Note: This is a sequel to FCOL's heartbreakingly beautiful fic, Infidelity.
Warning: mention of cheating (as if you couldn't guess).
There are certain things he remembers; a moan, a smile, a hitch of breath. He retraces his steps methodically, because he's always been an expert at hindsight. He tries to compare, he tries to remember what John sounded like when he was with him and not someone else.
Only he can't. He can't see past their moving bodies, the dimming lights, and he can't think past the way the air was all sucked straight out of him, leaving him hollow and out of breath.
He had a plan, and it was a damn good plan, too. Stop caring, stop getting attached, stop watching him and Ronon to try and guess if they're still fucking. As usual, his scientist's mind had left out the most relevant part, the human element, and you can't stop loving someone just because they rip your heart out.
Torn or not, they've still got it in their hands.
At first he'd wanted to hit Ronon, just punch him as hard as he could, hit him hard enough to bruise and bloody his knuckles and knock him to the ground.
He never did. Aside from the obvious flaws and the fact that Ronon could take him one-handed, he gave John more credit than that. John Sheppard never did anything John Sheppard didn't want to do, and there was no reason to blame Ronon for something John could have as easily done with anyone else.
There was no escaping that, that cold hard fact. John had chosen to cheat on him, and then hadn't even bothered to lock the door.
Teyla is on the fence. She was John's friend first, but she visits anyway. She tells him that if it's worth anything, Ronon and John haven't spoken for days.
It's not worth much.
Rodney copes. He's good at recovering from this kind of thing. He didn't get his personality from a life that gave him everything he ever wanted. People that had that kind of life turned out like John.
After awhile, people stop giving him concerned glances. He's as loud as usual, dedicated as ever, and if anyone notices that his team is going off world without him, they don't mention it.
He sees John sometimes. The city may be vast, but people have a habit of clustering together, and they stay mostly in the same area. They were bound to meet.
He sees it coming, he watches it happen, little by little; the dark circles come first and he hears Carson complain to Elizabeth that John isn't sleeping. Rodney is too hurt to care and it isn't his responsibility anymore anyway.
If John wants to kill himself then that's his prerogative. It's not like his fondness for suicide missions is new.
It takes four months before they have a conversation. John shows up on his doorstep. He's holding onto the wall in what Rodney is sure is meant to be casual, but he looks so gaunt that he has his suspicions he needs to hold on to keep his feet beneath him.
"Colonel Sheppard," Rodney says.
John winces, either at the title or the tone. "I...wanted to see how you were doing," he says.
"I'm fine," Rodney tells him.
John runs a hand through his hair, leaves it there a moment before bringing it back down again and turning his eyes towards the floor. "Rodney, I--"
"Was that all?" Rodney interrupts.
John looks up, blinks, looks away again. "Yeah," he says. "That's all."
The next time he opens his door it's Ronon standing there on the other side. He opens his mouth, prepared to be falsely cordial and dismissing, but Ronon is covered in blood from his fingertips to his forearms, from his knees down to his feet, and the world tilts sideways, because Rodney knows what this means.
"Where is he?" he asks, and his voice is so calm it sounds like it's coming from someone else.
"On his way to Carson," Ronon says. "It doesn't look good."
Ronon acts like he expects him to start running, like he expects him to trip over himself to make it there. He steps back instead, let's the door close between them, and then slides straight to the floor.
Ronon only says his name twice before he takes off running himself.
He waits until everyone is asleep before heading there. The lights are all turned off, but the blinking lights on the medical equipment light John's features ashen, then blue. At least he's started breathing on his own.
He got the story from Cadman, who had seemed surprised he didn't already know.
Teyla says she doesn't know why John wasn't able to move out of the way. They had gone to a world in the middle of a civil war, and chosen the wrong side. John killed three men before he was taken out himself: a metal bullet, apparently a discovery as common as the wheel, shot straight through his side.
Ortiz from botany claims it was just inches from the heart, but Rodney doesn't trust speculation and lifts the chart.
The movement wakes John and his eyes flicker open and shut. He says, "Rodney?"
