Sophomore Slump

Nov. 16th, 2007 07:39 pm

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: Eventual John/Rodney, Carson/Teyla, Ronon/Weir, ensemble

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Eventual slash, language, whump

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: ferret_kitty It's her fault, too. Cause I wasn't going to write it, and she was like, write it, and so I did.

Summary: It's AU, and a crossover, and I'm pretty sure done before, as well. Set in the Sky High world Curse you, Disney. John's at a new school all of a week before he's made friends with all the outcasts.

Author's Note: Seriously, I wasn't going to do this. I told myself I wasn't. And then I did.

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Part 1

John figured it was bad enough having to move to a new high school at the beginning of Sophomore year. Even worse that the move was caused by the fact that he all of a sudden wasn't quite human anymore. But what was he supposed to say, that he didn't really want to go to the super exclusive school for people with special abilities?

God, his mom had been so proud, and even his father had seemed, well, intrigued if not actually interested. Even he'd been excited, at first. It had been ridiculously cool to wake up one day with the ability to carry the family sedan around, and yeah, real useful to find out that he was functionally indestructible when he got hit by that semi-truck, but mostly... Mostly he just wishes it had never happened.

He is, in fact, still wishing it had never happened, when he snags his skateboard under his arm and climbs on the school bus for his first day. Most of the kids look every bit as normal as he does, and even the ones that look weird are the same kind of weird he had at his old school. Kids wearing all black and lots of eyeliner, or with pink hair.

There's not one person with three eyes or tentacles or green skin or anything, and he tries to tell himself that this is a relief.

And then he realizes that he's standing at the front of the bus. The very, very full bus. He blinks, readjusts his skate board and shifts his blowpop from one side of his mouth to the other. He feels, briefly, like everyone in the bus is staring at him, and smiles lopsidedly, gives a small wave, and the bus driver drawls, "You wanna take a seat, son?"

John feels himself flush, and pushes it back down, grins down at the man, "Yeah, sure. Sorry about that." And he casts one more desperate look down the bus because he's pretty sure there are no open seats, and swears he hears angels singing when he spots the one empty seat left.

He tries to swagger down to the seat, and thinks he manages it, throws himself in with relief right as the engine rumbles below his feet and they head down the street. He adjusts his backpack and skateboard, and then looks at the boy sitting beside him, says, "Hey."

The other boy is bent over a book, John thinks it looks like chemistry, and startles at the sound of John's voice. He's got short, light brown hair, pale skin and sharp blue eyes and John readjusts his blowpop again, crooks up one side of his mouth. Cause, wow. Yum.

"Um, hello." The boy looks vaguely puzzled, his wide mouth is crooked down in the corners, his hands are balled up on top of his book, either hiding it or guarding it, John's not sure. He's wearing a worn, light blue shirt, khaki pants, has a silver bracelet around his right wrist, with tiny links.

"I'm John. John Sheppard. New transfer to the school." He sticks a hand out, and for a long second the boy only stares at it before slowly reaching out and shaking it. He's got very long, thin fingers, and John lets go after a long second, letting his smile stretch wider. "What's your name?"

"Oh!" The boy waves a hand in the air between them, and then he's blushing, and it turns his pale skin crimson, "I'm-I'm Rodney. McKay. I mean. I've-um-I've been here before. Last year. I was here."

John leans closer, drops his voice to a conspiratorial tone, "So, listen, I hear that this bus can fly-" and he doesn't get to say anything more than that, because then it is, and it's the coolest thing ever. He's leaning across Rodney before he realizes he's moving, bracing one hand on the window, watching the clouds fall away below them.

He grinning, huge and helpless, saying, "This is so cool, isn't this cool?" Tearing his eyes away from the window to gauge Rodney's reaction. And he blinks, feels a little of his glee fade. Because Rodney is curled away from the window, eyes squeezed shut, arms wrapped around his chest. "Hey, you okay?"

And Rodney cracks one eye open, looks at him with nothing but misery in his expression. "I hate this part."

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Rodney doesn't relax until they're off the bus, and even then John's not sure if he would call the stiff line of the other boy's shoulders and back relaxed. Rodney shrugs on his backpack, hugs the chemistry book to his chest, and starts for the front doors without so much as a goodbye and John reaches out and catches his arm.

He can feel Rodney go still beneath his hand, and then the other boy is turning very slowly towards him, looking down at his hand on his skin. He looks surprised and confused and John makes himself let go. It's another long moment before Rodney drags his gaze up to John's face, his eyes wide.

Rodney's mouth is opening and closing, and John makes himself talk, because he's not sure that Rodney's going to be able to say anything, "Look, they gave me this list for my classes, but I can't figure out this map." He actually can, but there's no reason for Rodney to know that, "Maybe you could show me around today. You know. If you wanted to?" He cocks his head to the side in what he knows is an adorable way, tucks his free hand into the pocket of his jeans.

He's surprised when Rodney just looks confused for a second, and then shrugs without so much as a smile. "Sure. Fine." And then Rodney's reaching out and just taking his schedule out of his hands, smoothing it out across his book and humming in the back of his throat. "This way." And then he's turning and marching off, leaving John to follow in his wake.

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There's a free locker next to Rodney's, which John thinks is pretty lucky. He shoves his skateboard into it, turns to Roendy and says, "So, I was thinking, I'm probably way behind on all the shit we're supposed to know, right? And I'm sure you're not--" Rodney snorts, and John grins, "So you know, maybe sometime you could show me your notes, or something?"

And Rodney forces his locker shut, and it's already jammed with stuff, and John doesn't know how he managed that. Rodney tilts his head up, cocks it to the side and looks at John, and John feels his smile grow involuntarily wider. "C'mon, whaddaya say?"

He can see the moment Rodney decides to help him, the way the boy's eyes lighten, the way half his mouth twists up into a smile. It is, unfortunately, at the same moment that someone slams into Rodney, and all John catches at first is the flash of a varsity jacket and the surprised sound Rodney makes when he crashes against his locker. It's John that snaps, "Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

The boy pining Rodney to the locker cocks his head towards John, flashes him a sharp, very white smile. He's got very short hair, pointy ears, and a shark's eyes. He leans heavier into Rodney, and John hears the other boy's indignant squawk and matches the older boy's smile with a flash of his own teeth.

"I'm just saying hello. Hello, McKay. No calculators in that bag of yours, right?"

Rodney's got his fists balled in the older boy's jacket, John can see him pushing against him. He edges closer, thinking about how much it's really going to suck to get into a fight on his first day of school. His dad is totally going to kick his ass, he just knows it.

And then Rodney snaps, "Get off me, Sumner. Just because I'm not wearing a digital watch doesn't mean a dozen other people in this hall aren't." And John's not exactly sure why that should sound so much like a threat, but it does, and apparently Sumner thinks so, too.

He lets go of Rodney, wipes his hands on his jeans as he steps away while Rodney awkwardly straightens his tee-shirt. John edges a little closer to Rodney, just on the off chance that jock-boy decides to try something else, keeps smiling as he says, "You okay, man?"

Rodney looks surprised, when he cuts his eyes towards him, and then pleased. It turns John's smile almost genuine. And then Sumner has to open his mouth again, punching John in the shoulder and it would have knocked anyone else down, but it takes a lot of force to knock John anywhere, "Hey, new kid, might want to reconsider your new friends. McKay here, well, he's McKay."

John shrugs Sumner's hand off his shoulder, grabs one of Rodney's books out of his arms because he's afraid if he doesn't he's going to punch the older boy. "Thanks for the heads up, I'll keep it in mind. You know. If I forget who he is. And now we're going to class. Right, Rodney?"

"Right. Yes. We need to, um, go. Now." And Rodney squeezes between John and Sumner, either unaware or ignoring the heated glares being sent over his head. John holds Sumner's gaze, walks a few steps backwards, still smiling. He gives a jaunty wave, before he turns around to follow Rodney.

He says, "What was that all about?" when he catches up. The other boy just shrugs.

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It's easy to snag a chair beside Rodney, and so he does. Sprawls in his seat and watches Rodney hunch over in his. He nudges Rodney and stage whispers, "So you're going to let me cheat off you, right?" Rodney boggles at him, looks indignant for a half second before his eyes sharpen and his mouth twitches up in the corners.

"That's, you're, that was a joke." And Rodney's smile is stretching even wider, and it makes his whole face light up, and John tries to keep a straight face even as butterflies suddenly flutter to life, low in his gut. "You're joking with me."

He sounds pleased and puzzled and John slouches into the seat, lapsing further into the lazy Southern Californaian drawl that tends to relax people. says, "It's called teasing, Rodney" And Rodney's expression brightens further, he even straightens a little in his chair, tucking his feet behind the legs.

And then the teacher stumbles his way into the room, a youngish guy in glasses with his nose in a book. He literally runs into the corner of his own desk, before finally setting down the book and turning to blink at the students sitting before him owlishly. He sounds confused when he says, "Hello?"

John doesn't see the face of the student in the first row that speaks, but he can hear the strained affection in her voice, "We're your sophomore class, Mr. Jackson. Today's the first day of school, remember?" Beside him Rodney rolls his eyes and makes an impatient sound before pulling out a notebook with math scrawled across the pages. It's complicated enough that even John's eyes blur.

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There's not a whole lot of class diversity at this school, as far as John can tell. And by not a lot, he means none. All the heroes seem to go to the same classes, all the sidekicks to the others. The only other division seems to be by grade. By lunch he's wondering where Rodney got all his books, because he's pretty sure none of them are offered by the school. He's also pretty sure that Rodney isn't actually listening to a word that any of their teachers are saying.

Of course, all of that kind of fades in the background as he watches Rodney eat lunch. He eats like a starving man, and John stares, because the food is really, really not that good. Not that it's bad. It's just not that good. The turkey sandwiches his mom used to pack him for school are far better.

John's still staring when Rodney looks up, and the other boy blushes, and rubs at his mouth with the back of his hand. "What? They don't make the spaghetti all that often. You should enjoy it while you can." He nods, absently, still staring at the little spot of tomato sauce in the corner of Rodney's mouth, and haphazardly raises a forkful to his own mouth. "See? Good. Didn't I say it was good?"

John hums, because it's not, not even a little bit, makes himself chew and swallow and vows to bring his own lunch from here on out. And then Rodney sits straighter in his chair, eyes locking on something over John's head as he makes frantic waving gestures, shouts, "Teyla! Teyla, over here!"

He turns, looks over his shoulder and watches the petite girl winding her way over to them. She's got caramel skin and light brown hair hanging loose around her face, dark brown eyes and she's dressed... Well, she's dressed very oddly. He's not even sure how to describe the leather dress, leather boot combination she's working, except as slightly bizarre. He tries to stop thinking about it when she slides into the seat beside Rodney, says in a warm, rich voice, "It is good to see you again, Rodney."

Rodney waves a hand, dismissive or possibly in acknowledgement, John's not sure, says, "Yes, yes, May was a long time ago, wasn't it? Anyway. This is John. He's new."

The girl turns to him, inclines her head politely in his direction and says, "It is nice to meet you John, I am Teyla. I trust you are enjoying our institution?" She's eating her spaghetti with considerably less gusto than Rodney, but none of the distaste that John's suffering through showing on her face.

He shrugs, "I'm easy to please." And Teyla apparently takes that as a positive endorsement, because she smiles sweetly at him and turns back to her spaghetti. John pulls a face when he's sure neither of the others are looking, and then shovels another mouthful in. Mumbles with his mouth full, "So how do you two know each other?" Because Rodney hasn't exactly seemed all that chummy with anyone else.

Teyla shrugs, and it's an oddly elegant gesture, "Rodney was very helpful to me when I first arrived, he has done much to help me understand the...culture here." She sounds vaguely amused, and John wonders where she was from, originally, and if that's why she's dressed so oddly.

Rodney, snorting and rolling his eyes, interrupts John from asking, "I still can't get her to use contractions." But he sounds good natured about it, and Teyla continues to smile her delicate smile. And John can't help but think that, out of everyone he's met today, somehow these two make the least sense as friends, or even acquainances.

He doesn't comment on that, though, instead says, "So how come I didn't see you in class this morning?"

And if he hadn't been looking at her, he never would have seen the slight flicker of upset across her smooth features. Not that he would have needed it, when Rodney stiffens in his seat and John can almost see his hackles raise, can hear the venom in Rodney's voice, "Because some people are idiots that aren't worth the air they waste filling their lungs."

"Rodney," And Teyla's tone says this is a conversation they've had before, often enough for it to become rote.

"No. He should know what we're dealing with here." And then Rodney's shoving his tray out of the way, bracing an elbow on the table and waving a hand around in obvious agitation, "Look, you know about the whole hero/sidekick dynamic, right? How they divide us up into these little groups and shove us into their molds, their expectations. I'm assuming you had a private judging session, no doubt Caldwell made you jump through all the requisite hoops."

"Rodney, you do not have to-" And Teyla looks amused and flattered, and it's not hard to see that even if she's protesting she appreciates Rodney's defense. She rolls her eyes good naturedly when he waves her silent, leans farther over the table and his voice is low and intense and the butterflies are back in John's stomach big time.

"So last year they draft Teyla in here, right? It's not like they give us much choice in coming here, I'm sure you noticed that it was kind of 'come to our school' or 'get trained by the government'." Some of John's surprise must show on his face because Rodney's eyes flare wider, "Oh my God, you don't! Your parents didn't tell you? They make us come here. They say it's for our own safety but it's not. It's all about control."

Rodney darts a hand out, snags one of John's meatballs before continuing, "So they brought Teyla, and because she wouldn't demonstrate her power, which is incredibly kick ass by the way, she gets shunted in the sidekick program. Like it's a punishment, or something, like it makes her less. And it's not fair, it's ridiculous and we've been protesting it for the last year, not that they give us the time of day."

And John's completely taken in by the passion, the utter conviction in the other boy's voice. He'd never even thought about it before, and suddenly it seems really, really important. He leans forward, towards Rodney and his flushed cheeks and his shining eyes, says, "I could help."

Rodney's entire face lights up. And John can hear Teyla's groan, but only vaguely, because Rodney's talking again, plans and petitions and they spend the rest of their lunch period discussing battle plans. John completely forgets to ask what Teyla's incredibly kick ass power is.

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The rest of the day passes just about the same way, and John's relieved to collapse down onto the bus seat beside Rodney at the end of the day. Rodney's babbling about chemistry and physics and John is half-listening, half-day dreaming and thinking about the fact that a few hours ago he had thought Rodney was a quiet person.

Apparently he just hadn't had anyone to talk to before.

But still, when they get to Rodney's stop, he's sorry to see the other boy go. He grabs Rodney's wrist before he can completely escape the seat, says, "Hey, save a seat for me tomorrow morning, okay?"

And for a half second Rodney stares down at him, and then he smiles, and hugs his books tighter before bobbing his head. "Okay. Yes. Not that anyone else would-I mean-yes. I'll save you a seat. See you in the morning." And then Rodney's gone. John keeps his seat on the aisle, even though he kind of would prefer to sit by the window.

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And that's how it goes till Friday. As far as first weeks in new places go, it's definitely good. The school work is ridiculously easy, though Rodney finds out on Wednesday that he's good at math, and torments him by passing him notes with equations scribbled on them during Daniel Jackson and Sam Carter's classes.

John would tell him that he doesn't really want to do the math, that he'd really rather zone out, but Rodney's face lights up every time he gets one right, and he always gets them right. He and Teyla get along, too, though sometimes he thinks that's because Teyla is capable of getting along with anyone.

The only thing is that everyone else seems to kind of avoid Rodney and Teyla and by default, he gets ignored too. It's weird, not being popular, but it's not bad. Not really. Rodney's got enough personality for at least a half dozen people, anyway.

Really, things are golden, right up to Friday, when they all pile into the gym for a session of what Teyla informs him is called Save the Citizen. He'd asked Rodney about it, but the other boy had been completely and uncharacteristically silent on the subject. He had, in fact, been silent since John had gotten on the bus this morning.

John catches Teyla's elbow as they file into the gym, keeps an eye on Rodney as he wanders off to find and secure them seats. He doesn't like the sour feeling in his gut, drawls down at her, "What's up with Rodney?"

She presses her lips together, and the sad look in her eyes makes John's worry jack up another few notches. She says, very carefully, "This game is...not something Rodney enjoys. You will see soon enough. Come, he will want us there."

And by the time she manages to drag him over to the seats Rodney has found, front and center which seems odd for a game that Rodney supposedly hates, Coach Caldwell is already explaining the rules. John's torn between paying attention and asking why they're in the front row, and Rodney must read the question on his face, because he snaps, "I'm not going to give them the satisfaction of hiding."

Teyla pats his shoulder, and John's surprised by the wobbly quality of Rodney's smile. Becomes aware that all the hair on the back of his neck is standing up right as Caldwell introduces the reigning champions, and ushers Bob and Steve out into the arena.

John blinks, stares out at the nearly identical boys. He thinks they must be twins, with their long white-blond hair and pale skin and big eyes. They're tall, and thin, and they don't look especially threatening or special, but he doesn't like the way they smile, or how it manages to showcase every tooth in their mouths.

He likes it even less when Caldwell tells them to pick their challengers, with an air of quiet resignation in his voice that says he already knows how this is going to end, and they point right at Rodney. Rodney sighs, stands without looking at John and starts making his way to the ring, shoulders already hunched in.

John blinks, once, and then jerks his head towards Teyla, "What the hell's going on? Why is he going down there by himself?" He doesn't add that he'd like to know why Rodney was going down there at all, as those boys are obviously seniors. "I know I heard them say it was two versus two."

Teyla sighs, and John can see for the first time that she hates this too, "It is supposed to be that way, yes, but Steve and Bob never pick more than Rodney, and no one will volunteer."

"And the teachers, what, don't care?" Suddenly Rodney's crusade against the school board makes a lot more sense. John can feel his anger ratcheting up higher, and he casts a dark look down at the boys pacing back and forth in the rink, waiting for Rodney to finish suiting up.

Teyla makes a face, smoothing imaginary wrinkles out of her skirt, "No one has told you what Rodney does, have they? The teachers are...unsure how to handle him. It is not their fault. There was an incident some years back and they still fear certain things. Perhaps more than they should."

And she might say more, but John isn't listening anymore, because Rodney is sidling awkwardly over the side of the arena, walking towards the boys, arms crossed, chin up. John can hear his voice from across the room, sharp, "Just go ahead and get it over with, I have more important things to worry about than this, anyway."

John doesn't know if it's Steve or Bob that draws back and slugs Rodney. He doesn't realize he's standing until Teyla grabs his arm, trying to drag him back down. He growls at her, "I'm not just going to let them beat him up. Leave me go," and when she hesitates he jerks free of her hold.

He doesn't bother with suiting up, or even entering the arena in through the designated entrance. He just runs, throws himself over the wall and rolls to his feet on the other side. He can hear the crowd making noise, and Caldwell is yelling, but neither Steve, nor Bob, nor Rodney seem aware of his presence.

Which is fine with him.

He's running by the time he reaches them, grabs Steve or Bob's shoulder and spins the taller boy around, and slams his fist into his face. John's not sure exactly how strong he is, but he knows he can bend steel, knows he can lift cars, and he doesn't actually want to kill anyone so he pulls the punch. The older boy still goes down, blood running down his chin, making a high keening sound.

He kicks the older boy in the ribs, snarling down at him, and then there's a hand closing around his upper arm and he has an instant to realize that it's not Rodney's before the world starts swimming. He blinks, tries to clear his eyes and feels nausea rise up in his throat, feels suddenly ancient, like his bones are suddenly pencil thin, his muscles and flesh withered away to nothing.

He gasps, tries to suck in a breath around the pain and Rodney's yelling, his voice, predictably, able to rise above any and everything else, "Stop! Stop hurting him! Oh, fine, fine, but this is all your own faults. You have no one to blame but yourselves."

There's a low buzzing in his ears, rising higher, and the sharp sound of metal screaming against metal and he becomes aware that all the background noise, all the chatter and yelling has disappeared to nothing. It all seems insignificant compared to the pain squeezing his heart, and then the pain is just gone.

He gasps, collapsing forward onto his arms as he relearns the feel of muscles over bone, of skin not stretched too tight and lungs not screaming for oxygen. He blinks the sting out of his eyes, sucks in a deep breath and rocks up onto his knees, trying to figure out what the hell happened.

And then there are hands on his shoulders, pulling him up. Rodney's face swims into focus, tight and drawn up with worry, mouth turned down so far it looks painful. He's saying, "Oh God, John, John, you idiot. Are you okay? What were you thinking?" And John slings an arm over his shoulders, because if he doesn't he's going to collapse, pain gone or not.

He manages a smile anyway, says, "Oh, you know, couldn't let you have all the fun." And Rodney laughs, though it sounds less amused and more panicked. John's aware that it's the only sound in the entire room, and blinks, clings tighter to Rodney's shoulders, says, "What happened to Tweedle Dee and Tweelde Dum?"

Rodney doesn't answer for a long moment, and then he's sliding out from under John's arm, turning him slowly before stepping away. John blinks, gapes at the sight before him. Because Steve and Bob are pined to the ground by some kind of giant mechanical bug with spinning blades for arms. He stares for another long moment, before turning to find Rodney walking slowly away, shoulders slumped as far in as John's ever seen them.

John shakes himself, leaves the twins to their plight, vaguely aware that the citizens are suspended over empty air where he's pretty sure a spinning death trap of doom used to be, and stumbles after Rodney as fast as he can.

By the time he catches up, Rodney's climbing out of the arena, the crowd scrambling over each other in their rush to get away from him. John curses, almost trips getting over the edge, and finally manages to grab Rodney's arm and pull him to a stop. Rodney's pulling against his grip, but John's not letting go, and after a moment Rodney seems to realize that he's not actually budging at all.

Rodney pivots to look at him, and he looks so sad, so lost, and John tightens his grip even though he knows it's already got to be bruising, says, "What? What's wrong?"

And Rodney blinks, some of the despair draining off of his face, "I-you mean you're not upset?" He sounds genuinely puzzled, and John becomes aware of the fact that all the seats surrounding them have been vacated, that people scrambled away from Rodney like he has the plague.

John scowls, thinks, fuck 'em, all of 'em, and whatever the hell crawled up their asses and died. He gestures wildly back at the arena, at what he knows is there behind him, says, "Are you kidding? That is cool as shit, Rodney. That is awesome. That is...why didn't you tell me you could do that? That's-"

And then Rodney's there, throwing his arms around him, and John thinks it's kind of weird, being hugged by Rodney in front of the entire school. But it doesn't matter, not really, and he wraps his arms around Rodney's shoulders and concentrates so he doesn't squeeze hard enough to break the other boy's ribs.

