blue flamingos

Time After Time

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis

Category/Rated: Slash, NC17

Year/Length: 2009/~7710 words

Pairing: John/Rodney, Rodney/Katie, Rodney/Jennifer

Spoilers: Last Man, Search & Rescue and The Seed

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

Summary: Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that getting what you want isn't all it's cracked up to be, and neither is getting what you need.

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

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Rodney comes by John's quarters the night John gets back from his dad's funeral. John's got the lights turned off and the window open, and he's lying on his back staring at the ceiling. He feels kind of like his mopey teenage self, but he hasn't got the energy to move, not yet. He figures he's allowed this one evening to grieve, when he missed the actual fucking funeral because he was trying to save the world, again, and sure, it's not like he wasn't grateful for the excuse to leave but... But.

So Rodney's hand on the door chime, followed by Rodney knocking, which is how he knows it's Rodney to begin with, isn't really what he wants to hear. On the other hand, most of the other options for him being interrupted are worse, and John's got an excuse this time, and he wants, even while he's wishing Rodney wasn't there.

He's still not getting up to answer the door, but his gene comes in useful for remote opening, and the door slides open just as Rodney's raising his hand to knock again. "Oh," he says. John turns his head just far enough to look at Rodney, who's looking back at him. "I wasn't actually expecting you to be here," Rodney adds. "I thought I'd have to bribe Lorne to break out your creepy psychic link and track you down that way."

John wants to laugh – should laugh – but he's suddenly exhausted, by the last few days, by Rodney, by wanting what he shouldn't for years, through Rodney's relationship with Katie Brown, and their break-up. "You coming in?" he asks.

"Yeah," Rodney says, and lets the door slide closed behind him.

John sits up, leaning back against the wall, legs out in front of him. He expects Rodney to take one of the leather seats, like he usually does, but he sits on the edge of John's bed instead, body angled away from John.

John waits.

"Are you aware that it's rapidly dropping below freezing in here?" Rodney asks, which is pretty much the last thing John expects him to say.

"I needed the fresh air," he says, surprised into honesty. It's true; he'd felt like he couldn't breathe, but the thought of going out into the city for some air made it worse. This is a compromise.

Rodney nods thoughtfully, like he's about to make some grand statement. He shifts a little instead, bending his left leg until his knee's pressed against John's thigh, and John was wrong, this isn't a good idea because he has an excuse if he slips. This is a terrible idea, because he feels stripped raw by everything, and he's got no defenses left against this. "I'm kind of hungry," he says, pushing himself a little away from the wall, preparing to stand up. "Want to go get something to eat?"

"Not really," Rodney says, and then he leans in, one hand on John's neck, and kisses John, soft and careful.

John makes an undignified noise of surprise. Then he gets it together, and rocks forward, into Rodney's space, one hand on Rodney's shoulder, holding on, and it feels really good, warmth spreading through all the cold, numb places inside him. He shudders, and Rodney drags him closer, one arm round his waist, and whispers, "It's okay, I've got you," against his mouth.

John's never going to admit to the noise he makes at that, breath catching on something way too close to a sob. Rodney kisses him again, taking all the noises John can't keep inside, and hiding them away inside himself, where no-one, not even John, has to know they exist.

They end up lying too close on John's narrow bed, Rodney's arms tight around him, John's head on Rodney's shoulder. John keeps waiting for Rodney to take it further, touch his cock or suggest John might get on his knees, but Rodney just kisses his forehead occasionally, not sexual at all, and lets John lie there.

John thinks he should protest, but he doesn't want Rodney to stop, or leave, or ask him anything that he doesn't want to answer.

He falls asleep without really meaning to, and when he wakes up, Rodney's gone. The only way John knows he didn't dream the whole thing is that his window is closed.

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So that's the first time.

It's way outside their normal range of interactions, way outside anything John would ever have expected from Rodney, who, sure, thinks of himself as functionally bisexual, but has made it very clear that he wants a wife and kids. Not a man. Never John.

John rationalizes it as the extenuating circumstances of family funerals, even though they've lost people he's been much, much closer to. And Rodney doesn't say anything about it, which means John can't, and after a couple of days, it stops feeling real and John can think about other things.

