"I died a hero," Rodney whispered.
John leaned closer, filling Rodney's field of vision with his non-military-issue face and a strangely intense expression. "You didn't die, Rodney."
"A technicality." He elevated his voice to a mumble this time.
"An important one," said Teyla, gripping one of his arms while John took the other. They helped him to his feet and he took stock of his mortal injuries. His lack of them. Dazed, he was hardly aware of his teammates flanking him as he stared down at the charred ruins of his jacket and shirt--his supplies of which were dwindling fast--and it was several moments before he picked up on their silence, and something about the way their hands hovered close by, as if ready to catch him when he fell.
Was he going to fall? Rodney wondered. He glanced up, trying to get a read from their faces. John's was white, stunned, and Teyla looked shaken. Ronon seemed to have planted himself where he stood, as if the world might move unexpectedly under him.
"What?" Their expressions panicked him. "Oh, god, I am hurt and you're not telling me. There's always a numbness first, isn't there, before the pain sinks in? My face--" He put his hands up, feeling around gingerly. "Am I scarred?" And then a realization struck: "You moved me! How could you move me? What if I'd had a spinal injury?"
Teyla let out a long breath. "I think he is well," she said to John, and when Rodney turned his head he caught the hint of a smile and a twinkle. It might have outraged him, except he noticed also a kind of terrible seriousness lurking behind these. Her eyes were still unusually wide, and she radiated a distracted nervous energy that he associated with danger on a terrible scale--massive Wraith attack, for instance. She was usually the model of annoying calm. Whatever made Teyla lose her shit, as Ford once put it, was the kind of thing that made Rodney wish he'd chosen a different and more peaceful path in life, something that didn't require him to leave the grounds of his monastery.
John's hand rested on his shoulder, pulling Rodney's attention in the other direction. "You're right," he said in a dead serious tone, mouth twisting grimly, gaze scanning up and down his body. "We shouldn't have moved you."
After a startled moment, Rodney released a laugh that lasted about five seconds and then cut out abruptly. "Oh my god, you're not kidding," he realized, almost panicking again.
"He is fine, John." Teyla's tone was soothing. But she'd called him John. It was clear that under all their trained surface coolness, everyone on his team was freaking the hell out, including him.
"The blast-egg was a dud," Ronon said, kicking it with the toe of his boot. When the device rolled slightly Rodney nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Don't do that!" It was John yelling, a wild outburst of misdirected anger that meant he was profoundly unnerved.
After that, an uneasy quiet fell, and under its cloud they headed out of the forest and back toward the gate. There was no point exploring further; Rodney's front from neck to belt was bare to the elements, and the entire area around the gate looked to be heavily booby-trapped by the Wraith. They'd have to come back better prepared; the traps clearly indicated that something interesting was the source of those energy readings.
Rodney usually didn't have a problem keeping his mind focused on the important things in his life; work, work, where to find the coffee Zelenka had squirreled away, work. But John's glowering presence at his side was making that difficult. He wanted to say something pointedly sarcastic to break the tension, like, "I'm sorry if I ruined your afternoon by throwing myself on a grenade to save Teyla," but neither that nor any of the other remarks he considered came off quite right in his head, so he stayed silent.
They made it back to Atlantis without further incident, and Rodney went through the usual post-mission rigmarole that passed for a medical exam--an experience that was improved this time by having a story of epic heroism that he was able to share at length with Carson--then got a fresh shirt and a snack, several snacks actually, and sat through the debriefing with Elizabeth, who praised his heroism warmly, as well she should. Incredibly, he'd almost forgotten about his heroism in the interval of time between the medical bay and briefing room. The reminder cheered him and he looked across the table at John with a smile.
John nodded back and Rodney felt his smile slip a bit. John's expression was weirdly grave and he was sitting there ramrod straight, arms folded on the table, and it was hard to know what to think of that response. Should Rodney be pleased that he was taking the heroic incident so seriously, or should he be annoyed at...at something. He strongly suspected that there was something in John's behavior to be justifiably annoyed about.
He visited John later to express this feeling. He couldn't let it lie. They'd let other things lie unspoken and unresolved, and Rodney had come to hate that. If he said nothing, tomorrow John would be all affable and normal-looking on the surface and he'd give Rodney no way in past that wall. Rodney had to attack while he was still vulnerable. Military training really was teaching him a lot, he decided.
"...and so I think we should talk about this," he concluded in a decided tone, except that it didn't come out as decisively as he would have wished. He almost cleared his throat, then didn't. Quite.
John looked at him. He had his hands in his pockets and an attentive look that didn't necessarily mean he was listening. He looked that way during meetings on power-consumption leveling, and trade negotiations for tuber crops, and civic welcomes conveyed through interpretative dance.
"Are you listening to me?" Rodney asked, feeling his temper rising.
"Mostly I'm watching your mouth."
"I knew it! Wait--come again?"
"I'm trying to decide whether to kiss it or punch it."
"I see." That was unexpected. Rodney weighed these alternatives against his own options. Time passed. "How are your thoughts leaning?"
John gave a one-sided shrug but the snakelike focus of his eyes didn't waver. "I'm not big on violence."
"No. Me neither."
"We *do* need to have a talk about the proper procedure for taking cover from explosive devices."
Rodney didn't like the sound of that. He wasn't sure that a proper recognition of his heroism lay behind John's words. "Before or after the kissing?"
"You could have died." John came near enough for a kiss or a punch. His voice was low and even and tight. "Here's the short version of today's survival lesson: yell 'take cover' and drop."
"I know. I know that." Rodney swallowed. He was having trouble holding his gaze steady against John's. "I--I don't know why I reacted like that. My survival instincts are usually finely honed. But you have to admit that what I did was incredibly heroic, right?"
"I was going to say stupid. Death is stupid, Rodney."
"Is this role-reversal day? I *know* that." The absurdity of John Sheppard saying these things to him was astounding. It was also grossly unfair, and his temper was ascending into the red again. "Why is it that when you fly kamikaze at a hive ship riding a nuclear warhead like some deranged character in *Dr. Strangelove*, you're a hero, but when I risk my own life for a change I'm stupid?" His mouth drew tighter with every word until he could barely get them out.
"Because I was thinking when I did that. I had a plan. You didn't think. You reacted. And you reacted *wrong*." John was leaning into his personal space now, face close, eyes dark and furious.
Rodney knew that John wasn't going to punch him, but he was resigning himself to a kissless ending and an exit, and those days of strained silence that he always hated, when the kiss came. It was the kiss the hero got, that the hero deserved, no matter how stupid he'd been, and Rodney accepted it and resolved never again to die.