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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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sgafic: what I look for on the sides of mountains, gen
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
Title: What I Look For On the Sides of Mountains
Author: jenn
Codes: McKay, Teyla, Sheppard, Ronon, teamfic
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Rodney could live the rest of his life happy if he never heard the words "Our gene pool is limited" ever again.
Author Notes: For ltlj's feral John prompt here. Prompt seconded by miss_porcupine, pentapus, and volari, so for you as well.

I tried doing something I knew ltlj would enjoy, so this is possibly the slashiest and hettiest gen I've ever written, which is saying something. So team!gen. With snuggling. Because I'm cheap and I think plausibility is so overrated when there can be snuggling.



"I'm getting tired--" Step, step, pause, prepare to fucking *die*, "--of missions where you--" And here Rodney takes a moment to breathe, "--fall. Onto. Female. *Laps*."

Sheppard's the happiest, limpest mass of stoned lieutenant colonel in the history of the Air Force, and Rodney's been around the military a while; whatever they were giving Sheppard puts pot in the *dust*. Stretched out between Rodney and Teyla, with Ronon, slightly more sober but equally happy, following behind carrying their trade items and their packs. The ones they could find, at least.

In front of him, arms locked around Sheppard's knees, Teyla's back is an arrow straight line of carefully crafted disapproval to hide the fact that she'd been surprised into a giggling fit on their first view of their erstwhile teammates, slumped across numerous pillows in what had to be the resident whore house--whore *tent* if you will, being massaged into somnolence by small oiled hands from women who had a distinct aversion to clothes.

Sheppard doesn't technically weigh much--sopping wet, he could probably not be blown away by a light wind--but a mile and a half and Rodney's shoulders are burning from the weight. Tilting his head back, Sheppard looks up at him with liquid eyes, pupils blow wide enough to drive a jumper through, and says, "They were really nice."

Rodney fights the urge to drop him. It's not like Sheppard would feel it. "I know. And I bet they were nice when trying to harvest your DNA too."

John sighs, and somehow--Rodney has no idea how, it doesn't seem possible--goes even more limp, dragging down on every sore muscle that Rodney has, and he has a lot of them.

"They said I was pretty."

Up ahead, Rodney can hear Teyla bite back something that could be a growl, and thank God she's finally seeing the seriousness of the situation, because they have two completely useless team members and they're still oh, *five thousand miles* from the gate.

Or twenty, but again, *a lot of miles*.

"Dr. McKay," Teyla says, sounding the slightest hint of breathless, "we may need to stop for the night."

Ronon mumbles cheerful agreement from behind them, and Rodney stops a snarl only through sheer will and the need for air. "You're kidding. Okay, stop." When Teyla pauses, Rodney lowers John to the ground, more gently than his ass deserves, but Rodney can be magnanimous even when he wants to die, waiting as Teyla does the same. Turning, he points at Ronon. "Sit. Stay. Watch the colonel."

Ronon nods with wide eyed sincerity, coming to some kind of weird attention that lists him slightly to the right. He goes down in a weirdly coordinated heap just short of Sheppard's head, leaning forward to look into the wide hazel eyes with such serious worry that it would almost be touching if Ronon wasn't also--

Right. Toppling right over.

"They were hot," Ronon tells Sheppard sincerely, cheek pressed to the thankfully soft grass as Sheppard turns his head in slow motion to watch.

Sheppard nods agreement. "Yes. They really were."

"Oh God," Rodney mutters, turning to stomp toward Teyla, currently leaning into a tree with the look of a woman on her last nerve. Taking a breath, he gives a glance to their two remaining packs. "One tent. Rations for two. Also. This is the worst planet ever."

Teyla looks like she wants to say something diplomatic, but honestly, she was the one prying female fingers out of Ronon's hair, so she simply looks her disapproval. "We cannot get back to the gate by nightfall. And I do not think either Ronon or the colonel are going to be of any--assistance for many hours."

Many hours. Rodney hears John's voice raise slightly, and in horror, recognizes a Marine drinking song in progress while Ronon listens intently, mouthing the words. Turning back, Rodney stares at Teyla, trying to make her understand. "One. Tent."

Teyla closes her eyes. "Yes. I know."

*****

The problem with coming to civilized planets with people who are not out to kill them is that about a quarter of the time, they want to marry and/or reproduce with them. Rodney could live the rest of his life happy if he never heard the words "Our gene pool is limited" ever again. Two hours into negotiations, the leader, a busty and frankly hot woman with a tragically unpronounceable name and a laudable lack of upper body clothing, had invited them to partake in the village dinner, leading to the village group fire and dance-a-thon, leading to Rodney having a severe allergic reaction to the woodsmoke and leaving with Teyla at his back, therefore missing the Village Group Orgy. Which, through a clever combination of woodsmoke, surprisingly potent alcohol, and the fact that Sheppard honestly to God *never saw it coming*, led to--

Well. Stoned, semi-molested teammates.

He can't even really blame Sheppard, but that doesn't make him stop wanting to.

