Title: His Way Through the Constellation
Rating: PG-13 (I know, I know, it's a lot of words for very little sex)
Length: 8200 words
A/N: I finished the first draft of this sometime in December. It was 2000 words and I sent it off to janne_d. She sent it back with a very nice note attached that basically said "You're missing something. I think it's called plot." So, uh, yes, she deserves even more praise than she normally does for this one.
A/N 2: Many months ago aurora_84 asked for amnesiac!John and, uh, here it is. Better late than never, eh?
They find him by chance.
They've looked and looked for the past six months and found nothing, no clue. Then Katie Brown and a couple of the new Marines go off-world to investigate some alien flora, get distracted by a market and find him there; not for sale, as Rodney immediately assumes on hearing, but working the stalls, healthy and whole and free as you like.
It took Katie less than a minute to realise he didn't remember her, didn't remember any of them, and rather than pit her size 02, trowel-wielding self against a USAF trained colonel who didn't want to be moved, she came home.
She didn't tell Elizabeth, didn't tell Lorne, didn't tell Ronon or Teyla, just went to Rodney's lab and whispered it in his ear, putting a hand on his shoulder and standing between him and the world while he blinked away his shock.
They've been looking for six months, they're all exhausted and heart broken. He doesn't tell any one either.
John's easy to find. The market's a busy, sprawling, country sort of thing, but John Sheppard is the centre of attention. He's running a stall of what looks like everything and nothing, bright and incongruous in the midst of farmers dressed in a hundred shades of brown and selling sheep, cheese and gourd.
Rodney pushes his way to the front of the crowds and the come home with me now demand he was going to make dies on his lips. John looks good, really good; his clothes are dark and loose and his hair's grown out. He's smiling at everyone, flirting them into a sale and from the flurries of money changing hands, he's doing well.
"Hey," John says when he catches Rodney staring. He smiles but it isn't a hey buddy smile; it's empty and doesn't reach his eyes. He doesn't know who Rodney is. "Can I help you with something?"
"I, uh." Rodney shakes his head; he doesn't know what John's place is here, but he's obviously got one, Rodney probably won't be able to just drag him away. "Yes." He casts his eyes around, looking for anything worth buying. There's a small carved whale in the middle of one table, it's the most innocuous looking thing he can see. "How much is that?"
John picks it up, runs his fingers over the shape. "Twenty grots."
"Twenty grots," Rodney starts to protest, because that sounds like a lot for something that small, then he hesitates. "What's a grot?"
John frowns at him. "Grots," he says, pulling a couple of roughly shaped pieces of black metal out of his pocket. "All the worlds in this quadrant use 'em, where are you from?"
"I-" Rodney starts then decides to ignore the question. "I don't have any of those."
John shrugs, his eyes shift away from him, scanning the crowd for his next customer, already bored with Rodney. "You won't get very far around here without 'em," he says.
"Wait," Rodney says, anxious and suddenly irrationally afraid that if he loses John's attention he'll lose John again. There's a small, flat, rectangular object sticking out of John's back pocket. Rodney waves his hand at it. "What's that?" he asks.
John's hand goes to it immediately. "That's not for sale," he says. Rodney thinks he sees the object glow faintly when John touches it and he's instantly curious.
"What does it do?"
John's palm curves around it, protective, and it's definitely glowing now. Rodney hopes John actually knows what it does and that it's not going to do the sort of thing Ancient tech often does; namely blow up. "Nothing."
"It only turns on for you, right? Not for anyone else on this backwater… around here."
John stops backing away, his gaze snapping back to Rodney, hard and focused. "How do you know that? Who are you?" he asks. His voice is sharp but underneath he looks lost, afraid, like someone who must have woken up less than six months ago with no clue who he was.
Without thinking it through, Rodney reaches out, puts his hand over John's. "John," he says.
John snatches his hand back, eyes wide and shocked. Rodney wonders what he's done, maybe this planet has a touching-taboo; in the Pegasus Galaxy, that wouldn't even be weird.
"That's not me," John says, and stumbles backwards. He steps into the person behind him, a tall, broad man, younger than him. The man laughs and steadies him. His hands come around John's waist and settle on his hipbones, and John leans back against him, looking relieved, and there goes Rodney's touching-taboo theory. The man whispers something in his ear and John nods. He glances back at Rodney then looks away, hurrying from the stall and into one of the tents where Rodney had seen other sellers milling earlier.
"Hey!" Rodney calls, starting to follow him. "Wait."
The guy who was just groping John stops him. "Hey, man," he says. His voice is slow and drawly and Rodney thinks either John is contagious or he actually stumbled on a planet where he fits in. "You can't go back there, traders only."
Rodney starts to argue, then spies a path leading to the tents from the other direction. "Absolutely," he says quickly, "My mistake," and starts pushing his way through the crowds.
Rodney's never been a fan of markets. His mother once took them to a Christmas one; it had been a claustrophobic rush of people and smells and noise and he'd grabbed Jeanie's hand and taken her to hide underneath one of the stalls until their mom was ready to leave.
