Title: Care in the Holding - posted November 7, 2005
Author:  Lacey McBain
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Rating: R.  McKay/Sheppard
Summary:  Everything comes down to the weight of a gun in his hand.
Spoilers:  Through Seige III.
Disclaimer:  Stargate Atlantis (including all characters and images) is the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author Notes:  Clearly the gun-handling in this isn't always 100% regulation. although I've tried to make the descriptions as accurate as possible.  I've omitted hearing protectors for the main reason that they're not sexy, so let's assume Atlantis loves John enough to deaden the sound a bit in the room, or you can picture everyone in hearing protectors if that turns you on.  If you're actually shooting things, take proper precautions.  Practice safe shooting.  Comments always welcome.
Notes II:  I quote Tolkien's The Hobbit and Douglas Adams' The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Briefly.

Care in the Holding

“McKay, come with me.”

Rodney looks up from his laptop, and raises an eyebrow in Sheppard’s direction.

“Sorry, Major, you seem to have me confused with one of your camouflage-wearing, gun-toting, ‘sir, yes, sir’ marines. I’m a civilian. I don’t take orders from you.”

Sheppard’s leaning in the doorway to the lab, and Rodney lets out a breath at that tolerant smirk. There’s no crisis, no life-sucking aliens wandering the halls, no imminent doom that requires him to perform six impossible things in the next three minutes while rewriting the laws of physics. Sheppard’s got a different expression for those times. Rodney’s starting to learn how to translate more than just Ancient code.

“Just come with me. Please.” The casual way Sheppard adds the “please” makes something in Rodney’s chest catch. Yes. As if he’s going to say anything else to a request like that, especially at two in the morning, and damned if the Major doesn’t know it.

Rodney glances at his laptop, taps a few keys before hitting save, then closes the screen. He grabs the slightly rumpled yellow sticky note that says “TOUCH THIS AND DIE” in block letters and slaps it on top of the computer. He grabs a power bar from his drawer and shrugs his jacket on.

“Where are we going?” he asks, tearing into the wrapper and taking a bite of something that claims to be cranberry-flavoured. Rodney doesn’t actually want to know what the red chewy bits are made of.

“You’ll see,” Sheppard says cryptically, and saunters out the door. Rodney follows him without a second thought.


The room they end up in is dark with shadows, but it comes to life the moment John lays a hand on the wall. Atlantis knows his touch, responds with a satisfying hum. He doesn’t like to admit how good it makes him feel to sense the city’s gentle vibration under his hand, the way she responds to him like she knows him. He doesn’t understand why he had to come all the way to another galaxy to finally feel like he belongs.

The armory is empty except for him and Rodney and an arsenal of weapons ranging from grenades to rocket launchers. Rodney’s licking crumbs off his fingers and looking at him strangely, but he’s been extraordinarily quiet, holding all his questions on his tongue, and John isn’t sure if that’s because of the time of day or McKay’s exhaustion or just a small sign of the trust that’s grown between them. Rodney looks out of place here, but not entirely, and John thinks they’re all getting used to things they never would’ve done on earth. Chances they wouldn’t have taken.

“You brought me here to show me your gun?”

Rodney’s glancing around, looking at the walls that have been hung with weapons, and John grins around the double-entendre and wonders why Rodney doesn’t drive him as crazy as he drives everyone else. They shouldn’t be friends, and in any other galaxy they probably wouldn’t be. But this is Atlantis, and John’s come to believe in impossible things.

“Sort of,” John explains, and unholsters his sidearm. “9 mm, clip holds 15 rounds. Maximum effective range is 50 m, but it’s better close-up. You want to remember to take the safety off,” he demonstrates with a flick of his finger, “and aim for the chest area.”

He turns toward the paper target hanging at the end of the room, and fires a single shot. Rodney flinches, but doesn’t move away. John can tell Rodney’s checking to see where the bullet has hit. Centre of the target.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the demonstration of your prowess, Major, and I know I’ll feel all the more reassured when we come upon a planet of paper dolls who want to kill us, but is there a reason I’m here?”


John hands his gun to Rodney and there’s a flicker of worry in Rodney’s eyes, but there’s also understanding and determination, and he wraps his palm around the gun like he’s done it before. Rodney’s been around the military enough to have handled weapons, but John’s pretty sure he’s never had to use one. Rodney’s record would’ve said so, and John made a point of checking.

He slips around to Rodney’s other side and adjusts his grip. Rodney’s fingers are thick and a little bit sweaty, and John touches Rodney’s left elbow, nudges him into bringing his other hand up to steady his aim. Rodney’s breathing is nervous, but he allows John to move him, shift his body with small touches.

“Sight down the barrel of the gun. Balance the butt on your other palm if you need to. Squeeze the trigger lightly. You won’t have to apply much pressure to get it to fire.”

Rodney’s finger moves in response, and the air rings with the gunshot and the ripping of paper. Rodney takes an involuntary step back, collides with John’s solid chest, and John lets him stand there, close enough to feel the warmth, waiting for Rodney’s heart rate to slow. John peers over Rodney’s shoulder and eyes the cardboard cut-out. Outside the target range, but not bad.

“At least I hit the paper.” Rodney manages to sound proud and defensive all at once.


Rodney’s a smart guy and it doesn’t take him long to figure out the angles, the exact place to look to make the hole appear in the circle that represents the vital organs. His adjustments are careful, minute, measured. John stops coaching him after the sixth shot because Rodney’s already learning automatically what works and what doesn’t. Cause and effect. John steps back and watches, answers questions about caliber and velocity and the amount of force required to stop an oncoming object. Rodney softens his stance at John’s instruction, and keeps his gaze focused and sharp. There’s no sign of the exhaustion that was blurring his eyes in the lab when John found him.

