Actions

Work Header

Betrayal

Chapter Text

Present

“I’m getting tired of this, McKay.”

Rodney snorted and let his head drop back against the chair he was tied to. Out of the two of them, he doubted John was the one tired of this.

“Not falling asleep on me, are you?”

Rodney didn’t bother to answer. He didn’t bother opening his eyes either, which meant that the sudden blow to the face took him by complete surprise.

The punch had been hard enough to knock him sideway and he crashed to the brig’s floor, the sides of the chair painfully digging into his arm.

He clenched his teeth, determined not to scream or whimper. He’d done enough of both in the past week.

His face throbbed from the hit and he wished he could lower his burning cheek and jaw to the cold floor beneath him, but the chair kept him slumped just above the ground.

Pain radiated up his arm and he bit his lip to keep quiet.

At least John hadn’t knocked him onto his back this time. His fingers had been crushed beneath the chair and John had instructed Sergeant Meyers and Corporal Adams to leave him like that for a few hours.

He didn’t know if they were broken, but they were black and blue and horribly swollen. Moving them the slightest bit was enough to make him scream, a fact that John had been pleased to discover the day before when Lorne had forced his damaged hands flat on a table they’d brought in and John had asked him the same damn questions over and over again, grinding the heel of his hand onto Rodney’s fingers every time he refused to answer.

He’d screamed himself hoarse, tears streaming down his face and then either passed out or done a good enough impression of it for them to finally leave him alone, tied to the chair in the middle of the empty brig. At some point in the night, Meyers had thrown a bucket of water onto him. He’d managed to lick some drops off the corners of his lips and his chin and had spent most of the night tilting his head in various ways to make more drops slide into his mouth. It kept him entertained and actually made him forget about his throbbing fingers and the fact that he was tired, cold and in pain.

At least he wasn’t hungry or really thirsty. They brought him powerbars and water every few hours and forced Keller to hook him up to an IV every other day to keep his body functional.

“Wouldn’t want our best brain around here going into a hyperglycemic coma, now would we?” John had asked, twisting his face into an expression of sarcastic sympathy.

Rodney had glared at him, knowing they weren’t doing this for his benefit. They wanted to keep most of him as healthy as possible so they could damage other parts of him to try to force him to give them what they wanted. John wasn’t dumb. Rodney had always known that, he’d just never known that it would ever be used against him.

“You know, it really doesn’t look that comfortable down there, McKay.”

Rodney glared at the boots standing inches from his nose and didn’t bother to reply.

“I’ll ask you one more time, McKay. After that, I have a lot of things to do today so I might not be back.” The boots turned and walked away from him as John sauntered across the floor, as casual as if they were discussing whether they had time to watch a movie together that night.

“Which probably means that we’ll forget to pick you up and you can spend the night on the floor. I’m no doctor, but that arm of yours might not be in too good shape tomorrow. And you brains need your hands to work, don’t you?”

The boots stopped and turned and Rodney watched as they came to a halt before his nose again. He heard a rustle of fabric and John crouched down.

“Tell me how to fix the city, McKay. Tell me the codes to unlock her.”

Rodney didn’t say anything. After a few seconds of silence, he closed his eyes, leaving no doubt as to what his answer was.

He was shaking like a leaf, pain and cold raking through his body and his arm had already gone blissfully numb, but his other hand throbbed. He knew he would be spending the entire night lying on the floor like this, but he knew it was better than the alternative.

He heard John sigh, sounding frustrated. He heard him get back up and pause. Rodney frowned, not knowing why he was still standing there.

Seconds later, pain exploded in his abdomen and his eyes flew open as the wind was knocked out of him and the chair loudly scraped across the cement floor.

He saw a fast blur as John brought his leg back and had just enough time to squeeze his eyes shut and tighten his throbbing stomach muscles as best as he could before the next kick.

Breath hissed out of the corners of his mouth and tears leaked out of his eyes as the chair skid back a few more inches. His arm was being scraped raw and he could feel some wetness beneath it. He knew there would probably be blood streaked across the floor from where he’d started from.

Without a word, John turned and left the cell, the door hissing shut behind him.

Rodney concentrated on sucking in some painful breaths and blinking back his tears. He quickly took stock of the situation. He was in pain, he might be bleeding internally from those kicks, his face was swelling, his fingers were probably broken and his arm was a mess.

But he hadn’t talked.

And when this nightmare was over and he got his John back, he knew John would be proud of him for that.

*          *          *

6 days ago

K’Tesh watched with satisfaction as another one of the Lantean soldiers was forced into the chair and had his head restrained. The man was glaring and fought viciously until his arms and legs were secured.

Then one of his own men initiated the beam and the Lantean went rigid, eyes staring at nothing.

While the Lantean was being hypnotized, one of his scientists stepped up to him, frowning.

“Sir, do you know how many more Lanteans there are?”

“Why?”

“We can only store a certain number of signatures in the device. We can’t store all of them.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that if we convert the rest of the Lantean soldiers who are here, we won’t be able to control any of the other Lanteans in the city.”

K’Tesh smiled. “Don’t worry about that. We need enough of the soldiers under our control to take the city. The other citizens are mostly defenseless scientists, and the few soldiers who did remain can easily be eliminated by the ones who are under our control.”

“But sir, if they do manage to do something to the city—”

“Then we will encourage our new militia to convince their former comrades that cooperating is the wisest choice.”

“Yes, sir.”

At that moment, the beam stopped and the man standing beside the Lantean gave him a nod. K’Tesh stepped up to him and grasped the man’s chin and made him look at him.

“State your name.”

“Corporal Benny Dayton.”

“I am K’Tesh. Repeat my name.”

“K’Tesh.”

“Good. You will now serve me. Tell me who you will serve.”

“I will now serve you.”

K’Tesh smiled.

“I want Atlantis. I want the city. And you will help me get it.”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“You want Atlantis. You want the city. And I’ll help you get it.”

“Very good. What a fast learner you are, Corporal Dayton. Now, you will go and bring me the rest of your militia so they can help you with your task. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

*          *          *

8 days ago

The military had packed up what seemed like half the city, and three quarters of their guardian grunts were about to leave. They would be spending four days doing some survival exercises and bonding over tales of sport team triumphs and bedpost notches while singing loud drinking songs courtesy of the Marine Corps and the Air Force.

John had been so busy making sure they had all the ammo, wraith stunners, bed rolls, tents, MREs and C4 that he nearly forgot to pack his toothbrush.

Rodney had barely stirred when the alarm had rung at 0430 and John had swung himself out of bed, way too cheerful and excited about the prospect of spending four days playing war games in the mud.

He listened to John quietly flushing the toilet and turning on the tap before slipping his uniform on and lacing up his boots and the quiet metal click of checking his M9.

“—oth—ush,” Rodney muttered. John paused. “What?”

Rodney groaned and sat up, his eyes barely open. “Toothbrush,” he said, forcing his tired lips and tongue to form the word properly.

“Shit.” John spun around and hurried into the bathroom to hopefully grab the toothbrush. When he came back out, Rodney squinted through the darkness until he saw John holding it up sheepishly.

Giving a satisfied grunt, Rodney let himself fall back into his pillow. Hearing steps beside the bed, he felt the mattress dipping and suddenly found himself pressed flat by an annoyingly cheerful soldier, who had plastered himself over Rodney.

Rodney groaned. “Gerroff.”

He felt the soft brush of John’s nose against his neck and a light kiss was pressed into his collarbone.

Rodney sighed. “You’re gonna be late, flyboy,” he muttered.

He felt his pillow dipping low as John planted his arms of both sides of Rodney’s head and gentle fingers ran through his hair.

“Gonna miss me?”

Rodney opened his eyes and stared at John, whose nose was practically brushing his own, he was so close.

“No.”

John glared and Rodney mock glared back. “You’re waking me up two hours after I fell into bed. That’s not the way to make me feel anything but relief about you leaving me in peace for four days.”

John nipped his chin and growled at him and Rodney chuckled. Pulling his arms out from under the blankets, he wrapped them around John’s waist and pulled him close, relishing the solid, reassuring weight pressing him into the mattress.

It never ceased to amaze him that he had never been able to tolerate sharing a bed with someone before, but he felt comfortable and even happy to wake up with John plastered all over him or to have him drape his lanky self over him while he was trying to sleep.

They stared at each other until Rodney glanced at the numbers blinking on the clock beside the bed.

“You have to go, flyboy.”

“Yup.”

“God knows what messes the marines will get themselves into if left to fend for themselves.”

John snorted and kissed Rodney’s forehead and nose.

“Don’t blow up our city while I’m gone, okay?”

“As if Sam would let me.”

“I’m not saying it would be intentional.”

“Hey! I don’t make those kinds of mistakes.”

“Whatever you say, McKay.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in the gateroom already? Go and play Soldier and Wraith or whatever it’s called.”

“I left Radek feeding instructions and sleeping instructions.”

“I really don’t think Radek needs help feeding himself and sleeping properly.”

“Nope, he really doesn’t.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“So am I. Doesn’t stop you from nagging.”

“Oh, yes, Mister I-Leave-My-Toothbrush-Behind.”

“Hey, at least I packed my guns and food.”

“The staples of a soldier’s life, huh?”

John smiled, but there was a spark of worry in his eyes. “Seriously, don’t give him crap if he comes and nags, okay?”

“It’s that important to you, huh?”

“Yeah, it is. I can’t focus one hundred percent on playing the part of a realistic-yet-more-fashionably-dressed Wraith and remember the verses of Lorne’s favourite drinking song if I’m worried about whether you’re sleeping and eating.”

Rodney sighed. “Fine. I’ll take care of myself, if you promise to take care of yourself. No getting into pissing contests with corporals half your age, okay? If they say they can jump across a ten meter wide gorge, you smile and say ‘Good for you’, not ‘Ten? Pssh, let’s see who can do twenty!’”

John snorted. “Okay, okay.”

“You’ll remember that you’re forty-one and you have the body of a forty-one year old. The body of a very hot forty-one year old, but a forty-one year old nonetheless.”

“As long as you remember the same. All-nighters didn’t faze you in grad school, but you aren’t twenty anymore either.”

“Fine. Just be safe and come home in one piece.”

John chuckled. “We’re going out for training at the alpha site, Rodney. We’re not going into actual combat.”

“Still. Don’t take stupid risks and don’t take your war games too far, okay? You’ve got a lot of people who need you to come home and one person who really needs you to come home.”

John smiled that shy little smile that he always got when Rodney said things like that. Almost like he couldn’t believe that anybody would really say those things to him and mean it.

It was why Rodney made sure he said those things as often as possible and as sincerely as possible. Maybe one day, that shy smile would turn into an arrogant smirk and Rodney secretly looked forward to that day.

John leaned down and kissed his chin before Rodney ducked his head and caught his lips with his own. The kisses were gentle and soft, so unlike the kisses of previous relationships. Things had always fallen apart before they entered that stage where kissing wasn’t just a sign of lust and passion but a sign of comfort, familiarity and genuine caring.

John groaned and pressed his forehead to Rodney’s. “I wish you’d come.”

“I really don’t think we’d get much done if we had a tent all to ourselves in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention that Corporal Adams would spend the whole time smirking and giving me eyebrow wiggles. The man’s maturity is awe-inspiring.”

“That man is a twenty two year old kid, Rodney. And you know he’s just doing it because he knows it bugs you and makes you blush.”

“The point is that me coming would make it entirely unproductive, not to mention that I went to geek bootcamp a month ago and may I remind you, I didn’t only pass with flying colors, but I led half the exercises due to Lorne having a cold and sneezing and wheezing his way through every command. I’ve done my part, thank you very much.”

“Have I mentioned I’m damn proud of you for that?”

“Yes, you did. But feel free to mention it anytime you want. You didn’t really believe me when I said that I pay attention to all that military stuff you yell and grouse about, did you?”

John kissed him again to shut him up and Rodney tightened his grip around John’s waist.

Finally, they separated, grinning at each other like loons.

“We’re behaving like sixteen year olds who have to be separated for a week of summer camp, you know.”

John looked slightly concerned, then shrugged. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell.”

“Deal. Wanna pinky swear it?”

John scowled at him and pushed himself off the bed. Rodney laughed. “Go have fun, soldier boy.”

“Oh, I will. And I won’t miss you at all.”

“I promise to cry on Radek’s shoulder twice an hour and sigh and wonder loudly if you’re missing me as much as I miss you.”

“Bye, McKay.”

“And I swear I’ll go to girls poker night and lament about the fact that I’m all alone and you’re so far, far away.”

“I hate you.”

“I’ll carry one of your socks around and smell it every hour and tell everybody I’m scared of forgetting what you smell like.”

John was already half way out the door and just stopped to throw him another glare. “You just enjoy having the bed to yourself because you’ll be sleeping on it all alone for the next month, McKay.”

Rodney laughed. “As if you’d stay away from me that long. I dare you to try. In fact, I double dare you.”

