"Ahh, youíre awake. Excellent." He blinked up at the man leaning in over him, trying to get his eyes to focus through the blinding headache that had him wanting to sink back into the well of darkness heíd so recently risen from.
"Whatówho..." The rough whisper was barely recognizable as his voice, and he struggled to sit up, feeling vaguely embarrassed at how easily he was pushed back to the bed.
Mild blue eyes narrowed as the man leaning over him smiled reassuringly. "You were in a building that exploded, and youíve been unconscious for some time, so some disorientation is expected. Iíd rather see just what you recall on your own before starting to tell you things."
"Now donít struggle, or weíll have to put you back to sleep again." The other manís voice was sterner now, though he smiled again when the patient relaxed. "Thatís better. If you promise to stay calm, thereís someone here who wants to see you; perhaps that will give your memory a nudge."
He watched as the doctor left the room and strained to hear the murmur of conversation going on outside the door. The momentary solitude gave him time to study his surroundings, looking for something that was familiar but seeing nothing of the kind in the small, sparsely furnished room.
The voices in the hall grew louder, then there was a flurry of motion as a small, blonde woman ran into the room, throwing herself at the bed and weeping as she hugged him tightly, babbling and laughing at the same time she rained kisses on his face.
"Whoó" A name popped into his mind, and he frowned. "Maera?"
"Yes! Yes! I knew you were going to be fine!" she cried, finally straightening up to give him a tearful smile, her blue eyes made even brighter by her tears. The move made him aware of her curves, especially the one of her belly as it pressed against his arm. "I knew our baby wouldnít have to come into the world without his father."
More memories returned then, and it was his turn to smile. "Of course not, Iím too stubborn to let something like an accident take me away from you. How long has it been?"
"Two weeks," she whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed beside him and taking his hand. "A long, horrible two weeks, Rodney."
Two weeks prior
"Finally, a planet with some kind of civilization whose population isnít trying to kill us," Rodney grinned, taking a bite of a Powerbar as they followed their guide down one of the many neatly maintained streets of the city of Alkaris.
Ronon snorted. "They donít know you yet."
"Hey, no picking on the scientist," John protested, chuckling. "Heís weak with hunger and canít defend himself at the moment."
"What the colonel said," Rodney responded around a mouthful of his snack.
Teyla smiled slightly at their bantering. "I do not think the Alkari would care to have you brawling in their streets either."
"So letís just do our bargaining and get back home. I have plans for tonight," John said.
Rodneyís gaze slid to the side, and his eyebrows rose. "You do, do you?" he murmured, ignoring their host and his ongoing commentary on the wonders of the city.
"Yup. Plans that include a locked door, a couple of steaks, some Mozart, and a lot of time."
"Colonel, you know just the way to my heart," Rodney chuckled. "And this mission had better not run overtime."
"Weíll make sure to cover your eyes if they have any interesting machines," Ronon commented.
"It is true that it is not usually Col. Sheppard who delays our departure," Teyla mused while John snickered.
"Excuse me?" Rodney sputtered before whipping his head forward to stare at their host. "Did you say laboratory?"
John mourned his steaks, knowing that even Ronon couldnít drag Rodney away until heíd ferreted out any possible Ancient science or even non-Ancient science if it might be of benefit to Atlantis.
"Yes," their guide, a tall, solemn man named Cellis, answered. "We have been trying to develop weapons with which to fight the Wraith, but unfortunately our efforts have met with little success. Perhaps, Dr. McKay, you might have time to speak with our researchers?"
"Yes, yes, of course," Rodney nodded. "Iíd be very interested in seeing what youíve come up with."
"Teyla, you go ahead with Ronon and see about that trade we came for. Rodney, stand still a minute. You know no one goes off alone."
"Wasting time, Colonel." Rodney was almost twitching in his impatience to see what this world had to offer.
John glared at him. "Deal with it." After establishing that Teyla and Ronon would check in every half hour, he waved them on toward the meeting place, clearly visible from where they were.
"Okay, weíre good to go," he finally said, turning back to Rodney and Cellis.
"We are most grateful for your assistance," Cellis offered as they began to walk toward a large, low building. "We have heard much of the information that has been shared by your people."
Rodney quirked a wry half-grin. "Yes, well, donít expect us to share atomic weapons."
John chuckled faintly. "Our leader takes a very dim view of that. Not to mention that it hasnít really worked out very well for us in the past."
Their host nodded, though he obviously wasnít quite following the conversation. "Joran Levander is in charge of the project; it would be best for you to speak to him regarding it."
John shrugged easily. "When it comes to scientific matters, itís all Dr. McKay. Iím just here to make sure he gets home safely and to carry the heavy stuff."
Rodney smirked. "And you do both of those very well."
"Iím so glad you noticed."
"As if I couldnít." They followed Cellis into the building, and Rodney blinked to get used to the lower level lighting. Once his eyes adjusted, he saw a good-sized room that could be termed a lobby and several groups of people clustered together near a second door.
"Well, at least itís not a bunker," John murmured, moving slightly closer to Rodney as he took in the people around them.
"True, true, and donít think Iím not thankful for that!" Rodney muttered back as Cellis went over to one of the groups to speak to one of the members.
"Maybe weíll get lucky this time and find actual allies," John said optimistically but not particularly hopefully.
"Ahh, the eternal optimist, and my god, should that woman be near a lab? She looks as if sheís about to drop any second!"
John glanced over. "Naw, she looks about six months along. Plenty of time so you wonít be traumatized by witnessing a birth."
Rodney shuddered. "I would hope not."
"Col. Sheppard, Dr. McKay, may I present Joran Levander, our primary investigator." Cellis bowed slightly toward his companion, a short, balding man with a noticeable paunch.
"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Joran Levander." Unsure of titles in this culture, John erred on the side of caution and simply repeated the manís full name.
"So what exactly are you working on here?" Rodney said bluntly.
Levander began describing a process that had Johnís eyes shining avariciously. The Alkari were close to perfecting a weapon that would be able to defend against Wraith darts, shooting them out of the sky and destroying the pilot with what sounded like some kind of acid.
Rodney listened skeptically but, after looking at John, nodded. "Would it be possible to take a look at your work? Iím sure I could find any problems you have."
The expression on Levanderís face seemed to signify some sort of digestive upset, but he nodded sharply and gestured for them to follow him. He immediately walked away, not bothering to check whether they were coming.
"Please forgive Investigator Levander," Cellis murmured. "He is not pleased by the thought that he might require your assistance. He believes he can finalize the weapon himself."
"Yes, well, thatís what most people think before their experiments blow up in their face," Rodney sniffed, pushing ahead of John and Cellis to follow Investigator Levander.
John cast a wry look at Rodneyís back but didnít mention Doranda. "Try not to annoy the man with the weapons, Rodney."
"If he wants his weapons better, heís the one who had better not annoy me," Rodney shot back, following the other man through the door and down several flights of stairs, noting that the flickering lights seemed to be chemical phosphorescence.
John rolled his eyes. "And Elizabeth says youíre not diplomatic." Even Cellis laughed softly at that.
"This is where weíre working on our weapon," Joran commented, pulling open the heavy door to a large room. An acidic smell rolled out of the room, and Rodney waved a hand in front of his face.
"Havenít you people heard of proper ventilation?"
"Are you sure itís safe to go in there?" John asked, frowning as he unconsciously wrinkled his nose.
"Our investigators work here every day," Joran reassured them. "No one has suffered any ill effects whatsoever from the project."
"Yeah, but howís their sense of smell now?" Rodney muttered as he followed the shorter man inside and was soon embroiled in technical discussions with Joran and the other scientists.
When Teyla radioed a little while later, saying that he was needed for the trade negotiations, John hesitated, looking over at Rodney, who nodded and waved him away. "Teyla, Iíll be right there. Rodney, Iíll be back in a few minutes." He gave a significant glance toward Rodneyís sidearm, an eyebrow raised.
"Itís under control, Colonel," Rodney promised, flashing John a quick grin before going back to work pointing out just where the Alkari had gone wrong with their energy conversion equations.
John hesitated a moment longer before nodding sharply and heading back out of the lab, Cellis again guiding him even though he didnít need it.
"Colonel," Teyla said graciously, inclining her head at him when he arrived at the open-air plaza where she and Ronon were speaking with the leader of the merchant guild. "Councilor Xelan wished to speak with you regarding our negotiations." She inclined her head again, this time toward a tall redhead who eyed John speculatively.
Grateful that Rodney wasnít there to see that look, John hid his wince and gave her his most charming smile. "Iím always happy to help out. What exactly did you wish to discuss, Councilor?"
"Your traders have offered medicines in trade for our grains and vegetable seedlings; I simply wish to hear more specifics as to what benefit these medicines offer us."
"Iím no doctor, of course, but Iíd think that the benefits of medicines are obvious. Better treatment of injuries, less chance of infection, healthier people." John shrugged, not sure what she wanted from him.
"They think that since youíre in charge, you know more," Ronon muttered.
"If you wish to trade for our medicines, our doctors will be happy to help you learn their properties."
"That would be most beneficial." She smiled broadly. "And I look forward to learning more of your people."
John took a half step back. "Weíre always happy to make new friends."
She smiled again. "Wonderful. Please, Col. Sheppard, join us. We have refreshments to make the negotiations easier."
Ronon snickered. "Just not too easy or McKay will have your ass."
"Iím more worried that he wonít," John muttered, sidestepping so that Ronon was between him and the councilor.
"We promise to tell Dr. McKay that you have behaved yourself," Teyla offered with a slight smile as they returned to the round table set under a colorful awning.
"Iím counting on you to save me."
"Ronon and I will do our best," she promised before joining the councilor at the table.
Warily watching the smiling councilor, John wondered if it would be enough. He was still moving toward his seat when a massive explosion had him spinning around to stare in horror toward where the laboratory had been.
"Rodney." An instant later he was running toward the conflagration.
Teyla and Ronon sprinted after John, the Satedan tackling him before he could run into the burning building. John fought frantically to be free, screaming Rodneyís name desperately, praying for an answer.
Teyla moved as close as possible, whispering a prayer of her own as she scanned the rubble, the screams and cries of the gathering crowd barely registering as she strained to listen for one voice.
"I shouldnít have left him."
"Then youíd be in there as well, and we need you out here," Ronon said gruffly, still not releasing his hold on Johnís arms.
John looked at the Satedan, the hazel eyes dead. "Iíd rather be with him."
"Atlantis, this is Teyla; I need to speak to Dr. Weir." As she waited for an answer, Teyla watched the swirling blue ripples, taking a deep breath to compose herself for the message she had to deliver.
"Teyla? Whatís wrong?" Elizabeth knew something had to have happened for Teyla to be calling rather than John or Rodney.
"There has been an accident, an explosion, and Dr. McKay is missing."
There was a long moment of silence. "John?"
"Ronon is with him. There is a chemical fire, and we cannot get near the building." Teylaís naturally husky voice grew rougher before she composed herself again. "Many Alkari were trapped as well."
"Is there anything we could do if I send teams through?"
"They might be able to contain the fire and aid in recovery."
"Weíll start sending them through soon. If you... find Dr. McKay..."
"We will bring him back," Teyla promised.
After the wormhole disengaged to allow it to be reactivated from Atlantis, Elizabeth stood motionless, her eyes closed as she tried to absorb the news. Then she began giving instructions to assemble relief teams and send them through to Alkar.
Teylaís gaze stayed centered on the now empty ring before she turned and walked back to the city, searching for the words that would help John accept what had happened.
John never looked over when she rejoined them, his eyes still fixed on the blaze, and it was clear that only Rononís grip was keeping him back.
"Dr. Weir is sending several teams to help," she said quietly, crouching down beside the two men and resting her hand on Johnís shoulder.
"Is Beckett coming?" Ronon asked, glancing over at her, his dark gaze concerned.
"He was not mentioned, but I believe he will insist on it."
"Heíll come," John said quietly without turning.
Teyla nodded. "And we should be ready to help when he arrives."
"We need to find out what happened."
"We will," she promised.
"Are you going to stay here for now, Sheppard, or do I have to keep holding on to you?" Ronon asked.
"Iím not going anywhere," John said, his voice strained as he continued to stare into the flames.
"And we will stay with you," Teyla promised before they sat in silence that was only broken by the crackle of their radios when the teams from Atlantis arrived.
John nodded, looking away briefly to meet their eyes before his attention returned to the blaze.
They were sitting there when Carson arrived and placed a hand on Johnís shoulder. "Colonel... John..."
"Donít. Just... not yet. I canít think about it yet," John said sharply.
"Perhaps there was a shielded room inside or another way out..." Carson began before taking a step backward when John looked up at him.
"Dr. Beckett, perhaps it would be better if you set up your triage stations right now," Teyla said quickly.
As Teyla led the doctor away, John murmured, "He means well, but false hope is worse than none."
Ronon nodded before canting a look toward John. "You ready to go help?" he asked, his gruff voice surprisingly gentle.
John nodded jerkily, knowing he needed to do something while he waited or he would go mad.
Ronon watched him steadily for a moment before standing and holding out a hand to help John to his feet. John accepted the hand but let go the moment he was upright again, not wanting anyone touching him. Silently, he started after Carson, staring at the ground in front of him to keep from looking at the fire again.
The silence when the rescue teams returned had been telling, sending a chill through Elizabeth that had her reaching for her jacket. Noticing that John had vanished as soon as the gate closed behind them, she took a moment to speak to the teams, then set out after the colonel, finding herself at the door to the room he shared with Rodney and hoping he would answer.
John hesitated when the door chimed, but he was going to have to face heróhe was certain it would be Elizabethósooner or later, so after a moment the door slid open. The room was dark, only the pale moonlight illuminating it, casting shadows across Johnís face and the closed laptop on the table beside him. The whole room was filled with Rodneyís possessions despite the fact that he still maintained his own room for appearances... Or at least he had.
"John..." Elizabeth crossed the space between them, pausing for a moment before resting her hand on his shoulder. "There was nothing you could do."
"Is that supposed to make it better that Rodneyís dead?" he asked bitterly as he shifted away from her touch. He paced over to the window, staring out. "I need to know what happened, Elizabeth."
"It isnít; nothing can do that but time," she said quietly. "And do what you have to; we need to know the details."
He looked over his shoulder, meeting her eyes finally. "If it wasnít an accident..."
Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then opened them again. "You canít blame the whole population for the decisions of a few if thatís in fact what it was."
"Canít I?" Johnís smile was chilling. "But I donít want the whole population, just the ones responsible, if thatís the case. Theyíre mine."
"It may simply be what it appears, John," she counseled.
"Theyíd better hope so. Because if not, I wonít let anything stop me," he warned, turning away as tears threatened. "He wasnít supposed to die first."
"No oneís ever supposed to die first."
