The Life You Lead

by The Grrrl

Title: The Life You Lead

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@gmail.com

Author's URL: http://thegrrrl2002.slashcity.org

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Pairing: Sheppard/McKay

Summary: "This place is really weird," John said. "Can I go home now?" Not that he had any idea where home was for him.

Notes: Yes, amnesia fic. I just couldn't resist. Because I'm all about the clichés. A big thank you goes to the hard-workin' chelle, whose criticisms and encouragement made this fic much better.

He woke to a throbbing pain in his head.

"Ow." Opening his eyes, he sat up and rubbed his forehead. "Ow, ow, ow." He must have gotten hit in the head, although he didn't feel any bruises. He blinked his eyes, and the room came into focus. It was unfamiliar, with broken down stone walls. Dusty and old.

Huh. He was alone, in a place that looked like it had been bombed, albeit a long time ago.

Closing his eyes against a wave of dizziness, he tried to remember who had hit him and how he had gotten there.

"Colonel", said a voice directly in his ear. "Do you read me?"

He jumped, reaching a hand to the side of his head to find a radio of some sort, hooked directly around his ear. He pulled it off and stared at the strange device. A sick feeling started in the pit of his stomach. This wasn't right.

"Colonel, what are you, deaf?" This time the voice came from both the radio and the man himself, who was striding into room. "Or just not speaking to me now?"

Colonel?

"Oh, crap. What the hell happened?" The man hurried over and knelt beside him, agitated, his words tumbling out one after the other. "You don't look so good. What's going on? You said you saw something interesting, then I couldn't raise you at all. What was it? What did you find?"

"I don't know," he said, finding his voice at last. It sounded strange to his ears.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" The man leaned closer, peering worriedly. He had very blue eyes. "What don't you know?"

"Like I said. I. Don't. Know." Taking a deep breath, he had to clench his fists to keep his hands from shaking.

"Can you please try and make a little sense?"

"Just who the hell are you, anyway?"

The man's face fell. "Oh, this is not good." Reaching up and tapping his earpiece, he announced, "Teyla, Ronon, we have a situation here."

"Who are you calling? Who are you?"

Blue eyes stared intently, and then the man said, "Oh, for god's sake. It's me. Rodney. You don’t recognize me?"

"No, I don't. I don't know you." He looked up to see two more people enter the room--a tall man with a big gun--very tall man, very big gun-- and a woman, who was very pretty but also armed. This didn't look good at all.

"What happened?" The tall man asked in a gruff voice.

"I have no idea," the man named Rodney said, sitting back on his heels. "He won't tell me."

"It's not that I'm not telling you, I don't know. I don't know anything. I don't know who you are, why I'm here, and, and--" He couldn't even say the rest.

The man and the woman looked at each other.

"We'd better get you back to the city." Rodney extended a hand to him. "Come on."

He recoiled, scuffing backward, trying to get his feet underneath him. His back hit the wall, and his hand brushed something strapped to his thigh--a holster, with a sidearm in it. Thank god. He yanked the weapon out and pointed it at Rodney, who promptly fell back, an expression of pure astonishment on his face. In any other circumstances, it would have been comical.

"What the hell are you doing?" Rodney asked.

"I'm not going anywhere with you."

"John, we are simply trying to help you," the woman told him.

John?

"Oh my god," Rodney said. "You don't even know your own name, do you?"

"Yeah I do. It's 'John'."

Rodney folded his arms over his chest, apparently more annoyed than frightened now. "John who?"

"John...something. Colonel John something." He turned and aimed the gun at the tall scary man, who was slinking closer in a catlike manner. "Stay back, okay?"

The man held up his hands. "Don't want anyone to get hurt," he explained.

The woman spoke again. "It would be best if you put the gun down and came with us."

"How do I know you weren't the ones to do this to me in the first place?"

"Oh, right, we magically zapped away your memories." Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "Because you're so much more fun this way."

"You--Rodney? You're a real sarcastic son-of-a-bitch, you know that?"

The tall man snorted. "He's learning fast."

Teyla gave them both a look of disapproval before returning her attention to him. She crouched down, fearless in the face of his weapon. "You are Lt. Colonel John Sheppard of the US Air Force," she explained gently. "You are the leader of our expedition team. I am Teyla, and this is Ronon. And he is Rodney. We are members of your team."

"I don't believe you," he said, even though he wanted to. She seemed sincere. But it didn't make sense, he didn't have a team, and he didn't want to be here. He wanted to be where he was before all this happened, and his head hurt, and he was suddenly nauseous and really, really tired.

"John," she said, and it was warm and affectionate and sounded like something she had said many times before. "Please believe me."

He glanced down at his gray jacket, keeping his gun aimed and steady. "I'm not wearing a uniform. If I was a colonel, I'd be wearing a uniform."

"It's your BDUs," Rodney explained. "Look, I'm wearing the same thing."

And he was. Gray trousers, boots, the same style jacket, with a place for velcro patches on the shoulder. "Yeah, well, yours has different colors on it," John pointed out.

"Yes, yes, science team. We're all nicely color-coded. Now will you please put that gun away?"

John shook his head. He motioned to the other two with the weapon. "Why aren't they wearing BDUs?" Although the woman's pants looked similar.

"We are not from your world," Teyla explained.

It was an odd thing to say. "And what world would that be?"

"Earth," she said.

John's stomach rolled unpleasantly. "Right. Very funny."

Insane. He had been captured by insane people. His day just kept getting better and better. No way was he ever putting his gun down. He bared his teeth in a smile. "Then shouldn't you be little gray creatures with triangle heads and big round eyes?"

"No, no, no," Rodney said. "Those are the Asgard. Teyla and Ronon are human."

John stared. Rodney was actually serious. "You people are crazy, aren't you?"

"Yup, pretty much." Ronon nodded.

Rodney glared at Ronon. "Not helping." He turned back to John. "Listen, you've obviously been injured in some way, so why don't we continue this discussion back in the city, where we have a doctor who can look at your head and fix whatever it is that happened to you."

John raised his gun higher. "Back off. Now."

As if he would go anywhere with the crazy people and their big guns and crazy stories of aliens and gray creatures. He climbed to his feet, steadying himself with one hand on the wall but the dizziness hit hard, his head throbbing with pain. A violent wave of nausea struck and his stomach lurched and heaved and the next thing he knew he was hunched over and vomiting onto the floor.

Someone grabbed and pulled him back up, an arm sliding around his waist; other hands supporting him as he finished spewing up a meal he didn't remember eating. Soft voices blurred together as he was guided to a slab of stone and made to sit with his head between his legs, helpless as he waited for the dizziness to pass.

"That was totally gross," Rodney said, wrinkling his nose. He patted John's shoulder and handed him a bottle of water. "Here."

John took it gratefully, rinsing his mouth and spitting until the sour taste was gone. "Thank you." He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. His gun was gone--Ronon probably, but the three of them, while most certainly crazy, seemed a little less scary as they hovered around him, faces creased with concern.

"Are you willing to come with us now?" Ronon asked. "Or do you want to hang out here and puke some more?"

John nodded wearily. He was ready for nightmare to end. "Get me out of here."

With their help he staggered up the wide stone staircase, out of the building and into bright sunlight. Grassy fields surrounded the building and John wondered just how far away this city was. And if he'd have to walk there. His head was still throbbing and his stomach queasy, and he didn't see a jeep or any kind of transport vehicle.

Passing out was starting to feel like a viable option.

Then Rodney pulled a small device from his pocket and pointed it at an empty section of field. The air shimmered, and to John's astonishment, a large--something appeared. A ship of some sort.

"I guess this means I'm playing pilot," Rodney said. "You wouldn't happen to remember anything about flying the jumper, would you?"

John could only stare wide-eyed as the entire back of the ship opened up.

Rodney sighed. "I guess that means no."

"A jumper?"

"You call it a puddlejumper," Teyla explained. "It's a spaceship."

Right. Crazy. He had almost forgotten that.

Only when he got inside, the damn thing looked real, with controls and a HUD that lit up when Rodney took the pilot's seat. "Usually you do the flying. I'm really not very good at it." Rodney shot a hopeful look over his shoulder.

John shook his head, wincing at the pain. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."

Rodney shrugged and turned back to the controls. "Haven't crashed. Yet."

They got him seated. Ronon kept a wary eye on him but John was too exhausted to even contemplate making trouble. And too fascinated. They were taking a ship--a spaceship, supposedly, to some city. At least maybe there someone could help him.

