John Sheppard came awake fighting, striking out at someone shaking him.
"Ow! Stop it! John, cut it out!" A man John didn't recognize was holding his wrists, on his knees next to him. He had brown hair, but his eyes were sharp and…and sky-colored? John wasn't sure, but they were very bright and somehow mesmerizing. The stranger had strong features and a crooked mouth, and his face was so bruised it looked like he'd been…like something bad had happened to him.
John went still immediately, so he wouldn't hurt the other man more than he already had been.
"Was that…me?" he asked, tilting his chin at the man's face, because he was still holding John's wrists. John really hoped not, because he wanted to kill whoever had hurt the other man like that. He didn't know the man's name, but the ones who hurt him were going to die.
"No. You didn't hurt me," the man said gratifyingly quickly. He swallowed and the brief movement was just as mesmerizing as his eyes. "I'm letting go of you now, okay? Please don't take a swing at me."
John knew he would never, but he couldn't think of how to say that, so he just nodded. The other man carefully let John go and shifted a little farther away from him. John tried to sit up then sank back with a groan when it fully hit him how much moving hurt. There was something to describe what his head felt like, but he couldn't think of it. The floor under his back was cold and hard and felt like metal.
"Here," the other man said, offering his hand. John didn't hesitate before he let the man help pull him upright. The man's crooked mouth dropped further when John groaned again. "The pain will go away in a bit, I promise. It just…" He rubbed the middle of his forehead, half-closing his eyes. He looked like his head hurt. "There's a reason for why it does that. I can't remember."
John blinked at him. "What does what?" His throat hurt along with everything else, he realized, like he'd been talking too much. He rubbed it as he looked around. "Where are we?"
"The, uh…the chair thing," the man said. He grimaced, rubbing his forehead again. "That's not…It's, uh, blue. And it shines. You know?"
"Blue," John said. That was a color but for a second he didn't know which one. Not grass--no, that was green. The sky color; that was it. And… "Water?"
"What? Oh, of course. Sorry. I forgot." The man reached for a metal cup that was beside him and handed it to John. "Do you remember the blue chair?"
The water in the cup was clear, not blue, which made sense and didn't at the same time. John drank, only realizing then just how thirsty he was. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," the man said. "Do you want some more?"
John nodded and gave him the cup, then watched as the man pulled himself slowly to his feet. He moved like his whole body hurt as much as John's did. He walked the few steps to a small metal sink in the corner of the room that started dribbling water when he put the cup under the faucet.
The whole room was metal, dull with brown patches of rust. There were two rectangles lying end to end along one wall. They had blankets so they were probably meant to sleep on, but John didn't know what they were called.
"Where are we?" he asked again after the man came back. He took the cup gratefully and drank while his companion lowered himself carefully back to the floor. They were wearing similar outfits, John noticed: pants that were like white and black mixed, with several sets of pockets, though John's shirt was black and the other man's was blue, like his eyes. The shirts were softer, and John decided he liked them better than the pants. They both had bare feet. John thought that two of his toes on one foot might be broken, then found out he was right when he tried to wiggle them and they hurt. "What happened to us?"
"We're on a ship," the man said. "A flying ship, not a water one. A…" He looked confused. "A space ship? Is that…does that sound right?" He winced, then rubbed his eyes hard enough that John thought it would hurt. "This is no good. I'm losing so much." When the man looked at John again his expression was afraid. "Space ship is the right word, isn't it? For a ship that flies?"
"Yes." John nodded like he knew, even though the words were only familiar at best. But the other man let out a deep sigh and he looked a bit happier, so John figured he'd done the right thing. He liked making the other man happy. He looked around again, but other than the metal there was nothing that hinted at what kind of place this was. "Are we moving?" Ships moved, he remembered that.
But, "I think so," the man said, though he didn't look like he was sure about that, either. He frowned. "I'm pretty sure we're still moving."
"Still moving," John repeated. Something about that worried him, but he had no idea what or why. "Are we…is this…home?"
"No," the man said, this time with no uncertainty at all. That made something in John's chest loosen a little, because everything about this place felt wrong in a way that went far beyond his injuries. "No, no, no, no, no." The other man shook his head. "This isn't home. We were… They brought us." He blinked. "Stole us?" He nodded, like he'd asked himself the question. "That's right. They stole us."
The other man stared at him. "The chair! They--you were just in it! You don't remember?"
John shook his head. "No. Just you shaking me."
"Oh," the man said. He looked afraid again John thought, which probably meant something very bad. "You could at least remember being in the chair, before." He licked his lips. "Do you, um, you remember your name, right?"
John nodded. "John Sheppard." The man with him looked so relieved that now John was starting to feel afraid as well. "Why can't I remember anything?"
"It's the chair," the man said. "Or, the ship." He winced, like finding the right words hurt. "I mean, the chair on the ship. The ship is broken. They took us so we would fix it. And the chair is kind of…" He moved his hands in a helpless gesture that looked familiar and alien at the same time. "It connects to the ship."
"I don't understand," John said.
The man blinked, then he opened his mouth only to stop and shut it again. "I can't explain it," he said, sounding shocked and…upset? Yes, upset was the right word, John was sure, looking at those blue eyes. "I can't explain it," the man repeated, so quietly John could barely hear him. "I don't know the words anymore. I did. I know I did. But...but they're gone."
"It's okay," John said. He reached out and patted the other man's knee. "It'll come back." He had no idea at all if it would, but it felt natural to say so, as if he did that kind of thing often.
The stranger who wasn't quite one looked at John's hand on his knee, then at John with an expression that John couldn't name, then he kind of shook his head and blinked a few times. "The—the point is, the people who…stole us, can't fix the ship without the chair. And they can't use the chair without us. So they stole us. They steal other things, too," the man added, face scrunched up like he was working very hard at retrieving that information. "They're, um, Reavers?" He shook his head quickly. "No. That's not right. Raiders." He nodded, happy. "Yeah. Raiders. Like, pirates."
"Pirates," John repeated. Pirates and stealing went together somehow; he knew that. "Where did they steal us from?"
The man stopped. He pressed his lips together, staring at the far wall like he was really seeing something else. "I don't know," he said slowly, sounding sad again. "But…it's big. Really big." The skin around his eyes scrunched up. "Toronto?" He shook his head. "No, that's not right. But the name has a 'T' in it." He turned back to John and let out a deep breath. "It's a city. A giant city near water." He pressed his lips together. "I'm sorry. I can't remember any more than that."
"It's okay." John couldn't remember even that much, but everything the man said sounded true, right, even if there was nothing in John's head to go with it. The giant city near water was home, John was certain of it. "We need to get back there."
The other man nodded, making a sound that was like a laugh but wasn't really one. "No kidding."
"So, they stole us to make the broken chair work, right?" John asked, making sure he understood, then went on when the stranger nodded. "Why can't they use it?" John kept trying to imagine a blue chair but all he could picture was something small made of painted wood. He didn't think that was right.
"I don't know," the man said, but he looked upset again. "We're different. It's…there's a reason. Something important." He frowned. "Except, it's broken, so it's hurting us. I think. I think that's why."
John didn't know. "Why can you remember this if I can't?"
The man smiled, but he looked really sad. "Because you're better at…at working with it—I can't remember the right word—than I am. I, ah, I can do other stuff. But they want what you do more with the…with working with the chair and the ship. So they keep taking you."
"That's good," John said. He knew he didn't want the chair to keep hurting him, but he was happy that it wasn't the other man. John wasn't as important. He didn't know how he knew that, but he knew it to his bones. The man who kept looking so upset and sad--he was the important one. He was more important than anything.
"It's not good!" The man snapped, blue eyes sparking like… There was something bright that happened when it rained. His eyes were like that. "It's incredibly not good! What happens when you come back and you can't remember anything? And—and I can't remember enough to tell you?"
John shrugged, because he didn't know, but it didn't change how certain he was that if either of them were hurt, it should be him. "Who are they, the pirate raiders who stole us?"
"I don't know," the man said. "I don't remember." He ran his fingers through his hair, looking even more upset. "I don't know how long we've been here, I don't know where we're from…I don't even know how much, how much we've lost. I'm sorry I shook you like that, but you wouldn't wake up." He dropped his eyes, rubbing the sides of his head. John was sure his head hurt. "For a few minutes there, I was thinking that you wouldn't." He looked up at John again, his sky-colored eyes round and afraid. "I thought that the chair had taken everything left in your head."
"I'm okay," John said. He took the other man's hand because he hated seeing his face like that, and holding his hand felt like the right thing to do. He found a smile for him, even though he was still aching everywhere and he was afraid too. He looked at the rectangular things, wondering how difficult it would be to haul himself over there. The floor was pretty uncomfortable. "Thanks for looking out for me."
"You're welcome," the man said. He was staring at their joined hands, but his expression was one that John couldn't name again. "I think…I have a feeling that we look out for each other a lot," he said, but he pulled his hand away.
"Yeah." John kept smiling, though he curled his fingers into a fist and put it in his lap. He couldn't label what he was feeling, other than it was like being cold and hot at the same time and he hated it. But when the man smiled back at him he felt a little better. "Thanks." John took a breath, deciding he might as well admit it. "I don't know your name."
The man blinked at him, and then he looked so upset and afraid (horrified? Maybe horrified) that John wished he hadn't said anything. "It's Rodney McKay. That's gone too?"
John nodded. He scrubbed his hand through his own hair; it felt dirty. "Sorry." He meant it. He forced another smile. "At least you're here to tell me, right?"
Rodney's crooked lips flattened. "Sure. Until I can't remember either."
The rectangular things were mats, Rodney told him. They weren't comfortable but John was so tired he fell asleep right away anyway. His dreams were the blue of ocean and sky, framing towers that shone gold and silver in the sun.
In the dream he was flying, piloting a small ship the color of copper, weaving among the gleaming spires of his city. There was someone next to him, saying something that made John smile even though he couldn't make out the words. But when he turned his head to reply he was awake again and back in the metal room.
"Oh, hey." Rodney looked pathetically happy to see he was awake. He had a small metal rectangle in his hands. Everything on it was square and a color that was like blue and white at the same time and reminded John of his pants, only he liked this color less. "Dinnertime." Rodney lifted the tray a little, showing John, then came over to the mats slowly and John sat up and took the tray so Rodney could ease himself down to the floor. John couldn't recognize the squares as food, but he didn't know if he should and didn't, or if it was just that bad. Up close the squares looked even worse and didn't smell like much of anything. "Yeah, I know. It's disgusting, isn't it?" Rodney grinned and laughed a little—smirked. He smirked, but he sounded tired. "I'll bet this is one thing you're glad you don't remember."
"Yeah, but that means I haven't built up a tolerance," John said. He was a little surprised when Rodney laughed.
