But. Moving on.
I write *different* in zohowriter. It's all--*waves hands*--different.
So trying something--er, else--with Strangerverse. John POV, set after What You Can't Leave Behind, fairly short--I don't know. To me, it feels different, but I can't quite quantify how. Like I'm a half-inch off my normal writing self.
Right. Crazy talk. I'm cool with that. See? So not freaking out that half of it was written in Verdana ten point font and the rest with the *memory* of which parts were written in Verdana ten point font. God. No words.
Anyway, Strangerverse #7, all earlier parts up on my site now here or under the tag here.
How To Let Go
by jenn seperis
Sheppard (Sheppard/McKay) AU
When John thinks of the days after McKay died, he remembers the infirmary.
There was a quarantine to respect, locked in the isolation while they watched him for symptoms of the quick, bloody death that John listened to by radio five inches and a locked door away. White scrubs and the sleep that he couldn't reach, pacing his nights away like that could take him back in time and he never leaves Atlantis, and McKay doesn't die alone.
He remembers the rhythm of his breathing and the nurses who took his blood when he didn't fight, brought him food that he didn't eat, worried when he didn't care. He remembers Teyla and Ronon, who never left the observation room, eyes trained on him with sharp terror, waiting for the symptoms that didn't come.
Eight months is like eight seconds, though, and this last time in the infirmary is like living it all again, antiseptic and worried voices, Ronon and Teyla watching him like something fragile that they can't bear to lose, and Rodney--God, Rodney, a too familiar ghost hovering just out of reach.
And if sometimes he forgot, he pretends he can live with that, rewrite their ending into something better. McKay shouldn't have died first.
So he jogs his nights away, half-healed leg aching with strain, breath as harsh as McKay's was in the end, the raspy choke of blood as John talked away the minutes he had left and hated Atlantis for what it had stolen.
When he stops, minutes, hours, days later, he's not less angry, but he's too tired to remember how to care. A shortcut through the messhall, passing night-shift that discreetly turn their eyes away, past the main kitchen and down the back hall, pausing at a warm splash of light on the floor.
Rodney has been here for a while and, from all appearances, does this regularly, from the familiar way he moves in the smallest of the Ancient kitchens to the fact he seems to have figured out how to use the Ancient dishwasher without turning the room into a waterpark. Pausing, John almost walks away, but he gives himself a moment to just watch, pretend that he knows this man as well as he should, then knocks lightly on the open doorway.
It's easy, in the way that habit makes it, to lean into the wall and smirk, waiting for Rodney's attention. "Up late?"
Rodney turns fast, metal spoon splashing in something with the consistency of thick pudding, then frowns as he glares down at his shirt before sighing and leaning one hip on the counter. It's not a McKay stance, never has been, easy in his body the way that McKay had never been. He's thinner, too, months of missions and Teyla's workouts, running with Ronon every night, stripping excess flesh away too quickly, and some part of John hates it, hates that these things make him too familiar.
"Admirable stealth technique," Rodney says mildly, reaching down to pick up faux-pudding from his shirt and licking his finger clean with a frown. Turning back to the bowl, he reaches for the sugar, pouring in a generous cup before slowly beginning to stir. "And I could say the same for you. Didn't you just get out of the infirmary?"
The oven's on--John can smell something spicy and faintly rich, familiar in some indefinable way. Coming closer, he looks at the remains of chopped Athosian nuts, Genii dried fruits from a wary trade a few months before, something else that could pass for cinnamon though it had never been closer to the Milky Way than this counter. The Daedalus' regular supply runs made them less paranoid about the food supply, but even now, John flinches a little at the sheer amount of staples Rodney's commandeered. "Couldn't sleep," John says, keeping his voice light. "You remember we have a mission in the afternoon--"
"I'm unlikely to forget." With a final stir, Rodney turns to the oven, opening it to look inside warily before reaching for the pan. Ancient ovens are an improvement on the earth version in a lot of ways, not least in that no matter the temperature of the contents, the containers are always room temperature. Coming back, Rodney sets the pan aside, and John breathes in cinnamon and ginger and impossible smells, from a planet he hasn't seen in years, from a home that's only the faintest trace of childhood memory.
John swallows hard, stomach clenching in surprise. "Spice cake."
Rodney gives him a sharp look, blue eyes staring at John like he's stripping him naked, seeking out the spots of commonality between two very different men. When he looks away, John can breathe again. "Yeah."
Right. Licking his lips, he makes himself breathe. He can suddenly feel the sharp ache in his thigh from the healing wound, the trembling weakness of overexerted, injured muscles, and every day of his age. He's not tired, not yet, and suddenly he wants to be, so desperately that it makes him ache with it, and he's never hated this Rodney more than at this second, being too familiar in his skin, with the taste of John's childhood spread out before him.
