Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Spoilers: Nothing past 'Lost Boys' (2.10)
Summary: A few scenes which were unaccountably missing from the episode 'Lost Boys'.
Notes: Happy Christmas, callmeri! Huge thanks to my lovely betas, who will be thanked properly when this stops being anonymous.
The Road Less Traveled
After a few days of hanging around with Ford's so-called team, John Sheppard was reaching the end of his patience.
Not that he didn't have anything to do. Mornings consisted of bathing in the nearby stream, handing out the gum they were using in lieu of toothpaste, making mental lists of future additions to essential mission equipment -- there had to be some way to fit more than one change of underwear into those damn packs, even if Rodney had completely vetoed cutting down on the recommended number of MREs - and hanging around the caves hoping to catch Ford alone for a few minutes to work on him.
He usually spent lunchtime catching up on Rodney's progress. Rodney's mood swings (under what he swore remained of the enzyme in his system) were more unpredictable than the weather and changed just as quickly, but he could always be guaranteed to be at his most relaxed when food was involved and at least the conversation was stimulating, if not always exactly polite.
Afternoons, though, were a completely different matter.
"If I have to spend one more hour watching Teyla and Ronon fight over every little thing, I'm going to beg Ford to shoot me," he said when Rodney joined him for a mid-afternoon stroll around the camp.
Their increasingly regular walks were starting to wear a new track through the grass, a trampled circuit of the caves area that roughly took in the edge of the woods, the dart clearing and the approach to the gate. It was still hard going in places and barely dried out from one of the frequent rainstorms.
"You can come and help me out if you like." Rodney was munching down on one of his dwindling stash of powerbars as they walked, but his words were just about intelligible.
John caught a stray grass stalk between his fingers and pulled, letting the seeds tumble into his hand. They looked identical to the Earth variety; sometimes it was hard to believe they really were in a different galaxy.
"I mean, it probably wouldn't be very exciting for you," Rodney said, scattering crumbs out into the grass as he waved his hands expansively. "And you might get in the way, so I'd have to ask you to go away again."
The day McKay asked someone to move with anything as polite as 'Go away', John Sheppard would be snowboarding in hell. "Gee, thanks Rodney."
"But, you know," Rodney continued. "You have a brain, and you're not on drugs like everyone else here, or at least I don't think you are, so you could probably pass the right instrument and not blow anything up, right?"
There was probably a compliment in there somewhere. And was he imagining things, or was Rodney actually trying to make him feel better, like he actually had something to contribute to the efforts here beyond humoring Ford. Because that was... weird. Very weird. John kept walking and pretended he hadn't noticed.
"I could do that," he said in the end. But passing instruments, and being snapped at by a strung-out Rodney? What was next - making the tea? Maybe he could put up with Teyla and Ronon a little longer.
There was a screech and a loud bang from the direction of the caves.
Then again, maybe he couldn't.
It wasn't even a bad idea, if he was honest. He probably should be keeping a better eye on Rodney, what with the enzyme still making him edgy and all.
Edgy and weird. He let the grass seeds trickle out slowly from between his fingers.
Rodney didn't speak again until they were on their third circuit. "I can't quite get used to the way they let us wander off alone."
"Yeah, well." John glanced towards the gate and the useless control panel. It still rankled that Ford had somehow managed to outsmart them at every turn so far. Somewhere above them thunder began to roll and he sighed as they quickened their pace. "It's not like we can actually go anywhere, is it?"
What he really needed, John thought as he watched Teyla and Ronon go at it in the caves, was a good sparring session. A bit of a workout because a couple of circuits of the camp every few hours and the occasional stroll through the woods were really not enough to prevent him from feeling restless.
Unless he could persuade Rodney to partner him, however, it looked like he was going to be out of luck. Sparring with Teyla was painful to more than his ego these days and it wasn't getting any better. And Ronon just grinned at him and patted him on the shoulder when he offered which was somehow even less of a good time than being thrown at a rock wall.
"So, I thought I might go and keep an eye on McKay," he said in the end, leaning back against the wall where he was safely out of the way.
"Good idea." Ronon didn't even look at him, just kept circling Teyla.
"Yes, I think he would like that," she said, sparing him a quick glance that Ronon took advantage of immediately. John had always pegged Ronon as a dirty fighter but the careless way he slammed her against a pile of crates made him wince all the same.
Teyla didn't flinch, just aimed a perfect jab at Ronon's eye and kicked out at him when he turned his head. He grunted and she laughed out loud, her eyes sparkling with the thrill of the fight.
John was pretty sure she didn't have that look in her eyes when she sparred with him.