"Well, it's all they have here, or at least it's all they feed us," Rodney said as John put the tray on the ground. "And I know you're probably not hungry, but you really should eat something."
"Right." John looked at the uniformly whitish squares of food. He broke off a corner of the closest square and tasted it. "Tofu," he said, because something about the way the squares felt had put the word in his brain.
"What's that?" Rodney asked him. He took a sip of his cup of something that didn't actually look like he should drink it.
"I don't know," John said. "This just made me think of it."
"Must be disgusting then."
"I guess so." John shoved the tray closer to Rodney. "Here. You need to eat more than I do."
Rodney pushed the tray back to him. "You were in the chair. You need it more."
John shook his head, pushing the tray back. "You have…" He clenched his jaw, feeling the word in his head but unable to grasp it. "You get sick, when you don't eat enough."
"You remember that?" Rodney stared at him. "How can you remember that but not my name?"
John shrugged. "There's something yellow that you can't have, either, I think. But I can't remember what it is."
"Lemons," Rodney said softly, still staring at John. "They're fruit called lemons. They're yellow, and sour—they taste bad," he explained when John looked blankly at him. "I can die if I eat them. But…but I didn't know you knew that." He looked uncomfortable. "Or, well. I didn't think you cared enough to remember."
John blinked at him, stunned. About the only thing he could remember was that he cared about the man with him more than he cared about himself. "I care," he said, because he didn't have the words for the rest of it. I'd give up the city for you was completely true, but it didn't seem like enough if he couldn't remember what giving up the city would mean. He wanted to take Rodney's hand again, but he somehow didn't think Rodney would want him to.
"Oh," Rodney said. "I…I didn't know that. Thank you."
John just shrugged again, because he didn't know what to say other than Rodney shouldn't thank him for something that was as much a part of him as the heart thumping away in his chest. But that felt like holding Rodney's hand, so probably Rodney wouldn't want him to do that either.
Instead John broke off another corner of the tofu things. He forced himself to keep eating until about a quarter of them were gone, then made sure Rodney ate some as well. He thought he felt a little bit stronger but it was hard to tell when he had bruises all over his body. "Why do we both look like…like something hit us?" He knew there was a better way of saying it, but he couldn't remember the words.
Rodney's smile was grim. "I think we tried to escape."
"Escape," John repeated, trying to place the word. He kept thinking of a cage. "You mean, get away from here?"
"Yes, exactly." Rodney nodded. "We tried to get away."
"Right." John knew enough about himself for that to sound familiar, but then he looked at Rodney again and frowned. "How? If we're…moving."
Rodney blinked, then pressed his lips together. "I don't know." He closed his eyes, scrunching his face in concentration. "There are small…small things. That move. Like the ship. We were, um, we were trying to…get one."
Rodney let out a blast of air. "I think you can use them. I think we were going to take it. Somewhere." He rubbed the middle of his forehead. "Steal. We were going to steal it."
John grinned. "Cool."
Rodney grinned back. "You are never going to forget that word." He took another breath, not looking happy anymore. "But, yeah. We were going to steal a small ship thing. But we didn't make it. So they beat the shit out of us."
John glared at Rodney, though he really meant the ones who did this; the ones who were going to die. "You don't fight."
Rodney glared back. "Of course I fight! I can fight!"
"No. That's not…" John grimaced, unable to explain. "You…you're not…that." He huffed out a frustrated blast of air, rubbing the back of his neck. "You're too good to fight," he tried, and yeah. That was a little better, closer to what he meant.
Rodney scowled. "What? You mean, better than you? That you're only good for getting beat up but I'm more…special than that?" He crossed his arms, looking angrier, if anything. "Well, that's bullshit. I can barely remember more than my name, but I know that's bullshit. You're just as good as I am." He drew himself up, tilting his chin in a gesture that was so familiar John couldn't help smiling even though he didn't know any other time he'd seen it. "We—we're a team. We fight together."
John couldn't remember what 'bullshit' meant, but he could guess. "Looks like we get our asses handed to us as a team, too."
He didn't even know what he'd just said, but he could tell by Rodney's almost-smile that it'd been the right thing. "Somehow that sounds like us."
John smirked, but it was hard to look at all the hurt places on Rodney's face and keep smiling. He couldn't tell how old Rodney's bruises were; they all just looked uniformly bad. John swirled the grey liquid in his cup but decided he really didn't want to drink it. He'd get more of the plain water, he decided. But when he stood up the world spun so violently that he staggered and would've crashed to the floor if Rodney hadn't leapt up to grab him.
"Whoa!" Rodney helped him back down to his knees and then eased him onto the mat. "I think you moved too fast."
John nodded, keeping his eyes shut so he wouldn't puke. He wanted to ask how long this would go on for but he didn't have the energy.
"Whatever the chair's doing, I think it's getting worse," Rodney said. He sounded worried.
"Just tired. I'll be fine," John said, though he didn't think he convinced either of them.
"Sure," Rodney didn't sound like he believed that any more than John did. He wasn't touching John anymore, but he was so close that John could practically feel his nervousness like the heat from his skin. "You should sleep some more."
"No," John said, though the room still looped around him whenever he tried to open his eyes. "We need to get out of here."
Rodney laughed, short and angry. "No kidding. Do you remember me saying that we already tried that?"
John nodded slowly. "What did we do?"
"Jumped the guards when they brought our meal," Rodney said. "I don't remember how far we got, but I do remember that they beat the shit out of us." He let out an explosive breath. "That was the second time. I don't know what we did the first time. I didn't even know we'd tried to get away before that, except one of the guards mentioned it. I don't know how long ago that was," he added before John could ask him.
John pried open his eyes. "We have to try again."
"Right. Because our best option is me watching you get beaten to death." Rodney glared at him. "I know you can't remember anything, but you're so covered with bruises that you look like…" He scrunched up his face. "An animal with spots. Damn it." Rodney sighed. "You look really bad. And you're weak as a, um, duckling right now. Or a kitten? Something small and useless. What you need to do is rest. Our…the people from the city will be looking for us. The ones we were stolen from, I mean. They're looking."
"How do you even know there's anyone else to look?" John asked. It seemed reasonable, that it wasn't just him and Rodney in this giant city that might be named Toronto, but he didn't know. And Rodney didn't know either. They didn't know anything.
"It's not—it wasn't just us, in the city," Rodney said. His voice sounded like he believed what he said, but his eyes were uncertain. "We have friends, there. And they're trying to find us. All we have to do is hang up until they do."
"They're trying to find you, not me." John let his head fall back, closing his eyes again.
"What?" Rodney sounded so…horrified—yeah. Rodney sounded so horrified that John smirked a little. It was funny. "How could you think that?"
John tilted his head in a kind of shrug so he wouldn't really have to move or open his eyes. "I don't think I'm the kind of person you send rescue missions for, Rodney." It was weird, though: the words felt like they were completely true and totally wrong at the same time. Maybe he was the kind of person who you sent rescue missions for, or maybe he had been, once. Or maybe the people in Rodney's city rescued everyone.
You don't leave anyone behind, he thought, and that felt completely true as well.
"Hey. Hey, wake up." Rodney shook his arm.
"M'not asleep," John mumbled, though he nearly had been. He cracked his eyes open. "What?"
"You're wrong," Rodney said. He sounded angry, John thought, though he didn't look it. "You're exactly the kind of person they send rescue missions for. Our people are looking for both of us. Not just me."
"You don't even know who we are," John said.
"I don't have to," Rodney snapped. "I'm still right."
"Okay," John said, mostly because he was too tired to argue and wasn't sure he disagreed anyway. It felt like the constant turning of the room was a weight pinning his eyes shut. He didn't think he'd be able to stay awake much longer.
"Get some sleep," Rodney said. John felt a pat on his ankle, then heard shuffling as Rodney moved to his own mat, and the scrape of Rodney shoving the tray away from them. "You'll feel better when you wake up again, I promise." He didn't sound like he entirely believed that.
John forced his eyes open. "Rodney?"
Rodney levered himself upright with a groan, blinking. "What?"
"Thanks," John said seriously.
"Oh." For a second Rodney's expression made John think Rodney couldn't remember what the word meant. "Well, you're welcome. For what it's worth." He lay back down again, crossing his arms over his chest. "You'll have the chance to return the favor soon enough."
John's eyes had drifted shut, but Rodney's words made them snap open again. "What?"
"They're taking me next," Rodney said, like it was no big deal that he was going to get dragged off to this awful chair thing. "When they brought you back here—the guards said that next time, it was going to be me."
John pretended to still be asleep when the guards came to take Rodney. He listened, keeping his eyes closed and his breaths calm and even but with every sense alert as the door to their (box? Cage?) thudded open and two sets of boots clanged across the metal floor.
He waited until he heard Rodney's sleepy, miserable protests as the guards grabbed him, then John surged to his feet, ignoring how moving fast made his body flare with pain.
It was a man and a woman, each still bending with their hands around Rodney's upper arms. John threw himself at the man first, because he was bigger so he'd probably be harder to take down. John grabbed him by his head and drove it into the wall, barely watched him go down before he whirled on the woman.
She let go of Rodney as soon as John leapt at her partner, backpedaling in shock as she pulled her gun. It was copper and red, and reminded John of…something (someone?) but he was sure he didn't want her to use it. He grabbed her wrist and shoved the gun to the side as she made the gun throw a bright red light at the wall, then he hit her across the jaw with his free hand. She dropped like a brick. John wrenched her gun out of her hand as she fell.
Rodney yelped and John whirled again in time to see Rodney wrestling with the male guard, using his full weight to keep the guard from being able to aim his own gun at John. The guard looked like he really hadn't enjoyed hitting the wall much, but Rodney was at a bad angle and the guard outweighed him by at least fifty pounds.
John pointed his stolen gun at the guard, but Rodney was right in front of the guy so John didn't dare throw the light from it.
"Run!" Rodney grunted at him. The gun went off, sending a red flash right next to Rodney's ear and under John's raised arm. "Run, you idiot!"
John ignored that to dive out of the way of the next gun throws instead. These two made smoking craters in the wall, and John didn't need to know where he was or how he got there to be certain he really didn't want to get in the way of that. He rolled back to his feet in time to see the guard head butt Rodney in the forehead and finally wrench his gun out of Rodney's loosened grip.
John still couldn't throw light so he dodged again. But he wasn't fast enough and he felt it hit his side. He screamed, almost dropped his weapon, and then the other guard must've got her hands around his ankle because suddenly he landed hard on his side on the floor.
Rodney yelled his name, tried to get to him, and John kicked at the woman but he didn't have time to tell Rodney no, don't be stupid, run, before the male guard had his arm tight around Rodney's throat and the gun pressed to Rodney's temple, both of them still on the floor.
