At Least in This
By Chandri MacLeod

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: john/rodney
Categories: slash, angst, hurt/comfort
Warnings: none
Spoilers: Everything up to 4.20 The Last Man
Summary: It's funny, because he can imagine Rodney's outrage when he realised that of all things, the soul was the one thing that couldn't be measured.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, alas. I'm just using them for fun.
Author’s Note: Brought to you by the season 4 finale, and fifteen endless minutes of running up and down, arm-flailing, and shouting oh my god oh my god oh my god.
Bonus geek points if you got the barrel reference.

McKay is smiling when he wakes him, and John stumbles out of the stasis pod, groggy and disoriented. "How long?" he asks, and his voice is wrong, hoarse.

"Six hundred and eighty-three years, give or take," says McKay, turning to walk briskly back up the corridor. When John doesn't follow, he turns back expectantly. "Are you coming? We've got about an hour to open the gate."

Even dead forty-eight thousand years, McKay's still a pain in the ass, John thinks, moving to follow.

"So, McKay," John asks, watching as the hologram - he's trying not to think of him as Rodney, because he isn't Rodney, just a reminder of a mistake - bends over the DHD, staring at it as though he can see inside. Which, well, he probably can.

"What?" asks McKay, not looking up.

"I wanted to know one more thing."

The hologram still doesn't look up. "Shoot."

"What really happened to you?"

Now McKay's image turns his head, brow furrowed, an expression familiar even on the ruined face. "Which me?"

John gestures, a flung hand, something desperate and uncoordinated. "You you. You had to come back here to do this. What happened to you? To him? At the end."

Not for the first time, John wonders how much of this hologram is Rodney, whether it's just his intelligence or his emotions, too, because John's really sure that the condescending schoolteacher whose residence McKay has taken up never looked like it cared. McKay frowns, and the faded blue of his eyes flash something... something John knows, but can't quite catch, even if it makes his throat go tight.

"Well," McKay says slowly, "I was supposed to leave. To go back, after I finished the installation. Building a personality matrix really isn't all that complicated, if you know what you're doing, and I do."

John nods. "So you went back to Earth." McKay sometimes says I and sometimes says he and John can’t keep track.


Holograms can't look embarrassed, can't look evasive - intellectually, John's aware of this. But somehow the image manages to emote the same wave of terrified arrogance John knows as well as the sound of Rodney's voice, the expression uncannily like the one Rodney wore when he and Keller had brought Elizabeth back in a way John never, never would have allowed. John wonders if he programmed that, or if it came together on its own.

"Um?" John repeats, darkly. "Um what?"

McKay shrugs. "Well, there's only so much personality you can imprint on a machine by simple coding, even Ancient coding. But we found this device..."


"Yes, yes, I know," says the hologram, waving away his anger. "You remember it, I think. It let you imprint cerebral patterns on crystal. We found it on M78-4G4."

John wracks his brain for a minute, and then turns angrily back to the hologram. "The planet where they hooked all their wise elders into a machine to preserve their memories?"

"It was a moon," McKay corrects him feebly.

"The one that killed more than half of the people who used it?" John's voice is low, tense, and angrier for the knowledge that he can't reach out and shake McKay by the shoulders like he wants to, really, really wants to.

"Sort of, yes?"

John turns away, rubbing his face as the DHD slowly, so slowly dials, one symbol at a time under McKay's gentle urging. "You told me it didn't even work," he says, shouts, because he needs to shout. And that's one difference between McKay and the real thing, because the hologram doesn't flinch. John supposes it can't really feel fear. You need glands for that.

"Well, not exactly," the hologram says. John looks at him - he has his hands stuck his pockets, looking old and bowed and good-humoured again, so unlike Rodney that it actually lets John's shoulders relax a little. "It was more of a snapshot. A... a moment in time, sort of thing. It took the strongest emotion of the moment of capture and kept it, to sort of... flavour the simulation."

John raises an eyebrow. "And?"

The hologram shrugs. "He - I - felt that I could be more effective, help you, I mean, if the copy rang true. If I was... well, me."

John leans against the console, looks up at the red-lit windows. Even through the shields, the heat of the red giant is baking into the city. Dry heat, but oppressive, enough to make him feel light-headed. Or would, if he could think past the distant twist of despair he's been feeling for the past hour. And not even on his own account, like he wants it to be, because he left them, he wasn't even there. And neither was anyone else.

