"So how was Earth?" he asks. The question is hardly even curious, it's distracted, a little out of place, but that was McKay for you.
It's a little hard to pretend he's still a galaxy away with Earth hanging right outside every window; but he's always been good at putting up a steady front, and lies hide best behind smiles. "It was fine," he says.
McKay grins, and bounces back on his heels. "Did you get laid?" he asks. "I got laid. God, she was gorgeous, too. Blonde. I love them blonde."
This kind of bluntness, a year ago, might have thrown him off track. It doesn't anymore. He just shrugs, thinks of dark pulsing hallways and the cold of a bathroom stall, someone he can barely recall whispering nonsense as fingers pull at his belt.
"Yeah," he says. "I did."
"You can't keep him," Rodney says. "I don't care if he followed you home."
His head is still pounding. Ronon's gun packs a punch, and he knows he's supposed to snap a reply, quick and piercing, so Rodney can bounce something back, but he can't think of a single thing to say.
Rodney frowns, and stands in front of him. "Are you alright? Did Beckett check to make sure you weren't in the radiation too long?"
"It's not the radiation," he says. It's not anything. He glances up. "Anyway, Ronon will be an asset. Have you seen the guy fight?"
"That's what I'm afraid of," Rodney says. "He's almost scarier than Teyla."
John pushes to his feet and moves past him without looking back. "I'm going to get some sleep," he says, but he's wide-awake.
Ronon makes for a great distraction, but it's temporary, and soon Rodney is just Rodney again and it's back to the start. "Major!" Rodney shouts.
He pulls to a stop, but doesn't turn around. "Colonel," he corrects.
McKay is out of breath when he catches up. "Whatever," he says. "Rank doesn't matter to me."
It matters to him, even if he wishes it wouldn't. "What do you want?"
"Are you okay?" Rodney asks, and it's surreal, because it should be the other way around. He should be asking Rodney.
Not that it makes a difference. He always says fine, and Rodney always has whole lists of complaints. He knows all the answers by heart.
Rodney rolls his eyes; he knows them too. "Wait," he says, "let me guess--you're fine."
"Got it in one," John says, and then flashes him a quick, tired grin.
They're the last two in their makeshift locker room and they're dirty and bruised; it's impossible to tell one smudge from another. Rodney is complaining about everything from his ankles to his head but his voice washes over him, and the words all slip right by.
He doesn't know why he does it, but one minute he's sitting on the bench, and the next he's up and walking. He places his hands against the wall on either side of Rodney's head, and the metal burns his palms as dirt sinks into scratches on the skin.
"What is this?" Rodney asks, sounding breathless, like he already knows.
"A mistake," John says, but he's made tons of them, and he kisses him anyway.
Rodney keeps saying that he's sorry. He doesn't get it; John's the one that's sorry.
"We were starting something," Rodney says, and it sounds almost like pleading. John doesn't like Rodney like this; it's too much like he's bleeding and it's painful to watch. "You can't just throw that all away--"
"I have responsibilities," John says, and he hates that he sounds like his father; exactly like him and nothing like himself. "You do, too. We were dangerously close to risking everything. This is a wake-up call, and we can't afford to ignore it."
"Oh please," Rodney sneers, and John almost smiles because this is what he needs. This is Rodney at his finest. "You started this, you kissed me, and you make your own rules about everything."
Not about this. John didn't have rules that covered this--he was falling back on the defaults. "I suggest you forget it ever happened," he says. "I have."
Rodney looks stricken, but John is fine. He's always fine.
He's been at it for hours. His hands are bloody, but he only realizes it when he looks down and sees they're painted red at the knuckles down. He hasn't felt a thing since he started, and the punching bag hasn't given an inch.
His forearm is itching, burning, ripping; he can feel an odd warmth spread through him from the inside out. Strength he's never had before is pushing at him and pulling, and he can't stop, can't control anything, and when someone brushes his arm, he spins without thinking, and takes them down.
He's got his intruder pinned to the mat with a knife at his throat before he realizes he's moved. Rodney's eyes are wide and they're both breathing too deeply, too quick. His fingers loosen and he drops the knife away, horrified, before pushing himself off of him.
Rodney looks terrified, but not really of him; for someone with his level of self-preservation, Rodney must have a blind spot for John that's a mile wide. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he snaps. He's taking in the blood and the sweat and his eyes are getting wider by the second.
John's fists clench and unclench and he keeps his eyes on the floor. "Absolutely nothing," he says. His voice doesn't shake at all.
His wrists are worn raw from the restraints, but at least his skin has lost the scales. He feels almost human.
"I just came...you know, to see how you were doing." Rodney is pale, standing at the foot of his bed. "And don't bother saying you're fine."
He doesn't. He doesn't say anything. He turns away and throws an arm over his eyes. His nightmares go along the lines of what he's been through the last few days and he doesn't want to share that with anyone; even Kate Heightmeyer gave up after five half-hearted tries.
