“Take it John!” Rodney yelled as he grabbed the leader's hand and pulled, impaling himself on the man's sword. He didn't feel anything as it cut into him, but when the leader pulled his sword out in a bid to protect himself from a raging Ronon, he felt every inch of it as if it was superheated and serrated, pulling all his innards out as it went.
“John!” Teyla called out. “Rodney's been seriously injured!”
Rodney couldn't understand why he was looking up at her as pain flared in his stomach. He tried looking down but his head refused to do what he wanted it to. Teyla's eyes were trained where it hurt and he wanted to know what was wrong, so he tried asking. “Tey… Teyla. What -”
She glanced at him then and her eyes were wet with tears, the hand she brought up to his face was red and dripping. When she spoke, her words were drowned by a loud roar.
Were there lions on this planet? The recon team hadn't said anything about large predators! Where was John?!?
A pressure on his shoulder caused him to open his eyes, and Rodney found himself looking up into the hazel eyes of the man who always occupied his thoughts. Rodney smiled up at him and tried to reach up and squeeze the hand resting on his shoulder, but he couldn't feel his fingers. Rodney frowned at the growing darkness; it had been morning not that long ago, had he slept the day away?
Struggling to open his eyes again after blinking, Rodney was surprised to find Ronon’s face inches from his, but upside down. Ronon’s hands were on either side of his face as the Satedan rested his forehead on Rodney's. What- what was going on?
“Rest now Rodney,” a familiar Scottish brogue whispered to him, and Rodney listened because sometimes Carson had really good ideas.
John watched as Rodney’s eyes slipped closed and felt as the already thready pulse stopped. This couldn't be happening again. How could he let this happen?!? Please let this not have really happened.
“John, we should head back to the stargate.” Teyla said softly but even she did not move.
Ronon made himself more comfortable next to John, “They're all dead. We can stay as long as you need.”
John felt conflicted; he didn’t want to move but if he went through the gate, everything might just reset and he could find a way to save Rodney.
The planet's sun was beginning to set when they finally made their way back to the gate, Rodney's body cradled to Ronon’s chest. John glanced back at the idyllic surrounds, and was reminded of Rodney's excitement when they'd stepped through that very morning; Teyla now carried the fully charged ZPM that the recon team had found. Rodney would never forgive him if he left it behind, although it wouldn’t matter if they stepped through into Atlantis because then Rodney would really be dead.
“Hey! Hey John, wake up!”
He was never so glad to hear Rodney's annoyed voice as John's eyes snapped open and he found himself staring once again at familiar stone walls. He reached back with his fingers until he could feel Rodney's and attempted to hold them.
“Sheppard you okay?” Rodney asked, worry clear in his voice. Rodney leaned his head back to nudge John gently, “You remember what happened right?”
“Yeah,” he said, voice rough with emotion.
This was the third time he’d come to in this cell, tied to Rodney and able to see Ronon and Teyla similarly bound in the cell across from theirs. Staring down at the rope that kept him bound to the scientist, but not incapable of escape, John wondered if this was some kind of Ancient test.
“McKay, are you absolutely sure the ZPM is not powering anything?” John asked, trying to find an explanation for the time loop he was experiencing.
“There is nothing on this planet that could use the ZPM.” Rodney sighed as he sat up, pulling John with him, as he stretched his spine. “Sheppard you saw the people that live here, they’re primitives worshiping a glowing rock.”
“Okay,” John said slowly, glancing at his watch. “Then how do you explain the time loop?”
“What time loop?” Rodney cried, clearly exasperated. “Did they hit you too hard on the head again?”
“Ronon is about to jump to his feet and kick the door off of their cell.” John said, just loud enough for Rodney to hear.
Rodney’s head swivelled to the side and he watched wide-eyed as Ronon tossed aside the rope which had bound his feet together, sprang to his feet and kicked their cell door, which shot straight out and then fell to the ground with a loud clang. The Satedan grinned at them before he ran at their cell door and rammed it with his shoulder.
“Let’s go,” he rumbled, dropping down to cut through their ropes with one of his many hidden blades.
“Not so fast,” Rodney said as he tried undoing the knot keeping his legs bound together. “Sheppard says we’re in a time loop. We need to know exactly what happened before so that we can do something different now.”
“There’s no time for that,” John said with another glance at his watch and then out the window. “If we leave now they’ll all be around the campfire eating and we can sneak out.”
That’s what they’d done the first time, and they would have made it to the stargate safely if John hadn’t given in to Rodney’s whining about the ZPM. This time he would remain firm! They would go to the gate, dial Atlantis, and come back with reinforcements to take the ZPM by force.
Rodney abandoned the stubborn knot and clicked his fingers together, he had just opened his mouth when John said, “No.”
“No,” John said more firmly. “We’re not stopping by the temple to take the ZPM.”
“Listen Sheppard,” Rodney said as Teyla helped him stand. “That ZPM is the reason we’re here, and if you think I’m going to leave it here for these imbeciles to faun over, you’re wrong!”
