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Summary: Rodney was released from the infirmary with painkillers, icepacks, and a strict injunction to limit all unnecessary speech for at least three days.

Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: John Sheppard, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Action/Adventure, First Time, Hurt Comfort
Warnings: None
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 5335; Completed: Yes
Updated: 17 Jul 2008; Published: 15 Jul 2008

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Story Notes:
Written for Flashfic's First Aid challenge, last minute and ridiculously indulgent. Yes, I've batted three for three for CPR in my last three fics. Oops? Thanks to gnine for the title and the latest bad-thing-to-do-to-Rodney, and naye for the usual marvelous cheerleading (I am so spoiled!)


There were four holding cells, John guessed they could be called, built in a row, divided by the Pegasus equivalent of chain link fence. He and Ronon were shoved into the third cage down, along with a couple men who were in on drunk and disorderly, to tell by the smell. Rodney ended up in the first cell, putting a cage of rowdy hooligans between him and his teammates.

Close enough for Rodney to throw them a despairing look, which John answered with a smirking thumbs' up: Sit tight, Teyla'll get us out of this. Rodney hunched his shoulders, raised his arms to show off the handcuffs and shook his head in an obstinate, Speak for yourselves, you're only in for loitering; they've got me on conspiracy to commit murder—because Teyla had warned them that the Scgol followed a strict legal code, but not that they'd take an irritated, "Sheppard, you're a dead man," as declaration of homicide.

Close enough for John to count every bulge of the biceps on the man sharing Rodney's cell, a burly giant with stringy blond hair and shoulders as broad as a doorway, who would probably last a good minute in a match again Ronon.

Too far away, however, for John to hear what Rodney said to the behemoth; but he saw the man's florid face turn mauve with rage, saw the panic in Rodney's eyes. "Sorry—I didn't mean, I'm sorry—" Rodney babbled as he backed away, loud enough to be heard over the kids yelling insults in the next cell, hands up in surrender, but it didn't do any good.

The huge man had shoved him against the stone wall at the back of the cages before Rodney could duck away, and John saw Rodney cringe at the impact. But he hadn't been enduring field training for nothing; shoulders pinned, he kicked out and up. John winced, and Ronon, pressed to the chain link alongside John, grunted approval.

But the giant just snarled, wordless and guttural as a big cat, and smashed his head forward into Rodney's, a headbutt hard enough that John heard the wet thud of the impact, saw Rodney's head rock back, eyes open but expression dazed with pain. His attacker was grinning with psychotic pleasure. Bringing up his arms, he hooked the short chain of his own handcuffs under Rodney's chin and hauled up.

"McKay!" Ronon growled; "Let him go!" John hollered, crashing his hands into the fence to rattle the chain link. Rodney struggled, pressed against the wall and forced to his toes. Unable to kick out without hanging himself, he struck with his hands, boxing his attacker's ears, gouging at his eyes; well-targeted attacks, but they did nothing. The man's grin only widened as he took each hit unflinching.

Rodney couldn't cry out, couldn't call for the guards outside. John shouted for help, but the kids in the cell between were jeering loud enough to drown him out. "Do it!" they screamed, egging on the killer.

Rodney's hands were flailing in panic now, clutching at the chain dug into his throat. His face had gone from red to purple to a hideously darker shade. "Stop!" John yelled, clawing at the wire fence. "You fucking bastard, I'll fucking kill you, stop—!"

"Sheppard," Ronon said from somewhere far beyond calm, so low John felt more than heard it. He snapped around and saw Ronon braced to charge. John nodded—one, two, and no time for three; in unison they smashed their shoulders against the cell's gate, while the two drunks gaped at them in open-mouthed stupors.

On the third charge, the metal bar securing the gate bent and gave way, sending them stumbling to freedom. Before John realized he was standing, he had wrenched open the lock to Rodney's cell, and Ronon had thrown himself at the prisoner inside with a roar like a tsunami hitting shore, just as unstoppable.

