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John nodded to Ellie, the librarian on duty this particular Sunday, as he sauntered past with a smile. Normally he made a point to stop and ask after her girlfriend, but he was running late as it was. She waved him on with a knowing smile, eyes bright and amused. Nothing got past her, John knew, and he fought not to blush.

He took the stairs two at a time to the second floor and trailed his hand along the book spines as he weaved his way through the maze of bookshelves. In the back was an alcove with a window seat overlooking the beautiful mountain view. A table was situated a few feet in front of the wide window, packed high with books of various subjects, the small table lamp already lit to combat the lengthening shadows as the sun retreated behind the horizon.

Rodney was firmly ensconced on the narrow window seat, sitting sideways so his socked feet rested comfortably. The light that shined through the window brightened the tips of his hair, giving him a glow. He rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb as he read, a hypnotic movement that drew the eye. He didn’t look up as John approached, only turned the page of his book.

“You’re late.”

“I know,” John said, setting Rodney’s coffee on the floor, well within reach. “Work ran long.”

“Hmm,” Rodney said, snatching up the cup and taking a hearty swallow. Appeased by John’s offering, he deigned to meet John’s eyes. “A likely excuse.”

John rolled his eyes. “Next time I’ll be sure to tell the criminal to wait until after I’m off duty. I’m sure he’ll listen.”

Rodney was fighting to keep hold of his annoyance, John could tell. The corners of his lips were turning up and his body had relaxed into his seat. His blue eyes were bright and amused. He shifted, moving his feet off the couch in silent invitation. John swung his backpack off and settled in next to him, sitting close enough to feel Rodney’s body heat. Not that it required a lack of distance - Rodney put off heat like a furnace. John, who was always cold, had taken to sitting as close as he could get away with.

While John rooted around in his bag for his book, Rodney bookmarked his place and gently set his book aside. Rodney’s reverence for paper books was as odd as it was endearing. The slide of his fingers over the cover, the careful turning of the pages, like it was a precious artifact to be treated only with respect. John had asked, once, why he treated books like they were  rare gems.

“I was raised in a place without many paper books,” was all he’d said. John wasn’t much for talking about his childhood either and had let the matter rest, though curiosity gnawed at him.

John made a noise of triumph as he pulled his book out. It was a personal copy, the cover faded with age, the corners bent, worn down with age and repeated readings. It had been John’s turn to suggest a book for them to read and he’d chosen Hitchhiker’s Guide, certain that Rodney would love the humor. He’d been right, and they had mutually agreed to read the whole series before choosing something different. Setting his backpack down at his feet, John narrowly missed knocking over his coffee, catching it just in time. John kicked his backpack a safe distance away and sighed.

“Rough day?” Rodney asked, sympathetically. John nodded, rubbing at one eye with the palm of his hand.

“Weird day,” John amended. “Saw a guy jump from a bridge to land on his feet, completely unharmed. He just...walked it off. Never seen anything like it.”

“Maybe he just got lucky?” Rodney offered, staring hard at his socked feet.

“Maybe,” John replied doubtfully. “It just seems like…”

Rodney finally looked up at him, arching an eyebrow.

“Do you ever feel like there’s something weird about this place? About the people, I mean.”

“....No? People are weird everywhere, Sheppard. Inexplicable.” Rodney’s mouth curved into a frown. John had heard his rant about people and their stupidity and lack of logical actions enough to be able to recognize an impending rant when he heard it, so John hurried to continue.

“I don’t know, it just feels like I’ve seen more crazy stuff during a year in this town than I’ve seen in my whole life."

“Like your bridge jumper,” Rodney said skeptically, shaking his head.

“Yeah,” John nodded. “And that lady who lifted the bumper of her car like she was lifting a toy car, and the guy with the super senses, and that kid who seemed to read my mind.”

“Oh, for god’s sake,” Rodney grumbled. He was picking at a hole in his pants, a tell John had picked up on right away. John bringing up the weirdness that was Manitou Springs always made Rodney uncomfortable. “It’s all in your fluffy-haired head. That kid was just exceptionally observant and the woman was just on drugs.”

