Joan takes just enough time to grab a pair of sweatpants and a shirt from the floor before going out into the hall, hearing panicked scientists screeching in the background of the open radio channel. Stomping her foot more deeply into her left boot as she walks, she pulls the earpiece off long enough to clear the ringing before shouting, "You are fucking with me. Lorne, I swear to God you will be praying for Caldwell--"
Over the ruckus, she hears Lorne's voice, low and calm, then the soft whish of the door. "Sorry, Colonel," he answers, sounding very sorry, but sorry doesn't cut it. Reaching behind her, Joan adjusts the sheathe of the knife she'd put on before the t-shirt, sticking the radio back in her ear as Lorne continues with a blessed background silence that must mean he's moved out into the hall. "They're kind of upset."
Joan closes her eyes. "It's the coffee pantry, isn't it?"
Joan shakes her head and starts running, hideously aware that she forgot socks. "I’m a transporter away. Give me the short version."
The short version goes like this; their load of vegetables is sentient.
Lorne stares into the distance. "They've demanded reparation in the form of territory, since we destroyed their home--"
"Fields," Joan says, rubbing her forehead. "They were harvested by very nice people that--wait." Staring at the door, Joan tries to deal. "Okay. We're given vegetables in exchange for antibiotics, and it turns out--"
"The vegetables are the other side in a civil war, yes. The Teverains apparently had an insider with the--other people--and during the last hibernation cycle, lead a sneak attack that--" Lorne takes a deep breath; Joan can't blame him. "Uprooted them."
Jesus. "So we just enslaved a civilization. To eat them."
To his credit, Lorne doesn't twitch. Much. "Yes, sir."
"Okay." She can deal with this. Motioning for Lorne to stay put, Joan goes into the mess, where Dr. Weir has apparently opened diplomatic relations, Marines hovering worriedly nearby. Joan spares a second to wonder if Weir ignored her last email, entitled "What to Do When a Hostile Force Appears While I'm on Leave: AKA Call Me No Matter What. Stalking to the table, hideously aware she could not look less like a professional soldier if she'd been wearing a miniskirt and stilettos, Joan watches as Weir and a fairly large banana-shaped--banana person?--engage in the most surreal conversation in the history of the SGC.
Joan stares at the Marines long enough to make them twitch. No one wants to meet her eyes. It could be the fact that it's kind of obvious what she was doing five minutes and thirty seconds ago, or it could be the fact that it's her post-wedding vacation (she'll call it a honeymoon when she gets to have it somewhere other than her quarters), but mostly, she just thinks it's embarrassment that they're armed and dangerous while covering a three foot banana and two four-foot carrot-like retainers for said banana.
"Dr. Weir?" Joan says in her calmest, most reasonable voice. Coming up to stand at her left and a little behind, Joan looks at the banana and tries to work out where the face should be.
"Colonel," Weir says pleasantly, as if Joan's presence had been expected all along, "I'm glad you could join us. This is Dr. Ma-ghxnhe--"
"Dr. Mzg'ghxnhe of the Ghxwyxw," the banana states shortly, tilting the tapered--head?--slightly in her direction. Joan tries to find something about it--him--she can focus on, but her mind keeps drifting to three foot tall banana and no amount of studying seems to help. "Your zsxha tongues are not capable of reproducing the range of sounds necessary to speak our language." His voice hardens abruptly. "Do I understand that you are responsible for our enslavement?"
Joan gives herself a second to think of how close they were to finally having recognizable fresh fruit, then sighs to herself. This is what she gets for taking leave. "My apologies, Doctor," because if Weir can't say his name, Joan knows for a fact that whatever she manages to get out will end up being either profanity or something calling their forbearers a great stew; that's how her life is. "I'm Colonel Sheppard, ranking military officer of Atlantis. We had no idea that the Teverains had sold us a sentient population."
The banana seems to stiffen. "How is that possible?"
Because Pegasus, so far, hadn't had a lot of range in aliens; Star Trek had lied on so many levels it hurts her inside. "We were unfamiliar with your--people," she says diplomatically, knowing Weir's watching her and knowing that she's laughing. Joan's never hated her life more. "Doctor--"
"We were discussing reparations," Weir inserts smoothly. "The Doctor has stated he would be willing to discuss an arrangement--"
"We demand assistance in ridding our world of the Teverains!" the Doctor says, yellow skin flushing orange about three quarters of the way up his length. Joan watches, fascinated. "They are a plague upon our land, ripping into the soil and destroying the flora. Their crimes against us are without number. They have--" the Doctor stops short, orange increasing. "It is said they eat our brethren."
