Rodney had John pretty much under control so Jack helped Teyla with Ford, who was still pretty out of it.
And he shouted into his radio as they ran.
"Markham! You better be on time or I swear I will come back from the dead and kick your ass! Ringholm, Kasyanov, either of you able to pick us up?"
Ringholm looked over his shoulder calmly at the people jammed shoulder to belly to back into the back of the jumper along with their equipment, all writhing around and complaining. "I can reach you, but not for at least two minutes," he informed the Colonel, already adjusting his course and laying on speed. "It will be a tight fit."
In an identical jumper, Kasyanov looked back over an identically crowded scene. But in his jumper, everyone was quiet and still. And there was an open space in the middle.
His cheeks were wet and he rubbed his eyes with one hand while he answered, "I can also be there. Just give me a few minutes."
"Negative, negative," said Markham's voice, just as O'Neill burst out of the door with Teyla, Ford dragging between them. The jumper uncloaked. "I've got them."
Markham saw a few Genii scattering into the woods too but concentrated on keeping his one-enginned craft level enough to land.
"Proceed to the Gate. Proceed to the Gate," O'Neill shouted into his radio, watching Markham's jumper land with a funny twisting, spinning motion.
The door opened, and Jack all but threw Ford into it, Teyla too, and turned.
Rodney and John were only a few steps behind.
"Come on, kids, everyone on the bus," Jack gritted as he got behind them, shoved, screamed "Go!" at Markham as soon as his feet cleared the door.
And they slid out from under him, those feet, and out the door again as Markham accelerated.
"COLONEL!" shouted Rodney, diving over John to grab Jack's vest and haul forward with all his might.
Markham was already shutting the door and they were already three hundred feet up.
"Go faster!" Jack wheezed as he rolled, grateful for the solid floor beneath his feet, and checked his watch.
It didn't go off all at once, like in the movies. No one above ground heard the first few bursts.
But when Jack O'Neill and Aiden Ford intended to blow something up, they did a job of it.
The fuses were set to daisy-chain, but that was a precaution. Ideally the first few blasts would ignite the larger ones. And they did.
It was 5:02 when the blast reached maximum force, all the rest of the stockpiled materials finally going up together.
Markham was flying almost straight up in an effort to clear the blast wave. A slight one hit them anyway, and then he was spinning again, trying to control his crippled craft. His passengers were jostled a bit more than he would have liked.
Only Rodney noticed when John slipped away from consciousness again.
But then they leveled out, and Jack knew that most of the force of the explosion must have traveled throughout that rat warren underground.
Which was now not only destroyed, but highly radioactive. All that precious Genii uranium scattered into component molecules.
Markham dived again, a long trip to get almost right back to where he was. The blue water was waiting for them.
"Ringholm, Kasyanov, confirm," said Jack as they dove straight towards the gate, skimming over the heads of a few scattered Genii who didn't seem to have any interest in firing on them.
"We are at the rendezvous point, Colonel, just waiting for you," came Ringholm's laconic voice.
At speed, the little jumper raced through the gate.
Turbulence part 8
The wormhole establishing itself made everyone jump.
Everyone's eyes zoomed to Grodin.
"It's Colonel O'Neill's IDC, ma'am," he said, loud enough to carry.
Below him, Daniel slumped against the wall.
"Colonel? Report." Elizabeth.
"Doctor Weir. Good to hear your voice. We are at the staging planet and ready to return through the gate." Jack's voice sounded tired, strained, like he couldn't quite catch his breath.
"Couldn't be more pleased to hear it, Colonel. Come on through."
"We think you better send the medical teams to the jumper bay, Doctor. We'll all unload there. No one feels like getting out of the jumpers till we get home."
She looked down to the floor. Carson was already running, as was his team.
Bates held his ground. "We'll stay here, ma'am."
She nodded. Paranoid to the last. Good for Bates. If somehow someone else managed to come through that gate, Bates would be ready for them.
