-- Co-written with the lovely and talented forcryinoutloud.
First part: Dead Like Them. Second part: Dead Man Walking.
ghost story, part one
John's reap took him to a dingy little bar where the beer was cheap and the women were cheaper. H. O'Brian was three sheets to the wind by the time John got there and he didn't even need to think up an excuse to take the guy's soul. 'Can I buy you a drink?’ O'Brian's slurred voice mumbling he ‘ain't no queer’ has John patting the man's arm, apologizing and moving to one of the corner tables to sit back and wait.
Twenty minutes later and another slob at the other end of the bar, just as piss loaded drunk as O'Brian decided he's none to pleased about getting cut off and whipped out a gun, aiming for the bartender. John watched the graveling, standing on the bar beside the slob’s gun hand; watched as it shoved him, throwing the guy off balance so that when he fired, he fired at O'Brian. He died instantly--head shots tended to have that effect and then he was sitting beside John, staring at his own lifeless body bleeding all over the beer coated bar floor.
"Fuck me," O'Brian muttered and John snorted, clapping him on the shoulder.
"It's a little too late for that now." He smirked, standing and tilting his head towards the door. "Your ride is waiting."
After Daniel's reap he headed over to Jack's place. There was another hockey game on tonight and though he really didn't enjoy the sport, he'd been a little worried about Jack lately.
When he walked into the house unannounced to find Jack sitting silently at his kitchen table, his head bent over a shoebox filled with Daniel wasn't sure what, that worry ratcheted up a notch. "Jack?"
In the thirty years Daniel had known Jack he had never once managed to startle the man, but Jack's head snapped up at Daniel's voice, his eyes widening before his mouth turned down, and his eyes went dark. "Daniel--don't you know how to knock?"
"Considering I haven't knocked in over twenty eight years, I didn't think it was necessary." Daniel slid into the chair at the opposite end of the table, folding his hands in front of him. "What's up?"
Jack shoved everything he had been looking at back into the box, replacing it's cover and scowling a little before picking it up and walking into the side room he used as a sort of office. Daniel had only managed to catch a glimpse of a faded and torn old photograph before it disappeared into the box with the rest of Jack's things.
When Jack came back out of the room a couple of minutes later he was all smiles, clapping his hands together, and tilting his head towards the kitchen. "Half hour till game time--feel like pizza? We can have a couple beers while we wait for it to get here."
Daniel frowned. "Jack--what's going on with you?"
"What?" Jack asked in mock innocence. "I'm looking forward to the game and I haven't eaten dinner yet. Something wrong with me wanting a pizza?"
Not sure what exactly was going on with Jack and knowing how pushing tended to just make him clam up even more, Daniel sighed and nodded saying, "Pizza sounds great, but I don't want any of that crap you call beer."
Jack smiled brightly, tossing Daniel the cordless phone and telling him to order--no anchovies--before disappearing into the kitchen to grab their drinks.
When Rodney got home his arm hurt, but he couldn't stop the manic smile on his face as he kicked off his shoes and hung up his coat. He never really had an opinion on guns when he was alive--he couldn't even recall having ever held one in his hands before--but after this afternoon...
Ronon told him that just because they were dead didn't mean they couldn't protect themselves, didn't mean that they didn't have just as much right as the living to do whatever it took to survive life in whatever form life may take. Rodney wasn't sure if he agreed with everything that Ronon had told him today but he did agree with one thing. When Ronon had said he thought maybe Rodney should look into getting his own gun--just in case, Rodney had nodded, had asked Ronon to help him get one.
He didn't think John would approve, especially if what Ronon had told him about John was true. But Rodney figured that what John didn't know wouldn't hurt him and might in fact save him if he insisted on working for Kolya.
John wasn't home yet and Rodney hadn't seen him all day. He patted Thales on the head as he walked into the kitchen, pulling down various items and pots and pans, whistling quietly to himself as he flitted around the kitchen. John had cooked for him almost every night that he was home before Rodney, and after releasing a few of his frustrations and worries at the firing range today, Rodney was in a good mood and had decided he’d make his specialty for John.
Glancing at the clock he wondered when John would come home.
Jack snorted softly as he glanced over at Daniel, sound asleep, mouth hanging open, head twisted uncomfortably. Flicking off the TV set he took a step closer, shaking him from sleep and pointing him down the hall towards the guestroom. Jack figured he should just call it Daniel’s room since he spent so much time there—either that or stop forcing Daniel into watching hockey so he’d stop falling asleep on his couch.
