Title: The Situations of War
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Cover Art: FanArts Series
Word Count: 10,600
Warnings: Violence, discussions of torture, explicit sex, OC character deaths
Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Ladyholder and Chris King for the advanced reading and support
Summary: The definition of what a soldier is has changed for the men and women who serve in the Stargate program.
– – – –
He pulled the trigger. It wasn’t the first time he’d pulled a trigger – not the first time he’d taken a life – not the first time he’d looked another man right in the face as he did it but it was the first time he’d done it all without flinching. Rodney McKay would never claim to be a soldier; despite the uniform he wore, the gun he carried, and the battles he’d participated in. He was no warrior and had never pretended to be. Ever.
He lowered the hand gun, pointing the empty 9mm towards the ground. It was over. Four hours of threats, torture, watching people die around him and it was over. It was enough to make him scream but he doubted he had the energy for it. Rodney went to the soldier that had fallen near him, the one that had shoved a gun in his direction even as he lay dying. He was gone already and with some regret, Rodney rolled him over and searched for more ammunition. He wasn’t foolish enough to think he wouldn’t need it.
“Thank you. I’ll make sure they come back for you.” He touched the younger man’s face. “I’ll make sure you and your team go home.” Hesitantly he stood and pushed back everything so that he could concentrate on the moment.
Rodney was a scientist. He could push aside the unpleasant and the horrible and concentrate on a single moment in time. He pushed the three clips he’d found in the marine’s pockets into pockets on his vest. Not much ammunition considering what he could be facing him on his way to the gate.
Quickly he went to the man he’d killed, rolled him over and jerked a stunner from his dead hand. The night outside the small hut was quiet, no longer filled with the scream of dying men, gun fire, and the horrific hum of Wraith darts. The entire village had been culled – it was the way of the Wraith these days. They were starting to feed desperately, and finding an untainted food supply made them greedy. They no longer cared if they left anyone behind to breed fresh food for them twenty years down the line.
Rodney couldn’t even feel sorry for them – couldn’t bring himself to care that everyone on the planet was gone because they’d all been prepared to sacrifice his team to the Wraith for a reprieve. They had held out their hands in friendship and then turned on him like rabid dogs—forcing him to watch while they killed good people to make him reveal the location of Atlantis to them.
He’d almost done it. He’d almost given them the gate address to Atlantis—knowing full well that they would push through the gate in order to escape the coming culling and cease to exist in an endless wave of thumps against the gate shield that wouldn’t be lowered without an IDC. But, he didn’t and every single one of them had been culled instead. It made him sick—really—that he couldn’t give a fuck less. Maybe in a few days he would remember that some of them had been innocent. Some of them had even been children but right now he just wanted to go home.
Walking through a street littered with bodies is enough to put anyone off their stride, walking through an overwhelmingly empty large village that had once housed more than five thousand people left him with some dark, cold place inside his chest that he figured might have been his heart. He really couldn’t be sure—it was one of the few muscles in his body that hadn’t gotten a whole hell of a lot of work out in his life.
The gate was unguarded and only the familiar whine of a Wraith dart in the air spurred him forward to the DHD.
He stepped through the gate – his expression spoke of devastation and some strange rage that no one had ever seen on his face before. Medical teams rushed forward, Keller was shouting instructions for a stretcher, checking his eyes, talking about shock and prepping an OR. It was then that he remembered, oddly enough, that he was wounded.
– – – –
“And he hasn’t said a single word?”
“No.” Dr. Keller frowned even as she said it. “Both Zelenka and Ronon have tried to talk to him but he looks at them like they aren’t there. What did you find on the planet?”
Sam Carter’s mouth fell into a thin line. “An empty village, four dead marines and the other scientist on the mission, a few dead Wraith riddled with bullets, and a few bodies left behind in one of the main buildings that had obviously been fed on.” She cleared her throat. “There was also a dead villager—with the marines. He was obviously killed by one of our weapons.”
“That village had a population of five thousand people.” Jennifer looked towards Rodney whom she’d put in an isolation room more for his privacy than anything else. “When is the Colonel due back?”
“He’s doing a final sweep of the village, so perhaps an hour. Why?”
“I’m hoping that Rodney might talk to him.”
Sam nodded. “I’ll send him down as soon as he’s debriefed.” She walked to the window and stared at Rodney for a minute. “I’ve known that man for a long time but I’ve never seen him be so quiet before. Has Dr. Stephens evaluated him?”
“No. I’ve put him off.”
“I know what you’re going to say but I believe that Rodney deserves a little alone time before he has a psychologist poking at him. Besides, I believe you and I can agree that Rodney has a somewhat fragile ego and if we push him immediately off on a psychologist he’s going to explode. His surgery went well and I don’t want to see him physically upset.”
“Any ideas on the weapon used on him?”
“No, it was a knife some sort. There were three separate puncture wounds and his hands are riddled with cuts that are probably defensive wounds. Ronan said the gun he had on him had been fired recently. I trust him on that. Whatever happened to McKay out there, he put up a fight.”
“I know you want to protect him.”
“He’s my patient.” Jennifer frowned at her.
“He’s also one of Ronon’s close friends and that makes him personally important to you. I do get how that kind of thing works, you know. Shelter him as much as you can but he will have to talk to the base psychologist eventually and if he’s clammed up and not talking – it’s not going to look good.”
– – – –
It wasn’t fair really. He had about three thousand things to say but every time it crossed his mind to speak nothing came out, words were beyond him. He hadn’t said a word since the villagers had killed the first marine. So, when Sheppard came to his room and leaned against the door way—his hazel eyes dark with concern and guilt Rodney just exploded.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, John Sheppard?” He shoved at his blanket, he needed to stand up for this conversation but John was there, pushing him back into the bed. “Stop touching me, you ridiculous ass. You got that man and those children you call soldiers killed today!”
John jerked back as if he’d been slapped, his normally generous mouth drawing into a thin line. “Robert Marston was a good man. They all died doing their job. Don’t dishonor that, Rodney, or I won’t wait until you’re out of this goddamned bed to kick your ass.”
