kageygirl

Atlantis slash

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Atlantis kageygirl

Off The Map

Title: Off The Map

Author: kageygirl

E-mail: kageygirl@gmail.com

URL: http://www.kageygirl.com

Feedback: LiveJournal

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Rating: G

Season/Episode: Season 1, tag for 1.12 "The Defiant One."

Spoilers: 1.04 "Thirty-Eight Minutes," 1.10 "The Storm," 1.11 "The Eye," 1.12 "The Defiant One."

Disclaimer: Are characters still wearing clothing in the episodes? Well, then, clearly I don't own them. Not mine, no money made here, move along home.

Author's notes: maching_monkey told me she was trying to channel me for "Taking On," so it's only fair that I return the favor, right? Any resemblance to her excellent "Balcony Sessions" series is pretty much intentional, though this isn't remotely part of her timeline.

John rounded the corner, walking through the big arched doorway to the grounding station, and sure enough, there Rodney was: leaning on the railing, looking out over the ocean.

It was the same grounding station Kolya's men had shot up while trying to shoot John, the same one where that son of a bitch had held Rodney and Elizabeth, blackmailing John with their lives. John had known guys who'd kept wartime mementos, like the bullet that nearly killed them. He wondered if Rodney felt the same way about this place.

Or maybe he'd just picked it because it was pretty damn far from the rest of the city, and no one was likely to come across him unless they were really looking for him. Like John was.

John walked over to Rodney and leaned on the railing next to him, looking out over the dark, brooding sea. With no pollution, no buildings, no mountains, he could see the gathering darkness from a long way off. There was a storm out there, across the waters, but Grodin had told him it was supposed to bypass the city.

That was good. He'd had enough sound and fury for a little while. He was happy to give this storm a miss, even if he still felt a little parched. Carson had turned him loose, after all, so he knew the lingering dehydration was all in his head. It would fade, because Atlantis was cool and soothing, and there was no point in him dwelling on scorching heat and searing cold nights and bones bleaching in the sun.

Rodney glanced up as John settled in next to him, and John nodded at him. There was no point playing it nonchalant, after all, as if he'd ended up way the fuck out here by accident.

The days had been growing warmer, but the breeze was chilly, blown in by the storm out there. Rodney was wearing his new jacket, the charcoal one. He'd switched to that jacket when they'd decided that having mostly noncombatant scientists color-coded while off-world might not be the best way to ensure their survival.

Though Rodney was becoming less of a noncombatant all the time. John hadn't yet decided if he was happier that Rodney could defend himself, or more disturbed that he had to.

He didn't like Rodney taking fire. Hell, he didn't like any of them taking fire, but at least he and Ford had chosen it, trained for it, just as Teyla had in her own way. Rodney, though, was determined to be very, very good at what he did. And since "what he did" kept ending up involving hostiles and getting shot at, Rodney was learning something about being a soldier.

Now, damn it all, Rodney had learned about losing someone under your command. John wished he could have spared him that.

He must have been staring too long, because Rodney narrowed his eyes at him. His first impression had been that Rodney looked troubled, but now his face just shut down, and he turned back to the ocean.

"I'm fine." Rodney's tone was level and impatient.

John nodded, even though Rodney was looking away. He'd catch the movement, if he wanted to. "I know that."

"I don't need a babysitter." He still sounded impatient, maybe even a little disdainful. And he still wasn't looking at John. Rodney might have been talking to the thunderheads billowing up out there.

John made himself sound bored. "That's good. I didn't offer." Going for casual, he leaned his elbows on the railing, lacing his fingers loosely together. Taking his weight made his arm throb where the Wraith had shot him, but he wanted to give Rodney the impression that he could wait all day. Talking about things wasn't generally a problem for Rodney; not talking was the hard part.

Rodney turned his head just enough to frown at John's clasped hands. "Aren't you supposed to be resting or something? I seem to recall gunshot wounds being considered significant injuries."

John turned his palms up and spread his hands in an abbreviated shrug. "Does this look strenuous to you?"

Rodney sniffed and looked away again. "If you pass out, Major, I'm leaving you here."

