The thing about nearly dying being a repeat performance art for Rodney is that some near deaths are worse than others.
He'd been parasite-free for five days and as far as every test--physical and mental--showed both he and his mind were as good as new. And with the return of his old self came his natural curiosity and the scientist's need for understanding. Which is why Rodney queued up the videos Keller had made recording his most recent brush with death.
What he took from them, other than to be incredibly thankful for the self-preservation instinct of the human brain--because he barely remembered anything from his three week descent to a place he never wanted to go again--was that even when he's on the very edge of losing everything, the person he turns to is John Sheppard.
And that's why he found himself outside of John's door, a hazy shadow of memory slipping in and out of the other thoughts knocking around his brain like super-conducted atoms.
John barely had a chance to finish his greeting when Rodney pushed past him, already mid-sentence.
"I can't believe how far I had degenerated. I haven't-- Can't remember much, only bits and pieces here and there. Why didn't you tell me? Although I guess it's not really typical conversation," Rodney paused and turned to face John, who looked like someone just punched him--hard--in the chest. "I had no idea."
John wished he could say the same thing. Wished he could forget what it was like to watch Rodney lose more and more of himself, to watch him slip away.
He's just about to turn and reach for his jacket, to suggest what they need is a walk and the fresh air out on the pier when Rodney says it.
"And every time -- I kept calling for you. And you were there."
"You needed me." It's probably one of the most honest statements John has ever said.
Rodney opened his mouth to reply--what he was going to say, not even he knew--when the comm interrupted him.
"Rodney, we need you." Radek said.
John sighed, although out of relief or a bit of regret, Rodney wasn't sure.
"I have to--" Rodney waved toward the labs.
"Right. Go." John nodded and Rodney retreated almost as quickly as he'd arrived.
John grabbed his jacket and left. He wasn't going to call it running away.
When Rodney called John over the comm for lunch, John's "busy, Rodney," was the answer.
"I could bring you--"
"Leave it, McKay."
"Major, can I have a word with you?" Rodney asked from the doorway of Lorne's office.
Lorne momentarily entertained the idea of keeping McKay to his word and saying as long as it was just one word, McKay could have it. But he was feeling generous today and McKay had nearly died last week.
"Sure. What's up?" He asked, pushing back the chair from the other side of his desk with his foot. "Pull up a seat."
Rodney took the offered seat and took a deep breath.
"I realize under the recent circumstances, my choice of words are rather ironic, but I'm not feeling particularly witty today. But along with your vaccinations, do they give you soldiers some kind of worm or bug that gets activated once you almost lose a teammate one too many times?"
For a brief moment, Lorne worried McKay was slipping again, because the sentence wasn't making a lick of sense. Something on his face must've given away his confusion because Rodney clarified without being prompted.
"I watched the recordings of my... regression... and I told Colonel Sheppard about it, about what I saw, and, and I think I broke him. We're talking spinning beach ball of doom level here."
McKay looked lost, and Lorne felt bad for the guy. McKay and Sheppard had been circling one another--and seemingly obliviously, or at least unaware that the other was doing it--since Lorne had stepped through the gate. It was one of the first things he'd been told about when he got here, and that was three years ago.
At this rate, in Lorne's opinion, Boba Fett would be long since digested and shit out of the Sarlacc by the time the Colonel and McKay figured it out.
"Operating systems, Ancient technology, life support systems, complex algorithms that can mean the difference between life and death--those I know how to figure out, but how the hell do you Control-Alt-Delete a lieutenant colonel?"
There really wasn't a way Lorne could answer that question without telling far too much, and, honestly, he didn't have any firsthand experience rebooting lieutenant colonels...
"You already have. You're alive."
It wasn't the answer Rodney was expecting--Lorne could see the wheels turning in that genius brain of his--but he didn't ask for clarification.
"Thank you, Major," Rodney said, standing up and heading toward the door.
"Anytime, McKay. Good luck."
Rodney turned and offered Lorne one last quizzical look and left.
Maybe, Lorne thought, it wouldn't take as long as he thought.
John was absent at dinner as well. His seat remained empty as Ronon, Teyla and Rodney ate.
"This isn't like it's the first time I've almost died," Rodney said, poking at the particularly springy jello with his fork. "Did something happen that no one's telling me? It did, didn't it? Oh God."
Rodney put down his fork and looked from Teyla to Ronon and back again, his eyes wide and his brain processing worst case scenarios.
"This place can't keep a secret to save itself. How have I not heard... what happened? What did I do?"
"Easy, McKay," Ronon said.
"It's bad, isn't it? How bad? When I was a kid I used to run around completely-- My favorite story was "The Emperor's New Clothes" and I thought-- Please tell me I didn't."
