On a Clear Day

For the 2007 McShep Match challenge.

John wakes up in the infirmary in Atlantis, surfacing slowly, squinting against the glare of fluorescent light. By the time his vision clears and the room comes into focus, he already knows something has gone seriously wrong.

He blinks, glances around; Teyla is in the chair across the room, Ronon is slouched comfortably in the corner, Doc Beckett is hovering over John's bed, his eyes kind but shadowed with anxiety. John lifts his gaze and finds Elizabeth standing stiffly near the door, sees the same thing in her expression that he sees in all the others: relief, yes, but there’s something else, too. Sadness, maybe -- as if they have news that none of them wants to be the one to give.

A slow, careful roll of his head on the pillow confirms that McKay isn’t anywhere in the room, and then John knows it's bad. It has to be bad, because Rodney should be here alongside the rest of them, would be, if he could -- hovering somewhere in the background, waiting impatiently for the chance to berate Sheppard for his latest suicidal escapades or mocking him for playing the Pegasus Galaxy's fool once again. But McKay is nowhere to be seen, and suddenly that look in Elizabeth’s eyes makes perfect sense.

“Where is he?” John asks hoarsely, without preamble. There’s something he doesn’t recognize in his own voice -- but then he tries to move, and it hardly matters against the crushing pain.

When he’s lucid enough, they debrief him with cautious words and somber voices. Some kind of leftover land mine, they tell him, probably a remnant of the ancient war; they've already got a team checking it out. Ronon and Teyla had managed to escape the blast, carried through the gate by momentum, but John had been thrown out of the game completely for almost a week, kept sedated to forestall the pain of half a dozen broken ribs.

"But you're going to be just fine now, Colonel," Carson assures him with a pat and a smile.

John doesn’t even remember going down. The last thing he can recall on his own is being a long jump away from the gate, heading back to Atlantis after yet another lead on Ford's whereabouts had turned up nothing but rocks and ruins, the remnants of what looked to be an old fortress, a primitive stone weapon or two. John had scratched the mission off as non-productive, made a mental note to alert the archaeology team, and had ordered everyone back to the gate.

Rodney had been right in front of John then; providing them all with a running commentary of all the things he'd have rather been doing, his sarcasm buzzing comfortably in John’s ears -- oddly pleasant, like a familiar song. He'd been right there, with John on his six, close enough to touch.

After that, it’s mostly just impressions: sounds and sensations, indistinct and indistinguishable. A crash, a shout, a flash of fierce, orange light; a sharp forward thrust, like being shoved violently from behind -- and then, nothing at all.

It was Rodney, they tell him, who had been the hardest hit. They use phrases John tries not to assign mental images to, phrases like traumatic head injury and swelling in the brain and finally, damage to the optic nerves, but before John can even begin processing all that, they drop the biggest bomb, the last one, the one that changes everything. Rodney is gone.

It turns out that while John had lain unconscious, the SGC had stepped in and made the decision Elizabeth never could have made and Sheppard himself never would have allowed: Rodney had been sent back to Colorado, exchanging his place in the city of the Ancients for the promise of the best neurologists the planet Earth could provide. Recovery and recuperation were the words they'd used on the official report, but John, who’s lived and breathed the American military his entire life, clearly hears everything they weren't saying. There are already too many liabilities on Atlantis; they can’t afford one more.

The days that follow are a blur of drugs, visitors, and clumsy bedside staff meetings during which everyone tries to pretend nothing has changed. After each briefing, before the next dose of morphine takes him out -- John tries to resist it, but God, ow -- he asks them about McKay. He's doing well, they tell him; nothing to worry about. But John knows damn well that they aren't telling him the truth. The elephant in the room is so big, he's pretty sure even Ronon’s gun couldn't bring it down.

He's finally set free on the twelfth day, armed with a bottle of painkillers and stern instructions from Carson to rest and relax. Less than ten minutes later, he's geared up and standing in Elizabeth’s office, fully prepared for a fight.

“I’m going after him,” he tells her, and it’s not even remotely phrased as a request.

"Wait, John.” Elizabeth rounds the corner of her desk, heading him off. “Listen to me—”

“There’s no time,” he says, and it’s all he can do to stop himself from physically shoving her aside, out of his way. Under normal circumstances, despite their differences, John has the deepest respect for Elizabeth Weir, would put up a damn good fight against anyone who tried to cross her. But Jesus, it's been nearly two weeks since Rodney left and from the looks of it, they've done nothing. And besides, he already knows what she’s going to say -- and he already knows he’s not going to listen.

