All the Things Rodney Never Was

Dec. 15th, 2007 03:14 pm

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: Ensemble

Rating: R

Warnings: Slash, language, future!fic, whump, minor character death.

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: ferret_kitty. Who does not mine when fics eat my braaain.

Summary: Rodney wasn't trained for this.

Author's Note: So, I mentioned I was working on a fic where Rodney ends up involuntarily in charge, right? Yeah. This is it.

hr

He'll think it's funny, later, how he managed to convince himself that this was a nightmare right up to this point. But something about all the devastated faces upturned towards him, the Mess crammed full of people, all watching him from his awkward perch on a table... Something about the complete desolation of those gathered around him makes him believe that he's awake.

Even his nightmares have never been this bad.

He wants to pull out his hair, wants to bury his face in his hands, wants to run back to the 'gate room and somehow fix this, but knows he can't. There's no fixing this. So instead he clasps his hands behind his back, glad that he's at least got a wall at his back, that no one can see how badly his hands are shaking.

He's got a speech, even, right there and ready in the forefront of his brain. Words that had ran haphazard through his mind as he'd tried to save everyone, as he'd tried to keep the city intact. They'd been stupid at the time, and they're stupid now, and he feels them die on the tip of his tongue. But they need something, these people with their dirty faces and flat eyes.

He says the first thing that comes to his mind, blurts it out, because he's tired and exhausted and hurt and why are they looking to him for this, anyway? And he knows it's because he's the only one left, the knowledge cold and sharp as a knife in his gut, and he doesn't know how he keeps his voice from breaking, "It'll be okay. The worst is over, and we'll be okay."

And that, at least, is not a lie. It can't get any worse than this. He knows he should say more, but he just wants off the table, wants away from their eyes and wants this day to never have happened. He's moving, almost tripping as he tries to get down, down to the ground when someone asks, so softly and quietly that he can't identify the voice, "Do you promise?"

The entire atmosphere in the room changes, tightens. Like everyone is holding their breath, and after a half second he realizes that they are. They're all waiting, leaning slightly forward into their neighbors, and he stiffens his shoulders. There's a tinge of sharp, burning pain in his neck, and he ignores it, because right now, right now it can't be important, snaps, "Of course. I promise. Now get back to work."

And to his complete and utter amazement, everyone starts slowly to leave. That's a miracle in itself, but the fact that some of them are even almost smiling is enough to make Rodney reconsider for a moment that this is actually happening.

He manages to get off the table without collapsing, and Keller's there at his elbow, talking on his left side and her voice is distressingly muffled. He wonders if one of the explosions damaged something important, "I need to look at this wound, Rodney, c'mon, I can do it here, the Infirmary is packed anyway and it would be better if no one--"

She cuts herself off, and Rodney stares down at her and wonders what she was going to say. And then he shakes her off, because there isn't time, regardless of what he said. The worst is over, but they're not exactly completely safe yet. He's not sure they'll ever be completely safe ever again. He says, "Later. I have--just. Later."

And she lets him go.

hr

He's elbows deep in the command chair, in the middle of an argument with Lorne when he realizes that Miko is kneeling beside him. He starts to turn to look at her, and she braces her fingers on his cheek, and keeps his head in place, murmurs in her low soothing voice, "Do not mind me, please." And so he doesn't, because he's minding about a dozen other things.

Lorne's crouched on his other side, still in full gear, looking as exhausted as Rodney feels, saying, "I'm telling you, I'm not qualified to pilot...this." There are bruises under his eyes, and he's got lines on his face that Rodney's sure weren't there a dozen hours ago. Which, fine, he deserves that. They all do. But.

"No one is qualified, but you're the best we've got, and you're going to do it. You did fine getting us off the planet, and I don't have time to talk about this anymore." Lord knows he has enough that actually requires his attention. He doesn't have time to be dealing with Lorne's unfortunately timed break down.

"Doctor McKay--"

And Rodney's snapping before he even thinks about stopping himself, "No. You're doing it. The end. Now, get over here and hold this for me so I can get this turned back on so you can fly us so we don't all die out here in the middle of fucking space, Major, unless that's how you want to spend your last few days of life before we all die of dehydration?"

Lorne hesitates for just a second, and then he's there, sliding his hand where Rodney directs and keeping his silence though a muscle in his jaw is twitching. Rodney sticks his tongue between his teeth, leans forward and hisses when something pulls in the skin above his eyebrow.

He flinches, starts to bat a hand up and Miko grabs his wrist, says, gentle but firm, "I must stitch your wound, Doctor, please, do not allow me to hamper your progress but do not pull the stitches out, either."

