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Reaction fic to Sholio's "Peace I Leave With You"
Ronon had mentioned something a couple weeks ago, but Rodney hadn't really paid much attention—Sheppard being reckless, like that was news. Dog bites man would get a bigger headline in the Pegasus Times. Wraith eats man. Water is wet. John Sheppard's a suicidal idiot.
"He would not allow any of us to plant the C4," Teyla said quietly. "Only him."
"He set it off early," Ronon said.
"It may have been accidentally," Teyla said.
"It was no fucking accident," Ronon replied through clenched teeth.
They'd been sitting for five hours, taking turns passing Kade from arms to arms. Kade squirmed, not giggling like he usually did. He was used to the infirmary, and used to them, but their sober silence now upset him. Rodney had just fed him, but he still fussed crankily, the particular whimper that said he wanted his mother and would accept no substitutions.
Jennifer had come out of surgery twenty minutes ago; she had done all she could, had gone back to their quarters to shower. She'd be back soon enough, even with nothing to do.
"Were it not for John's plan," Teyla murmured, "we would not have escaped the Wraith."
"Yeah," Ronon said grimly. He had an arm around Rodney's shoulder, heavy and warm, and his dangling fingers brushed Kade's soft dark hair. He hadn't changed out of his shirt, and the blood caking on it stank, made Rodney's stomach turn. None of it was Ronon's; he'd been the one to carry John through the gate. "But it still wasn't an accident."
A week later, John's condition was promising, but Jennifer still had him doped to the gills, enough that he couldn't keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time. Most of the time when Rodney came to the infirmary he was sleeping like he was in a coma, silent and unmoving, but it was just the sedation, Jennifer assured him.
Which was good, because Rodney didn't know what he would say to John if he were in a coma and they had to do the external support and entertainment thing. He knew what he wanted to talk about—wanted to tell John about how much closer Kade was getting to complete sentences, about how he could count to ten and knew most of the alphabet, too. But John wouldn't want to hear about that, not really; he'd listen politely but the only people who actually cared about a kid's amazing progress were the kid's parents, Rodney had always known that, no matter how different it felt from the proud parent side.
He wanted to describe his latest breakthrough with the jumper hyperdrive, and the recent inroads they'd made in backing up the complete Ancient database. But John didn't care about those things either, not like he used to; he got enough from Rodney's regular reports, wouldn't appreciate the retread.
He wanted to ask John if he'd seen the latest travesty of a Batman movie—Ronon had just thought the action sequences were awesome, and Jennifer had fallen asleep as usual, and neither of them really cared that Nolan was destroying everything that made Batman not just super but a hero, not to mention pissing on the fast-fading brilliance of his first two movies—but John had probably watched it already, Rodney thought Ronon had said something about seeing it during a team movie night. It had been too dark for kids, Ronon's opinions on child development notwithstanding, so the extended family hadn't been invited. Besides, John had always been more for Marvel than Batman anyway.
So it was a good thing John wasn't in a coma—other than the obvious reasons—because Rodney didn't really have anything to say to him anyway.
So when he walked into the infirmary alcove, and John was sitting up and eating from a tray, Rodney almost turned and walked out again before John noticed him, to save them both the trouble. But Jennifer was in her office outside and would give him a look if she caught him leaving so quickly, so Rodney squared his shoulders and marched over.
John was still plugged into an IV, wired up to three monitors and bandaged like a mummy, and when he looked up from his applesauce, his eyes were a touch glassy from medication. But they were open, and his color finally had some hint of blood under the skin. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," Rodney said back. "Um, how do you feel?"
John's reply was only half a second late, and his gaze tracked to Rodney without too much of a delay. "Great, all things considered."
"Yeah, for a man blown half to smithereens, you're looking reasonably decent."
"Jennifer's a good doc."
"That she is. So," Rodney said. "Well. Good to see you're getting back on your feet. Or will be. I've got, um..."
"Yeah," John said, "thanks for stopping by," and he was drugged, and it might've been a while since Rodney had gone off-world but he still recognized that smile in an instant, the sincerely insincere smirk that John thought passed for diplomatic, the one he pasted on when he stepped back and let Teyla work her magic. We come in peace, shoot to kill, and Rodney almost said that out loud, before he realized that there was no way John could've boarded that train of thought with him.
