Spoilers: Everything up to and including 4x03 "Reunion"
Summary: The last time John saw Rodney, Rodney was dead.
Author's Note: Despite the summary, this isn't a death!fic. Thanks to raiining for her help with the medical stuff. Everything that's wrong I messed up myself. Also thanks to my beta-readers – you know who you are. Happy holidays, hyperfocused (and everyone else)!
The last time John saw Rodney, Rodney was dead. That was three days ago, and it's driving him insane.
There are two isolation rooms in Atlantis, with large windows so you can look down and see what's going on. Rodney isn't in one of them. They're occupied by Doctors Sprezny and Kleinebaum, respectively, who both got hurt badly when half of sublevel three came down on them. Rodney has his own room, one without observation windows, because he didn't have half of sublevel three fall on his head. He just got knocked out and drowned.
John knows he's being unreasonable. He's been unreasonable ever since the explosion – which was three days ago, incidentally. And maybe he feels a little guilty for telling Rodney to play his own damn light switch and leave him the hell alone.
Just... that day was bad right from the beginning, filled with requisition forms and two of his best men getting into a fistfight and the headache from hell. He wasn't in the mood for Rodney, who is high maintenance even in the best of cases. Now John just wishes he had told himself to suck it up and just help the guy already.
But Rodney had played his own fucking light switch and the easternmost part of sublevel three had gone up in a truly spectacular explosion. Most likely not because of Rodney, as far as Zelenka has been able to tell so far, but John can't shake the thought that maybe, if he'd been there, he could have done something. Maybe even just gotten the door open sooner, or kept Rodney's head above the water. It would have been enough.
The way it went down, though, he'd been in his quarters enjoying a rare day off and aimlessly strumming his guitar when the blast shook the city. He and Carter and Zelenka had organised the search and rescue efforts immediately, but for most of the thankfully few people working in that area it was already too late. They had died instantly. Sprezny and Kleinebaum were dug out from the rubble and brought straight to the ORs, where they had spent the next few hours hovering between life and death. They still aren't out of the woods. As for Rodney, Keller tells him that the shrapnel from the explosion did serious damage, that he must have lost consciousness immediately. She's the doctor; he doesn't know anything about this stuff.
All he knows is that he and Zelenka had spent increasingly frantic minutes trying to open the door to the lab Rodney had been working in while the systems kept telling them that the section was flooding. Like Rodney didn't have enough bad experiences with water already. John's blow torch had finally achieved what Zelenka's hacking hadn't, and a huge surge of water gushed out of the newly-cut opening. When John climbed through, heart in his throat, he'd nearly stopped breathing when he spotted Rodney, soaked and unmoving and face-down in a puddle that was growing progressively red.
Keller and her staff did all they could. He knows they did all they could. But that doesn't erase the memory of that one heart-stopping moment when he was sure that Rodney was already dead. Doesn't erase the knowledge that, technically, Rodney was dead, in cardiac arrest and respiratory arrest and all that other shit until the medical team got his body going again.
It's been three days since John last saw Rodney, and he's just about had it.
He can't take it anymore.
Keller says that Rodney's still fighting. That she can't say when he'll wake up, but that he's hanging in there. That, as long as he is still fighting, she won't risk anyone contaminating that room, and that means you as well, Colonel. It all sounds completely reasonable, it makes sense, and it's complete bullshit because Carson would have let him in there. Carson would have known that this, this half-knowing is driving John to a point very close to snapping. Because sure, if Rodney were dying Keller would probably let them say goodbye, but John won't believe that Rodney is well until he's seen him. Until he's touched him, even if it's just an encouraging pat on the... shoulder, hand, calf, whatever.
But Keller says no.
On the first day, John had been more or less doing fine. Scared shitless that Rodney was dying while he coordinated excavations, clean-ups, re-evaluations of Atlantis' structural integrity, the search for missing personnel – but at least he was doing something.
The second day had been worse. John could proudly say that Atlantis harboured some of the most effective people he'd ever worked with, and while there was still stuff to deal with, the immediacy had disappeared. He'd spent hours trying to get some work done and ignore the fact that his go-to guy of the science department had entirely the wrong accent and kept eyeing John like he was waiting for him to go postal. He'd got next to nothing done and kept drifting back to the infirmary, where Keller intercepted him with less and less patience. All in all a fucked-up day that had left him strangely unhinged and wondering how one guy's absence could affect him that much. He'd spent half a year cut off from Atlantis altogether and he'd been fine, thank you very much.
Yet this morning, John had started a campaign of passive-aggressive... presence. It's the best he can come up with after two mostly sleepless nights. Whenever Keller walks into the main area of the infirmary, John is there, arms crossed and glowering as best he can. The doctor is tiny, so young, new at her job, and he figures she can be intimidated. Or maybe guilted into letting him see Rodney, if only for a minute. Just one minute, that would be enough, and he tells her so over and over and over again.
