The chairs in the lab are incredibly uncomfortable. John doesn't know anyone can stand to sit on them for hours at a time. Yet, Rodney does day after day, much as he is now, hunched over his latest project. He thinks Rodney would work himself into an early grave if he could. So, from time to time, John takes it upon himself to ensure that Rodney has a life, even if that means he has to annoy him into it.
"Hey, Rodney," he says, perching on Rodney's desk.
"Go away, I'm busy!" Rodney replies without bothering to look at him.
John doesn't take offence; it's all part of the McKay charm. More importantly, he knows he's gaining ground in distracting Rodney since he gets actual words this time. "So, are you coming with me or what?" he asks.
"I'm sorry, what part of 'go away, I'm busy' don't you understand?"
John knows there are plenty of other people he could ask. Ford would follow him in a heartbeat; Teyla, he's not so sure about; Stackhouse, on the other hand, is just dying for some quality time with his C.O. However, all of them are pale substitutes at best.
For a moment, he imagines himself flying a jumper, then cruising it through deep ocean swells, testing its limits with Rodney at his side. They need some time together, just the two of them. John has noticed that he and Rodney have been arguing a lot more recently. They snipe at each other all the time, that's just something they do. But, lately their sniping has a more personal edge to it.
He's hoping that, if they can spend some time together away from mission pressure, they'll be able to recapture that easy sense of camaraderie they used to have. Because, in spite of their differences, he doesn't want to lose Rodney's friendship.
"Come on, it'll be fun, like a day at the beach!" John continues trying to convince him.
"Beach?" Rodney spits out the word like it's a disease.
"Well, technically M8R-311's an ocean planet and there *is* no beach, but-- "
"Are you insane?" Rodney interrupts him. "Oh, wait, yes, you are!" His mouth turns up at the corner, and he's clearly incredibly pleased with himself for having scored a point.
So, John decides it's time to bring out the big guns, and he deploys them in a strategic one-two punch that hasn't failed him yet. "I have four MREs, three extra powerbars, and coffee, lots and lots of coffee."
Rodney stops typing abruptly. "Well, I suppose I could take a few hours off," he says, leaning back into his chair.
"Yeah, you could," John agrees.
"So, what type?"
"The MREs, Major! Try to keep up! What type are they?"
John smiles at him fondly, pretending he has to think about it. "Okay, there's meat-loaf, beef enchilada, chicken cavatelli . . .."
As easily as that, Rodney is smiling as well, lost in his own world of infinite culinary possibilities.
He doesn't question why seeing Rodney happy makes his own life brighter. He accepts it's just one of the many peculiarities that comes with this friendship. And as they leave the lab together, shoulders touching, John knows they're going to have a great day together.
When John regains consciousness, it's to the sensation of ice-cold water dripping onto his cheek. His back hurts, his head is pounding, and there's a sore spot above his right eye, which feels as though the skin there has been ripped right off. Absently, he lifts his hand to it, and he can't quite stifle a groan as pain stabs straight through his skull.
His fingers leave blood red.
John stares at them blankly while his mind struggles to catch up. Everything, after flying through the Stargate, is a blur. He has flashes from before; vaguely, he can see himself pulling the puddle-jumper up, veering to the right, but he can't remember why they're now not moving or how he ended up slumped against the DHD console.
The steady drip of water is doing nothing to jog his memory and everything to remind him of specialist torture techniques. So, he pushes himself away from it, letting his chair swivel round, only to discover that the universe has worse waiting for him around the corner. Because, there's water everywhere, from behind the command console and between the bulkhead doors, water is pouring in steady streams into the jumper.
"Okay, that's not good," he whispers.
"Once again, Major, you've managed to astound me with your ability to state the obvious."
Startled, John blinks up at Rodney, who is now standing beside him. The look in those blue eyes says extremely unflattering things about his IQ. Still, John is absurdly relieved to find Rodney already up on his feet. There's a gash on the left side of his face, and those normally deft hands are shaking a little; other than that, Rodney seems relatively unharmed.
John asks the question anyway, needing to be sure. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine," Rodney snarls at him. "Here, put this on!"
He barely has time to catch the E-V-suit Rodney flings at him, certainly not enough time to stop it hitting him right in the face, and for several moments he's left seeing orange, quite literally. "Gee, thanks, McKay!" he snaps.
When they get back to Atlantis, John promises himself that he'll make things up to Rodney. He appreciates that it's entirely his fault they're in this mess, because it was his idea to drag Rodney out for a joy ride through an ocean planet. As if he doesn't feel guilty enough, Rodney keeps giving him dark looks in-between working on the jumper. He can't do anything about the guilt right now; he has enough to concentrate on just getting into the damn E-V suit.