Chuckling, John shifted his weight against the railing, surreptitiously hitching closer to Rodney in the process. "Duly noted."

John dipped his head and watched Rodney from the side. He liked the way the breeze ruffled Rodney's hair, now that it had grown out a little. He didn't like Rodney's stony expression, because he was used to reading everything on Rodney's face. Some part of him didn't want Rodney to learn to hide his feelings.

Rodney finally gave a frustrated sigh and turned to face John fully, arms folded over his chest. "I don't want to talk about Brendan."

"I didn't ask." John stood up straight, out of respect, because he shouldn't be lounging for this conversation.

"There's nothing to talk about." Rodney sounded almost belligerent, and his face was still a mask, but his eyes… He must not have known how much he telegraphed with his eyes. "I know why he did it. I know he…" Rodney broke off, his voice going soft. "He wouldn't have made it anyway."

John set his hip against the railing as he faced Rodney, matching his hushed tone. "Probably not, no."

Rodney looked past John for a second, then focused back on him. "And it was better for him, that way, wasn't it? Going quickly, instead of—" Rodney's voice wavered. He blew out a breath, twisting his lips in a brief, humorless smile. "He was right, actually. There was nothing I could do to help him. But, you…"

"You saved my life, Rodney," John interrupted gently.

Rodney nodded, though it was mostly to himself. "He was right about that, too. I did want to help you. That was… incredibly selfish of me." He dropped his arms and drummed the fingers of one hand against his thigh, looking away again.

John took a deep breath. Rodney was smart enough to worry at a problem from different angles, but he had a bad habit of only coming up with the negative solutions. "It's just like you said. I had a chance to make it, and he didn't. It's hard to face it, but… sometimes, that's what it comes down to."

"But that's not—I wasn't even thinking about that." Rodney shook his head, meeting John's eyes again, and, no, he really couldn't hide anything that way. "It wasn't about triage or using my time wisely or—or anything like that. I just…"

He was so painfully honest that it made John's throat tight. "Rodney, stop."

But Rodney plowed ahead, brutally condemning himself, when John was impressed by how well he'd kept it together. "You were alone. And I could hear the explosions. And I knew you were hurt, and—that thing had been around for ten thousand years, and—"

John cut him off, before the gnawing pain in Rodney's eyes undid him, too. "You didn't kill him. The Wraith did. And you didn't leave him, either. You were there for him."

Rodney stared at him bleakly. "I gave him the gun."

John set his hands on his hips. Rodney was damning himself for John's actions, now, too, and that made John a little sad, and a little angry. "I ordered you to do that."

"But you weren't there, in the ship. I was. If you had been there—you would have seen what I should have seen. You'd have figured out what he was planning." Rodney dropped his gaze to somewhere in the middle of John's chest. "You'd have known better than to give him the gun."

Rodney's absolute faith in him—and lack of faith in himself—made John's voice a little rough. "You couldn't know what was going to happen."

"I should have," Rodney said.

That made the spark of anger flare up, and John let it. He'd get through to Rodney by force if he had to. "You should have known what someone else was thinking? That's pretty fucking arrogant, isn't it?"

Rodney lifted his chin, in that way he had, like he was just waiting for someone to take him up on the offer and belt him. "Haven't you noticed? Arrogance is one of my fortes."

John shook his head. He wasn't going to let Rodney sidetrack him. "You didn't do anything wrong, Rodney."

"Tell that to Brendan. Oh, right, you can't. He's dead." Rodney was all but sneering.

"That's enough." But John was bizarrely comforted. He was on familiar ground with pissed-off Rodney. Pissing Rodney off meant he was having an effect on him, as opposed to that unnatural blankness earlier. Something about that blankness really bothered him.

Rodney was breathing a little heavier. "I couldn't even lie convincingly. To a dying man." He folded his arms again, and John could see his knuckles go white as he gripped the sleeves of his jacket. "I might as well have killed him myself."

"I said, that's enough, goddammit." John said it more sharply than he'd intended. Watching Rodney rip himself apart was getting to him.