Closing his eyes, John leaned his forehead against the window. "We had plans, Elizabeth. Do you know how long itís been since I let myself make plans with someone?"
She shook her head but remained where she stood, sensing John didnít want contact at the moment. "A long time, I imagine. As I said, do what you have to do, John, but donít make it your only goal."
He remained silent, wondering if she had any idea what might happen if he didnít. At the moment, that was the only thing keeping him going. A distant part of him knew that eventually he would care about his friends again, but just then all he could feel was fury that they were alive when Rodney was dead.
"John." When he didnít look away from the window, Elizabeth sighed. "I understand. You may not want to believe it right now, but you arenít the only one whoís lost someone today, and you arenít alone in this."
He laughed bitterly. "People lost a friend and colleague. I lost the person I love. Itís not really the same thing, Elizabeth."
"No, I suppose it isnít at all," she said quietly. "But considering what weíve been through, weíre family, all of us."
"And thatíll probably help someday, but right now I would give all of you for him."
Elizabeth nodded sadly and started for the door. As it opened, she paused to look back over her shoulder. "And Iím sure he would have done the same for you."
Johnís fists clenched at his sides. Once the door shut behind her, he stood motionless, then screamed, a cry of anguish and rage. An hour later, the chiming of the door found him in the same position, but this time his visitor brought a bottle instead of counseling.
"Drink this," Radek commanded, pouring John a glass of clear liquid and handing it over before doing the same for himself.
John tossed the drink back, barely wincing at the burn of it going down his throat. "I keep praying that this is some nightmare and heís going to walk through that door and wake me up."
"I have to agree with you." Radek downed his own drink as well and refilled both their glasses. "Though I have lost a colleague and a friend and you have lost much more." He paused. "Was it an accident?"
"We donít know yet." John stared moodily into his glass. "If it wasnít, well, Iíll deal with that."
"If you need assistance, simply ask."
John looked up. "Thank you," he said simply.
Radek filled their glasses again and nodded. "He was my friend even when he was infuriating."
Laughing sadly, John raised his glass. "To Rodney."
"To Rodney; I have never known a smarter man," Radek echoed before draining his glass.
"Heíd say you never will."
Radek chuckled sadly. "Of course not, not that I would ever agree even if it was the truth."
John smiled faintly as he swallowed the vodka. "It drove him so crazy that I refused to join Mensa."
"He hated that you were not living up to your intellectual potential." Radek smiled slightly. "Of course, to Rodney, none of us were living up to our potential."
"Except him, of course. But he respected you, Radek, more than he would ever admit." John winced as he realized what they were doing, but it helped, a little.
Radek nodded as he refilled Johnís glass. "I believe those of us who worked with him knew how he felt about you before he did. It was always Maj. Sheppard this and Maj. Sheppard that."
John stilled, staring at him. "He didnít figure it out till I stopped waiting. God, why did I wait so long?"
"Do not second-guess yourself, Colonel," Radek said gently. "Be thankful for the time you had together."
"I want more, damn it," John snarled, his eyes suspiciously bright.
"I do not blame you; this is one case where selfishness is your right," Radek said before falling silent, sipping his vodka as he looked out the window at the moonlit ocean.
They drank in silence for some time, Radek refilling their glasses as necessary. It might have been five minutes or an hour before John whispered, "I miss him so much it hurts."
Radek nodded. "I cannot say I know how you feel, but at least you had the chance to feel it; some of us have not been so lucky."
John nodded, acknowledging the truth of Radekís statement but not agreeing. "I keep turning to say something to him, but heís not there. Heíll never be there again, and I donít know how to be anymore without him."
"You can still talk to him." Radek gave a sad chuckle. "This is Rodney McKay; who is to say he wonít find a way to answer you?"
That drew a smile from John, albeit a pained one. "Iím not sure Atlantis is ready to be haunted by Rodney."
"No, I do not need those kind of dreams, thank you."
"I wouldnít mind them," John said sadly.
Radek reached out and rested his hand on Johnís arm. "I am sure if he found a way back, you would be the one he came to, Colonel."
John flinched slightly, but he didnít pull away. "I have to go back there tomorrow."
"I would like to go with you, if you would have the help."
John nodded slowly. Radek cared about Rodney too. "Hopefully by then theyíll have managed to put the fire out so we can findó" His voice broke.
Radekís fingers tightened on Johnís arm. "We will bring him home."
"You should get some sleep."
"You should have some more to drink."
"You could leave the bottle."
"Is not good to drink alone."
John raised his head, meeting Radekís eyes. "But I am alone."
"Everything is as required? Excellent. Get him on the bed; Iíll attend to his injuries, then begin the treatment."
After stepping through the stargate, Ronon, Teyla and Radek at his side, John slowly walked toward the smoldering pit that was all that remained of the laboratory where heíd left Rodney only the day before.
"So," Ronon commented.
Johnís eyes went to several small, covered figures a little distance away from the hole in the ground, and he swallowed hard.
"I will go speak with the Alkari and see what they have found," Teyla said gently.
"The eastern side of the pit looks to be the most stable," Radek commented.
John nodded jerkily and moved slowly toward it, gagging when the wind shifted.
"Breathe through your mouth," Ronon said as he moved along beside John, Radek hurrying to keep up on the other side.
For a moment everything seemed to blur, and John thought he saw friends whoíd died years before in another galaxy. The smell... was one heíd once grown familiar with and had hoped never to smell again. Afghanistan was superimposed over Alkar, and the two hells blended together before he blinked and was back in the present. "I know," he said simply.
"Well, I didnít," Radek commented, looking vaguely green as he picked his way through the rubble and down over the lip of the pit.
John came to a halt at the edge and stared down into the blackened, waterlogged mess. The likelihood was that Rodney was somewhere down there. A harsh sound ripped from his throat.
"You donít have to go down there, Sheppard," Ronon said quietly.
"I have to find him."
"Perhaps we should wait for Teyla," Radek offered, glancing over to where she was speaking with the Alkari.
John hesitated, then nodded. A few more minutes wasnít going to change anything now.
The three men watched as Teyla picked her way back to them, her expression closed. "I am sorry, John," she said gently. "Rodney has not been found."
His eyes closed, and he seemed to draw in on himself. "I have to find him," he repeated.
Radek looked down into the pit again and swallowed hard, though his expression remained resolute. "We will find him."
"It is possible that there may be nothing to find," Teyla said softly. "One component of the weapon was an acid that dissolves flesh." She winced at the expression on Johnís face.
"We wonít know until we look." With that Ronon started down the slope.
"Do they know yet what caused it?" John asked, resolutely watching his footing.
Teyla nodded. "Apparently there was a cascading reaction in their acid production facility."
"A cascading reaction?" Radek asked, frowning slightly.
John looked over. "Is there something wrong with that?"
"I would have to see their notes, but the production of acid should not require such a reaction."
"So it might not be an accident?" John asked evenly.
"I cannot say until I have looked at their information." But Radek was frowning as he looked around.
"Thereís something else. What?"
"Too much destruction and too few bodies."
"Not uncommon with weapons of mass destruction," John said, not pausing to explain as he turned that cold gaze on Radek again. "What else?"
"I would like to speak with the head of the research project," Radek murmured.
"If we find him, Iím going to want to speak to him since he was in the same room as Rodney."
"You will let me speak to him first, yes?"
John shrugged. "He wonít be going anywhere."
"Are we going down or staying up here?" Ronon called from up ahead.
"Dr. Zelenka wants to find one of the Alkari scientists before we go any further."
"I was told many of the survivors were taken to the medical facility."
"Then thatís where weíre going." John caught hold of Radek, steadying him when the scientist stumbled on the uneven footing.
"Is there any chance that McKay..." Ronon began before stopping when Teyla shook her head at him.
John just indicated the pit. "Do you think anyone could have survived that?"
The larger man shook his head. "No."
"So letís not talk about that again." John kept walking, his whole posture screaming his tension.
Ronon nodded and grunted out something that might have been an apology. "So letís go down and search."
"After we check the medical facility. There will be people who havenít been identified yet." John continued toward his goal, trying not to think about what they were going to see, and Ronon fell in alongside him, staying close to act as a guard for both John and the general population.
Teyla and Radek exchanged worried glances. It was clear that John was hanging on by a thread, and they were afraid of what would happen if it snapped.
When they entered the building that housed the infirmary, an exhausted-looking Carson Beckett walked over to them, shaking his head.
John wasnít sure if he was relieved or upset. He wanted to know, but the idea of Rodney as one of these critically injured survivors, lying in agony... No, he didnít want that. He nodded sharply before forcing himself to ask if there were any who hadnít been identified.
"There are some, but from the looks of their clothing, theyíre natives." Carson stepped forward and rested a hand on Johnís shoulder. "Iím sorry, son."
"If he was at the epicenter of that," John gestured vaguely over his shoulder, "there wonít be anything left to find, will there?" For a moment the stony expression broke, pure anguish shining through.
"No," Carson said quietly, "there wonít."
Radek lowered his head, his expression one of distress.
Johnís fists clenched at his sides, but he showed no other reaction. "Do you know whoís in charge of the investigation? I need to know what caused it."
"We can speak to Councilor Xelan," Teyla offered. "She should know whom to contact."
John nodded. "Good idea. She must be around here somewhere."
Cellis, their guide of the previous day, arrived just then. "Col. Sheppard, Teyla Emmagan, Specialist Dex, I was informed of your arrival." He spared a nod of greeting for Radek, whom he didnít know. "May I extend the sorrow of the Alkari people on the loss of your friend."
"He wasnít just my friend," John said expressionlessly, raising his eyes to meet Cellisí, and the Alkari froze, the instinctive response of prey to a predator.
There was a moment of frozen silence before Cellis licked his lips and spoke. "I... did not know. He was your... mate?" Though not common among the Alkari, there were no taboos against such relationships, but no one had considered that such might be the case with the Atlanteans.
"Yes." The stark word hung in the air.
Seeing that the native was at a loss for words, Radek stepped in. "It would help us greatly if we could determine the cause of the accident; are there any records of the work that was being done here available?" Yes, it sounded callous, but it would give them a focus.
Cellis hesitated. "I believe all the records were kept in the laboratory complex." He gestured helplessly toward its ruins.
"Did your investigators not make reports to your governing body?"
"I... I wouldnít know, not being part of either group." The Alkari was beginning to look distinctly hunted, and all of the Atlanteans were regarding him narrowly.
"Might be a good idea to ask," Ronon commented.
Teyla nodded, her expression deceptively placid. "Dr. Zelenka might be able to help your people understand what happened here and prevent further accidents."
"After all, all of our people are very familiar with Ancient technology," John said in a deceptively calm voice.
Cellis cleared his throat. "I do not believe our investigators were working with any of the Ancestorsí devices, but I will speak to Councilor Xelan and inquire as to any information she might have."
"Weíd like to speak to her ourselves," John said coldly.
The Alkari man pressed his lips together and nodded. "I will see if I can find her. As you must understand, she is very busy."
"And you must understand that weíve lost someone very important to all our people," Ronon growled before Sheppard could say anything.
Radek nodded tightly when the man turned and quickly walked away. "He seems nervous."
"Suspiciously so," John said, watching the Alkari, and Ronon nodded as well.
"I do not like this," Teyla murmured. "Something is wrong."
"The question is why is he so nervous. If it was an accident, surely they do not believe we would seek revenge." Even as he spoke, Radek glanced over at John, not at all certain this was the case.
"Not for an accident, no," John said. "But itís looking less and less like that was the case, isnít it? And if thatís so, well, all bets are off." The cold smile he wore then chilled them all.
Radekís eyes widened, and he took an involuntary step away John, moving toward Ronon, who at this moment seemed to be the less dangerous.
A momentary expression of sorrow showed in Johnís eyes at Radekís movement, but it quickly vanished, subsumed by his overwhelming pain and rage.
"I believe Cellis is returning," Teyla commented quietly.
"With Xelan," John observed, after turning around.
"We sorrow with you," the councilor said formally as soon as she reached them. The sound of Johnís teeth grinding was clearly audible to everyone.
"And we with you as well," Teyla replied graciously. "It is our hope that understanding the causes for this accident will help us all to grieve and recover."
"Would it not be best to put such a tragic occurrence behind you?" Xelan began.
"No," John replied bluntly.
"Information would help," Ronon growled.
Looking taken aback, the councilor gazed helplessly at them. "I understand your loss, but surely you have more important things than the loss of one man," she said delicately.
John growled furiously, and Ronon hastily caught hold of one of his arms.
"For us at this time, there is nothing more important," Radek stated, glaring at the tall redhead.
"I... am sorry. We did not realize... Well. Come with me, please. We will see what information we can discover from the remaining investigators."
"We thank you," Teyla said, cutting off anything the others might have said.
Xelan looked from one to the next, hesitating when she reached John, before nodding and turning. "This way." She began making her way back in the direction of the pit, veering toward a nearby building.
Radek paused and looked over at John. "Colonel, if you would prefer, I can speak to their scientists..."
"Iíd prefer to shoot someone, but thatís not an option yet, so yeah, thatíd probably be best."
"I will stay with you, John," Teyla offered.
"Thanks, but I want to hear what they have to say and see their reactions for myself. But Iíll let Zelenka do the talking for us."
Radek nodded at that. "Hopefully this will give us answers."
"It better. Iím getting tired of more questions," John said, and Ronon nodded.
They reached the building and followed Xelan inside. The councilor led them toward a long desk where a blonde woman was seated behind stacks of papers. "This is Investigator Maera," she announced before introducing the group from Atlantis.
"I am very sorry for your loss," the other woman said quietly. "I hope the information I can provide will help."
John flinched when he recognized the pregnant woman whom Rodney had commented on the day before. He could hear Rodneyís voice again, and he stared unhappily at the woman.
"I would offer to have someone else speak to you, but I am one of the few investigators left alive," she said gently.
"There is no problem," Radek interjected quickly. "Now, if you could tell me what you know of the work that was being done at your laboratories?"
John forced himself to watch the woman as she answered Radekís questions, to ignore the scream that wanted to tear from his throat. He knew that if he gave in to it, he might never stop. And he could see her increasing tension and Radekís dissatisfaction with her replies.
After just a half an hour of questions and half-answers, Radek had a splitting headache and was sure only that the Alkari woman wasnít telling him the full story. "Would it be possible to take copies of these notes back to Atlantis? There are others there who are more versed in chemistry than I am, and they may be able to find a cause we have missed."
Maera hesitated but, after a look at John and Ronon, finally nodded. "May you find peace," she said formally, her eyes going to John again.
When the three men didnít answer, Teyla stepped in. "We wish the same to you and your child."
The blonde woman placed a hand protectively on her belly. "My husband will ensure that we are well," she said with an odd note of defiance.
