Six Months

Written for zafra in the 2007 SGA Secret Santa.


John spends the better part of his first two months in the Cloister alternating between cursing his team for abandoning him, and just trying to get the hell out.

For a long time, he doesn’t let himself think about anything else. Avrid’s ominous words about there being no way to leave don’t faze him at all, while Teer’s claims that his coming here was predestined, inevitable, fall on deaf ears. He’s too busy to listen to them, too busy searching the perimeter for the secret exit, feeling around the edges for the trap door, looking for any vulnerable spot in the invisible wall that separates him from his team. From his life.

After a while, when there’s nothing left to try and still no sign of a rescue team –- and what the hell is taking them so long? he thinks angrily; he’s seen McKay pull solutions out of his ass in no time at all when his *own* life was on the line – he begins wondering if maybe this is it, if this might be all that's left for him now. Despite his resistance, this life is already beginning to feel way too permanent, he's being slowly assimilating him against his will, like something slow and inexorable burrowing under his skin, altering his genetic makeup, deleting things to make room for something new. It’s nothing in particular that they do or say, but it’s there, in the little things: in the way he’s fallen into a routine they’ve all come to depend on, fetching water or helping in the fields; in the way Hedda looks at him now, like he’s family, instead of just a wayward stranger with wounds that need tending. It’s in the way Teer comes to him, every day, hope and expectations shining in her eyes.

He has no idea exactly how long it’s been; they don’t use calendars in the Cloister, and all their days are pretty much the same. Even the weather is dependable, fixed, scheduled to provide maximum benefits with a minimum of distraction. John had tried to keep track at first, back when he’d still been counting in hours instead of days, months -- but somewhere along the line, he'd given up. Still, by the time his rescue team finally arrives, he's been there long enough to cycle through four of the five stages of grief; he figures he's managed to master all of them but one.


Back on Atlantis there’s the obligatory post-mission check-up, after which Carson declares that John’s perfectly fine: nothing worthy of mention other than a couple of extra pounds and the addition of a new gray hair or two, all changes consistent with him living the country life and, of course, being six months older than he was the last time they’d done a scan. Other than that, he’s apparently none the worse for wear, physically at least, and Carson releases him with a pat on the shoulder and a fond smile. Ronon, Teyla and McKay hover quietly in the background, and if any of them are concerned about John’s stoic expression or uncharacteristic silence, they don’t let it show. Instead, they take him to the mess and make him eat, then leave him to go to his quarters, alone, ostensibly to rest and recover from what they call "his ordeal."

Back in his room, John finds the shower still damp; there’s still a bit of foam in the sink, remnants of his last shave. That morning, he reminds himself as he stares at his bearded face in the mirror; less than twelve hours before. The shorts he took off before leaving for the mission are still lying right where he left them -- everything is exactly the same as he’d left it, and he thinks maybe that should be comforting, but somehow it really isn’t, not at all.

He makes quick work of the beard, practically growling in pleasure as he erases six months of growth with efficient, methodical strokes. He wipes his face clean with a towel, rubs his hand across smooth skin which feels odd and unfamiliar to him now. He makes his way to his bed, puts in a decent effort at trying to sleep, but it's clear soon enough that it isn't going to work. He’s restless, poised on the knife-edge of something he can’t even put words to, and finally, after what seems like hours, he gives up, puts his clothes back on and walks out of the room.


The well-worn path to Rodney’s quarters normally takes no time at all, but John takes a lingering, circuitous route, re-learning the things he’d once taken for granted: the muted sounds of the city as it sleeps, the heft and drag of his heavy boots, the salt-tang smell of the sea. Everything is familiar, but foreign; he tries not to wonder how long it will take to feel like home again.

McKay’s door opens without hesitation as he approaches. Rodney is standing just inside the door, as if he’d been waiting; his hair is mussed, stubble shadowing his jaw, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and a faded, misshapen t-shirt that clings to his broad shoulders. He looks completely normal and ordinary and exactly as John had remembered him, and John thinks he’s never seen anything look so good in his life -- this one, or any other.

He motions vaguely toward the interior. “Mind if I--?”

Nodding wordlessly, Rodney steps aside to let John enter. He's abnormally quiet, and John isn’t sure what kind of homecoming he’d been expecting, but he’s pretty sure it wasn’t this.

“Hi,” John says simply, when the door shuts behind him.

Rodney’s eyes are narrowed, his mouth drawn into a tight line. “What did they do to you?”

John chokes back a laugh, rubs his face with one hand, and releases his breath in a sigh. He’s really not sure if he’s ready to do this; he thinks he may never be. "Rodney, I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Rodney insists. “This is —” He waves a hand in John’s general direction. “Actually, I don’t know what this is, but it’s definitely not you being fine.”

“Seriously, I’m okay,” John says, and it’s not even a lie. He is okay. Or, he will be. He thinks. He’s pretty sure.

