Rating: NC-17, ~15,000 words.
Author's notes: OMG z_rayne the evil bitch gave me a deadline. *collapses in fatigue* . Though I suppose since she was the beta, it's okay. Considering she mainlined this fic for SEVEN hours the night before she went to writercon? I'm okay with the deadline.
Also for those of you waiting one that live fic that I started posting here? This is it. Sorry for the delay, but as I started adding more I realized it would be done fairly quickly, so I just kept on chugging instead of posting directly.
The part where the author admits that she was Jossed: This was started before the premier, so just imagine them starting off from a similar precarious situation, only you know, ending on the Daedalus.
Summary: v. cleave (klev)
1. To split with or as if with a sharp instrument. See Synonyms at tear.
2. To adhere, cling, or stick fast.
Rodney bit his lip and shrugged. "Welcome to my world Colonel. Want your EpiPen engraved?"
Rodney wasn't sure how they hadn't figured it out before. Maybe it was the jackets or the rush or that Ronon had somehow become his personal bodyguard, step-stool and all-around underfoot grunt as soon as Sheppard had released them from their cocoons. Could that man do stoic guilt or what?
After they'd made it off the hive ship there had been the whole running for their lives thing, which wasn't to be mistaken for the running for their lives thing from seconds earlier. This time there were two pissed-off colonels and two kick-ass spaceships helping them along.
Post-almost-dying routine, and good God there was an actual routine, was busy and hectic and just as terrifying as the actual not dying.
They were, all three of them, sitting in the mess in the belly of the Daedalus, eating with varying degrees of intensity. Rodney is partaking of a delightful meatloaf and fresh coffee.
"You took the last cup," Sheppard sat down next to him, looking at his own mug of water mournfully.
"I got wrapped in Wraith cocoon; bite me." Rodney took another deep sip, enjoying the rich flavor happily.
"I saved your life!"
Rodney made a face. "Do you know where the cocoon stuff comes from?" He shuddered visibly just thinking about it.
Sheppard tilted his head thoughtfully, smiling to himself. "Shall I just pick an orifice at random?"
Choking on his mouthful of food, Rodney turned and glared, only to see an arm snaking past his tray with a nearly full cup of coffee in its hand. "Hey!"
"Saved your life." Sheppard almost singsonged as he took a sip.
"I'm seriously trying to decide if my life is worth coffee." Rodney muttered, snagging the mug back and moving it to the other side of the table before changing his mind and putting it between himself and the tray, huddling over it protectively.
"You know, with thanks I get I should really consider--"
"Oh please." Rodney waved him off, huddling even closer to his coffee. "This is the nectar of the gods we--" He stopped because Sheppard had suddenly gone ten shades of white and was slowly sliding off his chair. "Sheppard?"
"Rodney," he wheezed, chest rising and falling fast, eyes wide and frightened.
"What?" Rodney demanded, already sliding to the floor, letting Ronon take care of calling for a medical team. "What's wrong?"
"Can't...breathe...." Each word was separated by a long and painful sounding breath.
Rodney knew, he could see it in the reactions, the slight puffiness around the neck and lips, the sweating and shaking. He hadn't rekitted when he'd gotten on board. Damn it. The pulse under his fingertips felt fast and thready and the ship's doctor got there just as Sheppard slid out of consciousness, and Rodney stumbled backwards, landing awkwardly on his hands and ass while he watched them do their work.
The hives were sticking around; Rodney could see them from across the room, swollen red dots all over Sheppard's neck and face. Dr. Gordon had said they'd even appeared inside his mouth and throat.
When he was a child, Rodney had gotten an especially bad case of chicken pox, the itchy patches extending inside his body in ways his ten-year-old brain had never imagined. It had been horrible and painful and pretty much the definition of misery for most of his life, only being replaced by one or two incidents involving a lemon.
"Severe allergic reaction," Gordon had told him. "We'll monitor him, treat his symptoms and keep him comfortable. He should be fine in a day or two."
Meanwhile Rodney was alternating between watching Sheppard sleep and watching Dr. Gordon and his staff prepare a scratch test based on everything Sheppard had come in contact with in the thirty minutes before his reaction.
"Only thirty minutes?" Rodney pressed, eyes stuck on a particularly nasty hive just under Sheppard's eye.
"You wouldn't believe the number of items we need to test already, Dr. McKay," he assured calmly. "If we don't find anything, we'll go back further. All of your food has been packaged and sealed for testing too."
"Fine," Rodney muttered and went back to sitting in his uncomfortable chair and poking listlessly at his laptop.
"Relax, Rodney," Sheppard slurred at him.
"Why are you talking?" Rodney didn't look up from his very important graph. "There are tiny little bumps inside your throat; some people might take that as a signal to not talk."
"Some people are just sheep," Sheppard whispered and then coughed dramatically.
"For God's sake," Rodney muttered and put down his laptop. "Here," he said and grabbed a plastic cup and poured some water from a nearby pitcher. "Try not to choke on your own saliva."
"Thanks," Sheppard said gratefully, clumsily taking the cup from his hand, scraping against Rodney's fingers before finally closing securely around the plastic.
"This is what you get for stealing an innocent person's coffee," Rodney said, watching Sheppard sip his water, blissful face deepening with each drop.
"Sharing is caring Rodney." Sheppard took another sip.
"You really are twelve."
"Maybe." He carefully put the cup down on the nearby table, eyes still closed. "Any idea what happened?"
