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The Storm Before the Calm

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"Fucking rain," Rodney mumbled as he slogged along the wet trail. It wasn't quite a path, more of a game trail than anything else. Although they hadn't seen any game at all, much less anything large enough to create a trail. Whatever wildlife there might be on this planet was sensible enough to stay out of the rain.

It had been raining from the moment they stepped foot on the planet. It had let up slightly shortly after they had arrived, but it was still... wet. And definitely gloomy.

The planet was P3X-49G and didn't have a name, only gate coordinates in the Ancient database. It had come up on this month's 'gate roulette' and there were the usual vague references to power source of importance that made the science division -- translation: Rodney -- want to take a good look.

Fortunately, they had enough equipment after their return to Pegasus from Earth that they could do some basic reconnaissance before anyone traveled through the gate. Miko and Radek had developed a pretty sophisticated MALP-on-a-stick device that they could check to determine if the gate actually went to a planet and, if it did, whether the planet had breathable air, as well as take pictures of the immediate gate area.

Once the MALP-on-a-stick – and Rodney hated that name somewhat fiercely but the name had stuck from its first use – gave them basic environmental information, they'd send a mobile MALP through the gate for a 24 hour scan. The MALP would move a short distance from the gate and start scanning the environment. The 24 hours was faintly arbitrary in some situations but that was usually long enough to observe a day and night cycle on the planet.

The science staff would re-dial the planet and get the data from the MALP – assuming it had not been disturbed to the point of incapacity, and they were at a 80% 'win' rate at this point -- download the information gathered and do the analysis. After another week or so, the science staff, with input from the military, would make a recommendation whether or not they should explore the planet.

When the MALP hadn't been disturbed, at the very least there was a mission to retrieve the unit. While they still had extra units available, the number wasn't infinite and any units they could retrieve, they would. A military team would go through the gate, weapons out and at the ready. They team would move just outside the splash zone of the gate, dial Atlantis and immediately comeback with the MALP. They took no chances that there was something out there that had out-waited the MALP.

For P3X-47G – informally dubbed 'the rain forest planet' – the gate was within feet of a solid wall of rock. The splash of the gate had carved a horizontal dome into the rock to enlarge the landing area. If they didn't have the protocol for the MALP to move the short distance from the gate, it would have been vaporized when they went back to get the telemetry.

The energy anomaly in the telemetry was enough to outweigh the lousy weather.

"It could be anything!" John countered.

"It could be," Rodney allowed. "But it could be a ZedPM! Or at least an energy source that we really should check out."

"And we have had absolutely no luck with searching for vague energy sources," John felt obligated to point out. "Wait, we've had lots of luck, all bad."

"I know, I know," Rodney replied. "But it's the one planet we don't check out that might be what we're looking for."

"The wet weather will keep the chance of Wraith lower," Teyla put in.

John looked at Ronon, who just shrugged. Any mission was a good mission. John knew Ronon had changed over time, to appreciate missions where they would have a good chance of coming back unharmed.

"We can't risk a Jumper," John put in. "That wall's too close to the gate. So it means walking." He paused meaningfully. "In the rain."

"We should have gotten those ATVs," Rodney complained.

"I have a report from General O'Neill that ATVs are on the list of equipment to be sent in one of the next two shipments with the Daedalus, unless we have any emergency needs that would push them back in the priority list," Richard Woolsey put in. "But that will not be for at least another six to eight weeks. Or even longer."

"We could wait," John suggested.

"And a bazillion more things that will be more important will come up," Rodney pointed out.

"That is true," Woolsey agreed. "There are other items on our list of needs. While there are no active military activities, we are always in need of new trade partners and allies."

John didn't have anything to add to that. Like both Rodney and Woolsey pointed out, there was always something to do.

"Is there a chance this is a perpetual rain?" Woolsey asked.

Zelenka offered, "We think not. There would be more standing water, if it were. The MALP images show wet but rocky trails out of the canyon and vegetation that looks like it requires at least a minimal amount of sunlight." He adjusted his glasses. "The theory is that this is a rainy season. Or maybe an extended rain event. But beyond that, we cannot tell."

"What's a little rain among friends?" Rodney asked.

"And if it's nothing but a bog, we'll turn around and come right back and figure something else out," John said.

Since there was no crisis involved, they made plans to leave the next afternoon, which would put them on the planet in the morning.

"Dinner?" John asked Rodney.

"Since we're going to be slogging through the rain tomorrow, I need to prep my equipment to be as water-proof as possible," Rodney replied. "I'll catch you at breakfast?"

Disappointed at not being able to spend time with Rodney but not wanting to show it, John shrugged easily. "Sure, see you in the morning," John replied.

