PrimacyBy Chandri MacLeod
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Categories: slash, hurt/comfort, team, angst, friendship
Spoilers: everything up to 5.06 The Shrine
Summary: After the events of The Shrine, Rodney remembers, and understands.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, alas. I'm just using them for fun.
Author's Note: Originally started for the catenip community on LJ in honour of sheafrotherdon's birthday. Finished for the mcsmooch fest declared in celebration of this excellent news from the new U.S. President, because what better excuse does one need? ;) Betaed by artemisiabrisol.
It's most of a week before it starts to come back, but Rodney always remembers this: the terror at waking alone, blind panic driving him out into the corridors, only one goal on his mind, only one place where he'd be safe.
This is the first thing he remembers, but it's a while before he can remember it without remembering the fear, bitterbloodcopper, sharp on his tongue.
He remembers what it was like before he remembers what happened. His memory tells him it wasn't like being unstuck in time, not like losing years of his life. The worst part was that everything was still there, just out of reach, like a song barely-heard many rooms away in an empty house. He knew people, and places, and things, but their complexities were gone, his long branching strings of opinion and criticism eroded gently away. His decline progressed as layers of molecule-thick transparency, walls between him and the world.
As though he needed another.
His illness, he tells himself, is not what matters. What frustrates him is the wasted time and the strange way his memory seems to have compensated for him now that he's whole again. His mind has become unpredictable, and that scares him more than anything else in the world. Insanity is his most familiar nightmare.
Mostly he remembers out of order, but Rodney remembers waking up in the infirmary and Jennifer's face, and thinks that came first. He pretends this isn't so because it makes him remember why he was trying so hard to keep her in his thoughts.
It's just so difficult, to say what he's meant to say, to allocate a portion of his processing power to the challenge of Jennifer, when usually his thoughts are given such free and unfettered rein.
At the time he thinks that he's just not used to it. And when she smiles at him, takes the fruit cup he offers her - it's a sacrifice, but all for a good cause - he congratulates himself.
There was a reason, he was sure, a reason he wasn't doing this. But it doesn't seem very important right now. Trying to remember just makes him anxious, depressed, and Jennifer smiling at him... doesn't.
This is nice, he remembers thinking. This is what everyone wants.
He remembers one inappropriately sunny afternoon on the seventh day, which is when he starts feeling himself slip. He's out on the pier with his team. A rare peaceful moment with the waves crashing below and the sky blue, blue, blue.
Teyla is sunning herself on a worn blanket and John, beside her, looks young and vulnerable with his feet bare, socks rolled up inside his boots. For a moment, he doesn't look like there's too little of him to contain what's happening, too little skin stretched over too many bones, the way he's looked since this started.
Because he's looking, it's John's face he remembers. Rodney forgets the next words to whatever song he is teaching Teyla; some useless exercise meant to help him hang on longer (Jennifer's idea). John's face is a shock that doesn't help, wide-open like a crack in the sky and the world spilling out. Or in, maybe.
Through his panic, Rodney feels guilty for spoiling their afternoon.
But it's Ronon who reaches for him, after Rodney's stumbled across the deck with his head in his hands. Rodney's cursing and panicking and groping for sometimes all of our thoughts are misgivings - he remembers it, now, and how did he ever forget?
Ronon follows him (two steps or maybe three) and lays one hand on Rodney's shoulder and curls the other, huge and gentle, around the side of his neck. Stoops down to look him in the face. Ronon is sure like he always is, calm like the ocean is not, and everything... stops. Shudders back into focus, the sun burning the back of his neck.
"Hey," Ronon murmurs, "hey, it's okay." He even sounds like he means it.
Rodney remembers thinking he's never been so grateful for such a transparent, heartfelt lie.
God, he loves these people, so much.
After that, they don't leave him alone often. He can't concentrate enough to work and being in the lab just makes him more aware of what he's losing, moment by moment. Sometimes, sitting very still with his eyes closed, he imagines he can feel it happening, the pathways of his magnificent brain shutting down, one by one. He knows this is crazy but he can't quite disabuse himself of the notion.