Rodney bit his lip and shrugged. "Welcome to my world Colonel. Want your EpiPen engraved?"
"Does it come in gold?" Sheppard coughed and frowned.
"More water?" Rodney reached for the cup.
Sheppard shook his head. "No, Rodney." He coughed again. "Get the doctor...." This time it ended in a wheeze. His color was changing the definition near his chin was starting to soften.
Oh shit, a secondary reaction.
"Gordon! He's having another reaction!"
They swarmed, like a group of white-coated freaky insects, gathered around Sheppard's bed, buzzing and clicking in a cacophony of sounds that meshed together before they even hit Rodney's ears. All he could do was watch and wait and stare pointlessly at the thin line on the heart monitor, as Sheppard's body fought to keep going.
"He had a multiphasic reaction, that is--"
"Yes, I know what that is," Rodney interrupted. "Are you sure that's what it was?"
"Dr. McKay," Caldwell said. He was now in on it too, since it was sort of his business to know what was going on with the incapacitation of the second-highest-ranking officer. "While the depth and breadth of your knowledge is astonishing and awe-inspiring, perhaps you could give the rest of us a little time to catch up?" He nodded to the doctor to continue speaking.
"Basically, his body wasn't done having an allergic reaction," Gordon finished, throwing Rodney a sour look.
"You're assuming it was a reaction to the original cause." Rodney looked sour right back. "Which you can't know because you haven't figured out what caused it yet!" He waved a finger in triumph.
Caldwell nodded slowly. "He does have a point."
Rodney crossed his arm and smiled grimly. Yes, he did have a point. He always had a point.
"I can't very well test him in his condition," Gordon said, hugging his clipboard close to his chest. "We'll note everything that goes near him, but if Dr. McKay is right, other than clothing and soap and detergents the only thing that is truly consistent is water." He looked thoughtful. "Or possibly air, but I doubt that one based on the pattern of reactions."
Rodney snorted, yeah right, water. Then he froze in slowly dawning horror. Water. Was that possible? He checked his watch, three hours until they were in range of Atlantis and he could talk to a real voodoo practitioner and not just a charlatan like this Gordon guy.
"So I've been thinking about how cool it would be to live life in a bubble." Sheppard looked only slightly better than last time; that might have something to do with the super-clean room and the new rules being enforced. "I mean, I could probably get people to do stuff for me."
"Bring you food," Ronon offered from his corner.
Rodney tried not to look at him. He kept reminding him of a big, walking condom, which was not something he really needed to think about.
"Yeah!" Sheppard said brightly. "Though with my luck I'm probably allergic to salt."
Rodney made a face, "That would actually really suck, but I think it's highly unlikely." He shifted around in his seat again. The damn suits they had to wear were uncomfortable and creaky.
"Yeah, but it'd be better than water." Sheppard pouted, his lower lip jutting out slightly, shining in the overhead light.
"Probably not," Rodney muttered and the turned to Ronon. "I can't believe you slept through all of that."
He shrugged. "I was tired."
Of course he was.
The silence descended on them awkwardly and there was no possibility of a casual hello from someone in the background, not with the twenty-minute public shower and stripping that was needed to get into the room.
So the loud hissing sound of an airlock opening and closing came as a relief to Rodney, who was just about to go insane from staring the small patches of flaky skin all over Sheppard's face, a slowly fading remnant of the hives.
It was Dr. Gordon. "And how are you feeling?"
"Well enough for a laptop?" Sheppard looked hopeful.
A black rectangle appeared on Sheppard's lap. "Dusted and vacuumed to within an inch of its life." Gordon nodded. "You've pretty much been cleared for basic plastics and polymers, in a few hours we'll have the results of about 30 different substances to see if we can narrow it down further and possibly provide you with some food that you can eat with a fork."
"Carson! Thank God, I was starting to fear for my own life with this guy in charge of the medical care!" Rodney wanted to hug him he was so happy to see him.
Sheppard had been transported directly from his clean room on the ship to a newly prepped room on Atlantis; however, Carson had taken a detour to grab Sheppard's medical files personally.
"Now Rodney, I'm sure Dr. Gordon has done everything he can with the limited resources on the Daedalus," Carson said absently.
Rodney's eyes narrowed and he clicked his heels together in frustration. "You people and your non-specific answers." He knew when he was being placated. He poked Carson in the chest. "I don't know what I was thinking when the idea that you might be able to help sprang to mind."
"Rodney." Carson's eyes narrowed. "Let's not insult the man who does your annual physicals."
"I want a new doctor!" Rodney shot over his shoulder, already walking out of the room.
Walking down the corridors, Rodney could recognize that he was worried. Okay, possibly more than worried. Sheppard had perked back up just twenty-four hours after his last reaction, looking downright bored by the time they'd made it to Atlantis, but Rodney didn't like that they hadn't been able to find anything the man was allergic to. Not even fungus. Who wasn't allergic to fungus? The freak.
In the distance he heard the thundering of footsteps; automatically Rodney moved to the side of the corridor, not really wanting to be run over. The Marines had a habit of resembling a Mack truck, all lumped together when they ran. They also had a habit of running right over you if you weren't paying attention.
Turning the corner, however, Rodney saw that it was not a group of marines getting their exercise on, but a medical team racing through the city, gurney in hand.
Rodney blinked. While medical emergencies weren't exactly unknown on Atlantis, it was still a little unusual.
"Where are you headed?" He shouted to the group, already feet past him.
