If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, John Sheppard thought crazily, the watery green and golden light all around him as he stroked deeper into the murky darkness below, straining his eyes for even the faintest hint of Rodney McKay.
If the impact of hitting the water some 200 or 300 feet below the cliff in an uncontrolled dive hadn't broken Rodney's neck, John might still find him. Even though he was starting to feel the burn as his body demanded more oxygen, he wasn't going to fucking give up, he wasn't, he couldn't. Finally, just before his body rebelled and forced him up, he saw something pale floating, maybe even rising toward him, and fuck, it resolved into two hands and he grabbed one, yanked and wrapped an arm around Rodney's possibly broken neck before stroking back toward the light.
It was all going to be academic anyway if they both drowned.
John was damned if he was going to drown on a planet in an entirely different galaxy than the one he'd been born in.
Breaking the surface with a gasp, he heard a shout and looked to see Ford and Teyla making a more controlled descent down the phantom pathway instead of the sheer drop. Still holding Rodney, he dragged in a deep breath and started for the rocky shore.
A distant part of his mind was disturbed by how limp Rodney was, but he had other concerns. Ford and Teyla didn't seem to have been hurt, but the jumper was a fair distance away and John had no idea how they were going to get back to it without having to shoot some of the planet's pissed off and very primitive inhabitants.
The Wraith had well and truly fucked over this galaxy; John was so goddamned tired of running into civilizations that were more primitive than their own, he'd settle for one that came within fifty or sixty years happily just so he didn't have to deal with superstitions, religions, and maniacs.
On the other hand, that had been almost exactly where the Genii had been in terms of civilization, and look how badly that had turned out.
John spared a glance back at Rodney, felt mild relief that Rodney's head didn't seem to be bleeding, and boy, he was never going to let Rodney forget that while dodging spears was a great idea, stepping backwards off a fucking cliff was not. Of course, he was going to have to dodge the question of his dive off after Rodney, which had been patently insane and he still couldn't think of how the fuck to explain that in the mission debriefing. Somehow he didn't think that, "Why, yes, Elizabeth, I'm used to diving off three hundred foot cliffs, used to do it all the time in my surfing days," was actually going to work.
With any luck, she'd be glad enough to get Rodney back undrowned, she'd let it go.
John just hoped that undrowned was enough. The water had been plenty deep, thank God, so he hadn't broken his neck on his insane drive, but he hadn't actually seen Rodney hit. In Rodney's case, a broken neck was still a possibility, and that was pretty damned horrifying to consider, particularly since he was hauling Rodney toward shore by his possibly broken neck and couldn't seem to stop thinking about it.
Ford waded out into the shallows to help John manhandle Rodney out of the water and over to where the 'beach' turned into pebbles and not rocks. John went to his knees and Ford pulled Rodney's vest and jacket open, measured down to start compressions. John tipped Rodney's head back, ran through the steps automatically, and nodded at Ford. Breathe, compress, breathe, compress, and John was working up to a good case of panic and rage and despair when Rodney coughed, water flooding from his mouth and nose.
They rolled him over and he coughed, vomited water, and gasped. John sank back on his heels, wiped seawater or something out of his eyes with a hand that didn't shake much, and watched while Ford steadied Rodney on side.
"Yeah, that's it, McKay, cough that shit up," Ford encouraged.
John gave him an incredulous look; did he think Rodney had a choice? "Come on, Rodney, talk to me," he demanded roughly.
Rodney gave him a fairly befuddled look, still coughing violently. The fact that Rodney was trying to push himself upright was a really good sign, though, and John figured he could stop worrying about the whole broken neck or back thing.
The coughing, though—John was pretty sure Rodney was going to puke again and helped him up enough that it didn't end up on anybody. More seawater, more violent coughing, and then it settled down enough that Rodney squinted at him through watering eyes. "What happened?"
"You know that saying 'long walk off a short pier'?" John asked and then shook his head when Rodney blinked at him, still befuddled. "You fell."
Rodney squinted again, leaned over on his hands, and coughed once. "I fell?"
"Yeah, from up there," Ford said and patted Rodney's back. "The major did one helluva dive after you."
John glared at him. "Don't encourage him."
