John gave up on the stupid, jokey chatter as soon as he realized it wasn't working for Rodney. No reason for it to, he thought. Rodney wasn't military, he hadn't come up through a culture that laughed around and about death because...well, what else could you do when death was an everyday occurrence?
Apparently, if you were Rodney, you could go all silent and tight-lipped.
Rodney stayed that way even when it became clear, because the old Wraith's remote had been blown up, Rodney was going to have to work from the second jumper to disable the force field around the first one. He didn't even complain when John suggested that Markham stay with him to help in case Rodney needed another gene carrier for something.
"I will remain as well," Teyla said, and John gave her a grateful nod. If Rodney did start to freak out, she'd know the difference between typical Rodney behavior and a genuine problem.
Ford insisted that he and Brooks carry the body bags back from the downed hive ship, and for once John was pretty sure it had nothing to do with John being a sub. In spite of his attempts to make walking look easy, they were Marines--they knew how a guy with messed up ribs looked. John was pretty sure his ribs were just cracked and not broken, but he'd been wrong about that before.
Although he thought about doing a little more recon, John decided that they could send a team back to go over the ship. Right now he wanted to get off this damn planet as quickly as he could, hopefully without abandoning the jumper.
Fortunately, by the time they'd made the hike back, Rodney had gotten the force field down and had repaired some of the other damage the Wraith had done to the jumper. He was sitting by himself in the co-pilot's chair but he came stomping out when he saw Brooks loading one of the body bags into the back of the second jumper.
"No," Rodney said shortly. "In this one." He made his way back into the jumper as Brooks glanced over at John.
"They were his people," John said with a nod.
After Brooks and Ford had settled the body bags into the jumper, Teyla came up to John. "Perhaps Aiden and I should ride back with you and Rodney, Major?"
Riding with the dead wasn't John's preference when it came to team-bonding exercises, but Teyla was right. "Good idea." He turned to Markham and Brooks. "You guys head on back."
The ride back was the quietest John's team had ever been. After Teyla convinced Rodney to eat an MRE, Rodney pulled out his laptop, hooked it up to the jumper's power and started working intensely. Or maybe he was playing Minesweeper--John couldn't really tell.
Ford fell asleep after an hour or so, and John and Teyla talked quietly for a little while before they fell silent. John had put the jumper on autopilot, and at one point he blinked and realized Rodney was shaking his arm.
"I can't fucking believe you!" he yelled, while John tried to move only to wince at the sharp pain in his chest.
"Huh?" Ford sat up and blinked at Rodney.
"Why the hell didn't you say something and let me drive, or at least watch the jumper settings? What is with this stoic macho bullshit?" Rodney hadn't lowered his voice and it echoed around the quiet jumper.
"Doc," Ford said at the same time Teyla said, "Rodney."
"Simmer down, buddy," John said, working hard to ignore the tiny coil of worry that suddenly settled in his gut because his boyfriend was finding fault. Rodney found fault the way other people talked about the weather, and John should be used to it by now. "I had an alarm on, if you must know. We're perfectly safe." Then, as Rodney opened his mouth, John added, "what have I said about indoor voices in the jumper?"
Rodney snapped his mouth shut and looked away. John, who knew all about anger and grief and denial, stared at the back of Rodney's head helplessly. "Look," he began, "I understand...."
"Please don't," Rodney said quietly. "I'm sorry I yelled at you,-- but...I don't want to talk about it."
"Okay," John said.
"But you're hurt," Rodney continued. "Do you want me to try to fly this thing?"
"Will you believe that it's not stoic bullshit if I say I've flown with worse?"
"Knowing you...yeah, I'd believe that." Rodney paused and then added, "but if it gets to be too much...."
"I'll let you know," John promised.
Eventually they made it back to Atlantis. While John hadn't been lying to Rodney, he'd neglected to mention that times he'd flown hurt were usually shorter flights. By the time the jumper settled into the bay, he wasn't sure he wanted to move. In fact, he'd stiffened up so much he wasn't sure that he could move.
He heard the rattle of gurneys outside the jumper but assumed they were for the bodies. In a few minutes, he told himself, he'd get up and walk to the infirmary. Yeah, just a few minutes....
"Major? Your ride's here."
John opened his eyes to see Rodney looking down at him. "My ride?"
"C'mon, Carson's got a gurney," Rodney said, leaning down to offer John a hand. "All you have to do is walk to the back of the jumper."
At least, John thought as he let Rodney help him up, Rodney hadn't made it an order. "Hey," he said, once he realized Ford and Teyla had left the jumper. "You...okay?"
"Not really, no," Rodney replied. "Do you get used to it?"
John thought about lying but then shook his head. "I never have."
"Well...thanks for that," Rodney said, his mouth turned down even more than usual. "Let's get you to the infirmary."
"I don't need a gurney," John said as they made their way to the back of the jumper.
"You're not a doctor," Carson said. "Why don't you leave those decisions up to me and get on the gurney?"
"It's more getting knocked around and then sitting for so long," John explained as he settled onto the gurney. "I'm just stiff."
"Well, then we'll give you some ibuprofen once I'm done looking you over." Carson frowned. "This isn't from getting knocked around," he added, looking at John's arm.
"If you say it's just a flesh wound, I'm going to have hysterics or something," Rodney said.
"I'll bite your legs off," John managed to get in before Carson's people wheeled him off.
It was only as one of the nurses started to help him out of his shirt that he remembered the bruises. The other bruises, the ones that weren't from getting tossed around like a rag doll by a ten-thousand year old Wraith.