One time, maybe, John would've been waiting at the next mental station, laughing at the joke before Rodney could say it, but they didn't need to anticipate each other like that anymore; their lives no longer depended on it, and any skill atrophies when left unexercised. And it had been too long since he and John had shared much of anything.
"So, see you around," Rodney said.
John nodded, just a bit dopily, put aside his empty applesauce cup and settled back against the pillows. "See you."
"...So was it an accident?" Rodney asked.
John's drooping eyes switched open again. "What?"
"Ronon," Rodney said. "Said it wasn't an accident. The C4 going off with you still there."
John gave him a long searching look, then leaned back into the pillows and shut his eyes. "No," he said. "It wasn't."
"What." Rodney said, but it didn't sound loud enough to his ears, so he repeated it. "What. What the—what the fuck, John—"
"Don't tell Jennifer," John said, maybe a request or maybe an order, though it had been over a year since he'd had the authority to order Rodney to do anything. His eyes were still closed.
"Like hell I'm not telling Jennifer—not to mention Richard—you're going to be in mandatory counseling so fast your head will—"
"Rodney," John said, and it was the old way he used to say it, one step up from a whine and if Rodney were feeling charitable he would blame the drugs, but he was feeling anything but.
"This isn't about you and your privacy issues, they need to know the military head of Atlantis is suicidal—"
"Whoa," John said, sitting up fast enough that he winced from it, but he ground out, "Not suicidal."
"You tried to kill yourself—"
"Like hell I was—even if I was crazy, like hell I'd risk a mission like that—come on, Rodney, you know me. You know I wouldn't—"
Rodney's hands felt cold, which was ironic because he could feel his face flushed with angry heat. He was part of the Atlantis hierarchy, this was his responsibility, too. "I don't know you that well. And I haven't seen you out in the field—I should've listened to Ronon earlier, he told me, I should've gone to Richard—"
"I don't know what Ronon told you," John said, "but he's wrong. Goddamn it, if for some crazy reason I actually did want to kill myself, I have my sidearm and private quarters, it wouldn't be that fucking difficult."
"I would've given their position away," John said. "The Wraith were right fucking there, and there was only one way out of the trench, and if I'd made a run for it, they would've seen me. They would've seen Ronon and Teyla and we'd all be drained husks right now. So I took a chance. And it paid off—we all made it back in one piece, didn't we?"
"Barely," Rodney said. His cold hands were shaking, like they'd been when Ronon had radioed him from the gateroom, a week ago. "You were pretty nearly three or four pieces, Jennifer had a hell of a time stitching you back together."
John shrugged. "All's well that ends well?"
"Don't," Rodney said. "Just—don't. I'm married—more or less—with children—child—anyway, I'm too damn old for that. You're too old for it. Save the kamikaze stunts for the younger generation."
John's face shifted, hardened into another expression Rodney knew too well. Knew John must have had it when he said he'd take the C4, and not anyone else on the team. The drugs blurred it a little, but not enough. "I don't want to die," and he said it distinctly, every syllable stressed. "But it had to be me. Same as it can't be you out there, not anymore—you know that, you understood it. You understand this, too. Take it out on me if you want, McKay, but I know you get it. Teyla, Ronon—I have to bring them back, every time. Any way I can. They've got family, they've got people waiting for them here."
"You've got people waiting for you!"
John lifted his chin, met Rodney's gaze, amber-hazel and too damn sharp for all the drooping lids and drug-dilated pupils. "Seriously, Rodney, if one of us isn't coming back through the gate, who are you going to want to see more, me, or Ronon?"
Rodney slapped him. Across the cheek and not quite hard enough to turn John's head, but enough to redden his skin and make his eyes snap wide. He stared at Rodney, who stared back, seeing his own disbelief mirrored in John's eyes.
"Did you just slap me?" John asked eventually, bandaged hand creeping up to prod his pink cheek. "Like a jilted prom queen?"