"What happened?" John's voice is strangled now, and he doesn’t want to look away from the windows, the sparks of red light dancing around the stained glass.

"It's kind of funny, actually," says McKay, and John can tell he's smiling. "All the trouble I went to, reaching the city, and they tried to stop me but I..."

He pauses, and now John has to look at him, is struck cold and still by the suddenly-genuine pain on the hologram's features. "Some of it's real, isn't it?" John asks, quietly, realising. Remembering. "An echo."

"A little," says McKay, mouth twisting. "You wouldn't believe how much computer memory is required to store a human personality. Not intelligence but... but ironically, it's all the irrational parts that take up the bulk of the storage media. Feelings. Hah." A touch of scorn, but not much. "It's limitless, almost. Thousands of terabytes of uncompressed nonsense."

And John understands, then, thinks he's always understood. The intentional parts of human beings, Rodney's boundless brilliance, the things he knows and understands, were easy - could be recorded, explained, quantified; framed in the numbers that made up the edges of Rodney's world. But the parts that made him Rodney instead of just a computer, that gave him all that passion he denied he had - that didn't come from learning, it came from... something else. Something that inexplicably, made someone human instead of just alive and thinking.

It's indescribably, painfully humbling, for John to stare at the bent shoulders and the smiling face and realise that of all things, it was the parts of Rodney that Rodney himself couldn't control, couldn't settle, was never comfortable with, that he risked so much to save. To make sure it was there for John when he needed it. And it's funny, too, because he can imagine Rodney's outrage when he realised that of all things, the soul was the one thing that couldn't be measured. At least not completely.

"You died." It's not a question, because of course he died, it's been forty-eight thousand years. But...


"You died here." And, alone, he thinks, the word flickering again and again through his head. Alone, alone. It makes him queasy. Alone, and the echo half-awake for almost fifty millennia, waiting.

John wants not to believe it. To be able to feign surprise, but he finds he can't. It's not surprising at all. At the end of everything, it's always been Rodney who fixed things. And if he can't, he'll stay until the last minute trying. The ancient "other Elizabeth" they found in the city told them that - that in her timeline, it was Rodney who stayed behind, too.

Rodney was always going to be the last one standing.

He stares at McKay, willing the hologram to be as susceptible to that stare as Rodney is, and although he doubts it's for the same reasons, the thing actually seems to sigh, and looks away.

"They tried to stop him. So he locked himself in a room with the machine and..." One hand circles in the air, an oddly eloquent gesture that John understands all too well.

"It killed you."

When the hologram laughs, Rodney's laugh, John jumps - it's too jarring, too familiar and yet wrong.

"Ironically, no. Not right away; it worked."

John takes a step towards him. "So..."

There’s a pause, as McKay shrugs, and his eyes are distant, scanning some invisible database. John starts as he realises that McKay is looking it up, that he has to check, but of course he does. It didn’t happen to him.

"They thought he was fine until he had a heart attack. Half a day later. Died on the table." It’s odd, to John, how odd it’s not, Rodney with all the knowledge of the Ancients at his fingertips, Rodney as the city, as McKay explained it. It’s what Rodney always wanted, John thinks, though on some level, to John, Rodney always was Atlantis. "Side-effect. At least that’s what the medical record says."

"Damnit, Rodney!" John shouts before he can stop the words. He's accustomed to responding certain ways just as the hologram is, and this welling-up of exasperation is matched only by a sympathetic echo for someone who's been dust for untold aeons. All at once he understands: this is the part of Rodney the crystal captured. This moment. This awful, chasmic despair where there's nothing left, so why wouldn't he have died for it? "You didn't have to do that!"

"Yes, I did!" McKay's eyes are wide again, the blue not quite right but bright and horrified by the suggestion. "Of course I did! How could I possibly - you weren't dead and I was still here and I couldn't just leave you there!"

If this were Rodney he'd be breathing hard, and John can imagine the blush of colour in the face even though the hologram can't blush, horrified with what he's let slip. But John can imagine it, because he's seen it before. It's just that before, every time before, something stopped it at the very edge of being said. Something always made it safe again. Gave one of them an excuse to wait, there's always time or it could go so wrong, but there wasn't always time and now there isn't any. John hates this illusion with sudden, fervent violence that surprises even himself.

McKay's still wearing that smile, the smile that seems almost frozen in time, which it has been.

"Okay," admits the hologram, looking puzzled now that the moment of recorded anguish has played itself out. "I wasn't really supposed to tell you that."