“He shouldn’t be dead,” Rodney ground out between clenched teeth. “None of them should be dead. We could have gotten out of there; all of them but he had to take a page out of your suicide/hero play book and put himself in harm’s way. I won’t have it John; I won’t have another person die for me. Do you understand?” His hands were shaking as he moved the blankets in his lap. “Griffin—that fucking idiot—I could have figured something out and now Marston. He took a fucking bullet in the back for me, John!”
“Griffin knew that windshield was going and he did what was necessary to protect his passenger. That was his job as a pilot. You were his priority, Rodney, and he knew something that you’ve apparently forgotten.” John leaned down right in his face, his voice hard, full of pain and guilt. “You’re mission essential, Rodney. Mission essential. Everyone talks about how this city responds to me—often seems to bend to my will—but no one, and I mean no one, understands her the way you do. If I am her soul, you are her heart. So, yes, I ordered Marston to do what it took to send you back through that fucking gate in one piece and alive. It was his job and it was a job he took quite willingly.”
Rodney took a deep breath when John stepped away from the bed. “You brought them all back?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Major Marston was a good and brave man; he didn’t deserve to die being shot in the back by that son of a bitch. He didn’t deserve to watch all of those green ass kids the SGC sent us killed in front of him.” Rodney turned away from John. “He wasn’t less than me. He shouldn’t have put himself in front of me like that. I was okay with what was coming.”
“He wouldn’t have been okay with it and frankly neither would’ve I.” John walked to the end of the bed. “Start talking to Keller. She thinks you’re freaking out in here instead of just being a fucking asshole.”
“Kiss my ass, Sheppard.”
John held up his hand. “Please, please, don’t start throwing yourself at me again, McKay. I told you…I’m not easy.”
“What.The.Fuck.Ever.” Rodney glared after his retreating back and shouted, “Fuck you, Sheppard!”
“Dr. McKay.” Jennifer appeared in his doorway. “I’ve other patients. Quiet down or I’ll be forced to give you a sedative.”
– – – –
“There is a scientist in Area 51 who is very interested in the Wraith body.” Sam grimaced in distaste. “So, they want it sent back.”
“I’m not sending that thing through the gate with Marston and his people,” John whispered. “Not happening.”
“No. The Daedalus is going to take the Wraith. There is a scientist on board the ship as well; and he apparently got “dibs” since he works in the Pegasus galaxy.”
“You know…” John stood. “I like my scientists around here much better. They just blow shit up, experiment with alien sex pollen and find new, inventive ways to tear holes in space time. I don’t have a single one that wants to get into alien dissection.” He held up his hand. “If we do have some people doing that shit here I don’t want to know about it.”
Sam laughed softly, but the amusement didn’t reach her eyes. “We’ll just ignore the entire exobiology department and the whole team of marine biologists that arrived last week.”
“Yeah, we sure will.” John stared out the empty gate room. “Doesn’t get any easier.”
“No. Not ever. How is McKay?”
“He’s an asshole,” John ran his fingers through his hair. “He’s actually pretty torn up over Marston’s death and blames himself. I got so irritated with him that I didn’t manage to get the story out of him. I figured that could wait until the debrief. No need to make the man tell it more than once.”
– – – –
When he woke again the infirmary was dark, and John Sheppard was holding his hand. It was the oddest thing he’d ever experienced and Rodney found that he enjoyed it immensely. He turned his head and looked at John in the semi-darkness of the room. “Why are you holding my hand?”
“Because you were talking in your sleep. Because you’re the smartest man in two galaxies. Because I can’t stay in my quarters while you’re in here. Because you gave into me, let me have you, and I think I’ve fucked up everything I’ve wanted since the moment I set eyes on you. Because I love you. Because I’m an idiot.”
“Yeah. I mean I’m still on really great drugs so I don’t have enough of anything going on in my head to get angry about this. But, later, I’m probably going to have a lot to say.” He threaded his fingers through Sheppard’s. “A lot to say.”
John watched Rodney go back to sleep and lowered his head so that his forehead rested on their joined hands. It was foolish for him to be in this situation. Foolish for him to sit holding this man’s hand. But when Rodney had come through the gate, his eyes haunted, covered in his own blood the bottom of John’s world had simply fallen out.
His eyes stung a little but he cleared his throat and sat back in his chair. He was absolutely not going to sit in the infirmary and cry over Rodney McKay. He wasn’t going to cry at all. It was ridiculous to even assume such a thing possible. It had been a month since the two of them had fallen on each other like teenagers after a cake-walk mission—laughing and grabbing and fucking each other into an exhausted stupor. It had been two weeks since Rodney had exploded and told him that he didn’t have time for John’s bullshit and if couldn’t put his shit in check it was over. They hadn’t spoken since. He’d pawned the mission to P34-575 off on SGA-6 so he could actually avoid interacting with Rodney because he didn’t know if he could, in fact, handle his shit yet.
The clicking of the door opening signaled that someone was entering the isolation room and John reluctantly pulled his hand free from Rodney’s and looked up to watch Jennifer Keller enter the room.
“It’s not visiting hours, you know.” She checked a monitor next to Rodney and made a few adjustments with her tablet PC. “The damage is mostly superficial but certainly painful; we’re confident he won’t lose any range of motion.” She checked the bandages carefully for bleeding and then looked across the bed to John. “He’s fine. Really.”
“I should have been with him; instead of sending him out into the field with a new team that he didn’t even know. I’m a fucking idiot.” He resisted the urge to pick up Rodney’s hand again and sat back fully in his chair. “He trusted me to take care of him. He’s mine to take care of and I…” He broke off and then sucked in a deep breath. “Fuck.”
“Currently, he’s my responsibility,” Jennifer returned evenly. “And you need sleep. Nothing is going to happen to him on my watch, Colonel. Go back to your quarters and rest.”
His gaze narrowed but he respected her enough not to cop an attitude. The infirmary was after all her domain and she had a point… he was absolutely exhausted. “When will you release him?”
“A week maybe more if he gets an infection.”
– – – –
“I came down here to see if you wanted a fight but I can see that I’m completely unnecessary.” Evan Lorne slid down the wall to sit beside him and cast his CO a concerned glance. The punching bag was still swinging in the corner and all of Sheppard’s knuckles were raw, bleeding.