He turned at the sound of a commotion behind him, and a familiar, impatient voice.
"Colonel? Are you going to-"
McKay was standing at the cave entrance, his mouth dropping open and his laptop still clutched in his hand. "Oh my god."
"Rodney?" John frowned. Anything that stopped Rodney McKay talking was something he needed to know about. He picked his way back across the cave through the crates and assorted debris. "Something wrong?"
"Have they been doing this all day?" McKay demanded in a ridiculously loud whisper. He was definitely staring now.
John followed his gaze back to Teyla and Ronon. What, the sparring? "Pretty much." He wasn't about to go into his ignominious attempts to join in, that was for sure.
"And you didn't-I don't--" Rodney spluttered to a halt, and just watched the two lithe figures dance back and forth across the rough sacking that covered the floor. "Oh my god."
"What?" John watched appreciatively as Teyla managed to kick Ronon's leg out from under him and land him on an empty crate. "Oh, nice move."
"Nice move?" McKay's voice was incredulous. Teyla pounced onto the prone figure with a triumphant cry and a surprisingly heavy thud. "That is possibly the hottest thing I've ever seen, and you say 'Nice move'?"
"Well, it was!" It took a moment for the rest of McKay's pronouncement to sink in. "You actually think that's hot?"
"Oh, let's see. Two obscenely fit bodies with superhuman strength and poise getting all sweaty together... no, what could possibly be hot about that?" McKay's voice dripped sarcasm.
"When you put it that way..." John looked again, and yeah, maybe that glint in Teyla's eye was kinda sexy, if you went for the armed and dangerous type of woman. He made a point of not looking too long and hard at Ronon because that was a man who'd been around and there were some kinds of trouble he needed even less than he needed to be hurled into a wall.
And hey, look. Rodney was here now.
"I don't suppose you want to spar?" he said, with his best 'Come out and play' smile. That one almost always worked.
"You know, if you're feeling restless, or a bit hyped up, it might help."
Or maybe Rodney could just stare at him like he'd grown an extra head.
"Okay, silly idea." It's not like he'd really thought Rodney would go for it. Maybe a run would loosen him up if he could find somewhere without grass that reached up to his armpits. He watched Teyla press Ronon down to the ground and felt the sudden urge to clear his throat. "And getting out of here is probably for the best anyway."
Rodney just blinked at him. "What do you mean?"
John nodded towards the floor where Ronon grabbed at Teyla's wrist and rolled them over, laughing and growling. She bucked underneath him, hips pushing up as she tried to throw him off. He leaned closer to Rodney even though there was no way Ronon and Teyla were paying any attention to either of them. "Well, you know. Where I come from, they call that foreplay."
If John wasn't mistaken, Rodney's eyes had just glazed over. And as for Ronon and Teyla... he took Rodney's elbow and tried to steer him out of the cave.
"Really. That's why we have to leave now."
Rodney's face was incredulous.
"There are some things I'd rather not see. Or even think about." John tried hard not to squirm under Rodney's intense scrutiny. He wasn't sure why it bothered him but he was quite certain it would be a lot easier to handle without the distraction of two people trying to slam each other into the floor. "It's not good for teamwork."
"Are you serious? I mean, really?"
John just shrugged, and Rodney shook his head. "Unbelievable. I'd do either of them in a second and so would half of Atlantis."
But Rodney's eyes were doing that dreamy, glazed thing again. "Or both."
Rodney rolled his eyes and finally shut up. He shoved the empty wrapper in his pocket and gave the sparring couple a last, lingering glance.
"So anyway, I just came to say, if you're still bored we're going to do some tests you could help with." His face and tone both said Sheppard was clearly crazy for wanting out of his current duty. "Though honestly, why you'd want-"
"Lead the way," said John, and shoved a still grumbling Rodney ahead of him and out of the caves.
"No, no, not like that." Rodney snapped at Jace for the fifteenth time and rolled his eyes at John.
Well, at he least knew what the hell McKay wanted him there for by now, given that the tests had taken all of ten minutes to perform. He rolled his eyes back in sympathy from the safety of his newly claimed spot under the trees. He hadn't a clue what the problem was and cared even less but he'd learned that having an ally seemed to satisfy Rodney. At any rate he stopped chewing the poor boy out and took the delicate piece of circuitry out of Jace's hands, muttering under his breath as he deftly fixed whatever it was that Jace had done wrong.
Poor Jace. He didn't seem a bad kid, all things considered. Being pushed around by McKay for days on end was probably punishment enough for his part in the abduction.
