Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: No standard warnings apply.
Author’s Notes: Dear sian, Happy Holidays! I managed some of your asks, but I’m not sure if this counts as having any plot at all. Hope its ok! Thanks to gaffsie for a super speedy beta!
Summary: Beware the ice!
John once thought that deserts were his field of play. That there was something about the heat and the grit of sand in his mouth that created the conditions for major life changing moments. But that was before he sat in a chair in Antarctica, and before he met Rodney McKay.
When John woke up that morning, it was early. The sun had yet to rise, and a cold draft wafted across John’s face. He lay in bed, wriggling his toes, which were slightly sweaty in his wool socks, and enjoyed the minute before Ronon came to pound on his door.
Over time, John had realized that Ronon’s propensity for morning runs was more about how much he enjoyed waking up his teammates, seeing them all bleary eyed and unkempt. John had seen Ronon wake Rodney out of a midday nap on the pretense of bringing him food and coffee (and thereby avoiding the angry just-woken-up-Rodney), and he’d heard him encouraging Teyla to sleep in more often, only to remember a sparring session they’d scheduled at dawn.
John thought it was funny as hell, actually, and so he lay in bed, waiting for the arrhythmic banging on the door that –
BANG BANG BANG
As usual, Ronon was grinning and bouncing in the corridor, and he ruffled John’s hair before darting away.
It had been almost seven years since Atlantis had sealed off the gate to Earth in the city’s false quarantine lockdown, and five and half years since John and Rodney and Sam had finally accepted that no one from Earth was coming for them.
Things had changed in the interval. Atlantis began to recruit scientists, soldiers, and other staff from their friends and allies in Pegasus, expanding the diversity of the population living there. Missions were still about creating friendly relationships and trading, but now the supplies the Lanteans sought were not just food and tech, but also cloth and tools.
John hadn’t stopped running, but in order to get access to some of the city’s more out of way places he and Ronon had had to convince Rodney that their runs could double as a ground truthing of Atlantis’s monitoring system.
That week, he and Ronon had decided to cover the interior, upper levels near the south tower, working their way around in a spiral, eyes open for flooded passageways and other signs of damage. Most of the people living in Atlantis were clustered around the central tower or spread out along the East wing, but John loved this slightly solitary time he spent looking over the rest of his city.
Nothing on the run checked out as abnormal, and so after a lukewarm shower and quick cup of tea, John was pulling on his cold weather offworld uniform (wool and leather in various shades of grey) and heading towards the control room to meet his team.
John was standing to the side of the gate and trying to remember the name of the Nekoboh leader’s daughter, Wasn’t her wedding supposed to be this winter? , when Rodney ran into the gateroom, shouting invectives into his earpiece.
“I know Radek, but if we can shorten the reaction time on the cre—. Well, yes, obviously, making sure the containment unit is fu—. Ugh, fine, whatever. I’ll expect a report when I get back, McKay out!”
John raised an eyebrow at him.
“Sorry, sorry. Zelenka thought he’d made some process with the new set of power cores, but the results are iffy at best.”
“Whatever, McKay,” said Ronon. “When are we getting those blaster-proof jackets you promised us?”
Rodney grumbled as John helped him strap on his TAC vest. Rodney was the only one on the team who still wore the vest regularly. He claimed he needed the pockets, but Rodney had once confessed to John that he felt more intimidating with it on than not.
Teyla finished kissing her children goodbye, and John waved to Chuck to dial the gate.
Once on the other side, Teyla turned to Rodney while pulling on her gloves and hat.
Uniforms for gate teams had always been fairly flexible, but since most of the standard issue gear in Atlantis was saved for ceremonies and the occasional nervous scientist, each team had slowly developed their own aesthetic. John’s team, much to his chagrin and Rodney’s amusement, had oriented towards a monochrome set of colors in honor of John’s now-in-tatters black cotton shirts. Even Teyla’s winter gear, hand knit by Jinto’s latest girlfriend, was in shades of grey.
“Rodney,” she said. “Please continue to ignore Ronon and his ridiculous requests.”
