The Goon's Guide to Mental Health

Unabridged Edition because Geeks like lots of words

By likethekoschka

am·ne·sia (am'nE-zh),noun, loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness.

Goon's Addendum: In general, Geeks are a forgetful bunch. This is especially true when it comes to hauling Ancient devices. You will tend to find that when you have a five mile hike back to the gate through, a hot, bug infested jungle, and the device weighs more than, say, a pound and a half, they will have forgotten to leave enough room in their pack to carry it. However, if the trip is short on a pleasant day, and the device fits in the palm of their hand, you'll be lucky to even get a glance at the object as they will horde it away like it's the last Snicker's Bar in the galaxy. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your Geek is actually suffering from amnesia or just typical Geeky absent mindedness. One of the best tests is to check their recall of Geek trivia; this includes anything that has to do with Gene Roddenberry, Star Wars, or Unix. So, if your Geek can no longer recite the Warrior's Code in the native Klingon or has trouble drawing the wiring diagram for the Millennium Falcon, then chances are you are dealing with true amnesia. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they will have probably also forgotten all the times you threatened to shoot them if you had to carry another Ancient device through the jungle and stolen the last Snicker's Bar from their overfilled pack.

Part 1: Lost

He forgot me.

Just like that…he forgot me.

Not altogether, no, but I didn't know if that would've been worse or not. I just didn't fucking know. As it was, he remembered me, but he didn't remember us. The warmest part of my life, the absolute best part and it had vanished from his memory as if it had never even been there. As if we had never been. Period.

I shoved the sweats from the open bureau drawer into a garbage bag. Packing the college way. It's the end of the semester. Load your shit up, give your roommate a casual wave goodbye, and walk away. And that's what I was doing…walking away. I'd already seen the expression of wary puzzlement when he'd woken up to me holding his hand. I'd seen the look of immediate and automatic denial when his eyes focused on my ring and then the matching one on his own finger. I'd seen…I'd seen Dr. Rodney McKay, genius, egomaniacal asshole, friend…and that was all. There'd been nothing else.

Nothing.

I didn't want to see what would be on his face when he walked into our…into his quarters and saw our clothes intermingled. My books shoulder to shoulder with his bound dissertations and physics texts. Our picture on the bedside table. A beach, an Athosian festival of spring, both of us pleasantly looped on berry wine with flushed faces and bright eyes. We had our arms over each other's shoulders, me with a wide grin and Rodney with his crooked one. We could've been buddies, pals…if the camera hadn't caught us looking at each other with more than good humor. Looking at each other with…hell, fucking everything. I picked up the clear plexiglass frame, wrapped it carefully in one of my shirts, and put it into the bag.

I wasn't running. Not that I hadn't spent a good deal of my life doing that; I had. There was more than one reason I'd chosen the military. And it obviously wasn't my love of follow-the-leader or of being told what to do. It was the last career I would've thought I'd have chosen. To be like him…to be like good old Colonel Dad, it was the goddamn last thing I wanted. But…I discovered flying. And I discovered that the military let you run better than anything. You were shipped here…shipped there and no one really had to know who you were. No one could become enough to you that when they kicked you out, tossed you to the curb like garbage that it would mean a damn thing. Naturally I'd managed to screw that up. I'd gone to a place where there was no running. I'd let people in. I'd let one in particular dig his way under my skin…and here I was.

Kicked to the curb again.

Only this time I was kicking myself out, before someone did it for me. I wasn't giving up. Fuck…no. No. But I was making it easier on him and, yeah, like the emotional coward I was, easier on me too. I couldn't look into his face and not see me. He wouldn't want me here and if I saw that on top of all the other things I'd seen in the past two days…I honestly didn't know what would happen. I'd once told him everyone could be broken. Everyone. I'd been talking about him and Kolya…about torture. But it was true across the board. Everyone could be broken. I didn't want him coming back only to find me less than I was. And he would be coming back. He would get back what he'd lost. He would. He fucking would…right?

I checked my watch and swore. I'd told Dr. Z to stall him in the infirmary, but I was still out of time. Hurriedly, I tore the Johnny Cash poster from the wall. I managed to rip it almost exactly down the middle. Swearing viciously, I wadded it up and shoved it in the garbage can by the door. I did a quick scan of the room and headed for the door. I had a feeling I was forgetting something, but I couldn't think of what it was. I couldn't think clearly on too much of anything right now.

I triggered the door by slapping my palm on the wall panel. I didn't even try a mental command. All I needed right now was to have the damn thing slam on me and break my arm. Things were going so goddamn swimmingly, that would just be the cherry on the fucking sundae.

It opened and I walked through. I didn't look back. If I had…wouldn't have been able to leave. But there was part of me—the small, selfish and pathetic, absolute shit-fucking-terrified part of me that said….

He left you first.

x x x xx

I was the first to leave the briefing and make why way hurriedly through the hallways toward home. Briefing… hell it was little more than an announcement in Elizabeth's office, little more than her verbalizing the letter of condolence she would be writing before the day was out. To the family of Dr. William Eckhardt, we regret to inform you that your loved one died on an alien planet when he touched a fucking Ancient power supply trying to maintain an energy shield so that a bunch of llama farmers won't be killed by a toxic algae bloom in the next week. So sorry he had to die, but they make some damn fine cheese that's a big hit here on Atlantis, so we feel his sacrifice was worth while.

I rounded a corner, coming face to face with a medical tech, nearly knocking both of us to the floor. She smiled nervously and stepped to the same side I did, then as if we were dancing, did the same in the opposite direction. With a small growl, I grabbed her shoulders, pushed her off to one side and continued on my way. For the rest of the trip, my glower was enough to clear the path of any other human obstacles.

I was in sight of the door to our quarters when Radek came across my radio. "Rodney, is it true… about Bill?"

I ground my teeth. "Yes."

"Wh…what happened?"

"Not now." And I pulled the radio piece from my ear before he could ask more, activated the door open and promptly threw the communications device across the room. It bounced off the wall and landed silently on the bed.

"Fuck!" I yelled to the room in general.

We had seen similar shield systems like the Inyians had on their planet in the past; all a little different but basically the same in concept. Units set up by the Ancients and powered to protect a small population of people from either the Wraith or some cosmological event or natural phenomenon that would otherwise kill the local inhabitants. For the Inyians it was an annual algal bloom that resulted in a huge increase in oxygen in the atmosphere that in turn triggered a bizarre geologic occurrence related to iron-rich volcanic deposits that almost immediately oxidized and decreased the oxygen levels below sustainable levels in small localized areas. I was on the verge of issuing adult diapers to all the biologists and geologists who were peeing their pants in anticipation of witnessing this phenomenon that happened within a matter of months on the planet instead of the thousands of years it had taken on Proterozoic Earth. Still, as giddy with anticipation as the science staff was, the Inyians were a little nervous, seeing as their shield system had started to fail and imminent death waited on the other side.

The shield was set up on an elaborate grid network to better conserve the power supplied by the nearly depleted ZedPM. It worked great as long as the grid was able to maintain the chain of power running between the substations. However, ten thousand years without preventative maintenance had finally caught up with the system and a weak link had been discovered in the chain. And of course seeing as the Inyian technology made most Earth-based third world nations look like Silicon Valley, they had come to their newest trade partners for help.

Stackhouse's team had the lead as they had made the initial contact with the Inyians the previous year and Teyla and Dex had joined him as Teyla had personal contacts among the locals. Normally I would have sent Radek to work the issue; aside from me, he obviously knew the power systems better than anyone else on Atlantis. However, I needed him here to untangle the massive cluster fuck that Kavanagh had made of the jumper systems while running a simple diagnostic. So, instead I had sent Bill. And now he was dead. Like all the others before him. One more name to add to the ever growing list of staff members…. colleagues… friends, that would never make the return trip back to Earth. A list that scrolled through my mind on a daily basis, all the way back to the first ones in the form of Gall and Abrams.

The door swished open behind me and I heard John's booted strides enter the room. I didn't turn so he quietly addressed my back. "Rodney? I saw Stackhouse…"

I cut him off as I shook my head in disbelief. "What the hell were they thinking?"

"The team?"

"No, the Ancients. They went out and gave these people technologies light years ahead of their capabilities and then they just fucking deserted them. My God, it would be like me setting up a nuclear power plant in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea and telling the natives as I walk away, 'Well, just run this puppy to failure and don't mind the Chernobylesque molten core of death that will eventually kill you all'."

He came up behind me and wrapped long arms around my upper body, resting his chin on my shoulder. I eased into his hold slightly as I continued. "He wasn't a newbie either. I mean he had only been on Atlantis since the last Daedalus run, but he had been a field engineer at the SGC for years. Christ, he'd been through the gate more times than I have."

"Stackhouse told me there was nothing anyone could have done, he just opened the panel and the whole thing exploded."

I laughed bitterly in his arms. "Yeah, so I heard. You would think with all the stuff actually gunning for us out there that fate would cut us a little slack in the sheer dumb luck category. And you know what the absolute worst thing about this entire shitfest is? That there is a part of me that wants to throw my arms around Kavanagh and thank him for being such a royal class screw-up, otherwise it would have been Radek that had gotten blown to smithereens instead. I mean, how fucked up is that that I'm thankful one man is dead instead of another?"

The arms tightened possessively around me and he buried his face in my neck and I didn't have to be a genius to know who he was thankful hadn't been on the mission. "Pretty damn fucked."

I leaned into his head, nuzzling the mass of unruly hair and clung to his arms like the life line they were. It was so damn tempting to just stay there in John's embrace, so appealing to think of turning to face him and letting his mouth and hands and body try to ease away the pain and fear and anger. Knowing he would do it in a heart beat. Knowing he would do everything in his power to just make it all go away. But it wouldn't go away, not ever. Nothing in this world or any other would be able to erase all those names from my mind.

