The Fourteenth of Green

~3200 words :: Stargate: Atlantis :: John/Rodney :: 9/12/09
It has been three weeks. Rodney marks another line on the wall. These ones are in red, a clean break to mark the days without John.

Author commentary


It has been three weeks. Rodney marks another line on the wall. These ones are in red, a clean break to mark the days without John.

He shuts off the lights and the computer and lets his eyes adjust to the darkness. There’s no moon tonight, or if there is, it’s hidden behind the clouds. The perpetual cloud cover would brighten the sky in the Angels, but out here there’s not enough light pollution to reflect back.

His back makes a couple satisfying pops as he stretches. His neck cracks easily, too, as do his knuckles. No wonder, considering he’s been hunched over his desk all day, barely moving. It’s well past dark now and he thinks the last time he got up the sun was still high.

He should have quit hours ago, or at least switched the lights to the back-up generator. He may have the Inland Sea between him and the Angels, but that doesn’t mean he’s safe out here. At the very least, he’s let himself in for another lecture from Ronon.

Still, it’s hard to quit, even for a few hours. He always works himself hard when he’s close to a breakthrough, and he’s close now, so close he can taste it.

He can also taste bile, and now that he’s no longer focused on his project, he can feel his stomach trying to eat itself. He scarfs down a can of something without tasting it, then showers quickly, not bothering to heat the water.

His mind is still racing when he lies down, going over and over the day’s work, running simulations of tomorrow’s. By the time sleep finally comes, the sky is starting to lighten, but he hauls himself up not long after dawn anyway.

He has good light in the mornings if he moves everything over in front of the wide windows on the east side of the room. He can’t afford to waste it. Ronon’s good at line-running, but nothing’s guaranteed, and the more power Rodney uses, the more likely he is to get caught.

He makes a pot of coffee on the ancient camp stove and rounds out his breakfast with a handful of antacids.

***

Two weeks later the hoped-for breakthrough is still nowhere in sight. He’s gone over every last inch of the wiring a thousand times and there just doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. Which is impossible, of course. If there were really nothing wrong, it would be working. He doesn’t want to consider the alternative, that it’s nothing in the wires or chips or connectors, but in the organic matter itself.

He reaches behind his ear to unplug the cord from his jack, then rests his elbows on the desk, grinding his thumbs into his temples as if he could dig the headache out. It’s afternoon now and starting to get dim. His head appreciates the lack of glaring sun, but he needs the lights on if he wants to get anything done. He’ll take some pills to dull the throbbing, maybe some antacids while he’s at it.

He’s just about to get up and close the curtains when his screen beeps at him. He knows it’s Teyla without looking up; no one but Teyla ever calls anymore.

He washes down a handful of painkillers and antacids with lukewarm coffee and taps the screen.

“Teyla,” he says curtly. “I am extremely busy right now, as I’m sure you can see.”

Her eyes widen as she looks him over. He knows he must look horrible. His clothes are hanging off him and he can’t remember the last time he showered. The corners of her mouth turn down and she says, “I just wanted to make sure you’re all right.” She hesitates, then adds, “Why don’t you come back to the city? Whatever it is you’re working on, I’m sure we can get you set up here…”

“Impossible! They’re too strict, too many regulations. You know getting out of the Angels is the only way to escape government interference, and besides, there’s Wraith to worry about, too.”

“That’s over, Rodney. It’s been over a year since the last outbreak…”

“Right, because those outbreak reports were totally trustworthy last time. Tips to stay healthy, my ass.” He sighs and rubs his temples again. “Please, Teyla, just let it go.”

She raises her arm slightly, then lets it fall, and for a moment his resolve wavers. He could abandon all this. He could go back and Teyla would hold him and say it’s all right.

“I know you’re hurting, Rodney. I know you miss him. We all do, but you’re–”

“You don’t know anything! I don’t want platitudes about time and healing.” He balls his fists, his nails digging into his palms. “Time does not fucking heal anything. Time cannot make this right. I have to–”

“Okay,” she says. “Okay, Rodney, it’s all right.” She keeps saying that–It’s okay. It’s all right.–until he stops shaking.

After a long time, she says, “I wish you’d let me come out there. I know you see Ronon, but he won’t tell me anything.”

He straightens. “I have employed Ronon in a professional capacity. I should hope he can be trusted not to divulge a client’s whereabouts.” And Ronon doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t say.

“We’re your friends.”

“I know.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.”

There’s nothing to say after that but goodbye. Rodney makes promises he knows he won’t keep about calling her and maybe even coming to visit. They both know he’ll never go back to the Angels.

***

After nine weeks and two days, he finally finds the problem. He zooms in to get a better look. It’s just a small patch, not even visible to the naked eye yet, but it’s obviously spreading. Some sort of cellular decomposition, it looks like, turning the soft, greyish cortex to mush. He notices then how the connectors are ever-so-slightly pulling away from the surrounding healthy tissue, which doesn’t look so healthy itself anymore.

“No,” he says. “No. Nonononono.”

He yanks the cord out of his jack, slaps the screen to power down, and puts his head in his hands.

He stays at his desk, but doesn’t get any more work done the rest of the day.