"I hate camping," Rodney says, which is what he says every time, but he hates it even more tonight, since Sheppard isn't here to double check his set-up and eventually take over when Rodney starts forgetting to tie things down. All the carrying of one eighty something pounds of underweight but strangely lead-lined colonel has taken its toll, back and shoulders aching until he finds himself staring at the first aid kit and morphine with a kind of fascination.

Teyla's quicker and more skilled, but just as tired, since she'd carried John on her own for two miles while Rodney worriedly spotted Ronon with no clear idea what he was supposed to do if the man fell--*catch* him?--before they'd shifted Sheppard between them for another ten. Dropping down as Teyla finishes pounding in the last stake, Rodney considers the tent for four--well, Ronon counts as two, so let's say five and be done with it--and the three MREs they have to share between them.

Teyla regards the sky critically before sitting down beside him. "We should move them inside, before it rains."

Rodney doesn't bother looking up. Of course it will rain. Of *course* it will. "Right."

Together, they watch Sheppard, currently rolled onto his belly, seriously tying Ronon's shoelaces into strange, complicated knots that Rodney's pretty sure he didn't learn in the military. Ronon, for his part, seems to have developed a fascination for Sheppard's hair, reaching with one finger to poke at each spike with wary uncertainty, surprised every time they don't feel sharp.

"They look happy," Rodney offers hopefully, watching as Sheppard rolls onto his back with Ronon's boot clutched triumphantly against his chest. It's so disturbingly cute that Rodney's torn between horror--because when Sheppard remembers this later, oh God, he'll be weird for *days*--and a kind of melting amusement. John Sheppard is never cute, except now, when he is.

Teyla sighs, but Rodney can see the amusement beneath it. "It grows dark. Let us get them under shelter while they are still--tractable."

And movable. Sighing, Rodney heaves himself to his feet, following Teyla to the patch of grass on which they'd left their teammates to play. With a sideways glance, Teyla reaches for Ronon, pulling him to his feet, slapping his hands gently from Sheppard's hair when it looks like he might hold on. As she gets Ronon away, Rodney stares down at Sheppard, still finding epiphany with a smelly boot. "I like leather," John says earnestly as he arches his back enough to look up at Rodney just over his head.

"And I'm sure a thousand S&M clubs weep that you are here and not on Earth. Come on, Colonel." Leaning down, Rodney gets his hands beneath Sheppard's shoulders, pushing him into a sitting position. "Okay, we're going to the nice tent for you to sleep this off."

Still clutching the boot, John nods so seriously he could almost fool someone into thinking he was dead sober. "Okay." Rodney catches him as his balance gives, getting an arm around his back. Later, Sheppard is giving him a massage. A long one. With oil and heated towels and candles and chocolate snacks and maybe dinner, because Rodney's back will never be the same and he's owed. "Come on, Colonel," he manages to say as Sheppard stays limp in his arms, looking at him with wide-eyed confusion. "Look at the nice tent! Nice tent. Where Ronon is. Wearing another boot you can have."

Sure, it's childish, but it gets the job done.

Arranging four people in a tent that had theoretically always been for four people but usually only sleeps two is tricky at the best of times, but Rodney finds that the sheer lack of assistance by John is an actual plus. With Ronon smashed into the far wall holding one of the Athosian necklaces they'd brought for trade ("Yes, very pretty, Ronon. Please be quiet now."), they can get John against the other wall, leaving--oh, this is going to suck. Rodney stares at the space in horror, then gives up. Teyla's seen him naked, covered in mud and manure, various rituals with various body paints, and married him at least twice. It's not like there's anything about his body that can surprise her now.

"I will survey our perimeter," Teyla says with more enthusiasm than he would think the chore would warrant, but as she escapes back outside, Rodney realizes there's no way they can leave Sheppard and Ronon both here unattended. With a sigh, Rodney grabs his pack and sits down between them, getting out a powerbar and quickly moving the bag from their view. He doesn't dare get his laptop out. God alone knows what will happen if they get their hands on it.

"Let's arm-wrestle," Ronon says abruptly, turning on his side and dangerously close to Rodney's foot. Keeping a wary eye on Ronon, Rodney scoots a little closer to Sheppard. "Come on. I'll even let you win the first time."

"I could do it," Sheppard says from his relaxed curl against the tent wall. Rodney stares between them. "I can beat you."

"You cannot."

"I can. I contain *multitudes*." Sheppard stretches out one arm, like he might actually be interested in trying this out, when as far as Rodney can tell, neither of them are even capable of sitting upright any more.

"No." Rodney pushes Sheppard's arm back to his chest, ignoring the narrow-eyed pout, and getting a leg down before Ronon's arm can move any farther across the space between them. "No, both of you--look, shoes!"

Sadly, this actually works. Taking a bite of his powerbar, Rodney keeps a careful eye on both as they entertain themselves with their shoes, keeping his attention more carefully on Sheppard, who, from previous experience, is more likely to suddenly develop a love of nature and try rolling around in something almost guaranteed to be poisonous.

When he tilts his head up, better to stare at the sole of Ronon's boot, Rodney notes the smear of bright red--far too vivid for a bruise--and licks his thumb, leaning over close enough to swipe away the stain of color.

