WesleysGirl (wesleysgirl) wrote in the_fund,

For flaming_muse

Title: Shaky Ground
Author: WesleysGirl
Fandom: Atlantis
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Fandom and characters are not mine, more's the pity.
Notes: Post-Trinity. Written for flaming_muse in exchange for a donation to the_fund - the deal was for something in the 3-5K word range. McKay/Sheppard. Many thanks to amireal for the beta and extremely helpful advice.

Shaky Ground

John didn't feel all that awkward around McKay because of what had happened, but he could tell McKay felt really awkward around him. John tried to make things easier for McKay by being extra friendly and smiling a lot, and joking in a way that didn't set McKay up as the butt of the joke, but none of it seemed to make any difference. McKay was still awkward -- well, okay, more awkward than usual -- and just a little bit distant. Sometimes, when John looked up, he'd catch McKay looking at him, but McKay always looked away quickly, pretending like it hadn't happened.

A few days after McKay blew up most of a solar system, Elizabeth said they were ready to send the team out. John was pretty happy about that. Maybe getting back to basics would be good for McKay; remind him of the all the things he did right instead of the ones he did wrong.

McKay was uncharacteristically quiet as they geared up and went into the gate room, but John tried not to let himself get worked up about it. Things were weird -- well, to be honest, when McKay was around, things were usually weird, but silent was a whole new kind of weird for McKay -- but they'd be okay again.

They went through the gate and stood blinking in the bright sunlight as they got their bearings.

"The village is there," Teyla said, pointing toward the horizon.

"Where?" John asked. "All I see is those hills."

"Those hills are the village," Teyla said. "This area is very mountainous. There are many rocky outcroppings."

"Since we can't eat rocks, that leads me to ask what exactly we're going to be trading for," McKay said, frowning.

"The Sinian people have devised a system of growing vegetables that does not require soil," Teyla explained. "They use a series of clay pots and a nutrient-rich water which derives from nearby springs."

"Hydroponics," McKay said knowledgeably. "That's actually not a bad idea. We could set up something like that in Atlantis." He looked from the gate toward the distant hills. "Why would they make their city so far from the gate?"

"Because it's safer," Ronon said, giving Rodney a look that shut McKay up. It was probably, John mused, the kind of look McKay had gotten from the cool kids in high school. Assuming he'd gone to high school. Assuming there were cool kids in Canada, something that John wasn't all that sure of.

"Many of their homes are caves," Teyla added impassively. "They use them for storage, as well." A man working at what might have been a forge looked up and saw them. He finished what he was doing, spoke to the young boy standing nearby, and lifted a hand toward Teyla, who smiled widely and raised her chin. "Hello, Philaes."

"Teyla." The two greeted each other in the traditional Athosian manner and then parted.

"These are my friends," Teyla said. "John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Ronon."

"You are welcome," Philaes said. "Come; we will prepare a meal in your honor."

"That's really not necessary," John tried to protest, but Ronon and McKay gave him twin looks of disapproval, so he shut up.

The villagers were friendly; lots of them came up to greet Teyla, and none of them gave the rest of the team the suspicious looks that they'd come to expect. They seemed perfectly happy to start cooking, a dozen or so women and older kids building up the fires and dragging out extra pots and sacks of food.

McKay was wandering around, frowning and fiddling with his scanner, but he kept glancing up to check on what the rest of them were doing. Teyla was sitting on a stone and talking to some of the men. Ronon was nearby, drinking from a carved stone bowl that someone had handed him. John stood off to one side with his back against a cliff that looked like it turned further up into a series of caves.

"Colonel?" McKay was suddenly at John's elbow.

"What's up?" John asked.

"I'm picking up some energy readings that I can't explain," McKay said. He stopped the nearest man walking by. "Excuse me; can you tell me if there are any large energy sources in the area?"

The man looked confused. "Energy sources?"

"I'll take that as a no." McKay dismissed the man without a word and turned his attention back to his scanner, then started to walk away. "I'm going to go check it out."

"Not by yourself," John said, catching up with McKay and gesturing at Ronon, who nodded.

"Please," McKay said. "These people are lucky they've figured out how to grow vegetables and make simple cooking implements; I hardly think they're likely to pose any sort of a threat."

"I wasn't thinking about them," John said. He wondered if this energy reading thing was even legitimate, or if McKay just wanted to take his unnatural quietness and strange little glances elsewhere; energy readings outside of the village could be as good an excuse as any to put some distance between them. Not like most of their energy reading leads panned out."I was thinking about other things."

"Like what?" McKay asked, glancing at him.

"Oh, I don't know. Wild animals? Wraith bugs?" John saw McKay's stride falter.

"Oh. Right." McKay nodded. "Good point." Another glance. "Okay, you can come."

The scanner led them a third of a mile or so from the village, where some ravines created a natural stopping point. McKay paused, frowning, tapping furiously away at the scanner. "We're definitely close. It has to be around here somewhere." He looked around like he was expecting it to be hiding under a stone or something.

"If there's something here, it's probably buried under a couple tons of rock," John said reasonably. "It's not like it's going anywhere. We could come back with some more equipment later."

"Don't you understand? There could be a ZedPM here, right under our feet!" McKay's eyes flashed with excitement as he backed up another couple of steps toward the edge of the ravine, paying more attention to the scanner than their surroundings.

