The designs for the S.E.A. are due for presentation at Rodney’s favored prospective partner firm in a week. After the fuck-up that was Kavanaugh’s work – how could he have been so stupid as to let the man work on anything more complicated than basic calculus? – they really don’t have any time to lose. Still, when a message pops up at the bottom of his computer screen to inform him of an email sent from a military designation, Rodney minimizes his current simulation at once and brings up the message.
It’s not from John, but from one of his buddies. A fist of ice clenches around Rodney’s heart. He almost doesn’t dare read on.
John is not dead. John is not dead John is not dead Johnisnotdead –
John is not dead.
Injured, Rodney reads, and fucked up mission and disobeyed orders and probable discharge. He takes a steadying breath before he can take in the whole story Captain Marcus has laid out in remarkably few words.
Toward the end of the message he gets to the most important part aside from John not being dead: ETA today LAX 1645.
John is coming back.
John is coming back.
They’re sending John back.
Part of him can’t keep from feeling dismay at how long this whole mess must have been going on if they’ve already gotten this far. How the actual incidence must have happened weeks ago and how Rodney had been happily buried in work without anyone, and certainly not John himself, contacting him. The other part is stuck on how John will be at LAX in three hours, he’s going to get to see John —
“I need a flight to L.A.,” he says out loud, putting his pending simulation on hold and pushing away from his desk in one swift movement. “Right now.”
“What?!” someone calls. He knows the voice, but he can’t be bothered to recognize it right now. “The design is due in five days, you can’t just —“
“Radek can do it,” Rodney snaps, grabbing his wallet and reaching for his jacket. “I’ve got to go right now.” There are murmurs of protest but mostly surprise – Rodney McKay never runs out of a project in any stage, much less this one, and most certainly not in the final hours. And Rodney would explain, would either tell the truth or make something up but John’s flight is going to land in three hours and he doesn’t have TIME —
“Rodney,” Radek says, the calm word enough to stop Rodney in his tracks. Radek will know, will already think that it must be either John or Jeannie, will almost certainly hack Rodney’s email to find out. “We’ll take care of it. Go.”
Rodney’s throat feels too tight to say anything in response. He just nods, once, and runs out of the lab.
When he’s safely in the air and checks his phone and finds that someone has booked him a suite in one of his favorite hotels, he manages to subdue the constant stream of JohnJohnJohn long enough to be grateful.
He takes John to the hotel and spends most of the cab ride catching his breath from a dead run to reach the right international gate in time. Once he’s paid the driver, procured their key card and ushered John up the elevator, he makes John drink a bottle of water and eat one of the sandwiches he owes Radek? Miko? Dominique? another thank you for. John hasn’t really said anything yet except for Rodney’s name, once, broken and far too full of wonder.
Rodney is angry. He’s been mad ever since he read the word discharge in Captain Marcus’ email, but that ire is directed at some faceless colonels and generals he doesn’t know the names of. This is something else. There had been no one at the airport, no one but Rodney, and he’d managed to arrive in time to take a careful look around. Worse, John hadn’t expected anyone to be there at all. So Rodney is so, so angry, and he would let it all out, but John’s face is drawn and he still can’t quite believe Rodney is here with him and Rodney can’t. Not yet.
Later, though, later heads will roll.
Later, he will spare a thought on whether and exactly how this is going to impact McKay Inc.’s course toward the future.
Right now, he sits down on the bed and drags an unresisting John down next to him. All the while talking about the company’s least important contract and his and Radek’s and, fine, Kavanaugh’s solution and the last time he stayed at this hotel, anything, anything at all. He pushes John down until he stretches out his injured leg into a more comfortable position and lets his fingers tangle in John’s hair. It’s longer now, almost as long as it had been back at Cal Tech. It makes John look more like the man Rodney has known since he was fifteen rather than the hardened soldier that had come back on leave, but it’s another sign of how little John had mattered to them, at the end. Rodney can’t bring himself to enjoy it, yet.
All the while, he is so afraid, because John is often silent but never this quiet.
It takes a long time before John starts talking.
“There’ll be a trial,” he says, “but they’re letting me use up my medical leave first.” They’ve tossed him stateside so that he won’t cost the tax payers any more money, since the outcome is a foregone conclusion. He has one option if he wants to stay in the military, which is be stuck in Antarctica for the next ten years. Or he can take the honorable discharge that will come with the clear understanding that there’s nothing much honorable about it and he will never fly again, and no no NO.
This is all wrong. It’s not at all how Rodney wanted to present the project he had kept clear of their sporadic contact, not caring to be spied on by a handful of governments. And maybe he should wait, and what happens next week has just been turned a lot more complicated, what with no one being at the airport and Rodney being so angry he can barely think, but John sounds so resigned and hopeless, and just NO.
“Or you could do this,” he says, and calls up the preliminary sketches of the S.E.A. on his notepad.