Summary: He was going to go down in history as the man who killed John Sheppard.
Info: Though it might look grim, please remember I believe in HEA.
He wasn't surprised when Teyla showed up at the infirmary.
"I'm not leaving," he said, standing his ground. He must outweigh her by at least half her body mass. Okay, maybe more. Teyla couldn't force him to leave, not even if she beat him with her Little Sticks of Doom.
She couldn't beat him up any more than he was already doing himself.
He noticed that she was alone. Ronon could have made Rodney leave at Teyla's behest. Hell, Ronon could have carried Rodney away, that is, if Rodney wanted the distinction of being the man that herniated one of Ronon's discs—and not in a sparring match. Ronon probably wasn't speaking to him though.
He turned back to face the window, staring down into the isolation chamber below. He didn't need another new reputation to live down. He was going to be known as the man who killed John Sheppard.
"Rodney, you need to eat."
His stomach rumbled at her gentle words, but not with hunger. He'd thrown up once already, after he'd realized what he'd done and implemented the emergency measures. After he'd sealed the lab, and rushed John into decontamination. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The words echoed now in his brain, reminding him once again what a fucking idiot he'd been, worse that any of the minions he'd yelled at in the past for similar, thoughtless errors in judgment. Every time he thought about what he'd done, his heart rate would elevate, thready and nauseating, as his brain circled back around again to the mistake that had lead them here.
Which it did often because, as everyone knew, he had the biggest fucking brain in Atlantis, right? They knew because he told them every day, because the only thing bigger than his brain was his ego, and his ego wasn't going to help John one iota now, was it?
It was in the hands of the doctors.
Below him in the isolation chamber, John sat on the edge of the infirmary cot, dressed all in white in one of those disposable nylon suits. His hands gripped the edge of the cot, the only indication that he was tense at all. He stared down between his bare feet at the floor. He didn't look up, so Rodney couldn't even mouth 'I'm sorry' at him for the one thousandth time.
The warm, seductive smell of coffee reached his nostrils, and Rodney realized for the first time that Teyla was standing beside him now, proffering him a mug.
He felt a little stab of sorrow when he recognized it as the one John had gotten him for Christmas last year. On the front, it had an atom with subatomic particles zooming in a helix surrounding it, and the words "There is no crying in physics" in bold letters above. It was practically painful to see the mug in her hands, and the irony of the wording made his eyes burn. He almost refused to take it, but he was cold, so cold. He reached for it wordlessly, noting with detachment the tremor in his hand when he took the mug. Teyla wrapped her hands around his during the transfer to make sure he didn't drop it, and the comfort in her touch almost shattered him.
"Teyla," he began, only to choke up and stall out like an old engine that had not been turned over in far too long. He took a hasty sip of the coffee, taking care not to slosh it in the journey to his lips. He smiled briefly at the taste. Teyla must have dumped the entire container of sugar in it. She probably figured, correctly, that he needed it.
He met her gaze over the brim of the mug, and a small smile curved her lips. He expected her to say something, to tell him it was an accident, to give him some placating Athosian proverb. He expected her to absolve him of his sins, damn it. Instead, she faced the window as well.
"When we will know?" Her voice was quiet as she looked down at John, uncharacteristically still on the cot.
"They're still doing tests. You know how doctors are. They hem and haw and make qualifying statements over everything." He could hear a slight stammer when he spoke, and he was suddenly nine years old again, with too much to say and too much emotion to contain, and his words couldn't flow properly because of it. His parents had sent him into speech counseling, and the therapist had tried unsuccessfully to teach him to slow down.
He'd learned instead that what he had to say was important and that people should listen to him.
"I'm giving Woolsey my resignation." He hadn't meant to say that. The words just came out, and he felt as shocked as Teyla looked when she glanced sharply at him.
"Rodney, you are not thinking clearly just now. This is not a decision you make when you are upset and tired."
That's just it," Rodney snapped. "I'm not thinking clearly. I haven't been thinking clearly for a while now." He hunched his shoulders and pulled his coffee mug into his chest, savoring the warmth and rising aroma, even as a part of him thought he deserved no comfort at all. "I'm done, Teyla. I'm done. I'm done with this thankless job. With putting my life and the lives of others on the line every day. Of working too many hours with no time off, of the constant stress of not knowing if I'm right, and will save the day, or wrong, and I'll blow up five sixths of a fucking solar system."
Teyla's expression changed, and Rodney could just tell that she was thinking, oh, not that again. He didn't let her interrupt him. "I'm not just tired, I'm exhausted. I've been running on fumes for so damn long that it's begun to feel normal. I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings because it feels like I only just crawled in. I drink too much coffee because my brain can't function without it, and then when I finally do get to go to bed, I'm too wired to sleep. I'm making stupid mistakes, mistakes that kill people. People I care—" he broke off, unable to continue.
"Perhaps," Teyla said carefully, "if you paid more attention to eating properly and exercising regularly, you would not feel so stressed."
Rodney shot her a glare, aware that it was only quarter-strength at best. "You tell me when, Teyla? When am I supposed to eat healthy meals when half the time I spend lunch on my back under a console or at a keyboard running tests? Food has to be portable and available; I don't have time to stop and go to the mess, or heat something in the lab rat's break room. How am I supposed to exercise when I am so bloody tired I fall asleep in my clothes two or three nights a week? And how can that possibly fix this!"
He swept his arm out dramatically, pointing down at John, before covering his eyes with his hand.
Teyla's light touch on his shoulder broke him. He turned into her hug, almost spilling his coffee down her front, and only barely managing to hang on to it when he closed his arms around her. She was so tiny, and yet a foundational rock. A fortress of strength. He wished he had her equanimity, her serenity, her assurance that what she was doing was right. He used to know what he was doing; he used to never question himself or his answers, only those of others around him, and with sneering superiority at that.
Pegasus taught him otherwise, smacking him down again and again until he'd reached this point.
He pulled back suddenly, putting distance between him and Teyla, in an effort to pretend everything was normal. He lifted his coffee for a long pull, not caring that it was hot enough to burn.
"You know what the irony is?" He spoke brightly, aware of the tightness in his voice, a thin wire stretched to its tensile breaking point. "I used to think it was about the recognition. This creeping dissatisfaction, I mean. That I was jealous of my colleagues making names for themselves back on Earth. That I was unhappy because no one knows what kind of work I'm doing out here, or what kinds of discoveries I'm making. I used to think it was about not having a family like my sister, Jeannie. Of not having someone to come home to at night, or having the pre-requisite 2.5 blonde curly haired McKay children to carry on the name and tradition of brilliant genius." He paused, suddenly out of steam, anger deflated. He looked down at John again. "I can't stay here if he dies, Teyla. I can't."
John looked up at him then, as though he'd heard Rodney speak.
He met John's gaze through the barrier of heavy glass. John stared up at him for a long moment, his expression blank and unreadable. Slowly, a half-smile quirked across his face and he gave Rodney a sketchy two finger salute.
Something inside Rodney that he hadn't realized was holding its breath began to breathe again. The hand holding his coffee cup trembled. The surface of the coffee shimmered, its normally black depths milky with the cream and sugar that Teyla deemed necessary for medicinal purposes. He watched it in fascination, reminded of every earthquake disaster movie he'd ever seen.