“I really don’t think so,” John said quietly, watching Rodney’s fingers work. “I know it sounds crazy, and maybe individually I’d be able to forget about it, but it happens too frequently.” John had spent his first six months here convinced he was slowly going crazy, but he’d reached a point where he could no longer dismiss what he’d seen, where repeated run-ins had worn down the skeptic in John.

“So, what? You think there’s something supernatural at work?”

John cracked a grin. “Maybe I should be calling in some hunters.”

Rodney snorted. “Maybe that’s your problem right there. Too much television.”

“Okay, Scully. See if I confide in you again.”

Rodney tilted his head to the side and bit his lip. Though he was the same age as John, Rodney had some glaring holes in his pop culture knowledge, and John never knew when a reference would go over his head. Rodney was such a fascinating mystery to John, a study in contradictions: a genius who had spent his life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, but raised in such a place that paper books were uncommon. Brutally honest but personally sensitive. Arrogant but insecure.

John figured he could spend his whole life trying to know Rodney. On a good day, John liked the idea. On a bad one, it terrified him.

“The X-Files,” he explained. “Aired in the early 90’s, about an FBI Agent named Mulder and his partner, Scully. Mulder believed in aliens and the paranormal, while Scully was a skeptic. I’m not sure how you missed seeing it, actually.”

“Some of us were busy learning, Sheppard.” Rodney sniffed. He paused and gave it some thought. “Aliens, huh. Sounds interesting.”

“It was a good show. We should watch it sometime,” John nudged Rodney’s shoulder with his own. Rodney leaned into him, arms pressed together.

“I’d like that,” Rodney smiled.

 

.=.=.=.=.

“Who’s in there with the chief?” John asked, tilting his head toward the Chief’s closed office door. Ford and Bates exchanged a long look, communicating silently, before shrugging unconvincingly at John. Bates deliberately met John’s eyes but Ford wouldn’t look in his direction, fumbling with his pen, a half-filled report laying on his desk. John watched Ford for a moment or two before glancing over at Bates, who was watching the door intently.

Both men straightened when the door opened, practically jumping to attention, and when John saw the chest candy on the general stepping out of the Chief’s office, he had to fight the same instinctive reaction. Instead, John met the grey-haired general’s eyes and pointedly stayed slouched, chin tilting in an unconscious mimic of Rodney’s own show of defiance. Rather than becoming irritated, as was John’s intention, the general instead seemed amused, giving John a small wave as he left.

“Why is a general meeting with the Chief?” John asked idly, hardly expecting an answer. Ford and Bates shared another look, and John really hoped neither man were special ops during their time in the military.

They weren’t subtle at all.

 

.=.=.=.=.

John almost forgot the general’s visit as the morning passed, filled with reports and patrol. He took a detour to the bathroom just before lunch, coffee spilled down his front and Ford’s apologies trailing behind. Ford had joined the force just before John, freshly discharged from the military, and though he had mostly adjusted to his eye patch there were still times he misjudged distances and knocked things over. Luckily, John’s coffee had been leftover from the morning and had long since gone cold.

It took a moment for the bathroom discussion to become more than just background noise. John froze, the door pushed open part way.

“- to keep a lookout for him,” Markham was saying. John slid the rest of the way into the bathroom, easing the door closed behind him. He took care to tuck himself into the closet corner, jammed between the hand dryer and the wall of the first stall.

“The general came all the way from the Mountain to tell us that?” Bates asked. “Must be one bad motherfucker.”

“I think he wanted to get a look at Sheppard, too. I heard they were considering him for the program when he opted for retirement.” Markham said. “Might be they’re still thinking about it.”

“Hmm,” was Bates response. He seemed almost derisive of the idea, a sentiment John shared. They got along pretty well due to mutual respect for each other’s capabilities, but John knew Bates didn’t approve of the motivation behind his exit from the military. Most didn’t, and he couldn’t see any officer willing to bring him back under their command. Not with his black mark.

