Tag to “Grace Under Pressure.”

They come through the door, David carrying the food, hugging it close like he can’t let it out of his sight, and Joe opening the doors, realizing now that he’s managed to bring the fucking sweatband home with him, again.

David’s still shaky, and Joe resolves to get some food into him first thing, but David is way ahead of him, forking the pad thai directly from the box into his mouth.

Joe goes to get some beer, and it’s a sign of how used to each other’s space they are that when he hears Chopin on the stereo he just smiles a little and pops the caps on a couple of Molsons.

When he comes back out, David’s eyes are closed and his fork is sticking out of the box and his feet are up on the table; and when David opens his eyes, Joe doesn’t see David there.

He adjusts the band on his wrist and changes his stance; runs a hand through his hair and pulls his shirt from his pants. “You okay?” he says lowly, and it’s like the rain outside is Atlantis on a rare cloudy day.

“No,” David-as-Rodney says. Joe walks over, bends down, and kisses him slowly, tasting pad thai and residual adrenaline.

“Guess you weren’t expecting to be 40,000 leagues,” Joe-as-John says, quietly teasing, and David’s hand comes to rest against his neck.

“Or be rescued by not-whales,” David agrees, the sarcasm all gone from his voice, warped by fear and exhaustion and the cold.

Joe takes David’s wrist and gently pulls him up. He lets David slump into his arms.

Joe doesn’t want to do this as Sheppard, but he knows this is what David needs to let go of Rodney and the jumper and standing in sodden clothes and four feet of water for eighteen hours. David has a hard time dropping character anyway: it’s the hazard of method and it’s why Joe doesn’t work that way. He is not his character, but now David needs him to be and so the lines have to blur.

When they kiss, it is Rodney, sagging under the weight of pain and anger and helplessness, of the constructs of his foolish mind, and an unwillingness to look at what might have been, if Sheppard had been there instead of Sam.

It is John, worried and heartsick but not showing it, a knight in black cotton, taking care of his partner when he has been worn down from the hazards of their job. Both of their jobs.

The emotion wells up and fills the room, and when Rodney (David) sits on the couch in the living room and John (Joe) falls to his knees, it’s like benediction shot through with resignation.

(Joe knows that this is what David needs, but he’s so reluctant to take that step backwards, because they’d fought this and they’d fixed this and now it’s back to ruin them. But Joe is not about to abandon David at whatever edge he’s about to hit.)

Touching skin is a dual-tone echo, David’s familiar sweat tinged with the tension in Rodney’s thighs, and Joe has learned many things over the last two years, but he’s never learned how to separate the reality of skin from the construct of the show.

He just wants to fix this, to fix this and leave Sheppard at the door, close it behind him with Rodney there too. He wants them to have their relationship, but he doesn’t want to bring it home. He wants David, warm, funny David.

But David is never fucking out of character, and even when Joe is blowing him, his mind flashes back to they did this on the floor of the puddlejumper and Rodney is trembling beneath my hand and the taste is the same for both of them.

When Rodney comes in his mouth, he swallows and rests his head against the knee that is right there. Joe doesn’t want to look up, doesn’t want to see the Rodney McKay reflected in those eyes, because he stopped being John about halfway through when they sort of mentally agreed that this situation was too fucked up to continue.

John slips away easily, and Joe spares a minute to lose the band. It falls beneath the couch, and Joe hopes he forgets that it’s there.

His t-shirt is red, not black, but he takes it off anyway, and stands, walking towards the bedroom and grabbing the half-eaten pad thai on his way out. He doesn’t want to just leave David (Rodney) there, but he can’t bear to look back. He puts ESPN on and falls onto the bed.

When David comes in, lost and a little ashamed, Joe doesn’t have the heart to say anything. He just waves the box of pad thai at him and lets David crawl in beside them, and they yell at hockey players for the rest of the night.