He was injured during a mission. They were stuck out in the woods on an alien planet and his shoulder had deep claw marks on it, his clothes wet and warm and darkened by both his blood and the now dead beast's. Collectively they bandaged the wounds, but it was near dark, so they decided to set up a camp and wait out the night.
Rodney was worried sick, but he wasn't loud about it. In fact he was the opposite of his usual worried self when it came to the subject of John's torn up shoulder - he kept his mouth shut, followed Ronon's instructions on where to hold and what to fetch, never commented on the subject of John bleeding to death and only bickered about the woods being dangerous and them most likely dying in there before they make it to the gate.
Ronon was the one who did most of the first aid stuff. After all, unlike everyone else in the group, he was the one who had to survive without any doctors and healers for seven years, so he had the most authority on the subject.
Teyla provided reassurances when he was in pain. She gave him promises she believed soon to become true and told him to relax, her voice calm but with an iron tinge to it that suggested violence in case of him not following her advice.
She also took the first watch, knowing John wouldn't be able to fall asleep for a while. He didn't feel weird when, ten minutes after everyone else went to sleep; she put her palm on his forearm and kept it there, a warm grounding presence making a nice contrast with the cold grass he was lying on. He appreciated the sensation, even if he didn't let the emotional value of it get to him. When he looked at Teyla's face, the light from the camp fire sharpening her features, she looked back and there was something in her eyes that made him believe that she got it, she didn't expect or need anything more than he had to offer. Somehow that made keeping emotional distance harder.
"Go to sleep, Colonel," Teyla said calmly. "You will need all the strength you can get tomorrow."
He moved his hand, and Teyla took her palm away. He turned his forearm outward so that the more sensitive skin faced up, and closed his eyes.
A couple of seconds went by, and then Teyla's hand was back, warmer this time.
He appreciated it.
They've lost a lot of people during a mission a couple of months after that.
John wasn't there, it wasn't his team that got in the crossfire between the wraith and the people who inhabited the presumably uninhabited planet. He couldn't know what was going to happen there. He couldn't've prevented it. He never even spoke to some of the guys who died there, outside of the usual inevitable commander-soldier encounters.
Still, no matter how hard he tried to not care, no matter what he told himself, no matter what things he understood logically, deep inside he still felt awful. He repressed and reasoned himself into productivity, which worked for everybody else - he did things he was supposed to do, and mostly didn't do things he wasn't supposed to do, so everyone was more or less happy. But in hindsight it was a lot worse this way, because like this he wasn't able to determine why exactly he felt like shit, so he couldn't do anything about it. If he had to describe it, it felt like something had died in some dark corner of his soul and now rotted there, and he couldn't find it to bury it properly, so he had to just sit there and deal with it. The bad thing is, the more time he was in charge, the more mistakes he made, the more things went wrong - the more corpses there were in the dark corners, and there's only so much space for them inside a guy's soul.
So there he was, sitting on the floor of the training gym, staring at his hands blankly. He came here after he talked to the guys who made it out alive, after he dealt with Elizabeth and Carson who gave him details, both on medical state of the soldiers who were injured and on the situation on the planet that they've explored.
He didn't even know, why he decided to come here instead of his room in the first place. He was angry, more than usual, but he didn't want to punch anything, he just wanted to curl up in on himself and stay like that, but that would just be a tad too pathetic for his pride, so instead he settled for just... sitting there and not thinking for a while.
The door slid open and he braced himself for questions. He didn't look up, he just stayed there, tense and ready to think his way out of the new crisis they've managed to get into now.
What he got instead was a thump of Ronon sitting down beside him and a warm shoulder pressed against his own.
"Do you want to talk?" Ronon asked, straight forward, not hiding behind any small talk, not walking on eggshells around him, just offering, simple and sure.
"No," John answered honestly.
"Then I'll stay," Ronon said.
They sat there, shoulders pressed together, Ronon's presence alone being a silent reassurance. The guy offered his time to make it better for John, and he appreciated that.