John ate dinner with Ronon and Teyla, neither of whom commented on Rodney's absence. Once John thought about it, he realized that Rodney routinely skipped dinner with them. They had team nights -- with the regular addition of Kanaan and Torren, and the occasional addition from a rotating cast that included Radek, Amelia ... and Jennifer. Although Jennifer had not been included since they came back to Pegasus.

The dining hall wasn't the place to ask Teyla if she knew what was going on between Rodney and Jennifer, John knew. He made a mental note to check with her later.

Later never happened when Lorne's team came in hot from what was, yet again, supposed to be a simple meet-and-greet.

"Not so friendly," Lorne panted. "They wanted to keep Da-.. Parrish for some ceremony and when he declined, they got nasty."

John didn't miss the slip, but ignored it. A happy second-in-command made everyone happy. The end of DADT had been a relief and John ignored the fraternization rules completely. He knew some of his teams pretty much lived together; he didn't ask any questions as long as they kept any drama to themselves.

John resolutely didn't think about what else Rodney might be doing that night.

Ronon came in the morning for their regular run. John made Ronon take their shorter route, knowing they'd get a fair amount of walking in later on the mission.

The moment they were through the gate, John realized it was a hair away from being generally unpleasant. The rain was steady and cooler than he had expected, but they had come prepared with rain gear.

"Up there, I think," Rodney pointed to the hill in front of them. Another hill loomed in front of them, somewhat similar to the one opposite the Stargate. At least this hill wasn't as straight up as the other, it leaned as much as anything. It was irregularly shaped, dotted with small trees and patches of grassy growths. If they were on Earth, John would have thought he was in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

"Of course, it's up there," John muttered, peering up through the incessant rain.

Rodney shrugged. "It's why we're here, you know," he retorted. He peered at John, "And I'm usually the one doing the complaining. What crawled up your ass and died?"

John flinched at that but replied, "Nothing, just hate dealing with the rain."

"Okay, then, how do we do this?" Rodney asked.

"Looks like a game trail this way," Ronon pointed off to the left. "There seems to be something of a path up the side. We may not have to climb."

"That would make it easier," Teyla commented.

"Okay, let's see how it looks," John decided."If it’s too tough of a climb, I'm not going to take any risks on wet surfaces."

"That is reasonable," Teyla agreed.

"But... but there's an energy reading..." Rodney looked up at the top of the hill.

"Nothing's worth getting killed for," John pointed out.

"ZedPMs?" Rodney sang.

"Even that," John said firmly.

"Spoilsport," Rodney shot back.

"It is wise to take reasonable precautions," Teyla interrupted before they could further degenerate into an argument.

"Looks like a trail here," Ronon called from the base of the cliff. "Even McKay can handle this one."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Rodney grumped. He went over to where Ronon was waiting patiently. He peered up the 'path.' "Hey! It doesn't look too bad."

John looked over Rodney's shoulder. "Well, this part is okay. Don't know about up further."

"Then we turn around and come back," Ronon pointed out.

"That's reasonable," John said.

"Come on, chop, chop," Rodney said. "I'm wet enough and getting wetter the longer we stand here dithering."

"Teyla, you go first," John decided. "Then Rodney, me and Ronon bring up the rear."

"Need to be careful," Ronon cautioned.

John looked at Rodney who was poking at a life signs detector. "Hands free," John directed. "We don't know what kind of climbing might be involved and you need both hands for this."

"All right, all right," Rodney groused, but put the LSD he had been obsessing over since they had exited the Stargate. He tucked it into the small backpack they each were wearing. Since this was only a day trip, and no more than six hours, the standard for an initial visit to a new planet, it was smaller than the pack he would take on a longer trip. Although John knew he had at least one MRE in the pack and who knew how many power bars tucked away in pockets.

John turned to Teyla. "If this gets dicey at all, stop and we'll turn back," he told her. He glanced at Rodney. "There maybe another way up this thing, but that may be another trip."

"John!" Rodney protested.

"Rodney," John replied calmly.

"I guess," Rodney gave in, semi-gracefully.

"Teyla?" John indicated the path.

Path was actually too good of a word for it. It was a natural ledge along the wall of the rock, one that fortuitously seemed to climb upward. John suspected it wouldn't go all the way to the top, but It might get them close enough.

They climbed silently for almost an hour, even Rodney keeping quiet and concentrating on his footwork. The initial ledge had petered out but, with a little scrambling, they had moved to another ledge that continued up the side of the hill. The path climbed steeply enough that they were all breathing deeply. They had paused briefly a couple of times at Teyla's insistence.

