They're about three hours from Atlantis when John curls up a little tighter on the bench, eyes flickering open to stare with glazed confusion. "Where--"
"There now," Carson's saying, voice a rough croon, and Rodney makes himself turn back around, staring into the vastness of space. His attention's for shit--they drift on a general straight line no matter how much Rodney concentrates, worrisome slowing when his attention is dragged backward, listening to Sheppard's low groan as Carson does something mysterious with painkillers and bandages. After a few long minutes, he comes back up to the front. "He's stable," Carson tells them. Teyla nods worriedly from the copilot's seat as Ronon frowns down at the floor.
It was a bad mission. Any mission that ends with their team leader bandaged and concussed is a bad mission, no matter how many treaties are signed, how many friends they make. Any mission where the natives are restless and Sheppard is crazy are bad missions. If he closes his eyes, he can still the glancing swing of the axe, hear the blunt sound of impact, feel that rush of pure terror that creeps up his chest and closes his windpipe like a taste of citrus.
Sheppard makes a soft sound; in his right mind, he'd be silent and stoic and misery hidden behind a flat smile and hooded eyes, but the painkillers have stripped away his silence. Rodney shivers with every shift of Sheppard's body that he swears he can hear, every sound he makes, knowing that later Sheppard will twitch in the memory of this.
When John coughs, slow and painful, deep in the chest, raw enough to hurt, Rodney's nerves can't take it anymore. "Carson, take the wheel." Over his protests, Rodney stomps by him, ignoring the three marines watching Sheppard with wide, worried eyes.
Sheppard looks small now, fragile, white bandages and tightly curled body on the bench, only Teyla's thin jacket beneath his head, Ronon's draped over his shivering body like a blanket. Crouching, Rodney reaches out, resting his fingers on the bench as close as he dares to Sheppard's pale face. "Colonel?"
Sheppard's eyes flicker open, cloudy with pain. "Fine," he says, so automatically that Rodney hurts for him. Moving his head on the makeshift pillow, he winces, a flare of pain so visible that Rodney's moving before he knows it, lifting Sheppard's head gently from the hard bench and sliding into place, carefully lowering him back. Dropping Teyla's jacket over Sheppard's shoulders, ignoring the dark stains on the material, Rodney gently shifts him until he untwists, melting beneath each gentle touch until he's stretched out, warm and comfortable and safe, murmuring something against Rodney's belly, one hand beneath his cheek.
Rodney can feel the marines watching him, watching them, the way Sheppard uncoils before their eyes, breathing easing into slow and soft, and Rodney cups a hand around the back of his neck, working away the knots with careful fingers, feeling Sheppard's breath let out in a warm sigh. "Thanks," Sheppard murmurs, just for him, and Rodney moves his other hand to rest on Sheppard's shoulder, sliding beneath the coats until he touches body warm cotton and smooth skin. "Bad day."
"Yeah," Rodney whispers. Cupping Sheppard's jaw with one hand, he strokes a slow thumb across one bruised cheekbone and breathes as Sheppard goes boneless beneath his touch, mouth curving into the ghost of a smile. Their fingers touch beneath the blanket, and Rodney reaches for them, holding on. They're hours from Atlantis, from medial bays and infirmary stays, separated by a hospital bed and the public eye. There, Rodney will cling to the wall and to his chair, his only offer one of words, sharp and angrily afraid. Here, he can give more. Moving their joined hands to rest just beneath John's collar, Rodney lets himself relax. "But we're almost home."