Fandom/Pairing: Stargate Atlantis, McKay/Sheppard
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, I merely play with them and then return them to the sandbox
Summary: For winter_elf, with thanks for her donation to fire_fic. A first-time, John/Rodney fic with angst and denial (and yet a happy ending) set after 3x07: Common Ground.
A/N: with thanks to dogeared for the usual, wonderful beta services!
Ninth-grade English, the year they were in Nevada: John remembers how sullenly he read The Picture of Dorian Gray – "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrid, and dreadful . . . " – how he'd rolled his eyes and thought, get a life, man – fly a plane, pick up a girl, jerk off, something, goddamn whiner, geez; how he'd slogged through the text (at least it wasn't Jane fucking Austen this time); how he'd figured the whole thing was stupid – no one had portraits like that, no one could just fuck with time. His teacher said he was far too literal – which was funny, then and now, considering the way his dad always said his head was in the clouds.
The memory comes and goes in a heartbeat. When he blinks he's in the mess, fork raised halfway to his mouth – he can pick up the threads of whatever Ronon's asking him, push his bread roll toward Teyla, glance back up to where Rodney's standing, tray in his hand, listening impatiently to whatever Radek has to say. That's how it worked, John thinks crazily, and for a second thinks he's going to lose it, break out into wild, manic laughter because it's madness and god, nothing like funny, but here he is, good as new, better even, and there's Rodney, looking old and tired and a little like he's been slowly fed on by a Wraith.
"Frequency distributions," Rodney mutters, throwing down his tray, ill-tempered. "Like I have the first clue what they've been cooking up on level seven – like one of them's filed the reports they were supposed to log every half hour."
Ronon claps him on the shoulder and gestures that he should eat. Teyla smiles indulgently. "I was beginning to think you would not be able to join us today," she observes. "You have been extremely busy."
John watches as Rodney's gaze skitters over the table, meets his own and darts away. "Yes, well." Rodney shovels potatoes into his mouth and chews morosely. "It's more than a full time job trying to stop the special brand of morons they've palmed off on me from blowing us up three times before breakfast."
Ronon snorts softly, and Teyla grins. John just pushes his own tray aside.
"Not now, Colonel."
Rodney's elbow-deep in crystals and Ancient circuitry, the dismembered parts of some cuboid device scattered over his bench. John recognizes transmitters, wires he last saw beneath the dash of a 'jumper, something that looks a lot like a yellow Lego block. "Just checking in."
"Checking in?" Rodney asks, and there's no mistaking the sharp disdain in his voice. "So nice of you. Yes, yes, everything's going well in the labs, you can go off and shoot things now."
"I just haven't seen you much," John offers – not since the night he was in the infirmary, Carson unwilling to trust that a Wraith could repair the damage inflicted by multiple feedings, hooking John up to monitors and sedating him as dye ran through his blood. John still remembers coming around, catching a glimpse of Rodney's unguarded face, groaning slightly and mumbling, "Rodney – gonna . . ." and throwing up into a dull silver basin positioned beneath his chin in just the nick of time. Rodney's hand was cool on the back of his neck.
"Hello, busy?" Rodney snaps.
John can believe it – or at least believe Rodney's finding cause to never leave the labs. There are dark bruise-like shadows under his eyes and he's pale with fatigue – John's seen this look before. "You eating?" John asks.
Rodney narrows his eyes incredulously. "What? Yes, of course I'm eating, what are you, my mother? Has it escaped you in, oh, three and some-odd-years of us working together that my hypoglycemic condition means I cannot skip meals?" Rodney shakes his head and sniffs. "Besides, you're the one who didn't eat lunch."
"I ate lunch," John says, starting to feel annoyed.
"Yes, yes, two whole bites of whatever the hell they were serving on toast and you were done." Rodney's peering into the bowels of his cannibalized device now. "You're certainly no one to be running around, clucking after me."
John presses his lips together, bites back the retort that's on the tip of his tongue. He knows when he's being baited, when Rodney's choosing offense as the best defense. "Game tonight?" And he sees it in the split-second before Rodney replies, a flash of fear passing over Rodney's face. He has no idea what Rodney's hiding, but the fact that he's hiding something's plain as day.
"I can't tonight," Rodney offers too quickly. "Um . . . tomorrow?"