“I should have been with him. I fucked up and he was nearly killed.”
“If you’d gone to the planet you’d be dead,” Evan finally said. “You’d be dead, he’d still be injured and furious, and Carter would be telling your family you died a hero’s death.”
“No, instead, I’m going to go through the gate with five bodies and probably spend a week in debrief explaining how I lost an entire team. The fucking IOA is going to have a field day and I get the job of going to the academy and speaking with Robert Marston’s son personally.”
Evan shuddered. “I’ll go in your place if you want.”
“No. I’ll do it. I owe them that if the SGC will let me. Robert was a good man, an excellent soldier, and he did his job. He did exactly what was required of him on this mission… what is required of each of us on this mission. It’s not fair, but God war rarely is and his family will probably never know it all and that’s a fucking shame because really they should know he died for the good of our whole fucking galaxy and not just a few lines on a map.” John closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the wall. “The room… it looked like Marston was the last one to go down and I think McKay must have killed the man who was in charge of the whole mess. He didn’t tell me everything but he told me enough.”
“Fuck.” Evan’s hands clenched into fists. “Why the fuck do we send them into the field again?”
“Because the Wraith defeated the Ancients and we can’t afford to take their ivory tower path… so we must search and we must learn. We’re the only thing standing between the Wraith and our home. Not just our planet but thousands of worlds. We’re it.” John swallowed hard. “I did the math once… on how many people there were in the Milky Way and that was accounting for war, infant mortality in underdeveloped societies, and poor resources.”
“And I was sick for a week.” John opened his eyes and turned to look at Evan. “The Wraith at their current population could feed for a thousand years without having to hibernate for population regrowth. The Milky Way is a fucking buffet, Evan; we’re their last line of defense. That’s why McKay goes into the field. That’s why he willingly goes into the field. It’s why we’ve lost nearly as many scientists as we have soldiers on this mission. It’s why more will arrive in the next few days and why those same scientists will spend weeks in training with us before they were even approved for gate travel.” He cleared his throat. “Two weeks ago, when I issued all the civilians dog tags… it was like a punch in the gut.”
“I know.” Evan closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. “It’s… just bullshit.”
“Most of them didn’t even blink, just accepted them with these small, fake little smiles that told me they understood exactly what they were for and it was okay that I was making sure we could identify their bodies later. Some of them even thanked me.” John sucked in a breath. “The IOA continues to say that this is not a war – that Atlantis is a civilian expedition but every man and woman on this base is a soldier, Evan. Every single one of us. Some of them won’t ever admit it; they will cling to their PhDs, wear their original purpose on this city like a shield, and keep their dog tags tucked under their tidy little uniforms. But it doesn’t change anything at all. It’s not the training, really, that makes us what we are. It’s the situations of war that makes us all soldiers.”
– – – –
Rodney was one of those men who would cling to his education while absently rubbing his dog tags through his uniform shirt. John knew that and even understood as he watched the man ease into a chair in front of them in the conference room. Carter had wanted to conduct the debriefing in the infirmary but Rodney had insisted on getting dressed. They had all tried to make him see reason but he had silenced them with sharp vicious words that made his grief perfectly clear. Even Dr. Keller had backed off, her mouth drawn into a thin line; her eyes dark with sympathy and pain. A week of giving almost everyone the silent treatment and alternately cursing John out whenever someone was around hadn’t endeared him particularly anyone.
“Whenever you’re ready, Dr. McKay.” Colonel Samantha Carter’s voice was neutral, her expression remote as if she understood better than anyone else what Rodney needed in that moment and John hated her a little for it.
“We came through the gate and the Finarians met us as planned. The man that I had been working closely with on the irrigation system appeared to be a little stressed but I figured he was worried about the coming dry season on the planet and with their population every crop certainly counted. Half-way to the field house where we’d previously set up water pumps we found ourselves surrounded—some of them had Genii weapons but they didn’t hold them like they were comfortable with them so I imagine they were stolen or traded very recently.”
Rodney reached out a shaking hand to grab the water pitcher and when he realized his hand was shaking let it drop with a thud onto the table. John searched his face carefully before grabbing the pitcher himself and filling the empty glass in front of McKay. He watched the scientist take the glass between both of his hands and pull it closer with a softly spoken thank you. He stared at the water for a few minutes and took a drink which caused some of the tension in the room to bleed away.
“Gage, the man I had worked with from the village was the first to die. I don’t know how much he knew about their plans but he strongly objected to the weapons. They shot him in the head. The rest of the villagers… the ones without weapons seemed to scatter at that point and when they threatened to shoot me next Marston ordered his team to stand down.” Rodney focused on the table in front of them. “Four elders from the village got back bones at that point and tried to intervene… tried to tell the others that this was not their way and the leader of the group shouted at them that the Wraith had made their terms very clear. Then he ordered the four elders killed right there in the street… and his men didn’t even hesitate. Just butchered those old men without bothering to look guilty about it.”
“They moved us into a building and started to ask questions which I refused to answer. They wanted the gate address to Atlantis, they wanted to know what our defenses were, and they wanted to know why we offered them so little protection when we obviously had so much to give. The more I refused the madder he got, his men… they called him Doran. They started with torture. I guess they figured I wouldn’t take much before I folded.” Rodney’s hand slid to the arm that had been cut so long ago and cleared his throat. “But, I’ve learned along the way that physical pain can be managed. He stabbed me in the shoulder a few times but when he realized that was going to work he shot Sergeant Myers in the head.”
Rodney ignored the intakes of breath and John averted his gaze. He found a place along the wall near Samantha Carter’s chair to look at.
“At that point I almost gave them the address,” Rodney said, his voice almost casual. “I knew they were going to try to send their people through the gate; I’d heard them talking about it. They thought they could save their women and children that way. I almost did it. I almost gave them the address and let them come through the worm hole to thud against the gate shield into non-existence. But I didn’t.”
