John wakes slowly, his body becoming aware of its surroundings in stages, as if his senses want to take turns coming back online. First, he feels the softness at his back, smells the lack of sea tang in the air that tells him he's in the infirmary. Next he becomes aware of the slight constriction of a blanket, heavier on one side. His limbs beneath it feel loose and rested, at odds with the dry bitterness that films his tongue—just enough to notice, but not enough to be worth moving, not yet.
A gentle whistling sound interrupts John’s drifting thoughts, and while he recognizes it, he can’t place it. Minutes pass as John holds onto his languor, for once content with the idea of resting and working on a single problem for a change. All at once he remembers where he’s heard that sound before—on missions, in his quarters, in Rodney’s quarters, and—when he’s lucky—in his dreams; always in a setting similar to this one, without responsibilities or anxiety. Just slow, gentle breathing on the fringes of wakefulness, where John can nuzzle close behind Rodney and brush his lips against the other man’s hairline to smell and taste the sweetness there. He never has to worry about sleeping too long in those dreams, nor does his dream-self wonder how a warmly spoken “John” could have come to have the same weight as a kiss on his inner thigh, both full of the potential to render him speechless.
He lifts his lids just slightly, the room around him hazy and indistinct through his lashes. Rodney is indeed asleep beside him, his left arm outstretched on John’s bed, head pillowed against it. John traces his eyes over the sloped shoulder, up Rodney’s vulnerable-looking neck and across his sweat-damp hair. He feels just as tired as Rodney still looks, and the other man’s presence here is comforting, even though John knows that if he falls back asleep, McKay won’t still be there when he wakes. He’s okay with that, as long as he gets his mornings, rare though they may be.
Rodney’s face is flushed slightly, and John wants to pull himself out of sleep completely and make sure McKay’s all right, remembering the pang he’d felt on hearing that some people had actually died of this sickness. He hadn’t saved them—he hadn’t even remembered who they were. Christ. The pang of regret is more tangible than any of the physical sensations he’d woken to, but John wills it down and distracts himself by following the pale line of Rodney’s arm to where the backs of his fingers rest against John’s leg, innocuous yet deeply meaningful.
There are black smudges just barely visible on the curve of Rodney’s palm, and John regards them sleepily before his eyes linger on a darker area at Rodney’s wrist. He tries to hang onto consciousness, stubbornly determined to identify the markings before he passes out again, though he’s been in this situation enough times to know this is a losing battle. Sure enough, John slides back into sleep just as his brain recognizes the pattern of the symbols.
John dreams of Rodney, fingers splayed around an indelible marker, mind working a mile a minute as he tries to imagine all of the things he’ll need to remember. He dreams of Rodney bent over his own arm, face wincing as he paints the symbols to the Ancient cell doors down one side, an important command code already scrawled across his palm. Mostly, though, he dreams of Rodney smiling a smug, secret smile as he writes John’s name on his wrist like a talisman. The bold capital letters flash into view as McKay hefts his tablet computer and goes about the business of saving the city, of saving John—and saving the promise of new memories for both of them.