Characters/Pairings: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagen/Carson Beckett
Prompt: #98 Writer's Choice
Spoilers: heavy for Sunday
Word Count: ~3000
Summary: love (lŭv) n. – A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness. The evolution of John and Rodney's relationship seen through Teyla's eyes as she struggles with feelings of loss, and the effort to understand and communicate.
A/N: This was something I wanted to write for awhile, though it evolved quite a bit after seeing Sunday. I finally sat down and gave it the attention it deserved.
You know why you're here?
Elizabeth insisted. She said that we all needed someone to speak to. Though we speak the same language, she tells Dr. Heightmeyer, reluctantly, sometimes I do not understand them at all.
Their heads do not move; only their eyes do, above the casket. One quick glance (is it enough? does it say everything and more?) then straight ahead and march through the ripple of the event horizon, to the mournful cry of bagpipes.
The ache in her side is not from the shrapnel. There is a feeling that with every breath she takes, there is a little less air, and the only thing that gives her any comfort at all is the men who carry their burden back to Earth.
She never thought Atlantis could teach her about love. She is glad she was wrong.
My father and my mother were married for thirty years, says John, staring down at his boots. It didn't make them happy. Why should I be any different?
On LVD-482, or Aiden's Planet of the Waterfalls, she sees everything, and wonders how she could have been blind to it. It is a touch, a laugh, the way John will not leave Rodney a step behind, despite his speed and Rodney's sloth.
She sprains her ankle during their great escape and Aiden helps her over the ridge; behind them there are whispers and jokes and forced joviality, all while blood stains the dirt and the rocks and Rodney's trousers.
In the infirmary, Carson squeezes her hand, Aye, and she believes everything will be all right. Rodney groans and complains and bites the hand that feeds him.
Shut up, McKay, John growls, his hands gripping the bed rail until his knuckles turn white. You don't hear Teyla complaining.
From then on, their secret is her secret, even though they do not yet know they have one.
Elizabeth explains depression to her. Explains that it is a natural response to loss. Offers the services of Dr. Heightmeyer (everyone says see Heightmeyer as though the woman has all the answers).
She responds by pointing out – gently, so gently in case Elizabeth breaks, too – that she is more familiar with loss than Elizabeth will be in several lifetimes. Her people respect death, they know what it is to go out fighting. She has no word for depression.
The only word that comes close is failure.
She lets them believe that John is in love with her, because it is easier than admitting to herself that he is not. It is simple, at first, to make herself love him the way he needs to be loved. It is easy in the beginning to convince herself that she wants him as a woman wants a man.
It is not so easy anymore.
They love other people, and they love each other. It is not as complicated as it seems. Athosians do not exactly have a word for love; it is like the Genii having a word for betrayal.
Take good care of him, says Rodney, stiff as a bantos stick, after John is seen exiting her quarters at dawn.
She brings one hand up to stroke his cheek, and just shakes her head. John does not make her smile the right way. She cannot put it any more simply than that.
Rodney is broken; she recognizes the pieces, and knows the glue (it will not be perfect, there will be cracks, but he will be whole), so she forces them together, too tired for her normal, gentle caress.
He doesn't want me around, John hisses, digging in his heels. He doesn't want anybody.
He does not know what he wants, she says, taking his hand and leading him down the hall, stopping just outside the science lab. She gently tugs the radio from his ear, and sweeps their clutched hands across the crystals.
Ronon finds her wandering, and she nods, smiles, pretends. He blinks, shrugs, and invites her to spar.
The fight is bloody and rough and angry and cruel. Neither gives an inch, both demand it. She strikes and retreats, feeling some of that fire and ice flow down her arm, through the bantos stick. It is not enough, so she keeps fighting.
Her half-sob, half-screech startles them both (defenses are down, strike! strike!), she throws down her weapons and launches herself at him; they fall, quick and dirty.
When they have finished, and her bloodlust has faded to a faint pulse behind her ears, eyes still filled with iron tears that refuse to fall, she says nothing. Ronon braces himself on his elbows and looks her straight in the blackened eye.
It never was Sheppard, was it?
She walks out without a backward glance.
I told Katie I wanted to get married, says Rodney, hands folded across his lap, cheeks tinged pink. I just didn't want to get married to her. Why is lying so much easier than facing the truth?
I was married once, John says when they are alone, searching yet another identical wood for some sign of Aiden. Did I ever tell you that?