He pulled away from the nurse and looked over at Carson. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"What is it, Major?" Carson sat down next to John's gurney and waved the nurse off.
"I'm...there are...." John sighed. "You're going to find some bruises that aren't from today. I'd really appreciate it if...." He trailed off again.
"I'll do the exam myself, Major," Carson said. "Let me help you get that shirt off."
Carson was careful, but thorough. "You'll have more bruises on top of these," was the only thing he said in reference to the marks scattered across John's chest.
In the end, things weren't as bad as John had expected. The wound on his left arm was superficial; he wouldn't even need stitches. And his ribs weren't cracked after all, just bruised.
"Still," Carson said. "You're off duty for the next two days, and then, provided I'm satisfied with your progress, light duty for at least four weeks. No off world missions and no sparring with Teyla or the Marines."
John grumbled, but it was mostly for form's sake. Four weeks was better than the six weeks that was the bare minimum for cracked ribs, and hopefully he'd convince Carson to let him start working out again after about three weeks.
"One more thing, Major," Carson said as he wrapped the bandage on John's arm with plastic so John could shower. "You need to tell whoever it is you're sleeping with that you have to take it easy for a while, all right? No sex at all for a week, and after that, no bondage or unusual positions that put any kind of strain on your ribs and chest. And for God's sake don't let them tickle you."
John waited for the lecture about being safe and the whole thing about not letting his top talk him into things he didn't want, but it never came. He wasn't sure if Carson just trusted that John was a big boy and to know how to look after himself, or if it had to do with Carson's own orientation--maybe neutrals didn't think about giving that lecture. Regardless, it was kind of nice not to have to assure Carson that he knew what he was getting into.
"You take all the fun out of everything, Doc," he said lightly.
"So I've been told." Carson handed him a pill bottle. "You know the drill, right? Take these even you don't think you need them for the pain. They're also...."
"An anti-inflammatory," John said, looking up after reading the label. How much ibuprofen had he been taking over the years, he wondered.
"I'll give you something stronger for the pain if it gets worse, but I'm guessing you won't come and ask for it."
John shrugged. "Save it for people who really need it."
"I think every military in the world teaches its people to say that." He paused. "I'm a firm believer in doctor-patient confidentiality, Major."
"Thanks, Carson. That's good to know."
Carson made a shooing gesture. "Off with you then. Let me know if you have unexpected pain or any other unusual symptoms."
"I will, I promise."
As much as he really wanted a shower, John headed up to Elizabeth's office.
"Just thought I'd check in," he said.
"Rodney gave me a basic report." She looked at him and sighed. "John...."
"Yeah, I know," he said, because he recognized her "what am I going to do with you?" face and wanted to cut her off at the pass. "At least we don't have him on our doorstep anymore."
"Well, that's something," she said. "We should send a team back to look over the satellite and the Wraith ship."
"I was going to suggest it."
"But not you. Take as long as you need on the mission report; your health is more important."
"I'm on light duty for a while; I have a feeling you're going to be seeing a bunch of my delayed mission reports."
"I'll look forward to it." She paused. "John, are things...are you all right?"
"I'm good," he said. And, because he knew she expected more, he added, "it's not always easy, but no one promised me it would be."
"If you need to talk, you can come to me. You know that?"
"Yeah," he said. "And thanks."
Thanks for not pushing, thanks for not telling me I did well when I went out with three geeks and came back with one, thanks for trying not to sound like my first grade teacher....
He gave her a small smile and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Right now, though, I'm probably smelling up your office."
"You're not, but you look dead on your feet. I'll check in with you tomorrow and reschedule the staff meeting for Thursday."
"And here I was hoping I could get Ford to take my place," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He had one more stop to make before he went to his room.
Dr. Heightmeyer had been the first person to call the room with the big stained glass window the Memory Room, and the name had caught on. John thought it was a little New Agey, but it was better than Non-Denominational Memorial Chapel, which was how it was listed on the official map of the city. As John slipped into the room to stand at the back wall, he checked to see if Rodney was there.
He wasn't, but Zelenka was, along with Dr. Simpson, Dr. Kusanagi and Paul Black, one of Carson's nurses. Simpson was crying on Black's shoulder while Kusanagi patted her shoulder. They didn't notice him, but Zelenka looked up and then slid out of his seat.
"Major," he said softly. If he blamed John for Abrams and Gaul's deaths, he hid it well.
"I'm so sorry," John said. "Is...will Dr. Simpson be all right?" She must have been involved with Abrams, he thought. He didn't think Abrams had been wearing a visible collar, but that didn't really mean anything.
"Eventually," Zelenka said, and something about his expression gave John the feeling he'd dealt with his fair share of loss. "It takes time...."
"It does," John said. "Might want to tell McKay that."
"If he will listen." Zelenka paused and looked up at John. "We knew it...coming here, was risky, Major. In fact, at the risk of sounding patronizing, both Doctor Gaul and Doctor Abrams had been with the SGC much longer than you."
"Yeah, I...thanks, Doc."
"Major." Zelenka gave John a sad little smile and headed back to the others.
Abrams had been quiet, John remembered. He'd mostly ignored Rodney and Gaul's bickering, and at one point, John had wondered if he was too timid for field work. But no, he'd just been cautious, and thinking about what Zelenka had said about the scientists knowing the risks, he'd been right to be.
