AN: For ceitie, who wanted team-ish McKay/Sheppard with a plot, amnesia, and a more or less happy ending. Merry Christmas, ceitie, and I really do hope that this is something you'll like.
Spoilers for everything up to and including Progeny
It was cold, and dark, and his clothes wet from the snow, and he didn't know who he was.
Or where, for that matter, but the who seemed more significant somehow. He remembered... well, nothing, actually, but he had a feeling that he was supposed to have a name of some sort. So far, he was coming up blank, though, and the harder he tried to remember, the more his head hurt, so he gave up on that for the moment. It might be a good idea to get out of the snow drift he was lying in and find some kind of shelter, too.
With a groan, he got up, clutching his pounding head. For a few seconds, the world spun, and he thought the dizziness would send him right back down. Then it passed, so he started his way through the darkness, stumbling on the uneven, snow-covered ground. The wind picked up after a while, and he didn't think he'd ever been so cold in his life. Not that he'd know it if he had, he thought, snorting at himself as he trotted on.
Pure luck let him find a shallow cave in the side of one of the rocky hills around him. It was cold but dry, and he was grateful to be out of the wind. He should probably have tried to find some wood and start a fire; instead, he curled up on the hard stone, shivering and miserable, trying to preserve his own body heat by bringing his knees almost up to his chin.
He fell asleep that way. When he woke up, it was to find concerned green eyes staring at him from a face inches away from his own. A man was crouching in front of him, with black hair and clothes like the ones he was wearing himself. Behind the man, a giant with long, knotted hair and a slender woman with really pretty breasts stood at the entrance of the cave, watching him. He eyed them warily, not sure if they were friend or foe.
But then: "Hey, Rodney," the man in front of him said quietly, and he blinked at this unexpected gift, the knowledge of his name.
And that was how Dr. Rodney McKay was found seventeen days after the Asuran had taken him.
The green-eyed man was John. The other two were Ronon and Teyla, and they all lived in an ancient city called Atlantis, where Rodney was the lead scientist, obviously an important man. His boss was Elizabeth, his best friend was Carson, his right hand was Radek, and then there were dozens more, only he couldn't remember their names.
It had taken him two hours to memorise what little he'd been told about his life and everyone's role in it, and Rodney thought the disappointment and sadness of those around him hurt almost more than not knowing who he was.
Yes, he knew his name, but what kind of man was Dr. Rodney McKay? Brilliant, loud, obnoxious, difficult, loyal, arrogant, petty, funny, sarcastic, curious, team member, friend... those were just words. He looked at the pictures in his quarters and felt nothing but a mild curiosity and a strange sense of loss. Because he didn't know them, the people Dr. McKay had cared enough about to keep their images close: his sister, his friends, his cat.
No matter what he tried to remember, he always came up... empty.
And nobody could help him. They didn't even know what was wrong with him in the first place. Apparently, the Asuran, the enemy who had taken him, had done something to his brain, but whatever it was, it wasn't physical. No strange devices, no parts missing, no evidence of trauma in his brain waves, nothing.
So perhaps it was his fault. Perhaps something had happened, or he'd done something, and he'd made himself forget. Perhaps he was the one responsible for the sad looks and the forced smiles and the awkward silences. Every time John turned around to make a joke, only to have the amusement in his eyes dim and his mouth close before he'd said anything, Rodney thought that it might have been better if they hadn't found him.
At least then there would have been closure for everyone. Rodney didn't like being mourned when he wasn't dead.
The second time he corrected Radek on something that appeared wrong to him, although he couldn't have said why, the other man stared at him for almost a minute, until Rodney started to fidgett. Then he was dragged off to Elizabeth's office, where she and Radek argued for half an hour, and not always in English. Apparently, Radek won, and Rodney found himself part of the science division once again. He got a notebook, several hastily written programs that were to explain the basics of everything he had forgotten, and Radek's stern command, "learn!"
So he learned.
Everything was new – of course – and fascinating, and he found himself greedily swallowing every little crumb of knowledge he could find. And demanding more. The other scientists were wary of him at first, but quickly started to point out and explain and demonstrate, smiling along with him at every discovery he made.
And he got to explore the city. Most times, it was Radek who took him to various rooms and labs and machinery, and together the two of them would take apart and theorise and put back together, sometimes with improvements.
