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NOTE: I managed to rip off an idea in here, the whole bit of John getting the bandage off Rodney's arm, from an unfinished story of Merry's, and didn't realize until after I had already posted, for which I writhe in lasting shame. She's been nice enough to let me keep it up anyway, but I just want to be clear, if she ever posts a story with the same thing in there, it was hers first, not mine!

by shalott

for therienne

The corridors had turned dark and endless, only broken by the cold unfriendly gleam of the yellow-green emergency lights and the occasional flash of lightning through the windows, outlining the layered clouds: closing in fast. He chased the dot of his gun's laser-sight through the hallways and kept the lifesigns detector just below the level of his eyes, where his peripheral vision would catch any movement.

He'd already failed Elizabeth. He didn't plan on failing anybody else, and he wasn't going to let himself think about how little his plans meant. He knew people like Kolya. He knew what they'd do to him if they caught him, what they'd do to Rodney if he was left in their hands long enough; knew it in his body, in his breath—

Sweat trickling down the back of his neck, the bruise on his lip stinging with it, and he locked his gaze on the wall and tried not to see out of the corners of his eyes, tried not to see the next one coming, just left his body loose and easy, just move with the stick, Shep, feel which way she wants to go, trying to keep Hanrahan's voice in his head, chopper blades thrumming overhead, and they almost drowned out the meat-slap sound of the iron-wrapped fist thumping into the side of his face, the muffled crunch of small bones.

Coughing, he spat blood into the dust-dirt floor, red sinking into the packed yellow-ochre ground, and he said thickly, again, "Captain John Sheppard, United States Air Force, serial number—" because those had to be the only words that lived in his mouth and throat, there couldn't be any others, even as a possibility, and the next one was a kick to his ribs, jerking him up into the air, bone grating underneath the skin. He slid to his knees on the way down this time, and stayed there.

"We can keep doing this a long time, Captain," one of the men said, the one who spoke English. "A very long time."

Please, I'll tell you, please stop. He tasted the words and swallowed them down again. Another three, he bargained with himself. Another three times asking, and then he'd give in. Just another three—

—and the screen flickered under his hand: three dots, moving fast towards him, and he didn't even try not to be sharply, intensely, savagely glad.

Nine serrations, on the curved inner edge of the knife; Rodney counted them, fascinated as a child watching a snake, while Kolya put one hand on his shoulder and the other on his wrist and pulled his arm taut. Small mirthless smile on the craggy face, completely unworried, and Rodney thought for a few moments of utter stupidity that that was a good thing, that seeing Kolya's smug certainty was just what he needed, that pride would keep him from breaking.

Then the soldier stepped up and the mirror-bright point slid through the fabric with a sound like the day in fifth grade when he tripped on the stairs and ripped open the inseam of his pants and had to wear his ratty gym sweatpants the rest of the day, and fuck ohmygod no no no, and he couldn't stop gasping even long enough to scream.

He could see a stain spreading around the ragged hole in his sleeve, and oh god, that was blood, that was his blood, and he wasn't sure how much blood there was in the human body, but his now had significantly less, and the stain was getting bigger, and he could feel the knife in his flesh, and what if they cut a tendon or a nerve or nicked a vein and and oh god he was going to throw up—

"That's far enough," Kolya said, and Rodney was so desperately grateful, even while the feeling made him sick, when Kolya said, "Now tell me about the plan, Dr. McKay."

John still got twinges in his face and his jaw, most of all on days full of clouds and rain, when it felt like some sharp hollowing acid was eating into the curve of his cheekbone, right above the joint, and if he had a hand free he'd shove his knuckles against it and try to press the pain out. Being tired made it worse, being cold, being wet; the pain would settle deep and draining, like it was never going to go away, and even with thunder on the horizon and water sheeting down, he'd be in the dry desert of that room again, and the taste in his mouth would be his own blood.

The Athosians were still coming back, but Bates and his men had the gateroom secured. His shoulder ached, but that was just ordinary pain. He'd killed fifty men, hands clean as snow, and another ten who'd managed to leave some dirt under his fingernails. That was something else, something he didn't really want to look at too hard. The storm had slid on past, now only a mass of wild dark clouds on the horizon and runoff streaming down the walls and windows of the city, and the low throbbing ache settled just below his left eye. All he wanted was to go to his room and crawl into bed and press his face into the pillows and breathe.

