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The King of Atlantis

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John is seconds away from freedom when Carson shows up and ruins everything.

"Remember what we talked about, Colonel. I'll only discharge you if you promise to stay off your feet."

"What if there's a fire?" John asks from his wheelchair.

"Then someone will come get you."

"Someone? That's kind of vague."

Carson's unbending. "I will come get you. Until then, stay put."

"I'll do my best, Doc."

"Aye, I'm sure you will, which is why I've assigned this lovely gentleman to look after you."

Carson's lovely gentleman is a gigantic Marine. John pouts, but it's mostly for show. He knows he can't get anywhere on his own. Not with one leg in a cast and the other sore from the lizard-snake bite. Seriously, he's going to make a new rule: No more falling into pits filled with dangerous wildlife. Because it's not as much fun as it looks.

"Colonel Sheppard?" the Marine says, clearly not for the first time. "Um. Sir?"

So that's a big no on pits, John decides. Also lizard-snakes. The venom's still making him kind of woozy. John waves his door open and the Marine -- David? Douglass? -- wheels him in. It takes John about five minutes to get himself from the wheelchair to the bed, but no way is he going to let a Marine pick him up. He still has his dignity.

"Is that everything, sir?"

John rolls over so he's not face down on the bed. "I'm good," he says, trying not to pant.

The Marine presses a bottle of pills into John's hand. "Dr. Beckett wants you to take these."

"Nah," John says, clutching the pills to his chest. "Don't need 'em."

The Marine gives him a bottle of water and a blank look. "Okay, sir. Call if you need anything."

"Yep."

The Marine leaves and John waits a whole thirty seconds before downing one of the huge white pills. Things get kind of fuzzy after that, but he absolutely takes off his pants because they're no good. Suddenly he's naked from the waist down. It's a nice surprise and he spends some time enjoying the breeze and staring at the creepy triangular bite mark the lizard-snake left in his upper thigh. It's pretty cool. It might even impress Ronon.

Then he probably falls asleep, because the next time he checks in with reality, Teyla's there with lunch.

"How are you feeling?" she asks.

"I'm great," John says, grinning. "Comfy."

Teyla raises an eyebrow. "I see that."

So he eats lunch with Teyla, and so what if he's not wearing any pants. Teyla doesn't care. Teyla's his team. She also brought him the best turkey sandwich in the whole galaxy. He's pretty sure he loves her.

"It is good to see you feeling better, Colonel."

"Thanks, Teyla."

"Once you are back on your feet, I will be happy to lead you in ghi, what your people call 'Athosian Yoga.' Dr. Beckett says the exercise will be beneficial to your healing."

"Great," John says, loving Teyla a little less. Athosian yoga's like regular yoga, except with sticks and, in some cases, rocks.

Teyla leaves and John tries to read his book. He's way behind schedule, but the Russians refuse to stay put, sliding all over the page and sometimes changing identity mid-sentence. He's squinting at a passage on page thirty-five, trying to determine if it's even in English, when McKay shows up with Ronon, two big boxes, and a fistful of cords.

"Where do you want these?" Ronon asks, a box tucked under each arm.

Rodney gestures with his cords. "Just put them down -- gently, you oaf! That's delicate equipment! I didn't have it sent here from Earth just so you could -- oh dear god, Sheppard, where are your pants?"

"Took 'em off."

"Yes, that part's rather obvious. The question is why?"

John shrugs.

"Why does this always happen to me?" McKay mutters, shielding his eyes and groping around on the floor. Then, louder, "I know! Why don't we all put on some pants? Won't that be nice?"

"They're itchy," John says.

"Oh," Rodney says, popping up with John's missing scrub bottoms. "No wonder. Carson's got you in the stripper pants."

Ronon looks over from the boxes with a frown. "Stripper pants?"

"They've got velcro on the sides for easy removal." Rodney pulls the outer seams apart in demonstration.

Ronon's frown deepens. "The strippers in your movies don't wear pants."

"Male strippers wear pants," John says helpfully. "And then they rip them off!"

"Yes," McKay says. "That's exactly enough of that. Show and tell is over. Let's get you some shorts."

John points vaguely at the dresser in the corner. Rodney brings over a pair of loose running shorts, threads them onto John's legs and pulls them up to mid-thigh, all without making eye contact. "This is as far as I go."

"You sure?" John says.

McKay gets flustered, meets John's eyes for one, brief moment, then skitters off. John grins happily and focuses on wiggling his shorts up the rest of the way. It takes a while. He keeps getting distracted.