It's a struggle to co-ordinate his arms and legs, while his head keeps pounding away. Eventually, he pulls through with a little help from Rodney, whose hands are surprisingly gentle as they get him into the suit, making sure it's secure.
"Thank-you," John says sincerely this time.
Rodney nods, before moving to the back of the jumper to continue with the repairs. His feet make weird sloshing noises as they step through the water, and if it weren't for the splitting headache, John knows he would find that amusing. He has had enough concussions to realize this is could be a bad one. Headache followed by nausea . . . it's rolling right through him, making his head spin.
Placing the E-V suit's helmet on the flight console, John sits down and he closes his eyes for a moment. "Any idea what the hell hit us?" he asks wearily.
His imagination is teeming with visions of sea monsters and exceptionally large fish, all of which think puddle-jumpers make great snacks. When he opens his eyes again, he finds Rodney watching him like Rodney knows exactly what crazy ideas are running through his head. In the end, Rodney just points ahead, saying, "Seaquake!"
So, John turns his head in that direction to what lies outside. From the dim light spilling from the jumper, he can barely make out the Stargate up ahead. They're on the ocean floor, clearly dead in the water, and there's a boulder the size of a tank parked right off their bow. If they were hit by rocks that big, then they're lucky the jumper wasn't completely crushed. He estimates they're at least fifty, maybe a hundred feet from the gate. It might as well be a thousand for all the good that does them; without power, they're going nowhere.
Rodney is already back to making repairs, so John takes a minute to check the systems. Nothing responds, which strikes the tension in him up a notch. Normally, he can sense something, even if there's no connection. He wonders if the blow to his head has affected his ability to interface with Ancient technology.
"Hey, McKay," he calls out. "Are you getting anything from her?"
"If by *her* you mean the jumper's primary systems, then no, not at the moment."
John concentrates even harder, focusing his entire mind on making contact. "What about now?" he asks.
Behind him, there are sounds of sighing, sounds of tools being laid down.
"Listen, Major," Rodney replies, making no attempt to keep the irritation out of his voice. "While you were taking a nap, rather than, oh, just sitting around and twiddling my thumbs, I thought I would try trivial things like contacting Atlantis and fixing the jumper so we could fly out of here. But, no, please, you go right ahead and interrupt me while I'm trying to get us home!"
The sound of running water seems unnaturally loud, though it does nothing to fill the silence between them. John hates it when Rodney gets like this. He knows he'll have to try extra hard not to strangle him when the real complaining starts. In the meantime, he continues with diagnostic checks, looking for some spark of recognition from the jumper's systems, all the while waiting and waiting for a verbal explosion that doesn't come.
After a few minutes, he turns back to Rodney hoping to trigger one, because frankly this amount of silence from the man is unnatural. And that's when he notices the water in the jumper has risen to knee level, and Rodney's still not in his E-V suit.
"McKay, you need to get your suit on. We're filling up pretty fast here," he says.
That Rodney chooses to ignore him isn't a total surprise, but something about the way he does it sends a chill down John's spine. It's subtly different from other times. Like when he shows up in Rodney's lab unannounced and uninvited; usually, Rodney glares, then he makes some disparaging comment about the abnormally high cheerleading component in his DNA before noisily ignoring him. This time, however, Rodney doesn't look at him at all, and he certainly isn't sighing nor doing anything to telegraph his annoyance. In John's experience, that can't mean anything good.
"McKay," he says his voice carefully mild. "Why aren't you wearing your suit?"
Rodney looks up and finally *there's* the glare John has been waiting for. But, even that lacks its usual heat. It's swamped by a host of other emotions, most of which flick too fast across Rodney's face for him to name them all . . . apart from fear.
Fear, John recognizes, because he has seen it in Rodney's eyes a thousand times. And the scent of it streams smoothly through the air, carried on the back of words unspoken, to land squarely in John's chest, setting it pounding. So much so that when John asks the question again, his tone is harsh and it comes out sounding more like an accusation.
Rodney turns away from him.
For a moment, John wonders if he'll have to go over there to demand an answer, before Rodney gives him one in a low voice using words that strike like blows to his chest.
"There's only one suit in the jumper."
John has watched men drown. He has seen the way they've died clawing at their own throats desperate for air, their faces twisted and eyes bulging open. He doesn't care what the experts say; drowning is not one of the better ways to die. There is no 'better way' to die as far as he's concerned. But right now that's the future he and Rodney face if they don't come up with a plan.
"Shut up, I'm thinking," Rodney interrupts him.
"Well, think faster!" John snaps. Objectively, he knows he's starting to panic. His body has all the symptoms, from the sweaty palms to a heart that's pounding like crazy, and he's breathing so loudly he can barely hear anything else.