His team seems to have come to some sort of silent agreement to keep him entertained in the face of his impending death. They talk, or he talks. Teyla asks him to explain things he's explained a hundred times before. Ronon makes him tell stories about stupid things his minions have done in recent weeks — Rodney tends to store up these stories for special occasions. As ploys go, these ones are pretty obvious, but Rodney's so pathetically grateful for the distraction that he can't bring himself to call them on it. Especially since John just nods, laughs sometimes, looking stretched-thin again and unhappy, though he's trying.
As night falls they drift away, one at a time, and Rodney's tired, so he doesn't complain. Eventually it's just him and John, and it's almost midnight. Rodney's nodding off, sitting on the floor next to his bed, but he's fighting it. He's not sure all of him will be there when he wakes up again.
John seems to sense this, and they talk about nothing at all for almost an hour — at least nothing Rodney clearly remembers — but eventually John glances at the dark window and then his watch. They haven't bothered to turn on the lights since the sun went down.
"I should let you get to bed." He goes to stand, and Rodney reaches out and grabs his arm to stop him.
"Don't!" he says, hurriedly adding, "I mean, you don't have to. I'm not tired."
John freezes when Rodney grabs his arm, but slowly sits back down. He's wearing the expression Rodney recognizes as conflicted. "Keller said you should rest when you can."
John hasn't called her "Jennifer" since this all started. Not that he ever called her that very much. He's noticed his whole team closing ranks around him, and that's just been part of it.
Rodney is staring at his hand on John's arm. He can't seem to make himself let go. "I don't..." he tries, and then, "I can't..." And stops again because I'm afraid to go to sleep doesn't quite roll off the tongue. Somehow, what comes out instead is:
"You know, you're the best friend I've ever had."
His mouth snaps shut again immediately and he feels his face flush with embarrassment. He wants to blame the parasite, his diminishing faculties, but it's not like he ever had much verbal control even before his brain was being eaten by... He tries to remember the Latin name Biro gave it, but he can't seem to.
"Rodney." The strangled sound of his name makes him look up, and John's face—
—God, Rodney's never seen John look like that.
But John says, thickly: "Yeah, Rodney. Me too."
Rodney finally makes his fingers obey him, slumps back against the bed. Their shoulders are pressed warmly together, so he feels it when John lets out a slow, shaky breath.
"I used to think that it didn't matter that I was crap with people," Rodney says, confidentially. Because hell, what's he got to lose? It's not like he can humiliate himself any further with his clothes still on. "I mean, I was a genius, I was... I was brilliant enough, and I did enough that... it made up for it."
"Hm," John says, an agreeing sort of sound. "'Used to?'"
"That was before Sam put my personal shortcomings in rather sharp relief by getting me shipped off to Siberia."
"Ah," John says, the single syllable carrying mountains of weight.
"Right. Perspective." Rodney fidgets. "Weirdly, running for my life all the time and nearly dying every other week has made my former priorities seem kind of... petty? So maybe I was an okay guy, and it didn't matter that I wasn't nice to people or even... Well, you know. You." He holds out his left arm and looks down at himself, indicating the differences between them, what other people see.
John sits up a little straighter, and out of the corner of his eye Rodney can see the sour expression that means John's about to force himself to say something nice. John even takes the breath to say it, but Rodney waves a hand to cut him off.
"Besides," he says, "I've got you guys now."
As statements of affection go, it lacks eloquence.
"That's... nice, buddy," John says, nudging him a little with his shoulder. Rodney looks over — John's ducking his head, smiling down and away. When he looks up again he looks straight at Rodney, very close and very warm. John's eyes widen, and he swallows, and suddenly Rodney is confused about what's happening here.
"For the record," and John's voice is soft, "I always thought you were pretty okay."
Rodney blinks, and realizes his heart is beating madly, thudthudthud in his chest, and for one wild, terrifying second, he thinks that maybe John's about to kiss him. Even more terrifying is that he wants him to.
"I don't want to die," Rodney whispers. His eyes are stinging and his face is hot, and John reaches out and rests his hand, after a moment's hesitation, on Rodney's shoulder, fingers curling where the muscle of his neck slopes down. The fingers squeeze, then release.
Just like that, John's leaning away, the moment broken, and Rodney's strangely, achingly disappointed.
"Yeah, buddy," John's saying, very carefully looking anywhere but at Rodney's face. "I know."
John lets his hand drop, and Rodney never remembers what they talk about after that; only that John's there, talking in his low, scratchy voice until Rodney falls asleep.
