Pairing: John/Rodney pre-slash
Rating: R for language
Summary: John Sheppard, babysitter. It isn't his favorite title, but at the moment, it's the most accurate.
Author's Note: skinscript asked for command!Rodney. I hope I didn't disappoint. Happy holidays! A million thanks to my amazing beta, kisahawklin who went above and beyond with helping me!! I literally could not have done it without you.
John Sheppard, babysitter. It isn't his favorite title, but at the moment, it's the most accurate.
John sighs, steps out of the puddle jumper and puts his aviators on before looking around. The gate is situated in the middle of a mesa, flat with sparse vegetation, but the Ancient outpost is six miles away, where the land resembles a rainforest. He's parked the jumper as close to the edge of the mesa as possible, cutting the hike short by a mile in hopes of saving himself from some of McKay's bitching.
He sees Rodney a few paces away, looking down the incline. When John catches up, Rodney turns to face him, scowling. "I hate this part. I've never been good at climbing."
"But you're good at it now," John says, trying to head off the griping that's sure to follow. "You've been to this planet a dozen times."
"Eleven," McKay corrects offhandedly, still frowning, a far cry from how he'd looked in the jumper bay. When John had arrived, McKay had been waiting; big smile, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and making hurry up gestures as if John was the one that always arrived late.
"Come on, it's not very steep." He looks down. "Like eighty feet."
"See?" John says, giving Rodney a gentle nudge. "Not even."
They descend together, John keeping his pace level with Rodney's, watching him closely. Rodney's progress down the steep slope is slow but steady. The ground is solid, except for small rocks that shift under their hands and feet. Once they're a few feet down Rodney snorts. "They made us climb in the ParticipACTION program - what a colossal waste of time that was." Rodney snorts loudly. "I didn't want to do it but my dad insisted, not realizing what a brain injury could mean for the future of..."
John lets Rodney drone on about the injustice of forced physical activity, distracting himself with the million and one possible ways to make Lorne's life a living hell for the next couple of months. Because of his mysterious case of 'bird flu,' John got stuck going on Rodney's vacation instead of his own. He could be surfing right now, he could be -
McKay trips and John grabs him, his sharp reflexes saving Rodney from taking a nose dive.
"Stupid rock," Rodney mumbles as he extricates himself from John's arms.
"You're welcome," John says and trails behind McKay.
They venture on and soon the trees grow plentiful until the canopy blocks the sunlight from reaching the forest floor.
Rodney halts and tilts his head up. "Ah, sweet, sweet relief."
"You're the one that wanted to take a vacation on M2X-894 in the middle of summer," John reminds him coolly.
Rodney glowers. "I meant relief from the sun. For your information, Colonel, both the gate and outpost are located at the planet's equator, which means it is always hot. You should be grateful that I had us arrive in the morning. It's going to reach over a hundred degrees by mid-day." Rodney resumes walking and gracelessly climbs over a large tree trunk.
John chuckles at Rodney's back and vaults over the trunk effortlessly.
Thirty more minutes of endless chatter and John finally hears something other than the sound of McKay's voice - the crinkling of a wrapper. He glances at McKay, and sure enough, he's munching on a Powerbar.
John rolls his eyes, Rodney had a big lunch not even two hours ago.
"What?" Rodney asks, the bar already half eaten.
"Your stomach is like a bottomless pit, isn't it?"
McKay stops mid-step and turns to face him. John can feel the rant coming and he's not disappointed. "I have spent the past hour valiantly trekking through the wilderness. In the sweltering heat, not to mention the humidity. I've probably sweated out a gallon of fluid and burned up any extra glucose I had." He finishes the bar with another huge bite, plops down against a tree and takes out his canteen.
"Oh sure, you're a regular intrepid explorer," John says.
McKay nearly chokes on the mouthful of water he's got, before swallowing most of it and letting a little dribble down his chin. "Excuse me?!"
"Oh, nothing," John says, leaning casually against a tree, glancing at his fingernails.
"Fine," Rodney says, looking mutinous as he struggles to standing. "Fine!" Rodney says, as he crashes down the trail.