"Come ahead, Colonel," she said as she moved.
She herself broke into a run as soon as she cleared the stairs.
Daniel was nowhere to be seen.
Elizabeth passed where Daniel was standing just as the jumpers touched down.
All three jumper doors opened at once.
The rowdy shoving crowd from Ringholm's emerged yelling like New Year's Eve partygoers. "We're fine, we're all fine," they hollered, waving the medical teams away.
"HERE! DOCTOR! HERE!" Rodney's shout rang like a gong and the teams converged on Markham's jumper. Elizabeth stopped outside, giving them room.
Daniel heard Carson's shouts from within the jumper, something about oxygen, and a backboard, and to get the freaking hell out of the way.
Two of the emergency cots emerged. One held Ford. The other held Sheppard. Neither one of them looked good.
Teyla held up the end of one cot, Rodney the end of the other. "Go, go!" shouted Carson and they made as fast as they could for the infirmary.
They were alive. He wouldn't rush with them if they weren't.
Daniel stood there, feeling every heartbeat as a thud, every breath as a windstorm.
And then there he was.
Jack walked down the ramp. Under his own power. He looked fine. Markham was with him, shaking his head.
Jack's eyes unerringly looked around and saw Daniel.
Daniel, who had been turned to bronze by the cold dead weight of his own heartbeat and breath.
Jack smiled, those same dark eyes, and cocked his head. Saluted.
Daniel nodded back.
Grinning, Elizabeth reached out, took Jack's hand, shook it. He shook hers back.
Then Jack's attention was caught by the third jumper.
Where the crowded battle refugees spilled out like silent water.
The empty space in the center was where Teresa Jones lay.
The emergency medical technicians were bent over her.
There was no need to take her to the infirmary.
The Kevlar vest had done its job, admirably shielding the trunk of her body from the blast.
But the percussive force of the wave that had picked her up and carried her aloft had broken both her legs, both her arms, and her neck.
The emergency technicians nontheless arranged her in the carrying cot, picking up the ends of her blond hair and tucking them in so they didn't drape over the sides. Elizabeth knelt by her side, stroked a hand over Teresa's hand, and when they lifted the cot, she took one of the handles.
As they carried her away, Jack snapped into a salute.
Around him the Air Force and Marine personnel who watched Teresa Jones come home snapped to attention as well, saluted her as she passed.
They did not hurry.
When she'd passed, Jack bent his head.
When he looked up, he realized people were drifting away. And Daniel wasn't there.
Daniel hurried, didn't run, but hurried to his quarters.
All three of them were alive.
He didn't think he was going to make it.
When he got there, he slid the door shut after him, locked it.
He got two steps into the room before he fell to his knees.
All the tension demanded its toll and he paid it in wracking twisting sobs that he could not stop.
He'd never cried like this in his life. Never knew people could cry like this. Like their souls were coming out of their eyes. He crawled as far as the bed, turned his face into the blanket, let the tears and snot soak into the fabric, twisted his hands in it.
He could no more have moved than could a piece of driftwood in a tidal wave.
He could see his hands, wondered if this would ever stop, wondered how the relief, the desperate relief, could hurt this badly.
As the knot inside him unwound it seemed to coil and twist like a snake and each little writhing motion choked him again. It wasn't letting him go easily.
He tried to choke the sound of the sobs, muffle them with the blanket, stuffing it into his mouth, but there was no way, no way. Anyone who heard him would hear him.
Head digging into the mattress, Daniel half-screamed his sobs into the Air Force blanket.
Jack went straight to the infirmary.
"What's up?" he asked the doctor who intercepted him. He could see Carson working over Sheppard, someone else waving fingers in front of Ford and shouting.
"Lieutenant Ford is quite concussed and he has third-degree burns on part of his back," the Indian doctor told him. Jack winced. "If they don't get infected, they should heal, but it'll be slow - we are not experts at skin grafting." The doctor nodded to where Sheppard lay. "The Major is in serious condition. He has a punctured lung and the internal bleeding is causing oedema. We're doing everything we can."