When Rodney wakes up in the middle of the night, runs terrified to John's room, he's forgotten the whole conversation. The moment, the breath of anticipation, everything.
Later, he remembers both at once, and it's disorienting. Because he remembers forgetting, too, and for a while he's not sure either one is true. For a while after that, he's afraid he imagined both; because John Sheppard does not kiss men (at least, Rodney's pretty sure), and he doesn't talk about his feelings either.
It's not the last thing he remembers, but it comes to him all at once, like waking out of a nightmare. He's not sure where it falls in the timeline. It's after Jeannie's come, and Ronon and John are... elsewhere, off somewhere, probably beating the crap out of each other to sublimate their inability to fix things. He remembers thinking about that, in the strange, slow, blurry way the memories from that late in the process seem to have been saved. Things are too bright. Voices aimed in his direction are crisp and clear, but the whole picture lacks clarity, coherence. Context is a lost cause.
Looking back, he gets a bizarre image of himself as a computer with too little RAM, chugging along at 64 megabytes when he should have thousands. More than once it startles him into a morbid chuckle that dies halfway up his throat.
In this memory, he's in his room, and Teyla's there. He wants to know where John's gone.
"He'll be back soon, Rodney," Teyla says, deftly catching his wrist as he heads for the door, probably to hunt John down. "Remember? He said he'd be gone an hour, no more."
"I don't want to wait," Rodney says mulishly, trying to pull his arm away. Teyla places herself between him and the door, and he suddenly realises that they don't trust him on his own. He experiences a dizzying moment of simultaneous rage and embarrassment, I'm not a baby clamouring with I can't be trusted and making him rock back on his heels.
Rage wins out over his muscles. He whirls around and picks up the first thing that comes to hand — his second-favourite coffee mug — and throws it hard against the opposite wall. It shatters satisfyingly, but a moment later he's disappointed. He liked that mug. Why did he do that?
And Teyla's mad, because Teyla never went easy on him and certainly isn't doing it now. She chides him and sits him down on his bed while she gathers up the sharp, dangerous pieces and sweeps them into the waste chute. "I'm afraid Jennifer was right," she says as she dusts off her hands, still facing the wall. "Perhaps we should remove the things that can be broken, so that you don't hurt yourself."
That she's mad at him hits him hard. Teyla's often frustrated with him, impatient, but never angry. Some part of him not tied up in the moment is horrified when he feels tears welling up in his eyes. It seems there's just enough of him left for that but not enough to keep from being swept under by sudden, overpowering remorse.
"I'm sorry," he says, and his voice is small. "I didn't mean—"
But Teyla's across the room in a moment, her anger gone, gathering him up as easily as if he were Torren, and he lets her.
"No," she says, one hand circling comfortingly on his back. Just like that, it's all right again. "No, I am sorry. It is already forgotten." And Teyla doesn't lie, so he believes her.
He thinks, this should be weird, how he's sitting here, letting her hold him up. But this is how Teyla is his friend. Teyla is solid, is glowing, is deeply rooted. Teyla protects him, like she protects everyone she loves. Just by being wise.
"I'm sorry," he feels compelled to say again. "I love you," he adds, surprised at how easy it is, just because it's true. She pulls back enough to look carefully into his face, and then lean their foreheads together. Rodney's eyes slide shut, and he smiles. This is familiar, and just as easy.
"I know you do," she murmurs, "and I love you." Her fingers are smooth and warm along the side of his face.
"All of you," Rodney says, urgently. "I love all of you."
"I know," she says again, and sits back to look at him.
He thinks for a minute, and tells her, "I love John," as though it's just occurred to him. Oh, maybe it has. Didn't he know that, before?
This makes her smile again, sad, again, and he frowns. "I'm not supposed to, though. It'd be easier if... with Jennifer. I think."
She shakes her head, not quite a denial. "Some things are not meant to be easy, Rodney." Very quietly, almost to herself.
His face falls. It used to be harder to say this. It used to be impossible. "I love John." He's not supposed to say that, he knows, but this is Teyla. Teyla is kind, she's warm and smoothing his hair back from his face. Teyla always knows what's best.
Suddenly Rodney doesn't mind it's her who's here, realises for probably the first time that Teyla knows who he is and loves him anyway, and it kind of makes him want to cry. It always does, when people love him.
