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Margin of Error

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John's starting to think maybe he didn't get his memory back quite right.

There are little inconsistencies, little blank spaces where something must have been before, and isn't now. Like: He has a guitar in his room, but he doesn't seem to know how to play it very well, and he can't remember whether he ever could. John discovers that it feels good just to hold it, though, the smooth, comforting weight of it, and that there's something meditative about tuning it fumblingly, trying a few chords, picking out the beginnings of rough melodies in the quiet of his room. He thinks about asking someone if he played before, but he's not sure who would know, and anyway, if this is the only quirk he's left with after having his memories purged and restored, he considers himself lucky.

The whole thing had been confusing, but quick: 251 minutes of not knowing who he was, of not knowing who anyone else was--and he spent almost all of them sitting in the infirmary, nothing familiar in the white sheets and the drawn faces and the machines beeping steadily and unhelpfully, until Rodney had figured out how to reverse what the Ancient panel (which had looked pretty much like every other Ancient panel they'd encountered, and which he therefore had deemed safe to slouch against) had done to him--and then click, there it all was, everything slotted back into place easy as a disk into a hard drive. Names for everyone around him, names for the missing, gory details about all the crap that's happened to them lately, check, check, check.

So things are normal, now, mostly, and he's fine, except for the occasional blip, like when he asks Teyla if he can feel the baby kick. He figures he can chalk up the funny, complicated expression on her face to hormones, or to the fact that she has something growing inside her, because she takes his hand in hers anyway and presses it against the warm, living skin of her belly, and John holds his breath.

Things feel better than normal, actually. Things feel right.

He keeps thinking that, even when Rodney goggles at him and demands, "Oh my god, what are you doing?" But if you can't hum a little Neil Diamond when you're making lazy, easy orbit around a big moon in your very own spaceship, when can you? So he grins and croons at Rodney (badly, but who cares?), asks him whether the jumpers make him feel like a guitar hummin', and Ronon snorts, and Rodney gawks at him like he's certifiable, and John laughs more easily than he can remember doing, and maybe that doesn't bother him as much as it should.

Later, he takes a chance on bringing Rodney coffee in the lab, but either that's something he used to do before, or else Rodney's just too involved to notice.

He's looking intently at some readings on a monitor, following along with one finger and typing with his other hand. As John gets closer, he can see that there are whiteboard markers and little gold foil chocolate wrappers and three empty mugs arranged in a messy halo around Rodney's keyboard. John maneuvers right up next to him, slides the cup onto a free corner of his desk and waits. Rodney keeps typing for a minute, tap tap tappety, and then he stops and turns and says "Oh, thank god," and dips his head low over the cup and inhales deeply.

Whatever John had been thinking about saying vanishes, because he's left staring at the back of Rodney's neck, at the trimmed brown edge of his hair and his pale nape, and he's too close not to reach out, not to smooth two fingers just where Rodney's shirt collar meets his skin. He knows he's done something wrong right away; Rodney's frozen, and he's staring into his cup of coffee as if it holds all the secrets of the universe.

And this is why these goddamn holes in his memory are so confusing, because John knows he's thought about this, knows he's made a careful study of Rodney's skin, the way it flushes and sweats, what it looks like smeared with grease or goosebumped with cold--but apparently he's never done this.

John pulls his hand back, and it's nothing, it's nothing; it's so easy to slide his hands in his pockets, to look over Rodney's shoulder and say, "See you later, McKay," to turn on his heel and go.

John hides out for a few hours, tests himself by thinking up questions and seeing if he can answer them. And then he's standing outside Rodney's room wondering how he can apologize, except what he blurts out when Rodney opens the door is, "Did I bring you coffee? I mean, before?"

It startles the guarded look off of Rodney's face, and he says, "What?"

"Just answer the question, Rodney!"

"Before when? I don't know, sometimes? Sometimes you just show up and drink the coffee yourself, so, you know, it's kind of a fifty-fifty thing."

John scrubs a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Rodney, okay? I just--I think a few things got mixed up when you rebooted my brain."

Rodney pales at that, but John waves his hand in the air. "Don't freak out. It's not anything big, there are just." How can he even explain it? "There's stuff that I know I thought about, but I guess I never did anything about."

He flushes hotly, and so does Rodney, and then Rodney says, "Did you, did you really think about that? About me, I mean? I never would have known, you know. You keep everything so close."

John nods, and Rodney takes a step backward, and another, and he's not trying to get away; he's letting John in.

And John hopes his brain's filing this stuff away, because it's new, he's sure of it. It's new, and it's going to be good. It's going to be so good.