Chapter 1: Look Back In Wonder
They had been on PX8-5QY for three days now. Part of the trade negotiations had been an agreement for Atlantis to make changes to improve the day to day living of the natives, the Karmani.
Rodney had opted to oversee the teams that were putting in irrigation, plumbing, advising farming techniques, education and the like to make changes throughout. This was partially because he’d felt his team needed to be corralled somewhere safe and relaxing for a while where he wasn’t worrying about them twentyfourseven, not that he told them that. Also, partially because he liked the Karmani, they may be lacking in knowledge but they were eager to learn and Rodney always respected that. As far as Atlantis was concerned it was because he hadn't trusted his scientists not to take the opportunity for a vacation.
The natives wore longtunics in neutral colours and they all wore their hair long, regardless of sex, with the sides pulled back to lay in a ponytail against the rest of their hair. They reminded Rodney of the elves from Lord of the Rings, except their ears were nowhere near as pointed as John’s. They had a new age feel to them, very peaceful and at one with nature’, but they weren’t at all offended when Rodney scoffed at their ideas and, more importantly, they were willing to learn.
The Karmani were eager to take on all the medical and scientific knowledge that the Atlantean team could bestow on them. They revelled in the changes, working along side his own scientists and the marines, commanded by John, to learn how each improvement was created, and they learnt quickly. Their intention being to travel to the other villages and pass this information on, so everyone on this world would benefit and share in their good fortune. They were just good people and it made Rodney happy to help them.
Rodney suspected that they hadn’t fully realised the true extent of the changes, greeting each new invention with awe and joy. They were so impressed with the improvements that they’d held a feast in honour of the Atlanteans, who had made all this possible.
Ronon had been delayed out in the fields, passing on and learning survival tactics and defence tactics, should the Wraith show up. The Karmani had not seen them in eons, passing into myths and legends amongst their people, sadly something Rodney had been sure would not last. Rodney expected Ronon to join them at the feast any minutenow the food had been passed out, the man had a built in radar for good food.
Teyla had been updating their libraries with helpful address’ earlier in the day, but was now ensconced in their meditation hut learning their techniques. If for Teyla alone, Rodney had been glad they came. She seemed to gain back some of the peace she held when he’d first met her, growing more carefree and easy to smile during their stay, losing some of the tenseness of her stance. Likewise,John had also grown more relaxed.
Lately, it seemed as if all their missions went wrong one way or another, and the list of enemies grew. It had become standard to the point that his entire team tensed as they went through the ring, almost expecting something bad. This mission had reminded them that there were still good people out there, and that there were still missions where they could relax. Rodney noticed the looseness in the way his team moved over those few days, almost sad they would be leaving in the next day or so. He just hoped this reprieve was enough for them, both physically and mentally.
It was almost hard to remember the troubles they’d had, sitting out under clear blue skies with the late afternoon sun gently warming their backs. Roughly hewn chairs sat at long tables around the centre of this hamlet, wooden huts topped with thatch ran around the edge of the large square, and spread out to make up this small hamlet, the central square large enough to sit the population who normally ate together. One of many hamlets that were scattered all over the planet, but the nearest to the gate and hence the first one the team had met.
With the training and work being carried out, the normal routine of eating together had been disrupted. Rodney’s scientists would be another hour or two before they finished their current projects. Although a few that were working in other areas and had finished for the day were sat further along the tables with the marines, who were on rotation.
John and Rodney, as head of their respective teams and part of the first contact team, had been given space at the head table, but at present the only native sitting with them was Dalyia, which suited Rodney as she was one of his favourites. She reminded him of the Minbari Ambassador, Delenn, from Bablyon 5, except she didn’t have that bone tiara. She looked human, like a hippy vegan, but still human.
She was apprentice to the Sharman and stood for the religious issues on the council. Not normally someone Rodney would get on with, but she had a quick and clever mind, let Rodney’s attitude roll off her with a wry grin and she not only allowed science to run alongside religion, but was also willing to learn, something Rodney appreciated. She didn’t try to convert him, could hold her own on a debate, a skill no doubt learnt from her time on the council, and she had a strong independence and was basically a nice person. She also reminded him a bit of Jeannie when she was a little girl, when she still looked at Rodney as if the world turned because he made it so, which didn’t hurt.
“Thank you for your assistance these last few days, Dr. McKay.” Dalyia said, sat across the food ladentable from him. “Our daily lives will be much easier with the many different things you have created. You are indeed a very clever man to understand all that you do.”
“Well, I am the smartest man in two galaxies,” Rodney answered smugly, while he simultaneously reached for seconds of the blue pork, that just fell off the bone and melted in the mouth. Beside him, John shook his head with a soft smile as he watched Rodney with fond eyes.
“Well, you have been learning for an awfully long time, Dr. McKay. I would expect nothing less.”
Rodney stopped in the middle of tipping more blue pork onto his wooden slab that the natives used for plates. He turned to John, “Did she just call me old?” he asked indignantly.
“I think so, Rodney,” John said with an easy grin as he obviously tried not to actually laugh out loud.
“No, you are young yet,” Daliya comforted, “for all the lives you have lived.”
“Lives I have lived, right,” Rodney agreed, as he finished tipping the pork on his plate and put the serving plate back in the center of the table. Before he began to eat, he took the time to roll his eyes at John in case he’d been taken in by his words. When Rodney turned back to find the alien had leant across the table to look directly into his eyes with an intense stare, he’d been shocked enough to release a small yelp as he leant back, trying to create a little distance. He was more than a little satisfied when he’d felt John tensed up next to him, ha, not so funny anymore when the nutter might take away your only chance for survival in this twisted up galaxy, is it?
However, the alien just nodded in satisfaction. “Yes, quite a few lives you have had, and successful ones too.”
“Successful, like with money and nobel prizes and such?” Rodney asked as he lent forward eagerly, with a mixture of smugness and joy.
“You a believer now, Rodney?” John muttered jovially beside him.
“Successful in love, Dr. McKay,” Daliya answered with a fond smile. “You seem to have found your soulmate in a large number of lives, it is rare to do so even once. The bond between you must be strong.”
“Hmpfff,” Rodney huffed out, he’d been aiming for dismissive, but had known the bitter sound gave away more than he intended, unable to fully hide the stab of pain he had felt inside at her words.
“You don’t believe in soulmates Rodney?” John asked with that easy smile of his.
Rodney was suddenly uncharacteristically still, before he answered quietly, “No. At least not for people like me.”
“People like you?” John asked in puzzlement
Rodney glanced over, blue eyes looking vulnerable and bruised, “I know what I’m like Colonel. I know I’m selfish, I know I focus on the wrong things, that I give all my time to science so I don’t have time for anything else. That I have too many faults to ignore. For people like me, soulmates are as mythical as the white unicorn.” He gave a bitter laugh, “I guess science is my soulmate. It gives me purpose, makes me strive to better myself, gives me satisfaction. Isn’t that the definition of a soulmate?”
John hesitated before answering, obviously deciding to continue with a sheepish look on his face, “A soulmate should understand and accept every part of you, Rodney. Faults aren’t ignored, they are known but accepted and loved as part of your whole.” He finished with an embarrassed hug.
The native nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, yes, exactly Colonel Sheppard.” She turned back to Rodney. “Your soulmate has found and accepted you many times before, and I am confident they will do so again.”
Rodney just gave a tight smile and continued eating his meal in silence, as John watched on from the side with worry gently furrowing his brow.
Daliya watched in silence for a moment, her eyes gently flicking over Rodney’s face as he tried to ignore her. After a moment she nodded to herself, as if an agreement was made and, with a brief request to excuse herself, she left the table and trotted across the village towards the meditation hut.
Rodney watched her leave. He could feel John watching him but didn’t want to continue on the same conversation, so tried to move it on to something else, “I’m surprised Ronon isn’t here yet, I would have thought he would be here within seconds of the pork being served.”
“He’s on the far side of the forest today, he should be back shortly. I’m sure he’ll run the last few miles when he smells the pork. He’ll want to get here before you eat it all,” John joked.
“Ha, ha.” Rodney responded sarcastically. “The natives like that I appreciate their cooking. That’s one thing they don't need any help with.”
“What?” Rodney asked, around a mouthful of the delicious pork.
“Karmani, they’re called Karmani, not natives.”
“There aren’t any Karmani at this end of the table, so I don’t see that it matters. Besides, if my scientists hear me calling them by their proper name, they might get jealous.”