"I know," she says. It should surprise him, but doesn't, when she pulls him close, lets him press his face into her shoulder, strong and spicy-smelling. It's nice, and he relaxes into her because her hands are gentle and competent and these are the hands she holds Torren with. Torren John, Torren John. She says a word he doesn't know, that doesn't translate quite right, except he knows it means "dear" or "heart" and that she says it to the baby. Says "I know," again, and sighs.
It's a while before Teyla speaks again, and he's getting drowsy, all slow against her. "Sometimes, my friend, I have wished you were not so intelligent. I have often thought that it makes you blind to things that are more important."
He lifts his face enough to look at her, because her voice sounds strange, unsteady, and then he realises &mdash guilty. She looks guilty, and he's never seen Teyla look anything worse than sad. Teyla doesn't do things wrong. She just doesn't.
"Hey," he says, reaching out and letting her take his hand. "Hey, it's okay. 'S not your fault."
And then he's scared, because her eyes are shiny, wet, and she's turning half away to swipe at them with the back of her hand.
"Don't cry, please, please don't—" Remembering Jeannie, small and red-faced; himself, hiding in his room with his hands over his ears while his parents shout about him. It's confusing: that was a long time ago, wasn't it?
But she stops his babbling with the same hand, damp at the fingertips, combing back through his hair. It's so nice he forgets being afraid, just like that. He's always been jealous of how she does that.
"No," she says, softly, smiling a little. "I know. And worse," she continues, as he leans against her again, "I fear this will make things even more tangled."
"Tangled?" he asks, wondering when she learned to do this, play him so well that she's got his eyelids drooping after just a few seconds. He lets her lie him down on the bed, fingers still stroking his hair. She slides away to sit on the floor, chin resting on her folded arms.
"Hmm," she murmurs. An affirmative, he's pretty sure. "Yes. John can be as foolish as you are clever, Rodney." And it sounds mean, the words are mean, he knows that, but she says it softly, with a smile, a roll of her eyes that she rarely allows herself. Teyla's regal, a queen, and they don't do that. Not where people can see them.
"Rest, my friend," she says, and her hand is back, warm and gentle on his face. "John will be back soon."
What stays most clearly, most easily in his mind afterwards, is every moment of Jeannie's company. Jeannie touching him more than she's done since she was three, Jeannie speaking softly with a tremulous smile. Jeannie being uncommonly gentle and coaxing out his stumbling words, because by the time she got there he was already struggling to remember how they fit together.
But he knew her, knew who she was, even if he had to think hard to remember her name. He thinks that hurt her, that he still felt that connection, bone and blood, between them and inescapable; that this pathetic wreck of a human being had once been her brother.
He also remembers them putting him to bed, the night before they leave for the shrine. Jeannie and John together, because he wants his own room, his own things, and he gets insistent enough that they relent. He thinks maybe Jennifer protested, and John and Jeannie marched him out anyway, on either side of him like stubborn bookends.
"Here we are, buddy," says John, guiding him with one arm strong around his waist. Just inside the door Rodney is confused for a minute, takes a breath to say that this isn't right, this isn't it, until John thinks the lights on and he's home. The hunched and menacing shapes of clothes, furniture, the picture frames on his walls, all resolve into clarity. Familiar, his, even if he can't name them all anymore.
Jeannie, hovering at his right shoulder, places a careful hand on Rodney's arm. "Come on, sweetie. Everything's right where you left it." She helps John guide him to the bed, and it's Jeannie, so he goes. She kneels down to take off his shoes when he sits down at the edge of the mattress. He gets a vivid image of her sitting the same way in her own house, showing Madison how to tie her shoelaces. Except... nobody ever taught Rodney. He figured it out himself. And now he can't do it anymore.
And then, gripped suddenly by the terror of his few remaining synapses grasping what they're going to do in the morning, he reaches out and grabs John's arm, and John lets him. "I don't—" and again, he's struggling for the words, "I don't wanna disappear," he says, firmly, though his voice is shaking, high and scared.
At his feet, Jeannie shifts, probably about to say something comforting. But John is already squeezing him around the shoulders, bending in close, saying "You're not." Low and fervent and maybe louder than he meant to. "I'm not gonna let that happen, okay?"
"Okay," Rodney says, uncertainly. Then: "Stay, okay?"
John lets out a breath in a hiss, and nods his head. "Yeah, okay. I'll... I'm not going anywhere." His voice sounds awful, scraped and raw.
