Part 2: Found
I'd seen Sheppard off from the control room. Partly because it just felt right to do it, but mostly because Radek had told me in a rapid combination of Czech and English as he gathered laptop and field vest from the lab that I wasn't the only chicken-shit coward that he had stumbled across today, but I was the most selfish and that I should go to the control room because the other chicken-shit coward, this one with an impressive black eye, was getting ready to go through the gate.
So, I had gone. And for a moment I didn't think it really mattered if I was there or not, seeing as Sheppard didn't seem interested in looking back from his intended path through the wormhole. In fact, he seemed positively intent on not looking back. But right before he was to step through the gate he turned and blinked, as if surprised to see me. I leaned forward then and let him see my hands and more importantly what I was wearing on the third finger of the left one. I had taken the ring off right before I had knocked on his door because I didn't want him to get the wrong impression, and I had put it back on for my trip to the gate room for the exact same reason. He deserved to know that at least a subconscious part of me believed the same things that he did even if the words confirming those thoughts refused to come out of my mouth. Hell, he needed to know after hearing the words that had come from my mouth in those painfully empty quarters. When he had left…when he had stormed out…well, just suffice it to say that I couldn't really argue with Radek's assessment because I had felt pretty damned selfish and pretty much scared chicken-shitless.
Sheppard's lips had quirked into the faintest of smiles and he had raised a hand in farewell before he was swallowed up by the event horizon and deposited across the galaxy. I had waited until the wormhole winked out of existence, flexed my hands, stuffed them deep in my pockets so I wouldn't have to see the ring, and headed back to the lab.
Four hours and two boxes of tissue later I was still sitting there, handing yet another thin paper over my shoulder to a sniffling Japanese girl.
"Look, Miro…" I started calmly.
"Miko." She blew her nose loudly and I cringed to think of all the germs that she was releasing.
"Miko," I said the name through gritted teeth. I took a deep breath and continued with all the patience I could muster. "You like cheese, right?"
"I'm lactose intolerant," she told me and the sobbing renewed with gusto because evidently I had known that little tidbit of useless personal information before my memory loss.
I considered myself a reasonable man, a patient man, an understanding man. Others may not consider me as such, but I sure as hell did, especially considering the never-ending stream of circus monkeys with PhDs and gorillas with guns doing everything in their power to tap dance on my last nerve day in and day out. But even a reasonable man has his limits, and I had finally reached mine.
"Goddamnit, I really don't care about your inability to digest milk products right now. Because it has absolutely no impact on the consequences of a depleting oxygen supply on a group of people and their pet llamas that are going to die without our help. And to top it off, John and Radek are over there without me, getting into God only knows what kind of trouble, probably touching things they shouldn't be touching. So you need to pull it together, Miko, and stop leaking bodily fluids all over the lab and get to work!"
She blinked behind her glasses then broke into a broad smile. "Dr. McKay, you got our names right."
I blinked right back at her unexpected response to my rampage. "Huh," I considered, "you're right, I did." I smiled proudly and let out a small laugh. "I really did." And for a split second Sheppard and Zelenka had been more important than I had ever realized they could be. Hell, even Miko had seemed more like family than a subordinate… granted she was the shy wallflower cousin that lived with a dozen cats sort of family, but family nonetheless.
"Maybe if you yell at me more, you will remember more," she offered hopefully.
"Maybe," I agreed excitedly. "Let's give it a try." I was just about to lay into her for leaving one of her tissues on the work bench when my radio keyed.
"Dr. McKay, this is Weir, we have an incoming transmission from Colonel Sheppard and the rest of the team. I thought you might like to hear it, as well."
"On my way," I told her and headed for the control room with a giddy promise to return and berate Miko as soon as I was finished.
I had remembered. Granted it was more a fleeting feeling than an actual concrete memory, but at this point I was willing to take what I could get. The same fleeting feeling I had had that morning when I had awakened to find myself sleeping up against the wall and instinctively reached out an arm to the other side of the bed only to feel a moment of panic to touch empty space. As I walked down the hallway, I concentrated, trying to recognize anything else that may have returned. Then they started… Abrams, Gall, Wagner, Johnson, Dumais, Hays… and with the names came a dull pain above my eye, growing stronger with each one. The same pain had started in Sheppard's quarters as well, when I had thought on the burden of my responsibilities, but this time it was stronger and I actually had to stop and put a hand to the wall for support. And just as suddenly as it had come, the pain was gone, as so were the names. They had been there, I knew, but all that remained were letters, jumbled like the tiles of a Scrabble game, and I was unable or unwilling to form them back into the memories that they had been.
I continued on to the control room, in a much fouler mood than I had started. When I arrived, Elizabeth, Carson and Bates were crowded around a small screen at the control station. Where Peter Grodin should have been sitting was another nameless technician, trying to adjust the quality of the picture. The ache started again when I tried to remember what had happened to Peter, and with a sickening roll of my stomach, I realized what the answer must be.
I stepped in behind Carson, in time to hear Teyla providing an update on the evacuation preparations. Beside her stood a large man with dred locks and muscular crossed arms.
I nudged Carson and mumbled under my breath, "So is Teyla on the planet or at a bachelorette party?"
"What?" he whispered back.
"The himbo standing next to her. What? Is he the local head cheese of cheese heads or the evening's entertainment?"
"That's Ronan Dex, Rodney. He's a member of your team."
"You're kidding, right? Where's Ford?"
Carson's face tightened and he shook his head. "Ford's not on your team anymore," he whispered sadly.
"Where the hell is he?" I demanded in my own whisper. Then I felt the blood drain from my face. "Oh, God, is he dead?"
Carson shook his head. "No, but it's too complicated to explain right now."
I crossed my arms and frowned. "So I'm supposed to believe that we removed Ford from the team and replaced him with a male stripper."
"Rodney!" he hissed.
"Well, what am I supposed to think? The man is wearing a belly shirt and chaps for Pete's sake. Chippendale's is probably offering a reward for information on his whereabouts right now."
"The man could crush your bloomin' head with his thumb and index finger. So, you better watch your yap. You're not exactly his favorite person as it is."
I snorted. "Please, I'll just slip a few singles into his waist band and be fine. Besides, I'm not exactly anyone's favorite person, Carson."
Carson rolled his eyes and tilted his head toward the screen, "I wouldn't be so sure about that, lad."
Teyla and Bob Marley had moved back allowing Sheppard and Radek to come into view. Sheppard seemed to be scanning the small MALP screen. "Where's McKay?"
"Here," I called as I pushed through between Bates and Elizabeth so that I was in sight of the camera transmitting back to the planet. "I'm right here."
Sheppard gave me a small smile, one that I recognized in all its condescending purpose. "Rodney, nice of you to join us."
I rolled my eyes. "Nice to see you, too, Colonel," I told him dryly. I tapped below my own eye to indicate his blackened one. "You might want to take better care in picking your playmates from now on."
The smile softened and I realized I had used my left hand with the ring to indicate the injury. "I plan to," he told me meaningfully and I felt myself flush at his words. Jesus H., the man was flirting with me by MALP, from another flippin' planet, and in front of everyone in the gate room. And the worst part, the very worst goddamn part was that for the first time in my life I understood what it felt like to be a space bimbo on Kirk's radar.