Although neither Teyla nor Ronon was exactly familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen tale, Rodney's swiftly pinkening face and his chopped, frantic sentences gave them a good idea of what he was trying to ask.
Ronon had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing and was going to let Rodney go for a little bit longer, but Teyla took pity and reached out across the table and placed her hand on Rodney's. Her touch had a calming effect and he shut his mouth with an audible snap.
"You didn't, Rodney." Teyla gave Rodney's had a gentle squeeze.
"Then why is Sheppard pulling a Howard Hughes and staying out of sight?"
"Remember when Sheppard was Kolya's captive and Kolya had Todd feed on him?" Ronon said, and he watched as Rodney's face lost a bit of color. He knew he'd hit a nerve. "It's kind of like that."
Teyla gave Ronon a quick look. They both knew what was between John and Rodney, even if the men did not fully recognize it yet themselves. They had agreed to let their teammates find their way to one another naturally--to interfere more directly would be, to put it in Rodney McKay terms, like Einstein knowing there was something about trains and having someone hand him e = mc2.
"I kept calling for him and he'd be there and would calm me down."
Even Einstein had assistance, Teyla thought.
"I believe that honor made the impending loss more severe. John didn't venture far in case he was needed." Teyla looked at Rodney. "Perhaps he just needs some time. You watched the recordings from a place of safety--the outcome is already known. For John, he was there."
Still sure he'd missed something, and with Lorne, Ronon and Teyla's comments providing slippery purchase on the answer just outside of his reach, Rodney decided to start where it all began.
He found what he's looking for on Day 15.
Rodney watched and listened as his onscreen self--looking terrified and anguished--calls for John. He heard John's off-screen answer--quiet and calming--and the Rodney on the screen calms down, a look of happiness, of peace crossing his face as John comes into view, as John crouches down so he's eye-level with Rodney and his hand touches Rodney's arm.
"John didn't venture far in case he was needed."
"You already have. You're alive."
"Remember when Kolya had Sheppard captive? It was like that.
The pieces fall quickly, finding their place like a game of Tetris played by a higher power--or maybe the Fates--who didn't just know what the next pieces were, but also knew exactly where they needed to go and how this was going to end. Rodney just hoped it was a happy ending.
Rodney knew where to find him. Two PhDs and a staggeringly impressive intelligence weren't needed--it made Rodney vastly overqualified, actually--to know that John would be at the pier.
He couldn't remember, not exactly, that night. More than anything it was bits and flashes of memory--John's t-shirt and sleep messed hair; cold beer; laughter; and a feeling of safety and peace.
"I guess this means I need to find a better hiding place," John said, sitting in almost the same place where he had been almost two weeks ago.
"Only if you really don't want to be found." Rodney stopped a short distance away. If they were going to have this conversation--and he was pretty sure they were, he was certain his theory was correct--they were going to do so on equal footing. "You stupid, rakish, messy-haired, verbal impaired, wonderful, frustrating, exasperating, dense man."
"You forgot fucking terrified." There was no sense in playing dumb, John realized. It was inevitable, especially now that Rodney had seen the tapes, that he would figure it out.
"Which is really a funny thing to be, considering you are a man who regularly flies planes and puddle jumpers and hive ships and whole goddamn cities into almost certain doom." Rodney crossed his arms and if his jaw could be set any firmer, he could be put out in Geldar Square as a statue to himself.
For some reason that John wasn't entirely sure of, that was the breaking point. Four weeks of fear, anger, bone-deep sorrow, and not a small amount of relief burst in John's chest, making his skin feel electric. He stood up and faced Rodney, his own jaw clenched to a point of near-pain.
"I had to watch you... Do you know what that did--" he stopped. "You asked for me. And I couldn't not..."
John's hands balled into fists, his nails biting into the meat of his palms.
"Of course I asked for you. Needed you. You never saw the way I looked at you, did you." Rodney said, quietly and matter-of-factly. "God, we are a pair."
John raised his eyebrow. Rodney grabbed the front of John's shirt and pulled him forward.
It wasn't so much a kiss as it was one intent mouth pushing against an (at first) immovable one. Rodney's aim was still far from marksman, and their noses smashed together. But then John's fists uncurled and his hands moved to Rodney's face, he tilted his head and deepened the kiss, and it was perfect.
The thing about nearly dying being a rinse and repeat activity is that each near death brings with it some sort of epiphany.
Some give you back sisters who you thought lost to you.
Some make you appreciate the friends and family you work with every day.
And some tear down every defense you've ever had and give you the person you need most of all--who needs you just as much--and finally allow you to admit what's been right in front of you all along.
Sometimes it takes nearly dying to learn how to live.