This was his disaster movie.
When he looked back down at John, he saw the familiar head-tilt and raised eyebrow. This time, Rodney couldn't meet his gaze. He couldn't bear to see the accusation there, even though he saw none at this time. It would come. He turned to Teyla, pretending that he hadn't seen John's questioning stare.
Teyla, as always, seemed to know what Rodney was doing, even if he didn't entirely know what he was doing himself. "The problem with you and exercise," she said, as though John's life were not hanging in the balance somewhere, with doctors adding test results on either end of the scales, "is that you approach it as you do all things—all or nothing."
Rodney said nothing.
With a small sigh, she elaborated. "It is not something you master in a day, Rodney. You do not attack becoming fit with the single-minded determination that you would a scientific problem—working eight hours on it one day until the problem is solved. It is something that you incorporate into your life on a daily basis. As for your eating habits, it is not wise to completely eliminate entire food groups, or commit yourself to an eating plan so severe you cannot possibly hope to maintain it for very long."
"Teyla, no offense, but your mouth is moving and all I can hear is blah-blah-blah." Rodney let one hand speak like a puppet shadowing the words out of his mouth. "You don't get it. I fucked up. And John is paying the price for that."
"You don't know that yet." Teyla's calmness was both soothing and annoying as hell. She tipped her head thoughtfully to one side, and Rodney knew the Athosian proverb was about to make its appearance at last.
Only it didn't. When Teyla spoke, her words caught him off-guard. "There are those among my people who consider me the worst leader the Athosians have ever had."
She nodded slowly when she saw that she had Rodney's shocked attention now. "Under my leadership, the Wraith culled our people for the first time in many years—all because the strangers I invited into our village alerted them by turning on a homing device. Those same strangers woke the Wraith prematurely, in an attempt to save my life."
"That wasn't just about you, Teyla. Our people were taken, and to be honest, I think it scared the crap out of John that he might be stuck in charge if he didn't bring Sumner home." Rodney managed a weak smile at Teyla, but for once, she didn't smile back.
"It is as you say, but not all of my people see it that way. They point to my decision to align myself with your expedition and say that I lost my way. That I neglected my duties as leader in the false hope of defeating the Wraith once and for all. That my continued contact with your people lead to Michael choosing the Athosians for his experimentations, thus decimating what remained of us. We are but a fraction of what we were five years ago, Rodney, and they blame me. And rightly so."
"But none of that is your fault!" Rodney sputtered a bit. "You had nothing to do with our actions here in Atlantis. If anything, we were the ones that screwed up."
"I chose to stay, Rodney." Teyla's words were as gentle as ever, but this time he could hear the sorrow threading through them. "And there are people who blame me for that decision. Who think I should no longer be leader of the Athosians."
"What are you going to do?" Rodney surprised himself by asking.
Teyla turned to face the observation glass once more, her posture as perfect as a ballerina's. Only when she gripped the rail at the window, could he see the anger beneath the surface. "I will do what I think is best for my people as long as I am still their leader. I am not in it for the popularity." She shot him a sly glance out of the corner of her eye. "I tell you this because you seem to labor under the misapprehension that I am perfect."
Rodney snorted despite himself. "You are perfect, Teyla. Practically Perfect in Every Way."
She came to stand in front of him; in the pose he'd seen her do so often with John. Without being asked, he leaned down so she could touch foreheads with him in the Athosian manner. She placed both her hands on his shoulders as she pressed her forehead to his. The gesture caused tears to sting his eyes, and he had to blink rapidly several times.
"So are you, Rodney." Teyla's words as they straightened confused him for a moment, until he remembered he'd just quoted Mary Poppins at her. "Do not forget that. You are only human."
Anger flared, sharp and bright, a match going up in flames. "Don't give me that bullshit, Teyla. I don't want to hear about how accidents happen, or that we all make mistakes. My mistakes are worse than others are. They kill people."
"Then you must figure out how to prevent yourself from making them again."
The only way to do that is to go back to Earth. He didn't speak aloud, but he knew that Teyla heard the words just the same. With a sigh, she glanced one more time at John, who was now slowly pacing the room below. He idly touched various pieces of equipment in passing, no doubt having been told not to do so. The very John-ness of his actions tempted Rodney to switch on the intercom and bellow at him to keep his hands to himself before he did something he'd regret later, only Rodney had all the regrets now, and there might not be any 'later' for John.
"Have you told him how you feel?"
Her question made Rodney boggle at her. "How I feel?" His voice rose distressingly in pitch, and though they were alone, he immediately looked around furtively and lowered his voice before speaking again. "What do you mean, how I feel? We don't have feelings, Teyla, we're men. Men who are friends. Good friends, even, but friends just the same."
He didn't have many of those, though, in retrospect, he had more now here in Atlantis than he'd ever had in his life. John Sheppard had taught him the meaning of friendship, and by choosing to be friends with Rodney, had made him acceptable to everyone else in the expedition as well.
Teyla's look was distinctly pitying. "You have been speaking of regrets, Rodney. Do not let this be one more moment you look back on in time and wish you had acted differently."
"I am not saying goodbye. It's too soon. We don't even know...It might not be...We don't know yet!" He was resolute. John had refused to say goodbye to him when that parasite was turning his brain to mush. The least he could do was return the favor, especially if John was going to die a slow, painful death at Rodney's hands.
"I do not speak of saying goodbye, Rodney." To be fair, Teyla dealt her blow cleanly. "I am speaking of the fact that you love John."
It felt like a sucker punch just the same. It hit him right in the solar plexus, momentarily taking away his capacity for speech, even as he sucked in his breath in surprise. He struggled to regain composure. "Well, of course, I love John." He spoke with only a slight stutter. "We all do. As a friend loves a friend."
Teyla rolled her eyes at this one, which actually stung more than Rodney expected, even as it alarmed him all out of proportion. "This is not the time to prevaricate and pretend you do not understand my meaning. This may be your only opportunity to let him know exactly how you feel."
Which is precisely why I should say nothing. The last thing he needed was to burden John with unwelcome sentiments while he was dying. Talk about insult to injury.
"I don't know what you're getting at, but you're barking up the wrong tree regardless. Even if you were right and I held some, shall we say unrequited feelings for the Colonel, that's exactly what they are. Unrequited."
She didn't say it, but he could see the 'Oh Rodney' in her expression. A look at once kind, and as though she longed to bang his head against the nearest wall as well. "Why do you think that might be, Rodney?" She crossed her arms over her chest and suddenly looked stern.
"Um, because he's straight?" His brain kept supplying answers that his mouth thankfully didn't say. Because he's the hottest thing on two legs? Because most women and half the men drool over John wherever they go. Because Rodney wasn't joking the first time he'd called John 'Kirk', down to the recognition that, like James T. Kirk, John loved a ship (that happened to double as a city) more than he loved anything and anyone else.
"And you know this because?" Teyla raised an eyebrow at him, which was a John-like thing to do, and very disconcerting to see on her face.
"I don't know," Rodney said with exaggerated sarcasm. "Maybe because he's been married?"
"How many people have you seen John with since being in Atlantis?"
