Rating: PG13 for language
Type: McShep slash, angst, whump, established relationship
Characters: McKay, Sheppard, Lorne, Ronon, Carter, others
Spoilers: general for Season 4
Pas de beta. :(
Miko woke up late, didn't have time to eat breakfast before her shift started, and stubbed her toe while avoiding a squad of Marines doing PT as she hurried to the labs. Why Colonel Sheppard let them run inside when the weather was nice, she wasn't sure. She thought maybe he wanted to make Colonel Carter aware that he was, in fact, executing his responsibilities as military commander. What better way to drive home the point than with a formation of eight sweaty young men who steamrollered every scientist in their path as they ran.
Miko went to bed thirty-nine hours later, short four more meals. Her stubbed toe had nothing on her migraine, she smelled worse than the Marines, and she was temporary CSO of Atlantis until Dr. McKay returned, or Dr. Zelenka regained consciousness.
She thought she finally understood why Dr. McKay yelled so much.
Evan wasn't ready to explain to Colonel Carter that the Cairn-Carrens hadn't taken exception to McKay and Sheppard arriving, but rather arriving together.
Evan hadn't even known that Sheppard was the type to hold hands.
"Major?" Carter prompted, and he had to say something. He respected her too much to pretend he thought she was talking to Major Dorsey.
"The Cairn-Carrens seemed to have a problem with the manner in which Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay interacted," Evan said, stalling. He ignored Sergeant Alvarez's snort.
Carter didn't. "You have something to add, sergeant?"
Alvarez straightened. "Sorry, ma'am. Just that the Major's making a bit of an understatement. The natives were outraged that the Colonel and Dr. McKay would behave so informally during the first meeting between our people.”
"They were bickering, weren't they?" Carter asked, and Alvarez gave her a what-can-you-do? shrug. When she turned away, he shot Evan a look that said, 'You owe me.' Or maybe 'I own you.' With Alvarez, you could never really be sure.
"I'm sure if we sent Teyla back with our sincere regrets-" Carter began, speaking to the whole table.
"Just as soon as she gets out of the infirmary?" Ronon asked. "They'll be dead by then."
"Perhaps if you hadn't launched an immediate offensive," Dorsey pointed out, "we wouldn't be in this position at all." And whoa, since when was he the pacifist around here?
"They were shooting at all of us," Evan clarified. "It was defensive tactics all the way, Major. We're lucky only Teyla and Dr. Zelenka were seriously hurt." He really hated Dorsey, the hypocritical bastard. Showed up with every other Daedalus run and hung around for a couple months, acting like he owned the place. Like he was Sheppard's XO. 'I'll finish reviewing those AARs, sir,' and 'Let me take care of the inventory,' and all the while, behind Sheppard's back, he went on about what a great commander Caldwell would make. Evan would have suspected he was a plant meant to discredit Sheppard, except Caldwell had made it clear to the brass that he didn't want Sheppard's job anymore, but Dorsey was still here.
Evan thought maybe he'd better start worrying about his own job, unless they got Sheppard and McKay back in a hurry.
Diego Alvarez wondered when his worldview had turned so ass-over-end that the sight of his male CO holding hands with a male civilian on a mission didn't bother him, and the threat of having that CO's gay tendencies exposed prompted him to lie to his superiors.
Father Rodriguez would be disappointed.
Diego's sister, though, she'd be proud.
Rodney would later consider it quite an accomplishment that he hadn't pissed himself in sheer terror. At the moment, he was too concerned about staying out of the giant spider's path to worry about little things like bladder control.
"Face it like the man you should be, faggot!" one of the Cairn-Carrens shouted from the edge of the pit. "If you die like a coward, you dishonor all your brethren!"
The spider skittered up the pit wall, and the natives at the top surged backwards, torches swinging. Rodney took the opportunity to try and clamber up the opposite wall, but someone prodded at him with a long pole, and the dirt gave way beneath his hands. He fell, the spider landing dangerously close behind him, and scrabbled into a corner, chest heaving. The spider watched him, compound eyes glinting in the torchlight, and Rodney called, "I'm sorry, John!"
"NO!" was the reply, as John fought against his captors. Rodney could barely make them out, struggling at the top of the pit wall in the growing darkness, just beyond the wiry form of the spider.
