Summary: One day, Rodney saw John clearly, every exhausted line in his body. John watched Rodney wearing himself away a little more each day. They both do their best to fix it, to anchor each other against the slow erosion. It's finally hamburgers, of all things, that prompt some honesty out of them.
Author's Note: I hope - I really, really hope - that tarlanx enjoys this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I tried to make it angsty for you, and to focus on Rodney. I mean, it's not a hardship to focus on him, really, is it? In view of your dislike of domestic cliches, I avoided writing a scene of them shopping, so you will just have to take my word for it that Rodney absolutely watched John trying on his new clothes in the changing rooms. Of course, John checked him out too. Thoroughly. Many thanks to my beta readers, who are absolutely amazing.
Chemistry was not quite voodoo, in Rodney's book. Some of it was quite well-founded, some of it useful, though the chemists' tedious inability to do real maths and the truly noxious odours that clung to their lab precluded him from taking it too seriously. One day, though, he tuned in a discussion from the chemists at the table behind him.
"But will it be reactive enough to truly sacrifice itself in the place of the casing?"
"Well, if you look at its position on the series, you would expect...."
"Too, we need to consider the nature of its thermodynamic interactions...."
"But the oxide is not stable enough to be sure that the galvanisation would even work, let alone...."
"I agree. The oxide has not proved stable enough, and we can't be sure that the base metal is more reactive in the first place."
"Well, we need to have some sort of sacrificial metal in the casing, or the whole thing's going to rust in months."
"Yes, but I think you're wrong about this particular metal. There is no proof of its stability in this kind...."
"We've still got some of the newer alloys to consider too...."
"That is a possibility."
Remembering this vaguely from his time as an undergrad, he tuned out of the conversation again. The activity series, and the practice of affixing a more reactive piece of metal to a less reactive one, so the more reactive one was consumed first, he knew all this from half-remembered lectures. But his eyes had been unconsciously fixed on Sheppard, across the table, looking pale and bruised and tired, in a way that made Rodney tense abruptly, because he suddenly realised that Sheppard was being used like that. He was the sacrifice, the one who gave up bits of himself, piecemeal, so that the rest of them could live just a little longer, keep their skins and their psyches intact just that bit better. Rodney gulped, spoon suspended halfway to his mouth, appalled.
"Rodney?" He snapped back to himself and saw a smirk, one that should have appeared effortless, crossing Sheppard's face. Rodney was sure he could see the strain it took, hiding under there. Unsure of what to do, he dropped his spoon back on his plate. All of a sudden, he could see everything. Every shadow, every lingering remnant of the latest nightmare, everything. It was just as clear and sharp as the first time he saw the mathematics of a simple pendulum coalesce with the physical reality, but without the euphoria.
"Sorry, Colonel, major breakthrough happening right now," he blurted, pushing back from the table.
"But you haven't finished your lunch!"
"No time, genius at work," he called distractedly, nearly running from the mess hall in his haste to get away. He sprinted through the corridors, one part of his brain marvelling over his increased cardiovascular fitness since running for his life had become a regular feature of his weekly routine. By far the larger part of it, though, was consumed by wondering over his sudden realisation that Sheppard was being leached away, little by little, right in front of his eyes. By the time the door to his quarters hissed shut behind him, he had tipped over into wild, unreasoning anger.
He hadn't asked for Sheppard to save him, time and time again. Not at the cost of his own health, not at the cost of seeing him fade away a little more every day, growing shadow-like and grim. He dropped onto the bed and buried his face in his hands, remembering all the times he had relied on Sheppard, expected him to come through for Rodney, expected him to know what to do. And each time, it had been killing him just a little. No one seemed to care what the cost was. No one seemed to care that Sheppard was fading away before their eyes, they just seemed to expect that he would do it. Stand between them and whatever this week's hell was. The worst bit was that he did do it - without complaining, unflinchingly.
Rodney scrubbed his hands over his face, no longer sure who he was angry at. Elizabeth, sure. Now that he'd seen it, he could see all the times that she expected John to sacrifice himself. His own self, definitely. He recognised, with inward shame, that he was guilty of it too. Guilty of looking to Sheppard to take the knocks, do the dirty work, suffer the consequences. And Sheppard. He was irrationally, completely consumed with anger towards Sheppard, who let people do this to him. Use him like this.
Dropping back onto the bed, Rodney stared up at the ceiling through his fingers. He didn't even hear the knock on his door, or the soft hiss of it sliding open.