Leaving Daniel huddled under the comforter, Jack walked down the hall towards his office, groaning as he slid into the leather office chair, head bending over his desk. Sliding the fingers of one hand into his short hair, he flipped the lid off the shoebox sitting on his desk with the other.
Gently pulling a frayed and yellowed photograph from the box, Jack ran a finger carefully over the smiling faces. “God, I miss you,” he whispered quietly before replacing the photo in its box and carefully fitting the lid on it once more.
Opening the drawer beside him he pulled out his newest list of names, setting about writing the post-its for the next morning. Slipping them into his date book he shut off the light in his office and headed for his own room, stifling a yawn as he went.
When John showed up, Rodney had the table set and dinner ready. He smiled brightly, ushering John towards the dining room, laughing softly at John’s look of surprise. “What’s all this?”
Rodney blushed slightly, clearing his throat and waving his hand dismissively. “I was bored…and hungry—seemed like a good idea to make dinner.”
John smirked, sitting in the seat opposite Rodney, thanking him when he poured a glass of wine. “I didn’t know you could cook.”
Rodney leered suggestively. “There’s a lot I can do you don’t know about...yet.”
Coughing on the wine he’d just inhaled, John blushed, eyes dropping to the table. “So what are we having?”
“My world famous lasagna,” Rodney said his back to John as he pulled the warming pasta from the oven.
“World famous huh?” John asked with amusement.
“Scoff now,” Rodney answered, “you’ll be singing a different tune once you taste it.”
John snorted, but smiled when Rodney placed a plate in front of him. Waiting until Rodney got his own and had sat down again, John eyed the lasagna. “It smells great.”
“Well, dig in,” Rodney said, gesturing at John’s plate while raising his own fork to his mouth.
John had assumed that Rodney’s lasagna would be edible, that it might even taste alright but he hadn’t for one second expected the explosion on his taste buds. His eyes closed as he moaned around his mouthful of lasagna, swallowing regretfully before opening his eyes and staring at Rodney in stunned awe. “You bastard!” John said.
“Oh my God, Rodney!” John shoveled another forkful into his mouth. Talking around the pasta John continued, “You were holding out on me!”
Rodney raised an eyebrow. “So...you like it?”
“Marry me!” John said.
After dinner was done, John helped Rodney do the dishes and clean up. Rodney was placing the last plate into the cupboard when he asked, "Feel like watching a movie tonight?"
John sighed. "I'd love to--but I have to head out."
Rodney frowned. "Now?"
"Late pick up," John shrugged.
"For Kolya?" Rodney practically spat the name.
John's mouth quirked upwards. "You're cute when you're worried." He winked, tossing the dishcloth onto the counter.
"Rodney--we had a really nice meal together, great conversation...can we not ruin it by arguing over Kolya again?"
Narrowing his eyes, Rodney took a step closer to John, trapping him against the counter. "You have to stop this, John. It's too dangerous."
John tilted his head. "I thought we already discussed this," he smirked. "We're dead, Rodney--he can't kill me again."
"That doesn't mean he can't hurt you." Rodney's voice was a little hoarse, his heart pounding. He really didn't want to wake up in the morning to find John bloodied and bruised again--or worse, to find John hadn't come back at all.
"I'll be fine," John said quietly.
Rodney wasn't sure if it was the way John said it, or if it was the way his eyes seemed to cloud over with resignation but before he could over think it, he grabbed John by the front of his shirt, pulling him closer until their lips met. The kiss was soft and gentle but when Rodney pulled back he was panting, his knees feeling a little wobbly. If the look on John's face was any indication he was feeling the same way.
And then he had to go and ruin the moment. "Rodney..." John smiled, a smile that finally reached his eyes as he leaned in, pressing a quick kiss to Rodney's mouth before leaning his forehead against Rodney's. Sighing, John raised a hand, cupping Rodney's cheek, his thumb tracing Rodney's bottom lip.
Rodney closed his eyes. "You're still going to go, aren't you?"
John's silence was answer enough. Rodney took a step back, his eyes full of hurt and worry. John's throat felt tight. "I'll be back as soon as I can--I promise."
Nodding, Rodney folded his arms protectively over his chest, not able to say anything else. John stepped closer, hand on Rodney's chin, tilting his head up to capture his lips once more before slipping past Rodney and out the door.
Rodney took a deep breath, telling himself that John would be fine as he walked towards his bedroom. He had a feeling he probably wasn't going to get much sleep tonight, worrying about John, so he might as well get some work done.
The high-pitched scream that came out of Rodney's throat when he walked into his room had Thales dashing into the living room and left Ronon wincing. "What the fuck are you trying to do, scare me to death?!" Rodney screeched.