Huh, where the Daedalus had landed for repairs. Maybe someone had gotten a crate dropped on them or something.
Then a horrible, horrible thought occurred to him.
He ran all the way back, making it just in time to see them strap the oxygen mask over Carson's face. He was conscious at least, and that was some comfort. Rodney leaned against a wall and closed his eyes. Okay, maybe he was being paranoid, overreacting, or possibly guessing past his own knowledge. It could happen. Possibly.
When Rodney made it to the infirmary, Carson was still conscious and fighting with Dr. Gordon. "Look, monitor my vitals if you want, but let me work. It's not nearly as bad as Colonel Sheppard's reaction."
"Yes." Gordon nodded, still holding Carson down with a single hand to his shoulder. "But that doesn't mean diddly when we don't know what caused it."
"I may have an answer to that," Rodney spoke up, wringing his hands. "I'm fully prepared to be wrong on this one."
Carson looked at Rodney, eyebrow raised. "Are you now? Okay then, what's your sound medical opinion?" He coughed a little and swallowed two pills that Gordon handed him before taking a few more deep breaths from the mask in front of him.
"Uh...I think...that is...it might be...." Rodney grimaced. "Me."
"You?" Gordon went for disbelief.
Carson on the other hand, obviously more used to the really fucking unusual, just tilted his head curiously. "Hmm. Okay then, come here and shake my hand."
"What?" Rodney backed away from Carson, because the man had obviously gone certifiable while he was gone. "No thank you, Doctor Insane Person."
Gordon renewed his effort to keep Carson on the gurney.
Carson pushed at the hand on his chest. "Look, if Rodney's right, then this was caused by very little contact, through clothing even. Let's repeat the conditions and see what happens. I can handle a little respiratory distress for a couple of hours."
"He's obviously lost it," Rodney said, still backing up.
Gordon shrugged, looking mildly defeated and still very close to just sedating Carson outright. "It'll be quicker than a blood test."
"Oh that's it! You've all snapped!"
"Rodney! Just touch my bloody leg!"
"That is the worst come-on line I've ever heard," Rodney said, slowly inching forward. The closer he got, the surer he was that the Wraith had honed their sense of irony to a razor-sharp point. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Rodney." Carson rolled his eyes. "Grope me like fifteen-year-old on his first date."
"I'll have you know--"
"Fine! God, I know some find me irresistible but you could have just sent flowers!" He reached out to touch, just under Carson's knee. It was awkward; who touches another person's leg with ten other people watching? Twelve if you included those nurses in the far corner.
"Carson?" Thirteen. Elizabeth appeared, looking worried. "What happened."
"We're working on that right now. You can let go, Rodney."
He snatched his hand back and stuffed them both in his pockets, trying to become as small as possible. If he was correct, he didn't want to take any chances, so he backed up into a corner.
"We are?" Elizabeth raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Yes." Carson nodded, reaching for his mask again. "I think we just figured it out...." He wheezed horribly. "Might want to get some adrenaline." He whispered to Gordon.
"You're a very stupid doctor!" Rodney yelled from his corner.
Rodney finished taping the edges of his gloves down and sighed. He rolled his sleeves over the tape and flexed his fingers. This was going to suck, but at least he wouldn't have to worry about his hands so much.
Also, Carson was seriously the worst doctor ever. "Extra genes?"
"Yes. When creating the gene therapy, I had to choose very specific bits of information to copy. I was pressed for time, among other things, and I didn't have the time to fully explore every nook and cranny of ATA expression."
"Great," Rodney said, "now what?"
"Now I explore." Carson was already back on his feet; John too, only he was staying on the other side of the room. "And you be careful. I don't know how long this will take."
"Great." Rodney sighed. "Call me if you need another gallon of blood." He left, head down and hands in his pockets.
First order of business was to reassign every member of the science lab who had a natural expression of the gene. There was another lab open down the corridor that would work out nicely.
The next step was to put a box of gloves and a several rolls of tape anywhere he spent any amount of time. It wasn't worth wearing them all the time, because he could still accidentally set someone off, but they would be good to have around.
Third was to find Colonel Sheppard. He took his time about that one, not really looking forward to the conversation.
"So, I guess I quit the team," Rodney blurted when he did find Sheppard leaning heavily on a railing on one of the balconies.
"Temporary displacement." Sheppard smiled. "Carson will figure it out."
"Sure." Rodney moved as far away from Sheppard as the small balcony would allow. "Of course he will."
It was awkward and it made Rodney's stomach unhappy. A tension was palpable in the air, and something strange was creeping just under Rodney's skin. "So I guess...I'll see you around...."
"Yeah," Sheppard breathed, "I'll see you."
Rodney left because he couldn't stay, even if he wasn't sure why.
They didn't see each other, though, and it wasn't really unexpected. Senior staff meetings, of course, where Sheppard and Carson sat on the extreme other end of the table and waited for Rodney to leave first instead of attempting to walk past him. In the mess, where Rodney had become a sort of pariah, as too many of the tables had mixed groups; they'd gotten nearly two dozen natural carriers, and as much as Rodney wanted to complain, it was easier to relocate one man than twenty-four.
Finally, they saw each other in the corridors, where Sheppard would nod and Rodney would stuff his hands in his pockets and his chest would squeeze tightly.
Around day four, he admitted he was lonely.
Carson and Sheppard were out of the question and Zelenka had suddenly become very busy as the new go-between Rodney and the natural carriers in the city. Also as the new guy in Sheppard's team, and didn't that grate just a little bit.
