Pairing/Fandom: McKay/Sheppard, Stargate: Atlantis
Rating: PG (for the swears)
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine – I merely play in the sandbox
Prompt: "a long, focused, leading up to taking the leap towards being together . . . a journey fic . . . I have a soft spot for hand-holding."
A/N: for wild_isis as part of the fire_fic effort! Many thanks, as ever, to the wondrous dogeared for her indispensable beta skills.
John wakes, uncertain of what's roused him.
Firelight spills carelessly over the rocks that enclose the campfire, bathing Teyla and Ronon's faces with an amber, flickering peace. Rodney sits on watch, legs crossed beneath him, datapad in his lap, his wakefulness a mere formality on a planet so sparsely inhabited, but a peculiar comfort, an acceptance of trust just the same. John blinks and listens for the footfall of predators, the silencing of a nighttime's noisy quiet, conjured from the chirps and trills of insects that none of them can name.
But all he hears is humming.
The words that match Rodney's hoarsely-rendered melody rise up in the recesses of John's tired mind, press kindly against his tongue in case he wants to speak them aloud. But it's enough to discover Rodney knows Johnny Cash, hums Johnny Cash when he thinks he's alone – John doesn't need to join the moment, question it, fumble a curious, 'why?' Instead he smiles and shifts, his sleeping bag whispering secrets as he curls more comfortably within it. Rodney turns his head at the sound, looks John's way, smiles and just keeps humming.
John falls asleep with California summers playing behind his eyelids and the shimmer of a borrowed truck's steering wheel vibrating against his hand.
John insists he's fine, but no one will listen. Ends up that when your friends watch your life get sucked out of your chest by a Wraith – on primetime cable no less – they develop a thing for ignoring everything you say. It's goddamned annoying, and means the infirmary gets involved, and shit, hasn't he been poked at enough for one day?
If you ask him, it doesn't make sense. Anyone can see he's fine now – hadn't McKay said he looked better than before? And sure, it had hurt, and he'd hollered a little, yelled when the enzyme hit his blood and burned through his veins, when the hook and blade on that damn Wraith's hand slit his skin, dragged out his breath, yanked something clean and precious out from behind his guts, but he's fine now, not a wrinkle in sight, the silver at his temples charmed a regular brown. The Wraith he'd handled, but if anyone tries to run one more test, deploy one more expression of banal understanding, he swears he's going to tell Carson where to stick his hand-held scanner and scandalize a couple of techs as he flees.
Discharged, he finds his team beyond the quarantine bay – Ronon with a band-aid resting crooked above one eye, Teyla smiling radiantly, Rodney worrying his fingers against one another, the rest of his body unnaturally still. John opens his mouth to offer up something, a platitude maybe, but Rodney beats him to the moment, quickly observes how glad he is John's back, and he has to be going now if that's okay, if everyone's – good, good, he'll see them all tomorrow, breakfast, muffins, coffee, yes?
John blinks into the space where Rodney was standing five seconds before, wets his lips, sees Teyla raise an eyebrow, sees Ronon jerk his head, nods and follows.
It's surprising, the kind of speed Rodney can generate when he bends his mind to it, but there are only so many places he can go with a thirty-second head start, and John catches a glimpse of a maple-leaf giveaway, flashing for a second in his peripheral vision before Rodney turns a corner. He jogs to catch up, sees exactly the spot Rodney's finger hits on the transporter map, and slows to a halt before tight-closed doors.
Heightmeyer. Rodney's going to see Heightmeyer. Voluntarily.
Which begs the question: what the fuck?
Earth feels like the kind of shirt John's held onto since high school, too small across the shoulders by now, the lettering fading and flaking into obscene half-formed words. Everything's uncomfortable, familiar but wrong, like the first time he had a layover in Heathrow, tried to order a coffee, realized Londoners spoke a language he almost knew but couldn't quite master, familiar but different, more than an ocean pushing into the gaps between shared words. He's tired, staring at Carson across the table in some restaurant he's already forgotten the name of, ease of circumstance painted across his face and Rodney's knee's against his. It's the only thing that's felt like home in weeks.
The steak's good, he'll give Earth that, and the wine's a lot more refined than the rot-gut Geenis likes to sell on P78-094. Elizabeth's smaller than he remembers her being a galaxy ago, fragile, with fine-spun wrists, and Rodney's –
– watching him, he realizes, turning his head; watching him without a shred of embarrassment, studying him with a smile. John raises an eyebrow, and Rodney just shrugs, goes back to spearing roast potatoes and talking with his mouth full while John wipes his fingers on his napkin, scratches a spot just beneath his ribs where his skin's grown warm, and he has to be called by name twice before he realizes Elizabeth's asked him a question. He ducks his head, laughs it off, reaches for his wine glass and feels Rodney's knee press against his again.
They hear the explosion seven levels away, and there's a moment of pure, aching silence before organized pandemonium uncurls itself, the sleeping giant that's always dozing beneath their consoles, happy to be roused from the waiting air by their radio transmissions, flickering to life between a thousand lines of Ancient code.
For three hours there's nothing in John's head but the blistering necessity of command – a search and rescue to coordinate; security protocols observed; science escorts chosen, deployed; debris removed; a tally made of the dead. But then the strange, fragile quiet that only ever spreads in the aftermath of disaster claims each of them, one voice at a time, a deepening silence, footsteps muffled, conversations undertaken with such aching care that John wants to kick and curse just for the pleasure of breaking taboo.
So he goes to find Rodney.
Radek's in infirmary bay four, his right arm broken, his left hand burned. There's some dispute about whether he'll regain sight in his clouded left eye, but he's awake and aware and grieving for McKenzie and Needham. John already knows chapter and verse, delivered in a soothing brogue, of how thoroughly Radek's blaming himself. But if Radek's despairing, Rodney's likely already four steps ahead by now.
He finds him on a balcony, level five, tower three, hands wrapped around the railing, body hunched against the wind. John says nothing, just moves to stand beside him, covers Rodney's hand with one of his own. There's a restless moment, the safety-valve spill of inertia's fury expressed in shuffled feet and thinning lips – then Rodney turns his hand over and slips his fingers between John's.
They stay outside until it's dark.
It's after eleven, and the corridors are all but empty, so it's safe, indulging in a little galling indecisiveness right outside Rodney's door. Yet something's wrong – John's every internal wire is crossed and his instincts have staged a wholesale reversal of their own free will. The empty air around him buzzes with threat and adrenaline stings bitter at the back of his throat. He thinks (without wanting to) of the anthropologists, their diligent recording of Athosian folktales, the metaphor and simile they find in ancient lore. And if asked, he'd have to talk about seventh grade math class and Jenny Lewis's algebraic mouth to explain the way his hands are starting to sweat and fuck, today marks the last time he's ever escorting social scientists off-world – he can't afford the therapy or the decisions he makes under those kind of circumstances in a puddlejumper one wormhole away from where Rodney's doing useful work. And when he finally swipes his hand over the sensor beside the door it's because he's double-dog-dared himself, and that says something really disturbing about his capacity for growth. The door opens and Rodney stands there, waiting, eyebrow raised, silent for once.
"I . . . " John's voice is low and strangled and even though he's only managed one syllable, he thinks he tortured it pretty good.
"Oh, for god's sake," Rodney says fondly, reaching to fist a hand in the fabric of John's shirt, pulling him forward, and their lips meet before either one can manage to close the door.