"Pants on, Colonel!" Rodney yells from the floor where he's unpacking boxes and hooking things up. Ronon leans against the wall and flips through a J. Crew catalogue.

By the time John gets his shorts up, McKay's mostly done with whatever he's doing. He splices a few more wires, orders Ronon to wrestle a huge flat screen onto the wall, sets up the speakers, then brings John a cordless controller.

John takes it. "What's this?"

"It's a hand-held bicycle," McKay says impatiently. "What does it look like?"

It looks like an Xbox 360, but as far as he knows, no one on Atlantis has one yet. He's not entirely sure anyone on Earth does. "Where'd it come from?"

McKay's chin goes up. "I got Mitchell to send it through the gate with Major Davis. I figured you'd need something to do while you were -- recovering."

"Cool," John says. "You gonna play with me?"

"Excuse me?"

Feeling loose and agreeable, John balances the controller on his belly and gives Rodney a hopeful look. Rodney's eyes get all big and weird.

"Oh, no," Rodney says, backing away towards the door. "No. I'm much too busy to play with you -- to play video games with you. I'm sure there's -- I'm very -- just, enjoy."

McKay practically falls backwards out the door, leaving John with Ronon, who shrugs.

"Wanna shoot stuff?" John says finally.

They try Gran Turismo 5 first, Ronon sprawled out on the floor at the foot of John's bed. John props himself up with some extra pillows and gets ready to kick Ronon's ass, but John's pretty high and he keeps driving off the road and crashing into billboards and exploding. Worse, Ronon keeps beating him.

"Don't they have cars where you come from?" Ronon says.

"That doesn't count," John tells him. "Your hair was blocking my signal."

"Whatever," Ronon says, roaring across the finish line and leaving John flipped over in a ditch.

After that John doesn't feel like racing anymore. He tells Ronon to find something with guns on the cover and Ronon puts in a Tom Clancy game. They run around shooting alien terrorists for a while, but Ronon gets frustrated with all the buttons he has to push to switch between his machine gun and his knife and his grenade launcher and gives up in the middle of the first miniboss.

"This is dumb," Ronon says. "I'm gonna go spar with the Marines."

John takes another pill and battles the forces of alien terrorism on his own. He's doing okay until he gets fucked up in the enemy bunker and can't find his way out. The fourth time he takes a wrong turn and gets a barbed tongue through the rib cage, he puts his controller down and calls McKay on the radio.

"I'm bored. Not being able to walk sucks."

"Yes, maybe you'll remember that the next time you decide to fall in a pit and get bitten by a snake."

"I made a new rule," John agrees.

"At least you learn from your mistakes," Rodney says. "I feel like I'm running an intergalactic daycare center instead of a research lab. I've learned how to say 'don't touch that' in ten different languages and they're still touching things they shouldn't."

Maybe it's the drugs, but the familiar sound of Rodney's complaining makes John feel all warm and fuzzy.

"What'd they do this time?" he asks.

"Somewhere on the upper west side there's a machine spitting out plastic marbles for unknown reasons. It'll probably kill us all."

"You can't turn it off?"

"We can't find it," Rodney says. "We're watching it on the display of some other device entirely. A device that definitely should not have been touched by human hands other than my own." Rodney's yelling now, not at John or anyone in particular, but a broad-spectrum ranting meant to strike fear in the minds of hapless scientists everywhere. John wishes he could be there to see it.

"You need my help?"

"Of course," Rodney says. "You'll be the first person I call if we find a pit that needs falling into."

"Hey," John says, a little hurt.

"Sheppard, you can't walk and you're on drugs. What possible use could you be to me?"

"Moral support?"

"Here's an idea: I'll stop us from blowing up and you stay in bed and play video games. Can I get back to work now?"

"You should come hang out with me when you're done," John says, feeling pathetic. He rallies. "I promise to keep my pants on."

Rodney makes a choking noise. "First, this could take days. Second, don't make promises you can't keep, Casanova."

The radio shuts off. John knocks all his pillows to the floor and flops down to take an angry nap.

John's Marine wakes him up around four. He helps John to the bathroom and back, picks up his pillows, and changes the game in the Xbox. This one's an RPG, Final Fantasy XX or something. John spends an hour dressing up his character and then he's standing in a meadow looking like a medieval pimp and missing Rodney, who would definitely have something to say about John's fashion sense.