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A week after John's father dies, they lose two marines when they get caught up in the local equivalent of a bank robbery during a day of liberty on a supposedly safe planet. It's a total fucking cliché: three men with guns, yelling and shooting, and John's guys have been known to break their own bones going after fucking kittens in danger because they won't see something innocent hurt. So they intervened and tried to calm everyone down, and being crazed bank robbers, the three guys with guns didn't go for it, and the first John knew of any of it was when a diplomat who'd once visited Atlantis recognized their tags and dialed Atlantis to tell John that two of his people had bled out on the floor of a bank, and lain there dead for two hours until she recognized them.

John wants to take every marine he has and track the bank robbers to whatever shithole they're hiding out in, and show them exactly why you do not ever fuck with John's people, and why you never, ever shoot them at point blank range. The marines are right there with him, though, and John is not supposed to be the vengeful leader, Atlantis isn't supposed to be about that, so he pushes the burning rage away as best he can, and talks them down, Lorne right next to him in silent support.

It's not even close to his worst day, not even if he just counts Atlantis, but he feels like shit when he dismisses the marines and watches them wander away, angry and grumbling.

"They're not stupid," Lorne says. "They understand why we can't do that, even if we want to."

John nods. It doesn't help, and he suspects Lorne knows this. Later, he'll appreciate the effort, but right now, he just needs to be somewhere else.

Somewhere else turns out to be Rodney's lab, where he's elbow deep in Ancient tech and laptops, talking in numbers to Zelenka and Simpson. Rodney barely looks up when John says hello.

"If you're not here because the city's about to sink or because you've touched something that's made you a scientific genius, you can go," he says.

John stops partway to his lab bench, because even for Rodney, that's pretty dismissive. "I came to drag you away for coffee," he says, fighting to keep his tone normal.

"Hmm, let's think: groundbreaking scientific discovery, wasting an hour in the mess with you." Rodney's still not looking at him. "Come back when you're offering Kona and real chocolate muffins."

"Fine," John says. He can hear his cool slipping, but he's powerless to stop it. "Forgive me for wanting to talk to someone who isn't a pissed off marine for an hour. I'll leave you to your discoveries. Doctor."

At least his exist is smooth. Not smooth enough to recover his missing dignity, but this is a day for being grateful for any fraction of a small mercy he can find.

He's most of the way to the transporter when Rodney catches up to him, quick-stepping round him and coming to a halt facing John and blocking his way, so John has to stop.

"What was that?" he demands, like John's the one being unreasonable and selfish.

John steps round him – military training, ha – and touches the sensor to open the transporter doors. "Apparently, nothing for you to concern yourself with. Go back to work."

"Right, because you routinely come and make bitchy, cryptic comments to me then flounce out of my lab like you're channeling Madison, over nothing." Rodney follows him into the transporter and touches the screen to lock it in place. "You wanted to see me, you see me. Talk."

"Forget it," John says. He wants to pace, wants to be away, but the city responds to him and Rodney in exactly the same way, and he can't over-ride the lock. "It was my mistake for thinking you'd care about a couple of dead grunts." He can't believe these words are coming out of his mouth, passive aggressive crap just to make Rodney snap back. It's possible he's not as sanguine as he likes to think about that weird evening when he first got back.

"What?" Rodney asks, sounding stunned. "Who – what dead marines?" Rodney can't lie for shit, even when he has to, and John feels an uneasy guilt start up in his stomach. As if he needs this day to get any worse.

"You must have heard," John says defensively, but he's thinking now: they did all the comms on the military channel, so as not to freak out the civilians. Ronon had come by, because someone fixed his radio to pick up that channel years ago, and Teyla had come to the planet with them, as a local ambassador, and John had just assumed – Fuck.

"Clearly I haven't," Rodney says.

John can't tell the story again. He shakes his head, worn out now the flash of pissy anger has burnt through. "Moss and Jefferson were killed," he says. It's all he's got, but Rodney's not a genius for nothing. His expression slides into sympathy, even though he probably couldn't pick Moss and Jefferson out of a crowd if his life depended on it, and he says, "I'm sorry."

"You didn't shoot them," John says.

"Obviously not, but still – Do you still want to get a coffee?"

John thinks about all the people in the mess hall, the way the news will have started to spread by now, and shakes his head. "Go back to work."

"I've got coffee in my room," Rodney says, already touching the screen to send them to the residential corridor, and maybe John doesn't always see it coming, but he's not blind, so he's not surprised when Rodney pushes him down on the bed before the door's even finished closing.