This seemed to startle a laugh out of John, “True, true. Can’t have that, the scientists might expect the same measure of respect.”
The laugh made Rodney smile in response. He liked that he could make John laugh, so few people seemed to be able to, although each one sounded like a surprise, like John was surprised he still could. It gave Rodney butterflies in his stomach. He was aware that he found John attractive when he first met him, but had realised almost immediately it wasn’t going to go further than his own initial reaction.
He had thought little of John in those early days, thinking that they would only interact at a basic level, when John’s gene would be required to activate technology that Rodney was working on. Truly, in those early days, that’s all there was to their interactions. John was always pleasant, seemingly respectful of Rodney’s intelligence, often seeking him out, but only to ask questions that the SGC 101 introduction video had stirred up but failed to answer. Although, Rodney’s pretty sure John is the only person in SGC who wanted to know if any aliens had invented a flux capacitor. John never reacted to his acerbic nature with anything more than sarcasm, and never attacking, more than often smiling instead.
It was when they stepped foot on Atlantis it all changed, like it was Atlantis herself who brought them together, from that first moment they travelled up the stairs together. John still choosing to seek answers from Rodney, most likely because he gave the best answers and was never wrong. The fast paced chaos that ensued,only brought them closer together and, by the time Atlantis was breaking the surface under a new sun, Rodney found he had a friend, a true friend. Not just a close colleague, or passing ships mutually gaining something from the other, a true friend who would prove to remain so. He trusted John almost from the beginning, trusted John not only to keep him safe both inside and outside of Atlantis, but not to turn on him if he didn’t get something in return, not to leave him behind.
Rodney had become aware lately that his appreciation of John’s natural good looks had grown to become an actual attraction. That from time to time he wondered what a kiss against John’s mouth would taste like, what his hair would feel like in his fingertips, and if his skin would be warm and smooth under them. Rodney was aware that the attraction was one sided, and found he didn’t mind that much, regretted it yes, but Rodney just liked being in John’s company, liked to make him laugh, see him happy and that was enough.
Rodney just hoped it remained that way, he didn’t want it to develop further, didn’t want to make a fool of himself or risk John discovering that he found the Colonel attractive. He wasn’t sure their easy friendship could survive that, and it was the most precious thing to him. Not that he’d admit it, but then with John he wouldn’t have to. They were both as bad as each other when it came to declarations, and yet they didn’t need them with each other, both aware that their friendship was as strong and as important to the other as it was with themselves. This was why Rodney tramped down on these butterflies, trying to stem the growing sentiment.
“I try never to show a scientist respect, Colonel. It makes them complacent,” Rodney answered deadpan, but unable to stop the corner of his mouth turning up in a lopsided grin.
John chuckled beside him. “I’m pretty sure most of my CO’s went to the same school of thought as you, Rodney.”
Rodney knew it wasn’t aimed at him, but he heard the edge of bitterness in John’s tones and just had to fix it. “I doubt it. I suspect most of your CO’s couldn’t get in the same school as me, even as a gardener.” He didn’t used to register the subtle feelings of others, and wouldn’t normally have cared if he did. Even now it was only in his team that he sometimes caught them and cared to do anything about them, and only in John that he never failed to miss them.
John shook his head, “Nice to see you’re keeping that ego of yours under control,” he said with a smirk as he reached for his drink, raising it up towards Rodney. “Don’t ever change, Rodney.”
“Why would I?” Rodney asked, appreciating the twinkle that had returned to John’s eyes. “It took me a lifetime to perfect this genius.”
John nearly spat out the gulp of drink he had just taken, struggling to swallow it down before he allowed himself to laugh. “More than just the one if Daylia is to be believed.”
Rodney huffed. “Why are all the peaceful natives into insane theories?” He lamented
“Rodney!” John whispered harshly. “Precisely, these natives are nice. So, please, for me, try not to insult them where they can hear you, okay? I really don’t think I could make a run on the gate after the plate of pork I had.”
Rodney waved a hand at the request, somehow signalling reluctant agreement, before replying, “Plate of pork?? Please, my niece could eat more than that. I’m pretty sure there’s a sparrow over there that thinks you’re fasting.”
John gave him a fake glare, “Well some of us have certain fitness levels to maintain. You try following Ronon around on a morning run and you’ll realise you have to watch what you eat.”
Rodney leaned towards him and whispered, “I’ll let you in on a secret. You’re the military commander, you don’t have to go on runs if you don’t want to.”
John huffed, “Yes, I am aware of that. I also remember just how little my respect was for those CO’s that didn’t even attempt to pull their own weight. I figure I can sacrifice seconds of blue pork, even if it is delicious. Besides, all the more for you and Ronon. You’d best save him some or he might make you go on a run in the morning.”
Rodney stopped, his hand freezing as it gripped the platter of pork, as he turned to John, “You don’t really think he would, do you?”
John gave a shrug, that his eyebrows felt the need to join in on, “I don’t know. He has got a vindictive streak.”
Just as Rodney was deciding how serious John was, a tanned meaty hand took the platter and the decision out of his hands. “Take it the pork is good?” Ronon asked as he tipped the rest of it onto a plate, taking Daylia’s place opposite Rodney.
“How’d you know that was the best plate on the table?” Rodney asked out of curiosity, a little of the regret he felt at the loss of it entering his voice.
“You were reaching for it. You’ve got good taste in food,” Ronon said as he stuck a forkful of pork in his mouth, before grinning widely at Rodney.
Rodney frowned at him. That sounded like a compliment, but he wasn’t quite sure. He was still figuring Ronon out. He’d figured out that he liked Ronon and could trust him, just sometimes he wondered how much was innocent remark, and how much was sarcasm. It had taken Teyla years to be confident enough to issue her first sarcastic comment, but Rodney was starting to suspect that Ronon was a natural.
Chapter 2: Look Back In Wonder
They had been telling each other about their day when Rodney realised Daylia was making her way back across the village square, from the direction of the temple that stood out on the plain on the far side of the hamlet, Teyla close on her heels with a smile on her face. Rodney watched them, frown still in place, something was up. He noticed when John tensed next to him and Ronon subsequently tensed in response to them, reading them so easily, and turned to see what had sparked the disturbance. He seemed to relax as soon as he saw Teyla smiling, which Rodney had to agree was probably the only reason John wasn’t grabbing him by the scruff of the collar and dragging him to the ring.
Daylia came to stand by the table, looking at Rodney with so much contained joy that Rodney was instantly nervous. “I have great news, Dr. McKay. I have spoken to the priests and in honour of all that you have achieved for our people they will allow you to take a draught of the black nectar.”
“Black nectar?” Rodney turned to Teyla, “I presume I’m being hopelessly optimistic to think she means coffee?”
“It is a great honor, Rodney,” Teyla enthused. If anything, it was these words that made John tense even further, in their experience this normally translated to ‘do on pain of death’. Rodney was half expecting his spine to snap. But, Teyla wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
“What is it, Teyla? Why do they want me to drink it? More importantly, why would I want to drink it and is it compulsory?”
“No, it is not compulsory,” Daylia cut in, but her joy had dissipated, confusion now filling her pretty face. “Everything is about choices and this drink helps you to see your past choices, to enable you to make the right choices in this life. The drink is just like a sleeping balm, you will take before bed and sleep till midday tomorrow. When you awake you will know that I spoke the truth, I hope it will give you the confidence to find your soulmate once again in this life.”
“But it’s not compulsory?” Rodney stressed
Daylia had leant forward as she became more enthused, but at Rodney’s response she stood back up, shoulders sloping, she looked down at her feet when she answered quietly and simply, “No.” She seemed so disappointed, which just made Rodney feel more guilty that he should.
“I’m sorry,” Rodney felt compelled to say. He really liked Daylia, she was one of his favourites and he knew Daylia thought she was doing something good for him, “It’s just I can’t risk taking some drugged drink. I have allergies and I can’t risk any damage to my brain by taking drugs. Atlantis depends on me to keep her working, I’m sorry.”
Daylia’s head snapped up, “It is not a drug,” she replied indignantly. “It is a drink taken from the black berry tree that grows at the summit. There is only one fruit for every generation.”
“A drink that incites hallucinations,” Rodney clarified. “That sounds like a drug to me wherever it comes from,” Rodney said, trying to sound kindly but afraid he was coming off patronising and defensive.
