At last! It is done, after much moaning and wailing. And after all that, I ended up cutting out some of the scenes that gave me the most trouble -- yet while I was writing them, I really felt I had to crawl to the other side and not skip over them. Anyway, it's done now and I thank everyone for being patient.
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG-1, The Sentinel
Title: Cross Country, part 2
Rating: borderline R/NC-17
Pairing: John/Rodney, Jim/Blair
Date written: December 2006-February 2008 (whew!)
Length: ~20,000 words (whole story)
Summary: Salvage of equipment, people, and relationships.
Notes: This is the fourth story in my Criss-Cross series (thanks to jya_bd_cp_ttgb for the name suggestion!). Read the other stories first, or continue at your peril. You can also read a summary of the series, which does contain some spoilers for the stories.
Back to Part One
John was dreading the moment when Ellison would chew him out for disobeying orders, ignoring senior officers, and haring off on his own. The situation was so familiar John could picture it without even trying: Ellison would call John to his office -- or maybe Weir's office, maybe even with Weir or Caldwell present -- and put on that disappointed squint and shake his head with a sigh. He'd enumerate everything John had done wrong, all the rules he'd broken and the perfectly valid reasoning behind those rules and how it was bad for discipline if John was allowed to get away with such things. Or worse, maybe he'd make John list off his mistakes and transgressions himself. He'd say John was too impulsive, too arrogant and overconfident and all that jazz. Maybe he'd throw out some pseudo-psychological bullshit about John having a dislike of authority or subconscious suicidal impulses or whatever.
As for punishment, John wasn't sure what Ellison might do. He was pretty sure he wouldn't be fired for this first black mark, although he'd probably get warnings about what would happen the next time. Even if they wanted to fire him, they couldn't kick him off Atlantis because there was no way back to Earth right now -- so they might as well get some use out of him while he was stuck here. Grounding John would be an effective punishment in the sense that it would make him angry and miserable, but given the shortage of decent pilots around here it would essentially mean grounding the whole team. Likewise, kicking John off the team probably meant breaking the team up, and John was pretty sure Ellison wouldn't want to do that. Maybe he'd get a couple of unpleasant work assignments, although technically he wasn't in the normal duty rotations with the marines or the scientists. So he was guessing a stern lecture and a little ritual humiliation in front of his bosses would be all, this time.
He was thrown off-balance when Ellison didn't try to catch him that evening after John and Rodney were released from the infirmary. Ellison had been around earlier until Dr. Beckett assured him that both John and Rodney would be just fine. John had six stitches in his leg and some really impressive discoloration around the gash that wasn't as painful as it looked. Rodney had some ugly bruising on his ribs that he said was much more painful than it looked, especially when Beckett wrapped it up. They hobbled together back to their room and saw no sign of Ellison along the way.
Normally Rodney slept on the left side of the bed, but after much fussing and shifting and complaining, they established that he was least uncomfortable lying on the other half, curled on his right side, with John spooned up behind him. John had to keep his upper arm down by their hips and remember not to rest it across Rodney's aching chest.
John's leg didn't hurt -- much -- but he found he couldn't make himself relax. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Rodney floating untethered into space, or ripped apart by an explosion. He felt the explosion shivering through his boots, as Ellison must have done, and he tried to run only to find he couldn't get purchase on the deck. He found Rodney pinned by the split-open console as if it had eaten him, his skin gray and eyes dry and lifeless.
John jerked himself back from the brink of sleep for the third time, and Rodney groaned wearily next to him. "Would you cut it out?"
"What? I'm not doing anything," John protested. "I'm not even moving."
"You're not sleeping, either." With a huff and a whimper, Rodney turned carefully onto his back, twisting his neck to the side to look at John. "What's wrong?"
John shook his head. "I think my brain is just processing the day. Lot of new stuff -- all that bouncing around in zero gee, you know."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "That was free fall, not zero gee. There's no such thing, really, but the closest you could get would be interstellar space. Or intergalactic space, maybe."