“I don’t get why they think he’d come here,” Stackhouse muttered after a pause. “This is the dumbest place for him to go.”

“Is it, though?” Markham asked. “There are others like him here. People who’d be willing to help a guy out, or at least get him in touch with some underground connections.”

“And risk being sent back for helping a fugitive?” Stackhouse sounded dubious. “He knows we’re here, that we know about his... background. Of all cities, this is the one most equipped to catch him.”

“Speaking of catching him,” Bates broke in. “Be a little more on the ball this time. Sheppard collared the last one and he’s starting to ask questions we can’t answer.”

There was another pause. John’s heart pounded. He hadn’t heard anything about a fugitive likely heading their way, which meant this information was being spread by word of mouth, purposely cutting him out. What the fuck was going on?

“I don’t understand why they hired him if they had no intention of bringing him in fully,” Markham said. "Unless they are still thinking about it."

“That line of thought is for the higher ups to know,” Bates snapped. “We just do our jobs.”

“Yeah, yeah.” John could almost picture Markham rolling his eyes. A sink turned on and the conversation drifted; they were getting ready to leave. John slipped quietly from the room, head full of questions and chest heavy with worry.

 

.=.=.=.=.

John told himself he was a rational guy, not the type to be influenced by rumors. He wasn’t not taken to flights of fancy. Despite his love of flying, he kept his feet on the ground and head out of the clouds, metaphorically speaking.

But Manitou Springs was only six miles from Colorado Springs, home of The Mountain. There was a lot of talk about that place, rumors about secret projects at NORAD, about strange people and even stranger happenings. Rodney claimed he worked on deep space telemetry, which sounded like a load of bullshit to John, typical military code for something more secretive. But what did John know?

Just hearsay and the odd incidents in a town existing just outside Colorado Springs, home to many of the people who worked at Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Other than that, a whole lotta nothing.

 

.=.=.=.=.

John beat Rodney to their meeting place that Sunday, eagerly anticipating some uncomplicated interaction. John had not noticed anything different in his co-workers actions but he couldn’t help but feel like the camaraderie he’d previously felt was fake, a show put on to keep him in the dark. Being around Rodney made John feel better, and with all the thoughts swirling around in his head, he needed that.

He took his usual seat, setting down the cup carrier on the nearby table. It was still light out, so the table lamp had not been turned on yet, leaving the room to be lit from the cold, outside light. John had never been to their meeting place without Rodney here; the space felt too empty without Rodney’s presence, too quiet without his words. John pulled out the book he was reading on Rodney’s recommendation, hoping to quell the storm of his thoughts. Settling in with his back against the wall and his legs spread out over the rest of the seat, John glanced out the window as he opened the book.

He froze.

Rodney was standing where the path leading to the library doors met the public sidewalks, talking with two men in suits. Despite the overcast day, the two men were wearing sunglasses, looking ridiculously out of place in this relatively small town. John leaned closer to the glass as though that would let him get a better look or allow him to hear what they were talking about. Rodney was gesturing wildly, chin tilted defiantly. John didn’t see the two suits move, but after a moment Rodney’s shoulders slumped and he held out his arm. John’s nose was nearly pressed to the glass at this point, straining to see as one of the suits pulled something from his inside pocket and held it out over Rodney’s arm. It hovered there for a moment before being tucked away. One of the suits turned and began to walk away, while the other lingered behind, clearly speaking some final words to Rodney before he, too, moved off.

Rodney trudged his way up the path toward the library, and John leaned away from the window, rubbing at his bottom lip thoughtfully. John knew that Rodney, like many of the residents at Manitou Springs, worked up at the Mountain. It was likely that little meeting had something to do with Rodney’s job, though John couldn’t imagine what. But given the secrets his department was keeping from him, John had to wonder. Was he seeing conspiracies where there were none, or was there something more to this town?

When Rodney finally arrived, John did his best to lounge casually. Rodney looked preoccupied and a little irritated, which meant all of John’s efforts to look normal were for nothing. In this state, Rodney wouldn’t notice if John was sporting a facial piercing, let alone any odd behavior.

