Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, McKay/Keller established
Warnings: See after after the fic/below the second cut.
Spoilers: 5x11 The Lost Tribe
Word count: 6405
Summary: "Rodney's relationship with Jennifer is affecting our team dynamics and that is not acceptable."
Note: Many thanks to neevebrody for the last minute beta! For some reason my McSheplets never remain ficlets.
Solving a mystery
"You could still tell him."
John evaded Ronon's attack. The physical one at least. The verbal one required some thinking. The I don't know what you're talking about approach hadn't worked so well in the past because, unexpectedly, Ronon had actually explained what he meant and that conversation was nothing that John cared to repeat.
A direct response would probably be best.
"I could, but I won't." John struck back, missing Ronon's arm.
"You're making a mistake," Ronon said, swinging the stick at John's legs.
John jumped over it and countered with another jab at Ronon's arm. This time he scored a hit, though he couldn't feel triumphant for long. Ronon moved forward and landed a hit across John's stomach. John went down.
"Dammit," he said through his teeth, checking if his innards were still in the right place.
Ronon watched him, not nearly as smug as John would have expected. "You'll live," he said almost kindly.
John looked up at him. He'd never wanted Ronon's sympathy. Actually, that's a lie. He did want his sympathy. He just didn't want the advice that went along with it. Especially now.
Ronon extended his hand and John took it and stood. His stomach still hurt. "I think I'm done for the day," he said, though he was talking about more than stick fighting.
"It's only been a week," Ronon said.
It was hard to believe. It seemed like a lifetime to John since Rodney and Keller had returned through the gate, holding hands, but that wasn't the point. "It doesn't matter how long it's been. They're together and happy." He tried not to think of how happy they were, gazing lovingly at each other in the mess hall or infirmary or Rodney's lab or any damn place John went.
"They're getting laid. Of course they're happy."
"Ronon, that's..." Crass? Shallow? Possibly true? John didn't know how to finish, but he reminded himself that the latter one was just wishful thinking because he knew this wasn't just about sex. "He's in love with her and you know it." It still hurt to say it. He'd tried it before, in his own room, to see if he would feel better if he admitted it out loud. He didn't.
"McKay loves you."
"Maybe he does. Like a friend." It came out more bitter than he intended.
"It could be more," Ronon insisted.
"How do know that? There's no reason to believe he's... open to it." Rodney was straight. And had a girlfriend. If John had ever had a chance, which he hadn't, it was gone.
"I could ask him," Ronon said.
John threw up his hands in defeat, then winced when it made his stomach hurt again. "Just drop it, Ronon. I know that you liked Keller too, and I'm sorry, but I can't help you there."
"It's not about me. This won't break my heart," Ronon said evenly, but he gave John a look.
"You— You think this is," John forced himself to say it, "'breaking my heart'?"
"I don't understand why you don't tell him. It's not like you to give up without even trying."
"I'm not trying because there's no point!" John shouted, not knowing how else to get it through Ronon's thick skull. "I know Rodney, all right. I know who he kissed in high school, stalked in college and which girl he'll go for on a mission. And I know exactly what he's always been looking for: a smart, pretty woman, who'll put up with him, even if he behaves like an asshole. Now he's found her and he's not letting go of her. They'll get married, have a bunch of smart kids, Rodney will pressure them to become scientists and maybe they'll hate him for it, but they'll forgive him and anyway, he'll always have his wife and he'll live happily ever after and if life is fair he'll top it all off with a Nobel. That's it. No mystery, no secret, no bullshit. That's Rodney McKay summed up for you and the very reason why I'll never ever tell him how I..." John struggled to a stop, because God dammit, he'd never wanted to talk about this in the first place.
"You could give him that too," Ronon said.
John laughed out loud. A short, bitter laugh.
"Is this about your military's rules? We wouldn't say anything."
"We?" John asked weakly. Ronon alone was bad enough.
"Teyla and I. She told me about the rules of the military in your country."
"Told you?" John didn't dare ask why she did it. Was he really so obvious? At least Rodney was oblivious.
"You'd make him happy. Happier than she will," Ronon continued.
John didn't know if Ronon was an incurable romantic or if he was trying to be kind. Either way it didn't change the facts. And the fact was that Rodney and Keller were together.