That's about when a five foot two projectile slams into them, and Teyla is almost shouting into his shoulder, the loudest he's ever heard her voice go, "You are insane, both of you, Insane. Completely and totally insane."

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Rodney gets herded out of the gym minutes later, surrounded by Caldwell, Carter, Jackson and some of the older students. And John isn't sure why, exactly, it's Rodney that's apparently in some sort of trouble over this entire thing. He's blaming Steve and Bob, himself.

In any case, they call it a half day, send everyone home with tight, stressed looks on their faces. John watches everyone pouring through the halls around him, frowns, and then backs into the boy's bathroom and climbs on a toiler and holds his breath.

He's been there maybe three minutes when he hears the door squeak open, and he climbs up onto the tank, and tries to think invisible thoughts. And then the footsteps stop in front of his stall, and he bites his lip, and thinks he's going to get in so much trouble for this, and that's about when Teyla crawls under the door and into the stall with him.

For a moment he just gapes at her, feeling silly sitting on the top of the toilet, and she stares at him, solemn and serious, "They will find you in here. Come with me."

He says, "What?" even as he scrambles off the toilet because regardless of whatever she's saying, he doesn't want to be there anymore. It's awkwardly tight in the stall with her in there, and he ends up standing over the toilet, legs bowed out awkwardly.

"We are going to see Rodney after everyone else is gone, yes? And to do that, we must be undiscovered. Come, we must hide." She doesn't wait for him to wrap his mind around it, just grabs his wrist and unlocks the stall and drags him out. He opens his mouth and she flashes him a sharp look, pulls him out of the bathroom and sprints with him down the deserted halls.

They end up jammed in a broom closet, and there's a sour, milky smell in the mop his face is pressed against. Teyla is tiny and warm against his side, and she's got her hand over his mouth, like he might shout and alert everyone when he had made his mind to stay behind all on his own.

It feels like they've been in there for hours, though he thinks it was more likely a half an hour when she releases him, says softly, voice strained like she's very tired, "They are all gone. Only Rodney and Caldwell remain."

He doesn't ask now she knows. Just pushes out of the closest and says, "Where are they?"

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The door that Teyla says Rodney's behind is locked, but locks don't mean much to John. He grabs the handle and yanks and the door opens. He has to restrain himself to keep from pulling it off the hinges, and almost doesn't manage. Especially because Rodney freezes in the midst of pacing the room, and stares at them like they are the most bizarre thing he's ever seen.

John says, "Hey." And Rodney smiles, waving them into the room.

They settle into a rough circle in the middle of the room, and for a long time they're quiet, him and Rodney and Teyla. He's fidgeting absently while Teyla leans back on her hands and stares up at the ceiling and Rodney winds his fingers around and around each other. Predictably, it's Rodney that breaks the silence, "So. You guys aren't, um, upset?"

Teyla sighs, and John leans over, braces his elbows on his knees, "No one is upset." Pauses, because that is kind of a lie. Caldwell is apparently kind of pissed and Steve had been rushed to a hospital, though that was John's fault, not Rodney's, but whatever. "No one here is upset. We think it's cool. Right, Teyla?"

"It is very cool, Rodney."

And Rodney smiles like the fucking sun, wraps his hands around his ankles and curls his knees up to his chest. "You guys are cool, too." John smiles back at him, because he's relieved that Rodney doesn't actually appear to be ready to jump out of his skin anymore. Then he shrugs and leans further backwards.

"Mine kind of sucks, though, you know? I've always want-I mean, I used to want to fly." He'd held onto the hope that maybe he'd be able to fly for weeks after the strength and indestructibility manifested. He'd jumped off his roof countless times, and once off of a water tower in his old town, but he'd dropped like a lead weight each time. Rodney's expression is darkening again, his eyes narrowing, and John changes the subject before he has to talk about it, "What about you, Teyla? I don't even know what you do."

He decides to ignore the stunningly non-covert look that Teyla and Rodney share, especially because Teyla inclines her head and Rodney takes a deep breath and turns to face him. Rodney's voice is possibly the most serious that John's ever heard it, quiet and intense, "If you're an idiot about it I'll...I'll do something. Bad. To you."

He has to bite his lip to keep from grinning over Rodney's threat, tries to look as innocent and as much not like an idiot as he can. Rodney gives him a skeptical look, but continues anyway, "No one else knows but me, okay, so you can't spread it around." And wow, he hadn't realized that when Rodney said Teyla had refused to demonstrate what she did Rodney had meant at all. He straightens, and Rodney takes a deep breath.

"She can, um, slip in. Your brain, I mean. She can see what you're doing, and she picks up some surface thoughts, too. It's awesome." Rodney doesn't sound like he's exaggerating, just genuinely impressed.

John looks at Teyla, quiet, gentle Teyla, and says, "Huh."

And then Rodney takes a deep breath, visibly pushes the subject aside, and says, "So, I was thinking that we should meet up this weekend. If you guys wanted. I mean. We could do our homework for Jackson's class, right?"

He grins, because, yeah, last year he never would have figured that he'd be hanging out with the two biggest outcasts in school, but he is. And he doesn't mind. Besides, he's pretty sure that he can think of something more interesting to do on the weekend with Rodney and Teyla than homework. And he's damn sure that he'll be able to convince Rodney to go along with it.

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Part 2

In the end, Rodney does actually manage to force them into doing their homework. He manages this through a combination of stubborn refusal to do anything else until it's done, and berating the hell out of them until they give in to his demands. By the time they've moved onto helping Teyla with her assignments, John's not even trying to argue anymore.

They'd ended up at John's house, because when he'd suggested Teyla's, Rodney had started making panicked gestures with his hands. Teyla herself had just said something about having a large family, and looked amused when Rodney had continued his frantic headshaking for a half second after she turned to look at him.

When John had mentioned Rodney's house there'd been nothing but silence for a long moment, and then for the first time he'd seen Teyla switch roles with Rodney. She'd stared up at him, eyes harder than he'd yet seen them, and said stiffly, "Why do you not tell us about the places you used to live, John?"

He'd let the subject drop, because his parents had never had a problem with him bringing friends home from school before.

Of course, he hadn't planned on Rodney showing up at six thirty in the morning.

He wakes up to tapping on his window, groggy and half-dreaming as he stumbles over to the glass and blinks stupidly out into the soft ghost light of early morning. Rodney is standing in his front yard, hunched into his denim jacket, looking cold and miserable. Really, John's left with no choice but to point at the front door and wander downstairs to let the other boy in.

Rodney's hands are jammed into his pockets, and he looks so sad that John can feel any residual anger over having been woken so early dissipate in his chest. Rodney's voice, which is hesitant, makes John feel like an ass for being irritated in the first place. The other boy says, "You said to come by in the morning, and I couldn't sleep. Were you sleeping? If you were sleeping I could, um, come back later? You know."

John's shaking his head, pulling Rodney into his hallway before he finishes speaking. He raises his finger to his lips, pointing at his parent's room, and then he's grabbing the front of Rodney's shirt and dragging him upstairs. He only realizes he really needs to put some clothes on when Rodney starts wandering around his room touching things, eyes big and curious.

Suddenly, a thin tee-shirt and boxers seem completely inadequate. John mumbles an explanation before hauling ass towards the bathroom, and staring at himself forlornly in the mirror. He looks like crap, struggles to tame his cowlick and throws his clothes on before rushing back to his room.

Rodney's sitting in the middle of his floor, eyes half shut, hands held in front of him, fingers twitching. John doesn't mean to stand in the doorway and stare, but that's still what he's doing, only vaguely aware of the metallic clicks and grinding sounds from the direction of his television and video game systems.

He's not sure how much time he spends there, leaning in the doorway, but it's worth every second of the wait when Rodney finally focuses on him, smiling big and almost sheepish. Rodney's hands are balled anxiously in his lap when he says, "I, um, made some modifications to your stuff. Is that okay? I can, well, I can probably change it back. If you don't like it."

John's pretty sure he's going to love it.

They're still playing on Rodney's compilation of three video game systems, a stereo, and television, when John's mother wanders upstairs and stares down at them in surprise. Thankfully, Teyla shows up no more than five minutes later, and so John doesn't have to explain why he'd apparently snuck a strange boy into his room in the middle of the night.

Rodney hangs around the entire weekend, even after Teyla leaves around five on Saturday.

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The teachers have apparently decided, by Monday, that Rodney's not to blame for anything that happened. The other students appear less certain, and Rodney's surrounded by a conspicuously large bubble of empty space right up until lunch.

John doesn't mind. He's starting to think that maybe he enjoys having Rodney all to himself slightly too much.

So, it's surprising when, in the middle of a discussion of the best way to avoid instantaneous death in Halo, a short, brunette girl slides into the chair beside John. Rodney doesn't appear to notice that she's there at first, continues reciting strategies for a moment before focusing on her. Rodney blinks, blurts, "Who are you?"

The girl smiles, big and pretty, says, "I'm Elizabeth." John tenses in his seat, feels a sharp swell of irritation when she keeps smiling at Rodney, all gentle kindness. He clears his throat, ignores the relief in his chest when she turns to face him and her smile stretches wider.

He twirls his fork around in his fingers, smiles back without meaning it, drawls, "And what can we do for you, Liz?"

Teyla shoots him a sharp look across the table, and he wonders if she's slipping into his brain or if his irritation is just that blatantly obvious. Rodney doesn't appear to notice anything amiss, though that's possibly because he's too busy watching Elizabeth like she's a shark about to take a bite out of him. Liz herself seems to notice, because her lips thin and she says, "It's Elizabeth."

He shrugs, narrows his eyes at her some more, "Whatever you say."

And then Elizabeth is shaking herself, leaning towards him, hair falling forward into her face as she reaches out to brush her fingers across his arm. She says, "I just wanted to say that it was incredible what you did on Friday, jumping into the fight like that. Very brave and—" Her voice cuts off in a startled yelp and she jerks her hand away from him, though John can't tell why. He's momentarily distracted by the sharp smell of electricity.

He doesn't get the chance to ask what her problem is, either, because then Sumner is leaning over her, that same familiar sharp smile on his face as he says, "Everything alright over here?"

Elizabeth flushes under Sumner's gaze, leaning back into his chest and smiling up at him and John can hear Rodney roll his eyes, right before Rodney snaps, "Well, we were enjoying our lunch." John doesn't even try to restrain his own broad smile, shoves a huge bite of sandwich in his mouth and grins around it. "Do you need directions to the Dumb Jock table? Because I think you'll find you've taken a wrong turn to end up here."

Anger flashes across Sumner's face, and he leans further over Liz, attempting to loom over Rodney, growls, "Watch it, McKay."

John sighs, leans an elbow on the table and braces his jaw in his hand, says light and friendly, "I hear that Steve's still in the hospital. But, you know, having your jaw broken in three places will do that to a guy. I tried to go and see him, but apparently he wasn't taking visitors."

"You threatening me, boy?" and Sumner's tone says that he hopes that John is. John just smiles, takes another big bite of his sandwich as Liz shoves her way up and away from the table. She's flushed, jaw set, eyes angry, and stomps off. Sumner hesitates for a half second, before flashing one last sneer and sprinting after her retreating back.

John says, "Huh," raising his eyebrows at Rodney and shrugging.

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Things are pretty much normal, for them, anyway, all week long. They're heading for the bus on Thursday, Rodney already babbling about their weekend homework assignments, when Caldwell catches them. John leans, casually, against the wall between Rodney and the gym teacher, and forces his hands to unclench.

Caldwell, for his part, just looks uncomfortable, and John's pretty sure that if Rodney moved too quickly the other man would startle and run. It spikes his anger up higher, because he's so tired of everyone treating Rodney like he's some kind of freak. He's starting to think that maybe they're just bitter because Rodney won't set their DVRs for them, or something.

Rodney snaps, "Whatever it is you're thinking of blaming me for, I didn't do it."

"I'm not blaming you for anything, Rodney," It's weird to hear someone else calling Rodney by his first name. John narrows his eyes at the man, kicks his foot against Rodney's to push him back a step. Caldwell flashes him a sharp look, "Or you, John. I'm just here to tell you that it's been decided you will be counted as reigning champions in Save the Citizen tomorrow."

Rodney looks remarkably unrelieved by this, says, "What?" in the smallest voice John's heard him use.

John reaches for him, ignores Caldwell for now, says, "Hey, we did win, you know. Don't look so surprised." But Rodney's shaking his head, walking backwards, tripping over his own feet when he tries to spin around. And then he's walking fast towards the front door, leaving John to cast a dark look at Caldwell before sprinting after him.

He catches Rodney on the front steps, grabs his arm and Rodney's apparently accepted the fact that when John grabs him he can't actually hope to escape, because he goes still. John opens his mouth to demand an explanation and Rodney is in his face, one finger almost poking John in the eye, ranting, "I'm sick and tired of being beat up, John Sheppard. I thought--I thought--why can't they just leave me alone? What did I do to any of them?"

"Why would you get beat up?" He's honestly puzzled, because Rodney can do, well, not anything, obviously, but a hell of a lot. John's pretty sure that in a fight between them, Rodney could win if John didn't lay him out immediately. Not that he can imagine hitting Rodney. Ever.

Not even when Rodney looks at him like he's an idiot, "What am I supposed to do? When I fight back they—they--" Rodney breaks off, cutting his eyes to the side and then licking his lips, before locking eyes with John again, "You weren't here last year. You don't know what it was like before I realized that it was better to just let them forget about me."

He's right, John doesn't. He doesn't think this is the time to get into it, either, because he doesn't want to get kicked out of school for beating up the entire student body. He leans closer, into Rodney's space, grinds out, "I know what it's like now. We'll be fine." He doesn't say: I'll take care of you. Or: If anyone messes with you, I'll beat the shit out of them behind the school.

Somehow, he doesn't think that Rodney would appreciate it very much.

For a long moment Rodney just stares at him, and then he shrugs, smiles lopsidedly, says, "The bus is going to leave without us."

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Friday morning Rodney's almost shaking in his seat on the bus by the time John climbs on board. But he smiles like the goddamn sun when John sits down, squirms around to face him, back pressed against the window. He's talking fast, "After considering what you said, I've decided that we should at least try it your way. If you still want to."

John smiles back, says, "Knew you'd see things my way," and ignores the tightness in his stomach when Rodney bounces in his seat. A half second later Rodney completely jumps subjects, cracking open his chemistry book. A half second after that, he's quizzing John on the periodic table.

John rolls his eyes, but plays along anyway, if only because it keeps Rodney smiling at him.

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Later, when they're suiting up, he notices that Rodney's trembling again. It hardens something in his chest, and he reaches out without thinking, wraps a hand around Rodney's and squeezes. Rodney stills, blinks up at him and John tries to smile, promises, "Nothing bad is going to happen, okay?"

Rodney's head is cocked to the side, and his return smile is lopsided, "You're a glass half full person, aren't you?"

"Shit, no. My glass had better be completely full." It surprises a laugh out of Rodney, and it's only then that John realizes he's still, technically, holding Rodney's hand. And that Rodney either doesn't notice, or doesn't care. That Rodney is, in fact, absently tracing patterns over the back of John's hand with his fingertips.

John feels frozen in the moment, pinned by Rodney's hand in his. He searches desperately for something, anything to break the sudden tension, before he does something stupid, and comes up blank. He's offered the questionable salvation of Caldwell's voice, booming out and demanding they get their asses in gear and pick their side and their challengers.

He expects Rodney to jerk his hand away, sucks in a breath when instead Rodney slides his fingers free of John's, slow and languid as a caress. They don't have to discuss if they're being good guys or not, it's just an understanding that they'll save the imaginary people and get out of the arena as quickly as possible. As for challengers, John nudges Rodney's shoulder, suddenly aware that he can't seem to stop touching the other boy, "You should choose."

Rodney shrugs, drops his eyes down to the ground, his mumbled voice barely audible, "No. You do it."

John hesitates for a split second, looking over the gathered students, but he's pretty sure he knew who he was going to choose before he ever rolled out of bed in the morning. Sumner's sprawled in his chair, one arm over the back of Elizabeth's chair, feet braced on the chair in front of him and John smirks, crooks a finger to beckon the other boy down.

Sumner grins, shoving Elizabeth's hands away when she grabs for him, shrugging his jacket off his shoulders, heading down the steps. He's swaggering, and John wants to kick it out of him so badly that it surprises him. He feels his smile waver, twists towards Rodney, mutters out of the side of his mouth, "C'mon, who else?"

Rodney sighs, all exasperation, waves a hand dismissively, "Just pick one of his lackeys. You can usually recognize them by the blank, bovine expressions on their faces."

John laughs, surprised, and Rodney's lips twitch up in the corners, the tips of his ears flushing red. John wants to hold his hand again, wants to sling an arm over his shoulders, wants to do something ridiculous, and so instead he points at the dark skinned boy that had been sitting on Sumner's other side, waves him down.

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Five minutes later they're squared off against the other boys, and John thinks maybe he should have tried to find out exactly what it was they could do. He thinks he should have expected that the teachers wouldn't include another spiny-machine-of-doom, when they knew it would be Rodney competing.

The dummies they're supposed to save are suspended above a pit of fire by a rope that's tied to the wall seven feet above the ground, right above a torch. He can already see the cloth of the rope starting to crackle and weaken, and exchanges a look with Rodney, who groans, "We're so screwed."

"We're fine. You figure out how to stop the burninating, I'll keep our buddies here from getting in your way."

The look Rodney shoots him is sharp, but then it warms into something else, and John feels himself smiling huge when he realizes it's trust softening Rodney's eyes. He doesn't get the chance to bask in the glow for long, because it's right about then that the ground explodes at his feet.

His ears are ringing, and he spits dirt out of his mouth, but he's on his feet. Rodney's not. He's reaching down to haul the other boy up without thinking, Rodney blinking up at him with wide, surprised eyes as the ground shakes under them again. And then Rodney is shoving at him, shouting into his ear, "Take care of them! I'll be fine!"

Rodney stumbles the first few steps away from him, and then finds his footing, and John turns his attention to the other two boys in the arena. Sumner is just watching, arms crossed over his chest, but the other boy is stalking towards John, a ball of angry golden fire in each hand. John grins, big and loose, and steps into the next explosion intentionally.

It feels like a brush of air across his skin, though it smells vaguely electric. Aside from being nearly deafening, he can't see that it has any effect on him, and the boy's face goes from smug to puzzled when John steps out of the smoke, unharmed. Three more explosions hit him in quick succession, for all the good that they do. Then John's there, grabbing handfuls of the dark haired boy's shirt and tossing him across the room, snapping, "Stay down," a half second before he lets go.

He spares a look at Rodney, with one obstacle eliminated, and feels himself laugh involuntarily. Rodney's got both his shoes off, laces tied together, and as John watches he tosses them up, manages to snag them over the torch on the wall. John wonders if it was his first try, and then realizes Sumner is making his way towards Rodney, and stops thinking about it.

He doesn't bother spinning Sumner around when he reaches him, just grabs his shoulder with one hand and drives the other fist up into the boy's kidneys. Not enough force to kill him, possibly enough to break a few ribs. No more than the bastard deserves.

Somehow, he hadn't expected his fist to just disappear into the other boy's body, and for a long terrible moment he thinks he accidentally just killed someone and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. It's instinct to jerk his fist back, and he marvels at his skin, unblemished by blood and guts. Becomes aware that Sumner is laughing, hard and merciless, is snapping, "Doesn't work on me, does it, Sheppard?"

John snarls, feels the urge to wipe that smirk off the other boy's face rise within him, and slams his fist into Sumner's face. It's one of the creepiest things he's ever seen, the way Sumner's skull just distends around his fist, and then snaps back into place the instant it's gone. John hits him again, anyway, just because it feels good.

Sumner's voice is low, taunting, "That the best you can do?" And then the boy turns and starts towards Rodney again. John growls, lunges forward and wraps his arms around Sumner's chest and squeezes tightly enough to feel the shape of it deform under his grip. Sumner sighs, it sounds long suffering, "This isn't going to hurt me, you know."

John shifts his hold, fists braced up under the boy's rib cage, "Who says I'm trying to hurt you?"

Sumner twists, then, struggles against him, but he's not going anywhere. He's throwing elbows and knees and stepping on John's feet, but it's not like any of it actually hurts and so John ignores it, shifts his hold so he can keep the older boy in place with one arm and turns his attention back to Rodney.

Rodney, who is holding onto his shoes with one hand, pulling himself up the wall one handed, muscles in his arm, shoulders, back shifting incredibly interestingly under his shirt. And John had been aware of Rodney's shoulders from the minute they met, but never quite so aware as he is now. He blinks, momentarily struck dumb, and nearly misses it when Rodney reaches his free hand up and grabs the rope, getting his fingers curled around it just as the torch finishes burning through the weave.

Rodney's triumphant shout cuts short as he crashes to the floor, but he's still got the rope in his hand, and the dummies jerk higher towards the ceiling, instead of plummeting towards the flames. John smirks, starts dragging Sumner towards Rodney, ignoring the protests and kicking.

He says, when he's standing over Rodney, who's still lying on the floor, eyes not quite focused, "Do we have to get them down, too?" And then, because Rodney's not saying anything, "You okay?"

"Sh!" Rodney kicks out at him, brows drawing in tight as he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth. John becomes aware that Rodney's free hand, pressed flat against the floor, is twitching. He opens his mouth to ask what the hell he's doing, ignoring the request for silence, when Rodney sighs, and the fire in the pit abruptly sputters before going out.

And then there's nothing to do but watch Rodney slowly lower the dummies down, into the now harmless pit, while Sumner kicks and thrashes against John's hold.

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Afterwards, walking down the hallway beside Rodney and Teyla, bumping shoulders with them every other step, John says, "I told you it would be fine." Better than fine. No one had to be hospitalized this time, though the boy he had thrown across the room had been giving him dirty looks since he regained consciousness.

He's surprised when Rodney scoffs, "Fine? Are you serious? Look at this--" and then he's stopping, twisting in the middle of the hall. John has time to register that Rodney's grabbing the hem of his own shirt, and then he's tugging it up, all the smooth skin of his back suddenly naked and there and John digs his nails into his palm because he's sure if he doesn't he's going to reach out and touch.

And then he sees the bruises, already turning purple along the edge of Rodney's ribs. Rodney's continuing, letting his shirt drop back down, "And my hands could have been burnt, you do realize that, right? I could have sustained serious damage in the pursuit of saving glorified mannequins."

