With many,many, many thanks to mecurtin for beta'ing this.
Some Far-off Touch
Rodney felt the bed dip and John's arms, cold beneath the long sleeves, wrap around him. He reached a decision and turned over inside John's embrace, pulling him closer in. John shivered and buried his head in Rodney's neck, his skin clammy and damp. Rodney, not sure if John was even awake dared to press a kiss onto his sweaty hair and held him as close as he could.
"We have found him!" Teyla's voice crackled over the radio. Rodney, who had been called back to Atlantis for what turned out not to have been an emergency at all, paused in his repair work. He felt like he could breath for the first time since Sheppard had been separated from the others, which would not have happened had he been there. The relief in Elizabeth's voice was warm in his ears. "Can you get him to the gate?"
"We will be there shortly. He is...uninjured." Rodney could feel the words Teyla left unspoken.
"What she means is that I'm fine." There was an edge to Sheppard's voice. "I'm conscious, on my feet and in one piece. Let us through the gate now, please." The gateroom scurried into action, grating against Rodney's nerves. He didn't care. Sheppard was just fine. He said so, and that was good enough for Rodney. It had to be - if only his heart would listen instead of vibrating in his chest like that.
Minutes later, the three of them came through, Ronon clutching a bandage to one arm and Teyla looking frazzled. Rodney barely noticed them. Sheppard's lips were pale and his eyes were large, and he wrapped his arms around himself, as if he were cold. He pushed away everyone, even Rodney.
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry. I...failed in the mission. The natives don't take kindly to visitors."
"John..." She shook her head. "Go to the infirmary - take Ronon there, and get checked out. We'll talk later."
"I'm fine." He turned away.
"Well, Ronon's not. Take him down." Her voice was hard.
"It's barely a scratch. Here, I'll show you." Ronon started to peel away the bandages. Elizabeth dissuaded him quickly, reminding him of protocol, and the two of them departed for the infirmary. When they disappeared, she radioed Carson to warn him.
"And try to keep Colonel Sheppard there long enough to get a look at him. Something is...off."
"I'll do my best, but he runs faster than I do. Beckett out."
A half hour later, his hair still wet from a shower, Sheppard reappeared. Rodney looked up from the console he was still repairing. "Doc said I was fine, which I am. Just let me get this report out of the way so I can get something to eat." He tugged at the zipper of his jacket and rubbed at his arms.
"All right." She led the way into her office. Rodney watched them through the glass walls. Sheppard thrust his hands into his jacket pockets and said something very quickly. Elizabeth asked him a question, and Rodney could see that Sheppard's hands were clenching. His own tightened in sympathy.
He answered with a few words and Elizabeth took his arm and asked more. He wrenched it away but answered. She pressed more and he stepped back and shook his head. Rodney could feel the distress streaming off Sheppard even at that distance and through the office walls.
Elizabeth could clearly feel it, too, but Sheppard flinched when she reached for him again. He took a deep breath and left.
"John!" She leaned out the door. "Talk to someone."
fine, Elizabeth. Just...leave it." He left the gateroom before she could find anything else to say.
She turned to Rodney and gestured with her chin.
He shook his head. "I don't want the Colonel to run from me, too. I'll be in the lab. I'm sure there are a half-dozen problems for me to get my hands on." And not a few necks. He left her gaping in silence.
Sure enough, his lab was in a shambles - well, not a shambles, but things were out of place and Zelenka was tangled in the stupidest project, and Miko was reaching too far in her research and at least Rodney could do something and not think about John Sheppard and what he wasn't talking about.
Two nights later, he woke with someone pressing close behind him - someone in a well-worn long-sleeved t-shirt, soft against Rodney's bare back. Someone cold under the soft material - Rodney could feel the heat leaching out of his body.
He knew it was Sheppard, was John, from the rhythm of the breath against the back of his neck. What he didn't know was why John was there at all, or even if he was awake.
And then John's arms - so cold, hard against his chest, wrapped around him, and Rodney felt like a stuffed animal, held by a small child, and the city would have had to be shuddering under attack before Rodney would have made John let go.
Instead he managed to find the blanket he'd kicked off earlier - he was always too warm at night - and drag it over both of them before wrapping his own arms over John's in the hope of transferring more heat.
He had no expectations of getting more sleep, since he'd never managed to sleep wrapped in someone's arms before. He didn't care.
