Original story: The Unforgiving Bend of John Sheppard's Spine by sheafrotherdon
Note: For gateverse_remix 2007. Some dialogue in section 4 taken from the original story. Thank you to cincodemaygirl for beta.
Summary: "Okay, okay, so maybe I've indulged in fantasies about cold planets and shared body heat."
1. C1 (Atlas)
Rodney's second cat used to do this thing, where she would walk up to Rodney and stand there until he dropped a hand to her back, at which point she would flatten herself and possibly lose some vertebrae and eel out from under his hand as she walked away.
John Sheppard, Rodney thinks, is kind of like that. He keeps doing things that even Rodney can interpret as touch me touch me signs, but he has this trick, this diabolical knack of never actually being where Rodney's hand is, and Rodney's beginning to be a little obsessed with touching him, with capturing that movement.
They're sitting on the bench of the puddlejumper after having just been incredibly beaten at Capture the Flag; Rodney's covered in mud and his left pant leg is torn and he wonders why he even agreed to play.
He turns his head the three degrees to the right he has the energy for, and sees John, elbows on his knees, head bowed and the nape of his neck exposed, wet with sweat and rainwater and vulnerable.
Rodney reaches over and rests his hand on the back of John's head, rubbing his thumb up the muscle at the base of John's skull, pressing the tension out. John makes a noise and goes a little limp, and Rodney kneads the back of John's neck, petting him like a cat after a long day.
Rodney turns back to stare at his own hands, folded in his lap and still clutching the sodden flag they'd captured too late, dirty with Pegasus soil.
Beside him, John shakes his head slowly with the failure, and Rodney lets his skull clunk back against the wall of the jumper in agreement.
"Nice weather," John says. "Don't you think?"
It's cold on P7L-889, cold enough that they're huddled together for warmth in one huge bed in an alien guest room, rushes on the floor and drafts coming in around the heavy curtains. The wind rattles trees outside, and Rodney huddles in closer, presses his nose to the back of John's neck, breathing him in. If this is the only way he can touch John, he'll take full advantage, an arm around John's middle, ankles tangled together.
The scents of nighttime mingle--the crisp winter air caught in the heavy blankets, the sweet dry smell of the rushes covering the floor, the warm calming scent of John--and Rodney closes his eyes and lets himself sleep.
It's early summer on P7L-889, warm enough that they don't even really need blankets; John's stretching out on top of the covers in his t-shirt as Rodney blows out the oil lamp on his side of the bed.
A warm breeze is fluttering the curtains and Rodney thinks about John on the other side of the enormous four-poster; touching him, no excuses, just hot skin and hands and--
"Yeah," Rodney says from his own side. "It's great."
The thing is, sometimes Rodney can't tell whether he's obsessed with touching John's body or his mind: he sees the hard mask John shows when two more of the men under John's command die, and Rodney wants both to put his arms around him and to crawl into his brain and hear Sheppard's secrets, let him know he's not alone here.
Rodney meets John on the east balcony one evening, and they watch in silence as the sun sets behind them and the pointed shadows of Atlantis stretch over the ocean. They stand there until the light is almost gone, and John says, shadowed, "It's my fault."
Rodney reaches out a hand to rest at John's lower back to pull him out of wherever he's gone and says, "Of course it isn't."
Rodney finds John in his office, stonily doing paperwork. "Do you, um," Rodney says, jabbing a thumb behind him, "want to watch a movie? Or something?"
John's eyes flicker up to Rodney and then back down to the computer screen in front of him. "Nah," he says. "Gonna go for a run when I finish this. Early night," and Rodney says, "Yes, yes, of course. Then," and turns and leaves John to his ghosts.
Rodney goes to Colorado in the sort of Zen state he usually only reaches when he's engrossed in a project so deeply that he goes through intensity and out the other side: stalking through the airport, clearing security, on the plane, off the plane, all without really engaging his brain with his actions.
Instead, he thinks about: Laura Cadman, strong arms around him, grabbing on with both arms and not letting go, mumbling something into his shirt about hugging.
He thinks about: the dream he had last night, the one where Sheppard had stopped breathing, and Rodney had tilted his head back and pinched his nose and covered John's mouth with his own.
He thinks about: grabbing on with both arms and not letting go.
Sheppard meets him at the baggage claim, and Rodney drops his backpack and pulls him into a hug in the middle of the bright-white airport as electronic voices remind them not to leave luggage unattended.
"God, I missed you," John says.
"Yeah," Rodney says, "me too," and they stay like that until the warning buzzer on the conveyer belt sounds and they break apart--but not very far--to watch for Rodney's luggage.
Sheppard picks him up curbside, only stopping long enough for Rodney to sling his bags into the backseat and hop into the car. He drives like he flies, all sunglasses and easy grace, and Rodney's hands are practically itching, having John so close and not touching, and he fiddles with the air vents and his carry-on bag to try to distract himself.
It kills him, how Sheppard's no different than he was in Atlantis--John makes small talk like nothing ever happened, like Atlantis never happened, and Rodney wants to get under his skin and make him admit he's human.
As soon as they drop Rodney's bags in John's apartment Rodney wraps his arms around him and squeezes until Sheppard's shell begins to crack.
"Stop pretending," Rodney says, and John exhales and begins to curve into him.
Rodney presses a hand to the middle of John's back, pulling him close enough that maybe John can tell how long Rodney's wanted to do this.
"So maybe I've indulged in fantasies about cold planets and shared body heat," Rodney says.
John laughs, a puff of air at Rodney's neck, and just says, "McKay."
He's still obsessed; Rodney considered that maybe once he was allowed to touch--and he does touch, frequently; idle hands on John's arm, lips on his neck--he'd somehow be sated, but now he realizes that he will never, ever get his fill of John Sheppard.
That doesn't bother him particularly.
Rodney should be asleep now, but for a moment he watches John sleep, face slack and peaceful, limbs flung across the bed, across Rodney. And Rodney lifts one arm, carefully, and drifts his fingers down the piedmont of John's spine, from the base of John's skull down to where the line of his back disappears under the sheet.
--drifts his fingers down the piedmont of John's spine, from the base of John's skull down to where the line of his back disappears under the sheet. John sighs in his sleep, or no.
"Rodney," John murmurs, clumsily bringing a hand up to curl around Rodney's neck. "Sleep. I'm fine."
And Rodney, because he can, strokes down John's back one more time, a little more firmly this time, because John says he's fine; and then he falls still and closes his eyes, and sleeps.