Rodney doesn't say anything for the next fifteen minutes, just keeps on stoically hiking, as oblivious to his surroundings as ever. John keeps an eye on him from a few feet back, surreptitiously checking out the trail in front of them and the foliage on either side. He sees the log coming a half-second after he hears the twang of the tripwire Rodney's snapped.
John throws himself at Rodney, successfully knocking him to the ground, but not quite fast enough to avoid being hit himself. The goddamn tree trunk sends him flying, and if the whoosh of air out of his lungs at impact wasn't bad enough, his arm makes a sickening crack as he tries to break his fall. Apparently his head tries to break his fall too, and there's a moment where it feels like the front of his skull and the back of his skull are way too close together before the world spins rampantly and then disappears altogether.
~ ~ ~ ~
"...suicidal moron...what the hell were you..." He hears Rodney's voice - at least he thinks it's Rodney. It's all a little foggy, but after a few seconds, Rodney's voice becomes clearer. "You need to wake up now. Seriously, Colonel, this isn't funny."
John realizes that Rodney's hand is gently touching his shoulder, then he's pressing more firmly. "Come on, Sheppard!" John wants to go back to sleep, so tired. "Wake up. John, I...Just wake up...please." Rodney's hand moves to John's sternum, his knuckles rubbing against John's breastbone. John's eyes snap open. Fucking hell.
John blinks and his surroundings slowly coming into focus. Rodney is kneeling beside him, face contorted in concern.
Rodney's hand stops moving. "Oh, thank God!" He looks relieved; smudges of dirt cover his face, making his widened blue eyes stand out.
"Water?" John chokes out, trying to sit up. His body isn't cooperating, and the pain in his forearm is excruciating. An ache flares in his chest as Rodney helps to prop him up. Cracked ribs, check. Broken arm, check. John does a subtle clench and release of all of his major muscle groups and when he gets to his calves, his right ankle throbs dangerously. Sprained, probably. Great.
"Here." Rodney presses the canteen against John's lips, tilts it up. John takes a long drink before Rodney pulls the canteen away. "How's the head? You hit it pretty hard."
"It's okay, " John rasps.
"It's not okay, Sheppard. You're hurt, really hurt, and there are hostiles out there."
"Oh my god." Rodney gently paws at John's head. "How hard did you crack your skull? Obviously someone set that trap, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't us."
"Right...I..." John looks around. "We need to get back to Atlantis." He sits up and is overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness. "I think I might have a concussion."
"Terrific," Rodney says, expression pissy. "Any other injuries I should know about?" He nods at John's broken arm. "I can splint that. Then I can go to the outpost. There's a remote connection to the gate there."
"I'll take you up on the splint. And something on my sprained right ankle. Then we can go to the outpost together."
Rodney looks John over critically. "I wish I could enjoy saying this more, Colonel, but you're just going to slow me down. I should go to the outpost on my own," he suggests, beginning to make a splint.
"No way, Rodney, I'm going with you."
Rodney tilts his head stubbornly. "I hate to be the one to inform you, Colonel, but you're hardly able to protect me, considering your injuries. You don't even have your gun."
John looks over his mangled P90 and his empty thigh holster and decides Rodney has a point. He slumps against the tree, happy to sleep right here even with the rough bark digging into his back. "Yeah, okay."
"Now I know you have a concussion. It's a terrible idea, but it's the best I can do right now." McKay finishes the splint in relative silence. "I wish I had a life signs detector," he says, untying John's laces.
John hisses as Rodney pulls his boot off. "Me too, buddy." As Rodney wraps his ankle, John starts to doze off.
"Wake up." Rodney pokes him in the shoulder. "You shouldn't fall asleep if you have a concussion." He hands John his sidearm. "It should only take me half an hour to get to the outpost and back. Think you can stay awake that long?"
John nods and Rodney moves away, grabbing his pack and burying it. Smart move. He forgets sometimes that he's the one that trained Rodney to think tactically. "Okay," Rodney says finally, wiping his hands on his jacket. "I'll hurry, Sheppard. We'll have you back in Atlantis before anyone even knows we were here."
"I know you will." Rodney stares at John, fidgeting. "Go," John says, forcing Rodney to accept his absolution. He can't do anything but hinder Rodney at this point.