"On my planet," Ronon said after a while, "we offered our leaders comfort after the battle was done, however they wanted it."
"Why you're here." John stated, staring blankly at the wall opposite from him.
"Sure," Ronon said with an intonation that implied "however you want to explain it to yourself works for me, but we both know that's bullshit", and took two chocolate bars from his pocket, one of which he offered to John. Sheppard took it.
"So what did you do?" John asked, because apparently there was a conversation happening now.
"We offered talk, presence, touch, food - whatever worked for the leader," Ronon said, unwrapping his bar.
"That's nice," John said. He would've smiled at the 'touch' part, but he couldn't bring himself to care enough.
"You're more complicated," Ronon said.
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"No touching," Ronon explained simply.
John nodded, because yeah, if Ronon's culture involved normalized platonic physical intimacy between men, no wonder he felt weird around Earth's military
They were silent for a bit, Ronon chewing on his chocolate, John contemplating the bar in his hands.
"Touching is okay," he said after a while. "The friend kind. But this is enough".
Ronon hummed in acknowledgement, but it still sounded an awful lot like that "sure but I see through your bullshit" thing from before.
A few more minutes passed before John realized that he actually meant what he’d said. It was enough. He didn't feel so alone and buried under his own shit anymore, at least, and that was more than he could've hoped for at the moment, so the next thing he said was a lot more honest than the previous one.
"Thank you," he offered simply.
"Sure," Ronon nodded, and this time it didn't sound dismissive. It sounded like "you can count on this anytime and that should be obvious".
They stayed like that for a while longer. And then John ate his chocolate bar, got up, shoved the wrapper into his pocket and, when he turned to Ronon, the guy already had his arms open in a silent invitation, his usual smile in place. John thought about it for a fracture of a second before moving closer, because physical touch wasn't vital, but it was grounding, and he needed that, right now. So he stepped in and instantly got wrapped into a bear hug that was as tight as John needed to feel better, but not enough to be uncomfortable.
Ronon was a good hugger.
John planned to linger for a couple of seconds or so, just to breathe a little, his forehead pressed into the other man's shoulder, hands light on his waist.
He ended up letting himself stay like that for almost five minutes.
The thing about Rodney was that he was good under pressure. He was brilliant, in fact. He always did what needed to be done, sometimes more, sometimes better than expected, always right in time, never betraying John's belief in him and his abilities. He let John push him into productivity, into quality, and he never complained about it because he got why John was doing it and that it was working.
But sometimes things went out of hand, sometimes Rodney was a bit too late, a bit too stressed, a bit too talkative, and people got hurt. And if people got hurt, then John got involved, and sometimes it had its consequences.
This time the team was taken hostage with some of the civilians involved, and Rodney was asked to create some kind of a weapon for them in a short time. When he didn't create it fast enough, they took one of the civil people, a young girl, barely a teenager, and almost made her the subject of their sadistic power demonstration, which John just couldn't let happen. If one of his team members fucked up, it was his responsibility to bear the consequences, not some kid's. And yes, it wasn't fair to Rodney, because instead of watching some stranger get hurt, it was going to be his friend instead, but that was Rodney's and John's problem to deal with later, not the innocent civilians’ who didn't even know them.
Of course Rodney immediately promised to be faster, panic radiating from him so clear it could probably be seen from space as an aura around him. But the kidnappers weren't very altruistic, and knew how motivation worked, so they made a point of showing Rodney the consequences of his stalling by making John kneel in front of him and pressing a piece of white hot metal to his forearm for a total of three seconds. John honestly tried not to scream, but it hurt like hell, so instead he shuddered and gritted his teeth and hunched in on himself to at least keep Rodney from looking at his face while he was in agony. He didn't know there were tears in his eyes until one of the kidnappers lifted his head by the hair and pointed them out. They promised to do that again and make it seven seconds next time.