Joan swallows hard. Even Dr. Weir's looking a little pale. Joan wonders just how much exploring they did of their pantry before starting an insurrection. "I understand and share your concern," Weir says carefully. "But Atlantis is not a--"
"So you will allow this injustice?" the Doctor says harshly. Joan glances briefly at the Marines surrounding the third pantry, home of their latest vegetable acquisitions, sugar, and their coffee supply, then at the scientists surrounding the Marines, looking dangerously close to declaring open season on salad. "We have been ripped from our native soil, bound, and sold as slaves to your people, and you do not think you have a responsibility to assist us in retaking our homeworld?"
Weir starts saying something soothing about displaced populations and unoccupied worlds, giving Joan her chance. Stepping back, Joan touches her radio. "Lorne?" she whispers as the banana--Doctor!--labors some point that Weir just made.
"Security code for the lockdown is alpha delta three, Charlie nine, zeta. Get Brown to do a database search on MX2-111," and for once, she doesn't even feel that edge of completely unreasonable dislike, "and get Parrish up here. Tell me when he's here."
Joan pauses, then, "And if McKay tries to get in here--" Which he shouldn't quite yet, since she'd locked the door behind him. Living with a genius has its perks; she had never known about the military-override until she became responsible for Rodney's orgasms. She gives it fifteen minutes before he either hacks the door open or invents a brand new weapon from all the equipment in their room and blows up a wall. "Just stop him. Sheppard out."
Touching Weir's shoulder as Weir starts to answer with something regarding resettlement tactics, Joan looks at the Doctor. "Excuse me, Doctor," she says in her most neutral voice. "Dr. Weir and I need to discuss your situation. Dr. Weir?" Not giving Weir a chance to try and override her, Joan slides her hand just behind her shoulder; the message is clear. Come with me or I will totally declare this a military emergency.
Weir hesitates, but to her credit, nods, saying something bland and reassuring before she follows Joan toward the balcony. Joan leans back into the closed door, trying to stay calm, almost feeling the eyes of the Mz-whatever on them; she just wishes she knew where the aforesaid eyes were located. "I know we talked about this."
"Lorne was handling the situation," Weir says coolly. This isn't the first time that Joan's suspected that Weir hadn't been as enthusiastic about her promotion and assignment as she'd appeared; meeting Caldwell, Joan had immediately understood exactly why Weir had insisted on Joan's continued command anyway. "I saw no need--"
"In a situation that involves an invasion," Joan says, forcing the words between clenched teeth, because yes, it's fruit, and yes, they aren't armed, but still, invasion, "I think I need to be informed." She waits, but Weir just looks back. Joan respects her; Weir's brilliant and an excellent governor, knowing to a hair when a situation requires military involvement and when diplomacy is more effective.
The problem is, Joan's idea of a hair difference isn't Weir's, and at this late stage, that's probably not going to change.
Weir keeps her careful diplomatic mask in place. "The Doctor and his people have not offered violence--"
"Which may change when hey, they find out we're their Wraith," Joan hisses back. For the first time, Joan's aware that the sweatpants are trying to slide down her hips, and there's a good chance her thigh holster is the only thing that will keep them on her. Weir's short glance down tells her that, yes, she recognizes Rodney's sweatpants too, and finds this entire situation far too funny.
God, she could have a hickey. She has no idea. It's not like she checked a mirror before she left.
"Colonel," Weir says, just a bit too condescending for Joan's taste, "the situation is progressing. If you wish to stay--"
Joan's eyes narrow and Weir cuts herself off. "All right. Are you ready to go back?"
The radio goes off. "Colonel? Got him."
Joan nods, catching Weir's eyes. "Parrish is waiting outside," she says to Weir. At her surprised look, Joan shrugs. "If anyone would know plants, botany's the place. And--"
"Colonel?" Lorne interrupts, sounding suddenly strangled. Joan checks her watch. Thirteen minutes. "Dr. McKay insists on being part of the negotiations as Chief Science Officer and second in command of civilian base operations."
Joan shares an appalled look with Weir. Rodney only drags out that second in command thing when he's pissed. "Uh--"
The channel breaks, and Joan closes her eyes as Rodney's voice cuts through. "You try and stop me, I swear to God you're on the couch for a month."
Yeah. Weir looks like she suddenly wishes that Joan had declared this a military emergency after all. Joan almost smiles. "Sure, Rodney. Lorne, let them both in and lets get this over with."
The look on Weir's face is almost worth it.
"…it's a beautiful area," Brown is gushing to Rodney from the table nearest the balcony. Joan eyes her bright smile with disfavor as Teyla, who had missed the excitement while visiting Halling on the mainland, sits beside her, pushing a cup of coffee into her hand. Joan's never loved Teyla more.
"So I take it there was some sort of trouble while I was away?"