“Take care in the holding,” John says. “Squeeze gently.”

“It’s a gun, not a woman, Major.”

“You can be firm without squeezing the life out of it.”

“Ah, so not a woman at all.” Rodney snickers, but loosens his grip, and John can tell he’s getting the feel for the weapon.

By the time the gun clicks empty, Rodney’s got half his shots in the target zone and a self-satisfied smile on his face. He squeezes the trigger again, his face clearly disappointed when there isn’t an answering bang.

John explains reloading as Rodney presses a button and the clip falls to the floor, Rodney’s hand just missing the grab as the spent clip bumps against his knee before spinning away on the concrete. The second round is 80% in the target range, and John smiles, grimly pleased, and pats Rodney lightly on the shoulder.

“Are you trying to tell me something, Major?” Rodney asks when he hands back the gun.

“I’m asking you to be on my team,” John replies, and he isn’t sure what McKay’s smile means exactly, but it looks a whole lot like yes.


It becomes a kind of routine: Sheppard finding him in the lab at least once a week, always at the end of interminably long days, and Rodney comes to expect it as the clock ticks towards two. There’s something oddly relaxing about pumping a cardboard target full of holes, and sometimes he imagines the black outline is whoever’s most annoyed him that day. It elevates shooting holes in his colleagues’ theories to a whole other level. It makes him smile. Sheppard doesn’t even ask why, and Rodney’s got a feeling he understands.

They don’t talk much these nights, which for Rodney is strange in itself. The rest of the time they’re thrown together, they banter, they argue, they snipe at each, but this has become an almost silent ritual.

'Dark for dark business',” he murmurs, and ignores the snicker from Sheppard. Of course the Major’s read The Hobbit. Everyone has, so it shouldn’t give him the tiniest thrill to have it confirmed. He knows Sheppard’s not an idiot, no matter how much he keeps his brains hidden from most of Atlantis. Rodney likes that Sheppard doesn’t always hide them from him.

“Are you imagining shooting Wraith or just Kavanagh?”

“A little from column A, a little from column B.”

They’ve moved from the pistol to the P-90, and Rodney’s still having trouble getting used to the jolt of the automatic weapon, the way it pushes into his shoulder with every squeeze of the trigger. Sometimes he forgets to hold it steady, and he wakes up with bruises where the butt of the gun has slammed into his flesh. It reminds him why he’s doing this. Why Sheppard wants him to learn. He can be hurt all too easily—any of them can—and it’s best to be prepared.


It’s after two and Sheppard hasn’t come. Marines are roaming the halls in security details on a twenty-four hour rotation, and that’s not usual even for Atlantis. Everyone’s edgy and Rodney’s heard mutterings in the lab about possible Wraith infiltrations and not being able to pick their life-signs up on the monitoring system that only seems to work about half the time anyway. Zelenka’s dealing with that, and Rodney’s been too busy trying to figure out why Ancient technology and ZedPMs in particular hate him enough to stop working the moment he absolutely needs them. He’s beginning to hate his own lab.

All off-world missions have been limited to military personnel only, and Rodney’s not stupid enough to argue that he needs to be there when he clearly needs to be here. In the lab. Fixing this screwed-up city that seems to take Sheppard’s time away as a personal affront. Rodney can always tell when the Major’s off-world. The city holds itself more tightly, gives a little less willingly. Rodney knows exactly how it feels, though he won’t say that out loud.

He can’t quite concentrate tonight, thinks about calling the Major on the radio, but he doesn’t want to interrupt if Sheppard’s actually managed to steal a moment of sleep in his quarters, although Rodney doubts that’s where he is. Rodney wants a fresh pot of real coffee and a break from simulations that don’t work even when all the science says they should. He hadn’t realized he’d gotten so used to not-talking with Sheppard on these nights in a room full of bullets and torn paper outlines. He closes his laptop and turns out the light, wondering if sleep is even possible without the routine of emptying his mind, emptying bullets into blank cardboard adversaries, falling into bed with hands that smell faintly of powder and gun oil.

As he ambles down the hallway, he isn’t going to ask where Sheppard is, but suddenly the question is there on his tongue and a pair of polite, well-armed marines are pointing him towards the armory and inquiring if he needs an escort there.

Rodney waves them off and heads down familiar corridors. He’s halfway there before it occurs to him to wonder why he wasn’t invited.


The mission was a failure. Dead planet, dead ZPM, and two marines—one dead, and one wishing he were.

John breathes slowly and watches the paper target flinch as if the bullets are cutting through flesh. He releases the empty clip and reloads. Closes his eyes and fires again.

Lieutenant Derek Simons. Twenty-seven. Not remotely prepared for aliens that don’t fall down even with a full-clip in them, but he’s quick and careful and John likes him. He’s been running various teams through the gate, testing and checking abilities, setting up a mental database of strengths and weaknesses, things to watch for, extra training that needs to happen as soon as they get a chance to catch their breaths. Simons is a good kid. A lot like Ford.

Or he was until he watched his best friend sliced in half by an ancient energy beam protecting a ZPM that turned out to be useless. Dry and dark and as empty as Sergeant Prescott’s staring eyes, and John knows he lost two men today. They shut-down the defense system (too late) and brought back Prescott’s body (two pieces), and John can still hear Simons sobbing like he’s lost his brother, and for a second John hates him for being able to fall apart like that, but he can’t and there isn’t time and maybe John’s just angry there’s never been anyone worth crying over.