John stopped moving.
The male guard got to his feet, pulling Rodney with him and never moving his weapon. John could hear the female guard getting up too. "You need him. You won't be able to fix your ship if he dies," John said. His voice sounded like something scraping with the pain from his burn and the shame of letting Rodney down. John didn't feel like he was used to failure, let alone as big a one as this.
He had no idea how he knew Rodney could fix this ship when neither of them could remember anything about it at all, but the words spilled from his lips like certainty and John didn't question them.
"John!" Rodney sounded angry and upset. Horrified. "You need him too!" he said to the guards, voice really fast with panic. "You can't fly this piece of crap without him, remember? If you kill him you'll be stranded."
The female guard knelt to get her gun and John relinquished it without a fight. "Get up," she said when she was standing again, aiming at him with both her hands around the grip. "Kneel. Put your hands on your head."
"Get on your knees!" Rodney said very fast when he saw that John didn't understand. John got to his knees and put his hands on his head. Then he felt the muzzle of the female guard's gun pressed to the back of his skull.
"No! No, don't! You need him! You need him more than me! He's...there's no one else in the galaxy who can…who can make the chair work the way he can, and you know it. What are you going to tell your captain if he dies because of you?" Rodney lifted his chin, and even with his hands raised and the male guard's meaty arm around his throat, Rodney glared at the female guard like he thought she was a duckling (something small and useless) and didn't care who knew it. It was so familiar that despite everything John almost smiled. "I'm sure she'll understand that you're all stranded with no food or water because the one person who can actually get this piece of shit to respond was killed because you're pissed at him--!"
"We have you," the man said at Rodney, but he looked at the woman as if he needed her to say yes.
"No, he's right." The female guard sounded like she hated to say it, but a moment later John felt the gun lifting away from his head. He let out a silent breath of relief. "But we don't need him immediately."
"You," the other guard gestured at Rodney with his gun. "You stand over there. Don't move or we'll kill him."
Rodney's blue eyes were huge and wet with fear. "No, please. Please, don't do this. You don't have to do this—I'm sorry! I'm really sorry. It's my fault, I didn't tell him not to try to escape again, and he didn't remember we already did. Or, or what happened. He doesn't remember! He really doesn't. Please, please don't hurt him! I'll do anything you want. Anything!"
Rodney was…pretending? Because he'd told John to rest instead of trying to escape. Rodney was very good at pretending, but John didn't think the guards cared since they didn't answer him. John swallowed, gritted his teeth, knowing what was going to happen. And then he heard, "No, DON'T--!"
And he was suddenly back on the floor, waking up with a grunt as someone kicked him in the ribs. The back of his head felt exactly like he'd been hit with a gun. There was a word for that, but John couldn't remember it and he was too busy trying to protect his head to try.
The female guard kicked him in the back, and when he arched and cried out the male guard kicked him in the stomach.
After that John just tucked up as best he could, trying to ride out the blows and stay conscious. He didn't think the guards were trying to kill him, but they were obviously angry and weren't being nice, either. John could've kept fighting, but that would've put Rodney in danger, and John wasn't going to do that again.
He finally passed out, listening to Rodney trying to make the guards to let him go.
"No! No, stop! Stop, please!"
The guards weren't listening to him. John was on the floor, writhing between the man and woman, doing his best to curl up and protect his stomach with his arms wrapped around his head. But Rodney could still hear the vicious, meaty thumps of the guards' boots in John's abdomen and back, and the grunts and moans of pain that John couldn't control. And even when John's arms went lax and he stopped moving, the guards kept kicking him.
"Stop it, or I swear to God I'll make this ship fly into the nearest sun," Rodney spat.
The guards stopped.
"You wouldn't," the female guard sneered. She nodded in John's direction. There was blood on the toes of her boots and Rodney didn't know if he'd ever hated anyone as much as he did the woman right then. "If you do that, he dies too."
"We're both dying already," Rodney snapped. He was trembling with the need to go to John, to make sure he was still breathing and that he was going to wake up. "But I promise you, if you don't leave him alone I'll make sure of it."
The guards looked at each other. The female shrugged.
"Just make sure he doesn't 'forget' again," the male said.
"I won't." It was hard to tell if John's chest was moving or not. "He needs a doctor." Rodney crossed his arms. "I'm not going anywhere until you get him a doctor."
The female guard rolled her eyes, but tapped a metal bracelet thing with buttons on the back of her wrist. "We need a doctor to the cells," she said into it, then waited for the tinny response that Rodney couldn't catch. "There," she said to him. "Someone's coming. Now start walking or it'll be your blood on my boots."
Rodney swallowed—he didn't remember her kicking him, but all his bruises made imagining it easy enough—but John was still unconscious and Rodney would risk a hell of a lot more than a beating for him. He ducked around the guards and threw himself to his knees next to John's chest, fumbling for the pulse at his throat. It was erratic but seemed strong, and this close it was easy to see that John was breathing.
Rodney sagged with relief, tears prickling his eyelids.
"She said, start walking!" The male guard yelled. He grabbed Rodney by collar of his shirt and yanked backwards hard enough to send Rodney sprawling on his back and gag him with the cloth before it ripped.
"Get up," the woman said. When Rodney didn't move immediately because he was too busy trying to breathe, she pointed her gun at John. "Get up, or we'll see how serious you are about flying into a sun."
Rodney climbed heavily to his feet, glaring at the woman and wishing he could kill her with his eyes. He kept looking back at John until the male guard shoved him between his shoulders and slammed the door shut behind them.
John wouldn't have walked quietly, he would've struggled—Rodney remembered him struggling every time, even if John didn't—but Rodney stayed quiet because he knew it wouldn't help, and he didn't want to get beaten again. He knew he wasn't as brave as John, but he also knew he wasn't as stubborn or as stupid, either.
Well, maybe 'stupid' wasn't the right word, but struggling when it only got you beaten was a waste of time and energy. John was smart enough to know that, but he wouldn't stop fighting.
Rodney was sure John never stopped fighting.
That was good. That was fantastic, because Rodney couldn't lose him. If something happened to John, Rodney didn't think he could keep holding on. Not with the chair slowly taking him apart and no one to keep himself together for.
He had no real idea who John was, but it was like Rodney knew him in ways that went deeper than memory. John was vitally important, as necessary to Rodney's existence as the stale air circulating through the ship or the awful protein chunks they ate to survive. It wasn't even a question of being able to hold on without him. Without him, Rodney wouldn't want to.
But even beyond his new injuries, John was slipping away so fast. Rodney didn't know how many more times he could be forced into the chair before he wouldn't remember his own name. And Rodney was losing too much to be able to remind him. And what if he died?
No. John couldn't die. He might forget everything except how to breathe, but he couldn't die. Rodney didn't even want to imagine—
He had to get them out of here. Rodney was certain he'd decided that before, but the thought still echoed like something sacred in what was left of his mind. He had to get them out of here. John was too hurt and he was smart but not as smart as Rodney. And Rodney could…Rodney could fix things. And he knew things: words and numbers and ideas bright as novae that tumbled like stars in the back of his brain. Maybe he could still access them, use them to figure out something. Maybe.
He could never remember what the chair looked like exactly until he saw it, though he always remembered the cold metal gleam of it and the icy blue. It was larger than he'd thought it would be, and both uglier and prettier too, with the twisting, spidery lines along the backrest and the glowing light blue.
He actually liked the blue color, but the chair terrified him. Rodney was sure it didn't always—unless he was remembering a different chair—but after the first time they'd forced him to sit down in it and he'd woken up shaking and sobbing like a child, it only made him afraid.
But he didn't want to get hurt again, because John needed him intact and he would hate Rodney being hurt. So he just swallowed and sat down when the woman pushed him for hesitating.
The world turned blue like winter and it hurt like being too cold; a deep, gnawing cold sinking right through him to his marrow. Rodney gasped like he'd plunged into ice water (he knew that had happened once, but he couldn't remember when or where or how). He automatically tried to get up, get away from the cold and pain, but the chair had him now and there was no getting up until the ship was finished or the guards dragged him out. And the ship was so sad and scared and broken and helphelphelphelphelpI'mdying--
I'm here, I'm right here, Rodney thought. Tell me what's wrong. And he opened himself to the ship because he had no choice, and either he did it willingly or she'd rip him open with her fingers—
No, with her claws. There was an animal that could be sweet and soft and warm and also dangerous, and Rodney couldn't remember what it was, but he knew the ship was like that when she didn't get what she wanted. So he let her in even though it was slowly killing him, because resisting would be worse. Resisting made her use her claws, and then so much more of him would be gone.
Rodney was sure John resisted connecting to the ship the same way Rodney knew John always struggled with the guards. Maybe John didn't know not to. Rodney hoped he remembered to tell him.
But Rodney knew not to resist, and he let the ship inside him and sank into cold as dark and vast as a lake in winter (did he ever see a lake in winter?). The ship was always cold, like she had blood but it wasn't circulating right. She was weak and scared and cold and so, so hungry.
The ship was almost out of power. Rodney had a vague recollection of this being the problem before, too; of this always being the problem. The power source looked like a…cylinder, almost, though that wasn't quite right. And it was a dull red-orange. The energy it contained was almost gone, and the ship couldn't function without it. She kept trying to let the crew know, but they couldn't understand her warnings. They just thought she needed help to fly and to fix what was broken. But all of her was breaking because the power was almost gone. (dyinghelphelphelp).
Rodney couldn't remember if he'd told the crew this before. He asked the ship, but she didn't know either.
The ship was so old. Thousands of years old and every part of her was failing a little bit at a time. She grabbed onto Rodney like someone drowning and kept pulling (clawing) pieces away from him, using him to try to keep herself alive. She didn't mean to, but she was too scared and cold and hungry to stop.
Shush. I've got you. It's all right, Rodney thought, even though he knew that with so little power she could barely understand him. He did something he couldn't name where he moved the places the power went in the ship, giving more to some and less to others. It felt like trying to pick up handfuls of freezing water and he remembered cold like this. He'd been this cold before, somewhere, sometime. But he'd been able to get warm then. Not anymore.
The aching cold got worse and worse until he was drowning in it, aware of nothing else but the icy blue pain and below it a sense of gratitude and remorse like a coin glinting at the bottom of a river. He couldn't do anything except sink into the freezing water as he moved power for the ship, tried to save her life so she would let him and John go.
John was hurt. Rodney had to save him.
There was…there was a…place. A city? Yes, a city. The city, the one he'd told John about (Toronto? No, not Toronto but still home. More home). There were people there. Rodney was sure they were trying to find them. If he could only let them know where he and John were…
I've done this before, he thought. I must've done this before. But he didn't know. He couldn't remember.
