blue flamingos

Message Drift

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: PG

Year/Length: 2009, ~2551 words

Pairing: pre-John/Cam, Rodney

Spoilers: Irresistible and The Pegasus Project

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: John might not be great at talking, but that doesn't mean he can't find a way to get his message across.

Series: The Return 'verse

Author's Notes: Part of the Return 'verse, set at the end of Irresistible and during The Pegasus Project, which I'm taking came in that order. An attempt to shove my ranting about Rodney drugging John, and the lemon, into something slightly more entertaining.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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John's halfway through tidying the papers on Rodney's desk – the man seems to live in permanent chaos, but John actually likes bringing order to chaos, score one for military indoctrination – when the chime goes. He debates for a minute about answering, but Rodney did say for John make himself useful.

He's not really expecting to find Carson on the other side, looking awkward. "Colonel Sheppard."

"Rodney's not here," John tells him.

"I know that." Carson shifts, puts one hand in his pocket. "I was looking for you."

"Do you want to come in?" John asks. It's probably okay to invite Carson in, he's one of Rodney's closest friends. "I have to finish this."

"Thank you." Carson steps inside, waits for the door to close behind him. "You don't have to do that."

"I know," John says, frowning as he straightens the papers again. "I don't mind."

Carson sighs. He's wearing the expression he wears when they're doing something he finds morally questionable, and it makes John nervous. Even more so since they're not, as far as he knows, actually doing anything morally questionable this week. "I know you don't mind. Colonel, I need to give you the serum."

John laughs, relieved. "I wasn't affected, remember? Saved by the common cold." He has a sudden bad thought. "Are *you* feeling okay?"

"I'm fine, John, thank you." Carson fidgets, then pulls out a syringe, apparently serious. "You were affected later."

"What?" John asks, abandoning the papers. "We kept Lucius locked up until we took him back to that planet, how would he have..?"

"Not him," Carson says. He's gone past moral quandary and into deeply uncomfortable, far enough that John starts to get it.

"Someone on Atlantis took the potion so they could affect me." It's like a bucket of cold water over his head, because these are his people. He trusts them, even the ones he doesn't like.

"You were bloody annoying about not being affected by Lucius," Carson says, like that's a reason – an excuse.

John rolls his eyes. "Only with you and Elizabeth and my team, you guys can take a joke." Maybe someone overheard, someone who didn't realize it was done with, whatever, affection. "Who was it?"

Carson looks away, uncaps and recaps the syringe.

And John, John feels like he's just woken up, like someone's taken off a blindfold, and he's stood in Rodney's quarters, tidying Rodney's papers. Who else has he been that close to? Who else would –

I have never asked this of you before, but I think I've earned it. Trust me.

I would hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities, or your trust. At the very least, I hope I can earn that back.

John's always thought that Rodney's genuine regret over what he did on Doranda out-weighed how he used John's friendship in the first place. That made it easy to forgive Rodney; that and, that Rodney's one of his best friends, and John's never been good at holding a grudge against his friends.

Maybe he should have started, because right now, it seems like he was really, horribly wrong.

He holds his arm out, unable to look at Carson and see his own knowledge reflected back at him. "Give me the serum."

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Three hours later, John's roaming the corridors looking for his wayward XO, when he hears Rodney's voice up ahead, words indistinguishable, tone irritated. John veers sharply left, nearly tripping a scientist he didn't realize was behind him, and heads down a corridor he doesn't know.

It's just his luck that it turns out to curve round and leave him six feet away from Rodney, who immediately turns around, sees him, and says, "Ah, Colonel," giving whoever he was talking to the chance to flee.

"Kind of busy," John says, turning in vaguely the direction he was heading before his failed attempt at avoidance.

"Yes, you look very busy out on your little walk," Rodney agrees dryly, falling into step with him.

"Guess I wouldn't be in such a rush if I hadn't been caught up cleaning your quarters earlier," John says, flat as he can manage. He thinks about tucking his hands into his pockets, where no-one can see that they're trembling with barely restrained anger. He thinks that Rodney knows what the gesture means, though, and he won't give Rodney the satisfaction.

"Ah," Rodney says, like he honestly thought John might not know what happened. "It was completely harmless."

For a moment, they're alone in the corridor. It's the only reason John lets go enough to hiss, too low for anyone else to hear, "You drugged me, made me susceptible to who knows what, then let me go through the gate with you."