Rodney opened his mouth to say 'plenty', only he hesitated. There had been John's weird fascination with Chaya, only Rodney wasn't sure if the whole glowy thing that John had confessed to him after a few beers one night really counted as sex or not. And then there was the time John had been trapped in the time dilation field and thought he was never coming home. John had spoken of Teer a time or two, but Rodney had always gotten the impression that if there had been anything between them, it had been more a case of John being trapped there with not many choices. A matter of seeking comfort, rather than actively being attracted to her. It occurred to Rodney for the first time that John must have felt that everyone had abandoned him, even though they were all working frantically to save him. In the hours that he was trapped, months had passed on his side of the field. What had that been like? To live the simple life among Ancients seeking Ascension? Tava beans and rice, meditation and homespun clothing. It made Rodney itch to think about it, in more ways than one.
There was Larrin. There definitely seemed to be some attraction there. Rodney recognized that John had appreciated her tough independence –he liked that sort of thing. But unless she was really kinky, there was hardly time for her and John to have gotten up to much on her spaceship when he was her prisoner. Rodney's mind blanked out for a moment at the idea of John, tied up and held prisoner, at Larrin's, or anyone else's, mercy. He blinked, getting back on track. No, Larrin didn't count.
What did count was that all of these people were women. Nary a Y chromosome in the bunch.
Reflexively, Rodney's brain added, what about Holland?
He frowned. Nothing that John had ever said about Holland ever gave Rodney any indication there was anything more between them than friendship. In fact, he almost never mentioned Lyle Holland, and the disastrous attempt to rescue him from behind enemy lines.
Exactly, Rodney's brain drawled, John-like.
Unsettled, Rodney continued his check list. There was the time they both were in competition for Noreen's attention, but as soon as the thought of the lovely blonde came to mind, Rodney realized that the two of them had been cockblocking. Each other. It had been more about them than it had ever been about Noreen. He felt his face burn with embarrassment and self-awareness.
"John's straight," Rodney insisted, though he was no longer sure who he was trying to convince, Teyla or himself. "If he wasn't, and I'm not saying he isn't, there's no reason to suppose that he has any particular feelings for me anyway." We've had five, almost six years, damn it. Sheppard could have tossed him a small bone by now.
Teyla's fingers beat a small tattoo on one arm. "I hardly think it fair to lay the burden of declaration on John's side. There is the small matter of your military regulations. Even if they are in the process of changing, old prejudices die hard. Then there is the fact that you so openly admired Colonel Carter, and that you actively pursued relationships with Dr. Brown and Dr. Keller."
But that's what you do! Rodney's brain protested. That's what you do when you can't have what you want. You take what you can get and call yourself lucky. The sudden realization struck him, causing him to hitch his breath. He wanted John Sheppard. He didn't think he could have him. Ergo, he'd played up his crush on Sam, long after it had died into an admiration for her brains (and to be completely honest, the social skills he did not possess). He'd pursued Katie, letting Cadman's manipulations of the relationship take him farther than he probably would have gone on his own if he and Cadman hadn't shared the same body one time. What had he seen in Katie, other than a general sweetness and her obvious enjoyment of his company? He tried to picture a lifetime of meaningful conversation with her, and failed miserably.
Jennifer, at least, had been his up to his intellectual weight. Oh sure, she didn't understand much of his work, but that went both ways for them. And they'd had the commonality of the fact that they both made life or death decisions on a daily basis. Even if Jennifer didn't understand the science behind his day, she completely understood the burden of responsibility—one she shared as well. She had challenged him too. Unlike Katie, who'd hung on his every word, Jennifer had not been afraid to show skepticism, or criticize him when she thought he was in the wrong.
Pity she'd thought you were wrong so often.
He realized Teyla was still staring at him, with that hopeful expression that said she thought he was close to making an emotional breakthrough. "You're saying," he spoke slowly, "that John said nothing because he thought I was unavailable?"
Teyla beamed her approval.
Rodney hated to disappoint her, but he was going to have to do so.
"It's not that simple, Teyla."
"Nothing of any real value is, Rodney." Her reply came without hesitation, so quickly that Rodney suspected it she'd been practicing it. It gave him a small measure of satisfaction to envision Teyla rehearsing her answers in front of a mirror, perfecting that look of serene all-knowing wisdom. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
It didn't matter anyway. It was too late.
She gave him a long, silent look, uncrossing her arms and letting them fall back to her side. "I must go check on Torren. I will be back later." She hesitated as she turned to leave. "You speak of returning to Earth. That is certainly your right. But the people of Pegasus do not have that option when it comes to the Wraith. And sooner or later, the Wraith will find their way to Earth. This is not a thankless job, Rodney. It is the most important one anyone can do."
Rodney let her go without another word. He considered it magnanimous of him to let her have a great exit line. It has nothing to do with the fact that he couldn't think of anything to top it.
When Ronon showed up, he merely filled the doorway with his presence. He stood staring at Rodney for a long moment, which made Rodney wonder what Ronon saw. His unshaven, sunken-eyed self, for certain. A middle-aged man, sliding further away from prime every day and one step closer to doddering old fool? Could Ronon smell the decay of defeat? Rodney bet he could.
"Come with me."
You didn't argue with Ronon when he spoke to you like that. With a sigh, Rodney disentangled himself from his makeshift cot created out of chairs, in which he'd supported his legs with one while he dozed uneasily in the other. His back protested at the move, and he got up stiffly to obey Ronon's command. Ronon waited only until it was apparent that Rodney was coming, before he melted into the darkness of the corridor again.
Avengers Assemble! The thought came and went. Ronon was definitely superhero material. He could give Hawkeye and Captain America a run for their money. Teyla would be right in the mix as well, as would John, in his role of self-sacrificing hero-pilot. Where would Rodney fit? Would he even fit in at all? He tried to picture himself as a member of S.H.E.I.L.D. and realized, like Tony Stark, he'd be relegated to the group of people who 'didn't play well with others.' He'd bet Stark Industries would hire him, though. That is, before today.
The fact that he allowed this to occupy his mind as he walked silently behind Ronon was a measure of how tired he really was. It wasn't until he realized that Ronon had led him to the east pier that Rodney came out of his little fantasy. He came to a halt like one of John's balky horses when he smelled the salt air of the sea.
The doors opened onto the pier, bathed in the bright moonlight. Everything was dipped in silver, sharpening the edges of the shadows that were cast. Somehow, when Rodney wasn't looking, day had turned to night. Both moons were up, shining large and impossibly bright over the ocean. The city was alight as well, twinkling with all the warm glow of a Thomas Kincade painting. It tugged at his heart, making him wish he had the ability to capture the scene on canvas or in digital form. He had other gifts, he knew, and saving the city on a regular basis was one of them, but when he saw it like this, all magical and lit up from within like a damn Christmas card from Norway, he wanted some sort of tangible and permanent proof that the city existed. Something he could take out at look at years from now and know that it wasn't all just a fantasy.
Where had the day gone? It had been morning when the accident had occurred. He stepped out onto the pier, pausing to look up at the night sky and its dizzying array of stars. They'd made a game out of naming the constellations back on Lantea Prime, he and John. Somehow, there hadn't been time to do the same when they'd settled on New Lantea. Rodney found himself missing those early days, when the expedition had still been so excited to be in Pegasus. When he and John had gotten shit-faced at times, and confessed to each other how scared they were.
