Warnings/Spoilers: The Shrine
Length: 2700 words
Summary: A late (and long) entry for the mcsheplets challenge #27 "I love you" but, hey!, the world needed another Shrine tag. Many thanks for the patient fenchurch1 for the beta.
Rodney left John a last message in a video.
John looked up to see Jennifer Keller standing in his doorway. "Hey! What do you need, doc?" he asked.
She walked slowly into his office and perched on the edge of the chair. Her hands twisted about each other and when John looked closely, he realized she looked like she hadn't slept in days.
"What can I do for you?" he asked gently.
"I.... I have something for you..." she stuttered. She was holding a flash drive in her hands and looked down at it. "It's.... from Dr. McKay.... When he was..... when that thing was in his head." She took a deep breath to steady herself. She gripped the drive tightly like it would get away if she wasn't careful. She looked up at him and said with an emotion John couldn't interpret, "I watched it. I'm sorry." John watched as she set the device on the desk and slid it toward him. "This is really yours."
He looked up as she stood and caught a glimpse of tears in her eyes. "Jennifer..." he started.
She stood and moved to the doorway. With her back to him she whispered, "I almost killed him, you know.... Refusing to take him to the Shrine. If Jeannie hadn't insisted.... He would have died..... and.." another deep breath, "it would have been my fault."
"But, you saved him," John protested.
A bitter laugh. "I got lucky," she replied. "Anyway..... I wasn't going to give this to you...... I didn't want you to... to know..... but it's the only way I can forgive myself...." She turned for a brief look, "I won't..... I won't tell anyone what's there." She was gone before John could get out of the chair.
Realizing that she didn't want him to follow, John stayed in his office and looked at the flash drive. It was probably from the video camera they had been using to archive Rodney's decline. He pulled it toward himself and reached for his laptop. He was about o watch it when he stopped and decided he wanted to be alone when he watched whatever was there. Something in Jennifer's mood made him think he should be someplace private.
In his room, he opened the laptop and made himself comfortable on the bed. He put the drive in the port and brought up the file there.
The opening sequence image was sideways with Rodney muttering, "..... I know how to do this. She does it all the time.... How hard can it be...." Rodney's hands appeared large on the screen as they reached for the camera. A close-up of Rodney's chest, out of focus, appeared. "Oh, okay, guess it's working." The camera was upright and Rodney settled into the stool he had sat on for the other video sessions.
"This is for Colonel Sheppard," Rodney started. "If anyone else finds this.... Well, stop watching and give it to him..." Rodney sat for a minute just looking expectantly into the lens, shifting nervously. John shook his head at Rodney's belief that whoever saw this wouldn't stop. He had been lucky it was Keller that had found the video.
"John. I hope this is just you. I'm sorry... you didn't leave me any other way to do this," Rodney started. "I know you didn't want a good-bye but there are... some things I need to ask of you and I need to do this before I forget."
"Ah!" Rodney wagged a finger at him. "I know I'm forgetting and I'm getting worse every day. Not that stupid... not yet anyways." Several emotions skittered across Rodney's face but fierce determination was the last one.
"I need you to do something for me," the image said. "Well, a couple of things. First of all, take care of Jeannie and Jennifer for me? Yes, I know Jeannie has Kaleb but she needs someone else to make sure she doesn't get lost in that happy homemaker crap. She can do better than that and you need to remind her of that once in a while. And... be an uncle to Madison?" Rodney nodded like he could hear John respond to him. "I missed a lot but I want to be sure that she has more family than I had growing up."
"Jennifer.... You told me she and I got married when you were lost in the future," Rodney continued. "Well, even though we're not.... Well, we aren't...." Rodney stuttered, "I need you to make sure she's okay? I love her, you know." Rodney blushed. "She's kind hearted and special..." Rodney looked hopefully into the lens. "I just wanted you to know that."
John stopped the video and found himself panting. He didn't know if he could go on. Rodney loved Jennifer? He never suspected and something in his soul died at that moment. He had never let himself think too hard about the relationship between himself and Rodney but there was a vague fairy tale ending in his head... a happily-ever-after that he had thought that maybe... after Atlantis... he shook his head to clear it.
