John should have left for the debrief a good five minutes before. He should have been walking through the hall with his nine-mil strapped to his thigh instead of sitting at his desk with the pieces of the Baretta spread before him and the smell of gun oil slicking the air. He could try and tell himself that the reason he wasn’t rushing to finish up and leave was that these things never started on time, that McKay was always late anyway, so why hurry up just to wait for the man?
Distractions. Rodney was easily distracted… by the lab, by food, by scantly clad alien women. And John had evidently decided that he could use a distraction, himself. Because he couldn’t blame McKay for the fact that he hadn’t redressed in his expedition uniform after his shower, that he’d instead pulled on his sweats and pulled out his cleaning kit and decided right then and there that his gun needed cleaning and by God, that’s what he was going to do.
Rod, patches, oil. He methodically pulled each from the case then set to work disassembling the gun. Disassembling. There was a lot more to be disassembled than the gun, just as there was a lot more to be distracted from than a debrief. You would think running into Lucius would be just about the worst thing that could happen in one day. Ends up, that was the fucking highlight. Genii, a bomb, his team captured, Lucius babbling, Kolya threatening…
Kolya. That son of a bitch. He should have killed that bastard when… Well, that wasn’t a regret that would come again. Not after today. Not after that single shot. He eyed the magazine sitting off to the side even as he jammed the rod down the barrel to wipe it clean. Wipe it clean like a slate. A clean slate. Now that would be worth having. And if he could just finish this task he had set for himself, clean away the residue of that single bullet that had traveled down the chamber and into Kolya’s chest, John would maybe, just maybe, be able to put the hostility and hate and hurt of that piece of shit rivalry behind him.
He’d ended up in a blood feud with the Genii commander by doing his job. He’d been protecting the city, protecting his friends, and, nothing personal, but when you came into his home and threatened his family, John Sheppard had a tendency to shoot your ass. That bullet evidently hadn’t taken, and the next one on the Brotherhood planet he never fired, and the next one with the Wraith he was never given the chance shoot. But the one today had all three and Kolya was dead as a result.
John should have felt… what? Happy? Relieved? Satisfied? Because he didn’t feel any of those things. He felt numb. Numb and hollow and in need of disassembling and a thorough cleaning himself. He deserved more. After everything they had been through because of Kolya, he deserved more.
The ring at his door came sooner than expected and John realized he’d evidently managed to distract himself better than he thought he could. He hadn’t even heard them try to call him on the radio before Elizabeth came to look for him. He had no doubt that’s who was outside. She thought she understood. After all, Kolya had held a gun to her head, threatened to kill her during the failed attempt to take Atlantis, had nearly managed to take her through the gate. She feared and loathed the man, John was sure of it. And maybe she was as conflicted about the whole mess as much as John was. But she couldn’t understand; as much as she could empathize, she couldn’t know what it was like or why.
When he didn’t answer, the door opened on its own and instead of Weir, Rodney’s head popped in. “Sheppard? Oh, hey, there you are.”
“What are you doing here?” John asked in surprise.
“I was going to ask you the same thing. The debrief was supposed to start almost fifteen minutes ago.” When Sheppard just turned back to cleaning his gun, Rodney stepped the rest of the way into the room and let the door slide shut behind him. “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”
John looked down the barrel to assess his work. Thorough. He’d give himself that this time around. Damn thorough. “Didn’t really feel much up to explaining myself. Weir wouldn’t let me off the hook with a simple, I shot and killed Kolya, end of story. She’d want to examine it from all directions, take me aside at the end and suggest that maybe I should go and stop by Heightmeyer’s office.”
“Do you think, maybe, you should?” McKay sat on the edge of the bed nearest the desk, his eyes flicking meaningfully toward the gun pieces on the table.
“No, I don’t.” He moved to the slide, wiping it down briskly. “I don’t need to talk about it.” What was there to talk about when I did it, he added silently.
Rodney glanced around the room awkwardly then changed the topic. “I wish Lucius had felt the same way. I don’t think he could stop talking even if his life depended on it… which it actually did today.”
“He had the personal shield,” Sheppard shrugged in explanation.
“What I can’t figure out is how he was able to eat and drink with that thing on. I mean, I couldn’t when I was wearing the one. And it’s not like he could turn it off and on by himself since he doesn’t have the gene.”
John grinned then, real and genuine, for the first time all day. “That’s really bugging the hell out of you, isn’t it?”
“Well, I could have died of dehydration when I put it on and that hack was able to figure out how to keep that from happening. I mean, we’re talking about me here, Rodney McKay, the foremost expert on Ancient technology pretty much anywhere, compared to a con artist who has to steal our mission reports to have something to talk about with the wenches at Disney’s new Ye Olden Middle Ages Strip Club.”
“That town did make me wonder when they had opened a Hooter’s in colonial Williamsburg.”
“It hardly fair seems fair that he gets the women straight off the St. Pauli Girl labels and the unfettered use of the personal shield.”
“You really don’t get it?” John asked in surprise before picking up the next piece of his gun and starting in on it. “He wasn’t scared, Rodney.”