I cleared my throat, intentionally crossed my arms to hide the ring, and raised my chin. "Do you have any more information on the power grid?"
Radek pushed his glasses up as he spoke. "Yes, is good thing we came to planet to see for ourselves."
I perked up. "So you think you've found a way to fix it?"
"No, is bad news. The cascade failure, it is happening faster than we predicted. The area under the shield is half the size we thought it would be by now."
"How much time do we have," Elizabeth asked.
"By my revised calculations, entire grid will be shut down within thirty to thirty-five hours. But area around gate will go before then."
"What does that mean, Dr. Zelenka?" she asked.
"It means that if we do not fix before that section shuts down, then shielded area will be cut off from gate."
"And when do you think we will lose that particular section?"
Radek shrugged as he considered her question. "Is hard to say, but I think less than twenty hours."
Sheppard cut in. "Oxygen levels outside the shielded areas are already down to twelve percent and they just keep falling."
Elizabeth turned to Carson who shook his head. "That is already dangerously low, anyone spending anytime in that sort of atmospheric condition is going to be experiencing faulty judgment, confusion, and disorientation. And if it falls below ten percent it will become life threatening."
"Teyla," Elizabeth called, "can we have everyone evacuated within twenty hours?"
Teyla stepped forward again. "It will be difficult. Many have already left to stay with family and friends on other worlds, but most have nowhere to go."
"How many people are we talking about?" Sheppard asked her.
"We can take some of them on Atlantis, but nowhere near that many," he told us.
Elizabeth nodded her head gravely. "Agreed, Colonel. I'll have another team start looking for other temporary relocation sites, but until then let's see if we can get this power system back up and running."
"That has been plan all along," Radek supplied with a frustrated sigh.
"Teyla and Dex are going to stay behind for a few more hours," Sheppard informed us, "but I think Dr. Z here is anxious to get back to Atlantis and the lab." Radek nodded in agreement.
"And what about you, John?" Elizabeth asked the question that I wasn't willing to.
His eyes scanned the screen until they came to rest were I would be standing. "I'm coming home," he told her but I couldn't help and think that the statement was directed to me alone.
x x x x x
I decided I'd made a tactical error.
Don't get me wrong; I was excellent at screwing up various things…from personally to professionally, but when it came to tactics, from sound to daring, I usually had more of a grip on how to accomplish a goal. When I'd moved out on Rodney, I had fucked up royally. I knew him. I knew how well he liked change not initiated by him…not at all. I knew how stubborn he was and how willing to manipulate or flat out bully those around him to get what he wanted. Only now he wasn't going to get his way…because he didn't have a clue as to what he really did want. Staying out of his sight was only going to make it easier for him to avoid me, and I didn't want to be avoided.
He'd come to see me off. He'd let me see his ring. It was all a start and now was no time to let anyone drag their heels…him or me. So I grabbed my garbage bags and headed back to our room. Once there I triggered the door and walked in. Dumping the bags on our bed, I looked around and gave a heavy exhalation of relief. I could breathe again. Stupid, I know, but I felt like I'd stopped doing that the second I had walked out of the room yesterday morning.
My eyes were caught by my Johnny Cash poster lying on the coffee table. The two rumpled pieces had been carefully smoothed out and taped meticulously back together. Well, look at that, I thought to myself. I moved over and picked it up. As I was studying it, a damp and naked Rodney walked out of the bathroom while scrubbing his wet hair with a towel.
I cleared my throat. "Um, hey…I would've knocked, but I thought you'd be in the lab."
It wasn't quite a seizure but it was a damn close imitation. Arms windmilled, muscles spasmed, and he couldn't seem to decide whether to cover himself with a towel or sprint back to the bathroom. Finally he managed to do both. As Rodney bolted towards the bathroom legs pumping, he wrapped the towel around his waist. He disappeared from sight, but his voice wasn't so shy and retiring. "What the fuck, Sheppard? What the fuck?"
"Yeah…" I drawled. "Like I said, I thought you'd be in the lab."
"Well, pardon me for taking ten minutes for a little personal hygiene. Miko wouldn't dream of complaining; she'd probably soak up my sweat and worship it as the effluvium of a saint, but Radek isn't so inclined. When you're compared to the scent of a sweaty linebacker's ass-crack, you tend to take it seriously. And as the PSAs say, now you know. And since you know you can…oh, let's see…leave."
I moved over to the bathroom door and leaned against the frame, charitably facing the outer room instead of what I would have much rather had a look at. "Actually, I'm moving back in. Don't worry," I added before he could say anything. "I'll sleep on the couch."
"Oh, well, now I feel so much better," came the razor sharp retort from behind me. "The horniest man in the Pegasus galaxy says he'll sleep on the couch. Yes, that's right up there with let's take off our clothes and just cuddle. A line, by the way, I tried many a time in college. No one bought it then and I'm not buying it now."
"The horniest, huh?" I grinned. "And here I thought you had amnesia."
"Oh Christ, you're making me crazy. Shut up. Just shut up."
Something thwapped me hard in the shoulder, a bar of soap maybe. It was a familiar sensation. It was how Rodney usually woke me up. Impossibly cheered, I said, "You know, I do have to coordinate evacuation teams. I was going to run around and do it, but now I think I could do it by com. Make this my own personal control room. It's a challenge, but I think I'm up for it." I snatched a quick peek over my shoulder. I was truly shooting for nobility here, but I was only human. To hear McKay tell it, more basely human than most. For my trouble I received a murderous glare and a sopping washcloth in the face.
It was worth it.
"You are so dead. Dead, do you hear me?" Rodney pushed past me to grab some clothes from the dresser and once again vanish back into the bathroom. This time the door slid shut firmly behind him…which made me wonder why it hadn't done that the first time. Two minutes later it opened again and he steamed out. He didn't look at me, simply kept chugging towards the door. "Out. I want you out when I get back, all right? Nothing personal. I'm just not quite ready to…er…this…with you…." Arms waved desperately. "I'll come visit you in the zen palace if I have time. If that's okay…. I hope it's okay, and that, you know, I have the time. Well, going. Bye." And he was gone.
Before the ring, I might've been discouraged. But I wasn't letting myself go that way again. If I'd given up that quickly over three years ago, I would've died on that Wraith ship right along with Sumner. Shrugging, I moved over to the bed, pushed the bags to the floor, and flopped onto my back. Keying my com, I said, "Bates? I have some work for you. I want ten evacuation teams…." As I talked on, my eyes slid to the poster I'd left on the coffee table and I smiled to myself in satisfaction.
A few hours later I was doing what I most often spent the vast majority of my time doing…keeping geeks alive. "Vegetarian for Lady Miko." I presented the plate to her with a flourish and watched as her eyes nearly rolled back into her head as she did a helluva impression of a spontaneous combustion victim. Hastily, I averted my gaze from her and her bonfire red skin before she went catatonic and handed Dr. Z his plate from the tray. "Meatloaf. Goatloaf. Some kind of loaf and a double helping of mac and cheese."