This one's ten times busier, but Rodney's a man on a mission so he barely notices. It's much easier to get to the tents when a hairy, colonel-molesting hulk isn't standing in his way and Rodney doesn't even feel the need to sneak when he reaches the tent John disappeared into; there's no one around this area.
There's also no door, just a thick curtain and Rodney pushes it aside, swatting at it impatiently when it tries to smother him. "Honestly, I know you've lost your memory, but" he says before he's fully escaped the over-eager curtain. Then he takes in the scene before him and stops abruptly.
John's on one of the two low-lying beds that make up half the tent's furniture. His shirt is unbuttoned, his pants riding dangerously low, and there is a man, not the man from outside even, spread out on top of him, kissing him, one hand rubbing circles in his chest hair.
"Oh my God," Rodney says, and smirks viciously when the guy sucking on John's tongue jumps and nearly falls off the bed teetering on the edge until John jerks upright and pushes him the rest of the way.
"What the hell are you doing here?" John demands, voice thick and scratchy. Rodney has to close his eyes briefly not to be turned on by that.
"What are you doing?" Rodney snaps back. "You've always been slutty, but what? Are you a whore on the side now?"
John's face flushes red then white. "I'm sorry?" he asks, all icy calm and Rodney might not have seen John for the past six months, but he remembers that tone.
The guy who was making out with John obviously knows that tone as well and he looks between them then scrambles to his feet and disappears out of the tent.
"Who the fuck do you think you are?" John demands, crowding Rodney backwards, getting into his space. Rodney knows he should be intimidated, is intimidated, but John's shirt is still gaping open and it's weirdly distracting.
This wasn't how this was supposed to go; this wasn't how he was supposed to act when he found John again. "I'm sorry," he says and is surprised by how sincere he sounds. Four years in another galaxy and he's finally learned when to apologise. "I didn't mean that, can we just start over?"
John has a hand fisted in Rodney's shirt and Rodney's taken aback by how threatening that really is. He's seen John angry plenty of times, but John's normally only annoyed with him, irritated, and there's always been an underscore of amusement; John's only been truly angry with him once and Rodney tries not to remember that ever.
"I don't know who you are," John snaps, "And I don't care. Now fuck off before I decide to be insulted by what you just said."
But Rodney's waited a long time for this. "I'm Dr Rodney McKay," he says, "And no, I won't. I’ve spent the last half year looking for you and the least you can do is hear me out." He lifts his chin and closes his eyes, waiting to be punched.
He waits a long time.
Just as Rodney's peeking his eyes open, John lets go of him and crosses to the other side of the tent. He ducks down under the bed and pulls out a box. Rodney can see John's uniform, folded neatly, John's tac-vest, his radio - everything John had on him when he disappeared. But what he pulls out is metal and shiny and fits inside the fist that curls tightly around it. His dog tags.
"You know me?" John asks, but it's not a question.
Rodney nods, straightens his shirt, clears his throat. "Yes."
John looks down at the tags in his hand, rubs his thumb over the surface. The metal is dully shiny in the dim light; it looks as if John's worn it smooth.
"What's my name?"
"John Sheppard." Rodney thinks of the nit-pickiness of the American military and corrects himself. "John F. Sheppard."
John doesn't react in any way except a tightening of his grip, Rodney can see the rubber edges of the tags press into John's palm. "And these numbers?"
"Your social security number. 078-05-1120. The AF at the end stands for Air Force, it's the organisation you work for."
This time, there's a flicker of expression in John's eyes. Rodney doesn't think about how John, his John, how Colonel Sheppard, would react if he knew just how much of his life Rodney had memorised.
When John starts to ask something else, Rodney interrupts him. "Anything else or have I proven that I know who you are? Or would you like me to tell you about the scar on your neck or the blue mole on your arm?"
John shrugs. "It doesn't prove anything," he says, but he doesn't sound sure. "Just because you know what it says on these things."
"They're called dog tags," Rodney says quickly. "Identification tags. You wear them because you're in the military."
John looks at him. Finally. "I'm a soldier?"
"You're a pilot," Rodney corrects him, strange how the distinction always seemed irrelevant to him before. "You fly things. Aeroplanes. Metal machines that fly through the air."
Something in John's expression shifts, going open, curious, maybe excited, just for a moment before he pulls the blank screen up again. He shakes his head. "I'm a trader. You must have the wrong person."
"Oh come on!" Rodney snaps. "You don't believe that. What, is this the world's, the universe's biggest coincidence? Or maybe I'm just psychic, huh?"
John frowns, he's looking lost again. Seeing an advantage, Rodney presses on. "Can we please just sit down and talk? Just hear me out and." Rodney stops there, he can't say And then I'll go because he won't.
Slowly, John nods. "Okay." He waves his hand to the bed, watching while Rodney sits down then pulling up a squat little stool and sitting crossed-legged on it; he's between Rodney and the door, something similar to one of Teyla's fighting sticks within easy reach.
Rodney clears his throat. "We were on a planet, a really crappy planet with too much nature and there was this girl, with you there is always a girl. You flirted with her and she took you seriously. When you didn't follow through, she got mad. Overdosed you on this memory-altering pill their pathetic excuse for chemists had made. When you woke up, you didn't remember us. You were still pretty high and paranoid and. You ran."