***

The next day he’s back at his desk bright and early. He will not let this break him. If he has to discard the entire interface and build a new neural network from scratch, he will.

In fact, he should have done so in the beginning. Maybe it would have prevented all these false starts.

He works late night after night, not caring how much power he uses. He has a plan now, a goal. He jacks in and downloads his memories, spends hours sifting through and tagging anything that looks like it could be used to build the new network. It would be better if he had more than just the one source, but he can’t afford to tell anyone about this, not even Ronon and Teyla.

Especially not Ronon and Teyla.

***

Ronon shows up less than a week later, the sound of his motorcycle sending Rodney scrambling to hide anything incriminatory. After powering down and making sure everything is in order, he goes out to meet him. He expects a lecture, but Ronon takes one look at him and shakes his head. “Working yourself to death’s not going to change anything, you know.”

Rodney almost says of course it is, but catches himself just in time. “I’m in the middle of a very important project,” he huffs. “And I’m not working myself to death.”

“Uh-huh.” Ronon looks at him skeptically and starts unpacking his saddlebags. “When was the last time you ate?”

“Yester…day?” Rodney says, taking a stack of canned goods and instant meals from Ronon.

“And I know you haven’t been sleeping, ’cause I’ve been juggling lines like crazy trying to hide all the juice you’ve been using.”

“If you can’t handle it, I can find another runner.”

Ronon snorts. “And find yourself hauled back to the Angels for illegal energy usage in less than a week.”

He stays the night and most of the next day and Rodney doesn’t even mind the interruption.

***

Rodney stands back and looks at the colors marching left to right across the wall, starting with black and all the way through the rainbow. There are more red lines than any other color, one hundred and seventy-four in neat sets of seven, and just a handful of brown at the end.

John sits on the sofa behind him, still dull-eyed and cryo-cold, shivering despite the blanket around his shoulders and mug of coffee in his hands. He doesn’t say anything. He hasn’t said anything all week.

Rodney draws a line diagonally across the six brown lines, and hopes tomorrow will be the day John responds to him.


Black, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange. John stares at the hash marks on the wall and frowns. “What are these for again?”

“That’s how I keep track of my projects,” Rodney says, not looking up from the screen.

John traces the most recent lines with his fingertip. Whatever Rodney used to draw them doesn’t rub off easily. “There’s only four orange ones.”

“That’s because I started this project four days ago,” Rodney says in that trying-to-be-patient impatient tone John’s already grown familiar with.

John pads across the room and sits down on the edge of Rodney’s desk. “Four days is the farthest back I can remember.”

Rodney looks up at him. “And?”

“I don’t know.” John shrugs. “I thought. It seemed…”

He doesn’t like the way the lines make him feel, like there’s something just out of reach, but every time he tries to remember anything, anything at all before waking up in Rodney’s bed four days ago, it just slips away.

He shrugs again and looks down at his hands. “Never mind.”

“Hey.” Rodney grabs his wrist, runs his thumb under John’s cuff. “I’m sorry. I’m just stressed out about this project.”

John makes himself smile. He slides to the floor and puts a hand on Rodney’s knee. He says, “I know just the thing for stress.”

***

Thirty-four black, ninety-nine purple, forty-seven blue, thirteen green. If there’s a pattern to the lines, John can’t figure it out. Green is now, he knows that. Rodney makes a new line every night and John watches him, feeling anxious without knowing why.

His memory is more holes than not, but he doesn’t remember keeping track of time like this. He doesn’t remember there being a fourteenth of Green, but that’s what today is.

“Shit,” Rodney says, and then John hears it, too: a rumble outside like something he should remember.

Rodney grabs his arm, muttering, “Get up, get up. Come on,” and John stumbles after him into the bedroom.

“What–”

“Just stay in here until Ronon’s gone.” He gives John a quick kiss. “Please.”

“I…okay.”

He wonders if Rodney and this Ronon guy are lovers, if that’s why he has to hide. He doesn’t think so, but he doesn’t know why he thinks that.

He sits cross-legged on the bed, scratching idly at the scar along his hairline. Their voices are too low to make out any words. After a while, he hears footsteps outside the window and then singing. He pulls the curtain open just enough to peer out into the courtyard, where a man who must be Ronon is standing before the odd pile of stones Rodney won’t talk about.

The songs are old, real old. Twentieth-century old, a part of his brain supplies, though he doesn’t know when that was or what century it is now. He doesn’t know these songs about the man in black and a ring of fire, but his chest aches listening to them.

***

John watches as Rodney draws another line on the wall. “Still purple?”

“Hmm?”

“I thought you’d switch to black again today.”

Rodney frowns. “Why would you think that?”

“There’s thirty-four black and thirty-four purple. Well, thirty-five now. So I thought…”

“Oh. Oh, no, it doesn’t work like that,” Rodney says, powering down for the night. The only light is the faint glow from the bedroom down the hall. Or the room they use for a bedroom, anyway. John doesn’t think that’s what it was originally intended for.

He follows Rodney down the hall. “Then how does it work?”

“It’s…to keep track of my projects.”