"Rodney," John said warningly.

"Look, if you honestly think that talking to those primitives about raising kidney beans is more important than a ZedPM, then go," McKay said, with a little wave of his hand. "I'll be fine. I'm just going to --" There was an ominous shifting of the ground underneath them, accompanied by a rumbling sound. "Uh-oh."

The rock beneath McKay crumbled away, and as McKay started to fall, John leapt forward without thinking and managed to catch McKay's wrist, the heavy drag on John's arm and shoulder making him gasp as his chest collided with the ground.

"Oh god," McKay said, struggling and threatening to dislodge John's tenuous hold on him.

"Rodney, stop," John commanded. Every muscle in his arm screamed in protest as he tried to haul McKay upward. "Stop fighting. And drop the fucking scanner!"

McKay looked terrified, but he obeyed and used his now-free hand to grab onto the edge of the rock. They both winced as the scanner hit the rocks below and shattered, bits of it ricocheting into the deep ravine. "Oh god," McKay said again. "I'm going to die."

"You're not going to die," John said. "I've got you, okay? Trust me." He tightened his grip on McKay's wrist and inched backward away from the edge, trying to tow McKay with him, but the ground underneath him trembled and their eyes locked. "That's not good," John said, just before the world dropped away beneath him and Rodney's arm was ripped from his grasp.

* * *

When John opened his eyes, he was lying flat on his back in the most uncomfortable position he could remember waking up in; it felt like there was a rock shoved up against his spine. His shoulder hurt like hell, his head ached, and he was pretty sure he was going to have an impressive collection of bruises.

Memory came back in a rush, and he rolled onto his side with a groan. "McKay?" John's voice was hoarse, and too quiet. He tried again, louder. "McKay!"

There was no answer. Heart in his throat, John hitched his weight up onto one elbow, trying to ignore the stabbing pain as his ribs grated together. He glanced up to see how far down he was from where he'd started and was surprised to discover that it wasn't all that far -- fifteen feet, maybe. He was balanced on a narrow ledge.

Below him, another twelve or so feet down, McKay was lying in a crumpled heap, unmoving.

"McKay!" John raised his voice. "Rodney!"

McKay made a muffled sound kind of like a groan, and John exhaled in relief. At least he wasn't dead.

"Come on, McKay. Wake up." But there was no other response. John hit his radio. "Teyla?"

Nothing. He pulled off the earpiece and looked at it, only to find that it was cracked nearly in two. He looked down at McKay again, wondering how badly he was hurt and how hard it would be to get down there. It didn't look like there were a lot of hand-holds on the sloping rocks between them, and the fact that his shoulder ached like hell wouldn't help.

Still, John figured he had to try. He turned and lowered himself down over the edge, keeping a death grip on the rock, which at least seemed a hell of a lot more sturdy than the ground up above had been. John found a crack big enough to wedge the toe of his boot into, searched for another with his other foot, and promptly lost his grip, falling the seven feet and landing flat on his back. Again. Only this time he was conscious enough that he got to enjoy the sensation of gasping for air like a fish out of water, since the wind had been well and truly knocked out of him.

It took a minute or two to catch his breath; then John got up onto his hands and knees and touched McKay's shoulder, not shaking him. "Come on, Rodney. Time to wake up."

McKay groaned.

"Good," John said encouragingly. "That's it. Come on."

"I'm dead," McKay said, his voice rough and hoarse, like he had laryngitis.

"No, you're not," John told him.

"It feels like I am," McKay grumbled. "I thought you weren't going to drop me."

"I didn't," John said, offended. "The edge of the cliff collapsed -- again. We both fell. Are you okay?"

McKay was still lying in the same position. "No, of course I'm not okay; I fell off a cliff." He was definitely whining. "I don't know if it's a good idea for me to move. What if my back's broken?"

"If your back's broken, you won't be able to move," John pointed out. "Just take it easy."

"Okay, but if my spine separates and I'm paralyzed for life, it'll be your fault." McKay gingerly shifted onto his side. "Ow. Crap. You don't think Carson has anyone on his staff specializing in back injuries, do you? God, I'm never going to walk again." There was a bruise forming on McKay's cheek; he looked at John. "What the hell happened to you?"

"I fell," John said, starting to feel pretty frustrated in addition to in pain, what with the way his side hurt.

"You're bleeding," McKay said. He raised a hand and touched the side of John's face in front of his ear, then pulled back and showed his fingertips, wet with dark blood, to John.

"I didn't even feel it," John said. Carefully, he shifted back into a sitting position and searched in his pockets for something he could use -- there was a scrap of cloth, so he held that up near his temple. "What about you?"

"I feel like I fell off a cliff," Rodney said. He reached up a hand like he was going to activate his radio, then frowned. It wasn't until then that John realized it was missing. "Where's my radio?"

"I don't know," John said, looking around. "Mine's broken." He watched as Rodney crept closer to the edge of the ledge they were on and looked down, then backed away again, noticeably paler.

"That's a long way down," Rodney said, swallowing.

"No kidding." John gestured to the cliff wall behind him. "Do me a favor and move over here, okay?"

"Yes, yes," Rodney said. "No problem." He scurried back, moving faster than John felt capable of, and settled himself next to John. "So what are we going to do?"

