No Place Like Home

Nov. 9th, 2007 01:51 pm

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: John/Rodney, ensemble

Rating: R

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

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Summary: The one where John is not Dorothy, and Rodney is not the Tin Man, and the Wraith are not flying monkeys. Except when they kind of are. John always has the best hallucinations.

Author's Note: I blame television for this. And also, my nieces, for making me read the Wizard of Oz to them a truly ungodly amount of times.

hr

Long Jumper flights are always painfully dull, even for John, who loves flying more than pretty much anything else. He doesn't care how cool it is to be going faster than he'd ever thought was possible, through space no less. Somewhere around the tenth hour into any trip it just becomes boring as hell.

Usually it's better when there's company along, but Ronon's not exactly a social butterfly, and John gave up trying to teach the other man how to play I Spy or I Never at least three hours ago. Ronon, in fact, appears to be sleeping, and John scowls at him. He'd like a nap himself, but someone has to drive, and of the two of them...well, he's the only option.

He takes what comfort he can in the fact that they're only a few minutes from home. That they've got the visual recon of the asteroid belt, and all that's left to do is dial Atlantis and go home. And sleep. He thinks that the first thing he'll do is sleep for a day.

He thumbs the radio on, says, "Atlantis, this is Jumper One, everything alright for us to come home?"

And it's a surprise when it's Rodney that answers, his voice fuzzy with static, "Come on back, Colonel. We've got plenty of work here waiting for you." He sounds flustered, distracted, and John can't tell if it's just the degradation of the radio signal, or actual emotion. Either way, there's a sudden jag of worry down his spine.

"What's going on?" He reaches over, nudges Ronon awake. The man comes to his senses immediately, one second sleeping heavily, the next alert and staring pointedly at John. Ronon opens his mouth and John waves at him, pointing to the radio, which is crackling again.

"Storms." And this time he's sure that it's stress he's hearing in Rodney's voice. He presses his lips into a thin line. "They sprung up almost four hours ago, a massive high pressure and low pressure system meeting over the city. Hey! Hey! Stop that! What are you doing? Who told you to be out here, get back inside and out of my way, now-"

"McKay?"

"Right. Sorry. Look, I don't have time for this right now. I'll explain when you get here." John scowls, sees the expression mirrored on Ronon's face. The other man hadn't been there last time a storm had hit, but John knows he's heard stories. John just prays that the shields hold.

He says, "Right. See you." But he's pretty sure that the line is already closed. And then he slams the Jumper through the 'gate,

hr

When John wakes up he's slumped in an unfamiliar seat, his face pressed painfully against a cold, uneven surface. He groans, blinks, and pushes himself up, rubbing at his face. He's not sure where he is, but it feels oddly familiar, the cool silver lines of the inside of this tiny room. He tries to remember what's going on, and feels a chill climb his spine when he finds his memory curiously blank.

Panic makes him jerk to his feet, and the sudden movement makes him briefly dizzy. He blinks away the slight nausea, starts cataloguing his surroundings. The only thing in the ten by thirty space he's found himself in that is even remotely familiar is the other man, still unconscious in one of the other seats.

He nudges the huge man in the shoulder, says, "Hey, Ronon, you okay?" He doesn't remember who the man is, exactly, just that they're friends. It's more than anything else he's got, and he shakes the bigger man again when there's no response.

Finally Ronon stirs, shrugging his hand off, grunting as he jerks to his feet. The other man appears to be unharmed, and so John turns his attention elsewhere. For the first time he looks out the huge window at the front of the room, and find himself staring, dumb struck.

He's not completely sure where he's supposed to be, but he's pretty sure that it's not supposed to be the middle of a forest. Nevertheless, there are huge trees surrounding them, the ground is carpeted with a blanket of leaves. There's even, improbably, a small river burbling along a few feet away.

The oddest thing though, of course, is the crowd gathered in front of the window, waving at them, smiling huge and friendly. John says, "Huh. That's weird." Ronon grunts.

hr

It takes John a little over five minutes to figure out how to open the back of the room. Ronon watches him curiously the entire time, and John tries to make conversation, but Ronon only grunts or rumbles. John can't remember if he used to talk, or not. He worries, briefly, that maybe he's the only person that can talk, and it's such an irrational fear that he laughs helplessly.

Still, there's a hot burst of relief in his chest when he finally gets the rear door open, and the people that have gathered out there all flood forward, calling happy greetings. He only realizes how happy they are when a particularly large man is grabbing him, hands on either side of his hips, lifting him and placing him on his shoulders.

John yelps in surprise, grabs the man's head, handfuls of long brown hair, and holds on. He casts a desperate look at Ronon, who is grinning smugly while two smaller men attempt to lift him and fail spectacularly. And then the huge man is carrying John away, booming out, "Come, my people, see, the man that slew the Wraith Queen and freed us from her reign of tyranny and horror!"

There's a swell of ragged cheers, and John for the first time realizes just how many people there are gathered around. There's dozens of them, all dressed in leather and animal furs, and they all seem vaguely familiar, like he should know them. It's an irritating itch in the back of his throat that he can't.

John, still clinging to the man's head, yells, "Who are you people? What's going on?" And then, because there's so much going on that he's sure is important, "Wraith Queen?"

And then the man is swinging him down, setting him back down on the ground and John takes a defensive step back, just in case the man tries to grab him again. The man leans forward, and after a second John realizes that he's bowing. It makes him uncomfortable, and he looks around for Ronon, finds the other man standing a few feet away and motions him forward.

By the time Ronon makes his way to John's side, the strange man is speaking, still bowed, "I am Halling, leader of the Athosians. And you have killed the Wraith Queen, who has plagued my people for generation upon generation-" He thinks Halling might have said more, but the crowd had started cheering again at the mention of the Wraith Queen's demise, and John exchanges a look with Ronon.

When the cheering finally fades, John shifts, clears his throat, "Look, not that I'm not happy for you, but I didn't kill anyone." He doesn't think. He's pretty sure. Though, of course, he doesn't really remember anything past the last ten minutes.

Halling shrugs, smiles, and points back at the room that John had come from, says, "Well, your ship did, in any case."

And that's when John notices that the, well, ship, that he arrived in is lying on top of a woman.

hr

A half an hour later he's still trying to wrap his mind around it. He's kneeling by the woman's head, trying to deal with the fact that she's dead because of him. Ronon is standing over him, arms crossed, and John wonders if this bothers him at all.

He finally stands, smoothing his hand over the woman's unnaturally white face, sliding her huge crimson eyes closed. She's certainly a frightening looking thing, there's no doubt, with her pointed teeth and wide mouth, but he still feels something like guilt in his chest. He hadn't even known her, and he'd killed her. It seems wrong, somehow.

Especially because the Athosians won't stop singing about it. They've been drinking since John crushed the Wraith Queen, and the songs are getting increasingly slurred and loud and gleeful. John wonders what the hell the woman did to them that was so terrible, and why they didn't just off her themselves if they hated her so much.

He sighs, wipes his hands on his pants, and makes his way over to Halling, feeling Ronon falling into step behind him. Halling thumps him happily on the back as soon as he gets close enough, draws him into a crushing hug and starts to boom another verse in his song about John's apparently extraordinarily heroic murder of the Wraith Queen.

John cuts him off, yelling into the taller man's ear, "Hey, listen, is there anyone here I could talk to? That could maybe help me figure out what's going on?" Because he needs to do something besides sit here and listen to these people fall into a drunken revelry.

Halling sobers, briefly, focuses his eyes on John's face and then turns away, cupping his hands over his mouth and shouting, "We need Teyla the Emmagan! Has anyone seen her, does anyone know where we may find her to fetch her to aid the Hero of the Athosians?"

And any hope for getting an answer disappears when the Athosians hear 'Hero of the Athosians' and all start singing again. John's really starting to get tired of that. Especially since none of them show any indication of being able to carry a tune. He sighs, and rubs a hand over his face, and Ronon puts a comforting hand on his shoulder and rumbles.

And then there's a soft hand wrapped around his elbow, and a warm, comforting, female voice, "John Sheppard?"

He cracks one eye open, expecting another drunk Athosian, this time possibly propositioning him. There's a tiny woman beside him, and while she's dressed like the Athosians, there's something about her that strikes John as different. Maybe it's the fact that she's almost glowing, or the enigmatic smile on her lips, or hey, the fact that she's neither singing nor trying to carry him around. He hazards a guess, "I suppose you must be Teyla?"

She nods her head, her hair falling gracefully over her shoulders with the movement, "I am indeed the Emmagan. And I understand that you are in need of my assistance now, is that correct?"

And John says a quick prayer to whatever deity he might believe in, because finally, someone sane. He resists the urge to lean over so that they're level with each other, because she is really very petite, and says, "Yeah. Look, I don't know how we got here, but I'm pretty sure it isn't where we're supposed to be. Do you know anyone who might be able to...I don't know, get us back? To where we should be?"

There's a brief pause, as Teyla shifts her gaze between him and Ronon, still with that same little smile on her mouth. Finally she says, "This is beyond me, I must admit, I have never heard of such a thing." And John tries not to let his disappointment show on his face, but must fail, because she hurries to continue, "But there is another that might know. She is very wise, perhaps the wisest in the land. I would counsel you to journey to her for guidance."

When he opens his mouth to speak he knows he's going to regret it, but can't seem to stop himself, "And where is this woman? Who, is this woman?"

Teyla blinks, for the first time looks less than perfectly serene, "Why, the Doctor, of course. Leader of the City of the Ancients, and wisest of us all." And John keeps expecting some of this to sound familiar, and keeps being disappointed when none of it does. She continues, "You do know how to reach the City of the Ancients, do you not?"

He says, "Um," and a little more of Teyla's calm slips. He swears that she actually rolls her eyes at him.

hr

They end up spending the night amongst the Athosians. John spends most of it with Teyla, getting directions to this City of the Ancients, all of which seem frustratingly vague. In fact, follow the path marked by the Rings of the Ancestors about sums it up.

They're about ready to leave, loaded down with supplies from the Athosians, when Teyla appears at his elbow again, no where near him one second and right there the next. He tries not to startle too badly, and ignores her smug smile. He says, "Thanks again for the directions," and tells himself that he's not being sarcastic.

But she only nods with exceeding graciousness, and says, "You are most welcome. And remember to beware for the Wraith Empress, she will surely be furious with you for killing her sister." And John spits out the thick, hot broth that the Athosians had provided for breakfast.

He gasps out, "What?" and she has the decency to look abashed.

hr

So an hour later he has the rundown on the Wraith Empress, who sounds like a real winner. And is apparently going to be out for his blood. He kind of wishes she'd just neglected to tell him about it at all. Because, seriously, the last thing he needs right now is some crazy woman with big pointy teeth out to suck his soul from his chest.