Thin, strong fingers catch his wrist less than a breath away from skin, and the hazel eyes are blown to black. "Stop," Sheppard murmurs. Rodney lets his hand relax instinctively, not fighting either the tight grip or the blank stare. After a few long seconds, Sheppard relaxes, eyes flickering shut, and Rodney finishes wiping away the lipstick before carefully sitting his pack between the two men and going to the door.

Teyla, the traitor, is sitting only a few feet away, enjoying the not-crazy. "Dr. McKay?" she says serenely, and Rodney decides his hates everyone today. Pulling the flaps open as much as he can, he attaches the velcro and comes outside. Teyla's expression melts into concern. "Is something wrong?"

Rodney takes a deep breath. "On the mainland a couple of years ago," he says slowly, watching Teyla's face. "You and Sheppard were all, let's go adventuring! Amongst the wildlife. Where there are no Ancient facilities of any kind. Lots of flora and fauna that tried to destroy my sinuses? Ring any bells?"

Teyla's eyes widen.

"And we found those berries that look like strawberries, except you know, they're citrus. And you and Sheppard brought samples back to the jumper. And because you are both morons, you--"

"Sampled them, yes." Teyla brushes her hair back from her face, eyes narrowing. "My people--"

"Your people had already tried them, I know, and that's fine. I mean, how could you know that Sheppard--"

"I remember," she says grimly.

"Yeah." Rodney wipes his palms quickly on his thighs, trying to restrain the urge to panic. He can't. He and Teyla are the only ones who got only a single dose of the smoke and weren't plied with alcohol for the purposes of promoting molestation. "Now, I could be wrong, but Sheppard is showing signs of--um."

"Something unusual."

Rodney lifts up his wrist enough for Teyla to see the bruises ringing his wrist like a bracelet. "I'd say so, yes."

*****

When Rodney thinks of their first year in Atlantis, he mostly thinks of reeling from barely survived disaster to barely survived disasters. If he counts--and he has--they've actually about at the same level of near death disasters pretty much every year, but that first year was special for the fact that it was all unique. Back then, being sucked dry by Wraith was still fairly unique and the city trying to kill them in various strange and creepy ways was still a shock every time.

A lot of it may be Rodney's used to a life lived like an action-adventure movie; he can barely remember the guy who threw a fit the first time he slept in a tent on an alien world between running for his life from random hostile Pegasus natives. Some of it is probably simply the fact that in the great disaster priority list, getting stoned and then molested is pretty far down in terms of panic-inducement. But most of it is the familiarity. They know each other, the four of them, sharing tents and rations and sleeping bags if they have to, various commitment ceremonies having made Rodney a wife, a husband, the grandfather of a village older than he is, and the favorite concubine of moose-thing Sheppard cheerfully named Sam just to be an asshole.

He knows Teyla and Ronon both sleep nearest the tent flap when they share with Sheppard, because he doesn't fear for himself the way they fear for him; Teyla keeps an extra supply of powerbars hidden on her person in case Rodney loses his; Ronon never sleeps well offworld because Ford's long-ago ambush shook his faith in his ability to never be surprised. Sheppard sleeps hard but wakes easy and fast, worries most when he looks the most bored, and fears for them all in ways he'll never admit out loud.

These are things he didn't know, learned the hard way, with the rough lessons Pegasus seemed so eager to give. But the first year is when where the lessons were taught, and as he and Teyla watch the tent, Rodney wonders if this is one they have to learn again.

*****

Rodney watches worriedly through the thick window as Sheppard does his third reconnaissance of the small isolation chamber again.

"Carson?" he says, seeing Teyla's eyes flicker as Sheppard's hands run over the panels around the door.

"I don't know, Rodney." Carson's checking the Ancient whatever-the-fuck he'd used to analyze the first symptoms before Sheppard became impossible to control. Fever, check, nausea, check, a light sprinkle of something like hives that faded with the first shot of benadryl, sure, and Rodney thinks he'd take more amusement from the fact that their fearless military leader is apparently suffering from a food allergy if it wasn't the strangest food allergy he's ever seen.

There's a ring of bruises circling Carson's wrist from the last time he'd tried to touch the Major; no one's tried since getting him into the isolation room.

Through the speakers, they can hear Sheppard's light, even breathing, and the remote monitors shows spikes in blood pressure and heart-rate that Rodney thinks are bad, if the way that Carson's twitching is any indication.

"Doc?" Ford says hesitantly, and Carson pastes on a quickly professional smile. For the first time, Rodney wishes he and Carson didn't know each other so well; he'd like to take the same comfort from that smile that Ford seems to.

"Waiting out the symptoms, Lieutenant," Carson says with medical abruptness, and Ford seems to go slack in relief. He wasn't there to watch six Marines getting Sheppard into that room, Sheppard fighting with the feral desperation of an animal in a trap, willing to chew off his own leg to get away. "Tell Dr. Weir I'll keep her informed, there's a good lad."

Ford nods, apparently unaware that Carson could just as easily radio Dr. Weir himself, but it gets him out of the room and out of trouble, and Dr. Weir will keep him occupied as second in command of Atlantis until they figure out what the hell to do.