“You’re twelve.”

“Oh, so are you.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

Rodney saw a blur and suddenly, he had a Lieutenant Colonel sprawled across him again.

“Lorne is going to refuse to do your paperwork for you if you leave him to organize everybody in the gateroom.”

John made a dismissive noise. “I’m bringing his favourite beer along.”

Looking at the clock behind his head, Rodney saw that technically, John had five minutes to still get to the gateroom – which meant that they had two whole minutes before he had to be out the door.

Wrapping his arms around the solid weight lying on him, he buried his nose in John’s hair while he buried his face into Rodney’s neck.

Well, if John ran, he really only needed a minute and a half to make it to the gateroom.

Which meant they still had three minutes and twenty one seconds.

*          *          *

3 days ago

K’Tesh patiently waited until the device stopped and the beam being emitted was switched off.

He walked up to the man sitting in the chair, staring up at the conference room ceiling with wide, blank eyes.

“Your lack of progress is disappointing, Colonel. Why have you made such little progress?”

“McKay is being difficult.”

“I’m aware of that, but you reassured me that getting that code out of him would be an easy matter.”

The Colonel didn’t respond, only stared blankly up at the ceiling. He hadn’t asked the man a question so not getting a response wasn’t unusual.

K’Tesh pressed his lips together, still irritated. “You will try harder, Colonel, won’t you?”

“Yes, K’Tesh.”

“Do whatever you have to do to get that code. We need him to stay alive, but we don’t need the majority of those other people. Use that to your advantage.”

“Yes, K’Tesh.”

“Good. I expect better progress from now on.”

“Yes, K’Tesh.”

*          *          *

2 days ago

John was leaning against the railings looking over the gateroom as Meyers and Ronon dragged Rodney up behind him.

“He’s here, sir,” Meyers said as Ronon forced Rodney to stop, his gun pressed into the small of his back.

John half turned and gave them a nod. “Good. Bring him up here.”

Ronon dug the weapon deeper into his back and Rodney walked up beside John, wondering why the hell they had brought him out here.

“What do you want?” he asked wearily. He was exhausted. He’d been locked up in the large storage room with most of his other scientists for the past two days. Everything had been moved out of the room except for two long metal bars with small half circles of metal sticking out of them. Rodney, Radek, Lisa Simpson, Miko and most of his staff and the medical staff were forced into the room, told to sit down and their hands were handcuffed to the bars.

And that was how they stayed for two days. They were fed powerbars every few hours and given water. Whenever one of them had to go to the bathroom, they would tell Radner or whoever was on guard duty and they would be unclipped from the bar and taken to the corner to take care of business in a bucket.

The embarrassment of the task soon vanished after people realized how uncomfortable it was to sit with full bladders and bowels.

Besides, the soldiers didn’t humiliate them or hurt them in any way. It was obvious that they had been told to keep them alive, but controlled. Every person in that room could have gotten out of the room and made their lives a lot more difficult than they already had. So keeping them literally chained to the floor was done more out of practicality and caution than cruelty.

Which was why he was damn confused that John had ordered him to be brought to the gateroom.

He’d been taken into the conference room quite a few times already, John, Lorne, Teyla, Ronon, K’Tesh and the rest of his merry band of mind controlling thugs waiting for him. They’d asked him over and over again how to get control of the city back and what he had done to the city. They wanted to know why John couldn’t control the chair. They wanted to know how to get everything running again. They wanted to know why the ZPM was dark and refused to be plugged in, even if it was still half charged and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it.

Rodney just stared at the far wall, ignoring them all and refusing to answer. They wouldn’t kill him, he knew that. He was the only one in the city who could fully reverse the damage he’d done, and he knew John knew that. Sam could maybe figure out what he had done, and so could Radek, but without the codes, it would take them both quite a while. Besides, they knew Sam would be much harder to force into cooperation than him. But he was giving it his best shot.

John didn’t know which ones of the scientists had the pieces of the code but he knew that Rodney knew the whole thing. He probably thought it would be more efficient to focus on breaking Rodney than his whole staff.

He stared past John and focused on the gateroom, not wanting to look into that familiar face and see nothing but cold blankness.

“You know what I want, McKay. You know what K’Tesh wants.”

“You only want what K’Tesh wants because he’s controlling you.”

“I didn’t ask you a question, McKay. We’ve gone over this a dozen times. You only answer when you’re asked a question. Clear?”

“Go to hell.”

John sighed. “It’s a damn shame you’re being so stubborn, McKay. We told you we didn’t want any fuss or complications, just a nice, easy hand-over. K’Tesh is willing to let you all relocate to the alpha site, McKay. He’s willing to let you take whatever supplies you want with you. I don’t see why you’re being so difficult.”

“Then you’re a lot dumber than I ever gave you credit for.”

John’s gaze darkened slightly and he straightened up. “The point is that you obviously still think you hold all the cards around here. You think that keeping your mouth shut won’t have any consequences. I’m here to show you just how wrong you are.”

At some signal, the side door in the gateroom was opened and Radner and Teyla came in, dragging a hysterical Lisa Simpson between them.

She was gagged but her loud sobbing and muffled screams could still be heard. Tears streamed down her face and she twisted and fought Teyla and Radner’s grips. Her hands were tied behind her but she struggled so hard that Radner nearly lost his grip on her and Teyla finally pinned her to the ground on her back, her arms being crushed behind her.

Rodney saw Teyla leaning down and say something to her but Lisa glared up at her and yelled some muffled words back at her. Looking disappointed, Teyla placed a boot on Lisa’s throat and Radner pulled his gun out and kept it trained on her.

Rodney’s breath had caught in his throat the moment he had recognized Lisa. “What are you doing with her? You talk to me, not the others! That was our agreement. She doesn’t know all the codes, Sheppard! None of them do except for me and Sam. We’ve gone over this a hundred times.”

John nodded. “I’m not deaf, McKay. I know Simpson doesn’t have all the information we need. But you do.”

“The let her go back to the storage room with the others.”

“Oh, no, Dr. McKay. You see, I told you that we’d get that information out of you one way or another. We both know that physical torture is the less productive option, so we’re going to leave that off the table for now. But there are other ways of breaking somebody.”

Turning away from Rodney, John nodded at Chuck Campbell. “Dial a gate.”

Nodding, the Lieutenant started dialing. Rodney watched the bright blue lights flicker around the rim of the stargate. He watched the symbols which were being dialed, and it took him a while to put them together and to remember what planet it led to.

Or rather, what planet it didn’t lead to.

It was a space gate address.

Sick fear coursed through him. “No! John, no! You can’t do this!”

John watched as the backwash exploded out of the gate and settled into a smooth, rippling sheen of liquid. Then he nodded down at Teyla and Radner.

Teyla reached down and hauled Lisa’s shaking form to her feet. Radner grabbed one side of her and they struggled towards the gate, Lisa twisting and fighting their grasp.

They paused and looked up at John, waiting for his signal.

John turned and stared at Rodney. “Last chance, McKay. Give me the codes. All of them. Or Simpson gets to stroll through space.”

Rodney’s frightened gaze darted between John’s blank eyes and Lisa’s terrified eyes. He stared down at her, feeling utterly helpless.

He knew he couldn’t. He knew that. If he gave John those codes, he and the other scientists would be tossed out on some random planet and K’Tesh would fly the city off somewhere. There was no way they would get their city, or most of their soldiers back.

Rodney stared into Lisa’s eyes, willing her to understand.

They’d all been prepared for this scenario to play out.

They’d all discussed it in long, tense meetings in the conference room. Then John had come down to the labs and talked to those who seemed uneasy about the prospect of obeying ‘sacrifice the few to save the many’. Lisa had been one of those, and John had spent over an hour sitting with her and some others, patiently explaining why it was necessary and the consequences of not following through.

Rodney was certain Lisa had never in her worst nightmares imagined that John would be the one forcing them into such a situation, but it had happened, and now they had to deal with it.

Even if their military leader wasn’t himself, they would still obey the orders he had drilled into their heads.

Lisa gradually calmed down and her eyes lost some of that hysterical fear.

“I’m sorry,” Rodney mouthed down to her.

She nodded, some fear but mostly resignation filling her eyes.

John’s eyes twitched when he saw the exchange and he suddenly grabbed Rodney and pressed him against the railing, one hand tangled in his hair and forcing him to stare at Lisa.

“You gonna let her die, McKay? You know it’ll be your fault. She’s gonna suffocate and die a horrible, painful death all by herself in the darkness of space, and you could have prevented that. All you have to do is tell me those codes.”

Rodney didn’t say anything. He clenched his jaw and felt tears leaking out of his eyes. He numbly shook his head.

John’s grip painfully tightened in his hair and he pressed his body into Rodney’s, making the railing dig into his stomach.

“You’re going to spend the rest of your life hearing her screams, her pleas for mercy, her fear when we push her through into nothing.  Think you can live like that, McKay? Think you can live hearing those screams in your head every night? Huh?”

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, but then wrenched them open. He wasn’t going to be a coward and look away. Lisa was about to die following the orders John had drilled into their heads and the least Rodney could do was look her in the face.

Swallowing hard, he stared at Lisa, hoping that she could somehow feel the million things he wanted to say to her.

“I’m sorry.” “We’re proud of you, Lisa. All of us. John would be too if he weren’t crazy right now.” “We’ll miss you.” “I’ll write up your work for you and make sure it’s published when the program’s declassified.” “We won’t ever forget you. I promise.”

Then he turned his head the tiny bit he could manage with John’s tight grip in his hair.

“Go to hell.”

John growled. “Do it,” he snarled down to Teyla and Radner.

Rodney watched as they pulled Lisa closer to the shimmering wormhole. Her back was straight and she wasn’t fighting them anymore. They were Lanteans and they knew what had to be done, even if it was the last thing they would do. The least they could do was face it bravely when that time came.

“Last chance, McKay.”

He licked his dry lips. “Fuck you.”

He forced his eyes to stay open and he felt a twinge of pride course through him as Teyla stepped back and gave Lisa a strong push.

Without a sound, Lisa fell through the wormhole.

As soon as she disappeared from view, Rodney felt a lump clenching in his throat, but he refused to give in.

He would not cry, he would not collapse, and he certainly wouldn’t talk now.

Lisa had given her life for his silence, and he’d be damned if he let it be in vain.

He felt John releasing his hair and getting off him.

“Put him into the brig and tie him to a chair. From now on, every day that he doesn’t talk, we throw another one through.”

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

4 days ago

They hadn’t seen it coming. John and the others had been gone for the scheduled four days, checking in twice a day sounding happy but tired.

Then they’d dialed back in and come tromping back through the gate, covered in mud and sweat and dragging more dirt and muck in with them than the gateroom saw in a year.

Everybody knew how chaotic things got in the gateroom whenever a large group was arriving or leaving, so anybody not needed there was asked politely but firmly to stay away.

It was why none of them saw John striding into Sam’s office, smiling and chattering about being a bit on the dirty side – before pulling out a stunner and stunning her. None of them saw him ordering Meyers and Ronon to put her into a stasis pod.

It was why none of them saw the returning soldiers moving down corridors, looking for their colleagues who had stayed behind. None of them saw them greeting each other with grins and slaps on the back. None of them saw the newly returned soldier pulling out a stunner and shooting them two seconds later.

The first hint that something was wrong was noticed by Radek, who frowned and asked Rodney why one of the stasis pods was being activated.

“What? Stasis pod? Nobody’s running any tests on the pods.”

“I know that, Rodney. This is why I ask why it being turned on.”

Then a hysterical Doctor Biro burst into the labs, telling them that Corporal Adams and Corporal Dayton had come into the infirmary and promptly stunned Dr. Keller and the rest of her staff and dragged them off somewhere.

She had been on break and was just coming back to the infirmary when she saw her colleagues being brought out and had turned and run for it.

Rodney’s hand had automatically gone up to his earpiece to call John and alert him, when Radek slapped his hands away.

“No, Rodney! We not knowing how many soldiers affected! Maybe it all the soldiers who were at training. That means the Colonel as well.”

Rodney stared at Radek for a moment, before it clicked. Damn it, Radek was right.

Quickly, Rodney jumped into action, turning to face his chattering staff, all of whom were staring at each other, eyes wide with fear.

“Okay, everybody! Quit staring around like the bogey-man is waiting under a lab bench. We don’t know what’s going on, but it’s safe to say that some of the people who just came back have been compromised. We have no idea how many of them have been affected, so we’re working off the assumption that they all have been. We’re initiating a Code Orange.”

His staff stared at him for a long moment until he scowled. “Are you all deaf? Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! We have no idea how long it’ll take them to get down here. You, you and you, grab the stunners from the drawers and take up your defensive positions. You and you, get to the ZPM. Radek, initiate the program.”

Once they had all gotten started, everything flowed as nicely and quickly as it should. They had practiced this a million times, John standing in the control room with his stop watch and carefully timing them, making faces when they were two seconds slower than last week.