"Ah!" Radek's eyes brightened. He had a serious jones for macaroni and cheese, the more thick and gluey the better. "You are good man, Colonel. You deserve so much better than what life has cursed you with. I hear there is new anthropologist coming on next Daedalus run. Specialty mating rituals of aboriginal peoples." He winked knowingly. "Also double D, I hear. Could be fertility statue come to life. Is how you say? Hubba hubba."
"Yes, this is all very conducive to saving desperate lives and tasty cheese," Rodney scowled with more annoyance than was called for. "Perhaps you could draw him some visual aids while you eat, Zaloonka. I'm sure it would be instructional for us all." And maybe Rodney was already being a little instructional in his own right.
I winked at McKay and handed him his plate through the slowly turning hologram. "Spam stew and two butterscotch puddings. Your favorite."
"You have got to be kidding. I know I don't have a problem with cafeteria food, but even I…oh wow." He spooned up a second mouthful of the stew and repeated blissfully, "Oh wow."
"They first came up with it a year ago last month. You celebrate that anniversary with more enthusiasm than our own," I snorted. Slouching against the counter, I poked a finger at the hologram. There was a ripple of light that prompted yet another scowl from Rodney. "Should I ask about any progress?"
"Only if you want Spam where it doesn't belong," he mumbled darkly around another mouthful.
"Yeah, not touching that one," I responded. McKay's mouth quirked minutely at the comment before he turned his attention back to the shield and his amusement disappeared.
"Too bad the Ancients didn't bother to issue warranties, because right now we'd be better off calling in the goddamn Maytag repair man." He slapped the bowl down on the counter and Radek winced as gray pink gravy went flying.
"Rodney, I tell them in control all day, every day, and now you." His hands flew in demonstration. "Flinging food and juices. Is not good for computers. Is not good for…." Zelenka caught the molten laser blue shot his way and he finished quickly, "Yes, never mind. I bring up at next week's staff meeting. Please to continue with gravy application."
I slapped Rodney's back lightly and then gripped his shoulder. "You've got a few more hours. There's still time for you to pull a rabbit out of your ass…er…hat." I shot a sheepish look at Miko who squeaked behind her veggie sandwich. I slid my gaze back to McKay and gave him a look of bright humor. Squeezing his shoulder one last time, I released him reluctantly. "I'm going to check on the teams Bates has pulled together. I'll see you later." I grinned wolfishly. "And I think you know where."
I ducked the flying Spam and hit the corridor. Three hours later Rodney came stomping into the room, slammed a foot into the coffee table, and then collapsed onto the couch. Dropping his head into his hands, he made an inarticulate growling sound.
"Nothing, huh?" I laid my book onto the bed where I was reclining. I'd been ten minutes away from another trip to the lab. We were getting down to the wire now and if the geeks couldn't do it, it was time to get moving.
"Depends on your definition of nothing, but since you seem to be doing that so well right now, I'm sure your grasp of the concept is stellar," he said scathingly. "And what are you doing here? I told you I needed some space."
Pressure, Rodney performed like a rock star under it. Like a fucking rock star, loudly and with flare…but it didn't mean he had to like it. And he was more than happy to share that dislike with anyone in the tri-gate area. Getting up, I moved over and sat down on the couch next to him. Bumping his shoulder with mine, I ignored the last part of his tirade and said matter-of-fact, "Okay then. We evacuate. We lose some cheese, but we save the people and most of those funky six legged llama things they milk. We can't clean up every Ancient screw up in the galaxy." I shrugged. "And God knows they don't seem in a hurry to. So, we do what we can do."
"Do what we can do. It's not quite up there with Death Before Dishonor or Give me Liberty or Give me Death." He exhaled, rotated the heels of his hands against his eyes and then straightened to lean back against the couch. "Okay. Start the evacuations. We'll keep working to the end, but as it stands now, we're dead in the water." He stared into space for a few moments and finally snapped, "Damn it. It's right there. It's like this…this tickle in the back of my brain and every time I think I have it I remember these names. And then my head hurts and then it's all gone again. Names, tickle…just gone. I cannot believe I am such a goddamn wimp that I might get people killed because it's too painful to remember." Venom practically dripped from the word…venom for himself.
"Hey," I said sternly, wrapping my hand around his wrist. "You tell it to me often enough. Now I'm telling you. Shut up. You got me, Rodney? Shut up. You got zapped by an Ancient device. Shit happens. And you have every reason to not want to remember…at least for a while." My attempt at a reassuring smile wobbled a bit. "Just not permanently, okay?"
He looked over at me with tired, bloodshot eyes. "I am sorry, you know. I've been a dick." His mouth twisted ruefully. "More so than usual. I keep trying to kick you out of your home and the whole running away while yelling at the top of my lungs probably isn't doing much for your self-esteem." He tilted his head slightly towards me and relaxed, snorting. "Not that you've ever had a problem in that department before. Was Chaya at the wedding? Did she stand up during the 'does anyone here have any just reason' part?"
"Actually she's in a box. You souped up that Ancient mousetrap from the invulnerable thing, and…." I shook my head. "Never mind. You gloated too much the first time."
"Me? Gloat? Never. A horrific lie." His wrist turned into my hand until he could clasp my own wrist. I don't think he even knew he had done it until he looked down. "Oh. Ummm, that's kind of nice." He sounded surprised. I wasn't. I'd known how nice it was for a long time now.
"Yeah?" I smiled. And it wasn't my Kirk leer, as he liked to call it. It was the private smile I had for Rodney and only Rodney. It was a window to what I hadn't really believed I'd actually had in me until him. I had lust aplenty, sexual competition, the thrill of the chase, casual intimacy…I had shitloads of that. It was all I had ever given anyone that I'd been with—up until Rodney. Whatever my smile said to him, it never failed to stop him, to make him focus on me and only me. I had no idea what it looked like from the outside. I didn't want to know. I was sure it was painted with a vulnerability that would embarrass the hell out of me. Maybe even scare the hell out of me.
He looked up at me and caught the smile. The surprise in his voice spread to his face. "Yeah," he echoed softly. And that's when I saw him. I saw Rodney…the Rodney I'd woken up with two days ago. It wasn't all of him, only a flicker at the back of shadowed blue eyes. And Chaya…she'd been after Gall and Abrams had died, but he'd remembered her. He'd remembered her and maybe he'd remembered me. It wasn't all of Rodney or all of his memory, not yet, but it was enough that when he leaned a little closer, I did the same. I felt the faintest brush of his lips on mine, the warmth that radiated from them.
And for a second, one unmatchable second, the world was right again. The universe was whole again. I was whole again.
"No." A blow struck my chest hard enough that I fell onto my back on the couch. "No. I don't want to. I don't want to." There was the sound of running feet, the door opening….
And he was gone.
I, on the other hand, was still there, lying on my back and staring at the ceiling with the taste of defeat in my mouth. Oddly enough it tasted salty and bitter—like blood. If he'd given me a matching black eye, it would've been like they say…déjà vu all over again.