"He looks pretty happy to me," John said and it was the truth, more than he cared to think about.
Ronon didn't say anything more and John left, deciding he didn't need to go to the infirmary. His stomach didn't hurt that badly. Certainly not as much as seeing Rodney with Keller would.
John sighed the sigh of the justly self-satisfied.
"You were quite good today," Teyla said graciously. "Although I have to admit I was a bit distracted."
"Come on. I won fair and square."
"You did not win," Teyla corrected him.
Well, he hadn't lost either, which he counted as a win. He smiled, proud of himself.
"There is a reason for my distraction," Teyla said, wiping the sweat from her face with a towel and looking carefully at him.
"There's nothing wrong, is there?" John asked.
"I would like to talk with you for a moment if I may."
John's face fell. This couldn't be good. Usually in such situations, Teyla wouldn't ask and simply say things like, "I do not believe the Hiperto would appreciate being compared to characters of a children's program," and then look at him varying degrees of reproach or concern or both at the same time.
"Ronon mentioned that he talked to you," she said.
And no. Just no. He was not having this conversation with Teyla. Ever. He was trying to come up with a polite but firm way to say exactly that when she spoke up again.
"I respect your decision not to act on his advice. I can even understand it, although I do not necessarily agree with you."
This was... good. He waited because it was obvious that she hadn't brought this up just to tell him that she understood him.
"I do believe you have to talk to Rodney," Teyla continued.
"But you just said—"
"Not about... your feelings. At least not the way Ronon feels you should. But Rodney's relationship with Jennifer is affecting our team dynamics and that is not acceptable."
"That's not..." True he wanted to say.
Except it was.
When he'd split up the team into Teyla and Rodney and Ronon and himself on the first mission after Rodney had gotten together with Keller, he'd told himself it was to cover more ground, something they frequently did. But after the third mission in a row he had to admit that he just couldn't take Rodney going on and on about his new girlfriend.
It was such a difference from when Rodney had dated Katie Brown. Back then John could easily pretend that it wasn't serious because it hadn't changed anything between them. Rodney had still hung out with him all the time and he'd never really mentioned Katie.
Not so this time. John hadn't spent any time alone with Rodney since he and Keller had gotten together. It was like a switch had been turned and Rodney's life revolved around her now. Rodney didn't suddenly ignore John when they had meetings or on missions or when they had team lunch but when Rodney wasn't talking about work, he kept mentioning Keller to the point where John waited for it even when he didn't.
And it wasn't like John could say anything. They were in love and had just gotten together. Of course they wanted to spend time together.
John nodded, but didn't say anything. He wasn't going to talk to Rodney. He couldn't. But Teyla was right. He couldn't let things go on the way they had. On their next mission he would have to bite the bullet and listen to Rodney talking about Keller and what she'd said and what they'd done—and with every word the underlying message of how much he loved her.
The next mission turned out to consist mostly of running for their lives which made the whole thing easier, but reality came crashing down hard after that. To John it had felt like old times. Rodney had bitched all through the mission and into the briefing, no mention of Keller at all. And when later that day he showed up in John's room to play "anything that doesn't involve running and shooting", John thought it was really going to be okay.
Until Rodney said, "I have about an hour until Jennifer goes off duty."
John was so taken aback that he wasn't able to hide his reaction.
"What?" Rodney asked.
"Nothing," John said, trying to remain neutral, except he couldn't help going on. "Are you sure you have an hour? You could go do something nice for her. A picnic maybe?"
"Nah, not after this mission. She'll understand. In fact I'm counting on her to make it all better," Rodney said with a grin. "Just want to kill the time until then."
"Right," John said flatly.
"So what do you want to play? Or we could watch the latest BSG. I think—"
"Get out," John said calmly. When Rodney looked at him as if he'd grown a second head, he added, "Please."
"What? Why? What the hell is up with you anyway?"
"I can't do this, okay." He wasn't able to look at Rodney, but he had to say something. Even he had a breaking point and Rodney had jumped right over it.
"Can't do what?" Rodney asked.
"Can't be your... human sudoku. I'm sure you'll find something else to do until your girlfriend has time for you."