Ford blinked. "Sir, I don't think he did it on purpose."
John knew that. He glared at Ford again and pushed himself to his feet, ignoring how wobbly his knees still felt. Obviously, he needed to talk to Heightmeyer, for God's sake: diving off a 300 foot cliff and Jesus, Rodney sinking and sinking and sinking and he felt for a minute like he might throw up, too. Rodney drowning again, for God's sake, although that was crazy thinking, this Rodney hadn't drowned at all. Or rather, Rodney hadn't drowned at all in this lifetime, and John was too rattled to think that through anyway.
Rodney tried to get up, but obviously he was still way too wobbly; it took both John and Ford to get him to his feet. John steadied him again when he looked up at the cliff. "How did I fall?" Hoarsely, and he was still too fucking pale.
"Angry people throwing javelins," Ford said. "Remember?"
Rodney blinked, wiped his eyes with the back of his hands. "No."
Teyla, who had been watching the path for any attempt of the natives to follow them, approached. "We should follow the shore of this bay before we attempt to go back up."
John nodded, raked his wet hair back with his fingers. If he looked half as pathetic as Rodney did, he didn't want to know about it. "Rodney, can you walk?"
Rodney rubbed the center of his chest. "I think so." He started cough again, and bent over to rest his hands on his thighs until it subsided. "Just, yeah, I think so."
John nodded, not altogether happy, and anxious to get back to Atlantis, to get Rodney to the infirmary for an all-clear. "Okay, let's go. Ford, where's my P90?""
"With mine, sir," Ford said and scrambled back over to the end of the muddy path to pick up both weapons.
"How did I fall?" Rodney asked again, sounding bewildered.
John sighed, put a hand at the small of Rodney's back, and urged him forward. He couldn't believe neither of them had lost their shoes, not that he was complaining. "Follow Teyla, Rodney."
Rodney looked up again and rubbed his chest, frowning. "I don't remember."
"Rodney," John said firmly. "Teyla. Follow. Go. Quickly."
"I had to fire over their heads, sir, but the P90 seriously startled that guy with the cloak and he called retreat, I guess." Ford gave John his P90. "I don't know if he was startled enough to leave us alone, so we're going to have to be careful when there's ground cover."
John nodded. The adrenaline rush had subsided and if he thought about what had just happened and what he'd done, he wasn't sure he was going to make it back up the trail at the other side of the bay, let alone get to the trail. Rodney was lagging again, staring back at the cliff with that puzzled frown.
It wasn't very Rodney-like, John thought. "Rodney, move!"
Rodney started and stumbled after Teyla, still frowning.
Ford gave John an odd look before following.
They didn't encounter any problems on the long trudge around the bay except for the fact that clothing wet with salt was remarkably chafing in places John had rather not have chafed.
John was aware that they were being shadowed, but there was no attack, no violence once they actually made it back to the high land. He'd left the jumper shielded and cloaked, so there wasn't anybody waiting for them, thankfully, and after a moment of panic, he realized that he'd zipped the remote into his vest and yes, it was still there.
After that passed, John had another moment worrying about seawater, but he should have known better; the cloak dropped and Teyla guided Rodney, who was not only stumbling, but suspiciously silent about his suffering, into the jumper and onto a seat.
John stopped to peer into Rodney's face. "You okay?"
Rodney nodded vaguely, rubbed his chest. "My chest hurts," he said hoarsely and took the canteen Teyla pulled from the storage webbing. "Thanks, Teyla."
'You are welcome, McKay." Teyla glanced at John, frowning. "Should we give him some of the, ah, Tylenol?"
Rodney was still looking awfully dazed. John supposed concussion could still be a problem, but that was so much better than drowning, and he still wasn't ready to think about that. "Not until Beckett sees him," he said and sat down, closed the jumper hatch. "Okay, let's get the hell out of here. This was a wasted trip."
Ford nodded, took the shotgun seat and then John lifted off, appreciating the sweet way the jumper responded, even if he did sometimes miss velocity. Twenty minutes to the gate at the edge of this solar system, and then they were home, through the gate and rising to the jumper bay.
John glanced back to see Rodney rubbing his chest again with that befuddled and pained expression on his face. It made John's gut knot up and he got up from the pilot's seat. "Come on, Rodney, let's get you to the infirmary."
