He marched into the messhall, grabbed a tray and hurried through the chow line. Interestingly he noted that Corporal Adams—their long time chow-master and Rodney's long time bickering partner—avoided his gaze and only asked him short questions about whether or not Rodney wanted two pancakes or three and if he wanted his syrup on the side or on top.
Rodney shot back the first two replies and when the corporal didn't lift his gaze and didn't make a single sarcastic remark when Rodney asked him whether the fruit cup had any citrus fruits in it, Rodney had had enough.
He slammed his breakfast tray onto the small ledge and crossed his arms.
"I want to file a complaint."
Adams blinked twice but still didn't look at him. "You should report any complaints to the CO, sir."
"No. I'm filing my complaint right here and right now. You see, I have certain demands when I come and get my food and those demands are not being met."
Adams didn't respond and kept staring into the heap of pancakes before him. Rodney didn't care that he wasn't responding. He would soon enough.
Interestingly, he noticed that the messhall had gone silent and everybody was staring at him. Good. Let the show begin.
"When I come and have my meals, I expect the serving staff to show a little spine, a little attitude, especially if they're US Marines. Or do they train you to be a quiet sissy, Corporal?"
The Corporal had straightened up and his gaze darted up to Rodney's for a brief moment before flitting away.
"No, sir," he said, his voice still quiet.
"I'm sorry, did a mouse just squeak in here? I asked you if they train you to be a quiet sissy, Corporal!" Rodney was quite pleased that he managed to sound exactly like Drill Sergeant Torico usually did when he was drilling the marines.
The Corporal snapped to attention and his eyes dug straight into Rodney's. "No, sir!" The Corporal's voice echoed around the messhall and Rodney nearly smirked.
"Now you will repeat what you asked me two minutes ago."
"Do you want two pancakes or three, sir?" The Corporal yelled.
"Do you want your syrup on top or on the side?"
"On top. And don't be timid with it."
"Do you want a fruit cup, sir?"
"Yes, Corporal. And is there any citrus fruit in it?"
"And why is that?"
"Because you reminded me about your damn allergy a million times over the past three years and if you keeled over from anaphylactic shock, I'd be the number one suspect, sir!"
Rodney smirked. Now they were getting somewhere. "Are you trying to tell me you have a brain in all that brawn, Corporal?"
"Some people have to have a little bit of both, sir!"
Rodney noticed the corners of the Corporal's mouth were twitching and Radek and Lieutenant Cadman were laughing into their napkins.
"Don't flatter yourself, Corporal. Having two brain cells to rub together isn't that impressive."
"It's more impressive than your hair line, sir."
Now the barely suppressed laughter could be heard all over the messhall and Rodney decided that the situation was well on its way to recovery.
Throwing the Corporal a glare, he grabbed his tray. "Until lunchtime, Corporal."
The Corporal gave him a sharp salute with his spatula and a smirk. "Until lunchtime, Doctor."
Taking his tray, Rodney turned and faced the messhall and surveyed the disaster zone still waiting for a fix.
The problem was so obvious that even a wraith could have noticed it. Half of the messhall was filled with black uniforms, and the other half was filled with red, blue and yellow uniforms. Asides from Ronon's white shirt, nobody else disrupted the pattern.
His tray in hand, Rodney marched between the tables, passing through the civilian tables and not pausing until he had reached the table in the far corner where Lorne and Ronon sat.
Putting his tray onto the table, Rodney pulled his chair out and sat down. Ronon and Lorne were both staring at their very interesting breakfast trays.
Rodney glared at both of them, waiting for them to look up. When that didn't happen, he swore under his breath and crossed his arms on the table.
"Okay, this ends now. Major, tomorrow morning you will show up for civi-PT and resume leading the exercises. Miko only does yoga exercises and Radek starts counting in Czech when he gets tired and I'm sick and tired of having to do my PT on my own and on my own time. It's fine for those of us who stay on base, but for those of us on away-teams, we need to do our PT and get your beautiful signature on those forms before we're allowed off-world. It's disrupting my schedule and exercise routine and threatening my qualifications for off-world travel having Radek and Miko running things and I quite frankly don't have the patience to run civi-PT. So, tomorrow morning you'll be there with that annoying cheerful smile and do what we need you to do."
Lorne was staring at him and Rodney raised an eyebrow at the long silence. Finally, Lorne cleared his throat.
"I thought it would be more appropriate if somebody else took over civi-PT, sir."
"Okay, first of all, don't call me 'sir'. We're both senior staff and you never call me 'sir'. Second of all, we don't only need you to run our PT, we want you to run our PT."
Lorne was silent for a long moment. Rodney knew what he was remembering.
A dimly lit cell. A small table. Pressing Rodney's hands onto the surface of the table. Tightening his grip when John ground the hell of his hand into Rodney's broken, damaged fingers and Rodney had screamed himself hoarse and tried to pull away from the pain and the hands that were hurting him.
Rodney knew that Lorne still blamed himself for it and if he didn't try to fix the distance between them, it would never be fixed.
Deciding to show the Major that he was forgiven rather than waste time talking, Rodney stretched out his hand towards the Major.
"So, tomorrow at 0730. I'll round up the west wing, you round up the east wing and we'll meet in the main gym. Deal?"
Lorne was staring at Rodney's hand. Finally, he looked up at Rodney. They both knew Rodney wasn't just asking him whether he agreed to the PT or not.
Swallowing hard, Evan gave him a firm nod.
"Deal." Stretching out his own hand, the Major gently grasped Rodney's hand. Rodney squeezed back, turning it into a proper handshake.