“This was his choice,” Elizabeth says. “He wanted to go.”

“Well then, tell him he can’t,” John says stubbornly. “Tell him that isn’t how it works."

“I know how you’re feeling, believe me. I want him here, too. But if this is what Rodney wanted? Then we have to respect that.”

"No," John insists, "we don't."

“John," Elizabeth says, quieter now. "You need to take care of yourself right now. I can’t afford to risk losing you, too."

"He's ours," John says, his voice rigid. "And we don't leave our men behind."

The others try to stop him, too. It’s easy enough to ignore Carson and his speech about reckless military lads not knowing how to give wounds time to heal properly, but when Caldwell gets all up in John's face and finally says aloud what they've all obviously been thinking -- maybe it’s better this way -- John curls his fingers into his palms and pushes past them without saying another word.

Ronon falls into step beside him as naturally as a wolf joins its pack; Teyla is already waiting at the gate to wish him well. Not for the first time, John is inordinately grateful for his team -- a fact which only solidifies his purpose.

"Could be a trap," Ronon says, matter-of-fact.

"You will bring him home, Colonel," Teyla says softly. "I am sure of it."

John nods his thanks, and then glances meaningfully at both of them. He figures that between the two of them, they can easily take on anyone who tries to stop him from leaving -- and he really hopes it doesn’t come down to that, but at this point he’s not ruling anything out.

He turns back to Elizabeth. “Be ready,” he says, to her, to Carson -– hell, to Rodney, wherever the hell he is. “Be ready, because I am bringing him back.”

"Colonel Sheppard," General Landry says, his face like a stone, unreadable. "Welcome home."

John salutes neatly. "Thank you, sir."

"You've come to see Doctor McKay." At John's nod, he adds: "I'm pleased to report that he's doing well. Very well, in fact, considering the nature of his injuries."

John doesn't reply to that. There's more, he can feel it, and instinct has him holding himself back, waiting. But he doesn't have to wait long.

"I have to warn you, however," Landry says, "that although Doctor McKay is doing much better than anyone had expected, the fact is, the nerve damage isn’t improving the way we'd hoped it would."

John grits his teeth against his impatience. “Sir, if you don't mind my asking, what exactly does that mean?"

Landry heads for his office, gesturing for John to follow. Closing the door behind them, he says, "He's completely blind, Colonel. At least, for the time being, he is."

"The time being." John's hands clench on his sidearm reflexively. Blind. Rodney is blind. "And that would be -- how long, again?"

Landry sighs heavily. "These things are tricky, Colonel Sheppard. Right now, there's simply no way to know when -- or even if --Doctor McKay will regain his sight." He pauses, folding his arms across his chest, as if anticipating John's reaction to his words. "McKay is fully aware of his situation, and he has decided to remain here, on Earth.” He pauses. “Indefinitely."

John narrows his eyes. "He did what?"

"There are things he’s going to need to learn, adjustments he'll have to make," Landry says. "I'm sorry, but Doctor McKay will not be returning to Atlantis." His voice has the ring of finality, of fate, and brooks no argument. John, it seems, has been dismissed.

Secretly, John’s always thought that Atlantis and McKay belong together; they’re like soul mates, joined by a destiny bond. People like to tease Sheppard about having the city under his thumb, but the truth is that John’s not much more than a spark plug; he can light the place up and make it look pretty, but McKay is the complicated command center that drives the thing, makes it go.

He’d tried to explain that to McKay once, one night when they’d all had a little too much of that wine at that festival on that planet, and Rodney had lifted his face to the sky and just grinned goofily, the potent brew leaving him soft and easy in its wake, relaxed in a way Rodney never, ever is.

“I’m serious,” John had insisted, his head buzzing, his tongue thick and heavy in his mouth. “Atlantis loves you, Rodney. You’re like her boyfriend.”

“Oh, please,” Rodney had said, dropping down onto his back on the grass, turning his head to stare at John upside down. “If I’m her boyfriend, then you must be her personal vibrator. You touch her and she lights up.”

“Except I can’t make her come,” John had said sadly, with a sigh. “I can get her started, but she always needs you to finish her off.”

Rodney had burst out laughing at that, and then John had reached down and clapped a hand over his mouth to quiet him down, and then he’d fallen off the bench onto the grass himself, and then they’d sniggered and shushed each other loudly until Teyla finally turned and admonished them with a stern glance. All too soon after that, the festival was over and it was time to go.

John had forgotten all about that night, until now.