His tactic doesn't work. Keller remains unmoved. And John is starting to seriously contemplate taking the infirmary by force because he can't take much more of this. He'd be worried if it was another member of his team in there, but this is Rodney. The annoying guy who started needling him all the way back in Antarctica and hasn't really stopped since, who has somehow managed to become something John never thought he'd have again: family. More than that, he's necessary. Essential to John's continued sanity. Not having him right at John's shoulder – poking at his data tablet or snapping at some scientist or grinning at John's jokes – is like missing a limb, and the phantom pain is driving John to the brink of his endurance. He's used to being able to bother Rodney whenever he's bored, or when he needs a break. Rodney is his safety net, his last line of defence against everything that's wrong with the Pegasus galaxy. If Rodney can't figure it out, no one can, and God, he needs to get into that fucking room, right now!
He ends up falling asleep in his chair after staring broodingly at the door to Rodney's room for hours. Then Keller has him thrown out of the infirmary by his own marines – Lorne half-smirking, half-sympathetic – and John has to admit defeat.
The next morning, he has an early meeting with Carter and Zelenka. Teyla's there, too, but Ronon's camping out down in the infirmary. They can't be with Rodney, but they can be close. Just in case.
Not that John thinks Keller wouldn't call them. It's just... faster, having one of the team already there. Also, maybe Ronon can intimidate her into letting John into Rodney's room, though it's more likely that the two of them are going to make googly-eyes at each other.
The meeting starts with Zelenka gravely pushing his glasses up his nose and telling them that the explosion was caused by simple, banal, material fatigue.
"Ten thousand-year-old piping. Couldn't take the strain, broke down, caused a shortage, which in turn caused the explosion." Zelenka shrugs. "No one's fault. Just old material."
John taps his fingers on the table, relief and wariness warring in his chest. "Can that happen again?"
"It's possible. Not likely; the investigation so far suggests that there was a fault in the construction from the very beginning. But possible, yes."
"So what do you suggest?" Carter wants to know. "I mean, how can we make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again? It'd be kind of naive to assume that the Ancients only made this one mistake."
"Inspections?" Zelenka shrugs again, frustration clear on his face. "I do not know, perhaps Rodney will think of something when he wakes up."
And that, right there, is like a punch in the gut. Zelenka blithely goes on about limiting research and experiments to areas that they know for sure weren't flooded, never even noticing how John is reeling over his automatic assumption that Rodney will be up and about in no time, yelling like he always does. They don't know that. It's been four days and Rodney's still bad enough that not even his team is allowed to visit for fear they might carry in germs and accidentally kill him, for God's sake! How could they even... they can't make plans involving Rodney right now!
Oh God, they can't make plans involving Rodney, period, and John feels the blood drain out of his face as the realisation hits him, really hits him, because... because Rodney might die. He holds on to the table hard enough that his knuckles turn white and gulps down a breath, and another because, Jesus, there's not enough air in the room. Dimly, he hears Carter say his name, and he blinks at her.
"I said we're done here. Maybe you should get back to the infirmary." She's eyeing him with so much sympathy that it makes him nauseous, but he nods and manages to stand up, and walks off with his head held high, back to the infirmary, back to the closed door.
"Can I see him?" he asks when he gets there, like he has for four days, and Keller, like she has for four days, says, "Okay," and he presses his lips together and walks over to his chair and then he stops short because, "What?"
"Okay," Keller repeats, like she's talking to a simpleton or a very worried person, and John follows her in a daze right up to Rodney's door, which she opens while smiling encouragingly. And for the first time in nearly four days, John enters Rodney's room.
It's only stubbornness that keeps him from bolting.
Rodney looks dead. His skin isn't white, it's grey. His mouth is hanging open and there's a tube wedged in there, taped to the slack lips. His chest is rising and falling with a regularity which suggests that, without the tube and the scary-looking ventilator that's attached to it, it wouldn't be rising at all. There are wires disappearing under his hospital gown, an IV port taped to one limp arm, and his head is bandaged in white. There are cuts on his face, on his neck - a deep one far too close to his carotid artery, and John better forget about that again right away - and on his fingers, inflamed an alarming red, barely starting to heal. He looks... he looks really, really bad.
John's stomach lurches at the sight, and he has to steady himself with one hand on Rodney's bed because otherwise his knees might give out. Only the steady beep of the heart monitor reassures him… except it doesn't, not really, because he knows that a heart can be kept pumping even when the patient is dead. He's seen it on TV.
There's a chair next to Rodney's bed. It looks exactly like the one outside. John sits down heavily, still staring at Rodney's scarily slack face. The hiss of the vent makes him sick with its uncaring rhythm, and he has to close his eyes, has to ball his hands into fists so hard his fingernails dig into his palm, because otherwise he'll scream.
He thought that seeing Rodney would be calming. Instead, it's a horror.
John licks his lips and reaches for Rodney's hand. He's still feeling that weird need to touch, and Rodney's hand is closest to him so he picks it up and clings to it like it's a lifeline, and he has no idea which one of them the lifeline is for.
