His life was—apparently—perfect.
He'd been terrified when he came to with no memories whatsoever in what looked like Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory. Thankfully he was then rescued by his team (a group of kick-ass fighters who seemed genuinely worried about him and were incredibly hot to boot) and taken to Atlantis (a floating Ancient city that responded to touch and could supposedly fly), where he was chief science officer (because he was a genius), and checked over by his fiancée (a sexy, blonde medical genius who appeared to be in her twenties).
Rodney (that was his name, though Colonel What's-His-Name with the slouch had muttered something about Meredith) had no frame of reference since he couldn't remember anything specific about his life, but he couldn't imagine any reason why he wouldn't be perfectly happy.
And that was kind of amazing. He couldn't be sure, of course, but he felt that he probably hadn't been one of those people who always had a perfect life. Even if he couldn't remember specifics, he remembered how it felt to want more from life, to always come up short somehow.
But evidently he'd managed to get it all, and that made him feel great, so great in fact that of all the people on Atlantis he seemed to be the least troubled by his amnesia. Jennifer (his fiancée, the sexy doc) went over his medical scans one by one to help another scientist with some Eastern European name. His team (Colonel Slouch, Conan the Barbarian, and the lithe Amazon) had gone back to the planet with another team to get some answers. They all seemed very eager to do anything in their power to get Rodney's memories back.
Rodney talked with the psychologist, assuring him that he was handling things very well and was not stressed out in the least. Then he made someone take him to the labs and started working on his memory problem himself, and indeed, he must be a genius because he comprehended things so fast that the Czech with the wild hair gaped.
His team came back without answers but with the Ancient device that had probably erased Rodney's memories, and they looked so grim and determined that Rodney knew without a doubt that these people loved him like a brother. It warmed Rodney's heart. Maybe because he didn't have a family of his own—at least, he couldn't remember one, and nobody had mentioned relatives.
While they were analyzing the artifact, Jennifer dropped by to report that she hadn't found anything except that Rodney was healthy. Since his scans didn't show any significant changes in his brain, there was a good chance that he'd start remembering things, even if they couldn't reverse what the Leskoo (the people on the planet) had done to him. She smiled confidently at him and squeezed his arm, and Rodney could only think that he couldn't wait to remember them—and then to resume their relationship. Briefly, he wondered why on Earth he hadn't set a date yet because, looking at her, he couldn't wait to make her officially his.
Eventually they decided to call it a night. They hadn't yet found a way to open the device's core, and Rodney still had to catch up when it came to crystal technology—one of the many alien technologies he was proficient in. For a moment he considered going to Jennifer, but—like everyone else—she seemed a bit hesitant around him, so she probably wouldn't be willing to have sex with him. Too bad, because it would have been really great to have sex with her for the first time again, so to speak.
He was about to ask the Czech for directions to his quarters when Colonel Slouch appeared in the lab.
"Any progress?" he asked hopefully.
"Progress, yes. But no solution yet," the Czech said.
The colonel nodded, though he was obviously disappointed.
"We were going to call it a night," Rodney said. "You should be able to give me directions to my quarters. I think I remember the area I need to press on the transporter's map, but I'm not sure I'd find the correct corridor."
"Uhm, sure, McKay," the colonel said. "I was going to head to my quarters too. I can show you."
Rodney nodded, and they walked to the transporter together. The colonel watched him out of the corner of his eye.
"You seem to be taking this very well," he eventually said, frowning.
"Of course," Rodney said. "Why shouldn't I?"
The colonel took a deep breath. "Well," he started. "You're kind of a 'glass is half empty' kind of person. And by that I mean you'd find the empty in a 90% full glass—at least when it comes to worst case scenarios."
"Well, Colonel, the worst case scenario here is that my memories won't return. Which would be troublesome, I admit. However, the progress I've made in recalling scientific theories and formulas suggests that I would be able to regain all my scientific knowledge in a trivial length of time, and I don't see why I couldn't continue to be a member of your team. And Jennifer... I have no doubt that she would love me no matter what. I'm still me even if I don't remember her. And it's obvious why I fell in love with her. I'm sure I'll be feeling the way I did about her in no time, even if my memories don't return."
The colonel stopped and stared at him.
"What?" Rodney asked, slightly irritated.
The colonel shook his head. "Nothing. I just... I really thought you'd react differently to this."
"Different how?" Rodney asked, walking on and entering the transporter.
The colonel joined him and pressed the area of the living quarters. "Freaked out?" he suggested.