John was glad Teyla initiated the rest stops. If he had suggested it, Rodney would have bitched about being 'babied', but they both knew he didn't dare complain when it was Teyla's suggestion.

John tried carefully not to hover, but he watched Rodney carefully.

It was almost a misstep but the ground crumbled under Rodney's foot. Before anyone could react, Rodney lost his balance and fell forward. The edge of the path continued to crumble and Rodney started to slide over the edge.

"Hold on!" John shouted as he watched Rodney disappear.

John moved toward the edge and Ronon called sharply, "Careful! That's going to crumble more!"

John agonized for a moment and then moved toward the edge to see... what he could.

His heart stuttered when he saw Rodney about twenty feet down the face of the cliff, hanging desperately on to a sapling, one foot on a small out cropping of rock.

"Hold on!" John called down, trying to keep the fright he was feeling out of his voice. Calm. He had to be calm for Rodney. He looked up at Teyla and Ronon.

"Teyla, go back to the gate and get some help here asap," John ordered. "Ronon, see if you can handle a rope down to us. I know there's probably nowhere to tie it off, but we can use it to steady ourselves."

"Us?" Ronon asked as Teyla carefully hurried back down the side of the hill.

"Yeah," John replied as he stripped off his tac vest, dropping it on the ground. "I'm going down there."

"Sheppard." Ronon growled.

"The face is irregular enough that I can climb down there and help him hold on," John said, looking down the cliff.

"I can do that..." Ronon started.

"No!" John said sharply, then took a deep breath."No," he said firmly. "This entire cliff face is waterlogged and I weigh enough less than you do that I might not trigger a slide or loosen anything else up."

Ronon looked doubtful but didn't disagree. "Not good, but okay," he allowed. "Back here," he pointed to a spot a few yards back down the path. "This should be more solid."

John tossed the tac vest and his P-90 near the opposite rock wall. He got down on his hands and knees, and eased himself over the edge. He knew he had to take his time but the voice in his head chanted that needed to get to Rodney. He made sure each foot was secure before he moved to the next hand hold.

Rodney was panting when John got down to his level.

"You okay?" John asked.

"Hanging here, going to die," Rodney ground out.

"Not if I can help it," John replied calmly.

"It's pretty far down," Rodney replied.

"Then don't look down," John said with a small grin.

John didn't have to look to see Rodney roll his eyes.

"Okay, looks like you need another foot hold,"John said. "Let's get you in a better position so we can wait for help."

"Move?" Rodney would never admit that his voice went up a couple octaves. "No way!"

"Adjust," John soothed. "Ronon's working on finding a way to drop us a rope and Teyla's on her way to get help. All we have to do is hang out for a while."

"Har-dee-har-har," Rodney snorted.

"Rodney!" John said sharply. "We are getting out of this alive. Focus."

Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Okay," he said softly.

"Now, give me a minute to see if there's a better hand hold," John said slowly. The sapling was the unknown, whether the roots were only on the surface or if they went deeper. Wet rock wasn't much better, but it was less likely to pull out.

"Okay, there's another outcropping for your other foot, about eighteen inches to your right," John said carefully. "You'll need to change your feet to be able to move over there."

"Do I have to?" Rodney asked, slightly alarmed.

"It will be easier on your arms if both of your feet are on something stable," John pointed out.

Rodney nodded slightly and closed his eyes again for a moment. John let him gather his concentration.

Rodney brought both his feet to the outcropping, moving his left foot next to his right foot.

"You're okay," John directed. "You have a couple inches of space to move your right foot over a bit." He watched as Rodney moved his foot infinitesimally "Doing good," he coaxed.

Rodney balanced on the small outcropping with both feet for a moment before he shifted his weight and reached out for the second rock.

"Up a little," John directed. Rodney moved his foot upward and out a bit more. "There!" John confirmed.

Rodney pushed at the outcropping a bit, to make sure it would bear his weight. He didn't let go of the tree as he moved slightly to distribute his weight across the two outcroppings.

"That should be better," John said.

"Yeah, thanks," Rodney breathed.

Oh, fuck. The rain picked up and there was serious air movement to go with it. Not what they needed.

"Ronon!" John called.

"You okay down there?" Ronon called.

"I think we're okay for now," John replied, "but is it raining harder."

"Wasn't going to mention that, but, yes," Ronon answered.

"Throw down a rope," John directed. "Give me some slack on this end."

"Still nothing up here but me to anchor it," Ronon pointed out.

"Yeah, well, we'll do our best," John said. "But if we go, don't let us take you down, too."

"Sheppard!" Ronon growled.

John looked up and looked at Ronon patiently. "That's an order," John said firmly.

