"I am sorry, Doctor McKay, but our laws are very clear on this subject. We cannot treat your Colonel Sheppard without his consent." Doran did have the grace to look apologetic, but Rodney wasn't in any mood to cut him slack.
"Obviously, he's in no shape to give his consent, and if you don't treat him, he's going to die. You're telling me that you're going to let him die because he's too badly injured to ask you to save his life? That has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and believe me, I've heard some stupid things." Rodney paused, suddenly realizing that he was close to shouting, and while he didn't ordinarily have any problem with using his voice as a weapon to bludgeon people into doing what he wanted, he was all too aware of Sheppard lying unconscious on the hospital bed about ten feet away. "Why can't you just treat him on my say-so?" he continued more quietly.
Doran hesitated. "Well.... On rare occasions, with one this gravely injured, the tribunal has been known to allow a lifemate to speak on the patient's behalf."
Rodney didn't even have to stop and think about it; the lies just tripped off his tongue. "Why didn't you say that in the first place? It just so happens that I'm his lifemate, and I hereby give you permission to operate, or whatever voodoo you need to do in order to keep him alive." At Doran's skeptical look, he said, "What?"
"Perhaps," Doran said delicately, "if there is some small evidence of the veracity of your claim? Does your culture exchange tokens...?"
For a second, Rodney considered going the "we have to keep it a secret" route, but something told him that would lose him the ground he'd gained, so he said, "Some of our people exchange rings, yes. We didn't."
Doran's eyes searched Rodney's face for a moment, and then he turned away, apparently satisfied by what he saw there. "Mara," he called. "Prepare him for treatment."
Rodney breathed a sigh of relief, following the woman over to Sheppard's side. Acutely aware of Doran's gaze on him, he stroked Sheppard's cheek lightly, feeling foolish but willing to do pretty much anything to keep Sheppard alive. "It's going to be okay, John," he said softly. "They'll take good care of you."
The treatment—some kind of non-invasive brain surgery that Rodney thought Carson would probably give a kidney for—took several hours, and by the end of it Rodney was pacing restlessly in the waiting area. There was a sound behind him and he spun around to see Doran standing in the doorway, his expression the closest to a smile that Rodney had seen on his face so far.
"How is he?"
Then Doran actually did smile. "Colonel Sheppard will recover."
Rodney sank down into one of the chairs, relief flooding through him and leaving him light-headed. "Oh, thank God," he said. He took a deep breath. "When can I see him?"
"Soon," Doran promised. "I will need to observe him for another two bells, but after that we will bring him to you. In the meantime, you must eat and refresh yourself. He will need your strength to aid his recovery."
"Right, right." Rodney nodded, letting himself be led from the room by one of Doran's assistants.
It was a good thing they were already long-term trading partners with the Leh'ar and Carson had tested the most common native foods, because Rodney didn't remember a single thing about his meal; he ate what was put in front of him, more exhausted than he could remember being in nearly a year. He was sure he'd dozed off at least once and was, frankly, surprised that he hadn't woken face-first in a plate of meat stew.
As soon as he'd finished eating, the assistant returned and led Rodney to what was probably the most decadent bathroom he'd ever seen; it was like something out of a 1940s Hollywood period drama, complete with swimming-pool sized sunken tub and half-naked bath attendants. Briefly, he regretted the fact that he was far too tired to actually enjoy the whole thing.
"If I get in that tub," he told the nearest attendant, "I'm going to fall asleep and drown. I think I'll pass, thanks." There had been enough near-death experiences on this trip to last a lifetime, Rodney decided.
But the attendant simply smiled and pulled a jar full of green crystals off a nearby shelf, then turned and poured half the jar into the water. A wave of her hand over a sensor and the water was bubbling, presumably the result of hidden jets in the tub walls. The smell that wafted up was lightly sweet and a little pungent, and Rodney could feel his exhaustion lifting, his thoughts becoming less muddled.
"That's not some kind of drug, is it? Because I've had a hell of a bad day, and being drugged against my will is absolutely not on the agenda." Even if it did make him feel better. It was the principle of the thing.
"No, Doctor McKay, it's not a drug," she explained earnestly. "The oils of the marinus plant release a fragrance that is both calming and stimulating to the mind. There are no side effects. Please, relax and refresh yourself."