McKay nods in agreement and takes off, John staring at his retreating back until it vanishes from his sight. Then John is left alone with only a few birds singing high above his head. He looks down at the gun in his hand, wishing Rodney had a weapon... or someone to watch his back.
After a few minutes, John's eyelids grow heavy. His head bobs as he tries to stay alert but the pull of sleep is too great, an irresistible siren's call.
~ ~ ~ ~
"Wake up," Rodney says, shaking John's shoulder vigorously. "We need to go."
"Huh?" John says, groggy. Damn it, he fell asleep again. "How long till the cavalry comes riding in?"
Rodney looks nervous, his eyes frantically scouring the surroundings. "I didn't make it to the outpost," he confesses.
"There were people guarding it. I counted fourteen outside, who knows how many inside. It-" McKay clamps his mouth shut. "They're not good people." Rodney reclaims his sidearm, which had fallen out of John's hand while he slept. "We need to go, now. Get as far away from them as possible."
Without warning, Rodney hauls John up. John grimaces but manages to get his feet under him, and Rodney mutters an unexpected apology.
Rodney heads toward the path and John stumbles to follow, pain shooting up from his ankle with each step. Rodney glances backwards, eyeing John favoring his left leg and stops. "I uh, have some morphine if-"
"No," John says adamantly, "no morphine."
"Of course not," Rodney scoffs. He then arranges John against his side, John's arm over his shoulders, his arm tight around John's lower back.
John doesn't walk per se, more hops and hobbles. He tries to keep as little weight on Rodney as possible but McKay makes a long-suffering sigh and pulls John closer.
It's bad enough John has to use Rodney as a makeshift walking stick, but their progress is so slow it hardly feels like they're moving. The world narrows to the pinch of Rodney's hands on his wrist and waist and the sound of rustling undergrowth as John hopscotches on and off the overgrown trail. John stops trying to get Rodney to leave him behind after the third 'shut up' comes with a glare that could melt glass.
As time passes, John becomes more and more fatigued, a burning sensation crawling along his muscles as they stiffen from exhaustion. The strain of hobbling takes its toll and his body slowly sags into Rodney's. The temperature is much hotter now than when they had first arrived and John wonders how long he'd been sleeping while Rodney went to the outpost.
"Forty-six minutes," Rodney answers quickly, as if he remembers every one of the forty-six minutes clearly.
The journey does more than drain John's energy; with each movement, each jostle, his stomach recoils. John swallows hard, hoping lunch will not be making a reappearance.
His stomach has other plans.
John twists away from Rodney and falls to his knees. His abdominal muscles contract sharply and the pain in his ribs becomes white hot and takes over his vision. A violent shudder wracks his system and he feels Rodney holding him up, one hand splayed over his back, offering reassurance. He can hear Rodney speaking in a soothing tone, words John can't quite hear over the horrible sounds his body's making. Finally, the spasms end but John doesn't move, his body trembling slightly. He feels the water canteen being pressed against his mouth.
John rinses and spits repeatedly, trying to remove the awful taste from his mouth before he drinks. The water feels good, running along his aching, parched throat and John gulps it greedily before remembering that this is all the water they have.
Rodney helps him stand, squeezing John's shoulder gently. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." The queasiness is gone, hell even his ankle doesn't hurt as much anymore though his cracked ribs are killing him. He notices McKay's thoroughly drenched shirt and asks, "Aren't you going to drink?"
"Nah. I'm good," he answers, hauling John up.
They set off again, John's arm pressing down once again along Rodney's shoulders as he struggles to hold up his weight, Rodney's hand on his wrist supporting him.
John notices the wetness under his arm and suddenly gets a whiff of the smell. John turns his head and sees droplets running down the back of Rodney's neck and takes another whiff.
Definitely sweat... and a hell of a lot of it. John doesn't mind the odor. It's familiar and comfortable, like an old pair of sneakers. John chuckles, imagining what Rodney's reaction would be to being compared to stinky old shoes.
As time passes, the aches return and John works up his own layer of perspiration, his skin sticky and wet. His right side feels uncomfortably drenched being clasped against Rodney for so long.
The sound of Rodney's breathing becomes louder and John glances sideways. McKay's breathing faster, his mouth open, sucking in air like it's going out of style. John realizes he's slumped onto Rodney again, and tries to straighten up. His body doesn't cooperate and Rodney tightens his hand on John's waist, pulling him close again.