He cleared his throat. “They started evacuating the women and children through the gate at some point… to some other world that I didn’t bother to pay attention to because then they killed Lieutenant Johnson. He reminded me of Aiden Ford. Fresh faced, full of life, the kind of kid that would jump ass backward through the gate with a big grin on his face.”
Rodney swallowed hard then. “Scott Johnson from Nebraska. Where the fuck does the SGC get off? They send these fresh-faced corn fed boys off to another goddamned galaxy to die in war that no one bothers to acknowledge?” He took another drink of water. “Then we send home flag draped coffins and meaningless condolences to families who will never know the truth about their sons and daughters. Never. It’s fucking obscene.”
It was obscene. It was so disgusting that John could barely think about it and still do his job. “Maybe we should take a break, McKay.”
“No. I’m only doing this once,” Rodney shook his head. “I’m going to that room in my head once and never again. Once I leave here today no one is allowed to ask me questions about it again. Never.” He finished off his water and pushed the empty glass out in front of him and sighed when John refilled it.
“They started asking questions about our ships and they wanted to know where we came from. At this point only two of the villagers were in the room but they had my own 9mm pointed at my head. I could tell Major Marston wanted to act. I could tell he was ready to tear down the whole fucking building but we all knew that the guy with the gun on me would react fast. So I watched while they used a knife to carve up Private William Banks – and he never made a sound. He just stared at Major Marston and took it—took it until the blood loss made him pass out. Then he laid there on the floor and bled out.”
“Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” John pushed back from the table. Everyone in the room had seen the body of William Banks but having the knowledge ripped open in a way that only Rodney could was so painful they were all a little stunned by it.
“Yes, well, it’s just one more experience that makes me relieved I figured out that I was an atheist when I was eight,” Rodney snapped tightly. “Dr. Melissa Jace was next. It was worse with her; harder to know what they could do to her to try to make us talk. She hadn’t been here long, had only gone through the gate a half dozen times.”
John watched closely, saw the distress that only another man can really understand – the vulnerability that came with working with women in combat, the knowledge that there some things they could not protect them from.
“They beat her. Forced screams out of her that weren’t even human until she started to pray in three different languages. Ancient, French, and Egyptian… it all poured out of her in an endless stream of begging. She begged for forgiveness for all the lies she’s told, the secrets she’s kept, the time she cheated on her eleventh grade literature exam, she begged for forgiveness for the life she’d taken during her first mission, she spoke of Atlantis—told them everything they could possibly want to know in a language they had no hopes of understanding then in her words flowed back into English and she asked to me to speak words to her lover – soft amazing things that made my insides hurt.” He drank more water, his hands unsteady. “Then she, fuck, I’d never heard a death rattle before in my life until that moment. Her body just shook with it.”
Sam Carter reached out and paused the program on her computer that was recording the debriefing for official purposes. “Do you need to take a break, Rodney?”
There again, she hit the right note, John thought. The question was soft, she’d used his first name, and just as quickly as Rodney had seemed to fall into himself he straightened in the chair and shook his head. “No, I’m almost done and I don’t want to… I need to finish this.”
Sam nodded and unpaused the recording program.
“At that point they Duran decided that I obviously wasn’t going to be a reasonable man and that he might as well just wait for the Wraith to show up. Since one person from Atlantis was just as good as another – he would kill me and give Marston over to the Hive that was already in orbit. It might be enough, he said, to prevent a full culling of his world.” Rodney paused, and closed his eyes. “Marston fought back and since it was somewhat unexpected at that point he managed to kill Duran and get back my gun. The other guy, who I never heard a name for, pointed his weapon at me… a Genii rifle… and Major Robert Marston stepped in front of me. He threw the gun towards me as he fell and he said, ‘Tell my son I died like a man’. I picked up the gun and emptied the rest of the clip into the other villager. Then I searched the room for ammunition for the gun and made a break for the gate. There was on Dart still in the air but I don’t think it noticed me, if it did I was already through the gate before it could get back to me.”
He’d remember all of their names, John thought. The man who barely bothered to remember anyone’s name and had taken over a year to get Zelenka’s name right had remembered all of their names. It bothered him and he couldn’t shake it loose. It spoke to Rodney’s mindset and his total lack of preoccupation with anything beyond what had happened in that room. It spoke of something far more than what he’d just detailed which was horrific in its own right but McKay had actually been through much worse. They all had.
Rodney reached out and turned off the recording with a steady hand. “The first time I realized that I’d actually killed a man… we were running for the Gate because Sheppard had smiled a little too much at some alien princess and her daddy had decided they should get married. They were shooting these horrible arrow type things at us that actually had barbed heads that burrowed into the skin when they made contact. I turned and fired my weapon and killed a man. I watched him fall and knew he wouldn’t get up.” He sat back in his chair, his face awash with raw emotion.
“It’s pretty damn hard to kill a Wraith but I’m sure I’ve killed my share – I don’t know when I stopped considering them life and started to think of them as just big bugs. They’re big bugs and we’re the pest control men of the Pegasus galaxy. Maybe it made it easier to kill them if I just thought of them as if they were pests instead of a sentient species. I don’t consider the Wraith men. Maybe I never did and I know I probably won’t ever. The Asurans… I killed their whole little replicator planet with a few key strokes and computer program. I remember being proud of myself because I never considered them life… not life that was worth preserving.”
John’s gut clenched and he looked at Carter who was so grief stricken by the words pouring out of Rodney that he was afraid the Colonel might actually cry. He knew he couldn’t handle that. Maybe couldn’t ever handle that.
“So yesterday, I killed my fourteenth non-Earth human being with my own hand. I’m too fucking arrogant, really, to think about all the people the replicators killed because of what I turned on in them. That would be too much, wouldn’t it? I might go a little insane if I had to reconcile with the fact that I turned a gun to the head of the entire galaxy?”
“It’s something you learn to deal with,” Sheppard finally said his voice soft with sadness. “Most of the time. No one at this table is free of mistakes, free of bad choices, or wrong turns. But it does highlight the difference between us and the Ancients.”
“They made mistake after mistake with the Wraith and instead of dealing with their mistakes—instead of fighting for all they were worth they abandoned this galaxy and let everyone else suffer for it.”
