[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_flashfic
Fic: A Little Off to the Side (Missing Persons Challenge)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sheafrotherdon
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG13
Disclaimer: definitely not mine; I simply love the toys (boys?) in the sandbox
Summary: A different ending to The Tao of McKay. John, absence, presence, and peace.
A/N: thanks to [livejournal.com profile] dogeared who wrangles commas like no-one on earth. Spoilers for 3:14 The Tao of McKay and 3:12 Echoes. ~2300 words



The wash of light takes him by surprise.

He'd watched Rodney darn and patch his well-loved friendships whole, weaving amends where his restless touch had worn the fabric of comfort thin. For hours they'd labored at hapless meditation, John sharing fragments of happiness from a life locked up tight, laughter from the summit of a Ferris wheel as a talisman against the dark. His eyes had burned with the fortune that rose and fell on each of Carson's diagnostic screens, the infirmary sterile, antiseptic, bland.

And yet, in every moment, he'd turned his face away from how things might end – that Rodney could die; that he might wind fingers in the slack folds of a blanket that covered no one, warmed no limbs, sheltered no breath.

He stares; swallows; rubs a hand over Elizabeth's shoulders, feels her breath falter, her resolve begin again. He glances at Teyla, who's whispering a smile; at Carson, who's resolute; at Ronon, who frowns. Wetting his lips, he lifts his chin, mumbles some platitude, and ambles away.

Inside his quarters he drops his head, pulls in a breath that's edged with ice. He tugs his shirt from his pants, throws it heedlessly away and swings into the bathroom. He can always use a shave.

But the face that looks back at him from the serviceable mirror is a man who's lost more than routine can hold, and his eyes are burning, nothing to save him, just fury at Rodney, hatred for this. He slumps against the wall, slides to the floor and steeples his knees as though bone and muscle can offer protection. His hands hang loose as he fervently considers the parameters of nothing at all, and it's someone else whose face is wet, not his – he'll turn from that truth too.

*****

But Rodney comes back.

The Ancients have a weird sense of humor – or possibly retribution – sending him back buck-naked and shivering to the gate-room floor. By the time John makes it there someone's found a blanket to wrap around Rodney's shoulders, and the med team arrives while John's still standing to one side, gaping, stunned, unable to close the space between himself and the man who might fill the curved, amber emptiness that's been wedged between his ribs for five godforsaken months, scratching at the inside of his skin with every blasted breath. He's still stock-still when they wheel Rodney away, catches just the briefest glimpse of vacant, wondering, wide-blue eyes, and he swears for just a second he's going to vomit on his boots (which would be a shame considering he'd shined them the night before last for want of something else to do).

He's half aware he's teetering on the edge of something sharp, disastrous; that his thoughts are muddled, matching large with small, and he hasn't the time or inclination to fuck himself over in the goddamn gate-room, so he orders a team of marines to guard the infirmary and takes the stairs to the control room two at a time.

The city gets caught on some effervescent tide of glee that grates the entire length of John's rigid spine. Elizabeth's beaming; even Ronon looks pleased, and John scrambles to find words that can paper over the cracks opening beneath his feet. He drags up a sardonic half-smile, rolls his eyes, jokes that the Ancients probably couldn't stand one more lecture about their backward ideas of governance and justice, but the amber places inside him grind hard against his lungs, and when Carson calls them in, brings them back to earth with a furrowed brow and leaden words of caution, all he can feel is relief.

– a body but no memory; like Jackson, yes; yes, it'll return, but it'll take some time; resting now; he asked for blue jello –

For the first time in five and a half months, John feels a lick of warmth inside his chest. Back from the dead and the stubborn bastard wants dessert. Not everything's slipped through their fingers then; there's jello to pit against the chasms carved by forgetfulness; and by all reports, a simple joy in the way that mathematics spins order from a fragmented universe, equations to make right from absence and cause Rodney to smile with delight, discovering it anew.

John does his part, answers questions, although he doesn't visit alone unless he's fairly sure Rodney'll be asleep, face slack and trusting beneath the dimmed infirmary lights, broad hands that have clutched at John's shoulders (wiped his mind of failure on bad days, tangled in his hair on good), lax now against the green cotton sheets, empty of knowing what they've said before -- which unspoken words have spilled from the whorls of each fingertip, etched themselves into John's skittish muscle; hidden beneath fingernails and scraped themselves sharp into John's stretched-tight skin. Those hands fill again come daytime, but not with anything that speaks of John – primes and fractals, curvature and entropy, wormholes, electrons, neurons and light rising up, shivering onto laptops and tablets and books as Rodney charts the edges of a new-known world and smiles when the nurses bring him a chocolate pudding cup.

"This is awesome," he says to John on day six, smile glancing soft against John's jaw before it passes to Teyla.

"Yeah," John manages, and he'd rather have him here than not, so it's almost truth and it's amber and painful, but it's also solid, real, and he's no damn fool.

It's seven weeks before Rodney's childhood comes back, before Carson asks John to come as soon as he's able and explain what he can. This, John thinks, is a special kind of hell – feelings; the hurt that belongs to a kid, not a grown man who's fumbling to ask the right sort of questions, sitting tense as though his hand's being held above a flame.

"So I – " Rodney starts.

"They're gone."

"And I – "

"Didn't talk to them for . . . a while before that."

"And they – "

John rolls his shoulders. "They were assholes, Rodney. You're remembering it right." Only it's John who feels like an asshole when Rodney curls on his side, pulls the blankets up around his chin and asks if he could leave him alone for a while.