Crisis over, John leaned back against his tree and tried not to think about anything. Thinking about the plan was a bad idea. Simple plan, executed quickly, that was the way he liked things. Complicated plan and waiting around... he shifted restlessly. He should go for that run. Maybe the next time Rodney shouted at Jace.
Two runs, a short nap, and three stand-up arguments between Rodney and Jace later, the light began to fail. John sent Jace off to get himself some supper, but Rodney just scowled and gestured his way through another powerbar and kept fussing over some problem with the controls. For some reason he didn't feel like examining too closely, John was quite content to stay and watch, even going to fetch a pair of flashlights and fixing them up to illuminate the dart cockpit.
"Thanks," Rodney said absently, and handed him a pair of long-nosed pliers. When he reached for them again half an hour later he seemed confused to see John standing there instead of Jace.
"Oh, it's you."
"I'm making myself useful, right?"
Rodney frowned, then his face cleared into a slight smile. Close up, and in the harsh glare of the flashlights, it was almost dazzling. "Right."
"Good." John leaned against the dart and kept on watching.
Since arriving in Atlantis, John had had more sleepless nights than he could count.
For a long time, The Death of Colonel Sumner played nightly in his head with the occasional matinee performance thrown in just to catch him off-guard. Sometimes there would be a special showing of Evil Vampire Bugs That Suck Your Life Out instead, or if he was especially lucky they'd team up for a double feature just to really fuck him over.
Then there was that whole thing about being responsible for the lives of over a hundred Marines, scientists and other assorted civilians. It was kind of a sudden step up from being the too-cocky Major that nobody quite knew what to do with.
He could honestly say, though, that as sleepless nights went, this was the worst of them all. He didn't even have his book, but that was probably no bad thing. His reading schedule would have been seriously thrown out by this little vacation.
Thud, thud, thud.
"Can you hear that?" Rodney sat bolt upright in his bedroll, apparently jolted straight from a deep sleep to fully awake in a split second. "Is that Teyla and-? Oh my god."
"I've been hearing it for the past hour," John said through gritted teeth. The makeshift wall behind his back began to vibrate yet again. "Apparently they're not done working off all that extra energy yet."
"An hour?" Rodney gaped. "That's the enzyme, right? Please tell me that's because of the enzyme, because I'm no slouch in the bedroom department, but that's just-"
John considered messing with Rodney's head because it really had been that bad a night so far. When he looked at him, though, he was so pale and stunned, his hair all sticking up on one side from where he'd been buried in his sleeping bag, that he just couldn't bring himself to make his night any worse.
"I'm pretty sure it's the enzyme, Rodney."
"Good." Rodney lay back down and shifted position a few times before sitting up again and glaring at John. "You're not just saying that?"
John sighed deeply. "No, I'm not just saying that."
"Okay." Rodney lay down on his back and stared up at the ceiling. Regular thuds against the wall started up again, and he groaned. "I'm sorry. I'm being jumpy again, aren't I? That's probably their stupid drugs messing with my delicate body chemistry, and-"
"Rodney, calm down. You hardly had any of that stuff."
"So Ford says."
"I think he's playing it pretty straight with us on that one."
Rodney hmmphed, but at least he stopped talking. For a minute.
Then the noises started again. Thud, thud, groan. In between sounds, John could hear Rodney's breathing quicken.
"Have you really never thought about-"
"You don't even know what I was going to ask."
"Yes, I do."
"You military types are so unadventurous." Rodney sighed and turned over.
Before John could think of a suitable reply, Rodney was snoring again.
"You know, I'm really not unadventurous," John said the following lunchtime as they made their way along the edge of the forest. "Did I mention I've been to every continent on earth?" He tried to sound casual, as if he hadn't been brooding on Rodney's accusation all morning. And that in itself was ridiculous; of all Rodney's myriad insults, this was the one that bothered him?
Maybe he was going stir crazy.
Rodney smirked around a spoonful of fish stew, though not for long. "I wouldn't feed this stuff to my cat," he said, and spat out what looked like a fishbone. "Ugh."
"It's very nutritious, so you're eating it. We don't want you dying on us. And don't think I didn't notice you changing the subject, Rodney."
"Oh, right, yes. As it happens, I've visited every continent as well. So what's next? Is this where you tell me how exciting it is following orders? Doing... drills or whatever it is that you all do?" Rodney waved his hand dismissively.
"Doing drills?" He thought he'd seen the bottom reaches of Rodney McKay's insanity long ago, but this was a whole new level of weirdness. Okay, okay. Count to ten. One, two, three...
Rodney was under a lot stress.
... four, five, six...
Rodney was needed for the escape plan.