Like being *slapped*, and he hadn't seen that coming.
"I really didn't think you'd be around," Rodney says slowly, ghosting a hand over the top of the cake before flipping it over onto a plate. He busies himself with stirring the remaining nuts and fruits into the bowl, face flushing. "I wouldn't have--look, okay. Bad idea. It's not like I could ever cook--"
John takes a careful step back. "It's not--"
"I could never cook," Rodney says, staring at the bowl with an expression that's achingly familiar. "But I learned this, and I just--" Rodney stops short, shaking his head. "Bad idea. Christ, such a bad idea, but you know, you can't talk, you were the one laid up in the infirmary trying your damndest to die for the last fucking month, so how I--fuck you, Sheppard." Picking up a spoonful of icing, he drops it onto the cake, then pauses, mouth tight. John can see the dark circles under his eyes, the almost tremble in perfectly steady hands. So he's not the only one who can't sleep.
And God, his leg hurts. "Okay," John says, trying to keep his voice level. Placing a hand on the counter, he leans in, taking the weight off his bad leg. He's been overdoing it and knows it. "I should--"
"Sit, before you fall over," Rodney says sharply on a glance, then looks again, longer, eyes widening. "Jesus, Sheppard, what the hell--" And before John can deny it, or remember how to stand straight, there's a chair shoved behind him, a rough hand pushing him down, a sudden sharp pain making him bite his tongue. "What, two days out of the infirmary and you're running marathons?"
"I'm fine," John grits out, but Rodney's dropped to a crouch, one hand resting just below the bandage, warm and heavy on swollen skin. "Just--"
"Do people really let you get away with this? Or are they just stupid?" And it's so eerily, perfectly McKay that John catches his breath, the same expression of irritated worry, the way his mouth crooks when something's not performing as expected. He has faint memories of hours under the rock overhang with Rodney's silence and his careful hands as they wrapped and rewrapped his leg, murmurs, indistinct and comforting, and maybe for a while--for just a little while--he could almost believe that....
But McKay wouldn't ever do this, crouch on the floor and stare up at him with narrow, accusing eyes.
"It's like you, though," McKay says sullenly, hand starting to squeeze, just a little too close to residual bruising and overstretched muscles. "Come on. I'll get you back to your room."
"I can do it on my own."
Rodney stares at him. "Okay. This I have to see." Standing up, he takes a step back, arms crossed, and John knows for a fact that his leg won't even try to hold him up all the way to his room. Reaching for the counter, trying for casual, he pulls himself up, a shot of pain arrowing into his instep and catching his breath in his chest. He can actually feel his knee buckle.
"Right." Rodney's arm slides around his waist, taking the weight effortlessly, pulling John's hand over his shoulder, so matter-of-fact and easy that he's got to have done it before, done it often, knows how to stretch that extra quarter inch for John's height, knows his--knows his body as well as John does, maybe better, when he could tell from a look what John could ignore. "Limp along, Colonel. I have cake to ice and a night to avoid sleep, and a wonderful morning to look forward to with a department meeting that will probably end in tears. For them. Not for me. That part of me is *dead*." Sniffing scornfully, McKay leads him out of the kitchen, through an exit that leads straight into the residence halls, so close to a transporter John kind of thinks he might want to cry with gratitude.
Rodney's quiet in the transporter, careful and impersonal as he braces John against the wall, programs in their destination, eyes fixed on some point a foot away midair. Too quiet, in that way that reminds John of himself, when there's too much to say, so the words won't form. When the door opens, Rodney's there again, and John remembers him in the forest like this, gentle and careful and kind, steering them down dark residence halls, missing the third shift security by mere inches as they make rounds, easing John into his room and into his bed with barely a jolt.
When John opens his mouth, Rodney waves it off, kneeling at the foot of the bed to unlace his cross-trainers, peeling away his socks, hands big and impossibly warm for a long moment while Rodney thinks. God knows about what. A few more seconds pass before he stands up, circling to the side of the bed before dropping on the edge. "I haven't seen you since you got out of the infirmary."
John fixes his gaze on the ceiling. "Rehab--"
"Neither have Teyla and Ronon. I have to admit a certain liking for the morphine junkie who kept talking about how colors tasted." Rodney's mouth quirks up, then flattens again. "Who *talked*."
John shuts his eyes. He'd wondered if Rodney would realize that. "I--"
"Forgot, I know. You were so high you were talking about your finals sometimes. I don't mind." Rodney pauses, frowning. "No, wait, I do. A lot. Because it's really fucking irritating to think that you're the only one who's having problems dealing with this." One hand encompasses the bed, room, Atlantis--hell, probably the Pegasus galaxy. "And when I say 'you', I mean 'me', and that thing you do where you act like everything's normal when Christ, John. It's not."