They give him a room in guest quarters; advise him to settle his things and then they'll send someone down to take him to see McKay. Inside his room, John removes his weapons, takes off his vest, stows his gear on the table by the bed; stiff, methodical, practical movements that feel necessary, help give him the impression -- false though he knows it is -- that he has some kind of control over this situation.

But he doesn't, and God, he's pissed -- pissed off at Elizabeth, at Landry, pissed at himself for letting this happen. This shouldn't have happened -- it's John's damn job to keep this from happening, and instead of letting him do that, they’d stuffed him full of morphine and forced him to lie still and do nothing. And now he has to fix it, but he can't fix this with a P-90, can't distract the U.S. Air Force with a flash-bang and steal McKay back from under their noses, can't fly everyone to safety or do any of the other things he does best. He doesn't even know what the hell he's going to say to McKay -- all he knows is that Rodney went into exile two weeks ago without John having any say in the matter, without John being able to say anything at all, and John's never been much of a by-the-book kind of guy himself, but even he knows that this isn’t how things are supposed to work. This is wrong; it feels wrong. It feels like -- betrayal.

We're a team; he doesn't get to leave us behind.

In the bathroom, John turns on the water, splashes two handfuls onto his face -- and then slams his fist into the mirror, watching with a sense of grim satisfaction as his reflection shatters into thousands of fragments and then disappears completely, leaving nothing behind.

There is pain -- first from his knuckles, then from his wrist, and then, gradually, from the dozens of other places where the glass has punctured his skin. Still, it isn’t enough.

The aide they send to escort him to Rodney’s quarters is well-trained, bland-faced and polite, and doesn’t bat an eye at the dozens of tiny, bleeding cuts on John's hand. Nonetheless, John feels chastised somehow, like a spoiled child. It's possible, he thinks belatedly, that I'm going to fuck this up.

But then they're there and the door is opening and suddenly Rodney is standing in front of him, all in one piece, looking exactly the same as he always has (except for the civvies and the lack of shoes, and it’s somewhat of a shock to realize that John’s never actually seen Rodney’s bare feet before), and it occurs to John that it's all so damned normal and familiar -- at least up until Rodney cocks his head and looks at him. Doesn't look at him. Looks at him, but doesn’t see.

And that is just so wrong, John thinks, sharply -- the shock of certain, sudden knowledge catching him totally off-guard. It’s wrong, because Rodney has always been looking at him -– John can’t describe it, has never even consciously acknowledged it before now, but it’s always been there, since the very beginning, and now that it isn’t, he feels the loss like a phantom limb, a torturous ache that can’t be rubbed away.

For a moment, just one single, traitorous moment, he considers turning around and walking out. Just walking away without even saying a single word, allowing them both to pretend he’d never come, because Pegasus has already demanded so much from all of them, taken so much, and this could be –- this feels exactly like the thing that will finally shatter them into fragments that can’t ever be pieced back together again.

But he doesn’t leave. He can’t, because this is Rodney -- arrogant, capable, brilliant Rodney McKay who’s saved all their lives so many times they’ve all fucking lost track, who’s brought ancient cities to life with the very same hands that now curve, oddly elegant and vulnerable, over the top of a cane -- and he should be back in his lab on Atlantis demanding accolades for his genius, not standing here barefoot with his normally-expressive eyes wide and blue and -- God, John thinks, as the horror of it truly sinks in for the very first time – completely and utterly vacant.

“Hey, buddy,” he says, finally, and it's the hardest thing he's ever done. "It's Sheppard. Mind if I come in?”

"Sheppard," Rodney says. "I—no. Fine."

The aide nods and turns to go, leaving them alone in the hallway. John waits awkwardly for some indication of what he’s supposed to do next, if he should offer to help McKay in some way, but Rodney just turns away from the door, waving a vague hand for John to follow him in.

Inside, the room is dark, leaving John at a loss and oddly helpless until his eyes adjust. Instinct has him scoping out the room, orienting himself with the shadows and shapes of what he figures must be a twin to his own quarters –- bed, tables, chair. Beside him, he can make out the shape of a lamp; he reaches out without thinking, switches it on, and then thinks maybe he should have asked first. Rodney doesn’t react at all.

John glances around, sizing things up. The room is dominated by the bed, which is rumpled but made, as if Rodney had been lying on top of the covers. There’s a wallet and a prescription bottle on one nightstand, a pair of running shoes on the floor beside the chair. The room is orderly to the point of almost seeming unoccupied; not a single thing out of place, nothing to trip on or stumble over -- a far cry from Rodney’s quarters back on Atlantis, with its laptops and flash drives and power bar wrappers and pencils and half-eaten MRE’s covering every available surface, the flotsam and jetsam of a harassed genius who’s too busy saving galaxies to be bothered with anything as trivial as housekeeping.

