"Rodney? Rodney!" John tapped his earpiece, crouching next to the figure in the snow. "I found him."
"Is he well?" Teyla asked through the comm.
John cupped Rodney's face, finding it cold to the touch. "I..." He saw faint clouds of warmer air escape from Rodney's mouth, so he was still breathing, but he was far too still. "Rodney?" John asked quietly, stroking Rodney's cheek with his thumb.
Rodney's eyes fluttered open. "John?" he asked barely audible.
"Yes, I'm here," John said. "Teyla, Ronon. He's conscious. Where are you?"
"Half-way to the village," Ronon answered.
"I have almost reached the river," Teyla told him.
"Okay, that's closer to the gate than I am," John said, while checking Rodney's hand and feet. "I want you two to head back to the gate and get Lorne or anyone else with a puddlejumper. I'll try to get Rodney towards the forest. The snow isn't as deep there. Please hurry."
"On our way," Ronon only said. John could already hear him running.
"We will be back as quickly as we can," Teyla said.
John turned his attention back to Rodney's face. His eyes had lost focus. "Hey! Rodney! No sleeping."
"'s cold," Rodney said.
"I know, I know. We need to get you out of the snow at least."
Rodney looked left and right as far as he could without moving his head. "It's everywhere," he said, shivering.
"We'll find a spot where there's less," John said. "Can you walk?"
"My feet are ice," Rodney said.
John fervently hoped that wasn't the case. Either way he had to get Rodney out of the snow. "I'll help you."
He gently pulled Rodney up by his neck and put an arm around him. Rodney looked at him with big eyes, before moving a hand to his face. "You're warm."
John smiled. "Yeah, buddy. Compared to you I am. We'll get you warm too soon."
Rodney shook his head. "Cold. Everything's cold. You're...not real."
John's face fell. He didn't like the sound of that at all, but first he needed to get Rodney to the forest. He moved one of Rodney's arms around his neck, then slowly pulled him upright. Rodney couldn't stand on his own, so John more or less dragged him through the snow back towards the forest where he'd come through.
It felt like miles even if it was only a few hundred yards. When they reached the forest, John carefully helped Rodney down. There was no snow lying here, but the ground was still very cold.
Rodney didn't say anything, only looked at John with big blue eyes.
"I'll try to warm you up a bit," John said, opening up his own jacket. He let out a breath at the sudden cold. At least, it wasn't as windy here as out there.
Rodney was still tracking his every move. "I'm dying," he said quietly.
"You're not dying," John said, putting a hand on the back of Rodney's neck. He leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. "I won't let you die."
Rodney's cold hands grabbed his face. "They don't know I'm here. They can't know. You can't be real."
John didn't think he could talk sense into Rodney in his condition, so he concentrated on getting him a bit warmer. He opened Rodney's jacket, then pulled up his own pullover and shirt before doing the same with Rodney's and quickly covering him, trying to wrap the jackets around them in a way that preserved as much heat as possible.
"Oh god," Rodney said.
John put an arm around his neck, pulling him close and breathing against his neck. "Shh," he said. "We'll get you out of here soon."
"He'd never do that," Rodney whispered. "He likes long-legged, pretty brunettes. Kirk."
John only held Rodney closer. He didn't know why Rodney would even think about that now. And it was so far from the truth it was laughable.
"He'd never touch me like this," Rodney continued and nuzzled John's neck.
John resisted the urge to do the same. Rodney was clearly not himself. And the only thing he should think about at this moment was to keep Rodney alive until help arrived.
When he felt Rodney's lips on his neck, John's heart skipped a beat. "Rodney."
"Must be dying," Rodney mumbled and kissed down John's jaw then up to his mouth.
God, this was insane. This couldn't be happening. John wasn't entirely convinced that Rodney was really seeing him here. He'd never let on that he felt anything other than friendship for John.
John kissed him back because he couldn't not, but when Rodney cupped his face again, he withdrew enough that they could look at each other.
Rodney smiled. "You're a much better hallucination than Samantha Carter."
John didn't know what to say. "I'm real," he tried.
But Rodney kept on smiling and shook his head. "You can't be real. He'd never kiss me like that."
John only lightly shook his head. Rodney was so wrong about that.
"Kiss me again," Rodney ordered, and John obeyed.
This was madness. They were kissing on the frozen ground in a forest on another planet. John felt his body slowly turning numb, trying to give what little heat he had to Rodney. He was beginning to wonder if Rodney wasn't right. Could this be real?
John was shocked out his reverie when Rodney slid his ice cold hand between them. "Oh no," he said, grabbing Rodney's hand and moving it away. "I love you, but there's no way you're going to touch my dick with that hand," John said. "I mean as long as it's this cold," he quickly added, because he didn't want Rodney to think that he didn't want him to touch John.
But Rodney didn't seem hurt. Quite the opposite. He stared at John in awe. "He'd never say that," he said. "Ever." He ran his fingers over John's face. "I love him too, you know."
John's jaw dropped. How could Rodney have hidden this? How could he not have seen this? Maybe this was a hallucination after all.
He kissed Rodney because there wasn't much else he could do, and if this really was a hallucination, if he was lying in the snow somewhere and slowly dying, he wanted this to be his last thought.
He wasn't sure how long they'd kissed when Lorne's call finally came through the comm.
John pulled away. "Help is here," he told Rodney, who looked dazed.
John didn't flatter himself and think it was the kiss. He was too worried. Rodney had been out in the cold much longer, and John's body heat could only do so much.
He told Lorne to land just outside the forest and helped Rodney up.