John stares. "No?"

McKay shakes his head. "Yeah, no. It was there, it was right... it was there when he... he couldn't not think it."

"Right." John takes a deep breath. Suddenly he needs to go, needs to, needs to fix this, simply can't bear the idea of this being the world. It's already happened, long since, hope long dead, but a voice in his head is whispering hurry hurry hurry.

The last chevron locks and the gate whooshes to life, blue and bright and deceptively tranquil, a beacon for his racing pulse. McKay is almost translucent in its water-patterned glow, insubstantial as a dream.

John's shaking. He has to go. And he doesn't mean to ask it, he doesn't, but he does it anyway: "Why not tell me?"

"Because he missed you." And for one last second, with a flicker of the matrix, something of Rodney shines out of the simulated face, before a slow blink vanishes it as easily as fog on a glass. "Because it was selfish."


John really, really wants to let it go. He wishes Rodney would let it go. But there's only much cool you can expect from Rodney McKay and John figures he's definitely used up his quota for the month while trapped under most of a building for close to twelve hours. He didn't even panic that much. Not out loud, anyway.

At least he's stopped asking about it. That's something. But now he's subsided into totally uncharacteristic, pensive silence, and John knows part of it is worry for Teyla but that doesn't explain the staring. Rodney always watches him, watches anyone in whom he has the slightest interest, but this is different somehow.

A little line of worry started between Rodney's eyes the first time John brushed off his questions, and every time John's seen him since he was discharged from the infirmary he's looked a little more frantic, or rather, terrified, which is different. It's a quiet terror, something seething under the surface and something so unpleasant that it's one of the things Rodney doesn't broadcast to one and all in the interest of sympathy. That's just sort of how Rodney is.

It gets John dreading the moment he finally gets around to filing his mission report. He hasn’t written it yet, finding nothing but blankness in his own thoughts every time he tries, and there hasn’t been time to tell anyone but Sam what happened in any kind of detail.

The baby is born - healthy, if loud - two days after their triumphant return and it's a distraction for which John is unbelievably grateful. Teyla sleeps for most of a day except for waking to nurse the baby and then hands him off to the nurses and zonks out for another twelve hours.

Which is how John finds himself standing on the infirmary balcony holding a baby.

It's sleeping, at least, thank god. John likes kids but he's held a baby exactly six times, and three of them were before the age of twelve, with adult supervision. Funny how the presence of an infant makes him feel so much less adult, but it does, even though right now the baby (no name yet - apparently naming a child too early is bad luck, tempting fate or illness or the Wraith, and unfortunately this is a tradition with which John's familiar) is mostly just a warm, softly-murmuring blob that occasionally waves a tiny fist or screws up his nose.

Still, he's working himself up to a panic in pretty short order when the baby starts to show signs of wakefulness.

"Uh," he says, leaning inside and finding the nurses all mysteriously missing. Teyla's sleeping peacefully, and John really doesn't want to wake her. "Crap," he mutters, turning back to the sea, bouncing the kid a little like he's seen other people do with babies.

This is evidently a bad move, because the baby immediately opens his eyes and lets out a half-wail, like a practice run. "Oh, come on," John pleads, "what have you got to cry about?" He considers this. "Okay, yeah, plenty. But you're good for now, and your mom really needs her—"

"Oh, for heaven's sake," comes an exasperated voice from behind him, and John turns to see Rodney in the doorway, rolling his eyes so hard it looks like it should hurt. "Here," he says, holding out his hands for the baby.

Which promptly stops crying.

John feels betrayed. "How'd you--"

"It's perfectly simple nervous response," Rodney says, rocking the baby in an oddly businesslike manner. "At this age they're mostly just pre-programmed responses." He fixes John with a look that says John has clearly lost it, if in fact he ever had it. "You can't reason with a newborn. Were you raised in a cardboard box?"

John doesn't really think that of all people, Rodney should be criticising his upbringing. But he chooses to take the highroad, mainly because he's fascinated by the surrealism of Rodney gently rocking a newborn baby and showing no signs of revulsion or horror. He smiles. "Nah. Barrel with a bunghole until I was eighteen. Then they--"

"--drove in the bung. Yes, ha ha. You know, I went to school with at least thirty guys who could have benefited from that particular childrearing strategy.” Rodney eyes him speculatively. “Explains a lot about you, certainly."

They're quiet for a minute, John still watching Rodney as he looks down at the baby with a faintly bemused look. "So this is him, huh?" Rodney says, softly.