Teyla sounds amused, but John can see the worry in her eyes, knows it's not for him, "You are fine, Rodney. You both fought very well."

Rodney snorts, reaches up and shoves John's head to the side, "I? Didn't fight at all. John was the one brawling with Gumby. I just came up with the brilliant plan for saving the displaced JC Penny's natives." John rolls his eyes, shoves Rodney back, and if his hand lingers just a moment too long against the side of the other boy's head, he's pretty sure no one notices.

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It takes John three weeks to realize that Rodney fully intends to live at his house during the weekends. It's not that he's being unobservant, it's just that it feels kind of natural for Rodney to be there, and John doesn't really think about it until his mother corners him in the kitchen while he's cleaning dishes.

She fidgets around beside him for a long moment before saying, "Rodney seems like a nice boy," John bobs his head agreeably, because Rodney is a lot of things, and nice is certainly one of them. She plucks a plate out of his hands, absently drying it, says, "Your father was surprised at how low the electricity bill was this month, after Rodney did that...that thing."

She cuts a pointed look towards the fridge, and John doesn't point out that Rodney had also done 'that thing' to the stove, hot water heater, furnace, each and every mechanical device in the house. Both his parents had been vaguely uncomfortable when Rodney had sat cross legged on the kitchen floor in front of the fridge, hands held inches from the thing's surface, fingers dancing in the empty air. John hadn't felt the need to tell them that Rodney had spent hours wandering around their house, fixing things up.

He doesn't feel the need to tell her now, either, shrugs and says, "It's pretty cool, huh?"

She hums, falls silent for a long moment and then says, "John. Does he need—is there anything we should know about his family? He, well, he doesn't like to go home. And I noticed that he had some-some bruises on his back, a few weeks ago, and a black eye yesterday. If someone, if his parents are hurting him, then someone needs to be told, John—"

He doesn't realize how upset just the thought of it makes him, until the glass he's holding shatters in his grip. The sharp edges don't do anything more than glance off his skin, harmless, but his mother still startles, makes a horrified sound in the back of her throat and cradles his hands like he might have harmed himself.

By the time she gets over freaking out, she's apparently forgotten about the previous subject of conversation. John doesn't feel the need to bring it up again. After all, he knows where the bruises came from, and he's sure that if Rodney was having some kind of trouble at home, he would have said something.

Rodney always says something.

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Two months into the school year and he and Rodney are still the undefeated champions of Save the Citizen, not that it improves their standing in the pyramid of popularity. No one seems to notice or care that more than half the time Rodney doesn't even use his technopathy to win. He doesn't have to. Between John's ability to be a highly effective barricade, and Rodney's apparent genius, they kick all kinds of ass.

Rodney's also pretty much moved into John's bedroom. It's gotten to the point that John can't really deny that there's something going on with Rodney's family, because well, Rodney hardly ever goes home. On Monday, sitting at the lunch table that's become theirs he's pushing his peas around on his plate, watching Rodney eat and talk to Teyla and paint pictures with his hands, all at the same time, when it strikes him that they're going to have to talk about it eventually.

He figures now is as good as it's ever going to be. Rodney's already agitated, pissed off about Sumner's friend—the one they had beaten the second week of school—running into him and spilling his lunch all over Rodney's tray. The way he sees it he can't actually make things any worse by bringing up something this awkward.

He says, "Do your parents hit you?" because tact, yeah, he's got that. Rodney startles, keeps talking for a long second, like his mouth hasn't yet registered John's question. And then his jaw snaps shut, and he boggles at John.

"What?" Rodney's face is flushed red, his voice surprisingly hoarse, when he continues, "What the hell are you talking about? My parents don't even--" he coughs, wheezes, the angry red color slipping down the skin of his neck, "--don't even live--"

And then Teyla is leaning towards Rodney, bracing one tiny hand on his shoulder, "Rodney? Are you-"

John can see nothing but panic in Rodney's eyes, blown huge, before Rodney slumps in his seat and topples over backwards. John goes over the top of the table, because it's easier, and Teyla's already crouching over Rodney, her hand shoved into one of his pants pockets. For a half second John just stares at that, wrestling with the sudden flash of irrational jealousy. He says, "--the fuck?"

Teyla ignores him, yanks her hand out of Rodney's pocket, shoves it into the other one, yelling down into Rodney's painfully red face, "Where is it? Rodney, the pen, I cannot find it, you must--" She sounds panicked, and Rodney's curling up off the floor, breath wheezing in his chest.

It takes John a half second to decode the jerky movement of Rodney's hands, roughly shaping a backpack, unzipping it. He twists, shoves their table back hard enough that a second later he hears a few muffled screams and a crash.

The backpack tears apart in his hands, scatters pencils, books, loose paper across the floor. John barely sees it, looking desperately at Teyla, because he still doesn't know what the hell she's supposed to be getting.

Teyla jerks forward, shoving Rodney's books aside, and John's surprised by the slight quiver in her hands. He figures that's as good as permission to start panicking, and so he does. Even when she grabs a little black cylinder and makes a startled sound of happy surprise, it doesn't calm the horribly hard pounding of his heart.

Watching her stab the goddamn thing into Rodney's leg does not soothe John. At all.

He's reaching forward without thinking about it, grabbing her wrist and yanking it away from Rodney, feeling her bones shift under his grip. She makes a tiny, pained sound, and it startles him out of the brief, dangerous flash of rage. He releases her, trying to shove down the sudden shame, trying to ignore the bruises he can already see blossoming across her skin.

Later, he will thank God that she didn't think to try to force an apology from him, that she'd completely ignored her injured wrist to say, "We must get him to a hospital, quickly."

John reaches for him, then thinks better of it, flashes his eyes quickly up to Teyla's face, "Can I move him?" People on television are always freaking out about moving injured people, and God, he couldn't bear it if he made whatever the hell was wrong with Rodney worse.

Teyla nods, "Take him to the buses, I will find one of the drivers." And that's all John needs to know. There's nothing smooth or lyrical about the way he lifts the other boy, but it is efficient. He's on his feet in seconds, Rodney held awkwardly against his chest. He thinks it's a good sign that Rodney's coherent enough to ball his hands into John's shirt and cling for dear life.

Teyla's already pivoting on her heel, taking a deep breath and John can see the coiled energy in her compact frame. She makes it all of two steps before a panicked voice shatters the unnatural silence that John hadn't even noticed, "Wait! Wait! I can--"

And then there's a boy running into John's side, almost ending up on his ass when he bounces off, catching himself by grabbing Rodney's shoulders. Rodney twists, flinches in John's arms and John jerks, kicks out to dislodge the boy. He doesn't realize he's snarling until the newcomer lets go, blinks up at John with something almost like fear in his pale eyes.

Teyla interrupts, talking fast, "He is telling the truth, he can help." John doesn't have to ask how she knows, her expression has gone distant, and John's seen it often enough to know that she's skimming the stranger's surface thoughts. It's good enough for him.

He grinds out, "So do it," and the boy scrambles to his feet, wringing his hands together before reaching, hesitantly towards Rodney. John's impatience bubbles up, and he steps forward, brings the other boy's hand into direct contact with Rodney's forehead.

For a long moment the world feels frozen, and then Rodney shudders in his arms, takes a deep breath and goes limp. John stares dumbly down at his slack face, the red slowly fading out of Rodney's cheeks. He can feel Rodney breathing, slow inhalations, and it's only then that he realizes he hadn't felt that before.

The strange boy takes a step backwards, swaying on his feet, and when he collapses in turn, eyes rolling up in his head, it's Teyla that steps forward and attempts to catch him.

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Turns out the boy's name is Carson Beckett, and he's a transfer student from their European sister school. He tells them this while lying on the floor, his head pillowed in Teyla's lap. He looks pale, drawn and tired and John can't tell if that's just naturally how he looks, or if it's a side effect of whatever he did to Rodney.

Rodney, who is awake again, leaning against John's shoulder, hands balled up in his lap. Rodney's speaking now, predictably doing most of their talking, "What did you do? That was a severe attack, you know. I should be in a hospital right now being panicked over."

Carson shrugs, and Teyla smoothes her hand over his brow, smiling so softly that John almost doesn't notice it. "It's what I can do. Heal people. But it hurts and--" the boy flicks his eyes up to Teyla's face, and John realizes that he's actually blushing, "--and I'm afraid I'm not very good with pain."

Teyla hums, "You did very well, Carson Beckett," and the boy turns so red that John has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Rodney elbowing him in the side helps him restrain himself, and his attention is completely subverted when Rodney braces a hand on his shoulder and pushes himself to his feet with a barely muffled grunt.

Rodney tugs on his hair, snaps, "Come on, I still need to see the nurse, make sure there's no chance of a secondary attack." John notices that he's not exactly being given an option in accompanying Rodney, and can't say that it really bothers him. Still, he's pretty sure that the reason he scrambles so quickly to his feet is to spare his hair further abuse.

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It takes him most of the walk to the nurse's office to get an explanation out of Rodney, and even then he's not sure he completely understands. Not even when Rodney scowls at him and shoves his hand up in front of John's face, pointing at the bracelet around his wrist, snapping, "Did you think I wore this for fun?"

John does not say that he'd been kind of hoping Rodney wore it because he was a little bit gay. Especially since now that he thinks about it, he should have known better than to think that Rodney would voluntarily wear jewelry of any kind. Still, "You could have told you me were deathly allergic to oranges. What if I'd eaten a Starburst, or something? Or drank lemonade?"

And that's a splash of ice water down his spine. He's sure he's eaten lemon or orange candy while around Rodney. He's sure he has some in his room right now, where Rodney could accidentally eat it, and the sharp jag of panic in his gut is both unsurprisingly and brutally breathtaking.

It diminishes somewhat in the face of the inscrutable look Rodney's studying him with. Rodney sounds genuinely puzzled, "You don't need to change your candy eating habits for me. I doubt they have any real fruit in them, anyway."

John has absolutely no intention of taking that kind of chance, but feels no pressing desire to argue about it. Decides not to worry about the possibility that his mother could have, at any point, cooked something with lemon in it. Demands instead, "I want one of those pen things, too. You have a spare, right? I want it."

Rodney stares at him some more, like he's trying to figure him out and not quite managing it, and then smiles and shrugs. Says, "Yes, mom. It doesn't happen that often. I don't know how it happened today. They're supposed to put a warning out if any of the food has citrus in it. "

John rolls his eyes, and hopes that it looks more convincing than it feels, hopes that his blush isn't as obvious as he knows it has to be. He shoves Rodney in the shoulder, says, "Hey, I said I was going to take care of you. How pathetic would I be if I let fruit kill you?"

Rodney's still looking at him when they reach the nurse's office, expression wide and contemplative when he finally says, "Yeah. You did, didn't you?"

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Part 3

A week after what's already become known in John's mind as The Citrus Incident is Thanksgiving. John's entire family just kind of takes for granted that Rodney's going to be eating with them. His father even takes the time to put down his paper and coffee at breakfast a few days before the holiday to ask Rodney if there's any particular food he wants included in the meal.

John has to nudge Rodney's foot under the table when the other boy just stares blankly down at his Cheerios instead of actually answering. Rodney flashes him a guilty look, and John can see Rodney's fingers squeezing too tight around his spoon. John's father clears his throat; John can imagine him shooting a desperate look at his wife.

John's sure that things are headed for territories so exceedingly awkward they've never been explored before. Luckily Rodney manages to swallow noisily, and blurt, "Turkey. I mean. Real turkey. Not the tofu stuff." And after a pause of roughly two seconds, "I don't like breasts."

John's father makes a sound like he's choking on his own spit. John bites at his own tongue to keep his own declaration of disinterest in breasts behind his teeth where it belongs. Rodney's opening his mouth, and John can feel the ramble coming on. His mother heads it off at the pass, saying, "Don't worry sweetie, there'll be lots of turkey. John loves turkey. Don't you love turkey, John?"

Sometimes a strategic retreat is the only viable solution to a situation. John's fairly certain that the present conversation is completely unsalvageable. He reaches out, grabs Rodney's arm and hauls him to his feet, blurts, "I think I hear the bus."

He and Rodney end up standing out on the side of the road for fifteen minutes. John shoves his hands into his pockets against the bitterly cold air, watches his breath puff when he says, "Don't like tofu, huh?"

Rodney pauses, leaving the pattern he'd been making in the pebbles on the road unfinished, "I just don't think it should pretend to be turkey. It's not fooling anyone."

For the first time this morning, things feel normal between them. John grins, nudges one of Rodney's pebbles aside with the toe of his shoe. He teases, "Tofu: double agent of the pantry." Rodney rolls his eyes, but he's also smiling, moving the pebbles back into place. When they get on the bus they leave behind the symbol for pi.

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They spend the actual day of Thanksgiving sprawled on the living room floor, watching parades and old Clint Eastwood movies until John's father orders them to the table. It feels weird to be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with only four people, but there was no way they could make the trip to California and back with the amount of time his mom was getting off work. Besides, they couldn't have brought Rodney with them, and John's not sure precisely when he started factoring that into his thought process, but there it is.

It doesn't matter. The food is great and Rodney laughs every time John quotes Dirty Harry.

John's willing to count it as the best Thanksgiving ever. It's not like he particularly likes his aunts and uncles anyway. And besides, more pumpkin pie for him. John shovels another forkful into his mouth, watching Rodney gleefully spoon yet more Miracle Whip over his slice, and feels contentment spread low and warm through his gut.

John's mother says, around a bite of pecan pie, "We don't go this all out for Christmas, now. Regan usually fries us up some hamburgers and—Rodney?"

For a split second John thinks Rodney's choking. Rodney's gone perfectly still, color draining out of his face, grip on his fork suddenly white knuckled. John swallows his own too-big bite of pie without chewing, reaches out and thumps Rodney hard across the shoulders.

The blow earns him a dirty look from Rodney, who says, "I'm spending Christmas break with my family. In Canada."

It hits John like a punch in the gut. He blurts, "Why?" before he can stop himself, and watches Rodney's eyes go all big and wide with surprise. John's aware that he has no right to ask, that it's Rodney's family and of course they want to spend two weeks with their son. That's not lessening the burn of jealousy down John's throat.

Rodney shifts in his chair, makes a complicated gesture with his hands, "I don't know?" Rodney seems to realize how bad that sounds after a moment, twists his face up into something that's not a smile, "I think my grandparents want to see me."

"But that's two weeks." John's been measuring his Rodney-free time in hours. He thinks this is like asking an addict to go cold turkey. Like feeding a man to his heart's content and then taking away every crumb of food for days.

His mother says, "John," her voice soft and careful and John doesn't even look at her. He's staring at Rodney, who looks as miserable as John feels. More miserable, in fact, his hands balled up into fists on either side of his plate, his mouth set in a pained grimace.

Rodney says, "They told me today. That's why—I wasn't trying to spring it on you. I mean."

John is pretty sure he's scowling himself, "Can't you tell them no?"

And this time his mother's voice is sharp, "John!" He looks towards her, torn between anger and guilt for making a scene at the table. There are two spots of color high in her pale cheeks, and he drops his eyes, makes himself take a deep breath and release the fork that he has effectively turned into scrap metal. When she continues her voice is softer, quieter, "Why don't you go make us some coffee. Decaf."

John knows a dismissal when he hears one; stands and watches Rodney shift in his own seat to follow. His father says, "So you're from Canada?" And John slouches to the kitchen alone, nursing the spark of anger and frustration in his chest.

He makes the coffee as quietly as he can, straining his ears to eavesdrop. His mother's voice is almost inaudible, soft words about Rodney's family and if they're hurting Rodney in any way then he doesn't have to worry and that if Rodney's afraid to go with them he only has to say. John can't hear any response from Rodney at all, and he wills the coffee to brew faster.

When it finally does, enough for two cups, John pours them haphazardly and bursts back into the dining room. Rodney looks up at him like he's the best thing since sliced bread, jerks to his feet, and blurts, "John! I need to show you that thing upstairs!"

John thinks his mother might try to call them back, but he doesn't hesitate to find out.

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Later, after they've run out of movies to watch or video games to play and they're sprawled on John's bed in a lazy lump, Rodney says, "Are you mad at me?" It's dark in John's room, but the light in the hallway is on, glinting through under the door, just enough light to see the shine of Rodney's eyes. Rodney sounds small, in the darkness.

John says, "Don't be stupid."

Rodney continues like he hadn't heard him, or like he just doesn't care, "Because I wanted to stay here. I can't wait until I'm eighteen."

John says, "Yeah." And that's all they say about it. Rodney falls asleep not long afterwards, spread sideways across John's bed, his legs hanging off the edge from the knees down. John curls up against his headboard, and makes himself stay awake until morning, listening to Rodney's snores.

He feels like a squirrel, hoarding subsistence against the long winter ahead.

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They don't mention it again until the day before Christmas break. Rodney's quiet and tense from the moment John gets on the bus, huddles in on himself during their classes. John can feel himself responding to the other boy's frustration, can feel himself growing more and more aggravated by the minute.

Which is probably why when Sumner and his cronies walk past their lunch table and one of them shoves Rodney hard in the middle of the shoulders, John snaps. John can feel himself snarling, grabs for the apple on his tray and throws it at the boy that had put his hands on Rodney.

John hears Teyla shouting something, but it's muffled by the way the boy he hit with the apple is screaming. Food fighting takes on a whole new meaning when you can throw as hard as John can, and the boy's stumbling backwards, both hands over his face. John can't tell if the flashes of red between the boy's fingers are apple skin or blood.

He doesn't care.

Sumner looks surprised, his posse looks like they're not sure if they're supposed to be angry or scared. John jerks to his feet, grabs his tray and spills everything off of it. He's imagining hitting Sumner over the head with it, imagining feeling the plastic snap, and stalks around the table.

John catches a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and then there's weight across his shoulders, Rodney shouting in his ear, "John! John, stop it!" Rodney's got an arm around his neck, his other fingers closed around John's wrist, hanging awkwardly across John's back. "Just stop it!"

John lets go of the tray. It makes a hell of a racket clattering to the floor, loud in the suddenly quiet lunch room. John's pretty sure that everyone is staring at them, students with their forks half way to their mouths, teachers with various expressions of shock. He takes a step back and Rodney makes a surprised sound, tightens his hold, his legs half-curling towards John's hips like he's worried he'll lose his grip and fall.

John can feel the pulse pound of Rodney's heart against his shoulder, racing. The other boy's breath is sliding across his ear, dancing across the side of John's face. Rodney's fingers are cool around the heat John can feel still moving under his skin, calming.

John takes another step back, and Teyla is there, small hand wrapping around his elbow, calm dark eyes staring up at him. She says, "Rodney, it is alright. You can let John go now."

Rodney slides off John's back almost immediately. John shifts, straightens his shirt from where it's ridden up, painfully aware that they're still the center of attention. Teyla still has him by the elbow, and he feels a rush of calm through the adrenaline singing in his veins. He wonders if she's messing with his brain. He wonders if he should thank her, if she is.

And then Rodney's muttering, "Oh, shit," low and miserable.

John has time to wonder what horrible thing is about to happen next, and then Principle Landry is booming from the doorway to the cafeteria, "Who wants to tell me what the hell is going on here?" And then when he apparently realizes everyone is going to attempt to talk at the same time, "Never mind. Sumner. Sheppard. My office. And someone get Ford to the goddamn nurse's office before he bleeds all over everything."

John takes a small swell of satisfaction in the fact that Carson doesn't offer to heal the other boy.

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Landry says a lot. Mostly about how he knows adjusting to a new school can be hard and how respecting your fellow students is important and how breaking people's noses is generally frowned upon. He talks about records and the example they're setting for the younger students and proper use of their powers and John tunes out.

It feels like a small eternity passes before Landry finally asks him if he has any explanation for his behavior. It's one of the stupider questions John's ever heard, he slouches further back in his chair, and says, "He shoved Rodney."

Landry blinks at him, bushy eyebrows tilting up with surprise and John does his best to look flippant and unconcerned. Beside him Sumner is snorting, voice laced with scorn, "That's a lie. Why would Aiden touch him when everyone knows whatever McKay has is contagious?"

John feels the hot rush of irritation up his spine, clamps down on it hard and manages to transmute the urge to slug Sumner in the jaw into clenching his fists.

Landry stares hard at the two of them for a moment longer before sighing, shaking his head, saying, "Today is your lucky day. I don't feel like messing with this when I'm already dealing with my wife's parents. So you're getting a free pass. But you better handle this disagreement of yours. Somewhere not on school property, do you understand? If this happens again I'm not going to be so forgiving."

John goes to find Rodney.

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Sitting on the bus later, Rodney shifts, asks, "Is it okay if I call you? While I'm gone?" He sounds nervous, unsure, and John hates it. "It's okay if you say no. I just—I thought I'd ask. In case you wanted me to. Because I wanted to. "

John takes a deep breath, "Yeah. Yeah. That'd be—that'd be good. If you wanted."

Rodney beams, seems to relax for the first time all day, and John feels an answering smile stretching his own mouth. He thinks maybe two weeks won't be so bad if he gets to talk to Rodney a few times. Even if it is over the phone. At least he won't be going completely cold turkey.

And just like that, things are normal between them again. Rodney's babbling about the school projects he's planning on working on over the break, about how stupidly long the trip to Canada is, about how he hates his passport photo.

John comments when the conversation calls for it. Mostly he just watches Rodney's hands, and tries not to think about exactly how pathetic he is for missing the other boy this much before he's even gone. It's not until they reach his stop that he remembers the box in his backpack.

Rodney gives him a weird look when he curses, and starts digging around desperately for the wrapped present. By the time he manages to get his hands on it the bus driver is giving him threatening looks, and so John shoves the package into Rodney's lap, blurts, "Since I'm not going to see you on Christmas. I, uh, talk to you later, okay?"

John runs for the door before he can see Rodney's response to the gift, and tells himself that he hadn't planned it that way. He wonders if Rodney'll like it. He wonders if he should have tried to find some wrapping paper besides the noxious green covered in candy canes that his mother claims is traditional.

He stares after the bus for a long time, until his father wanders out to the end of the driveway. His father's still wearing his work uniform, police blues dark in the twilight, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his pants. John says, "I broke a boy's nose at school today. With an apple."

There's a long stretch of silence, comfortable as the sun finishes sinking. When his father finally speaks John's almost forgotten what he initially said, "Did he deserve it?"

John thinks about Rodney's face, the resignation and hurt that had flashed through his blue eyes when Ford had shoved him. He thinks about Rodney, already hunched in and miserable about going to see his family. He says, "Yeah."

His father hums, says, "Your mother's working late. I thought I'd make some spaghetti for dinner. You up for garlic bread duty?" John rolls his eyes, but he's smiling when they turn and make their way to the warm house and the warmer kitchen.