Joan stares at the coffee that they'd almost had an insurrection to protect. Across the room, the physicists, anthropologists, linguists, and two medical staff are currently engaged in mass coffee consumption. It's creepy; cross-academic bonding always seems to end in bizarre group practical jokes on the military. Joan makes a mental note to talk to Zelenka. No one really wants Joan to order random fitness training for all civilian personnel. "I want to resign," she says dreamily. "Move to the mainland. Halling can teach me to hunt, right?"
Teyla's smile is very gentle. "And perhaps how to avoid illness during the skinning process?"
Joan takes a drink and ignores the edge of amused mockery. Yes, yes, yes, Joan has a weakness for furry animals. Let's all laugh now. "I could learn." Probably.
"It seems to have been quickly resolved," Teyla offers, drinking her own coffee thoughtfully, eyes on Weir, sitting at the next table over with Lorne, Parrish, Zelenka, and one of the other botanists that Joan thinks vaguely might be Parrish's significant other. Rodney sucks for good gossip; she'll have to ask Zelenka. "They agreed to settle on the southern continent?"
"More or less. We have to supply them with certain foodstuffs and nutrients not natural to our soil." Joan takes a deep breath. "Fertilizer. Organic fertilizer."
Teyla covers her mouth with one hand. "I take it that means--"
"We'll be shoveling shit twice a month, yes," Joan says tiredly. She's not even bitter anymore. Mostly because she got the civilians to rotate with the Marines, pointing out that botany had been the one to clear their food. Luckily, Rodney had been too busy checking on the integrity of the coffee supply to object.
"…oh, yes, I'm still working on it." Brown's voice cuts across the mess hall. Joan can't stop herself from looking, noting that for someone in the middle of a workday, she looks disturbingly well-groomed and not a single patch of dirt despite the fact that Joan knows she has greenhouse duty this week. "I think the latest hybrid could have some beneficial effect on certain strains of cancer." Where I will throw myself at you shamelessly. " I'd be happy to give you a tour of the lab--" Where we will be alone since it's an isolation unit and ooops, I think we're locked in due to some mysterious glitch and would you like to see my etchings? "--so you can examine them for yourself." Please take me now, Rodney.
Teyla smirks as Joan takes another drink of coffee. "She has no designs on Dr. McKay, Joan."
"You just don't want me to call you at three in the morning to help me dispose of the body," Joan sulks into her coffee. They've had this conversation before.
Joan narrows her eyes. "I'll remember that next time a trading partner wants to examine Ronon's--assets." Finishing the cup, Joan stands up. "I'm going to go--" She waves vaguely toward Rodney and Brown. Do that caveman thing . He's lucky his hair's short.
Teyla bites her lip and nods agreement, raising her cup in salute.
Coming up behind Rodney, Joan's gratified to note that Rodney's eyes only look alert; his entire attention is on the almost-lost coffee clutched in one hand and checking on the engineers who are currently gathered in a small, unwashed mass of humanity around the pantry door, apparently upgrading the security codes and doing something arcane and faintly disturbing with the panels they pried off the wall and some crystals from the transporters. In all honesty, Joan just doesn't want to know.
Joan smiles brightly at Brown as the conversation hits a pause; Brown can really talk when she's trying to steal someone's husband. "Dr. Brown," she says with a nod, not at all threatened by the fact that Brown's wearing her own clothes and apparently had time for eyeliner before the crisis. Turning to Rodney, Joan notes the level of liquid left in the cup. "Rodney, you ready?"
Rodney blinks himself back into the room, giving her a glance that says no, the use of lockdown has not been forgotten, before he hastily drinks the remainder of his coffee. With a nod to Brown, he follows Joan to the door, one hand sliding to rest lightly against the small of her back. It's so automatic she almost doesn't notice, except for now, when Brown's watching and yes, jealousy may be beneath her, but whatever.
Once they're out in the hall, though, Joan feels the thick fingers clench in her (or technically, his) shirt. "What the hell was that?" Rodney hisses in a voice that the newly liberated vegetable people can probably hear. "It's our hon--"
"Not until I'm in Hawaii, or the closest equivalent thereof," Joan says grimly. "And yes, I know we're on leave."
"So you run off--"
"To save us from vegetables?" Rodney's voice rises in pitch with every word, and Joan sighs, shoving him into the transporter and punching in their number. "Lorne could have handled that! And you locked me in my own quarters--"
"But we learned that the lockdown protocol works," Joan says brightly. "From what I can tell, you were the only one that got out."
Rodney pauses, blinking. "Huh. I need to check the logs on that--it really was a little too easy to reroute power."