Great. Aromatherapy. How a society with such an advanced level of medicine—it was almost real science!—could believe in that kind of New Age claptrap was beyond him. Still, he didn't seem to be nearly as close to falling asleep as he'd been before and, between the jumper crash and the hike through the marsh to get help, he was definitely feeling more than a little grungy. He looked pointedly at the bath attendants until they turned their backs, then he peeled off his uniform and stepped into the green-tinged water, walking forward until he was chest-deep and in the center of the pool. Bending his knees, he ducked under the surface for a second, then re-emerged, warm rivulets of scented water running off him.
When he looked around, one of the attendants was facing him again—the young woman who had poured the herbal mixture into the bath—her hands at the belt of her robe, and then the fabric was sliding to the floor and pooling at her feet, leaving her naked. For a second, Rodney was frozen, staring at the lush curve of her breast and the nest of blonde curls between her legs, then he looked quickly away.
"I, um. I think you should probably— Definitely. I think you should definitely keep your clothes on," he said, catching movement out of the corner of his eye as she walked around the edge of the pool and stepped into the shallow end. "Not that you're not attractive and all, because you are. Very, very attractive. But I really can't." Not with Sheppard just out of surgery, part of his mind supplied, and he suddenly realized that there was no reason he couldn't put voice to the thought, not when he was supposed to be Sheppard's lifemate, so he said, "John—"
Her fingers touched his lips lightly, silencing him, and he looked up to find himself staring into wide hazel eyes. "I am Lira. I am here merely to make your bathing experience more relaxing, Doctor." Right, Rodney thought. And people go to massage parlors with the intention of actually getting a massage. But he didn't resist when she took his hand and pulled him back toward the shallow end of the bathing pool. "Here," she said, settling herself on one of the higher steps. "Sit in front of me and let me wash your hair."
And it was surprisingly easy to shift his gaze away from her, despite the enticing pink cupid's-bow of her mouth and the perky jut of her nipples. He sat between her thighs, leaning back against the stair and letting his eyes fall closed as she reached for one of the many small jars that lined the edge of the tub. Her fingers were strong and agile as she worked the mixture through his hair, massaging his scalp, and he might possibly have moaned just a little at how good it felt as the tension flowed out of him. Relaxed and half floating, he let her finish with his hair and begin stroking a thick gel over his body; it smelled like cloves and left his skin tingling just a little. As she was rinsing the gel away with cupped handfuls of water, he heard the faint pealing of bells. He had a vague memory of hearing them while he was eating, as well, and he tensed as he realized that meant he could see Sheppard.
Behind him, Lira said, "You'll want to go now, I think," and he could hear her smile in her voice. "If you submerge yourself, the myrta will wash off more quickly."
Rodney ducked under the water, rubbing his hands briskly over his body to rinse off all traces of the gel, and when he surfaced again she was standing at the edge of the bath, holding a towel open for him. "Thanks," he said, letting her dry him off. Somewhere in there—after she'd stripped and before she'd started slicking him up with the tingly gel—he'd stopped noticing her mouth and her breasts and her legs. Lira wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and tugged, pulling him forward until he was closer to her height, and then she scrubbed the towel gently over his head; when he emerged she smiled at him and combed her fingers through his hair, leaving him feeling distinctly like a small boy being fussed over by his mother.
As soon as Lira had finished with him, she retrieved and donned her robe while the other attendant—a young man as handsome as Lira was beautiful—stepped forward with a pale blue bundle of what turned out to be clothing. Rodney stepped into the pants as they were offered, and then let the loose tunic be tugged over his head. The lack of underwear was, at first, disconcerting, but the fabric was a fine-woven linen that felt almost like silk against his skin. Once he was dressed, Lira twined her fingers in his and led him away, and he caught sight the other attendant gathering up his grimy uniform as they stepped through the doorway.
"We will clean and repair your customary attire and return it to you," Lira promised, seeing his backward glance. "In the meantime, you are more than welcome to anything we have." She tugged gently on his hand, and he turned to follow her through the corridors of the city, feeling almost like he was sleepwalking. Occasionally they would pass a citizen who would pause and bow to them, though Rodney was never really sure whether it was him they were greeting or Lira.
Finally, she stopped in front of a door. "This is your room," she said. "Doran will bring him to you soon and you'll see that all is well." Before Rodney could say anything, she stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth, and it was like he was waking from a dream, the fog lifting. "All is well," she repeated, then turned him to face the now-open door and pushed him gently forward into the room.
