Disclaimer: I only own the action figures...
Author's Notes: For the prompt Likes happy endings and hurt/comfort.
Summary: John has the flu, and Rodney's Sheppard-sitting. (I am afraid there's more comfort than hurt, and some angst slipped in: John, like many of us, is just not happy having the flu. Hopefully this does not offend.)
"Seriously?" Rodney tried not to sound judgmental, but... "Did Sheppard imagine he'd be magically protected without a flu jab, unlike the rest of us mere mortals?"
Jennifer sighed loudly, and the tiny horrible speaker on Rodney's phone made a noise like thunder. "Carolyn thinks he was previously exposed. And anyway, that's not the issue. Never mind, I'll call his brother."
"No," Rodney blurted out, too loud and quick. He could just picture Jennifer's eyes narrowing. In their last, harrowingly-quiet argument, she'd accused him of always putting his team first. Which Rodney supposed was true, but it wasn't like he would have ever asked her to put him before medicine. Just because a relationship wasn't the first priority didn't mean it wasn't important, he'd tried to explain, and he'd done such a good job of it that Jennifer had shaken his hand, thanked him for the good times, and walked right out of his life. Well. Metaphorically speaking. She was still Atlantis' CMO and Rodney's colleague. Rodney heard she was seeing someone new now, though. "Where is he?"
"The SGC," Jennifer said, slowly. "He just needs to slow down for a couple of weeks. I thought, seeing as you're friends...."
Rodney wasn't usually too worried about being an asshole: usually his brilliance more than made up for his personality. But Jennifer and John, both of them, had a way of making him feel like he had it in him to be a better person. So this was just the perfect storm, and Rodney... really didn't want to let either of them down. He had things to prove.
"I'll ask Colonel Carter for one of the guest houses, and if you could have Dr. Lam write down what I need to do, I'd be," Rodney frowned, looking for the words, "grateful. I really am," he added, wanting Jennifer to understand that. "Thank you. For thinking of me."
"How could I not?" Jennifer said, and Rodney thought she sounded like she was smiling, maybe a little fondly.
Sam had Rodney beamed right into one of the windowless meeting rooms, and she walked him down to the infirmary like they were friends, asking him about Ronon and Teyla, Jennifer and Radek, Carson and Richard Woolsey.
John was waiting for them just inside the infirmary doors, slumped sideways in a chair, coat zipped up to his chin and with a scarf wrapped snug up to his ears. His hair was shockingly lank and lifeless.
"Hey," he said when he saw Rodney, eyebrows coming together in confused apology. "Sorry."
"Shut up," Rodney told him, and collected John's duffel and large bag of drugs. "What kind of person lets their flu morph into pneumonia? This is Earth, you're supposed to be — I don't know — surfing or climbing mountains. Not — " he gestured around the infirmary "— this." He put his arm around John's shoulders and pulled him to his feet, with Sam moving in to provide stability on the other side. "Come on. I've got a bed waiting with your name on it."
"Sorry," John said again, and Rodney thought he knew exactly how John'd landed himself in this mess. Half lying to himself that nothing was wrong, half embarrassment when he realized he was in trouble, but mostly the pig-stubborn refusal to let his body dictate any terms until it staged a coup.
"You're allowed to be human," Rodney chided, steering John out into the corridor and then following Sam's lead toward the transporter.
"Rodney knows what he's talking about," Sam said, giving them both a sympathetic smile. "I hear he's a genius."
"Takes one to know one," Rodney snapped back, and wished John was well enough to appreciate how well he got on with Sam these days.
The apartment Sam loaned them was obviously reserved for people the US government liked. It had two bedrooms, each with a private bath, and a stunning mountain view from the living room. There was also, Sam pointed out, wi-fi, an expensive coffee maker, and a concierge service which did things like dry cleaning and making sure none of the visitors were involved with the Trust or any other terrorist organizations.
"Home away from home," Rodney announced once Sam was out the door. John had slumped into one end of the elegant sofa, still wrapped up, too damn stubborn to lie down while Sam was there. "And bed time for you."
John nodded and pushed himself up, swaying on his feet and looking really annoyed by his weakness.
"Come on," Rodney said, and badgered John into a random pair of flannel pajamas someone had packed for him, and then into bed. He had the lineup of drugs laid out on the bedside table, and made John swig them all down before he was allowed to pull the covers up over his head and shiver himself to sleep.
The first four days went like that.
Rodney found it weirdly restful. He kept a pot of soup on the stove and the fridge stocked with juice, and caught up with all the projects that had been put on the back-burner by his administrative duties. He kept in regular contact with Atlantis, and talked with Jeannie every day after breakfast — while he was on Earth, he felt he had to try.