Rodney could still do that. Improve things.
It made him feel useful. More importantly, it made Elizabeth want to keep him on Atlantis, instead of sending him back to Earth for therapy. That was probably the most important thing of all.
Rodney might not know much right now, but he knew that Atlantis was home.
John kept expecting him to talk. Wherever they were, whatever they were doing; if Rodney kept silent for more than five minutes, John would start throwing him little sideways glances, as if Rodney's silence was somehow the most disturbing thing about his amnesia.
Rodney didn't quite know what to make of that.
John had been the one to find him, though. John had been the one who wouldn't give up, who got him back, who stayed with him through every long, uncomfortable hour of invasive physical examination by strangers in an unfamiliar environment. So if John needed Rodney to talk, then talk he would until his throat started bleeding.
"And did you know I'm allergic to lemons? Radek told me when I wanted to eat the salad for lunch; apparently, the little red tags on the dishes mean 'not safe for Dr. McKay'. Ingenious, isn't it? And very thoughtful of the kitchen staff, too, going to all these lengths just to-"
He broke off at John's bemused smile.
"It's nothing," John answered. "Just remembering how you berated the kitchen staff for five minutes straight because you thought the tags were too small."
And there it was. John remembering something about their shared history, grinning a little at whatever pompous words Dr. McKay must have used, because he always had. Dr. McKay had never done things quietly.
"So, uh, anything come back yet?" John asked with badly pretended casualness.
"Not really, no," Rodney said, and hated himself for adding, "I'm sorry."
"Nah, it's okay, take your time. Hey, you want another flying lesson?"
Rodney forced himself to smile.
John smiled back, and it was fake, all of it was fake. Rodney knew that John missed his friend, missed the guy who knew embarrassing little secrets about him, who knew useless pieces of trivia for every given situation, who knew how to rewrite a program that was as complex as the human DNA in a little under twenty minutes.
John missed Dr. McKay. Rodney was surprised at how much that hurt.
"And we did this every day?" Rodney asked doubtfully, trying to get a feel for the thick mat he was standing on.
"Sure." Ronon grinned in what wasn't really an assuring manner.
"Ah. Okay. I'll just assume that it comes back to me in the form of... reflexes." It had kind of worked with all things science, so far. Mental reflexes.
Ronon nodded amiably, and the next second, Rodney was thrown on his back, hard, Ronon's arm across his throat.
"Or perhaps we could try this a little more slowly," he croaked, and Ronon chuckled as he helped Rodney to his feet.
They started again, and there was no way they had done this before. Either that, or Rodney was a special kind of hopeless when it came to unarmed combat, because even in slow motion, Ronon kept pushing him, and throwing him, and generally making sure there wasn't one non-bruised patch of skin on Rodney's body.
No way had he voluntarily done that more than once.
"Ronon," Teyla's voice sounded reproachfully from the doorway, "that is not a way to treat a friend."
"He needs the training," Ronon shrugged.
"He is not a warrior."
With a glare in Ronon's direction, Teyla helped Rodney to his feet.
"It's okay," he said. "Actually, it's kind of fun."
Which wasn't true, but at least Ronon didn't treat him like something breakable. Definitely didn't treat him like something breakable, and despite the way his body was aching, Rodney felt a little grateful for that.
Teyla nodded doubtfully.
"So, you only come here for a lecture, or is there something you want?" Ronon wanted to know, still grinning.
"I wanted to ask Rodney if he wanted to join me. I've been learning about your culture from the movies your people brought with them. Perhaps you would like to learn as well?"
Well, unless those movies could teach him how to remember a lost life, not really. But then Rodney thought of John and his little references to a culture Rodney didn't know, and perhaps it was worth a try. Teyla beamed at him when he agreed, and Ronon shrugged and followed them back to Teyla's room, where she'd already set up a laptop and a large bowl of what she called popcorn.
Two hours later, Rodney wasn't sure if he had learned anything valuable from 50 First Dates except that people with amnesia could be really easy to fool, and he'd already known that. But Teyla smiled at the ending, and Ronon laughed at the strange Hawaiian people, and they both kept bumping into Rodney's shoulder when they reached for some popcorn from the bowl he was holding.