By the time he'd shaken the remaining cobwebs from his brain and turned to look back out into the corridor she was gone, so he settled for exploring the room he'd been assigned. Room was something of a misnomer; this was more like a suite—a large and luxurious suite that would've given any five-star Earth hotel a run for its money. Rodney was standing just inside the doorway, in what was apparently a sitting room, complete with an array of overstuffed armchairs, ottomans, and a chaise longue, as well as several small side tables, all arranged around a traditional-looking double-sided fireplace that seemed awash with flickering tongues of flame but from which no heat was radiating. He circled the fireplace and found himself in an area taken up almost entirely by a large bed drowning in pillows and thick, fluffy eiderdown quilts. A door off to one side of the room led to a private bath with a smaller version of the sunken tub he'd just bathed in, several basins fed by decorative spouts set into the wall above them, and something that Rodney assumed had to be a toilet.
"Doctor McKay," Doran called from the sitting room, and Rodney turned, suddenly afraid that it was be bad news, afraid that Sheppard wouldn't be okay after all, despite the promises Doran and Lira had made. In the bedroom, one of Doran's assistants was laying an unconscious—and naked, not that Rodney was looking because he wasn't—Sheppard down on the bed, shifting him as easily as if he were a rag doll, then tugging the quilts up over him.
Rodney's mouth was dry, and he could hear the pitch of his voice rising as he asked, "What's wrong with him? I thought everything was going well. Is he all right?"
Doran smiled at him indulgently. "He is fine, I assure you. The sedation will ensure he remains unconscious except for intervals necessary for sustenance and excretory functions; he merely needs to rest and allow his brain to heal."
"Sedation?" Rodney paced beside the bed, trying not to stare at Sheppard's pale face and shock of black hair that looked too stark against the cream-colored sheets. "You're still drugging him? And why is he unconscious in my room? I— Lira said this was my room, at least; I didn't misunderstand, did I? Because things were kind of fuzzy for a while there, and I might have—"
"No, no, you are quite right; this is indeed your room. It is also Colonel Sheppard's room. We find that the nearness and touch of loved ones helps with the healing process. And the sedation is not a drug, not at all. See here—" Doran leaned over Sheppard's supine form, pushing aside the lock of hair that had fallen down over one temple and revealing a small metallic disc. "It regulates his brain function, minimizing it—" and Rodney must have looked as panicked as he felt, because Doran said quickly, "within the limits of safety, of course, so that the body's energy can be devoted to healing."
Rodney stopped his pacing, clasping his hands behind his back so Doran wouldn't see how they were shaking. "Right, right. Okay. So, what do I do? What does he need from me?"
"Nothing more than you would give him at any other time. I strongly recommend regular skin-to-skin contact, as that is the most beneficial to the patient." Doran paused, as if debating his next words, but finally he said, "You should rest, too. He will need your strength."
Rodney nodded, but Doran didn't look like he intended to leave until he was satisfied that Rodney was following his instructions, so Rodney tugged the borrowed tunic up and off, willing away the blush that he could feel heating his face. No matter how disapproving Doran might be, though, Rodney was not taking off his pants. He crawled under the covers with Sheppard, lying awkwardly pressed up against his side and gently resting one hand in the middle of his chest. Doran smiled his approbation and turned to leave and Rodney cleared his throat.
"Is there something else, Doctor McKay?"
"Just, I mean, I was wondering. Are there any cameras in here? Or, um, audio monitoring devices," Rodney asked, and Doran looked shocked. "Oh, no, no, not that I think you'd be spying on us," he said, realizing the implications of what he'd said, "but what if something happens? What if John wakes and wants something to drink, or if he suddenly—I don't know—goes into convulsions or something?" Not something Rodney wanted to think about, but really, it was always best to be prepared for any contingency.
Doran's expression had changed to neutral, but Rodney got the impression that he was fighting a smile. Well, he wouldn't be the first to think that Rodney's preparedness was ridiculous, nor the last, but the important thing was that Rodney was still alive, so obviously it worked.
"The sedation allows us to monitor his health signs," Doran explained. "For anything else, press the button on the bracelet around his wrist—" a gesture toward his own arm, "and someone will come to assist you. When we hear from your people, we shall inform them of the situation. You said you expected them to attempt contact approximately twenty-four bells after your arrival in the city?"