Rodney harrumphed. "I'm sure, with my intellect and experience, I'm not prone to 'freaking out' as you call it."
"O-kay," the colonel said, eyes going wide and shifting to the side.
They walked to Rodney's quarters—this time Rodney tried to pay attention to where they were going—and the colonel said, "If you need anything, you know how the communicators work." He pointed at his own ear piece.
"Yes," Rodney said. "Thank you."
The colonel nodded. "Good night, Rodney."
"Good night, uhm," Rodney said, frowning.
"John Sheppard," the colonel said. A crease formed between his eyebrows, and his mouth compressed to a thin line of dissatisfaction.
"Right," Rodney said. "Good night, uh, John."
The colonel rolled his eyes and walked away down the corridor.
In his quarters, Rodney quickly went to the bathroom and then settled down in the rather small bed, thinking about the device. While they hadn't quite cracked its secrets, he had the feeling that it wouldn't be long until they knew what it did and could reverse what had happened to him.
Though he did believe what he'd said to Colonel Slouch—he'd forgotten his name again; it was something incredibly generic. Even if he never got his memory back, he didn't see any great problem, as long as he was allowed to stay on Atlantis and continue his life.
He was sure he'd be able to reconnect with the people around him. Towards the evening, he and the Czech had begun trading friendly barbs, and he'd commented that Rodney was obviously still himself. There was no reason that other people should see him differently. After they'd saved him and shown such interest in him, Rodney trusted these people enough to consider them friends even as they rebuilt their relationships.
Which wasn't to say that he didn't want his memories back. He did. He tried to imagine the life he couldn't remember. A challenging job where he made earth-shattering discoveries that had earned him the respect and admiration of those who worked for him and those who wished to do so. A team with whom he laughed and went on missions and who had become a family to him. And to make it all perfect, a loving soon-to-be-wife he wanted to grow old with because she was everything he could want and whom he loved more than anything in the world.
Rodney fell asleep thinking about that life, hoping that he'd be able to resume where he'd left off soon.
The next day the Czech and Rodney had a breakthrough. It was quite simple really. Rodney was sure that if his memory had been intact he would have solved it within a few hours, but as it was he couldn't complain. They made the necessary adjustments to the device, and then Rodney's team and Jennifer joined them as he prepared to activate the device.
His eyes were on Jennifer. He smiled at her, reached out to touch the artifact, and thought of the life that would be completely his again in a second.
The moment his fingertips make contact his memories are back instantly. He can still see images from his imaginary life, like an echo from the brain of the man he's been without his memories. He sees that life and he sees reality, and the smile freezes on his face.
Jennifer gazes back at him, expectant, hopeful, so lovely, but Rodney can only think of the many ways their relationship isn't like he's imagined. He's always had diffuse, unacknowledged doubts about their relationship—the reason why he has avoided setting a date after asking her to marry him—but suddenly the doubts aren't diffuse anymore.
He worries that sooner or later they might get bored with each other. He worries about becoming the kind of couple with a suburban house and a white picket fence, inviting over friends that he can't stand but is polite to because Jennifer likes them, bringing flowers because he forgot something that he doesn't really care about, and Jennifer being mad at him when he blows her off to spend time with John.
Rodney drops his gaze then looks up at John, who seems as anxious and hopeful as Jennifer. Rodney hasn't even been able to remember his name. Small wonder, when nobody has told him what John means to him. John hasn't said a word about being friends. Even if he had, the Rodney without memories would have imagined a completely different relationship.
He would have imagined a buddy he drank beer with, exchanging jokes that weren't suitable for polite company, sharing the woes of his love life (which surely ended when he started dating Jennifer). They do drink beer, and sometimes they share dirty jokes (though they're much more likely to be the juvenile sort), but Rodney has never discussed his doubts about Jennifer with John. Not just because he has lied to himself about these doubts, but because John would look hurt just long enough that switching to his overt devil-may-care attitude wouldn't quite cover it up.
They're friends, yes, but that word can't encompass the entirety of their relationship—even just the private part—any more than calling a ZPM a battery. It's true as far as it goes, but it leaves out so many things that make all the difference even if he can't explain them. Rodney could never explain what's between him and John, the undefinable something that makes John more than a friend, more than a team leader. He still can't. But when he thinks now of John and Jennifer, he's very aware of another difference from his imagined perfect life.
