John passed a hand over his damp forehead and turned, squinting through his aviator glasses at the villagers cheerfully moving between the fields and the wagons loaded down with grain under the violet pennants unfurled throughout the town. He cleared his throat but couldn’t quite clear the raspy catch in it. He’d been fine that morning but by now, they’d been there for nine hours and it felt like he was coming down with something.
“Done,” Rodney gasped, throwing two armfuls of grain onto the wagon beside John. His face was dark with color and his typical annoyance at menial labor.
John would’ve appreciated Rodney’s flush more if it wasn’t attached to the midday heat which, in turn, made the hoarseness of his throat more grating. He thought this was supposed to be an autumn festival. What was it, eighty degrees?
Rodney straightened up, eyes trailing up and down John’s frame with an absent, troubled look. “Thanks for the help, by the way.”
John quirked a humorless smile at the scientist. “No problem. I like helping.”
Rodney nodded, propping his hands on his hips. “I think everyone agrees that you improve the look of the place, standing over here.” He furrowed his brows. “Are you okay?” he asked.
John crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Rodney immediately answered.
John narrowed his eyes at Rodney. “Hey, thanks,” he retorted and stopped short, winding himself on the last word. His lungs clenched and forced a cough out of him. The cough rattled through him until John was doubled over, hacking with his hands on his knees. “Damn it.”
Rodney laid a hand on his shoulder, bending down to peering at him as closely as he dared without undue risk of germ contamination. “Are you okay?” he asked again.
John sighed, wheezing and leaning back against the wagon. His face was flooded with color. “I’m okay,” he insisted. He didn’t feel it. His face was on fire and the twinge of his joints had intensified over the last few hours to a low grade ache. He’d been through worse, but it felt a hell of a lot like the flu. “I think I caught something.”
Rodney’s hand was tight on his bicep, holding onto him like John was going to topple over or something, and as Ronon and Teyla walked up, it looked bad enough for them to look concerned. “John, Rodney,” Teyla said, laying her bundle of grain out on the wagon and walking over. “Is everything all right?” Ronon strode over and stopped behind her, his hazel eyes flickering over John’s flushed face.
“I’m fine,” John said, removing Rodney’s hand from his arm. “If somebody’ll tell that to Rodney.”
Rodney stepped back, his features pinched with concern. “Oh please, Lieutenant Colonel It’s-Only-A-Flesh-Wound. Feel his head,” he demanded.
Teyla stepped forward, smiling humoringly at them as she pressed a thin, cool hand to John’s forehead. John sighed, rolling his eyes and wishing his team would back off so he could suffer alone. Teyla’s forehead creased and she flipped her hand over, feeling his brow with the back of her hand. “John, I believe you are running a fever.”
John swiped her hand off his forehead but as soon as Teyla’s hand was off his forehead, Rodney’s was in its place, the scientist shouldering in front of her. “Damn it, guys!” John snapped. “This isn’t a petting zoo.”
“You’re burning up!” Rodney exclaimed.
It certainly explained things. Like why his bones felt brittle and aching or while his head felt lolling and light. “I’m fine. Can we just finish this up?” he asked. They’d promised to help out at the festival as a sign of good will after Teyla had handled the trade negotiations earlier. The grain harvesting was like the last leg of a goodwill tour and if it was finally over, they were close to going home.
“We should go back,” Ronon said. “Let Keller take a look at you.”
John pursed his lips, wanting to retort that maybe Ronon just wanted an excuse to take a look at Keller, but suddenly his head was feeling lighter than usual and his body heavier, his vision darkening around his periphery. “Look, let’s just…” he huffed out a breath and clumsily touched his tac vest, wanting to shirk off what felt like a ton. His right knee buckled and he fell into solid weight, his team’s surprised exclamations following him into fitful darkness.
John groaned, Rodney’s shrill voice echoing in his aching head, and twisted, finding himself laid out. What was this? He could smell straw, which meant that he was still in the village because of all the scents in Atlantis, straw ranked dead last. To get specific, the scent of straw meant that he was on a straw bed. “What the hell?” he asked groggily, opening his eyes.
“—patently ridiculous!” Rodney thundered into his walkie-talkie.
John struggled up and found Ronon’s hand square on the center of his chest, pushing him back down. He furled his eyebrows and glared. The dim light of a candle was piercing, causing a sharp pain right behind his left eye.