...seven, eight, nine...
And Elizabeth would never believe his gun went off by accident.
...ten. "Never mind." He took a deep breath. "All I was saying is, I'm on an alien planet-"
"So am I."
"-in another galaxy-"
"Oh look, me too."
"-and saving your butt all the time, Rodney," John finished. He took in Rodney's smug expression, decided counting to fifty wouldn't be enough this time, and wondered how long he could keep a body hidden in the woods.
"Who's saving whose butt here?" Rodney pretended to be thinking, holding up a finger as if testing the wind in a way that was guaranteed to try the patience of a saint, and really, John could just bury the guy out here and tell Ford he was eaten by a bear, couldn't he? "Oh yes, I'm saving yours. Unless you want to fix the dart and I'll hold the flashlights?"
Giant bear. Giant space bear. Possibly two of 'em.
"This time, maybe." But it wasn't strictly true, was it? It hadn't been for a while now. He grimaced. "All right, we're pretty square on the saving each other's butts thing. Happy now?"
"Hmm." Rodney grinned at him, which was slightly disconcerting in the circumstances. "I'm getting there, Colonel. I'm definitely getting there."
Pleasant as it was to have Rodney in a good mood for once, John couldn't quite shake the feeling that there was some huge private joke going on that he just wasn't in on. Even when he went inside to look for Ford, Teyla looked up from the crate she was perched on and greeted him with one of her secretive smiles.
"And how is Doctor McKay today, Colonel?"
He opened his mouth to tell her about the terrible dangers giant space bears posed to unwary Canadian scientists, but before he had chance to speak, his eyes took in the dressing she was busy applying to her arm. He pulled her hand away as gently as he could. "What the hell happened to you?"
"It is nothing. Just an accident when I was sparring with Ronon - it will heal quickly enough."
John let go of her arm. Yeah, of course it would. But if it looked like that now...
"That must have been a pretty nasty cut."
Teyla just shrugged. Not unusual in itself but not exactly forthcoming. He waited for more but she didn't seem to be in any hurry to share whatever it was that was on her mind.
"Teyla?" He folded his arms and waited. "Talk to me, or no TV before bedtime."
She sighed and tugged harder on the dressing. Although it looked pretty damn tight already from what he could see, it didn't seem to cause her further pain.
"Ronon is finding the large doses of enzyme increasingly hard to deal with: physically, that is. He has surges of energy which are difficult to control but he does not wish to add to your worries."
"It's my job to worry about him, Teyla." John cursed himself for leaving them alone for so long. "It's my job to worry about all of you. A job I'm obviously not doing very well, but--"
"I am taking care of it, Colonel." Teyla allowed herself another small smile as she tucked the end of the dressing in.
"Yes." She pulled her sleeve back down carefully and looked up at him. "I will just have to... increase my efforts."
"You know, you don't have to... um, take one for the team," John said, desperately wishing he could find another way to put it. Maybe one that didn't make him want to find a gaping hole opening up at his feet that he could just fall into and curl up into a little ball. He nodded towards the dressing, just on the off-chance he could bring the conversation back to less ambiguous ground. "So to speak."
"May I speak plainly with you, Colonel?"
Oh, thank god. "I really wish you would."
"Ronon seems to have a great need for physical... release and he has spent many years alone. The enzyme has simply made a difficult situation much worse."
"Right." Well, that was certainly plain.
"This intimacy between Ronon and myself? It would have happened anyway." Teyla's mouth quirked again. "This way our coupling also serves a useful purpose in providing both a release and a distraction."
"Well." John felt almost as if he should shake her hand, or maybe pat it paternally and give them his blessing. "I appreciate you being so... direct."
"My people are a practical race, Colonel." Teyla seemed to be considering his reaction carefully. "I think yours are more... romantic."
John could feel his mouth crinkle into a real, relaxed smile for the first time in the conversation. "You have met Rodney McKay, right?"
"I think Doctor McKay also has a great need for physical release," she said.
"Really." John was pretty sure his face didn't change; that he kept smiling, warm and open and friendly, instead of fixing her with a glare worthy of McKay himself.
"Yes, I think that is why he is finding this situation so difficult." Teyla smiled and he wished the little pat on the arm she gave him didn't feel so maternal and encouraging in turn. When did this chat become about him and Rodney? "We will try not to disturb you and Doctor McKay tonight."
He eyed her suspiciously but she seemed to be giving all her attention to neatening her bandage. Maybe she was simply referring to letting them get some sleep for once.
If not, the giant space bears were going to be really well-fed on this planet.