"Why?" Rodney frowned at him.
"Because you fell into the ocean from 300 feet up," John told him, feeling a little irritable himself. "Remember?" He did.
Too damn clearly.
He'd seen the pale shape vanishing into the water right before he'd given Ford his P90 and followed, remembered Rodney's hands, like anemones, floating above his head.
Rodney's frown got deeper, but he got up, followed John out of the jumper without even one protest or sarcastic remark.
It was worrying. John eyed him. "Are you sure you're all right?"
Rodney shook his head. "My chest hurts and I have a headache."
"You're acting weird," John said before his internal censor cut in. "You're worrying me," he added.
"What?" Rodney looked, if anything, more bewildered, not affronted in the least.
"Never mind." John looked at Teyla to find her watching Rodney with a worried expression.
She took Rodney's arm gently. "It would be wise to have Dr. Beckett make certain you did not suffer some injury we have not noted."
Rodney nodded peaceably and let Teyla steer him toward the bay doors.
"He's acting a little weird," Ford said, coming to stand beside John. "Maybe we better go with him."
John gave him another incredulous look. "I'll say." He caught up before Teyla and Rodney left the bay, looked sidelong at Rodney's expression. "Hey, Rodney, what's my name?"
Rodney gave him another irritated look. "Sheppard."
"What's my first name," he persisted.
Okay, now Rodney was giving him the 'have you gone completely insane' look. "You don't remember your first name?"
John rolled his eyes. "Of course I do, I want to know if you do."
"Your first name is John." Rodney rubbed his forehead. "His is Aiden, hers is Teyla, and mine is Rodney. Satisfied?"
Dr. Watton, one of the social scientists, passed by and nodded at them. John nodded back. "And his first name?"
"I've never known his first name." Rodney flared. "What is wrong with you?"
John sighed. "Nothing, nothing, just checking."
Once in the infirmary, Rodney sat with uncharacteristic patience while Beckett finished up with another patient. "Shouldn't we be debriefing?" he asked John vaguely.
"Rodney, do you remember where we were?" John's anxiety spiraled upward again. "At all?"
Forehead rub and then another for the center of his chest. "Well, we were off-world. I fell off a cliff." Rodney wasn't looking at him, was frowning at the floor as if he were trying to remember. "How did I fall off a cliff? And why am I alive if I fell off a cliff?"
"You fell in the water," John said and was never so glad to see Beckett come over. "You remember falling at all?"
Rodney sighed. "Not really."
"What doesn't he remember?" Beckett asked and arched an eyebrow.
"Falling off a 300 foot cliff into the ocean," John said, truly worried now. "I got him out, and we got him breathing again really quick, CPR. He seemed okay, but now he doesn't remember any of it."
"Well, I'm tired," Rodney flared. "We had to walk all that way back to the jumper."
Beckett's expression was startled. "A 300 foot cliff? How the bloody hell did that happen?"
"Bad tactical moves on my part," John snapped. "Angry people throwing javelins and he yanked when he should have banked and over he went."
Beckett blinked at him, apparently decided to go with it. "How long was he in the water?"
John looked at Teyla and Ford. "Not long," Teyla said. "It was moments, only. Major Sheppard dove in after him, and had him at the surface very quickly."
"He did get water in his lungs," Ford added, "But he swallowed a lot, too."
Beckett glared at all of them. "And none of you thought to alert us and have a gurney waiting for him?"
John opened his mouth. Closed it. Finally shook his head guiltily. "Sorry, I didn't think of it, he was walking, I just wanted to get him here ASAP."
"Nor did I," Teyla admitted. "We had to walk some distance, and McKay did so without complaint or hesitation."
Rodney was rubbing his chest again, staring at the floor, his gaze unfocused.
John thought Beckett was going to say something heated, but his attention went back to Rodney and instead, "Out, all of you."
Fuck, John thought, maybe he'd hit the water too hard himself; he couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to him to have a medical team on standby once they'd dialed up the gate. "Sorry," he told Rodney and touched Rodney's arm delicately. "I'll be back to check on you."