Ronon didn't look happy at that, but also didn't respond.

"What the fuck are you thinking?" Rodney demanded.

"It this becomes any worse, we need something to help balance us," John replied calmly. He grabbed the end of the rope Ronon fed to them.

Before Rodney could react, John ran a loop of rope around Rodney's near hand.

"Sheppard!" Rodney yelled, then took a deep breath. "John. Stop it."

John looked up into blue eyes that alternated between anger and fear, and said calmly. "We're doing this together. Don't fight me on this." He put every ounce of calm and... worry... into his eyes. He tried to keep his feelings out of the look, but failed.

He could see when Rodney figured it out. His eyes opened wider and he stared at John.

"You idiot," Rodney said firmly. "You are in so much trouble."

John grinned. "We're already in trouble, if you weren't paying attention."

"I guess I need to pay better attention, then," Rodney replied.

John left some slack in the rope and then put a loop around his own wrist. Even if Ronon couldn't hold them, and two grown men would be pull him over the edge, he wasn't going to be separated from Rodney.

The rain started coming down harder, the wind picking up even more and driving the rain into them. If they had been wet before, they were soaked now. John could feel the cold water trickling down his legs and into his boots.

John had a desperate grip on the rope that connected him to Rodney. The driving rain made it hard to keep his eyes open to watch for Rodney. He blinked furiously but the rain kept coming.

"John!" Rodney's voice carried a note of panic. "This tree is shifting."

"Put your belly tight to the wall," John directed. "Let the wall support you."

John wanted desperately to move closer to Rodney but he was struggling to hold on himself.

Lightning cracked nearby. Underneath the sound, John heard Rodney whimper.

"RODNEY!" he shouted. "HANG ON!"

"I can't..." John could barely hear him over the pounding rain.

"YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!" John roared, blindly.

"John..." Rodney's voice was faint under the storm.

John wished he was close enough to hold on to Rodney. Being able to touch would outweigh the sensory deprivation he endured. He had spent a lot of time avoiding touching Rodney over the years, something he regretted in this awful moment.

The rope John was holding went taut -- his heart stuttered at that moment -- but didn't pull too hard. He could only hold on and hope for the best.

There was more thunder and one nearby lightening strike, and the rope jerked slightly at the crash. The rain hadn't let up and John was barely holding on. He could only hope at this point...

Almost as suddenly as the storm started, the rain just stopped. John shook his head to clear his vision and looked....

Rodney was still there, -- covered in mud that had slid down over him -- but still there.

"Rodney?" John called softly.

"Blecchhh..." Rodney spat out a mouthful of mud and then just spat a couple times to clear his mouth. "Here."

"Sheppard! McKay!" Ronon called from above them.

"Still here," John called back.

"Okay, that was not fun," Rodney groused.

"Not clear yet," John felt obligated to say. "We're still on a cliff."

"Thank you, Colonel Obvious, for that information," Rodney sniped, with a small grin.

"There's been some small mudslides," Ronon called down. "If you can stay where you are until we get some help, that would probably be best."

They both looked up at Ronon. Ronon suggesting they wait for help? Unheard of. Which meant that there was something else...

"What are you not telling us?" John asked.

"Nothing," Ronon said blandly.

"Ronon!" John said firmly.

"Sheppard!" Ronon said back.

John sighed and put his forehead against the rock in front of him in frustration. Opening his eyes, he happened to look down and froze.

The cliff slope that had been a steep incline under them had washed away, and he and Rodney essentially hung over open space. John looked back up at Ronon in understanding, Ronon nodded back. Now was not the time to frighten Rodney.

They'd have no option now but to go up. Hopefully, help would come soon.

"Rodney," John said carefully.

"Yes?" came a hesitant answer.

"How are you doing there?" John asked first.

"Oh, peachy keen," Rodney snarked. "Lovely view and all."

"Okay, this is important," John continued seriously, ignoring the snark.

Rodney stilled for a moment, knowing John only asked like that when something was going to hell.

"Look at me," John directed. "We're okay now and we're going to be okay."

"John..."

"Don't move your head, but glance down," John said softly.

"Oh," was all Rodney said when he saw the nothing beneath them. He took a deep breath. "Now what?"

"We wait," John said.

Silence for a heartbeat. "I guess we do wait," Rodney agreed.

It seemed like an eternity before he heard help coming. Some of the tension in his shoulders went away as John heard the voices come up the path.

Lorne and his team had climbing equipment, pitons that would give them a secure hold in the rock. John vowed that pitons would be standard equipment when anyone did planet recon from now on. Two ropes came down the face of the cliff.

