When he wakes up, John is there.
Of course it's not really John, any more than it was really Sam in the jumper, way back when. If it were really John, then he'd be armed for bear with his expression locked down in the mask for those missions, the dangerous missions, the missions that he has to be a soldier, not just a flyboy. If it were really John, then he'd have a P-90 in his hands, and he wouldn't be smiling with his hands in his pockets and his hip cocked against the steel doorframe, drawling, "Hey, McKay, what's up."
If it were really John, then Rodney would be rescued, and Rodney wouldn't be sliding his hands around the back of John's head, pulling him down to kiss him, and John wouldn't be kissing him back.
It's not really John, but it's still the best thing that's happened to Rodney in a long time.
He hasn't figured out if they put the drugs in the food, or pump them into the air, or whether they're administered when he sleeps. LSD is colorless and odorless, as far as he knows; it might be in the water on tap in the corner, and it's not like he can forgo drinking.
He doesn't feel drugged, that's the kicker. He's not hyper or drowsy or dizzy; his pulse is rapid from stress but regular, when he puts his finger to his throat. He feels fine, considering he's a prisoner.
Then there's a goddamn tidal wave crashing through the goddamn shiny steel wall right in front of him, and Rodney's screaming as the water floods in, cold black torrents swirling around him, choking him, drowning him.
And then, like that, the deluge is gone. He's gasping for breath and flailing his arms at nothing, and his clothes are dry.
He can't hear anything, save the soft steady hiss of the ventilation system, but somewhere, through the cameras he hasn't located yet, he knows they're watching him, knows they're laughing.
"Enjoy the show," Rodney says, "you bastards." The bravado would be more brave if his voice weren't shaking, if his hands weren't shaking; but he's not an action star; it's the best he can manage.
"Rodney," Zelenka says, "you look tired. Perhaps you should go to bed."
"I'm fine," Rodney says automatically, but when he looks at the computer monitor the numbers are an illegible jumble, and squinting at them doesn't make them come into focus.
Radek's hand drops onto his shoulder, warm and friendly. "I can finish this for you," he says. "Just give me your command code."
"Yeah...wait, what?" Rodney says. "Use your own."
"But you have already begun making the changes," Zelenka tells him patiently, "I will need your code to implement them."
Which makes sense, but there's something wrong; there's something wrong about all of this, the unreadable numbers, the brightness of the lab's lights overhead, gleaming off of Zelenka's glasses. "No," Rodney says slowly.
"Rodney, you are tired," Radek tells him. "Just give me the code, and you can sleep."
He is tired and he does need sleep, but this is wrong. "No," Rodney says again.
"Give me the code," Radek repeats, but his voice is changing, flattening, steamrolled into a mechanical drone: give-me-the-code, give-me-the-code—
Rodney lashes out, shoves Zelenka away, closes his eyes. When he opens them, he's in the cell, the mechanical voice issuing from the grill over the door. It doesn't sound like Zelenka's at all, really.
He's in the cell again, like he never left.
The cell is three meters by four, and Rodney doesn't know how long he's been in it. The lights turn on and off on a regular schedule far shorter than Earth's diurnal cycle, maybe three hours on to three off, but he has a hard time being sure. He doesn't have any way to mark the days anyway, and he stopped counting after seven cycles, when he fell asleep in the dark and woke up in the dark and didn't know if it had been a minute's doze, or six hours.
M5T-829 had been such a nice world, too, far enough along into their pleasant summer that the pollen count was negligible, and the people, if primitive, had been friendly, happy to trade fresh fruits and meat for medicines and advanced agricultural techniques. It had been a perfectly adequate mission, until they were ambushed on their way back, in sight of the Stargate.
"But you know that already," Rodney tells John. "Or you would know, if you had been there. Only of course you were there, seeing as you're a figment of my imagination."
John just nods. He's sitting on the cot, watching Rodney pace, slouched with his hands behind his head; he appears to be depressing the thin padding, and he looks real enough to touch. Would feel real enough to touch, too, Rodney knows, remembering the dry chapped lips and the hot wetness of his mouth behind them. He's always had too active an imagination for his own good.