He counts it a blessing that Zelenka knows more about Rodney in Siberia than he does, especially when the rumors make the rounds about pet reindeer and potato liquor and a man called Ivan who ran simulations with one hand and counted things out on an abacus with the other, just to be colorful, just to make Rodney fume. But there's no guarantee of safe ground even if there's breathing room – the memories don't come back in order; he has no idea what Rodney will want to know next, and when he's accosted in the hallway – when'd they let him go? Is that his shirt Rodney's wearing? – he stiffens with a hundred accusations needling his spine. He has to admit, "You shot me!" and a grin aren't quite what he was expecting, and laughter surprises him, bubbling up from some place that's been dormant since Rodney left, and he hitches a shoulder. "Pushed you off a balcony," he says with some pride.

Rodney's beaming. "That's great. You're great," he grins, slaps him on the arm and bounds away, and John has to set his teeth against the vicious tug of nausea that rolls in his stomach, that protests Rodney never talked like that; that hears 'you're great' and finds it sour.

He gets used to seeing Rodney around again – they eat as a team in the mess, and movie nights start up once more. Rodney has questions – missions they went on, the order, the result, and John starts to expect to have his elbow caught in a broad, callused hand and to be asked to join a conversation Rodney's been having with himself for almost half an hour. It's nearly enough, almost like before, and though he feels it like a blade drawn down his arm when Rodney remembers Ford, he takes it as a kindness that he turns to Teyla for answers – seems like Rodney's remembering John's never been that guy.

So he notices once Rodney begins to avoid him, and he's promised himself he'll give him space, let all of this unfold however it's meant to, but this is all wrong – makes him wary, suspicious, uncomfortable in his skin. He radios, but Rodney doesn't answer; goes to the labs, but no one's seen him around. The mess, the armory, the cat-walk where he sometimes goes to think – all are empty, and it takes a while for John to get it, to push into the deserted north wing and find the lab with the bio-data on whales and anemones, let his eyes adjust to the shrouding dark and see Rodney sitting on a crate against the wall.

"I'm sorry," Rodney says.

John steps inside the room, cautious, steady. "About what?"

"Doranda."

"Fuck," John breathes. "Okay, that was – okay that was bad, but we're past that now."

"We're past me destroying most of a solar system?" Rodney says, deadpan.

John looks away to the side. "Pretty much."

Rodney tilts his chin, and god, John's missed that gesture, but he doesn't want it back like this. "I see."

"Rodney, look – " John steps closer, arm outstretched, palm toward Rodney in pleading. "It's okay. Seriously. That was – it's not like that now."

"You don't look at me if you can help it."

"Sure I do."

"Not directly. Always a little off to the side."

"Yeah, well – " John shuffles his feet. "I'm not good with that whole – "

"I get why now. I wondered and I – "

John clenches his jaw. "You've got it wrong."

"You said it would take some time, to get your trust back. I haven't managed it, have I?"

John drops his head, breathes out through his nose, tries to quell the flash of memory, of himself looking up into Rodney's face, pleading, begging, now, god Rodney, please, feeling the harsh slide of Rodney inside him, closing his eyes because it was too fucking good. "I trust you."

"I need – just – could I be alone for a while?"

"Rodney – "

"Alone."

And John can't say no to that – who the hell could say no to that? – so he turns away, moves back to the door. "You should – " He gestures to the console. "Look up Sam."

"Sam?"

"He's in there. You'll see." And he walks away.

*****

He hears when Rodney remembers Jeannie – when Elizabeth gives him permission to dial earth and send a data stream of memories and garbled half-sentences of I'm still not over that whole Apollo 13 pencil debacle and I remember the word 'tofurkey' but I don't know what it means and I can see you smiling and – that's – words tumbling into silent space. Teyla smiles as she tells the story, and when she touches John's hand for a second he flinches, then forces a smile. She isn't fooled, goes easy on him when they spar that afternoon, but he doesn't say a word, just works himself sweatier, dirtier, harder until she tells him "enough," and suggests he go home.

"I'm fine," he protests, shrugging off her concern.

"Must I order it, Colonel?" she asks, and she has no authority to do so but he knows she has the right, and he closes his eyes for just a moment, touches his forehead to hers, and runs the long way back to his quarters for the satisfaction of feeling his calves begin to burn.

He's showered by the time his door chimes an intrusion, track pants low on his hips and no t-shirt within grabbing distance. Swearing softly he unlocks the door. "Come in," he yells, hoping it's no one who'll freak out at a little skin, freezing when he sees Rodney walk inside.

"You," Rodney says.

"Me?" John falters.

"I remember you," Rodney replies.

A clean shock of fright slams him back two steps, and he takes another just to be safe because Jesus, he's fucked this up, done this all wrong – five months without him and seven watching him fumble back and he truly never thought they'd get to this so it was okay that he didn't say a word, didn't ask or expect or hint or offer and –

"How did you – "

Accusation, John thinks. Accusation's good – he still has his memories and he knows how to simmer beneath an officer's glare, withstand his intentions being stripped down and cast aside, eyed with disgust. "I just – "

"No," Rodney says, shaking his head. "I mean – how did you – it's been a year."

John swallows hard because the look on Rodney's face – it's nothing that he thought it was; not dismissal, not demotion, not a black stinging mark. It's searching, watchful, even hopeful, and he's never been able to withstand that sort of look, Rodney laid open, every tremor shivering bare. "I – "

And Rodney's hands are on him, framing his face, and his lips are slanting crooked kisses to his jaw, his mouth, and fuck, he remembers, he remembers, every nerve in his body roused to wakefulness by this touch. "A year," Rodney says, fingers trailing down John's throat, hand pressing hard against his chest, above his heart.

John nods, breathes hard, and though it costs him the comfort of all his anonymity, doesn't turn his face away.
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Stargate Atlantis Flashfiction

April 2017

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