Jeannie had a lot of experience with sickness, and she made a point of telling him that she considered Kaleb with a cold to be a whinier child than Madison had ever been. She warned him that John was probably going to be a pain in the ass.
John woke up the morning of the fifth day wanting any damn juice but apple and went on to complain that he was sick of soup for breakfast and that what he wanted more than anything was a hot shower.
Rodney shoved the plate with jam toast at John and glared until John was dutifully eating. "I don't even want to know how long you've been unwashed. You've grown a beard that's probably full of chicken and noodles. And bread crumbs. Maybe once you're clean you can go out and watch TV while I take those disgusting sheets out back and burn them." John was looking more and more sullen, even as he methodically munched through both slices of toast. Rodney supposed he was still stuck in the not-wanting-to-ask-for-help place. "If you take a bath instead, I'll wash your hair," he offered.
John eyed him sideways, surreptitiously.
Rodney shrugged. "Up to you. I really don't think Dr Lam would be happy if you slipped and broke a hip."
John sighed and handed the empty plate back. "Maybe I'll fall on you and break your hip."
"I'll risk it," Rodney told him, and hauled him out of bed.
Rodney was more familiar than he liked with seeing John recovering from injuries, diseases, mutation, and other brushes with death. But generally he stayed in an orbit of nervous hovering. John didn't ask for help; Rodney felt weird offering.
So this was new, turning around from running a bath to see John standing in the doorway, bracing himself on the doorframe with the hand that wasn't clutching yet another pair of flannel pajamas. Rodney took the pajamas and stuck them on the counter next to the mountain of perfectly fluffed bath towels, wondering how to watch John strip without it being really obvious that he was watching John strip.
Except that while John wasn't swaying like a tree in a hurricane, he was shaking and perilously off-balance. And Rodney could hear him breathing, which was disturbing.
"Let me," Rodney said, stepping in with all the confidence he had from letting Torren paddle around in his bathtub a few times. He met John's eyes, checking to make sure this was okay, and John gave him the ghost of a wry smile. Rodney pulled down John's pants and boxers and got them untangled from his feet, and batted John's ineffectual hands away from the shirt buttons when he stood up. "Are you supposed to be this cold?" Shirt removed, he tossed it onto the pile on the floor.
John shrugged, apparently resigned to being naked. "Maybe?"
Rodney jabbed a finger at the bath in irritation. "Get in. Warm up."
"Sorry," John said — again! — when Rodney was perched on the overturned wastepaper basket and using a plastic mixing bowl to pour rinse water over John's tipped-back head. John's eyes were closed; he looked kind of blissed out.
"I don't mind," Rodney said. John slitted open one eye to give him a skeptical squint. "I've had hotter dates," and John snorted, "but it means a lot to me, that we're the kind of friends who are quote-unquote there for each other." He worked more shampoo in with his fingers. "I remember running to you when I was losing my mind. As I recall, you were very huggy. At least, before you broke out the power drill."
"Sucked," John agreed, and scratched at his beard, making a face.
Rodney took the hint; once John was scrubbed clean, toweled dry, and dressed, he broke out the nail scissors and a couple of safety razors and did a passable job of excavating John's face.
John seemed done in by the effort to stay awake and alert, but of course he refused to go back to bed. So Rodney rolled him up in a comforter and propped him up on the sofa in front of the TV, soothingly set to the boring old movies channel. John looked mesmerized for about fifteen minutes, but then Humphrey Bogart and a blond girl took a long ride through the countryside with a really hideous backdrop behind their fake car. Two minutes of shaky trees and John toppled over, sound asleep. Rodney suspected Lam had given him the super-drowsy drugs as part of her plan to get him to lie down and stay down.
Rodney shifted John around so his feet were covered and his arm wasn't hanging off the cushions at an angle. For his efforts, he ended up with John's head heavy on his leg. He propped his laptop up on a cushion, turned the TV off, and finished writing yet another ground-breaking paper that the SGC would classify. He didn't mind that much: if he was right (and he was certain he was), the Asgard shielding used on most modern spacecraft could have its efficiency increased by nearly 3% under normal conditions, and by up to 7% under energy weapons fire. That meant saving lives, in the long run.
He triple-checked the equations, encrypted the file, and sent it to Sam. He played a quick game of spider solitaire and then checked his email. Sam had sent back a gif of a kitten in a hat opening its eyes comically wide, with the subject line reading Holy crap Rodney you did it?!?!!!1!
Rodney sent her the link to his favorite pedantic punctuation website.
He played another game, trying to distract himself from the fact that his leg was falling asleep. He didn't want to disturb John. He looked very young while he was sleeping, especially now that he was cleaned up. Rodney tried to push some of his cowlicks into the right direction, but they refused to stay put.
"It won't work," John mumbled through a yawn.
"Hey." Rodney poked his ear. "I take back how adorable I thought you looked. Sleep faker."