He barely remembered how, either. But there was something… Some…signal? Thing. That moved through space without a ship and that the city would find out about. He just had to use the chair and make one—
The ship didn't want him to. She never wanted him to. It would use too much power and she would die. She was blocking him, making it not work, and when Rodney fought her it hurt like…
Like drowning. Like being in water so deep and cold it was freezing him and the pressure was cracking the Puddle Jumper's hull and if he'd just listened and stopped fighting he would've had more air and more time because there was a whale circling above the jumper and singing so the others—John, always John—could find him. And bring him home.
Home, he thought to the ship, desperately trying to let her see while he remembered. It rose out of the water like a dream of spires and silver and glass. A beautiful ghost of a city that was coming alive again because of the humans and the power they'd found.
The power came from the same cylinders, and if the ship let Rodney tell the city where they were so they could find him, the ship could come too. And they would take care of her and repair her systems and feed her and she wouldn't be hungry or broken or scared or cold anymore. She wouldn't die.
Please, Rodney begged her, showing her the city and the power waiting and John, John who was losing power and dying just like the ship, though it was Rodney who was horribly afraid. Let me save him and I'll save you. I promise. I promise.
He felt the ship agreeing like something snapping back into place after it's been pulled too tight, and Rodney sent the signal out into space like the last shard of hope.
And then the ship grabbed him back because he had to help her (pleasepleaseplease). So Rodney moved the power and moved the power and tried to repair what he could when there was so little to work with it was like trying to build a tower with a handful of stones. And while he did it the chair froze him like he was drifting between stars, bits of him snapping off like ice crystals and floating away (drowning)…
A city of gleaming blue spires
A woman with curling hair and sharp blue eyes like his
A small man with glasses as beloved a friend as he was infuriating
A man like a lion who shouldn't have been Rodney's friend, but was
A warrior with a ferocity equal only to her kindness
A woman in red who lead them who Rodney would do almost anything for. Almost as much as he would for John
Please no I can't lose him
And he couldn't grab them back and he was barely aware he was screaming because the pain in his throat was nothing compared to the cold and the cold was nothing compared to the anguish of losing...
He was still screaming when the chair surged upright and he fell into the guard's waiting arms.
Rodney woke up crying and reaching for John like a frightened child.
"Shh, shh, it's okay," John said. He lay down next to Rodney, wishing he'd had the strength to even drag him to one of the rectangles—mats, they were mats, though really bad ones—but his head was spinning like, like a spinning thing (fuck, he knew he could think better than this) and his side was killing him where he got grazed, like being stabbed (ha, got it), and his stomach and ribs hurt so much that just breathing was difficult. He wanted to sit up and hold Rodney in his arms, but he couldn't. So instead he lay next to him on the cold metal floor and pushed his left arm under Rodney's side so John could more-or-less hold him. That left him gasping with pain, but it was for Rodney, so it was worth it.
"Help. Help me," Rodney said. He clutched John in return so hard that it made everything hurt worse. Rodney was shaking, moving the cloth at the back of John's shirt. He was freezing cold. "It's gone. It's all gone."
"Shh, I got you. You're safe. It's over," John said. "What's gone?"
"I don't know," Rodney said, which made him cry even harder; crying and crying with his forehead pressed to John's shoulder. That hurt too, but John didn't even think of moving. "I don't know. But there was something important. Something I had to tell you..."
"It's all right," John said automatically. "You can tell me later when it comes back to you."
Rodney just shook his head. "It won't. It's all gone. And you needed…I had to tell you not to do something…"
"Shh. It's okay," John said again. He turned his head enough to kiss Rodney's temple, threading his fingers into the wet hair at the back of Rodney's head. John licked his lips, thinking of what Rodney had asked him when he woke up on the floor. "Do you still know your name?"
"Yeah." Rodney sniffled. "Rodney."
"Great." John let out a small breath of relief. "Rodney what?"
Rodney went still. "I don't know."
"McKay," John said quickly, and he was so happy that Rodney had told him. "Your name is Rodney McKay. And I'm John. Sheppard. John Sheppard."
"Thank you," Rodney said quietly. He swallowed. "I don't know what happened."
"The guards took you. To the chair," John said, happy he could tell Rodney that too, though he knew that if Rodney asked him more he probably wouldn't be able to answer. He couldn't remember very much before the guards started kicking him. It hadn't been a very good plan, but it wasn't as if John could remember any other ones.
"Blue," Rodney said. He looked at John and Rodney's eyes (blue, John remembered. Sky-colored) were big and so, so uncertain. "The chair. It's…blue, right?"
"Yeah." John nodded quickly, despite how he only knew that because Rodney had told him. But it made Rodney look less upset, so that was good. "It's blue. And it works with the ship. We're on a space ship," he added, in case Rodney had forgotten that too.
"Yeah. Thanks." Rodney swallowed again then pulled away, rolling onto his back. He sniffed and wiped his eyes with the sides of his hands. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. It's fine," John said. It wasn't. He didn't want to let Rodney go. It'd been…good, to hold Rodney in his arms, though something about holding Rodney worried him for no reason he could understand. Was he not supposed to do that, in the city where they came from? Holding Rodney's hand had felt good too, but Rodney had let go of him like John had done something wrong. Maybe it wasn't allowed.
John wished he could remember.
"Come on, you should get some sleep," John said. He should probably go to his own mat, but it seemed incredibly far away.
"Wait. Please?" Rodney reached for him again. His hand hit John's chest and John couldn't hold back the yelp.
"What is it? What happened?" Rodney got onto his knees fast, staring down John with his eyes widening in horrified. (No, in horror.) "Oh my God! What happened?"
John shrugged, then winced when it sent a new amount (wave? Rush?) of pain down his spine. "I tried to stop the guards from taking you. I'm okay, really," he added, because Rodney's eyes were still horrified.
Rodney stared at him. "I don't…I don't remember that. What did they do to you?"
John remembered not to shrug this time. "Hit me a few times. No…um, nothing important."
"What happened to your side?"
"Nothing," John said quickly, clamping his arm over the wound and the hole in his shirt with the burned edges.
But it was too late, and now Rodney was grabbing at John's tee-shirt, pulling it up so he could see underneath. "That's not nothing! What happened?"
The shirt had stuck to something wet that had soaked through the bandage. When Rodney yanked it away John screamed.
"Oh no! Oh, no, oh no! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" His blue eyes were shining with fear. "You need a doctor. We need someone to come and look after you."
"They already did, Rodney," John said. He wasn't really awake at the time but he remembered being touched and moved around by whoever might be a doctor on the ship. The woman had bandaged his burn, at least, and tutted a bit over his ribs and the massive goose-egg on the back of his head. But other than the bandage and telling him to watch his ribs she hadn't done much. "A doctor came and looked at me. I promise. See?" John forced a smile, touching the white cloth wrapping his ribs. Rodney's tugging had moved it a bit. He quietly slid it back into place. "I have a bandage and everything."
"You screamed when I pulled your shirt."
John reminded himself not to shrug. "I just wasn't expecting the bandage to move. I'm fine, really."
Rodney didn't look convinced, but he nodded and John let out an inner sigh of something that wasn't worry. He wondered if Rodney was always this willing to believe him.
John smiled. "Get some sleep, Rodney. You'll feel better when you wake up."
He tried to roll onto his side, thinking grimly about getting back to his own bed, but Rodney put his hand over John's wrist, so gentle this time it felt like he barely touched the skin.
"Please," Rodney said, looking upset in a way John couldn't recognize. "I'm sorry…I just…You were…" His eyes filled with water again. "I lost you. I was so scared I wouldn't remember you anymore."
John hesitated, thinking of the worry he felt before when he held Rodney. But he wanted to do this, and Rodney's eyes were wet and sad, so John stretched out next to him again. Rodney rolled so that John's chest was to Rodney's back and John carefully wrapped Rodney in his arms. Rodney put his arms over John's. "I'm right here," John said.
"Is this okay?"
It wasn't—it hurt and the cold floor wasn't helping, but John said "Yes" anyway, because he wanted to hold Rodney like this. Having Rodney in his arms felt right and good and even the low thrum of worry John couldn't understand didn't change that.
"Thank you," Rodney said.
"You're welcome." John shifted Rodney just a little, to take a bit of pressure off his ribs, wishing he could hold him as tightly as he wanted. Wishing that he could actually keep Rodney safe.
He leaned his head forward a little and kissed the back of Rodney's neck right near his ear. He heard Rodney's gasp.
"Did I hurt you? Is that…was that a bad thing?" The worry behind John's ribs hurt like being kicked. Even that tiny kiss had felt as good as holding Rodney, but maybe he was wrong.
"No! No, you didn't hurt me," Rodney said quickly, and John let out a breath. "It's just…I wasn't…expecting? That?" Rodney shrugged, almost hitting John in the chin. "But it was nice!" he added immediately. "I, um, I liked it."
"Oh. Good," John said, and did it again. He had a feeling there were other ways he could kiss Rodney, but he couldn't think of any and he hurt too much to try and figure it out anyway. He sighed and let his head drop to the metal floor and closed his eyes.
"We need to get out of here," Rodney said quietly a moment later. "I can't lose you."
"I know. Me neither." John nosed the hair at the back of Rodney's neck. It was salty and sweat-damp, but he liked it anyway. He had a feeling there wasn't much about Rodney he didn't like.
"I have an idea," Rodney said. "We'll pretend to both be passed out when the guards come next time, then we'll jump them."
John almost laughed, except for how it was too sad. "Actually, I already tried that, when the guards came for you. It didn't really work."
"Oh," Rodney said quietly. He squeezed John's arms a little tighter. "I forgot."
"It almost worked," John said, because he hated how upset Rodney sounded. "It would've, if I'd hit the big guy harder."
"Next time," Rodney said, as if there was going to be one. "Next time warn me and we'll both jump them."
"Sure," John said.
The guards came a few hours later. Rodney was still asleep.
John heard them coming down the corridor. He had enough of time to wake Rodney, work out some kind of plan.
He woke up shaking cold and terrified and fighting.
"John, John, stop. Stop, you're safe. You're all right. Can you hear me?"
The man was holding his wrists, stopping him from moving. He'd said, "You're safe", but John didn't know where he was.
"I don't know you," John said. He wanted to pull his wrists away but his body hurt. His side hurt the most, but every other part of him hurt too. And he felt hot.
"You do know me." The man looked sad and scared. "We're friends. My name is Rodney. Rodney…McKay. And you're John Sheppard. Do you remember your name?"
"John," John said. He didn't know it; it was what the man—Rodney—had just told him. He didn't know what 'friends' meant. Maybe it was how Rodney didn't scare him.
"Can I let you go?" Rodney asked. "I promise I won't hurt you."