John had made fun of Gaul and his motion-sickness, and yeah, that had been a little mean, but, to be fair, Gaul had snarked at Rodney plenty on the trip out. John wondered if he'd been like Rodney, sure of his intelligence and used to being the smartest guy in the room. He'd been brave at the end, too; something John hadn't known until they found the body.
For Rodney to have seen that.... But no, he wasn't here to think about Rodney.
Lowering his head, he thought about the moment they'd left the 'Lantean atmosphere and crossed into the crisp blackness of space, how awed both Abrams and Gaul--Mark and Brenden--had been at the sight. I'm glad you had that, guys. I'm glad you got to see the stars like that.
After another moment, he left, afraid he'd fall asleep standing up if he stayed any longer. He hurt all over as he walked toward his quarters, and he had every intention of taking a shower, eating a power bar, downing a couple of pills and sleeping for a couple years. Maybe, he thought, as the door slid open, he'd skip the power bar.
"Oh, there you are."
"I was beginning to think I'd need to use the security cameras to track you down." When John scowled at him, Rodney held up a hand. "I wouldn't do that, you know."
"Yeah, I didn't think you would." John wanted to take a deep breath and try to settle his thoughts before dealing with Rodney, but he knew from experience that a deep breath would hurt like hell right now.
"Can you shower with that arm?" Rodney came up to John and then nodded. "Oh, good, he put plastic wrap over it." He rested his hand on John's arm below the bandage and bit his lip, clearly worried. All he said, however, was: "c'mon, let me help you shower."
While he really wanted to say that he could look after himself, and, in fact, should be looking after Rodney, it was pretty clear that Rodney had an agenda. And, John had to admit, it was kind of nice to be taken care of like this. So he let Rodney help him undress and then let Rodney wash him down in the shower. It felt good; Rodney was very careful with him, as if John break under the slightest pressure.
It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when Rodney said, "can you go to your knees?" John's expression while he searched for a way to say "no" must have given him away.
"No no no," Rodney said with an exasperated look. "I'm selfish, but not that selfish. It's just that you're taller than me, and if I'm going to wash your hair...."
"If I kneel, there's no way I'm getting back up again," John had to admit. "If I lean a little...."
It worked out well enough, and Rodney's fingers on John's scalp felt fantastic. John had always loved getting his hair done, even if most hairdressers had no idea what to do with it. Having someone's fingers on his scalp just felt good, and it was no surprise that Rodney's broad, strong fingers made him want to curl up and purr.
"Thank you, Rodney," he murmured as they stepped out of the shower, and yeah, there it was again--Rodney's pleased little smile.
"Do you have...what exactly do you sleep in, anyway?"
"Sweats and a t-shirt," John said, heading towards his dresser. It was easy enough to pull on his sweatpants, but he couldn't help hissing when he raised his arms to slide his t-shirt on.
"I would have helped," Rodney said. "How bad is it?"
"I was wrong, they're only bruised, not cracked. Light duty for four weeks."
Before John could explain about the sexual limitations, Rodney pointed to John's couch. "You should use this as an excuse to get a better bed." As John sat down, Rodney started messing with something.
About the time John realized that Rodney had actually brought all his tea stuff over, Rodney's shoulders went rigid and the little cloth bag he'd been holding dropped out of his hand and fluttered to the floor.
Rodney didn't turn around. "I told him--Gaul--all he needed was a nice pot of tea. I don't know why I said it...it's what my mother used to say...it's why I have this stuff." He did something to the hotplate and then turned away, still not facing John. "Why'd he have to shoot himself?"
"I don't know," John said quietly. "Because he knew he was dying?"
"Don't be so sure." John looked down at his hands, remembering Sumner's desperation. "There's no cure."
"No cure we know of."
"No cure the Athosians or the Hoffans or the Genii know of."
"It's my fault," Rodney said, finally turning to look at John, his expression miserable. "He said...he knew I wanted leave the ship and go help you...it's my fault."
"Your fault?" John snorted and then tried not to wince. "If you're looking for someone to blame, it's my fault. I'm the one who split us up and put the two most inexperienced guys together. I'm the one who decided that exploring a downed Wraith ship with no real military back up was a good idea."
"You couldn't know," Rodney began, and then trailed off when John looked at him. "Fine, I get it," he said, although John knew it wasn't that easy. "But you weren't there...."
Moving carefully, John got up from the couch. "No," he said. Unsure of how Rodney would react, he reached and put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I just...I'm sorry."
"Yeah," Rodney said, reaching up to grip John's hand. "You should get some rest," he added after a moment.
"So should you." John couldn't help glancing at his bed. There was no way they'd both fit on it.
"I told you so," Rodney said. "Should I...would you like me to stay for a while?"
"You've been up as long as I have," John said, totally tempted to take Rodney up on his offer.
"Yeah, but I didn't get thrown around by a Wraith." Rodney turned back to his tea things and turned on the hot plate. "Where are those pills you had in your pocket?"
"Bathroom." Before Rodney could start in on him, John headed into the bathroom and shook a couple of pills into his hand. "I'm taking them right now, Mom, " he called out.
"See that you do." Rodney glanced up when John came back into the room. "Tea'll be ready in a moment. Do you want to get comfortable on the bed? Or sit for a while on the sofa?"
"Sofa," John said, settling down. He wasn't sure who needed this more--himself or Rodney--and he didn't really care.
"We're actually going to spend an evening without having sex," he said when Rodney brought the tea over.
"Are you kidding? I'm planning on bending you over the sofa for a good hard fuck in a minute or two." Rodney settled down at the far end of the sofa and patted his thigh. "Or you could put your head down here, if there's a way to do without your chest hurting."