Rodney slid to the floor with a muffled thump, bruised and boneless. His flushed face had gone corpse-gray but for the blue of his lips, the purple-and-white striations around his neck. There was a faltering pulse, when John pressed a finger under his ear; but he wasn't choking, wasn't coughing—wasn't even trying to breathe. "Shit," John gasped, "Shit, don't do this, McKay"—fingers prying Rodney's locked jaw apart, throat injured but airway open, tilt his head back and pinch his nose, seal their mouths, breathe.

John heard Ronon slam the guy's head into the wall, a meaty dull sound, but he couldn't take the time to glance over, couldn't spare the breath to say, Save some for me, when Rodney needed all of it. One, two, three, forced steady rhythm—Rodney coughed, but it was an involuntary reflex; it took two more breaths before he gagged and gasped and inhaled on his own.

His eyes rolled open, blindly gray, glazed and confused. "Don't," John said, grabbing for his arm when Rodney started to reach for his throat. "Don't move, don't talk. You're okay, buddy, you're okay," and he passed his thumb down the inside of Rodney's wrist, found the pulse, fluttering soft and fast.

Someone seized him roughly by the shoulder; John slammed his elbow back without looking, heard a muffled grunt and the hand let go.

"Colonel Sheppard," Teyla said from somewhere behind him with her unlikely balance of exasperation and concern, "what has happened..." She trailed off.

John counted her footsteps approaching along with two other pairs. Including the guy he'd just elbowed, that made three guards. With Teyla they could take them, easy, if necessary. "So what's the deal, did we make bail?"

Teyla's voice came back nearer and harder. "We came to an agreement. Dr. McKay is—"

"Fine," John said, even though Rodney was breathing in harsh, too-loud pants. Rodney's lips parted, but John shook his head, put a finger over them before he could speak. "I said, don't talk, McKay. You could screw up your throat worse."

Rodney was paler than usual, but no longer zombie-pallid, and the blue was leaching back into his eyes, enough for him to glare. John quirked a slight grin back and uncovered Rodney's mouth. "Can you walk?" he asked, and raised his hand sharply—"Just nod. You going to need a stretcher, or are you okay to walk out of here?"

Rodney hesitated, then rocked his head once, up and down. He slid himself back against the wall and inched his way sitting, moving gingerly. "Let's go," he mouthed, not even attempting a whisper.

John nodded and stood, changing his hold on Rodney's wrist to pull him to his feet. Rodney stabilized himself against the wall, his breaths still sounding loudly in his damaged throat. When Ronon stepped close to replace the stone blocks, Rodney didn't hesitate to lean on him, hunched and wheezing like an octogenarian in a marathon.

The guards at the cell entrance moved out of their way with alacrity, cowed by either Teyla's negotiations, or the unconscious hulk of the prisoner at Ronon's feet. One of them wore the fancy gold pin that marked him as arbiter, combination police captain, judge, and city official. The man mumbled something about formal apologies and taking appropriate steps and hopes not to jeopardize Scgol's new relations with Atlantis, but John was past caring. These were the same men who had thrown Rodney in the same cell as the homicidal psychopath, who so highly valued their legal process that they didn't bother to keep their prisoners from strangling one another. Diplomacy was all well and good, but John figured if he made it off the planet without punching one of the sanctimonious assholes in the face, he deserved a medal.

"John," Teyla murmured, and he almost turned on her to explain this aloud, but it wasn't a chastisement; she was only pointing to John's wrist, where a rivulet of blood was winding down his skin to his clenched fist.

John blinked at it, then looked hard at Rodney, but the contusions on his throat hadn't broken skin. When he looked closer he realized the blood was his own, oozing from a gash along the side of his forearm. A stray wire from the gate-crash, probably; he didn't remember. He wiped the red smear off on his pants leg, said, "Let's get out of here."



* * *



A bruised larynx was the official diagnosis, once they made it back to Atlantis. Rodney was released from the infirmary the next morning with painkillers, icepacks, and a strict injunction to limit all unnecessary speech for at least three days.