They're ready to leave, again, when Teyla appears again, this time in front of him. She's cradling something in her hands, a small silver device that looks tiny in her hands. She says, "This was the Silver Radio of the Wraith Queen, and since you slew her the Athosians believe that it should be yours. Please, take it with their blessing and mine."

He looks down at the little thing, up at her face, and then sighs. He's got vague memories about radios, at least, knows that this goes in his ear, and that, possibly, other people are supposed to talk to him through it. He's not sure how it's going to be any use right now, but there's no reason to offend these people over it.

And then she's got her hands on his shoulders, pulling him down until her forehead rests against his. She says, "Good luck to you, John Sheppard. I hope you find what you seek." And then she steps away, and pulls Ronon down to repeat the forehead pressing gesture on him, before stepping back and just sort of fading away into the background.

John exchanges a look with Ronon, and then they set off down the path. The Athosians are singing again.

hr

By noon John's pretty much decided that walking through forests is the most boring thing he's ever done. He's almost missing the Athosians constant singing, and hums their songs under his breath. He'd tried at first to draw Ronon into conversation, but that had proved to be an exercise in futility, and he had given up.

Not that he isn't glad that Ronon's along. He is. He's pretty sure he'd have gotten lost almost immediately without the other man to keep a look out of the signs carved into the trees and rocks that marked their path. It's just...conversation would be nice.

He's still thinking about this a few hours later when Ronon grunts and sits down on a log and pulls John down beside him. He assumes that this means they're having a break, which is fine with him. He's not sure, but he thinks that the big black boots he's wearing weren't exactly designed for long distance trekking. In fact, the only piece of his clothing that is remotely comfortable is his pants.

He's also got a heavy vest on, and he thinks he'll have to go through all the pockets at some point, see if there's anything useful in any of them. And around one thigh he's got a holster, and what he assumes to be a gun, which he's sure is bound to be useful. He slides it out of the holster and examines it while Ronon starts digging through the food the Athosians had given them and stuffing his face with it.

They've been sitting in what might be companionable silence for maybe fifteen minutes when Ronon goes still, and very slowly reaches out and takes the gun out of John's hands. John opens his mouth to ask what's going on, and Ronon raises a finger to his lips, and then springs off the log and disappears into the underbrush.

John stares after him for a minute, and then curses, and bangs the back of his head into the tree at his back.

And that's when Ronon reappears, dragging a much smaller, younger, man in his wake. John springs to his feet, watching Ronon drag the boy forward by the scuff of his neck, like a puppy, and blinking in surprise. Ronon growls, shoves the boy in front of John, and then stands with his arms crossed.

The boy stumbles, flashing Ronon a dirty look before turning his gaze to John. He's very young, dark smooth skin, short black hair, a ragged leather outfit that looks similar to what the Athosians had worn. That's, of course, not what catches John's attention. One of the boy's eyes is black, smooth and uniform and shiny as obsidian.

John shoves his hands into his pockets, rolls his shoulders back and drawls, "So what's your name?"

The boy looks confused by this, keeps looking uncomfortably over his shoulder at Ronon, before saying, "Ford, um, sir. I-who are you people?" And John takes a deep breath, and thinks that at least there's no singing. He can deal with anything, as long as there's no singing.

hr

Turns out Ford is part of the Lost Boys, a group of orphans who live out in the woods away from everyone else. Being one of the smaller and younger of the group, he'd been stuck on sentry duty when he had spotted John and Ronon. He seems terribly fascinated with them, and makes John tell him about the death of the Wraith Queen three times.

And when Ronon, finally, blessedly, gets tired of them sitting around and hauls John to his feet and starts dragging him down the path, Ford jogs to catch up with them. John looks at him out of the corner of his eyes, the younger man virtually vibrating with excitement, says, "What's up?"

Ford shrugs, smiles huge, his eyes almost crinkling shut, says, "I'm coming with you, of course. You're strangers in this land. You'll need help finding the City of the Ancients. I can help you."

John exchanges a look with Ronon, realizes he's not likely to receive any advice from that corner, and says, "Don't you want to stay here? I mean, these are your people." For a second the boy looks positively heartbroken, and John feels like he kicked a puppy, says, "Not that, I mean, if you want to come we'd be, um, happy to have you along?"

And just like that the boy is beaming, saying, "Good! They never let me do anything around here, they don't trust me, but this'll show them. They'll have to admit that I'm just as smart as they are-" he continues on this vein for a while, and eventually John tunes him out.

He's already mourning the previous absence of conversation.

hr

By the time the sun starts sinking below the line of the trees, painting everything crimson and purple, John knows everything there is to know about Ford and his people. Which is hundreds of times more than he had wanted to know.

He knows how the Lost Boys found him out on the side of the road, abandoned by his parents. How they raised him. How they made him strong. And how one of the older boys cursed him, turning his eye to stone, when he had spoken out of turn. Ford seems almost obsessed with proving himself, and John's not sure he can blame him. The boy's had a rough life.

Still, he's relieved when Ronon grunts, grabs his arm, and starts dragging him off the path. Ford follows behind them, still talking about his various life experiences, and how he had made friends with the Athosians and had they met Teyla the Emmagan, and wasn't she just awesome?

And then Ronon stops, so abruptly that John walks into his back. John opens his mouth to ask what's going on, and Ronon points at the blanket spread out across the ground, the wood stacked up by it, the bag that's leaning onto its side.

Ford's already leaning over, grabbing the bag and opening the zipper. John starts to protest, because, really, this is not the way to make new friends. He never gets the chance, because there's a sharp voice snapping out, "And just what are you supposed to be? Highway robbers? A gang of the disaffected youth?"

Ford jerks his hand away from the bag as though he's been burned, and John and Ronon are both pivoting in the direction the voice had come from. There's a man standing there, outlined by the sunset, hands on his hips, scowling. He's the first person native to this world that John hasn't seen wearing leather and furs. Instead, he's wearing a blue tee shirt and tan pants, and boots vaguely similar to John's.

And he looks so familiar that it's almost painful.

John shakes himself to dispel the sudden dizzy rush of familiarity, says, "Sorry?" And the man snorts, marches over to Ford and removes the bag from his vicinity with a sharp glare. John can't help following him with his eyes, trying to remember where he's seen this man before, how he knows him, who he is. "Do I know you?"

The man pauses, head cocked to the side as he stares thoughtfully at John. He stares for a long time, while Ronon and Ford stand to the side looking uncomfortable, and then shrugs. "I don't see how you could. I haven't been here long."

John feels another pulse of almost-memory, takes an involuntary step closer to the other man, "Yeah? Did you come on a ship? A big metal ship, maybe? That's how we got here and-"

The man waves a hand, breaking his gaze and looking sharply at Ronon and Ford. Says, "No. That's not what I meant. It's not important. Who are you people?" And John wants to push this, wants to find out where this man came from, but figures that if he's anything at all like Ford then he'll get the full story whether he wants it or not, anyway. And so he lets it drop.

Says, "I'm John, this is Ronon, we, um, killed the Wraith Queen yesterday when we got here." He watches the other man to see if this gets any response, but all he gets is a blank look, "I don't remember how we got here, just that, well, we're not supposed to be. So Teyla the Emmagan told us to go to the City of the Ancients." This just gets more blank looks.

Ford perks up, apparently sensing that this is a further opportunity to tell someone else his story, and before John can stop him he's explaining to their newest companion all about his youth. John decides that he doesn't really mind that much, because it lets him examine the other man until the light completely fails and he can't anymore.

hr

The man's still there when they wake up in the morning, which John figures is only natural, seeing as they kind of invaded his camp and all. When John wakes up the other man is sitting by the fire that Ronon had started the night before, staring blankly into the flames. John pushes himself up onto one elbow, and looks at the man in the light of the morning sun.

He's paler than anyone else that John's seen, light brown hair, big shoulders and strong arms and John gets hung up on his hands, which seem so terribly familiar. "Rodney." The man's voice startles him, and he jerks his eyes back to the man's face, startled by his eyes, a shade of blue that John hadn't been able to discern in the darkness the night before.

He says, "Excuse me?" shifting into a sitting position, smiling briefly when Ronon grunts and shifts at the movement.

"My name. It's Rodney." John nods, rolls the name around in his head, trying to see if that feels familiar as well. It doesn't. He's disappointed, but then Rodney smiles, half his mouth twisting up, and John doesn't care. "I'm going with you. To the City of the Ancients."

John shrugs, not sure what he's supposed to say to that because it doesn't sound like Rodney's asking. Around them the others are starting to stir, and John shifts, says, "So where are you from?" And then Ronon's sitting bolt upright, and Rodney looks back into the flames, and John's question never gets answered.

hr

Rodney's a nice addition to their group, not least because he manages to get Ford to shut up. John thinks that maybe he should feel bad about the way he treats the younger man, but really, he doesn't. Especially not when Ford starts in again about how no one trusts him back home, and Rodney looks across at him and snaps, "Shut up. No one cares."

For a minute Ford just gapes at him, open mouthed, and then speeds up to walk beside Ronon. He's already apparently discovered that Ronon, at least, won't interrupt him. John hides a grin, watching Rodney out of the corners of his eyes until the other man snaps, says, "What? Did you care? Was I mistaken in my summation of your feelings on the matter?"

John shrugs, bends down to snag a blade of grass from the side of the road, and shoves in between his teeth. Says, "Nah." And then, because he has more important things he'd like to talk to Rodney about, "So what are you going to the City of the Ancients for?"

Rodney looks at him, eyes narrowed, is opening his mouth to respond when there's a sudden burst of whining sound, and Ford go goes twitching, glowing briefly blue. John hears Ronon roar, and then Rodney hits him in his side, bearing him down to the ground. John feels the air get squeezed out of his lungs, twists.

It takes him a moment to push Rodney off, and by the time he gets back to his feet Ronon is facing down a smaller man, waving around something that John can only assume is a gun of some sort. The man is obviously shaking in his skin, which is perfectly understandable when faced with a growling, furious, Ronon.

Ford's still laid out, motionless on the ground, and John curses, pushes himself between Ronon and the strange man, holding his hands up in an attempt to prevent any potential bloodshed. The man with the gun starts trembling even worse, and John watches the gun swing towards him, and then Rodney is there, pushing him out of the way with a sour look on his face.

Blue electricity dances across Rodney's skin, and some part of John's brain notes that it's the same color as his eyes. Rodney's knees hit the ground with a crunch, and he falls forward, manages to catch himself on his hands, and John's already moving.

He charges the man with the gun, catches it with one hand, forcing it up and to the side, and slams his fist into the man's nose. He's surprised when the man makes a little yelping sound, and goes limp. He hadn't thought that he'd hit that hard. Ronon's already bending, dragging an unconscious Ford up, and John, with one more wary look at their assailant, bends down and gives Rodney a hand.