"Is this how genius works?" asked Sheppard, voice amused. Rodney's head jerked up, taking in Sheppard's lazy slouch against the wall, though, now that he had the eyes to look, Rodney could see the tiredness in every line of his body. Bouncing up from the bed, he looked at Sheppard incredulously.
"You followed me?" he gasped.
"You didn't finish your lunch, Rodney," Sheppard said, holding out two MREs. Rodney took them in nerveless fingers.
"Did you finish your lunch?" he asked suspiciously. Sheppard looked away, and Rodney could see the denial in his posture without ever having to have it in words. A giddy spike of revelation shot through him. He could read Sheppard now, see all the things he was hiding under his stoic facade, see him laid apart and bare like when he prised a panel back and all the crystals were exposed to his eyes. Waiting for him to fix them.
"I wasn't hungry," said Sheppard.
"Well, you should be. Here." He handed one back. "Sit down, you're going to eat now. And after that, I'm giving you some chocolate, and you are going to eat it and not complain, got it?"
Sheppard took the MRE back and sat down on the chair, smirk in place. Rodney was relieved to see that the effort going into it was less.
"Let's get this right, Rodney. You sprint out of the mess, without finishing your food, saying you're having a breakthrough in whatever your latest piece of genius is, then I find you lying on your bed, not working, then you make me eat and say you're going to give me chocolate?"
"You don't want the chocolate, Colonel?" asked Rodney, chin up and back very straight.
"Oh, no, don't get me wrong. I want the chocolate." Sheppard pulled back the lid on his MRE and prodded it suspiciously. Then he looked up and smiled. "I just want to know who you are and what you've done with Dr Rodney McKay."
John had no idea what went on in McKay's brain half the time. It seemed to be in constant motion, with bits and pieces leaking constantly out through his crappy filters and turning into an unending stream of words. He never seemed to get tired of it, never seemed to need quiet. Even repairs were usually accompanied by a string of complaints about the inability of other scientists to do anything intelligent, jumbled with exhortations and endearments directed towards Atlantis and her systems, and random rants on topics as wildly disconnected as the internal logic of science fiction to the probability that Atlantis meatloaf actually contained real meat. John would sit next to him, especially during jumper repairs, touching things and handing equipment as requested, feeling soothed by the noise and jumble of words. He wondered when it had started being calming, almost relaxing.
Today was not one of those days. McKay was hardly talking at all. Instead, he was watching John carefully, not complaining, not saying anything really. Usually, when a mission went bad and they ended up in a cell, waiting for Teyla to do her magic and get them out of it, McKay could scarcely breathe for his complaints. John missed them. Either they were in even bigger trouble than he had thought, or something had happened to muffle McKay's vocal chords. He paced another circuit of the cell, kicking idly at the walls and hoping like hell that Teyla would be able to get them out soon. He was getting hungry, and he was sure Rodney must be too. Then McKay handed him half a powerbar from an inside pocket on his vest without being asked and John knew something was wrong. Something big.
He tried to hand it back. "Come on, McKay," he said, "I don't need to eat yet."
"Well, you should," said Rodney, voice oddly belligerent. "Now eat it."
John stared at him for a long moment, watching as he took a bite and chewed on it, mouth resolutely closed. John looked down at his half of the powerbar, still in its wrapper and extended halfway towards Rodney.
"McKay, you should have it," he said, shaking the snack back and forth.
"No," said Rodney. "Stop arguing and start eating. If you're not hungry you should be." His voice was that kind of implacable he sometimes got in the labs, when John dropped in unannounced and got to hear him tearing strips off the new scientists. John felt a restless surge of anger start, and opened his mouth to retort.
The door to their cell opened with a clang and the powerbar dropped to the floor as John was shoved against the wall, huge hands pinning him in place. Rodney swung round in surprise, staggering back as a fist slammed into his face and utterly failing to get his hands up in any of the moves his team had tried to teach him. The second caught him in the gut and he rallied enough to get in some defensive moves as John fought desperately to get free of the hands restraining him. The next few minutes were a blur of knuckles and wild kicks and his own frantic voice calling Rodney's name. Barely feeling his bruises, he watched Rodney stagger and fall, curling up into the instinctive comma of protection for his head and chest. John ended up on his knees, arms pinned behind his back and chin crushed in a tight grip, face turned to see Rodney on the ground, blood a slow trickle between the fingers spread over his head.