His broken leg throbs and he shifts down the bed, hating himself. He didn't fall into that pit while rescuing lost orphans or manfully running away from monsters; he tripped on his shoelace. It was a stupid mistake and now he's stuck on his back until the lizard-snake bite heals enough that he can use crutches to get around. Carson said it would probably be a couple more days yet, and John's inclined to believe him. It hurts just lying there. He takes another pill and goes back to the game.

John has his guy poke around the clearing for a while and finds a wood nymph under a rock. When his door chimes five minutes later, she's still going on and on about the harmony of the spheres.

"Come in!" John shouts.

The door slides open to show McKay loitering in the hallway.

John pushes himself up into a sitting position. "You coming in or what?"

"I was just stopping by to see how you were," Rodney says. "You know, make sure you hadn't fallen out of bed and broken both your arms, which, good job, you haven't, so I'll just be going."

"Hey," John says, trying to distract Rodney so he doesn't leave, "did you get that machine figured out?"

"Oh, that. Sort of." Rodney steps inside with a scowl. John thinks the door closed and tries to look attentive. His vision might be a little blurry, but Rodney seems unhappy, his shoulders slumped, mouth slanted in disappointment.

The wood nymph, long done with her speech, giggles awkwardly.

McKay stiffens, eyes darting around the room. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"Interrupting what? I'm stuck in bed."

"Like that's any kind of deterrent," Rodney says, cheeks pink with anger. "If it were up to you, you wouldn't be wearing any pants!"

"But I am wearing pants."

"You are now!"

"Are we fighting?" John asks, confused.

Rodney starts pacing, slapping the air and talking to the walls. "I mean, I come in here and you're not wearing any pants and you're flirting with me and I'm supposed to be okay with that? Like I'm just anyone?"

"But I'm wearing pants," John says again.

"And meanwhile your fan club's coming and going as they please while you laze around, flirty and pantsless and acting like everything's fine! Where is she, huh? Stashed in the bathroom? The closet? Under the bed?" Rodney drops to his knees and peers under the bed. "You--! How is there nothing under your bed? That's just unnatural."

John's beginning to worry he overdid it with the big white pills. "Teyla brought me lunch, and then you and Ronon came by. That's the whole fan club."

Rodney's tufty hair and big crazy eyes appear over the edge of the mattress. "Then who was giggling?"

"I found her under a rock," John says, pointing at the flat screen. "I didn't catch her name."

"Oh," Rodney says, deflating. He sighs and settles on the floor, crosslegged. "It was a ball pit," he says. "The device we couldn't shut down? It turned itself off after it filled the room. Engineering thinks it's either used for fabricating cast parts or it's a ball pit, you know, for kids."

"Neat."

"Yes, I thought you'd like that," Rodney says, sounding resigned.

"Just curious, but have you lost your mind?"

"Probably." They sit in silence for a bit. "What are you playing?"

John prods the controller and his guy ambles into a tree. "Final Fantasy."

"Oh, that is way too complicated for you right now," Rodney huffs, pushing himself to his feet and going over to dig through one of the boxes Ronon had been carrying. "What else did they send? No. No. No. Barbie's Dream Salon? Remind me to do something nasty to Mitchell the next time he comes to visit."

John watches from the bed, still wondering what the hell that was a few minutes ago, if it was Rodney's way of coming on to him, and if there's any chance it'll happen again now that John knows the warning signs.

"Ah ha!" Rodney says, ejecting the disc and putting a new one in. "This is much more your speed. Scoot over, I'm not sitting on the floor."

John scoots, carefully. Carson requisitioned him a bigger bed while he was in the infirmary. His feet no longer hang off the end and it's wide enough for McKay to flop down, take off his jacket, steal one of John's pillows, and start navigating through the game menus without either of them ending up on the floor. Suddenly, things are happening. Bubbly Japanese pop music fills the room and the screen explodes in a mess of color. There's stuff everywhere: erasers, hula hoops, rice pudding, postage stamps, a gigantic weird guy wearing purple tights.

"What?" says John. If Rodney's arm weren't pressing against his, he might be tempted to write this off as just another drug-induced hallucination.

On the other side of the split screen, Rodney's already taken off, his tiny cow-spotted figure pushing a pink and orange ball with weird nubby protrusions, like those fruits from Luroa that make everyone hiccup.

"You roll over things and it makes your katamari bigger," Rodney says, plowing into a stack of waffles.

John watches Rodney's quick thumbs manipulate the twin joysticks. "That's it?"

"Watch out for moving things, things that are too big for you, and me," Rodney says, smug. "This is battle mode."