John shrugs. "I don't remember that."
"Like I said, you were pretty high." And frightened, John'd been so frightened and Rodney hadn't wanted to see it, had gone off with Ronon to cool both their heads. The solar system only had one ‘gate and the planet had an electromagnetic shield; the ‘jumper and their radios had all been useless. But they’d known that when they missed the check-in Elizabeth would send a rescue jumper, all they'd had to do was make it through ‘til then and then they could get home, get John fixed.
They'd left Teyla with John and it hadn't been fair to blame her for John getting loose, but that didn't mean they hadn't done it. They'd been stupid, too confident, hadn't fully realised that John wasn't John anymore, that they had a stranger in his body. They'd made a mistake assuming John would trust them, assuming he wouldn't hurt Teyla to get away.
"Who's we?" John asks. "You and me?"
"Yes. You, me and the rest of our team. We live in a city called Atlantis and-"
"The city of the Ancestors?" John interrupts, eyes wide.
"Yes," Rodney says, trying to be patient. "That Atlantis. As I was saying, you lead a team that travels through the stargate, uh, the ring. We explore other planets."
John's looking interested, but then he frowns. "Why?"
"Because." The urge to say we just do is strong, but it would be wrong to treat his team leader like a small child, even if that is his default behaviour. "Because we're at war with the Wraith and we need to keep looking for new and exciting ways to defeat them."
John's expression tightens; he knows about the Wraith then. "Everybody's at war with the Wraith, Dr McKay."
"Rodney," he snaps, surprising himself with his own vehemence. "You call me Rodney. Or sometimes, when you're pissed at me or trying to maintain some macho, military distance, you call me McKay."
He doesn't mention that that had been happening less and less often lately, that they'd finally been shifting from people who had to be friends to people who wanted to be. "And yes, everybody is at war with the Wraith, but we actually have some hope, a faint hope admittedly, of achieving something. Look, come back with me. You'll see that I'm telling the truth and our doctors might have a way to fix your memory." Carson found what he thinks is an antidote to the memory drug months ago, but without actually testing it on anybody, they can't know for sure.
John's expression goes tight, worried. "No, thank you, and, hey, look, it's been great meeting you and all, but I have work to do and-"
Rodney shakes his head, crosses his arms and tries to look as immovable as possible. "You can't tell me you aren't curious." The expression on John's face tells Rodney he's winning. "It doesn't have to be forever," he presses, even though inside he's screaming Yes it does, of course it does, I'm never letting you out of my sight ever again.
John sighs, he looks tired. He turns away from Rodney and concentrates hard on buttoning his shirt. Rodney can see the tension in his shoulders. "Fine," he says eventually and a tightness Rodney hadn't been aware of eases in his chest. "Just to see."
Rodney bounces to his feet, unable to conceal just how elated he feels. "Great, that's great." He waves his hands at John, who hasn't moved. "Come on. Come on. Grab your coat."
John looks bemused. "You want me to come now?"
Rodney starts to smile, he can't help it. The last six months have sucked, but he can finally see the end. "Either you come back, or I think Atlantis will fire up her own star drive and come to you. She misses you."
John laughs, a surprised and surprising sound. "It's a city, Rodney."
Rodney doesn't try to explain it; no one but the Colonel would have been able to and he never tried. "You'll see," he says instead. And he feels something burn in his chest, something like happiness, at the thought that John actually will see.
The city goes into spontaneous orgasm the moment they step through the 'gate, and lights that Rodney hadn't even noticed were dimmed start shining brightly all over. But even though something passes across John's face that lets Rodney know that he feels the connection, John doesn't relax, doesn't give into the happiness exploding around him.
They're greeted by four Marines and (acting Lieutenant Colonel) Lorne, P90s in hand. It's logical considering Rodney hadn't told any one except Chuck that he was going, but it makes John tense, hand going to the knife Rodney's learned he keeps in the belt doing nothing to hold up his pants.
It's almost funny, seeing the stunned looks pass across everybody's face. Hell, it is funny. It's funny until Elizabeth comes racing down the stairs and tries to hug them; first Rodney who allows it and then John who does not; until he sees the tears on Teyla's face, the way Ronon can't seem to speak.
John looks around himself, doing an excellent imitation of a dog that's walked into a cage and is starting to think oh shit. The sharp lines of his cheek bones are flushed; he looks confused and anxious and embarrassed, as the whole expedition starts to appear, seemingly out of the woodwork, wanting to see him, touch him, welcome him back.
Just as John's really starting to look panicked, and Rodney is wishing he'd thought of a way to do this differently, Ronon gives a well-timed growl and everyone backs up a few steps. But the corridors and balconies are still packed, everyone crowding around to see.
"Rodney," John asks, sotto voce, eyes fixed on Ronon, expression somewhere between wariness and overwhelming gratitude. "What the hell? Am I some kind of prince?"
Rodney doesn't quite know how to answer that.
The first week is strange. Rodney's gotten so used to John not being around, that seeing him in corridor, passing him in the mess, gives Rodney a physical, painful jolt.