Joan doesn't breathe a sigh of relief as Rodney talks his way through secondary protocols and tri-level security permissions, digressing briefly to radio Zelenka and tell him to run a level one analysis. The argument (because it's Rodney, it's an argument) continues through the transport, the walk to their quarters, and gives her time to put away her weapons and check their dismantled door (minor repairs, she can probably do it herself before Rodney wakes up in the morning).
It's only when she's dropping her boots in the closet that she realizes that Rodney's stopped talking.
This can't be good.
Turning around, Joan looks at her husband, currently seated on the bed, blinking at his laptop. "You distracted me," he says, squinting at the screen before carefully closing the lid and sliding it beneath the bed. "Joan--"
"Invasion," she says, leaning back against the wall. "And military commander."
Rodney's mouth is a crooked, unhappy line; she wonders, sometimes, if this is one of the places that they'll never quite meet, that what Rodney had imagined his future to be and what he has are too far apart. If Joan was a betting woman (poker champion of Atlantis, three years running), she'd say that Rodney's fantasy life, outside a Nobel prize, had included something other than a military commander as a wife. Probably with a prime number of kids, too: three or seven, she's never been sure.
She doesn't get it, never will, doesn't know what he sees in her, but this life, Atlantis and Rodney, she wouldn't trade for anything. Not for her father's approval or the erasing of her black mark; this is everything she never could have imagined.
The thing is, all being equal--if he could do his research without government non-disclosure agreements, publish his results, get his grants and his awards and his tenure--she thinks Rodney would be on earth before the gate had time to disengage.
Or would be, maybe, if she wasn't here.
Crossing her arms, she watches Rodney's face. He couldn't have thought that they would change, she would change, that marriage would transform her into something different, someone different.
"And it would kill you to leave it to Lorne for a week?" Rodney says, staring at the wall to the left of her shoulder. Swallowing, Joan waits as Rodney goes through a variety of facial expressions that she can't quite make herself decipher. There's an old saying; boys marry their mothers, and girls marry their fathers. If what she's about to hear is every argument her father threw at her mother through her childhood as he grew to hate the woman he'd married because she refused to be anything other than what she was--well, not only is Kate Heightmeyer in her future, but a hell of a lot of ice cream.
She's not Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Sheppard, who couldn't walk away; she's the woman her mother raised, who had taught Joan what she herself had never learned, how to leave. But looking at Rodney, she wonders just how much of herself she'd have to leave behind if she did.
"Did you--" Joan swallows hard, keeping her face neutral. "We're married. That doesn't mean I'm quitting my job."
Rodney blinks, head swiveling to study her face. He must see something there--God knows what--because he stands up, looking bewildered, hands still and open at his sides. "I didn't mean--" He stops, looking anywhere but at her. "That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"I just--" Rodney makes an brief gesture, waving in the vague direction of the door. "I never--had anything to lose before." Shaking his head, he paces the length of the room, and this is one of those times that Joan's aware that two people who flinch visibly when discussing their feelings probably should either never enter a relationship together or drink a lot more. "I just--when I was trying to blow up the door--I realized that I don't--I don't--"
He stops abruptly. "It's terrifying, okay? I can't--look, fine, run into danger, throw yourself on grenades, take on the Wraith single-handedly--but I build your guns, I repair your ships, and I want to be there to keep doing those things." Rodney sits down abruptly, deflating. "Just because we're married doesn't mean I'm suddenly a liability."
Oh. Wow. "Rodney--"
"Vegetable people," Rodney says bitterly, and yeah, point. "If it had been the Wraith, I'd be pissed, but at least I wouldn't feel like you thought I wasn't capable of handling a Caesar salad."
Joan has no idea what to say to that.
"I don't want that to change," Rodney says unhappily, and God help her, the way he's sitting, curling up in on himself, makes her want to go over and just cuddle him and tell him whatever the hell he wants to hear. "We were--we are teammates. Now I'm just waiting for you to explain how it would be safer for me to stay on Atlantis while you go traipsing off to the ends of the universe with Teyla and some sticks and C-4." His gaze fixes mutinously on the floor. "I'm not resigning from the team, and I won't stay locked up in my room or a nice safe lab while you go be heroic and stupid. If you had some idea that was going to happen, you'd better just forget it right now."
Joan pushes off the wall, crossing to stand in front of him, waiting until he finally pries his gaze off her toes to look up. "I wasn't doing that," Joan says finally, but in the corner of her mind, she suddenly wonders if maybe she was. She can't imagine going into the field without him (and winces in memory of her brief tour as a member of a team on SGC), but he's right. She never had this much to lose.
Rodney's eyes narrow, and it's kind of funny and almost painfully cute to see her own expression mirrored back at her. "Right. That's why I had to disassemble the door."
Joan sighs, then edges him over, sitting down on the bed--the new, wider, softer, much more comfortable bed that proves that the Ancients weren't completely stupid. "You're right."
