Rating: PG (I'm sorry!)
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: Tag to 4x20 The Last Man, going AU from there. I hope you enjoy it, Zinnith, and Happy Holidays! Thanks to my lovely beta-reader - you know who you are.
Summary: John wants something he doesn't think he can have.
John needed a hug.
That alone was bad enough. John wasn't by nature the hugging kind and tended to avoid any physical contact that went beyond a slap on the back or a punch on the arm. But right now, he would have paid good money for someone to wrap their arms around him and hold him tight for a moment, maybe even murmur something like, "There, there."
It was maybe a little pathetic. But then John was feeling pretty pathetic.
He'd woken to stone and darkness; both his radio and his P-90 gone and something blood-hot piercing his side. Only silence had met his calls. This place had been booby-trapped, he remembered; one more proof of Michael's deviousness, and they hadn't even found Teyla before the bomb had gone off.
John gasped with pain as he moved, fingers fumbling along something thin and furrowed and probably metal poking up from his right side, just beneath the tac vest. Both his shirt and the metal were slick with his blood. He gritted his teeth and felt around. His hands encountered rubble to his right, but none above or to the left. He seemed to be lying in a large-ish space within the wreckage. With a little luck, he might get free and call Atlantis for help. He held his breath, planted his right elbow firmly against the uneven floor, and wrenched himself free.
The sudden spike of pain nearly made him retch. "Bad idea," he muttered to himself once the urge to scream had passed, but no one was there to offer him a better one.
Rodney would have had a better plan. Rodney also gave great hugs - ask Jeannie, or Ronon - which would have been killing two birds with one stone. Except Rodney had been standing awfully close to that console when everything had gone up, and if John had been in Michael's place, he'd have strapped an extra pack of C4 to that thing, to make sure no one could recover any data. And Ronon had been right beside John, but even as John felt for the edges of his enclosed space, he didn't find anyone sharing it.
"Ronon," he called nevertheless, his voice gravelly from dust and pain. "Rodney?"
No one answered.
"Major Lorne, report!"
Silence. John pressed his lips together.
He'd been so sure that he could rescue Teyla. Instead, all he'd achieved was to kill off the rest of his team.
The knowledge left him cold and tired. His side was aching something fierce, but John couldn't bring himself to care much about his own problems. He had to get out of there and find Teyla. He owed Ronon and Rodney as much.
Fumbling his way through the darkness, John crawled through the wreckage. Dust trickled from overhead and he scrunched up his nose, hoping to stop the sneeze in its tracks. It came out anyway.
"Ahh, son of a bitch," he groaned, clutching at his side as he thunked to the debris-strewn ground. He tried to breathe through the pain, but something inside him was seriously wrong. He could feel it.
Everything had gone wrong. They were all supposed to be back on Atlantis right now, with Teyla home and safe and maybe even preparing to have her baby. Rodney was supposed to start wooing Jennifer Keller, getting the girl that alternate Rodney had lost too early. And Ronon... Ronon was supposed to be complaining about being bored, the way he always did when the team was on stand-down, and goad John into playing one of those stupid, made-up games of his.
Shit. John blinked rapidly and rubbed a fist over his eyes, smearing dirt and salty sweat.
He really, really wanted that hug.
Overhead, something shifted with a hollow creak. More dirt fell into his face, accompanied by little chunks of stone. John froze, hardly daring to breathe as he waited for the dust to settle. More creaking, and the slow, faraway tumble of rock on metal.
Then the ceiling came down.
John barely had time to yank his arms over his head before chunks of stone started raining down on him, sharp and deadly. Something pierced through his right leg and nailed it to the ground, and he screamed. More rubble came down on him, piling up until it felt like he was buried under half the building.
He tried to breathe, but the wreckage pressed down on him, made it impossible to draw anything but the shallowest wheeze. The darkness around him seemed to take on a deeper hue, one tinted with dancing sparks and the rush of blood. John gasped, dust and metal on his lips, and reality slipped sideways.
As the darkness sucked him in, John thought that the weight around him almost felt like an embrace.
He surfaced briefly to the feeling of air on his face and fingers in his hair.
"-just like him to be the only one to die in this," Rodney was saying, but Rodney was dead so he wasn't really one to talk.
"I really need some space to work in here," Keller admonished him, and it made sense that they were together, even if John couldn't quite remember why.
"But he'll be all right, right?" Rodney asked. He sounded so anxious that John wanted to do something, say something, anything, to cheer him up, but his eyelids were weighed down by iron beams and stone and his limbs prickled with cold-fire numbness, and then something tugged at his side, and a starburst of pain skewered John's conscious thoughts into pieces.
The next time he woke, it was to softness all around: above, beneath and inside him. He blinked at the infirmary ceiling, then turned his head to his left. His neck was so stiff it should have creaked.
Teyla was lying in the bed next to him, her hair a fuzzy golden-brown halo on the pillow. Her belly was flat beneath the blanket; beside the bed, a small white bundle lay curled in Ronon's big arms, babbling soft baby noises as he played with its tiny fingers. John stared at them for a long time.