When they let go, there was a hint of a smile on Lorne's face.
Satisfied, Rodney sat down and reached for his fork. Before he dug into his breakfast, he pointed his fork at Ronon.
"And I have something I need help with."
Ronon raised an eyebrow. "You need my help?"
"Yes, I do. We have a pilot to fix. You in?"
After a moment of silence, that funny little half smile curled the corner of Ronon's mouth – a sight which was rarer than finding a fully charged ZPM.
"You bet. You tell me when and where."
Turning in his chair, he watched as everybody hurried to transfer their gazes from him to their breakfast trays.
"As for the rest of you, I'm sick and tired of this nonsense. Those of us who play with guns in their spare time – get your heads out of your asses. Those of us who play with calculators and books – start helping those others get their heads out of their asses. And as CSO, I'm making that an order."
Satisfied that his work was partially done, Rodney turned back around and focused on his breakfast.
Rodney waited patiently until he heard the hiss of the bay doors behind him.
"You wanted to see me, Rodney?"
Rodney smiled. "Yes. Yes, I did."
He turned around and gave John a grin just as Ronon stepped out of the shadows, pulled his gun out and stunned John.
Ronon managed to grab him before he hit the floor and easily hoisted him over his shoulder. Rodney narrowed his eyes when he saw the ease with which Ronon had lifted John up.
"Has he lost weight?"
Ronon grunted. "You wouldn't think he had any weight to lose."
While Ronon walked into the nearest jumper and gently lowered John into the shot gun seat, Rodney cleared their flight with Chuck, reminding him that they weren't going far and no, he didn't know how long they'd be gone.
Ronon passed by him and grunted in response to Rodney's thanks. "Just fix him."
"He's not an equation I can just tweak and work through again to make right."
Ronon raised an eyebrow at him. "He won't go to Kate, he's refusing to listen to Teyla and I can't beat any sense into him. You're the last chance he has."
Ronon smirked at him and walked out of the jumper. Rodney swung himself into the pilot seat and closed the hatch.
He checked to make sure John was still out and then did the pre-flight check and started the jumper's automatic ascent out of the bay doors.
He took the jumper nearly straight up through the atmosphere. Once they were in the darkness of space, he put the jumper into what John called 'neutral' and made sure the scanners would tell him if anything weird came close to them.
Then he got off his chair, spun John's chair around so the back of his chair was to the windshield and crouched down before him.
He was about to start shaking the idiot awake, but the sight of John made him pause. Rodney knew that he wasn't technically sleeping, but he looked just as relaxed and vulnerable as he did when he was sleeping.
He realized it had been weeks since he had lain awake at night and watched John sleeping beside him.
John never slept as well as he did when Rodney promised he'd keep watch. Neither of them needed much sleep anyway so keeping up a semi-rotation with sleeping and keeping watch while at home as well as off-world was easy.
He had noticed John's tendency to doze rather than sleep and always face the door early on in their relationship. John had muttered something about it being a habit and refused to elaborate, so Rodney hadn't bothered him about it. He guessed that nearly twenty years of sleeping in combat zones had trained John to never fully surrender to sleep and never trust his surroundings.
Which was why Rodney had been amazed at how quickly and deeply John had fallen asleep when Rodney had said he had to stay up to work on a simulation.
Rodney had taken the keys off his laptop and stuck padding underneath each key to silence the clicking and dimmed the brightness of the screen. He also got used to typing on his laptop and balancing it on his lap with John curled up in his side, his head resting under Rodney's arm and nearly on his mouse-pad. Half way through the night, Rodney would wake John and John would sit up in bed with a book or check Rodney's math on his laptop while Rodney curled up beside him and reversed their positions. It was only once the sun rose that John fell asleep with Rodney and they spent a few hours sleeping at the same time.
The routine wasn't a difficult one for Rodney – since they lived by it when they were off-world anyway – and the trust John showed in him every time he fell into a deep sleep beside him made it all worth it.
Rodney reached up and gently pushed a few strands of hair off John's forehead. His face also showed the weight he had lost over the past few weeks. His skin was pale and his cheekbones were more pronounced than they usually were. The dark circles under his eyes weren't surprising. The idiot had been sleeping in his old quarters since he had left that morning for their training mission.
Not having Rodney there to keep watch and refusing to bother anybody else with his issues meant that John had gone back to his old sleeping habits. He'd doze for an hour or so, get up and go for a run or read and then go back to dozing some more.
Rodney knew because he spent his nights staring at his laptop screen, watching the white dot that was John pacing around the room, running out to the pier or constantly tossing and turning when in bed.
The combination of having gotten used to sleeping well with Rodney and the lack of eating properly were starting to seriously take their toll on him.
"You're an idiot," Rodney said softly. He'd been surprised to find that sleeping alone was strange for him too. He still stayed up the time he'd usually keep watch for, from time to time wondering why there wasn't that warm weight digging into his side and being seriously confused when he looked beside himself and saw that empty spot on his bed. Worse was jerking awake while he was sleeping and not having John's warm chest under his cheek and not finding that warm body when his hands searched the empty space.
Rodney realized that he hated going to bed alone and waking up alone.
Deciding that it was time to start fixing this mess, Rodney reached up and gently shook John.
John let out a groan and frowned, his eyes still closed.
"You probably already know, but that tingly sensation is courtesy of Ronon's blaster. You should be getting used to that feeling by now."
John slowly opened his eyes and glared at Rodney. "Wh—?"
"You're okay. We're in a jumper and Ronon stunned you so we could get you in here without a fuss."