"It was different, anyway. Just a couple of magnets keeping us stuck to the ship, and an invisible shield keeping us breathing?"
Rodney shuddered. "Don't remind me."
"I guess my brain's having trouble letting go of it." John flashed on an image of Rodney floating away, his arms windmilling, his face contorted as the helmet-shield failed and capillaries burst across his cheeks . . . "I don't know why it keeps bugging me," he choked, telling himself firmly that it wasn't true, it hadn't happened, it wasn't going to happen. He shouldn't have accepted those painkillers from Beckett -- maybe that was what was making his imagination so vivid, all of a sudden.
Rodney grumbled, "Well, your brain is keeping me awake. Can't you think about something else?"
"That's what I've been trying to do!"
"No, you've been trying not to think about the Daedalus," Rodney said.
How the ship had been bent back on itself, how the metal screams must have been carried along the girders as it was nearly torn in two, how the debris and air and bodies both dead and not-yet-dead must have streamed out into the monstrous nothing -- John bit back a pained gasp. He was definitely not going to be taking this drug ever again.
"That never works," Rodney went on, too tired or doped to notice his distress. "Believe me, I know about hyperactive brain processes. You have to give yourself something else to think about. Something interesting enough to hold your attention, but not too complicated. How do you normally get yourself relaxed to go to sleep?"
John didn't have to think about that very hard. His mouth quirked. "I can think of one thing . . ."
Rodney raised a brow. "Well? What is it?" Either he was in a very strange mood -- Rodney, coyly playing dumb? -- or the drugs were messing with his brain as well as John's, because he didn't seem to be getting it.
And maybe Rodney was right about the whole distraction idea, beacuse it was a relief just to show Rodney what he had in mind, to kiss away Rodney's murmurs of protest and get him to lie flat on the bed. A relief to think about nothing but his hands skimming tenderly across Rodney's bruised skin, about the taste of Rodney's cock and the optimum angle for sucking him deep.
When Rodney came with a groan halfway between pain and pleasure, he stared at John, waiting. "If you make me laugh, I'll kill you."
John shifted up the bed to lie next to him. "You won't laugh," he promised, and started petting Rodney's hair. For some reason, that always seemed to soothe his post-sexual hysteria. John had noted the trick even though he usually wasn't very interested in calming Rodney down.
"What about you?" Rodney murmured around an enormous yawn.
"I'm fine," John said. He was half-hard against Rodney's hip, but it wasn't a problem. This wasn't really about sex.
It wasn't until Rodney's snuffles were well on their way to full-blown snores that John realized, no, it hadn't been sex; it had been worship. It had been love.
That thought kept him awake long after his dick had softened.
John didn't see their team leader at breakfast the next morning. He wasn't sure if he should be nervous waiting for the other shoe to drop, or if maybe Ellison wasn't going to make an issue out of it. That seemed unlikely, but a part of him relaxed just a little. Later, when Ellison caught him in the weight room, he felt like he really should have seen it coming.
The exercise options in Atlantis were pretty limited, since the expedition had not had the capacity to bring along a lot of heavy, bulky machines with them just to keep people in shape. So there was running (stair-running when the weather was bad or the long circuit of the piers got boring), sparring (hand-to-hand, fake knife fights, various martial arts, and Teyla's Athosian stick-fighting technique), and weight-lifting with a variety of equipment people had cobbled together over the past two years. John thought it was a shame no one had set up one of the enclosed harbors for swimming, but the water here was a little cold by his standards in any case.
Beckett had ordered no running, stair-climbing, or any other serious exertion until the stitches came out of John's leg in ten to twelve days. That put a crimp in John's attempts to get himself back into decent shape, which he'd been working ever since he accepted Weir's job offer. This was obviously a dangerous place, and he had to be ready for anything, and besides that he'd be damned if he admitted he couldn't keep up with a man ten years older than he was. So when his preferred running and karate practice were ruled out, John headed for the weight room. Which -- surprise, surprise -- turned out to be one of Ellison's favorite hangouts.