John had his own list, I knew, but even he would admit it wasn't the same. As he had told me over and over again, it was the military's job to put their lives on the line and each and every one of them accepted that responsibility when they signed their name on the line. But nowhere in grad school do they offer a class on risking your existence in order to save the galaxy. And writing a two hundred page dissertation sure as hell didn't prepare you for writing a two page letter home to a grieving family.

With a sigh I patted his arms in a silent request for release. "I have to go."

He kissed the nape of my neck. "No, you don't."

"Teyla and Dex are still on that planet trying to arrange for an evacuation, if necessary. The entire grid is going to collapse in less than a week if we can't get it repaired and the oxygen levels are dropping almost as fast. I'm going to have Radek and Miko running simulations and I need to be in the lab to make sure we get it right this time. I'm not sending anyone else back until we figure out how to fix it first."

With a final squeeze he removed his arms and I turned to look at him for the first time since he came in the room. I leaned in for a quick, soft kiss, then rested my forehead on his. He tried to hide the disappointment we both knew he was going to have when he asked his next question. "See you later?"

I shrugged. "Don't know. I'll try, but…"

"Yeah."

With a final kiss I pulled back, grabbed my radio from the bed and headed out of our quarters. I tried to cling to the memory of John's arms, his lips, his voice, but all I seemed capable of thinking about was Abrams, Gall, Wagner, Johnson, Dumais, Hays, Grodin, Monroe, Lindstrom… an ever growing list that ended with Eckhardt before it looped and began all over again.

x x x x x

There were subdued voices in the cafeteria. Subdued voices, solemn faces, the still air of a funeral. And why not? Today was a funeral. There'd be an official one of course, maybe in a day or two. They'd scrape up what was left of Dr. Eckhardt, stick him in a box, say some pretty words over him, and store him in the freezer until the next Daedalus run.

And Rodney would go into a freezer too, the emotional kind. You wouldn't think it. He would be snappy, excessively so…even for him. He would be short, abrupt, and king high son of a bitch, but all of that had one purpose. Feeling nothing but annoyance meant you didn't have to feel other things. Worse things. Guilt, sorrow, helplessness. That was the worst one for Rodney…helplessness. People died on government missions and when those missions were in another galaxy where your position on the food chain was hamburger with legs, people died a lot. I was used to it, I guess you'd say…people dying. That was the thing about flying: you were either dropping people off in bad, bad places or picking their bloody bodies up from the same. I was used to it and that was a godawful thing to be. I didn't want that for McKay or any of the geeks, but what I wanted didn't seem to matter a damn.

Rodney had lost a lot of men and women since we'd walked through the gate. It had started with Gall and Abrams, then the plague and during the Wraith siege. And that was something he couldn't fix, not with his huge brain, his uncanny instinct for what made things work, or his massive determination. It was probably the first thing he had run into in his life that he couldn't tweak, finagle or out and out push the way he wanted to go. It ate at him. I might be the only one he let see that…but it did.

"Colonel?"

I jerked my attention back to the task at hand. "Three meals," I ordered, holding up the fingers and then rolling my eyes. "And five desserts. On one tray."

Ten minutes later I was walking unnoticed through the lab doors. I didn't try for stealth. I could've stomped in shooting my nine-mil at the ceiling and no one would've noticed. Well, yeah, Miko would squeal and scurry under the nearest table, but she was normal. Rodney and Radek weren't. I felt the corners of my mouth quirk downward slightly as I watched the three heads bowed together. It looked like they were studying schematics in holographic form. Radek was saying, "Here. Here. Notice this." His fingers danced over a keyboard and the glowing figure rotated. I hoped they came up with something and something pretty fucking error proof. I was not watching McKay going the way of Eckhardt. I wasn't.

I put the loaded tray down on a nearby table, grabbed a nearby pen and wrote 'EAT!' on a napkin. Draping it over the center meal, I took a last look at the geek squad and shook my head. The buzz of brain waves was almost audible in the air. They'd come up with something. I didn't have a doubt. The door closed behind me and I headed for the hangar bay. Kavanagh had requested the pleasure of my company about twenty minutes ago. Or more exactly, he gave his best shot at ordering me around like a five-year old. The trouble with Kavanagh was he didn't know even a five-year old could take his ass, so he better lay the hell off mine. I wasn't in the mood.

When I finally moseyed into the bay, he was flushed and his eyes were small with annoyance behind his glasses. "Well, Colonel Sheppard, so glad you could take the time from your busy schedule of loitering in the cafeteria to actually do your job."

I'd had my suspicions Kavanagh was doing the lunch lady, but here was proof. Private Beulah-Anne DeVry was a fine figure of a woman…if you were into thighs like tree trunks, a nonexistent neck and a smile like a bulldog. Snaggly, very snaggly. But it just went to show you…there was someone for everyone and even those who ate their young and licked their own business could find true love.

I folded arms and considered the distant ceiling. "You know, Kavanagh. What comes up must come down. That includes jumpers." I grinned. "Do you really want to piss me off before you know where I'm coming down?"

He scowled, checked his electronic clipboard, and muttered, "Let's get on with it, shall we? The sooner we finish, the sooner I can report your blatant attempt at threatening me to Dr. Weir."

Yeah, we were having all sorts of fun today. "You're a great guy, Kav," I drawled. "I don't care what everyone in this galaxy and the last say. Repeatedly. Now which jumper?"

He pointed stiffly and I trundled my ATA ass off to see if he'd managed to fix what he'd screwed up. We had enough pilots now that I didn't have to do it personally. But when it came to less than optimum conditions, I still was going to be the one flying. Kavanagh trying to repair his fuck up was definitely less than optimum conditions.

Settling into the jumper seat, I went through the diagnostic without much optimism. Surprise, surprise. It ran without a hitch. "All right," the smug voice came in my ear. "Take her up to a height of twenty-five feet and then fifty."

Fifty turned out to be the magic number. The worst part? I missed that son of a bitch.

Thirty minutes later I was lying in bed with a folded washcloth pressed to my head and thanking God Rodney was in the lab, because the bitching? It would've been profound. It would've been unreal. It would've been….

"Have a headache, do you? Morons who fall out of the sky usually tend to."

The snide comment came from the door and didn't this day just keep getting better and better. Christ. Rodney so did not need this right now. "Who squealed?" I asked grimly. "It couldn't have been Kavanagh. He had to go change his pants." I'd missed him when the jumper came crashing to the floor, but it hadn't been by much. The power had cut out fifty feet up…completely. The thing about jumpers…the only really noncool thing…when they don't have power, they fall. They don't glide or soar, they just fucking fall. A powerless jumper had all the aerodynamic qualities of a Warner Brothers Acme anvil. And they didn't come with airbags either.

I hit my head on…hell, who knew? By the time I staggered out the back I had blood running into my eyes and Kavanagh was on all fours ten feet away hyperventilating. Sincerely. I had to turn around, go back into the jumper for the first aid kit, and root around for a paper bag. I didn't find one, but I did find an airsick bag…thanks to one Sergeant Hohenecker. I gave it to Kavanagh to breathe into and studied what was left of my baby.

There wasn't much structural damage, but there was some. McKay was going to shit. We were scraping the barrel on jumpers as it was. With one more out of commission even temporarily…it wasn't good. And Rodney seemed to take any jumper accident personally—as if we wrecked them on purpose for the sole reason of making his life a living hell. He should've known I had better ways of doing that.

I left Kavanagh to deal with the mess after telling him if he called a med team I would kick his ass. And if he couldn't deal with this without bugging McKay I'd kick his ass twice. Rodney didn't need to be there and he didn't need to be in the infirmary watching Beckett stick a Snoopy bandaid on my boo boo.

"One of Kavanagh's team. My spies are everywhere." He leaned over me, slapped my hand away from the washcloth and lifted it to take a look. His lips thinned in worry. "Well, it's only your brain seeping out. You won't miss it. You so rarely use it anyway."

I wrestled the washcloth back and reapplied it to the cut at my hairline. It was barely an inch long, but it was deep and head wounds did like to bleed and this one was enthusiastic. It wasn't exactly gushing, but the cloth was half saturated. "It's fine, Rodney. No big deal, I swear. Go back to the lab."

"Oh shut up, would you? Just shut up." He nudged me upward by my shoulder and tossed the pillows to the floor. Sitting on the bed, he eased my head into my lap. "Give that to me. I swear, you're like a child. A child with a gun and a completely ludicrous belief in your own immortality. Gravity applies to everyone, Sheppard. Every-one." He pulled the cloth from my hand again, refolded it and pressed it firmly to the cut.

"No shit," I grunted, swallowing a hiss of pain.

"Kavanagh is dead," he said matter-of-fact. "Maybe not physically, but I will destroy his will to live. Every single scrap of it. He will pray that bleached blond lumberjack crushes his head between her thighs like an overripe melon the next time he's exhibiting his utter lack of sexual prowess. Everything Radek has done to him will pale in comparison. Job himself will take up a collection for the miserable bastard."

I reached up and patted his arm. "Seriously, Rodney. I'm okay. I really am."

His mouth relaxed slightly, but his eyes stayed dark. "It's just…." He sighed and ran the fingers of his free hand through my hair. "I'm just really tired of sopping up your blood."

It honestly couldn't have happened on a worse day. First Eckhardt and now this. It was a minor injury, but on top of everything else…things mount up. They fucking do. I moved my hand from his arm and slid it under the bottom of his shirt to rest warm fingers on his stomach. "Did you and the other two Musketeers eat?" I asked, changing the subject. "I had to fight off Barclay for those pieces of cake. I'm not sure if German chocolate is his favorite or he just hates you so much that he'd do anything to see you miserable and sugar free."

