Summary: John's lips were icy against Rodney's, but at least he'd remembered to straighten John's head and pinch his nose shut
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Season 5 cast, no other warnings
Original Story: Not So Artificial by flyakate
Notes: Many, many thanks to my trio of betas, tex, wpadmirer, and lamardeuse
"Sheppard," Rodney tried, and yes, damn it all, his radio was working just fine. "Sheppard!"
There was no answer, only the terrible rushing noise from behind the sealed door and the soft, impermanent blip of the life-signs detector.
"John!" Rodney yelled, even as he was feverishly popping off the door control panel and hooking up his tablet. Override, he tried first. Standard interface protocol, but the door didn't budge.
"Rodney," a voice called, but it wasn't John; it was Radek, rounding the corner with Ronon at his heels. "What is happening? We just detected an energy spike from your end of Where is Colonel Sheppard?"
"In. There," Rodney said between his teeth. The diagnostic said the door was sealed. Said it couldn't be unsealed, not when Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no.
Not when it was full of water.
"I need to access to this room," Rodney said. "There must be a leak somewhere, because it's filling with"
"Yes, yes," Radek said. "I have schematic. The room has a door to the outside, and we are well below the water line."
"Damn it." Rodney's fingers were flying and the code was racing across his screen and the life signs detector was still chirping, but it was taking too long. John had already been in there for nearly two minutes; it didn't take much longer to incur brain damage, and there had to be a way. The Ancients weren't idiots, or, okay, maybe they were, because who would build a room with a door that opened underwater without a very obvious pumping mechanism? It was hubris of the worst sort, and if John were here, he'd be saying
"We have to make it drain," Radek said.
"Yes, Captain Obvious, I am all too aware of that."
"I could force it," Ronon said, and put his shoulder to the door, but Rodney didn't even bother to look up. There was no way Ronon would be able to move it, no matter how hard he threw himself at it. He was still human.
They were all still human, and John was one tiny spark of life against the immutable forces of a leaking ocean.
"Maybe if we" Radek tried, but Rodney cut him off with a sweep of his hand.
"No time, don't you get it? We have no time! He's as good as dead already. I'm showing no air whatsoever, and unless he's suddenly sprouted gills, he's" Wait. There. That had to be it. Rodney tweaked the code and hit Enter to upload it, and there was a groaning noise, and then a slow, heaving rush.
"It's working!" Radek cried, and the sensors confirmed it was draining, but too slowly. They needed the door open now or John wouldn't have a chance, and damn it, right now Rodney could have happily gone back in time and erased the Ancients' entire existence, just to stop this horror.
"C'mon, c'mon," Ronon said with a shove and a groan, and then, suddenly the door slid free, and he tumbled inside.
Rodney dropped his tablet and bolted after him. The room had a sloping floor, and half of it was still submerged, but Ronon was already there, pulling a crumpled dark form out of the water.
"Oh, God," Rodney said, as Ronon rolled the limp body over onto the relatively flat part of the floor. John looked so thin with his clothes plastered against his body, and how was it possible that he took up so little space when he was unconscious? Not dead. He couldn't be dead. He couldn't possibly
"He's not breathing," Ronon said. "We need to"
"Here, let me," Rodney said, because he'd passed his CPR certification; he had the paper to prove it, if only he could remember what the hell he'd actually been certified to do. "Let me. Oh, God."
John's shirt was icy wet against his hands, and right, he was supposed to turn John's head to the side first. A trickle of water ran out of John's mouth, and for a blinding moment Rodney tried to remember if he was supposed to try the Heimlich maneuver or absolutely not supposed to, but it was too late and John was going to die if he didn't do something, God, anything right now, and oh, John's lips were icy against his and at least he'd remembered to straighten John's head and pinch his nose shut.
He exhaled into John's mouth, two long, deep breaths. He lifted his head and sucked air, then resealed his lips to John's to blow twice more, and this was not what he'd imagined when he'd imagined kissing John, not even close, and fuck, if it was the only chance he ever got, he'd go stark, raving
John convulsed against him and Rodney jerked back just in time to see him cough up more water than could possibly fit in his lungs and then take a heaving, gaspy breath.