Rodney's fingers are warm. John closes his eyes and swallows, squeezing Rodney's hand tightly. Rodney's fingers are warm.
He takes what feels like the first deep breath in four days. "I..." His voice is scratchy and he has to start again, looking up at Keller as he asks, "Can he hear me?"
She smiles at him. "I'm not sure he can understand, but yes, he can hear you." She looks briefly at the monitors, then back at John. "I'll leave you two alone."
"Wait. What about..." John licks his lips again, looking from Keller to Rodney and back to Keller. "You know. The germ thing."
"I know that this looks bad, Colonel, but he's actually a lot better. He just needs time to heal."
"When will he wake up?"
Keller's smile turns regretful. "I can't say that. He'll wake when he's ready."
She puts a hand on his shoulder, just for a moment, then the door closes behind her and John is alone with Rodney and the hsssssk---hsssssk---hsssssk of the ventilator. His fingers tighten around Rodney's.
"You're gonna get better," he says inanely, and if Rodney really can hear him he's probably rolling his eyes right now. "I... Zelenka says it was the piping, you know. We lost Chavez, Peters, Ellis, Verneux, and, uh, several marines whose names you won't remember. Carter's requested more engineers from the SGC to make sure the area is still structurally sound, though I guess she should ask for some plumbers as well..."
John talks until his voice is hoarse and Keller throws him out again. There are several people – Teyla, Ronon, Carter, Zelenka, Katie Brown, Dr. Kusanagi – waiting for him in the main area of the infirmary when he steps out of Rodney's room, looking at him with anticipation. He scratches his head and tells them what he knows: that Rodney's hanging in there. They beam at him more brightly than he can understand – that's exactly what Keller's been telling them for the last few days – and Ronon even gives him a bone-crushing buddy-hug. John doesn't know what to make of it, but then Dr. Keller tells him that he can come back tomorrow, and he smiles a little, too.
That night, when he lies in bed, he feels strangely balanced, which in turn unsettles him. He has no idea where that sense of peace is coming from. All he knows is that Rodney's fingers were warm when he took them, and that knowledge carries him to sleep.
Rodney turns out to be a stubborn bastard or a slow healer or possibly both. It's been a week and he hasn't woken up, and John's running out of things to say. He's not the only one allowed into Rodney's room anymore but he still doesn't have to wait his turn; the others usually leave shortly after he arrives. He doesn't entirely know what to make of that, but he won't complain. Still, even with the shorter shifts of keeping Rodney company, he's slowly reaching a point where he doesn't know what to talk about anymore.
John doesn't think he's never done so much damn talking in his entire life. It's been a litany of, "Katie said hi. She and Parks are dating now. Uh, you probably already know that, don't you?" and, "You won't believe what Ronon did at lunch, it was disgusting," and, "When I was a kid, my mom died in a car accident. Hit and run. I, um, I never told anyone, but my dad... He came home with a fresh bump on his car that night. I... I never asked, either..." and, "So listen. I really need you to wake up now, okay? Come on, buddy, do it for me."
Rodney keeps sleeping, chest rising and falling on a pre-set schedule, air pumped into him by a machine.
In total, Rodney sleeps nine days. John is reading Douglas Adams to him when he finally wakes up; it's pure coincidence that he even notices. He's just reached the end of a chapter and it's natural to look up, and he doesn't even realise at first that the fingers he's holding – just to keep them warm; the infirmary can be cold – are lightly squeezing his own. Thin slivers of blue meet his gaze, blinking slowly. For a moment John just stares stupidly, uncomprehending, then he jumps up so fast that the book thumps to the floor even as he grabs Rodney's entire hand and squeezes back.
"Doc!" he yells, then he grins at Rodney and says, "Hey, buddy!" It's completely inane, but it's what he's been wanting to say for the past nine days. Rodney will just have to cut him a little slack.
Rodney blinks again and doesn't squeeze back, but that's okay; he's probably not even truly aware yet. By the time Keller rushes in with a nurse, Rodney's eyes have slipped shut again. But John can't stop beaming and he doesn't care how stupid he looks.
Rodney woke up.
Rodney keeps drifting in and out of consciousness for a few more days, a little more alert each time he wakes up. John actually has a city to run, so he doesn't get to spend as much time in the infirmary as he'd like to, not by a long shot. There are structural repairs to oversee and plumbers – actual plumbers, and he'll have to ask Carter how she did that – to organise into teams, though he mostly lets Zelenka deal with that. But the SGC has also sent a bunch of new soldiers and it's his job to get them settled in and work them into the duty roster.
So no, he doesn't get to spend much time with the stand-offish, snappy Dr. McKay, but several other people do and he's going to kill them all very slowly or at least send them to an eye specialist because obviously they're all blind.
To be fair, Rodney's putting all his genius into hiding it. The visitor's chair is on the right side of the bed. So is the bedside table. The IV goes into his left arm, but the nurses don't require him to move for changing the bag. Rodney's mouth has always been crooked and he's always been an awful patient, and he's very careful to behave exactly as he usually would. Except John knows Rodney very, very well, and he won't let himself be fooled. He might have to give Rodney credit for being a better liar than everyone thinks, though.