He should have guessed, John thought. Ellison was just the kind of older gay man who'd be obsessed with his own body image. But no, that wasn't fair; Ellison didn't primp or pose. But a man in his late forties didn't keep a physique like that without plenty of work, and apparently a lot of that work took place here.
John sighed and headed over to the chin-bar to start out.
"Sheppard," grunted Ellison, just finishing up some bench presses.
"Ellison." John could still get his chin over the bar, but not as many times as he used to. He stopped when his arms started to shake, rested them a minute, then repeated the set.
"Don't usually see you in here." Ellison changed weights on a contraption that apparently let him do flies.
"Doc said --" John inhaled on the down-move. "No running."
"Hmm. When your leg is better, we should run together." Ellison apparently didn't need to time his breathing with the weight.
"Could do that." John dropped to his feet and rolled his shoulders, wondering if he was up to a third set.
"I go around dawn. Northwest pier, usually."
That was when most of the Marines ran, but they favored the piers on the east side. John had gone out a couple of times with Markham and Cadman, but they had jeered at his out-of-shape, ex-Air Force pace. And lately he'd been sleeping a little later anyway, his schedule gradually drifting into synch with Rodney's.
"Okay," John said, reaching for the bar again. Just a couple more reps.
"You might want to try some sparring, too. Teyla's got a killer routine with those sticks of hers, and Ford does judo sessions."
"I've been doing karate," John grunted. "With Bates, sometimes Cadman."
"Ah." Ellison was silent a minute. "Been trying to get Sandburg in on some practice sessions, but he says the testosterone makes him dizzy. Even in Teyla's class."
"Sounds like something Rodney would say," John gasped, feet back on the mat.
"Should get those two some defense training, though," said Ellison. "Gotta keep our geeks safe, huh?"
John didn't respond, since he had a bad feeling about where that was heading. Instead, he studied the row of machines. Leg presses, leg lifts . . . he headed for the bench press.
"Listen, about the other day," Ellison began, sounding uncomfortable but determined.
So John was right about where it was heading. He kept his eyes down, taking weights off the bar.
"I know what it's like when someone you love is in danger. I know what it's like needing to be there, needing to keep him safe."
Too light. John put ten pounds back on.
"But you have to keep your head. You need to stay present. This is a dangerous world out here."
John crossed to the other side of the bar, balancing it.
"You can't just throw yourself into trouble without thinking first. You hear me, Sheppard?"
John gripped the clamp tightly to keep his hand from shaking. "I don't leave men behind," he said in a low voice.
The pause then was too long. John realized he was responding to the last CO who'd reamed him out, instead of following Ellison's cues.
"Okay," Ellison said. "But you don't throw other men away just for a principle. You look for the best way to go at it, something that will work without getting more people killed. Am I right?"
That was the idea. That was the ideal John had tried to stick to, back when he had responsibilities and a command of his own. But sometimes it didn't really work out that way.
"Sheppard. Look at me."
John dropped his hands and came slowly, painfully, to attention.
Ellison looked more worried than pissed. "As an officer, you wouldn't throw men away on a hopeless situation. You wouldn't send men into danger without thinking about all the angles. Am I right?"
John nodded stiffly. "Yessir." Except for those times when he'd done exactly that, and gotten his men -- his friends -- killed.
"That goes the same for you. You don't throw yourself away. You don't jump into a situation without thinking about it. And you listen to me and anyone else who might have important information. I don't care who's hurt, you will keep your head and use reasonable judgment. You got that?"
"Yes, sir." John wanted to close his eyes against the images flickering there, but he knew it wouldn't help. His hands were fisted at his sides.
Ellison shook his head wearily. "Right. Fine. You can go back to --" He frowned at the bar John had been tinkering with. "No, forget it. You'll tear something if you try to press that much weight. Get out of here. Lie down and rest that leg. I'll talk to you again in a few days."