He went down to the infirmary and checked on Beckett, and then he collected some gauze, rubbing alcohol, antibiotics, and went to Rodney's room. Rodney was lying sprawled on his stomach, mouth open and face half-squashed, snoring. He'd stripped to boxers below the waist, but he was still wearing his shirt with the bandage wrapped over the arm, held awkwardly straight at his side. John couldn't entirely believe he'd fallen asleep that way, but if it was working for him—

He shrugged and took the medical supplies into Rodney's bathroom and piled them on the counter, and then he turned the shower on. Hot, hotter, good enough to start steaming away the pain, and he stood with his face directly in the spray even as it woke up a thousand cuts and bruises he hadn't even noticed before. The soap hurt, and he lathered it up anyway, scrubbing and scrubbing at his face, trying to work out the ache.

He lost track of time, minutes sliding towards hours, half-asleep standing and still that bone-deep, grinding pain, all his muscles slowly stiffening, even under the hot water. Cold air blew in on him like a shock, and Rodney staggered into the bathroom, bent over the sink, and threw up noisily. The sour-cold smell carried in on the steam like it was in his own mouth, and John had to lean forward fast to heave into the drain, trying not to get vomit on his bare skin.

He managed to keep himself up long enough for the water to wash it away, then he slid slowly to his knees. On the other side of the translucent glass, Rodney slipped down the wall and hit the floor, with a little choked gasp that made John shudder all over and put his head under the water.

"Are you okay?" Rodney asked, after a while, raspy and still hoarse, and that was just fucking embarrassing.

"Sure," John said, and then he started laughing a little, because of course he was okay, he just liked to kneel in showers and throw up for fun.

"Okay," Rodney said, starting to worry for real. "I think you should get out of the shower now." He still felt shaky, but he struggled up to his feet and slid open the shower door. Sheppard looked like crap: palm-sized bruises already going purple, all over his back and shoulder, skin bright pink from the hot water and still faintly greenish underneath.

"Come on," Rodney said, reaching, and remembered too late that his right arm really wasn't interested in doing any heavy lifting anytime in the next, oh, year. "Ow, ow, ow, fuck," he said, and that at least got Sheppard moving under his own power.

"Let me see that," he said, getting up, and pulled Rodney into the shower stall.

Rodney had really had more than enough of water for the day, and now his boxers and shirt were plastered against his skin, entirely too much like it had felt to be soaked to the skin out on the pier, waiting to live or die, and the spray fucking hurt coming down on his arm. But, "Trust me," Sheppard said, holding him in place. "Let it soak. It'll be better this way, unless you like the rip-and-yell removal technique."

"Well, that's vivid." Rodney said, and quit trying to pull loose. A little self-conscious, he shoved his wet boxers down and kicked them into the corner of the shower; that at least got rid of the worst of the feeling, and Sheppard obviously didn't mind being stripped to the skin with another guy.

"Okay," Sheppard said, when he'd been under the shower for long enough, and Rodney gulped and squeezed his eyes shut while Sheppard gently unwound the bandage, rubbing around the edges of the wound as he peeled away each layer.

"Do me a favor," Rodney said, keeping his eyes closed.


"Don't—don't tell me if it's, you know, nothing."

Sheppard's hands went still on his arm. "Nothing?"

Rodney sighed impatiently. "I mean, don't tell me if it's something stupid that anyone out of basic training should've been able to handle, okay? Because, honestly, I've had a pretty spectacularly bad day, and it's going to be a miracle if I don't wind up with pneumonia, and I did in fact save this entire city, so I think I've earned a little—"

"Rodney," Sheppard said. "Shut up."

Rodney opened his eyes, meaning to snap back indignantly, but Sheppard's face surprised him into actual silence: all cold, rigid lines, angry, and Sheppard said very quietly, "Somebody who had total control over your life put a knife into your arm. I don't care if it's skin deep, it's not nothing. It's never nothing."

"Oh," Rodney said, staring, and after a minute Sheppard's face relaxed again, and he dropped his eyes and went back to unraveling the bandage.

"Also," Sheppard added, more normally, "if it was nothing, you wouldn't have bled this much. Why exactly did you put this on over your shirt?"

"I tried to take the shirt off, and it hurt," Rodney said. "Kind of like it's hurting now, and ow, ow, stop!" He tried to pull his arm away; Sheppard had gotten the last of the bandage off and was trying to get the sleeve away from Rodney's skin.

"Okay, hang on," Sheppard said, and raised Rodney's arm into the spray and put his mouth over the wound. Rodney shivered abruptly without knowing why, even with the hot water still coming down in thick gusts of steam, and Sheppard's hotter breath coming through the fabric onto his skin, moist and gentle, and little by little the cotton came up and away.