“Hey,” Rodney muttered, waving at John. He settled on the seat, absently picking through his bag to pull out his book. John waited until Rodney was settled, book in lap, coffee in hand, before springing his question.

“Who were those guys?”

“What guys?” Rodney asked, fiddling with his bookmark. He didn’t look up, and John was becoming concerned. If something bothered Rodney, he let the whole world know. John had seen him deep in thought over the complex equations on his laptop that John wasn’t supposed to know about, had seen him get lost in a book until the outside world had ceased to exist, but he’d never seen this. A worried, withdrawn Rodney.

“The guys you were talking to in front of the library just a few minutes ago,” John persisted.

Rodney’s head jerked up. His voice was too high when he replied, “The - oh, them. Just...work stuff, you know how it is.”

“It didn’t look like work stuff,” John said, doubtful.

“Hmm, yes, well. I just forgot to do something, is all.” Rodney was squirming with discomfort now, body language screaming his desire for a new topic.

“They tracked you down for that? It couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

Rodney’s gaze drifted until he was staring out the window. He looked almost sad, somehow. “It was very important.”

They fell into an uneasy silence, with Rodney distracted and John’s head full of buzzing, paranoid thoughts. A headache formed behind John’s eye, relieved only when he pressed his fingertips against his closed eyelid. After several moments went by with neither man speaking up or looking at their books, John sighed.

“Maybe we should just cancel today. Go home, relax a little.”

The corner of Rodney’s mouth turned down into a crooked, unhappy frown. John wanted to trace the curve of his mouth until Rodney smiled, returning to his animated, excitable self. But John’s head was pounding and his body was tired, exhausted from a day of work and suspicion. He enjoyed his weekly meetups with Rodney and didn’t want to skip one, but today was clearly not a good day for either of them.

“How ‘bout we reschedule?” John asked suddenly. “We could meet sometime this week at my house.”

Rodney perked up at that. “We could watch the X-Files. I have Netflix.”

“I could cook us dinner.” John had gone to cooking classes with Nancy once upon a time, an activity she had suggested while John was home between deployments. The classes had come in handy after the divorce, after John’s separation from the military. The thought of cooking something that had Rodney making those loud, delighted noises was mighty intriguing, too.

Rodney’s gaze went a bit dreamy. “You cook? Oh, that’s just wonderful.”

John grinned. He nudged Rodney’s foot with his own, feeling his mood swing back around to happy. If their mid-week hang out went well, maybe it could become a regular thing. John had lots of tv shows and movies to share with Rodney.

“What day works for you?” Rodney asked eagerly. As John was the one who had more random hours, it would make more sense to plan around his schedule. Rodney was usually out of work by seven at the latest, though he’d indicated a willingness to work all night if given half a chance.

“Wednesday,” John said finally. “I’m out by four. We can meet at seven for dinner, give me some time to prepare.”

Rodney beamed, bouncing in his seat a little. John wanted to kiss him.

“Wednesday it is,” he agreed, and John left with Rodney’s smile and dinner plans on his mind, any speculation about that weird confrontation in front of the library banished.

 

.=.=.=.=.

John rented a small apartment near the outskirts of town, where things were quiet and the neighbors far away. John liked the open space, tasted freedom and peace whenever he inhaled. He’d built his own back deck for late night star viewing, though he spent quite a bit of time with his head tipped back, gazing up at the blue sky, trying to pretend the deck chair he was sitting in was actually a pilot’s seat and the blue sky was close enough to touch.

Rodney showed up in close-fitting pants, a blue shirt, and a grey zip up jacket. It was kind of embarrassing how good he looked to John, especially how nicely those pants outlined his ass, despite the ugly pattern. John was torn between hoping Rodney caught him looking and that he didn’t. John was no coward though, and no longer military, and indulged himself with long, admiring looks.