The vegetation around them becomes less abundant, the sunshine peeking through, hitting the forest floor. The canopy overhead lessens and then nothing is between them and the sun, a few trees and bushes.
The sun feels like a laser beam aimed straight at John's dark hair and his black clothes. John licks his lips with what little moisture he has in his mouth. "Pass the canteen," he utters hoarsely.
Rodney stops to face John. Jesus, his face is red. "Here," he says handing the water to John.
"There isn't much left."
"Then finish it," Rodney replies impatiently. "I'll have less to carry."
"You drink too," John says but Rodney's shaking his head.
"I'm not the one that's injured. We can't afford you getting dehydrated and passing out."
"We share then," John comprises, knowing by the set of McKay's shoulders and jaw that he won't back down.
"Fine." Rodney makes a 'hurry up' gesture.
John jiggles the container, estimates there is about a cup left and drinks a third before handing it to Rodney.
John watches as Rodney brings the opening to his mouth, his lips are pale and chapped. He stares as Rodney's adam apple bobs up and down, fixated. His neck glistens with a sheen of moisture, sweat pooling in the hollow of Rodney's throat.
Rodney empties the canteen.
John eyes the incline in the distance grimly. "You should leave me here."
"Not this again," Rodney complains. "What part of 'never going to happen' don't you understand?"
"I'm only slowing you down."
"Don't care. I left you once, not going to do it again."
"McKay." John uses his command voice, the one that Rodney always listens to.
Rodney narrows his eyes. "Don't 'McKay' me. We go together. I say so."
John's shoulders stiffen, his voice stern as he says, "We're in the field. I'm in charge."
Rodney copies John's posture. "No, you're not. I'm in charge, have been from the moment you got yourself injured."
John narrows his eyes at Rodney, about to argue the fact, but he hears something, a rustling sound of something moving through the underbrush. "Shh!" John hisses, ignoring the flare of pain in his ankle as he crouches down.
Rodney maneuvers them behind a decent-sized bush, and two men - bigger than Ronon and a whole lot uglier - appear on the trail, maybe two hundred feet away. Their clothes look filthy, ill-fitting patches of mismatched cloth. One has an angry red scar running along his right cheek; the other is bald but has something on his head that John can't make out. John squints his eyes then widens them as he realizes what that man is wearing.
John feels the bile rise up his throat again, and before he can do anything to stop it, he retches, watery emesis splattering on the leaves of the plants in front of him. The skin-wearing guys turn at the sound, and crash through the undergrowth right to where they're hiding.
"What do we have here?" Baldy asks, pulling a gun out of a badly-made leather holster and pointing it at the pair of them.
"Lower your weapon," Rodney says and John's shocked as Rodney steps forward to confront the men, gun raised. "Unless you want me to destroy that outpost your people are currently occupying - without permission."
Baldy laughs. "Permission? Whose permission might we ask for?" He shifts, pointing his gun at John instead.
Rodney moves in front of John. "Mine. That outpost belongs to us."
"Dimi," Baldy says, and the other man perks up, aiming at Rodney. "There are two of us, and you have only one weapon. He," Baldy nods at John, "is injured."
"I have two weapons, the gun and," Rodney fishes out his scanner from his pocket, "this. A remote detonator. With a press of a button the whole research complex will explode, killing everyone in it."
Dimi looks convinced, John thinks, but Baldy isn't buying the bluff. It's a good bluff, better than he would have thought Rodney capable of. "I do not believe you."
Rodney moves his finger over the scanner. "Do the lives of your people really mean so little to you? I will kill them."
"If you kill them, I will put this one out of his misery," Baldy says, and shifts sideways to be able to cover John with his gun. Shit, John thinks, leaning away from Rodney.
"You shoot him and I'll kill you." Rodney aims his sidearm straight at Baldy. "You walk away and I'll let your people live."
"Arenon," Dimi says, looking quickly between Rodney and Baldy. "We can't risk it."
