The strange woman was prompting him, "You're Doctor McKay, remember?"
He knew he ought to remember who she was but her name was lost to him, just like his own name was slowly slipping away. He knew he used to be smart; the smartest man in two galaxies but it was all slipping away. Everything he had ever known was slipping away and there was nothing he could do about it.
"No. I'm...I'm not any more. I'm not s-sm-smart any more. Doctors are smart, so I'm...Mister now."
She was trying to placate him now but he wasn't so far gone that he couldn't understand the truth, that there was nothing this strange woman could do for him. He looked around but the room was empty save for the strange woman with the pretty hair, but John had pretty hair too. Funny hair that stood up on its own.
"Where...where'd John go?"
The strange lady said she was his friend but he didn't know her. His mom had told him never to talk to strangers, and she was a stranger, and she was pretending to be his friend but he didn't know her and...
"John! Where are you, John?"
"Rodney. Please, it's Jennifer."
She reached for him and he shook her off, pushing away the hands that were grabbing for him.
"Hey buddy! Hey! Hey!"
"John! John!" Suddenly John was right in front of him, holding onto his arms with his face only inches away. "John...John....Where'd you go? Where'd you go? I was so scared."
"It's okay. I'm here now. I'm here now."
Rodney pressed his face into John's shoulder, burying himself in the security and warmth of the one person he trusted and loved above all others, whose face haunted his dreams even as everything else slipped away.
"Beer? On the pier?" Rodney huffed against John's neck before realizing it rhymed. "Beer on the pier," he singsonged. "Beer...on the pier."
"Maybe later, buddy." John pushed him back to arm's length. "You okay now?"
"Sure you are."
John looked over Rodney's shoulder, talking to the strange lady. "Shall I...?"
She sighed. "I need to run more tests." John said nothing and she sighed again. "I can run them later."
"I'll bring him back later."
Rodney wrapped his arms tight around John's waist as John led him from the room with the strange lady, terrified that if he let go of him again then he would disappear along with all of Rodney's memories. Black hole. Yes. He remembered there was a black hole. Maybe that's where all his memories went.
"What's that, Rodney?"
"My mind. Gone into a black hole."
John's only answer was to squeeze him tighter. "Come on. Ronon and Teyla are waiting for us in the mess hall."
"Ronon. Ronon DEX...and Teyla." Rodney smiled and John smiled right back at him. "I love you."
John handed Rodney over to Ronon, barely suppressing a smile at Rodney's happiness as Ronon sat him down at their table. Looking at the easy way they cared for Rodney, John wasn't quite sure how he would have coped without the rest of his team, though he was still a little surprised at the depth of caring Ronon displayed for Rodney. Perhaps it was because Rodney needed and could accept that affection now. He brought over a filled tray and placed it before Rodney, and watched as Ronon took the knife and fork, cutting the meal up into bite-size, manageable pieces for Rodney before handing back the fork.
"There you go."
"Thank you, Ronon DEX."
Ronon smiled, shaking his head. For some reason Rodney found the word DEX fascinating. John exchanged the fork for a spoon when he realized Rodney was chasing the food around the plate, trying to stab it, and getting frustrated in the process. It hurt to see Rodney like this. He was used to seeing agile fingers coaxing together fine filaments and working on intricate devices, not this clumsiness, but Keller had warned that Rodney would slowly lose motor control, reducing him to the level of a toddler in all ways before the end.
"I love you," he proclaimed to Ronon and then to Teyla, repeating a pattern that had become all too regular since around the 6th day after they realized Rodney was losing his memories. Over the next few days he had repeated those words to everyone close to him--Ronon, Teyla, Keller, Woolsey, Radek, Lorne, Miko...and to him, several times over daily. But slowly he had become a little more sparing with the proclamations, only saying "I love you," to the three people he still remembered clearly enough--his team.
Ronon squeezed Rodney's hand. "We know."
"And we love you too, Rodney," Teyla replied softly.
Rodney's bright smile was breaking John's heart because he had longed to hear those words for so many years, but not like this. Not when they were handed out like candy with a childlike innocence rather than the deeper passion of lovers.
Several days later:
This was torture.
Rodney looked around the damp cave, aware that this place would hold the last lucid moments of life. He knew his words had upset his friends but he suspected that they never realized that he would recall everything with perfect clarity--including the last few weeks as he slowly succumbed to the parasite. He thought he had gone through the gates of Hell already, suffering the humiliation of seeing his mind crumble and his body fail to the point where he even needed someone to wipe his ass.
He had said all of his goodbyes, and had the additional embarrassment of recalling how often he had proclaimed how much he loved each of those present even if he had meant it every single time. Then there was Jennifer, who had been so happy with the nice Rodney that it had taken her a week to realize he was sick--and dying. Worse still, there was John. Before the parasite, he had bit back his declaration of love on so many occasions, not wanting to put John on the spot, especially with the stupid anti-gay regulations that had only recently been removed by the US military. He'd planned to hold onto those precious words and make that declaration at the right time. Now those words had lost all their power, having been said a hundred times within the past two weeks.