But while John might be back, he still doesn't trust them.
He agrees to stay for the moment; he doesn't agree to do anything else. He won't let Carson near him with any needles, walks out of three of the four meetings Elizabeth tries to have with him, and when Lorne shows him the armoury, he runs his fingers over the weapons but won’t let Lorne test him to see how much he remembers.
The only person he'll voluntarily spend time with is Ronon. If Rodney weren't as jealous as hell, he'd think it made sense. Seeing them do the rounds is like going back two years, only this time, it's John who's the outsider and Ronon who's showing him around, getting him comfortable again in his own city.
Initially, they put John in his old room, but the few times Rodney's gets up the courage to visit him there, he isn't in. Rodney's not sure he's using the room at all; his golf clubs have a layer of dust on them, and his CD collection is too neat, untouched.
Then, one night, Rodney finds John on the balcony of the southwest tower at three in the morning, curled in one of Teyla's soft hunting blankets and staring out at the waves. Rodney has a word with Lorne and gets John permission to move into one of the unused rooms.
When John's been back two weeks, Lorne's team goes off-world to a planet with a spacegate. John happens to be in the gateroom when they go and the expressions on his face (awe, shock, want) make Rodney realise that no one's shown him the 'jumpers yet.
"John," Rodney says and touches his elbow. "Come on."
It was Rodney who showed him the 'jumpers the first time around, Rodney likes the symmetry of getting to do it again. That time, the first time, John had been delighted, but he'd also been freaked, worried about Sumner, about a city that had just risen from the bottom of the sea, about being in a new galaxy. Now, he's just excited.
He smiles at Rodney and Rodney thinks finally. Then he thinks that of course it takes spaceships for John to like him again.
John, predictably, wants to take a 'jumper out at once; his love of flying seems to be buried somewhere deeper than his memories. Rodney expects him to ask Ronon to go with him, which of course Rodney would have to veto since Ronon doesn't have the gene. But John asks Rodney.
Teyla offers to go with them, but "No," Rodney says, too fast to be anything but rude.
She doesn't seem offended though, just smiles her understanding smile and nods her head.
John wants to go to the mainland, but the idea of crossing all that water with a pilot who doesn't remember flying makes Rodney feel shaky. So, Elizabeth gives them permission to fly to P98-67H where the population is both sparse and friendly and where there's lots of open space for John to learn how to fly again.
Flying from the 'jumper bay into the gateroom and through the 'gate is almost all autopilot, but Rodney still feels better being the one in the pilot’s seat. They land on a grassy meadow on the other side of the 'gate and swap places.
When John sits in the pilot's seat, the 'jumper lights up all around him and he closes his eyes. He looks peaceful and right for the first time since he came back and Rodney can't get over how stupid they were not to think of this before.
"What do I do?" John asks him. His grin is huge and real.
"Just think on," Rodney says, strapping himself in. "And then."
The 'jumper rocks once, twice then glides forward smoothly. "Uh, yes," Rodney says, "Do that."
They fly for hours. Over the planet, up into the atmosphere (even though Rodney squawks and rightly points out that no one's taught John how to do that yet). They're over the southern hemisphere, when the vague disconnected feeling Rodney's been able to ignore for the past half hour morphs inevitably into hot flushes and rolling dizziness.
Once he's explained what hypoglycaemia is, John looks gratifyingly worried and lands on the next available flat space. They have lunch out on the grass; Rodney's got a second chance at making a first impression so he carefully doesn't complain (much) about his allergies. When they've finished eating, John lies on his back and smiles up at the sky, he closes his eyes and Rodney can't help taking the chance to look.
John's hair is still long and it falls into his eyes, it makes him look younger, softer. His high cheekbones are flushed with the thrill of flying and weak, spring sunshine is turning the dark red lights in his hair a sort of burnished gold.
As Rodney looks, John's eyes flicker slightly then open. Taken by surprised, Rodney is pinned, unable to pretend he wasn't looking and strangely unable to look away. With his face framed by the excessively, almost unnaturally green grass, John's eyes are very green and very soft. His lips have a slight upward curve, but it's his eyes that are really smiling. Rodney feels light-headed, and he's just eaten so he knows it's not blood-sugar related.
"Aren't you curious?" Rodney finds himself asking. John blinks at him, and yes, those weren't the next words Rodney had expected to come out of his mouth, either. But it's a question that's been bothering him and this is the first time he's seen John's guard down since he got back. Rodney knows he'd be curious; if there were a switch he could flick to give himself more knowledge than he currently has, he couldn't imagine not taking it.
John doesn't pretend to misunderstand. "Of course I'm curious, Rodney, it's my life. But what if-"
"What if what?"
Rodney can almost see John brace himself; force himself to admit his fear. "What if… I don't like it. I can't just un-remember again."
Rodney can't help it, he laughs. "That's it? That's what all this has been about? You think you won't like yourself? Seriously, are you a fourteen year old girl?"
John just smiles sadly. "Just, just give me a little longer, okay?"
That, of course, is when everything goes to hell.
Something cold and metal presses suddenly against Rodney's temple and a voice growls, "Your money or your life?" Some distant part of Rodney boggles that people actually say that, but the rest of him settles for freaking out because someone is saying it to him.