John takes a breath between each shot. Feels the weight of the gun, the smoky scent of gun oil and powder, the almost-there smell of burned paper although he knows it doesn’t happen like that. He can also recognize blood and burnt flesh and the heavy salt-water wind that permeates Atlantis, except he knows at least two of those are only in his mind and that’s very little comfort. He concentrates on hearing each shot, imagining the target, the shadow life-form, a hundred years already dead, who decided that cutting someone in half with an automated defense system was an acceptable way of saying hello.

None of the other marines said a word when they picked up the pieces and stowed them in a body bag, or when the fucking ZPM turned out to be less than useless, although John felt like screaming and shooting something just for the hell of it. But he’s in command and he can’t. Simons got his shit together faster than anyone should be expected to, but all the way back to the gate there were ragged breaths coming from the lieutenant, and no one complained when they had to stop and wait while Simons threw up until he was hollow inside. Ford put an arm around the other man’s shoulders, murmuring softly at him all the way home. John won’t judge, can’t judge, but he knows Simons won’t walk through that gate another time. Not willingly, maybe not even under orders. Probably never again. John took his sidearm away and sent him to Beckett for sedation. No one says suicide watch--no one has to, and John feels useless and empty and angry because this won’t be the last time this happens.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Prescott. I regret to inform you your son was killed in the line of duty. He died bravely and with honour. It was a privilege to serve with him, and he will be sorely missed. He writes the letter, puts it with the others that are waiting to be sent if they ever get a chance to go back. He wonders how many he’ll have by the time they make contact with Earth.

His clip is empty again, and he wishes life were this easy. Filling up what was empty. Replacing what was lost. His fingers never hesitate as he manually loads the clip with fifteen new bullets. It’s a waste of ammunition they can’t afford to lose, and he knows he doesn’t need the practice. The gaping hole in the centre of the target is evidence of that, and he barely needs to look anymore to know his aim is perfect. It’s instinct, the gun as much a part of him as the skin that stretches over his bones. It’s just an extension of what he’s become here, what Atlantis has made him, and he isn’t sure there’s any going back. For any of them.


Rodney stands just inside the doorway and for once Atlantis cooperates with him. The lights stay low, the room door slides silently shut behind him, and he watches Sheppard, still as a statue with his gun raised. Not firing—although the target’s already shredded—and Rodney can smell the lingering odor of gunfire, doesn’t stop to count the spent casings on the floor. The air in the room feels hot and close. Atlantis is holding her breath.


There’s no response. Rodney remembers the eerie silence of the church on the day of his mother’s funeral, the heavy cloying scent of incense, and there isn’t a ritual for death by alien technology like there is for other kinds of death. Except maybe there is, and before he can stop himself by thinking it through he’s moving through the air that doesn’t seem to move with him, and he’s standing right behind Sheppard the way the Major’s stood behind him a dozen times when they’ve been in this room. He reaches out and shadows Sheppard’s grip on the barrel, places a hand on the Major’s left hip, rests his chin against Sheppard’s shoulder and whispers “relax your stance,” as if he’s always been the one giving the lessons and this is just another ordinary day.

Sheppard’s eyes are closed, but Rodney feels him breathing through the slight rise of his shoulders, and there’s a heartbeat where he thinks Sheppard’s going to tell him to go to hell, but he doesn’t. He bends his knees slightly, and softens his death-grip on the handle of the gun.

“I heard what happened,” Rodney murmurs, and feels Sheppard’s shoulders stiffen before Rodney whispers relax and the Major obeys.

Rodney hadn’t wanted to interrupt a real training session, so he’d by-passed Sheppard and looked for Ford, not surprised to find him stationed by the infirmary. Rodney had known by the kid’s haunted eyes that something really bad on the Atlantean Epic Scale of Bad had happened, and the other marine had glared at Rodney’s questions until Ford said, “hey, the Doc’s okay,” and the marine had backed off a step like a dog told to heel.

Sheppard’s voice is barely a whisper in the empty room, but Rodney can hear it as clearly as if he were shouting. “Prescott’s dead.”

“I know.”

“Simons is …” He breaks off, and Rodney understands there aren’t words adequate for this. Broken. Empty. Grief-stricken. Angry. None of them even begins to touch what that feels like, and Rodney nods against Sheppard’s shoulder and doesn’t expect him to finish the sentence. He stretches his other arm along the one steadying the gun, and Sheppard doesn’t tremble, but he lets Rodney take a little bit of the weight, and it’s not much, but maybe it’s enough.

Rodney doesn’t know how long they stand there, their form perfect—doesn’t care—but he promises himself he’s not letting go until Sheppard does, and he blocks out everything except the warm press of a familiar back against his chest, the shape and texture of his skin where their hands touch.

He can do this for the Major. He never thinks of him as John, and maybe it’s time to change that, but right now Rodney understands how to be the person who’s just there, the one holding up the world for a change. He knows he can do this, but it’s a damn long time before Sheppard straightens up and breathes deep enough for Rodney to hear him, and Rodney knows it’s okay to let go now even if part of him really doesn’t want to.

“Thanks,” Sheppard murmurs, not turning to face him, and Rodney nods and lets his hands fall away. Neither of them says anything when they go their separate ways, but Rodney feels the absence of Sheppard’s skin all the way back to his quarters.