"Hey, I hate that doctor thing where you go 'we're doing everything we can'," said Jack, shooting out a hand to stop him as he moved to leave.
"Hate it all you like," the doctor said imperturbably, and freed himself to go on about his business.
Jack looked around but there was nothing for him to do. He needed to find Elizabeth to debrief. But he didn't see her.
He turned away, headed for the armory to dump his weapons before he trudged alone back to his room.
He knew as soon as he opened the door that Daniel was in there.
The wave of relief surprised him.
"I'm glad to see you," he said quietly, shedding his vest as he entered, sitting down in the chair to unlace his boots. He groaned gratefully as he got them off. He'd been wearing those boots a long time.
Daniel sat in the bed, on top of the covers, feet already bare, knees drawn up to his chest and chin resting on his knees. He had his arms wrapped protectively around them.
Jack looked at him warily. "Sheppard's condition is kind of critical," he said experimentally. Daniel winced, but just nodded. "I think he's going to be okay," Jack added. But Daniel had nothing to say.
"Rodney's up there with him, if you want to go keep them company." Jack was very, very careful to keep his tone neutral.
Daniel just blinked.
His eyes were very red.
He looked like shit, actually.
Jack didn't figure he looked much better, but he couldn't see himself.
"Well," Jack went on, grimacing as he pushed his rapidly stiffening, sore body up out of the chair, "I stink like sweat and gunpowder, so I figured I'd take a shower and then just get some sleep."
Daniel put out his hand.
"What?" Jack said softly, that tone he used when he was gentlest with Daniel, as he came towards the bed to take Daniel's outstretched hand.
But Daniel's hand was rock-hard as it wrapped around Jack's and pulled him over onto the bed, falling awkwardly over Daniel, on top of Daniel as Daniel suddenly stretched out beneath him.
"Daniel, I'm just gonna shower," Jack whispered into Daniel's mouth, but Daniel was already kissing him, devouring him, licking, tasting, feeling every inch of Jack's lips, Jack's mouth, Jack's face.
Both of them closed their eyes at the familiar taste of one another.
"Thank you," muttered Daniel as he took Jack's face in between his hands and kissed Jack's eyelashes, his nose, his chin, his cheekbones. "Thank you, thank you, thank you thank you thank you..."
"For what, Doctor?" Jack whispered, sinking down into Daniel's hands, onto Daniel's body, better than the finest featherbed ever devised by man.
"For coming home."
Jack hadn't slept for more than forty-eight hours but Daniel kept him awake a while longer, memorizing every inch of his body, along with the tang of Jack's skin, with welcome-home kisses along every surface that he bared as he stripped all Jack's clothes away, kisses that touched everywhere, burned everywhere, interspersed with constant heartfelt "Thank you"s that Daniel apparently could not stop until finally they fell asleep, wrapped around one another in Jack's bed, a tangled knot of kisses and thank yous and the smell of gunpowder.
Turbulence part 9: Love Stories
Jack's knees were shaking a little as he leaned his hands against the wet Ancient whatever-it-was and let the shower water course over him. He wasn't sure if it was concrete. Surely concrete would have crumbled in ten thousand years.
Today he wondered if he himself might not be made of crumbling ten thousand year old concrete.
When Daniel came in behind him Jack straightened up and reached for the soap. But Daniel took it out of his hands, reaching around from behind him to slide the bar through the hair on his chest to work up a lather, pausing from time to time to stroke his nipples.
"Daniel," Jack said, half-pleading. "I am an old man. I swear to you, I cannot get it up again. You gotta give me some time here."
"That's okay," Daniel murmured, rubbing his cheek along Jack's wet back.
"What, it's okay if I'm an old man?" Jack's mocking grumble came out a little more sharply than he'd intended, and he turned around in Daniel's arms and kissed him to sweeten it a little.