Rodney wasn't one to sulk, but if he had been, he figured he'd never have a better reason.
The surprise came later that night when Sheppard arrived with gloves, two masks, and a chess set.
"Are you nuts?" Rodney asked, stepping back from the doorway hastily.
"Nah, just figured you might want some company. Here, catch." He threw the mask at Rodney. "Chess?"
"What is this?"
"It's a mask; it goes over your mouth." Sheppard mimed putting it on. "Come on, put it on."
"This is stupid," Rodney protested, putting it on and grabbing his own pair of gloves as well. They wouldn't help too much if he and Sheppard weren't careful, but they made Rodney feel better nonetheless.
Sheppard set the board up and then nabbed two pawns and hid them behind his back. "Left or right?" He looked ridiculous, all zipped up and hidden in his coat, mask covering his mouth, eyes blinking expectantly.
"No seriously, are you insane?" Rodney sat down.
"Fine, I'll be white," Sheppard said, starting to move his arms.
"Put those hands back!" Rodney narrowed his eyes. "Fine. Left."
"Cool," Sheppard smiled. He got to be white anyway.
"Carson any closer to figuring out what happened?" Sheppard moved his knight.
"The Wraith," Rodney said, studying the board. "He thinks I'm patient zero, so to speak. A test case." He frowned. "Don't you read the memos? Or stay awake during the senior staff meetings?"
"Huh." Sheppard nodded. "Maybe and yes. I meant in more detail, Rodney."
"Who ever understands what that man is talking about?" Rodney shrugged and moved a pawn.
"Got a mission tomorrow," John said, not looking up from the board. The fake nonchalance was a little annoying.
"Yeah, good luck with that."
"So then the priestess offered us the equivalent of several hundred pounds of that potato-like thing in exchange for Zelenka." Sheppard laughed and moved a piece on the board.
"Why didn't you take it?" Rodney frowned. Damn it, Sheppard might be beating him. Again.
"I don't trade personnel for anything less than ancient tech or an entire ton of cargo," Sheppard said mildly.
"Hrmm, good priorities." Rodney smiled, reaching out carelessly, pulling back barely in time. "Sorry," he mumbled. The impulse beat restlessly under his skin.
Sheppard didn't say anything and Rodney, frantic, moved the first piece he could think of and then winced because it gave Sheppard check in twelve moves. Crap. Long, gloved fingers carefully moved a pawn. Rodney blinked. If hadn't know better, he could have sworn Sheppard had deliberately sabotaged his own game.
"Your move, Rodney," Sheppard said, leaning back in his chair.
Okay, then. Sure. He studied the board, narrowed his eyes and made a move that made him cringe. Sheppard smiled at him and bent forward with renewed enthusiasm.
It was the worst game of chess Rodney had ever played, and he wouldn't have traded it for anything in the universe.
It took a few days, but Rodney noticed that Teyla and Ronon had started hovering more than usual. At first it made a little bit of sense; Ronon took over firearms practice and Teyla made sure he got a little bit of exercise everyday.
He got suspicious, though, when they both tried to make plans with him within hours of each other.
"I'm trying to figure out if you're an incredibly clever evil mastermind, or an incredibly bad one," Rodney said conversationally that evening during their chess game. The entire team had been off-world for two days, only getting in late the previous evening, so Rodney was practically starving for the company.
"What are you talking about, Rodney?" Sheppard bit his lip and carefully moved his queen.
"Like you aren't in charge of the Rodney McKay Friends Network." Rodney frowned. Damn. He might lose.
"Maybe." Sheppard shrugged.
"Maybe what?" Ah ha, there. He moved a piece.
"Maybe I worry," Sheppard said quietly.
Well, that truly shot his concentration. The bastard.
Oddly enough, Rodney hadn't figured on needing to be rescued while confined to Atlantis. Which was stupid, but he'd spent the last few weeks worried that Sheppard. Teyla, Ronon, and Zelenka would come through the gate in various states of bad health that it simply hadn't occurred to him that he might have the same problems, only without the off-world activity.
Also, whoever's project exploded was so fired.
Something was pinning his leg down, but he could still move his toes so he was only mildly panicking. He pulled, dragging his body across the floor, his leg slowly coming free. Long sweaty minutes later, he lay panting on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
"Rodney, this is Sheppard, do you read?"
The voice sounded far away, and that was when he realized the blast had knocked his radio out of his ear. He reached for it and put it back on. "Rodney here. What the hell happened?"
"Are you okay? We're working our way in, but a lot of tunnels are blocked without power." Sheppard sounded out of breath.
"Something landed on my leg, but I'm free." He touched his temple. "And oh wow, blood. That would explain the headache."
"We'll be there in ten. If you can, clear any debris by the door. Sheppard out."
With that, the radio channel was closed. Rodney spent his time moving away from the door and trying not to throw up. When the door did open, it startled him enough to make him jump and his head spin. "God what took so--"
It was Sheppard standing there, gloved and masked.
"Are you insane?" Rodney backed away.
"Come on, Rodney. They're on their way, but Zelenka is fixing the power and there was only one viable route, and guess who was near the starting point."
"No, we can wait, really." Rodney curled up on his side and realized his ribs ached a little to.
"It might take a while and I'd really rather get you out of this room and into the hallway where there's less of a chance of things falling on you. Why were you working all the way over here anyway?"
Because it was easier than avoiding people. "Fine. But no touching."