John nodded. "I know." He didn't know why he knew that, but he did. Just like he knew Rodney was safe. Maybe 'friends' meant that too.
"Great. Please don't hurt me." Rodney let go.
John scrambled back from him as fast as he could until his back hit the wall on the far side of the room. He wasn't trying to get away from Rodney, but he was scared and he couldn't stop. He wrapped his arms around himself, holding his side. Everything hurt but he didn't know why he was in pain. He looked around. They were in a square, with a place that had water and two things on the floor next to the wall. Otherwise it was just him and the other man. Rodney. "Where am I?"
"On a, a machine," Rodney said. He looked like he hurt too. There were dark spots on his face. That made John angry for some reason, but not at Rodney. "A ship. I think it's a ship. It…moves. We're moving."
John and Rodney were in a room, neither of them were moving. John just nodded because he didn't want Rodney to know he didn't understand. "Why are we here?"
Rodney opened his mouth, then looked sad again. "There's a chair," he said, eyes big. "They want us to…do something with it." He rubbed his forehead. "I don't remember anymore."
"It's okay," John said, because it felt right to do that. His fear was going away, at least. Maybe he was just too tired and too hurt to keep it. But it was just him and Rodney and Rodney wouldn't do anything bad to him. They were friends. "Who are "they"?"
Rodney looked more sad. "I don't know."
"Okay." John leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep, but he hurt too much and he was too hot. He looked at where the water fell from a tube to a container. "Water?"
Rodney nodded slowly. He got up slowly too, then picked up a small…can from the floor and went to the water and filled it, then brought it to John. "The chair is, um, killing us. I think."
John didn't know what that meant, so he didn't answer. He drank all the water, then gave the can back. "More?"
"Sure." Rodney nodded again. He looked like he wanted to sleep too, but he got up and got more water and brought it back. This time Rodney put his hand on John's head while John was drinking. "You're too hot," Rodney said. "Your side…" He frowned. "I think it's sick. You're sick, I mean. Because of your side."
"My side hurts," John said.
"I know. You said it got burned."
"I don't remember."
"I know. But sometimes, when you get hurt you get sick too. And your skin gets too hot." Rodney rubbed his forehead again like his head was hurting. "What is it? What's that called? It's not sick, it's…" He made a noise like being angry, then dropped his hand and breathed out. "I don't remember. Fuck. But it's bad, I know that much."
"Okay," John said. He closed his eyes again. "Can we leave?"
"No." The word was completely sure. "I mean, we have to. You… We can't take more of this. We said we'd try to escape together, before, by the way. But you didn't wake me."
"Sorry," John said, half asleep. He didn't remember that either.
"What are you doing? You can't sleep like that. Come on." Rodney touched John's shoulder and he startled awake to fight, but it was Rodney and John was safe with him, so he relaxed and let Rodney help him stand up. It was very hard for both of them, but they got to the things on the floor. "These are mats. Not very good ones," Rodney said, as if he could tell that John didn't know what they were called. "Here." He helped John lie down, then pulled the other mat next to John's and lay on it as well. He slowly put his arms around John, so that John's back was against Rodney's front. "Is this okay? Am I hurting you?"
"No," John said, even though it hurt a lot. Even Rodney's breath against the back of John's neck hurt. But he wanted Rodney to hold him. It made him feel…better, even though he didn't feel any less pain or less hot. Being with Rodney like this was good. "Is this what friends do?"
Rodney didn't answer right away. "I think so?" he said at last. "I think we do this. It feels like we do."
"Cool," John said, and closed his eyes.
"He's sick," Rodney said. John hadn't woken up, even though the guards had yanked Rodney away from him. Rodney's clothes were sweat-damp everywhere he'd been touching John, and John's hair was soaking. He made a small, unhappy sound and rolled onto his back, reaching weakly like he was trying to find Rodney again. "He's really sick. It's his burn. It's wet and he has…something too hot. He's too hot."
"We'll send the doctor," the female guard said, but Rodney couldn't tell if she was lying or not.
"You need him," Rodney said. He wanted to wrench himself out of their grip and go back to John, but he was so sore and weak and tired, like he hadn't slept at all even though he knew he had. He was practically dangling between the guards like a duckling (Not a duckling. A… Something soft. A baby soft thing), and he couldn't pull his arms away from them. "He's important. You have to help."
John was the most important thing, Rodney knew that. He didn't think the guards thought so, but he knew they took John to do something with the chair, so that meant they needed him, right? So they had to keep him alive.
"She said we'd send the doctor," the male guard snapped. He yanked Rodney further away from John, who had curled up on the bed, shivering like a soft baby thing. Duckling. Something small and weak and cold. "Stop whining or you'll end up like him."
"I think he's dying," Rodney said.
The female guard glanced at John and frowned. "Well, we still have you."
The ship was terrified.
It was the only thing Rodney could grab on to, like a rock at the edge of a waterfall. The ship was dying and she knew it and she was so weak now that even moving the power was barely helping. (She said he'd done that before; that he was keeping her alive. Rodney couldn't remember that. He couldn't even remember how until she showed him: shifting fading orange lines from space to space like the pieces in a game. But he could feel how grateful she was, how incredibly sorry that she kept hurting him and the other. But she was too weak to control it.)
He was so tired. Moving the orange lines felt like shoving mountains, and trying to keep the last pieces of himself together was almost more painful than he could bear. But he couldn't let go. If he let go John would have no one, and he was…
He was sick, and hurt, and too hot like there was (fire? Furnace? Uranium?) inside him and Rodney was so scared for him that he wouldn't live. But if he forgot John he couldn't help him, and he was more frightened of that than anything. He was more frightened of losing John than of losing himself.
Johnother? The ship asked him, and Rodney had a flash, less than an instant of one of her memories—John in the chair, his mind blazing as they flew. Then it was replaced by something that may have been from Rodney himself: loss like agony as his memories chipped off and spiraled away, and so much of it for John. Rodney's memories of John were more precious than all the others, more violently mourned even as Rodney lost the understanding of why.
Yes! Rodney answered her, frantic. Yes. John is your other. I have to help him.
She wanted to. The ship wanted to help them both (RodneyJohnsavecareminehelphelp) but she couldn't. She didn't have enough power to do anything to stop her crew. She didn't have enough power to take them home, even if they could remember where home was. And she was so frightened of using what little power she had left (Nomoresignalnosignalsosorrysorry).
Signal? Rodney couldn't remember what that was.
Faroffmessage. And she showed him, because her long-range sensors were passive and didn't need extra power to work. See?
There were two…things…that looked like tin cans, following the ship. They weren't very close, but the ship wasn't moving right now so they would be.
Rodney had no idea why his heart started pounding in hope rather than fear. He didn't know who the can things belonged to. He didn't even know if there were people in them. But something about them felt like a bandage over a wound, or food after hours of hunger. Or finally remembering the way home.
But if the ship knew about the cans, the crew would as well. Not as quickly, but soon. And there were lots of people on the ship, and Rodney knew they could… That they had weapons that could kill such small, duckling things.
We have to help them.
Yes. Yes, like John. Please.
But the ship had no power for anything more than flying, and life support, and weapons.
Life support. That was important. It meant…it meant…
It meant air.
Rodney's wordless denial was like a cry of panic. There were over 50 people on the ship. Rodney couldn't kill them. Maybe he'd killed people before (an image, horrific and sudden, of a man burned red; arms raised, stiff with the heat that killed him) but the idea of it felt so awful that he couldn't even consider it. Not even to save John.
"No! NO!" Rodney didn't know he'd screamed. He tried to stop the ship, tried to throw himself out of the chair, do anything to keep her from opening the airlocks to suck out the air and the crew along with it.
He couldn't do anything, but he tried. He fought against the ship with every bit of strength left in him, every scrap of intelligence and will. He was drowning again, shattering into bits, but if the ship did this so many people would die. And he couldn't. He couldn't let that happen. Even if it killed him. And it was killing him. He was shattering, bits breaking off like chips of ice, spiraling away like…
Like something soft and terrible cold. Snow. Like snow. Like snow drifting away until it was gone.
He hoped John would--
He didn't know who that was.
Major Evan Lorne didn't much believe in luck.
He sure as hell didn't believe in the kind of luck that suddenly reduced the life signs on the pirate ship they were approaching from 53 to 2. And definitely not the kind of luck that made it happen right when he was about to give the order to the second Puddle Jumper to cloak, and then try to figure out where the hell they could berth that would let them go inside without alerting the entire damn crew.
And then suddenly it wasn't an issue anymore. That wasn't luck—it was the kind of coincidence that set his hair on end. "Hang back, guys. We have a development," he ordered the other Jumper. "We've suddenly lost almost all lifesigns."
He waited for the acknowledgement then pulled up the HUD so Ronon and Teyla could see. "Either the entire crew turned on personal cloaking devices, or they all just dropped dead."
"That is either very fortunate or very worrying," Teyla said, voicing exactly what Evan was thinking. He'd only known her a few weeks, but he was getting to like her a hell of a lot. That was one of the reasons.
"No it's not," Ronon said from the seat just behind the pilot. "That's Rodney and John. They figured out we're coming, so they helped."
Evan looked over his shoulder at him. "By killing the entire crew? All at once like that?" He shook his head. "It feels too easy. Like a trap."
Teyla cocked her head. "It does. But Rodney and John are certainly capable of such a thing. Though if they're prisoners, I'm not sure what would they could do to kill so many people at once."
Evan wondered about that too, and as if in answer the HUD display showed the lack of breathable atmosphere everywhere except the two places on the ship with lifesigns. "Oh," Evan said, feeling like an idiot. Of course he should've thought of that before assuming it was a trap. Not that this couldn't be part of a trap anyway, but… "It looks like they vented the atmosphere. Assuming the two dots are them, of course."
"The dots're them," Ronon said, like there was no other possible conclusion. Evan was getting to like that about him, too.
"I'd like to know for sure, though, before we go rushing in." Evan thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "All right, you can read my mind—let's see if you can find your lost sister," he said to the instrument panel.
Instantly the HUD showed him an orange dot in what could only be the hangar of the pirate ship. "Hot damn," Evan muttered, then shared a grin with Teyla. If there'd been any doubt their missing Military Commander and Chief Scientist were there, it was gone now. "We found their Jumper, Strick," Evan reported to Captain Strickland, who was leading the rescue team on the second Jumper. "Cloak up, boys. Operation Smash 'n' Grab is a go. I think I see a way into this tin can that hopefully won't require us blowing a hole in the hull."
They split into teams mostly based on the Jumper crews. Ronon went with Captain Strickland's team to the farther of the two locations with the white dots, while Evan took one of Strickland's people to even up the numbers. Evan had no idea how airtight the two apparently still-livable places on the ship were, so the priority was getting there ASAP and extracting the two survivors before the air ran out or they froze to death. Evan just hoped to hell they really were Rodney and John, because if they weren't, it meant they'd be searching through the bodies still on the ship.
