Three Times Rodney McKay had a Superpower;
One Time He Was Just a Hero

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Oct. 28th, 2007 11:25 am

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: John/Rodney, some implied Ronon/Weir, Carson/Teyla

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Slash, language, whump, spoilers for season four casting.

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Summary: What it all adds up to is four times John thought he was going to lose Rodney.

Author's Note: So...usually I write Supernatural fic, but lately that show has kind of been sucking, and I fell in love with Rodney McKay. Which explains this. Kind of. I guess.

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1: You are What You Eat

McKay's the only one that eats the sacred croissants on P3X-325. They're soft and flaky and just out of the oven, and Sheppard slaps his hand the first time he reaches for one, because he's fairly certain that nothing good will come of eating strange holy bread.

Sixteen hours later they're not soft, flaky or warm anymore. But by that point McKay's starving and his blood sugar is low, and they need his brain to get the 'gate working again, and so John pushes the bread into his hands and tells him to, "Eat, just eat, and get us the hell out of here."

The natives have a fit about it, there are stones thrown and curses lobbed about. John ignores them because, honestly, the natives are the reason they're in this mess to begin with.

Why the hell anyone would try to destroy the dialer when they had visitors that they wanted to leave is beyond him. John's been tired of this world since two minutes through the 'gate, when one of the supposed holy men had started sneering at Teyla and it just got worse from there on in. And so he tells Rodney to eat the bread, irregardless of whether it's a good idea or not.

And yeah, maybe it's a little bit out of spite. He's only human.

Five minutes later, though, Rodney is shaking in his skin, hands flying over the dialer even as he stutters and murmurs to himself. John edges closer, worried by the fevered intensity on Rodney's face. He says, "How's it going there, buddy?"

Rodney looks up at him, eyes darting around, flashes a frighteningly quick smile, says, "Ohyeseverythingisfine. I'malmostdone. Weshouldbehomeinnotimeatall, nothankstoyou." And then he's bent over again, humming, his entire body vibrating.

John feels something tighten in his chest, exchanges a look with Teyla over Rodney's head. She looks vaguely unsettling, which is the equivalent of panicking in anyone else. Even Ronon has an eyebrow arched. And the natives-well, the natives are losing their shit even more than they were previously. John thinks that they might actually be trying to burn them out of the Holy Temple of the Ring of the Ancestors, at this point, if the smoke is anything to go by.

And really, if this is all over the stupid croissants he's going to be pissed. And that's looking increasingly likely, because John is vaguely aware of a dozen high pitched, upset voices, all yelling something along the lines of, "The holy bread! How could you eat it! You bastards!" Possibly the last part is more implied than anything else.

Possibly not.

And then Rodney leans away from the DHD, rubbing his hands together so quickly they're nothing but a blur, and says, "Letsgohome. Ihateithere, andI'msohungryit'snotevenfunny." He starts for the 'gate, and John looks at the others to shrug and when he looks back Rodney is already at the 'gate, staring back at them impatiently. "Hurryup!"

John presses his radio on, before motioning the others through the 'gate, says, "Hey, Elizabeth, I think you better get Carson ready for incoming." And then they step through and it's just as well he called for a med team, because Rodney is on his knees in the 'gate room, collapsing down into a ball, and John grabs him the second before he folds up like a cheap suit.

He can hear himself screaming for a medic, and Teyla joining her voice to his as Ronon just runs down the corridor towards the infirmary, like he'll just pick up a doctor and bring him back. Rodney's skin is fire under John's hands, and John holds onto him until Carson pulls him away.

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Carson uses a lot of big medical terms to describe what's going on with Rodney, but what it basically boils down to is so patently impossible that John can only rub at his face and say, "Wait. McKay is Quicksilver now?"

That earns him blank looks from everyone else in the room, and he wishes absently that Rodney were awake, because he would have got the reference. But Rodney is sleeping, twitching almost constantly even in his dreams. It makes John nervous, because he'd always figured that Rodney slept like the dead.

Teyla keeps cutting her own eyes towards Rodney, but finally settles her level gaze on Carson, "You say he is moving very fast, yes? Why does this make him sleep?" John doesn't get that part himself. He turns expectant eyes towards Carson, and edges closer to Rodney's bed, carefully slides his fingers across the sheets.

Carson sighs, "There's no knowing what would have happened if one of you ate the bread, but Rodney's system isn't handling it well. With the hypoglycemia his body just burned through its reserves almost immediately. He'll have to eat constantly, to avoid this kind of incident in the future."

"So he'll be okay?" Elizabeth, sounding tense and worried.

And Carson just looks thrilled to be able to tell someone some good news. "Oh, aye, he'll be up and running circles around all of us anytime now, I don't doubt."

Rodney chooses that moment to sit bolt upright in bed, look at each of them in the space of about a second, and spring to his feet. Somehow he's removed the tubes and wires from himself in this time, and also acquired a pair of pants. John blinks, impressed, and from across the room Major Lorne yelps, "Oh my God!"

Which wouldn't be hilarious, except that one of Carson's nurses shouts at the same moment, "I knew it! I knew you went commando!" and so it kind of is.

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Turns out Rodney's already figured his condition out on his own, which shouldn't be a surprise, really. His brain is working dozens of times faster than it usually does, and it usually works pretty damn fast. He even seems to be dealing with it fairly well, although John decides that he just might be freaking out too quickly for anyone else to see.

It still takes Rodney a day to be able to speak without running his words all together into one long stream. And he doesn't even try to move at any speed that John is close to comfortable with. He darts around Atlantis, fixing things and recalibrating systems one after another after another.

John anticipates where he'll be next, sometimes manages to show up in time to watch Rodney bend over a console and just blur. There's no other word for it, the way Rodney's hands and arms swim out of focus, moving too fast for the human eye to track as he bites his lip and curses too fast for the words to be anything but a low, bitter hum.

A week goes by, with Rodney nothing but a blur, always on the edge of everyone else's lives. John hates it. Misses being actually able to hear Rodney bitching, misses being able to see the individual lines of Rodney's fingers when he works on something.

And then Rodney shows up at his quarters with a movie and a bag of sandwiches and a hangdog expression and John starts to wonder if maybe he isn't the only one that misses. So of course, John lets him in, because turkey sandwiches are hard to turn down, and though he'd never admit to his secret fondness for X-men, the animated series, Rodney is somehow wise to it and has the DVDs.

That doesn't make it any easier to deal with the way Rodney's face scrunches up in frustration when he speaks, "This is all your fault for letting me eat that bread." It's the most that Rodney's said that slowly since it happened. John feels kind of special that it's being said to him.

Mostly, though, "Whatever, Rodney. Gimme the sandwiches."

"'M serious," and that's actually a mumble, but Rodney gives him the sandwiches anyway, and the bag is packed with them. Carson wasn't exaggerating when he said Rodney had to eat all the time, John had eavesdropped on a later conversation between Rodney and the doctor, and been faintly terrified by the number of calories Rodney had to consume an hour to keep from going into shock.