Ronon smirked. "You're already dead, McKay." Shrugging, Ronon walked past him into the living room. "Besides, I didn't think you'd appreciate me interrupting your romantic dinner," he smirked, "bringing you your gun."
"You got it?" Rodney asked, ignoring Ronon's smirk. "That was fast."
Shrugging again, and wandering into the kitchen he said, "I know a guy." Rodney watched as Ronon headed straight for the fridge, opening the door and pulling out the leftover lasagna. "The smell of this was driving me crazy."
"So where is it?" Rodney asked impatiently.
Fishing one hand under his trench coat and around to his back, Ronon drew out a gun, holding it out to Rodney without tearing his eyes from where he was heaping more and more lasagna onto his plate. Rodney took the gun gingerly, getting used to the weight of it, turning it over in his hand.
He looked up when he heard Ronon growling. "Fuck, McKay--" He was shoveling in large forkfuls of the pasta, eyes closed in delight.
Rodney snorted and rolled his eyes. "I'm not marrying you."
Ronon smirked. "Keep cooking for Shep like this and he'll be bending you over the table in no time." Rodney figured he was probably kidding but he still found himself blushing, his cock twitching at the very thought.
Clearing his throat and shaking his head Rodney forced himself back to the situation at hand. "You didn't steal this did you?"
"Do you care?"
"If it gets me thrown into prison for the rest of eternity, then yeah," Rodney huffed with annoyance.
"It's not stolen," Ronon answered with his mouth still full. "You going to tell Shep about it?"
Rodney looked up to see Ronon giving him an assessing stare. Shrugging, Rodney checked to see if the gun was loaded, just like Ronon had taught him. "No need to worry him."
"Worry nothing--he's gonna be pissed when he finds out."
"Then I guess he better not find out," Rodney snapped, glowering at Ronon.
Ronon lifted an eyebrow as if to say 'are you honestly threatening me?' Rodney glared harder, pointing towards the food. "If you breathe a word to John about this, then you'll never get another scrap of food from this apartment."
Smirking, Ronon shrugged, "I'm not going to say anything, but Shep isn't stupid."
"Neither am I," Rodney said quietly. "Where are the extra clips?"
Leaning against the counter, Ronon reached into the pocket of his coat, tossing Rodney two full clips. "Let me know when you need more."
Kolya isn't there when John arrives at the warehouse and he curses quietly to himself as he hurries back to the apartment. He hadn't wanted to leave--would have much rathered staying there with Rodney...finishing what they started. But he also knew just how crazy Kolya could get and it was just easier to agree to the job, telling himself that it was only a couple months until the tourist season picked up again and he wouldn't have to deal with Kolya anymore.
Military training had taught him well as he quietly snuck back into the apartment, wanting to surprise Rodney. He silently padded towards Rodney's door, a smile spreading on his face as he thought about the man waiting for him behind it. Turning the knob carefully, he pushed open the door, a cheeky quip ready to fall from his mouth, something like 'honey I'm home' just to see Rodney turn red in annoyance, or flush in endearing embarrassment.
The sight inside Rodney's room though, had the quip dying on his lips, replaced with an angry shout. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?!"
Rodney's head shot up at the sound of John's voice, eyes wide. "What are you doing home?"
John stalked towards him, reaching out with a fast hand and snatching the gun from Rodney's slack fingers, popping the clip and sliding it into his back pocket before Rodney even had a chance to blink. "Where did you get a fucking gun?" he growled.
Shock at John's sudden reappearance beginning to wear off, Rodney stood, his eyes narrowed. "Give it back."
"Are you out of your fucking mind, Rodney?!" John shouted. He held out the gun like an accusation. "Why do you have this?"
Rodney reached for it, growling in frustration when John pulled it back out of reach. "I don't see how it's any of your business," Rodney said angrily. "If I want a gun for protection that's my fucking choice!"
"You're dead, Rodney!" John yelled, waving his empty hand in exasperation. "How many god damned times do you need to hear that before you just fucking accept it? You don't need protection! You cannot die again!"
"Ronon carries a gun!"
Rodney wished he took the words back as soon as he said them because John's eyes glinted dangerously in the light as he asked, "Did Ronon get you this?"
"Despite the way you're acting," Rodney said quickly, "I am a big boy, John, who can take care of himself. If I want a fucking gun, I can get a gun. Ronon has nothing to do with this."
John snorted. "Yeah, right."
"You don't think I could get a gun if I wanted one?" Rodney asked indignantly.
"That's not the point, Rodney," John said wearily. "I don't want this in the apartment."