– – – –
He found Rodney in the most unusual of places. He’d been surprised to learn that he hadn’t returned to the infirmary after the debriefing. A quick search of the labs and McKay’s quarters had yielded nothing so John had returned to his own quarters to stew a while before enlisting Zelenka’s help.
McKay was curled up in his bed asleep. He engaged the privacy lock on his door with a thought, stripped off his clothes, and crawled into the bed with him. Rodney murmured in his sleep and then reached out for him. It was enough, for now. It had to be and in the morning, God help them both, they were going to talk about their relationship and probably their stupid feelings. It was enough, John thought, to put a man off his stride for a whole goddamned year.
– – – –
When he woke McKay was gone and that was so fucking infuriating that he was half-dressed before he realized the man was in the shower. He strode into the bathroom; his t-shirt still rucked up high, and pulled it down with an indignant huff when Rodney turned to look at him through the glass door. John leaned against the bathroom door and watched with cool green eyes as Rodney returned to his washing. His body was lean now, far leaner and stronger than when they’d first met four years ago in a deep hole in Antarctica. It was yet another way that Rodney McKay had been shaped by war.
He’d pulled off the bandages and the three separate puncture wounds on his shoulder looked almost innocent. Neat rows of black stitches… so tight and so small that the scaring would be minimal. “Muscle damage?”
“Very little. It was already starting to heal a little by the time Jennifer cleaned the wound. Even with the artificial ATA gene, Atlantis seems like her boys to heal pretty quickly around here. I felt twenty percent better as soon as I entered the gate room.” He pushed open the door and frowned at John. “You noticed that right? I’m not the only one?”
“I’ve noticed,” John admitted. It was a little discussed fact that gene carriers – artificial or not—healed so much faster than everyone else on the city. “The last time I was shot, at night I would wake up and I swear I could feel fingers on me but I was alone in the room. Lorne refuses to talk about it and almost crossed himself the last time I brought it up to him.”
Rodney snorted. “Sexy bastard. I’ve always thought looks like his were wasted on a straight man. Women don’t need anything that pretty, really.”
John laughed. “Do not talk about my XO being hot. It’s… so true… but I have to look that man in the face.” He offered Rodney a towel and sighed.
“He’s a good man,” Rodney admitted. “I’ve known him since he joined the SGC. I was really surprised when they sorted him out here.”
“You’re sure he’s entirely straight?” John questioned, gaze a little narrow.
“Seriously, you aren’t jealous of Evan are you? He’s the most heterosexual man on the base. He lives and breathes pussy.”
“No. I’m not jealous of Lorne and for the record, I wasn’t jealous two weeks ago when you kicked me out of your fucking quarters.”
“Oh, I see, so you didn’t look at Dr. Parrish like you could kill him? I just imagined that?”
“I look at all of the scientists that way at least once a week.” John sighed as Rodney rummaged through the drawer in his dresser that he’d cleared out for a few of McKay’s things and then pulled on boxers and a pair of uniform pants. “Hell, every geek on this city pisses me off a couple of times a week—including you.”
Rodney jerked on a pair of socks and then grabbed his shoes. With a huff he pulled his dog tags out of them and then dropped them over his head. “You are an ass. I don’t even know why I came over here last night.” He looked up and for the first time saw open devastation on John’s face and he jerked back stunned, horrified. “What?”
“I wasn’t jealous that day. I wasn’t jealous at all. Parrish knows how I feel about you; him and Zelenka have been pushing me to make a move on you for two years—when I saw him coming out of your quarters the last thing I worried about was that the two of you screwing.”
“Then what?” Rodney demanded. “And stop looking like that – you’re freaking me the fuck out!”
John walked across the room and without a word slid to his knees in front of McKay. He groaned a little when Rodney immediately made room between his legs for him to slide closer and then wrapped his arms around him—his face pressed against Rodney’s chest.
“It was dog tag day.”
“What?” Rodney asked softly, his fingers trailing in Sheppard’s hair. “I don’t… what? I’m wearing the dog tags! Did you think I would give you guys a hard time about them?”
“No.” John shook his head and lifted away. He sat back on his heels feeling defeated. “I spent the day going around to all of the civilians and giving them dog tags. I barely remember dropping by your lab to give you yours—it was a busy day. I saved Jennifer Keller for last, you know. Caught her on the way out of the infirmary; took her to a balcony and offered them to her silently. Christ, she’s seen so many of them but seeing a set with her name on it was a freak out in the making. I wanted her to have privacy for it. After all, she doesn’t have the best luck even if she has the baddest motherfucker in two galaxies for a boyfriend.”
“She freaked out?”
“No. She took them and dropped them over her neck just like you did just now. She didn’t blink, didn’t ask questions, didn’t look horrified, and didn’t bitch that the chain would tangle in her hair.” John pushed up from the floor and started to pace. “I came here prepared to die. I knew what I was walking into.”
“We all do, John. It isn’t like the SGC can send anyone out here to the city on the edge of fucking forever and not tell us.”
Sheppard smirked. “I love the Trekkie in you, I swear.” He rubbed his face in two hands. “I’ve spent my entire adult life at war.” He laughed bitterly. “So, I spent the day doing that – introducing a bunch of civilians to death. I come to your quarters – I don’t even remember why and I see you standing there looking a little peevish because Parrish has said something that irritated you and you’ve got those stupid fucking dog tags around your neck. All I see is the red one – the one that lists all the fucking reasons you should never be allowed through the goddamned gate.”
Rodney sputtered and picked up the tags. Two steel gray ones listed his name and country. The red one carried information about his medical needs – allergies, his hypoglycemia which hadn’t been so bad in recent years – losing weight and getting in shape had helped in a lot of ways. He had no blood pressure problems; his sugars were easier to control. “I’m the Chief of Science for this entire expedition, Colonel; I have to go through the gate.”
“You have two PhDs, Dr. McKay. Complex math gets you excited and five years ago when I first met you – you got a little glassy eyed because I was still wearing my service revolver. Now, I see you in the field or on the gun range and your 9mm is like an extension of your hand.”
“I don’t understand where you are going with this!”