By the time John has each of them a sandwich pulled out, Rodney has the laptop open and the DVD is gearing up. Rodney is also sitting on his bed like he belongs there, and John rolls his eyes before settling beside him.

They're watching the X-men tangle with the Brotherhood when Rodney groans and starts rocking back and forth. John doesn't ask, just reaches out and wraps a hand around Rodney's arm. He can feel the pulse pound in Rodney's arm, ratcheting so quickly that isn't almost a continuous hum. Rodney's voice is a whine, "It hurts."

And John can't, just can't deal with this. Not with Rodney on his bed. He says, "Mystique is a bitch."

After a long moment Rodney nods, vibrating like a tuning fork, gasps out, "Yeah. Yeah she is."

When the episode ends Rodney shoots off the bed, out the door with nothing more to mark his presence than a brush of wind across John's cheeks. John convinces Atlantis to show him life signs on the screen on his wall, and he watches the dot moving so fast it's blurring in and out of focus make laps around the city.

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Two weeks later they're on M1X-110, checking back on the little world almost a month after their first trading visit. The Morkorians had been thrilled to have someone to trade with. They had a space 'gate, and they'd never gotten visitors from off world before.

The civilization there is roughly turn of the twentieth century Earth, and John likes it. The people are quiet, hard workers, who mostly keep to themselves. The air smells like electricity and steel, but there's a nostalgia for Earth in John's chest that keeps even that from bothering him too much. Besides, this particular city is snug against the ocean, and the smell of sea air has always whispered promises of home to John.

Rodney vibrates the entire Jumper ride, pacing in the rear compartment, even as he whines about John not flying steadily enough. Which is a lie, because John's pretty sure he's never flown this level in his entire life. He hates that Rodney can't sit down, can't be still, can't be safe.

The Morkorians are glad to have them back, and are even more thrilled when Rodney becomes a veritable whirlwind over their work, fixing and tweaking and moving. John has a feeling that they're about to be significantly less happy when Rodney freezes in the middle of revamping their building sized computer into a laptop, and mumbles, "Holyshit."

John startles, because usually Rodney is pretty good about keeping the words at a speed that everyone can understand. He steps forward, asks, "McKay?"

For a half second all he sees are Rodney's eyes, blown wide with shock and horror. And then Rodney is moving, shoving him out of the way, shoving into the back room the Morkorians had forbidden them access to, past guards who are just opening their mouth to protest by the time Rodney is coming back out again, something bulky and hateful looking cradled in his arms.

Rodney's pacing, one end of the hall to the other in a second, running his mouth as he goes, voice strained as he tries to keep it understandable, "It's going to-to-to blow up. They're idiots! Idiots, Sheppard! It's going to blow up and take this entire continent with it and we don't have any time and-"

And then Rodney just freezes, face going still as a thought apparently sneaks up behind him and grabs his attention. John can read the future in that moment, in the line of Rodney's mouth, the way his jaw has suddenly firmed up. His own voice is low and hard. "No. Rodney. No."

Rodney's already gone.

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Ronon has to tackle him and pin him to the ground to keep John from plunging into the ocean after Rodney. John's not proud of himself, particularly, but he can't seem to stop screaming the other man's name, trying to buck Ronon off.

All they'd seen of Rodney, by the time they managed to get outside, was a tiny form growing smaller in the distance, the water steaming in the wake of his footsteps. And John digs his fingers into the sand and tries to pull himself forward because people can't walk on water, they can't, they can't, and Rodney is going to drown and Ronon won't let him up-

The explosion renders everything else pointless. It paints the sky white, and then black, a cloud expanding and twisting and filling the horizon. And John's mouth is open, and empty, because no. No. No. No. No.

He only realizes he's yelling, punching and kicking at Ronon's unmovable bulk, when Teyla slaps him hard across the mouth. Her hair is blowing back from her face, and her eyes are dark in the unnatural gloom covering the sky, but she is strong, and whole, and her hand leaves behind nothing but stinging skin.

Ronon says, "I'm going to let you up now. Don't run." And then his weight is gone, and John pushes himself to his feet and stares across the empty expanse of the ocean. The water is gray under the explosion, instead of the beautiful green it had been just minutes ago. There's no spray showing Rodney's path left, it's been swallowed up by the greater stillness.

Teyla's hand is very soft on his arm, careful, "John?"

And somehow that steels his spine. He turns from the ocean, his hands balled up into fists, full of helpless rage. "We need to get back to the Jumper. Scans. We need scans. He could be out there." They need lots and lots of scans. They need something to occupy him so he doesn't kill these people for killing Rodney. "Lets go! Move!" Because Ronon and Teyla are just looking at him, soft and pitying.

"What happened to leave no man behind, Colonel?" And that's Rodney's voice, sharp and bitchy. And that's Rodney, limping across the beach towards them, pale and shaking. "It's real reassuring to leave for five minutes and have everyone abandoning you to your fate, by the way. I really-"

When Rodney's eyes roll back in his head, when his knees buckle and he goes to the ground, John is already there, catching him and pulling him back up. Rodney's skin is cold as ice, his heart beat painfully slow, his body still, everywhere John is touching.

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Two days later, when Carson lets Rodney out of the infirmary, he's still limping. He keeps limping for a week, and John's pretty sure Rodney's just milking the injury now for all its worth, but he doesn't mind. At least he's moving slowly enough again that John can see him.

There's some rushed explanation about some drug Carson hadn't identified being burned out of Rodney's system by all the energy he spent running the bomb out over the ocean and running back. It doesn't matter, in that John really doesn't care why it's fixed, as long as it is.

He shows up at Rodney's room with sandwiches and the X-men DVDs that had been abandoned in his quarters previously. Rodney stares at him with tired eyes for a long moment, and then lets him in with a smile. They watch a half dozen episodes before Rodney falls asleep, deep and sound and completely motionless.

Maybe that was all John needed to see, though that doesn't explain why he stays till the small hours of the morning, watching. He leaves before Rodney wakes up, dragging his fingers over Rodney's wrist one last time, just to make sure that the beat of his pulse is still slow and steady and distinct.

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2: Genetic Experimentation for Beginners

The Proteos have Rodney for three weeks. Three weeks. It feels like three years.

John knows he's losing his mind, or that maybe he's already lost it, but it doesn't really seem to matter. Major Blorj avoids him like the plague, which is for the best, because John needs someone to blame and he's perfectly willing to be irrational in that. McKay had been off world with Blorj's team when it happened, after all.

Because Rodney is gone. Is MIA. Is dead, for all they know. John sits tense and impatient in the daily staff meetings, spends long hours in the control room, staring at the 'gate controls, wondering where among the stars Rodney is. Ronon tries to tear him away, but John's hair trigger is worn down to almost nothing, and eventually Ronon starts giving him space.

He's surprised when Elizabeth materializes at his elbow one night. She's the one person that hasn't treated him any differently over this, that hasn't acted like Rodney being gone is some crippling wound that he can't deal with. Her voice is soft and low, her dealing with difficult people tone, "Ronon says that you've been quiet lately."

