Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
John wakes with a start, heart pounding in tandem with the noise. Rodney?! Rushing to the door, it opens right as he reaches it and Rodney grabs his shoulders. The look of sheer panic in his eyes makes John’s throat and stomach tighten with worry.
“John! You were there, and then y-you…”
John’s hands clamp around Rodney’s arms, trying to steady him. Calm him. “Rodney, Rodney, I’m right here. What’s going on?”
Rodney’s breathing is shallow and he seems on the verge of tears as he chokes out. “I woke up and everyone’d left!”
Cringing, John wants to kick himself for leaving. He should have realized that Rodney doesn’t sleep through the night. “Oh… Oh buddy, I’m sorry. I-I thought you’d fallen asleep.”
Rodney clutches his hands to his head as if trying to force his mind to work right. John can only watch, aching for his friend.
“I got so scared.” Rodney looks up at John, fear still evident in his eyes. “I was sure that… that by morning there was nothing left and my mind was gonna be gone.”
Swallowing hard, John reaches out, putting his hand on Rodney’s shoulder even though he wishes he could do more. Unsure what the right thing to do or say is, he sighs. “I’m gonna take you back to your quarters, okay?”
John’s hand slides down Rodney’s arm as Rodney grabs hold of John. “John, I’ve never been so scared. I’m slipping away. I’m slipping away and I don’t know how to stop myself.”
Hearing the raw emotion in Rodney’s voice tears at John. He grabs hold of Rodney’s arms and leans in slightly so they’re at eye-level. “Look, you’re still here, alright? You’re still here.” Now as long as I can remember that, too, he thinks.
Rodney blinks, then nods slightly. “Yeah… yeah, I am,” he mumbles.
Straightening, John adds, “And uhh, I’m… I’m not going anywhere. Now, you wanna hang out, we just… hang out.” His eyes search Rodney’s, trying to gauge whether this is the right thing.
Rodney sighs, glancing away briefly before focusing on John again. “I don’t know what to do,” he admits. “I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve… I shouldn’t have woken you up.”
John’s heart beats faster as he realizes Rodney’s trying to pull away and hide. Something tells him that letting Rodney be alone right now is a very bad idea. Almost desperately, John waves his arm toward the window and stammers, “Look, it’s… it’s a nice night out. Lets go have some beer on the pier, okay?” Yes, beer. Beer is good. Having a beer is normal.
Patting Rodney’s shoulders, John moves past him without giving Rodney a chance to object. Grabbing a coat, John tosses it at him right as Rodney says, “I… I drink beer?”
John snorts. “A lot.” Snatching up another jacket, he grabs a six-pack from his mini-fridge and steps up to Rodney, clasping his shoulder. “C’mon, buddy, lets go.”
The walk from John’s quarters to the pier doesn’t take very long, and it’s nice and quiet in the corridors as most of the people are asleep. Neither of them speaks until they’re sitting on the edge of the pier. John opens the first can and hands it to Rodney. “Here you go.”
“Thanks, John,” he mumbles.
John tries to smile, but isn’t sure he succeeds too well. “Sure thing.” Opening his own can, he holds it up to Rodney and they toast in silence.
Rodney takes a sip and pulls a face. “Are you sure I drink beer?” he asks, turning to watch John.
John grins. “Yep. Only Molson, though.”
“Hmm.” After a few seconds, Rodney adds, “You didn’t drink Molson.”
Pausing, can at his lips, John turns. “Never used to, no,” he says, taking a sip.
“You got this for me,” Rodney states, almost with certainty though it’s belied by the questioning glance he shoots at John.
John nods, his lips twitching in a smile. “Yep.” The thoughtful expression on Rodney’s face makes John’s stomach flutter with nerves. He’d never really been particular about his beer, as long as it wasn’t carbonated horsepiss. Rodney, however, had ranted and raved so much about the poor quality of beer in America that John had started to make sure to only request Molson whenever General O’Neill allowed for such things. Watching Rodney now, John can’t help but wonder how aware Rodney ever was of that.
They sit in silence, mostly. After the second beer, Rodney tries to apologize for waking John, who waves it off. He doesn’t need or want it, especially since it was John he went running to, not Keller. Not anyone else, and that makes him feel warm inside, in spite of it all.
When Rodney admits he can’t remember his niece’s name, John doesn’t hesitate. “Betty,” he says, taking a long pull to hide his face.
Rodney frowns, thinking. “Pretty sure that isn’t it.”
John turns to him, grinning slightly. “It’s Madison. See, at least you remembered what it wasn’t.”
Rodney huffs. “Now there’s an underrated skill.”
John frowns. “I’m just saying, maybe you’re not as far gone as you think.” You can’t be. You’re Rodney!
“I’m hiding it,” he admits, shoulders slumping.