Atlantis had been receiving the distress calls loud and clear for weeks, within days of John and Rodney's disappearance on what should've been an easy supply-and-fix-stuff mission. Evan didn't believe in uncanny coincidences any more than he believed in luck, and neither did Elizabeth Weir. They'd begun tracking the signals immediately. They were erratic, sometimes not showing up for days at a time, sometimes twice or more in the space of 48 hours. But eventually there were enough of them to make a breadcrumb trail leading right here.
Even just hoped to hell the horror-movie scene they were walking through lead to a happy ending.
There weren't bodies everywhere—most of the poor bastards had been sucked into space—but there were enough of them: people who'd managed to get behind walls or had held onto something until the pressure equalized. They all looked confused and terrified, with their hands clutching their throats and their lips purple as an Atlantis sunset. The temperature on the ship hadn't dropped to below freezing, was slowly rising, in fact, but his breath turned into fog whenever it hit the curving shield of the faceplate of his spacesuit.
The three Marines who'd come with Evan had their P90s raised like their small rescue team were going to be ambushed any second. Evan didn't think that was likely unless the suffocated crew spontaneously turned into zombies. But, well, it wasn't like he didn't get it.
"Did Colonel Sheppard do this, Sir?" One of the Marines asked. He'd come on the Daedalus' first Atlantis run with Evan and hadn't even set foot on another planet yet. He looked like he was trying very hard not to look like he wanted to puke. Evan really hoped he kept it together, considering taking off his spacesuit helmet would be problematic.
"Colonel Sheppard once put up Atlantis' shield just as 65 Genii soldiers were coming through to take control of the city," Teyla said. "Most of them were killed." Her voice held no judgment, but Evan caught the message loud and clear: We do what we must to survive.
"The universe is an ugly place sometimes, Lieutenant," Evan said, stepping carefully over another body with his eyes mostly on the lifesigns detector in his hand. He wondered what the dead woman had been trying to crawl towards, considering the corridor was empty. "Better get used to it now. Here it is." He raised his hand to stop the group following him. They were outside a very large, very sealed door, with a very dead man and woman tangled up nearby, where they'd been prevented from being sucked out the nearest airlock by the blast doors. The doors had apparently closed fast enough to squish them but not keep in any air. "All right—Sparks?"
The young engineer stepped up and swiftly opened the compartment that contained the lock for the door. This ship had belonged to the Ancients once upon a time, though it had probably been some kind of military transport rather than a warship. Normally Evan could've just used his gene to open the door, but that wasn't possible sealed inside a spacesuit. He waited while Sparks shuffled the crystals around and then gave Evan a tense little nod, gloved fingers poised to drop a crystal into place to manually force the door open.
"Good job," Evan said. "Greer?" The young medic lieutenant moved to the front of the group, holding an oxygen mask, his eyes narrowed with determination behind the curved plastic off his faceplate. He was going to have to move damn fast when the door opened, to make sure whomever was behind it didn't suffocate. "This is Major Evan Lorne," Evan said, projecting it out of his suit. His voice sounded tinny and way too soft to carry through the door, but he figured he should try anyway. "We're going to get you out of there, but you're going to have to hold your breath for a minute. We've brought air for you, but you'll have to take a deep breath when I count to three. If you can hear me, knock twice on the door."
They waited. Nothing.
Evan winced, then motioned Greer that much closer. "Okay, we're going to be opening the door now. On three." He looked at Sparks, who nodded. "One, two, three!" The last number was a shout to make sure Greer heard him and got moving.
Sparks slotted the crystal in place and the door slid open.
The human-shaped lump on the upright control chair looked so unlike McKay that for a second Evan thought that Teyla had lost her mind. She ran in behind Greer, helping him slide the oxygen mask over the lump's lax mouth, and it was only when Evan was close enough to get a good look that he wow, yeah, actually recognized Rodney McKay.
He looked just as dead as the pulped and suffocated bodies. So much so that Evan kept checking his lifesigns detector for the telltale white dot despite how McKay was obviously breathing. He was unconscious with eyes open. Actually he looked worse than unconscious. He looked vacant, like a coma victim. If Evan didn't know better, he would've been sure that McKay had global anoxia. But there'd been enough air in the little room to sustain him for far longer than the rescue team needed.
"He's completely unresponsive, sir," Greer said, though how he could do a proper assessment through his suit gloves, Evan had no idea. But the medic's eyes were big and grave, and Evan didn't exactly need a medical degree to see that no one was home behind Rodney's dull, unmoving eyes.
"What happened to him?" Teyla asked, eyes wide with horror. She looked at Evan as if he might know just because he had the ATA gene.
Evan shook his head. "No idea. But we need to get him back to the Jumper."
That wasn't exactly news, but it got everyone moving. Greer darted out to get the stretcher he'd left in the corridor and snapped it open. McKay had designed them to fold up to the size of a laptop to make them easier to carry. Evan wasn't sure McKay about to be hauled out on one counted as irony, but there was definitely something grimly prescient about it.
Evan and the Lieutenant who still hadn't puked helped Teyla, Greer and Corporal Azaria to get McKay onto the stretcher.
"Lorne to Strickland," Evan said into his comm., "We found McKay. Repeat, we found McKay. He's alive but unconscious. We're taking him to the Jumper now. What's your status?"
"We found Sheppard, sir," Strickland answered immediately. He sounded a little breathless, like he was running. It really wasn't easy to run in a spacesuit. "Ronon's got him. We're heading back to the Jumpers now. ETA five minutes. The Colonel's in a really bad way, sir."
Teyla let out a small, awful noise. She looked exactly like she'd just had her hope yanked away like a nasty kid with a football. Twice.
"Understood." Evan let Strick get back to hauling ass and turned to Azaria, who'd been silently competent as usual. "Corporal, let Ms. Emmagan take over for you. I need you and Sparks to get the third Jumper. Stay near the ship, but stay cloaked. If anyone who's not the Daedalus or me comes for her, rabbit. But once we've got Sheppard and McKay back in Atlantis, I'm getting a team of Jumpers out here to tow this girl home."
He nodded at the two-person chorus of 'yes, sir's. Sparks looked mildly anxious, but he always did so it wasn't a problem.
The noise of hard running made Evan look up in time to see Ronon pelting like a white-suited juggernaut down the corridor, Sheppard clutched and dangling like a ragdoll in his arms.
John woke up slowly, warm and not in pain.
He didn't know where he was, but he didn't think it was the ship, despite how the walls and ceiling looked familiar. The colors were the same, even though John couldn't name them.
It felt familiar, but not safe, like John had been here before but hadn't liked it. And where was Rodney?
John was on another mat, but this one was off the ground and a lot better than the ones on the ship, even if it did have bars on either side like whomever put him here didn't want him getting out. He was…fastened down, too. There were loops around his wrists and ankles that were attached to the bedframe so he couldn't sit up.
There were other beds in the large room. The one nearest to him had a woman with long brown hair sleeping on it with her back to him and the same kind of covering as John had pulled up to her shoulders. He didn't know who she was, but her bed didn't have bars and she wasn't fastened down.
He didn't know why he was fastened down, and he couldn't pull out any of the long thin things running into his arms or out of his side. And whatever fastened the tubes to him hurt, now that he was aware of them. It wasn't a lot of pain, but it hurt and he didn't know why there were things going inside him. And he didn't know where he was or who had him. And he couldn't see Rodney anywhere.
He yanked at the restraints until it felt like he might rip off his thumbs, bucking and kicking until the bed started to rock and one of the sharp tubes ripped out of his arm. For some reason it made his ribs and side really hurt, which just made him want to get up even more, because maybe the people here were doing that to him?
He didn't see the woman move until she was suddenly standing next to his bed, holding onto the bars so he couldn't tip the bed over. "John! John, please. You must stop before you hurt yourself! You're safe on Atlantis. No one will hurt you. John, can you hear me?"
John stopped, but more because he knew fighting wouldn't work than because of what she said. There was water on his face like salt, red water on his arm where the attachment had come out. He hurt again, every time he breathed and at his side. "Why am I here? Where's Rodney?"
A man had come out of another room when John started moving. He had eyes like Rodney's but hair on his face as well as his head. "Rodney's here, John. You're both safe back on Atlantis. We had to restrain you because you were delirious and kept pulling the I.V. catheters out." He moved to the other side of the bed and put his hands on the fastener holding John's wrist. "If I release you, do you promise to stop causing a ruckus?"
John understood almost nothing that the man had said, but he nodded anyway because he could guess he was talking about letting John go. John lay back, watching the man undo the fasteners on one side while the woman undid the ones on the other. "I want to see Rodney."
The man blinked at him. "He's just over there. Can't you see him? Just a tich." He had a strange voice, but John liked how it sounded. The man touched something and part of the bed lifted up so it was easier for John to see. Then the man pointed to one of the far beds. John stared at it, trying to force the shape there into meaning anything. It was a man, he realized, under a white covering like John's, though John had lost his when he tried to get up. There were bars on the side of his bed too, and the man had more attachments than John—ones running under his nose and into his arms, one biting his finger and ones that seemed to come from his chest, going to some kind of box that made noise and had moving lines on it.
"That's Rodney?" John asked, because it didn't look like him. Rodney moved and talked and wasn't that still even when he was sleeping.
"Yes, John," the woman said. She looked upset. "Do you not recognize him?"
John nodded, because Rodney was the only thing he recognized. "Why are we attached to things? Are we…" He stopped, trying to find the words. "Did you steal us from the ship?" His eyes widened when he realized that if this place looked like the ship, maybe they stole him and Rodney to do the same thing here. "We're not going to the chair again," he said, angry because he was afraid.
The woman's eyes got very big. "John," she said, slowly like she was trying not to frighten him. "Do you know where you are?"
"A ship," he said, because that at least was clear. "A ship called Atlantis." The woman had said that. The name was familiar, like a memory he could almost get to at the back of his mind. "What are you doing to Rodney?"
"We're helping him," the other man said. He was talking slowly now too. "He's very sick, like you were. But…he's not waking up right now. We were hoping you could tell us what happened so we could know more about what we can do for him."
John wanted to believe him, but he didn't know who this man was. Maybe all the attachments were why Rodney wasn't moving.
John didn't answer.
When John looked at the woman, she smiled at him, but not like she was really happy. He didn't know what that meant. "Do you know who we are, John?"
John licked his lips, trying to place either of them. They both felt familiar too, he decided. And he felt almost like he was safe here, except for the sharp attachments and how they'd fastened him down. And he didn't know what they were doing to Rodney.