"Well, sooner or later, Teyla and Ronon are going to come looking for us," John said. "I figure we just yell to them, they get some rope and pull us up."

"What if they don't hear us?" McKay asked. "What if they don't look in the right direction? What if -- "

"They'll find us," John said, patting McKay's thigh. "How're you doing?"

"Other than trying to ward off the impending panic attack?" McKay seemed to consider the question. "Surprisingly well. Here, let me look at that." He gingerly took the cloth away from John's face and looked at it. Up close, McKay seemed more worried than afraid. "Put it back," he advised, letting go of John's fingers. "It's slowing down, but it's still oozing."

"Oozing? Is that the technical term?" John leaned back against the rock and stifled a groan as the pain in his side intensified.

"Yes, of course," McKay snapped. "I'm not a medical doctor, all right? I don't know." John gave him a look, and he wilted. "You really don't look good," he muttered.

"Yeah, well, I'm fine," John said. There wasn't any point in telling McKay he was pretty sure a couple of his ribs were broken. Pretty soon, Teyla and Ronon would come looking for them and get them out of there.

McKay was looking up at the cliff behind them. "Maybe we could climb up?" he suggested, in a tone of voice that made it clear that he knew that really wasn't an option.

"The whole thing's unstable," John said. "We wouldn't get half way."

"What if we yell?" McKay said. He shifted up onto his knees, lifted his face skyward, and shouted. "Help! Can anyone hear me? Help!"

"Shut up," John said irritably.

"There might be someone within hearing range," McKay said. "Help!"

He kept it up for a few more minutes, and when he gave up, John was grateful. Listening to it was making his head hurt. Again. "Give Teyla some time to realize we're missing," John said as McKay settled back down beside him.

"Easy for you to say -- you aren't the one who'll be passing out from hunger in a few hours," McKay muttered. After a brief silence, he asked, "Prime not prime?" hopefully.

"I'm not really in the mood," John said. The suggestion made his head -- well, actually, everything -- throb.

"You really are hurt," McKay said, concern evident in his voice. "Is it your head?"

"No," John said, because that was only part of it, but then he immediately changed his answer. "Yes," he lied.

"Let me see." McKay's hand, cooler than John remembered, gently pulled the cloth away from his head again. "The bleeding's stopped, but I'd think that would be a good sign. Look at me." When John didn't open his eyes immediately, McKay added, "Colonel."

Wearily, John turned his head and looked at McKay. "I thought you weren't a medical doctor."

"I'm not." McKay took John's chin in his hand and held him still. "Aren't you supposed to be able to tell by looking at someone's pupils?"

"Probably." John couldn't remember and didn't care -- it wasn't his head that was the problem. He stared into McKay's eyes anyway, amazed as always at how blue they were. He'd never seen anyone else with eyes like them. "So what's the verdict?"

McKay blinked. "They're the same size, for whatever that's worth. Do you feel any symptoms that would indicate a concussion? Um..." He waved his hand in a circular motion like he was cranking his brain into gear. "Nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, loss of short term memory?"

"Rodney, I'm fine." He actually did feel kind of sick, but he was pretty sure that was from the sharp, hot pain radiating through his side and chest. "Can we just sit here without talking until Teyla comes looking for us?"


To John's surprise, Rodney managed to keep quiet for about fifteen minutes.

"Maybe you should lie down," McKay said.

"You think?" John wasn't convinced that if he did he'd be able to get up again.

"You're kind of pale," McKay observed. "And you're sweating."

"It's hot," John said.

"No, it isn't," McKay said. "The temperature's actually very comfortable, although I suppose you could take off your vest..." He reached for the front of it, and John shook his head.

"I'm good."

"You're not," McKay said stubbornly. "You didn't break anything when you fell, did you? Other than your head, I mean."

"I didn't break my head," John said.

"Well then what's wrong?" McKay's hand was resting on John's arm, and again it felt cool.

Past the point of being able to hide it, John gave in. "I think I might have cracked a rib."

McKay made a frustrated sound and picked up the cloth that had been resting on John's thigh, the one he'd used to stop his head from bleeding. Folding the cloth so that a clean side was facing out, McKay blotted John's forehead. "Lie down, would you?"

"I don't think I'll be able to move again if I do," John said. There was perspiration along his upper lip and he was feeling more and more like throwing up was unavoidable.

"That's okay." McKay's hands gently urged John to turn and lower himself onto his back. John could feel McKay's palm under his head, cushioning it from the soft impact with the rock surface beneath him, but the pain in his chest was suddenly ten times worse. "Easy, Colonel."

"I'm not..." John felt hot and sick and breathless. "Rodney..."

"I'm right here," McKay said, leaning over him. "Colonel? Stay with me."

He couldn't breathe; it was like he was drowning. Rodney's hand was in John's, and he gripped onto it as tightly as he could, just like he had before. "Trust... you," John gasped.

He knew Rodney wouldn't let him go.

The world faded away to black. John would have been grateful, except that through the darkness he could still feel the pain. It went on and on, waves of it, the air in front of his face turning into salty water like the sea and bubbling over his tongue, hot and bitter. It hurt, and he couldn't breathe.

There was movement, someone shouting. Something pressed to his lips, cool and reassuring.

The world tilted. John spun, gravity pulling at him, pulling him to pieces. He felt small and far away from everything.