"John," Rodney whispered, and John's eyes opened as he heaved some more.
"Rodney," Radek said, and placed a hand on his arm, and oh, right, he was clenching John's shoulder so tightly his knuckles were white. "The medical team is on their way."
"Oh," Rodney said, stupid with relief, and he could still feel the imprint of John's icy lips on his. Salty. They'd tasted salty. "You called them?"
"Yes, of course."
"Rodney," John croaked, and his eyes were dark, his lips no longer quite so terrifyingly gray.
"It's okay," Rodney said. "You didn't drown. Well, actually, you came ridiculously close, but you're . . . you're okay now. You're going to be okay."
"Thanks," John rasped, and then just looked at him, eyes unwavering on Rodney's face, like he thought all of Rodney's secrets were written right there on his forehead. But he couldn't see it, could he? He couldn't know Rodney had had fleeting thoughts about kissing him, because Rodney hadn't done anything. It had been perfectly textbook, well, as textbook as he could remember, and damn it, he wasn't going to flush, not when John was still staring.
He wasn't going to give it all away. He couldn't, not now, not when he'd been hiding this for years, and everyone said he wasn't good at poker, but this he was good at. Had always been good at, because he had to be. Only maybe he wasn't, maybe he was terrible at this, and he'd just gotten lucky because John had never actually looked at him before. Rodney swallowed hard, and it was a relief, oh God, a double relief when he heard the pounding feet and rolling wheels of the medical team.
An aide's hand cupped his shoulder and tugged him back, and then Jennifer and two nurses were bent over John, fitting an oxygen mask over his face and taking his vitals. Rodney levered himself up off the wet floor, his heart still pounding. The medics were working quickly and efficiently, and everything was going to be okay. John's eyes were still open, he was still conscious, he was still looking . . .
Oh, God. He was still looking at Rodney, his eyes focused and intense. Like he knew. Like he'd read it all on Rodney's face. Like he'd felt it in the touch of Rodney's mouth, and crap.
Rodney was screwed. Totally, completely screwed. He'd given it all away, and John . . .
Was going to be okay. Was going to be just fine, and right now that was all that could possibly matter. Because even if Rodney lost their friendship to this, John would still be alive.
It wasn't exactly a trade-off he'd ever wanted to make, but it sure as hell beat the alternative.
Teyla met them at the infirmary, and they all waited together while Jennifer and her staff bustled John off to get scanned and God knew what else.
"He is all right," Teyla said, her hand warm on Rodney's wrist. "The tests are merely a precaution."
"I know, I know," Rodney said, and he was shaking now. Delayed reaction. "I just . . . it wasn't even an intentional suicide mission, you know? I mean, how ironic would it be if the one thing that killed him was an accident so stupid we'd have to fudge the incident report to make the SGC believe it?"
"It is always stupid things that kill you," Radek said. "Because we do not expect them to, you know?"
It wasn't like Rodney could argue with that. "Oh, hey, do you think we can get someone to get us some food?" he asked, because he needed something, anything to take his mind off the memory of John's mouth against his, and the look in John's eyes afterward.
Ronon, of course, made a face that was entirely uncalled for, and Rodney rolled his eyes right back at him.
"What? It's almost dinner time, and artificial respiration is extremely calorie-intensive. Not that you would know what I'm talking about, of course."
"On Athos we called it the Breath of Life," Teyla said with an arch of her brows. "Carson was most interested in our techniques when I trained for certification in your methods."
"We called it Air Sharing," Ronon said with a shrug.
"Oh," Rodney said, and he wasn't disappointed that his teammates were proficient in rescue techniques. Certainly not. After all, given their usual luck, he might need to take advantage of that some day. He just wished he'd known that before, so he wouldn't have had to give himself away. "Right. Well"
But he was saved from having to dig himself out of the conversational hole by the appearance of one of the nurses. "The colonel is ready for visitors now."
John looked considerably more like himself, even dressed in scrubs with heart monitor wires snaking out at the neck. He was a lot drier, for one thing. And his expression was reassuringly familiar that slightly rueful, guess-I'm-in-the-infirmary-again smile.