Knowing that Rodney's definition of "unnecessary" was unlikely to correlate with the doctor's, John shadowed his teammate from the infirmary to the primary science lab. "Docs said light duty only," he reminded, and Rodney rolled his eyes and opened his mouth, then closed it again as John made a warning noise. Scowling, he settled himself at his computer.

"Hey, it could be worse," John said. Rodney raised an eyebrow, and John pointed a finger at his head. "There's always asphyxiation-induced brain damage."

"That's—" Rodney's voice was a rusty groan, like an unoiled hinge, and he winced, shut his mouth before John could say anything. Turning to his laptop, he opened a text window, typed out, VERY FUNNY, COLONEL.

"No," John said, "it really wasn't." The mottled marks on his neck had resolved into a spectacular palette of blues and purples, but none were as terrible as the colorless gray Rodney's face had turned.

Still, the bruises were such that several incoming scientists, upon seeing them, ducked away without comment, their queries not worth risking the wrath of a cranky head of science in pain. Those less easily intimidated, John glared down before they had a chance to ask their questions, leaving them to seek help from other sources and Rodney to work in peace.

This lasted for all of an hour, before Rodney got up. "I've got to—" he started to croak, but John stretched out his leg to kick him in the shin. Rodney shut his mouth, turned back to his computer. TALK WITH ZELENKA, he typed.

"You could text him?" John suggested, because Zelenka couldn't be glared down, but Rodney rolled his eyes eloquently and stalked off.

Fortunately Zelenka was prepared. "Dr. Keller apprised me of the situation," he explained, "and yes, I'm aware the city shield calibrations are a priority, but you do not need your voice to pointlessly berate me, Rodney," and he held up a couple of whiteboard markers. "I believe after long practice, I can manage to read seventy percent of what you consider handwriting, and Colonel Sheppard hopefully will be able to decipher the rest."

Rodney huffed, unvoiced, grabbed the red marker and proceeded to scribble all over the equations Zelenka had written out on the board. John was pretty sure most of it was reasonable corrections, though the cross-eyed goblin with glasses, messy hair, and horns wasn't any mathematical notation he was familiar with.

Lunch didn't go quite as well. Teyla explained her deal with the Scgol, "They agreed that as off-worlders, you should be tried by your own people. I implied that Atlantis would appropriately discipline you for your crimes, however, and therefore they would not expect to see any of you again anytime soon."

"Good riddance," John said, and Ronon shrugged, but Rodney put down his milkshake (doctor-approved) and started to grate out, "Wait, but—"

John tapped the toe of his boot on Rodney's to shut him up and took over, "What about their power supplies, right?" because the rumors of their possible Ancient technology was why Rodney had been so fired-up to visit the Scgol to begin with, though they hadn't gotten as far as seeing the generators before their arrests.

Rodney nodded. "We can send Zelenka to go take a look, maybe," John said, though he would think long and hard before greenlighting any team for that mission; the Scgol had some screws loose, obviously, Ancient batteries or not, and Atlantis didn't need any more strangled scientists.

The mutinous look Rodney fired at him said that there would be a discussion about this, a McKay-style discussion with lots of gesticulation and raised voices—what most people would call an argument, if not World War III—but that would have to wait. For now John forestalled it by launching into a story he'd gotten secondhand from Lorne, about the botanists who inadvertently discovered the hallucinogenic flowers on M9R-545.

"—and the vicious beast turned out to be the size of a hamster, it fit nicely in his pocket on the way home. So they've made it their mascot." Which wasn't as good as Lorne had told it, but Ronon cracked up, and it kept Rodney quiet for a good eight minutes; John had only had to step on his toes three times.

After lunch, he followed Rodney back to the labs, where Rodney proceeded to harangue Zelenka over his newest equations in a tirade of green capital letters, ending with,—SHOULD GO BACK TO GRADE SCHOOL, starred and underlined.

"Very mature," Zelenka said, pursing his lips, and wiped out the entire rant with two sweeps of the eraser. "This does not change the fact that your estimation of the pressure differential is needlessly pessimistic; if you would accept a theoretical greater value for the sake of the coefficient calculation—"

"There's no point to theoretical if it can't be applied practically!" Rodney croaked, then coughed. "Ow."