He's talking now because it's better than making an utter fool of himself making out with empty space, and he's talking about his capture because his captors already know those details; he's not giving them any information they'd want. "So we were walking along, and then I thought I'd gotten stung by a bee in the neck, but it was a dart—which is preferable to anaphylactic shock, but I didn't make it more than a couple more steps before I started getting dizzy. You—Sheppard—were shouting for Ronon to grab me while Teyla laid down cover fire, but he was pretty far away—anyway, I don't know what happened after that, I passed out, and woke up here."
"In the cell," John says.
"I haven't actually seen my captors," Rodney says, "though I doubt it's those villagers, they didn't have the tech to build anything like this," and he raps his knuckles against the stainless steel wall. It's like being held in a kitchen sink with a roof. "I'm guessing they sold me off. Bounty, maybe."
"And you haven't been able to get out."
"Hello, it took me two hours just to figure out where the door was—the seams are almost invisible. And I don't have anything to pry them open with. My hair's not long enough to keep knives in it, you know. What am I supposed to do, snap apart the sink with my bare hands and use the faucet to beat up my unseen captors?"
"You'd think of something, I'm sure," John says.
Rodney looks at him wryly. "You're a lot more encouraging than my last friendly hallucination," he says. "In the jumper, my imaginary Sam kept trying to talk me into sitting tight and waiting for my team to find me. She was right, of course—well, I was right, subconsciously, but..." He eyes John. "Wait, does this mean subconsciously I've given up on rescue? Because, yes, one would think they'd have found me by now, but I don't know exactly how long it's been, and I'm sure they are looking. Sheppard's a stubborn son of a bitch like that. I've come a long ways from that sinking jumper, I trust people more now—my team, anyway, I trust them—they will rescue me. Are you trying to tell me that subconsciously I don't believe that after all?"
John stares at him, his baffled look a reasonable facsimile of the genuine article; then he shrugs. "Don't ask me," he says, "I'm just a figment of your imagination."
His teammates got away. Rodney holds onto that. He doesn't remember anything after he hit the ground, but he knows that Teyla was almost to the Stargate, close enough to have made it through. And also he's pretty sure he saw Sheppard take a dart, too, and Ronon had been closer to Sheppard—would've grabbed him first, and with Sheppard out he wouldn't have been able to tell him no, and they all would've escaped.
He tells himself so mostly to reassure himself that they'll be free to be looking for him, to be planning a rescue; but there's a certain comfort just to knowing they got away, that they're safe. He becomes more certain of it when the—hours? days?—go by and they don't show him any of his teammates. If they're going for psychological torture, that would be an obvious gambit, so the logical conclusion is that they don't have that particular weapon to use against him.
What they have is bad enough. Rodney knows he's hallucinating, knows what he's seeing isn't real. When the shiny metal walls grow dark and red and damp, heaving with the movements of a giant creature, and he's squeezed tight in the gullet, swallowed down the whale's throat—he shuts his eyes and takes deep breaths, pressing his hands down into the moist, rippling flesh and the ridge of cartilage underneath. He grits his teeth against the sickening sensation, thinks of wide fields and open water, until it stops pulsating under him, finally hardens back into the unliving metal rim of the cot, the artificial foam mattress.
But when the door finally slides open, when Acastus Kolya walks in, hobnailed boots clunking on the smooth metal floor and his knife catching every point of light in the room—Rodney knows it's not real, knows the man is more than a year dead. But he still screams when the knife slices across his arm, opens the scar that's almost invisible by now. Red blood wells up and drips down and it hurts, it's got to be real, to hurt like this.
Maybe it's not actually Kolya, but someone else with a real knife, and Rodney's just seeing the wrong person. He stares up at the pitted, leering face above him, wills himself to pierce the illusion, but the eyes stay Kolya's hard eyes, the voice his cold voice. "Tell me what I want to know, and it'll stop, Dr. McKay."