The other man's skin shocks him, and he hisses, says, "What the hell'd you do that for?"

Rodney's just opening his mouth, when their attacker groans and starts rolling around on the ground. John's really getting tired of being interrupted every time he's about to get an answer to some of his questions, especially because he's pretty sure that Rodney would be completely incapable of lying, though he's not sure why.

And then the man apparently completely regains consciousness, and moans, "Ow, ow, ow, ow," while cradling his bleeding nose. John sighs, rolls his eyes, and wonders what this guy's excuse is going to be to tag along with them.

hr

It turns out that Carson Beckett hadn't meant to attack them, he'd just been jumpy. He'd been on his way to the City of the Ancients to get medicine that his village very much needed, and had panicked when he'd heard voices approaching.

He's so obviously sorry about stunning Ford and Rodney that John can't even hold it against him. Though he does seem very confused about how Rodney managed to not be knocked out for a few hours, and John adds that to his list of questions that he needs answers for from Rodney.

Rodney, for his part, is skittish around Beckett, casts him distrusting looks whenever he walks too close. John's not sure he can blame him, seeing as Carson did shoot him, and all, but it feels like there's more to it than that. Especially since Rodney hadn't seemed terribly upset about being shot.

John's finally managed to dodge Carson, make sure that Ronon is still hauling Ford along without trouble, and corner Rodney when they go around a bend in the path and he just freezes. He's not sure why the spider in the middle of the path sends cold chills down his spine, expect that maybe because it's the size of a small child. Or a particularly unnatural shade of blue.

Behind him he can hear Carson whimpering, and Ronon is trying to shove Ford into his arms, growling at the bug. And Rodney heaves a sigh, says, "It just never stops, does it?"

And then the man's marching off the side of the path, kicking around beneath the trees until he finds a stick, before hefting it and stomping over to the bug. John's just opening his mouth to protest when Rodney braces his feet in front of the spider thing, gets a two handed grip on the stick, raises it above his head and then drives it down into the middle of the bug.

It all happens too quickly for the bug to even run away. And John watches the thing twist and click it's mandibles together in agitation and is surprised by the swell of relief in his chest. Rodney looks back impatiently over his shoulder, says, "Coming? Or are you too busy catching flies?"

hr

By the time they stop for the night Ford has mostly come back to himself, though he still drools whenever he tries to talk. John tells himself very firmly that he is not amused by this, at all, and Rodney smirks enough for both of them.

This time there's no lucky camp site already waiting for them, and they end up under a tree. Luckily Ronon continues his habit of being extraordinarily useful, and manages to get them a bunch of small animals to eat while Ford starts a fire. Ford's spends dinner regaling Beckett with his tale of woe, and Ronon is busy stuffing his face, and so John scoots closer to Rodney, says, "Hey."

Rodney hums, eating what John thinks is something like rabbit, grease sliding down his hands and making his lips glisten and shine. John shakes himself, turns his attention forcibly back to his own rabbit-or-possibly-squirrel. "Carson says that he's never heard of someone just get up after being hit by a stunner before."

Rodney flinches, John barely catches the movement out of the corner of his eyes. The other man makes absolutely no effort to hide the bite in his voice, "I think we've already established that Carson isn't exactly the most stunning example of a medical practitioner."

John spares a look for Carson, sitting with his eyes glazed as he listens to Ford. He grins, turns back to Rodney to find the other man watching him intently. When he's caught Rodney drops his eyes, and John can't tell if the red in his cheeks is a reflection of the flames or a blush. He says, before he can stop himself, "What are you? You're not like the others, I can tell. You feel...real."

And then he feels immediately guilty, because of course everyone else is real, too. It just, they all sort of seem like shades of people compared to Rodney. But the guilt fades when Rodney jerks his head up, catches his gaze and holds it, says, "I don't know what you mean." And he was right, Rodney can't lie at all.

He sighs, throws the bones that are all that's left of his meal into the flames and turns to face the other man, "Rodney."

Rodney tenses, holds his gaze, tilting his chin up just a little. "You wouldn't understand what I am, okay, so just let it go. It isn't important." But John can hear the lie in that, as well, and wants to push the point, but Rodney's twisting away from him, snapping, "I'm going to sleep now."

hr

Rodney's ignoring him in the morning, in fact, is ignoring everyone. He keeps his silence right up until they come across a deep gouge in their path, and then he gets his hands on his hips and sighs heavily. John steps up beside him, looking up and down the impossibly wide gorge, says, "You got any ideas?"

The other man startles, blinks up at him, "What are you asking me for?" And John casts a pointed look over his shoulder, where Carson is trying to apologize to Ford again while Ronon twirls a knife between his fingers. John's not even sure where Ronon got the knife. Rodney follows his gaze, and John's vindicated to see the other man's lips twitch up into an involuntary smile. "Oh."

John nods, "Yeah."

And then Rodney's kneeling, staring down into the bottom of the ditch far below them, the raged rocks strewn there, humming to himself. John stares down at him, the line of his spine, the way the sun catches on his hair, and feels something warm curl in his gut. And then Rodney's looking up, and John can feel himself flush, feels himself lick his lips and-

Carson almost runs into him, when he scrambles up, and the smaller man is almost vibrating with nerves. John makes an indignant sound, painfully aware of how close to the edge of the cliff he is, but Rodney's already reaching out, bracing a hand on his hip and steadying him. For a half second Rodney's fingers curl around his hip, and John sucks in a quick breath that has nothing to do with fear.

And then Carson's shouting, "The Genii! The Genii have discovered that we are trespassing upon their land and they have come for us!" He's gesturing desperately back the way they've come, and indeed, John can see the determined, angry looking people marching towards them.

And that's about when the first bullet whizzes by his head. Carson yells, and fires his stunner back towards the Genii, while John drags Rodney to his feet and starts dragging him towards cover. He's vaguely aware that Ronon is firing at their attackers as well, and that Ford is pushing some kind of strange, pink substance against the base of a tree.

They slide in beside Ronon and Ford, John pushing Rodney, being pushed by Carson. John's looking up, about to demand a gun of his own, when Ford looks up with wild eyes and yells, "Move, move, move, move!"

Rodney curses, and then he's shoving John, grabbing handful of his shirt and hauling him forward. Beside them he can feel the others running as well, Ronon leading the way, Carson on his heels, and then Ford is hitting him square in the center of his back and driving him to the ground.

And then the world explodes.

hr

John pushes himself up onto his elbows, shaking his head to clear it, and realizes that he's staring down into Rodney's face. Rodney's eyes are very wide, and his mouth half open and John grins in what he hopes is a charming manner, says, "Thanks for breaking my fall."

Rodney closes his mouth, opens it again without making a sound and John feels his grin stretch wider. He reaches out, brushes some dirt off Rodney's cheek and the other man's skin is hot under his fingers. He starts to lean down, only half aware of what he's doing, and then he's being lifted up and set on his feet. Ronon rumbles, and then bends down and hauls Rodney to his feet.

Beside them Ford is smiling like a fool, saying, "Okay, c'mon, lets go," and just like that the man is running across a tree that John only now realizes has fallen across the gorge. Carson is already following him, and Ronon is giving him a pointed look and so John grabs Rodney's arm and hauls him out onto the tree.

He can hear Rodney's voice, yelling in his year, "What do you think you're doing? I'm not crossing this thing, it's insane. Let me go-oh my God-" John ignores the protests, dragging the other man by his wrist, and then Rodney twists and he's holding the other man's hand. And somehow, even in the midst of the gunfire that has resumed over their heads, irregardless of the fact that they're running across a tree above a hundred foot fall to jagged rocks, John is smiling like a loon.

Even when the tree cracks in the middle and plummets into the depths the moment their off the other side, he can't quite manage to smother the heady happiness in his chest. Especially when Rodney doesn't pull immediately away from him, when he realizes that the other man is clinging just as desperately as he is.

hr

They walk faster, after that, for the obvious reasons. John doesn't even bother trying to talk to Rodney, just keeps an eye on him as they hurry through the forest following Ronon. But when he reaches out and rests a hand low on Rodney's back the other man doesn't jerk away, just gives him a long, slow look. John tries the charming grin on again, and isn't sure if he imagines the pressure of Rodney leaning back against his hand or not.

He keeps it there, irregardless, right up to the point Ronon freezes in front of them. John goes still instinctively himself, fingers tightening in the back of Rodney's shirt. The other man flashes him a dirty look, and John raises his finger to his lips.

For a long moment they stand in silence, and then, finally, Ronon motions them forward. John still tries to keep Rodney behind him when they approach, but Rodney is having none of that. And they so they both see the river at the same time.

Rodney scowls, huffs, "No one has luck this bad. It's statistically impossible."

hr

Ronon, Carson, and Ford all show great raft-building potential, and John leaves them to it. Rodney, for his part, seems very distrustful of the water, and John can't get him within ten feet of it. John finds him sitting under one of the large trees that line the water, staring hard at the smooth surface of the river, arms crossed tight over his chest.

He sinks down beside the other man, bumps shoulders with him, says, "What's up, Rodney?"

Rodney shrugs, doesn't look away from the river. John bumps their shoulders together again, says, "Ford says that they won't have the raft done till morning." Rodney hums, but doesn't answer, and John smiles, "Don't go all Ronon on me now, man. You're the only one here I can talk to."

Which isn't completely true. He can talk to all the others, it just doesn't feel like a real conversation. He can't figure out what, exactly is wrong with them, but he's sure now that something is off about them. It makes Rodney feel even more real.

Rodney perks up, in any case, even smiles. Says, "Is he going to kill more things again tonight? Because I'm hungry." And John smiles wider, pats Rodney's knee and rises to go ask Ronon to kill some small animals for Rodney.

That night, he doesn't try to bring up Rodney's past, or what he is, or anything. And when Rodney moves to lay down on what he has apparently decided is the softest bit of the roots, he flashes his sleepy, heavy eyes up to John. He doesn't say anything, just chews on his bottom lip, and fidgets with his hands in his lap.

John smiles, and pushes himself over, rests a hand carefully on Rodney's hip, and feels his smile stretch wider when Rodney wraps a hand around his and pulls him down. Rodney's already curling onto his side, and John stretches out behind him, curls his arm up under his head for a pillow and buries his nose in the soft, short hairs on the back of the other man's neck, inhales deeply.

hr

There's a small bit of trouble getting Rodney on the raft, namely that he's apparently completely terrified by the thought of going out on the water. In the end John takes his hand, and has to drag him on board, and Rodney clings to him when the raft bobs and quivers on the water. He wraps an arm around the other man, and Rodney buries his face in his shoulder and curses, low, under his breath.