Rodney hung back behind Ronon and let the others handle the small talk. Not that John was likely to make a scene or anything, but God, he knew everything. Well, okay, not everything, but close enough, and it was probably a good thing he was confined to a hospital bed with an IV in his hand and plenty of witnesses, or he might
Okay, no. Rodney was pretty sure John wouldn't hit him. And it wasn't like John was going to complain about having his life saved, even if Ronon could apparently have done the job just as easily. But, God, John was going to be all awkward around him now. Or totally freaked out, which would suck in ways too depressing to even contemplate.
"Yes?" Rodney jerked his head up and tried not to look guilty. "I'm here."
"I noticed," John said, and he sounded like his usual dry self. "Thanks for saving my life."
"Oh," Rodney said. But they didn't usually thank each other, did they? So John wasn't really back to normal; it was all just pretense. "Right. Well, you know, it was my turn and all of that."
"If you say so," John said. "I've kind of lost count." Then he lifted his head off the pillow, his focus narrowing, just like before, right on Rodney's face, and oh, God. But all John said was, "You okay?"
"Me?" Rodney said, his heart drumming in his chest. "Yes, yes, perfectly fine. Just, ah, you know. A bit peckish after all of the excitement."
John grinned, his focus relaxing again, like it was no big deal. Or like he was trying to prove it was no big deal, which, given that they were surrounded by friends and colleagues and medical staff, probably wasn't such a bad idea. "Go get yourself some dinner," he said, and his head fell back onto his pillow.
"Oh," Rodney said. "Right, I could . . . ah, can I get you anything?"
"Doc already ordered me a tray," John said, still painfully nonchalant.
Rodney had to look away. "Anyone else want to . . . ?" But Radek shrugged, Ronon shook his head, and Teyla just smiled and said, "I will eat later." Which made Rodney feel like a cad for leaving, but he really couldn't stay, not with John still looking at him sideways and thinking God only knew what. Rodney ducked his head, gave John a quick, awkward nod, and fled.
He didn't dare check in at the infirmary again, so he didn't even know John had been released until he saw him in the mess at breakfast, sitting alone at a table overlooking the water.
It hit as a full-sense memory: the chill of John's lips, the taste of salt and desperation, the wet, clinging fabric of John's shirt under his hand.
"You planning on sitting?" John said, and Rodney jerked his chin up to find he had somehow migrated all the way across the room. "Or were you just going to stare off into space all morning?"
"I was thinking," Rodney said, willing himself not to flush again. "Someday you are going to interrupt me just as I'm formulating my grand unified theory and science will suffer a setback of decades, if not centuries."
John didn't even deign to answer that, just lifted an eyebrow at him and said, "So, hey, after breakfast, we're heading out to Sector G. Zelenka said he could meet us there, and I figured we'd take Ronon along again, just in case."
Rodney set his tray down with a clatter. "What? You want to go back to the place that nearly killed you? It hasn't even been twenty-four hours!"
John leaned back in his chair, one arm looped over the back. "Doc said I'm fine, and Woolsey okayed it. We need to know what caused the flood, and if it's going to be a danger to the city."
"But you . . . but we . . ."
"Look, can you knock it off with the freak-out? It's not like anyone's going to ask you to do CPR again."
Rodney dropped into the chair across from John and made a face. Because he wasn't the one who had a problem here, and . . . right. Apparently John's method of coping involved a ridiculous amount of projection, and that was just wrong. "Okay, I realize you don't want to have this conversation," Rodney said, leaning forward and taking a bite of his toast for courage, "but I don't see how we can put it off any longer. I just, well, I want you to know that I never meant for, that is, I"
But he never got the words out, because there was a tray sliding onto the table next to his, and he looked up to find Teyla standing next to him, her head tilted in concern.
"I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?" she asked, her eyes going from John to Rodney and back to John again.
"Beats me," John said, like he hadn't known exactly what Rodney was about to say.
But it wasn't really the kind of laundry Rodney wanted to air in front of Teyla. "No," he lied. "No, of course not. Nothing of importance."