"Ha," Arenon says, "he's bluffing." He lowers his gun and aims at John's knee. "Put it down, or I'll start with his knees." Arenon fires off a warning shot that misses John by several feet, but apparently Rodney didn't notice, because as soon as the bullet leaves Arenon's gun, Rodney shoots. Arenon falls over with a bloody hole in his chest, and Rodney trains his gun on Dimi. A bolt of adrenaline shoots directly from John's heart to his knees.
"Lower your weapon," Rodney commands. "Unless you want to end up like your friend here."
Holy shit, McKay, John thinks, but before he can even process Rodney's sudden shift to badass, Dimi puts his weapon down and starts to back away with his hand raised.
Rodney doesn't lower his gun until Dimi is well out of sight but his hand is shaking as he flips on the safety and holsters it.
"Rodney?" John asks to get Rodney's attention, his voice quiet.
McKay turns his widened eyes to John. "I um..." He checks John over, eyeing his knees especially, likes he's making sure John's okay. "I can't leave you,' he says desperately, "if I came back to find them..." His voice cracks, and John puts a steadying hand on Rodney's forearm.
"Hey, it's okay. I'm okay."
Rodney takes a deep breath. "He could come back - with friends. We need to go."
"Yeah," John agrees. The concussion must be bad; he should have thought of that.
Easily they resume their earlier positions, making their way side by side and reach the base of the mesa in no time. John looks up. And up. The damn thing might as well be Mt. Everest.
"Rodney, there's no way I can climb that."
"You can," McKay's says matter-of-factly, as if it's non-debatable.
Rodney crosses his arms. "What did I say about that? I'm in charge here and I'm telling you to get your ass in gear and haul it up. Now." His tone is sharp, his eyes severe.
Somehow they make their way up, Rodney half pulling, half dragging John. John is plastered against Rodney's side and can feel just how wet and sticky Rodney's clothes are.
They're halfway up before too long, and John's impressed. Who the heck knew McKay was this strong? It's the biceps, John thinks. The sleeves of Rodney's dark gray shirt have scrunched up and John can see his muscles flex with each movement. Yeah, the biceps are strong - but that isn't it.
It's the shoulders - his wide, line-backer shoulders - that are the reason for the sheer power it takes to haul the two of them up. John suddenly realizes that Rodney's been holding out on him - he's going to have to start doing more of the heavy lifting on missions.
They make it another few feet when John slips. He only falls a few inches before Rodney grabs him but his broken arm is pinned under his cracked ribs and John's entire body weight rests on them. Wave after wave of intense burning pain blazes through him and he sees black spots.
Rodney slides down to John's level. "Sheppard! Oh, God. Are you okay?"
He sees the worry in Rodney's face but it's blurry. The world's spinning, darkening.
~ ~ ~ ~
John's eyes flutter open to familiar walls, the smell unmistakable. He's in the infirmary. Thank god, John thinks, closing his eyes again.
He hears clicking noises and he glances sideways. Rodney's in the bed next to his, scowling as he types on the laptop perched casually on his thighs.
"McKay. What - Are you okay?" he croaks out, throat dry.
Rodney's head immediately jerks toward John. "You're awake," he says as his frown fades. His face is a little pink, his nose already slightly peeling, and his hair is sleep-mussed. John's stomach does a flip-flop maneuver it hasn't done in years. "Well, I'm dehydrated, you know. Carrying your sorry ass around isn't as easy as I make it seem." He waves haphazardly at his IV. "Keller wants me here until my fluids and electrolytes are back to normal."
"Well your mouth still works, it can't be that bad."
"Oh, ha ha, Colonel," Rodney says, tapping away. "Some of us aren't designed for the action hero lifestyle. I prefer to save the day with my brain." Rodney points to his temple like John might not know where the brain is located.
"Yeah, well, for someone not designed for it, you did pretty well."
Rodney flushes a little, his neck turning as pink as his sunburnt face. His hands move nervously, the light from the computer screen tingeing them blue. "And, ah, thanks. For, you know, being your typical leap-in-front-of-danger self."
"Just doing my job." John glances at the cast his arm's encased in. "Guess we won't be going on any missions for awhile."
"Sorry," Rodney says, glancing away guiltily. "I'm sure you'll be saving the universe again in no time."
"No Rodney," John disagrees and Rodney looks at him in surprise. "We'll be saving the universe."