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Rodney doesn't call for two days. John's surprised by how empty the hours are without the other boy around. He'd forgotten what it was like to not have someone just there anytime he had a thought to share or a plan to set into motion. It doesn't feel right to play on the video game system that Rodney built. Doesn't feel normal to sit on the floor in front of the television without Rodney sitting on the couch, bitching about the movie and shifting constantly.

On the third day Teyla and Carson stop by John's house, snow flakes falling heavy and thick around them. The smaller boy looks nervous, bundled up heavily against the cold, cheeks stained red. Teyla looks likes she hasn't stopped smiling for hours, her lips already chapped by the cold. John leans in his doorway, shivering in socks and sweatpants, drawls, "What's up?"

Teyla says, "It has snowed. Carson is going to teach me to sled. Do you wish to accompany us?"

He almost says no. The word is right on the tip of his tongue. But she's glowing with happiness, dressed normally for once in her heavy coat, ski-pants, snow boots. And besides, Carson looks like he wants nothing more than for John to say no so he can spend some time with Teyla alone.

John figures that since he can't be with Rodney, it makes a kind of perverse sense that he should prevent Carson from being alone with Teyla. He smiles, says, "Let me get dressed. It'll just take a minute." Teyla beams. Carson looks vaguely ill. John tries to feel guilty about it and fails completely.

They spend hours marching up the hill at the park, and then sliding down. He ends up with busted knuckles, gripping the edge of the sled while the ice tears up his hands. Teyla's soaking wet from wiping out one too many times, and Carson's shown them up more times than John likes to think about.

John's exhausted and his body is aching, but he's smiling kind of helplessly nonetheless. He's seen snow only once before, a family trip to Oregon three years ago. There'd been a huge storm while they were there and all he really remembers about the entire vacation is spending a week looking out the hotel window at the slushy mess surrounding them.

He leaves his snow encrusted boots at the front door, shrugs out of his jacket and hops his way inside on feet that are mostly numb. He shakes his hands, feeling the start of pain now that the numbness is going away, yells, "Mom! I'm home!"

There's no answer, and he pulls his sodden sweater off his shoulders, trying not to drip water all over the floor on his way to the laundry room. His moms in the kitchen, sitting at the table, saying, "—how to make it when you come back," into the phone she has cradled against her shoulder.

John freezes mid-step, absorbing his mother's happy expression, and then he's half-running, half-sliding across the floor to her. His hip hits the edge of the table painfully, but he barely notices. His mother is saying, "John, what—"

John grabs the phone, has to concentrate in order to avoid crushing it. He's blurting, "Rodney!" before he even has the receiver all the way up to his ear. He can feel his pulse racing, his heart in his throat, and he's aware that he's dropped his wet sweater to the floor but he doesn't really care.

"—sweet bread. John?"

Rodney sounds like himself, painfully familiar. John sucks in a quick breath, dizzy with relief, sags against the edge of the table and cradles the phone in both hands. He's vaguely aware of his mother standing up, of the whisper of her footsteps as she walks away. "You didn't call. I thought—"

He can almost hear the smile in Rodney's voice, "It took me a while to get the phone here working."

"You don't have phones?" John can't keep the disbelief out of his voice. "I thought Canada had joined us in the twenty-first century." He feels more like himself than he has in the last two days, settles more comfortably against the edge of the table.

"Ha, ha. Do you know how much it costs to call internationally? I had to manipulate the phone networks of two countries to get this set up." Rodney sounds irritated, tired.

John figures distracting him is the way to go, "We went sledding. Me and Teyla. Carson, too. Is there snow, where you are?"

Rodney makes a frustrated sound, "Oh, right, of course, because if I'm in Canada there must be snow, right?" And John smiles, because getting Rodney to start snapping is like proving he's feeling okay. John tips his face up to the ceiling, listens to Rodney describing the many climes enjoyed by Canadians.

They talk for almost two hours, until the chill in John's skin has settled into his bones and he'd still have kept talking willingly. It's Rodney that says, "Shit. My sister's coming. It must be time for dinner. I'll—I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

John has just enough time to says, "Sister?" before the line goes dead.

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By the next morning John's running a fever, his head is so stuffed up he can barely breath, and his lungs rattle each time he manages to swallow a mouthful of air. He's miserable and fully intends to stay curled up in his bed until his mother delivers the chicken noodle soup she promised.

When the phone rings, loud in the otherwise silent and empty house, John manages to get himself completely tangled in his sheets scrambling his way out of bed. John's dizzy and staggering by the time he makes it to the phone in the hallway. He's trailing his sheets, bunched around his hips, his pillow still clenched absently in one hand. He snatches up the phone, yelps, "Rodney?"

"John? Why do you sound...like that?" Rodney's voice is a relief. John can feel himself grinning like an idiot, tightens his grip on the headset and wobbles his way back to his room. He snatches a fresh roll of toilet paper on his way back to the room, blows his nose and hears, "Did you just blow your nose in my ear? What's wrong with you?"

"Your concern is breathtaking." John can't quite keep the swell of affection out of his voice. He throws himself back into his bed, worming under the covers and letting his heavy head rest on his pillow again. He curls up around the phone, "You never said you had a sister."

"What? Oh. Jeannie. Yes." And then silence. John waits, listening to Rodney breath on the other line, waiting for him to fill up the quiet. He doesn't have to wait very long, "She's two years younger than me. You know, we don't really talk much. At all."

"Rodney..." He wonders, for the first time, if Rodney's family is weird about the technopathy as well. He opens his mouth to ask, Rodney talks over him.

"I opened your, um, present. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to wait. Or. I wasn't sure, so I opened it. Anyway." John swallows, ignoring the burn in his throat, the sudden thunder of his pulse. He hadn't been sure if he should get Rodney anything, and then he hadn't had a clue what to get him.

Anything electronic was out of the question, because there's nothing with a computer chip that Rodney can't already make for himself. He'd thought about school books, about one of the physics books that Rodney keeps his nose buried in.

He'd settled on the big, red leather bound volume of Lord of the Rings that he'd caught Rodney drooling all over when Teyla had managed to drag them to the mall once. He says, trying to get his voice through his suddenly tight throat, "Did you...I mean. You wanted that. Right? You looked like you liked that. In the store."

Rodney laughs, and John thinks he'd gladly babble forever if it meant he'd be able to hear Rodney laugh. He can feel himself grinning dopily, but figures no one's there to see it, and he could always blame it on all the cold medication he's taken.

After a long moment Rodney stops laughing, says, "Yes, John, I like it. Have you ever read it?"

John shifts, figures that now isn't the time to tell Rodney that he hasn't really read very much at all. He says, "Uh." And Rodney laughs again, John thinks he can hear pages being flipped over the phone line.

When Rodney speaks, though, his voice is soft, thoughtful, "You can read it. Don't argue. Everyone should read it. Besides, you'll like the elves and we can argue about whether or not the dwarves are better than them or not."

John rolls onto his back, grins up to his ceiling, "I saw the movies, you know. Should I be offended that you think I'll like the drag queens?"

Rodney snorts, "Whatever. You're just jealous 'cause they use more hair product than you. Anyway. I got you something, too. I mean. It's not done yet. But it will be. I have...well, I have a lot of free time up here. I didn't want you to think I didn't get you anything. Because I did."

"Rodney..." he means to say that he wasn't expecting anything. That it wasn't some obligation that Rodney had to fulfill. He never gets the chance, because Rodney is suddenly cursing into the phone, snapping something that might be a goodbye before John's just listening to the dial tone.

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Rodney calls back later that day, talks in whispers like he's afraid of being overheard. John listens to the soft brush of Rodney's voice over his headache, drifting in and out of focus. When his mother finally gets home from work he's sitting up against his headboard, staring at the far wall, listening to Rodney bitch about the long plane ride.

She leans in his doorway, cradling a paper bag from the grocery store in her arms. She mouths, "Rodney?" and smiles softly when he nods. She pats the wall, says, "Tell him I said hello," and disappears down the hallway.

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That's how it goes for four days. Teyla shows up with Carson again, and they sit on the other side of John's room and listen to Rodney on speaker phone and things are almost normal. John's cold dissolves into slight congestion and a cough that sneaks up on him when he least expects it.

On the eighth day Rodney doesn't call.

John spends the day fidgeting, and drags himself to the library around noon when his mother kicks him out of the house before he drives her crazy. He wanders around the shelves full of books like he doesn't already know exactly where he's going, and then slouches over to the fantasy section.

There's more copies of the Lord of the Rings than he figures there's any need for, and he wonders if up in Canada Rodney's reading his copy. Finally, John pulls out one of the tattered paperbacks, braces his back against the far shelf, and thumbs it open.

The print is small, blocky, row after row after row of tiny little letters marching across thousands of pages. John sighs, curls his shoulders over the book and reads.

By the time Frodo is finally leaving the Shire, and wow, it took a lot longer in the book than John had thought, the library is closing. The librarian gives him a funny look when he shuffles up to the counter, but thankfully doesn't comment on the book. John tucks it under his arm and bikes home.

There's a part of John that had expected to find his mother on the phone with Rodney. But the phone is in the cradle and there's a note on the table that says: Went to pick up some pizza, don't eat.

John grabs the phone, sets it on the table in front of him, and throws himself into a chair. He reads. When his parents get back his father plucks the book out of his hands, turns it over a few times before saying, "I read this in high-school." He drops his voice to a whisper, "Sauron dies in the end."

John's mother rolls her eyes, "Very nice, honey."

John makes himself smile, and eats half the pizza by himself. No one comments when he leaves the phone on the table, and no one says a word when he slinks up to his room with the book. His mother pops in sometime around midnight, sits on the edge of his bed, "John. You know you can talk to me and your father, right?"

He fights the urge to roll his eyes, because wow, this conversation actually looks like it might be every bit as awkward as he'd always assumed it would be. John buries his nose further in the book, says, "It's amazing these guys get anything done. They never shut up. It's probably why Rodney likes it so much."

His mother sighs, reaches out and ruffles his hair, "I knew I should have let your father handle this."

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The phone rings somewhere around three in the morning, and John gropes for it. His eyes are blurring on the pages, and his head is swimming with text, and he mumbles, "Hello?"

John doesn't even manage to get the whole word out before he's being overwhelmed with, "John! John, oh God, it was terrible and I didn't know what to do and I don't know if I'm doing this right and I don't know what else do or who to call—"

John's aware that he's suddenly standing, heading for his closet and his jacket and his shoes even though there's no conceivable way he could get to Rodney. He's saying, "Hey, hey, slow down. Tell me what's going on. Are you hurt?"

Rodney sounds completely miserable, "No. It's my sister."

John freezes, mind skipping back across previous conversations, "Jeannie? What happened to her? Is she okay? Are—do you need to take her to a hospital? Where are your parents?"

Rodney laughs, high and desperate, "They're busy. They're busy and gone and she manifested and I don't know what to do. She's just, she's just sitting there, John. I can't snap her out of it. She's drawing all over the walls and I tried to take the pen away but then she started scratching into the dry wall with her fingernails and so I gave it back and that was hours ago. I don't know what to do."

"She...manifested? Your sister has a power, too?"

Rodney snorts, for a moment sounds like himself, "Of course she does. Two super parents, three super grandparents, the odds of her being without were astronomically small. It just. It hadn't happened yet. They were starting to worry. Think both of their children were defective, you know? Can we stay on topic?"

John makes himself take a deep breath, "And the topic...is that your sister is drawing on the walls?"

"Yes! She's in like, a fugue state or something, for the whole day. It's just...it's bad, John. She has to eat. What am I going to do if she won't eat? What am I going to do if she dies? And I can't—God, the things she's drawing, John. They're. They're bad. They're really bad. I—"

John turns in a slow circle, fighting with the terrible, helpless twist in his gut. Not being able to do anything is killing him. Taking care of Rodney has become his prerogative, and he wants to fix this, so badly it burns along his veins, "She's not going to die, Rodney, it'll be okay, okay? Your parents, can you call them?"

Rodney hiccups. It might be a sob, or laughter, "No. No, don't you get it, they're busy. I—" Rodney's voice cuts off at a muffled thump, and then, "Oh, God, Jeannie. John. I'll call you back." And the phone line goes dead.

John stares down at the receiver, breathing shallow through his nose, trying to keep himself from putting his fist through the wall. And then he goes downstairs, turns on the computer that Rodney's turned into something it's probably illegal for them to own and looks up breaking news in Canada.

When he finds the reports about some super-villain he's never heard of destroying Montreal he's not actually surprised to feel a spark of recognition for the photos that accompany the article of the superhero pair defending the area. The woman has Rodney's eyes behind her mask, the man Rodney's sharp, slanting mouth.

John thinks about them off saving the world while their children panic at home, and hopes that they lose.

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Rodney doesn't call back, and John's nerves wind themselves a little tighter each day that passes. But he doesn't hear from the other boy again until he gets an e-mail two days later that says: Will be back at five tomorrow. Dinner?

John sends one back that says: Yes.

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Rodney shows up at five-thirty, his bag still slung over his shoulder, dark bruises under his eyes. He's got a gym bag in his free hand, bulky and heavy, if the way that shoulder is sloping downward is anything to go by. John says, "Hey," and reaches out to take it.

Rodney's smile is tight, careful, and the bag is heavy. John wonders what's in it, steps back and waves Rodney in. The other boy's ears and cheeks are red from the cold, his hair messy, his frown more severe than John's seen it in months. Rodney says, "John. I."

And then he's stepping into John's space, dropping his forehead onto John's shoulder, throwing an arm around John's ribs and squeezing. John drops the gym bag, gets his arms around Rodney's shoulders, fingers digging into his thick coat, saying, "Hey, hey, it's okay. It's okay."

Rodney doesn't say anything. John can feel the other boy's cold fingers winding into his shirt, can feel the icy press of Rodney's cheek against his neck. He says, feeling sick, "Your sister?"

Rodney laughs, his breath is a warm puff against John's skin, "She's fine. Just confused. It was, I think it wasn't that bad for her. She doesn't remember it, really." Rodney's just leaning into him, and John knows they should go to the kitchen, knows that any second his mother or father is going to come looking.

"You didn't call back."

Rodney shrugs, his bag is slipping off his shoulder, and John removes one of his arms from Rodney's shoulder, grabs the bag and drops it to the ground. "I tried. But they took Jeannie to the hospital and I had to go along and then when we got back Dad had a bunch of people there looking at what she drew and they wouldn't go away and... It was just crazy."

John hums, tilts his head to the side, just enough to press his cheek against the top of Rodney's head, against his baby soft hair. "So your parents are superheroes, huh?"

Rodney snorts, "That's the rumor." And John had meant to ask why Rodney didn't tell him before. And what it was Jeannie drew that was so horrible. And if he's okay. He'd had a list a thousand questions long, but Rodney is pulling away, turning to the side and unzipping his coat. "God, I'm starving."

"Yeah," John lets everything else drop, follows Rodney to the kitchen, where his parents are sitting at the table trying to look innocent. John raises his eyebrows at them, wondering if they were eavesdropping, and Rodney makes a deep, happy sound and goes for the fried chicken like he hasn't eaten for days.

No one comments on how close John scoots his chair to Rodney's.

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After dinner Rodney wanders back into the foyer, reappears with the gym bag and says, "Come outside with me?" John springs out of his chair so quickly it almost overbalances and Rodney grins at him, cheeks flushing crimson.

It's freezing outside, and John tucks his hands under his arms, wondering if he should have grabbed a coat and shoes. But Rodney hadn't, and he watches the other boy set the gym bag on the ground, watches Rodney crouch down to unzip it.

Rodney looks up at him, eyes bright in the moonlight, "I couldn't wrap it. Is that okay?" And then without waiting for an answer, Rodney's pulling something out of the bag. John's not sure exactly what it is, something metallic and bulky and oddly shaped. He opens his mouth to ask what it is, and Rodney cocks his head to the side, orders, "Don't move."

Rodney's hands on his hips are cold, turning John just a little to the right while Rodney frowns thoughtfully. After a moment Rodney turns away, unfolding the metal thing, talking under his breath, words that John can't hear.

When Rodney stands he brings the metal thing with him, a belt spread between his hands. Rodney says, "Here, hold this end," and shoves one end into John's waiting hands. And then Rodney's circling him, the press of the metal almost painfully cold even through John's jeans.

Rodney is staring down at his own hands, taking the other end back from John, hooking them at John's waist. It's a tight fit, digs in almost painfully against John's hips, and he stares down at it. The metal is segmented, pieces of it long enough to knock against his knees, most if it no longer than his hand. He's aware that it's heavy, but mostly that it's a little uncomfortable.

He opens his mouth, and feels all the words die in his throat. Rodney is looking up at him, eyes big and tense, expression so nakedly hopeful that it makes John's breath catch. John doesn't care if it's the weirdest belt in the word, he is fully willing to express his absolute love for the damn thing.

He doesn't have to. Rodney's moving again, pressing a remote John hadn't even seen him pick up into John's hand. Rodney's saying, "This is up, this is down, right, left. It's simple, right? Like a joystick?" John makes himself look down, tries to focus on what Rodney's telling him.

John says, "What?" aware of how breathy his voice is, how close Rodney is, the temptation of Rodney's warmth.

Rodney smiles at him, half his mouth twisting up, says, "Oh, just try it," and flips a switch John hadn't even noticed on the belt. The entire belt jerks, there's a burst of uncomfortable heat against his legs, hot enough to burn someone without indestructible skin, and he writes off the jeans as a loss. The entire thing is vibrating around his waist, power contained and waiting for an outlet.

John blurts, "Up. You said...It goes up?"

Rodney's full on grinning now, reaches out and knocks John's thumb against the joystick. John has just enough time to be aware of the buzz in the belt, and a kick of movement, and then he's hovering feet off the ground, suspended in open air, looking down at Rodney.

He hits the joystick again, purely experimentally, and finds himself laughing, loud and impossible to contain as he jerks up, up closer to the stars and the sky. His jeans are in tatters and it's freezing cold and the neighbors have got to think he's crazy and he doesn't care at all.

John makes himself land when he starts going numb all over, lands a little rough and Rodney is there, pulling him to his feet. John feels like he's shaking, and doesn't know if it's sheer stupid giddy joy, or just the cold. He thumbs the power off on the belt, throws his arms around Rodney's shoulders, laughing breathlessly, "Rodney! Rodney! You're a genius! Did you know that you were a genius?"

Rodney's yelping, "Ow, hot, hot! Not all of us have no pain receptors, here," and John reaches down to unbuckle the belt, lowers it to the ground before grabbing Rodney again. He lifts the other boy, spins him around just because he can, feeling Rodney's hands catching on his shoulders, fingers tangling in John's shirt. Rodney says, after John's put him down again, voice soft and careful, "So you like it?"

John manages to stop smiling long enough to say, "Genius."

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Part 4

Rodney sleeps beside John that night, and John thinks it should be weird, but there's plenty of room in his bed and it's not like they haven't shared his mattress before. Usually Rodney sprawls across the foot of the bed and John curls up against the headboard. It's not so very different to feel Rodney's warmth spread out all along his side, to be able to open his eyes and stare at the back of Rodney's neck, his soft t-shirt.

Rodney is snoring softly, curled up in on himself, and John walks his fingers across the sheets. Rodney's skin is warm, smells like John's soap and electricity. John holds his breath, stretching one finger out carefully, tracing along the fold of Rodney's shirt.

Rodney whimpers, twitches, and draws his legs up. John pulls his hand away, flops onto his back and stares up at the ceiling. The trees outside his windows cast shadows over the ceiling and walls, and John watches them while waiting for sleep. Beside him Rodney jerks again, and the tiny sound he makes cuts like a knife. It's enough to remind John what pain feels like.

John squeezes his eyes shut, his arms crossing over his chest because god, he just wants to hit something. He just wants everything to be alright again, and he'd dared to hope that it would be, just like that, but Rodney is making sad little sounds and flinching.

Rodney twists again, rolling and pulling at the blankets and John reaches out to straighten them. He freezes when Rodney presses his forehead against John's shoulder, takes one last long whimpering breath, and goes silent. John can feel Rodney's fingers tangling in his shirt sleeve, and thinks he should push Rodney back over to his side of the bed or something.

Instead John feels himself relax, and sinks down into sleep.

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Teyla doesn't find them until lunch the next day. She's dragging Carson along by the hand, and lets him go when she spots Rodney. Rodney slams into the side of the table when Teyla throws her arms around his neck, yelps, "Jesus Christ, ow! You're going to break me in half."

John can't help noticing that that despite his protests Rodney's face is flushed, and that he's smiling helplessly as his pale hands pat awkwardly at Teyla's shoulders. Carson looks like he wants to ask Rodney to please stop touching her, and John takes pity on the other boy, points at his usual seat.

Teyla and Rodney take their own seats after a moment, Rodney still blushing and flustered, Teyla more calm but no less happy. John wonders, with a sick twist in his stomach, if he should scare Carson off so that Rodney has a chance with Teyla. The idea makes him kind of ill, and he's glad when Teyla derails his train of thought, "How were your grandparents, Rodney?"

Rodney shrugs, staring down at his food now. He doesn't sound as miserable as John had expected when he answers, "They're good. Pap asked about you."

Teyla hums, playing with her own food, "And Jeannie?"

John glares at Teyla, kicks at her feet under the table and grinds out, "So, I know me and Rodney finished all our projects over the break. How'd you two do?" John hadn't particularly wanted to spend hours doing the assignments that Rodney had decided they needed to do, but Rodney had sounded almost normal when they were talking about school and so it hadn't seemed so bad.

Carson clears his throat, "About that, why exactly are we studying geometry? It's not in the syllabus that I've yet seen."

John couldn't have asked for a better question. Rodney's eyes are glinting and his hands are waving within seconds. His fork comes dangerously close to poking John in the eye as he explains, "Because we need to know. I mean, come on, odds are we're going to be involved in a fight with some pretty nasty bastards at some point in our lives. Don't you want to know how a plasma beam is going to come at you? Or how to calculate a blast radius? How else are we going to know?"

John grins, cocks his head to the side as Rodney goes on about all the things they need to learn before being sent up against monsters and super-villains. John had never really considered chemistry and spelling to be vital skills in beating something up, and apparently neither had their teachers, but Rodney has reasons why it's absolutely critical for them to learn about each subject.

Carson finally interrupts, looking to Teyla for support, "Well, so I understand you wanting to learn then. But why must the rest of us?"