Fear is a good teacher.
"Rodney," he says, very slowly, "lift your left hand."
Rodney's eyes widen, then he looks away, lips pressed together – at least on the right side, John notes a little hysterically – and John blows out a breath. Inhales. Exhales again, and helplessly clasps his hand around Rodney's wrist. The right one, so Rodney will know… Rodney, who's sitting in his bed, pale and strangely small, and who won't look at John, and-
"Jesus," he whispers, "Jesus, Rodney," and then he yells, "Doc!"
Only this time, he's not smiling at all.
He can't even begin to imagine the depth of denial Rodney must have been in to make him try and hide his condition. Rodney's always had a totally schizophrenic approach to medicine, demanding immediate attention to a hangnail while bandaging his sliced-up arm himself for fear that someone might tell him the blade was poisoned or that something else is truly wrong. But he's never avoided the issue altogether before, and that alone says a lot about how scared he is.
It scares the hell out of John, too.
Keller runs a whole battery of tests that apparently no one thought to do before and John asks acidly if they swapped the infirmary for a med school. Keller gapes at him, doe-eyed and hurt, and he doesn't give a shit. He's going to apologise later, maybe, but right now he's just pissed that they've got an entire level of the central tower reserved for doctors and nurses and their various and expensive equipment, and nobody even noticed that there's obviously something wrong with Rodney, the guy they've supposedly had under close observation for two weeks. It doesn't exactly instil confidence that they somehow got so used to all their technology that they won't even do a simple reflex test anymore. And he expected more of Keller. She's an ER doctor or something like that, not a geneticist, and after seeing how she had cared for Elizabeth he'd expected her to be good at her job.
And yet she somehow managed to miss that the left side of Rodney's body is mostly paralysed.
It's at this point that John excuses himself from the room for a moment because he's seriously afraid that he'll hurt someone if he doesn't. Rodney just nods, curling his right hand into a loose fist and biting at his lower lip. It's a sight John's had plenty of time to get used to over the last few hours, and it makes him walk a little faster. He finds refuge on a balcony, just stepping up to the railing and breathing in the cool air for a moment. The sea smells different than the one they left behind, and he wonders if there are whales out there for Rodney to watch.
His fist hits the railing with a dull clang but he ignores the pain. John knows the procedure as well as anyone on Atlantis, probably better. Rodney's stuck with a serious disability – which is probably why he didn't say anything the one time he actually has a real medical condition to complain about – and if Keller doesn't magically come up with a way to fix him, he'll be sent back to Earth. A pained chuckle escapes John as he tries to imagine Rodney bitching at his physical therapist and people unjustly parking in handicapped spaces. God, Rodney will have to rearrange his entire life, and he won't even have a job to distract him. Knowing Rodney and how well he deals with being told no, John's pretty sure that not being able to do something essential like walking might just break him if he doesn't have someone around to kick his ass.
Gripping the railing tightly, he straightens his back and raises his chin in a move he might or might not have stolen from Rodney. He looks down at the alien sea below, up at the tower rising above him. He can see the east pier from where he's standing, and the side of the tower with the residential quarters that are really big but also really destroyed by the water of another planet. Atlantis... he loves it so much. In the three months he spent away from it he was close to going out of his mind. The only thing keeping him sane... He smiles, a little wistful. The only thing keeping him sane back then was Rodney.
There's really only one decision he can make, isn't there? And if he's honest to himself, he knows he already made it. John nods to himself and gives the railing a little pat before he goes back inside and turns toward the infirmary.
Good thing that ass-kicking is one of his many talents.
"It's a clot."
"A what?" John blinks at Keller, not sure that he heard that right. Next to him, Rodney closes his eyes and sags a little. John gives his arm a light shove, almost on autopilot.
"A clot. It's in his right motor cortex, that's what caused the paralysis. Now that we know it's there," Keller tells Rodney with a big smile on her face, like it's her personal achievement that Rodney's disability is apparently temporary, "we can operate. Your brain's going to take a few days to heal, but you'll be okay."
"See?" John turns to Rodney and manages a smile of his own. "You're gonna be just fine."
"Of course I am," Rodney snaps, the words a little distorted by the left side of his mouth hanging down, but the look he gives John is so grateful it hurts. John awkwardly pats his hand, wondering why he's feeling sick when Rodney's going to be okay. He should be relieved, right? He should be happy.
He gives Rodney a smile that has to look as forced as it feels because Rodney frowns at him. Thing is, he doesn't know how to explain how perversely cheated out of his self-sacrifice he feels without sounding utterly stupid and selfish – and it is stupid and selfish – so he just shrugs, willing Rodney to let it go just this once. Rodney doesn't, though; instead he keeps frowning and opens his mouth, to demand answers, no doubt. John hurries to derail him.
"So that operation, it's not… dangerous, is it?" He feels like a heel when Rodney pales and looks at Keller in alarm.
