The mission started out boring and uneventful, which, John only realized much later, is when he should have known something would go terribly wrong. PX-1557, or Albertania to the locals, was just another tiny, barely developed group of people who greeted Team Sheppard with wide teeth baring smiles and open arms. The planet's designation had been given to them by another planet's market place owner, who had informed John that the Albertaines were eager traders of a fine and delicate juice that was more similar to wine than anything they'd found so far. Augast, the owner, had been willing to trade with the Lanteans himself but made note that the Albertaines preferred to do direct trade when possible. With that said, Woolsey, on the look out for a more relaxed post-Atlantis' return to Pegasus mission, agreed, and sent Sheppard's team to make first contact with the group. John, himself, liked the idea of coming back to Pegasus with a mission that wouldn't end badly, not only for Woolsey's sake but for the sake of his team. Coming back home after their month long stay on Earth had a weird effect on everyone, leaving them feeling disconnected from an entire galaxy. John didn't directly talk about these feelings with anyone, naturally, but he could read the look of relief even on Rodney's face, when the whole of Atlantis landed safely back and things started to return to normal. So, a mission for wine it was.
Having had prior knowledge of Team Sheppard's arrival via Augast, the Albertaines were awaiting them less than a kilometer from the gate. The first man to step forward and greet them was tall and daunting, wearing a pair of tan robes that looked as if they were made of some kind of animal hide.
He stood tall and offered John a slight bow before saying, "Welcome to Albertania, I am Tire, and this is Kaylen," gesturing towards a tiny, old, fragile looking woman, draped in similar robes, one adorning her head like a nun's habit.
He mirrored Tire's slight bow before introducing his group.
"I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, this is Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex and Doctor Rodney McKay. Thank you for having us."
John gave them the best smile he could muster; it was much warmer than on Atlantis, and it was making him slightly uncomfortable. Rodney had explained to them prior to leaving that the planet's days didn't last very long and the time would be very much off from Atlantis's day time schedule. The group left at 08:00, and they arrived on the planet sometime around 13:34, Rodney estimated. John was already adjusted to the cool Atlantis morning and the sudden walk into a blistering afternoon unexpectedly threw him off. He chalked it up to first day back on the job related jitters.
Everyone gave their version of a hello: a head bow from Teyla, an affirmative glare from Ronon and a fake plastered-on smile from Rodney. Tire didn't seem to take offense with the greeting and smiled more deeply at them, showing off a row of yellowed teeth.
"We are honored to meet such a group of well known warriors in our fight against the Wraith." He bowed again and gestured towards a well beaten dirt path the team was standing at the start of. "I must ask that we refrain from our trading talks until we've entered the village and you've become acquainted with our ways. We aren't settled but a short walk from here."
John nodded and they began to walk down the path. Teyla was slightly behind him, walking along side Kaylen, who hadn't said a word before, but now seemed to be having a conversation with Teyla. John wondered if the women were allowed to speak to men, or in the presence of one at all. They had found their share of patriarchal planets, some worse than others, and even attempted to free several groups of repressed women, but things rarely worked out the way they wanted them to. Thousands of years of tradition built into a society don't get changed by off worlder's radical ideas. It was missions like those where John really saw how important and rare Teyla's leadership of her people was. The Athosians didn't care about patriarchy or matriarchy, they followed the person they trusted with their lives, without hesitation.
Ronon was ahead of them. Despite the simple aspects of the mission, his stance and attitude rarely changed; he was still looking as if trouble was really just waiting around the bend. If anything, Ronon had been the one itching to get back to Atlantis the most. His relationship with Amelia kept him marginally occupied while stationed on Earth, but John could see he was more focused on returning home. Ronon never really cared for Earth visits; he once told John it reminded him of what Sateda could have been at some point, and John understood completely. The differences between even the most advanced Pegasus civilization and Earth were both startling and a little heart breaking. Ronon hadn't exactly objected to their wine run, but it definitely wasn't the exact place he wanted to be.
Rodney was the closest to John, walking at a slow pace. He had been oddly quiet before and after stepping through the wormhole, only offering his annoyance at having to leave the lab after he just got back to actual work. John barely saw Rodney when they were back on Earth; the SGC had put him and Zelenka through the ringer regarding the intergalactic jump they'd both had a hand in, plus several other things they had managed to pull off. After the seemingly week long intergalactic and impromptu performance review, Rodney was given the okay (along with the rest of the Atlantis team) to take a week and enjoy their return home. Most of the members chose to stay in the city, venturing into San Francisco only for dining and entertainment. Rodney took Keller somewhere for a few days, came back and went right back to working on a safe way to return to Pegasus. Jeannie had insisted they come visit, but Rodney had made up various excuses (or at least that's what Jeannie had told John when she emailed him about making Rodney visit), and instead flew Jeannie, Kaleb and Madison to San Francisco, where he put them up in an expensive hotel and visited them when he could. John tagged along a few times, surprised when Keller wasn't invited, only to find out she had left to visit her Dad at some point after her and Rodney's return. When the Millers' returned to Canada, Rodney disappeared back into the lab and only seem to emerge when they were ready to return to Pegasus.
John felt that something was weird as they walked towards a small villages of wood huts. He was walking with his team, three people whom he knew and trusted, yet he couldn't help but feel like they were drifting away from each other.
"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard?" Tire's voice interrupted John's thoughts, and he stopped walking, noticing they'd arrived.
"Please," John started, "you can call me Colonel." Years of missions had taught John when it was time to be formal, and when it wasn't, and these people seemed to suggest extreme formality within their own lives. John didn't want to give them any reason to claim disrespect on his team's part.
"Colonel," Tire smiled again, this time with less teeth, but still reassuring, "we ask that you join us for phalen, during which we can talk of our arrangement while you sample our kish."
John nodded and looked over to his scattered team mates, who started to converge and follow behind him in a single line. It reminded John way too much of kindergarten and buddy systems. Tire directed them to a large wooden table set up in nearly the center of the town.
"We don't usually take phalen this early in the day, but I understand you are to return to the ancestral pool before morning?" John nodded, but before he could talk, Tire spoke once again. "Kaylen, perhaps you can take Teyla Emmagan with you to prepare?"
Kaylen nodded happily, "I shall, if that's what Teyla wishes to do?"
Teyla smiled at Kaylen and then to Tire before catching John's eye. "I would love to be of assistance."
"And if any of us can help," John started ignoring a well known sigh coming from Rodney, "please let us know."
"That isn't necessary Colonel. We ask that you three please sit while we prepare; it won't be very long." Tire gestured once again to the wooden table before departing in the same direction Teyla and Kaylen had gone.
John, Ronon, and Rodney took seats on the benches that lined each side of the table. John was across from Rodney, who sat beside Ronon.
"First of all, I think we've stepped onto yet another planet that needs their own Nellie McClung." He paused and added for Ronon's, and possibly John's, benefit, "Canadian women's rights activist in the 1800's," and then took a deep breath. John braced himself for complaints.
"And these tables remind me far too much of high school cafeterias for my own personal comfort." He abruptly stopped there, completely disregarding the several other things John suspected Rodney could rant and rave about.
"Isn't too bad," Ronon added, looking directly at John.
Teyla appeared a moment later and took a seat beside John at the table.
"Our guests will arrive shortly," she told her team mates, "they only requested that Kaylen, myself, and a small group of women carry the jugs of kish from a storage hut to Tire, so it can be blessed before consumption."
Rodney snorted, "Holy wine, then?"
John was about to reply when Tire made his appearance, flocked by several more villagers. John was about to stand up when Teyla placed her hand against his arm.
"Kaylen explained to me that it's not necessary to do anything but accept what's being given to us. I'm sure Tire will explain the rest when the ceremony has started."
The whole thing reminded John strongly of every Catholic church procession he'd ever been in. The people behind Tire were lined up in two single file lines, the line on his right a mix of younger men and women carrying small round bowls, while the line on his left was all women carrying jugs of what he assumed was the kish. Tire was holding something that looked like bird feeder, swinging it back and forth from a metal chain. The two lines stood behind him and after a second the line with the bowls started around the table, each person leaving a bowl at an empty spot before moving in a complete circle around. Once the circle was complete each person took an empty spot. The four people who had delivered the bowls to his team walked off to the side and disappeared into another hut. No one had uttered a word yet; they sat in front of their respective bowls, eyes completely locked on Tire, still standing at the head of the table.
John looked down at his bowl. It was filled with a liquid that resembled dark blue gravy. John looked for silverware; when none was apparent, his eyes flickered across to where Rodney and Ronon sat across the table. They were talking to each other, voices so low that they didn't carry across. John reached his leg out and kicked Rodney in the shins. He jumped a little and scowled.
"Sheppard. There are other ways of getting my attention, thank you."
John gave him a wide grin and put his finger to his lips, a gesture he's sure every school teacher in the world gave their students. Rodney just rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut.
"Friends," Tire started, breaking the silence. While John was looking at Rodney, he had sat down at the head of the table, a bowl placed in front of him. The line of women still stood to his left.
"We welcome our new friends to our feast and ask the Gods to bless them on their way and in their future." He gestured towards the bowl in a move that John took as meaning to go ahead and eat. Rodney must have thought the same, for in that moment he mumbled something that sounded like 'finally', dipped his finger into the gravy and put it into his mouth. Before he could so much as react to what he was eating all the Albertaines seemed to explode with fury. Everything that followed happened so fast that John was barely able to start shooting before someone had grabbed Rodney around the forearms and pulled him from the table.
"SHEPPARD!' Rodney hollered, his arms reaching out and looking frantically between Ronon and John.
Ronon almost had Rodney in his arms, but the Albertaines seemed to move with skills John would associate with ninjas' more than anything else. Everyone had scattered, the group at the table, the line of women, all seemed to be focusing their efforts on grabbing Rodney and pulling him away. Several men had their hands on Ronon, holding him back, while two had grabbed Teyla. John had almost completely lunged over the table, Rodney inches from his grasp but there were too many arms grabbing him and pulling him back. Within a few minutes they had gotten Ronon, Teyla and himself to the ground, with ropes wrapped around their wrists, while Rodney had been pulled off and away.
"What the hell?" John shouted, his knees hitting the ground as his captors tossed him there. "What the fuck is wrong with you people?"
"Your Doctor has done us great harm Colonel." Tire responded, staring down at them looking, much more intimidating than he had been before. They had been deposited to the right of the table. There were far fewer Albertaines around now; most of them had disappeared in the direction Rodney had been taken. The ropes were burning against John's wrists as he attempted again to throw his captors off, but they were strong and the rope was bound too tightly to slip from.
"Tire, Dr. McKay didn't mean to do you any harm, please explain to us what has happened so we can apologize appropriately." Teyla looked up, voice eerily calm and collected. Sometimes John envied that about her, her unwavering tone, despite the emotion he knew she felt. She looked to Ronon and John, flanked on her sides. "Please, we are friends here, Tire. We come with good will and trade, any inappropriate actions that Dr. McKay has taken were done without his knowledge. We are new to your customs." She looked to Kaylen, who came up and stood beside Tire.
"Kaylen, I beg of you, please understand we are not here to harm your people or your traditions."
Anger was bubbling up in John's gut, anger that after five years of this, Rodney still managed to offend the natives. No matter how many missions they went on, no matter how much training the team went through, something like this was always just around the corner, waiting for them.
"It is not a light offense your Doctor has committed. He has eaten the sacred blood of our Gods, and for that he must be punished." Tire nodded at the group holding them down and John was suddenly lifted to his feet, the hands on his arms pulling him without hesitation or a second thought.
"The gravy?" John yelled, pulling forward as hard as he could. "He ate your food! You offered us food!"
"That was not your offering Colonel. Before each meal we bless ourselves with the blood of our Gods, in order to cleanse our bodies before our food is eaten. By consuming the blood of our Gods, Dr. McKay has committed the most heinous crime possible, and for that he will be punished."
Ronon let out a cry as he began to struggle again, pushing back at the three men holding his shoulder and neck but with his hands behind his back and the men holding his legs and shoulders he lacked any real leverage. John looked up at Tire, almost growling at him.
"McKay had no idea it wasn't food! You should have warned us! What are you going to do with him?"
Tire walked over to John, standing directly in front of him, a disgusted look on his face.
"Perhaps if you controlled your Doctor, Colonel, he would not have consumed the blood of our Gods and desecrated the ideals of our religion. There is no other way around it, for drinking the blood of our Gods, Dr. McKay must donate his own blood to the Gods. To give back what he has taken."
John knew shouting was futile, as was struggling hard against their captors; they had to gain some ground and fighting themselves into the ground wasn't going to help.
"Tell us where McKay is! We can talk this out, we can share medicine and other goods with your people!" John's voice started to rise, louder and louder. "If you do this, you'll live to regret it! You'll never-" But whatever threat he was about to declare went unvoiced, for a swift blow to the head crashed him to the ground and everything faded to black.
The team had only been together a handful of times during the month long stay on Earth. The majority of their time was spent either with Jeannie and her family in California or in meetings with the IOA and SGC, where they were busy defending their actions instead of really enjoying each others' company. If they had been on Atlantis there would have been times in which they'd had gathered to eat in the mess, but it had been closed down on the third day in favor of everyone taking their meals on the main land. All the mess ended up carrying were MREs and a selection of prepackaged sandwiches and salads brought in from a local deli. Movies on DVD stopped being viable entertainment when a city with movie theaters and shopping was so close and accessible. John was thankful Kaanan and Torren had been in the city when it arrived; he couldn't imagine Teyla going an entire month without seeing either of them. Once they were cleared of any Pegasus based medical issues, they too were allowed to visit San Francisco as much as they wanted. Ronon was only held up in the infirmary for two days before Keller let him go, and Amelia seemed bent on introducing him to every thing that Earth had to offer.
The last time the team had truly been together was the third night back on Earth. Ronon was released from the infirmary and they'd gathered in John's room for their traditional celebration of having everyone in good health. It had started out as a joke some time after Ronon had joined them, gathering in a room and generally enjoying each others company after one of them (more John than anyone else) had been laid up in the infirmary. Someone (John suspected Lorne was behind it) had managed to obtain a case of Budweiser, putting it in his room, and John had planned on sharing it with this team.
"Are you going to see Jeannie?" Teyla questioned Rodney as they sat in a semi circle on John's floor. Ronon was stretched out across John's couch, nursing a beer. He hadn't liked the American beer John had before, explaining the beer on Sateda had more of a fruit flavor to it, but after a while he became fond of the beer John was able to get his hands on. Rodney was sitting with his back against the bed, John to his right and Teyla sitting to his left. She had turned down the beer and instead was drinking a bottle of water, the label having been picked off by her earlier. Rodney whined about the lack of Molson's but gave in to John's looks and took his Bud without too many complaints.
"Most likely," Rodney replied drumming his fingers against his knee, "I haven't told her we're here yet, but I'm sure when she finds out she'll want to see everyone."
"I think Torren would be delighted to meet Madison; he seems to enjoy the drawings she sends to him." She smiled then at John, before asking, "Are you going to visit with your family while you're here?"
"No," John answered, perhaps too quickly, "I don't think I'll have the time to see them." He took a sip of his Bud to avoid having to finish answering. In truth, the idea had danced around in his mind to call Dave and let him know he could be in town for a few days, but the more he thought about it, the less appealing it seemed. John felt like he needed to be with his team. The last year had seen almost everyone in life or death situations and now that they were far away from danger (or at least it seemed as much) there was nothing more than the comfort of Teyla, Ronon and Rodney that John wanted.
Ronon sat up and placed his beer bottle on John's nightstand. "How long do you think they'll keep us here?"
John shrugged, rolling his shoulders. "Not long, they know we don't want to stay here."
Rodney snorted and looked over at Ronon. "They'll keep us here as long as they want. It doesn't matter how many of us want to go back, the IOA would love to keep Atlantis here; they have much more control of a city in their own galaxy than they do when we're back in Pegasus. Not to say they are going to keep us here forever, but until they feel like they've assessed our worth enough, they'll allow," Rodney emphasized the word allow with a sneer that suggested he found it beyond ludicrous, "us to return back where we all belong."
"Rodney, I'm sure Stargate Command knows how important it is we continue on in Pegasus. I'm sure they'll do what's in our best interest," Teyla placated placing her hand on Rodney's knee. Despite her words John knew she had to be just as nervous as the rest of them. Woolsey had attempted to reassure the group yesterday that every thing would go smoothly and after a few interviews and such they'd be back on their way home. John didn't think anyone actually believed him.
"Teyla's right, Rodney," John found himself saying, "things will work out."
"Since when did you join the optimist club? You know very well the way the IOA and SGC work or have you forgotten the last five years of our lives? We'll be lucky if we can leave without gaining several new IOA employees as our bosses. It's worked out with Woolsey, but who knows what else the IOA can bring us?"
"I don't know Rodney," John stood up and sat on the edge of his bed putting his bottle on the table, "it doesn't hurt to at least pretend to be optimistic about this. At least," he started, "at least we have.." He trailed off and made a gesture that he thought translated pretty well to meaning that he was just happy everyone was alive. He grabbed another beer can, clicking it open.
"Eloquent as always, Sheppard." Rodney got up from the floor as well, tossing his empty can into John's waste basket. "As enlightening as this conversation is, I promised I'd take Jennifer out before I get sequestered by the SGC tomorrow." He took a look around the room before heading out the door without a proper goodbye.
Teyla and Ronon stood up a moment later, Teyla smiling at John as if she were placating him.
"We're all going into the city tomorrow as well John. Amelia has asked us to join her and Ronon. None of us would mind if you joined us as well."
He shook his head and readjusted himself so he was sitting against his headboard, his feet up and crossed at the ankle, on his bed.
"I'm going to be in interviews tomorrow too. Maybe some other time though, when things are less hectic."
"I understand. Good night, John."
They exited the room as John closed his eyes and laid his head back against the headboard.
When John came to he was tied to a pole, arms stretched behind him in a tight hug around a piece of wood. It wasn't too thick, just enough that his wrists connected to each other in the back and it was about his height, or a little taller. His shoulder protested at the angle and from the earlier treatment, and his brain still felt slightly foggy from the blow to the head.
"Rodney," he called out when he was able to speak again, pushing his body forward, attempting to pull the pole out of the ground. Nothing moved and his head protested the movement, but he knew he couldn't stop.
"Colonel," Teyla said, somewhere to his right. John closed his eyes and pulled harder; he had no idea how long he had been out. It could have been hours and Rodney.. Rodney could be dead by now.
"Sheppard." Teyla tried again, her voice raised, and then finally, "John."
He looked over to her; she nudged her chin ahead and he finally looked up. John had seen a lot of things in his lifetime, a lot of horrible inhumane things done to people of all ages and races. Torture and death, hatred and ugliness, things that he could never forget but this.. this was the worst of all. Rodney was tied to a pole, his arms out from his body, his head slumped all the way forward. Christ like, John thought bitterly and had to hold back the bile in his throat; never in his life had he seen so much blood come from just one person. He wasn't close enough to see each cut, but he could tell there were long slashes down Rodney's forearms, and more littering his shirtless and pant less body. The only clothing they had left on were his boxers, the blue color soaked red with blood. All John could think was that he was dead, he was dead, there was no way with all that blood loss he could still be alive. Below him, several bowls caught everything that Rodney bled out, and the Albertaines were gathered around in a circle, watching the life drip from Rodney's still body. Rodney didn't deserve this, John thought, he didn't deserve to have the life drained out of him like this.
John wasn't truly aware that he was yelling and still struggling; he just kept looking for a sign that Rodney was alive, or that this was just some horrible new nightmare Pegasus had presented him. Ronon and Teyla were shouting too; he could see them in the corner of his eye. Ronon's pole was shifting with his movements, and John knew if he kept going he'd rip it from the ground and charge after the natives around them. Kaylen, who looked so innocent and old, was standing in front of Rodney, tracing her fingers over the large cuts on his stomach; Rodney didn't even flinch. John couldn't even tell if he was actually breathing anymore; his whole body was lax and slumped in the restraints, as his blood dripped down and pooled into the bowls.
Ronon's pole was shaking; a few more pulls and John knew it would be torn from the ground, but it wasn't happening nearly fast enough. John tried to remember as much as he could about shock, and about how long it would take for a human body to be completely drained. His mind raced to every vampire movie he'd ever seen, movies of fair young woman having their life drained from them with two tiny little holes. This was real, he had to remind himself, this wasn't a movie and Rodney might already be dead. His mind felt sluggish, barely able to focus on anything other than subjecting John to even more horrific images of Rodney dying. He knew the blow to the head had most likely caused a concussion, and thrashing himself forward and back into the stick wasn't making his head wound any better. But at that moment, none of that even mattered in the slightest.
There was a loud bang from behind them and John recognized it as the sound of C-4, followed immediately by the sound of P-90's. Within moments, the Albertaines had scrambled from their circle and begun towards what John figured were several Marines and Lorne coming to the rescue. He had never been so grateful for required check-ins in his life, knowing that when they missed theirs that without a doubt Lorne and his team would come barging in gung ho. He could see Marines heading towards them, intending to untie them, but John yelled, "Rodney, Rodney, go get Rodney down." His throat was raw and every word felt as if he was ripping his vocal cords apart.
Someone had started at his wrists, but he couldn't even get himself to stay still. Lorne had come towards Rodney and stopped a few feet in front of him, staring. John could hear the cries and shouts of the Albertaines, completely and absurdly out matched by guns and explosives erupting around them. As soon as his hands were free he was out, falling to his knees as Lorne cut Rodney's arms down. Without anything holding him up, he fell swiftly. John pitched forward himself, getting there just in enough time to catch Rodney's upper body, along side Lorne. Once John had him half in his arms, Lorne reached down and cut the ropes securing Rodney's legs. Rodney was dead weight in his arms then, blood pouring and staining everywhere their bodies touched. Rodney was so pale he was nearly translucent, and his skin is covered in a thin layer of sweat.
"Rodney, come on buddy."
Lorne took some of Rodney's weight from John and slowly lowered him to the ground. John's hands were suddenly everywhere, running along the pale skin, searching for a sign of life.
"Rodney, please buddy, you have to be alright." He was frantic, full of adrenaline, anger and fear pooling deep in the pit of his stomach as his hands swiped over long cuts, trying to stop any more blood from escaping.
"Colonel." Lorne started, putting his hand on John's shoulder. "He's.. I think.."
"No." John looked up as his fingers found the spot on Rodney's neck. There was no way he was going to let Rodney die here, on some stupid planet, killed by some overzealous religious nuts.
"He's …" he paused, breathing in and exhaling quickly when he felt a very faint pulse. "He's alive, we've got to get him to Atlantis, now."
Rodney's heartbeat was faint but John could feel it pulsing against his fingers, a life line, a steady reassurance that they had time, that they could get Rodney back and Keller could save him. He let his fingers stay firmly attached to Rodney's pulse, unable to remove himself from the reassurance that Rodney was still alive.
Ronon's hand was on his shoulder a moment later.
"Sheppard," he said simply, and John nodded, moving aside so Ronon could bend down and lift Rodney into his arms, his blood still spilling out, now all over himself, Lorne and Ronon. It was all too eerily similar to before, when Ronon had carried an unconscious Rodney into Atlantis from a cold, wet planet. He hadn't known then what would happen, how he'd almost lose him then too.
It only took them 15 minutes to walk to the gate on their way there, but John was sure the run back to the gate was the longest of his life, even longer than any of the other times he thought Rodney was dead or dying. His heart was beating so fast he thought it could possibly explode from his chest if he pushed any harder. He wasn't all that aware of who was around him, something he knew shouldn't be happening, but this was Rodney. Rodney was dying in Ronon's arms every second they weren't in Atlantis' infirmary and John wouldn't stop until he was safe, until the world didn't smell like copper and iron and everything around him wasn't stained red. Someone came up along him and touched his arm. He turned to find Teyla, covered in blood and dirt.
"Are you?" he questioned, surprised to find himself out of breath and straining to talk.
She shook her head and reached out to his arm, curling her hand above his elbow.
"Ronon will get him there. Are you okay, John?" Their pace had slowed, but they were still running hard; the gate wasn't that much further away. He could barely see Ronon ahead in the dark, but the dirt in front of him was colored red with blood, leaving a trail.
He breathed deeply, feeling the pull and strain of his muscles, protesting every movement. His head was throbbing now more than before, but no, nothing else was wrong.
"I'm okay," he forced out. The feel of Teyla's hand on his was calming and grounding, letting him know for a moment that he wasn't alone. He didn't need to say anything else, not to Teyla at least; she understood him better than he understood himself sometimes. It was in her look, the soft gaze as they ran that told John no matter what, he had her to rely on, that she would willingly bear any burdens that John need to share. She had seen what they'd done to Rodney too, as had Ronon, and John knew the image would be burned into their minds as well.
When they made it the gate it was still open and in seconds they went from the cold, dark and iron smelling planet to the cool and crisp almost linen fresh air of Atlantis. Ronon had been far enough ahead that when they entered the control room Rodney was long gone. There were several Marines and a few nurses cleaning up the mess of blood that followed and drenched everything, and John was only able to look around for a moment before something caught in his throat and he fell to his knees, managing to stay awake just long enough to throw up before passing out.
There had to be something said for John's ability to immediately recognize he that was in the infirmary even before he was fully awake. Between the familiar sounds and smells, John could feel the crisp linen blankets and the tiny pinch of the IV in his arm. It took only a few minutes before he fully remembered what had happened. When he did, he sprang up, jarring the hospital bed slightly. He was in what everyone jokingly referred to as, "Sheppard's Wing" of the infirmary, named for his team's nearly constant appearances in the more private section. He moved from the bed, swinging his legs over the edge and pulling the IV cord. He unhooked the bag and held it cradled in his arm. After the several times John had removed his own IV there was an open threat of something more permanent if he ever considered doing it again. His first step on the cold tiled floor made him shiver almost violently. He started slowly, his muscles aching, mostly his arm and shoulder, but nothing was going to stop him right now.