The ship hummed, then rose straight up. John gripped the arms of his chair but it didn't pull any Gs. It must be some sort of new technology, new and fantastic technology--military, obviously, considering he was a Colonel--if the crazy people were telling him the truth, and Christ, they probably were, and that scared him even more.

He looked out the windshield and watched the sky turn from bright blue to a deep, dark sapphire.

It really was a spaceship.

His head began to hurt worse.

"Rodney?" Teyla said, "I believe the gate is in the other direction."

"I know, I know, give me a moment--"

John turned to Ronon. "Are you sure he can fly this thing?"

"Don't worry," Rodney said. "It goes on auto-pilot when it gets close to the gate."

"Gate?" John tried to see out the windshield, but it was just a field of stars. Which was actually pretty cool.

He was in outer space.

Teyla was pressing large buttons on the ships console.

"We're going to travel through a wormhole," Ronon explained.

"Atlantis? This is McKay," Rodney said. "We're on our way in. Please have a medical team meet us in the bay."

"Did he say 'Atlantis'?"

Ronon nodded. "Yeah."

A bright puddle of light came into view--hanging motionless in space, getting bigger and bigger as they approached. John figured it must be the 'gate', and he hoped this was all just a strange dream that he would wake up soon, because you couldn't travel through wormholes, spaceships weren't real and neither were space aliens.

Then a bright white light enveloped him.

****

They all crowded around his bed, eyeing him with such concern and worry that John found it easier to simply close his eyes and lay his head back. It still all felt disconcertingly real. The bed, the sheet, the smell of antiseptic, the pain in his head. Real. All of it.

"No obvious injuries. So far it appears the Colonel has some form of retrograde amnesia," the doctor said. He had a soft Scottish burr.

"Retrograde?" Elizabeth asked. She appeared to be in charge, although no one addressed her by rank.

"Meaning that he cannot remember anything from before the incident, but is capable of forming new memories."

"That's good, right?" Rodney asked. "I mean, not good that he can't remember, but--is it good?"

"Well, I suppose. It means the damage was limited."

"So, how much damage is there? What will it take to bring his memories back?"

"I don't know yet, Rodney, I haven't yet run all the tests."

"What are you waiting for then? Run the tests," Rodney said, obviously exasperated.

John opened one eye. The doctor nodded at him. "Yes, he's always like this, if that's what you're wondering, Colonel."

John gave a weak smile.

"Now if you all will please excuse us, I have some tests to run. Elizabeth, I'll keep you posted on his condition."

Elizabeth gave the doctor a terse smile, then squeezed John's arm. "Don't worry John," she said softly. "We're going to find out what happened to you."

"Sure." John frowned. "Listen, you're in charge here. Are you my CO?"

His question seemed to amuse her. "No, John. I'm not military. This base is under civilian command."

"Oh."

She patted his arm, and the group filed out.

***

They took blood samples, made him pee in a cup. Then came the scans, which went on forever and John drifted in and out of fitful sleep. He could hear voices in the background, Rodney being argumentative, Elizabeth, questioning. He tried to tell himself that everything was going to be fine, the doctor would fix it. Or maybe next time he woke up, he'd remember it all.

He slept.

When he opened his eyes again he was still in the infirmary. A pretty blonde was sitting next to his bed, watching him. And he still didn't know who he was.

"Hello." She reached a hand out.

John hesitantly shook it. "Hi. I'm John. Or so they tell me."

"I'm Kate," she said with a smile. "I'm the base psychologist."

"Do I know you?"

"We've talked, on occasion."

"I'm sure you'll understand if I say I don't quite remember." The fear began growing again. An entire lifetime, gone. He wound his hands into his blanket. "I don't remember anything."

"That's quite alright." She touched his shoulder.

"No, no, it's not all right."

"We're going to help you get your memories back, okay?"

"How?"

"In most cases with classic amnesia all it takes is for you to relax and be in familiar surroundings, and the memories will come back by themselves."

John nodded. "Right. Relax." He let go of the blanket and gave a little laugh. "Piece of cake. Because this situation is very relaxing."

Kate looked sympathetic. "And assuming this is classic amnesia, there are treatments we can try--hypnosis, or pentathol, but for now, let's see how you do on your own."

"I'm not doing very good so far. And shouldn't I be reporting to my commanding officer?"

"You're the military commander on base, John."

"What?"

The bed curtain moved and the doctor appeared. "You'll be happy to hear I haven't been able to detect any damage to your brain, Colonel. Still, I'd like to keep you here overnight for observation, since we really have no idea what might have happened to you."

John shrugged. "Okay, I guess." He didn't know where else he would go.

Kate added, "Tomorrow we can visit your quarters, and take a look at the city."

"Why can't I do that now? Maybe it can jog my memory. Maybe something will seem familiar." He looked from Kate to Carson back to Kate again. "I can't just lie here," he pleaded.

Carson remained unmoved. "I'm afraid that's what you are going to have to do."

"I know this is hard, John, but please try and get some rest."

After they left, an orderly brought a tray of food--a sandwich, some fruit, a couple of cookies, and what looked to be pasta salad. John wasn't hungry. He picked at the food and wondered if any of these were his favorites.

"Hey."

John glanced up to see Rodney standing hesitantly at the edge of the curtain surrounding his bed. "Hi," he said.

At his response, Rodney came closer. "Feeling any better?"

"The headache is gone," John told him. "But if you're wondering if I have miraculously regained my memories, no."

Rodney nodded. "Okay, just thought I'd check." He nodded again and pushed his hands into his pockets.

"Thank you," John said, feeling at a loss.

"I wanted to stop by before we left--I'm taking a team back to PX787 to try and figure out how you managed to do this to yourself." He stared at John with mournful eyes.

John wondered if Rodney was always this insulting. Why was this man a part of his team? "I'm sure I didn't do it on purpose, if that's what you were wondering."

"Obviously, you were careless."

"And you're obviously a jerk."

Rodney's chin lifted. "True, but clearly you don't remember, what with the amnesia thing and all, that I'm really, really smart, so if anyone can figure out what happened to you, it would be me."

Insulting and arrogant. "Really smart, huh?"

Rodney nodded. "I don't have the time to get you up to date on everything I've accomplished, but yes, really smart."

"I'm sure everyone here is pretty smart."

"But I'm the smartest."

John raised his brows. "You weren't very good at flying that 'jumper'."

"Oh, please." Rodney rolled his eyes in disgust. "My genius lies in other, more advanced areas, okay?"

"Like figuring out what happened to me in that room."

"Yes, exactly. You see, the way it goes is sometimes you save my life, and sometimes I save your life, and this time it's obviously my turn to, well, not exactly save your life, but to save...you."

"Okay." At least Rodney seemed confident--maybe overly so, but for the first time, John felt a glimmer of hope. "So, I've saved your life?" he asked, curious. Rodney made it sound as if they got into life-threatening situations on a regular basis.

"Yes, you've saved everyone's life here. Several times over."

"Wow. I must be some kind of hero." He didn't feel very heroic. He felt...scared.

Rodney looked pained. "Yes, yes, the big hero. The great big dashing hero."

Dashing? John frowned at Rodney. He certainly didn't feel dashing.

"Right." Rodney turned to leave, then hesitated, turning back to John. "Are you going to finish that?" he asked, pointing to the remains of John's sandwich.

John shook his head. Rodney snatched up the rest of the sandwich and left.

***

John was in a floating city. A big, beautiful floating city, with spires rising up toward the sky, and endless seas all around. He couldn't help grinning as he leaned on the railing and tried to take it all in. "Aliens built this? And they don't mind us being here?"

"It was a long time ago. They're all gone now," Kate explained. "It is beautiful, isn't it?"

"I'd say it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen, but I really don't know that, do I?"

"Trust me when I say that it probably is the most amazing thing. We all felt that way when we first got here."

"How long ago was that?"

"Almost three years," Kate said.

"I've been here for three years?" He had been stationed in another galaxy for three years. Part of him still felt like they must be making it all up, that it couldn't possibly be true, even though he was staring at the evidence. "And what are my duties here?"

"A lot of things. Exploring. Protecting the city from our enemies."

"Enemies? I don't like the sound of that."

Kate nodded. "We'll take it one step at a time. Come on, your room is this way."