Lying on his back with his ankles on the arm of the sofa and his head in Rodney's lap turned out to be surprisingly comfortable. It got even better when Rodney started petting John's hair; John felt a little of the day's tension fading away.
"Speaking of my chest," he said.
"Your very hot, manly chest," Rodney said with a little laugh as he reached down and ran a careful hand over John's collarbone.
"My pale, hairy chest," John said. "The one with the bruises Beckett saw this afternoon."
"Oh." Rodney's hand went still. "It shouldn't be a problem, though, right?"
"He made a big point of telling me that he believes in doctor-patient confidentiality."
"He's a good guy." Rodney chuckled. "I think he finds the whole sex thing to be kind of boring."
"Oh?" John asked, looking up at Rodney. "I know he's neutral ...."
"He's also asexual," Rodney said. "I thought everyone knew."
"I don't get most of the good gossip." John wasn't particularly surprised about Carson, although he'd never believed that you could tell just by looking at someone.
"You don't hang around with Peter enough, then."
"He--Carson, I mean, not Peter--was pretty matter-of-fact about telling me what we can and can't do." When Rodney looked curious, John went on. "No sex for a week, nothing very strenuous for three weeks after. Also, you're not supposed to tickle me. Well, not you specifically; I didn't tell him who I was sleeping with."
"I wondered." Rodney started petting his hair again. "Are you even ticklish?"
"Yeah. Kneecaps, ribs, underarms and feet. And you better tie me down if you expect to do it safely; I kick."
"Do you like it?"
"It's not my favorite thing, but I don't hate it." Knowing he should be a little more specific, he added, "it's not something I ask for if given a choice. I can get into things like that if my top really gets off on it, though."
"Huh," Rodney said. He remained silent and sipped his tea for a moment or two, as if mulling over what John had said. "Okay, you have to know that I've been dying to ask...."
"Where I learned to do a striptease? I did a few days at a finishing school." John looked up at Rodney, whose eyes were big with surprise. "And I didn't learn to, you know, pole dance or anything like that. Just to take my clothes off and make it look half way decent. Music optional."
"A finishing school? Really?"
"Yeah. It was a nice one, more like a spa than anything. Not all leather furniture and cement slave cells like in the porn."
Rodney laughed. "Porn's unrealistic?"
"So what else did you learn?"
John almost shrugged before he remembered his ribs. "Nothing all that interesting. Most of the sex stuff was aimed at pleasing women, since I was still married at the time." He laughed a little. "They thought I needed a lot of makeup, hair and clothing tips."
"Oh please." Rodney snorted. "Talk about gilding the lily."
"Huh?" John blinked up at him. "You don't...I mean, I usually look like crap."
"Maybe it's because I've only ever seen you like this, but trust me, you don't look like crap."
"I wasn't just saying that to...."
Rodney interrupted him. "I didn't think you were." He looked down at John and then ran his fingers lightly over John's face. "Maybe a little bit of eyeliner and...well, I'm like any other guy; I like to see lipstick on my dick occasionally."
"Classy," John said dryly.
"Hey," Rodney said, "I"m all class." He brushed his thumb across John's mouth. "Seriously, you don't have to do a whole thing for me."
He went back to running his fingers through John's hair and John closed his eyes. Rodney wasn't like any top John had ever been with, although John had only been with four different tops for any real length of time, so it wasn't like he had that many people to compare Rodney to. But still, Rodney was different, and John still wasn't sure what to make of him....
"John?" Rodney said softly. "C'mon, wake up enough so that I can get you into bed."
Getting up wasn't easy and it woke John up a little. "Sorry," he said.
"Don't be," Rodney said firmly as he steered John toward the bed. "I almost fell asleep myself."
John slid into bed and Rodney sat down next to him and stroked his hair a little more. It was weird and John felt a little like he was being tucked into bed or something, but it was nice, too, and oddly soothing, which wasn't at all like Rodney, and....
As he drifted off to sleep, he heard Rodney murmur, "Thank you, John."
* * *
It was 10:25 by the time John staggered out of bed. He vaguely remembered it being somewhere around 17:30 when he'd taken off his watch before showering with Rodney. Even without factoring in the forty-seven minute leap hour at the end of each day, he'd slept for a long damn time. It had helped; he was still tired and sore, but at least he was functional.
After pissing and brushing his teeth, John checked his bandage. It seemed to be holding up fine, and the wound didn't hurt too much when he pressed on it. It'd scar, but what was one more scar? It wasn't like he had flawless skin or anything.
Gilding the lily, Rodney had said, and last night John had been pretty sure he'd meant it. Now, as he stared at the mirror, all he could see was stubble and chapped lips and lines from too much sun and too many years in the corners of his eyes. He sighed and dug around in one of the bathroom drawers until he found his makeup bag. He hadn't brought much with him, and if he thought about it these days, it was to wonder if he could trade it on the Atlantis Exchange for something more useful or tasty.
Technically, he could wear makeup while in uniform--the guidelines were something like "conservative and in good taste"--but he never had. Even when he wasn't in the air it would get smudged or smeared or messed up somehow and it was easier to just not bother. Same with jewelry; once he went into the Air Force he'd let his ear piercings close up and never bothered with rings or bracelets. The exception had been Nancy's collar, but even that had been chosen to suit regulations--a plain, broad, herringbone chain that fit under John's uniforms. It hadn't even had a lock.