So much for optimism.
x x x x x
I had found a picture of me and John. It was set up as the wallpaper on my laptop. I had no idea who had taken it or when but we were in the field… vests, packs, guns all in place… and we were walking through an alien forest, talking as we went. It would have seemed like just another picture of two teammates, if not for the smile he was giving me. I had never seen a smile like that before, at least not from John and never directed at me. It was the first proof that I had had since the whole memory loss episode began that showed me what others had tried to tell me. Because as much as I might be able to deny the words they were saying, I couldn't deny what was behind that smile and I couldn't deny what was written all over my own face in return. It was the smile in that photograph that had originally sent me in search of his ATA gene in the city under the guise of delivering a pair of toothbrushes to his room and it was that same smile experienced first hand that had sent me in search of soft lips and warm welcome when I leaned toward him without conscious thought.
I could still feel his breath, even hours later back in the lab; still feel the ache in my body wanting him near, like the phantom twinge of a missing limb. But the flash of memory was gone, pushed back more violently than I had pushed him away when the names crashed down and the pain flared up. And as much as my body had made it abundantly clear that it wanted John, my mind was just as adamant that it didn't want to take on the burden of the names that would have to come along with those other memories.
John. I had never thought of him as John. Sheppard, Major, hell even Colonel was starting to sound normal, but never John. Not until now. And honestly, I didn't know if that was a good sign or not. Because even as that name started to settle back in my memory even more comfortably than the owner had settled in our quarters, the pain started behind my eye again and he was Sheppard once more.
With a rub of my forehead I glanced over at Radek then at my watch. I had gone way too long without caffeine. Sheppard should have been in here by now carrying a tray with snacks and coffee. It had been his pattern all day and now when I really could have used it, the Sheppard delivery service had closed for business. Not that I was really surprised, he was busy organizing the evacuation efforts. Right, that's why he wasn't here. I was sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the words I had yelled as I ran out the door. Words that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the memories of those dead scientists, but as Radek had said earlier, I was too much of a chicken-shit coward to go back and let him know.
I was just about to suggest a run to the cafeteria for coffee when Elizabeth called on the radio. "Rodney, I think you should report to the control room."
There was something in her tone that caused the hair to rise on my arms. "Why? Is there a problem?"
"Just come down here, please."
Radek had risen from his seat and was already moving toward the door. "On my way."
We made our way quickly through the halls, reaching the control room just as the worm hole disengaged and Teyla and several refugees stepped off the embarkation platform.
Elizabeth walked the short distance from the monitor she was watching, with Carson close on her heels. "There's been a problem," she told me succinctly. "Colonel Sheppard was working to evacuate people when the shield collapsed in the section he was in."
I frowned in confusion. "Whoa, whoa, wait. Sheppard's back on the planet?"
"Yes, he's been there most of the night. I thought you knew."
"Well, I knew he was going, he just never…" I stopped; of course he wouldn't have told me he was leaving, not after the way I had last left him. "It doesn't matter. Where is he now? Is he all right?"
"That's the problem," Carson supplied. "He's become disoriented because of the low oxygen, confused. Teyla was talking to him by radio for a while, trying to get him to return to the gate, but he hasn't made it back yet. She waited as long as she could, but the shield around the gate finally collapsed and she couldn't wait any longer."
Teyla placed a hand on my arm, causing me to jump as I didn't even know she had made her way up the stairs. "I am sorry, Dr. McKay, I stayed as long as I could, but I had refugees with me and dared not put them in further danger."
I ignored her and turned to Carson. "How long does he have?"
He shook his head. "Everyone responds to lowered oxygen differently. With the oxygen levels where they have been, he could last several hours, but with the levels continuing to fall, there's just no way to know. But given his erratic behavior so far, it is definitely affecting him."
"What sort of behavior?" I demanded as my heart pounded in my chest.
Teyla regarded me with serious eyes. "He told me he was coming toward the gate, but when I spoke with him again to check his progress, he had not left from his last location. Then it became obvious he thought he was already back in Atlantis. Right before I came through the gate he was calling for you on the radio."
I started for the stairs. "Dial the gate. I'm going to get him."
"Rodney, you're not thinking this through," Elizabeth insisted. "If you go over there, you'll just put yourself in the same situation he is and we'll be trying to figure out how to save both of you."
"Then what the hell do you suggest we do, Elizabeth? Leave him there and hope he stumbles across the gate?"
"We're going to reestablish the wormhole and see if we can reach him by radio. We were hoping you might be able to talk him back."
I swallowed my panic and nodded my head as the wormhole burst to life. "Sheppard, this is McKay. Do you copy?"
"Rodney?" a slightly slurred voice responded.
"Yeah, it's me." I leaned heavily into the control console, a combination of fear and relief washing over me.
"Where the hell are you? I've been calling you, but you haven't answered me. I was starting to get a little worried."
"Well, we're getting a little worried about you, too. Listen, do you think you can find your way back to the stargate?"
"You mean in the control room?"
I hung my head in frustration. "No, I'm in the control room. You're on another planet, and I need you to find your way back to the stargate there. Can you do that?"
"I think so."
I sighed in relief. "Good, now are you on your way?"
"In a minute, I'm feeling a little woozy right now." By the taut look on Carson's face, I knew that couldn't be good.
"No, no, no, Sheppard. You need to leave now. It's the planet that's making you feel that way. As soon as you get to the gate and back to Atlantis, you'll feel better. All right? So you need to head for the gate now."
"Rodney?" And he said my name with such tenderness that my legs felt wobbly.
"You've been in the lab all night. Are you coming home soon?"
I ran my hands through my hair, noticing for the first time how much they were shaking, turned to Elizabeth and managed to choke out, "Goddamnit, we need to go get him."
She shook her head sadly. "Rodney, without the shield, it is just too dangerous."
The shield, the fucking shield. The shield that I knew how to fix only couldn't remember how for the life of me, but I sure as hell was going to try to remember for the life of him. I had to remember the names, if I could just get past the names, I would have it. A list of names I sure as shit wasn't adding Sheppard's to.
I grabbed Radek by the shirt front and pulled him along behind me as Sheppard called again. "McKay?"
"Still here," I reassured. "Listen, I need to take care of something right now. But I'll be right back. Teyla will talk to you until I'm done, okay?" I nodded to Teyla who eyed me quizzically, but started talking to him even as I dragged Radek over to a corner of the room.
"Tell me the names," I directed.
"The names? Rodney, I don't understand…"
"The names of the scientists that died!" I took a deep breath, trying to hold the encroaching panic at bay a little longer. "I need to relearn them. If I can get past that, then I think I can remember the rest." He hesitated, so I started. "There were two killed by the Wraith when we went to see the weapon's satellite."
"Abrams and Gall," he confirmed.
I repeated the names, setting them to memory. "And then the nanovirus," I coaxed.
He sighed but ducked his head, "Wagner, Johnson, Dumais, and Hays." I repeated the names, feeling the pain start, and ignoring it as I motioned for him to continue. "And then Peter…" he hesitated at the name.
"Grodin," I stated out loud. "Abrams, Gall, Wagner, Johnson, Dumais…" I grabbed at my head as the pain exploded above my eye.
"Rodney, this is not good," Radek insisted as he took my arm.
I shook him off. "Keep going."
"You could be putting yourself in danger by doing this," he reasoned.