There was a short, sharp pain in his chest, like being stabbed with a knife, and John gasped, jerking to half-awareness and sucking in air that burned. "Keep him still!" someone said, and there were gentling hands on his shoulders, pushing him down onto a surface that was too soft to be rock.

"It's okay, sir," a woman's voice said. "Just try to relax. We've got you."

Where's Rodney?, John thought, but a moment later there was a pinprick in his arm, and ten seconds after that he was gone into a place where, finally, the pain was gone.

* * *

Unfortunately, it didn't last. When John started to wake up, slowly, fighting his way to the surface, the pain was back. His mouth felt like cotton and he had one of those oxygen things in his nose, but at least, when he opened his eyes, he was lying on a bed instead of a rock shelf on the side of a cliff.

He turned his head, just a little bit, and saw Rodney asleep on the bed next to his. The bruise on Rodney's face had blossomed into a darkish purple, and there were matching circles underneath his eyes. "McKay?" Rodney kept right on sleeping. John raised his voice and tried, "Doc?"

Beckett was there right away, putting a reassuring hand on John's shoulder. "There you are, Colonel. Don't try to move; you're going to be out of commission for a while, so it's best you lie as still as possible, all right?"

"What happened?" That came out wrong -- John knew what had happened. What he needed to know was how they'd gotten back to Atlantis and what it was, exactly, that was making his chest feel like he'd had the worst beating of his life.

But Beckett seemed to know what he was really asking. "You broke four ribs and one of them punctured your right lung," he said matter-of-factly. "Another did some damage to your liver. Your lung collapsed and you lost a rather impressive amount of blood, but don't worry; we've put you back together again and you're going to be fine."

John tried to take that all in, but fuck, he hurt. "What about McKay?"

Beckett glanced at Rodney, who hadn't reacted to their conversation. "He's got quite a collection of bruises, and he's exhausted -- didn't sleep a wink all night. I finally convinced him to at least get off his feet, and as soon as he did, he was out like a light." Beckett fiddled with one of the monitors and checked the IV bag hanging near the head of the bed. "I'm going to give you some more morphine now, Colonel. You need the sleep."

Part of John wanted to protest because he had more questions that he needed the answers to, and he wanted to hear those answers from McKay, but Beckett was already injecting the drug into the IV lock in the back of his hand, and he floated away before he could ask why he wasn't dead on the side of a cliff.

* * *

John woke up again. The lighting in his little section of the room was low, but in the rest of the infirmary it was brighter, so it had to be daytime. The bed McKay had been sleeping on was empty, and John's chest still hurt enough that the thought of trying to move didn't even cross his mind.

It didn't take long for someone to notice he was awake, though, and send Beckett over to check on him. "Good afternoon, Colonel. How are you feeling?"

"I've felt better," John said hoarsely.

"I'd be surprised if you've felt worse," Beckett said with sympathy.

"How long am I going to be stuck here?" John asked.

"I hardly think that's what you should be worrying about at this time," Beckett said, but then sighed and glanced over at the monitors that were beeping in a way that John found strangely reassuring. "A few days at the very least, so you might as well get comfortable."

John swallowed dryly, and Beckett picked up a cup of ice chips that was sitting on the table beside the bed.

"Here, lad, have a few of these," Beckett said, spooning some melting ice into John's mouth. "Better?"

"Yeah. Thanks." John tried to clear his head. "How did I get here? I don't remember."

Beckett set the cup down again and checked John's IV. "Rodney saved your life," Beckett said quietly. "He climbed down that cliff to get his radio so he could contact Teyla and let her know what had happened." His eyes met John's. "It was touch and go even so. Any longer, and I don't know if we could have saved you."

"Wow." John let that sink in, closing his eyes. The sedative effect of the medication was strong, kind of like a wave trying to pull him under.

"Colonel?" McKay was there suddenly. "How is he?" McKay asked Beckett. He looked tired and worried, and that made John feel... well, he wasn't sure. Kind of good, somehow.

"I'm fine," John lied.

"He's in a good deal of pain, Rodney," Beckett said reproachfully.

John licked his dry lips. "Carson says you saved my life."

"Well... yes, yes, I suppose I did." Rodney looked pleased, the bruising on his face only spoiling the effect a little bit.

He'd been here before; John remembered that much. "Thank you," he said, putting what he could behind the words.

"You're welcome," McKay said, crossing his arms and then wincing. "Good to know that someone appreciates my efforts."

Beckett said something, but John was starting to feel sleepy again underneath the pain, and he was kind of hoping that they'd both go away. A wave of pain rose up and he had to shut his eyes.

"Are you okay?" he heard McKay ask anxiously. "Is he okay?"

"He's got four broken ribs and a lacerated liver, of course he's not okay," Beckett snapped. There was a raised voice, and then a gentle hand rested on John's forehead, and John forced his eyes open and looked at Beckett. "Just take it easy, lad. We're getting you something for the pain."

"I'm okay," John said hoarsely, more to Rodney than Carson.

"You're not, but you will be," Carson said.

John closed his eyes again, concentrated on breathing steadily but shallowly until something was injected into the IV and he floated away.

The last thing he felt was someone holding his hand, and he didn't think it was Beckett.