It made him feel like he was being accepted as the man he was now, not some pale ghost of someone he'd probably never be again.
It was nice.
A few more romance movies with Teyla, and sometimes Elizabeth, and Rodney started to wonder if they were doing some brainwashing of their own, because there was no way John was looking at him the way Rodney thought he was looking at him. With sadness, and longing, and perhaps a little love.
It was definitely the effect of those movies that made Rodney act like he did, his heart pounding like crazy as he waited for John to stand really close to him. And when he finally did, Rodney simply leaned forward a little, ignored the way John's hands came up and his eyes widened, and kissed him.
John's breathing hitched strangely, his hands grabbing Rodney's arms so hard it hurt. But he kissed back; slow, lingering kisses, nothing like the deep and wet ones Rodney had seen in the 'educational movies' Dr. Reiman had lent him. He closed his eyes, leaning into the touch, learning the feel of John's soft lips against his own.
Then John pushed him back.
Rodney stumbled and blinked his eyes open, feeling strangely betrayed.
"You don't want this," John interrupted him, then realised how stupid that sounded. "I mean, you never wanted this before."
That was the most idiotic line of reasoning Rodney had ever heard, he thought irritably.
"Well, I want it now."
"You don't even know who you are!"
"I don't need to know who I am to know what I want!"
Why couldn't these people see that? Why wouldn't they stop trying to protect him from himself? He was his own person, with his own personality, and the way they kept waiting for Dr. McKay to take back over made him want to break something. Or scream.
"Rodney." John ran a hand through his hair, nervous and frustrated. "Look, we are friends. Good friends. I'm not going to take advantage of you now, and have you give me shit for that when your memory comes back. It's... not worth it."
"Not worth it?" Rodney gaped, not knowing if he should feel insulted by that, or flattered that McKay's friendship meant that much to John. "You want me, I know you do. And I want you; we're two consenting adults who want each other. It doesn't have to be such a big deal."
John's face closed off, and he shook his head, turning away, making Rodney wonder what he'd said that was so wrong.
Watching John's retreating back, Rodney swallowed hard, and blinked away the sting in his eyes.
"So if I wanted to have sex, where should I go?"
Carson spit his coffee all over his laptop and started to cough, glaring through watering eyes as Rodney helpfully thumped his back.
"Bloody hell, Rodney," he rasped, "warn a man, would you?"
"What? You're my best friend. I have it on good authority that this is a best friend conversation," Rodney defended himself.
"Aye, and whose authority would that be?"
Carson gave him the eye, and Rodney grinned.
"Come on, Carson, you're a doctor. You shouldn't be squeamish about these things."
"I can when I have to associate them with you."
Now it was Rodney's time to glare.
"Now, Rodney, why the sudden interest in reproduction?"
"I'm not interested in reproduction, I'm looking for an outlet."
Carson blinked, then really looked at Rodney for the first time since he'd come into Carson's office. Without a word, the physician stood up to fetch a bottle and two glasses from a nearby cabinet, placing them on his desk. Then he sat down again and poured each of them a shot from the reddish-golden liquid.
Rodney told him. About Dr. McKay and how his presence was like a ghost behind Rodney's shoulder. About quicksand conversations and romance movies and kissing, and being rejected for not being 'himself', whoever that was. About John.
"Rodney, I understand that you're angry," Carson finally said, his expression full of sympathy. "But trust me, meaningless sex is not what you're looking for. You're not the type."
"Perhaps Dr. McKay wasn't the type. I am," Rodney lied.
Carson just looked at him, and Rodney deflated.
"So, what's your suggestion?"
Carson quickly radioed Elizabeth to tell her he was taking the rest of the day off for personal reasons, then he raised his glass in a solemn toast.
"Get very, very drunk."
And they did.
"So Dr. Kusanagi said, 'well sorry, but I'm just a woman', and let him stand right there locked up in the broken tank."
"With all the algae?"
"He was stinking for a week." Radek grinned impishly. "Wanted to lodge a complaint against Dr. Kusanagi, but you told him to shut up and take his stench to his own lab, so he just complained a bit."
"I gave Kavanagh his own lab?"
"It was destroyed through a mysterious systems overload only a month later."