Rodney opens his mouth, then shuts it; Joan thinks she can almost hear his teeth snap together. "What?"
"You're right." Staring at her sweatpants (his sweatpants; marriage means never having to ask to borrow your lover's clothing), Joan sighs. "The first thing I thought when Lorne called wasn't, are you fucking with me? The first thing I thought was to activate the lockdown so you couldn't follow me when I left. Then I asked Lorne if he was fucking with me."
For vegetables. Not for Wraith, armed natives, sudden SGC invasion, or possessed expedition members. Vegetables.
Rodney's usually faster on the uptake when he wins, but belatedly, he's catching on. The blue eyes darken. "You were going to ask me to resign from the team, weren't you?"
Joan stares at her fingernails. "I thought maybe we should talk about it." She can practically feel Rodney getting a good head of steam going and cuts that off. "It was just a thought, I wasn't running you off--look, this is new, okay? Cut me some slack. It's not like you wouldn't appeal to Weir over my head, and she'd probably keep you on just to annoy me."
"True." But his mouth is tight, corners flattened. "Joan--"
"I know. You're my teammate and you're…." And weirdly, despite all their time together, it's hitting her now; Rodney's second ranking civilian. He's her teammate. He's the first line of defense, as much as Joan is. She's going to be leading him into danger for the rest of their lives. And she married him. "Shit."
Rodney sighs tiredly, arm circling her shoulders. "Welcome to my life."
Joan sleeps like the dead; Rodney wants to think that it's the sex, but unless they're in the field or under war conditions, she always sleeps like that, sprawled over a full three quarters of the bed, nuzzling her pillow contentedly when he touches her hair before drifting back down.
Three days of this and it's not getting any easier, even if they are on leave.
Sliding out of bed, Rodney tucks the blankets around her, watching her curl up a little tighter. Checking his watch, he thinks he has a couple more hours before she even thinks of waking up, so he showers quickly, dressing in the bathroom before sneaking out the door, feeling vaguely like a criminal.
Ronon meets him off the mess hall, eating a muffin and smiling wolfishly, Cadman right behind him. He takes the coffee she offers without a murmur. "Ready?"
Rodney stares with dead eyes at the corridor. This is his life. Five in the morning runs. With Ronon. With Cadman. "So same route?" he asks, wondering if it's too much to hope for a citywide emergency right now.
Ronon's grin widens while Cadman tries not to look like she's having the best morning in history. "Yep."
Rodney gives his cross-trainers a depressed look, then nods. "Okay. Just take it easy this time, okay?"
"God," Rodney says feelingly, getting another knife from Ronon to start prying up another set of panels. Behind him, Ronon and Cadman are up to their knees in water. They don't look desperate yet, but Rodney's desperate enough for all of them.
A run. Just a run in the morning, a little workout, the stupid shit that for some reason had seemed like a great idea at the time, because Joan made insane things highly possible. So the hell what if he hated exercise; if he was going to be chasing her across the galaxy, he's damn well going to be able to keep up. "McKay--"
"I'm sorry, are the people not engaged in saving our lives trying to offer suggestions? Other than 'Hey, why can't you blow it up?'" Rodney says testily. Behind him, Cadman's testing her radio again, which works just about as well this time as the last three hundred odd times they tried, but hey, who is he to stop her in her quest for most times a radio has been tried and failed? "Ronon, your knives suck." Rodney stares at the blunted tip, then shrugs, prying the panel off and dropping it on the floor with a splash. The blackened crystals stare at him mockingly.
Rodney stares bitterly at the wall. "I am never running with either of you again."
"Your idea to take that left," Cadman offers. Rodney turns around, fixing her with his best glare. She shrugs. "Uncleared area."
"It's my city." He's tempted to pull a Ronon and slam his fist into the wall, but one, ouch, and two, he wouldn't make a dent nearly as impressive as Ronon's. Ronon, doing his third round of the small, pointless, utterly hateful former-zoology lab, eyes Rodney from the far side of the room. "It's just--just give me another goddamn knife."
Rodney checks his watch. Thirty minutes until Joan wakes up. She'll get coffee, because she's incapable of rational human interaction without it. She'll radio. She'll get pissed. She'll radio Zelenka. She'll storm the lab. He gives it forty-five minutes before every person in this city is organized into teams and sent out in search of her errant husband. Yes, this proves he's certainly not a liability to her. Just. Fucking. Great.
"Hey," Cadman says, hand resting on his shoulder. Rodney looks up at her, surprised by the sympathetic look on her face. "It'll be fine."