Suddenly there was an outcry, and a defiant roar, and Rodney was watching eight sleek legs flailing helpless under the weight of-
"Did you just fall on my spider?" he asked John, incredulous.
"Your spider?" John demanded, breathless. He struggled to his knees and beat his bound hands against the spider's head. "I could use a little help here!"
Rodney pushed away from the wall, and together they bashed at the chitin until it cracked, spilling guts all over their bloody hands.
There was silence as Rodney helped John stand, shying from the gaping maw and tripping over the still legs of their 'punishment.' They stared up at the natives lining the pit walls, and the natives stared back, seeming at a loss.
"Guess nobody's ever killed any of their little monstrosities before," John muttered.
Something hit Rodney in the back of the head, and heat flared, brief, against his neck. He hit the ground, his knees protesting, heard John curse, and then more torches were being hurled at them, the shouting and jeering renewed.
John tried to shelter him, to hide them both beneath the body of the spider, but the thing was small in death, and useless. An acrid stench rose around them, wood and chitin smoldering. John and Rodney crouched back-to-back, shielding their heads with their arms, kicking the torches away as best they could.
Finally the barrage ceased. Rodney looked up to see the leaders of the Cairn-Carrens assembled at the edge of the pit. Behind him, John shifted, scanning the other walls.
"We have never before witnessed such cowardice," the chieftain declared in his reedy voice. "Most faggots face their deaths eagerly. I should have known that you would not be so honorable when you flaunted your unnatural ways before us."
"Hey," John called up, "can you please stop calling us faggots? It's kinda getting on my nerves!"
"We call you what you are," the chieftain's wife shouted back. "Do not deny it!"
"So, Rodney," John said casually, as if they were sitting at dinner, "why are the Stargate's translation protocols spitting out words like 'faggot?'"
"I told you," Rodney snapped, "it's all a matter of context. Our brains expect to hear 'faggot,' so that's what we hear. If this were a civilized discussion, I'm sure we'd be hearing something else."
John thought a moment, then called up, "Hey, say it again!"
"Faggot!" the wife screeched.
"Cool," John said.
"What's cool?" Rodney asked, wondering why the natives were pretty much just standing around and staring.
"Whatever she said, I heard it as 'homosexual,'" John declared.
"You did not!" Rodney accused.
"No, seriously, try it. Just think about what you want her to say. Hey, say it again!"
"Be silent, gay man!" shouted one of the guards.
"Hey, it worked!" Rodney grinned stupidly. John nudged him and grinned back.
There was a commotion above them, and they turned to see more torches being passed around, and with them more of the long poles that had pushed Rodney off the wall.
"Since you do not embrace death, we will not force it upon you!" the chieftain wheezed. "Instead we will stand guard until you accept that it is your only option, and beg for it, or become so weak that you can resist no longer. Ancestors guide you to a clean rebirth!" He waved his hands in a complicated pattern that may have been a blessing, and tottered away. His wife spat into the pit before following, the lesser chieftains hunched behind her in a line, like ducklings.
One of the torchbearers took his cue from the chieftain's wife, and spat as far as he could into the pit. The others laughed.
"Oh, great," Rodney said.
They spent the night in the center of the pit, where even the most enthusiastic aim couldn't reach. It was cold, and some bright lads up top hurled buckets of water at the torches still burning on the pit floor, dousing them. Then they threw water at John and Rodney, hitting more than they missed. Wet, shivering, exhausted, covered in burns and bruises, the two men stayed awake all night. Neither John's training nor Rodney's nerves allowed them any rest.
Morning brought the chieftain, alone this time save for a young man. "Will you die with honor now?" he asked, peeing down at them, squinty-eyed.
"Sorry, that's not on the agenda for today," John shot back. "We are scheduled to take over the world around fourteen hundred, though."
The chieftain shook his head gravely, flapped his hands in the ritual blessing, and turned to his companion. "Let this be a lesson," they heard him mutter. "Those who do not wish to be saved, can not be. Nothing you might say can steer them onto the righteous path."
The young man nodded his understanding, and the two disappeared from sight.
"He's a regular Fred Phelps," Rodney said, "except for this weird 'kindly old grampa' thing he has going on. It's a little disturbing, actually."
"I know," John agreed. "I keep waiting for a little old lady to pop out from behind him and offer us muffins."