Both scientists nodded solemnly. It just didn't pay to piss off the best electrical engineer they had – of course there would have been retaliation. It was childish, but every now and then you needed an outlet. Rodney was with Dr. McKay on this: as long as no one got hurt or valuable equipment was destroyed, it was best to turn a blind eye.
They both turned. Elizabeth was standing in the doorway, smiling politely. Rodney had to suppress a snigger at the way Radek's face lit up. The Czech's hopeless infatuation was almost cute.
Just like his own. Rodney's good mood evaporated.
"Elizabeth. What can we do for you?" he asked, business-like.
"I was just wondering how things are coming along." She nodded at him. "Any progress?"
It actually took him a moment to understand what she was asking.
"Uh, no. No surprise recovery of any relevant memories from my subconscious."
Not that he was trying very hard. Dr. McKay had nothing Rodney wanted. Well, except for options regarding John Sheppard, but Rodney had discovered pride early on.
He wouldn't change who he was on the off-chance he'd be wanted then.
"Rodney is making great progress with the Ancient technology, though. He's almost back to the level he was before," Radek jumped in, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen.
With visible effort, Elizabeth brought the smile back on her face.
"Well, that's good news."
"Yes, and Carson says I'm in good shape, so, uh. About going off world?"
"I don't think you're ready yet, Rodney. But." She nodded at him. "We'll discuss it. Soon."
A last nod, and Elizabeth was gone, leaving Rodney and Radek to look at each other. Radek shrugged.
"Don't think she'll ever think you're ready."
"No." Rodney sighed. "Not really."
His quarters had their own balcony. It was a nice place to brood, leaning on the railing and staring over the blue-grey ocean.
"You know, Dr. McKay," he said conversationally, "I don't think I like you very much."
Startled, Rodney spun around, to find himself face to face with John Sheppard.
"How did you get in here?"
"I tried to radio you, but you didn't answer. I was worried."
Yes, he and everyone else. Apparently, the whole farce had started with Dr. McKay not answering his radio, so people got... itchy, when they couldn't reach Rodney.
"Well, as you can see, I'm perfectly fine. Not really in the mood for city exploration, though, so if you mind...?"
Rodney gestured in the general direction of the door, but John didn't move. Instead, he jammed his hands into his pockets and licked his lips, which made him look like a nervous schoolboy.
"Can we talk for a minute?"
Rodney crossed his arms in front of his chest.
He'd had it with making things easier for everyone.
John licked his lips again, now looking downright uncomfortable.
"I'm not really good at this... talking stuff. I, uh, wanted to say..." He grimaced. "You know, on second thought, let's not talk."
John pulled his hands out of his pockets, straightened his shoulders, and walked over to where Rodney was still standing at the balcony railing. Hesitating for a second, John reached out and framed Rodney's face with his hands.
And kissed him.
For one brief, insane moment, Rodney was tempted to push him back, demand an explanation. But that would have been very, very stupid, and his detesting of stupid things was something he shared with Dr. McKay, so he fisted his hands in John's t-shirt and kissed back instead. John's breathing hitched, and Rodney pulled him closer, and they clung to each other like otherwise they might break.
Seemed he was worth it, after all.
He was breathless by the time they pulled apart, and grinning a little. John grinned back, honest and open and a little dorky.
"We could move this inside," Rodney suggested, and John's grin widened.
"I like the way you're thinking."
The bed wasn't really broad enough for two grown men.
"I, uh, don't want you to think it isn't you I want. Because it's not. Uh, true, that is."
"Do we have to discuss this now?"
"I just didn't want you to feel like you were second-best or anything. I realised it might have looked that way, um. Earlier."
"Can we just sleep?"
A soft exhalation, then: "Sure."
Rodney smiled, and tightened his arm around John's naked waist.
He wanted this to last forever.
It ended three days later.
It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to stand up, get dressed, and take one of the Wraith stun guns from the armoury. Completely normal to walk into the gateroom and stun every last member of the night shift before they could even react, only to go up into the control room and stun the technician on duty, who had his hand still raised to his radio. Dial out, lower the shield, and walk down again, sure steps right to the Gate.
The distinct charge of Ronon's gun made him stop, but not turn around.