Rodney wraps his hand over his bleeding arm and babbles, "I don't know what you want, you haven't asked me any questions yet. No one's asked anything, you've just been playing with me, hope it's been fun—no, actually, I hope it's been boring as hell, but—"
"You know what I want to know," Kolya says. "Tell me the plan to save the city—" and that's wrong, all mixed up; he's hallucinating a flashback to the storm. They must have overdosed him, if he's not even lucid enough to properly hear their questions. This isn't right anyway, because it was one of Kolya's minions who cut him then, not Kolya himself; but either way his arm is throbbing, and he's not going to tell them anything about Atlantis. He did then, but that was a long time ago; he's a different man now.
He speculates that maybe it's the Genii who have him, if he's imagining Kolya because when sedated he caught a glimpse of their uniforms he now remembers subconsciously. They'd have the equipment to build this cell, and it's not like he has much faith in their alliance. If it is the Genii, then his team will be here anytime now. The Genii are sloppy, easy to trace. Also the Genii value his science; they won't want to break him so far that he won't be any good for their nuclear program. God, he hopes it's the Genii.
When Rodney opens his eyes, Kolya's gone, though he didn't hear the door open or clink close, didn't hear anyone leave. His arm doesn't ache, and when he lifts his hand there's no blood, no wound, just the faint whitish line of the old scar.
Later on, when the lights have gone dim and he's staring down at the Iratus bugs writhing and coiling on the floor, sitting with his legs drawn up onto the cot so his feet don't brush the rattling carapaces, he realizes that they haven't really started yet; that they're just softening him up.
"I don't think it is the Genii," Rodney tells John. He's sitting next to him—there's only one cot, and John's not a courteous enough hallucination to stand and give him room, and Rodney can't bring himself to sit on John's lap even if he's not really there. So they're sitting side by side, John's thigh pressed warm against his own.
"Why not?" John asks.
"If it were the Genii, they'd be interrogating me about nuclear reactions and bomb building. Or if they were asking about Atlantis, it'd be more questions. They'd be asking how many soldiers we have, what the defenses are like these days, military things, preparing for an invasion. They wouldn't just want my command code; what would they do with it anyway?"
John sits up a little straighter. "Good point," he says.
"Of course what would anyone do with it?" Rodney goes on. "It'll have been changed by now anyway. I'm going to have to memorize a new one, when I get rescued. You hear that?" and he raises his voice, not like he thinks his captors need any help to listen in, but it feels good to shout. "Whatever you get out of me will be useless anyway!"
"Then why not give it to them?" John asks. "If your code's been changed anyway—and it should've been, that's the protocol—then there's no harm telling them, and maybe if you're cooperative they'll back off a bit..."
Rodney sighs, gets up off the cot and walks to the furthest corner of the cell, all of four meters from John. He folds his arms and looks down at the sink, rather than into the vision of John's eyes. "Damn it, I almost thought you were mine," he says.
"Your what?" John asks.
"My hallucination." Rodney waves his hand in John's direction. "I thought I'd dreamed you up as a coping mechanism, but you're just another way for those bastards to get to me, another way to try to get what they want out of me."
"Maybe." He can imagine John's thoughtful frown without having to look at John's imaginary face. "Or maybe I'm just being the voice of logic here. Thinking rationally, what's the disadvantage of telling them what they want to know, if it won't harm Atlantis?"
"None," Rodney says, "but in case you haven't noticed, I am extremely far from rational at the moment. Seeing as I'm drugged to the gills and talking to a man who isn't there."
Then he turns back, because to hell with this; he's tired of fighting this, tired of thinking, tired of trying to hold on. He's tired of talking with a fake version of his friend, but he's yet to figure out a way to banish the hallucinations.
If he's going to be stuck with this one for the duration, he might as well take advantage of it. "Rodney," John says, and god, he really sounds like John, earnest almost to the point of desperation: John when one of his teammates is in trouble and he's failing to help—"Rodney, just listen to me, even if I'm just in your head, you can trust me, right? Your code—"
In a rational universe, Rodney couldn't shut John up with another kiss, standing over John, bearing down on his shoulders and pressing him into the thin mattress, until John finally lets his words be swallowed, tilts up his face and opens his mouth to Rodney's. It's only drugs and it's all in his head, but Rodney's irrational enough now not to care.
He's in the infirmary, can smell the disinfectant and sterile bandages before he opens his eyes. Dr. Keller's leaning over him, saying, "Dr. McKay? Rodney? It's all right, you're going to be okay."