John nods, but Rodney's gone back to devoting all his attention to the project in front of him. "See you there," he murmurs, and wanders off.
It ought to feel comfortable, settling back in the game room, feet kicked up on the table and the keyboard in his lap, but it feels all wrong, alien and forced. John fiddles with his plans for improving the water supply in Hallona, purposefully doesn't look up and meet Rodney's eye. Rodney's always been one to peer, to look over and around his monitor, no doubt trying to discern John's tactics from the rhythm of his fingers hitting keys, but this is different. Rodney's staring – staring and then looking away, barely entering commands, barely ordering the Geldarians to do anything, and it's making John crazy. "What?" he asks at last.
"Nothing." Rodney types something, hits enter and falls quiet.
He's still looking. "You've seen this face before, McKay."
Rodney's breath leaves him a whoosh, as though John's leaned over and kicked him in the balls. "Yeah." He fumbles his keyboard and stands up. "I'm – I gotta go, I'm sorry, I'll . . . maybe tomorrow," and he leaves, just like that, head down, shoulders stiff, moving as though he's injured, and what the fuck is with him? John shuts down his part of the game and throws his keyboard on the desk, stares up at the ceiling thinking vicious thoughts about scientists and Canadians and the things he'd like to say to Rodney if he weren't half sure that a good, solid exchange of words would break the guy in two. He scrubs his hands over his face and sighs. It's time to call in the big guns. He's so far out of his depth.
"So what's with him?" John asks.
Teyla tilts her head and raises an eyebrow – John immediately feels as though he's twelve. "With him?" she asks.
"He looks like shit." Looks older, looks like I should look, John thinks.
She nods, cradling a cup of Athosian tea in her hands, feet pulled up on the couch in her quarters, legs crossed beneath her. "He has been working too hard."
John paces back and forth, rubbing the stubble that's darkening his jaw. "But that's what I don't get. We're not under any threat right now." John catches the look Teyla throws him. "Okay, any more than usual."
"Working is how he consoles himself," she offers.
John frowns, worried. "Did something happen while I was gone? Jeannie?"
Teyla's smile is patient, warm. "No."
"Then what the fuck is he consoling himself over?" He pauses, struck by a horrible idea. "Did someone prove him wrong? In the labs?"
"John." Teyla shakes her head, laughing a little. "Nothing so traumatic."
"Then what? It's been – he's been like this since the day I got out of the infirmary and I . . . what did I miss?"
Teyla's expression softens and she pats the couch beside her, waiting for John to sit there, a defeated sprawl of limbs. "You missed what it was like for us to watch you," she says carefully. "To watch you fed upon by an enemy."
John rubs the back of his neck feeling squirmy and uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, it was no picnic at my end either."
"I know." She rests a hand on his leg for just long enough to make him still.
"And I'm all better." John's aware he sounds sullen. "Fixed up, good as new."
"It would be nice if all consequences of that experience could be undone so swiftly," Teyla murmurs.
John looks at her. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that I do not think Rodney knows quite what to do with . . . " She pulls a wry face. "With the knowledge of your mortality."
John blinks. "Huh?"
She smiles. "It changed all of us, John. Your change was the most severe but . . . perhaps not the hardest to assimilate."
John slumps. "Now you're just being deep. I hate deep."
Teyla laughs at him. "Quite."
They lapse into companionable silence and eventually he steals her tea.
The thing is, John's pretty good at passive aggressive when he puts his mind to it, can use it to his advantage when he has a will. With a life signs detector in his hand, he can manage to be passing Rodney's quarters just as Rodney's leaving in a morning – complete coincidence, how y'doing, McKay? – and arrange to join him in the mess for every meal. He assigns himself to pilot every 'jumper test Rodney schedules, and shows up to pick up Ancient junk whenever the labs need a natural gene carrier. It satisfies some sharp bitter need in him to be such a perpetual thorn in Rodney's side, to bother Rodney as much as Rodney's bothering him, but at the same time the whole drama leaves him empty and annoyed. He misses their banter, the comfort of Rodney's company, the easy shit-giving and the casual bump of a shoulder against his own that had characterized something he'd grown to lean on. It's gone now, and John realizes with growing amazement just how pissed he is that this is what's left of them, strained silences and Rodney sleeping less and less, and by god, he will goddamn break him if that's what it takes, push and push until Heightmeyer or Teyla or Beckett can fix whatever's cracked and listing inside Rodney's chest, whatever this fucking roadblock is, he will crush it. He doesn't care if it takes bare fists or cruel asides, ends up he's got some well of anger in him he's only too happy to draw from, and this is bullshit, utter bullshit, and if Teyla throws him that look one more time he swears he's gonna punch a wall.