"Not very old," Daniel told him, his hands still roaming around on Jack's back, spreading the soap, touching him everywhere, pinging off of Jack's overtaxed nerve endings and winding him up. But there was no way, no way it was going to happen again so soon.
Who'd've thought too many orgasms could make you tense? wondered Jack as he wrapped his arms around Daniel, trying to still him, trying to convince him that it didn't all have to be right now, that there could be more later.
When he felt Daniel's hardness rising against him yet again he sighed, and slid his hands, soapy and wet, around Daniel again, and tried to prove to him with kisses that there would be a tomorrow.
Elizabeth had managed to sleep for a few hours, but she was back down in the green room just after sunup.
She'd left Teresa there, and didn't know why she felt the need to go back. She was not particularly religious, and she just knew, from sitting in the same room, that Teresa Jones was no longer there.
And yet at the same time she didn't want to leave Teresa all alone.
Or maybe it was a lie she was telling herself because she was that desperate for some quiet minutes to herself. Quiet in her own room didn't count, not where she had the habit of reminding herself what needed to be done in the next ten minutes, half hour, few hours, day, week, month, year. Quiet had to come somewhere else, somewhere that insulated her from the people who needed her to make decisions for them, or to help them make decisions for themselves.
She half-felt like telling Teresa about her day, about what it had been like here at Atlantis. But she wanted to hear about Teresa's day too: how had the campaign gone? Had it been like she'd expected? Did she know what was going to happen before she died? Was there anything else she'd wanted to do? And she knew she wasn't going to get the answers to any of those questions, so, cheated of the conversation she really wanted to have, she kept her half to herself.
She'd lost track of her thoughts in a silent fog when the door opened and someone else came in. Vadim Kasyanov, one of the pilots. She didn't know him well. He was a stocky Russian with an oval face and tears had wet all the unshaved stubble. He had slept but he hadn't shaved.
"I'm sorry," he said, and moved to leave.
"No, that's okay, come in," Elizabeth said automatically.
Awkwardly Kasyanov came in, sat on one of the other benches. He didn't seem to want to go over and see Teresa either, but he was clearly there because she was there.
After a few minutes Elizabeth felt, with that instinct that had served her so well in international negotiations, that it was time and necessary to say something.
"I didn't realize you knew Teresa," she offered.
"I didn't," Kasyanov responded immediately. "I thought she was beautiful, of course, too beautiful to be interested in a Russian like... with a potbelly and no head for vodka." He regarded Teresa with liquid brown Russian eyes. "If I had known how willing she was to laugh, I might have gained the courage to ask her out."
Elizabeth smiled, but didn't know if he'd find it soothing or upsetting if Elizabeth said that Teresa probably would have liked that. So she said nothing.
Instead she was quiet a little longer.
Then she said, "So what do you think? Should we have the memorial tomorrow?"
"What?" Kasyanov looked startled. "Why ask me?"
Elizabeth waved around. "There's only you and me here. I think we get to decide."
"Oh, huh. Uh... Janet Begay. She was a friend of Teresa's."
"That's right. I forgot."
"Why don't we ask her?"
Why don't YOU ask her, Elizabeth wanted to say. But there was no way to shed what she had to do and still be who she was. If life marched on, life consisted of decisions. And there was no way to stop making them.
"All right, we'll ask her," Elizabeth said softly.
Rodney's book had dropped onto his chest and his head had fallen back. He was slumped incredibly awkwardly in the chair and drool had dried at the corner of his mouth.
But he came awake instantly when John, moving his legs, made the sheets rustle.
Rodney blinked and scrubbed at his mouth and looked at John as John sleepily opened his eyes, moving immediately as if his neck and arms were stiff.
"Hey," John said, sounding just as sleepy. "Where've you been?"
Rodney looked confused. "Right here."
"But it's been so *quiet*," John said softly, his mouth moving into a slow, sly grin.
"Ha ha, you're hilarious. Do you want anything? Should I get the doctor? Should I get the nurse? They didn't tell me if I should go get them if you woke up but I bet they'll want to know."
