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for Zoe Rayne
Sheppard was doing that thing again, that thing where he mouthed the canteen and didn't actually drink. It was seriously pissing Rodney off. Sheppard was going to be a goddamned hero whether or not anybody wanted or needed him to be.
"For god's sake," Rodney said. "The other one is still three-quarters full. There's more than enough for four people."
"We don't know how long we're going to be trapped in here." Sheppard tried to hand the canteen to Teyla. She shook her head. He held it out to Ronon, who lifted some sort of big bag made out of something like leather. It sloshed.
"If we're still here when we've emptied two canteens and that," Rodney said, "we've got much bigger problems than lack of water."
It made Rodney thirsty to think about not drinking water. There was no telling how long these people were going to keep them in this barn, and it smelled like the dung of something with a questionable diet, and the straw dust got in his throat, and the sun came through the huge high windows and heated the place until he could feel all his vital moisture escaping through his skin ...
He snatched the canteen, glaring at Sheppard, and took two big swallows. He wiped his chin with the back of his hand and glared more when he found Sheppard watching him wipe his mouth. "Self-denial's not really my strong suit," he said.
"Shouldn't be so down on yourself, McKay."
"I don't consider that a negative." He held out the canteen. "You now."
"Repetition is not making this conversation any more interesting." Was it his imagination, or was Sheppard's voice sounding hoarse? "And contrary to what you'd like to believe, you are human like the rest of us, and you can't live on noble self-sacrifice alone. Drink something. Please."
Something complicated happened on Sheppard's face then, but he only said, "I'm not thirsty, McKay. Leave it alone."
He glanced at Teyla, but she only gave a tiny headshake; no help there, and of course Ronon would do whatever Sheppard wanted done. Rodney leaned back against a prickly block of straw and shut his eyes, conserving his energy.
How many hours before the need for water became critical?
Sheppard was in better physical condition than he was, and Rodney wasn't likely to be able to overpower him, and any effort to force him to drink would probably just result in spilling water they couldn't afford to waste.
He was a stubborn bastard, too. Rodney wouldn't put it past him to be able to go into critical dehydration with a full canteen in his hand. Rodney was well acquainted with the symptoms of advanced dehydration; he had read his father's battered survival paperbacks with horrified fascination.
It wasn't that he was into self-sacrifice, but he wasn't eager to spend any time locked in a barn with the corpse of a dead friend, either.
He might be able to spit a mouthful into Sheppard's mouth -- disgusting but effective, and the element of surprise would make it tough for him to evade or fight back. How many minutes would a mouthful of lukewarm water add to Sheppard's lifespan?
What would it feel like?
He drifted off into sleep, vaguely aware of Sheppard watching him with an unreadable look, imagining Sheppard's chapped lips softening in the flood from his mouth, like a strange parody of a kiss.
Moving air woke him. A murmur from Teyla, pain in his neck because he'd been foolish enough to fall asleep sitting up, Sheppard's hand heavy on his shoulder. "C'mon, McKay. Let's go home."
"What, they're just letting us out? After all that business about the security of their families and the sanctity of their homes and --" He heard Major Lorne's voice outside the barn. "Oh. We got rescued again."
"Yeah," Sheppard said, a long outbreath, as much a sigh as a word.
Outside the barn, Sheppard halted in the slanting late-afternoon sunshine and upended the half-full canteen into his mouth. When the last drops had fallen, he grinned at Rodney, and then loped off in the direction of the jumper.
Rodney stared blankly after him for several moments.
Straw falling out of Sheppard's hair as he tipped his head back, his adam's apple bobbing, his breath panting harshly between swallows, the sound very loud over the rustle of the wind in the grain. A stream of water running from the corner of his mouth, dripping from his jaw to darken the collar of his T-shirt.
He followed more slowly toward the jumper.
There was a room in the city where seawater spilled from a high ledge and ran down into a series of pools. Something warmed it as it flowed from one to another, so that the highest pool was as breathtakingly cold as Lake Superior in March and the lowest one let out visible breaths of steam.
There was a room where a single chair sat in a bubble of such acoustical perfection that the lap of the waves outside came in like music, until you were almost surprised to find your shoes still dry.
There was a hallway on the southwest side where you could always feel a gentle spray on your face, so fine that you could walk the entire length of it three times before your skin was noticeably wet.
There were pitchers of icewater all over the mess, condensation gathering and running down the channels in the battered plastic.
There was a drip in the shower in Rodney's quarters, unless he turned it off just so, that would sneakily make no sound at all while he was awake, but magnify itself into a deafening plock ... plock ... plockplock ... in the dead hours of the night when he woke up gasping from dreams in which he drank down pitchers, barrels, icy rivers, in which he broke off sheets of ice to eat, in which he licked the sheen of water that slicked Sheppard's mouth and jaw and throat.
He did not come to appreciate Sheppard's sacrifice over time. It had been a stupid, meaningless sacrifice with no practical value. Even its symbolic value had been pretty limited, since any comfort Rodney might have gained from being confident that the last swallow of water would be his was more than outweighed by the all too vivid picture of Sheppard's eyes sinking back into his head as he slowly died of thirst.
Sheppard, like the water, was everywhere in the city, engaging in wordless power struggles with Caldwell, getting his ass kicked by Teyla and Ronon, faking his way through a bunch of interchangeable missions, flinging his body protectively over Rodney's when things went violently awry.
Like the water, endlessly present but not remotely quenching.
These sudden infatuations had to run their course, Rodney knew, and in recent years he'd gotten much better at letting them go without making a fool of himself.
