November 21, 2007

Disclaimer: by request only. Written for Arduinna; able assistance by elynross. Don't archive without permission.


John didn't know he'd put his hand on the thick glass of the observation window until he leaned forward and his chilled, nearly numb fingers slipped. He half-knelt on the low, broad window sill and stared out at the sea, watching one great wave after another rise and crash against the pier in a rushing hiss of grey water and white foam, waiting to see one big enough to break over the top and wash across the metal plating.

He kept thinking the next one would be it, although he had more and more trouble making them out now that the light was fading. The window was grimy with salt-stains, and John rubbed it with his sleeve, only to realize all the dirt was on the outside. He tucked his cold hand underneath his arm instead.

When he heard footsteps, he turned his head, glancing back over his shoulder into the shadows of the room. Not a lot of people came here at this time of day. "Hey, Rodney. You here for the view, too?"

"No, I'm not." Rodney barely slowed down, crossing the room behind John's back, speaking and walking at the same rapid pace. "I'm just going out to check on the grounding station. In case there's something wrong."

"There's nothing wrong." John stood up and turned around, getting a better look at Rodney, who was frowning and tight-mouthed and holding a toolbox in front of himself like an oddly shaped shield. When John stepped forward, Rodney did stop, rather than just walk into him.

"There could be," Rodney said. "There could be something wrong and we just haven't noticed it yet." The dark smudges under his eyes weren't shadows. His shoulders were hunched with more than just the weight of the toolbox.

John shook his head, not precisely in denial, because it was true that something could always be wrong. He just didn't think anything was, not out at the grounding station. "You really wanna go outside in this weather?"

"No," Rodney said, slumping a little, like he'd just confessed to something embarrassing. "I don't like storms. I just keep remembering, and so I think I have to check--"

"Yeah," John said, not wanting to go into detail, "me, too. Let's not, and say we did." He took the toolbox out of Rodney's hands and clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, buddy."

They walked away from the observation window and the view of the raging sea, and deeper into Atlantis. The corridors and open areas were all empty, but there was low-voiced conversation coming from behind one closed door, and soft music from another. No one was outside in the cold and the rain tonight. The city was hushed, but not silenced.

John led the way to his own quarters and guided Rodney inside. He could hear the wind here, too, but the windows faced the other way, the hunkered-down, quiet way; they were out of the storm in this place, as much as they could be, and John lit candles against the thick greying blue of dusk as Rodney turned in an awkward circle in the middle of the floor, watching him.

"But if something goes wrong," Rodney said, more half-heartedly. He didn't try to pick up the toolbox that John had set down over by the wall, although he took one step that way, and two steps the other way.

"Someone will tell you." John pushed Rodney until he sat down on the bed. "It's not like your radio is broken. You wanna play chess?"

Rodney stayed where he was, but his fingers moved, not quite drumming against his legs, which were tense, as if he would stand back up any minute. He looked up at John, brows drawn together, eyes wide, and the soft light made him appear a lot younger, shadowed by uncertainty. Then his mouth tensed into adult lines again. "Yes, why not," he said.

"Because I always beat you," John said, offering the words like a lit match.

"You do not always beat me." Rodney braced his hands on the bed instead, so he could lean forward as John crouched down on the floor to get his chess set out from under a pile of golf magazines. "I admit that we're surprisingly evenly matched, but--"

John sat back on his heels, chessboard balanced between his palms. "Nothing surprising about it," he said. Rodney stared at him. The tightness of Rodney's mouth eased into a small, shocked, delighted smile, warm as a candleflame. John looked down quickly and dragged out a shipping box from Earth, setting the chessboard down on it and turning it into a makeshift table between them. "White or black?"

"I, um." Rodney fidgeted again, fingers moving just as before, but he was settled on the bed in a different way now, and his voice was softer and slower. He didn't speak again until John looked up and met his eyes. "I don't think it matters."

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