His room was small, but with big windows, and he could see the city spires in the distance. A guitar hung on one wall, a skateboard leaned on another. There were golf clubs tucked away in one corner and a large poster of Johnny Cash above his bed. "So, um, this is all my stuff?"

It was actually pretty cool.

He strolled through 'his' room, pausing to look out the windows at the spectacular city beyond. "I got a great view, huh?"

A photograph stood on his nightstand--a small dark-haired boy and an older man. Himself as a child, he presumed, even though the face was unfamiliar. And his father? The man had white hair, but the resemblance was there. He picked up the photo and stared intently, trying to will the memories into existence.

"John," Kate said. "It's not going to happen right away--"

"There's nothing there." John threw the picture down on the bed. "No matter how hard I try, it's just empty--"

"Remember what we talked about?"

"I know, I know, I shouldn't try. It doesn't help for me to get agitated, but I feel agitated, all right? I'm standing in some stranger's room, and it's supposed to be mine, but it's not." He turned to the mirror, and stared at the dark-haired man staring back at him. The man who refused to tell him anything. He pointed at the image. "I wish he would talk to me."

"You have to give it time, John." She reached up to touch her radio, and listened for a moment. "Dr. McKay has returned--they've found something, and brought it back to the lab."

John turned headed out the door, intent on seeing what the thing actually was that stole his mind because he wanted it back, damn it. It was only when he was in the hallway that he stopped, realizing he had no idea which way to go.

"This way." Kate led him to a transporter.

***

The room was huge. John stood at the doorway and peered in. It was full of people, swarming around what looked to be large slab of stone. He recognized it as the one he was next to when he woke, only now it had slots open, with drawers full of crystals. He spotted Rodney immediately, off to one side, talking excitedly to Elizabeth. Ronon and Teyla were beside him and everyone looked like they had something to do and a reason to be there.

"Sheppard," Rodney said. With a hopeful expression he asked, "Anything familiar yet?"

John shook his head. Rodney's face fell.

"It's going to take some time, Rodney," Elizabeth chided. She nodded a greeting to John.

Stepping into the room, John approached the device warily. "What's all that stuff?" he asked, pointing at the crystals.

"Crystal units," said Rodney. "Basically, the inner workings of the device."

"Device? What kind of device is it?"

"That? We don't know yet."

A smaller man with glasses was clamping wires to one set of crystals. In heavily accented English he said, "Elizabeth is searching the database for information, but as we know the Ancients are not known for their helpful indexes."

"Ancients?"

"Yes." The man drew back and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "They definitely were the ones who built this device. Many thousands of years ago."

Somewhat dazed, John nodded. "See, it's things like that that make my head start hurting all over again."

"Yes," the man said. "Of course. Your head. How are you feeling, Colonel?"

"Confused."

"I can only imagine," he said.

"Radek," Rodney snapped. "Are we ready to power up?"

Radek turned. "No, Rodney, we are not."

"Your name is Radek?" John said. "You're a scientist here too?"

"Can we please go through the introductions later?" Rodney asked. He had a small computer of some sort cradled in his arm. "And I'd advise you to step away from the device, Colonel, since it was probably your gene that activated it in the first place."

"My jeans?"

Rodney frowned at him. "What? Oh, for god sakes, not your pants, your DNA."

"What's wrong with my DNA?"

"John," Elizabeth said, stepping forward to take him by the arm. "Let's go get some lunch and we'll talk, okay?"

John yanked his arm away. "Is there something wrong with me?"

"No," she said. "More like something right."

"This place is really weird," John said. "Can I go home now?"

Not that he had any idea where home was for him.

***

John blinked at Elizabeth. Stargates, wormholes, ATA genes and evil aliens that sucked the life out of you.

"You're just pulling my leg, right?" he said with a weak smile, because clearly, she wasn't.

"No, John, I'm not. It's been," she hesitated, a bemused expression on her face. "It's been an amazing experience."

"Amazing, yeah, I'm sure that's the word for it. And I'm the military leader?"

She folded her hands and leaned forward. "You weren't intended to be. When we first mounted this expedition, three years ago, you were still a major. The original military leader was a Colonel Sumner."

"What happened to him?"

"He was killed shortly after we arrived and made contact with the wraith. It's a long story. You can read the mission report when you are ready."

"A report that I wrote."

She nodded. "Yes."

"See, I hate that. It's like all this happened to a different person, someone who's not me, because I'm me, not that other person." John picked up his sandwich, contemplated it, then dropped it back on his plate. "Not that I know who 'me' is."

Elizabeth looked puzzled for a moment. "I think I can understand your confusion."

"Well that's good, because I can't."

"John. I'm sure this scary--"

"Damn right it's scary."

"You've faced a lot of scary things here."

"That wasn't me. That was someone else. Some big dashing heroic guy." When Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, John added, "That's what Rodney said."

This seemed to amuse Elizabeth. "Yes, I'm not surprised."

"What is with that guy anyway? Is he for real? Is he really that smart? Because he's pretty damn annoying."

"Yes. To all of the above. If anyone can figure out what happened to you, it's Rodney."

Elizabeth sounded confident in Rodney's abilities. John wasn't so sure.

"What about my family? Are they back on earth?"

"You don't have any family left, John," Elizabeth said. "Both your parents have been gone for some time now. For a lot of us--this is our family now."

"Oh." John wasn't sure if the idea comforted or terrified him.

***

John circled his bed, then after a moment of contemplation, sat on it. He perched his laptop on his legs and called up the first mission report. After reading for fifteen minutes, he closed the computer, a cold chill running through his veins.

Sumner had been killed, all right. By him. He had shot his own commander.

And awakened the enemy in the process.

***

Even though it was late, John found Rodney in the lab, cup of coffee in hand. He was sitting at a station surrounded by computers, some of which were attached to the machine by long cables. John paused at the entrance, then approached Rodney, making a wide circle around the alien device. Just in case.

Rodney glanced up as John approached. Yet another hopeful expression--the one John saw mirrored on everyone's face when they saw him approach. "No," John said. "I haven't remembered anything."

Rodney turned back to his work, his mouth twisting into a grimace. "Yeah. And I still don't know what this device is supposed to do." He sighed, weary and defeated and for once, not very annoying at all.

John wanted the brash over-confidence. He wanted to be assured Rodney knew what he was doing, that Rodney was the smartest guy ever in any universe, that Rodney was going to fix his mind and put it back again. "So, have you at least been able to power it up?"

"Partially. The power's not reaching the crystals. It doesn't make any sense--it's possible part of it burned out when you activated it."

Still wary, John glanced over his shoulder at the machine, then hopped up on the table and watched as Rodney typed something into the keyboard, then ran his finger across the screen to check the readout. It was oddly comforting, Rodney's intense focus, the way he could almost see Rodney's brain working in the impatient tap of a foot, the soft questioning hum. He was particularly fascinated by the curve of Rodney's neck as Rodney cocked his head to one side, examining a flashing display on a second monitor. John wanted to touch--he was sure the skin there would be smooth against his fingertips and where the hell did that thought come from?

Rodney looked up at the sound of John's sharply drawn breath. "I'm going to figure this out, John."

He spoke with a quiet determination and John could only nod, because Rodney's eyes were shadowed and darkly intense, and now John's fingers itched to touch Rodney's unshaven cheek, to feel the whiskers scrape against his skin.

"Rodney," John said, then stopped.

"What?" It wasn't belligerent, just softly questioning. His gentleness was both unnerving and appealing. John wanted to be a part of it. He wanted--he wanted to be closer. He wanted to feel it.

"John? What is it?" Rodney asked again. "Aside from you know--" he waved a hand at his head. "The memory thing."

John. Rodney hadn't called him that before. It was always "colonel" or "Sheppard".

"Are you feeling okay?" Rodney rose to his feet and peered worriedly at John's face. "Should I call Carson?"

"No, I'm fine, Rodney. I'm fine." John shook off the confusion and rubbed his face. He was reading too much into the simplest of things. "As fine I as could be, I suppose."

Rodney nodded, still looking worried.

"Hey," John said. "I have an idea. Why don't I try to activate the machine again?"

"What, are you nuts?" Rodney asked.

John shrugged. "I don't know. I could be. Although I still kind of think you guys all are."

"No, no, no, that is not--you're not nuts, okay?" Rodney fell back down into his chair. "And I already had to talk half the base out of it--every single person with the gene, starting with Lorne and ending with that new girl with the curly hair. Carson even volunteered. Carson."