John ducks his head so that Rodney won't see him smirking. It means he misses seeing Rodney's sputtering, disbelieving, face, but he can hear the impatient scorn in the other boy's voice anyway, "I'm not very well going to team up with people who don't know what they're doing."

The flood of warmth in John's chest is unexpected. He finds himself looking up, staring at Rodney, and smiling helplessly because Rodney means it. John says, "Us, you mean? The four of us? After school?" Teyla is staring at them as well, a considering expression on her face. Carson looks lost, but is keeping his mouth shut.

Rodney shrugs, pushing his food around on his plate and not meeting John's eyes, "I mean—it was just an idea. But, um, we work well together. Me and you. Don't we?"

"Yeah. Yeah we do." Rodney looks up, expression hesitant like he's waiting on John to take the words back, and then smiling softly when John continues, "It's a good idea, Rodney." John hadn't particularly been thinking about what he was going to do after high school, but there's a swell of relief in knowing that even if it's years from now, Rodney's already planning on them sticking together.

Rodney grins, blushing again, and John wants to reach out and touch him, the way that they'd been touching this morning, soft and careful and perfect. He'd woken up with Rodney's head resting on his arm, Rodney's hands balled up in his shirt. John had lain awake for half an hour, just listening to Rodney sleep until his mother had ordered them both down to breakfast.

John's staring at Rodney, and so he sees it when Rodney's expression goes flat and the color drains from his face. John feels his good mood sour, twists to look over his shoulder, automatically tensing up for a fight. He flinches when he realizes who Rodney is looking at.

The Wraith brothers hadn't been in school since that first week, but John hasn't forgotten them. He's not sure he could. He still feels the coldness--the ache--from their touch sometimes. It climbs his spine now, steals his breath from his chest and makes his heart stutter. Rodney's touch against his hand is a flood of warmth, and John jerks back to himself.

Rodney looks more concerned than scared. John makes his mouth twist up into a smile, shrugs, "They were bound to come back sooner or later, right?"

Rodney shrugs, "I hoped they wouldn't."

Carson clears his throat, looking uncomfortable the way he does when they talk about things that happened before he joined their group, "So, excited about the Valentine's Day dance, are we?"

John boggles at the boy, Teyla turns pink, and Rodney snaps, "What are you talking about? It's the beginning of January." Carson turns completely red, ducks his head and shrugs and Teyla pats at the boy's hands.

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The Valentine's Day dance turns out to be the worst thing John has ever heard of. There are girls ambushing him all the time, twirling their hair around their fingers and smiling up at him from beneath their eyelashes. Most of them wander away when he doesn't ask them to the dance, but there're three that ask him and one that keeps asking, no matter how many times John says no.

That's not the bad part.

John is pretty sure he's going to scream if he has to watch one more girl slide shyly up to Rodney. The girls are coming out of the woodwork. The first one is a little red-head that John has never even seen before, who pushes a flower into Rodney's hands before blushing the color of a tomato and rushing off. Rodney passes the flower off to John, and still ends up spending the rest of the day coughing and sneezing.

The next time John sees the girl approaching he shoves Rodney into the boy's restroom while flashing the girl a glare. She doesn't come around again. But that doesn't stop the blond girl, or John's one pursuer who won't take no for an answer and who shifts her interest to Rodney.

By the week before the dance, which for reasons John can't comprehend is on the second of February instead of Valentine's day, John is ready to punch anyone that comes near either of them. He takes comfort in the fact that Rodney is even more freaked out than he is. The more people that suddenly decide to be friendly to Rodney the quieter he gets. He stops smiling at school, and John sort of hates everyone.

When Teyla asks them, softly, if they'll go with her to the mall to pick out a dress, John almost says no. He's thwarted by Rodney talking over him, "Sure, why not?" And Teyla looks so sweetly happy that John feels like a bastard for wanting to refuse her request.

Rodney says, as they stand up to go back to class, "We'll come by your house Saturday afternoon, okay?"

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Rodney is still sleeping curled up against him every night. John wakes up to sleet pounding on the window Saturday morning and Rodney drooling on his arm. Rodney looks relaxed in sleep, his hair getting too long and starting to curl up.

John shifts, brushes a finger along Rodney's brow, feeling warm skin and soft hair and wondering how the hell he's supposed to handle Rodney sleeping in his bed every night. At first it wasn't too bad. Rodney was obviously upset after Christmas break, and if he slept better with his head on John's shoulder then John didn't have a problem with that. God knows, John doesn't have a problem with it now.

But he has a feeling Rodney might. Sooner or later Rodney is going to realize exactly the state their present sleeping arrangement is leaving John in every night. As nice as it is waking up next to Rodney every morning, John has the feeling it won't be worth it when Rodney figures out that John crossed the line from 'friendly interest' to 'impossible crush' months ago.

John sighs, pushes himself upright and scrambles over Rodney out of the bed. Rodney makes a soft sound, rolling in his sleep into the warmth that John left behind before settling. John stares down at him for just a second, and then hurries to the bathroom before he does something stupid like petting Rodney's hair or kissing the back of his head or something.

John can hear his mother and father moving around downstairs. His father is cooking breakfast from the smell of things, and his mother is grouching something at the morning news anchor. Talking back to reporters is a habit that John is pretty sure she didn't have before they met Rodney, and it makes him smile.

The bathroom is cold, and John shivers before jumping into the shower and cranking the water up as hot as he can. If he takes a little longer than usual, and if he thinks about Rodney's hands and mouth maybe a little bit more than he should, then it's not actually hurting anyone.

Rodney is awake and leaning against the wall in the hallway when John finally steps out of the bathroom. John grins, reaches out to mess with Rodney's tangled hair and smiles wider when Rodney just blinks at him dazedly before slouching into the bathroom.

Rodney pulls off his shirt before he shuts the door, and John stands there for a long moment, his mind frozen on the image of Rodney's shoulders stretching down to his back and the loose hang of his flannel pajamas around his hips. He thinks it's not fair. It's hard enough seeing Rodney all soft and sleepy. Seeing him half-naked is pushing John's self-restraint to the limit.

John goes downstairs, and listens to his mother tear the weather forecaster to shreds while his father fries bacon and blends up pancake batter. His father notices him after a moment, waves him over and says, "You ready to learn the secret to flipping perfect pancakes?"

John figures if nothing else it'll take his mind off the fact that his best friend is upstairs naked and wet and how incredibly fascinating he finds that. He's still flipping pancakes, most of his turning out lopsided and burnt, when Rodney thunders his way down the stairs.

Rodney smells like John's shampoo and he crowds up behind John. There's a pause when Rodney just hovers, and then he's reaching around John to poke at the pile of damaged pancakes. John slaps at his hand with the spatula, says, "Hey, keep your hands to yourself."

Rodney snorts, snatching a pancake, bouncing it from hand to hand before folding it in half and sticking as much of it as he can into his mouth. Rodney grins around the pancake at John, and John smiles helplessly back and says without managing any bite at all, "They're not very good. I'm just learning."

It's one of those awkward moments where John knows his father and mother are watching and pretending not to. Running the blender and yelling louder at the weatherman does not actually convince John that they're not paying attention.

Of course, then Rodney swallows and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before saying, "Are you kidding? They're perfect." And John doesn't care who is watching.

John stands there, smiling helplessly at Rodney eating his poor deformed pancakes until his father shouts, "Shit! Burning!" and then John gets shoved to the side as his father dumps baking soda all over the flames licking up around the pancake left on the stove.

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John still smells like smoke when they slog their way over to Teyla's house, but so does Rodney so John doesn't worry about it too much. He's sort of surprised by how close he lives to Teyla. Her house is a half mile away at most, but he's never been there. Rodney obviously knows the way, chattering the entire trip about the frigid weather and John's exploding pancakes and how John didn't leave him enough hot water to shower with.

John answers in all the appropriate places, and watches the snowflakes catch in Rodney's eyelashes, which is literally hell on his concentration. He doubts that there's any chance he'd be able to find his way back to Teyla's house on his own. It seems like a fair trade.

Teyla's house is smaller than his, set in the middle of a small lot with tons of trees and three older cars in the narrow driveway. There are a bunch of bushes set up around the brick house, John assumes in the spring and summer there might be flowers, and he can hear the riot of noise and voices from the road. Rodney makes a face, says with a shrug, "Big family."

Rodney stops at the edge of the driveway, dropping his chin against his chest and pulling his hands free from their gloves. The gloves get shoved at John, and Rodney extends his hands, fingers jumping and twitching. Inside the house there's a swell of noise, phones ringing and fire alarms going off and all of them falling silent a few seconds later.

Teyla pops her head out one of the second story windows, calls across to them, "I will be right down!"

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Teyla's uncle drives them to the mall. He's a huge guy, all long hair and leather clothes and a booming voice. Crowded into the back seat of the tiny sedan with Rodney, John figures he finally understands why Rodney refuses to go inside Teyla's house.

Luckily, Halling doesn't seem to have any intention of following them around the mall itself. The big man says something about visiting the city park and being back in a few hours and John watches with a feeling of relief as the man drives off. Halling doesn't seem like a bad guy. He's just a whole lot of guy. John feels slightly bulldozed.

Oddly, the feeling doesn't really go away when Teyla grabs Rodney's wrist and drags him into the mall, her face set in a look of grim determination. John follows when Rodney shoots him a desperate, pleading, look. John is starting to think that quite possibly they made a serious miscalculation by agreeing to help Teyla find a dress and shoes for the dance.

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Four hours later, John really just wants to curl up in a corner and cry.

They've been in every store in the mall, or at least all the ones full of anything resembling a dress. They've seen Teyla in long, flowing gowns. They've seen Teyla in fluffy things with way too many sequins. They've seen more of Teyla's legs than John is comfortable with anyone seeing, and he and Rodney had both shoved her back into the dressing room for that one.

Teyla had settled, finally, on a billowy green dress. John was sure she'd used about a dozen other adjectives to describe it but to him it just looked green. And billowy. John did appreciate that it came down to her ankles and that the neckline was high enough that Carson wouldn't be able to try to sneak a quick peek.

When John had said as much Teyla had given him a puzzled look, but Rodney had agreed immediately, and suggested that she wear a jacket as well.

John had thought the nightmare was over after they successfully acquired a dress, but then Teyla had dragged them along to roughly a hundred shoe stores. That had mostly been boring, too, until Teyla had made Rodney put on two of the shoes she was considering so that she could better compare and contrast.

It's quite possible that John had never seen the appeal of high heels until that precise moment. It had still taken Teyla another forty minutes to pick out the pair she wanted, but John had been blissfully distracted for most of that.

But now they were done, finished, and he'd somehow gotten roped into carrying all of Teyla's bags. John tried to be a little offended by being forced to be the pack mule, but Teyla promised ice cream and besides, he was stronger than they were. Rodney protested that it was far too cold for ice cream, but his eyes went all wide and sparkly when they stepped into line anyway.

They're second from the front of the line when the screams start.

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There's no time to wonder what's going on. There's not even time to run. Within seconds of the screams starting the crash of shattering glass fills the air. John can hear metal grinding together, and as the first wave of screaming people rush by them, he can hear roaring.

John drops the bags in his hands, grabs Teyla and Rodney and starts to pull them in the direction that everyone else is running and that's when all hell really breaks loose.

John finds himself frozen, staring at the gigantic thing that's crashing its way into the food court. It's too big for him to immediately make sense of it, all thick black fur and bright white teeth, a big red tongue hanging out of its open mouth. John catches yellow slanted eyes, claws, and a wildly thrashing barbed tail, and then the thing lowers its head towards the ground and roars.

The sound booms impossibly loud in the wide open space of the food court. It's loud enough to hurt, and all around them people are tripping over themselves and sobbing, scrambling for the exits. John blinks, and Rodney hits him hard in the shoulder, shouting, "Teyla, can you—" he taps the side of his head and points at the bear-scorpion-cat thing.

Teyla's already shaking her head, her expression tight and calm even though her eyes are huge and terrified. She starts shouting to be heard over the cacophony of noise all around them, "Its mind is too—"

Rodney doesn't give her a chance to finish. He's still beating at John's shoulders while he yells, "Get Teyla out of here, she's not—she's squishable, John."

"We're all getting out of here." The thing is tearing into the Old Navy store across from them. John watches a cashier go down under a huge pawn, hears a bloodcurdling scream abruptly cut off, and curses. He starts to pull the others towards the door again and Rodney kicks and hits at him until he growls, "Stop it! What's wrong with you?"

Rodney's eyes are huge, bright and scared, his mouth white and trembling. But he says, his voice barely shaking at all, "I can stop it. I think. But you have to get Teyla out of here."

John shakes his head, pulls on Rodney again, "I'm not leaving you here. Olympia and Captain Arthur will be here soon, they can handle this." John's kind of wondering where the adult super heroes are. They should be here by now and the thing is, oh God, chewing on the poor cashier and John stomach turns. If he can just get Teyla and Rodney out of here he can come back and do—well, he can do something.

Rodney snaps, "Teyla, I can stop it." And John has time to wonder why Rodney is pleading his case with Teyla before his mind goes curiously blank and he finds himself letting go of Rodney without intending to do that at all. Rodney looks at him, just for a second, expression drenched in stubborn determination and terror, and then he's turning, stalking towards the thing.

John tries to yell after him, tries to make himself move, but he can't. He tries to flash an accusing look at Teyla, but he can't. All he can do is watch.

Rodney has his arms extended out to the sides, and all around them John can hear things moving. He can hear metal screaming against metal, gears grinding together, the snap and crackle of electricity. The air smells like burnt grease and smoke and something goes flying over John's head, something crawls by John's feet.

The machines swarm from around the room, twisting themselves into different shapes as they converge on Rodney, walking, flying, dragging themselves and then crawling up over each other. John watches them slot into place, watches Rodney build a giant from the ankles up.

Rodney's robot's head brushes the ceiling, and it steps over Rodney, who has sunk to his knees, his whole body shaking. The huge bear-thing turns towards the noise, its yellow eyes sharp and calculating and John watches it shift towards Rodney and no—

Thought and movement come back in a rush. John hears Teyla make a soft, pained, sound, and then he's moving. He reaches Rodney just as the robot and the bear-thing crash together. Metal grinds and there's a wet, fleshy thump and John throws himself across Rodney's back as the gigantic things above them twist sideways and almost fall.

The bear-thing roars, all pain and anger, and something big and metal that was possibly once an oven goes flying through the space where Rodney's head had been a second before. John's heart is thundering in his chest and Rodney is twitching under him, vibrating like a tuning fork.

John pushes his weight to the side, looking down at Rodney. He curses, the words swallowed by the animal's roars. Rodney is staring blankly somewhere over John's shoulder, blood sliding out of his nose, his skin terrifyingly pale. His hands are moving, fingers jerking in some kind of complicated rhythm that John can't understand.

John shakes him, panic building in his chest, and then Teyla is there. She pulls Rodney's head into her lap, her tiny dark hands pressing over his temples. John watches her jerk, her head snapping back as her mouth falls open. She whimpers, and John can almost see her struggling for control.

She must get it, because she gasps out, "I am...aiding him as best I can. But he-we-I will not—she's going to hurt herself, John—have to stop the—hold it still for you--please--" Teyla's voice breaks around the last word, and John tries not to be thoroughly weirded out by the fact that Rodney's mouth had been moving in unison with hers, though he'd made no sound.

Behind and above him there's a metallic crunch, and a sharp high yelp from the bear-thing, and John makes himself look. The robot has the bear-thing pined, its makeshift arms wrapped around the beast and John feels something cold and terrible settle into his gut.

He pushes himself to his feet, and he doesn't remember planning to run, but he is.

The bear-thing's fur is thick and coarse. John grabs handfuls of it and hauls himself up its body. It tries to twist, he can hear its massive jaws snapping open and closed, trying to get a bite of him. He pulls himself around to its back, grabs one of its huge ears and from there it's easy to settle himself across its skull.

John can feel the vibrations of its growls through his entire body. Up close it smells like blood and rot and the fur on its face is damp with gore. John grits his teeth, threads his fingers together and raises his hands above his head.

He slams them back down as hard as he can into the top of the thing's head. He can feel bone shift and give beneath the blow, and the beast roars, thrashes hard against the robot's hold. John can hear Teyla scream, and he snarls, raises his hands again and again and again.

It takes five blows to get through the beast's skull, and then his hands are covered in blood and gray matter. John's stomach lurches up into his throat, and the beast gives a final convulsive shudder, and goes limp. The robot jerks to the side, and then pieces start falling off of it, and John has time to curse before they all go down in a mess of spinning metal parts and brains.

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John has to rip his way out from under the robot, which he feels kind of guilty about, but he's not just going to lie there waiting for someone to move it off of him. Luckily the bear-thing rolled away when they landed, and so while he ends up covered in grease and oil, he does not end up covered in entrails and blood. John figures that's definitely a good thing.

And then he stops thinking.

Teyla and Rodney are both sprawled across the floor, and John's heart lodges itself in his throat when he throws himself towards them. John slides to his knees beside them, not sure if he should touch them or not, wondering why the hell Teyla hadn't wanted to bring her boyfriend along on this shopping trip.

Teyla is slumped forward over Rodney, and John touches her shoulder carefully. She stirs at the touch, makes a soft, pained sound and starts to push herself up. Her hair is a mess and she's a little too pale but she doesn't look injured and John laughs, giddy with relief. John makes himself ask, when he's managed to curb his inappropriate laughter, "Are you okay?"

Teyla looks across at him, blinks, and then starts coughing. She waves John off when he reaches for her, and after a moment the coughing fades. She says, her voice rough, "I am fine. That was...interesting."

John nods, not really paying attention. Rodney is still out, flat on his back on the hard floor, blood still trickling slowly out of his nose. John winces, reaches out and carefully brushes his fingers over Rodney's neck. When Rodney doesn't start screaming in pain he firms the touch, just enough to feel Rodney's pulse, to be able to feel him breathing.

Teyla says, soft, her voice almost a whisper, "Is it dead?"

"Yes," and John would have said more, but that's when the paramedics finally come storming in, led by Olympia in her golden armor. John thinks he recognizes her from somewhere, but is more concerned with shouting for help for Rodney.

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John hadn't really been looking forward to going to the dance anyway, and so when the doctors say Rodney has to spend the next week resting, John jumps at the chance to stay home with him. John is less pleased about the way Rodney moves like his bones hurt, the way he winces when he thinks no one is looking.

They don't talk about it. Not even when John's mother looks over Rodney's medical folder when they pick him up from the hospital and her face blanches. They don't talk about it, even when it's all over the news about how three kids saved who knew how many lives at the Briarthorn East Mall.

They don't talk about it. But Rodney doesn't protest when John keeps a hand on his elbow while he limps between classes. And on Thursday, when Rodney's hands start shaking, and won't stop, on the bus ride home, Rodney doesn't complain when John picks him up and carries him into the house.

John isn't sure what to say, and he's terrified that Rodney is going to realize what a coward he is. He waits for Rodney to turn away from him, to tear him a new one for wanting to run instead of wanting to fight. He waits, but it doesn't happen, and maybe that scares him most of all.

He settles for pretending it never happened, at least as far as talking about it goes. But John can't stop himself from seeing Rodney sprawled on his back, blood stark and wet against unnaturally pale skin. He reaches out at night, rests his hand on Rodney's chest, over his heart, and it's the only way he can sleep. John is glad that Rodney doesn't question it, because he's not sure he can explain.

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The Friday of the dance Rodney can barely move by the time they get home from school, and John is so angry he can't talk. He'd wanted to forfeit Save the Citizen, because Rodney was in no shape for it at all, but the teachers had said they had to participate and the injustice of it had pushed all of John's buttons.

They'd won, of course they'd won, but Rodney had been so pale and wobbly afterward that John had wanted to just start bashing people's heads in. He'd been ashamed of himself, and concentrated on keeping Rodney upright and had been marginally surprised when Rodney let him support most of his weight for the rest of the day.

John's mother takes one look at them coming through the door and motions John mutely into the living room. There are three boxes of pizza open on the coffee table, and bottles of soda sitting beside it. Rodney brightens at the food, shrugging off John's hold and limping his way over to the couch.

John stays by his mother, blinks up at her. She smiles, soft, and says, "If you want us to stay in tonight, you know we will, right?"

In truth, John is kind of glad that his parents are going out. His mother has been hovering over Rodney since they brought him back from the hospital, and his father has been making a lot of phone calls that don't sound anything like happy. John says, "It's fine. We're fine. Have fun. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

His mother rolls her eyes and ruffles his hair before she says, "We shouldn't be back too late. These work dinners never last too long."

John bats at her hands, but not hard enough to stop her, though he does whine, "Mooom," until she snorts and cuffs him in the side of the head before giving him a push towards the living room. Rodney is already on his third slice of pizza, and John grins.

She says, when John just pauses and watches for a moment, "You better hurry before he eats it all."

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They eat more pizza than John is sure is healthy for people to eat, and then go back for seconds. Rodney commandeered the remote at some point, and they end up watching what might be every Star Trek DVD ever made. Rodney falls asleep halfway through Insurrection—which John thinks is self-defense—and John gives up watching the movie to watch him sleep.

Rodney is still pale, but the lines of pain around his eyes have started to fade. Carson hadn't been able to do anything to help, because Rodney wasn't so much hurt as burnt out. He'd pushed himself beyond his limits and then kept pushing. It had been too much, controlling that amount of tech, and Rodney probably would have broken under the strain if Teyla hadn't joined her mind to his when she did.

It makes John's stomach ache. He shifts on the couch, reaching out and pulling on Rodney's shoulder just enough to make him slide across the cushion. Rodney's head is a heavy, comforting weight on his shoulder, and John leans his cheek against Rodney's hair and closes his eyes.

He falls asleep.

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John wakes up to unfamiliar voices, to a woman saying, "Oh, it's lovely what you've done with the house since you've been here." John blinks, stares at the menu screen for the DVD, cycling back through for probably the hundredth time, and yawns. Rodney's still sleeping, they've both shifted, and Rodney's sprawled mostly on top of him, his head butting up under John's chin. It feels nice.

John has pretty much decided to go back to sleep when his mother says, "Thank you. We've been busy but, well, things are starting to come together. Hold on just a second and I'll get you that book." John lets his eyes slip back closed, curling his fingers up just a little where they're resting on Rodney's back. He drifts, aware that his father is still talking to whoever they have out there in the foyer but not really hearing the words.

It's not until his mother's footsteps, pounding down the stairs, startling him back to a higher level of awareness, that John realizes what they're talking about. He catches, blinking up at the ceiling, "—should warn you. We've heard good things about your boy, but well, we've also heard some rumors."