"It has been over a day," Teyla says in a low voice. "Should the--allergy--not have worn off by this time?"

Not quite anaphylaxis, though it mimicked it so well that Rodney had been shoving into the pack for the epi pen before the confusion on Sheppard's face had cleared. Ford had flown the jumper while Teyla held Sheppard's head between her hands, focusing him on her as Rodney pushed up his shirt and shoved the needle in, straddling a body suddenly stronger than Rodney could ever remember it being.

"His brain chemistry's showing an unusual amount of activity," Carson says softly, eyes fixed on Sheppard as he moves away from the door, eyes flickering to the window. Though he knows that Sheppard can't see them, he backs off a step anyway, tensing beneath that chilly appraisal that offers neither recognition nor understanding. "He's not hallucinating anymore."

"He just wants to kill us, much better. I'm less worried by the second."

Teyla frowns at him, but Rodney watches her eyes drift back to the room, like Rodney's do, no matter how many times he makes himself turn away. "He seems calmer."

He does, but for some reason, Rodney doesn't think that's an improvement. Somewhere since Major Sheppard asking him to join his team, between missions and movie nights and nanoviruses, Rodney had picked up a certain wary understanding of the man he worked with. Sheppard's calm: calm when killing Wraith and killing men and cracking horrible, horrible jokes. He's calm in captivity and calm in freedom and calm standing with a gun to his expedition leader's head.

Angry and out of control, he's scary as shit, but Rodney thinks that calm may not be an improvement.

"Reminds me of something," Carson says, brow furrowing, and Rodney finds himself watching the readings, as understandable as Sanskrit and just about as logical. "Hmm." Touching his radio, Carson turns away. "I'm going to need an escort. We need to get another blood sample from the Major."

*****

Teyla goes first, wary and worried at once. When Rodney ducks in, he can see Ronon, snoring like a foghorn on the other side of the tent, sprawled out enough that Rodney resigns himself to the worst sleep he's had yet in this galaxy. Sheppard, in contrast, is lying on his side in a compact organization of arms and legs, one arm beneath his head, dark eyes wide-open and glazed over. Teyla kneels beside him a careful foot away. "Colonel Sheppard?"

Rodney fights the urge to shove in beside her, get a better look at Sheppard's face. He's a little pale, but the storm--of course there's a storm, of *course*--has cut a lot of the light, and in the dimness of the tent, Sheppard could be purple for all he knows. Squeezing behind Teyla and avoiding one outflung Ronon-leg, Rodney sidles down beside her, legs crossed, keeping that careful distance that after all this time feels wrong. Injury is always a suspension to the rules of professionalism, Rodney's learned; hell, he pioneered it, because if he's going to have Pegasus kick the asses of himself and his team, they damn well deserved some kind of compensation, and Rodney's favorite thing on earth is still sprawling across Sheppard's lap and getting a slow backrub.

Sheppard's eyes flicker between them, snapping out of the glaze. "Where am I?"

Teyla licks her lips, and Rodney makes himself stay still. Sudden movement is bad. "PSX-111," she says slowly. Sheppard's expression doesn't change. "The Pegasus galaxy."

*****

The Marines are fucked, Rodney knows that the second Sheppard's head comes up when they go in the room.

"Carson," Rodney starts, because it occurs to him that Marines are great for standing between him and bullets, but maybe shouldn't be trusted with a mentally fragile, somewhat paranoid, possibly amnesiac and dangerously angry Sheppard. Teyla, beside him, lets out a startled sound in time for Rodney to see John do something pretty much physically impossible with the thin mattress on his bed and a Marine about three times his size.

"Increased strength," Carson says with interest, making notes. "Interesting."

"We've been in this galaxy too long," Rodney mutters as Carson makes happy sounds of scientific investigation, touching his radio. "Dr. Weir--"

A second Marine goes down hard to a bony knee, and Rodney waits for more Marines to be ordered in, but for some reason, no one else comes. Rodney's eyes flicker to the door and then Teyla.

"Oh," Teyla says as Sheppard twists beneath a bulky arm and the Ancient door, no longer restrained by contamination protocols, happily lets him through.

Rodney fumbles at his radio as he looks first at Teyla, then at Carson. He can hear Weir's voice, angry and afraid, and almost sighs. This cannot go well at all. "Well, damn."

Carson looks up abruptly, bewildered. "Did I miss something?"

*****

Sheppard keeps still, so still that Rodney knows he's fighting the urge to attack. "Who are you?"

"Teyla Emagen," Teyla says softly, hands loose at her sides, projecting helpless girlness at Sheppard like a shield. Rodney wonders who on earth would be stupid enough to take *that* seriously. "This is Dr. Rodney McKay. We are your friends. We are a gate team for the city of Atlantis, which our people settled in many years ago."

Rodney nods in assent, fighting the urge to reach out and touch. It's human and instinctive and something he has no problem taking advantage of with his team, but it's not Sheppard, not right now.