"Yeah." Sometimes he thinks that if he's quiet enough he can hear the echo of Rodney's voice in the halls. Berating one of his subordinates, or, hell, even John or Elizabeth, when the mood suits him. Sometimes he holds his breath, and chases whispers through the empty corridors. Sometimes he sees ghosts, shades of Rodney always right around the corner.

She says, "We'll find him."

"Yeah." The thing is, that he's pretty sure they actually need Rodney to find Rodney. The thing is, he doesn't have the best track record in the world for finding his people when they're stolen away. He tightens his hands on the rail in front of him, grits his teeth.

"John, you know you're not the only-"

He's aware that she's saying more, her voice trailing off into a whisper, but he doesn't hear it. Because the 'gate is flaring to life, and one of the techs behind him is yelling, "Unauthorized off world activation!" which seems kind of redundant because there are no teams out right now. It doesn't matter. He's moving, almost losing his footing on the stairs, sprinting full out towards the 'gate.

Elizabeth's voice is a distant whisper, "Is it-"

And the gate tech's voice, loud and clear as an angel's, "We're getting Dr. McKay's IDC." John doesn't even have to snap for them to lower the shield. It's just gone, and Rodney is stumbling through the 'gate, arms cradled to his chest, bloody. Rodney's screaming, but John can't hear anything above the pounding of his own blood in his ears.

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John can hear his own voice, hard and curiously flat, "Cut them out." He's vaguely aware that he's covered in blood, and that none of it is his own. It doesn't seem important, somehow. Not with Rodney twisting in his arms, screams tapered off to ragged whimpers.

Carson spares him a look, eyes wide and terrified, mouth working without sound. John holds his gaze, pulling Rodney closer when the other man starts rocking back and forth, hands in his lap now, trembling violently. John repeats himself, slowly, "Cut them out. Right now."

Rodney is staring down at his own hands, has been since he stumbled through the 'gate. John doesn't blame him. Because there are goddamn claws, three on each hand, nestled between Rodney's knuckles. Eight inches of wickedly sharp metal, just sticking out of his hands.

And the blood. God. There's so much blood.

Carson is saying, "-don't even know what they've done, Colonel, I can't just-" and John tunes out. Rodney is going still by degrees against him, his whimpers fading into hiccups even though John isn't sure he can even contemplate how much this must hurt.

He growls, "Yes, you can." And Rodney sighs, and goes limp. There's a strange sound, a whisper of noise like knives scraping against each other, and then the claws just retract up into his arms. John stares down at Rodney's hands, bloody, ruined knuckles, and gapes.

"He's passed out. Well. That's a small mercy," and Carson's voice is soft and careful. John tightens his hold on Rodney's shoulders, but Carson doesn't try to move him, grabbing bandages and scanners and waving nurses over and murmuring under his breath, "Yes, hold him like that, okay, lets see what fresh hell this is."

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John only finds out later that without some of the Ancient's medical tools Rodney would have died then and there. That almost every vein in his hands had been shredded. He's glad that he didn't know, looking back.

Carson tells them what he finds out in stilted words, skin pale, eyes tight. He looks like he might be ill. Sheppard understands. He kind of feels like he might be ill. He's pretty sure that he'd feel better if he got to kill the bastards that had done this, but he might not have to.

Carson is saying, "Not all of the blood was Rodney's. I don't-I won't speculate, but it was human, not Wraith." John does not point out that it was fucking red, and so of course it was human. He keeps his silence, jaw locked up tight around the fury in his chest.

Elizabeth makes a choking sound from her side of the table, says, "You're telling us that someone-that they installed these things in Rodney? How is that even possible?" John doesn't care. He just wants to kill something, and get those things out of Rodney's arms, and then possibly kill some more things.

"The genetic grafting is honestly very crude, and I'm worried that removing them might cause even more damage to Rodney." John can hear the however, waits for it, "But we don't know what the effect of this kind of foreign tissue would be on a human body. And we all know about Rodney's allergies."

There's a few twitters of nervous laughter. John glares until they fade away. He feels compelled to say, "You did notice how he was screaming, right? I'm pretty sure leaving them in there isn't a good idea." At all.

Carson makes a pained face, but is spared having to answer by Teyla's soft voice over the radios, "Colonel Sheppard, Rodney is awake. He wishes to speak with you, and I believe Dr. Beckett and Dr. Weir should join you."

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Rodney is hunched in on himself by the time they make it down to the infirmary. He's got his knees drawn up to his chest, hands tucked between his thighs and his body. He's also having a whispered conversation with Ronon, while Teyla smiles down at them benevolently. John just stops and stares for a minute, because it's all so painfully normal.

And then Elizabeth is pushing him forward, and Rodney's eyes snap up, wide and startled. His arms start to come up, and Ronon settles a big palm on Rodney's shoulder. John can see Rodney relax, and wonders what that's all about. He says, "Hey."

Rodney's smile is tight and hesitant, but it's enough. John ambles over to his team, plops down on the foot of the bed and accidentally on purpose sits close enough that his thigh brushes Rodney's feet. He keys his voice soft, low, "How you feeling?"

Rodney wrinkles up his nose, rolls his eyes, "Oh, great, you know. It's been, what, a whole month since I last got experimented on against my will? I was starting to miss it." John thinks the sarcasm is a good sign, even if it is distressingly weak.

"I think they're cool." And Ronon would. He looks impressed, and John wonders who taught him the word 'cool' and what kind of disciplinary action they deserve.

"They're not cool. They're knives that come out of my hands." John flinches, and tries to keep it off his face. Because all he can see is Rodney stepping through the 'gate, bloody, hands held to his chest, claws dangerously close to his throat and face.

Ronon grunts, "Like I said, cool." And then Carson is shooing them all out of the room.

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"He won't take them out." Rodney says this by way of hello, dropping down across from John in the cafeteria. He's scowling, and his arms are wrapped from his elbows down, which makes him look like he's wearing white fingerless gloves, which is funny in spite of itself.

John pauses with a spoonful of what he assumes must be Gerber peas halfway to his mouth. "What? Why not?" He can't think of a single good reason to leave the claws in Rodney's arms. They could pop out at any time and kill him. He ignores the cold weight in his gut at the thought.

Rodney grunts, digs into his own food, uncharacteristically careful with his hands, "Says it's too dangerous, that he doesn't know what it might do to me." He eats for a few minutes, and then continues bitterly, "This? This is why I hate doctors."

John has a feeling that he isn't talking about Carson.

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They all end up treating the claws like just another allergy. They're inconvenient and at any moment they are potentially deadly to Rodney, but they live with them, because what other choice do they have? He even sort of forgets what they looked like, after awhile, everywhere except in his nightmares.