John feels his body tensing up, all the anger and frustration that's been building for the last week flaring up sudden and hot in his belly. Rodney stirs, like he can read John's unrest even in his sleep, and John feels guilty for waking him. His mother is saying, voice carefully emotionless, "Rumors?"

A man answers her, a voice John doesn't recognize, "About the McKay boy. It's such a shame about him and word is, well, that your boy has been spending an awful lot of time around him. We thought you should know. Put a stop to it now before any real damage is done."

Rodney goes tense, and John thinks this has got to be the shittiest way to wake up ever. He winces, rubbing his hand on Rodney's back in a comforting circle, and maybe that would have been enough, except Rodney makes a tiny, pained noise at the touch. And it's just too much.

John shoves himself to his feet, depositing Rodney on the cushions. His eyes snap to the strangers standing in the foyer, and he snarls, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

There's a tall man, wearing a suit and glasses, and a woman standing in front of him with her coat buttoned up to her neck. It's the woman that speaks, her voice sickly sweet, "John—it is John, isn't it?—my daughter's spoken very kindly about you, you know. Elizabeth says you've got a lot of potential, and we just want to help you realize that, well, there are certain people our kind doesn't mix with."

John can feel his hands balling into fists, his mouth opening. He doesn't get the chance to spit the angry words behind his teeth. Rodney is pushing himself off the sofa, movements slow and careful, voice tight and hurt, "I should go."

John twists, ignoring the strangers, catching at Rodney's shoulders and holding him in place. He opens his mouth and his father talks over him, voice low and angry, "No, Rodney, it's fine. The Weirs were just leaving."

The strange woman scoffs, "I realize that neither of you have a power yourself, that's why we've been so patient with you. But you've got to understand. That boy is a bloodbath waiting to happen and allowing your son to associate with him is like—"

John almost goes over the couch. He'd like nothing more than to beat the shit out of these bastards. But Rodney has gone perfectly still, his expression breaking, sadness and loss and John can't leave him. He wraps his arms around Rodney's shoulders, squeezes him and pleads, "Dad, Dad, please."

He didn't have to ask. The sound of the door slamming open echoes through the house, and his father's voice is cold as ice, "Get out of my house right now." And John wants to yell that that's not good enough.

His mother makes that unnecessary, her voice low and furious, "How dare you come into my home and insult a boy you obviously don't even know. You are not a hero, Kaitlyn Weir. You're a racist bitch, and if I find out you or your daughter have come anywhere near Rodney I will—so help me God--make you wish you had never been born. And I believe my husband told you to get the fuck out."

A few seconds later the door slams again. In John's arms Rodney is shaking, his face buried against the side of John's neck. John rocks him back and forth, tightening his arms as much as he dares, ignoring the burn in his eyes when Rodney hesitantly raises his own arms, digging his fingers into the back of John's shirt and holding on.

John is pretty sure his shirt is getting suspiciously wet, but Rodney isn't making a sound. His shoulders hitch up with each ragged breath, and John stares at his parents, frozen in the foyer with identical looks of anger and disgust on their faces. He can't seem to stop clinging to Rodney.

It's his father that breaks the spell of stillness, reaching out and grabbing the car keys and heading for the door. John's mother hesitates just a second, and then her expression firms up and she follows her husband, calling, "You take care of him until we get back, John."

John fully intends to do just that, for as long as Rodney needs him to.

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Part 5

John loses track of time while holding Rodney, but he does finally manage to get them back on the couch. Rodney curls up immediately, legs drawn up to his chest, face still buried against John's shoulder. John looks for words, for the things he's supposed to say to make this better and comes up empty. He manages, finally, "Do you want me to call Teyla?"

Rodney is shaking his head before John is finished speaking, and John whispers, "Okay." John feels the worst kind of useless, sitting there, holding onto Rodney when he should be out doing something to make this right. "It's okay."

Rodney laughs, short and hysterical, and John winces. After that he keeps his mouth shut, concentrating on running his hand up and down Rodney's back. By the time the front door slams open again Rodney has mostly stopped shaking.

It doesn't last.

John's mother comes through the door shouting, "—can't just come into our house! This is private property and you are trespassing."

Rodney tenses immediately. John's right there with him. Dread settles heavy as lead in the pit of John's stomach at Landry's voice, "According to the Nominative Population Protective Act we, in fact, have every right to be here. And I'd like to remind you that it was you and your husband that came to us for help. Now where's the boy?"

John jerks to his feet. He just spent two hours calming Rodney down, trying to fix the damage already done. He'll be damned if he's just going to sit here and listen to this bullshit again. John scrambles over the couch, storming towards Landry and his parents, shoving hard in the middle of Landry's chest and slamming him into the wall, fist already pulled back.

His arm is caught before he can land the punch. John jerks in surprise when he's lifted off his feet. John snarls, twisting to look at his captor and finds himself staring into the tired eyes of Samantha Carter. She looks like she got pulled out of bed, golden hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, wearing sweat pants and a faded sports jersey.

John's parents protest in unison. Rodney shouts over both of them, "Put John down!" John squirms around until he can see Rodney, standing by the couch, leaning heavily on it. Rodney's right hand is twitching and there's a lot of fear in his expression—right under all the anger.

Carter sighs, lowering John back to the ground but not releasing her hold. Landry steps around all of them, scanning their living room with a sour expression on his face. The man says, "You know why we're here, Rodney."

Rodney tilts his chin up, his hand balled into a fist now, "I didn't hurt anyone."

Landry heaves a sigh, "These laws are in place for a reason--" Rodney snorts, loudly, but he's also turning away, shoulders drooping helplessly. John pulls on Carter's hold, but her grip doesn't budge and he flashes her a sour look that she ignores.

John's mother speaks, voice low and tight, "It's my understanding that the Protective Act was set up to protect citizens from powered people who got out of control. Rodney has never done anything in this house that we needed protection from. We came to you people for help, are you really so—"

Landry turns back to face her, arms crossed over his chest, "Do you know for sure that nothing he's done is dangerous? You can't. None of us can. That—" Landry gestures at their entertainment station, greater than the sum of its parts after Rodney had his way with it, "—could be a bomb for all we know. We can't allow it. Now. You can either tell me what else in this house he's modified, or we'll just look for ourselves."

There's nothing but ice in John's mothers eyes as she stares mutely back at Landry, and John feels a fierce burst of affection for her. His father is standing by her, arms crossed, expression storm-cloud furious. They all keep their silence, and Landry sighs, waving Carter forward before Rodney interrupts, "No. No, I'll show you. Don't—don't mess up their stuff."

"Rodney—" John starts, but Rodney waves a helpless hand, not meeting his gaze. Rodney points mutely at the television, and John jerks in surprise when Carter takes a deep breath and turns her gaze on it. The lasers that shoot from her eyes are unexpected, and John watches their television shimmer before disappearing with a sizzle and the smell of burnt plastic.

"There's one upstairs, too," Rodney is mumbling, pushing past all of them and heading up the stairs. Landry and Carter exchange a look and then Carter starts up the stairs, dragging John along. When his parents move to follow Landry calls them back, and John can hear raised voices, angry shouting, but can't concentrate on it.

Rodney hesitates for a second outside of John's room, before opening the door and gesturing at the television against the wall, all the video game systems melded into it. There's another sigh from Carter, and then the flash of heat from her eyes and a film of smoke along the ceiling. She turns to leave, and then pauses. She says, "What's that?" pointing at the flight belt Rodney had made for John, hanging over the back of John's closet door.

No one says a word, and she shakes her head, walking over to it and pulling it off the door. John watches in mute, numb shock, as her eyes start to flare brilliant sapphire again. Rodney jerks forward, his hands catching at the belt, his voice a low, desperate plea, "It's John's. Please, I made it for him and it's his. Please. Please don't. I swear it's not anything bad. I swear."

John doesn't see how anyone could say no to Rodney, his face a mask of agony, his blue eyes so wide and shiny it hurts. Carter bounces the belt in her hand, and then finally lets John go. She raises her free hand, gently pats Rodney's shoulder, "How about I take this back to school? We'll let Mr. Jackson look at it, and he'll decide, okay?"

Rodney is nodding, fast and desperate, and John steps around Carter, wraps his arm around Rodney's shoulders and glares at her. Carter looks almost remorseful, but John can't seem to bring himself to stop thinking hateful things at her. She takes a step back before saying, "You know the drill, Rodney. I have to tell you this is your second strike. After a third offense we're not going to be able to keep you out of the government's program."

Rodney's still only managing nods, but John has found his voice. He spits, "Going to take him away and put him in a confinement camp?"

Carter flinches, "Not all of us agree with the laws, John."

She does look legitimately upset. John doesn't care, because in the long run it doesn't matter. "That doesn't mean very much when you follow them anyway, does it? What the hell is wrong with you people? I've probably misused my powers a—"

Rodney jerks, reaching up and slapping a hand over John's mouth, blurting, "No! No, he hasn't. Please, just go away." Carter hesitates another second, her expression torn somewhere between sick and upset. Good. John hopes that her conscience never comes clean.

She says, when she finally exits the room, "I am sorry." Rodney says nothing, stays frozen with his hand over John's mouth until she closes the door. Then he hiccups, sinking to the ground. John lets out a shaky breath, and drops beside him, more of a barely controlled fall than sitting. John leans against the wall, pulls Rodney up against his chest, and tunes out the shouting match going on downstairs until the front door slams closed.

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John jumps at the soft knock on his door. He'd been zoning out, rubbing Rodney's back and staring blankly at the far wall. He has to clear his throat twice before he can force words out of his tight throat, and even then he only manages, "Yeah?"

His door swings open slowly, and John's mother makes a tiny sound when she sees them. John blinks numbly across at her and his father, waiting for them to somehow make this okay. John's surprised when they walk over, when his mother sits down behind Rodney and places a gentle hand on his back while his father leans against the wall beside John.

Rodney says, his voice muffled against John's shirt, "I'm so sorry."

John squeezes his eyes shut, and his mother says, "Oh, honey, none of that was your fault, okay? People do...people do horrible, hateful, things, and it's their own fault. We're the ones that are sorry. We didn't—we didn't know that the Weirs were the norm."

John can feel Rodney's fingers twisting in his shirt when he says, "You're really not mad at me? They blew up your stuff."

"Yes. They did. Not you." John's father sounds as angry as John feels, and that's a relief, that means that this terrible anger in John's chest isn't wrong. There's a pause, and John thinks about how weird it is that they're all just sitting on his bedroom floor. And then his father continues, "Rodney, we've been trying to get in touch with your parents for almost a week. That's why we finally went to the school board. Where are they?"

Rodney shrugs, "They're probably busy. They're...you know." Rodney shifts again, his voice a little clearer when he continues, "They're very important people. They don't really have time for this kind of, um, behavioral problem."

John's mother hisses, a rough exhalation of displeasure, and John feels compelled to add, "They're super heroes."

"Says who?" John's mother snaps, and then when Rodney flinches, "Oh, no, I didn't—I'm sorry. We just wanted you to know that none of that was a reflection of what we thought, honey. You feel free to do whatever you want in this house. They won't be given any excuse to come back in here, so you just do your little—" she makes a broad gesture, "—whatever."

John's father shifts, pushing off the wall and offering his wife a hand up. She bends down, presses a kiss to the top of Rodney's head before following her husband out the door. Rodney blurts, as they're shutting the door, "They should have given you money. Reimbursement. For what they had to remove. They did, right?"

John's mother smiles, though there's nothing friendly in the tight expression, "They offered. We passed."

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By the time John finally gets them to bed it's so late it's early. Rodney is mostly asleep, stress exhausting him and spooling him up at the same time. They collapse onto the mattress in a tangle of limbs and John is tired enough to forget why it's a bad idea to roll onto his side and pull Rodney's back in tight against his chest.

The arm slid around Rodney's waist is for Rodney's comfort, and John's nose is brushing the back of Rodney's neck for his own. They sleep fully clothed, on top of the sheets, and John still wakes up comfortable and warm. John blinks sleepily, absently rubbing his thumb over Rodney's stomach where it settled during the night.

Rodney says, "Morning."

John startles, sits bolt upright and Rodney snorts in amusement. John rubs at his eyes, feeling himself flush and trying to figure out how to hide the color in his cheeks, "How you feeling?" Rodney sobers immediately, and John feels like a heel for asking.

Rodney fidgets with the blankets, shrugs, and John decides to let the subject drop. John slides out of bed, hooking his thumb towards the bathroom, mumbling, "I'm gonna go get a shower, okay?" He doesn't even make it a step before Rodney is snapping into a sitting position, his eyes going wide.

Rodney chokes out, "Wait!" and if John hadn't already frozen that would have stopped him in his tracks. He stands stock still, and Rodney shifts towards him, arms snaking around his waist, face pressing against John's stomach. Rodney squeezes him hard, mumbles, "Thank you."

John can only stare, his mouth gone dry, his skin tingly all over. He swallows, his throat makes a clicking sound, and carefully runs his hand back through Rodney's hair. Rodney pulls back after a moment, smile just a little awkward, and John feels his own grin stretch kind of dopily across his face. Rodney shrugs, "Just. You know. For everything."

John clears his throat, wondering how he could convince Rodney to do that again, and then takes a step back. "Right. Yes. It's no problem." And then John flees to the bathroom, because he is a big, stupid, coward.

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The thing is, John thinks as he scrubs viciously at his hair, that the first time he had seen Rodney, John realized he was cute. Not like the greatest beauty ever or anything, but definitely someone John wouldn't have minded figuring out this whole 'bisexual' thing with. Rodney had been kind of alternately awkward and shy and loud and pushy, and John had been immediately charmed.

And then, over a terribly short period of time, Rodney had just slotted himself into John's life. He went from cute acquaintance to the best friend John ever had in about a week. And after that he'd kept getting more and more important.

Rodney was John's undefeated Save the Citizen partner. He was the only person in the country that knew John could list every alien race from Star Wars in alphabetical order while supplying species details. He had provided John the means to fly. He was willing to take on gigantic monsters to save people that probably would rather have locked him up than talk to him. And he was, as far as John could tell, not at all interested in making out with John behind the school bleachers.

It's not fair, but John's starting to think that maybe the universe generally isn't. He'll take what he can get.

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They spend the day curled on the couch. Rodney doesn't talk much, not even when Teyla shows up. Her joy over the dance dissolves the moment that she sees Rodney's face. John is left the task of explaining what happened while Teyla frets and Rodney just snuggles closer against his side. On the plus side, it gets them out of having to listen about how bad a dancer Carson is, but even John is willing to concede that isn't much of a silver lining.

Teyla ends up staying for dinner, which isn't exactly rare on the weekends. John is relieved that no one tries to force levity into the meal. They eat mostly in silence, and John spends half of the meal watching Rodney push his food around his plate before he finally gets up and retrieves the ice cream from the freezer.

Rodney blinks up at him when John sets the carton in front of him with a spoon, and John just shrugs. Blueberry ice cream isn't something John has ever had any desire to try, but it's one of those foods that make Rodney light up. It started finding its way into the freezer somewhere around Rodney's second week of all but living with them.

John isn't aware he's holding his breath until Rodney flips the carton open and hums happily around the first spoonful. Then his breath escapes in a rush, and he sinks back into his own chair, avoiding his parents eyes and Rodney tucks into the carton. He still doesn't eat very much, but it's more than he would have, and John feels suitably pleased with himself when he puts the remaining ice cream away after dinner.

When they finally go to bed, almost embarrassingly early, still exhausted from the previous day, John flops down on his back. It takes him a moment to realize that Rodney is lying tense on his side, and John opens his mouth to ask what's wrong when Rodney reaches out and grabs his arm.

John is pretty sure it's a mistake for him to let Rodney pull him over. But Rodney makes a happy little sound when John curls up behind him, and doesn't seem to mind John's arm around him. John falls asleep to Rodney's cold feet pressed against his legs and Rodney's soft worn t-shirt under his hand.

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Sunday is better, John thinks. Rodney is still quiet, but he looks less lost. And he eats his food. By the time they crash on the couch to ooh and ah over the new television his parents bought, John is daring to hope that they might have been able to fix most of the damage of Friday night.

And then Rodney starts fidgeting. John casts him a worried look, but Rodney isn't paying him any attention. John watches Rodney stare at his father, fussing with wires and sitting on his hands. John starts to reach out, not sure what he's going to say, and his mother's hand on his shoulder stops him.

John looks up at her, puzzled, and she shrugs but doesn't explain. John is still wondering what the hell he's missing when Rodney takes a deep breath and stands up. Rodney stomps over to John's father, and then reaches out and takes the wires away from him. Rodney doesn't ask for permission, just drops the wires to the side and rests his fingertips against the screen.

There's grinding. And screeching. A few sparks. But less than a minute later the television pops on. Rodney steps away from it slowly, clenching and unclenching his fist before taking a deep breath and turning to face the rest of them. Rodney looks surprised to find them all watching him, waves his hands and blurts, "Screw them, anyway," before throwing himself back down onto the couch.

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By Monday Rodney is mostly himself, babbling happily about his text books on the bus ride. John leans back in the seat and soaks it in. John is still on cloud nine as they walk down the hall, Rodney not protesting John supporting his arm, when Rodney stumbles.

John has time to register the snide laughter before he's catching Rodney. He doesn't have to look to confirm that it's Sumner and his damn cronies, and the burn of pleasure in his chest is a surprise. John has been waiting for days to find someone to unload on. And he doesn't even have to feel guilty about beating on Sumner.

John steadies Rodney, and turns towards Sumner. The older boy is smirking, and before John can so much as pop him one the boy's head is snapping to the side, the sound of the slap echoing through the suddenly quiet hall. John boggles at the girl who hasn't even spoken to them since the second week of school when she raises her hand and slaps Sumner again.

Sumner raises one arm to guard his face while sputtering, "Elizabeth? Baby, what the hell?"

Elizabeth is sneering, her pretty face twisting up with her expression, "What is wrong with you?" Her voice is low and furious and John watches his breath fog up in front of him. Beside him Rodney shoves at John, expression curious and open.

Sumner looks confused and very uncomfortable. His jaw cracks when he speaks, "It's just McKay. He's not even going to be here much longer. The government is going to come take him away any day now and—"

John snaps, "The hell they will."

At the same time Elizabeth says, voice cold and calm, "'It's just McKay'? Do you even listen to yourself? Do you even listen to me?" Freezing air slams into them like a wall, there's frost forming across Sumner's eyelashes. The older boy looks terrified, and John doesn't blame him.

Rodney steps forward and surprises the hell out of John by wrapping his hand around Elizabeth's shoulder. Elizabeth startles, and Rodney says, "As touching as the sudden defense is, maybe you don't want to do this here?"

Elizabeth blinks at Rodney and then shakes herself, the temperature jumping abruptly higher. Rodney continues, quieter and with an edge of viciousness that's almost tangible, "Also? Find a different cause to adopt for your little rebellion against your folks, okay? I'm not available for use as a special interest group."

Rodney spins on his heel, his face drenched in disgust, and shoulders his way past John. John isn't exactly sure he understands what just happened, and takes off after Rodney. Elizabeth calls, "Wait!" and Rodney turns back to face her, arms crossed over his chest. She looks tense, her mouth turned down in the corners when she says, "It's not like that."

"No? For two years you giggle behind your hand every time your boyfriend makes my life hell and what? You suddenly had a change of heart? Please." Rodney scoffs, "If your pretty little princess life isn't exciting enough for you go fuck one of the norms to upset mommy and daddy. Leave me out of it." John hasn't seen Rodney this angry before, it's rare to see Rodney angry at all. He reaches out, rests a hand on Rodney's back, not trying to calm him down—Rodney has all the right in the world to be furious—just to let Rodney know that he's there.

Elizabeth jerks back like she's been slapped herself, color staining high in her cheeks. She says, her voice soft, "You're right." Rodney snorts, mouth twisting up, and she continues, "Partially right. But I'm not—it's nothing to do with my parents. I was," she pauses, takes a deep breath, "I was in Briarthorn when that thing came through. In Old Navy. In the checkout line. I saw what you did. You had a clear path to the exit and you came back."

Rodney is staring at her, his expression closed down. John scowls, because he can feel the tremor that runs up Rodney's spine at the mention of the mall. And when Rodney turns on his heel, John can see the way his hands are balled up into fists. John keeps his hand on Rodney's back when he starts down the hall again.

Elizabeth calls after them, "I'm trying to say thank you!"

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The scene between Elizabeth and Sumner, and then Elizabeth and Rodney, ripples through the school. The entire week is spent in a flurry of whispers and pointing every time John and Rodney enter a room. After his initial flare of anger Rodney makes an effort to ignore it, and John follows his lead. It's not that important, anyway.

Rodney is back to himself by Friday, no longer wincing when he moves too fast. John bumps shoulders with him as they gear up for Save the Citizen, by now rote and ritual, "Where are we in the order?" Picking people randomly hadn't seemed fair—Rodney's protest, not John's—and so Rodney had alphabetized the students to make going through them easier.

Rodney pauses, probably reading the information off the back of his eyelids, "Bates and Brown."

John nods, "The plant girl?" Rodney hums affirmation, turning to John and patting him down quickly. John's not sure when that became part of their pre-game check, but it's habit now. John returns the favor, "And the teleporter?"

Rodney grins, nodding, "Yup. So stick close, okay?"

John blinks, cocking his head to the side, "Always do." Rodney flushes, and for just a second he's all John can see. John reaches out, tucking the curls that have finally grown out long enough to fall into Rodney's face behind his ear. Rodney goes still, licking his lips, and John's heart hammers against his rib cage.

Coach Caldwell sounds amused when he yells, "You boys about ready?"

John jerks his hand back, feeling his face go hot. Rodney rolls his eyes, following John out into the arena, by now so used to this he barely looks nervous anymore. John calls down their adversaries, settling his shoulders and keeping Rodney a step behind him, already hearing the gears turning in Rodney's head as he contemplates the four cages filling with water as the dummies bob piteously in them.

John watches Dean and Katie suit up, bouncing on his toes. Teleporters make him nervous after the time one of them grabbed Rodney and dropped him from ceiling height. John had caught him, but Rodney's surprised scream is forever graven into John's all time worst memories.

When Dean finally steps into the arena John reaches back, grabbing Rodney's wrist just in case. But Dean doesn't disappear. Katie doesn't turn green. John shifts, uncomfortable as the pair cross to them, stopping a few feet away. For a moment there's silence, and then Rodney clears his throat, "Um? Our mannequins are drowning."

Dean nods, exchanges a look with Katie and she says, "We were thinking. There are four, um, citizens. There are four of us." She wrings her hands, and Dean reaches out, pats her shoulder and that seems to bolster her, "We think that we should help. You. The good guys."