Teyla's brows went up, like she wasn't buying that, but John said, "We were talking about heading back out to Sector G to check out the room I almost drowned in. Care to join us?"
"I have several commitments this morning," Teyla said, taking the seat beside Rodney. But she must have seen something Rodney didn't in John's face, because she added, "But nothing I cannot reschedule. I would love to accompany you."
"Cool," John said, and then turned to Rodney with a pointed glance.
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, and if he waved his hands a little in irritation, well, who could blame him? "I'll be there. Someone has to keep you from killing yourself."
"Hey," John said, but Teyla was already turning to Rodney with a quizzical look.
"I was under the impression that it was a simple malfunction."
"Yes, well, nothing in this city is simple," Rodney said with a huff, and turned in his chair to face her so that he could expound on the differences between accidents and design flaws and possible sabotage, and it was easier not to have to look at John, even if it meant wondering, in the back of his head as his mouth carried on, whether John were looking at him.
The room was mostly dry when Rodney got the door open, but he held up his hand before anyone could go in.
"Give me some time to override the controls on this door," Rodney said. "We're not going in until we've got some safeguards in place."
He hooked up his tablet and set to work, rigging an override of the emergency protocol and an auto-engage for the drainage pump, plus a hair-trigger alarm for any water leakage.
"Okay, we're good to go," he said, and looked up to find John . . . looking at him, once again. Not that he shouldn't be, of course, since Rodney was talking. But still . . . John was definitely staying farther away from him than usual. And, perversely enough, looking at him more.
"The outside door is most obvious place to look for leaks," Radek said.
"Right," Rodney said, and led the way. It seemed a bit ridiculous to have Ronon and Teyla there, but they followed along, looking around the room suspiciously. There were two consoles at the upper end, but no screen or other equipment. The door Radek was approaching was small and raised off the floor, more like an access hatch than a doorway.
"I don't think it was a leak," John said. "The water looked like it was coming from over there." And he pointed to the lower end of the room, where the floor slanted down to meet a perfectly innocuous-looking wall.
"It appears to be sealed," Radek announced, hooking his tablet to the door controls.
"Yes, I see that," Rodney said, and crossed over to the consoles. He hooked his own computer up to the console's port and started downloading data. "Sheppard," he said, and John's head snapped up. "Tell me exactly what you did to trigger the water."
"I didn't touch anything," John said. "I was standing in the middle of the room, right up there." And he pointed to the empty space where the flat area of floor met the slope. "It just started pouring in."
"I started swimming."
"This door has not been opened," Radek said. "Not for ten thousand years."
"Are you sure?" Rodney said, and took a look at the data streaming across his screen. It wasn't what he was . . . oh, crap. "Okay, you're probably right about that, because this isn't a laboratory after all. It's part of the city's ballast system, which means that flood was no malfunction. Well, okay, apparently it was a malfunction, because it's not supposed to do that if it recognizes life signs inside the room, but it's meant to fill and drain automatically in order to adjust the city's stability on the water. Let me just see if I can figure out"
"Rodney," Radek said.
Rodney held up a hand without looking up. "Not right now. I think I might be able to"
"McKay," John said, crossing the room to stand over him. "You can analyze the data later."
"I'm almost there," Rodney said. "If I just"
It started as a gurgle, then a wild rushing noise.
"Crap!" John yelled, just as the warning klaxon sounded. "We need to get out of here!"
Water was pouring into the lower end of the room, right through the wall, which had opened up like a sluice gate. Rodney grabbed his tablet and managed to release the cable before John shoved him toward the door, and then Ronon was on his other side, wrenching his arm and dragging him through the open doorway just as the wave of water hit, deep enough to drench his calves.
The alarm was still sounding, high and insistent, as Rodney hooked his computer back to the door controls.
"Rodney, you must close the door!" Teyla said, but Rodney cut her off with a wave of his hand.
"I need to override the override," he ground out, and there, yes, the connection was established. His stylus flew across the screen, reversing the changes he'd made a mere ten minutes ago, and the water was up to his knees and rising way too fast. "C'mon, c'mon," he said as the code uploaded, but the doors slid only half a meter before groaning to a stop.