"You're off your game," Ronon says next morning, watching impassively as John bends over, hands to his knees, trying to catch his breath in the middle of their run.
"Yeah? Well you run like a . . ." John straightens up and flips Ronon the bird.
Ronon laughs. "You people are pathetic." He makes some aggressive gesture that involves grabbing his elbow and snapping his wrist. "That's how you tell someone to fuck off."
John manages not to say 'nyah nyah nyah' out loud, but he's pretty sure his face reflects the urge.
"So what's the problem?" Ronon asks.
Ronon snorts. "Could've fooled me."
"Hey, here's an idea," John says. He pauses, drinks from his water bottle. "How about we don't do this?"
Ronon shrugs. "I was thinking we could take a 'jumper. Go to one of the outposts."
"Wraith. Kill a couple. Feel good."
John stares at him. "You wanna go shoot some Wraith."
"No. You do."
John shakes his head. "Mixing me up with someone else. If I never see another Wraith . . . "
"You're pissed. You got fed on."
"Yeah? Well then how about we shoot some Genii, since they're the ones who thought that'd be primetime viewing."
Ronon shrugs. "Okay."
"Look." John turns toward him, gesturing with his water bottle. "I'm fine. I don't need to shoot anything. All I need is for McKay to stop being such a . . ."
"Least he knows how he feels."
John shakes his head, drinks the rest of his water and pegs the empty bottle at Ronon's head. "Just . . . stop."
"Wanna make me?"
John throws him the dirtiest look in his arsenal. "No."
"So, let's go shoot some stuff."
John wonders just how bad it'd hurt his foot to kick Ronon in the shins. Hard. He's not going to win this argument. "Fine."
Ronon grabs his shoulder and shakes him like he's made of rags. "Cool." Then he's running toward the armory, and John has no choice but to sprint to catch up.
He'll die rather than admit it, but blowing seven circles of hell out of a bunch of paper figures actually helps. John spends the whole day in the armory – when he's not indulging in a little anger resolution, there are Marines to train – and by the time he heads back to his quarters that night, he's almost forgotten that Rodney's being a jerk. Forgotten, that is, until the moment he opens his door and sees Rodney sitting at the foot of his bed.
"I don't know how to – " Rodney's voice fades into silence. He regroups. "How to deal with – "
John stands stock still, thinks close, lock and hears the door slide shut behind him. It's dark – the bare illumination loaned by Lantean stars reveals the sharp edges of his desk, the curves of his guitar, the lean silhouette of his surfboard as he gives his eyes time to adjust, but Rodney's still cloaked in shadow, knowable more by the slump of his shoulders than the sound of his voice. "Deal with what?" John asks, sounding calmer than he feels as he unbuckles his side arm. There's a strange, furious panic scrabbling inside his chest.
Rodney scrubs a hand over his face, mumbling something unintelligible to himself. "Look, I'm sorry, okay, I'll – I just came here to say I'll do better." He stands up.
"Do better at what?" John asks, hands on his hips. He's angry again, and angry that he's angry; angry that a whole day of wasted ammunition can be undone by Rodney being anything but the Rodney he needs right now, and he's frustrated, tired of playing games, and there's something about Rodney that's so fucking sad he can't stand it. "What are we talking about?"
Rodney isn't looking at him – his eyes are downcast, and the wash of moonlight that creeps around the edge of John's window frame glances off the long line of his neck. "It's – stupid, really. And pretty selfish. I mean – " He laughs hollowly. "You're the one who got fed on, you're the one who . . . well. It looked like it hurt. Sounded like it hurt."
John swallows, holds on to enough sense to realize they're getting somewhere and instead of punching Rodney in the jaw takes a couple of slow, hesitant steps forward. "Rodney?" There's sympathy in his voice, but also a clear note of warning. Do not fuck me over, McKay. Do not. Don't let me in if you don't mean it.