"*There* you are," John said, letting his eyes drift closed again.
"I'm going to get the doctor."
But John reached out as Rodney rose to go, and Rodney obediently gave John his hand.
"I feel like shit," John said softly without opening his eyes.
"You don't look good either. No, don't laugh, dear God don't laugh," and Rodney sounded genuinely panicked.
"Why? What's wrong with me?" Wiggling experimentally, John's eyes flew open. "Rodney. Why can't I move? What's wrong?" His voice was sharp, and getting louder.
"No no, don't panic. You're wrapped up, wrapped up tight, that's all. You've got broken ribs. One of them punctured your lung and they had to operate on you to let out a bunch of fluid that had gathered, and do a little patching. You've got oxygen --" Rodney ran his hands over the tube leading around John's head, poking into his nose, " -- but you're breathing fine. You weren't very good at it for a while there, but I hear you've almost got the knack of it by now. No, really, don't laugh."
Stifling a chuckle, which wasn't hard given the state of his ribs and lungs, John sighed. "Don't be so funny then."
"I can't help it, it's genetic."
"Then you better get out," wheezed John.
Rodney started to go, and John threw out his hand, reaching for Rodney, then grimaced as the jar made everything hurt.
"I didn't mean that, of course, you moron," John gritted out through clenched teeth.
"No no, I'm not going, I was just going to get, you know, a nurse or a doctor. I won't go far. I'll be right back. I promise."
"You promise?" John relaxed as the pain receded and he looked up at Rodney.
Rodney looked back for a long moment, then, "I swear," he whispered, bending over to brush his lips just briefly against John's forehead, before disappearing from John's field of view.
Sighing, John relaxed, knowing he'd be back.
There was no one on base who'd been able to sleep during the whole ordeal. But once the jumpers were home, Sergeant Bates didn't think it would be appropriate to leave the Gate unguarded.
Atlantis was vulnerable when it was tired.
So he let Grodin go and took his place at the console, sending away the airmen who slumped, exhausted, in their chairs like badly stuffed ragdolls. There was a technician, not even cleared on the equipment, looked twelve years old, a tiny Korean woman with eyes like dinner plates, who looked either too wired or too young to sleep. Bates put her on communications. All she'd have to do was scream like hell if anything happened, he explained to her, and she'd nodded.
He himself moved far enough away from all the controls that he couldn't slump on them accidentally if he fell asleep, and kept himself awake for the next seven hours by singing, badly, all the Smokey Robinson songs he remembered from his childhood.
When the next duty watch came and found him there, he was on his hundred and tenth chorus of "Love On a Two-Way Street", and the Korean technician was singing with him, spinning herself around in the seat.
"What exactly did you do to her?" Zelenka asked disapprovingly as he poked at the wires and exposed conduits.
"*I* didn't do anything!" Markham was vehement. "I very much did not shoot my own ship!"
"A shell shouldn't have done this. These things are sturdy," Zelenka told him, shaking his head and running his fingers over the edges of the metal, which had fused into burnt blobs along the cut.
"You accusing me of sabotaging my own command?" Markham sounded incredulous on his way to angry.
"No no, of course not! I just do not know what exactly could have done this. What an odd angle for this to travel. If it had hit the ship right in the center it would have done less damage, I think. Yes, I think it was the explosion while traveling that did this."
Markham ran his hand over the side of the jumper. "Can you fix it?"
"What? Are you crazy? No! Well, yes. I don't know how, but I suspect there must be tools here in Atlantis somewhere that can repair this metal. If we can find more. Maybe salvage some. Yes. Fixing the wiring and such will not be the hard part. No. So perhaps."
Markham looked at the little jumper. It had taken him damn near half an hour - the longest half hour in the world - to figure out how to fly the little thing with only one working propulsion unit. The jumper should have been auto-correcting, just like a jet, traveling just fine with one engine. Instead it had behaved like a paper airplane with its wing cut. But instead of resenting it, Markham felt proud of it. It was a scrappy little craft. Maybe a little dysfunctional, but the two of them had come through all right.