A belief that seemed to be seconded by John as he laid a calming hand on Rodney’s shoulder and leant forward to join the conversation. Rodney tried not to feel the fingers wrap around the muscle, tried not to think how the pinky finger was resting against the skin of his neck.
“Rodney,” John said in that tone that meant ‘you’re making it worse, shut up’, before looking up at Daylia with that look that would make a thirsty man believe dust was water. “He has an allergy that means if he eats a certain type of fruit he could die. We have medication to help him, but it still causes him pain. It’s why he avoids most foods and why I’ve been sampling the food before he eats, to make sure it’s okay. One of us is always with him when he eats off world to ensure he never ingests the wrong type of fruit.”
Daylia looked between them, with a glance to the plate of food in front of Rodney, no doubt remembering that he did indeed only eat the food that John had pointed out to him. “I did not realise, but if I speak to the priests I am sure that they would allow you to drink it too. You could say if it would be safe for Dr McKay. It’s just that he doesn’t believe and I...I’m afraid he’ll let the opportunity pass him by when it is time. Let us do this for him, let us help him find his soulmate, to give back something for the things he has given us.”
“Would you give us a few minutes to discuss it, please?” John asked.
Daylia nodded with a hopeful smile that made Rodney wince, before she turned and walked away.
Rodney started to rise, keeping a wary eye on her retreat.
“Where are you going?” John asked increasing the pressure in his hand to grip Rodney’s shoulder gently but firmly.
Rodney froze, ending up in a sort of half crouch as he threw his thumb over his shoulder, confusion and surprise in every corner of his face, “This is where we run for the gate isn’t it?”
“No, Rodney it’s not,” John said tiredly, after the obligatory eye roll.
Rodney sat back down slowly, looking at John warily, “You’re not going to ask me to take drugs for the good of Atlantis, are you?”
“You really have to ask that?” John asked as his hand slid away from Rodney's shoulder, an edge of hurt that he couldn’t quite keep out of his voice, as he raised an eyebrow and simply looked at him.
“No,” Rodney said guiltily, sorry for making John think he doubted him, even for a moment.
“All I was going to say was that we have the medical contingency here. They can test the drink to make sure it’s safe to drink, and then, if it’s safe, I will take a drink to make sure it is safe for you. Then it’s up to you. I think it would make these people feel like they were giving something back and would strengthen the bonds for future trade, plus it’s not as if you couldn’t use a goods night sleep, but the final choice will be yours and yours alone, okay?”
“You’d be okay? Taking the drink?” Rodney asked, surprised.
“I doubt I’ll be seeing my soulmate, and if by some miracle I do, then all the better. Basically I’ve got nothing to lose?” John said with a shrug.
“There are many cultures in Pegasus who have dream walkers,“ Teyla explained carefully, her voice was always carefully pronounced when she thought they were disrespecting someones beliefs. “It is not something that is normally shared. John is correct, to turn down an opportunity like this might well offend them. Daylia has sacrificed her turn to you to ensure you are given this chance, and would be disappointed if you declined, but the choice is yours to decide, Rodney. Just remember it is meant as an honour,” Teyla stressed, “A rare honour, you and John will be the first outsiders in their history to have received the tonic. Don’t just dismiss it, please think on it.”
Rodney nodded, “Okay, I’ll think on it.” He felt bad hoping the doctors would find the drink toxic in the face of Teyla’s brilliant smile.
Ronon had been polishing off the pork while they talked, looking between them as they spoke, watching quietly as Teyla left to request a sample for testing, only now turning back to John and Rodney as he asked, “Soulmates?”
John answered for them, “Daylia thinks that Rodney has a soulmate, and that this tonic will help him find her.”
Rodney froze, reaching for his drink in order to cover the fact he didn’t know what to say or do. If they were alone, Rodney liked to think he would have taken the chance to correct John, tell him that the soulmate could as easily be a him, as it was a her, not that he truly believed they existed at all. However, the marines filled out the rest of the tables around them and, although none were looking directly at them, he wasn’t stupid enough to think most, if not all, of them weren’t listening avidly.
Rodney was brash when he talked about his ideas, his intelligence. During his time with the military he had learnt that he was amongst the brightest minds on their payroll and so had no qualms about shouting it from the rooftops. Unfortunately, he had also learnt during his time with the military that, regardless of what the brass thought, the soldiers were made of individual human beings, with human frailties and human responses.
As much as the brass wanted to think of them as one organism, working to their will, it was not always the case. Outside of battle, some individuals were not so willing to forgive their fellow man for being attracted to his fellow man. Rodney had worked with the soldiers on Atlantis for long enough that he trusted them with his life. He had never experienced any bigotry, but then neither he nor his scientists had ever given them the chance to. Sexuality was as big a secret as the work they did, no one discussed it where soldiers could hear, all learning early on that it was a potential danger to do so. Over the years, things had greatly improved, but even if he thought they might be trusted, the automatic response to keep it hidden was as ingrained as breathing.
“You should do it,” Ronon said, his deep baritone voice rumbling through Rodney’s thoughts to bring him back to the present.
“Sorry? What?” Rodney exclaimed, at first taking Ronon’s statement to be in response to his own thoughts of correcting John.
“The drink,” Ronon clarified to Rodney's relief. “If you have a chance to find your soulmate, you should do it.”
“You believe in soulmates?” Rodney asked in disbelief, somehow associating believers with swooning girls more than muscle bound cavemen.
“I married my soulmate,” Ronon responded simply, continuing in the shocked silence, “and then I lost her. I miss her. Every day without her was a wasted day. If you have a chance to find yours then you should take it.”
“I…” Rodney stalled, what can I say that won’t sound feeble and pathetic. He looked down at his plate, at the nutty toffee slice he’d been saving, the last one on the table. He lifted up his plate and held it out to Ronon. “I’m sorry,” Rodney said softly, and as feeble as it remained, he hoped Ronon knew it came from the heart.
“Not your fault,” Ronon said with a shrug, but he took the dessert with a soft smile even though his eyes remained sad.
Rodney turned to John, hoping he would be able to say the right thing, and found John looking at him with a small smile, looking proud. It brought those butterflies back.
Ronon took his attention again as he asked, “Are you going to do it?”
“Er.. Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it,” because how could he say no, not when Ronon was smiling again, not when it meant taking the pain out of those eyes that had endured more than any man should, let alone one half Rodney’s age.
“Good,” Ronon said softly, and then put all his attention into his food. Rodney could appreciate the man’s priorities.
“You sure?” Sheppard asked softly.
Rodney turned to look at him, his eyes glancing over at Ronon once more before he turned back and nodded silently, regretfully before adding, “Well, as long as it’s citrus free obviously, there are limits.” Limit’s I’ll go to, even for team went unsaid, but John seemed to hear it.
John looked over at Ronon and nodded thoughtfully, as if he knew that Rodney couldn’t say no now. John’s hazel eyes found his again, “I’ll go first, even if the scientists say it’s okay. Just to make sure.”
Rodney found some of the worry inside ease, turning to warmth instead. Most people didn’t believe him, but John had always taken precautions, even before he actually witnessed one of his attacks. Rodney just nodded in response, unable or unwilling to actually voice how thankful he was for that without setting the butterflies in his stomach free for everyone to see.
“Erm, well. I’d better go check on my scientists for the night,” he said, suddenly jittery, no one seemed to notice.
He did just that, getting caught up in their work and making his way to his hut in the small hours. He lay on his bed for a long while, hoping that the nectar would be made of citrus and give him the excuse he wanted. Mostly he didn’t believe it would work anyway, but it was that small part of him that wondered if it did work, would he see lifetime upon lifetime where he lived alone because deep down he truly believed science would be his only companion in this life. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, because in ignorance there was always hope that somewhere out there was someone who was capable of loving him, and I would love them for that alone.
Chapter 3: Look Back In Wonder
The medical team had given the all clear for both citrus and poisons. Daylia had been ecstatic, Rodney quiet and had remained introvert all day. John had followed through on his promise to Rodney and was now sitting in one of the huts atop a comfortable bed, still in full uniform. They had opted to stay dressed, just in case. The doctors were standing by in the square outside, the guest huts edging one side of it, with a shot to wake him if necessary, you couldn’t be too careful in the Pegasus galaxy, it would be just their luck that the first culling in eons occurred while he slept.