"We don't have anything," he says, standing up slowly and trying to sound calm; he watches John do the same. He thanks Jesus, Moses, Buddha and the Ancients that they remembered to cloak the 'jumper.
"That's a shame," says the voice. Rodney can just about make out the man in his peripheral vision. He's wearing a Genii uniform.
Rodney hears a click and thinks Oh God someone is actually going to shoot me. His elbow comes up without thinking about it, before he knows it's going to, before he even remembers he's had self-defence lessons, never mind what he learned from them. It connects with the man's throat and he falls back, choking while Rodney scrambles away.
He stumbles into John and John catches him with one hand, the other going instinctively to his thigh. His thigh where his holster used to be and where it isn’t anymore. Rodney realises with a sickening sort of dread that he’s the only one here with combat experience, the only one with a weapon.
From the corner of his eye, Rodney sees their attacker straighten up, sees him lift his gun hand.
Rodney grabs his own pistol and turns, flicking the safety off and pulling the trigger before he can think.
Blood blooms across the man's shirt and he falls down, dead or dying it's the same, and then there's silence all around them once more.
John's staring, staring like he's never seen a man killed before and Rodney's suddenly sick of it.
But then John says, small voiced and shaking. "I-I should have done that. I should have known how to do that."
Yes, you should have, Rodney wants to say. I just killed someone. You never used to let me do that. but he doesn't, partly because it's unfair but mainly because he's numb suddenly and can't make his mouth form words.
"I'm sorry," John says. He closes his hand around Rodney's wrist, carefully prising the pistol from Rodney's fingers. Rodney hadn't even realised he was still holding it.
Rodney shakes his head and heads for the ‘jumper.
"I thought the southern areas were uninhabited?" Elizabeth says later.
"So did we," Ronon mumbles. He's been giving Rodney glares since they got back that say You nearly got him killed.
"He was Genii," Rodney says loudly over the interruption, "Probably one of Kolya's rebels."
"We should warn the Gafreans that they have Genii on their planet," Teyla suggests, "And perhaps ask Major Lorne to take a puddlejumper across to gauge their numbers."
"Who's Kolya?" John asks. This is the first meeting he's voluntarily come to since he got back.
There are several answers Rodney could give to that, each one slightly more horrific than the last. The answer he gives is automatic and the worst by far; he curses himself the moment it's out of his mouth. "He's the bastard who fed you to a Wraith last year," he snaps. Rodney watches John go abruptly pale and realises that it's possible he's not thinking completely clearly.
Those of them who came from Earth have a different way of dealing with the Wraith, than the Pegasus natives. The Wraith are cartoon baddies, science fiction monsters, anyone who's seen a horror movie can think about them with some level of superior detachment until one's right on top of them. For Ronon and Teyla and the other Pegasus natives they're a reality, something that's killed their friends and family and will probably kill them, and that's how John sees them now.
"You were fine," Elizabeth says, shooting Rodney a glare. She reaches across the table to touch John's arm. "You are fine."
John flinches and pushes his chair half way across the floor trying to get out from under her touch. "Excuse me," he says and leaves.
Rodney presses his fingernails into his palms and stares at his PDA. He knows everyone in the room is glaring at him; he doesn't need to see it.
Later that evening, when Rodney's feeling less shocky and more guilty, after Lorne has come to his rooms and attempted to give him the So You Had to Shoot Someone pep talk that the Colonel used to be really bad at, he sets off to find John.
He checks John's room first and isn't surprised not to find him there then he goes to find Ronon. Ronon and Teyla are in the gym; she's meditating, he's taking a nap, but John isn't around.
"I believe he went to the infirmary," Teyla says then picks up one of her sticks and throws it at Ronon.
John is, indeed, in the infirmary. He's sitting on the one of the beds, rocking his feet and talking to Carson quietly.
"Hi," he says when Rodney comes in. He smiles but his eyes dart over Rodney quickly, then away.
"What are you doing?" Rodney asks.
"Oh no." Rodney shakes his head. "You are not getting your memory back because of what happened today." He doesn't fully understand why John won't take the antidote, but he knows the reason is very real to John. "Nothing that happened out there was your fault."
"Rodney," Carson starts to say, but a look from John silences him. He looks between them, obviously worried, then backs out of the room.
John glares at Rodney. "I've read the reports, Rodney. Are you telling me that he, that I, that Colonel Sheppard" - John has serious identity issues at the moment - "Would have screwed up like that and left you to kill someone?"
Rodney winces. He's fine with shooting some Genii bastard who wanted to kill him. Except for when he's not. "It wasn't your fault," he says again. But it comes out thready, unsteady and he clamps his mouth shut rather than embarrass himself further.
John's expression softens, eyebrows pulling together in concern. "Hey, Rodney," he says softly.
"No," Rodney snaps. "You know what? I don't think he would have minded." Rodney doesn't know when he started using "he" for the Colonel but he thinks John probably appreciates it. "I think he would have been proud. He taught me how to shoot the fucking thing after all." It's a lie, yes the Colonel taught him how to shoot, but he hadn’t wanted to, hadn’t wanted any of the scientists to ever have to know what it feels like to shoot someone. But John doesn't know that, and Rodney's place as world's biggest asshole is cemented when John goes pale.