"People in Atlantis," he said at last, because that was the only thing he could think of.
"Bloody hell," the man said. "What in God's name did they do to you?"
The man's name was Carson. He was a doctor, which meant he fixed people when they got hurt or sick. John and Rodney had both been hurt badly, and John got sick because of it. That's why he and Rodney were in this place, which was called the infirmary. The attachments were called Intravenous lines and the sharp things were called catheters and they were there to give John and Rodney special liquids to help them heal. The red water was blood, and the salty water was sweat, and John needed both for his body to work properly.
The other lines Rodney was attached too showed if he had enough oxygen (blood moved oxygen around the body; without enough of it people got sick or died), and to show if his heart was beating at the right speed (the heart moved the blood that carried the oxygen). The lines under Rodney's nose gave him more oxygen to make sure he had enough, and the thin one going into one nostril was how they were giving Rodney food until he woke up.
John had been too hot because of an infection, which meant bad things called germs got into the burn in his side and started rotting it like fruit left too long in the sun. But the medicine Carson gave him was killing the germs, and John felt a lot better now.
He had broken ribs, which were bones that protected the heart so it could move the blood. That was why his chest hurt when he moved too much. He had two broken toes too. There wasn't much Carson could do about either of those but remind John not too move too much and give him pills that took away most of the pain. The dark spots all over him and Rodney (bruises, and the colors they turned were purple, green and yellow) were healing and would be gone soon. And John and Rodney were on Atlantis, which was a giant city surrounded by water. They'd been rescued off the pirate ship, and they were home.
But John still couldn't remember much of anything, and Rodney wouldn't wake up.
The city felt like home, though. Safe, finally, now that he didn't have to stay in the infirmary anymore. (Teyla explained why John remembered it as a bad place. He only went there when he was hurt—injured—or sick, or when his team was. So it made sense he wouldn't feel safe there.)
John spent most of his time with Rodney, talking to him and telling him what he'd learned and about the people he met. Everyone was kind and always answered John's questions, though it was easy to tell it upset them when they had to explain things that John was sure everybody knew.
Carson wouldn't let John sleep in the infirmary. He wanted John to use his own rooms (quarters), in case being somewhere familiar helped him remember things. John felt comfortable in his quarters, but beyond feeling safe, and familiar, and good, nothing about where he lived really meant anything to him.
Teyla and Ronon (they were his team, just like Rodney) felt familiar and safe and good too, but the only thing that really meant anything to him was Rodney. And they'd been back a week and Rodney still wouldn't wake up.
"Please, Rodney. You have to come back to me," John said. He was sitting next to Rodney's bed in the infirmary, his hand wrapped around Rodney's like always. Rodney's eyes were open and blinking like he was awake, but they didn't look at John when he spoke. They didn't look at anything. John was terrified that they wouldn't ever again.
So was everyone else, he'd realized. That was good and bad—good because it meant this place really was home, and Rodney had friends here just like John did. Bad because they all needed Rodney, too. Rodney was the most important person in Atlantis, after Elizabeth Weir who was their leader. Which meant if he ever did wake up, he wouldn't just belong to John. He belonged to everyone.
John could live with that, though. He didn't want to have to share Rodney, but he would. He could even live with being pretty much useless and not knowing a fucking thing (Ronon taught John how to swear. Sometimes you damn well needed words like that). Just so long as Rodney woke up. But he wouldn't.
"Everybody needs you, Rodney. You're the one who fixes everything. The city can't run without you. Even Radek says that, and he told me you guys fight all the time.
"And I need you. I miss you. You're the only person I know, Rodney. And I think…" John swallowed, cleared the water out of his eyes (tears). "No. I know you were always the most important person to me. I can't lose you. So you have to stop sleeping or whatever the fuck you're doing and come back. Major Lorne has been, um, pulling the ship we were on back to Atlantis. They'll be here tomorrow. The idea of going back there scares me. A lot. I don't remember much, but it was all awful. But Teyla and Ronon told me everyone who stole…who abducted us are dead. All the airlocks opened and they got sucked into space. Ronon's sure that you did that, since Evan and Teyla found you in the chair. I just wish you could tell me."
John swallowed again, then glanced over his shoulder when he heard footsteps. "I'll be back later, okay? I think Carson wants to talk to me. He misses you too. Everyone does." He stood up, then leaned over the bed rail, moving carefully because of his ribs and side. He kissed Rodney on the forehead, then kissed his knuckles before gently putting Rodney's hand back at his side.
When John turned around to greet Carson, the doctor was completely still, staring at him.
"What's wrong?" John asked. Worry made his chest hurt in a way that had nothing to do with his ribs. "Is Rodney all right?"
Carson blinked, then quickly shook his head. "No. No, he's fine. Well, as fine as can be, considering. His body is still healthy, at least." Carson smiled at John, but there was something wrong with it. John didn't remember enough to know what certain expressions meant anymore, which was incredibly frustrating. But something was wrong with Carson's smile, and the only thing John could think of that might've caused it was Carson seeing John kiss Rodney's forehead and hand.
He wanted to ask if that wasn't allowed, but he kept the words in his mouth and did what Carson seemed to want and pretended nothing had happened. Carson wanted to scan John's body to see how his ribs were healing, so John followed him and lay down in the large machine.
John answered Carson's questions automatically and smiled and nodded at the doctor's happy chattering, but inside his chest was aching with fear. He wondered if Carson could see that with the scanner machine. If so he didn't mention it.
"If the control chair on the ship took everything in their head, maybe it can put it all back," Ronon said.
Radek opened his mouth like he was going to argue that, then just shut it again and blinked a few times behind his glasses. His eyes were blue, like Carson's and Rodney's and Evan's. Teyla's eyes were brown, like Ronon's. John's eyes were hazel, apparently, which seemed to be some mix of brown and green, like Elizabeth's.
It was just small, stupid stuff, but it was satisfying, knowing words for colors again. And words for textures (his shirt was soft; the table was smooth and hard) and tastes, and pretty much any term he needed to describe things. It felt good to have some of that back. Like now he knew that coffee was bitter and bananas were sweet and yellow and that turkey sandwiches were his favorite. It didn't make up for the huge gaps in his memories, but it helped.
He just wished he could remember if he and Rodney kissed before, or held hands, or slept in each other's arms when they weren't prisoners. He hadn't had the courage to ask yet, but from Carson's reaction it seemed like they didn't.
"I had not thought of that," Radek said to Ronon. "That could work."
"What if it doesn't?" Elizabeth asked, frowning. She looked at John and he was pretty sure her expression was a mix of sympathy and worry. "All you were able to tell us was that the chair was responsible for your amnesia," she said to him, then turned back to Ronon. "There's no reason to think that it would be able to reverse what it did."
Ronon shrugged his big shoulders. He had a way of finding the simplest way of doing things, which John liked. "You said the ship was almost completely out of power when we got John and Rodney off it, right?" he said to Evan, who nodded. "So, maybe it'll work right, now that we've got it hooked up to the city."
"It should," Evan said. "I mean, I'm not a mechanical engineer, but at least from the readouts we got on the bridge, none of the ship's systems were actually broken. They were just almost completely out of power. But I made sure everyone stayed out of the control chair, after the way we found McKay. So it's possible there's something wrong there and we just haven't seen it."
"Now that the ship has full power, we can do a complete diagnostic and repair any physical damage," Radek said. He pressed his lips together. "Normally that would take a day or so. But without Rodney…"
"I want to try it," John said. "I trust Evan's judgment and he said the ship was fine. And if it doesn't work, we won't be worse off than we are now. And…and we've been without Rodney for long enough."
"With all due Respect, John, you don't know Evan well enough to trust his judgment. No offence," Elizabeth added to Evan, who nodded like he didn't have whatever 'offence' meant. "And if you try the chair on the ship and it puts you into a coma as well, we'll be far worse off than we are now."
"Why?" John demanded. "I'm useless like this. I don't know my ass from…" he made a frustrated noise.
"--A hole in the ground," Evan put in.
"Exactly," John let out on a blast of air. He ran his fingers through his hair (which was black, and apparently too long. Two more things he actually knew). "I mean, come on, Elizabeth. Ronon had to show me what a gun even was, let alone teach me how to use one. And I think my job means I need to know how to shoot."
"He's terrible," Ronon said, then grinned to let John know he was kidding. John was pretty sure he'd hit the center of all the targets. His body knew what to do with the weapons, even if his head didn't.
"And I couldn't lead a…duckling--I mean a kitten--out of a paper bag. I don't know enough," John finished. He let out a deep breath, then scrubbed his face with his hand. "Believe me, letting me be the test mouse—"
"Guinea pig," Radek supplied.
"I know they run tests on mouses. Mice," John said, glaring a little. "Letting me be the guinea pig is the only thing I can do right now. And if it gives me, me back, it'll be worth it."
"And if it doesn't, we will have lost another dear friend," Teyla said, and John knew enough about her already to tell he'd made her upset and that he hated doing that. "Waiting another day to do a proper diagnostic on the ship is worth it, John, if it will ensure you come through intact."
"I agree," Elizabeth said, nodding. "Radek, proceed with the diagnostic. Take as many people and as much time as you need. Thank you, everyone." She stood, which John figured meant the meeting was over.
John leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair again. Maybe he liked it this long because it let him do that. "I'm already out-tact, Teyla. I'm about as damn out-tact as you can get."
"Out-tact's not a word, sir," Evan said.
"Teyla, Ronon…Guys, um. Can I ask you something?"
Teyla and Ronon both stopped what they were doing (stirring? Sparking?) and turned to look at John. The three of them were alone in the room, which John figured was probably called something like 'the sparring (sparking?) room' but he couldn't remember and didn't feel like asking. Ronon was using a long stick and Teyla was using two short ones, and for a second, watching Teyla, John had a sense-memory of holding sticks like that in his hands. But in the next second it was gone.
"Sure," Ronon said. He walked over to the window where there was a kind of table built into the wall and grabbed a towel to dry his face.
Teyla got a bottle of water. "You may ask us anything, John, as I hope you know by now. How can we help you?" She took a long drink, eyes on him while she waited.
John swallowed. Once he had the words to frame his own thoughts, John had figured out pretty fast that he hated talking about this stuff. Apparently not being able to remember feelings didn't make it any easier to talk about them.
But he'd also figured out pretty quickly that he wasn't a scardey-duckling. Kitten. Whatever. So he put his hands in his…pant bags where his friends wouldn't see that they might be shaking a little, and tried to figure out how the damn he was going to ask this.
"Rodney and me," he started, then grimaced. "I mean, Rodney and I… What were we…before?"
"Same as you are now, just with more memories," Ronon said.