John’s on his way to a briefing when Zelenka stops him with a polite “Major, you must do something about Rodney.”

Rodney’s taken to wearing his sidearm everywhere. Not just on missions, but to the lab as well, and it’s making his assistants nervous.

“They are used to insults,” Zelenka explains. “Is familiar, but Rodney with gun is like unstable electrons in particle accelerator. Everyone fears—” Zelenka makes a gesture that looks like a bomb going off. A very large bomb. “Even Kavanagh.”

And John understands that Rodney spewing sarcastic insults is different from Rodney spewing insults while also wearing a fully-loaded 9 mm Beretta. The scientists can’t know Rodney still has trouble remembering which is the safety and which button discharges the clip, and John wishes he’d never had to teach him the difference in the first place.

“I’ll talk to him,” John promises and takes a step towards the briefing room, but the tug on his arm and the look in Zelenka’s eyes tells him the marines will probably wait, but the scientists won’t. He taps his radio and instructs Ford to start the rundown on the next three potential ZPM planets without him. He’s going to be late.


Rodney hears the talk in the corridors and ignores it. Mostly. He didn’t get to be the world’s pre-eminent theoretical astrophysicist by worrying what people thought of him. He’ll leave that to lesser mortals. Besides, the rumours don’t really bother him—not nearly as much as they probably should—and he thinks maybe it’s because it’s kind of funny that people think Sheppard would be so careless with his career. Or maybe it’s because Rodney feels a stupid kind of pride that someone actually believes Sheppard would choose him.

It’s preposterous really, and Rodney knows that. Most of the time.

It’s one in the morning and Rodney’s been in the lab long enough to be grateful Sheppard suggested he stop wearing his sidearm around Atlantis because he was frightening the other physicists (and the chemists, and he may have actually broken one of the botanists because she bursts into tears whenever he comes near her), and he wants to shoot something so badly he can feel the recoil of the gun in his hand even before he slaps his hand on the wall beside the armory door.

The sound that greets him is laughter and gunfire and something that sounds like bad ghetto rap on steroids being blasted through a defenseless i-pod, and he knows his face is saying far too much when he sees a room full of marines blasting away at cardboard cut-outs. Sheppard is standing behind them with his arms crossed, lips pressed together in a perfectly meaningless smirk.

“I—I didn’t realize you were busy,” Rodney manages to stutter and backs into Sergeant Bates who’s coming through the door behind him. There’s a hand on his shoulder with a grip like a talon, and the sergeant gives him a feral grin and says, “Come on in, Doc. Show us what you’ve got.”

Sheppard doesn’t say anything and Rodney suddenly knows what it feels like to be thrown to the sharks or the wolves or any other toothy carnivore, and he’s got more dignity than to turn and run. Bates is blocking the door anyway and the rest of the marines seem to scent blood in the water.

“We know the Major’s been giving you lessons. Why don’t you show us what you’ve learned?” Bates asks, his eyes dark and damning, and Rodney suddenly knows where a lot of the whispers have been coming from. He’s used to it, but the Major doesn’t deserve this kind of crap. Certainly not from his own men.

Rodney’s positive it’s not a good idea for men with firearms to be drinking while they have access to almost unlimited ammunition, but Sheppard’s not stupid and Rodney trusts him. He knows he’s in no danger, not really, and no one will actually care if he turns and walks away. He can see it in Sheppard’s eyes. Permission to get the hell out of here. No obligations. No explanations.

But Rodney’s never been known for doing the smart thing and he dislikes Bates almost as much as he hates Kavanagh, so he does what he shouldn’t do and grins back innocently as he can, accepts a swig from an offered flask, and steps up to the target with more confidence than he feels. Someone puts a gun in his hand and he’s vaguely aware there are bets being made behind him and the laughter might be comforting if he knew they weren’t laughing at him. He doesn’t belong here, and they all know it. Even him.

“Take your best shot, Doc,” Bates says, and underneath it he hears Sheppard’s relax your stance. Then there are six new holes in the cardboard abdomen, every one of them dead on target, and there are hoots and groans and the sound of disbelief. Rodney’s a little amazed himself.

Then Sheppard’s voice cuts through it all, “A pound of coffee—real coffee—that McKay nails every shot.”

In the utter silence that follows, Rodney turns around and finds Sheppard’s grin. “You have real coffee?”

“Can’t bet what you don’t have.”

“And you’ve been holding out on me?”

“You would’ve killed me and searched my quarters if you’d known it was there.”

“Yes,” Rodney agrees, and then Bates ruins the moment by taking Sheppard up on his truly ridiculous bet.

“What’s your offer?” Sheppard asks, as if Rodney’s the prize in some intergalactic bidding war, and Rodney hopes to God Sheppard’s faith in him isn’t entirely misplaced because it’s coffee, real coffee, and he’s motivated enough to think he can actually do this even though the closest he’s come to a perfect score was 14 out of 15 in the circle and although that’s damn close, it’s not going to be enough tonight.

“A month of inventory duty,” Bates says, and Rodney’s impressed. Sheppard hates taking munitions inventory about as much as Rodney hates lemons and bees, and he doesn’t miss the quick nod that seals the deal.

Everyone’s silent when Rodney lines up for his second round. He tries to remember every touch of Sheppard’s hand, every minute adjustment of his body to help him attain a better stance, a sharper aim. He swallows and concentrates on firing. Six more shots and they’re all dead on.