Her name is Jenny. I think she was a spy, though, of course, it was part of her job to make sure I couldn't prove it. Turned out, I wasn't very good at the whole marriage thing anyway, but I'm sure the lying didn't help.
She covers his much larger hands with hers, thinks of other hands, strong but deft; hands used for healing instead of harming. Hands so unlike her own. You do not like deception.
Deception is another word they taught her; a hard lesson that tastes like Satedan brew: thick, bitter, and difficult to swallow.
His mouth twists in a way she finds very appealing; this is how she distinguishes her John from the ruthless killer that lurks just out of sight, behind those disarming hazel eyes.
No, he agrees. I want to know what I'm getting into right from the start. Come on, let's see if McKay and Lorne are having better luck.
The first time she is sent to the infirmary after, she is violently ill, and struggles to explain (no, it is not a sickness, it is the scent of sterilized equipment, rubbing alcohol, anesthesia).
She listens to her heart thump and the conversation of the men standing on the other side of the thin curtain.
Will you stop following me everywhere I go? I told you, I'm fine.
You're not acting fine. Just talk to me. I know you miss him, we all do.
Shut up, just shut up, you don't know anything.
Rodney, he was the one who told me about the Stargate. Don't tell me I don't get it.
Her side throbs and her stomach lurches as the sickly-sweet smell of the hospital floods her lungs. stop it, stop fighting, she thinks, heart contracting. he did not die so you could be angry.
Valentine's Day, explains Rodney, through a mouthful of turkey sandwich, is a holiday where we show the people we love how much we care about them.
It's a Hallmark holiday designed to force men into commitment, corrects John, with an elbow to Rodney's chest.
What's a hall mark? asks Ronon. He has not been with them long enough to know how to cut a lecture off before it begins.
It's a greeting card company, Rodney replies. Er, a greeting card is...oh, never mind. Ignore Colonel Killjoy. I happen to like receiving gifts. I remember, this one time back in college when I was dating this hot blonde and she gave me one of those talking teddy bears -
She shakes her head as Rodney is lost in nostalgia. I do not think I understand why you only designate one day for this. My people believe it is important to show we care all year round.
I couldn't agree more, says John, dumping his bowl of blue Jello onto Rodney's heavily laden plate as he turns to discuss HRK-331 with Major Lorne. The fact that the mess is not serving Jello today does not escape her notice.
I lost two dear friends in one terrible afternoon, she snaps. That feeling does not just go away because you have a word to describe it.
Rodney's head rolls to the side, and she shifts her body so that she can reach him without the use of her hands.
Rodney, she whispers, nudging his shoulder with her chin. Wake up.
He groans and comes to life. Where are we?
Genii prison, she says, shrugging, and does not mention that he simply stood down when faced with an enemy. Does not mention how he swayed on his feet, staring as if he could not see them. Does not mention the way he did not flinch when they struck him over and over again.
Sheppard? Then, almost as an afterthought, Ronon?
I do not know. I believe they made it back through the gate.
Rodney has been oddly emotionless for weeks now; she is relieved to see a glint of satisfaction cross his face. Followed almost immediately by:
Figures they'd just run and save themselves.
The words (those are Rodney words, finally, thank the Ancestors) bolster her spirits, but there is no heart in it, and that scares her.
She thanks him for doing his job, because it is so much more than that. He is not required to fly puddlejumpers through storms, or care for her people on the mainland, or stay during a crisis just to observe a ceremony. He does not have to be warm, or have passion, or smell inexplicably of woodsmoke.
Teyla, love, I'm just doing my job.
She smiles around chattering teeth and calls him a liar. Whatever you wish to call it – it is beautiful.
He blinks, as if fighting off a tear. Well, thank you, dear. I don't think anyone's ever put it quite like that before.
I love him, says Rodney as if it is perfectly obvious. I can't be in love with him, because I'm going to lose him. Just like I lost Beckett – who I was not in love with, by the way, just so we're clear.
Ronon's accusations burn, John's pity is a slap across the face, and Rodney's incessant apathy fills her with a hate she did not know she could possess for something other than Wraith.
One wet evening, with the kind of weather that sends a twang down her side from shoulder to thigh, she sits in meditation, but opens both eyes because she is tired of not really seeing the world.
Of not really seeing what she is coming to think of as johnandrodney.
They give her hope because their dance is so complex that to truly understand its mechanics requires intimate study, to realize that there is no pre-meditation involved.
John reaches out first; he has to or there will be no movement at all. One hand on one shoulder, that is it, but Rodney sags beneath it – not from its weight, but from the burden it relieves.