"Yes, mother," he snorted. "We ate. Radek says thank you and Miko blushed, stammered, and went to hide in the bathroom for a good ten minutes at the very thought someone noticed she was a carbon based lifeform in need of sustenance." He lifted the washcloth again, shook his head and replaced it. "Once, just once, I would like a crisis free day. Half a day even, that would be acceptable. Nothing but boring meetings, tinkering in the lab, deliciously bad food in the cafeteria…."

"Mind-blowing sex," I prompted. "Don't forget the mind-bowing sex."

His eyebrows lifted. "As if his perpetual horniness would let me. Yes, yes, and mind-blowing sex. One day, that's all I ask. One simple fucking day." Lifting the cloth again, his eyes lightened slightly, "It's stopped. I think you'll live. And since that is the case, tell me what the hell you did to my puddlejumper? Destroy it utterly, because you certainly do have the knack for it."

"Well, I did try to throw myself out the back and under it to cushion the blow," I drawled, "but I didn't quite make it."

"And thank god you didn't," came the immediate response. "All those sharp bones sticking out everywhere would have done more damage than the hangar bay floor possibly ever could."

I scowled and pinched the skin over his side. "Totally not the way to get the mind-blowing sex, McKay."

He tugged at a piece of my hair and said honestly, "I wish I had the time. God, do I." Discarding the cloth, he ran a careful fingertip over the cut. I could feel it pass, the faint sandpaper of callus, before he leaned over and kissed me. There was the warmth of lips, the fleeting silk of tongue, and breath rich with chocolate and coconut. I cupped the back of his neck with my hand when he would've pulled away and savored it and him a while longer. After a nip to my bottom lip, he finally sat up. "Keep that up, Colonel, and my lap won't be much good as a pillow anymore." He checked his watch and grimaced. "Never mind. Pillow time is over anyway." An assessing gaze pinned me. "Are you sure you're all right? Carson hasn't exactly forgiven you for blowing up a good portion of his infirmary. He never sees the bigger picture, does he? But regardless, if you have the slightest doubt, we need to go let him shake his rattle at you."

"No." Make that, hell, no. Not forgiving me was pretty much the same as wanting to use me for prostate exam practice for all the new nurses. "I've had enough concussions to know the difference between that and a simple knock on the head." I sat up and refused to wince at the increased pounding in my head. "All I need is Tylenol and a nap and I'll be kicking Wraith ass and taking Wraith names before you know it."

"Since you give them all their names that wouldn't be hard," he said dryly. He watched as I went to the bathroom and took two pills. "Steve. Bob. Fred. Bocephus. No wonder they hate you so badly." He stood and checked his watch again as I returned and climbed under the covers. "You'll call me if you need anything?"

"Don't I always?" I countered. "Go, Rodney. I'll be up in an hour and I'll come check on you. So go already."

"You promise?"

"You're not making my headache any better. Christ, yes, I promise. And you call me a mom," I grunted before rolling onto my side. I pointed at the door and gave him a rapid two count snap I was sure he'd more than recognize. "Go."

He walked to the door, looked back over his shoulder at me, and cursed, "Goddamn it." Moving back, he slipped off his shoes and climbed into bed with me. Spooning up behind me, he pressed a kiss to my shoulder and burrowed his face in between my neck and the pillow. "Fifteen minutes. I deserve fifteen fucking minutes and I'm taking them." The words were defiant, muffled, and warm against my skin. He wrapped his arm around my waist tightly, a little too tightly, and held on. I couldn't help but think that he hadn't been able to hold on to Eckhardt or Gall or Grodin. They'd all slipped away. But he could hold on to me.

And I was more than willing to let him.

x x x x x

There are some things that were so familiar, that even in sleep you could recognize them. For me, it was the sprawl of arms and legs that defined John Sheppard. He seemed to be everywhere at once in the bed. One leg under my knee, his other foot resting on my own, an arm across my chest and his head nestled into my shoulder. I lazily turned my head into his, crinkling my nose as it ran into a patch of hair and placed a heavy hand on his bicep. He murmured in his sleep, indistinct, incoherent, but with an obvious touch of humor nonetheless. I smiled, thinking there were definitely worse ways to wake up.

Wake up. My eyes flew open to a dark room. I had just woken up, which meant I had been asleep. Fifteen minutes. I had given myself fifteen minutes to convince myself that John really wasn't hurt, that it really was just a cut and a bump on the head. Fifteen minutes to anchor myself to the reason I got up day in and day out after all I'd seen and experienced instead of curling up in an emotionless ball and simply going through the motions. When I first stepped through the gate to Atlantis, I had done it for the one simple reason, the same that had lured men to climb mountains and explore solar systems… because it was there. But I had stayed and made it my home because he was here. And if the universe couldn't spare me fifteen minutes to confirm that was still the fact, then to hell with it. But looking around the darkened room, I could tell my fifteen minutes had come and gone a while before.

The simulations! "Oh, shit!" I rolled John off of me with a shove and crawled over him, reaching for the clock on the bedside table. His gun clattered to the floor and thank God he had started leaving the safety on after the last time something like this had happened.

"Jesus Christ, McKay. What the hell are you doing?" He was pushing at me trying to sit up and come to terms with my outburst all at the same time.

I palmed the bizarre contraption that displayed time both in Ancient and with a fascinating little astrological map of the solar system. It was almost one in the morning. "Shit!" Fifteen minutes had somehow morphed into five hours. I crawled the rest of the way over John and out of the bed. "Goddamn it!"

I stood, turning in a circle frantically trying to find my shoes. "What is wrong?" John demanded from the bed. With little conscious thought, the lights blazed on in the room at my command. John placed a hand up to squinting eyes. "What the fuck, Rodney?"

"Sorry," I told him absently as I saw my shoes and all but dove for them. "I fell asleep." I tried to cram my foot into the tied boot, gave up and undid the laces. "I fucking fell asleep. I should have been back in the lab hours ago." I shook my head at the stupidity of it all. "I never fall asleep like that. What the hell?"

John sat up and regarded me with a look part guilt, part condolence and part relief. "I'm sure its fine. It's no big deal."

"You're right, it's no big deal… it's a huge deal, enormous, the mother of all goddamn deals."

"You left Radek and Miko working on the simulations." He tried for a grin. "They probably got more done without you there anyway."

I rolled my eyes. "Of course, I'm sure you're right. They probably already have a team assembled to go to the planet and blow up a few more scientists. Let's see if we can get in a two for one special this time around."

"Rodney…."

"This is my responsibility. Mine, John. No one else's. Any decision as to what we do will come from me and me alone. I'm not throwing the burden of another person's life on anyone else. Not when I already…." Already what? Carried it myself with so much fucking grace and poise? I sighed, then finished with my shoe laces. Because honestly, what was one more on top of all the others. Eyedropper in the ocean, really.

John reached out a hand for me and I stood abruptly. Comfort time was over. Time to go back to work. I bent and planted a quick kiss goodbye on his lips and headed out the door without another word, double timing my way back to the lab with only a short stop to vent my frustrations on a wall along the way.

Radek and Miko were still at it when I got there, Miko giving me one of her soy milk calendar girl grins and Radek doing an admirable job of hiding his annoyance. "Colonel Sheppard is okay?" he asked, his voice flat with exhaustion and irritation.

"He'll live," I told him without meeting his eyes. "Don't know if I can say the same for Kavanagh, but that walking proof of fecal sentience is the least of my worries right now." I crossed my arms and studied my recently laced boots. "Sorry, I got... tied up."

Radek frowned at me and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Yes, well overly informative excuse of kinky bondage activities aside, we have made progress you should see."

I considered myself lucky that was all he had to say and turned my full attention to the quick briefing to bring me up to speed. Two hours later, I sent Miko and Radek home to their respective beds. Crisis or not, they were becoming useless to me without sleep. Miko's eyes had become so owlish, I thought they were going to outgrow the frames of her oversized glasses. And after Radek explained the same concept to me for the third time, in Czech no less, I had them call it a night… day... whatever it was by now.

I stayed by myself, quietly studying the holographic diagram of the grid, calculating energy flows and fluxes on my calculator, trying to find a way to get in front of the cascade failure that had already started that was resulting in a smaller and smaller shielded area, then figure out how to repair the damage already done. And if at all possible keep anyone from triggering an overload simply by opening a hatch.

I ran the simulation for what had to be the one hundredth time of what had happened when the substation that killed Eckhardt had blown. I watched the power surge out then back into the substation to cause the overload. Radek had pointed it out, how odd it had been that the surge seemed to bounce off the other station and rebound back. Like a bank shot in pool that was just too much for the capacitors in the doomed station to handle. Something had protected the one substation and our theory was that it had malfunctioned in the other. It was also our theory that whatever shielding had been protecting the substation had failed as a result of opening the panel… a spark, a rub of metal on metal, a loose connection that finally gave way with the slight jar of opening the door and it had caused the failure, which in turn caused the surge, which in turn bounced back and caused the explosion.

And now all the substations downstream of the damaged one were only receiving minimal power and those upstream were overloading because they couldn't move the power that would normally go to the downstream units out. We needed to reconfigure the grid, change the flow from the direction it was going to something that would better distribute the power that remained. But how?