"This is what happens," growled the man holding him, breathing hard, but a cruel satisfaction snaking through his words. "This is what happens to those who transgress. Your negotiator will get you out, but we've already served justice here." Then John was shoved forward, onto his face, and the door slammed sullenly as the men left. John couldn't focus on anything other than Rodney, though, crawling to him on hands and knees, reaching out shaky fingers to check him, touch him, stroke over his neck and cheeks so gently. Rodney moaned, just a little, and the vulnerability of that little noise made John want to snap the fingers of the man who did this, feel the bone crack with sickening deliberation. But Rodney's eyes fluttered and John was there with him instead, crooning into his ear, uncaring of everything but Rodney's skin under his hands, the makeshift field dressings he fabricated for the worst of the wounds, the gentle voice he used to try to talk Rodney through the rest.
John wrapped round him right there on the floor, like he was a sheet anchor for Rodney, even though he knew he was lost too. He looked down into Rodney's face and saw the shadows and lines there. Not just the new red ones, blooming under the crusting blood, but the old ones that spoke of bitter coffee and burnt out crystals and making something from nothing in defiance of all laws of physics. It made him ache, the sudden realisation that Rodney was slowly dimming. There was less and less spark, every time he did the impossible.
Teyla found them like that, when she finally negotiated their release and went to the cells to escort them out herself. John watched her righteous fury from a distance, all his focus on each pained breath Rodney dragged in.
Rodney contemplated his open drawers without enthusiasm. It wasn't like he was going to be wearing his science blue shirts back on Earth, anyway, or any of his gear from Atlantis. He would have to buy new clothes and open up his apartment again, but beyond that he had no idea what he was supposed to do with his enforced 'vacation' back home. Not that it was home anymore. He snorted to himself and shoved a pair of his least worn boxers into his duffel. He didn't see why he had to be sent back to Earth to recover. He was pretty much healed up now, and John had stopped wincing every time he saw him, looking guiltily at the livid bruises staining his skin, or the five stitches flirting with his hairline.
The door chimed and Rodney got up, opening it to find John on the other side. Here was another reason he shouldn't be going back to Earth right now. Rodney could see every wearing inch of strain in John's body, all the tensed muscles and over-stretched nerves. He moved out of the way, silently inviting the other man in. John took in the duffel on the bed and the drawers open with clothes spilling out and Rodney saw him tense even further and sink in on himself a little. A sacrifice, thought Rodney, a goddamn sacrifice to all this pointless shit, and was suddenly shaken with a wave of protectiveness. He would do anything to restore John and see his face lose that haunted look he wore under the laid back indifference.
"Come with me," he said, suddenly. He blushed brightly as he realised what he'd said, without thinking. But then he saw the look of longing cross John's face, so briefly that he would never have seen it without his new insight. "I mean it," he continued, more firmly now. "A vacation is what we both need. Someplace quiet and warm. With a good Internet connection and no insects. And a total ban on citrus." Rodney stopped, searching John's face.
"Yeah, okay," said John, not quite meeting Rodney's eyes, so he couldn't read if it was resignation or relief that remedied the tension in John's stance, but he knew that it eased something held tightly inside his own chest.
"Go and pack. I'll make all the arrangements," said Rodney as he wondered just how far John's acquiescence would go. He caught sight of John's eyes for just a moment as he looked up and over at him.
"Yeah, okay," John said again. His feet shuffled on the floor for just a moment before he headed for the door. He paused right in the doorway. "Thank you," he said, very quietly, without turning.
Rodney's mind was already feverishly working on the logistics of finding the perfect place for them to stay for two weeks, but he didn't miss that. There was no way he could, the tiredness in the two words projecting directly into his brain.
"No, John, thank you," he said, meaning every word. Then John was gone, the door hissing shut behind him, and Rodney fiercely promised himself that he was going to erase that look, the tired one that screamed that he was being eaten away with every mission and every crisis. He tapped his earpiece as he stuffed another pair of boxers into his duffel. He had to get this approved, then a few emails to sort the rest out.
The SGC was good at some things, Rodney told John, like making sure his apartment was clean and aired out and stocked with everything that could be needed for two weary intergalactic explorers. They were less great at letting said weary explorers leave to actually enjoy the their efforts. When John and Rodney tumbled through the door, duffels dragging on the floor in exhaustion, John scarcely noticed the cleanliness of the floors. He did notice the stocked fridge, when Rodney grabbed a bottle of water from it and offered it to John wordlessly. John took it, tilting back his head and drinking deeply.
