Author: Chandri MacLeod
Category: Romance, Friendship (my god,
Spoilers: None. Their names?
Rating: A gentle PG
Wordcount: ~3300 words
A/N: Very-very-last-minute-submission to the current challenge on the mcsmooch community. For mik100, who had a headache and wanted fluff, and challenged me, in doubting tones, to write something happy. Or more specifically, to "turn off the angst and torture for five minutes and just let them make out" (paraphrased).
Teyla radios them three minutes into the storm, ten minutes past the time she and Ronon were supposed to be back at the Jumper, saying that they are waiting out the storm with the Headwoman's family. "Storm?" he says, bewildered, because really, it's just a little rain. Then abruptly it hits them like a fist, sheets and buckets of drumming water, a thunderous sound that seems to swallow them up, and he has to up the gain on his radio to hear what Teyla's saying.
"They tell us that floods can spring up quite quickly in this valley," she explains, reasonably. "Nala tells us that the fallow fields between us and you will already be impassable. We would have to take the long way around."
A route, John knows, would take hours, skirting the edge of the field around the far side of the village. He walks into the cockpit, trying to see the village, but all he can see is the white-green-brown blur of the landscape obscured by a sheet of water.
"Oookay," he agrees, eventually, stepping back. "You know what? That sounds like a plan. Wait it out. We're good where we are, right?"
Teyla asks a question of someone standing nearby, waits for the answer - John hears Sera Nala's deep lilting voice, her spare-sounding cadence - and tells him: "The ridge should remain stable. You are quite safe."
"All right," he says, squinting as a flash of lighting briefly illuminates the inside of the jumper, barely restraining the full-body flinch as it's followed close-upon by a roll of thunder. "You stay there, we'll stay here, and we'll see you when it's over." He firmly ignores Rodney's affronted expression, even though John himself is longingly imagining the inside of Sera Nala's house, the warm kitchen and the rough-hewn fireplace and the aroma of baking bread.
"Understood," Teyla says, and then she's gone, and the whole world is briefly swallowed up again by the low, constant roll-patter-drum of the rain on the hull. The near-silence doesn't last long. Rodney, predictably, lets out an irritated sigh and gets to his feet, crossing the Jumper in a few long strides to slap his hand against the rear hatch control.
"Well, that's just great," he snaps, scowling as the hatch closes, shutting out the chill breeze and the smell of the rain. "Trapped in an enclosed space on an alien planet in a thunderstorm. This is just the way to spend the afternoon. Excellent."
John pinches the bridge of his nose. The low-grade headache he's been ignoring all day is now slowly making itself known, coiling at the base of his skull, the back of his neck. He tries to force his muscles to relax, but Rodney's irritable muttering isn't helping.
"It's fine, Rodney," he tries, leaning against the nearest bulkhead for a minute with his eyes closed. "Nala told us these storms usually only last a few minutes-"
Rodney whirls on him, frowning. "That is not what she said-" he begins, but John talks over him.
"-a few hours, at most, and we're not due back in the city for another six hours. We can sit it out. No worries."
"I can think of a few worries," Rodney says sulkily, crossing his arms. "Chief amongst them are mudslides and the fact that we're sitting in the open during a thunderstorm inside a massive conductor."
John can't help it - he smirks a little. "Okay, first of all," he begins, made calmer, as always, by Rodney's fidgeting, "you told me yourself that the the Jumper framework grounds electric strikes. Second, Teyla says this ridge is completely stable-"
"Because I'm so sure an agrarian society has such an advanced science of geology-" Rodney sulks, but John can see his shoulders relaxing.
"Rodney," John says, quellingly. "It's fine. We're fine. We can wait it out, no big deal."
"Yes, well," Rodney says in a slightly subdued tone, after a moment of glaring through the front window, "I know that. I just don't like it."
"Yeah, I know," John sighs, and reaches up to undo his vest, shrugging it off and dropping it on one of the rear compartment seats.
"What are you doing?" asks Rodney, uncertainly.
John shrugs, then rolls his shoulders, trying to work out some of the tension creeping up his spine. "We're probably going to be here a while, we might as well be comfortable." He strides back up into the cockpit and drops into the pilot seat.