"Muffins?" Rodney echoed. "Why not brownies?"
"My grandmother used to bake muffins," John admitted. "Almost every time we came to visit, she'd greet us at the door with cranberry walnut muffins."
"Muffins," Rodney echoed again, clear longing in his voice.
"Rodney, when's the last time you ate?"
"Right before we left the city," Rodney answered. "But there were no muffins." He shook his head mournfully. "I'm gonna go into a hypoglycemic coma before we're rescued."
"Just hang on," John encouraged, pulling up one pant leg and digging below the cuff of his boot. He pulled out a PowerBar and watched Rodney's eyes widen in astonishment.
"What else have you got in there?" Rodney asked as John unwrapped the energy bar and twisted off a short piece, handing it over before tucking the rest back into his boot.
"I have a small knife," John admitted, "but that's all. Government-issue boots really aren't designed to hide secret stashes. I have a permanent bruise in the shape of a knife hilt on my left ankle."
Rodney eyed John's boots speculatively after he swallowed what he'd been given. "I was wondering how you got your hands free. Can uh, can I have some more of that PowerBar?"
"Not yet. That's the only food we have, and it has to last you till we get out of here."
Rodney's eyes moved to John's face. "What about you?"
"I," John pointed out, "am not hypoglycemic. Nice of you to be concerned, though."
"Why shouldn't I be? You're my-" Rodney stumbled over the words, "-that is... Um, you know. I care."
John grinned. "Yeah. I know. Me too."
By mid-day the sun was fierce, and the pit hot and humid. The spider carcass had begun to stink. Rodney wished they could hide in the shadows of the wall once the sun passed its zenith, but anytime they moved in that direction, some intrepid soul above threw dirt or water on them. The guards had tried prodding at them with the long poles they'd brought the night before, but after John grabbed at a couple of them and hung on, the idea was abandoned. John and Rodney were currently in possession of three such poles, which might have been an ideal means of escape if only either one of them knew how to pole vault.
Grampa Phelps came back around mid-afternoon, when the shadows were longer but the heat was most oppressive, and asked again if they were ready to die. John said no, and suggested that they be released, as this was really putting a crimp in their agenda. Here it was almost fifteen hundred and they hadn't even been to the manicurist yet.
As the chieftain muttered his way back to wherever, Rodney had to ask, "What's with you and this agenda?
"The gay agenda," John replied. "You know, 8 AM: breakfast, 9 AM: hair appointment, 2 PM: take over the world 2:30, take a nap."
Rodney snorted. "Is sex on there anywhere? Because taking over the world-"
"Kind of a turn-on, huh?"
"Definitely. Hey, uh, any chance I could get another piece of that PowerBar?"
"You can't wait a bit longer?" John asked. "I don't know what's taking them so long, coming to get us, but we could be here for a while..."
Rodney mutely held out his trembling hands. John muttered, "Crap," and reached for his boot. He broke of another quarter of the PowerBar and put the rest in his pocket.
"This isn't going to help much," Rodney said some time after he'd eaten. "Maybe if I had three or four of those things..." His hands wouldn't stop shaking, and he was feeling light-headed.
"I know," John said quietly. "Just hang on. If our guys don't show by tonight, we're going to have to figure out a way out of here.
"Got any ideas? Because I'm at a bit of a loss right now."
"Big holes in the ground a bit out of your league, McKay?" John teased.
"It's my allergy to stupidity acting up again," Rodney said. "Prevents me from thinking clearly."
They sat in silence and waited for something to happen. At nightfall, they were still waiting.
"What the hell is taking Lorne so long?" John grumbled, throwing away the bit of wood he'd been carving. There had been some restless discussion among the natives when he'd first produced the knife, but they'd decided it was safer to let him keep it. Nobody wanted to risk going down into the pit - they had agreed they'd be just as likely to end up with the knife in their guts as in their hands. And really, how much damage could one man do with such a small knife when he was trapped at the bottom of a giant hole in the ground?
"I'm worried about Atlantis," John continued, throwing another piece of wood. What Rodney could see of his face in the torchlight from the walls looked speculative. "Something must be wrong, or they would have sent somebody by now."
"Maybe Sam's just trying to play nice with the crazy, prudish natives."