To John's complete lack of surprise, Rodney's good temper evaporated quickly in the heat of the afternoon.
"You see this?" He brandished a peculiar-looking instrument at Jace, close enough to make the kid back off hurriedly and almost trip over the dart's camouflage cover where it lay piled up on the ground. "This is a crystal converter. How do you think you'll know when I want you to go find me a crystal converter? That's right! Because I will say 'get me a crystal converter', not 'fetch me a proto-selenium link'!"
"Actually, that's the broken solar cell you threw at me yesterday," John said and tossed Rodney the converter he was looking for. "But I think you made your point."
Once Jace was packed off to the caves for a break, and hopefully far enough away to be out of earshot of Rodney's outbursts, John tried to calm Rodney down.
"Morons! I'm surrounded by morons!"
"And drug addicts! I haven't seen so many needles since Carson last had me locked up in that torture chamber he calls an infirmary."
"At least your dose has been cut down-"
"Yes, yes, but even with the smallest doses, if we stay here any longer that enzyme is going to destroy my brain cells! I'll have muscles that can open the most stubborn bottle of ketchup but I'll think it's a good idea to pour it all over my head instead of on a hotdog!"
Rodney looked so genuinely frightened by the idea that John knew it was time to bring out the big guns. "Now you're making me hungry," he said, and patted his pockets.
"There aren't any powerbars left," Rodney said, deflating from explosive to glum in the time it evidently took him to remember the fact. "I was so desperate for sugar this morning I even finished off the last of the gum."
"Oh, good thinking, Rodney." John paused in his search to glare at him. Like it wasn't bad enough washing in freezing cold water instead of having a nice hot shower, now he was going to spend the rest of his time here with bad breath. "You couldn't have had some fruit or something?"
"Have you tasted the fruit on this planet?"
"No, but-" There was no point in arguing, though. Rodney was hurtling from miserable to smug with a quick stop off at self-righteous just for kicks; John could see his face passing through expressions like someone had switched to fast-forward. "Hey, is there a mute button, too?" he wondered aloud.
"What?" Uh oh, back to confused.
"I said, I was saving it all for you," he said sweetly and watched Rodney take a swerve towards disgusted instead.
It was pretty cool watching Rodney's face do that trick, but it was even cooler when John found the pocket with the last of the chocolate bars in. "Emergency supply," he said casually as if it didn't make him king of the whole damn universe when he made Rodney's eyes light up that way. "Just been keeping them for the right time."
"Colonel, you may have just saved my life." Rodney closed his eyes in apparent bliss.
More likely he'd saved Jace's life, but hey, a life was a life. In the circumstances, John would take what he could get.
A calm Rodney was certainly a more productive Rodney. Or maybe it was just that he ran more efficiently when fueled by chocolate. He snapped out his orders rapid-fire, wires running through his fingers like flickering flashes of quicksilver under the sun, one hand tapping sharply on a keypad, fast and sure. Not a hint of hesitation or uncertainty once he hit his stride.
Really, it was amazing how skillful Rodney's hands were when he was comfortable with the equipment he was handling. John didn't often have the time to pay attention to the way they moved over the instruments, or how fast they worked when they had to, because there was usually a lab full of people and he himself would be running around at Rodney's beck and call, not lounging on the grass with the leisure to watch whatever he liked.
To his surprise, given the chance, he liked watching Rodney work his special kind of magic. The way his fingers effortlessly traced the vital parts reminded John of checking his flight controls, or, more commonly these days, his weapons. Rodney had no shortage of dexterity or concentration; if he could only be persuaded to train a little more with a gun, he'd maybe have more confidence with one. John made a mental note to work on that - when they had access to their weapons again. His fingers twitched, hand automatically tensing to reach for his gun at the thought of it. Funny how quickly he'd become used to that; he seemed to have been on his guard constantly since he stepped through the gate from Earth. He let his hand drop to the grass with a sigh and went back to watching Rodney through half-closed eyes.
Rodney's hands across the dart, fingers long and sure.
"Now, if you put that... yes!" Rodney's voice was loud even from here
The sun was warm on his groin, the pressure of his hand across his stomach vaguely disturbing as he drowsed.
Rodney's hands on a gun, his grip determined, as tense as the set of his mouth.
"And push it forward-no, no, slowly!"
He shifted position, lifting a knee to hide his half-hard state from any casual glances, and thought about going for another run.
He didn't move.
Rodney's hands, a warm and solid weight across his groin.