Without his memories Rodney pictured her as the center of his world—or if not the center, perhaps the foundation. He thought that she was the one that he'd want to turn to whether he was happy or sad, that she was the one who'd always come first. But now that he has his memories back and life isn't as simple, this isn't how he feels. It's not even that she doesn't come first. But among the mass of doubts he can no longer hide from himself is one where he wonders what he'll do if he has to choose between Jennifer and John.
There's a good chance it will come down to that, one way or another. Rodney doesn't want to lose John. He doesn't want to give John up. With sudden clarity he realizes that if he did choose Jennifer he wouldn't be choosing her—he'd be choosing to have what his sister has.
"Did it work?" Zelenka asks.
Rodney blinks and turns to him. Zelenka is a friend and a rather brilliant scientist, even if Rodney hardly ever admits it out loud. That his counterpart without memories considered his shared experiences with Radek over the last six years as non-essential, something he could easily make up for, shows an arrogance that shames Rodney.
And it's not just Zelenka. Teyla, Ronon, John: he'd assumed they could just continue being a team. He'd imagined himself as part of a group of superheroes, his second family after Jennifer. He hadn't thought of the realities of family, how they sometimes make you feel inadequate, how you sometimes treat them badly because you take them for granted.
He doesn't even want to think about the fact that Jeannie hasn't even existed in his 'perfect' imaginary life and the many ways in which his intellect isn't just a reason for admiration, but also jealousy and sometimes real danger. He hasn't known about the Wraith, about the lives he hasn't managed to safe, about the times he's failed himself and the people that trust and need him.
His life is so far from perfect, it's laughable.
"Yes," he says to Zelenka. "We should return this to the Leskoo," he adds, indicating the device. "It wasn't their fault."
"But it erased—" John begins, but Rodney cuts him off.
"I was my fault," he says, remembering the lab and how he ignored the warning of the Leskoo scientist. Rodney's exceptionally good at believing he knows everything—with or without his memories.
John frowns at him but nods to Zelenka, who deactivates the artifact and hands it to Ronon.
"We should do another brain scan, just in case," Jennifer says. She's frowning at Rodney as well.
"Of course," Rodney says, forcing a small smile.
She smiles back tentatively. "I'll prepare everything. Shouldn't take too long."
Rodney nods and watches her go. He looks at John, then Teyla and Ronon. They all seem to sense that this isn't the usual happy ending after they manage to fix something gone wrong.
"I believe we should inform Richard of Rodney's success in regaining his memory," Teyla says, glancing at John and giving Ronon a meaningful look.
"Yes, that is good idea," Zelenka says. "I will join you."
"Good to have you back, McKay," Ronon says before they leave, clapping him on the shoulder.
"It's good to be back," Rodney says, giving him a weak smile.
Teyla nods at him, and they're gone. He's alone with John, who doesn't say anything, just looks at Rodney as if he still can't figure out what has happened. Eventually, he does speak. "Are you going to freak out now?" he asks.
Rodney can't help himself—he has to laugh.
"Because only you would lose all your memories and think that everything's great and then start panicking when they return," John says, one corner of his mouth curving slightly upward.
Rodney grins at him, then sobers. "Not panicking," he says.
"But...something," John guesses, the frown reappearing.
"It turns out that life is much more complicated when it can't be explained in a few sentences," Rodney says.
"I imagine it is."
Rodney senses that John is still curious, but he doesn't think he'll ask. Maybe he doesn't know what to ask. "You didn't tell me we're friends," Rodney suddenly says.
John straightens a fraction and blinks, surprised. "It was only a day. I had full confidence in you and Zelenka. I didn't...see the point."
Rodney nods. He supposes that makes sense. "Would have been hard to explain anyway. Our...friendship."
The frown on John's face becomes more pronounced, his confusion showing clearly. "I'm not sure I'm following."
Rodney can understand that. If John had been the one who lost his memories, Rodney probably would have told him they were friends and not thought for a second that there was more to tell. "I should go to the infirmary. Jennifer will be waiting," Rodney says, starting to walk past John. John stops him.
"We are friends," he says, still confused. "I only didn't tell you because—"
"I know," Rodney interrupts him, smiling in a way he hopes is reassuring. "I really should get to the infirmary."
John nods. "You'll be okay," he says.
Rodney's not so sure about that. But he thinks he might be better than he was two days ago. Or at least he will be in the long run. He needs to untangle a few things in his head. He needs to face some realities and accept that there's no such thing as a perfect life. And then he needs to figure out what he really wants in life and what he already has.
Maybe once he's done that, he can make decisions that will move his life closer to, not perfection, but happiness—a life making memories he'll never want to let go of.