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Ch014 - Story 11 - Just Another Mission Gone Wrong 
11/11/08 - 01:27
merlin - of the sky
Title: Just Another Mission Gone Wrong
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: PG-13
Warning(s): Angst, violence.
Plot: It was supposed to be fun and games - mostly anyway - but it ends with pain and humiliation once again.

Authors: sheafrotherdon, miscellanny, busaikko and darkmoore.
Artists: sandalstrap, ola_sw, le_mot_mo and clayeer.

Just Another Mission Gone Wrong

"Oh, come on," Rodney protested. "In height alone you'll have the advantage! You're trying to stack the odds before we begin!"

John blew out a long breath. "We've been over this . . ."

"Yes, yes, I'm well aware that if we don't participate in the Good Times! Crack Your Skulls For Fun Tournament we'll lose access to the Kilari databanks, you've said so at least three times, and my hearing worked perfectly well on the first occasion!"

"So why're you still complaining?" Ronon asked.

Rodney grit his teeth and gestured wildly, pacing a crescent around the half-span of their mud-and-murals holding room. "Because I want to win! I would think that would be perfectly obvious to anyone who has a passing familiarity with my personality, and especially those of you - " He jabbed a wrathful finger toward John " - who know about the incident with the PVC piping, the Alberta border agents, and my mother!"

John winced. "Yeah. Sorry, buddy . . ."

Rodney hmmphed. "And that's before we get into the question of the prize, which really, is a beautiful thing, an absolute . . ."

Teyla cleared her throat and stepped forward. "I believe your concern is that if Colonel Sheppard sits on Ronon's shoulders, they will, together, be exceedingly tall when competing in the Tan-eest-na?"

Rodney tilted his chin. "Yes."

"And you feel this will grant them an unfair advantage, perhaps allowing them to snatch the Tilesh and secure victory."


Teyla smiled slyly. "I will be armed, Rodney."

John blanched at exactly the moment Rodney grinned. "You will?" they both asked.

"Bantos rods are permitted within the arena. Guns, knives, explosives, and tasers are prohibited, as are catapults, chewing gum, temporary tattoos, and large books."

Rodney pulled a face.

"They have heft," Teyla clarified.

"Okay, so, I get some sticks," John said, shrugging. "No biggie. I mean - we've sparred."

Teyla kept smiling. "Yes, we have."

John turned to Ronon. "Okay, so, I'm gonna need you to sit on my shoulders."

Ronon stared him down.

"I'm wiry," John clarified.

"I'll snap your spine," Ronon said.

John wrinkled his nose. "That's a good point." He glanced at Teyla. "You'll go easy on me, right?"

"I am of one mind with Rodney on the matter of the prize . . ."

Ronon yawned. "No big deal. She's not allowed to hit your dick. Genitals are illegal."

John felt his own face contort wildly at the idea. "Uh . . ."

Rodney flicked his ear. "As zones in the game, you idiot."

"Right, right." John squinted at Rodney. “I knew that."

A horn sounded in the distance, followed by a wave of applause. "It is time," Teyla said and, stepping nimbly into the cradle Rodney made with his hands, she settled herself on his shoulders. Her bantos sticks lay snug against her back in their usual leather sleeves. "Gentlemen?"

John looked at Ronon, who looked back. "You, uh - reckon you could crouch?" John asked.

"You should do what she did," Ronon said, weaving his fingers together and offering his hands.

"Strain your groin muscles and I will bitch you out for weeks," Rodney said helpfully.

"You and me both," John muttered, and gave it his best shot.

* * * * * * *

There was a light tapping against his cheek, persistent and unavoidable, and Rodney twitched and then turned his head away from it, his face scrunching up in protest.

He'd never worked out how the Colonel managed to drawl in a whisper, but at least it left absolutely no question of who he was here with. Give him a minute and he was almost certain he'd work out the how and the when, too.

The tapping recommenced after a second.

“Still with us, buddy?”

Rodney snapped out a hand blindly, making contact with John's warm wrist and pulling it away from his face. Then he opened his eyes. He stared up into the darkness for a second, eyes straining, then carefully closed his eyes, waited a moment, and opened them again. When that did nothing to relieve the almost-blackness, he figured it was a reasonable time to start panicking.