"Yeah, that's why you're supposed to be shutting up," John said.

"Forget this," Zelenka said, "I will wait until you're in what passes for a more reasonable frame of mind," and he sounded annoyed, but before he left John saw him dart a glance at the bruises at Rodney's throat, when Rodney wasn't looking.

At John's prodding, McKay finished a glass of ice water, then returned to his computer to pound out a series of emails to his staff. John didn't try to read any of them over his shoulder, but when one of the junior chemists in the next lab over started sobbing hysterically, he opened an eighteen-hole course on Links Ultimate and challenged Rodney to a round. Rude gestures weren't as satisfying as their usual trash-talking, but they made a decent substitute for a few games, and Rodney educated him in a couple imaginative signals John hadn't seen before—RUSSIAN, he scribbled on his tablet, when John raised a questioning eyebrow.

In between rounds, McKay tried to make inroads into his project workload, but every time John looked over from his own paperwork, Rodney had gone back to composing traumatizing emails. The worst of those he was stowing in the drafts folder unsent, at least; contrary to popular opinion, Rodney only broke the spirits of his fellow scientists when they deserved it. But he wasn't having much luck with fixing Zelenka's suggested calibrations, or anything else.

John knew what the trouble was. Rodney, when his intellectual teeth were properly sunk into a problem, could work for hours nonstop in focused silence; it had creeped John out, the first few times, but by now he knew better. The whole team was used to standing by and watching McKay work his magic, waiting to jump when he'd snap an order.

But before that, he needed discussion to fuel his brainstorms, tearing apart the ideas of lesser minds into tinder for his inspiration. And emails and whiteboards didn't cut it, when speech was already too slow for Rodney to properly convey his thoughts.

So before he reached critical mass, John casually called it a day, and was only a bit alarmed when Rodney gave a raspy sigh and closed his own laptop without protest. It was barely dinnertime, but he was looking ragged at the edges, even those not streaked with violet bruises—his throat must have really been hurting. Or else it was the frustration of silence.

And electronic golf wouldn't keep him distracted forever. By mid-morning the next day, McKay had gone through half a legal pad, three stacks of Post-Its, and the psyches of two hapless lab techs who would never presume to pick up unlabeled Ancient artifacts ever again, when Ronon turned up in the lab, pointed to Rodney and said, "You, me, gym, now. Training."

Rodney flipped to the next page of his yellow notepad, scrawled out, BUSY! ALSO, HELLO, MEDICAL ORDERS, TAKING IT EASY.

Ronon squinted idly at the pad. "Earth handwriting's too hard," he said. "Come on, move your ass."

Rodney shot John an accusing look, not bothering to write out, You put him up to this. John just shrugged back and moved aside to let Rodney by, because no one was stubborn enough to deny that particular look in Ronon's eye.

When John turned up at the gym an hour later, Rodney had worked up a fine sweat; Ronon had him doing basic reps with a bokken, not too strenuous and nothing combative. He was mouthing a count, but silently. The white gi's open collar showed more of his throat than his uniform jacket; usually John would've looked closer, but now a glance was too much, when he could count the individual marks of the chain's links, imprinted on Rodney's flesh like a cruel tattoo.

"Best lesson we've had," Ronon said, grinning. "He didn't argue about doing anything I said."

If looks could kill, Rodney's would have taken out another five-sixths of a solar system. Ronon just grinned wider and clapped him on the shoulder. "You're doing okay, McKay."

Rodney eyed him suspiciously, mouthed a question.

"Yeah, really," Ronon said.

...Thanks, Rodney mouthed, and his self-conscious pleasure at the praise showed clearer in his eyes, without the misdirection of a sarcastic tone.

At lunch Zelenka and Keller joined the team, which didn't work as well as it might have; between the two of them they kept the conversation going steady, but they continuously raised points that Rodney could not let pass. John had gotten the seat next to his teammate with purpose, however, and saved him a broken toe by elbowing him in the ribs instead. Rodney elbowed back, and hard, but he mutely wrote out his interjections on his computer tablet instead, until he and Keller got into a high-stakes competitive pictionary match. That ended with him pledged to personally troubleshoot the medical database for the next month; apparently he hadn't heard that Jennifer had been attending Lorne's weekly drawing lessons.