“You say you’re not a soldier. None of your staff will admit to it… you call yourselves scientists and hide behind your degrees. The rest of us have let you for years and all the while we have snuck in behind your shields of education and claims of research and taught you to use weapons. We’ve trained you to kill. And when I look at you with those dog tags on, I hate myself a little for any part I had in making you into something you never intended on being.” John closed his eyes and swallowed hard obviously shocked that he’d said so much.
“I asked Carter to exclude you from the debriefing today.” Rodney grimaced at John’s intake of breath. “I tried to make a privacy claim and she basically told me to shut the fuck up. I couldn’t very well tell her that I didn’t want my lover in a meeting where I had to spill my guts and admit what an unfeeling bastard I’d become. I still can’t believe that I don’t care that most of the people on that planet are dead by now.”
“They were going to kill you! They were going to sell one of us to the Wraith in the hopes of getting a lighter culling. They should all be fucking glad they’re dead because I’d like nothing more to go back there and blow them the fuck up for it.” John’s hands tightened into fists.
“I was on this road long before I met you. It was only a matter of time before the SGC put me in the field. I accepted this when I stepped through the gate on what I was positive was going to be a one way mission to another galaxy.”
Rodney sighed. “I didn’t expect you. I didn’t plan for you. No one ever in my life bothered to prepare me for what it would be like to love someone more than I love myself or maybe even my sister. I mean she is a total pain in the ass – but lately I find I quite like her.”
John stopped pacing and stared. “You love me?”
“Yeah, fuck, probably for the better part of a five fucking years!” Rodney shouted and dropped back on the bed. “And it would be so much easier on me if it weren’t true. To tell you the truth I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep our relationship to myself. I worry myself sick that I’m going to do something or say something that gives us a way and then you’ll be gone.”
John sighed. “We’ll deal with it if it happens. I came into this relationship with my eyes wide open, Rodney. I knew what I was risking and I don’t care. I really don’t. I don’t care what anyone says or what anyone thinks about it. I’ve lived my entire adult life for someone else and now I sit on the edge of death every damn day so I deserve to be with the one person I love more than anything.”
He started to move towards McKay and hissed when his radio. John went to it, slipped into his ear, activated it with a shaking hand and closed his eyes briefly. “Yes, ma’am, I’ll be there in five minutes.”
Rodney stood up from the bed, closed the distance between them, and touched John’s face as he closed the radio connection. “We’ve had a shitty few weeks.”
“We’re both miserable assholes so I don’t expect things are ever going to be easy.”
“Easy is for the weak.” He leaned in and brushed a soft kiss across McKay’s lips. “If I wanted easy I’d be retired and sitting on a beach on Earth somewhere.”
Rodney frowned. “I’m still pissed at you, you know.”
– – – –
“I’ll probably be able to remove the stitches in a few days,” Jennifer pulled off gloves and surveyed the three wounds. “Just try not to pull them out.”
“I’ll do my best.” Rodney reached for his t-shirt and grimaced. “This part sucks.”
Jennifer laughed. “Well, I’m sure there are quite a few people who would be okay with you skipping the shirt for a few days but that could lead to fist fights, huh?”
Rodney flushed. “What?”
Jennifer picked up his shirt and helped ease it over his head and then push his injured shoulder through the arm hole. “Relax, Rodney, I won’t say a word. I promise.”
He swallowed hard. “What did I say?”
“Nothing. It wasn’t you.” She patted his cheek. “It was him. Anyone that bothered to look his way when you came back through the gate would have seen it.”
“Do you think anyone else noticed?”
“No, I was facing him and everyone else was scrambling for the recovery mission and even if they did I don’t think they would have interpreted the fresh horror on his face the way I do.”
“Why did you?”
“Because he sat by your bed in the middle of the night and held your hand when he thought I wasn’t looking.” Jennifer sighed. “Stop freaking out. I consider this matter a doctor/patient confidentiality issue.”
“Okay, okay.” Rodney relaxed. “It’s just, fuck, if it got out…”
“I’ve worked with the military for a few years; I do know what could happen.” Jennifer tugged his t-shirt completely down. “Now, no more than four hours in the lab today and I mean it. Also, Dr. Stephens expects to see you in the afternoon.”
He sighed. In the past, he actually found reasons not to go the base psychologist but in the past year or so he’d begun to realize exactly why the military personnel avoided the process as much as possible. But he nodded because ignoring Dr. Stephens would just lead to another hassle that he did not need.
John was waiting for him outside of the transporter near his lab and fell into step beside him. “Well?”
“Limited duty—four hours a day maximum.”
“Take care of yourself,” John said as they parted outside of the lab and Rodney waved briefly at Radek as he went to his desk.
“Who almost killed themselves this morning?”
Radek sighed. “Jones and Barkley. I agree with you that we should just tell the SGC not to send any more people and go home and recruit our own group of idiots. At least our idiots would not be so … suicidal.”
“A highly developed sense of self-preservation is apparently not on the job description. We should work on a new one.” He pulled his laptop out of its locked drawer and opened it with a flick of his wrist. “Anything else?”
“We have a small power bleed on the north pier but I sent a team to investigate. They’ve not killed themselves, maimed their military escort, or blown us up yet so things are looking up.” Radek slid off his stool and went to stand next to Rodney’s station. “How are you?”
“Tired.” Rodney admitted softly. “Very tired of being captured. Very tired of defending myself. Very tired of the Wraith.”
Radek nodded. “You’ll rest today?”
“Yes.” Rodney straightened when another person came into the lab.
– – – –
“Your anger is justified.”
Which was shrink-speak for ‘you’re irrational and I’m not letting you go into the field like this’. Rodney shrugged and sat back on the couch. “You have the best furniture on the whole base.”
“I had the couch brought from Earth. I find the Ancients lacked a certain concern for creature comforts.” Joshua Stephens smiled then, his dark brown eyes lit with amusement. “You’ve spent too much time in my company, Dr. McKay. I believe between Dr. Heightmeyer and myself you might be a little too good at this game.”
“Kate was nice,” Rodney admitted. “Her death was a loss to the expedition. You would have liked her.”