And he thinks about arguing, but it doesn't seem worth his time, and so he just leans forward again, but slower, and snaps at Lorne, "No, not that. This one, push hard and, yes, twist, good--"

hr

He manages to avoid the 'gate room for two days, because while, yes, most of the damage was there, most of the damage that actually needed fixed for them to survive was not. They're all of them working around the clock, scientists, military, he doesn't care. No one in the city is an idiot, and most of them are more than proficient in at least one useful field.

Keller is in a mild state of panic over the fact that no one is sleeping, that they're popping stimulants like they're going out of style. She also seems vaguely puzzled by the row of stitches above his eyebrow, but he doesn't have time to explain to her that apparently Miko has decided she's his personal caretaker.

He'd only stopped by the Infirmary to liberate Zelenka in any case, and the smaller scientist latches onto him, and flees in his wake. One of Radek's eyes has a patch on it, and his hands are bandaged, but he swears that his fingers are still mobile enough to work and Rodney needs someone that can help him with the difficult parts of the city's anatomy.

Zelenka's saying, "Where are we in repairs? The shield is holding still, yes? Do we have engines yet? They will tell me nothing in that horrible place, just to rest. Pah! As though I can rest when I am needed to make sure you do not destroy the city."

Rodney smiles, though it feels kind of tight and forced, herds Radek towards the 'gate room, "We've got engines, we've got shields, now all we need is a destination." And Radek stiffens beside him, visibly flinches and Rodney forces the smile to stay on his face against every instinct in his chest to let it drop. "I need you to do this, Radek."

"Yes, yes, yes, I will hardly give you an excuse to call me incompetent, let us go."

hr

The Gate room looks like a bomb went off in the middle of it, which, yeah. Close enough. Rodney wants to stop, wants to just stare at the destruction and make some sort of sense out of it, but they don't have time. And besides, he has a sick feeling in his gut that if he stops he'll never be able to start again. And so when Radek freezes in the doorway, face going slack and pale, Rodney grabs him by the elbow and hauls him forward.

Radek looks at him, blinks like he's coming out of a dream, "They told me, but I did not believe. Not really."

He stares hard at Radek, because to look anywhere else is to tempt insanity. Snaps, "We don't have time for this right now. You can come in here with your ashes and your sackcloth later. Right now, we need maps, we need control, and we need it now."

For a second he thinks Radek will hit him, the flash of violent emotion across his face startling in place of the blank emptiness of a moment before. And then the other man nods, draws his shoulders up and pushes past Rodney, ignoring the destruction around them like he's got blinders on.

Rodney joins him, and they work in the pseudo-silence that is Radek mumbling under his breath in his native tongue. The damage isn't half as bad as it could have been, and then Zelenka is jerking to his feet, saying, "I have it! There, see, the--" and he might say more, but Rodney doesn't hear it, watching as the room comes back to life around them.

He's already pulling up star charts, trying to figure out where they are. He becomes aware of Radek at his elbow only after he's finally managed to locate the glowing yellow dot that is their position. He reaches out without thinking, brushes his fingers over the smooth screen, feels something sharp and jagged jerk in his chest. "Christ."

He hadn't thought they'd stayed in hyperspace that long. Hadn't calculated that they'd be this far out. This close to the Milky Way. He spins on his heel, yelling for Lorne over his headset, and only realizing that he can't just run down to the command chair himself when Radek calls him back. Not that Lorne needs him there, anyway. The Major is perfectly capable of piloting the city on his own.

It's not till they're back in hyperspace, till they have readings on the power levels and everything is steady and safe and they're moving back into the relative safety of the Pegasus galaxy that he dares to breath again. And then Radek looks at him, that same expression of desperation on his face that everyone's been wearing for the last two days, says, "What will we do? They will come for us, Rodney. This--" he waves a hand, encompasses the entire city in the gesture somehow, "This will not stop them forever."

And Rodney wants to scream, wants to yell that he's not the person that they should be asking. Instead he starts planning their route, judging what planets might be safe enough to make pit stops on, which should be avoided. Says, surprised by the flat tone of his own voice, "What we always do. Fight 'em till we can't."

In the back of his head, locked up tighter than everything else, his memory of John smiles and laughs.

hr

He calls what might be a staff meeting twelve hours later, when people are sleeping and eating and breathing again. It's just him, Lorne, Zelenka, Keller, and the briefing room feels terribly empty, especially with no one actually sitting at the table. He's pacing by the whiteboard, Lorne's leaning against the wall, Radek's leaning against the back of a chair and Keller is sitting on the floor, knees drawn up, arms wrapped around her legs.

It's she who breaks the silence, who says, "We've got over three-quarters of the population injured, but we're only missing thirty, and only twenty-six of those are confirmed fatalities." He doesn't have to ask what happened to the twenty-six confirmed. There'd been shield failures, in those initial hours of panic.