Rodney hadn't even thought about the possibility of a rescue team, not since he'd convinced Doran to operate on Sheppard. "Yes, that's about right. Twelve hours. If we don't check in, they'll at least dial the gate and maybe send someone through, looking for us." He tried for a moment to figure out a way to say, 'By the way, when you talk to them? Don't mention the fact that Colonel Sheppard and I are lifemates,' without sounding incredibly suspicious—though honestly, it wasn't like the Leh'ar could do much about his lie, now that they'd already performed the surgery—so he just said, "And Doran? Thank you. For everything."
Doran nodded and disappeared out the door, and Rodney fell asleep counting the beats of Sheppard's heart against his palm.
~ * ~ * ~
Sheppard was awake and watching him drowsily the next time Rodney opened his eyes. "Hi."
"Um. Hello, Colonel," Rodney tried to inch away a little, without seeming like he was inching away. "How are you feeling?"
"'m thirsty." Even as Sheppard was speaking, though, Rodney heard the door open and one of Doran's assistants came in bearing a tray in one hand and a small folding table in the other.
He set them up on Rodney's side of the bed, then poured clear liquid from a pitcher into a cup. "Here," he said, holding the cup out to Rodney. "This contains all of the nutrients his body requires. He should drink one full cup each time he wakes. Once he is asleep again, you should eat and drink as well." He gestured to the plate of sliced meat and cheese and fruit that sat beside the pitcher.
Rodney took the cup and the assistant moved to the other side of the bed to help Sheppard sit upright. With Sheppard's arm slung around Rodney's shoulders and Rodney's arm wrapped tightly around Sheppard's waist they seemed stable enough, though Rodney thought comparisons to a newborn kitten wouldn't be out of line. He held the drink up and Sheppard cupped clumsy fingers around Rodney's, and together they tipped the liquid into Sheppard's mouth. As soon as it was clear that they had the situation under control, the assistant disappeared, and Rodney was left trying to distract himself from the feel of Sheppard pressed up against his side, and from the way Sheppard's throat worked as he swallowed. He waited for the inevitable question—So, Rodney, why am I naked and in bed with you?—but, surprisingly, it didn't come.
"Better?" he asked once the cup was empty. Sheppard was still clinging to him, giving no sign that he objected to—or even noticed their situation or his own state of undress.
Nodding, Sheppard yawned and said, "Need to take a leak now, though," and it was obvious that he was more alert. He retrieved his arm from Rodney's shoulders and Rodney reluctantly let go of his waist, but Sheppard stopped and listed to the side a bit when he tried to swing his legs off the edge of the bed. "Jesus. This is worse than being hammered on that Genii rotgut. What the hell happened to me?"
Gritting his teeth, Rodney climbed across and out of the bed. This was the other part he really didn't want to deal with, and he'd been hoping he'd have more time to think of what to say. He took Sheppard's wrist and slid under his arm, managing, with a little effort, to get them both standing, albeit a little unsteadily. "Best I can figure, we came through the orbital gate over Leh'ar and directly into the massive electrical field of a freak storm in the atmosphere. It's all—" he shook his head, "a little hazy."
"So...what? We crashed?" Sheppard asked incredulously as Rodney led him, with slow, halting steps, toward the bathroom, bare feet sinking into the plush carpet. Sheppard's body was warm against his side, and he could feel the faint tremble of overtaxed muscles. Why couldn't the incredibly medically advanced people have some incredibly advanced version of bedpans or catheters?
"Yes, Colonel Hotshot, we crashed." Rodney took a deep breath. Sniping at Sheppard wasn't going to do either of them any good. "Even a miracle wouldn't have kept a jumper in the air through that storm. You landed us far better than I thought was possible."
Sheppard leaned a little more heavily on him and Rodney paused, letting him catch his breath. "We're okay, right?" Sheppard said. "I mean, I feel like crap, and you look like crap, but we're both okay?"
Rodney bit down on the urge to object to Sheppard's assertion that he looked like crap. Getting into a fight with the invalid? Still not helpful. Instead, he steadied Sheppard with his hip and said, "No, we're not both okay. I am okay. You are recovering from the major emergency brain surgery that was necessary to save your life."
"Oh." Sheppard stopped suddenly, his free hand tentatively stealing up towards his head, then dropping back to his side.
