Summary: he turns away, back to Atlantis who is apparently like a country music wife, sympathetic to dogs and hard luck stories, because she embraces him now like she never has before.
AN: Set somewhere between Conversion and Lost Boys.
it feels like dread, it feels like sinking, it feels like the gravity of their situation has twisted around in his chest and his entire abdomen has turned into a black hole. he finally gets it. he gets it.
he's a genius. that doesn't mean he can't be stupid every once in a while; it just means that when he figures out what's going on, his actions are perfect and brilliant and save the situation every single time.
unfortunately, he has no idea what to do.
he gets it.
he figures it out about five minutes before the whole city has an appointment with screaming doom. of course, that's about three hours too late for John, who hadn't trusted him to do it. he had done it. it doesn't feel like a victory, it feels like the confirmation he didn't want; it feels like losing.
he knows that Major Sheppard isn't dead. the John he knew is dead, though, different, reconfigured and distorted by a choice, the one choice that could actually change everything.
now he is typing his furious way through everything that needs to be done. of course they're waiting on him, he can feel their eyes on his back; he imagines a single separate hole for each pair of eyes watching him, but it's seriously all he can do to keep up. Atlantis is anticipating him, moving subdirectories around and directing him to what needs to be done next, clearing a path for him. it knows what he's doing, it knows what he wants (and he's definitely not telling it), it knows that this will keep Sheppard safe. Atlantis' prodigal son.
he has never typed so fast in his life, and he is still falling behind.
it works, against all his expectations. they have pulled it off, against odds and an enemy like nothing else anyone has ever faced, and now he is willing to accept that, to remember the things they can do together, the things they're endlessly practiced at, rather than the thing John won't let him have.
and then Ford escapes. he knows that look on Sheppard's face. it's hundreds of planets full of dead leads, it's hostile natives and counterattacks by Ford, it's pain and fury and gunfire and the stubbornness of a friend, the responsibility of a life.
he can already see John writing the letter home. it's in his eyes. he turns away, back to Atlantis who is apparently like a country music wife, sympathetic to dogs and hard luck stories, because she embraces him now like she never has before.
then abruptly they are even, they have broken each other before he can get their new dynamic straightened out. he has to start all over again, but he's farther back than ever before because this time he's proven that John was right both times. he can't be trusted. traitor, traitor, egotistical, John says in his dreams. there's no anger, only sadness and the memory of exasperation. overconfident. incompetent. you were the death of me.
sometimes he wakes up screaming.
his dreams get worse after each succeeding mission until one day he shows up in the mess hall pale, pale, like he's starting to transform the way John once did. he can't eat, not even the Athosian almost-pasta sweet breakfast that he usually can't get enough of. when Teyla asks, he says he's just tired, promises to see Carson later and hits every possible body part on the table and chairs as he gets up to make a hasty getaway.
he runs into Sheppard (always Sheppard, never John, not even in his own head, it isn't allowed) at the door he's trying to escape through. it's not wide enough for them both.
one of them has to give.
John is - no, Sheppard - is this John? he examines the face presented; it's open and straightforward, coolly concerned. he can't tell. his dreams are becoming the reality, his reality is crumbling without anything to depend on.
Sheppard is talking. he inches past, mumbling anything that comes to mind, and escapes before anything is irrevocable.
his dreams that night are all the infinite possibilities offered by the universe they live in, death and death and more death. the Wraith and Kolya and Ford, the natives on every world they've visited, dinosaurs and bugs, microbes and nanoviruses all combine into one Lilliputian foe, tiny in its malice.
he would be screaming when he wakes, but his mouth is dry and his vocal cords frozen. he thinks he's going crazy, but he can't tell.
he knows Sheppard has passed the word when Elizabeth and Colonel Caldwell sit him down in the office they seem to share and take an interminable amount of time to ask-order him to see Dr. Heightmeyer.
she asks him innocuous questions and listens closely to his replies. when he's done, she asks him gently how long it's been since he had a day off. he lies, but not well enough.
nobody calls it what it is: an enforced leave of absence, one he stops testing when the soldier stationed outside the lab pointedly leaves his hand on his sidearm when he tries to sneak in to get some work done.
that night, his dreams are death, death, death, all by his own hand.
Sheppard stops by once or twice with news. portable transporter pads, he says, and something Hermiod says is a particle phase inhibitor. a contract for food that includes something almost indistinguishable from corn.
incompetent, he hears. egotistical. traitor.
Sheppard stops by again near the end of his jail sentence. he squints for a moment and asks if Rodney's showered since Sheppard last came by.
I forgot, he says with wonder that rapidly escalates into panic. he's long since forgotten how to forget anything that matters, but his brain is taking over for him, his brain is trying to do the impossible, to block off what he's unable to accept.
Sheppard frowns and sticks his head into Rodney's bathroom. Come on, Sheppard says and tugs him inside. the shower stall is like a stasis cubicle but before Rodney can say so, John is stripping and joins him. if it's claustrophobic for one it's impossible for two, but Sheppard's already turned on the water, his hands softly quiet in Rodney's hair, on his chest and thighs. Sheppard is giving him a look he can't quite decipher and he opens his mouth to ask but -
Sheppard's hand is gentle on his cock with the faintest trace of soap to slicken the slow, purposeful glide. he doesn't know what to do - a state of mind he's gotten used to over the last months - but Sheppard's hand never stops, never breaks the rhythm, and his face - this is John, Rodney realizes suddenly, open and compassionate, suddenly there with so much caring his chest tightens. he cries out.
shh, John whispers. shh.
he is focused on everything he's feeling, focused like he hasn't been for months, and ZPM diagrams flood his mind just as the realization of who they are, what they are, what they are to each other tells him, shows him why they can't do this. ever. Colonel, he says. we can't.
John kisses him and his perceptions narrow down to the taste of his mouth, the shape of his lips, and his hand, speeding up with a slow sort of inevitability.
trust me, John says into his mouth. trust me.
his head bans against the shower wall as he comes, and still John is there, soothing, exciting, terribly, awfully real. trust me, John whispers once more. trust me.