They all scattered, knowing their primary and back-up roles. Rodney started madly typing on his laptop, opening the program that would allow him to render the city inert except for the most basic functions such as scanners, life support, structural integrity and door mechanisms.

Radek yelled progress reports every few seconds, telling him where everybody was and how close they were to unplugging the ZPM.

Radek’s voice suddenly broke off. “They were just stunned, Rodney! Five lifesigns transported into the section.”

“Did they get the ZPM out?”

“Not yet.”

“Damn it! Who’s on back-up for ZPM removal?”

Without having to be told, the next team raced out of the room, clutching stunners in their hands.

While they waited, Rodney finished configuring the program. As soon as the ZPM was out, the naquadah generators would take over supplying power to the few systems he had left running. Every other function of the city would become inaccessible without the codes which Rodney would create in a few moments. The city couldn’t be flown, internal scanners would be down, any part of the city not currently powered up would remain dark and useless, and none of the consoles in the gateroom would be functional except for the DHD. Most importantly, the chair and the ZPM would refuse to cooperate.

He quickly created the sets of necessary codes and yelled for random people to come and memorize pieces of it.

Radek glanced over at him. “Rodney, are you sure you don’t want me to know the whole – ”

“Shut up and concentrate on helping them get that ZPM out. Did you switch radio frequencies?”

“Yes, Rodney. We decided on channel 73 before they left.”

“Good.”

“You never answered my question.”

“That’s because it was a stupid question. I’m head of science so it’s my responsibility. Hopefully they’ll leave you alone so you can fix the city once this is over.”

Radek gave Rodney a long look and then nodded. He knew that he and Sam could fix the snarl Rodney had tangled Atlantis’ systems into, even if they didn’t have the whole code.

“Dr. McKay, I’m detecting life signs rapidly approaching the labs.”

“Damn it! Radek!”

“They are going, Rodney! They are already there – yes! They took down the guards in the ZPM chamber.”

Rodney pulled his own stunner out of his desk and pointed it at the door with one hand while his other kept madly typing.

*          *          *

3 days later

He heard the steps striding into the brig and heard the quiet murmur of Meyers exchanging some quiet words with John.

He couldn’t move even if he wanted to so he kept his head leaning against the back of the chair, staring up at the ceiling.

He heard the hiss of the brig doors opening and John walking in.

“You look terrible, McKay.”

Rodney didn’t bother to reply.

“I sure hope Dr. Esposito enjoyed her space walk this morning. Another one to add to your conscience, huh?” John sighed. “Is it really worth it, McKay? You know I have nothing against your little geeks. I’m rather fond of some of them actually. But they’re going to keep dying if you don’t cooperate.”

The ceiling looked interesting from this angle. At first glance it just looked grey but sometimes, a flicker of blue danced across it, reflected from the forcefield shimmering near the top of the cell, dust particles bouncing off it.

He felt his chin being grabbed and his face was wrenched down until he was staring right at John.

“You’re being damn stubborn, McKay. Maybe it’s because you’re uncomfortable. Let’s make you more comfortable.”

Before Rodney could blink, he felt his arms being uncuffed and they hung limply by his sides.

John stared at him, that mock-concern in his eyes. “Better? I hope so. I wouldn’t want to damage you too badly. Especially that mouth of yours.”

Rodney felt one of John’s hands on his chin and his thumb gently stroked his lips, gliding over the deep cut in the bottom one. Rodney waited for him to press it harder – to possibly break the skin again – but he didn’t.

He just gave him a soft smile. “Damn, I miss that mouth of yours, McKay. You know what I thought when I first saw you? I thought, damn, that mouth is made for sucking cock. And what do you know? I was right. You love it, don’t you? Sucking cock? My cock? You on your knees, begging for me to push in more, choking you. Yeah, I know. You know what I discovered in high school? Geeks are great lays. They suck at everything else, but they’re great in bed. So eager, so happy to feel wanted and pretty. All I have to do is give a little smile and they’re putty in my hand.” John chuckled, a low, ugly sound.

“You were one of the easiest I ever had, McKay. Invite you over for movies and pizza, laugh at your lame jokes and nod my head and fake enthusiasm to the crap that comes out of your mouth constantly. You practically spread your legs the second I looked at you. You liked it, didn’t you? Feeling wanted? Thinking I really do give a damn?”

Rodney clenched his teeth together. It wasn’t true. John was just trying to find a new way to break him.

Rodney was just terrified that it would work. Keeping his mouth shut was solely dependent on him knowing that it was what John would want him to do.

But if Rodney stopped caring about what John wanted, it would all be over.

“And you really do try, don’t you? Making me a surfboard for my birthday. So eager to give me something I want, so happy to see me smile. You’ll do anything to think I really care, won’t you?”

John gave him that mocking smirk before letting out a disgusted snort. “You’re pathetic, McKay. You know nobody will ever want you except for your brain, ass and mouth. Most times I don’t really know why I kept bothering. All that damn smiling and pretending you’re funny and not an annoyance. But then I just say ‘I wanna fuck you, McKay’ or ‘Suck me, McKay’. And you do. Every time.”

Rodney tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “You’re full of shit, Sheppard.”

John gave a low laugh. “You think so?”

John suddenly tangled his hands in Rodney’s shirt and hauled him off the chair and put him on his feet. John stood behind him, pressing him to his body to keep him upright.

Rodney tried to ignore the familiar body pressing into him and stared through the bars.

One of John’s arms was wrapped around his waist and the other trailed up his chest to his chin and lightly stroked the week old stubble covering it.

“You think I don’t know how to play you, McKay? You think this dumb grunt just fumbles his way through the day, don’t you?”

He felt John’s lips right by his ear and felt his head being tilted, exposing his neck to John. Those lips he knew so well pressed a soft kiss to his neck.

“You remember what I said to you that first night? Huh? You didn’t wanna spread them and I was getting damn impatient. I was going to move onto Zelenka or Esposito if you wouldn’t start putting out, but I’d heard the stories about Russia. You rode those Siberian bitches hard, didn’t you? So I thought a little extra effort would make it worthwhile.”

Another kiss. “You remember what I said? ‘Trust me, McKay.’ And I blinked at you with that wide eyed look that all you geeks swoon over. And you practically fell flat on your face trying to get your pants off.”

John’s hand came up and stroked along his lips before covering his mouth.

“Nothing to say, huh? Well, I’ll leave you to your reminiscing, then. Let you start seeing things from a different perspective.”

Twisting his arms, John shoved Rodney away from. Having either been sitting, kneeling or carried everywhere for days had left his leg muscles incapable of supporting himself.

Rodney hit the floor hard and remained where he was. He heard John walking out of the cell and the door hissed shut behind him.

He remained on his side, glad he had fallen facing away from Meyers. He curled up in a little ball and let himself take a few shaky breaths.

He brought his hands up to his mouth as if to stifle sobs that would start at any moment….

….and gently spat out the tiny ear piece bud John had shoved into his mouth.

*          *          *

He rolled the tiny bud between his fingers, lost in thought. For a moment, he had thought that this was a trick and John would come back, search him, find the ear piece and give him hell for having it.

But some other things didn’t make sense.

What John had said about their first night together wasn’t true.

Not only had John never called Rodney ‘McKay’ when they were alone together, but it had been John, not Rodney, who had been the more nervous of the two. It had been Rodney who’d whispered ‘Trust me, John’, into John’s ear. And nobody had done any leg spreading that night. They’d decided to take it slow and settled for mutual handjobs and making out like teenagers.

But there had to be a reason why John made up such elaborate rubbish. That had to be a clue. His way of telling Rodney that something was up. It was a damn sneaky and foolproof way of doing it, since nobody knew what had happened that night except for the two of them.

Slowly, Rodney went backwards in the conversation. He dismissed the first part of it, since that had been John’s way of setting the stage. But there was another part that gave him pause.

“You think I don’t know how to play you, McKay? You think this dumb grunt just fumbles his way through the day, don’t you?”

“Nothing to say, huh? Well, I’ll leave you to your reminiscing, then. Let you start seeing things from a different perspective.”

Both sentences could be taken either way and wouldn’t tip off anybody listening in on their conversation. But suddenly, both those sentences had new meaning.

John had somehow broken free of K’Tesh’s mind control and was in control of himself again. And he also had a plan – one which he needed Rodney for.

*          *          *

“—odney? Damn it, Rodney! Are you there yet?”

Rodney carefully kept the grin off his face as he heard John’s voice through the ear piece as soon as he had crammed it into his ear. It would probably require surgery to get back out, but he was positive that nobody could see it.

He tapped it and coughed the word ‘John’ into the floor.

“Rodney? Oh, god, I’m—I’m—” John sounded more anxious than Rodney had ever heard him. It was damn disconcerting to hear that usually strong, confident voice wracked with guilt and regret.

Of course John would be focusing on his guilt right now, when they needed to be focusing on getting out of this mess.

“Focus,” he coughed into his hands.

“Right. Right.” John was silent for a long moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was all business – unwavering and direct – the voice of a military leader. John had been pushed to the back and Rodney was now talking to Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard.

“Okay, listen. Don’t talk. I’m just going to ask you yes or no questions. Two taps for yes, one for no. okay?”

Rodney obediently gave him two taps.

“Meyers isn’t as deaf as you assume him to be. If you talk too much, he’ll get suspicious and search you and cuff you back to the chair. I need your hands to stay free. Just stay on the floor and don’t make a fuss. I told Meyers to leave you where you were as long as you weren’t causing a fuss. Got it?”

Two taps.

“Alright. I think I figured out how we’re going to get out of this mess, but I need your help.”

Rodney regretted that they didn’t have a tap code for ‘duh’.

“The mind control device thing that K’Tesh uses on us once a day, it emits this beam and we sit in front of it, the beam hits us in the face and we’re his for another day. He told us it’ll keep us focused and awake.”

Rodney struggled not to snort. Then a question occurred to him.

“I know what you’re dying to know. According to K’Tesh, if you get hit with the beam enough, eventually, you don’t need to have it applied everyday. I was really busy on Tuesday and forgot to go in for beaming. They kept calling me but I had a lot of other things to do.”

Rodney briefly closed his eyes, knowing exactly what some of those ‘things’ had been. John had fallen silent too and Rodney knew he was letting his focus and control slip, and they couldn’t afford that. He tapped once on his ear piece, hopefully conveying the message that now was not the time for any of that.

 John sucked in a quick breath, as if Rodney had startled him out of his thoughts and then continued. “Anyway, by the time I got there, I started thinking how strange this whole beam thing is and then I started thinking that K’Tesh really isn’t supposed to be here. Anyway, I realized something was up and I told K’Tesh the beaming was giving me a headache and I only needed it every few days from now on. It’s been three days and I’m pretty sure I’m thinking clearly.”

Rodney had another question, which John automatically answered.

“They’ll force me to go in for beaming tomorrow at the latest. Which means we have to get this done as quickly as we can. If they beam me again I don’t know if I’ll ever come back out of it.”

Rodney closed his eyes, knowing that it that happened, they were screwed. This was their one and only chance.

John kept talking, telling Rodney about the plan he had come up with so far. Rodney listened carefully, finally tapping twice when John asked if it was any good.

His flyboy was damn smart when he wanted to be. Rodney hid his smile of triumph in his arm. The floor was damn uncomfortable and cold but he didn’t dare move and give Meyers any reason to cuff him again.

Rodney listened as John carefully went into the conference room where the beamer was kept. He heard him exchange some words with K’Tesh and his lackeys and then John told him he was alone in the room.

He had John carefully dismantle the device and find what frequency it was emitting at. Then he had him take out the entire emission generator, closing the device back up and only leaving an empty shell behind.

John made his way to one of the naquadah generators, the emission generator carefully hidden under his jacket. Nobody stopped him or questioned him when he said he wanted to try some adjustments on the naquadah generators.

Through a series of careful yes and no questions, Rodney helped John hook the beamer up to the generator and make sure they would be emitting the same beam. Then he had him increase the power of the emitted beam to well over safety limits.

The beam would be high enough to knock everybody within range unconscious for a while. When they woke up, they would all be woozy and waiting for somebody to tell them what was going on, but without K’Tesh there to whisper in their ear, they should all be able to remember what was going on and what they were supposed to be doing after a while.

Then he coached John through adjusting the shielding of the brig to reflect the beam and to put it on a timer.

Once that was set, John walked back to the brig.

Rodney heard him exchange a word with Meyers and the brig door slid open and John stepped inside before it hissed shut.

“Had time to think things over, McKay?”

Rodney didn’t stir, knowing they only needed to waste a few more seconds before this nightmare would be over or before it became even worse than it already was.

He closed his eyes. If the beam didn’t work, they were screwed. K’Tesh would figure out John had double crossed him and John would undergo the beaming again and would be lost.

John came over and crouched down beside him, counting down the seconds in a low voice.

*          *          *

Two days later

John stepped into the infirmary, scanning the empty beds until he saw the one at the far end, separated from the others by a portable wall section.