I regarded him with desperate eyes. "Sheppard's already in danger, no could be about it."
He signed again but did as requested. "Then during Wraith attack…"
And the names kept coming and I kept repeating them and learning them and pushing the pain away that had me pressing my head into the wall until finally the names weren't just names, they were faces, they were people, they were memories returned and with those first few came all the others and one pain disappeared to be replaced by another, and I almost wished the throbbing in my skull was back instead. But then that thought disappeared as well, as the entire past two years came crashing back into place.
I looked up at Radek, seeing him for what he really was, one of the best friends I had ever had in my life, and smiled. "The blue one."
"What is blue one?" he asked.
"John's toothbrush is the blue one."
He smiled back excitedly. "You remember?"
"I remember. Let's go fix a fucking shield."
Less than half an hour later, I hoisted an airtank on my back as the hazmat technician ran through the operations yet again.
"When the bell rings you'll have approximately twenty minutes of breathing air left. You should start back to the gate immediately at that point," he told me as he tightened the straps on my shoulder.
"Yes, yes, now how much oxygen do I have all together?" I asked impatiently.
The young man gave me an aggrieved sigh. "You don't have oxygen, you have breathing air. The team searching for Colonel Sheppard has the oxygen tank for him alone."
I had gotten off on the wrong foot with the marine, when I had called the air tank SCUBA instead of S.C.B.A. Who knew the hazmat techs were such sticklers for proper terminology? I shook my head in short-tempered dismissal, not wanting a repeat of the whole underwater versus on land explanation. "Fine, breathing air, not oxygen. How much do I have?"
"A tank typically lasts two hours under normal breathing conditions, but under strenuous conditions, such as physical exertion, excessive talking or panic," he stressed the last and I frowned, "it could shorten it significantly. Which is why you need to pay attention to the bell."
"Right, listen for the bell," I repeated as I glanced over at Radek receiving a similar lesson. Teyla, Dex, Sgt. Phylmer and Lt. Robbins were already geared up and ready to depart in search of John at his last known location with the much needed pure oxygen Carson had ordered for his immediate treatment. Robbins checked the life signs detector in his hand and gave me a wary freckled-face smile and nod of his orange-haired head when he saw me look in his direction. The poor kid would probably burst into flames even with SPF 50 sunscreen if he spent too much time in the sun. I had evidently scared him near to death when he had opened the door to John's old quarters to find me demanding the whereabouts of Sheppard. I felt bad about that now, considering he had sent stale snickerdoodles home with John after the last Daedalus mail run, evidently straight from his mother's West Virginia oven. And the fact that he had volunteered to put his search and rescue experience, as well as his ATA gene to work today only made me feel worse about not recognizing him the day before. But guilt over any sore toes would have to wait, as I had more pressing matters to attend to, like the weakening voice I heard in my ear.
Carson and Elizabeth were talking to John, keeping him occupied and somewhat alert while I prepared for the trip through the gate.
"Where's McKay?" he asked again, and I finally couldn't take not answering anymore.
"I'm right here, John. How are you doing?"
"I have one hell of a headache. Think you could run by the infirmary on the way home and pick me up some Tylenol?"
"I've got something even better," I assured him.
"Good." He exhaled sleepily. "Think I'm just going to take a little nap until you get back."
Carson's eyed widened in alarm and I knew that couldn't be good. "No! John, I need you to stay awake." Carson nodded his approval as I continued. "Can you do that for me? Just wait up for me, okay?"
"Sure, Rodney. You feeling a little frisky?"
Carson covered his mouth as Elizabeth reddened. Radek actually sputtered beside me. I rolled my eyes heavenward. Even near death the man was a perpetual horndog. "Will you promise to stay awake if I say I am?"
"Hell, yeah," came the enthusiastic if blurry answer.
"Good, then stay awake," I told him as I glared at Radek for his outburst.
"Hey, McKay?" And I instantly recognized the sleepy swagger in his voice. "Do you think we could…"
"John!" I cut him off even as Teyla's eyebrows shot up and Ronan looked like he might rip his radio out before Sheppard could go any further. "Let's save this conversation until we're together."
"Sure," he agreed, then asked what he had numerous times already. "When will you be home?"
"Soon," I promised, "In fact I'm on my way now."
He exhaled heavily again. "Good. It's been pretty damn lonely without you."
I swallowed as the search team moved through the gate. "I know, John, but I'll see you soon." I hoisted my tool kit even as Radek shouldered his own and we followed the others through the event horizon and stepped out onto the Inyian homeworld.
We instantly set to work. I had modified my original plan slightly, seeing as the shield was at the point of virtual collapse anyway, to disconnect the ZedPM, thus allowing for us to open the substations without risk and to quickly disconnect from the grid the ones that Radek's latest survey had indicated were damaged beyond immediate repair. We split up just beyond the gate. I headed toward the main power supply and Radek went to the substation that supplied shielding immediately surrounding the gate.
The search party headed toward the area John had been sweeping for any remaining refugees when the shield had gone down. It was at least an hour's hike away, possibly more, and that didn't include search time. And they were depending on us to get the shield and atmospheric controls back up and operational before their tanks ran out of breathing air. The team had taken a calculated risk, knowing that they didn't have enough air in their tanks for a round trip. Betting on the fact that we would either have the shielding back up in time, or they would be close enough to the gate that they could make their way back even in the dwindling oxygen supply on the planet. I intended to make sure the chips paid on the former instead of the latter.
And through it all, all the repairs and the rerouting, I talked to John. We chatted about what I had done in the lab, what he had done on his last survey of the city, what we had eaten for dinner the night before and what was on the menu for the rest of the week. Never mind that it had been days since we last sat down and ate a meal together. Right then, I would take hallucinations of time spent together over silence. I talked so much that just shy of an hour in, the bell on my tank rang, but I flipped a switch and the substation I had been working on hummed to life and the shield flowed into place above me. I gave the atmospheric controls the rest of my tank to reestablish a viable atmosphere, then took off my mask and worked without it for the rest of the time.
The rescue team should have reached his location by then, so I called to Teyla to ask about their progress. "We have reached the small farm that he last reported from, but he is not here."
"Is there anything distinctive about the farm?" I asked. "Something he would recognize?"
"There is a windmill next to an outbuilding, perhaps used as storage for farm equipment," she supplied.
"John, do you see a windmill anywhere around you?" I asked.
"A windmill?" he asked in confusion. "Like in that story? Don somebody…"
"Don Quixote," I supplied, "and yes, a windmill."
"Don Quixote! That's right. Hey, you know another Don that I liked? Don Johnson. I loved 'Miami Vice', damn good show. He had such a kick-ass car and an alligator."
"John," I tried to call as calmly as I could, but it was getting harder, seeing as the team's air tanks were running lower and his thoughts were obviously becoming more disjointed by the second. "I really need you to focus for a minute and tell me if you can see a windmill from where you are."
"Okay, Jesus, you don't have to get so bent out of shape about it, Rodney."
"Sheppard, for God's sake, just concentrate and tell me if you can see a fucking windmill."
"Oh, hey, look at that, there it is down at the bottom of the hill. Wow, it's so cool. I should go and check it out."