"I am sure that is true." Teyla bowed to her and turned to the men, waiting while Radek gathered up the copies of the reports, holding them close to his chest as if to protect them.
John was still watching Maera closely. "Rodney and I expected to have years together. You never know what might happen."
"Itís a dangerous world," Ronon rumbled, echoing Johnís sentiments.
She took a step back, and her face paled. "I must go now; Cellis will accompany you back to the ring of the Ancestors."
The Atlanteans remained silent as they made their way back to the stargate, no one speaking until they were back in Atlantis. "Theyíre all lying to us," John said.
"But why?" Radek asked, frowning as he leafed through the reports, almost walking into a Marine before he was stopped by Rononís hand on his shoulder.
"Thatís a damned good question," John growled. "And hopefully something in those reports will give you some indication so we know where to start."
"I will let you know when I find something." Radek keyed his headset and called for the expeditionís lead chemists as he started out of the gateroom, passing by Elizabeth without even a nod of acknowledgement.
"Did you find out anything?" she asked.
"That everyone on that planet was lying to us, but we donít know why yet." John turned to walk away, needing to be away from the bustle that was too silent without Rodneyís vibrant personality at the center of it.
"Johnó" Elizabeth began before Teyla caught her arm.
"I believe it would be best if we left the colonel alone at this time, Elizabeth. I will tell you what we have learned."
Elizabeth frowned after John, but she yielded to Teylaís suggestion. "Is there any indication that it was something other than an accident?"
"The Alkari are not being fully honest with us, though if it is in regard to the cause of the explosion or something else, I am not certain."
"But it does prove that theyíre trying to keep something from us. If theyíre responsible for Rodneyís death, weíre not going to be able to stop John," Elizabeth murmured, reaching up to touch the tiny cross she wore at her throat.
Teyla raised her head, meeting Elizabethís eyes squarely. "I do not believe that we would want to if this was something other than an accident."
Elizabeth bit her lip before walking away without replying. Ronon watched her and said, "You were right and wrong, Teyla. Some, like her, would not understand, but some would."
Teyla nodded sadly at the comment, and they walked out of the gateroom, each heading to their own room.
"Are you sure you didnít give him too much of the drug? He should be waking up by now. Heís no use to us dead!"
"You want to be sure the conditioning holds, donít you? Otherwise, he might as well be dead."
"Lying here unconscious isnít far ahead of it! Youíve had two weeks with him. Are you telling me you canít do this?"
"Are you saying you could do better? If heíd been left to you, he would have never survived the first dose!"
"Enough, both of you! We donít know what he can hear right now, and if he wakes up, the fewer questions he has, the better it will be for all of us."
"Exactly my point! When will he wake up?"
"It should be soon. His heart rate and breathing are fine, and his injuries are healing well. Heís responded to our treatments, so there is no reason he wonít wake up."
"Youíd better hope this plan of yours works," Investigator Levander growled before storming out of the room.
There was a slight noise from the man on the bed, and the physician smiled. "It will."
Councilor Xelan nodded sharply. "Keep me informed of your progress," she said before leaving as well.
The patient moaned and thrashed on the bed, mumbling unintelligible phrases before opening his eyes, blinking wildly as he tried to focus on his surroundings. The physician turned back to the bed, adjusting the monitor over the bed so that the feed was directly in the manís line of sight.
Physician Perant explained to his patient that heíd been unconscious for two weeks, watching him carefully all the while until they were interrupted by the arrival of Investigator Maera, who threw herself at the man, exclaiming thankfully. Once it was clear that the patient recognized her, Perant slipped quietly from the room, leaving the couple alone.
"I was so afraid you werenít going to wake up, Rodney."
"What happened?" Rodney husked as he reached up to stroke her hair. "Ióitís all blurry; I canít remember."
"We were working in the laboratory when there was an explosion. You were closer to it, and... and..." She broke down into tears.
"An explosion? The project! Was anyone else hurt?" He tried to sit up and winced as healing burns pulled.
"Be still," she exclaimed, pressing ineffectually at his shoulders. "Yes, several investigators were killed, and many more remain in grave condition."
"But youíre all right? And the baby?" He pulled back, trying to look at her.
"Yes, weíre fine. And now so are you." She gave him a shaky smile.
He gave a crooked smile in return. "Or I will be. My head feels like itís full of cotton."
"The physicians have given you many medications while you healed. Iím sure it will pass." Maera patted his shoulder.
"And how long before I can go home?"
"Youíve just woken up after two weeks, Rodney! Let the physicians make sure youíre all right first."
"Iíd be better if I could be home with you." For a moment, Rodney looked confused, and he frowned slightly.
Maera smiled tightly and leaned closer to kiss his cheek. "Of course you will. Iíll speak to the physician."
Rodneyís smile returned, but it still held a hint of unease, and when Maera pulled back, he looked around the room, raising a hand to rub at his forehead before wincing as his injuries pulled.
Physician Perant bustled back into the room. "Anxious to go home already, Investigator? Well, we shall see. I must run some tests first."
"Youíve had all this time to do your tests; what are you, a vampire?" At their confused looks, Rodney frowned. "Is there something the matter?"
"No, of course not. Lie back and rest, and perhaps we will be able to send you home with your wife tonight."
Rodney relaxed back against the pillows at that and smiled. "Going home sounds perfect."
"Weíll do our best." Perant went back out into the hall where Maera clutched his arm painfully.
"I canít take him home," she hissed furiously. "He thinks weíre married!"
"Yes, you can," he snapped, glaring at her. "You knew what this would entail when you agreed to it, Investigator, and you were as eager as any of us to see if the therapy would work and what benefits it could bring our people. Think of what he knows!"
"Then you bed him! Apparently he prefers men anyway!"
"Tell him you arenít in the mood. I doubt heíd force himself on his pregnant Ďwifeí! We need his knowledge, Maera, and you will do your part, or you may find yourself the next subject of an experiment."
She glared furiously at him. "This is wrong!"
"Do I need to tell the councilor of your issues? Do what is required of you, Maera." Perant gave her a cold look before puling away and stalking down the hall.
After a moment to regain her composure, Maera plastered a smile on her face and walked back into the room. "Good news, Rodney. You can come home."
"Not that Iím complaining, but what happened to all those tests they wanted to run on me?"
Her smile turned wry. "I believe that they decided anyone who could protest that much had to be all right."
He frowned again and rubbed at his ear as if hearing things. "Yes, well then, if they say I can leave, I suppose theyíre right."
"Of course. I brought you some clothes. Letís get you dressed and home." She smiled cheerfully.
"Planning on helping me?"
She hesitated for the briefest moment. "Of course." She went to retrieve the tunic and leggings from the wardrobe and brought them to the bed. "Youíre certain youíre up to this?"
"I want to go home." Rodney replied stubbornly, reaching up with his good hand to tug at the ties that held the dressing gown on.
"Of course." Maera reached out to help him, the smile vanishing from her face when she was behind him where he couldnít see her. This had all seemed so reasonable when she was asked to do it, but she hadnít realized how difficult it would be to pretend this man was her husband instead of the real father of her child, who had died in the accident. And she hadnít known about Rodney and the other man in his group, Sheppard. She dreamed of his eyes at night.
"There," she said with forced cheerfulness, "all set. As soon as you get dressed, we can go home."
Rodney nodded and slowly got dressed, Maera having to help him several times as he couldnít twist or bend too much. "Do you know what happened? What caused the explosion?" he asked once he was fully clothed.
"It is still under investigation, but it seems that we were not so close to completion of the weapon as we had thought." She offered him her hand for support as they started toward the door.
Instead of taking her hand, Rodney slid his arm around her waist, pulling her into a hug. "Then weíll just have to begin again," he murmured before kissing Maeraís cheek. "Iím just glad you werenít hurt."
"Iím pleased that youíre well too," she replied, trying not to tense and pull away.
Rodney frowned slightly. "Maera, is something wrong? Is there something you arenít telling me?"
"Of course not." She smiled shakily and kissed his cheek. "Iím just so glad youíre alive, Rodney. So many people were killed in the accident." She bit her lip, trying to hold back tears.
Rodney paused and gathered her into his arms, holding her close and feeling their child kicking between them. "I know, and Iíd do anything to get them back, but Iím so grateful that you werenít hurt."
"But so many friends were. Even my..." she hesitated, stammering briefly, "my brother."
"Youró" Rodney frowned and shook his head. "Iím sorry, I know how close you were."
A tear rolled down Maeraís cheek. "I miss him," she said sadly, unconsciously placing a hand on her belly.
"Perhaps, if the baby is a boy, we could name him after him," Rodney suggested, drawing her closer and covering her hand with his.
Maera burst into loud sobs, and she turned away, burying her face in her hands as she wept. Rodneyís eyes widened, and he tried to comfort her, patting her shoulders and back and offering nonsensical words.
Gradually regaining control, Maera sniffled woefully as she scrubbed at her streaming eyes and nose with the back of a hand. "Hormones."
"Itís been a hard time for you," Rodney said gently. "Why donít we go home and you can lie down."
Maera sniffled again and nodded. "Iím sorry. This should be a day of celebration, and Iím ruining it."
"Weíre both alive, and weíre going home; nothing can ruin that."
She smiled shakily. "Youíre a good man, Rodney."
He gave a slight grin. "Thatís not what you say when youíre mad at me, then itís moreó" He paused and frowned, hearing another, deeper, voice shouting at him as he recalled those moments.
"Iíve always thought you were good," Maera said, drawing his attention back to her. "How could I not?"
"I thought..." Rodney shook his head and rubbed at his forehead, wincing. "Itís nothing."
"Does your head hurt?" she asked anxiously. "Perhaps you should take some of your pain medication. We wouldnít want you to relapse."
"Ióyes, that may be a good idea; Iíll take some as soon as we get home." Rodney let Maera lead him to their house and settle him in bed, handing over two pills and a glass of water. "Thank you, love," he smiled after downing them. "Any chance of you coming and keeping me company?"
After only the slightest hesitation, Maera smiled and stretched out next to him. "Itís good to have you home," she said softly, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Itís good to be here," he sighed, closing his eyes and pushing away the vague feeling of wrongness that clung to him.
Maera suddenly flinched and placed a hand on her belly, an odd expression on her face.
"What is it?" Rodney asked, half-sitting up, his eyes wide. "Is it the baby? Should I get a doctor?"
"No." She bit back tears. "He moved."
"He did?" Rodney rolled to his side, wincing slightly at the movement, and rested his hand on Maeraís stomach, hoping to feel the kicking as well. "Hrmmm, I guess he doesnít like me..."
Maera laughed shakily. "Of course he loves his father."
"Then itís a good thing his fatherís around, isnít it?" Rodney kissed Maeraís temple and settled back against the pillows, quickly falling into a deep sleep, unlike Maera, who lay there for a long time, tears silently flowing down her cheeks, before she too fell asleep.
"I want to go back to Alkaris," John said stubbornly. "Theyíre lying to us, and we need to find out why."
Elizabeth nodded, her expression strained. "But will they tell you anything?"
Johnís expression was chilling. "I can guarantee it."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath but nodded. "All right, take a small team and go; but be careful."
John nodded sharply before leaving her office without another word. Teyla and Ronon joined him at the base of the stairs, and the three of them started toward the gate after John told the technician on duty to dial Alkar.
The area around the gate was deserted, and the trio started toward the city, drawing wary looks from the people they did pass.
"The Alkari seem less welcoming each time we arrive," Teyla observed.
"I may start taking it personally," John said in an attempt at his usual offhand humor, but the expression in his eyes negated the effect.
"I can go drag them out," Ronon offered.
"That would not be politic," Teyla said, attempting to calm them. "If, however, we do not get satisfactory replies, it remains an option."
John managed a ghost of a smile. "So we try being polite first, then we get determined. Works for me."
"Looks like they finally decided to notice weíre here," Ronon grunted, nodding toward the tall man hurrying toward them.
"Fortunately for them. They wouldnít like it if I had to go looking for answers."
Teyla and Ronon nodded, turning their gazes to the approaching Alkari.
"Col. Sheppard," Cellis said when he arrived, his whole posture apprehensive, "what brings you back?"
John gave him a very cold, very toothy smile. "Information."
"Information? Iím not sure what more we can offer you."
"The truth. Rodneyís body. Iím not leaving until Iím satisfied."
"Dr. McKayís..." Cellis glanced over his shoulder to the crumbled remains of the laboratory. "But there was nothing left of those in the lower levels."
"How very convenient."
"Convenient?" Cellisí eyes widened in shock at the comment.
"Thatís what he said," Ronon growled.
"Yes, convenient. Your people find out McKay knows more about your science than you do, and minutes later an explosion destroys the lab where heís standing, leaving no remains? Weíve been through this before," John snarled.
"Are you saying that we knowingly killed our own people?"
"It wouldnít be the first time." John gave him a bitter look. "Ever meet the Hoffans? Or the Genii?"
"Perhaps it would be best to give the colonel what he wants," Teyla murmured.
"I cannot give him what does not exist!" Cellis exclaimed in frustration.
"I find that really hard to believe," John said, his voice harshly.
"If I allow you to examine the ruins again, will you go?"
"Iíll leave when Iím satisfied and not before. And I will examine the ruins again."
"This is not your world; you will not say what you will do!"
The cold hazel eyes fixed on him. "This is the world where I lost what I care about most in the universe. Try to stop me."
Cellis took a step back, his eyes wide. "IóI will inform the council," he stuttered before turning and fleeing.
"I should have shot him," Ronon growled, making a wintry smile curve Johnís lips.
"So where do we look first?" John asked, hoping for suggestions.
Teyla raised her head and scanned the area around them. "It is possible that those not in charge might provide us with more information."
"Good idea." John looked around. "In a nice, friendly, non-threatening environment like the park in the center of the city?"
"Guess that means I canít shoot anyone there," Ronon sighed as they started toward the park, hoping to find answers there.
"Not yet," John nodded. "But donít give up hope."
Ronon chuckled darkly, and Teyla sighed, shaking her head. "If you threaten them, they will not answer your questions."
"But if they donít answer my questions, then I might shoot them."
"Even if they do not know the answer?" she asked solemnly as they reached the park.
"Theyíll have to convince me of that. This whole thing smells of a cover up."
"People over there," Ronon said, nodding toward a group up ahead.
"So letís go..." Johnís voice trailed off, and his eyes widened as he stared.
"John?" Teyla placed a hand on his arm as he froze.
"Rodney?" Johnís voice cracked as he watched a very familiar gait.
"McKay?" Ronon asked, his whole body tensing as he reached for his gun, studying the group up ahead.
"Rodney!" John yelled, starting to run forward.
Hearing the cry, Maera looked over her shoulder and froze, her eyes widening in fear.