"Oh, thank god," Rodney says. "I thought—I was back in the cell—"
"It's okay," Keller says, calmingly. "It was a flashback—apparently the drugs aren't entirely out of your system, it's a sustained-release formula with an unusually long dissolution. I'm running tests now to determine if it was interacting with any other substances, it's possible that something you ingested since you were brought back to Atlantis—"
The infirmary lights suddenly blink off and come back on, an unexpected brownout, and the doctor glances up at them, brow furrowing in concern. "What's that?" Rodney tries to sit up, but he's stopped by straps around his wrist, loose enough that he didn't notice them before, but tight enough he can't just yank himself free.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Keller says, reaching to unfasten the closer strap, "You were—"
Colonel Carter comes into the infirmary at a jog, looking harried, blonde hairs escaping her braid and a tablet in hand. She smiles to see him, but it's strained. "Rodney, good you're awake. We've got a bit of a problem."
"Right," Rodney says, "what's wrong, I'm ready—"
"It's okay, you don't need to get up," Sam tells him. She holds out the tablet toward him. "It's the new power distribution you were working on, I just need you to enter your command code here—"
Rodney's hand is free, and he's reaching to type the first number when he stops. "It was routine adjustments, why do you need my code?"
"Because," Elizabeth begins, "the changes you were making to Atlantis's mainframe required a code, but when you stopped—" and she sounds so calm, so ordinary, but Rodney can't look at her, has to close his eyes.
"No," he says, "you're dead, you died. I killed you."
"Rodney," and Elizabeth's hand on his arm is light, gentle; the way she always used to touch him, reassuring and friendly, "You didn't kill me—"
"I really don't want to get into this now," Rodney says, eyes still shut though it doesn't make it easier; under the antiseptic he can smell the faint scent that Elizabeth liked, lilacs or lavender or some purple flower, that she always used so sparingly, cautious with such irreplaceable minutiae as they all were after that first year. "Just stop, please, just leave me alone."
"I would, but we need that code—"
"Yes, well, I'm not going to give it to you," Rodney tells them, "Get that through your heads, you're not getting anything from me, however you mess with my psyche, so you might as well quit now. You're not even trying now, I wouldn't buy this, waking up here—where's my team, where's Sheppard, they'd be here—"
"Colonel Sheppard is in the chair room," Elizabeth says, sounding almost like Sam for a moment, "and Teyla and Ronon are in the gateroom, but I've asked them to..."
But Rodney's no longer listening, and when he next opens his eyes he's in the cell again.
"It's the Replicators," Rodney says, and John under him stills and goes, "What?"
"I think it's the Replicators, doing this," Rodney says, against John's neck. "I know we were hoping we'd gotten them all, but this kind of psychological mindfuckery is right up their alley, and if anyone would know how to exploit an obsolete command code, they would. Which means that you might be real." John feels real, moving under him, soft murmurs in his throat as he works his hands up under Rodney's shirt, as he turns his head to scrape his rough-stubbled cheek against Rodney's neck. Rodney's got one knee up on the cot, between John's thighs, and the hard-on under John's black BDU pants sure as hell feels convincing.
"Would you believe me if I said I was real?" John asks. He shifts his hips, thrusting up as he hooks his hands around Rodney's waist and pulls him closer. He's breathless, and his lips are swollen and soft and wet.
"I just acknowledged you might be." Rodney runs his fingers over John's mouth, and John's lips work at his fingertips, suckling, kissing, his eyelashes fluttering. "Rodney," he says, and it comes out as a groan, and Rodney leans down to kiss him again.
"I figure," he says when he breaks the kiss, whispering across John's cheek, "this makes me Gaius Baltar either way—either I'm making out with a fake artificial human, or I'm making out with a nonexistent person in my head."
He feels John's silent catch of laughter vibrating through his chest. "I'm not blonde, though."
"Yeah, but I'm used to disappointment."
John huffs another laugh. Unvoiced, it could as easily be a sob. "How do I convince you it's me, Rodney? John Sheppard, the real deal, and you're not imagining anything?"
