Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Beta: The awesome combination of lark_ascending and apple_pi.
Original story: "Of Cold Making Warmth" by siriaeve.
Summary: The end of the war changed everything for John, except the one thing he was fighting for. Written for the gateverse_remix.
The taxi diver has been flicking glances at John in the rear-view mirror since the pick-up at the airport. At first John thinks it's the way he threw his duffel into the back seat, keen to get away from the reporter right on his tail. But the driver's gaze drifts to the uniform--the SGC's new dress blues have become pretty well-known since declassification--and that seems answer enough, until the news flickers onto the little dashboard TV, a snatch of John's travel-weary voice echoing back at him: Wraith in retreat... just the mopping up... good to be home.
Outside, it's a full-blown Californian summer day, heat rising from the asphalt in waves, eucalypts braced against the onslaught, their leaves drab perpendicular fingers in the harsh light. People fill the sidewalks, an ocean of them, going about their business in bright-coloured clothes, and it seems impossible that this place ever knew a Wraith culling beam. There's no trace left to mark its passage.
Inside the taxi, it's cold enough that John's spaceship-adapted skin prickles with gooseflesh. The taxi driver tries to catch his gaze again, but John resolutely stares out the window at the streets made familiar by too many Day-After documentaries.
When they get to the hotel, the taxi driver refuses John's plastic, stuttering out heartfelt thanks for a not-dead son that John doesn't want to hear. He nods anyway and smiles, until he gets his wallet back into his pocket and escapes into the looming dimness of the lobby. One of the concierges looks up briefly from her computer screen, gaze immediately tracing the insignia on his jacket, but when John confidently heads for the bank of elevators, her head bows again, fingers resuming their nimble race over the keyboard. The familiar clatter of the keys makes John's chest clench up with a sudden pang of homesickness, and he jabs the button on the elevators a second time, a third, before the lift on his left bings and the doors ponderously slide apart.
John waits, thrumming with impatient energy as a group of people wearing what passes for science-geek chic come out, all talking over the top of each other at a mile a minute about wormhole theory and ZPMs. Then he's inside, pressing the elegant gold button for the seventh floor without needing to re-check Carter's scrawled instructions; as the elevator jerks into motion he pats his breast pocket anyway, just to feel the scrap of paper crinkle, remembering the way she passed it to him beneath the briefing table, a dozen Chiefs of Staff oblivious around them.
He pauses for a moment outside room 720, hand lifted to knock, stomach looping with nerves: because Rodney doesn't know he's here, because it's been three years since they've seen each other in anything but grainy video conferences, and because he's not sure if Rodney will even be glad to see him, after everything that's happened. He takes a steadying breath, lets it out slowly, feeling the tension in his neck unkink a little, and raps out the signal they used on Atlantis: dit dit dit... dah.
The door flies open immediately, Rodney right there on the other side, leaning on his cane, a telephone headset clipped to his ear, insulting the person on the other end in the old, familiar way. And then he catches sight of John, and the words cut off mid-flow as though someone's pressed a mute button. They stare at each other, John greedily taking in all the changes: the new crease beneath the slant of Rodney's mouth, the receded shoreline of his hair, the way his eyes are still bright and sky-blue and wide with shock.
"I'll call you back," Rodney says, cutting the connection before the words are quite spoken and ripping the phone from his ear. He drops the headset to the floor, grabs John's sleeve and drags him into the room.
The door quietly hinges closed behind them. John catches a glimpse of a large suite, stretching away towards a bay of well-appointed windows overlooking a glorious view of the ocean. The sofa is strewn with pillows and a rumpled rug, and Rodney's laptop is sitting in the middle of the mess, some kind of schematic slowly rotating on the screen. It's an expensive room, tastefully decorated and impersonal, and the only thing in it that matters a damn is the man standing in front of him, eating John up with his eyes: this older, slightly unfamiliar Rodney, who's leaning awkwardly on the cane, dressed in rumpled track pants and a ragged USAF t-shirt he once stole from John, and blinking as though he's not quite sure John is real.
"John?" Rodney blinks again, his whole face alight, and there's the smile that John remembers, broad and brilliant.
"Surprise," John says, relief unfurling in his stomach. He steps closer, sliding his hand up Rodney's arm and curling it around the warm skin of his neck. He presses his forehead to Rodney's in the Athosian way, and they stand together for a moment, just taking each other in.
"I thought... Carter said you'd be on the press junket for another two weeks."