Rodney blinked. Ronon had seated himself at the edge of the pier, and was looking back at Rodney with an impatient expression. The brilliant moonlight picked out his scowl. Rodney could see it clearly as he walked forward.
He stopped next to Ronon where he sat on the edge of the pier, his booted feet dangling out over the long drop to the ocean below. "We're having a picnic?"
"Figured you wouldn't eat. Wouldn't go to the mess. Brought you some food here." Ronon's tone said that making fun of the impromptu picnic would be a bad idea.
Rodney sat down in stages, placing a hand on the decking as he lowered himself heavily to the edge of the pier. Sitting on the edge always made him a little nervous. There was a little moment of vertigo as he positioned himself, and he thought how easy it would be just to answer the call of the water below. "I'm not hungry," he said with all the effort exhaustion would allow.
"Eat or not eat. Your choice. Doesn't matter to me." Ronon began unpacking the basket. Rodney was tempted to ask Ronon if he'd been watching The Empire Strikes Back again, but even the attempt at a joke seemed to be too much effort.
Apparently Ronon's idea of a picnic meal ran to large slabs of cold meat and thick cut slices of warm bread. The odor of yeast-risen bread was unmistakable as Ronon unwrapped the loaf from the heavy cloth it was covered in. Rodney's stomach growled despite his firm belief that eating would be a mistake.
Someone forgot to tell that to Rodney's stomach. He watched as Ronon made a sandwich in record time and began to eat. "You're going to eat it just like that? A hunk of meat between two slabs of bread?" Rodney's mouth watered at the sight of Ronon lifting his makeshift sandwich to his lips.
Ronon took a large bite and spoke as he chewed. "There's some tomatoes in there if you want them. And that white stuff. Mayo."
Rodney wasted no time in building his own sandwich. Ronon watched him with a sideways look of amusement as Rodney slathered mayo on one piece of bread, adding some of the roast beast (since he wasn't entirely sure it was beef) and dusted it with a pinch of salt. Rodney took a bite of his open-faced sandwich and almost whimpered with joy. "Oh, that's heavenly," he said around his mouthful.
They chewed and ate in silence. That was one of the nice things about Ronon. Rodney could always count on him to be a silent dinner companion while they got down to the serious business of eating. As he polished off the last bit of his sandwich, licking the remnants of mayo off his fingers, Rodney wondered if it was just a coincidence that Ronon brought him to the place that he and John came to most often to have a beer and chill out over the events of the day.
"Okay, that was good. And I needed that. Thank you." Rodney leaned back on his hands, looking out over the water. The moons poured their light down in a double beam that rippled toward the end of the pier. It almost looked as though Rodney could step out on it and be carried away to another place and time. A yellow brick road to a place where John's life wasn't in jeopardy.
"Hunger makes the best sauce," Ronon said, oblivious that he was quoting an Earth maxim. To Rodney's surprise, he continued. "I read something that said that being hungry makes you smarter, makes you better at solving problems. Maybe that's something you should think about." He gave a casual glance at Rodney's stomach.
Admittedly, Rodney was on one of his up cycles when it came to his weight just now. He'd been doing so well, too. But life gotten crazy again and he'd gone back to slugging sodas and eating chips and calling it lunch. Before he knew it, the pounds had begun to creep back on. "Being hungry this morning didn't help matters, if that's what you're insinuating. In fact, I think it's part of what went wrong."
"What happened?" Ronon made himself another sandwich, this time draping slices of ripe tomato between the chunks of meat and bread, and coating everything liberally with mayonnaise.
Self-loathing boiled over Rodney in a wave of heat, causing him to flush. Food lost all its appeal, and his recently eaten sandwich threatened to make an untimely reappearance. Rodney pressed a hand to his belly in an attempt to still the rebellion there.
"I was being stupid." The words came out of his mouth like ground glass, not caring what damage they did on the way. "I was trying to hurry because I'd skipped breakfast and I wanted to get a few tests run before we had that briefing this morning. I wanted to have time to go by the mess and pick up some coffee and pastries." Determined to leave nothing out, Rodney went for full disclosure. "I was tired, and I was pissed with Jeffries for the stupid mistake he'd made in the tests last week that made us have to run them all again. I was running my mouth to Radek, and not paying attention when I flipped the switch."
And flooded the test chamber with radiation, instead of the benign UV light waves he was supposed to have used. The test chamber containing the Ancient artifact they'd discovered on PK6-428—and John.
He'd realized what he'd done a split second after he'd done so. "Oh fuck," he'd gasped, when the artifact in John's hands had lit up with a greenish blue light. He'd repeated the word to himself shakily as he slammed his hand down on the lab evacuation button, and then rapidly flipped the switches necessary to begin the decontamination process.
"Rodney, did you just...?" Radek had stood open-mouthed, gaping uselessly at him.
"Yes, yes, yes, goddamn it, I just filled the chamber with a lethal dose of radiation. Stop staring at me like a guppy and help me with the emergency procedures!"
Foam sprayed into the testing chamber from all sides, as John had sputtered and protested within. "Hey!" He'd begun a drawl, only to have to wipe away a mouthful of foam. "What the hell's going on out there? Radek? McKay!"
Rodney had ignored him, continuing his litany of 'fucks' in a shaky tone, as he'd worked through the emergency protocols and contacted the infirmary to head their way immediately with a decontamination team.
The solution to pollution is dilution. Carson's stupid rhyme had kept repeating in his head as he instituted the secondary and tertiary control steps, all the while keeping an eye on the gauge indicating the levels of radiation within the chamber.
John was a dead man. He just didn't know it yet.
"You!" Rodney had barked at John. "Strip! Now! Everything off.!"
"What?" John had gone still. Rodney had been able to see that he was finally aware that something bad was going on.
"Emergency decontamination for radiation exposure. Begin decontamination protocol alpha-beta-omega now."
John's 'fuck me' had been lost in his pulling his T-shirt over his head. He'd tossed the shirt down on floor and had knelt to untie his boots, shucking them quickly so he could stand and undo his belt buckle. "How could this happen, McKay?" Not accusing, not yet, but there had been steel in his voice.
"I don't know!" Rodney had heard the wail in his words and brought his voice and emotions back under control. "The safeties were off. Someone must have anticipated that I was going to test radiation on the artifact next and undid the lock in preparation."
"This is not your fault," John had stripped out of his BDUs, leaning a hand on the side of the testing chamber as he'd pulled off his socks one at a time, as though he hadn't been completely naked for everyone in the lab to see. His tags had swung to one side as he leaned, and Rodney had thought it odd that they so seldom had any reminders that John was indeed, military. He could almost forget for long stretches at a time.
John had stood naked in the chamber, lifting the tags off last to drop them in the pile of clothing. "How bad is it?" he'd asked. His voice had been too calm.
Rodney had sprayed him with foam again, nearly drowning him. Still, the levels in the chamber had read too high. "Bad," Rodney had said, holding John's gaze as he spoke. "As bad as it gets."
Yes, it is my fault. I was the one not paying attention. I was the one who pressed the button.
Ronon was still eating calmly. Annoyed at his ability to eat in the face of nearly everything, Rodney found himself snapping, "I can't believe you're sitting there stuffing your face when for all we know, John dying because of me."
