|I'd Go Home If I Knew How To Get There
The first time John woke up in the infirmary on Atlantis with a concussion (three weeks, two days, and 17 hours after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy), McKay was sitting next to his bed, feet propped on a chair and laptop spread out in front of him. John was desperately thirsty, and his head hurt, and he couldn't coordinate his limbs in a way that would allow him to struggle to a sitting position, so he grunted instead, and several seconds later, McKay looked up.
"Oh, good, you're awake," he said.
John made a strangled noise.
"Carson said you're supposed to drink this," McKay said, shoving a glass of water into John's hand.
John spilled water down the front of the scrubs he was wearing, and McKay, irritation evident in every ounce of his body, tossed down his laptop and shoved a hand behind John's back, helping him sit up. "Congratulations on not dying," McKay said, patting John's shoulder awkwardly. "Elizabeth is thrilled, it means she won't have to put Bates in charge."
McKay picked his laptop up, turned on his heel and huffed out of the infirmary.
John wrapped his fingers tighter around the glass of water and closed his eyes.
The second time John woke up in the infirmary on Atlantis with a concussion (six months, one week, four days and ten hours after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy, McKay told him later, and John said, "What, McKay, are you counting the times I almost die?" before McKay turned red and fled the scene like a speeding bullet, which John didn't understand), he couldn't remember his own name. Or where he was. Or what he was supposed to be doing. Or, definitely not, the guy sitting in the chair next to his bed.
"Here," the stranger said. "Drink think, Carson thinks that hydrating a concussion until your back teeth float is the only way to treat it."
John said, "Who the hell are you?"
The stranger rolled his eyes and shouted, "Carson, I think we got an alternate universe model!" Then he said to John, "I'm Dr. Rodney McKay, chief science officer on the Atlantis Expedition. You're Major John Sheppard, military commander of the very same expedition. Also, I think you were dropped on your head as a child, you're not normally this moronic."
Another stranger, this one with a Scottish accent and a white coat, hurried over. "I promise you, Rodney, he's our John Sheppard. All his DNA markers match perfectly. The memory loss, though, might be problematic."
"He doesn't remember me," Rodney said.
John said, "You people put markers in my DNA? Let me out of here."
The Scottish doctor, whose name turned out to be Carson, explained everything to John, and a pretty woman named Elizabeth Weir brought him a laptop and showed him his personnel file, but John kept looking for the exits. He wasn't sure these people were telling him truth, and he wasn't sure he wanted to be here even if they were. He fell into an uneasy sleep after Elizabeth left, and he dreamt about things he didn't remember.
When he woke up, Rodney was sitting beside John's bed, reading something on a laptop, surrounded by a strange collection of what looked like somebody's personal items. "I brought you your stuff," Rodney said. "I thought it might help you remember who you were."
He showed John a framed photo, and John recognized his skinny, big-eared self, and the man standing next to him. He couldn't remember anything else, but that picture was familiar. Rodney said, "I guess this is your grandfather or something."
"Rodney," John said patiently. "That's Evil Knievel."
"How the hell was I supposed to know!" Rodney shrieked, tossing the photo down onto John's blanket-covered lap. "It's the only photo in your quarters, and it turns out that it's of some stunt man and not a relative. I knew you were weird, Major." Rodney paused, as though he was playing something back in his own head, and then said, "Wait, since when do you call me Rodney?"
"That's your name, right?" John said. He thought it was. But his brains still sort of felt like mush, and he had a hard time remembering his own name (John Vincent Sheppard, the personnel file that Elizabeth, who was apparently in charge of this whole crazy alien expedition, which John was still having some trouble comprehending), so maybe it wasn't.
"Yes," Rodney said patiently. "But you don't call me that. You call me McKay, as in, 'hey, McKay, can you hurry it up, I think we're about to be in big trouble', and then things blow up and Ford and Teyla have to carry you back through the gate unconscious and bleeding and it's really bad for my blood pressure, okay?"