John brought his knees up, and Rodney pressed down on his shoulder to keep him from pulling away.
"I hate this," John said. "I mean. I don't... I wish I wasn't fucking sick and could enjoy it."
Rodney went back to smushing cowlicks, figuring one good irritation was worth a thousand words. John just twisted sideways, so his face pressed into Rodney's side.
"Wait." Rodney let his hand still. John's hair was a lot softer than he'd always thought. "You're serious." John didn't say anything, apparently hoping that fake-sleeping was a good way to get out of a conversation. "In a bonding with buddies kind of way, or is this your biennial release of classified information, which so far has included your birthday, your bisexuality, and your fondness for country music? Of which two, I might add, are utterly irrelevant to the current discussion."
John made an unhappy noise. "My head's hurt for the past week. I can't follow what you're on about. And I never said anything. For the record."
Rodney put his hand on the back of John's neck. He hadn't been running a fever — Rodney had him take his temperature before every meal. But there was the possibility of a relapse, or John having picked something else up, some new drug-resistant disease alien virus that went right to the brain.
John felt warm but not hot, and was quick enough to tell Rodney to keep his ice-cold hands to himself. He seemed normal.
"I always thought you were indifferent to relationship stuff," Rodney said. "I mean... your track record is you either use attraction for leverage or you have to be beaten to your knees before you admit something's hot — and I mean literally, physically beaten." Rodney paused. "Okay, I'm slow to catch on, aren't I? You couldn't run right now if you wanted to."
"Jesus," John said, voice muffled by Rodney's pants. "That's what you think of me?" He sounded horrified and choked up; Rodney patted his hair in apology and checked to make sure he had Kleenex within reach.
"No, no," Rodney said, backpedaling. "I mean... it's hard for you. You give good advice — I could always count on you with Katie and Jennifer, and Teyla and Ronon ask you for a lot more than just babysitting and sparring practice. But you never seem to want that for yourself. That's all. If I'd thought soup and sponge baths worked..." He let the words trail off.
John huffed, and when he spoke he sounded resigned. "You wouldn't have done anything anyway."
"I'm terrible about doing things for other people," Rodney felt compelled to point out. "I'm getting better, but it's fairly obvious that my considerable genius in most areas has resulted in some deficiencies in others. My sister tells me I'm lucky she still talks to me. And it took me four years and four presents before I realized that I hadn't ever asked when your birthday was."
"That I told when you asked," John said, shortly. "Look. I'm tired. I'm going to go lie down."
"I have to strip your bed first," Rodney said. "Can you wait five minutes?"
John, of course, offered to help, and Rodney told him to just stay where he was for five minutes, was that too much to ask?
They were very long and quietly sullen minutes. Rodney would have felt more annoyed if John hadn't been so pale and miserable, shivering again when Rodney finally let him back into the bedroom.
Rodney made him take his temperature, and was relieved that it was normal.
"Does it bother you when I touch your hair?" Rodney asked, when John was nothing but a lump under the blankets and a tuft of hair escaping.
John sighed. "It's nice," he said, carefully. "But I have to keep telling myself that's all it is, something nice you do for someone sick. And then," his voice slowed, "it just becomes a reminder of everything I don't have and won't have, because apparently I've convinced everyone I'm untouchable. And I already had enough self-pity just from being sick, I don't need more."
"You can never have too much self-pity," Rodney countered, and sat down, grabbing one of the spare pillows to stick between his back and the painful-looking slats of the wooden headboard. He ran his fingers through the hair at the top of John's head. "It's okay. John. Well. Obviously we'll hold off on serious discussion and, and things until you're off antibiotics and are in what passes for your right mind. But there's a reason you wanted me to be here with you, and a reason I came, even though everyone tried to convince me you're a terrible patient."
"Hey," John said, and tugged ineffectually at the sheets under Rodney until he had a good-sized gap. He held the sheet up, half in invitation, half in challenge. "There's room in here." He gave Rodney a narrow-eyed, measuring stare. "And it's cold out there. I feel like I've been freezing forever."
Rodney had set the thermostat for what he considered the optimal room temperature, and was fine in just a sweatshirt. Nevertheless, he worked his feet into the gap and wiggled his way down, trying not to knee John in the face or anywhere else. It was very, very warm down in John's fortress of blankets, and Rodney put his arm around John's waist.
"Give me a chance to warm you up, then," he said.
John laughed at him — smooth line, McKay — but fell asleep a minute later with his head on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney didn't plan on kissing John until he had Dr Lam's word that there were no diseases he could catch, but now that he had an open invitation to touch the hair — well. He scratched John behind the ear, then at the back of the neck, and thought that maybe, possibly, somehow getting together with John might turn out to be one of the most brilliant ideas he'd had in his life.