John blinked a few times and his hands immediately started groping around his chest for his P-90.
Rodney grabbed his hand and stilled it. "It's okay. Everything's fine. I've got everything under control."
John blinked at him again and frowned, but his hand stilled. Rodney felt a warm rush inside of him. If anybody but his team had said that to John, he'd have given them a phoney smile and still kept feeling around for his weapons and assessing the situation with paranoid eyes, mind already churning up scenarios and tactics.
It was an incredible and very scary feeling to be on that small list of people whom John trusted without question.
"Why are we in a jumper?"
"That's the question you want to ask? How about 'Why did Ronon stun me?'"
John gave him a look. "He stunned me because I don't feel like being in a jumper these days. Even if the damn thing's on the ground."
"Yeah. About that. We're not on the ground right now."
John's eyes widened and he sat up with a jerk. He spun his chair around and his hands immediately clenched the armrests in a death grip.
"Rodney, Rodney get us back down."
"Okay, calm down and take a few—"
"McKay, I'm not kidding. Get me back on the damn ground."
"You don't even know why—"
"I don't give a damn why we're up here, but I can't stay up here!"
Rodney could count the number of times he'd seen John get hysterical on one hand and not use all his fingers. He couldn't remember ever hearing John's voice shoot up this high and sound so freaked out. Even when he'd stumbled across one of the biologists studying one of the iratus bugs he hadn't freaked out this badly.
Rodney spun his chair back around and grabbed his arms. His hands were still clutching the armrests as if they were the only thing keeping him inside the jumper. He was shaking and was so pale that he rivaled a Wraith's bleached hair color.
"John, you need to breathe and calm down. We're staying up here until we fix this."
"Get me the fuck down, McKay. I mean it," John grit out between clenched teeth, having clenched his jaw shut to keep it from trembling.
"No. We need to fix this."
"You being terrified of flying."
"There's nothing to fix, Rodney! Pilots crack all the time! Human beings aren't supposed to be up in the air in little metal boxes. Some people are born knowing that bit of common sense and for others it takes a couple years to hit, but once it does, it's pretty much stuck. It's not unusual!"
"What?" He squeaked out, eyes darting from Rodney to both sides of the jumper as if he expected the hull to breach any second.
"You didn't crack because you realize you have to be a bit crazy to love flying. This has nothing to do with flying."
"Of course it does! I'll be fine, Rodney, I promise! We can discuss this all you want, but please, please get us back down to the ground."
"You're not listening to me—"
"Get me the fuck down to the ground, McKay!" John yelled. He started breathing harder and faster, hyperventilating.
Rodney reached up and pried John's hands off the armrests with some difficulty. John had had to cope with Rodney hyperventilating the first few times they had gone off-world and Rodney remembered how John had calmed him down.
He took one of John's hands and flattened it over his chest and let John clutch his other hand.
"I want you to breathe in when you feel me breathe in, John. Okay? Breathe in, we're breathing in now….three….two….one……and out….three….two….one……and in…..three…..two….one."
It took a while but eventually John started breathing in unison with Rodney, staring at Rodney's lips with wide eyes and his trembling hand was splayed on Rodney's chest to feel his chest rising and falling with each breath.
After a while John started calming. A fine tremor still ran through him and he still looked terrified, but he wasn't hyperventilating anymore.
Swallowing hard, John squeezed his eyes shut. "Rodney, please bring me back down. Please. I'll do anything you want, just please get me back down."
"We'll go back down as soon as you admit that this has nothing to do with flying."
John opened his eyes and stared at him. "Of course it's about flying, Rodney!"
"Is it? Would you be this scared about flying over the ocean? Flying over mountains on some other planet?"
"I don't know, probably."
"I don't think so. Is it being in the jumper that scares you or being in space? Think, John."
John opened his mouth to probably give him the same answer he had given himself, but Rodney covered his mouth with his hand. "Use that brain of yours first."
John blinked at him and shut his mouth. He stared at Rodney for a long moment before he swallowed hard. "It's being in space," he whispered, sounding ashamed of it.
"Why is being in space scary? You've been doing this for years."
"It's empty. I feel like I'm going to fall out of the jumper and just fall and fall and there's nothing to catch me."
"You think that's what they felt."
Neither of them had to say who Rodney was referring to. John's gaze dropped to the floor and he didn't say anything.
"I can tell you that they probably were scared, but they would do it over again if they had to."
John frowned and glanced at him. "Bullshit."
"If it were me, I know I would. If it were you, you know you would. We'd both be scared, but we'd do it without hesitation if it meant keeping our people and our city safe. Once they stepped through that gate, they probably closed their eyes, let out their breath and went to sleep. You know as well as I do that nobody falls anywhere in space. They would have just floated through the gate and gone to sleep, knowing that their sacrifice helped keep the rest of us safe."
John stared at him, searching his face to see if he was lying.
"They didn't suffer, they didn't explode, and they didn't fall anywhere. They might have gotten a sunburn, but that's practically it."
"Do you think they hate me?"
Rodney reached up and cupped John's face with one hand, gently stroking his cheek. "No. I know my scientists. They knew you weren't in control of what you were doing. They knew you would never intentionally harm them. They did what you'd taught them they should do."
"Do you think they'd forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive. None of them would have held this against you. They all blamed K'Tesh and his men and nobody else."
John stared at him for a long time before he slowly nodded. "They wouldn't want me to be scared of flying up here."
"No they wouldn't. You can't do your job and take care of us if you're not on good terms with the jumpers and space."