"It's my gun--"
"It's my apartment!" John shouted again, eyes flashing as his knuckles whitened around the gun in his hand. Rodney looked like he'd been slapped and John had a moment of painful regret because he didn't want to hurt Rodney.
Rodney swallowed. "Funny--I kind of thought it was our apartment." It pissed him off that his voice wavered when he spoke, but the truth was he expected John to be angry, after all Ronon had told him, hadn't he? But he hadn't expected John to be this pissed, and certainly didn't expect him to be hurtful--no matter how unintentional in the heat of the moment.
"Rodney..." John closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. When he opened them again, he looked right into Rodney's eyes. "This is non-negotiable--no guns in this apartment, period." Not wanting to chance the argument escalating to the point of them saying anything else hurtful, anything else he might regret, he turned on his heel and walked quickly from Rodney's room, the gun still in his hand, Rodney still standing, shocked and hurt in the middle of his bedroom.
John paced the floor of his bedroom, throwing angry glances at the unloaded gun sitting on his dresser. He could still feel the clip in his back pocket, and was disturbed by just how right it had felt when he'd handled the gun, popping the clip so Rodney didn't fucking shoot himself in the foot. What the fuck was he thinking?!
He ran his hands through his hair, ears straining for any sounds of movement in the apartment. He was so angry at Rodney right now he could practically hear the blood rushing in his ears and the fact was he wasn't sure that he was entirely justified in what he said. Yes, he believed in non-interference with the living, yes he fucking hated guns, yes they couldn't god damn well die again but the idea of Rodney coming home late from the lab one night, getting jumped by a couple of thugs, of them shooting or stabbing him, hurting him--no matter how quickly Rodney would heal--had John's stomach turning. And he didn't honestly think Rodney would kill anyone...so was it really that wrong for him to have the gun as a form of protection?
Ronon had tried to drill it into John's head on numerous occasions that just because they were dead didn't mean they didn't have rights, didn't mean that when they got shot or stabbed, or beat up that it didn't fucking hurt. That carrying a gun to deter those who had no problems hurting an innocent passerby was not the huge fucking moral dilemma John seemed to like to make it out to be. Was Ronon right?
Staring at the gun, John's heart started to beat faster and his palms began to sweat as the anger began bubbling to the surface again. No, Ronon wasn't right. Rodney having a gun was just wrong on too many fucking levels that John couldn't even wrap his head around them all. Rodney could be pissed with John all he wanted, he'd made up his mind.
Tossing the clip onto the dresser, John sat on the side of the bed, snorting quietly to himself, burying his hands in his hair, resting his elbows on his knees. Who was he kidding? Rodney was a stubborn bastard, if he wanted a gun John wasn't going to be able to stop him from getting another one. And John had no doubts that Ronon was the one that got the gun for Rodney in the first place, no matter how much Rodney protested that he hadn't. As much as John hated the idea of Rodney carrying a gun, of Rodney using a gun he knew he wouldn't be able to stop him. But he also knew he was just as stubborn as Rodney and he had no intentions of making it easy on him. If he wanted another gun, fine--but John would be damned if he just sat back and kept his mouth shut about the whole thing.
Stripping down to his boxers he slid under the covers, smiling grimly in the darkness and not at all thinking about what might have been lost tonight.
It was still there when he woke up.
John had a routine, one he'd stuck to for over forty years and hadn't been all that dissimilar when he'd been alive. He would wake up, go running, come back to shower and eat and start the day. He felt bruised and sore today in places that couldn't be seen, and slept an extra hour instead. The next time he got up he stood and lifted the gun up off his dresser.
He stared at it for a moment, and touching it was electric, filled with sense memory and flashbacks and things that should have been forgotten long before now. The metal was cool and familiar, because holding a gun was like riding a fucking bike, and he knew he'd never have to practice again. He'd be a crack shot the rest of this not-life.
He bit his lip as he looked down at it, it had a nice weight to it, and he wrapped his fingers around and through it; it was a little like being reunited with an old lover, a little like coming home, and if he hadn't been frightened before, that would have done it. He ran his hand up along the side, and let the memories have their hold, if just for a minute.
Then he took it apart, piece-by-piece, and threw it away.
Daniel woke up in Jack's guest room with a post-it stuck to his forehead and winced. The undead didn't get hangovers, allegedly, but Daniel had always been susceptible to bad beer.
Jack was gone when he headed out into the living room, but the shoebox was there, on the coffee table, in the middle of the room. Daniel rocked back carefully on his heels and glanced around, before checking his post-it to see what time he had to make for his reap.
Only it wasn't a name, just said, "don't even think about it" in Jack's hurried scrawl.