He left then, because they did have a debriefing to set up and attend, and Elizabeth must have been away from the control center when they came in, she met them in the hallway.
"What happened?" she asked, and "Why didn't you tell flight you were going to the infirmary, where's Rodney?"
"He took a fall," Ford said helpfully. "Into the ocean. Damn near drowned."
"Technically, maybe he did," John said and rubbed his jaw. "Sorry, I think maybe I hit my head or something, I'm not thinking too clearly."
"Well, he fell, you dove," Ford said and then, to Elizabeth, "You should have seen him, ma'am, never saw anybody do a dive that like except on TV."
"It was most impressive," Teyla agreed. "And he pulled Dr. McKay to the surface very quickly. And he and Lt. Ford got breath back into him with the, what is is, CRP?"
"CPR," Ford corrected.
John was watching Elizabeth's expression. "Rodney drowned?" she said, appalled.
"Well, technically, yeah," John agreed. "But we got him breathing right away." And then, right on time, he thought about what had happened and his legs felt rubbery again. "We got him breathing and he puked up the water he'd swallowed and then we hiked back to the jumper. Pissed off natives," he added wearily.
Elizabeth's expression was still horrified. "He drowned?" she repeated and looked, really looked at John. "Go get cleaned up, Major, I'm going to the infirmary, we'll debrief in an hour."
John nodded gratefully. "Thanks."
Ford looked after her as she continued toward the infirmary. "Is she mad?"
"Probably," John sighed. "Ford, one of us should have thought about having a med team there. When I'm brain dead, I expect you to do your job and pick up the slack." He glanced at Ford and turned toward his own quarters without another word.
In the shower, he decided that had been unfair; sure, he'd fucked up from the get go, bad tactical decision that led to them getting cornered on the cliff, muddy thinking that kept him from alerting the med staff that they had somebody injured. Sure, Rodney had hiked back with them, but hadn't John known there was something wrong then?
Suddenly, John was shaking badly enough he had to sit down in the shower stall and hold on to his knees.
What if he hadn't gotten to Rodney quickly enough? Teyla thought it was only a few minutes, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what the cut off period was before the brain began to die. Six minutes? Had it been six minutes? Had he fucking doomed Rodney to some kind of shadow existence? God, had he?"
It took John a while to pull it together again and when he did, he noticed that he had only thirty minutes before the briefing. If he wanted to go by the infirmary and check on Rodney, he needed to haul ass.
He made it with fifteen minutes to spare, and figured Elizabeth would forgive him being a few minutes late when he saw them wheeling Rodney out of the scan room on a gurney. Rodney was sitting up and still wore that faintly bewildered and annoyed expression. "I'm fine," he told Beckett, his tone a little plaintive. "My chest hurts a little, but I'm fine."
"You're not," Beckett said crossly. "You're bruised and concussed and I don't like the look and sound of your lungs. I don't know how it is you're not injured far worse, and I don't know what the hell was wrong with the Major, letting you trek back to the jumper."
John hesitated guiltily and Beckett saw him, frowned fiercely. "How is he?" he asked in spite of the frown.
"Very damned lucky," Beckett snapped.
John opened his mouth to speak, saw Rodney had a cannula under his nose and his stomach rolled. "Seriously, how is he?"
"Inhaling water," Beckett said acidly, "Can causes pulmonary edema and we'll be watching very closely for a few days. Did you not notice he had difficulty breathing on the trip back to the jumper?"
John's gut knotted. "He was coughing a little, but not like he had."
"Did you do rescue breathing in the water?" Beckett demanded, "Did he have a pulse when you got him out?"
'I didn't check," John admitted, "I didn't take the time."
"Dear God," Beckett said and shook his head. "Out, Major."
"Carson," Rodney said and coughed, winced. "Teyla said the major saved my life, for God's sake. Don't make him regret it."
John flinched. "Jesus, Rodney, nothing could make me regret it."
They both looked at him, Rodney in confusion and Beckett with irritation.
"What?" Rodney asked.
John's gut clenched again. "Never mind. Listen, I need to debrief, I'll be back after."
Rodney nodded vaguely. "Carson, could I please get some water?"
"As soon as we get you into a bed," Beckett said kindly. "Doug, see to making him comfortable and get him hooked up to the monitors and don't let him take the cannula off."