But Rodney just snorts derisively. “You’ve barely said two words since we brought you back. At dinner you didn’t even try to steal my fries, and now you’re knocking on my door at god-knows-what-hour and staring at me like a brainless moron, which I happen to know perfectly well that you aren’t. But I’m supposed to believe you when you say you’re fine.” He pauses. “Oh my God, did they–-” He gestures toward John indistinctly, his expression changing, as if something terrible had just occurred to him. “Did they, you know -- hurt you?”

"No," John assures him, but he doesn't elaborate. There’s no way to explain what it had been like -- the hell of those first few months, of pounding on invisible walls, and then later, the anger, the relentless frustration, the feeling of hope beginning to fade. There was no way to explain how time had become his worst enemy, even as Teer and the others had tried to help, in the only way they knew how. They'd brought him into their meditations, tried to teach him to sit, to be silent, to “open the closets of his mind.” But John wasn't like them at all -- he'd wanted to go back, not forward -- so while they sat around him, their deep, measured breathing the only sounds, John had closed his eyes and walked the pathways of Atlantis in his mind, pacing himself through imaginary patrols of the city, counting how many steps it took to get from the control tower to the east pier. He’d imagined running the catwalks with Ronon at dawn, or wielding the bantos with Teyla as the afternoon light streamed in through the windows, gilding her hair. He’d pictured Rodney, working in his lab, a half-eaten sandwich forgotten on the table beside his laptop as he concentrated on performing some new scientific miracle, some new way of keeping their city safe.

John had no words to make Rodney understand any of it -- so he shrugs, gesturing helplessly, saying nothing at all.

"John." Rodney says, and he's still standing too far away. “Do you want to talk—”

“God, *no*.” Quickly, John takes the few steps that separate them and covers Rodney’s mouth with his own, kissing him at first just to silence him -- but the kiss, their first after so long, deepens quickly into something more. This, and nothing else, is familiar, and John can’t help leaning into it greedily, can’t help the desperate sound that escapes from his throat. Rodney tastes like coffee, sweet and bitter all at once, and if John had allowed himself, during those long months away, to imagine that this was ever going to happen again, this is exactly how it would have been: Rodney’s mouth soft and lax in surprise beneath his, the hitch of his breath as John presses forward, keeping him close even when he might have pulled away to demand answers John doesn’t know how to give.

“John --”

But John just shushes him gently, cupping Rodney’s face with both hands and brushing his lips over his eyelids, his chin, his jaw, re-learning the prick of stubble, the scrape of rough skin against his own. Warm, sweet, like all of the memories John had stubbornly held on to, much better even than he’d even remembered. He nudges into the curve of Rodney’s neck, inhaling the scent of him: heat and skin and soap and Rodney and Atlantis and home, and John doesn’t know exactly when this thing with McKay turned from something he wanted into something he needed, but right now that doesn’t matter at all. After only a slight hesitation, he feels Rodney’s fingers curve over his hips, warm and familiar against his skin, and John wants to sag against him in relief, does, even as his hard-on presses against Rodney’s thigh, making them both smile.

“You’re taking a lot for granted,” Rodney says, teasingly, and John laughs softly with him, sliding his hands over Rodney’s back, dragging him close. Rodney’s hands flex briefly on his waist as their lower bodies align perfectly, drawing a soft, low groan from John’s lips. “Though, I suppose that could be forgiven, considering you've just lost six months of your life.”

“I didn’t lose it, Rodney,” John says, after a moment. “I lived it.”

Rodney stiffens, and John is already half-regretting saying those words even before they come out of his mouth. He knows that to them, his whole time in the Cloister had been barely a blip in the daily routine, a few hours spared out of their day to go and fetch Colonel Sheppard and bring him home. A short-lived mission, and one well-accomplished -- but John has another life to learn to put aside now, and even if it was a life he hadn’t chosen, and never would have if he’d been able, he still has six months of baggage to unpack, and no idea where the hell to put any of it.

He sighs, wondering if it’s too much to hope that Rodney will just let it go, let it lie, at least for now. But of course it is, because Rodney's nimble brain is already doing the math, converting months into days, hours, minutes, and then he's pulling back to stare at John, comprehension dawning on his expressive face.

“You thought we weren’t coming,” he says, and there’s no accusation in his tone, just acknowledgement of a simple, painful truth. “Jesus, John.” His voice is much quieter now. “For six months. Was it... was it really bad?”

“Not bad; just long,” John murmurs, “and I missed -- this.” Missed you, he doesn’t say; instead, he reaches for Rodney again, gathering him back into the circle of his arms, and when Rodney’s arms come round him, he figures Rodney heard the words anyway. They move together, still kissing, across the room and down on to Rodney’s bed, shedding clothes as they go, and John's shaking when he finally lowers himself onto Rodney, desperate in a way he’s never been before. But Rodney is clutching him just as tightly, and neither one of them is going anywhere else tonight. John closes his eyes, letting Rodney pull him close, welcoming him home.


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