Rodney went so pale he almost didn't seem human. When he spoke, his voice was small and lifeless, his eyes still fixed on John, who knelt in front of him, forced to look ahead of himself while his hands were being tied behind his back again. He tried to do something to let Rodney know that he still believed in him, but judging by the way Rodney's gaze darted away from him the moment he tried to maintain eye contact, John looked a lot worse than he expected, so that wouldn't have worked anyway. And then he didn't have the chance to think of something else, because he was taken away and into the cell again.
Rodney finished what he was supposed to do in less than half an hour.
Ronon managed to free himself of the ropes and get them their weapons ten minutes after that. Teyla handled the civilians. Ronon handled most of the kidnappers. John handled the rest, because he didn't really need his forearm to shoot people properly.
When he found Rodney he had to slap him across the face to bring him back to reality, because the guy was still terrifyingly pale, his fingers white around the screwdriver and eyes blank. When he finally came back to, he asked about the kidnappers, who, John reassured him, were very dead by this point. And then he grabbed John by the shoulder until it really hurt, and said:
"Don't you dare ever do that to me again".
And John said:
"Okay. Now let's get out of here".
And they did.
And when they were back in Atlantis and John got his hand patched up and returned to his quarters, clutching painkillers in his good hand, he kind of expected Rodney to be there. He just didn't expect him to be sitting under his door with a half empty bottle of scotch.
"Come in," John said, not helping Rodney up, but taking the bottle and keeping the doors open for him.
Rodney didn't move far, he just relocated to the other side of the wall, the one that was inside John's room. He then sat down on the floor again.
"You're a dick, John," he said, and his voice sounded a lot less drunk than John expected.
"Yes," John said simply.
"No-no-no, you… you're such a fucking asshole," Rodney said, incredulously, like it hadn't occurred to him before, or he didn't realize the amount of the catastrophe he was dealing with here.
"Yes". John placed a bottle on his desk and left it there when he went over to Rodney and sat beside him.
"You do realize that I'm not military, right? I can't do this. I can't watch you like... like that. Ever. I just... I can't." Rodney's voice went higher in pitch by the end of it, and John just nodded.
"Then why?" Rodney turned to him. "Why the hell did you have to do this?"
"Would it be easier if it was a young girl who had her entire family there?" John asked, meeting his gaze.
"Yes," Rodney said, and there was a metal ring to it. It was a quick factual answer that didn't need any proof, and that had John a little taken aback. "Yes, it would. I would rather watch an infant get fed to the wolves than watch you get hurt like that again. Hell, I'd prefer getting my hand burned, than relive that again, and that's a strong one coming from me, so if you do that ever again I will lock you up in a stasis pod until you grow some heart and some fucking brain. Jesus," Rodney took a breath. He looked away.
John took a breath too. That was... unexpected. Well, yes, they were buddies, but he never thought Rodney would be that... caring. Rodney who always thought about himself and his success and blew up most of a solar system just to prove a point – that Rodney basically just said that he loved him.
"Would you like me to grow some courage as well while I'm at it?" John offered, because that was the first thing that came to his mind after Rodney’s last sentence, and it was better than “wow you’re human, good to know”.
The scientist looked at him incredulously again, like John just didn't stop surprising him with the depth of his rich personality.
"Are you kidding me, Sheppard," he asked, and yeah, that was more familiar, that was the irritated "are you honestly that stupid" voice. "I just... didn't you..."
"I get it," John said. "I get it. I'm sorry."
Rodney sighed and let his head hit the wall with a quiet thump.
They sat like that for a couple of minutes. Then John pushed himself from the floor, walked over to the table, took the bottle of scotch and drank three big gulps. He turned back to Rodney and stayed there, braced against his table.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.
"Because! You're... well, you," Rodney said, like that was obvious, and John actually felt that. Deep in his chest, pin pricks of pain. He looked away.
"I'm what?" he asked.
"You're the head of the military," Rodney shrugged. "You're straight. You're..."
"I'm your friend," John said. After a moment he inhaled and channeled the colonel role he never really let go of. He looked back at Rodney, and apparently there was something in his eyes that made Rodney flinch. "And I'm also your team leader. And, if you can't trust me, then we have a problem".
