try to turn the tide

Author: Minervacat
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG
Summary: A story about the first Wraith siege: in six parts, with an incidental soundtrack by Johnny Cash.

i keep my eyes wide open all the time

If Rodney didn't know better, he would think that Radek was singing Johnny Cash under his breath over the radio - because you're mine, I walk the line - only in Czech, which doesn't sound as good as English. But Rodney knows better, knows Radek doesn't know anything about the man in black, knows he is only thinking about Johnny Cash because Major John Sheppard, USAF, just walked out of the room whistling.

It's only Carson's stimulants. Carson's stimulants, keeping him awake so he can save the city, fucking with his head to make him hear Johnny Cash where it's really only frantic, furtive muttering in incomprehensible Czech. He hears Johnny Cash because John Sheppard walked out whistling, walked out to his death whistling about walking a line.

Whistling on the way to his certain death, but whistling all the same.

Rodney hums under his breath, and his hands shake. Sheppard has gone off to save their lives, so Rodney stays in Atlantis so Sheppard will have a city to come back to. He hums under his breath, wipes his sweaty hands on his shirt, and goes back to work.

because you're mine, i walk the line

John has always tried hard not to overthink anything - overthink a routine bombing mission in Bosnia and wind up in a GI hospital in Germany covered in first degree burns. And yes, everybody in Atlantis knows that he countermanded a direct order in Afghanistan, but that wasn't overthinking, that was gut feeling. That was, maybe, looking back, underthinking.

Not that he wouldn't go in for Mitch and Dex again - he would, he'd do it a hundred times over even if the results were always the same - but he might think a little harder about it the next time.

But in Atlantis, he can't stop and think. Stop and think and more Marines are dead, Elizabeth and Teyla and Ford are dead, Rodney is dead. In Atlantis, John just does, he doesn't think.

He doesn't have time to think.

When he walks out of the chair room to fly a nuclear bomb into the heart of a hive ship, he turns to Rodney and says "So long, Rodney," because if he tries to say anything else, he's going to start thinking. If he starts thinking, he's not going to save anyone, and it won't matter if he fisted his hands in Rodney's shirt right then and kissed him breathless, because they'll all be dead.

So he says, "So long, Rodney" and he thinks he hears Rodney mutter, "And thanks for all the fish," under his breath behind John, but if John turns around to double check, he won't walk out at all.

Don't panic, he tells himself. Don't panic.

i woke up sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt

It isn't that Rodney doesn't have extensive experience with coming down from a binge on stimulants and coffee and the adrenaline of being the smartest person in the room and solving a problem; it is, in some ways, the story of his life. Only this time the story of his life included sheer terror and a suicidal Air Force pilot who Rodney doesn't even really like but who he cares about despite his best efforts to not care about anything besides himself, because caring only leads to - either way, Rodney's hands keep shaking and he's sure he won't sleep for days, but Major Sheppard is standing in the gate room, alive and unhurt, and Rodney would cling to him and not let go, except that isn't dignified.

It's not that Major Sheppard would figure out that Rodney's hands were shaking because he was terrified that Sheppard would come back in a body bag - or not at all. Sheppard's not really that perceptive, or he'd have figured out a long time ago that Rodney cared more than he pretended to. Major Sheppard's got a good head for numbers, but no sense at all for human interactions; not that Rodney does, either, but Rodney has some self-preservation instincts, which Sheppard is sincerely lacking.

Sheppard stands there looking as rakish and unconcerned as he had when he walked out. Rodney stares, because he's not sure what's real and what's hallucination anymore. Sheppard should be dead, but apparently his luck is really just that good, and he's standing in the gate room letting Elizabeth hug him (not hugging back, just standing there, smirking a little, looking completely and utterly exhausted underneath the unshakeable flyboy veneer) and if Rodney were prone to displays of girlish fainting, he probably would faint right now.

Luckily he's only prone to fainting from manly hunger or sheer terror, and utter, unfathomable relief is neither of those things.

Rodney does not collapse to the floor of the gate room. He hugs Major Sheppard, because outing himself in the face of near death, certain deaths of hundreds of people, turns out to be inconsequential.

Eventually, though, he does let go, and Sheppard smiles at him, and Rodney thinks, I am finished waiting for you to get a clue, you moronic fly boy.

they trouble their minds day in and day out

Rodney says, "We should be okay for now."

John hears, I really don't like not knowing how to fix something.

Rodney says, "The shield should hold."

John hears, Oh, God, I hope it holds.

Rodney says, "Thank God the Daedalus showed up when it did."

John hears, If you'd blown yourself up, I'd have to go on missions with Caldwell. Or Stackhouse.

Rodney says, "I never thought I'd thank God for Colonels Everett and Caldwell, but, well, those men saved our asses."

John hears, I would eat a crate of oranges before I'll admit that I would miss you.

He could make Rodney say it, but standing outside the conference room after one more what do we do now meeting, John is suddenly exhausted. The Wraith, the nuke, Ford - he can't take another minute of any of the inevitability of life.