With a frustrated sigh, I picked up my cup of coffee and took a sip of the already cold beverage then put it back down where it had been sitting between the two dessert plates with a few cake crumbs on them. I tilted my head, picked up the cup again, studied the empty spot and smiled. The shortest distance between two points…. We needed to streamline the grid, take out the substations that were causing roadblocks and move power between a select few. And if we took them out just right, we might be able to form a sort of firebreak and stop the cascading failure. I began the arduous task of calculating the possible reroutes, which really became a guessing game that needed to be confirmed with calculations. I worked for what seemed just an hour or so, when Radek came back into the lab.

"Why the hell are you back?" I asked with little more than a glance up from my laptop. "I sent you home to sleep."

"I did. Unlike you, I do not have sexy Air Force Colonel to otherwise occupy my time in bed. I slept entire four hours I was gone."

"Four hours?" Time really was getting away from me today. "Well, I'm glad you're back. I think I've finally cracked this hellacious nut. Just let me finish these calcs and I'll show you what I've got."

I went back to work even as Radek began looking over my preliminary notes. "But I do not understand how you intend to bypass the surge protectors in the upstream substations."

I rolled my eyes with a sigh. "Because there won't be any upstream surge protectors when I'm done with them. Just give me ten more minutes and I'll explain."

"Fine, fine. I will go get breakfast while you finish rewriting laws of physics to meet your needs."

He stood to go, but John's voice halted him in his tracks. "No need, Dr. Z, I'm delivering this morning."

He sat a tray with three meals and three cups of coffee on the workbench. "Oh, thank God," I groaned as I took one of the cups. Ever since the Daedalus had started delivering coffee supplies on a regular basis, the general attitude on Atlantis had improved. John claimed that the science staff had taken a vote and decided that they would rather use the cargo space on the ship for coffee instead of computer data storage, mainly because I was less likely to rip someone's arm off and use it to beat the person standing next to them if I was properly caffeinated. And actually, I couldn't argue with that logic.

"You're welcome," John drawled at my lack of manners. "But the coffee is only part of the package. Eat."

He pointedly sat a plate of fruit, Athosian flat bread, and eggs in front of me. I pushed it aside, barely registering it as I continued working on my laptop. "I'll eat in a minute."

"Eat now," he told me with authority as he pushed the plate back in front of me. "No telling how long it's been since you ate something."

"I ate what you brought by last night."

He eyed me suspiciously. "Anything besides your dessert?"

I lifted by chin. "Yes."

John maintained eye contact with me with a raised eyebrow. "Dr. Z?"

Radek looked up from his own plate of breakfast that he was quickly devouring. "Yes, also ate Miko's dessert and part of mine before I pried it from his hands. I have fork prong marks to prove it."

I glared at Radek. I had had full intention of eating the rest of the meal after I finished my cake and I would have if I hadn't learned that Kavanagh had been seen bolting from the jumper bay, where he had been running jumper checks with John, with a spreading wet spot on the front of his pants and an air sick bag plastered to his face. And since Beulah was still on KP duty at the time, that left only one explanation as to what had happened.

"German Chocolate cake doesn't count as food, Rodney."

"It's digested by the body, converted to energy and waste products… by definition it's food."

He crossed his arms, glowered, and tilted his head toward the plate. "Eat."

I sighed, took a bite of eggs and raised my arms in exasperation. "There. Has enough of the food pyramid enter my digestive tract that you will leave me alone so I can finish working here?"

"I'm not going anywhere until you finish everything on that plate." He sauntered over to where Radek sat finishing off the last of his fruit and leaned against the table with a victorious grin. He waved a hand at my meal. "Eat up."

I rolled my eyes, took another bite, and turned back to my laptop. From behind me, I heard John ask Radek about the metal cylinder sitting on the other work bench. "Is some sort of medical equipment. Text is very vague. It is for treatment of emotional trauma, does something to memory. Rodney thinks is broken. No one can get it to work."

And then he said it. "Oh, well, since I'm here maybe I should give it a try."

"Don't even think about it!" I stood and walked over to stand between him and the device. "And whatever you do, don't think at it. Have you learned nothing about touching things? I have way too much to do to deal with getting the damn stasis chamber up and running again." I picked up the cylinder, intent on moving it away from him and over by me so that I could keep a close eye on it. The unit glowed to life at my touch. My eyes widened in surprise as John's brow furrowed.

Radek stood and took a step toward me. "Rodney, how did you do that? It did not work when you touched it before."

But I really couldn't answer. The room was wavering around me, tilting drunkenly before righting itself. Only it wasn't right. Everything seemed different, similar but different. "John?" I asked in confusion, because I was sure that was his name, but it just didn't seem right any more.

The cylinder dropped from my hand to roll across the bench top as a sharp throbbing blossomed behind my right eye, accompanied by a burst of white. I grabbed my head with a wordless exclamation of pain and staggered back.

Sheppard grabbed my arm in alarm. "Rodney!"

My knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor. I could hear a voice calling for a medical team in a thick accent and I decided it must be that Czech engineer; his name was right on the tip of my tongue… something with a Z… Zeleena? Zaloonka? But I was having trouble thinking clearly and couldn't seem to remember for some reason.

I felt a hand enclose mine, a brush of fingers on my face. "Rodney? Come on, wake up."

Encouraged by the voice, I fought against the murk that was pulling at me and forced my eyes open. A face swam into view, worry melting away to relief as I blinked heavily. "Hey," Sheppard smiled, pulling my hand to his chest and squeezing. He ran his thumb across my forehead as if clearing away a wisp of hair. "It's too early in the morning to be scaring me like this."

I blinked again, fighting to hold the growing grayness at bay for a while longer, but failing miserably. I creased my brow in confusion at the familiarity Sheppard was exhibiting. "Major?" I asked in search of an explanation.

But the fuzziness took hold and the last thing I heard before it all went black was Zaloonka asking, "Did he just call you Major?"

x x x x x

He'd fallen…not like a ton of bricks or a bag of wet cement—none of those stupid cliches. He'd fallen slowly and almost as if he'd forgotten how to stand. He had staggered and that evil rotten piece of Ancient shit had rolled out of his fingers and across the table. Then his knees had given out and he'd folded up like a house of cards built by uncertain and untalented fingers. After hitting the floor, he had woken up for a brief second, confused and disoriented, then he had faded . With the faint smudges of weariness under his closed eyes, it almost looked like sleep, not unconsciousness.

The med team had come…did what they do when there isn't anything to do, and here we were.

Here we were.

I ran a thumb across his lightly skinned knuckles. I didn't know if they'd come from his work in the lab last night…yeah, from the oh-so-sharp edges of a holographic projection. More likely from ramming a fist into a wall. Either that or Kavanagh's jaw—and as I hadn't heard any drooling pain-filled demands to stick Rodney in the brig, I was betting it had been the wall. He'd really given himself hell for falling asleep, forgetting it was rumored that he was just as human as the rest of us. I watched the steady rise and fall of his chest under the infirmary sheet.

Just as human all right or he wouldn't be here.

But he looked okay. He did. His color was good. Vitals were near perfect except for a slightly elevated blood pressure, which was the McKay norm. If Carson could keep the top of Rodney's head from blowing off ala Mount Vesuvius on a daily basis, the doc was happy.

Everything was all right. He simply…wouldn't wake up. It had only been an hour and a half. That wasn't long to be unconscious…for no fucking reason. Half of that was Beckett's comment, half mine and I doubted anyone would have to guess which. There was the EEG, the doctor added reluctantly. It was a wee bit off. Very informative, Rodney would have said…loudly and snidely, if he hadn't been sleeping through the whole fucking thing.

I frowned down at his hand in mine, tightened my fingers that were intertwined with his. "I know I'm a sexual god and you can't keep up, but putting you into a coma wasn't part of the plan." I gave his hand a shake. "So wake up already, would you?"

"You could warn a person first, lad," came the vaguely disgruntled brogue at my shoulder, "before you say something so bloody horrifying."

"Then what would be the point of saying it?" I asked with a faint smile that melted away. "Have you figured anything out yet?"

He shook his head and pulled up a chair beside me. "Dr. Zelenka called. He hasn't been able to come up with anything other than what they already knew. It's involved in treating some sort of mental trauma. So I'm holding to the fact it wasn't meant to do harm."

Just one more device the Ancients left lying around to bite us in the ass. They were really good at leaving around their more dangerous toys. And I was really good at picking the goddamn things up. Only this time Rodney beat me to the punch. KO-ed and down he goes.

"Not a good two days for any of us, eh?"

"No," I said, leaning back in my chair and rubbing my eyes with the heel of my free hand. "The memorial service is supposed to be this evening. Maybe they'll postpone it." And maybe it would be better if they didn't.

Before Carson could comment I felt a slight movement of fingers against mine. Immediately I leaned forward. "Rodney?"

His mouth twisted slightly. It wasn't from discomfort or pain. It was another emotion I recognized just as clearly. Crankiness. Rodney didn't sleep as much as me. With his big brain on constant overdrive, pulling off even six hours of sleep was an accomplishment. But on the rare, rare occasion I was up before him, he came out of sleep full of attitude…all bad. And if I had tried the shit he pulled with me, flinging everything in the bathroom not nailed down, he would've ripped something and beat me to death with it…something of mine, of course. Rodney woke up a lot faster than I did, but until he was at the teeth brushing stage it was best to avoid the path of the storm. I was happier than hell to risk it now.

"Rodney," I repeated. Patting his chest lightly, I commanded, "Wake up."

There was an aggrieved exhalation of air and eyelids lifted a bare millimeter to reveal foggy, annoyed blue. "Good lad." Beckett had propelled himself out of his chair to briskly peel one of Rodney's eyelids back. "You're definitely in there then, aren't you?"

A slow hand smacked Carson's away and Rodney muttered, "Go the hell away."

"All right then. That's enough of that." The doctor put a hand on Rodney's shoulder and gave him a gentle but determined shake. "Dr. Rodney McKay, wake up and do it now, if you please. I have more important things to do than moon over your lazy bloated carcass."

