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Title: One Conversation That Never Happened (Except For The Part Where It Did)
Author: Chrissy
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine and I am not profitting in any way.
Note: For sga_flashfic's Exhaustion challenge.  One line has been edited from the original of this fic, thanks to comments from laceymcbain and lishel_fracrium.

“You know, we’re not going to be back to Atlantis for awhile. You can lay down in the back.”

It is the longest sentence that’s been spoken in at least the past half-hour, and it’s a bit strange; the words almost echo in the near-silence broken only by the soft beeping of Zelenka monitoring the shield towards the back of the jumper. Rodney shifts position. “I’m fine.”

John keeps staring ahead out the front screen of the jumper, but he shrugs slightly. He decides not to comment on Rodney’s feet up on the seat, figuring that just this once it can be excused. Besides, John thinks, it kinda completes the utterly ridiculous look Rodney has going on. He’s wearing clean, dry clothes now, but they’re the too-big Marine sweats stored in the back of the jumper. He has a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, over his body; the shivering has stopped but he’s still trying to keep all the heat around him.

He looks like the overgrown version of a kid curled up in front of the fire, waiting for Santa, and as much as John really wants to mock him for that look, he knows that were a cup of hot chocolate available, he’d give it to Rodney in a heartbeat.

John’s hands tighten on the jumper controls as he sees Rodney’s head fall to the side, and he doesn’t even try to tell himself that the hope is something merciful, that he wants Rodney to sleep for his own good. No, John is profoundly uncomfortable here. He has, of course, dealt with people who have narrowly escaped death; hell, he’s dealt with Rodney’s near death experiences before as well. But this is different somehow, this is tense and miserable, and he doesn’t think it’s just about the loss of Griffin. John, forcibly optimistic, thinks this will be better as soon as they’re out of the jumper, when Rodney can get back to Atlantis and know he’s safe again, but for now, this proximity, knowing that Rodney is there and awake and that theoretically they could be breaking this silence between them, it’s maddening and he hates it and if Rodney would just SLEEP then they could get back to Atlantis without either of them going crazy.

But Rodney’s head jerks back up, eyes wide in that ‘What, what I’m not asleep!’ look of those repeatedly nodding off on car rides, and John can barely repress his sigh of frustration. He tries beaming thought rays at McKay (“I know you’re tired, you need to rest, I don’t mind, you’ve got the blanket already, just do it!”), he tries relaxing his own presence in an attempt to lure Rodney into a sense of sleep-related security, but nothing works. Rodney’s head just keeps drooping and snapping back up, something in him not letting him sleep for good.

Finally, John gets desperate. “Rodney.”

“Mm?” Sounding half-asleep, drained, without energy. John remembers swimming as a kid, coming out of the water feeling like someone had attached sandbags to his limbs, and he thinks that Rodney must feel that way now, his body looking like it’s being pulled down to puddle in the chair.

John shakes his head, trying to clear it of those thoughts. “I’ve been flying these things for awhile now. I don’t need your supervision to get us home. C’mon, just go lay down.”

Rodney, with what looks like a Herculean effort, manages to straighten himself slightly. “My, aren’t we touchy? For your information, I prefer it up here. I do not need to lie down like…like a sulky child who needs a nap.”

John snorts. “Oh, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate metaphor for your usual behavior.” The banter is comfortable for a moment, but there’s still that sense of tension lurking underneath it, so he softens his voice as much as he can and says “It wasn’t a criticism. You’ve had a pretty long day and I thought you might like some sleep before we get back to Atlantis and they interrogate you about what happened.”

There is no response to that, and John tries not to ponder what it means when Rodney is left without a biting comeback. Instead, he decides then and there to give up. It can’t take that long to get back to Atlantis; he can ride out the tension. It’s not worth fighting anymore.

Of course, that is when Rodney also gives in. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, seemingly apropos of nothing.

John turns his head slightly to look at him. “For what? You’re the one who’s going to be falling asleep during the debriefing.”