"Sure," John said, and things blow up pinged something deep in his brain. "Okay. Whatever you say. So what else have you got?"
"I don't know," Rodney -- McKay -- said. "That's all I've got. You like football, ferris wheels, and things that go more than 200 miles per hour. You like Johnny Cash. You have a death wish."
"That's real helpful," John said. His head was hurting again, and McKay kept looking at him like John had shot his dog, which John just didn't get. He was the one who was laid up in the hospital bed, after all.
"Well, excuse me," Rodney said, standing up. "We're not friends, Colonel. You're my team leader, and the sooner you get your memory back, the sooner I'm not having to spend all my time surrounded by stupid people. Not that getting shot at by aliens is much better, mind you, but I'm just trying to do myself a favor."
Rodney picked up his laptop and stormed off. John slipped down into sleep, dreamt of explosions and fires and burning villages, and when he woke up, he remembered his name, where he was, where he'd been, what he was supposed to be doing. His head still hurt, and McKay wasn't there to hand him any water.
John wondered why he didn't call McKay Rodney, and fell back asleep.
The third time John woke up with a concussion in the infirmary on Atlantis (one year, five months, two days and 11 hours after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy), he couldn't see anything. He promptly freaked the fuck out.
He'd seen too many people lose vision to shrapnel through the cockpit, to standing too close to the center of an explosion. Anything could fuck your vision so that you couldn't fly anymore, and this was John's biggest fear -- waking up, unable to see well enough to fly, unable to fly, ever again.
A hand closed over John's wrist, cold fingers against his skin, and McKay's voice said, "Hey, Colonel. Colonel. Sheppard. Come on, please, calm down, please, John."
McKay never called him John -- Colonel, and Sheppard, but never John. The only people in the city who called him John were Elizabeth and Teyla, and sometimes John wanted to hear his name from someone else.
"Are you done freaking out now?" McKay said. He still had one hand wrapped around John's right wrist, and his thumb was pressed firmly against John's pulse point.
"No," John said, because he wasn't.
McKay snorted, and his fingers tightened briefly around John's wrist and then let go. "Well, get finished. You're not blind."
"But I can't see you," John said, and he could hear the plaintive note in his own voice.
"Because Carson bandaged your eyes," McKay said. You moron hung unspoken, heavy with affection, at the end of the sentence, and it made John's stomach stop churning for just a minute to hear that. John could hear McKay rattling at something nearby, and then McKay's hand was back on John's wrist, turning his arm, pressing something cool and damp against John's fingers. "Feed a fever, starve a cold, and drown a head wound. You remember the drill."
"What happened?" John said. The water tasted wonderful -- he thought the water in the city tasted better than it tasted anywhere else in the world, in the galaxy. For all the trouble the desalinization plants gave the engineering team, the water they produced was incredible.
"You got too close to one of Zelenka's misguided technology-fusing experiments," McKay said. "And it really liked your gene, and then it exploded."
"Fuck," John said, and prepared to commence freaking out again.
"Do you want me to count all your fingers and toes for you?" McKay said. "Because I will, if it will keep you from flailing around like a 2 year old. Everything's still there, Colonel. Carson bandaged your eyes because they're going to be sensitive to light for a couple of days, and you're still here because you hit your head falling backwards. For a guy with such a hard head, you sure end up with a lot of head injuries."
"For a smart guy, you sure say a lot of dumb things, McKay," John said. He slurped down the rest of the water and held the glass out toward the direction of McKay's voice, but when McKay took it from John, it was at an awkward angle, and McKay was closer than John thought. John was exhausted again, concussions always took it out of him and this was number three in Pegasus but eight or nine overall, enough that if he were a hockey player, they'd make him quit playing.