"God, bed," groaned Rodney. "Sweet, sweet sleep." He staggered down the hallway, John trailing behind him. "Spare room," said Rodney, pushing one of the doors open and blinking at the bed, made up with the cleanest, crispest sheets John had seen since last time he was on Earth, piled high with blankets. He ached to be in that bed, asleep and safe and warm, but he wanted to know Rodney was okay first. He had watched him all through the briefings and medical checks, as he made the same statements again and again to people who didn't seem to understand what Atlantis even was, much less what Rodney was. What he had given to make the expedition work. John had watched the tiredness creep through Rodney, insidious like that mould from P3X-4H25 that had ended up quarantining the team in the Jumper bay overnight.
He moved ahead of Rodney. "This is your room?" he asked, pushing open another door. The bed was bigger, but made up the same, and a stereo system looked oddly new and out of place under the window. A few stray bars of light filtered in, silvery on the walls and floor until Rodney switched on the light and flooded the room with yellow.
"Yeah," said Rodney, making it inside the door. He dumped his bag on the floor and stretched. John watched the lines of his body tense deliberately, twisting into something new, before he dropped his arms and relaxed. He looked so tired, edgy and worn, and John felt a stab of protectiveness go through him. He wanted to wrap himself around Rodney and keep him safe. He wanted Rodney back like he was before, before John saw all this weariness in him.
"What's the stereo for?" he asked, trying to distract himself from the uncomfortable feeling inside him. He needed to sleep, then he would be fine. Rodney glanced at him, then away.
"I couldn't sleep, last time we were on Earth. I missed the sound of the sea." He dug through his duffel and pulled out a case, crossing to the player and inserting it. The sound that came through was instantly familiar, soothing to John in a way he couldn't explain. He crossed to the bed and sank down on it, letting the blankets and the sound of the gentle slap of water against a pier cushion him. Looking back up at Rodney, John caught an unreadable expression on his face and flushed as he realised he had just sat down on the guy's bed uninvited.
"I should leave you to get some sleep," John said, moving to stand. Rodney needed his sleep.
"No," said Rodney, quickly. "Stay. If it will help you sleep." He stopped, biting his lower lip and looking so lonely and lost, for just an instant, that John nodded. He wanted to, anyway, though he could scarcely look at that admission himself, much less voice it. All he could do was do whatever Rodney wanted. He reached down and tugged at his laces, letting the soft rustle of Rodney's clothes coming off meld with the hiss of the waves and the wet smack of each one against Atlantis's sturdy body. He stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt before wandering into the bathroom to brush his teeth, then slipping under the covers. The lights snapped off and the bed dipped as Rodney crawled in. The solid familiarity of his body anchored John, dispelling the strangeness of their surroundings. There was something a little disturbing about the way that sharing a bed in a normal apartment on Earth was far stranger to him than sharing whatever quarters they could find off-world in the Pegasus galaxy was.
"Thanks," said John, very quietly, as he listened to Rodney's breathing deepen and slow next to him. He could feel the Rodney's warmth, solid and heavy, next to him, easing to sleep. John turned on his side, watching him in the light creeping into the room around the curtains. He let the rhythm of the waves sink into him, pulling him down.
Rodney woke up slowly the next morning, feeling warm and secure in spite of his cold feet. Something big and heavy was against his back, mooring him inside his cocoon of blankets. He tried to twitch the blankets over his feet, cracking an eye open to try to make sense of the jumble of bedding over him, and blinked at the hairy arm slung over his waist. John. Rodney forgot about his feet and relaxed back into the mattress, eyes open and staring up at the ceiling. He wished he could see John's face in sleep and imagined it instead, smoothed out and peaceful, he hoped.
The steady hiss and slap of the waves continued, but the light was all wrong for his quarters in Atlantis. Rodney didn't care. He felt the arm over his waist tighten slightly and the solid lump of John's body at his back twitch and was suddenly conscious of his half-hard cock and the way his t-shirt had rucked up under his arms, exposing bare skin. He could feel the hairy flesh of John's stomach rubbing against him, and fought the urge to turn slightly, to see if John was hard too. John rolled on to his back, slowly, dragging more of the blankets with him. Rodney tugged at them and John sleepily untangled himself enough that Rodney could finally get a corner of them over his feet. He wasn't even sure if John was properly awake, which was weird in itself. Whenever they had shared quarters in Pegasus, John had seemed to wake instantly, alert and on guard, the instant he was startled. This drowsy, silent John was unexpected. But nice.
"The sound really worked," said John, voice scratchy. "I haven't slept that well in years."