John stared, dumbfounded. All of them, willing to take that risk. For him.

He couldn't imagine why.

"I mean, I'd do it myself," Rodney continued, "Only then if it wiped my mind I wouldn't be able to work on it once it was activated, so there would be no real point to it, would there?"

"So," John said when he finally found his voice. "It makes sense that I'm the one to do it. I have nothing to lose. Literally."

Rodney started shaking his head, mouth set in a grim line and John could see that he was getting revved up again. It made him inexplicably happy.

"No," Rodney said. "It probably was malfunctioning when you first activated it--because really, what's the point of a device that clears your memory? And if you touch it again, the most likely outcome is that the same thing will happen, and that means I would have to introduce myself to you all over again. Although at least this time you won't be armed."

"Exactly."

"But there's a chance you might throw up on me again, so--no. Trust me. Not a good idea."

Yes, it was, which was why so many other people were willing to take the risk. But John merely shrugged. "It was just a thought."

"Well, do me a favor and stop thinking." Rodney picked up his coffee cup and glanced inside of it. "If you want to make yourself useful, you can get me more coffee."

John was pretty sure that "coffee boy" wasn't on his list of duties as base commander, but he slid off the table and picked up Rodney's cup. Then put the cup down, and in three desperate strides was directly in front of the machine.

Cursing, Rodney caught up with him just as he was placing both hands on the front casing.

"John, don't--" He yanked John back, but not before John's hands came into contact with the smooth, cold stone.

Nothing.

"Damn it, Rodney--" John spun around and caught his breath, because Rodney--Rodney was furious and scared but yet there was something more to it, in the look in his eyes--

"Don't do that." Rodney said, voice pitched way up high. His hand gripped John's arm tight as he shook John, hard. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Nothing happened," John insisted. He couldn't tear his eyes from Rodney's face. "I'm still the same. You're Rodney, I'm in on Atlantis--the machine didn't--"

"That's not the point--"

At the sound of a low hum they both stopped. A light flashed on the side of the machine, then another.

Rodney yanked John again, this time dragging him back to the computers with one hand, the other tapping his earpiece. "Radek--Radek, come on--wake up--yes, yes, get over here, right now." He turned to John. "You idiot."

Fighting back the urge to grin, John pulled his arm free, then crossed them over his chest. "You're the one who couldn't get it working. Maybe you're the idiot."

"Am not."

And then the room was filled with scientists. John stepped back to watch them work, eventually settling into a nearby chair. Teyla and Ronon joined him, one on either side of him and together they sat, until Ronon threatened to shoot him if he didn't get some sleep.

Ronon was big and still sort of scary, so John went back to his room and slept without dreaming.

***

The following morning, John grabbed coffee and a donut from the mess and headed straight for the lab. He was sure someone would have contacted him if Rodney found something, but still, he was hopeful as he entered the large room.

It was a scene much like the one he had left last night. He wondered if they had worked through the night. He found Rodney on the floor, easing a thin white crystal into a slot. "Hey, what's going on? Find anything? Like say maybe, my mind?"

Rodney didn't look up. "Hah, very funny, Colonel."

Colonel, again.

"We've been able to detect which crystals have been damaged," Radek told him.

"And?"

This time Rodney did look up, to glare at John impatiently. "And we are replacing them."

"That sounds good."

"Yes, it's progress, only it would progress faster if I weren't constantly interrupted."

"You're probably right." John crouched down beside Rodney as Rodney's fingers curled around another crystal, a gray one this time. Rodney's forearm was covered with light brown hairs and John was sure that at some point, he must have brushed his fingers over those hairs.

He searched his mind for the memory, anything---about Rodney, about the feel of his skin and he thought maybe there was something there, a ghost of an image, but it was fleeting, gone before he could grasp it. John leaned closer, breathing deep, the smell of Rodney's sweat deeply familiar.

Rodney tugged on the crystal, then shifted his weight onto one hip, almost bumping into John. "Excuse me? Crowding me, here." But his eyes didn't meet John's. Instead they lingered on John's chest while his cheeks flushed a dull pink. He mumbled quickly, "And, um, you shouldn't be this close to the machine when it's activated."

John wanted to ask Rodney what the hell was going on. Then a large hand landed on his shoulder, startling him.

"Sheppard," Ronon said, looming over him. "There you are. Come on, it's time for our run."

***

John's chest ached, his lungs burned, and if this was a regular thing with them then obviously he was a masochist because running with--or more accurately after--Ronon was an exercise in futility. He ran for what felt like forever, following Ronon through a series of corridors and connecting balconies until he was completely, utterly lost.

"Okay, okay," he gasped, stumbling to a halt. He bent over, hands on his knees, head swimming as he tried to catch his breath.

"Hey," Ronon doubled back to him. "You did pretty good today."

John glared up at him, sweat dripping into his eyes. "Right."

"No, really. You pushed yourself more than you usually do." Ronon's skin had a glow to it, but that was about it. He didn't even seem to be out of breath. "Come on, walk a little before you stiffen up."

John straightened and took one step, then another. "Yeah, I think I can do that."

Ronon grinned, suddenly looking much younger. "Good."

They walked in silence along the winding balcony, the breeze cooling John's overheated skin. He stole a glance at Ronon. A good-looking guy--tall, obviously very fit and those dreads were pretty damn cool. John appreciated the whole package but the urge to touch wasn't there, not like it was with Rodney.

"What?"

John looked away, his face growing warm. He hadn't realized he was staring. "Uh, you're on my team, right?"

"Right."

"But you're not from earth. Elizabeth told me you're from a place called Sateda?"

"Right."

"I found you on a planet somewhere. You were a 'runner'."

"Uh huh."

"You're a heck of a conversationalist, aren't you?" John finally asked.

Ronon came to a halt. "Listen, if you want to ask me something, go ahead ask it."

"Okay." John stopped beside him and tugged at his sweaty tee-shirt, clinging uncomfortably to his stomach. He couldn't stop thinking about all those people who had volunteered to activate the machine. "Who the hell am I?"

"You're John Sheppard," Ronon answered without hesitation.

"See, that's where you're wrong. I'm not. I'm just some guy--I have no idea what I'm doing here."

"You're walking, that's what you're doing. So you don't stiffen up after your run." Ronon gave him a shove. "Come on, keep going."

"That's very helpful," John said with a sigh. He started walking, but paused where the balcony split into two directions. "And how the hell do we get back to the main tower, anyway?"

"It's this way," Ronon said. "The same way we came."

"You sure?"

Ronon gave him a look. "Yes."

"Just checking."

"I know what you did, with that machine, to activate it again," Ronon said after a moment. "You are definitely John Sheppard."

***

John read another mission report--apparently he had nearly died due to having some bug embedded in his neck while one of those little spaceships was stuck halfway through the gate. He didn't know the ships could get stuck like that. It was a disturbing thought, almost as disturbing as the explanation for the scar on his neck. It must have been a pretty big bug. He put the computer aside and showered, fingering the smooth raised line of skin on his neck.

He was pulling his clothes on when a knock sounded at his door. He hurriedly pulled on one of the many black tee-shirts he found in a drawer and opened the door.

"Hiya, Teyla."

"John, how are you feeling?" She stood in the doorway, relaxed but polite.

John shrugged. "Confused?"

"This must be very difficult for you."

"It's--yeah. Difficult. I feel like I'm in lurking around in some stranger's room. By the way, do I own any shirts that aren't black?"

Teyla appeared to take his question very seriously. "Once, I saw you in a pale blue shirt. It buttoned down the front."

"Huh."

She grinned at him. "Come on. I thought perhaps we could meditate together. Kate suggested it might be helpful for you."

John followed her out into the hallway. "Really? Do we meditate together a lot?" John suddenly wondered if by 'mediation' she really meant 'mediation', or something entirely different. While Teyla was certainly a lovely woman--okay, a hot and curvy and very, very pretty woman, from her demeanor it just didn't seem like something they did.

"No, actually, we never have," Teyla said, pausing in front of the transporter, "but we thought that with so much for you to take in, that the opportunity to clear your mind and listen to your own thoughts might be of value."

"That's assuming I actually have thoughts."

The transporter doors slid open, and Teyla stepped inside. "Then we shall find out, won't we?" she asked, clearly amused.

"If you say so." John followed her in, and steeled himself for the transport.