He closed his eyes, and nothing looked any different. John was always scared of the dark, because the dark meant no more flying. He tried to keep from losing it completely, because McKay wouldn't lie to him, and things would turn out fine. If there was doom, McKay would tell him, and McKay doesn't.
McKay said, "Somebody will wake you up in a couple of hours, to make sure you're not dead."
John dreamt of pulling McKay out of the burning wreckage of helicopters, and he woke up sweating and terrified. Someone near him made a sleepy noise, and a chair shifted. McKay's sleepy voice said, "Colonel, are you dead?"
"No," John said.
"Good," McKay said, and the chair shifted again, scraping against the floor. It sounded louder than it probably was, and John jerked away from the sound. He felt shattered, shaken, and he had been expecting Carson, or Elizabeth, for his wake-up call. The fact that it was McKay made him feel safer than he thought it would have.
McKay's familiar snores floated up, close to John's face. John closed eyes that couldn't see and fell asleep again.
The fourth time John woke up with a concussion in the infirmary on Atlantis (one year, seven months, three weeks, six days and eight hours after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy), he reached for the glass of water before he even opened his eyes.
Someone pressed it into his hand, and then John opened his eyes, only to discover Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Carson, Lorne, Dr. Biro, Zelenka and Caldwell standing around his bed. "What," he croaked. "Did I almost die?"
It turned out that he almost had. Elizabeth said, "We'll debrief the mission when you're feeling better, John," and patted his hand and drifted away.
Lorne said, "I'll bring some paperwork by and you can catch up while you're here," and John glared so hard that his head started throbbing, but Lorne fled the room, hopefully not in search of paperwork, which was all John wanted.
Caldwell said, "Glad you pulled through, son," which translated meant I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that you're making your 2IC do all your mission paperwork, and I'm glad I didn't have to do the paperwork on you having kicked the bucket.
Carson and Dr. Biro explained about John's concussion -- number ten, it turned out, a nice round number for a near-death experience -- and his six broken ribs and the pin that was holding the better part of his hip together, and Zelenka said that he was pleased that John had not, in fact, died in pursuit of saving Rodney's life, as Rodney's life was not nearly as worth saving as Rodney claimed. Zelenka and Biro went back to wherever they'd been before John had woken up, and Carson futzed with John's IV line for what seemed like a very long, painful time, before the morphine drip finally kicked in and Carson left, leaving John alone with his team.
John stared at them. They stared at John. Rodney silently handed John a glass of water, and John drank the whole thing in three gulps. When he was done, he handed the glass back to Rodney, and said, "So it was bad, huh?"
Teyla stared at the ceiling. Ronon looked murderous. McKay looked murderous and terrified, simultaneously, which if John hadn't known him for almost two years now, John would have thought impossible, but McKay did six impossible things before breakfast every day, and John wasn't surprised at all. He was a little scared, though -- sparks of fear shooting up the back of his neck -- because McKay only looked like that when something really, really bad had happened, and John had never seen the intensity of that glare focused on him before.
John didn't know that McKay had cared that much.
"You should thank McKay," Ronon said finally. "He saved you. Pulled your ass out of the fire, literally."
"Rodney was indeed brave," Teyla agreed. "I am pleased that you are well, John."
"My ass hurts like you wouldn't believe," John said, because it was true -- the spot on his hip where Carson and Biro had shoved the pin burned something awful, even with the morphine. "I'm not sure I'm well yet."
"We're glad you're not dead," Ronon said. That was a sentiment John understood a little better, and he grinned, as well as he could before it made his head hurt.
"You should rest," Teyla said. "But we are thankful that you did not die."
"Thanks, guys," John said. McKay was still standing there, frozen in place it looked like, the same fearful, frustrated expression on his face. John felt like he was missing something, but he was weirdly glad that McKay was freaked out about John's near death experience -- John had spent enough time sitting beside McKay, nearly watching him die, and it always twisted him up worse than he expected it to. John couldn't categorize his feelings about McKay, except that he thought they actually were friends, by now, and whenever McKay got like this, closed off and freaked out, John thought of him stomping out of the infirmary when John didn't have his memory, saying, We're not friends, Colonel.
