Sometimes he can pretend like nothing had happened at all—certainly it must appear that way to everyone else. They were both experts at dissembling, each in their own way, and they were good enough at hiding what they didn't want known. Even from each other. Lately, though, their bickering had a little more edge and it seemed now that Rodney's every remark was a challenge, although what the challenge was, John couldn't even guess.
He placed his head in his hands, and tried not to think about anything, now, although it wasn't easy with all of his mistakes pounding away in the back of his mind, chipping pieces away. If he were sentimental or romantic he might compare it to the water hanging far below his bare feet, washing into rocks and making sand. He's not, though, so he doesn't think that, really, only fleetingly. He's not the poetic type, so he leans his head back and closes his eyes, going back to thinking of nothing at all.
This, of course, didn't last long, however well Rodney thought he was at such absent activities, and soon he began to notice the way small rocks were cutting at his hands, and the way the paper-thin indentions filled with dirt and scratched the skin. Rodney didn't like it here, at the mainland. He complained about insects and allergies and marched around, sullen, complaining, loud, until he got to go back to Atlantis and his shinning walls and blinking lights and air filters.
Sheppard couldn't stop dreaming about it. He wasn't sure if it was because it reminded him of Earth, or because it wasn't, but he felt drawn there. Invisible strings seemed to tug and pull at him, but maybe that was just the urge to fly across the ocean brought to the surface, maybe it had nothing to do with touching ground at all.
"You're not supposed to be here."
He wasn't sure if he was supposed to be anywhere, and he laughed, not opening his eyes, wishing in a distant kind of way that it would rain. It felt like it should be raining, and if he closed his eyes tight enough he could pretend it was—could feel it ghost across his skin.
"Look, I'm not leaving you out here alone."
He doesn't ask how Rodney found him where he was at all. He knew enough about the puddle-jumpers by now to find his life signal, the one blue dot that would have been away from all the others, the blue dot hanging, suspended, on the edge of a fifty foot drop. He knew he wasn't supposed to leave the infirmary, let alone slip into a puddle-jumper and fly across the world, but he was the head of the military here and no one had thought to stop him. He took a kind of pleasure in that, despite that he wasn't the power-trip type. That was Rodney's role, not his.
He let himself fall backwards, his back landing on the dirt, the edge of the cliff scraping the back of his knees. Rodney was standing right behind him, looking down, un-amused and frowning.
"Have you finally lost your mind?" he snapped, and John didn't know why, but he found that funny, too.
"I'm fine," he said. It was an easy answer and an obvious lie, but he smiled for distraction, and if it had been anyone else it might have worked.
Rodney was still frowning. "You have broken ribs," he said.
"They'll mend," John said absently, closing his eyes.
"You've been shot," Rodney continued.
"This isn't a new development, Rodney."
"And now you've flown to the mainland to sit at the edge of a cliff? Is this some kind of macho guy ritual that I missed out on with all my studying?"
John didn't answer. Rodney wasn't listening to him anyway, he was off and running on his own rant. Any interruptions by him would be ignored and discounted, so he didn't bother making any more. Apparently this time Rodney had actually wanted an answer, though, because when he didn't get one he fell silent, then dropped to his knees behind him.
"Carson's on the warpath," Rodney whispered. "You don't rip out your own IV and go traipsing off. What the hell is wrong with you?"
It was a good question, Sheppard decided. There had to be something wrong with him, that was certain, he didn't need a genius like Rodney to point it out to him. Weir should never have trusted someone who could idly flip a coin to make this kind of decision follow her through the gate, anyway. O'Neill had probably tried to warn her. People like him weren't to be trusted, because someone with nothing to lose was dangerous.
Then again, someone with something to lose could be a far greater threat, if you really thought about it. People could do horrible things to protect people that they loved. He'd killed sixty people once, to save a handful of friends. He was constantly trying to stay balanced, to be friendly but not get attached, hide behind his smile and such—these were all things he did and was good at. It was getting harder, though, and Rodney wasn't helping.
Rodney grabbed him under his arms and pulled him away from the edge. He was going to protest but his head was pounding, and Rodney stumbled anyway, falling backwards and pulling John back against him. "You're a lot heavier than you look," he said breathlessly, his hands falling down to wrap around his waist but not letting go.
He was too tired to move himself. It had taken all of his energy to make it all the way out here and he had nothing left. He had planned to stay out here until he could find balance again, but Rodney always barreled right into his life at all the wrong moments, and nothing he said seemed to hold him off. He'd all but given him the 'it's not you, it's me' speech just because he knew it would be patronizing enough to drive Rodney away for good, but here he was, anyway, right behind him.
"You're supposed to hate me," he whispered, but his voice sounded far away, and not glib enough to belong to him.
"You want me to hate you?" Rodney asked. John didn't answer and Rodney sighed, turning John's hand up and slipping his fingers in-between. "Of course you don't know. You wouldn't be here," he said, "if you knew what it was you wanted."
John couldn't really argue with that.