And that did the trick. The eyes popped open in outrage. "Bloated? You wretched, sheep castrating…." His voice trailed away as his eyes moved from Beckett's to mine and then to my hand wrapped around his. "Ummm…Major?"

He'd called me that in the lab. He'd been confused…was still confused, but considering the jolt he'd taken it wasn't much of a surprise. "Hey," I said softly before the grin I couldn't restrain curved my lips. "And it's Colonel, remember? I can't go through the whole Colonel Major Major Colonel thing again. Don't torture me, okay?"

"Colonel?" His eyebrows drew together and he snorted. "Right. You wish." His hand moved again under mine and his eyes widened. "Oh God. Oh God. I'm dying. I'm dying. I'm in the infirmary and you're holding my hand. What happened? Oh God, how long do I have?" His hand yanked free of mine and he used it to grab Beckett's shirt. "Tell me, all right? I can take it. I can…no. No. I can't take it. Fix me, you son of a bitch. I can't die. If I die, Atlantis is toast, do you hear me? Soggy, disintegrating toast. And I don't care what Gall says; he's no competition for my genius." He shook him. "Cure me, you rattle-shaking Dr. Bombay. It's for your own good."

Gall. He said Gall. He said major and Gall and he was different. He was…I slammed the lid on that thought before I could even get a glimpse of it. I didn't want to see it and I didn't want to know.

But Beckett wasn't into self-delusion. He pried the hand from his shirt, but kept a reassuring grip on Rodney's wrist. "Rodney, calm down" he ordered firmly, "and tell me the last thing you remember."

He knew and I refused to.

"The last thing I remember?" he sputtered. "What kind of question…oh for God's sake. It was the briefing. We had the briefing on the space station." He looked at me sharply. "You said you'd let me fly, Major. I don't care what's happened, you're not backing out of that. So take the fuzzy dice and the naked lady mud-flaps down." Sitting up, he folded his arms. "What happened? Did Gall slip some lemon into my coffee? He so has it in for me, the jealous little shit. He wants to name the space station; can you grasp the massive ego of that? When obviously I, as head of science, have that…."

He was still talking. I could see his mouth moving, but I couldn't hear anything. Anything at all.

A year and a half. He'd lost over a year and a half.

I stood. I couldn't feel the floor under my feet anymore than I could hear, but I walked. It was only twenty feet to the small infirmary bathroom and I closed the door behind me. I braced my hands on the shallow glass bowl that passed for a sink and hung my head. Okay. It wasn't that bad. He'd lost some time, but he wasn't hurt and Dr Z and Carson would be able to fix this. They would. If an Ancient device could do it, it could undo it. Look how well everything else of theirs worked. ZPMs that wouldn't hold a charge. Personal shields that would ignore your conscious and listen to your sneaky subconscious. Stasis booths that overloaded if you looked at them cross-eyed. Control chairs that were as about useful as a barcalounger. Poison coated glass they left on a fucking shelf. I'm sure they wouldn't have any problem with this goddamn gem.

There wasn't anything in there to break. Not one fucking thing. The glass sink was indestructible and there was no mirror to smash. Instead I splashed water on my face, straightened my spine, and got my ass back where it belonged. Rodney was the one in trouble, not me. He was the one who needed help, all he could get, and that included mine.

When I returned, Beckett was on the other side of the infirmary. He was probably calling in Radek or informing Dr. Weir. Rodney…Rodney was still in bed, still with arms folded defensively and still annoyed as hell…on the surface. Underneath that, he was scared. And why wouldn't he be?

"You look the same," he said, nervously shifting his shoulders and twitching toes under the sheets. "Carson said it's been a year and nine months. But you look the same. Same hair. Still skinny. The Colonel thing though…." He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "That was quick. What the hell did you do? Date some General's daughter?"

"Not quite. There was a hive ship, a bomb…never mind." I let it go. It wasn't the best memory to bring up by any stretch of the imagination.

"Then it's true? Carson isn't trying to seek revenge on me. The paranoid delusions of a tiny mind haven't sent him over the edge?" He tried so hard to be blasé…coolly accepting, but he was panicking deep down. Panicking hard and so was I…no matter how I gave my all in trying not to show it. I automatically reached out a hand for him and then aborted the motion by letting it drop to the bed.

"What's that?" His hand captured my wrist in a tight grip. The ring on his hand was separated from the one on mine by inches. "Oh…oh, you've got to be kidding. This is a joke. Damn it, you son of a bitch, you two really had me going. You can't just go around…."

I cut him off, "It's not a joke, Rodney. It's…fuck, it's not a joke, okay?"

He let go of my wrist as if I had the most radioactively rabid case of cooties known. As if touching me burned him with an acid sear. "It's not a…it's not a…what do you mean it's not a joke?" He paled. He literally paled.

"I mean it's not a joke," I said calmly.

"Okay, Major. Seriously. Fun time is over." He pulled off his ring and slapped it defiantly on the blanket over his knees. "You've had your laugh. You've all had your laughs. So could we just cut it the fuck out?" His voice rose more than a little at the end, angry and frantic. He was upset, panicked, and that couldn't be good for him so soon out of unconsciousness.

Looking down at the silver circle on the scratchy blue blanket, I felt the world under me spin and fall away. It hurt. Falling hurt. God, it hurt.

Keep it together, I ordered myself. Keep it together, you stupid, selfish son of a bitch. He's scared and if you lose it, he will too. Scooping up the ring gently, I folded it into my hand and cleared my throat to say hoarsely, "It'll be okay, Rodney. It will. How about I get Dr. Z to come down? He can fill you in on…a lot of things." Things he didn't want to hear from me right now…and those things would be every single thing that would come out of my mouth.

He was watching me with wary eyes. "Dr. who?" he demanded. "What are you talking about? Fill me in on what? Because this is not real." He waved an arm. "All of this…it can't be real. Almost two years? You and m….it can't be. It can't."

Funny. It had seemed real.

Shock, and didn't it feel just the same as the kind that swept over you in a freezing flood from being lung shot? There was the same lack of air. The same rapidly escalating heartbeat. The numbness that tingles in your extremities.

I squeezed his shoulder lightly…as a friend. Warm, fleeting, full of camaraderie and nothing else. "Dr. Radek Zelenka. He's your right-hand geek." It was my second smile since Rodney had woken up. This one had nothing to do with the sheer relief of the first one. "Relax, Rodney. It'll be okay." And if I said it enough fucking times, it would be true.

I didn't come back with Radek. I stayed out in the hall for an hour and gave them time. I gave myself time too. I sat in the corridor, my back to the wall and my head in my hands. People came and went. No one spoke to me. What the hell could they say? Weir knew now and Beckett and Radek…that meant everyone knew. Radek couldn't keep a secret to save his life. If Teyla hadn't been off planet, she would've come. If Ford…but Ford was gone. Great. More good news to break. Finally I couldn't put it off any longer. Standing, I moved back into the infirmary. Both Beckett and Zelenka were talking to Rodney, who was looking bullish, stubborn, and shell-shocked.

"Look, Zaloonka," he was saying.

"It's Zelenka, Rodney," Dr. Z corrected patiently. "You finally learn my name about time you accept my superior scientific skill."

Eyes rolled. "Fine, I'll accept my memory of the last two years is gone, but that I will never buy."

"So, any progress?"

Radek started at my voice and looked over his shoulder at me. His pale eyes blinked at me from behind his glasses with muted sympathy. "Progress seems to be finding as time changes Rodney does not. He is an ass in any year."

But he had changed and wasn't that the problem.

Beckett gave me something a little more useful. "We've decided it's most likely not a side-effect of the Ancient device, but its actual purpose. Dr. Zelenka and I've put our heads together. If the bloody device is somehow linked to mental trauma, it makes a twisted bit of sense that it would make one forget what triggered the trauma. It's not the sense attributed to our psychological care certainly, but who know what the Ancients standard of care was."

"Great. Fine. Good for them. How the hell do we get his memory back?" I asked flatly.

"On that we're not so sure," Zelenka answered apologetically. "And actually we should…work, yes?" He jerked his head not so subtly at Beckett and Carson instantly followed him off.

And Rodney looked like he wished he could've followed. "Look," he said instantly…awkwardly. "They say, you know, it's…what it is. But I don't remember any of it. I remember movies and hanging out with my friend and trying to keep you from getting killed and you keeping me from getting killed, but…." He ran a hand over his hair that was already looking the worse for wear. "You're my friend, Maj…Sheppard. The best damn friend I've ever had, and I have no idea how we got here. No idea and I just can't. I can't. I've lost years. I have no idea what's gone on since I've been gone. Apparently the Wraith have come and gone and we survived, but that's all I can gather. I need to work on getting my memories back and this…this just…."

I nodded. "I know. I do," I said simply. "Don't worry about it, McKay. Work on remembering. Everything else will take care of itself."

And that's when I noticed it. Really noticed. I was gone. When I looked at McKay, I could always see myself. I was the event…the rock in a pool of water. I saw the ripples of my existence in Rodney's face. Annoyance, affection, warmth, exasperation, admiration, worry, invitation…a thousand things. They'd been there when we were only friends, but to a much lesser degree. Rodney had been good at hiding what he didn't want people to see. Panic, fear, outrage…all that was visible for anyone to see, but the other emotions he'd been good at keeping under cover. But what I saw now…what I had seen was so much more. And now….

I was gone. There were pieces of me left floating in that water…pilot, smart-ass soldier, guy who saves the geeks' asses, but John, the whole John…the entire John, was gone.

Gone.