Except for maybe a short blonde English nurse, Martha, who suddenly appeared from around the door frame.
"Hi Martha." John flashed her what he considered to be his most charming smile.
She tutted, walking over and placing her hand on John's forearm.
"He's in the isolation room right now, so you aren't going to be able to actually go in and see him."
"Is he?" John trailed off, looking away from her eyes, becoming extremely fascinated with the floor.
"For now he's stable." The grip on his arm tightened for a moment before she let go completely.
"There's no one watching from the balcony to the theater," she said almost absent mindedly. "I'm sure it'll be at least a half hour before Doctor Keller comes back in here to look for you as well. And I'm," she smiled, "sure the last time I was in here, you were fast asleep."
John looked back up at her and flashed her yet another smile, this one feeling far more genuine than the one before. She walked ahead of him, peering out from the opened doors.
"The coast is clear for now; if you hurry I don't think anyone will see you."
He started towards her, pausing to smile at her once again.
"Thank you Martha."
True to her words, the hallway between the private rooms and Rodney's isolation room was empty of personnel. John quickly climbed the flight of stairs, the ache in his shoulder and head outweighed by the more urgent need to see Rodney alive for himself. He reached the top and walked over to the glass windows, peering down into the theater room below. Rodney was stationed on a white hospital bed, a litter of machines enclosing him. Most of his skin was wrapped in bandages and most of them had red stains on them, having been bled through. There was a ventilation tube in his mouth, IV's in both arms, and a series of wires attached to his chest as well. All John could do was stare at him, tiny fragile looking, Rodney McKay laying motionless below him. John always thought the term "theater" was incredibly appropriate for surgery and isolation rooms; he couldn't escape the feeling that he was peering in on someone else's life.
Before John's mother died, she too had been hooked up to machines. When John had first seen her after the accident, he thought machines were the only things keeping her alive. He had been young enough that his imagination painted pictures of having a cyborg as a mother now. That she would wake up and be half machine, but still be his Mother on the inside, her outside just made of metal and wires. It was as scary a thought for him then, as it is now, to have someone he loved replaced by something so fake, but now he would take it in an instant. Now Rodney was down there, his life just a series of lines across a heart rate monitor. He thought of Elizabeth, too, having actually become part machine and slipping away from them. It was almost funny how the Pegasus galaxy knew how to replay John's greatest nightmares time and time again.
He didn't how long he'd been standing at the window before he heard the observation room door swish open. Keller walked into the room, stopping to stand next to John and look down at Rodney. She looked tired, bags under her eyes, face looking pale and worn out. It was in that moment John realized that she too was holding onto grief, that Rodney meant to her what he meant to his own team. It was selfish, John knew, to think he was the only one who felt such an ache over the thought of Rodney's death. He'd seen it before, Atlantis coming together to save their scientist, but each time it amazed him how much one person could mean to all these different people.
"Martha informed me she had no idea you escaped." Keller looked over the IV bag still cradled in John's arm. "At least this time you took that with you."
John looked back down at Rodney. "She didn't tell me anything about him."
Keller was silent again, placing her hand against the window and gazing out at Rodney. She took a deep breath before speaking again.
"By the time Ronon brought him in he was already in stage three hypovolemia shock. He lost almost 40% of his blood, his blood pressure was still crashing and he was heading into respiratory failure." She spoke to the glass and not to John, her fingers reflexively making a small fist against the glass. "We were able to give him a blood transfusion right away, but we just didn't have as much blood as he needed available. We got lucky; there were volunteers ready and we managed to get what we needed." She looked at John finally, giving him a once over. "I know you would have been the first in line, but with your head injury I couldn't risk it."
John nodded and she continued, "We flushed him with fluids, electrolytes, sodium… to replace what he'd lost, but his condition was deteriorating faster due to his hypoglycemia. His blood sugar levels were way too low. You have to react to hypovolemia aggressively, so we just kept pushing in as much as we could. He's a fighter, Colonel, that's one thing I know about Rodney. It's been about twelve hours since Ronon brought him in, but he's only been stable for about two. Aside from treating his shock, we also had to deal with the bleeding; whatever ointment was applied to his wounds caused his blood to stop clotting completely. If..," she trailed off, and closed her eyes. John felt something climb up in his throat, a gasp, a cry, something that might have escaped as Keller took another deep breath.
"If you hadn't hurried, Colonel, if you hadn't gotten him here, he would have died within the hour, maybe even sooner. I don't even know if he'll survive the night. All we can do is continue to give him as many intravenous fluids and antibiotics as we can. I'm worried about other infections; he's going to be in isolation for at least a week before we can risk taking him out and letting people see him. We've got him in a medically induced coma. He needs to rest and it's just better he's not awake for this."
They were quiet for awhile. He couldn't actually hear the sounds coming from Rodney's room, but in John's mind he could hear the faint beep and whoosh of the ventilator.
"Oh," he said when the silence felt uncomfortable and thick. "you, you did what you could."
Keller laughed, a bark of a laugh that reminded John too strongly of Rodney.
"I feel like our entire relationship was based on me trying to save him, from parasites, from himself…"
"Was?" John questioned, creasing his eyebrows.
She laughed again and John was starting to feel uncomfortable.
"I broke up with him, the day before the mission. Earth wasn't… it didn't work. He kept talking about how much he wanted to go back and I just kept thinking how happy I was to be back. He didn't tell you?" She looked at him, something in her eyes John couldn't identify.
"No, he hasn't said anything. We haven't had a chance to talk since we got back last week.. but he was acting off today. I just didn't ask."
"I know about the two of you." She blurted it out like she couldn't help herself, like she had been holding it in since she walked up the stairs. At first John didn't get it; he just looked at her, confused, before it dawned on him. Deny it, was his first thought, explain to her that it wasn't true and she couldn't just say stuff like that. Or silence; he could just stand there and hope she'd change the subject on her own.
"I won't say anything, Colonel, John. He didn't say anything either, but I know it's there. I always knew it was there and I might have asked him if he still had feelings for.. someone, but he said he didn't. I almost believed him, thought maybe I just made the whole thing up. But it was you, he called for you when that parasite was killing him and when he wakes up from this, he's going to look for you."
"I.. I ..," John started, but the words never made an appearance. They'd always been careful when they were together, off and on over the years. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew people had to have figured it out. The little looks between them in the mess, control room, infirmary.. everywhere really. Even when they weren't sleeping together they were always together, always the first at each other's bedside after an injury. The more John thought about it, the more he was sure all of Atlantis had to know about them, that this secret the two of them worked so hard to protect was blown whenever they were near each other.
"I wont say anything," she repeated again, with more reassurance, "I'm not mad at you or out to get you for this. It's not your fault.. I.. I just, I don't know. I just don't know if there's anything else I can do for him right now. It's a waiting game; if he doesn't start breathing better by the end of the week, or if his blood doesn't start clotting again then we might have to send him back to Earth. I don't know if we can just keep him here like this, he'd be a vegetable and I know Rodney doesn't want that."
"No." John finally found his voice. "He needs to stay here, he'll be okay. He's pulled through much worse than this."
Keller looked at him again, turning her body so she was completely facing him.
"That's the thing Colonel, I don't think he has. This just might be the hardest thing he'll have to over come. There is nothing any of us can do but just wait for him to recover."
At a loss for words, John did the only thing he could think of; he reached his hand out and placed it on Keller's shoulder. They weren't really friends, John realized, they were just two people who cared about the same things. She moved quickly, her entire body falling forward and into the circle of John's arms. He didn't hug; he wasn't comfortable with it. Elizabeth had made it her own personal mission to try and hug John at any time she felt it was appropriate. It didn't make him want to hug more, but at least now when someone hugged him he didn't flinch. She smelled like a doctor's office, antibiotics and latex and a little bit like blood. She let go after a minute, pulling back, and her eyes were a little red.
"Come on," she said, pulling away from John completely, "I know Ronon and Teyla want to see you. If you let me examine you without much fuss, I'll discharge you tonight."
John nodded and followed her from the theater.
John would be the first person to admit that when he began sleeping with Rodney, it was partly convenience and partly pent up sexual frustration. John just wasn't the kind of guy who formed any sort of real attachment to anyone. He'd found that out with Nancy, who, no matter how many times he told he loved her, always seemed to sense something other than that in his words. He did love her, in his own way, but it just wasn't in the way she wanted. John never thought he'd love Rodney, he liked Rodney, he really did like Rodney, a lot. He liked him the second Rodney got him to open up a universe with just a few words, he liked him when Rodney asked to be thrown off a balcony, and he really liked him when Rodney walked into the cloud without hesitation in order to save them. He hadn't slept with many people after divorcing Nancy, not because he didn't want to, but because nothing felt right. It wasn't as if he could just meet someone and become attached to them; he had tried that with Nancy and things didn't work out. John didn't want to repeat the past over and over again.
So he stayed away, kept to himself, and kept to his missions. It was easier to lose yourself in what you were doing, carry your own burdens, than inflict them on someone else. That was before Atlantis, of course, before John was put in charge and before John was given a team he could call a family. Before he was given someone like Rodney.
It happened after the storm, after the Genii invasion, and after Carson had told the majority of staff to get into bed and stay there. But John was feeling more restless than tired, too jittery and worked up to just be able to fall asleep. Carson had offered a sedative to the group, but John declined; he never liked the feeling of an artificial sleep. He had started to walk in the outer levels, working his way through areas he knew there wouldn't be many people. He was on one of the outer east piers when he first noticed Rodney, standing at the end of the pier, a solid figure against the landscape of water and sky.
John walked out to join him, mostly to ask why he wasn't resting like Carson had prescribed for him as well. He was only a few feet behind him when Rodney turned slightly and nodded at John. "Major."
He closed the gap and gave Rodney a once over. He wasn't wearing his jacket any longer, although it was still cold outside from the rain. John noticed that his arm was properly bandaged now; someone in the infirmary must have spotted him with the makeshift first aide. As if he knew John was staring at it, Rodney suddenly put his hand near the bandage, rubbing the reddened skin below.
"I thought all good scientists were suppose to be tucked away in bed."
"I could say the same for you, Major."
John nodded and looked out at the calm ocean. When he was 9 years old he had been vacationing with his family in Fort Lauderdale when Tropical Storm Dottie passed through the area. He didn't remember much; the sky had started to turn a funny color, a light shade of pink, when his parents ushered him and David into the hotel. There was lots of panicking, sirens, and John remembered a woman crying over and over again, clutching a small child in her arms. His parents were sitting to the side, his father's hand delicately on his mother's shoulder while they talked. John's mother had told him the safest place to be during a hurricane was inside a windowless room and John believed her; huddling in the giant ballroom made John feel safe even when everyone around him look scared. The storm never turned into a full hurricane but the area they stayed in got the most rain, almost 11 inches. The storm isn't what John remembers the most, but instead it was going outside afterward, walking with his parents to the beach. There was evidence of a disaster all around, collapsed trees, a mess of garbage and debris all over the beach and street, but the water was peaceful. There were tiny waves that brushed along the shore, but nothing more, just water weaving in and out of the beach. It was hard to believe something like a tropical storm had passed through there only minutes ago.
The ocean looked like that now for John, peaceful and quiet, the exact opposite of how John had felt now and then. He crossed his arms over his chest before talking to Rodney again.
"You did well, Rodney. You kept Elizabeth and yourself alive long enough for rescue. That's what counts."
Rodney snorted, rolling his head so he was looking over at John.
"Yeah, I was the perfect damsel in distress. I talked, Major, I told him exactly what he wanted to hear. Isn't that against all regulations? Not that I really care what the American government wants me to do in any situation. I all but gave the Genii Atlantis on a platter."
"You did the best you could at the time. Look, Elizabeth and I aren't mad at you for this, no one is. I've seen men crumble under that sort of pressure, even ones who've been trained. Elizabeth told me you stepped in front of that gun for her, McKay. Not everyone would have taken that risk, or even considered making that sacrifice."
Rodney was unnaturally quiet for a few minutes before he looked back out at the ocean. John reached out his hand, placing it against Rodney's forearm, right above the white bandage.
"Don't let this mark you, McKay."
Rodney look at him abruptly, emotion so raw on his face that John tore his hand away quickly and averted his eyes. He could read it in Rodney's face, something they'd been volleying back and forth between them since they'd met. An underlying feeling of want and need, an air of mystery and tension that John tried hard to ignore. John heard Rodney blow out a loud breath.
"It's late, Major, I don't feel like playing games."
"No one's playing a game here, Rodney."
Rodney looked at him and made sure John caught his eye roll.
"This isn't my first rodeo, Sheppard. I've worked with the American government before, I know the kind of…men that come out of it."
"Really?" John questioned, looking over Rodney., "You think you've got me pegged, McKay? You think you know exactly what I want and what I'm going to do?"
"Hardly, Sheppard. I don't think you even know what you want, but I do know what you're going to do. You're all the same; you want something you can't have, but the second you have it, you don't want it anymore."
John gave Rodney a raw laugh before grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him into his personal space. This close, Rodney looked tired and ragged, as if he was barely able to keep himself upright. He smelled like blood, rain, and coffee, and John breathed him in deeply. Rodney couldn't seem to pick a place to look, his eyes darting all over John's face before resting on his lips.
"I think you're the scared one here, McKay. Maybe you don't want this? Maybe you're just playing around with me?"
He got closer, his face a mere inch from Rodney's, and he licked his lips slowly and carefully, letting Rodney read his intentions.
Rodney was rigid in his grasp, tight against John, and then suddenly, he relaxed. His arms snaked around John and he closed the gap between their mouths. The kiss was subtle at first, in a way John didn't think Rodney could be. Just a press of their lips, with Rodney's hands stretching across is back, pushing John slightly forward. John caught on then, running his tongue along Rodney's bottom lip before pushing his way inside. Rodney followed along then, pressing himself into John, letting John feel his erection.
John pulled away slightly, tipping his head back and then resting his forehead on Rodney's in an imitation of the Athosian gesture. Rodney spoke first, a smile curving his mouth.
"I think my intentions are pretty clear here, Sheppard." He nipped again at John's lower lip, drawing it between his teeth and pulling. John reached his hands down to Rodney's belt curling his fingers so they were pressing into the hot skin of Rodney's hip.
Not much talking followed; John pulled Rodney down the pier and back towards Atlantis. Once they were inside, he let go of Rodney and hovered his hand over Rodney's back in an attempt to herd him into John's room and nowhere else. John's room was at the end of a long hallway which narrowed out to only his door. With a quick look around, he walked in, beckoning Rodney to follow. And follow Rodney did, going into the room and grabbing John by the arm, pressing his fingers into John's skin. They went back to kissing, probing each other's mouths without any real grace, just intent and lust. Clothing scattered, each reveal of new skin welcome on both sides, and cold hands pressed into hot skin.
"Nothing fancy," Rodney said into John's mouth, licking a line from John's jaw to his ear, "not going to last very long."
John buried his face in Rodney's neck as his hands finally reached Rodney's cock. He pushed Rodney's pants off his hips, dragging down his underwear as he pushed Rodney towards the bed. They fell together, a tangle of limbs, but John managed to grab hold of Rodney's waiting cock when they landed. Rodney's hands were pushing John's BDUs from his hips; they slid down effortlessly, but Rodney stopped before he got to John's boxers and let out a strangled moan as John started to pump his dick. Rodney was wet at the tip but John's hands felt dry, so he lifted one and brought it up to Rodney's mouth.
"Lick." He ordered, and Rodney obeyed, licking John's palm to the tips of his fingers. John then returned his hand to Rodney's cock; this time there was enough wetness for him to effortlessly stroke Rodney, adding a twist of his wrist every time he approached the head.
Rodney was moaning louder, his eyes connected to John's as he pulled and twisted. John leaned his head down, keeping up his rhythm, and laid a row of kisses across Rodney's collar bone, following it up with a long swipe of his tongue over the area.
"Oh god," Rodney said among the keening sounds he was making, "John, god, John."
It had been the first time John heard Rodney say his name, and just the sound of it made John shudder and move faster.
"Come for me, Rodney," he said into the sweat slicked skin of Rodney's neck. He pressed his mouth there too and then lightly bit at the salty skin. Rodney jerked in his hands and then made a long drawn out sound before coming all over himself and John. He pulled a few more times before letting go, immediately finding Rodney's mouth with his own. As they kissed John began to rut against Rodney's thigh, desperate to get the same release.
"Hey, wait," Rodney panted, moving his hands back to John's BDU and underwear, both of which were nearly still on. He moved quickly, pushing the BDU's down as far as he could before sending the boxers with them. He moved his legs together, forcing John to move his own legs.
"Let's try this, hey," he said, putting both hands on John's thighs and pushing them so they'd bracket his own. The position gave John the advantage of having the sweet low spot where Rodney's hip met his thigh to move into. He leaned down and started rubbing, almost frantically, against Rodney. There was a moment, with Rodney's hand splayed against his back, that John felt like this was where he belonged. Like today, killing all of those Genii, it was all for this, that it was worth it just to have someone as solid and warm as Rodney waiting beneath him.
"Hey," he heard Rodney straining out, "I got you."
John realized he had been whining, a low soft sound as he rutted. Mostly embarrassed, he buried his face back into the junction between neck and shoulder. His own orgasm came quickly, a sudden build up in the base of his spine before he felt the white hot explosion rip through him. He added to the mess of come already pooling on Rodney's stomach, letting out a shout he hadn't wanted to escape. They laid still afterward, the feel of sticky come pressed between their chests. Rodney's hand was rubbing John's back, almost absent mindedly, as John laid curled on top of him. In John's direct line of sight was Rodney's bandaged arm, the white a stark contrast even to Rodney's pale skin.
"I'll.." Rodney started, John could feel the deep in take of breath he made before continuing, "clean us up and then… er, go."
John moved off him quickly enough that he felt a little light headed sitting up. He didn't realize how tired he actually had become.
"You.. you could stay, if you, I mean. Go, if you want to. It might be for the best."
Rodney got up then; his pants were pooled at his ankles and he almost tripped standing up from John's bed. He pulled them up and disappeared into John's bathroom, only to come out with his own stomach clean, and a wash cloth for John. He tossed it over and started a search for his shirt and shoes. John wiped himself down and finished throwing off his own pants and boxers; sleeping naked sounded like a pretty good idea. When he looked up Rodney was already dressed, holding his shoes and standing in the moonlight from the windows.
"It's just easier, you know, if I go now. I don't.. well, yeah. This was," he gestured between the two of them, "good. So if you want to, I don't know." He paused. "Look, I'm tired and exhausted and possibly not anywhere near the right state of mind, but you know where I sleep. You know where I am and where I go, so if there's anything you want, you know where and how to find me."
John nodded, feeling oddly exposed with Rodney standing fully dressed and him sitting on his own bed naked, except for socks. He thought of how utterly absurd he must look, middle aged and socked, sitting on the bed.
Rodney waited almost a minute before nodding and then, "I'll just, okay. Goodnight, Sheppard," and disappeared out into the hallway.
John was asleep before his door even shut.
It was three days before Keller announced that Rodney was starting to take a real turn for the better. No one had been allowed to visit him, but John spent a majority of his down time sitting in the theater's observation room. He was joined frequently by Teyla and Ronon, while Zelenka, Woolsey and a few others visited once in a while. John knew it was a show of respect, that even though they liked Rodney, this was the team's time. It again reminded John of when his mother was in the hospital; her friends weren't allowed in at first, only family, his father had told him then. John didn't really understand then why the group of crying women weren't allowed in, because after all, they cared about John's mother too. John's father didn't explain, he just told John that it was a rule, only immediate family can visit someone who's sick. Something always dropped in the pit of his stomach when others gave his team that same kind of respect, that out here in another galaxy, they were their own immediate family.
Woolsey requested a meeting with his team, Zelenka and Keller on the morning of Rodney's fourth day in the isolation room. John figured this was coming, knew exactly what Woolsey was going to bring up; it was somewhat inevitable.
"I understand," Woolsey started when everyone was seated, "that Dr. McKay is very important, not only to the people in this expedition, but to keeping it running smoothly. I don't want anyone to make the mistake of thinking I personally want him removed."
He paused there, making sure to at least look John's team directly in the eyes before speaking again.
"With that said, Dr. Keller, I would like to hear from you on Dr. McKay's current status. You've been keeping everyone well informed, but I want to know your honest medical opinion."
Keller looked to her clasped hands before looking up Woolsey.
"He's responding to the antibiotics we've been giving him. His blood pressure is stabilizing, as are his heart rate and respiratory functions. Once he wakes, we can take him off the ventilator. I would now, but he needs to be awake for that. His blood's clotting again, stopping most of the major bleeding. His recovery, even now, is going to be difficult. Once he's awake, he's going to have to go through physical therapy to help with the unused muscles. None of the cuts were deep enough to cause major trauma, but he's going to be bed ridden for at least another two weeks before he's able to start moving around without accidentally reopening his stitches. It's not overly complicated, but he's not going to be mobile for awhile."
"Are we prepared to take care of him, Dr. Keller?"
She sighed softly and John realized just how young she really was.
"Our infirmary here was never meant for long term care, despite the major injuries we've seen. But we have what Rodney will need, he's familiar already with Dr. Jones in physio, and I don't see a problem."
Woolsey nodded and cleared his throat to speak again, but Keller jumped in before he had the chance.
"I know," she started, balling her hands in to fists, "I know when it comes to Rodney, none of us are going to be able to approach this objectively. He's important to everyone in this room, like you said Mr. Woolsey, but as his doctor I have to treat him like I would anyone else. And for Rodney, maybe it would be better if we sent him back to Earth once he's stable enough."
"No." John was talking before he even realized he was. "Rodney belongs here, Rodney will stay here. There's nothing available on Earth that we can't do for him here."
Keller looked straight at John, almost pleading.
"Colonel, it isn't about what Rodney wants. He needs the best environment possible for a successful recovery."
"You didn't want to send him back when was going through Second Childhood," John reminded her, leaning forward in his chair.
"That's different, Colonel. Everything we needed was here in Atlantis, there wasn't anything on Earth that could help him. With this, he needs.. he needs people to be tough with him. It's going to be a long, painful recovery, I've said this already. He's going to need to push himself and he's going to need people to push him when he can't. I just don't see.. I just don't think anyone here is willing to do that."
"We will help Rodney to the best of our abilities," Teyla finally spoke from her spot to the right of John. He looked over at her, caught her eye and sent her a mental thank you for standing up for him. "We are all devoted to his recovery."
"I know that, Teyla, I do," Keller replied, shaking her head as she spoke. She pushed her hair behind her ears again and then looked up at Woolsey. "The final decision isn't up to me."
"As his doctor, I believe it is." Woolsey looked at her and shifted the papers in his hands. "I'll stand behind whatever choice you make."
"No," she sighed, "he signed papers; Colonel Sheppard has Rodney's power of attorney. If we are going to transfer him back to Earth, we should do it before he wakes, once he becomes stable enough."
Everyone in the room turned and looked at John, who looked everywhere else but at them. Woolsey looked at the papers in front of him, frowning slightly.
"I don't see anything here.."
"It was after the parasite," John finally spoke, "he asked me then and I signed the papers. If you look at his updated file, it should be in there."
Woolsey looked over at John.
"I'll take your word for it, Colonel. In that case, you are the one who will make the decision as long as Dr. McKay remains unconscious."
"He stays here," John said firmly and then looked to Keller, "unless something happens that can't be handled here, but Rodney belongs in Atlantis, we can't send him back."
Keller didn't move for a minute before standing up and pushing her chair back from the table.
"I understand, Colonel Sheppard. If you'll excuse me, I'm needed back in the infirmary." She left without another word.
Woolsey cleared his throat after she was gone.
"Dr. Zelenka, until Dr. McKay is able to perform his duties, I'm going to look to you to fill the void within the science department."
Zelenka nodded, "I have already assumed much of his work and I will continue to do so. I just have to say, I agree with the Colonel here, even if Rodney's unable to work, he still belongs in Atlantis."
"Understood. I think this meeting is over."
He turned to John.
"I would like to speak with you tomorrow, Colonel, about resuming off world missions without Dr. McKay. If possible, can your team meet with me at 08:00 hours?"
Ronon and Teyla looked over at John, who took that as agreement before responding, "Yeah, that works."
They left the conference room together, John flanked by Ronon and Teyla.
"Although I agree with you, John, I understand where Jennifer is coming from."
John opened his mouth to object, but Teyla broke in again.
"Like us, she has Rodney's best interests at heart, and I don't doubt for a moment that you've made the right choice. I just don't think you should disregard Jennifer's opinion on the matter because you're letting your own feelings overrule hers."
John stopped walking, crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Ronon.
"You agree with Teyla?"
People often got the impression that Ronon didn't speak, or that he wasn't capable of displaying emotions or thoughts. It was quite the opposite really; Ronon always had an opinion on the matter at hand, was always well versed in what was going on, but with Ronon, anytime he spoke up it was with intent. It was the biggest difference between Ronon and Rodney, really; where Rodney filled every silence with words to hide behind, Ronon hid behind silence, and when he spoke it was never just to fill it.
"McKay will still be McKay on Earth as he is here. I don't think being without us is going to help him, but if he can't handle tough physical therapy we might as well send him back."
"Right," John concluded, "I'm going to go finish paper work. I'll see you guys in the mess for dinner?"
Neither Teyla or Ronon looked convinced that John had any paper work to be done, but both agreed and the remainder of his team went their separate ways.
Rodney hadn't so much asked John to be his power of attorney, as inform John of his role. John had been in his room, playing another game of Mahjong on his laptop, when Rodney came sweeping in. John's immediate concern was whether Keller had actually let Rodney out of the infirmary, or if he had staged his own escape.