Rodney harangues John, blames him, calls him names, and at the end of the day only has eyes for him. She knows it by a different name, but the Atlanteans call it longing. Some are disparaging, others giggle behind their hands. She knows how painful it is; worse still when it cannot be cured.
There is a flicker of life in Rodney now, something other than that blanket of misery he has carried with him in the months since Carson passed. John carefully guides that flicker into a proper flame, shaping, coaxing, urging. He does not back away when he gets burned.
I feel...jealous, she tells him. I did not know I could. I did not know what it was, before you.
John pats her arm, lacking his usual lithe grace.
After almost dying again there are hands where they should not be, lips pressed to lips, so desperate, so hungry, so startling, that she walks into the wall of the puddlejumper. They look up, panicked, and despite her own fear and confusion, she sees that there is relief in their eyes when they recognize her.
John does not touch her, and Rodney does not speak. She realizes that it is not their actions which surprise her; it is that she never saw it coming.
That night they teach her a new word.
The thing is, Rodney says, that's always how I expected it to go. I saw my sister, and I wanted what she had, I wanted a family. I just assumed that a wife, a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever was the way a family took shape. It never occurred to me that I might be wrong. I mean, why would it?
They didn't let you go, did they?
She smiles, enjoying the feel of his brogue in her ear. No, they said I was still 'recovering'. I would have liked to see Scotland.
Oh, aye, it's a beautiful place, says Carson, standing at her side. She does not care if she is delirious, if she is really lying on some bed with a cold compress pressed to her forehead while strange men poke her with needles. You know, I'm really quite put out with you.
With me! She turns her head. Why?
He grins, dimples showing full force. Aren't I deserving of a traditional Athosian ballad? Not so much as a limerick.
Her chest tightens. With Charon, there was time to prepare. It was not...unexpected.
You know I loved you. It is not a question.
And I you.
Pity we never got around to saying it out loud.
Is he not dating Katie Brown?
John tells her a story about two cowboys who meet in a remote location, and it is not love at first, but desire and loneliness and a taste of fear. They return home changed men, marry women, have children, but always maintain a connection. Something that deepens over the years, something unexpected.
Did those women not mind? she asks, already knowing the answer.
I never said they were smart cowboys, answers John. They just couldn't really live without each other.
The night Rodney does not come back through the gate, she hears accidental noise over her radio.
For once John's guard is down, and she slips into his room to run a hand through his damp hair as he empties his stomach into the toilet, sobs wracking his entire body. She holds him like a child, guides his head to her breast, and rocks him to sleep.
They never speak of it again.
There is nothing about me or my life or my childhood to explain this. John sighs. And fuck it all if I don't care.
Go after him, John, she demands from the balcony, watching Rodney shake stiff hands with Dr. Zelenka, backpack slung over one arm. He says something unintelligible, and Zelenka bursts into tears and frantic Czech.
Why? John sounds petulant, and were they sparring she would take him to his knees. Because if I don't, I'll regret it for the rest of my life?
Her regrets are numerous; regrets for her people, for her family, for herself. She knows that she would not turn back time even if she could, but that does not stop her from feeling angry when faced with someone who is willing to make a mistake with both eyes wide open. Then she understands.
John is scared.
Because if you do not, will the rest of your life be worth living?
John stops dead in his tracks, and for a minute, the only sign of life is the occasional blink. He suddenly rushes at her as if he is going to strike her; instead he wraps her in a tight hug muttering thank you, geez, thank you.
Just as the gate is dialing, he flies down the gateroom steps and tackles Rodney who manages to squeak out, Sheppard, what the hell? before his mouth is covered by John's and there is silence.
One or two people start to applaud.
Don't ask, don't tell? she repeats, rolling the strange words around her tongue. I have not.
John smiles fondly. Of course you haven't. Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal.
Rodney snorts and rolls his eyes, buried up to his receding hairline in paperwork.
Not a big deal he says, mutters Rodney. Of all the stupid understatements...
He turns to John, exhales, and folds his arms over his chest. You, he announces, are an idiot and I wash my hands of you.
She is startled, but John just laughs.
You couldn't get rid of me if you tried, he assures Rodney. Sorry, buddy, I'm not going anywhere.
I knew there were many things I could learn from the city of the Ancestors, she says, I just never knew I could learn anything about love.
So tell me what you've learned, Heightmeyer says.
I have learned that when it is real, there are no words to describe it. She stands. So that is all I have to say.