Instead of snapping back at him, Rodney blanched, looking down and away. John frowned, because Rodney never backed down from a fight. He went back over what Rodney had said, the way Rodney kept ducking away from eye contact, and a horrible suspicion crept up on him.

God. Rodney really did think he'd killed Gaul, didn't he? By showing him too much. He thought he'd convinced Gaul to kill himself, because he'd been reacting to the worst-case scenario, as always, and Gaul had read it on his face. That's why he was trying so hard, now, to hide what he was feeling.

And Rodney had probably done more for the man than he could imagine.

There was a haze of pain and shock and terrifying numbness in John's memory, cut into strips by harshly angled flashlight beams, but pieces had stayed with him: looking up and meeting Rodney's eyes across the darkened jumper cabin. Almost every time he'd looked up, it seemed, Rodney was looking back at him.

Rodney had been all the way across the cabin while that Wraith bug was killing John by inches, working doggedly on the engine controls—but he'd also been right there with John, scared, hurting. For John. And though John would have kept him from that if he could have, it had been incredibly comforting, because Rodney had been sharing his pain.

Gaul had to have known he was dying, no matter what they'd told him. But Rodney had been there for Gaul. With him. He'd been his friend, and kept him from dying alone.

And in a godawful twist of Rodney logic, he was punishing himself for that.

Fine. If Rodney was going to be an idiot, then John was just going to have to go schoolyard on him. He smacked Rodney on the shoulder with the backs of his fingers. "You are such an ass."

Rodney blinked, looking up at him like he'd lost his mind. "Excuse me?"

"You. Are an ass." John raised his eyebrows, daring Rodney to debate him. "You did everything right, and you're still bitching about not doing better. Even for you, that's pretty damn conceited."

"Conceited?" Rodney stared at him, mouth open, in a kind of angry shock. "Two men died out there, Major!"

"And there was nothing you could do!" John yelled back. He lowered his voice. "That's one of those dirty little military secrets that they never show you in the movies, Rodney. People die on your watch. And you can't always save everyone."

Rodney was finally paying attention to him, really listening, and looking kind of vulnerable. John took a deep breath and gave Rodney a somber look. "I shot Sumner myself. I lost Martelli and O'Hara to the Genii." John smiled sadly at the compassion in Rodney's eyes. So very Rodney, though he tried so hard to deny it. "Abrams and Gaul were my responsibility, as much as yours. More than yours."

He reached out and slid his fingers around Rodney's upper arm. "You did what you could, Rodney. You did good." He gave Rodney's arm a squeeze, feeling muscle under the baggy jacket sleeve. It was the gesture he should have made, wanted to make, while they stood next to the blast crater, breathing in smoke and dust. But he hadn't. He'd needed time and distance.

Now, he could touch Rodney and have it just be about reassurance.

Back on the planet, he'd been too tired, too hurt, and his walls were too weak. John had been done—the Wraith was on him and Ford was too far away… and then Rodney had shown up, saving his ass, buying him time. Making him pull a rabbit out of his hat, because if he hadn't, the Wraith would have killed Rodney right in front of him. And that—just wasn't an option.

Rodney had looked so devastated when he'd told John that Gaul hadn't made it. Then he'd covered it up, put on a brave face. And John had wanted to touch him so badly, because Rodney was alive and had really great timing and was stronger than he knew. The force of that wanting was how John had known it was a really bad idea right then, and he'd fallen safely back into humor, bantering with Rodney about the Jumper, though they'd both been sick with exhaustion.

He hadn't known, then, that Gaul hadn't died from his wounds. That he'd shot himself in front of Rodney. If he'd known… god, if he'd known then, bad idea or not, battered defenses or not, he'd have touched Rodney, and screw the consequences.

Rodney bowed his head, but he didn't pull away. In a low voice, he asked, "Does it ever get easier?"

"Losing people?" John sighed. "No. Not if you care."

Rodney gave a bitter little smile. "I should stop that, then."

John shook Rodney's arm a little. "No, you shouldn't. And you won't, McKay. That's not who you are."

