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Graceful Exit
by astolat

"How're we doing?" John said over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off the screen; it wasn't like flying in the air, exactly, but there were currents down here too, and above them the monitors showed him a thick black band of cold cold water, twice as wide as the Mississippi and flowing a lot faster than the surrounding ocean. They'd submerged to the south and missed it coming in, but now the straight line to the surface led right through. He didn't know what that was going to mean for the flight, but he had an uneasy gut feeling it wasn't going to be all that much fun.

"We only have sufficient power to sustain the shield for another three minutes at the current pressure," Zelenka said from the back console. "We must ascend above 1000 feet by then, or—"

"Thanks, I got the memo," John said grimly. Gravity was against them now, and it was going to be tight, even if hitting the cold stream wasn't going to be a problem. "You want to give me some idea what's going to happen when I hit that current up above?"

"Let me just be clear, if I end up on the ocean floor once more today, I seriously quit," Rodney said, the first complaint he'd managed since they'd taken off again; it would've been more reassuring if he hadn't sounded slurred and vague.

Zelenka slipped into the co-pilot's seat and tapped several of the controls; he shook his head grimly. "The speed of the currents above us will significantly increaase pressure on the shield and drain the power. We will not be able to make it through the last one hundred meters; our cockpit will give way just as it did in Rodney's jumper."

"Oh, well, that's great," John said, and then the controls went tense in his hands, that was the only way to describe it; he barely managed to keep control, the jumper bucking in the edge of the current until he wrestled her back out. "This would be a good time to give me some other options!"

"Go around!" Zelenka was working frantically on the console, adjusting switches; the interior lights went dimmer and there was a low whirring noise from the vents above, going sluggish and then dead, a fan somewhere going off.

"We're still below 1300 feet, and we've got forty-five seconds to get above 1000," John said.

"Yes, yes; but pressure is already much less here than when we were searching below," Zelenka said. "I am reconfiguring jumper systems to operate at minimum power; we can maintain the shield for another thirty minutes."

"Okay, got it," John said. "That enough time to make it around the current?"

"Let us hope so," Zelenka said, pressing buttons, and the blue running lights died under his hands.

John could see his breath hanging over the console; the autopilot was going, there was nothing for him to do. He kept his hands on the sticks anyway, just for distraction; they twitched now and again, inquiringly, offering him control that he turned down. Only the faintest yellow glow from the drive-pods still came filtering through the dark, and most of that streamed away behind them while the jumper chugged along, the black coldstream billowing above them.

The air tasted stale; it was too dark, too cold, too quiet. He wasn't used to this much silence in the jumper; more often than not he was trying to get Rodney to shut up. "You holding up okay, pal?" he called back.

No answer came. Zelenka was nodding over his own chest, drowsing; he jerked up blinking when John got out of the chair and came into the back. Rodney was sprawled out on the bench gone limp, mouth slack and blue, skin white under the matted blood looking sticky and black in the light from the consoles. "Hey," John said, patting his cheek on the other side, hard enough to sting. "Come on, Rodney, stick with the program here."

"Mlgm," Rodney said, not so much batting at John's hands as flapping in their general direction; his arm slumped back over the side after the abortive gesture.

"He is not shivering," Zelenka said.

John cursed and started stripping off the wet clothes; Rodney didn't fight him at all. "Can't you get it warmer in here?"

"We cannot spare the power." Zelenka was already rummaging through the supply packs, swearing in Czech. "Here, put this around him, it will insulate—" He threw down a tarp.

"He hasn't got any heat to keep in," John said. Rodney's skin was clammy and ice-cold, veins standing out blue all over, a handful of scars: pink and jagged line down his left forearm, funny smooth patch not quite like a gunshot wound on his thigh. There was half an inch of cold water sloshing in Rodney's shoes, and when John got his socks off, his toes felt stiff, frozen white: like frostbite, and he wondered how cold water could get, under that much pressure, that far down.

"Rodney," he said, putting his ear to Rodney's chest; the heartbeat going in slow, slow thumps, feebly.