He wonders if he'll ever be able to erase the screams in his head, voices of people he knew, lived with, respected, locked into hallways about to be decompressed. There's a part of him that thinks he shouldn't. That he shouldn't even want to.

He doesn't have to ask about the four unaccounted for, either. And thankfully, no one else brings it up either. He's not sure he could deal with it right now, if one of them did. Instead, Lorne's saying, "I've got rosters made up. Who's available and who's not. Injuries. How severe, all that."

And Zelenka, on his heels, "Most are sleeping now. Is not ideal, but soon there would have been larger problems with the exhaustion." Rodney tries to remember the last time he slept. It seems like years instead of days ago, and he rubs at his face, surprised by the stubble over his jaw, the blood that flakes off his cheek, the prickle of stitches over his eyes.

It's so easy to forget, and he has so very much to remember. He takes a deep breath, and then another, and then gives up, because it's not working. He wants to say something, anything to alleviate this loss, but he can't, and Zelenka talks into the silence, "Also, I have made a list of planets in our vicinity that might be suitable for the city."

And now Rodney has to talk, and it's odd, to be dreading having to speak, "We're not landing the city." Apparently it's enough to shock them into silence, because he speaks into a void, "It's too dangerous, staying in one place. We've got the extra ZedPMs that--we've got the extra ZedPMs. We've got more than enough power to keep flying for almost a decade."

There's a long moment where they all just stare at him, and then Keller blurts, "But where will we go?"

He tries the deep breathing thing, not surprised when it doesn't work any better this time than it did before, "Well, for starters, we're going to P5X-33R." And then he waits, to see if any of them are following his line of thought at all.

It's Lorne's eyes that widen, Lorne that shifts forward off the wall, saying, "The space gate. We could, we could send Jumpers through, to worlds farther out. To check on our allies and-"

"We could easily re-supply that way, yes, without any risk of compromising the city itself. The city's water conservation systems are almost completely back online, we could rig up Jumpers to--"

"Wait, what? I don't--"

He doesn't mean for his concentration to drift, listening to the other three bounce ideas off each other. But he's exhausted and all his aches and pains, not acknowledged when it had been deal with them or live, are coming back to make sure he hasn't forgotten about them. He keeps pacing more as an effort to keep himself awake than anything else, letting the rise and fall of their voice wash over him.

hr

There's fire all around him, a burst of it so completely, blindingly, impossibly hot that it sears the hair off his arms, curled up over his face. He can hear the low, threatening hiss of it, and above that, over it, around it, he can hear the sound of stone being torn asunder, splintering, cracking.

He feels a piece of it go screaming by over his head, hears a gurgled scream from behind him, someone apparently not as lucky as him ending up in it's path. And then there's silence. Complete and total as the fire fades as quickly as it came.

He pushes himself up onto his feet, stares down at the ruin below him, at the horror that he did, and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. The stone is still white hot, the air above it shimmering with the heat, popping and snapping and he chokes on laughter mixed with tears.

He wakes up in his room, sprawled fully dressed on top of his still made bed. He can still smell smoke in his nostrils, in his clothes and hair, and it's enough to make him drag himself to his feet and slump into the shower. The water is hot and tastes faintly of iron and the flash of guilt sends him to his knees. He doesn't realize that he's going to throw up until he already has, staring light headed down at the himself, feeling the acid burn in the back of his throat.

It's hard to get back to his feet, but he manages, scrubs at his skin till it's red and angry. Shaves carefully, dresses in full uniform though he couldn't say why it feels so important to have that extra layer. And then he slides his radio back into his ear, and moves like a sleepwalker to the 'gate room.

He leans against the railing once he's there, stares down at the ruin and feels the nausea twist in his gut again. He still can't believe that he did it, that he was forced to do it. It doesn't feel real, and he bites the insides of his cheeks until blood bursts hot and salty in his mouth.

But that doesn't bring the Stargate back, doesn't rebuild it from the rubble that's strewn across the floor. And well, nothing ever will.

hr

It's weird, but Rodney doesn't realize that he's somehow still in charge until people start dropping reports off on his desk. It probably should have been a clue when Lorne had gotten some Marines to relocate all his stuff into the office that had originally been Elizabeth's and then briefly Carter's and now his.

In his defense, he's been distracted. It's almost impossible keeping the city running, keeping them supplied in food and mostly the water is okay because the city is highly efficient at recycling and as long as he doesn't think about the fact that he's technically drinking everyone's recycled urine, it's not so bad. They'd almost run out of medicine, people are having nervous breakdowns left and right, and most of the time Rodney just wants to scream.