When he turns to walk away, he almost sees something honest on Rodney's face, and he almost turns back.

and it tore me up every time i heard her drawl a southern drawl

Rodney is not inclined to expansive gift giving, public displays of affection, or saying anything that could be used as emotional blackmail later on, but after everything - after they settle the city back down, after three more days where his hands shake at every turn and Zelenka keeps taking his coffee away in attempts to make Rodney sleep more. After the Daedalus's crew is settled into their quarters, and Caldwell is briefed, and the ZPM is making Atlantis hum like she never has before - after all of that, Rodney tracks Sheppard down in his quarters. Sheppard answers the door in a rumpled track pants and a t-shirt, blinks sleepily and says, "If this is about the music Atlantis keeps playing over the speakers, McKay, I swear to God it can wait until I've slept for three days."

Rodney shoves through the doorway, turns around and yanks Sheppard into the room by the waistband of his track pants. The door slides shut with a tiny woosh and Rodney uses his superior momentum to pin Sheppard up against the door, covering Sheppard's entire body with his. "Major Sheppard," Rodney says.

"Hey, McKay," Sheppard says. "Everything okay?"

This close, Rodney can see that Sheppard's eyes are flecked with gold in between the green and brown, and Sheppard's body is not tense underneath Rodney's. Sheppard is, in fact, seemingly relaxed and languid standing there, and Rodney hadn't realized it but now that he's noticing - Sheppard's got a hand curled lazily at the small of Rodney's back, fingers stroking slowly against Rodney's shirt.

Rodney had a speech and some well-thought out reasoning as to why this was a really excellent plan in the face of certain death at the hands of the Pegasus Galaxy, but Sheppard smells nice and he's smiling lopsided at Rodney like he's just waiting to hear what Rodney will come up with next, so Rodney gives up on his speech and his reasoning and kisses Sheppard with everything he's got.

It turns out to be the right answer.

Later, they're sprawled naked together in Sheppard's tiny bed, John licking stripes up the back of Rodney's neck like it's just something to do with his time and not like it sends jolts straight to Rodney's dick every time John's tongue runs over the tiny hairs there. "If you ever die again," Rodney says, trying for disgruntled and falling somewhere short of it. "I will personally kick you to death when you get back."

"You're a real friend, McKay," John mutters against the back of Rodney's neck. John sounds exhausted and a little bit frightened and half drunk, but happy, and the words rumble against Rodney's skin in a way that is more comforting than Rodney would have guessed it could be.

"I mean it," Rodney says, and he finds that he actually does mean it, which is disconcerting on a number of levels but pleasing on a number of others.

"I know," John says, and Rodney figures that he does.

good morning america, how are you

John Sheppard wakes up on Earth a month after the siege on Atlantis, in a hotel bed, next to his boyfriend, with a brand new promotion as thanks for almost dying and also shooting his CO in the face, and he thinks, This is not my life. When they come back to Earth, everything is different - there was a bar in New Orleans where John drank on weekend leave from Barksdale, and it's just not there anymore.

John isn't a stranger to disasters, whether personal, private, held close to the heart or the kind that CNN showed in fifteen minute loops for days on end. He even caught himself on television, once, entirely by accident - home from Iraq for the holidays, watching a shitty end-of-the-year news wrap up, and suddenly there he was, ten seconds of his sunburnt, grimy face, leaning on a chopper that'd almost blown up. The next time MSNBC ran the clip, John taped it, and he watched it over and over again for the better part of an hour.

He thought, Do I really look that tired? After he couldn't stand the tape any more, he stood in the bathroom and stared at his own reflection for half an hour and figured out that yeah, he really did. He'd have liked to stayed Stateside that time, for at least a while, until he woke up one day and wasn't tired anymore, but there was Bosnia and Afghanistan and Antarctica, and somehow between MSNBC and Atlantis, he just never found the time.

He and Rodney had fought, coming back to Earth on the Daedalus, about what this thing between them meant and whether or not John had to write a living will while they were back in a place with lawyers so that Rodney could take care of all John's stuff in case of death by Wraith, Genii or stupid scientist miscalculations. Rodney had said, "Disasters aren't disasters anymore, Major. Disasters are every day."

And maybe they are, John thinks, but maybe they're not, and even after the Wraith, Atlantis is still standing. John thinks, what does disaster even mean anymore?, and promptly decides to strike the word from his vocabulary.

He's standing in the bathroom, thinking about drinking hurricanes and hand grenades in New Orleans and wondering if the Wraith are the least of their problems when they still can't stop hurricanes, either, but then Rodney rolls over onto his back and starts snoring and the sun is coming up over the Rockies, pouring in through the window and onto the ugly hotel carpet. John hums "The City of New Orleans" in the shower and makes coffee in the shitty hotel coffee maker. Rodney wakes up to the smell of the coffee and argues with John over whether or not they can take forty pounds of bacon back through the 'gate. John kisses him, tasting coffee and sleep, and he thinks about the awesome power that humanity has for rebuilding.


author's notes: for vi, on her birthday, with much love. title and first two section breaks from johnny cash, "i walk the line". the rest of the section breaks are all johnny cash, too, and, in order, are from "sunday morning coming down", "a thing called love", "big river" and "the city of new orleans". i fudged with the timeline of air dates a little to get the structure i wanted, but nothing so much that you'd notice.

feedback always welcome.

stargate: atlantis stories