"You fucking asshole," Rodney said, vaguely amazed he could get the words out around the seething fury boiling over in his chest. "You—like I could ever—like I'd ever even think—you asshole. You better both come back—you better all come back. Every single goddamn time. That's what I want to see. That's the only damn thing I'm going to see."
John was staring at him. Rodney struggled to grab a clear breath; he was verging on hyperventilation and knew his face must be turning red and fucking hell, John looked so confused, like he didn't get this, like he didn't get this at all. "You sure as fuck better come back with Ronon," Rodney said. "Every time. Either of you goes, or Teyla, or Jennifer—I rewrote a whole goddamn timeline to get you back before, don't think I wouldn't do it again. For all of you, for any of you—I'm not part of the team anymore, but I'm still—you're still—"
"What are you talking about? You're part of the team," John said. "You're not on it anymore, but you're sure as hell still part of it. You'll always be part of it."
That tone he knew, too. "An invaluable member," Rodney said quietly, because he'd never really forgotten, even when he tried.
"Right," John said, nodding like it was obvious.
"Because it sure feels like that," Rodney said, the anger rising again like bile in his throat, "when on open movie night the DVD's already playing when I come in, whatever idiotic thing you picked, or Ronon, or—"
"You've been pissed at me all this time because I haven't let you pick a movie?" John said, gaping at him.
"What? Pissed about what—I'm not the one who—who glared at me like I was Judas because I had a child to take care of, and never really talked to me again!"
"...I never what?"
"I thought we were friends," Rodney said. "I thought—there was the team, and the work, but I thought it was more than that. And, well, I was wrong, and we're both busy men, we've got our own lives, it's not like I'm...I'm not missing anything, not really. Not that it's not worth missing, for what I have, I just wish..."
"Wish what?" John's voice was soft and tight and sharp, brittle with anger, and Rodney had to keep himself from flinching under it.
He steeled himself, faced John's hard eyes instead. "I wish...I wish I hadn't had to choose," he said. "Leaving the team, that was one thing, I didn't have a choice there, not really. If you were a...if you had a kid, you'd understand. But I didn't think—I didn't even realize I was making a choice, until after I'd made it, and you...I thought, I'd thought, after everything, after what you'd said...anyway. I'd thought wrong, I should've known, people are the one thing I always get wrong. But I didn't realize I'd even had a choice, until you weren't there anymore."
"Until I wasn't there?" John wasn't looking at him anymore—John turned away, turned his head on the pillow and brought up his arm, pressed the back of his wrist over his eyes. His voice was tighter still, rasping hoarse. "I was there," he said. "You weren't. You couldn't be there anymore, and I get that, damn it, I get that, Kade's a gorgeous kid, he's amazing, and I'd never—I wouldn't...I get it.
"But I...I don't know how to...I'll go to your quarters and I'll almost try to walk inside without ringing, before I remember the lock's not keyed to me anymore, because they're not your quarters now, they're all of yours. And—can't do beer on the pier with toddlers around, and raising a kid's a million times more important than a video game, and—and I'm a bastard. I'm a fucking selfish bastard."
John's shoulders were shaking. He dragged his arm across his eyes again, drew a ragged breath and muttered, "Goddamn painkillers."
"Yeah, you never could hold your prescription medication," Rodney said, not listening to himself, just opening his mouth and letting something come out, and another shudder went through John's shoulders, that might sort of pass for a chuckle, if Rodney squinted.
He waited until they stopped shaking, and John had put his hand down, and then he said, "I miss the video golf."
John rasped an actual chuckle, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. "You hate that game."
"Hate is putting it strongly. Mildly despised, maybe. But...it was mind-clearing, in a way. Meditative. It was so ridiculously simple that I could think about more important things while I did it."
"More important things, such as every Russian curse you could remember?"
"Actually I think I cracked the jumper hyperdrive equations during a round."
"I've still got it on the computer," John said.
"Yeah, but we haven't played in six months."
"Didn't think you'd want to. Better things to do."
"That never stopped you from whining about it before."
John looked away. "You weren't a father before."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Rodney asked, and when John rolled his head back on the pillow to eyeball him, Rodney raised his hands. "No, really. Except for your grudge about me leaving the team—just because I've got some new priorities doesn't mean I got a personality transplant; it's not like the kid's made me go soft. At least not from what my underlings in the labs bitch about. So why can't we be friends anymore, what the hell's changed?"