"What should I tell Dr. Weir?" John asked, as the med-tech wheeled Rodney over to the beds.
"Tell her Rodney nearly drowned," Beckett said irritably. "Tell her that I'll come and brief her as soon as I'm sure what we're dealing with. And I'm going to set up a class on how to deal with drowning. Now out with you."
Like he didn't feel badly enough, John thought resentfully, but then remembered Rodney's confusion. Confusion wasn't so bad, he told himself, confusion could just be concussion. He nodded at Beckett and left the infirmary, arrived at the briefing room as Elizabeth checked her watch.
"Infirmary," John said by way of greeting and explanation as he took his seat.
Elizabeth nodded. "How is he?"
John grimaced. "A little fuzzy. I heard Beckett say concussion and bruises and maybe some—he said maybe some pulmonary edema.'
Her brows drew together. "Are you all right?"
It undid John. He had to fold his hands together and swallow hard. "I'm fine, I dove, I didn't fall unexpectedly."
"That was quite a dive," Elizabeth said mildly.
"Yeah, well, if I'd been in my right mind, I don't think I'd have done it. I think I had a brief attack of insanity," John admitted. "I mean, Jesus, the water could have been shallow, we could have both died."
Elizabeth arched her eyebrows and nodded. "But you didn't, and I'm grateful for that. Lt. Ford has already described what happened, and since the readings were deceptive, I'm glad nothing worse happened."
John nodded, still looking at his hands. "I guess we shouldn't have let Rodney walk back."
"Really?" Ford sounded a little startled. "But he was okay, just a little dazed."
"He was coughing." John cleared his throat. "I guess he was having trouble breathing and I didn't notice."
"What would you have done otherwise?" Elizabeth asked gently. "Would you have split the team up when you'd already faced the threat of violence."
"We have guns," John said, still looking at his hands. "I could have sent Ford and Teyla for help, but—I don't know, maybe I should have been thinking a little more clearly."
"Maybe you should have Carson take a look at you, too," she said, still gently.
John shook his head. "I'm fine, really. Besides, I think it might be dangerous at the moment. If I still feel fuzzy later, I'll check with one of the other docs."
Elizabeth nodded. "Okay. Well, I think that's all. Get some rest, take the rest of the day off."
John nodded and pushed his chair away from the table. "Thanks. I'll, ah, be in the infirmary if Beckett doesn't throw me out again."
"I'll walk with you," she said, "I want to see how he's doing."
They walked in silence, mostly.
Elizabeth finally said, "John, you can't seriously be blaming yourself for this."
"I don't know. I try not to second-guess myself, Elizabeth, but I underestimated the danger. And I fucked up with Rodney." The last was hard to say; it felt like something was wrapped too tightly around John's throat. "Beckett had a few things to say about having him hike back to the jumper."
Elizabeth's expression was compassionate. "I can't blame you for that, I'd probably have done the same thing if I were your place. And Ford and Teyla obviously would have."
John laughed shortly. "I'm not sure that having four of us do something stupid really recommends it as a course of action, but thanks."
They reached the infirmary. Beckett, who was coming out of his office, scowled at John, but Elizabeth nodded and walked back into his office with him, leaving John free to find Rodney.
Rodney wasn't in the open part of the infirmary, but in one of the rooms Beckett used for the more seriously injured and that made John's pulse rachet a little. It didn't slow until he saw that Rodney was sitting up with a laptop on the tray-table.
"Hey," he said and stood at the foot of the bed. "How are you?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "A little short of breath, but otherwise I feel fine. I'm not sure why Carson's overreacting, but I'm fine."
John scowled. "You ever scare me like that again, I'll shoot you in the head."
"Just don't push me off a cliff," Rodney said and frowned distractedly. "I don't even remember falling. I find that very disturbing."
"I found it pretty disturbing, too," John said roughly. "Of course, I remember it."
Rodney looked at him again, shook his head. "I can't believe you did that. Jesus, I wouldn't dive after me like that."
"Rodney, shut up," John said and folded his arms to keep from touching Rodney.