The rest happened so fast. Too fast that he could barely process that Jennifer wanted to drill a hole into his skull with a heavy duty drill from the Puddlejumper's toolkit, and then poke around to try and remove the parasite. And John wouldn't even let the dying man have one last piece of ham before they turned him into this week's home improvement project. As Jennifer set up the anesthetic in preparation, Rodney swallowed hard and went to each of his friends in turn. He sighed as he pressed his forehead against Teyla's, breathing in the scent of her Athosian soap. When he reached out a hand to Ronon, he was pulled into a bear hug, but unlike the time when his brain was accelerated by the ascension machine, this time he hugged back.
Jeannie replaced Ronon and he held her tight, knowing this one day was worth it just to be able to hug her one last time with a clear mind. He offered a weak smile to Jennifer and turned to the one person left--John. He kept his voice deliberately low, even though he was sure Ronon would still be able to hear him.
"I want to..."
"No goodbyes, buddy."
"But what if I don't...?"
"But what if I don't?"
"No. No. This time I'm going to say it." John started to object but Rodney spoke over his words in a harsh whisper. "I love you." John paused and gave that familiar smile and sigh, but this time Rodney could read the sorrow behind it. "Look. I know what you're thinking but I'm ME now. Your genius friend, and if you want me to spell it out...I love you more than a friend loves another friend." John looked both shocked and dismayed. "I'm...sorry if that changes how you feel about me, but I needed..."
"No." John held up a finger threateningly. "I... Later."
"There might not be--"
"Later," John insisted, and Rodney had no choice this time but to give in because Jennifer was calling his name.
When he awoke from the anesthetic it was to the sound of Jeannie and Jennifer talking right next to his bed, but even Jennifer's flippant remark failed to annoy him. He was back in the Infirmary on Atlantis and he was alive but, more importantly, he was still smart. Any worries about brain damage from the makeshift operation under less than sanitary conditions faded as he smiled up at Jeannie.
"Jennifer." Jeannie gave him a secret, playful smile as she tipped her head in the direction Jennifer had taken.
"She likes you."
Confused, he repeated back her words, and then it clicked. "Really?" He bristled. "Well, of course she likes me. We're friends."
Jeannie heaved a put upon sigh. "Oh Mer!"
She sighed again but let the subject drop for once, probably taking pity on him. He was glad because he really didn't want to talk about the person he liked as more than a friend until after he had spoken with John. Now there was no one chatting right above him, he felt the pull of sleep once more, and even that slight peckish feel was not enough to stop him closing heavy eyes. He struggled to open them but felt Jeannie's hand stroking his hair and the whisper of her voice telling him to go to sleep.
When John arrived in the Infirmary, Jeannie was still sitting by Rodney's bed but her head was nodding, sinking towards her chest. She jerked upright and John gave a half smile. Since their reconciliation, Rodney and Jeannie had made up for some of the lost years, and he knew how good that felt following his own long overdue talk with his brother. He knew she would sit by her brother's bed all night if necessary so he walked up and called to her softly.
"Hey." She looked back at him through tired eyes. "Why don't you grab some sleep. I'll stay with him."
"He woke up earlier, for a few minutes."
She smiled happily and John swallowed hard as she unknowingly answered his unspoken question. For the last few weeks, every waking had brought heartache as Rodney slowly lost his memories, but her smile confirmed that his genius friend was still with them. He watched her leave and took her seat, scooting closer to the bed so he could watch Rodney as he slept. The innocence was still there, along with a silvery line of drool from one corner of his mouth that should have been disgusting but which John found slightly endearing.
An hour passed before he noticed Rodney stirring and he smiled as the long lashes flickered open to reveal sleep-hazy blue eyes. Rodney smiled sweetly, the way he had for the last few days. John felt a moment of fear until Rodney rolled his eyes mockingly, allowing John to read the intelligence in those eyes.
"Is it later?" Rodney asked softly.
John decided not to pretend he didn't understand the question. "Yeah."
Words had never been his strong point, not when dealing with emotions. He'd always favored actions instead so he leaned across, cupped Rodney's face gently in one hand and kissed him tenderly; his tongue glided over Rodney's slightly chapped lips before slipping between them. Rodney moaned softly, head lifting from the pillow as he moved to follow John when the kiss ended. John licked his own lips, which still tingled from the press of Rodney's against them.
"Okay?" John asked quietly. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and flicked a glance only to see Keller quickly walking away. In the past it would have bothered him. but with Rodney alive--and sound of mind--with eyes shining brightly and lips curled up in a smile, full of wonder and love for him, he no longer cared.