John slowly spun his chair around and looked out through the windshield. Rodney followed his gaze and they stared at the distant stars and the darkness that surrounded them.
"We have to work extra hard to protect this galaxy now."
Rodney leaned on the back of John's chair. "Hmm?"
"Our people are sleeping among those stars. It's up to us to let them sleep comfortably and undisturbed."
Rodney smiled and felt tears well up in his eyes.
He remembered Lisa bending over with hysterical laughter at the sight of a dressed up and face painted Radek coming back from the planet with the kids.
He remembered Gerry jabbering a mile a minute, swinging his tablet around while standing on a planet amongst a bunch of ancient ruins that apparently had some writing on them. His glasses had been askew and his grin had been bright enough to power the city.
He remembered Marina flicking marker pen lids at him when he swiped her cup of coffee and using his defensive arm flapping to steal it back.
He remembered Alan refusing to do the short sprints Lorne demanded of them during PT and Ronon dressing up as a Wraith and stepping out from behind a corner when Alan was leisurely jogging past. Alan had screamed like a two year old and run so fast down the corridor that he'd smashed all previously set civilian sprint times. He'd won himself a certificate for fastest time and most high pitched scream and Lorne only had to remind him of this particular incident to get him to run his hardest from then on.
He remembered Joanna's habit of snorting loudly while laughing and being so ridiculously happy to discover that Miko did the same.
They were sleeping out there and it was up to them to keep them safe and to keep the rest of their family safe too.
Rodney glanced down at John. "So, you flying us back down, flyboy?"
John pushed himself up and sat down in the pilot seat. He ran his hands over the controls for a moment. Rodney swore he felt the jumper perk up a bit and he mock-glared at the hull beside him. Of course she'd be happy now that her favourite pilot was back at the helm.
John slowly turned the jumper around and started heading back down to the planet they had named New Lantea. Just before they entered the upper atmosphere, John swung the jumper around and they faced the darkness of space once more.
Taking his hands off the controls, John gave the darkness a salute. Then he turned the jumper back around and headed back down to their city.
Rodney smiled as he leaned back in his chair, convinced that their wounds were well on their way to healing.
He changed his mind that night as he lay awake in his bed.
He'd waited for John to come to their room and reclaim his side of their bed, but after three long hours, Rodney was still alone.
He stared at his laptop where he saw the blinking white dot in John's old quarters.
Sighing, he swore under his breath and settled back against his pillow, ready for another long night of keeping watch for someone who wasn't there with him.
Obviously, Rodney's earlier conclusion had been premature.
"Rodney you know I can't do that."
"Of course you can! Here's the stylus, here's the form on the tablet, you just scribble your name on that little line. You don't even have to put Dr. Kate Heightmeyer if that's too long and tedious. Do what I do and just put your initials. KH. That's it."
"I didn't mean I was physically incapable of signing it and you know it."
Rodney sighed and dropped into the chair across from her, the tablet falling into his lap.
"Come on, Kate! John needs this. Hell, we all need this."
"I'm sorry, Rodney. According to military regulations, I'm not allowed to put a member of the military with a history of mental disorders back on full active duty without them going through a full psych eval and passing."
"Call him on the radio and ask him your dumb questions, he'll grunt his way through them and then you can sign the form."
"He needs to pass, Rodney. Asking him the questions and having him give me a phoney smile and blank eyes and a constant declaration of 'I'm fine' doesn't cut it. John has to deal with what happened and he isn't. Until he's ready to start dealing with things – properly – and comes to me for help, I can't put him back on full duty. I'm sorry."
Rodney leaned back, his mind working furiously. Kate probably misinterpreted his silence to be one of sad acceptance, since she leaned forward and gave his knee a reassuring squeeze.
"I'm really sorry, Rodney. I know how badly you, Ronon and Teyla want John back on your team, but Evan is a fully capable team leader and you all get along with him well, right? I heard your first mission this morning went fine."
"It was. That's not the point."
"If I let John back out into the field, he'll compartmentalize worse than he's already doing and his PTSD will get worse. That'll make his depression worse and he'll be a prime candidate for combat stress and need to get shipped back to earth."
"He's never suffered from combat stress and you know it."
"He's never been in charge of an entire company of soldiers and an expedition of civilians before when his PTSD or depression were this bad."
"He's not going to come to you for help and you know it."
"I've tried going to him, Rodney. He's not ready to talk to me yet."
"If you're waiting for him to be ready then he'll die of old age in his room!"
"I won't force him to talk about issues he's not comfortable discussing with me yet."
Rodney sat up straight with a jerk, an inkling of an idea appearing in his head. "What if he's comfortable talking about things with me?"
Kate gave him a sad smile. "You're a huge part of the problem, Rodney. I really don't think –"
"I do think. I know John. You know I do. I know how to get through to him. You can't treat him with kid gloves at first. He'll keep running away or pretending everything's fine. You have to smash through his walls and then help him pick up the pieces."
Kate sighed and wearily rubbed her temples. "He'll fight me and quite frankly, I don't think I have the strength to see it through."
"I can take whatever he dishes out. You and I both know that when it comes to a battle of stubbornness and wits, I'll outlast anybody, including John. Let me try to help him. Please."
When she stared at her clasped hands resting on her knees, Rodney barreled on, sensing that he was winning.
"I know John Sheppard. I know how to get through to him and I know how to get him back on track. But I can't do it here."
Kate raised an eyebrow at him. "Why not?"
"I need to be in close quarters with him. Somewhere he can't run away." Rodney stared at her, willing her to keep up with him.
