Title: Penitence
Gen, Angst, Introspection
Word Count:
Huge honking and flashing their lights spoilers for "Miller's Crossing"
It's not penance, because oh, that'd be the kind of afterlife he'd want if he was apt to believe in that sort of thing. Need to atone for your sins? Drink a Molson's, we'll call it even. (Tag for "Miller's Crossing")
Gayle, who without... I would make very little sense. I love my beta! Any remaining mistakes, afraid they're all me.


"The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness."
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo


At first, all Rodney can feel is disbelief as they roll the body bag away.

He can't read the look on Sheppard's face as the colonel has all of his walls up; and Rodney still has a sister to save so he has to push it aside for the moment. He fully intends to bring this up later and sort it out, because there's way too much that's happened for him to process at the moment. It's hard to ignore the flurry of needle-like jabs in his chest every time he sees Sheppard's tightly controlled expression, but there's no time for that as Jeannie is waking up, and Sheppard is quietly stalking back to Atlantis with a cursory goodbye.

Ronon doesn't say anything, but the way he flicks his gaze over his shoulder as Sheppard strides toward the ramp lets Rodney know that things will be covered on Atlantis until he finishes his brotherly duties here on Earth. It helps ease that strange tightness in his chest some, but not completely. Unfortunately, Rodney has no time to contemplate this because Jeannie is starting to come around, and if he thought she had a lot to say before he put her into a coma...

Suffice to say, from the moment she wakes up in the SGC until they're boarding their flight back to Vancouver, she continues to remind him exactly whose fault this kidnapping debacle was.

Rodney's pretty sure it's supposed to be endearing as he's suddenly reminded of a time more than a year ago when he repeated the words "You shot me!" about once every five minutes. This occurs to him about the same time he's about to snap back at her that perhaps she should tighten her network security like he taught her to – and the words die before they even make it to his lips. Not once was Rodney told that he should've ducked like he was taught. So instead of telling his little sister off, Rodney asks her what sort of accessories she wants on her Prius.

The almost good-natured accusations sort of die off then, and Rodney wonders maybe if he should've just snapped at her. He's not the one who needs to feel better about any of this. He wasn't the one who was kidnapped out of his bed, he didn't have a daughter who almost lost her mother, and he definitely wasn't the one who almost had his brain taken apart by tiny machines (this time anyway).

Rodney thumbs through the magazine he picked up before their flight and declares that Jeannie most definitely needs the navigation system.

"Mer," Jeannie's voice is as soft as the touch to his arm, "you don't have to--"

"Look, it's even got a back-up camera so you won't run over those little idiot neighborhood children when they decide to dart behind you as you're backing up."

"You know," she cuts in with a touch of exasperation, "my daughter happens to be a child in the neighborhood."

"Surely you've taught Madison that moving car equals crushing death."

"Not in those exact words, no."

"She's at least got the general gist of it, doesn't she, because--"

"Yes, Meredith, I've taught my child not to leap in front of moving vehicles."

He almost asks her how she did it, because he really needs to teach Sheppard about the dangers of oncoming traffic, but that brings up another line of thought he really doesn't want to go down right now. Maybe he will after he can get a few minutes free from Jeannie, who to his great annoyance seems to have promoted herself from little sister to mother. Which is all sorts of wrong if he wanted to continue that metaphor, so he decides to stop and focus back on the real topic:

"I'm not sure I trust the manufacture-installed tires. We should probably special order you some before winter comes, just in case."

Well, he can only talk about the Prius seeing as they decided to take a commercial flight back to Vancouver. But this is about her, and she needs to remember that. If it were about him and his failings as a brother, he would most certainly let her take the conversation there. But it's not, so he shoves the magazine in her face, and asks if she prefers Spectra Blue or Seaside Pearl.

Her sigh is long-suffering, but she takes the magazine and holds it to where they both can see. Of course she won't consider the Highlander hybrid, because apparently in Tofurkey WorldSUVs are a thing of the devil. She has no qualms about spearing Rodney with a withering look when he tries to explain to her that's what all soccer moms drive.

"What? Didn't Rod say the Other-You had like a car full of kids? Think of it as room for expansion."

That earns him another look, and in the back of his mind he wonders if he should be pushing the envelope with the person who helped him build that atomic bomb in the basement. Of course, her version of help at that age had consisted of trying to bedazzle it with sparkles and jewels. But she had also been diligent about fetching and retrieving the supplies he needed for the project, so he'd let it pass. She'd grown out of the bedazzle phase soon enough anyway.

By the time Rodney's done adding things to it, the Prius has gone from a twenty-one thousand dollar car to a thirty-six thousand dollar pimped out ride. Sadly, it doesn't feel like enough, and he starts to try and figure out what sort of after-market options he can add on. Money really isn't much of an object, because when you live rent-free in a ten-thousand-year-old technological and architectural wonder, you just don't have too many living expenses.