"Yes, oh," Rodney said. "Can we please finish the trek to the bathroom before I'm an old man?" They made it across the threshold without any further rest breaks or conversation, though Sheppard sucked in a quick breath at the first step on the chilly tile floor and Rodney could feel the muscle tremors turn to shivers. In front of the toilet, Rodney propped Sheppard up while staring determinedly at the designs on the opposite wall and trying not to think about the intimacy of the situation.
"I don't feel like I've had brain surgery," Sheppard said, just as Rodney was getting him settled back into bed. "How long have I been unconscious?"
Rodney looked at his watch. "We crashed about ten hours ago. You got out of surgery about four hours ago—" His voice broke and he stopped, but Sheppard didn't seem to have noticed; his eyes were half-closed and it looked like he was about to go comatose again. Rodney climbed in on his own side of the bed and scooted down until he was lying beside Sheppard.
"I told them we were married," Rodney said quickly, trying to get the words out before he lost his nerve or convinced himself that it was better to wait until Sheppard was well to share this particular bit of information. Beside him, Sheppard made a humming noise, and he continued, "I'm sorry. It's just...they were going to let you die."
"'s okay," Sheppard mumbled, rolling onto his side and curling up against Rodney. "You're warm."
Rodney snorted. "And you're on drugs, Colonel." Still, he wrapped one arm around Sheppard and let himself doze, hoping that Sheppard would be as forgiving when he was no longer under the influence of the sedation.
~ * ~ * ~
It was Rodney's stomach that woke him the next time, indicating in no uncertain terms that it had been far too long since he'd eaten, and as soon as he went to move, his head chimed in with the dizzy nausea that he hated more than almost anything else in the universe. Except maybe the Wraith. Carefully, he disentangled himself from Sheppard, tucking his own pillow under Sheppard's cheek in lieu of the shoulder Sheppard had been nuzzling against. Sitting up on the edge of the bed wasn't too bad, if you discounted the vertiginous spin. Rodney ate a piece of fruit and a slice of cheese, then waited until his stomach settled before trying a piece of the meat—something that tasted like lamb, but with an odd tang to it that Rodney could only hope was normal rather than being a sign that it had gone bad.
He'd finished off the last of the meat and cheese, and was picking up a handful of the berries when he felt the bed shift behind him. "Rodney?"
Popping the fruit in his mouth, he poured Sheppard a cup of liquid from the pitcher. "Here," he said, turning around and holding the cup out. "Can you do it yourself, or do you need me to help?"
"I think I can do it." Sheppard took the cup from him with hands that were much steadier than the last time. When he'd drained the cup, he handed it back. "Are you okay?"
Rodney stood and headed for the bathroom. "I'm not the one with severe head trauma," he said as he rinsed the cup at one of the basins. He filled and drained it twice, thirstier than he'd realized at first, and then returned to the bedroom.
"That's not an answer," Sheppard chided him, and Rodney put the cup down carefully on the tray because it gave him something to look at besides Sheppard sitting in the middle of the large bed, sheets and quilt pooled at his waist, looking tousled and sleepy in a way that made something in Rodney's chest hurt.
Rodney made no move to get back into the bed. "I'm fine. I just needed to eat."
Sheppard scooted back down under the covers, curling up on his side and not taking his eyes off Rodney. "So, you said something earlier," he said, and Rodney's stomach lurched, making him regret his recent meal, "about telling the Leh'ar that we're married?" He yawned, covering his mouth with one careless hand. "What was that all about?"
"They have some stupid rule that says they can't treat anyone who's not able to give consent. The only loophole I could find was to claim to be your 'lifemate' and give consent by proxy." Rodney paused, searching Sheppard's expression for some sign of how he felt about the situation. "I really am sorry."
"Don't worry about it. And thank you for saving my life. Again." Sheppard grinned at their ongoing joke, and Rodney felt his tension starting to melt away. Maybe they would get through this with their friendship intact, after all, though he was more than willing to sacrifice it for Sheppard's life. "Are you coming back to bed?"
The sense of ease vanished at Sheppard's words. "I, um. I can explain that, Colonel. The bed thing. And the, uh, the nudity thing," he said, resisting the urge to cross his arms over his chest like some 1940s pin-up girl.
"I'm guessing it has to do with the Leh'ar thinking we're married," Sheppard said dryly. "C'mon, I'm cold. And if we're supposed to be married, you should probably call me John. Even my dad didn't make his wife address him by rank."
Rodney was already sliding into the bed when Sheppard's words registered. "Hey," he protested, letting Sheppard—John—pull him down and wrap himself around him. "Why am I the wife?"