He looked relieved at my words and grateful. "Well…good. I'm glad that's settled."

"Settled." I showed my teeth in the barefaced lie I was calling a smile now. "So let's get Dr. Z and Beckett and…."

"Wait," he said hurriedly. "Could you…they won't tell me. I keep asking about Brendan and Abrams, about the mission, and they won't tell me anything. What happened? Christ, how the hell did we survive the Wraith for that matter?"

Let the fun begin.

Hours later when I left, Rodney was asleep. Exhausted by tests and more bad news than anyone should have to hear in one setting, it was the best thing for him. Mouth open slightly, he was curled up on his side, arm dangling over the mattress, sheet around his knees. I stood stiffly from the chair, hearing joints crack from long inaction. Snagging the sheet, I pulled it up to his waist. Then taking his wrist gently in hand, I moved his arm back to the bed and tucked it against his side. Hesitating, I ran a hand over his short hair to smooth it.

Finally I took his ring out of my pocket and placed it on the small bedside table. There was muted clink…a sound that went through me leaving me hollow and cold. I heard my own voice echo in my mind, 'Mmm. That's a nice sound.' Every morning, every day, I tried to say it. To show Rodney what was hard for me to articulate. Today he had bolted before I could. I wish I'd had time. God, did I wish.

I touched my finger to the cool circle of metal and then I left.

It wouldn't be the last time I did that.

x x x x x

Everything had changed.

As much as I wanted to convince myself that this was all some sort of elaborate joke, I couldn't deny that time had passed and things had most definitely changed. The first sign had been the unfamiliar faces, lots of unfamiliar faces, and the only way to explain that would be the fact that we now had a way to travel between Earth and Atlantis. The second sign had been the absence of familiar ones, way too many faces that had become a common sight in the hall, in the cafeteria, in the lab, were nowhere to be seen. Some had returned to Earth via the gate and the Daedalus, I had been told, others… hadn't. And the less thought about that the better as far as I was concerned.

And now, the third sign that things had changed… I was walking down the hall, escorted by Zaloonka, to the quarters I evidently shared with Sheppard. We had passed the corridor that led to my quarters, correction, my old quarters and continued walking. After a few minutes longer, I finally turned to the engineer acting as my guide. "You are seriously trying to tell me that my quarters are this far from the lab?"

"It was compromise with Colonel," he informed me with a shrug.

Colonel… Sheppard was a Lt. Colonel. Not that I didn't believe he could actually be Lt. Colonel material, it was just the fact that as far as I remembered, yesterday morning when I got out of bed he had been a Major and now he was a Lt. Colonel… one that was supposedly in my bed yesterday when I actually did get out of it. Just one more thing the less thought about the better.

Except how could I not think about it? What with the weight of Sheppard's gaze whenever he was in the room and the weight of the ring in my pocket. The ring that had been picked up off that bed with such a look of betrayal that I found myself having to stop the words forming on my lips to demand it back and discovered on my bedside table this morning with such a sense of relief that I had immediately palmed it and refused to let go.

I couldn't explain the feelings I had about the ring; I couldn't bring myself to put it back on, but I also wasn't letting it out of my possession ever again. Every time I looked at it, I felt a panic attack coming on, but every time I touched it in my pocket, I caught myself thinking mine all mine. And just what the hell was that all about? That feeling scared me more than just about anything else.

"We are here," the man walking beside me said as we stopped in front of a door. He turned to go and I stopped him, afraid of what I was going to find on the other side of the door. Afraid of who I was going to find. "Look, Zaloonka…"

He sighed and shook his head in exasperation. "Zelenka, Rodney, Zelenka."

"Sorry, it's just a difficult name to remember," I told him with a frown.

"Then call me by first name."

"I thought that was your first name."

He rolled his eyes. "Radek. My first name if Radek. Radek Zelenka."

I crossed my arms. "Look, you'll have to forgive me if I can't remember, but I just lost almost two years of my memories, so a little understanding would be appreciated."

"Arrogant ass. Why anyone like Colonel would…" He stopped himself then continued. "We had worked together many months by the time you can remember. I helped solve pod problem when trapped in jumper in wormhole. I helped solve shield problem during storm. You should remember my name."

"Fine, we've worked together in the past, and evidently in your mind we're practically brothers as a result, so from now on I'll call you Radek." He exhaled but nodded his head. "Radek, would you like to come in?" I asked him with awkward hopefulness. If Sheppard was sitting in the room... and why wouldn't he be if everything I had been told was true… I needed a buffer. And a name-sensitive Czech would do just fine.

He blinked and pushed his glasses up. Then with a look of sympathy shook his head. "He is not in there, Rodney. He moved out… to make it easier."

"When?" Sheppard had been in the infirmary that morning, but mostly lingering in the background as Carson and Zaloo… Radek talked to me more about the device and ran more tests. Occasionally he would step forward, ask a question with an unconscious authority and responsibility for my well being that set my teeth on edge. Because I didn't need him to be responsible, didn't need anyone to be responsible for me. I had been taking care of myself for years, decades. Why the hell would I need someone to do that for me now? But when I was discharged I noticed he was gone and my stomach sank and before I could ask where he was… not that I cared mind you, but curiosity was winning over… Radek had me cornered asking questions about a grid system that I had been working on before the memory loss.

"This morning, not long ago, it does not matter."

"Oh," I said as relief and disappointment flooding me. And the dichotomy of the emotions left me as confused and frustrated as the damned ring that I realized I had clenched in my hand in my pocket.

"I understand it is difficult to overcome galactic-size ego of McKay, but try to see that this affected more than just you."

I frowned defensively and forced myself to release the grasp. "Thank you for pointing out the blatantly obvious."

I had lost my memories, not my eyesight, and anyone not in a comatose state could take one look at Sheppard and see how hard he was working to hold it together. And it totally sucked, because he was a good guy, a hell of a guy, and although the thought of what we supposedly were was absolutely ludicrous, he completely and firmly believed it and it was tearing at his insides. No one deserved that. But what the hell was I supposed to do about it? Be a pal and pretend? No fucking way; both literally and figuratively. Move out myself? That was what I had intended to do, but dreaded worse than a Wraith scouting party. I had seen the reaction when I took the ring off, the goddamned ring that I noticed I was once again working back onto my finger in my pocket. I couldn't imagine how he would react to me packing a bag to move out. And an emotionally vulnerable Sheppard was almost scarier than losing my memories in the first place. It went against everything I had come to expect from him… cockiness, confidence, determination, strength, a boyishly cavalier attitude that had obviously landed him in hot water on more than one occasion. That smart ass wall that I had slammed up against time and time again had crumbled and I now found tripping through the rubble was more dangerous than trying to beat it down in the first place.

"I just thought you might want to discuss the grid problem some more." I told him a little too defensively. "If what you say is true, that I had solved the problem before I lost my memories, then I could probably solve it again. In fact, I should probably go back to the lab…"

He shook his head. "I will figure it out from the archaic chicken scratching you left behind. Probably would not work anyway, once you had finished final calculations. You have become sloppy over the years, relying more and more on me to make sure your mistakes were kept to minimum."

"I've lost my memories, not my intelligence, which you are majorly insulting if you think I will believe any of that bullshit you were just shoveling."

He laughed forlornly. "Perhaps you are right, Rodney. But you are to stay here. Dr. Heightmeyer believes that being in familiar place could trigger some memories. You should spend time in quarters, regain memories, then come tell me what brilliant idea you had before you erased your mental hard drive with the device."

"Fine. I'll look around, then come by the lab. It hasn't moved has it?"

"No, is still in same place." He started down the hall. "If you need anything find someone else to help. I am much too busy correcting all your mistakes in lab to play babysitter." But he smiled in a completely unfamiliar familiar way to show he was joking then continued down the corridor and out of sight.

Well, here I was… alone outside the door to my quarters. No reason to just stand here… Noooo reason at all. Yeah… I should go in. I mean what could be so bad in there? Okay, the frightening image of scattered sex toys and mounds of gay porn that shot through my head for one thing.

"Oh, for God's sake, this is ridiculous," I muttered as I activated the door with a thought and stepped into… a typical Atlantean residential quarters. It wasn't that much different from my old quarters. A little larger and a hell of a lot neater, but nothing out of the ordinary. Although the Ancients had evidently had larger apartment like dwellings in the outer arms of the city, the residencies closer to the control room were set up like studio apartments, one large room with a bathroom and closets. This one was roomy enough for a large bed pushed up against a wall on one side of the room nearest the bathroom and a small sitting area with sofa and coffee table and bookshelves on the other. At first glance it seemed normal, nothing out of the ordinary.

I perused the bookshelf, all my text and reference books in place. A laptop sat on the table, its screen open and a few DVDs were stacked beside it. Movies I hadn't even heard of but were probably brought over in someone's luggage on the Daedalus. I moved to the opposite side of the room and opened the top drawer of the dresser that sat next to the neatly made bed to find it half full of socks and underwear, all mine. The next drawer was completely empty, the next completely full of my clothes. The closet was the same way, only my clothes, all pushed to one side.

Yep, everything seemed perfectly normal, if you didn't take into account that my books seemed to slump awkwardly were they sat, as if they had lost their main support, that I would never want to watch any of the movies by the laptop, that my clothes seemed to have been abandoned and cowering in the corner of the closet, that I had never made a bed in my life, and that the empty spot on the bedside table seemed to draw my eyes like a magnet to something that I was subconsciously looking for but had no idea what it was.

