Title: How to Build a Shelter
Prompt: For my hc_bingo square, prompt 'Cuddling for warmth/Snowed in'.
Word count: 1700
Summary: John and Rodney are in a snowstorm. They're having as much fun as you'd suspect.
"S'cold," Rodney mumbled, and John fought down the urge to yell that yes, he knew, and maybe putting a bit more effort, or any effort, towards the building of their snow shelter might warm him up.
He wasn't making much progress, he had to admit, with the blizzard swirling around and doing its best to eradicate any trace of his efforts. The driving flakes were drilling into every inch of exposed skin it could find. His face was going numb.
This time he actually looked at his scientist, and had to admit that Rodney did look to be only a couple of degrees from becoming an icicle all the way through. An icicle with a receding hairline and no sense of self-preservation. "You need to not just stand there," John said, not uncaringly. "Why don't you help?"
Rodney muttered something in a menacing sort of way. John had no idea what he was saying, but would stake a great deal on it being a variant on, "That's your job".
John let out a couple of swear words, felt momentarily guilty, and then decided that they were actually completely justified. "McKay, we're in a blizzard! If you don't start actually helping I won't let you in my shelter when it's finished." He hoped that the frustration in his voice carried through the howling of the wind. His hands were becoming painful with every movement, the melting snow seeping through his cuffs which were pulled up over his fingers.
Why had no one ever mentioned that this was a planet where winter apparently descended with about five minutes' notice? And why was Rodney so utterly incapable at learning any lessons on basic survival in adverse conditions? He bent down again, scooping handfuls of snow.
There was a soft thump behind him. John looked around—and Rodney wasn't there. He swore again, vehemently, and then his brain caught up and he struggled through the snow-drift as fast as he could.
At least Rodney wasn't actually lying there unconscious. By the time John reached him he had pulled himself into a sitting position, instinctively hunched into as small a ball as possible. John tried to tell himself he had known he would find him like that, and pretended he hadn't felt a stab of terror which hadn't yet subsided. He crouched down and gave Rodney's shoulder a shake. "McKay, c'mon, you have to get up."
Rodney shook his head. His cheeks and lips were tinged with blue. "Can't."
"Of course you can."
"Cold. I'll just die here." The words were mumbled.
Melodrama. Of course. John grabbed Rodney under his arms and pulled him up, taking his weight. "Don't give me that. You're being ridiculous."
Rodney, slumped against him, didn't say anything. He was probably sulking.
"This is why you should have listened to me about keeping warm," John said, taking advantage of the other man's silence. "And—oh, crap, you walked straight into that river a while back. You've been standing around in a blizzard in soaked clothes, you idiot!"
"You should have told me there was a river there." John could make the words out clearly this time, by virtue of his ear being so close to Rodney's mouth.
"It was a river. Geez, I don't know how you've survived this long when you refuse to use your eyes." He wished he'd remembered about the river earlier. In fact, he could think how he could possibly have forgotten the amount of whining Rodney had been doing a short while ago. Well, apart from his thoughts being suddenly occupied by an ambushing blizzard.
He lowered (or half dropped, depending on the viewpoint) Rodney into the snow next to his quite pathetic efforts at a shelter. But he had nothing he could dig with properly. His fingers were past numb now.
"Sheppard!" he heard Rodney snap (his brain automatically added the 'snap' part—the cold had leached it from Rodney's voice, but John knew that it had been intended).
Rodney had somehow fumbled his tablet from his smaller-than-usual backpack. He waved it—or at least jiggled it—at John, who was not immediately struck by its usefulness in their current situation. "Are you going to program us a fire?"
"No." It was truly remarkable how, even with hypothermia, Rodney could still produce an expression indicating that the person receiving it had the intelligence level of a particularly dense patch of mud. "You can dig."
John grasped his meaning, and also grasped the tablet. It did, indeed, make a surprisingly effective spade; or at least much more effective than his increasingly painful hands had been. Without a waterproof case it would now be wrecked, and he filed that piece of information away for when they would be out of this and he could irritate Rodney by expressing surprise at his willingness to sacrifice a piece of his tech to save their lives, rather than the other way around.