Before John can decide that maybe this is a bad idea, maybe they really shouldn't be doing this, Ronon and Ford are already pushing them out into the current with the small trees that they were apparently planning to use as poles.

John hears Rodney whimper, and tightens his hold, not sure what he can do about it, particularly since the river chooses that moment to grab hold of the raft, and start dragging them downriver. Ford's shouting, and Ronon's growling, and Carson's got his head between his knees. And Rodney's holding onto him almost painfully tight.

He thinks, later, that that's why he doesn't see it when Ford goes overboard. He does see Carson unfold, make a move towards the edge of the raft, but Ford's already being drug away, bobbing up and down in the deceptively calm water. John curses, and Rodney groans, "Oh God, it had to be this, didn't it?"

He's like to think more about what that means but Ronon's pointing at him, and Carson, and then sliding off into the water, grabbing hold of the raft with one hand and paddling hard for shore with the other. He's surprised when Carson goes over the side without question, kicking and paddling along beside the larger man. It takes John long moments to escape Rodney's hold, and as soon as he's free Rodney curls into a ball on the raft.

God. The naked fear makes John's fingers twitch, but there's nothing he can do about it right now, and so he just slides himself into the water, and pulls hard for shore. And he's amazed and surprised when, between gulping down swallows of air, he finds that the shore is, miraculously, getting closer.

He's smiling, because the water's frozen and he's exhausted and the end is in sight and doesn't comprehend that there must be rocks under the water until the current smashes him against one and he finds himself ripped free of the raft. He sputters, chokes on water, and imagines that he hears Rodney yelling something before the roar of the water covers everything over.

hr

John wakes up to horrible, tearing, pain in his chest, and the unmistakable feeling of a warm, soft, mouth over his. He coughs, tries to twist onto his side, and there are hands, turning him and holding him as water pours out of his mouth, floods his sinuses, burns.

When he manages to get his eyes open and focused he finds Carson staring down at him, the man's entire face contorted in worry. He's saying, patting awkwardly at John's shoulders, "Thought we'd lost you there for a minute, lad. We were all very-"

And John jerks, because he'd somehow imagined, in those few seconds before he opened his eyes, that it had been Rodney's mouth against his. He shoves himself up on his elbows, hears himself gasp out, "Rodney? Where's-" and then he cuts himself off, because it's obvious.

Rodney's on his knees, back bowed over, hands clutching at his head. He's soaking wet, and John can see him trembling from here, and he's still choking on water but that doesn't stop him from rolling to his feet, and stumbling over to the other man. He drops back to his knees, reaching automatically for Rodney's shoulders, and the other man jerks away from the touch.

And for the first time John notices the electric glow of Rodney's eyes behind his trembling fingers. He says, soft, careful, "Rodney?"

Rodney gasps, "You're an idiot. You're an idiot. How am I supposed to look out for you if you keep being an idiot?" And then his voice cuts off as he shudders, full body. And John doesn't care, he reaches forward, slides his hands over Rodney's curling around the back of his head.

There's a tingle of sharp electricity up his arms, almost painful, but he ignores it and after the first few seconds it goes away, and Rodney either hiccups or sobs, and collapses. John's catches him, trying to digest what the hell's going on, and Carson's voice is painfully loud in the silence, "Look! It's Ford, he must have swam ashore!"

hr

John makes the others build fires around Rodney, because his skin is painfully cold. It's still almost an hour before Rodney wakes up, before he blinks up to the sky and John smiles down at him and says, "Hey, there. How you doing?"

Rodney groans, rubs at his face and in the shadow of his hand John can see that his eyes are still faintly glowing, are sharp, electric blue. And then he's pushing himself up, one hand braced on John's shoulder for balance. His voice is jagged, "I'm soggy and I itch all over. How do you think I am?"

John shifts, keeps his voice low so that the others won't hear, "You shocked me earlier. You shocked me before. Who-what?"

And just like that Rodney goes tense, pulls away. His voice is coarse, sharp as a jag of electricity itself, "You don't want to know. Believe me. It's best if you just...just stay away from me. That's best. Okay?" And then he's stalking away, calling over his shoulder, "We need to get back to the path. Come on."

John gapes after him, open mouthed, and Ronon grunts in agreement before stalking off after Rodney. And one by one the others follow, leaving John to bring up the rear. He's trying to figure out what's going on with the other man, trying to ignore the ache in his chest that he isn't entirely sure is from nearly drowning, and barely notices it when he starts getting oddly sleepy.

hr

The flowers are really, really red. Like fire, like an ocean of blood that he's wading through. He's not sure how much longer he can keep going, how long he can keep slogging through this sea of crimson before he falls and lets it swallow him.

Blood seems familiar, too. Like nothing else besides Rodney has. Blood and fire and death, and he wonders what kind of life he's led, that he can smell brimstone in his nostrils, feel blood under his fingernails. It kind of makes him glad that he doesn't remember.

He tries to take another step, and exhaustion makes his legs too heavy to lift. He feels his foot drag on something, goes down to his knees hard, and catches himself on his hands when he falls forward. The flowers are right there, right under his nose, and he takes an involuntarily deep breath.

And then he's falling sideways, collapsing, and right before he hits the ground he's aware that someone catches him. He looks up into Rodney's eyes, huge and blue and falls into them, away from the red. He winks, right before sleep reaches up and claims him.

hr

He wakes up to angry voices, to Ford, "What the hell are you, man? You're the only one that didn't fall asleep, and you hauled us all over of there. Want to explain how the hell you managed that, Rodney?" And there's something vicious and sharp in the other man's voice. Something terrible and hateful. It jerks John out of any last daze sleep might have left him in.

He jerks, pushing himself up, and trying to take stock of the situation. Ronon's still crashed out beside him, but Carson and Ford are both standing, the sets of their shoulders furious and angry. And Rodney's standing opposite them, arms crossed, chin up, eyes blazing in the twilight dark, spitting, "I saved your asses, and this is what I get? This is the thanks I get?"

Ford's snarling, "Yeah, yeah, it is. Until we get some kind of reasonable explanation for this shit."

Rodney takes a deep breath, and his eyes glow brighter, almost crackle in the swallowing dark. "What do you want me to say? Huh? I saved your lives, what does it matter how I did it? Would you rather I had let you die?"

And John tenses, pushing himself to his feet, and sees Rodney briefly flick his eyes towards him. He opens his mouth, trying to find the words to make this stop, to make someone tell him what's going on, and Carson talks over him, "You're a Replicator, aren't you, lad?"

Rodney jerks his head to the side like he's been slapped, and his voice, when he speaks, is crackling with either emotion or electricity, "No." The denial is vehement, soft but firm, and John doesn't even know what a Replicator is, but he believes that Rodney's not one without hesitation. "No, I'm not."

"You're a machine!"

And the flare of Rodney's eyes pretty much negates any argument he could make against that. John watches him flinch again, and suddenly he's had enough. He shoves his way in front of Rodney, glaring at Ford and Carson. "Enough. That's enough."

For a moment, silence, and then Ford grimaces and falls back, Carson following a moment later. John exhales a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and turns just in time to see Rodney hang his head and wrap his arms around himself. He reaches out, gets a hold of Rodney's shoulders and squeezes, says, "Hey. Hey, it's okay. I don't care."

For a long moment Rodney is still under his hands, and then the other man looks up, almost shy. He takes a half step forward, voice still soft, "Really?"

John rubs circles into Rodney's shoulders with his thumbs, smiles and tugs him a little bit closer. By this point, he's used to having questions that Rodney can't or won't answer. It doesn't bother him nearly so much as it did a few days ago. "Really. Now how bout you tell me what the hell happened with the flowers?"

hr

Ronon doesn't wake up from the drugged sleep they had all fallen into until sometime in the middle of the night, and John only knows because he was keeping watch, if not over the camp, then over Rodney. The other man had curled against him, when John had finally given up trying to get any kind of explanation out of him, and John had cast one last dark look at Carson and Ford before letting Rodney squirm in close.

He wonders, briefly, when he hears Ronon stirring, if he's going to have the same argument with Ronon that he faced with the others. But Ronon just jerks into a sitting position, blinks, and grunts in John's general direction before flopping back down and settling into a more natural sleep.

John still keeps watch till day break, just in case there's an attack of potential robot hate in the middle of the night. He decidedly does not consider that the only one of his companions that feels completely human is a robot.

hr

They find the path again the next day. Well, Ronon finds it, and the rest of them follow behind him. John walks behind the rest of them, keeping a hand on Rodney, keeping his eyes on their companions. He doesn't like the way they look over their shoulders every so often, the distrusting slant of their mouths and the hard, flatness behind their eyes.

Rodney has to notice they're doing it as well, but he keeps his chin up and just scowls back at them. It makes John grin, involuntarily.

It's midday by the time the time he catches sight of the huge spires rising over the horizon. He freezes at the sight of it, stares at the towers, glowing golden, silver, green, blue, wreathed with sunlight. He only realizes he's gaping, open mouthed, when Rodney tugs on his sleeve, says, "Just wait till you get closer."

John slides his eyes towards the other man, surprised to find Rodney smiling up at him, like he's more interested in John's reaction to the city than the city itself. It makes John smile back, makes him sling an arm around Rodney's shoulders, drop his voice low and murmur, "This close enough?"

He likes the way Rodney flushes, the way the other man licks his lips, darting his eyes down to John's mouth and then back up to his eyes. The man's almost stuttering, "I didn't-that wasn't-I wasn't trying to-I mean-"

John smiles wider, says, "No?" and tugs Rodney in close, fits his other arm around his waist. Rodney's got his hands braced on John's chest, is breathing short and shallow and all John can see is the shine of moisture on Rodney's lower lip. "Closer?"

And then Rodney's whispering, "Oh, yes, please," and John leans forward till their forehead are pressed together, grinning when Rodney tilts his face further up and makes an indignant little noise in the back of his throat. He wonders what it feels like to kiss a robot, and then he wonders what it's like to kiss anyone.

It's so easy to forget that he doesn't remember anything, and he thinks that should worry him more than it does, but that keeps slipping from his mind as well. It's so easy to take things for granted here, to just let himself get pulled along to the City of the Ancients, to let these strangers join him. Rodney's the only thing that feels real.

John angling down, feeling Rodney's breath warm and wet across his mouth, when Ford snaps, "Are you two coming or what? We're almost to the city." And Rodney makes an aggravated sound, low in the back of his throat.

hr

By the time they reach the city it's dark, and the entire place is glowing. John can't help but stare, tilt his head back and try to absorb all he can of the gigantic, impossible fortress before them. He thinks he can see patterns, swirls of light that bend and fold in on themselves over and over again, but he isn't completely sure.