“Hey!” Ronon protested.
“I would much prefer a reliable power source over a blaster proof jacket. But then, I am running out of friends who want to knit things for my ever-growing children.”
Rodney laughed while John arranged his scarf around his neck self-consciously. It had been a gift, and just because he was the only one who got one wasn’t going to make him feel guilty. John then noticed Teyla trying and failing to suppress a smirk and he rolled his eyes.
“Ronon, take point,” he said, exasperated, and Teyla’s smirk broke into a full smile.
“I will guard our six, John,” she said.
“And scientist in the middle,” John replied.
Rodney was already walking after Ronon, poking at his scanner.
By the time they were nearing the Nekoboh settlement, John was even more grateful for the warmth at his neck. Weather on MDX-492 was cold year round; the planet was just a smidge farther from the sun than most populated places in Pegasus, but the settlement was close enough to the equator that the temperature remained steady through most of the year.
Today, however, the wind was kicking up bits of old snow and ice that covered the landscape, revealing icy patches on the path. Rodney had finally packed the scanner away so he could stick his hands into his pockets. Rodney needed some mittens John thought. Walking with his hands in his pockets on icy paths was bound to end in disaster.
The Nekoboh settlement was a deceptively small gathering of well-insulated houses that sat nestled in the crook between two hills three miles from the Stargate. Most of the settlement was actually underground, but unlike the Genii’s military-style bunkers, the Nekoboh community was warm and cozy and secretly reminded John more of a hobbit hole than anything else.
However, the path that led up the hills to the outer layer of the settlement was treacherously icy. John paused to wipe snow out of his eyes, and Teyla quickly passed him to catch up to Rodney and Ronon.
“Come on old man,” called Ronon from the top. “Almost there!”
John silently swore revenge and turned back onto the path. He’d just crested the rise of the hill when he stepped on a patch of black ice, and the next thing he knew, he was sprawled on the ground and his foot was twisted awkwardly beneath him.
He heard someone calling “John!” and tried to stand, but his ankle twinged and he would have fallen again if Rodney hadn’t caught him.
“Fuck,” John groaned.
“Ronon!” Rodney barked. “Get over here, and let’s get John over to the meeting house.”
“You are not carrying me,” John warned, but Rodney ignored him and positioned himself under John’s right arm with Ronon under John’s left. Together, they managed to reach one of the outdoor houses constructed by the Nekoboh. Ronon and Teyla went on to their prearranged meeting with Sial, the Nekoboh’s leader, while Rodney stayed with John.
Rodney was a warm presence at John’s side as he sat on one of the benches lining the walls of the room, through the examination by the Nekoboh’s healer and her prognosis that a tendon was probably torn and John needed to stay completely off his feet for at least two days. She went to arrange for a place for John to stay in the small hospital underground, and John let his head drop back onto the wall behind him.
“I can’t believe I got taken out by a patch of ice,” he said.
Rodney’s worried look transformed into a smirk. “You know this is only going to encourage Ronon and his old man jokes.”
“Oh, I know,” said John. “I can’t wait for the 5 am wake up calls for runs I can’t go on. It’ll be great.”
They grinned at each other for a moment, but then John shifted his weight on the bench and his ankle pulsed with pain. He grimaced, and Rodney’s face shifted back into worry. A twisted ankle wasn’t really a big deal, even if it would mean no offworld travel for John on a temporarily basis. But the Nekoboh were adamant that no large scale technology be used on the surface of their planet, and so the team couldn’t call for a jumper to come and carry John back to Atlantis.
The Nekoboh used sleds to transport goods to and from the gate, but the vehicles needed a deep snowbed to transport anything heavy. Unfortunately for John, the last snowfall had been sparse, and the wind storm that had greeted the team on the way to the settlement had blown even that small bit of snow far away.
John settled back against the wall, careful not to jostle his leg at all.
“Backwards technophobes,” Rodney grumbled, still pressed against his side.
Eventually, the healer found a spare room for John’s recuperation. Ronon volunteered to stay with John while Teyla and Rodney went back to Atlantis.