He kept shovelling, and after a while there was something which at least resembled a shelter, but would have had one of his Air Force instructors have a fit if he'd produced it during training. It was, however, a great deal better than nothing. Rodney, apparently recognising through his stupor that it was as done as it was ever going to be, crawled inside, and then flopped down without even remembering to bring his backpack in with him. John pulled it inside and quickly assisted the driving snow in sealing the shelter's mouth. It didn't take long.
The reprise from the bite and howl of the wind was almost shocking. In the dim light John wriggled himself next to Rodney. "How're you doing, buddy?" he asked.
"Yeah, I know." There wasn't anything he could do about Rodney's sodden clothes, seeing as they didn't have any spares. He was beginning to feel the cold himself now that he had stopped moving. "Hey, you got any food in your backpack?"
The apathy of the answer was quite worrying. John felt around in the bag and came up with two bars of chocolate—clearly the lectures Rodney regularly received from the medical staff about healthy eating still hadn't sunk in, but on this occasion that was a good thing. It was a struggle to open the foil wrappers with numb fingers, but John managed it, and was relieved to see Rodney eat his as soon as it was given to him, even if the action did appear to be entirely due to autopilot.
"Feel better?" John asked.
Well, it was some improvement, at least, and the shelter was slowly beginning to retain some of the warmth leaving their bodies, their breath making a fug in the air. John let himself relax a little. Then, knowing what the reaction would be, he deliberately rolled over so that he was alongside Rodney, and wrapped his arm over him.
The reaction was as predicted. "Get off!"
"Don't be stupid, McKay. We have to share heat."
Rodney didn't say anything in response so John assumed that he had grudgingly acquiesced. After a few moments he felt Rodney's arm gingerly laid on top of his.
Outside their tiny shelter there was no one for miles around. Just a snowy wilderness ravaged by the gale. It was ridiculously comforting to have another body next to him, to be able to feel the rise and fall of Rodney's chest as he breathed, a constant reminder that he wasn't alone. He wondered if Rodney felt the same way, and suspected that he probably did. After all, he could feel that the hold between them was firm, their bodies fitted close against each other. He didn't ask, though. It wasn't something he could ever ask.
John closed his eyes and slid easily towards a doze. Just for a minute.
He only woke up when the cavalry, finally, arrived.
"I think they should have given me an extra dessert," Rodney said. "Seeing as I nearly died."
"If that happened every time you nearly died, McKay, you'd never fit into your BDUs. It's close enough as it is."
"Hey!" Rodney protested. He was cocooned under several layers of blankets, none of which were managing to impede his mouth.
John rolled his eyes and contemplated how much more comfortable his own bed was than the ones in the infirmary. And quieter. "I nearly died too, you know."
"Not as much." Rodney sounded proud of the fact. John rolled his eyes again, but suspected that Rodney couldn't see him doing it, which made it a waste of effort. "Anyway, you signed up for it."
"So did you," John said, and very pointedly turned over so that he was facing the opposite wall. His confinement to the infirmary would go faster if he was asleep, although he wasn't really expecting to be allowed to.
Sure enough, it didn't take long before Rodney started talking again. More quietly this time, though. "This galaxy hates me, and I think it's started recycling ways to try and kill me."
John was intending to ignore him, but somehow it never worked. "When did it last try to freeze you to death?"
"Under the sea, remember? When Carter saved me."
"No she didn't. I did."
"Yeah, a bit, I suppose."
After a while he heard Rodney shifting around. "I'm glad it was you in the snow with me and not Carter," he said, all in one breath.
This was enough to actually make John stop pretending he was going to sleep, and turn over to face Rodney again. "I'm better than a hallucination?"
"Yes. I mean, no, I mean, um, you know what I mean."
"No, I really can't say I do."
Rodney squirmed under his pile of blankets, apparently in embarrassment. "You know. You're um, a good friend. And useful. And stuff."
John made sure to use his best sardonic voice. "It's great to know I'm good for 'stuff'."
"Shut up. I mean, thank you. You know."
"You're welcome." John struggled for something that would break their shared awkwardness. "You owe me a dessert now, you know."
"I do not!"
The indignation in Rodney's voice was ample proof that the world was back to normal. John grinned, and fell asleep.