"Before you ask," Rodney started right away, "Jennifer let me out on the condition that I don't return to my labs just yet."
"Well, that's good." John went back to his game, attempting to concentrate on winning and not on Rodney pacing in his room. It was only a few days after he and Keller had preformed brain surgery on him, and only a few weeks after John thought he'd lose Rodney completely. There were too many raw emotions there, too many things that came to the surface than John was prepared to deal with.
"Listen, Sheppard," Rodney started, pausing near John's bed, "I want you to have my power of attorney."
John looked up. "What?"
"I want you to have my power of attorney, you know, make medical decisions for me when I'm otherwise incapacitated. Not that I don't trust Jennifer's judgment as a doctor or a person, I just trust you more."
"That's," John started, closing the lid of his laptop and sitting up. Rodney walked over and sat on John's tiny bed, by his feet.
"That's not just something you play around with, McKay. Wouldn't Jeannie be a better choice?"
"No, no she wouldn't, and you know it. Jeannie might have been here and she might love me but she has no idea, John. You're here every day, hell, you know me better than anyone else in two galaxies, there was never anyone other than you."
"What makes me so special?" John paused, trying to collect his thoughts, "I took you to a Wraith controlled planet on Ronon's word, to get you a miracle cure, Rodney. I wasn't thinking right, I wasn't thinking about safety or what was best for you."
Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Don't you think that's exactly what I want? You were willing to risk your own life in order to save mine, you didn't care. If it was up to Jennifer, I would be long gone by now. I don't want what a doctor thinks, I want what my best friend thinks."
"You need time to think about it, Rodney. You're just.. it's too soon. Think about it."
"I have, John. I had these papers ready for you after I almost drowned in the puddle jumper. I just.. we, well you know. There's one of us in the infirmary at least once a month and there's no guarantee that I'm not going to end up there again on our next mission." He moved closer to John on the bed, sitting on the very edge next to his hip.
"This second childhood, it showed me what I really want. I don't remember a lot of what I said or what happened, but I remember you not wanting to say goodbye. I remember you, John. I remember calling out for you when you weren't there and how the only time I felt like I wasn't losing my mind was when you were around."
Rodney reached over and touched John's arm and it took everything John had not to flinch at the touch. It wasn't as if he didn't want Rodney, didn't welcome his touch, but this was too real. Rodney was offering John his life, power over what happened to him. As much as John felt it was his responsibility to protect Rodney, he didn't think he could handle something quite like this. Rodney was looking at him, his eyes bright, and John could see nothing but truth in his expression.
"This," John started, words getting caught in his throat, fear that they would reveal more than he was willing, "means a lot, Rodney. I just want you to be sure."
Rodney leaned in, reached over and grabbed hold of John's shoulders. It had been a long time since they'd been here, been able to touch each other. He closed the distance between them, pressing his lips against John's for just a moment before pulling away completely.
"I'm sure. I've always been sure."
"We aren't doing this, you know, you said it yourself before." John could feel his face flushing; he never could resist Rodney when he was this close, when he felt as if he belonged to John.
Rodney stood up quickly, reaching into his back pocket and tossing a rolled up paper onto the bed.
"Just, take it, think about it and sign it. I'm not asking for more than you're willing to give me."
He left the room as John reached over and grabbed the papers and unrolled them. He had them signed and waiting for Rodney in his labs in the morning.
Keller had finally agreed to let John into the isolation room at the end of the week. He was able to go in, in just a pair of scrubs, face mask and gloves, with strict orders not to do anything stupid like cough on him, or otherwise attempt to infect him with anything. His immune system was still compromised, but he was well enough for just one visitor. There was a single chair waiting next to Rodney's bed. This close, Rodney did not smell like Rodney; there was no coffee and Earth, just a sharp sterile scent of antiseptic and plastic. It was a smell John knew all too well from his childhood and was reintroduced to when he got older.
He sat down on the chair and looked over at the completely still Rodney. He felt stupid sitting there; he might have asked to be here, but he realized now he really could have just watched from the observation room. But at the same time, seeing Rodney up close like this, being able to lightly touch the tiny bit of visible skin on his arm, was calming. Last time he'd had Rodney near him, Rodney was dying, slowly losing his life, but now Rodney looked slightly more alive.
"You're gonna stay here, McKay," John started talking, his fingers pressed against a tiny patch of skin in between two bandages on his arm, "Keller wanted to send you back, but you're better off here."
John laughed suddenly and looked down at the floor as he spoke.
"I never told you this, but my Mom was in the hospital when I was younger. She was in a coma, before she died, and I was young enough to believe she'd get better. But anyway, this nurse told me talking to her would help, that she could hear me and she'd like knowing I was there. We visited her almost every day after school; my Dad.. he'd drop us off when he could and me and Dave would talk to her about our day. This one time, my Dad overheard me telling her about something and he came in and told me it was stupid. She couldn't hear it, I was wasting my time with words. After that we didn't visit her much."
He paused and looked over at Rodney, laughing to himself again.
"Keller told me the same thing when I came in here, not that it was stupid, but that I should talk to you, that you could possibly hear it and be comforted."
It was unnatural for Rodney not to be talking at this point, telling John it was stupid to talk to a coma patient, that the nurse and even Keller were just trying to comfort him and not the patient. John had wanted to talk to his mother even though she couldn't talk back. There was something so simple in being able to freely use words without being worried about judgment from the other person. In a weird way, Rodney reminded John of his mother, or at least what he could remember of her. She was polite, unlike Rodney, but they both had good hearts. He remembered tiny moments of his mother's comfort, a warm hand on his back, a sweet kiss to his forehead, a moment in which he knew his mother cared for him. There were moments when he was with Rodney, when they were having sex and Rodney would put his hand on John's back, kiss the top of his head, and that tiny gesture would resonate so strongly with affection.
"We had a meeting about going off world before you're with us," John continued. "Woolsey wants us to try it at least once. I told him we'd consider it, but after you're awake and we know you'll be alright. Ronon said he'd go out with Lorne's team if I'd let him. It might be best if he does something while you're laid up; being on Earth was bad enough for him."
A monitor beeped and John nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected sound. He got up and turned towards the door, intent on getting a nurse, when Martha came through the doors carrying a chart and another IV bag.
"Colonel," she said, smiling and walking behind the chair to Rodney's IV bags, "don't worry, he just needed another bag of ceftriaxone, nothing to worry about."
John watched her change out the bag, standing off to the side of the chair. When she finished, she turned to him.
"Feel free to stay longer, Colonel, I'm sure Dr. McKay would enjoy the company if he were awake."
"No, it's okay, I've got things to do..," he trailed off, and headed towards the door, taking off his mask and gloves, depositing them into the waste bin. He hurried from the infirmary and towards the tiny office he barely used. Anytime anyone found him in there, they'd joke about not knowing John even had an office. It wasn't that John didn't like it, he just didn't feel the need to have yet another place he could put things, yet another place he was suppose to hang around. The room wasn't small or anything, big enough to fit a desk and a row of filing cabinets across from a pair of windows that looked more like balcony doors. The view wasn't of the ocean, but of the interior of Atlantis, something John found as calming as his ocean view from his room. Sometimes he found himself just staring out at the towers of Atlantis, at the beauty of the city. Even when they hadn't had an extra ZPM, they had still been able to keep the city lit throughout the night. It was something John and Elizabeth had thought important. At times John found himself staring into the twinkling lights of the towers; they reminded him of the old watercolor paintings his mom used to decorate the house with. The black outline of the towers, only tiny bits of light illuminating them, blended together with the dark sky and the litter of stars on any given night.
John had been sitting in his office for an hour, feet propped up on the desk, laptop running a helicopter game Rodney had created their third year. The basic idea was for a spiky haired pilot to fly his helicopter through a series of traps and tricks, all while shooting at the enemy. It was a substitution game, as Rodney called it, for the one they lost to, well, to reality. John often wondered how Rodney had managed to find the time, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
There was a light knock on the slightly ajar door, and it opened a little.
"Come in, Major." John moved his laptop aside as Lorne walked into the room. He came over to John's desk and sat on one of the two chairs there. John had found the chairs on the lower levels; they were uncomfortable looking, with metal lines that looked more structure oriented than built for comfort. John remembered his father telling him that the way to avoid long conversations in offices was to get uncomfortable chairs, that way visitors never felt like staying too long. John remembered that when he found them, and decided he'd see if his father was right. Four years later the chairs were a staple in his office and his visitors never stayed too long.
"Did I interrupt you sir?" Lorne asked, attempting to adjust himself in the chair. It never failed to make John grin when people attempted to move around in the chair without drawing too much attention to the fact that the chairs were uncomfortable. John found it oddly pleasurable that four years later, not a single person, well except for Rodney, had uttered a single complaint about them.
John turned around the laptop screen to display the game; without having pressed pause or playing, his little tiny helicopter had crashed to the ground.
"Nah, just catching up on some games. What can I do for you, Lorne?"
Lorne put on what John considered to be his best professional face. John liked Lorne; he was a great guy and an exceptional 2IC, often picking up the slack John inadvertently left. He got along with nearly everyone on the expedition, scientists included, which to John was more than enough of a plus. He also managed to run the black market in anything art supply related, which John never thought he'd actually have need of, but he found himself bartering away things for a glue stick or construction paper on occasion. The black markets in Atlantis weren't a negative thing; John always turned a blind eye, but became a willing participant when it was necessary. He kept his ears open for unfair dealings, but for the most part it worked itself out, everyone being happy with what little things they could find themselves.
"I heard that you're considering letting Ronon join my team, sir."
If Atlantis' black market was thriving, it failed in comparison to the gossip mill. John was well aware of how things worked; he'd worked in closed military communities most of his life, and Atlantis followed the normal pattern. It was healthy, John had to remind himself every once in awhile, for people to gossip. It wasn't all bad, either, and occasionally was quite helpful. Usually on your birthday, if you just so happened to mention something you really wanted or missed, there was a good chance you'd find it waiting at your door. John knew the second the meeting with Woolsey ended, Lorne would have found out that Ronon might be joining his team. Ronon had joined Lorne's group a few times, mostly in conjunction with Team Sheppard, but never on his own.
"It wouldn't be joining, Major. You'd just be.. leasing him, until Rodney's back on his feet."
"Of course, sir!" Lorne interjected, shaking his head, "I wouldn't want to take him forever, your team works together perfectly, wouldn't want to disrupt that. I just wanted to.. well, make sure I wasn't stepping on any toes by offering Ronon a spot."
"Consider my toes not stepped on."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Go ahead, Lorne."
"I think it's a good idea to use Ronon as much as we can now. After, well, after what happened on that hive ship. Since we got back he's been much tougher at Marine training; he's far more determined than before to get rid of the Wraith. Not saying it's not something I'm very much for myself, but he might need someone to talk to him about what happened."
John sighed and leaned back into his chair. He'd had a feeling something like this would come up sooner or later. Hearing Ronon was killed almost destroyed John back when they were on the hive ship, and to find him alive again was nothing short of a miracle. But even Ronon couldn't just come back from something like that, really. There wasn't any kind of training in the world that could prepare someone for dying and then getting your life given back to you. John knew how that felt, knew the pain of having it taken from you and then put back by your worst enemy. For Ronon, to owe his life to a Wraith, that was something that must be driving him insane. It would explain, of course, his intense new gung ho attitude about wiping the Wraith from existence. Normally when someone was laid up in the infirmary, the team would take the time to regroup and relax, yet Ronon had requested at the meeting with Woolsey that he return to active duty as soon as Rodney was in the clear.
"I think maybe heading out into the field might help him deal with what happened, but I will take your advice into consideration."
John reached over and grabbed a file from a box on his desk.
"We've got word of an abandoned Wraith outpost. I was considering waiting until Rodney was back on the field to check it out, but maybe this will be good. I'd consider sending your team, with a full science team, to investigate what's there for now."
He tossed Lorne the file and watched as he flipped through it.
"If you're up for the challenge," he added with a grin. There was friendly competition between gate teams on who was willing to take the biggest challenges. It went without saying that Team Sheppard got the best missions, but John wasn't above passing this one to Lorne.
"Challenge is my middle name, sir." Lorne flipped the file shut. "May I take this?" He stood up, the chair getting rid of yet another visitor in a timely fashion.
"Go ahead, I've got another copy in case I need it. I'll talk to Woolsey tomorrow about scheduling the mission sometime next week."
Lorne saluted him and disappeared out the door, while John simply picked up his laptop and went back to his game.
They never really talked about their relationship, or lack of a relationship; they mostly just saw each other whenever they could get the chance. There was no set schedule; sometimes they'd meet in Rodney's room and sometimes they'd meet in John's. No one ever stayed the night, even if there were plenty of reasons why either John or Rodney would be wandering the halls at night. Without much thought they settled into something neither of them put a name to. They bickered often, mostly ending in sex, but on occasion the fighting would linger and they'd depart unhappy. John found it weird how easy it was just to fall into a routine with Rodney and to be able to act like nothing was between them during their working hours. Rodney had said he'd been in relationships with military men before, and knew how to hide it, and that John's "secret", as he called it, was safe with him. John never felt like anything was a secret; sure, he didn't tell anybody, but if it were up to John, he wouldn't tell anybody anyway. Nancy had a tendency to flaunt their relationship, like they were some kind of picture perfect couple, that people were impressed with them. She'd always have her arm linked with his at events, dragging John over to groups of people and introducing him like he was some sort of prize pig at a fair. It wasn't that he wasn't proud of Nancy, wasn't happy with her, he just never really cared that much for what other people thought of him or what he did.
The biggest fight John and Rodney had happened a few nights before the Wraith attacked Atlantis their first year. They'd been working nonstop on trying to save the city; they hadn't really gotten a chance to see each other outside of debriefings and the mission to the newly found Wraith outpost. John was still reeling over what happened with Teyla, first the impromptu rescue and then her new found ability to mind meld with Wraith. He almost felt as if he was letting her down somehow, especially when he tried to leave the planet before her friends came aboard. When Teyla had called that man her family, it made John realize that people like Teyla, Ford, Carson, Elizabeth and especially Rodney had become just that to him. When he'd failed to save Holland, he'd told himself that getting close to anyone while in a war situation was a grave mistake. It wasn't that he thought Teyla's judgment or his own was necessarily wrong, but becoming attached to someone when their lives where on the line, that's when you risked more than you gained.
John had been laying in bed, not sleeping, but just staring up at the black ceiling of his room. Atlantis was structured differently than any place John had seen. It seemed like the Ancients cared less about design and more about structure. His ceiling, as were most, was just heavy black bars layered over each other, reminding John of the construction sites his father used to take him to as a kid. He wasn't close to dosing off; there was far too much going on for his mind to be at rest. He didn't jump when his door flew open; he knew Rodney would be showing up eventually, and watched as the tired scientist ambled into the room and dropped heavily down onto John's couch.
"There aren't enough hours in the day," Rodney whined, toeing off his boots and laying length wise on the couch. "I'm seriously thinking I'm going to die of exhaustion before the Wraith even get here. At least that'd be a better way to go than having my life sucked out of me. I think that's somewhere near drowning and being eaten by a whale on my most horrible ways to die list."
"You have a list?" John questioned, gazing over at Rodney. He was backlit by the windows, the light illuminating his face in an unfriendly manner. Rodney wasn't classically handsome; his hair was receding, his face wasn't thin and his mouth had a crooked slant that never seemed to go away. Added to that were days of sleeplessness, hours of staring at a screen, and time spent running around, attempting to save an entire city from Wraith. John could read it in Rodney's eyes, bright blue dulled by defeat and unease. He wasn't handsome, maybe, but John didn't look away. There was beauty in Rodney, even if many people didn't see it.
Rodney sat up, walked over to the bed and manhandled John to the edge, so he had room to lay there instead.
"You didn't send anything to your family, did you?" Rodney's question was somewhat muffled by the fact that his face was smashed into John's pillow. John's bed was barely big enough to fit himself, so for the two of them to lay there, both had to be half dangling off the edge. Didn't leave much space for after sex cuddling, not that John was a fan of it anyway.
"No." John answered simply. He didn't want to talk about it, especially not now. He'd made his peace years ago with the fact that his father was never going to speak to him again. There had been some hope when he married Nancy, but that vanished after the divorce. There wasn't anything John had to say to him anyway; if he died, his father and Dave would get a letter with everything they needed to know.
"I know you aren't the most talkative person in two galaxies, but you could at least tell me something, sometimes." Rodney moved so he wasn't face down on the pillow. John was sitting up more than he was, so Rodney was talking more into John's shoulder than his face.
"There's no reason to tell you anything, McKay. There's nothing to tell."
"Clearly," Rodney moved up in the bed, and John knew where this was heading, "you came from somewhere, did you not? I don't even know where you were born! I left a message for Jeannie, you know, telling her I was sorry for what happened between us, and yet you do nothing for you own family? We might die here Sheppard, don't you want to let someone know that? Isn't there anyone you care about?"
John looked straight ahead. "Nope."
Rodney didn't say anything for a whole minute; John thought that was quite impressive.
"I'm starting to think that's true."
"What's that suppose to mean, McKay?" John asked, knowing very well what Rodney was implying. If he wanted to get out of this conversation, to get Rodney out of his room and most likely out of his bed forever, he knew what path to go down. Rodney was almost giving him an easy way out of their status quo, almost setting himself up for this "break up". As much as John didn't want to, it was for the best at this point. If he had to make a decision in the next few days, whether or not to save someone or himself, he didn't want an attachment like he had to Rodney to get in his way. John almost hated that he'd become so good at this part, hated how he could just turn himself off and move on. But it, like so many other things in his life, had to be done.
"You know exactly what I mean! I understand we're suppose to keep this thing a secret, I've done this part before, but beyond that you're more emotionally repressed than I am. You know, Teyla told me you were going to leave those people behind. I know you've done some dark things in your life, Sheppard. I was there when you killed those Genii, but at least they deserved it. It's a really funny thing, John, there are times when I know you, when I see you and I think it's amazing how different you are behind closed doors. That maybe out there that stupid stoic face you put on is just a mask and that I get to see the real John Sheppard. But times like this, when you won't even open up when we could die tomorrow, I start to think the one in here is just the act."
"What do you want from me Rodney? I'm not that kind of guy, if that's what you're looking for. I thought you knew what this was, just two guys looking for some release. I didn't invite you in here to braid my hair and exchange stories."
"I want what you're willing to give me, Sheppard. And apparently it isn't anything I thought it was." He got up quickly then, faster than John had seen him move in a few days. It hurt, to see Rodney like this, already worn down from his daily life, only to push him further away. Rodney would survive, this, and John would too. Their professional relationship would stay intact and maybe even part of their friendship, too. If John could say it, he'd tell Rodney to come sit back down and they'd wait this thing out together.
"I don't see how you can just sit here and let shit happen. You aren't even upset, are you?"
"You only fight the battles you want to win." He had said almost the same thing to Teyla in the jumper, letting her down then too. Like he had told Teyla before, Rodney was part of his team too, and his responsibility. He couldn't let Rodney be dragged down by all this.
"Just go, McKay, go get some sleep or go to the labs, but just go. It was fun while it lasted and now it's over."
Rodney stayed stationary for a few moments, and took a long look at John that made his stomach drop, before grabbing his boots and walking straight out of the room.
John went back to staring at the ceiling.
A week and four days after Rodney had arrived in the ICU, Keller let him be wheeled out and into the Team Sheppard private wing. There'd been a long line of people waiting to see him, sitting outside the wing's doors, waiting to go in one at a time even though Rodney still hadn't woken. They were slowly pulling him off certain medications and Keller explained that he should be waking up naturally in a few days. It was strange, but things started to get back to normal after that. There had to be something said for people who sighed with relief when someone was simply hospitalized, and not just in serious condition.
It was hard for John to ignore the demands of Atlantis, especially when Rodney was unavailable, in favor of sitting at Rodney's bedside all day. There was a healthy stream of people who sat with Rodney, and John was almost certain it was the same unspoken time table for any member of his team. Teyla was there in the mornings; she'd bring Torren along and they'd talk to Rodney, or sometimes she'd just sit and knit. John didn't know who taught her how, but someone introduced Teyla to knitting needles and soon everyone had their share of hats, scarves and anything else Teyla could learn to make. Ronon would take the afternoons after he was done with morning Marine workouts. John didn't know what exactly Ronon did for the few hours he was there, but he seemed content to sit with Rodney. There'd be someone else between Ronon and John, sometimes Zelenka or another scientist, sometimes Keller herself if she wasn't working. That left the nights open for John to see him, and by some unspoken rule, no one ever bothered him when he was with Rodney. Most of the time he was on his DS or his PDA; he'd spare a few minutes to check over Rodney, but it wasn't easy to look at him. Some of the cuts were still bleeding, staining through large amounts of white gauze and bandages. Keller said he'd keep a majority of the scars for the rest of his life, especially the ones from his elbow down, and the ones across his back. The Albertaines were precise with their bleeding, Keller had said, they knew where to cut to avoid major arteries, they knew how to do this without killing someone right away. It was meant to be a long, slow, death.
John wasn't there when Rodney woke. He was in the armory's practice range with a few of his Marines. He'd usually have his radio off, but with Rodney's condition improving he knew it wouldn't be long before he awoke. He had just finished a round with his Beretta when his radio chirped.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla's voice on the other end came a moment later.
"Go ahead, Teyla."
"Rodney awoke briefly, but is now asleep. Jennifer is waiting until he wakes again before removing the breathing tube and she wanted me to inform you."
John checked his watch; it was only 13:50, he still had things to do.
"Are you going to stay with him?"
"Yes. Do you want me to alert you when he's awake again?"
"Would you? Thanks, Teyla. Sheppard out."
Teyla didn't call him again until he was on his way to the mess for dinner. She informed him that Rodney was properly awake finally and ready for the ventilator to be removed. John hurried from the mess and made his way into Rodney's room just as Keller was telling Rodney to take a deep breath.
"I'll pull it out on the count of three," she was informing him.
John walked over to stand on the opposite side, behind the bed, next to Teyla. Rodney's eyes were wide open, but he was very still. John wondered if it was because of how uncomfortable it must have felt to be wrapped in so many bandages. Rodney took a deep breath and Keller pulled the long tube from his throat. As soon as it was out, he started to cough.
"Breathe, Rodney, it'll be fine," she assured him, before reaching over and grabbing a cup of water. She held it out and before he said anything, he grabbed it and took a drink.
Rodney looked from Keller, to Teyla and then finally his gaze rested on John. It wasn't quite the response John was looking for; usually Rodney woke up already in mid-complaint.
"Rodney, how are you feeling?" Keller was busy checking monitors and Rodney's arm, but Rodney was still looking right at John.
"I'm not dead? I could have sworn I bled to death on some back water uber religious excuse of a planet."
"We were able to bring you back in time for Dr. Keller to save you, Rodney." Teyla sounded worried and gently let her hand rest on Rodney's shoulder., avoiding any spot wrapped with a bandage. He finally looked away from John and then looked at Teyla.
He let out a big yawn and nodded his head.
"Okay, that's good."
He promptly went back to sleep. John looked up at Keller, who was smiling at Rodney like he was a cute little baby. There was relief written all over her face.
"He should be doing that for a bit," she finally said, putting down a chart and looking away from Rodney, "We've got him on some heavy medication, but after awhile his lucid periods should increase greatly."
As Keller predicted, within two days Rodney went from surfacing for a few minutes, usually making some off hand remark about whoever was sitting with him and then going back to sleep, to sitting up and holding vastly improved conversations with anyone around him. He was stir crazy, and asked several times to be able to get up, but with his legs in bandages and body still terribly weak, the only things he was able to do were sit up or lay back down.
"Please tell me you brought my laptop," Rodney asked before John was even fully in the room. To keep Rodney from going completely insane with boredom, the team still kept up their normal visitation rounds and John was just making it in after an early dinner. He hadn't been able to come down the day before, he was busy trying to schedule a mission for Lorne's team, Ronon and a group of scientists. With Rodney awake and well aware, John wanted to run the mission past him. Even with Zelenka acting on his behalf for science related questions, John felt better with Rodney's opinion voiced.
"Sorry buddy, Keller said sometime next week, once you can move your arms without wincing in pain."
Rodney was showing progress; the cuts were healing, but he wasn't able to move much. Keller had allowed him to read and in one case jot down some notes, but she maintained that Rodney keep his mobility to a bare minimum. He was still in pain, but he kept his complaints and wincing to a minimum. This, of course, worried John the most. When Rodney was really sick or in a lot of pain, he became oddly quiet and reserved, and he seemed to be at his most annoying when his injury was minor. He'd seen the man act as if a paper cut was the loss of a limb, but a bullet to the shoulder was met with silence and only slight whimpering.
"Oh, how I'm looking forward to weeks of physical therapy."
John sat down on the chair beside Rodney's bed. "It's only going to be two weeks, Rodney. You've had worse before."
"At least now this will give me a real excuse to get out of Ronon's exercises."
"Unlikely. After this, you might end up working harder in the gym than before. Anytime you're laid up for awhile, you have to retrain muscles and build back some of your strength. I know for a fact you didn't do anything while Atlantis was on Earth, either."
Rodney laid his head back against the pillows.
"It's a lose, lose situation." He closed his eyes and John fought the decision to just get up and leave. Rodney flicked a hand briefly in his direction.
"Zelenka said you had something you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Uh, yeah," John cleared his throat, "tomorrow Ronon, Lorne's team and a scientific team are going to MX145-999 to check out an abandoned Wraith outpost."
Rodney opened his eyes and looked at John. "You aren't going?"
"No, I thought I'd leave this trip up to Lorne. You're not cleared for missions, anyway."
"Doesn't meant you can't go without me. You're sending Ronon, you might as well go with. Who knows what you'll find if it's a Wraith outpost. Zelenka already told me which scientists are going, and Zelenka is going with them, I don't see any problems arising. I'll be here when they get back to correctly identify anything they've misdiagnosed."
