The lights in the hallway get brighter when John walks past them. He keeps meaning to mention it to Rodney, but he's almost certain he's just imagining things.
On days when John is feeling good, Rodney cancels his classes and takes John to the beach. John likes surfing; Rodney doesn't, but he likes watching John surf, and that's fine.
Rodney smiles at him indulgently when he comes back in, looking up from his copy of War and Peace and offering John a beer.
John likes his life here. Rodney doesn't want anything out of him except his company. Rodney doesn't demand anything from him; he helps John when he's feeling sick and doesn't bring it up when he isn't. John likes Rodney for that.
War and Peace, John thinks. He wonders if he's ever read it; Rodney rubs his back and tells him all about it.
In a box in the back of the closet, John finds a pistol in a thigh holster. It isn't loaded, but he puts it away carefully. It makes his head hurt when he touches it.
John does all their shopping, because despite how much he loves to eat, Rodney can't seem to remember that they have to buy food. It's okay, though, because John likes doing the shopping. He likes cooking for Rodney, too, likes the appreciative noises he makes when he eats and the compliments he gives out freely.
Rodney's grocery bags are from everywhere- Smith's, Trader Joe's, Loblaw's, some in cyrillic that John can't read- red and green and black and tan. Sometimes he forgets to bring the bags along and he has to take plastic ones, the ones from the store that have little winged horses on them.
Pegasus, John thinks. He touches a hand to his face; why is he crying?
Sometimes he hears Rodney's voice in the middle of the night. He doesn't sound like he does during the day, nice and soothing and calm. His voice sounds ragged and raw instead, and he pleads with John to wake up, please wake up. John wants to tell him that he's awake already; he doesn't know what the voice wants from him. He burrows closer to the real Rodney, who is lax and snoring beside him, and wishes for the voice to go away and leave them alone.
"Are you coming?" Rodney asks, stretching in the foyer in anticipation of their morning run.
"Forgot my keys," he says, patting his pockets. "Just a second."
His key ring is sitting on their dresser where he left it. It feels good and heavy in John's hand, and he looks at it for a moment, considering it. He has Rodney's spare car key, the front door, his desk, Rodney's desk, Rodney's office, his foot locker, and a pretty little bronze key with a star on it, whose function he can't seem to recall.
Seven locks, John thinks. He wonders why he feels like his key ring is trying to tell him something; it bothers him.
He sees a woman at the grocery store with brown skin and coppery hair. She and a tall man with dreadlocks are shopping together. They don't see him. It makes John's stomach ache; he leaves his cart in the middle of the aisle and is sick in the parking lot.
Rodney takes him to faculty parties, lavish affairs at rich people's houses where the graduate students lurk in corners and drink all the good beer. John knows he's only invited because Rodney likes to show him off, but that's okay. People are nice to him and give him very small portions of very good food. He likes it better than- than whatever it was he did before. Not before Rodney- there doesn't seem to be a before Rodney- but before they came here. Some days he wishes he could remember what that was. Rodney's been everywhere- John must have been somewhere, right?
"Dr. Weir, Dr. Zelenka, this is my partner, John." Rodney is introducing him to someone; John shakes his head, bringing his attention back to the party.
"Have we met before?" he asks Dr. Weir sincerely, who laughs like he's being clever. Dr. Zelenka smiles at him, his arm curled around Dr. Weir's waist, and it hurts John to look at.
Rodney must know that John is sick again, because he makes excuses for them and walks John outside, a hand at the small of his back to guide him. John is very quiet in the car on the way home, so much that Rodney stops talking and pets his hair in that soothing way he does, but John still can't put words to what's bothering him.
"Something's not right, Rodney," John finally tells him when they are alone, but Rodney lays him down in their bed and kisses away his objections.
Weir and Zelenka, John thinks. He doesn't try to bring it up to Rodney again.
While Rodney is at school, John goes for a run. Rodney doesn't like it much when John goes out by himself, because Rodney worries for him, but John thinks it'll be okay this once.
When he comes around the block, Rodney is standing at the end of the street. John's stomach aches again- Rodney doesn't look like himself; he looks tired and fragile and careworn in a way that his Rodney never does.
