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Title:
Weathering
Author: [personal profile] stillane     
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Spoilers: The Return (Part II), McKay and Mrs. Miller, Season 4 to date
Notes: Written for the F**king Freezing Challenge at [community profile] sga_flashfic 
Summary: Five times Rodney, John, and the concept of cold were all in the same place at the same time.


1.

The first time John Sheppard meets Rodney McKay, he’s a talking blur of orange intensity, a sun in the universe spinning slowly through John’s vision.

Honestly, it’s not like John’s paying that much attention. It’s a big day.

Later, when they’re having their first meal together in the base commissary – John poking steamed vegetables into the galaxy he can still see behind his eyelids – he asks offhand about the orange.

Rodney looks up from his jello contemplations and says, “Oh. It’s warm. Also, in the event that I happen to be lost out on the ice and freeze to death, I would be difficult to miss. Someone could retrieve my body for cloning purposes, because honestly, it would be a great loss to science, otherwise.”

It’s the single most bizarre mix of arrogance and insecurity John has ever heard in his life.

If John were the kind of man to notice these things, right then he would know he's in trouble.




*******



2.

The second time John Sheppard meets Atlantis, he misses yet another giant moment in his own history while he’s taking it all in. He’s always too busy moving to check for directions.

Just then, of course, he doesn’t know it’s the second time. Maybe it doesn’t count because the first time was another him. John’s not sure, and not really inclined to care. Some part of him knows this place on sight, and that’s enough.

It takes the third time for it to sink in. After that third time, though, he knows that the city’s in his blood and bone, and whatever he has left of a soul, it’s here. They tried to take this away from him, tried to tell him it wasn’t his, and all it’s done is make him see what he’s had all along.

Sometimes, it pays to be a rebel. He’s always had a cause, but this time he has a team. It makes all the difference in any world.

By the time the Replicators are nothing more than Hoover fodder, they’re all exhausted.  It’s still another few hours after that before they’re vetted by the Daedalus and released to their own devices, and another hour or so after that before O’Neill and Woolsey are gone.

The Replicators pretend to be human well, but the differences are in the little things. Aside from their penchant for wanting to wipe humanity from the face of the galaxy, they’re also really bad at the homey touches. For example, their idea of a fine, cozy temperature is a few shades shy of damn chilly.

Rodney gets the heat cranked up without having to be asked, but Atlantis is a big city. She’s got high ceilings and newly-opened warrens, and if she were on Earth she’d be hell on the electric. They’re literally trying to heat the whole neighborhood, and the cumulative effect is slow to build.

All of this means that at the end of the day, they’ve got an excuse not to wander off alone to the rooms that aren’t quite theirs. John makes up something about it being smarter to marshal their forces and Rodney seals off the gateroom and concentrates the heating effort inside. Nobody protests.

They light camp stoves and eat M.R.E.s. It’s the first meal they’ve finished together in what feels like a very long time, and John’s not sure what to do with the low, thrumming contentment in his chest.

There’s not much by way of entertainment – they know most of each others’ stories, and no one thought to bring a pack of cards – so one by one they crawl into sleeping bags and give in. Carson is first, cheerfully declaring tomorrow will be a full day. Elizabeth smiles, wry but happy under it, and agrees. They gather themselves up and head for the nearest heating vent.

Ronon is next. He doesn’t say much, just a mumbled goodnight, and then he’s yanking Rodney up with him and towing him away by the vest. Rodney’s been nodding and snapping awake for the last half hour. He bitches anyway.

John’s well aware he’s watching them go with a stupid grin on his face, but he can’t seem to want to stop. He turns back to find Teyla, who doesn’t know how to grin stupidly, looking about as at peace as he’s ever seen her. Eventually even she yawns and admits defeat, and tells him to get some rest in a tone that says she knows he won’t. His yes, Mom earns him a dignified thwap to the head in passing.

It’s silent for a long while after that, save for the soft snoring of dark lumps scattered over the floor. He sits on the steps and watches the moon rise behind stained glass, watches it make the gate and its shadow a skewed infinity. It’s surreal, and very nearly perfect.