"You seem oddly okay with them going on what could be an interesting mission without you I thought you'd try and request I hold off on this one until you're better."
Rodney gave him a weird half laugh before struggling to lift himself slightly. John immediately reached out and grabbed Rodney's arm gently and helped him sit up better.
"I look like a 13 year old emo kid, Sheppard. I'm, as Jennifer so lovingly called it, weak as a kitten. For once in my life, I don't want to go to a planet to investigate a supposedly abandoned and even more supposedly former Wraith outpost. Let the other kids have a crack at this one for once, let them get caught and bled out like a pig."
"It wasn't your fault," John blurted out, still holding onto Rodney's arm, "it could have happened to any one of us."
"No, Sheppard, it was my fault. How many missions have we gone on with crazy rituals? My mind was somewhere else, I wasn't thinking, and I suffered the consequences."
He gave Rodney a hard look, trying not to just grab him and shake him, to tell him the best thing is he's still alive and who cares how he messed up. They didn't need their stupid wine, they didn't need to be perfect, he's just happy that Rodney didn't die there. But he couldn't, because Rodney wouldn't believe him no matter what he said. They were so good at lying to each other about their feelings that, there wasn't a time when John ever thought Rodney saw his true intentions. Instead John tried to keep this tone flat and kept squeezing Rodney's arm.
"No one blames you, Rodney."
"Jennifer broke up with me the day before and it's stupid, but I couldn't keep myself from thinking about how much I messed up. I was really starting to believe she was my chance at that stupid normal life idea. Apparently that's not going to happen. I messed up because my head wasn't in the right space, I let something like a break up affect my performance on your team."
"Rodney," John started, because here was where he was supposed to agree, supposed to tell Rodney this is why they couldn't be together. This is why he'd done what he had to do, but he couldn't. Because despite everything, he wanted nothing more than for Rodney to be safe and happy, even if that meant with Katie, Keller or anyone else who wasn't John. Instead he just looked at him and shrugged; there wasn't anything he could say right now that would change Rodney's mind.
"Exactly, Sheppard, this is exactly why I avoided having this conversation with you. Sorry if I used up all your word quota for today, I'll just go back to wallowing in self pity. Feel free to let yourself out."
He attempted to roll over but couldn't get very far, instead settling on turning his head and shutting his eyes. John only lingered for a moment before he left without saying another word.
John was in the control room when Lorne's newly formed team left for their mission to the Wraith outpost. There was a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach watching Ronon go off with another team, on a mission that, if not for Rodney being in the infirmary, his whole team would be going on. They weren't scheduled to stay very long; the MALP had showed nothing dangerous in the way, and according to some preliminary readings the outpost wasn't too far from the gate. They had a check-in in two hours, and then the situation would be assessed and future check- ins would be given. Teyla had requested that John join her afterward, for a late breakfast/early lunch, in the mess.
Teyla was already there when he walked in close to 10:45, a little later than he had planned, but the gate team was running slightly behind. At the very last minute Rodney requested Zelenka's presence, and the two spent a half hour going over something before they finally headed out towards the gate. John was skillfully ignoring Rodney since their minor confrontation the day before at his hospital bed. He was used to Rodney's post-bad mission crabbiness; it would eventually fade away, and after a well placed series of chocolates within Rodney's reach, John would be his good graces again. When John spotted Teyla she had two trays in front of her, having already grabbed them both a meal.
"Sorry I'm late," he said sitting in the chair across from her. She'd grabbed him a few real pancakes, a muffin and something that resembled a banana, but tasted exactly like a peach. He never quite understood how Pegasus was able to create food that either looked like Earth food but didn't taste like it, or tasted like something, but looked nothing like it. Over the years he'd gotten used to eating things without really looking at them, or thinking about where they actually might have come from.
"Don't worry about it, John. I understand there was a delay in the mission?"
He put a forkful of pancake in his mouth; it was nice to have something from Earth to eat every once in a while. The pancakes were homemade by one of the chefs, a girl named Laura, who was best known for making delicious baked goods for birthdays and special occasions. She quite often made Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes for Torren, who had no idea what he was eating, but enjoyed them anyway.
"Yeah," he said after he swallowed, "Rodney wanted to have a word with Zelenka over something. You know how he gets when he's not on a mission about science."
Teyla was eating the packaged oatmeal the mess used. Rodney had brought her real Canadian maple syrup in little leaf shaped containers once and she'd fallen in love instantly. She used it on just about anything maple syrup would go on, including pouring liberal amounts on her oatmeal.
"It's good to see Rodney getting back to himself. I spoke to him yesterday about what happened, and he seemed to understand that no one was mad at him."
"He didn't bite your head off, I take it?"
Teyla smiled, a wide grin that made her look so much younger.
"He knows better than to snap at me."
John laughed, "I think that's a lesson very worth learning."
She laughed at him, then, too, taking another healthy spoonful of oatmeal. They ate in silence for a few minutes, simply enjoying each others company and the food. John didn't have a lot of female friends growing up, so he was never sure how to act around them. A lot of girls took him as being overly flirty and tended to either flirt back, or be completely turned off. Teyla was different, though; she didn't seem put off by John's friendly nature, and instead she seemed to welcome him. It didn't take long for him to find himself trusting her completely and finding it returned. They still didn't do the whole 'talk about your feelings' stuff, but John knew that Teyla understood him, even when he didn't put it into words.
Teyla finished her oatmeal and then placed her hands neatly folded in front of her.
"I wanted to tell you something important, John."
"Go ahead, Teyla."
She took a deep breath and then exhaled lightly. John recognized the body language used to gain helpful trading allies.
"After being on Earth for so long, I was as happy to see my people again just as much I was to return to Atlantis. Being so far away from home made me see how important it was for me to stay here. I know you offered me the option to stay with my people for a time when we returned, but I declined, seeing our missions as more important. Now, with Rodney in need of a off duty time, I see that it would be a good time for me to return to my people."
John stared at her for a second, at a complete loss for words. The last thing he wanted was for Teyla to leave them; he needed her.
"No," she shook her head, "just until I'm needed once again here."
"You can join another team," he interjected, "until ours is back on the roster. I don't mind, really."
"That's not what is keeping me from staying here, John. I feel disconnected from my people. Kaanan and Torren shouldn't be living outside our community. I was lucky to have them with me on Earth and the thought that perhaps I couldn't have was heart breaking. This last year, I've come to realize how important it is for us to cherish those we love and to help strengthen our relationships. We've all almost died within the last year, John. I've had to see Rodney injured and ravished, I was there when Ronon was killed, and even you yourself suffered greatly. I don't feel I can keep fighting unless I find myself properly grounded in what matters most."
John wanted to tell her to stay, he wanted to tell her that she was important to him and that he needed her to ground him. But he couldn't be selfish like that; he couldn't take her away from her people, from her original family. He'd asked so much of her over the years that it felt like the worst thing to deny her this request.
"I don't want you to go." It'd been a long time since he'd said something like that; he'd never even told Nancy that when she was leaving.
Teyla seemed to sense that he was being heartfelt and honest, reaching her hands over the table and placing them on John's.
"I know, John. I'm sad to leave you, Ronon and Rodney. I'm not going away forever, or very far away. I've already talked with Mr. Woolsey and I will return one day a week to check in and visit. You're always welcome to join us, and it might do the three of you some good to stay with us." She smiled at him, so sweetly and beautifully that it made John's heart ache.
"I hope," he paused, searching for the right words, "I hope you find what you're looking for. Atlantis isn't the same with you Teyla, I won't be the same without you. I've told you before, I'm not.. good at this, at telling people how I feel about them. I don't want that… I don't want that to be between us."
If it was even possible, she smiled more widely and squeezed John's hands.
"It isn't, John. I've known you long enough to understand the words you aren't able to say."
He returned her smile and then cleared his throat.
"Do Rodney and Ronon know?"
"Yes, I've told them already. I'm afraid I saved you for last, as it was very hard to come and tell you this. I didn't want you to believe I was abandoning you or Atlantis."
"I know you'd never truly abandon us, Teyla."
"Good." She pushed her chair away from the table. "I believe you have some free time now?"
John knew exactly what was coming next and he stood up, grabbing their trays to bus.
"I might be persuaded to free up my day."
"I shall meet you in the gym in about an hour? I have to get a few things before I go and it will give you extra time to practice. It's been far too long since we've had a chance to, as your Marines call it, go at it."
If there was one thing he loved about Teyla, it was that she never shied away from the fact that she was able to take him out. John thought his pride would end up on the floor as well, but it only took a few times before he learned to enjoy Teyla's sticks and learn what she was offering him.
"It's a date."
John didn't consider himself gay. He liked sleeping with men, but he also enjoyed sleeping with women just as much. He didn't really consider himself bisexual or straight either, he just considered himself someone open to anything. Granted, the US Military didn't look too favorably on someone like John, but he was pretty much used to the higher authorities looking down on him. John just kept his sexual orientation to himself for the most part.
Growing up, he didn't really think about dating; after his mother died, his father enforced very strict rules for his two sons and John had little time to think about girls or boys. His first date came when he was 14 years old, with a girl named Julia who had red hair like his mother had. They only went out once, and afterward John kissed her on the cheek and she walked away looking all too disappointed. After that he just acted like himself around girls, flirting with them, smiling and building up a very high wall he knew no one would climb. He'd seen the way his mother's death tore up his father and he really didn't want the same thing for himself. He went on a few dates in high school, finding it easier just to go with the flow and be seen with pretty girls and let people just assume things about him. The first boy he kissed was named Paul when he was 17 years old. They weren't dating but John had been attracted to him all the same. They kissed quick and dirty behind the fast food restaurant Paul worked at, when it was over with Paul went back inside and John signed up for the Air Force.
He had a series of relationships after that, a few girls came and went, and had a few illicit relationships with men in back alleys and under the radar. Nancy was the first woman John ever believed he could settle down with, but once he did, he realized he was just fooling himself. Settling down with someone just to please other people was never what John intended and although a part of him really did love Nancy, she didn't really see what John was doing. Underneath it all, John was glad Nancy left him; she didn't deserve someone like him, she deserved someone capable of loving her without being guarded.
Rodney was different from anyone else John had ever slept with. Every single wall John had constructed to stay detached was seemingly meaningless to Rodney. He didn't act like John had to talk to him, he just was willing to take whatever he could get from John. That's, of course, where the danger lay for him, because John was just about willing to give everything he had for Rodney. After the siege, when John said so long and nearly blew himself up, he knew Rodney wouldn't want him back. Rodney would barely even look at him when they were on their way back to Earth. It took a case of beer and all the chocolate John could find to get Rodney to unravel a little and their friendship to start shifting back into place.
When they returned to Atlantis it felt like no time had passed and Rodney was trying to win over Katie Brown. John didn't see anything wrong with it or feel any real jealousy at first. He wanted this for Rodney; it was part of the reason they broke up. Watching Rodney fumble his way into a relationship with her was hard, because he knew there was so much more to Rodney than what he did, the way he acted with her. He kept so much of his personality hidden from Katie.
John wasn't actively looking for anyone when he first started noticing Madelyn in the mess hall. She was new to the expedition, and John recognized her from an orientation group he headed when the new recruits piled in. She was a scientist, something in the soft sciences, but he didn't remember exactly what. He'd flirt with her harmlessly in the mess. She usually sat alone, and he'd smile at her and she'd sheepishly smile back. She was the shy kind of pretty, a beautiful girl hidden behind a shy exterior, the kind you wouldn't find at bars or speed dating. It wasn't until Rodney started parading Katie around in the mess and then bringing her to team movie night that, John decided it make a move on Madelyn. He'd like to have thought it wasn't out of jealousy, that he wasn't asking her out to show up Rodney, but the feeling was definitely there, buried underneath.
He had asked her out over lunch in the mess one day, while Rodney sat a few tables away with Katie. She introduced herself when he first sat down, Madelyn Clark, a linguist on the science team. John tried desperately not to laugh at her occupation. Rodney had made some unflattering jokes regarding linguistics as a field entirely, and he didn't think Madelyn would find them too amusing. She was pretty, smart, and funny; she'd worked for the SGC for a while and was excited to be in Atlantis, having never actually gone off world before. She could read Ancient fairly well and was starting to learn Wraith. She spoke 7 other languages, French being her favorite even though she was American. When they'd finished off their sandwiches, John asked if she wouldn't mind having dinner with him later that week, and she'd accepted with a slight blush.
Things went on normally after that. They went on missions and John started actively seeing Madelyn. Their relationship was an open secret on Atlantis, although he never really confirmed or denied it. After their third public mess hall date, he'd told her that he wasn't going to advertise, that it was better if they just went on without making much fanfare. She didn't seem to be bothered by the idea, just shrugged and agreed with John that it was really nobody's business but their own. She wasn't overbearing in the slightest bit, but she'd occasionally make her way into the gate room when John's team was leaving or coming back from a mission, and for the most part they appeared to be just two very good friends. Rodney wasn't much better with Katie; if John hadn't heard random relationship updates from Rodney every so often, he wouldn't have believed they were even seeing each other.
After Rodney blew up 5/6th of a solar system, John found himself going to Madelyn more and more. It was just easier with her, because she didn't expect him to talk about what happened, she just enjoyed his company. Madelyn and Katie apparently had been friends before they started dating John and Rodney, respectively, so it wasn't much of a surprise when Madelyn asked if John wouldn't mind going on a double date with the other two. Talking wasn't something John and Rodney had been doing much of lately, and Madelyn insisted that the date might actually help the two of them. It was almost laughable, as if she had known about their previous relationship, but he agreed anyway. They ate dinner in Katie's room, the most accommodating in size of the four rooms. It wasn't so much awkward, just more or less just uncomfortable, and John was pretty sure the world's largest elephant was in the room with them. Rodney seemed to be on his best behavior, asking polite, seemingly rehearsed questions about linguistics to Madelyn and making light, easy conversation with John. It was hard for John to see him like this, to see Rodney so pulled back and reserved. He knew this was partially his fault for pushing Rodney away again after what happened, after their friendship finally started to get back on track. Truthfully he wasn't really all that upset with him, he was more upset with himself. He'd worked so hard to keep himself away from Rodney, not to form that unbreakable attachment, to use his better judgment and not just agree with Rodney, but he did. He trusted Rodney because he cared for him and it almost ended up with them being killed.
After dinner they went to one of the empty rec rooms and the four of them ended up on the couch watching some chick flick John had never heard of. Madelyn was curled up against his side, in an open display of affection, and he turned into it. Rodney and Katie were sitting the same way, Katie snuggled against Rodney's side. When the movie ended, they broke into two groups, Rodney heading back to Katie's room and John walking Madelyn to her door.
They'd been only dating for a month and they hadn't actually had sex yet. John wasn't trying to avoid it, but he wasn't trying to get there either. Tonight was different, and instead of kissing her and going back into his room, he accepted her invitation into hers. There was always something strange to John about the transition from having sex with a man to then having sex with a woman, which he supposed was natural. With Rodney things were rarely slow; everything they did was in fast forward, the foreplay, the kissing, the act itself. John didn't mind bottoming or topping, he'd never had a preference, but Rodney seemed to enjoy bottoming more often than not.
He thought about Rodney when he was touching Madelyn's breasts and it hurt him just a little to do it. He wasn't trying to use her as a replacement, but she was so different from him in such big ways and it wasn't right to use her like that. She was soft all over, her skin wasn't pale like Rodney's, and she had a taut stomach and high perky breasts instead of a soft belly and tiny little nipples. He had to remind himself he was with a woman at first, after reaching down and pressing his finger against her entrance, and that he didn't need to take his time and stretch her like he did Rodney.
John hadn't used condoms with Rodney; it wasn't something they really talked about or either asked for. Both were clean, and if anything came up, they had pre and post mission physicals regularly. John had a handful of condoms in his room, given to every member of the expedition by Carson their first month there. If Rodney had his, he didn't mention it. John enjoyed, the feel of fluids sticking to his skin after messy sex; it was almost like it meant something had happened, like the evidence of who they were was right there, stuck between them.
Madelyn reached into her nightstand and pressed a condom packet into John's hand. She'd offered to blow him at first, but he'd declined, telling her he'd rather pleasure her instead. John enjoyed blowjobs from men, far more than from women; he'd always figured it was because a man knew exactly how it felt to receive one and therefore performed them much better.
When the condom was rolled on, he moved up her body in a smooth motion, lined himself up and pushed inside. She was quiet at first, an soft sigh when he first pushed in and then a louder one when he started thrusting. Her hands were on his shoulders, fingers digging into the skin and he hoped she'd leave marks. He used to be littered with tiny fingerprint bruises from Rodney, on his hips, shoulders and arms, but it didn't feel nearly as tight as when Rodney was holding him. John had felt her come again, the tiny intake of breath before her muscles tightened and spasmed around him. He buried his face into the side of her neck, reaching his tongue out to lick the warm expanse of skin. She moaned louder, clawing at his back and whispering hoarse words of "faster" into his shoulder.
He moved quicker, going as fast as he could without hurting her, slamming into her hard enough to start pushing them up against the headboard. It didn't take much longer for him to come, his orgasm coming on quickly, spreading from the back of his spine and making his hips stutter a few times before filling the condom. He waited until he was finished before pulling out, tying off the condom and tossing it in the direction of the garbage can he'd seen before. Madelyn was stretched out beside him, and when he laid back down she spooned into his warmth like a moth to a flame. Her bed was a lot bigger than John's or Rodney's, so John was able to lay completely on his back and still have room before the bed ended. Orgasms usually made him tired and lethargic, but he felt restless and buzzed instead. Madelyn was so much smaller than Rodney, at least a foot shorter in height and much lighter. Her leg was hooked over John's and her face was buried somewhere between his chest and his rib cage, with her arm slung around him. Her face was smooth against his skin, unlike Rodney's prickly facial hair, and he could feel her humming slightly. His hand rested in the middle of her back, against a large expanse of flawless skin.
When he glanced over to her night stand he realized it was getting pretty late and he started to shift, trying to dislodge her.
"Hm?" She questioned, lifting her head, digging her chin unintentionally into John's side, "am I smushing you?"
"No," he said softly, lifting his hand from her back and running it through her long hair, "I was just going to leave."
"Oh." She sat up quickly, grabbing the blanket and pulling it up across her chest in sudden embarrassment, or perhaps modesty. "Okay."
It hit John that she didn't expect him to actually leave and it might not have been the best thing to do after the first time they had sex.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I just.. I run with Ronon in the mornings.. and he usually waits for me at my room.."
"Oh, I understand. It's okay, really." She was far enough away then, so their bodies weren't touching. All of the blankets went with her and John was left sitting up, naked in the moonlight. He felt more embarrassed than he had in years, sitting there completely exposed.
"I," he started, and then reached his hand out to cup the side of her face, "I'll stay."
"Oh John, please don't think you have to. I shouldn't have expected you to, you've got a lot to do. You don't have any clothes here anyway, it'll just be easier. Next time, we'll plan ahead, okay?"
He hated watching her give him a way out, as if she didn't really believe what he said or what she was saying. Ronon did wait outside his door in the mornings for their run, but John could always leave her room a little early, change and shower before Ronon got there. It wasn't as if being seen leaving her room in the morning held the same consequences as being seen leaving Rodney's. He thought about Rodney again, wondering if he was sneaking out of Katie's room after sex, leaving her cold and alone in the bed.
"I'll stay, Maddie. I want to."
She relaxed when he said it again and laid back against the sheets. She moved back to cuddle against him once more, bringing the covers around them.
"I'll set the alarm."
She reached over and wound the hands of the alarm clock, before setting it back on the nightstand. She placed her head back against John's chest, a little higher than before, and his hand was against her back; this time he started lightly running his fingers across her skin. She shivered when he started, but the tenseness was slowly easing out of her, and after a minute or so her breathing evened out and she was asleep.
Rodney's prognosis continued on an upward scale, even when Keller made him endure physical therapy every day. He was walking a little, mostly being wheeled around in a wheel chair, but was able to stand up and sit down without too much pain. While Keller had been right about the cuts not causing any muscle damage, Rodney was still feeling pain from the scarring when he moved certain ways. The physical therapy insured that even with the pain, Rodney was attempting to move around and regain his strength.
Lorne's team had come back with positive news; it was an abandoned Wraith outpost and from the looks of it, most of the information had been left behind without damage. They were being careful, of course, there could still be false alarms and booby traps hidden amongst the rubble. Rodney was doing well enough that Keller allowed him to look over information via his laptop with Zelenka. They were leaving behind a team of scientists and military on the planet, but were sending Rodney all the information and from his hospital bed, as he was overseeing the event. John had gone during the third day to check on how things were going, and it was progressing easily enough. Once settled in, they were able to start going through the data and deciphering what they saw.
John was starting to feel a bit unwanted with Teyla gone, Ronon opting to stay at the Wraith outpost to help, and Rodney spending his time between PT, going over the information from the outpost, sleeping and eating. He loitered around the mess frequently, sitting with his Marines, but he wasn't exactly buddy-buddy with most of them. Sure, they had a good laugh now and then, but he was still their commanding officer and for the most part, he was much older than the younger recruits. Woolsey didn't seem to mind when John would show up for a game of chess (it was easier than playing with Rodney, by far) but he didn't feel as comfortable with Woolsey as he did with Rodney. He started to feel like he was with Dave again, always tagging along and playing with his friends instead of making his own. After their mother died, he found himself wanting to stay around his father and brother more than anyone else. The Sheppard family had their share of maids and nannies, but John never truly felt as comfortable around them as he did around his own family. That was, of course, before his father all but banished him, and Dave followed down the same road.
He was finishing up another round of Free Cell when Rodney radioed him from the infirmary. It seemed Keller was willing to let Rodney venture out into Atlantis, as long as he had someone to supervise him and wheel him around. John absolutely jumped at the chance to not only spend time with Rodney, but to get out of being bored out of his mind. He met Rodney and Keller down at the infirmary, and she rattled off a list of do's and don'ts for the two of them, mostly revolving around not letting Rodney do anything besides sit in the chair. By an unspoken agreement they ended up on the east pier, and even though it was difficult for John to push the wheel chair down the pier, it was well worth it. John helped him out of the chair, grabbing him by the waist and lowering him to the pier's edge.
Once they were settled John looked over at Rodney, getting a really good look at him. His color was coming back, and he looked less fragile and more just plain old tired. He had his eyes closed and John could tell he was enjoying the slight breeze in the air. His arms were still wrapped in bandages, but fewer than before, and now John could see angry white scars layered across Rodney's arms.
"Sorry there's no beer or anything," John interrupted the silence and swung his legs, bumping them against the pier's edge. "I didn't think Keller would appreciate if I mixed your meds with alcohol."
Rodney shrugged half heartedly, as if the effort was just too much.
"Doesn't matter so much. It's nice just to be out of Atlantis, I haven't really been outside at all."
John could relate; the second he was discharged from the infirmary, he tried to head straight outside. It had been raining outside the last few days; the new planet didn't really have seasons, but when the weather changed it stuck around for a few days. There was still a smell of rain in the air and the ocean was rougher than usual, but the sun was out and things were warming up.
"Yeah, this is good for you. How are things?"
"Physical therapy or other?"
John leaned back on his hands and took in the sun on his face.
He always missed Rodney's talking when he hadn't heard him go on for awhile. The tone and strength of his voice always had a lulling effect on John; late at night when they were in bed Rodney would talk and John would let his words wash him over into sleep before it was time to leave. Rodney had a way with words which he would never truly grasp.
Rodney seemed to understand what John meant and even with his eyes closed John could feel Rodney staring at him.
"Dr. Jones is far worse than I originally suspected; he keeps trying to motivate me but clearly has no idea how it's done. While it isn't too much right now, it's all so stupid that it's exhausting. I start getting winded after walking a few feet, and it just doesn't feel like I'm ever going to be as mobile as before. Jennifer's happy with what's going on. She seems to believe most of the cuts aren't going to scar too badly, and wants me to consider letting a plastic surgeon take a stab at removing them. Zelenka keeps bringing me more and more data each hour, but Jennifer's being overly strict about how much I can actually do. I've already gone to Woolsey with a complaint, but he seems to be siding with Jennifer. Apparently they don't care if we're onto something that could possibly change the whole game as we know it."
John opened his eyes and looked over; he hadn't heard too much about what they found.
"Are we close to finding something that could destroy the Wraith?"
Rodney shrugged again, seemingly out of habit, before realizing how uncomfortable it made him.
"I don't know, but we could be. There's a lot of information and it's just sitting there. Other than looking like someone attempted to bomb the entrance, there's no sign that anything in there was going to be destroyed. If something in there could possibly negatively effect the Wraith, then why haven't they destroyed it? Or why would the outpost exist in the first place? All I've managed to discover is that they were conducting experiments with sound and vision, but nothing more."
"You think it's a trap or a hoax?"
"A hoax?" He paused for a moment. "No, I think it's legit. As for a trap, if it was, I think the Wraith would have shown up by now. I just…, you know, we've been here for 5 years, I just don't see something like this falling into our hands so easily. Nothing in this galaxy, hell nothing in my life, has just fallen into my lap this easily."
He looked right at John at the end, eyes staring directly into his. John shifted, uncomfortable at the attention.
"You'll make sense of it; I have every faith that if there's a way to destroy the Wraith, you'll find it and make it work."
"I have found a way," he laughed, a sharp ugly laugh that was usually followed by belittling and insults, "but it seemed to kill millions of innocent people along the way."
"You know that wasn't your fault, nothing that happened is your fault, Rodney."
"You can say it all you want," Rodney countered, "but you know as well as I do that I'm going to blame myself just as much as you blame yourself for things."
"We're just fucked up then, nothing wrong with that, but we're fucked up and determined. We'll make it work."