"I-" Rodney says, but he can’t find sufficient words to say next.
John looks down at his hands, turning them over to study the backs before slowly looking up at Rodney. Rodney wonders for one, giddy minute if he was looking for blood stains. "Fuck off, McKay." John says, voice flat, and for once, Rodney does.
He's been back in his room for ten minutes when the door chimes and John walks in.
"Colonel?" Rodney asks.
John shakes his head, glances away then back again. "Sorry Rodney, still me."
"Nice to see someone listens to me," he says instead of any of the things he means.
John stands awkwardly in the centre of Rodney's bedroom, shifting from foot to foot. "Sorry," he says at last. He's fallen into parade rest, but Rodney doesn't point that out. "About back there." He waves a hand over his shoulder.
Rodney twists his hands until he worries they're going to fall off, then sits on them. "That should probably be my line," he admits, just as awkward.
John glances up, that under the lashes look he's perfected since he went away. "Were we this bad at this before?" he asks with a slight smile.
John shrugs with half his body. "Communicating."
Rodney can't help laughing, though he cuts it off when John frowns. "God, yes," he says. "Worse."
He screws up his courage and offers John a smile, he doesn't think about how relieved he is when John returns it.
"So, uh." John moves across the room and, when Rodney doesn't object, appropriates half of the bed, sitting cross-legged the way Teyla does. "I didn't go to the infirmary to get changed back."
When Rodney just looks at him, he looks down at the bedspread, picking at it between his fingers. "Well, I maybe considered it. But just kind of in passing. But I, uh, I don't think I'm ready yet." He pauses then adds with painfully false nonchalance, "I asked Dr Beckett about the thing you mentioned. With the Wraith?"
"Oh." The knot of shame that's been simmering inside Rodney since the briefing room collapses down hard and heavy in his gut. "I'm sorry about that," he says, "And if you remembered me, you'd know that's not something I often, or in fact ever, say."
John nods quickly once. "Beckett told me how you went to rescue." A pause. "Me."
Rodney pulls himself up straight on his side of the bed and lifts his chin. "That's what we do. We take it in turns to save each other's life."
John looks away. "So I really did fuck up today then, huh?"
"No," Rodney snaps. "You're not Colonel Sheppard, we shouldn't expect you to be."
"Do you resent me?" John asks, staring fixedly at where he's picking a tiny hole in the blanket. "For not being him?"
"Me, or?" Rodney waves his hand awkwardly.
"Well, Atlantis doesn't. She hasn't noticed a change."
"No, okay. No one resents you. No one even blames you. If I could forget all the crap we've gone through in this galaxy I would as well."
John smiles at him slightly. "No you wouldn't."
"Well." Rodney can't really argue with that. Knowledge is everything, he wouldn't forget any of it. Except maybe the look on Gaul's face just before he died. Or the sound of his friends' screams. "John, most of the people here are morons; they like having him around because then they can fuck up and know there'll be someone to pick up the pieces. They miss having a hero but they don't miss him, because they don't know him."
"What about you?" John asks, looking sideways at Rodney. "Did you know him?"
Rodney thinks about chess and movie nights and stuttered nightmares on overnight missions. "Yes," he says. "I knew him."
John nods, as if Rodney's just confirmed something he already knew. He reaches into one of the huge pockets of what Zelenka's taken to calling his Tatooine shirt and pulls something out; it's the flat Ancient device he was carrying around with him the day Rodney found him. "You asked about this," John says, and Rodney might not excel at social nuance, but he recognises a peace offering when it's waved in his face.
"It's a map of the stars," John says, voice hushed. He stretches out on his back and lays the object on his stomach and touches it again. There's a crackle of blue light and then the air above them is filled with constellations, planets and space debris. It's like standing unsupported in the middle of space with nothing to obstruct the view.
"Oh," Rodney says, completely unable to do more that stare. The lure of astrophysics has always been math to him, not the stars, but this, this is beautiful.
John tips his head, smiles at him. "Neat, huh?"
Distracted by John's smile, it takes Rodney a beat to answer. "Yes, very, uh, neat."
John touches it again. The picture revolves, zooming in on an area at the edge of the Pegasus galaxy. "That's where you found me." John touches the box again and again, the picture changing each time. Finally he lands on one where Atlantis is visible, off to the left.
"Wait," Rodney says. "Stop."
They lie on the bed, side by side, looking at the stars.
"I-" John says then stops. He clears his throat and starts again "I found it on one of the stalls a few months ago. I used to turn it on and look at the planets; I wanted to go to them, I didn't know I already had."
Rodney doesn't know what to say. He turns his head and watches John's profile. His face is lit by the soft blue lights from the Ancient device. He looks ethereal and pale, transparent and beautiful in a way Rodney's never before been allowed to see.