Jeannie protests that Madison really doesn't need the ability to watch her DVDs in the backseat.

"Right, silly me. I'll see if I can't find a way to rig it up so she's got Blu-Ray. Got to think ahead of emerging technology, right?"

If using every last penny of his considerable savings would give Rodney peace of mind, he's pretty sure he'd sign that check with great flourish. As it is, when they land at Vancouver International, Rodney's already on his cell phone trying to find a dealership that has what he wants.

--er, what Jeannie wants.

Because this is about her; he's just the man with the checkbook.

They climb into the Millers' current jalopy--okay, it's not a bad car by any standards but the Prius is going to make it look run-down by comparison--and head back toward the house. Apparently there's tofurkey roast in the oven or something.

Rodney knows that he forgot to mention something about the same time that Jeannie rubs her shins, complaining about cramped airplane seats. Hopefully she doesn't have access to the medical reports and realize that it might partially be due to the legs he, er, broke. It was to save her life, so she really shouldn't hold it against him.

Rodney's chest tightens to the point he's almost squeaking to Madison in the backseat about the home theatre system that's going to be in the new car.

"We're getting a new car?" Caleb asks suspiciously, casting a glance at the back seat.

"Mer thinks we need a Prius," Jeannie says, as if it hadn't been her idea to start with.

"They're safe!" Rodney protests, and out of the corner of his eye he can see Madison trying to mirror his defensive pose.

He's struck by her resemblance to the little urchin on M7G-677, so much so that suddenly he's suffocating with the thought of her having to face similar circumstances. She looks so much like Jeannie did when she was little, and Rodney knows it's irrational, because the Wraith will never make it to Earth as long as he, Sheppard, or the rest of Atlantis have any say in it.

A surge of some mix of unidentifiable emotions sweeps over Rodney at the thought of Sheppard, intense enough that he has to sit back and list off to Caleb all the safety ratings he's been able to find on the Prius since they left the SGC earlier today. He's not sure if he's grateful, angry, or horrified with Sheppard right now, and even more unsure if he's allowed to feel all those things at the same time.

"I'm not sure we can afford this," Caleb mutters as Rodney details the highlights of the leather seat upgrade.

"Oh, no, I've got this one," Rodney says casually, before explaining that they'll need to stop by the dealership in a few days when the car is delivered.

Caleb shoots Jeannie a look, because someone forgot to inform him that the latest trend was for your estranged brother-in-law to buy obscenely expensive gifts for the family. Honestly, Caleb, get with the program. Rodney can see in the rearview mirror Jeannie giving him an equally measuring look, and a tiny part of Rodney wonders how long it takes for a couple to develop that silent communication.

He certainly doesn't have that with Katie right now; maybe it comes after the vows or something. He was honest when he told her last year that he wanted marriage, he's just not sure he's ready yet. But Jeannie's right, Rodney's not getting any younger. He's almost forty, and his prospects of getting what she has dwindle more each day.

The sad thing is he doesn't know when his baby sister became wiser than him. Not smarter; as intelligent as Jeannie is, Rodney's pretty sure that he still has her beat in that department. He has to hone that skill every day under extreme pressure, so no, not smarter – but maybe wiser. She certainly seems to have this whole personal life thing figured out, something that's always eluded him. If she says he needs to step up his thirty-year plan to lull Katie into a false sense of security, maybe Rodney needs to consider it.

It's strange, that a little more than a year ago Rodney would have just laughed if someone suggested he take his little sister's advice. He's kind of been dragged kicking and screaming down the road to emotional maturity, and he's not sure if it has anything to do with Rod, ascension machines, or something that had started happening long before any of that without him realizing it.

They arrive at the house, and it turns out, yep, tofurkey roast. He eats the vegetarian food, and true to his promise back at the SGC, he doesn't complain – and he only contemplates making a break for McDonald's once. Really only once, because he realizes that Jeannie has the keys to the car and the Millers' quiet suburban neighborhood doesn't have a convenient bus line he can escape on in the middle of the night.

Tofurkey is part of his reparation, and he takes his punishment like a man (but that doesn't mean Rodney can't dream of dancing steaks and hamburgers when Jeannie isn't looking).

Also to Rodney's consternation, Caleb is so grateful to have his wife back that he seems to forget that he has every reason to be angry at Rodney. After dinner he breaks out a six-pack of Molson's and drags Rodney out into the backyard for some quality male in-law bonding under the night sky.