Peering behind the screen, he saw that Rodney was alone, so he quietly stepped in and lowered himself in the chair beside him.

He stared at the pale, damaged man lying on the bed beside him. Thankfully the kicks John had delivered to Rodney’s stomach hadn’t caused any internal bleeding, but two of his fingers were broken and the others horribly swollen and painful.

There was a long abrasion on his arm hidden beneath a bandage, that had been the result of John kicked Rodney while his arm was trapped beneath the chair arm.

The worst was the vivid bruise covering the right side of his face. The whole side of his face was dark, puffy and swollen.

And John had caused all of that – with his fists, with his boots. And that wasn’t even the damage his words had probably done.

He leaned over and gently touched one of Rodney’s swollen, bandaged and splinted fingers, the touch so light that he barely grazed the bandage, but he didn’t dare put more pressure on it.

A lump of self loathing and guilt clenched in his throat. He had done this. He had beaten and tortured and abused his best friend, the love of his life.

Not to mention he had murdered five of his people in slow, painful ways.

He stared at Rodney, wanting him to wake up and tell John he’d fix this. Rodney would find a way to go back in time and undo all the damage and make everything okay again.

But he couldn’t. Nor did he probably want to.

Sure, Rodney wanted to get his people back as badly as John did, but John was sure that Rodney didn’t give a damn that John was feeling guilty and hating himself for what he had done.

John was the reason Rodney was lying in this bed, bruised and broken.

People who loved each other didn’t hit each other. It was something his father had drilled into his head without meaning to every time his parents went at each other with fists, lamps and dishes.

John knew Rodney’s parents had been the same. Less physical, but their fights had been awful.

Rodney knew as well as John did that laying a hand on the person you’re supposed to care about when they didn’t want you to wasn’t what love was about.

John pulled his hand back from Rodney’s and forced his hands to stay in his lap. He had no right to touch Rodney anymore. Never again.

*          *          *

Twenty minutes later, Rodney opened his eyes, hungry and thirsty and groggy from the painkillers he’d been on.

He glanced at the chair beside him, expecting John to be sitting there like he always was.

When he saw the empty chair, his first thought was that he was hallucinating and he was about to start berating Keller for slipping him medication that was way too strong.

Then he realized his fingers and back were throbbing.

Letting his head fall back onto the pillow, he closed his eyes. John was probably busy getting things cleaned up.

They had recovering soldiers to babysit until they remembered that K’Tesh wasn’t in charge of them, they had Sam to fill in on what she’d missed while being stuck in stasis, they had K’Tesh and his merry band of morons in the brig to deal with, and they had five memorial services to prepare for.

And that wasn’t even the emotional issues they had to deal with.

And Rodney wished John was here to help him start dealing with them.

*          *          *

John spun the pilot seat around, watching Ronon, Lorne and other marines herding K’Tesh and his men into the jumper.

One of the men stumbled and Ronon grabbed him by the hair, slammed him into the hull, hissing at him to use his legs properly or he’d make sure he never used them again.

John would have normally reprimanded Ronon for the use of excessive force, but John was hard-pressed not to shove them all through a space gate without the jumper, so kicking them around a bit wasn’t something he would complain about.

Teyla sat beside him, staring at K’Tesh with that cold look in her eye which John seldom saw. K’Tesh smirked back at her, his black eyes boring into her. He still carried himself with that air of arrogance, as if he was still in charge and things were still under his control.

K’Tesh was about to head for the back seats near the front when Lorne grabbed the back of his shirt and threw him onto the benches.

“Don’t even think about.”

Lorne stepped back and trained his P-90 on him while Meyers and Adams got K’Tesh’s other people settled on the benches none too gently.

John spun around, rechecking all of his read-outs and tapping his earpiece.

“Control, this is Jumper 2. We’re go for—”

“You are so not-go for launch yet! Don’t you dare start moving until I’m sitting down!”

John spun around and stared as Rodney hurried up the ramp and into the jumper, hopping on one leg as he snapped the last buckle shut on his thigh holster and then adjusted his tac vest, the motions made awkward by his splinted fingers.

John just stared at him, not knowing what to say.

Rodney had been released from the infirmary a few days ago and John had done his best to stay out of his way. He probably didn’t want to even see John around so John had made it easier for him by staying away from the labs and sitting on the far side of the table during meetings. Off-world travel was still suspended as they finished dealing with this mess, but John had already drafted an email to Sam requesting that he be transferred to another team.

He didn’t want Rodney to go off-world without Teyla and Ronon to watch his back and he also knew that Rodney would hate him even more if he tried to kick him off the team and keep him grounded, so John decided to remove himself from the team instead. Lorne could head up his team and Cadman could take over leading Lorne’s team. That actually fit better than John thought it would.

He’d snuck into their—Rodney’s—room while Rodney was still in the infirmary and had carefully taken all of his stuff out. He’d left everything that they had shared—not wanting to start a round of ‘what-belongs-to-whom’ which he had fought with his ex-wife for months before giving up and letting her have nearly everything.

His bed felt alien to him now—too small and too cold—and he found himself waking up at odd hours of the night and panicking when he didn’t see Rodney typing on his laptop beside him. It would always take him a few minutes to remember where he was and why he was sleeping in bed alone.

Rodney had tried to talk to him a few times after being released from the infirmary but John always managed to cut him off before he launched into whatever he wanted to say. He ended up using Lorne as the excuse for having to run off all the time—a fact which his XO didn’t appreciate but tolerated.

John didn’t want to have Rodney tell him it was over, that he never wanted to be near him again, that he wanted to be off the team because he couldn’t stand being near him anymore. The Rodney in his nightmares did that often enough—when he wasn’t dying a horrific, painful death that was all John’s doing.

He already knew it was over and everything else that Rodney wanted to talk to him about. He was barely hanging on and managing to get through his day as it was. If he’d actually hear those words crossing Rodney’s lips, he doubted he’d be able to fool anybody into thinking he was fit for duty anymore.

So in order to get through his day and treat Rodney with the respect he deserved, John stayed out of his way. He had become an expert at getting around the city without going close to the labs or Rodney’s quarters, he started burying himself in paperwork in his office and spent long hours helping out with inventory, cooking, laundry and training.

But only for the military. The scientists he stayed away from. He knew they were angry with him and he knew they didn’t want him near them, so he did the only thing he could do to help make up for the fact that he had murdered five of their own.

He stayed away from them.

Luckily Kate was so busy helping everybody else deal with things that it was relatively easy to constantly reschedule his appointments with her and to convince her that other people needed her help more than him. She always fussed for a while, but John would remind her that military personnel were trained to compartmentalize events and were more capable of dealing with situations like this than the civilians. She still fussed, insisting that he come in and see her—pointing out that somebody with his history of PTSD had a mandatory psych eval to pass before he was allowed back on full duty. But they both knew that the city would grind to a halt if he weren’t on full duty right now, so it just took a few minutes of “I’m fine, honest,” before she left him alone for a few more days.

It had worked well so far, and John was getting closer to being able to lock this whole mess into the back of his head where he wouldn’t have to think about it ever again.

And now Rodney was standing in the jumper, ten feet away from him and John had nowhere to run and no excuse to use. John needed to do this mission, but Rodney didn’t. He knew he shouldn’t dare start telling Rodney what he could and could not do, but he knew that Rodney wasn’t in good enough shape yet to go with them, not to mention that John didn’t want Rodney anywhere near K’Tesh and his men.

Their relationship might be over, but that didn’t mean that John’s feelings for the physicist had faded.

Before he started trying to come up with some excuse as to why Rodney couldn’t come with them, Teyla saved him. “Rodney, are you certain you wish to come along? These….people….may prove to be difficult. The situation might get complicated.”

Meaning John would personally shoot each and every one of them in the head if they didn’t shut up and do what they told them to do. He already knew he was shooting K’Tesh the second they left the jumper, but the others he was going to leave alone – unless they made a fuss or tried anything stupid.

“I know how to handle complicated,” Rodney said. He walked down between the benches until he reached K’Tesh and then turned and glared at the man. “And I wouldn’t miss seeing this bastard’s face when he sees their new home.”

Giving K’Tesh a smile cold enough to freeze him, Rodney stepped around Lorne and dropped into the seat behind Teyla.

John was still staring at him, but hearing Teyla clear her throat forced him to pay attention to what he was supposed to be doing.

He cleared their flight with Chuck and let the jumper start her automatic descent into the gateroom. Chuck had already dialed the gate for them so John shot right through the wormhole and into the darkness of space on the other side.

For one moment, terror clutched him as he stared at the darkness outside of the windshield.

He couldn’t breathe.

He couldn’t breathe.

He was suffocating. He was going to die in this big empty nothingness.

He felt a hand on his arm and he jerked back, staring at Teyla with wide eyes. He heard somebody gasping for breath.

“John?”

“I can’t breathe.”

“John, you are breathing. We are in a jumper. We are fine. We are all fine.”

“I can’t breathe, Teyla.” The darkness looked so empty. It was pressing in on him from all sides, but it was nothingness. How could nothingness be suffocating him?

He felt hands tightening on his arms. “You are breathing, John. Try to concentrate.”

He felt more scared than he’d ever felt in his life. He was floating in the emptiness, nothing to put his feet on, nothing to catch him, nobody to help him.

Suddenly, he heard voices behind him and felt somebody’s hand on his knee. He jerked back again and stared at the man crouching beside him.

He blinked.

Rodney. The man was Rodney.

“You’re okay, John. We’re in a jumper. The jumper is pressurized and has air. You know that. Don’t look outside, okay? Look at me. Look at me.”

John stared at Rodney, feeling his heart rate and breathing calming. Rodney was here. Rodney would pull him out of the emptiness. Rodney wouldn’t let him fall again.

He felt himself being pulled out of his seat and gently lowered into another one. He heard a murmur of voices and then Teyla was crouching before him, gently murmuring to him.

When his eyes drifted towards the windshield again, Teyla brought his chin back down.

“Look at me, John. Do not look outside. We are inside. We are safe. Rodney is going to fly us down to the planet and then we can go back home.”

He had no idea how long it took Rodney to fly them down to the surface. He spent the whole time staring at Teyla, hearing her reassuring murmurs.

John nearly felt like crying when they landed on solid ground.

He pushed himself out of his seat and thought open the back hatch. He realized his legs were shaking. He realized he had never been this glad to get out of the air and touch solid ground. He relished the feeling of the solid dirt beneath his boots.

The thought of having to go back into the air terrified him, but he swallowed the fear and the irrational urge to run as far from the jumper as he could get. He had to focus. He had a job to do.

He locked his knees and clenched his jaw, forcing himself to stop shaking and to calm himself down. He squinted in the harsh glare of the sun and pulled his shades out of his pocket and slid them on.

He knew the moment K’Tesh had stepped out of the jumper because he started complaining within seconds. John could understand why he was so upset. The sparse desert landscape really wasn’t much to look at.

“You can’t leave us here! This planet doesn’t have a ring that’s accessible and the entire planet is uninhabitable.”

John stared at a tiny shrub that blew in the hot desert wind. “This shrub doesn’t seem to think so, K’Tesh.”

He turned around and watched K’Tesh and his men being pushed out of the jumper.

John stared at K’Tesh, who glared back at him.

All of his unease disappeared and was replaced with the hatred he felt for this man. He could feel it simmering under his skin. This man had forced John to torture the man he loved and kill five of his own people.

His fingers itched to tear him limb from limb and make him feel even a fraction of the pain he and the rest of his people felt.

He glanced at Lorne. “That all of them?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.”

Then he pulled out his sidearm and flicked off the safety and pressed the gun into K’Tesh’s forehead.

“Plant life generally requires nutrients, water and air, K’Tesh. You can provide the plants of your new home with one out of the three.”

He put his finger on the trigger and slowly started squeezing it.

“Wait! Sheppard, stop.”

John had nearly forgotten Rodney was there and he didn’t take his eyes off K’Tesh. “Wait in the jumper, Rodney. I’ll be right there.”

“Sheppard, don’t do this.”

“It’s what he deserves, Rodney. Hell, it’s a loss less than what he deserves, but I can’t stand the thought of wasting any more time on him. I want him dead and then I want to never have to see his face again.”

“It’s not worth it, John. Let him go.”

John felt his anger bubbling up to the surface. “He made me murder five of your people, Rodney.”

“I know that, and what better way for him to pay than to leave him sitting here on this planet with nothing else to think about for the next thirty years but Lisa, Gerry and all the others?”

John forced his finger to stop squeezing the trigger.

He realized he was shaking from anger and hate so strong he was sure K’Tesh could smell it.

“He could have forced me to kill you, Rodney.”

“But he didn’t. Let him go, John. I’ll be a lot more satisfied knowing he’s scrounging around in the sand for the rest of his miserable life than if you gave him a quick way out.”

“You want me to let him go?”

“Yes.”