“Where the - what the hell are we - you blinded me! I can't believe the greatest genius in two galaxies has been brought down by a sports injury, this confirms everything I've ever believed about –“

His voice had started out at a whisper, on a level with John's, but during his rant it had gathered volume, and he was abruptly cut off as John's fingers scraped across the skin of his cheek and then clamped awkwardly over his mouth. He was almost grateful - his own voice had made him aware of an ache in his skull that was throbbing in time with the beat of his heart.

“Hey,” John hissed, with considerably less of a drawl, “how about we keep quiet and don't reveal our hiding place to the religious nuts huh, Rodney?”

John's hand brushed distractingly against his lips as Rodney nodded, and once it had been removed he had to clear his throat before he could manufacture a satisfactory whisper.

“That's not exactly reassuring,” he eventually managed. He peeled his fingers away from John's wrist and placed his hands on the ground on either side of himself, feeling rough stone against his skin; once he had pushed himself up until he was seated, he saw that it wasn't quite as dark as he'd originally thought. There was the barest glimmer coming from somewhere to his left, enough that he could make out the slightly darker shadow of John's body, the gleam of his eyes. It took a moment or two before the nausea of movement faded, and then he frowned. “Am I to take it that we didn't win?”

A sharp snort from John's direction.

“Could say that. You passed out before we even got into the arena. From manly stage fright.”

The memory came back all of a sudden; the way the dark tunnel he and Ronon had been carrying their team-mates down had suddenly opened up into a massive space, the way the applause and yelling that had seemed relatively subdued in the backstage hut had swelled and become a wall of noise that almost seemed to knock him backwards… it had been like one of the more persistent of his nightmares, although admittedly he hadn't been naked. But stage fright didn't explain –

Raising his hand to his head, Rodney winced and hissed air out between his teeth when his fingers made contact with a raised knot of flesh just behind his left ear.

“I hate to burst your self righteous bubble,” Rodney snapped, feeling more than a little slighted, “but 'passing out' doesn't exactly explain the goose egg that's currently forming on the side of my head. Apparently someone really didn't want us to win the Tilesh. Or - “

“Or have access to their databases,” John continued, finishing his thought. His voice was closer than Rodney had expected, but the warning wasn't enough to stop him from jerking away when John's fingers were suddenly carding through his hair, running across bruised flesh.

“Ow,” he hissed, “ow! Stop aversion-therapying me!”

“Might've escaped your notice, Rodney,” John murmured as his fingers gentled, brushing carefully down to the skin of his neck, “but I haven't exactly been trying to discourage you.”
That was true, at least - John had actually been the one to start this thing between them, pouncing him in the armory after a particularly strenuous mission. He didn't seem bothered by Teyla and Ronon knowing, either, ramping up his usual repertoire of affectionate cuffs and slaps on Rodney's back with a guiding hand to Rodney's back, an arm slung across his shoulders more often than could really be explained away. Speaking of -

“Where are Teyla and Ronon, anyway?”

John's fingers stilled.

“Yeah,” he said. “About that…”

* * * * * * *

John started to explain, in terse monosyllabic words, but once Rodney had the gist of the story he couldn't help snickering, which led to what might have been called a chortle, and finally to a fledgling belly-laugh, which John tried to hold back with one hand clapped over Rodney's mouth and dire threats in his ear.

"You poor thing," Rodney wheezed, trying to get his breath back. John pulled back into the shadows and made an offended noise. "No, no, wait, give me a minute and I'm sure I'll remember how to make a sympathetic face."

"Too late," John said. He was sulking, Rodney could hear it. "Let's just get everyone home, okay?"

"You should get used to being laughed at," Rodney said. "Everyone's going to. Because it's funny." He waved a hand airily between them. "So. I was attacked. I toss Teyla to safety -- "

"Dropped her like a hot potato," John corrected.

"Ronon grabs her and drops you. So when the High What's-all-this-then Priest comes to investigate the ruckus, he finds Ronon tending to Teyla who's tending to me, and you standing around like a tourist -- "

"I was looking for a way out," John said, his voice stifled by clenched teeth. "Because Teyla kept emphasizing how sacred this Tan-eest-na thing was and how we weren't to fuck it up. Which is why we had to catch the sacred eels yesterday, if you recall, and wash up with the nasty smelling sacred soap afterwards, and play the sacred handclapping game with the vestal virgins at dawn this morning."