"Rodney, I've got some antihistamines and an EpiPen in my jacket. Take my hand and let's get you out of here."
Rodney eyed Sheppard's hand and took it warily only to be hauled up onto his feet unexpectedly. "Whoa, wait!" He listed to the left only to find Sheppard bracing him. "Come on."
They made it out of the room, only when Rodney tried to pull away, Sheppard just held on tight and kept moving. "What the--"
"Keep walking, Rodney," Sheppard said grimly.
There was an arm around his waist, supporting him when his leg couldn't, and Rodney was too dizzy to hold himself away from Sheppard's body for any length of time. "But--you--"
"Keep walking." Rodney couldn't decide if the slight rasp had always been there when talking through the masks, or if Sheppard was starting to have a reaction.
That's when the world exploded again and Rodney found himself on the ground, Sheppard piled on top of him. "What the hell just happened?"
"Secondary power coupling in the area was building up a charge," Sheppard told him, climbing off.
"And you couldn't tell me this before?" Rodney pushed off his stomach, happy to give his ribs a break.
"It seemed easier to tell you after." Sheppard leaned against his own wall and popped two pills under his mask, carefully not touching them with his gloved hands.
Worried, Rodney watched him swallow. "You okay?"
"Precaution only," Sheppard said before tapping his radio. "We're fine, just waiting for the cavalry."
"How are you fine?" Rodney asked. They'd been all over each other, more so than when he'd gotten Carson sick.
"Now who doesn't read the memos and pay attention?" Sheppard smiled. "Carson slipped you a little something this morning."
Rodney blinked and thought back. Oh, so that had been why he'd shown up in the room. "I'm a little put out that they didn't tell me."
"They did," Sheppard said, moving his legs until they were stretched out straight in front of him. "You were just ignoring them, which is a little strange for you."
Rodney was not going to admit to a bout of melancholy that had taken up most of his thoughts during his morning visit. "Well, the bloodletting was getting routine; I stopped paying attention after they stuck me with the needle."
Sheppard let it go and just shrugged. "How's your head?"
"Bleeding." Rodney frowned. "I hope I didn't lose too much blood."
"You didn't lose too much blood." He rummaged through his vest, pulling out some bandages. "Hold on."
Sheppard scooted over to Rodney and broke open a sterile wipe. Rodney reached out to take it, but was surprised when Sheppard just moved to carefully dab at his temple.
"Can't see it anyway," Sheppard answered his unspoken question. He dabbed some more, the cold feeling good on the over-warm skin by the injury. "Yeah, just a nasty cut; maybe some bruising," Sheppard said quietly.
"Oh...good," Rodney murmured, eyes closed. He could still feel the heat of Sheppard next to him.
"Yeah." Sheppard moved the wipe a bit more. "How're you feeling?"
Hadn't they covered this? "Dizzy," Rodney mumbled. "And my leg is throbbing."
"Carson will fix you right up."
The brush of a latex covered finger across his temple startled Rodney's eyes open. "No he won't." Sheppard was right there, next to him, hand still working gently at his temple.
"Right." Sheppard's eyes looked shadowed and away. "The whole...thing."
"Maybe he's got it solved?" Rodney suggested, because somehow that small bit of hope warmed him in the pit of his stomach. Sheppard's eyes glowed, and small smile graced his lips. "That'd be nice."
Anything else they might've said was interrupted by the sound of feet running through the corridors.
They didn't have it solved, just sort of...worked around. The genetic equivalent of allergy shots, only they were for Rodney and not the people actually allergic to him. They all still needed gloves and to avoid skin to skin contact, or something like sharing a cup of coffee, but they didn't have to worry that Rodney might kill them by being in the same room.
It was a mixed blessing. Rodney still sat away from the ATAs when eating; didn't anyone realize how much spit left the mouth when simply speaking?
When Sheppard showed for their evening round of chess, Rodney breathed a deep sigh of relief. He hadn't been sure. Their conversation in the hallway had left Rodney feeling raw, bursting under his skin with something he couldn't quite define.
They skipped the masks; the small amount of exposure that would give Sheppard wasn't something they needed to worry about anymore.
"How's the head?" Sheppard made the first move.
"Good. Extremely intelligent," Rodney added for good measure.
Then came the awkward silence.
Only Rodney couldn't leave it at that. "So what would you have done if Carson hadn't had his little breakthrough that morning?"
Sheppard carefully moved a piece around. "Exactly the same thing. There wasn't anyone any closer."
"And die of anaphylaxis while you're at it?" Rodney pressed, not actually angry, but strangely flattered.
"I told you, I was prepared." Sheppard continued to study the board intently. "No one was going to die."
"It's not a pleasant experience," Rodney noted, almost absently, staring at the top of Sheppard's head so that when Sheppard did finally look up, their eyes met.
"You really think I'd let you die because I might spend a few minutes having a hard time breathing?"
Rodney grimaced, of course not. "I'm sorry.... I don't know what I thought."
They stared at each other for a long moment before Sheppard admitted, "I might've done it even without being prepared."
"Oh." Rodney swallowed roughly. His fingers twitched.
"Your move," Sheppard said, eyes still firmly on Rodney.
"I--" His fingers tapped restlessly on the table and his heart hammered madly. "I--concede." He tipped his king over gently. "I'm very tired and I think I should get some sleep." He stood abruptly and faked a yawn that wasn't anywhere near natural and waited patiently.
"Okay, Rodney." Sheppard stood quickly. "Get some sleep."