John wants to say something smooth, maybe crack a joke just to keep things from getting too intense -- but before he can come up with anything good, he’s struck by the way Rodney is walking toward the chair: each movement measured and so precise, walking forward just until his knees touch the seat and then turning, feeling for the edge before lowering himself down with a sigh. John’s hands clench uselessly at his sides as the reality of Rodney’s condition hits him anew, leaves him wondering how many other simple, everyday things will be turned into equations inside Rodney’s brain, mental schematics designed to remind him how many steps it takes to reach the bathroom, or the order of the dials on the kitchen stove.

It's too much, John thinks: I can’t do this. He doesn’t recognize the wallet, has never seen the shoes; it’s only been twelve days and already McKay is becoming somebody new, subtly leaving them behind. Even if he returned to Atlantis tonight, it would already be too late to stop the changes that have been set in motion, too late for things to ever completely return to the way they were.

“Well, Colonel," Rodney says finally, his voice cool, impersonal. "You’re here to check up on me, I assume? Well, as you can see, I’m coping quite well, all things considered.”

"You look good, McKay," John says honestly. And he really does. He looks good, he looks great, he looks perfectly fine, he looks exactly the same as Rodney has always looked, except for the fact that he doesn’t, and the way his hands are gripping the armrest of his chair so tightly the knuckles have turned white. John has to look away, as if he’s just borne witness to something he shouldn’t be allowed to see.

"And how fares our distant city, hm?” Rodney asks.

“Actually, I was thinking maybe you would just come back and find out," John says tightly.

But Rodney ignores that. "Has Zelenka burned the place down yet? I always suspected that he was a closet arsonist. That story about his brother?” He shakes his head, chuckling. “Didn’t fool me for a second."

John wants to hit him, shut him up. He can't stop staring; he's never seen Rodney's hands so unnaturally still. "Rodney, don’t.”

“Don't what, Colonel?"

“Don’t pretend everything is fine," John snaps. "Don’t act like I’m not supposed to care.”

Rodney snorts. "Payback's certainly a bitch, isn't it?"

"Christ, McKay." John wipes a hand over his face, takes a deep breath. There’ve been a dozen times he’s walked away from Rodney -- from all of them -- without even knowing himself if he’d ever be coming back. If they’d felt even a fraction of what this was like, every damn time— "Look, I didn't come here to fight with you. Actually,” he adds in a softer tone, “that's kind of the opposite of why I'm here."

Rodney says nothing for a moment, and then he seems to relent, saying quietly: “They didn’t know what to do with me."

John’s anger dissolves as quickly as it had flared. “That's why you left?"

"I just figured I’d make it easy on them.”

John chokes back a laugh. “Since when do you try to make anything easier?”

“Hey, I’m not above being magnanimous when the situation warrants," Rodney protests. After a moment, he looks pensive. "You’d be surprised by how rarely that happens, though.”

John half-grins, relaxing a little. This, he thinks, is comfortable ground; this they can do. “You’re a hell of a guy, McKay" he drawls.

“Yes, well,” Rodney says, wincing. “Used to be, anyway.”

And just like that, John's angry again. Fuck. “Rodney -- God, just stop this, okay? This whole thing is fucking insane. You didn’t do anything wrong; you didn’t have to leave. Why don’t you just come back to Atlantis, nothing has to change --"

But Rodney interrupts him. “No. No, you do not get to say that. How can you possibly know -- you have no idea what this is like --”

“You’re damn right, I don’t,” John agrees. “None of us do. But --”

“You’re not going to say something petty and ridiculous like ‘you'll get used to this’ or maybe ‘it gets easier over time,’ are you? Because really, Colonel, I can spare you the wasted breath right now.”

“So, what, you just leave?” John asks, frustrated. “That’s your big, last-minute brilliant solution?”

“Maybe I’m all out of brilliant solutions," Rodney says. "Did you ever think that maybe, just possibly, just in this one very particular instance, I actually can't fix this? Did that thought ever occur to you?" His voice is as blunt and sarcastic as ever, but then he lifts his head, and the haunted look in his unseeing eyes drains the fuel from every one of John’s protests, steals the breath from all the words he’d been trying to say.