She was frowning, forcing her thoughts to catch up to his. "Somewhere off-world. In a tent. John wouldn't be stupid enough to run off into strange territory in the middle of the night and he wouldn't be able to get the city to shut you out."
Rodney smiled. Psychiatry still wasn't a science, but Kate did have a brain under all the former blondness.
"Exactly. But in order for John to be allowed offworld…"
She sighed. "He needs to be back on full duty." She shot him a mock-glare. "I wish I could convince myself that you only did this to get your team leader back – "
"But you and I both know that this is about a lot more than that."
She pressed her lips together and stared at the tablet in his lap for a long moment. "You swear to me you'll get him to come and see me when you come back?"
"Can I come with him?"
She snorted. "Like he'd come otherwise. Of course you can."
"In that case, let me make an appointment before I go. I swear on Atlantis that we'll be there."
She gave him a long, searching look before sighing. "You better know what you're doing."
"With science stuff and John Sheppard stuff, you bet I know what I'm doing. Everything else…not so much."
"Give me that form."
"Have I mentioned that being a brunette is really flattering on you?"
"If I didn't know that you were trying to flatter me in order to get back together with a man, I'd be flattered. Hand me the stylus."
Rodney took the long way from his quarters to John's, needing the time to work on his plan of attack before storming in. He needed a good rant to get John's attention. He mentally apologized to Lorne – since he was going to feature rather heavily in it.
He knew John was in his room, sitting at his desk and doing something other than sleeping. Rodney didn't particularly care what he was doing, since the only thing John should be doing at 0355 in the morning was sleeping.
That irritating habit of his was going to stop. So were the other irritating habits he had picked up in recent weeks. Like not eating. Like staying holed up in his office doing paperwork.
Like avoiding Rodney. It was time to start fixing the rest of this mess and lay the stage for his plan.
Reaching his door, Rodney told Atlantis to open it, and she instantly obeyed him, probably wanting him to fix her favourite golden child as badly as everyone else did.
He strode in and immediately saw John sitting at his desk, hunched over his laptop, playing a no doubt engrossing game of minesweeper.
John spun his chair around, hand going down to his thigh where his gun was usually strapped.
Rodney held up a hand. "Stop. Shut up. You don't get to talk right now. You get to listen."
John looked like he was about to say something, but Rodney raised an eyebrow and John obediently snapped his mouth shut.
Rodney took a second to look him over. His face was thinner and paler than it had been three days ago when they'd taken the jumper out. The circles under his eyes were darker and his eyes looked sunken and so full of misery that Rodney wanted to grab him and shake him until he came to his senses and then hold him and hold him and never let go.
"You're being an idiot and it's high time you quit it."
John opened his mouth again and Rodney lifted an eyebrow. "I will get some tape and tape your mouth shut if you don't let me properly rant."
When John slumped back in his chair, eyes glued to his desk, Rodney was satisfied that he wouldn't interrupt again.
"So today wasn't that bad. I thought today would absolutely suck and everything would be a mess, but it wasn't. Lorne was a perfectly capable team leader, he gets along well with Teyla and he's buddies with Ronon and I like to think that he and I get along rather well now too, so team dynamic wise, the mission today went perfect. Mission directive wise it went well too. We traded some plants for more of that ore we wanted to get and got a damn good bargain too. So, everything went swimmingly well. Sam's happy, Lorne's happy, the botanists are happy, my science team is happy and the rest of your team should be damn happy too. But the thing is, we're not. What, you might ask, could our problem be? Everything went off without a hitch today, true, but it still felt wrong. Lorne only understands half of the pop culture references I make and doesn't bicker and snark with me when I need the distraction. He pulls a Teyla and just smiles at me patiently and talks to me like I'm some two year old that needs to be calmed. He likes me but he doesn't get me. And I hate it."
"You wanna try somebody else? Cadman can snark with the best of them."
"You don't get it, you moron, do you? I don't want somebody else, I want you back! I hate sharing a tent with somebody who doesn't shove their cold toes between my legs and I hate having to play prime-not-prime all by myself on long jumper flights. I know for a fact that Ronon and Teyla miss you on the team too and want you back. We all like Lorne and respect him – you know that – but it's not the same without you. It's – it's like when we lost Ford, but only worse because you're still right here but you're not with us anymore. Teyla and I lost one team member already and we don't want to lose another one. Not while he's sitting right here."
John was still staring at his desk. "You really want me back as team leader?"
"Yes. Right now. I'm not leaving until you send an email to Sam declaring that you're putting yourself back on our team. I know that Lorne would love to go back to his old team too. Cadman's sarcasm terrifies Parrish and I know he would love to have the Major back."
"You really want me back as team leader?"
"Am I speaking Klingon here? I already said yes. Yes, yes, yes. It doesn't feel right going out there without you and I don't want to do it anymore. Either you come back or I'm leaving the team. And you know Teyla and Ronon would hate both of our guts for that. So you don't really have a choice. I want my team leader back. End of discussion."
John was silent for a long moment. Then he pulled his laptop close to him, opened his email and wrote Sam a short message. Rodney peered over his shoulder, making sure he was actually writing what he was supposed to be writing and reprimanding him for misplacing a comma and failing to capitalize the first letters of sentences or misspelling last names – "You don't herd sheep for a living, you fly fighter jets. Learn to spell your own damn name properly. Stick an 'a' in there and take out the other 'h'. Fix it before it makes my eyes bleed."
After John clicked send, Rodney took a step back.