***

"Inhale."

Eyes closed, John took a deep breath.

"Now exhale, slowly, and with that breath, cleanse your mind of all distractions."

John exhaled, trying to focus on his breath as he emptied his lungs. Teyla's voice was low and soothing, yet he had to force himself to straighten his hunched shoulders. All that kept running through is mind was "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard" and Rodney saying "John" in that oddly soft voice, and that Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard was in all likelihood gay, a closeted gay air force pilot who killed his commanding officer and lived in another galaxy with aliens and wormholes and mind-sucking devices--as if the threat of having your life force sucked out of you wasn't enough--and people were willing to risk their own minds for him to get his back and---

"John," Teyla said.

John opened his eyes.

"You are not relaxed," she said sternly.

John glanced down to see that his hands were balled up into fists. "Uh, no?"

"Shall we try again?"

"Teyla, I know you're trying to help, but don't think meditation is my thing."

Teyla sighed. "I suspected you might have difficulty with it."

John wondered if he should be insulted. "Hey--"

"I have a better idea, one I believe you will prefer." She rose to her feet in one graceful movement.

John untangled his legs and was struggling to stand when Teyla returned and handed two long, heavy sticks to him. He took one in each hand, the smooth wood fitting nicely against his palm. "Are you serious?" They looked dangerous.

"I'm curious to see if you have retained any of your physical skills." She stepped back and twirled the sticks on either side of her body in one swift move.

Dangerous for him, that is.

John stepped back and did the same, much slower and with great caution.

Teyla raised her arms and repeated the movement. Without thinking, John followed suit. Nothing challenging, but there was a certain familiarity to the feel of it. "So, what am I, some sort of martial arts expert?" John asked.

Teyla shook her head. "No. Perhaps a more accurate description would be 'a lazy student of the art'."

"Lazy? Did you call me lazy?" Still following Teyla's lead, he stretched his arms out over his head and swung them down, tapping the sticks on the floor.

"Yes, I did," she said with a grin. She brought the sticks forward, holding them up in a defensive position, and John did the same. She struck his left stick with a resounding crack, almost knocking it out of his hand.

After a moment's hesitation, John struck hers.

It felt really good to hit something.

It was surprisingly easy, swinging and hitting, blocking her strikes, his body responding to her movements automatically. Without the sticks in his hand he wouldn't have known he could do it, but here he was, sparring like it was second nature. If she reached through his defenses and gave him a sharp whap on the hip it was fine with him, because god, here was something he could do, finally, something that felt right.

When they finally stopped he was out of breath, left arm throbbing where Teyla had hit him not once but twice. Happier than he had been in a long time--or at least as long as he could remember, which was only two days but hell, who cared. "You know," he gasped out between breaths, "I have a pretty damn good team."

Teyla tucked a stray hair behind her ear, appearing otherwise unruffled. "I believe you are right."

The doors to the gym swung open. "Hey," Ronon said. "McKay's figured something out."

***

Rodney paced back and forth between them. "It should have been the first thing to come to mind. It was so obvious, it was right there from the start."

"And?" John said excitedly. He was more than ready for this to be over. "Come on, out with it."

Rodney squared off and faced them. "It's an Ancient repository. Or most likely, a prototype of an Ancient repository."

"Really?" Elizabeth mused. "All right, that does explain a lot of what I'm seeing on-screen here. It's garbled--the media is damaged, but it makes sense."

"What?" John asked. "What are you talking about? What the hell is an 'Ancient repository'?"

"Yeah," Ronon echoed. "What is it?"

John was relieved that for once he wasn't the only one who didn't know something.

"A repository of knowledge, like the one that O'Neill had an incident with back, oh, what was that, ten years ago? Oh, okay, wait," Rodney waved his hands at John, as if to dismiss him. "You don’t' remember that. You know, I wish you would please get your memory back because it's very hard talking to you like this, having to stop and explain every little thing."

"Rodney," John growled.

"Although see, that? That is very you."

John turned to Elizabeth. "Could you please explain to me what the hell he is talking about?"

"The Ancients stored all the knowledge of their people in a device that could transfer it directly into a person's brain," Elizabeth told him. "But if that is what happened to you, you would have been showing signs of it by now."

"Okay, that's just plain weird," John said with a shudder. Directly into his brain? He wasn't a computer, for god's sake. "I'll tell you right now that I don't have any of this 'ancient knowledge' in my head."

"Are you sure?" Rodney stared at him. "Plans for a DHD? Oh, better yet, a ZPM--maybe you have some hints in there on how to create a ZPM?"

John frowned. "What the hell is a ZPM anyway? I keep seeing that in the reports."

With an exasperated noise, Rodney turned back to his computer. "Did I mention how difficult you are like this?"

"John, a ZPM is a power source developed by the ancients," Elizabeth explained. "It's like--a big battery."

Rodney's head jerked up. "No, no, no, it is not like a big battery. Okay, yes, maybe it is. Thing is, you should have had all that knowledge dumped into your brain, and it should be in the language of Ancients, which is sort of a form of Latin." He jumped up from his chair and approached John, standing face to face with him.

The sudden proximity was startling. John raised a hand, then dropped it when he realized he was about to place it on Rodney's shoulder. "What?" he asked.

Rodney searched his face. "Anything in there that seems--odd?" He gestured toward John's head.

John shook his head. "I'll tell you what's odd, Rodney. The fact that there is nothing in there at all."

"But there has to be--maybe you can't access it properly. Think," Rodney pleaded.

"Don’t you think that's what I've been trying to do all along?" John snapped. "I'm not any happier about this than you are. As a matter of fact, I hate this. It sucks." He pushed past Rodney, intending to go somewhere, anywhere to get away from that look on Rodney's face.

Carson stopped him. "Not so fast. If I remember correctly, the download is followed by intense brain activity. It increases to a dangerous level."

"Meaning?" John asked.

"Meaning," Rodney said with a worried expression, "it would be good if we had Hermiod here. But it's another week until the Daedalus arrives."

When John opened his mouth to speak Rodney raised a finger, stopping him. "Hermiod is an Asgard, and they're the ones who saved O'Neill when his brain was about to overload. And--Elizabeth is right, you should have been losing the ability to speak English by now." He scratched his head, obviously confused.

"So in other words, you still have no idea what happened to me," John said. The good feeling he had come in with was fading rapidly, replaced by disappointment.

Carson patted his shoulder. "They're working on it. In the meanwhile--time to take another look at your brain activity."

"My brain activity is fine--I was just sparring with Teyla and did all right, didn't I?" he turned hopefully to Teyla.

She shook her head. "I'm afraid Carson is right."

***

Despite all the physical activity, John wasn't hungry for dinner. But he piled food on his plate anyway, Turning, he spotted Rodney sitting alone at a table, busily eating with one and hand typing with the other. John headed toward him.

"Hey," he said.

Rodney moved his tray to make room. "So?" he asked. "Carson tells me your brain activity is the same as before?"

"Yup. And no, no new knowledge, no old knowledge, no nothing." John dropped his tray on the table with a thud, causing his iced tea to slosh over the rim of his glass.

Rodney handed him napkins. "I'm sorry--I was so sure I was right. I mean, like Carson said, having all that information downloaded into your brain is no walk in the park, but at least we'd know what we were dealing with."

"Yeah, well. This--"

"Sucks," Rodney finished for him. "It sucks. I know it sucks. I mean, you're you but you're not you and I can't, we've--we're not--"

John leaned forward over the table, grabbing Rodney's wrist. "What? What are we?"

"John--" With a quick look around the room, Rodney pulled his arm away. "Oh hey, there's Ronon and Teyla." He smiled a big smile that even John could tell was fake and waved them over.

They settled in on either side of John. "Elizabeth is making progress with the text," Teyla said. "She still believes the device has something to do with the repository."

"Yeah, what's with that," Ronon asked. "I mean, I get what the repository is, but why would they put one in their own galaxy? Especially if they had the city right here, with all the same information in it?"

"Because," Rodney said. "Because they--they--" Rodney's eyes went wide. He snapped his fingers, pointed at Ronon, then to John's astonishment leapt from his chair, grabbed his computer and ran out of the room.

"What'd I say?" Ronon asked.

"Clearly something important," Teyla answered.

"Something very important," John said, trying not to be too hopeful as he rose from his chair. "Come on."

