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[ three months, six days, and twenty-one hours ]
Everyone took it differently. Everyone had their own coping techniques, and somehow John was able to watch them with a sense of detachment he hadn´t felt since Kabul. That should have told him something, but he refused to believe in symbolism.
Weir went through a quiet mourning period that lasted about three days, and she only cried in the privacy of her office. Teyla worked out in her gym, sweating out her grief like it was a toxin. Ronon went back to wearing the stony visage he´d worn when they´d met him.
Radek walked around in a harried cyclone of nerves, snapping at techs and pulling out his hair. He came into a briefing one morning with tears streaking down his face and John´s fists had clenched by his sides. I can´t do this any more,’ he´d said, and he´d looked so utterly devastated that John had gotten up and walked out.
John didn´t grieve at all. He just clenched the controls of the puddle jumper in his fists and asked for Rodney to hold on.
After their first attempt failed he flew back to Atlantis and gathered supplies, flying back out about ten minutes after touching ground. Weir didn´t even know he was back until he told her he was gone again.
After the second attempt he returned and yelled at Radek until he could feel blood vessels popping in his neck to find that got damned ship or else. He´d left off the what, but everyone in that control room knew what he meant.
The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth attempts ended with Teyla looking at him with tears in her eyes and her mouth twisting on words she didn´t want to say and John didn´t want to hear.
Two weeks and a thousand tries later, Ronon said what everyone else had been thinking since before he´d even made the third. He´s probably dead, Sheppard. This is what they do.’
John had him up against a wall, his fingers twisting around Ronon´s neck and his teeth bared before Teyla could even blink. I refuse to believe that.’
Ronon looked calmly at him and the sadness in his eyes made it hard for John to swallow.
He´d pushed off the wall and backed up three steps only to turn around and walk right back up to him. I´m not giving up,’ John said, voice low and dangerous. Until I see a body, I´m working on the assumption that he´s still alive.’
We need you here, John,’ Weir said, that infinitely calm tone driving nails into his skin.
I am here,’ John gritted through his teeth. Every god damned day, I´m here.’
Elizabeth closed her eyes and took a deep breath. No, John, you´re not. You´re not here, you´re out there. With him.’
If I were out there, he´d be home by now,’ John said, ignoring the crack in his voice, checking the physical need to shake her until she understood. I´m here every day, I do my job, what more do you want from me?!’
He knew he was out of control at this point, sleeping less than four hours a night, tossing and turning restlessly during those, eating only enough to keep his stomach from growling. He knew he was out of control, but he couldn´t reign himself in and he was too pissed for that to scare him. You might have given up on him, but I haven´t. Don´t you see? The second we stop looking for him, we´re admitting it!’
Admitting what,’ Teyla asked, and of everyone there, he thought she got it. She understood, because she was looking at him with that world-weary look and overwhelming sadness, and it was crawling under his skin.
John just shook his head and walked backwards back to the control room. No,’ he said, shaking his head. McKay´s alive, and I´m gonna get him back if I have to do it alone or not.’
He´d never realized just exactly how present Rodney was until he wasn´t anymore. How much more quiet it was without him there.
No one yelling at people about how incompetent and stupid they were until they cried or reared back and hit him.
No one obsessively asking him to feel his forehead because he was sure he´d contracted some heretofore unknown disease and had a low-grade fever that would quickly spike and drive his blood pressure up and kill him in a matter of hours.
No one flying his puddle jumper in the crookedest straight line John had ever seen and looking so happy to be doing it that John didn´t have the heart to tell him he couldn´t.
No one buzzing around him, annoying him while he drank his coffee, quizzing him on Mensa questions because he couldn´t quite wrap his head around the fact that John had qualified but hadn´t joined.
It was so much more peaceful now and it made John want to blow something up just to make enough noise to drown out the emptiness that Rodney´s absence had created.
A month went by before Weir actually went so far as to order him to limit his rescue missions to one a week. By that time he didn´t have the strength in him to fight her, so he and Ronon did it behind her back.
Beckett told him if he didn´t start to take it easy he was going to drive himself to an early grave and he´d glared at him. And if I do ‘take it easy,´ then I´m driving Rodney into one.’
Beckett shut up after that, and when Weir asked he told her John was in perfect health.
He didn´t talk to anyone about anything that wasn´t necessary, and the only person he could stand being around was Ronon. Teyla understood too well, and Weir didn´t understand enough.
By the time they reached the two month mark, Ronon was the only man John still allowed to be on his team. Ronon didn´t ask him if he was all right when he had bags under his eyes. He didn´t tell John he should eat more, or sleep more. He didn´t try to get John to laugh.
Ronon was the only one that wouldn´t say anything when sometimes it got to be too much and John started to allow for the possibility that they might be right.
It had been three months, six days, and twenty one hours before the gate activated and Rodney´s IDC showed up on the terminal. John had raced down the stairs with his gun raised and his heart in his throat, yelling for Weir to take down the shield.
Rodney walked through, thinner than anyone John had ever seen, eyes bloodshot and skin a sickly yellow, a scraggly beard hiding his face.
For the first time in his life John´s fingers had loosened and the weapon had fallen from his hand, because the instant Rodney´s eyes met his, his world shattered. He was standing in front of Rodney before he even knew his feet were moving and when Rodney hugged him something froze in his chest and he couldn´t tell if it was laughter or tears.
Rodney had bent his head to John´s ear and tightened his arms around him. You didn´t give up on me, did you,’ he´d said, and it wasn´t a question but John answered him anyway, saying no so many times the word lost all meaning and bringing his arms up to hold onto Rodney just as tightly.
John didn´t leave his side, not for one second.