"Wható" Rodney began before turning and staring in shock. Recovering, he pushed Maera behind him, his right hand slapping against his thigh as if reaching for something.
"Rodney," John whispered, one hand reaching toward Rodney imploringly.
Rodneyís hand rose but jerked away from Johnís to rub his forehead. "Maera?" he asked imploringly, looking back over his shoulder. "Do I know them?"
"I..." She hesitated looking from the confused blue of Rodneyís eyes to the tormented hazel of Johnís. She bit her lip nervously before coming to a decision and nodding jerkily. "Yes."
Rodney turned back to them and frowned, his eyes narrowing. "I do. You, I know you." He winced at the pain in his head. "Why canít I remember?"
"Thatís a very good question and one that I will find the answer to. They told us you were dead." John gave Maera an unfriendly look, causing Rodney to slide an arm around her waist.
"Thatís impossible; I was hurt, but I think Iíd know if I was dead!"
John chuckled. "Thatís the Rodney I know and love."
"Youíre not Alkari, Rodney. Youíre..." John hesitated, looking at Maera, "Terran. You belong with us."
"Is he insane?" Rodney asked, looking down at Maera, who seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"Col. Sheppard is correct," Teyla said gently. "You do not belong here."
"They must have one hell of a process to get through your stubbornness," John said, trying to joke even though his voice shook.
"Oh, thatís just hysterical, Colonel," Rodney snapped before blinking, looking startled, then horrified as Maera buried her face in her hands and started to cry.
John beamed. "I knew you couldnít forget me."
Rodney gathered the weeping woman into his arms and glowered at the others. "All I know right know is that my pregnant wife is upset because of all of this."
"Sheís not your wife; you only met her the day of the explosion, and you hate children."
"I think I would know if I wasnít married!"
"We arenít married," Maera whispered.
"But you are in a relationship," John said.
"With..." Rodney started to say Ďwhoí, but one look at the anguished man before him gave him the answer. "You."
John nodded jerkily, his fists clenched at his sides to keep from reaching for Rodney. Teyla had a hand on his shoulder, offering comfort.
"IóI need to sit down," Rodney whispered.
"There are some rocks we just passed that would do," Ronon offered.
Maera looked up, her eyes bright with tears. "You should leave, all of you, before..."
"Before I decide to wipe out your miserable excuse for a civilization?" John snarled, making Ronon straighten up hopefully.
"What?!" Rodney straightened up, his eyes wide.
"The colonel has been most distressed by your supposed death, Rodney," Teyla explained gently, "and to find it was all a lie perpetrated by supposed allies is... angering."
Rodney turned a wounded gaze toward the colonel. "But I canít believe all the people here had something to do with thisówhatever."
John sighed, forcing himself to relax. "No, I suppose not. They donít seem to have a military society the way the Genii do."
"If they find out you are here, that you have found Dr. McKay...," Maera whispered, glancing around nervously.
"Dr. Mc..." Rodney turned to look down at her. "What happened to ouróthe babyís father?" he asked unsteadily.
She looked at him sadly. "He was another investigator, killed in the explosion."
She glanced fearfully at the others before looking back at Rodney. "Iím sorry, I had toó"
"Lady, you didnít have to do anything," John interrupted harshly. "You kidnapped a member of my team, assisted in brainwashing him and lying to him and to all of my people. You donít have anything to say that I want to hear."
"Leave her alone!" Rodney snapped.
"No, heís right; I did all of that," she whispered.
"Címon, Rodney, you keep telling us youíre the smartest man in two galaxies. Surely someone that intelligent can break through conditioning?" John taunted, trying to make Rodney fight it off.
"Of course I can, IóJust donít harass her, understand?" Rodney looked up again, his eyes electric. "Itís the pills, isnít it? Every time I felt confused, it was time for my medicine."
Maera nodded silently.
"Do you have any with you? Carsonís going to want a sample, but Iím not sticking around here any longer than we need to. Iíd rather not have to shoot our way out."
"Speaking of that, companyís coming," Ronon put in, unholstering his gun and resting it on his shoulder.
John instantly moved between Rodney and the approaching figures, moving his P90 into firing position. He watched coolly, only his eyes showing his rage.
Councilor Xelan, Inspector Levander and a troop of uniformed men approached quickly, the officials falling behind their guards when they saw the look on Johnís face.
"We seem to have been rather more successful than you in recovering Dr. McKayís remains," John said with false cheer. "And look, we even found him alive."
"Perhaps there was something you neglected to tell us?" Teyla asked.
"So it seems," the councilor murmured.
"So what happens now? And for the record, Dr. McKay is coming home with us; thatís non-negotiable." John watched them coldly. As far he was concerned, the only variable was how many, if any, Alkari died as they left.
"Councilor, Investigator, please, havenít enough people died?" Maera begged.
"If we give up now, their deaths will have been in vain," Inspector Levander said, causing Ronon to take aim at him.
"Thatís already a given," John snapped. "Iím giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that you simply took advantage of the situation when it occurred, but that doesnít absolve you of the rest."
Maeraís eyes widened with horror as she realized what the colonel was implying, and her hands went protectively to her belly.
"Are you saying we killed our own people?"
"Sounds like it to me," Ronon murmured.
"Did you do that?" Rodney hissed. "Did you kill people just to get me to fix your weapon?"
"We would hardly destroy our most advanced research facility just to gain the services of one man," Levander sneered.
"Were we not supposed to notice that you didnít actually answer the question?" John asked. "But you know what? I really donít give a damn. Whether you killed your own people or not, you kidnapped one of ours and lied about it. That makes you enemies in my book."
"So kill us then; how does this make you any better than us?" Xelan snapped.
"No more killing!" Rodney shouted, causing all of them to stare at themóall except John, who continued watching the Alkari. "No more."
"Iím perfectly willing to leave without a battle. Itís entirely up to them. But if you start it, I will finish it," John said coldly to the Alkari.
Xelan sighed. "Let them go, Inspector. The cost is growing too high and would only increase if they do not return to their world."
Maera straightened up and reached out to touch Rodneyís arm before pulling back. "Iím sorry," she whispered before backing away toward her people.
"I am too, for all of this," he answered, telling himself the pain he felt wasnít real.
John gave the female Alkari an unfriendly look and shifted slightly between them. "Time to go. Come on, Rodney."
"All right, Colonel." Rodney looked back at Maera one final time before falling in beside him without thinking, making John sigh with relief at the familiar presence at his side.
"I missed you," he said softly.
"IóI want to go home. Fuck, I kept saying that, and I had no clue what it meant."
"Weíve got your back, Sheppard," Ronon announced, he and Teyla keeping their attention focused on the Alkari so that John could turn.
"Thanks." John slowed and turned his head to look at Rodney. "Youíll be home soon, and you will remember, in time. Youíre too stubborn to let anyone steal your memory." He smiled raggedly.
"I hope so, because right now I donít even know where Ďhomeí is," Rodney said ruefully, forcing himself to keep walking and not look back.
"Hopefully actually being there again will help jog your memory." John increased their pace, anxious to get off Alkar and never lay eyes on it again.
Rodney nodded sharply, then winced as the quick motion made his head ache. "And getting off whatever these drugs areóohmygod, what if theyíre toxic?"
John laughed. "They clearly had no lasting effect on your personality. And if the drugs were toxic, youíd already be dead," he pointed out dryly.
"Thank you for that wonderful thought!"
"Just sayiní." John tried to laugh, but his voice broke, and his eyes gleamed suspiciously. "I thought you were dead. One minute weíre talking about what weíre going to do when we get home, and the next..." He stopped, unable to force another word out.
Rodneyís brow furrowed, and he reached out tentatively to place a hand on the colonelís shoulder. "Iím sorry; sorry that you thought I was dead and sorry I didnít remember you."
"You still donít remember me, do you?"
"No, not really," Rodney admitted, "but part of me knows you and is comfortable with you."
"Well, thatís a step in the right direction." A thought occurred to John, and he frowned. "Weíre your teammates, by the way. Thatís Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex, and Iím not telling you what you call them when you want to be annoying." He managed a faint smile. "And Iím John Sheppard."
"Dr. Rodney McK... Well, yes, you know that, obviously." Rodney gave a sheepish smile.
"Rodney, thereís probably nothing about you I donít know, from the atomic bomb you built when you were twelve to exactly the noise you make when I lick behind your knees."
Rodney turned bright red, and he reached up to rub at his forehead. "It seems you know me better than I know myself."
"Only for the moment. And when your memory comes back, youíll know me just as well. Of course, youíre more than welcome to rediscover some things for yourself." John ignored Rononís snort behind them.
"Are you always this pushy?"
John laughed. "A person has to be pushy to stand a chance around you. But Iím not planning to knock you down and jump you, if thatís what youíre worrying about. I much prefer mutual consent."
"I still think we should have killed them," Ronon rumbled.
"Ronon, that is not the best way right now," Teyla sighed.
Rodney looked back over his shoulder at them, then back at John. "Iím glad to hear that."
"They shouldnít kidnap people and expect to get away with it," John growled. "But since you are alive and you donít want me to do anything, Iíll let it go. I just want to get us home."
"Is that home in general or to our home?" Rodney asked.
"Both, I suppose?" John sighed. "Not that I mind seducing you, but itís going to be weird starting from scratch again."
"S-seducing?" Rodneyís voice rose to a squeak.
"Well, obviously weíll have to work up to that. Weíll start with wooing."
"Wooing?" Now Rodney sounded sarcastic. "I may not know much, but I donít think Iím a hearts and flowers kind of guy."
"Far from it!" John laughed. "Chocolate, coffee, and powerbars go a lot further with you. Since my usual bribe is out for a while."
"And what was that?"
Hearing the man behind him snicker, Rodney sighed. "I should have realized that."
John laughed as he dialed the DHD. "Normally youíd be the one leading the way."
"In sex?" Rodneyís eyebrows rose.
"Yup. Well, unless youíre in the middle of an experiment. Then I have to nearly pry you out of the lab."
"Yes, well that makes sense," Rodney murmured even as he studied the symbols John pressed on the pedestal, memorizing them.
"Great, you donít even remember me yet, and already Iím losing you to the lab." John gave a mock sigh. "Come on, time to go home."
Rodney nodded, feeling something familiar clench inside him when the circle behind the pedestal filled with energy that exploded in a burst of energy before settling into a rippling plane. "Home. I like that."
"You usually do." John gestured toward the gate. "After you."
"I really would rather go after you," Rodney commented, after eyeing the energy field for a moment.
John hesitated, looking over his shoulder to see if any Alkari were following them.
"Iíll make sure no one stops McKay from going through," Ronon said, understanding Johnís concern.
"Okay then." John nodded and walked toward the gate, pausing to look back at Rodney before stepping through.
Rodney eyed the rippling energy and swallowed, looking back at the others before squaring his shoulders and marching forward, unable to stop himself from wincing as he stepped into the field and the world fell away.
"John, did you find out anyóRodney!" Elizabeth stopped mid-word and exclaimed in shocked pleasure.
When the woman advanced on him, her arms extended, Rodney took a step back, bumping into Ronon and Teyla as they came through the circle. "John?" he asked, unnerved by the reception.
John moved between them, stopping Elizabeth with a hand on her shoulder. "They messed with his mind, Elizabeth. He doesnít remember us or anything about his life. They made him think he was Alkari."
"Theyó" Elizabethís eyes widened slightly before she contained her expression, making it neutral again. "I see." Staying where she was, she smiled at Rodney. "Itís good to have you home, Rodney; Iím Elizabeth Weir."
"Thank you," Rodney answered as he looked around the room heíd emerged in.
"Elizabethís in charge of the expedition. Youíre the chief scientist, and Iím the senior military officer," John explained, feeling relieved when the gate shut down and contact with Alkar was cut off.
Rodney nodded slowly as he continued to study the room and the people in it, searching for some feeling of recognition but feeling nothing. A moment later all he could feel was the air squeezed out of him as a wild-eyed, wild-haired man burst into the room and hugged him tightly, babbling all the while in some foreign language.
"Umóhelp?" Rodney gasped, staring down at the smaller man, unable to understand a word he said.
Trying not to laugh, John tapped Radek on the shoulder. "Dr. Zelenka? Rodney has amnesia. He doesnít remember anything about Atlantis or his life."
That led to another spate of Czech, this one sounding very unfriendly.
"Does he always talk this way?"
Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. "Only when heís very happy or very upset."
"And now I am upset. Lab was running perfectly, and now you will turn everyone upside down again." But Radek was still clutching Rodneyís upper arms, and he couldnít stop smiling.
"Excuse me?" Rodney stared down at him. "I may not remember much, but I know Iím smarter than anyone Iíve met so far, and I doubt my return to the laboratories would be anything but beneficial."
Everyone laughed. "Well, I can see that weíll have the real Rodney back soon enough," Elizabeth chuckled. "For now, though, you should go to the infirmary. Dr. Beckett will need to examine you."
"Aye, that he will," Carson huffed as he hurried into the gateroom. "And Rodney, I must say youíre looking quite lively." He reached out and gripped Rodneyís free arm. "Iím glad ta see ya."
"This is Dr. Carson Beckett," John introduced, "our chief medical officer and your good friend."
"Then I suppose you want to take a look at these," Rodney commented, shaking his arm loose to dig in his pocket for his pills, glancing over at John as he did so, feeling overwhelmed by all the new people.
"Why donít we take this to the infirmary?" John suggested, moving protectively between Rodney and the others.
Carson looked up from the medication, noting the way John was hovering over Rodney and nodded. "Aye, that would be fer the best."
"Thank you," Rodney mouthed to John before glancing askance at the short man who was still clinging to his arm.
"Yes, I will go back to lab and warn everyone that you are back." Radek beamed at Rodney before finally letting go and stepping back.
"Iím beginning to think Iím some kind of monster," Rodney mused, rubbing at his forehead again as he was led toward a doorway.
"Youíre... very decided in your opinions," John said, trying to hold back his grin.
"In other words Iím an opinionated jackass."
"Thatís another way oí putting it," Carson commented.
"You donít suffer fools gladly, and you tend to think thatís everyone but yourself. And occasionally me," John added, his grin breaking free at Carsonís snort.
"Once a year perhaps," Carson put in.
"Not helping, Carson," John chuckled.
Rodney crooked a grin at the byplay, knowing only that it felt somehow familiar. "I donít know; that sounds just about right to me."
"Great, I get the insults without the benefits. Well," John amended after looking over and absorbing Rodneyís presence, "without all the benefits."
Carson nodded and reached out to pat Johnís shoulder while Rodney eyed him askance. "Were we friends before we were... involved?"
"Before and during. Youíre my best friend, Rodney." The hazel eyes regarded Rodney seriously.
Rodney watched him closely before nodding. "Good, thatís important."