Daniel snorted, stuck the post-it to the door, and slipped outside without looking back.
John was sitting on the kitchen counter when Rodney wandered out of his room, and he watched him warily. John didn't yell anymore, though, didn't say a thing. He wouldn't even look at him.
Rodney sighed and reached for the coffee pot, pouring the dregs into his cup before downing them with a wince. He shot John a sideways glance. "I'm thinking I'll get a Glock," he said.
"I'm thinking you've seen too many action movies," John said flatly, before hopping off the counter. "We're going to be late."
"I don't care," Rodney said, crossing his arms. "I'm not finished."
John finally turned and looked at him. "Anytime I find a gun in this apartment, I'm getting rid of it. That's just how it is. You're so set on this? Then I suggest you find yourself another place."
Rodney's eyes widened. "Are you serious?" he asked. "You'd kick me out over this?"
"Never," John said, almost gently. "I'm just going to kick the guns out, as far as I can get them, and that's not going to change."
John didn't seem to get how ridiculous it was, asking Rodney to choose between him and a gun. He was only getting a gun to protect him. Rodney shoved past him, and they didn't talk much on the way to O'Malley's.
Jack was distracted today, and Daniel was beside him, biting his lip and looking generally concerned. John wondered what was wrong, but never asked, as he took advantage of Jack's distraction to take his post-it and bolt without conversation. He wasn't surprised when Ronon showed up beside him; he'd been counting on it.
"I'm guessing you know," Ronon said. "You've got that angry look in your eyes."
"You should mind your own business," John snapped, "instead of trying to warp Rodney into your twisted point of view."
Ronon took this with a shrug. "I'm just trying to protect him. And you."
"I'm trying to protect him," John said. "He used to be a goddamn scientist, still is, for all intents and purposes, and scientists don't generally carry around guns, especially not the dead ones."
"And why don't you?" Ronon asked. "Major?"
"Fuck you," John snapped.
"You're brining a world of trouble down on yourself with Kolya," Ronon said.
"How did you--never mind, Rodney told you. Just stay out of it, Ronon." John shoved his hands in his pockets, and kept walking, but Ronon wasn't letting him get even one step ahead.
"If you don’t want a gun, that's your business," Ronon said. "I don't know what happened to you, and I'll never ask, but if McKay wants one, then maybe you should take your own advice and stay the hell out of it."
John winced. Ronon had a way of making everything look simple, but John knew from experience that nothing ever was. "Rodney isn't going to find trouble if he doesn't go looking for it," he said. "Reapers can slip beneath the radar if they're trying to."
"Like you're trying to?" Ronon asked. "I promised you what would happen if you did this again."
"I said I'd kill Kolya if he touched you again, and I meant it." Ronon's eyes were hard. "For someone that likes to pretend they're staying under the radar, you seem to have a habit for stirring up trouble. I just can't figure out whether or not that's what you want."
"Right," John said, "because this what I want."
Ronon just watched him. "If McKay asks me again, I'll get him another gun."
"You do what you have to," John said, shoving past him, "and I'll do the same."
Rodney turned circles in his desk chair. Things hadn't actually gone as planned last night. He'd thought, for a moment there, that he and John might have been reaching some new level, some new brand of closeness that Rodney had never managed with anyone else.
But it seemed, even dead, Rodney's love life was disastrous.
John's reaction to that gun seemed far too strong for the circumstances. Rodney knew some people hated guns, couldn't bear to be near them, but Rodney knew that John had been a Major in the Air Force when he'd been alive, and from the way John had deftly unloaded the weapon the moment he took it from Rodney's hands suggested that he had more than a passing familiarity with them.
From what he'd found out about John's death, he'd died in a helicopter crash, but if his body had never been recovered, then who knew? He could have been killed in a gunfight if he'd survived the crash, only that didn't seem to fit either.
John had come home just the other day with three bullets in him, and hadn't batted an eye, hadn't seemed to care at all about getting shot. Rodney laid his head down on his desk and closed his eyes. He had three hours until he had to go watch some other poor sap die, and he wished, really wished, for the first time since he'd found out he was dead, that he'd gotten his lights too, instead of this.
"You weren't where you were supposed to be."
John didn't bother looking both ways before crossing the street. He pushed on his sunglasses with one hand as he held his cell phone with the other. "Kolya," he said. "Nice to hear from you. Funny, though, because I thought it was the other way around. You didn't show, and I don't wait around for anyone."
"You'd better learn to wait for me," Kolya said, his gravely tones edging a little deeper into something like anger. John had only seen Kolya really angry the once, the same day Ronon made his vow to kill him if he tried something again.