"I scored a forty-eight hour pass," John says, thinking of the decade's worth of favours he'd called in to get it, and not regretting the price one bit, thinking he'd pay it twice over if he had to, for this. He pulls back far enough to raise an eyebrow in a silent taunt. "But if it's not convenient, I can go surfing instead and catch up with you in Denver, like we planned."
"Don't be a moron, General. Although I do realise that's difficult for you." Rodney scowls at him and pushes him towards the bedroom.
Relief transforms into something more electric. Despite the teasing, John's offer had been half-serious; but at Rodney's insult, he knows this is what he's been waiting for, what he's been craving. He grins at Rodney, and he's pretty sure it's dopey and enormous.
"Yes, yes. Very funny." Rodney pokes him in the calf with his cane when John doesn't move fast enough. "I see that constant exposure to your space marines has done nothing to improve your lamentably juvenile sense of humour."
"Cry me a river," Rodney says, without a shred of sympathy. "We only have hours, here. Strip."
John willingly throws his duffel into the corner, and yanks off his tie. "God, I'd kill for a shower with decent water pressure right now. The sonic showers on the Tethys always leave me feeling sticky." He lets the jacket and pants of his dress blues lie where they fall; housekeeping can fix the damage later.
Rodney sets his cane down on a chair by the bed and pulls the ratty t-shirt over his head. "Do I look like I care about your bizarre soap fetish, Sheppard?"
"You'll care once you smell me. I haven't showered since I beamed into the SGC, and I've been debriefed by everyone and the President's dog since then." John fumbles with the buttons of his shirt, and it takes a real act of will not to just rip them all off.
Rodney pauses with his hands on the waistband of his sweatpants, gaze raking the bare skin of John's chest, lingering on the trail of hair arrowing down his belly. "No, I'm pretty sure you'd have to smell of something a lot worse than a couple of days of manly sweat to put me off at this point."
All the breath leaves John in a rush, and his mouth goes dry. John can see it hitting Rodney too, and they both move at once, closing the gap between them. John places his hands on the solid strength of Rodney's arms; Rodney's hands sear him where they settle on his hips. Then Rodney's lips are soft against his own, a warm, sweet promise--there and gone before he can deepen the kiss the way he wants to.
"Wha--?" John starts to ask, but Rodney's moaning, and not in pleasure, slipping from John's grasp as his weak leg buckles. He grabs onto John with a bruising strength, but there's no way to stop the fall. With a move John hasn't used since high-school football, he gets both arms around Rodney and pushes, redirecting their momentum so that they land in a heap on the bed.
"Goddammit," Rodney says, red-faced and sulky. "Sorry. I've been standing on it all day. I had the keynote this morning, and then there were all these official functions, and there's never a chair with arms, no matter how often they're told. Morons. But a wheelchair? Oh yes, that they have! As though I'd let my so-called peers see me like that; they're all sharks, just waiting to smell my blood in the wat--"
"I thought you said it was better!"
Rodney snaps, "This is better."
Oh, John breathes. He'd known it was bad, of course he'd known: back then, in the last days before Atlantis fell, he'd seen the explosion, seen Rodney pulled out of the rubble covered in blood, and Cole's face as she'd admitted the leg-wound was beyond her skill to heal, and the way Rodney had been so still and pale on the gurney as he was wheeled through the gate; John had seen it all in fragmented bullets of time, in between fighting to keep Earth safe, and watching his men and women die. But from the day Rodney had been fit enough to type, his weekly emails had been full of spit and vinegar, telling stories of idiot nurses and imbecilic doctors, triumphs of physics and crushing his enemies; and it had lulled John into a lesser kind of worry, which had no doubt been Rodney's intent. Stupid, wonderful bastard. "Let me see," John demands now, needing to know the truth. He reaches out and places a gentle hand on Rodney's hip, trying to feel the twist and snarl of scar tissue beneath the soft fabric of his pants. "Let me see."
Rodney smiles at him, tentative and a little wobbly. His brave face. "It's not that big a deal. Really. Can't we just..." He tugs on John's hair, trying to pull him into a kiss, but John's had a lot of experience in ignoring Rodney's attempts at distraction, and even more experience in getting Rodney out of his clothes. He curls his fingers into the giving stretch of the sweatpants and tugs them down. At first Rodney resists, and they struggle a little, both pulling the pants in opposite directions. Then John drops his head and presses a kiss to Rodney's hip, just where the pale white tip of a scar marks the skin.