"Us or this?"
John looked over at him for a moment, not sure what road Rodney was going down, but the look on Rodney's face was telling. It was the same look he got anytime they were heading toward something, the look he gave when he thought they might lose each other permanently. The look that was gave everything they had away to anyone who saw.
"I was under the impression there wasn't an us."
"There hasn't been for a long time, but I think.. well, I almost died again and that means it's your turn soon. We might as well enjoy each other while we're both able."
"And this has nothing to do with Keller breaking up with you only a few weeks ago?"
Rodney looked away, out into the ocean.
"You're never a rebound, John."
There was something bubbling in the pit of John's stomach he couldn't hold down.
"I..," he started, words once again failing him when he needed them the most, "I just don't think it would work right now, Rodney. You're still sick, things are different…. it, I mean, we made our choices awhile ago. I can't make a real decision if I'm worrying about you."
"You already worry about me, John and you know it. I don't understand why we can't just enjoy ourselves."
John was saved from answering by the chirp of his radio. "Colonel Sheppard?"
"Sheppard here." He stood up and turned his back to Rodney.
"Can you bring Rodney back?" Keller asked, "It's getting late and he's got early morning PT."
"Sure, on our way, Sheppard out."
He clicked off his radio and turned back over to Rodney.
"Keller wants you back, let's go." He walked over and put his hands under Rodney's arms, giving Rodney a chance to adjust before counting to three and helping him stand. It wasn't very hard; Rodney had enough strength, but once he was up he wobbled a bit and John put his arms around to catch him. It'd been a long time since they had been this close and John hadn't felt this warm in awhile. Rodney leaned into him, sideways against John's chest, before he turned himself around so they were lined up chest to chest.
"Thanks." Rodney leaned in for a moment and John licked his lips unconsciously. Rodney's hands were warm against his bare arms and he was clutching Rodney's hip harder than he intended to. In a moment, they went from staring at each other to Rodney leaning in and kissing him gently on the lips. He pulled away too soon and was leaning back, sitting on the wheel chair before John even realized it. His face felt cold after Rodney had moved away.
"Yeah." John said, his throat gone dry. "You're welcome."
He wheeled him back to the infirmary in silence.
If Atlantis were to have awards, John would take first prize in Avoiding Rodney McKay. He had it down to an art; he knew all the normal Rodney haunts when he wasn't bed ridden and it was almost too easy now that he was. Keller had let him go back to his room once he was able to walk with the help of a cane, but limited his comings and goings to there, the infirmary and the mess. If he had someone with him he was able to take walks around Atlantis, in addition to his normal PT. Zelenka took him mostly, now that John was avoiding him, and John knew the exact route they were taking almost every other day. He had avoided all of Woolsey's requests to have a sit down with his whole team regarding going back on the roster, mostly because his whole team was never really around. Teyla's once weekly visits were mostly spent in meetings, and then she usually took Rodney for a walk. Ronon came back with Lorne's team once John decided to keep the groups going to the Wraith outpost in rotation.
When Ronon was back the first thing John wanted to do was spar with him. Without Teyla around, he hadn't had much of a chance for good sparring, and he was feeling out of sorts with himself. He kept up his daily run, something he'd been doing since he was fourteen, but besides that he only spent a few hours in the gym when he had the chance. Usually when his team was off and he wasn't injured he would spend a majority of his time there, not wanting to lose any of his training.
He had just turned the corner to Ronon's room when he heard Rodney's voice coming from the inside. He walked slower and stood at Ronon's opened door, and from there he was able to see Rodney sitting on Ronon's bed as he hovered along side him. His stomach dropped at the sight; Rodney was slowly lifting his shirt from his body and John had the insane urge to run in there and demand an explanation.
"I don't see why you can't just tell me what you're going to do," Rodney whined, trying to look at Ronon from under his shirt. It had ridden up above his neck, the back going over his head, completely hiding him. Ronon reached behind him to the shelf and pulled a tube out. John's heart was racing and his hand was flexing without his consent.
"Just be quiet, McKay."
"You're lucky I trust you! You could take advantage of me right now. I'm in a weakened, half dressed state."
Ronon laughed his deep belly laugh that usually made everyone nervous.
"Sheppard would kill me if I did."
An unexpected grin slid onto John's face and he relaxed just a little, holding himself taut against the door, but moving closer to hear better. Whatever Rodney said he missed, and then Ronon was sitting behind him on the bed rubbing something onto his back. Rodney was silent for a few minutes, and John had to wonder what kind of magic lotion Ronon was using on him.
"Feel better?" Ronon asked, before pulling away and getting off the bed. There was a towel beside him and he wiped his hands on it. Rodney was struggling with getting his shirt back over his head, so Ronon pulled it down for him.
"Actually.. yes, it does feel a lot better. What was that?"
"I found it when I was a Runner, a village's healer used it on my scars. It cooled them right away and caused the scar to lesson. I asked Keller if she could check it to make sure you could use it, she said it was fine."
"Oh, that's.. thank you, I didn't.. I mean you didn't have to." Even from afar, John could tell Rodney's face was turning a slight shade of pink.
Ronon shrugged and stood tall beside the sitting Rodney.
"You got rid of my scars once. I can't do that, but I can help."
John suddenly felt very awkward standing there listening to what was a private conversation. Ronon and Rodney might not always have had the best relationship, but there was no doubt that they cared about each other. After Rodney had 'won' Keller, John thought their relationship would be awkward and difficult in the field, but neither of them seemed to let it affect them. Instead, they seemed to almost work better together. John never really thought about anyone else's relationship with Rodney, either. From day one it always felt like everything was about him and Rodney, that they were the dynamic duo. When things went wrong, heck when things went right, Rodney and him were always the two there. Seeing Rodney and Ronon's relationship up close, in a private moment, left John with a weird feeling. Like suddenly he realized that no matter what, he was always sharing Rodney with everyone.
John moved away from the door frame, not wanting to hear anything more, and turned to head back to his office. He was only in there for a few minutes when Ronon (sans Rodney) walked in. So far, Ronon was the only person who'd never actually sat in John's chairs. Instead, he tended to loom above the desk or stand off by the windows, eyeing the chairs as if they were evil. John suspected Ronon was in on the joke he thought was hilarious, but Ronon didn't ever mention it.
"Sheppard," Ronon started, going for standing in front of John's desk, "got time?"
John closed his laptop. "Yeah, of course. What's up buddy?"
"That mission Lorne's team is going on, I want to go."
Somewhere in the large amount of data being streamed to him second hand, Rodney had deciphered the gate address to a planet that was seemingly a Wraith breeding ground. They weren't too sure what they'd actually find there. Rodney wasn't able to figure out how long the outpost had been abandoned, or why, for that matter. John decided to let Lorne's team, with extra Marines, check out the planet and then go from there.
"Okay, I can go?"
John leaned back in his chair; he didn't mind Ronon going, it was good for him to be keeping busy, but at the same time John wanted to go too. He didn't really like seeing Ronon going off on his own, without his actual team leader.
"Did you ask Major Lorne?"
Suddenly John felt like someone's father, more than anyone's commanding officer.
"He said he wanted me to. You should come too, Sheppard. You haven't been off world since what happened to McKay. You could use it."
He wasn't wrong; he definitely needed to be out on the field again. It wasn't too long ago that a month off would have driven him up a wall. He liked to pretend it wasn't because he was getting older. He just accepted that when Rodney was down, he would take the time off too. Ronon was a lot younger than John, and he still felt that being out on the field was the only way of life. John was like that once too, when he was much younger, always wanting to be out there. It's what drove him to fly, drove him to leave the life his father had set up and be something else.
"I," he started, unsure of how to explain anything like that to Ronon, the guy who always seemed to look at him for advice and guidance, "I think that's a good idea."
Truthfully, Woolsey had asked John to go on the mission, but John was the one who deferred to Lorne. He knew the Major wouldn't mind if John and Ronon went along, if they took a team of Marines out there together. It would be good for the group, really, showing them that Team Sheppard might be down two members, but it wasn't out for the count.
"Good." He moved towards the door. "Let's go, haven't beaten the shit out of you in awhile."
It was amazing how fast Ronon picked up Earth slang and swear words, weaving them into his own speech patterns. It was also amazing how much of a smartass he could be at times, John blamed Rodney.
"You say that like it's easy," John teased, standing up and circling around the desk, joining Ronon at the door.
John had been out of his mind after they'd gotten Rodney back from the sunken puddle jumper. After Rodney was brought into the infirmary and Carson assured them he'd be okay, John went straight into the gym and allowed Teyla to beat him with sticks for a little bit. He had been so sure Rodney was dead when they'd gotten to the jumper and even more sure Rodney wouldn't make it up to the surface. He'd been disoriented and confused during the ascent, talking about Sam Carter and whales, babbling and shivering. John had to fly, while Zelenka sat in the back wrapping Rodney in thermal blankets and assuring the scientist he was indeed safe. He'd spent the entire rescue operation trying to hold down the feelings that Rodney was dying or dead, to bury the thought that he might never see him again. He wanted nothing more than to grab him, wrap his arms around him and know that Rodney was alive and was well. Instead he had to watch Carson wheel him away and promise the doctor he'd get a good night's sleep before returning. After Teyla took pity on him, letting him get beaten to the floor, she told John much the same.
Naturally, he went straight to Madelyn's room. He felt safe there, oddly comforted, knowing he could hold onto her, knowing that she was alive, like Rodney. She was sitting on her bed when the doors let him in without a thought, the book she was reading still in her lap, and she didn't look up.
"How's Doctor McKay?"
"I don't know. He's alive at least, Carson is holding him now. He told me to get a good nights sleep before I could come back into the infirmary." John felt like puzzle pieces, undone and scattered. Rodney had almost died before, this wasn't his first time dealing with this, but it felt important to know that Rodney was alive. He'd spent so much time burying his feelings for him as far down as they'd go, and one little event pulled them to the surface. He walked over and sat on the edge of Madelyn's bed.
"I'm glad he's alright, John. You did a very brave thing tonight." She finally put the book down and leaned over so her hands were on his shoulders.
"Come to bed, John Sheppard." She moved her hands over his shoulders and he tensed immediately.
"I'm sorry," he stuttered, putting his head in his hands, "I'm just not… not tonight, Maddie."
She abruptly let go of him and sat back against the headboard.
"I didn't want to have to do this tonight, John, but you're leaving me little choice."
He looked away from his hands and over to her. She was biting on her bottom lip and John knew what was coming next; he'd had this same conversation several times.
"I'm sorry Madelyn."
"Stop saying that; there's no reason for you to be sorry, John. I knew coming into this relationship that there was someone else."
Panic overran John's heart and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"What? I .."
She cut him off.
"I don't think you're cheating on me, you aren't that type of man. But there's another girl out there who has your heart and occasionally your mind. I'm not going to begin to think about what you've done and who you've lost, but it's clearly what you're thinking about. I didn't think we'd last this long anyway, but I'm glad we did."
He looked at her; she was simply beautiful in every way he wanted and yet, he knew if he got up and walked away right now he wouldn't turn back around.
"Are you? I mean, I.. are we okay?"
She laughed and grabbed her book from beside her.
"Go get some sleep in your own room, John. Relax, we're fine. I'm fine and I know one day you'll be fine too."
He leaned over the bed and kissed her lightly on the lips and then on the forehead.
He walked out the door without turning around, but instead of heading to his room, he detoured to Rodney's. He didn't think he'd be in there, but John couldn't get himself to go anywhere else. The door opened without hesitation and John was surprised to actually see Rodney sitting on his bed, wrapped in several blankets, a white bandage across his head.
"Can I help you, Sheppard?" His tone of voice indicted that he clearly didn't wish to help John in any way.
"Carson let you out? Is he crazy? You have a head injury!"
Against his better judgment, John was in the room and sitting on Rodney's bed before he knew it.
Rodney was looking at him with his eyebrows raised and annoyance etched into his face.
"Um, right. It's me with the head injury right?"
"Exactly. Did you leave or did Carson let you go?"
"Carson let me go for the night, and he's going to page me every 2 hours to make sure I wake up. I had to sell my soul to be in my own bed right now, Sheppard. Whatever freakish thing is happening to you, please don't be in here for it. I want to sleep in my own bed. I just spent hours under the water thinking I was going to die. I need my own bed."
John moved quickly, so that he was straddling Rodney's legs. Rodney squirmed for a moment but then let John grab his face and look straight into his eyes.
"I thought you were dead, Rodney. I thought I'd find a puddle jumper with your dead body in it."
"Yeah." John leaned in and kissed him. Rodney went still under his hands and lips, but he was warm to the touch, so unlike how he was in the puddle jumper. His fingers were laced into Rodney's hair, curling them into his scalp, and he could feel Rodney's chest against his own, thrumming against John. He leaned his forehead in, holding it against Rodney's, his breathing just as fast as Rodney's.
"I just… I just need to know you're alive, Rodney."
Rodney looked straight into John's eyes, hazel and worried. He leaned in and pressed his lips against John's, then pulled away.
"I'm here and I'm alive, you saved me."
John's hands began to roam, moving down Rodney's neck and arms, trailing underneath his shirt. His skin felt slightly cold underneath John's palms and it burned, as his fingers danced and scratched over Rodney's skin.
"I'm alright, John. It's okay, please, it's okay." Rodney was talking softly and John kept leaning in to kiss him, grabbing the words from his lips and swallowing them down.
"I'm sorry," John mumbled back, fitting his hands down at waist of the scrubs Rodney was still wearing.
"I'm sorry, I just, I have to, can I? Can I touch?"
"Yeah, God, anything." Rodney leaned up to capture John's mouth, but John stopped him and put his hand on his chest, pushing him down into the bed.
"Let me, just, let me."
He pushed Rodney's shirt up over his chest and ran his face down over it. The feel of Rodney's chest hair against his own hairy face was weird, but the roughness of it told him that Rodney was alive. He pulled Rodney's scrub pants down over his hips as his face made it to Rodney's belly button. He was moaning, taking deep breaths and clenching his hands into John's hair when John freed Rodney's hard cock. He stuck his tongue out and licked a line from base to tip, as Rodney's cock jumped.
Taking hold of the base, John didn't pause before mouthing over the head and sucking Rodney's salty skin. There was no time for finesse, no matter how much John wanted Rodney to feel this, no matter how much he wanted to please Rodney. They were both tired, and Rodney had a concussion for God's sake, but the feel and taste of Rodney in his mouth was enough to keep John going. He sucked lightly, hand running up and down the part that wasn't in his mouth. He trailed his tongue around the ridge of the cock head, feeling into the slit and loving it when Rodney pulled at his hair lightly. There was a trail of words, like a song melody, coming from Rodney's mouth, but John was too focused to hear them. He let Rodney's hips jerk up and took Rodney down into his throat for a moment, swallowing as soon as he could, letting Rodney feel the vibrations. He pulled back, coughing lightly, and he could hear Rodney question him. He let his answer be taking Rodney back into his mouth, bobbing back and forth, running his tongue over the big vein. He let his teeth scrape lightly against Rodney's cock, the taste of precome coating John's mouth.
"Oh God, John, I'm going to," Rodney started. John used more sucking pressure on the head of his cock, stroking the base in a faster rhythm. His own cock was so hard against his BDUs he thought he'd break through them. His hips were rocking half against Rodney's thigh and half against the bed; with his free hand, he reached down and rubbed his cock through his pants. It was enough that when Rodney came with a whimper, John felt his own orgasm rip through him. He swallowed all Rodney offered him, feeling a tiny trickle down his chin. He sucked Rodney's cock until he knew it was uncomfortable and then finally let go and rested his face against Rodney's stomach.
"John," Rodney said and John had the feeling he'd been saying it for awhile, "John, let, come here."
"No," John said, crawling up Rodney's body, "no, it's okay, I'm.."
Rodney reached down and felt the wetness on the crotch of John's pants.
"I'm good." John repeated and kissed the closest part of Rodney he could reach before rolling into him. If it was at all possible he'd crawl into Rodney's skin and never, ever come out.
They were silent for awhile. John was almost asleep and he wondered if Rodney was too. He was laying with his face pressed against Rodney's side, right under his arm.
"John," Rodney started into the silence of the room.
"Not that impromptu blowjobs aren't wonderful or anything, but I'm not entirely sure I'm not still hallucinating. So uh, at the risk of losing all this, what the hell just happened?"
"I..I just had to make sure you were alive."
"Asking me would have worked just as well, but uh, I appreciate this. So, uh thanks, but shouldn't you be leaving?"
Whatever happiness John had been feeling with Rodney alive and beside him dissipated in that moment.
"I mean, Madelyn must be looking for you. Or something."
"She broke up with me."
Rodney moved suddenly, sitting up and jarring John from where he was laying. John shot up, feeling suddenly uncomfortable and very awkward.
"She broke up with you? Oh god, Sheppard. Just, go now."
"Go?" John was slowly being pushed off the bed by Rodney's arm on his shoulder and he jumped off before Rodney had him completely on the floor.
"I don't? Go?"
"Yes, you're clearly upset about Madelyn and what happened today, you aren't in your right mind. Go now, so we don't do something completely stupid. Sleep and then tomorrow we'll pretend this never happened and it'll be just like always."
"But," he started, but Rodney was leaning back down into the bed and shooing him away. John wanted to tell him right then and there, wanted to slowly peel off his own clothing and crawl right back into bed with him. John wanted a million different things at that moment, but they all boiled down to Rodney. He wanted to lay there, sleep there and know all night long that Rodney was alive and breathing. That Rodney was his and that if Rodney needed him John would never be far away, that John would never not be able to rescue him. But Rodney wasn't looking at him; he was pulling up his scrubs and rolling over. Rodney was turning his back to him and John sighed, swallowing heavily.
"I'm, glad, I mean, yeah, sorry. Goodnight."
If Rodney said anything afterward, John was out the door in seconds and didn't hear a thing.
When the wormhole closed behind John, it took every bit of anger management he could employ not to lash out at everyone who was gathered in the gate room. Woolsey was coming down the steps, watching as the Marines around John who weren't injured looked at their commander officer with nervous eyes.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Woolsey started to question, eyeing the dirt and blood now covering his gate room floor.
John took a very deep breath before letting out in a controlled tone, "We had a little unexpected problem."
"Yes," Woolsey countered, "I can see that. Would you care to elaborate?"
John looked over to Lorne, who looked as if he was trying to slowly slink away.
"Major Lorne, would you care to debrief Mr. Woolsey regarding our situation?"
Lorne was by his side in a second, and nodded.
"Can I ask where you'll be, Colonel Sheppard?" Woolsey asked. He seemed to be wary of asking John anything at the moment. John was pretty sure everyone in the gate room was clearly put off by his attitude. He knew, though, if he broke his stoic flat tone, he'd lose it. He just had to find Ronon and figure out what the hell had happened out there.
"I'll be in the infirmary talking to Ronon. I'll report back to you when I'm finished with him."
He didn't wait for an answer, instead turning on his heels and marching straight towards the infirmary. Ronon had gone through the gate before him, but the had been injured and anyone who saw him would have herded him into the care of the doctors. When John entered, a few of his Marines were sitting up in their beds being attended to. He saw Martha reading a chart and walked over to her.
"Have you seen Ronon?"
"He was in here for a minute. I told him to sit to get his arm checked out, but when I turned around again he was out the door. It's nothing serious, Colonel, he just needs some stitches. If you can get him back here at some point, it'll be easy."
"Is everyone else okay?" John asked, sparing a glance at the few filled beds. To the best of his knowledge, no one had been seriously hurt, but he was at the end of the group, having gone after Ronon, and didn't know what had happened with everyone else. It wasn't his best moment as commander, but at the time his only thought was of finding Ronon.
"Minor injuries, Major Douglas broke his wrist but that's the worst of them."
He turned around and headed for the location he knew Ronon would be in. When he first was brought into the city, they'd given him a much smaller room at first, not sure if Ronon was going to be staying with them. The room was in a more secluded area of the city, closer to where the military kept most of their things. The idea was to keep him separated at first, just in case. Ronon seemed to like the oddly shaped room and was slightly sad when they offered to move him into a room in the main living tower. He went, but would frequently go back to his original room for various things. When the gym was too crowded, or the team needed to be to themselves, they often went to the space as well. When John got there he wasn't disappointed; Ronon was standing in the corner, punching the bag they'd installed there.
He turned around and John could see that his arm was still bleeding, as was the small gash on his forehead. He looked angry, wound up and tense, ready to pounce.
"What the fucking hell was that?" He unconsciously clenched his fists again his sides as he approached.
"Back on that planet? That was not called for. That wasn't even," he paused, trying hard to push down the anger that was crawling through him, "that wasn't right."
When they had arrived on the planet, they were surprised to see a well populated village not too far from the gate. The people were nice, welcoming the group into their town, John explained they were expecting an uninhabited planet, having heard this from others. The village's chieftain explained that they didn't directly trade with many, and therefore many people believe them not to exist. It was going smoothly, as smoothly as any meeting with all military men could possibly go, when Ronon unexpectedly snapped. Everything had happened at super speed; one minute they were talking, the next Ronon was holding his blaster to a villager's temple.
What John quickly discovered was that the mild mannered villagers were Wraith worshippers, and Ronon had recognized a few from his days as a Runner. The moment they were discovered, things began to go horribly wrong, with Ronon shooting without preamble and John ordering his Marines to respond, but not to kill. Wraith worshippers or not, the village was filled with women and young children, and there was no way John was going to waste their lives without any real information. Ronon, on the other hand, didn't take any of John's orders and blasted his way through the village. John had ordered the retreat back to the gate and when Ronon didn't go, he went after him, finally managing to drag him straight back into the gate.
"They were Wraith worshippers, Sheppard. They would have fed us right to them! You were just going to talk to them! We couldn't just do that."
John hadn't seen Ronon kill without provocation before, and it scared him slightly to see him so out of control.
"You didn't have to kill everyone in sight. We could have escaped without casualties. There were children there, Ronon. They didn't choose to live with Wraith worshippers."
"I didn't kill the children, Sheppard. What do you take me for?" He all but spat in John's face, sneering at him.
"I don't know what you were doing. You didn't even listen to me!" John wasn't shouting; he couldn't let the anger escape him like that. "What made you think it was alright just to go on a killing spree?"
Ronon punched his fist against a wall, leaving a large dent.
"They were going to sell us to the Wraith, Sheppard. There was no way I was going to allow that to happen."
"I get that!" John shouted, "I get that perfectly fine, but my Marines were unnecessarily injured! You were unnecessarily injured!"
"Do you even care, Sheppard? Do you? Ever since we've been back here you've barely cared about this team or fighting the Wraith."
"Of course I care!" John shouted, letting his anger boil to the top. He cared a hell of a lot about what happened in this galaxy and to his team. "You're all important to me! Why do you think I didn't want us out there fighting like that? McKay almost died, you did die! And then you barge into fighting like it's nothing? I've been hearing from Lorne about your recklessness. Just because your life was given back to you doesn't mean you're invincible! You could have been killed out there!"
There had been retaliation from the villagers; they didn't have guns, but they had energy weapons and arrows. He watched Ronon run straight into them, as he ordered the retreat, and all he could imagine was him being killed again, this time without a Wraith around to save him.
"I can't let them kill more people, Sheppard. I can't let the Wraith and those worshippers destroy more peoples' lives. They would have turned us in if I hadn't recognized them! We weren't even concerned. We weren't even aware! "
And then it suddenly made sense to John, the real reason behind Ronon's rage. John had felt it once too, when Todd had taken his life from him and given it back. The overwhelming sensation of being driven to the point of death and then having life rush back into him. Even after he let Todd go free, and even after all Todd had done for them, John still felt angry. The Wraith killed so many people and yet he was given his life back. It made him angry that Wraith were capable of it to begin with, that something so horrible was capable of something so good as giving someone's life back. John never really thought too much about religion, God or otherwise, but the idea of something powerful enough to kill and bring people back to life? It was too God-like for John to ignore thinking about. Ronon had suffered so much at the hands of Wraith, his whole planet, almost his entire people destroyed by something that could have easily handed their lives back over like they did for him.
"Ronon," John started, lowering his voice and unclenching his fists, "I understand. I know what it's like to have your life given back to you by a Wraith. I know, buddy, you're mad and you want revenge in the most horrible way. But Ronon, this isn't the way. The Wraith kill for no reason other than because they can; you aren't a Wraith, you have to be better than that."
John should have seen this before. Should have paid much more attention, should have talked to Ronon when he had the chance. Ronon didn't say anything, so John continued.
"This is my fault, I know. I should have talked to you, I should have seen how this was affecting you. Things have been so incredibly fucked up lately, I don't know what I've been thinking."
"It's about time." The tenseness Ronon had been holding in was starting to release itself, and he looked tired and injured, his tall frame sagging slightly, his shoulders rolling back, and his posture going from tight to relaxed.
"I can never understand that about you, Sheppard. How unwilling you are to let people know how much you care about them."
John knew that this didn't fix anything Ronon was feeling, that it would take lots of talking and even that might not fix things.
"If you need me, you know I'm willing to listen, Ronon."
Ronon had a habit of hugging people, frequently and randomly. Sometimes he didn't even give a reason, just reached his long arms around a person and squeezed until he was satisfied with the outcome. He had a horrible habit of picking people he really liked off of the ground with his hugs, and John and Rodney were constantly subjected to these kinds of hugs. Teyla, somehow, always was given just a tiny little hug, even though John was sure she could handle his bear hug better than John could. So when he reached out and grabbed John, pulling him into the ring of his arms, John was ready for it. Instead of bracing himself like he usually did, he held himself tightly against Ronon's mass, letting himself go loose-limbed, and relaxed. He even moved his arms around Ronon, returning the hug to the best of his ability. Hugging wasn't something John was comfortable with, but he was willing to put aside his uneasiness for Ronon.