"Alright then. You'll tell Ronon and Teyla the good news at breakfast tomorrow – which you're going to eat in the mess, at our table at our usual time. We have a mission briefing tomorrow at 1500. You better be there or I'll send Teyla and Ronon to find you."
Without another word, Rodney spun around and left the room, convinced that the door snapped shut behind him in a very concluding tone.
That had gone exceptionally well. He'd already explained to Teyla and Ronon what he was planning on doing and they had been more than eager to help. Their main concern had been Kate not caving in. They all knew that Rodney could easily twist John's arm into coming back onto the team.
Ronon and Teyla had both offered to help with Kate if she proved more difficult than Rodney anticipated, and even offered to use force on John if he refused to come to breakfast or the briefing. They wanted John back too. More than that, they wanted both of their friends to be happy again, which they wouldn't be as long as they were apart.
Rodney was quite pleased with the way things were working out. He knew John would be weird at breakfast tomorrow and during the briefing and probably during the first part of the mission, but at least he would be there. Then Rodney would have the perfect opportunity to implement the final phase of his plan.
He'd never realized that fixing science stuff and fixing John stuff were so much alike. Like with most engineering problems, he needed to fix one thing at a time and make sure it was working properly before moving forward.
Otherwise, if it was still broken at the end, he would have no idea what part he hadn't managed to fix properly.
He already knew that some of the problems he had worked on were fixed and working properly. Hopefully, in a few days time, he'd have a fully functional John Sheppard back in his life and bed where he belonged.
Rodney had been right. John was quiet and withdrawn during breakfast and during the briefing. Since he was fine with Teyla and Ronon, Rodney knew that John's behavior was due to his own presence.
He ignored John's silence and lack of eye contact and kept up a steady stream of conversation during breakfast and the briefing, including John when the need arose but not pushing him too much.
He'd be pushing John way past his comfort zone soon enough. Rodney didn't feel a bit guilty at the thought, since he knew he'd be there to catch John when he fell.
The next morning, Rodney finished up the stuff in his lab that needed his final attention and then went down to the locker room to get ready.
Teyla and Ronon were both already there, snapping on vests and holsters and checking their weapons and vest supplies.
Rodney joined them, his hands so well trained in this routine that he allowed his mind to wander – rehearsing exactly how he was going to ambush John.
All three of them paused and glanced up when John came in. All three of their faces erupted in big smiles and Rodney wanted to throw himself on John. The feeling of rightness was overwhelming as the four of them got ready.
Teyla managed to move close to Ronon so she did his buddy check for him and Ronon did hers.
Rodney hid the grin that threatened to come up to his ears. He turned to John, opening his mouth to ask for his buddy check.
John spun away from him and asked Teyla to do his buddy check. Rodney stared at him.
Seeing the surprised expression on Teyla's face, John muttered something about never being too careful and it being a good idea that they all maybe start doing two buddy checks each.
Rodney snorted rather loudly but didn't look at John as Ronon climbed over the bench and started doing Rodney's buddy check.
As Rodney checked Ronon's gun, his knives and his supplies, he pushed the thought of John's little evasion out of his mind.
Soon enough John wouldn't have anywhere to hide or any excuse to use.
Rodney smirked to himself as he shook the last of the beef stew into the pot and carefully placed it on the metal grating he'd set over the fire, John's whispered conversation with Teyla easily drifting over to him.
"I just think it's good to shake things up a bit."
"John, we have tried changing the sleeping arrangements, but this works best. I cannot sleep with Rodney's snoring, Ronon and Rodney spread out too much to comfortably fit in a tent and you and I freeze by morning if we share."
"I must help Ronon finish putting up the tents. Please help Rodney finish cooking dinner."
Rodney bent his head as he stirred the stew, hoping to hide his smile from John. What Teyla had said was technically true and it was the main reason they slept in the arrangements they did, but he knew that Teyla brought her ear plugs with her and could share a tent with him if the need arose. But Teyla knew how important it was for John to be sharing a tent with Rodney tonight.
He heard John rummaging around in one of the packs and come up to the fire.
"I got the plates," he said, putting them on a rock beside Rodney. Rodney grunted in reply and focused on not burning the stew.
He was careful to keep his distance from John during dinner, clean up and deciding who was taking which watch. He knew that as long as it was daylight there was still a chance that John would run or do something else to avoid that night.
He could find some stupid reason to go back to Atlantis right away or use their tents for some emergency purpose that would end up with all of them sleeping outside.
Predictably, John immediately said he'd take watch with Ronon – knowing that Ronon wouldn't make him talk about anything, unlike Teyla. Teyla exchanged a glance with Rodney, who gave her a tiny nod.
Let John think he was going to be avoiding Rodney all night. It would put him at ease and make things easier until it was time.
While Teyla checked their perimeter, John took their dishes to wash them in the nearby stream, and Rodney and Ronon took the sack of food, supplies and rope to a nearby tree and worked together to hoist it up.
"So once Sheppard and I are done watch, we go get you and Teyla and then I'll come back out and you go back in."
Rodney nodded, yanking on one of the knots and making sure it was secure enough.
"I'll take both watches tomorrow night to make up for it."
Ronon made a dismissive grunt and started hoisting the sack up. "Forget it. Just fix things between the two of you and that's all the payment I need. I won't die staying up one night. Teyla can find a stick and hit me with it if I start falling asleep."
Dusting off his hands, Rodney gave the larger man a smile. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it. I told you, this is for my sanity as much as yours or his. You two are driving me crazy."