"Mmmm," John hummed into his collarbone. "Fine, we'll trade off. This week you're the wife, then next week, when I'm well, it'll be my...." The words trailed off and Rodney knew the sedation had done its job: John was asleep.
~ * ~ * ~
Lira delivered the next tray of food. "When you are done," she said, and her smile was just as beautiful—and just as surprisingly uninteresting—as Rodney remembered, "Doctor Beckett is here and would like to examine Colonel Sheppard. If you press the button on the colonel's bracelet, Doran will bring your doctor to you. Don't feel the need to rush, though; Doctor Beckett is currently studying the recordings of the procedure, and I think that will take him a while."
Rodney tried to keep his smile steady, but he was all too aware of how badly this all could go. He could only hope that their conversation didn't come around to personal topics, though somehow he doubted he'd get that lucky. After Lira left, he checked his watch, but it really didn't help much because honestly he'd lost track of even what day it was. He couldn't remember ever having slept this much in his life, and he'd be worried about it if he wasn't hyperaware of the extreme sleep deficit he'd been living with.
John was still asleep, so Rodney went ahead and ate his own meal first, assuming that the sedation would wake John at some predetermined "right time," and sure enough, he felt John stirring behind him just as he finished the last of the fruit. "Hey," he said, handing over the cup in what was becoming a familiar ritual. "Apparently Carson is here to check you out." He could tell from John's expression that his attempt to keep his tone light had failed. "I— I'm not really sure what repercussions there might be. Over the, uh. Married thing."
John handed the empty cup back. "Don't worry about it, Rodney. Really. I'm sure Beckett won't say anything. Doctor-patient confidentiality, right?"
"Right," Rodney agreed, not feeling anywhere near as confident as John sounded. Carson might have the best of intentions, but he was notoriously bad at keeping secrets. He found the tunic they'd given him on the floor where he'd dropped it and tugged it on over his head. "Push the button on your bracelet and they'll bring Carson."
While he waited for Doran to show up, Rodney paced beside the bed, trying to ignore John's exasperated looks. He'd just decided to go and pace in the sitting room instead when there was a light tap on the door and Doran entered, followed by Carson. He moved a little further away from the bed, but kept pacing until Doran reached out and touched his arm.
"I spoke with your Doctor Weir," he said.
Rodney's stomach knotted up. "Um. Is that so?"
"Yes. She offered to send one of your medical technicians to help care for Colonel Sheppard so that you could return to Atlantis with Doctor Beckett. When I explained to her that it would be better for you to stay, as we find the presence of loved ones during the recovery period to be particularly advantageous to the healing process, she did not seem to see the connection. Do you know why that might be?"
There probably wasn't anything the Leh'ar could do to John at this point, but Rodney knew that if his actions damaged their trade status it would be hard on everyone, and Elizabeth would probably be extremely upset at him, though admittedly she would get over it pretty quickly. That was one thing you could always count on: Elizabeth valued human life over anything else, and forgave some pretty extreme actions in the name of protecting it. He glanced over at John, who was lying quietly in the bed and letting Carson poke and prod at him, and then back to Doran.
Rodney took a deep breath and tried to forget that he really, really sucked at bluffing. "Our culture— Well, not my culture, but his culture—by which I mean the United States in general, and the U.S. military in specific—have certain prejudices—" Doran was frowning at him now, so he stopped and tried to back up. "Okay, the world we come from? Has many different cultures and some of those cultures are similar to one another and some of them are really, really different. John and I come from cultures that are, well, reasonably similar, I suppose, given the parameters of some of the truly disparate cultures.
"Anyway, the culture he comes from and, even more importantly the job he holds, mean that he's expected to live by a particular belief system. That belief system says that it's wrong for two people of the same sex to fall in love, have sex, or get married. Uh, become lifemates." Doran was still frowning, but his time Rodney was pretty sure it was less confusion and more a reaction to the homophobic attitudes he was describing. "It's stupid and it's wrong, but that's the way it is. Because he could lose his job and get sent home—back to our world—we've kept our relationship a secret from almost everyone; even though most of the people in Atlantis don't believe in discrimination, it only takes one person to ruin everything." And God, if that performance didn't win him an Academy Award, then the universe was even more unfair than Rodney had previously suspected.