"No, Colonel Sheppard, stay where you are," came Robbins' southern drawl, "We'll come to you."
"Robbins? Hey, Rodney, Robbins is coming over."
I continued to work, even as I answered, "I heard."
"Maybe he has some more cookies." He yawned loudly. "Rodney, you about done? I'm getting awfully damn sleepy."
"Soon, John, soon. I promise."
"Rodney," Radek called, "I have third substation up and running."
"Can you bypass the next one and tie this last one into the area were John and the team are?" Time was running out, for all of them, and there was no way if we continued on with the start up as we had planned we would have the shield up in that area in time.
"It will not work, the surge will be too great without the buffer of substation between. We have cut grid down to bare minimum as it is."
"I've been thinking about that. If I cut the power being supplied from the ZedPM, the surge of power won't be as strong."
"But how will you cut power? It is not like there is volume knob on the side."
"No, but if I can disperse part of the energy flow like a lightening rod, run it to the ground, it will cut down on the flow to the substations. The shielded area will be smaller but it will go to the area we need it now. We can worry about bringing the rest of it up later."
"I think it will work," he agreed enthusiastically.
"Give me five minutes to reroute a few things and we'll be ready to go."
I set to work with the reroutes when it dawned on me I hadn't heard from John for a few minutes. "John?" I called worriedly and received no answer. "John!"
"Huh?" he answered weakly.
"You're supposed to be waiting up for me, remember?" I cut a wire, cursing silently as I dropped the cutters from trembling hands.
"Yeah, I am." He yawned again and his voice was hazy, sleepy, like I had heard numerous times as he burrowed contentedly into my shoulder just before he drifted off. "Did I ever tell you, I have trouble sleeping when you're not here?"
My breath stuttered and I forced myself to concentrate on my work. "No," I told him honestly, "I never knew that."
"Well, it's true," he mumbled and yawned again. "So tired."
"I know. Just a little longer, okay?"
"Rodney?" his voice was barely more than a drowsy whisper.
"I'm here. I'll be there soon, just stay awake. Please, just stay awake."
"Rodn…" and he was quiet.
"John! Goddamnit, you wake up! John! You better fucking wake up, do you hear me? John!" But again there was nothing, nothing but silence. The wires wavered before me and I blinked back the threatening tears even as I forced my shaking hands to make the appropriate connections. "Teyla, have you found him yet?" And if she heard the quake in my voice she ignored it.
"Lt. Robbins thinks he has a lock on his life sign detector. We are approaching the area now."
A life sign. It had to be his, it had to be. I refused to believe it could be an alien llama or a flock of birds or glow bugs or any of a hundred different goddamn things that he could be reading besides John. I made the final connection and called to Radek. "It's ready, fire it up and let's get some atmosphere for them."
"Almost ready," he called.
And with nothing left for me to do, I sat and waited, my heart pounding in my chest, the flow of blood throbbing in my ears, my skin flashing hot and cold, just like waking with a gasping breath from a nightmare in a dark room. Only there were no sleepy murmurs of reassurance, no arms holding me tight, pulling me close even as he drifted off again. I couldn't help but find it ironic that even in his sleep John could make me feel safe, but not this time. This time sleep was the nightmare itself.
"Dr. McKay, we have found him!" Teyla exclaimed in my ear. I held my breath, waiting to hear the rest. "He is alive, but unresponsive. We are starting the oxygen now."
I buried my head in my hands, exhaling painfully. "Thank you, Teyla, thank all of you." And I had never meant anything more in my life. "How is your supply of air?"
"Both Ronan and Sgt. Phylmer are completely out. Lt. Robbins and I will run out shortly."
"Well, the shield should be in place any minute and the atmosphere soon after," I assured her.
"The shield is operational, Rodney," Radek informed me. "They should have a safe path all the way back."
I leaned back against the wall of the station I was working at, letting the exhaustion and relief wash over me. He was alive. He was alive. He was alive. And that statement played over and over through my head as I continued to rebuild the shield grid while Teyla and the others brought John home.
I met them at the gate, jogging up to them as soon as they were in sight. John was on a stretcher, the mask from the oxygen tank over his mouth, and he was still asleep. I took his hand and squeezed, called his name softly.
His eyes fluttered open and he regarded me with an almost drunken expression. "McKay?" he asked in confusion. I nodded and squeezed his hand again. "It's about goddamn time you got here," he told me as he returned the squeeze weakly and drifted back to sleep.
We started for the gate, his hand held firmly in mine. "Yeah," I agreed with a smile. "About goddamn time."
x x x x x
There was a windmill in the distance.
The sails weren't white like normal, but a cheerful sky blue. They turned slowly…sluggishly…in a wind I didn't feel. There was a mist though. An odd green brown, it rose up from the ground to taint the air with a smell that stung the nose and made your lungs ache like they had when you were a kid and were holding your breath in the pool.
The fog wasn't ugly though…kind of peaceful really. Greens and browns over blue…reminded me of Earth a little, where the only thing inclined to jump out of the woods and eat you would be a bear. And I'd take a bear over a Wraith any day. At least a bear wouldn't give you the smug villain speech that the Wraith seemed to consider their sworn mission statement. Bow before me….you will die a thousand deaths…I will devour you and use your dead hands to fly your ship….
Not nice. Not nice at all. Certainly not as nice as windmills.
As I watched the windmill, Rodney talked to me. I tried to listen, but I was tired and it wouldn't kill Rodney to let me take a nap. Some of us were mortal men who needed more than an hour or two sleep to function. And there were windmills, and, okay, windmills weren't Ferris wheels, but they were still nice. If I talked to Rodney, I wouldn't be able to concentrate on just how nice they were.
"This is revenge. I know it. He's avoiding me, Carson. There's only one chicken-shit coward around here, Sheppard, and it's you. Do you hear me? Goddamnit, I know you hear me. So wake up already and stop with the passive-aggressive unconsciousness. It's annoying as hell."
Definitely Rodney, going on and on about something and I didn't have a clue what. Yeah, that was standard McKay all right. Maybe I should pay more attention. He sounded worried, but….
Blue. The sails were so incredibly blue.
And the grass was green. Not Earth green, but, hell, where I'd grown up it was mostly dirt anyway…not much grass to be seen, green or otherwise. I wasn't picky. I picked a blade of the stuff, the green-yellow of cheap jade and watched it flutter and fall. I'd fallen like that before. Out of the sky to sand far below. I'd walked away, but no one else had.
"Well, if anyone could make a man not want to wake up, lad, it would be you." It was Carson's voice this time. Carson's exasperation. And a flicker of Carson's face superimposed on the windmill…just for a second. "He's had a rough time of it, and not just on the planet either. He deserves some rest. Try leaving him be for a wee bit. After all, you said he talked to you for a second at the gate and he was mostly coherent. That's a good sign there was no brain damage."
"Gee, Carson, I feel so much better now. There might not be brain damage. That's right up there with he might not be dead…how about we give him two aspirin and just wait and see? Patch Adams had nothing on your happy-go-lucky bedside manner. John, do you hear this? Do you hear what I'm suffering through while you're lying around shirking?" There was the sound of harsh exhalation and a quieter plea. "Please, John. It's been seven hours and I'm getting a little lonely too, okay? So, please…wake up."