John took a sip of the drink, allowing it to sit on his tongue and coat his mouth as he assessed the taste, looking for any hint of that sharp tang. The scientists had checked for citrus of course, but John couldn’t allow Rodney to take a drink without knowing he’d done all he could to protect him. He pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, pressing the liquid to see if any other flavours were released before rolling the liquid around, it tasted like liquorice, but no citrus. He swallowed down the mouth full, taking another to be sure before he swallowed that and nodded to Telya, who stood waiting patiently, “Tell him it’s safe.”
John could already feel the effects, starting to feel drowsy as he looked into the bottom of the small cup, just one more mouthful left. He shrugged, what the hell, and tipped the cup to take the last of the nectar. He looked up to find Teyla had left, no doubt to join Rodney before he retired to his own hut, only Ronon remained. They had decided that one of their team should stay with them during the slumber, just in case. Teyla would sit by Rodney as he slept, and Ronon with him.
John shook his head, trying to shake the fog away, he felt like he was on some kind of anesthetic, feeling stupid and slow. He attempted to put the cup on the bedside table, fumbling it until Ronon took the cup from him and put it on the table with alarming ease. John stayed leaning on his elbows while he blinked at it slowly, the knowledge it was safe finally sinking through and he let himself fall back on the bed, looking up into the thatch of the hut, blinking slowly as each blink came further and further apart until sleep finally took him away. Unseen by John, Ronon leaned forward and watched him closely for a while, before pushing the chair back on two legs and putting his feet up on the bed, arms crossing his chest as he sat back and watched, and waited.
In John’s head, a lifetime of images played out, to be followed by another and another. All the joy and heartbreak of a single lifetime condensed down to snapshots of events that led John through a life as he relived it, only to be followed by another through the history of ages. He was slightly different in each life, subtle differences, but still him. The lives played out with different names in different times and different places, the only thing that remained the same was Rodney’s soul that he recognised in every incantation.
In each lifetime, the light would catch Rodney's blue eyes just so, making them shine incandescent. Each time it happened, John would feel the light go on inside, all his feelings suddenly laid bare in the bright light of an epiphany as he realised he loved Rodney McKay. In each lifetime it was the same, bright blue eyes were like a punch to the gut.
In some they knew each other all their lives, in others they found each other only to lose one another to illness, war, accidents. It didn’t take John long to realise he preferred when he was the one to go first, because the ache he felt waiting for that life to finish so he could see Rodney again was the most painful he had ever known. Life after Rodney was day after day of an ache that never waned, while living with him was vivid and content.
John had never found contentment in this life, something he didn’t even know he wanted until now, it had always sounded such a bland word but these past lives made it something wonderful, Rodney gave him peace, and love, and laughter. In some they found each other early and remained together until the end. Each life had one thing in common, that when they were together John was happier than he ever thought possible. The snapshots were full of fond looks, of gentle kisses, soft caresses, passion and always, always laughter.
Until one life, where John was military once again. In this life he was confused by his love for Rodney and turned away. John said cruel things to Rodney and tried to avoid him. This life was torture to live through, to see the bruised, hurt eyes that he had already loved for endless lifetimes and know he was the cause. John wanted to reach out as he had in other times and brush the hurt away, but it could not be changed, it had already happened. He had to watch himself destroy both of them and endure a life without Rodney.
It seemed in the next, that he somehow knew he had to make amends, more or less running into Rodney’s arms, never to leave his side. It was like a balm to John’s aching soul, making amends for the previous life but never quite managing to squash the guilt he felt. In each life after that, John bent to Rodney’s needs, as if trying for evermore to make up for the things he said and the pain he had caused.
Then came the life where Rodney turned away from him. It left him confused and hurting, until the letter arrived informing him of Rodney’s death. Attached was a letter from Rodney telling John that he was loved more than he knew how to put into words, and why he had turned away, that it was done to save John the shallow existence of caring for someone with a debilitating illness. John lived out that life in anger that Rodney had robbed him of their time together, robbed him of a chance to ease his suffering, just to be in his presence.
After that, it seemed no excuses were accepted. If one tried to turn away then the other pulled them back and every life that came after, were spent together. The innocent lives they had initially spent together were gone, now each seemed aware the other had the ability to hurt them in their very soul. Each pain taken into the next life, but in each life the time they spent together proved they would never hurt each other again, they proved the risk was always worth it.
The remembrance of the pain they had caused the other seemed to travel with them, and warn them against ever doing so again. They were evenly balanced now, each holding power over the other, each fragile under the other. Now their lives started out hesitant and wary, but still they found each other, unable to turn away a second time, and together they healed and still those snapshots remained of love and laughter and an almost audible click that felt more right than breathing.
Eventually John found himself in this life, snapshots of his life flitting before his eyes, but only just touching on Atlantis when he felt consciousness pull at him. Except these were snapshots he never knew existed. Glances from Rodney that he had never seen, soft blue eyes that followed him, all laid bare for him to witness, to accept. But each snapshot was met with confusion. Rodney was straight, and yet, there it was, the same love he had witnessed repeatedly. John slowly woke, lying still as he tried to parse all that he had seen.
John lay looking at the ceiling until Ronon’s gruff voice startled him, “You okay?”
John looked over, taking in Ronon and relaxing instantaneously. “What?” Erm...yeah, fine.” he stuttered out, mouth feeling dry and gritty. “Any chance of breakfast in bed?” He asked hopefully.
“Doctor Nugen is waiting to give you the all clear,” Ronon warned.
John groaned, “Can you get me a few minutes to get my head together.”
Ronon looked him over, judging for himself that John was fine before he nodded. “Okay, I’ll just go get you something to eat, water is there,” he said as he nodded to the jug next to the bed.
“Any news on Rodney, yet?” John asked, just as Ronon was rising. He admonished himself, should have said McKay, not Rodney. He should have waited till he woke up properly before he asked, but as usual his worry for Rodney always trailed impatience to hear the all clear.
“Nothing happened so far or they would have told me. Just waiting on him waking up. I’ll check while I get breakfast.”
John smiled in relief, for both the water and the update, “Thanks.”
“I won’t be able to keep her out for long,” Ronon said as he made his way to the door.
John nodded in agreement as he reached for the cup, already full and waiting. He took a long drink, and it felt like heaven, taking away the bitter grittiness in his mouth. He put the drink back on the table and fell back against the bed. Alone now his thoughts turned back to his dreams. His thoughts should have been full of shock that Rodney was his soulmate, but instead the only thing that filled his mind were the times when he wasn’t. Rodney’s bruised eyes still hurt like a physical pain, John still wanted to reach back in time to brush the pain he had caused away.
Then a thought occurred to him, was it real? John was aware of his own attraction to Rodney, caught himself watching those wide shoulders, caught himself mooning over biceps like an idiot. He’d realised early on that Rodney’s blue eyes had the power to captivate him, and it didn’t take him long to realise how deep he was into Rodney or how one sided the attraction was. He’d often thought of this, was that what this was? Just a wish filled dream, inspired by the beliefs of the Karmani? The dreams had been so vivid, and more, they had felt so right.
John realised he was wasting his time. Even if it was, what did it matter? John knew Rodney was straight, in this lifetime it wasn’t to be. He remembered the last few snapshots of their time here, but that could just be the love of friendship, given everything we shared before it would be just as deep as lovers, maybe that’s all there was to it, maybe this was one more lifetime that I have to endure without Rodney.
Then he was back to wondering if it was real, if he truly would be with Rodney in the next life, until John remembered Rodney was currently repeating this same experience. Would he have the same dream? That would be the tell, wouldn’t it? If Rodney dreamed the same, then it would have to be true, wouldn’t it? So, Rodney was straight in this lifetime, but in the next? There was an anticipation, that even if not in this time, eventually he and Rodney would be together again as they should be.
John could feel the slow drawl of a smile as he blinked slowly up at the ceiling. So, he didn’t get to hold Rodney this time, but next time he would, and at least this time they had still found each other, become friends. At least this time he still had Rodney in his life, because the life where Rodney had turned him away had stretched on in loneliness and despair, and he’d take this over that any day.
But then another thought occurred; What if he did dream the same? He would know what they had been previously. For a straight man, that has to be some shock. Rodney would be expecting some Col. Carter look alike and instead he’d get Colonel John Sheppard, dark hair and definitely male. How would he react? He’d panic, that’s what he’d do. He was a Canadian civilian, so he may have been okay knowing I’m gay, but seeing me be gay with his body over and over is a different thing entirely. Could we still be friends after that? Could he even look me in the eye after that?