Give the rate the room is filling up, to be honest, she's right. They won't even be waist high before Joan tracks them down--and Joan's not a scientist. She'll give Zelenka five minutes while holding the C-4 and clearing this section of the city. Hell, they'll be lucky if she waits that long. "I know." Turning back to the door, Rodney counts over three, then starts prying another panel. "I want out."
"The Colonel will find us," Ronon says comfortably, perched on a lab table. Rodney eyes him in disfavor. He's not jealous; so Ronon's tall and muscular and military, uproots trees with one hand and can give Joan workouts that leave her limp and sweaty and disturbingly happy. And so what if Joan had spent his first week here doing nothing but watching him work out along with every other female on base. That was strictly for evaluation purposes. Then she insisted he be on her team. Immediately.
He's not threatened.
Cadman comes up beside him, picking up one of the discarded knives and helps him pry off the next panel. "You didn't tell Joan about your morning runs." she murmurs, low enough that Ronon can't hear her.
Rodney blows out a breath. "It's not--"
"I didn't tell her." Cadman slides her fingers along the seam line of the next panel, then her fingernails. "Groove under here," she says. Rodney inserts the knife into the spot. "Neither did Ronon. And trust me, she notices when her husband starts making five am his new morning."
Rodney puts his weight behind the knife, hoping the tip doesn't snap. It's always possible Ronon could run out of knives. "Fine."
"Rodney," she says sharply, then helps him catch the panel as it slides off. "Look, you can mutter all you want, but believe it or not, we're not in this because either of us are huge fans of getting up before the sun."
Rodney pauses; he'd assumed they always did this, being military and crazy and all. "Then why did you--"
"Because you asked," Cadman answers simply. Taking the panel from him, she sets it on the floor, waving him toward the--yes, more burned-out crystals. Fantastic. "Because it was important to you."
"It's not a big deal."
Cadman leans against the wall on the other side of the crystals. "Carson's mom hated me."
Rodney almost fumbles the knife.. "What?"
"After the--when we were evacuated to Earth." Her mouth turns down sharply; Rodney doesn't like thinking of those weeks either. "Carson took me to meet his mother."
Rodney hadn't known that. "You were that serious?"
Cadman's gaze grows distance. "I thought we were." Shaking herself, she grabs his arm. "Come on, get out of the water before you get sick. The Colonel will kill me if get you sick."
Rodney jerks away. "I don't need--"
"To be taken care of," Cadman says, and Rodney suddenly feels like she's talking to someone else entirely. "Just get on the damn table, Rodney."
Between Ronon's glare and Cadman's pushing, he's up on one before he realizes it, Cadman climbing up behind him and settling herself cross-legged on the side, sighing a little as she starts unlacing her shoes. It's practical enough that Ronon and Rodney both follow suit, peeling off soaked socks to dry on the far side of the table. Tucking his bare feet beneath him, Rodney checks his watch. Thirty-five minutes. He's so screwed.
After a few minutes, Cadman swivels around, looking at him for a long minute. "Carson says he broke it off, but that's only half true. I gave him a choice."
Rodney blinks. "Uh--"
"I loved him," Cadman says, voice soft. "And I think he loved me. But not what I did."
Rodney takes her in for a second, feeling like he's seeing her for the first time. Blonde hair, blue eyes, drop-dead gorgeous--and a Marine. Oh. "I didn't know that."
"It was kind of a package deal," Cadman says with a rueful grin, but there's a shadow behind it that before Joan, Rodney never would have noticed. "He wanted a wife and a partner--but not a partner who wore a gun. I think that visit to his mom kind of cinched what we both already knew. After, he asked me to resign; that we'd both resign. He'd go into private research and I'd--do something else."
Drawing up her knees, Cadman shrugs. "I said no. And that was that."
Rodney thinks it must have been more than that, though he'll never ask. He knows just enough about Joan's father to guess, by the spaces she leaves in her stories, of the Air Force pilot that was her mother and her model.
He wonders, suddenly, if Catherine Sheppard would have approved of him.
"I'm sorry," he says, thinking of Carson in his lab, the way he still fusses when she comes in, tends her injuries, and watches her leave with a look on his face that hurts Rodney to see, though he never understood why, not until now.
Rodney can't imagine giving up Joan for anything at all.
"Water under the bridge," Cadman says with a smile that reaches her eyes. Then she punches him. "I know why you're doing this." She waves at their cross-trainers. "Just--she doesn't expect you to become the next Rambo just because she married you."
And right here, stop now. "Do I look like I want to talk about my feelings?" Rodney says desperately. "If so, please tell me so I can stop immediately."