"Take these," Ronon called. John reluctantly let go of the rope that tied him to Rodney, grabbing the rope thrown to him. He waited for Rodney to be helped up to safety before he moved.

"Can we go home?" Rodney asked, shaking some of the mud off himself.

"Yes," John said.

The extra sets of hands helped them scramble over the parts they had crawled over more gingerly on the way up, and they were at the bottom in a relatively short time. The short walk to the Gate wasn't that much of a pleasure, it was still raining. John felt the water squelching in his boots, making him glad it was a short walk. The wet socks in the boots were contributing to a blister developing on the side of his foot.

Carson hustled them into the infirmary, wet, muddy clothes and all. "We can decontaminate you here," he directed.

"Mostly wet and muddy," John protested.

"I'll be the judge of that," Carson said firmly. "Clean up and put on the scrubs."

John knew it was standard protocol but it was always frustrating. He knew he was fine... well, he could use a band-aid on the blister on his foot. He'd have to take it easy running with Ronon for a couple of days. But, other than that, he was okay.

John found himself listening and didn't hear Rodney at all. Generally, Rodney would be loud and constantly protesting any procedure in the infirmary. The quiet was kind of scary.

Rodney had evidently been treated first, since there was no evidence of him when Carson finally released John. He didn't know whether that was good or bad at the moment.

Walking through the city in scrubs should not be quite so familiar an experience, John thought to himself. He decided he needed real clothes before he did anything else.

His apartment was mostly dark, but there was a familiar figure sitting on the edge of his balcony, looking out over the ocean. He figured changing his clothes could wait, since Rodney was also still in scrubs. John grabbed the Cheetos he had hidden in the back of a cabinet and two beers before he went out there.

The apartment was pretty high up but the railing around the edge made it a good place to sit. If you sat on the floor and dangled your legs over the edge, the railing was at a good height to lean against. Although in the dark that was falling, the cool breeze would become cold and uncomfortable after too long.

"Here," he handed Rodney the Cheetos.

"See? I knew you had more of these!" Rodney took the bag from John and ripped it open. John handed Rodney a beer and sat down.

"Want some?" Rodney waved the bag at John. John reached in and took a small handful. He ate Cheetos and drank some of his beer.

"You weren't going to say anything," Rodney said softly.

"Not really," John had to admit.

Rodney sighed. It wasn't -- quite -- the you're too stupid to live sigh John had cataloged when it was focused on some of the scientists in the labs, but it was close.

"Why not?" Rodney asked.

John took a long drink of his beer. This conversation probably needed more beer.

"Katie. Jennifer." John had to say it.

Rodney winced at that and took his own drink of beer. "Yeah, not some of my best choices," he admitted.

"Wasn't even sure you... umm... batted for the other team," John replied. He waved his beer in a way that could have meant anything.

"Okay, that's like officially the most inane phrase of all time," Rodney complained.

John grinned. "Sports. Guys. It works," he said.

"Well, to complete the analogy," Rodney forged on. "How was I supposed to know that you, as you say, also batted for the other team."

John fiddled with the beer in his hand and shrugged.

"Well, that's both of our answers," Rodney said. "The US Military has really fucked us both over completely."

"Not completely," John said softly, looked up at Rodney. And when had Rodney moved so close that he could feel the heat coming off the other man's body? Before he could think too much -- and probably chicken out -- he leaned in, closed the gap, and kissed Rodney.

Rodney's hand came up, to caress the side of John's face and hold him in place. John leaned in to the warmth. He licked around Rodney's lips, tasting Cheetos dust and... Rodney.

Rodney's tongue reached out and twined with his. They traded kisses, night falling to shroud them in darkness.

"Let's move this inside," John finally said. "We can get more comfortable."

Rodney gave a small laugh. "My feet are freezing," he admitted.

John stood and held out a hand to help Rodney stand. He took a firm grip on Rodney's arm when he hobbled forward on his chilled feet.

"I have an idea," John said. He led Rodney to the bathroom and started the shower.

"I like how you think," Rodney grinned. He stripped off the scrubs and went into the warm water. John was right behind him.

Knowing now that he had all the time in the world, John soaped up a washcloth and carefully ran it over Rodney's skin. Rodney groaned in pleasure as he warmed up, and again as John massaged his arms, moving on to his shoulders.

"I want to.." Rodney started. John leaned in for another kiss. Rodney wrapped his arms about John, bringing their bodies close together.

"Bed," John gasped.

"Cock tease," Rodney growled as he turned off the water.

"We'll both collapse after," John countered.

"Point," Rodney replied.

They dried each other and crawled into the bed.

John wrapped himself around Rodney and murmured against his lips, "The Military didn't screw everything up completely. It led me to you."