He followed him to the infirmary and he watched Beckett give him a full exam. When Beckett asked him to leave Rodney´s eyes held so much fear John felt the urge to raise his gun on Beckett just for putting it there.
He followed him to the cafeteria and watched with a smile as Rodney stuffed his face with everything on his plate and John´s too, because John wasn´t hungry and hadn´t been for three months.
He followed him to the bathroom and closed his eyes and let it wash over him when Rodney finally snapped and yelled at him about being able to hold his own dick, thank you very much, and could he have some privacy while he took a shit, please?
No,’ John had said, resting his hand on the door he still couldn´t believe he´d let Rodney close in his face. Never again.’
He followed him to the lab where Rodney went through all the notes and mocked everyone for everything they did, and smiled when Radek burst into tears and jumped on top of Rodney and hugged him from behind.
You´re a miserable man, Rodney McKay, but thank God you´re back,’ Radek said, and Rodney told him to get the hell off but he had a smile when he did it.
He followed him down the hall and when Ronon grabbed Rodney and spun him around in midair, hugging him so tight that Rodney squeaked like a little girl, John finally felt that lump in his throat start to dissolve.
He followed him to his room and sat down in a chair and watched Rodney sleep for twenty hours straight.
When he woke up John smiled at him and Rodney smiled back and asked for a razor. I´m thinking I can´t quite pull off the beard look.’
John laughed and nodded, feeling the tears prickle at his eyes again as he fought them back. Welcome home, McKay.’
He relives that day in his head at least a thousand times a day.
Ronon and Teyla going to the east, he and Rodney going to the West.
Rodney asking to split up so they can cover more ground, grinning and showing his life signs detector and saying it´s not like I won´t yell if I need help.’
John saying no once for good measure but grinning and knowing that Rodney will only have to ask twice before he´ll say yes. They´ve been here before. There´s nothing here.
Rodney being two minutes late at their meeting spot and Teyla frowning in disapproval for them having split up.
Looking up to see Rodney shouting excitedly and holding up some foreign object that looked almost like an iguana, fifty feet away.
The whir of the gate and the way his hair had stood up on the back of his neck. Shouting for Rodney to run, hurry, holding up his gun and firing as the dart entered the planet´s atmosphere.
That feeling of his stomach dropping out when the beam caught Rodney and made him disappear.
Screaming in frustration when the jumper came out on the other side to find six darts staring back at him and having to go into cloak mode only to lose them in hyperspace.
Thinking what if. What if he´d not let them split up. What if he´d been able to knock Rodney out of the beam´s path. What if Rodney hadn´t been two minutes late.
What if Rodney hadn´t come at all. They hadn´t needed a scientist, he´d only let him come because Rodney had asked with that boyish charm and impish grin.
What if he hadn´t cloaked them.
The what if´s were threatening to drown him and even though Rodney was back safe and sound, he still couldn´t get them to shut up.
On his third night of watching him sleep Rodney rolled over and looked at him through the dim lights and leaned up on his elbow. When was the last time you slept?’
John shrugged. I don´t remember.’
Rodney shifted and slid his feet over the side of the bed and onto the floor. It wasn´t your fault.’
John closed his eyes and felt every single muscle in his body tighten. I should have been with you. We shouldn´t have separated.’
Rodney leaned forward and grabbed his hands. I separated from you remember? It was my idea to split up.’
I´m the one in charge,’ John said, voice choking on all the guilt he´d never let himself voice before this moment. I should have told you no.’
Rodney´s grip tightened on his hands. It wasn´t your fault.’
I should have found you, Rodney,’ John said, and it was barely audible, barely above a whisper, but everything else was silent and it sounded like it echoed.
I´m here now.’
John could feel himself shaking and the urge to run was so strong it was tearing him apart, but he was terrified if he left Rodney for one second it would all happen again. I thought I lost you. They kept telling me you were dead and I kept saying you weren´t, and we kept looking and looking and looking and we couldn´t find you, and Rodney Rodney I started to believe them.’
Rodney´s face swam before him and it felt like some sort of dream, some beautiful wonderful dream to have Rodney´s face right there in front of him and he reached out and touched it, stroked his thumb down Rodney´s cheek and bit his lip to keep from sighing in relief when he felt the give of his skin.
I´m okay, John.’
John shook his head. I thought I lost you.’
John looked into his eyes and stroked his thumb down Rodney´s cheek again because he hadn´t been grounded in almost four months but this was grounding him and he needed that. I could have.’
But you didn´t,’ Rodney said, leaning back, and John felt the loss of contact all the way down to his bones, and he shivered. Come on,’ Rodney said, pulling back his covers. You need to sleep too.’
And six months ago this never would have happened, six months ago John would have laughed at him and made some joke about not being so desperate for a warm body. But this wasn´t six months ago. This was now, and he was taking off his shoes and sliding into bed next to Rodney in just under a five count.
Rodney wrapped his fingers around John´s wrist and held their hands between their bodies. I´m right here, see?’
Yeah, Rodney,’ John whispered, squeezing his hand into a fist as tightly as he could and trying to get that grounded feeling back. I see.’
After a month of Rodney insisting he was ready Weir sent them to a deserted planet for intelligence gathering, assuring John that it had already been scanned and found free of danger.
John kept his finger on the trigger the whole time they were on the planet and remained no less than two feet behind Rodney at all times, arms tense and ready for a fight at any sign of trouble.
When Rodney snapped at him for stepping on his feet John just looked at him and Rodney shut up without another word.
When they got back that night John ran five miles around the base and laid on his bed fully clothed, blinking up at the ceiling.
That night he actually slept.