Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire

It bothers him a little that Rodney has scars.

John expects to have them himself. He's military, after all and it's how the military measures a man's commitment to the job, or something. It's a given that with his job, even in the pansy-assed Air Force, he'll end up with a few scars; he's been shot, and knifed and made more than one forced landing. Rodney calls them the marks of John's servitude, symbols carved into his skin as offerings to the three Furies.

Duty, service and honour, says Rodney, are harsh taskmistresses.

'Course, his marines joke about how he got his from drinking his latte too hot, but that's all it is: a joke. He's been to war and they know it. Officially, he's been to war in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Unofficially (and some of it is very, very unofficial, if you know what he means) and not counting Pegasus at all, he's done ops somewhere on every continent in the world. Well, every one except Australia, and that was just because not even the USAF could think up a Black Ops mission against kangaroos. Koalas, maybe, because despite those adorable little faces with their big eyes and those cute sticky out ears, they're bad tempered little bastards who keep their teeth sharp on gum trees just so they can bite the unwary. But so far— so far —he's not had to invade Aussie soil in the name of protecting the great American people from small roly-poly teddy bears.

Which is, when he comes to think of it, a pity. The Australian contingent on Atlantis have incredible ninja barbecuing skills. He's missed out on a golden opportunity there for beautifully alliterative beer and a barbie on the beach. With babes and boards, too. Although the boards are more important and the surf there is awesome...

Maybe he shouldn't mention the babes. Rodney gets defensive about things like that and a defensive Rodney has a tongue sharper than the shards of ice that ringed Antarctica base.

All that aside—and John is very good at putting all that aside—he had quite a few scars long before he got to Pegasus and found himself battling Goth Legolases with a soul-sucking fetish, or life-draining bugs, or the Atomic Amish.

Or should that be Goth Legoli?

He'll have to ask Rodney, because even if Rodney doesn't know, he'll have an opinion and no qualms about sharing it. Quite the opposite. Rodney can rout opposition to any theory of his armed with no more than a pie chart and PowerPoint complete with animated bullet points.

John will ask him later, maybe. Much later.

Point is, though, that it's not right that Rodney has scars too. It's not right that someone John protects, someone he's sworn to guard, someone he... someone on his team—his team, dammit!—has suffered harm while supposedly under his care.

It's not right.

There's a long thin scar down the outside of Rodney's right forearm. Kolya did that. Kolya meant to frighten not to kill, but the knife must have been whetted to a sharpness that would shave steel, it cut so clean, leaving a long shallow gash that still bled a sluggish red hours later. Beckett ended up stitching it, when he could see straight again. The edges were too clean to knit together by themselves.

John trails a finger down it. It doesn't feel any different to any other part of Rodney's arm. There's no raised skin under his fingertips. The gash has healed to a thin white line, barely noticeable these days. Maybe he'd see it better if Rodney ever got his pasty-white self out into the sun and got a decent tan. Maybe then it would stand out, a straight track across otherwise unblemished skin, a reminder that every universe has its psychopathic madmen and that John can't kill the bastard often enough, in his dreams and out of them.

There's another little mark on Rodney's right temple. Like the scar on his arm, this one's hard to see. John knows it's there, though, another monument to Rodney facing a danger he wasn't trained for, that John should have made sure never happened in the first place. He'd left Rodney's safety in Toby Griffin's hands, and Griffin had died trying to live up a trust, an obligation, that hadn't been his. It was an obligation that belonged to John. John remembers struggling across the muddy ocean floor to the downed Jumper, the taste of terror in his mouth and his heart pounding. He remembers the blood streaking down Rodney's face and the lost, resigned expression in his eyes.

John presses his lips against the little mark. It doesn't taste any different to any other part of Rodney; tasting of the soft sweetness of soap overlain with the tang of sweat and something John's been conditioned into thinking uniquely Rodney, as if Rodney's sharp mind leaves its imprint over every part of him like zest. Rodney's warm and content now, but then he was cold, so very cold. He'd sat in the back of the rescue Jumper, wrapped in a space blanket, shivering and shaking, every helpless tremor of his limbs striking at everything John is, every blow a reminder that not even John can hold back the ocean. A reminder that the sea is another word for endless hunger.

Wraith is another. And Death another. There are too many words, sometimes.

The worst scar is the one that makes people smile. It doesn't make John smile, not now. Oh, he grinned along with everyone else when Rodney took the arrow in the butt, but now, seeing the little puckered seam of skin marring the otherwise perfect swell of Rodney's buttock, something in his gut clenches.