Even when half the team came back from Bonolo with a hideous fever, and he sat all night in the infirmary, feeding ice chips between Sheppard's cracked lips because he wouldn't take them from anybody else, he did a pretty good job of not taking it personally.
Sometimes he tried to figure out: Why then? What was it about that canteen that had quite suddenly changed his perception from "Sheppard is superficially attractive if you like that sort of thing" to "Yes, please"?
He thought it might have been the simple thirst of it. Sheppard always appeared to have some hidden depths of something or other -- it was the sort of thing that fueled much heated speculation; Rodney wasn't deaf -- but it wasn't often that he let anyone see him being selfish. Desperate. Out of control. Hungry.
And, right, that was a person you really wanted to get involved with, someone who refused to need anything. That was a recipe for happiness, yes indeed.
Evidently the universe found it amusing to lock Rodney McKay in a small space with John Sheppard and an inadequate supply of water.
The crowning irony, the second time around, was that they were still in Atlantis. They were surrounded by water. Ten or twelve meters through that wall, unless he'd gotten turned around when the extremely stoned and hallucinating Ronon was dragging them down here, there were fathoms of water lapping at the city, cold and blue and --
He needed to think about something else.
"I'm sure the Marines will come find us soon," Sheppard said, in the tone of someone who was very far from sure but felt responsible for maintaining morale.
Rodney didn't even bother to remind him that the Marines were going to have their hands full trying to subdue Ronon without hurting him -- there was just one of him, but he was Ronon -- or that the lifesign detectors and the rest of the electronics had been knocked out by that same streak of purplish light that had made something go kablooey in whatever passed for Ronon's brain, or that a group doing an orderly door-to-door search was going to take quite a while to get around to the third storeroom behind the mess. Sometimes reality did his complaining for him.
At least if they got hungry they could tap into the fifty-pound box of dried apricots he was sitting against.
God, the thought made him even thirstier. He looked longingly at the canteen where Sheppard had laid it on top of a crate of oatmeal. Sheppard would say they should play it safe, because god only knew when they'd get out of here, but screw that. Rodney wasn't waiting.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm sure they will." He snatched up the canteen and drank deeply. "I'm betting we're on our own."
Beside him, Sheppard made a noise. "Yes?" Rodney said. Sheppard's expression wasn't exactly disapproving, but his eyes were tracking the canteen.
"You're pretty sure we can think of a way out of here, aren't you?" Sheppard said.
"Yes, of course I am," Rodney said. "We've got one and a half of the best brains in the galaxy in here. A job like this should be a breeze."
"And if it isn't?"
"Then I'm going to want my brain to be well hydrated for the challenge."
There was definitely something familiar about the look on Sheppard's face. Rodney let his brain puzzle at it while he looked around the corners of the room, more to buy himself some thinking time than because he expected to see anything he hadn't already seen.
And he didn't. But that look of Sheppard's --
The way he'd had been looking at the canteen. That was the way he was looking at Rodney now. Like something he longed for, even needed, but wasn't going to take now, even though -- maybe because -- he was fairly certain it wasn't going to be there tomorrow.
He let his eyes fall on Sheppard again, and now that he was looking for it, it was like a big neon sign. This is John Sheppard looking at something he won't let himself have.
The difference between Rodney and Sheppard was that when what he needed was available today, and wasn't going to be available tomorrow, Rodney figured that was a good argument for taking all you could get while the getting was good. He rolled suddenly to his knees in front of Sheppard.
Sheppard straightened, as though he were trying to come to attention while sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him.
There was a swallow or two left in the canteen. Rodney shook it so Sheppard could hear. "Open your mouth."
Sheppard shook his head mutely.
Rodney reached out and rubbed his thumb over Sheppard's lower lip, and any vestige of doubt he might have had vanished at Sheppard's quick inhalation. "Open, John," he said softly.
John shook his head a bare fraction, carefully not dislodging Rodney's hand. His lips were rough under Rodney's fingers, cooler than he'd imagined. His eyes were big. It was an unexpected rush to have his full attention.
Rodney lifted the canteen to John's mouth, and John's eyes fell shut.
John opened his mouth and drank.
His eyes stayed shut as the last few drops fell from the lip of the canteen. "How can you --" he began.
Rodney had reached the never-very-distant limit of his patience. He threw one leg over both of John's and lowered his mouth to lick water from John's lips.
John gasped into the kiss, hands coming up to grip Rodney's jacket, shaking, already far more turned on than you could explain by anything they'd done so far. "You've been waiting a long time for this," Rodney said.
"Yeah," John said, and let go of his jacket to grab his ass, pulling him in closer.
Rodney rocked against him, caught fire from him, kissing more desperately, feeling John hard through both their clothes. Underneath all this was a body, strong and warm, and he wanted all of it. For now he settled for backing up just enough to grab John by the waistband and start undoing buttons.
"Oh, god," John said, as if he were surprised, as if it hadn't been perfectly obvious where this was heading, and then he was scrabbling at Rodney's pants, too. Rodney sat back deliberately so that he could look down between them and see at least one little bit of John uncovered. "Oh, god," John said again in a different tone. Rodney had to touch, had to get John's cock in his hand, hot and hard, had to rub it against his own, had to hold them together and make John close his eyes again, make him come, make him need, make him take.
There wasn't any other skin contact until afterwards, when John wouldn't let go, mouthing messy kisses into the side of Rodney's neck, pushing his hands up under Rodney's shirt. It took Rodney a minute to understand, but then he closed his eyes and pressed his face to John's hair.
"Sh," he said. "I'm still here. I'm going to be here. I'll make sure of it."
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October 25, 2005