All the fight goes out of Rodney at once, and he makes a soft choked sound. John tugs at the pants again, and this time Rodney lifts his hips, letting John finally pull them down and off. John throws them over the side of the bed, and turns back to look at Rodney, who's lying naked and pale on the tasteful Aztec-patterned quilt, watching John with too-big eyes.
The word slips out before John can stop it: "Jesus."
He'd known it was bad... he'd known... but he hadn't known how close Rodney must have come to losing the leg; how close he'd come to losing Rodney altogether. The scar runs in knotted ropes from knee to hip, mostly white with age, but a few blooms of red still marking the worst places. John traces the scar up Rodney's leg with gentle hands, taking it all in, and when Rodney winces a little beneath his touch, John can feel the movement of some kind of alien tech grafted just beneath the marred skin, taking the place of the missing muscle. Jesus. It's a miracle Rodney can walk on this at all.
"You didn't tell me." John hadn't meant to sound so accusing, but he's been fighting an unwinnable war for years, thinking Rodney was safe, fighting to keep him safe, that knowledge his touchstone when things were too hard to bear; and now the war is won, and he's finally home, and this scar tells a story of all the things he's missed: of Rodney's suffering, of a danger more fundamental than the Wraith, of everything John couldn't fix and had no chance to fight for.
"I did!" Rodney protests, but wilts beneath John's glare. "I wanted to. I didn't know how." He looks so sad as he speaks, vulnerable in a way he never used to be, and John wonders just how deep this scar goes, that Rodney is willing to admit to not knowing how. "And you had enough to deal with already, without me being all..." He waves a hand in a forlorn circle, staring up at the ceiling as though it's inscribed with the secrets of the Ancients.
The defiant tilt of Rodney's chin makes all John's anger drain away. "Hey," he says, thumbing the scar where it winds around Rodney's knee; then he leans forward and tastes it, running the flat of his tongue over puckered tissue and smooth skin without distinction, following the ridges of the scar, tasting Rodney's familiar salt, enjoying the shiver his touch evokes.
John works his way up, slow and careful, using his hands in counterpoint to his kisses, stroking Rodney's other leg too, the hollows of his knees, the smooth plane of his undamaged thigh, sliding his tongue into the crease of his groin, where the skin is healthy and pink, and the only mark is a thready white line curling into Rodney's pubic hair. He nuzzles and licks, until he's returned to Rodney's hip, the start of the jigsaw, and bites down hard, right at the tip of the scar.
Rodney jerks and yelps out, "Ouch! Hey!"
"That's for lying to me."
"What?" Rodney says, outraged. "I didn't lie, I wa--" His voice breaks at the first touch of John's tongue to the head of his cock. "Oh."
"And that's because I missed you."
Rodney stills at the look on John's face. "Oh," he says again, sounding wrecked, as though he hadn't known John loved him.
Feeling strangely naked, John hides his face against Rodney's belly, breathing in the rich scent of arousal for a moment, before he opens his mouth and takes Rodney in. It's been so long since he's done this, felt like this, and the feverish heat of Rodney's dick hitting the back of his throat is like coming home. It's been a long time, but John remembers what Rodney likes, remembers how to do this. He relaxes his throat and swallows.
Rodney whimpers, arching up instinctively, his hands scrabbling at John's shoulders, the bow of his body lopsided, favouring his bad hip, "Oh, God, don't stop," frantic already, as though he's starving for touch.
A jolt of pure heat arcs from John's tongue to his cock, and he pushes down into the bed, desperate for friction. Within two hard sucks, three, they have a rhythm, hot and too-fast, Rodney's cock slipping in and out of John's mouth, in counterpoint to the thundering of John's pulse and the rocking of his own hips.
It's not enough, not nearly enough, so John slides a hand down to cradle Rodney's balls, and then down further, to rub a gentle circle around the pucker of his ass. Rodney instantly lets his good leg fall open and curls up into the touch, silently begging for more. His hands are fisting the bed-covers, and he's slick with sweat and panting, his mouth open in an endless 'O' of delight.
Ignoring the ache in his jaw, John sucks harder and presses a finger into Rodney's clutching heat. It pulls John in, and God, John's going to come like this, another few thrusts against the smooth hotel linen, that's all it'll take, he's that close. He's so caught up in the burn of yes, close at the base of his cock that he barely feels the pain as Rodney yanks his hair, pulling his mouth off Rodney's cock.
John makes a wordless sound of annoyance, trying to put his mouth back where it wants to be.