"You're going to give me a heart attack," Rodney said, and John turned his head toward him. Rodney had been sitting quietly the whole time, his chair close to John's bed, his hand curled around John's left wrist. He wasn't looking at John, instead keeping his gaze fixed on where his thumb was brushing warm softness over the inside of John's wrist. Up and down. Left and right. Again and again. "First you disappear for twelve days only to come back dehydrated and one step away from heat stroke, then you let yourself be speared by reinforcement mesh, and as if that weren't enough already, you have to crawl around the collapsed building until the rest of it falls down on you."
The rant was so... normal, it hurt. It hurt so much, because this, his team, safe and sound and with him, was all he really wanted. He'd fought for months to get it back, and now he was dying underneath a pile of rubble and his stupid brain had to torment him with what he couldn't have, and it looked so goddamn real.
John swallowed, and licked his lips.
"I'm," he tried, but the word rasped up his throat like a cocklebur, clinging and tearing at his flesh. He coughed, but that only made it worse, faint echoes of pain coming from his ribs, his side, his right leg.
"Hey, easy." Rodney's hand rested cool between John's shoulder blades, propping him up, and then a plastic straw poked at his lips and he drank, small sips of water sliding cool and soothing down his throat.
John wanted to cry.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly once the water cup was safely back on the side table. He blinked up at Rodney, his eyes suddenly burning as Rodney blinked back with no trace of reproach in his gaze, only puzzlement. John's hands clenched in the hallucinated sheets. His head hurt. "I'm sorry," he said again, more miserable than he could ever remember being, "I never meant to get you killed."
Rodney frowned at him. "You didn't."
"I got everyone killed." John pressed his lips together and stared at the sheets. Ronon, Teyla, Rodney, the baby... all dead. All because he wasn't... "'m not good enough," he mumbled.
Large, cool hands grasped the sides of his face and turned his head so he was looking at Rodney. Rodney's features were a blur, except for his eyes.
So blue. Like the sky. John had always loved the sky.
"You are running a fever," Rodney said slowly, enunciating each syllable like he was talking to a small child. "You're on drugs. You are clearly not in your right mind, so I will use small words to get this into your thick head." He took a deep breath. "We are not dead. Nobody got killed in the explosion. Lorne broke his leg and Smith or Smythe or whatever sprained his wrist, but except for you, everyone's fine. Michael brought his own Cruiser to investigate who had set off the booby trap, so we beamed in with a small team while you were in surgery. We got Teyla out, I delivered her baby, and Ronon blew Michael into tiny little bits and pieces. We even managed to rescue some of the Athosians."
Rodney shook John's head gently. John held his breath, unable to look away. "When we got back, Keller told us that you'd coded twice. You scared the shit out of Ronon," a small snort came from the other side of Teyla's bed, "and, and me. You really scared the shit out of me."
John wanted to apologise, or maybe ask Rodney if he knew that this was just a hallucination, or if they were all in some weird version of heaven, the whole team together for the rest of eternity. He wanted to ask if Ford was there, too.
"This is the wrong setting for a hug," was what came out instead. John felt his cheeks heat up even further beneath Rodney's hands. His head hurt and the room seemed to be spinning, and if Rodney weren't holding him he might just float away. Around the edges of his vision, blackness was creeping in.
"Huh?" Rodney blinked at him, blue eyes swimming in his face. Somewhere off to the side, Ronon was laughing quietly. John smiled at the sound, but then he remembered his objective.
"I wanted a hug," he told Rodney earnestly, struggling against the pull of the returning darkness. If these were his last moments alive, if this was his last chance to hallucinate Rodney hugging him, he refused to let it pass him by. "Can't we..."
But it was no use. His eyes drooped closed of their own accord and his limbs turned into stone, lifeless and heavy, and the last thing he knew was regret, regret...
Keller kept him in the infirmary for two weeks, claiming she'd seen enough of his insides for a while and wanted him to heal up at least a little before he threw himself into the next explosion. He'd been speared through the side and leg, bruised a few ribs, and his arms were covered with cuts and yet more bruises. John thought it was a bit unfair of her to blame all that on him, but if he'd learned anything in this galaxy it was to pick his fights, and this one didn't seem like one he could win.
He didn't remember much of the first few days, anyway. Zoned out on some of the best drugs Earth had to offer, his recollection was a vague blur of faces and snippets of conversations. He thought he had asked Ronon how he got his hair to do that, but thankfully couldn't be sure. He wasn't about to ask, either. Teyla kept smiling at him a little too fondly, and he wondered what he'd said to her, but again, not going to ask. She was home and safe and had her baby, little Torren Rodney. That was enough. And Rodney's face when she'd asked if she could name her son after him... something in John still clenched at the memory.
He shook his head and limped over to the bed, the remaining stitches pulling at his side as he sat down gingerly. He'd finally been released that afternoon and had quickly discovered why Keller was still keeping him off-duty. One walk from the infirmary to the control room and then back from Sam's office to his own quarters, and he felt as if he'd run a marathon, sweating and shaky and out of breath. He was just contemplating how best to get his legs onto the bed without actually moving them, when the door chime rang.