"Can't teach an old dog new tricks, I'm afraid," John said. He watched a young girl walk out of a dress shop, and knew without asking who she was. He asked anyway, he rarely left things to chance. He muffled the phone, and called out, "Hey, are you Bennett's kid?"
She looked startled, before nodding. "Yes, you know my father?"
John paused a minute. "No, I don't, I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else." She frowned at him, and he touched her arm as she walked by.
He returned to the phone call, and Kolya was talking mid-sentence. "I'm sorry," John said. "Could you say that again? I was ignoring you."
There was a short pause, which Kolya was probably using to count to ten. "I have another job for you, you don't want to let me down again."
"I don't know," he said. "It's kind of fun, actually. You turn such interesting colors."
There was the sound of screeching tires and a scream, and then A. Bennett was standing at the crosswalk, watching the aftermath of her death and looking confused.
"And you have such interesting things happen around you," Kolya said. "One has to wonder."
John went still, as people rushed past him towards the site of the wreck. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Death seems to follow you around, though it doesn't seem to faze you," Kolya said. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed. Just ask that poor girl."
John's head shot up, and he started searching the faces around him. His eyes passed over the dead girl and scanned the stopped cars, before moving to the other side of the road.
"You'd better be there tomorrow," Kolya said. "You won't like what happens if you're not."
John spotted someone standing in the shade of a building across the street and clicking a cell phone closed, at the same time he heard the dial tone replace Kolya's voice.
Daniel knew that Jack was having some kind of crisis with his past. He'd watched it happen with others, Ronon, even, though never John. He didn't know how to help this time, not with Jack. He couldn't just bring Jack a pizza or watch hockey; that didn't really help. That was this life, not the other.
But asking Jack if he wanted to talk usually got the door slammed in his face, like now, for instance. "Open the fucking door, Jack," he snapped, leaning forward with his hands braced on either side.
Jack swung it back open and glared out at him. "Watch your language," he said reproachfully.
Daniel rolled his eyes. "A little bonus of being undead is I don't have to be polite anymore."
"Oh, but you are," Jack said, smiling almost sincerely. "You can't help yourself. I bet you don't even hang up on telemarketers."
"Some of them actually have interesting views on--"
Jack held up his hand to forestall further comment. "Jesus, Daniel, I was kidding."
Daniel leaned back and crossed his arms. "I want to know what's going on with you."
"Oh, is that all?" Jack asked. "Well, see, a long time ago, I was alive, and I had a family, and now I'm not and I don't. Does that about cover it?"
"You had a child," Daniel said, and as Jack's eyes immediately went shuttered, he knew he had it right. "A son, wasn't it?"
Jack's expression tightened and he took a step forward. "Damn it, Daniel, I told you not to look in that box!"
"I didn't," Daniel said, not giving up any of his ground. "I had a fifty-fifty shot. I guess I got lucky."
"I'm not doing this with you," Jack said. "I'm not doing this with anyone. We're grim reapers, Daniel, we've got no call to talk about our feelings."
"Still, it's got to be hard," Daniel said, glancing at the ground. "I know I can't relate, I didn't leave anyone behind, but--"
Daniel always knew how to get to him, Jack thought with a sigh. If he wouldn't talk about his feelings, Daniel started talking about his own, because he knew Jack would never slam the door in his face over that. "What about your parents?" he asked. "You talk about them and how great they were all the time."
"They died when I was eight," Daniel said, and shrugged. "And I wasn't all that great at making friends."
Jack frowned. "You never told me that."
"I figured you wouldn't want to know," Daniel said. "You seem big on avoidance."
Jack couldn't really argue that, but he still moved aside, and let Daniel walk in, and once Daniel had collapsed on the couch, Jack said, in passing, "Look in the damn box if you want to so badly."
Daniel just looked at his hands. "I'd rather you just tell me what's in it."
Jack came to a stop. He closed his eyes, let out a breath, and said, "They are."
Rodney's phone rang while he was going through and correcting all of Felger's work. He picked it up distractedly, and snapped, "What?"
Rodney frowned at the familiar voice. "Ronon? What? How did you get this number?"
"Phonebook," Ronon said simply. "So John is pissed."
"What, is this girl talk?" Rodney asked. "You warned me he wouldn't like it, I didn't listen, end of story."
"I'm trying to help, McKay," Ronon said. "Kolya is bad news."
"I kind of figured that out when I saw John had been shot," Rodney said testily. "If he'd still been alive he would have been dead." Rodney frowned at his own words. "Or something."