"Good," said Rodney, relieved that John didn't appear to be going to freak out that he'd spent the night cuddling him. "Coffee?"
"You have some?" asked John.
"Is a house fully cleaned and stocked without coffee?" asked Rodney. "I'll make it. You have a shower. I have plans for today." He held his breath slightly, waiting for John to argue. There was a perceptible pause before John answered.
"Sounds good," he said, propping himself up on his elbows. Rodney looked at him properly for the first time this morning, taking in the creases on his face from the pillow and the way his hair stood in even more disordered tufts than usual. He wondered how much of John's unusual docility came from the fact that he was truly exhausted. The lines of tiredness in his face had eased only slightly with a night's sleep. Rodney was determined to erase them further and pushed himself upright, fighting to be free of the blankets.
The floor was cool under his feet, but the coffee machine hissed and spluttered satisfyingly, and Rodney was glad he'd entrusted buying a new one to Daniel Jackson. The rich smell of coffee soon filled the room, the brew in the small ceramic cups nearly black. John took his with grabby fingers, leaning against the counter in worn sweats and an old t-shirt. Rodney gulped half of his and sighed with gratification. Perfect.
"Shopping," he said, right before burying his nose back into his cup. John jerked his head up from the bottom of his cup.
"Shopping?" he echoed.
Rodney gestured at his clothes, then at himself in his raggedy t-shirt and faded boxers. "Yes, shopping. I refuse to wear air force issue while on holiday." John's eyes raked over Rodney. Toes curling on the cold floor, Rodney was sure he could feel that gaze all the way through him, hot and searching. The urge to open up and let John take what he wanted, whatever it turned out to be, was strong, almost overwhelming.
"Okay," said John, agreeably. "You should probably shower first. And I'll cook some eggs for breakfast." Rodney watched him for a long moment, the relaxed curve to his spine as he slouched against the bench, his toes bare and vulnerable on the floor.
"More coffee," he said. "A lot more coffee." Then he trod down the hallway to the bathroom, John's toes needling him in his imagination, naked and curling shamelessly against the sheets in some fantasy.
The room was still steamy, thick with the scent of soap and John's shaving foam. The floor was damp and a thumbprint was smudged into the mirror. It was strangely intimate to step into the shower and close the door, knowing that John had just been in here, water and suds sliding down his exposed skin. He lathered up and swiped his hands over himself, trying to ignore the way his cock was hardening, shifting insistently against his thigh. Tilting his face up to the water, Rodney's mind provided images of John doing the same, the tendons on his neck standing taut, body stretched and bare, unconcealed behind thick cotton and layers of denial and training.
Rodney tried to think of something else, flipping through his gallery of faceless blondes with big tits. He tried to imagine them at his feet, curling their fingers round his thighs and sucking his cock into their mouths. John intruded, a collage of images from all the time they had known each other. Looking up at Rodney so seriously as he adjusted the straps on Rodney's thigh holster, fingers brushing over Rodney's neck as he shifted his backpack to rest more comfortably, nudging their knees together during meetings - they all flicked through his mind behind his eyes, displacing the blondes, and Rodney's hand was on his dick before he knew it, stroking in the rough, fierce rhythm he liked.
He imagined John as he'd seen him this morning, twisting through a yawn as he got out of bed, t-shirt riding up and belly exposed, boxers sliding down over sharp hipbones, strong thighs bracing and flexing. His hand flew along his cock, dragging over the sensitive skin and drawing out each shred of pleasure. He felt the desire crest and break inside him, shuddering out through his limbs as he spilled over his hand and belly.
Leaning against the wall, he slowly regained his breath, letting the water rinse him clean. He had no idea where any of that had come from, and was having some trouble reconciling it. It wasn't that he'd never been with men before, but it was John, and he was already so complicated and snarled up inside Rodney's life in impossible ways. He was right there, making up parts of Rodney that Rodney didn't even like to think about. Rodney absently soaped himself again and rinsed and stepped out, drying himself thoroughly and avoiding the mirror and the thumbprint that was nearly obliterated under the fresh steam.