The room is too warm -- John's forgotten how well Atlantis takes care of them -- so after the shouting fades into nothing and the silence threatens to close in on them, he suggests that they go somewhere.

Surprisingly, Rodney agrees. “I haven't really been out much," he admits. "Since, I mean.”

“And we can just leave? I mean, we're allowed? They’ll let us?”

Rodney cocks his head, narrows his eyes and snorts at John, the non-violent equivalent of a thwack upside the head. “I realize the U.S. military does get a little bit proprietary about its members, Colonel, but we’re not prisoners here.”

“I know,” John says, defensively. “Still, it just feels like it shouldn’t be that easy.”

Rodney's laugh is unexpected. “You’ve been watching too many movies." And just like that, John is breathing again.

He hesitates at the door -- he doesn’t know quite what to do, how exactly to go about this -- until finally, Rodney just sighs noisily and takes his hand, shoving him through the doorway. John guesses they'll figure it out as they go.

Rodney maneuvers the hallways easily, with John a half-step ahead, leading the way. They stop off at someone's office and Rodney manages to wrangle them a car, handing Sheppard the keys, and just like that, they're on their way off-base. It’s after midnight, Earth time, and there are only a few stray cars on the road; neither one of them has any idea where they're going, and that's good, John thinks. He turns off the GPS and they simply drive, heading nowhere in particular, leaving the tall shadow of Cheyenne Mountain behind them. John feels lighter with every mile.

They drive for a long time, saying nothing. Despite their argument earlier, John feels strangely mellow, comfortable with the silence. Rodney's a warm, solid presence by his side; they're close enough for John to hear every breath he takes, close enough for John to be sure he’s safe. Actually, John is both surprised and impressed by how well McKay seems to be adapting. He can't help but feel a certain sense of pride, watching Rodney navigate this new world with the same kind of determination with which he’d once learned to reload a gun or fly a jumper -- even as it leaves him feeling oddly displaced, as if John's place in Rodney's world is being usurped by Rodney himself.

The thing is, John’s always had this mental image of Rodney -- he can’t call it a memory, since he wasn’t actually there at the time, but it’s there all the same, stuck in his head, and goes something like this: Fucking Kolya, with his pocked face and seriously unsympathetic expression, is pointing a loaded gun at Elizabeth’s chest, and there’s McKay, moving between them, fully prepared to take The Biggest One Possible for the team. Elizabeth had kept her report characteristically objective and succinct, but John’s imagination has always been able to fill in the details: Rodney would have been over-the-top terrified, wide-eyed and flushed as he stepped in to the direct line of fire, but his chin would have been climbing sky-high in defiance, his rapid-fire brain already set on its course.

John has always known that Rodney is braver than he gives himself credit for. The fact that he doesn't take credit for it simply means that he hasn’t figured it out yet. John figures it's only a matter of time.

They stop when they come to an unexpected dead-end that seems to rise out of nowhere from the darkness, a street that turns out to be a cul-de-sac in a new residential development, under construction. All around them, John can see concrete blocks stacked in the dirt, wood frames like skeletons rising from the ground. He thinks that if he ever gets back to this place, there will be people here; families, living their lives. He wonders what they're all doing right now -- if they're packing up, getting ready to move, if they're prepared for the way everything's going to change.

The air is cool through the open windows of the car. John angles his head to look up at the sky. It's a clear night, and he’s pretty sure that even without his sight, Rodney could show him where Pegasus is, or at least point him in the general direction, and for a moment, he desperately wants to know. It feels wrong to think of Atlantis out there without them; better to imagine that everyone in the city is standing in place, frozen in time, waiting to be brought back to life by their return.

As if reading his mind, Rodney says, “Sheppard, I can’t go back.”

With a sigh, John turns his head on the seat to look at him. Rodney’s face is lifted skyward too, but his eyes are closed. John’s mouth goes suddenly dry, and he clenches the steering wheel, filled with the sudden, unexpected, powerful urge to touch.

"Yes, you can,” he says softly. “You will."

"No, not like this.”

"Rodney --" John curses, low in his throat -- frustrated, as always, by the emptiness he finds when he reaches for words. “You have to come back. The city needs you.” We need you, he doesn’t say; it’s more than he can find the words for, but he wills Rodney to hear them anyway. Stranger things have happened; especially to them.

“That city has managed to get along quite well without me for 10,000 years," Rodney points out.

“That’s not true, and you know it."