Rodney frowned. "Is that what this is about? You're annoyed that I'm spending time with my girlfriend?"
"I'm not annoyed," John said petulantly. Angry was more like it. Extremely frustrated. And bitter, let's not forget that.
"Oh, because from where I stand, that's what it looks like. Look, it's not my fault that that thing with Larrin never worked out."
"Larrin?" John asked incredulously. Larrin?! Hell, he hadn't even talked to her in over a year and the only reason he'd asked after her was because it was nice to know that someone out there acknowledged his existence as a sexual being. And if he might actually get another kiss out of it eventually... well, he couldn't very well stay pure for Rodney for the rest of his fucking life.
"Don't think I haven't heard about how you tried to contact her," Rodney continued and he actually sounded pissed off about it. "So, I get that you're frustrated, but don't take it out on me, okay?"
"I'm not taking anything out on you. It's great that you have a girlfriend," John said through gritted teeth. "And if you want to spend every waking minute with her or talking about her, fine, do that. It's none of my business."
"Damn, right it isn't! God, I can't believe you. And I do not spend every waking minute talking about her."
"Do you want me to list what she's done in the last ten days? Last Monday she had to treat a botanist with a reaction to a plant that Teldy's team brought back; the two of you had dinner in your quarters. Tuesday was a slow day at the infirmary and she did some check-ups, but mostly administrative stuff. For dinner the two of you went to the tower on the East Pier after watching "River of No Return" because Keller likes Marilyn Monroe. Wednesday—"
"Okay, I get it! You can stop." Rodney seemed angry now too. It didn't make John feel better. "So, now we're not allowed to talk about our private lives on missions?"
"It's not as if I could stop you from doing it," John said bitterly.
"Maybe not. But I'll try to make an effort from now on, Colonel." With that Rodney turned around and left John alone.
Maybe Teyla would be happy now, John thought darkly.
Things were tense on the next mission to say the least. Rodney hardly said a word and John could practically see him vibrating with the effort to keep his mouth shut. The corners of Rodney's mouth were turned downward and John couldn't help feeling bad.
Half-way to the village when Rodney's mouth actually formed into something like a pout, John couldn't take it anymore. "I'm sorry, okay?" he said loud enough for Rodney to hear.
Rodney turned to him. He looked pissed off, but there was a note of something else in his face. Then he huffed, "Accepted," and lifted his chin. After a couple of steps, he started talking about the energy readings that they were checking out.
John listened, letting him drone on, but something was different. Rodney's voice was just a bit tighter than it usually was and when the leader of the natives later showed them around the artifacts, he burst out, "This is all very interesting, I'm sure, for someone who is... not me. But I'd really like to check out the temple now, if we may. I happen to have a date tonight and—" Then he cut himself off and looked at John and John knew that they weren't back to the way things had been before.
Not by a long shot.
The next day Rodney asked him to stop by the lab and they played a round of computer golf, but John had been more relaxed in mine fields and when Rodney had lost and awkwardly said, "That was fun," John could only stand up and say, "No, it wasn't."
Rodney spluttered and began, "But... I'm trying okay. What do you want me to do here? I'm not sorry I have a girlfriend now. I didn't realize it would a problem for you. And I really don't know why it is. I've dated before."
He was right. John didn't know how to tell him that it wasn't Rodney, it was him. "Just give me some time. To get used to it."
Rodney looked a bit confused, so John quickly made his exit before Rodney could ask him what he meant.
It went on like that for the next days. Rodney didn't invite John again to spend some time together. On missions and other occasions where they met they were polite, which was wrong on so many levels that John almost picked another fight with Rodney, except that he knew that he couldn't do it because in the end Rodney would demand to know what the hell was wrong with him. And John found it more and more difficult to find reasons not to tell him, because as it was, there wasn't much of a friendship worth saving.
On his next day off, Keller asked John to meet her in Rodney's lab. He tried not to panic. Maybe it was a mission or experiment she wanted to get input on before taking it to Woolsey.
When he arrived in Rodney's lab, Keller was nowhere to be seen. Rodney looked up from his laptop, obviously surprised to see him.
"Is something up?" he asked.
"Uhm," John said intelligently and was saved by Keller's arrival.