He's feels thick-fingered, his body gone stupid and uncoordinated, but Rodney seems happy to be in control, to kiss and suck and push clothing aside while John lies there and keeps breathing. It gets more difficult when Rodney takes both their cocks in his hand and strokes them roughly, but John's breath doesn't stutter until Rodney comes with a groan, the hot splash of his come on John's cock enough to push him over.

Rodney's bed is wider than John's, which means they can lie next to each other while they catch their breath, instead of tucked up close like on John's. John's pretty sure his brain's only going at half speed, but he's also pretty sure this wouldn't make any more sense if it was working at full power. They've been friends for nearly four years, spent most of every day together, and Rodney spent a good portion of it dating Katie Brown and giving no indication that he might be interested in anything with John. John wants to revel in his apparent good fortune, but he's got a lifetime of experience saying that this isn't what it seems.

"Why?" he asks finally, mumbled and sleepy.

"Because you needed it," Rodney says, and John wants to ask again, but it's been a long day, and his eyes won't stay open.

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And that's the second time. More than the first, but afterwards, Rodney's just the same, still John's arrogant, irritating, brilliant friend. He doesn't touch John any more than he did before, doesn't look at him like they have a secret except when they do, doesn't come up to him and offer to do it again. John goes back to the planet where his marines died, and helps the police track them to the next town over, then drag them back to be arrested and tried, and he doesn't even have to remind anyone not to get too rough. They go back to Atlantis and hold the funeral, and Rodney attends but doesn't stand by John.

It's all so normal that John feels like he's going crazy. His brain's not getting the message that Rodney's done with him, that it was a one off (one and a half off), and he's hyped up with awareness, waiting for something that isn't coming. He doesn't want to think about all the reasons why Rodney decided to do this now, or about the easy way Rodney kissed him. Rodney, who failed three times to ask Katie Brown out, until she did it herself, who didn't kiss her until they'd been dating for two months, who spent half the time not even sure they were actually dating. He just doesn't have that kind of confidence with people.

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John hears about the cave-in when Campbell radios from the control room to say that Keller, Rodney and Carter were just pulled out of a hole in the ground, and that Carter has a broken leg. He's halfway through a meeting between Donaldson's team and three anthropologists that's been postponed twice already; Carter's broken leg is the most serious injury of the lot, and even that's not that serious. All of which means John can't do what he wants, which is go down to the infirmary and see with his own eyes that Rodney is okay. He twitches through the rest of the meeting instead, wishing he could call Lorne in to take over, but this kind of conflict resolution is John's job, for all that everyone knows Lorne would be better at it.

When he finally makes it down to the infirmary, Carter's drugged into sleep, her leg in plaster, and Rodney and Keller are gone. The medical staff don't know where they've gone, only that they left together, and John thanks them, ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach. Of all the (many) reasons he tried not to come up with, rebound fuck wasn't high on the list, but it wasn't low either. Who better to pick than your best friend, a guy, someone you know you'll never be serious with? He can't even blame Rodney for it, not really, not when John knew something wasn't right and went with it anyway. He's been okay alone for four years, hasn't needed anyone.

And now he knows what it feels like when Rodney kisses him, what it feels like to press his hands to Rodney's broad back and hold on, things he shouldn't know if Rodney's going to go off with Dr Keller, and he can't unknow them.

Fuck.

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Except that, the first night they're back in Atlantis after blowing up the Midway station, and nearly themselves as well, Rodney shows up at John's door at ten past two in the morning, when John's given up on sleeping and is leafing through a comic book that Ronon brought back from Earth for him. Rodney looks like he's just come from the lab, bright eyed and bushy tailed, practically bouncing as he lets himself into John's quarters and comes over to sit at the foot of the bed.

John draws his feet up instinctively, out of Rodney's range, and asks, "You finished yelling everyone into submission again?" He sounds normal, not like he's remembering the weight of Rodney's hand on his neck, warmth and reassurance.

Rodney waves a dismissive hand. "Please. What kind of leader would I be if they rebelled after only a couple of weeks without me?" That actually makes John smile, and it feels like his first real smile on months. He can't remember when he stopped feeling able to be happy.

When he looks up, Rodney's looking at his hands in his lap instead of at John. "So," he says, like he feels John's eyes on him. "I know Kavanagh's annoying, but you're actually one of the most patient people I know." The corner of his mouth quirks up slightly. "Well, not counting Teyla, Ronon or Lorne. So, what's the real reason you locked yourself in the front of the jumper like a moody teenager?"

