The touching thing, John realizes very quickly, is a problem.
Rodney bears the team’s hovering and constant check-ins remarkably well for the first few days after he’s released from the infirmary: he manages not to bite Ronon’s head off when asked for the fifth time what a mathematical symbol means, but John figures that’s more because Rodney’s still so excited to know it himself he’ll take any excuse to explain; when Teyla somewhat transparently brings Torren by and lets Rodney hold him again, Rodney only grumbles for a moment before tucking Torren into the crook of his arm and stroking a thumb over the baby’s soft cheek.
John’s surprised Rodney lasts as long as he does, to be honest - especially since John’s been following him back to his quarters almost every night for a movie and a drink, unwilling – or unable – to let Rodney out of his immediate vicinity for longer than a few hours. But even then, John might have gotten away with it. He has a stock pile of box sets he’s been hiding from Rodney for a few months now to distract them, boxes of sodas and snacks he can lug over to Rodney’s place at any time.
Except John can’t keep his hands to himself.
He’s constantly reaching out to steady Rodney or looping an arm around his shoulder and pulling him in when they walk, bumping their shoulders together during dinner. Just the other night, he’d caught himself with his fingers barely touching the collar of Rodney’s shirt, ready to grip the nape of Rodney’s neck and pull his head down to rest on John’s shoulder. It’s ridiculous. He should have better control over himself. He has better control over himself.
But every time he looks over at Rodney in the middle of a movie and sees the way his eyes reflect the light, the way it makes him look blank and not there –
He has to touch. Has to remind himself Rodney’s okay, breathing, thinking, making rude comments when John keeps the popcorn away from him and they end up slapping at each other and knocking the beer over onto the floor.
Rodney notices, though. Of course he does. Rodney’s not stupid.
“Look,” he says irritably, “I’m fine, okay? You don’t have to keep hanging around. I’m sure you have incredibly important things to do that don’t involve you and I watching yet another episode of this atrocious show. I have had a very long day. Many people have been disastrously incompetent in my vicinity and I want to shower the stench of it off as soon as possible, and then get some actual sleep. Just – go back to your room. I’m sure you can find something to do.”
Panic curls sick and heavy in John’s stomach before the door’s even shut. “Rodney!” He bangs his fist against metal twice and it opens again, Rodney wide-eyed and startled on the other side. John’s hand hurts, and his heart is sore, and he wishes he’d never seen Rodney so scared and broken. The memory’s too sharp; it feels like shattered glass in his throat.
“Hey,” Rodney says, “hey, what’s,” and John’s curling his fingers around Rodney’s wrist like a cuff, saying, “Please, I – what if you – what if you need me? What if you need me and I’m not here? What if you need me?”
Rodney looks horrified and blurry, and John’s not sure why until Rodney’s cupping his face, thumbs swiping under his eyes, and whispering, “God. I didn’t know, John. I’m sorry. It’s – you can stay. I didn’t know.”
They climb into bed together, still in full uniform, and Rodney talks the whole time he’s helping John undo his thigh holster and belt. “I’ve been working on the Hive ship specs Elizabeth left us – lift your leg – and there are a number of potential weaknesses Radek and I think we might be able to work to our advantage – no, your other leg, you numskull. Did you know there’s a design flaw – or, well, I suppose it’s more of a natural evolutionary flaw, considering Hive ships are grown and not built – in the shield at the hull that might be susceptible to actual ramming? Don’t make that face. You are a complete pervert.”
“I didn’t say anything,” John points out, but Rodney just smacks his hip and calls him a pervert again as he undoes John’s boot laces. John lies there and takes the abuse, feeling better for it, if a little stuffed up and mortified. Rodney flops down on his side next to John a few minutes later, divested of his own boots and jacket.
They stare at each other across the pillows until John’s throat starts to close up again.
“I’m okay, you know,” Rodney says quietly. “You guys did it. You saved me.”
“We almost didn’t, Rodney. We almost – you almost.” John bites the inside of his cheek hard and doesn’t say anything else, not even when Rodney tentatively touches his hair, pushes his bangs away from his forehead. He falls asleep between one moment and the next, Rodney safe and whole and unafraid beside him.