"Oh God, I didn't even consider that. You are trained to perform brain surgery, aren't you? Don't think I'm letting you anywhere near my head if you aren't! My brain is far too valuable to have a clueless amateur merrily destroy what might well be the greatest mind since Einstein, although I'll grant you that Hawking did have a good idea or two…"
John leaves Rodney to his slightly slurred rant, escaping the infirmary as fast as he can without looking like he's running away. Several people try to stop and chat with him as he passes the corridors, but he waves them away and tells them to either take it up with Carter or come see him tomorrow. He's decided to take the rest of the day off.
When he finally reaches his quarters, John flops down on the bed, one arm behind his head and the other flung across his belly as he stares at the ceiling. There are no answers in the bronze-coloured metal, but he's not really looking for any. Hasn't even figured out the questions yet.
All he knows is that it took him all of five minutes to decide that if Rodney was going back to Earth, so was he. To decide that one bad-tempered – though occasionally funny as hell – astrophysicist apparently is more important to him than Atlantis, which is the best posting he had in his life and the first that ever made him feel at home. To discover that Teyla and Ronon may be what remains of his chosen family, but that Rodney falls into a different category altogether. It's a slightly scary thing to know, and he just wishes he had some idea how the fuck this managed to sneak up on him. Or when. Because Rodney is exactly the same smart, annoying, dorky guy he was last month, fuck, last year, so when did John start…
And here is where his thoughts blank out because: what? What did he start? It's not… not love, that's one thing he knows for sure. He used to love his wife, and to say that that was nothing like what he feels for Rodney sounds cheesy, except it's true.
He… he likes Rodney, sure, trusts him to have his back and to come up with insane ideas to save the day; Rodney is someone whose life will always be put before John's own, but that goes for just about everyone he ever vowed to protect. Rodney's there to turn to when things start going down the drain, or when the day has been too long and he's feeling sulky, or when he's bored and looking for an easy distraction. Ever since the Atlantis mission got as far as actually stepping through the Gate, Rodney has been there, hovering a half-step behind John, or bumping his shoulder, or moving ahead. It would feel spectacularly wrong not to have him there anymore; worse apparently than being a nobody back on a planet where the only automatic sliding doors are in hospitals and supermarkets, and every bit of technology requires the press of a button to make it do something, and just being there feels wrong.
Just… how the hell did that happen? Either it's a fucked-up kind of Stockholm Syndrome or he's been obsessing so much about the only friendship he got to keep when he'd had to let go of everything else that he lost his mind. The thing is… the thing is that it would feel spectacularly wrong to lose Teyla, for example, but John knows that he'd pull himself together and go on. Without Rodney? He doesn't think he could. And he really needs to stop thinking about this because it's giving him a headache.
John shifts uncomfortably on his tiny bed and decides that, whatever the fuck this is, he's better off just taking a page out of the Meredith McKay book of coping.
Denial is the way to go.
Rodney's brain surgery goes off without a hitch. It's all very professional and they didn't even shave his hair that much, so all in all Rodney is about as much of a happy camper as he ever is. At the same time he hates being trapped in the infirmary, and his comments are getting progressively nastier as the days go by. By the time he has regained control over the left side of his body, Rodney is impossible to be around.
Weirdly enough, the bitchier Rodney gets the better John feels, until he's sitting comfortably in the visitor's chair, legs kicked up on Rodney's mattress, grinning as he listens to Rodney telling Keller in no uncertain terms why it's essential for the continued survival of the city that Rodney be let out of the infirmary right now. That particular song is familiar, not unsettling at all, and it lulls him into a fake sense of safety right up until Keller says, "Fine, but only if someone stays with you for the first few hours to make sure you're okay to be on your own."
Rodney's head swivels around to him, and John has the distinct impression that he's in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the pleading, hopeful look Rodney aims at him fells him quicker than a Wraith stunner, so he shrugs and drawls, "Well, I've got some experience in scientist-sitting," and slouches further in his chair while he inwardly curses himself.
He's still trying to figure out what Rodney means to him, and how, and why it's throwing him so far off-kilter. The last thing he needs right now is to spend any length of time alone with him, because his concentration is shot and his barriers are down and this can only end in disaster… but Rodney's beaming at him and starts snapping his fingers at the nearest nurse, demanding his clothes. Keller shoots him an exasperated look and tells John to follow her, leading him into Carson's old office while Rodney gets dressed.
"There shouldn't be any complications, but I want you to call me if there is any cause for concern."
John swallows the "duh" and tells her, "Sure," and there's an awkward silence as they both don't know quite where to look. Carson's calendar of 2006 is still hanging on the wall, showing some scene from rural Scotland. John stares at the sheep and tries not to feel stupid.
"I told Dr. Weir I wasn't fit to be in charge of the medical department, but she wouldn't appoint someone else," Keller blurts and John turns his head to stare at her instead. "I… You must really think I'm incompetent," she carries on dejectedly, and oh God, do they have to talk about this?