Without another word, they went back to the tents. Rodney yelled good night to Ronon and John who had sat down by the fire, and in the direction of Teyla's tent, from where he heard a muffled good night yelled back to him. Teyla must have been in the middle of pulling her shirt over her head. He smiled and ducked into his tent and got ready for bed, knowing he would need all the energy he could get for later on.
"Rodney. McKay. McKay!"
Rodney woke up with a groan, recognizing Ronon's voice. "Yeah, yeah. I'm coming."
Yawning, he pushed himself up and pulled his pile of clothes closer to him. Slowly, he started changing in his sleeping bag, already shivering as the cold night air crept into his warm space.
Once he was dressed, he checked his P-90, slung his night vision goggles around his neck and stepped out of his tent. John was standing by the tent and as soon as Rodney emerged, he ducked inside, muttering something that sounded like a 'night, Rodney' at him.
Ronon was still sitting by the fire, stretching and splashing some cold water from a cup onto his face.
When he saw Teyla emerge from her tent, stretching and fiddling with the NVGs around her neck, he called over that he was going to check the perimeter.
Ronon glanced up and muttered that he'd do it.
"He needs time to get changed and into bed anyway. I might as well do something useful in the whole five minutes that I'm out here."
Turning, he quietly called over for Teyla to hurry up. They never checked the perimeter alone at night.
They both pulled the goggles over their faces, adjusted their P-90s in their grips and headed off, scanning through the dense vegetation surrounding them for anything that wasn't supposed to be there.
Fifteen minutes later, they were back, Rodney surprised to find that he didn't have the usual headache from using the goggles.
Ronon glanced up from the fire. "Headache?"
Teyla smiled. "You are getting accustomed to wearing them."
"I guess so. I can't wait until the other civilians have to start doing some NVG exercises. Radek is going to fall flat on his ass and I'll run circles around him."
Ronon snorted and Teyla rolled her eyes. Rodney glanced towards his and John's tent.
Ronon nodded. "I heard him getting changed and now he's settled down. That was about five minutes ago. He's probably already out."
Nodding, Rodney shot another grateful look at Ronon and told them both to have a good night.
Taking off the goggles and pulling off the sling keeping the P-90 around his neck, Rodney quietly crawled into his tent.
John shifted and sat up as soon as he heard the slight noise, hand already going for his gun.
"Shh, it's alright. Everything's fine."
"You're supposed to be on watch."
"I have a headache. Stupid goggles. Ronon isn't tired so he said he'd take watch for me."
John stared at him before his gaze drifted off to the side of the tent. Rodney waited to see if he dared making some idiotic comment that would have him taking Teyla's watch too, just to avoid being in the same tent as Rodney.
When John kept his mouth shut and lay back down, Rodney guessed John knew how dumb he would have sounded if he had tried.
Rodney quickly got changed, folding his clothes and putting them beside his gun, goggles and other things he had to carry around with him during watch.
He slipped into his sleeping bag and lay back, staring up at the ceiling. He glanced at John out of the corner of his eye and saw that John had rolled over, turning his back to Rodney.
That was fine. Rodney would just have to wait for the perfect opportunity.
Ten minutes later, Rodney could hear that John still wasn't sleeping. John could probably tell by Rodney's own breathing that he wasn't sleeping either.
Deciding that waiting any longer was a waste of time, Rodney decided to launch into action.
He had to time this perfectly. If he was too slow or clumsy, John could make an escape and shut himself behind his walls by the time Rodney caught him again.
Sighing loudly, Rodney unzipped his sleeping bag and sat up, pulling his legs out of it. He pressed his lips together as the cold air assaulted him. Sweet Lantea it was damn cold!
"You okay?" John asked, still not facing him.
"Yeah. Gotta pee."
Rodney pushed himself up, but instead of going to the tent flap, he turned and pounced.
Grabbing John's shoulder, he yanked him onto his back and then straddled him, pinning his legs to the ground. He grabbed the top edges of the sleeping bag on either side of John's head and twisted his hands into the fabric, effectively sealing John into the bag.
"Rodney, what the hell?!"
Rodney grinned down at him. "We're going to talk. About a lot of things. And you're not getting out of this sleeping bag or this tent until we're done."
Something flashed in John's eyes. "Like hell we are," he growled, trying to worm his arms out of the sleeping bag. Rodney tightened his grip, thanking whoever at the SGC had sent them these narrow Arctic sleeping bags. There was no way John could get his arms out of them without Rodney letting go.
Realizing that, John started trying to buck Rodney off but the combination of his legs being trapped together in the bag and Rodney weighing more than him meant Rodney got a bit jostled but didn't fall off. The movement did warm him up a little bit but it was still darn cold in the tent. Rodney struggled to keep his teeth from chattering.
He tightened his grip on the bag with his hands and around John's waist with his thighs and waited for John to get tired.
After another few minutes, John stopped struggling, going limp under Rodney. His jaw was clenched and he was breathing hard, staring up at the ceiling.
"Just talk, Rodney. Say what you have to say and then get off me, please. Although you really don't have to bother. I know what you're going to say and believe me, you don't have to go to any extra effort to hammer it into my head."
"You know what I'm going to say, huh? Let's hear it."
"If you already know what I'm going to say then why should I bother wasting my breath talking? You talk. Tell me what I'm going to say."
Damn it was difficult to form words properly when it was this cold. His tongue felt extra heavy in his mouth and his arms and legs were shaking. Why the hell hadn't he brought his long pajamas with him?