"Rodney? What...oh, God. I'm...I have to..." The bed rose and John was out of the room before Rodney could move.
Two hours later, he dragged himself out of bed and through a shower. John - Sheppard was in the mess hall and Rodney sat down next to him because he always did, and after a minute, Sheppard stole his fruit juice as usual.
They both pretended that the world had not fallen out of balance, but Rodney could feel Sheppard's eyes on him. He had to force himself to not look up.
"So, when's our next off-world mission, Colonel?"
"After the amazing success of the last trip, I thought we'd cool it for a week or so." Rodney nearly spilled his coffee.
"Are you sure?"
"Drop it, okay?" Rodney' own jaw ached with how hard Sheppard's was clenched. He could only stare and gobble down his breakfast in response.
Fortunately, one of the newcomers made a stupid mistake - those tolerances were off by 3/8th of a point! - so Rodney could scream himself calm again. At least no one behaved oddly in the lab.
Two nights later, John was back in his bed. And three nights after that. And the next day, Sheppard refused to look at him at the staff meeting.
Rather, he kept rubbing his hands except when someone spoke to him. Elizabeth's eyes moved from Sheppard's hands - so raw and painful - to Rodney.
Rodney could not find it in him to care at all about the meeting.
Sheppard ran out, but before Rodney could go after him, Teyla blocked his way.
"What is happening with the Colonel, Rodney?"
"He won't let me near him! How should I know?" He could feel the frustration build inside of him. "And I was trying to get to him now. Idiots."
"Rodney." Elizabeth gave him her entire attention. "Please do what you can."
"Why me? Does Colonel Sheppard report directly to me? Isn't it sufficient that the entire city depends upon my brain and hands for our very survival? I mean, they're up to the task, which I've already proven time and again, so I suppose you take it for granted that I'll always do so, which I will if only to preserve myself and the one or two others who are worth saving and we can't do this alone, so I might as well..."
Until the day he couldn't, and he'd woken up dry-mouthed, his heart pounding, more times than he was willing to count, because Rodney was a realist and knew that the day would come when he would fail
"Dr. McKay, we are all aware of all you've done for this city and for my own people as well, but Colonel Sheppard is your friend." Teyla crossed her arms.
"He's your friend, too."
Elizabeth drew in a deep breath. "Rodney, please find a way to talk to the colonel."
Which is what he'd wanted to do in the first place. But now Sheppard was gone, and if he didn't want to be found, Atlantis would hide him. He told this to Teyla and Elizabeth before stalking off.
He searched for a couple of hours, but gave up and returned to his lab to get his hands on some solid physics. He could barely hold on to the math, though, and gave up. He handed it to Radek and settled in to supervise.
He couldn't work and he couldn't leave the lab, and he didn't know if Sheppard was rubbing the skin off his hands waiting to be found, or if he were running away -- neither off which sounded like the Sheppard he knew.
Sheppard wasn't at dinner. Rodney could feel everyone's eyes on him as he forced his dinner down - blaming him for not finding Sheppard.
And John didn't wrap himself around Rodney that night, either.
Lorne organized the Marines to look for Sheppard the next day. "We'll do our best, Dr. Weir, but you know as well as I do that the Colonel will only show when he's ready or if we need him."
Rodney considered creating an emergency, but that would have been amazingly stupid and although he came up with several intriguing possibilities, he put them aside.
He managed to do some actual work that day, even if everyone tiptoed around him.
And that night, he turned around when a too-thin John climbed into his bed.
"Colonel?" Rodney tightened his arms. No response. "Colonel? John?"
He felt John's head move off his neck. "Yeah." John pushed at him, but Rodney didn't let that happen.
"Not this time. Just. Stay. Go to sleep. Be here in the morning. Okay?" He stroked John's back through the t-shirt.
Every muscle in John's body relaxed at Rodney's touch and words. "Okay." He fell asleep so quickly that Rodney wondered if he'd slept at all the night before.
And none of this felt like John Sheppard.
He was still there in the morning, sitting cross-legged on the bed and rubbing his hands.
"You were safe for me. Are safe."
Rodney pulled himself up, ignoring the pounding in his head. He'd cure that with coffee later. Or maybe sleep. He'd only slept a couple of hours that night. "Safe?"
"Yeah." He scrubbed his hands on his pants. "I think. Why I came the first time. I kinda freaked, when I woke up here and holding on to you. Why I had to leave."