"Yes, and I will find out why and when and where you taught Ronon to play Say Say, Oh Playmate and post the true story in your Atlantis wiki." Even though it had been kind of funny to watch the homespun-clad virgin clapping hands as she recited the Prayer of Victory, while Ronon muttered back inanities about dollies and water barrels and jolly friends. It was too bad that Rodney hadn't got any photos. "Anyway. The High Priest showed up and thought you looked. . . culpable."

"He said my hair looked guilty," John muttered.

Rodney nodded. "So say we all." He frowned. "And then he hauled you off to atone for our sins?" John shifted backwards a little. "Oh, no no, no no, no no no, don't tell me you volunteered for whatever the torture of the day might be."

"Can you imagine this happening to Teyla? Or Ronon? I'm the team leader, Rodney. If anyone's going to be stood in a bucket and exorcised with knives, it's going to be me."

"Come here," Rodney said, summoning John with both hands and glaring his best threatening glare until John shifted, shuffled, and settled in next to him. On his right side. "You might as well show me the damage." He put a hand to John's chin and pushed John's head to the side so he could feel for himself. He could barely see a thing. The light was terrible; what had been done to John was even worse. "At least Ronon rescued you before they, ah, got to the other side."

"There was a queue," John said, shivering. "Each one of them had a knife, and they took turns -- "

"But at least you're not bald," Rodney said, even though it sounded like very faint encouragement to his own ears. "Granted, in some places it's a close shave, but it's not a bad look. Well. Not too bad. Maybe you'll start a new fashion."

"I doubt that." John's hand rose to pat gingerly over the mostly-shorn left side of his head. His ear looked. . . very lonely, Rodney decided. "I can't even manage a decent comb-over," John said mournfully. Rodney could feel him trying to pull some of his longer right-side hair down over a particularly short patch.

"Well, no," Rodney agreed. "It's hideous. I was lying to make you feel better."

"I'll feel better when Ronon and Teyla get back here with our weapons," John said grimly. "I think we're going to have to fight our way out of the temple complex."

Rodney snorted. "You just want to blow things up. I know you." He poked John with his elbow. "It is funny, you know. You probably look like one of my sister's old Barbies. At least they didn't give you a makeover to go with the new look."

Whatever indignant thing John meant to say after he finished spluttering with outrage was smothered by a distant, ground-shaking explosion.

"What the hell was that?" Rodney asked.

* * * * * * *

Standing in front of his bathroom mirror, John reluctantly pulled off the baseball cap he was wearing. One of the Marines had given it to him without comment when they had been rescued by Lorne and two teams of Marines. Looking at himself now, John was unable to take in the damage. He had known that he looked bad. Really bad. Had felt them cutting off bits and pieces, had seen the fluff on the ground. But it hadn't hit him until now just how awful the whole thing really was. In the artificial light of his bathroom, the whole range of the damage done became visible. On the left side of his head there were patches where his hair was mostly gone, skin visible underneath the last, short hairs. The whole side was a multitude of uneven, blotched parts. Gingerly running a hand over his scalp, John now had to face the fact that there was nothing he could do but cut the rest of his hair as well.

On a rather logical level, John knew that the Kilari had known exactly what they were doing when they had shorn his head. There was a reason why cutting somebody's hair was used as punishment and humiliation on Earth. But until he had looked into the mirror and seen it for himself, he'd never believed just how bad it was.

Touching it was almost too much and John had to take a deep breath, bracing himself against the wash basin, shaking all over. John's hair had been a topic to talk about from day one on. Part of who he was, part of what he wanted to present to everyone who looked at him. A façade even. And now it was . . . gone. He hadn't thought it would be this hard to deal with it. Right now, John would have preferred a physical wound to the mess the Kilari had made of his head. Looking at it again, John couldn't help but remember all the times Rodney had combed through John's hair with his fingers. Messy hair . . . stupid hair . . . Rodney had said all sorts of things about it, in a tone of voice that spoke volumes about what Rodney actually meant. Rodney might as well have been saying 'I love you' every time he insulted John's hair. And John liked that, liked his hair, cowlicks and all. He loved the way Rodney would run his hands through it while John was blowing him and would stroke and pet his head when they were falling asleep together.
But now he would have to cut it. Short. Very short.

