant words away.
Although he was working on the device every waking moment, even Rodney had to take the time to sleep. And if, during the time it took for his brain to shut down and let him sleep, he thought about Sheppard exploring his new body, well that was between Rodney and his right hand.
He wasn't stupid enough to think that just because he felt guilty as hell about it afterwards, it was an acceptable thing to do. He shrugged it off, knowing that, after he'd gotten Sheppard back into his proper body again, he'd sit down and have a good long talk with Kate about the whole thing.
Rodney could hardly wait.
Finally, after shielding his eyes from the green to blue to intense white light, Rodney took a deep breath and looked and...there was Sheppard. A very male, angular, stubbly Sheppard, looking exactly as he'd looked the day they'd stepped into the room and he'd reached out and touched the device.
As he woke up and everyone crowded around him, Rodney looked away.
Later, when Sheppard tried, awkwardly, to thank him, Rodney waved it off and stared at the floor, terrified that his almost irrational envy would show. Sheppard looked at him and then smiled a smile that didn't reach his eyes before he turned and left.
* * *
Almost as if he's watching someone else, Rodney watches his reflection in the device as he unzips his shirt and pulls it off. In the dim light, his scars aren't visible, although he knows the exact location of each one, can trace the crescent shapes under his chest hair.
"I wonder," he says softly. "I wonder if I touched you...what would happen? Which way would it go?"
He turns away tonight, and, like he has every other night for a month, knows that one night soon, he'll find the courage to reach out and take that chance.