After lunch, Teyla requested that Rodney join her in meditation, a stress-management technique she had been attempting to instill in him with limited success. "Ronon tells me you are in the mood for learning," she said now with a particular gleam in her eye, and marched him off for some serious candle-time.

When the door of his quarters chimed that evening, John wasn't expecting it to be Rodney. Rodney pretty much never rang. But though the lock wasn't engaged, Rodney was waiting for him when John waved the door open. He had his tablet in hand, raised to John's eyelevel. YOU CAN CALL THEM OFF, I DON'T NEED A BABYSITTER.

"It wasn't my idea," John said. "They like teaching students who don't talk back, I guess. You want to unwind from the meditation with some TV? I've got beer."

Rodney frowned and patted a crinkly pocket. "Right, painkillers," John said. "Blue Kool-Aid with ice? The real thing, not that stuff from M8H-whatever. And no citrus, I checked."

If John were writing a picture dictionary, he could have used Rodney's face to define "exasperated," but he came in anyway.

John had already combed Atlantis's server for something suitably entertaining that wouldn't inspire extensive ranting or quoting. That ruled out anything with time travel—they never got it right, and Rodney wouldn't be able to help himself—or Star, Trek or Wars. Batman had too much trivia Rodney would just have to share, and the old Doctor Who was too quotable, and the new was too provocatively comparable to the old. He settled on rips of the latest season of Battlestar Galactica; pseudo-philosophic mumbo-jumbo aside, the science wasn't apoplectically atrocious, and Number Six was blonde enough to hold Rodney attention.

John arranged his computer at the end of the bed and propped himself up on his pillow while Rodney settled in the armchair beside. Their usual positions, except John scooted over closer to the chair, near enough that he could bump Rodney's arm with the back of his hand whenever he started to open his mouth.

By the second episode Rodney succumbed to operant conditioning, zipped his lips and kept them shut. John leaned back on his bed and tucked his hands behind his head as usual, but it still didn't feel quite right. Not when John kept having to glance over to see if Rodney was watching.

Usually he didn't have to check; if Rodney went more than five minutes without comment, then he was either back on his computer or had dozed off. But whenever John turned his head now, Rodney's tablet sat untouched on the nightstand, and he was watching intently, tiny reflections of space battles and robot religion playing out on his open eyes.

Not that he didn't have anything to say; John could read every scientific nitpick and acerbic observation in the crook of his brows, the twist of his mouth, the narrowing of his eyes. The most obvious ones came across so undeniably that John found himself saying aloud, "Okay, seriously, like anyone with half a brain would—"

Rodney smacked him on the shoulder. "Shh," he hissed, voiceless.

John felt his eyebrows climb somewhere past his hairline. "What?"

Rodney gestured sharply at the laptop: Watching!

"Oh my god," John said, "you're becoming Ronon," and he threw his pillow at Rodney, who promptly tucked it behind his own head, and then John had to stop the video for a minute to reclaim his rightful property.

Really, John had never been one to talk through movies, at least not the first time he saw them. But it was weirdly difficult to concentrate on the show now, without running commentary; the action felt slow-paced, tedious, with only one soundtrack to pay attention to.

Boring enough that John dozed off somewhere during the fourth episode, to start awake later in darkness, heart pounding, and it was too damn quiet—he was straining to hear and there was nothing, deafening emptiness. Rodney's face had been gray with his lips blue and shit, McKay, don't do this, but the words were trapped in his throat, his breath was trapped in his throat, he couldn't force it out, couldn't share it, couldn't move, and Rodney was—Rodney was—

John gasped and reached out, cracked his elbow against the hard frame of the chair by his bed such that numbing pain shot up and down his arm, but his hand fell on a solid shape in the dark, the textured smoothness of skin. Warm. Living.