"Please come back," the Rodney at the end of the street says, in the voice that haunts John at night; it seems to be coming from all around him. John wants to go back to the house and lock the door, but he can't. He keeps running, running for the end of the street. The sky is fading- John knows the sky isn't supposed to be doing that, but he keeps running. Somehow John knows that this Rodney has the answers, knows about the seven locks and the pistol and lights and the winged horses, and if he doesn't catch him he's never, ever going to know.
Rodney turns his back, walking away, and John keeps running after him. It hurts when he gets nearer- it hurts so bad, it hurts worse than anything, the pavement is shaking under his feet and making it hurt so much more- but he has to get closer, knows he has to, knows that there is no going back to the beach, no more trips to the grocery, no more surfing or parties or holding Rodney's hand. And, God, he hadn't known it could hurt more- he almost slips, stumbles, keeps running- but he catches Rodney by the shoulder just as he falls-
Rodney is not standing over him when John wakes up.
"Carson?" he asks; his throat hurts like hell; for some reason, it feels like he hasn't talked for a really long time.
"Oh, thank god," Carson murmurs, with a totally unprofessional amount of concern in his voice.
There are suddenly a lot of people in the room, all talking at once despite Carson's objections, and they all seem to want to talk to him. John feels itchy and confused.
"Where are my keys?" he asks, missing the weight of them in his pocket, and Lorne laughs at him. He thinks that's not very nice, but then he remembers.
Oh god, he remembers.
He hopes nobody notices that he's crying.
After everything, the explanation seems inappropriately mundane. Rodney, looking exhausted, explains what the Ancient device he'd accidentally brushed against on M3X-811 does in terms of brain waves and power fluctuations, making impressive gestures with his hands.
"It was supposed to make you happy," Zelenka translates.
"Your brain activity was similar to Elizabeth's, when the nanites-" Carson breaks off mid-sentence.
"It was the nicest place I've ever been," John says, and Carson and Rodney both flinch.
"I'm sorry," Carson tells him earnestly, but John waves him off.
Rodney gives him a wide berth for the first few days, but it doesn't surprise him when he turns up on John's doorstep.
He starts rambling as soon as the door shuts, apologizing with one breath for pulling him out of his "joy coma"- as he insists on calling it, finger quotes and all- before berating him for touching the damn thing in the first place with the next. John's speechless for a good five minutes, not having been on the receiving end of an angry Rodney McKay spiel for a whole week- which had been five in John's head.
"You were there," he snaps when he's heard enough, and Rodney shuts up, his mouth closing with an audible little slap. "You were there for a whole month, and you didn't bitch the entire time."
Rodney is looking at him, jaw hanging, and John kisses his unresisting mouth. Rodney pulls back and stares at him wide eyed for a whole, horrible minute, every inch of his face saying oh my god did you just, but then he exhales sharply, his shoulders slumping with it, and kisses John back fervently. This is what John didn't even know he wanted before, the only thing he wants to keep, the only thing that was actually bringing him any happiness at all.
"It was the nicest place I've ever been," he repeats into Rodney's shoulder when they stop to breathe, "and every single minute of it sucked."
Something breaks, and he and Rodney laugh until they're crying.
When John's feeling better, Rodney pawns his work off on Zelenka and takes John to the mainland. John goes surfing; Rodney rolls his eyes and advises him not to drown.
When John comes back in, Rodney looks up from John's copy of War and Peace, moaning about how incredibly boring it has turned out to be. He's drinking the last beer, and he gives an exasperated little snort when John snatches it out of his hands.
John lays back on the towel, sipping it slowly just to piss Rodney off further, grinning ear to ear as Rodney berates him for it. Rodney doesn't shut up until John finishes his beer, chucking the bottle into the sand before pulling Rodney on top of him and throwing the book out of the way.
John loves his life here. Rodney bitches when he doesn't get his own way. Rodney wants everything John has to give and a lot of stuff that he doesn't, really; Rodney never lets John get away with anything.
John loves Rodney for that.
He doesn't give a shit if neither of them ever finish War and Peace.