They didn't play chess the next night. Of course, Sheppard was off-world, but little details like that didn't seem to work their way through the uncomfortable feeling in Rodney's chest.
The team came back early the second day after having missed two check-ins and Rodney was just about ready to set something on fire with his eyes. All four of them looked dirty, bruised, and tired. Ronon had a patch of blood on his pants, Teyla had a long scratch down her arm, Zelenka's face had half a dozen really small ones, and Sheppard--Sheppard was limping slowly, holding his side and doing his best to resemble a walking bruise.
Rodney hurried down the stairs, "What the hell happened?"
"Native rock slide," Sheppard muttered.
"They threw rocks at us," Ronon clarified.
Teyla rolled her neck. "It was very unexpected."
"It was insanity," Radek threw in.
Rodney gaped. "They stoned you?" He reached out, touching Sheppard's shoulder briefly. He wanted to ask 'What did you do?' only it never got out because Sheppard just looked so tired and hurt. "Are you bleeding internally?" He asked instead.
He never got an answer because Teyla grabbed an arm around Sheppard and dragged him away, looking wide-eyed and terrified. What? Sheppard was still looking at him, only his expression was slowly starting to melt into 'oh crap' also. His eyes darted down to Rodney's hands.
Fuck. He wasn't wearing gloves. Shoving them as far into his pockets as he could manage, Rodney stalked off too angry to spit.
"I’m so sorry."
Sheppard was pale and half asleep in the gurney. "Hey, no biggie."
"Carson, I think he has brain damage." Rodney shuffled away from both of them, using Ronon has a human gene shield.
"He's fine," Carson said, "and he's right; we've managed to reduce the reaction drastically. He had nearly half an hour before it became acute."
"You know, I'd expect more worry from a doctor about things like respiratory distress." Rodney frowned, clenching his now-latex-covered hands inside his pockets.
"I'm fine," Sheppard said again. "Really. I just want to sleep it off."
"Fine," Rodney huffed, leaving the room.
Rodney paced outside of Sheppard's door for a bit, not really sure why he was there. The chess board was tucked under his arm, digging softly into his ribs.
"Is this some sort of new exercise regimen?"
Rodney jumped, spun, and nearly lost the board to the ground. Sheppard was leaning casually against his open doorway. He also looked tired enough to drop into sleep right there on the spot. There was a bruise peeking out from under the collar of his shirt and another only half-hidden by his short sleeves.
"Because if it is," Sheppard went on, "I'm going to have to ask it happen somewhere I can't hear the loud clonking footsteps."
"I do not clonk!" Rodney said indignantly.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow.
"Don't get me wrong, I applaud the effort; anything that gets a good hustle from my team is something I'm going to approve of." Sheppard pushed off the door jamb with a small wince. "But it's sort of keeping me up."
Rodney grimaced, watching Sheppard limp slowly back into his room and sighed, getting ready to go.
"You coming in or what?" Sheppard was already putting on his coat and covering up.
Automatically Rodney stepped in far enough to let the door close behind him. "I uh...I thought maybe...." He held up the board, as if it hadn't been obvious before.
"Not afraid you're going to kill me?" Sheppard tossed over his shoulder, sounding angry. He was turned away, rummaging through his closet.
"Deathly," Rodney answered truthfully. "Every second of every day." And wow that actually felt good to say. It had been eating at him slowly since he'd first figured out what was wrong.
"Rodney." Sheppard sighed, his shoulders rolling.
"I can't think about it really," Rodney went on, words tumbling out of his mouth uncontrollably, like some sort of volatile experiment gone horribly wrong. "It's too scary and I have enough scary where I am, thank you very much, without thinking that I'd killed--" He choked. "That I'd killed--" He didn't have the words and that was enough to make him even more unsettled than he had already been feeling.
"Rodney." Sheppard was there, right next to him, looking concerned and Rodney just couldn't take that. He was fucking Typhoid Mary in this situation and Sheppard should be far away, not coming to his room every night trying to make him feel better. What the hell was wrong with him?
"I couldn't live with it," Rodney said. "You have to stop coming closer." He took a step back as Sheppard took a step forward. "No really, you have to stop, because I couldn't live with it if you--if I--" Choked; he was choked and out of words.
"You know, you actually touch me...kind of a lot," Sheppard said, staying, thank God, where he was.
Rodney had one horrified moment where he imagined Sheppard needing to be dragged to the infirmary numerous times because Rodney had been careless.
"I mean." Sheppard shrugged. "Before the whole thing."
Rodney glared, heart calming down slowly. "Past imperfect. Look it up."
"I bet you had classmates who plotted your death," Sheppard said, sitting gingerly on the bed.
"So?" Didn't everyone?
Head hanging limply, Sheppard sighed. "So I think I missed it. Which is pretty disconcerting."
"Missed plotting my death?"
Sheppard looked up, eyes narrow. "Yes, actually, now that you mention it."
"Wait." Rodney shook his head. "What?"
"I," Sheppard said, drawing the vowel out, "missed," he went on, slowly pronouncing the word, "you."
"Oh." Sheppard nodded. "I thought that maybe you...."
"I?" Rodney needed to sit down, before he fell down. With the sudden release of tension he hadn't known he'd been carrying, his legs felt like day old Jell-o.
"No!" Rodney yelled and then he really did sit, the nearest chair hitting the backs of his thighs hard. "I--that is--miss--" He couldn't finish mostly because he wasn't sure what he'd missed at all. He didn't think you could miss something you'd never actually had.