"Yeah, maybe." He pulled the rest of the PowerBar out of his pocket and handed it to Rodney. "Here, finish this and get some rest. I'm tired of sitting on my ass. We're getting out of here."
"The element of surprise," John drawled, "and sheer determination."
"You mean desperation."
"Yeah, that too."
* * *
"I'm sorry," said Colonel Carter. "Gay men?"
The chieftain nodded, throwing a dirty look at Evan, as if he were guilty by association. Carter pinned him with a black look of her own.
"You didn't say anything about this, Major," she said in that sweet-steely voice she got when she was about to do some damage.
"No, he didn't," agreed Dorsey, eyeing him speculatively.
Carter shot him a dirty look, too, before turning to the chieftain and saying, "There must be some sort of misunderstanding. Our military does not allow gay men to serve-"
"We know what we saw!" interrupted one of the guards, who Evan remembered as part of the greeting party. "They walked into the clearing holding hands. It was disgusting."
"I don't recall anybody holding anyone else's hand, ma'am," Evan protested, lying through his teeth. "Dr. McKay tripped over a root, and Colonel Sheppard reached out to steady him. He had him by the wrist for a second, that was all." Except it wasn't, because when Sheppard had gone to pull away, McKay had grabbed his hand and held on, making some comment that had Sheppard laughing and tugging him into the clearing. That was when the shouting started.
("Hey, Prince Charming, is that your way of coming on to me in front of your men?" Rodney asked.
John laughed and pulled him along by the hand, "No, this is my way of making sure you don't trip and fall on your ass before we get there." And he started to let go, just as the natives went nuts.)
Evan shifted impatiently as the Cairn-Carrens continued to insist on what they'd seen. It had taken them all night and half the morning just to get an audience with these people, and they weren't even sure if Sheppard and McKay were still alive. Ronon was right. They should have gone in with a couple of cloaked jumpers, scouted the place and taken care of things. Carter was no Elizabeth Weir. This was going to drag on interminably.
* * *
They waited until the early hours of the morning, when the men on second watch were starting to doze off, and the third watch was sleeping like the dead. The novelty of guarding the prisoners had worn off quickly. The torches were fading, and the pit was all in shadow. As quietly as they could, John and Rodney gathered the heaviest pieces of torchwood they could find, scraped rough points onto their liberated poles with John's knife, and reviewed their plan of attack.
Rodney felt shaky, his hands unsteady and his balance off, but he knew from experience that adrenaline would overcome all that, at least for a short time. Beside him, testing his reach with a pole, John was edgy, impatient.
John moved pointedly toward the wall, and Rodney followed, glancing around. Nobody appeared to be watching. John put the butt of his pole in the ground, and Rodney braced himself against the wall, knees bent, forming a stirrup with his hands. John leaned over, put one foot up, said "go," and Rodney heaved. The muscles in his legs and back strained outrageously as he pushed John's weight up. Then there was a foot on his shoulder, dirt falling down his collar, and John was scrambling over the edge of the pit, the pole-turned-pike disappearing with him.
Rodney staggered back to their pile of wood, clutching at his back and cursing. He hefted the first charred chunk and turned, ready to throw it at the guards. John had dropped one man already, but the camp was coming awake. Rodney hurled the dead torch at one of the guards bearing down on John, cursing his back again even as it connected. It made the man stumble, but not fall, and Rodney ignored the pain in his back to hurl more wood at John's attackers.
John was making good progress; pike abandoned, fighting hand-to-hand, knife scoring enough hits to make the guards wary, he pushed his way to where they'd remembered seeing a ladder, intent on throwing it down to Rodney. Where the Cairn-Carrens had beaten back the team with bows and arrows of deadly accuracy and power, they were unskilled in close quarters, and Rodney was almost ready to say this would work, that they'd get away. But John gave a shout, and Rodney dropped the torch he'd been holding and yelled, panicked, "Sheppard! Sheppard!" because John was down, an arrow in his side; one of the guards had a torch in his hand, a lit one, and was bringing it down hard across John's back.
John cried out, and Rodney threw himself at the walls, trying to clamber up. He had a hand on the edge when white-hot pain exploded in his fingers. The next thing he knew, he was in the pit, staring up at the black sky, a shadow falling through the air to land with a heavy thud some distance away. His fingers and ankle throbbed, his ears were ringing, and his lower back was numb. He tried to sit up, grunting with the effort, but ended up crawling to where John's body had been tossed like so much debris.