Ronon finished chewing and swallowed carefully. His tongue slid out to catch a slip of mayo at the corner of his mouth. "I spoke to Zelenka. Woolsey too. They're going to see that you get out of the lab at a more reasonable hour on a regular basis now."
"You did what?" Startled, Rodney sat up straight and twisted to face Ronon. "I can't believe that you... I'm head of the science department, for Chrissake, did you ever stop to... What did they say?" Curiosity trumped outrage.
Ronon shrugged. "That I was right. That we weren't doing a very good job of looking out for you. Woolsey called you 'one of our best resources'."
That sounded like Woolsey, all right. Except for the part where he would no doubt debrief Rodney endlessly on what happened, and then fire Rodney's ass for being an idiot. It was going to be fun, too, back at the SCG, when he had to explain how he had killed the one man everyone was beginning to think was indestructible.
Ronon went on. "You're going to start training with me. Not just showing up for lessons every now and then, but real training sessions on a daily basis."
Rodney groaned. This had to be the concession by which Ronon had gotten Woolsey to agree to his cockamamie notion that Rodney could leave the labs at decent time every day. "One." Rodney held up an index finger. "I won't be here, so you can forget all that. Two..." He broke off in order to sigh. "Ronon, there's no way I can keep up with you, you know that, right? Not like Teyla, or John."
"Sheppard can't keep up with me either," Ronon said simply. "I let him think he's close, otherwise it would frustrate him too much." He narrowed his eyes. "You tell him that, and I'll kill you."
Rodney rapidly crossed his heart. He mimed locking his lips and throwing away the key.
Ronon relaxed infinitesimally. "Don't worry, McKay. I won't be too hard on you. At first." He smiled his wolfish grin, and not for the first time, Rodney wondered at the astonishing dental care they must have had on Sateda before the fall.
"If John dies, I'm not staying." Rodney tucked his chin and picked at some mud on the decking underneath his fingers.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ronon shift slightly. "You're not the only one who's made mistakes, you know. I've made some big ones."
Slowly, Rodney lifted his head. Ronon wasn't one for personal confessions, and certainly not to Rodney.
"When I first came here, I didn't know where I fit in, or if I even wanted to fit in. All I could think about was going home, even though home didn't exist anymore. You didn't know, 'cause you were busy blowing up a solar system at the time, but Teyla and I had... Well, a disagreement. A trust issue."
Rodney swallowed the sarcastic comment he'd been about to make regarding solar systems and just how much of one he'd actually destroyed as the word 'trust' came out of Ronon's mouth. Such a loaded word. One that had the power to make Rodney wince.
"See, I found out that my Task Master, Kell, had survived the attack on Sateda. That he'd made a deal with the Wraith and used it to get him, and some people who paid him a lot of money, off Sateda before the fall. I used Teyla's contacts with the Belkans to set up a meet with him. I wasn't looking for fellow survivors. I wanted to kill him. And that's exactly what I did when I saw him."
Rodney sucked in his breath. It was starting to get chilly out on the pier, and yet he was loathe to move, knowing somehow that if this mood was broken, he'd never hear what Ronon was intent on telling him now. Slowly he released his breath, noting the hint of vapor in the air when he did so. "I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same."
Ronon shot him a glance of open disbelief. Rodney stiffened at the implication that he couldn't be as bad-ass as the next guy. "No, seriously, Ronon, if I found out that someone was responsible for selling out Earth to the Wraith in return for getting away clean from an invasion, I don't think I'd hesitate to kill them the next time I saw them." Especially if that person had been responsible for John's death. That thought circled Rodney back around to the problem of the day, and he felt sick once more.
"I don't regret killing Kell." Ronon's smile sent little shivers up Rodney's spine. "The only thing I regret is using Teyla's contact to find him. I betrayed her trust in me, and she was pissed." Ronon laughed and rubbed his throat absently. "We had to work that out between us."
"Huh. I don't remember any of that."
Ronon's teeth flashed whitely in the moonlight once more. "You had other things on your mind at the time."
"Right. Let's bring up all my stupid mistakes and near-catastrophic errors, while you're at it. You know, if you're trying to give me a pep talk, you really stink at this, Ronon." He still thought of Collins and how he'd died in a flash of ultra-radiation from the Arcturus Project. Sometimes, when his body was begging for sleep but his mind was still too wired, Rodney would see their faces. Collins, Gaul, Grodin, Dumais... They'd come to him in those cold hours between midnight and dawn, reminding him how he'd played God with their lives, and failed. It was odd to think that he could forget about them for months at a time, only to be visited by them all in the same evening, like the Ghosts of Christmas Past.
And now John was going to be added to the group.
Ronon made a growling noise. "You want mistakes? How about the time I wanted to rest so badly that I just took it. I didn't tell anyone about the tracking device. I let them feed me and take care of me, because I wanted that comfort. I wanted to sleep in front of a fire, underneath a blanket, with a belly full of food. I told myself the Wraith wouldn't come, but I lied. To myself and to those people. The Wraith did come, and they killed the very people who had been so good to me." Ronon's voice was harsh by the time he finished his story.
Rodney opened and closed his mouth twice before the words came. "You were tired, Ronon. You'd been a Runner for what—how many years then? Always on the move, never a chance to rest. Hell, you made a judgment call and you were wrong. That happens to all of us. I couldn't have done it—been a Runner, I mean. I doubt I would have lasted a week. Maybe not even a day. Not unless it's possible to talk your way out of certain death."
Ronon's acknowledgement of Rodney's attempt at humor was a brief smile. "You don't know what else I've done to stay alive. I've done things. Things I'm not proud of."
The breeze off the ocean blew a chill through Rodney's clothing. "Maybe so. You're making up for it now, though."
"You will too, McKay. No matter what happens with Sheppard." Ronon got to his feet with catlike ease. Rodney hated him for it just a little. Ronon looked down at him and offered a hand, which Rodney took. Ronon hauled him to his feet effortlessly. Before Rodney could open his mouth to say there was absolutely nothing he could do that would ever make up for accidentally killing Sheppard, Ronon spoke again. "So, you gonna tell him how you feel about him?"
"What? Not you too! For pity's sake, Ronon, you of all people should know why I can't do that." Rodney snatched his hand back from Ronon's grip irritably.
"I know there are things I wish I'd said when I could." Ronon stared at him, the moonlight gleaming off the muscles in his arms. He could have passed for a bronze statute, he was so still. Portrait of a Young Runner. It occurred to Rodney that Ronon was far closer in age to Jennifer than either one was to him. It was a depressing thought.
Ronon turned for the building without another word, leaving Rodney to pick up the basket of food and take it with him.
Rodney made himself another sandwich as he sat in the booth overlooking the isolation chamber and chewed it slowly. This time, the food did not seem nearly as good, and he almost choked on it. He set his half-eaten sandwich aside and stood up. He crossed over to the glass and looked down at John.
He was sleeping on his side on the cot, a thin blanket pulled up over one shoulder. He looked cold. John was always cold, Rodney knew this. He wore his parka in weather that was mild enough that Teyla still barred her midriff and Ronon his arms. Though he was never the one to suggest it, or even the first one to agree to it, somehow, John always managed to be in the center of the puppy pile whenever the team slept together in group off-world.