John pulled a face, glowering at the door. It seemed at least half a mile away. The chime rang again.
With a sigh, John got back to his feet, winced at the brief sting of pain, and walked to the door.
Rodney was standing on the other side, his hand hovering in front of the key strip. John cocked his head at him.
"You know the door doesn't open any faster if you ring quicker."
"Yes, yes." Rodney waved his hand at the room. "May I come in?"
John raised his eyebrows, but stepped aside. Rodney threw him a quick glance as he entered, but otherwise didn't meet his gaze. He looked decidedly... shifty, fingers twitching at his sides, his weight shifting from foot to foot as he came to stand next to the bed. John shut the door, and waited.
Rodney's fingers drummed on his thigh. He huffed, looked at John, looked away, cleared his throat, looked at John again, and finally asked, "Oh, look, will you just come over here?"
John folded his arms across his chest.
Rodney rolled his eyes and seemed to relax a little. "I'm not going to say pretty please, if that's what you're waiting for."
John grinned at him and took a few steps forward. He'd missed this. Rodney had been fidgety around him lately, his visits to the infirmary brief and somewhat strained. John had no idea what was up with that, but it bothered him. The hologram Rodney's old face was still fresh in his memory; a face lined with age and grief. He wanted the Rodney he knew, the one with the smug grin and the trash talking and the indomitable spirit. Maybe this could be a chance for them to reconnect.
Standing in front of Rodney, he let his hands hang loosely at his sides. "So what now?"
Rodney swallowed, and took a deep breath.
"This needs to be only as awkward as you make it," he said.
John blinked. "Huh?"
With an expression that was half fear and half determination, Rodney closed the space between them. His arms came up around John, trapping John's own arms at his sides as he found himself tugged forward... and into a hug.
He stood there, stunned, Rodney's body warm and solid all along his front. Jesus, he could feel Rodney's heart hammering against his chest.
"Feel free to make it less awkward any time," Rodney mumbled into his shoulder.
John let out a shaky laugh and closed his eyes; let his head drop so his cheek was resting against the side of Rodney's head. Rodney smelled a little like fresh sweat and a lot like... well, like Rodney, and for the first time in weeks, John felt himself relax. He bent his arms as well as he could, until his hands were resting on Rodney's waist. Rodney let out a small sigh and they stood there, hugging, and the weird thing was that it didn't feel weird at all.
"What brought this on?" John asked quietly, his own heart beating fast for reasons he only half-understood.
Rodney's arms tightened around him.
"You said you wanted it."
Something inside John that had been dislodged for years clicked back into place. His stomach lurched, but his heart seemed to beat even faster.
The alternate Rodney had been grieving for Jennifer Keller, so much that he chose to defeat time itself to bring her back, and the friends they had lost. John had assumed that things would progress in a similar manner here, though preferably minus the dying. But this wasn't the alternate Rodney.
This one was his.
John carefully disentangled himself from Rodney and took a small step back. Rodney let his hands drop and looked unhappily at John, probably waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time, it was John who had to clear his throat.
"What if I said there were other things I want?"
Rodney frowned, clearly not getting it. Then he drew a sharp breath, mouth dropping open as his eyes went wide.
"I swear, Sheppard, if this is another kidding thing -"
John kissed him.
Rodney really was a genius, because he stopped talking immediately in favour of kissing John back with interest, hands clutching at John's shoulders. And the whole thing still didn't feel weird, which should have been scary in its own right, but wasn't. This was Rodney, and John knew Rodney; knew him better than he'd ever known anyone before. They had fit together right from the start, and this? This was nothing big. Not for them.
John pressed in closer, wanting to feel more of Rodney, and Rodney made a small sound and opened his mouth. God, kissing him was good. Quick and sharp and focussed, like Rodney's hands when he was explaining something, and John thought he could lose himself in this.
The he shifted his weight the wrong way and something in his side twinged and made him gasp. His right leg protested painfully as he leaned more weight on it, and he groaned. Rodney let go of him immediately and looked at him with concern.
"Yeah." John grimaced. "And the leg, damn it."
Rodney licked his lips, his expression almost shy as he said, "Well, clearly you can't take care of yourself, so if you would just lie down, I'll, uh... I'll stay."
"I'm not up for much, Rodney," John said gently, warmth spreading through him at Rodney's utterly baffled expression.
"Who said you had to be?"
John had to kiss him again.
They both got into bed in their boxers and t-shirts, and John carefully rolled to lie on his left side, his head pillowed on Rodney's shoulder, one arm draped over Rodney's belly. The position was more comfortable than any within the last two weeks, and he let out a satisfied sigh.
"We're going to miss dinner," Rodney complained sleepily. He didn't sound all that irritated.
"I'll make you a sandwich," John promised, and yawned, and closed his eyes.
And fell asleep.