Heroic

~ Written for the sga_flashfic 38 Minute challenge.

He's looking in the mirror in the bathroom, which for an alien, ten thousand year old bathroom looks remarkably like every bathroom he's ever been in. Except the bathtub looks like it belongs in a luxury hotel the sort he never got to stay in. But still -- bathtub. Normal.

He wants to go home. Dear god, but he wants to go back to Antarctica. Russia. Colorado, even, despite everything he was back then. Because of everything he was -- he wants to go back to when he was the smartest guy anyone around him knew, when he was a jerk and a jackass and knew it and didn't care, and had only one living creature who liked him enough to live with him.

And that was because cats are stupid, or patient, or simply don't speak English. Maybe that was his problem, and he should have hung out with foreign exchange students on campus.

He's staring at the face in the mirror and he wants to run. That isn't him. It isn't anyone he knows. His face hasn't changed, except for maybe a little thinner. His eyes are tired, but that's normal because he never really slept a lot even back on Earth. His brain was always working too fast to really shut it down for long and since he was eight, Rodney has been used to that.

He likes the night and gets most of his best work done then because no one ever bothers him with stupid things at night.

"I can't do this," he says, and he starts, remembering that he isn't alone when John appears in the open doorway.

"You can't come to bed?" John asks, and his confusion is perfectly understandable. They've been doing this for long enough that they aren't even going to bed to have sex, tonight. Not living together -- there's a heart-stopping thought that Rodney shoves aside because, really, one neurosis at a time.

He turns to John and decides, what the hell. "I can't keep saving the world."

He wants to hit himself, or maybe laugh and pretend he's making a joke only he can't think of a punchline.

He's used to being brilliant, to having answers come easily to him or even coming very, very hard but they do always seem to come. And he's extraordinarily grateful that he's always been able to think under pressure, because they'd be dead a dozen times over now if he were the type to freeze. But there is a line between knowing it and saying it, and you aren't supposed to ever, ever cross that line.

He doesn't know where he learned that, but he knows it's true.

John's stepping forward and reaching for his hand, and Rodney has a flash of being led out to bed like a five year old who's had a nightmare. He lets John take his hand but he stays where he is.

"I can't," he says again, because -- he can't. It's hard to believe he's done so already, that he's done so *repeatedly*. That despite everyone else doing whatever they do, somehow it always seems like the final answer is his, the last step always has him taking it.

There are a lot of people on Atlantis who are heroes, and he's looking at one right now, and he can't deny that he has *changed* since he got here and that the Rodney McKay of two or five or twenty years ago was not a hero in any sense of the word. In the secret parts of his mind, where things get thought but not said, he knows that since being here, he has become a hero. He doesn't have to lie about saving kids, because he has.

He can't take it any more.

"Come on," John says, and he tugs Rodney's hand.

"Where are we going?" slips out, and Rodney thinks that maybe that's the stupidest question he's asked all day. Not ever, or even this week, because there was the time he asked himself if he really wanted to sign up for a double major, and the time he asked Franklin if he was sure about that 'naked thing' he was proposing. A few days ago he asked if they really had to get out of bed.

"I think bed would be good," John says and he has the decency not to look like he knows Rodney's babbling and thinking stupid things.

"I can't," Rodney says again, and he stumbles to explain. "I can't go to sleep because we'll wake up in the morning and something new will go wrong and something or someone will try to kill us again and I really can't do this anymore. I don't care who takes over, who has to save us. I don't want to do it. I can't. I can't take it anymore."

John's hand is on his cheek, then John's kissing him, and it's gentle and soothing and makes Rodney think that maybe he's panicking just a
little.

"Then let's go to bed and get some sleep."

"Because everything will look better in the morning?" Which is why he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to change his mind and think that OK, now he can do it just one more time.

But John shakes his head and grins. "Because if we're not saving the world anymore, what would we be doing?"

Rodney blinks. Thinks about it. Work on his theory of unification. Work on building -- well, anything -- from the blueprints they've found in the Ancient's database. Explore the city and maybe stand on the balcony and look at the water.

He looks at John.

"Sleeping," he says. Because he's really kind of exhausted, and the idea of being asleep and knowing he doesn't have to stop, ever, for anything, makes the idea of not saving the world anymore even more appealing.

John's grin gets a little wider, and he nods.

"Who'll save the world tomorrow, if we get attacked?" he asks, but John's pulling his hand again and this time he goes. Leaves the bathroom and the lights shut themselves off automatically because they're smart that way.

"They can draw straws," John tells him, and that sounds like a good idea. Because otherwise he'd have to think of someone, and make a decision and go tell them and explain that he and John are taking a vacation and that conversation would lead to someone saying 'can't you show us one more time?'

Also, if he doesn't know, then he won't think of all the reasons why they might mess up and why he's probably still the better choice, because he's still the smartest person in the city if only by half an IQ point.

John's got him to the bed, now, and he wonders if this isn't a huge mistake and tomorrow the Wraith will attack and he'll hit the floor running and this vacation will be all of eight hours long.

John kisses him again, and pulls him down, and suddenly it's easier to stop thinking.