Fear of the Dark by AndromedaMarine

"Did you know when I was a kid I hated dark, enclosed spaces? Especially when it's long and drawn out."

"What about that Jumper that sank a few years ago? Does that count?"

He paused. His voice quiet: "Especially when I'm alone. Like..."

"Yeah, I get it."

"John, this is stuff I should be telling Heightmeyer's replacement. I still...you know."

The colonel nodded. "But you don't trust Kate's replacement. I've known you for what, six years? My point is that you're not alone. Never have been, never will be. Not really."

Rodney pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "Don't you get it, John? It feels like I'm not me. Like everything she changed about me is gone with...with her."

John looked at his best friend through serious, focused eyes. "Oh, I get it, Rodney," he said softly. "I went through the exact same thing with losing Elizabeth."

The astrophysicist sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry."

"The wound has healed some, but sometimes I still wake up expecting to feel her next to me. And I have to accept all over that I won't see her again. I know how hard it is."

"But a week isn't two years. The wound is still too fresh to comprehend..." Rodney spoke in a broken voice. "Too hard to...to accept."

John thanked whoever up there that the city was quiet enough for him to hear Dr. McKay's soft, distraught admission. "I thought of Jennifer as a sister, Rodney."

The scientist turned to face the wall of John's quarters. He hit his fist against the cold, unyielding metal, angry with himself. "When she came here, I wasn't scared of the dark anymore, of the darkness of life in Pegasus. John..."

"Go on, Rodney." Anguish pierced his words.

"Now she's not here and I don't know how to handle that. I'm scared of the dark again."

Silence stretched through the small room. John, unmoving at the foot of his bed, felt a familiar stab of severe agony. The distant sound of waves against the piers drifted through the quiet, and a feeling of suffocating pain coursed through Rodney's chest. Thrice in three years both had lost incredible friends – soul mates among them. Both had lost Carson.

"What do I do, John? How did you deal with Beth's death?"

John blinked tears out of his eyes. "Much like how you're dealing. Seclusion from most of the base, seeking out a single willing and helpful listener. I barely spoke to anyone not out of necessity for a few months. Irrational hope for her survival in some way put off the grieving. But you need to talk to me about the hard stuff. You know, Heightmeyer saw me cry for Beth. Teyla too." He let the quiet engulf them again. "You were closer to Jen than Beth." A statement, not a question. Rodney recognized it as such.

"But I knew Beth longer. And that's part of what's making me hate myself. For missing Jen more than missing Beth."

"If it makes you feel any better I would miss you more than anyone on this base if you died."

Rodney allowed himself to snort once. "I have a hard time believing you would miss me over Teyla."

John frowned. "You're the brother I look out for, play pranks on, and am genuinely happy for when I see you getting something out of life, Jennifer included. Teyla's the big sister who beats me up in a bantos match and whose Spidey sense tells us when the Wraith are nearby. She's more a good friend than anything else. I think of you as family. Doesn't that mean something?"

Rodney didn't answer. John saw him take in a deep breath, his hunched shoulders rising up with the air that entered his lungs.

"Did your sense of family disappear with her?" The question is blunt, but John senses that bluntness is the only thing that will get through to McKay. John has never seen him more withdrawn.

McKay turns around and glares at the colonel. "My sense of family was her. Everything was her. You don't get it! And I don't think you ever will." He lifts his right hand and rubs the ring finger of his left.

It dawns on John. He's suddenly in disbelief. He stands, crossing his arms tightly in front of his chest. "Hold on, Rodney, were you going to propose to her?"

Rodney stiffens and jerks his head. "I did propose to her. Three months ago. The wedding was supposed to be in the Gateroom two months from now, on April 17th."

John rubs two hands over his watering eyes and through his messy hair. "God, Rodney... Why didn't you tell anyone?"

"The announcement... Jennifer wanted to keep it quiet for a few months. We were going to tell everyone yesterday. At least...it was supposed to be yesterday." His voice barely makes it to the colonel's ears.

Two renegade tears make it down John's cheeks and into the stubble on his chin. I didn't even get to ask Elizabeth to marry me, John thinks miserably. The tightness in his chest becomes worse. "I'm sorry."

Rodney doesn't seem to hear him. "You were gonna be best man," the astrophysicist reveals, pressing his back against the cold wall and sinking down so he is in the fetal position. "Jen was gonna ask Teyla to be maid of honor. But I suppose it would be best if nobody but us knew this. I don't want something this personal to become public."

John doesn't know what to say in response. Best man? he thinks, and it pokes a little hole in his heart. I mean that much to Rodney? "Would you have told me all this a few hours ago?" John asks cautiously, not wanting to drive Rodney back into the withdrawal out of which it had taken him so long to coax.

The astrophysicist crosses John's room to the darkest place against the wall and shrinks out of sight. "I can't breathe," he struggles to say.

John goes to him quickly, crouching down in front of his friend. "Exactly how much of yourself did you lose last week?"

Rodney can barely look John in the eye. "Too much," he breathes. "Before her I never really knew what it was like to be in love. And now I won't ever get to fall in love again."

At least he's talking. He wasn't talking four hours ago, when I found him in the corner of Janus's lab. It took me until now to finally get through that shell of his. God, he really did love her. I hate this. John's mind held its own running narrative as John himself put a comforting hand on the scientist's shoulder. He changed the timeline once to save Jennifer. But the Hoffan drug didn't kill her this time... This...this was different.

"It's my fault."

John almost didn't hear him. His eyes grew wide. "Why?"

"I let her wade in too far. I should have kept her on the shore. She never took swimming lessons."

"Rodney –"

He lifted a dangerous finger. "No. Don't. This is my catharsis, Sheppard." He took in a deep breath, looking over John's shoulder. "If I'd mapped the floor first I'd have seen the drop off. And because it was something so TRIVIAL as a DROWNING, John, it's so much worse! I could have saved her."

Before John could defend himself Rodney pushed upwards, knocking the colonel down. Rodney stormed to the door and didn't look back.

John slid so his back connected with the wall, rubbing his chin and knowing that a bruise was developing on his heart.