Zelenka was throwing the bench cushions down on the floor, making a nest of the tarp. They heaved Rodney down into it and wrapped him up, but he still wasn't shivering. His breathing had started to get raspy, heaving, and it wasn't showing white in the air nearly as much as it should've been.

Zelenka looked at him and then back up at John, helplessly.

"I didn't come down here to bring a body back to Atlantis," John said, and stripped his jacket off.

They piled their jackets and shirts over Rodney, warm body-side in, and then crawled in half-naked with him. It was hard, harder than it should've been; John's skin wanted to cringe away from the cold damp fish-belly whiteness of Rodney's, not press up against it. On the other side, Zelenka was making soft hissing noises, flinching away too. "Help me get him on his side," John said through his teeth, setting himself, and when Zelenka pushed Rodney over towards him, John wrapped his arms around Rodney's chest and clasped them behind his back, forcing himself to pull Rodney in.

Like licking a pump handle in winter, except with his whole body at the same time. His nipples tightened up to painful sharp knots; the shivers were shaking him down to his boots, his shoulders jerking hard. Zelenka was trying, pressed up against Rodney on the other side, but he was a smaller guy. "Rodney," John said again, into the cold, still face; to the slack mouth, rubbing his hands up and down Rodney's sides, trying to warm up his chest. The ribcage felt like icicles under his hands, skin stretched thin and cold over the bones. "Come on, you're not doing this."

Rodney made a small noise and his head tilted forward; John braced and held on, even when Rodney's lips hit his throat, so cold they burned, and Rodney's breath skated out over his skin. John panted in short, painful gulps, squeezing his eyes down against it.

"Wait," Zelenka said, and squirmed out carefully; even so a little more of the air got in, colder than it had seemed before, and there wasn't anywhere John could go to get away from it. Zelenka started yanking down the emergency packs, breaking them open, and in a minute he was ripping open the hand-warmer packs, sliding them under the tarp to John.

He tucked them around Rodney's chest and back, and after a few minutes Rodney made a low whimpering cough against his neck and moved for the first time, hands tentatively muddling at John's hips, twitching his pants. "Yeah," John said, urgently, "yeah, that's it," and rubbed chests with him a little, as much as he could; Rodney was shivering again, big heaving shudders.

Zelenka crawled back in with them and reached around to grab John's hip pockets and haul them all in closer together. "That is all we have," he said, rubbing John's arms and shoulders with his warm, warm, warm hands, a desperate relief from Rodney's frozen skin.

"Keep touching him," John said, through a whine; he wanted that heat so much, and not just the heat but the life behind it. "I'm okay, I'm fine, here—" He took Zelenka's hands and put them on Rodney's belly, vaguely where he thought the liver was, and then he pressed himself up against them on the other side, unable to keep from being at least that greedy.

" 'M cold," Rodney muttered, but god, the puffs of breath against John's skin weren't cold anymore, not at all, and John reached up and rubbed the back of Rodney's neck and shoulders, encouragingly.

"Yeah, just get close, we're going to get you warmed up," he said, and tilted his own head so he was breathing out on Rodney's chest, the warm breath curling against their skin.

"Hypothermia," Rodney rambled on, a little clearer, "should've saved the power, should've—" He stopped on a little hiccuping sound, like a sob without any breath behind it.

"Shh, it's okay," John said, "we've got you; we're on the way home," but Rodney didn't stop shaking, and the side of his face was wet where it pressed against John's cheek. He stroked Rodney's back, long wandering paths from the base of the skull down to the small of his back, murmuring soft nonsense things strung together randomly out of his head, while Rodney kept whispering too softly in his ear about water, water coming in through the hull, about dark and cold and drowning, until John started to think maybe there was water lapping at their feet, started to strain to hear the water trickling in over the low thrum of the drive pods.

"Rodney," Zelenka said abruptly, "I must tell you, I have found several serious errors in your calculations on the shield power flow," and for a moment Rodney was quiet, and then his face folded up like angry paper against John's neck, all angles and edges and splutter.

"On your best day—on your best day—" Rodney said, and trailed off, like he couldn't quite find the end of the insult.

Zelenka said coolly, "It is not my fault if you failed to properly generalize your equations to all environmental conditions."