Ronon grabbed his plate of food and they headed for the lab. When they arrived, Rodney spun around to face them. He got right to the point. "What if it was a device for gathering the information instead?"

"You mean," John said, "For creating the repository?"

"That would explain the differences between this device and the device back in our galaxy. You know, I thought maybe it was because this was a prototype, but--" Rodney darted to the machine and began fiddling with the controls. "See, this right here--"

"So that thing actually sucked knowledge from my head?" John asked.

"More like copied," Elizabeth said, pointing at her screen. "The fragments of the instructions make a lot more sense in that context."

To John it was all just a bunch of strange characters scrolling across her screen. "Should Rodney be messing with it like that?"

"Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea," Rodney said without looking up. "Preserve my knowledge for prosperity. But no, we deactivated the beam."

"So, my memories are in there?" John walked around the side of it and eyed the crystals. It didn't seem possible.

"Well, maybe. Probably." Rodney leaned to one side to frown at the crystals.

"The beam needs to be calibrated for each person," Elizabeth read, "or else temporary memory loss can occur."

"Temporary?" Rodney flashed a blinding smile. "Temporary?"

"Temporary?" John echoed.

"That's what it says."

John felt his knees go weak with relief. Ronon laughed out loud and thumped him on the back, nearly knocking him over.

Teyla steadied him. "That is very good news indeed."

"So when is he going to be Sheppard again?" Rodney asked.

Elizabeth grew serious. "It varies. From hours to days...and in extreme cases--years."

"Years?" Rodney asked.

"Years?" John echoed, the sinking feeling returning yet again.

***

"I turned into a bug," he said to Rodney.

"Huh?" Rodney stood in the doorway, frowning and bleary-eyed. He wore a blue bathrobe, and his hair was hair sticking up in all directions .

John felt guilty for disturbing him. But only a little. "I turned into a bug. A big, ugly blue bug. It was gross."

"Oh, right." Rodney rubbed his eyes and blinked. "Reading mission reports again?"

"They're the stuff of nightmares," John said, nodding. "I saw the pictures--my eyes were all weird and my skin went all scaly and blue."

Rodney stepped aside so John could come in. "Not a good look for you, granted. But we did cure you."

"At the cost of the lives of two marines."

"Yes, very unfortunate but--" With a furtive look, Rodney waited for the door to slide shut. "John, we were going into a dangerous situation, and they were well aware the risks. We all were."

"I know, I know--"

"You were being transformed right in front of our eyes, we had to do something."

John shook his head and paced the length of Rodney's small room. There were pictures on the wall, photos of Rodney receiving awards, and one photo in the center of a blonde woman with a small child. John thought maybe she looked a little familiar, especially her broad, happy smile. "Do I know her?" he asked.

Rodney sat at a small desk and fiddled with his computer. "Who--uh, yes. Jeannie. She's my sister."

"So I've met her?"

"Yes, she was here a few months back. Do you remember her?"

John squinted at the image, searching the blank spaces in his mind for a glimmer of recognition, the tiniest scrap of a memory, but there was nothing.

"No," he said, turning away from the photo. "Nothing. I guess maybe she just looks like you." He gazed at Rodney before turning back. That was probably it, the shape of her face, the jaw, the eyes, all softer in the feminine form.

"Oh." Disappointment showed in the slope of Rodney's shoulders and John wanted to rest his hands on them.

"Did we do this a lot?"

"What? You waking me up in the middle of the night with inane observations?"

"It's only 2100 and no, I mean me, in your room. Wandering around."

A quick guilty look, then Rodney pushed back his chair and rose to his feet, closing his computer. "Yes, well, sometimes." He didn't meet John's eyes. Again.

John stared at Rodney's rumpled bed, long white curtains drifting down on either side of it. "What else did we do?" When Rodney didn't answer, he turned and closed the space between them. "Tell me."

Rodney backed away, eyes widening. "We did--stuff. You know, you taught me to fire a gun properly, to--"

Just like his memories, Rodney was slipping out of his grasp, and John was sick of it, sick of everything being just out of his reach. He advanced further on Rodney, until Rodney's back was against the wall, one foot tangled in his curtains. Rodney raised his hands and John pressed in until those hands were planted firmly on his chest and his lips were inches away from Rodney's lips.

Rodney didn't push him away.

"What did we do, Rodney?" John curled his hands over Rodney's wrists. Rodney's robe gapped open, exposing the collar of a worn tee-shirt and the skin of his throat above it. "Tell me."

"Okay." Rodney's lips quirked to one side, then he slid his hands up John's chest in a soft caress. "Maybe we did, um, do something like this, but--"

John touched his lips to Rodney's. Only a brief touch, but enough to find out that Rodney's lips were warm and soft, like he imagined they would be.

"John." A brush of eyelashes against John's cheek and then Rodney kissed John back, hard, one hand sliding up to cup John's cheek. "You might not really want to do this."

John took Rodney's hand and brought it down to his crotch, pressing it against the swell of his erection. "Explain that, then."

Rodney ducked his head, but still his fingers closed over John's cock. "It's not that simple."

John mouthed the side of his neck. "I know what I want, Rodney."

Rodney gasped. "Stop--I can't think when you do that."

"Good." John nuzzled in to find Rodney lips and kissed him again. With a small noise Rodney yielded, kissing him sweetly. Finally, after watching Rodney and needing and wanting without always knowing what or why, this felt right, like a puzzle piece falling into place, filling the emptiness in his mind with the sheer joy of touching.

Then Rodney broke off the kiss and pressed his forehead against John's. "This might not be the best idea--"

John slipped his hands inside Rodney's robe, spreading it open. "Feels like it to me."

"The you you are now thinks that way, but when you're back to being really you, you might not think so, because--well, you might be a little bit peeved over our last discussion."

Rodney was warm beneath his robe, irresistibly warm and John couldn't stop running his hands over Rodney's chest and down his sides and oh yeah, boxers--Rodney was wearing thin cotton boxers that did nothing to hide his erection and fuck that was hot. "Rodney, what if I'm always the me I am now? Even after I remember?"

"No, no listen--" Rodney pulled John's hands away from his cock.

Undeterred, John took Rodney's hands and placed them on the wall above his head and then flattened his body against Rodney's. Full body contact, it was even better than merely having his hands on Rodney and maybe finally he was close enough. John took shameless advantage and rubbed his hips against Rodney's, making Rodney moan with pleasure and that was an even bigger turn on. Rodney wanted him. "I need this," John whispered, his lips grazing Rodney's ear. "Please."

"Crap. That's so not fair." And with that, Rodney capitulated, his arms encircling John. "Promise me that you won't get mad when you remember who I am?"

"Maybe."

"Hey--"

John cut Rodney off with him mouth, kissing him quiet and began tugging the robe from his shoulders.Naked, he needed Rodney naked right now. John kissed him as the robe hit the floor and kissed him some more as he tucked his hands into Rodney's boxers and dragged them down over Rodney's hips. He even tried to kiss Rodney while pulling Rodney's shirt off over his head, and finally Rodney sputtered and pushed him away.

"Okay, here, let me--" Rodney pulled his own shirt off and John did the same, kicking his shoes off while staring at Rodney because Rodney was beautiful, naked and beautiful, wide chest with little nipples and a hard cock jutting out from between his legs and John wanted it all and fuck, he didn't even know what Rodney liked and he should know that and how could he possibly not want this?

"Rodney," he said, because he was sorry that he didn't know what he was doing but Rodney seemed to understand.

"Come here," Rodney said, tugging John down onto the bed.

John climbed over him, kissing him, sucking his neck, licking his chest and reaching down to take hold of Rodney's cock. When he sucked a nipple, Rodney moaned, writhing beneath him and reaching for John's pants. "Take these off," he insisted. "Come on."

"Oh." John rested his cheek on Rodney's chest and took a breath. Then pushed himself back and sat up to unfasten his pants. "Works better that way, huh?"

Rodney lay back and smiled up at him. "Last I checked."

John touched Rodney's chest, trailing a finger along the patch of hair and then down over his ribs. His finger slid over a small, white scar. "Gunshot," he said.

"Hmm? Oh that. You shot me."

John's hand froze in place. "I what?"

"Granted, you didn't realize it was me," Rodney continued. "There was this device that the wraith modified so that it totally messed with our minds."

"I shot you," John repeated.

Rodney nodded. "It was kind of annoying."

"Damn it, do I ever shoot anyone other than my own people?" John asked.