"You're doing okay, doc," he says and wishes she would drop the subject, but of course he has no such luck.
"My patient was suffering from hemiparesis and I didn't notice."
"Look." John runs a hand through his hair, not sure how to put it. "You were thrown into a situation you weren't ready for. People make mistakes, it's what they do. If Rodney's not blaming you, neither should you." Neither should John, for that matter, and he doesn't, not really. She overlooked something she shouldn't have, but Rodney is okay and he doubts that she'll be making that same mistake again. "You're doing fine."
"But-" she starts again, only to be interrupted by the door abruptly being yanked open.
"Desolated to interrupt your little tête-à-tête but I want to go now." Rodney fixes his gaze on John, twitching with impatience. "Can we go now?"
"Sure," John says with an easy smile and nods at Keller. "Doc."
"Call me if anything-"
"Yes, yes, he'll call you if I start bleeding from my ears or pass out because our conversation becomes too animated. Colonel," and Rodney jerks his chin toward the infirmary exit, "some time today?"
"Gee, Rodney, can't wait to get me alone?" John drawls, purposely strolling out of Carson's office as slowly as possible just to see Rodney roll his eyes. It's fun, winding him up like that, not unsettling at all; maybe they will make it through the day okay, after all.
Of course, John's cautious optimism dies a sudden, painful death as soon as they arrive in Rodney's quarters. Despite Rodney not having been there for three weeks, the room still kind of smells like him. Rodney's sigh as he sinks down on his prescription-mattressed bed isn't helping either, because suddenly John is hyperaware of Rodney's presence and the way it seems to fill the entire room until there's no space left for air. Rodney's fiddling with his pillow, fluffing it up one corner at a time, and John wants nothing more than to touch him, kiss him, spread him out and taste him and then maybe climb inside. His hands are shaking with the need to reach out and he shoves them deep into his pockets, clenching them into fists where Rodney won't notice.
What the fuck?
Rodney of course stays entirely oblivious to John's sudden episode of insanity and waves his hand – the left one, John notices – at his desk as he settles down.
"Well, pull up a chair, Colonel. I have it on good authority that you're going to stay a while." He grins, visibly relaxed now he's finally out of the infirmary. "So, do you want to play some chess? Watch a movie? Oh, do you think Ronon and Teyla would like to join us?"
"Uh. They're training a batch of marines," John replies absently, staring at Rodney's hand as he snaps his fingers. He's got nice fingers. Blunt and sure and-
"So, what do you want to do?"
What he wants to do is go to his room and bang his head against the wall for a while.
John tries to pull himself together, to make his distraction look like boredom. "Your room, McKay. You get to decide."
They end up watching a movie. John has no idea which one. But Rodney laughs a lot, and John realises with growing horror that it might be... you know, that feeling, after all.
He pulls a face and crosses his arms and wills it to go away.
He's not too surprised when it doesn't.
For the next few days, John alternates between avoiding Rodney altogether and seeking him out at the weirdest times. He is drawn to the man like the proverbial moth to the flame, knowing he'll burn and not giving a shit. Except when he gets close enough to the fire to feel the heat, his self-preservation instincts kick in and he flutters away, and perhaps this metaphor isn't as good as he thought.
The thing is, John wants Rodney. And it scares the shit out of him.
It's not that John has never done the guy on guy thing before, because he has. Been a while, sure, but he remembers the mechanics just fine. He's not afraid of DADT, either. John has a history of not following rules and orders if he thinks they're stupid, and DADT is stupid. No, what freaks him out so much is that he somehow, kind of, developed some sort of... not emotional attachment, but.... okay, yes, attachment. To Rodney. Who is really not supposed to be attractive to John in any way, shape or form, because... well, it's just wrong. Rodney is family; John feels like he's having the hots for his brother, his difficult genius kid brother at that, and it's slightly creepy. But he wants, oh, he wants, and it's driving him insane, and he's just grateful that so far Rodney has stayed oblivious.
God, please, let him stay oblivious. John can just imagine how that particular conversation would go down: "Hey, Rodney. Can I kiss you?" - "What? No! Are you sick? Also, no!"
But to hope that Rodney will keep not noticing that something has changed is asking too much, and when John brings him coffee a few minutes before midnight on the same day he fled from lunch after watching Rodney's expression soften with content over his damn imported mango pudding cups, Rodney finally calls him on it. He looks tired, maybe too tired to keep pretending that nothing has changed. John gets a short reprieve while he's being dragged to Rodney's quarters, but then Rodney loses his patience – when they're barely out of the transporter – and the time to procrastinate is over.
"You've been acting weird for days now, even by your standards, and that's saying something. And I, uh, I'd like to think that I have earned myself the right to know." Rodney crosses his arms and raises his chin, going for confident but instead looking like a lost little boy. He clears his throat and looks uncertain when he asks, "Did I... when I was asleep, did I say something? Or, or I guess you could merely be mad at me for not telling anyone about the paralysis, which I realise was a stupid thing to do, but in my defence: I was still on medication."