“Puke or piss?” Ronon rumbled.
“Wanna get up,” John corrected him.
“Sorry,” Ronon said. “I’m supposed to keep you down.”
John continued glowering at him until his attention was broken by the scientist at the foot of his bed. “Is he talking to—?”
Rodney released the talk button with sharp clack and turned to John and Ronon. “They’re sending Keller and Marie in an hour,” Rodney said shortly, clipping his walkie-talkie back into his tac vest. He checked his watch. “Which makes it – oh great! What time is it?” he demanded. “It’s been, like, five hours!”
“I’m fine now,” John said strictly, trying and failing to dissuade Ronon from enforcing the bed-rest policy, “so why don’t we start walking back to the gate?” As he sat up, the blanket inched down around his chest and John shuddered at the cold air in the room, gooseflesh chasing over his bare forearms.
Rodney shook his head. “You may be fine, but Woolsey’s not taking any chances. After the Pegasus summer flu hit us last time, he’s not taking any risks in bringing unknown bugs into the city.”
“Meaning what?” John asked. “We’re under quarantine?”
“Not us,” Ronon said, sitting down in the chair beside the bed. “We think we’re immune.”
John leveled a look of annoyance at the both of them. “Why do you think that?” he asked. “Seems like you’re jumping the gun on that one.” He twitched the blanket up around his shoulders and alternated from freezing to burning up.
He was feeling crappy enough that he didn’t want to argue but too crappy not to. He leaned over as a fit of coughing overtook him, tightening his aching ribs like a vise. Rodney hurried over, putting his hands on John’s shoulder and arm and if Ronon and Teyla weren’t aware that they’d gotten together a half a year earlier, John would’ve felt on display because of the tenderness in Rodney’s touch. As it was, it was still kind of awkward. John had never been a touchy-feely kind of guy.
The door opened and John didn’t bother looking up, his face buried in the shadow afforded by Rodney’s closeness. “He’s awake?” Teyla’s voice came from the foot of the bed, slightly breathless. They looked over and as soon as Rodney moved, the light pierced John’s eyes again.
At the other side of the room, Teyla was putting down a basin and towels. “I explained to the innkeeper our situation and he says that he’ll give us the room for the night in thanks for our help at the festival today.” She pushed stray strands of her hair off of her face and looked to Ronon. “I believe that the mayor may have something to do with that in light of our recent trade negotiations.” She smiled.
John collapsed back into the pillows ramped up at the head of the bed and his head spun with the motion. He groaned. “Jesus, I hate being sick.”
Rodney’s hand descended, sweetly cool and soft against John’s burning forehead. “Why don’t you try to sleep until Keller and Marie get here?” he asked.
John grunted a thick reply more suited to Ronon and Ronon chuckled in appreciation of it. Usually, John had a hard time sleeping when he was sick – he hated being confined to bed – but now he slipped into a restless sleep as tenacious as it was uncomfortable. Every time he woke up, he started into the warmth of Rodney’s limbs and soft touches or Teyla’s warm, damp cloth or the secure pressure of Ronon pushing him back down to sleep. He wasn’t sure if he slept even as he was sure he had nightmares – pained, worried feelings more than actual visions. Fear that Rodney or Ronon or Teyla were hurt. Fear that they were barred from Atlantis for good.
He woke to a sound and cracked his aching eyes open to find Keller, Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon at the foot of his bed. For a second and a half, his aching head was the only real point of connection to his pained body, but then the pieces fell back together and John was in full possession of every part of his physiognomy that hurt and panged. He pushed himself up onto his elbow with a groan and drew the gaze of everyone in the room.
Keller came forward with a smile. “I see that you’re awake, Colonel.”
“I wasn’t asleep,” John corrected half-heartedly.
Keller chuckled. “I think the team here would disagree. Why don’t we start with a little examination?”
John caught Rodney’s eyes over Keller’s shoulder and he shrugged. He didn’t want to but the sooner they got this over with, the sooner they could go home.
“So the good news is that you won’t drop dead,” Keller announced with a smile.
John narrowed his eyes at her and thought that between Keller and Carson, they could really bring the roof down. SGC really had to stop recruiting comedians. “So I can go back to Atlantis?” he asked and coughed hard into his hand, unsettling the blankets. He shivered in the cold and pulled them back securely around his shoulders.