In Rodney's memory, the moment is freeze-framed like this: John's breath hot on his cheek, his arms protective around Rodney's body, and also there is Jeannie, staring not at her brother, but John. Her eyes are wide, her mouth half-open, her face surprised, before it clears, and Rodney remembers thinking: She understands.
Except now that he thinks about it, Rodney thinks: She wasn't surprised at all.
Barring his brief interlude with an alien cerebral parasite, Rodney has always had a good memory. Not quite eidetic but close enough; he never forgets anything important. What's always made it tricky is that he's the one who decides what's important, and what isn't.
People's names, for instance. Until five or six years ago, he mostly couldn't be bothered to learn them. He's never had much of an attention span, either, for important dates not having to do with him being given large sums of money for highly important scientific purposes.
A lot of things take care of themselves, of course. Holidays are inescapable - forgetting mostly isn't an option. And he remembers the faces of his underlings even if he forgets their given names - he figures that if they can't be bothered to correct him, he can' t be bothered to commit the mental space.
"Important" has taken on a slightly different meaning since he started making a living running for his life from both genuine monsters and people out to kill or exploit him for his intelligence and expertise with ten-thousand-year-old alien technology. Aside from (ironically) giving him a slightly reduced impression of his own personal importance, this has had the effect of re-arranging his priorities on a fairly significant scale.
So far, the problem has been that he didn't get the memo explaining what these new priorities were, leading to him doing inexplicable things like risking his own life to save Atlantis from an energy-eating cloud; like plugging himself into an unpredictable, millennia-old virtual environment that could have fried every nerve ending he had. For his first few years in the Pegasus galaxy, he kept being surprised to find himself doing these things — his surprise would crop up at random moments, usually ten seconds before an explosion he set himself.
In this instance, almost a week after Jennifer made medical history by performing brain surgery under horrifically unsanitary conditions and actually kept him from dying, he keeps being sideswiped by flashes of the weeks before while he was losing his mind bit by bit.
He didn't really expect to remember anything, despite what Jennifer said. Certainly nothing like this, bits and pieces like inexpertly-cut film, out of any kind of order he can discern. Sometimes he remembers something and can't remember when it happened. Eventually it's this that gets him to sit down in his room and watch the videos he had Jennifer record, cringing all the way through as he watches himself deteriorate at 30 frames per second.
He watches day six half a dozen times. Watches himself saying I love you. I have for some time, and trying to put himself in that moment. And it frustrates him that he can't, because he should be able to, shouldn't he? Something like that?
But no matter how hard he tries, his only memory of saying those words is of watching them on a screen.
What he remembers instead, sitting at his desk with the video paused, is Jeannie waking him early that last morning, getting him dressed for the journey to Talus. He remembers that he insisted on wearing John's jacket even though it was impractical, because it made him feel safe.
He leans back in his chair, remembers finding the jacket tossed across the foot of his bed after he was released from the infirmary, and wondering where it came from. It took him two days to realise it was John's, another three to remember how he got it, and another four to begin to wonder how it got back here, because wasn't he wearing it when they brought him back from the shrine?
You're stuck with me. Rodney was so angry when John wouldn't say goodbye. Angry about it even when he couldn't grasp why, because it was so important. Because it seemed like the most important thing.
He rubs his eyes with his knuckles, trying to force it all into place.
It's there, but it's out of order like his memories, out of context. What he can remember is muddled, heavy-shaded with emotions that seem too strong to have been spoken aloud the way his memories tell him they were. He wants to ask someone better versed in these things, but Jeannie went home this morning, hugging him so hard she drove all the breath out of him, and Teyla's with the baby, probably making up for all the time she spent babying Rodney.
But it's not Teyla or Jeannie he needs to talk to, he thinks. It's not Ronon, who's been smiling so wide every time Rodney's seen him this whole past week, the smile that makes him look just as young as he really is.
No. It occurs suddenly to Rodney that what he does is put things together, make disparate and unmatching things work, seamlessly, unhitchingly, work. Somehow in all these years he's missed doing that, not because he wasn't paying attention but because years ago, he convinced himself it couldn't be done.
He snatches up the jacket, and strides out the door to find his answers.
"You slept in my room," Rodney says, before the door to John's quarters even finishes sliding closed behind him.