"Sorry," Rodney says, "we're way past that point. If you think the real Sheppard would let me do any of this to him—well, either you're a delusional male fantasy, or you're a nanite collective that really hasn't done its homework. I've had a really bad day, or week, or month, or whatever, and I don't care anymore. But you blew your cover the moment you appeared. You think I usually thank Sheppard for daring rescues by sticking my tongue down his throat? Not that I haven't considered it, mind you, but it's not standard operating procedure. The real John, lieutenant colonel of the American Air Force, Captain Kirk special Pegasus edition, would've had a slightly different reaction than groping back."
"So that's why," John says, maybe laughing again, or maybe not. He pushes himself up, pulls away from Rodney, slowly, like he's reluctant to break contact. "Rodney, this—I didn't, I'm sorry, maybe it's my fault. I thought playing along might work, I shouldn't have—" and then the lights flicker overhead.
It's about time for the night cycle, so Rodney's not surprised, but John swears. He grabs Rodney by the arms, hard enough to bruise—it'd be convincing, if he didn't remember the realistic sting of blood when Kolya cut him. "Rodney, listen to me—we need your command code. Atlantis needs it—not the Replicators, it's not the Replicators, it was never them, and the people who had you don't have you anymore, but we need the code now. You were working with the operating system, when you cut off your connection you effectively locked out everyone but yourself. Damn it, Rodney, trust me, you have to believe me. Atlantis is screwed if you don't—"
John's expression changes, eyes going distant as he listens, then reaches up to touch the radio earpiece. "I'll be right there," he says into it, then focuses on Rodney again. "Rodney, please, give me the damn code. It's worthless anyway, right—there's no logical reason for you not to tell me."
Rodney shakes his head, and John lets go and stands up, taller than Rodney, as tall as the real John, lanky and wiry and lithe. Stands there like he knows Rodney's hands are aching to touch him again, like he's offering himself, carrot instead of the stick for once, and the look in his eyes is John at his most reckless. Like he's on the verge of something drastic, but all he says is, "Rodney, please, whatever you want, whatever I have to say, please, just trust me."
"You're not getting Atlantis," Rodney tells him, folding his arms. "I don't care how much you can give me of what I want—you're not really John, and you're not getting Atlantis through me."
He shuts his eyes, and when he opens them, he's finally alone again in his cell.
Sometimes Rodney dreams of rescue. He dreams that his team comes—in his dreams, it's Ronon who smashes through the door, not Sheppard just standing there lazily; Ronon with his blaster glowing red in the dimness of the artificial night cycle. He looks like he has fangs, in the darkness, and Rodney shrinks back as Ronon stares at him. "McKay? That you?"
"No," Rodney says, "it's some other Canadian astrophysicist, and you're not actually a vampire, right, that's just the drugs, I hope. I also hope they're just distorting reality, not inventing it wholesale, because I am really very ready to be rescued—"
Ronon grins at him, with all his nonexistent fangs, tips back his head and bellows, "I found him!" and Sheppard and Teyla come running They're both armed and grim, but they smile to see him, and then he passes out or falls into a fugue state. He doesn't wake up until they're in the jumper heading back to Atlantis, and then he's in the infirmary and then he's resting in his quarters and then he's back in his lab, hard at work on the power distribution, fine-tuning the operating system's interactivity.
It's a good dream, the only good dream he's had here. He can't remember how many times he's had it, but it must be more than one, because he can remember it so clearly. Vivid as the hallucinations are, after they pass, they fade into unclear memory, leaving him with impressions that are hard to keep track of, because they can't be assembled into any sort of logical comprehension. But he remembers being rescued like it actually happened, even though he's still in the cell. Even though when he next opens his eyes, John is there.
The lights don't go dim, but they keep flickering. It plays tricks on his eyes, so that sometimes the silvery walls seem to recede, the sleek metal going transparent, and underneath is the bronze and blue paneling of Atlantis. He thinks he can smell the sea.
There's been no darkness, so it must not have been as long as it feels like. Since John disappeared, Rodney's seen nothing, heard nothing.