John wasn't sure he wanted to think about collars right now, so he turned his attention to the makeup bag, looking through it until he found a thing of lip balm. It was flavored--mint--but it wasn't gloss and didn't leave his lips all shiny. As he put it on, he had a quick flashback to the mission and Rodney standing there smearing chapstick on his lips. Nothing wrong with wanting non-chapped lips, right? Trying not to over-think it, he dug a little deeper and pulled out a tube of lipstick and then an eyeliner pencil and stared at them for a long moment.
Putting makeup on wasn't like riding a bike; John smudged the eyeliner twice. The lipstick was red and looked kind of ridiculous in the middle of the thick bristle of couple of days' stubble. He pressed his lips together and then relaxed them, and fine, yes, his mouth looked good. It'd look even better if he was giving someone head, and he smiled a little. Rodney was hardly the first guy John had met who liked to see lipstick on his dick, although he was the first one to be that blunt about it. And the eyeliner was working here, too; John had always liked the way it made his eyes look bigger. Now, if he just shaved and....
Scowling, he reached for a washcloth and soap and scrubbed his face hard until both lipstick and eyeliner were gone. What the hell had he been thinking? Regulations or not, he couldn't wear makeup. He'd worked hard to overcome the Marines' issues with him and, sure, maybe they wouldn't care if he suddenly looked more like a sub and less like their commander, but maybe they would. Not to mention, he thought as he stuffed the bag back into the drawer, suddenly wearing makeup would be the equivalent of writing "I'm involved with someone" on his forehead in Sharpie.
He looked at his razor, shrugged, and left the bathroom without shaving.
* * *
After grabbing breakfast, John tracked Rodney down, a little surprised when Rodney said he was working. But when John reached the main lab, it was astonishingly quiet and Rodney was nowhere to be seen. Before John could even ask, Zelenka pointed at a door at the back of the lab.
"I told you people I didn't want...." Rodney snapped as John stepped into a small cluttered room he'd never seen before. Rodney was sitting behind a flat screen monitor that was almost as big as his desk and now he peered around it. "Oh, sorry," he said.
"You have an office?" John asked, looking around. "I didn't know that." The room was small and cluttered with so much stuff that it made Rodney's quarters look neat.
"Yeah. I think it was supposed to be a closet, but I wanted to be close to my lab." He leaned back in his chair. "How're your ribs?"
"Fine as long as I don't run, make any sudden movements, breathe too hard...." John shrugged and then winced a little. "Shrug."
Rodney got up from his desk and cleared a tablet and stack of papers off the only other chair in the room. "You should be resting," he said, pointing at the chair.
"That makes two of us," John said as he carefully sat down.
"I've only been up for a couple hours. And I'm just reassigning projects and looking at some of Brendan's notes." He sighed and pinched his nose. "He was almost as brilliant as he thought he was. I probably should have told him that."
"If he was anything like you," John said, "he probably already knew."
"There is that." But Rodney's mouth was still turned down as he returned his attention to the screen in front of him and John couldn't help feeling a little helpless.
He also felt kind of like a jerk, worrying about his looks. Just proves I can be as shallow as the next guy, I guess.
"Um," he tries. "Is there anything...."
Rodney looked up at him, still frowning. "You don't have to be nice just because we're...." He waved his hand between them.
"If I were just trying to be nice because we're involved," John said, rolling his eyes, "I'd probably be more articulate."
"Sorry," Rodney said. "I...fuck, how do you do this? How do you keep on going after...."
"Have you read my file?"
"No, of course...." John looked at him hard and Rodney spread his hands. "Okay, fine. Yes. Do you really think I'd put myself in danger with you if I didn't know something about you?"
John wondered if Rodney would have bothered if John were a top, but he wasn't about to ask. "So you know what happened in Afghanistan?"
"That's how I deal with it."
"I'm sorry," Rodney said, frowning a little. "I don't get it."
"I don't deal with it. I don't accept it." John rubbed at the back of his neck and tried to explain. "How did they put it? I take "extreme and unnecessary risks" to avoid having to deal with it. And after...well, I should have already warned you. I have nightmares and thrash a bit."
Rodney opened his mouth to say something, but John held up a hand. "I'm not trying to make it about me. I'm just saying I don't...I'm not much help."
"You are, actually. Just knowing that it's not easy makes me feel less like I'm overreacting." He shrugged. "If I have to go to whatshername...Heightmeyer, I will."
"I have a hard time with shrinks," John said.
Before he could say anything more, Rodney smiled just a little. "I'd have never guessed," he said, and John ducked his head. "It's okay, I talk enough for both of us."
"I hadn't noticed," John said. He had noticed, of course. Rodney's use of words to keep people at bay was almost as effective as John's silences, but he was hardly going to call Rodney on it.
* * *
John spent rest of the day doing paperwork and working on training schedules with Ford. It was the kind of boring routine work he'd never really had to do before and he found himself wondering why command of a base was such a big deal. He'd much rather be flying or sparring with Teyla or doing just about anything.
If wishes were horses, he thought and then grimaced. That had been--probably still was--one of his father's favorite sayings. Check me out, Dad. I've got a command, just like the top you wanted me to be.
Shaking his head a little, John tried to pay attention to his paperwork. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Ford giving him a curious look. And maybe, if Ford were older or they were closer, he might explained. As it was, the last thing he wanted to do was talk about his fucked up dad issues with a kid who'd never even known his own father.
They blew through a lot of paperwork by the end of the day. "One more week of this and we'll run out of stuff to do," John said as they headed toward the mess hall for dinner.