* * *

The next few days were better. McKay spent some time hanging around, alternately asking John if he needed anything and complaining about his own bruises and sore muscles. The rest of the time John was bored, even despite the many visitors that came through to check up on him. Teyla came by every day, but stayed briefly. Ronon and Zelenka both came by once. Elizabeth visited at least twice each day, but like the rest, she only stayed for a few minutes. It made John wonder if Carson had said something to them about not tiring him out.

He wasn't cut out for his invalid stuff. He could only count the little holes in the ceiling panels so many times before he started to come up with the same answer often enough that it wasn't interesting anymore, and the stack of outdated magazines that one of the nurses brought him only held his interest for about half an hour.

It was a relief when Beckett finally released him from the infirmary and let him go back to his quarters, even if he was under strict orders not to do anything but lie in bed. "You can get up to use the toilet, and that's it," Beckett told him sternly. "Your meals will be delivered to you, and I'll have someone come by to see how you are every hour or so."

"To check up on me, you mean," John muttered, but Beckett just patted his shoulder and let him go.

As it turned out, his room wasn't much more interesting than the infirmary, and even with the occasional visit from a nurse, it was lonely. Not that other people didn't stop in to check on him, but they were all busy, and the only one who stayed longer than a few minutes was Teyla, who seemed happy to sit and talk until he actually fell asleep listening to her, which he felt kind of guilty about.

John did get a good night's sleep that first night, though, and that was a nice change. When he woke up in the morning, he felt well-rested, but heavily groggy. It was like being drugged with too much sleep. The cup of coffee that came with his breakfast helped, but he still spent the first half of the day dozing and idly flipping through the pile of paperbacks that Beckett had sent. He wished he could use a laptop -- play a flight sim or something, not that anything could compare now that he'd flown a puddlejumper -- but it hurt to rest anything on his chest, even something as light as a laptop.

After lunch, there was a knock on the door. "Colonel?"

"Yeah, come in," John said, rousing from his half-doze and tucking an arm under his head as the door opened and McKay came in.

"I just wanted to see how you were," McKay said. He looked very uncomfortable.

"Beckett asked you to check on me, didn't he?" John asked, grinning.

"No, no. Of course not. I -- " McKay glanced down, then up again. The bruising on his face was starting to fade. "Well, yes."

"It's okay, Rodney. It's not like I don't know." It still felt weird, just lying there flat on his back when someone else was in the room. "But I'm fine, see?"

"You look..." McKay was looking at him, studying his face. "Better," he said finally.

John had seen himself in the mirror -- he knew he still looked pretty bad. Pale. "If this is better, I'd hate to have seen how I looked before," he said, joking.

"Yes, you would," McKay said flatly. "It was... bad."

"Yeah, I guess it was. But you got me out of there." John was grateful for the chance to say it. "I don't know how you did it."

Luckily, McKay didn't seem to take that as anything but flattery. "Desperation, mostly," he said, with a little laugh that didn't sound natural. "When I saw my radio down there, and you were... I didn't know what else to do. And then, when I climbed back up, you weren't..."

"Hey, it's okay," John said, trying to soothe some of the nervous energy McKay was emitting like an unstable star. "You did it."

"I just as easily might not have," McKay said. "You'd be dead, and it would have been my fault. Just like before."

"Come over here," John said, hauling himself to a sitting position and patting the bed next to him. "Come on. Sit."

"I thought you were supposed to be lying down," McKay said, but he did as John had asked, sitting down slowly and carefully like he was trying not to jar the bed.

"I'm allowed to get up to use the bathroom," John said. "I don't think a few minutes is going to kill me."

"I hope not," McKay said. "Considering the amount of trouble I went through to save you."

There -- that was the attitude John wanted to hear. "I told you I trusted you, didn't I?"

"You did, and not to minimize what it meant to me, but I'd have rather not have had to spend several hours wondering if those would be your last words." Rodney was facing him earnestly, the expression on his face making it easy for John to ignore the dull ache in his chest.

John nodded. "That must have been hard. Is that why you've been avoiding being alone with me? Because you were mad?"

"What?" McKay stood up. "I wasn't mad! Exhausted and worried and frantic, sure, but not mad." He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up in a way that was kind of cute. "Anyway, why would I be mad about that?"

"I don't know," John said. "Maybe because I should have said it sooner. I shouldn't have made such a big deal about it in the first place. I mean, sure, you made a mistake, but it's not like I haven't made plenty, and you still trust me."

"Yes," Rodney said. "Yes. I do." The way he was looking at John... John couldn't have mistaken it for anything other than what it was.

"Come here," John said, and when McKay sat down next to him again, John leaned closer and kissed him.

It was a very soft, gentle kiss. There wasn't any passion in it -- John wouldn't be able to come up with that kind of energy any time soon, he didn't think -- but it felt good. Right. Even strangely familiar, in a way that tugged at John's memory.

He pulled back and frowned. "Did you...?"

"What?" Rodney's eyes darted back and forth, looking into his with confusion.

"Kiss me? Before?" Not that there was any way John could have forgotten that; at least, he didn't think so. But the press of Rodney's lips to his...

Rodney swallowed. "I gave you mouth to mouth," he said, his voice rough, pained. "When you were... I climbed back up with the radio, and you weren't breathing."

"Oh." That little metaphorical punch to the gut was surprisingly literal, and John found himself clutching onto McKay's arm as pain radiated through him along with the memories.