John tried not to get sidetracked by the memories that assaulted him. If he let himself, he had enough material for the long lonely nights to last another lifetime. But then, Rodney didn’t know for sure what John was in this lifetime, did he? If Rodney could be straight this time, then surely I might be too. Okay, so I’m not, but Rodney doesn’t need to know that, does he? But, what if it comes out and Rodney found out I lied. If Rodney asks me outright, can I lie? John sighed, No. I can’t lie to him, besides, I’ll give myself away, hell, surprised I haven’t already and now Rodney will be looking for it, analysing everything. He’s hardly going to forget last night is he? What to do. Damn.
John was scheduled to go back for a full medical due to taking an alien substance. It had been tested and cleared, but the doctors had still insisted on a full medical. Rodney would be waking in four or five hours from now, having taken a full dose, and John had intended to wait for him and travel through together, but this gave him the excuse to leave now. John realised that if he waited for Rodney only to find he wouldn’t even look him in the eye, he would not be able to hide the degree of pain that would cause, and it filled John full of fear for what might happen to their friendship if that was the case.
If he travelled back alone, then he could have his medical and wait in his quarters. If there was going to be a fall out then it was best it happened behind closed doors, because John didn’t think he’d be able to lie to Rodney, and admitting John wanted him in front of his marines wasn’t seem like a smart move.
Also, with just the two of them, maybe he could convince Rodney that he could live with just friendship, that it was never just about the sex, if Rodney had seen the same things then he had to realise that too, right? Convince him that John was content with this, if Rodney would let him. That he’d never ask for more.
But, every day hope for more. After seeing how perfect they were together he couldn’t help but want more. After living without him, I could settle for this. Even if he ached with it, he could live with it. I just have to convince Rodney of that, and in order to do that I need time to myself, get my head straight, convince myself that I can do this. That I can have Rodney this close, and never try to pull him closer. One mistake, and their friendship would shatter and fade away to nothing. Just one mistake is all it would take.
Ronon came back in at that point and John had to push the thoughts away, this is why he needed to get back to Atlantis so he could think about this without having to maintain normal appearances. He pushed himself up to sitting position and reached out for the tray of food and drink that Ronon handed over with a warning, “Doc says you got thirty minutes and then she’s coming in.”
John huffed in annoyance, he hated doctors, “Way to put me off my food,” he groused, reaching for the fruit juice to wash the last of the tonics after taste away that water just couldn’t manage.
Ronon huffed a laugh as he sat down with a massive, unrepentant grin on his face that showed he felt no guilt at all, and John couldn’t help but respond as always, with a smile and a shake of his head.
Ronon leaned forward, “So?”
John was busy thinking ahead, and eating, so answered distractedly, “So what?”
“Did you see your soulmate?” Sheppard glanced over at him, and found that sly smile on his face that always looked as if he was holding back the punch line.
John swallowed his mouthful of food down hard, taking a sip of juice to help knock it down while he thought. All the while his mind was racing, he would have dismissed the whole thing, but he couldn’t forget Ronon’s face when he told them about his wife. It seemed cruel to say he didn’t believe in soulmates when Ronon so obviously believed, and John knew it to be true. But, equally, he couldn’t confide that it was Rodney, he figured they should talk first.
John hadn’t even thought about this, what to say when people asked, so caught off guard he just shrugged, “I didn’t recognise ‘em,” he said as innocently as he could. He didn’t really want to lie to Ronon too much, keeping as close to the truth as he dared, but if he could avoid actually stating what sex his soulmate was, he would.
“What did they look like?” Ronon asked, John frowned a little when Ronon used the word they instead of he or her,but figured maybe his luck was in, he certainly wasn’t going to question it, couldn’t without causing questions he couldn’t answer to be asked right back at him.
“Dark hair, nice eyes,” John shrugged, not sure what else to say without it sounding like Rodney. He figured Ronon might let him change the subject, everyone knew he hated talking about this stuff. “That tonic leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, and a hole in your stomach. I want to get this down before Doc comes in.”
Ronon nodded, “Sure,” and leant back, watching John.
John just concentrated on his tray, making his way through the food, trying not to notice Ronon watching him out of the corner of his eye. He held up a purple piece of fruit, “Tell Teyla to make sure they don’t serve Rodney this one, k?” he asked, feeling overly paranoid about mentioning Rodney, but unable to risk not to in this case. “Citrus,” he said as he put it to one side, suddenly finding it unappetising.
He’d witnessed one of Rodney’s attacks last year and the thought of eating citrus made him sick to his stomach ever since, he found himself avoiding it where he could,. If he could eradicate it from existence, he would. Tasting citrus on his tongue reminded him how helpless he had felt watching Rodney nearly die, the sharp taste was apt, because it felt like a sharp knife to his heart whenever he tasted it and remembered.
The door opened and John figured his thirty minutes were up as the Doctor came in. He’d eaten his fill anyway. He drank up the last of the berry juice and handed the tray over to Ronon who took it and left. John sat up on the side of the bed and suffered the ministrations of the quick medical survey, smiling in all the right places and answering the questions put to him.
When the doctor gave him the all clear and left, John went through to the bathroom and went through his ablutions, redressing in fresh clothes quickly. He’d packed his duffle on the supply sled last night so he only carried a small bag of supplies. When he exited the hut, he found Ronon waiting for him.
He smiled, “Got the first all clear. Any news on Rodney, yet?” he asked, hating the way his voice failed nonchalance, and feeling his heart speed up a little. Every time he mentioned his name, it felt like it was too obvious and everyone would realise who his soulmate truly was.
“He’s fine, still sleeping. Teyla’s still with him, and Daylia is there as well. I showed her the fruit. She’ll make sure they keep it away from his food.”
John nodded, “Good, good. Well, guess I’d best go get the second all clear.”
Ronon started walking along side him. John cast him a frowned side glance, “Thought we said you'd stay here and travel through with the last of the marines?”
“Yeah, just walking you to the gate, just to make sure you don’t faint on the way.”
John sneered at his joke, half a smile on his face as he replied, “Military Commanders don’t faint, they sucumb to the heroic pain.”
Ronon just smiled back, that same unrepentant grin showing up again. When they reached the stargate, John let Ronon move onto the DHD to dial. He could feel Ronon’s eyes on him as he radioed through and sent his IDC, once he received clearance, he nodded goodbye to Ronon and stepped through the wormhole, with Ronon’s eyes still on his back. Physically John was fine, mentally he was alternating between panic and wariness on what the day would bring when Rodney finally woke.
Chapter 4: Look Back In Wonder
Rodney woke up slowly, smacking his lips to take away the nasty taste in his mouth. Even with that, he still had a smile on his face, and contentment in his soul as he woke up slowly, realisation of his surroundings seeping into his consciousness as he became more aware. He looked around the room to find Daylia watching him with a soft smile. “Good morning, Doctor McKay.”
“Mmm, Morning,” he responded, still a bit groggy with sleep as he spied the water sat next to the bed. Rodney reached for it and downed the glass, replacing it on the bedside table before he looked around for Teyla, thankful that the water took away the worse of the aftertaste and grittiness in his mouth.
Daylia seemed to realise who he was looking for, “Teyla has gone to get you breakfast, we knew you would be waking soon.” She hesitated for a moment before continuing, “Did you see your soulmate?”
Then the images came flooding in and Rodney sat up sharply, “Yes,” he all but growled.
Daylia frowned, “Is something wrong, Doctor McKay?”
“Yes, something’s wrong,” he snapped, the fight leaving him instantly as despair took it’s place. “You don’t know what you’ve done,” he whispered, resignation tinged with hate.
Daylia looked devastated, “Has your soulmate already passed you by?” she asked, full of sympathy for the missed opportunity.
“No, he’s right here, he’s my straight best friend,” Rodney threw back at her, voice cold. “I was happy with what we had, he never knew how I felt about him, but he’s been in the next hut experiencing life after life of us together and now he’ll know. Our friendship won’t survive that. We had found each other and now you're meddling will force us apart.”
“But if he is your soulmate? Are you sure he doesn’t love you in return?” Daylia ventured.
“Oh he loves me,” Rodney acknowledged, followed by a bitter laugh, “The way a friend feels about another friend, his exact words, so you see, all you managed to do was show me just how amazing this thing is that I’ll never have, and take away the one thing that was compensation enough for a lifetime without it. A lifetime I now have to live without him and, thanks to you, I now know and remember just how painful that is, so I know exactly what to expect. So, I know you did this for me, and this wasn’t what you expected, but don’t expect me to thank you because I can’t do that right now.”
