The salty tang of the ocean breeze and solitude of the balcony was a welcome change from the oppressive sterility of the infirmary and Carson's smothering. Rodney wasn't quite sure when he'd acquired a Scottish gentleman as his mother, and while some days the concern was a welcome change from the amused grins that accompanied his usual string of complaints, today wasn't one of those.
Part of him knew that his silence was unnerving but Rodney couldn't trust himself to speak, not until he stopped tensing up every sixteen minutes and fifty nine seconds. Nineteen turns of the looping clock by his count, and he was still waiting for a bright flash of light to indicate for him to start his song and dance again.
It was just wrong on so many levels that technically the nightmare could be over, everyone could be safe, and that Rodney wasn't able to move on. Not for lack of want or trying – because he really wanted to be able to lay down and sleep like Carson had told him without hearing the endless rattle of gunfire. He wanted to be able to close his eyes and meditate like Teyla offered and not see his hands covered in blood. He wanted to be able to escape by any method possible. Hell, he had even asked Ronon to teach him how to wield a sword.
It would figure that the one time that Rodney wanted to have the thoughts beaten out him Ronon would offer him a pilfered pudding cup instead. Not that Rodney passed up the pudding, he wasn't that far gone, but it was the principle of the matter. Pudding only lasted so many spoonfuls before he was left with an empty plastic cup and a mind wandering down an uncomfortably distressing road.
Unable to speak for fear of what might come out, unable to eat because he had already gorged himself, and unable to stop himself from remembering, Rodney sought solitude. If he couldn't find peace, he could at least suffer with as few people watching as possible.
And he wasn't sure what it said when Ronon and Teyla helped cover his exit without him needing to ask. Carson had to release him since technically Rodney was perfectly healthy, because technically only seventeen minutes passed in which the most physical action he had seen was a thumb war and a scramble for a pistol.
John had disappeared as soon his own physical was complete, for whatever reason Rodney didn't know, and a large part of him really didn't care. That made him almost sick to his stomach, but he had seen enough of the man – inside and out – to last at least a few hours. He had no need for that steadying presence on Atlantis to remind him second after second of exactly how far he had fallen.
Speak of the devil and he's sure to appear.
The door leading out to the balcony swished open quietly before another body settled in next to him. Rodney didn't look up from the dark water rolling in front of them, too busy listening for the crash of each wave against the dock below.
"So," John said quietly, "I just did the math."
"Of course you did."
"Counting from when we missed our check-in, to the time it took for the gate to realign itself with the rest of the system and let us re-establish contact—"
"I'm perfectly capable of remembering that much, Sheppard."
"—forty three hours and twenty-one minutes," John blew out a breath, "making it about a hundred and fifty three loops of seventeen minutes."
"Your math astounds me, because obviously I'm too far gone to do those calculations on my own."
"Rodney," John shifted, leaning more of his weight onto the railing, "I think that's about a hundred and thirty six more than I could handle before having a psychotic episode."
"Nice to know what we're calling it."
"That's not what I'm saying and you know it."
"Then why did you pick seventeen loops to be your magical breaking point?"
"Because after about five nonstop hours—"
"Four point eight!"
"—of someone taking you guys hostage over and over, I'm pretty sure I'd have pulled that trigger."
"Maybe that was what I should've done in the first place."
"No!" Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney could see John spearing him with a fierce look. "That's not you."
"Two days—it went on for almost two straight days. If it had been you, we wouldn't have even made it to twelve hours!"
"If it had been me, there's a good chance that we'd still be on that planet."
"I don't need you to patronize me—"
"Damn it Rodney, I might be a member of Mensa in an alternate universe, but I'm not you. I wouldn't have been able to fix that machine no matter how long we spent on that twisted merry-go-round."
"I find that very hard to believe."
"Exactly who do you think I am?"
Rodney continued to stare at the waves, not sure how to answer that, and pretty sure he didn't want to try since in seventeen minutes any words wouldn't magically be forgotten. He tightened his grip on the balcony, because part of him thought that might be a bad thing.
However the question had been a challenge and Rodney didn't let those go unanswered.
"I don't think you're someone who would have lost it in less than two days."
"A lot can happen in two days, Rodney."
He breathed in sharply, because that was too true. A person could experience all of their worst fears in a forty-three hour period, and it would follow them wherever they tried to hide after the fact.
"Don't take this the wrong way – but after two-straight days of being 'out of practice', I'm a little sick of you."
"I wouldn't say you're the greatest company right now, either."
"Hence my desire to be alone. Something more clever people were able to pick up on."
"I gave you a few hours," John said lightly.
"Which doesn't add up, just like your math."
"I had a few things to take care of." John glared at the waves. "And don't think I didn't catch you trying to change the subject."
John chewed his lip. "Had to iron out a few details with Elizabeth."
"Like how the whole team should take a few days before Heightmeyer starts beating down our doors."
"The whole team?"
"Well, we were taken hostage a hundred plus times. It's kind of stressful."
"You don't remember any of that!"
John shrugged. "So?"
"So—so you three are perfectly sane!"
"Just like you."
"I think I'll leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals."
"I can go get her right now if that's what you want."
"That's what I thought."
Irritation flashed through him and he twisted, still clinging tightly to the balcony, to face his friend. "Just where do you get off?"
"Dirty question, Rodney," John grinned.
"Asshole," he spat. "You have no right to waltz in here, when I need to be alone, and tell me what I think or feel!"
"I'm not doing that."
"The hell you are!"