Rodney isn’t a very convincing liar, but John doesn’t have the energy to pursue it any further. His head is throbbing again and he just wants to lie down.

He’s already half-asleep when Rodney slips into bed and presses up behind him. Rodney kisses his shoulder and the back of his neck, carefully avoiding the port at the base of his skull. He slides a hand into John’s boxers and wraps his fingers around his dick.

This Rodney is so different from the one who snaps at him for every question he asks, who sits in front of a screen for hours as if he’s forgotten John even exists. John’s head is killing him and he just wants to sleep, but this is the only time he doesn’t feel like he’s getting in the way of Rodney’s work, whatever it is.

He presses back against Rodney’s hard-on and tries to sound like he’s enjoying it.


“Though the panic over the so-called Wraith virus reached a new high yesterday with country-wide riots,” the newscaster says brightly, “we want to remind our viewers that there have only been thirty-one reported cases here in the Angels. For tips on how to stay healthy–”

“‘Reported’ being the key word there.” Rodney snorts and shuts off the TV.

“Hey, I was watching for the tips to stay healthy!” John makes a half-hearted grab for the remote.

“Don’t,” Rodney says, pushing himself up from the sofa. “Just…don’t. It’s not funny.”

“What else am I supposed to do?”

Rodney wanders into the kitchen. “You want something to eat?”

“Food doesn’t solve everything, you know.”

John is slow to join him. His shuffling footsteps sound like an old man’s. Rodney keeps his head in the cupboard, staring blankly at the shelves.

“Don’t ignore me, damn it!”

“I’m not. Ignoring you, I just.” Rodney turns around, leans back against the counter and looks down at the floor. “I talked to Carson earlier. We’ll get this fixed.”

“How?” John grips Rodney’s face in his hands. His skin is cold like ice. Like… “Look at me.”

John’s skin is grey-white, his eyes sunken and shadowed. He is still surprisingly strong.

***

He is not as strong when Ronon and Teyla come to see them off. He sits in the front seat of the old car, slumped against the passenger door.

They load everything in the back seat and fill up the trunk. They don’t need a lot. Carson promised the facility would be fully stocked and in working order, and Ronon’s already been out there once to make sure the lines are secure.

“I’ll be out there in a week to rerun the lines.” Ronon shuts the trunk and turns to look at Rodney. “If you still need me.”

“I’ll need you,” Rodney says, but Ronon just looks at him sadly and hugs him again.

“Take care of him.” He lets go, but leaves a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself.”

They said their goodbyes inside, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Teyla reaches in the car window and hugs John awkwardly. Rodney can hear her whisper, “Goodbye, John,” and John mumble something in reply.

“We’d better get going…” Rodney says, walking around to the driver’s side. “It’s a long drive.”

Teyla hugs him one last time. She says, “You don’t have to do this,” and he leans into her. It would be so easy to give in. “You can let him die here, with friends.”

“No. No, he’s not going to die.” He pulls back from her, wraps his arms around himself tightly. “I can fix this.”

***

The drive is longer than he thought, or maybe it just feels longer. He’s never driven a manual before and all the little things he has to remember to do make him snappish and irritable. He wants to be able to program in their destination and sit back, to talk to John or just watch him while he sleeps, but navigation systems won’t accept destinations outside of the city. To them, to most people, to Rodney yesterday, the area past the Inland Sea might as well not exist.

So he makes do with the manual, keeps his hands on the wheel and follows the tunnel out into the grey-black night. The stereo plays the old music John loves.

They stop once at an abandoned rest area and Rodney leaves the car running and the headlights on so they’re not totally in the dark. He helps John out of the car, holds him upright as he pisses and then as he hunches over the sink retching blood and bile.

He stops again an hour later, pulls over to the side of the road and puts his head down on the wheel. He lets the music play, though there’s no one left to appreciate it.

After a while, he takes a deep breath, lets it out shakily. He calls Carson and skips over hello for, “How long do I have?”

“Rodney?”

“Yes, it’s Rodney. How long do I–” There’s a lump in his throat. “After he. I’m not there yet, and he.”

“Oh,” Carson says softly. “Oh, Rodney, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t. I knew this was. I knew, but I…” He takes another deep breath. “I just want to know if it’s still possible.”

“The longer you wait, the more chance there is of damage to the tissue you want to save, but it can still be done.”

Rodney closes his eyes. “That’s all I needed to know.”

“I know you don’t have much experience with applied cybernetics–”

“I know the theory,” Rodney snaps. “The machines will take care of the rest. You promised that.”

“I did,” Carson says calmly. “I was just going to ask if you wanted me to come out there.”

Rodney hesitates, then says, “No. No, I need to do this on my own.”

***

He knows he’s at the right place because it’s the only building with lights on for what must be miles. He keys in the code Carson gave him, then hefts John out of the car, surprised at how heavy he feels. The cryo room is all the way in the back and Rodney barely makes it.

After making sure everything is working properly, he wanders through the facility until he finds a lounge area with a sofa and a couple of desks. He sits down on the sofa and stares at the blank white wall across from him.

Eventually he gets up and rummages through the desk drawers until he finds a marker. He draws a black line on the wall.

He can fix this.