It was hot inside the downed Hive ship, sand blowing in from outside and chafing at Rodney’s exposed skin. The setting was perfect for a mummy. Like the one staring at him right now, a mummy who not long ago had been a man. A scientist. Brendan Gall.
“You wanna get out there and help him, don’t you?” Gall asked, his voice a raspy whisper. His cheeks were sunken and wrinkled, his skin as dry as parchment.
“What? Me go up against a Wraith?” Rodney tried to laugh it off. “Are you kidding?”
It was an empty protest. Despite knowing that his job was to stay with Gall, offering what comfort he could, Rodney couldn’t stop worrying about John. The Major was on his own against a Wraith, one with an insane survival instinct, and he was all alone.
“You do,” Gall insisted. “I can tell. You’ve changed. You really wanna get out there.”
He was trying to be better, trying to be more responsible. And his responsibility was to Gall. Wasn’t it? But his mind, like always, was focused on John. Before Rodney could stop himself, he showed Gall his reflection in the small hand mirror. Against his own better judgement. And he knew – he knew – what it meant when Gall asked for his gun.
Rodney was halfway out the hatch, on his way to try and do for John what he couldn’t for Gall, when he heard the shot; it nearly made him jump out of his skin. He knew he shouldn’t turn around, knew he didn’t need to see. But he did anyway, and he gave a gasping cry because it wasn’t Gall sitting there with half his head blown off.
It was John.
John, aged and wasted and covered in his own blood and brain matter, his cowlicks silver where they weren’t spattered with gore.
Rodney should’ve stayed with him, taken care of him. Held his hand instead of pressing a gun into it.
A tsunami of grief and regret welled up in Rodney and threatened to drown him. He made an inhuman, animalistic noise in the back of his throat and fell painfully to his knees.
Rodney woke with a gasp, chest heaving and face wet with the tears he’d shed in his nightmare. The room was dark, the shadows deep, and the echoes of grief squeezed painfully at Rodney’s heart.
A hand touched his shoulder and he yelped, startled.
“Hey. It’s just me.”
Rodney was disoriented for a brief moment and then he remembered John offering to stay with him, strictly as a friend, because he was worried. Rodney had been so shaken by Gall’s death, and the loss of Abrams along with him, that he’d been a wreck all the way back to Atlantis. John had gotten in Rodney’s bed but fully dressed and on top of the blanket, presumably to reassure that there wouldn’t be any funny business.
Funny business was the furthest thing from Rodney’s mind at the moment. He remembered how John had looked in the dream, a dried-out husk of a man, and felt absolutely no shame when he turned to John and hugged him, tight.
“You’re okay,” he mumbled against John’s shoulder.
John patted him hesitantly on the back. “Isn’t that my line, McKay?”
“I’m really, really glad you’re okay,” Rodney said fervently, even as his eyelids began to droop. He was so tired, physically and emotionally, and the nightmare wasn’t enough to keep sleep at bay.
“Me too,” John whispered. His tentative touch became firmer, more confident. He wrapped his arms around Rodney, and the comfort was immediate and powerful.
“Stay?” Rodney asked. His head was pillowed very comfortably on John’s shoulder. Later he might be embarrassed at the needy cuddling, something he may or may not have fantasized about a time or two, but under cover of darkness it was exactly what he needed.
“As long as you like,” John assured him.
He probably had no idea what he was offering, but Rodney was mostly asleep and didn’t feel inclined to clue him in. They could talk about it in the morning.
Rodney’s slurred thanks was the last thing he said before he fell asleep. He was pretty sure the phantom press of lips against his forehead was merely the start of a much better dream.