John's fingertips drift down Rodney's spine. He's straddling Rodney's thighs, leaning forward and letting his breath ghost down the skin where his fingers have been. Rodney twitches and murmurs, turning his head to rest on his folded arms. Rodney's eyes are closed, and that clever, crooked mouth is tilting upwards into a smile.

John widens the touch. Now it's the palms of each hand smoothing down Rodney's sides, over the solidity of bone at the ribs, in at the waist and flaring out over the hips. Rodney sighs and his smile grows larger.

John falters when he reaches the scar. It's raised under his fingers, the skin twisted and marred, buckled into a raised and knotted line. He licks his dry lips, riding out the familiar little stab of guilt. He leans down and offers the contrition of a kiss.

"You're far too hung up on that," says Rodney.

John doesn't pretend not to know what he means. "Did I ever tell you that I did competition archery? I was pretty good at it."

Rodney rolls over. John has to shift quickly not to be rolled with him—Rodney's physically stronger than he is, and only skill, muscle memory and years of training give John the advantage—and Rodney's dick bounces up to meet John's delighted gaze. Rodney has a very nice dick, broad and long, flaring out at the head. Just the right size for sucking.

"Of course you were. It's a weapon thing. You drool over weapons. I should call you Pavlov."

"As long as you don't call me Fido." John darts down and drags his tongue over the tip of Rodney's dick. Rodney twitches again.

The scar's hidden, now that Rodney's lying on his back and blinking up at him, smiling at him. He can't see it. He can't touch it or taste it, he can't offer remorse with mouth and hands.

But he knows it's there.

And because John's felt the pressure when he's pulled back the string, the arrow nocked and ready; because he's felt the bow's thrumming tension in his arms and back and shoulders, straining to hold it back until the fine tremor starts in his muscles; because he's felt the brush of his fingers against his cheek, holding the string in place as he's sighting... because of all these things, he knows the sheer power and energy with which the arrow leaps from the bow.

He knows how close it was.

As close as with Kolya. Close as the downed Jumper. Close as the time Rodney OD'd on wraith enzyme in a desperate attempt to save them. Close as the time he walked into pure energy. Close as the time...

Too close. Way too close. It's a reminder that in the past, John's failed to keep Rodney safe.

He wishes he could say that he's never failed since or never will again, but this is Pegasus, and Pegasus has a way of stretching him until he's pulled out, attenuated, a human bow with the string pulled taut and the arrow trembling on the nock, until he's strung between the conflicting stars like Odin on the tree. He tries often and fails often.

"It wasn't your fault." Rodney's gaze has sharpened, focused. John's been still a fraction too long and Rodney knows how to read the book when most people aren't allowed past the title page.

"I didn't do it," says John. "I didn't do what I was supposed to do, and put my body between you and harm. I didn't do it well enough. I don't do it well enough."

Rodney purses his lips and looks at him. His face is grave, mouth in a line, lips thinning and whitening at the edges. His eyes have that look in them that they wear when he's calculating vectors and probabilities, and his fingers twitch as if he'd like to snap them the way he does when he's Answer Man and he's found the way out for them.

But all he says is: "I'm still here."

John leans forward, bending his back like a bow, and rests his head just below Rodney's breastbone. The skin beneath his lips is soft and moist and salty; but warm and pliant. He can feel the beating of Rodney's heart; strong, even thumps, every one of them measured and measuring.

Rodney waits.

Well, Rodney waits until he thinks he's allowed John to wallow long enough. That's about twenty seconds.

"Scars are better than dead. Something to be proud of, even, in a St Crispian's Day kind of way."

John nods, his hair rubbing against Rodney's skin.

"Of course, Colonel, if you'd like to put your body between me and the mattress and offer me restitution in the way of a lifetime of sexual service, I won't say no."

Something light bubbles up inside John.

"In fact," says Rodney, who's nothing if not honest. "I would go so far as to admit that I'd even say 'please' and 'right now' and 'get a move on'. And if you're very, very good at being remorseful, I may even say 'thank you'."

John sits back on his heels and makes the promise that's a solemn as the one he once made when he took his service oath. "I'll keep trying."

"Yes, well, this is Pegasus. We all keep trying. We always will. Forever, probably, in some sort of karmic retribution for our sins."

"We'll see," John says. "Nothing's forever."

"No. Things come and go, people come and go. And they leave scars when they do; some scars you see and some you don't." And Rodney smiles that crooked smile. He grasps John's hand, the pressure of his strong fingers enough to make John wince. "But we're still here, Fido. We're still here."

Yeah. They were. Scars and all. And stronger for it.

John smiles. "Woof," he says, and leans in for a kiss.



1,942 words

July 2010