"...right," Rodney says, after a moment, and John hears him unsnapping his vest and putting it aside. A second after that, he hears the sound of rummaging, a storage case opening and closing, and then Rodney is falling into his own seat with a handful of foil pouches. He hands one to John.
"Thanks," John says, reading the label. Beef and vegetable stew.
"Well, it's nothing on the roast pig Ronon and Teyla are probably enjoying right now, but it will have to do."
They eat in silence, watching the rain sheet across the window, watching lightning flash across the sky in the distance. They trade desserts - fudge brownie for peach cobbler - and Rodney slumps in his seat as he finishes his off, feet propped against the console in a way that would get any other member of Rodney's team skinned alive for mistreating Ancient tech. John smirks and says nothing.
It's a companionable silence, just edging into dull - John thinks it's been almost an hour since the rain started - when another mighty thunderclap shakes the sky, close, and this time John sees Rodney start, too, arms and legs jerking so that his feet slide to the floor with a thud and he catches himself, hands on knees, looking wide-eyed out at the muddy field.
"I thought you liked rain," John said, a feeble attempt at humour with the headache pounding behind his eyes.
"I like rain fine," Rodney says, voice tight. "I don't like storms."
"Yeah." John swallows. There's certainly a difference, he thinks, watching Rodney run a hand unconsciously up and down his right arm the way he sometimes does when he's getting panicky and trying not to be. "Hey," John says, and then, when Rodney just stares out at the rain, repeats himself, a little louder. "Hey."
"Huh?" Rodney turns to look at him, blinking fast. "Huh? What?"
"It's fine," John says, turning his chair a little to face Rodney.
"I know that," Rodney snaps, but then he glances over his shoulder out the window again, drops his eyes into his lap. "I know that."
"Good," John tells him, leaning back into his seat. He rubs his eyes. The headache is definitely taking hold now, the dull throb of a real one, the kind he hasn't had in months. That's what he gets for forgetting his sunglasses, he chides himself. He spent all day outside under the planet's overly-bright sky, and he tells himself now that it's not entirely his fault, the sun really is brighter here than it should be, but Nala's people are used to it. He doesn't say any of this aloud because Rodney, of course, did remember sunglasses, having looked up the star's index before they left, and warned them all to protect their eyes to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening.
John's headache, however, is not at all interested in John's disinclination to provide Rodney with fodder for an I-told-you-so.
He covers his eyes with one hand. Crap. "Rodney, are there any painkillers back there more potent than acetaminophen?" There should be, he knows Keller started packing the first-aid kits with the codeine stuff after Carter broke her leg.
For a moment, Rodney is oddly, suspiciously silent. John can practically hear Rodney's conversation with himself, hear the wheels turning as Rodney wonders why he needs painkillers, what could have caused him a headache bad enough to actually ask for them, a pause to mentally berate John for needless stoicism in the face of debilitating cranial pain, and then, DING! The Smugness. John can actually feel it from where he's sitting, even though he's got one hand over his eyes.
When Rodney speaks, it's in an atrocious counterfeit at casual, the Smugness totally ruining the effect. "I'm pretty sure I warned you about the solar index," he says.
"Rodney..." John says warningly.
"All right, all right," Rodney says, and John peeks between his fingers to see the Smug smile as Rodney gets up to rummage through the kit, coming back a second later with two little white pills and a bottle of water.
And then stops, just out of John's immediate reach.
Rodney hums a little, expectantly. "Do I deny you target practice? Beating up the new marines? No. I do not."
"Ceremonies to be observed, Sheppard," Rodney insists, still out of reach, and when the pills kick in, John swears to himself, he's going to really, really regret this.
"You can plot my demise all you want, but if you want these pills, you just have to say a few little words."
"You are such a jackass," John grates, eyes still shut, but then a stab of pain from directly above his right eye makes him shrink down in his seat.
"Rodney, my head hurts," John moans, a little more piteously than he intended, and Rodney pauses for a minute, and then rolls his eyes, thwarted.
"God, you can even ruin an I-told-you-so. I can't even tell you how unfair that is," Rodney grumbles, handing over both pills and bottle, and John downs the pills and gulps down half the bottle, because he's probably dehydrated, anyway.