Rodney leaned back against the pillow and looked at him. "I'm fine," he insisted, but coughed and grimaced. "Mostly fine. Except for the concussion. And bruises. Ford must have put his back into those compressions. Carson insisted on taping my damn ribs."
"He did. Ford, I mean. You weren't breathing." John stared at him. This point in the day, Rodney was showing stubble, and his hair was still stiff from the seawater, standing up here and there. John could see the faintest shadow of a bruise on Rodney's jaw, probably from the rough speed John had used to open his mouth and check his airway before beginning CPR. Rescue breathing: had John even known you were supposed to start while hauling the drowning victim back to shore?
Rodney shifted. "Did I say thanks for saving my life, by the way? If I didn't, thanks."
"Rodney," John warned, "Shut up." He didn't want to think how close it had been; he couldn't let himself think about how close it had been.
Rodney had drowned in another timeline, staying behind to try and save the rest of them. Drowned in the gate room, floating sightlessly, hands like anemones or fronds of seaweed, and if John kept thinking like this, he was going to make himself insane.
Rodney obliged, but there was that puzzled and irritated line between his eyebrows again.
John twitched reflexively. "You nearly drowned again."
Rodney blinked, but didn't say anything, clearly thinking it over. Finally, in a cautious tone, "I've never, ah, almost drowned before."
"In this timeline," John agreed. He could almost see the cartoon light bulb appear above Rodney's head and go on.
"Oh," Rodney said and blinked again. "But I obviously have no memory of that. And neither do you."
"Didn't claim I did," John said, a little exasperated.
"You died in that time line, too," Rodney said, and the line got deeper.
"I got shot down," John agreed.
"Or drowned. Elizabeth didn't say how you died, only that she woke up in Atlantis."
John considered that. "Are you trying to make me feel better? Because I gotta tell you, it's not very effective."
Rodney kept frowning. "Are you sure you don't have a concussion?"
John sighed. "What part of you scared the fuck out of me don't you get, Rodney?" Maybe Rodney wasn't the only one who had nearly drowned. Except John was pretty sure he had drowned a while back, and not in the water.
This time, no frown, but Rodney tilted his head. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say to that. I'm sorry? It's not as if I did it deliberately, you know."
An image of Rodney's hands, waving lazily in the water, popped up in John's inner vision and he felt his gut knot up again. "I know," he said, trying for a conciliatory tone. "I didn't mean that you did. It just. It was." He waved a hand irritably. "It wasn't exactly anything I was prepared for."
Rodney frowned again. "How can you prepare for someone falling off a cliff?"
John was torn between throttling Rodney and apologizing for being short of temper. "Rodney, you scared the fuck out of me, and don't ever do it again. Pay attention when you leap out of the way of a oncoming javelin because drowning means you're dead and if you get skewered, at least I have a hope in hell of maybe getting the bleeding stopped to get you back in time."
Beckett, predictably, appeared with Elizabeth and gave John a truculent look.
John looked at Beckett, then back at Rodney. "I'll, uh, let you get some rest," he told Rodney and escaped.
It didn't do John any good to tell himself Rodney was okay, Rodney was alive and breathing. Echoes of the panic John had felt seeing Rodney sink like a stone kept rattling around in his chest and gut, and even when he was so tired he should have crashed hard, he couldn't close his eyes. He lay stiffly on his bed and stared at the ceiling until it was late, or really early, and he gave up even trying.
Funny, Rodney was in the infirmary, but John was the one drowning, this time in the fear that he hadn't let paralyze him back on the planet. Fear and something he hadn't been letting himself recognize, but it felt a lot like love.
Yeah, he was drowning. And was that such a bad thing? He didn't think so, not really.
So after a while, he gave up and got up. He pulled his clothes back on and decided he was going to the infirmary.
It was quiet in the hallways, most everyone but the night shift in the control areas abed and sleeping. The three members of the night shift in the infirmary were talking quietly in Beckett's office and Beckett, blessedly, wasn't there, so John stuck to the shadows, slinking down to the other end of the infirmary where Beckett had Rodney hooked up to every damn kind of monitor.
For once, Rodney was the only patient in the seriously injured section, and someone had drawn the curtain around to either grant Rodney privacy or to keep the hallway light out of Rodney's face. John left the curtain where it was and put his hand on the bedrail.