“I’m going to discuss it with Mr. Woolsey, but it looks like you’ll be home by tomorrow.”
“Why tomorrow?” John asked grouchily. “I feel fine.”
Keller smiled. “Well, you may feel fine, Colonel, but your body’s still fighting a bug and it’ll be a few days before it passes. You’re most likely to spread viruses when you’re running a fever – which you are. Mr. Woolsey doesn’t want another bout of the Pegasus flu, so we’re keeping you under quarantine until this has worked itself out of your system. I’ve just certified that it’s not life-threatening and that I’m approving your move into quarantine on Atlantis until you no longer show symptoms of the virus.”
John clenched his jaw. It was more bureaucratic than things had been under Elizabeth’s watch, but after everything they’d experienced, John knew that precautions never hurt anything. He didn’t want to be the Typhoid Mary of the stargate project. He swallowed and tried to clear the knot from his throat. It hurt.
“Well, I’m just going to go tell Mr. Woolsey exactly what I told you.”
He nodded when Keller patted him on the leg and stood up. As soon as she opened the door, John could see his team assembled in the hallway outside of it – Rodney dropped his tablet to his side when he saw John through the open doorway. John’s eyes prickled with the annoying and characteristic sentimentalism that always seemed to get him when he was laid up and cranky. He dropped his eyes to the rough blanket spread over his legs and barely listened as Keller went out and downstairs, followed by Marie and Teyla to go deliver the news.
A moment later, the side of the bed bowed under Rodney’s weight and John swallowed. “Feeling any better?” Rodney asked meekly.
John glanced over and saw that Ronon had left with the others, probably knowing how John was feeling right then. Not for the first time, John was grateful the big guy was more about action than words. John wrapped his fingers around Rodney’s, inching closer. “Sorry for bitching you out earlier,” he muttered.
Rodney laughed, the sound unexpected and pleasant. “Please. John, I think I’ve been worse when we were running low on coffee.”
It teased a smile out of John and John coughed at the end of it. He burrowed down into the blankets, shivering. “Feel like shit,” he mumbled.
Rodney’s smile was sweet and crooked. “I think you communicated that.” John furrowed his brows in confusion and Rodney shrugged a shoulder in answer. “You were moaning in your sleep.”
John flashed hot and red all over. “Tell me I didn’t say anything.”
Rodney’s grin softened and he leaned back into the headboard, his body blocking out the worst part of the light as he fitted their sides together. John slipped closer into the heat coming off of his body. “Nothing bad. It was… I don’t want to say ‘sweet—’”
John swatted him, resting his face into the shelter of Rodney’s shoulder. “If you say ‘sweet,’ you’re going to be in trouble.” His voice was hoarse and he was still hurting, but it was better being close to Rodney. He felt a throb of gratitude a mile wide and deep for Rodney and for Teyla and Ronon for knowing what he needed when he was down and out. They were the first and only people who could really do that for him.
Rodney’s lips pressed lightly to John’s temple and John started, looking up at him with surprise. John would’ve kissed him if he wasn’t probably contagious and his mouth wasn’t hot and sour and his throat shredded. As was, he let his head fall against Rodney’s shoulder, the hairs on his head stirred by Rodney’s breath. His bones were hurting and his ribs felt like they were tight-laced, but with his face pressed to Rodney’s shoulder, the world was pure, cool shade and wonderful body heat. He figured he’d stay that way until the others came back. Maybe even after.
“So I guess you’re going to take care of me,” John surmised. His voice was thick and nasal with his stuffy nose.
“I think it’s part of the deal.” Rodney’s voice floated by John’s ear. His fingers were cool and soft on the nape of John’s neck.
“What deal?” John asked, relaxing into his touch and the comfort of Rodney’s solid frame.
“I take care of you and you take care of me. And right now, it’s my turn.”
John swallowed against a swell of emotion and love. Damn fevers. He pressed his face firmly into Rodney’s neck, breathing shakily. “Thanks, buddy.”
Rodney’s fingertips kissed John’s cheeks and forehead and mouth. “Thank you.”
John knotted his fingers into the fabric of Rodney’s t-shirt and pressed close. There were worse ways he could’ve been quarantined. Right now, he had everything he needed and wanted by his side. Being sick wasn’t that bad if that’s what being sick meant.