John wandered around for a while, but it was hard to walk far in Atlantis without climbing stairs, and transporters just didn't work for brooding. He did try a couple of flights of stairs, but the deep ache in his leg told him Beckett had been right. He ended up at the lounge near the mess hall (where he'd slept in the other Atlantis, where they'd confronted Hailey in this Atlantis) and collapsed on one of the Ancient sofa-things.
"John." A hand was on his shoulder. "Wake up."
"Huh?" He looked around. Oh yeah, the lounge.
Blair was bending over him. "You okay?"
John rubbed a hand down his face. "I'm fine. What's up?"
"Rodney's on his way."
"Rodney's here," said Ellison from the doorway.
And then Rodney was bursting in. "Oh my God, I thought you were dead!"
"Huh?" John sat up, remembered the cut in his thigh, and adjusted his position cautiously.
"You didn't show up for dinner. I thought you'd thrown a blood clot, or fallen down the stairs and broken a leg or your neck or something. I had half the science division searching, and Grodin was checking the sensors, and then finally I thought of asking Ellison."
"I was right here," John said blearily. "What time is it?"
"It's past twenty-one! What have you been doing all day?"
"Sleeping, I guess." John frowned. "I must have been . . . tired." It was true, he hadn't slept much last night, but there was more to it than that. Maybe a delayed reaction to the painkillers from yesterday? He felt fuzzy-headed from sleeping so much during the day, and he'd been dreaming about . . . something really important. He couldn't quite remember.
Blair thumped Rodney on the shoulder. "So, I'm glad he's okay. Let us know if we can help again." He waved cheerily at John and headed for the door, where Ellison was standing and watching John with a suspicious expression. They had a quick whispered exchange and then disappeared.
"Never do that again!" Rodney was exclaiming.
"You don't own me," John snapped reflexively. He felt guilty almost at once.
"What? No, I mean -- I was worried!"
"Yeah." John rubbed his face again. "Sorry."
"Well, you should be! That was pretty inconsiderate of you, disappearing like that without a word."
Now John was rubbing his temples instead. "Look, I don't think now is the best time for this discussion."
"I mean, when you weren't there at lunch, and you weren't there at dinner --"
"McKay . . ."
"-- and I checked the room and you weren't there either, and no one had seen you since morning --"
John felt a kind of pressure building inside him.
"-- the least you could have done was left a note or an email or something --"
John erupted. "Dammit, Rick, I don't answer to you! You can't tell me what to do!"
Rodney stared as if John had grown an extra head. "Are you --"
"I'm fine, dammit!"
"-- sleeping with someone else?"
"What?" It was a complete non sequitur.
"You just called me Rick."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
"I called you Rodney." Except his ears sort of remembered hearing the word 'Rick' come out of his mouth. That was the dream, he realized suddenly; he'd been dreaming about Holland and that horrible fight they had, and then the make-up sex. And then the next week Holland's chopper went down, and John disobeyed orders to go after him. Only in the dream, it was like they were stuck in that last fight and never moved past it.
Rodney was talking. "-- sleeping with this Rick person?"
John sighed. "He was . . . from before. Back on Earth."
"Oh. I didn't realize you left someone behind."
And that was so ironic John had to laugh or he'd cry. "I don't leave men behind."
From the steepening slant of his mouth, Rodney didn't get it. "You . . . miss him?"
"God, yes." More than three years later, he still did. John buried his face in his hands.
Rodney was silent for an uncharacteristically long minute.
"Look, Rodney, I don't think this is going to work," John finally said.
"What are we doing here, anyway? I mean, did we think about this at all? It seems like it just happened."
"This . . . ?"
"Us. You and me. Does it even make any sense? I mean, Ellison and Sandburg, they've been together more than a decade. They're married, for God's sake. Next to them, we're . . . what are we even doing?"
"I thought we were . . . lovers?"
John gave a half-laugh, half-sob. "Love? I don't even know what love is -- do you? I'm no good at this sort of thing, Rodney."
"Are, are you . . . breaking up with me?" Rodney said in a small voice.