“I wasn’t scared.” McKay sat a little straighter and his chin rose in defiance of Sheppard’s conclusion.
“No, you were terrified, and for good reason. Lucius, for all his talk and bravado, has really never had much of a reason to be scared. Maybe after today he has, but I doubt he’s smart enough to learn from his mistakes. You, on the other hand, are so smart you can extrapolate disaster out of thin air.”
“Well, for all my ingenuity at seeing the potential for imminent death, it hasn’t stopped me from walking through the gate.” It was part defense, part pride, and part what the hell am I thinking?
“No, it hasn’t,” John agreed with the same combination of emotions.
Rodney flushed slightly at the implied compliment. “Oh, well, as long as you see who’s the better man between me and Lucius.”
Wry eyebrows rose as John started to reassemble the gun. “Well, Lucius didn’t have me clean his room while I was under the influence of mind-controlling drugs.”
The flush reddened in embarrassment. “Technically I didn’t tell you to clean my room. You asked how you could help and that was one of several items on the list.”
“All of which I did, or would have done if Elizabeth hadn’t stopped you.”
McKay ignored the indignation in John’s voice and grimaced at the lost opportunity. “Yeah, that’s really too bad considering I was coming up with some rather interesting stuff to try the next go around.”
“So sorry to disappoint you, McKay.” Hazel eyes rolled before they returned to the task of putting the gun back together.
“Actually, I think you might have enjoyed a few of them.” Hand flew to break up his lingering thoughts on the matter. “But that’s neither here nor there.”
“Given that thought, I’m surprised Elizabeth trusted you enough to send you down here and find me.”
“Oh, she didn’t send me,” he corrected quickly. “I cut her off before she could reach the door.”
“And just why did you do that?”
“Why are you cleaning your gun?” Rodney deflected.
“It needed it. I fired it. When you discharge your weapon it needs to be cleaned.”
“You only fired one bullet, Sheppard.”
“One bullet’s all it took.” It was a simple statement and true and shouldn’t have been so hard to say.
“He deserved more,” Rodney spat. “And entire goddamn clip would have just started to scratch the surface.” John blinked to hear the same thought that he had had earlier come out of McKay. “You deserved more, too. After everything he’s done to you, he got off easy.”
“Dead isn’t easy, Rodney.” He spoke the words softly, in contrast to the sharp click that accompanied putting the slide back in place.
“Neither is thinking it about you.” Rodney was staring at him, blue eyes framed by creases of worry, but they dropped to his knees when John stared back. “I know killing someone can’t be easy, especially when there’s a… history. But you did the right thing, Sheppard. And I’m glad he’s dead.”
“Funny,” McKay observed with a humorless laugh, “you don’t seem very happy about it.”
He finished with the Baretta. All that was left was the clip. Opening a box of ammo, he replaced the single missing round. It only takes one. One bullet did the trick. But in the case of Kolya, it had taken three of something else before John was able to put that son of a bitch down for good.
“You know, Rodney, today was the third time Kolya threatened to kill you. At some point, you have to say enough’s enough. At some point you have to say, no fucking more. At some point you have to say, you’re not taking him away from me.”
John had lived with the threat of people trying to kill him for a while now. In the military, in the combat zone, that was the norm, and John could live with that. What he couldn’t live with was knowing people he cared about were in danger because of him. People like Rodney, especially Rodney, who was next in line for the bullet after him, who knew it, but would always come looking for him.
He’d lost friends and family before, it wasn’t going to happen again if he had any say in the matter, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be McKay.
“Today I said it loud and clear.” He slammed the clip home and gave the scientist, who was sitting with a mystified look on his face, a victorious grin. “There. Good as new.”
But leave it to Rodney to see past the façade of that smile. “Are you sure?” Although, maybe, he was asking if he was sure about something else.
“Close enough,” John assured.
And, for now, it was. Rodney was alive and Kolya wasn’t going to change that. Not now. Not ever. Sometimes it just took a little more time and effort to clean the slate. Sometimes a task wasn’t as easy to complete as cleaning your sidearm. Sometimes it took dirtying that gun in the first place to take care of a chore that had been hanging over your head for a couple of years. And something like that took a hell of a lot more than gun oil and gauze to wipe away the regret of letting it linger like it had.
“I guess, given the circumstances, that’s the best we can hope for, then.” Rodney stood, started to take a step to leave, then hesitated and sat back down. “You were wrong, Sheppard. When you said Kolya had threatened my life three times, you were wrong. It was actually four.”
With a hesitancy John rarely saw in the man, Rodney reached out and splayed his hand across John’s chest in a gentle mimic of the way the Wraith had fed on Sheppard when Kolya had held him captive. He could feel his heart beat against his chest, against McKay’s palm, and feel it catch in his throat when he saw the look in Rodney’s eyes. This time Rodney didn’t feel the need to look away and this time John didn’t feel the need to fight against a touch filled with slow death or flail away from the biting pain. This time it was warmth and comfort and just what he needed. This time it was the more that he deserved.
This time he leaned into the touch and let Rodney wipe him clean.