Sheppard pulled the shirt up over Rodney's head, and carefully turned it inside out, rolling it up away from the wound, and Rodney stared at the raw, jagged edges, oozing a little blood again now, red trickling away watered-down in the steam, and Sheppard was gripping Rodney's arm in both hands, staring down at it, and there was something so bleak and miserable in his face that Rodney reached out tentatively and cupped the side of his face, tilting it up and away, and said, "Major—"

"I'm fine," Sheppard said, but he didn't turn his head away from Rodney's palm, and he even leaned against it a little, and when Rodney didn't pull away he leaned a little more, and Rodney stepped closer and slid his arm around Sheppard's shoulders, and Sheppard gratefully just folded into the circle of Rodney's arm and pressed his face against Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney held him, thinking that this should've felt odder than it did, more uncomfortable, but there was just something so good, so comforting about this plain uncomplicated physical contact. Sheppard heaved a sigh and slid his arms around Rodney's waist, and Rodney stepped backwards, drawing him along, so he could lean back against the wall and take all of Sheppard's weight.

They just stood like that under the steaming water for another long time, Sheppard's body shielding Rodney's injured arm from the direct spray. Rodney stroked his back gently, and rubbed around the bruises when Sheppard groaned and arched a little into the touch. Sheppard sighed, a little brokenly, against Rodney's neck, and Rodney shivered at the brief touch of his mouth, lips warm and wet, and he slid his hand into Sheppard's spiky hair.

Sheppard raised his head and leaned his forehead against Rodney's. "Thanks," Sheppard said, quietly, so close Rodney could taste the words in his own mouth, could feel Sheppard's breath on his lips, the circle of their arms making an enclosed space, and something tight and cold and scared unwound from deep in his belly and melted away, like rain sheeting away from glass.

"Yeah," Rodney said, thickly, trying to say thank you and you're welcome all at once, and Sheppard got it, because he rubbed the back of Rodney's neck and closed his eyes and didn't show the least sign of letting go. They moved only with their breathing, almost in time, Sheppard's hands rubbing in slow, easy circles over Rodney's back, sliding easily over wet skin, their bodies brushing up against each other, so he could close his eyes and just soak up the steady human heat radiating from Sheppard's chest.

John moved even closer, until they were pressed together from thigh to hip to shoulder, until he was breathing right into Rodney's mouth; he couldn't stop himself, wanting just a little more warmth, connection, strength. They licked their lips at the same time, and John's tongue accidentally slid over Rodney's lip and along his tongue, and then suddenly Rodney was pressing kisses into him, deep and sweet and slow, and he opened for John's tongue and pushed his dick into John's hip, already mostly hard, and made a low hungry eager sound, deep in his throat, and thrust jerkily against him.

And god, it felt so fucking good, like before only ten times better, because he could just let go, rub himself frantically against Rodney's hip and belly and grope anywhere and everywhere his hands wanted to go, even sliding his fingers between Rodney's legs; and that made Rodney gasp and shudder against him and clutch him tighter.

Too good to last, even if he'd wanted to try, and both of them were so tired they were swaying on their legs; he just groped for the soap and they stroked their dicks together, lather spilling away down their legs, Rodney's big hand so fantastic and skillful that in the end John just braced both arms against the wall and let Rodney finish them both, watching the head of his dick slide through Rodney's fist, watching himself pumping out over Rodney's fingers, and Rodney's dick jerking and spilling at the same time, the shared little twitches like sparks along his skin.

He was almost falling over, still clinging to Rodney's shoulders, gasping and almost drunk with the liquid sensation of release, of relief, all the pain driven out at last. He couldn't speak just yet, dizzy with gratitude, so he stroked Rodney's back and kissed him instead. "Mm," Rodney said, dreamily, and kissed him back, licking into his mouth, sucking on John's lip.

They were both half-asleep, almost sliding down the wall, and abruptly the shower spat cold water at them and jerked them rudely awake, at least for a few moments. They still had to hold each other up to get out, carefully stepping even over the low ledge of the shower basin. John pushed Rodney down onto the toilet seat and started bandaging his arm again, hands moving by instinct.

Rodney was yawning so widely he almost tipped over, leaning precariously to one side; John had to push him back straight up, and then when he was done he had to pull Rodney up to his feet. Rodney came up wobbling and almost overwhelmed him; they staggered against the wall together, and Rodney kissed him incoherently, landing only half on his mouth and wandering, kisses on his jaw and along his cheekbones.

John managed to lead him out to the bed, falling down with him in a heap, Rodney sprawled over John's chest so his arm could stretch out; they pulled the blankets up over them haphazardly, too tired even to properly crawl underneath. Outside, the sun was coming out at last.

= end =

All feedback much appreciated!
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