"I'm just saying, maybe we should cool it for little. Take a step back and --"
"Oh my God, you are breaking up with me!"
Rodney's expression of horror congealing into resignation worked like a mirror, forcing John to pay attention to his own words. It really did sound like a half-dozen bad breakups he remembered. But where he was sure every one of those women and men had been lying when they used such phrases to let him down 'gently,' he really did mean it with Rodney.
"Look, Rodney, I don't mean to . . . I don't want you to think . . . it's nothing you've done wrong, you've been great, I just --"
Rodney's mouth twisted. "Yeah, yeah, you know, the old 'it's not you, it's me' routine sort of lost its credibility around, I don't know, fifth grade?"
"No, Rodney, I'm serious --"
"Right, and you hope we can still be friends. Well, you know what, Sheppard? You can shove that plan right up your ass, 'cause you sure as hell won't be getting any of my body parts up there ever again. And you know what else? I'm keeping the bed you got me. And the room. You can find your own damn place to sleep. Maybe Rick has room for you."
For a dizzying moment, as Rodney stomped toward the door, John thought he had just wished him dead. Then he realized Rodney hadn't picked up his clues about the real story, and thought he was having an affair right now with someone named Rick.
And that was bad enough. John knew only too vividly the hurt and betrayal Rodney was feeling now, knew how he would be reviewing every conversation they'd had, every occasion of lovemaking, and looking for lies everywhere. Except it wasn't lies: John had meant every moment of it, every tender caress. And that was what had scared him.
Maybe it was better for Rodney to think him a liar than to know him for the fucking coward he was.
That night, John stumbled back to the room where he (and Rodney) had slept for their first few weeks on Atlantis. He lay awake for hours on the bare mattress, mind going over everything he had said and should have said and wanted to say, and all the reasons why hurting Rodney a little bit now was better than what would inevitably happen further down the line. When he did sleep, John dreamed again of Holland and woke shouting.
"So what happened?" Blair demanded over breakfast -- an early breakfast, probably too early for Rodney to be up, but John was watching the entrance anyway.
He shrugged. "I'm not sure."
"What do you mean, not sure? You broke up with him, didn't you?"
"I don't know how it happened," John insisted. "It was . . . sort of an accident."
"Like a misunderstanding?"
"Well, sort of. I mean, I would say one thing and it's like he heard something else. He thinks I'm cheating on him with somebody here on Atlantis, just because I was thinking about . . ." John swallowed. "Somebody who's not around anymore."
"So clear it up! Tell him it was a mistake."
John fiddled with his fork. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
Blair eyed him. "You want him to think you're cheating on him."
"No! But . . . maybe it's for the best, you know? Maybe, maybe we weren't really supposed to be together. It was just sort of . . . I don't know, convenient."
"But you guys were so good together!"
"Yeah, right. We have nothing in common."
Blair snorted. "You think Jim and I have a lot in common?"
"But you have this, this Sentinel thing keeping you together. You really belong with each other, like . . ." Destiny, John was thinking, but it sounded too much like a line from the back of a romance novel.
"We weren't always this secure, you know," Blair said. "I mean, from the start it felt like there was something, like we were really supposed to be together, you know? But it wasn't smooth and easy. One time, Jim kicked me out . . ." His eyes darkened. "He was having a reaction to the presence of another Sentinel in the area, but we didn't know that at the time."
John blinked. "Another Sentinel?" He'd had the impression it was like a superpower or something, completely unique.
"Yeah. There used to be lots of Sentinels in pre-industrial societies, but they've become less common. This was the first time we met one. Anyway, Jim got all territorial and he wasn't sure why, so he ended up throwing me right out of his territory."
Blair grimaced. "Well, it's a long story, but . . . I died."
"What, just from being separated?"
"No!" Blair laughed. "No, it's not like that -- we're not tied to each other or anything. Although, I'm not really sure how well Jim could cope long-term without me around. But that time, it was the other Sentinel. She killed me. Jim got there just too late to stop her. He had some training as a medic in the Army, and he brought me back even when the EMTs were ready to give up. He just wouldn't let me go."