"I asked him to come here," she said by way of introduction. She was geared up and carrying her medical backpack.
"I thought you just wanted to check something out before we—" Rodney said before cutting himself off with a look at John. John looked away.
"Actually, I'm going on a mission," she said.
"Has something happened? Should I come with you?" Rodney was already getting up from his chair and John was ready to go and leave, because he didn't want to watch Rodney fawn over her like that, even if it was completely natural. Because it was completely natural.
Keller put both her hands on Rodney's shoulders and made him sit down again. "Everything is fine. I'm going to visit the Athosians with Teyla. And while I'm away, you can spend the day with John," she said with a wide smile.
Rodney's eyes widened in the same alarm that John felt.
Keller either didn't notice or chose to ignore it. "I know that you two haven't had a lot of time for each other lately, so I thought I'd give you the chance to catch up."
John swallowed. He watched as Keller leaned forward and planted a kiss on Rodney's lips, too fast for John to look away. Then she went off with a wave of her hand and they were alone.
"I take it you didn't know about this either," John asked.
"No, we had planned to... spend the day together," Rodney said.
Neither of them said anything for far too long and eventually, John said, "I'll just..." pointing at the door and turning to leave.
"Wait," Rodney stopped him.
John turned back around.
"You could stay," Rodney suggested almost shyly and John wished, really wished that he wasn't in love with him, that it didn't matter to him that Rodney was happy with someone else, that they could just be friends the way they'd been before. "I mean, she did go through all the trouble to do this," Rodney added and John tried not to wince at that.
"Is that the only reason you want me to stay?" he asked resigned.
"What? No, God, do you want to misunderstand me?"
"No. No," John quickly said. "I'm just..."
"What? Really, what is going on here?" Rodney asked, standing up. "And don't tell me it's nothing. We were friends and then I started dating Jennifer and like that," he snapped his fingers, "we're not friends anymore. Why, John?"
John looked at the ground. He was pretty much defenseless when Rodney called him that while looking at him like that.
"You weren't... interested in Jennifer, were you?" Rodney asked carefully.
John looked up at that and started laughing.
"What's so funny? Ronon was interested in her. I don't see why it would be funny to assume that you might be too."
John sobered, because really, there was nothing funny about this situation. Rodney watched him curiously and slightly piqued. "I'm not interested in her and never was," John said.
"Then what is going on? Is this about Larrin—"
John sighed. "It's not about Larrin or Keller or any other woman, Rodney."
Rodney looked at him, frowning, and John realized he would never get it if John didn't tell him. "What then?" Rodney asked helplessly.
I love you, was on the tip of John's tongue, but he wasn't quite willing to give up on their friendship yet. He just needed a bit more time to adjust. He just needed to get used to Rodney with her, Keller, Jennifer. "I'm sorry," he said and turned around again, but Rodney came up behind him, and turned him back around with a hand on his arm.
"No. I'm not letting you go before you tell me what's going on," Rodney said, chin lifted up in determination.
"And you'd stop me how?" John couldn't help saying, which was a mistake because Rodney was a genius and this was his lab in his city. It took only a few seconds for Rodney to turn them both around and to do something fancy with the crystals at the door.
"Like that," Rodney said smugly. Then his face turned brave. "Tell me what's going on, John."
That "John" was going to be his undoing one day. It made it so hard to deny Rodney when he called him that, but as so often when he did, John had no choice. He tried to come up with a convincing lie. He'd have to tell Rodney something. "It is Larrin," he settled on, not meeting Rodney's eye.
"Wow, really? You never mentioned her." Rodney didn't say anything else and after a while, John looked up only to be faced with a skeptical look. "It's not Larrin," Rodney said. John didn't confirm or protest, but apparently it was enough to convince Rodney that he was right. "Why would you lie to me? Is it... Do you think I don't deserve her?" Rodney asked quietly.
He looked so miserable that John just wanted to take him in his arms, or possibly shake some sense into him. He had no idea why Rodney didn't seem to have a setting between arrogant and insecure. And John preferred arrogant, because an insecure Rodney broke something inside him. "You deserve her," he said matter-of-factly. "You deserve whatever you want." That was why he'd never told him after all. He wanted Rodney to be happy. He wanted Rodney to have it all.