"Okay, easy," Rodney said, easing him back down onto the bed, one hand behind him to cushion him, and that was familiar, too. "Relax, Colonel. Do you need me to get Carson?"

John breathed and forced his stomach muscles to relax, and it got better. "No, I'm okay. Sorry, that was just... I think I forgot a lot. I wasn't ready for it to come back all at once like that."

"Are you sure? Because I can get someone." McKay sounded worried, his hand holding onto John's firmly.

"I'm sure." John gave McKay a strained smile. "I guess Beckett wasn't kidding when he said I should take it easy."

"I guess not." McKay switched hands, freeing up his right one and raising it to smooth warm, slightly calloused fingertips over John's brow. It felt good; John closed his eyes and relaxed more. "Maybe I should go and let you get some rest?" McKay said tentatively.

"No," John said, squeezing Rodney's hand. "Stay a while, okay? It's nice to have the company."

"Okay. But don't hesitate to get rid of me when I wear out my welcome." McKay went back to running his fingertips along John's forehead and into his hair at the temples. "You kissed me," he said, after a minute.

"Yeah," John said.

"Was there some particular reason for that? I mean, was it a thank you for saving my life kind of kiss?" McKay's voice was soft.

John would have shaken his head, but that would have disrupted what Rodney's hand was doing. "Nah," he said instead. "Although if you wanted to kiss me the next time I save your life, I wouldn't mind."

"I think that's a dangerous precedent to set," McKay said disapprovingly. "You save a lot of people's lives. What if they all start kissing you?"

"Would you be jealous?" John asked. It was an idle, lazy question, but the answer surprised him.

"Yes," Rodney said, with quiet intensity. His hand stopped moving, and John opened his eyes. "Yes, I'd be jealous. Very, very jealous. Green with envy."

John just looked at him for a long moment, then nodded, just a tiny nod. "Okay," he said. "No kissing anyone but you. Got it."

The look McKay gave him was stunned but delighted. "Really?"

"Really," John said. He closed his eyes, then opened just one of them again, peering at McKay. "But you can't kiss anyone else either."

"I wouldn't," McKay said, stroking the side of John's face again. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but there aren't exactly people lining up to spend time with me of their own volition." He seemed to reconsider. "For that matter, people do their best to trade their shifts in the lab so that they don't have to spend time with me. They think I don't know, but I do."

"Well, that's because you can be really annoying," John said peacefully.

"Then why do you want to kiss me?" McKay asked.

John looked at him and smiled. "I guess I like annoying people," he said.

"Well, that makes me feel so much better," McKay groused, but he was smiling, too.

When John drifted off to sleep again, he was holding Rodney's hand.

* * *

"We're going back to the Sinian village tomorrow," Rodney said a little too casually as he took the tray away and put it on the table near the door.

"What do you mean 'we?'" John asked, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"Well, not you, obviously. Myself, Teyla, Ronon." Rodney shrugged. "Some military grunts; I don't know who. Does it matter?"

"Rodney... the last time we were there, we both almost died. Don't blame me if the thought of you going back there is a little less than thrilling." John wished he'd stopped eating before he had -- the food had turned to a heavy lump in his stomach.

"There's an unidentified power source there," Rodney said patiently. "We have to go back and find it. Would it make you feel better if I promise to be careful?"

"You don't know what careful is!" John knew he was being unreasonable, but he still struggled to a sitting position and glared at Rodney. "Once something gets you going, you completely stop paying attention to anything around you."

"Well, excuse me for having the ability to focus!" Rodney snapped. "Just because I don't suffer from attention deficit disorder like the rest of the neanderthals around here, that's hardly a reason to insult me."

"Fine. Go," John said.

"You do realize that I'm a fairly paranoid individual?" Rodney continued. "I'm barely willing to do things that are safe, let alone ones that are dangerous."

"That's not always true and you know it!" John could feel his stomach muscles trembling with the effort of maintaining his anger, and after a few seconds Rodney sighed and sat down next to him.

"Come here," Rodney said, pulling John toward him until John's head was resting on Rodney's solid, comforting thigh. "I'll be careful, okay? I promise. But you have to promise to stop freaking out."

"I'm not freaking out," John muttered sullenly.

"No, of course not. Shouting at me when you're supposed to be resting is very reasonable." Rodney's hand stroked over John's hair. It felt nice.

"Be careful, okay?" John whispered the words, squeezing his eyes shut.

"I will," Rodney said. "I promise."

* * *

Rodney came back from Sinia empty-handed and annoyed but unharmed, which was such a huge relief to John that he had a hard time being properly sympathetic over Rodney's disappointment.

"Beckett took out the rest of my stitches," John said hopefully. "He says I'm doing great."

"Great? Really." Rodney gave him a sour look. "Somehow that doesn't sound like Carson."

Damn. "Okay, so he said 'remarkably well, considering,'" John admitted. "You want to see my scars?" He was hoping for something that would make Rodney laugh, or at least smile.

"Not really, no," Rodney said, then sighed. "I'm not in a very good mood, okay? It's not you."

"I know." John did. "We don't have to talk, if you don't want to. We could just sit here."

"Did Carson say you can?" Rodney asked.

"What, sit up?" John shrugged. "He said I should take it easy. I think sitting still qualifies."

Rodney nodded and picked up some papers sitting on the table, flicking through them before putting them down again.