"Will you come to the infirmary now?" John asked when Ronon let go, straightening up.
"Yeah," Ronon walked from the room, "let's go."
John was pretty sure he had sold Carson his soul in order to be released back into his room. He assured him and Elizabeth at least a thousand times that he was alright, but having seen his life being sucked away by a Wraith live on TV had them thinking otherwise. He agreed to let Carson take as much blood as he wanted and promised to be back first thing in the morning, just as long as he could sleep in his own bed. He was tired, his body ached as if he'd spent the whole day running and his head was pounding. The last thing he wanted was to be sitting in the infirmary being subjected to a dozen people asking him if he was okay every 15 minutes. John wasn't surprised when there was a healthy filter of people trying to make their way into the infirmary to check up on him. Even Madelyn was there, standing in the back looking over the tops of peoples' heads to where John was sitting. He had caught her eye briefly and when she seemed to deem him okay, she filtered out as Carson shooed the entire crowd away. The only one missing was Rodney, which John figured would happen. As soon as the puddle jumper returned to Atlantis, he was out of the jumper bay and gone before anyone could even ask him a question.
Once he was back in his room, John stripped off the scrubs Carson managed to get him in and stood under the shower for as long as he could stand it. There was something wonderful about a city that read your mind and didn't bother questioning why you wanted the water as hot as you could take it. Atlantis just gave him comfort the best way she could, by giving him an endless stream of water, pressured directly on his aching muscles, just the way he needed it. After awhile he made his way out of the shower and stood in front of his bathroom's mirror. He was naked, his body still dripping with water, pooling on the tile floor. For a few minutes he just stared at himself, wanting to reassure himself that yes, he was still human.
He looked at the Iratus bug scar, still visible on his neck, and let out an involuntary shudder. He had been worried, after the Wraith returned his life, that maybe something could happen again with the Iratus bug DNA, but Carson seemed to have read his mind and assured him several times that he returned back to life as 100% John Sheppard. An odd thought had occurred to him back in the jumper, if maybe getting his life back would erase old scars and injuries, but one look at his chest and arms nullified that thought. The random assortment of scars he'd acquired throughout his life still read like a road map of stupid and heroic ideas. The tiny puckered skin on his right shoulder from when he jumped over a cemetery fence as a kid and a sharp point caught his sleeve and ripped his skin, the light pink scar from when his appendix was removed when he was 10, and even the angry red knife womb he got in Afghanistan, were all still there, all still real. Rodney had said he looked younger, but John didn't certainly feel any younger now; in fact, he possibly felt much older, staring at himself in the slightly fogged mirror.
He wrapped a towel around his waist before heading out into his room; he never like being naked even in the privacy of his own quarters. When he did enter his bedroom, he wasn't really all that surprised to see Rodney sitting on his bed. The scientist was sitting on the edge, looking down at the floor and the only sound was of his heavy breathing. John ignored him, went over to his drawer and pulled on a pair of sweat pants under the towel, letting it drop where he was.
"I can't believe Carson let you out." Rodney started talking when John was just standing in front of his closet, unsure of what exactly to do next.
"I just wanted a good night's sleep in my own bed."
"We were going to rescue you, you know. We had the wrong building once, but we were coming. You should have known that, we were coming."
"Sorry Rodney, but the room service there just sucked, I couldn't wait." John tried for comedy, tried to lighten the mood, because one of them had to be laughing right now. One of them had to feel good about this, had to be glad that John was alive and had to show it.
Rodney went on, as if he didn't hear John or as if he was ignoring him.
"It was funny, really. As I was watching you get the life sucked out of you by a Wraith, I first thought, God that's my worst nightmare right there." He paused, not looking at John and not waiting for a reply. "I really thought for a whole minute, how you were living through something that I had nightmares about. And I really did think it scared me because I didn't want it to be me there." He finally looked up at John.
"That wasn't it. That was my nightmare, John. Watching you out there, getting your life sucked out of you and me standing there completely and utterly helpless."
His words seemed to stab John in the chest almost exactly like the Wraith's hand had.
"Rodney," he started, but Rodney just shook his head.
"No, it's.. I was willing to do anything, John. Anything in the entire world to get you back safe and sound. I was so angry, I was yelling. I punched a whole in the lab's wall, I mean Ronon had to come tell me to calm down, John. Ronon, of all people, had to tell me not to worry about anything. I was so ready to push Radim in front of that train, hell I think if Koyla had asked, I would have given him every last person in Atlantis, including myself, for you. That scares the shit out of me, John."
He had no idea what to say because there was nothing he could say. Rodney was sitting there, telling John he would give up the world for him and he almost really did give up the world for him. He felt the exact same way John did, because John knew if the roles were reversed, if Rodney had been the one on screen, he would have thrown Radim into Koyla's waiting hands. John would have stopped at nothing before Koyla would have been killed. Somewhere John knew Rodney would have rescued him, that Rodney would have done everything in his power to bring John back alive, or even dead. They didn't need to say it; even after Doranda, it was always there, that the two of them would sacrifice anything for each other.
"I can see," Rodney started again looking back down, "why you favor suicide runs so much. I care about people, I.. I know sometimes I don't come across that way. But I do and God help me John, I care about you so much it hurts. I had to watch that thing kill you inch by inch, I had to listen to Carson talk about how much time you had left. There was no escaping it, I couldn't go anywhere, I was completely helpless, I.. I've never been so completely helpless before.. not even with Gaul.. I.."
John had never seen Rodney cry; he'd seen Rodney's eyes red a few times, puffy and slightly moist, but never actually crying. And yet here he was, sitting on John's bed with his head in his hands now, the unmistakable sound of crying coming from him. John moved quickly, dropping to his knees despite the protest of his body, and grabbed Rodney's shoulders.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he started, over and over again, hoping Rodney would just look at him, say something, laugh at him, yell at him, anything other than this. He pulled Rodney's hands from his face and looked at him; the tip of his nose was red and there were tears streaks running down his face. John leaned in and kissed him, here he was crying because he couldn't save John. He was a wreck and John felt selfish for a moment, because he'd been worried about himself when he should have known this would effect Rodney harshly. John kissed him, his lips, the tip of his nose, the corner of his mouth, his forehead, anywhere he could, tasting the salty remains of the tears all over his face.
Rodney grabbed him, hands clenching his shoulders tightly.
"No, no," he said softly, "God, John, I'm sorry, no."
"I need this," John said against Rodney's cheek, rubbing his face against his, "I need this, please, Rodney."
It was so easy for them to curve into each other, for Rodney to lean back on the bed, laying down and letting John crawl over him. He'd missed this, missed the feel of Rodney below him, the length of him, the feel of him beneath his hands, as he pushed Rodney's shirt up over his head. There was something so simple and comforting in undressing Rodney, constantly revealing bits of skin flushed red with arousal and warm to the touch. In a tangle of arms and legs, John managed to undress them both and then kissed his way across Rodney's chest and down to his stomach. Rodney's hands were kneading into John's hair, petting him and scratching his short nails against John's scalp. Everything felt so real. John hadn't felt so alive in ages, as he did with Rodney surrounding him.
"Rodney." John started, lifting his face from Rodney's stomach, dipping down quickly to kiss him. When he looked up again Rodney was looking at John as if he was going to disappear at any moment. John leaned over to his nightstand and fished around for the bottle of lube hiding safely in his drawer. He pulled it out and pressed it against Rodney's hand.
Rodney shuddered under him and jumped up so quickly that John nearly fell off the bed.
He moved to let John lay on his stomach, but John flipped over onto his back.
He sat up and kissed Rodney again, wrapping his arms around his neck and bringing him back down on top of John. There was something about giving himself up to Rodney that always felt so safe to John. When he'd had sex with other men, no matter how much John had liked them, he'd never felt comfortable having sex face to face. With women it was easier to show intimacy that way, to look them in the eye and give them everything they wanted out of sex. When John had sex with men, he'd never wanted to give up control, never needed to feel safe, but with Rodney he craved it. He wanted Rodney to fuck him, wanted Rodney to take him, to look him in the eyes and give John something he'd never really asked for, but always knew he needed.
The click of the lube bottle being opened was the only warning John got before Rodney's finger was circling his hole, pressing in slowly. Rodney always took his time, no matter how much John begged him to go faster, and now was no exception. He worked his finger back and forth, crooking his finger every once in awhile to press lightly and quickly against John's prostate. Rodney added a second finger without warning and the burn was exactly what John needed.
"Come on," John started, his back arching as Rodney made another light pass over his prostate, "I'm ready."
"I'm not," Rodney said breathlessly, "going to hurt you."
"What if I want you to?" John regretted it as soon as he said it. He needed Rodney to know this was as much about him as it was about the sex. That John wouldn't have just done this with anyone, that the burn, the pressure, the feeling of someone inside of him only meant something if it was Rodney. With anyone else, this was just sex, but with Rodney it was comfort and it was real.
Rodney abruptly removed his fingers, but stayed kneeling between John's legs. "John, I'm not.. I can't just do this."
John sat up again, leaned in, and kissed Rodney with all the feeling he could convey.
"Please, I just want to feel it, I promise it won't really hurt me. I want to know we're both here right now."
Rodney mulled over it for a few seconds before replacing his fingers, and John nearly jumped off the bed at the sudden stretch and burn.
"Yeah," he panted when Rodney pushed against his prostate harder than before, "yeah, just like that."
Rodney's fingers were replaced with the blunt head of his cock a moment later.
"Ready?" He didn't wait for John's reply before pushing all the way in, in one stroke. John's body felt like it had been lit on fire, like electricity was running through him. He arched up, hands grasping the bed sheet, and wrapped his legs around Rodney, digging his heels into the small of Rodney's back. Rodney pulled all the way out before pushing back in hard enough to push John further up the bed.
"Yeah," John said again, "yeah, come on Rodney, fuck me."
Rodney was breathing hard, grunting with every thrust, his hands gripped onto John's hip. He had his eyes closed and his head tilted back slightly, and when John looked at him, he wanted nothing more than for Rodney to kiss him, to look at him, to see that John was always there when he needed him.
"Rodney," he whined, watching him open his eyes and look down. He dragged one hand from John's hip to his cock, gripping it and pumping with the same pace as his thrusts.
It was too much for John; his body was already tired and wound up waiting for release and all he needed was Rodney's calloused hands against his cock to set him off. He called out when it happened, the orgasm exploding out of him just as Rodney's thrusts started to quicken and lose all rhythm. Rodney had let go of his cock after he came and instead tipped forward and blanketed himself over John as he continued to thrust, hard and long, sending them up against the headboard.
"Take it," John said softly, "come on, Rodney."
That seemed to be all the encouragement Rodney needed, for a few spastic thrusts later he suddenly stopped and jolted, and John could feel him coming. Rodney completely collapsed on top of John, his face pressed into John's shoulder. After a second, he pulled out and rolled over slightly, still mostly laying on top of John.
"I don't think it needs saying but I'm happy you're alive."
John leaned over and kissed the top of Rodney's head. "Stay."
Rodney lifted his head up high enough to look John in the eyes. "Are you sure?"
"Tonight, just stay tonight."
Rodney closed his eyes again, moved slightly closer to John and then said quietly against John's skin. "Yeah, of course."
The fact that Rodney was unable to actually see the outpost for himself turned out to be a much bigger hindrance than originally suspected. Despite what Rodney often told everyone, his scientists were smarter than the average person, but at the same time Rodney was correct in deeming them occasional idiots. There were things they missed, things they didn't understand and even more things that were thrown aside that actually had some important purpose or relevance. John wasn't surprised at how long it'd taken Rodney to start getting a grasp of things; there was just so much second hand information that it took awhile for a clear picture to start forming in his mind.
It was late at night when Rodney paged him; John had been reading something when Rodney called, but put it away in favor of going to Rodney's room as he requested. Keller was still strict about letting Rodney go anywhere, especially the lab, so his quarters quickly turned into a make shift lab. John was surprised at Rodney's obedience to Keller's rules, because not too long ago Rodney would have thrown them out the window and been back into the labs within the hour. John couldn't help but wonder what made this request so much different than before; sure, Rodney wasn't moving around all that well, but he was improving with leaps and bounds each day. That, and Rodney had been less mobile before and still managed to put in a few hours of lab time in his day. In any case, John knew whatever Rodney had discovered was important enough for a late night visit.
Rodney had keyed his door to allow only a handful of people in without his direct consent, and John, being one of them, waltzed right in to find Rodney sitting across his own bed. His cane was resting against the wall and he had no less than 5 different laptops and tablets laid out along the floor. Sitting on his lap was his favorite tablet, as well as a bag of jellybeans from the candy he'd managed to smuggle back to Atlantis.
"What's up?" John asked, making quick work of the few feet from Rodney's door to his bed. He sat on the edge, near Rodney's feet, and reached over to steal a handful of jellybeans from the bag.
Rodney glared at him for a moment before answering. "I think I've figured out something about the outpost, finally."
"That's good," John swallowed a handful of different jellybean flavors, none even remotely bearing citrus, of course. "Did you tell anyone?"
"Not yet." There'd always been an open ended agreement between the two that when either one of them discovered something cool, the other would be notified immediately. John didn't mind when Rodney shared his discoveries first with him, even way back with the personal shield.
"Know how we've figured the outpost was used to experiment on humans?" Rodney continued.
John nodded; they'd briefed them on this earlier in the week.
"We weren't able to figure out exactly what they were doing or why the information was there. I've been looking at these logs for hours now and I'm starting to think we've got this whole thing all wrong. You see," he hit something on the tablet and John moved over so he was sitting next to Rodney, "this is the Wraith language alright, but it's different. It seems like it's been through a translator or something."
John looked at him. "Someone's already been there and translated it?"
"No, not like that. This information hasn't been touched or taken from the database for centuries, whoever put the information in translated it from original language to Wraith. From what I'm finding out here," he moved his cursor and circled something written in Wraith, "the outpost was originally Wraith, but then was taken over."
"No," Rodney shook his head and pulled the tablet back down on his lap, "nothing indicates that there was any Ancient involvement before, during or even after the Wraith. In fact the planet isn't even in our databases. Whoever came in after the Wraith were advanced enough to not only figure out how to use the equipment, but also to translate the data back into Wraith."
"Why would they want to do that?" John questioned. "Were they working with the Wraith?"
"I don't think so. It seems that whatever the original experiments were, they were stopped, and replaced by something similar but not quite the same. I think whoever was there was trying to set up some kind of trap; the last data entered was a hive ship that was near. I don't know if getting the Wraith to the outpost was the original plan, but they did communicate with them."
"So someone took over the Wraith experiments' logged them, and sent out the results and then lured a hive ship there?"
"That's what it seems." Rodney tossed the tablet off the his lap and gave John a exasperated look. "If I was there, we'd have this worked out in hours. But no, I'm laid up here, unable to actually see anything and instead getting the information wrongly assessed by the supposed best and brightest."
"You'll be up before you know it. Didn't Keller say she'd think about letting you go there next week? It's better than nothing."
Rodney closed his eyes and leaned his head all the way back, giving John the perfect view of his neck and Adam's apple.
"For the first time in my life I think I'm starting to really feel too old for this shit."
John didn't say anything, just moved back so he was sitting next to Rodney on his bed. At some point before they'd returned, Rodney had managed to get everyone, including John, new human size beds. His was a queen, while John somehow only ended up with a full. It didn't matter to him much, and anyway, he'd gotten used to sleeping on a small bed and even more used to having to squeeze up close against Rodney when they could. John had to briefly wonder if he bought the bed for Keller too, if he had been anticipating marrying her as he had Katie. There'd been so much jealousy locked up in John when Rodney showed him the ring, that they never actually managed to talk about anything that happened between them when he was dating Katie. John never really planned on being a home wrecker, but when Pegasus managed to almost kill them, the only real comfort John could find was when he was with Rodney.
"Don't say that," John finally said into the silence, "you've still got plenty of things you haven't done yet and you'll have plenty of time to do them."
"Have you thought about us?" Rodney suddenly countered, and John hated him for moments like these. Rodney was the most honest person he'd ever met, he never shied away from displaying how he felt, was never too scared or worried. He could just open his mouth and ask John questions that it would take weeks for John to even think about asking. As much as he hated it, a part of him was always secretly glad at least one of them was capable of this kind of communication when it was needed. Whoever told Rodney he was bad at relationships, clearly never actually listened to him all that much, for Rodney always said what needed to be said, whether anyone wanted to hear it or not.
"What kind of answer do you want me to give you? I thought I made myself pretty clear, before. I don't think this is a good idea. You're on my team, I already have a difficult time with judgment calls when it comes to any of you, I don't need that extra thought there when the time comes."
"You don't need it or you don't want it? Why do you act like any type of relationship with anyone is just a big responsibility?"
"Because it is," John explained, looking at Rodney's profile, "that's what relationships are, they are a responsibility you have to work at keeping."
Rodney turned his head. "You really think that? You can't just be with someone? You can't just relax and enjoy yourself? Ronon told me what happened, you know. He told me how you finally acted human and showed some emotional response to the situation. I don't know what's wrong with you, John because you're not a robot. I've seen you, hell I've been there when you needed something and you weren't too worried to ask for it then. But the second things aren't life threatening, you act like I'm just some giant burden to you. That it sucks so much having to deal with caring about someone, what a hard life you lead."
"It's not that easy," John found himself saying without even thinking about it, "it's not easy for me. I'm in the military, Rodney! I can't be running around sleeping with men! I can't just date someone and then go out into the field and not think about them. I know you've hacked my files, I know you read about sending me to Antarctica. I cared there, you know. Those guys out there? They were my friends and I made a judgment call that nearly cost innocent people their lives. I wasn't even sleeping with them, what would have happened if I had been? I can't take a chance when I'm out there, Rodney. I can't let my personal feelings get in the way of what I have to do."
Rodney shook his head and let out a sigh. "You say things like that John, but if anything your personal feelings are what makes you do your job so well. You act like no one can tell how you feel, but it's so painfully clear to everyone. You're shit at hiding it, despite what you may think. All those times you've tried suicide missions? Just because you end up surviving doesn't meant we all don't see what you were doing for us. If you didn't care so damn much about Atlantis, your team, the whole galaxy, you wouldn't be here and hell, I doubt you'd even be alive. You think you're fucked up? You think you've messed up? When will you finally realize that you're the good guy in this story?"
"You must have hit your header harder than we thought if you're giving personal relationship advice."
Rodney laughed and bumped John's shoulder casually. "I'm getting wiser by the minute, I'll have you know. And really, who else is going to look after you?"
It was a strange feeling for John, when people made it clear to him that he was well loved and looked after. After his mother died, he rarely felt like anyone wanted him around. He'd started to believe she was the only person who could possibly love John for who he was. Things changed, time went on, John met girls and boys who told him he was loved, but there was always a part of him that didn't believe. Nancy had loved him, he knew, but she eventually had left him.
"Who says I need to be looked after?" John baited, trying to lighten the mood.
"The fact that you lack the ability to actually properly tie your shoes, I think, speaks for itself."
John wiggled his boot clad foot up from the bed. "Shoe tying is highly overrated."
"You would think that," he said, stifling a yawn.
"You should sleep, Keller will have your head if you keep staying up late."
"Yes, Mom." Rodney rolled his eyes at him.
John laughed. "Sometimes I think we both need to be taken care of."
Rodney bumped his shoulder again, something John always took as a hug substitute. He always found it amusing that Rodney was just as averse to displays of affection as he was. He didn't know a lot about Rodney's childhood; even though Rodney talked about it, it always seemed to be missing bits and pieces. He always wondered if Rodney's parents just never hugged him, like John's own father. The only people in his youth John could ever remember hugging were his mother and his grandma, both of whom where dead by the time he was a teenager. There were a lot of years in John's life where no one did more than pat him on the back and send him on his way. Years later, he wished it was easier for him to reach out and hug Rodney, or for Rodney just to do the same.
They were silent for a few minutes after that, before Rodney started again, stifling a yawn.
"I'm going to report on the findings tomorrow before you leave for the outpost."
John was going back in the morning to give Lorne and his team time off. Ronon was coming too, and John was looking forward to spending some time outdoors with him.
"Yeah, that's good."
John started to get up, turning his legs over the bed, and then Rodney had his hand on his shoulder, and he turned to look at him.
"A while ago, we had a conversation about choices and I just.. remember what you said and the choice you made. Despite popular theory, I'm not trying to be an asshole about this, John. I just think about where we are now and where we're going and you're the only person I see there with me."
He let go of John's shoulder and he shuffled off the bed, looking back at Rodney for a moment before heading out the door.
It wasn't as if they really almost died on a weekly basis, but it started to feel like that to John. Which, if he thought about it, seemed par for the course, since they were in another galaxy fighting space monsters, and who knew what they would find on any given day. So in turn, it seemed natural that John found himself seeking Rodney out far more than he thought he should. They had a very good thing going about not talking about what they had going on. It was pretty easy to blame it all on stress and the need to seek comfort with each other.
When John was younger it always had been the sky that comforted him, the very thought of flying making him feel so free and calm. Now the only thing that stopped whatever fears from taking over was Rodney. It wasn't all related to sex, at least not for John; even the nights when they watched movies, played games or sat out on the pier talking were enough. John never intended to be any kind of home wrecker, but he still slept with Rodney when he needed to. Rodney had assured him he wasn't actually sleeping with Katie Brown and they were just kinda dating, but John saw the way they were together and knew Rodney just couldn't choose. He couldn't blame him, he knew what it felt like to need a white picket fence life; he'd wanted it once too, with Nancy. Before she had died his mother once told him that loving someone meant you were more interested in their happiness than your own. While John never put a real name to anything between him and Rodney, he always thought of Rodney's happiness before his own.
When Atlantis had been taken away from them, he thought Rodney would end up with Katie Brown, but instead Rodney called him at least twice a day. Not to really say hello, but to more or less complain about pretty much everything he could think of. It wasn't until then that John really came to realize how much he relied on Rodney's presence on a daily basis. When they got Atlantis back, it felt as if the galaxy was trying to make it harder for John to exist. Between whales, almost ascending, volcanoes, games and Carson dying, John felt like all he did do was hang around with Rodney. It was getting harder for him to try and pretend nothing was going on between them.
And then Rodney did exactly what John was worried about, he made a decision based on his emotions over the safe thing to do. John cared about Elizabeth, he really did, but Rodney's choice wasn't logical. John had made rash decisions before, rushing into the room and talking to her while she had been in the coma, but this had been different. Things were going crazy and while John thought he could rely on Rodney to be the stable one, Rodney went and made a decision without considering the consequences. John knew he was angry at Rodney for all the wrong reasons. He was angry Rodney had made the decision without him, he was angry there had to be a decision, and he was angry that Rodney's feelings were the main catalyst for the decision. It wasn't fair, at least to John, that people could just make choices with such selfish regard, because John wasn't allowed to be selfish in any way.
But then Rodney did what he always did in the end, he came through. He apologized, put himself on the line with John, and like always, John retreated. He let his anger leave him and focused on what was good for Atlantis for the time being. Right now, that was backing Rodney's idea to steal a ZPM. They hadn't had a moment to themselves that wasn't in public, so when Rodney made a diversion to his quarters, John followed behind. Rodney was rattled, still slightly bloodied, and his uniform was a complete mess. He looked old, tired, but he was still moving; his whole body looked like it was connected to a battery that kept him wired and jumpy. He was messing with something on a tablet and John just stood in front of the closed door.
He turned around and his entire body just sagged slightly, and John was worried that he'd fall over.
"You okay, buddy?"
"I," he started, and dropped the tablet on the bed before following suit, "I'm tired."
John walked over and sat beside him.
"We've got just a few more things to do and then I promise all the sleep you can get."
Rodney snorted. "Hardly. I've got a million more things to do, some of which are extremely dangerous and totally suicidal. Do you realize that even with my plan we're pretty much risking everything for the slight chance it'll work?"
"I think I'm pretty clear on the details here Rodney." He had an edge to his voice, something he couldn't help. He was still worried about Elizabeth, still so unsure as to what she'd do or what she could become. He could lose her again, he realized, if something did happen. Rodney would blame himself, Rodney always blamed himself in the end. John knows for all his genius, there's also the crushing realization that sometimes genius can't save people.
"We need to get moving."
He stood up, but John grabbed him by the shoulder and sat him back down. He squeezed, his grip tight on Rodney's shoulders.
"I," he started, mouth suddenly going dry. He wanted Rodney to know, that even though he was angry then and still was now, it was for Rodney's own good. He didn't want Rodney to make the same mistakes he did and have to live with the results.
"I'm not mad at you. I know I yelled and I'm angry but.. it's what's happening, Rodney."
"You're an idiot, you know that? Did you think I was scared of you at any point? I was scared for Elizabeth because she was dying. I know I made the right decision, I saved her life and your inability to deal with emotions isn't going to change any of that."
John put up his finger in front of Rodney's face, a move his father had perfected in John's own youth.
"No. You made a choice without asking me or considering what that would do to her. I forgave you for it, I did. But you can't say.. you can't just do this."
"Do what?" Rodney was rarely angry; sure, he yelled and shouted at people, but it was never real anger. But now, Rodney's voice was rising, his tone stern, and John knew he was getting to him.
"Save someone's life? You really, really don't get this stuff, John. I made that choice thinking of nothing but you and Elizabeth. You don't want to lose her any more than I do. You're just pissed that you couldn't do anything to save her."
John was about to reply but Rodney cut him off.