John had not seen so many shopping bags in one place since he and Nancy had been together, and had certainly never been responsible for so many ever before. They spilled from the couch in Rodney's lounge to the floor in a slither of plastic in all colours and sizes. DVDs rattled next to bags of t-shirts and the abandoned lid from a shoebox. He slurped up the last of his smoothie and smiled a little as he remembered the look on Rodney's face when he'd asked for spirulina. He smiled even more as he remembered the sales assistants in the various shops they had gone into, how he'd listened to Rodney pulverise their ridiculous ideas about everything and demand to know where the 100% cotton t-shirts had been hidden. He had to admit, the ones Rodney had finally deemed suitable were softer and better made than any he had ever found before. Rodney had sniffed when he tipped a dozen in black, all the same, into the trolley.
"They left us frozen pizza," shouted Rodney from the kitchen. "Do you want that? Or there's some stuff that could potentially make burgers here." John closed his eyes against the sudden feeling of dislocation, something tight easing in his chest, when he realised that this was it. This was all he had to worry about, for the next two weeks. Doing whatever Rodney wanted and watching him slow down and fill in all those faded patches where he'd been greying out and disappearing. It was giddy and sudden, and he suddenly wondered why Rodney wanted him here. He abandoned that train of thought as straying too close to all the things he didn't want to think about and wandered into the kitchen. Pitching his plastic cup into the bin, John gave his best smirk and leaned on the bench.
"Whatever you want, Rodney," he said. Rodney looked over his shoulder as he continued to rummage through the freezer, his glance an odd mixture of irritation and something John couldn't really identify. It looked a little like longing.
"Don't give me that," he said. "I want an opinion."
"Okay," said John, "burgers, then. I'll help cook."
Rodney turned completely, then, smiling a little ruefully. "You'd better," he said. "I'm a terrible cook." He extracted the burger patties from the freezer and read the label carefully, checking for the slightest hint of citrus in them. John strolled forward and nudged him out of the way, bending down to check the fridge.
"What do you want on them?" he asked, pulling out the buns and checking the contents of the rest of the shelves. He looked up at Rodney, catching him in the middle of gazing down at John with that look on his face again. John wanted to twitch uncomfortably under it at the same time as he wanted to straighten and let Rodney look at him however he wanted to, for as long as he needed.
"Everything," said Rodney. I want everything. But we shouldn't eat too heavily. I have massages booked for later this afternoon."
John dropped the onion he was holding. "Massages?" he gasped, because, really, where had that come from. He looked at Rodney, then, seeing his gaze slide away from his, that odd belligerence on his face, and John's mind suddenly flashed back to Rodney's face as he held out a bar of chocolate, as he broke a powerbar in half and handed one piece over, as he asked John to come back to Earth with him. His mind catalogued the look each time, the determined set of Rodney's jaw and shoulders, but he lost the thought in the studied snark as Rodney answered him.
"Yes, Colonel Macho, massages. You know, those things you get when you need to relax? Daniel Jackson recommended the agency. They'll be here at four, so we'd better get going with the cooking or we'll be too full to enjoy it." He marched over to the stove and found a heavy skillet, setting it on the element with a clang that jolted John.
"No, it's not that, Rodney. It's just. You're doing all this for me."
"Of course," said Rodney, looking up at him. "Who else would I do it for?"
"You shouldn't be doing this," said John, eyes downcast. "I should be doing it for you."
"What?" gasped Rodney, turning from the stove and staring at John.
"You're the one with the shadows," said John, lifting his eyes to flicker them over Rodney's face. "I've watched them. Watched you give and give and save everyone." His voice trailed off and his fingers twitched and he felt so stupid, standing there empty-handed in the middle of Rodney's kitchen, trying to articulate the biggest thing of his life and feeling it rising to choke him.
"Are you insane?" demanded Rodney, voice rising. "You're the one I'm doing this for! You're the one being eaten away by everyone's demands for both a hero and someone to do the dirty work. Don't think I haven't seen it, the way you take the crap and carry it all on your goddamn shoulders, and it eats away at you because you're a fucking sacrifice, and one day you're going to die and then what will I have left?" He stopped, horrified at his own admission.
"Shit, Rodney -" started John, dragging his hand through his hair in frustration.
"Don't say anything," said Rodney, voice calm and implacable, and John just felt something break inside him at the blankness and withdrawal in that tone.
"Don't say anything?" echoed John, fingers curling as he fought the desire to reach out and shake Rodney by the shoulders. "Yeah, okay, not going to happen, buddy. You just told me that you're terrified of me dying, and I've got to say, right back atcha. From where I'm standing. Shit, Rodney, don't you fucking know?" He looked at Rodney, then, still and blank-faced next to the stove, only an arms length away, but so remote. "Just. I see you give yourself away every time something goes wrong, spreading yourself thinner and thinner and what the fuck will I do when you disappear?" He stared at Rodney for a moment, seeing his expression shift and change, and without warning he was in Rodney's arms, pressed up close against him with Rodney's fingers digging into his shoulders and his own hands tight on the back of Rodney's neck and splayed wide across his ribs. He pushed his face into Rodney's neck, feeling Rodney's face buried in his shoulder. He fit, so well, and everything John had seen and been thinking and avoiding for the last few weeks collapsed down on him.