"You can fix it, doc," he said with assurance, patting the hull again.
"You don't have to play checkers with me any more," Ford said, sounding tired. Propped onto his side, he couldn't really lift his hand to play, so Teyla had to move all the pieces, and he had never before realized that half the fun of playing was touching the rough-edged pieces.
"You should sleep," Teyla said, observing the draw of his mouth. Even with the pain medication, the doctors had said he would be in pain. And pain, she knew, was exhausting.
She moved the board and slid the pieces into the box before Ford said, "I was winning anyway."
She looked sharply at him, but crooked her mouth. "Why yes, I believe you were," she said in a tone that contradicted the words completely.
A smile rippled across Aiden's face but went away again. His eyes drifted closed.
As Teyla turned to go and leave him to sleep, he said suddenly, "I'm sorry I was such a jerk."
"A... jerk." She looked around.
"A... oh whaddya call it. A jerk. Uh, ignoring you, or sounding..."
"Condescending? Dismissive? Overbearing?"
"... Yeah. Those."
Teyla patted his hand. "Do not worry, Lieutenant. I understand."
"Really?" He slitted his eyes open and looked at her. "'Cause I don't."
"Well, I am not sure. But on your world there is a very clear division between the military and those who are not the military. Am I correct?"
"Yeah. Of course."
"But not of course. On worlds that are not so peaceful there is not such a division. There are weaker fighters and stronger. But the... basics, I think you would call them? The tactics of warfare, these are familiar to everyone."
"I get you."
She patted his hand again. "You did not hurt my feelings, Lieutenant. We had not yet fought together. One never knows another person the way one knows a person with whom one has survived a battle."
"That's for sure."
"And you were not so condescending, dismissive, or overbearing." Teyla smiled outright. "Just do not do it again."
"Yes, ma'am," Ford said, smiling back at her even as he drifted into sleep.
"Hey, major. I hear you're all fixed up."
John opened his eyes and saw Jack standing by his bedside, warm dark eyes as friendly as he had ever seen them.
He hadn't seen Jack wave at Rodney silently or Rodney, taken aback, nod back.
He only saw Jack looking at him... and ignoring Rodney.
"Rodney," John rasped, "I want jello."
"No you don't, you hate jello."
"I do. I have a sudden craving for it. Go see if Carson will make me some."
"I think it's unlikely that Carson would make you jello, John, we do have personnel devoted solely to preparing --"
"Rodney. Jello. Even if you have to kill a horse and boil the hooves. Go."
"Jello comes from horse's hooves? That's oddly revolting. I had no idea that -- Oh. Sure."
Ducking his head, Rodney left, sliding the curtain back around John's bed.
"I just came to see how you were doing, I didn't come to chase anyone away," Jack said gently.
"Yeah? Well I'm glad you did. I've got something to say to you."
Puzzled, Jack studied John, bandaged from chest to waist, tubes coming out of him and going into him, more bruised and battered than a Rocky movie, and apparently spoiling for a fight.
"What's on your mind, Major?"
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"No! I never like what people have to say when they want to speak freely."
"Fine, then. *Jack*. I'm off duty. Pretend you're the same."
It didn't work that way. The Major knew that.
But he was a fucking mess, so Jack decided to humor him.
"What is it, then?"
"What the hell were you thinking taking Rodney on that mission?? He's not a soldier. He's not qualified for special ops. Hell, he's barely qualified not to shoot himself in the foot. Dislike him all you want. But that's no reason to put him in danger. Not that kind of danger."
"Whoa, whoa, slow down there, cowboy. Dr. McKay volunteered, for one. For two, there wasn't going to be any way of keeping him here on base. For three, we needed his expertise. For four, he's qualified enough if you say he's qualified enough to watch your back when you're in the field." Jack's eyes glittered and they weren't so warm now. "And for five, if you're counting, I follow my own judgement."