Sheppard stares at them with no recognition. "I don't--"

"You are Colonel John Sheppard," Teyla says, voice still calm and easy, as if this is light dinner conversation with touchy diplomats and not, you know, the line of Sheppard's sanity they're trying very hard to keep uncrossed. "You are being affected by a drug that you ingested during our last trade mission."

A barely perceptible quiver shakes his body; here one second, gone the next. "I don't--" Sheppard catches the words between his teeth like an animal with meat. Don't give an advantage to the enemy. Even if he doesn't know who the enemy is.

Sheppard's eyes flicker to him, and Rodney does his best to look concerned and non-threatening--not so hard when he's almost sitting on his gun and he's slower than Sheppard anyway. The green eyes flicker over them both in objective threat-assessment that Rodney remembers from every time they've met an enemy. It's pretty effective; Rodney's sweating under the gaze in less than ten seconds. Copying Teyla, Rodney keeps his hands loose, hoping to God that Ronon doesn't suddenly wake up with a deep need for a arm-wrestling match or a strange desire for Sheppard's boots.

Above them, thunder rolls ominously across the sky, a rather appropriate bit of sound-effects that Rodney would appreciate a lot more during a movie. Sheppard's eyes flicker up briefly, then back to them as the rain starts like a faucet turning on, a thorough, steady pour that's going to turn the ground to mud and make the remainder of their trek back to the 'gate an unadulterated hell.

John uncoils himself, eyes tracking their every breath as he slowly sits up, dizzy but hiding it almost well enough that if Rodney didn't know him so well, he would've missed it completely. If he runs away now, he can't get far.

Of course, if he runs away now, they won't get far either; the rain is coming down in sheets and they'll be lost in seconds. "Okay," he says, obviously either humoring them or aware that until the rain lets up, he's kind of stuck. Sheppard, for all his wandering through the universe in BDUs and forgetting to shower after workouts, is weird about mud and having to be in it. Rodney at least partially attributes it to Sheppard having to be Rodney's best man in that muddy stable when he became concubine of a moose, the prequel to which was being rubbed down with manure.

It's not a pleasant memory.

"You are unwell," Teyla says soothingly, and extends a hand, carefully, so Sheppard can see it. "The effects will pass. You must remain calm."

*****

Rodney gets a life-sign detector and ignores Weir's pointed comments that the Marines will handle it. The Marines had handled it all right, so well that Sheppard's vanished into the city and they're talking about a city the size of Rhode Island, or close to it. Ford tries to put together some kind of plan with some of the men, but Teyla simply watches Rodney configuring the life signs detector and follows him out the door with Weir still asking questions.

"Where?" she asks softly, Rodney tries to tune it, already knowing that the parameters they've studied make it impossible to find a single person using this.

"I don't know." Rodney looks at Teyla helplessly; going on missions with Sheppard is different from actually knowing him. Rodney has his suspicions about the relationship between Teyla and Sheppard, but he doesn't think it's gotten to the naked and sweaty stage, or even to the picnic-on-the-balcony stage. It's something, though--but then again, the same could be said for him and Sheppard. Something.

Something, not enough, but it has to be enough, for the two of them who know him best to find him. Teyla moves ahead as they start down the residential quarters.

"Deserted areas," Rodney says when Teyla pauses. She nods thoughtfully, head tilted, as if she can hear something he can't, then turns, following a cleared but unused corridor. "Hmm. Do you think--"

"Major Sheppard dislikes confinement," Teyla says thoughtfully, and Rodney pulls up a mental map of the city, charting out the corridors. Sheppard's not in his right mind, so at first, blind running. With the unusual strength, and with their luck, added speed, he can probably get a good distance before he stops and tries whatever passes for thinking.

Rodney watches Teyla pause, touching her earpiece, before she slides it off and studies it. "Can you tune this to the frequency the military uses?" she asks, and Rodney wishes he'd thought of that. It's a closed channel, but Rodney's the one that set it up, so it's not all that hard, taking it and using a fingernail to pry up one side, adjusting it before giving it back and doing the same to his own. Flipping channels, he hears Bates' voice, hoarse and worried, more worried than Rodney thinks the man will ever show to Sheppard's face.

*"Signs of activity in sector E,"* an unfamiliar voice reports, and Rodney wishes he'd paid more attention when Sheppard had made him sit in on the military briefings before their infrequent explorations of the city. Teyla, who probably did pay attention the mind-numbing boredom, is already turned, following another corridor at a fast walk, forcing Rodney to job to keep up. Watching the life signs detector on the equivalent of Ancient zoom-out, Rodney can clearly see the heavily habituated areas of the city, the search parties in tiny, bright bundles, and then--

"Teyla," he says, leaning into the wall, ignoring the stitch in his side. "Here."

Teyla comes back, looking over his shoulder, eyes going wide, just as a voice over the radio shouts, *"Beta team down! I repeat, beta team down! Sheppard--"*

"Jesus," Rodney says, jerking it out of his ear to rub at his abused eardrum. Teyla, frowning, continues to listen, nodding as if the military shorthand makes some sort of sense. She waves him quiet when he would have asked, frown deepening, and Rodney stares at his own headset, suddenly worried.