"No, no. You don't get to be angry right now, you had your time. Did you think of me with your 'so long, Rodney'? Did you think of me the half a dozen times after that you nearly got yourself killed? You keep telling me you can't date me because it clouds your judgment. Well, you should wake up, John, your judgment is clouded and we've been sleeping together for months. We both made this choice, you're just too.. too stupid to notice."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, jutted his chin out and gave John the same look he gives him when he's claiming something's impossible. It was true, really, what Rodney had been saying. John had spent most of his adult life skillfully avoiding any and all situations that would entitle him to have or show feelings. He'd rather just not label things, rather just not have to show people that he cares. Things like that should go unsaid, even if John never really knew why. He remembered something his father had said to him once, that if you've done things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all. John spent his whole life skirting on the edge of things, never really going in too deep. If you do too much people get dependent on you, and if you do nothing they lose all hope in you. It was messed up, John often thought, but it was far better than any alternative. Depending on someone rarely gave you a happy ending and once someone loses hope in you, there's nothing left to gain.
But Rodney, Rodney was different. Rodney was just always there. He didn't just stand in the background and wait his turn, Rodney jumped in when he felt it was necessary, and he got his hands as messy as possible. John had seen how that affected him, how it tore him apart when Gaul died, when Griffin died, when Peter died. Rodney put his entire heart and soul on the line with everyone, regardless about how he felt about them. It was trust, even if Rodney didn't fully realize it; he trusted people and they constantly disappointed him. John had seen it, when people rolled their eyes at him, when his scientists ignored him or laughed at him. Rodney may take it all in stride, may boast in his arrogance, but John knows deep down inside, it's all just a front.
When John didn't respond right away Rodney started for his door, clutching his tablet in his hands. His stance was tense, as if he was just waiting for John to come over and burst his bubble. But John didn't, instead turning and looking at Rodney. He just looked at him, letting all the stoic and laconic demeanor slip away, and said in the most honest voice he could muster.
Rodney put the tablet down and walked over to John, hand coming in contact with John's face, but he didn't say anything.
"I just.. it's.. it's better sometimes if we don't know what we're doing. If we just do it and not look at it. And it's not.. I'm not ashamed of you or anything, it's not that. It's .. we can't be so dependent on each other, we can't.."
"Hey," Rodney said, leaning in and kissing John softly on the lips.
"If I had a choice, if I really had a choice, I'd always choose you. Every single time, hands down. And it scares me to fucking death when I think about it."
"Then don't think about it." Rodney kissed him again, a soft nip at his lips as his hands slid into John's hair.
"It's not that easy." John closed his eyes and Rodney kissed him on the tip of his nose. "We aren't going to be able to be normal about this."
"We live in another galaxy and fight aliens and you can control things with your mind. I'm pretty sure normal doesn't exist over here."
John grinned, a genuinely happy smile that felt out of place for what was going on around them.
"We should go."
"Yeah, let me just," Rodney paused and kissed him again before continuing, "get my things and I'll be ready. Well as ready as anyone can be before they attempt intergalactic cat burglary."
With enough information backing him, Rodney managed to convince Keller to let him go off world to the outpost, as long as John went with him. It was well established that John was the only person really good at what everyone secretly referred to as Rodney Wrangling. Teyla had even agreed to come, having been in on Rodney's explanatory meeting. Rodney was now one hundred percent sure that whoever was conducting experiments wasn't Wraith, but instead a group working against the Wraith. He wasn't able to discover what they were working on or even how they managed to work for so long, but he was positive that with just a few hours at the outpost himself, he'd be able to come up with something. John didn't doubt he would but he wasn't too sure if Rodney could handle being out again. He was making progress with physical therapy, enough to keep Keller thrilled, but it still didn't feel quite right to John. He knew if Carson was around, he'd keep Rodney from going for at least another two weeks, but since he wasn't around, Keller was enough of a pushover to let him go.
Unlike most of the uninhabited planets they'd discovered, this one wasn't overrun by forest. Instead, the landscape reminded John of a Midwest city, somewhere in Iowa or even southern Illinois. There were plenty of trees, but they were spread out and before them laid vast untouched fields that seemed to never actually end. John heard one of the scientists mention that there was an ocean not too far from where they were, as well as another continent of land possessing at least one mountain range. It was most unlike any other Wraith outpost area they'd been too as well; instead of being built into something, it was no more than 20 miles from the gate in plain sight. Most of the people who stumbled upon the planet, saw the Wraith outpost and never came back, and lucky for them no one actually touched anything either. It always amazed John just how much of the Pegasus galaxy remained untouched, despite the heavy population. Nearly all of the Ancient outposts they found were unused and just waiting idly for the Ancients to come back. Sometimes everything had the feeling of being left in pause, just absently waiting for someone to come along and use it again.
John had spent the first two hours standing in the same room with Rodney and watching him tinker around. He'd handed a few tools off, made a few comments, but mostly stood around and just watched. Rodney in motion was always interesting and exciting, just the way he moved around the control room, almost like watching a choreographed dance. It wasn't all that boring; he was able to keep himself entertained, but all in all, it wasn't the best way to spend his day.
"Colonel," Zelenka said from his spot on the floor, a tablet balancing on his knees, "why don't you go outside? I will watch Rodney and make sure he actually eats his lunch. You should go outside and enjoy your lunch out there."
"Rodney," Rodney interjected from his spot sitting on a chair along a large console, "is sitting right here, by the way."
"I don't know," John joked, pushing off from the wall he was leaning on and walking over to the two, "he's been sort of testy, think you can handle him?"
"Oh, ha, ha, ha." Rodney's comment went ignored.
"I've managed to handle him thus far, he is like a puppy, all we have to do is feed him and pet him a little."
John walked over and ruffled Rodney's hair, much to his protest.
"He does like belly rubs, don't you Rodney? Huh? Gonna be a good boy for Radek?"
Rodney swatted at him, but John was well versed in Rodney's tactics and easy ducked out of the way.
"I hate you."
John just smiled at Zelenka before heading out of the main room and towards the entrance. There were scattered scientists around, with a few of John's marines following groups around within the building. For the most part, everyone else was outside. The first week groups had gotten there, there'd been a spot with several trees that was the designated picnic area and most people found it a comfortable place to take a break. There was little shade from the trees anywhere else; the planet wasn't too hot, but there was rarely a cloud in the sky. John always loved the camaraderie between the military and civilians in Atlantis, he'd been stationed many places in his life, but none where people seemed to enjoy each others company this much. While their jobs were nearly polar opposites in some case, people seemed to connect quickly. He at first figured it was due to being cut off from Earth, but nearly six years later, the people of Atlantis still bonded with each other and depended on each other just as much.
Ronon and Teyla were sitting underneath what on Earth would be called a willow tree when John walked over. There were groups of people spread out, mostly sitting under trees, eating lunch. It reminded John of when he was in elementary school; his mother used to pack his lunch with a note written on a napkin letting him know she loved him. After she died, his father had one of their maids pack John's lunch and there was never a note to be found. He used to sit in his school's little gym turned cafeteria and pretend the plain white napkin in the bag held a secret message from his mother. It took him a few years of empty lunches before he stopped looking, but at the same time he never really stopped expecting it to be there.
He sat down beside Ronon and searched within his own pack for his food. Before Atlantis left Earth, they were able to stock up on several different food items. It was easier than trying to find space for it on Daedalus runs. One of the things they stock piled were sandwiches and John was forever grateful that everyone in Atlantis knew about his love for turkey sandwiches. While there were more than enough for a few months, John limited himself to eating two a week; he didn't want to run out of them any quicker than necessary. Besides his turkey sandwiches, he had a bag of Earth made trail mix and his water canteen. Teyla was enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with much vigor. John had tasted a lot of different jams and jellies made in Pegasus, but he hadn't found a good substitution for peanut butter. Teyla had instantly taken a liking to it their first year and during her pregnancy quite frequently would mix peanut butter with various foods. She had been overjoyed when John introduced her to peanut butter and banana sandwiches as well, since on the Athosians' original home world they had a banana like fruit she loved. Ronon was eating a Pegasus version of ham and cheese, the ham coming from an animal called taarx, which resembled a lamb, but tasted more like a pig than anything else. The cheese was Pegasus made too, from MX-1438, a small community that exclusively made and traded fine cheeses that tasted better than any cheese from Earth.
"Is Rodney going to join us?" Teyla asked, before she fished a bag out of her pack and tossed it to John. It was full of tiny little nuts the locals called frodish, that tasted like a mix between a walnut and a cashew; it was oddly addicting, and one of John's favorites.
"Don't think so," John said, taking a bit of his sandwich, chewing and swallowing before continuing. Teyla was a lady after all. "He has only three more hours left before he has to go back, thought I'd give him all the time he could get. Zelenka promised he'd feed him at some point."
She nodded and finished off her sandwich in a less-than lady like big bite. "I'm glad we were all able to come out today. He seems to be doing a lot better than last week."
"He's complaining a lot more," Ronon said around a piece of ham, "back to normal then."
John grinned and leaned his head back against the tree. This was what he wanted out of a mission, out of life really, just the ability to sit back and relax with friends and good food, not having to worry about anything going horribly wrong. Not to mention the fact that Rodney was feeling like he was close to a breakthrough. As much as he wanted to be out there, fighting the Wraith, he wanted his team whole and well before doing it. Ronon reached over and grabbed a handful of the frodish and John slapped the top of his hand playfully.
"Hey," he interjected, "Teyla got those for me."
Teyla laughed and reached over, grabbing a handful herself, and John put on an over done pout.
"They are for everyone, John." She giggled, a girlish glee that made John's heart ache slightly. He couldn't get over how much he missed Teyla's presents while she was gone.
"I have to say," Teyla said when she composed herself, "I really have missed this."
"Come home," Ronon replied, "McKay's going to be fine, we need you here."
Teyla smiled and looked over to John, as if she was waiting for him to say something. As much as he wanted Teyla back on the team and back in Atlantis, he also wanted what was best for her. In this case, it might just be staying with her people; it might just be the safest thing for her. Ronon reached over and punched John in the shoulder.
"Sheppard," he said, giving John a stare, "remember."
John knew what he meant. After he originally talked with Ronon, they'd had another heart to heart. He confessed his unease at expressing his feelings and Ronon all but bullied him into talking about it. It wasn't that he didn't want them to know, he just didn't really know how to tell them.
Teyla was looking at him expectantly, and suddenly John felt like this was a giant tag team effort. He was pretty sure they'd discussed this beforehand, and were trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible. Despite the feeling, there was a sense of family there, too.
"We..," he started, but Ronon creased his eyebrows at him, ".. I miss you. I wish you'd come back and stay here."
He looked up and Teyla was beaming at him like she would when Torren didn't spill his food all over his shirt. Ronon had a similar proud parent look on his face.
"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ronon asked, throwing a handful of trail mix into his mouth.
"I'm glad to know how you feel, John. I must admit, I've been planning my return for a week now. After our Harvest festival is over, we'll be coming back to the city. I'm hoping by then Rodney will be capable of off world missions, but if not, then I'm just glad we'll be together as a team again."
John had opened his mouth to reply when his radio went off, Zelenka's voice urgent and loud, "Colonel Sheppard! Medical team, I need a medical team."
He had called on the open channel and John could see the visual reaction from everyone who had heard it. John, Teyla and Ronon all jumped up immediately and so did a handful of scientists and marines. Keller wasn't off world, but they'd brought along a medical team just in case Rodney was in need of one. Zelenka's voice was running nonstop in John's ear and he could barely hear it over the pounding of his heart. He knew it was Rodney, he knew something had to have happened for Zelenka to be so worried.
"Zelenka," he said, running towards the doors. The med team was ahead of him and Ronon had sprinted past as well. "Report, what's happening?"
"Rodney," Zelenka replied, out of breath, as if he was running a marathon, "it's Rodney."
John was in the back room a moment later, coming to a complete stop as he saw what was in front of him. Rodney was on the ground, a few feet from the console he was working on when John had left. He looked unconscious, his eyes closed and his mouth hanging open slightly. Dr. Burnheart was at his right side and Ronon was hovering above him. There was a small puddle of blood was forming behind Rodney's head. Zelenka was standing off to the side, Dr. Fry standing with him talking in a hushed tone.
"He..," Zelenka trailed, looking at John pale faced, "he was doing fine, I turned around to check something and then he went down. He hit his head on the console. I should have done a better job watching him."
John reached out and put his hand on Zelenka's shoulder, "It's not your fault."
He walked over to Dr. Burnheart, getting on his knees above Rodney's head.
"What can I do?"
Dr. Burnheart looked up; she didn't look too worried, and that was slightly comforting to John. She also wasn't yelling for anyone to hurry up; instead, she had a nurse putting an IV into Rodney's arm, and she had called for a jumper to be ready for her in a few moments.
"Nothing right now, Colonel. It looks as if it's just a concussion, his blood sugar was low but not dangerously so. From what I see, it looks like he passed out and hit his head. The bleeding's almost stopped, it wasn't as bad as it could have been." She looked above her, at Ronon.
"If Ronon can pick him up, we can get him on a gurney and on the jumper and back to Atlantis, he's stable right now."
John nodded and looked up at Ronon.
"If you can pick him up, I'll support his head."
One of the medical team had brought over a stretcher and once everyone was clear, they picked Rodney up and placed him on it. He stirred when they did and John was relieved to hear him let out a soft moan and see him open his eyes.
"Hey buddy," John said, hovering over Rodney's head as the others moved the gurney after ensuring that Rodney was safely in place, "how are you feeling?"
"Ouch," Rodney said, sounding tired, but he wasn't slurring his words, and John knew enough about concussions to know this was a good thing, "did I hit my head?" He tried to reach his arm up, but Dr. Burnheart grabbed his forearm and lowered it.
"Yeah, Zelenka said you passed out and hit your head. Were you feeling sick?" John asked, as they passed the main entrance, the jumper a few feet from them, waiting. John tapped his radio and called out for Lieutenant Harper to meet him at the jumper. When he looked up, the young Lieutenant already there and waiting.
"I… I felt woozy," Rodney answered, eyes closing already.
"It's okay, you're good now. I'm going fly you back to the gate and Atlantis in a minute, just sit tight, buddy."
He left Rodney's side to head over to the Lieutenant.
"I'm going to go back with McKay, stay here and make sure the mess gets cleaned up. Head back to Atlantis at 17:00 like we planned."
Harper nodded and gave John a salute before he called for his men and headed back into the outpost. John walked back to the jumper. Ronon and Teyla as well as Rodney, Zelenka and the medical team, were in the back. He walked past them, spared a second to look at Rodney who was opening his eyes, and went to the pilot's chair.
The flight back to Atlantis was uneventful, Rodney was awake and talking rather loudly by the time he was wheeled into the infirmary. John, Ronon and Teyla followed behind, but Keller stood with her hand out and instructed them to change, relax and come back in a few hours. She didn't want Rodney to overexert himself anymore than he already had and she knew having the team around wouldn't be helpful in keeping him sedated. They all headed towards their rooms, Teyla following behind John instead of heading towards what still was her room.
"Do you mind," she started, "if I come into your room? I think we should talk."
John nodded and opened his door, and once they were inside he took of his tac vest and pack, dumping it near his couch. Teyla came and sat down on the edge of his bed and took hers off as well, laying it beside her.
"Rodney will be fine," she asserted, "he was talking and alert on the ride home. Dr. Burnheart was happy with his progress."
"Yeah," John replied automatically, "I figured."
Teyla was silent for a moment, then she turned and looked at him. Teyla was always an easy person to read, her demeanor held no secrets, her body language just sitting expressive enough for John to know she was concerned. She took a moment before speaking again.
"It wasn't our intention this afternoon to force you into talking. I'd made the decision to return weeks ago but as Ronon expressed before, it would be a lot easier if you acted as if you trusted us as much as I know you do."
John opened his mouth to speak, but Teyla lifted her hand defensively and cut him off.
"You had a conversation with me, a long time ago, and you told me that you weren't good with words and that we are your family. I took your word for it because I trust you John, I trust the person that you are. But it's difficult, now, years later, that you still aren't able to tell us things. I don't know anything about your childhood, I've only seen and heard a little, but whatever had happened to you, you must know you are not alone. We've all suffered, you know this, I just wish you'd let yourself go with us. We all love you John, some of us more than others."
It hurt when she said it, hurt in a way John wouldn't have thought. Because when he did think about it, Teyla, if anyone, would understand what it felt like to always lose. It wasn't that John spent his whole life thinking about how horrible it had been, because he wasn't exactly that type of a person. He took his losses and continued on; it was what his mother would have wanted him to do. After she died, she left him with a younger brother and a far away father to take care of. He did the best he could, tried to be a big brother for Dave, and he tried to show his Dad he could handle and take care of things. Things went south, like sometimes they do, and he might have left his family behind, but it wasn't what his life was about. He created his own happiness where he could and refused to leave anyone else behind if he could help it. Teyla, on the other hand, had no choice about the life she led; she could create her own happiness, but the Wraith were always there. She lost her father at a young age and more people she'd loved; in fact, she'd lost them her entire life. John might have lost people in the war, but it was nothing in comparison to what Teyla, let alone Ronon, had to deal with.
He felt ashamed that he'd never really thought about it before. He always tended to consider himself separate from everyone else in some ways. He was part of a team, it was his family, but he was the leader, he was the commander of Atlantis, and there was always a line that separated him from them. He shouldn't have to share burden of leadership, they didn't need to add it to their own troubles. A part of him always thought no one would ever really understand, although he knew he was wrong.
"I'm sorry," John started, looking Teyla in the eyes, feeling he owed it to her, to be honest and straight forward, "I.. it's not easy. I hate saying that, but it's not. I didn't grow up in a family that thought talking about your feelings was great conversation. It's just not how I was raised. My Dad, he just.. he said if you really cared about someone they'd know it. I wouldn't need to say anything, and it's just the way I think. I can't allow.. I can't become attached to people because they could die, I could die."
"That's life, John. You can't go around holding everything in, in case of emergencies. We've all almost died and each time I see you just take it all in and walk away. You can't keep walking away, John. You always talk about leaving no man behind, and you come and get everyone no matter what. But it's time for you come forward as well, let us rescue you, even if you don't think you need it."
She reached over and touched the side of his face in a move that felt real and meaningful.
"I'm saying this for your own good, John. I don't mean you any harm, so please don't take it that way."
John put his hand over Teyla's for a second and then pulled away as she took her hand away. Instead of letting her drop it, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it in his.
"My mother died." It felt odd to say it, like he wasn't even in full possession of his voice, or even his own thoughts. He never talked about it, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd said those words out loud.
"When I was young," he continued, "and it just, it complicated a lot of things."
Teyla smiled at him, so reassuring and beautiful that John could barely stand it. He really did love these people.
"It's okay John, you don't have to talk about it right now. I know today has been trying for all of us; we should go to the infirmary and check on Rodney."
"Yeah," John said, clearing his throat and shifting away from Teyla ever so slightly, "yeah, good idea."
Teyla stood up and grabbed her pack from John's bed, and he stood up as well. Before she was able to leave he reached over and held her shoulders.
"Thank you Teyla. I don't know what I did to get someone like you, but I don't deserve it." He leaned in and touched his forehead to hers.
"I don't want to talk about it."
John walked straight past Rodney, who'd been standing in by the foot of his bed when he walked in.
"And I'm not saying you have to talk about it." Rodney countered, crossing his arms over his chest. John dropped his duffle bag on the floor and stood tall in front of Rodney; he really didn't feel like doing this. He'd just gotten back from Earth, from his father's funeral, from dealing with the Replicators, and the last thing he wanted to do was talk to anyone, about anything.
"Okay then. What do you want?"
Rodney shrugged and sat on the foot of John's bed.
"Just to see how you are. I heard about the Replicators and I tried to get back to Earth, but it was just too hard. You know how it is, I suppose. But I can't believe that happened. I mean, just a tiny bit of that information in the wrong hands and look what happens."
Rodney took a breath and John took this as his prime opportunity.
"Rodney." He used his field voice, the one that usually caused Rodney to stop bothering the locals and start to listen. "I just want to take a shower and get some sleep."
"Understandable," he waved his hand back and forth, "you've had a long few days. You should have stayed on Earth longer, taken a vacation. Ronon mentioned you went back to your brother's house, you should have stay-"
"Rodney." He used the same tone, but louder this time, and Rodney stopped talking.
"Sorry," Rodney looked down at his hands and John felt a pang of regret for being like this. He didn't want to be an asshole, he really didn't, but he was tired and talking to Rodney wasn't going to change anything. His father was dead and he'd chased after a Replicator. It's all in the past and nothing could change that. Rodney didn't speak again and John started to unbutton his shirt and toe out of his boots. If Rodney wasn't going to talk he could sit there all he wanted while John got undressed. He didn't mind Rodney's company; it was comforting, but it wasn't the kind of comfort he needed. He needed to just breathe, to take a deep breath and be alone for a few minutes.
"My parents are dead."
John had his shirt over his head when Rodney spoke again and almost missed it, but Rodney repeated himself when John's shirt hit the floor.
"They died when I was in my 20's. My mother had brain cancer, it was too late when they found out and she died quickly. My dad.. well, he let himself go. After my Mom died, he couldn't have cared less about what happened to himself, Jeannie, or me, and well, he died."
"Suicide?" John grabbed his night shirt and threw it on over his head. He felt oddly compelled to keep talking to Rodney; it was easier than talking himself.
"Maybe," Rodney sounded unsure and shrugged his shoulders, still looking at his hands, "no one knows. He was on medication for a heart problem, he could have overdosed or he could have just peacefully died in his sleep. I really don't have an answer to that question." He finally looked up.
"But I do understand what you're going through right now. It's hard, I wasn't .. I wasn't ready for my parents to die. Granted, our childhood wasn't all happy sunshine land, but they were my parents and that still meant something to me, even when it didn't. I know you were estranged from your father and your brother, but.. I just. Hey, I'm here, okay? I understand."
John let out a laugh as he stepped out of his jeans. He was going to shower, but the over whelming urge to just sleep was eating him alive, so instead he pulled back the covers on the bed and slid in.
"I highly doubt you really understand what's going on, Rodney."
"Oh." It was amazing how much Rodney could just lay out in that single word. John could hear his frustration, his unease and his confusion about John's reaction. But he really, really wasn't in the right state of mind to deal with this. His father's death was still so fresh in his mind, still so there. If Rodney would reach out and touch him, if Rodney would just say the right words, he knew he'd come undone right there. Knew he'd just fall apart, but he couldn't.
"Well," Rodney said again, gesturing towards John, sitting on the bed, "I'll just.. let myself out? I mean you're tired, you want to get some sleep. Carter gave you tomorrow off?" He didn't wait for John's answer.
"You can sleep late, maybe we'll have a team movie night? I've got some classic zombie movies from Chuck and I know Ronon scored some popcorn at some point last week. We can just relax and not worry about anything. We - you deserve it. Okay? Yeah. Well." He paused and walked over to where John was and kissed the top of his head. "Goodnight, sleep tight and all that."
He looked like he wanted to do something more, maybe hug John, pat his head or even tuck him in, but he didn't do anything. He stood awkwardly for a moment and then, "I'm sorry, John. I.. well, you know."
John nodded at him, waving his hand towards the door to get his point across. He knew Rodney was trying, he did, but Rodney was never going to understand and John didn't think he could even explain. Rodney gave him a half smile before leaving.
Rodney had called a meeting the second Keller gave him a free moment. He apparently wanted to have it that evening, but Keller informed everyone that Rodney wouldn't be available until the next morning. When John walked into the conference room, Rodney was the only one inside. He was sitting at the front of the table, various tablets around him, as well as a cup of coffee, still steaming. He looked up and gave John a lopsided smile before looking back to his work.
"How are you feeling?"
John grabbed himself a cup of coffee and took a seat to Rodney's right. Elizabeth and Carter had used the same giant tables, but when Woolsey came in, he brought his own coffin shaped table. John was glad to get rid of the older one, with the pointy metal bits on the end, but the coffin table was much smaller. You had to get there early to get a good seat, or you'd be stuck at one of the rounded ends, or even stuck standing against the wall. John was always early, anyway, something instilled in him by his father when he was younger. The Sheppard family was never tardy, never just on time, they were always early and ready for anything that might happen.
"Alright," Rodney replied, not glancing back up at John, "Jennifer's letting me out after this. Just no more missions, until she thinks I can take care of myself properly."
He had an annoyed tone in his voice, which John could understand. He knew from personal experience anytime you even slightly hurt yourself after getting out of the infirmary, Keller seemed to take it badly. That was a weird difference between Keller and Carson; while Keller was nice, she tended to be far more strict than Carson ever was. John knew it wasn't that Carson didn't care; Carson was their friend and their physician, while Keller was more a physician than a friend when it came down to it.
John let Rodney work in silence, taking out his DS until everyone else started filing in. Rodney requested that all heads of staff attend (which turned out to be himself, Rodney, Woolsey and Keller) as well as Zelenka, Teyla and Ronon. It was the normal group for meetings; it wasn't that no one else was important, but like gossip, any real news tended to trickle down on its own. Whatever Rodney was going to present on was important enough that he wanted them to know about it first. Once everyone had trickled in and appropriated themselves a cup of coffee, Rodney stood up, holding a tablet in his hands.
"Thanks to my incredible genius, I've discovered what was happening at the Wraith outpost." He paused, seemingly for applause, but when everyone just looked at him, expectantly, he continued.
"I was onto something yesterday, before… but I realized last night I was going in the wrong direction. We were spending too much time trying to figure out who was there, barely focusing on what they did there, with the Wraith technology. As you've been briefed before, the outpost originally housed Wraith to human experiments similar to those done on Teyla's ancestors, as well as what we found on M1B-129 the planet were Sheppard shot me."
He glanced over at John, because even after all this time, it was still fair game for Rodney to bring up and hound John about.
"They weren't getting far with what they were doing when someone, currently unknown, took control of the base."
He paused and pulled up a weird looking graph on the screen behind him.
"There's a subtle difference between the Wraith language from this data," he pointed, "to this data. It indicates to me that someone who wasn't too familiar with the Wraith language attempted to translate their own language into Wraith in order to conceal the fact that they'd taken control. The difference is subtle, so you wouldn't notice it unless you understood how translation programs worked."
