He’d been off-world with Rodney enough times - hundreds of times - to know that when Rodney slept, he slept like the dead. Even, heavy breathing, but the rest of him still, at peace, in sharpest contrast to Rodney while awake, when the only right words invoked motion and energy: Frenzy. Babble. Passion. Delight. Sometimes Rodney had bad dreams, slept uneasily; everyone did. But it rarely manifested in anything more troubling than tiny whimpers, almost childlike, and Rodney always slept with a faint frown of concentration on his face, but he didn’t scream, didn’t thrash, didn’t shudder.
It was the trembling that woke him, Rodney’s shoulder pressed hard between John’s shoulder blades, his upper body curled desperately into the pillow, his mouth open and a steady stream of incomprehensible not-quite-words spilling out into the dark. He knew it was a nightmare in a second, not just a bad dream, but a nightmare. He could see the guttural horror written into the lines of Rodney’s face, and after a moment he imagined he could almost feel it, because the hair on his own neck rose and he shivered even in the warmth of Jeannie's guest room.
Deciding to wake him, even with a gentle touch and a whisper of his name, was dangerous, but John was ready, hands already reaching as Rodney flailed at him with his eyes still screwed shut, because he knew it was coming; knew the absurd strength terror could give a man, knew that Rodney would wake up breathing hard, fists clenched, as he did. But John caught his wrists easily, held them for a few terrifying heartbeats as Rodney twitched, heaved, whimpered, and finally came awake gasping. In the dim light of the room, the blue eyes were startling and pale, just a ring of colour around pupils gone huge with panic.
John held on as tightly as he dared until Rodney blinked, blinked again, and then recognised him. He swallowed hard, Adam’s apple bobbing, and croaked: “John?”
“Right in one. That’s why you’re a genius,” John murmured, slowly letting go of Rodney’s wrists, sliding his hands up the forearms, stroking gently but firmly. Rodney’s fingers clutched, and closed around John’s arms. “Bad dream?”
For the space of a breath John saw Rodney about to pull away, about to get angry, but in the end he stared nakedly into John’s eyes for a second before bending his head into the space between them. John slid his hands up to Rodney’s shoulders, still stroking, grounding him. Nakedly. It was the only word that fit, sending blood flooding into his face, but he didn’t pull away.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rodney said eventually, in a muffled voice.
John drew breath automatically to say that he should, that he’d have to, eventually, but the pressure of Rodney’s fingers around his arms, the heat of his body, stopped him, made him hesitate just long enough to make it too late to say it.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” He pressed a hand to the back of Rodney’s neck, damp with sweat. “Are you…”
The laughter startled him, but not for long. “I’m so tired,” Rodney told him, hoarsely.
“Go to sleep,” John told him, thumb moving slowly at the nape of Rodney’s neck. Rodney was a solid, radiating presence in his arms, and the moment of heated embarrassment had passed. Now he was growing drowsy on his own account, and under his hands he could feel Rodney’s pulse slowing, his breathing even out.
When Rodney spoke again, it was slurred, and John couldn’t see his face. “Thanks.”
“S’nothing,” John told the top of his head, “Do it for anyone.”
That got him the faintest vibration of laughter, but not the sound, and gradually he realised Rodney had dropped off. He firmly ignored the tingle of guilt at the back of his head, because it was true, John would have done it for anyone. Just maybe not with so little hesitation.