"Judgement, is it? Is *that* what they're calling it these days." John's jaw flexed. "Look, David, you got Bathsheba. You don't need to send Uriah into battle. Just lay off him."
Jack looked puzzled.
"Biblical reference. Just -- you've got Daniel. Leave Rodney alone. He's got enough to deal with."
Jack's face shuttered. "We're not discussing my personal life."
"No, we're not. We're discussing mine. And while we're on that topic, let me tell you something. I've seen how you treat Rodney, as if he's Daniel's ex and you just can't wait for the door to hit him in the ass on the way out. Why don't I get that treatment? I'm Daniel's ex too."
Jack didn't move, didn't blink. "Rodney's *not* Daniel's ex?" he asked carefully.
John raised a hand, scratched his head. It hurt to move, but it hurt to think, too, and it especially hurt to have to do the Colonel's thinking for him. "My point was that if you're going to be all down on Daniel's exes, you have to count me too. I came on to Daniel first, did you know that?"
"You know what? I gotta --"
"And that lasted about ten minutes. I didn't expect Rodney. I guess I wasn't... looking the right way. I don't understand the two of them. Maybe I never will. But I don't pretend that things aren't the way they are.
"I want to be first with Rodney. 'Cause he's first with me. I don't know how that's going to work. Hell, some days I can't tell my ass from a teacup. Maybe I won't be able to catch that much of Rodney's attention. Maybe I can't hold it. But even if I can, it won't change the fact that Daniel was in on it at the start." John glared his green-eyed glare at Jack. "And if you'd died out there, *Jack*, and I'd come back, we would have taken Daniel back. I don't know how that would have worked either. I'm probably not smart enough to explain any of it. I just know that's what would have happened. That would have been my choice: Rodney with Daniel, or neither. And I would have chosen the both. So don't pretend I wouldn't have, because it's pissing me off."
Jack, looking at the floor, nodded a little. "You done?" he finally said.
"I'm not sure." John still sounded pissed.
"Uh huh. Are you angry because I'm not jealous of you, or are you angry because you're not allowed to be jealous of Daniel?"
"What the --" An extraordinary array of expressions of confusion, realization, surprise and anger fought for control of John's face.
"Let me make you feel better. I'm working my way up to being jealous of you real fast. *John*. That make you feel better?"
"Here's another thought. Stay out of my private life, and your ass will stay away from my boot, got that one?"
"You want to define that as --"
"No. Now here's my last thought, and then I am departing before you get any other fucking crazy ideas in your drug-addled brain." Jack stepped up to the bed, looked down at John. "About McKay? You've got his attention."
Turning his back on John's jaw-dropped face, Jack had already reached for the curtain before he stopped himself. "Oh yeah. And you might want to know. McKay saved my life."
He looked back to see John's eyes widen. "He did, huh?" One of the corners of his mouth turned up. "That sounds like him."
"No, it doesn't."
John let himself smile a little more. "He's surprising, Rodney is."
"If you say so."
"You guys and Ford and Teyla all came to rescue me, eh? That'll make for a good story. You'll have to tell it to me some time soon. Colonel."
The Colonel didn't let much show and not much shocked him. But it there was a little shock that showed on his face as the hand he'd stretched toward the curtain dropped. "Didn't anyone tell you?" he said in a low voice.
"What? Tell me what? No, no one to -- WHAT?" John's tone was rising.
"We all came to get you."
"What do you mean, all? All what?"
"I mean every goddamn one of us. Three-fourths of the military personnel. And the rest here as backup and support ops."
John's face blanched pale, his hair suddenly streaking black against chalk white. "That can't... What ha... Did everyone make it back okay?"
"It wasn't just to get you, Major. Dr. Weir and I made a decision that we needed to remove the Genii's offensive capability. There was no other way to get them to understand what we -- "
"DID EVERYONE MAKE IT BACK OKAY?"