"It wasn't the Ancients, I can tell you that, but it was a group of people who were definitely capable of creating advanced programming and able to understand Wraith technology. They were able to manipulate the experiments done to humans, to have them done on the Wraith themselves." He paused once again for effect, but everyone was well aware of Rodney's tendencies and instead remained listening.
"They were attempting to find ways to mess with the Wraith's minds via sound. The device on M1B-129 caused anyone without Wraith DNA to experience hallucinations by using an electromagnetic field on ultra-low frequencies. The Wraith were creating something similar at this outpost that was meant to further the person's confusion and disorientation. They'd gotten pretty far in perfecting a device that was similar to M1B-129's, but much smaller and easier to carry; a portable device is what I believe they were aiming for."
"When the outpost was taken over, the experiments continued, but instead of doing them on humans, they were in turn done on the Wraith. We were able to decode a data base that was hidden in order to avoid detection by the Wraith. Whoever was there was able to mask their data, translate it into Wraith and make it look as if the Wraith were still running the facility. I haven't had time to go over all of the finer points, but from what I see here," a diagram of a device showed up on the screen behind him, "they were close to finishing; in fact, I think they finished but just never had time to do a complete test run."
"Dr. McKay, what does that mean for us?" Woolsey interjected, hands clasped on the table. There had to be something said for the fact that everyone looked as if they weren't getting their hopes up. Things like Doranda, Hoff, the Genii, Michael and Attero just didn't happen without something coming back to bite them in the ass. It was a tough lesson to learn, but one that John knew well.
"It means we'd be able to create something that would stop the Wraith once and for all."
"What if this is just another Attero project? What if the ramifications are worse?" John said, sitting up slightly straighter in his chair. He'd almost lost Rodney a few times to miracle ideas; he wasn't going to risk it again. He knew if Rodney asked him to trust him, John would do it in a heartbeat.
"Because it isn't. I know I've said this before, I should know before anyone else what I'm stepping into. But it's all there. Everything they were doing was sound and complete!"
"Rodney, could it be a trick? What if the Wraith were still in charge and this is an elaborate set up?" Teyla questioned.
"It's not. There's no way the Wraith would go this far with things and the information just doesn't match up with what the Wraith would produce. Listen, the Attero device was designed to disrupt the subspace frequencies associated with Wraith hyper drive systems, causing Wraith ships to be destroyed as they passed through a hyperspace window. Unfortunately, it had the unforeseeable side effect of causing energy to build up behind the event horizon of a Stargate's wormhole, destroying a Stargate whenever it was activated. What this device was programmed to do was to disrupt the subspace level the Wraith telepathically communicate on and cause them to be ridden with hysteria and hallucinations. Since the Wraith were working closely to read the minds of humans, their experiments were littered with their own secrets, so whoever took over the base had an open book to whatever the Wraith were doing. They were able to borrow that, use it against the Wraith, and create something that would drive them insane, and it's completely portable. If we're able, which quite frankly we are, to get one up and running, all we'd need to do is drop this off at every inhabited planet we can find. Anytime Wraith appear, they'd just have to activate the device and the Wraith would be unable to attack. We could even drop a few of these babies on Hive ships and completely disable an entire community of Wraith!"
There was something sure and right in his tone of voice, a light that played behind his eyes that made John believe him, believe every word he said.
"Rodney," he said, not wanting to burst his bubble but having to just the same, "how do we know this won't affect humans?"
"Humans programmed it John, they created this thing to affect only the Wraith."
"Why wasn't it completed? Clearly something went wrong," Woolsey added, looking to John and then back at Rodney.
"I'm not sure, but whatever happened it wasn't something they did, as the outpost shows signs of attack. I think the Wraith went to check on their fellow Wraith and discovered the outpost had been overrun. Whoever was there fled, possibly to come back, or possibly killed. There's no way to find out what happened."
He paused and looked up at John, staring straight into his eyes as he spoke. "Let me build it. I've been over these diagrams a hundred times, this is something I can do, I have the technology, I have the blueprints, I have everything I need. Look, I know things like this don't fall into our laps. That I've done stuff, we've all made mistakes, but let this be our end game."
He looked away and to Woolsey. "Have a million different people look over this, my work, I don't care, I just know I look at this device and I see something that can destroy the Wraith once and for all."
John looked around the room; everyone was looking between Woolsey and Rodney.
"Dr. Zelenka," Woolsey looked over at Radek, "what do you think?"
Zelenka rolled his shoulders and spared Rodney a glance before talking. "I've seen everything Rodney found and I do agree with his findings."
"What about the device?" Woolsey pressed on. John knew that Woolsey didn't really doubt Rodney, just the curse of the Pegasus Galaxy. Five years of being on the edge of being wrong, five years of false hope and dead ends. Rodney was right, putting your faith into something that might not work, wasn't the best plan. But in looking at Rodney standing before the table, John could see the commitment in his eyes, the need to do something and not just sit back idly. Rodney was willing to take the risk, willing to be wrong and inevitably he was willing to risk his own life for others.
"If Rodney can successfully build it, based on the information and blueprints provided, I don't see how it can't work. As for any risks, for now they remain unseen."
The room was oddly silent after that, everyone was trying to process the information and decide if it was really going to work.
"I think Rodney should do it." John spoke up, knowing Woolsey would take his opinion to heart. Rodney looked over at John and gave him a smile that made John's heart beat a little faster. If anything, it made John trust Rodney a whole lot more. Trusting Rodney to do this might go against everything John tried to get away from, but he couldn't let something like this slip away. Even if the device did nothing, even if it turned out to harm people, he knew supporting Rodney right now would make all the difference.
"Well, Dr. McKay, if you present me with a detailed plan regarding your idea and the nature of building the device, I don't see why we can't at least build it. As for putting the device into use, I want to know 100% that nothing is going to backfire."
Rodney's face lit up like a Christmas tree before he grabbed a tablet and started punching buttons.
"Good, that's all I need." He looked up. "Zelenka? Let's go. I already have more than enough information, I just need to go over something." He'd started grabbing all the tablets in his arms when Keller stood up.
"Rodney, I told you, you could go back to the labs, but if you over exert yourself again, I'm putting you back on very limited duty."
Rodney stood very still and then looked at her, but before could respond John jumped in, "I'll watch him. He'll take it easy, I promise. I'll make sure he eats and gets back from the lab at a reasonable time."
Rodney looked surprised at the offer, but nodded and continued to gather his things. John walked over and grabbed a tablet off the table.
"Labs?" he prompted, and Rodney nodded. Rodney handed him a coffee cup as well, and with their hands full, they walked out of the conference room and toward the labs. John had the odd feeling of being in high school again, carrying Rodney's coffee and two tablets for him. He didn't remember actually carrying a girl's books before, maybe offering, but the girls he went to high school with didn't see it as chivalry.
"You don't have to baby-sit me, you know," Rodney started when they got into the transporter.
As they were walking out he continued, "I know my previous record might not indicate it, but I'm completely capable of taking care of myself. And if this is about being worried whether or not I'll commit another horrible act of unknowing mass murder, I can assure you I'm more concerned about it than you are."
They had talked after the whole Attero device fiasco, when Rodney learned he unknowingly caused several Stargates to detonate, but John wasn't able to get past the immediate blame Rodney put on himself. He tried to explain that Rodney had had no real idea what was going to happen, but Rodney wouldn't hear it. It always bothered John that Rodney had to shoulder responsibility for peoples' deaths; he knew the scientist never actually signed on for it, but took it all the same. John had spent his whole life knowing the burden of someone's death on his shoulders. His mother's death always weighed heavily on him; he blamed himself and even though his father and brother never said it, he'd always felt they blamed him as well.
"That's not the reason I'm here, Rodney." Rodney walked straight past the bigger lab and moved into what he considered his personal lab, although it wasn't his assigned one. This one was smaller, nestled in the back of the main labs, with an ocean view. Rodney had several long tables lined up throughout the room, each littered with devices, laptops, tablets and coffee cups. It might have looked like a mess at first, but everything was clearly put into a particular order. Rodney tended up work up to things, activating devices and moving them section by section through the lab until he was finished with them. John put the coffee cup next to Rodney's favorite laptop (it was distinguishable by the fact the lid was about to fall off) and put the tablet next to where Rodney had put the others.
"Well," Rodney started, sitting in front of one of the only actual stationary PCs in the room, "fine, but don't get mad at me if you're bored out of your mind within minutes. This is a highly complicated device I'm working on, far more complex than you can begin to imagine."
"Yeah," John replied and took a seat in the middle of the room, putting his legs up on the desk in a way he knew irritated Rodney to no end, "I'll just watch, read a little, sleep some. You know, stupid people activities."
Rodney rolled his eyes and began typing away, as John leaned back in the chair.
The second John was able to, he slept. Having gone forward in time, put in stasis, come out of stasis, having a building collapse on him, and then performing in an impromptu rescue mission, the heavy sleep that came after surgery was more than welcome. Keller had fixed him up well enough; the anesthesia had worn off, but the floating feeling that accompanied morphine helped carry him into a restful sleep. He slept solidly for a few hours, before waking and getting news from Keller. She was happy with his recovery and the next few times he awoke, he was able to drink water and hold a conversation with the nurses who'd come to check on him.
He'd been sleeping again when he slowly drifted back up to the sound of keys clicking on a keyboard.
"About time." Rodney's voice filtered into the room and John turned his head to see him sitting in a chair beside his bed. His laptop was resting on top of his knees and he hadn't looked away from the screen.
"Keller said you were awake, but when I got here you'd gone back to sleep already. I've been sitting in this horribly uncomfortable chair waiting, sleeping beauty."
"How long have I been out?" Regardless of wanting the sleep, he hated not knowing how long he'd slept, and ruining any sleeping pattern he had going.
"A few hours; it's sometime in the middle of the night on Thursday." He finally looked over at John. "You okay?"
He shrugged and sat up in the hospital bed. Aside from the dull ache in his stomach, the drugs were keeping him from feeling any real physical pain, but something else was nagging him. When he got thrown into the future, he saw a past that was far different from what he could have expected. He knew if he died, Rodney would move on, find someone else, but knowing he found that someone in Keller and knowing he was happy.. that was hard. He'd given up so much to find John, to bring him home, that he'd missed out on real happiness. There was a nagging feeling in the back of John's mind, knowing that maybe if he walked away from Rodney now, he could still be with Keller and this time, it would work out.
"Yeah," he answered, trying to stretch a little but finding he was still slightly achy, "I'll be fine."
"You've already reached your limit on near death experiences for this month, so I expect you to sit tight and not attempt anything until next month." He ran his fingers across the keys a few more times before closing the lid to his laptop. "I brought you a movie to watch but I watched it while you slept and I'm not watching it again."
John didn't say anything for a moment; Rodney looked so normal and happy just to be sitting next to John. They were doing so well too, that he'd really started to feel like things were set between the two of them. Yet no matter what else John tried to think about, he couldn't get the image of Rodney, old and long dead, out of his mind.
"I lied," John started looking to his hands.
"Okay," Rodney said slowly, "about what?"
"About what happened in the future. Well, not lied, but I left out something." He looked up to find Rodney giving him a perplexed look.
"You were with Keller in the future.. after everything happened, I don't know if you were married or whatever but before she died, you were with her."
"Oh," Rodney said suddenly, like he'd never even considered it before, "I can see that. I mean once we determined you weren't coming back, I'd have to hold onto someone, wouldn't I? The picture you painted was terribly grim, with almost everyone dead. It would be natural that I'd find comfort in whoever was left. I mean she's pretty, yeah, but you'd beat her in a looks contest any day of the week even with your hair. She's somewhat funny, but I don't think she really gets a lot of things, and her giggling could get old fast. And really, I'm not old by any means, but I'm certainly not that young anymore…"
"You were happy," John interrupted, "you were happy with her and you wasted your happiness on finding me."
"Yeah I might have been happy with her, of course I'd be happy with her. But clearly I wanted you back, you know, alive. I performed miracles to save your life, so I think you're missing the point. Because you're not allowed to do what I think you're doing. You're not going to sacrifice yourself just because you saw a future, that we changed, might I add. That doesn't have to be the way our time line goes now. You should know that, especially after what happened with Elizabeth, time lines are changeable."
"It's different," John replied defiantly; he wasn't going to let Rodney talk him out of it this time. He'd made up his mind, he was going to give Rodney the same chance he'd had when John wasn't around.
"You're being stupid, Sheppard." Rodney moved his chair closer to John's bedside and crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't know how you got the impression that the world is better off without you in it, but it's stupid, and wrong, too. Just because in the now completely alternate universe I was with Keller doesn't mean it'll happen in ours. Ronon's got the hots for her anyhow, I wouldn't win against him! And once again, in case you missed the point, I spent my entire life trying to save your sorry ass from a lonely death. What makes you think I'm just going to walk away?"
"You don't understand, McKay. You're better off without me and you know it. I don't have anything to offer you, I can't give you a family, I can't give you a relationship that isn't secret. You spend your life with me, I promise you won't end up happy. I don't do happy endings, Rodney. Out of everyone here, you deserve one most of all. I can't give you that, I saw that I can't give you that. Just go out with Keller, date her, marry her, be happy with her and forget about me."
"Fuck you, John. Just, fuck you if you think you know what's best for me." Rodney looked angry in a way John rarely saw. Rodney didn't swear often; he tended to verbally attack people with more skill than graphic swearing. It was usually when Rodney was upset, angry, and uncertain that he started to swear, and rarely did it even last all that long. John knew the only way to get to Rodney was to make him angry, angry enough to push John away, and then it would just end. It was cruel, John knew, to take advantage of Rodney's weakness with people to destroy their relationship, but it was how John worked. He'd learned a long time ago that it's easier to make people think they were the ones breaking away.
"Fuck you for thinking that I would care if you couldn't tell anyone about us. You know what? Fine. By all means stop sleeping with me, by all means let's just be friends. See how much easier it'll be if we're just two people who work together instead of two people who are sleeping together."
"Rodney, I'm doing this for your own good." After he said it he realized how many times he'd heard that same line from his own father. He didn't believe it coming from this father and he knew Rodney didn't believe it coming from him.
"Yeah, well, fuck my own good. I think I should be in charge of my own, own good, instead of having it assigned to me. I'll play your stupid game, John. Let's see how long we last this time around."
Everything John was trying to do in that moment failed; there was something in the utterly defiant and stern look on Rodney's face that made John's heart just ache. He didn't look any different than usual, still sitting back in the chair with his arms crossed over his chest, his face pointed downwards, eyes still sternly fixed on John's face. And yet in that moment John knew that he really loved Rodney. Maybe loved him more now than ever before, and he ever could. Rodney didn't give up on John like everyone else did; he kept sitting there, determined to make John see his mistake. He saw right through John's act and pushed away every single wall he could erect. Somewhere in the back of his mind, John knew Rodney wouldn't give up. Rodney might date Keller, might date another girl after that, might even get married to one of them, but John would always be his very first priority, and Rodney would never keep away. He knew then that Rodney loved him back too; they might have never said those words, maybe they never would, but it was there, so clear for both of them to see.
"I'm tired, McKay. Go back to the labs, we've got problems we need solved by our resident genius." John didn't look away, not wanting Rodney to think he was trying to ignore him. He wanted to send the statement that he knew what he was doing, that this wasn't a suggestion, this was what was going to happen.
Rodney stood up and leaned over John, his face hovering a few inches above his. He closed the distance slowly, pressing his lips against John's forehead in a chaste kiss.
"Get yourself better. I'll be back tomorrow with another movie that I'll watch by myself again if you're asleep."
John watched him leave the room, wondering just how much of his life he'd spent watching people walk away due to his own actions.
John spent the better part of a week sitting in the back of Rodney's lab while Rodney and Zelenka worked endlessly on the newly named Sonus device. They argued mostly, which was par for the course. If they weren't talking or yelling at each other, they weren't getting anywhere, as opposed to arguing, which usually meant they were onto something. By the end of the week they had run enough simulations using the diagrams provided that Woolsey gave them the go ahead on creating the device itself. They had the raw materials capable of making it; according to Rodney, it didn't require anything beyond what they could manage. A few materials weren't replicable even if they were reversed engineered, so a majority of their time was spent in a trial and error form of engineering. The more successful the scientists were, the more spirits began to rise around Atlantis. No one was celebrating yet, but there was something in the air that kept everyone grinning and anxiously waiting for the Sonus device to make a workable appearance.
Since Elizabeth had started it their first year, every third Sunday a month became a mandatory day off for everyone except a small skeleton crew, whose day off was, in turn, the following Sunday. At first no one, especially Rodney, took the day off too seriously. People would still go to work, but just at a more relaxed pace and laid back atmosphere. John never really did anything, occasionally spending the day on the pier, sometimes flying off to the main land, but he tended to keep close to Atlantis if he could. Unlike every other day, John rarely saw Rodney or his team on their Sundays off; in a way, it was a mini vacation from everyone he knew. John never minded not seeing his friends, even after what happened with Carson; it wasn't as if he didn't spend every other day with them.
So when Rodney sent him an email asking if he wanted to come over and watch movies, John thought it was odd. John didn't really plan on doing much and the idea of relaxing with Rodney and a movie didn't seem like a bad one. He had a few things he wanted to do, so he replied, letting Rodney know he'd be around in about two hours and that he'd bring food. After taking care of his errands, he took a trip to the mess and grabbed as much as he could. He knew Rodney still had popcorn, as well as miniature candy bars, but John made sure he also grabbed some prewrapped sandwiches, a bag of trail mix, some nuts and two bottles of water. They usually saved their alcohol for special occasions; John didn't like to drink just to drink. Having his inhibitions lowered was not something John looked forward to, even if it did make him feel good. He tended to drink when he needed to feel something different than how he'd been feeling; he drank when people almost died and he drank when people pulled off something amazing, but he didn't drink just to make the time go by.
By the time he made it to Rodney's room the hallways were nearly empty. There was a movie being played in one of the rec rooms, and it was a nice enough evening that if you weren't watching the movie, you were enjoying the outdoors. He'd overheard a few Marines talking about a making a bonfire on one of the north end piers that was commonly used for barbeques; it had a built in fire pit. They weren't certain that's what it's original use was, but it worked well enough to let people gather around and use for s'more making. John never really talked about it but he'd been a boy scout before his mother died (afterward, his father said it wasn't necessary) and was the first boy of his group to learn how to build and maintain a fire. He always enjoyed camping outside, but his favorite part was sitting around the fire, marshmallows on sticks, enjoying nature the way it was intended to be. His father took him camping a handful of times after his mother died, but it wasn't the same; he used an RV, and John spent most of his time watching his father fish or sitting in the RV reading.
Rodney's door opened for him when he approached. When John walked in Rodney was lounging on his bed, laptop on his knees.
"Hey," he greeted John, smiling in a way that made John's heart flutter slightly. It was a mistake to think that Rodney never smiled; sure, his mouth always had a natural downwards slant, but Rodney smiled quite often. Sometimes it was a quick up turn of the side of his mouth, sometimes it was a full blown childish grin, but other times, it was this small but sweet smile that reminded John what he would gladly die for. It was the same rush of love he'd felt before, watching Rodney walk away from him. He might have the instilled idea of 'leave no man behind', but John always watched people leave him behind. But Rodney, he wasn't just people, he really wasn't. He'd spent his entire week with John and even after all that, he'd still called him to come watch a movie. John had shot him down a thousand times, pushed him away, but Rodney still smiled at him, still opened his heart, and still trusted John to the end. It was confusing, something so new and strange to John that he had to fight down a lump in his throat as he walked over to the bed.
"Brought some sandwiches." He tossed his armful of food on the bed before climbing to sit beside Rodney.
"Boots." Rodney replied immediately, eyeing John's boot clad feet. Sighing, John kicked them easily off the edge of the bed before settling in.
"I've got popcorn and soda." He motioned towards the bedside table, where a bowl of popcorn and several cans of pop sat. John knew most of the drinks were given to Rodney when he was sick; when people felt like they couldn't do anything else to help, they tended to pass off desirable items to those who were severely injured. Since most of the time it was either John or Rodney, they were well stocked in items.
"As for movies, I thought we'd watch a real classic and something we could cross off our list." One of the rare times they were together and back on Earth, they'd spent few hundred dollars on DVDs for the team's collection, as well as Atlantis'. It was a few years ago, but they were barely through even half of the movies they'd bought on their spree. He held up the DVD box and grinned again, opening it and putting it in his laptop.
"Midnight Run, good choice." John said, settling in closer beside Rodney, so they were touching from their shoulders down to their knees. Rodney moved the laptop over slightly so it was resting on John's lap and Rodney's as well. He was loading the DVD player when John reached out and put his hand on Rodney's wrist.
"I just want you to know," he started, but an odd trickle of fear creped over him. Rodney looked up curiously, eyes wide.
John leaned in and kissed him, letting his lips press onto Rodney's, finishing his statement. He kissed Rodney with uncertainty, as well as the need and the want he was feeling every single time he looked at him. His hand was squeezing hard on Rodney's. The angle for the kiss was terrible, Rodney's face not even turned all the way, but he got with the program and started kissing John back almost immediately.
John pulled away to better adjust himself and took the laptop, setting it aside. He climbed over Rodney's legs, straddling him.
"Um, are you feeling okay?" he questioned, "Not that this isn't nice, but um, I'm a little worried you've been taken over by a pod person, or found your way into some kind of sex pollen again."
"No, it's me, I'm good." He leaned in and kissed Rodney again, but this time Rodney didn't exactly kiss back, instead putting his hands on John's shoulders and pushing him back slightly.
"No, you see, anytime you act like this, it's because one of us is dying, and I'm pretty sure right now I'm not, unless you know something I don't, or possibly this is a delayed reaction to what happened before, in that case you're pretty delayed there. I know I'm all but shooting myself in the foot with this but really, John, if this is about me almost dying, you know I'm alive. I'm good, let's just watch a movie."
"No." John leaned forward, face only a few inches from Rodney's, "I mean yes. This is a delayed reaction, but not to you, well yes, to you but you know."
"Okay, see here, this is where you're making no sense. This is where I push you away, you go into your room, brood for a few hours, and tomorrow we're all back to work and happy. Well not happy, because I don't think that's in our foreseeable future."
John laughed and kissed him again, leaning back afterward, but still straddling Rodney's lap.
"What if this time I stay? You know, we celebrate that you're alive, a little late, but better than never. And then maybe we watch a movie or something, then sleep. Tomorrow we go on and do our best imitation of happy."
"Are you sure you're John Sheppard? Because my John Sheppard doesn't talk like this. My Sheppard uses his eyebrows and grunts to express feelings and answer questions."
"It's me Rodney," John said with a laugh before kissing him on the forehead, "it's me here and now. You've been asking me the same damn questions for weeks now, I'm about to give you the answer you want and you're the one pushing me away."
"Since you're a pod person, I'll explain. You start a relationship with me, we have lots of sex, you have a major issue, and then we abruptly stop sleeping together. Rinse, lather, repeat. It's our game, John. We've been playing it for a while."
"Yeah well, I'm good at changing things up mid game. It's a specialty of mine. No one likes to get stuck in a routine."
Rodney had security in their game, was able to play it without getting hurt, without really losing or gaining anything. But John, John was never one to play by any real rules.
"You're crazy." Rodney laughed, a genuine smile splashing across his face. "I'm sorry, Sheppard, I just can't be in a serious relationship with someone stupid enough to think cut-offs are a good idea."
John raised an eyebrow at his comment before remembering Rodney could hack very easily into John's computer. "How long have you been holding that one in?"
Rodney let out a loud laugh that shook both him and John.
"Ronon said that after your father died, Dave sent you some pictures. About a week later I had the full Sheppard Through The Years Gallery at my disposal. I've been waiting for the perfect time to let you know my disdain for cut-offs."
John remembered the pictures Dave had sent him, just a handful of shots of the Sheppard boys throughout the years. John didn't grow up near the beach like he'd always dreamed, but his father took him nearly every summer to the family beach house. It was there John really felt free; even if he wasn't flying, he could still pull on a pair of surfer shorts, grab his board and head out into the open and endless ocean.
"I'll have you know," John started to tell Rodney, "that the cut-off shorts I wore in that picture were my favorite pair of shorts ever. I wore them every summer for at least two years before one of the maids threw them out. I used to wear them all the time, just sit on the beach after a long day of surfing. After my mother died, it was the only place I ever really felt happy."
Rodney was silent for a moment before he leaned up and kissed the corner of John's mouth. "We're incredibly fucked up."
John laughed again, a real genuine laugh that made him feel nearly ten times lighter. "That's me and you alright, very fucked up."
He reached around John's back and pulled him forward, letting John slide closer, his erection matching up against John's. "What would you like to do about it?"
"I don't know," John replied, honestly, "but I think I can work out a few details."
Rodney grabbed his hips and pulled John closer again; John wrapped his arms around Rodney's shoulders, leaned in and kissed him again. He didn't really have any idea what he was getting into, but Rodney felt good below him. Rodney felt solid and real, there and ready for John, wanting John. No matter what the Pegasus galaxy threw at them, it was always going to be John and Rodney, Sheppard and McKay, Colonel and Doctor. They were always going to work through it and if they couldn't come out on top, if the Sonus device didn't work, they'd still some how make it work, somehow stay on top of their game.
John's life had never gone as he planned it to, there was always something just so far out of his reach. He'd always lose people, he'd always be the one to turn away when he shouldn't have. John did have a lot in his life, there would always be a part of him missing, a part of him that clinging to his mother's death, clinging to the feeling of lose and regret. There would always be a part of John that was the same scared and alone kid standing at his mother's grave and wondering what he did to deserve losing her.
But now, for the moment, the feel of Rodney's hands creeping under John's shirt and onto the bare skin of his back, was enough.