"Future of the galaxy," agrees John, as Rodney pokes a finger carefully into the baby's tiny fist. "Doesn't look like much."

"Yeah, they never do, at first. Then suddenly they're drawing flowers in crayon on your homework and pouring oatmeal into the piano and blaming it on you."

He's talking absently, like he's not really listening to what he's saying.

"He looks like... well, like Teyla."

John has no idea how that works around to Rodney looking almost proud of himself, but he doesn't think much of it because he feels the same way. They did this, at least to some degree, they made sure this baby was born, ended up here. Ronon was hovering for almost two hours before hunger finally drove him from the infirmary.

"Not like Kanaan?"

Rodney shrugs, uncomfortably. "I met the guy once."

"Yeah. Me too." John watches Rodney's eyes sweeping over the bundle in his arms. "Does look like Teyla, though. Has her eyes."

Rodney makes a vague humming noise. It makes John smile, and then he hides it, because he suspects the smile is a goofy one. Rodney with a baby should not be as endearing as it is, but Rodney never ceases to surprise him.

“You’re never going to tell me, are you?” asks Rodney suddenly, quietly, like he’s asking the baby.

“Huh?” asks John, intelligently.

“What happened. What’s got you so freaked out. This is going to be one of those things that ‘isn’t pertinent’ that we don’t write down.”

John awkwardly rubs the back of his neck, because he didn’t really see it coming this time. Trust Rodney McKay to use a baby as a negotiating tool. “You know how it is, Rodney,” he says. “There’s always something.”

“Yeah, well it isn’t always about me,” Rodney snaps.

“What makes you think it’s about—” John begins, but then Rodney looks up, pins him with his glare, and he stops, mouth open.

John thinks, wildly, that’s not fair, you’re supposed to be the oblivious one.

And while he’s thinking this, Rodney sighs and looks away. There’s an odd, subdued tilt to his neck, the frown deep and… and this is how Rodney gets when he’s not sure of himself. It’s how he was when was trapped alone on a dying planet at the end of time, and John just can’t take it.

“You died,” he blurts, all his breath gone in the two words.

Rodney looks puzzled. “Well, obviously I died. It was thousands and thousands of—”

“No. I mean you…” He’s shaking. He doesn’t know why he’s shaking, because it’s over and he did it, he fixed it. They fixed it. “You went back to the city and you… you were the last person there.”

Rodney’s mouth is half-open, and slowly he closes it, and his always wide-open face is oddly lacking in expression. “You mean I… I was alone.”

He sounds… he sounds, if anything, resigned, as he takes a small step backwards; the baby stirs, a little, and he bounces it a couple of times until it quiets again. “How?” he asks, watching the baby close a hand around his thumb.

“You…” John swallows. “You were – a hologram. You were there when I got there.”

“Yes,” Rodney says, with condescending false patience, “Hologram. You told us that part.”

John expels a frustrated sigh. “No. You were… You put yourself into the machine.”

Rodney frowns. “What do you mean, I put myself into the machine?”

John moves backwards until one hip collides with the railing, and leans there as if it can actually hold him up. “You used something… the Ancient device from M78-4G4.”

“The imprinting device?” The frown deepens. “The memory recorder? The one that…” His eyes widen as he remembers. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” John’s staring at the baby, at anything but Rodney, who’s wide-eyed and, unless John’s imagining it, a little pale. And by the way, he adds to himself, with a bitter shake of his head, I was right about what it recorded, you were wrong, so there. He keeps it behind his teeth because now that the moment’s here, there’s no satisfaction in it. All he says is: “It wasn’t just memories. It was you.”

And that was why it killed you. That, he doesn’t need to say, because it was the main reason Rodney had the device put away in a deep dark place to begin with. There was a fight with Elizabeth over that, until they discovered that it wasn’t immortality, not for the user. It only helped those left behind. It wasn’t consciousness, just the illusion of it, and the old McKay was uncannily like a ghost, a chill in his spine every time caught himself forgetting it wasn’t real, because it wasn’t.

“You mean I… I would never be that stupid!” Rodney almost sounds offended, which makes John want to smile, but he can’t shake the sense of shared despair and dislocation that’s been weighing on his shoulders since he got back. Twelve days for them was hundreds of years for him, a delusion that persists even though he was frozen in a stasis pod for most of it. It was enough.