John turned away. He had to leave.
"John, please," he heard Rodney's voice, far too close and then he felt Rodney's hand on his arm again, turning him around.
"I can't," John said, but it came out broken. Part of him wanted to say it, to finally let it out and come clean, to finally be honest about whom he loved for once in his life.
Rodney's hand moved slowly up on his arm and he looked at John, really looked and John wasn't as sure anymore that he would never figure it out.
John looked away, but Rodney moved close and into his line of sight and when he whispered, "John," John couldn't take it any more.
He grabbed Rodney's face and when Rodney looked more curious than shocked, he kissed him. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth, not letting go of Rodney, because this was his one shot, his only chance to ever experience this.
It was... as good as a kiss that wasn't returned could be. John pulled back, bracing himself before he opened his eyes.
Rodney watched him with... It was hard to describe. There was sadness in it, but also relief and he was frowning in the way that meant he was thinking.
John waited, suddenly unwilling to leave, even though there was nothing left to say or do. He'd laid it all out on the table. Now it was up to Rodney.
And what Rodney eventually said was, "I understand."
Nothing more, nothing less and John nodded and tried to remind himself that he'd always known that Rodney wouldn't return his feelings, but he still felt as if he had lost something infinitely valuable. "I'll leave you to..." he said, gesturing towards Rodney's desk.
"Yes," Rodney only said.
John nodded again and walked towards the door. "It's still closed," he said, without turning back.
Rodney rushed to his side and opened it, taking a step back as soon as he was done. Putting space between them, John thought ruefully. He glanced at Rodney and walked out.
Rodney didn't stop him.
I understand he'd said to John and intellectually Rodney did understand. John was in love with him.
But what this really meant for John and for himself, for their relationship, for their team, for everything wasn't as easy to grasp.
He couldn't wrap his head around the fact that John wanted him. Of course, Rodney had noticed that John had behaved weirdly after he and Jennifer had gotten together. But he hadn't thought it would be this.
John was in love with him.
Rodney kept repeating it in his head, because it still hadn't sunk in, not in a way that felt real. His friendship with John had always been a mystery to him. He'd never understood what John saw in him and a part of him had wondered what made him worthy of that friendship.
Now it turned out that he wasn't just John's best friend, but that John felt even more for him. He didn't know how this could have happened. He tried to look back over the years and what it could have been like from John's point of view.
Rodney had accused him of being Kirk, but the truth was John hadn't been in a serious relationship—or anything that you could call a relationship at all—since Rodney had met him. He spent most of his free time with Rodney. And there'd been those moments when he'd say things like, "Don't die on me, McKay," while tying up a wound, or "Come on, Rodney, I've seen you work a lot faster." There could be urgency or worry or annoyance in his voice, but underlying there was something that Rodney had never quite worked out until now. He'd identified it as respect and affection and pride, but in the end what Rodney had felt was being loved.
Rodney looked back at the moment when he'd asked John to let him die for his sister. Back then he'd been angry that John would use logic in a situation like that when really it hadn't been about that. God, he finally understood what he'd asked of John in that moment.
And it didn't end there. Rodney had shown him the engagement ring for Katie, completely unaware of what it must have meant to John and only now did Rodney realize how supportive John had really been when he'd told him to 'go get the girl'.
Rodney thought about John's nightmare of Rodney's death and how he'd refused to say his goodbyes and how mad Rodney had been about it. Now he finally understood. He understood it and felt it and it was painful and he felt horrible for everything that he'd done to John without knowing.
But the last few weeks had to have been the worst. From blowing him off to go on the mission where Jennifer was kidnapped to asking him to act as a time killer—and God, he'd really said that, hadn't he?—until Jennifer was free, Rodney had pretty much trampled on John's feelings as if he owned them. Which he did, in a way, and that just made it so much worse.
John had tried not to say anything, to just let Rodney go on in happy oblivion, never mind his own feelings, because that's what he always did. Sacrifice and responsibility and if John wasn't lazy and pretty attached to his life, Rodney would never dare to let him walk through the gate.
He trusted John with his life, but he wasn't sure if he could trust him with John's. Teyla, Ronon and he had always managed to bust John out of any situation (sometimes with help). This time Rodney was on his own to save John, but he'd do it, because John deserved better that this. He deserved to be happy.