He doesn't. Sometimes, when he hasn't slept for long enough that his mind starts to drift away from the safe areas, starts creeping into the things that he can't deal with without losing what little control he has left, he thinks that he's somehow become the hinge pin for the city. Sometimes, he thinks that if he breaks they'll all break with him.

And so he doesn't break.

It still stings every time it gets shoved in his face. When Zelenka snaps at a meeting, "As the chief of science I must disagree with this plan. What would happen if the crystal exploded? Must I truly remind you that we are in space, that the vacuum is only waiting for us outside these shields?" And Rodney for a crazy second almost begs for his old, sane, job back.

But none of it hurts as much as asking Lorne to stay after the meeting, to absently straightening his uniform and meeting the other man's eyes and seeing the same exhaustion and fear there that he feels inside his chest. Lorne doesn't look particularly surprised, says, "Sir, I just want you to know that you don't have to--"

And Rodney snaps, "Your men need a clear chain of command, and you're it." He doesn't add that he knows there have been some disagreements over who should be in charge of the military, regardless of the fact that Lorne had been Sheppard's second in command for years. "I understand that I'm not technically allowed to promote you, but seeing as Earth is--"

Lorne's staring at him with wide, shocked eyes, because none of them have mentioned it, have they? They've all kept their silence about what they know has to be happening, like by pretending they don't know it they can make it untrue.

And it shames him, but he wants to keep up the illusion as much as the rest of them. He licks his lips, tries again, "But seeing as we have no way to contact SGC, I'm doing it anyway. Congratulations, Lieutenant Colonel."

Lorne snaps his heels together, and Rodney thinks it's weird, being saluted.

hr

The first time they come upon one of the enemy ships, the only warning they get is the fleet of dead Wraith hive ships suddenly surrounding them. Rodney orders Lorne to the Command chair, doubting that the drones will be any more effective against the bastards than they were last time, and brings up the hyper drive.

Somehow, he hadn't expected the monstrous ship to follow them, to jump into their slipstream and draft behind them and to be there when they came out of hyperspace. He can see the hope, the precious barely there faith that his people were just starting to get back disappearing. He can read it in every set of eyes turned towards him and he hates them, just a little, for looking to him.

The drones crash uselessly against the hulking beast looming before them, and Rodney can almost feel the snap in his chest. He's used to being angry, sometimes it feels like he's been angry most of his life. But fury is a rare and unknown thing, and it reaches up and swallows him.

He's vaguely aware of someone yelling, but he's too busy shoving people out of the way to care. And then there's silence, a collective sharp intake of breath as everyone realizes what's happening in a domino effect through the control room. He mumbles, "Ramming speed, Mr. Data," and matches actions to words.

The nameless enemy, and how incredibly stupid is it that after everything that's tried to kill them it's these people without names or faces that are coming so terribly close to succeeding, try to reverse. But Atlantis is fast, is lightning quick for all her size, and Rodney slams their shield into the other vessel, and feels the lurch when it breaks around them.

Because their weapons might have been able to penetrate the Ancient shields, and they might have been immune to the Ancient weapons, but Rodney's discovered that very few things survive being ran over. The other ship starts bleeding atmosphere and Rodney grins, giddy and stupid with relief, and someone screams over the radio, "We've been boarded, Oh, God, they're-"

hr

In the end there are twenty five life signs that don't belong and Rodney wonders at what point in his life it became natural for him to grab his side arm and hunt through familiar corridors with every intention of ending someone else's life. Somehow, ordering a few of them be taken alive doesn't make him feel any better.

He's with Lorne and two other Marines, heading towards a concentration of five life signs, most of the others rounded up and killed already. They'd managed to keep two alive, and Rodney wished absently for one or two more, but thought that it would probably be far more satisfying to just kill these fuckers.

Lorne takes point and it's disturbing again to realize that he understands the hand signs that Lorne flips through. That he nods and presses his lips into a grim line and follows the other man into the room without opening his mouth to point out how insane this is.

It doesn't matter. Particularly not when the boarding party ends up in their sights. They're men, just men, albeit men that have done...things to themselves. They're skin is burnt in places, they're heavily pierced and tattooed and he can't tell if the way their skin is flayed is intentional or just old battle scars.

He doesn't care. And in the end there are four dead invaders, and one of the Lanteans kneeling in the middle of the carnage, and Rodney tries to place a name with the other man's pale, scared face. And then Lorne is charging forward, grabbing the man in the science uniform by the front of his shirt and hauling him up, snapping, "Christ Jesus, Parrish, what the hell were you doing down here?"