"Okay, yes, I've been an indispensable asset to the expedition thus far, there’s no point in denying that," Rodney concedes, and John smiles in the darkness. "But be that as it may, I don't know how much use the Pegasus Galaxy has for an unparalleled-in-his-brilliance-astrophysicist who can't even tell the difference between the bathroom and the linen closet."

"Come on, Rodney," John chides. His eyes are drawn to the line of Rodney's neck, the way one side of his collar has fallen open, exposing his throat. It feels wrong to be looking at Rodney this way when he isn't aware, but John can't stop himself, can't tear his eyes away. "Even if your condition is --" He stops, fiercely unwilling to finish that thought. "You know as well as I do that there are all kinds of gadgets and high-tech toys to figure that stuff out for you. Automated control programs, voice recognition software..." He leans sideways, nudges Rodney gently with his shoulder. "It's a challenge, that's all. You'll figure it out. You always do."

“I’m afraid,” Rodney says.

John's chest tightens painfully, a sharp ache that has nothing to do with broken ribs. "I know."

“Not of this,” Rodney adds, waving a hand vaguely in front of his eyes. “I mean, believe me, this sucks, in a really, really big way, but it isn’t the only thing. It’s that -- I haven’t forgotten anything, per se, not yet, everything still looks the same in my head -- but sooner or later, it's all going to start blurring around the edges. You know?”

And John doesn’t know, he can’t know, but what he does know is that he will never forget the way Rodney had looked when he'd first opened that door; Rodney, who had traveled across a galaxy, who'd faced down Kolya's gun, homicidal nanites, and a sentient mist, who’d even gone head to head with a Wraith, and had never looked as frightened he does right now. John doesn't let himself think about what he's going to do; he just reaches across the console between them and takes Rodney’s hand, tugging it toward him and placing it against his own jaw, holding it there. Rodney's breath hitches softly, but he doesn't pull away.

“Sheppard--” Rodney says softly, questioningly.

Destiny bond, John thinks crazily, his heart already beginning to thrum in anticipation; he can’t explain it any better than that, can’t explain it at all but he knows it’s been there for a long time, maybe from the beginning -- this bond they both share with their city that’s somehow grown to extend to each other, too, just like a shield. Rodney’s palm is warm and damp, solid and firm against John’s skin -- strong hands, John thinks; strong, skillful hands that can pull miracles from the universe. Hell, if he can do that, he can probably figure this one out, too.

And then John is turning, leaning in, moving closer by infinitesimal degrees until his lips are pressing softly against Rodney's, just close enough to be a presence, an idea for them to accept or deny. John braces himself for shock, for resistance, for recoil, but there’s nothing like that, and if anything surprises him in that moment, it’s that this actually doesn’t surprise him at all. He thinks maybe it's been there all along, too; thinks maybe they’ve been hurtling towards this moment for months, years.

Rodney makes a sound -- needy, hungry -- and then he's reaching out, gripping John’s arm with his free hand, pulling him closer. John’s simple need to touch flares into something much more urgent, as quickly as a lit match in straw, and he lifts his own hand to cup Rodney’s face, linking them in an infinite loop as the kiss grows deeper, takes fire, grows.

“Oh, this is so not fair,” Rodney says when they finally pull apart, breathless and still clinging to each other, heat rising like a thick layer between them.

John pulls back slightly to look at him. “What’s not fair?”

“It’s not fair that I can’t see this, can’t see you,” Rodney says. “I mean, all this time, and now —”

"Let me," John whispers. Let me show you. And he sets about doing exactly that, using his mouth and his hands to show Rodney everything he’d never even seen himself before now, not even with his own, undamaged eyes. But Rodney is already right there with him, tugging and shifting until they're pieced together perfectly, halves slotting into a whole -- and John realizes that Rodney had already known about this, had seen the pattern long ago in a galaxy far, far away, written across stars. He closes his eyes, pulls Rodney close, and thinks maybe he's the one who’s been flying blind, all this time.

Dawn breaks as they make their way back to the base. John drives with one hand on the wheel and the other curled tightly around Rodney’s thigh; they pass trees and buildings and a hundred other things Rodney might never see and John has no interest in. It’s not home now, it never will be again, for either of them.

Rodney lets go of John’s fingers in the split-second just before they step out of the car, but John comes around to Rodney’s side and falls in step beside him, pressing the back of his left hand against the back of Rodney’s right as they walk inside. John has no idea where they go from here, but it doesn't matter; their city will be waiting, as long as it takes. Rodney leans against him, just for a moment, and John feels his chest ease for the first time in weeks. They've made it this far, he thinks. They'll figure the rest out as they go.


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