Blue. The sails were blue….
My toothbrush was blue.
My toothbrush was on the floor. Why was it on the floor?
With that thought the windmill disappeared and there was nothing but darkness. Didn't much care for that. What with all the bears and Wraith in the woods, dark just didn't seem that safe. And while Rodney had finally stopped nagging at me, I decided maybe that wasn't what I wanted after all.
That's when I opened my eyes. Not much, a sliver and even the dim light stung them. Everything was dull white and drab gray and nothing blue at all. Not until Rodney's eyes looked up from our clasped hands and met mine…it was the windmill all over again. He swallowed thickly and then gave me the most stunning smile. All crooked angles and smug sheepishness, and fuck yeah, it was stunning. To me if to no one else, but since I was the only one who counted when it came to judging Rodney's smiles, what I said was the gospel truth.
"You're awake." The smile widened impossibly. "Oh my God, you're awake." The scowl followed instantly. Rodney giveth, and Rodney taketh away. "About fucking time."
I gave a smile of my own, more of a smirk really, and felt the slight shift of plastic against my face…an oxygen mask. I started to lift my hand to push it off, but that made me stop and notice. Rodney was holding my other hand. And that made me recall…Rodney didn't remember me. He didn't know me, not all of me, and he'd run from me the last time I saw him.
Like dominos my own memories tumbled into place. I'd gone with the evacuation teams, helped some natives, been head-butted by a llama and spit on by a toothless old man determined to tough out the whole non-oxygen issue. Finally I'd gotten him and Muhammad-allama moving when…things had gotten confused. I didn't remember much after that. Just people talking to me, bitching at me, Don Johnson…what the hell, and a windmill. A gorgeous fucking windmill. I wished Rodney could've seen it. My Rodney.
My smile faded and I carefully extricated my hand from his. He probably felt guilty. Obviously something had happened…the shield had collapsed most likely and the low oxygen levels had gotten me. And now he felt guilty enough to be holding my damn hand. Well, I could do without the pity hand holding. I could and the hell with it feeling so goddamn nice. My hand pulled free and I said with a miserable effort at being casual, "Sorry."
His scowl disappeared. "Oh." He seemed lost in contemplation for the moment, as if he were looking for a way to tell me something. Then he leaned forward, removed my oxygen mask, and kissed me. "Don't be," he murmured and then he kissed me again. It wasn't the kiss of someone new to me or my body; this was a kiss with years of intimacy behind it. This was the kiss of someone who knew me, remembered me.
What had it been? Three days? A little more? It could've been three years, that's how much I'd missed him. With his lips still on mine, I grabbed a handful of his shirt and jerked hard, pulling him bodily on top of me. He gave a surprised grunt and said, "Not that this isn't nice, but I'm not sure Car…."
"Shut up, Rodney, okay?" I pressed my face against the juncture of his warm neck and the cool cloth covering his shoulder. "Just shut up for a minute." And for once, maybe the only time ever, he did. Silently, he let me hold onto him. Hands smoothing my hair, his lips on my jaw, he said absolutely nothing and absolutely everything, all at the same time.
And it was windmills and Ferris wheels…fast, fast planes, a billion stars in an alien night, the bluest of blue skies.
It was home
x x x x x
I lay staring dazedly up at the ceiling, a warm ocean breeze blowing in from the open window cooling my sweat soaked skin. I took a few deep, gasping breaths before finally finding my voice. "I actually saw stars." I smiled deliriously. "Jesus Christ, I think I may have blacked out for a second."
I reached a blind hand out beside me and John clasped it as soon as mine made contact with his. "Hell, I can't feel my toes," he sighed beside me, "they're so goddamn tingly."
I laughed then turned my head to find him smiling that amazing smile at me. That goddamn, heart-stopping, amazing smile. "Good thing Carson kept you in the infirmary for an extra day or your blood oxygen levels may have dropped dangerously low. I hate to admit it, but maybe he knows what he's doing after all." I may have given Carson more than his fair ration of shit, and he more than deserved it, but I usually let it slip for a day or two after he saved John's life, which given the unnerving frequency of that, it was a wonder I ever gave him shit at all.
He shrugged, then turned on his side, pulling my hand up and kissing my palm, "Maybe he knows us a little too well."
I rolled over in a mirrored position, intertwining our fingers. "We have become rather predictable in our old married lives, huh? Risk life and limb to save universe, land in infirmary near death, come home and have god-awesome sex that has the neighbors trying to decide if they should take notes or install soundproofing." I rolled my eyes in exaggeration. "How do we stand the tedium?"
He smirked, "Hell, I'd be happy if we could skip the first two parts and just go straight to the third. Just be a couple of boring homebodies."
I leaned forward and stole a slow kiss. "There is absolutely nothing boring about having your body at home."
Home. Carson had finally released John that morning and let me bring him home. And that was exactly what I had planned to do. The night before I had slipped out of his room in the infirmary when I was sure he was asleep, intent on unpacking his things and having everything set up just the way it had been before he moved out. The thought of him not being there in our quarters, in our home, made my stomach queasy, and the fact that he had left, had actually packed his things and walked out for me, because of me, didn't help matters. I had worked quickly, not wanting to be gone if he happened to wake in the middle of the night. The look on his face alone when I had risen from my chair for a quick trip to the bathroom the day before, had been enough to have me sit back down, take his hand and rationalize that I had already held off peeing through eight hours of unconsciousness, what was a few hours more.
I had hurriedly placed his books back on the shelf, trying my best to remember which went where. I had hung up the clothes on hangers, put the shoes and boots and field gear back in the closet and crammed the remainder of his clothes back in the dresser drawer and rehung the repaired Johnny Cash poster on the wall. And that's when I realized we were missing two things, the picture from the bedside table and our toothbrushes. I had torn through the garbage bags, searched to make sure they hadn't fallen out and rolled under the bed, but to no avail. With a final glance at my watch I cursed, realized I had been away from the infirmary longer than I had intended and resolved to enlist assistance and find them in the morning.
At seven a.m., I was on the radio with Radek, having him go to the temporary quarters John had moved into and find the missing items. Twenty minutes later, he reported he had found the toothbrushes, but not the photo.
"Are you sure?" I demanded in a hushed voice from the corner of the room as Carson went over discharge instructions with John.
"Rodney, it is empty room. Two toothbrushes on the floor, very obvious. No photograph also very obvious."
"It has to be there somewhere, keep looking."
"Yes, search empty room again, valuable use of my time and talents. Oh, look! Is still empty. Imagine that."
I sighed as I saw John standing from the bed. "Fine, just get the toothbrushes back in the cup above the sink then get the hell out."
"Yes, yes, return toothbrushes, check hidden video camera, and I will be gone."
"Radek," I ground out the name.
He chuckled in my ear. "Rodney, relax, Colonel is coming home, is good day, yes?"
I glanced over at John and couldn't help the grin. "It's a damn good day," I agreed.