"So is finding out just whatís in this drug they were giving ye so that we can get ye back to normal," Carson offered as they entered the infirmary.
John nodded. "Weíre all incredibly glad to have you back, but Iíll be happy when youíre all the way back. Having you not remember anything is very weird."
Rodney cocked his head to the side before nodding as well. "Iíd rather know who I was as well."
John smiled crookedly. "Iíd kind of like you to know me too."
"No oneís going ta be knowing anyone unless ye let me get these scans finished and that drug analyzed," Carson commented, leading Rodney toward a bed. "Now then, Rodney, Iím going ta have ta run some scans ta see if thereís aught else wrong with ye."
Rodney nodded, though his gaze darted to John again. "Just fix it," he said.
John dragged a chair over to the bed and sat down, his gaze daring Carson to object.
"All right, Rodney," Carson said soothingly. "The first thing Iíll need ta do is ta take some blood from ye, and then weíll do some scans. Between that information and what we find out about the drugs they were giving ye, we should have answers."
Although John didnít repeat the question, the expression in his eyes was a plaintive echo, and Carson had to look away from Johnís aborted reach for Rodneyís hand. A moment later, Johnís hands were clenched together in his lap as both he and Rodney waited for the answer.
"Iím sorry, lads, I canna say," Carson sighed. "But I promise that weíll get results as quickly as we can."
Rodney sighed. "I thought you might say that."
"At least youíre back at home while we work it out," John said, obviously trying to look on the bright side. "This is a hell of an improvement over yesterday."
Rodney nodded, though there was an air of uncertainty in his gaze, and he wrapped his arms around himself after Carson drew his blood.
Easily reading the body language, John winced and mentally cursed the Alkari yet again. "You will remember soon," he said quietly. "Youíre too stubborn not to," he added with a wry chuckle that Carson echoed.
"And if I donít?" Rodney looked at him, his expression haunted. "What happens then? Who am I then?"
"Trust me, you are and always will be Rodney McKay. Your staff will be quaking in terror again soon enough."
Rodney smiled slightly at that comment but didnít reply.
"Rodney, I know this has to be seriously freaking you out, but believe me, weíre all old hands at overcoming the varied weirdnesses this galaxy keeps throwing at us. And I know that we," John pointed from himself to Rodney and back again, "must be a big part of your confusion, but Iím not going anywhere, and eventually youíll be glad of it."
"I am glad of it," Rodney said suddenly. "You being here. ItísóI donít know you but I do, and thatís the only thing keeping me together right now."
John slumped with the release of tension he hadnít even been aware of. "You have no idea what a relief that is."
"Iím sorry. I suppose this must have been hard for you too." Rodney tentatively patted Johnís hand.
Carson barked a laugh. "The man wanted to depopulate a city, Rodney."
John winced and offered a sheepish smile. "I was a little upset."
Rodneyís eyes widened, and he stared at John. "Oh. Oh my. Iówe mean that much?"
"Yes," John replied simply.
Rodney darted a glance at Carson, who nodded again. "Oh," he repeated before swallowing hard.
"Thatís why I know youíll remember. After everything weíve gone through, youíre not going to let amnesia keep us apart," John explained.
Rodney smiled slightly at that. "Iím glad you have faith in me, Colonel."
"This will pass, Rodney," Carson assured him. "Once the drug is out of yer system, yer memory will come back."
"And then weíll celebrate." John smiled crookedly.
"All right," Carson said several hours later. "Ye seem ta be in good health, Rodney; thereís naw reason ta keep ya here."
"Aside from the no memory issue," Rodney retorted dryly.
"Which isnít going to be fixed by sitting here staring at the walls," John pointed out. "Not to mention that you must be hungry by now." He regarded Rodney suspiciously, surprised by the lack of complaint so far.
"I suppose I could eat something," Rodney allowed.
"It would do ye good," Carson nodded.
"So letís go get some dinner. I havenít eaten much lately either," John admitted, avoiding Carsonís eyes.
"Then you should eat too; that way you can show me where it is we get food." Rodney gave a small smile at the last.
"My pleasure. Just donít be surprised if a lot of people stop by our table to say hi. Weíre all glad to have you back."
"A lot?" Rodney winced slightly.
"Well, the entire science staff reports to you, and youíre part of the command staff. Not to mention that people have gotten used to you pulling off last-minute miracles. I think youíre sort of our unofficial mascot," John teased.
"I thought you said that I annoyed them?" Rodney frowned.
"You do, but that doesnít change the fact that you keep saving our lives. People tend to remember things like that. Although we still donít think youíre Superman," John ended with a chuckle.
"Who?" Rodney asked before shaking his head. "Never mind, Iím sure Iíll remember eventually."
"Of course you will," John replied, starting to slide an arm around Rodneyís shoulders before remembering and pulling back. "Okay, next stop, mess hall," he said, his hand over the transporter controls. "Ready?"
"To face everyone. The mess hallís going to be pretty full at this time of day."
"Ah, that. Yes, I believe I can deal with that to get some food."
"And thatís the Rodney I know and love," John chuckled, activating the transporter.
"What wasóI know, itís something I normally understand," Rodney sighed.
"Food," John explained. "Youíre willing to put up with damn near anything if itíll get you food."
"Actually, I was talking about that... transporter device that just moved us without moving us, and anything?"
"Well, not without complaint," John amended, chuckling. "As for the systems, Iím sure itíll be one of the first things to come back to you. You know this city better than anyone else."
"Thatís because Iím smarter than anyone else," Rodney sniffed as they walked into a crowded roomóone that fell into a hush when people saw him.
"Yes, everyone," John said loudly, "Dr. McKayís back. And heís hungry," he added warningly when it seemed that several people might approach them. That comment, however, had their eyes widening, and anyone who was between them and the food hastily got out of the way.
"Impressive," Rodney murmured, watching the reactions. "I must be truly terrifying."
"And you usually sound just that smug about it," Radek Zelenka observed from behind them. "Now move please. Some of us want to eat tonight."
"Is he always that rude?" Rodney asked, amused despite himself.
"He said please," John pointed out, grinning. "And he says he learned from you."
"Well, if he said please, he didnít learn well." Rodney glanced around the room again, straightened his shoulders as he took a deep breath, and nodded. "I take it the line is for the food?"
John was still nodding when Lt. Cadman spotted Rodney, yelled his name delightedly and all but bounded over to grab him in a big hug. "Welcome home, Rodney!"
"Ióummó" Rodney stammered, desperately trying to get out of her bear hug and looking over at John for help.
"Lieutenant, while we appreciate your enthusiasm, Dr. McKayís suffering from amnesia and has no idea who you are, so I think heíd be grateful if youíd let go," John informed her wryly.
"Amnesia!" Cadman looked horrified even as she loosened her grip. "Well, who better than someone who shared your body to help you remember?"
"Shared my..." Rodney went pale, and his gaze darted from the woman to John and back. "Am I some kind of inter-planetary gigolo?"
"What? No!" John exclaimed. "Do I look like the kind of guy who shares?" Cadmanís snort expressed her opinion of that. "You and the lieutenant were scooped up by a Wraith dart, and she was stuck in your head for a couple of days when the rematerialization didnít quite work as planned."
Rodneyís frown deepened as he looked back at Cadman. "I see you got out."
"Of course I did. And thanks to you and Dr. Zelenka, I even lived to tell the tale." She grinned suddenly. "Not that I didnít think you were going to change that when I kissed Carson while still in your body."
"IókissedóCarson? The doctor with the accent?" Rodneyís voice was a breathless gasp.
"No, Rodney, I did. I just had to use your lips to do it. That time," Laura added with a mischievous smile that had John trying to bite back a grin.
"I think Iím getting another headache," Rodney grimaced, rubbing his forehead.
John moved supportively closer. "Go away, Lieutenant, or youíre going to spend the next week inspecting the sewer system... with Dr. Kavanagh."
Lauraís eyes widened and she snapped off a salute before beating a hasty retreat. Rodney watched her leave, some of the tension hunching his shoulders leaving him. "That must be some threat to make her react that way."
"Youíve compared Kavanagh to a cockroach on numerous occasions."
Rodney smiled slightly at that. "He sounds like Verel."
Johnís smile froze. "Iíll have to take your word for that; I didnít get to know him."
"I suppose I didnít either," Rodney murmured after a short silence that stretched into an uncomfortable one. "I guess we should get some food."
"Sorry, I didnít mean to make you uncomfortable. And yeah, food would be good." John led the way toward the counter. He laughed suddenly when he saw that the placard stating that the meal was citrus-free had reappeared.
"I could say the same." Rodney saw the placard and tilted his head to the side. "Iím assuming thatís for my benefit."
"So you remember that youíre allergic to citrus?"
"Right now I think of it as xaloq, but yes."
"Well, thatís something." John helped himself to the fried chicken and mashed potatoes, then set two desserts on his tray.
Taking his cues from John and the way things smelled, Rodney filled his plate with food, though he did reach for a mug and fill it with coffee without thinking.
Watching him, John chuckled. "Weíll have to increase our shipments of coffee again."
After eyeing him, Rodney took a sip, and sighed in pleasure. "I can see why I like this."
"Like it?" John laughed. "I think it flows through your veins in place of blood."
"I can see why, my headacheís going away and Iím finding myself very hungry." Rodney glanced down at his tray, then out at the crowded tables.
"I take it youíd rather skip the crowd for this meal? We can go out on the balcony if you like. There are a few tables out there."
Rodney looked tempted, then shook his head. "No, Iíd better get this over with."
John smiled wryly as he led Rodney toward a table where many of their friends were already seated. "The sheer number of them might shock your memory back," he muttered wryly.
"Or simply send me into shock," Rodney whispered back before giving a sick smile and sitting down at the table beside John.
Carson leaned forward to peer at Rodney. "Well, you donít look any worse. And I know Laura gave you a warm welcome."
That startled Rodney into a laugh. "Not as warm as the one she gives you, it seems."
"I dinna think the colonel or I would appreciate it otherwise," Carson retorted.
"I wouldnít either," Laura said as she slid into the seat next to him with fresh cups of coffee for both of them. "Either the greeting or what Col. Sheppard would assign me to," she chuckled.
"Working with thatówhat was his name? Kavanagh?" Rodney asked, looking relieved when everyone nodded and laughed.
"The colonelís dirty that way," Laura chuckled.
"Who, me?" John asked, trying to look innocent.
"Yes, you, sir," Lorne chuckled as he joined him, smiling easily at Rodneyís slight frown at him. "Evan Lorne, Iím the colonelís second in command."
Rodney nodded shallowly at that before concentrating on his food, tasting things tentatively before digging in with gusto when he found he enjoyed the flavor.
"Well, I see youíre back again. Iím glad youíre not dead, even if you are an arrogant know-it-all."
Sighing, Rodney looked up to see a tall man with glasses and longish hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. "You have to be Kavanagh."
There were several snickers and glasses or cups raised to hide smirks while Kavanagh eyed Rodney suspiciously. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"How should I know?" Rodney shrugged. "I donít have any memories of this place, but I saw you and the name popped into my head."
"Apparently your memoryís returning from the bottom up," John said, trying not to laugh.
Kavanagh watched them all narrowly, and Rodney looked back at him. "Thank you for your kind welcome, Dr. Kavanagh."
With a sound of disdain, Kavanagh stalked away.
"Now do you understand?" John asked with a grin.
"I believe so..."
"I am glad you are back; now you can deal with him," Radek said with satisfaction.
"Who?" Rodney asked, giving an innocent look. "I canít seem to remember..."
"Ha!" Radek eyed him over a cup of coffee. "Do not think you can extend this indefinitely!"
"Rodney sand-bagging?" Laura asked, laughing. "Never!"
"It would probably be helpful if his memory comes back first so he doesnít blow us all up," Elizabeth suggested, smiling.
"I hope Iíll manage to keep from doing that," Rodney said dryly.
"You usually do. In fact, you usually come up with eleventh hour solutions to prevent it."
Rodney glanced around at the others, who nodded in agreement, then down at his nearly empty tray. "I suppose Iíd better work at getting my memory back before the next crisis takes place."
"Yeah, it just wouldnít feel right to face imminent death without you insulting everyone around you," John said with a chuckle.
"And yelling at us," Radek pointed out.
"Iím not sure weíd know how to survive without it," Elizabeth chimed in.
"I suppose itís a good thing I wasnít really dead then," Rodney offered, glancing around and smiling slightly, though the smile didnít quite reach his eyes.
John winced and reached for Rodneyís hand, gripping it tightly. "Yeah, it is."
"Iím sorry, I suddenly find myself very tired," Rodney said after a moment of awkward silence. "Itís been a somewhat hectic day."
Everyone nodded, and he and John got to their feet amid a chorus of wishes that he feel better.
"I didnít mean to make you uncomfortable," John finally said as they exited the transporter and walked down the corridor toward their quarters.
"It wasnít you," Rodney said quickly. "It was just... all of this. Everyone telling me who I am and me not knowingóitís very frustrating."
"You have no idea," John grumbled laughingly.
Rodney chuckled quietly at that. "Not in the way youíre thinking of, no."
"What can I say, we have a very active sex life."
"Considering the way you look, I applaud my good taste." Rodney turned sober as he looked up at John. "Maera and Iówe never..."
John let out a huge breath of relief. "Iím glad. I mean I know you thought she was your wife and all, and you still donít have a clue who I am, but Iím still glad."
"Well, at the time I thought it was because of her condition, but now I know the real reason... and Iím glad as well."
John beamed at him as they entered their quarters and started to reach for Rodney to hug him, only to remember a moment later and let his arms fall.
Rodney cut his eyes toward John, then looked around the room. "Iím sorry."
"Itís not your fault. Iíd still like to lob a bomb through the gate at the Alkari though."
"It wasnít all of them," Rodney said quietly as he looked around the room.
"My head knows that," John agreed, "but... they took you away from me."
"Iím sorry," Rodney repeated, moving forward to pick up a picture of the two of them laughing at something.
"Again, not your fault. And if the situation were reversed, I shudder to think what youíd do to them," John added with a wry chuckle.
"Nothing good, Iím sure," Rodney murmured, pawing through the pictures and items on the shelf, looking for something familiar but finding only more blackness.
"Considering that youíre the guy who built an atomic bomb for his sixth grade science project, Iíd say thatís a safe bet."
Rodney nodded at that, pushing himself away from the shelf and wandering the room, poking into every corner.
"And you knew exactly what I was talking about, didnít you?" John smiled. "The memories are still there; they just need a little time to come back to the surface."
"Ió" Rodney turned to look back at John, his eyes wide with surprise. "Yes, I did. I was eleven; I built it in the basement."
"Yes!" This time John did hug him, Rodney standing stiff for a moment before relaxing and raising his arms to return it. Quickly realizing, John let him go and stepped back.