Rodney's face looks downright wary now, and suddenly John can't stand to see that expression and know that he's the reason it's there. He wants to slip it off from Rodney's face, lock it away and make sure it never comes out again, except that would mean he had to tell Rodney what is bothering him and John can't tell him, he can't-
"I was… if they had sent you back to Earth, I would have come with you," John blurts out. Oh God, he's telling him. And now that he's started, it's like a dam has broken or something because there's just no holding back the words. He's going to tell Rodney everything, and then he'll throw up everything he ever ate right there in the hall.
"That's nice." Rodney looks bemused. "Uh, I don't-"
"And stayed." There's not enough air in the corridor, no matter how fast John is breathing. "I… with you. Just, I thought you should…"
"John?" Suddenly Rodney's right in front of him, hand reaching for John's elbow. His eyes are really blue from up so close, and is the city spinning?
John's knees give way without warning and he probably would have gone down without Rodney's hand there to steady him. "Oh, of all the…" Rodney has a death grip on John's arm as he drags him toward his door, not even looking as he palms the opening mechanism behind his back, and together they stumble inside. John is still trying to get some air when Rodney sits him down on his bed none-too-gently and pushes hard on his back. "Head between your knees, Colonel."
John complies, bending down and trying to calm his breathing even as he mourns the loss of hearing his first name from Rodney's mouth. It's such a pretty mouth and it says his name far too seldom, and he's so focussed on that thought it actually takes him a few seconds to realise that Rodney's hand is still on his back, resting warm and heavy between his shoulder blades.
It's enough to make him breathe a little easier.
"Better now?" Rodney's voice sounds somewhere between concerned, amused, and pissed off.
John just nods, not trusting himself not to say or do anything stupid. His face is hot and his skin prickles and he's never felt less cool in his entire life, cheeks burning with mortification. He'll have to find out if there are any mice in Atlantis so he can crawl into a hole and never come out again.
He was a sane person once. It seems like a long time ago.
"I swear, Sheppard, you are the only person I know who hyperventilates when they're talking about their feelings. You're a living cliché." Definitely amusement now, but Rodney's hand has started to rub small, soothing circles on his back, thoroughly distracting John. The mattress dips beside him as Rodney sits down.
"Sorry," John mumbles, his voice muffled to his own ears because he still has his head between his knees.
"No, it's... We're friends, right? If you need to, uh, to talk about it, you could. With me. If you want."
John snorts at that. He's really said enough already, more than enough. He straightens, turning to Rodney to tell him that it's okay, he's feeling better, and he should probably go. Only Rodney's sitting so close, looking at John with a peeved kind of affection that has the corners of his mouth twist into a slight smile, and John can't help himself. He's been spinning out of control ever since Rodney almost got himself killed right here at home; why not give it up entirely?
He leans in, brushing his mouth against Rodney's, closing his eyes to concentrate on the feeling of Rodney's soft lips beneath his own. Rodney's mouth is slack with surprise but John doesn't push it, allows himself just this gentle contact, and it's heaven for all of three seconds before he pulls back.
Rodney is staring at him, mouth open and eyes wide. His cheeks flush from pale to pink in no more than the span of two breaths, and John realises with growing panic that shit, he just kissed Rodney.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-" He starts to rise – not to run away, no Sir, just, maybe go for a tactical retreat – but Rodney's hand shoots out to close around his wrist like a vice.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding!"
John feels his own eyes widen with dread because Rodney has every right to give him a piece of his mind, to yell and accuse and glare at him with disgust and declare their friendship a thing of the past, and John will accept all that, really, he will, because what else can he-
The yank on his arm registers far too late, and John finds himself stumbling over his own suddenly clumsy feet and landing half in Rodney's lap as he's pulled back in. One foot on the floor and one knee on the bed, one hand on Rodney's shoulder – to steady himself, and he doesn't feel the warmth of his skin at all – and the other helplessly seeking purchase on nothing but air, he tries to straighten, to pull away, but Rodney's grip on his wrist is firm and the hand taking hold of his waist is sure, and all John can do is blink in confusion as Rodney leans in and, and...
And John's brain simply shuts down. Tilt, error, does not compute; and his eyes flutter closed without him telling them to because what else is there to do when Rodney is kissing him? What else but hang on and dig his fingers into Rodney's shoulder and kiss him back as long as Rodney will let him, because this has to be some mistake, because Rodney is his friend and friends don't kiss, because John can't believe that Rodney might be just as insane as he is. Except Rodney is, has to be, still kissing John and not seeming like he might want to stop any time soon, and John sighs into Rodney's mouth, kissing him back like he might never get the chance again. Rodney makes a soft sound and tries to slow him down, but John won't have it. With the way things are going in this galaxy, this really might be the only opportunity he'll get, and he's not going to waste it.