"I – don't know how to be around you now that you're back after, after – watching. You die." Rodney looks up.
"Yeah, well, I didn't die." John almost hates himself for sounding so glib. Almost.
"Watching you dying, then," Rodney says, correcting himself, sounding exasperated. "I watched that thing feeding on you and – "
"Hey, how about we just – " skip the reminiscences, John thinks, extending a hand in front of him as if he's calming some skittish creature on the planet of Well Now We're Fucked.
"No," Rodney offers stiffly, "it's okay, really, I'll do better, I didn't realize I was being quite so – but . . . Well, Radek had some observations to make and sometimes I do know that listening to him is the better part of valor and I think Teyla gets it, she's been . . . nice. Nicer than usual, even, and she's pretty nice to begin with but – "
"Look, we can – "
"It's just that watching you dying was . . ." Rodney shakes his head. "It made me – realize some things that . . . some regrets I'd have and things I haven't . . . well. But like you said, you're not dead, and things have been awkward between us as it is without us – "
"Rodney?" John takes another step forward, irritated. "Would you calm the fuck down?"
Rodney swallows. "It's really not something that lends itself to calm," he offers helplessly, and then his broad hand's curling around the back of John's neck and John feels a flash of comfort, welcome sense-memory, gasps at the power of it and his lips are parted when Rodney's mouth covers his own.
"Fuck," he gasps, tearing his mouth away for half a second – half a second to feel the way Rodney tenses, anticipating 'no,' before John shakes his head, leans in whispering, "no, no, you've got it wrong," god, what is he saying, goddamn words, this is it, this is what's been twisting and snapping between them since . . . "I mean yeah, yes," and he's framing Rodney's face between both his hands.
"Which is it?" Rodney mumbles, lips damp at the corner of John's mouth.
"Yes, it's yes, goddamit, Rodney would you . . . "
"Shut up, shut up . . ."
"I'm just trying to – "
"Can we – " And they're falling onto John's bed in a mess of limbs and it takes a second for John to get Rodney where he wants him – between his thighs, solid against his chest, mouth against his own, tongue curling breath into restless pleasure and oh, oh god, it was almost worth the pain that clawed up his spine every time they bound him to that chair just to feel this. Rodney.
Rodney's nervous – his hands shake when he pulls off his own jacket, throws his t-shirt on the floor, and when he tries to unfasten John's belt his fingers won't cooperate. He swears, and his big, blunt fingertips are playing hell with John's composure, brushing against his fly again and again as Rodney swears and mutters to himself. John's pretty sure Rodney's about to start ripping at the button on his pants with his teeth so he slides his hands down, unfastens his belt himself, starts with surprise when Rodney grabs the hem of his t-shirt and he feels the first, rough shock of skin against untouched skin.
They move fast, unbelievably fast, tension ratcheting up between them as they shed clothes and press clumsy kisses, nips, bites to whatever skin they can find. They're desperate, graceless, knees colliding, elbows jamming into ribs and fingers gripping soft flesh so hard that bruises begin to bloom before either of them have come, but god, it's perfect, perfect, blinding and relentless, white-hot and painful as it knifes through John's belly, as he grips Rodney's ass and thrusts up from beneath, his breath shattering into hoarse, grateful pants as he comes. Rodney follows – everything's heat and sweat and soft, broken moans, slick skin and aftershocks that tear down all the poisonous words that have built up, unspoken, between them. And then they're lying, boneless, clutching each other, and John's closer to breaking now than when the Wraith laid a hand to his chest and he thought he was looking at death. He burrows, seeks out the safety of Rodney's throat, shivers beneath the steadying touch of Rodney's hand against his back. "I thought – " He closes his eyes, filling up his senses with the smell of Rodney's sweat, his skin, his come. "Regrets – I'd . . . I'd have had regrets."
And Rodney kisses the damp hair right above his ear, kisses the hinge of his jaw, kisses his temple, curls his hand at the back of John's neck, murmurs nonsense into his brow, and he feels alive against John's body now, like Rodney again, Rodney in his own right, not some portrait that's hoarding John's pain. "Don't die," he whispers.
"Okay," John whispers back. "Yeah, you too."