Rodney would never admit it to anyone, but he enjoyed the communal bed-sharing more than he ever thought he would. He'd actually begun to look forward to those times when it was cold enough that sleeping in a big tangle of limbs underneath layers of animal skins made sense, was even necessary, in the name of staying warm. He shouldn't have enjoyed it. It should have been a time of complaining about how there wasn't enough room to turn around, and that parts of him were too hot, or were numb with lack of circulation, while other parts of him were too cold. In the end, however, waking to the sweet smell of Teyla's hair in his nostrils, and Ronon's wake-the-dead-buzz-saw snore, and John's arm around his middle as though it belonged there...those were some of the best moments in Rodney's life. Moments where he felt cherished and protected. Where he woke with a smile on his face, even though the tip of his nose was freezing and it was just light enough for birds to start their maniacal pre-dawn signing. In the dawn half-light he could see up close the fine lines surrounding John's eyes, and the suggestion of grey in his morning stubble.
And then, John would shift, and elbow Ronon, who'd grunt and wake with a snort, hand on his knife, until John muttered something soothing, and they all drifted into sleep again.
It was enough to make Rodney wish for cold mission trips and an inability to conduct their business in time to get home. Which was stupid because his back was never the same after one of those overnight missions. Therefore, he complained all the more about these 'sleepovers' so that no one would suspect how he really felt about them.
He thought it was possible that John knew. John, who would look at him with that sly, secret smile that said Rodney wasn't fooling him, only to wipe the expression right off his face if Rodney tried to catch that look in his eye. Sometimes John was a solar eclipse, that could only be seen through shadows cast through a pinhole onto paper—because looking at him directly would burn your retinas.
It was his only chance to sleep with John, though. Somehow waking next to him was more important than actually getting to sleep with him, in the non-traditional sense of the word. Though that made very little sense to Rodney because there were other times when all Rodney could think of was what it would be like to have John turn that smiling charm on him full force, to see if his lips were as soft and kissable as they looked, to take hold of that little peach of an ass and...
Rodney shook himself like a dog. Right. Not helping. Besides, what moron looked at the object of his lust with as much goofy affection as he did actual drooling admiration?
And then it hit him. He really loved John Sheppard. And not in a 'the way a friend loves a friend' kind of way.
Rodney buried his face in his hands.
He almost didn't hear the soft sound of footsteps entering the observation booth. When he looked up, Jennifer was standing there. Her face held an unguarded moment of quizzical puzzlement before it slid into sympathetic pity.
"Dear god, Jennifer, please tell me I haven't killed him." Rodney babbled at her, conscious that was what he was doing and yet unable to stop himself. "I'd trade places if I could. Take a lethal dose of radiation, get sucked dry by a Wraith, fly a jumper into a hive ship. Tell me what I can do to make this right."
Jennifer gave him one of her funny looks, the kind he used to get all the time when they were dating, and he still had no idea what they meant.
"You didn't kill him." Her words were calm.
"Seriously, I'd scale the outside of the city by hand, I'd let Koyla torture...what did you say?"
"You didn't kill him. I'm sorry it took so long, but we had to be absolutely certain before we released him. He's sleeping now, so I saw no point in waking him just—"
Rodney flattened himself against the glass and began pounding on it. "Sheppard! Wake up! You're not going to die!" he shouted.
"Rodney!" Jennifer had on her disapproval face—one that Rodney had seen all too often when they were dating. "He can't hear you. That's what the com system is for."
"Oh, right!" Rodney fairly flew to the intercom, pressing the button and placing his mouth so close to the speaker that there was a feedback squeal when he bellowed into it. "Wake up, John! You're not dying!"
The squeal caused John to roll out of bed onto his feet, looking around in confusion for weapons and the source of the alarm. It took a moment for Rodney's words to catch up with him, and then he glared up at the observation booth and flipped Rodney the bird.
"You're not going to die!" Rodney repeated excitedly.
John blinked up at him blearily. From this perspective, the yellowish light was unkind, throwing shadows under his eyes and making him look old. He stood for a long moment squinting up at Rodney before climbing back into the cot and pulling the covers over his shoulder again. The way he hitched at the blanket and hunched into it spoke volumes about his annoyance and the chill in the room.
The relief Rodney felt turned his legs to water, and he staggered back from the window. Jennifer put a steadying hand on his arm. "Oh, thank god. I thought I'd, that he'd, that we'd—"
Jennifer helped him back to his chair, gently pushing his head forward between his knees. "Deep breaths, Rodney."
Unexpectedly, she took the other chair, pulling it closer as she sat down, so that she could rub his back. He wanted to shake her off; her touch was almost intolerable to him at the moment. Not because it was her, but because any touch felt wrong right now, especially one so kind and comforting. She rubbed him between his shoulders like he was a small child, and it was both soothing and irritating.
"I wouldn't have been able to stay," he mumbled at his shoes. "If he'd died, you know. Okay, I would have stayed through to the bitter end, through the radiation sickness, and the... the... all the bad stuff. But I would have resigned. I wouldn't have been able to stay."
"I didn't think there was anything that could make you leave the city." There was some undefined note in Jennifer's voice. Not quite sarcasm, not quite bitterness. Maybe surprise. "Well, you don't have to worry about that any more. I can't explain it; that was a serious dose of radiation he was exposed to, but you must have instituted the protocols in time. I think, though, you should consider this a wakeup call."
Rodney lifted his head, causing Jennifer to withdraw her hand. "What do you mean?"
Jennifer pursed her lips briefly. "Well, look at you. You're a mess."
"Gee, thanks. In case you hadn't noticed, I almost killed my best friend today. Sorry I couldn't get dressed for the occasion."
A little smile twitched at Jennifer's lips. It was almost as though she approved of his snarkiness. "I'm not talking about today, although you do look as though someone tossed your cat in a dryer."
Rodney felt both eyebrows reach for his admittedly receding hairline, but Jennifer didn't seem to notice. "I'm not talking about your bloodshot eyes or the fact that you could really use a shower."
Rodney chewed on his lower lip, resisting the urge to sniff at his armpit. Damn it, Jennifer could always reduce him to the level of an insecure teenager.
"I mean it, Rodney. I've been after you about your diet and health for months now. Your cholesterol is up, and I know why you don't want to take statins, but that means that you need to alter your diet and take in more exercise if you want to avoid medication. You think you can function on less than six hours of sleep every night, but I'm telling you, sleep is how your body repairs itself. You might have been able to pull off running on sheer nerves when you were in your twenties, hell, maybe even in your thirties, too. But you can't do that anymore." At least she didn't come right out and call him old.
"Willpower alone won't cut it." She paused, smiling suddenly. "Though if nerves counted as a superpower, you'd have your own comic strip by now." Oddly, her words echoed his thoughts from earlier in the evening when he'd been following Ronon.
"The heck with a comic strip. I'd have my own movie."
"Oh, Rodney." She sighed. "This isn't the first error in judgment you've made recently, you know." She leaned back in her seat, as though she'd made the killing strike in her argument, and there was nothing more to be said.
"No?" What else had he done? He couldn't think of anything off the top of his head.