He grabbed on, and Rodney came awake with a start, rasping, "What—"

John let go. "Uh, sorry." The laptop had shut down, but it wasn't totally dark, with the light of two moons glowing dimly through the curtains; he could make out Rodney sitting up in the chair. "I—hand slipped," he said lamely; at least it sounded better than falling off the bed, which was the only other thing he was coming up with.

Rodney's shadowy form rubbed his eyes, opened his mouth in a yawn. "Sorry, must've dozed off," he said, only so hoarsely it wouldn't have been recognizable, if his silhouetted profile hadn't been unmistakable.

"No talking, McKay," John said severely, reaching over again to pinch Rodney's arm, the bare skin below the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Or do you want to go through life sounding like an anti-smoking advertisement?"

Rodney jerked away and stood up. "I," he started, then closed his mouth. His shadow tilted his head toward the door meaningfully.

"Sleep. Yeah," John agreed. "Good night."

Rodney answered with a mute nod and disappeared out the door.



* * *



Rodney wasn't in his quarters the next morning, but not the main lab, either, and he didn't answer John's radio hail, even though they both knew Morse code. Zelenka suggested one of the auxiliary computer labs, which proved correct when John arrived to find the privacy lock engaged. He rang the chime, then palmed open the door when there wasn't an answer, saying, "I thought you were dumb, not deaf, McKay—"

The resonant peal of crashing piano chords that rolled over him as the door slid open explained Rodney's failure to answer. Rodney looked up at his entrance, lowered the music a fraction with a crook of his fingers and returned to typing at his laptop.

John pulled up a stool next to him, spun it up to its maximum height. "I thought you might've come down here for some peace and quiet, but not so much," he said, pitching his voice to be heard over the music. Classical something or other, he didn't recognize the piece, but it wasn't what he'd expect of the genre; it sounded more pissed off than peaceful. Fitting Rodney's mood, to judge by the set of his shoulders. "All fed up with peace and quiet by now, huh."

Rodney exhaled loud enough to be audible even with the piano accompaniment, switched windows on his laptop and typed, in a font large enough that John could've read it across the room, AS PREVIOUSLY STATED—he backspaced, entered, EXPLAINED, DO NOT NEED A BABYSITTER.

"Not here to sit," John said, "just bringing back your tablet, you left it in my room," and he set it on the table next to the laptop.

Rodney spared it barely a glance. I HAVE ANOTHER ONE.

"You've got three, last I checked," John said, "but this one's your favorite. And you know, the handwriting to text recognition works pretty well, you should try it, if anyone's pulling the can't-read-your-chickenscratch excuse. Which is a decent excuse, you got to admit."

Like hell I have to admit anything, Rodney's eyeroll expressively retorted.

"Well, you're faster at typing than writing anyway," John said. "So what's up, you're still working on Zelenka's shield harmonics?"

Rodney alt-tabbed away from his programming window again. SHIELD HARMONICS = STAR TREK; SHIELD CALIBRATIONS = SERIOUS REAL LIFE PROBLEM; SUGGEST KEEP DEATH WISH TO YOURSELF & LET ME WORK.

"Sure—if these calibrations were really life-or-death, you'd have them fixed already. I know how you work under pressure; this isn't it."

KEY WORD = WORK.

John leaned back, tipping the stool onto two legs. "And if you were really working, you wouldn't be bothering to answer me. Why don't you just take it easy? Keller said your throat's healing fine; in a couple days you should be talking again like always, and you can have it out with Zelenka, bounce ideas off him until you hit the right one. Meanwhile I think Ronon's looking for you."

Rodney looked wildly over his shoulder like he expected their teammate to be looming there, then threw John a dirty look.

"Hey, don't look at me, I told you, it was his idea. But you could use the training. In case you get thrown into a holding cell with a psycho next planet."

"I don't—" Rodney got out, before John could flick his arm. He twitched and glared, then hunched over his computer, tapped out, DO NOT PLAN TO MAKE THAT "A THING."

"Me sure as hell neither, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared."

YOU = BOYSCOUT? LOL!

"Ouch. Harsh, McKay."