John clenches his jaw as he listens to Rodney explain about helping Zelenka. It hurts to hear the defeat in Rodney’s voice. The fear that everything that makes him him is slipping out of his reach. John wishes there were a way to just fix this, but this isn’t an enemy he can shoot. There’s nothing for John to do, other than be there to watch it happen.
“How’s about-” Rodney huffs, swallowing. “How about we say goodbye now?” Rodney turns to John with such profound sadness it tears at John.
Even so, to hear those words, to know that Rodney’s completely given up, it drives a knife through John. “No,” he croaks, not looking at Rodney.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” Rodney asks, confused.
“No! I mean, I’m not saying goodbye.” I can’t! I won’t! Don’t ask me to.
“Well, I’m saying it anyway.”
“Well, I’m not listening!” John turns toward Rodney, starting to get pissed through the hurt he feels.
“Yeah, but… pretty soon I won’t even know who you are.”
“I’ll remind you!”
The knot in John’s stomach becomes tighter and tighter as they argue. John can’t believe Rodney’s actually pleading for him to do it. “Not happening,” he grinds out, facing the water. “Please, you’re stuck with me, Rodney.” More than you know. “Just accept it.” I love you!
John turns on him, holding his finger up under Rodney’s nose. “No! And that’s final.”
The minute I say goodbye, all this will be real. You’ll be gone, and I refuse to accept that. Please, Rodney, just drop this.
Rodney stares at him a moment, then huffs. “Okay,” he murmurs finally, staring down at the beer in his hands.
John watches him closely, wanting to be sure there’s no further argument coming. When Rodney remains quiet, he says softly, “Okay.”
After a couple of minutes, John takes another drink and Rodney says, “You’re a good friend, Arthur.”
John freezes, then glances at Rodney. Their eyes meet and they both erupt in laughter, John spewing his beer in the process. Coughing, it takes him a bit to regain his composure enough to speak. “You ass,” he mutters, secretly glad that Rodney at least still has a sense of humor.
They sit and talk about things that don’t really matter for another hour after that. When Rodney starts yawning, John insists on taking him back to his quarters. “C’mon, buddy. You need to rest.” It isn’t until John has promised to stop by first thing that Rodney relents, though.
After making sure Rodney’s settled in once again, John feels restless. He’s tired and he knows he should try to get some sleep while he can, but his mind is reeling. So rather than searching out his bed, he heads to Jumper One. As soon as he sits in his seat, he relaxes some, feeling the welcome from both Atlantis and the puddlejumper.
“I almost told him,” he murmurs, his thumbs rubbing the edge of the armrests.
John can almost sense the reproach, though he’s not quite sure whether that’s because he almost told Rodney he loves him, or because he didn’t tell him.
“Hey, now is not the time for it. Besides, what could he do, anyway? It’d just be a burden at this point, and I’m not risking our friendship — especially not now.”
He sighs, running his fingers through his hair. Settling back into his seat, he stares blindly out the window. “I do love him. Funny how that works out, huh? After Nancy, I never thought I’d love anyone again.” He pauses. “Did I tell you about her?”
A gentle mental nudge has him smiling, though it feels off. Taking a deep breath, he grasps the armrest and straightens some, as if steeling himself for the memories.
“Holland and I were living on base. He made friends a lot easier than I did, but he never made me feel left out or anything. He always had my back, too, especially when people tried to use me. Even though my dad had disowned me at that point, being a Sheppard still meant people only saw the name and what they could get out of it.”
Sighing, he shrugs. “Everyone always wants something from you, I guess. Learned that lesson real early on. Anyway. Holland had a small circle of friends on base and we used to all hang out. Every weekend we had off, we’d be at the diner to start off the celebrations, so to speak. There was this girl there, Nancy. Real pretty, very friendly — and I don’t mean in an inappropriate way, either — and she’d always hang out at our table for a chat. At first, I didn’t think much of it. She came across as just one of the guys, you know?”
John snorts, rolling his eyes at himself.
“Took me a while to figure out she was flirting with me. In fact, Holland had to point it out. I liked her, but as I said, everyone wants something and I was wary at the time. It took a few weeks, but she ended up asking me out, and I said yes. During that time she hadn’t made any hints about who I was — hell, she appeared to neither know nor care.”
Biting his lip, John frowns slightly. “Date went well. She cleaned up real nice. After that first date, we were hardly ever apart. I thought I’d finally found someone I could love, and that loved me for me. She did and said all the right things, you know?”
Scrubbing his face, John lets out a heavy sigh. “Married her a few months later. Everything changed pretty much as soon as I put that ring on her finger. Took me a while to see it, though. She’d thought she’d married into money, except of course I had none anymore. When she figured out I’d been cut off, she…” Taking a deep breath, he forces the words out. “She made life miserable. I would take every mission I could just so I wouldn’t have to come home. She filed for divorce finally, claiming I’d cheated on her. Didn’t fight it, even if it was a lie. I just wanted out.”
He huffs. “Expensive and painful lesson, that was.”