"Ow," he says a few minutes later, when the pills still haven't kicked in, and in fact the headache seems to have gotten a little bit worse. "Ow," he says, digging the heels of his hands into his eyeballs. "Ow, ow, ow."
When Rodney gets up from his seat with an annoyed huff of breath, John figures he's about to storm out of the cockpit, hunker down with his laptop or a book or something. He's too surprised - and in too much soul-rending agony - to react when instead, he hears Rodney take the two steps across the cockpit, and then tug John's hands gently away from his face.
"You are such a baby," Rodney pronounces, frowning, and then takes John's right hand between his own, turning it carefully over so the palm is facing up. "Honestly."
John blinks down at him. Rodney is crouching on the floor next to John's seat, inspecting his prize, and John is still too startled to respond, let alone pull his hand away, and anyway Rodney's hands are big, and steady, and really, really warm.
"Rodney?" he asks hesitantly, just as Rodney presses his thumbs, hard, into the heel of John's palm.
"Ow! Fuck!" John exclaims, trying to pull his hand away, but Rodney has him firmly by the wrist.
"Oh, stop complaining," Rodney scolds him, turning the hand over and stroking gently between the thumb and forefinger, before pinching the fleshy part at the joint, making another stab of - totally different - pain race and jitter up John's arm. Again he tries to pull away, but again Rodney holds him fast.
"What are you-" John asks, about to raise his other hand and hit Rodney until he lets go - seriously, killing Rodney's buzz of correctness is not worth physical torture - when Rodney stops, looks up at him, and Rodney's fingers, John realises, are still moving, stroking gently up and down John's palm.
"Is that any better?"
John blinks at him, and suddenly realises that the headache has halved in intensity, less a blinding throb and now a dull ache. "Uh," he says, tilting his head experimentally, "yeah. A little."
Rodney hums to himself, turns John's hand over again, and traces his fingers over John's knuckles. It feels strange, weird but good, and it does seem to be helping. Rodney keeps doing it for another minute or so before John asks:
"Where'd you learn how to do that?" And if his voice sounds hoarse it's absolutely just because of the headache.
Rodney darts a glance up at him, turns John's hand once more in his own and starts tracing John's tendons from wrist to fingertip, one at a time, with a smooth and gentle touch. "Are you kidding? After the first PhD chronic migraines are practically an occupational hazard."
"Huh," John says, because the headache's becoming a dim memory by now, and what Rodney's doing to his hand is making pleasant little shivers run up and down his arm. "Really."
"Really," Rodney repeats, and looks down again, flushing a faint pink. "Also, uh, there was a girl. She..."
John grins at him, lazily - at the moment he doesn't feel up to doing anything that isn't lazy, and spares some brain cells to think that it's a good thing nobody's attacking right now, because he's almost alarmingly relaxed. Maybe it's just that it's been so long since anybody focused on him this intently, but that's not true, either, because Rodney's always pretty intense. Just not usually with his hands.
Rodney rolls his eyes, now pushing up John's sleeve to brush firm fingertips up the inside of his wrist. "It wasn't like that. She was actually another doctoral candidate. Greta. She used to give massages. It wasn't that kind of... you know. That kind of thing. She was just... nice."
The faint pink in Rodney's face is turning a dull red, and John can't help but prod a little more. "You had a thing for her though, right?"
To his surprise, the smile Rodney gives him isn't embarrassed - well, it is, a little - but more chilled, kind of bitter, a flash of here-and-then-gone. "Wouldn't have mattered if I had. She had a girlfriend."
"Oh?" John isn't sure what that tone in his voice is - curiosity? He's curious, sure. The budding genius period isn't a part of Rodney he knows much about, which should be more surprising than it is, considering the way Rodney usually talks a mile a minute about himself and everything else. But nobody's proud of everything they've ever done, everyone they've ever been.
"Yes, oh," Rodney tells him, rolling his eyes again. "And yes, I'm aware of the irony that one of the few women who has ever willingly tolerated my presence was a lesbian, so you can just store up all your juvenile jokes for the next time."
It's all said without rancour, and yet John can see the stiff set of Rodney's shoulders, even if the rhythm of his fingers doesn't falter. He blinks, slowly. Even through his dismay he can't get up the energy to protest very much.