He tried to push the image out of his mind, but instead he pressed down harder, his hand moving downwards. Rodney's fingers stroking over his balls, sure and strong; his mouth a twist of pure concentration on the task in hand; his voice a murmur of numbers and really long words that John half-suspected Rodney of inventing without telling him. Oh, yes-
John blinked up into Rodney's face, shadowed in front of a cloudy sky. A chilly breeze was starting to rustle through the grass. How long had he been dozing?
"We could, uh, use your help." Rodney was avoiding his eye and John stumbled to his feet trying to look as if he hadn't been caught napping under a tree with a hand practically rubbing against his dick.
What the hell.
"Coming," he said, with the most innocent expression he could summon up, and watched Rodney's cheeks puff out and turn pink. Funny that he'd never really noticed before how Rodney responded to everything he did.
"Hey, Rodney. I was thinking."
"I think we can see that, Colonel." Rodney's voice was as stiff as his spine when he turned away. Oh, great. The climate on planet Rodney was on the downturn.
"What?" Oh, that. Right. "No, no, I meant... what you said about Ronon and Teyla sparring. I get it now." And he did, even if thinking was perhaps not the best description of how he'd come to his conclusion. "Watching someone who's incredibly good at something can be really..."
"'Hot' was the word I used." Rodney half-turned towards him.
"Yeah." John was more a devotee of 'Cool', but he could work with hot. "I think... it's not so much what they're doing, as how they do it. You know, watching the experts at work. That's what you might call hot. In its own way."
Or in this case, watching Rodney at work; and, now that he thought about it, maybe this wasn't the best time to share his insight with Rodney because Rodney was stopping, turning to face him. And although it looked kind of like Rodney it also didn't, because John didn't think he'd ever seen this exact same Rodney before. His face was tense; nothing new about that, but his jaw was slack, working minutely, as if he wasn't sure how to speak or what to say. His mouth opened, but it shut again, and there was something... not quite panicked, not quite hopeful, but vulnerable, maybe, in his eyes.
"Watching me was hot?" Rodney asked, and suddenly he was closer, closer -- too close. John was painfully aware that he was more than half hard now, from the sun and the thoughts and the closeness, and Rodney had to be aware of it. He stepped back quickly, involuntarily, just as Rodney reached out towards him.
"Theoretically," John said. "I meant... in theory it might be hot. Maybe." It was pretty lame, as explanations went, he knew that. It would have been lame even if he wasn't standing there with a Rodney-induced erection that was still showing no sign of going away.
What were they all thinking - Teyla, and now presumably Rodney -- that he was obliged to bunk up with Rodney just because it kept the team neat and tidy? Tidy was the last thing relationships were, and one with Rodney involved you could pretty much count on to be messy and terrifying.
Along with glorious, intense and very probably life-altering, admittedly, but if that wasn't the definition of terrifying, John wasn't sure what was.
There were people counting on him to not be messed up and scared shitless on a daily basis; not to be bleary-eyed from nights spent arguing and making up again, or stressed and edgy from all the inevitable clashes and tensions that went with the territory on Atlantis; not to be pre-occupied with something other than keeping them all safe.
Over Rodney's shoulder he could see Jace waiting for them, pacing up and down on the other side of the clearing.
Rodney nodded, his mouth shut tightly in a straight, thin line, but he didn't speak again until they reached the dart and only then to give curt instructions. When they were done, he switched off the flashlights and walked back to the caves with Jace. He didn't look back.
John pulled himself up into the dart's cockpit and stared up at the stars that were starting to emerge from the darkness.
It was probably going to take more than chocolate to fix this.
"Tomorrow." Rodney said that night, around the point where he'd usually be snoring and John would be counting the colours of rock on the ceiling. It was the first time he'd spoken to him directly since John's panicked retreat out in the clearing. "We should have the dart finished tomorrow."
John turned on his side and looked over at Rodney. His eyes were dark and serious in the gloom, his mouth an agitated downturn.
"That's good, right?"
"Is it?" Rodney's mouth worked some more, as if he was still chewing his words over several times before speaking.
"Yes, it is." John edged closer, lowering his voice just in case Ford or one of his men could hear. "That means we can go home, remember?"
"Right, yes." There was a tremor in Rodney's voice all the same and it was a few moments before he spoke again. "You're sure this is going to work?"
It would have been easy to say "Yes" or "Trust me" and tell him to get some sleep. Easy, but not fair.
"Ford made a deal and I think he'll stick to it. That's as sure as I can be."
"So we're relying on the word of a man I wouldn't trust to tell me the time of day at the moment? Great. That's just great."
"You already knew that, Rodney. Nothing has changed."
