Disclaimer: Not mine. Not even in my dreams, sadly.
Author's Notes: My recipient wanted a McShep story, maybe an AU or a rewrite. I went with a mix of all three wishes - I know, Mulder and Scully are missing, but they just didn't want to cooperate with Rodney. Betaed by the awesome lavvyan, thank you honey!
Summary: "Uh," Rodney mumbles "You're not going to eat me, are you? Because I'm pretty sure I'll taste awful, really awful."
John looks down at the sad pile of fish in front of him. Their eyes have started to cloud over and the scales have turned slimy and grey. The fish seem anything but fresh, and even if they were, they'd hardly be enough to sate his hunger. John sighs and glares up at Rodney, hairless brow raised as if to ask what he is supposed to do with the offering. Rodney crosses his arms over his chest defiantly, glaring right back.
"What?" Rodney asks. "It's fish and it's perfectly fine."
John shifts, cocking his head to one side. The smell of the fish must be bad enough for even Rodney to smell it. John knows human noses work well enough for that. Rodney holds his stance for another moment, arms crossed, chin up. The breeze picks up and Rodney's face wrinkles in disgustas he deflates visibly.
"Yes, okay, it might be a little old," Rodney admits.
John snorts in amusement.
"And it smells," Rodney adds, waving a hand at John and the world in general, "but it's all I could get! It's not as if I could hide a side of meat under my coat or something, people would ask questions. And they already look at me as If I'm crazy, and I don't think stealing sheep meat will go over well."
John perks up at the mention of sheep and his mouth begins to water. It opens, just a fraction, but enough for several razor sharp teeth to make an appearance. The promise of teeth and the guttural grumble coming from deep within Johns belly let Rodney falter in his confidence.
"Uh," Rodney mumbles. "You're not going to eat me, are you? Because I'm pretty sure I'll taste awful, really awful. More awful than the fish, which is pretty ripe, and I'm sweaty and smelly..."
If John had a voice at the moment he might inform Rodney that 'lantean dragons don't eat humans. That they usually don't even hunt for farm animals, except to scare off settlers venturing too close to their city. However, John is not within is beloved City's walls and so he's damned to rely on body language. He misses the City, misses the spires and silver surfaces, the balconies the other dragons rest on to sunbathe. Rodney is still talking as John gets up. He tugs his large black wings tight against his back and wanders away from Rodney around the pond, straight over to the other side of the cavern he's stuck in for now. He curls up on the same mossy spot he's been sleeping on before and rests his head on his paws, closing his eyes.
Maybe this is just a dream, and if he just wishes for it hard enough, he'll wake up to the sun heating up his scales and the ocean lapping at the base of Atlantis.
His wings aren't hurt, but he can't fly. He tries again and again, but something is wrong with the fin on his tail and while he can get up in the air, he can't navigate. John isn't stupid, he's one of the most skilled fliers of his tribe. Deep down He can't accept that he can not fly anymore and so he tries and tries.
He ignores that he's hungry. He ignores that Rodney's there watching and scribbling notes into a small black book while he struggles. He ignores that he's hurt and sore from all the times he crashed into the cavern walls, or fell into the pond. He doesn't give up, tells himself firmly that he's not going to give up, ever. He tries day after day and night after night.
John Sheppard, guardian of Atlantis, will not give up. He owes his clan, his City to not give up, except part of him already has.
Rodney returns the next day. John can hear the steady stream of complaints spilling from the human all the way from the top of the cavern down to the bottom. He hears rocks fall as Rodney climbs down along the cavern's wall, can smell his sweat, but there is more.
John opens one eye and peers out across the pond at Rodney. He's lugging around a large basket of some sort, and a sweet, salty smell coming from within the basket promises something else for dinner than old fish.
Rodney makes a show of setting down the basket and pulling a large wrapped parcel from inside. The cloth is soaked in fat and has turned greyish. The intoxicating smell is calling to John's empty stomach like a siren to a sailor.
"It is ham," Rodney reports and sets the bundle down. "I traded for it. Repaired some cooking pots and sharpened knives... It's not much..."
John sneaks close to the source of the smell. He makes a blissful, quiet sound as he tastes the meat. The hunger takes the better of him and he is so absorbed in the taste he doesn't even notice how Rodney starts to work on his tail until it is too late.
He hisses and shakes himself like a wet cat. Rodney cries out and falls backwards on his ass. To his surprise, John's wings carry him up. For one long, sweet moment he can fly like he used to, but the dream of freedom doesn't last long enough to get him anywhere.
In fact, he can't even reach the edge of the cavern and crashes hard into the pond, howling in frustration as he comes up again for air.
Turns out that, albeit not appreciated by the rest of his village, Rodney is a genius. John has no real idea how the human has done it, doesn't really understand the mechanics of the thing Rodney has strapped to John's tail except that it looks like an artificial fin and it works like his own fin used to.
Or so John thinks until he figures out that Rodney's inventions come in a package deal with the inventor only.
John peers over his shoulder towards his tail. It took a while, but Rodney has made a better version of the fin, a prettier version. It's black leather and metal rods, tied to a complicated work of chains which seem to be part of the saddle John is wearing now. It's remarkable workmanship, flexible and light, but strong enough to stand high speed flying - or so Rodney keeps saying.
"Okay," Rodney says and steps back from his handiwork. "Can you move?"
John shifts and rolls his shoulders. The saddle is annoying, but not as bad as he'd expected saddles to be. He stretches out his wings high above his back, or tries to, but one of the chains catches on the sensitive skin of his left wing. Rodney immediately steps in.
"Wait, wait, wait, let me do this," he mutters and ducks in below John's outstretched wing to adjust the chains.
John watches the human work, how he carefully adjusts the chain and smoothes across the skin of John's wing as if to check for injury. To his surprise, John doesn't even mind the touch.
So maybe it's not so bad to have Rodney on his back. John is back in the air, can fly again, and Rodney is not hell-bent on forcing his leadership on the dragon. Rodney keeps up a constant commentary about the height, how deep he will fall, how he will most certainly die on impact, and how John has no business flying like a maniac if he doesn't want Rodney to throw up all over his back.
John pushes just that little bit harder, goes just that little bit faster, but Rodney holds on - funny thing is, John starts to enjoy it.
Rodney might be frightened in the beginning, but deep inside his heart, John learns, sits a brave explorer waiting to see the world. Rodney's village doesn't see and doesn't care. They cast him into the role of the useless village oddball who spends more time with his funny inventions than with useful work. It's a waste of his talent, of the brilliant mind John can feel behind the human's blue eyes.
It is a surprise how much John wants to carry the human away, show him the city, finally voice the remarks he can only think without the City translating for him. The even bigger surprise is how Rodney seems to understand John anyway.
They take flight, and don't look back.
They sit on the edge of a cliff high above the ocean. Across the sea John knows the City of Atlantis waits for him, calls him home. It's barely another day of flight. Rodney sits beside John on the sun-baked ground, leaning back comfortably against John's side.
Rodney talks about all sorts of things, but most of all how nobody seems to care that all they've known about the beasts of night, about the dragons, might be wrong. That John is the living, breathing proof that dragons aren't just bloodthirsty creatures, monsters coming in the night to steal virgins and sheep. He talks about his inventions and the patterns of the stars, brushing deft fingers along the knuckles of John's front paw, ignorant of the sharp claws all the while as if he doesn't even notice what he's doing.
John laughs at the virgin part and shifts a little, content with the weight of Rodney against his side, and as Rodney begins to drift off to sleep, John begins to wonder what Rodney will say when he sees the ancient's city in the morning, when he will hear John's voice.