John was sprawled across the ground like a broken doll. The wound in his side was bleeding heavily, and there were bruises across his face. Rodney couldn't tell if he was breathing until he put his good hand over John's mouth, felt a soft, moist exhalation. He fumbled at John's neck for a pulse, and felt bleak relief to find it steady, if weak. All he could do then was collapse beside John, tuck himself close enough to feel that pulse through the skin of his cheek, and let himself black out.
* * *
After the chieftain had made some excuse and been hustled away, the remainder of the negotiating party eyed the Atlantis party distrustfully from a distance, arrows to their bows and no small amount of muttering.
"Hey!" Ronon called after some time, "Hey! I want to know if my friends are alive!"
"Ronon, be quiet!" Colonel Carter demanded, but Ronon ignored her. He stalked into the middle of the clearing, arms out at his sides, looking deceptively harmless.
"Tell me what happened to my friends," he demanded.
A couple of bows were raised and drawn, but one of the men stepped forward and said, "They are alive. Why do you call them your friends? They are cowards, facing their death like panicked women! There is no honor in putting ones such as they to a quick death. Better to let them suffer."
Ronon growled, taking a step forward. Evan snapped his name, and the Satedan cast him a sidelong glance. "They're hurt. They could die before we get these people to agree to anything."
"I know," Evan said, "but getting yourself shot isn't going to help them. Get back over here."
Ronon, surprisingly, did as ordered. He came to stand beside Evan, radiating fury, and spat at the ground when Carter asked him to go back to the Stargate. "I'm not going anywhere," he declared.
"I understand your concern," Carter said, and Evan knew she did, "but you're not helping the situation. Go back to the gate. We'll radio if we need you."
Ronon stood his ground, steadfastly ignoring her. Carter's face hardened. "Major Lorne, Sergeant Alvarez, take Mr. Dex back to the Stargate. I think it would be best if all of you left. Perhaps the Cairn-Carrens would be more amenable to negotiation if they didn't perceive a threat here."
Evan thought she had a point, but when he turned to go, Ronon didn't follow. Evan turned back to him, said, "Let's go, Ronon. You won't accomplish anything here." Silence met his pronouncement, so he said again, with deliberate care, "You won't accomplish anything here."
Ronon turned toward him, blinked, and moved toward the path to the gate. Carter looked at Evan, a glint of suspicion in her eye, but he just said, "Ma'am," and gestured at Alvarez to precede him.
When they got to the Stargate, Ronon turned to him, lowering his voice so the Marines on guard wouldn't overhear, and said, "What did you have in mind?"
Evan glanced around, motioned for Alvarez to come closer, and replied, "You're not going to like it."
Ronon scowled. "Let me guess. Wait and see, right?"
"Until nightfall," Evan agreed. "If she doesn't have them back by then, we'll take a jumper and find them."
"What if they're dead by then?"
"If the Cairn-Carrens are willing to meet, that must mean they've at least considered letting McKay and the Colonel go. Why bother talking to us at all if they're just going to let them die?"
"They're stalling. Precisely so Sheppard and McKay die. All they're willing to hand us is two bodies." Ronon turned to go back to the clearing, but Carter's voice over the radio stopped him.
"Major Lorne, the chieftain has returned. He assures me that Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are not badly injured. He's willing to discuss the matter further." Her voice got an edge to it. "You're to stand by at the gate in case things go south. You too, Ronon."
"Acknowledged, Colonel," Evan answered. To Ronon, he said, "Look, we're stuck here anyway, so just be patient. Maybe she'll have some luck."
Ronon snorted, threw himself down at the base of a tree, closed his eyes, and waited.
* * *
It was early morning on Atlantis, but only just nightfall on the planet. Evan sat up from his doze against a boulder to find Ronon pacing, Alvarez muttering, and the gate guards gone.
"Where'd Fraley and Newhart go?" he demanded, standing and stretching.
"Colonel Carter sent them back through the gate half an hour ago," Alvarez said. "Turns out that when the chieftain said he wanted to negotiate, he actually meant 'preach.' The Colonel's still-"
They were interrupted by the emergence of two Cairn-Carren guards, Carter and her escort behind them. Ronon drew his gun.