Rodney, on the other hand, seems strangely calm, which just highlights to John how fucked up this whole situation is. Because apart from the whole calm thing, he can't believe a guy who freaks out as much as Rodney does would forget to mention something like there being only one E-V suit.
"Why didn't you tell me as soon as you knew?" he asks.
"You were unconscious!" Rodney replies, pushing past him on his way to the flight console.
It's a valid point. Still, John's not ready to concede the argument. "And after I came to? What about then?" he demands.
Rodney scowls at him like *he's* the crazy one. "Because unless you had another suit magically stuffed down your pants, there wasn't much you could do about it!"
Gently, John lays a hand on his shoulder. "I need you to focus," he says quietly. Time is not on their side. They've tried dialling the gate already and nothing works. He needs Rodney with him now more than ever. "Look, we have to work together on this, okay?"
"Okay," Rodney sighs. He stares at the water, rubbing the back of his neck in a distracted way. "There are a couple of options."
"Options are good," John adds, moving even closer. Proximity makes him feel better while he waits for the inevitable brilliant plan, which he knows is coming. Because if there's one constant in this crazy universe, it's that McKay will always came up with a plan to save the day.
Until Rodney says: "Actually, I've got nothing."
The shock makes John take a step back. "I thought you said there were options!"
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, Major!" Rodney whirls round, and the wounded look on his face makes John want to apologize. But before he can say anything else, Rodney's chin goes up and he crosses his arms defensively. "Look, I am tired, I am well on the way to permanently damaging my back, this water is freezing, and none of that is conducive to brilliant ideas. You know what, you've got the suit, you're warm and dry, why don't *you* think of something! Or, better yet, why don't you just swim back for help instead of standing there looking-- "
For a moment, Rodney pauses, staring at him.
John stares right back.
Suddenly, they're both galvanised into action.
"Have you-- "
"Yes, yes, of course," Rodney replies, pressing the sensor pad he has been using to run diagnostics into his palm. "I've already programmed the gate address into it."
"Will it-- "
"As long as the gate's not damaged, which I don't think it is, you should be able to activate it once you're a few feet away." Then Rodney is literally pushing him toward the bulkhead doors. "There's still enough power for life-support, if I raise the internal shields to let you out. But, you'll have to hurry; I'm not sure how long it will hold."
Reaching for his helmet, John murmurs, "You know, this just might work!" In fact, he thinks it's a great idea. And as he prepares to step out into the ocean, he starts working through the rescue logistics. "At least ten minutes to get to the gate," he says to himself. "Another one, maybe two to dial Atlantis and send my IDC."
Then, John looks down at the water, which is now thigh height and rising steadily. It has to have risen several inches in the few minutes he and Rodney have been talking. Quickly, he does the maths, weighing those minutes against the rate of water flow and the jumper's internal capacity.
"But, by the time I got back you'd be . . .." John trails off helplessly.
He can't bring himself to say 'dead', not about Rodney, even in the same sentence as Rodney. It makes no difference; the sudden slump of Rodney's shoulders shows he understands. If they try this plan, Rodney will drown long before he gets back with help.
The silence stretches on and the water keeps rising. It's at waist level now, inching steadily up his and Rodney's bodies. There's no longer any doubt in John's mind that one of them is going to die; it's just a matter of who, and when. Something twists in John's chest as he watches Rodney standing shivering in that icy water. The thought of Rodney drowning sickens him, makes him shiver in a way that has nothing to do with the cold. Yet, there's the distinct possibility that Rodney might freeze to death before he gets around to drowning.
Watching Rodney's lips turn blue, John comes to a decision; it's a remarkably easy one to make. He hands Rodney the E-V suit's helmet, saying, "You put this on."
Rodney slaps his hands away. "Not that I'm being ungrateful or anything, but you'll be wearing what exactly?"
"That doesn't matter now," John replies.
Rodney gives him a withering look. "Oh, really?"
"Rodney, for once, just shut up and do what I tell you to do!" John orders him. Fear for Rodney makes his voice as cold and as deadly as the water inching toward their heads. He's not in the habit of losing men under his command, least of all someone he considers a close friend, and he's not about to start today. "Now, put this on."
Again, Rodney slaps his hands away.
In that instant, John realizes he can't afford to view Rodney as a friend, or even as a person. Rodney's just another target with strategic defences and weaknesses to exploit. And John's thinking quite seriously about knocking him out then stuffing him into the damn suit if he doesn't co-operate. He hopes Rodney will forgive him eventually. Not that it matters much, because he won't be around to put up with Rodney's temper in the aftermath. But, this way at least he knows Rodney will survive, and that's good enough for him. His hand goes up, ready to strike, when suddenly Rodney's eyes light up.