"The second time? The others? You were still sleepwalking?"
"You were safe. And warm and I was cold. Am cold. And you didn't mind." He began rubbing his upper arms.
"You were certainly cold - you're all surface area and no insulation. I, on the other hand, have body heat to spare, and I was quite willing to share it with you." He stopped and chewed that over. "Am. Am quite willing to share it with you."
He slid back onto his side and pulled back the blanket in front of him. John blinked for a moment and then lay down, pressing his back against Rodney. His shirt rode up a bit - Too loose - and his skin was chill against Rodney's bare stomach.
He wondered if John was ever warm.
Rodney pulled the blanket over both of them and held John close in the narrow bed.
"I don't know. Yeah. Thanks."
Rodney could feel t-shirt, muscles, bones. "Don't you eat? I know I require more food than most to keep up my blood sugar and so I can keep barely on top of any emergency as well as just the day to day idiocy, but even you need to fuel yourself on occasion, besides stealing a couple of fries here and there."
"I do not steal your fries. You put vinegar on them."
"Better than ketchup...don't change the subject, John."
"I eat. When I'm hungry." Wow. That was a button, wasn't it? Rodney could sense every muscle in John's body tensing.
"You haven't been very hungry lately." John shrugged in his arms, still tense. "What the hell happened there?"
"Not going to talk about it." To Rodney's surprise, he made no move to leave.
"You've been not talking about it for a while now, and I don't see that working very well for you. Not that I terribly mind having you here, you understand, but I'd rather it were, um, recreational." He nuzzled the back of John's head, brushing his lips over the short hairs. "Did you have to...do something there?"
John crossed his arms over Rodney's. "Yeah. After I got separated from Teyla and Ronon. They had me...I couldn't use my weapon. Not without - they were using kids. Kids."
"They didn't want you to go?"
"They thought I'd stolen something. I didn't - I just touched it. They didn't believe me. They took out knives. I reached for my weapon. They grabbed the kids. I started to run. One guy got me by the throat. Don’t know why he didn't use his knife." He clenched his fists against Rodney's arms. "I had to...it felt like snapping a stick. With my hands. I had to. Like I needed another nightmare."
"None of us need more nightmares, thank you very much."
"I never used my hands before. When I look at them, I feel like..." He removed his fists from Rodney's arms. Rodney traced hid fingers down his arms - he was rubbing his hands again. "Ronon and Teyla came by after...they didn't see. They'd dropped the kids. The thing reappeared, but Ronon got cut in the fight." John rubbed his hands harder.
Rodney closed his own hands over them, to keep them apart. "Like that'll do any good. Look, you had to do it - you'd be dead otherwise. Or not here and then Atlantis would just collapse out of anxiety for you, and it doesn't like me or Carson enough to make up for that, and we'd go home miserable failures with the Wraith on our tails and it would have been all your fault, except that it won't happen now."
"Yeah, I've told myself that, too. Sort of. Doesn't work, either." His hands were quiet, though. "I'm sorry, Rodney. I'm dumping this on you."
"So?" Rodney shrugged. "Not that I'm going to be much help, and you should talk to someone who thinks they can help with the voodoo dolls and the...whatever, but you came here. And I'm here. And I'm glad you came back for reasons almost entirely unrelated to fears about going home miserable failures. Except maybe the miserable part."
John went still. And quiet. For a long time, which got Rodney feeling a bit worried that maybe he said the wrong thing, which happened on a regular enough basis that maybe he should wonder if he ever said the right thing, but he had to sometimes, or why would he even have people who tolerated him except for his genius, so when they realized that he thought sometimes he was only pretending and that circle of thought wasn't going to do him any good, so he just kissed the back of John's neck and petting his arms.
"I don't know. I...should be used to that." He turned over. Rodney stroked his back - he could cut himself on those shoulder blades but John wasn't cold anymore and that was a plus. Which reminded him and he pulled the blanket back up. No sense in wasting body heat. Even Rodney could only produce so much. "But. I'd be pretty miserable not being here, too."
His lips were cold and chapped, and he was clumsier than Rodney would have believed, and both of them truly needed to brush their teeth, and Rodney was so not expecting it, either, but he returned the kiss anyway, and felt John move against him, and then felt him begin to shake in a way that was completely not erotic.
Eventually, John went back to sleep, but Rodney kept watch for nightmares.