When John returns, Rodney's lying down, trying to take advantage of the respite to sleep without dreams. The door slides open for him, like he's real, and Rodney knows he should try to charge him, charge through his nonexistent person, try to escape before the door shuts. But he's taken aback by John's expression, the weariness, and something else.
He smiles, though, when he sees Rodney staring at him, a real smile—as real as a hallucination can manage—if tired. "It's okay," he says. "City's out of danger, Zelenka and Colonel Carter finally figured out a workaround, major systems are up and running again. We've got the cloak and the gate shield back."
"So you don't need to ask for my code anymore," Rodney says, skeptically.
"Yeah, no," John says. "We can use your mad hacker skills on the minor systems, but—that'll wait. Keller thinks she's found the antidote for what they gave you, to neutralize whatever's still in you." He pulls out a hypodermic, capped.
Rodney shakes his head, backs up until he bumps into the wall behind him. "No thanks, that's quite all right—"
"Rodney..." John sighs. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Easy way, you hold out your arm, get a little prick, and wake up sane."
"I call in Ronon, who's waiting outside just in case, he stuns you, I stick the needle somewhere uncomfortable, and you wake up sane."
"I'll take option C," Rodney says, trying to back up farther, push himself inside the wall, "you go away and leave me alone, and I keep the admittedly limited sanity I've got now, rather than whatever completely insane state of mind you'd consider to be sane."
John doesn't advance any, just lets go a long breath. "Rodney, I know what this feels like to you now. Only you've got it all wrong, and I swear to God things will look better in the morning." Then his face goes a strange color. "Well, most things. Because the doc is pretty sure you're not going to lose any memories, and that's—I—Jesus, Rodney, it doesn't do much good to apologize now, when you don't even think I'm real, but I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry. I'll tell you that again when you're in your right mind, and I really hope you're willing to hear it. Though if you aren't, I..." He runs his hand through his hair, not a gesture Rodney has seen him make before. It doesn't make his spikes any less unruly. "I'll get it. Just believe me that I'm sorry."
It's not really John, but he sounds so shaken, so far off his normal laconic laid-back center, that Rodney has come forward without thinking. "John," he says, and John's head comes up. He looks at Rodney with his chameleon eyes darker than usual and not hiding anything, not that John's nearly as good at hiding things as he'd like to think.
It's not really John but Rodney's on drugs and out of his mind. He holds out his arm. "Just give it to me," he says. "Since you will anyway, and it's probably safer for you to administer a controlled dose than drug me indirectly. Though it'd be even safer if you were an actual doctor, not a hallucination."
"Keller wanted to do it," John says, "but since I'd...connected with you, kind of, we thought I should try first."
John's not a doctor, but he's trained in field medicine like they all are, and he's careful about swabbing the disinfectant, slipping in the needle with barely a pinch. Afterwards he puts the hypodermic aside on the desk—why is there a desk in the cell?—and then he brings up his hands to cup Rodney's face.
"Rodney," he says, "it was real. If you remember any of this—remember that. It was real," and he leans in to kiss Rodney, not hard but soft and slow, like he wants it to last. It's dizzying, or else that's the drug in his veins, weighing him down, pulling him under. John's drawing in his breath, a fairy tale in reverse, the prince's kiss putting him to sleep, and Rodney should be afraid, should try to fight back. But John's arms feel so real around him, gently laying him down on a mattress softer than he remembered, one hand warm against his cheek. Watching over him, and that tenderness is a torture too great for him to resist.
When he wakes up, John isn't there.
Rodney comes to slowly. He's in the infirmary again, and he keeps his eyes closed for a long time, taking in the sounds, the smells, the light and shadows behind his eyelids. He's waiting for it all to shift, to change into the unreal; but every detail he catalogs stays present and accounted for.
When he finally dares to open his eyes, Teyla and Ronon are there, waiting behind Keller, smiling at him, encouraging smiles, hopeful smiles. He wonders what would happen if he tried to kiss one of them. Decides not to test it, and that's probably as good a sign as any that the drugs are out of his system.
Rodney gets a little freaked when he goes to the commissary; the light seems brighter than it should, but then he realizes it's earlier in the day than he usually gets lunch, and it's sunny outside. The crab salad tastes fake, just like it always does.