There’s quiet, filled only by the soft, faraway hum of the city behind the open door of the infirmary, the ocean lapping gently at the pier far below them. Almost enough to lull away the sick twist low in John’s stomach, but not quite. He reaches behind himself to close one hand on the cool metal of the railing, suddenly weak-kneed, and a few feet away, Rodney sighs, and John hears him calling for one of the nurses.

John doesn’t know when he slid to the balcony floor, but when he looks up again he’s alone outside, the railings pressing uncomfortably into his spine, and a breeze is fluttering his collar. Shortly someone casts a shadow over him, and he hears Rodney’s voice saying: “You are not having a panic attack. I reserve the right to at least a few predictable shortcomings,” and sitting down next to him, minus one baby.

When John looks up, his chest still feels tight like his ribs don’t fit, but he feels a little better, because what Rodney looks now is impatient - though a glimmer remains of something more deeply bothered, a question he’s afraid to ask.

“Why would I be that stupid?”

Or maybe not afraid to ask, after all. Then again, Rodney’s always been brave when he has to be. Though in this case he knows the answer, doesn’t he? John wonders if that makes him more brave, or less.

He leans back and shuts his eyes, hearing Rodney shift restlessly at his side, because Rodney can never hold still when there’s a problem to be examined. He can’t keep quiet, either, because in an uncertain voice, a second later, he asks: “John?”

John sighs. It’s easier to do this if he can’t see Rodney’s face. At least he hopes it is.

“You said you couldn’t leave me there.”

And Rodney… says nothing. For seconds, stretching into minutes, until it’s gotten weird, all this silence, and John has to turn and look at him – just as Rodney throws him a pinched, anguished look, and pushes himself to his feet.

When he walks away, John’s not sure it’s because he’s running or he’s angry.


Teyla wakes up for a while half an hour later, and John leans against the wall by the bed beaming at her with fresh astonishment that they pulled it off, that all that happened before isn’t going to happen.

Teyla’s flushed with pleasure with her son in her arms, only a little shadowed with the knowledge of what it cost and what they still need to face. It’s not over yet, but they can afford to enjoy this, for now. She asks questions about city gossip, and Ronon answers them with a wide, dazzling grin, making faces at the baby, who seems fascinated with Ronon’s hair. Rodney doesn’t come, but Teyla doesn’t ask, and John tries not to think about it.

It’s night again by the time John can leave Teyla to her sleep, leave the infirmary without getting five steps down the hall and having to go back and make sure she’s still there. Ronon stays, half-dozing against the wall. She’s not alone, and John’s glad. If Ronon hadn’t silently volunteered, he might have done it himself.

He hasn’t slept in what feels like forever – though he recently slept for six hundred years – and he’s dead on his feet by the time he gets back to his quarters, stripping off his holster and kicking off his boots on his way across the room. He falls into bed still dressed, unconsciously seeking out the sound of the ocean like he’s been doing for two days, like it might not be there.

For a while he just lies there on his stomach, one arm hanging off the bed, eyes wide open while he listens to the sound of the ocean outside, pervasive and ever-present, like he’s never heard it before. It’s a sound he didn’t realise he’d gotten used to until it was gone, soaked so deep into his consciousness that he doesn’t know where he ends and the ocean begins. He can hear his heartbeat where his ear is pressed into his right arm, and imagines that the rhythms are sliding into time together.

Maybe this is what meditation is supposed to be like, he thinks. He feels steady and rooted and totally outside of himself, even though he feels the pulse of the ocean, the gentle, constant pull of Atlantis flowing in and out of him. Maybe meditation is supposed to feel like you’ve slotted into place, teeth fitting teeth in a pair of gears, a water wheel, one breath precipitating the next. John is the ocean, the rise and fall of a tide.

He doesn’t hear the door open, doesn’t know Rodney’s there until a pair of legs crosses his view, and even then he doesn’t lift his head, just looks up.

Rodney looks resigned, and for some reason it cuts into John like a knife.

“See, here’s the thing,” Rodney is saying when John finally realises he’s speaking, “I know you highly prize your talents in subtlety, but you can leave all the details out of the report that you want to and I’ll still know what really happened because I know me.”

Now John does lift his head, because he has totally lost the thread of this thing, if he ever had it, and he has to say so.


Rodney makes a fist, like he wants to hit something, and then stares at it, as if he’s confused. Finally he looks directly at John, and looks so utterly lost and determined and lost that John sits up, holding out a hand that Rodney avoids by taking a hasty step back. He shakes his head, denying something, maybe, and then his shoulders slump.