He looked at Rodney's hopeful face on the screen. Clear blue eyes and a smile that was guileless – so unlike the Rodney he knew that John wondered what Rodney had been like as a kid – before life had treated him so badly. John wasn't sure he could watch anymore – wasn't sure he could take the heartbreak. Rodney had wormed his way into John's life, into his heart. Almost losing Rodney to that damned bug that was killing him had been bad enough but to find out that Rodney loved someone else..... that was more than John could take.
With a shaking hand, John reached out to the screen --- he wanted to touch.... So much...... he drew back his hand because it would never be real. His dreams.... were ashes...... He took a deep breath to steady himself and gently shut the video down, removing the flash drive from its slot.
He stared at it for a long time before he put it in the desk drawer. Shaking himself, he quickly changed into sweatpants and sneakers.
"Lorne?" he keyed the radio.
"Going for a run," John informed the Major. "I'll have my radio but.... Well, back soon."
"Everything OK?" Lorne asked. John could hear the curiosity in his voice.
"Yeah, just need to shake something off," John replied.
"Be careful," Lorne cautioned.
"Sure," John replied. Any more would be too much.
Using the transporter to get away from the occupied portion of the city, John ran through one of the less frequented walkways that he and Ronon ran. It was relatively safe, although less safe by himself than with Ronon since a couple of the walkways were shaky. But it was someplace where no one would bother him.
He ran. Ran to not think. Ran to purge the memory of that confession from his brain. Ran until he couldn't outrun himself any more. Slowing down, John breathed heavily. He didn't look at his watch and didn't know how long he had been out there but it was later in the day, almost early evening. Absently wishing he had thought enough to bring some water, he sat on a balcony that overlooked the far reaches of the city.
John heard the footsteps as the other made himself known. "Shouldn't be here alone," Ronon stated the obvious.
"Yeah," John replied automatically.
Ronon slid down the wall to sit in silence with him. As it got fully dark, Ronon asked, "Dinner?"
John startled. He had forgotten the other man was even there, lost in his own thoughts... in the dreams that had no hope of being reality. Steeling himself, John shrugged, "Sure."
They got up and walked slowly back to the city. Ronon made sure John got to his room, where he drank some water out of the tap and took a quick shower. Putting on a clean uniform like it was armor, he came out, not surprised to find Ronon waiting for him. "We missed the mashed potatoes," Ronon reported, "but there's still meatloaf."
"Good," John answered. Nothing would really taste good for a while but he knew he had to eat. The mess was largely empty since it was the end of the dinner hour and they quickly filled their trays with what was left on the serving line. There was an empty dessert tray that looked like something Rodney would have liked.... John shut down the thought.
Ronon lingered as they finished. "Go do what you have to do," John told him. "I'll be fine." He didn't flinch under Ronon's hard look and Ronon must have been satisfied enough with what he saw, grabbing his tray and leaving. John sat in the mess for a while longer.
That night, lying in bed John ruthlessly packed away the dreams that had been in his head. He had to work with Rodney, they had a mission in the morning, and he wasn't going to do anything to lose Rodney's friendship. He didn't think he could survive losing what he had of Rodney.... He would make do with what crumbs he could get.
The mission was a total disaster and they had been lucky to get away with nothing more than cuts and bruises. The possible Ancient outpost was evidently a Wraith magnet and they had spent the day dodging darts, ending up hiding in a smelly swamp to throw off the detectors the Wraith seemed to have. John had let Teyla do most of the Rodney-sitting while he and Ronon searched out a secure path back to the Gate. They ended up in the infirmary when they got back so Keller could be sure that all their cuts were cleaned up properly and no infections would develop.
John fled the infirmary as soon as he could after he saw Rodney and Jennifer with their heads close together as she bandaged Rodney's arm. Rodney's wide smile at the doctor was too much for John to bear.
Ten days later, John stared at his computer screen, looking at a request for transfer form. He had filled it out for any number of soldiers who had come to Atlantis and for one reason or another had not fit in. He never thought he'd be considering filling one out for himself. He put it away and moved on to some of the paperwork he couldn't foist off on Lorne. When he was done, he went off to work out with Teyla.
"Colonel?" Teyla's voice floated into his consciousness.