The bandages come off eventually, and leave Rodney with some new shiny scaring across his knuckles but nothing else. It's almost like nothing has changed, except sometimes when Rodney twists his arms John can see things moving beneath the surface that shouldn't be there. They never do get a satisfactory explanation on why the claws don't cut the insides of Rodney's arms to shreds. Carson seems to think that whoever did it had gotten that part of the grafting process right.

John doesn't ask about the blood that Rodney was covered with when he came through the 'gate. He never mentions that they all know most of it wasn't Rodney's. It hangs between them anyway, heavy and thick until Rodney huffs in the Jumper one day and leans back, says, "Go ahead and ask, okay? So we can all just get it out of the way."

Ronon and Teyla exchange a glance behind them, and John just stares blankly out the Jumper's view screen. He's almost decided to play dumb when Ronon says, "They needed to die anyway, McKay."

Rodney's broken laughter is surprisingly unpleasant. "You don't know. You don't know anything about it." None of them do, not really. John's had his body manipulated, but never by anything sentient. He doesn't like thinking about what that kind of betrayal must feel like.

He's surprised when Ronon pushes on with the conversation. "On Sateda, there was a group that thought we could beat the Wraith with certain changes to ourselves. They were not supported by the government and when their labs were discovered..." Ronon's voice trails off, but John can fill in the empty spaces.

He has no doubt that Rodney can, too, but that doesn't ease the sharpness in the other man's voice, "And I suppose all you big strong military types went in and wiped them out? Because that's how those things should be handled, right? That's what I should have done?"

It's the most Rodney's ever said about it, and for a long moment the silence stretches and pulls, and then, "They were convicted of their crimes, and sentenced to the highest punishment on my world. For a week we left them tied to the Tree. The strongest one managed to survive for four."

No one breaks the silence all the way back to Atlantis, and then Rodney's voice, hoarse, "They screamed. They screamed so loud." John wants to say it's okay, but it's not, and so he grits his teeth and flies them through the event horizon.

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In the end Rodney removes them himself. They should have expected it.

But it's still a surprise to get the call in the middle of the night, that there's a medical emergency and his team should report to the infirmary. He'd been dreaming, not particularly pleasantly, and waking up to the night nurse's desperate voice doesn't improve his day any.

Neither does arriving at the infirmary in time for Carson to pull the curtain around the bed where Rodney is thrashing, blood just everywhere. He doesn't know how long he stands, frozen and useless, but by the time Carson reappears the sun has risen and soaked his back with unwelcome heat.

Carson says Zelenka found him. That Rodney had apparently been setting up the Ancient device he used for the haphazard surgery for weeks. Probably since they got him back. That if Zelenka hadn't found him, hadn't managed to get him to the Infirmary in time, Rodney would have bled to death on the floor of his lab.

It's harder than it should be to keep his mouth shut, and so he doesn't, growls, "You should have taken them out."

Carson has the good grace to look abashed, but that's not worth very much right now. And John can't stop himself, now that he's gotten started, "You should have taken them the fuck out, and you almost killed him. He almost died. Because of you." Blame, blame, blame, and he's been looking for someone to dump it on for months.

Teyla gives him a sharp look, and Carson blanches. He can't say he really cares. Not even when Teyla leads Carson away, her hand resting against his shoulder, casting one more dark look back at him as she goes. And John thinks a hateful thought about team solidarity and how she apparently hasn't got any, and tries to ignore the shame in the back of his throat.

"You should talk to him." Ronon's voice is a low rumble, and John feels a muscle in his jaw twitch.

"He's probably sleeping." Or doped up on pain meds. Or, if nothing else, he's pretty sure Rodney is going to want to be alone. But Ronon only grunts, and ambles off down the hall, and after a minute, against John's better judgment, he somehow ends up standing beside Rodney's bed.

He is sleeping, drooling just a little. He's pale and his hands are wrapped again, and all John can see is him stumbling in the 'gate room, covered in stranger's blood. He drops a hand to Rodney's arm, presses his fingers into the other man's forearm and nothing moves under the skin that shouldn't be there.

When Rodney wakes up, a few hours later, John pretends he just showed up. He's pretty sure that Rodney buys it.

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3: No Touching Strange Things

Zelenka is muttering belligerently in Czech when Rodney startles and drops the Ancient device he'd been turning over and over in his hands. It's a small ball, glowing faintly green, and John watches it roll against Rodney's shoe, arching an eyebrow at the other man in question.

There's a long moment where Rodney just stares at him, head cocked to the side, before bending and carefully picking up the ball. John smirks, aware the Radek has noticed the sudden silence and is watching them as well. Says, "You break it, you buy it."

And that gets a sneer, and Rodney's sharp voice, "Don't try to change the subject, you think Radek should ply his exotic European charm on Elizabeth too, don't you?" And all John can do is roll his eyes, because he really couldn't care less about Radek's intentions, romantic or otherwise. Besides, he's kind of pulling for Ronon in that whole mess, team loyalty and all.

He drawls, "Sure," anyway, just to get Rodney really going on the subject. He notices, absently, when Rodney tosses the ball on the Cool-but-Useless-Right-Now pile, and doesn't think anything else about it. Listens to Rodney rant and Radek grow increasingly exasperated, and smiles.

When Radek finally snaps, and shoves hard on Rodney's back, fingers just brushing the tops of Rodney's shoulders, that strip of pale skin, John doesn't think anything about it, except that it's kind of funny. Especially the way Rodney shudders, and scrambles away like the other man burned him.

He doesn't understand why Radek stumbles around the rest of the day, squinting behind his glasses like he can't quite focus. John thinks that if Rodney's skin is that intoxicating then maybe he should just man up and start touching it himself. Of course he doesn't. But he thinks it.

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The second thing Rodney does when they finally call it a day and head to the Mess is weave his way over to Teyla and pat her on the arm. The first thing he did was grab coffee, but coffee is as much a part of Rodney as breathing, so it doesn't really count.

Teyla blinks, big and owlish and confused, up at Rodney's face, down to his hand, and then to John. He shrugs in answer to the unasked question. Rodney's fingers tighten against Teyla's skin for just a second, and then Rodney sways on his feet, and pulls away, shaking himself.

John scowls, reaches a hand out to steady the other man, but Rodney is twisting away, almost violently. Rodney throws himself down into his chair, and gulps his coffee and scowls out over the ocean. He's silent the entire meal, and it's like an itch between John's shoulder blades, a bone deep unsettledness that he can't quite pinpoint.

By the time he works up to asking what's wrong they're already done eating. Rodney's headed to his labs, leaving his trash behind under the assumption that John will clean it up. Ronon almost jumps out of his skin when the scientist pauses beside him, and very awkwardly pats him on the shoulder before stumbling out of the cafeteria.

The three remaining members of the team exchange glances and shrugs. And when they walk out John can't help but thinking that Ronon is walking funny, though he can't pinpoint why. It's not until they go running the next morning that he realizes that the almost unnoticeable limp that the other man's walked with since they found him is gone.

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And from then on it's like Rodney is just touching everyone. They walk through the control room and he ruffles Chuck's hair, grabs Elizabeth by the elbow, pokes and prods and touches everyone.