And Rodney thinks Parrish, yes, botanist, right about the same time the scientist throws himself at Lorne and clings. Rodney startles, blinks, looks away, and has to walk away, like distance will take away the sudden throbbing ache of loneliness and loss.

By the time he gets back to the holding cells where they'd kept their two prisoners they're both dead. Keller will later report that they killed themselves, but Rodney's not blind, not stupid, and not able to blame whoever it was that snuck in and beat the men to death.

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Keller sits down at his table in the Mess, weeks later, and it's the first time Rodney realizes that he always sits alone in the midst of all these people. He looks up at her, a spoonful of what the cooks call porridge and what he believes to be gruel halfway to his mouth. She meets his eyes, biting her lips, says, "Do you think we'll find them?"

He thinks it's funny, that it's been months since this entire nightmare started, and still no one talks about it. No one says the names of the missing, no one moves their things or empties their rooms. He's not sure that he's ready to talk about it, himself, but she's not giving him any choice and so he swallows and says, "Yes." Because he has to think that or he'll go crazy.

They lapse into silence, into the soft whisper of chewing and swallowing, and he can almost feel her nerves. Says, to spare her, "You and Sam. You were close." It's not a question, but she takes it as one, blushes and ducks her head.

"I miss her. You and--"

Rodney's standing before he realizes he intends to move, because, no, he can't deal with this. He'd thought he could, but he'd been wrong. Says, "Have a good lunch, Doctor." He tells himself that it is not a retreat when he hurries out of the Mess, ignores the tight feeling in his chest that says that it is.

hr

He still has nightmares, about the night the world changed, the weeks leading up to it. Sometimes there are days where every time there's silence around him he can hear the last panicked transmissions from Earth, reports about ships, profane terrible things that came out of the edges of space and washed across them. Sometimes, he still sees the blue of the event horizon when SGC had rolled their ZedPMs through.

Sometimes he can still taste the acid sour burn of stimulants in the back of his throat, the queasiness of waiting for the oncoming storm and knowing he's not prepared for it but not knowing what to do. Sometimes, he can still feel the last, hard, desperate press of Sheppard's mouth over his, when John had swore to him, soft and solemn, "We'll be back. We'll be back. I promise."

Sometimes, on the worst nights, he sees the Jumper leaving, carrying away the people he loved best with a bomb that he created, that they had hoped and prayed would work. Sometimes, after that, he sees the 'gate flaring to life, the terrible death that had poured out of it, sees himself blowing it up, all over again.

hr

By the three month mark every planet they dare to visit is decimated. It's worse than even the Wraith, because while there are always a few people that are left alive the best they can do for them is offer them the final mercy of a quick death.

Lorne brings a girl back, once, maybe fourteen and still breathing even if all the light behind her eyes is dead. The colonel himself looks disconnected, and Rodney doesn't blame him, hits his radio and orders Parrish to join them in the Jumper bay.

It still takes him twenty minutes to convince Lorne to give him the girl, her body limp and wet with blood. Rodney cradles the girl, a shell that was once a person, aware that Parrish is slowly leading Lorne off somewhere. Her hair is matted with blood, her mouth sewn shut with thick black leather, her breath wheezing through the torn, jagged holes in her cheeks.

He doesn't want to see the other wounds on her body, barely concealed by Lorne's jacket draped over her. He doesn't want to smell the burnt flesh of her hands and feet, with their charred black flesh. He doesn't want to feel her blood, soaking into his shirt and pants, but it's all there anyway, and so he does the only thing he can do.

The retort of the gun, pressed over her heart, is eerily muffled by the soft sound of relief that she makes.

Lorne finds him later, standing out on one of the balconies, staring out into the emptiness of space around them. The man leans heavily against the railing, says, "I have--I had a sister." It sounds like a confession, and Rodney's not sure if he can be confidant as well as everything else they're expecting of him, but Lorne isn't giving him a choice. "She would have been on summer vacation when...when they hit Earth. I like to think that she was happy."

He thinks about talking about his own sister, his niece, but it hurts too much to even think about it. To imagine gentle Jeannie with her mouth sewn shut, with her body twisted and desecrated. He shoves the images aside, forces his jaw to relax. Says instead, "I can't take you off missions. We've lost too much and I won't take any more away from them."

Lorne blows his breath out in a long rush, says, "Yeah. Yeah. I know." They stand in silence for a long time, and Rodney tries to remember what it was like to watch a sunrise, a sunset, anything but the unrelenting blackness of space.

hr

By the six month mark Radek's manipulated the sensors into picking up their enemy's ships, and there are no more surprise run ins with the bastards. They're still functionally weaponless against them, but they're alive, and it's looking increasingly likely that they'll stay that way.

