John took them out of the drawer often, going through each of the single dog tags and reading the name etched upon its surface. It always evoked an image of that particular soldier or scientist, like a moment captured in time--laughing with others, looking strong and stoic as death rained down upon them, or terrified as they faced the end. Sometimes he would capture their last moment, seeing fear and pain, watching the spark of life fade from their eyes even as he begged them to hold on.
So many dog tags.
Sometimes it was all he had to show for the loss, unable to bring back the body, and sometimes he thought of all the tags that ought to be in this macabre pile--the ones he was forced to leave behind, unable to reach the body, or the ones that disappeared, never to be found. He had made his own dog tags for those missing, carefully cutting the shape out of empty aluminum cans and indenting a name, rank or title, and serial number upon the soft metal. They were his personal monument to the dead, to those who had fallen under his command while trying to keep Atlantis and its people safe.
No one had ever asked him to part with those single dog tags, not even after they re-established contact with Earth. Instead, he would watch as Beckett, and then Keller, recorded the details into their medical files before smiling at him sadly as they handed the dog tag back.
He reached up and cradled the two identical tags hanging on a chain around Rodney's neck, wrapping his fingers around them and holding them tight. When he felt Rodney's warm hand cover his, he looked up into sad and understanding blue eyes, aware that Rodney had his own monument for the dead. John did not resist the pull of the other hand that cupped the back of his neck, allowing Rodney to draw him into a tender kiss. They pulled apart only far enough to touch foreheads, leaning in as they breathed each other in deep.
Eventually, John drew back and smiled wryly, hand still wrapped around the skin-warmed metal, and still covered by Rodney's.
Silently, he hoped the day he added a single tag from Rodney would never come.