They all bunch up by the huge, round gate, and it's the first time that Carson and Ford have been in close proximity to Rodney all day. John tries to keep himself between them, distracted by the beauty of the city by Rodney's tense discomfort to one side, and the other two's aggression on the other. Ronon, at least, still seems as marvelously indifferent to Rodney as he ever was.

There's strange signs carved into the edges of the gate, and John recognizes them as the symbols that had lined the path that led them here. He's just reaching out, thinking that he'll knock, or something, when a small, gray man pops up out of nowhere.

John startles, takes a quick step back into Rodney's reassuring bulk, blurts out, "Pants!"

The little, gray man blinks up at him. He's got huge black eyes, and, well, a huge head in general, on his wrinkly little body. And he's wearing no pants. He hears a muffled snort of laughter that sounds like Ford's voice behind him, and then Rodney's shoving him out of the way, crossing his arms and glaring down at the naked, gray, wrinkly, tiny, man.

It may be the most impressive thing that John's yet seen, when Rodney speaks without any sign of the horror that John's experiencing, "We're here to see your Leader. It's important, and I'm not explaining it to you, because you wouldn't understand anyway. So just take us to her."

For a long time the pantsless man just stares at Rodney, and when he speaks his voice is nakedly calculating, "And what do you offer us in return for these demands of yours being met, stranger in our lands?"

He's surprised, again, when Rodney kneels, when the other man's eyes flare so brightly that it almost puts the city's lights to shame. The gray man makes a surprised sound, says something in a language that John can't decipher and starts to reach a long fingered hand out towards Rodney.

John's not even aware of reaching out until he's got Rodney by the collar, pulling him backwards. He's certainly not aware of the low, warning growl in his throat until the gray man looks up at him and blinks again. Rodney's staring up at him, too, and John can't tell if the expression on his face is irritation or not. He keeps his fingers curled around the collar of Rodney's shirt, in any case, says, "So you gonna let us come in, or what?"

There's another long moment, where the man stares at Rodney, and then he shrugs, and motions them to follow him into the city. John hauls Rodney up by the elbow, and keeps his hand there when they follow the gray man, surprised by this protective flare of emotion, the sharp edge to his voice when he says, "What was that about?"

Rodney shrugs, says, "The Asgard are obsessed with knowledge. He wasn't going to turn down a chance to figure out what I am." John scowls.

hr

The Asgard man deposits them in front of the doors to one of the towers, whispers to the guard stationed in front of the door before disappearing with one last meaningful look in Rodney's direction. John glares after him, and crowds in closer to Rodney, just in case this new guard decides to take an unwelcome liking to his-

He cuts off that thought, mostly because he doesn't know how to end it. The new guard is staring hard at him, arms crossed over his green uniform, white eyebrows raised. John speaks first, edging a foot in front of Rodney, "So, you're going to take us to your Leader?" Which seems funny, though he can't remember why it should be.

The guard snorts, rolls his eyes, and says, "The great Doctor Weir is sleeping right now. You'll be able to see her in the morning, if she wishes. I'm just supposed to be finding you some place to sleep. Apparently Hermiod's taken some kind of liking to you." He says it while looking at Rodney, and John sharpens his glare. The man ignores him, continues, "Though where I'm supposed to find five rooms I don't know. This isn't exactly the Daedalus, we don't have an infinite amount of space."

And John's not really sure what that means, and neither does he care, he smiles, tries to keep his voice pleasant, "We'll only need four, if that makes it any easier." Because he's not leaving Rodney alone in this strange place where he's already got a fan club.

The guard raises his eyebrows even higher, and then shrugs, "Fine with me." And then he reaches up and presses the radio in his ear, says with a distracted look on his face, "Lorne, this is Caldwell, I've got some guests for you to tuck in."

hr

So, technically, it's the first time he's ever been alone with Rodney, no matter that it always kind of feels like they're the only two people around. From the moment the door closes behind them all he can think about it the other man beside him, close and warm and right there.

Rodney's scanning the room, hands on his hips, and makes a disgruntled sound.

John startles in surprise, because he's pretty goddamn pleased right now, himself, and says, "What?" He wonders if maybe he shouldn't have assumed that Rodney would want to be in his room. Besides keeping each other warm a few nights in a row and what he had sincerely been hoping would be a kiss earlier they hadn't exactly done anything more than friendly.

But Rodney just motions disgustedly at the bed, huffs, "That's ridiculous. I refuse to believe that these people are the geniuses we've been led to assume that they are if this is the best they can do for a bed. Look at it. Will your legs even fit on this?"

He can't help the smile that stretches across his face, especially when Rodney stomps over to the bed and lifts up the mattress, like he expects there to be a fold out section hidden from sight. His smile becomes something darker, hungrier, when Rodney drops the mattress and then sits down on it, flops backwards.

It is a ridiculously tiny bed, but John's only noting that absently. He walks forward, till his shins bump into the bed, and then he crawls on, stands on his knees over Rodney, feeling the dip in the mattress. Rodney gasps beneath him, eyes fluttering, and John lets himself fall forward, hands on either side of Rodney's head. He says, surprised by how thick his voice has gotten, "I want-"

And Rodney's nodding, reaching up, sliding a hand up over the curve of John's hip, his other around the back of John's neck. He's saying, "Okay. Yes. Okay." And John sinks down onto his elbows, thumbs settling into the hollows on either side of Rodney's jaw, tilting Rodney's face up, letting himself sink down into the welcoming heat of the other man's mouth.

There's a part of him that expects this to be familiar, as well. But it's not. This is the sharp thrill of new discovery down his spine, this is a hunger he's never been able to feed before being sated. This is breathing into Rodney's mouth and feeling the other man's chest expand and the itch to discover all this unfamiliar skin under his fingers burning him up from the inside.

And he doesn't understand how he can feel like he's been waiting for this forever, when he's only known Rodney a few days. He doesn't care. It's insignificant compared to chasing the whimpering sounds Rodney's making back into his mouth.

Rodney's tracing clever fingers across the nape of John's neck, up into his hair, down under the collar of his shirt. He's got his other hand flattened low on John's back, rubbing circles, pushing his shirt up a little higher with each slow clockwise movement. John feels each circle through his entire body, like Rodney's winding him up.

He groans, nips at the corners of the other man's mouth, soothing the sting with slow slides of his tongue, Rodney's whining already, a needy desperate sound that slides down John's spine like liquid fire, that makes it impossible not to rock into the solid, wonderful friction that is Rodney. And he needs skin, needs the slide of it against his own, so desperately his hands shake when he rocks his weight back onto his hips.

Rodney's shirt is soft blue, dark and dull compared to his eyes, and John tugs on it. He thinks that this would be easier without Rodney sliding his own hand forward, flattening it over John's stomach, sliding his fingers up through the thick hair on John's chest. John tightens his thighs around Rodney's hips, and gives up trying to get the shirt off.

He's pleasantly vindicated when he grabs handfuls of it and yanks and it rips down the middle. Rodney's protesting, but John's too busy scrambling to get his own shirt off, getting his elbows tangled in his sleeves in his haste to get hands on skin, all that pale, perfect skin.

Something of the desperate hunger in his gut must show on his face, because Rodney gasps, "Christ, John," And John stares down at the other man, his swollen red mouth, the flush high in his cheeks, the blue glow across his skin, his eyes brighter than John's ever seen them. He lets the hunger show, lets it all show, even though he has no idea where it's all coming from, and bends forward again.

He kisses Rodney, wild and careless, feels Rodney push up off the bed against him, feels Rodney's hands slide across his shoulders, ribs, down onto his ass. He groans, again, because Rodney's got nice hands, clever hands, and Rodney's hard against his stomach, and it's so good.

He slides his mouth, trails bites across Rodney's jaw, down the line of his neck, over his pulse, pounding desperately. Rodney's squeezing his ass, rocking up against him, making the best sounds John's ever heard. God, he'd hoped that Rodney was vocal in bed. Each whimper, each moan, each increasingly ragged plea is pushing John over the edge, is filling him up with white fire.

He bites and sucks at Rodney's neck, all that pale skin turning pink, red, purple under his ministrations. Works a hand down between them, scrambling desperately at zippers and buttons and listening to Rodney babble, "Oh, oh, yes, yes, okay, yes, John, oh-"

And it's not like John's even had a chance to play with his own dick, but he figures there must be some things you just know. Because he's curling his fingers around Rodney's cock, and the other man is thrusting up into his grip, the movement of his hips lifting them both off the bed and John smiles against the bruised skin of Rodney's throat, slides his mouth higher, wants a mark right under Rodney's chin, where everyone will be able to see it.

And then Rodney's groaning, "Hey, you're-wait-I can-" and pushing them onto their sides. John whines him protest, because he'd been quite comfortable where he was, but then Rodney's sliding his hand down beside John's, fisting his erection, slow and careful and with a little twist that breaks John a little more each time he does it.

He gasps, staring down between their bodies, his narrower hand and hairy knuckles, Rodney's long fingers, everything bathed in blue light. Hears his own voice, hoarse and strung out, "Come with me." And then Rodney's grunting, his free hand curving around the back of John's neck, dragging him in close and kissing him.

Rodney sounds deliciously breathless, almost laughing, mumbling into John's mouth, "Trying to."

John swallows the desperate sounds the other man makes, feels him jerk and the hot pulse of liquid across his hand. But it's not until Rodney slides forward, rubbing full body against him, sucking on his bottom lip, that John follows him over the edge.

He just clings, for a long moment, pleased when Rodney sprawls out half on top of him. Stares down at the faint blue glow on his chest that means Rodney's still awake, and says, "I meant, come with me tomorrow. If this Weir woman manages to get me and Ronon back home. I want you to come."

For a beat, silence, and then he can feel Rodney smiling against his shoulder. "Okay."

hr

He startles awake in the morning, not sure why he's suddenly not sleeping anymore. He's warm and comfortable, though his right arm is asleep and tingling. Rodney's sprawled halfway across him, head tucked in under John's chin, arm stretched across John's chest, hand fisted in his hair even in sleep.

John stretches, flexes his fingers to try to work some feeling back into them, and is rewarded with stinging needles. Rodney mumbles inarticulately into his chest, tugs on John's hair, though he doesn't think it's an intentional gesture. Its meaning is still clear enough, stay still, go back to sleep, and John's perfectly happy with that.

He lets his eyes drift closed, lets himself sink back into Rodney's welcome warmth, and that's when someone knocks pointedly on the door. John curses, because fuck, but it had been nice to be sleeping in an actual bed, even if it was tiny. He'd been enjoying Rodney.

His voice is hoarse when he calls for whoever's knocking to hold on, and begins trying to extricate himself from Rodney. When he gently disentangles their legs Rodney startles, clings tighter for an instant as his eyelashes flutter against John's skin, before he relaxes, lets John slide from their bed. He's still blinking, eyes big and soft and sleepy, when he says, "John?"