God, he hates Molson's. Yes, he's a hot-blooded Canadian male (somewhere in the back of Rodney's mind he hears Sheppard's derisive snort), but does that mean he must conform to every cliché? He takes another sip to drown out the unwanted commentary in his mind, because he's not here to think about Sheppard, who sometime during dinner Rodney has decided that he's angry with. The taste of the beer is sharp, bitter, and its unpleasantness is a nice counterpoint to the fictional conversation he's having in his mind.

"You kept your word," Caleb finally says softly, breaking through the fictional argument Rodney has been carrying on in his mind. It takes him a moment to adjust, because things had been quiet for a good long while. Perhaps Caleb had been waiting to make sure Jeannie or Madison wouldn't walk out on them. "I know I said some things—"

What is with people trying to have this conversation with him? They have nothing to apologize for. Their lives have been upended because of his lack of foresight, and he just can't accept an apology for something that's actually true.

"Don't worry about it," and Rodney wishes that didn't sound like something John Sheppard would say, but Rodney's usual blustering, fumbling manner doesn't seem appropriate so he's forced to steal tactics from other sources. Even if those sources are ones he's not exactly thrilled with right now.

"I'm just," Caleb hides a grimace behind a beer. Did vegetarians drink beer? Did it violate some sort of code? It was unhealthy, but technically it didn't have any animal by-product so perhaps—

Oh, Caleb was still talking.

"I know she's your sister, and despite everything—just, thank you."

It's like a punch in the gut.

Because in the end Rodney wasn't the one who saved Jeannie. He didn't finish the coding to deactivate the nanites, and he wasn't the one to make the sacrifice to make sure that happened. He wasn't even the one to get them out of Wallace's hideaway.

So Rodney can't complain about Caleb's well-meaning, foul-tasting thank you beer, and takes another bitter swig. It's not penance, because oh, that'd be the kind of afterlife he'd want if he was apt to believe in that sort of thing. Need to atone for your sins? Drink a Molson's, we'll call it even.

Although it probably wasn't a sin if you didn't commit the offense in the first place. Self-sacrifice only counted if you lost something. Rodney feels like he has, but he's not sure what it is.

He rages internally at Sheppard, demanding an explanation for an action that was just so... so... so...

Rodney drains the last of the beer and glares out in the dark with Caleb, unable to articulate the thundercloud that's hanging over his head. The problem is that he just can't comprehend it. It wasn't Sheppard's sister in trouble, and no part of Rodney can even think about using the terms "cold-blooded" or "murder" in association with his friend. In fact willingly sacrificing someone else is just so out-of-character, part of Rodney wonders if perhaps he'd been implanted with a Goa'uld during the debacle. Not to worry, a little surgery would fix that problem.

In the wee hours of the morning, Rodney's still glaring. Only this time it's at the ceiling of the guest bedroom. Molson's is just as useless as a sleeping aide as it is an alcoholic beverage because the conversations are still running in Rodney's brain. Sometime around one in the morning, Rodney has moved past anger, because when he really thinks about it, being sucked dry of his life really—well, it sucks. So yes, he's glad to have the opportunity to lie in bed and glare at the ceiling rather than be drifting in the nothingness of death.

But he wants to sleep, but he can't. The inner-Rodney has decided that this needs to be hashed to death, and maybe if inner-Sheppard would just shut up he might be able to put this to rest. Part of him is concerned that he's able to hold so many imaginary conversations that sound so convincing and not-so-imaginary. When had he gotten to the point where he could have a silent unreal conversation with John Sheppard, yet still have a hard time talking to his girlfriend for an extended length of time?

Granted, Katie hadn't made any huge sweeping gestures to keep Rodney from dying, but that was hardly her fault. She didn't have a hero complex, and quite frankly he liked that about her. One martyr in his life was enough.

The digital clock on his nightstand rolled past the three o'clock marker, and Rodney wondered if polishing off the rest of the Molson's in the fridge would drug him adequately so he could get some freaking sleep. It was completely unfair that he couldn't storm down the hall and scream out his frustration at the person responsible for this.

Rodney hadn't asked John to do that for him, he would have never asked him to. Not because it was more than a little morally ambiguous -- because it was, oh god it was -- but because there were already too many shadows flickering behind John's easy grin. The needle-like jabs return, because Rodney's the reason for a few more shadows and that's wrong. The worst part is he still doesn't understand why, and he really wishes they had cell phone reception in Pegasus because he needs to know.

Sometime around four o'clock Rodney drifts off to a light slumber, but he doesn't realize this until he jerks awake at seven.

He hates every part of this past week and wants to get to that stupid Toyota dealership as fast as possible because Jeannie is getting that damn Prius if he has to go to the factory and drive it here himself. Once that is sitting in the driveway at least part of the tightness in his chest will ease and he might not stare at the ceiling at three-thirty-four this night.