"You could sit down, too," John suggested, patting the mattress next to him.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Rodney said. There were little stress lines around his eyes that John didn't like the look of.

"Why not?" John asked cautiously, even more worried than he'd been a few seconds before.

"Well, not that it should come as a surprise, but I've been thinking," Rodney said, picking up the papers again and straightening them into a neater pile.

John's chest hurt in a way that didn't have anything to do with his ribs. "About what?"

"I know we had that whole conversation about... kissing." Rodney swallowed. "But I don't think we should. Kiss."

"Okay." It was as close to a normal drawl as John could make it, but he felt cold. "Then I guess the part about not kissing other people doesn't apply anymore."

"Oh my God." Rodney's eyes were wide and his voice exasperated. "Have you always been this stupid? Of course I don't want you kissing anyone else. I don't want to kiss anyone else. I just can't kiss you."

John felt stunned and confused. "What?"

"If I kiss you, I'm going to want to do other things," Rodney explained earnestly. "And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Carson would kill me if I did anything to compromise your recovery. Not to mention I'd never forgive myself." Somehow, he was on his knees in front of John, holding his hands. "So. No kissing until Carson gives you a green light. Okay?"

Weak with relief, John nodded. "Okay."

"God, what did you think I was going to say?" Rodney's thumb rubbed the edge of John's hand.

"I don't know," John said shakily. "I guess... I thought you were breaking up with me."

"Are you kidding?" Rodney smiled up at him. "I'm much too smart to do that."

John was grateful for Rodney's hands on his, and for the way Rodney was looking at him. Right then, he was pretty much grateful for everything. "So... when you were doing all that thinking, did you come to any conclusions about where hugging falls on the spectrum of acceptable behavior?"

* * *

Considering how much time John and Rodney had spent together not kissing, he'd have thought continuing to do so would have been easier. But he didn't want to be in the same room with Rodney without touching him, and Rodney seemed to feel the same way. They fell immediately into the habit of sitting side by side on the bed whenever Rodney was visiting, which turned out to be kind of awkward when Zelenka walked in on them holding hands, but luckily Zelenka didn't seem to notice. He'd just wanted to show John some simulations and ask a couple of questions about the puddlejumpers.

"Didn't Carson say you could start walking?" Rodney asked, when they were alone again.

"I've been walking," John said.

"In addition to your scenic trips to the bathroom," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.

"I have been," John repeated. "There are times when you're not here, you know." Long, long hours, during which Rodney was at the lab working.

Rodney rubbed his hand up and down along John's thigh. The feel of it was mesmerizing; John already knew that his dick hadn't gotten the message that the rest of him was pretty banged up, and it was happy to provide yet another example of that fact. "You want to go for a walk now?" Rodney asked tensely.

"Okay," John said. "What's up?" It wasn't like Rodney to volunteer for physical exertion.

"Me," Rodney said ruefully. He curled his hand around John's knee. "I want to kiss you," he confessed.

John felt a rush of warmth and put his hand over Rodney's. "I want you to."

Rodney nodded and stood up jerkily, rubbing his mouth. "But we can't. So let's go for a walk."

As they started down the hallway, John's steps were about half his normal stride. He felt a hell of a lot better than he had four days ago, or even yesterday, but he was still far from normal.

He had the feeling they were going to be doing a lot of walking.

* * *

"Hi," John said, grinning at Rodney as he came into the room. "How are things going with the puddlejumper flight simulator?"

"What?" Rodney looked annoyed. "I don't know, that's Zelenka's project."

"You sound like you had a long day," John said, putting as much sympathy into his voice as he could. "Why don't you come over here and let me rub your shoulders?"

"Since when do you have a degree in massage therapy?" Rodney complained, but he collapsed down onto the mattress beside John all the same.

Shifting and putting both hands on Rodney's shoulders, John started, digging his thumbs into the tight muscles at the base of Rodney's neck. "Guess who got the green light today?" he murmured.

Rodney tensed and turned to look at him. "Really?"

John nodded. "Really. Good to go. He hasn't cleared me to return to duty, but he says I can resume my normal daily activities." He grinned.

"And that includes sex?" Rodney asked. Before John could even answer, Rodney stood up and gestured impatiently. "Take off your shirt."

"Wow, Rodney, I had no idea you were such a romantic," John said dryly, but he pulled his shirt off over his head and tossed it onto the floor.

"Oh," Rodney said, looking at him with wonder. "Perfect."

John glanced down at himself -- the worst of the bruises had faded to pale greens and purples, but the scar on his abdomen was still an angry red -- and grimaced. "Not exactly."

Rodney waited until John looked up at him, then repeated it. "Perfect." He sat down beside John and traced a delicate fingertip around the bruises over John's ribs. "Most of these will be gone soon."

"Not all of them." John watched as Rodney's finger skirted the edges of the scar.

"Does it hurt?" Rodney asked.

John shook his head. "Not really. I mean, it's sensitive, but..." Rodney bent down and brushed his lips over the scar, just the faintest touch, and John gasped.

"I've been waiting eight days to kiss you," Rodney said.

"Then go ahead," John said, his voice shaking.

"Oh, I intend to." Rodney pushed John gently down onto the bed and pressed a series of kisses along his stomach. The tip of his tongue found John's nipple; John had always thought his nipples weren't very sensitive, but he felt a twinge of desire when Rodney scraped his teeth over it, and groaned.


