McShep, but it could be just friendship
Sheppard emo-whump (sure that has a fan name but WTH)
Spoilers: season 5 up to remnants
Summary: the team are playing games on the pier, John falls asleep and Rodney discovers the secret of *the* black band.
They were playing basketball on the make-shift court near the East pier. The day was hot and sticky. Sweat trickled down his back, his shirt totally soaked. Ronon had already taken his off and was topless. Teyla, watching from the sidelines with Torren on her knee, cooing gently, smiled. She clearly approved. Rodney was sat in *his* spot. The place John had taken him when his memories were fading, slipping through his ever tightening fingers. His feet were dangling over the edge, barefoot, his laptop open beside him, a cool beer in his hand and wistful smile on his lips. This was a well deserved break for them all.
Sheppard dribbled the ball, feigned to the left, and hurled the ball high over the big man's head. Ronon dashed after it, jumped and missed. The hard orange ball slid neatly into the net. Too exhausted to really celebrate, Sheppard smiled as Rodney raised his drink in congratulations. Ronon grunted something about a beer and John agreed whole heartedly. The baking sun was getting too intense even for him. He snatched a beer out of the ice bucket beside Teyla and trudged over to join Rodney. His eyes were itchy with sweat and he flicked his hair out of his hazel eyes.
"You win?" said McKay, tapping happily on his keyboard.
John threw him a look, "scored a few sweet ones," he laughed.
Sheppard couldn't remember ever being this relaxed. He was usually so on guard. But the heat of the day, a good run around, a few laughs and a couple of beers conspired- not unpleasantly- against him and despite himself he was really enjoying his day off. He waved to Teyla, Torren and Ronon sitting in the shade. Ronon looked knackered. He supposed he looked the same. He rubbed the black band around his wrist and absently took it off and stuffed it in his pocket. His team had never asked about the band, they knew not to. John Sheppard exposed what he wanted about himself on his own terms. He lay back and smiled. Okay, not always on his own terms. They'd known each other so long now, words were often not needed; nuances were explicit sentences. As he listened to Rodney tapping beside him, he fell into a light sleep.
McKay grinned down as John's breathing evened out, his chest rising and falling gently, like branches in the breeze. He'd rarely seen Sheppard so open with his emotions or so relaxed. The creases, which had begun appearing with gusto on his friends face over the last year or so, smoothed out, as if the worries and stress had never happened. As if the losses and misery had been blown away and all that remained was peace. Taking a sip from his beer Rodney gagged. Warm beer was not an enjoyable experience. Swinging his legs in, he rolled onto all fours, about to rise. It was then that he saw Sheppard's black band lying on the pier next to its owner. Rodney hesitated. He was desperate to examine it, to touch the thing his friend cherished, but not at the expense of John's fiercely protected privacy. He'd never know, McKay justified as he grabbed it, held it tight and went for a beer.
With his cold one, he slid down next to Teyla, who was fussing with Torren. He rolled the band over in his hand. He always suspected that it was a reminder of all the men Sheppard had served with, who'd lost their lives despite his best efforts to save them. He found it hard to disguise his shock at what was sewn, meticulously, onto the inside of the band.
In careful, dirty white thread is said, 'you owe God:' followed by hundreds and hundreds of individual stitches all in different colours, obviously sewn in over a long period of time. Some were close together, evidently in groups. Some alone, a single strand of blue or yellow in a sea of notches. One group of stitches caught Rodney's eye and he counted them. 64. 64 lives taken in one day, sewn in the same green thread by a gentle hand. Presumably, the colours meant something to Sheppard. Other stitches were less straight; less precise… these were usually the individual ones. An image flashed through Rodney's mind of John, his friend, sitting alone on his bed, visibly upset, sewing a fresh death onto his debt. Rodney wondered who these people were, if he had known them too. If he had helped take their life.
McKay looked over at the sleeping man with new eyes. Sheppard had never really shown any remorse for his kills -just doing his job- he always brushed them off as if they meant nothing to him. The band in Rodney's hand said differently. It spoke of a deep regret, a desire to atone and a level of guilt the likes of which were unfathomable to McKay. This band wasn't, as he'd always thought, a means of remembrance, a way to pay respect to the dead. It was a torture device.
Now, Rodney imagined John waking from nightmares, where the dead taunt him. The far off mistily look in Sheppard's eyes at morning coffee made sense now. McKay had always thought John had been up late, working or training. Now he sees that John looks half dead at breakfast because he is. The willingness to die for someone else makes sense too. What better way to atone? To die for another, to sacrifice everything for someone else.
Without hesitation Rodney gets out his notebook and scribbles something. Ronon and Teyla give him curious glances; they know the band is important to Sheppard. He walks back to where John is still sleeping lightly and puts the note in his pocket. The band Rodney keeps. As he walks off toward his lab, Teyla calls him, "Rodney? Shouldn't you put that back?" she indicates the band, in its new place on McKay's wrist.
"No, trust me."
When Sheppard wakes, McKay is gone, Teyla and Ronon are packing up their stuff and the sun is setting behind them. He stretches, notices his missing band and reaches inside his pocket for it. Instead of the warm, familiar fabric, he pulls out a note. There's no signature but John would know Rodney's scrawl anywhere.
Teyla watches his face as he reads; shock, fear, relief, love. She knows not what McKay has done, but she's glad he has. When John walks off the pier his shoulders don't slump. His head is held high. It's as if a great weight has been lifted. Smiling, she returns to tending to Torren and Ronon shrugs.
The next morning when Sheppard joins his team for breakfast he looks rested. Truly, bone-deep rested. He reserves a special smile for Rodney, who is still wearing the black band.
"Thank you, Rodney", John whispers over coffee.
"Think nothing of it. But you should know, I can't sew so you'll have to help me if another is needed."
"Rodney, I would love to help you", the strange, revealing, vulnerable, special smile returns with a squeeze on McKay's outstretched arm.
The note, kept in the upper left pocket of John's shirt, over his heart, reads simply:
"Your sins are my sins; I shall bear them all."