"Rodney," John said, and his tone was defeated. He rocked his head back, closed his eyes. "Everything. And that—it's not anyone's fault, it's just life. I get that. I'm not...there's no grudge. You're not with us in the field, but what you do here, that's just as important. You're still part of the team. But—I was married once. Even if it didn't work out for me, I know how it works."
"How what works?" Rodney demanded. "So Jennifer's my—wife or close enough, and Ronon's my—whatever. And there's Kade, of course, obviously. But you're my—best friend, or you were, or at least I thought, or—"
"Yeah," John said, but to which Rodney couldn't tell—are or were or thought or...
"I never had," Rodney said. "That is. Carson, sort of. And Radek, too, really. And Teyla. But they weren't—there's things. That I can't say to Jennifer, or Ronon. Because—it wouldn't be appropriate, or they wouldn't understand, or—Batman puts Jennifer to sleep. And Ronon thinks chess is for people who don't enjoy getting hit with sticks. And then, Kade's our kid, we can't sit around telling each other obnoxiously cute stories about what new and interesting object he's jammed up his nose this week, when we all were there for them."
John's eyes were still closed. "He's a great kid," he said. He sounded sleepy, dozing off.
"Yeah." Rodney got up. "I should—you know. Let you sleep. Or Jennifer will have my head."
"Rodney," John said. "Me, too." He opened his eyes in a careful blink, drawl slowed to almost a slur. "The video golf. I miss it, too."
There was a tightness in Rodney's chest that he hadn't realized was there, until it loosened. "I mean it," he said. "What I said before. About you all coming back. You pull another damn stunt like this and I'll—I'll rewrite the timeline again, just you watch me."
John had shut his eyes again, sunk his head into the pillows, but the corners of his lips quirked up. "Never doubted it," he said.
It was another week and a half before John was released from the infirmary. Rodney and Ronon escorted him back to his quarters, John on crutches and moving gingerly. He probably should've just had a wheelchair but after this long Jennifer knew better than to suggest it.
Halfway there, John said, "This isn't the way."
"You just noticed?" Rodney asked, because they'd taken the wrong corridor to get to his old quarters two turns back.
John's face closed, set dark and angry underneath the calm. "I've been officially checked out," he said. "I don't need anyone looking out for me, I just need time to sleep. In my own bed. Alone."
John looked from him to Ronon, glaring. "So why are we going to your quarters?"
"We're not," Ronon said, as they took the last turn.
"Your old place," Rodney said, "the thing is, you know we've moved out almost everyone else out of there already. Since the biology department's been looking for more specimen space, and as far as we can tell that tower was originally a zoo or whatever anyway. And since you were gone for this extended time anyway, relocating wouldn't inconvenience you, so—"
"Here's your new place," Ronon announced, and palmed the glowing blue lock to open the door on the room. There were a couple boxes stacked in the middle, and Johnny Cash presided in his proper place of honor on the east wall.
"Sorry about the boxes, but I figured you wouldn't appreciate anyone putting your junk away out of order, and I may be a genius but I'm not insane enough to grasp your whacked organizational system," Rodney said. "Also the bed's mattress is imported from Earth. Queen-sized, your feet should fit on it."
John was standing sideways in the doorway, looking between it and the door across the hall.
"Don't worry," Rodney assured, "these walls are totally soundproofed, you won't hear a single wail. Not that Kade's that loud anyway, not compared to some of the brats, but—"
"We're right there," Ronon said. "When you need us."
"Yeah," Rodney said, nodding. "That. Always. —Also if we need you, because there are nights we'd like a bit of—not that I don't love the kid, obviously, but there's times a man craves a little privacy with his, umm, significant others, and we can't always fob him off on Teyla and Kanaan, and besides, you're his favorite anyway, he never cries when you...well. If you wouldn't mind. Not all the time obviously, just once in a while..."
John looked back at their quarters opposite his, and then to Rodney, to Ronon, and it was probably just painkillers glazing his eyes. "Yeah," he said, and his voice was hoarse and thick, too, from the medication, probably. "I wouldn't mind."
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