"Take it easy, Ronon," Carter warned. "These gentlemen were just showing us the way back to the gate. We're going back; we'll pick this up again in the morning."
"What about Sheppard and McKay?" Ronon demanded.
"The chieftain assures me that they're fine, if a little the worse for wear. We'll be able to see them tomorrow."
"See the bodies, you mean."
"I'm inclined to take the chieftain at his word," Carter declared. "I'm sorry if you have a problem with that."
Ronon turned away, disgusted. Carter motioned for Alvarez to dial the Alpha site; they never went directly home anymore.
Evan was the last one through the gate, under the pretense of guarding his leader's back. Mentally, he was calculating the jumper's maneuvering room among the trees and boulders.
Looks like he might scrape up the drive pods unless he was careful.
* * *
They had to wait until the shift change to get a clear shot at the jumper bay. There were several scientists working on shield upgrades who didn't seem inclined to leave, even for lunch, but Dr. Kusanagi insisted they follow the shift change and let someone else take over.
Colonel Carter was waiting next to Jumper Three when Evan and Ronon got there.
"I thought better of you, Major," she said. "You'll be jeopardizing a promising trade agreement if you go through with this."
"That's all you care about?" Ronon hissed. "Trading for their stupid berries?"
"If I though that force was the answer here, I'd have authorized a rescue mission immediately," Carter countered. "The Cairn-Carrens have a great deal to offer us in the way of food and raw materials, once we get over this misunderstanding-"
"It's not a misunderstanding," said Alvarez, hurrying into the bay. "I just talked to Teyla." He glanced at Evan, almost apologetic. "I wanted to uh, make sure we weren't charging into this without the right intel. She said it's luck that the Colonel and McKay aren't dead already. These people don't screw around - they throw their prisoners into pits with these giant, I dunno, spider things, she said. If you survive the spider, they leave you in the pit to die of your injuries, or thirst. They're not going to let anybody go, ma'am. They're just talking at us to play for time."
Ronon looked at Evan. "I told you."
Carter eyed Alvarez carefully. "You're still going on report," she said.
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed.
"Stand by. I'm going to talk to Teyla myself. If you're telling the truth, I'll send a team out to get them. None of you will be on it."
"I'm not lying, ma'am," Alvarez said earnestly.
Carter was heading for the door; without looking back, she said, "You have been all along, sergeant."
"Shit," Alvarez breathed. "They're gonna ship me back to Earth."
"Sooner me than you, I think," Evan muttered. "Well, at least somebody's going to get them."
"I'm going," Ronon insisted.
"Look, Dex, don't push it, alright!" Evan snapped, fed up. "Alvarez and I probably just got ourselves court-martialed, so don't think you're getting the short end of the stick by sitting this out."
"They're my team," Ronon growled back.
"Yeah, and somebody's gonna go get them, so shut up. Believe me, if I had it my way, we would have gone right back there. Maybe we made some bad calls-"
"Yeah, you did. Should have gone over Carter's head in the first place."
"Okay, look, I know you understand the chain of command, and I know you understand that we just put our jobs on the line to go help Sheppard, so I don't know what the hell crawled up your ass!"
Ronon took a breath. "They're my family, too.”
Evan was surprised at the soft sincerity of the declaration . "Yeah, okay, I guess I get that," he said eventually. "So do them a favor: stay here, so that when they come back you can visit them in the infirmary, instead of them visiting you in the brig."
Ronon shrugged, wandered away. They were all silent until Carter's voice came over the radio, telling them she was sending a team of Marines and a jumper to extract Sheppard and McKay. Evan was to fill them in on the kind of resistance they'd encounter, and then he and his co-conspirators were confined to quarters.
* * *
Rodney started awake to an explosion, near enough that he saw the dirt it threw against the pre-dawn sky. He stared upwards, uncomprehending, until a twitch beside him brought the memories flooding back. He turned carefully to see John's battered face highlighted by another explosion. John twitched again, his breathing labored now, but did not wake. Rodney glanced at the wall before them and his heart beat faster at the sight of a jumper nosing over the edge. He followed its progress into the pit, letting his eyes close when he saw the ramp lower.
"Took you long enough," he muttered at the voices the swarmed above him.