But if I didn't think too hard about it, then it didn't seem that odd. And I was doing pretty good, not thinking about that empty dresser drawer, when I walked into the bathroom and saw them. Fuck. How could I ignore those? How could I ignore what they meant? How could I ignore something as domestically comfortable as two toothbrushes resting in a single cup above the sink? Two goddamn toothbrushes leaning against each other in perfect contentment. And the part that sent the biggest flush of panic through me was that I didn't know which one was mine and which one was his, but I knew with every fiber of my being that one of them was his and it was right the hell where it was supposed to be.

I turned quickly on my heels and left the bathroom. This was… this was… this was fucked up, totally and completely fucked up. I found I was gripping the ring again, pulled it out of my pocket and shoved it on my finger. Yeah, so totally fucked up. I bolted for the door, moving all the faster when I glanced down and saw a wadded up Johnny Cash poster in the trash can. I needed to talk to someone, but my automatic first choice was completely out of question, besides I had no idea where he had moved. So I went with my second choice and headed for the infirmary.

By the time I reached his office, the urge to hyperventilate had subsided but I must have still had a bit of wide eyed panic on my face. Carson looked up from the files he was going over on his desk with an alarmed, "Rodney, what's the matter?"

I suddenly felt foolish, but there was no way of getting out of it now. "I, uh… I need a new toothbrush," I told him lamely.

"A toothbrush?"

"Yes, you know, dental hygiene and all that. A toothbrush, a goddamn toothbrush, Carson. Do you have one or not?"

"Aye, they're back in the storeroom," he reassured me as he came around the desk and guided me toward the door with a steady hand on my back. "Let's go get one."

We walked across the infirmary and entered a large supply closet. Carson busied himself rummaging for the toothbrush as he asked me, "Not that you would remember, but I just gave you one a few weeks ago. Is there a problem with that one?"

I sunk to a stool that sat next to the shelf. "There are two."

"Two?"

"Two toothbrushes in my bathroom, and I don't know which one is mine."

"Ah," he said simply then sat on the floor beside me as he handed over a new packaged toothbrush.

I took the small box and hesitated. "I just don't get this Carson, how this could really be true about me and Sheppard."

"Well, you know what they say, opposites attract and such."

I shrugged. "It's not so much what's opposite about us that is confusing, it's what's the same."

"Oh," then with dawning realization he gave me a surprised look, "Oh!"

"Yeah, Oh!"

He sat silent for a second then with a slight grimace regarded me. "Really?"

"What do you mean, really? Of course, really. Really, really."

He frowned in thought. "You mean before… back on Earth… you never… with a man…"

"No! Christ, Carson, don't sound so surprised."

"Well, we just assumed…"

"Then you assumed wrong," I told him pointedly. "I mean there were a few dry spots along the way back on Earth that I thought it might be a good idea, but never seriously…" I shook my head quickly and let out a small nervous laugh. "I can assure you, that if what you and the Czech guy…"

"Radek," he corrected me.

I sighed. "Radek… if what the two of you told me is true, then I can safely say that Sheppard was the first man I so much as kissed, much less…" I waved a hand. "… anything else."

Carson winced but said nothing. "What?" I demanded.

He shook his head in dismissal. "'Tis nothing."

"And that usually means its something." Carson actually blushed and I groaned inwardly. "Oh, God, there was someone else, wasn't there? I don't fucking believe this. I couldn't get a date on Earth to save my life, but I come here and evidently turn into the base trollop, a man-whore for the masses."

Carson was shaking his head, but I ignored him and grabbed the sleeve of his lab coat. "Please tell me it wasn't one of the marines. I mean Sheppard is bad enough, but at least he can integrate on demand."

"Rodney it wasn't like that. It was your body, but someone else had control of it at the time. And it was just a kiss."

"What do you mean someone else had control of my body?"

"Someone else's consciousness was downloaded into your body along with your own. A young woman who acted on a few impulses when she wrangled control from you."

I grimaced. "So, uh, who'd I… she kiss?"

He smiled with a weak shrug. I instantly let go of his labcoat and stood, leaning heavily against the shelf as I fought not to lose my breakfast. "Oh, you have got to be shitting me!"

"Well, it wasn't exactly a bloody stroll through the garden on my part either," he demanded defensively.

I buried my head in my crossed arms on a pile of folded hospital scrubs. "This day just goes from bad to worse. First Sheppard and now you."

He patted me on the shoulder. "Lad, I can't argue about your opinion of our… intimacies." I swallowed thickly at the word. "But I can with your assessment of your relationship with the Colonel." I raised my head enough to peek at him with one wary eye. "I've never known you to be happier, Rodney."

"I just have a hard time believing that, Carson," I told him honestly.

He smiled sadly then hitched his chin toward my hand. "Is that why you put your wedding ring back on, then?"

I sat back down with a sigh, fingering the silver band. "I have no idea why I did it. It just… feels right. Just like my room feels empty. This rational part of my brain keeps saying this can't be right, but there's something else…" I threw my arms up in exasperation. "All I know is that I don't remember it, any of it, and until I do I just can't accept it."

"That bloody device may have taken your memories, but it obviously didn't take the emotions that went along with them. And I think that's an encouraging sign."

"Oh, really? And just why is that?"

"Because it makes me think that you haven't lost your memories so much as repressed them… until you can deal with the trauma you have to deal with."

"What trauma? No one said anything about me suffering a trauma."

Carson crossed his arms and gave me one of his clinical assessments. "Well, given what had happened the day before you touched the device and where you repressed back to, I'd say it was the deaths of members of the science staff."

I swallowed again. I felt dazed whenever I thought over all the names that Sheppard had told me had died, numb. Names I couldn't seem to recall, but a long list nonetheless. So many gone and I couldn't help but wonder if there had been anything that I could have done to stop at least some of them. Who the hell wouldn't want to forget? "So, you think that if I come to grips with all the deaths, then I'll get my memories back, just like that? Simple, huh? Piece of cake."

He shook his head slowly. "No, probably not, but that's not my specialty, it's Kate's. But I'm completely convinced they're locked away in that stubborn head of yours and you have the capacity to get them back."

"Well, then, happy day, there's light at the end of the tunnel after all. Hopefully it's not a bunch of dead relatives waiting to welcome us."

He gave another sad smile and patted my shoulder. "Thanks," I told him holding up the toothbrush but meaning so much more.

"You're welcome." Then he walked back to his office.

I made my way out of the infirmary trying to cling to the hope that it was just a matter of time before my memories came back on their own. Trying to remind myself that that was a good thought, a happy thought. But with Teyla still back on that planet, and an entire population on the brink of extinction and Sheppard living God only knew where in the city, it was hard to be happy about anything at all.

x x x x x

"A nuclear bomb? You went on a fucking suicide run straddling a bomb I made, you stupid bastard? Tell me it isn't true, okay? Tell me you are not that mind-boggling idiotic, I beg you. Tell me, go on. I'm listening. I'm all ears. Look at them flap, just waiting to hear one word from you that will have me wanting to hit you just a little goddamn less."

I'd opened the door to my new…to my temporary quarters to see a red-faced astrophysicist standing there, his fist still raised from pounding. A finger had extended from the fist to slam into my chest and the tirade had begun. I did my best not to physically stagger under a sense of homesickness. I'd never known you could be homesick for a person…that my life, my existence, my goddamn everything could become so wrapped up in one loud-mouthed, brilliant, egotistical son of a bitch. I stepped back…away from his finger and away from him. I just needed a few feet of space. Enough to keep my equilibrium. And while I was doing those things, the smart things, I couldn't help the parts of me that refused to distance themselves. I felt my face brighten as my lips curved. Traitor adrenaline had my chest tightening painfully.

"Actually," I corrected calmly, "a Genii scientist made it. You just put the finishing touches on it. And you already hit me. Weir hugged me and you hit me." I lifted rueful eyebrows. "It was a weird day all the way around."

"Genii?" he snorted dismissively. "I've seen their technology, remember? At best they built a firecracker in a pretty titanium casing. So…God, just shut up for a second and let me process the fact I almost killed you." He pushed past me into the room and whirled to fold arms and present his stiff back to me. After a few moments of silence he turned back and fixed me with an uncertain gaze that immediately dropped to the floor. "So where'd I hit you? Stomach? Jaw? Kick you in the knee? What?"

"Nose." I went back to the bed I hadn't bothered to get sheets and a blanket for. I'd slept on bare mattress last night. I didn't want a blanket or anything else. Putting those on made it real…made it an actual bed, and I wasn't sleeping in a bed without Rodney. No fucking way.

I sat and finished reassembling the nine-mil. I had been cleaning it when the knock on the door had come. Doing that, for the fifth time now, had kept me from showing up at the lab like I did several times everyday. Instead of that, I'd concentrated on tearing my gun down and breathed the smell of cleaning fluid. You might forget your toothbrush, but you never forgot your gun oil. I looked up at him as I slammed the magazine home. "Everything okay, Rodney?" I asked, concerned. "I thought you would've been in the lab by now. Even in two years that hasn't changed." I made the effort to keep my smile despite the sliver of worry. I might be lost without Rodney, but he was lost period. He needed all the reassurance I could give him. And chances were he wasn't going to say, hey, nice you moved out, but you know what? Not far enough. I hear there's a five o'clock to the mainland. I bought you a ticket.

"Your nose?" he echoed distractedly with an expression of both horror and amusement that rippled across his face. "I hit you in the nose? Really? Well, it certainly sounds like you deserved it. When Zal…when Radek told me what you'd done…." This time a different expression appeared—this one was harder to read, and it disappeared so quickly that I didn't get a chance to. "And I was in the lab…being massively nonproductive." He frowned. "Apparently I've become even more brilliant over the years, because I have nothing. Absolutely nothing. I can't even decipher my own notes. It's very annoying and I imagine it'll be more annoying to those doomed on planet Gouda." He grimaced. "And that little Japanese girl keeps crying all over me. I think my lab coat has shrunk two sizes already."