"You wish, Sir," Ford said. "It never ends."
"We could just have a bonfire out on the West Pier...."
"Now you're talking." Ford opened his mouth to say something else, but John held up his hand; his radio was chirping.
"Major, we have a situation."
"We're on our way," John told Campbell. "Something's come up," he added to Ford, his mind already running over the mission roster. Lieutenant Miller and AR-2 were on a supply run to M39-590 and AR-3 team was off investigating a site mentioned in the Ancient database. The Irath were solid allies and John didn't think they'd turn on Miller's team. That left AR-3, unless the situation was something happening on Atlantis.
Elizabeth was standing next to Campbell's station, her face set in a frown John recognized all too well. "Sergeant Stackhouse's team is...." She paused for a second. "Stuck."
AR-3 it was, then. "Stuck?" John glanced at the gate, which was engaged. "We have contact?"
"Yes, Major," Campbell said. "PFC Guzman."
"Guzman," John said, leaning over very carefully to talk into the pickup. "This is Major Sheppard. Talk to me."
"Yessir," Guzman said. He didn't sound too frantic and John couldn't hear anything that sounded like combat behind him. John felt himself relax a little. "No one's injured, Sir."
John relaxed a little more. "Good to hear."
"We were investigating the Ancient site on P09-873; there was something Dr. Tabrizi thought was a lab inside a hillside. Sarge told me to stay on guard while they went inside, and then the door closed behind them and they couldn't get it to open again."
John frowned. "You were able to maintain radio contact?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rodney and Zelenka coming up the stairs.
"Yessir. Dr. Tabrizi tried a couple different things, and when nothing worked Sergeant Stackhouse sent me back the gate to contact you."
John opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Rodney leaned into range of the radio pickup. "Doctor McKay here. Did Tabrizi say whether it was equipment malfunction or a power issue?"
"She said it could be both, Doctor. There are controls on door on the outside of the lab but none right at the door on the inside."
Rodney looked up sharply at that, glancing over at Zelenka, who also looked concerned. Before either of them could say anything, however, Guzman continued.
"She thinks the controls might be on a dead console but she's not sure if the console's broken or underpowered."
Rodney straightened up and looked at Elizabeth. "I can't do much more over the radio like this."
"Guzman," John said, "aside from the locked up lab, what's the situation there on the planet?"
"Code Blue, Sir."
"Glad to hear it." They had codes for every situation, and the color codes were the simplest and were only used when there wasn't anyone--friend or foe--to hear them. Blue meant that everything was okay, other than the non-immediate situation that had already been reported. "What time of day is it?"
"Mid-afternoon, Sir. Near as I can tell, the day here's a little longer than Atlantis; I estimate that we've got at least another four hours of good light left."
"Okay, stay on the line and let us know if you hear anything from Sergeant Stackhouse."
"Will do, Sir."
"Okay," John said, looking at Rodney. "Will the team be enough or do you need some of your people?"
"Well, I'll need a pilot unless you want to trust a jumper with me, and under the circumstances I'd prefer it if you didn't."
"I was thinking I'd fly the jumper," John.
He wasn't surprised when Elizabeth shook her head. "John, you're...."
"No." Rodney said flatly, cutting Elizabeth off. "No way."
John stared at him.
"Clearly you've forgotten about your ribs," Rodney went on. "I don't want you to...."
"Excuse me?" John said.
Rodney paused and then his chin went up. "What I meant was...."
He didn't get to finish that sentence either. "Enough," Elizabeth said. "Major Sheppard, I'm afraid you're going to have to sit this one out."
John hadn't expected to win, so he just nodded. The thing with Rodney...no, he had people in danger. He'd worry about...deal with Rodney later.
"How about Miller...no, he's off planet. Lee as pilot?" Ford asked, his voice carefully professional.
"Yeah, she's racked up enough flight time for something like this."
"Right, Sir." Ford turned to Rodney. "Anyone you need besides me and Teyla?"
"Yeah," Rodney said. "I'll want Simpson along; she's got the gene and I'll need another pair of hands."
The rest of the mission planning went quickly, and John clenched his fists as the jumper slid slowly through the 'gate. His people were good, and Rodney and Simpson were good, and John's own presence wouldn't add anything; but of course that didn't matter. He hated this, hated watching other people go on missions he should be on. This was why he wasn't cut out to be a base commander; it had nothing to do with his orientation and everything to do with his dislike of inactivity.
"John," Elizabeth said quietly. "May I talk to you for a moment?"
Just what he needed, John thought as he followed Elizabeth to her office. She's not stupid; she's going to ask me about Rodney.
"Sorry if I was pushy back there," he began once they were alone.
Before he could say anything else, she shook her head. "To be honest, I'd have been surprised if you hadn't wanted to go," she said with a smile. "And I'm sorry I had to say no.
"I don't like making excuses for other people, but...." She paused and fidgeted with something on her desk. "Rodney wasn't...he would have spoken to you like that even if you weren't a sub."
John just looked at her for a long moment, hoping his relief didn't show on his face. She was wrong: but then again, maybe she wasn't.
"He lacks tact, but not only is he just as worried about AR-4 as you and I are, he's concerned about you."
"Yeah." John shrugged a little. "It's no big deal."
"Are you sure? I could have a word with him."
"No," John said a little more firmly. "I appreciate the thought, but...."
"You prefer to fight your own battles." She looked down at her hands. "I understand."