"Have I said lately that I'm sorry?" Rodney asks, and his voice sounds raw, like maybe he's been screaming. "Eventually I'm going to get tired of groveling, you know, and you're either going to have to forgive me for what happened on Duranda or..."
Rodney doesn't actually say the or, but John can guess. He's had his share of ultimatums. "I've forgiven you already," he says without moving.
"Then why are you--"
"I haven't forgiven myself," he whispers, and sleep pulls him in.
Rodney is walking on eggshells and it's setting him on edge. Rodney is scathing one moment and apologetic the next, and the worst part is he can't tell if it's Rodney or if it's him; maybe Rodney's only trying his best to keep up with his own changing moods.
Caldwell tries to lecture Rodney, but he takes the fall instead. Rodney's eyes are wide and worried as he tells Caldwell it was his call, but Caldwell backs off without much effort. Chances were his backing off so easily has more to do with Weir than himself, but he's not going to over think it.
"I really thought you couldn't get out on your own," Rodney tells him. There was a time when Rodney wouldn't have volunteered to put himself into stasis, let alone go in after he believed there was something keeping people from getting out.
And there was a time, not long ago, when John might have grabbed Rodney, shoved him against a wall, and kissed him until his knees gave out. Things have a habit of changing, and no one knows it better than them. "Thanks for coming after me."
Rodney's answering smile isn't steady; it slips around the edges and then falls away. "Anytime," he says.
The Lost Boys
He's on his knees, in front of a Wraith, and he's not thinking about dying, or having the life literally sucked out of him by the palm of one of their hands--he's thinking about Rodney McKay and what will happen when no one makes it back.
There's something magnetic in the way she forces him to kneel--static energy straight to the brain, taking away his ability to stand, to think clearly.
He should probably be scared. If he was sane at all he knows he would be terrified, but he's not. He's too far past it maybe, or he just hasn't caught up. Either way, he decides they're not so scary up close.
Rodney is being held hostage, and beyond that, there really isn't much that matters.
He gets a high every time he pulls out alive from something like this, but the rest of his team are coming down, hard, and it cuts his adrenaline rush short. Ronon and Teyla aren't so bad, a day at most, Beckett says, but Rodney's been through hell already and he's still not out.
Beckett says he may never make it out completely--addiction has a way of seeping into the skin. John goes to see him, and he's sitting up in his bed, typing something on his laptop with a speed that's hard to follow.
John can't get his mind around what he did. He overdosed on something that terrified him to save them, and when he finally asks him why he would do something that incredibly stupid, he replies with, "I just asked myself what you would do and did it."
And he doesn't really know what to say to that.
His first serious girlfriend used to tell him daily that he had no faith. She wasn't talking about religion, but faith in others and herself, and John had never denied that she was right.
Thinking back he doesn't even know when it started--he can't pin down who betrayed him to make him this jaded, but he supposes that maybe war zones have a habit of teaching someone they can only rely on themselves.
So when no one follows him through, he's pissed off, but not surprised. It takes hours for any sign they're still there to show, and he screams at the walls, gives up and lays down on the stone floor and closes his eyes, but he doesn't even really blame them.
It's when they show up to save him that he's surprised. As many months for him as hours for them in a place where belief is everything, and he still hasn't learned faith.
Caldwell's been taken away, and the city is saved. He barely even gets a high from all the near misses, the whole day hardly registers. It's odd what can become routine, given enough time.
Rodney shows up at his door later, and he looks a little shaken, like maybe almost getting blown up still counts for something with him. "Hey," he says.
John leans against the doorway, so he'll look casual, and so Rodney can't get past. "Hey."
Rodney looks uncertain, and it’s a strange expression on him. John's seen it only a handful of times before. "Some day, huh?" Rodney asks.
"Just another day at the office," he says, and steps back so the door will close between them.
Grace Under Pressure
He doesn't have to have been there with Rodney to know what it was like. All that water pressing down on him, sneaking in, slipping up. John dreams of drowning all the time.
He really shouldn't be bothered by the fact Rodney thought they might not make it in time, he knows. It isn't fair to expect faith from Rodney when it's something he hasn't been able to give himself. Only Rodney has one up on him, because part of him had always known they were coming, and that part had opened the door to let them in.
Rodney tells him everything, it all comes tumbling out on a cloud of drugs and shock. Beckett tried to lightly tease him about kissing a fake Samantha Carter, but John just sat there and didn't say a word.
"I really did know, that somehow, you would find me," Rodney says once Beckett is gone, "but this was still as scared as I've ever been in my life."
"Yeah," John says. "Me too."
It takes a minute for the meaning to sink in, and then Rodney is grabbing onto his wrist with the same kind of desperation he'd held onto him with while he pulled out of the puddle-jumper. His eyes are wide when he pulls him down, but John lets him lead, because not caring is exhausting and he's not sure he can do it anymore. The kiss is nothing like their first kiss, it's not hurried or tinged with fear, it's slow and John thinks Rodney's probably never been this quiet before.
Rodney tastes like tears and water, but it feels real, and even if it's not enough it's close.
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