“Guess he’s actually been teaching the doc to shoot,” Bates says loudly enough for Rodney to hear. “Who knew?”

The marines are half-drunk with distilled alcohol and maybe surprise, and Rodney can’t look at Sheppard because he’s afraid he won’t be able to keep what he’s thinking out of his face, and he doesn’t want to risk turning around and feeling the need to fire the last three shots into Bates’ ignorant brain. Rodney’s always been crap at playing poker because absolutely everything shows on his face and in his voice, and he’s thrilled and proud and more than a little afraid he’s going to blow it when it comes down to the wire. Bates needs a lesson like nobody else, and on top of that there’s coffee, so he concentrates on that.

“Inventory duty and I’ll type your mission reports.” Bates again, and Rodney wonders when this became entirely personal. Bates has been ragging on Sheppard since they got to Atlantis—about his team, about the Athosians, about scientists on the mission teams. Rodney thinks they should let Teyla beat him to death with her sticks the next time she wants to.

“Coffee and a free pass out of any mission,” Sheppard counters, and there seems to be agreement.

Rodney takes his shot.

“Inventory, reports, and I’ll polish your boots.”

“You’ll polish McKay’s boots.”

There’s another perfect hole in the middle of the target. Rodney swallows. He’s done this before and blown it all on the last shot.

“He makes it,” Bates says, and Rodney can feel the sweat slicking his trigger finger. He takes a breath and wipes his hand on his pants. “He makes it, and I’ll even lay off the Athosian bitch.”

Rodney swallows and waits for the sound of Bates hitting the floor. “He makes it, you take over inventory entirely, apologize to Teyla, and you keep your mouth shut from now on.” Rodney feels the Major standing behind him, can sense the anger the others fail to notice. “About everything.”

The room’s quiet and Rodney knows the Major’s heard the whispers too. All of them. Not just the ones about Sheppard fucking Teyla, how he likes it hard and rough and Teyla knows how to give exactly that. But also the ones about McKay. The ones where the Major’s bent over lab tables and jumper consoles and how gun oil makes the best lubricant. How the armory smells like sex.



“Show these marines how it’s done,” Sheppard says confidently, and Rodney knows there’s no way he can let him down, not when he’s put that kind of unconditional faith in him, and he takes the last shot and it’s good, it’s perfect, and then there are marines slapping him on the back until he can barely breathe and he doesn’t even notice when Bates leaves the room.

Well, he notices, but he’s too thrilled to do more than watch the door slide shut behind him. Rodney spends the next two hours getting drunk with the marines and when Major Sheppard half-carries him back to his quarters just before dawn, he doesn’t even care that he’s going to be more hung-over than he’s been in years because this is what it feels like to be part of something. To belong.

He falls asleep dreaming of Major Sheppard and coffee.


John goes on more missions and loses more men he can’t afford to lose. Rodney loses people too, and every death hits him like a fist in the mouth. John doesn’t tell him it’ll be okay because he knows it won’t. Rodney will see their faces for the rest of his life, will ask impossible questions, and never, ever be able to forgive himself entirely.

John understands exactly how he feels, but he made the choice to do this job, and Rodney never did. Not really. Not like this.

After Abrams and Gaul, he finds Rodney in the armory, and even though Bates is there doing munitions inventory, Rodney doesn’t seem to have noticed or he’s screwed up enough not to give a damn. John jerks his head in the sergeant’s direction, but the man’s intent on ignoring him and it’s going to take a direct order to get him out of the room. Fine. There are more important things than Bates and his small-minded ways.

John lets Rodney blow the paper target to hell, shots wild and unsteady, and John’s glad they’re not betting tonight because Rodney’s just here because he can’t break down anywhere else. Neither of them can. This has become their sanctuary. Their ritual.

“Try the P-90. Bigger bang,” John says softly, and Rodney jumps, but only a little, and he takes the weapon that’s offered. He doesn’t resist when John straightens his grip, and John lets his fingers move from wrist to elbow and back again, talking softly about proper form. John stands behind him, helps widens his stance with a knee between Rodney’s thighs, and there’s a disgusted snort behind them. Rodney’s breath catches in surprise and John honestly isn’t sure if it’s because of Bates or the way they’re standing closer than they’ve ever been.

“Sergeant Bates has inventory duty,” John says lightly.

“In perpetuity, if I recall,” Rodney murmurs, and it’s the first sign John’s seen that Rodney’s going to be all right.


John adjusts Rodney’s left arm for a better grip. He keeps moving Rodney until he’s standing like someone who knows what he’s doing instead of someone who just wants to put as many holes in the wall as possible. John’s hands travel over his form, correcting, refining, and more than that. So much more than that.

“That was damn fine coffee, by the way, Major,” Rodney says casually.

“Yes, it was,” he agrees, and John wonders what Bates hopes to get out of staying here. Does he really want to know that badly if there’s something going on? John decides the man needs more off-world missions to occupy his mind. Maybe a little up-close-and-personal time with a few Wraith will change him. Probably not.

Rodney lights up the room with a concentrated burst from the P-90; John stands behind him and steadies Rodney against his chest.

“Tight against your shoulder. Tight! You’re going to have bruises again,” John chastises. He tries to be patient, but it’s something Rodney always forgets. There’s no reason for bruises that can be prevented, and John doesn’t realize he’s got his arms completely around Rodney’s shoulders, pressing the gun back into proper position until he hears the door snap shut behind Bates.