"Sorry, old habits."
"Itís all right, itóyou felt good." Rodney flushed as he spoke and stepped back. "Damnit, why can I remember stupid things, but not the important ones?" He strode over to the shelf and picked up the picture, brandishing it. "We were happy here. I want to remember why!"
John smiled sadly. "Because we fit. A lot of people were surprised by us, but I canít imagine being with anyone else. You irritate the hell out of me, make my brain melt, and make me laugh when weíre about to die, which is damn near every day."
"I like that ideaónot the nearly dying every day, but the rest..."
"Me too. And it kinda makes up for the nearly dying part."
"I can imagine."
"Iím looking forward to when you remember and we can re-enact it."
Rodney chuckled at that and set the picture down again with a sigh. "I do too, I feel like Iím missing something huge."
"Well, I donít know about huge, but I have nothing to be embarrassed about."
Rodney stared at him in shock, then burst out laughing.
"Iím really glad I still had my pants on when you did that."
Rodney laughed even harder, finally collapsing to the floor, tears running down his face.
John sighed and sat down facing him, with a long-suffering expression on his face, although his eyes were sparkling mirthfully.
Rodney stayed there, shaking, his laughter slowly turning to sobs at the realization of just what had happened and how close he had come to never knowing it. After a moment, John slid down to sit next to him, one arm going around Rodneyís shoulders. He didnít say anything or try to calm him down, just sat there, letting Rodney know he wasnít alone.
"Iím tired," Rodney whispered when he could finally speak again, and though he didnít move from where he lay, one hand did curve up over Johnís leg.
"Then sleep," John said softly, his hand lightly rubbing Rodneyís back. "Iíve got you."
Rodney murmured something under his breath and sighed, moving closer as he settled into sleep.
John stared down at him, still petting him, and the expression on his face, had Rodney been awake to see it, was one of raw anguish.
"Have you ever had to talk to a woman named Heightmeyer?" Rodney asked as Radek escorted him to the labs, both of them hoping that being there would jog more memories within him.
Radek snorted. "As often as weíve been nearly killed, under siege, thought the entire city was going to be destroyed, and various other daily disasters? I think every person in the city has talked to her."
"Sometimes it helps." Radek shrugged. "You and the colonel usually tell her enough to make her leave you alone and then talk to each other."
Rodney sighed at that. "The problem now is I have no idea what to tell her to make her leave me alone."
"Try the truth. She is here to help, and it might do some good."
"Oh, so saying ĎI canít remember the important things about my life but know that my sister went to her senior prom with Ben Andersoní is going to make me feel better." Rodney paused at that and laughed wryly. "See? Unimportant things."
Radek thought about it for a few seconds. "Maybe because it is unimportant. They didnít work so hard to make you forget those things. Atlantis, the colonel, Earth, those things matter, so they will most likely be hardest to bring back."
"Maybe," Rodney nodded. "It doesnít make it any easier thoughóand Iím not the only one affected by it."
"No, but you are here and alive. I think Col. Sheppard can handle anything else."
"Are you always this rational?"
Radek smirked. "Someone has to rein you in."
Rodney eyed him closely as they walked into the main lab. "I thought I was the one who saved this place time and time again."
"Well, yes," Radek admitted, "but even the great McKay isnít right all the time and canít do everything."
"Jealous, are you?" Now there was a slight smile playing at the corners of Rodneyís mouth.
Radek snorted and eyed him suspiciously. "Are you sure you donít remember?"
"No, just very smart as you well know."
After continuing to stare at him for a little longer, Radek grunted dismissively. "No one has touched project you were working on before... before. Perhaps new idea will come to you without preconceived ideas."
"What wasónever mind, Iíll look at it and see what I can discover." Almost relieved to be able to lose himself in work, Rodney started for the lab bench.
Radek nodded, smiling, and turned to his own work station, knowing that if Rodney required his assistance, he would know it.
"Did you sleep last night?" Ronon asked without preamble as he dropped into the chair across from Johnís desk.
Unsurprised since he knew Ronon saw a lot more than many gave him credit for, John shook his head. "No, every time I started to drop off, Iíd jerk awake, thinking it was a dream. I ended up just watching Rodney all night."
"You want to keep him safe." This wasnít a question.
"Itís more of a compulsion at the moment," John admitted.
Ronon nodded, watching John steadily. "If you need to sleep, Iíll watch him for you."
"Thanks. But I donít think thatís going to help yet. I had too many dreams of having him back and woke up to find the nightmare was still real. Subconsciously, I keep expecting it to happen again."
"Then keep him close; itíll help both of you."
John chuckled wryly. "I donít think I could do anything else. Right now Iím just trying not to drive him crazy by smothering him. Of course, itís worse that he doesnít remember anything, so to him Iím just some nut hovering over him all the time. Although I think he does like having me around," he added slowly.
"He knows you, or he wouldnít have come with us," Ronon commented.
"Yeah. He knows he knows me, but he doesnít remember me." John stared morosely into his coffee. "I know itíll all come back, but I have him back, and I canít even kiss him or hold him the way I want to. And if anyone else could hear me talking like this, Iíd have to shoot them. Or myself."
One corner of Rononís mouth curved upward. "Glad you didnít mention me, Iím a better shot than you."
"Which would be why I didnít mention you. Besides, you and Teyla, youíre family."
"Which is why weíll help him get his memory back."
"Thanks," John said simply.
"Youíd do the same for us." Ronon stood and leaned over the desk, resting his hand on Johnís shoulder.
John nodded. "Letís just hope I never have to."
Ronon squeezed his shoulder again and took a step back. "Heíll remember."
"He will." John stood up. "And now I need to go inspect the troops. Literally. There are some newbies I havenít even met yet."
That same slight smile answered that comment. "Maybe, but they met me."
John laughed. "How many fainted?"
"None, so you know they must be pretty good."
"Iíll sic Cadman on them next."
"That should do it." Ronon looked at the paper-strewn desk, then at John again. "Címon, time for a run."
"I think you may have just saved my life."
"You wonít say that once weíre done."
"Eat my dust!" John laughed.
"You look like someone pummeled you into the ground; what happened?" Rodney asked when he looked up from his work to see John standing there.
"Ronon pummeled me into the ground," John chuckled, dropping onto an empty stool.
"Thatís what you get for running with him." This was said absently as Rodney fit another crystal into the device in front of him.
Johnís head turned, and he smiled slowly. "I never said we went running."
"You didnít?" Rodney looked up again, frowning slightly. "No, you didnít."
"But you knew. Because thatís what always happens."
Rodney smiled at that. "You run with him then bitch about how sore you are."
"And then... Well, Iíll let you remember that on your own." John grinned crookedly.
"I send you to see the doctor with the accent?"
"Ha ha. Youíre so funny." In retaliation, John stole Rodneyís coffee.
"Hey, thatís mine!" Rodney exclaimed, reaching for the mug, his fingers grazing Johnís.
"Didnít your mother ever teach you to share?"
"No idea," Rodney chuckled.
"Judging by evidence, no," Zelenka put in without looking up.
"Jealous," Rodney quipped, smirking.
Radek snorted. "Go away. Get lunch and take snickering colonel with you. And bring back more coffee!"
"Does he treat me this way all the time?"
John thought about it for a moment. "Pretty much, yeah. Of course, youíre usually yelling insults at him."
"Huh, Iíll have to remember that."
Radek groaned, making John laugh. "Come on, lunch break."
"Just let me finish this..." Rodney slid the last crystal into place and gave a triumphant grin when the device lit up and began to hum. "Got it."
Radek looked up curiously. "What is it?"
"No idea, but it works now."
John eyed it warily. "Itís not going to explode, is it?"
"The power outputís stable, so unless itís a bomb, I doubt it."
"And youíre sure itís not a bomb?" John pressed insistently.
Rodney rolled his eyes and pressed his hand against the side of the device, which sent a beam of light upward, dissolving into a starfield. "Itís not a bomb, Colonel."
"Pretty," John observed.
"No more coffee to make fresh pot," Radek growled.
"No more coffee, then I suppose itís time for lunch. Colonel? Shall we?"
"After you," John said, trying not to wince at Rodneyís seeming unwillingness to use his name.
"Are you sure that you donít want to go first? After all, you have been pummeled."
"Naw, this way if I give in to exhaustion and fall forward, I can land on you."
"What?" Rodney squawked. "And bruise me?"
"Iíll kiss it better. Or Iím sure Carson has the local equivalent of witch hazel."
"Did that happen often?"
"Well, no, I donít usually go out of my way to bruise you," John said, clearly startled.
"Ah, I wondered, considering your preferential method of treatment."
"We usually skipped the injuries and went straight to the treatment."
Rodney smiled at that and slowed so that they were walking together. "Iím very relieved to hear that."
John stopped dead, his eyes widening. "You didnít really think..."
"Not that youíd hurt me!" Rodney said quickly. "But who knows what consensual things happen in private."
John blinked a few times, then suddenly turned on his heel and headed back into the lab. "Dr. Z, I need a drink."
"What did I say?" Rodney called from the hall, and Radekís raised eyebrow asked the same question.
"He wanted to know, indirectly, if we were into S&M," John explained, and Radekís eyes widened behind his glasses before he hastily pulled out a bottle of his home-brewed vodka and took a swig before handing it to John while Rodney looked on from the doorway, his expression growing confused, then closed.
After a long swallow, John looked up, sighing at the expression on Rodneyís face. "Sorry, Rodney, but that was just way too weird for me. Neither of us is the type to enjoy inflicting or receiving painówe get way too much of that in our daily lives."
"Of course, I should have known that." Rodney reached up and rubbed his forehead.
"You will. You remember little bits all the time; soon itíll be there."
Rodney only nodded at that, all traces of his former good humor gone, and John felt guilty for the loss.
"Ready to try this lunch thing again?"
"Iím not really hungry now..." Rodney began before seeing the way Johnís expression fell. "But I suppose I could have something."
"And you still need to get coffee," Radek said pointedly.
"Yes, yes, Radek, Iíll get coffee," Rodney sighed.
John started them back toward the transporter. "Sorry about that," he said after a moment. "Itís just... Oh, I donít know." He pushed his fingers through his hair in frustration.
"For a moment it was like you were the old you again, remembering everything, I mean, and then you said that, something completely out of character, and I just wanted to kill them all again."
"Maybeówould it be better if we stayed apart until my memory came back?"
"No!" John actually shuddered, looking sick at the thought.
"Not," John said emphatically. "Iíd actually like to sleep again sometime in this lifetime, if you donít mind."
"You didnít last night, did you?"
John shook his head. "Nightmares."
"Oh. That would do it."
"Yeah, I think itís going to take a few days before my subconscious really believes youíre back."
"I only wish it would only take a few days for me to remember everything," Rodney sighed.
"Maybe it will," John pointed out. "We really donít know."
"It would be nice."
"Weíll keep our fingers crossed." John pressed the control on the transporter to take them to the mess hall.
"So..." Rodney said, after sitting down in the chair across from the blonde woman. "What do I need to say to get me out of here?"
"Iím here to help you, Rodney," Kate said gently. "What happened to you would disturb anyone."
"Anyone who could remember, you mean," he corrected.
"The loss of memory, of what makes us who we are, is traumatic in itself."
"From what I understand, Iíve been through much more traumatic incidences."
"All the more reason to work through this one. Stress accumulates, Rodney."
"Have you talked to the Colonel?"
"Heís even better at avoiding me than you are. Though I would like to meet with both of you at some point."
"Because this is hard on both of you."
Rodney was silent for a moment before nodding. "All right, if you think it will help him."
"I think it will help both of you. Why donít we plan on that for tomorrow?" Kate suggested.
"IóIíll let the Colonel know; Iím not sure of what his schedule is. Mine, as Iím sure you can guess, is relatively empty."
"Enjoy it, Rodney," Kate advised with a wry smile. "That never lasts for long."
"Thatís what everyone keeps telling me." Rodney looked down, and when he spoke again, his voice was subdued. "What if I never remember?"
"Thatís very unlikely. But it did somehow happen, youíd simply create new memories of your life here. You have a lot of friends."
Rodney nodded at that and shifted uncomfortably, rubbing his forehead again. "I understand that."
Kate chuckled. "Now, tell me the truth. How are you?"
He sighed and slumped in the seat. "Confused. I still canít tell whatís real and what isnít."
She frowned. "Do you believe that this is your home?"
"Yes," he said immediately.
"Then what do you believe isnít real?"
"Myself." This was almost inaudible.
"You doubt yourself?"
Kate leaned back in her chair, blue eyes intent on Rodney. "Why?"
"Because everyone talks about how often Iíve saved this place." Rodney looked around the office, studying the walls, the floor, anything to keep from looking at her. "What if I canít do that any longer, what if I canít be the person who the Colówho John loves any more? What do I do then?"
"Rodney, the reason you keep saving us is because you canít help solving problems. That came with that IQ youíre so proud of, and personal memories notwithstanding, that hasnít changed. As for Col. Sheppard," she laughed softly, "he loves you, not just your ability to think circles around everyone. The man has a detail to guard you in Atlantis. I donít think you have anything to worry about there."
"Other than his well-being."
Kate hesitated before speaking. "John doesnít let many people get close to him. Pushing him away out of a mistaken desire to protect him would be the worst thing you could do to him."
"I donít want to. I hate the look he gets when he remembers what happened; itís like heís lost everything."
"Not everything," Kate said gently, "but perhaps the most important thing to him. You just need to give him a little time to accept that it was all a particularly cruel hoax."
"How can I help him?" Rodney gave up trying to avoid her gaze and met it steadily. "I want to help him."
"You can only do that by helping yourself. And letting him help you." She smiled. "You fell in love with him once. You might do it again."
He nodded at that. "I want to; I think I could."
"Iím sure John would love to help you with that."
"He sat up all night with me last night," Rodney blurted. "While I slept. He sat there. He did that for me. He wanted to blow up Alkar because of what they did to me."
Kate chuckled despite herself. "Rodney, thereís no one in Atlantis who didnít know that, and there was no shortage of volunteers to help him. He loves you, and being who he is, heíll never take a threat to you lightly."
"It scares me," he whispered. "It scares me because a part of me wants it so much."
"Thatís the part of you that the Alkari tried to destroy, the part that does remember and knows you love him too."
"But they didnít." Rodneyís voice was stronger now, and he took a deep breath. "They didnít destroy it."
Kate smiled, making Rodney shift nervously again. "Are we done now, because there are some thingsópeopleóI need to see?"
She nodded. "Good luck. Not that I think youíll need it."
"I wish I could think that," he commented as he stood. "But thank you, this did help."
"That is what Iím here for," Kate said pointedly. "Try to remember that once you remember everything else."
Rodneyís lips curved in a half-smile at that comment. "Iíll try, but I canít say how successful Iíll be."