"Aw, Rodney, that's not what I meant."
"Of course not." Flatly, his shoulders a straight, hard line.
"It's not," John insists, and Rodney frowns, is silent for a long moment, and then is still, all of him, even his hands.
"How's your head?" he asks, eyes still cast downward, frowning. He's still holding John's right hand, and John wonders if he's even noticed, or if it's become the centre of his attention, sudden and swift and warm, like it's just become John's.
And this... isn't new. It isn't unexpected, John thinks, in that he's thinking this, that he's seeing Rodney's face like this. But the way of it is new - this strange, soft focus in the midst of rainlit dim, the straight and curving lines of the walls around them picked out by the steady, drumming beat of the storm outside. If he closes his eyes, he can still see the space, defined by the sound of the storm, could measure the inside of their little world even if he didn't know the dimensions by heart, like echolocation. Opening them again, he can see the shadows of raindrops creeping across the floor, the control panel, Rodney's downturned face. This is different, because never before, in all this time, has he felt poised like this, like he might tip over instead of stepping back.
And then Rodney looks up, and his face is, wonder of wonders - or maybe it's just the strange light - unreadable, blue eyes the brightest thing in John's field of vision, where everything else rain-washed and faded.
He probably never makes the conscious decision to do it - couldn't decide anything, through the languorous relief pressed into him by Rodney's clever fingers. But between one slow breath and the next he is leaning forward and down, using his hand to clasp Rodney's and pull him up, and closing his eyes as Rodney sways towards him, fingers tightening around John's wrist. He hears the sharp intake of breath at the very last second, and he's not sure if it's his gasp, or Rodney's.
The kiss is soft, like Rodney's touches on his palm, brief and almost sleep-soft, which makes John shiver in anticipation, easily set aside as he opens his eyes again, drawing back. Rodney sits there with his eyes closed, mouth slightly open. He hardly moves, just waits there, a little frown creasing between his brows.
John wants to kiss him again. So he does.
This kiss is longer, not in the least because Rodney seems to come suddenly out of his trance and lean into it, tilting his head and resting a tentative hand on John's knee. John smiles at the contact, smiles into the kiss, presses into it and licks along the seam of Rodney's mouth. The high, muffled noise Rodney makes just urges him on, sliding his free hand around the back of Rodney's neck and deepening it until he almost loses his balance when Rodney sways back.
When they come apart this time, Rodney is breathing hard, and he sways one more time, falling back to sprawl on the jumper floor.
"Ow," says Rodney, distractedly.
"Fuck. Sorry," John mutters, slipping down to join him, pull him up to a sitting position.
"No, it's - leg was asleep," Rodney says quickly, flustered, eyes still locked on John's as he jiggles his knee to get the circulation going. "Um. What was..."
"Uh." John is suddenly unsure. "I..."
"No, no, you idiot, obviously I..." Rodney checks himself, licking his lips, then lets out his breath in a rush. "I just..." He looks down at where he's still holding John's hand, palm up, fingers clasped loosely around the wrist. John turns his hand over so their palms press together, stares, blinks, slowly, because this is different from before, it's so very, very different, and yet it isn't.
"Why now?" Rodney asks, in a faint voice. John looks at him - he looks mussed, and breathless, and kind of debauched, and John really, really likes it. Just looking at Rodney makes him feel warm, in a way he's always ignored but now can't seem to escape, wouldn't, he realises, if he could.
"I don't know," John says, shrugging. "Just... wanted to."
Rodney stares at him, and then frowns again, and for a moment John thinks he might pull away - the look on his face is a considering one, studying. Measuring. But then Rodney lifts his free hand to touch John's face, a ghostly brush of fingertips across his forehead that makes John shiver.
"You are a crazy person," he pronounces, softly. And: "How's your head?"
John leans into the touch without thinking. Rodney just slides his fingers into John's hair, thumb circling at the temple. "Never better," John murmurs. "Great. Wonderful. Fantastic."
Rodney smiles at him, and this time it lights the slow promise of warmth everywhere, all sparked from the place where they're touching, palm to palm.
"I told you so," Rodney whispers smugly a minute later, almost inaudible in the lull of the falling rain.