Rodney seemed pleased when John indicated they’d be eating outside for dinner, readily helping John move things from the kitchen to the table out there. The crickets were like background static, just loud enough to block out distant city noises, soft enough not to irritate. The low lighting and privacy was perfect for a date, not that either of them had actually used the word.

Oh god. Rodney didn’t know this was a date. Did he?

John sneaked a peek at Rodney, who was shoveling food into his mouth with his usual avarice, humming and moaning, eyelashes fluttering, and John wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve this. John didn’t think Rodney knew this was a date and he’ wasn’t quite sure how to get to that point across. Rodney was not good with subtle and John was not good with words.

Rodney’s bottom lip was shiny.

“Are you going to finish that?” Rodney asked, pointing at John’s half-eaten plate. John passed it over with a smile, glad that dinner has been a hit, at the very least.

They did the dishes side by side, Rodney insisting he’d help. He discarded his old man grey jacket, leaving him in that dark blue shirt that suited him so well, and John thought the only thing that would make his shirt look better was if it were covered in soap, put there by John’s hands. John made sure to slide his hand along Rodney’s when passing a dish over for him to rinse and dry. Deliberate, firm touches, impossible to ignore. Rodney shot him side glances even as he talked about a minion of his who set himself on fire that day - and the subsequent mandatory meetings on fire safety that he and his people were now required to sit through.

“Deal with a lot of fire hazards?” John asked, still chuckling at the over-the-top storytelling.

“Not as a rule, no,” Rodney took the glass cup, touch lingering for a second too long. “Which is why it’s so baffling. We’re still not sure how he managed it. I’ve never seen a person without eyebrows before - it’s not a good look.”

John was surprised when Rodney wrapped one hand around John’s wrist. He turned to meet Rodney’s slightly widened eyes, gaze darting to where Rodney was biting his bottom lip. Time seemed to slow down as Rodney squeezed his wrist, brushed his thumb gently over John’s pulse. Rodney let go and grabbed the cup from John’s hand. His cheeks were pink and he studiously avoided John’s gaze. He wanted to kiss the area behind Rodney’s ear, nuzzle at his neck -

He abruptly realized the sink was empty now and that he was mindlessly swishing his hands through the water, fruitlessly looking for the next dirty dish. He stepped back and dried his hands with a towel, handing it over to Rodney - who was still refusing to meet his gaze - once he was done. The silence between them was awkward, but not uncomfortable, and John took a chance. He grabbed the bottom edge of Rodney’s shirt and tugged him toward the dark living room, where Netflix was already queued up. Rodney’s head jerked up at the first tug, but he was smiling now, wide and crooked and just how John liked.

The couch was long and well loved, perfect for sprawling out, for taking naps. Despite the space, they sat pressed together, shoulder to knee. Their hands rested on their legs, inches apart, and John knew by the end of the night he’d be reaching out. Though John got caught up in the episode, he occasionally was interrupted by the sudden awareness of Rodney’s body next to his, the potential that seemed to sit so heavily between them. Rodney seemed to be enjoying The X-Files, even nodded eagerly when John offered to start the second episode. As soon as the remote was back on the living room table, John grabbed Rodney’s hand.

Rodney startled at first, clearly not expecting such a move, but before John could pull away he gripped back, almost too tight. John leaned against him, hyper aware of the clasp of their hands, and noted that Rodney had put on aftershave.

John went for a kiss after the third episode, when Rodney turned to him to continue sharing his thoughts. It was awkward with Rodney trying to speak through it, the kiss landing more on Rodney’s teeth than anything else. John snorted loudly with amusement, which seemed to set Rodney off. He curled closer, giggling.

“So romantic,” Rodney teased, voice trembling with laughter.

“Hey, if you’d just stop talking,” John complained, face mashed into Rodney’s shoulder so tightly his nose bent. Once he felt he could look at Rodney without remembering the undignified noise he just made, he sat back.

“Right, I can do that,” Rodney agreed, and pressed his lips together until they nearly disappeared. He could only hold it for a moment before he collapsed into giggles again, this time setting John off. The laughter released any tension and nerves they’d been feeling before the kiss, and feeling light with happiness and contentment, John went in for the kiss a second time.