"Yes, yes. " Rodney sat up as John pulled back. "You shoot lots of wraith. And Genii. We have all kinds of enemies for you to shoot."

"That doesn't make me feel any better." John swallowed, then ran a hand down Rodney's side. "Rodney, I don't--"

"What?" Rodney asked.

"I don't think I want to remember who I am," John admitted. "I'm some kind of nutcase--I shot you. I shot and killed my commanding officer. I lost my first lieutenant, Ford--he's out there wandering around the galaxy and I couldn't even get him back. I--I turned into a damn bug--"

Rodney blanched at the last item. "No, no, it's not like that. Believe me, you want to know who John Sheppard is. Because you're--you're you. I mean, come on, we couldn't have survived here without you. Any of us."

John shook his head. "I don't think I belong here."

Rodney grabbed his shoulders. "John, trust me when I say you love it here, and there's no place else you'd rather be. And we need you."

So very earnest, and John didn't know what to say. "But--I shot you," he finally managed.

"Ah," Rodney held up a finger. "But I gave you hell for it." He looked so proud of himself John couldn't help but laugh, a soft huff of laughter that made Rodney smile in return. "And let me tell you right now that there's a scar on my ass, from an arrow that you didn't shoot. Although you did make very bad jokes about it."

"Oh, thank you, I feel much better now," John said.

"Just--come here," Rodney said, pulling John into his arms. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"

"Yeah, well, me neither." John rested his head on Rodney's shoulder. After a moment he wrapped his arms around Rodney's waist, burrowing his face into Rodney's neck. Rodney smelled good, freshly showered with a lingering hint of soap and it was oddly reassuring--a normal, everyday scent. Especially in light of his first experience with Rodney, he would have never expected to would end up finding such comfort in him but it made a crazy kind of sense that they were together before and for them to be together now, naked and cuddling. When Rodney pulled him down onto the bed the cuddling got even better, with Rodney's thigh sliding between his legs. All that touching, nose to nose, sharing the same pillow, trading delicate kisses and it all at once it was a heck of a lot more than merely reassuring.

John wrapped his fingers around Rodney's cock, and it swelled in his hands. "Nice," he said.

Rodney grinned. "Well, you have that effect on me." He reached for John's and gave it a firm stroke, making John gasp with pleasure.

And then it was effortless--firm, steady strokes and Rodney's cock felt good in his hand, heavy and sleek. John knew how to do this, how to rub his thumb under the head, flatting his palm over the top, how to make Rodney pant and moan and all the while Rodney stroked him in return, until John couldn't think anymore, he could only feel and touch and kiss and then finally his brain went off-line completely and he came, open mouth pressed against Rodney's cheek.

"Oh god--Rodney--" He gave one last shudder, thrusting his hips against Rodney, wet and messy and he lost his grip on Rodney's cock and he wanted to make Rodney come, damn it. "Sorry, sorry."

He reached for Rodney's cock again but Rodney pushed his arm away and kissed him, then Rodney kissed him, then rolled on top, "No, no, this is good, let me just--"

His cock slid over John's slippery skin. John spread his legs and pushed up, grabbing hold of Rodney's ass as Rodney ground down, moaning and thrusting and clinging to John's shoulders and then his body went still as warm fluid flooded over John's stomach.

"Oh god, that's good, that's perfect," Rodney said, low and heartfelt as he trembled against John.

John decided he liked making Rodney sound like that--it felt like a job well done. He petted Rodney's back, and Rodney went limp on him, a heavy weight but John didn't mind, Rodney needed a chance to relax, almost as much as he did. And it felt good--Rodney, solid and real and John wasn't particularly in the mood to move himself. He was happy to simply lie there and drift, mindless and relaxed.

Then Rodney breathed in sharply, lifting his head and blinking at John. "Uh, sorry, I think I, um, dozed."

John grinned at Rodney's befuddled state. It was pretty damn cute--and cute was one thing he hadn't expected from him. He pulled Rodney down into a kiss. "Yes, you did."

Rodney nodded, then slid off to one side. "Mmmm. Messy." Fumbling for his discarded tee-shirt, he used it to wipe John clean, then scrubbed at his own belly.

John realized he no idea what was supposed to happen next. "So, uh, I suppose I should let you get some sleep," he said, sitting up and swinging his feet over the side of the bed.

"What? Oh come on, stay here," Rodney said, tossing the shirt aside. "You might get the urge to read more mission reports or something."

"They're supposed to help jog my memory, Rodney." Although, John was tired, and those reports were kind of freaky. Rodney was sleepy and naked and utterly appealing as he held the covers open for John and waited with a hopeful expression.

"You can jog it tomorrow?"

After a moment's hesitation, John slid in underneath. "Good point." Rodney switched off the light and pressed his big warm body close, kissing John with a happy little hum. Then he tucked his head on John's chest and promptly fell asleep. His steady breathing lulled John and soon he slept, too, exhausted from the day's activities.

***

John woke the following morning to find himself wrapped around Rodney, spooned up behind him with his arm around Rodney's waist, his nose tucked into the back of Rodney's neck, clinging to Rodney like he was a lifeline.

Maybe he was.

Rodney must have been already awake, because when John nuzzled the back of his neck, Rodney placed a hand over his, their fingers intertwining. "Do we do this?" John whispered, even though he was pretty sure they did.

"As much as possible," Rodney answered, voice rough from sleep. He turned to face John, eyeing him intently before adding, "What, you thought it was only about the hot sex?"

"No," John said, maybe a little quickly.

"Well, it's not." Rodney seemed insulted, as if John should have somehow known. He was scowling, cheeks shadowed and unshaven, eyes intense and John found it startlingly sexy.

"Good. How long have we been, um--" John wasn't sure what to call it. Dating? Where they dating? "Together?"

"Couple of months." Rodney said scowl fading into a hint of a smile, as if remembering something fondly.

"And nobody else knows, do they?"

Rodney closed his eyes. "No, and I hate that. And now--you don't even know."

"Rodney, I--"

"I know, I know." Rodney leaned and kissed John lightly. "Still nothing huh?"

"Nope. Nothing. " John pulled his hand free and rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling, streaked with morning sun. "What, you thought the sex it would make it all come back to me?"

"It would have been nice, yes."

John felt a prickle of annoyance. "Well, sorry, it didn't." He wondered if Rodney always drove him this crazy. Didn't Rodney say something about a disagreement? It would figure.

Rodney rested a hand on John's chest. "Hey, maybe we need to try again?"

"More sex?" John asked, annoyance dissipating rapidly. "Gosh, I'm not sure."

Rodney pushed up on an elbow and peered down at John. "Kidding, right?"

"Well," John ran a hand up onto Rodney's shoulders. He had nice shoulders, really nice shoulders. "Heightmeyer said I need to stay calm and relaxed."

"I know just the thing." Rodney stroked down John's chest, hand gliding down onto John's stomach. Then he hesitated. "Seriously--you want to?"

Sometimes, Rodney was utterly ridiculous. "Yes," John said emphatically. He pulled Rodney down into a kiss.

And then Rodney proceeded to drive him crazy all over again, warm, wet mouth sucking on his neck, his collarbone, his nipples, bristly cheeks scratching at his skin, the combined sensations making John writhe and moan with delight. Rodney took his time, too, nipping at John's belly, moving to suck on a hipbone, leaving John hard and aching as he became distracted by the hand stroking his hair. He turned to suck John's fingers into his mouth, and John watched, desperately wanting to remember all the times they had done this, he wanting to remember every last detail about Rodney, their first kiss and their last fight and whether they fucked and everything in between. Then Rodney's mouth closed over his cock and John fell back onto the pillow and didn't think about anything at all.

***

A quick stop into the infirmary for a checkup and then John hurried to the mess. He was starving, and there were pancakes and bacon and orange juice and all kinds of good things piled up waiting for him. Heading for the nearest empty table, he was so intent on getting down to eating that he didn't notice Heightmeyer was standing across from him until she spoke.

"May I join you, Colonel?"

John glanced up as he shoved a piece of buttered toast into his mouth. "Mmm," he nodded his head, indicated she should sit. "Sure."

"Feeling a little better?" She smiled as she surveyed his tray.

"Kind of hungry, so I guess yeah, a little better than I've been."

"Hopefully this won't last much longer for you. You do seem to be a little more centered, more at ease."

