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Still breathing

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John was dead. Rodney held his dead body on his hands, as if somehow he could squeeze life back into him. However, there was nothing he could do to change what had happened. John was dead, and it was his fault. He was the one with the stupid plan that left them with no oxygen, he was the one to kill John, just as surely as he had suffocated him with his bare hands. And now Rodney couldn't breathe, and he would suffocate too. He would die along with John, both of them dead because of his incompetence. It was all his fault, his failed plan, his…

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Rodney woke up with a silent yelp, swallowing the air in large breaths, as if he might suffocate if he didn't get as much air as possible right that second. A nightmare, it was just a nightmare. Fueled by a very real experience, but still nothing more than a bad dream. Just a bad dream, he could deal with bad dreams.

He turned his head to the side. John was there, sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and sinking rhythmically. For a moment, Rodney had no idea what John was doing in his bed, then he remembered it was the other way around. He was the one in John's room, sleeping in John's bed. Slowly, things started to get back to him. How they almost died, how John did die, and if Rodney hadn't used a last minute desperate tactic to get them rescued, he would have remained dead, instead of being resuscitated by the rescue team. He remembered the kiss, and the confession, and everything that came after.

They were safe now, or as safe as anyone could ever be in Atlantis. No significant threats, so recent injuries, other than the ones sustained during that near death experience.

Still, when John was so quiet, it was hard not to think about him lying dead on Rodney's arms, his body still warm, but making no sound, and his chest still, no breathing, no heartbeat. Once Rodney had that image in his head, it was impossible to get rid of it. Of all the horrible things that happened in his life, almost losing John like that was on the top of his list. In fact, most of that list involved almost losing John. That was the problem with loving a hero, John had a tendency to almost dying far too often for Rodney's taste.

John was still alive, Rodney could see that, but somehow it didn't quite register as truth. He placed a hand on John's naked chest, feeling it raise under his touch, an undeniable proof of life. That helped ease his own breath, still panicked after that nightmare. John was fine, and he was there with him. There was nothing to worry about. Rodney kept repeating that to himself, over and over, like a mantra. Perhaps if he repeated that enough times, he would believe it.

Finally, he decided to lay his head on top of John's chest. John's heartbeat was clear there, strong and clear, despite being peaceful in the rhythm of sleep. From there, Rodney could both hear John’s heartbeat and feel his breath, both by the raising of his chest and the exhale that brushed the top of Rodney's head. Part of him wanted to wake John up, to make sure that this was all real, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. John was perhaps the only person who slept less than Rodney did, and he wouldn't interrupt his sleep over some anxieties, no matter how well founded they were.

The simple fact that John hadn't woke yet despite the noise that Rodney was making showed how tired he was, so Rodney wasn't willing to deny him his rest by asking for comfort. Rodney would find his own peace.

Rodney kept his head on John's chest, focused just on his breathing, trying to get the past away from his mind, trying to make the trauma go away, trying to remind himself that John was still alive, that both of them were still alive, and that everything was fine. Or as fine as things could be in Atlantis, where danger was just around the corner at every moment.

John sifted slightly, opening his eyes slowly and looking at Rodney.

"Rodney?" he asked in a soft, sleepy voice.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Rodney said, mostly embarrassed at himself, hoping he wouldn't have to explain himself.

"You didn't, it's fine," John said, leaving the door open for Rodney to explain, if he wanted.

He didn't, so he let them fall into silence. Until the guilt was too much to bear. For someone who didn't speak anything about his own problems, John really knew how to get Rodney to talk things out even when he didn't want to do it.

"I was just checking," he paused, John let him continue, "if you were breathing."

John didn't say anything to that. There was nothing he could say to make Rodney feel better, so Rodney was glad he didn't try. Instead, John placed his arm around Rodney's back, drawing soothing circles. It wasn't much, but it was what he could offer to comfort him. Nothing could make that trauma go away, not really, but at least they were both alive, they were both safe, and they were both together. And for that night, it was enough.