He finds Rodney in the infirmary, stalking the nurses and pinching them and claiming that it's revenge for all the needles they've stuck in him over the years. Carson almost gets away, but Rodney catches him with dual pinches on his cheeks.

John walks in on him in line in the cafeteria, shaking hands with everyone in the food line, insisting they take their gloves off first. He decides, eventually, that it must be some kind of weird experiment, or a phase. He's sure Rodney will grow out of it soon enough.

hr

"Has Carson told you what is ailing Rodney?" Teyla asks softly, right in the middle of a discussion of John's slowly improving stick fighting skills. And John just freezes, right in the middle of the hallway. Someone walks into his back, mumbles a hasty apology, and he doesn't even notice.

He can hear himself, the preprogrammed answer falling from his lips, "Something's wrong with Rodney?" Even as he realizes that he already knew that. That he'd known for weeks that all was not well.

Because Rodney's not just pale these days, he's almost translucent, except for the purple-black bruises under his eyes. Because Rodney's barely eating, is shaky and unsure on his feet. Because Rodney's eyes are flat and dull at every staff meeting, at lunch, in the labs, every time John sees him. He leans his face up to the ceiling, hisses, "Oh God. Something's wrong with Rodney."

Teyla's voice is slow and careful, her I'm-talking-to-a-slow-child voice, "Yes. I believe Doctor McKay is unwell, and has been for some time." He can feel her staring expectantly at him, but can't seem to make himself move, do anything but gesture vaguely with his hands. She coughs, behind her hand, says, "I will leave you to think, but perhaps you should speak with him?"

He wonders if she means Carson or Rodney.

hr

John walks into Rodney's lab in time to see him grab one of the Marines just dropped off by the Daedalus. To see the way Rodney winces, the way he ducks his head and smoothes his expression out into something resembling normal.

He's this close to stomping forward, to just confronting Rodney about it right here and now, when McKay jerks his hand away from the Marine as if he'd been burned. Anger contorts Rodney's face up far more than pain had, floods his cheeks with furious red.

Rodney's always been loud, but now his voice is a veritable explosion, "Bastard! You bastard! Did you know? You had to know. You could have-what if you-" The Marine looks shell shocked, and then surprised, and then, yes, there's fury, raising its ugly head.

But Rodney already stepping back, anger draining out of his face, replaced by a horror so profound that John is reaching for his sidearm without thinking. All the hairs on the back of his neck are standing up, every nerve tingling, and Rodney's voice is a whisper that settles like ice in his gut, "Oh God, Miko. Last Tuesday, you and-"

And then Rodney's shoving past everyone, tripping over chairs and feet on his way to the door, yelling for the woman over his radio, voice tight and low with horror and desperation. John scowls at the Marine, still staring after McKay's retreating back, and snaps, "You, wait in my office."

John has a scientist to catch.

hr

When he finds them, they're sitting by one of Atlantis' countless balconies. Miko's leaning against Rodney's shoulder, and he's got an arm curled up, slowly stroking her hair. It's so patently bizarre that John freezes, one foot still in the air, and stares.

It's only because he's holding his breath, trying so hard to be quiet, that he hears Miko, "You are not angry with me? It was very foolish, what I did, I see that now and-"

Rodney's voice is surprisingly hoarse, "Hey, hey, no. No. This-it wasn't your fault. Okay? And it's probably okay, it's probably fine, you should just get tested. It'll be confidential, don't worry. I'll make sure that nothing ever gets near your file about this. You know I will."

She sniffles, and her shoulders shake, and John realizes she's fucking crying, and this is just freaky as hell. He's starting to think that maybe he's slipped into an alternate dimension. She's saying, "Will you go with me, to the Infirmary? I would not know-would not know how to explain this thing that has happened."

Rodney's indignant, impatient, sigh is about the only thing that's made sense so far. And Miko is pulling away, stammering out, "No, no, you are right. I should do it myself, you have very important work to do and I appreciate you coming to tell me yourself and-"

But Rodney's waving the protests away, pushing himself to his feet like he's a hundred years old, and John feels another chill up his spine. At least his voice has some of its natural bite back in it, "You usually need people to hold your hand in the presence of needles? C'mon, let's get this over with, get you back to work."

They walk right past John, Miko casting him an unreadable look, Rodney not even lifting his gaze from the floor. Neither of them comment when John falls into step behind them, and he follows them all the way to the Infirmary, where Carson takes one look at them and tries to pull Rodney over to an examination bed.

Rodney snaps, "I'm fine, you idiot. It's her. She needs-" and it's only then that he appears to become aware of John's presence. His eyes narrow and then he's dragging Carson aside, bending their heads close together and whispering. There are some hand gestures that John can translate, that increase his unease and make Miko blush red as a tomato, while Carson starts looking more and more like a volcano ready to blow.

And then Carson's taking Miko aside, and murmuring soothing words too low for John to hear. He watches, feeling oddly disconnected from the situation until Rodney slumps over to him and leans heavily against the wall beside him. His own voice sounds far away, "What's going on?"

"Can't tell you. Privacy violations, and all that."

"Rodney, I'm the-" Carson cuts him off before he can even start his long and very detailed list of the reasons Rodney can and should tell him. Sometimes the doctor moves as stealthily as Ronon, because John doesn't even see him until he's at his elbow, scowling in Rodney's direction.

"Bed rest. Now. No arguments or I'll order you in here and make you sleep for a week." The two engage in a brief but fierce battle of quiet fury, and then Rodney rolls his eyes and hunches his shoulders in. And John knows, the knowledge just there, a perfect moment where he can see exactly what's going to happen, that Rodney will make all the appropriate noises to get out of here, and then go right back to the labs.

So he intervenes, "I'll take him back to his room, make sure he gets some sleep."

hr

"I don't need a babysitter." Rodney had treated him to the silent treatment all the way back to the rooms, but apparently the closing of the door behind them had loosened his tongue. He flops down miserably onto his bed, stares up at the ceiling and scowls. It's almost adorable.

"You need sleep. You look like hell." Rodney snorts, but it's a tired sound. John rolls his eyes, sinks down onto the end of the bed and pulls at Rodney's shoes till they come off, wincing when Rodney jerks his knees up, shoving himself against the headboard and staring back at John with glassy eyes. "Rodney?"

Rodney rubs a hand up over his face, like he's trying to arrange it into an expression that fits better, mumbles, "I can't, I can't right now. No more today. No more today, please, just leave me alone, just tell everyone to leave me alone."

And well, John's never been anything if not stubborn. He reaches out, gets a hand around Rodney's ankle and just holds, aware that his thump is pressing against the skin over the base of Rodney's hamstring, warm and soft and forbidden. He expects bitching. He expects a kick to the face, and Rodney shoving him out of the room.