A few long seconds pass, then Teyla takes a breath. "Major Sheppard has disabled two of the search teams. You have been asked to assist in retrieving a team from a locked room."

Rodney snorts. "That's what Zelenka's for." Watching the single moving dot, Rodney follows the progress of it for a second. "That pier--" He stops, feeling a sudden shot of heat in his arm, running painfully along the long-healed wound. "It's the closest," he says, motioning down the hall. "I can activate the transporter, but it's a long walk. He might not stay very long, if seeing it--triggers anything."

Teyla's hand closes over his elbow. "Then we will run."

*****

Sheppard watches Teyla's hand like a poisonous snake, but he doesn't pull away when she touches his forehead with the tips of her fingers. The fear is so thick that Rodney's choking on it, as heavy as the humidity seeping into his jacket and dampening his shirt. Teyla's fingers slide gently to his temple, rubbing slow, careful circles, breathing comfort and familiarity and knowing like a cloud. Even Sheppard's got to feel it; his body relaxes by degrees, though the tight confines of the tent can't be helping.

"Do you wish to go outside?" Teyla says softly, still stroking, confining her movements to that four inch patch of skin. It's raining and wet and cold, but they'd found out the hard way that Sheppard under the influence is Sheppard claustrophobic to a ridiculous degree. Ridiculous if you didn't guess that in John's pre-Atlantis days, there are things that happen in war that don't go into any records anywhere.

If you don't know that three years in Atlantis can erode any discipline, even the one that keeps Sheppard the model of unaffected officer. Rodney keeps himself still, no matter how much he wants to offer comfort as well; this is Teyla's gift, not his, not what he does or can do.

Sheppard's eyes go the tent door with the kind of longing that Rodney associates with coffee products and new porn. "I--yeah."

"Then we can go." Like cold rain isn't beating down the world just outside, Teyla stands up, going to the flap with an eye on Rodney that orders him to wait until Sheppard's outside before following. Just in case.

Warily, Sheppard gets up, like he can't imagine it could be that easy, eyeing Teyla, then Rodney with distrust before he's drawn toward freedom. Rodney makes himself stay in place until they're both outside, then scrambles for his bag, getting a flashlight and three powerbars, stuffing them in the inner pocket of his coat before stuffing a few of foil blankets beneath his arm and checking on Ronon, still out like a light. Shaking out the first blanket, he puts it over his head, emerging outside into the end of the world, or at least, the single rainiest day he's ever had the misfortune to experience.

Mud slicks up his boots so fast that he's sinking. Yes. It's going to be that kind of a night.

Sheppard seems more relaxed where he can run; Rodney is careful not to come up directly behind him, moving slowly in case Sheppard gets spooked, while Teyla keeps up a low voiced monologue that could probably relax anyone who listened long enough. The two of them make their way to some rocks in visual range of the tent, Sheppard watching warily as Teyla sits down on one with graceful unconcern while Rodney stomps through the mud until he reaches them.

Sheppard jumps when Rodney appears, but accepts when Rodney tosses a blanket at him. "If you're going to indulge in a fit of paranoia, at least do it under some kind of cover." Giving the second one to Teyla, Rodney pulls his own closer, hideously aware of the cold water trickling down the back of his neck and freezing his spine, chilling every part of his body that could right now be warm and toasty if not for some oversexed hussies who thought it'd be fun to molest his team leader. Sitting on the rock beside Teyla, Rodney takes a deep breath and resigns himself to bitching tomorrow.

For now, it's enough that they aren't chasing Sheppard through the fields, so in balance, it's not so bad a night.

*****

They find him at the edge of the rails that overlook the ocean, so bewildered that Rodney's heart goes tight in his chest. Coming out, Rodney pulls out the control crystals in the door so no one can follow them out.

"Major," Teyla says, and Sheppard turns around so fast that he's almost a blur, a gun up and pointed directly between her eyes. Teyla stops moving, body tensing, but her expression never changes. "I am Teyla. Your friend."

Sheppard stares at them, and Rodney remembers his voice as shapeless things chased him when they restrained him to the infirmary bed, before three separate sedatives did jack shit to a mind lost somewhere that no one else could follow. The Velcro cuffs cutting into fragile wrists, the sharp arch of his spine that made Rodney ache, the way he'd looked at them all, like monsters that he couldn't escape. Tied him down, drugged him senseless, locked him up, hunted him like an animal; no fucking *wonder* he was running. Rodney slowly crouches, setting down his scanner and then the gun from his holster, eyes on Sheppard the entire time.

"Major," Rodney says, wondering what he's supposed to say now that he's got his attention. "It's a drug. It will wear off."

Sheppard's eyes flicker. No, Rodney didn't think that would work. Teyla, moving just as carefully, slowly moved in a parallel line into his line of sight, then carefully sits down. "We will wait with you," she says in a quiet voice, hands resting on her thighs as she crosses her legs, like she does when she's meditating.