Although subs were supposedly more attentive to the moods of people around them, John didn't think of himself as particularly empathic or anything. Right now, however, he could tell that she wanted to take care of him--protect him--and was regretting the instinct.
"I'm gonna go check in with Campbell," he said. "See how things are going."
As he carefully settled into a chair next to Campbell's station, John bit back a sigh. He wasn't sure which he found harder to deal with, Elizabeth's careful concern or Rodney's blunt orders. Rodney, probably, but only because they were sleeping together.
Again, he pushed the thought aside for later.
It was another long, agonizing half hour before anyone reported in. John, who'd been occupying himself poking around in the Ancient database trying to read the odd word here and then, almost jumped when Guzman's voice came on the line.
"What's the situation?" John asked.
"Good, Sir. Dr. McKay just got the doors open and everyone's fine."
John let out a sigh as his shoulders loosened just a little. He turned and gave Elizabeth a thumbs up and she came out of her office to join them.
"Glad to hear it, Private," John said. "We'll see you in a few minutes."
"About that, Sir," Guzman said and then hesitated. "Dr. McKay wants to continue the exploration of the lab."
John opened his mouth to refuse and then shut it again. If he'd been there, it would have been his decision to make, but he wasn't and so he glanced over at Elizabeth.
"Doctor Weir here, Private. Can you patch us through to Dr. McKay?"
"Yes, Ma'am." He sounded relieved, and John couldn't help smiling a little.
"What do you think, Major?" Elizabeth asked.
"It's hard to make the call without being there, but if Rodney said it was safe, I'd probably go for it." It wasn't easy being honest, but Elizabeth knew him too well for him to say anything else.
"Elizabeth, we're wasting time here."
"Hello, Rodney," Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes. "I understand everyone's all right?"
"I'm sure you already know that. Look, now that we've got the consoles in the lab powered up, I can tell it's safe. There's just one other room, but it looks like there's a mainframe in there. I just want to pop in and grab the crystal drives, maybe look around a little. It'll maybe take twenty minute, half an hour at most. And I've got all of the doors jimmied open so they can't close...."
"All right, Rodney. All right. You have a go. Be careful."
"Yeah yeah yeah...thanks, Elizabeth."
"I suppose I should be glad he even bothered to ask," Elizabeth said, shaking her head.
* * *
For once, Rodney kept to his time table; the teams returned about a half hour after Elizabeth had given Rodney the go ahead.
"Well, as emergencies go, that was totally anti-climactic," Rodney said once he joined John and Elizabeth. "It was a power situation; once I powered the door up, we were good to go. On the way back, I was talking with Simpson and Tabrizi about coming up with some kind of lightweight battery that teams can carry with them."
"Good idea," Elizabeth said. "And was there a mainframe?"
"Yes." Rodney bounced on his toes a little. "I don't know if there's anything in it that isn't in the database here, but it's smaller and might be easier to search."
"Do you have any idea what they were studying there?"
"Impossible to tell," Rodney said, shaking his head. "It looked like any number of labs we've found here. It's interesting, though; it seems the Ancients didn't like having all their research eggs in one basket, as it were."
"Well, you can't really blame them," Elizabeth said. "Keep me posted about the contents of those drives."
"Of course. Anything else? No? Okay, I want to head down to the lab to check these out...." He bounded down the stairs without once looking at John.
John heaved himself out of his chair, wincing a little. "I'll be plenty happy if he finds out they were working on some kind of Star Trek quick healing tech."
"You and me both," Elizabeth said.
* * *
John's debrief of Stackhouse and Ford went fairly quickly. Both of them liked the idea of teams having access to small power sources, and John made a note to talk to Rodney about a little bit of cross-training.
"More of our people need to know their way around Ancient tech," he said as he and Ford headed for the mess. It was late, but there would be food of some kind and neither of them had had dinner.
"Also," John added as they sat down with their sandwiches. "I want to talk to Carson about including more of our people in the gene therapy program. Starting with you and Bates." He paused, wondering how he'd feel if told he had to have untested gene therapy. "That won't cause any problems, will it?"
"I don't think so," Ford replied. "I mean, if the scientists can take it...."
"Yeah. I forget that everyone's been with the program so much longer than I have," John said, remembering what Zelenka had told him the other day. "This kind of thing...most of you have seen weirder things in your breakfast cereal."
"That's one way of putting it," Ford said and then looked quizzical when John laughed. "What?"
"Rodney and I need to sit you down with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
"Honestly, Sir, I'd rather just stick to watching old football games." Ford grinned. "Although I dunno, maybe we need some geek and grunt cultural cross-training beyond us teaching them how to shoot and them teaching us how to open Ancient doors."
John leaned back in his chair and looked at Ford. "You know, that's actually not a bad idea. Getting past the...what did you say? The geek and grunt divide? Anyway, the longer we're out here...." He trailed off, not knowing how to put it. Sure, they'd all signed up for a one way trip, but living out here, just a handful of people from Earth rattling around in this huge city in another galaxy--well, John wasn't sure even the long time SGC veterans had been entirely prepared for that.
If they were stuck here, they needed to pull together.
"Something to think about, anyway," John finally said after a moment of silence. "I'd like to see more interaction with the Athosians as well. I'll bring it up next staff meeting."
Ford nodded and then looked a little uncomfortable. "Um...Sir?"
"I don't even know if it's my place to bring it up, but...." He ducked his head and John wondered if there were still Marines who had problems taking orders from a sub. "Is McKay...he's been kind of...."