John looks away before Rodney can see the wince.
"Like that!" Strong fingers press into his jaw, pulling his head back around. "That. And that thing where you smile and look over my shoulder, and that thing where you just--you *leave*. You do a lot of that. You're a *prodigy* at that."
There's no way out of this room except through Rodney, and just thinking about his thigh makes the muscle twitch. "What do you want, Rodney?"
Rodney looks at him for a second, then sighs. "Never mind," he says, and whoa, hands on the waistband of his sweats, jerking them down so fast that John doesn't have time to draw the breath to object. The reveal of his thigh isn't pretty, and he's quiet as Rodney finishes peeling the sweats away, looking at the seep of pale pink into the bandage. Rodney's mouth tightens as he turns away, dropping the sweats to the floor, swiveling back around to stare at the red, swollen flesh, pulled tight and shiny from too much exercise and too little attention.
"Have you taken--no, of course not." Getting up, Rodney stomps to the bathroom, and John pulls himself up on his elbows, saying, "Rodney--"
"Shut up." The sound of running water intrudes, then Rodney comes back, a glass in one hand, two prescription bottles in the other. Shoving the glass onto the side table, Rodney holds them up. "Anti-inflammatory--still sixty left. Imagine that. Vicadin. All accounted for. I'm amazed. Sit up."
"Rodney--" he starts.
"Or I run tell Beckett that you're being an asshole. Sit up and take them." Opening the first bottle, Rodney dumps two into his hand and holds them out. "Your choice."
John takes them, because he's not stupid and the sharp pain's now steady, working its way through every muscle in his leg, overworked after too much time stationary, only a week of PT, limited time spent mobile. He wonders if he could ever explain to Rodney why. If he could even explain it to himself.
He takes the painkillers too, hating himself for needing them, but there's already sweat rising on his forehead and he knows it'll only get worse from here on out.
"Did you eat today?" Rodney asks after a while, and John opens his eyes on a softly blurred ceiling, vaguely aware of Rodney so close John can almost feel him. "In the last two days?" John nods slowly, careful of his head. Narcotics always make him a little detached, a little soft. A blanket gently crawls up his body, settling against his collarbone, and John sighs, letting his eyes fall shut. "Right."
Something cool and wet slides across his forehead, soft across his cheekbones, his mouth, edging down his jaw and the raw remains of a scrape against a tree trunk, vivid memories of sliding down and watching Rodney fire his first shot into another living being. "You okay?" John hears himself say, wondering if he's ever had a chance to ask before. The coolness slows, pausing to dampen his shoulder through his shirt, before it moves again, stroking over his cheek so lightly that John can't help leaning into every touch.
"I'm not the one with a healing--"
"Not that." John takes a deep breath, forcing himself to look, and the expression on Rodney's face is new, unfamiliar, something he'd never seen on McKay's face, but maybe he might have wanted to. Just once. "The--when you shot him."
The expression vanishes. "No."
He should--deal with this. He dealt with McKay's first kill, he can deal with-- "I'm sorry you were--that I didn't--"
"Oh. You mean, okay with killing him?" The cloth strokes over John's face again, stealing his attention. "Yes."
John forces himself to focus. "You--what?"
"I mean--new and strange and hey, Heightmeyer, big barrel of laughs and neuroses for the week after. But--no." Rodney frowns down at John suddenly. "I don't want off the team," he says slowly, like that was somehow on the table. John tries to shrug, but he can't quite hide the relief. "Go to sleep, John."
John shakes his head. "Just--" There's something they need to talk about. Something about the mission, and the kitchen, and the way Rodney's looking at him, and, and *John*, but for the life of him, he's not sure how they fit together, or if they even do. Reaching up, he wraps his fingers around Rodney's wrist, thin bones and warm flesh, but he has no idea what he wants to say. "Rodney."
Rodney pauses, then the cloth pulls away.
"It's okay," Rodney says as if from far away, and John breathes out in relief when the blankets are pulled back, a big warm body that had never shared his bed before sliding in beside him. He turns his head into a warm shoulder, breathing in the scent of him, spice cake and chemical stains and clean sweat, a gentle hand in his hair. "I can--you can forget."
John curls closer, feeling the words bubble up behind his teeth, pressing them tight behind his lips before they can crawl out. He doesn't know how to say that he doesn't want Rodney to be anyone else, even for a second. "I don't hate Atlantis anymore," he whispers instead, wondering if that will be enough, if it can explain that when he ran tonight, he remembered how bright the city could be at night, how she stretched open around him, offering all that she was, how she waited for him to learn how to forgive.
Until tonight, he hadn't realized that he'd learned how to let go, and nothing's ever hurt quite like that.