Rodney made a faint sound, which seemed like a good sign.
"Shh," John said softly, "It's me."
"Yeah." John moved to the head of the bed, shaped his palm to Rodney's cheek. Rodney's skin felt warmer than it should, he thought and leaned in to touch his lips to Rodney's forehead. The only salt he tasted was Rodney's sweat, so maybe they'd let him get cleaned up.
"What're you doing here?" Rodney sounded a little more alert.
"Couldn't sleep." John put the rail down and sat down on the bed. "Shhh, if they catch me here, Beckett will probably shoot me."
Rodney fumbled in the dark and the night light came on, dim, but bright enough he could see the fever shine of Rodney's eyes. "What?"
John put his finger against Rodney's mouth. "Shh."
Rodney blinked at him, clearly befuddled with fever and sleep. The cannula made him look even sicker and something in John's chest twisted painfully.
Drowning. He wasn't always too good at managing the currents of emotion.
"Couldn't sleep?" Rodney's lips moved under John's fingers. "Why not?"
John shrugged. They didn't talk about feelings, either of them, and they were both guys, and he wasn't entirely sure Rodney was ready to hear him say that he couldn't sleep because every time he started to doze, he was back in the water, heading down and seeing Rodney's eyes opened and unseeing and Rodney's pale hands moving in the greenish-gray light.
John wasn't altogether sure he was ready to say it. "Go back to sleep," he said softly. "I just, you know, wanted to check on you while Beckett's gone and can't shoot me."
"You're safe, he doesn't do small arms practice much," Rodney told him and coughed a little, grimaced. "Sandpaper."
John laced his fingers with Rodney's. "Saltwater'll do that, especially when it comes back up."
"Don't remind me." Rodney's eyelids were heavy, half-closed. "I think I'm glad I don't remember it."
"I wish I didn't," John said without intending to say anything. He grimaced when Rodney's eyes widened, and didn't know what to add, how to take it back or even if he wanted to. He looked down at their joined hands and rubbed his thumb over the heel of Rodney's hand.
After a minute, Rodney's fingers curled around his. "Well, I won't say I'm fine, but I think it's a safe bet that I will be," he finally said and coughed again. "Whereas if you hadn't been imitating Superman, I might not have been."
"I wasn't imitating Superman," John said, but the corners of his mouth twitched upward. "Did you see a cape?"
"I didn't see anything," Rodney said and one corner of his mouth lifted. "At least not that I remember."
"Trust me, no cape." John rubbed his thumb over Rodney's skin again. "If I'd had a cape, I'd have caught you before you hit the water. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'd look goofy in spandex."
Rodney frowned and for a minute, John was afraid he'd said too much. They didn't talk a lot about…this. They just did it. It was like surviving the Wraith had left them both reluctant to say too much. Or else, he thought, it was because they were both guys.
Rodney coughed again. "No offense, but I always thought of Superman as being, shall we say, a little broader."
John blinked. "Did you just insult my body?"
Rodney almost grinned. "If by insult, you mean I pointed out that you lack Superman's bulk, I'm afraid I did."
"I thought so." John couldn't stop the smile that wanted to form. If Rodney was up to being precise, that was another good sign. "In spite of that, can I get you anything?"
Rodney studied him for a minute, pulled on his hand. Obligingly, John leaned forward, a little baffled for an instant before he caught on and kissed Rodney's mouth. Warm lips, a little dry from the fever, and that was better than the chill John had felt when he'd been trying to get Rodney breathing. It was so much better, in fact, that he kissed Rodney's mouth again.
And again. John was drowning, but at least it wasn't in fear. They must have let Rodney shower or something, because his hair was soft, not stiff with salt and sweat. He kissed, rested his forehead on Rodney's and smoothed the hair that wanted to stand up, but was too soft from the shower to make it. "You scared the hell out of me," he said roughly. "You really did. I was afraid I wasn't going to get to you in time."
"You did," Rodney said blurrily. "Did I remember to thank you?"
"I didn't do it for you,' John said and cupped Rodney's stubbled cheek before kissing him again. "I did it for me." Roughly and he kissed Rodney again. And again.