John reaches out, slides his hand across the soft strands of Rodney's hair as he moves towards the door, smiling when Rodney leans into the curve of his palm. It's not exactly a big room, and the door slides open when he approaches it, and he finds himself staring at Caldwell. And it's, unfortunately, only then that he remembers that he's forgotten to grab any pants. Or a shirt. Or even socks.

There's a long moment where Caldwell stares at him, gaze slipping down before jerking back up again. He's not sure if the other man is blushing or not. He certainly is when Rodney sits up in bed, calls, voice sleepy and thick, "What's wrong with you people? Don't you know it's far too early in the morning for visiting hours? I was sleeping."

Caldwell actually flinches back, and John narrows his eyes, because there's disgust in the other man's expression, and John's getting really, really tired of seeing that directed at Rodney. He bristles, braces a hand against the doorframe and leans over, blocks Caldwell's view of the interior of the room. Drawls, "Something you needed?"

The man is scowling, voice sharp, "Doctor Weir has agreed to see you and your friends. She'll receive one of you a day, starting with you, this morning." There's a pause, and then, "Get dressed. I'll escort you when you're ready."

Behind him Rodney snaps, "What was that all about?"

And Caldwell pulls another face when Rodney follows on John's heels out of the room twenty minutes later, and for a moment the two men just glare at each other. And then Rodney jerks his head up, unintentionally displaying the bruising down the left side of his neck, and says, "Take it up with Hermiod if you don't like it, but I'm going with him."

hr

Doctor Weir is nothing like what John had been expecting. He'd been imagining an imposing woman, an Amazon or maybe someone matronly, or something. But she's just a paper thin, petite redhead, with big eyes and a bigger smile. Her smile falters for a half second when she spots Rodney behind John's shoulder, but she recovers herself admirably. Says, "Hello. My name's Elizabeth Weir, I understand you think we can help you somehow?"

And John shifts, widens his stance and shoves his hands in his pockets, figures he might as well look calm, even if he's not, "Yeah. We hear you're the best, and well, we've got kind of a big problem." She hums, leans her elbows on the table and raises an eyebrow and he continues, because she seems to be requesting more information, "A few days ago I crash landed here. And I need to go back. To where I was."

She does the humming thing again, says, "And where is that?"

He'd kind of been hoping that she wouldn't ask that, because he still doesn't remember anything beyond knowing that he shouldn't be here. He shrugs, drawls, "Yeah, I was kind of hoping you might be able to help me with that, too."

She smiles, it looks almost fond, and he wonders why that is, "As much as we'd like to help you, I'm afraid there's not much we can do. You see, we're trapped here ourselves. I don't know if you've heard about the Wraith Empress or not...but she and her people have us effectively pinned to this planet."

And John says, "Oh," because he doesn't know what else to say to that. He's not sure why he thought these people would have been able to help him, but it had been a deep, unwavering belief, and now he doesn't know what to do or say. He supposes he's lucky he's got Rodney at his side then, who always seems to have something to say.

Rodney's sighing, rolling his eyes, huffing, "You better tell us everything you know about her, if we're going to be expected to save your asses to get John home."

hr

They end up spending four full days in the City of the Ancients, most of the first spent with Weir and her military advisors Caldwell and Lorne. It's boring as hell, descriptions of the Wraith Empress' giant city-ship, her nonexistent weaknesses, how long it would take them to get there and get back.

He entertains himself with Rodney, who seems to be paying a good deal more attention than he is. He stands to stretch from the meeting table they'd moved to around noon, cracks his neck from side to side and then braces his hands on Rodney's shoulders, squeezes.

Rodney's tense under his hands, shoulders tied in knots, and John frowns, squeezes again and rubs circles with his thumbs into the back of Rodney's neck. And then he has to try very hard not to grin when Rodney makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat and leans his head down and to the side until it's resting against John's arm.

He only realizes that everyone in the room is staring, shocked and uncomfortable, when Lorne coughs into his hand. John looks from face to dumbstruck face, narrows his eyes and tightens his grip on Rodney's shoulders. Drawls, "Something the matter?"

It's Weir that answers, that manages to wipe the disturbed look off of her face first. She waves a vague hand in their direction, her mouth crooking up in the corner though it doesn't feel like she's motivated by amusement, "Among our people there are...laws. About certain behaviors." She says it like she's discussing a bad smell, and her expression matches that.

John can feel Rodney tense under his hands, watches his fists clench on the table. John shifts closer, till his stomach is pressed against the back of Rodney's head, and says with a grin, "Good thing we're not your people, then, huh?" He doesn't move for the rest of the afternoon, playing his fingers up and down Rodney's neck, and stares hard and flat at the others any time they look his way.

hr

When they finally get back to their room Rodney gets him against the wall as soon as they're through the door, cracking the back of John's head into the wall, and knocking their knees together. His mouth is hot and desperate, and John groans, gets a hand tucked into the pocket in the back of Rodney's pants and the other curled around the back of his neck. Tries to tug him closer, an impossibility with the wall at his back and Rodney plastered against him.

And then Rodney's sliding down, murmuring dirty and low as he goes, "Gonna blow you now."

John shivers, spreads his legs and tries to brace himself against the wall and doesn't even try putting up a fight. Not with Rodney on his knees, long fingers working at John's pants, big blue eyes turned up, watching John's face, brimming with hungry want.

He's already half-hard when Rodney leans forward and presses a kiss over his belly button, then on the smoother skin over the junction of his hip and thigh, and that pushes him the rest of the way into blinding hardness. He gets a hand on Rodney's head, runs his fingers through the other man's hair, slow, over and over again as Rodney traces feather light kisses across his belly.

He thinks that the teasing touches might undo him, he can already feel the muscles in his thighs jumping and quivering, wonders how long it was since the last time he had sex, before yesterday anyway. He rolls his head back, stares up at the ceiling and gasps, "Christ." Feels the smug twist of Rodney's mouth on the skin of his hips, the warm quick slide of Rodney's tongue across overheated flesh. "Christ, Rodney."

And then Rodney's there, the warm wet slide of his mouth over the tip of John's cock an answer to every prayer John's ever made. His hips jerk without any input from him, and Rodney makes a sound that John can't translate around his cock in Rodney's mouth. He shudders, feels his fingers curl up against Rodney's scalp.

It's easy to get lost in the wet heat of Rodney's mouth, in the wicked curl of his tongue. He can feel his knees giving, reaches out and grabs Rodney's shoulder, digs his fingers in, he's sure hard enough to bruise. And Rodney hums, vibrates, and John feels it through his entire body, out to the tips of his fingers and the base of his feet.

It's too much, and he thrusts desperately into Rodney's mouth, hears the other man make another sound, feels Rodney's fingers curl around his hips, not restraining, not even trying to gentle him. They're just there, another point of red hot touch, and John gives up on the wall, curls over Rodney and comes hard.

He makes it to the ground without breaking an arm only by virtue of Rodney helping him in a less than graceful collapse. He curls up against the other man, breathes in his smell, soaks in his warmth and becomes gradually aware that Rodney's moving, his arm jerking and John pushes himself up far enough to be able to see Rodney jack himself.

He groans, arches up and kisses Rodney, tastes himself in the other man's mouth, and feels Rodney quake when he gets himself off.

hr

They have a lot of sex the next three days. John is absolutely fine with this, and compared to the constant trekking through woods and being attacked by random people and falling in rivers it's heaven. He tries to convince Rodney to just stay in their room the entire time, because he's pretty sure he could convince Lorne to bring them meals, but Rodney insists on talking to the Hermiod a few hours every day.

The little gray man, at least, doesn't seem bothered by John's presence. Doesn't bat an eyelash when John gets bored watching them run scans on Rodney and flops down, settles his head on Rodney's thigh and takes a nap. Doesn't squirm or give them dirty looks when John gets irritated with the way the other people in the room keep looking at them, and noses Rodney's neck to the side and sucks a bruise right below his ear in front of everyone.

Caldwell pretty much ignores them the entire time, and he doesn't see Weir again, but Lorne comes around every now and then. He seems less troubled by their apparent breach of protocol than most of the rest of them. John starts wondering, eventually, if maybe this has something to do with the way Lorne watches the man they call Parrish.

He doesn't exactly give it a lot of thought. Neither does he worry about where the others are, though sometimes he catches sight of Ronon through the crowd, a head above everyone else. Once he almost calls the other man over, and then he remembers the warmth of Rodney's thigh beside his own, and decides not to.

This feels rare, precious, like he's stolen time that should never have been his to begin with, and he intends to make the most of it.

hr

He'd been expecting fanfare on the morning they left, but no one seemed very concerned with them leaving. Hermiod had led them back to the round gate they'd entered through, and said an oddly exclusive goodbye to Rodney before disappearing back into the city.

He had also, somehow, just assumed that it would be he and Rodney going on the mission to kill the Wraith Empress. But Ronon, Ford, and Carson are all there, looking ever bit as well rested and well fed as he and Rodney, but significantly less well fucked.

There's no explanation for why they've decided to tag along, and it doesn't bother John as much as he's pretty sure it should. They're going because he's going, just like they all ended up going to the City of the Ancient's because he had. It's weird, but he doesn't actually have any reason to complain about it, and so he doesn't.

Besides, he'd kind of missed Ronon's comforting, silent, strength. And when Ford and Carson weren't trying to start something with Rodney they weren't that bad, either.

They're walking cross country away from the city, with only 'go towards the mountains' for directions, and John would be pissed off about that, but Rodney had woken him up with a blow job, and his good mood had yet to fade. Besides, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the Wraith Empress' lair wasn't all that far away.

Rodney's talking to Ronon, somehow managed to hold a conversation all by himself, and John lets his mind drift, letting himself fall into a rhythm, his steps matched to the rise and fall cadence of Rodney's voice. "-no, I know how we can play, look, I'll say a number and you can grunt if you think it's prime and rumble if you think it's not. Really, it's easy-"

Five minutes later Rodney is waving his hands around, almost bouncing with glee. John's not sure if Ronon's getting them right so much as he's just making sounds and Rodney is interpreting as he wants. He's not sure it matters. He likes seeing Rodney happy, likes the way it makes his eyes bigger, the flush it gives his cheeks, the way he smiles with his whole body.

Of course, then Ford decides he wants to play, as well. And John has to smile when Rodney bristles momentarily, before taking a deep breath and relaxing. Especially when Rodney offers to let Carson join as well, voice only just tense enough for it to be noticeable.

He tries not to laugh when, ten minutes later, Ford has somehow managed to get every single one of his numbers wrong. Manages it until Rodney nudges him and grins like a loon. Ford is silent and pouts the rest of the day.