“I knew her from Earth. She was a great person and a dedicated doctor.” Stephens leaned back in his chair and looked at the tablet PC in his lap. “Dr. Keller indicated in your medical charts that you’ve had nightmares since the latest incident. From your files, I’ve learned that you haven’t reported nightmares since shortly after the first year on the base.”
Rodney snorted. “I guess you stop reporting things when they aren’t out of the ordinary. I mean, really, we are surrounded by a thousand things a day that might kill us… a few nightmares is almost a requirement right? One more way for our brain to bleed out the day so we can function.”
“Is that how you think of them? Some sort of fear release?”
“Yes, of course, it’s the only thing that makes any real sense to me. I can’t really freak out the way I need to anymore—there are too many people on the base who just couldn’t handle me doing that.” Rodney sighed. “There was a time when I could just you know—blow my cool and not worry. Not so much now.”
“Because you’re afraid you’ll scare your friends away?”
“Because I know I’ll worry them sick. We really have too much going on around here for anyone to worry about whether or not I’m going to take a header off a balcony.” The silence was overwhelming and Rodney cleared his throat. “Not that I’ve considered that.”
“It isn’t the first time you’ve mentioned suicide in this room. In fact, it isn’t the first time you’ve casually discussed ending your own life with me. That being said, if you were suicidal you’d be dead already and I’ve no doubts about that. None. I do believe that you think live on borrowed time.”
“Don’t we all?” Rodney asked softly, his voice one of resignation. “I mean, really? I could have died any number of ways over the past five years – snuffed out before I even won my Nobel Prize.”
Stephens smiled. “There must be some research you could publish at this point?”
“Yes, well, the SGC is slowly working towards that goal and in the next few years about fifteen of my papers will be released for publication. It’ll set the world of physics on its ass but that’s neither here nor there. I probably won’t even be on Earth to rub it in their faces.” He sighed. “Which sucks because I really want to be around for that. My work on wormhole physics alone will…” He waved his hand. “You don’t care about that crap. Regardless, it’ll come eventually. Of course, unless the program gets declassified I can’t imagine any of the real meat of my work seeing the light of day until I’m long dead.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“Being a paragraph in history?”
“Surely a whole chapter.”
Rodney smiled then. “Yeah, maybe a chapter. That would be nice. I did save the planet once or twice in the past. Well, my brain, Ronon’s knife collection, Teyla’s badassness, and Sheppard’s suicidal tendencies… we’ve saved the world a few times together.”
“Your team is important to you.”
“It made you mad that you were your own then—that your team wasn’t with you.”
Rodney flushed. “What? No, of course not. Christ, it would have been so much worse if they’d been there. I don’t know that I could have…” He sighed. “Teyla can’t travel through the gate now that she’s so pregnant. Ronon is still recovering from his bullet wound and won’t be fit for field duty for another few week or so. Sheppard…”
“Sent you off-world with a team you’d never worked with. It’s okay to be upset with him.”
“That’s not why I’m mad at him.” Rodney’s jaw clicked together with the audible of teeth meeting. He was obviously slipping if a bullshit technique got past him. He wouldn’t have fallen for that in the fifth grade. “Five people died right in front of me; every single one of them a sacrifice for the safety of this mission except for…”
“Major Marston. Major Marston died for you.”
“That upsets you? He isn’t the first person to die so that you could live.”
“And that somehow makes it easier?” Rodney leaned forward a little. “Is that what you think? Do you think it gets easier? Because it doesn’t and I hate the day that it will be. I hate it.”
“And you think that day will come?”
“Won’t it?” Rodney asked, his voice broken. “How much can be crammed into the human experience before we are forced to isolate ourselves from the loss of others to merely survive mentally? I mean, seriously, how many people will I watch die right in front of me before I lose my fucking mind or just go dead on the inside?”
“Which do you prefer? To go insane or die inside?”
“I’ve always valued my intelligence and sanity above all else,” McKay admitted. “Both proved to be a valuable shield against the crap my parents heaped on me just because I was born.” He stood up abruptly. “Obviously we have to stop for the day.”
Dr. Stephens asked, “Do we?”
“Yes, I’m not in a good mental place to defend myself against your brain probe.”
– – – –
He entered Sheppard’s quarters without bothering to ring the chime. John was on the bed, lounging in a pair of pants. Rodney started speaking immediately, “I don’t blame you for not being there. I know you feel this guilt for it… I can’t make that go away for you but there is absolutely no part of me that wishes you’d been there. I don’t think…” McKay closed his eyes briefly. “Don’t ever die for me, John, I wouldn’t survive it.”
John stared for nearly a full minute in silence and then put the tablet down on the nightstand near his bed. “Come here, Mer.”
McKay tried not to appear grateful for the easy acceptance as he toed off his shoes and crawled into the bed. He’d only been in the Colonel’s bed a few times since that first night – schedules, off-world missions, etc had played havoc with the two weeks they’d had before he’d lost his temper with the man.
“Want to tell me where you got this big bed?”
“I bitched to Carter about my tiny bed and she came by afternoon to pick up some reports from me and saw it. She agreed that it was stupid and ordered me this one. Are you actually complaining?”
“Only because it’s not in my room.” Rodney sprawled on the queen sized mattress and sighed with envy.
“You can come play or sleep in my bed any time you’d like.”
“I came here last night after the debriefing because I sleep better with you. Which is stupid by the way. I slept just fine for thirty-eight years without you and it’s idiotic that after one night in your bed I find sleep without you quite inadequate.”
John laughed softly. “Oddly, I would say the same thing about you. My bed is much nicer with you in it.” He rolled to his side and looked over Rodney’s face. “How did your mandatory counseling session go?”
“I’m a mess and I could barely defend myself against his flimsy mental evaluation methods.” McKay sighed.
“What did you say?”
“Just bullshit I wish I hadn’t.”
John pulled him close and pressed his lips against McKay’s forehead. “You should sleep.”
“No way, I’m entitled to ‘thank god I survived sex’ and I expect it.”
Sheppard laughed. “Is that so?”