And again, and then the curtain was yanked back so suddenly, John nearly leapt out of his skin.
Fuck, there was Beckett, his expression…well, as odd as might be expected once he'd discovered Atlantis' former military commander kissing the head of Atlantis' science division in the infirmary.
John's face was so hot he was sure he was bright red, but hell, he looked at Beckett without any outward sign of flinching even though he was still, goddammit, holding Rodney's hand with one hand, cupping his face with the other, and there was no way he could think of to explain any of this away.
Rodney sighed. "Thanks, Carson." A touch acidly.
Beckett cleared his throat. "I, ah, your temp's up a little according to the monitor," he said and came to give Rodney one of those little paper cups with what looked like two Tylenol. Rodney took it awkwardly with his free hand, and Beckett checked Rodney's water pitcher, muttered something about refilling it before vanishing.
They looked at each other.
"Well," Rodney said mildly. "Doctor patient confidentiality and all that."
After a heartbeat, John found the space for amusement. "Thank God." But he still didn't let go of Rodney's hand and he kept holding it when Beckett came back with the refilled pitcher.
Maybe, John thought, with amusement starting to win out over mortification, it was just a way of getting even with Beckett for acting like John had deliberated fucked around with Rodney's well-being by frog-marching him back to the jumper.
Rodney looked at his captive hand, rolled his eyes and tossed the Tylenol into his mouth, accepted a glass of water from Beckett and washed them down before letting his head fall back against the pillow. "Thanks."
Beckett nodded, glanced at John, and said mildly, "Don't keep him up," before vanishing again.
John sighed, put his other hand on Rodney's thigh. Nice and solid, muscle and bone, here and warm and not cold and floating in an alien sea: he squeezed lightly and released, put his palm gently against Rodney's chest just to feel the rise and fall.
"John," Rodney said quietly, "I'm not exactly the kind of person that says he's fine when he's not, but I'm pretty damn sure I will be, and that's because you're the kind of person that dives off cliffs."
John blinked. "I'm not sure what to say to that," he told Rodney. "I'm sorry? It's not like I did it deliberately."
It took a minute for Rodney to get it, but then John got a real grin. "Very amusing."
John grinned back. "I get that we have dangerous jobs. Think you could manage not to make me nuts in the future?"
"Believe me, I plan on doing my best," Rodney agreed. "Although I feel compelled to point out that you're the guy who takes the insane risks, right down to kissing me in the infirmary."
"After that dive, no big deal." John swallowed hard at the expression on Rodney's face. "Now you know how far I'll go to keep from having to break in another scientist."
This time, Rodney's smile was sweet, pensive. "Believe me, I appreciate it a great deal."
John kissed him again, reached to turn the light out again. "Go back to sleep. I'm gonna grab a chair and put my feet up on your bed."
"Don't you think you'd be more comfortable in your own bed?" Rodney's voice was still too hoarse.
"Nope," John said. "Think I'll sleep a lot better here."
Rodney didn't say anything, but he patted the hand still resting on his chest.
Funny, Rodney had been the one in the deep water, but John still felt like he was drowning. Instead of moving to the chair, he touched Rodney's cheek with his other hand. "Scoot over."
"You're a little nuts," Rodney said, still looking at him. "John, you can't."
"Rodney, we're how many million light years from home, you told me about the Goa'uld, here we have life-sucking aliens, I'm in another galaxy, I just don't give a fuck about don't ask, don't tell." His heart was doing the macarena. "I care about you, Rodney. I, , uh, I. I love you, and you goddamned nearly died and frankly, I'm still pretty goddamned freaked out."
"But I didn't," Rodney said, but he edged over.
John got into bed with Rodney, leaned up to kiss him. Rodney was alive and breathing, and John still couldn't believe the luck. Maybe he wasn't drowning after all. Maybe they were both in deep water, and keeping each other afloat, the buddy system. Maybe they were swimming together, neither of them drowning. He put his arm over Rodney's chest. "So no more of this shit."
After a moment of silence and a searching look, Rodney gave him that crooked smile. "Okay. No more drowning."
John smiled back. "A little goes a long way," he said obliquely.
"You can say that again," Rodney muttered.
So John did. "Swimming with the current," he added, "Is way better."