Rodney gave up on trying to fix the jumper on day thirteen. John caught him staring through the broken innards of the engines with a blank look on his face and knew, on a guttural, deep down level, that there was no getting out of this one.
The realisation should have been more shocking, it should have been crushing, it should have been destroying but…it wasn’t.
“You calling it?” he asked, dumping the two rat-like creatures he’d collected from his ground traps in the area that they’d been using for food preparation. Rodney frowned at him, not following his question, and John nodded his head in the direction of the dead engine. “Time of death,” he clarified. “Are you calling it?”
Rodney let the spanner he’d been fidgeting with fall to the ground, kicking it across the dirt for good measure.
John took that as a yes.
“You hungry for some rodents of unusual size?” he asked, already busy skinning the animals. They didn’t really resemble the creatures he’d named them after, but they were larger than Earth rats, more comparable in size to otters than rats, so he stood by the name. The fact that it made Rodney roll his eyes and, sometimes, even huff with laughter was just a bonus.
There was no huff of laughter this time and John looked up from his work to see Rodney half curled in on himself, his face turned away.
Abandoning the ROUS’s, John wiped his hands on the remainder of one of the spare uniforms that had been kept in the back of the jumper and walked the short distance towards Rodney. He sat in the hard packed dirt next to him, close enough that their shoulders touched and waited for Rodney to say something.
When Rodney hadn’t said something a full minute later, John figured he’d better try himself.
“It was a long shot,” he said quietly. “You said it yourself, remember? That it was impossible to fix without the correct crystals.”
“I always say that,” Rodney answered, shifting to look at John. His eyes were red rimmed but it looked to John like it was exhaustion rather than tears that were causing it. He was glad for that. He wasn’t sure what he would do with a crying Rodney, it wasn’t something he had ever seen before; not through a thousand near misses, not even at Carson’s funeral. “I always say it but it’s never been true before.” Rodney shook his head, tucking his chin against his chest and talking to the ground. “We’re gonna die here.”
John half smiled, looking briefly up at the red tinged sky that grew more and more lurid with each rising of the sun. There had been thirteen of them since they’d been stuck here. Thirteen sunrises since the ionic interference had crashed their jumper not even twenty feet past the gate. Thirteen sunrises since they’d run back towards the gate as the ground shook around them. Thirteen sunrises since Ronon and Teyla had made it through the wormhole, three strides ahead of them. Thirteen sunrises since John and Rodney had watched the gate crumble into pieces.
“Yeah,” he said, agreeing with Rodney. “I think you might be right.”
“What?” Rodney’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowed in scared outrage. “You’re not supposed to agree with me! What happened to Hail Mary’s, huh? Never leaving a man behind?”
“I didn’t leave anyone behind,” John said simply. He could have. He knew that he could have made it into the wormhole before it all went FUBAR but he had hung back, matching his stride with Rodney. Never leave a man behind. John had lived by that code for so long and now he was probably going to die by it. The only regret he had was that Rodney was probably going to die too.
He had a feeling Rodney knew that he could have made it through the gate. The way he was avoiding looking at John right now was almost proof enough of that. John edged closer, knocking their shoulders together. “It’s pretty spectacular though, huh? The sky? I’m guessing there’s not many people can see they’ve seen something like this up close.”
Rodney snorted a laugh. “Extinction level supernova spectating is a pretty exclusive club,” he agreed. “We should sell tickets. Make a killing.”
“I don’t think the ROUSs could afford it. How long? Before it..” John mimed an explosion with his hands.
“Going by the brief snatch of data I managed to glimpse before we crashed and the preliminary data that we gleaned from the long range sensors on Atlantis? I think we got here maybe three weeks before it reached critical mass.”
“Two weeks down,” John breathed.
“One week to go,” Rodney finished the thought.
“And how far away was the Daedalus?” John asked, even though he knew the answer, the two of them having calculated it to the second when they realised there was no fixing the gate.
“23.67 Earth days to get here,” Rodney sighed. “And the jumpers would take three months to fly here from the nearest gate.”
Neither of them spoke for a few moments, each lost in the strange beauty of the apocalyptic red sky that hung over them.
“So,” John broke the silence with a squeeze of Rodney’s knee. “Rodents of Unusual Size?”
Ah, there was the eye roll. John grinned and went back to skinning their dinner because, really, what else was there to do?
Day 14 rose hotter than the previous thirteen before, each day the temperature had climbed exponentially higher as the dying star above the planet threw out more and more heat. John managed to convince Rodney to join him in a swim, the lake that had probably been far too cold for swimming only a month earlier now warmed to perfection.
The water was pleasant against his bare skin and John floated a few feet out, watching as Rodney battled with himself silently before he started to strip out of his dirty clothes. Standing naked on the banks of the lake, he held his chin high and waded into the water, trying for all the world to act like the nudity didn't bother him.
Maybe it didn't. Maybe, like John, Rodney had come to the realisation that it didn't matter anymore. Not much did when weighed against an impending supernova.
Later that same night, John tore into two of the remaining MREs that they had left in their survival kit just to eat the dessert. He held the brownie out to Rodney, waiting for him to take it. Rodney looked at it for a long time, his shoulders hunched and his mouth pinched, before a quiet sort of calm set upon him. His shoulders dropped, the tension that he'd been carrying for fourteen days suddenly gone, and he took the brownie from John's hands and bit into it, humming happily as the chocolate melted onto his tongue.