I think we are, John thought, and it made his head hurt to think that, because there was something else there, and he couldn't put his finger on it. But he knew that when he'd woken up, McKay had been the first face he'd looked for.
Ronon and Teyla ambled out, and McKay turned to follow them, but he paused at the doorway and came back, standing at the end of John's bed and looking awkward. "You call him Ronon," McKay said. "You call her Teyla."
John said, "I'm missing something, McKay."
"You could call me Rodney," McKay said. "Whatever regrettable things I might have said in the past, I think we are friends now, and it wouldn't kill you to use my name."
"It might," John said.
"Nothing else has managed to yet," McKay -- Rodney -- said crankily, and then he turned and left.
John was confined to bed in the infirmary for two weeks, and then to Atlantis for another six. He was dying of boredom the third day in the infirmary, tired of sleeping but still too exhausted to do anything else, when Rodney -- weird, to think of him as Rodney in John's head, and not weird at all at the same time -- stomped in to the infirmary, tossed down his laptop and picked up the copy of War and Peace Lorne had retrieved from John's quarters. Rodney propped his feet on the end of John's bed, opened the book, and started reading. John's head hurt too much to keep his eyes open, so he closed them, and he drifted in and out of sleep while Rodney complained about the Russians and their fourteen million names.
Perfectly normal, and weirdly comforting.
The fifth time John woke up with a concussion in the infirmary on Atlantis (two years, three months, four days and 18 hours after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy), Rodney was sitting beside his bed, his fingers wrapped loosely around John's wrist. When John opened his eyes, Rodney said, "Do you know who you are?"
John said, "Yes."
"Can you see?" Rodney asked.
John said, "Yes."
"Good," Rodney said, and leaned over and kissed John, hard.
John stared at him.
"Life is too short to spend this much time by myself," Rodney said, and handed John a glass of water. "I keep telling you not to die, that I'd actually miss your skinny ass, and then you keep trying to die. You have to stop it."
"I didn't try to die, Rodney," John said patiently. "I stepped in a mop bucket in the gate room."
"And hit your head," Rodney said, voice rising frantically. "And lay on the floor not moving! And were unconscious for several hours while I sat by your bedside!"
"Well, thanks for that," John said. Rodney's eyes had gotten a little crazy, and he had one hand wrapped around John's wrist, thumb stroking across the inside of John's arm, and John hadn't even realized that Rodney was touching him until he'd looked down. John felt like he'd been missing big pieces of a puzzle, all the edges or the entire center, and when he looked down and realized that he hadn't even noticed Rodney touching him, the puzzle resolved itself.
"You have realized that I'm always the one who sits here and waits for you to wake up," Rodney said, and John thought of sailor's wives, their widow's walks, and of his mother, standing at the bay window in their house in Dallas, waiting for his father to come home. "And we've essentially been dating since we got here, except for that brief thing with Chaya, which we will never speak of again."
"Yeah," John said, because it was ridiculous but it was true -- he spent more time with Rodney, work time and free time, than anyone else in the city, and he did it of his own free will.
"And you didn't punch me when I kissed you," Rodney said.
"Yeah," John said.
"So," Rodney said.
"Come here," John said, and Rodney did. John's head hurt, and he'd stepped in a mop bucket, and he'd spent almost three years unknowingly dating his pet scientist. He kissed Rodney in the middle of the infirmary on Atlantis, a glass of water spilling between them, and he decided that this was more than okay.
author's notes: i blame bill simmons and cspan entirely for this story, even if cspan wishes john had said "thanks, beautiful" somewhere in here, and that it had more porn. &hearts maggie did beta duty. i think this is the first time in, oh, about a million years that the title is not from song lyrics, or a quote -- it's just something that came out of my head. weird.