"We knew the planet," Rodney protests. "They were harmless, and anyway, you were only susceptible to me." He sounds so genuine, as though he expects John to just let it go. Like it's nothing.

"What if the Wraith had attacked?" John demands. "What if they'd turned on us because we brought Lucius back to them? I'd have done anything you told me to." And Rodney's first thought in the field is usually for his own safety – followed pretty quickly by everyone else's, but his first.

"Now you're just being paranoid," Rodney says, which is laughable on so many levels, John doesn't know where to start. "And you were being a dick about it, just because you had the good luck to catch a cold right then."

John can hear footsteps coming their way, and he's had enough humiliation for one day. "Just for the record," he says, low-voiced, leaning in, a little pleased when Rodney's eyes go wide and nervous. "This is my base, and if I ever find out you drugged someone against their will again, I won't hesitate to have Elizabeth throw you in the brig. Whatever they did to make you feel justified in it."

His hands are still shaking when he turns the corner, anger and adrenaline, but he can't hear Rodney following him, and that's good enough for now.

hr

They don't speak, really, after that that. John doesn't want an apology – he's learned how meaningless those can be – but he wants something. Some acknowledgement that Rodney at least gets that what he did was wrong, isn't just annoyed that he got caught out.

He's pretty sure Rodney's waiting for John to go to him, thinks he's in the right.

He knows Teyla and Ronon have noticed, and Elizabeth, but they don't say anything, and John's happy to keep it that way. He already knows it'll just fade away, no choice when they work this closely together, and he doesn't need to talk it out with anyone.

After a day and a half of that, the SGC calls them up to remind them that the Odyssey will be dropping in any minute now, and John remembers, isn't sure how he managed to forget, that with the Odyssey this time comes SG1, and with SG1 comes Cam Mitchell.

Also known as the guy John kissed, years ago, and would have slept with if he hadn't been transferred out, and then spent more time than is probably entirely healthy hoping to run into again. He's managed it once, by mistake, incredibly awkward conversation because it took Mitchell too long to realize John was wearing a wedding ring that John hadn't known how to bring up.

He knows it doesn't say anything good about him that he's more worried about seeing Mitchell again than he is about the potential Ori invasion of Earth.

When Elizabeth announces over the radios later that day that the Odyssey's arrived, John's caught up in trying to reschedule a bunch of missions after members of three different teams just went down with the flu, so he doesn't make it to the landing dock like he wanted. Instead, he skids into the meeting just as it's getting started, off-balance and late.

Mitchell looks different, of course, older, tired in a different way to how he was in John's apartment, recovering from the kind of mission no-one likes to talk about, but at the same time, he's incredibly, shockingly familiar. The same light eyes, same military bearing that John will never have, same something that made John follow him, get close to him and kiss him and regret not getting more.

Mitchell looks up, catches John's eye, and smiles, eyebrows quirking up just a little. John probably shouldn't be able to read him, really doesn't know him that well, but he can: talk about bad timing.

It's enough to make John smile back, even when he sees Rodney sat next to Mitchell.

"Colonel Sheppard, glad you could join us," Elizabeth says.

"No problem," John says easily, sliding into his seat. "Good trip?"

Mitchell shrugs. "Hyper-space gets pretty dull after the first ten minutes."

"Plenty of time to catch up on your correspondence," John offers.

"Dear Mom and Dad, having a wonderful time in the outer reaches of the galaxy, wish you were here, please visit when I'm jailed for spilling national secrets..."

Rodney makes an exasperated noise, but Elizabeth just smiles and says, "I take it you've met before," a little dry.

It makes John want to laugh, which is a pretty clear sign that he's not as okay with this as he'd like to be. "Years ago."

"I crashed a party at his place," Mitchell expands.

Elizabeth looks between the two of them like she's well aware she's missing something. Rodney's too busy gazing adoringly at Carter to even notice, and John fingers the lemon he swiped from the mess earlier, when Rodney started going on about how SG1 would need him.

"Well, then we can dispense with the introductions," Elizabeth says. "Colonel Carter, perhaps you'd like to start?"

John's got no problem admitting that he likes Carter on principle, just because she can go toe to toe with Rodney and shout him down. Even more so when Rodney says to John, "Don't shoot me, you know I can't help myself," like that's not the whole damn problem in one sentence right there. Like he can't even tell the difference between their usual banter and this, John's barbed comments that he hates hearing himself say but can't quite swallow.