"Rodney!" John's voice, panting, like he had run as fast as he could. Well, he probably had. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Rodney opened his mouth, but the words that came out were not his own: "You will let Dr. McKay go, Colonel Sheppard."
"Or what?" John wanted to know, his voice wary. Rodney felt his own mouth sneer.
"Or he will die, right here on this spot."
There was a slight pause, and Rodney knew John was weighing his options.
"Who are you?"
"You know who we are, Colonel Sheppard. Let's not play this game."
"Well, what do you want with Dr. McKay?"
The Asuran in Rodney's head made him shrug nonchalantly.
"Dr. McKay was kind enough to relearn a few things about our beautiful cities for us. Now we will honour him by letting him become our teacher."
All the while, Rodney was standing in front of the Stargate, staring at the shimmering event horizon, listening, feeling strangely dispassionate. He knew the things discussed meant life or death for him – literally – yet he couldn't bring himself to care.
He thought he should be afraid about that, but found inside himself no room for fear.
"Do not think we aren't serious, Colonel. Dr. McKay will step through this gate, now. Or he will die."
There was another moment of silence, and Rodney was almost curious what John's decision would be. Atlantis couldn't really afford to let him go; he knew too much. And John couldn't afford to let his personal feelings get in the way of his job, even though he'd been known to act irrationally before.
John's voice was strangely soft when he spoke again.
"I'm sorry, Rodney."
The Asuran must have heard something Rodney hadn't, because he felt himself nod.
And with those two words, Rodney stepped through the event horizon.
Instead of the familiar greenish tunnel, all that greeted him was black.
"Rodney. Come on, buddy, open your eyes for me."
Rodney curled up tighter, shaking his aching head. He didn't even know how many times he'd had someone's hand stuck in his brain, and he didn't really care for a repeat performance.
"Rodney, it's me. Us. We're here to get you out."
Sheppard's voice, and it had to be another scenario to make him tell whatever it was the Asuran wanted to know today, even though he'd thought they were through with him. It was far too close to what Rodney wanted, to be anything else.
"Not falling for that," he rasped, his voice hoarse from thirst and his own screams. "No way you could've found me."
And that was the sad truth, the root of Rodney's hopelessness. He was in some bastardised version of Atlantis, a city gone slightly wrong as the Asuran lost contact with their kind. Setting him free that first time had been a ploy to empty his mind of all the knowledge they didn't want and make him gather more useful information, filling his genius brain with nothing but Ancient technology. And once they had what they wanted, Rodney had been... discarded. No longer held important.
It had to have been at least a day since he'd last been fed.
He could feel Sheppard's hand on his shoulder, squeezing.
"Remember Carson's examination after we found you? We tagged you. There was no way the replicators would just let you go, so we made sure that if they took you again, we'd find you."
Rodney shifted a little, enough so he could look up and into Sheppard's concerned green eyes, barely noticing Teyla and Ronon behind him. Déjà vu.
"Really?" he asked, hating how his voice sounded small and feeble.
In answer, Sheppard's hand on his shoulder squeezed harder.
"Really. So what say we blow this joint?"
Rodney had to struggle to sit up, let alone stand, and Sheppard took most of his weight as they made their way through empty halls, the floor covered with those familiar silvery little blocks. He gave them a kick, stumbling a little, but Sheppard didn't say anything, just tightened his grasp around Rodney's waist. And apparently, the blowing-part had been meant quite literally, Rodney learned as he watched, from the safety of a jumper, pseudo-Atlantis go out in a terribly beautiful ball of fire.
"So, you remember anything this time?" Ronon asked from his seat behind Rodney, ignoring Teyla elbowing him between his ribs. Hard.
Rodney pretended not to notice the way Sheppard tensed next to him, fingers white-knuckle tight around the jumper controls.
"I remember everything," he declared, smiling a little at the quick glance Sheppard shot in his direction.
"Everything?" The question sounded almost casual. Almost.
"Yes, John. Everything."
John relaxed, a small smile playing around his lips, and Rodney laughed as Ronon ruffled his hair from behind, as Teyla put her hand on his arm. These people, too, had been unexpected gifts, and he was happy in the knowledge that he got to keep them.
Looking at John, he laughed again, happy and carefree despite feeling like crap.
He got to keep everything.
And that was how Dr. Rodney McKay returned home.