They stared at each other and Rodney wasn't going to move, not only because he could still kill Sheppard with one wrong breath, but because he wasn’t really sure what was happening in the first place.
"So I figured," Sheppard finally spoke, "hey, chess. Only that made it worse."
"I want," Rodney whispered, idea only half formed, "I want to, well...I’m not sure."
"Yeah. Me too," Sheppard said raising a glove covered hand and reaching out.
Rodney let his hand stretch and then his arm until their fingertips grazed, heat and sensation blasting through their four layers of covering, wrenching a gasp out of both of them.
Color high in Sheppard's cheeks, he lowered his eyes. "Okay so...this is probably the worst timing...ever."
"Maybe." Rodney's voice had suddenly gone rough and deep and his entire body felt tense. "Though I still say the incident with the playboy and my grandmother still beats this."
"You know, I don't think I really want to know." Sheppard smiled and it was like some circuit in Rodney's body had finally found on because it warmed him to the tips of his toes.
"I don't really want to know." Rodney's mouth curved up, delight dancing across his nerves. He shouldn't be happy; he should be frustrated and angry and scared.
"I want to touch you," Sheppard said so suddenly that it made Rodney's mouth dry, the words dripping from his lips like silk from skin.
And there was the frustration and anger and fear.
"Can I?" Sheppard asked, already standing.
"Do you want to die?" Rodney was scrambling out of his chair. "Because we already established that I don't want you to die so if--"
"Rodney," Sheppard said, voice low and frustrated, "gloves?" He waved his hand around. "We're good as long as we're careful. Just touching." He smiled nervously. "Not like I'd know what to do if--" He cut himself off.
It took Rodney a full five seconds to finish that sentence and another couple to recover from how hot that was. "You mean you haven't-- that is I'm the-- You haven't and I'm the first?"
"Maybe." Sheppard crossed his arms looking mulish.
"Sorry!" Rodney quickly amended. "Sorry, sorry! I just...don't get hit on by hot, straight pilots everyday."
"Hot?" Sheppard perked up and then frowned. "Okay just so we're clear, I wouldn't be doing this just for the fun of an aborted one night stand."
He just looked so...something standing there, arms crossed, head down, shoulders tense and Rodney's heart leapt into his throat and something heavy churned in his gut. "Okay so...protracted courting. That might be fun."
"Courting?" Sheppard looked wary.
"Get you used to the whole thing while I have a very good reason not to jump you and freak you out totally." He actually shocked himself with that one, because he hadn't really admitted to himself that was what he wanted to do yet, let alone being ready to admit it to Sheppard.
Sheppard's eyebrows sort of separated and then smooshed together in the middle of his face. "Okay...yeah. That sounds...good." Slowly he reached out until his arm was fully extended. They weren't quite close enough for only that movement to allow touch, but Sheppard wasn't doing anything else, just waiting.
Oh. He took a tentative step forward until he felt two hot spots appear on his chest and Sheppard's fingers slid around a pectoral muscle slowly. "Oh," he breathed out, shuddering slightly. When had that gotten to be a turn on?
Slide up and around, the entire flat of Sheppard's hand just moving in lazy circles, maddeningly hot circles over Rodney's jacket, pushing in gently, tripping over a nipple. Sheppard made a small "oh" at Rodney's gasp and he did it again, another electric jolt of pleasure down Rodney's spine.
"Can I?" Rodney reached out, fingertips grazing Sheppard's stomach.
Sheppard's "yes" was low and breathy, and after that how could Rodney keep him waiting? He touched slowly, staying well away from any skin, tracing circles, outlining muscle, just like Sheppard was doing to him.
By the time the wonder of touching was starting to fade, and that was really only in comparison to when they first started, they were both breathing hard, sweat beading on their foreheads. Rodney's cock was also aching pleasantly.
"Okay," Rodney announced, "the real thing might kill me."
Sheppard swallowed and nodded, pressing forward, forcing Rodney's hand into firmer contact. "But what a way to go." He grinned and then his lips softened just slightly. "Rodney," he almost sighed, letting his hand slide to the side, resting gently on Rodney's waist.
"Colonel?" Rodney shook his head. "John?"
"That's my name." Sheppard nodded, face going even softer. "I want...well I'm not sure how to get what I want...."
"You know what you want?" Rodney asked, not just to be frustrating but because he was having enough trouble figuring it out himself.
"Maybe a little." Sheppard bit his lip and the space between his eyebrows creased. "Wait...I know." He stepped back and went to his closet, pulling out a poncho.
"What on earth are you doing with that there?"
"Leftover from the scavenger hunt." Sheppard--John, maybe--shrugged. "Put it on and don't forget to pull the drawstring tight around your face. Hide in it if you can."
Rodney had a pretty good idea of what Shepp--John had in mind. He slipped the light plastic over his head and snapped the sides for good measure. Gently and before Rodney could reach for it, Sheppard picked up the tip of the hood and lowered it over Rodney's head, fingers slowly pulling the drawstring tight.
They both took shaky breaths before Rodney got the nerve to speak. "Now what?"
Reaching out, John put a hand on his shoulder and nudged him around until he was facing the window and then slowly heat coalesced at his back and he could feel John press gently against him.
When arms wound their way around his waist and the sweet weight of John's chin on his shoulder settled, Rodney let out a quiet "oh."
"God," Sheppard said, and Rodney imagined feeling the hot moisture of exhalation on his cheek.