John sighed. His hair was as much part of his easygoing, cocky flyboy persona as sprawling in chairs and leaning against a wall was. It was so easy to play “Kirk” - as Rodney called it - a flirtatious, charming seducer who was making alien priestesses swoon on a regular basis. John laughed out loud, bitterly. What would people say if he told them he hadn't had sex with a single woman he'd been rumoured to have had an affair with? They kinda really didn't have the right parts for his liking.

He ran his shaking hands over his head once more, one hand over the unblemished side, the other over the uneven cut. John knew he was stalling, but he couldn't help it. He didn't want to finish this, hadn't wanted it all to happen, in the first place. Then, after taking a few deep breaths, John finally picked up the electric razor he had borrowed from one of his men. Choosing the second lowest setting - about 1/14 of an inch - he began to systematically shave his head.

Cutting his hand off would probably have hurt about as much as watching his hair fall to the floor around him did, and John had to bite his lip and order himself to keep going. When he was done he carefully sat the razor down and gazed at himself in the mirror. The man staring back at him looked like a prisoner of war, the angles of his face foreign and somehow sharper. It was an awful sight, his complexion seemed pale and sick, even haggard looking. With sudden revulsion John retreated from the bathroom and sat down on his bed, his hands gravitating to his head all on their own, rubbing across his skull, expecting to encounter soft hair but finding only stubble. No, his hair was on the bathroom floor and all over his clothes, itching and making a mess everywhere he went, but John didn't care. Couldn't care. He felt naked and vulnerable, like his hair could have protected him from … something. John laughed, but it came out like a sob as he ran his hands over his skull again. The cut was even all around now, close to his scalp. He closed his eyes, telling himself that it'd grow back. That soon all this would be nothing but a bad memory.


He jumped at Rodney's voice, his hands falling to his thighs. John hadn't even heard the door. “Rodney,” he said and his voice was breaking. It was ridiculous to feel like this, ridiculous to get depressed over a fucking hair cut. Then Rodney was there, holding him, hugging him tightly and John could allow himself to feel, to shed the hot tears that had been threatening to fall since he had looked into the mirror for the first time.

* * * * * * *

“It's alright, John, it's alright,” Rodney muttered as he awkwardly rubbed soothing patterns on John's back. Seeing John with his hair shorn had shocked him. Sure, he'd felt the uneven patches on John's head, had heard the story, but seeing him like this . . . was something entirely else. It made Rodney feel so helpless. Helpless and angry at those who had done this to John. But Rodney knew his anger wouldn't help anyone right now, so he concentrated on John and on what he needed. Carefully, Rodney rubbed a hand over John's back and slowly up to his head, running it over the stubble that had been a full head of hair only a few hours ago. He'd loved John's hair. Stupid, messy, soft hair. Something that had made John different from all the other military types running about Atlantis, defining him. And now it was gone. “It'll be alright,” Rodney repeated helplessly. It would be. Rodney knew that. It just had to be alright. John had to have his hair cut every few weeks anyway, to keep it somewhat in order. Soon enough he'd be back to looking messy, tousled and ridiculously sexy.

Finally John's sobs subsided and John was no longer crying, but was still clinging to Rodney in a somewhat disturbing manner. In a way, Rodney knew what it meant for John to have this done to him, he wasn't a total ignoramus about the soft sciences. Just because Rodney didn't think very highly of them didn't mean he didn't read the reports or snatched up the occasional tidbit of information.

Suddenly John sat up straight, startling Rodney, as he brought even more space between himself and Rodney. John rubbed his hands over his face twice, before he ran his fingers over what was left of his hair. “This is so humiliating, Rodney,” he said, his voice rough with emotion. “I know it'll grow back, I do, but . . . I feel so . . . violated.”

Rodney nodded, the movement causing a stab of white-hot pain at the base of his skull. The painkillers Keller had given him had just barely taken the edge off, anyway. He winced and gingerly touched the bump on his head. “Ow,” he muttered, suddenly dizzy again.

“Rodney,” John said and Rodney could feel John's hands on his shoulders, keeping him upright as the room was spinning around him. “You should be in the infirmary.”

“No,” Rodney denied immediately, trying very hard not to shake his head with it. “It's just a light concussion and I barely managed to get out of the infirmary as it is. I didn't want you to be alone, and considering I had to promise the most ridiculous things to get here in the first place I'd rather stay.” He knew he was babbling, but he really didn't want to get back into Keller’s clutches, even if he was a little worse for wear.