Rodney swallows and says, “Is this really wise? He already thinks—”

“Let me worry about the homophobic marines. You worry about your stance.” Just for reinforcement, John nudges Rodney’s legs apart a little further with his knee. He can feel Rodney tense, but it’s momentary and then it’s gone, and his form is as perfect as John’s ever seen it.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Rodney says with exaggerated precision and fires until the weapon’s empty and the gunfire’s echoing in their ears. When he slumps back against John’s chest, neither of them moves. It’s John’s turn to hold on, and he does it. Willingly.


Rodney now knows what it’s like to feel a bullet tearing through his flesh, and truthfully it’s not something he ever wanted to know. He wasn’t fast enough, and then there was liquid fire ripping through his leg, and there was blood. Lots of blood.

When he and Sheppard limp through the gate together, Sheppard’s arm around his waist, relying on Ford and Teyla to cover their backs, Rodney wonders why he never connected the long nights in the armory with this, the oh-my-god-that-hurts-like-hell bullet that sliced through him as easily as he’s punctured a dozen paper targets. Maybe because that was an exercise and this is … real. Some days when he’s been in the lab for what feels like years, it’s too easy to forget that. He can get killed doing this. Any of them can.

So while he recovers from his brush with reality, he’s left behind to terrorize the people in the lab, making them run diagnostics on every system on Atlantis because if Rodney’s going to be punished for getting hurt, he’s not willing to suffer alone. Sheppard’s face still wears that tired, guilty look whenever he glances at him, and Rodney doesn’t know how to make him see it’s okay. He’s still here. Rodney knows the Major’s been wondering if putting him on the team was a mistake after all. If Rodney should stay in the lab. Forever. As if it’s safe there.

Rodney thinks maybe it’s time to remind Sheppard that the probability of blowing up himself and half of Atlantis from the lab is actually higher than being shot on a mission or sucked lifeless by a Wraith or any of the things Sheppard worries about. Maybe it’s time to remind him the worry goes both ways.

He’s almost made a decision when Sheppard doesn’t come back from a mission. Rodney can feel his heart beating faster when he counts off the team members. No Sheppard. No Teyla, and then Rodney’s limping to the stargate and he’s got Bates’ collar in his hands. Rodney feels Ford right behind him, and it isn’t hard to figure out what happened. They got split up, and Bates left them behind. It doesn’t matter to Rodney in the least that Sheppard ordered him to.

It takes them an hour to put together a strike team to go in and rescue them. Elizabeth pats Rodney on the shoulder and points to his leg.

“You’ll only slow them down,” she says, and he hates that she’s right, but he can’t just sit and wait for news.

Rodney ends up in the armory, limping and sweating the entire way there. He empties a full clip into the centre of the target, holes concentrated in a tight circle about as big as a fist. For the first time in his life, he really believes he could kill someone if he had to, and not just a life-sucking alien. Bates left Sheppard and Teyla behind, and Rodney knows in his gut that if they don’t come back, Bates is a dead man.

You don’t leave people behind. The Major never would.

It’s late when Sheppard finds him in the armory. Rodney wants to yell at him for being stupid, for taking unnecessary chances, for making Rodney stay in Atlantis when clearly Sheppard can’t be trusted not to get killed or left behind—but the words won’t come out. They’ve always done this dance in silence, and Rodney doesn’t fight it when Sheppard stands behind him and shadows his stance, hands reaching out to cover Rodney’s, which are trembling around the weight of the gun. Rodney feels the light brush of stubble against his ear as Sheppard peers past Rodney’s shoulder at the target.

“Nice job,” he says with open admiration, and for one long moment, Rodney considers shooting him.

He kisses him instead.


The first kiss is a surprise—except it isn’t. John can feel Rodney quivering with restrained emotion, can feel his gun hand shaking beneath John’s fingers. He waits for Rodney to explode, to say something, to yell. He doesn’t expect Rodney’s abrupt shift, the gun clattering to the floor, and Rodney’s hands reaching up to seize John’s face, lips pressing against his before he even has a chance to react.

Rodney’s kisses are hard and desperate, and he’s yelling at John now without even saying a word, and it’s all John can do to hold on to him and stay on his feet. Rodney’s forcing him backwards with all the stocky solidity in his body, fingers wrapped in the edges of John’s black t-shirt, pushing and pulling all at once, and John closes his eyes and kisses back because it’s been a hell of a long day and this is so much better than target practice. This is what coming home is all about.

John feels the wall hit him in the back and there’s nowhere to go, and that’s fine because John can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. He spent the day running and hiding, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore. Not with Rodney. It’s an easy decision to slide his hands under Rodney’s science-blue shirt and touch, just touch the skin he finds there, and then it’s not enough and John wants to climb inside Rodney’s warmth and live with him there. He licks the edges of Rodney’s mouth.

Rodney kisses like a drowning man, all desperation and open-mouthed cries for help, arms flailing like he doesn’t know what to do with himself, and it takes John less than two seconds to pin him to the floor, Rodney’s arms tight against his sides under John’s hands. John leans in and kisses him, not letting go of Rodney’s wrists, and the sound Rodney makes is low and needy, and John can feel it echoing inside him, touching parts of him he shut off long ago. It’s always been dangerous to need someone like this.

“I thought you were dead,” Rodney says, faintly accusing, more than a little flushed, and John rides the rise and fall of his laboured breathing where he straddles him.

“Not dead, just resting.”

Rodney rolls his eyes. “I hardly think it’s time for Monty Python—”

“It’s always time for Monty Python, Rodney.” He tries the smirk and the drawl, and something in Rodney’s chest seems to unclench and John slides off him and onto the floor beside him. Rodney grabs John’s slender wrist and doesn’t let go.