"I just wanted to tell you that maybe you should back off," Ronon said. "You don't want to, I won't stop you, but it might help. I've got a feeling John doesn't need this right now."
"He doesn't need to be shot up, either," Rodney said. "I just want--"
"Call me," Ronon said.
"What?" Rodney asked.
"If it happens again, just call me, and I'll take care of it," Ronon said.
Rodney tapped his fingers along the armrest of his chair. "What do you mean by that?"
"Haven't you learned not to ask me those kind of questions yet?" Ronon asked, sounding amused.
Rodney winced. "Right. Should you...ah, be doing that, though? I mean, won't there be consequences?"
"Probably," Ronon said. "You've got my number?"
"Yeah, John gave it to me," he said.
"Good," Ronon said, and hung up.
Rodney set the phone aside. He wasn't entirely sure he was ready to give up the idea of keeping a gun, but Ronon, he was sure, was far more dangerous than anything he could get from an arms dealer.
He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair, and left his office. He had his reap to do, and this place was feeling a little too closed in for his tastes, anyway.
"Where are you going?" Felger asked him.
"Uh...I have to leave early," Rodney said. "My grandmother died."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Felger said, rising to his feet. "If there's anything--"
"No, I'm good," Rodney said. "Thanks anyway. I just have to go...you know, identify the body."
Felger looked mildly horrified. "Oh, okay. Why don't you go ahead and take the rest of the day?"
"Thanks," Rodney said.
John had tried to catch up with Kolya, but by the time he made it through the crowd in the middle of the street, he was long gone. And Bennett kept following him around, asking stupid questions like "So I'm really dead?"
John nodded towards the body in the middle of the street. "That look alive to you?"
Bennett frowned. "You're kind of mean for an angel."
John shot her a crooked grin. "Oh, I'm not an angel," he said, before leading her away. "And it's time for you to go now."
"Where to?" she asked.
John pointed to the shining blue lights rising from the ground. He couldn't quite make it out, but it looked a little like a mall.
"Oh," she breathed, and took off running. John spun on his heel and started in the opposite direction.
Kolya had thrown him, in a way that no one else had since he'd been dead. John was careful, and he was good at this job. Taking souls was easier than shooting someone point blank, and he could do it smoothly, in a way that no one would remember him afterwards; and that wasn't easy, considering he drew a few glances everywhere he went.
Kolya, though, he hadn't been able to get him to forget.
The first time he'd met Acastus Kolya he'd been taking his tour. Once they landed, Kolya had complimented his flying, and said nothing about the sights.
He got a call the next day about a better job, more money, Kolya said, and John had laughed, because what the hell did he care what he was paid. Kolya kept trying, though, kept showing up at his office anyway; then he said, last chance, and John said, fuck you.
Kolya didn't like not getting what he wanted, so he had a pretty girl with bright red curls shoot him through the heart.
Needless to say, when John started flying tours again the next summer, Kolya was a bit suspicious.
John walked the streets for an hour or maybe two, casting looks over his shoulder every third of a block. He didn't know how long Kolya had been following him, or how much he'd seen. John had laughingly said, "Ever heard of a bullet proof vest?" when Kolya had demanded to know why he wasn't dead, but there had been a whole lot of blood; the concrete of his hanger floor was still stained with it.
Kolya never really believed that story. Kolya was a whole hell of a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one of them, and John probably hadn't been as careful as he should have been. Kolya had backhanded him after he'd come back late from the last run he'd done for him, but he'd no longer been angry the next day, and John wondered if that was because it had gotten back to him that John had been shot three times by Cowen's men that same night.
Now Kolya thought he was some kind of angel of death, which wouldn't be half so worrying if it weren't kind of true.
John dropped down onto the bench at some bus stop and placed his head in his hands. Rodney didn't understand why would John would keep working for Kolya, and he knew less than half the story, and Ronon didn't understand why he wouldn't just kill the bastard for what he'd done.
But John had been at this for awhile now, and the best thing to do was to keep your head down.
Except he was starting to think maybe he'd been lying to himself all this time, because at the moment he didn't feel fearless at all. He was terrified, not of Kolya, but of himself, and what he was capable of.
He kept telling Rodney to let go, to move on, and after forty years, he hadn't even done it himself.
When Rodney made it home after his reap, he wasn't surprised to find the apartment empty, he was getting used to that. Thales glared at him a little from where he perched on the back of the couch, a little upset himself about having been left there so long alone.
"You're a cat," Rodney told him. "You lay around all day and eat. You don't get to complain."
Thales rolled onto his back and stared at him, which Rodney chose to take as forgiveness. He sighed, petting Thales, before heading into his room. He toed off his shoes and dropped down on the bed.