"Please," Rodney's saying, the sense of the words slowly washing into his consciousness, "please, John. I want you here with me. I want to touch you."
"'k." John crawls up Rodney's body and settles in, skin-to-skin.
Then Rodney's breath is sweet against his cheek, and John's capturing both their cocks in the tunnel of his hand, and there's this lull, this moment, where he's looking into Rodney's eyes, and Rodney's looking back, and it's like they've never been apart. John says, "Yes, yes," or maybe it's Rodney, the word pressed back and forth between their mouths, slick and wet, as they kiss and kiss; Rodney's knee is pressing fire into his skin, the tangle of fingers in his hair is an exquisite pain, body hair crinkles against his nipples, Rodney's cock glides against his own, and God, he's almost there. So close, so close. And then Rodney goes taut and still, muffling his cry against John's throat, hot mouth and teeth a sudden shock of pleasurepain, the smell of Rodney's come bitter and intimate between them, slicking up John's hand so he has to tighten his grip; and John's there, right there, holding Rodney tightly in his arms, back arched, coming and coming, everything going white-hot, the shock-wave burning through him from the inside out.
Afterwards, they lie tangled together, kissing slowly, the only sounds their laboured breathing as it returns to normal, the faint buzz of a descending elevator, and the distant shushush of the freeway. They lie there, uncaring of the mess, content with each other and the simple, shocking pleasure of touch. John trails his fingers up and down Rodney's spine, just because he can, feeling the faint tremors of Rodney's afterglow, and the puff of Rodney's breath against his overheated skin.
He feels happy. Peaceful. Until he notices that Rodney's breathing isn't really evening out, and that there's something wet trickling down the curve of his neck.
"Hey, buddy," he whispers, bringing a hand up to cradle Rodney's head. "What is it? Did I hurt you?"
Rodney makes a choking sound, and pushes his face harder into John's neck. "No. No. Just. Give me a minute? Will you? I just..."
"Sure," John says, "okay. Take as long as you want," and he holds on and on, for a long time, as Rodney's breath hitches, and the sun sinks down below the rim of the windows, and the far-away elevator ferries people up and down, up and down in an irregular buzz.
Eventually, Rodney goes quiet, and John would almost think he was asleep, except that he can feel Rodney's eyelashes fluttering against his neck.
"I don't need to be here," Rodney says, suddenly, sounding awkward and unsure of himself. John barely has time to tense, to wonder What the fuck?, before Rodney adds, "The conference is nearly over anyway, and I could..." he stutters to a halt.
"You could?" John says, ignoring the sudden kick-start of his heart, calmly tracing the curve of Rodney's ear.
"I could come with you. On the press junket."
Such simple words: I could come with you, but they might as well be written in fire and hanging in the night sky, every letter a hundred feet high.
John lets out a breath he didn't realise he was holding. Rodney wants to come with him. Stay with him while a whole world's worth of press will be ready and eager to spill the story across every newsfeed in existence.
"I mean. I don't have to. It's just a thought. I've still got plenty of work to do if--"
The Chiefs of Staff would not be impressed. War hero or not, there's a real chance John would be asked to retire if he says yes to this. If he and Rodney do this.
"--and the deadline for the new ZPM Mark II project is just around the corner, so really--"
John breathes in. Rodney smells of sex, and his hair is sticking up in tufts; the bit of his face that John can see is blotched and puffy, and he's still clinging to John as though afraid he might disappear at any moment.
John knows just how he feels.
"--maybe it's better if we stick to the original plan. I mean, there's nothing wrong with waiting another few--"
But what it really comes down to, if John's honest, is that he's never chosen the job if it means leaving a man behind. And this isn't just any man; this is Rodney.
"--no point rocking the boat--"
Closing his eyes and swallowing hard, John presses a kiss to Rodney's temple. "Yeah," he says, "you could," ignoring the way his voice comes out hoarse and uneven. "You could come with me. Good idea, Rodney."
"I could?" Rodney says, sounding shocked, and then a heartbeat later, "Of course it's a good idea. Genius here!"
It's such a Rodney thing to say, and even though it really isn't all that funny, John can feel a huge, unstoppable bubble of laughter welling up inside him, filling his chest, spilling out of his mouth onto Rodney's skin and making the whole room echo with his joy.
"Oh my god," Rodney says, grabbing one of the pillows and whacking John with it. "I've changed my mind. I can't be seen in public with someone who laughs like that!" But he's smiling back at John, broad and brilliant, his whole face alight.