There's another pause, and then Rodney shrugs, "Whatever, we're wasting time."

And that's it. They take the cages Rodney assigns them and John pulls his apart. By the time he's done Rodney has his drained and disassembled. There's a tree sprouting out of the side of Katie's, and Dean is soaking wet, cradling a mannequin in his arms.

John blinks across at them, and Katie waves shyly at Rodney before Coach Caldwell walks up, arms crossed. The man says, "Well, that was different." He looks amused, and John wrings out his wet shirt, waiting for him to continue. "Want to tell me what happened there, Brown? Bates?"

Katie turns completely red, and Dean puts his mannequin down on the ground before snapping his spine straight and squaring his shoulders. "We want to be superheroes, sir. We want to save people, not kill them." Katie beams at Dean, and John smirks at the pair.

Caldwell just stares at all of them before shaking his head and saying, "Well, you lose." And then as he turns to walk away, "But good job."

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It doesn't last indefinitely, of course. But there is a month where they don't actually fight anyone in Save the Citizen. There is a month where they're not ignored when they walk down the hallways, and they're suddenly popular. John picks up a hanger-on who introduces herself to everyone as his girlfriend, even though he doesn't believe he says more than three words to her the entire month.

Mostly it fades after that. Rodney waves a hand and says something about the fickle public. John is just glad that he seems to have finally gotten rid of Chaya, who leaves him alone to start mooning over Mr. Jackson. And frankly, John is more than a little relieved when it goes back to being him and Rodney, Teyla, and Carson.

Katie and Dean still stop by their lunch table a few times a week, and sometimes John catches Elizabeth watching them out of the corner of his eye. She and Sumner end up reconciled in any case, the last step in everything going back to its correct natural order.

By the beginning of April things are the best that John can remember them being. They're mostly ignored, not picked on or fixated on. John enjoys it while he can, the sour knowledge that Rodney will probably be gone through summer vacation ruining his good mood when he thinks about it. Mostly, he tries not to think about it.

He also tries not to think about the way Rodney stares at the Wraith brothers. Rodney watches them in the cafeteria, eyes tracking them around the room, mouth turned down viciously. John worries, especially when he has to nudge Rodney to remind him to eat.

The worst part is that Rodney won't tell him what's wrong. John is left trying to fit together Rodney's weird pieces of behavior. What starts with Rodney's preoccupation with the Wraith brothers spreads to other bizarre little things.

John catches Rodney grilling Carson in an empty classroom, scribbling down the Scottish boy's answers to dozens of questions about his healing abilities. Rodney starts waking up at all hours of the night, disturbing John's sleep to sit at the computer and scroll through pages and pages of schematics that make John's eyes blur just looking at them. When John asks Rodney just shrugs and changes the subject, and so John lets it drop.

John has faith that Rodney will tell him if it's something really important.

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Rodney just gets weirder as the school year winds down. John catches him staring at random people in the cafeteria, his expression carefully shuttered. It's not until Rodney freezes after a game of Save the Citizen, staring at Aiden Ford with a lost expression that John realizes maybe waiting for Rodney to come to him is just not going to work. Ford mostly looks relieved to have come out of the game without any broken bones, and aside from giving Rodney a weird look, doesn't comment when John drags Rodney off.

John waits until Rodney is out of his gear, wincing at the bruise he can already see purpling the left side of Rodney's face, to broach subject. He clears his throat, puts a hand on Rodney's back to guide him out of the room and says, "Okay, what's up? You look like you saw a ghost."

John's surprised when Rodney flinches, the color draining out of his face. John stumbles to a stop, grabbing Rodney's arm and holding him still, "Rodney?" They get a few odd looks as people move around them in the hall, but no one knocks into either of them. "What is it?"

Rodney smiles, it doesn't reach his eyes, "Nothing, it's nothing."

Rodney is a lot of things, but a good liar he is not. John looks around the hallway, there are a few people trying to eavesdrop while leaning against the lockers and John scowls before tugging Rodney sideways into a classroom. He shuts the door and says, "Okay, spill."

The impatient look Rodney shoots him is tinged with something softer, and when he rolls his eyes there's no heat in the gesture, "It's stupid." John puts his hands on his hips and stares, and Rodney ducks his head before continuing, "It's just...a feeling I have. A bad feeling."

"About the school?"

Rodney pauses, licks his lips, "Yes." Really, really, not a good liar.

John cocks his head to the side, reaches out to touch Rodney's arm, "But not just the school?" Rodney leans into his touch, heaves a sigh and rubs his hand across his face. He looks exhausted suddenly, and John feels any levity that there might have been in the situation drain away.

"Well, just the school. In a way. I mean. As far as location. John..." Rodney trails off, waving his hands vaguely. "It's probably nothing. I'm a worrier, you know. I worry about everything." John doesn't point out that every time he's ever seen Rodney worry it's been over something legitimate.

John says, "Tell me." And when Rodney hesitates, chewing on his bottom lip, "Rodney, hey, look at me," Rodney looks up, blue eyes worried and so big that it makes John's heart lurch in his chest, "Please just tell me."

Rodney blinks a few times in quick succession, his cheeks staining pink for no reason that John can figure, not that John is complaining. Rodney finally speaks, still staring at John, "I didn't think about it until I saw the Wraith were back."

Rodney hesitates again, cutting his eyes away and then looking back. John gives him the time he needs, and finally Rodney takes a deep breath, "They kill people, John. I don't know when. But it's here. I know that. They're going to kill Sumner and Aiden and Dean and they're going to crash the school. I can't figure out how, I've been trying to, but everything seems to be in place and I don't know what to do."

The words are one big run-on rush, and John takes a second to process them. Rodney is almost vibrating with distress, and John tightens his grip on Rodney's arm for comfort. "We need to tell someone."

Rodney makes a face, "Tell them what? I have a feeling that some students are going to hijack the school?" Rodney snorts and rolls his eyes and John admits that it's not exactly the most likely story. At least unless you're Kate Heightmeyer, but the precog hasn't seemed any more flighty than usual lately.

John falls silent, thinking, and Rodney fidgets uncomfortably. "This is a very complex feeling you're having."

That gets him another uncomfortable look, and then, "We don't know if she's seeing the future or not yet." When John just stares at him blankly Rodney waves a hand, "Jeannie. She drew...look. It was just bad, okay? And I don't want it to happen."

"You're trying to stop it." John blinks, surprised though he has the feeling he shouldn't be. Rodney is the one who ran towards a giant ravening beast when everyone else had been running away. Rodney is the one who sat in the front row of a 'game' that involved people beating the shit out of him week after week.

Rodney shrugs, "Trying. There's only so much I can do. None of them will leave school. And I don't know what else I can do with the computer systems." Rodney looks tired again, and John slides closer, slings his arm across Rodney's shoulder. It's more weird to not touch Rodney anymore.

"Well, I'll help." Rodney shoots him a look that's equal parts relieved and doubtful, John tries to look offended, "I'm very helpful."

For a long moment Rodney just stares at him, smiling so soft it's almost unnoticeable. John wants to reach up and trace the line of his mouth, and Rodney opens his mouth when Teyla pushes the door and pops her head in. She says, "You will be late for class," all scolding and concern and John heaves a sigh.

Rodney heads for the door and John follows him. John says, right before they step into Carter's classroom, "I mean it, you know."

Rodney hesitates, hand on the doorknob, turning to smile positively luminously up at John, "I know."

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Part 6

Somehow letting Rodney know that he wanted to help ended up opening the flood gates. Rodney pulls Teyla and Carson aside and gives them the gist of what he thinks is going to happen, and they all end up spending hours on John's bedroom floor. Most of it is spent listening to Rodney talk about blueprints and powers and generally worrying himself out of his mind.

The semester is winding down without any sign of bloodshed, and each day that passes has Rodney's worry ratcheting up even higher. John can't actually blame him for that, no more than he can stop himself from looking over his shoulder, or feeling the hair on the back of his neck raise every time he sees one of the Wraith brothers.

Something bad is coming, and they can all feel it. Even Carson, who more often than not seems to think John and Rodney are crazy, is getting jumpy and nervous.

Two weeks before the end of the school year Rodney flops down onto John's bed, staring up at the ceiling. John turns onto his side, staring across at Rodney, wishing he could do something—anything—to get rid of the worry that has Rodney wound so tight. Rodney's voice is flat, dull, "They'll do it the last day of school."

John swallows, "You think?" Even talking about the Wraith is enough to send a shiver down his spine. He can still remember the way their touch made him feel, weak and fragile, like paper folded to the point of falling apart. "That might be a good thing. A lot of people are skipping."

Rodney sighs, squeezes his eyes shut and then turns his head on the pillow to look at John. He says, "When it happens you have to promise to take Teyla and go. You have to promise me that you'll stay out of their way." He reaches out, fingertips just sliding over John's collarbone before pulling back.

Rodney has asked him this before, over and over since he told John what was going on. At first John had thought that Jeannie must have drawn something horrible happening to Teyla, but Rodney's emphasis is always on John getting out. It makes his skin crawl, and he can't bring himself to ask why it's so important. As long as Rodney doesn't tell him that something horrible happens to him, John can deal with it. The future isn't written in stone, anyway.

Rodney shifts, tensing up, demanding, "Promise me."

John sinks down onto his back, stares up to the ceiling and says, "I promise to make sure Teyla is safe." And maybe Rodney knows that's the best he's going to get, because he lets it drop. A few minutes later his breath is evening out into sleep and John shifts towards him, throws an arm over Rodney. He sleeps better that way, for some reason.

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The last Save the Citizen of the year has them matched up against Sumner again, because John wants one more chance to kick the older boy's ass before Sumner goes off to college. Sumner's partner is Chaya, who Rodney insists on with a sour look.

Pyrokinetics are dangerous—not to John, though he's lost more shirts than he likes to think about from errant flames over the last few months—but even the thought of Rodney frying is enough to give John a stomach ache. Luckily, Chaya only qualifies as a pyrotechnic.

Unluckily, Caldwell has given them a fire-based challenge.

The walls of fire closing in on them from either side of the arena aren't so threatening when Chaya steps forward, her hands glowing, tendrils of white hot flame weaving around her. Their dummy victims are tied to a stake in the middle of the arena, being ignored for now since for once they're already in the safest place they can be.

John is dragging Sumner around in a headlock, turns his face away from another hurled fireball and yells to be heard over the roar of the fire, "You about done there?"

Rodney is kneeling by John's legs, his hair gone dark with sweat, his hands planted flat on the ground. A drop of sweat rolls off the end of his nose and drops to the floor to sizzle as Chaya hurls another fire ball that John intercepts. His shirt catches fire and John curses, patting at it with his free hand while Rodney grits out, "S'complicated."

Rodney is slurring, leaning heavily against John's legs and John has a split second to indulge in his ever present worry that Rodney is going to overload himself again before Chaya is cursing him and throwing more fireballs. John bends over Rodney, catches a glimpse of his face, eyes tracking back and forth quickly, moving in time to the shifting of his fingers.

And then Rodney is crowing, "There it is!"

At first John doesn't realize what's happening, and then there's water pouring down on them. In the stands the other kids are screaming, trying to cover their heads or duck out from under the sprinklers, across from them the walls of flame sputter and die and Chaya's white-hot flames follow on their heels.

Chaya pushes her soaking hair out of her face and scowls at Rodney who is too busy smiling at nothing in particular to care. The water makes Rodney's hair curl up over his ears and at the nape of his neck, and John gives him a hand up while so distracted he's barely remembering to breathe.

John startles in surprise when Caldwell appears beside them. The man actually appears to be smiling for once, and John can only boggle helplessly when Caldwell slaps Rodney on the shoulder and says, "Congratulations, boys." And then, "Don't suppose you'd be willing to take on last year's undefeated champs?"

The smile falls off Rodney's face so quickly it has to break some kind of speed record. They decline.

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John knows that his mother doesn't really like Save the Citizen. Not that he and Rodney play and win, just that there are adults out there that think it's an appropriate thing to put children through. So he's a little surprised when she suggests that they go out and celebrate. Not that he's about to argue when the suggestion puts a smile back on Rodney's face.

They go out and glut themselves on pizza, cheese sticks, and sodas. He and Rodney even manage to convince John's mom and dad to play some of the arcade games and Rodney nearly chokes himself laughing at John's father's attempt on the Dance Dance Revolution machine. John has to hold Rodney up, the other boy's face gone red, eyes bright, laughing himself silly as the game boos his parents.

Of course, then his folks soundly kick he and Rodney's ass at the pool table, at least the first game before Rodney suddenly starts sinking shot after shot with no more explanation than something about math and angles. John watches Rodney lean over the table, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, expression all concentration and focus, and nearly jumps out of his skin when his mother nudges him in the ribs.

John is concentrating on Rodney mumbling under his breath, numbers and the force necessary to put the ball he wants off the wall and down the table to the corner pocket, and so he almost misses it when his mother says, "We're real proud of you, you know. Both of you." She pauses, "Not just for winning your game, either."

John nudges her back, watching his father groan in disbelief when Rodney sinks another ball. "I know."

It's the first night in a month that he and Rodney fall asleep without worrying about who might die and how they're going to stop it. John wakes up with a smile on his face, Rodney's head butting up under his chin. It's hard to believe, then, that anything will go wrong. Easier to rationalize that Jeannie McKay just made a mistake. And for four days, maybe John lets himself believe that.

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John and Rodney get called to Landry's office on Tuesday morning.

John can't help the feeling of dread low in his stomach, even though he can't think of a damn thing they've done wrong. Just the thought of Landry leaves a bad taste in his mouth, and Rodney doesn't seem to react any better to the news. John keeps a hand on Rodney's back through the halls, and keeps it there when Landry opens his door and waves them in.

Landry starts making a speech almost immediately that John can't really bring himself to pay attention to. He's waiting for the hammer to fall, wondering how much trouble he'd get in for punching the principal in the face, and contemplating how hard it would be to grab Rodney and run. Therefore, he's slightly unprepared for it when Landry reaches into one of his desk drawers and pulls out two crystal pyramids.

Landry is saying, "—first time sophomores have ever won the award, and only the thirteenth time in school history that we've had an undefeated team." The man finishes with a big smile that doesn't reach his eyes, holding out a tiny pyramid to both of them.

John cuts a look sideways at Rodney. Rodney is staring helplessly at Landry's outstretched hand, his expression somewhere between dumbstruck and horrified and John opens his mouth to say something that would have most likely gotten them both into huge amounts of trouble. He's interrupted by the door behind them swinging open.

Mr. Jackson steps into the room, his head down, staring at the book he has open in his arms. He's talking, apparently to Landry, "I just finished the—oh, hello." Jackson blinks at John and Rodney, pushing his glasses further up his nose and looking puzzled to find them in the room.

That's all completely eclipsed by the fact that Rodney looks like he's about to fall over. John grabs his arm just in case and Rodney turns to look at him, eyes wide and face pale. His voice is barely a whisper, gaining strength as he speaks, "It's today. It's today. John, we have to—"

Whatever Rodney was going to say gets cut off by the sharp rat-a-tat-tat of sound through the open door. Rodney's mouth snaps shut, and he's jerking towards the door before Landry can leverage himself out of his chair, before Jackson can ask, "What was that?"

John doesn't waste the time it would take to explain, because Rodney is showing a disturbing propensity for running right towards danger again without waiting to make sure John is there with him. John doesn't ask how Rodney knows where to go, especially because when the screams and the banging start again it doesn't take a genius to figure it's coming from the cafeteria.

They run.

John's thoughts are slipping and sliding all over the place, his stomach tight and sour. People are screaming, pain and fear, and someone is laughing, all over the sound of what John can't quite convince himself isn't gunfire. He feels like he might be sick, like he just wants to go hide in a closet until this is over but they're at the doors to the cafeteria and instead he finds himself pushing through beside Rodney.

There's only a split second of time for John to take in the room. Everyone is huddled close to the floor, except for the three figures across from them. Ms. Carter is on her knees, one of the Wraith brothers has his hand wrapped around her throat and the other is standing beside them. John catches a flash of flat gray metal as the older boy whips his head towards John and Rodney.

And then John is cursing, throwing himself sideways, tackling Rodney down to the ground and throwing himself over Rodney's back.

There's something twisted and wrong about the bullet holes punching into the wall over their heads. John hates the part of himself that understands the reasoning behind it. In a school where everyone has the potential to be a walking weapon, no one thinks to check for real ones. No one thinks to prepare for the average nightmare.

Rodney is saying something, but his voice is eaten by the retort of the firearm and by Ms. Carter's scream, blood curdling and drawn out. And then it all stops, the fire and the scream, and Rodney is shouting into John's ear, "Don't let him do it! Don't let him do it! Sumner! Don't do it!"

John pushes up far enough to see what's going on. Bullets aren't likely to hurt him, nothing else does, and Rodney is safe for the moment. Ms. Carter has collapsed, and in her place is Sumner. John watches the older boy take three shots to the chest, which just pop out of him like everything else does, he watches the older boy take the gun away, and he watches the other Wraith brother wrap his hands around Sumner's head.

The sound Sumner makes is nothing human, all animal pain and panic and John might hate the boy's guts but he can't just stand there and listen to it. He's moving before the decision to move has even processed, tossing tables and chairs out of his way, ignoring Rodney's panicked voice, yelling for him, "John! No!"

John pulls the brother off of Sumner, throws him to the side, feels his stomach seize and twist when he looks at the older boy. Sumner looks...drained. His skin is stretched tight over his bones and his clothes are hanging loose on his body. For a long moment John can only stare down at him in horror, as Sumner collapses to the ground, his heartbeat pounding like a drum in his ears.

It's all the time the Wraith boys need.

John only becomes aware of the brush of skin against his ankle when weakness shoots through his body and he thinks he doesn't want to die like this. Drained to a husk, strength sapped first, and he wonders why Ms. Carter doesn't look sucked dry, just dazed.

And then there's Rodney's voice, rising above the tangled mess in John's head, "Fire in the hole!"

John stares down at the watch that falls from the sky to land by his feet. It looks familiar. He digs through his sluggish brain for where he recognizes it from and that's about when the world tears itself apart in a blast of white and red and electric sharp air.

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The pain fades almost immediately, though John still feels weakened. He blinks, not sure how he got on his back, and then raises his hands above his face to look at them. His skin looks the same, his fingers the same as he remembers them, and the weight that lifts off his chest lets him breathe again. And then he realizes that his skin is splattered with blood.

John sits bolt upright, pushing at his skin, half sure that his power failed, that he was blown to pieces. But he's intact, and John exhales, shaky with relief. Which is stupid, because he's got someone's blood on him, and he's pretty sure the world just blew up.

John jerks to his feet, hearing the panic in his own voice, "Rodney?" The floor in front of him in seared black, the tables and chairs all thrown backwards and...

John makes himself turn away, stumbles a step away from what his mind can't quite process. His voice feels rough, like sandpaper in his throat, "Rodney?" Some of the tables are lying against the wall where John is pretty sure Rodney was. He stumbles over to them, knocking them aside and feeling panic sear through him when he finds Rodney slumped against the floor, a bloody cut on his forehead.

It takes him two tries to make himself touch Rodney, to work up the courage. But Rodney startles at his touch, sits up gasping and grabbing at John's arms. John finds himself with a lapful of Rodney, the other boy's hands gripping the sides of his face as Rodney stares at him with wide, wild eyes.

Rodney breathes, rocking back, "Thank God. Thank God. We need to—"

Rodney has pushed himself to his feet, and his voice cuts off abruptly. John winces, because he can guess what Rodney is seeing, stands himself and reaches out, trying to turn Rodney away from the scorched floor and what's lying across it.

Turns out he doesn't have to. Rodney bends at the waist, retching, and John curls over him, rubbing his back and mumbling nonsense to him. Rodney's voice is high and panicked, "Oh my God, oh my God, I killed them, I killed them, oh my God."

"It's okay, Rodney."

Rodney laughs, hysterically, "No, it really, really isn't. There are, there are chunks of people over there, John. That is not okay. That is not even remotely okay." John winces. He wants to point out that Ms. Carter still seems to be fine, and that Sumner doesn't appear any worse than he had after the Wraith did...whatever the hell it was they did to him.

Rodney is shaking, and John blurts the only thing that he can think of that might get Rodney to stop, "They would have killed me." Rodney hiccups, shuddering full body before nodding. "They would have crashed the school, remember? We stopped—"

And that's when there's an unhappy grinding sound from the floor and the school starts shaking. Rodney sounds broken, voice barely a whisper of sound, "Oh, no."

Rodney pulls himself upright by using John for handholds. He's pale, face smeared with blood and eyes wide. His mouth moves without sound for a moment and then Teyla is there, dragging Carson along by the arm. Carson starts to reach for Rodney, for the cut on his forehead and Rodney takes a step back, shaking his head and waving the other boy off.

Rodney is talking, words tumbling out almost too fast to process, "Can you get everyone out? Of course you can, you have to get everyone out. Mr. Jackson will be by to help you. He's wearing pink. Let him carry Dean. He should get a smear of blood here," Rodney gestures at his shoulder, "Get everyone to the buses and get them off the school. I have to—" Rodney waves a hand, already turning, stumbling his way out of the cafeteria, leaving the sentence unfinished.

John hesitates for just a second, all those promises that Rodney tried to secure from him hanging over his head. Teyla and Carson are already moving towards Sumner and Ms. Carter, and he can hear Mr. Jackson's voice coming closer.

John turns on his heel, and sprints after Rodney.

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Rodney is running, catching himself against the wall every time the floor under his feet lurches and John chases him. He watches Rodney duck under Caldwell's arm, the gym teacher heading for the cafeteria with a panicked expression. John shoves his own way past the man, going to his knees when the floor just drops a few feet.

John curses, already on his feet again, watching Rodney disappear around a corner. The thought of losing him in this nightmare is just not acceptable, and panic gives John a burst of speed that has him around the corner before he even registers moving. It might have let him catch all the way up, but Rodney is running on every bit as much adrenaline as John is, and stays frustratingly just out of reach.

The school is lurching, bobbing up and down. John can hear the engines grinding away somewhere below them, huge machines trying to keep them in the air and flirting dangerously close to failing. And John isn't sure how they're supposed to stop it, or why it matters. Everyone is going to get off the school. Everyone is going to be fine. Let the damn thing crash.

Rodney apparently doesn't agree, because he's skidding around another corner, overbalancing when the world tilts and catching himself with one hand before pushing off again. John takes a deep breath, and yells, "Wait!" and is ignored.