"Oh, no," Rodney said. "No, no, no, not now. The doors are stuck! The force of the water is keeping them from closing!"
The water was up to his crotch, and still rising. Rodney lifted his tablet higher and frantically searched for some sort of emergency protocol, but there was nothing, no further commands he could give, and oh, God, they were screwed. They were totally screwed and they had to cut their losses and get out, seal the sector and drain it later, because if they didn't leave now
Oh. There was a rasping, gurgling noise, and Rodney lifted his head to see Teyla and John shoving on one door, Ronon and Radek straining with the other. Of course, there was no way they were going to be able to close them. Those doors weighed a ton, and the force of the water was incredible. But Ronon lowered his shoulders and Teyla grunted and John heaved, and the doors slid together with a scrape and a thud.
The push of the water shifted to a pull as the flow began to ebb, and Rodney shut his eyes and breathed for a moment, the adrenaline still coursing through him.
"Hey," John said softly, his voice so near that Rodney's eyes flew open. "We did it."
John was close closer than he'd been all day leaning in with one hand against the door frame, his eyes intent on Rodney's, and for a ridiculous, heartfelt moment, Rodney actually wished he'd almost drowned. Anything to feel John's mouth . . . crap.
He was staring. And John was watching him stare.
"See?" John said, his voice a little hoarse, no doubt from all the shouting he'd been doing. "No need for CPR."
"Right," Rodney said. His heart was pounding in his chest again, loud enough that he was fairly certain John could hear it.
And then John jerked back with a full-body flinch, like he'd only just noticed how close they were.
Marvelous. So much for having little moment. Not that Rodney had been kidding himself about what it meant, no matter what his recalcitrant heart would have wished for. "Well," he said, his voice high and false, "shall we survey the damage?"
"Sounds like a plan," John said, but his voice sounded funny, too, and he didn't even look at Rodney as he brushed past him.
The water was down to knee height, and Rodney could see Radek checking his datapad while Ronon and Teyla were sloshing their way further down the corridor. Rodney took a deep breath, unhooked his cable, and waded after John.
The data he'd downloaded provided all the code Rodney needed to relink the life-signs detector to the city's ballast system. Of course he was interrupted sixteen times by various minor emergencies, which meant it ended up taking all day, and of course he was exhausted by the time he finished, because that was the way things went in Atlantis, and there was no reason why today should be any different than any other day. So it was only after a very late supper that Rodney had time to think again, and mostly what he was thinking about was his nice, warm, dry bed.
There was no point in confronting John again, even if he had kept up his damn wary-watchful act every single time Rodney had seen him over the course of the day. It wasn't like Rodney had anything to say. He was almost grateful that Teyla had interrupted them at breakfast, because things were awkward enough already and if he'd brought the issue out into the open, it would only have made things worse.
So it made absolutely no sense why, at ten-thirty at night, he found himself standing outside John's door. Not sounding the chime. Not knocking or radioing. Because he was going to move right along to his own quarters, thank you very much, and face the inevitable excruciating encounter some day when he wasn't half dead on his feet.
Of course, that little plan would have worked a lot better if he'd actually managed to escape before John's door slid open.
Rodney swallowed down equal measures of panic and exhaustion. "Yes? Ah, yes. Right. That would be me."
The corner of John's mouth twitched up. "You want to come in?"
The answer to that was obviously no, but Rodney found himself stepping forward until the door slid shut behind him. Apparently it was still that kind of a day.
"You want a beer?" John asked, turning toward his fridge, but Rodney wasn't that stupid. He'd be babbling God only knew what after half a bottle.
"No, I . . . I'm here to, ah, that is, I think we need to clear the air. So. That's what I'm doing. Clearing the air. I mean, I want to tell you that I'm sorry if I . . . well, I suppose the real mistake was that I didn't let Ronon do the artificial respiration, but in my defense, I didn't realize he was trained in rescue techniques."
John turned slowly back to face him, his expression oddly blank. "You're apologizing for saving my life."
"No," Rodney said. "No, of course not. Obviously, I . . . well, I prefer to have you around. I just, you know, wish it hadn't been me doing the mouth-to-mouth."
"I see," John said, his eyes shuttering. "So it was that traumatic for you."
God, he shouldn't have come here. This was worse than anything he'd imagined, and he'd imagined a lot of worst case scenarios. "Okay, yes, it was traumatic," Rodney said, "and we both know why. So you can just stop pretending nothing's going on, all right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," John said, and crossed his arms over his chest.
Rodney bristled. It was one thing to pretend to be oblivious when there were other people around, but this was ridiculous. "Oh, please," he said. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. And I'm not trying to say this . . . unrequited thing is fun for either of us, but since we're both all too aware of it now, I really don't see any point in pretending it doesn't exist."
John's chin snapped up at that, and his nostrils flared. "Rodney"
But something broke in Rodney's chest, something bright and dangerous. "Fine," he said. "You don't want to talk about it, and I get that, but I think you owe me this much. I mean, I realize that we can never be as . . . comfortable with each other as we were. But at least we can be honest with each other."
Then finally, finally, John's head dropped. "Yeah," he said. "Okay. I can . . . yeah." And his eyes met Rodney's, no longer challenging. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"Yeah," Rodney said. "Me, too." It was a strange but genuine relief to have it out in the open, to feel like he didn't have anything to hide any more. "And believe me, if I had any control over this whatsoever, I would have nipped it in the bud a long time ago. But of course that's one of the great mysteries of life, isn't it? Why one person, and not another? I mean, seriously. You're not even blond."
But John's chin jerked up again, and his eyes went wide. "Okay, hang on a second," he said. "Are you saying this is . . . are you saying you're the one who has a . . . for me?"
Rodney made a face, because honestly. "Well, yes. Obviously."
"Rodney," John said, and there was a bizarre note of astonishment in his voice. "Jesus."
"What?" Rodney said, because if he had to go over the whole thing again, it was probably going to kill him.
But John took a step toward him, and then another, and John's hands came up to cup his shoulders. "I thought you were talking about me," John said, and leaned in, his eyes on Rodney's mouth, and oh, God. This couldn't be happening. Rodney had to have hit his head or something because John was going to
John's mouth was warm and mobile and not the least bit salty. The kiss felt soft and a little tentative, like John thought Rodney was going to pull back any moment and yell at him, and that was just . . . Christ.
John was kissing him. John apparently wanted to kiss him. Which meant Rodney had been operating under a ridiculous number of untested assumptions, and you really wouldn't think a scientist would be susceptible to that sort of faulty logic, but oh. Oh.
Rodney gripped John's upper arms and pulled him closer, opening his mouth and tilting his head, and God, yes. That was tongue against his, deft and eager, and he could, seriously, he could do this for hours if John actually wanted to. He could do this for days, and wow.
It was a long time before John pulled back and raised a hand to rub his thumb across Rodney's lower lip. "Wow."
"Yeah," Rodney said happily. "Wow."
John's eyes looked kind of dazed. "I can't believe you . . ."
"I know," Rodney said. "I thought you knew."
John snorted. "I thought you knew."
"Well, you were looking at me."
"You were looking at me."
"I thought you were freaking out!"
"Yeah," John said, and then smiled and dipped his head to brush his lips against Rodney's. "I get that now."
Rodney gave in and kissed him back, even if he was the most impossible person on the planet. He was also, apparently, Rodney's impossible person, and that kind of made up for it.
"Actually, I was," John said against his mouth. "I was freaking out that you were freaking out."
"Yes, yes," Rodney said. "And I was freaking out that you were freaking out. Which just goes to prove the dangers of infinite recursion, and oh, God. Do you realize we could have actually"
But John hauled him in and cut him off with a kiss that turned out to be well worth shutting up for.
"Just so we're clear," John said, when he finally pulled back. "You can give me mouth-to-mouth any time you want."
"What about mouth-to-other-parts?"
"That, too," John said, his voice low and gravelly, and wow, okay, there was no mistaking what that look meant.