"It's over. I know that and I get that. I know you want me back on the team to keep the team dynamic the same but you want to make it clear that sharing a tent and being on the same team has nothing to do with anything…anything we used to have. That's over. I get that, I really do."
"Please get off me now."
"Did the cold freeze your brain cells?"
"I really don't want to continue this discussion."
"That's too damn bad because I do and we've barely started this discussion. First of all, you're so wrong that there aren't even words to describe it. This isn't about me making our break up official. It's about me getting your head out of your ass and getting you back into my life where you belong."
A flicker of emotion flared up in John's eyes but then it was gone and replaced by blankness again.
"Don't. Please don't. If you want to hurt me, fine. Blow up my shower, humiliate me in front of everyone, tell everyone what a fucked up idiot I am, fine. Just don't tease me about this, Rodney. That's cruel, even for you."
"What the hell are you on?"
"I'm serious. Please."
"So am I. You're not normally this stupid and you know me better than that! If I was mad at you I wouldn't get back at you by stringing you along! My revenge would be loud and obvious and you know it."
"Well you obviously can't mean it so what the hell else would it be?"
"I do mean it, you moron! What we had was the best thing that ever happened to me and I'll be damned if I don't try everything I possibly can to fix it!" He stared down at John staring up at the ceiling. "John, look at me."
John didn't respond so Rodney scowled. "Look at me, damn it."
Slowly, John's gaze drifted down and they stared at each other. John was clearly having trouble keeping his expression as empty as he usually did, since Rodney could see the faint flicker of desperate hope in his eyes.
"First of all, I love you. Second of all, what happened was awful but it wasn't my fault and it wasn't your fault. You didn't want this to happen and neither did I. Which all means that I can't understand why the hell you'd think it's over between us and why I wouldn't want you around anymore."
John pressed his lips together briefly. "I did awful things to you, Rodney. I hit you, I beat you, I tortured you, I said awful things to you…People who love each other don't do and say those things."
"They do if they're not in control of their actions. You weren't. It was your body but it wasn't you. Why do you think I'm not scared of you? Why the hell would I want to fix things between us if I thought there was a chance that you're normally an abusive asshole? I know you're not. I know you're not that kind of a person. As for the crap that you said, we both know you said it to lay the stage for your plan to work effectively. We both know you didn't mean a word of that garbage."
"I don't think I can trust myself around you anymore."
"I'll trust you enough for both of us. I know you, John. We've had our share of fantastically loud fights and they never got violent. Neither of us have ever considered making things physical when we're fighting and I've never been scared that you'd snap and hurt me. I'm still not."
John stared up at him. "You forgive me?"
Rodney opened his mouth to tell him firmly that there was nothing to forgive, but knew that John didn't see it that way.
"Yes I do. Completely."
Something in John's eyes flared up and he briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Rodney could see tears welling up in his eyes but John squeezed his eyes shut again, determined not to let them fall.
Rodney didn't want John to have to pretend to be strong for him. For the rest of Atlantis, for their team, for the galaxy, yes, but not for him.
So he leaned down and gently kissed John's closed eyes. "It's okay. I forgive you."
He could fell John shaking, trying to get himself back under control.
Rodney was regretting the fact that John's sleeping bag was too damn narrow for both of them. That was when he realized how cold he was.
Releasing John's sleeping bag, he climbed off him and unzipped his own sleeping bag. Unzipping John's, he quickly zipped the two bags together and crawled into the blissful warmth.
John's eyes were still closed and he barely reacted when Rodney first grabbed his shoulder to pull him closer to him, but once he'd started, John started squirming frantically, clinging onto Rodney and burying his face in Rodney's neck.
Rodney pulled the sleeping bag tighter around them, tangled his cold legs with John's and wrapped his arms around him.
John was snuffling softly into his neck and Rodney could feel wetness seeping into his shirt. He heard broken whispers of "Sorry" and "Thank you" over and over again.
He leaned his head down and shushed John, adding his own whispers of "It's okay", "I love you" and "It's over now" into the unbroken stream of John's own murmuring.
He tangled one of his hands into John's hair and pulled his reassuring weight firmly over him, letting John's warmth seep into him. The familiarity of John's weight plastered on him, his hair tickling his nose and his smell surrounding Rodney made him finally believe that things were returning back to normal. Or as normal as they would ever get.
It took a long time for John to calm down. Once he did, he gently untangled himself from Rodney and pushed himself up, staring down at him.
John reached out a hesitant, uncertain hand, stretching out one finger towards Rodney's face. He nearly touched Rodney's cheek but stopped when he was nearly there.
Rodney grabbed his hand and pulled his hand to his face, turning his face to press a kiss into his palm and then pressing the hand firmly onto his face.
John's other hand came up and gentle fingers started exploring his face, skimming over his nose, his cheeks, his lips, his eyebrows, his chin.
Rodney let him explore, smiling as John's touch grew stronger and more certain.
Then Rodney pulled his own arms free and pulled John's face down to him, meeting his lips with his own. When Rodney opened his mouth, his tongue darting out to lick at John's lips, John gave a half-sob and parted his lips, the kiss getting deeper and pressing Rodney into the pillow.
As their kissing got more heated, Rodney momentarily pulled back, placing a finger on John's lips to pause him for a second.
"No more bachelor pad."
John smiled and nodded. Rodney smiled back, wanting to cry at the sight of John smiling.
"Good. Now, where were we?"
John let out a small laugh and reached down to find Rodney's lips again as Rodney grinned and hoped that the tent was somewhat soundproof.
Things weren't perfect. They never had been and they never would be, but Rodney realized that right at this moment, things were close enough for him.