John experiments with his tiny green player and rainbow katamari, nudging them forward over a line of square mints. The mints are picked up with a cheerful bloop! bloop! bloop! and John's off, rolling across the park, picking up stamps, toilet plungers, a ham, and several small sheep. The sheep bleat and kick their legs. John laughs and goes after a guitar, swinging his controller to the right and accidentally jabbing Rodney in the ribs with his elbow.

"God," Rodney says, "do you sharpen your elbows? Cut it out."

"Oh, am I distracting you?" John says, weaving back and forth as he maneuvers through a busy schoolyard.

"Like you could distract me," Rodney says, appearing out of nowhere and slamming into John's katamari, sending his stuff flying and making the controller shudder in his hands. When the shock wears off, John rolls after him, trying to pick up enough things to match Rodney's size.

"You'll pay for that," John says.

"I'm really scared," Rodney says, rolling through what looks like a petting zoo.

"You should be. I'm going to roll all over you with these oranges I found."

"Oranges!" Rodney says.

Spotting McKay on top of a viaduct, John sneaks up on him from behind. John scores a direct hit, waffles flying everywhere, but Rodney's unfazed. He spins around and starts pushing back, trying to shove John over the side. They're both taking heavy losses.

"Oh no, you don't," John says, steering with his entire body, leaning into Rodney. Rodney leans back and holds him off with an elbow. Their arms rub together as they jockey for position.

"Give up, Colonel. You'll never beat my superior size."

John snickers and throws his good (well, less bad) leg over Rodney's thigh, trying to unbalance him. Rodney retaliates by digging his pointy chin into John's shoulder.

"Hey!" John shrugs him off, but it's too late; his arm's already numb and tingly. Damn McKay and his freakish Canadian Nerve Pinch.

"I'm sorry, were these your underpants?" Rodney says, breaking away from the fight to roll up the objects scattered around them. "Looks like they're mine now. How's your arm doing?"

John's rolling in wobbly circles, like a boat with only one oar in the water. "It's fine. How's your giant mouse?"

"My what?"

The giant mouse walks right into Rodney, sending him tumbling across the screen. John follows it up with a power slam and Rodney flies off the bridge and into the water.

"Hah!" John cheers. "Taste the rainbow!"

"As if. You just got lucky," Rodney protests.

John giggles.

Rodney peers at him suspiciously. "How many of those pills did you take?"

"Enough," John says, lounging against his pillows. His leg's still thrown over Rodney's, but it's comfortable there and he doesn't feel like moving it.

The game ends and The King of All Cosmos pops up to declare Rodney the winner. The King freaks John out. He has an orange nose and a head like a great big bolster. It's not natural. Worse, there's something vaguely clown-like about him. Rodney, oblivious to John's burgeoning new phobia, is bragging about his awesome victory. Not that it's in any way a surprise, he says, despite some people's underhanded alliances with giant mice. The King gives Rodney a cookie. They start another round.

John wakes up to the sound of soft conversation.

"How's he doing?"

"Sleeping. Don't wake him up."

"No, sir. Does he need anything? I can bring him a tray for dinner."

"I've got it," John hears Rodney say. "You can go back to Marine Planet Headquarters or wherever it is you're from."

"I'm from the infirmary, sir."

"Fine, fine. Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Yes, sir."

The door hisses shut and Rodney returns his full attention to his game, colors moving across the screen in a dizzying blur. John realizes his eyes are open and that he's leaning against Rodney, face pressed into Rodney's ribs, one leg draped over Rodney's ankle. He must have slid down the bed in his sleep.

"Oh." Rodney glances over at him. "You're awake."

John grunts, unwilling to take Rodney's word for it. He plays dead a while longer, listening to the noises coming from the game and taking personal inventory. He feels like crap. Just like he has every other time he's woken up over the last three days.

"Why didn't you come visit me in the infirmary?" John asks, grumpy.

"What? I visited you."

John sits up. "Yeah, once."

"Are you kidding me?" Rodney shoots him an angry look. "I was there for most of the first day, half of the second, and in and out over the rest of the week. Is that what you mean by once?"

John stares at him. Rodney hasn't looked this angry since he thought John had a girl hiding under his bed.

Rodney pauses his game. "You don't remember, do you?"

He remembers yesterday (begging Carson to be let out of the infirmary, Rodney stopping by after lunch), and falling into the pit (wriggly things with too many legs to be snakes, but too many fangs to be lizards). It seems he misplaced a day or two somewhere. He makes a face.