Rodney lingered in the doorway. “I can’t believe we have to leave you here,” he said, eyeing John’s ankle with a look of disgust.
John hid the burst of warmth that brought on with a smirk. “This isn’t exactly enemy territory Rodney,” he said. “And besides, Ronon is staying behind, so if there is a surprise attack, I’ll be well-protected.”
“Yes, well,” said Rodney. “At the least it’ll keep you from pointing out any more problems for my scientists to solve. There’ve been rumblings about how to get you to stop the morning run-spections. I’d suspect them of sabotaging your ankle if it weren’t completely preposterous.”
“Really?” John asked. “You couldn’t manufacture a hidden icy patch that would activate when I stepped on it?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Nice try, Colonel, but some things are beneath even my scientists’ capabilities.”
“Well,” said John. “Look on the bright side. You’ll have some uninterrupted time to really dig into that power core problem. You can yell at Radek a lot; you like that.”
“Mmm, yes,” said Rodney. “He gets so red in the face when we disagree, it’s quite a sight. And add a lab, minions with nowhere to go, and an impossible problem. It’s a scientist’s wet dream.”
John took a moment to consider making a joke about hot blonds. (He decided it was wrong for a number of reasons, not limited to the fact that Sam would somehow know and would make sure he got all of the really tedious paperwork for the next month.) Then Rodney let out a huge sigh and grabbed John’s hand.
“Just, stop getting injured all of the time,” said Rodney. He squeezed John’s hand once and then let it go.
John nodded, trying not to blush. He was ridiculous. Rodney was also ridiculous, but John was worse. He cleared his throat. “Will do, buddy.” Rodney was still hovering, like it was physically difficult for him to leave the room, and for a minute John felt his own frustrations subside in the face of Rodney’s worry. “And if you happen to invent some kind of low-tech contraption that can bring me home…well, feel free to do that.”
Rodney laughed. “I’ll see what I can get the minions to do.” And with that he turned and left.
John might have spent some long hours contemplating that little exchange, but the Nekobohs had some amazing medicine that Atlantis needed to trade for immediately, because after Rodney and Teyla left, John went to sleep and didn’t remember being awake for another 12 hours.
When he woke up, Lorne’s team had come and gone, leaving a handheld device with a backlog of reports John had been meaning to read, and, he discovered happily, a whole new set of games.
Rodney’s high scores are going down, John thought with glee.
The Lanteans had also left behind a pair of soldiers to share guard duty with Ronon. After a couple of games on the handheld, John spent a little time getting the update on Atlantis.
Nothing much exciting had happened in the last half day, so Corporal Kelis swiftly transitioned from the official update to some of the juicier stories from the Athosian-run school that had opened on Atlantis several years back.
Kelis was one of the refugees who’d sought shelter with the Athosian enclave on Atlantis in recent years, and he’d become Teyla’s source of Athosian gossip. Normally, John would leave it to her. But Rodney had somehow coerced John into doing higher level math tutorials for a few of the students Rodney qualified as “passably intelligent.” They were great kids, but John had found that knowing as much gossip about them as possible was the best way to keep them attentive and working hard, and Kelis was happy to help.
Eventually though, Kelis switched out guard duty with Martin, who liked to pace, and John had his foot reexamined, got another dose of medication, and spent an hour staring at the ceiling (impressively held-together dirt) before he fell back to sleep.
When he woke for the second time, Sam was there.
“Colonel, shit.” He began to struggle upright. “Who. What happened?”
She held out a hand and gently pushed him back onto the bed.
“Easy, John. Everything’s fine. Teyla reported back that the Nekoboh wanted to meet the Lantean leader, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to check in on my military commander.”
John nodded tightly, trying to get his pounding heart the message that all was well.
Sam smiled wryly. “I should have known that seeing me first thing would startle you.”
John waved his hand in a gesture that he realized a moment later he’d picked up from Rodney.
“Oh, here!” Sam said. “Rodney gave me these to pass on to you. He seemed to think you’d need some entertainment.”