Sadly, the Miller Pimp Mobile takes another day to arrive, and Rodney's not sure how much more tofu and Molsen's he can consume before he breaks and hikes the few miles to the nearest restaurant with real food and decent beer. He's quite convinced the convenience store they stop at that afternoon has something meat-like and unhealthy, but he's forced to stay in the car with Madison. Madison who thinks Rodney should move in so he can read her five stories every night. Yes, it's two more than the three that Jeannie requested – and possibly that was a joke too, but Rodney's not going to take a chance.

His stomach growls for the unhealthy smorgasbord waiting for him inside the convenience store, and elicits a giggle from his fan in the backseat. Rodney's ready to bring her in on his plans to start an uprising and topple the evil vegetarian reign, but his cell phone rings then. The Prius has arrived, and with it Rodney's salvation.

Madison is excitedly chattering in his ear about all the DVDs she wants for her new backseat entertainment powerhouse as he and Jeannie start signing the multitude of paperwork. She gives him a sidelong glance, as she's filling out the registration form, and he does his best to look absorbed in his perusal of the double-extended warranty he decided Jeannie absolutely needed, and realizes that the roadside assistance package isn't fully paid, and he hurriedly waves over their salesperson so he can address this travesty.

By the time he's able to start signing the check, Madison has dragged Jeannie off to the vending machines and he's able to have a few moments peace. He imagines that with each zero he scratches out, one barbell weight is lifted from his shoulders. It certainly doesn't feel like that, but he's giving this whole visualization thing a try. Unfortunately the visual he gets makes the scratches even sloppier, and his pen rests on that penultimate zero, black ink soaking into the check as he grips the pen tightly.

In his mind's eye, Rodney sees John staring back at him, eyes widening in surprise and—and—horror and fear — and it's completely wrong because Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, USAF is never afraid of anything or anyone. Unfortunately, this isn't another imaginary conversation but an actual memory. The needle-like jabs return, and the pen in Rodney's hand creaks as he continues to see that unnatural expression on John's face stare back at him, telling him "I can't" and—

He gets it.

It wasn't about Jeannie, and it wasn't about Wallace, and it wasn't about the team, and sometimes for being so damn smart, Rodney realizes that he's so damn stupid but unfortunately this epiphany doesn't grant him a sudden sense of peace like it does in the movies.

It just makes it a little harder to breathe.

He lifts the pen off the ruined check, numbers soaked through by the large blot of ink. He really should have used a ball-point pen. Stupid felt tips run every time you put too much pressure on them. He tears the check off, scribbles all over its face in huge block letters that spell out "VOID" as if he's telling the world something.

Jeannie's coming back, and he starts to write the check out again to avoid the smothering look of concern on her face. The never-ending argument raging in his head quiets enough for him to hear the undercurrent of worry in her question about the voided check. Maybe he's gotten a little better at hiding things, because when he assures her of his bad penmanship, she seems somewhat mollified.

Carefully, painstakingly, he begins to sign the check.

Before having to deal with John and everyone on Atlantis, Rodney had never had to truly apologize to someone. He didn't care about other people's feelings, probably the most unquantifiable variable in the universe. Now he's spending a small fortune on the sister he had almost disowned, spending sleepless nights on phantom conversations instead of impending discoveries, and flailing about trying to find a way to ease this queer tightness in his chest.

He doesn't know what John does that prompts Rodney to want to try to do better with this nonsense, but whatever it is, the man needs to stop. Rodney was perfectly satisfied with being an arrogant asshole before they ever met. It's unfamiliar territory, trying to muddle through other people's emotions and he wishes he could stop, but apparently it's a slippery slope, once you start you just keep sliding.

And he's trying his best to dig in his heels, stop his slow descent into sap, but somehow he finds himself striding into John's room the night he gets back, determined to make the conversations in his head stop. His car-buying epiphany has calmed the litany of complaints he had made out, but he's still determined to tell Sheppard to not do this ever again, because Rodney can't take any more haunting, helpless looks or sleepless nights.

And when John's voice drops to a soft, harsh whisper, Rodney realizes that he can't ask for that. Somehow, this still isn't about him, and damn that stupid emotional maturity because it should be. The real, actual conversation ends rather boring, lacking the luster of a good tongue-lashing as Rodney makes a lame attempt at a thank you for the gesture, because John's not going to be okay with his actions if that unsure declaration of presenting opportunities is anything to go by. So he goes with one final, painfully awkward attempt at a thank you and then quickly changes the subject to something more neutral.

Nothing brings out the real John Sheppard like food and the opportunity to verbally poke Rodney, and even as John starts claiming his right to the "prettiest one of them all" he feels some of that tightness ease. As the beginnings of a frown start to kick in he makes a Snow White crack, because Rodney's going to beat those shadows back with wit and sarcasm.

He's perfectly content to make that task all about him, even if it takes all the jello in the mess.

He's just selfless like that.