When he tries to apologize to Zelenka, Radek shrugs off the black eye. "Unless you are willing to let me have my swing at you? No? Well, then, we don't have to speak of it again. You weren't yourself."
It doesn't stop him from shooting looks at Rodney all through the afternoon, though; not suspicion, just smothering concern, until Rodney finally snaps, "Do I need to hit you again? We've got a lot of work to do here, cleaning up what I am man enough to admit I completely fucked up—albeit while under the influence of alien torture drugs—and it'll take twice as long to put right if you spend half your time gaping at me."
"By those calculations of time spent," Radek remarks, "I am taking on the entire burden of work. What are you doing, McKay, twiddling your thumbs?" But he gets back to work.
It feels good to sink into the city's coding, the complexities of Ancient programming reassuring Rodney that he's still a genius, even if his brain was briefly scrambled. He doesn't even need to go to dinner; Teyla brings him a tray.
He has a couple of turns, a few moments of questioning what he's doing. He has new command codes, given to him this afternoon, and they're working with non-vital systems, so if this is all illusion, he's not giving away any dangerous information. Not that he thinks it is; awake from the drug's trance, everything feels different, and he's fairly sure he'd be able to tell.
Still, better safe than sorry.
He doesn't see Sheppard all day. He's definitely not sorry about that.
Not until the evening, when he leaves the infirmary after Keller's tests have all come back relievingly negative, and finds Sheppard leaning against the wall beside his quarters, waiting.
Rodney's considered faking amnesia, pretending he has no memory of his relapse. He could get away with it. He didn't have to check that the cameras had been deactivated in the empty quarters where they had put him. Sheppard would've made sure of it. Not just because of his own career; for Rodney's sake. Sheppard protects his teammates like that.
Sheppard wouldn't have done any of it if he hadn't had to, and Rodney knows this. It makes it hard to be angry. But without the shield of anger it's hard to feel anything beyond the mortification. He could claim he'd forgotten everything, and Sheppard would let him get away with it, even with Rodney's face giving him away.
But then he sees John's own face, and knows they're past that last chance of safe dishonesty.
He lets Sheppard into his room. The door slides shut behind him, and Rodney turns around to face him. "Hey."
"Hey," Sheppard says, and swallows. "I—"
Rodney beats him to it. "You don't have to apologize, I don't blame you. I know why you did it, I know you didn't have a choice, if Radek and Sam hadn't come through then the city was a sitting duck. I'd have done the same thing, I'd have wanted you to do exactly what you did—" and he cuts himself off, because there's honesty, and then there's his mouth.
Sheppard once walked abroad in Rodney's own nightmares, with his consent. This is only about a thousand times worse. He'll get over it. Eventually. Even if their friendship doesn't.
He tries to look at John's face for more than a split second at a time, but it's so damn hard. Rodney's never been any good at this. "I'm sorry I caused so much trouble. For everyone, for Atlantis, for you. And yes, I know it wasn't my fault, and I'm more embarrassed than anything, especially since no harm done, in the long run. Still, it's embarrassing.
"But it's more than that. I'm sorry I didn't trust you—I do trust you, John, you have to believe that. I trust you more than anyone. It wasn't a matter of trust, I just didn't believe it was really you."
"I know," John says quietly. "No one in the city holds you responsible. Hell, if they'd seen the way you were resisting, when you thought I was the bad guy..."
Rodney frowned. "It was very peculiar—well, perhaps not that much, considering the chemicals in my bloodstream, but I was absolutely convinced that it could not possibly be you. And you weren't helping, acting completely unlike yourself, making it that much more unbelievable. I appreciate that you were trying to get through to me when I was in an exceedingly un-get-throughable state. Though, considering you were the marginally sane one at the time, it might have occurred to you that pretending to a hallucinating man that you are in fact a hallucination is not the best way to win his trust—"
"That wasn't really the plan," John interrupts. "I was ready for anything, pretty much, was going to just go with the flow, pretending to be whoever you thought I was—only I didn't realize at first that you thought I was me." He coughs, looks away like he's looking for a place to hide the pink the remarkably pointed tips of his ears are turning. "I, ah, thought you were having a fantasy. About Carter, or whoever."