Sometimes Rodney manages to get more than two hours of sleep a night before the nightmares wake him. And more and more often he sees people smiling, hears laughter. The first time Chuck laughs in the control room it's such a surprise that Rodney freezes, stares blankly for a minute before remembering that, yes, that's what laughter sounds like.

It's the first time he thinks that they might actually be living, not just surviving. He manages to get to his room, to lock the door behind himself, and fully expects to cry or scream or something, but all he has the energy for is one hiccupping sob.

He sleeps in John's room, that night, on sheets that haven't been stirred in six months. The bed's too short and too soft and Johnny Cash stares down at him with hard accusing eyes and it's the first time he hasn't woken with nightmares tearing him apart. He sleep four hours before remembering that he has work to do, important work, and stumbling out the door.

After that, it's where he sleeps more often than not.

hr

Food promises to be scarce, sooner rather than later. There's no one to trade with, anymore, and any crops that might have been planted before the populations that had tended them had been killed are burned or poisoned. They're already living mostly on wild plants that they've learned over the years were safe, and wild game.

Sometimes he wonders, as they send Jumpers to empty world after empty world, if this is how it was supposed to be. If maybe this is just the universe resetting itself, stripping itself from the last vestiges of the Ancient's influence. Mostly he wonders what they're going to do if they run out of food.

It's funny, how this has managed to make him think of practical things, stripped him of his love for what-ifs and crazy hypothesis, or at least buried it so deep that some days he thinks he'll never be able to find it again.

He goes on half the off world missions, because it has to be him or Lorne, because he refuses to ask anyone to go out there and deal with the horror without them. It doesn't seem right, doesn't seem fair, and so he goes. He expects to be desensitized to it, at some point, and is continually relieved when he isn't, though he thinks it would be easier.

Especially walking through the burnt out shell of a village that he visited a year and half ago, that was thriving and healthy. He can remember mocking the harvest ritual they were forced to participate in, he can remember the local priestess that had tried her hand at wooing Sheppard, and he can remember the barn where he'd allowed himself to be plied with alcohol and talked into a literal roll in the hay.

It's all ash now. Ash and bones, left out for the scavengers. Sometimes there are mass graves, bodies flung in on top of each other without actual dirt thrown on top, but here there's not even that. And it's hard to make himself look, but it feels right, feels like these people, who did nothing to deserve this, should at least be seen.

They're edging out of the village, into the forest to look for the mushrooms that taste almost like ham, when he notices the clicking in his radio. He's not sure he'll ever get used to the way everyone freezes when he jerks his fist up, or the way that it's somehow become natural to take cover behind a tree, confuse his silhouette and draw his P-90 up.

He taps at his radio, and one after another the Marines nod back, confirmation that they hear it too, though no one jumps forward with an explanation for what the hell it is. It sounds vaguely familiar, a pattern he should know, and after a moment, driven by some impatient twist in his gut, he thumbs his radio on, snaps his fingers in a quick rhythm into it, a Morse code hello of clicks.

There's a pause, and Rodney stiffens, signals to fall back to the Jumper and feels something like regret tighten in his gut. And then remembers that they're after mushrooms that taste like ham, and almost laughs at the implausibility of it all.

They've only gone a few steps when the radio crackles to life, when a rough, familiar voice says, "This is Colonel John Sheppard. Is there a survivor out there who needs help?" Rodney chokes on the pressure in his throat.

hr

John's got a busted leg and a beard that would do Grizzly Adams proud. He's still hobbling towards them when Rodney crosses back into the village, leaning heavily on Teyla, face grim and set with determination. And then they're in front of each other and Rodney doesn't know where to touch, what to do, and John hops into him, slings an arm around his neck and says, "God, Rodney, don't ever scare me like that again."

Rodney laughs, helpless and wondering when he's going to wake up. Looks at the others gathered around them, at Teyla, looking a lot worse for the wear but gloriously alive. A crowd of maybe a dozen people behind them that he doesn't recognize, that are all dressed so radically differently that he wonders if each and every one of them is from a different planet.

And then John whines, shifting his hold on Rodney's neck, "Can we go home now?"

hr

He leaves John in Keller's capable hands, sure that he's not running away, that he just needs to collect himself as he hurries down the hallways. He's not exactly sure why he ends up in John's room, but there he is, changing sheets and trying to get the dusty smell out of the carpet and wondering what the hell is wrong with him.

He feels giddy, feels out of his skull with relief, flashes a dangerously wide smile up to Cash, and tells him, "I told you we'd find him, you judgmental bastard." The man in black doesn't answer, which Rodney figures he can take as a sign that he's not actually crazy yet. "I told you he'd be fine."