“I was the last one, wasn’t I?”


“Just tell me, okay? It’s what I’m going to assume anyway. Everyone else died and I was the only one left and I spent the last years of my life trying to solve an unsolvable problem.”

John gapes at him. He shouldn’t be surprised. Rodney’s a genius, after all. “Did you hack into my computer? I haven’t even finished writing my report yet.”

Rodney lets out a sharp, pained little laugh. “Let’s just say that dying alone is not an unconsidered nightmare.”

John drops his hand, because it was still hovering in the air, undirected. “It wasn’t unsolvable. You solved it.”

Rodney just shakes his head, and like it was a signal John’s on his feet, pushing into Rodney’s space, taking him by the shoulders and shaking a little like he couldn’t before, wondering when this turned around into him comforting Rodney. “You did. You fixed it. I’m here. We’re all here.”

He doesn’t even recognise his own voice, or wouldn’t if it wasn’t shockingly similar to the broken-sounding litany of god, what if I hadn’t and it was almost and last human being alive and sand, sand to the edge of the sky.

You’re here,” he hears himself say, and Rodney is a warm, real, solid presence between his hands and he feels so lucky he can hardly breathe.

“You’re shaking,” says Rodney, wonderingly.

“You were dead,” John tells him, and he finds, when he tries, that he can’t let go of Rodney’s shoulders, actually can’t. “You were dead and you’d been dead for…”

“It was you,” Rodney whispers then, a tremor in his voice. “I did it for you.”

It takes John a second to realise that he’s not asking, but rather, explaining, words forced out by sheer force of will. It hits him like a blow, and he stares, open-mouthed, long enough that Rodney starts to pull away, looking mortified.

“I shouldn’t—I’m sorry—”

John wants to stop him. Can’t find the words. So he kisses him.

Rodney’s still uttering muffled apologies into John’s mouth a second later, until something almost audibly goes click and his hands are sliding into John’s hair, his eyes fluttering shut. It’s like electricity, a thrill of yes and finally and I knew it when Rodney kisses back with a noise like a whimper and enthusiasm that leaves John floundering. He has no plan, just a single-minded need to touch and to make Rodney understand, and he slides one hand up to the back of Rodney’s neck and leans, pushes.

“You were selfish,” he mutters, between kisses, “he said you were—”

“I am,” Rodney babbles, desperately, “I’m so, so… god, John, for so long…”

Rodney’s back meets the wall, and finally John has to pull back. Rodney, eyes still closed, tries to follow his mouth, but John says, in a broken voice: “Rodney. Just…”

Rodney is breathing hard, blinking fast, looking dazed and wrecked and confused, but he’s not looking at anything but John’s mouth. “Just what? I know what I would have said. That I never would have had the guts to...”

And there it is, familiar exasperation, and John would laugh, should laugh, but he doesn’t. “Rodney, you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met. When it counts—”

“Yeah, maybe,” Rodney agrees in a whisper. “But it’s harder, when it’s not about being selfish.” He closes his eyes, lets his head fall back against the wall, a little line of unhappiness appearing between his brows. “It was the end of the fucking world before I finally…”

“You gave up everything,” John tells him.

Rodney opens his eyes and squints at him. “I didn’t.”

“But you would have,” John reminds him firmly, and kisses him again. This is different, less frantic, a slow slide of lips and breath and thrumming, living, tactile warmth, and Rodney’s hands ghost up his sides, his back, as if he can’t decide where he most wants to touch. Like he can’t believe he’s allowed.

It’s as if, with a flick of his wrist, a few misspoken words, the other Rodney has changed the nature of time, John thinks, revelling in the radiant heat that is Rodney under his hands, squirming and touching and murmuring. Always, before, there was the lie of endless chances never taken, the hazy promise of something he’s always been too afraid to risk, however much he wanted it. Living in the moment can have its downsides. It’s long let him believe that anything important would wait.

But it didn’t wait for Rodney, the other Rodney. The desert of New Lantea and the dead city was the end of the road, the wall John always hoped was imaginary, subject to his whims. It was the end of the world, all gone while they were mapping out the days and not living them, and this, now, is a new place on the other side of the wall. This place has different rules, different edges, has Rodney’s broad hands skating up his ribs, Rodney’s soft mouth stealing his breath, warming him from the inside.

It’s crazy. John knows the universe isn’t so accommodating. But now that they’re here, it’s like they really do have forever, at least in this.

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