BADGE FOR HAIRSTYLING, Y/Y?

"Yeah, and another one for firing drones." John grinned lazily, hands in his pockets. The piano piece had ended, and the next one to start was slower and softer, so he could lower his voice, preserve his own vocal chords.

Rodney snorted and turned back to his computer. The clack of keys was no quieter than before. IF YOU'RE THIS BORED, WHY NOT GO GET BEATEN UP BY RONON? FUN FOR ALL!

"If I was bored, I would."

Rodney sighed. 2 PHDS = SELF-SUFFICIENT; DON'T NEED YOU KEEPING AN EYE.

"I know," John said. "Except when you do. And talking's hurting less now, but the doc says you still shouldn't strain it. You could do worse damage."

I MIGHT TALK LESS WITH NO ONE TO TALK TO, and Rodney shot him a pointed look as a visual aid.

"You'd just talk to yourself," John said. "What, like I've never seen you figuring out a scientific problem?"

Rodney's glare could've melted the Stargate, but he didn't dignify the point with a response. Instead he switched windows back to his programming, entered three lines of code with his lips firmly sealed together. Then he went back and deleted two of them.

"Come on," John said. "You've got a doctor's note. We can play hooky and watch the rest of the season. Or what about the atmospheric probe that needs testing, we could take a jumper up—got to be more productive than beating your head against this wall."

Rodney's lips pressed tighter, but it wasn't his expression but the short, sharp motion as he turned away that revealed the anger—more than irritation; the pissed-off, hurt rage that showed first in his voice.

Except his voice now, which was so raspy and raw that it just sounded painful, even after three days. "I know you're having a great time—"

"Damn it, Rodney, shut up!" John said, going to poke his shoulder, but Rodney batted his hand away.

He closed his mouth again, jaw set with his teeth gritted, and turned back to the computer, fingers flying over the keys. I REALIZE YOU ARE ALL HAVING A GREAT TIME, the words flashed onto the screen, WITH SUCH AN INVOLUNTARILY GOOD LISTENER, AND I KNOW THE ENTIRE SITUATION COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED HAD I BEEN SPEECHLESS TO BEGIN WITH, AND I CAN APPRECIATE HOW ENJOYABLE IT MUST BE TO GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE, BUT FROM THIS END I'M JUST ABOUT LOSING MY MIN

John grabbed his hands, lifted Rodney's fingers off the keyboard. "The only part of this I'm enjoying," he said, "is the part where you're not dead."

Rodney, starting to pull his hands away, froze with them still raised and John's fingers curled loose around his wrists, and blinked at John instead. His mouth opened, forcing John to cut in before he could speak, "You were hurt, you're still injured, you think that's a great time for any of us?"

Rodney hadn't closed his mouth yet, so John pushed on with whatever he had, "You think Ronon puts you through the paces just to make you miserable? Or that Teyla was personally making sure you took it easy because she's, what, earning her yoga instructor merit badge? You think I was telling a story about the botanists just because you couldn't stop me?"

Rodney, eyes narrowed, nodded sharply.

"...Okay, you got me there, but the rest of it—this isn't a game, Rodney, it's not about making fun of you."

Rodney cocked his head. He didn't need to say then why; his eyes were loud enough.

Better safe than sorry, though; John didn't give him a chance to pronounce it aloud. "It's about doctor's orders—it's about you not talking now so you heal as fast as possible, and without hurting your voice more. Because it's driving you crazy not to be able to talk, but it's driving me crazy not to be able to hear you."

He realized he was still holding onto Rodney's wrists, dropped them and put his hands back in his pockets. Rodney's mouth still wasn't closed, damn it, lips only just parted and the merest wet pink sliver of tongue behind them, too dangerously close to speaking. "And I miss it," John said, and heard his own voice cutting out, fallen low and breathless, his turn to be strangled. "Your voice. Everything you say. Listening to you. I miss it."

Rodney's mouth opened—Oh, but he kept it unvoiced.

"Yeah," John said, leaned forward and sealed Rodney's lips safely silent with his own.

fin

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