John looks away, fumbling for words. He's used to Kavanagh, to his self-aggrandizing talk combined with his paranoia, and it's never bothered him all that much before, but he'd lasted a day, just, before the urge to punch Kavanagh just to shut him up started to really freak him out. He'd had to be somewhere else, and there hadn't been any other choices. It had taken two days for the itchy, adrenaline feeling to fade, and by then, it would have been weirder to go back.

He shakes his head, unable to explain this in a way that will make sense, and Rodney doesn't even sigh, like he was expecting John to be exactly as hopeless at this as he is. "Teyla says she's barely seen you since we got back," he adds.

"I had things to do," John says, more defensively than he wants. "I'm the military commander of the city, in case you forgot."

"No," Rodney says, too softly. "No, I didn't forget. I don't think I could any more."

John wants to ask what that's supposed to mean, but Rodney's right in his space, straddling him and leaning close to kiss him, and John still wants that more than he wants to know what's going on. It's so much easier to just let it happen, until he's on his back, his spent dick hanging out of his boxers, Rodney drowsing against his shoulder.

John's still wide awake. He should wake Rodney up, send him back to his quarters, before it gets late enough that the morning shift start coming on duty, but he can't quite bring himself to do it, not with Rodney lying against him, relaxed in sleep. It can't have been much fun for him, being stuck in a jumper with Kavanagh and Lee.

John already knows he won't ask about Jennifer Keller, the way her name keeps cropping up in Rodney's conversation. He doesn't know if this is the last time, but he's not ready to expect that it's going to continue either.

He pokes Rodney gently, just checking, and Rodney huffs something meaningless, obviously mostly gone. John still whispers, barely loud enough to hear himself, when he says, "So, I'm a little in love with you. It's okay. I just think you should know."

Rodney doesn't even mutter, and John tries not to read anything into that.

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The night after Lorne comes back without Teyla, John dreams about Ford. It's nothing, probably more of a memory than a dream, the two of them sitting in the mess in their old gray uniforms, eating green cake that tastes of pistachio nuts. Ford's telling him a story about the day he's just spent on the mainland with some of the other marines, helping to build a storage barn, and, in the dream, John's half listening, half thinking about who he might be able to borrow for a major science mission going off in a week. Ford laughs, looks up at him, and John smiles back and wakes up in his bed, on his back, one foot cold where he's pulled the covers loose.

He blinks up at his dark ceiling, disoriented. When he looks at his clock, he's only been asleep for an hour, but he's wide awake, and he knows he won't go back to sleep. He hasn't dreamt about Ford for months. It's probably just the effect of losing Teyla, but it's one more thing he doesn't need.

He gets up, puts on his uniform. He knows he could run himself into exhausted sleep, but it worries the night shift to see him up and about and obviously suffering from insomnia, and if he goes out to the edge of the city, someone always comes to see who he is. He goes down to his office instead, boots up his laptop and starts going through all the reports he just skimmed, looking for someone who might know something that will help them find Teyla.

He wakes up again to a voice saying his name, and for a second, he expects to see Ford standing in front of him. It's not, of course – there's no-one even there, just a voice in his headset to tell him that Stackhouse's team is back safely, which doesn't help John's disorientation at all. Stackhouse left Atlantis at the end of their first year, and he's only been back a couple of months.

"Right," he says dumbly, and heads down to the infirmary to make sure they're really okay.

Rodney's there when he walks in, and the first thing he says is, "You look terrible."

"Thanks," John says as dryly as he can manage, but Rodney's still looking at him, eyes dark with worry. He wants to look away, wants to stand right there and soak it up, and he can't tell any more which is the right thing, the safe thing, to do. He nods to Rodney instead, and ducks round a couple of nurses to where Stackhouse is getting a small cut on his cheek stitched.

He's walking down the corridor to the control room fifteen minutes later when Rodney comes out of nowhere and catches his elbow, stopping him. "You look exhausted," he says. "You should get some more sleep."

"Can't," John says. He slides carefully out of Rodney's grasp and starts down the corridor again. "Too much to do. Daedalus is going to want to know where to start looking for Teyla, and Todd might come through with a message today."

"I know," Rodney says, and it's the same gentle voice he uses when he's in John's bed, the one that makes John want to just fold up against him where he feels safe. "But you won't be any good if you pass out from exhaustion."