"Shh," Rodney whispered, his breath warm on John's skin.

That was a switch, Rodney telling him to shut up, but Rodney's hands were all over him, touching him, caressing, and Rodney's mouth was licking and sucking his skin, and John forgot to say anything because he was too busy remembering how to breathe.

He'd spent so much time recently either in pain or uncomfortable that this -- feeling nothing but pleasure -- was almost a shock. John closed his eyes and tilted his head back, his hips shifting restlessly as his dick got harder and harder, and Rodney hadn't even touched it yet. Rodney was being careful not to put any weight on him, not that John would have noticed with Rodney's lips teasing his nipples until he gave up on the notion that there was any part of him that wasn't sensitive. He felt like one giant, exposed nerve ending, and in such a good way that he wouldn't have been surprised to come at any moment, even though all he was doing was pushing his cock up against Rodney's thigh.

"God, I want to fuck you," Rodney murmured, sucking on another newly-sensitive spot just under John's ear, and John tightened his grip on Rodney's solid upper arms.

"Okay," John said stupidly, arching up against Rodney, and Rodney pulled away and looked down at him.

"Are you kidding?" Rodney said. His lips were wet and dark pink, and John felt an almost overwhelming urge to lick them. "No. No. Not tonight. It's too soon."

Again, John said, "Okay. Whatever you want."

Rodney leaned down and kissed him for real, his mouth sweet and gentle. "Let's wait until you've had a little more time to heal, okay?"

John nodded against Rodney's lips. "Yeah, okay. Just don't stop kissing me. Ever."

Each kiss was different -- some of them were short, others longer, but every single one made John harder and more desperate, until he was shoving up against Rodney almost frantically, his breath coming in sharp gasps.

"Easy," Rodney soothed, sliding down the bed and unfastening John's pants, kissing John's stomach and then pushing fabric out of the way. "Can you... no, no, never mind," Rodney said, and John never got a chance to find out what he'd been about to ask because Rodney's mouth closed around the tip of his dick, wet and hot and slippery, and John exploded.

He came so hard that it hurt, the muscles in his gut tightening and making his healing flesh flare into pain again. John whimpered and grabbed onto Rodney's shoulder, and Rodney backed off so the next surge wasn't as intense. John rode it out, panting and making little sounds of relief when it finally died down.

"It was too soon, wasn't it?" Rodney asked, moving up beside him and watching his face worriedly.

"Maybe a little," John admitted. "But I'm fine."

"Really?" Rodney's eyes searched his.

John nodded. "Really. I'm okay." He shifted and leaned in so he could kiss Rodney, slipping his hand down between them so he could undo Rodney's pants.

"Oh God," Rodney groaned, pushing his thick cock forward into John's hand. "John. You don't have to."

"Yeah, I do," John said. "I want to." He weighed Rodney's dick, feeling how heavy it was, warm and eager in his grip, then gave an experimental squeeze that earned him another groan from Rodney.

"Oh. I'm close, I..." Rodney moaned and crushed his mouth to John's as he came in spurts all over John's hand and his own stomach, including his shirt. By the time he'd finished, John was feeling both exhausted and very self-satisfied. "God, you're good," Rodney said, kissing him softly. "In a minute, when I'm a little more convinced my legs will hold me, I'll get up and find something we can use to get clean."

"No hurry," John said, grinning. The flare of pain had faded back to an almost-unnoticeable ache.

Rodney smiled. He looked about as smug as John felt.

"What?" John asked, suddenly self-conscious.

"Nothing," Rodney said, reaching out a hand and straightening John's hair. "Your hair's a mess, that's all."

"Isn't it always?"

"Well, yes, now that you mention it. Although I've always gotten the impression that you spend a lot of time convincing it to look like that." Rodney slipped his hand down and around to the back of John's neck and left it there. "Okay, I'm getting up."

John waited, but Rodney didn't move. "Yeah, I can see how well that's working for you."

"Fine," Rodney said, getting up and stripping off his shirt. He disappeared into the bathroom and came back a minute later in just his boxer shorts, holding a washcloth in his hand. "Here."

"Thanks." John wiped his hand off with the cloth and tossed it over onto his already-discarded shirt, then moved over to make room for Rodney, who lay down and put both arms around him without saying anything. "Rodney?" John said.

"Oh, don't even try to tell me you haven't wanted to do this," Rodney said, voice muffled against John's shoulder.

"I won't," John said, smiling. "Although I was picturing us with less clothes."

Rodney's hand slid down to cup John's ass. "I don't want you to overdo it. I think we were pushing it as it was."

"Nah, I'm good," John said. "Honest. I'm great."

Pulling back, Rodney looked into John's eyes again. "Good. Let's keep it that way. I spend enough time worrying about myself -- I don't need to waste more worrying about you."

"Yeah." John yawned.

"And that would be the sign that you should get some sleep," Rodney said.

John dimmed the lights and they both shifted, finding comfortable positions, their breathing evening out.

"So... does that mean no sex tomorrow?" John asked finally.

Rodney snorted. "Yes, that's exactly what it means. Are you kidding? We spent the last week walking."

"I know," John said. "What were we thinking?"

It was quiet for a few minutes, then Rodney said softly, "I know what I was thinking." His hand stroked over John's hip.

In the darkness, John smiled.

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