Rodney moves toward her, then follows her example, fighting down the instinct to run and scream and babble, focusing on John, in infirmary scrubs, blood on one side--someone *hurt him*, Jesus fuck, who the hell would dare--the reddened hands, the barely perceptible tremble of Sheppard's body. The gun that's darting between them like Sheppard can't figure out who to shoot first.

Like he's not even sure what they *are*.

"Where am I?" he says, voice low, and Rodney glances at Teyla, then draws in a breath.

"You're in Atlantis."

Sheppard stares at them like he can't imagine anything more insane, then the hazel eyes glaze over, and he drops like a stone to the ground.

*****

Rodney's ready when the energy abandons Sheppard, jumping to catch him under the arms before he hits the rocks and hurts himself. Teyla's beside him, and they kneel down on the muddy ground, water seeping into Rodney's knees as he takes Sheppard's weight and Teyla tilts up his head, finger against his pulse and looking into his eyes.

"I don't--" Sheppard breathes, looking up at them in despair. "I can't remember--"

"I know," Teyla whispers, voice soft and a little broken. It's horrible to witness the second that Sheppard stops trying to deal, and no matter how many times Rodney's hated Sheppard's distance, he knows it's there for *reasons*, and he never wants to see what can break it.

Wet hair brushes Rodney's cheek as Sheppard's head falls back against his shoulder, and Rodney rubs soothing circles on whatever part of Sheppard's body his hand is touching, trying to project concern and protection and not restraint, keeping himself from clutching and holding and restraining with an effort that's physical. Teyla's forehead presses against John's briefly before she gathers the discarded blankets and starts to rearrange them around them.

Rodney shifts himself so his back is against the rock and Teyla gets the edge of a blanket over it with another rock to hold it, cocooning them in relative dryness with rain pounding millimeters above Rodney's head. As carefully as he can, Rodney shifts John in his lap until at least *looks* less uncomfortable, a limp weight in Rodney's arms, stubble burning Rodney's neck when he turns his head, breath warm and damp and distracting against his collarbone. The ground here is damp and muddy in a thin layer over solid stone, so Rodney stops fighting the sinking and just goes with it, resigning himself to a wet, muddy, freezing ass. Another blanket covers them before Teyla wiggles in beside them, warm against Rodney's side, and he can feel her hand under covers, touching Sheppard's, linking their fingers as he shivers again.

"I don't--" Sheppard's voice breaks briefly, and Rodney hates them village so much that his teeth ache with it, "I can't--"

"It will pass," Teyla whispers, head resting on Rodney's other shoulder, pulling Sheppard's legs unresistingly across her lap, their joined hands resting on his thigh, and Rodney vaguely thinks he remembers this particular fantasy, though all of them were less clothed and there was pudding involved, not mud. "I promise you, it will pass." Sheppard burrows closer to them both, and Rodney tightens his grip, realizing somewhere along the line his hand wandered to bare skin, the hard muscle of Sheppard's belly against his slowly circling fingers, hair tickling and silky.

He closes his eyes as he feels the rain beat down against his head through the blanket, freezing ass and sweating from the press of so many bodies so close. Teyla's hair is soft against his cheek and Sheppard is breathing easier into his throat as he goes limp with trust and sleep, and Rodney despite himself, relaxes too.

It's still raining, and it's going to be hell on earth when he wakes up cold and stiff, but right now, he doesn't mind at all.

*****

Later, Weir, Carson, and Ford come out to them, wary and a little afraid of what they'll find, but it's just an exhausted Major with his head in Teyla's lap and Rodney stroking soothing circles into his back as he sleeps. Teyla looks up with a smile like the sun rising over the edges of Atlantis after an endless night when they breathe out, coming closer.

Sheppard has a bruise on his forehead from when he fell, and he's going to be a bitch when he wakes up, but he's peaceful and quiet and his hand, entwined with Rodney's, doesn't let go.

"Should we--" Carson make a motion like a mime, which is kind of creepy, and gestures toward the door. Rodney shrugs, tensing, and glances at Teyla.

"We are fine," Teyla says, stroking a slow hand through Sheppard's hair. "We will call when he wakes up."

*****

The next morning, Ronon wakes them up with a kick at Rodney's boot, ruthlessly jerking away their little blanket tent and staring at them with the red, resentful eyes of a man with a woodsmoke hangover.

Teyla opens her eyes unhappily and turns into Rodney's shoulder with a low growl. Rodney worries about his major arteries so close to her teeth. "Ronon, we are *sleeping*." It's not even dawn yet, with the false grey of four o'clock in the morning.

"Why are you out here?" Ronon says sulkily, and Rodney wonders if he's pissed from the hangover or missing out on team bonding. The noise--or maybe the cool air now moving where there'd been only humid warmth--pulls Sheppard out, and Rodney can feel his breath change, the second he remembers. For a moment, his entire body goes tense and untouchable, and Rodney begins to think of ways to pull away before apparently, Sheppard gives up, rolling onto the muddy ground with a groan.

"Bad night," Sheppard says, one wet hand raking through his hair and then sighing. "Come on, kids, inside. We've earned a late morning."

Ronon looks confused, but he shrugs as Sheppard gets to his feet, going back into the tent with a grumble. Sheppard looks down at them with an unreadable expression as Teyla stretches and pulls herself from Rodney's side.