He's already straddling Rodney so it's easy to push and tip them over so they're both lying diagonally on Rodney's damn prescription mattress. Rodney makes some surprised little noise that is muffled by John's mouth, and John coaxes Rodney's lips apart as he starts to rub against him. Their tongues meet and it's the sky on a cloudless day; Rodney's erection presses against John's own and it's breaking the sound barrier in a fighter jet; Rodney lets go of his wrist and clutches at his back and pulls him closer and it's heaven. And like freefall, at least a little, because Rodney's kisses are deep and a rush and maybe a little bit dangerous. Addictive at the very least and John can't get enough of them, keeps their lips and tongues moving even as he loses himself in the push-and-slide of their hips. His heart is pounding, almost loud enough to drown out the sounds Rodney makes, almost, but not quite. He can still hear the soft gasps and helpless whimpers, the breathless half-moans and shaking sighs. Hears them, answers them with his own, their bodies pressing together, Rodney's erection hard and hot against his thigh even through their BDUs, and he knows he's panting, knows it and doesn't care. Rodney's shoulder is broad and warm, his body solid underneath John's own, and he missed this so much, missed having someone to hold on to without needing to be gentle, missed Rodney even though they'd never touched. Not this way.
Rodney stiffens beneath him and John swallows his groan eagerly, rubs himself off against Rodney and finally comes, just as he feels Rodney slump into a boneless sprawl. He's still refusing to stop kissing, although by now it's more a case of moaning into Rodney's mouth as he sinks down on top of him. They just lie there for a while, trying to catch their breath and pretending they're comfortable, but finally Rodney sighs and pushes at John's shoulder. John slides off him. The wet patch staining his pants feels icky as it starts to cool and he's strangely reluctant to look at Rodney.
"You certainly don't do things by half, do you?" Rodney's voice doesn't sound angry, but not too happy, either. John's face heats up.
"I did nothing you didn't want me to," he shoots back, far more heatedly than he intended, but the truth is that he doesn't know that. Rodney kissed him, yes, but that could have a variety of reasons. It doesn't mean that Rodney wanted sex; hell, it doesn't even mean that Rodney wanted – wants – John, not really. He might have been experimenting or, or curious, or-
"Are you freaking out?" Rodney asks incredulously, and John snaps, "No!" even though he is.
"Because that would be stupid," Rodney continues. "I mean, yes, I can't say that this development hasn't been a surprise or that I usually, uh, go quite that far on a, a first date, so to speak, but to claim that your advances were unwelcome would be a lie, so, um." He's babbling, and John tries very hard not to find that endearing. "Just... Is this, does this mean... Did you just need to get that out of your system, or...?"
John turns his head when Rodney trails off. Rodney's gaze is wide open, his cheeks still flushed, and he actually looks more nervous than that one time they had a Wraith queen in their city.
"I didn't know," John says plaintively and doesn't even know what that's supposed to mean, but something in Rodney's eyes softens like he understands. Maybe he does.
And wow, they're both bad at this. Weirdly enough, it makes John feel better.
"I should probably take a shower." He stands up reluctantly, helping Rodney to his feet when he holds out a hand demandingly.
"Yes. Me, uh, me too." Rodney's gaze flickers in the direction of the bathroom and back at John's face. He looks pole-axed but not unhappy about it, so John leans in and presses a kiss to his lips that Rodney returns eagerly.
"See you tomorrow?" he asks after he's pulled away, and Rodney nods.
"Sure." John nods as well and kisses Rodney again and then goes to have his shower. Except he doesn't even get as far as the door before Rodney grabs his wrist again and stops him.
"Okay, no, wait." John turns back around and automatically raises an eyebrow at the look of sheer frightened determination on Rodney's face. Rodney is nothing if not brave in the face of terror, though, and he starts talking almost before John has finished turning.
"I would have liked it. If, if you had gone to Earth with me. I've kind of... I rely on you, perhaps more than I should, and... and that thing, with the staying, I would have liked that, too." He raises his chin and looks John straight in the eye, probably not even aware that his hand is opening and closing around John's wrist. "In fact, I still would. Like that. If you want."
John feels like he's been whacked over the head with something blunt and heavy. Rodney looks a little sick himself, but he's still not letting go of John's wrist, and it makes John's heart light and fluttery like some kind of strange bird. Blindly, he gropes till he's holding Rodney's wrist in turn, then he licks his lips and croaks, "Okay, yeah," and Rodney's smile is so bright it's dazzling him.
Rodney lends him a pair of boxers and they both keep their t-shirts on, but John thinks he's never been so close to another person before, and not only because of the tiny bed. It's hard to breathe at first, hard to believe that he's really here, but then Rodney falls asleep in his arms and John presses his lips against the nape of Rodney's neck and holds on, deliriously happy.
It's been three days since John last slept in his own room, and he wonders if he's lost his mind.
If he has, he doesn't care much, though. Turning his head, pretending to listen to Dr. Oreo telling them about the wonder that is the Arebesian day lily – Rodney calls her Dr. Cookie, and she laughs every time he does – he bumps his knee against Rodney's. Rodney rolls his eyes but his lips twitch as he reaches out under the briefing room table and pinches John's thigh. Lightly.
John leans back in his chair, and smiles.