John looks up from his book, for one or two seconds looking utterly baffled. But then his eyes drop to the jacket held tightly in Rodney's hand, and his face shuts up tight like a door being slammed.
Rodney scowls at him. He shakes the jacket towards the bed. "This. I'm talking about this."
John's eyebrows climb, for all the world as though he doesn't know what Rodney's talking about. "My jacket?"
Rodney eyes him. At least he's not actually claiming that he doesn't know exactly what Rodney's saying. Because he so does.
Rodney throws the jacket at his head. This finally gets a reaction out of John other than feigned ignorance, because John pulls the jacket off his head and sits up, one foot thudding to the floor. The head that emerges from under the leather is dishevelled and annoyed. "What the hell, Rodney?"
Rodney advances on him and John rises up to meet him. Rodney stops just short of the bed, poking John in the chest. "You. You slept. In. My. Room."
John seems to struggle with himself; his hands are twitching like he wants to shove Rodney away. "Yeah. You were there." Because after they came in from the pier Rodney asked him not to leave, because he was still afraid of waking up alone.
"No." Rodney pokes him again. "I mean after that. I mean the night I was in the infirmary and you — you weren't there. You were in my room."
John crosses his arms in exactly the way that pisses Rodney off the most. Stubborn, defiant. Sometimes Rodney really can see where all of John's previous commanding officers were coming from.
Rodney lets out a frustrated sound and begins to pace. "Look. I did some reading, about memory. And how we store it. And how we file it. And how — do you know what primacy is? No, never mind," he interrupts John as he opens his mouth, and John shuts it again, looking annoyed. Well, at least that's normal.
"We remember things that are first, and things that are repeated," Rodney says, the words crowding each other, maybe because he feels like now that he's here, he has to say this, now, or never get the chance again. "Primacy refers to... well, the idea is that earlier stimuli are given greater processing time, so they're better integrated into long-term memory. Primacy, recency. Priority and repetition." He scowls into space. "Believe me, it only sounds like science, but it works as a metaphor, at least."
John frowns at him. "It does?"
Rodney glares at him. "Would you - I'm trying to tell you something important!" Rodney rubs at his face with both hands and turns back to John. "I didn't get all of it back. I didn't expect to. But I remember every second you were with me. All of it. And while it was happening, I never forgot who you were." When John looks at him blankly, he ticks it off on his palm. "Remember? Priority and repetition."
John flinches, but the flash of emotion is gone too fast for Rodney to quite get a handle on it. "So, what?" And oh, that's bitterness. Rodney knows what bitterness sounds like. "You remembered me because you've known me longer?"
"No, you idiot," Rodney snaps. "I remembered you because you were always there."
Under different circumstances, the stunned look on John's face might be funny. But the stiff line of John's shoulders slowly bowing into a curve only makes Rodney feel guilty, like he's seen something personal and he has no right to intrude.
"I didn't remember much of it right away, okay?" Rodney closes his eyes for a moment as if it will help him retrace his steps, get a hold of the still-elusive fragments that seem to be truer than the rest. "I could remember how I felt about things, but not any real thoughts. Thought processes. Such as they were. Some of what people said. I said..."
"You told Keller you loved her." John's voice is flat, expressionless; his face is anything but. The look he gives Rodney is downright accusing, though he'd probably deny it. Rodney stops pacing and presses his lips together.
"I know," he admits. "I saw the video." He shrugs, a pitiful counterfeit of nonchalance. "I told Teyla I loved her, too."
One corner of John's mouth twitches. It's the closest to a smile he's come since Rodney walked in. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. She hugged me. I was pretty far gone, but I remember most of that conversation pretty clearly."
John doesn't actually say anything, but he looks tense.
"I told her I loved you, too. And that — it hurt like hell."
The smile fades, and John looks confused. He looks... looks hurt, and Rodney's had enough of this.
He crosses the room and takes John's shoulders in his hands until John has to look at him. John lifts up his hands as if to pry Rodney's hands away, wraps fingers around Rodney's wrists, but Rodney holds on. John's efforts are half-hearted anyway. "You were too complicated," he says, quietly, so close he can feel John's panicked breath on his face. "She wasn't. That was why."