Suddenly, Rodney feels like an idiot, sitting in wet mud with a freezing ass, all the places he'd been warm curdling cold and hard. It's Sheppard again--pale, grey-faced, but himself all over, distance like a coat, and Rodney's glad to see it--he is, he is, this is the man he follows and fights with and maybe sometimes even loves just a little--but it's still distance where there was none. Rodney remembers the awkwardness after that other time with a little shot of hurt, though he knows, *knows* this is Sheppard, and it's less personal than necessity.

He goes into the tent after them, finding Ronon's again taking up half the space, Teyla squishing in between Ronon and John with a blissful sigh, and takes off his boots at the door, hopping awkwardly before he circles, pushing over foil blankets and sleeping bags for an open space until Sheppard makes an impatient sound and grabs his ankle, pulling Rodney down.

Rodney lets himself be arranged, letting Sheppard turn him as he likes until he's curled in a cocoon of warm blanket and warm body, head on Sheppard's shoulder, one wet, muddy leg tucked between warm thighs, the long, lean body melting into his. Beneath the foil, Rodney feels Teyla's fingers link through his on Sheppard's belly, Sheppard's hand resting on the small of his back, and falls asleep to the sound of Sheppard's heart, slow and soothing as the warmth of the coming dawn, and the rhythmic circles Sheppard's fingers draw on his skin beneath his shirt.

Late morning, good idea. Rodney buries his face against Sheppard's collar and drifts off into sleep.


These are the things for which the phrase oh, John was invented.

I feel shameless and kind of muddy from all the messy cuddling going on. I am *so glad* I abandoned shame so early on.

Thank you!

1. John hugging the boot = ADORABLE BEYOND WORDS

2. snuggling wins at life. *glee*

John/boot almost took over the story--suddenly I wanted John talking to it and cuddling it and growling when Teyla would try to take it away. THen I regained some sanity.

*hugs* Thanks!

I love the way Rodney knows both Teyla and John in this, the way he thinks about them and understands them.

And you are absolutely right about snuggling.

This is just about the most intimate story I have ever read that didn't have any actual sex in it.

Lovely.

Oh wow. This was lovely, thank you.

There is no shame! Only warm woobies. Makes me go AWWWWWWWWWWW!

Oh, wow, I loved this! The boots, the moose-thing! Feral!John! I loved all Rodney's observations about John and the others. And the whole thing with John and Ronon at the beginning is hilarious and adorable, and I loved how the more serious part sneaks up before you realize it. Teyla is fantastic in this, too. I seriously could not love this more!

Thank you so much!

I seriously wish the boot had gotten more screentime in retrospect, though.

This was sort of unexpected in ways that I'm really enjoying in retrospect. I thought this was going to just be some cute team cuddling thing with adorably high Ronon and John. And it was cute and funny and I was enjoying it, but then it went somewhere else and I'm so glad it did.

Lately, I've been really getting back on my gen kick, especially gen with just a hint of subtext. I think it's sometimes more interesting and a little more complicated trying to figure out what binds these four people together when you take the sex out of it. I especially liked the flashback to early on, when they were just trying to figure each other out. So often we get stories where the friendship is solidly in place, so it was refreshing to see the contrast between then and now. I also liked how Rodney (and by extension, you) dealt with John's issues. I don't mind John with Issues as long as they're dealt with in a manner that's not extremely self-satisfied and I thought I was getting that here. It was nice to get a Rodney that recognized both that he couldn't really judge John's need for distance because he didn't know everything that had happened to John and also that the distance wasn't just for John's benefit alone. It just felt less glib and judgemental than we get in these things.

I think issues are there for a reason, and honestly, aren't around just to spite [insert character here] or in fact, even really need to be solved all the time.

It was odd doing gen when I realized that was where it was going, but refreshingly interesting too. I haven't done it in a while, so it was *extremely* fun. And--yeah, when the story unfolded from highness to--what it became, it surprised me, too.

*hugs* Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

I *like* it when you're being shameless. Indulge us more often!

Team! The team is love!

I love the implied backstory, with all their wacky adventures and alien marriages. I also love the darker hints of what they've gone through and what it's cost them. Most of all, I love their care for each other, from who sleeps next to the tent flaps to cuddling in cold mud.

Also, all that free-floating UST is good for my OT4-loving heart. Gen, heh. ;)

*grins* I love their UST.

Thanks very much.

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Thank you!

I think of it as a bad LSD trip--some people have good ones? And some people--er, don't. Not that I have personal experience or anything with that.

I'm glad you liked it!

This is so beautiful and snuggly! And a little scary, but mostly beautiful and snuggly.

here via ltlj

Lovely fic. I love team bonding fics like this. One of the aspects I liked most about this was how you brought Ford in for the previous incident. The end was very sweet and I like the ambiguity surrounding the relationships.

Thank you very much!

I never got a chance to write Ford, since I came in post-season one, so it was nice to be able to at least give him a little part here.

Very, very nice! Paranoid cuddling - who'd have thought?