"That's not going to happen," John says firmly. This is the last thing he needs now, on top of everything else. He'd give anything for a break, even just a couple of days. Anything for Teyla to be back with them, and her baby's due soon, for fuck's sake, and Michael has her. "I'm fine."

"Well, that's clearly not true," Rodney says. "Come on, at least have some coffee."

John shakes his head without even thinking about it, but Rodney keeps going. "Five minutes. You can drink it in whatever meeting you're about to go into, but seriously, you look like death warmed over."

John lets himself be dragged down to the mess, even though Carter, who he's supposed to be meeting in ten minutes, will almost certainly have coffee in her office. It's easier to walk with Rodney than it would be to sit with her and try to seem confident, like he has faith.

He doesn't feel any more awake when he gets up to Carter's office, but it barely seems to matter, because he feels better, somehow, anyway.

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Finding Carson's clone makes the dreams worse. Or, not worse, but more immediate. He starts dreaming of Ford in ways that can't be memory: Ford flirting with Keller, Ford telling John about his first mission with his own team, Ford and Lorne in John's office, comparing places they've been climbing. It should be easier, but he starts looking for Ford, the same way he keeps an eye out for his team, for Lorne or Carter, when he's moving around the city. He doesn't get quite as far as calling Ford over the radio, but he does have one really weird conversation with Lorne about climbing in Hawaii before he realizes that Lorne's never done that, it was all out of John's own subconscious.

He spends most of his time poring over the tiniest scrap on information that the off-world teams bring in, going out with them and Ronon, sitting in Carter's office and trying to find new ways to say I have no idea where she is, but I'm going to find her. Rodney's busy with Carson – with Keller – and they barely see each other. He never comes to John's quarters, never catches him in the corridors and tells him he needs to sleep, and John can feel the loss of it like something scraping against his bones, one more thing grinding down on him.

The night they put Carson into stasis, he dreams of Ford sitting outside the stasis pod, telling Carson that he knows how it feels to be given up for dead and abandoned. He knows, like he does in dreams, that Ford doesn't know John is there, but he's looking right at where John's dream-self is, not accusing, just resigned, and John wakes up feeling breathless, weight on his chest too heavy to breathe through.

He can't look at another report, not yet, and there's no way he's waking up Ronon or Rodney over a stupid dream. He thinks about going down to the stasis room and sitting with Carson, but the idea makes his skin crawl a little.

In the end, he decides fuck it, let the night shift come looking, puts on his running shoes and heads out to the far edge of the city. It's still pretty damaged from their flight through space nearly a year ago, but there are parts that are safe. John runs along deserted corridors, over catwalks that look down onto floors he can't even see in the dim light his presence pulls up. He runs past windows that look out onto waves silvered by two moons, and past rows and rows of closed up doors to residential quarters they'll never use. He runs until his legs are shaky with it, through two radio checks from the control room staff, till his brain actually stops, finally.

It's his own stupid fault. He's not thinking about where he's going, and he doesn't know the area he's running in well enough to do that safely. His foot goes down on nothing, then drops, hits a stair that he didn't register was coming up, and he loses his balance, misses his grab for the handrail, and tumbles all the way to the bottom, where he slams into the wall with a jarring thud and lies in a crumpled heap, trying to catch his breath.

He hurts all over – not surprisingly, after falling down an entire flight of metal stairs – but nothing feels broken, dislocated or sprained. He pushes himself up to lean against the wall and raises one hand to wipe away the sweat at his forehead.

He's not sure why he's even surprised when it comes away red with blood. Because what he definitely needs to make this worse is a trip to the infirmary to tell Keller that he fell down the stairs. He mentally crosses his fingers that it'll stop and starts walking back to the nearest working transporter, fifteen minutes from where he is.

He's still bleeding when he gets there, and starting to feel a little shaky, though that's probably a combination of over-exertion and the shock of falling down the stairs.

Keller's head nurse Marie is on duty, and she tuts over John for being so careless as she cleans up his wound and puts in a couple of stitches. John's reveling in the novel experience of going to the infirmary and not being lectured by a stern doctor; so much that he doesn't think anything of it when she tells him to hang out there while she finds a doctor to check he doesn't have a concussion, and disappears.

Doesn't think anything of it until Rodney storms in five minutes later, at which point he decides maybe he'd prefer to be yelled at by a doctor. At least they do it quietly.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" Rodney demands, coming to a stop close enough to John's bedside that John actually jerks back slightly. "Seriously, how did you manage to get a head injury in the city? It's 5.30 in the morning, why aren't you still in bed?"