Jack's shoulders bent a little. "No, Major. Teresa Jones. She led the ground assault. Did a great job. Would have made a fine general." Jack stepped back toward the bed. "She wanted the job, Major. She knew what the point was."
But John's eyes were tightly closed. And his hand, when he moved it, just motioned Jack away, weakly.
Jack stood there for a few moments, trying to think of something John needed to hear, but nothing was coming to him. John's head rocked a little on the pillow as if his pain was working its way through the meds. "Just... go."
Jack didn't move. John didn't look at him. "Just," John said, "just go tell Rodney to come back, would you, please?" John didn't move, but he crumpled as he lay there. "I want Rodney," he said, half under his breath.
Jack strode out.
"Apparently someone from the Russian contingent's been hoarding an ice cream maker, and Carson says that the ice milk would be okay for --"
Jack interrupted the flow of information that preceded Rodney down the hall just by looking at him. Jerked his thumb back over his shoulder toward the bed.
Rodney hurried past, didn't stop to talk.
When Jack got back to his quarters, he was tired all over again, and ready to sleep.
Daniel, who'd apparently gone nowhere for the past however many hours, was still there. And it was nice to let him roll Jack onto the bed, nice to let him wrap Jack in his arms, nice to let him kiss the back of Jack's neck and make contented sounds.
But when Daniel started to nuzzle under Jack's ear, Jack closed his eyes in defeat.
He could reassure Daniel that he was still alive. But he couldn't do it for three.
"I just told Sheppard about Jones," he said, his voice a little hoarse, like the stubble on his cheeks was already a little rough, despite the morning shave.
Daniel stopped nuzzling, squeezed his arms instead. "Sorry. That must have sucked."
"Yep." Jack couldn't believe how easily Daniel made the unimaginably horrible bearable. He wondered how that worked.
Maybe, as John had said, he wasn't smart enough to figure that out.
Jack added, "It'd probably do him good if you dropped by to see him."
Daniel stopped moving. "Is he alone?"
"Nah, I don't think so. I think McKay's probably still there. But I think he'd like to see you all the same."
"Well. I'd go see him. But I'm busy being here with you."
"I know." Jack rubbed his cheek against Daniel's arm. "But if you went, I'd still be here when you got back."
Daniel crawled over top of Jack to lie at his front and look him in the eye. "I don't need to go."
"I'm just advocating a visit, Daniel. Not an orgy."
The look Daniel gave Jack cut into him in a way he'd never experienced before. "You didn't need to say that, Jack."
Jack slid his arm under Daniel's head, wrapped his arms around Daniel's neck and clung, unreservedly, like a six-year-old. "Come right back," he said, and Daniel didn't recognize his voice.
Then Jack pushed Daniel toward the edge of the bed. "Go," he said, and sounded exactly like himself.
So Daniel rolled away and stopped at the edge of the bed to pull on his boots.
Before he left he turned and surveyed Jack, now lying on his back, arm thrown over his eyes. "I'm gonna nap," Jack announced, unseeing.
"Okay," said Daniel, sounding, and feeling, a little defeated. And left.
Jack stayed where he was, arm over his eyes, fully dressed on the bed.
Rodney thought for a second he was dreaming the sensation of Daniel's arms coming around his neck, his shoulders from behind, like they'd done so many times before.
But no. It was Daniel. A hug.
He squeezed one of Daniel's forearms with his hand in the brief second before Daniel let go.
Daniel walked around the bed dragging the chair he'd lifted from the common lounge with him. He arranged it carefully on the floor before carefully coming to the bed and carefully kissing John on the cheek.
John, who was awake, didn't open his eyes, but he pressed a hand to the back of Daniel's hand where it lay against his face.
Then Daniel sat in the chair, propping his feet on John's bed, which was ridiculously too high to serve as a stool for the chair. Scootched forward in the chair till he could slouch his head against his back, and left his feet on the bed, just a couple of inches from John's legs.
And they sat there.