John slowly lowered his gun and clicked the safety back on.

K’Tesh didn’t look at all pleased and was about to open his mouth to probably start complaining, when Ronon stepped up, slugged him across the face and the bastard crumbled in a heap on the sand.

John stared down at the man who had cost them so much simply because of his own greed.

He swallowed hard and put his gun away. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

“I expected you to be the first to want him dead, Rodney.”

Rodney glanced up from his laptop and saw Teyla hovering in the doorway.

“If the alternative was letting him live an easy, carefree life, I would have been the first to put a bullet in his head. But leaving him to spend the rest of his miserable life sitting on that hellhole of a planet is an even better alternative.”

Teyla nodded and stepped further into the room and sat down beside him.

“I know you also did it for John.”

“I’m that obvious, huh?”

“No. Only to those who know you.”

“He always feels guilty if he takes a life, even if the bastards deserve it. K’Tesh already caused us enough pain and I wasn’t going to let him become something John feels guilty over. He doesn’t deserve to sit in that spot in John’s head.”

Teyla nodded.

They were silent for a while and Rodney typed in a few more codes. “How are you doing?”

She sighed softly. “I do not know if it is appropriate for me to join you for the memorial services.”

Rodney frowned and stopped typing. “Why the hell not?”

Teyla was staring at his desktop. “You know why not.”

Rodney sighed, saved his program and gently lowered the lid of his laptop. He spun his chair and faced Teyla. He used his legs to spin her chair around until she was facing him, even if she wasn’t looking at him.

“They’d want you to be there, Teyla.”

“I am the reason they are dead.”

“No. K’Tesh is the reason they’re dead. You weren’t in control of your actions – K’Tesh was. Technically, it’s my fault they’re dead. I was the one who kept my mouth shut, and I knew the consequences of doing that. But we all know why I had to keep my mouth shut, and they understood that. The stuff John’s been going on and on about during meetings and drills aren’t just words to us, Teyla. We understand our responsibility to the city and to our people. The military, you and Ronon are willing to die for the city and for us, and so are we.”

“You are civilians, Rodney. You are not supposed to be forced into those situations.”

They were words he had heard a million times from John, the marines, the pilots and Ronon and Teyla. Even among the Athosians there were those who were warriors who fought to preserve their way of life, and there were those who stayed home and made sure that those warriors had something to fight for and to come home to.

“But we were. And there’s a good chance we will again. I know it goes against what most of the military believe, but we’re in this as much as you guys are. If it would have been one of the soldiers shoved through that gate, you’d know it wasn’t your fault and that they knew what they were dying for and were proud to be protecting their people and their city.”

“Were they?”

“Were they what?”

“Proud of their sacrifice?”

“As proud as any soldier or warrior would be.”

Teyla finally raised her eyes and stared at him. Her eyes were pained with both sorrow and guilt.

Rodney pulled his chair forward until his knees bumped into hers.

“Don’t you dare feel guilty, Teyla. They wouldn’t want you to. They would want you to go to their memorial to celebrate who they were as their friend, their family, their colleague. They wouldn’t want you to go out of guilt – not because it would be a damn sad way to go to a memorial service, but because they know you have nothing to feel guilty about. It wasn’t your fault and nobody blames you for it.”

Teyla stared at him for a long moment, tears shimmering in her eyes.

“Girls poker night will be difficult from now on.”

Rodney gave her a sad smile. “Set up a place for them and have a drink for them every time you play, but don’t stop playing. They wouldn’t want you to.”

A smile tugged on the corner of her lips and Rodney realized how much he had missed seeing her smile.

She leaned forward and lowered her head. He lowered his head until their foreheads touched. Rodney closed his eyes, silently sharing the Athosian hug with her. After a few moments, she pulled back, looked at him and then pulled him into a tight hug.

The ritual was comfortable and familiar by now. For years now Teyla had greeted her team, thanked them and comforted them in the Athosian way and Terran way, combining her culture with her adopted one. It had become so familiar that John and Rodney greeted and comforted each other the same way even if they were on Earth and nobody around them knew where the first part of the gesture came from.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being my friend and a part of my family.”

“The next time you roll your eyes at me complaining about something, I’m going to make sure you remember you said that.”

She laughed and pulled back. She searched his face for a long moment.

“How are your people?”

“Why does everybody keep calling them ‘my’ people? They’re all of our people. John keeps doing it too. In fact, all of the military keep calling the science staff ‘my’ people suddenly. Like we’re two separate entities.”

Teyla’s gaze drifted back to the desk. “The civilians have been greatly wronged by the military, Rodney.”

“Once again, that wasn’t your fault. And you realize that the lot of you are just making this worse, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

Rodney gave her a hard look. “We lost five of our people. Not ‘my’ people, but our people. We’re trying to grieve and clean up this mess and move on with our lives, but half of our family and friends are avoiding us like the plague.”

“They do not feel that you would welcome their company.”

“We wouldn’t only welcome their company, we need their company, Teyla! We aren’t two separate entities, we’re one group, one family, and we can’t heal with half of us avoiding the other half. Can you please try to hammer that into Lorne’s and Ronon’s and Meyers’ and Chang’s and Campbell’s and everybody else’s stubborn heads? We’re not mad at them and right now, most of us would really like to have you around.”

“They would not listen to me, Rodney. I am one of them.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Fine. Looks like I’ll have to do fix this on my own, just like everything else around here.”

Teyla smiled and squeezed his hand. “Thank you, Rodney. You may not like it, but we do depend on you for much more than your mind.”

He narrowed his eyes and mock-glared at her before staring at the top of his laptop lid. He had to spend the night thinking of a proper plan of attack and tomorrow, that stubborn Major and Satedan and gate Tech and all the others would get a stern talking to.

“Have you spoken to him?”

Rodney jerked his head up at Teyla’s soft question. He hadn’t expected her to bring John up. A part of him didn’t want to add his issues with John on top of all this, but he realized that this was something else he would have to start dealing with – especially because he knew John wouldn’t.

“I’ve tried. The idiot keeps running away. He’s not just avoiding me, he’s avoiding all of the scientists.”

Teyla looked down at her hands. “John feels a lot of guilt over what happened, Rodney.”

“I know that. But like the rest of you, he doesn’t have anything to feel guilty over either.”

“He hurt you. With his fists and with his words.”

“Like I told you, he wasn’t in control of his actions any more than you were. It’s not his fault.”

“Do you believe John knows that?”

Rodney sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands. “I keep waiting for him to be ready to talk about it. Kate keeps saying I can’t push him about it and that I have to give him some space. It’s not doing a damn bit of good as far as I’m concerned.”

“Do you intend to speak with him?”

Rodney pressed his lips together. “He won’t let me. Not about this. You and I both know that if he doesn’t want to talk about something, he won’t.”

“Then perhaps you should find a situation where he is forced to talk about it.”

“What?”

Teyla lowered her voice and leaned forward. “He has not been in the jumper bay since we got rid of K’Tesh.”

“He hasn’t been flying?”

“No.”

Rodney frowned, the wheels already turning. It was obvious to him why John was avoiding the jumpers and flying, and if Rodney had any chance of salvaging their relationship and John’s sanity, he had to address this issue first.

But before he could begin to fix the chasm that had opened between him and John, he had to start fixing the chasm that had opened between the military and the civilians.

*          *          *

He marched into the messhall, grabbed a tray and hurried through the chow line. Interestingly he noted that Corporal Adams—their long time chow-master and Rodney’s long time bickering partner—avoided his gaze and only asked him short questions about whether or not Rodney wanted two pancakes or three and if he wanted his syrup on the side or on top.

Rodney shot back the first two replies and when the corporal didn’t lift his gaze and didn’t make a single sarcastic remark when Rodney asked him whether the fruit cup had any citrus fruits in it, Rodney had had enough.

He slammed his breakfast tray onto the small ledge and crossed his arms.

“Corporal!”

“Yes, sir?”

“I want to file a complaint.”

Adams blinked twice but still didn’t look at him. “You should report any complaints to the CO, sir.”

“No. I’m filing my complaint right here and right now. You see, I have certain standards when I come and get my food and those standards are not being met.”

Adams didn’t respond and kept staring into the heap of pancakes before him. Rodney didn’t care that he wasn’t responding. He would soon enough.

Interestingly, he noticed that the messhall had gone silent and everybody was staring at him. Good. Let the show begin.

“When I come and have my meals, I expect the serving staff to show a little spine, a little attitude, especially if they’re US Marines. Or do they train you to be a quiet mouse, Corporal?”

The Corporal had straightened up and his gaze darted up to Rodney’s for a brief moment before flitting away.

“No, sir,” he said, his voice still quiet.

“I’m sorry, did a mouse just squeak in here? I asked you if they train you to be a quiet mouse, Corporal!” Rodney was quite pleased that he managed to sound exactly like Drill Sergeant Torico usually did when he was drilling the marines.

The Corporal snapped to attention and his eyes dug straight into Rodney’s. “No, sir!” The Corporal’s voice echoed around the messhall and Rodney nearly smirked.

“Now you will repeat what you asked me two minutes ago.”

“Do you want two pancakes or three, sir?” The Corporal yelled.

“Three, Corporal.”

“Do you want your syrup on top or on the side?”

“On top. And don’t be timid with it.”

“Do you want a fruit cup, sir?”

“Yes, Corporal. And is there any citrus fruit in it?”

“No, sir!”

“And why is that?”

“Because you reminded me about your damn allergy a million times over the past three years and if you keeled over from anaphylactic shock, I’d be the number one suspect, sir!”

Rodney smirked. Now they were getting somewhere. “Are you trying to tell me you have a brain in all that brawn, Corporal?”

“Some people have to have a little bit of both, sir!”

Rodney noticed the corners of the Corporal’s mouth were twitching and Radek and Lieutenant Cadman were laughing into their napkins.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Corporal. Having two brain cells to rub together isn’t that impressive.”

“It’s more impressive than your hair line, sir.”

Now the barely suppressed laughter could be heard all over the messhall and Rodney decided that the situation was well on its way to recovery.

Throwing the Corporal a glare, he grabbed his tray. “Until lunchtime, Corporal.”

The Corporal gave him a sharp salute with his spatula and a smirk. “Until lunchtime, Doctor.”

Taking his tray, Rodney turned and faced the messhall and surveyed the disaster zone still waiting for a fix.

The problem was so obvious that even a wraith could have noticed it. Half of the messhall was filled with black uniforms, and the other half was filled with red, blue and yellow uniforms. Asides from Ronon’s white shirt, nobody else disrupted the pattern.

His tray in hand, Rodney marched between the tables, passing through the civilian tables and not pausing until he had reached the table in the far corner where Lorne and Ronon sat.

Putting his tray onto the table, Rodney pulled his chair out and sat down. Ronon and Lorne were both staring at their very interesting breakfast trays.

Rodney glared at both of them, waiting for them to look up. When that didn’t happen, he swore under his breath and crossed his arms on the table.

“Okay, this ends now. Major, tomorrow morning you will show up for civi-PT and resume leading the exercises. Miko only does yoga exercises and Radek starts counting in Czech when he gets tired and I’m sick and tired of having to do my PT on my own and on my own time. It’s fine for those of us who stay on base, but for those of us on away-teams, we need to do our PT and get your beautiful signature on those forms before we’re allowed off-world. It’s disrupting my schedule and exercise routine and threatening my qualifications for off-world travel having Radek and Miko running things and I quite frankly don’t have the patience to run civi-PT. So, tomorrow morning you’ll be there with that annoying cheerful smile and do what we need you to do.”

Lorne was staring at him and Rodney raised an eyebrow at the long silence. Finally, Lorne cleared his throat.

“I thought it would be more appropriate if somebody else took over civi-PT, sir.”

“Okay, first of all, don’t call me ‘sir’. We’re both senior staff and you never call me ‘sir’. Second of all, we don’t only need you to run our PT, we want you to run our PT.”

Lorne was silent for a long moment. Rodney knew what he was remembering.

A dimly lit cell. A small table. Pressing Rodney’s hands onto the surface of the table. Tightening his grip when John ground the hell of his hand into Rodney’s broken, damaged fingers and Rodney had screamed himself hoarse and tried to pull away from the pain and the hands that were hurting him.

Rodney knew that Lorne still blamed himself for it and if he didn’t try to fix the distance between them, it would never be fixed.

Deciding to show the Major that he was forgiven rather than waste time talking, Rodney stretched out his hand towards the Major.

“So, tomorrow at 0730. I’ll round up the west wing, you round up the east wing and we’ll meet in the main gym. Deal?”

Lorne was staring at Rodney’s hand. Finally, he looked up at Rodney. They both knew Rodney wasn’t just asking him whether he agreed to the PT or not.

Swallowing hard, Evan gave him a firm nod.

“Deal.” Stretching out his own hand, the Major gently grasped Rodney’s hand. Rodney squeezed back, turning it into a proper handshake.

When they let go, there was a hint of a smile on Lorne’s face.