John sighed. "Look, Ford," he began and then paused. "Aiden. I can handle Rodney. Trust me when I say, I've dealt with much worse. And I'm hardly the only one he yells at."
"Yeah, I'm sorry. It's a little weird for me at times, so if I get too...you know, just tell me to mind my own business."
"Hey, it's weird for me too." Ford looked a little surprised, as if he hadn't thought of it. "To be honest, I'm making this all up as I go along." And yeah, John probably shouldn't be saying that to his second in command, but that was the whole point.
"It kind of goes back to what I was saying before," he said, trying to explain himself. "Here we are in another galaxy, and yes, everyone's SGC, but we're still trying finding our way and trying to figure out how to make it. On top of it all, the military's structured in an...unusual way. It's no wonder we're both finding it weird." He spread his hands. "So relax. If you slip up and get too protective or Rodney yells orders at me, it's not the end of the world. I'm sure there are times when I seem a little out of my depth too."
Ford nodded. "Yeah, I see your point. For the record--if you don't mind my saying so--you're doing okay."
"Thanks," John said. "So are you."
Ford grinned at him and then turned his attention back to his food.
* * *
John sighed as he let himself into Rodney's quarters. He'd thought about asking Rodney to drop by, but he was pretty sure Rodney would just try to avoid him by staying in the labs all night. And while this wasn't a conversation John wanted to have, it was one they needed to have. At least he'd had a good talk with Ford. That counted for something.
He'd brought his laptop with him with the intention of working on more paperwork, but after the day he'd had, he just couldn't concentrate. By the time Rodney came through the door, John had played twenty-two games of solitaire.
"Hey," he said, closing his laptop.
"Oh," Rodney said. "I should have expected this."
"Yeah, you probably should have."
Rodney peeled off his jacket and tossed it over the back of his desk chair. "So, do we actually have to do a whole...thing? Or can you just break up with me quickly?"
John, who'd had every intention of breaking up with Rodney, was brought up short by the tired, defeated tone of Rodney's voice. "Who said I'm breaking up with you?"
"You aren't?" Rodney sounded as surprised as John felt.
"Honestly?" John pinched the bridge of his nose. "I probably should. But...look, can you maybe tone down the whole protective, possessive thing?"
"I can't help being a top," Rodney said. "I don't know how you do it."
"How I do it? Do what?"
"When you're with me you're so...how do you just shift gears so easily?"
"You think it's easy?"
"It looks easy from here." Rodney almost looked annoyed. "When we're on missions, everyone assumes you're a top or at the very least, neutral. And then you come in here, with me, go down on your knees and it's all, 'yes, Rodney' and 'please, Rodney' and I don't know how you do it." He took a deep breath. "John, are you actually a switch?"
"Are you kidding? I couldn't give an order in bed to save my life. And trust me, learning to do this, learning to give orders to the troops...it wasn't easy at all. But I just don't see how what I'm like in private, what I do in bed, matters when we're in the field. Or in the gateroom."
"Well, no," Rodney said. "But still...I don't know how to tone it down."
"Because you've never had to!" John snapped, suddenly losing patience.
Rodney looked at him for a long moment and then, when he spoke, his voice was subdued. "You're right. I'm sorry.
"I...um, I can try not to be so toppy with you in public. I don't want to be that person, you know? Who expects their sub to behave in public." He did air quotes when he said 'behave', and John couldn't help smiling.
"It helps that you're really tactless," John said, still smiling. "Elizabeth tried to apologize for you, and Ford--well, I think he wanted permission to tell you to back off." He paused a moment and then said, "He didn't get it."
"You scared me," Rodney said, seemingly out of nowhere. "With the Wraith. And the idea of you going out while still hurt, even on a mission as easy as this one turned out to be, scared me. And that's why I was a jerk." The corner of his mouth twisted even further down. "If there's one thing I've learned from years of therapy, it's that I'm an expert at self-sabotage."
"What? I totally didn't follow that."
"It's not just playing around for me...us, what we're doing, I mean." Rodney looked down at the floor. "And it's scary, because all of a sudden you mean something to me and I could just...lose you. So, somewhere in the back of my head, it's easier if I screw it up on my own before that happens."
John stared at him. "That's kind of...well, sweet, in a fucked up way," he finally said.
"Me," Rodney said with a snort. "Sweet."
"And fucked up," John added. Before Rodney could say anything, he went on. "Which is probably why I'm...um...kinda falling for you."
Rodney looked at him, his lips twitching a little. John tried to keep a straight face, but before he knew it, he was grinning and then they were both laughing. And yeah, maybe they were just a little hysterical or maybe it was just relief but it didn't matter that John's ribs were starting to complain.
"We're pathetic," Rodney finally said and John snorted again. "And God, I made you laugh. Carson would kill me if he knew."
"Hey, you weren't tickling me; it's okay."
Rodney smiled a little shakily and came over to sit down next to John on the sofa. "I really am sorry," he said. "And you better appreciate the fact that I've now said that twice in the same conversation."
"You're really something else," John said, leaning carefully against Rodney. "But yeah, I do appreciate it."
They were quiet for a long moment and then Rodney sighed a little. "I could just fall asleep right here."
"Yeah me too," John said. "And my ribs would really be unhappy about it."
"So would I." Rodney ran his hand up John's side and then around until it was resting against the back of John's neck. "If you're in pain because of me, I want it to be the fun kind. Caused by me and no one else."
John shivered a little and leaned into Rodney's touch. "Yeah," he said. "Me too."