John doesn't want to admit that he wasn't paying attention and fell down the stairs, and he can't think of a good excuse, so he just looks at Rodney with the most pathetic expression he can muster – not hard, considering how pathetic he feels.

"Let me see," Rodney says, brushing John's hair away to look at the row of stitches. John ruthlessly suppresses the shiver that wants to run down his spine, because he is not a romance novel heroine, whatever his body thinks. "God, you're hopeless. It's a miracle you've survived to adulthood without being permanently disfigured."

John thinks about all of his scars, hidden away under his clothes where people don't see them, and just shakes his head. He wants to curl up and go to sleep, but he can't. Too much to do, Zelenka thinks he might be able to modify the data core from the replicators to look for Wraith ships, and Miller's team talked to someone who thought he'd seen someone who might be Teyla, and he's got a briefing with the new team going to do the city's diplomatic duty on Relia in a couple of days. Also, he's not sure the city's up to the military commander looking anything but perfectly fine, scar notwithstanding.

Rodney casts a quick look round the empty infirmary, then sits on the edge of John's bed, not touching him, just looking at him. "This is exactly what I was trying to stop," he says quietly. "Admittedly, not exactly this, but – John..." He trails off, looks at John helplessly.

John knows there's something important under the words, but they don't make any sense to him. He usually knows what Rodney's trying to say – kindred spirits when it comes to not being able to get the words out – but he can't do it this time. "Sorry," he says, because really, it seems as good a response as any.

Rodney shakes his head, keeps looking at him sadly. Finally, he strokes his hand over John's hair, just once, all comfort, and says, "I know."

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John doesn't expect anything, but there's still a part of him that can acknowledge he's not surprised when Rodney sounds his door chime then knocks his door that night. He gets up from where he's sitting on the floor, leaning against his bed, laptop on his knees, and goes over to open it.

"Why are you even still up?" Rodney asks, pushing past him into the room.

John stares at the empty doorway for a moment, then touches the crystal to close it and turns round. Rodney's crouched by John's laptop, shutting it down with one hand while he tugs at his shoe laces with the other. He looks up at John watching him. "Come on. Time all good little colonels were in bed, chop chop."

John's pretty sure he should argue with this, but he's tired and his head hurts and this whole thing Rodney's doing is just making it worse. He shrugs off the black fleece he pulled over his t-shirt when he realized he wasn't going to sleep, but that's as far as he gets, standing in the middle of his room, cold, watching Rodney toe off his shoes.

Rodney rolls his eyes, comes over and puts his hands on John's shoulders. "What am I going to do with you?" he asks. He's looking right at John, intense blue eyes, and John can't look away. He's so tired, and it would be so easy to just let Rodney take over, take care of him for one night. He wonders who's looking after Ronon. Who's looking after Rodney, when he's so busy taking care of John. They're both John's responsibility, one more that he's not living up to.

Rodney ducks his head and kisses John softly. "Tell me what you need," he says.

"Sleep," John says without thinking. Sleep without being chased through dreams by Ford, without waking up and having to remember that he didn't save Ford, the way he hasn't saved Teyla yet.

"And as much as you're clearly a minute away from falling asleep standing up," Rodney says, strident words but gentle tone, "I really think we'd both be more comfortable if you did it in a bed."

He steers John over to the bed, waits for him to lie down, then climbs in behind him and wraps one arm round John's waist.

"You want to fuck me?" John asks when Rodney doesn't say anything, and feels Rodney's huff of breath against his neck.

"As if you could even stay awake for it," Rodney says. "Not tonight."

"You have a headache?" John jokes weakly.

"Something like that," Rodney says.

John's right on the edge of falling asleep, but that sticks for some reason, one more piece in the puzzle of what the hell Rodney thinks he's doing with John. He can't hold onto consciousness for long enough to figure out where it fits, though, and he dreams of Ford looking at him despairingly and saying, 'Don't you get it yet?'

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It's Rodney who tells him, in the end. Or Rodney's hologram anyway, except that Rodney built the hologram, which means Rodney told it what to say. John wonders, drifting in stasis for seven hundred years, if Rodney remembers that, right before John disappeared, they'd spent every night together for a week, had sex three times. He's sure Rodney does – Rodney's hologram could probably tell him what they had for breakfast the day John disappeared – which means Rodney telling him about the life he nearly had with Keller isn't just Rodney recounting one more thing that happened without him.