John looks stubborn, even angry, and that just pisses Rodney off more. "You want a family, Rodney. You want kids. You want—"
"I've had quite enough of people telling me what I want!" Rodney bursts out, and then he's angry again, because he remembers that frustration most clearly of all — feeling like he couldn't make a decision, not trusting himself even to count to ten without having to ask for help.
He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes again, and tries to regain his train of thought. He knows it's just his imagination that his thoughts won't obey him, that he's just out of practice, that what happened to him was traumatising, that in due time everything will be back to normal. But it's hard and that still scares him. He's used to being master of his domain, even if his domain extends no further than the boundaries of his skull.
"I thought I wanted... but I don't even remember saying that. To Jennifer, I mean." He opens his eyes. John's staring at him like he's unstable, unpredictable. His fingers are almost painfully tight around Rodney's wrists. "I've watched myself say it, over and over. But I don't remember saying it."
It takes a second for the words to penetrate, and when they do, just like that, all the fight goes out of John. But Rodney still half-expects him to pull away, to put some distance between them. Looking back, he can remember half a dozen times where he's done that and Rodney didn't notice &mdash adding distance Rodney didn't even know was there, was necessary.
Except, he remembers, it wasn't. Not then, not now. And not just because he was too blind to see what was going on right in front of him, with the man who's supposed to be his best friend in the world. That's what John does, he's coming to understand. If he can't master it, easy as breathing, he won't even try.
Suddenly John slides right out from under his hands so fast that Rodney thinks he's falling, but he's not. He sinks back down onto the bed, one long graceful fold down from standing, slumping over his knees.
"You slept in my room," Rodney says, quietly, looking down at him. Wanting to reach out and not quite sure how to go about it. He's never been very good at this. John doesn't meet his eyes, but he looks tired. He looks like he hasn't slept in three weeks. God.
"Yeah." It sounds like an admission wrung from the very depths of his being. It sounds like it hurts.
Rodney lets his hands fall to his sides. Suddenly he's tired too. He's definitely weary of this, this lie John's been telling him for &mdash god — five years now. More.
But all he asks is: "Why?"
John looks up. Sometimes Rodney forgets this, that John's not quite as skilled a liar as he thinks he is. John's more inclined than Rodney to flub his poker face when it's important but not life and death - which this isn't, as awful as it seems to be. John's face, instead, is stuck somewhere between wanting, willing Rodney just to get whatever he doesn't want to say, and maybe being sick in the grip of this terrible, insidious emotion.
"Where -" he croaks, swallows, looks away and mumbles almost inaudibly: "Where else was I gonna go? I haven't... I told you that."
And he did. He did say that, but at the time Rodney was too scared of losing himself to take it as anything other than friendly reassurance, John maybe as scared as he was, if not for all the same reasons.
But now Rodney remembers it. I'm not going anywhere. Earnest, soothing, terrified. Rodney remembers it, as clear as waking to himself in the shrine and the awful disappointment of discovering it was meant to be temporary.
"You were waiting for me." He says it softly, like he's trying not to spook a wild animal, like John might shy away. Of course, he might. Rodney feels like he should be holding his breath.
Instead he puts one knee on the bed. Eases down and reaches out and hesitates, puts a hand on John's shoulder. He doesn't let go when John jerks under his palm, just holds on — he can be twice as stubborn as John is and they both know it. "You've gotta cut me some slack here," he says, staring at his hand, clutching and releasing experimentally in the warm fabric of John's t-shirt. A lot of his attention is narrowed at the place where his pinky finger is grazing the bare skin of John's arm. "I've only had a couple of hours to, y'know, reorient my entire world-view. Even for me that takes a little acclimating."
That startles a laugh out of John, but the expression is still wary, like he doesn't quite trust this. "Thought you were a genius."
"Yeah, well, so did I," Rodney says. If his voice sounds annoyed, it's because he's annoyed. Looking back on things, this should have been — this was — obvious, even to someone with his admittedly limited interpersonal skills. He should have seen this. Wasn't looking, should have been. Can't believe he... and Jennifer. God, there's so many things to regret, to feel guilty over, but not right now. "You were waiting for me," he says again. This time, after a long, long moment's hesitation, John nods.
Rodney lets out a breath it seems he was holding after all. "How long have you been doing that?"
John just looks away.
"God," Rodney says, still soft, "you don't even know, do you?" And it's a moment of John looking back, brows drawn together, before he realises he's both asked a question and answered one, the one he's been asking himself all night.
