Rodney is sitting on the gate room stairs when the code comes in: John on his way through. He’d been back himself for an entire day (as time-consuming as sticky fingered kids and broken shielding can be, there’s enough time differential between that planet and Atlantis and Earth and the passage of the sun… don’t even get him started) which meant that by the time Ronon appears out of the endless blue of the ‘gate, Rodney has yelled at three scientists, four Marines (though not quite in their earshot) and irritated both Zelenka and Sam so much that they’d both kicked him out of their offices three and two hours ago, respectively. He’s switched off his radio, because the distracting hum of Radek’s muttered Czech had been a bit too much.
“Where is he?” is the first thing out of his mouth, probably a little too loud because not only is Ronon looking at him, but two techs and a passing soldier look up; it’s the only way Rodney can get past the clenching of his throat, the certainty that John has been hurt, killed, flattened by a bus or a rogue Goa’uld or simply sucked back into his family.
“Be back tomorrow,” Ronon says, and there’s a softness to it that is almost sympathy. “Wanted to see his brother again.”
Rodney feels words start to push past his teeth, how could you leave him and you promised to stay, promised me you’d stay with him but Ronon’s hand is already up, defensive.
“I asked. He said no.”
There’s enough emotion in Ronon’s eyes that Rodney knows he tried, knows that there are some kinds of grief that should be handled alone.
Still, Rodney haunts the gate room like some kind of sarcastic and abrasive ghost until John’s code is announced, until John is finally standing there. And Rodney must make some kind of noise again, because everyone is staring at him, at him staring and at John, but they go back to what they were doing, lose interest, and how can they, how can they not see it, the way John is wearing exhaustion like a coat, how his eyes pinch at the corners, how can they not see.
Rodney feels the edge of John’s sleeve—a button down, he must not have even changed between leaving his brother’s house and Stargate Command—between his fingers before he has time to process the journey down the stairs. He tugs John away, down one corridor, two, up a lift and down another hall and John lets him, and the ease with which he accepts Rodney’s leading makes something rub hard and sharp against Rodney’s throat, makes him huff a breath and shoot a sharp look at everyone they pass.
When the door closes behind them, Rodney pulls the bag from John’s shoulder, undoes buttons from holes and knots from laces until he can manhandle John into the shower, thinking on and warmer, warmer, there.
John squirms, a wordless wiggle because it is warm, almost too warm, but then he freezes, and a slow collapse begins from the top of his spine downwards, until his shoulders fall, back shifts as the heat works the stress out of too-tight muscles, too-clenched hands.
Rodney twists to the cabinet, looking for clean towels (especially one of the new soft ones woven by the Athosians) when he feels John’s hand on his wrist. It rests there a moment, then closes, firm fingers a little wet and warm, so warm, then a tug. Rodney only pauses long enough to shed clothes and steps under the shower’s spray, feeling it fall insistent and firm on one shoulder as he faces John.
The ache is still there, a ghost of the strain that Rodney saw in the gate room still at the back of John’s gaze, but he smiles a little, slides a hand to the small of Rodney’s back and pulls him in until there is nothing but the wet of John’s mouth, the heat of his tongue sliding against Rodney’s, the mindless cocoon of spray and steam that slowly pulls all thought apart.
“Missed,” is all John can manage on a scattered heaving breath before he dives back in, cups a hand to Rodney’s neck, steps close until they’re chest to chest, warm skin to warm skin, and the slide of water and sweat and yes is almost too much and Rodney has to close his eyes, concentrate on sliding a hand into John’s hair, tugging just enough to emphasize that there is nothing to miss, nothing to worry about except now and here.
“Yeah,” he murmurs anyways, just to feel the hint of a smile in John’s kiss, but then John works a hand between them, hot and sure, and all the thoughts in Rodney’s head begin to twist, shred apart in the shivering clench of his belly, the want spiraling upwards as John sketches kisses against his cheek, chin, neck.
But this should be about John, about unknotting and knitting him back together, so Rodney slides one trembling hand up a thigh until it touches John’s and it’s both of them, fingers tangled, palms slick, and the water on their faces feels like rain and tears and John pulls him in for one last, searing kiss and Rodney’s gone, thought only returning when he realizes that the chill at his back is the shower wall and John’s weight is balanced solidly against him.
John is pliant when Rodney finally pulls him, clean and sated, from the shower, bundles him in and out of a towel, slowly slips him into bed (Rodney knows the sheets are clean, changed them himself after Ronon returned alone). He’s sure John will be asleep by the time he comes back from the closet wearing boxers (a scattering of infinity’s tilted 8 on them) and a clean pair in his fist for John (blue and softly worn, sure to be clinging to the edges of his hips by morning). But when Rodney sits, the mattress dipping, John’s eyes slide open, calm but awake.
“Next time, I’ll just throw Zelenka through the gate and come with you,” is all Rodney can say, smoothing a thumb along the line of John’s arm. Even though there won’t be a next time, God, how stupid, John only had one father and now he’s gone, gone like his mother and Ronon’s planet and Rodney’s goldfish from when he was seven and how can something like that make his chest tight, a memory of something like Ivan (who wasn’t a very smart fish, liked swimming upside down for no good reason).
But John smiles, shifts over on the mattress so Rodney can lie down, hooks a leg over Rodney’s, lays a slowly relaxing arm across his chest.
“You know you’ll freeze like that,” Rodney complains, but John only hums a little in contentment, so he drops the boxers to the floor, pulls up the sheets until they’re both covered, gratefully thinks off at the light.
“Thanks,” John’s warm murmur comes from the dark. Rodney presses a kiss to John’s shoulder blade (it was closest, after all) and lets the sound of John’s breath, warm and steady, unravel him into sleep.