And maybe it's only then that the truth that they found John, that he's back, that he's safe, really hits him. He gropes blindly for the bed through suddenly blurry eyes, misses and ends up slamming heavily down onto the floor. His teeth jar, and there's a burst of blood in his mouth, and he slaps his hands up over his mouth to hold the desperate laughter in.

He thinks that this is how he breaks, that this is how everything he worked so hard for comes apart. That good news does what all the horror and terror couldn't. And he can't, won't, refuses to let it happen. He's responsible for these people, they're his, and there's no one else to take care of them.

He makes himself get back on his feet, straightens his uniform and rubs at his face, and goes back to the control room. He has work to do and reports to file and food supplies to monitor and two marriage licenses to sign, though he doesn't know how that got to be his job or who the hell would want to get married in the middle of this nightmare.

The corridors look different now, than they used to. The light isn't as soft as he seems to remember it being, and neither are the people that walk past him or beside him. Elizabeth's-Sam's-his office isn't what it once was, either. There's nothing of him here, just paperwork and weapons and a medical supply kit because Keller didn't like to treat him where anyone else could see.

Sometimes, he wonders if they all like to convince themselves that he doesn't bleed, just like they do.

He settles behind the desk, in any case, loses himself in his work because it needs done. When he comes to the marriage licenses, when the first one is Lorne and Parrish, he stares for a long second. And then figures what the hell, he's in charge, isn't he? He can do whatever the hell he wants.

And so he signs it.

hr

He doesn't remember making his way to the Jumper bay, but he's got Jumper Three torn apart, trying to fix the internal sensors problem that keeps gumming up the ship's systems. There's others that could be doing this, he knows, they've got a whole team of Marines whose job is looking after the Jumpers, but he needs something to keep his hands busy.

He's just bypassing the auto-pilot system when a warm hand settles on his shoulder, so familiar that he'd know it anywhere. He leans into the touch, because it's natural, normal, right, and hears John hum softly behind him. The other man's voice is still rough, "They told me I'd probably find you here."

Rodney shrugs, says, because there's too many words in his chest that he can't vocalize, "They're not replaceable, you know? And Sergeant Markham bashed this one into a rock and I haven't been able to get it to run right since then. I think I'll have to manually reset the parameters for the--"

And then John's arms are sliding around his waist, John's tucking his face in against his neck, and the beard is gone. He's saying, "Shh, Rodney, I got you, I got you now, it's okay," and Rodney grabs his hands, holds on tight because it's the only way he can stop himself from shaking. "I'm here now and it's okay."

He wants to stop, he wants to just sag back into John's comforting strength, but he can't He can't because, "You left me, you left me here, John and you took Sam instead and you left me and I was alone. And I—I had to blow up the 'gate, because they were coming through and we couldn't stop them and you left me and they made me promise, they made me tell them I could keep them safe and I did. I did. You left me and I did."

John's rocking him, slowly back and forth, strong and solid and everything Rodney's never been, lips dragging across Rodney's skin with each piece of nonsense he murmurs. He's saying, "It's okay," and "You kept them alive, Rodney," and, "Proud of you," and Rodney wants to break, wants to break so badly, and can't.

He says, "I can't do this."

And John turns him, grips both sides of his face and holds him tight and says, "You already did."

Kissing him is like coming home, like waking up, like dying, like being reborn. Rodney wants to moan, wants to let the desperate little sounds in his chest escape, but can't. He wants to hold John, wants to crawl inside his skin, wants to get John in him so deep that he'll never be able to leave again. Wants to hold on and let the desperation under his skin bleed out, but he can't.

And then John's whispering against his mouth, hands touching him everywhere all at once, "Hey, you don't have to be strong enough for the whole city right now, Rodney, okay? I promise I'll be here. I'll catch you."

He thinks: No. And he thinks: I can't. But John's kissing him like he knows it to be a lie, deep and slow and good and Rodney hears himself whimper, feels his hands digging into John's shoulders desperately. He breaks, falls to pieces under John's touch, and lets the other man put him back together again.

hr

It's funny, how a little piece of him expects John to take over now that he's back. He's fairly certain that John even assumes that's how it's going to work. The first staff meeting makes it obvious that's not to be, and Rodney's not sure how he feels about that, about Lorne staring hard at John, like he isn't quite sure if he trusts him or not and saying, "No offense, sir, but McKay's kept us alive this long. We sort of trust him."

And Zelenka following on his heels, the patch over his missing eye dark behind his glasses, "Yes, we are very relieved to have you back, we just thought perhaps we should make clear what the chain of command was going to be, yes? So that there were no unfortunate misunderstandings."