John opened and closed his eyes, and saw Teyla looming over him, concerned. "Sorry, not paying attention," he offered. She had knocked him down during their sparring session and he had landed awkwardly, knocking his breath away. John fought to steady his breathing.
Teyla sat on the floor next to him and placed a warm hand on his arm. "Something is bothering you," she offered.
John lay his head back down on the floor and sighed. If Teyla noticed, John wasn't dealing with his problems over Rodney as well as he thought he was. Rodney seemed the same but Ronon had been hovering ever since that day on the balcony. The warm hand and the concern radiating from her made John confess, "Keller... gave me a video that Rodney made when he was.... ill. I.... I watched part of it and..... I can't.... " John couldn't go any further.
John closed his eyes to try to regain his composure. He focused on his breathing and relaxing the tension in his back.
Teyla laughed, "If only you would do that when you are pretending to meditate with me." John felt himself blush. "I think.... That perhaps you should watch the entire video," Teyla suggested. "Jennifer would only give you such a thing if it were important to you."
I can't listen to Rodney telling me he loves Keller! John wanted to protest.
"John," Teyla murmured.
John scrubbed his face with his hands. "Okay. I'll do it," he agreed.
After taking a shower that turned him into a prune and tidying up his room, John figured he couldn't put it off any longer. He dug the flash drive out of the desk and put it into the computer.
.. "Jennifer.... You told me she and I got married when you were lost in the future," Rodney continued. "Well, even though we're not.... Well, we aren't...." Rodney stuttered, "I need you to make sure she's okay? I love her, you know." Rodney blushed. "She's kind hearted and special..." Rodney looked hopefully into the lens. "I just wanted you to know that."
He hadn't forwarded it far enough. John almost shut it down again but the thought of facing Teyla in the morning without having seen it all made John stick it out.
Rodney's earnest face looked at John from the screen. The voice continued, "Jennifer's been a good friend... the type I never had back on Earth. Even if she is a doctor." Rodney paused and tilted his head. "Is that being rude to Carson? Liking Jennifer more than I liked him?" He looked confused for a moment and then back into the camera. Into John's eyes. "Anyway. She's kinda lost around here and Ronon... well, the big lug doesn't know how to help her get along with some of the others, he barely gets along with some of them himself. So, she's asked me to help her. Me! Someone asking me about getting along with others." Rodney snorted. "Even I know how improbable that is. Was... You know what I mean."
Rodney looked sappy for a moment. John couldn't blame him for that. Rodney had changed in Atlantis. For the better, he thought. John hadn't realized, even as brilliant as Rodney was, that he'd be self-aware enough to know how much he'd changed.
"I'd already done some paperwork for them, I do remember doing that, but I don't remember what. Just... Make sure you take care of them, would you? Jeannie and Jennifer?" Rodney looked so hopeful that John found himself nodding agreement.
The tape rolled for a minute while Rodney fidgeted in his seat. He took a deep breath and started, "This part is the hardest and the easiest. I've never had a best friend like you.... You've believed in me and put up with a lot of shit that no one has ever done before. You've made me a better person." Rodney glanced down and back into the lens shyly. The blue eyes through the fringe of eyelashes made him look younger and even more vulnerable. "I've... I know I've done some paperwork for you, too. I made sure you could take care of things for me if something ever happens." A short, rueful laugh. "I guess it has." Rodney ran a hand over his face as if he were suddenly tired.
"As a friend, I..... I don't want to ask too much, or presume too much," Rodney went on. "I don't know where the line really is and I don't want to lose your friendship by crossing it. Having you as a friend... that's too important to me and I've settled for that." Rodney's eyes were shining. "But, John, you need to know that it's you I think of when I think of getting old and leaving Atlantis. That, some day, your damned military will let me.... Let me be with you." Rodney looked down at his hands, "I've wanted to... for so long.... But now I'm left with talking to a camera and hoping that you aren't mad at me, now that I'm probably dead." The last part was so soft that John found himself leaning in to hear.
Rodney looked back in to the camera. "I don't want to go. I don't understand why this is happening. To me. To us." A look of confusion passed over Rodney's face. "John? Are we ok?"
The dust that had been his dreams blew away to make space for more. Brighter and more real dreams were now possible. "We're fine, Rodney," John murmured. "We're fine."