Rodney thought long and hard about how he could make this easier for John and in the end he only came up with one thing. He didn't want to do it. It didn't feel right, but then the way things were now didn't feel right either. This way he was doing something and not just watching and pretending that he didn't know he kept hurting John.
Still a part of him wanted John to say no, to tell Rodney that he couldn't allow it.
John looked at him, thought it over and finally said, "Okay."
And with that, Rodney was off the team.
He picked the best replacement he could think of and drilled some basics into him. Heatherton could think relatively quickly and was neither a coward nor trigger-happy and generally not entirely useless on missions.
Teyla and Ronon never asked why he'd left the team and Rodney suspected that they knew the reason, because they always told him about John without Rodney having to prompt them. He wanted to hear how John was doing. He missed John, but at the same time he had to acknowledge that things couldn't be the same between them. He still saw John in meetings and the mess, of course, and they were civil, even friendly, but it felt forced to Rodney and he hated that feeling because above all, John's friendship had meant to him that he was accepted just the way he was, without having to pretend or hide who he was and how he was. Whenever they were alone now, an awkward silence settled around them and they soon became quite adept at avoiding those situations, even if abruptly turning back down a hallway with a mumbled "Oh, I forgot..." wasn't much less awkward.
Rodney was on Lorne's team now, which was working out quite well. And he had Jennifer. They spent a lot of their free time together and she was sweet and funny and the sex was great. They were happy. He was happy—mostly.
He never told Jennifer why he left the team. He owed it to John and more than that he didn't want her to know, because it was personal and he couldn't have taken Jennifer's pity for John or the situation. It wasn't her fault, but she was the reason and a small part of him resented her for it, but he tried to push that thought away because he loved her and she was great—and he'd given up John for her, although that last one wasn't something he could acknowledge outside of late night sessions in the lab, when he played video golf, though he'd never particularly liked it, just to feel close to John.
Rodney was working on a simulation when he heard the call through the control room channel which he stayed on whenever John was out on a mission, just in case.
Without thinking he ran to the next transporter, ready to chastise John for pulling another stupid stunt, hoping that John would glare at him, because then he'd be okay. And also hoping that maybe it could be the first step for them to be okay again. He kept wishing for that, for one moment outside of routine that would show them a way to make it possible.
He'd left the team for John, and he stood by his choice, but it didn't mean that he didn't want to be back.
When he arrived at the gate room, all wishes to be back on the team, to be John's friend again evaporated. The team was already gone. Harsh whispers came from the control room. There was blood everywhere. Rodney stopped breathing for a moment. From the puddle of blood a trail led away towards the infirmary, bloody footprints next to it and even the wheels of the gurney had left a gruesome mark on the floor.
Rodney didn't know how anybody could survive so much blood loss.
He wasn't aware that he'd started running, but he must have because he abruptly stopped steps away from the infirmary. His heart was beating like crazy and he felt tears prickling in his eyes. He didn't dare take another step. As long as he stayed here, he could pretend it wasn't real. John was alive. They'd have a chance to joke again, tease each other again, not have it end when things were so wrong between them.
God, he couldn't believe this. John couldn't be dead. Not now.
Rodney felt the incomprehensible horror of the situation closing in around him. John would die. He'd die thinking Rodney had abandoned him. He'd die thinking Rodney had chosen Jennifer over him, that he cared about Jennifer more than him. He'd die before Rodney could tell him that he was wrong.
Rodney cared. He cared about John. He needed John. He—
Rodney shook himself and stumbled around the corner, because there was still a chance that it would be okay. John had been as good as dead before. Rodney remembered that feeling of loss, so great that it was almost unreal, even then.
His eyes quickly scanned the room, ignoring anything that wasn't a shock of dark untidy crazy hair until he found it. John looked pale. There were scrapes on his face and some blood, but he looked okay. He looked like he was just sleeping.
Rodney had tuned out everything that wasn't John, but somehow his brain must have caught something that got through the filter because into the dull noise suddenly came words that he could make out.
"—sorry. I did what I can, but he lost too much blood. There was nothing I could—"
And then it was gone again and Rodney was suddenly much closer to the floor than before and the only thing he heard was a faraway, "John. John. John," repeated over and over.