He wants to tell them no, that he doesn't want this, that he never wanted this. Because he hadn't, not really, this responsibility and endless nightmare isn't what he was cut out to do. But he's been all they had for so very, very long, that it's almost become habit. He doesn't think that he can go back to what he was, not anymore.

John's sprawled beside him in his chair, smiling almost lazily, and it's eerie, how little he's changed compared to the rest of them. Maybe John had just always been as hard as they'd been forced to become. Rodney's not sure. Doesn't care, when John says, "Relax, I don't want his job." And then John's smile stretches just a little broader, as he focuses completely on Lorne, "I hear congratulations are in order. Making an honest man of yourself, huh?"

Lorne doesn't smile in return, just leans forward, all hard blue eyes, "It's good too have somebody to lean on, sir. We all need that, sometimes, if you know what I mean?" And then Lorne's cutting a sharp look at Rodney, and Rodney wonders how he feels about the other man hinting so strongly that he needs someone to hold him.

But he's been effectively cut out of the conversation, John's smile is fading as he locks eyes with Lorne, says, "Preaching to the choir, Colonel." And John's reaching across the desk, deliberately threading his fingers through Rodney's, and it's odd how the atmosphere in the room just lightens, just like that.

hr

Later, they end up in John's room, in John's bed, tangled together in a mess of sweaty skin and grabbing, desperate hands. John's pinning him to the bed, hands strong around his hips, leaving behind bruises, hard and hot and pounding into him. Rodney's panting, grunting, groaning, hands gasping at John's shoulders, arms, back.

John's whispering promises against his mouth, littering bites across his jaw, neck, shoulders. It's all possession and hunger and he wants all of it. Wants John's hand around his cock, John's mouth taking all he has. He shudders and sobs and comes hard, feels John grunt against his shoulder and pulse deep inside him.

John presses sloppy kisses against his face, each brush of lips almost reverent. He's saying, "So, I think we should make my concubine status official."

Rodney grunts, rolls him to the side, tangles their legs together and holds him close. He buries his face in John's thick hair, still too long, and breathes deep the smell of him, says, "I was thinking wife. What do you say, Mrs. Dr. Rodney McKay?"

John laughs, warm and happy against his shoulder, sucks on the skin for a second before answering, "My cock is still in your ass, Rodney. I'm not your wife."

He's willing to concede that's a good point, snuggles closer to John, lets his eyes slip closes. Mumbles, not sure if he's asleep already, if maybe he's drowning in this beautiful, wonderful, sea of warmth and affection, "I'll sign the papers tomorrow."

hr

Rodney's in his office, trying to figure out where they're going to go next, what they're going to do now that people are getting pregnant, now that there's going to be babies. He's vaguely aware that John's there, can sense the other man's warm presence, leaning and reading over his shoulders. He leans his shoulders back into John's chest, hears the other man rumble against him.

John's voice is warm and wet against his ear, "Lorne tells me you don't have a name for these bastards yet."

Rodney shrugs, rubs a hand up over his faintly burning eyes, because he knows that it's good that they're having babies, good that the human race isn't going to die out, not yet, but it's so much more work. He waves a hand in the air, and John reads his mind, catches it with his own and squeezes. Rodney tries to concentrate on the conversation, "What? No. I'm not allowed to name things."

John freezes against him, and then relaxes, wraps an arm high around his chest and squeezes. His sounds oddly shaken, "Rodney, I--" And then he twists, presses a kiss into the corner of Rodney's mouth, breathes out heavily.

For a long moment he just lets John hold on to him, wondering what he's reliving. If it's Ronon's death, or Sam's. If it's that terrible night where they lost Earth, where they lost the Milky Way. And then John mumbles against his mouth, soft and thoughtful, "I'm thinking Reavers."

Rodney laughs, helplessly, twists around to meet John's mouth more firmly.

hr

He finds John standing in the empty 'gate room sometimes, staring at the space where the 'gate used to be. He's always looks soft, thoughtful, and Rodney steps up quietly, leans his shoulder against the other man's. John melts against him, and Rodney can feel the cool press of his ring when he winds their fingers together. John's voice is every bit as unguarded as his expression, "I don't know how you did it."

Rodney shrugs, because most of the time he doesn't know how he did it, "Someone had to. There was no one else."

John sighs, wraps himself around Rodney and kisses him, hard and sound, says, "Yeah. Yeah, I guess not." Rodney grabs him, holds him tight because John's his anchor, his life line, the only thing that makes any sense anymore.

He says, "Do you think we're going to be okay?"

And John laughs against his mouth, hands curled against his shoulders, "Yeah. You know, I do." And Rodney believes, because John does. He pushes up tight against John, lets the belief sink into his skin, presses his face against the other man's shoulder and breathes him in. Things will be okay. He believes.

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