The snoring gets a little quieter and one of the dark lumps detaches itself from the night to shuffle over to him. It steps farther forward and becomes Rodney with his sleeping bag tucked over his shoulders, parting the moonlight like Moses of the Arctic. He settles in next to John on the stairs without a word.

They sit like that for a long time, the only two waking things for miles and miles. Rodney keeps throwing meaningful looks at him, and John wonders what’s important enough to  make him fidget like that, until finally Rodney whispers, “Oh, for god’s sake,” and tosses half his sleeping bag over John’s shoulders.

John grabs the end, wraps it around himself without any real thought. Automatic. He doesn’t lean away when Rodney’s shoulder presses against his. He’s warm, after all.
 
They’re still there when the sun comes up.




*******



3.

With all the weird things they’ve seen in the last four years, nothing should still surprise him.

They’re running for their lives – because it’s them and it’s Tuesday – and all in all this hasn’t been a great day. It started with coming through the gate too damn early by Atlantis time, aiming to be on a good schedule for a planet which turned out to be full of people who really aren’t that fond of anybody who’s been friendly with the Wraith, ever. He’s kind of pissed about the unfairness of that. From now on, he’s only getting up early for the guys who aren’t assholes.

Before the evening went clusterfuck, back when they were all tucking into a hearty bowl of mystery stew and telling manly stories, the villagers mentioned their deep and abiding fear of the mountain next door, probably hoping to talk the stupid foreigners into taking out their baby-eating, soul-stealing, giant-toothed monster. It wouldn’t be the first time.

When they figured out he was that John Sheppard, the mountain seemed like as good a place as any to run to.

They’re still running. Well, sort of run-dragging, really. Even though the villagers have dropped behind, Rodney’s got a knock on the head and the gate’s somewhere on the other side of the angry mob. The warmth of the valley is disappearing the higher they go, snow coating everything and breath hanging after them in trails. Their packs are back in the town, along with their guns, and the clothes on their backs aren’t nearly warm enough. The day’s not getting any better.

And then the side of a pine tree detaches itself and steps in front of them. It takes a second to realize it has eyes. By then, Ronon’s made a flying leap to the front and raised a knife.

Which is when the half-of-a-pretty-big-pine-tree with eyes makes a sound which sounds vaguely like, “Huh?”, shuffles forward very slowly, and very slowly reaches out and tugs on Ronon’s hair. Then it giggles.

This is how they meet the abominable snowman.

And John isn’t completely surprised. Somewhere in the last four years he’s developed a split-screen brain, and these days he’s able to be both shocked stupid and bored at the same time. It’s a neat trick.

Still… it’s a yeti.

Lucky for them it’s a yeti with a basic understanding of the stargate concept and a crush on Ronon. They grunt at each other for a couple of minutes, and then it’s tucking John and Rodney into a cave and taking Ronon off to dial home for help. At least, that’s what John’s hoping it’s taking him off to do.

The day looks like it’s looking up, save for one thing. Rodney had a steady stream of pissy, panicked grumblings going as they were running away, and managed a pretty impressive yelp when they first met George (John’s decided he can name the yeti, on the grounds of tradition), but he’s gotten scarily quieter since they’ve settled in.

John knows about head wounds, and he knows about cold.

He knows you’re supposed to keep them talking, keep them conscious. In the movies it’s always with some deep, meaningful confession or a scrap of poetry. John’s never been fond of either. Rodney’s eyes are fluttering closed, though. He keeps going heavy and boneless every few minutes, and small talk isn’t getting it done.

John may not know any laureates, but he does know this.

“Hey, Rodney? I’ve got an idea.”

“Hm?”

“Repeat after me: your cheating heart…”

Even half frozen and slightly dented, Rodney manages to look like John’s the damaged one. “I refuse to spend my last moments worshipping your idol.”

“Wrong guy. And the idea is to keep them from being your last moments.”

“No.”

“You don’t want to chant? Fine. Let’s sing.” He barks out the next line as loudly and tunelessly as possible. The only people looking for them on the mountain are going to be their own.