"You nearly died," Rodney says meanly. "By the time we hauled you out of that pit, you couldn't feel your legs. We got you home and Teyla and Ronon and I spent the whole night staring at your stupid face, hoping you'd wake up without any permanent nerve damage. It took you two days to snap out of it."

"I thought I was fine. Carson didn't say anything."

Rodney just looks disgusted now. "Carson said plenty, but apparently none of it registered with you."

After the first six or seven times he almost died, the novelty started to wear off. He stopped asking all those questions that normal people want answered, like "How bad was it?" or "What happened?" John made it. That's all he needs to know.

"Sorry?"

Rodney sighs. "Just -- I visited you, okay? You were hurt, practically in a coma, where else do you think I'd be but--"

John doesn't want to talk about this anymore. He nudges forward, pressing his shoulder into Rodney's. Rodney stops mid-sentence, lips parted, forehead creased. This close, Rodney's eyes are a deep blue, not crazy at all, but worried, and John doesn't want to hear about it. Hands planted on the bed, he leans in, closes his eyes, and fits his mouth to Rodney's. He's almost afraid to move, to start or finish this, but Rodney turns into him, slides a hand up between his shoulder blades, and turns it into a kiss, slow and careful and shy and John feels relief like an updraft, a thermal lifting him higher and higher until he is weightless, able to unfist his hands from the sheets and cup the back of Rodney's head as they trade sweet, open-mouthed kisses.

Until Rodney grabs him by the hair and gets very stern with him, and not in the fun way.

"Don't think this lets you off the hook," Rodney says. "You fell into a pit filled with venomous reptiles and completely ruined my weekend."

"Ow," John says, and decides to keep the part about him tripping on his shoelace to himself. There are some things Rodney doesn't need to know.

"Not to mention my inevitable sexual frustration," Rodney goes on. "It'll be days before you can comfortably bend even one of your legs; you'll be stuck in that cast for at least a month, and that's not even taking the effect of the narcotics into consideration."

"My hands still work," John says, pissy.

"Is there something you'd like to tell me? Because I was talking about your sudden and uncontrollable napping fits."

John stops trying to pull his head out of Rodney's grip. "Oh."

"I mean, look at you." Rodney gestures at John, his legs, the side of his face. John reaches up to touch his ear and finds it bumpy with scabs. Rodney knocks his hand away. "You're a mess. You can barely keep your eyes open."

"Nah," John yawns, "I'm good. Gimmie a second and I'll kick your ass at Barbie's Hair Salon."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous. You need your rest and I need to roll up fifteen more meters of stuff before I can move to the next level. Now lie down."

"Don't wanna," John says, nuzzling at Rodney's neck. John loves it when Rodney's bossy. It makes him all tingly. Though that's probably another thing Rodney doesn't need to know. John kisses Rodney on the ear.

Rodney lets go of John's hair and tries to push him down but John resists, darting in to steal another kiss.

"Seriously, this isn't going to happen. Having sex with you right now would be like running an obstacle course and you know how I feel about unnecessary physical exertion."

John snorts. "You must be a lot of fun in bed."

"I am incredible in bed. You have two busted legs and probable brain damage and I'm not interested in breaking you any further so will you please just lie down?" Rodney's nearly yelling by the time he's finished, voice high and strained, and John suddenly realizes how worried Rodney was this past week, not knowing if this was the time John's luck ran out, if a couple of snakes and a hole in the ground would finally do what five years in combat and ten thousand Wraith couldn't.

"Okay," John says, calm and easy, and then, because he's fundamentally an asshole, "but I expect some of that incredible sex as soon as this brain damage clears up."

Rodney sighs like a man who's reached the end of his rope only to find more rope. John smiles and leans in until their mouths brush together. Rodney sighs again and kisses him. After that, John lets Rodney have his way with him, which means being shoved onto his back and told to shut up and go to sleep.

Rodney returns to his game and John leans into him and dozes, feeling the slow pound of Rodney's heart, the steady rise and fall of his breathing, his muttered curses and self-congratulations. John dreams of rolling a blue and white katamari down the halls of Atlantis, rolling up Ronon and Radek and Lorne and Elizabeth and Teyla and Carson and Ford, rolling up the ten-thousand-year-old dead plants, his old twin bed, a circle of dancing Athosians, Steve, his favorite puddlejumper, the stargate, the giant whales in the ocean, the city itself, a chunk of the mainland, a swarm of darts from an orbiting hive ship, and Rodney, who fills the sky, bigger than all of it -- too big to be rolled up -- Rodney who frowns at the hive ship and tells John to stop being ridiculous and go back to sleep.