"None of the hallucinations were that pleasant. They wouldn't be much good as an interrogation technique if they were, would they," Rodney says, and really, that ought to have clued him in. If he'd wanted to be clued in. Which he hadn't.
He takes a breath. There's no getting around this so he might as well go all the way. Set fire to the last bridge before it rotted out under his feet. "I'm sorry I took advantage of you."
"Come again?" John says.
"I'm sorry," Rodney repeats, "that I took advantage of you."
John stares at him. "Which one of us was on heavy drugs?" he asks eventually.
"That's not an excuse," Rodney says. "I took you for part of my fantasies—I treated you as a figment of my imagination, that I could do whatever I wanted to. I made you fulfill a role you had no choice in, because you thought you had to go along with it, for my sake, and for Atlantis. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for you, and I don't know of any way to make up for that. I would tell you that I never intended for you ever to know of those, ah, that is, that particular fantasy, but I don't see how that helps, cat out of the bag and such. I can at least assure you that I'll never mention it again, and considering how long I went without mentioning it before this, you can believe me when I tell you you'll never be reminded, and we can just put this behind us and carry on as friends, or teammates, or whatever we are, because I really don't—"
John has his hands up in a gesture of 'I surrender.' "Wait," he says, "slow down, hold on." He licks his lips. "So, uh," he says, eloquently. "This, um, particular fantasy. It wasn't just the drugs, messing with your head. Making you think you were, uh. Gay."
"Bisexual," Rodney corrects.
"And it wasn't the, uh, first time you had it."
There were apparently ways out of this that he hadn't even considered, and Rodney is ready to kick himself, or just beat himself unconscious against his own door. ''No," he confesses. "Not the first time."
"I was fulfilling your fantasies."
"I thought you were a hallucination," Rodney says miserably.
John eyes him. Not guardedly, not angrily, not even uncomfortably; speculatively, if anything. "I don't know, Rodney," he drawls. "Those are some pretty lame-ass fantasies."
Rodney bristles in spite of himself. "Heavy drugs! And I thought I was still in prison! With possibly voyeuristic captors! Besides, I thought you were a hallucination, going too far would've been downright embarrassing."
"Still," John says, his eyes shifting away. "If it'd been me, I'd at least have gotten you to blow me."
John looks back, looks up, a long slow look that takes approximately a million years to travel up Rodney's body to his face, lingering here and there along the way. "If you were fulfilling my fantasies," he says.
Rodney opens his mouth, shuts it again, a couple times as all the words he wants to say crowd each other off the platform of his tongue onto the rails of his mind. He should go back to the infirmary, because clearly Keller's tests missed something. He's still tripping, or else he's suffering delayed withdrawal, or else he's just going mad.
Either that, or he's still sane and the rest of the universe has lost its mind. Or maybe just that segment of it that goes by the name John Sheppard.
"That doesn't even make sense," Rodney's babbling, "in any rational universe, that you'd conceivably turn down the billion or so women on a thousand planets that you actually could get, to fantasize about—"
John kissing him is somehow completely different from him kissing John—not better—though definitely, absolutely not worse—but different, the pressure, the tilt of his head, the way he swipes his tongue across Rodney's lips, teasing them open to slip inside. He's taking his time but it's not soft; it's taking as much as giving, and it makes Rodney want to take back everything he's giving, and he's giving everything.
When they part, Rodney, dazed, finds himself saying, "You know, if it had been like that the first time yesterday, I might not have believed you were my fantasy."
"Yeah, well," John says. "You caught me off-guard."
"You said you were ready for everything."
"Pretty much, I said," John says. "Except that. I walked into the room and you got up and laid one on me, and for a second all I could think was that somehow it was contagious and I was the one hallucinating."
John's got his arms around Rodney's shoulders and Rodney's got his arms around John's waist, like they're getting ready to slow dance or something far better, and Rodney's not positive he's not hallucinating right now. He really should call Keller. Have them both examined. "Seriously?"
"Yeah," John says, "seriously, in what rational universe would you possibly be kissing me?"
"You know what? Screw rationality," Rodney decides, and kisses him again.