"I can," Kate muttered wryly. "Go, Iím sure the colonel is pacing a rut in the floor."
"Iíll tell him youíd like to talk to both of us," Rodney said before heading out of the room, trying to hurry without seeming like he was.
"Whoa, whereís the fire?" John asked, straightening up from where heíd been slouched against the well, clearly waiting for Rodney.
Rodney jumped, his eyes wide as he turned to stare at John. "Can you not sneak up on me like that!"
"How could I sneak when I wasnít moving? You walked right past me."
"Well, you were unnaturally quiet, and I was distracted," Rodney blustered. "And Dr. Heightmeyer wants to see both of us tomorrow."
John sighed faintly. "I was afraid of that." He shrugged. "Did she say when?"
"Yes, you already mentioned that, but there are a lot of hours in tomorrow. Can we narrow it down?"
Rodney frowned at that. "No, no she didnít. Is there a way to check schedules?"
John shook his head even as he keyed his radio. "Dr. Heightmeyer, what time do you want to see us tomorrow?" He waited a moment, nodded sharply, and said, "See you then. Sheppard out.
"She wants to see us at nine, so right after breakfast."
"Can we bring coffee?"
"I think if you showed up somewhere at that hour without coffee, everyone who saw you would yell for Carson."
Rodney chuckled quietly at that, all the while studying John closely. "Then we can bring coffee. Good."
"Yes, Rodney, we can bring coffee. And after you inhale yours, youíll steal mine, as usual."
"And you let me? You really must love me," Rodney commented without thinking, and when he did, his eyes widened, and he raised a hand to Johnís arm.
"Yeah, I do. But the coffee is more a sign of your persistence. Youíve been doing that since damn near the first day I met you," John chuckled, though his hazel eyes were intent.
"Iíve been stealing your coffee that long?"
"Youíre an equal opportunity coffee thief, but you do seem to have a predilection for mine."
"I imagine it tastes better," Rodney murmured, unable to look away from Johnís intent gaze.
John smiled wryly. "So you keep telling me."
"And do you mind?"
"Naw, I like the taste of you and coffee."
"Oh." Rodney glanced away at that, chewing on his lower lip. "Perhaps thatís why I take yours all the time."
"I sorta came to that conclusion some time ago," John agreed.
"And did I know you knew that?"
"Judging by the smug expression on your face when youíd watch me watch you Ďstealí my coffee, Iíd say so."
Rodney smiled slightly at that. "So we both enjoyed itóshould we go get you some coffee then?"
John tilted his head slightly, considering Rodney. "Are you going to let me kiss you after you steal it?"
"Do I usually do that?"
"Yup, itís pretty much why I donít mind losing my coffee."
Rodneyís teeth dented his lower lip, then he nodded. "Then I suppose it would be a good trade now."
"Only if youíre okay with it," John said. "I promised I wouldnít push you."
"I think I can handle a kiss, Colonel," Rodney snorted. "I shared several with Maera, and apparently that was all a lie. I believe I can handle the truth."
Johnís mouth tightened into a straight line, his eyes closed briefly, and his fists clenched at his sides. "I think it would be best if we donít discuss kissing Maera."
Rodneyís hand tightened on Johnís arm. "Iím sorry."
"Itís okay. Itís just something of a sore spot for me."
"I understand, and Iíll try to keep from mentioning her, but..." Rodney looked away and sighed.
"But you remember more about her than me." John forced himself to relax. "Iíll try to stop jumping down your throat."
Rodney nodded at that. "I know itís hard for you too."
"Itís better than it was a week ago," John said simply.
"So, coffee now?"
"Yeah, thatíd be good. I can get a couple of mouthfuls before you take it."
"I promise not to steal it all this time."
John looked a little disappointed. "You say that now."
Rodneyís eyebrows rose. "Are you calling me a liar, Colonel?"
"More of an absent-minded professor. Once your mug is empty, you reach for the nearest one."
"And most often thatís yours, correct?"
"Mostly, yes, but Zelenkaís isnít safe either."
Rodney chuckled at that. "Well, Iím sure yours tasted better."
"He never looks impressed when you say that," John chuckled.
"Thatís because he isnít as smart as I am."
"Amazing. You two can have the same conversation, whether youíre both present or not." John shook his head.
"Should I worry about being predictable?"
"Hardly," John snorted. "A few habits, yes, but in general? Not even close."
Rodney smiled and nodded at that. "Good."
"I wouldnít worry about it." John gestured for Rodney to precede him into the mess hall.
"Iím very glad you agreed to join us, John," Kate greeted them the next morning.
"Itís for Rodney," John said simply.
"And for the colonel," Rodney added as he sat, clutching his thermal mug of coffee.
"So does this mean youíll actually speak?" Kate asked wryly, getting a faint smile from John in return.
"I talked yesterday!" Rodney protested.
"Something which still has me reeling. Can I expect the same from you, John?"
"Iíll do whatever Rodney needs," John replied bluntly.
Rodney swallowed and reached over to squeeze Johnís arm, and Kate nodded. "All right weíll start simply. How are you two doing?"
"Pretty well, considering, I think," John said after a moment. "Iím just so glad to have him back that itís actually not too hard to remember not to push for too much too soon."
"Iím frustrated," Rodney stated, deciding that he might as well be honest. "I feel like Iím caught between two worlds."
John looked at him. "Do you wish we hadnít brought you back?"
"No!" Rodney exclaimed, staring at him in shock, his cup falling to the floor. "To live a lie for the rest of my life? Why would you think I wanted that?"
John shrugged slightly. "You said you were happy. And now... youíre not."
"So I would rather be fat, dumb and happy living a lie?"
"I never said that!" John growled. "But our lives arenít easy here, and you could have had a life there." He wasnít aware that his fists clenched at his sides at the very thought.
"So why donít you send me back if my being here is such an inconvenience, John!" Rodney snarled.
"Because I love you!" John yelled.
"And telling me how much better my life would have been with a bunch of people who would do what they did is supposed to show me that?"
"I didnít say it would be better! But Iím trying to think of what would make you happy!"
"My god, you really are a masochist, arenít you!"
"You are such an arrogant ass!"
"This from the man who tried to fly a nuclear bomb into the heart of a hive ship!" Rodney paused at that and frowned.
"Damnit, that was two years ago! Let it go already! I donít throw all your crazy stunts in your face constantly!"
"I remembered," Rodney gasped, his eyes widening. "I remembered what happened before the ZPM. Before the Daedalus came."
John stopped, his mouth open, and then closed it with a snap. "Holy shit! You do! You remember!"
"So long, Rodney." Blue eyes narrowed. "Nice."
John winced, and Kate raised her cup to her lips to hide her smile. "Yeah, well, you made me pay for that."
Rodney continued to watch him before nodding. "I hope I did it well."
"You could say that. I think the whole city knew what you thought of that."
"Good. Now, do you have any more comments as to why I should have stayed on Alkar?"
"I never said you should have stayed there," John grumbled.
"Then why do you keep insisting I would have been happier there?"
"I asked if you would have been! Pardon me for worrying about your happiness!"
"So you think Iíd be happier with a woman who isnít my wife who was mourning her dead husband than you?!"
Completely frustrated, without thinking, John resorted to his usual method of silencing Rodney. He kissed him.
Rodney froze for a split second then moaned and leaned into the kiss, one hand coming up to cradle the back of Johnís neck.
Kateís eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to say something, then hesitated. Clearly Rodney wasnít objecting, and it might help him remember.
Rodney pulled back after a moment, his eyes wide and his breath coming in short pants. "I want to be here," he rasped.
"And I want you here," John said, running his hands up and down Rodneyís arms.
"Good." Rodney glanced away from John, blinking in surprise when he remembered where they were. "Are we done yet?" he asked Kate plaintively.
"Yes, I think weíve made significant progress. Iíd like to see you together again in a weekís time. John?"
Looking resigned, John nodded. "Iíll be here."
"So that means I donít have to come back until then too, right?" Rodney asked.
Kateís eyebrows rose. "Iíll expect to see you tomorrow, Rodney."
"Good try, though," John muttered.
"Not good enough, obviously," Rodney whispered back while avoiding Kateís gaze.
"Youíre out of practice. Youíll get better."
"Goodbye, gentlemen," Kate said firmly, trying to hide a smile.
Rodney got to his feet belatedly remembering his knocked over mug. "Iím sorry about the rug," he said, waiting for John to rise before heading to the door.
"Thereís a reason why I have a washable one," Kate murmured, watching them leave.
Outside, John stopped Rodney with a hand on his arm. "Are we okay?"
"Are we speaking in regular terms or in this special case terms?" Rodney asked seriously.
"Special case. I donít want to drive you away."
"Iím all right." Rodney looked up and held Johnís gaze steadily. "I actually feel a little better after that argument; we did that a lot, didnít we?"
John laughed. "All the time. Neither of us is exactly the meek and mild type."
Rodney chuckled slightly. "Yes, I gathered that." He looked down at his empty mug, and his expression turned mournful. "I spilled my coffee."
"I think we can get you some more," John laughed. "Come on, Iíll buy." He slung an arm around Rodneyís waist without thinking, stiffened, and then forced himself to relax, leaving it there.
"That kiss felt right," Rodney blurted. "With you. And me. Us."
John relaxed almost imperceptibly. "Iíve always thought so too."
"Even before we actually tried it for real. And I was proved right. And yes, always. From that first moment in the chair back in Antarctica when you started ordering me around."
Rodney flushed slightly at that. "Yes, well, I do seem to be good at ordering people around."
"I think the entire population of Atlantis is aware of that," John chuckled.
"Is that supposed to be amusing, and arenít we supposed to be getting me coffee so I can get to the lab?"
"It was a statement of fact, and we are getting you coffee. Weíre going to the mess hall so you can terrorize unsuspecting servers and then go yell at Zelenka."
"Good." Rodney looked over at John again and smiled. "Very good."
"I have my moments. If youíre very good, Iíll even save an extra dessert for you at lunch."
"By that do you mean not reducing someone to tears?"
"That would be good. Kavanagh looks revolting when he cries."
"And you know this from experience?" Rodney asked as they entered a transporter, exiting near the mess hall.
"Sadly, yes. But it wasnít a situation any of us would care to repeat." John thought for a moment. "Well, Ronon might like a second chance when Kavanaghís particularly annoying."
"That would be all the time."
"Well, yes. But we wonít let him just for that. Iím considering oil drums of roach killer."
As he filled his thermal mug, Rodney nodded. "Just as long as it isnít citrus based."
"Naw, we want to keep you around. In fact, I insist on it."
"Yes, somehow I gathered that, and I prefer it that way as well. I may not remember much about this place, but I know itís home."
John beamed. "Yeah, it is. The rest will come back, and then weíll celebrate."
It was late when Rodney fell into bed, drifting off almost at once, exhausted by weeks of trying to behave as if everything was normal when in fact he still remembered more false things about Alkar than real ones of his life here. He felt the bed dip when John slid in beside him and muttered something unintelligible, but the other manís presence invaded his dreams with the memories he was denied while waking. The dreams turned sultry, then erotic, and he moaned.
Still asleep, John responded to the sound and rolled closer, curling around Rodney, who moaned again and squirmed, rubbing against him. John groaned, shifting so his erection nestled between Rodneyís cheeks, his hips rocking.
Rodney moaned again, one hand sliding back over Johnís thigh, the other moving down to his own erection, stroking himself through his shorts. Johnís hips moved more rapidly, his breathing growing heavier, and Rodney moved with him, gasping out near-silent whimpers as he clenched his ass around Johnís cock. John groaned harshly, his hips jerking, and then he was coming, his eyes fluttering open in confusion.
Lost in his own climax, it took Rodney several moments to realize that there was warm wetness seeping into his shorts from the back, and he froze.
The sudden stillness woke John fully, and he tensed as he realized what had happened. "Rodney?"
"JohnóIóI had a dream and you were there, and shit! Iím sorry!" As he spoke, Rodney was scrambling off the bed, heading for the bathroom.
"Rodney..." John was left staring at an empty space, muzzily trying to catch up. "Um... Iím sorry?"
"Not your fault," Rodney managed to get out.
"Not anyoneís fault. It just happened." John hesitated. "Are you ever going to come back out of the bathroom?"
"I need to clean up. I donít have any clothes." Rodney choked out a half-laugh at that. "Talk about something stupid..."
After plucking his own boxers away from himself with a disgusted expression, John got up and got Rodney a fresh pair from the dresser. "Here you go."
The door opened, at first only a tiny bit, then more, to reveal Rodney standing there, wrapped in a towel. "Thank you," he said hoarsely, reaching out for the soft plaid shorts.
John caught hold of Rodneyís wrist. "Itís okay, Rodney."
"No, it isnít! Itís killing you, and itís killing me!" Rodney exclaimed, almost screaming in frustration. "I want to be able to remember all these things I hear everyone talking about, and most of all, I want to be able to hold you, kiss you, without all these damned lies running around my head!"
Abandoning the futile attempt to sooth Rodney, John let his own frustration have free rein. "And you think I donít want that too? Youíre my lover, damnit, and I lost you, and youíre back, and I canít even touch you!"
"Then maybe you should touch me! Remind me of what we were to each other because itís pretty damn obvious to me that my body remembers!" Rodney gestured violently at the crumpled boxers on the bathroom floor.
John didnít give him time to change his mind. He grabbed Rodneyís upper arms and pulled him close, kissing him desperately, leaving Rodney clutching desperately at the towel while trying just as hard to hold John close to him. John groaned, not even caring about the wet boxers plastered to him, his hands sliding down to cup Rodneyís buttocks, pulling him still closer.
"God, John," Rodney gasped, giving up on holding the towel and sliding his hands through Johnís hair as their tongues rubbed together, driving him wild with flashes of sensory memory.
"Rodney," John moaned, spreading his legs and leaning back against the wall, pulling Rodney with him.
"Iím here," Rodney whispered against his lips. "Iím here."
"Donít ever leave me again." The words were wrenched from John, heartfelt and as desperate as his kiss.
"I wonít," Rodney gasped, clutching John to him just as he was clinging to those bits of memory that flitted through his brain, teasing him.
John buried his face in the curve of Rodneyís neck, inhaling the scent of him as they clutched one another. Finally, John muttered, "Much as I donít want to move, I really need to get these boxers off, and as close as weíre standing, you probably need to clean up again too."
"I think the towel took the brunt of it, but yes, clean clothes would be good," Rodney answered after a moment where he tried to regain his composure.
"Iím not going to say Iím sorry," John said almost defiantly.
"Do you see me asking you to?" Rodney shot back, his chin rising slightly, which made John smile faintly.
"No, and Iím sure Iíd notice. Youíre not known for subtletyóor even asking really. Demanding with a snap of your fingers is more your style."