"No," Rodney said. "Want to stay with you."
"I'm not gonna leave you. But we have to get home," John told him.
"Don't want to leave you," Rodney said unhappily, touching John's face again. "You love me."
"I do," John said. "Here and now and when we get home." He leaned his forehead against Rodney's for a moment, mindful that Lorne would land any moment.
"No," Rodney protested. "He doesn't feel the same. He'd never—"
John shushed him with a quick kiss before pulling away and dragging Rodney out of the forest to where Lorne was landing.
Inside the jumper, two medics took Rodney from him.
"John," Rodney cried softly, before sighing. "Warm." Then he let the medics change his clothes, and John was left wondering how much of this Rodney would remember even if it was real.
John let the hot water of the shower warm him.
Rodney was regaining his normal temperature under the supervision of Keller and the rest of the medical staff on call while he'd been sent to warm up and rest.
The heat of the water felt as if it was slowly thawing him. They'd quickly checked him over for any frostbites, but even so he'd felt frozen by the time they'd told him Rodney would be okay and he could think of something other than Rodney's safety.
Eventually he felt normal again and dried himself up. He felt restless in his room, though.
Teyla and Ronon had done the post-mission briefing. John knew that Rodney was probably still being rewarmed in the infirmary, but he still walked there, needing to see Rodney.
He didn't know if Rodney would remember anything of what had happened. When John arrived in the infirmary, Rodney was still covered in heating pads. He looked more alert now. Teyla and Ronon were at his side.
"How's the icicle doing?" John asked with a smile.
"Oh, haha," Rodney said, but instead of glaring, he looked at John and flushed.
"Rodney will make a full recovery," Teyla told him.
"It was just a bit of snow," Ronon said dismissively.
Rodney looked outraged. "I nearly died out there. If..." he faltered and looked at John with uncertainty. "If, uh, Lorne hadn't picked me up..."
"Major Lorne did pick you up," Teyla said. "It was fortunate that John found you so quickly."
"Sheppard found me?" Rodney said, looking slightly alarmed.
Teyla and Ronon exchanged a look.
"He told us to get Lorne. You don't remember?" Ronon asked.
Rodney only stared at John.
"Maybe we should let John remind you of what happened," Teyla said diplomatically and got up. "I am glad you are well," she added with a smile, before looking at Ronon, who stood as well.
Ronon put his hand on Rodney's shoulder for a moment, before leaving with Teyla.
John and Rodney only looked at each other for a long moment. Before either of them said something, Keller joined them.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Better," Rodney said.
She smiled. "If you think you're up to it, I'd like to put you under the scanner to make sure there's no damage to the tissue in your extremities."
Rodney nodded, gaze flicking to John for a moment.
Keller called Marie to help remove the pads, and then Rodney lay down under the scanner.
"This looks very good. There's no damage to deeper layers of your skin. It may be itching and hurt a bit, but it shouldn't be permanent," Keller said.
Rodney sat up. "So I'm...fine?" he asked.
Keller smiled. "Yes, Rodney. You're fine. I'll give you something for your skin, but I won't keep you overnight, and you can go back to work tomorrow if you want to."
"That's...good," Rodney said. His gaze flicked to John again.
"You have Colonel Sheppard to thank for your recovery. He found you in time and...kept you warm if I understood correctly," Keller said, one corner of her mouth tugging slightly up.
Rodney tensed. He looked at John.
"I'll help you back to your quarters," John offered. "He should rest, right?" he asked Keller.
"You both should," she said.
Rodney didn't say anything on the way to his quarters. He didn't point out that he didn't really need any help getting there. Not that John would have let that deter him.
He wouldn't leave Rodney in a state of uncertainty. More than that he didn't want to allow himself to doubt that it had really happened.
Rodney had his condition to blame for his fuzzy memories, but for John it would be nothing but the unwillingness to believe that it could be real. For years he'd denied the little moments between them, thinking that they were nothing but wishful thinking.
He'd been afraid to be disappointed and to mess this up. They could still mess this up, but denying that it was real at this point would be lying to Rodney—and to himself.
Once in Rodney's quarters, John closed the door.
Rodney dropped his gaze. "Look. I only have a vague recollection of what happened," he began, and it was enough for John to step up to Rodney and cup his face. Rodney's eyes got huge.
"You're wrong," John said. "I would. I want to. I will."
"What?" Rodney asked, confused.
"Everything you thought I'd never do," John clarified. "Touch you. Kiss you." He leaned forward to capture Rodney's mouth in a kiss.
Rodney hesitated for a moment before responding. It was still careful as if he feared that John would turn out to be a hallucination after all.
John pulled away and looked at Rodney, adding, "Love you."
"I'm either dead or—"
"You're not dead," John said roughly, pulling Rodney closer. "If I hadn't found you in time..." He leaned his forehead against Rodney's.
Rodney swallowed. "It was really you," he said.
"Yeah," John said.
Rodney looked at him for a long moment, as if trying to finally take that in. Then he smiled and eventually grinned. "My hands aren't cold anymore," he said.
John blinked, then remembered how he'd stopped Rodney from touching him earlier. He took Rodney's hand in his. "You're right."
"Let me touch you?" Rodney asked, sounding hopeful.
"As often as you want," John said, leaning forward for another kiss. Then he stopped just short of Rodney's lips. "As long as your hands aren't freezing," he added, closing the gap before Rodney could protest. The kiss was sweet and intense, and they quickly moved to Rodney's bed.
There was only one thing John would never do. He'd never get tired of this.