Sam was holding a sheaf of paper, and for a minute John thought Rodney had sent even more reports for him to read, but he looked more closely and realized they were paper airplane templates.
Paper was another commodity that Atlantis had quickly run out of, but the botanists and chemists had joined forces to create a paper-like replacement that was thicker and more flexible than the Earth stuff had been.
The airplane templates were all different, and one seemed like it might even be a puddlejumper. John wasn’t sure how well that one would fly through the air, but he was still making it first.
“These are great,” he said. “Where did Rodney find them?”
“I’m pretty sure he made them. He said something about needing something mindless to do while waiting for the computer model to run.”
John looked down at the papers again, noticing this time that they were hand drawn, in remarkably straight lines given Rodney’s usual scrawl. He tamped down on an embarrassing smile that he felt twitching at the corners of his mouth and focused again on Sam.
She updated him on the negotiations with the Nekoboh. They were going well, and Teyla thought a personnel exchange should be the next step in building on their relationship with Atlantis. John mentioned the miracle drugs, and Sam said she’d have Keller do some tests if the Nekoboh were willing to share a few samples.
They chatted briefly about who was taking over for John’s various duties while he was out of commission, and how much work he’d be able to handle once he was back in Atlantis.
“There’s no telling when that’ll be though,” he groaned. “I’ve never thought I’d be an adult and wishing for snow so I could get to work.”
Sam laughed and stood up. “Well, we’ll do everything we can to get you back ASAP, but for now we’re fine. Rest up, and we’ll see you back on Atlantis soon.”
John sketched a loose salute, another bit of protocol slowly being lost to more practical standards, and Sam jokingly returned it before heading back to Atlantis.
John folded the jumper paper airplane, which flew way better than a boxy piece of rubbery paper should have. He managed to get an F-22 out of the door and down the hallway before exhaustion hit again.
In John’s dreams, Rodney built him a giant wind-powered sleigh. Paper reindeer pranced in front it, pawing at the glittering snow, and when John climbed on, Rodney cracked a whip over their heads, and the reindeer flew them through the galaxy all the way back to Atlantis.
When he woke up, Rodney was there, sleeping in the chair next to John’s bed. One of his hands was dangling in mid-air, and John caught hold of it and twined his fingers with Rodney’s. With a large sigh and a small inarticulate mumble, Rodney woke.
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” said John.
Rodney yawned. “Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” he asked. “You twisted your ankle and haven’t done anything but sleep for two days.”
“Yeah, but I woke you with my touch,” said John.
Rodney straightened up and peered at John. “Oh my god, do you have a fever? Did you get an infection from that ice?”
He used his free hand to feel John’s forehead until John batted him away.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said. “Just glad you’re here.”
“Yes, well,” said Rodney. He stretched his arms over his head, pulling John’s hand along with his. “The entertainment I sent along wasn’t good enough for you?”
“What, you mean the reports you sent on that handheld?” John asked, keeping his expression even. “Not exactly my idea of fun.”
“John, the F-22 is still sitting on the floor outside your room, and I know you found the games because I spent 30 minutes playing them myself before you woke up.”
John grinned a little sheepishly. “Oh right. Well, those were pretty awesome. Though, I don’t think it makes any sense for a paper puddlejumper to fly as far as that one did.”
Rodney rolled his eyes, but couldn’t quite hide the affection in his voice. “What, and you didn’t figure out the trick? As if I believe that coming from the hot shot math nerd pilot.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. John could hear a bit of quiet activity in the hallway outside his room, and his hand was warm in Rodney’s grasp.
Eventually, Rodney shook himself and said, “The Nekoboh say the sky looks like snow today, so we may be able to get you home tomorrow, or the day after if it’s a longer snow storm.”
“Mmm, home,” said John.
And that was the thing post-Antarctica John had come to realize. The desert might be where big events took place, something about the expanse of the sky, perhaps. But it was a pair of cold feet in bed, foldable paper jumpers, and a warm hand in his that marked a different kind of momentous change in his life.
He tugged on Rodney’s hand, pulling him closer until he finally leaned over and kissed John’s mouth.
Who needed deserts, after all?