“Don’t ever do that to me again.” Rodney’s eyes are dark and haunted, and John leans forward and kisses him. Softer, gentler, because he doesn’t want this to be all about desperation. If they’re going to do this, he needs it to be more than that and Rodney seems to understand because the hand that cups John’s face is firm and tender, and Rodney’s eyes are open when he murmurs, “I really didn’t want to have to shoot Bates, but I was prepared to. If you didn’t come back.”

“I’ll always come back,” John whispers into his mouth. Their foreheads touch, and Rodney’s fingers are stroking the back of John’s neck with measured care, fear and worry giving way to exhaustion. They kiss, unhurried, and Rodney’s tongue slides over his lips just before they pull away. John extends a hand and helps Rodney to his feet.

A foot of space holds them apart as they walk towards Rodney’s quarters.


Sheppard does it to him again. Except this time he’s riding a nuclear weapon that Rodney built, and after three days of no sleep and two doses of stimulants—not counting the coffee—Rodney isn’t sure he can cope with an Atlantis that doesn’t include John Sheppard. When the blue dot that’s the Puddle-Jumper disappears off the screen, Rodney knows what it’s like to kill someone. He tosses his earpiece down on the console and leaves the control room. Nobody touches him. Nobody tries to stop him.

Maybe they would if they knew where he was going.

He stands in the middle of the armory in complete blackness. The gun in his hand is Sheppard’s, the one he trained Rodney with. Rodney would’ve never suspected different guns to feel different, but he’s learned. This one’s always felt a bit heavier, a little fuller in his hand. There’s a scratch on the barrel from where Rodney dropped it the first time they kissed. He’s been on both ends of this gun—firing it, clip after clip until he could do it perfectly. Until Sheppard was willing to take him into the field, knowing he could take care of himself. And the night he made Rodney stand there and get used to being shot at, feeling the tiny pulse of air skimming past his body and learning not to utterly panic, learning not to drop the damn gun. Rodney never really understood trust until that night.

Now he can’t imagine not knowing what to do with the weight in his hand. It’s become part of him—as much as Sheppard has, and he can’t go on, can’t do this alone. He isn’t strong enough or brave enough to do this without him. Atlantis is their city.

He picks up the gun and thinks of dark-hair rippling through his fingers, that lazy smile that’s warm as sunshine, and Rodney feels the ache in his chest spreading to the rest of him. He’s numb inside, dead on his feet, and he knows it’s only going to get worse. Right now he doesn’t care if the Wraith want to suck his life out through his chest—he’s already empty inside.  Dead.  They can’t do anything worse.

When he lifts the gun, its weight is comfortable, familiar. He holds it up and his hand is steady. He thinks of John. Atlantis. Home.


It’s John’s first experience with being beamed through space, and he might be a little more freaked out if it wasn’t so cool. He’s alive and the Daedalus has saved their collective asses from the Wraith, and all he wants is to get back to Atlantis and find Rodney. Someone needs to make him sleep because the dark circles under his eyes are starting to make him look like an undead raccoon, and John knows Rodney can’t take much more of this no matter how many shots Carson gives him to stay awake.

“Thank God.” John can hear Elizabeth and Carson and the happy murmurings of the control room staff, but there’s no Rodney. Before John can figure out why, Commander Caldwell’s asking the question.

“Is Dr. McKay there?”

There’s a pause on the line where John can hear Elizabeth and Carson quietly conferring: “No, I don’t know where he’d go”—“oh, God, he doesn’t know.”

“Get him on the radio,” John interrupts and he can’t hide the edge of fear that’s crept into his voice.

“He doesn’t have it with him.”

“Check the lab, his quarters. Radio Zelenka, maybe he’ll know.”

“John.” That’s Elizabeth, and she sounds far more calm than she should be.

“The armory.” John says it with a devastated certainty, and he turns to Caldwell trying to keep his face blank. “Can you beam me back?”

“This isn’t Star Trek, Major.”

There’s a raised eyebrow and in the background John can hear Elizabeth asking “why the armory” even as she’s directing someone to “go check. Now.” Caldwell’s got bigger things to worry about—like a Wraith hive-ship bearing down on them—and John’s never felt more helpless in his life. Then Caldwell grins and waves a finger in the air, and John’s covered in white light and the uneasy sensation of being pulled apart and put back together, and he’s in the control room just long enough to determine where he is before he’s running flat-out, and there’s still no way he can get there in time.

He passes the marine sent to check the armory and waves him off, makes a mental note to remind Elizabeth how to give orders when time matters. Double-time. He slides to a stop in front of the door just as he hears a single shot from inside.


The room’s dark when he bursts in, but it blazes to life with a thought, and John looks down and there are Rodney’s familiar scuffed boots in the middle of the floor. He keeps scanning up and Rodney’s still standing with the gun pointed at the target, and even in the dark, he’s a perfect shot. John can see the single hole in the target’s head.

“You’re gripping the handle too hard,” is all John can think to say, and he swallows awkwardly and doesn’t move. He’s sure Rodney can hear his heartbeat clear across the room.

“For a dead man, you’re awfully critical.”

“I’m not dead, Rodney.”

“Neither am I.”

The look on Rodney’s face tells him it was close, though. Too close, and John walks across the room and takes the gun out of his hand, releases the clip so it clatters to the floor, then carefully sets the gun aside.  Out of range.