Cadman opens her mouth to continue--God, please, make this stop--but the radio suddenly buzzes to life in his ear. Rodney's never been so happy in his life to hear Joan's voice. "Rodney, I swear to God--"
"The couch," Rodney says, splashing down onto the floor before he remembers he's not wearing shoes. "Whatever. Now if you're done with your best impression of Xena: Warrior Princess, could you get Zelenka--"
"Already here," Radek says, sounding like he was just dragged out of bed. Rodney glances at his watch. She's ten minutes early. "She says, husband is missing. I tell her no great loss, there are many physicists left, she may have her choice."
Rodney stares at the door. "Are you hitting on my widow before I'm even dead?"
Zelenka makes a hissing sound. "Must beat the competition. Stand clear of the door; Colonel Sheppard is holding a great number of explosives and seems very determined to use them."
Yeah, he'd kind of thought so. Ronon, apparently talking to Joan, herds them toward the back of the room and behind a lab table while Cadman grabs their shoes and socks, pushing Rodney between her and Ronon. He's resent it, but then again, Joan and explosives. If he ever had a true rival, it would be the armory.
"All right," Joan says, voice sharp. "You had five minutes. Clear out."
Over the radio, Zelenka mutters but packs up, and Rodney leans back into the table, closing his eyes. Beside him, Cadman's braced herself, hand against his shoulder, ready to shove him to the floor and throw herself on top of him because that's what she does, like Ronon, like Joan, like the Marines that Joan dragged out of bed to search the city.
Then the floor rocks, lab table shuddering from the force of the explosion, and Rodney's standing up with Cadman's help, watching as the gaping hole that had been a door spills half-dressed Marines, Zelenka, and Joan.
Joan's continued her habit of taking whatever clothes are closest to her, sweats slipping down her hips, and her hair's a disaster area, eyes still red and swollen from sleep, but Rodney thinks he's never seen anyone so beautiful.
"Took you long enough," Rodney tells her, trying not to smile like a ten year old boy at his very first crush.
Joan's eyes narrow and Rodney can't help it; leaning into the lab table, he starts to laugh.
Carson checks them out, clucking over bruises and checking for any random nanoviruses while Joan stares at Rodney from the door like he might vanish if she looks away.
"I'm fine," Rodney says sharply, batting Carson's hands away and getting off the bed. "I'm fine, alive, on leave--notice the leave part?"
Carson sighs. "Very well, Rodney. If you have any--"
"Strange symptoms, unexplained bleeding, yes, you know me so well, I'd completely ignore them if you didn't remind me. Thank you for that. Good-bye." Rodney escapes to the door, aware Joan's on his heels, looking like she took a pretty strong hit of adrenaline and really needs to get that out of her system very soon now.
"In my defense," he says before Joan can open her mouth, "how was I supposed to know that I'd get randomly locked in a room filling with water?"
The best defense, he's learned, is a good offense. And the transporter is depressingly far away.
"It's Atlantis," Joan says, rubbing the bridge of her nose tiredly. "More to the point, how did you ever think you wouldn't? And for that matter, why the hell were you even there?"
Rodney's saved by the transporter, but they're barely on their level before Joan's already opening her mouth to continue her point.
"What are you doing up anyway?" Rodney interrupts quickly, passing sleepy-looking Marines who glare at him like he personally destroyed their lives. "We're on leave. You sleep until seven!"
"I woke up early--wait. How is this about me?" Stomping into their quarters, she kicks off her shoes, giving him a scowl when she notices her wet sweats. With a sigh, she strips them off, and Rodney realizes abruptly that Joan had run out to rescue him without wearing underwear.
God, that's hot.
"What the hell were you doing?" Joan says, throwing the shirt aside. No bra. This isn't actually military-themed porn, but there are some definite similarities. "And get out of those wet clothes."
Rodney gives himself a second before following her to the closet as she jerks on one of his t-shirts, because this is Joan and she just can't be bothered finding her own. Jesus. It's like she's doing this on purpose. "Rodney?"
"Running," he says blankly.
"You were running?"
Abruptly, Rodney forces his gaze away from the bottom edge of the shirt. If she doesn't move at all, it's almost modest.
…though not when she takes a deep breath. God. "Yeah," he says slowly. This probably isn't the time to suggest sex. "Getting in shape. That--um. I have some sweats here somewhere--"
"McKay," she says with a frown. "Why--is this about the--I'm not asking you to resign from the team!"
He can't look at her and talk. It's just not possible. Staring at the wall to the left of her shoulder, Rodney takes a deep breath. "I don't want to be a liability."
"Oh Jesus. Rodney--" Her hands come to rest on his shoulders, fingers massaging gently; Rodney stares at her breasts, nipples pushing through the shirt distractingly. "You don't have to--"
"Could you put on pants?" Joan blinks. "Look, I respect you and--and this is important to talk about, but, but, you're naked and I was in the lab too late last night and--" Rodney motions at her legs frantically. "It's not my fault, you never got naked before we started sleeping together and I'm kind of conditioned to react when you--look like this."