“Oh god.”

John grins as manically as he can. “Shut up and sing, Rodney.”

“Is that what you’re calling it?” He’s losing the groggy in favor of crabbiness, and John can work with that.

“Rodney. Frigid, frosty death. Yours.”

“Yes, fine. Point taken.”

They wind up bitching about someone’s cold, cold heart more or less in time, if not in tune. That last one’s really John’s fault; Rodney’s got a weirdly nice voice, smooth and strange over the vowels.

They get through every song John can think of with cold anywhere near it and are making a fair start on the complete works of Willie Nelson when it stops being enough. John’s half a chorus into On the Road Again when he realizes it’s just the echo of his own voice keeping him company.

“Rodney?”

He’s been leaning against John for so long now, and John’s just cold enough himself not to notice that Rodney isn’t holding himself up anymore. His head is on John’s shoulder, eyelashes made too dark by how pale he’s gone, lips blue.

“Shit.”

He shakes him and gets nothing but a cold nose pressed under his chin and a faint grunt.

“Come on, Rodney. You’re not allowed to do this.”

“Hm?”

Hey, progress.

“Rodney. Pay attention. I’m not letting Keller clone you. We’d probably wind up with an evil genius.”

“Nah.” He sighs. “Mine’s a nice guy.”

He sounds certain of it, and it takes John a moment to catch up. “Rod?”

“You liked him.”

John doesn’t think Rodney’s up for that discussion right now. “Maybe. Still not getting you cloned. You bite it here, science will suffer.”

“Hm. Sorry.”

He sounds sleepy, like he does before he drops off when they’re offworld, like he does when John’s listening too closely. John’s used to that voice twisting him into someone softer. Now it’s just hollowing him out.

“Rodney, get up. Let’s take a walk.”

This time, the shaking doesn’t do a thing.

“Rodney. Fuck. Come on. ”

Turns out, he had the confession in him all along. It doesn’t surprise him at all that he finds it when there’s no one listening. John leans his cheek against the crinkle of Rodney’s cold-sharp hair, feels Rodney’s breathing sink into the hollow between John’s collarbones, and hums loud enough that he won’t hear it when Rodney stops.

By the time rescue shows up, John’s on early Haggard. Lorne makes jokes about Pancho and Lefty for weeks.




*******



4.

The universe hates them. That’s another thing he should really be used to by now.

Their first mission back, Rodney all thawed out and John remembering what an appropriate distance is, and they draw a desert planet. They draw a desert planet with a space gate. They draw a desert planet, with a space gate, and crash. Of course.

John comes back to himself to the sound of the plinks and sizzles of a toasted jumper. It’s a little depressing that they’re familiar. He sits up too fast and gets both confirmation that Rodney and Ronon are alive and a splitting headache. After a solid minute of squint-eyed ow, he’s ready for more information.

Rodney’s untangling himself from his chair. He looks shaky but otherwise okay, eyes skittering over everything and making damage assessments that John already knows will add up to screwed.

Ronon’s a different story. He looks seriously pissed, which means one of two things: either he is pissed, or he’s hurt. Or possibly both. Given the angle his left leg is currently bent at and the way he’s leaning against the wall, John’s going with option C.

Outside the windshield, there’s nothing but black sand and blue sky. Really, there’s only one way to go with this.

Rodney is not happy. Being Rodney, he says so. Loudly, and with style.

The conversation goes something like this:

“No. And also hell no.”

“Rodney, it’s the only thing to do. Ronon’s not up for moving,” punctuated by a shove to put Ronon back into his chair “and you’re the only one who’s got a chance of fixing this thing enough to send for help. Someone has to do recon…” followed by various other very logical, smart arguments, if John does say so himself.

“Did you miss the hell? Should I repeat for the obviously cranially challenged among us? Perhaps if I had some finger paints to diagram it for you. What part of ‘giant arid landscape of death’ did not sink in the first time?”

They get in a full six rounds before John senses weakness. By the time Rodney winds down into petty jabs at John’s follicle-to-brain cell ratio, John knows he’s won.