"No, no, wait, I've got it!" Rodney says.
And John can tell that Rodney has finally come up with a plan. The feeling of relief is so intense he almost collapses under the weight of it. He knew Rodney wouldn't let him down; he could start a dozen religions with the faith he has in Rodney McKay.
Then, Rodney adds, "We both stay here until I drown. You drag my body back through the gate, and Carson can revive me in Atlantis."
"*That's* your plan?"
Amazingly, Rodney just nods.
And John loses it completely. "Are you nuts?" he yells. "What kind of fucked up plan is that, Rodney?" He doesn't notice that his fist is up and swinging until Rodney catches his hand at the wrist, holding it back.
"Believe me, Major, if you've got a better idea, anything at all, I'm open to suggestions!" Rodney says.
They're so close now; they're practically breathing the same air. John's head is hurting; he's tired, frustrated and suddenly very, very scared, and he has nothing else to offer. Rodney knows this; they both know it.
"Well, that's it, then!" Rodney whispers looking a little stunned. Slowly, his hands slip away. He takes a few steps back, giving a frightened little laugh. "Huh! We should-- um, maybe-- that's-- oh my God, oh my God!"
As Rodney starts to get a little hysterical, John can't help but feel relieved that the real McKay is back. Because that calm-in-the-face-of-imminent-death routine the other Rodney had going on was really starting to freak him out. Still, he doesn't leave Rodney babbling for long; the water is rising fast and they're running out of time.
"It's okay, I'll do it!" John says grimly. He's the one paid to sign up for suicide missions; it's his job to go out there and die if he has to. However, the second he starts trying to unfasten his E-V suit, Rodney's hands come down on his.
"No, you can't; you'll die!"
That feeling of helpless frustration rushes back, brighter and sharper than ever. "Rodney, I hate to break this to you, but you'll die too!" John yells.
"Don't you think I know that?" Rodney yells right back. "Believe me, Major, dying is *not* top of the list of things I want to do!" He shivers a little more when he says it. And, something deep inside John cracks open at the sight of Rodney standing there looking so lost and terrified yet strangely determined.
"But, you've got a serious concussion," Rodney continues, voice down to a whisper. "If you go into this cold water, there's no chance for you. I, on the other hand, stand a much better chance of being revived. Not to mention that Carson may need your help using Ancient technology to help bring me back."
When Rodney shivers again, John reaches for him, cupping Rodney's nape in his hand, and he draws Rodney close so that their foreheads are touching. "Rodney, you don't have to do this!" he whispers.
"It's the only way there's a chance we'll both make it."
John squeezes his eyes closed against the desperate logic of it all. He can't believe this is happening. It was supposed to be a simple day off; he and Rodney were supposed to relax, spend some time together. Now they're trapped under the ocean, and he's holding onto Rodney as tightly as he can, and he can feel Rodney's ragged, fear-filled gasps gusting along his cheek. "This is crazy," he tries again.
"But, you know I'm right," Rodney responds, putting every ounce of conviction he can into those words.
The hardest thing John has ever done is to agree to Rodney's plan. He doesn't believe in it, he knows Rodney doesn't either, but they're almost out of time and they've got nothing left to try. Rodney is shaking violently now, though how much of it is from fear or cold John can't tell. So, he holds Rodney's gaze for as long as he can. He tries to tell Rodney with his eyes and with gentle touches to his hair and neck just how brave he is, how much he means to him, because those words are stuck in his throat.
He does manage to say: "You know what, this trip wasn't such a great idea."
"No, not so much." Rodney laughs, and the sound is surprisingly warm and free of bitterness. "When we get back, I'm making sure every jumper has at least four suits in it."
"Don't worry, I'll help you with that," John chokes out.
The water is lapping at their chests, and Rodney sighs, pulling back. John doesn't want to let him go, but he knows he has to. He needs to get his helmet secured before the water fills the jumper. "Whatever happens, Rodney, I'll get you home," John promises him.
Rodney doesn't reply. There's nothing left to say. They both know Rodney is going to drown in the next few minutes and John still can't quite believe this is happening. Before he can get his helmet on, Rodney takes his face in both hands. Those chilled fingers tremble on his skin, and John lets his eyes close under their touch. He knows what's coming, he knows Rodney would never try this much if it weren't goodbye.
It's everything a first kiss should be. Rodney's mouth fits against his so smoothly, curving in all the right places, exerting a gentle pressure that makes John want to open up for him. And, when he does, Rodney's tongue slides into his mouth, and *God*, John can finally taste him, and it's sharp and sweet with layers of sensation burning through his chest. It hits him then that this is what they should have been doing all this time, instead of trying to be just friends.
Now, all he can do is hold on to Rodney while the water continues to rise.