Joan leans back, hands tightening on his shoulders. "You know," she says thoughtfully. "You were really late, considering you're on leave." Blunt fingernails scratch lightly at the side of his neck, tracing down his collarbone, her other hand sliding around the back of his neck. "You could make up for that first."
"Oh thank God." She's already leaning into him, mouth warm and tasting of toothpaste and yes, coffee, licking slowly over his bottom lip when he reaches for the edge of the shirt, pushing it up over slim hips, the dip of her waist, the hard, flat stomach that possibly used to invade his dreams in humiliating ways. She reaches down with one hand, pulling the shirt over her head and tossing it somewhere behind him and pulling him with her until she's flat against the wall and one long leg is wrapped around his waist.
She's all angles and sharp corners, silky skin over hard bone and muscle, warm everywhere he touches. She gasps when he gets her braced against the wall, sliding his hands over her ass, teasing her with his cock against her clit while he licks slow patterns over her collar, reaching up to cup one breast, teasing the nipple to make her groan, sucking to hear her breath catch.
He married her, and Jesus, it shouldn't still be hot, but honestly, it really is. "Joan," he mumbles against her shoulder, her other leg circling his waist so he takes her weigh. With a twist of hips and a shudder, he's inside her, hot and wet and almost painfully tight. "Jesus," he whispers, mouthing the column of her throat as she tilts her head back against the wall, breathing raggedly.
Looking up at her, flushed and panting, calves wrapped around him, using the wall to slide up, push herself back down hard enough to make him grit his teeth, Rodney can't remember what life was like before he met her.
Thirty-eight years, he thinks, cupping her cheek, drawing her into a kiss that steals his breath and reminds him all at once; a lifetime of women he'd dated and fucked and forgot, a lifetime of building fantasies, and then he found her in chair in Antarctica, in an abandoned city a million light-years from the place he'd been born. If he'd known, if he'd even guessed, he'd have waited for her. He would have waited forever.
"Rodney," she murmurs, voice a husky drawl, the way she turns his name into something precious, a secret, murmured against his lips, his cheek, tensing around him; reaching unsteadily between them, he rubs a thumb roughly over her clit, feeling her shudder, gasping against the side of his neck.
--they'll go to Earth, visit the house he grew up in--
"Please," she whispers, and he pushes her against the wall, pulling her thigh higher, changing the angle, licking his thumb before he rubs it in tight circles over the sensitive skin, God, close, she's close….
--stay with his sister, so she can see Jeannie and her family. Then they'll fly to California and he'll ask her--
"Fuck, yes," she hisses, teeth grazing his shoulder. "Keep doing that. Don't you dare stop."
--to take him to meet her mother. He'll look at the grave of Catherine Sheppard and breathe his silent gratitude for the woman she'd raised. Then he'll hold Joan's hand and tell her--
"Rodney," she breathes, going still and shocked, hazel eyes incandescent, flushed and sweating, arms tight around his neck. Her body goes liquid and pliant in his arms, and he's done, finished, thrusting into her, feeling her convulsing around him when he comes, black spots behind his eyes.
--that he'd follow her anywhere, everywhere: wherever she wants to go. That he can't imagine life without her.
When he's able to breathe again, they're both on the floor, Rodney's forehead resting on her sweaty shoulder. Nuzzling the smooth skin, he pulls back, cupping the back of her neck, short hair damp and silky against her fingers. She lifts her head to grin, then lets it drop back down, mouthing his shoulder before sighing contentedly.
He doesn't want to move, not ever.
Eventually, though, she pries herself up, sliding off his softened cock with a little groan, looking at the t-shirt briefly before shrugging, crawling into bed, sprawling loose and relaxed--happy, he thinks, as he stands up, throat closing.
She's a pilot that flies ships older than their species; an explorer that discovers strange new worlds; an officer that wears a gun and commands a city, and the woman who wears a ring and made a promise to him that will last the length of their lives.
"Carson's an idiot," he breathes. Joan lifts her head, frowning. "Never mind. Move over. I had a long morning. I almost died, by the way. In case you didn't notice."
She shifts over obligingly; even with her eyes closed, he knows she's rolling them. "Running at five," she says, yawning. "Does that to you."
She sleepily drapes herself across his chest, muttering unhappily until Rodney twists enough to get the covers up around them. Rodney pulls her closer, rubbing slow circles between her shoulder blades to make her sigh happily. "Don't want to fall behind," he whispers into her hair.
"Hmph," she murmurs, mouthing a sleepy kiss on his shoulder. "I'd wait for you."
Rodney closes his eyes, breathing her in. "S'okay. I think I can keep up."