John takes a deep breath, lets it out. Bracing himself. "You're the best friend I've ever had," he says, offering his own answer, his gaze steady now, unwavering. He's not looking away. It's almost a challenge.
"The night we went out on the pier," Rodney begins, pausing until John tilts his head at him. Yeah?
"Before that. In my quarters, before I fell asleep..."
This time John says it out loud. "Yeah?"
"You were going to kiss me, weren't you?"
And — wow, there's something Rodney never expected to see: John Sheppard blushing. But he looks pained, so Rodney can't even mock him for it. "You remember that?"
"Huh," John offers, rubbing the back of his neck. One of his patented aw, shucks manoeuvres. But Rodney's not letting him get away with it, not after he's already put this much out there in the open.
"Why didn't you?"
John blinks at him, face scrunched up uncomfortably. Rodney can see him tensing up to pull away and he holds him where he is. John doesn't seem quite committed to forcing the issue, he just sits there, stiff with unhappiness, and Christ, how did Rodney ever think that John Sheppard was difficult to read? Now that Rodney's seen him once with all his barriers down, it's like he's cracked the code. He wonders vaguely if he should feel guilty that he's basically caught John out, but he can't seem to be bothered about it.
"You were..." John lifts one hand, spreads his fingers and stops. Drops it again. "You weren't exactly yourself."
This reckless feeling is probably a side effect of spending too much time with John. "I wanted you to." It tumbles out, words running together, and Rodney's heart is going thudthudthud in his throat. "I was confused about a lot of things, but not about that."
He slides his hand up, slow, cautious, until it rests where John touched him before: the place where muscle slips under bone at the junction of neck and shoulder. John shivers, hard, his eyelids fluttering, almost closing for a second before John forces them back open.
"I want to &mdash can I?" Rodney asks, breathless, because this can't just be about what he wants.
John's eyes are wide, and Rodney can feel the pulse hammering under the skin where his thumb rests against John's throat. John's fingers are curled around the crooks of Rodney's elbows.
He looks scared out of his mind.
Well, Rodney thinks, that's only fair.
"Yeah. Anything you want." It's barely a whisper, and when John swallows, it clicks like his throat is dry.
Rodney's never spent that much time considering John's mouth. Other parts of him, objectively, he has considered, in the interest of what he told himself was scientific inquiry. After all, it was worth finding out what everyone else in the world seemed to find so irresistible.
The formidable John Sheppard doesn't look so irresistible right now. He's shaky and pale and unshaven, and he looks like he might pass out. This close, he can count John's eyelashes, see that his nose is a little crooked, that his lips are damp from John nervously licking them.
Leaning in, inch by inch, seems to take forever, and it takes Rodney a couple of seconds to calculate the best angle, until John reaches out, cups the side of his face, guides him in, just like his hands over Rodney's on the jumper controls, and then they're... they're kissing.
The kiss is careful, careful, close-mouthed and almost chaste, though Rodney can feel John almost thrumming under his hands. John smells like aftershave and faintly of clean sweat and there's stubble on his chin and cheeks, rough around his surprisingly soft, yielding mouth.
Before today, Rodney would never have believed that any part of John was soft.
It's John who breaks the kiss, only half a breath before it would have come naturally to an end, and stares at Rodney like he kind of can't believe he's still there. One of John's long hands is curled in the hair at the nape of Rodney's neck, fingertips idly, gently stroking up, down, up, down. Rodney leans back into the touch without really thinking about it.
"Jesus, Rodney." Rodney's heard those words, in that same low, incredulous tone, after Rodney's done something impossible. Escaped-the-exploding-hive-ship or barely-got-the-shield-up and this is just like that, the same giddy, unexpected relief. The same, except now John is staring at his mouth.
"I was so fucking scared." Another impossible admission, so soft Rodney almost can't make out the words. But he can see John's face, how right now he isn't hiding anything.
It's an impulse that makes Rodney pull him close, and John just lets him, folds up into Rodney's body like this is natural, like it's something they've always done. Rodney's shocked by how easy it is, something deep inside him going oh, right, of course.
Because, fucking Christ, of course. He squeezes his eyes shut and exhales, unsteadily.
"I'm always scared," he confides, a hoarse whisper in John's ear.
chandrimacleod @ gmail.com | Comment on LJ