"Exactly what have I forced you to think or feel against your will?"
And it all came crashing back then, the stench of electrified flesh, hands sticky with blood, of control being taken from him with a simple question of trust. "I don't think I want to answer that right now."
"Fair enough." John's elbow shifted, lightly bumping against Rodney's locked arm.
He wanted to pull away, but that would have required letting go long enough to find another point of solitude. So he put up with the friendly-not-quite-contact with extreme reluctance.
But he didn't have to be happy about it. "And you owe me an explanation."
"Yes," Rodney ground out, "it's now nighttime on Atlantis, and we're not fighting for our lives."
"I want to know who Danvers is," and Rodney didn't feel guilty at the startled inhalation of breath, because turnabout was fair play, "and why he's so important."
"My dying request, right?"
Rodney stilled. "I didn't—"
"You said a lot of things, probably without realizing it."
He closed his eyes, a million different feelings washing over him, disgust, anger, and not a small amount of fear over what had been overheard and how it would be interpreted. "I didn't mean—"
"No," John breathed, "it's okay."
"But you don't like to think about him—"
"Just like you don't want to think about what that bastard put you through," John growled.
"You don't remember—"
"I know enough," John's voice was low, "to have to come out here to keep myself from dialing up that planet and finishing the job."
"So, you're not just out here to keep me from taking a swan dive?"
"It's not all about you, Rodney."
"So then who's Danvers?"
John pursed his lips, eyeing the waves below for a long stretch.
"You don't have to—"
"Technically there were two Danvers," he said quietly, careful to not break his staring contest with the ocean, "back when I was in Afghanistan."
"Brothers; one a Ranger, the other a Marine." John paused. "The squadron of marines were caught in an ambush – not many made it out."
Rodney didn't say anything, just waited.
"The surviving brother took it pretty hard," John's lazy perch on the balcony had shifted until he was mirroring Rodney's tight grasp on the railing, "if you know what I mean."
Rodney's chest felt a little too tight and he barely managed a soft, "I've got an idea."
"I had the misfortune of being in the same hangar when he snapped." The nerve in John's jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth together, as lost in the past as Rodney had been before the colonel's timely arrival.
"Do I want to know what happened?"
The smile was forced, tight. "He had a gun on my co-pilot."
Rodney had been around the military long enough to know that they didn't take that sort of threat lightly – and it didn't take much of an imagination to fill in the gaps. He eyed the waves lapping angrily at the dock below. "Everything you needed to know."
"That's what you told me – bringing up Danvers would tell you everything you needed to know."
John's shoulders hunched up, his grip on the railing not going lax at the conclusion of the tight-lipped confession.
"You used me," Rodney's voice had gone quiet, "to send yourself a message that I was going to lose it?"
"About someone you had to shoot to protect a teammate? Are you trying to tell me that—"
"No!" The vehemence behind the statement startled both of them. "Never."
Rodney squirmed, uncomfortable, "Then..."
John sighed heavily, sinking his weight against the railing. "I don't remember the original conversation, you know that."
Rodney took that moment to shift ever so slightly to the right, away from the tension radiating off the man next to him. The weight of the confession hung in the air heavily. Rodney was pretty sure he was going to regret what he was about to say next, but perhaps John equally deserved an explanation for why he would willingly drag up these memories in the first place.
"You told me you wouldn't get over it."
John flicked a curious look in his direction. "Get over what?"
"Oh, you know..." Despite the hammering in his chest, Rodney tried to act nonchalant as he waved a hand at the water, "Lupin's whole 'let's break McKay' thing."
The nerve in John's jaw twitched again.
"Although it would probably be 'let's break Mandalay' or some other bizarre way of mangling my last name." Rodney laughed harshly. "He really sucked with names."
John didn't chuckle. He didn't agree or really do much of anything other than remain absolutely silent.
"I said you'd get over it, you know, seeing as you wouldn't remember." And because John still wasn't saying anything, Rodney kept going. "Maybe you wanted to tell yourself about the ambush or you were sick of being left out of the loop or you just wanted to prove me wrong or something—"
"That very first bit," John said tightly, "that would do it I think."
"Sure Rodney." He rolled his eyes, as if McKay had just suggested that he could divide by zero. "The ambush. Because you know how much I hate being snuck up on."
"You do! You hate it just about as much as—as..."
John raised an eyebrow.
"You didn't mean the ambush."
"No," John turned back to the sea, "I didn't."
Rodney nodded mutely, fighting to swallow the lump that had worked its way back into this throat. His attention wandered back to the ocean as well, but the waves were still unable to soothe the tension chasing him. He shifted restlessly, reluctantly loosening his death grip on the railing so he could find a more comfortable position for the long term.
"You can go, you know." He glanced over to where John was still staring off into the distance. "I'm going to be a while."
"I can wait."
"Seriously, it's not like I'm going to get any sleep. I could be out here all night; you're just wasting your time."
"Nah, I'm good."
He huffed out an annoyed breath at the stubbornness. "You don't have anywhere else you'd like to be right now?"
"Nope." As if it were a natural effort, John settled into the space Rodney had tried to create, close enough so that their elbows lightly bumped against each other. "I don't think I do."
"Fine," he let his gaze drift upwards, tracing out the various constellations found on all of the Gates in the galaxy, "but it's your loss."
"No, Rodney, it most definitely is not."
And for the first time in more than a hundred and seventy-two increments of seventeen, a genuine, pure smile escaped Rodney. It came unbidden just like the quiet presence at his side. Unbidden, but not unwelcome.