Satisfied, Rodney sat down and reached for his fork. Before he dug into his breakfast, he pointed his fork at Ronon.

“And I have something I need help with.”

Ronon raised an eyebrow. “You need my help?”

“Yes, I do. We have a pilot to fix. You in?”

After a moment of silence, that funny little half smile curled the corner of Ronon’s mouth – a sight which was rarer than finding a fully charged ZPM.

“You bet. You tell me when and where.”

“Good.”

Turning in his chair, he watched as everybody hurried to transfer their gazes from him to their breakfast trays.

“As for the rest of you, I’m sick and tired of this nonsense. Those of us who play with guns in their spare time – get your heads out of your asses. Those of us who play with calculators – start helping those others get their heads out of their asses. And as CSO, I’m making that an order.”

Satisfied that his work was partially done, Rodney turned back around and focused on his breakfast.

*          *          *

Rodney waited patiently until he heard the hiss of the bay doors behind him.

“You wanted to see me, Rodney?”

Rodney smiled. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

He turned around and gave John a grin just as Ronon stepped out of the shadows, pulled his gun out and stunned John.

Ronon managed to grab him before he hit the floor and easily hoisted him over his shoulder. Rodney narrowed his eyes when he saw the ease with which Ronon had lifted John up.

“Has he lost weight?”

Ronon grunted. “You wouldn’t think he had any weight to lose.”

While Ronon walked into the nearest jumper and gently lowered John into the shot gun seat, Rodney cleared their flight with Chuck, reminding him that they weren’t going far and no, he didn’t know how long they’d be gone.

Ronon passed by him and grunted in response to Rodney’s thanks. “Just fix him.”

“He’s not an equation I can just tweak and work through again to make right.”

Ronon raised an eyebrow at him. “He won’t go to Kate, he’s refusing to listen to Teyla and I can’t beat any sense into him. You’re the last chance he has.”

“No pressure.”

Ronon smirked at him and walked out of the jumper. Rodney swung himself into the pilot seat and closed the hatch.

He checked to make sure John was still out and then did the pre-flight check and started the jumper’s automatic ascent out of the bay doors.

He took the jumper nearly straight up through the atmosphere. Once they were in the darkness of space, he put the jumper into what John called ‘neutral’ and made sure the scanners would tell him if anything weird came close to them.

Then he got off his chair, spun John’s chair around so the back of his chair was to the windshield and crouched down before him.

He was about to start shaking the idiot awake, but the sight of John made him pause. Rodney knew that he wasn’t technically sleeping, but he looked just as relaxed and vulnerable as he did when he was sleeping.

He realized it had been weeks since he had lain awake at night and watched John sleeping beside him.

John never slept as well as he did when Rodney promised he’d keep watch. Neither of them needed much sleep anyway so keeping up a semi-rotation with sleeping and keeping watch while at home as well as off-world was easy.

He had noticed John’s tendency to doze rather than sleep and always face the door early on in their relationship. John had muttered something about it being a habit and refused to elaborate, so Rodney hadn’t bothered him about it. He guessed that nearly twenty years of sleeping in combat zones had trained John to never fully surrender to sleep and never trust his surroundings.

Which was why Rodney had been amazed at how quickly and deeply John had fallen asleep when Rodney had said he had to stay up to work on a simulation.

Rodney had taken the keys off his laptop and stuck padding underneath each key to silence the clicking and dimmed the brightness of the screen. He also got used to typing on his laptop and balancing it on his lap with John curled up in his side, his head resting under Rodney’s arm and nearly on his mouse-pad. Half way through the night, Rodney would wake John and John would sit up in bed with a book or check Rodney’s math on his laptop while Rodney curled up beside him and reversed their positions. It was only once the sun rose that John fell asleep with Rodney and they spent a few hours sleeping at the same time.

The routine wasn’t a difficult one for Rodney – since they lived by it when they were off-world anyway – and the trust John showed in him every time he fell into a deep sleep beside him made it all worth it.

Rodney reached up and gently pushed a few strands of hair off John’s forehead. His face also showed the weight he had lost over the past few weeks. His skin was pale and his cheekbones were more pronounced than they usually were. The dark circles under his eyes weren’t surprising. The idiot had been sleeping in his old quarters since he had left that morning for their training mission.

Not having Rodney there to keep watch and refusing to bother anybody else with his issues meant that John had gone back to his old sleeping habits. He’d doze for an hour or so, get up and go for a run or read and then go back to dozing some more.

Rodney knew because he spent his nights staring at his laptop screen, watching the white dot that was John pacing around the room, running out to the pier or constantly tossing and turning when in bed.

The combination of having gotten used to sleeping well with Rodney and the lack of eating properly were starting to seriously take their toll on him.

“You’re an idiot,” Rodney said softly. He’d been surprised to find that sleeping alone was strange for him too. He still stayed up the time he’d usually keep watch for, from time to time wondering why there wasn’t that warm weight digging into his side and being seriously confused when he looked beside himself and saw that empty spot on his bed. Worse was jerking awake while he was sleeping and not having John’s warm chest under his cheek and not finding that warm body when his hands searched the empty space.

Rodney realized that he hated going to bed alone and waking up alone.

Deciding that it was time to start fixing this mess, Rodney reached up and gently shook John.

John let out a groan and frowned, his eyes still closed.

“You probably already know, but that tingly sensation is courtesy of Ronon’s blaster. You should be getting used to that feeling by now.”

John slowly opened his eyes and glared at Rodney. “Wh—?”

“You’re okay. We’re in a jumper and Ronon stunned you so we could get you in here without a fuss.”

John blinked a few times and his hands immediately started groping around his chest for his P-90.

Rodney grabbed his hand and stilled it. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine. I’ve got everything under control.”

John blinked at him again and frowned, but his hand stilled. Rodney felt a warm rush inside of him. If anybody but his team had said that to John, he’d have given them a phoney smile and still kept feeling around for his weapons and assessing the situation with paranoid eyes, mind already churning up scenarios and tactics.

It was an incredible and very scary feeling to be on that small list of people whom John trusted without question.

“Why are we in a jumper?”

“That’s the question you want to ask? How about ‘Why did Ronon stun me?’”

John gave him a look. “He stunned me because I don’t feel like being in a jumper these days. Even if the damn thing’s on the ground.”

“Yeah. About that. We’re not on the ground right now.”

John’s eyes widened and he sat up with a jerk. He spun his chair around and his hands immediately clenched the armrests in a death grip.

“Rodney, Rodney get us back down.”

“Okay, calm down and take a few—”

“McKay, I’m not kidding. Get me back on the damn ground.”

“You don’t even know why—”

“I don’t give a damn why we’re up here, but I can’t stay up here!”

Rodney could count the number of times he’d seen John get hysterical on one hand and not use all his fingers. He couldn’t remember ever hearing John’s voice shoot up this high and sound so freaked out. Even when he’d stumbled across one of the biologists studying one of the iratus bugs he hadn’t freaked out this badly.

Rodney spun his chair back around and grabbed his arms. His hands were still clutching the armrests as if they were the only thing keeping him inside the jumper. He was shaking and was so pale that he rivaled a Wraith’s hair color.

“John, you need to breathe and calm down. We’re staying up here until we fix this.”

“Get me the fuck down, McKay. I mean it,” John grit out between clenched teeth, having clenched his jaw shut to keep it from trembling.

“No. We need to fix this.”

“Fix what?”

“You being terrified of flying.”

“There’s nothing to fix, Rodney! Pilots crack all the time! Human beings aren’t supposed to be up in the air in little metal boxes. Some people are born knowing that bit of common sense and for others it takes a couple years to hit, but once it does, it’s pretty much stuck. It’s not unusual!”

“Bullshit.”

“What?” He squeaked out, eyes darting from Rodney to both sides of the jumper as if he expected the hull to breach any second.

“You didn’t crack because you realize you have to be a bit crazy to love flying. This has nothing to do with flying.”

“Of course it does! I’ll be fine, Rodney, I promise! We can discuss this all you want, but please, please get us back down to the ground.”

“You’re not listening to me—”

“Get me the fuck down to the ground, McKay!” John yelled. He started breathing harder and faster, hyperventilating.

“John—”

Rodney reached up and pried John’s hands off the armrests with some difficulty. John had had to cope with Rodney hyperventilating the first few times they had gone off-world and Rodney remembered how John had calmed him down.

He took one of John’s hands and flattened it over his chest and let John clutch his other hand.

“I want you to breathe in when you feel me breathe in, John. Okay? Breathe in, we’re breathing in now….three….two….one……and out….three….two….one……and in…..three…..two….one.”

It took a while but eventually John started breathing in unison with Rodney, staring at Rodney’s lips with wide eyes and his trembling hand was splayed on Rodney’s chest to feel his chest rising and falling with each breath.

After a while John started calming. A fine tremor still ran through him and he still looked terrified, but he wasn’t hyperventilating anymore.

Swallowing hard, John squeezed his eyes shut. “Rodney, please bring me back down. Please. I’ll do anything you want, just please get me back down.”

“We’ll go back down as soon as you admit that this has nothing to do with flying.”

John opened his eyes and stared at him. “Of course it’s about flying, Rodney!”

“Is it? Would you be this scared about flying over the ocean? Flying over mountains on some other planet?”

“I don’t know, probably.”

“I don’t think so. Is it being in the jumper that scares you or being in space? Think, John.”

John opened his mouth to probably give him the same answer he had given himself, but Rodney covered his mouth with his hand. “Use that brain of yours first.”

John blinked at him and shut his mouth. He stared at Rodney for a long moment before he swallowed hard. “It’s being in space,” he whispered, sounding ashamed of it.

“Why is being in space scary? You’ve been doing this for years.”

“It’s empty. I feel like I’m going to fall out of the jumper and just fall and fall and there’s nothing to catch me.”

“You think that’s what they felt.”

Neither of them had to say who Rodney was referring to. John’s gaze dropped to the floor and he didn’t say anything.

“I can tell you that they probably were scared, but they would do it over again if they had to.”

John frowned and glanced at him. “Bullshit.”

“If it were me, I know I would. If it were you, you know you would. We’d both be scared, but we’d do it without hesitation if it meant keeping our people and our city safe.”

John stared at him, searching his face to see if he was lying.

“They didn’t regret their sacrifice, believe me.”

There was a long pause before John said anything.

“Do you think they hate me?”

Rodney reached up and cupped John’s face with one hand, gently stroking his cheek. “No. I know my scientists. They knew you weren’t in control of what you were doing. They knew you would never intentionally harm them. They did what you’d taught them they should do.”

“Do you think they’d forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive. None of them would have held this against you. They all blamed K’Tesh and his men and nobody else.”

John stared at him for a long time before he slowly nodded. “They wouldn’t want me to be scared of flying up here.”

“No they wouldn’t. You can’t do your job and take care of us if you’re not on good terms with the jumpers and space.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

John slowly spun his chair around and looked out through the windshield. Rodney followed his gaze and they stared at the distant stars and the darkness that surrounded them.

“We have to work extra hard to protect this galaxy now.”

Rodney leaned on the back of John’s chair. “Hmm?”

“Our people are sleeping among those stars. It’s up to us to let them sleep comfortably and undisturbed.”

Rodney smiled and felt tears well up in his eyes.

He remembered Lisa bending over with hysterical laughter at the sight of a dressed up and face painted Radek coming back from the planet with the kids.

He remembered Gerry jabbering a mile a minute, swinging his tablet around while standing on a planet amongst a bunch of ancient ruins that apparently had some writing on them. His glasses had been askew and his grin had been bright enough to power the city.

He remembered Marina flicking marker pen lids at him when he swiped her cup of coffee and using his defensive arm flapping to steal it back.

He remembered Alan refusing to do the short sprints Lorne demanded of them during PT and Ronon dressing up as a Wraith and stepping out from behind a corner when Alan was leisurely jogging past. Alan had screamed like a two year old and run so fast down the corridor that he’d smashed all previously set civilian sprint times. He’d won himself a certificate for fastest time and most high pitched scream and Lorne only had to remind him of this particular incident to get him to run his hardest from then on.

He remembered Joanna’s habit of snorting loudly while laughing and being so ridiculously happy to discover that Miko did the same.

They were sleeping out there and it was up to them to keep them safe and to keep the rest of their family safe too.

Rodney glanced down at John. “So, you flying us back down, flyboy?”

John pushed himself up and sat down in the pilot seat. He ran his hands over the controls for a moment. Rodney swore he felt the jumper perk up a bit and he mock-glared at the hull beside him. Of course she’d be happy now that her favourite pilot was back at the helm.

John slowly turned the jumper around and started heading back down to the planet they had named New Lantea. Just before they entered the upper atmosphere, John swung the jumper around and they faced the darkness of space once more.

Taking his hands off the controls, John gave the darkness a salute. Then he turned the jumper back around and headed back down to their city.

Rodney smiled as he leaned back in his chair, convinced that their wounds were well on their way to healing.