John is oblivious to Rodney's watching him, staring at the galaxy with a hungry look on his face. "Have we been there?" he asks, pointing to the closest object to Atlantica, the L-point satellite where they lost Abrahms and Gaul. The mission was a disaster, the epitome of how to fuck up in the Pegasus Galaxy without even trying, but it was also the first time he realised that saving Sheppard's life meant as much to him as saving his own, the first time he saved the day without science.
John must read something on his face because he shifts closer. "Tell me?"
So Rodney tells him. And then he tells other stories, ones that end without death or destruction or life sucking Wraith. His hands catch the lowest stars when he uses them to illustrate a point and Rodney thinks he might be hypnotising himself, when he glances at John out of the corner of his eye, John's expression is glazed and captivated and Rodney's certain he's hypnotised him.
"Wow," John says when Rodney's talked himself hoarse. "We've been busy."
He's propped on his elbows, looking down at Rodney, right in his space. There's something intent in his expression that Rodney can't meet so he starts to tell him about going to Sateda, wanting to make sure John knows he has a team; that they're more than the abstract idea he's been shown since he got back, that they're people he cares about. But John stops him with lips on his own.
It's just a gentle kiss, hardly anything and Rodney's lips part automatically, knowing this is wrong but still wanting it.
But then John's tongue licks along his bottom teeth and Rodney knows it's gone too far.
"Stop," he says and gets off the bed.
He gets two steps before John's up and off the bed.
"Come on, Rodney." It's so close to the way John used to whine his name that Rodney's chest hurts. "I've talked to people and over half of them reckon we were together before."
John's smiling at him, he looks teasing and eager and Rodney is sick of being noble, but he has to be because the idea of John getting his memory back and hating him is ten times worse than never getting to touch John.
"I'm sorry," he says and wants to close his eyes when John's expression starts to fall. "No."
But John shakes his head, he's still coming forwards. "You're lying," he whispers. "Aren't you? We did this." He catches Rodney by the shoulder and his forehead rests on Rodney's, sharing breath.
"No." It's hard to say, but it's true. Rodney stops him with a hand in the centre of his chest. "We never did."
"Why?" It's not plaintive, not even perturbed, just soft, curious.
Rodney sighs. He's a terrible liar and he doesn't even want to lie to John. "I've no idea."
He feels John smile, more than he sees it, hears the soft chuff of a relieved laugh that goes with it. Then John's kissing him again.
This is still a bad idea, Rodney thinks, but he spent six months thinking he'd never see John again and another month having to watch the this new John learn his way around Atlantis again with lost eyes and a fake smile, cutting himself off from the people who should matter.
He slides his hand from John's chest to his back and pulls them tight together. John's back is smooth under his shirt, it's hot in here and his skin's a little sweaty, a little sticky. Rodney can't get enough. He digs his fingers into the nape of John's neck, flexing muscles that normally only get used lifting boxes in the labs to pull John against him, to not let him go.
John tastes of heat and mint and coffee. He kisses Rodney back just as furiously as Rodney kisses him, meeting him taste for taste.
It takes a moment before he realises that they've stopped kissing, that he's just gasping raggedly into John's open mouth, that John's gone still in his arms, and that he's probably crushing him.
"Sorry," he says. "God. Sorry." He staggers back, but his hand doesn't leave John's arm, he can't force himself to get far enough away.
John follows him, pressing up against his side and grinning at him. "You kind of missed me, huh?" he asks, moving his mouth up to drag his tongue over Rodney's stubble.
Rodney gasps and then John is pressing closer; his hands stroking the material of Rodney's shirt. He leans down to bite Rodney's jaw. "I've got the feeling I've maybe always wanted to do this," he murmurs.
"Really?" Rodney begins then rolls his eyes. "No, of course not really, you have amnesia. That was almost a good line, Colonel, well done."
"Don't," John whispers, "I'm not the Colonel."
Something painful thuds in Rodney's belly. "No." He pulls away. "You're not. I can't."
John closes his eyes, just for a second. When he opens them again, his expression is guarded. "You're in love with him?" he asks.
"No," Rodney snaps before he can think it through, "God no, of course not, I'm."
John rests his head on Rodney's shoulder, squeezes his arm. "Rodney it's... it's fine. If he's anything like me," he lifts his head and Rodney can see the ironic twist of his lips, "He'll be pleased."
Rodney doesn't think so, but he doesn't say anything. His hand is still low on John's back, almost cupping his ass, and his moves it slowly, cautiously, exploring the dip and swell under his t-shirt and pants.
"Rodney?" John asks, "I thought,"
"Yeah," Rodney breathes. He shouldn't be doing this, he really shouldn't be doing this, John will get his memory back and then punch Rodney's lights out, he'll kill Rodney a hundred times and no one will ever prove a thing. "I'll stop very soon. Very, very soon. Just give me one more minute."
John laughs softly, puts his head back down on Rodney's shoulder while Rodney slowly, reluctantly forces himself to let go.
It turns out that the planet they found John on is flagged in the Ancient database as a possible source of naquadah. With John now (more or less willingly) living with them, it seems the perfect time to explore some diplomatic relations. Elizabeth arranges for her, John, Teyla and Ronon to go through with her, talk to the people in charge and see if they will trade.
