John’s room is on the west side of the city and it’s got walls of window that let in long streaks of red light at the end of the day. When he stumbles home at the end of another mission with mud caked to his boots and blood ground into the whorls of his hands, he lies down and the sheets are warm from the sun. Still rumpled from an early morning wake up call, blankets kicked to the bottom of the bed and curled over his small pillow.
The muscles of his back are tense and bruised; it almost hurts to breathe, he’s been pulled so tight by worry. But when he turns his tired head into the mattress, he breathes deep and a slow, unexpected smile pulls at his lips. The bed smells like the back of Rodney’s neck -- that soft, small space where John’s chin fits so perfectly when they sleep. John’s fingers curl into the cotton sheets, almost like he’s looking for Rodney’s hand there, the touch of his rough palms, his strong grip. Almost like if he keeps his eyes closed, and inhales again and again, he’ll feel the press of Rodney’s back against his chest, the curve of his thigh, thrown over John’s.
He acts as if in the perfect silence of his room there’s an echo of Rodney the night before, gasps bouncing so slowly off the thick walls over and again until it fills his ears, until he can’t hear anything else but Rodney, the Rodney that’s his when it’s dark, when it’s only the two of them, when all John can do is reach out and trace the line of Rodney’s jaw and murmur against Rodney’s wet lips and Rodney holds him so close, so tight. And even though it isn’t real, that John’s alone in the close of a long day and Rodney is flashing his bright eyes, his perfect hands, somewhere across the city, it’s enough. John’s body relaxes fraction by fraction until his chest feels light, and loose. It’s enough.
The river makes shushing noises as it trickles over John’s toes. It’s just past daybreak, and the grass beneath him is still cold, wet with dew underneath his legs and where it brushes his knees.
“Hey,” Rodney calls softly from behind him. When John turns, he’s standing by the edge of the trees, life sign detector in hand. He gestures with it toward John, says, “I’m glad to see you weren’t kidnapped by the seemingly friendly natives. Usually when you disappear in the night off-world, there’s bloodshed involved.”
John shrugs one shoulder, turns back to the water. “Woke up early,” he tells Rodney. “Thought maybe I’d go fishing.”
The grass crunches beneath Rodney’s feet as he comes to sit beside John. “I see no pole,” he says, crossing his legs at the ankle and leaning back on his forearms and somehow, in the low grey light every movement looks graceful, neat.
John looks away, back at the inviting rush and bubble of the clear water, and Rodney clears his throat. “How do you plan to catch them? Charm?”
“I had a fishing pole,” John protests, wiggling his toes under the cold current. “It was a nice one, too.”
Rodney makes an impatient gesture with one hand, spinning his wrist around, and raising his eyebrows. John doesn’t say anything, watching him ramp up from curiosity into frustration until he finally says, “And? What happened?”
“I caught a huge turtle thing with sharp teeth,” John tells him, wiggling his toes again, before grinning and turning back to Rodney. “It’s still in there, somewhere. Maybe it’s hungry, too.”
It takes two seconds for Rodney to go from sputtering to pulling at John’s shoulders until his feet are out of the water. “What are you – psychotic? Do you not *want* your toes?” He keeps going, and at length, but John just lies back on the grass and laughs quietly until Rodney stops mid sentence to frown at him. “What? What’s funny? What’s funny about you nearly *losing your toes* to an alien *turtle* just because you’re playing at Huck Finn?”
“I just like seeing you do that,” John says, the grass tickling at his back where his shirt crept up.
“Doing what? Saving you from yourself?” Rodney asks, pink faced, and frustrated.
“Nah, freaking out like you used to,” John tells him, poking at his knee. “It’s comforting.”
Rodney stills, eyes narrowing. “Oh, I’m so glad you get amusement from my albeit moronic concern for your bodily health.”
Rodney moves to stand, and John rolls to his knees, grabs Rodney’s thick forearm. “No, no, no, it’s not like that – it’s,” he pauses, frowns at his own hand on Rodney’s skin. “It’s good to know that everything that’s happened, the Wraith, everything, it hasn’t – it hasn’t – you’re still you.”
Rodney’s arm tenses, tries to pull away, and John looks up to see Rodney’s expression hardened like stone. “Yes, I’m still a great deal more practical than you,” he says stiffly. “I haven’t got your laissez-faire attitude toward maiming and death.”
Wind blows wisps of Rodney’s hair straight up, and John wants to touch his pursed mouth. Instead he says, “You’re so damned brave, I forget sometimes that you’re always – I don’t know, you’re always going to be the same guy. It hasn’t changed you.”
“Hasn’t it?” Rodney asks, turning toward him slowly, lips thinning further.
“Some,” John says, and Rodney’s eyes are bright. “But you’re still – you’re still you. So much is different now, but you’re still you. It’s comforting.”
“Yes, well,” Rodney says, looking down. Young shadows hide his bright eyes, his thin lips, the tender line of his jaw. Someday, John will touch him there.
“Don’t act like it’s a bad thing, there, McKay,” John says lightly. “You’re a pretty good guy.”
Rodney looks up at him, and his eyes are the color of the water. He licks at his lips once, and hitches his chin up a little. “I am?” he asks, and it seems almost involuntary.
John grins at him, nods. “Yeah, you are.”
“Well, thanks,” Rodney says, and his mouth gets softer. He sits back down, and says, “You’re – uh, you’re still holding on to my arm.”
“Yeah,” John says, squeezing his fingers a little, and settling beside Rodney. He slides his hand down to Rodney’s wrist, and loosely closes his fingers around it, just to feel Rodney’s pulse. “I am.”
“Okay,” Rodney says after a minute, and then he slides his hand up, laces his fingers with John’s. He opens his mouth to say something more, and then shakes his head and gives John a half smile. “Okay.”
They sit there like that, even as the sun comes up and the wind turns balmy, quiet and holding hands, until the radio crackles over the sound of the river running and they have to rejoin their team.