He doesn't expect a soft, whimpering sigh, and Rodney to just relax. The next thing he knows Rodney's squirming down the bed, shoving at John's shirt and for a half second he thinks that this really wasn't what he was expecting from an ankle touch and there's heat surging below his waistband and-

And Rodney flattens a hand across his back, gets the other against his side, and presses his face right into John's stomach like it isn't weird at all. Like this is a normal part of their friendship. There's no kissing or sucking or grabbing. Just Rodney, clinging like he can't let go. John blinks, says, "Um," and feels like an idiot.

Rodney's mumbling against his skin, breath a warm wet tease, "You're healthy. I should have known. I should have known that you'd be in completely perfect health, you bastard." Which seems kind of uncalled for, but before John can protest Rodney is continuing, "Only one in the goddamn city, and of course it would be you. Did you know Elizabeth had cancer? Did she tell you? Or that-"

At first, he thinks that Rodney cut himself off when he realized he was babbling information that should have been kept confidential. And then there's a soft huff of air across his skin, and Rodney shifts, snuggles closer, and the snores pretty much put to rest any illusions of Rodney being able to control his mouth.

After awhile, when it becomes obvious that Rodney isn't actually going anywhere, John dares to move. To put a hand on Rodney's shoulder, to curve his other around the back of Rodney's head, and just...rest. And think.

He has a hell of a lot to think about.

hr

John's not a stupid man. It's not hard to backtrack through the days to when he last saw Rodney in full destruction of other people's self worth mode. It's not even hard to find the little glowing Ancient ball, still lying among the other potentially harmless artifacts.

Turning it off is a problem, because no matter how he squeezes it, or how hard he thinks 'Off, off you son of a bitch' at it, it keeps on relentlessly glowing. He considers taking it to Radek, but that would mean tests and he doesn't intend to leave the goddamn thing on any longer than is absolutely necessary.

So he shoots it. After three bullets it starts sparking wildly, and two more leave it nothing but a hunk of dull, twisted metal. He kicks it, just in case, but it remains dark and dormant. And he knows he probably shouldn't have destroyed it, that it was a valuable piece of medical equipment. But it was hurting Rodney, it was killing him, slowly and with everyone else's diseases, and there was no way in hell he was going to let that continue.

hr

A week later Rodney's actually got his color back, the bag under his eyes are mostly gone, and John will deny the relief that surges through him every time he sees the other man to the day that he dies. Even when Rodney barges into his room, and slams the twisted piece of Ancient tech onto his desk, there's a hot flare of 'He's okay! Yay!' in John's brain.

Rodney's voice is painfully tight, "Why'd you do it?"

And it's easier now, than it used to be, to reach out and close his fingers around Rodney's wrist and squeeze just enough to get his attention. It's easier, to peel the Ancient tech from his fingers and hurl it out over the side of the balcony, to let the ocean reclaim it, all while holding Rodney's gaze in a staring contest he hadn't anticipated or asked for.

He says, "Because," and leaves it at that.

hr

1: Big Damn Hero

"Tell me you have a plan." He keeps his voice sharp, and hopes that it adequately covers the unease that's boiling right beneath his skin. Because Rodney works fastest when people are yelling to remind him of the fact that they're all going to die. Pressure, instead of crushing McKay the way it does so many others, just sharpens him into a diamond.

And Rodney's grin is bright and too big, and he's saying, "Of course I have a plan. That's my job. Have plans. Save the day. Don't get thanked." And John, for the first time since they picked up the Replicator fleet on their long range sensors, lets himself take a breath.

Rodney's shoving people aside, tipping one poor woman who doesn't move fast enough out of her chair and then shoving the chair after her. He's jerking from console to console, and John stays out of the way and watches. Carter does not share his good sense, "What the hell are you doing, McKay?"

She's been here six months, now. John's pretty sure that's long enough for her to realize how they do things here. To figure out that in a crisis, in a do or die situation, they generally just sit back and let Rodney save their collective asses.

There's impatient hand waving from Rodney in place of actual speech, and John can see the two twin flushes of color high in her cheeks. Somewhere, one of the techs not ousted by Rodney is yelling about the fleet being within weapons range and bracing for impact and Carter is opening her mouth, but Rodney talks over all of them, snapping his fingers, voice high and giddy, "And we have shields!"

Carter's saying, "We had shields before, they weren't effective-"

At the same time that John's saying, "What kind of shields?" And Rodney looks at him and grins, smug as hell, as above them the Replicators ran fire and death upon the untouchable city. And then, because there are important military concerns here, and he can't let his relief just swallow him up, "How long will they last?"

Rodney rolls his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest, and there's ice down John's spine, though he couldn't say why. Like he can feel everything about to go all to hell, which makes no sense, because this is the first glimpse they've had of salvation in days.

"Not long." And at the synchronized aghast looks of everyone else in the control room, "Long enough. Trust me, everything will be fine. Sheppard, walk with me, I have systems to set up and we need to talk."

hr

Rodney's half in the wall, and John feels kind of awkward leaning beside him, but he doesn't know what else to do. Besides, every few minutes Rodney grunts out a request for a tool, and someone has to hand them to him. John's still not sure what exactly Rodney's doing, but it sounded like it had something to do with the hyper drive. Rodney shifts, curses, and then mutters, "Look, everyone says that Carter's smarter than me-"

John doesn't mean to blurt out, "I don't say that," but that doesn't stop it from happening. For a half second Rodney goes still in the wall, and John bites his own tongue.

When Rodney does speak again his voice is soft, far away, "I-well. That's-" and then he's shifting, and apparently deciding to just push the compliment away. He continues like it was never said, "But she has no head for this kind of tech. And the city just doesn't like her. So any questions you might have, I'd recommend taking them to Zelenka. Crazy Czech bastard-"

"Shouldn't I just take them to you?" He feels like he's missing vital parts of this conversation. And the chill down his spine still hasn't gone away, though it has been joined by a heavy, sour feeling in his stomach.

Rodney ignores the question, grunting and twisting till he's free of the wall, and then sliding the panel closed again. There's grease smeared across his forehead, and his skin is red. He looks exhausted and John knows damn well he hasn't slept in a week, that he's so wired on stimulants right now it's not even remotely healthy.

Somehow, though, all he can see is Rodney softly patting the wall, almost affectionate. Rodney's voice is a whisper, and makes no sense at all, "You take care of him, hear?" And John wonders why he's supposed to be taking care of Zelenka, but before he can open his mouth Rodney is switching focus, turning to him with a determined glint in his eyes.

"All my research in possible point to point travel is in the laptop under my mattress, and the report for P3X-958 is done, I've just been stalling because I hated that world. Trying to create new ZedPMs is a bad idea, and you should drop it, and I think I've got the engines all working on the city now, so you should be able to fly her if the need arises, okay?" It sounds freakishly like a grocery list, and John just nods, lost.

Rodney is smoothing his uniform, reaching down to grab his laptop and tuck it under his arm. Over the radio Carter is yelling that the shields are failing, that they've got minutes at most, and John realizes it doesn't matter. Rodney's already gotten this figured out, and all the rest of them are three steps behind and when Rodney opens his laptop and starts pushing in commands John knows they have nothing to do with the shields. He says, "What are you doing?"