Rodney could see worry on John's face and decided a distraction was in order. Both of them really needed to get their minds off the recent events and this horrible mission. The fallout would be bad enough, no need to make it worse than it already was. If his time with John had taught him one thing, it was to take comfort in their closeness whenever he could. Nobody was promised a tomorrow, and this time it might have 'only' been John's hair, but the next time it could be John's life. Or his. Rodney didn't want to think about that, didn't want to think about maybes and might-have-beens.

They were alive and together here and now, even if a little worse for wear, but Rodney was determined to make the best of the situation. He leaned over and slowly, deliberately kissed John. It was a sweet kiss, meant to comfort and not to arouse and still John seemed to melt against him. “I'm really sorry about your hair,” Rodney muttered when they parted and slowly rested his aching head in the crook of John's neck. He missed the tickle of hair instantly, but didn't say so. Instead, he pressed a little kiss onto the patch of skin right next to his lips and murmured, “It'll grow back, though. You'll see, you'll look unkempt and messy in no time at all.”

Rodney could have sworn John was chuckling as he lowered them back onto the bed. Head resting over John's strong heartbeat, Rodney finally allowed sleep to claim him.

Click on thumb

  • Round 1 - sheafrotherdon : "'Oh, come on,' Rodney protested. [...] and gave it his best shot."
  • Round 2 - miscellanny : "There was a light tapping against his cheek [...] 'Yeah,' he said. 'About that…'"
  • Round 3 - busaikko : "John started to explain [...] 'What the hell was that?' Rodney asked."
  • Round 4 - darkmoore : "Standing in front of his bathroom mirror [...] allowed sleep to claim him."

Beta: Thank you to ladyflowdi!


R1: sandalstrap

R2: ola_sw

R3: le_mot_mo

R4: clayeer
11/11/08 - 09:50 (UTC)
Oh yes! I simply love how the artwork turned out. clayeer what a wonderful drawing you added to the collage. The entire collage has been built up from drawings and pictures and it makes a great combination in the end. I'm happy that I got to work together with you guys. :o)

Of course, I also love the story. I'm glad that I now know how it turns out in the end. :o)

PS: message to newkidfan - the R2 art from ola_sw seems to be leading to a dead link at the moment. I thought you might like to know that.
11/11/08 - 19:40 (UTC)
It's so fascinating to see where these things go - we are a bunch of really very delicious nutters :D Congrats, everyone!!
11/11/08 - 23:02 (UTC)
hehe, yeah I have to agree in that one. I know, a lighter tone would have probably been better received, but I think cutting off ones hair has a deeply psychological effect, especially for John.
11/11/08 - 19:43 (UTC)
Awww, poor boys! And, of course poor John, going from a chicken fight to a shaved head... I just love the finished art, with Rodney resting his battered, concussed head on John's shoulder and the background providing the history.
11/11/08 - 21:02 (UTC)
Oh, poor boys. Good thing they have each other. Nice tight story, and great art to compliment it!
11/11/08 - 21:10 (UTC)
I love how the art tells the story, and in the last panel it's like a flashback that they are both comforting each other for. And I'd wondered where the story would go! Poor boys.... Great work, everyone!
11/11/08 - 23:03 (UTC)
Oh wow. Seeing the story's evolution, both in the writing and the art, is fascinating! Well done, everyone.

11/11/08 - 23:04 (UTC)
wow, the art is just gorgeous. I LOVE the way John and Rodney are supporting each other, love the progress of the art as it changed to match the fic. Great job everyone!

Edited at 2008-11-11 11:05 pm (UTC)
11/12/08 - 02:00 (UTC)
This was great! Both the story and the art.
I never thought I'd enjoy a story about John losing his hair, but I did!
11/12/08 - 07:10 (UTC)
The art is so nice, especially the drawings! And put together in such a clever way. I like the humor of the setup, too... I almost wish we could've seen the team playing the crazy sport that's mentioned!
11/14/08 - 06:15 (UTC)
R2 is missing for the art.
11/16/08 - 06:53 (UTC)
Enjoyed the story and art both. Loved the entire scene with them hiding in the dark. And poor John losing his hair; I wonder if he'll really get the teasing Rodney predicted or if they'll lay off.

Really love the art -- the image of them comforting each other on the bottom is very sweet, and the details of what came before in the top part are great.
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