*          *          *

He changed his mind that night as he lay awake in his bed.

He’d waited for John to come to their room and reclaim his side of their bed, but after three long hours, Rodney was still alone.

He stared at his laptop where he saw the blinking white dot in John’s old quarters.

Sighing, he swore under his breath and settled back against his pillow, ready for another long night of keeping watch for someone who wasn’t there with him.

Obviously, Rodney’s earlier conclusion had been premature.

Chapter Text

“Rodney you know I can’t do that.”

“Of course you can! Here’s the stylus, here’s the form on the tablet, you just scribble your name on that little line. You don’t even have to put Dr. Kate Heightmeyer if that’s too long and tedious. Do what I do and just put your initials. KH. That’s it.”

“I didn’t mean I was physically incapable of signing it and you know it.”

Rodney sighed and dropped into the chair across from her, the tablet falling into his lap.

“Come on, Kate! John needs this. Hell, we all need this.”

“I’m sorry, Rodney. According to military regulations, I’m not allowed to put a member of the military with a history of mental issues back on full active duty without them going through a full psych eval and passing.”

“Call him on the radio and ask him your dumb questions, he’ll grunt his way through them and then you can sign the form.”

“He needs to pass, Rodney. Asking him the questions and having him give me a phoney smile and blank eyes and a constant declaration of ‘I’m fine’ doesn’t cut it. John has to deal with what happened and he isn’t. Until he’s ready to start dealing with things – properly – and comes to me for help, I can’t put him back on full duty. I’m sorry.”

Rodney leaned back, his mind working furiously. Kate probably misinterpreted his silence to be one of sad acceptance, since she leaned forward and gave his knee a reassuring squeeze.

“I’m really sorry, Rodney. I know how badly you, Ronon and Teyla want John back on your team, but Evan is a fully capable team leader and you all get along with him well, right? I heard your first mission this morning went fine.”

“It was. That’s not the point.”

“If I let John back out into the field, he’ll compartmentalize worse than he’s already doing and his PTSD will get worse. That’ll make his depression worse and he’ll be a prime candidate for combat stress and need to get shipped back to earth.”

“He’s never suffered from combat stress and you know it.”

“He’s never been in charge of an entire company of soldiers and an expedition of civilians before when his PTSD or depression were this bad.”

“He’s not going to come to you for help and you know it.”

“I’ve tried going to him, Rodney. He’s not ready to talk to me yet.”

“If you’re waiting for him to be ready then he’ll die of old age in his room!”

“I won’t force him to talk about issues he’s not comfortable discussing with me yet.”

Rodney sat up straight with a jerk, an inkling of an idea appearing in his head. “What if he’s comfortable talking about things with me?”

Kate gave him a sad smile. “You’re a huge part of the problem, Rodney. I really don’t think –”

“I do think. I know John. You know I do. I know how to get through to him. You can’t treat him with kid gloves at first. He’ll keep running away or pretending everything’s fine. You have to smash through his walls and then help him pick up the pieces.”

Kate sighed and wearily rubbed her temples. “He’ll fight me and quite frankly, I don’t think I have the strength to see it through.”

“I do.”

“What?”

“I can take whatever he dishes out. You and I both know that when it comes to a battle of stubbornness and wits, I’ll outlast anybody, including John. Let me try to help him. Please.”

When she stared at her clasped hands resting on her knees, Rodney barreled on, sensing that he was winning.

“I know John Sheppard. I know how to get through to him and I know how to get him back on track. But I can’t do it here.”

Kate raised an eyebrow at him. “Why not?”

“I need to be in close quarters with him. Somewhere he can’t run away.” Rodney stared at her, willing her to keep up with him.

She was frowning, forcing her thoughts to catch up to his. “Somewhere off-world. In a tent. John wouldn’t be stupid enough to run off into strange territory in the middle of the night and he wouldn’t be able to get the city to shut you out.”

Rodney smiled. Psychiatry still wasn’t a science, but Kate did have a brain under all the former blondness.

“Exactly. But in order for John to be allowed offworld…”

She sighed. “He needs to be back on full duty.” She shot him a mock-glare. “I wish I could convince myself that you only did this to get your team leader back – ”

“But you and I both know that this is about a lot more than that.”

She pressed her lips together and stared at the tablet in his lap for a long moment. “You swear to me you’ll get him to come and see me when you come back?”

“Can I come with him?”

She snorted. “Like he’d come otherwise. Of course you can.”

“In that case, let me make an appointment before I go. I swear on Atlantis that we’ll be there.”

She gave him a long, searching look before sighing. “You better know what you’re doing.”

“With science stuff and John Sheppard stuff, you bet I know what I’m doing. Everything else…not so much.”

“Give me that form.”

“Have I mentioned that being a brunette is really flattering on you?”

“If I didn’t know that you were trying to flatter me in order to get back together with a man, I’d be flattered. Hand me the stylus.”

*          *          *

Rodney took the long way from his quarters to John’s, needing the time to work on his plan of attack before storming in. He needed a good rant to get John’s attention. He mentally apologized to Lorne – since he was going to feature rather heavily in it.

He knew John was in his room, sitting at his desk and doing something other than sleeping. Rodney didn’t particularly care what he was doing, since the only thing John should be doing at 0355 in the morning was sleeping.

That irritating habit of his was going to stop. So were the other irritating habits he had picked up in recent weeks. Like not eating. Like staying holed up in his office doing paperwork.

Like avoiding Rodney. It was time to start fixing the rest of this mess and lay the stage for his plan.

Reaching his door, Rodney told Atlantis to open it, and she instantly obeyed him, probably wanting him to fix her favourite golden child as badly as everyone else did.

He strode in and immediately saw John sitting at his desk, hunched over his laptop, playing a no-doubt engrossing game of minesweeper.

John spun his chair around, hand going down to his thigh where his gun was usually strapped.

“Rod—”

Rodney held up a hand. “Stop. Shut up. You don’t get to talk right now. You get to listen.”

John looked like he was about to say something, but Rodney raised an eyebrow and John obediently snapped his mouth shut.

Rodney took a second to look him over. His face was thinner and paler than it had been three days ago when they’d taken the jumper out. The circles under his eyes were darker and his eyes looked sunken and so full of misery that Rodney wanted to grab him and shake him until he came to his senses and then hold him and hold him and never let go.

“You’re being an idiot and it’s high time you quit it.”

John opened his mouth again and Rodney lifted an eyebrow. “I will get some tape and tape your mouth shut if you don’t let me properly rant.”

When John slumped back in his chair, eyes glued to his desk, Rodney was satisfied that he wouldn’t interrupt again.

“So today wasn’t that bad. I thought today would absolutely suck and everything would be a mess, but it wasn’t. Lorne was a perfectly capable team leader, he gets along well with Teyla and he’s buddies with Ronon and I like to think that he and I get along rather well now too, so team dynamic wise, the mission today went perfect. Mission directive wise it went well too. We traded some plants for more of that ore we wanted to get and got a damn good bargain too. So, everything went spectacularly well. Sam’s happy, Lorne’s happy, the botanists are happy, my science team is happy and the rest of your team should be damn happy too. But the thing is, we’re not. What, you might ask, could our problem be? Everything went off without a hitch today, true, but it still felt wrong. Lorne only understands half of the pop culture references I make and doesn’t bicker and snark with me when I need the distraction. He pulls a Teyla and just smiles at me patiently and talks to me like I’m some two year old that needs to be calmed. He likes me but he doesn’t get me. And I hate it.”

“You wanna try somebody else? Cadman can snark with the best of them.”

“You don’t get it, you moron, do you? I don’t want somebody else, I want you back! I hate sharing a tent with somebody who doesn’t shove their cold toes between my legs and I hate having to play prime-not-prime all by myself on long jumper flights. I know for a fact that Ronon and Teyla miss you on the team too and want you back. We all like Lorne and respect him – you know that – but it’s not the same without you. It’s – it’s like when we lost Ford, but only worse because you’re still right here but you’re not with us anymore. Teyla and I lost one team member already and we don’t want to lose another one. Not while he’s sitting right here.”

John was still staring at his desk. “You really want me back as team leader?”

“Yes. Right now. I’m not leaving until you send an email to Sam declaring that you’re putting yourself back on our team. I know that Lorne would love to go back to his old team too. Cadman’s sarcasm terrifies Parrish and I know he would love to have the Major back.”

“You really want me back as team leader?”

“Am I speaking Klingon here? I already said yes. Yes, yes, yes. It doesn’t feel right going out there without you and I don’t want to do it anymore. Either you come back or I’m leaving the team. And you know Teyla and Ronon would hate both of our guts for that. So you don’t really have a choice. I want my team leader back. End of discussion.”

John was silent for a long moment. Then he pulled his laptop close to him, opened his email and wrote Sam a short message. Rodney peered over his shoulder, making sure he was actually writing what he was supposed to be writing and reprimanding him for misplacing a comma and failing to capitalize the first letters of sentences or misspelling last names – “You don’t herd sheep for a living, you fly fighter jets. Learn to spell your own damn name properly. Stick an ‘a’ in there and take out the other ‘h’. Fix it before it makes my eyes bleed.”

After John clicked send, Rodney took a step back.

“Alright then. You’ll tell Ronon and Teyla the good news at breakfast tomorrow – which you’re going to eat in the mess, at our table at our usual time. We have a mission briefing tomorrow at 1500. You better be there or I’ll send Teyla and Ronon to find you.”

Without another word, Rodney spun around and left the room, convinced that the door snapped shut behind him in a very concluding tone.

That had gone exceptionally well. He’d already explained to Teyla and Ronon what he was planning on doing and they had been more than eager to help. Their main concern had been Kate not caving in. They all knew that Rodney could easily twist John’s arm into coming back onto the team.

Ronon and Teyla had both offered to help with Kate if she proved more difficult than Rodney anticipated, and even offered to use force on John if he refused to come to breakfast or the briefing. They wanted John back too. More than that, they wanted both of their friends to be happy again, which they wouldn’t be as long as they were apart.

Rodney was quite pleased with the way things were working out. He knew John would be weird at breakfast tomorrow and during the briefing and probably during the first part of the mission, but at least he would be there. Then Rodney would have the perfect opportunity to implement the final phase of his plan.

He’d never realized that fixing science stuff and fixing John stuff were so much alike.  Like with most engineering problems, he needed to fix one thing at a time and make sure it was working properly before moving forward.

Otherwise, if it was still broken at the end, he would have no idea what part he hadn’t managed to fix properly.

He already knew that some of the problems he had worked on were fixed and working properly. Hopefully, in a few days time, he’d have a fully functional John Sheppard back in his life and bed where he belonged.

*          *          *

Rodney had been right. John was quiet and withdrawn during breakfast and during the briefing. Since he was fine with Teyla and Ronon, Rodney knew that John’s behavior was due to his own presence.

He ignored John’s silence and lack of eye contact and kept up a steady stream of conversation during breakfast and the briefing, including John when the need arose but not pushing him too much.

He’d be pushing John way past his comfort zone soon enough. Rodney didn’t feel a bit guilty at the thought, since he knew he’d be there to catch John when he fell.

The next morning, Rodney finished up the stuff in his lab that needed his final attention and then went down to the locker room to get ready.

Teyla and Ronon were both already there, snapping on vests and holsters and checking their weapons and vest supplies.

Rodney joined them, his hands so well trained in this routine that he allowed his mind to wander – rehearsing exactly how he was going to ambush John.

All three of them paused and glanced up when John came in. All three of their faces erupted in big smiles and Rodney wanted to throw himself on John. The feeling of rightness was overwhelming as the four of them got ready.

Teyla managed to move close to Ronon so she did his buddy check for him and Ronon did hers.

Rodney hid the grin that threatened to come up to his ears. He turned to John, opening his mouth to ask for his buddy check.

John spun away from him and asked Teyla to do his buddy check. Rodney stared at him.

Seeing the surprised expression on Teyla’s face, John muttered something about never being too careful and it being a good idea that they all maybe start doing two buddy checks each.

Rodney snorted rather loudly but didn’t look at John as Ronon climbed over the bench and started doing Rodney’s buddy check.

As Rodney checked Ronon’s gun, his knives and his supplies, he pushed the thought of John’s little evasion out of his mind.

Soon enough John wouldn’t have anywhere to hide or any excuse to use.

*          *          *

Rodney smirked to himself as he shook the last of the beef stew into the pot and carefully placed it on the metal grating he’d set over the fire, John’s whispered conversation with Teyla easily drifting over to him.

“I just think it’s good to shake things up a bit.”

“John, we have tried changing the sleeping arrangements, but this works best. I cannot sleep with Rodney’s snoring, Ronon and Rodney spread out too much to comfortably fit in a tent and you and I freeze by morning if we share.”

“But—”

“I must help Ronon finish putting up the tents. Please help Rodney finish cooking dinner.”