* * *
Rodney awoke a second time to hear the familiar sounds of the infirmary all around him. A vitals monitor was beeping steadily to his left, and soft conversation carried over from the front of the room. The Ancient diagnostic scanner hummed in self-test mode. He lay still for a few minutes, assessing his injuries - dull, drug-muted pain in his ankle and fingers, and god, why wouldn't they give him the good stuff for the spike of agony in his back? His head hurt, too, and it was with reluctance that he opened his eyes. The lights over his bed were blessedly dim.
The bed across from him was occupied by Teyla, and the one next to hers by Radek. They both appeared to be asleep. On his left lay John, pale and battered, sharp lines of pain apparent in his face even though he, too, was sleeping. Rodney let out a sigh as he watched the vitals monitor register John's heartbeat with a steady beep, beep. He heard a scuff of boots on his right, turned his head to see Sam approaching his bedside.
"How are you feeling, Rodney?" she asked. "Want some ice chips?"
Rodney nodded mutely, and didn't have the energy to blush when she fed them to him herself. "What took so long?" he rasped after a moment's silence. "Did something happen while we were gone?"
"No, everything's alright," Sam told him. "I ah, I made a bad call. I thought we could negotiate for your release."
Rodney snorted. "Yeah, that never works in this galaxy."
"So I've noticed." She paused, seemingly reluctant to continue, and then said, "Look, Rodney, we need to talk about your relationship with Colonel Sheppard."
"My what?" Rodney asked, trying for incredulous even as his heart started pounding.
"I know you're involved with him," Sam said gently, not quite meeting Rodney's eyes. "And honestly, I don't have a problem with that, UCMJ or no. What I do have a problem with is that you're both on the same team. This wouldn't have happened if you weren't-"
"It had nothing to do with that," Rodney stated firmly.
"Rodney, you walked into a first-contact situation holding hands," Sam pressed.
"What? We weren't- I tripped. Sheppard grabbed my wrist to keep me from falling on my face."
"That's what Lorne and Alvarez said at first," she agreed, "but when I pressed for details, Alvarez told me that you took John's hand, and didn't let go." Sam finally looked Rodney in the eye. "That can't happen, Rodney. I'm sure it seemed inconsequential right then, but four people are hurt and we've lost a potential trading partner because of it. I can't have you and Colonel Sheppard on the same team."
Rodney shook his head in protest, ignoring the burst of pain the blossomed in the back of his skull. "It's not like that. John and I - we've been together for years. We've never had any problem remaining professional offworld." Which wasn't completely true, but it had never happened on a world they didn't feel was secure. And it had never been anything more than a brush of hands, or a chaste kiss.
"There's a first time for everything, Rodney. I'm sorry, but I'm moving you to a different team." She seemed genuinely sad at the prospect of doing so, and a part of Rodney knew it was the right thing to do. The rest of him railed at the idea, because who did she think she was, coming here, taking over Elizabeth's job like she knew what the hell she was doing in Pegasus? Like she knew how Rodney and John and everybody on Atlantis thought, what they counted as important. She hadn't been here long enough to make snap judgements.
"It's not going to happen," came a rumble from behind Sam just as Rodney renewed his protest. She startled, turned to scowl at Ronon.
"Didn't I confine you to quarters?" she demanded.
"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "You're not splitting the team up."
"You have no place in this discussion, Mr. Dex," Sam said coldly.
"The hell I don't," he shot back. "I'm part of the team, and I say McKay stays. I know Teyla's gonna say the same thing, and maybe Sheppard's going to feel guilty for a bit, or maybe he won't, but he'll go nuts having to put up with some newbie scientist fresh off one of your ships. It's a bad plan, and I won't let you do it."
Rodney blinked, surprised to hear Ronon string together so many words for Sam's benefit. What he said was, "Where'd you learn the word 'newbie?'"
"Ronon, I appreciate your concerns," Sam interjected, "but you must see how risky it is to send two people who are involved out into the field together. It puts the whole team at risk. I'm sorry; I've made my decision. Rodney, when you're released, I'd like a list of candidates to fill your position. Take it easy, though, okay?" She flashed him a brittle smile and turned to leave.
Ronon stepped in front of her. "Not going to happen," he growled.
Sam blinked at him, shocked. "If you're trying to intimidate me-"
"Is it working?"
"No. Now get back to your quarters before I call security."
"You really think Sheppard's men will follow your orders?"