John thought about that for a while. "I don't think anything like that's going to happen to Rodney and me. Not as a result of being apart, I mean."
"You never know, man. It's a dangerous galaxy out there, even if you're not a Sentinel."
"I just think Rodney might be better off without me, no matter how bad it feels just now." And John . . . might not exactly be better off without Rodney, but he'd feel safer not having another person to worry about all the time.
After breakfast, John sought out Sergeant Bates and argued with him until the quartermaster grudgingly coughed up a set of sheets. He went back to the larger room (now just Rodney's room) and collected his meager set of belongings while Rodney was in the lab. And that was that; he was a single man again.
Being Rodney's ex-lover was surprisingly similar to being Rodney's lover in a lot of ways. John still spent a lot of time working on the Gateships with Grodin or Simpson, or with other scientists on other Ancient equipment, or ferrying people and equipment back and forth to the mainland. He still spent a lot of effort trying to keep track of where Rodney was, but now it was mostly so he could avoid him. That wasn't too hard, since Rodney was apparently working on the equipment they'd salvaged from the Daedalus, and John's ATA gene was no advantage with Earth/Asgard technology.
He didn't spend mealtimes with Rodney anymore, but he kept trying to figure out where and what Rodney was eating. When he discovered that Rodney was skipping meals, he spent a lot of energy trying to get food to Rodney through middlemen. Blair Sandburg was good for this a few times, but too often John couldn't find Blair or couldn't draw him away from whatever he and Ellison were busy with. John tried Hailey then (moving slowly, but mostly recovered from her adventure on the Daedalus), and that worked since she was rabidly curious about progress on the Asgard beaming console and used the food delivery as an excuse to get into the lab. But apparently Rodney said something rude to her (the phrase 'errand-girl spy' was mentioned), and after that she was less receptive.
John tried Cadman next, but she just raised a strawberry-blond eyebrow. "Didn't you break up with McKay?" she demanded.
"Yes, well . . . sort of." Accidentally, John didn't add.
"So why are you still taking care of him?"
"Somebody needs to," John retorted.
"He's a big boy, he can take care of himself. He's just skipping meals to get you to notice, to prove you still care."
It was possible; Rodney wasn't beyond underhanded emotional manipulation, when it occurred to him. But as angry as he'd been, he probably wouldn't believe John did still care about him anyway. It was really more likely that he was just throwing himself into work and forgetting about meals completely. Or so determined to avoid John that he wouldn't come to the mess, so the only food he got was junk and powerbars.
"He doesn't know I'm the one sending the food," John pointed out.
"No, seriously. He wouldn't believe you even if you told him."
"Look, flyboy. Come to me if you're ready for a rebound," Cadman drawled. "No strings attached. But don't try to drag me into this co-dependent thing you have going on. I don't need that."
John's face was hot and he felt guilty for even considering the proposition -- he'd been in high school when she was born, for God's sake! -- and anyway he didn't need more complications in his life, even if she was sort of cute. He just shook his head at her.
Cadman gave an exasperated sigh. "Try Dr. Kusanagi," she said with a nod towards a diminutive Japanese woman. "She admires McKay for some reason, and she likes to take care of people. But go easy on her; she's still a little scared of men."
Ah, yes, a member of Heightmeyer's special therapy group. John carried the tray of Rodney-food over to Kusanagi's table and made sure to sit a careful distance away rather than looming over her while he made his request. And that was another meal delivered to the labs.
But if the days were only slightly changed, the nights were very different now. The bed was too small (even for John alone; how had they ever fit in it together?), and too hard, and too cold. He didn't sit awake waiting for Rodney to get back from the labs, or give up and go to sleep anyway only to be awakened by mutterings and putterings and blanket-rearrangings, then sleep too late every morning. Now he lay awake because he was half-afraid to relax into sleep, and he woke shouting from nightmares he barely remembered, and he got up most days before dawn.
Link to Part Three