Rodney’s lips were warm and a little dry. Though John meant for it to be a soft, quick kiss this first time, he couldn’t seem to stay away for too long, each press of lips lingering for a little longer. John cupped the back of Rodney’s head with one hand, trying to take this slow, to savor the moment. Rodney wrapped an arm around John’s waist and hauled him closer, leaning backward until John was stretched over him. The kiss deepened, got a little hotter, and John wanted so badly to lift Rodney’s shirt, to tease his nipples and press his hand to the skin over Rodney’s heart. But John’s hand was trapped underneath Rodney’s head, the other pinned between their bodies and the couch.

Rodney wasn’t quite so restricted and slid his hand under John’s henley shirt, touching John’s back, tracing the contour of his muscles. The kiss broke only when Rodney slid his hand down to squeeze John’s ass, John moaning at the touch, rolling his hips into Rodney’s body. He hadn’t planned for things to go so far on the first date, but he was definitely one to go with it, to let the situation lead him.

John’s cell phone rang, the ringtone the one he assigned for the Chief, and this time the noise he made was one of disappointment.

“I gotta - I’m sorry,” John gasped.

“Hey, no, it’s fine,” Rodney replied, blinking up at John. His hair was mussed and his lips were red, the skin of his cheeks and neck flushed. John wanted, he wanted so much , since he first saw Rodney bitching in line at the coffee shop. It took great effort to even think of moving away.

“Fuck,” John swore, and pressed a wet kiss to Rodney’s neck, gave it a quick nibble before pulling away, rolling off the couch and onto the floor. He landed with a wince, already reaching for his cell phone, trying not to watch as Rodney sat up, readjusting his clothes.

“Sheppard,” he snapped.

“A known fugitive has been spotted in town,” his Chief informed him. “All officers must respond, so get your ass to the station right now.”

“Yes, sir,” John said, and adrenaline surged inside him at the thought of a chase, of a hunt. His mind raced with all that needed to be done. He turned to look at Rodney, who had already gotten off the couch and was gathering his things.

“I’ll call you when we’re done,” John said finally, uncertain how to break the weird atmosphere between them. “We can reschedule.”

“Right, of course,” Rodney smiled at him, but it looked all wrong. John used the couch to help himself off the floor. He touched Rodney’s hands, stilling them, and leaned in for a slow, heated kiss. Rodney opened his mouth and deepened the kiss. John let it go on for longer than he should have, given the situation at the station, but even so, Rodney made a sound of disappointment when he pulled back.

“Raincheck,” John said hoarsely. “I’m not - I’m not letting this one slide, Rodney.”

Rodney’s lips curled into a pleased smile. He was still charmingly flushed and mussed. He still smelled really good. John was going to be thinking about the taste of his mouth all night.

“I wouldn’t want you to.”

 

.=.=.=.=.

It took four days for the manhunt to conclude. John was tired and more than ready to catch a good nine hours of sleep, but equally as pressing was the need to see Rodney. He’d left in such a hurry, with things unfinished, that he wanted Rodney to know that he was very much still interested in continuing where they left off. Later, after those nine hours. If John were very lucky, he’d get to spend those nine hours at Rodney’s side.

John had been to Rodney’s little house only once, when Rodney had needed a ride home from the library, but it was very close to John’s patrol route. It took only an extra half hour to actually find the place, which John blamed on a combination of fatigue and lack of lighting. Rodney’s porch light was on but the rooms at the front of the house were dark, and John briefly worried that Rodney was already in bed. But the lure of a possibly warm, sleepy Rodney was too much to resist. John soon found himself knocking on Rodney’s front door.

There was no answer for one long minute before the door swung open, a rush of warmth and the smell of Rodney’s home greeting him. Rodney appeared in the doorway looking cranky, pillow creases decorating the right side of his face. It took a moment for him to realize it was John he was looking at, his mouth relaxing from a scowl into a crooked, welcoming smile.