Though he'll live with it for Mitchell speed-talking over Rodney, for the way Jackson grins while he does it, and John's heard mixed things about Jackson, but it's obvious he's got some sort of affection for Mitchell. John recognizes that look from one he's worn, looking at Rodney, and it makes something ache that he doesn't want to think about.

"John, do you think you could spare Rodney from your team?" Elizabeth asks, like she already knows the answer.

"Hell, you can keep him," John offers, and Mitchell's sarcastic, "Nice," makes him feel weird, not quite sure whose side Mitchell's on.

It's oddly easy to joke with Mitchell about painting Atlantis and shooting Rodney, like they never shuffled their feet in desert sand while Mitchell said, "I didn't realize," and John said, "I'm sorry, I should have," and they pretended that they hadn't nearly kissed on an air force base while John was married and loved his wife.

The power of distance and time, he guesses, but when Mitchell falls into step next to him, John can feel his body heat through two layers of clothes.

"Also, he's mortally allergic to citrus," John says, which isn't what he meant to say. Maybe if Rodney actually ate any citrus fruits, but even then, mortally allergic is his phrase, not Carson's, and John trusts Carson to give him the real story before they go off-world together. "Keep one with me at all times," he drawls, offering the lemon to Cam, who looks like he can't quite tell if John's joking or not. He still catches the lemon when John throws it to him.

"That's good intel, thanks," Mitchell says, looking at the lemon and smiling, and John has to go before he does something inappropriate.

Like pat Mitchell's shoulder as he leaves, when they in no way have the kind of relationship that allows for that kind of touching. For any touching, of any kind. He splits, but not fast enough not to hear Rodney's forced laugh, his, "That's a good one. We're actually, er, we're quite close."

He really hopes Rodney gets this at least, John's final attempt to make him understand.

hr

Rodney finds John while he's loitering in the mess, technically off-duty and hoping to catch Mitchell, who disappeared in search of Jackson right after the Odyssey landed.

"Hey," Rodney offers, hovering on the other side of John's table, coffee in hand. "Do you, er, mind if I join you?"

He's oddly subdued considering they just blew up a Wraith cruiser, destroyed an Ori ship, and accomplished their actual mission.

"Sure," John says, mostly meaning it.

Rodney nods, then sits, straight-backed and facing the table at right angles, like they're in school.

"Good mission?" John prompts, when he doesn't say anything.

"Hmm? Oh. Yes. Complete success. As if there was ever any doubt with me and Colonel Carter..." He trails off, sips his coffee. "Well. Anyway."

"Congratulations," John says.

"Thank you." Rodney hesitates, then wraps a napkin around his hand and reaches into his pocket. "Your friend gave me this."

John's got no idea what to expect (plus, his friend? What the hell?) but even taking that into account, he's kind of surprised when Rodney extracts the lemon John gave to Cam, double-packaged in the air-tight bags botany use for transporting potentially deadly samples off-world.

In Rodney's pocket. John's never letting him get away with the 'mortally allergic' thing again.

"Here," Rodney adds, holding it out to John, who takes it, frowning a little at Rodney, waiting for this to make sense. Rodney looks away, then back, determined. "Message received," he says. "Isn't that what you military types say? And I'm sorry."

John's almost tempted to make Rodney say the rest: I'm sorry that I drugged you, I'm sorry that I messed with your head for fun, for revenge. I'm sorry that I abused your trust – again – and I get what it feels like to think your best friend might not have your best interests at heart when he's got a chance to prove a point.

Except the truth is, John would hate being made to say that, in Rodney's place, and he got the important part.

And John's always appreciated the gesture. That's probably not going to change.

"Apology accepted," he says, then, because he's not going to let Rodney McKay be the bigger person here, "Sorry I kept rubbing it in."

"Apology accepted," Rodney echoes. "Go get me a chocolate muffin, I carried a lemon for you."

"Better than a water melon," John points out, standing up before Rodney can finish sputtering his confusion.

hr

Things don't end quite so well with Mitchell: between the success of the mission, Jackson and Vala's intelligence, and Emerson's wanting to get back to Earth before they end up roping him into another battle with the Wraith, the Odyssey's gone before John can do more than say a quick goodbye.

That's okay though: there's always the next forced trip to Earth.


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