Rodney shakes his head. “Not that. For…” His voice is quiet, strained, and John gets the feeling that Rodney is much, much more tired than he realized. “I didn’t trust you. I was so mad at you for not trusting me after…” He is quiet for a moment. There is no need to say what after. “I was just so frustrated because I wanted your trust back, I hated that you didn’t trust me, and then the enzyme and everything and I just hated it, because if you don’t have faith in what I can do then what good am I, and then…” There is a deep breath, and John opens his mouth to start talking but realizes he has no idea what to say and then McKay’s talking again, “And then it got right down to it and I didn’t trust you.”

John feels like he’s still stuck back before Rodney started talking and this has all gone past him way, way too quickly. “What do you mean?”

Rodney is very determinedly not looking at him. “I was in that stupid jumper and trying so hard to find my way out, get to the surface, do something because I was so sure you weren’t coming.”

“You thought we wouldn’t try to find you?” This is not what Sheppard was expecting; this is delusion beyond even Rodney.

“No no no.” There is a hint of the usual impatience, the frustration that others are not telepathic and cannot automatically follow what’s in Rodney’s brain. “I knew you’d try, I just didn’t think you could do it. I didn’t think you could find me.” The rest comes out in one big gust of air. “I was so pissed off that you didn’t trust in my abilities and then I went and did the same to you and for that I am sorry.”

John is quiet for a moment. This is not the usual ‘McKay leaves everyone in his mental dust’ sort of conversation. No, this is something where John knows the words but isn’t quite sure he understands what they mean together, because this is not the way he and Rodney talk to each other, this is treading into the deep end of the emotional waters, and deep down inside John thinks he kinda likes Rodney, might actually call him a friend, but this is new and frankly uncomfortable. Now he turns his head entirely, gets a good look at Rodney, and sees his eyes are glazed over, his body slumping. He is exhausted. He is, perhaps, not the usual Rodney McKay. John takes a moment to collect himself, then, as the culmination of all his deep thoughts, says “Slow down.”

Rodney sighs loudly. “I’m sorry, does your military brain need more time to process that many words?” The retort seems almost automatic, so John doesn’t hold it against him.

John tries again, this time a little more sure of himself. “McKay, you do realize you were trapped under water, out of contact, and it was really quite reasonable for you to try to get yourself out of that situation?”

“But—“ Rodney says, but now it is John’s turn to cut him off.

“No, you’re going to listen to me. It doesn’t matter, okay? We got you. It doesn’t matter if you thought we would or not because we did, and maybe this will be…a lesson or something for next time. I don’t know. Okay?”

Rodney still looks unhappy, but he repeats the word quietly. “Okay.”

“Good.” John is almost content to leave it at that, almost, but there is a part of him saying that it would only be proper to be merciful to the guy who almost died and was sorta a friend, so he adds “By the way?” Rodney doesn’t respond with more than a look. “I was pissed that day, okay? I was pissed at you and pissed at myself for letting it go that far and pissed at Caldwell for showing up to save the day, AGAIN, so I may have been…a bit harsh.”

John chooses to believe the light in Rodney’s eyes, the hopeful tone in his voice as he says “Oh?” is all due to the exhaustion.

“Yeah.” John tries to choose his words carefully. “I trust you, okay? If I didn’t trust you, you wouldn’t still be on my team. You got that?”

“I got that.” It’s only a whisper, tired and slow, but it’s the happiest he’s heard Rodney in awhile and John has to smile. “So, with that settled…the conversation never happened, right?”

John is more than a little relieved. “What conversation?”

Rodney smiles softly and within minutes he is out for real. An embarrassing impulse causes John to lean over and make sure the blanket is tucked safely around Rodney; wouldn’t want him getting cold again after all that work.

As John straightens back up, he is overwhelmed by a gigantic yawn. He realizes how long of a day it’s been for him, too, and suddenly he can’t wait to be back in Atlantis and sleep, because he is suddenly exhausted.