Rodney bent his head as he stirred the stew, hoping to hide his smile from John. What Teyla had said was technically true and it was the main reason they slept in the arrangements they did, but he knew that Teyla brought her ear plugs with her and could share a tent with him if the need arose. But Teyla knew how important it was for John to be sharing a tent with Rodney tonight.

He heard John rummaging around in one of the packs and come up to the fire.

“I got the plates,” he said, putting them on a rock beside Rodney. Rodney grunted in reply and focused on not burning the stew.

He was careful to keep his distance from John during dinner, clean up and deciding who was taking which watch. He knew that as long as it was daylight there was still a chance that John would run or do something else to avoid that night.

He could find some stupid reason to go back to Atlantis right away or use their tents for some emergency purpose that would end up with all of them sleeping outside.

Predictably, John immediately said he’d take watch with Ronon – knowing that Ronon wouldn’t make him talk about anything, unlike Teyla. Teyla exchanged a glance with Rodney, who gave her a tiny nod.

Let John think he was going to be avoiding Rodney all night. It would put him at ease and make things easier until it was time.

While Teyla checked their perimeter, John took their dishes to wash them in the nearby stream, and Rodney and Ronon took the sack of food, supplies and rope to a nearby tree and worked together to hoist it up.

“So once Sheppard and I are done watch, we go get you and Teyla and then I’ll come back out and you go back in.”

Rodney nodded, yanking on one of the knots and making sure it was secure enough.

“I’ll take both watches tomorrow night to make up for it.”

Ronon made a dismissive grunt and started hoisting the sack up. “Forget it. Just fix things between the two of you and that’s all the payment I need. I won’t die staying up one night. Teyla can find a stick and hit me with it if I start falling asleep.”

Dusting off his hands, Rodney gave the larger man a smile. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. I told you, this is for my sanity as much as yours or his. You two are driving me crazy.”

Without another word, they went back to the tents. Rodney yelled good night to Ronon and John who had sat down by the fire, and in the direction of Teyla’s tent, from where he heard a muffled good night yelled back to him. He smiled and ducked into his tent and got ready for bed, knowing he would need all the energy he could get for later on.

*          *          *

“Rodney. McKay. McKay!”

Rodney woke up with a groan, recognizing Ronon’s voice. “Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.”

Yawning, he pushed himself up and pulled his pile of clothes closer to him. Slowly, he started changing in his sleeping bag, already shivering as the cold night air crept into his warm space.

Once he was dressed, he checked his P-90, slung his night vision goggles around his neck and stepped out of his tent. John was standing by the tent and as soon as Rodney emerged, he ducked inside, muttering something that sounded like a ‘night, Rodney’ at him.

Ronon was still sitting by the fire, stretching and splashing some cold water from a cup onto his face.

When he saw Teyla emerge from her tent, stretching and fiddling with the NVGs around her neck, he called over that he was going to check the perimeter.

Ronon glanced up and muttered that he’d do it.

“He needs time to get changed and into bed anyway. I might as well do something useful in the whole five minutes that I’m out here.”

Turning, he quietly called over for Teyla to hurry up. They never checked the perimeter alone at night.

They both pulled the goggles over their faces, adjusted their P-90s in their grips and headed off, scanning through the dense vegetation surrounding them for anything that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Fifteen minutes later, they were back, Rodney surprised to find that he didn’t have the usual headache from using the goggles.

Ronon glanced up from the fire. “Headache?”

“Nope.”

Teyla smiled. “You are getting accustomed to wearing them.”

“I guess so. I can’t wait until the other civilians have to start doing some NVG exercises. Radek is going to fall flat on his ass and I’ll run circles around him.”

Ronon snorted and Teyla rolled her eyes. Rodney glanced towards his and John’s tent.

“He quiet?”

Ronon nodded. “I heard him getting changed and now he’s settled down. That was about five minutes ago. He’s probably already out.”

Nodding, Rodney shot another grateful look at Ronon and told them both to have a good night.

Taking off the goggles and pulling off the sling keeping the P-90 around his neck, Rodney quietly crawled into his tent.

John shifted and sat up as soon as he heard the slight noise, hand already going for his gun.

“Shh, it’s alright. Everything’s fine.”

“You’re supposed to be on watch.”

“I have a headache. Stupid goggles. Ronon isn’t tired so he said he’d take watch for me.”

John stared at him before his gaze drifted off to the side of the tent. Rodney waited to see if he dared making some idiotic comment that would have him taking Teyla’s watch too, just to avoid being in the same tent as Rodney.

When John kept his mouth shut and lay back down, Rodney guessed John knew how dumb he would have sounded if he had tried.

Rodney quickly got changed, folding his clothes and putting them beside his gun, goggles and other things he had to carry around with him during watch.

He slipped into his sleeping bag and lay back, staring up at the ceiling. He glanced at John out of the corner of his eye and saw that John had rolled over, turning his back to Rodney.

That was fine. Rodney would just have to wait for the perfect opportunity.

Ten minutes later, Rodney could hear that John still wasn’t sleeping. John could probably tell by Rodney’s own breathing that he wasn’t sleeping either.

Deciding that waiting any longer was a waste of time, Rodney decided to launch into action.

He had to time this perfectly. If he was too slow or clumsy, John could make an escape and shut himself behind his walls by the time Rodney caught him again.

Sighing loudly, Rodney unzipped his sleeping bag and sat up, pulling his legs out of it. He pressed his lips together as the cold air assaulted him. Sweet Lantea it was damn cold!

“You okay?” John asked, still not facing him.

“Yeah. Gotta pee.”

Rodney pushed himself up, but instead of going to the tent flap, he turned and pounced.

Grabbing John’s shoulder, he yanked him onto his back and then straddled him, pinning his legs to the ground. He grabbed the top edges of the sleeping bag on either side of John’s head and twisted his hands into the fabric, effectively sealing John into the bag.

“Rodney, what the hell?!”

Rodney grinned down at him. “We’re going to talk. About a lot of things. And you’re not getting out of this sleeping bag or this tent until we’re done.”

Something flashed in John’s eyes. “Like hell we are,” he growled, trying to worm his arms out of the sleeping bag. Rodney tightened his grip, thanking whoever at the SGC had sent them these narrow Arctic sleeping bags. There was no way John could get his arms out of them without Rodney letting go.

Realizing that, John started trying to buck Rodney off but the combination of his legs being trapped together in the bag and Rodney weighing more than him meant Rodney got a bit jostled but didn’t fall off. The movement did warm him up a little bit but it was still darn cold in the tent. Rodney struggled to keep his teeth from chattering.

He tightened his grip on the bag with his hands and around John’s waist with his thighs and waited for John to get tired.

After another few minutes, John stopped struggling, going limp under Rodney. His jaw was clenched and he was breathing hard, staring up at the ceiling.

“You done?”

“Just talk, Rodney. Say what you have to say and then get off me, please. Although you really don’t have to bother. I know what you’re going to say and believe me, you don’t have to go to any extra effort to hammer it into my head.”

“You know what I’m going to say, huh? Let’s hear it.”

“What?”

“If you already know what I’m going to say then why should I bother wasting my breath talking? You talk. Tell me what I’m going to say.”

Damn it was difficult to form words properly when it was this cold. His tongue felt extra heavy in his mouth and his arms and legs were shaking. Why the hell hadn’t he brought his long pajamas with him?

“It’s over. I know that and I get that. I know you want me back on the team to keep the team dynamic the same but you want to make it clear that sharing a tent and being on the same team has nothing to do with anything…anything we used to have. That’s over. I get that, I really do.”

What? “What?”

“Please get off me now.”

“Did the cold freeze your brain cells?”

“I really don’t want to continue this discussion.”

“That’s too damn bad because I do and we’ve barely started this discussion. First of all, you’re so wrong that there aren’t even words to describe it. This isn’t about me making our break up official. It’s about me getting your head out of your ass and getting you back into my life where you belong.”

A flicker of emotion flared up in John’s eyes but then it was gone and replaced by blankness again.

“Don’t. Please don’t. If you want to hurt me, fine. Blow up my shower, humiliate me in front of everyone, tell everyone what a fucked up idiot I am, fine. Just don’t tease me about this, Rodney. That’s cruel, even for you.”

“What the hell are you on?”

“I’m serious. Please.”

“So am I. You’re not normally this stupid and you know me better than that! If I was mad at you I wouldn’t get back at you by stringing you along! My revenge would be loud and obvious and you know it.”

“Well you obviously can’t mean it so what the hell else would it be?”

“I do mean it, you moron! What we had was the best thing that ever happened to me and I’ll be damned if I don’t try everything possible to fix it!” He stared down at John staring up at the ceiling. “John, look at me.”

John didn’t respond so Rodney scowled. “Look at me, damn it.”

Slowly, John’s gaze drifted down and they stared at each other. John was clearly having trouble keeping his expression as empty as he usually did, since Rodney could see the faint flicker of desperate hope in his eyes.

“First of all, I love you. Second of all, what happened was awful but it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t want this to happen and neither did I. Which all means that I can’t understand why the hell you’d think it’s over between us and why I wouldn’t want you around anymore.”

John pressed his lips together briefly. “I did awful things to you, Rodney. I hit you, I beat you, I tortured you, I said awful things to you…People who love each other don’t do and say those things.”

“They do if they’re not in control of their actions. You weren’t. It was your body but it wasn’t you. Why do you think I’m not scared of you? Why the hell would I want to fix things between us if I thought there was a chance that you’re normally an abusive asshole? I know you’re not. I know you’re not that kind of a person. As for the crap that you said, we both know you said it to lay the stage for your plan to work effectively. We both know you didn’t mean a word of that garbage.”

“I don’t think I can trust myself around you anymore.”

“I’ll trust you enough for both of us. I know you, John. We’ve had our share of fantastically loud fights and they never got violent. Neither of us have ever considered making things physical when we’re fighting and I’ve never been scared that you’d snap and hurt me. I’m still not.”

John stared up at him. “You forgive me?”

Rodney opened his mouth to tell him firmly that there was nothing to forgive, but knew that John didn’t see it that way.

“Yes I do. Completely.”

Something in John’s eyes flared up and he briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Rodney could see tears welling up in his eyes but John squeezed his eyes shut again, determined not to let them fall.

Rodney didn’t want John to have to pretend to be strong for him. For the rest of Atlantis, for their team, for the galaxy, yes, but not for him.

So he leaned down and gently kissed John’s closed eyes. “It’s okay. I forgive you.”

He could fell John shaking, trying to get himself back under control.

Rodney was regretting the fact that John’s sleeping bag was too damn narrow for both of them. That was when he realized how cold he was.

Releasing John’s sleeping bag, he climbed off him and unzipped his own sleeping bag. Unzipping John’s, he quickly zipped the two bags together and crawled into the blissful warmth.

John’s eyes were still closed and he barely reacted when Rodney first grabbed his shoulder to pull him closer to him, but once he’d started, John started squirming frantically, clinging onto Rodney and burying his face in Rodney’s neck.

Rodney pulled the sleeping bag tighter around them, tangled his cold legs with John’s and wrapped his arms around him.

John was snuffling softly into his neck and Rodney could feel wetness seeping into his shirt. He heard broken whispers of “Sorry” and “Thank you” over and over again.

He leaned his head down and shushed John, adding his own whispers of “It’s okay”, “I love you” and “We’re gonna be alright” into the unbroken stream of John’s own murmuring.

He tangled one of his hands into John’s hair and pulled his reassuring weight firmly over him, letting John’s warmth seep into him. The familiarity of John’s weight plastered on him, his hair tickling his nose and his smell surrounding Rodney made him finally believe that things were returning back to normal. Or as normal as they would ever get.

It took a long time for John to calm down. Once he did, he gently untangled himself from Rodney and pushed himself up, staring down at him.

John reached out a hesitant, uncertain hand, stretching out one finger towards Rodney’s face. He nearly touched Rodney’s cheek but stopped when he was nearly there.

Rodney grabbed his hand and pulled his hand to his face, turning his face to press a kiss into his palm and then pressing the hand firmly onto his face.

John’s other hand came up and gentle fingers started exploring his face, skimming over his nose, his cheeks, his lips, his eyebrows, his chin.

Rodney let him explore, smiling as John’s touch grew stronger and more certain.

Then Rodney pulled his own arms free and pulled John’s face down to him, meeting his lips with his own. When Rodney opened his mouth, his tongue darting out to lick at John’s lips, John gave a half-sob and parted his lips, the kiss getting deeper and pressing Rodney into the pillow.

As their kissing got more heated, Rodney momentarily pulled back, placing a finger on John’s lips to pause him for a second.

“No more bachelor pad.”

John smiled and nodded. Rodney smiled back, wanting to cry at the sight of John smiling.

“Good. Now, where were we?”

John let out a small laugh and reached down to find Rodney’s lips again as Rodney grinned and hoped that the tent was somewhat soundproof.

Things weren’t perfect. They never had been and they never would be, but Rodney realized that right at this moment, things were close enough for him.