Note: I don't know how long the days are on Atlantis, so I decided to make it twenty eight.
It's easy to forget where he is.
A slight slithering sound and a moving shadow wakes him, and he bolts upright, sweating far more than the mild air can account for. He reaches for the pistol under his pillow, but touches only slick cotton and air. He doesn't keep it there anymore, because he's not on Earth and he feels safer here, even if he's not.
The shadow's only Rodney, anyway, still awake despite that it's already nearly tomorrow, and he's talking a mile a minute, "touch this" he's saying, forcing something into his hand. He blinks at it blearily as it lights and begins to grow warm, then he shoves it at Rodney and tells him to get some sleep.
Rodney walks out of the room, muttering to himself. He's off to search for more coffee instead, but he'll probably fall asleep still standing before he finds it. He pushes off the sheets and gets to his feet, searching for his clock. We have 28 hour days here, Rodney had told him, that thing is useless.
He uses it anyway, and it says it's only two o'clock. Probably it's really five, or six even, but it's not like it matters. He's not getting back to sleep.
He makes his way to the shower, and turns the water up full blast. The city purifies it from the ocean, and it comes through clear and sparking and smelling like the sea. He leans his head against the cool metal of the wall and lets it roll off him. Alien water, he thinks. He's taking a shower on another world.
Over a year now, and it's still hard to wrap his mind around.
He still feels more at home here than Earth. He thought it might be different, going back, that he might realize once he reached it that he had missed it after all, but that wasn't how it ended up. Every moment he was there, all he could think about was how much he wanted off again.
He'd take life-sucking aliens over old acquaintances any day, and he didn't want to think about how pathetic that was. The water goes cold quickly, and he was clean within the first five minutes anyway. He switches it off but stays standing there for another six minutes, listening to the water drip off of him and to the floor.
He finally gets moving, and dresses in his blue uniform pants and a long sleeved black t-shirt. He slips into his boots and the city is dark when he steps into the hall, conserving power while it sleeps. Only the night-shift will be around, sleep-walking through the halls or playing travel chess at their control stations.
He heads straight for his balcony, and meets no one along the way.
When he was younger he craved noise--blasting speakers and laughter, the sound of a powerful engine burning in his ears. Antarctica taught him the value of silence, and now he craves his moments alone. Not that he's ever really alone.
They drift along behind him, tethered to him for good. He can't see them, or anything, he's not that crazy. He just feels them, like that saying about walking over one's grave only it's there all the time--Heightmeyer keeps wanting him to make an appointment, but if he confided in her they'd probably lock him away. Just as well that he doesn't really talk to anyone.
He steps to the edge and watches the water instead.
Waves crash against the edge of the city. The water will wear it away eventually, Rodney had told him, water is a powerful thing. It looks like it could be any number of places on Earth, and if he closes his eyes the sound of the waves will take him home. He keeps them open, eyes on the city, because there's nothing like it on Earth and he needs that distance.
Disconnected, Heightmeyer had said. You need to see me right away.
He doesn't care why he's numb, he's glad for it. He's not going to spend an hour on some couch to try and take it away, to rip open old wounds and bleed until it hurts--he suggests therapy to all his men and hopes it works for them, but it's not for him. He's better off disconnecting and letting it all fall away.
Everything but them, but he's getting used to that.
You look pale, Elizabeth had told him yesterday. They've been grounded in the city for a month now with repairs, and when he comes out on the balcony the only light comes from the stars--he's pale because he's not been in the sun, nothing else. She didn't believe that, but it was the only thing she might have understood.
Sometimes he misses dark roads and street lights, the sound of cars rushing across pavement on their way somewhere else, slipping past his window, holding him awake--he hasn't had that in years, and it's ridiculous to wish for it now, when he's so far away.
Rodney finds him somehow, still hanging onto consciousness. He'll finally sleep when he's needed most, but he doesn't waste time lecturing him. "What are you doing out here?" Rodney snaps at him. "It's the middle of the night, you should be sleeping."
He doesn't even attempt to respond to that. Rodney doesn't seem to notice.
"Are you alright? You look a little off. Have you been getting any sleep at all? I mean, I know, okay, pot and kettle and all that but I'm not the one that needs to have good aim, you know. I can build nuclear bombs in my sleep. Have, actually."
"I'm fine," he says.
"You know, Heightmeyer mentioned that you haven't been to see her."
"Really?" he says. "That's funny, because I've been meaning to talk to her, too, about how you work twenty-four hours a day."
Rodney freezes, then nods. "Twenty eight," he says, "and I'm not working all of them."
"Get some sleep, and then you can talk to me about my habits."
Rodney nods again, backing away. "Right, okay, whatever. Just trying to be a good friend and all that, you should be grateful I care, I don't care about just anyone."
Rodney cares more than he lets on, but he just turns away, back towards the ocean. If he concentrates hard enough, he can almost hear Ford screaming as he falls over the edge. He wonders what it felt like, hitting the water from that high. He can't ask, not that he would.
Ford is one of the lucky ones, anyway. He's still alive somewhere, just waiting to be found. And he would find him, if it took everything he had to do it.
"You know, you're going to get catch your death if you stay out here."
He smiles slightly as he hears the footsteps behind him, and then Rodney is leaning over the rail beside him, brushing his arm. "I thought I told you to get some sleep."
Rodney shrugs. "Since when do I listen to you?"
He snorts. "You always listen to me, you just complain a lot after."
He can see Rodney grin in the corner of his eye. "I'm sorry I woke you," he says.
He doesn't really sleep anymore anyway, he might say, if he was the kind of person that revealed things. He's not, and he doesn't say anything. Rodney knows him too well already.
Rodney leans forward on the rail, resting his chin on his clasped hands, and for a minute he thinks he's fallen asleep. "What are you doing out here, anyway?" Rodney asks, and his eyes are closed, but he sounds suddenly wide awake.
He bites his lip, not sure how to answer that. He blinks out at the water, and wonders why when he's there he needs to be here, and now that he's back he can't decide where he belongs. "I'm looking for street lights," he says, and closes his eyes.
It's not quite home, but it's still closer than the real thing.