John stopped, face growing warm. He wondered if he looked like he just had sex. Really good sex with a really hot guy. Was that the same as being 'centered'? "Um, yeah. I've been--getting used to it all."

"Teyla told me the meditation didn't go well," Heightmeyer said. "Would you consider giving it another try?"

"I don't think that's such a good idea," John said, shaking his head. He felt less like sitting still than ever. "We did do some sparring, and turns out I was able to do it, like my body remembered even though my mind didn't. That's pretty cool, don't you think?"

He didn't mention that it turned out he was also very capable when it came to giving blowjobs.

"That's good," Heightmeyer said. "That's very good. Maybe you should focus on the physical, especially if it has the side benefit of a relaxed feeling afterwards. It would help ease any tension."

John pointed at her, nodding. "Yes. I agree. Absolutely."

"All right." She rose from the table. "And remember, my door is always open, if you need to talk."

***

John visited Rodney in the lab after breakfast, feeling a little embarrassed but he simply wanted to see Rodney again. Asking about the device was a pretext since he already knew everything he needed to know about the damn thing. But it was comforting and familiar to listen to their new findings. Radek and Rodney took turns explaining how it worked. It was almost like a tennis match, back and forth between them, Radek completely unaffected by Rodney's more obnoxious comments.

"Do you think it really made a copy of my mind?" John asked. It was an unsettling thought, all his secrets, sitting right there.

Radek nodded. "It's meant to gather knowledge, and yes, at least I think so." He glared over his glasses at Rodney, who was already shaking his head.

"No, no, no," Rodney insisted. "The machine had been damaged--probably a wraith attack--and if it did, it probably has some useless jumbled information on old movies and--and--golf, for god's sake."

"Hey, what's wrong with golf?" John had seen the clubs in his room so obviously he played, not that he had seen a course anywhere in the city.

"Um--" Rodney's face reddened. "Hey, wasn't Ronon looking for you earlier? He said something about going for a run."

John narrowed his eyes at Rodney, but Rodney turned to device and began carefully examining the crystals. "You know we could probably recycle some of these."

"No, there you are incorrect, Rodney," Radek crouched next to him. "The interface is all wrong."

"Rodney?"

"Hmm?" Rodney rose up again to face John.

"This afternoon--do you think you can spare some time to--uh, Heightmeyer suggested we do stuff together, because it would..." John raised his eyebrows and looked hopeful.

"Oh. Oh," Rodney said. "That. Yes, of course."

Radek turned away, attention suddenly focused on a loose wire.

Subtle, John thought. And Rodney really thought no one knew about them? "Come by my quarters at 1500 hours?" John asked.

Rodney glanced at his watch and nodded, his head bobbing up and down rapidly. "Yes, Colonel, that would be fine." He flashed John a quick grin.

John nodded. "Good. I'm going go find Ronon now."

***

Another long run, and then sparring with Teyla left John feeling wiped out and yet content. He even read another mission report--not so scary this time. They had managed to rescue almost the entire population of a planet right before an enormous volcano erupted. Not only that, but they did it in a great big spaceship. Which he flew.

Very cool.

Still feeling good, showered, pulled on some clean clothes and crashed on his bed. He had a few hours before meeting up with Rodney. Closing his eyes, he thought that yeah, he had a good team. Brave and smart, they excelled in areas where he didn't, and while he was smart enough to know that's what made a good team, it still felt strange to think that they looked up to him as a leader. But maybe being John Sheppard wasn't such a bad thing after all, if he had a chance to save people. Plus, Ronon and Teyla stayed with them in Atlantis voluntarily--they could leave, go elsewhere in the galaxy but they chose to be part of his team. And Rodney, who made him laugh and made him mad and shared his bed and maybe even loved him.

***

John woke with a start, confused. He hadn't realized he dozed, hadn't intended to sleep. It was still light out, late afternoon sun bright against his curtains, and the clock indicated that he had a half hour till Rodney's visit. He wished he was already with Rodney, pressed up against him, wrapped around Rodney's solid, stocky body. It was a good way to wake up. Funny, Rodney wasn't John's usual type, he had always preferred the slim, athletic kind of guy.

Rolling onto his back, John closed his eyes again, drifting into thoughts of his hand sliding down a slim flat stomach, narrow hips and an erect cock bulging against baggy jeans, such a thrill to touch another boy for the first time, to finally have it all make sense--

John's eyes flew open.

Brian? Bobby? His first, the boy who lived down the street. Bill?

The name didn't matter. What mattered was that he could still see it, it didn't slip away from him. They were in the woods behind his house--oh god, his house, the yellow house with the back porch--

John sat up, heart pounding. His mother served them cold Jell-O with fruit in it on hot summer days and his father painted the back steps that summer and his neighbor had three dogs that barked all the time and it made John's head hurt, and his chest, too because they were gone, long gone. He buried his face in his hands. Holland, bleeding all over him, dying and there was nothing he could do, just like with Sumner.

Memories flooded back and John was sure he was going to burst at the seams. So many of them, good and bad, horrifying and astounding. The chair in Antarctica, lighting up for him, stepping into the puddle of light for the first time, and Rodney. Rodney arguing with him, Rodney's hands flying as he launched into an explanation, Rodney kissing him. And Rodney storming away from him in a huff, leaving John in an empty bed, that ass, because--because--

John leapt up from the bed and stumbled out into the hallway, mind reeling but he knew which door he was heading for and damn it, Rodney had better be in there.

The door opened up for him, but the room was empty. Then John heard the shower running. He stalked into the steamy bathroom and yanked the shower door open, exposing a very startled, and very wet, naked Rodney.

"You are such a jerk," John told him. "Curling?"

Rodney's eyes widened, then his hands went to his hips. "Yes, curling. It's a real sport. Not like golf and it's about time you acknowledged that."

"No way." John pointed a finger at him. "Not until you agree that golf is a real sport and you've never even played it so how could you know?"

Rodney's chin went up. "I don't need to." Then his jaw dropped. Literally. "Oh my god--John?"

John nodded, and he couldn't hold back the broad grin. "Yup."

Rodney's face lit up bright with relief and joy and then he was out of the shower and pulling John into a fierce, wet hug, squeezing him tight, so tight that John's chest constricted and his throat began to hurt.

"Rodney," John whispered, wrapping his arms around Rodney's warm, slippery body. "I remember--everything."

"Thank god." Rodney squeezed him tighter, crushing John against his body.

Swallowing with some difficulty, John added, "And you're a big jerk, going off in a huff like that," but his voice was tremulous and not all that convincing to own ears.

"Oh god, I was so stupid. Can we just forget we ever got into it?" Rodney kissed John's neck.

"I don't ever want to forget anything again." The thought of it made him tighten his hold on Rodney.

"Oh, right. Um, golf is a fine, fine sport, okay? A really good sport. Especially with the pants."

John started to laugh.

Rodney eased his grip. "I like that," he said, smiling as he traced the curve of John's lips with a finger. "Seriously though, I'm sorry. It was such a stupid fight and sometimes I get all--you know--because I'm afraid it's all going to end badly between us and I--," One hand fluttered in the air as Rodney tried to find the words. "I think we have something pretty good going on."

"Rodney, I knew that even when I didn't know it."

Rodney frowned at him, water dripping down his nose. "That doesn't make sense."

"It doesn't have to. Kind of like golf," John couldn't help adding.

Rodney looked sheepish, then kissed John, tender and sweet.

"Seriously, I was mad at you," John insisted.

Rodney nodded, and kissed him again.

"Yeah." John relaxed into Rodney's nakedness. "I'll get over it. I suppose I was a bit of jerk, too."

None it mattered, really, none of the silly fighting because Rodney was wet and naked in his arms, kissing him as if he couldn't get enough of John's mouth. Then Rodney tried to pull away.

"I guess we tell Elizabeth, huh? And Carson and everyone."

John stopped him, a hand on his arm. "Soon." He stroked Rodney's arm, fingers brushing over the tiny wet hairs.

"Oh." Rodney brightened. "And in the meanwhile?"

"My clothes are all wet," John pointed out.

Rodney looked him over. "They are. My fault." He didn't look sorry at all.

"I really should get out of them."

Rodney's smile was as brilliant as John remembered. "I think that it's only right that I help you." After a moment he added, "John."

"Yeah," John said. "That's me." And that wasn't such a bad thing to be.

It was actually pretty damn good.

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