“Ronon, take point. There’s a room on the left at the end of the passage; our guns and tac vests are inside as well as McKay’s tablet. Stay low though, that room has windows out towards the campfire. Once we have our things we have to climb out of one of the windows in the main room and head straight into the forest. No stopping until we get to the gate.”
Teyla glanced between John and Rodney, concern clear in her voice. “John, are you certain we cannot first get the ZPM?”
“Teyla,” John said, he tried to gentle his voice but wasn’t successful. “We can come back for the ZPM after we get reinforcements.”
“They know we’re here for the ZPM,” Rodney said beseechingly. “Do you really think they’re just going to leave it in the temple once they realise we’ve escaped?”
“We don’t have time to argue about this! We’re coming back with reinforcements, and that’s final.”
Rodney crossed his arms and lifted his chin in defiance, staring John down.
“I could probably carry him,” Ronon offered from the doorway.
“You will not!” Rodney cried out, moving to hide behind Teyla.
“Go,” John said to the Satedan. “Please.”
Ronon nodded briefly and then headed out. Teyla moved to follow him, hand wrapped around Rodney’s arm and pulling him with her. John sighed in relief when they were finally leaving.
“All I’m saying,” Rodney said quietly to Teyla as they made their way through the forest. “Is that I could go and grab the ZPM, and meet you guys at the gate.”
“John said no,” Teyla reminded him, not for the first time.
Rodney glanced over his shoulder to find the Colonel glaring at him. “Sheppard doesn’t seem like his usual self. Can we really trust his judgment?”
Teyla glanced back and smiled softly at the man in question, but he didn’t notice as his gaze stayed on Rodney. “Perhaps something terrible happened during one of the previous time loops?
Rodney thought about it for a moment; Sheppard refused to explain what had happened before, he just kept repeating their current plan. “What could be so terrible that he’d be this unreasonable?”
Ronon signalled that they should stop and then looked back at John, beckoning him forward with the tilt of his head. John moved silently past them and crouched beside Ronon, their heads bent together as they talked quietly. Rodney glanced at Teyla and found that she was focused solely on the two men ahead, so he took a step back and then another and another until he could see the temple out of the corner of his right eye, and then he turned and ran for it.
He wasn’t that surprised when he was tackled from behind but when John rolled him over and yelled at him, he was shocked speechless.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing McKay? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Fuck!”
John’s pupils were blown wide and Rodney felt he could drown in the fear in them.
John shook his head and then sat up before standing. “I said no.”
“John?” Rodney stood as well, not caring about the leaves which clung to him. He took a step towards the man pacing before him, hand outstretched. “What happened before?”
“You kept dying!” John shouted, his hands clenched at his side. “I was always too late to save you, but just in time to watch the light fade from your eyes.” He stepped closer to Rodney, who was frozen in shock. “I can’t lose you again Rodney.” John raised his hands, both visibly shaking, cupped Rodney’s face and then kissed him. “I don’t know if I can live without you,” he whispered against Rodney’s mouth before kissing him again.
“John,” Rodney murmured when they parted again, his hands gripping tight to the other man’s arms. “I love you too.”
John smiled dopily at him and then kissed him again.
“I apologise for the interruption,” a female voice said. “But if you do not leave for Atlantis immediately, you will be recaptured.”
Rodney opened his eyes and then pulled away from John when he recognised the woman smiling at him. “Chaya!”
“Hello Doctor McKay, John,” she nodded at them both. “It is good to see you both again.”
“It is okay Ronon,” they heard Teyla say a moment before she stepped into view. “We know her.”
“Some more than others,” Rodney muttered, stepping away from John.
“You really do need to hurry,” the Ancient said.
“Yes,” Rodney said in agreement. “Let’s go, now.”
Chaya laughed softly, “There is no need to worry Doctor McKay, John truly loves you.”
“Oh,” Rodney watched fascinated as a blush spread across John’s face and he fidgeted with his P90.
“Here,” Chaya said, holding the ZPM out to Rodney who took it without hesitation. “And I apologise John, I realise now that I caused you unnecessary pain but I believe the happiness you will now have in your life will wipe it from your memory.”
“The time loop was your doing?” John asked incredulously. “Why?”
Chaya smiled softly at John before turning to look at Rodney, “Is it not obvious John?”
“Oh.” This time both John and Rodney blushed.
“Even they understand the necessity of your happiness.”
“We should go,” Ronon grunted, eying the forest around them as the sounds of pursuit ecame louder.
“One last thing,” Chaya said before her eyes glowed. “There, the people of this planet will not bother you.”
“What di-?” Rodney cut himself off when Chaya disappeared.
“Perhaps we should leave?” Teyla said after a moment of awkward silence.
Ronon turned and headed off towards the gate without a backwards glance. Teyla laughed softly before following him, leaving John and Rodney alone.
Rodney opened his mouth only for John to kiss him.
“Let’s leave the discussion for when we’re home.” John said, tugging on Rodney to follow Teyla and Ronon.
Which sounded perfectly reasonable to Rodney; so he slipped his hand into John’s, adjusted his hold on the ZPM and headed home to Atlantis.