Daylia crumpled and the tears that had welled in her eyes at Rodney’s words, now fell freely down her cheeks, “I am so sorry,” she choked out. .
Rodney closed his eyes against her, against the despair inside. John, my John, gone. He gave a broken sigh, listening to Daylia cry besides him. Teyla chose that moment to come in with a tray full of food, stopping in the doorway at the scene before her. Shit! Rodney’s eyes flew open and he looked at Daylia in a panic, What do I say? What reason is there for her to be crying?
“What is wrong,” Teyla asked worriedly.
Of course. “She’s sad because I didn’t dream of a soulmate.” Rodney looked only at Daylia, knowing he couldn’t look Teyla in the eye and lie to her. “It seems it was not to be, or maybe the tonic doesn’t work with our physiology?” Rodney shrugged, boring eyes focused on Daylia, begging her to play along.
Daylia looked up into his eyes as silence fell between them, before she sniffed and nodded, “Yes, I was so hopeful and the disappointment saddens me greatly.”
Those words were directed more at him, than Teyla, he knew. He nodded in acknowledgment. “You weren’t to know,” he shrugged, it was all he could give her right now.
She nodded, rising herself up as she scrubbed at her face. “I will leave you now.” She leant down and gripped his forearm, “I am truly sorry, Doctor McKay.”
Rodney pursed his lips, only nodding, not trusting himself to speak. Teyla waited by the open door till Daylia left, before letting it close behind her as she brought the tray over. “I am sorry, Rodney,” she said as she put the tray in his lap.
He looked up at her to see her tight smile, the one that said she wanted to comfort him but knew he wouldn’t accept it, still hadn’t learnt how even after all these years. Rodney just gave a mixture of shrug and acknowledgment and started eating. Every mouthful tasted like ash but he had to keep up appearances. He just hoped Teyla would put his mood down to disappointment, not stupid enough to believe for one moment that he had fooled intuitive Teyla into thinking he was okay, but hoping he could at least avoid the details, avoid the embarrasment of saying out loud that he'd fallen in love with John, and maybe ruined everything.
“What did you dream about, Rodney?” Teyla asked softly.
“White Unicorns,” he responded immediately. What! What did you say that for??!! He screamed at his mind. “Must have been something someone said at dinner.” He shrugged again.
“Doctor Nugen wants to give you your medical as soon as you have eaten,” Teyla said, moving the conversation onto other things, always the one to find a way out of conversational minefields.
Rodney just rolled his eyes, “How is John?” he asked, mentally kicking himself the second the words were out of his mouth. He never called him John outside of his own head, but a thousand lifetimes of doing so had knocked the habit out of him. He had to fix that.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney saw Teyla raise an eyebrow in surprise before schooling her face so no point kidding himself she had missed that, he just concentrated on his food as she answered. “He got the all clear, he is back in Atlantis getting his final physical. He will be finished by now, and we haven’t been contacted so he must have got the all clear.”
Rodney choked on his food, quickly reaching for the drink to swallow it down. John...THE COLONEL...was going to wait if he got the first all clear, but instead he cleared out early. Does that mean what I think it does? That John couldn’t bear to be in my presence now that he knew?
“Good, good. That’s...er...good,” he muttered. I’ve lost him. He handed the tray over to Teyla, “You know I’m not as hungry as I thought. Maybe you should just send the doctor in and get this over with.”
Shock registered clearly on Teyla’s face this time and she scrambled to take the tray, her face quickly turning to worry, “Do you feel alright, Rodney?”
“Yes, yes, fine,” he said quickly, before he saw the worry on her face, and said more sincerely, “I’m fine, Teyla. Just want to get the voodoo bit done so I can get cleaned up and brush this horrible taste out of my mouth.”
Teyla watched him in silence for a moment before she nodded, “Very well. I will tell Doctor Nugen to enter. I will wait for you outside, whenever you are ready, Rodney.”
Rodney just nodded, already pulling his legs up to swing them off the side of the bed. Doctor Nugen entered and he suffered the ministrations in near silence, only giving monosyllabic answers, as his mind thudded with thoughts.
So, John obviously knows, which means it was real at least. That thought made warmth blossom in his chest, because even if he lived this life alone, at least he would know that he always had next time, and that all those previous lives had actually happened. A melancholy smile appeared on his face and his eyes glazed over as his thoughts drifted to the past. In each life John had bloomed like a supernova. He had loved Rodney, never asking him to change or asking for anything in return, except his love, which Rodney had been willing to give infinitely.
Rodney didn’t even know he was capable of loving someone that much, he would end the universe if John but asked, not that he would. In each life John had retained his moral compass and Rodney had strived to guide himself alongside it, not because John asked it of him, but simply to see that look in his eyes, simply striving to be at least a bit deserving of his love.
Even when John was outside of the military he had retained that sharp dangerous edge that excited Rodney, and made the softer, intimate, moments more intense, because they were just for him. John had loved him, and Rodney had revelled in that miracle every day they were together. Never able to fully believe that this wonderful, beautiful man was his, always waiting for John to wake up one day and wonder why he was with Rodney, but he never had. Rodney had been loved for his entire existence by one man, by John, and he felt blessed.
Except this time I’m cursed. The thought bringing back the cold feeling of dread that coalesced in his stomach. Rodney realised he’d have to face John...the colonel...when he got back to Atlantis. He wondered what he could say that would convince John to let him stay in his life, that would convince John that he was happy with what he had, that he wouldn’t contrive for more.
Oblivious to Rodney, the silence had given Doctor Nugen pause, but she’d carried on without a word, becoming more unnerved the longer the quiet remained. Doctor McKay was never this quiet, never so lost in his thoughts that he allowed medicals to pass in silence. When the medical was done the Doctors voice broke into his thoughts, “Are you okay, Doctor McKay?”
He frowned at her, “Aren’t you supposed to tell me?”
She smiled, “Physically you’re fine, but you seem unusually….docile,” she said the last word carefully.
He raised his eyebrows in shock, not only at realising she was correct, but also at the fact she had noticed and worried for him. Rodney still found it strange that people cared about him, and found it embarrassing, still unsure how to deal with it, “Erm, fine...thanks….just,” he twirled a finger around his brain, “lot of very important equations.”
She smiled and nodded, “Of course,” the smile turning to a fond smirk. “Well, you’re good to go, Doctor McKay. I’ll leave you to get ready, I’m sure you’re eager to return to Atlantis for the final all clear.” Yes, because everyone knew how he worried about his health, except he had bigger worries at the moment.
“Yes, yes, I’d better...erm,” he trailed off, hooking a thumb over his shoulder towards the bathroom.
She nodded and repacked her bag, leaving him be. He made his way to the bathroom, brushing his teeth first, feeling almost decadent to finally be free of the bitterness in his mouth. Rodney then freshened up, like John he had everything packed in the sled so just had a small backpack with the essentials, which was nearly twice the size of John’s.
His thoughts were consumed with John though. Was it too late? Would John even listen to me? I hope so. And then there was the question, Could I be happy with this? Before, there was no doubt, but now he had all these memories of just how good it could be, and it was so good. Snapshots of laughter, of tenderness, of love, of everything Rodney had thought for so long were beyond his reach.
If it had only been the previous lives then Rodney could come to terms with it, that this life was different, but confusingly, Rodney also remembered the final snapshots within Atlantis. John’s gaze that seemed to trace his biceps, trail down his back. The way John had kept staring at the door, long after Rodney had left to propose to Katie, with that look on his face, eyes that just hurt to look at and made Rodney feel guilty for a slight he wasn’t even aware of at the time. If he didn’t know better then he would think there was something worth fighting for, but John was straight, wasn’t he?
All those gazes seemed to say that there was something worth fighting for, and damn if Rodney was tempted too. But, this is what it came down to, the risk of doing so. Could he risk taking those images at face value and asking for more? Because he knows once he had done so, then he cannot ever convince John that he will be happy with friendship alone. So, does he take that risk and maybe achieve everything or does he never take the risk and maybe achieve some lesser relationship that will ease the ache of years without his touch?
Because Rodney remembered the doubt of previous lives, even when John had loved him openly, he had always doubted, never fully felt deserving enough. So, now he wondered if that look was sympathy because John could see what everyone else could and Rodney could not, that Katie was not for him. Was the gaze that trailed over his biceps, merely a critical eye from a military commander over his team? Before now Rodney would not have questioned John’s sexuality, and maybe it was his own wishful thinking that turned those looks into something more than they were.