“I didn’t teach you to shoot so you could put a bullet in your brain.” In spite of himself, John hears his voice crack.

"And I didn't build a nuclear bomb so you could blow yourself up being a hero." Rodney swallows. “Besides, my brain’s far too important to put a bullet in,” he adds, but it lacks his usual arrogance and Jesus, it was too close. This isn’t what John expected. Nothing in his life has prepared him for this—this feeling of desperation, need so strong he could power the city with it, and Rodney staring at him with something that ebbs between love and hate because he feels it too.

“I had to,” John says. He stands in front of Rodney and doesn’t touch him. If he touches him, there won’t be anything left and they both still have things to do tonight. This reprieve is only temporary.

“You could’ve given me more time.”

“There wasn’t any time left.”

“You could’ve said something.”

“I said ‘so long.’” Rodney’s glare tells John exactly what he thinks of that, but John hadn’t known what to say. He’s never been good at good-byes.

“At least the dolphins said ‘thanks for all the fish.’”

John grins and takes a step closer, lets his hands reach out and settle on Rodney’s waist. More in control again. They can do this—because they have to. Atlantis depends on them. “Thanks for all the fission.”

Rodney rolls his eyes. “Oh, like that’s original. Do you have any idea—”

John cuts him off with a kiss, and there’s nothing except that for the longest time. Hot and wet and needy, and the room dims around them as they just hold on, making sure they’re both still alive. Rodney’s hands thread themselves through John’s hair, John’s tongue tracing every inch of Rodney’s mouth, and John’s always believed talking is over-rated.

The radio crackles in John’s pocket and he has to take thirty seconds he doesn’t have to explain to Elizabeth that Rodney’s fine, they’re both fine, and yes, they’ll be back in the control room in two minutes because they know the city needs them to get the ZPM powered up, the shield in place, and they haven’t come this far to lose everything. Rodney’s already racing out the door and John has to run to catch him. They reach the control room together, breathing hard and looking everywhere but at each other.


Rodney doesn’t have time to think until after the Wraith and the siege and the city lies cloaked and silent on the surface of the planet. He’s been shot at tonight, scared out of his mind more than once, and he wants to yell at whichever idiot came up with the idea of putting the clip release and the safety in the same general vicinity on a handgun. He’ll never admit it, but he’s still afraid every time he picks up the damn gun—of what he could do, of what he’s capable of. It’s all Sheppard’s fault for making him care more than he’s ever cared about anyone, including his damn cat.  He would’ve brought it to Atlantis if he could’ve figured out how to get around the “no animals you aren’t willing to experiment on” rule. Rodney thinks this is what insanity must feel like.

He doesn’t have the energy to do anything more than stumble into his quarters and fall asleep. He thinks he should check on Sheppard, put the man on a leash so he can’t run off with any more nuclear bombs strapped to him, but Rodney’s too tired to do more than smile at the thought of Sheppard on a leash before he drops into unconsciousness.

Nobody bothers him.  The city lets him sleep.


The door to Rodney’s quarters slides open for John. He knows Rodney’s here—checked the life-signs monitor to be sure—and the room smells warm and damp, like the shower’s been running for a really long time. John sits down on the edge of the bed to wait. When Rodney pops out of the bathroom, he’s wearing a towel and eating a power bar. Without the half a week’s growth, he looks almost human except for the haunted look around his eyes. John’s not sure that will ever go away.

Rodney starts to say something, but John doesn’t wait. Just reaches up and pulls Rodney down on top of him and he can taste oatmeal and chocolate-chips when he licks the crumbs off Rodney’s lips. He doesn’t stop licking until Rodney’s naked and moaning underneath his mouth, Rodney’s cock perfect and hard, and John strokes and sucks with as much care as he can put into every single touch. When Rodney comes, he makes a desperate broken sound and John crawls up his body and kisses him until they’re both breathless. He never knew he needed this.

John’s hard and aching, but Rodney’s determined and pretty soon there are clothes scattered across the floor and lubricant being slicked around fingers and cock, and John’s stopped thinking about all the ways this is a bad idea because he’s wanted this for so long and they deserve something for themselves. Atlantis owes them one.

“Any time now, Major,” Rodney says impatiently, tugging on Sheppard’s ear with his teeth, and then he’s wrapping slick fingers around John’s cock and coaxing him inside. John breathes out and leans in, braces himself above Rodney’s chest, and the slow slide is just careful enough to say this is more than sex, and the look in Rodney’s eyes says yes, me too. His hands tighten on John’s shoulders and pull him closer, pull him all the way inside and John feels his eyes roll backwards in his head as Rodney clenches around him with every concentrated movement. John bends to kiss him and as he moves his hips, the steady thrust of in and out, Rodney arches into him and clutches his hair, licks his throat, and moans in a way that just makes John harder. It’s so close to perfect it hurts.

John thinks it’s better than flying, better than anything he’s ever had, and through it all they hold onto each other, touching and tangling and trying to prove to themselves it’s not a dream. They make love without saying anything and fuck like the world’s about to end.

It doesn’t. At least not today.

When they wake up together with the Atlantean sun shining through the curtains, there’s real coffee John smuggled off the Daedalus, and the only bruises on their skin are the ones they’ve put there with teeth and lips and desperate hands. John doesn’t even care that Rodney’s still calling him Major because there’s something weirdly right about that and they’ve never been normal.


They never have sex in the armory, although they occasionally leave empty condom wrappers there for Bates to find.

He keeps quiet about it.

And everything else.


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