Even with the sun down, it was too warm for the sleeping bags and the metal walls of the jumper trapped the heat far too effectively. Without discussing it, John and Rodney set their makeshift bed rolls up outside that night, close enough to each other that they could touch if they reached out just a little bit.
John was almost asleep when Rodney's quiet voice drifted across the space between them. “It's sort of liberating, isn't it? I thought I'd be more…more scared; more sad; more angry. I don't understand why I'm not.”
John reached out across the darkness and took Rodney's hand in his, tangling their fingers together. “I know what you mean,” he said, yawning.
“Right, sleep.” John heard the smile in Rodney's voice, felt the squeeze of fingers against his own as Rodney tightened his grip, securing their hands together. “Good night, John.”
John woke up on day 15 with a smile on his face and Rodney's hand still wrapped around his own.
They kissed for the first time that afternoon, their skin still wet from their dip in the lake.
“Why the hell haven’t we been doing this for years?” Rodney groaned, his forehead still resting against John’s own. “When we had access to things like toothpaste and mouthwash?”
John honked out a laugh, his hot, sour breath probably hitting Rodney in the face the same way Rodney’s own breath was hitting him. He couldn’t bring himself to care and, from the way Rodney didn’t shift back, he thought Rodney didn’t mind either.
Still, he was right. They should have been doing this years ago.
“There was always an excuse,” John shrugged, sitting back and stretching his arms on the warm ground behind him. “There was the military code, fraternisation rules, the fact that I thought you liked blonde, big breasted women.”
“When we all know your tastes ran to brunette Ancients,” Rodney retaliated. Even now, even here, he couldn’t resist digging at John about the Chaya incident.
“You’re my best friend.” John smiled at Rodney’s surprised look. “It was enough.”
John sat up and reached out and, grazing his fingers across the slant of Rodney’s mouth. “You’re still my best friend but it’s not enough. Not anymore. C’mere.”
Day 16 dawned redder than any of the days before. They both stood and watched the sunrise, not saying a word. They didn’t need to, they both knew what it meant. Once the sun was fully risen John clapped Rodney on the shoulder, breaking the silence.
“If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?”
Rodney’s mind seemed to drift for a moment, probably filled with thoughts of chocolate mousse and roast beef and a million other impossibilities that would just bring disappointment, before he answered. “I could really go a plate of flame roasted ROUS,” he said, smiling faintly.
John didn’t think he’d ever been prouder of Rodney. He knew Rodney was a brave man, had known that since their first week on Atlantis when he walked into a cloud of energy to save them all, but it still made him warm with pleasure to see that bravery in action. Not many people could face what they were facing without falling apart. John want sure if he would have been able to if Rodney hadn’t been with him every step of the way.
“If you could choose anyone to spend your last day with,” Rodney asked in turn, “who would it be?”
Unlike Rodney’s answer, John didn’t need to lie.
They had sex for the first time on the hard, cracked ground of a dying planet, rubbing against each other in the heat, Rodney’s cock sending sparks across John’s skin when he shifted his hips just right, causing John to groan, long and loud and Jesus, Rodney was right, they should have been doing this for years and - -
“Hey,” Rodney’s rough hand cupped John’s chin, tilting it down so that John was looking straight into those stupidly blue eyes. “No regrets.”
John was surprised by how shaky his voice sounded when he answered. “No regrets.”
They were rescued before the sun set that day, the Daedalus pulling a Hail Mary that Rodney had sworn was an impossibility.
One minute they were sitting in the shade of the useless jumper, playing chess on the small travel board that Rodney had kept stashed under the seats in the back against regulations, and the next they were surrounded by a brilliant white light that almost made John believe that he’d been wrong about everything.
The light faded, leaving them standing in the medical bay of the Daedalus, Carson and Biro waiting to press them into infirmary beds and hook them up to IVs.
As Hail Mary’s went, it was one of the better ones. It was also one of the worst.
Between Carson’s fussing, Ronon and Teyla’s hugs and Caldwell’s debriefing, there wasn’t any time for John to catch his breath before they arrived back on Atlantis where there was more fussing, reunions and debriefings.
After sixteen days of just John and Rodney, it was a lot to take in. Sixteen days didn’t seem like enough time to forget how to deal with more than just one other person but he could feel his skin crawl with the need for space; the need for Rodney.
John could see Rodney getting more and more anxious with each passing minute and, honestly, he wasn’t doing much better himself.
When Rodney scraped his chair back in the middle of Woolsey’s welcome home speech and fled the meeting room, John followed him, ignoring Woolsey’s call and Carson’s cry of dismay. Dimly, he heard Teyla soothing things down, but John was past caring. He followed Rodney, slipping in to the transporter beside him moments before the doors closed.
“You don’t have to - “
John pushed Rodney against the wall of the transporter, cutting him off and probably accidentally pushing a destination on the opposite side of the city as he went but he couldn’t give a damn about that. Not now. Not until he fixed this.
“You’re my best friend,” he said firmly. “And it’s not enough. It won’t ever be enough. Never again.”
Rodney shuddered, his head resting on John’s shoulder as he seemed to almost collapse with relief, like a weight had been lifted off of him.
“No regrets?” he mumbled into John’s shoulder.