Deciding that there was not enough conclusive data, and that his personal knowledge of John hinted more towards straight, Rodney decided it was not a risk he was willing to take. So, to convince John that although Rodney knew him intimately from previous lives, and still wanted him in this, that he could just be friends if John would let him. That he would never push for more. The only argument Rodney had, was that he had already done that, but in order to convince John he would have to acknowledge that out loud. Acknowledge that he wanted John in every way, and that he had never taken advantage, and never pushed for more than John was willing to give, acknowledge that he could live like this, if John could.
With a heavy heart, Rodney made his way out to Teyla who accompanied him back to Atlantis. He talked all the way to the ring, just kept talking and talking, anything to stop Teyla from asking about his dreams, about his soulmate. Rodney left her at the infirmary as they each went to their separate cubicles. Rodney's medical being more in depth than normal and having to suffer scans, to make sure the black netar didn’t have any unknown side effects meant that Teyla had already left by the time he was cleared, something he was thankful for.
Rodney made his way back to his quarters and changed into fresh clothes. Then he made his way to John’s quarters and stood outside for a moment. Just wanting to revel in that moment where nothing had changed and John was still his friend. With despair weighing him down, he raised his hand and after a moments hesitation he rang the door chime of his best friend.
Chapter 5: Look Back In Wonder
John had been in his quarters for hours, convincing himself one minute that it would be okay, only to fall into panic that everything had changed forever. The hours were interspersed with moments of melancholy as he reminisced over past lives, times when everything was perfect and John held everything he wanted in the curve of his arms and prayed Teyla was wrong because, even if it ruined everything he had to know that was real, whatever the cost.
Teyla had called by earlier to check on him, having not seen him since the previous evening. She seemed to sense that he didn’t really want to talk about the previous night’s dreams, instead concentrating on how he was feeling and if he felt rested.
John had thought the subject narrowly avoided by luck, but just before she left she commented, almost distractedly, “It’s a shame Rodney did not see his soulmate, he says he dreamt only of white unicorns.”
They looked at each other in silence for a moment, Teyla watching him, no doubt waiting for a response. Trying not to let the depth of disappointment he felt at her words show, he threw out something expected, “It’s like hearing Darth Vader dreams of My Little Pony,” he said, his voice gruff with emotions.
He huffed a tremulous laugh at Rodney’s expense and tried not to cringe at how fake it sounded. He was sure his heart was splayed open for all to see the knife Teyla had just plunged into it with her words. It wasn’t real? Please no, it has to be real.
“At least that is what he says,” she added, her gaze seeming to intensify before she brought her forehead to meet his. “Good night, John. I hope today brings you everything you need.” She was always coming out with sayings like that, although John was sure he had never heard this one before. He just grunted, meaning thanks, and same to you. Teyla seemed to get it with a smile, “I am off to freshen up and wait for Ronon. I will see you at breakfast tomorrow, John.”
“Uhuh,” he nodded in agreement, trying to avoid any further conversation, until he realised that Ronon would come and report to him on his return to Atlantis. "Can you tell Ronon I'll see him at breakfast too, no need to him to report tonight, unless it's something urgent." John didn't want any more visitors, in fact he just wanted Teyla to leave now so he could let the emotions that were bubbling up free. As Teyla left, he was already falling backwards onto the bed, and as the doors closed he turned over with his back to the world and curled up. It was strange, he had spent hours wishing that it had never happened and that Rodney didn’t know, but now it seemed that that was exactly what had happened, he wanted nothing more than for it to be true, whatever the cost. It felt like hours that he lay there, replaying those lives, lamenting their loss.
Those previous lives had been perfection, and to think that they didn’t really exist left the future dark, hope dashed on the waves of despair that flooded his emotions. John had thought he would give anything to go back to that feast where it all began and take back Rodney’s agreement, so that he still had Rodney’s friendship. But now, now he would give anything to have his dreams come true, for those past lives to be fact, for him and Rodney to be intertwined for eternity and know that peace once again.
Thinking again of that feast, of how this all came about, reminded him of something Rodney said: For people like me, soulmates are as mythical as the white unicorn. He sat up abruptly, could that be it? He stood up, pacing his small room, the words tumbling through his brain.
John realised that Rodney would be unwilling to admit he dreamt of his soulmate, knowing it would only illicit more questions he likely did not want to answer. Hadn’t John himself considered the very same thing? Only Rodney hadn’t had Ronon’s eager face to talk him out of it. No, he had Teyla so when Rodney told Teyla he dreamt of White Unicorns, was that his way of telling a lie while still telling Teyla the truth? Hope burst warm and startling in his chest that it was still a possibility, that even if he spent this life alone, the past had been real and that he had known how amazing it was to be loved by the very soul of Rodney McKay.
The sound of his doorbell stalled all thought, the hope turning to dread. He stopped and looked down at the bed where he had lain in grief, as if he could tell by the twist of the blankets how long he had lain there. If enough time had passed for that sound to herald Rodney and what might be their final farewell before he walked away and left John all alone, or worse, confirmation that soulmate was just a wish filled dream and alone wasn’t just for now, but forever.
He swallowed down his nerves and took a deep breath as he sent a mental thought to Atlantis to let in not only the love of this life, but of every life he ever lived. He watched the open doorway with a mixture of anticipation and fear. When nothing happened for a moment, he leant forward, trying to see the corridor from his position. He could just see the edge of a blue shirt and as he was wondering if he should go get him, Rodney edged into the room.
It felt like months, rather than hours, since he had last seen Rodney in the flesh. He was wearing black bdu’s, with that blue shirt that brought out his eyes, and John could only stare at him. This was the first time he looked on him with the conscious knowledge that he loved him, aware of the paths his eyes flicked across his body, aware of the burst of love within at the sight of him. John didn’t say anything, just watched and waited while his eyes took their fill.
The doors slid closed, seeming to make Rodney jump before he took a deep breath and turned back to John, blue eyes earnest and worried, but not looking John in the face. Instead Rodney looked over John’s shoulder, his eyes catching the light from the window behind John and burst incandescent blue, and the love inside John exploded into a supernova, like a punch to the gut, just like every other time.
Rodney’s voice was small and earnest as he spoke, “Look, I know this,” he waved his hand in the empty space between them, “isn’t what you wanted, I get that. I...I value our friendship and I don’t want to lose that, I’ll do anything you want to keep that and I don’t know how to convince you I’m happy with this. I mean, I know it’s not what you want and that you probably have...issues...knowing how I feel, but I wouldn’t,” Rodney’s eyes turned to finally look him in the face as his voice turned fierce with sincerity, “I would never force this further. You have to believe that, but, I understand…” his eyes now fell to the floor between them, “I will honour your decision if you want to call a stop to our friendship here and now, but I’m asking you not to, to give me a chance to prove that this is enough.”
John stood watching in silence as Rodney’s words penetrated past the expected grief, it was true, all of it, it was true. Speechless with solace over that alone, until the rest sank in. Rodney thought he was the one with the problem, Rodney loved him. John had to bite down on the emotions, for the first time in his life, he wanted to cry with happiness. The relief was overwhelming, outflanked only by the joy. Rodney Loved Him.
Rodney however seemed to be taking his silence completely the wrong way, his whole body slumped in defeat, seeming to crumble where he stood, his voice thick with grief as he stuttered out, “I see, well, I’ll be going then. I’ll…” Rodney swallowed hard on the disappointment, clear on his face, “I’ll resign from your team.” He looked up one final time, “If you ever change your mind, a day, a week, a year from now, just know you only have to ask and I’ll be your friend, all you have to do is ask and I’ll be there.” There were tears in his eyes now, “Good bye John, know you were the best friend I ever had.” He turned to leave.
“Wait!” John croaked out, the emotions making it hard to speak as he reached out a hand to Rodney, who froze, but didn’t turn back. John swallowed hard, “Just wait,” he whispered. He had the words, he had heard himself declare his love a thousand times, and with Rodney’s confession he wasn’t afraid this time, but this was his time and he wanted to use his own words. He lined them all up as Rodney stood hunched by the door.