All the same, there was an edge of hysteria to Rodney's voice that John didn't like at all. Why was it that when he wanted a clear head, random thoughts about football games he'd played in college and movies he'd seen fifteen years ago popped into his head, but when he needed to change the subject, he had nothing?
Nothing at all, except the one thing he really didn't want to mention. But, like anything else he'd ever been desperate not to think about, it wouldn't go away just because he ignored it. Inconvenient issues you shoved under the rug had a habit of turning up again.
Sometimes they even brought a few friends with them. He sighed.
"Look, about this afternoon."
He thought at first that Rodney wasn't going to answer. Then there was a rustle and a huff of breath and Rodney turned over awkwardly in his sleeping bag. He seemed to be looking straight at John when he spoke, and his voice was sharp, but it was impossible to make out his expression.
"What about it?"
"I didn't mean to..."
"Yes." Rodney rolled back over and John frowned at the tense back he hid behind. "It was an innocent remark that I misunderstood. I got that already but thank you so much for making it even clearer."
"That's not what I meant. I just..."
What made it so difficult to find the right words when it really mattered? He could feel his hands clenching into fists, getting tighter and tighter with every glib phrase that passed through his head, every stupid, stupid line he'd ever heard that was so wrong in this situation.
What had he meant? Exactly what he'd said, really. All his excuses were just... excuses.
The problem was that he didn't know how to say so. Did he? The silence stretched longer between them: no, apparently he had no idea.
"If you ever decide what you might have meant, Colonel, wake me up." Rodney raised his wrist close to his eyes and sighed, presumably at the time. "On second thoughts, don't bother. The sleep would be more useful right now."
"Hey, anything I have to say will be worth waking up for."
Rodney snorted into his arm. "Save it for the next Ancient floozy to come along, Colonel."
Thud, thud, thud.
Rodney sat up and glared at the wall of wobbling crates. "Oh god, not again. Will you two shut up!"
Whether it was the warmth that had crept through John at their banter, even strained as it was, or just the tension evident in Rodney's voice, he didn't know; but somehow it seemed essential that he find the words to make this right, and find them now. Tomorrow they'd be back in Atlantis, and it would be too easy to bury this... whatever it was... and just go back to the way things were. He might never get another chance.
Now what, indeed. John stared up at the ceiling and tried not to think about how much colder it had suddenly become. A shiver ran up from his toes and set up home in his right arm, vibrating against his ribs and threatening to set his teeth chattering if he didn't keep tight control of his jaw.
"I'm pretty sure I mentioned," he said, and swallowed hard before he continued, "that I've been to every continent on earth."
It felt like hours before he heard a sound but it was easier to wait and wonder if Rodney had any idea what he was talking about than actually get up and make the move himself. Still safer, not that there was anything safe about this at all.
"Just, you know... some a lot more often than others."
And then he heard it; the grating slide of a zipper, followed by the thump and scrape of -- what? Hands, feet? Maybe Rodney still had his boots on, he wouldn't put it past him - and he was there; a warm, tentative touch on his shoulder, a faint huff of breath, and a solid, bulky pressure settling against his side.
"Every single one?" Rodney's hand moved down to his chest, and John gulped at the pressure of fingertips brushing over his nipple. "You've been everywhere?"
"Yeah." John drew his breath in sharply as Rodney set about freeing him from his sleeping bag with impressive skill and speed. He should probably help, he thought, but Rodney seemed to be managing just fine so far. "Scouted most of them out a little, anyway."
"Because, Colonel, god help me, if you don't mean it this time..."
But Rodney wasn't waiting for him to change his mind. Instead his hands were sliding up under John's t-shirt, palms skidding flat and hot across his stomach, fingers spanning and tracing his ribs, spreading wider as they pushed higher. John squirmed, capturing a wrist, and Rodney paused, poised to rock back, roll away.
"Tickles," John breathed, his grip tight enough to feel the pulse under his fingers, and pulled Rodney closer. His knee slid comfortably between Rodney's legs, catching him off-balance and that was how it should be.
"You're impossible," Rodney muttered. "And insane, did I mention that?"
John pulled him closer and grinned into Rodney's bemused face. It was the work of a second to flip them, and he rolled; over Rodney, on him, entangling legs and fingers, pressing down and sliding so they were tongue against neck, cock against cock; and if it had ever felt this way before, John was certain he'd have taken this road a hell of a lot more often.
Rodney gaped up at him, breathless. "But if you stop now, I'll have to kill you."
"Shhh," John whispered into Rodney's hair. "Have to be quiet, remember?"
Rodney just hummed what might have been a "Yes, yes" into John's chest, pressing his fingertips now into shoulder muscle, now ribs, now spine, murmuring his pleasure in tiny satisfied sounds at every gasp and shudder he provoked.