"That's not true." Rodney looked up, searching John's face as if he were puzzled.

John smirked. "The hell it's not."

Rodney tilted his head. He looked genuinely confused, though his voice was matter-of fact, almost amused. "Major. Everyone knows I'm a heartless, egotistical, self-centered bastard."

John's smirk turned into a full-fledged grin, because Rodney was so completely earnest, and so clearly didn't have a clue. "Yeah, well, 'everyone' can kiss my ass. I know better."

Rodney looked past John again, his eyes going unfocused. "Brendan said as much to me, when he…" Rodney shook his head. "He said I'd changed. I thought he was just—delirious."

John was kind of touched by that—both Gaul's perceptiveness, and Rodney's denial. Of course Rodney would think that. It was easier to pretend not to care if you thought no one else thought you did. "Dying can make things real clear, sometimes. Speaking from experience, here."

It struck him as idiotically morbid the minute it was out of his mouth. He shouldn't have reminded Rodney of those thirty-eight minutes stuck in the stargate, on top of everything else. But it was true, and it was out, now, so there was no use dwelling on it.

Rodney looked up at that, and damn it, it was the look from the jumper, the one that absolutely gutted John. He let go of Rodney and folded his own arms safely over his chest, tucking his hands in to keep them out of trouble. When he'd been more dead than alive, that look had been something to hold on to, to focus on.

Now, that look pretty much owned his soul. It slipped past his walls and left a hollow ache somewhere in his chest that he would do—far too many things to fill. Now John was the one who looked away, staring past the railing at the sea.

The storm way out there was dutifully blowing past the city. John could see flickers of lightning making the clouds glow here and there. He thought about tiny golden bugs, and explosions like thunder, and trying to keep Rodney the hell off the radio. If he'd died, the Wraith might not have known Rodney was there, and he might have made it until the rescue team arrived. As much as he'd been relieved that Rodney had shown up when he did, he'd also been horrified for a moment, because his last hope had dissipated into the dry air.

He heard Rodney shift next to him, but he kept looking out to sea. Rodney said softly, "Thank you, for not lying to me. About it getting easier."

John wanted to laugh at the crushing irony. Rodney pretended not to care at all. John pretended not to care so much. Wasn't that just like lying? And here Rodney was thanking him for his honesty. He didn't laugh, though, just smiled at the ocean. "Any time."

He finally chanced a look at Rodney again. Rodney was leaning back against the rail now, looking over the grounding station's control panel and the arched doorway. They'd repaired the controls after the storm, but they hadn't gotten around to patching the bullet holes in the walls. The ones in the gate room had been a constant reminder, and those had been fixed pretty quickly, but John suspected the ones out here just weren't a priority.

But Rodney wasn't brooding over them. John could see quiet regret in his face, but that disturbing distance was gone. Rodney turned his head and met John's eyes. He sketched a smile. "I'm almost certain that I forgot to tell you this, by the way." He ducked his head, but looked back up immediately. "I'm really very glad that the Wraith didn't kill you."

John had thought he was prepared for most of the things Rodney would say to him, but he hadn't expected that. That was off the map, out in uncharted waters. Here there be dragons.

He pushed down the surprise, flashed Rodney a grin almost by rote. Cleared his throat. "Thanks. You too."

He had no idea what Rodney saw on his face, but Rodney nodded at him, his tentative smile becoming more permanent. "Yeah."

Before the moment got too scary, Rodney let him off the hook. He pushed himself off the railing, rubbing his hands together. "I should, ah, go make sure those monkeys in the high-energy lab aren't burning the place down. It would be incredibly embarrassing for Atlantis to sink again because somebody blew a hole in the floor."

"Right. Good luck with that." John spread his fingers in a little wave and turned to watch Rodney go, bracing his back against the railing. For once, he'd had enough of the ocean view. He stared at the doorway back into Atlantis, instead.

Uncharted waters. He'd seen a lot of new horizons since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy, but none of them had seemed quite so promising.

Leaving the railing, he jogged across the terrace, wondering how far ahead of him Rodney was. The breeze pushed at his back, as if to hurry him along.