John opened his mouth to greet Rodney but a yawn escaped instead. He flushed, his face warming in the cool air. John ducked his head with embarrassment, but Rodney only chuckled.

“Get in here,” he ordered, and John obeyed, stepping into the warm house eagerly. He tripped over the little step into the house and caught himself using Rodney’s arm, enjoying the strength he felt there. John kicked his shoes off as Rodney closed the door behind him, using his foot to slide them against the wall. He bent over to slip his socks off, tucking them inside his shoes. Rodney led the way to his bedroom. John wanted to admire the view - those broad shoulders, that ass - but fatigue was pulling at his limbs and the lids of his eyes.

John only had eyes for Rodney’s bed, the covers rumpled and thrown aside. As he approached the bed, he clumsily slipped out of his shirt, struggling for a moment when the cloth got tangled around his neck, and got to work on his belt. His belt was next, and after a few frustrating moments in which the fog in his brain was preventing his fingers from achieving his goal, Rodney stepped into his line of vision.

He reached out slowly and undid John’s belt, and as Rodney slid it from the loops of his pants, he glanced up to meet John’s eyes. Rodney had turned the bathroom light on while John struggled to escape his shirt, and the light was just enough to see the heat in Rodney’s eyes. A curl of arousal spread through John’s belly and his dick twitched.  He reached out to take a handful of Rodney’s soft shirt and pulled him close, giving him a messy, firm kiss. Rodney’s lips were chapped and the kiss was over before he could really respond, but John felt better for having done it. The corner of Rodney’s lip quirked up.

“There’s a spare toothbrush on the sink,” he said quietly. “Hurry up and come to bed. You look exhausted.” He reached up and untangled John’s hand from his shirt, rubbing his thumb over John’s pulse point before letting go. He gave John a nudge toward the bathroom and turned toward the bed. Facing the light directly blinded John momentarily, and that combined with his bare feet on the cold tile resulted in a quiet noise of discomfort escaping his mouth.

Rodney’s bathroom was probably the cleanest room in the house, with his hygiene products laid out carefully on the counter. John’s toothbrush was sitting next to Rodney’s, still in its wrapper. John struggled to get it open for a moment before resorting to using his teeth. His reflection in the mirror was startling: his hair was sitting close to his head, except for those few, stubborn cowlicks; his eyes were red-rimmed and wild; and his skin was a washed out grey. No wonder Rodney was insisting they go to bed.

After finishing his pre-bed routine, John unsteadily walked his way back into Rodney’s room. With the bathroom light now off, the room was too dark to see comfortably. John kicked something heavy and winced at the sharp pain, tripped over what felt like a pile of clothing, and walked right into Rodney’s nightstand. Something fell over, hitting another object made of glass.

“Oops,” John said, blindly reaching out to set things right. “Let me just - I’m sorry, I-”

A light came on. It emanated from John’s hand, from the thing he was holding, and John’s head was filled with whispers, with the nudge and grasp of something foreign. It felt familiar and comforting and odd, all at the same time. His fingertips tingled.

“They sank it,” John said suddenly, the words coming from deep inside, beyond conscious thought. “Sank it just like in the stories, but it’s still there. It had a shield…”

Rodney spoke vehemently in another language, his tone giving his feelings away. His warm hand grabbed John’s, pried the object loose, and the light went out. The voices in his head faded to a dim murmur and the tingling stopped. John blinked rapidly, coming back to himself. He swayed where he stood.

“Rodney,” he muttered. He paused, trying to think of something to say. His brain didn’t cooperate, the long, sleepless days catching up with him. There was simply nothing in John’s head for him to grasp, wrangle into a coherent sentence. “Sleeping. Is a thing.”

“I’m sorry,” Rodney replied, putting a hand on John’s shoulder. “But we need to go. You have to come with me, right now.”

“Mmm? Go where?” Could John sleep there?

Rodney’s words were like a glass of cold water poured over his head, adrenaline jolting through him, forcing awareness back into his tired body.

“We’re going to the mountain.”