He vaguely noticed that someone was pulling him up and that his name was being called. But none of it mattered. He heard Jennifer's worried voice from somewhere, felt Teyla's soothing hand and Ronon's strong arms that kept him upright. And then he heard, "Sheppard's all right."
It was like the world suddenly came back into focus.
"John will be fine," he heard Teyla say loud and clear and he began to struggle in Ronon's arms, because he had to see, he had to get there.
Ronon let him go and Rodney sought out John, his gaze falling on Jennifer's comprehending face, but he didn't stop and pushed past all of them to John. He stared for a long moment until he noticed the rise and fall of John's chest.
"Oh, thank God," he said and gratefully collapsed in the chair pushed up behind him.
He managed to tear his gaze away from John long enough to look at Teyla and Ronon.
"Heatherton," Teyla said gravely and Rodney turned and for the first time saw the blood covered man in another infirmary bed.
He'd never been so glad about the death of one of his scientists. He knew that he shouldn't feel this way, that every loss of life was terrible, but this loss of life meant it wasn't John. John was alive.
John was alive.
Rodney turned back to him and took his hand. He felt an overwhelming need to reach out and touch more than that and he wanted to shake John awake so that he could see his eyes.
He'd come so close to losing him today. Rodney didn't know what he would have done. He'd have lived on, yes, but he couldn't imagine not regretting for the rest of his life. Regretting that he'd given up on their relationship so easily, regretting that he'd never been able to tell John how he felt and most of all regretting that he hadn't been able to see what it was that he really felt.
John's feelings for him had always been a mystery to Rodney. But now he had to realize that his own feelings had been even more unclear. John had blindsided him from the first day. The laid back flyboy who'd been amused by Rodney's antics rather than annoyed. The man who'd trusted him enough to put him on his team and then sought out his friendship.
Rodney had taken it all, not even knowing what was going on, what was building between them. He'd always been one step behind. He'd realized that he really liked John and that it was okay when they'd already been friends. He'd acknowledged that John was his best friend when they'd built the foundation of so much more. And he nearly had to lose John to finally realize that he wanted John in every way. He wanted it all with John.
"Rodney?" came John's weak voice and Rodney looked up, squeezing John's hand. John looked at him, then around, then his face darkened. "Heatherton?"
"He didn't make it. I'm sorry," Jennifer said.
Rodney looked at her and their gazes met. He did feel regret. Jennifer was a great person. But she could never be what John was to him and he was sorry that he hadn't realized it sooner. It would have saved all of them a lot of pain.
"I'll leave you two alone for a moment," she said, her voice only showing the slightest tremble. She nodded at Teyla and Ronon to follow her and then he was alone with John.
John looked tired.
Rodney wanted to tell him that it would be all right now, that he'd been wrong, that he'd been blind and maybe afraid and that he was sorry for not seeing the truth sooner, but he didn't think that John was up for that much. So he tried to sum it all up.
"I love you."
John's eyes widened, but instead of happiness, he looked even more weary to Rodney. "You don't have to say that."
"No, I don't. But I want to because it's the truth."
"Thank you," John said, but it didn't sound like he was grateful and he looked away.
It occurred to Rodney that John didn't understand what he was saying. "I love you. As in love love, as in in love."
John turned to him, frowning now. The infirmary wasn't exactly private, but at the moment they were alone in their corner and Rodney needed to make his point, so he quickly leaned forward and kissed John on the lips.
It took a moment and then John kissed him back, lifting one hand to cup Rodney's face. Rodney felt gratitude that he could still experience this moment and then he felt nothing but John and the absolute rightness of this moment.
The kiss was gentle but deep and Rodney would have loved to take it further, but this was neither the right time nor the right place.
When he pulled away, John asked, "What about Keller?"
Rodney didn't know what to say because it felt obvious to him. "She's... not you," he said. "She was never you. She could never have been you."
John didn't look as if he really understood but he seemed satisfied. Rodney quickly stroked his cheek. "I should let you rest."
"Don't go," John said immediately. "Please," he added.
"I won't," Rodney said.
He'd never leave John again.
Blood. Death of a minor original character.