“Well, you’ll have to lay still and let me do all the work,” John murmured as he maneuvered McKay fully onto his back. “We wouldn’t want to tear out Keller’s stitches.”
Rodney sucked in a breath as John opened his pants and tugged at the zipper. “I can work with that.” He lifted his hips and took a deep breath when his BDU’s and boxers were pulled off in one fluid motion. “You’re very good at this undressing thing.”
He smirked. “Take off your shirt.”
Rodney worked it through off his good arm, over his head and then sighed when John pulled it away completely. “You strip off a lot of injured men in your bed, Colonel?”
“You’re the only man I’ve ever had in this bed,” John admitted roughly as he pressed a kiss against McKay’s eager mouth. “I almost lost you and all I could think is about all that time I wasted thinking I didn’t deserve this with you.”
“You are so stupid,” Rodney complained as John’s mouth meandered down his chest to latch onto one nipple. “Maybe it’s the hair products.”
John laughed softly and clenched his teeth in retaliation. He moved down again and sucked hard on the thin skin covering his left hip bone. Sheppard settled between McKay’s legs with a small sigh and nuzzled his balls. “I love the way you taste.”
“Bossy bastard,” John responded as he licked up the length of Rodney’s cock.
McKay choked on his snappy and completely warranted come back when John sucked the head of his cock into his mouth. He closed his eyes and drifted his fingers drift through the startlingly soft mess of Sheppard’s hair. Rodney lifted his hips briefly and then groaned in distress when John stopped. He hissed in displeasure when Sheppard released his dick with a slick pop.
“No moving,” John admonished. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
Rodney glared at him. “I hate you with the intensity of a thousand stars.”
John smirked at him and pulled off his t-shirt. He tossed it aside as he slipped off the bed to finish undressing. Retrieving the lube from the bedside table, he casually flipped it open and crawled back into the bed. “If you want mean grudge-sex, buddy, we’re going to have wait until you’re fully healed.”
Rodney’s eyes went wide as he watched John settle on his knees between his legs. “Grudge-sex?”
“Yeah,” John confirmed with a small laugh. “You know the kind…” He slicked up his fingers and tossed the lube on the bed. He slid one finger skillfully into Rodney’s hole and watched the scientist fight to remain still. “Up against the wall with spit for lube—my dick stretching your ass, my hand jerking your cock so hard and fast it’s like you’re sixteen again.” He added a second finger. “The kind of sex that you pray will never end but don’t think you can take another minute of.”
“Never had that before,” Rodney admitted roughly.
“I’ll give you anything you want,” John promised. “Anything.” He used his fingers to stretch McKay a little more before pulling them free and then picked up the lube to slick up his cock. “No moving—just let me do all the work.”
“I can do that.”
Rodney sighed as John hooked his legs over his arms and spread him wide. “I love this. I love watching you fuck me.”
“You take it well,” John whispered. “I never thought you’d be like this—such a greedy, hot bottom. So eager for cock.”
“What did you think?” McKay asked around a soft moan as John pushed into him.
“Demanding, hard—maybe on top more than the bottom.” John rubbed his thighs as he pressed in deep. “I used to fantasize about you fucking me.”
“I can do that,” Rodney murmured.
“Yeah, you sure can.” John smirked. “It’s been years since I’ve let a man have my ass and you did great work.”
Rodney laughed and then moaned when started to rock into him slowly. “Jesus, John.”
“Relax—we’re going to take this very slow so we don’t hurt your shoulder,” John explained as he palmed McKay’s cock and started to jack him at the same easy pace. “That’s it just lay there and take it.”
Rodney’s hips flexed slightly and he groaned. “I won’t last if you keep saying things like that to me.”
“You don’t have to last, Mer. You can come anytime you’re ready.” John rubbed his thumb over the head of McKay’s cock. “This is all for you.”
“I want you to come with me, John.” Rodney shivered as John shifted his hips, tilting his body just a little so his next stroke it glided over his prostate perfectly. “Fuck.”
“You feel so good,” John whispered and bit down on his bottom lip. “I’d like to tie you up—face down on the bed for a full day—and just fuck you anytime I get the urge.”
“You filthy bastard,” Rodney declared sincerely. “Come on, fuck me.”
John cupped his ass with strong hands and started to rock into him with quick, hard strokes. He watched McKay’s cock slap thick and dripping wet at the tip against his stomach with each thrust. It was the hottest thing he’d seen in years. Sheppard let his head fall back and closed his eyes as he tried to push back his own orgasm.
“Gonna come,” John whispered fiercely.
“Yeah, God, come in me.” Rodney palmed his cock and jerked himself just once.
The sight of him coming all over his hand was enough for John—he jerked roughly and stilled as he came—his cock pulsing in the vice of McKay’s ass. John lowered him carefully to the bed and pulled his cock free slowly.
– – – –
John glanced briefly into the shower stall where McKay was standing before resuming drying his hair. “You’re getting your stitches wet.”
“They are mostly healed. I figure I’ll ask her to take them out tomorrow.”
John tossed his towel into a laundry basket under the sink. “Hurry up and come to bed, McKay.”
“I can stay?”
“Yeah.” John looked at him. “I’d prefer it.”
By the time he’d changed the sheets and remade the bed—McKay was finished with the shower and yawning his way towards the bed. John prodded the scientist under the sheet and then slid in beside him. “I changed your schedule so you aren’t due in the lab until after lunch.”
“I’m a grown man,” McKay muttered as snuggled back into John’s arms.
“I noticed.” John pressed a kiss against his hair. “Just sleep, Mer. You’ll have plenty of time to berate your minions before dinner.”
“Love you,” McKay whispered. “I thought maybe on the planet that I’d never get to tell you.”
John’s arms tightened around him. “I knew—I think I’ve always known.”
“Don’t leave. Be here when I wake up.”
Author’s Note: At one time, I had planned to rewrite this story idea and turn it into part of the “Dark Places in the Soul Series”. I changed my mind because I lost interest in that series and it would have taken a great deal of work to change the pairing. I mention this only because there are scenes in House of Cards and Wild Card that alludes vaguely to the events of this story. That being said I don’t consider them related at all.