John's not great at putting these kinds of things together, but he's got seven hundred years to do it in. He thinks about the first time, Rodney turning up after John's dad died, about the day his marines were killed, about the night they got back from being lost in space. About falling down the stairs and Rodney saying he was trying to stop that, and how Rodney turned up every night after that, right up to the night before John stepped into a solar flare.

About Rodney dating Katie Brown for two and a half years, Rodney going for a drink with Keller instead of coming to John, Rodney coping fine with Teyla and Carson, not seeking John out.

Because Rodney's not the one who needs someone. Rodney's not the one who's losing his mind, dreaming about dead team mates and falling down stairs and wishing he could just sleep. Rodney might not be the best at human interaction, but even Rodney can figure things out given enough time, and he's obviously figured John out faster than John figured him out. And he's Rodney, who never met a problem he didn't think he could fix. It's such a Rodney reaction – hey, my best friend's heading towards a nervous breakdown and he likes me, and I wouldn't mind sleeping with him, so I'll offer him sex so he doesn't get himself killed – that John wants to laugh. Or cry, he's not sure which, but he's in stasis, he can't do either.

The last thing he thinks, before Rodney's hologram is there waking him up, is 'I hope he didn't hear me tell him I'm in love with him.'

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There's no time to talk when he gets back to Atlantis – the real Atlantis, his Atlantis. Not about that, at least, if John even knew what to say, which he doesn't. He doesn't even know how he feels about it, and then Michael's compound is falling on them, and Rodney's probably dead, so he doesn't have to think about it.

He tells Ronon he should have seen this coming, and gets fairly un-Ronon-like platitudes in return, but it's true. He should have known something like this would happen, he's the fucking military commander of the city and he just led his people into a trap without thinking, because Rodney's hologram told him to. Rodney and Lorne are dead, the team they brought with them is dead, he and Ronon are going to die, and all because John was so sure this was going to work, change everything.

Maybe Rodney's right and he does need someone to save him from himself. God knows he doesn't seem able to do it himself any longer.

He might have done a shit job of keeping his people safe – again – but he figures he's got one last chance. He's going to die trapped, he's accepted that, same way he's accepted that he's not sure he can feel anything below his waist, but Ronon's moving around, mostly unharmed. The least he can do is get Ronon on the way to safety. Atlantis is going to need everyone it can get, now, and maybe Carter will figure out another way to find Teyla. When she does, Teyla's going to want familiar faces.

And if Ronon goes, John can close his eyes and give in to the urge to pass out, and just not wake up again. He's got his own vivid memories of how it felt to hold a friend's hand and watch him fade away, and, as much as he knows Ronon's been through much worse, he doesn't want that for Ronon.

None of which changes the way that he feels a little better when Ronon puts his gun in his hand and lets him say goodbye, because he doesn't want to die alone, even if it does make him selfish.

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Keller tells him Rodney's not dead after all, smiling awkward and shy at him for a moment. John sees his own relief reflected back at him in her eyes, and he knows, right then, that even if they get Teyla back, some things can't be changed. Because she's thinking about Rodney, alive and whole, and looking at John the way he knows he looked when he found out Rodney hadn't been killed by his evil crystal double, relief so wide it can't be contained. And she's what Rodney's always said he wants, easy and simple and normal, which Rodney, for all his brilliance, really seems to want.

John says, "Patch me up," and gets up with a hole in his side so he can't raise his right arm above his waist to go get Teyla, because he didn't come back to fix anyone's love life, and he won't let Rodney's impending relationship with Keller stop him from trying to save the galaxy. Maybe he can finally do something that doesn't fuck things up worse.

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Having Teyla back is like someone came and turned on all the lights, like a hole opening up in the cloud cover when he's flying, like coming back to the city after six weeks away. She brings Torren to visit John while he's recovering from surgery, and tells him stories about the job Lorne's doing of running the city now that Carter's been recalled and John's on medical leave (apparently Lorne talked Keller into signing him back on duty on the grounds that a broken leg was nothing compared to major surgery, particularly when he was just going to sit in the office. Teyla swears John to secrecy when she tells him this). They don't talk about her time with Michael, not really, or about why it took John so long to get her, but that's okay. They've never talked about the stuff that went badly, not explicitly, united in understanding that there are some things that talking about can't help.