Rodney’s lips got pierced into a thin line. He seemed to think for a moment, and then got up from the floor.
"Fine," he said. "I'm telling you now. I'm desperately in love with you. Have been for the past three or four months, actually. Since you nearly died defending the city by going kamikaze into the wraith ship. For a minute I thought you were dead and those were the worst sixty seconds of my life. They're right up there with the moment I realized I had a deadly virus and would be dead in minutes, and that other time you almost died when we had a virus on the ship. And you're a horribly oblivious person and I really hate you sometimes for various reasons and I want to bend you over the nearest surface and fuck you more times a day than I care to count. And your ears are funny. There," Rodney finally looked up. "Are you happy now?"
John felt dizzy. Maybe he shouldn't've drunk that. He closed his eyes and let himself breathe for a moment. Then he opened them again and Rodney was still standing awkwardly near that wall and really, he should say something. So he said the first important thing that came to his mind.
"I'm not straight," he pushed himself from the table and straightened his back, his arms slightly open. "I actually don't have any preferences. And, since it's confession time, I have an ex-wife who hates me, because for me, work comes first. I'm constantly angry, I'm bad with emotions, I don't understand them at all. I'm no relationship material." He stopped there and searched for something else to add. "I honestly don't know what to expect of myself most of the time. But..." he stopped once more, thinking it over. Did he really mean what he was going to say? Did he? He closed his eyes for a brief second. He imagined himself with Rodney, the touching, the talking, the fucking. He imagined fights and a break up. It was... intense. All of it. It was weird and imperfect and alive. When he opened his eyes again, he was sure. "If you want me like this, the fucked up asshole that I am, then you can have me."
Rodney blinked at him.
"I… What?" he asked, speechless for once.
"I said," John repeated slowly, "that I'm okay with you being in love with me. I'm more than okay."
"Oh," Rodney said. "That's... that's good."
He looked lost and unsure and pale so John took the bottle, came closer and gave it to him, returning to his place after that to keep Rodney from feeling cornered.
Rodney took two heartfelt swigs of alcohol. He stood there for a second, thinking. Then he took another swig, put the bottle on the floor, crossed the room in five big steps and kissed him.
It was hard and clumsy and just pressing lips to lips, Rodney's hands on either side of John's head, just holding him there. John's hands came up to rest lightly on Rodney's hips, and that seemed to turn something on in Rodney's head, because he broke the kiss for a moment, his grip on John's head loosening a little, his fingers threading through John's hair.
"Oh God," Rodney said, looking at him, shaken and still drained from the mission and slightly drunk, and it was John's turn to kiss him. He went for gentle and calming. There was no rush. And Rodney pulled at him and took the initiative, and after a minute of this John was literally melting into him. His hand hurt and his head span and this was so surreal that he just didn’t realize he’d let his guard down and couldn’t bring himself to care enough to put it back up.
They didn't end up on the bed. Or the table, or any other surface, really, because Rodney suddenly broke away and rested his forehead against Johns, and said something about them being drunk and unable to think straight - which made John snicker childishly - and that they should take it slow and rest and then talk again tomorrow, and really, John agreed. He didn't want to agree, but he did.
So he let Rodney steal one more kiss from him and walk out the room, taking the bottle with him.
John's lips buzzed with sensation. He bit down on the lower one and sat down on the bed. His hand hurt and the book he read was too complicated on the characters for him to try and read it now, so he did the next best thing, which was to take a painkiller and go to sleep.
In the morning he showed up in the lab and nonchalantly pulled Rodney into one of the empty labs that the scientist hadn’t gotten around to yet.
"Did you change your mind?" was the first thing Rodney asked, his tone lab irritated. "Just don't drag it out, you don't have to explain, just say that you did and let me go, because I have work to do."
"I didn't," John said simply.
"You didn't?" Rodney actually did a double take on him, and John just smiled and kissed him, gentle and quick and almost casual.
"Okay," Rodney said, licking his lips automatically. "That works."
"Good," John nodded.
Good, because that really, really worked for him too.