He tells Ronon to stay off his leg and makes discrete eye motions toward Rodney. Ronon just snorts at the former, nods at the latter, and tells him to watch his back.

Rodney’s waiting at the door with a pack so full there’s no way John can justify carrying it and an expression that John long ago figured out had nothing to do with anger. John says, “I’ll be right back,” and Rodney nods tightly and stomps to the front of the jumper. He slides under the console like it’s going somewhere, and John quietly sneaks a tent and half the waterbottles out of the pack before setting out.

When he glances back from the next rise, there’s a small, hunched figure in the shadow of the jumper. He waves and gets a miserable gesture back.

It takes him a series of dunes, one good ravine, and a depressingly few hours to realize there’s nothing out here but them. He’d even go back and suffer Rodney’s I told you sos, if he had any idea where back is.

Which is how John Sheppard finds himself wandering alone through the desert.

It’s possibly his fourth least favorite activity in life, losing out only to burying friends, wandering with company through the desert, and undergoing counseling. Then again, those three tend to be related, so maybe it’s his second least favorite after all.

He amuses himself on the walk by wondering why they crashed in the first place (he’s betting something stupid, like the Pegasus version of bird-strike), how long it will take Atlantis to send a rescue (procedure says 10 hours, but they’ve got a reputation for disaster), and whether or not Ronon will hogtie Rodney when John doesn’t come back (even money on that one).

Somewhere along the way he finishes off the water and decides that black fatigues aren’t really the height of fashion in this weather. His options are limited, but he strips down to an undershirt and manages to rig up a hat/cape combo from the space blanket he finds at the bottom of the pack. Rodney’s paranoia is weirdly useful sometimes.

He’s really hoping no one has a camera when they find him. There’s a pretty good chance he looks like a superhero wannabe, or possibly a space age Lawrence of Arabia.

With the water gone, the trip gets more interesting. He’s fairly sure the camels aren’t real, and he knows the helicopters aren’t. At some point, Rodney shows up to lecture him on wormhole mechanics and the importance of sunscreen. It’s strange that he finds that one comforting.

It’s all gone to one long mash of heat and dust until he bounces off the next mirage jumper.

He wakes up with the traction bumps of the jumper floor digging into his back and the heaven of shade all around him. The world’s still a little blurry, but there’s a Rodney-shaped body leaning into his field of vision. A couple more blinks gets him worried eyes washed grey by the darkness.

Somewhere in the back of his head, John wonders who’s flying them home. He doesn’t care enough to focus more.

Rodney’s snapping chemical icepacks with unnecessary force and mumbling something in that fast, absent voice that means his brain’s derailing in multiple directions. John catches the words ‘GPS’ and ‘homing pigeon’ and ‘orienteering-impaired moron’ in the mix. He grins.

“Hey.”

And just like that Rodney freezes. He stares at John’s face for a long moment and swallows hard. “Hi.”

He finishes wrapping an icepack in cloth and slips one broad hand under John’s head like he does it all the time, lifts him and lays him back down into the sudden cold on the back of his neck. Just like that the rest of John’s body checks in and he’s aware of the bright, seeping chills at his knees and armpits and groin.

John can’t keep back the sigh of relief, but Rodney reads it wrong. His hand presses to John’s face. It’s still contact-cold, and John blisses out from the wide swath of palm against his cheek, the four distinct points of cool behind his ear.

“John?”

“Huh-uh. ’S good.”

After a beat Rodney’s thumb brushes carefully over John’s cheekbone. He sounds a little broken when he says, “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

John spends most of the ride back with Rodney’s hands clamped around his wrists, holding the cold against John’s blood.




*******



5.

John should know better. The fact that he can’t really move without cringing and he doesn’t want to think about what the shower he definitely needs will feel like are a testament to how much better he should know.

He’s not sorry. It's been a good day.

Teyla’s son is three months old. It’s an important mark in an Athosian’s life, she tells them quietly one night. It’s the day that he becomes real. John doesn’t want to think about the reasons for the tradition. He’s content to let it be.