"I can't do it without you," whispered Rodney shakily, so faintly that John could barely hear him, even as pressed together as they were.
"You can't ever leave me alone," replied John, fiercely. Then Rodney's hands were on John's cheeks and unsteady kisses were imprinted over his eyelids and across his nose. When one brushed the corner of his mouth, John turned into it, opening under Rodney's lips. He wanted this, so much. It was everything that had been itching at him, every protective urge, every compulsion to make Rodney happy. Their tongues met in the slowest, most hesitant kiss, as if in deliberate contrast to the unyielding clutch of their hands and the force of their bodies together.
Gradually, their hands eased, gentling down until Rodney was framing John's face and John's hands were cradling Rodney close, like he was never going to let Rodney drift away. He never wanted to, and the realisation made him relax just a bit more, tipping their foreheads together and letting the kiss fade. Rodney's breath ghosted over John's neck and made him shiver.
"I'll never leave you alone," said Rodney, very quietly.
"I'll never make you do it without me," answered John, the promise slipping out without his permission, even though he knew he couldn't make it, not really. He didn't care, though. He didn't care at all.
"Tonight?" asked Rodney. "Can we? I mean, I don't want to presume, but -. I'd like to. With you, when we have time and we're not hungry and fucked up." John pressed a very soft kiss to the corner of Rodney's mouth.
"Yes. I want to. Tonight. I want everything, Rodney. Everything."
Rodney stacked the last dishes in the dishwasher and straightened. He looked around the kitchen, seeing the table wiped clean and all the benches clear. He closed the washer and turned it on, listening to the low hum as it started. Wiping his palms on his jeans, he headed for the lounge, looking for John. He found him standing in front of the windows, hands shoved into the back pockets of his jeans. The sun was setting into a grey, damp horizon, and Rodney fought a little shiver of cold, even though he had the thermostat cranked up high. John turned, as if he heard, hands sliding free and reaching out, the motion free and easy in a way Rodney had never seen before. He didn't think he'd ever seen John reach out for someone.
Taking two steps forward into the middle of the room, they met each other halfway. John wrapped his fingers around Rodney's hands, thumbs rubbing over the knuckles. John's face was more relaxed, even, than it had been this morning, when he'd woken up in Rodney's bed. Rodney liked seeing that, thinking that he was a little bit responsible for the relaxation. That maybe John wouldn't think he had to be everyone's hero.
"Have you?" asked John. "I mean, with a guy? Ever?" If it hadn't been for the shadows, Rodney would have sworn that John was blushing just a little.
"Not seriously, and not for a long time. You?"
"No," said John as he looked down at his feet and his fingers twitched around Rodney's hands. "I've sometimes... thought about it."
"We can figure it out as we go. I am a genius, after all."
John laughed, quietly and a little nervously, the sound falling softly into the shadows of the room. "Yeah, you are, Rodney. Just. I'm not good at this talking."
"And I'm the poster boy for open and mature conversation," scoffed Rodney, pulling John a little closer. "It doesn't matter, you know?"
"Yeah, I do," said John, looking into Rodney's eyes again. He leaned down and started the kiss, gentle and a little hesitant. Rodney opened up to him, letting John control the kiss. He swirled his tongue with John's in lazy arcs, feeling his blood quickening and a flush starting to crawl over his cheekbones. John pulled back, breathing hard. He rested his forehead against Rodney's and spoke softly.
"I want to suck your cock," he said. Rodney felt suddenly dizzy and his cock was suddenly completely hard in his jeans.
"You can't just say that to a guy," he said. "I won't last."
"Don't care," said John, letting go of Rodney's hands and dropping to his knees in front of Rodney. He looked up as his fingers went to the button. "I want to," he said again. "I want to do this for you."
"Do you think I'm going to stop you?" asked Rodney, in a shaky attempt at his usual snark. "God, just do it, John, then I'll make you come so hard you see stars."