"It seems to get results."
"It works for you," John agreed with a grin.
Rodney smiled at that. "I believe Iím glad of it."
"I know I am. I like spice in my life."
"Just not the painful kind, right?" Rodney tried to look serious but started giggling at Johnís expression.
Trying to look aggrieved but much too happy at seeing his Rodney slowly returning, John shook his head. "Oh, go change the bed while I take a shower. We could both use some more sleep, and we still have most of the night to do it in."
"Youíre awfully bossy, arenít you?" Rodney asked, grabbing the clean boxer shorts John had brought him before ducking out of the bathroom and grabbing a set of clean linens from a drawer without thinking of where they should be.
"I learned from the best," John retorted as he stepped into the shower. "Hey, grab me a pair of boxers too, would you?" he called, realizing heíd forgotten to get a pair for himself.
"I think I liked you better when you were catering to me," Rodney grumped, though he was still smiling as he pulled a pair of white boxer briefs from another drawer and carried them to the bathroom, dropping them just inside the door before going back to stripping and making the bed.
John laughed. "Iím a sex slave, not a house slave."
"Right now Iíd appreciate the second more!"
John padded out, wearing the boxer briefs and toweling his hair roughly. "See, I knew you could manage to make the bed," he said, grinning.
Rodney eyed him for a moment, then threw a pillow in his direction, scoring a direct hit. Laughing, John caught it before it hit the floor and tucked it under his head, along with the other one still on the bed, as he stretched out. "Thanks."
"And what am I supposed to use?" Rodney asked indignantly.
"Youíre the genius; you figure it out."
Rodneyís eyebrows rose, but he sat on the edge of the bed, slowly moving over until his head was pillowed on Johnís shoulder. "Think out the lights, will you?" he asked before yawning.
Johnís arms wrapped around Rodney as the lights dimmed, and the colonel let out a shaky breath. "Welcome home," he breathed almost silently.
"No, I havenít remembered anything else since yesterday, nothing major anyway," Rodney sighed, rubbing at his forehead as he tried to push away the headache that had been riding him all morning.
Kate took note of the gesture that betrayed Rodneyís pain, but she let it pass without comment for the moment. "What about less major things?"
"I had a dog named Ralph that ran away when I was ten," he offered with a mirthless laugh. "Helpful, isnít it?"
"Actually, yes, it is. Each little bit that comes back to you is a little more of the conditioning breaking down. Think of it as a hole in a dike, without a little Dutch boy to stick his finger in. The first little trickle doesnít seem like much, but it grows until suddenly it sweeps the dike away with it."
"That sounds vaguely destructive," Rodney frowned, fidgeting with his mug of coffee as he looked away from Kateís intent gaze.
"It may feel that way when it happens," Kate warned softly. "You need this, but it wonít be particularly comfortable to suddenly have a whole lifeís worth of memories burst into your mind."
Rodneyís eyes widened and he stared at her. "You mean itís going to be painful?"
"You have a headache, donít you?"
"That seems to be the rule and not the exception lately."
She nodded. "Thatís your memories trying to break the conditioning. Iíd imagine youíll end up with the headache to end all headaches when your memory finally does come back. On the plus side, thatíll be the end of it."
Rodney groaned as he sipped at his coffee. "This isnít making me want to experience it."
"Iím sure the colonel would be more than happy to provide incentive," Kate said wryly.
"Thatís because the colonelís a sex maniacó" Rodney began before wincing and holding his hand to his forehead and groaning.
Kate opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle of aspirin, which she offered to him. "More memories?"
"No, it just hurt." Rodney winced and dropped his mug to cradle his face in his hands, a low whimper escaping his clenched lips.
"Maybe you should go lie down, Rodney," Kate suggested, watching him with concern.
"Canít. Hurts." Rodney moaned and curled forward, rolling off the chair to the floor, beyond speaking.
Kate called frantically for Carson and John as she knelt beside him, a comforting hand on his shoulder, but Rodney didnít respond other than shivering and moaning.
John burst into the office a few steps ahead of Carson and dropped down beside Rodney, nearly shoving Kate out of his way.
"Hurts," Rodney whispered.
"Colonel, we need to get him to the infirmary," Carson snapped, moving around John to check Rodneyís pulse and respiration while his team brought in a stretcher.
John watched helplessly, his features tight, as they wheeled Rodney away, and he followed closely, only half listening to Kateís explanation as she spoke to Carson.
Once Rodney was settled in the infirmary, Carson nodded and turned away from the bed, his expression tight. "Heís stable, John," he said gently. "Ye just need ta let him sleep now."
John just looked at him, one hand tightly holding one of Rodneyís. "He can sleep fine with me here," he said stubbornly, clearly not about to move.
"Aye, heíll sleep better with you here." Carson patted John on the shoulder before walking away to attend to his other patients.
John barely noticed Carsonís departure, so intent was he on Rodney. "Címon, Rodney," he whispered, "donít give up on me now. We all need you here. I need you."
"Oh my god, who the hell let me drink that much of Radekís hootch?"
"Rodney?" Johnís head shot up, and he regarded the other man blearily.
"Yes, John, itís me, who did you think it was? Oppenheimer?" Rodney growled, blinking as he opened his eyes and tried to focus. "Where the hell am I?"
Johnís eyes widened. "You called me John!"
"Well, of course I did; thatís your name!"
"Oh my God, youíre back!" John half lunged over the bed and planted a fervent, sloppy kiss on Rodneyís lips.
"What theóColonel, are you insane?" Rodney sputtered, batting at John with futile hands.
John crawled onto the bed and stretched out half on top of Rodney. "Whatís the last thing you remember?"
"What do you mean Ďwhatís the last thing I rememberí?" Rodney demanded, pushing at Johnís shoulder. "What are you doing? Weíre supposed to be going to see the Alkari facilities."
"Rodney, yer back in Atlantis," Carson said gently, having been called to the bedside when Rodney awoke.
"We went to Alkar almost two months ago," John said, his voice muffled by his face being pressed into Rodneyís neck.
"Two months?" Rodney asked, automatically stroking a hand over Johnís back, "but I donít remember..."
"They drugged and brainwashed you," Carson said gently. "What do ye remember?"
"Everything! Well, everything other than this drivel youíre telling me. John? Did they do that?" Rodney gave up trying to sit up under Johnís weight and craned his neck to stare at the other man.
John refused to move, clinging to Rodney. "There was an explosion. They told us you were dead and made you believe you were one of them. And married."
"Married? To who?!"
"One of the Alkari scientists. Her name was Maera, and she was pregnant. And blond!"
"And I believed this?!"
"You tried to protect her from me!"
Carson stepped in before Rodney could yell. "They combined pharmaceutical dosing with mental conditioning, Rodney. It was quite effective."
"The colonel was somewhat less impressed," Elizabeth put in from the doorway, having been advised when Rodney woke up. "I believe the term genocide was bandied about."
"John," Rodney said gently, stopping pushing at the colonel to stroke his hand over his cheek. "Did that really happen?"
"I only wanted to destroy the city, not the entire planet," John said defensively.
"I meant me thinking I was married to a pregnant blonde."
John raised his head finally, his expression more than answer enough.
Rodney pressed his lips together and swallowed hard. "Iím sorry," he whispered, before frowning. "Shit, I remember. I remember it all."
"You still remember me, right?" John looked worried.
"No, I have no idea who you are, and yet Iím letting you give me a full body massage," Rodney snorted, hugging John close, making the colonel sigh with relief and relax against him again.
"Slut," he said, raising a hand to lace his fingers through Rodneyís.
"I believe Rodneyís back to normal now," Carson commented to Elizabeth.
"It would appear so." She cleared her throat, gaining John and Rodneyís attention. "Barring emergencies, you both have the next forty-eight hours off."
"Good woman, smart decision." Rodney prodded at Johnís shoulder. "As much as I appreciate this, privacy would be much better for reunions."
John nodded and sat up, still holding Rodneyís hand tightly. "Privacy would be good," he agreed.
Carson glanced at the readouts before nodding tightly. "Ye seem fine now, though I want ye here tomorrow morning."
"Not too early," John warned, his usual grin making a reappearance. "We have a lot of lost time to make up for."
"When ye wake up, though it will be tomorrow," Carson cautioned.
"Yes, Carson, weíll be here; can I go now?" Rodney snapped.
"We are going now. Unless you want to start renting beds by the hour?" John gave Carson a challenging stare.
"Go!" Carson laughed, though his eyes held sympathy for them.
"John, you need to move," Rodney commented.
"Have I told you yet today that youíre pushy?" John asked as he stood, retaining his grip on Rodneyís hand.
"Actually, yes, you did," Rodney smirked, before his expression changed to one of pure happiness at the fact that he did remember.
John beamed back at him. "And Iím sure Iíll say it again," he said, tugging Rodney toward the door.
"And this is new, how?" Rodney asked, almost tripping as he tried to keep up with John as the colonel hurried them to the transporter and then to their room.
"I havenít seen a lot of it for the last while," John said, his fingers tightening almost painfully on Rodneyís.
"Iíll make it up to you, I promise," Rodney murmured, pulling John to a halt and into a hug at their door. John wrapped his arms tightly around Rodney, letting his head lean against Rodney, and he simply enjoyed being with him.
Rodney hugged him close, pressing kisses against Johnís temple. "Iím sorry," he whispered.
"Iím sorry it took so long to get you back."
"But you got me back, thatís what matters, isnít it?"
John nodded silently, closing his eyes as he let himself lean on Rodney who stroked his back, murmuring assurances that he was there.
"We should probably move this inside our room," John murmured without moving.
"True," Rodney sighed, straightening up before thinking the door open and shuffling backwards and into the room without losing contact with John.
"This is real, right? Iím not going to wake up again and find out that you donít know me?"
"You tell me," Rodney whispered, sliding his hands under Johnís shirt and rubbing the warm, strong plane of Johnís back. "Is this real?" This was asked before their lips met, causing John to groan into the kiss and press closer. His hands tugged Rodneyís shirt free of his pants and slid underneath to stroke bare skin.
"Iíll take that as a yes." As he spoke, Rodney tugged at Johnís shirt, pulling it over his head and dragging a line of kisses down the tanned skin of his neck to his shoulder.
"Yes, God yes," John groaned between kisses, his hands working at Rodneyís pants.
Rodney nodded, moving back enough so that they could strip each other without tangling their clothes together.
"I love you," John whispered as he wrapped his arms around Rodneyís nude body for the first time in what seemed like forever.
"Good, then show me," Rodney ordered before smiling slightly. "Pushy, remember?"
John smiled as he slid to his knees, pressing a trail of kisses along Rodneyís body as he went.
"Donít I get to touch too?"
"Oh please!" John surged back to his feet.
"Bed then?" Rodney suggested, catching Johnís hands and pulling him over to the bed, then down onto it, moaning as their bodies slid together.
"Weíre staying here for at least a week." John arched up, rubbing against Rodney.
"As long as someone brings us food," Rodney groaned, pressing down against him.
"Iíll worry about that in a day or two," John muttered.
"Excuse me? Hypoglycemic here!"
"In Rodney-withdrawal here!"
"So fuck me already because if we have a fight about this, Iím going to strangle you!"
Bursting into laughter, John rolled them over as he reached for the nightstand, fumbling the lube out of the drawer where it had languished for the last few weeks.
Seeing much of the tension ease from around Johnís eyes, Rodney smiled as well and settled beneath him, running his hands up Johnís chest. "I love you too, you know. Even when I didnít know you, I knew you."
John nodded. "Thatís what kept me sane. And I knew that eventually weíd be back here."
"Iím glad of that, and that you kept looking for me."
"I had to," John replied simply.
Rodney nodded and kissed him again, one hand sliding up into Johnís thick, dark hair while the other moved to stroke his ass, making John exhale a soft breath of pleasure at the familiar touch. His own hands ran over Rodneyís chest, petting him and soothing both of them.
"Feels good," Rodney whispered, arching up into the touch. "Feels right."
"Better than anything else," John agreed, slicking the fingers of one hand and pressing one into Rodney, groaning with pleasure as the familiar heat closed around him. "So long," he murmured, watching his finger disappear.
"I really donít like those two words," Rodney muttered, though the protest vanished into a moan as Johnís finger rubbed against his prostate.
"No, I donít either," John agreed. "So letís make sure we forget about them and never need to use them again." He moved his finger again, lowering his head to catch Rodneyís moan with his own lips, kissing Rodney with a hint of desperation.
Rodney nodded into the kiss even as he clutched John more tightly, pulling them so close together that he could feel Johnís heart beating against his skin. "John," he gasped, rocking up under the other man. "Please."
John nodded jerkily, needing Rodney as much as Rodney needed him. "Canít wait," he rasped, moving his hands to brace himself and then pushing forward, sliding into Rodney and seeing the love and recognition in the blue eyes.
"Donít want you to," Rodney whispered, stroking his hands over Johnís back, feeling the muscles clench and release beneath them as they moved together.
"Love you," John whispered. "So much."
"Love you too," Rodney whispered, his voice thick.
John stared down into his eyes. "Be careful, Rodney," he almost begged. "I donít think I can make it without you anymore."
"Iím here," Rodney promised, shifting a hand to stroke Johnís face, the stubble there rough against his palm. "Iím here; you found me; Iím not going anywhere."
John nodded again, lowering his head to capture Rodneyís lips with his own as they moved together, both of them holding back to make it last as long as possible.
"The same goes for you, you know." Rodney pulled back from the kiss to look up into Johnís eyes. "No more suicide missions."
"Deal. I donít want you to ever feel the way I did when I thought you were dead."
"Been there, remember? May not have lasted as long, but I know how you felt."
"Iím sorry. I canít promise itíll never happen again, but I can say that Iíll do everything in my power to prevent it."
Rodney sighed and arched up under Johnís weight. "I may not like it, but thatís all I can ask."
"Love you," John repeated in a whisper as he started moving again, groaning at the feeling, Rodney echoing the sound as they gave up on speech and concentrated on sensation. Their bodies slapped together, hands eagerly stroking and giving pleasure.
Rodney gasped as John pressed deep within him, and he pulled his legs back, giving the other man more access, needing to feel him. John took immediate advantage by pressing even deeper inside Rodney, groaning his name. He slid a hand between them, wrapping his fingers around Rodneyís erection and stroking in time with his thrusts.
"John, god, John, yes." The words were moaned out as Rodney arched upward, searching for Johnís throat and latching onto it to groan out his completion against the warm, salty skin. The spasms made John cry out, and he drove into Rodney as his own climax overwhelmed him.
Once John quieted, they lay there, not moving other than languid nuzzles and lazy stroking, content to stay that way, as close as they could be.
"Itís good to have you back."
"Itís good to be home."
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