"No." Her smile was grim in the dim light. "You've been getting little warning signs for some time now that you needed to slow down, to do things differently. I think this time, the universe decided to add an 'or else' to the wakeup call."
He blinked at her.
"I know you're right," he began slowly, "but—"
She cut him off. "No buts, Rodney. You're in your mid-forties. We're not talking about putting a patch on a system and continuing to run it. We're talking about a systems overhaul from the ground up before it's too late. And not just on occasion, when you are trying to impress someone and you want to look good for them." She gave a little half-eyeroll, but he saw it just the same. "But for you, from now on, because it's important. Because you can't do what you do on a Coke and some Cheez Doodles." She gave an abrupt little laugh. "My mother used to say, 'Secretariat didn't win the Kentucky Derby on a Big Mac and fries'. I never knew what she meant by that until now."
Probably because Secretariat won the Derby nearly a decade before you were born. The age difference between him and Jennifer had never really struck him quite like it did now. Jennifer had been just a baby when he was graduating high school. What had he been thinking when he'd started dating her?
That you couldn't have John, you dumb ass.
He really felt like dope-slapping himself. Again. For the umpteenth time that day.
"Jennifer, I don't even know where to start." He felt helpless. He'd tried, damn it, to do everything that his friends were recommending. It hadn't worked.
"You can start by not trying to do everything yourself." Jennifer's voice was dry. "Trust your staff. Delegate more. Tell people 'no' when they demand too much of you. Accept help from your friends."
"That's easy for you to say." There were lots of medical personnel on Atlantis. There was only one Rodney McKay.
Jennifer leaned forward and clasped her hands together as she rested them on her knees. "I didn't think I was the right person for this job when Carson died."
Rodney winced. Carson was another person whose death he felt guilty about. If he hadn't canceled his plans with Carson that day, the two of them would have gone on that stupid fishing trip and Carson would not have been the one to remove the explosive tumor from Watson, and died trying to transport it out of the infirmary.
Maybe others would have died instead. The voice that whispered to him was nasty. Teyla, probably. Maybe even John. Would you be willing to make the trade? He told his brain in no uncertain terms to shut the fuck up.
Belatedly, he realized Jennifer was making a confession. "I went to Elizabeth and suggested that she get someone else, someone with more experience, someone... older."
It occurred to Rodney for the first time that Jennifer's youth could actually be a handicap.
"When..." Jennifer paused and took a deep breath. "When we lost Elizabeth, I went to Sam and said the same thing. That I wasn't cut out for this job. That she needed to get someone else in here who could do it better than me. Sam made me realize that I wasn't here all by myself, Rodney. Neither are you."
She stood up to leave, giving him a small squeeze on his shoulder on the way out.
He ran into John in the hallway. He was surprised when he came around the corner and almost ploughed into John. He had to catch John by the arms to keep from slamming into him, and even so, the contact produced a small whoosh of breath released. Rodney pushed John off of him so that he could stare critically. "What are you doing here?"
"You know, I ask myself that every day," John drawled. "Would you believe me if I said I lost a coin toss?"
"No, seriously, not in Atlantis, you dope, but here, here in the hallway. I thought you were in the isolation chamber sound asleep."
"I was asleep," John said. "Until someone blew out the speakers yelling at me. After that, not so much." He made a face and rubbed a hand over one bare forearm.
"Why are you wearing scrubs?" Rodney frowned. Not that the red scrubs didn't look smashing on John, but still...
"They took everything, including my watch and wristbands. Keller says I can have them back in thirty thousand years or so." Without any discussion, the two fell into step as they walked down the corridor. "You owe me a watch, McKay."
"Name your price." Rodney agreed without quibbling. It was the least he could do. "Here. Take mine." He began to fumble with the clasp.
"I don't want your watch, Rodney." John sounded tired. Rodney realized that he was still barefoot as well. He could only imagine that John had refused those little slipper socks they gave out in the infirmary, with the little tacky places on the bottoms of them, which always reminded Rodney of those non-slip appliqués that one put on the bottom of the bathtub, and of course John would refuse those because they weren't cool, even if they were smart. Rodney was fascinated by John's bare feet and the dark spattering of hair on his toes. Normally he found feet rather repulsive, but damn if John's feet didn't have some sort of weird appeal
"No, I insist," Rodney said with determination, still trying to undo the watchband and walk at the same time. And not stare at John's feet.
John cast him a little sideways glance. "No, thanks. Your watch is ugly."
"Ugly!" Rodney was incensed. "I'll have you know this is a Suunto—a very expensive watch, I might add, with all kinds of functions."
"Ugly." John was firm. "I want a Berge, just like the one I had."
Rodney sniffed. "Just like you to be distracted by the shiny silver. You're like a raven."
John flashed him a grin, there and gone so fast Rodney thought he must have imagined it. Another worry entered his mind. "You weren't wearing the Athosian bracelet Teyla had given you?"
John shook his head. "I'd taken it off this morning before my shower and forgot to put it back on. Otherwise, there'd be hell to pay, McKay."
Rodney stopped him there in the corridor. They were on the evening cycle; the lights were only at half-strength. They were near one of the bubble columns, however, and the slowly moving globes within the tubes of light threw strange patterns of shadows on the wall. "I am so sorry, John. You can't know what this day has been like. I've been on the verge of puking all day. Sick, sick to my stomach. Ready to resign, sick. Ready to—"
John didn't let him finish. "Water under the bridge. It didn't happen. No harm, no foul. Though..." John trailed off with a dramatic sigh and started walking again.
"Though... what?" Rodney hurried to match strides, reaching out to catch John by the arm. He was taken aback by the warm feel of John's skin under his fingers, and snatched his hand back almost immediately.
"Nothing." John sounded suspiciously like Eyeore.
"What?" Rodney demanded.
"Oh, it's not much," John sighed again. "It's just that Keller says I'm going to lose all my hair."
"What?" Rodney practically shrieked. John's grin gave him away though. He smacked John on the arm. "I thought we didn't joke about The Hair. The Hair is sacrosanct."
John was still smiling wickedly, damn him. "Serves you right. What were you thinking, McKay?" His smile faded and he raised one eyebrow.
"I wasn't thinking," Rodney conceded, his shoulders slumping. "I was bitching to Radek about having to repeat all these tests and I was thinking about breakfast, and I was pissed because I hadn't had time for coffee before we got started this morning." Oh god, was it only this morning? It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"I thought there were protocols that made it impossible for people to push the wrong buttons and things."
"There are, there are, at least for the big things, like ZPM core meltdowns, and use of radiation." Rodney shook his head. "I don't know what happened. Someone anticipated the testing for the day and turned off the safeties. Or maybe I did it and I can't even remember. All I know is that if I'd been paying attention instead of running my trap, then I never would have pressed the wrong button. I don't understand how you can be okay. I hit you with enough radiation to fry a small planet."
They had reached John's door. He waved his hand over the controls, and the door opened. "Don't sound so disappointed."
Rodney grabbed him by the arm again when he would have entered his quarters. "Disappointed? I'm so relieved I could kiss you."
John stood blinking at him for a moment, before a stiff half-smile slid over his features. "Anyone ever tell you you've got the gift of gab, McKay?" He looked down at Rodney's grip on his arm. Rodney let go as if John was on fire and the flames were about to consume his hand. John gave him a funny look.