His hands are moving restlessly and Rodney stills them with his own. "Go back to sleep," he says, and John drifts off again.
If Rodney's lucky, John won't remember he was there.
It's hard to walk away without looking back. Harder than it was to leave Ronon and John tangled in that bed, harder than walking away when John came to him, looking heartbroken and like he was the one that had been wronged.
He knows he can't stay. He can't sit by his bed and not forgive him, so he leaves.
Two weeks later, Teyla tells him John is asking for him, and he has to pretend like he doesn't care.
He's eating a power bar and reading reports at three a.m. when he makes it back to his room and switches on the lights. John is sitting on his bed, with his head in his hands. There's a bandage on one of them, colored slightly pink with blood, from where he's ripped out his IV.
He can't help the sharp intake of breath, and when John looks at him his eyes are glassy--probably he's still pumped full of pain meds and shouldn't be here. Rodney's been staying informed through Carson and Teyla, and he isn't supposed to be walking until tomorrow.
"Hey," John says. His voice is rough and edgy, rustic with disuse, and still gut-wrenchingly familiar. He hasn't heard it in anything but dreams for a long time.
"Hey," he says. He sets his papers on his desk just so he'll have something else to look at. "What do you want?"
"Did you come to see me?" John asks quietly. "I wasn't sure if it was real."
It would be easy to lie. Rodney glances at him. "I was there," he says.
John looks down at his hands again, picking at the edge of the bandage, lifting up the tape.
"I haven't forgiven you," Rodney tells him. "If that's what you're thinking. This hasn't made me forgive you."
"I don't deserve to be forgiven," John says.
Rodney has often suspected John was a martyr at heart. "Then I guess you're even more screwed up than I thought," he says.
John leaves then, and doesn't stumble once.
It isn't fair. It isn't fair that John can still do this to him, still leave him tied in knots, gasping for breath in the corner of his quarters. He's often considered asking him why, why he did it, what he was thinking. People on TV always seemed to ask why, and then they decide whether to go forward or back, and one way or another, it's over just like that.
He thinks that's probably why he's afraid to ask. He's afraid John might just answer him, and then he won't know where to go from there.
He finds him on the balcony alone, leaning against the wall in nothing but a thin black t-shirt and a pair of track pants. He's still pale, and Carson's had the alert up for an hour. Rodney could call someone else, but he walks out into the cold air himself.
John looks up. He looks so fragile that Rodney bites back everything he really wants to say. He wants to shout, "you don't get to make me feel sorry for you!" or "I don't care anymore" or even something petty like "how many were there?" or "was he better than me?"
He actually says, "It's cold out here" and then kneels in front of him, grabs his hands to pull him up. They're freezing cold, but John doesn't say a thing. He tells Carson that John is fine and then leads him to his quarters.
It's when they get there that John whispers he's sorry.
"I can't..." Rodney says. "Don't do this now."
"I didn't do this so you would forgive me," John says, "but if I thought for a second it might work, I would have."
Rodney looks away, turns to leave, and says, "What's the point of forgiving you if you're dead?"
Elizabeth gives John's team to Lorne for what she calls the foreseeable future. She says it's because he needs time to get well and there's plenty of paperwork to keep him busy, but Rodney suspects it's because she sees the same reckless light in John's eyes that he does.
He doesn't mean to end up there. Bad memories seem to hover in the doorway, and he's almost afraid to knock, lest he should let them out. He needn't have worried; the door opens on it's own.
The lights are out but John's not sleeping. He can see his silhouette against the stained glass windows, and Rodney wonders if he's been spending all his nights this way. He hates the part of himself that hopes he has.
John glances over at him, still looking pale and drawn, and the shadows around his eyes are so much deeper than they should be. He wants to walk away so he doesn't have to face this, wants to scream for once, because he hasn't, not about this. It's all been very quiet for the ending of his world.
"Rodney?" John says his name so uncertain these days, like he's waiting just for that, for the screaming to start, because John knows how to handle his anger, but he's never known what to say to his silence.
Rodney walks inside, takes a deep breath, and asks him why.