"It really did take you a helluva long time to be bothered with names, didn't it?" But he'd never had a problem with mine. Granted, John Sheppard wasn't that difficult a name, but it warmed a part of me anyway. I stood and slid the gun into my holster. "It's Miko. You broke her heart, you know, when…." I cut myself off abruptly and exhaled as he began to shift his weight nervously from foot to foot. "Sorry."

He ignored the apology and the cause, looking around the room. Except for the bare bed and a few garbage bags I hadn't unpacked yet, it was empty. "Nice place. Very…spare." And when it hit him why it was so damn spare, he added hurriedly, "Almost zen. Good feng shui for a military man, I'm guessing." His eyes slid towards mine then skittered away. "I went to your old room looking for you, but some peach fuzz lieutenant with a speech impediment was living there. I had to track your ATA signature down through the computer, which was remarkably uncooperative. Some moron was running a horribly inefficient diagnostic program on it. Almost criminal in its redundancy."

"That's a West Virginian accent, McKay, not a speech impediment," I snorted, "and you've made it clear what you think of Grodin's replacement. Control is on their third computer guy now. After you drove the one to a balcony and a long, long drop, not many want the job." Which brought us to the subject at hand. "Talked to Dr. Heightmeyer yet?"

He folded his arms and responded defensively, "It's not as if I haven't wanted to. I've been a little busy, okay? There's a crisis. There's always a crisis, right? As soon as I work out how to save an entire race of cheese-meisters, I'll promptly run off and let Kate un-traumatize me. All of that shouldn't take more than…oh, ten or so minutes. Save planet, deal with losing people I respected and was responsible for, get my memories back. What could be simpler?" He moved a hand up to his face and rubbed hard at his forehead over his right eye.

Crisis. Always a crisis…the same thing he had said the day before yesterday. Unfortunately, I knew it wasn't a memory, only an observation on our precarious lives in the Pegasus galaxy.

"Hey," I said with false cheer, watching with increased worry as lines of pain appeared beside his mouth, "how about we grab some lunch? Twenty minutes of nothing but food and bitching about how hands that touched Kavanagh's dick should be amputated, not fixing our meals. Things will seem better after that. I know nothing refreshes you like food and snark."

"Well, things couldn't seem worse, that's for sure" he sighed. "And I'm not going to buy anyone sleeping with Kavanagh, not even a doughy cafeteria lady in a hairnet. So forget about it. I lost my memory, not my ability to reason. Besides I really don't have the time. I just came to bring you this." He put his hand in his lab coat pocket and pulled out two toothbrushes. "You forgot it," he said awkwardly, shoving them both into my hand. "Only I couldn't…I didn't know which one was yours. But you left it and I know you need a toothbrush, right? The world can fall apart around your ears, but dental hygiene is always important. You wouldn't want Dr. Bartleson gassing you and molesting you under the guise of a root canal. I'm assuming he, his gold medallion, and that godawful, mustard gas quality cologne of his are still around. No Wraith would touch a meal that smelled like eau de disco sweat."

He'd showed up on the pretense of a toothbrush. I felt the flare of hope sharpen. Yeah, Beckett and Dr. Z were saying once the trauma was dealt with Rodney would get his memories back, but blue sky optimism was a rare luxury out here. And sometimes faith was harder to come by than ZPMs. I was trying; I was trying like hell, but I'd take all the help I could get. I looked down at the two brushes in my hand, one blue and one green, and then gave Rodney a sly smile. "Cooties?"

He flushed bright red and pressed his lips together tightly. "Oh, I like that. I try to do a good deed, track you down to the slums of Atlantis." That would be any floor that his lab was not on. "And this is the thanks I get. Mockery."

"Come on, Rodney." I fought the urge to throw an arm over his shoulders and instead bounced the brushes on my palm. "You wouldn't want anything else. If I gave you sympathy, you'd eat me alive. You're a shark. Sharks eat cute little fluffy sympathetic bunnies. Yeah, you'd eat me, and if I told you how you tattooed my name on your ass, you'd skin me alive." I grinned. "Before running to Beckett for a skin graft."

"Tattoo? Tattoo? I did not. I so did not, you lying…." He caught the grin on my face and snorted. "It's nice to know you haven't changed in two years. Your asshole quality can still be used as a constant in any equation." He gave me that crooked quirk of lips and then said sincerely, "I'd miss this, you know? Hell, even now I miss it. You're staying away and I know it's to make me more comfortable and I appreciate the effort, I do. But I miss my friend." He scowled. "I miss you, damn it. And I want to know…." He hesitated then plunged on. "I want to know that if something goes wrong—that if I don't get my memory back…and we're just friends again, will you be okay with that? Because I really don't want to lose that. I don't. So, I just…." He blew out a hard breath and repeated anxiously…demandingly, "Will you be okay with that?"

And like that the faith and hope went down in flames. One shot from Rodney and I was hurtling towards hard earth with no ejection seat…no parachute.

"Actually, Rodney, no, I won't." My lips were numb and the words came through thickly. "I won't be fucking okay with that." In fact I was so not fucking okay with it that I planned on going to go to the gym to beat the hell out of any marine willing to step onto the mat. And there was no time like the present. I dropped the toothbrushes on the floor, turned on my heel and walked through the door.

Behind me, I heard, "Sheppard, wait. I didn't mean…well, I meant it, but only if I never get…."

I was sure he kept talking, but after I mentally triggered the door to shut in his face I didn't have to hear what it was he said. And that was the first good thing to happen to me today.

An hour later I was staring up at the ceiling of the gym as it spun lazily in one direction and then the other. It was the same as most ceilings in Atlantis, high with lots and lots of stained glass. Orange mostly. It always looked like sunset, no matter what time of day it was. The sun arrowed through the tinted glass and blossomed dark amber, a shade lighter than blood. Sometimes it was…hell, beautiful, and sometimes it was depressing as fuck. Like now.

"Colonel?"

I rolled my head to one side and looked to the right. Radek stood there, eyebrows furrowed. "Need something, Dr. Z?"

"Well, yes. I have been calling on com, but…do you know you have black eye?" He touched a finger to the skin under his own eye and winced. "Is huge."

"You should see the other guys," I dismissed. Sitting up, I reached for the towel lying next to me and wiped sweat from my face and neck. "Sorry about not answering. My com bit the dust about forty minutes ago." I'd remembered to take it out, but one particularly beefy marine had been tossed onto it shattering the fairly sturdy mechanism into nearly microscopic bits. "What can I do for you?" The dizziness had subsided and although my ribs and eye ached I wasn't really any the worse for wear after my workout. The three marines had hobbled out, bitching and swearing though, which made me think maybe they needed the practice time with Teyla and Dex far more than I did. Pussies.

"Ah, need escort to shield planet. We are not making progress. I know Rodney…before…did not want anyone to go, but I need to see apparatus for self, see if computer miss something." He took off his glasses to wipe them very thoroughly with a tissue from his pocket and murmured casually, "Thought maybe you appreciate field trip now."

I shot him a glance and twitched my lips wryly at the knowing light in his eyes. "Yeah, maybe I could."

He watched as I stood and stretched with a bit of cussing of my own. "To be a scientist is to seek to define world around us," he offered slowly. "To seek control." Putting his glasses back on, he added matter-of-fact, "Rodney is afraid. He has no control and he is afraid." He clucked a tongue and shook his head. "I miss him, too. Godzilla of egos stomping all lesser egos with big careless feet and still I miss him. Zaloonka. Kurva. Zaloonka. Gah. Hmph."

Running a hand over sweaty hair, I snorted with a shadow of dark amusement, "At least he doesn't think you have cooties."

"Obviously you have amnesia, too," he replied with jaundiced gloom. "Rodney think everyone has cooties. That is why he steals your food before you take bite. Otherwise contaminated."

He had me there. Draping the towel around my neck, I said, "Let me grab a shower and I'll meet you in the gate room in fifteen."

Radek frowned. "Not going to say goodbye to Rodney first?"

It was another habit we'd grown into, because you never knew. Shit happened…and people didn't always come back. It wasn't something you dwelled on. It wasn't something you could dwell on and stay sane, but the knowledge was always lurking in the back of your brain. I rarely let any geek go anywhere that was remotely dangerous through the gate without me, Dex, or a butt-load of marines, and even more rarely was I willing to let Rodney do the same. It happened…witness the trip to the space station where Peter had died. But after that it happened a whole lot fucking less. On the other hand, times did come up when it was strictly the goon squad jumping through the gate. I wouldn't say it was frequent, but it was occurring more often now than it ever had in the beginning. Rodney didn't like it, to say the least, but it was the way things sometimes had to be. I always said goodbye, and if he could, Rodney always watched me go. But today….

"I'm not in the mood for goodbyes, Dr. Z. Not now." Not when I could so easily envision it being permanent.

Will you be okay with that? Just being friends…will you?

Fuck.

Precisely fifteen minutes later, I stepped through the gate at Zelenka's side. Almost unconsciously I started to look back over my shoulder, felt my hand start to lift in a wave, but I caught myself at the last minute. Instead, I kept walking. I didn't turn. I didn't look back, because I knew he wouldn't be there.

At least that's what I tried to do and that's what I tried to tell myself. But it was pointless to deny something so strong. I did turn and I did see him. Up on the balcony, he had his hands clasped behind his back and his stubborn chin up. When he saw my eyes on him, he leaned forward to wrap hands around the railing and nod once. And that's when I saw a glint of metal on his hand.

This time I did raise my hand in farewell and the hope that had disappeared came flooding back stronger than ever. I was going to get him back. I was.

And nothing was going to stop me.

TBC