"I'm sorry, are you suggesting that I'm going to have a mutiny on my hands because I want to move McKay to a different team?" Sam's voice was incredulous.
"Lorne and Alvarez not enough proof for you?"
"Wait, what about Lorne?" Rodney interrupted.
Ronon spared him a fierce grin. "He and Alvarez were ready to steal a jumper and come after you two." To Sam he said, "Don't think there aren't more of Sheppard's men willing to defend him."
"Maybe they will defend him," Sam agreed, "but when the chips are down, they'll follow orders. Now, if you'll excuse me?"
As she made to leave again, Ronon put a hand on her shoulder. She sidestepped, grabbing his arm in a defensive hold, but he twisted and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. They stood like that, staring each other down, for a long moment. Behind them, Keller and one of the nurses stared in shock.
Finally, Ronon leaned in. Quietly, with intensity, he ground out, "Don't." A beat, then, "It won't happen again."
"You can't guarantee-" Sam began.
"It won't. Happen. Again."
Whatever Sam saw in his face, or heard in his voice, it swayed her. Relaxing her grip, she said, "Alright." Then, to Rodney, "No second chance, McKay. Screw up one more time, and it's over. I'll send one of you back home."
Rodney didn't say, "No, you'll send one of us away. This is home." He just whispered, "I understand."
Sam slipped out of Ronon's grip, nodded calmly to Keller, and left. Ronon pinned Rodney with a black gaze. "It won't happen again."
"It won't," Rodney echoed. "It won't."
John, blissfully unaware, slept on.
* * *
"Dr. Kusanagi has been taking care of everything," Radek declared, sliding gingerly onto the stool at Rodney's bedside.
"Miko? My god, how is the city still standing?"
"Do not act like that. You are the one who listed her as next in line for acting CSO."
"No, I listed Simpson as next in line. Where the hell is she?"
"She went to Earth on vacation. You approved her leave weeks ago."
"Oh. Right. So how much damage did Kusanagi do?"
"Well, she fixed the circuit bypass outside the infirmary, kept your jumper team on schedule with the shield upgrades, finished your cloak modulation equations, got rid of the radio dead zone we had near the star drives, and completed all your requisition forms."
Rodney was silent for a moment. "Really?"
"Yes. Oh, and there was an explosion in lab three-"
"What? What happened?"
"Somebody turned off one of your experiments by accident..."
"Oh, great. Who was it, and I hope you left me the pleasure of ripping that bright individual a new one?"
“I will not tell you who it was until you are discharged, and I said nothing to him because I have been here since the whole mission went south. Miko, on the other hand...” Radek trailed off, something like a grin tugging at his lips.
“Miko what?” Rodney prodded.
“Let’s just say it’s been a long time since I have seen a grown man cry.”
Rodney leaned back into his pillows with a smirk. He was training his minions well.
After Radek shuffled back to his bed, Rodney turned carefully on his side and watched John through half-closed eyes. The other man looked less pale, and he had woken during the night. The vitals monitor was still attached, but Keller had made noises about removing it the next morning.
He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation they’d have to have about the mission, and Sam knowing about their relationship. He and John had survived some serious low points in their years together, but Rodney was afraid this might do them in John took his duties seriously, for all that he slouched around like a lazy slacker half the time. If he felt that they’d overstepped the line...
“Hey.” Ronon was back. Rodney was tempted to ignore him, but a nudge and a quiet “I know you’re awake” prompted him to roll over.
Ronon was looking down at him with a reassuring expression. “I won’t let him leave you.”
“What?” Rodney’s brain took a few second to catch up. “Look, since when are you our keeper? You’re lucky Sam doesn’t throw you out on your ass.”
“She won’t. We understand each other.”
“Right. You’ll forgive me if I reserve judgment on that.”
Ronon watched him steadily, and after a minute Rodney broke down and said, “Okay, hotshot, how are you going to make sure he doesn’t- uh, look, you’re no Yenta the matchmaker, alright?”
“No, but I make a pretty good Ranggen the Heart-keeper.”
Ronon shrugged. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day. Just, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
Rodney sighed. “Yeah, fine. Uh, thanks.”
Ronon slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Seriously. Don’t worry.”
Looking at John’s familiar profile in the next bed, Rodney figured that, yeah, maybe he wouldn’t.