Rodney snuggles up to him at the fire that night, sits down and manages to get tucked in against John's side and steal the rabbit that John was eating all without any visible effort. John sucks the grease off his own fingers, and watches with amusement as Rodney finishes off the last two bites and then butts his head onto John's shoulder. He lets his own head lean against Rodney's, says, "Tired?"

"Why do we have to walk everywhere?" Rodney sounds annoyed, and sleepy, and John shrugs. Déjà vu reaches out and shakes him, the way it does sometimes in conversations with Rodney, things he knows he's said before, somehow, although that doesn't seem possible. He tugs and pulls until Rodney's sprawled in his lap, the other man making soft sounds of protest before relaxing,

They fall asleep like that, John leaning against a tree, Rodney leaning against him, the others curled around the fire. He thinks family and doesn't know why, or why it makes him feel so warm inside. Then again maybe the warmth is just a side effect of Rodney pressed all against him.

hr

He wakes to screams.

At first he thinks it's a dream, a horrible dream, full of smoke and blood and sounds never meant to be torn from a human throat. And then Rodney's shaking him, the other man's eyes blazing in the midnight blackness, yelling right into his face, "Run! John, you have to run, you have to-"

He only catches a glimpse of the thing that grabs Rodney, pale skin and long lank hair and the gleam of light off too many teeth. Rodney curses, loud and bitter and John is on his feet without remembering how he got there, blade in one hand, gun in the other, bellowing his anger.

The fire has been scattered, it's ignited some of the underbrush and casts a glow like the flames of hell itself over the night. John can see shapes like demons moving through it, tall and robed, moving with impossible speed, in impossible numbers. And the screaming. God, the screaming is dragging on.

It snaps something inside him when he realizes it's Ford and Carson's voices that he's hearing.

He yells again, striking out desperately in the dark, feels the edge of his knife catch something solid, and he pushes and twists and throws the demon thing to the side, pushes forward towards where he had last seen Rodney. He's thinking, still half caught up in sleep, about monsters that suck your soul out through your chest, about Rodney, being drug away from him in this nightmare. About the screams.

There's a voice like a hiss beside his ear, inside his head and all around him, "Here! This is the one we were sent for. Take him. Kill the others."

And then there are impossibly strong hands seizing his arms, dragging him backwards, and he thrashes against them, roars, "Rodney! Rodney! Let me go, you fuckers, Rodney!"

And impossibly, there he is. Rodney breaks from the milling crowd of monsters, and his eyes are the brightest things in the world, his clothing torn, and John can see his mouth moving, but can't hear him over the roar of anguish in his own skull. Not when the monsters rise up behind him, more hands than John can count, not when they swallow Rodney up, close in over him.

John curses, struggles, feels his shoulders strain painfully, and then darkness rises up and takes him, accompanied by a burst of pain in the back of his head.

hr

When his eyes snap open, when he moves from unconscious to instantly awake, he finds himself staring up into a face eerily similar to the Wraith Queen that he killed what seems like years ago. He thinks this one might be smiling. It's hard to tell with all the teeth.

She blinks, when she notices that he's awake, reaches a hand towards his face and he jerks towards her, snapping his teeth without thinking. He's only distantly aware that he's not restrained, that it's just her and him and a few guards in this strange, almost organic looking room they're in. He rolls out of the bed they had him laid out on, looking for weapons, looking for anything.

Looking for Rodney, and trying to ignore the pulse of fear up his spine, the sourness in his throat when he's forced to concede that Rodney is no where in the room.

The woman moves towards him, and this time he's sure she's smiling, purrs in an unnaturally deep voice, "I have been waiting for you, John. Did you know that you killed my sister? Even among your heathen race surely you understand my anguish over her death? My desire to...avenge her?"

John couldn't care any less. He stops scanning the room for weapons, because there are none, and instead takes a step towards her, letting the anger brimming in his chest well up. He enjoys the brief, barely there flare of fear in her eyes, the way she sways a step backwards before catching herself. His voice is almost unrecognizable to his own ears when he growls, "You killed them. You killed Rodney."

She waves a hand, dismissive, says, "Well, they were hardly of any interest to me, were they? And my legions do grow so hungry for fresh meat. Do you begrudge me feeding my people?"

He's not even aware that he's lunged for her until he's there, his hands around her throat, his weight driving them both to the ground. He can feel her larynx under his fingers, her throat swallowing convulsively, and he braces a hand on her chin and gets the other behind her head. He twists and pulls and feels the snap up his arms more than he hears it.

She makes a sound like she's surprised, right before she dies.

hr

He's seeing the guards through a haze of red. Rolling to his feet above the Wraith Empress' dead body, shaking his shoulders loose and barring his teeth at them. They're both bigger than him, all teeth and lank hair and bulging muscles, and they come at him, roaring their anger.

One tackles him, drives him to the floor, and he grits his teeth, grabs for the knife he saw strapped to the monster's thigh. Its blood is almost burning hot pouring down over his hand when he slams the blade up under its ribs and twists. It makes a gargling sound, and John twists, shoves it off and springs to his feet again.

The other guard is there, and John leads with the knife blade, sliding it up and in and perfect, right into the bottom of the monster's jaw. It jerks, spasms as he scrambles its brains, and he yanks the blade free as it goes limp.

He wipes the bloody blade against his pants, one side, then the other, readjusts his grip on it. And then he smiles, and walks out the door, into the hallway beyond. There's guards running towards him, drawn no doubt by the racket, and he cocks his head to the side and watches them come.

hr

He loses track of time, of bodies, of everything but blood and the blade in his hand. There's blood in his nose and in his mouth, salty and thick, and his eyes burn from the sweat running down from his forehead. He's muscles ache, and his ribs are flaring acidic pain every time he moves. None of it really matters.

They killed Rodney, and he's going to kill them all for taking away the one real thing he had in this godforsaken place. He's going to paint all their walls with blood, flood their halls, drown them all with it. And he's vaguely aware that this anger is something that should worry him, something all consuming and old and he just doesn't care. They killed Rodney.

He's not sure when they start running from him instead of towards him, but he likes the change of pace. Likes watching them flee down the hallway in front of him, likes being able to taste their fear, under the blood on his tongue. He stalks after them, slow and unstoppable as the tide, is perfectly content to follow them until he's got them all.

"John!"

He startles, because he'd almost forgotten his own name. freezes in mid step and pivots slowly. And for a long moment all he can do is stare, not daring to believe what his eyes are telling him, feeling his breath get hung up in his chest. He takes a step forward, feels the knife slip from his fingers, and then he's tripping over his feet, running.

Rodney's smeared with mud and blood, his clothes hanging in ragged strips off his frame, eyes blazing. He looks exhausted, he looks dirty, he looks worried. But mostly, he looks alive. John hits him still running, drives them both to the ground and wraps himself around Rodney.

He can hear his own voice, from somewhere far away, "Rodney, Rodney, Rodney, Rodney, Rodney-" and he feels the other man shift under him. Feels a warm hand slide up his back, is vaguely aware of fingers carding through his hair, can smell the faintly electric scent of Rodney, below all the blood. He chokes out, "I thought you were dead. I thought they'd sucked out your soul."

And Rodney is squirming, pushing up into a sitting position and John just wraps his arms and legs around him and holds on. He's drowning in touch and smell and turns his own mouth to the line of Rodney's jaw, reacquaints himself with the taste of the other man's skin.

When Rodney gets hands on his shoulders, pushing him back, he clings for another moment, and then leans back, meets Rodney's eyes. Rodney's smiling, a crook of his mouth up in the corners, says, "Not human, remember? No soul here." He sounds pleased, almost inordinately so, and John's pretty sure that giddy is not the usual response to being soulless.

"So you're okay?" he can't seem to stop sliding his hands over Rodney's face, watching the way the blue light dances across his fingers. Rodney opens his mouth, presumably to answer, and John leans in and kisses him, pulls away and then thinks better of it and rocks back forward, takes Rodney's mouth, hard and desperate.

Rodney makes a sound in the back of his throat, and they're sliding back towards the ground. John's aware that this is not the place to be doing this, but can't seem to stop himself. He'll admit to not trying very hard.

He's got his hands up under Rodney's shirt, his tongue in the other man's mouth, when someone pointedly clears their throat above them. John can feel the answering growl in his own chest, jerks up, kneeling over Rodney with one hand braced on his chest.

Ronon is grinning down at them, and Rodney gasps out, "We came to rescue you."

hr

It's almost easy getting out of the world-ship with Ronon along. Mostly, they just follow him out. John keeps Rodney behind Ronon, keeps a hand on the other man's back, reassuring himself. Rodney's shirt is nothing but tatters across his back, he can see pale skin, bruised purple and black, can see red welts raised across his shoulders, down his back.

Rodney might be alive, but he's not fine, and it makes John's hackles raise all over again. His eyes keep getting drawn to the wounds, he keeps getting distracted from Rodney's rushed explanation of what happened after John was drug away.

Carson and Ford had both been killed, had been torn apart by the monstrous things. Ronon had killed everything that had gotten close to him, had been a whirlwind of death and blood. And while they had tried their damndest to kill Rodney, they'd been unable to. And after Ronon had killed all the monsters and Rodney had managed to not die, they'd come after John.

They walk out of the city-ship, the three of them, and they don't leave much behind besides dead bodies and fires. John would have been happier if they'd left behind nothing at all, but it was three of them against an entire army, and he figures he's got about the best he can hope for.

Besides, they've fulfilled their half of the bargain with Weir, and he wants to go home.

hr

John's really not sure what they would have done without Ronon along. The man can find his way anywhere, all Rodney has to say is "Take us back to the City of the Ancients," and Ronon grunts and starts walking. John is willing to concede that possibly Ronon could be leading them in circles, but he kind of doubts it.

They end up stopping when they come across a stream, mostly because Rodney plants himself on the spot, crosses his arms over his chest and refuses to budge. It's almost dark anyway, and John wants the blood off, wants to sleep. He's yanking his clothes off before Ronon's even got a fire going, only realizing now that he's caked in blood.

His shirt and pants are stiff with it. So are his socks, and he'd write the boots off for a lose, except he doesn't have any to replace them. And so he just sets them aside, and wades out into the stream, surprised by how deep and cool it is. In the middle it's a little over waist deep, and he lets the chill of it ease the ache in his muscles, ducks down under the water and scrubs at his face.

When he raises his head, sucking in a deep breath, Rodney is watching him. He's sitting by the edge of the water, elbows on his knees, head cocked to the side. The intensity of his gaze is almost a physical caress, and John grins, rubs a hand over the back of his neck.

And then he frowns, turns to face Rodney, says, "What about you? Can you-I mean, water?" He remembers too well Rodney bent over, shaking. Can still smell the electric sharpness in the air. God. He'd do anything to never have to see that again. He scrubs once more at his chest, and then starts wading out of the water, wondering if he can touch Rodney when he's wet.