John pulled open Rodney's jeans and pushed them down a little way, shoving Rodney's shirt up impatiently until Rodney tugged it off and dropped it on the floor. He pushed his jeans down further and let them pool at his feet as John stared at his cock and licked his lips. Rodney was ridiculously close, and he hadn't even been touched. John's first brush of fingers over the hard flesh was tentative and Rodney gritted his teeth against the rush of sensation. When John licked cautiously, then with more enthusiasm, Rodney moaned softly, fingers clenching by his side.
"Okay?" asked John, looking up at him.
"So far past okay, I don't have the words," said Rodney. "Just do whatever you want."
John took just the head of Rodney's cock into his mouth, sucking gently. Rodney fought the urge to thrust, holding himself as still as possible. One of John's hands settled on his hipbone, the heat curving round it like a brand, the other gripping the base of Rodney's cock too gently and holding it as John took a little more. It wasn't enough sensation, yet simultaneously too much, and Rodney felt his skin prickling and his toes curling already. This was John, and it was the first time he'd ever done this. As Rodney looked down he saw John's eyes flutter shut as his mouth stretched wide and took in even more, and he whimpered.
"This is so good, John, you won't believe what you do to me," he whispered, hands ghosting featherlight over John's head, as if worried about scaring him. He'd never felt like this during sex before. It was so good, so intense, and he moaned again as John started to move his hand, grip tightening on Rodney's dick. "Oh, god, you're so beautiful." He watched a flush spread hectically over John's cheekbones and rubbed his thumb over one, gasping as John opened his eyes and looked up at him. "Jesus, John, I'm going to come really soon, just like this." Rodney wasn't usually so vocal, but it seemed important that John knew exactly what his touch was doing.
Only a few more strokes and Rodney was tense, arousal pooled deep at the base of his spine, so close and ready. "John, I'm going to come," he warned, voice unsteady. John pulled off and watched as he stroked a few times more as Rodney thrust into his grip and groaned, coming so hard his knees nearly buckled. He braced one hand on John's shoulder, staring down at him in amazement. John looked wrecked, eyes dilated and dark, mouth red and wet.
"God, John, can you hold on long enough to fuck me?" he asked, slipping to his knees at last, hands petting feverishly over John's shoulders and neck, fumbling over the buttons on his shirt. John pressed his hand hard over the bulge in his pants.
"I don't know," he said, voice tight. Rodney looked at him again and had to kiss him, sealing their lips together in a much rougher kiss, bruising pressure and stray nips of teeth. John melted into him as Rodney brushed his hand out of the way and pushed him back flat on the floor, awkwardly pushing his jeans out of the way and getting to his cock. Rodney licked his lips.
"You're even more beautiful like this," he said. "I want you to come in my mouth. I've never done that, but I want to do it for you." Then he bent his head and sucked John's cock into his mouth. It was bigger, heavier on his tongue than he remembered any others being, but the taste was as good as he'd anticipated. He cupped John's balls in one hand, touching them softly as he sucked hard, pulling back to swirl his tongue around the head. John made a small, broken noise and Rodney wished fiercely that he could get it up again, because John sounding open and exposed like that, as if he couldn't hide from Rodney at all, was the most gorgeous thing Rodney had ever heard. He glanced up to see John propped up on his elbows, watching in fascination, open-mouthed and panting. Rodney ducked his head again, stroking one finger along the sensitive skin behind John's balls.
John's noises stayed soft, gentle moans or whimpers, and Rodney couldn't get enough. He sucked harder, wanting to hear John break. John gasped. "Rodney, I'm gonna-" he panted. Rodney hummed in response, sucking harder. John made little, stifled noises, like he was biting his lip, and his hips bucked involuntarily. Rodney rode it out, swallowing as much as he could of John's come.
John slowly relaxed back down against the floor and tugged at Rodney. He clambered up and pressed close, stroking John's hair and pressing kisses against his throat and cheeks. John turned his head and kissed Rodney slowly and deliciously on the lips, hugging him tight when he shivered.
"You must be getting cold," he said. "We should get you to bed."
"Yeah, that would be nice," agreed Rodney. He stood and offered a hand to John.
"I have to look after you," said John, taking the hand and climbing to his feet.
"I have to look after you," countered Rodney. John ducked his head and fiddled with the buttons on his shirt.
"Maybe we can, you know, look out for each other?" he asked, tentatively.
"I'd love that," said Rodney, taking his hand and pulling him close. John went, wrapping his arms around Rodney and holding him tight. Rodney could feel John's heart beating under his ear, as strong and steady as the waves that lapped Atlantis. He was home, and was never letting go.