And then Rodney slides to a stop, his shoulders heaving from breathing so hard. He's waving his hand in front of some kind of flat door, and for a long moment John just boggles. He has no idea where they are, somewhere in the teacher's offices, maybe. He slumps to a stop beside Rodney, braces one hand on the wall for balance and demands, "What are you doing?"

Rodney makes an impatient sound, says, voice distracted, "Elevator won't open," before pressing his palm flat against the door and grunting. The door makes whining sound, metal straining, and then something inside snaps and the doors slide jerkily open.

John curses, grabbing the back of Rodney's shirt and yanking him away from the open doorway. The black pit beyond doesn't have a bottom that John can see, and he has a brief, terrible image of Rodney tumbling down. Rodney is scowling, pushing at John, still jumbling his words together, "Shit, shit, let go of me! There isn't time, John."

John holds onto him, points out, "There isn't an elevator, either." He thinks that's probably for the best. It doesn't seem like the best idea ever to be in an elevator with the school threatening to fall out of the sky. That's like asking for messy death.

"Then I have to climb! Which is going to take even more time and you need to let me go, right now."

John looks back at the empty shaft, "No. No, lets just go, okay. Everyone is getting off the school, it'll be fine." Sometimes he thinks Rodney forgets who the indestructible one is, with the other boy's proclivity for running towards certain death. He hates having to be the voice of reason.

Especially when Rodney is already shaking his head, babbling, "No, no, no, don't you get it? The school is over the city. Where do you think it's going to go when it falls out of the sky? Where do you think it's going to hit? The grocery store? The hospital? A kindergarten? I can't—I can't let it happen."

John feels something cold as ice curl up in the pit of his stomach, momentarily too horrified to move because his parents are down there somewhere. He has to shake himself, to swallow around the lump in his throat, "And you can fix it from down there?"

Rodney doesn't even hesitate, eyes hard, mouth firmed up with determination, "Yes."

John nods, licks his lips, and says, "You're going to have to hold on tight."

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Thirty seconds later, Rodney's arms wrapped around his neck and Rodney's legs curled around his hips, John takes a deep breath and stares down into the elevator shaft. The wire snapped, apparently, because there's nothing for him to grab on to, nothing but pitch black. Rodney says into his ear, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

And because John really doesn't like lying to Rodney he steps out into the blackness.

Rodney makes a sound like the start of a scream, squeezing John as they plummet. John is too busy trying to keep himself vertical, praying that he lands on his feet, to think about vocalizing the scream in his own throat. He loves flying. Falling, not so much.

Rodney yells in John's ear, words being mostly stolen by the air whipping past them, "Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two—" and John has a split second to wonder what he's talking about before the ground rushes up to meet him.

John hits hard, body folding from the impact, ankles, knees, hips, falling forward to catch himself on his hands. The jar of it knocked his teeth together, and his bones feel shivery, but it didn't hurt and he didn't land on Rodney. He counts it as a resounding success.

Rodney is sprawled over his back, breathing fast against the back of John's neck, his heart jack-hammering so hard that John can feel it. John swallows, "You okay?" his voice quivering just a little bit, because he hadn't been one-hundred percent sure that was going to work.

"Yeah, yes, I'm okay. Are you okay?" Rodney says the last while sliding off John's back. It's pitch black down here, and John gropes around, before Rodney makes a sweet, victorious sound. Rodney is grabbing at his arms, pulling John over to the side and wrapping John's fingers around the edge of something, ordering, "Pull this open for me."

John is working on autopilot, gets a grip on the metal and yanks. There's a brief resistance, John grunts, and it gives. And suddenly there is light. And elevator music. John blinks, watching Rodney twist around and slide down into the hole John made, and realizes that they landed on the top of the elevator.

John shakes his head, lowering himself down into the elevator to the soft piano music pumping through the speakers. Rodney already has his hands on the elevator doors, eyes closed, and after a half second they grind and slide open.

Rodney starts to step out of the elevator and then pauses, looks back over his shoulder, blinking in surprise, like he just realized John was here, "You should go now. There's not much time left."

There are so many words catching in John's throat, but he can't make himself vocalize them. Instead he just shakes his head, manages to finally grind out, "I'm not leaving you." Rodney stares at him for a long moment, and then smiles, reaching out and grabbing John's wrist, pulling him forward as the school shudders and drops around them again.

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All the schematics that Rodney spent hours memorizing are apparently coming in handy because Rodney doesn't hesitate through the hallways before them. John lets himself be led along, watching Rodney's lips move as he thinks, steadying the other boy every time the school threatens to tip them onto their asses. Which is happening more and more often.

And then Rodney sighs, "Here," and steps through an open doorway. There are huge machines filling almost every available inch of space, whirling and wheezing. John gapes, but Rodney is already moving, sliding between gigantic pistons and huge things that look like nothing more than columns of pulsing light to John. John follows, drawn along because he can't actually bring himself to leave Rodney alone.

Rodney falls to his knees in what might roughly be the middle of the room. He hesitates there, eyes squeezed shut and hands balled up in front of him and then looks up at John. His blue eyes are huge, his mouth white and tight with nerves and fear.

Rodney's voice barely makes it above a whisper, "You should go. I can't—I don't know if I can do this. Jeannie might have been wrong. I mean, the only thing that makes me think it was a lake was the blue crayon she used."

John jerks forward, already thinking about how long it'll take him to get Rodney out of here, how he can get Rodney off the school before it crashes, because the buses have to be gone by now. And Rodney keeps talking, "It's all about redistributing kinetic energy but it might be too late and I can't actually stop it from crashing, there's no guarantee that I'll be able to get us all the way to Lake Michigan, so you might want to go. You probably should. I won't ask you to stay."

John freezes, looking down into Rodney's wide blue eyes, the determined, crooked slant of his mouth. And it's really not that hard to figure out what Rodney is not saying. John eases forward, sinking to his knees beside Rodney and bracing a hand on his back. He says, "You can. I know you can. And I'm staying right here."

Rodney looks away, and then back, smile quivering before he takes a deep breath and squeezes his eyes closed. Rodney's expression goes blank, he drops forward onto his hands, fingers splayed across the metallic floor, twitching and jerking.

John holds his breath, feeling each shiver that runs through Rodney's body, rubbing absent circles on Rodney's shoulders. Below them, around them, metal screams and twists, dancing to Rodney's music. John sits back and watches, awe struck the way he always feels when Rodney lets himself do what he was born to do.

One of the pillars of light to their right goes dark in a flurry of small explosions, its shape twisting into something low and smooth. The floor in front of Rodney splits open, a giant razor sharp spire stabbing up, with a scream of tortured metal half the wall across from them bows in, the teeth of a gigantic gear tearing through the metal.

And amidst all the noise, the cacophony of sound, there is a soft wet sound. John jerks his attention back to Rodney, to the tiny red drop on the ground between his hands. It's quickly followed by another and John's stomach twists, his heart leaping into his throat.

He can't help but remembering Rodney after the incident in the mall, his eerie unresponsiveness and the pain that had wracked his body for weeks. There's no Teyla here to help, to take some of the strain and John crowds himself closer to Rodney, slides the hand on his shoulder around to his chest, hugging him and burying his face against Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney is shaking, muscles jumping, heart pounding so insanely quickly that the beats all run together. John squeezes his eyes shut, the maelstrom around them fading to inconsequence as he holds Rodney, taking his weight when Rodney sags, holding him up. He makes himself talk, "You've got it, buddy. You can do this, I know you can, you can do this."

There's no response, but he imagines that Rodney's racing heart maybe slows towards something closer to normal. Across from them something bursts into flame, and then is extinguished again. The wall damaged by the gear finally gives up and peels away, revealing blue, empty sky beyond. John holds Rodney tighter, "You can do this." He thinks he can see the tops of trees outside the gaping hole, and looks away.

It's hard to tell, but he doesn't think they're falling so much anymore. He prays they're not falling anymore. Or at least they're falling at an angle that's taking them, apparently, to a lake. John spares a moment to wonder if he can drown, to know that Rodney can, and behind them something explodes.

John curls his body over Rodney's, cursing at the rain of sparks across his back. He makes himself keep talking, words he can't even hear over the din, any piece of encouragement that streamlines itself behind his eyes. Rodney shakes against him, drops of blood dripping onto John's jeans, and yes, the tops of the trees are getting incrementally closer.

They take the top off a pine tree, a flurry of green needles bursting into the room, a pine cone going spinning by John's head. John reaches out, wraps a hand around one of the white hot poles and holds Rodney with his other arm, bracing himself and curling around Rodney as much as he can.

And that's when Rodney coughs, flailing in John's arms. He's yelling, voice raw, "Go! Go! Go! We have to—" Any further words are cut off when the school shudders and John catches a glimpse of blue water, rushing up to meet them. He feels his eyes go wide, opens his mouth to curse, and the impact steals his words.

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The initial impact throws them, and John tightens his hold on the pole, managing to hold on. For a half-second he can see nothing but water through the hole in the wall and he thinks about letting go, falling and trying to swim for shore. Then the school bounces, like a stone skipped across water, twisting nauseatingly in mid air and when it comes down again John is staring at sky.

The school bounces four times, and then comes down at an angle that it apparently likes. Everything feels frozen, they're almost perpendicular to the angle they should be, and the school rolls, leaving John dangling from his arm. And then it starts sinking.

John opens eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed, finds them plunged into almost complete darkness. One of the bounces shifted the equipment in the room, covered the hole in the wall and cut off the escape route that John had been planning on using. For a second he indulges in the fear in his gut, and then he pulls himself together.

Rodney is limp weight in his arms, silent and still, but John can feel the brush of Rodney's breath against his neck. He grits his teeth, tightens his hold on Rodney and leaves go of the pole. They fall, John twisting in mid air and landing hard on his back on something pointy that bends under his unbreakable skin. John winces, pulling himself to his feet and dragging Rodney along.

The light it too poor to see much beyond vague outlines and the door a foot above John's head. He reaches out, grabs the edge and pulls himself up, clinging to Rodney with his other arm. The corridor outside is even darker. Apparently they lost power, because the only light is dull red that doesn't really illuminate anything.

John pulls himself half out of the door, looking left and right and trying to remember which way Rodney had brought them from. He's pretty sure it was up the now vertical hallway, which he figures is good in that it means they're not going to be moving towards the water, but bad in that it's going to be a pain in the ass moving up the flat, vertical wall.

John grunts, shifts Rodney higher against his shoulder, and manages to get his knees up on the doorframe. A punch dents the wall-was-a-floor enough for John to fit his foot into it. He makes handholds, quick and dirty. He nudges Rodney, "I really need you to wake up, Rodney, just a little bit, okay? Please?"

Rodney stirs, makes a soft, pained sound and buries his face against John's neck. John takes a second to just let himself rest, to breathe in the scent of Rodney's hair, and then he makes himself keep going, "I need you to hold onto me, okay? Like in the elevator, okay? I need you to hold onto my back so I can get us out of here, can you do that?"

Rodney is silent and still for a long moment, before nodding, slurring, "Yup, can do it."

John nods, shifting as much as he can to get into position, having to leave go of Rodney and panicking that the other boy is going to fall. Rodney is so far from stable that John is sure this is going to end badly but they're sinking, so he doesn't really have a lot of choice. John pulls himself half over to the wall, then finds Rodney again by touch, patting Rodney's shoulder. "Okay, come here, climb on. And hold on tight, okay? You can't hurt me."

Rodney makes a soft affirmative sound, and then whimpers when he moves. John makes himself not think about how much Rodney had hurt last time he burnt himself out. At least Rodney is still able to move this time. At least he's still conscious.

Rodney slips when he starts to slide towards John, and John has a moment of sheer, brain melting terror, before Rodney manages to push himself forward and get an arm around John's neck. For a long second Rodney hangs like that, breathing heavily, whimpering, and then he manages to get his other arm up around John's neck. John grits out, "Legs, too," because he wants every precaution he can get that Rodney isn't going to fall.

It takes Rodney another long moment to get his legs around John's waist, but finally he manages and John lets out a shaky breath of relief. John shifts all the way away from the door, clinging to the side of the wall, Rodney's weight dragging at his back, his hands sweating against the metal of the handholds. He says, "Okay, okay," and makes himself move.

Punching and kicking handholds doesn't go as quickly as he'd hoped it would, but he's moving. Straight up, away from the water, taking Rodney out of here. And for right now, that has to be good enough. John concentrates on not falling, on remembering the path Rodney followed to get them down here.

It's a relief to finally get to a crossing, to be able to pull himself up onto a solid floor. There's a part of John that just wants to rest for a minute, but he's not actually tired, and they don't have the time for it anyway. He pushes to his feet, Rodney whimpering against his shoulders at the movement, tightening his arms and legs. John pats one of Rodney's knees, making himself keep moving forward, "Hold on, buddy, I'm going to get us out of here, okay?"

Rodney might nod, of maybe it's just the movement of the school sinking a little further. John imagines that he can hear water burbling up behind them if he strains his ears, and so he doesn't. He runs down the hallway, looking for the next vertical rise. It comes too quickly, and then there's nothing but more handholds and pulling himself up while gravity does it's damndest to pull him down.

And then they're right below the elevator shaft and John grunts, pulling them through the door. He thinks that really, it's all for the best that the city flipped sideways, because it would have been a long way to pull himself up the inside of the elevator. Now all he has to do is convince Rodney to squeeze through the hole John had ripped in the top of the elevator earlier and follow him through.

Rodney is curled into a ball when John pulls himself out into the elevator shaft. John hesitates a second before reaching for him, and Rodney flinches, his arms wrapped around his legs. John winces, reaches out and slides a hand over Rodney's knee, says, "I know it hurts, but we're almost out, okay? I promise we're almost out."

Rodney rolls his head to the side, his face hidden in shadow before nodding shakily and reaching out to John. It takes them a moment to get Rodney situated on his back again, not least because Rodney keeps flinching, obviously hurting. John forces his mind away from it, takes off in a run down the elevator shaft, ignoring the itching certainty that the water is rushing up to meet them.

It takes long moments to reach the open door at the other end of the elevator shaft, and John pulls them out, and then hesitates, staring down at the drop below them. There's water, rising even as he watches, no more than a few feet below them. He curses, and pulls himself up, climbs up the wall, Rodney hanging onto his back, looking for a way out.

John feels like a rat in a maze, looking for the promise of cheese. There's a cross road above them, and John scrambles for it, pulls them over the edge and starts running again. The water pours into the corridor after him, just a tiny layer of it at first, swirling past his feet and continuing on. John's heart lodges itself somewhere in his throat and he curses, runs faster even though he has no destination besides out.

He's vaguely aware that he's running on doors, the sideways tilted world making everything unfamiliar, but he doesn't actually register it until he puts his foot through a pane of glass. John yelps, going to the ground, the doorknob poking into his stomach, staring at the broken glass by his hip. Water pours in through the shattered gap, and John stares down at Mr. Daniel Jackson's name, pulling himself up before he freezes.

John's mind is going a thousand miles a minute and he pats at Rodney's arm, says, "Let go, let go for a minute. I need to, I have to get something." Rodney slides off his back with a sound that might be relief, flops down onto the floor and goes bonelessly limp. The light is better up here, and John finds himself staring, stomach twisting, sick.

There's blood dried below Rodney's nose, his skin the palest John has ever seen. Rodney's right eye is red, burst capillaries surrounding the bright blue of his iris. John reaches out, rubs his thumb over Rodney's cheek, needing to give what comfort he can. Rodney sighs, eyes fluttering closed, and John says, "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere." There's no response from Rodney.

John can't wait for one. He kicks at the door until it gives, and dumps him into Mr. Jackson's office. The office is filling up with water, all of it from the corridor above running down. John lands hard on the man's desk, it splinters under him and he shakes himself, pushing to his feet.

All the furniture is lying by him, most of it already broken by the school tipping sideways and John starts ripping through what's still intact. There's a part of him that's sad to see all of Mr. Jackson's books being destroyed, because it's obvious that the man loves his books almost as much as Rodney loves his. But there's nothing he can do about it.

John tears open a cabinet, wood splintering under his hands, and laughs with giddy, stupid relief. The silver belt looks the same as it had that morning in February, and it still fits around John's hips, though it's a little snugger than he remembers. John's fingers remember how to put it on, and how to work the control.

His pants go from ruined to destroyed in two seconds, heat dancing across his legs as he flips on the wings that Rodney gave him. He's a little out of practice, which is probably why John bangs himself hard into the ceiling. Luckily, he is made of sturdier stuff than the wall, and it gives before he does.

Rodney blinks up at him, and John rubs his hand through his hair, knocking the plaster and wood in his hair loose. Rodney starts to push himself up before wincing and sinking back, his voice barely a whisper, "I made that for you."

John makes himself land, gathering Rodney up, pulling Rodney's head against his shoulder and cradling the boy to his chest. He says, "Yeah, yeah you did. Hold on," Rodney slides one hand up around John's neck, his fingers curling into John's shirt.

Water winds around John's ankles, pouring into Mr. Jackson's room, and in his arms Rodney is shaking. John takes a deep breath, and pushes off the ground. He curls his shoulders over Rodney as best he can, and slams himself up into the ceiling.

hr

John can't keep track of how many walls he breaks through. They always break, he never does, and he repeats the process over and over and over again. And then he pushes through, bricks and mortar sliding off his back, and there's nothing but sky.

John shoots up, nothing to curtail his movement, spinning up to the sun. Somewhere below them the school is sinking, water already starting to close over the top of it and John startles because he hadn't realized how close it had been to swallowing them up. He shivers, and in his arms Rodney whispers, "S'pretty."

John blinks down at him, at the top of his head, at the blood splattered on his shirt, drying red drops. He looks across the sky, clear blue, only the hint of white clouds on the horizon, the sun huge and golden. He says, unable to keep the wonderment from his own voice, "We're alive."

"Of course we are." Rodney sounds dreamy, distracted. John can feel the other boy picking at his shirt, nuzzling against him. "Wasn't going to let you die. Stupid." There's nothing but affection in Rodney's tone, and John squeezes him, letting them hover in place, listening to the water burble below them and swallow the school.

John opens his mouth, a smile twisting up the corners of his lips, and the roar of sound suddenly filling the air distracts him. John twists around, confused, wondering what the universe has chosen to throw at them this time, and finds himself staring into a helicopter, a man with a rifle pointed at him. Someone yells over some kind of radio, "Land right now or we will be forced to take defensive action."

John lands.

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There turns out to be three additional helicopters and dozens of soldiers, all waiting for them on the edge of the lake. John feels swamped by figures clothed all in black, unfamiliar hands pulling the belt off his hips and reaching for Rodney. John lets them take the belt, lost and numb, but tightens his hold on Rodney, clings to him.

Someone is yelling, "Is this the technopath? Someone get him away from the boy."

John spins, lost in the press of people taller than him, of guns and grabbing hands. He clings on to Rodney, feeling Rodney wind his arms around his neck, the other boy holding onto him every bit as tightly. Another unfamiliar voice is saying, "The other one's got some kind of power, too, won't leave go of him."

The first voice sounds impatient, "Well then knock him out. Do I have to do everything myself?"

John catches a brief flash of bright blue out of the corner of his eye, and then nothing, nothing but Rodney screaming, "John! John! John, help! Help me!" But black is rising up behind his eyes, dragging him down, down to the ground, away from Rodney. From, "—John! Don't let them take me—"

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When John wakes up he's in an ambulance, and there's someone holding one of his eyes open. He jerks up, batting the unfamiliar hands away, looking for Rodney and feeling dread settle like a crushing weight in his gut when he doesn't see him. The EMT is saying something about lying down, reaching for him, and John shoves the man hard into the side of the ambulance, pushing himself out and yelling, "Rodney!"

There are three helicopters still on the shore, there are tents set up around them and emergency vehicles everywhere. There are soldiers and cops everywhere, and John spins in a small circle, trying to shake himself free of the dizziness in his skull. "Rodney!"

John feels sick, turns in a circle again and then marches towards the helicopters and tents because that's the last place he remembers seeing Rodney. He's shouting himself hoarse, and people are starting to turn and stare at him, but he doesn't care. One of the soldiers step in front of him when he gets close to the first tent and John balls his fists up because they've taken Rodney away, they've taken his Rodney and he can't—

"John!"

His mother's voice stops him in his tracks. John turns, dazed, finds his mother bearing down on him, her expression a mask of worry. John says, "Mom?" and then she's there, her arms around him, his father a half step behind her. John winds his arms around her, buries his face in her shoulder and holds on to her, hiccupping, "Mom, I can't find Rodney. They took him away from me and I can't find him. I can't find him!" His voice is breaking, all desperation and horror. "They took Rodney away from me."

His mother is running her hand back through his hand, over and over again, rocking him back and forth. John thinks she might be shushing him, whispering soothing things into his ear and he wishes that he could concentrate on the words but all there is in his head is, "They took Rodney."

There's shifting, and his father's big hand on his shoulders, pulling John away from his mother. John doesn't think, just turns into his father's solid chest, wrapping his arms around him and holding on. His father is holding on to him and John can hear his mother, her voice radiating hostility and cold fury, "Who's the commanding officer here? I demand to speak to—"

And John zones out, holds onto his father and trusts that his mother will find Rodney. Without the bloodshed that would have been associated with John doing the same thing.

hr

John isn't sure how long they stand there before his father jerks, gently pushing John to the side and stepping forward. John's father sounds furious, "What the hell is going on here?" And John makes himself look. Two soldiers are dragging his mother towards them. Her hair is blowing in the wind off of the lake, there's fire in her eyes and she looks like the very definition of pissed off.

One of the soldiers pushes her at John's father, who catches her and holds her arm when she starts to jerk back towards them. The masked man says, "Colonel Ellis has decided not to press charges. We realize that you have no doubt had a stressful day, but we're going to have to ask you to leave. Now."

John's mother spits in a tone John has never heard her use before, "You motherfuckers, You can't just kidnap a child, you can't—"

One of the soldiers shifts, "We're sorry ma'am, but as of two hours ago the McKays were informed of their minor child's third strike against the Protective Act and were made aware that he'd been taken into our protective custody. Now, you really need to leave."

John jerks towards them, and there's nothing but white hot anger in his mind, "Where did you take him? What did you do with him?" But their masks don't change and John's father lays a heavy hand on his shoulder, tilting his head towards the guns the soldiers are holding.

John balls his hands into fists, makes himself stay still against every instinct to beat the shit out of them until they tell him where Rodney is. Across from them the helicopters rise up, and the soldiers turn, sprinting for the last one.

John stares up into the sky, and feels something inside his chest freeze.

::go to 'Good For' —>::

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