We made our way through Atlantis, John seeming intent on moving at a pace just below a slow jog and me moving slower in order to give Radek time to complete his task. Finally, he reached out, gripped my elbow and pulled me along. "McKay, for God's sake, let's get home." He spoke the words low and urgently and the underlying need in them made me weak in the knees.
I patted the hand on my arm. "We'll be there soon enough," although that was definitely not what my body was telling me. "I don't need you collapsing in the hallway because you used up all the oxygen in your bloodstream sprinting through the city."
He slowed but the grip on my arm tightened. "It's been five goddamn days." He leaned into closer to my ear. "There should be a fucking law against that." And I willed myself not to melt into a puddle right then and there from the feel of his warm breath on my neck.
We rounded a corner and came face to face with Kavanagh. He rolled his eyes when he saw us, then sneered with a glower at John's hand on my arm. He pushed between us, breaking our contact with a snarl and stormed down the hall.
"What the hell is his problem?" John asked, even as he reached out and possessively grabbed my arm once again.
I grinned. "I think he's jealous. Evidently Beulah-Anne dumped him."
Sheppard raised a curious eyebrow. "Huh. Not that I would wish Kavanagh on anyone, but what brought that about?"
I rocked on my heels. "Oh, I don't know. It might have had something to do with the women's underwear from Radek's private stash that ended up in the now fuckless Dr. Fuck-up's bed right before one of their regularly scheduled trysts."
"Really?" he asked with an evil grin and matching glimmer in his eyes.
I locked blue eyes with hazel. "Nobody crashes a jumper with you in it and escapes unscathed."
He released his hold on my arm and fisted up the front of my shirt. "Goddamn, McKay," he exhaled breathily, then started dragging me down the hall.
We were almost to the turnoff to our quarters when we passed Dex. He came to a stop, watching warily as John pulled me along by my shirt. "Ronan," Sheppard nodded in greeting, barely slowly our progress.
Dex furrowed his brow, and I pointed to my own waistband and then his with an approving thumbs up sign. We were just out of earshot when John asked suspiciously without turning around. "Rodney, why the hell did Dex have dollar bills sticking out of his pants?"
I shrugged even though he couldn't see it. "I told him it was an Earth custom. Besides, I felt I owed the nurses that took care of you a thank you. And seeing as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, I figured no harm done."
"He's going to kick your ass when he finds out the truth."
"That's why you sleep between me and the door."
He shot a smirk over his shoulder and quickened his pace for the short distance that remained. We reached the door and he swung me around in front of him, grabbing a second fist full of shirt and kissing me even before the door was completely open. He let out a moan of relief against my mouth as he walked me backward into the room and shut the door behind us. I grabbed his shoulders to steady myself, then ran one hand up his neck into his hair. And, oh my God, there really should be a law against going without for five days.
But then the lips and tongue moving against mine stopped. I opened my eyes, pulling away slightly with a worried, "John?"
He cupped my jaw reassuringly, then ran his hand down my arm and took my own in his. And then I realized what had stopped him. He was looking around with a dawning smile, seeing that everything was back to normal and as it should be in our quarters. I squeezed his hand and laughed nervously. "Welcome home."
He interlocked our fingers as he walked over to the bookcase, then the poster on the wall. "I think I can get a new one," I told him quickly, "but it will have to wait until the next Daedalus run."
He shook his head even as he ran a finger reverently over the tape I had applied. "I want this one."
"Are you sure? I did the best I could do to fix it, but I have to admit I never paid that much attention to arts and crafts in elementary school. Unless you count the fully functioning robot I made out of paperclips and rubberbands."
He turned and fixed me with a smile that stopped my breath. "I want this one," he reiterated.
I gave him a crooked smile in return. "Well, if that's what you want…."
He looked past me and the smile dropped away and I followed his gaze to the empty spot on the bedside table, the spot where our photograph should have been. "I can't find it. I've looked everywhere I can think to look. Did you stay anywhere else when you…" I hesitated, hating to even think the words.
He released my hand and I instantly felt his absence. So much for the perfect homecoming. He went to the dresser, opened his drawer and gave me a dismayed look when he saw the clothes crammed haphazardly into the space. "I was going to refold them later, you know, when I had a little more time."
"Sure you were," he told me with a sarcastic nod of his head even as he started rummaging through the clothes. After few seconds, he pulled a shirt triumphantly from the drawer, unfolded it and pulled out the photo.
"Oh, thank god," I exclaimed, not realizing until that second how truly desperate I had been to have it back.
With a small flourish and a waggle of eyebrows he placed the frame back on the table. "Perfect," he stated with a smug grin.
I took the few steps that separated us and tackled him to the bed. "Yes," I told him as he pulled me down into a deep kiss, "it is."
And it didn't take long for that kiss to lead to more caresses and fewer clothes and exploding stars and tingling toes and lying side by side staring into each others faces as I pulled back from the warmth of his lips.
"That was one hell of a welcome home, McKay." His voice was alive with mischief, but I was just relieved he was alive period. And with the relief came regret and guilt and a hundred other emotions I had been holding at bay for so long. I tried to hide behind a forced smile, trying not to destroy the mood, but I had never been able to hide from John. "Rodney?" he asked in concern.
I tightened my grip on his hands. "This never should have been a welcome home. You never should have left, I never should have made you feel that you had to leave, I never should have forgotten you in the first place. I honestly have no idea how I was able to forget you… us, but I did and it never should have happened. And as bad as you moving out was, nearly getting you and those llama herders killed was even worse. And all because I couldn't handle the fact that people died. They died and I couldn't stop it from happening."
"You know…" John started and he squeezed back even harder on my hand. "And you better goddamn know it, it was never your fault. No one died because of you. They died despite you. No one works as hard, no one comes up with as many brilliant ways to save lives as you. You saved every single person left on Atlantis when you got the shield and then the cloak up and running during the Wraith attack. Every single person. So just shut up, will you? Because I'm not going to sit here and listen to you beat yourself up over something you had absolutely no control over."
"But, there's no excuse…" I started but he leaned forward and kissed the words away from my lips.
"I said, shut up, and by god, I meant it. And if you won't do it on your own, then I'll just have to make you."
I raised amused eyebrows. "Really? And just how do you plan to do that?"
"I'll just find some other way to occupy that overactive mind of yours," he told me confidently as he moved closer in the bed.
"And you honestly think you know how to do that?"
"Yep. There are two sure fire ways: physics or good old fashion lovin'. And since physics bores me to tears…" He planted a lingering kiss and I sighed when he finally pulled away realizing the son of bitch was right to be so confident.
I rested my forehead against his, closing my eyes and feeling my body respond to his fingertips running lightly along my side. "You know, Einstein said something about love and physics." I told him then kissed him, unable to resist the feel of his breath on my lips. "He said love was like…" He rubbed his nose against mine and pressed his lips to mine once again. "He said love…" I started again but I was too wrapped up in the feel of lean muscle as I ran my hand down his back to finish. I laughed lightly against his mouth. "You know, I can't seem to remember what Einstein said about love and physics."
John pulled me even closer. The feel of his body against mine was all the comfort and welcome I'd ever want, the only home I'd ever need. "That's the first time all week I'm glad you forgot something, McKay." And a few minutes of passion later, I was so caught up in John that I forgot that was even my name.