Teyla gave Ronon a look of mild…something that wasn't her being happy with him. "While that's true, I don't believe that was what John is asking, Ronon." She turned to John. "I'm afraid I don't understand. Do you mean, what were your responsibilities, before your abduction?"
John had to think of what 'responsibilities' meant, then he shook his head. "No. Not that. I mean, what were we…to each other?"
"Oh," Teyla said softly. John couldn't tell by her voice or expression if his question had upset her or not. "I assume you're not asking if you were friends."
John shook his head. "I know we're, we were friends." He didn't think he'd ever really forgotten that.
"You guys weren't fucking, if that's what you mean," Ronon said.
"Um," John said. He knew what the word meant now, but he obviously hadn't remembered how Ronon just said things like that. John felt his face getting hot, but not the same kind of heat as a fever. "Did we kiss?"
"I do not believe so," Teyla said slowly. She took another drink of water. "Nor, I'm afraid, can I tell you if you and Rodney would have, if given the opportunity. The chance," she added at John's clear confusion.
"What she means is, we both thought that maybe you wanted to be fu—you wanted to be together, but you never did anything. That we knew about," Ronon said.
"Oh," John said. He ran his fingers through his hair, looking at the floor while he tried to understand that. "Why?"
He looked up again to see Ronon shrug. "No idea."
"There are, sadly, many reasons why you and Rodney may have chosen to not reveal, or show, rather, your feelings to each other. And I don't believe that speculating—that guessing—will bring you the answers you desire." Teyla smiled, though it was a little sad. "You and Rodney will need to discuss—to talk about it—when he wakes."
"Yeah," John said on a gust of air. That would be tomorrow, at the earliest. If it happened at all.
And what if, if Rodney even woke up and could remember anything, he didn't want to kiss or hold John anymore? What if he never really had, but just forgot he didn't?
They'd both been confused and hurt and terrified. Of course it made sense to go to each other for comfort. Maybe John was really the only one who might've wanted more. And maybe he wouldn't either, once he got his memories back.
For the first time since he'd woken up in the infirmary, John thought there might be some things not worth remembering.
A day and a half later, John sat in the control chair of the pirate ship, which was now on one of Atlantis' piers. It was hooked up to Atlantis, and as long as it didn't have to fly or provide life support, there was enough power for the Control Chair to work properly. And John got his memories back.
And with his memories came the understanding of why it had worried him to hold Rodney on the pirate ship, and why Teyla and Ronon thought he and Rodney might've wanted to be more than friends, but they didn't know for sure.
It was because John and Rodney had never done anything about it. Because John didn't know what Rodney wanted, and because for him, being with Rodney was forbidden.
It was just like he'd thought, but it had nothing to do with the city.
The water was warm.
Water? No, not water. But colored like water and the sky (clear blue skies). But it was warm.
Thank you, someone said. Not words so much as a sense of gratitude so wide and deep it felt like an ocean. I'm sorry. Remorse even deeper, but I can fix you--bright hope like the dance of sunlight over waves.
And here, and here, and here, like the tide rolling in, but building him up instead of washing away. Repairing what was shattered, making him whole.
And Doctor Rodney McKay shut off the control chair of the Ancient Transport Ship Alirion, which was berthed on the south-western pier of Atlantis and currently sharing power with the city. And he opened his eyes to look up at the worried, hopeful face of Colonel John Sheppard.
"McKay? You, uh, in there, buddy?"
Rodney huffed. "I'm sitting in a control chair, Sheppard. Where else would I be?"
Sheppard was standing in Rodney's room with his hands in his pockets, much as he'd been since he first knocked on the door. Despite claiming that 'we need to talk', he was looking everywhere except at Rodney, and had managed to not actually say anything beyond space fillers for the last ten minutes.
He'd refused Rodney's offer to sit down, or have a beer, or watch a movie or play chess. He was just standing there, practically immobile with misery and definitely monosyllabic. And if he said 'um' again Rodney was sure Elizabeth would forgive him if he shoved John over the nearest balcony.
Rodney probably shouldn't be thinking of him as 'John' either, even in his head. Even if that was the only way he'd been able to think of him for weeks while they were captives on the Alirion.
Even if Rodney wanted to think of John as, well, John.
Rodney took a breath. "John," he said, just to try it. The way John's attention snapped to him was both gratifying and a little frightening, because now Rodney actually had to say something. "Um." Damn it. "I mean… Not that I mind your company. Ever. But…what are you doing here?"
John blinked, then he ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "You're right. I'm sorry. I just…" He looked up, giving Rodney one of his rare honest smiles, and for a moment he was so beautiful that it was hard to breathe. "I'm just glad you're back, Rodney. I really missed you."
Rodney smiled back. He was sure it looked far less genuine, but people enthusing over his existence always made him nervous. "Yes, well. Um, likewise. I mean, for you, too. For both of us. I'm glad we're back. And, ah, compos mentis." He made a vague gesture at his head, feeling distinctly un-compos mentis at the moment. "I would've hated to have to earn my PhDs over again."
"I'm sure you would've done fine, Rodney," John said like it was a rote placation. He smiled again, but it was the awful one that looked like it'd been penciled onto a mannequin. "So, welcome back, Rodney. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow. Goodnight."
And just like that he turned around and walked to the door.
For a second all Rodney could think of was the first time John had been taken to the Alirion's control chair, dragged half-conscious between the two guards after they'd stunned him when he'd attacked them. Rodney had thought it was the same guards each time, but he remembered now that they weren't. That time it'd been two men, and they hadn't been kind.
Now John was walking out the door fully aware and under his own power, but somehow it felt just as horrible and final, like if Rodney let John leave he'd never see him again.
"Wait!" Rodney called. His voice was probably far more frantic than necessary, but John turned around and stopped so that was all Rodney cared about.
"What?" John asked. He looked only mildly curious, but Rodney remembered him now; remembered everything, and he could see John's anxiety, almost but not-quite hidden in the depths of those expressive eyes.
"I want to call you John," Rodney blurted.
John blinked. His smile quirked up a notch. "I think you just did, Rodney," he said, drawling the name out long enough to sound mocking.
"No. I mean, I want to call you John because I called you John on the ship," Rodney said. He knew he wasn't eloquent at the best of times, but he couldn't help wincing at his own ineptitude. "And…and we, um, we were…close. On the ship. Like we are now! We're still close!" he added quickly, in case John somehow thought they weren't friends anymore. "But we were…closer." He swallowed. "You kissed me. I want…um, that. Again."
John went very still, his expression almost unreadable. "It…it's not allowed, Rodney."
For a second Rodney didn't understand him. "You mean, on Atlantis? Because I really can't see it being anyone else's business, and even if it somehow were to be, I know for a fact that Elizabeth is—oh." He stopped talking at John's expression, the misery shrouding his eyes. "You don't mean Atlantis."
John shook his head. "I couldn't tell you. And I didn't think you would've wanted it, anyway. But then I couldn't remember not to tell you, and you…wanted it too. Wanted me. But I'm in the Air Force, Rodney. I could lose everything."
"I wish you'd told me," Rodney said. "I didn't tell you because I thought…I thought it would ruin our friendship. And then I forgot to care."
John's eyes went big and hurt. "You thought I'd stop liking you for that? How could you think—"
"Because I grew up in the 70s and 80s--I tend to think that everyone would stop liking me for that, Colonel," Rodney cut him off. "John, I mean. And I'm not that enormously likeable in the first place, so…" He shrugged instead of wincing. "Why potentially ruin something, something great with ill-timed confessions, eh?"
John let out a heavy breath. "Rodney…"
"That's not the point though," Rodney said quickly. "The point is, if you can't…if you don't think you can do anything about, what you want, with me... Why did you come here?"
"I don't know," John said. He looked down at the floor, rubbing the back of his neck. "I just…" He grimaced, then lifted his head like it took him effort. "I meant what I said, about missing you. You're still my friend—still my best friend—even if we can't have more than that."
"Well, you too. Seriously," Rodney said, and John's smile let him know that at least John believed him. "But, ah…" Rodney stood up slowly, thinking. "Just to, reiterate—I mean, make sure we're both on the same page here--would you want more than that? If you could have it? With me?"
John nodded, looking miserable. "Yes. I would. But—"
"We're on Atlantis, John," Rodney said, stepping closer. "In another galaxy three million light-years from the Milky Way. And we're both members of an international expedition led by a civilian who's already taken on the American military for you and has no problem with same-sex relationships whatsoever. Not to mention that you're the highest-ranked officer on the expedition, and somehow I think that anyone complaining to General O'Neill that you're boinking another guy would be in severe trouble for wasting his time. And I think he's screwing Daniel Jackson anyway, so there's that."
John stared at him. "Daniel Jackson? How the hell would you—"
"I can be observant!" Rodney protested hotly. "I can be very observant! More observant than you, even, since you still seem to think that we can't have a relationship. Which we totally can, as long as we're discreet about it."
"I could lose my career, Rodney," John said. "They'd make me leave Atlantis. I'd lose my home. I'd lose you." But he didn't retreat when Rodney took another step forward. "I can't lose you, Rodney. I lost you once already. I can't do that again."
"You never lost me, John," Rodney said. "You always knew me, just like I always knew you, even when I didn't know anything else." He took the last step that put him almost chest to chest with John, and when he put his arms around John's Shoulders, John put his around Rodney's back. "You didn't lose me on the Alirion, and you won't lose me on Atlantis. I promise, John," he said, because John looked like he wanted to believe him, but didn't dare.
John let out a breath and leaned his forehead against Rodney's. "What if they kick me out?"
He sounded so small and so sad that Rodney kind of wanted to find Bill Clinton and punch him in the face for implementing the DADT thing that was making the lives of so many good men and women hell.
"They won't," Rodney said with the kind of absolute certainty that he reserved for the physical laws of the universe. "They won't, because if they even think about it, I'll quit so fast it'll make their heads spin. And believe me—after last year, the IOA will be falling all over themselves to make sure that doesn't happen. There's no way you're going anywhere. Oh Jesus, come here." Rodney grabbed John's head and pulled him into a kiss, because John still looked like his heart was breaking, and someone so smart and brave and confident and wonderful should never look that way ever.
"You're not going anywhere, John," Rodney said again when they broke apart. "Not without me. It's not going to happen. I won't let it."
John's smile was maybe a bit too watery, but it was still there and still as real as the glimmer of hope and even happiness in his eyes. "You're so sure we can make this work."
"Of course I'm sure," Rodney said easily. "I can make anything work, remember?"
"Not really," John said, but he grinned.
"Fine. Then I'll just keep reminding you," Rodney said. Then he kissed John again, because he could make that work spectacularly well, if he did say so himself. And he planned on making kissing and, well, everything work with John from now on. For as long as John would have him.
John definitely seemed to be fine with that.