Rodney jerked his hips up and John pulled him closer, reaching between them, crushing hands to thighs and balls and god, Rodney's hand was damp and trembling in his boxers and just so fucking perfect; he was close, so close that all it would take was one squeeze, one stroke, one thrust of his weight against Rodney just there, and it would all be over.
There was one thing he wanted to do before that happened.
"Rodney," he whispered, and when Rodney looked, flushed and pink even in the half-darkness, he reached out to run a thumb up Rodney's jaw, over his lips and across his cheek. Looking into Rodney's eyes he could see when he got the message, just as John curled his fingers around the back of his head and pressed a kiss to lips that parted in surprise.
It seemed as if he should say something else but Rodney just smiled and returned lips wet from the kiss into the hollow of John's throat.
"John, yes," he murmured into damp skin, and that was all it took.
"So, um," John said, when he could speak again. "Back on Atlantis, people don't really know-"
Rodney smirked down at him and piled his own sleeping bag on top of John's impossibly tangled bedding. "How well-traveled you are?"
"I don't exactly shout about it myself," Rodney said, rubbing his eyes. He stopped mid-rub, and John could see his eyes widening. "People don't know, right? They don't talk about me behind my back, I mean, like everyone knows Simpson caught that disease on M2D-371 but nobody says it to his face? Tell me they don't do that."
"Nobody knows, Rodney."
"Well, except for me." He couldn't help a little grin at that.
Rodney still looked worried. "Hmm."
"And I think it's in my best interests to keep it our little secret, Rodney, so would you quit worrying and come back down here?"
Rodney did at least lie down, even if he wasn't exactly getting cosy again. "Can't get enough of me, huh?"
"Something like that." A careless stretch, and somehow John's legs were entwined with Rodney's once more. Rodney didn't seem to mind.
"You needn't worry, you know." Rodney yawned and adjusted his distinctly non-standard issue air pillow. "They need you on Atlantis. They'd rewrite any of their stupid rules for you."
"I doubt that very much," John said, and ignored the bait. "And I'd rather not put it to the test, if you don't mind."
"You could do anything." Rodney sounded far too intrigued for John's peace of mind. "Oh! We could probably have sex in the middle of the mess hall and Elizabeth would just tell them we were under the influence of, oh I don't know -- alien mind control or something."
Yes, far too intrigued. "I'll bear that in mind when we're having a slow day," John said, "But for now-"
"Yes, yes, I know." Rodney sighed. "No public sex in the mess hall or holding hands on date night."
"Right." Wait a minute. "We have a date night?"
"Mm." Rodney wriggled closer and huffed down John's ear, and John could really have done without that. "I thought Wednesdays would be good. Nobody ever schedules anything for Wednesday evenings."
"That's because it's Wednesday, Rodney. Nobody likes Wednesdays."
"Dr. Kusanagi does."
John thought for a moment. "Miko?"
Rodney poked him in the ribs. "Dr Kusanagi to you. And yes, she writes letters home on a Wednesday, every week like clockwork. Very, very long letters."
"And the appreciative family rewarded her dedication to keeping them, well, uninformed, I have to assume - god knows what she finds to write about - by sending her the smallest home cinema kit you have ever seen."
Okay, maybe Rodney wasn't quite as nuts as he seemed. "And lots of movies?" John asked hopefully.
Rodney snorted. "Yes, if you like Japanese art house cinema, you'll be ecstatic." He fidgeted and nudged John with his knee. "You don't, do you? Like Japanese art house cinema, I mean."
"Rodney, I like Back to the Future." He ignored Rodney's groan. Rodney McKay might know plenty about wormholes but that didn't mean he knew a good movie when he fell over it. "All of them," he added, just to see the look on Rodney's face.
Rodney's mouth opened, closed, then opened again. "I think Zelenka has the first one," he confessed finally, and rested his head against John's arm. "I could probably-" He broke off abruptly as John gave a spontaneous demonstration of a much better use for his mouth than talking.
"And I bet someone on Atlantis has the others," Rodney continued, emerging flushed and breathless on the other side.
John grinned and leaned forward again but Rodney stopped him with a hand on his chest. "There are only three, right? Because I'm not sure I could cope with more than three doses of such inaccurate drivel, and--"
"Just the three, Rodney." John tugged Rodney down under the covers and wriggled until he was comfortably curled up against his back. "And none of them have any giant space bears in them."
"It doesn't matter." John smiled into Rodney's neck, and closed his eyes. "I'll tell you when we get home."