"Oh, oh, don't even start with me!" Rodney started scrabbling at John clumsily with his frozen hands, trying to turn himself around, and he was shivering so hard now that John's skin was picking up friction from him; the plastic-flavored air under the tarp creeping towards warm, so slowly he didn't quite notice when exactly it changed over, when suddenly heat was coming into him instead of just going out.

John gasped against Rodney's shoulder with the relief of it; so good to feel Rodney's skin coming alive against him, flushing back to pink health, Zelenka's hands still moving in slow circles between them. Rodney's arms were starting to get warm and coordinated again, his fingers spreading out over John's back: still cold but not inhuman, like a lover making a shifty grab at the blankets you'd already warmed up instead of that frozen helplessness.

"There we go," John said, hitching himself back in. "Yeah, that's it, just like that, Rodney."

"Oh; oh, right, yes," Rodney said, and took him at his word: rubbed his cold nose against the groove of John's neck and shoulder, tried to squirm his leg in between John's thighs, fumbled his hand back to pull Zelenka in even tighter behind him. "Cold, cold, cold," he chanted, huddling into them demandingly now, which John figured meant he was mostly okay, but he let Rodney move in closer anyway, too glad to try and take back his personal space and too cold himself, now.

He reached out and helped Rodney pull Zelenka in, all the way closer; he wanted the feeling of Rodney's chattering breath against his collarbone, he wanted to feel Rodney's heart thumping steady again, he wanted to keep Zelenka's hands pinned there between their bellies and steal a little warmth back for himself. He was scissoring his legs back and forth a little around Rodney's thigh, Rodney saying "yes, yes, yes" and pressing into him, panting and nuzzling at him.

Then Zelenka gulped, noisily, his hands wavering uncertainly on John's hips, and John finally noticed he'd gone way over the line; except Rodney didn't, or if he did, he didn't care, because he kept right on shoving in closer, and he was licking at the hollow of John's neck.

"Rodney," John said, his voice high and tight, because Jesus, what the fuck was he—what were they doing, what were they all doing, because Zelenka wasn't exactly getting the hell out either—

"Shut up," Rodney said, gasping. "Shut up, shut up," and kissed him, his cold hand wrapping around the back of John's head, and his mouth warm and wet and soft. "Such a bad—such a bad day," he said, like an apology, into John's mouth, like that was a reason to do this, except apparently it made sense to Zelenka, because he started unbuttoning John's pants.

"Okay," John said, a little late, because he was already out there, his dick hard and stiff and snugged right up against Rodney's thigh, Zelenka's hands gripping him more surely now and holding him in place. Rodney's thigh was sliding between his legs, Zelenka muttering low gravelly Czech against Rodney's shoulder, and John understood every word down to his bones.

"Yes, good, yes," Rodney said urgently, when John thrust up against him, kissing his neck some more, tongue darting out in short licks over the straining tendons; they were all moving together, getting there, gone, gone, gone: juices wet on John's belly and thighs and fingers, everywhere, and he was so hot, so hot he was shaking with it, sweat was standing on his forehead and his shoulders and his back and his thighs, and he pressed himself in tight and let Rodney's cool skin drink up the heat from his body.

John started the jumper on its final ascent once they were around the current, flinching uneasily at Elizabeth's voice on the line, even though he knew she couldn't see him sitting at the console sticky and stained in his boxers. Zelenka programmed the autopilot timer to bring them up slow, easing off the pressure in Carson's dictated increments, Rodney making drowsy remarks still snuggled up in the nest of their clothes.

Up past 1000 feet they turned off the shield and cranked up the heat and the life support, but Zelenka didn't put the interior lights back on; they stood staring at each other over Rodney, who was mostly asleep on the floor, until he opened one eye to peer up at them and said crankily, "What? Get in here, I'm still cold."

"We're going to need to get cleaned off before we get up there," John said, stretching out, trying to pretend mostly to himself that he did this kind of thing all the time, getting laid with a couple of good friends in his underwater spaceship after a day of fighting sea monsters.

Actually, it was even sort of true.

= End =

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