They plan the biggest party they know how, and they’ve gotten good at parties over the years. They haven’t had all that many, but the lack has led to some truly spectacular innovations in the interim. No one wants to waste whatever chances they get.

From Teyla’s description, the ceremony is less church and more Sunday barbeque, and that’s how they play it. They roast something huge and meaty. They set off fireworks that would be illegal in 48 states.

Somewhere in there, John decides that touch football is a great idea.

Somewhere in there, it becomes shirts vs. skins.

Somewhere in there, he forgets that Rodney’s not always nuts, and sunscreen really is a good thing.

Right now, he’s remembering in spades. He sits on his bed very carefully and tries not to breathe too hard or make any sudden moves. At least he was bright enough to leave the shirt off.

He’s debating the merits of cold water vs. the pressure of a million tiny drops hammering on his skin when the doorbell saves him from making a decision. Not that he’s getting up to answer it. Nope.

Rodney doesn’t wait anyway. He just walks in, mouth already engaged, and then trails off, staring at John. After a minute he lets out a low whistle.

John pulls himself up as straight as possible and does not wince. “Shut up.”

Rodney smirks. “Now, Colonel, is that any way to talk to the person who’s about to make your life livable?”

John has no answer for that, so he goes with the tried and true glare of the morally superior.

Rodney snorts and makes an impatient whirling gesture. “Yes, yes, you are the baddest lobster in the whole wide world. Now turn around.”

All evidence to the contrary, John’s a smart guy. He grits his teeth and rotates.

Rodney settles down on the edge of the bed next to John. He angles himself to be behind him, and fidgets around for a minute. There’s the sound of a baggie opening, and John is almost curious enough to turn his head.

It’s a long moment before anything else happens. John’s about to ask what’s wrong when the sudden feel of Rodney’s fingers over the curve of his shoulder almost sends him off the bed. Before he can even really expect pain, though, he’s realizing it doesn’t hurt.

There’s a cool, smooth wetness in the wake of Rodney’s fingers, and the faint scent of peppermint. Rodney strokes down his shoulder blades lightly, touch steady and brisk, but careful. If John didn’t know him better, the calm in it wouldn’t even feel artificial.

He can’t help the sigh of relief as his skin relaxes. His head slowly lowers of its own accord. “What the hell is that?”

“Hm. It’s amazing how much it takes to make you appreciate my brilliance.” Only Rodney can gloat warmly. “It’s a mint-eucalyptus-aloe hybrid thing. From MPX-232. Apparently, they don’t have much use for it outside of dinner.”

John does not moan when Rodney runs his hands over his upper arms. “How did you wind up with it? Wasn’t one of our planets.”

Rodney’s hands stutter over the bumps of John’s spine. He breathes one long, soft sigh that skitters across the space between them.

“The botanists are growing it.”

And that’s all he says. John can read every line he’s crossed out, though.

Rodney doesn’t say, I went to the botany labs. He doesn’t say, I’d rather walk on molten steel than go back there just now. He doesn’t say, I did it for you anyway.

John’s never had a defense against the things Rodney doesn’t say.

Slowly, more carefully than the fading sting of his own skin warrants, John raises his head and turns. Rodney’s looking at him like it’s the simplest thing in the world, like anyone would have done it. Like anyone would have done any of it, all this time.

Like anyone would have stayed.

And that, of all things, is what finally kicks John in the chest.

He’s leaning across into Rodney’s space while the idea is still forming in his head. He doesn’t need it anyway. This is a thought that’s worn itself into pathways older than he’d ever admit.

Rodney watches him come with wide eyes. He doesn’t pull back, and John reads him right up until his own eyes close and he brushes their lips together.

Surprise, but not shock. No fear in sight.

It’s warm and soft and comfortable. Their lips are chapped from too much sun and Rodney tastes like peppermint.

John kisses him, and the world keeps turning.









Post-it Notes:

I stole Christopher Moore's yeti. If anybody sees him around, please offer my sincerest apologies. At least I let him keep the yak?

 
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