John stops dreaming of Ford, stops expecting to see him, and starts sleeping all night instead. After a couple of days, he stops expecting Michael to show up on their scanners, or for the recovered Athosian hybrids to turn on them and kill their guards. When Keller gives the okay, Teyla starts letting him hold Torren for a few minutes, since she's spending most of the time she's not spending with the Athosians perched on the edge of John's infirmary bed, telling him gossip. John holds the baby close and thinks Torren John, named partly after him by one of his best friends in the universe, and feels okay.

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He's been back on duty for a week and a half when a hive ship that's trying to grow out of his chief medical officer stabs him in the gut. He figures it's a sad comment on his life that what he thinks, lying there waiting to be rescued – again – is 'Couldn't make this shit up', even his thoughts tinged with the urge to break into hysterical giggles.

He only doesn't give in because it hurts so much.

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Rodney comes by the infirmary the first night John's really conscious, though he thinks John's asleep. At least, John assumes this is what Rodney thinks, since he bypasses John's bed completely in favor of Keller's office, where she seems to have decided to sit for every moment that John's in there, penance for being up and around when he can't even sit himself up without his eyes watering with pain.

The lights are turned down low, which actually makes it easier to see Rodney lean against the edge of Keller's desk, their faces lit by her desk lamp. Easier to keep watching, as well, knowing that they can't see him anything like as well as he can see them.

He can't hear what they're saying, but he doesn't really need to. Keller's telling Rodney how grateful she is for what he did (stand around and fret while John and Ronon nearly got themselves killed, John thinks spitefully). Rodney's waving it away, saying it's nothing compared to what she went through (true, though John would happily trade places if it meant he wasn't in the infirmary again). Rodney's suggesting they go get a coffee, Keller's explaining that she can't leave John alone (they both turn to look at him, and John lets his eyelids drop for a moment, faking sleep). Rodney's offering to keep her company, getting coffee for both of them from the other side of the infirmary...

John lies awake watching them for the two hours Rodney spends in her office – doing crossword puzzles, he's pretty sure. He and Rodney haven't played computer golf in weeks, and John thinks about ordering something new. Maybe something that doesn't require a computer; he and Dave used to race radio control cars through the hallways when they were kids, before their mom died.

He feels Rodney stop at the foot of his bed on the way out of the infirmary, and closes his eyes again, lets his breathing deepen. He's not sure he's actually fooling anyone, or even really why he's doing it, just that he watched Rodney sit close to Keller and make her laugh, and now it's more than just the stab wound that hurts.

Rodney stands there for five minutes, then pats John's shoulder and leaves.

John doesn't see him for more than a few minutes the whole time he's in the infirmary.

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The first night John's back in his own quarters, as healed as he's going to get without a few weeks of physical therapy, Rodney shows up and John lets him in. And John honestly means to tell him that this has to stop, that it's not a good idea, but Rodney climbs into John's bed and kisses him carefully, like he's fragile, precious, and it feels so much better than anything else has since before the hive ship that John can't open his mouth. He lies there while Rodney jerks him off slowly, careful of all his injuries, and, after he comes, gets his hand on Rodney's cock to help him jerk himself off, and it almost feels normal.

After, lying there wide awake while Rodney snores, in a weird switch of how it normally happens, John stares at his dark ceiling and thinks that he's never felt more lonely in his life than he does right now, with Rodney right there. Rodney who he loves, who cares for him enough to want to help, but who doesn't love him, not like that. Rodney who wants to be with Jennifer Keller, who probably will be, and who just sleeps with John because – because John's losing his mind, John's cracking up and needs something, and even Rodney can see it.

Rodney doesn't want John, doesn't want what John can offer. Rodney wants a normal life, the kind where he'll be accepted everywhere, a wife and kids, someone who'll stand next to him at conferences, who he can introduce as exactly who she is, who he can stand up and tell the world he loves. It doesn't matter that John wants all that as well, with Rodney, that it's a physical ache, this part of the Air Force that doesn't want him when the Air Force was the only family he had for a long time, that drew him in when his own family didn't want him any more, made him feel accepted and safe and loved. Rodney doesn't want John enough to hide with him, doesn't love John like that.

Loves John, but isn't in love with him, never will be, and John should stop this before it gets any worse, but he can't. He's not strong enough any more, and he's too tired to try.


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