The headwoman stares at their team with a forbidding expression. “We do not deal with men.”
John wants to protest that they hadn’t known, that if they had known, he would have an all-woman team, but he doesn’t think she’ll accept ignorance as an excuse, not from him.
Teyla takes a step forward, placing herself front and center, and John takes half a step back, letting her take the lead. “We understand that your customs differ from our own,” Teyla replies diplomatically. “But I believe we can reach an equitable solution.”
The headwoman—she’s refused to reveal her name in front of men from outside—finally nods. “Very well. We will speak with you.”
John hides a murmur of dismay, grateful when Teyla replies, “You’ll forgive me, but I cannot leave all my protectors here.”
Rodney makes a noise, and John takes one more step back, landing squarely on Rodney’s foot, and he falls silent. John figures Rodney has a problem being classified as a protector, but now is not the time to quibble with labels, not when there’s a team at risk.
The headwoman raises her eyebrows, but she doesn’t comment on the obvious byplay. “Very well. You may bring one of your traveling companions.”
Teyla glances at John, who moves one shoulder in what he hopes is a subtle shrug. Although he’d prefer to accompany her, Ronon is the more obvious selection. Ronon is more imposing, for one thing, and he has the ability to project an air of menace while keeping his mouth tightly shut.
As though she’s read John’s mind, Teyla says, “Ronon, I think.”
“The other two can wait here,” the headwoman replies with some distaste, as though even referring to John and Rodney’s existence is more than she can take. Then, she sweeps out of the large, dank room where they had been left to wait, followed closely by her attendants and Teyla and Ronon.
John hears the bolt on the door shoot home behind the group, and he knows they’re in here for the duration.
“What was that for?” Rodney demands as soon as they’re alone.
John rolls his eyes. “You were going to argue, and that’s not a woman you argue with.”
Rodney frowns. “She was being ridiculous.”
“You might think that, and I might think that, but I’d rather not have to shoot anybody today,” John replies. “If Teyla can get the job done, we’ll let her work.”
Rodney shrugs and wanders around the room, his hands rubbing his arms, like he’s cold, but John estimates that the temperature in the room isn’t much below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure, it’s a little cool, but it’s not too bad.
John leans against the wall and closes his eyes, settling in for what could be a long wait. Judging by what he’d seen of the headwoman—whatever her name might be—she isn’t inclined to give up easily, so whatever the insult offered by the first team Atlantis had been, she’s not going to just let it go. Teyla is going to need every ounce of diplomacy and tact she possesses to untangle the mess.
“It’s cold in here,” Rodney complains.
“It’s not that bad,” John replies. “Relax, McKay. We just have to wait them out.”
A couple of hours later, Rodney says—again, “Seriously, Sheppard, it’s cold. Don’t you think it’s cold?”
John bites back a sigh. “So you’ve said a dozen times. I get that you’re cold, but suck it up. There’s nothing we can do about it right now.”
Rodney falls silent, and John gives silent thanks for small favors. He just wants to get through this, and get his errant team home again, without killing anyone.
John really does prefer not to shoot people if he doesn’t have to.
When the silence stretches on, John cracks an eyelid and sees Rodney leaning in a corner, shivering with cold, his lips a little blue, which is odd, considering the ambient temperature. Rodney’s reaction to the temperature makes it seem like it’s at least ten degrees colder.
“What’s wrong with you?” John asks bluntly.
“I’m cold,” Rodney protests, his words muffled by his chattering teeth.
John looks at him incredulously. “Are you sure you’re not sick?” he demands, because if Rodney’s sick then all bets are off, and John will have to find a way to get them out of this room and back to Atlantis—without undoing Teyla’s work.
“Look, ever since I got stuck in the jumper at the bottom of the ocean, I’ve been cold,” Rodney replies defensively. “I can’t get warm.”
John believes him. Rodney can’t fake that kind of chill, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of options. He can alert the guard he’s sure is posted outside the room, but that might derail the negotiations, and John hesitates to do that when lives are on the line.
And while if Rodney’s life were in danger, John would risk it, Rodney’s not in danger of hypothermia, even if he might be uncomfortable. Under the circumstances, going skin-to-skin isn’t an option, since they might be interrupted at any time, and there’s nothing to cover up with, but John doesn’t mind sharing body heat.
“Take your tac vest off,” John orders.
Rodney stares at him. “What? Why?”
“Do you trust me?” John counters.
Rodney nods. “Yes. Of course.”
“Then take your vest off and get over here,” John replies.
There are emergency blankets in their packs, but those had been confiscated before they’d been led to the waiting room, along with their weapons. John knows Rodney has Power Bars stashed in his vest, so they don’t have to worry about Rodney’s hypoglycemia, but that means the only way to deal with the cold is with body heat.
Which leaves them with one option.
John removes his vest and pulls out anything that might get smashed, and then puts it on the floor. Rodney does the same, and John sits down on the vest, grabbing Rodney’s vest and putting it between his legs. “Sit,” John orders.”
Rodney gives him a puzzled look. “Seriously?”
“Sit,” John insists.
Rodney settles gingerly between John’s legs, and John pulls him close, wrapping his arms around Rodney’s abdomen, and bracketing Rodney’s legs with his own.
After a moment, Rodney relaxes against John, and then scoots a little closer. “What is this?” Rodney asks quietly.
“This is me trying to make you more comfortable,” John replies. “Is this okay?”
After a pause, Rodney replies, “Yeah. I’m good.”
“Yeah, I am,” Rodney replies, even though he’s still shaking.
“Hey, relax,” John murmurs. “I’m looking out for you.”
“I know,” Rodney replies, and he leans his head back against John’s shoulder. “Thanks.”
John makes sure that there’s as much physical contact as possible. “Don’t worry about it.”
For a long while, Rodney just sits, until his shivering eases, and he lets out a deep sigh.
John doesn’t let go. “You okay?”
“I’m a little warmer,” Rodney allows. “But maybe we should just stay like this for a while.”
John rests his chin on Rodney’s shoulder. “As long as you want, buddy.”
“Great,” Rodney murmured. “How about forever?”
John feels the heat of Rodney’s body against his, the breadth of his shoulders, and the softness of his belly.
“Forever works,” he says, and hopes that their guards don’t come back for a long while. He’s content where he is.