Doran was shaking his head sadly. "I am sorry for the difficulties you face. Had I known the situation, I would not have said anything to Doctor Weir. I hope that my indiscretion will not turn out to have cost either of you unduly," he said sincerely, and Rodney suddenly felt like he'd swallowed a chunk of lead. It was for a good cause, he reminded himself, and it wasn't like he'd actually hurt anyone.
Before he could say something, though, something that probably would've undone any goodwill they had left with the Leh'ar, John called, "I'm tired and cold, sweetheart. Come keep me warm?" and Rodney had to hope that Doran attributed his wide-eyed surprise to their supposed need for secrecy and Carson's continued presence in the room.
Rodney shot a look in Carson's direction, but he was packing up his bag without giving the slightest indication that he'd noticed anything odd. "Um. Right, yes. Be there in a second. Dear." Turning back to Doran, he said, "Thank you, really. For— For everything you've done." He knew he sounded awkward, but he hoped that the sincerity came through. Doran simply bowed and moved to show Carson out, leaving John and Rodney alone.
"I'd ask you if you had a head injury, but we already know the answer to that, don't we?" Rodney said, but his heart wasn't really in it and John just smiled angelically up at him.
"C'mere." John held his hand out.
Rodney didn't take it but he did crawl back into bed, even though his brain was busily reeling off all the possible scenarios, each one worse than the last: things would be unbearably awkward between them, he'd have to leave the team, John would hate him for taking advantage of his weakened state, Carson would open his mouth and everyone in Atlantis would hear about this and even though it had all been a pretense John would get court-martialed and sent back to Earth. "What were you thinking?" he said finally, propping himself up on one elbow and looking over at John. "'Sweetheart'?"
"You looked like you could use a little help convincing him of our undying love," John said, resting his hand on Rodney's hip, a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth. "Carson told me about Elizabeth's conversation with Doran. She figured out what he was implying, but not quick enough to keep him from getting suspicious. Apparently from now on she'd like advance warning if we plan to get hitched while on a mission."
Closing his eyes, Rodney said, "You're certifiable, you know that? What happens when we get home and the marines throw a little blanket party in your honor?" John didn't answer, but his hand shifted, slipping under the edge of Rodney's tunic and up, stroking slow and firm and smooth over Rodney's back. After a second of frozen panic, Rodney took a shuddering breath. "Okay, right. It's just the drugs— Well, okay, not drugs, but the drug-like effects. Don't say I didn't warn you." Still, it was almost too easy to wrap an arm around John's waist and pull him in close. "Just get better, all right?"
~ * ~ * ~
The next time Rodney woke, it was to the cool press of fingers against his forehead. When he opened his eyes, he found Lira leaning over him. "That was the last required sleep period," she explained as he blinked blearily up at her. "I have removed the sedation. If Colonel Sheppard remains stable and conscious for the next four bells, then it will be time for you to go home. I have brought you both food, and your clothing is there—" a graceful gesture toward a pile of uniforms at the foot of the bed. "Eat and bathe. When the time comes, Doran will escort you to where your people's ship will be landing."
When she'd gone, Rodney looked over at John, who was still wrapped around him and watching him with more alertness than Rodney felt. "Quit looking so perky. You're supposed to be the invalid here," he said, the complaint earning a quick smile from John. "Are you hungry for real food?" He started to roll away, to reach for the plates of meat and cheese and fruit at the bedside, but John's arm tightened around him.
"We need to talk."
As things Rodney didn't want to hear went, that sentence was way at the top of the list, not far behind "the Wraith are on their way." It wasn't like he hadn't known this was coming, though. "Yeah. I—"
"We can't be married, Rodney," John said earnestly, and Rodney nodded, trying to look like he was okay with the pronouncement, like he'd never expected anything else, even while there were steel bands tightening across his chest until he could barely breathe. John reached one hand up slowly and trailed his fingers lightly across Rodney's cheek, and Rodney closed his eyes, swallowed hard against the ache in his throat; he really couldn't face the look of sympathy he was sure John was wearing. The press of John's lips against his made him jerk away in surprise, his heart pounding. "We can't be married," John repeated, "because we've never consummated the relationship." His fingers stroked Rodney's cheek again.
"Right," Rodney said, trying to sound like he'd never doubted where John was going with the conversation. "Right, that's...definitely an oversight that needs to be, um. Remedied. Yes."
This time when John kissed him, he leaned into it. They had four bells after all; it shouldn't take them nearly that long to eat and bathe.