No answer, just Rodney closing the laptop and sliding it back under his arm. Rodney's smile is crooked. He reaches a hand out, grabs the front of John's uniform and yanks him closer and for a long moment they're just standing in each other's space. John can feel Rodney's breath on his mouth, starts to lean in, and Rodney whispers, soft as a kiss, "So long, John." And reaches up to click his radio.

And a second later John is holding empty air, staring at the space where Rodney was.

hr

The control room is in complete pandemonium by the time he gets there. Someone's yelling about how the shields had went down for one point three eight seconds and there's reports of areas of the city with heavy damage from a few lucky shots that managed to get through during that time. Someone is screaming about how it doesn't much matter, because the shields are going to fail anyway, in less than sixty seconds.

John can't say he really cares, he's adding his own voice to the din, demanding, "Beam him back out, goddamnit! Beam him the hell out of there before he gets himself killed!" But no one is listening.

And John watches the time run out, staring at the fleet above them, waiting. The shields waiver, and all the screaming is suddenly silent, like everyone has decided to greet death silent and solemn. John holds his breath, aware that around him everyone else is doing the same exact thing. The seconds drain away into single digits.

The bombardment stops, just as time runs out. One moment the ring of explosions is a constant dull thrum, the next the air is achingly empty. And since someone has to break the heavy silence, he says, "What's our status?"

There's a beat of silence, and then, "The fleets still in orbit, sir. But they're...well, they're drifting." And then it's pandemonium again.

hr

Carter's voice is tiny in his ear, "You mean he beamed himself onto the ships? Why didn't you say anything?" And she sounds pissed off and indignant and John does not say that he did say something and no one was paying attention. He just keeps running.

Because the armada is in a rapidly degrading orbit, now that whatever has happened has happened. Carter had said that they probably had days before the Replicator ships started dropping out of the sky, but Radek had said hours, and John had heard Rodney's voice in the back of his head: So any questions you might have, I'd recommend taking them to Zelenka.

And Rodney is up there, somewhere.

Zelenka meets him in the Jumper room, the scientist hugging two laptops to his chest with a determined glint in his eyes. He says, "I am coming with you, there will be doors to open and we do not know the status of the Replicators."

John scowls, pushing past him, throwing himself into the pilot's chair, but he doesn't argue when Radek settles in beside him.

They scan every one of the ships for life signs. Three times. By the time they get back it feels like the city is already mourning. There's a curious silence in the halls, over the radios. John sits in the Jumper and stares at nothing and waits to wake up. Because this is a nightmare. It has to be.

Zelenka's surprised shout is a burst of bright, hot relief in John's chest, he actually pivots to see the rear of the Jumper, expecting to see Rodney there. But Zelenka's saying, "There is a hyperspace signature! I cannot believe I did not see it earlier," he makes a sound like he's disgusted with himself, and John stares at him expectantly. "At least one of the Replicator ships made a jump before Rodney activated the kill code."

And John blinks, says, "Kill code?" And Radek has the good grace to look ashamed of himself.

hr

Explanation gets saved for an emergency staff meeting. Sheppard sits in his chair and grabs the lip of the table and holds on for dear life while Radek stammers and flusters his way through an explanation, "I did not think he had ever finished it, after Eliz-after Doctor Weir he was very, hm, he found it hard to concentrate on Replicator technology, yes?"

They're all so careful, tiptoeing around Elizabeth's name. John would analyze that more, but right now he's got more important things to worry about, and Radek is still talking, "He must have been working on it at night, after the rest of us were gone from the labs. I have found the program, probably he left it for me to find, on the chance that it did not work, I would guess. It is brilliant."

Radek pauses then, rubbing his hands together and glancing furtively at the door, like he expects Rodney to be summoned by the praise. The doorway remains empty, and Carter pointedly clears her throat. John kind of wants to hit her. Says instead, "Did it wipe all of them out, or just the ones that were here?"

Radek shrugs, shoves his glasses back up on his nose, though John knows that there's no prescription in the frames anymore. He's wearing them out of a lifetime's habit, not out of any failure on his visions part. "It is impossible to say, the code transferred itself almost instantaneously among the fleet, yes? I have not been able to read all of the code yet, but this is Rodney we are speaking of. I am sure that he wrote it for maximum efficiency."

"Why'd he-" and John can't even make himself say the words. He can't even leave go of the table to gesture, because he's afraid he'll hit someone if he does.

Carter opens her mouth, and John scowls, furious with her though he couldn't say why. It's not her fault she's not Elizabeth, and it's not her fault she's not Rodney. It's not even her fault that she's here and they're not. Her mouth snaps shut with an audible click.

"I believe," Radek starts slowly, carefully, "that Rodney would have had to input the code directly into one of their larger systems. His notes indicate that he assumed their warships would have such a system." Pause. "Obviously, he was correct."

The meeting breaks up almost an hour later, and it seems like all they've gotten resolved was that Rodney somehow managed to destroy the Replicators and disappear. He stays in his seat, waiting for the world to stop ending, and only realizes that Zelenka is standing uncomfortably by his elbow when the other man clears his throat, says, "There is a folder for you, in Rodney's work."

The scientist leaves the laptop on the table by John's hand, and John makes himself look at it. There is a file with his name on it, and he clicks it open. His name stares up at him, but there's nothing else there. It's empty, like Rodney never got the time to put whatever he had intended in.

Somehow that's the worst part of the whole day, the blank white page staring emptily up at him.

hr

Time drags on, terrible and relentless. And the thing is, the thing is, that John keeps forgetting that Rodney's gone. They'll be in trouble off world and he'll start yelling for McKay in the radio, and it's not till Teyla winces that he realizes there's no way Rodney could answer. He storms into the labs to drag Rodney to lunch, and then has to come up with an excuse for being there.

Two months come and go, and Atlantis stays curiously subdued. John imagines that the city is holding its breath with him. That it's waiting to wake up from its own nightmare, preferably to Rodney's sharp voice, spitting acidic words at anyone unlucky enough to get in his way.

And then, because even this hazy dreamlike state can't last forever, there's another crisis. There's Wraith bearing down on them, no longer being hunted by the Replicators. There's Carter, promoting a plan that sounds pretty damn good, and Radek arguing vehemently for one that sounds kind of iffy to John. But he's still hearing Rodney, the last words the other man ever said to him, and he throws his chips in with Radek.

Things have always been tense between him and Carter, and he figures this is going to bring things to a head. Especially when she orders him out of the control room, and tries to lock him in his room. Really, it's damn hard to lock John anywhere inside Atlantis, and Rodney was right when he said the city didn't like her.

John ends up in the command chair, listening to Zelenka berate the scientists in Czech, listening to Carter curse them all, cut off in the control room when Zelenka had rerouted power to a secondary station. But the Wraith end up blown out of the sky.

