John was a soldier. He'd gone into battle, knowing that each bullet fired might take a life, and each bullet or knife or grenade from an enemy might take his own. He'd saved the lives of men and women, friend and stranger, from the first moment he walked onto the battlefield. And he'd had soldiers die in his arms, had the unhappy task of having to talk to families - girlfriends, husbands, parents - when one of his own had died.
But nothing prepared him for Rodney, aged a dozen years in a moment at the hands of a Wraith. He couldn't bear to watch, having to flinch away when the Wraith came to feed again. But the images were already in his head. So when the feeding began again, the inhuman sounds that came from Rodney's raw throat shot through the feed and pierced John's heart.
He knew the images were a recording but didn't know how much time had elapsed between then and now. All he knew was that Rodney was being held somewhere, and it didn't matter how much he raged, how much he yelled, nothing could get Rodney back to his side.
The gate activated again as John paced. Chuck looked at John and Elizabeth, frowning as he said, "It's Rodney's IDC."
"Open the gate," Elizabeth said, voice barely above a whisper. Whoever had Rodney had extracted his subcutaneous tracker to deliver the two previous videos. John refused to let his mind wander; would this be another video? A body part?
John's hand went to his sidearm. He knew that whoever was delivering the latest demand was just a messenger and that it wouldn't do him any good to shoot them. Still, it took everything in him to not. Instead, John looked past Chuck and focused on the way the Marine stationed on the far wall held his gun.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth said.
John's head whipped around and saw Rodney. But not the grey, aged Rodney that the last video had shown; this one was young and spry. Hell, he looked even younger than the day they'd stepped foot onto Atlantis together.
It was then that John realized that he'd somehow made not just the trek downstairs, but all the way across the gateroom. "Rodney?" he asked. He didn't stop himself, couldn't, as he raised his hands to Rodney's face, where his thumbs traced lines in the skin that had been there just hours before. "How..." he asked.
Rodney smiled at him. And John knew that he was hiding nothing from anyone in the room, much less Rodney when Rodney took one of his hands. "John?" he whispered.
Hearing his name was enough for John. But he still hesitated for a second as he leaned forward and kissed Rodney, his dry, rough lips grazing gently over Rodney's. The kiss was gentle, chaste. And broken up far too fast when a voice from Rodney's side asked, "Is this some sort of human ritual greeting?"
John had his pistol out and pointed at the Wraith even before he'd fully let go of the man that'd stolen his heart.
"Wait, wait," Rodney said. He stepped in front of the Wraith, not caring that John's pistol was suddenly pointing at his head. "He's with me."
It was then that John realized they were surrounded by Marines, all with their weapons trained on their guest. "What do you mean, McKay?"
"Todd, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. John? Todd the Wraith."
"Todd?" John asked as he lowered his weapon. He pulled Rodney closer to him, putting himself between the Wraith and Rodney.
"Never mind about his name," Rodney said. "He helped me escape, as long as I promised him one thing."
John's mind reeled. "What the hell could you have promised him," John asked with a sneer.
"Oh, I dunno. Maybe lock him in a room with Kolya and the guys that kidnapped me? All stripped of their weapons?"
John's sneer turned into a smile. "I like the way you think, Rodney." He turned to the Marines. "Take our friend down here to the brig until I bring McKay back," he said. Todd was immediately surrounded by Marines, four and five deep. He looked up at Elizabeth, who smiled down at him. She rapped twice on the railing, then walked away with a smile.
"Where're you taking McKay, sir?" Lorne asked. And when did Lorne show up?
"Infirmary," John said as he took Rodney's elbow.
Didn't matter that they took a little detour before they got to the infirmary so that John could do his own inspection. And while he couldn't quite put what he felt about Rodney into words, he hoped that sitting together in the dark, kissing, touching, and just being with the man that'd stolen his heart from the first moment they met, said enough.