Rodney's unsurprised not to be invited on this mission. He's also relieved; he doesn't know how many natives of the planet he can watch grope John without doing something inappropriate like encouraging Ronon to eat them.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth comes down with flu (space flu Rodney calls it, but only once because Elizabeth with a fever is scary) and Rodney is made to take her place.
The local people greet John with open arms and grabby hands, and then sit them down and pass around plates of what could, on a good day, pass as food.
Rodney takes the seat next to John and looks quizzically at his food. "How is it?" he asks.
"Good," John says around his fork, "Really good."
Rodney looks at the expression on John's face, decides he's not just being polite and takes his own mouthful. And for a second it is good, really good. Then, under the rich, heavy taste of meat, he makes out something else, something as terrifyingly familiar as ambulance sirens and drawn-out, aching death.
He drops his fork and leans over to spit and spit just as Teyla frantically swallows her own first bite and says "Rodney!"
Rodney can hear his own breathing getting rough, can feel the tightness in his chest, the bright burning pricks of hives breaking out across his skin. He's on the floor without knowing how he gets there, Teyla's shouting at someone, maybe her radio, and Ronon's kneeling beside him, hands on him, holding him still, talking to him with words Rodney can't hear over the frantic beating of his own heart.
The thump and the sting of the epinephrine shot pierces Rodney's panic and he drags in a relieved gasp even though breathing hurts like hell and he still can't do it easily. Ronon swings him up into his arms and they set off at a run for the 'jumper. Rodney hears Ronon yell at someone and manages to turn his head enough to see Teyla, face set and pale, dragging John up the ramp into the puddlejumper.
John looks confused and terrified; he's the last thing Rodney sees before the motion and the shot combine and he has to roll his head away and try not to puke on Ronon.
"It wasn't your fault," Rodney says later that evening, safe and warm and breathing in Carson's infirmary. There are hives all down his arms and, from the feel of it, across his face, he's been sick more times than he wants to think about and adrenaline is making his skin try to jump off his bones.
John's sitting on the side of his bed, arms wrapped around himself, making an occasional and always aborted movement toward touching Rodney's hands, before sitting back rapidly. "Seems like you've got to say that a lot lately."
"This was my fault," Rodney croaks; his throat hurts, and this really does never get old. "Well, no, it's my parents' fault for breeding and mixing their DNA. But it wasn't yours."
"You, uh," John looks away. "When you asked if the food was okay, you forgot didn't you? You thought you were asking him?"
"Yes," Rodney admits, because he's tired and he isn't great at prevaricating anyway. "But again that's my fault not yours."
John swallows hard; Rodney watches the movement of his throat. "If you'd have died, then it would have been my fault for not taking Carson's antidote."
Rodney opens his mouth to protest, but stops when John stands up. "I have to, Rodney. I couldn't. If you'd. I can't let you." He trails off and just stares at Rodney, eyes lost and hopeless.
Rodney sets his jaw and nods. "Okay," he says. He's surprised by a pain in his chest and for a second he's scared he's having a secondary reaction, then he realises that as much as he misses the Colonel, he might not be ready to give John up just yet.
Carson listens to John then squeezes his arm, he nods but then Rodney hears him say "Sleep on it" and "tomorrow". John nods curtly and goes to leave the infirmary, without turning back to say goodbye to Rodney.
At the door, he stops. He's by Rodney's side in five quick steps and bends down low, cupping Rodney's cheek with one hand to hold Rodney still and pressing his mouth, hot and wet and soft, against Rodney's.
When he pulls back his smile is pleased and regretful all at once. "Just in case the other me doesn't feel the same," he says, before really leaving this time.
Rodney doesn't have any more reactions, and by the next afternoon, he's back in the lab. He hasn't seen John since last night, and he doesn't see him for the rest of the day. He doubts that John will change his mind, in any guise John Sheppard is a stubborn son of a bitch, and he's anxious about what might happen now, where it will leave him. And John.
"Hey," says a voice from the doorway.
Rodney looks up. It's him. He's leaning against the doorframe like it's taking the place of his spine. It makes Rodney's breath catch to see him here.
"Colonel?" Rodney says, pushing back from his lab table, and it's an actual question.
"Rodney," he replies, which doesn't really answer Rodney's question one way or the other.
"Have you taken the, uh-?"
He doesn't answer, just walks across the lab, coming to stop beside Rodney.
Automatically, Rodney stands up.
"Rodney?" he says again, and then he presses his mouth to Rodney's. His lips are soft, undemanding, slightly damp and if a kiss can be serious, this one is. Rodney can't help sighing against his lips, lifting his hands to hold on.
They pull apart, a smile on both their faces, and for the first time, Rodney gets a look at his eyes. Without his memories, John's eyes had been clear and bright, almost child-like in their lack of pain. These eyes, the ones looking back at Rodney right now are Colonel Sheppard's eyes, older, wiser, and burning with affection.
"Hi," he says, stroking his fingers through Rodney's hair. "Remember me?"
Rodney's relief is instant and exhausting; he leans their foreheads together and lets himself rest against John, against Sheppard, against the best friend he's missed. "Hey," he says and holds on tighter.
Title from Train - Drops of Jupiter