But Rodney's just shrugging, "It doesn't hurt my skin. I swallowed some, before. In the river. It disagreed with my constitution." And John rolls his eyes, and splashes the other man, waves impatiently for him to get in. Rodney hesitates for just a second, shifts, "It's pretty bad. I don't know if you want-if you should see."

He feels his hands ball into fists, feels a muscle in his jaw twitch, and then he's on shore, pulling at Rodney's shirt until it just comes apart in his hands. The bruising is bad, though it probably looks worse than it is. Rodney's skin is pale enough that even the lightest smudge of color looks deep and painful. Even knowing that, John hisses, drags careful fingers over the other man's skin.

His voice sounds far away when he says, "Lets get you cleaned up, okay?"

hr

They walk for two days to get back to the City of the Ancients, and somewhere in there John realizes that Ford and Carson are dead. Are never coming back. Had their souls sucked from their bodies in some bid to get him home, and he wants to be sick. He thinks it's odd, how that feels so familiar, when living with them hadn't.

He talks to Rodney to take his mind off of it, "Why are you looking out for me?" It's not like he even expects an answer, because Rodney's managed to avoid talking about anything below the surface since the day they found him.

Maybe Rodney can tell he needs to talk, maybe he's just finally gotten too tired to keep evading, "I have to. I don't-" he pauses, shrugs, and leans into John. They're walking a few steps behind Ronon, who has assured them with various rumbles that they are, in fact, still going the right way. When Rodney speaks again he sounds almost defensive, "I told the others I wasn't a Replicator, and I'm not."

John says, slowly, "Okay," because he still has no idea what that means, and it doesn't really matter to him. When Rodney makes no effort to elaborate John slides his hand across Rodney's shoulders, cups the back of his neck, because that seems to calm the other man down. And sure enough, Rodney sighs, relaxes into his touch.

"I think that they...I think they must have been the ones that made me, though. I mean, they're the only ones with anything close to the level of technology that would be required to make something like me. Of course, I don't know why they'd make me and then abandon me in the middle of nowhere. I'm assuming it was because of you."

Which, okay. John's pretty sure he's not following this line of logic. He says, "I only got here all of a day before we found you, Rodney. I'm pretty sure I didn't have anything to do with...that." He doesn't want to say programming, is deeply bothered by the idea of Rodney being controlled by some invisible hand. He's never thought about it before, and the idea feels wrong in his head, wrong and untrue and he dismisses it immediately.

Rodney is nothing if not his own person.

"Maybe not." Rodney shrugs, like he's open to the idea of being wrong but doesn't find it very likely, continues, "All I know is that I know I have to keep you safe. It's all I knew, when I first woke up. I didn't even know who you were, just that I had to make sure you got back to where you belonged. That it was important." Another shrug. "It still is."

Ahead of them Ronon grunts, and snaps his fingers to get their attention, pointing at the giant city in the distance. The giant, floating city. The giant, floating city, rapidly rising in the sky. John gapes at it for a moment, and then hisses, "Fuck."

hr

By the time they get back to the crater where the City of the Ancients used to be it's long gone. Ronon still spends a few hours scouting the ruined earth, like maybe if he looks hard enough it'll turn up under a rock, even though they all saw it speeding up into the sky. Rodney takes a substantially more realistic approach to the situation, turns his face up to the sky and scoffs, "Those lying bastards. They left us here."

And John hates to admit that Rodney's right. Especially because he'd kind of liked Weir and Lorne. They'd seemed like nice people. He sighs, threads his fingers behind his head and kicks a rock. Says, "Well, this won't be so bad, right? I mean, we've got Ronon. I'm pretty sure we'll be okay."

But the thing is, he doesn't want to stay here, has a feeling that he's needed elsewhere. And if the look Rodney shoots him is any indication, Rodney feels the same way. John shrugs in apology, says, "Can't you build us a ship or something? Hey, maybe you're set up for space travel yourself." And he's not sure when exactly they decided that he'd come from space, but somehow the idea seems to have taken hold.

Rodney rolls his eyes, snaps, "Why don't you just use your radio and request that they beam you up?" And for a beat there's silence, and then Rodney's grabbing his arm, saying, "Oh my God. It can't be that easy."

John barely hears him, he's too busy clicking the silver radio on, grabbing Rodney's elbow with his free hand. They'll come back for Ronon if this works, if it doesn't, there's no reason to get him excited about it. For a second there's static in his ear, and he speaks into it, for lack of anything better to do, "Um. I'd like to go home now, if that's okay?"

And the world disappears into white light.

hr

John wakes up in the Jumper. He's lying over the controls, and his back and head and neck all hurt like a son of a bitch. He's vaguely aware of a mechanical beeping, and a stinging in the skin on the inside of his elbow. He blinks, groggy, and sits up.

There's a sharp spasm of pain from his lower back, and his legs are asleep and on fire with pins and needles and behind him someone is literally screaming, "They're awake! They're awake! Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are back!"

And beside him, in the co-pilot's seat, someone groans and twitches. Rodney starts to slide out of the chair as he wakes, and John moves without thinking, trying to catch him and ending up sprawled on the ground when his legs buckle under him. Rodney collapses on top of him, face buried in his neck, and for a long moment they just lay like that. And then Rodney jerks, says, "Ronon, we left him, we have to-"

Ronon's familiar voice interrupts, and John rolls his head back to blink blearily up at the other man, "I'm right here, McKay. Should I be worried that you two were hallucinating about me?"

And all John has the energy to do is grunt, throw an arm across Rodney's back, and shift into a marginally more comfortable position. He's exhausted, completely drained, and knows there should be questions he's asking. It's probably a good thing that he's got a lapful of Rodney McKay, who's never too tired to talk, "How long were we out? Where's Keller? I think John needs to see her. He's not...he's not moving very much. There could be some kind of damage that we-"

John shifts, grabs the back of Rodney's head and forces it down against his chest, presses an absent kiss onto the top of his hair. Mumbles, "Go to sleep, Rodney. We'll think about it in the morning."

And to his complete and total surprise, Rodney sighs against him, and then relaxes. It's not the most comfortable position in the world, but John's been sleeping under trees for what feels like a small eternity, and Rodney is warm and familiar and John tightens his hold on the other man and falls into blessedly dreamless slumber.

hr

The second time he wakes up he's in the Infirmary, and Keller is hovering over him nervously. John reaches up to rub at his face, coughs to clear his throat, and says, "Rodney?" There's a whisper of movement to his right, and he rolls his head around to see Rodney in the bed beside his, smiling sheepishly.

Keller's bubbling on above him, and he listens with half an ear, watching the blush creep across Rodney's skin as he keeps staring, "-so glad you're alright. You really had us worried there for a while, well, the first hour was the worst, until Rodney figured out how to get in there. Not that we weren't worried then, too, it's just, well-"

And that's about when Ronon and Teyla burst into the room, and John's so swamped with friend's relieved to see him that they almost kill him. He can hear Rodney laughing in the other bed as Ronon comes within inches of snapping his spine, and grins against the bigger man's shoulder, mumbles, "I'm glad you can talk again," only because he's sure Ronon can't presently hear him.

hr

He thinks it's not fair that they get hustled immediately from the Infirmary to a briefing with Carter. He just wants to go back to his room, and let things settle in his head, but knows that's not going to happen, not yet, and so he just grins and bears it. Rodney is, of course, substantially less good tempered about the entire thing.

He's complaining from the second they step into the meeting room, "I don't understand why I have to be here. I already know what's going on inside that head of yours, after all. I was there for, what, a week?"

It's Zelenka that answers, waving them into their seats, "Twelve hours, actually. It was more than that in his mind? That is very interesting. The other VR environments the Ancients created were always, hm, real time, yes? Why would this one be otherwise?"

And John says, "What?" because he has no idea what's going on.

Rodney takes a deep breath, and he's bumping their knees together under the table, though he doesn't seem aware he's doing it, reaching out absently to smooth the line of John's jacket, "When you came through the Gate there was a freak power surge, and the Jumper apparently decided you were in some kind of grave danger. We think it was a kind of failsafe, that in the event of a complete catastrophe the Jumper would interface with it's pilot, in an attempt to keep the mind alive as long as possible."

John digests this for a moment, "And what were you doing there?"

Carter speaks from the head of the table, and John bristles because he's fairly certain he hadn't directed the question to her. "After you didn't wake up and reacted violently to being moved away from the Jumper, McKay decided that you were probably stuck and needed some help getting out."

"I went in after you." And Rodney's grinning, smug and full of himself and John smiles back. "Not that I had known it was going to involve some crazy acid trip through your brain, at the time." But he doesn't sound particularly upset about it.

Around them the meeting goes on, and John kind of zones out, because he was there, he already knows what happened, and he's really still pretty much dead tired. He's almost dazed off, leaning against Rodney's shoulder like it's the natural thing to do, when he becomes aware that Rodney is bumping his hand with a sheet of paper.

He tries to be inconspicuous when he flicks his eyes down to read it, and is pretty sure he manages it. Rodney's scribbled: You think I don't have a heart? Also, if Ronon ever finds out you made him Toto he's going to cut off your balls.

And John rolls his eyes, and decides that they can all keep talking if they want, but he's going to find a bed. Right now. He stands, aware that he's suddenly drawn the attention of everyone in the room, and announces, "I'm taking Rodney now. We'll be back later."

Rodney doesn't fight too much when John drags him up out of his chair and then pulls him out of the room.

hr

Rodney's sputtering, "Oh my God, why did you say that? They're all going to think that you're dragging me off to fuck me, now, you know that? You do know that, right?" It's kind of adorable, but mostly just really, really hot, and John tightens his hold on Rodney's wrist and drags him faster.

His voice sounds unusually rough, "Well, they'd be thinking right." And Rodney makes an inarticulate noise and John smiles, and they're almost sprinting by the time they make it to his room. He plasters himself against Rodney the second they're through the door, vindicated that it still feels the same, all heat and friction and Rodney's mouth opening under his.

When he pulls back, sucking in desperate breaths of air, Rodney blurts, "I-oh-I didn't-I thought-I mean-you're straight!"

And John growls, low in his chest, starts maneuvering Rodney towards the bed, graceless but quick. He smiles, sharp and predatory, when the back of Rodney's knees hit the mattress and he tumbles down onto it. Crawls forward and contemplates how long it's going to take him to put all those bruises back on Rodney's neck, and growls, "You remember how we fucked for three days straight? That should have been a pretty good sign I'm gay for you, Rodney."

"Oh." And then Rodney's pulling him down for another kiss, moaning into his mouth, and John translates the sound as, "Awesome."

::back to index::


Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional