Rodney’s kind of cute when he’s dangling by one foot. John stares at the yelling, swinging, red-faced, most valuable member of the expedition and wonders, not for the first time, how the guy hasn’t died yet.
It’s Ronon’s trap, which makes it funny on a level Rodney’s not going to appreciate, and it was supposed to catch tonight’s dinner – the Athosians have been raving about this big wildebeest-type-thing they’ve been catching for months now, and Elizabeth finally gave into John's strategic whining and let SGA-1 go camping for the weekend – but now it’s caught Rodney. Rodney, who complained the whole damn jumper ride here that he had better things to do than swat at space-mosquitoes when they weren’t even out on a mission.
Rodney finally catches sight of the rest of his team watching him and all but passing popcorn around while he swings in the breeze. He is, predictably, even more pissed, and starts swearing in a lot of languages. John’s lived his entire life on one base or another and he knows most of them, although Ronon blushes when Rodney says yukun and Teyla’s mouth twitches on neross, so all that cultural appreciation crap Elizabeth’s been talking about has actually worked. In a way.
“So I’m guessing you want some help?” John finally manages to get in.
“Yes! Yes, I would like to prevent my leg from falling off and all of my blood running out my ears! Yes! I would like some help!” His free leg flails at them and John’s inclined to keep him up there for a few more minutes, but the sooner Rodney gets down the less they’ll have to hear about it later.
“Okay. Maybe stop, you know. Twitching? For a second?”
“Huh,” Ronon says, pulling a knife from his hairdo, “Kinda makes me feel nostalgic.”
Teyla rolls her eyes. “Rodney? If you remain still, we can catch you as Ronon cuts the rope.”
“Oh, this will go well,” Rodney huffs from about knee-level, but John and Teyla manage to get their arms around his thighs, more or less, and Ronon starts fucking around with the rope.
“Just cut it already,” John says, trying not to pant, because half of Rodney is still pretty heavy and Teyla’s not even breathing hard.
“Don’t want to wreck the trap, we can just set it again after we get him out.” Ronon grins. “I’m hungry.”
“Well don’t eat me,” Rodney says, muffled by Teyla’s skirts. John debates telling Rodney not to sneak a peek, but figures Rodney’s fear of Teyla just about outweigh his oggling instincts.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened, which is the part that’s starting to worry John a little bit. It’s like a little theme running through their missions these past couple of months: they go somewhere harmless, or do something fun, and Rodney gets trapped in quicksand. Or stuck to a weird alien tree that wants to eat him. Or wanders into a human sacrifice rite.
It’s like the guy’s got blinkers on to everything else around him, and it only happens on those planets that you remember from Star Trek, the ones that are tropical paradises or the natives are all friendly and allergic to clothes or their entire civilization revolves around snowboarding. On the serious missions, the ones where there’s a faint energy signature or the Genii have been visiting or there’s just been a culling, Rodney’s almost got his act together – at least he points his gun in the right direction and doesn’t shoot his foot off.
John’s just about decided that Rodney does this out of a subconscious boredom, but he’s thinking he might have to revise that theory, because no way is Rodney ever going to be bored enough to relive this particular thrill.
They manage to get him loose – Ronon actually just leans down on the rope, his arm barely flexing, and takes the loop off Rodney’s ankle without breaking a sweat. John, who is trying not to drop Rodney on his face, is making sure not to feel inadequate in any way, but it’s kind of sad when at the end of the day, the only member of your team you can beat in an arm-wrestling match is Rodney McKay.
“Okay,” Rodney says, getting up and wincing on his sore ankle. “So. That was humliating and kind of…”
“Familiar?” John can’t resist supplying.
Rodney glares at him. “This is, officially, worse than when my parents dragged me and Jeannie to Yellowstone,” he says, stomping off back toward camp. Teyla, smiling, sidles up to Rodney’s side and unobtrusively offers him her shoulder to lean on. John follows them back. “Really,” Rodney adds as they collapse back on the logs that surround the fire. “We went and I had two allergic reactions. Nothing more likely to annoy you as you’re choking to death as the fact that your genius parents only brought one epi pen into the middle of the woods. Where there are bees and sap and other deathtraps.”
“You have an allergy to tree sap?” Teyla asks.
Rodney sighs, deep and mournful. “To trail mix.”
A couple of weeks ago Rodney fell into a ditch on PC9-138, and nobody realized he was gone for about five minutes. John still feels kind of bad about that – also faintly surprised, because he probably should’ve noticed when Rodney had suddenly stopped talking.
They all freaked out and tried to raise him on radio, then backtracked and found him scowling up at them from about twenty feet straight down a bramble-covered cliff. He looked scratched and bruised and extremely put out.
“You’re supposed to be the warriors!" he demanded. “How do you not notice when someone on your team disappears?”
“Yeah, yeah,” John said, unwinding the rope and tossing the end down.
“No, seriously, I want my refund,” Rodney grumbled.
“How did you even get down there?” John demanded, hauling at the rope.
Rodney’s face got closer to the top, and redder. “I got distracted,” he said.
John pokes the fire with a stick, because that’s the best part about having a fire, and says, “Okay, so who wants to tell ghost stories?”
“The girl with the golden arm was lame,” Ronon pronounces, sprawling out on the ground. He’s got the detritus of the trap with him.
“What happened to dinner?” John demands.
Ronon shrugs. “McKay scared off any hunting within twenty-three kilometers,” he says. “Besides, you brought MREs. I like the beef ones.”
Teyla catches his eye and smiles, sleepily and content. Rodney’s grumbling across from him, rubbing at his ankle, and John thinks that this should be every mission, this should be every night.
Even if it does mean Rodney gets strung up from time to time.
“No, really, McKay,” John snarled, shoving Rodney behind a tree and scouting back the way they’d come. “What the hell is this? Are you a disaster magnet or somehting?”
“I just wasn’t—I’m sorry! And you were the one who said this place was friendly!” Rodney was just as pissed as John, although he had a feeling that they were pissed for different reasons. “Besides, hello? They were friendly! You know, extremely!”
Very different reasons. John, for example, was pissed because Rodney had wandered off and fallen, apparently penis-first, into a harem, and had to be dragged out despite the protests of oiled-up men and women who might have had a chance of latching onto John, too, if they hadn’t been so slippery.
Rodney was pissed, John would guess, because John had dragged him out.
“Do you think they were, what? Dangerous? Because all those who choose to die from orgasms raise your hands,” Rodney said, waving his free hand emphatically. John still had his fingers clenched around the other bicep, trying not to think about how difficult it was to keep a grip with the weird oily stuff that the natives had been spreading around like it provided a contact buzz. Which maybe it did.
“"How did you even get in there? Teyla and Ronon and me were all with the chief goat-wrangler or whoever. You wandered off again.”
“I had to pee!” Rodney said defensively.
“You know,” John said grimly, “I don’t even want to know.”
Rodney finally pulls himself out of his muttering fugue state and grabs a stick of his own. “You know, what I wouldn’t give for some S’mores. That almost made Yellowstone worth it.”
“You like S’mores?” John grins. “Never would’ve guessed.”
“Ha ha, Colonel,” Rodney snapps, prickly and defensive. “I’ll have you know I toast marshmallows better than anyone –“ his eyes brighten, like he’s just had a great idea, “Than anybody in this galaxy!” He snaps his fingers at John. “That’s going in the Guiness.”
John has to laugh at that, because the Guiness Book of Pegasus Records has been around for about three days fewer than the expedition has been here, and Rodney holds about a tenth of the records. Of course, the records are like, “Fainted most” and “Most times meeting double from another universe,” but everyone’s got to be proud of something. John’s records aren’t much better.
“Well,” John drawls, wanting to draw this moment out as much as possible, because this, secretly, is what he lives for, “You can’t really say that unless you can prove it.”
Rodney slumps, heartbroken again. “Yeah,” he says.
John manages him to peg him right in the face with the bag of marshallows.
It’s just starting to worry him, a lot more than he thinks is probably normal to worry about something like this, but John’s made a habit about obsessing over weird things about Rodney and this is probably healthier than that whole six months where he wondered why Rodney always wore shirts that were a little too small for him.
Because it only happens when, technically, it’s okay that it happened – when Rodney falling down a ditch or joining a harem isn’t going to mean that they’ve destroyed a planet. Rodney still makes mistakes, still blows his lines or his calculations, and people die, people are dying every single day because of what they do or don’t do – but the things John thinks he couldn’t forgive Rodney for doing if it mattered… only happen when it doesn’t matter.
John’s no good at human behavior, but he’s starting to think he’s missing something.
“You—how—when?” Rodney splutters, tearing the bag open and almost spilling some of the marshmallows into the dirt.
John shrugs, and reaches into his bag where he’s been hiding graham crackers and Hershey bars. “You know. Save the galaxy a few times, they start sending you stuff.”
Rodney stops his extremely scientific impaling of the marshmallow with his stick and looks affronted. “They never send me marshmallows,” he huffs.
“What are these?” Teyla asks, interested now that she sees the Hershey bars. Laura Cadman won her over the very first day she arrived, her personal item being an industrial-sized bag of Kisses. “Is this an Earth delicacy?”
“Uh,” John says, but Rodney bowls right over him, saying, “It’s an Earth—yes, delicacy, but it’s an art form, really. I mean, the ratio of marshmallow to cracker to Hershey piece, it’s all very complicated and—oh my God, what are you doing?”
Ronon’s shoved three marshmallows into his mouth. “Whuh?” he demands crossly.
Rodney rolls his eyes. “I’m surrounded by heathens.”
Maybe it’s because they’re all so tired of making the mistakes that do matter. John didn’t forgive Rodney for months after Doranda, even after he said he had, because being mad at Rodney was easier, made it less John’s fault.
And it was John’s fault – so many of these things are his fault. He tries to save everyone on the expedition, every time: he’s never ever sent anyone out on a suicide mission, which is something none of his COs can say. But he can’t rescue everyone, or even most of them, and everybody gets that, forgives him for it.
Maybe Rodney’s getting himself in trouble on these milk runs because, when it doesn’t matter, he knows he’ll get rescued.
Because one of these days, John suspects, Rodney’s going to need rescuing when it does matter, and John’s just not going to get there in time.
Teyla catches on quickly, and for almost an hour they sit in companionable silence, making S’mores and cooking marshmallows and occasionally dropping them or catching them on fire and finding interesting ways to put them out (Ronon swallowed his, which Rodney insisted would have to go in the Guiness, too). Teyla, it turns out, has an addiction to them now that rivals her obsession with popcorn, and she spends a lot of time trying to figure out the perfect height to put her marshmallow above the fire so that it’ll cook evenly without burning.
After a while she’s the only one still cooking; John and Ronon and Rodney lean back against the log, stupified by sugar and chocolate and crackers. John turns to say something to Rodney, something about S’mores or camping or allergies, and he catches Rodney smiling at the fire, peaceful, quiet, and happy.
It scares him so much he can’t breathe for a second.
And then there was last week, when Rodney was trapped in a giant tower forty feet off the ground.
“You’re kind of impressive, in a weird way,” John told him, finally latching onto the window and hauling himself inside. Rodney, who had been making sarcastic comments while John climbed up and had been in no way helpful, just scowled. The chain around his ankle clinked. “I mean,” he says, “Only you could get trapped in the Rapunzel fairy tale.”
“If you make one remark about my hair I’m cutting off your hot water for a month.”
“I don’t remember Rapunzel being this lippy to her knight in shining armor,” John commented, brandishing the chaincutters.
“Are you going to rescue me or not?” Rodney asked, sticking out his foot.
“Sure thing, princess,” John muttered. And Rodney blushed, and smiled.
And John remembers that smile.
“’M going to bed,” Ronon says, shuffling to his feet. “All this sugar makes me tired.”
Rodney frowns, blinking away from the fire. “Sugar’s supposed to keep you awake,” he says. “Like coffee.”
Ronon snorts. “Yeah? How come you need five cups every morning just to calm down?”
Rodney snorts himself, and mutters “goodnight” along with John and Teyla, who’s yawning herself.
“This was very enjoyable,” she tells them, handing over the sadly depleted bag of marshmallows – the crackers and Hershey’s were finished long ago – before standing up herself. “I believe I, too, shall retire. Good dreams.”
And then it’s John, sitting next to Rodney, who looks sleepy and flushed and isn’t moving, elbows hooked behind the log and staring back into the fire. John watches him for long moments, thinking about accidents and rescues and what it takes, sometimes, to decide to be brave.
“So I’ve been thinking about this babysitter for you,” he starts out with, and almost gets jabbed in his stomach. He twitches out of the way, laughing, and they settle again, closer and warmer.
“I’ve just been…” Rodney shrugs, awkwardly, still staring at the fire.
Rodney snaps his head around. “What? No. I mean, by what?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me.” Rodney’s still tense, and John pats his knee. “It’s okay, buddy. Just, I don’t want you getting caught in a man-sized Venus flytrap. Again.” His hand stays there, getting hotter by the second against the dark denim of Rodney’s jeans.
“It’s just on these missions,” Rodney says quietly, “Where there’s not much for me to do. I just start thinking about, you know, things, and then you do something and I get all turned around and—“
“Rodney,” John whispers, leaning in just a little too much. The fire has made Rodney’s face red, or at least that’s the excuse he’ll probably use, but John can see the way his Adam’s apple is bobbing and he knows it’s not the fire. And John knows, knows that he won’t rescue him every time, but this time he can do this much. This time, he can be the knight in shining armor and it won’t even feel like a story.
“What?” Rodney breathes, staring back at John, bright eyes and slack mouth, beautiful the way a damsel wouldn’t ever be.
“I’m doing something now,” John murmurs, sweat prickling up his spine in a fantastic rush, and the hand on Rodney’s knee is only shaking a little bit. “So don’t get all turned around.”
“I…you…what…” Rodney’s shaking, too, which makes him seem a little out of focus, but John figures if he kisses him, at least they’ll be in synch.
And then they are, God, they are, and they’re shaking together, shivering from the heat of it as Rodney opens his mouth up to him, opens everything, wet and hot and sticky-sweet traces of S’mores in unexpected corners. John chases after them as he twines his body around Rodney, amazed and relieved – that’s what this is, relief – to feel this, to know this, to have this after so long going without.
And it’s perfect, right up until Rodney catches himself on fire.