“Rodney, I have loved you for a thousand life times. In each time you brought me peace and laughter and happiness. I turned away from you once, and I finally get the chance to apologise for that. I am so sorry I hurt you. I will never do that again. I don’t care what the risk is, I don’t care what the future holds, as long as it holds you. I love you Rodney McKay, so no, I don’t want your friendship, I want your love, I want you.” Rodney had slowly straightened up, turning slowly at John’s words, his eyes flicking over John’s face in blatant disbelief. The smile kept flickering, obviously wanting to spread across his face, but not quite believing enough to do so. John had slowly moved closer as he talked and he now stood in front of Rodney, a smile on his face and love clearly visible in his eyes as he looked on Rodney and waited.
“But..you’re..you know...straight,” Rodney stuttered out, eyes still flicking over John’s face as if trying to find the lie he was sure should be there.
“Bi, actually,” John said with a smile. He shrugged, “When I joined the military I stuck to one sex, I didn’t have a problem with that, until I met you. I thought you were straight, all that talk about Carter, getting engaged to Kate.” His voice lowered at the end, unable to remove the pain that had caused him.
“Bi, actually,” Rodney said, sounding distracted as his eyes took in John. “Like you said, military and gay don’t mix, and I had a responsibility to pass on my genius genes.”
John huffed a laugh, and once the smile was out he couldn't seem to put it back, mirrored by Rodney’s own. Then something occurred and he sobered up, “I can’t offer you kids, Rodney. I can’t even offer you an open relationship, not until I retire.”
“No,” Rodney cut in sharply, “You offer me love and acceptance. You're my soulmate,” Rodney said the last bit with pride. “I have always chosen you, I will always choose you, there is no other choice for me.”
John nodded eagerly, he felt exactly the same. “So, you saw us. All our previous lives together?”
Rodney nodded, “Yes. It’s quite a lot to live up to. I hope we will be as happy as they were.”
John smiled, wide and bright, “I don’t doubt it…...Rodney?”
“Can I kiss you now?”
“Oh god. Yes.” John slid his hand against Rodney’s neck, his thumb laying across his cheek, as he lifted Rodney’s face upwards and lowered his. Their lips met and it felt familiar and new, he knew just how to move against Rodney to illicit those moans, to illicit that growl that reverberated through his body, it felt like coming home.
John trailed kisses across his jaw and down his neck, “Rodney, I want…” he whispered against his skin.
“God yes,” Rodney agreed, head thrown back, those capable hands kneading into John’s muscled shoulders, now trailing down his back to tug the shirt loose from his trousers.
John unbuttoned the blue shirt, pushing it off Rodney’s shoulders as John glided kisses across those broad shoulders, the warm skin against his lips was smooth as silk. Rodney moaned his name softly in his ear as their bodies moved against each other, hands exploring new and familiar territory.
John pushed Rodney away, fumbling for his own shirt buttons. Rodney floundered, confusion on his face as he tried to figure out why he was suddenly standing all alone, “Bed!” John growled, as he continued to undress as fast as he could.
“Oh, yes, genius,” Rodney agreed distractedly as he set upon hastily stripping his own clothes.
Eyeing each other as they stripped bare, seemed to make them move faster, each glance elicited more haste as they literally tore themselves out of their clothes and climbed into John’s narrow bed. Each on their sides, their hands finding each other, inexplicably slowing down as they explored each others chests, biceps, necks, cheeks. Feeling the hair glide between their fingers.
John was looking as his fingers roamed Rodney’s chest, watching his fingers trail over the biceps his eyes had followed so longingly, as he spoke slowly and quietly. “I thought you were straight, when I woke up I thought you’d hate me, I never thought I would have this.”
“Me..me too,” Rodney agreed as his fingers stroked through John’s chest hair. “I thought it would be a shock to you, to see us together. I… I didn’t think you’d be able to work with me again. I thought I had lost everything. I thought…”
“Shhhh,” John comforted, as he surged up to kiss Rodney once again. “It worked out, just like it always does.” Neither of them mentioned the two times it didn’t, both thankful to ignore them.
John rolled over onto his back, pulling Rodney with him as he kissed him, unwilling to pull his lips away. Under the duvet, their cocks rubbed deliciously together, slow and languid, like they had all the time in the world. John scraped his teeth against the pale soft skin of Rodney's shoulder, earning him one of those growls, before he made his way back with soft kisses, leaning back slightly to look up into Rodney’s half lidded eyes, just enough to see the blue of his iris’ as Rodney looked back, soft smile on his lips broadening into a wide grin that lit up his face as he realised John was watching him.
John swooped up to taste that smile. Feeling his tongue against Rodney’s as their bodies moved together. The kisses turning more passionate as their bodies picked up the pace. He could feel his orgasm building as all the sensations built, could feel as Rodney mirrored his change in pace that just built the flame higher, soft moans turned to grunts as they both tried to hold off just that little bit longer. John felt the warm fluid between them as Rodney came and John followed within seconds, pushing up into Rodney as he arched up and came with a long moan of pleasure.
John relaxed back down, panting heavily. Rodney lowered his head and lay gentle lips against John’s, with a soft satisfied sigh just before he levered off and fell to his side, turning over onto his back, but still pushed against John on the narrow bed, his arm hanging off the side.
They lay there for a short while, recovering slowly as their chests went from heaving gasps to soft even breaths as their bodies relaxed and a companionable silence ensued. But silence and Rodney never lasted long. “Well, the sex is as good as I remember,” Rodney said, voice light with humour.
John huffed a laugh, “Hell, yeah,” he agreed as he got up and made his way into the bathroom.
Rodney shouted after him. “Hey, you remember that hotel down in Florida? I think it was 1800, not sure.”
John poked his head back out of the door, hanging off the doorframe. “Oh yeah, I remember,” he said lewdly before ducking back into the bathroom for a flannel.
“Can’t wait to do that again,” Rodney said earnestly.
“Yeah, I got a few favourites too,” John agreed as he came back with a wet flannel and proceeded to wipe down Rodney.
Rodney was watching him wipe down his stomach before turning fond eyes back to John.
“What?” John asked, suddenly feeling defensive.
“Nothing,” Rodney said, and then shrugged, “It’s just, that’s one of the things I remember. How well you look after me. I’ve never…” he shrugged again, “I’ve never had that, someone look after me the way you do.” Rodney looked away again, seemingly unable to look John in the face with this confession, “I have trouble believing you truly want me in this life, to know you’ve chosen me in every life, I just….well, it’s a bit of a shock.”
John dropped the cloth to the floor and climbed in beside Rodney, wrapping his arms around him. “Never doubt it Rodney, never doubt it for a moment. If anything it’s me who should be in shock.”
“Why?” Rodney asked.
John shrugged, “I fucked up my relationship with my family, I fucked up with my wife, I fucked up my career. I got nothing to offer you.”
“You’re not a fuck up,” Rodney said angrily, “I never want to hear you say that. You’re a good person, a way better person than I will ever be. I feel honoured that you’re mine.” Then Rodney started laughing.
“What?” John asked in confusion.
“We spent four years not talking about our feelings, and now we can’t seem to shut up, like a pair of teenage girls.”
John laughed along with him, “That’s because talking about my feelings always left me feeling too vulnerable, but with you I know it doesn’t matter. You won’t use them against me, and you’ll protect me against anyone else who would. Do you remember that Ship Commander in Cartagena?”
“He was a moron,” Rodney growled.
John huffed a laugh and kissed his brow, “A three century dead moron so move on. But you protected me then, just like I know you always will. You make me feel safe, safe enough to expose even the most vulnerable part of me.” John huffed another laugh, “You make me feel invulnerable,” he added with a smile.
Rodney huffed a laugh before adding sulkily, “I miss that green armour.”
John smiled, “We’ll try and find you another one, promise.”
"Well, there have to be more, right?” Rodney said hopefully.
“Seriously, you’re okay with this though, right Rodney? I can’t show any of this outside of those doors, and I belong to the Air Force, I have to go where they send me, do what they tell me. It’s not going to be easy waiting in the wings for me.”
“No,” Rodney said, “Not easy, but worth it. You’re my soulmate, my white unicorn. I go where you lead because you will always be worth it to me.”
There were tears in both sets of eyes as they leaned forward and kissed.
“I’ll make up for it behind closed doors,” John promised, “and I’ll love you forever, Rodney McKay.”
“And I you, John.”
With that they both closed their eyes and drifted off to sleep in each others arms, the emotions and love making having worked their toll. Together once again, as it has always been, and will always be. Soulmates.
Hoped you enjoyed!