They stood there for long minutes, breathing and pressing and moving restlessly against each other, John's hands never still against Rodney's stomach and chest and hips. It was all muted and strange, and Rodney had to concentrate to feel it all, to get every last bit of actual sensation and his mind filled in the rest.
John's head eventually moved--tilted, from what Rodney could feel--but he still gasped in surprise when he felt the careful movement of a kiss against his shoulder. Then another and another, slowly moving across his back, Rodney's fingers dug between John's lacing them together and then tugging him closer, hoping to get more sensation, more feeling, more--something.
John's gasp shuddered against him and the sudden flurry of movements, uncontrolled and then gone, made Rodney groan and reach back with his free hand, guiding John's hips back against his, snug and sweet. He could feel the temperature difference, the extra firmness, and John's slowly cracking restraint.
"Rodney," John panted into his neck, nuzzling carefully. The heat blazed through all the layers and into Rodney's over-sensitized skin.
"John." His voice was almost gone, caught in the back of his throat. He staggered a few feet to the left, taking John along with him until he could brace one arm against the wall. "Yes. Please." Permission, practically begging him to do what he wanted, what Rodney thought of bitterly as a mockery of what they really wanted.
Behind him, John melted against him, arms holding tight, shaking slightly until it morphed into a slowly moving sway. John's choked moans heavy in his ear, he could feel hips slowly swaying into his body, long hard drags against clothing that left them both shuddering with want.
Rodney rocked with him, his cock rubbing against a seam inside his pants, the sweet friction only ramping him up further, making him forget all the things he wasn't supposed to do.
He made a sound, a half choked moan, when John's thrusts got rougher, needier. Rodney wound his own hand down between himself and the wall and pressed and rubbed and panted in time.
Suddenly, John stopped and Rodney stood there twitching a little at the sudden change. "What?" he asked, only his voice was so deep he barely recognized it.
"Nothing," John said quietly. "I just--" He moved, the hand that been holding Rodney's hip steady made slow progress towards the front of his pants. "I just want you to--"
"Oh--please," Rodney gasped, feeling the slow crawl of heat towards his cock. "I mean, you don't have to." Because John was new to this--and oh, he shuddered remembering that--and he didn't want to freak him out. "I mean, you don't have to but I--oh. Yes." It was a sigh.
John stroked tentatively, palm running up and then down, feeling out the shape and weight. "This good?"
Rodney nodded frantically. "Just, here--" He adjusted the hand. "Just need a place to thrust."
Shuddering violently, John made a half choked noise. "God, okay yeah," he said and started moving again. Quick half thrusts that pushed Rodney into John's hand; perfect little thrusts that just tingled up his spine and melted his brain a little with each one.
Endless pleasure, because it was all dulled just a bit by the layers of fabric between them until it was one long, hazy, pleasurable ride. Hot panting just outside his ear, heat grinding between their bodies, John's cock burning through their clothing till Rodney could feel every ridge.
A quiet litany of babble reached Rodney's ears: John's voice, low and rough, repeating things over and over again, Rodney's name slowly becoming the predominant feature. John's movements got a little bit harsher, a little stronger, a little shorter until finally he froze for a long second and then clamped both arms around Rodney so tightly Rodney imagined he could feel John's orgasm.
Rodney wanted to come, he wanted to come so badly his eyes were crossing with the thought, but he let John's breathing come back without complaint.
"Hey," John rasped finally, "you?"
"No." He tried not to whine, but God, he really needed to come; he ached all over and his cock was so hard it almost hurt. "Please?"
"Yeah, come here," John's hand snaked back into position, only better; the heel of his hand was a perfect place for Rodney to nudge at with his cock, but now John added in some counter movement and it made Rodney slump against the wall it was so good. "I've got you," John said. "Come on, I've got you."
Rodney pushed harder and faster, and felt the tension crawl up his back and finally explode into white hot sparks behind his eyelids and then fade out slowly into a haze of un-fucking-believably good orgasm.
They both sank to the ground together, which was good because Rodney's legs weren't going to hold him up much longer.
"You okay there?" John's arms tightened around him briefly.
Rodney closed his eyes and breathed in John as much as he could, the air around them thick with sweat, and he fought the urge to turn and bury his face in John's shoulder. He felt--hollow. Empty. "We shouldn't do this again."
Behind him, John stiffened, any bit of relaxation instantly gone. "What?" He sounded angry. Dangerous.
"Not like this," Rodney clarified. "I can't do it like this again."
John relaxed. "Yeah, I see where you're coming from."
Rodney laughed, a loud bark unexpectedly burbling out from him. "God, you do don't you?"
"Yep," John snickered.
They didn't move until Rodney's knees and back genuinely complained louder than the good, bone-deep feeling of post-coital bliss could blot out. They separated slowly, Rodney peeling off the poncho and stuffing it into the clothes cleaner before realizing he was drenched with slowly drying sweat and his pants had a fun stain on the front. He tugged his shirt down and shrugged; it was good enough to get to his own room.
They stood, facing each other for long seconds.
"Take the chess set," John said, pointing at it. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Rodney smiled slowly, snagging the board, possibly holding it a little bit further toward the front than normal.
More staring at John's soft grin and his searching eyes. "No freaking out, okay?"
"Maybe later." John nodded. "But I'll let you know first."
"Good," Rodney said, swallowing heavily. "I'll just uh...." He stepped close enough for the door to open. "Tomorrow."
The door closed between them with a quiet snick.