That was when he saw the pieces of the gun sitting on the dresser.
"I may have overreacted."
Rodney spun around. John was leaning back against his wall, and Rodney decided that people were really going to have to stop sneaking into his room. "What?"
"You can have it back," John said, apparently by way of explanation. "Just try not to shoot yourself in the foot. I kind of lied about it feeling like a Beebe gun, it'll hurt like a bitch."
"John--" Rodney started.
"You're a genius, so I'm sure you can figure out how to put it back together," John continued.
"John," Rodney interrupted, again. "I don't care about the gun. I care about you, and you're scaring me."
John glanced away. "It's just that...this thing, it's not simple, it's not--"
"Nothing's been simple since I died," Rodney said.
John took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Nothing had been simple for him since he was born. "You asked me before how I died," John said.
Rodney watched him guiltily. "Yeah, about that, I kind of...looked it up."
"This isn't something you'd find on the Internet," John said softly, and then he stepped a little closer, and told Rodney about his last day alive, about turning off his radio and ignoring his orders to return, about going back anyway, because those were his friends in trouble down there, and they'd come back for him.
Rodney looked a little pale but he was reaching out, grabbing John by the wrist and pulling him in. John let him, and kept talking, like now that he'd started he didn't know how to stop.
He told him about the hit to his engine and the fall, but that he wasn't dead yet, not quite, he was bleeding too much to believe he'd live, but that he never once felt it. It was all very disconnected, and later he'd learn that was because his soul had been taken before he'd ever left for his flight.
"You were a hero," Rodney told him, looking at him with wide eyes. "I should have known. It's this damn hair, that look in your eyes, it's written all over you."
"You don't get it," John said, and his voice was catching over the oddest words. "He was still alive. Mitch, he was still alive, and he was screaming, begging me to...and no one was coming for us, we knew that, they...I was it, their last shot, and I killed him instead of saving him. I shot him right between his eyes."
Rodney's hands don't pull away the way he expected them to. "It was mercy," he breathed against his neck. "I know you, and it was mercy. You have to let go of it. You know what happened to him. He went somewhere bright, somewhere lovely, he had it easy."
John closed his eyes, let Rodney pull him closer, not further, and he didn't tell him that he lay there four hours before he died from loss of blood, or that he probably would have shot himself, too, if he'd had any bullets left.
"It was my fault," he said instead, because it always came back to that, and it didn't matter if the last thing Mitch ever said was 'thank you.' "I wasn't fast enough, I didn't make it back in time--Dex...god, he was in pieces when I got there..."
"You gave your life for them," Rodney whispered. "You can't give more than that, John, there was nothing more you could have done."
The way Rodney said it, John could almost believe him; but forty years of guilt didn't disappear from words, no matter who spoke them. Rodney kissed him, and then pulled back, whispered "it wasn't your fault" and "you've got nothing to be sorry for" and "you're the most amazing person I've ever known" and then kissed him again.
"You have to know that's true," Rodney said. "I wouldn't settle for less than the best."
They started pulling at each other's clothes then, and John thought it felt a little like falling, this kind of attraction, because it was more than lust, and that was the only parallel he could draw. Rodney pulled his shirt over his head while he worked at his belt, and soon they were crashing against the wall, kissing like that was the only way left to breathe.
"I think I waited my whole life for this," Rodney said. "You were a little late, not showing up till I was dead."
"Better late than never," John told him breathlessly, and maneuvered them over. Rodney took the hint and pushed him gently towards the bed. They lay down together, slow, and still too fast.
"Let go for me," Rodney whispered, as he moved up against him suddenly, sending shock waves through him. John wasn't sure when they'd both been stripped completely, but it was all bare skin and movement now, and it was enough to make him dizzy in the best way possible.
John moaned as Rodney used all of his brilliant knowledge of friction to the best advantage, and then he let go, gave himself over almost completely. He couldn't tell if Rodney noticed the change or not, but he was pretty sure he did, because a second later Rodney was slipping his hands into his messy hair, and kissing him again.
It was over far too soon, with their emotions this high, and it had been too long for both of them. They had both waited more than a lifetime to find someone that fit this well.
Rodney's bed was small, but John didn't mind if Rodney didn't, he was too spent to move and he was asleep in minutes. Rodney, conversely, was wide-awake, and he watched him for a moment before running his fingers over the clear skin of John's stomach, and that spot right beneath his ribs where the bullet holes had been; there was nothing there anymore, because they only got to keep the scars they already had.
It still left John with more than enough, and Rodney placed a kiss over each one.