This was it. John was going to go into his quarters and close the door. This was Rodney's big chance and it was going to slip away if he didn't do something—but what?
Rodney cleared his throat as John was turning away. "I mean it. I'm so relieved, I could kiss you."
John looked back over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
"As a matter of fact, I could care less if all your hair did fall out. Well, except for the fact that all your ardent fans would lynch me if anything happened to one quirky hair on your head. But you are more than just hair and a pretty face. And I would kiss you even if you were bald, and toothless, and wearing a Mr. Rogers sweater while sitting on the porch of the Old Space Pilots Home."
John's WTF face suddenly slammed down. He grabbed Rodney by the arm and hauled him into the room. Rodney had to admit to a little thrill at being manhandled so. "Did you get radiated yourself, McKay? Because you're not making any sense."
"Yes, I am. For the first time in my life, maybe. I'm telling you I love you, you idiot."
John's face went blank.
Oh shit. Oh well, he couldn't take it back now. "I know, and it's okay. You don't have to love me back or anything. Well, I mean, I would at least like us to still be friends. It's just that you almost died today, and because of me, no less, and it occurred to me that this could have been it, and it would have really sucked if I hadn't said anything."
John was still looking at him with a completely blank expression—The Great Wall of Sheppard, Rodney thought, as the urge to giggle insanely came over him.
He was standing there in those red scrubs, with a little bit of chest hair curling out of the V necked shirt, the overhead light catching just a glint of silver. He must have already picked up replacement tags, and Rodney had a brief moment to marvel at the efficiency of the military before his glance traveled further down and he realized that John must be going commando under those scrub pants, because wow. That was rather... impressive.
And how could he have thought John looked old in the infirmary lighting? Because here in the soft light of John's room, he looked a lot of things—disreputable, dangerous, delectable—but 'old' was not one of them.
"So," Rodney continued bravely, "I thought it best to let you know how I felt. You know, in case something happened to one of us. I wouldn't want to look back on this moment years from now and regret saying nothing."
"You mean, in case you try to kill me again." The look on John's face was that of his Evil Doppleganger when that crystalline entity had been stalking everyone in the city trying to kill them. It was the same look John wore when he spoke of Koyla's invasion of the city, and the one he'd worn when he'd gunned down that Wraith they'd kept in holding for so long, the one he'd called Bill, or Steve, or something.
It was unnerving to see that look directed at him.
It was a bit hot just the same.
"I didn't mean to irradiate you!" Rodney protested. "It was an accident!"
"While holding an Ancient artifact, no less," John said, his glower turning speculative. "Which, given that we're in Pegasus, means I'm probably going to start developing superpowers in a few hours. You better not have turned me back into a bug, McKay."
Rodney hung his head. "You are never going to let me live this down, are you?"
"Okay, just so you know, that expression does not make you look like sex personified, it makes you look like a dork. Smug doesn't suit you. Stop changing the subject! Yes, I almost accidentally not-on-purpose killed you today. And I'm sorry. And I love you. Can I go now?" He looked at John helplessly.
John's expression changed again. Whoever said that John only had a limited number of facial gestures clearly didn't know the man. "You're serious."
"As a heart attack. As only someone who has agonized over every minute of this day until I got the word you were going to be okay. Which, by the way, I still don't understand how that is possible, because I—"
He never got to finish his sentence. John stalked forward and crushed into him, pressing him backward against the wall as he took Rodney's face in his hands and kissed him.
Rodney was completely taken by surprise. He was mid-sentence, so there was no closing his lips against the onslaught that was John's idea of a kiss. Rodney would have liked to point out to him that kisses were usually enjoyed by both parties, that the kisser didn't assault the kissee with lips and tongue, only someone was making these embarrassing whimpering noises and they were very distracting to his argument.
Rodney found himself with a fistful of scrub top, and John's hard dick pressing up against his thigh, and the next thing he knew, he was kissing John back. Desperately so. He couldn't remember ever wanting to kiss someone so much before, and it left them both breathless when they parted.
John rested his forehead against Rodney's, his thumb drawing small circles against Rodney's jaw. "You really want this? You're not shitting me?" His voice was soft, his breath warm against Rodney's skin.
"No shitting," Rodney solemnly affirmed.
"Then, just for the record, it won't be me wearing the Mr. Rogers sweater on the porch of the old folks home."
Rodney started to protest until he got it. It wasn't that John wasn't planning on getting old. It was that he wasn't planning on being uncool.
Rodney's answer to that nonsense was to kiss John again, panting into his mouth, pushing him backward into the room and toward the bed. They continued to kiss even as they pulled at each other's clothing, separating only to pull off shirts and pants.
Rodney allowed John to tip him backward into the bed. John stood there, as naked as he'd been that morning in the testing chamber. This time, his cock was standing proudly and he wasn't covered in foam. All of which were pluses in Rodney's book.
"Um, hold that thought." John held up an index finger briefly as he turned and headed for the bathroom.
"Seriously? Now?" Rodney couldn't believe it.
"Hey, I was in the isolation chamber all day, give me a break." John's voice sounded muffled from within the bathroom.
Rodney listened to the sound of running water, his eyes drifting closed. There was something about that radiation that wasn't right, something that Jennifer had said. In a flash, it came to him. She'd said that he must have contained the radiation in time, but he knew he hadn't. Which meant that the artifact itself must have protected John. He had to write that down while he was thinking about it. He struggled to swim upward toward consciousness, but exhaustion wrapped him in layers and held him down.
His next coherent thought was damn, that feels good.
Because it did. The sensations curling around his dick had all the sublime satisfaction of waking to find him touching himself, only he wasn't doing any of the touching at all. Warm, velvety heat capped the end of his cock, sucking gently. Long fingers lazily fondled his balls, and the movements were so languorous, so utterly perfect, that Rodney thought he could lie there for a thousand lifetimes and it would never get old.
Sunlight was streaming through the window. He was in John's room. In John's bed.
He shifted his pelvis, wanting not so much to thrust as to just rock slowly into that perfect mouth, to match the rhythm with a roll and clench of his ass cheeks because it felt so damn good that he couldn't be still. Reaching under the light blanket, he found the familiar, messy head of hair, surprisingly silky between his fingers. He was still wearing his boxers, but John had his cock out and was lying comfortably across one thigh, sucking him off with languid slowness.
Rodney pushed the covers back so he could see. John opened his eyes. His bristly cheek was resting against Rodney's leg, close to his balls. He had Rodney's cock in one hand, directing it into his mouth as he sucked and pulled, bobbing gently. As Rodney watched, John let Rodney's cock slip out of his mouth, his full lips dragging across the tip as it went past. John made sure Rodney was watching he licked the length of Rodney's cock and swallowed him down again.
Rodney pressed his head back into the pillows and pushed up ever so slightly into John's mouth. He let his hand rest on John's head, fingers threading John's hair and following his movement. Laughter began to build within him, almost like an orgasm, causing him to shake with the effort of suppressing it.
"What?" John asked, pausing mid blow-job to frown.
"Nothing." Rodney tipped his head forward to smile at John, before falling back to his pillow to grin at the ceiling. "Carry on, by all means, don't stop." He lifted a forefinger for emphasis. "It's just that this is what I consider a wakeup call."