Carter is tense and furious, and John can't even blame her. He does anyway, when she grounds his team and mutters threatening about what she's going to do to him.

hr

A month later he's working out with Ronon when alarms suddenly start blaring. They end up in the control room by virtue of the fact that no one really bars Ronon's way when he wants to be somewhere, and the Marines are still fiercely loyal to John, irregardless of Carter's views on the matter.

There's a ship, limping slowly towards them. That's not a problem, but the fact that it's a Replicator ship kind of is. Everyone is watching it, soft and quiet and panicking, and then Chuck startles at his post, says, "We're receiving some kind of transmission-it looks like-"

And John just shoves forward, aware that shoving techs out of the way is really more Rodney's thing than his, but not caring. He stares, and can't stop the laugh bubbling up helplessly in his chest. Ronon's voice is a low rumble, "What?"

John's grin feels stretched to big, "It's math." He laughs again, grabs Ronon and shakes him because the heady giddy joy of it is too big to take without letting some of it bleed out of his skin into someone else, "It's Rodney's goddamn point to point travel equations." He knows, because he's read over the damn things time and time again for the last three months.

He shakes Ronon again once more, just for good measure, and then takes off for the Jumper bay. He can feel Ronon on his heels, and Teyla is already waiting for them when they arrive, and John grins big and careless at both of them.

hr

The Replicator vessel is beat all to hell. He's pretty sure it's held together by spit and prayer and possibly duct tape, but there are two life signs on board, and he wonders who the other one is, but doesn't really care. It took eight hours to get out here, almost to the limit of sensor range because the other ship is really moving very slowly, and his smile hasn't faded at all.

There's a docking bay in the back, and he slides in, relieved to find that, yes, there is atmosphere in there. Teyla and Ronon are already at the rear gate, almost vibrating with impatience, and John scrambles out of his seat as soon as they've landed.

And Rodney's voice is there, as soon as the door cracks, "-you came, you came, you came, you came, you came-" He sounds giddy and exhausted, and then the doors open and there he is.

He looks dirty and tired and scruffy. One of his arms in is a sling that looks like it was made from his jacket, and he's leaning heavily against the side of the Jumper, and he's the best thing John's ever seen. He's still chanting, like he's trying to convince himself, like he's trying to make himself believe this isn't just a dream.

It takes John three steps to reach him, and then he's got his arms around the other man, ignoring the sharp pained yelp when Rodney's arm is crushed between them. Rodney pats his uninjured hand carefully on John's shoulder, and then he's clinging, his arm around John's neck painfully tight.

John growls into Rodney's ear, "We came. We came." And Rodney laughs, high and out of control,

And then Ronon roars, and John jerks, hand going to his side arm as he shoves Rodney roughly towards the Jumper, but it's not an angry roar. He watches Ronon run up to Elizabeth Weir, swallow her in a massive bear hug, lift her and spin her around. She's laughing, her voice sweet and soothing, and she looks even worse than Rodney but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all.

Teyla's voice is very soft, tense, and it takes John a moment to realize she's talking to Rodney, "Did-Is-Carson?" And her pain is so raw and naked when Rodney shakes his head, that John feels it twist in his own chest.

hr

Atlantis is noisy again when they return. Loud and alive and Ronon is carrying Elizabeth around and won't put her down no matter what anyone else says and John thinks about trying that with Rodney but doesn't see how that would end well for anyone. He'd probably break his own back and Rodney would be full of ridicule, and then he'd get thrown out of the military.

They end up in the Infirmary, and it feels like everyone else in the city is trying to be in there at the same time. People keep crowding in and eventually Keller stops trying to get them to leave. They keep coming back, anyway, no matter how many times they're shooed.

Ronon keeps Elizabeth in his lap, like letting her go is a luxury he won't allow himself. John doesn't try to pull that with Rodney either, but he does keep a hand on Rodney's shoulders, side, hip, thigh, anywhere he can reach. Teyla stands near them, lost in her own private, revisited misery.

And when Keller gives them a clean bill of health the only one that hasn't stopped by to visit the victorious returned is Carter. John wonders if she had hoped that Rodney would never come back. He kind of hates her.

hr

He follows Rodney back to his rooms, not really realizing he's doing it until they're standing inside Rodney's doorway. Rodney's obviously exhausted, is blinking blearily up at him, head cocked to one side, "Miss me, Colonel?"

"John." He wants to be John in Rodney's room, in this conversation. Rodney blinks again, and then shrugs, and sways and so John steers him over towards his bed. There's silence again, until he gets Rodney horizontal, and then he kneels by Rodney's head, rests a hand carefully on his shoulder. "You scared the fuck out of us."

Rodney snorts, shifting back towards the wall and for a long terrible second John thinks he's trying to get away from the touch, but then Rodney's patting the bed invitingly and so John eases up to sit on it. "Oh ye of little faith." And then, "Lay down, stupid, if you're going to be here, you're going to be my pillow."

So John does, and Rodney's bed is hard and bigger than his and none of that matters when Rodney slowly exhales and shoves his head onto John's shoulder. His breath is warm and moist against John's neck, his body all heat pressed against John's side. His own voice sounds far away, "You left me a file, on your computer. It was empty."

Rodney hums, shifting and rearranging himself, shoving his face right up against John's neck, and he can feel the slow sweep of Rodney's eyelashes across his skin. He mumbles, "What? No it wasn't. I wrote pages in there." And then Rodney snorts, "You did click on your name, didn't you?"

"Um."

"You're an idiot." He feels kind of like an idiot. Because there'd been pages of confessions that he could have had keeping him company these last three months, instead of Rodney's insane math. "Seriously, I don't know why I put up with you."

"So what did you write?" And Rodney tenses against him. For a half second John thinks he's going to pull away, and slides a hand up, lets it land heavily on Rodney's hip. Rodney doesn't exactly relax, but he doesn't move either. He can almost hear Rodney thinking.

"A lot of stupid things." And then Rodney does move, pushing himself up on an elbow, looking down at John with an unreadable look on his face. John reaches a hand up without thinking, brushes his knuckles across the stubble on Rodney's jaw. Rodney leans into the touch, and John sucks in a sharp breath.

Rodney's neck is thick and warm under his hand, his hair soft and a few inches too long, curling slightly around his fingers. He pulls, and Rodney goes willingly, and as far as kisses go it's dry and almost painfully hesitant, and then Rodney sighs against his mouth and apparently tries to lick his own lips. John lets his mouth fall open, sucks Rodney's tongue into his own mouth, and it's good, if not perfect yet.

When Rodney pulls back, breathing heavy and flushed and that's just good for John's ego, he's smiling crooked. John's voice is startlingly rough, "Stupid like that?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Kind of like that." And there's another big, loopy smile, broken in the middle by a huge yawn. John tugs and pulls until Rodney's head is pillowed on his shoulder again, gets an arm under him, palm flattened on Rodney's back. "John?"

And John smiles, tangling their legs together, murmurs, "Stupid will still be here in the morning. Sleep, Rodney."

He does.

::back to index::


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