Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between sunset and the sunrise.
John laughs in his ear, whispers 'its time to get up' or 'let's hit the sack' and it's only then he knows which is which. Sunrise, this time.
The sun turns the sky red at the horizon, and its odd, this kind of thing in the city. There's a halo around the skyscrapers that he thought was the kind of perfect backdrop one only saw in movies.
John's hands are warm, always warm, as they slip beneath his shirt. John watches him with large hazel eyes, framed by dark strands of his wild hair, apparently waiting to see what he'll do next. "Big day," John says finally, when he says nothing and doesn’t even move.
"What?" The word is pulled from him, ripped out, and it nearly catches in his throat. He's only playing along.
"The ceremony," John says, with a large grin. "I know you haven't forgotten."
He had forgotten, but it comes back now; slowly, like the way a dream fades the longer you're awake in reverse. He's getting a Nobel Prize at noon, even though most can't figure out what he's getting it for.
He wonders if the others will be there.
Elizabeth grew out her hair. It's down past her shoulders and straight, not curly, and she looks like someone else now; there's only something vaguely familiar about her, in that way you recognize someone you knew years before.
Ronon and Teyla are wearing wedding rings and have two kids, one is named Charin and one is named John, but Rodney can't tell them apart. They're twin girls, for which he'll tease John later; at the moment, he only demands to know why they aren't both named Rodney after him, and everyone laughs in a way that he supposes really ought to be familiar.
Ford has a patch over his eye, but he knows what its hiding, and has trouble facing him head on. Carson and Radek send their apologies; but a week's notice just isn't enough to get them across the galaxy.
"Drink up," John says, slipping a wine glass into his hand. "I have a feeling we're going to need it."
He downs it without having to be told twice, and the rest of the day passes in a haze. John takes him home, lays him down, and the last thing he remembers before sleep is John's voice.
The moon is full again. It's large and flat against the dark blue sky, and looks more painted than real. He stands out on the balcony, watching it with suspicion, and his feet have slipped past the bars, far enough that his toes are hanging off the edge. It's a twenty-five story fall, but sometimes he forgets where he is.
Sometimes he thinks he's still back on Atlantis, that he never left, that John is Sheppard and Ford is probably dead and sometimes he thinks he was never really there at all. Atlantis hovers behind him, floating on the sea, a beautiful scary memory that keeps slipping further away.
He hears footsteps behind him and glances around. John is leaning against the open glass doors, naked and smirking. The moonlight paints him almost ivory, and Rodney's eyes trace him from the tips of his spiky hair to his feet, looking for scars and finding none. He feels stuck in place, held in the air, about to fall, but everything else always fades away when John's looking at him.
And when John says his name, he follows him in as sure as if he's being pulled.
The days all meld together and he wonders how long he's lived here. Weeks or months or years, it could be all or nothing; for all he knows, he's been here three days. There's a calendar on the side of the fridge, it's John's and filled with pretty girls, but it's been tacked up on January for as long as he can remember.
"It was good to see them," John says, as he pulls a soda out of the fridge. "I miss them."
"Who?" Rodney asks.
John looks at him oddly, frowning. "Weir and the others, Mr. Nobel Prize," he says, "You're really on the ball today, aren't you?"
Rodney takes the soda when John hands it to him, but he's not thirsty. Hasn't been for awhile now. "It was good to see them," he agrees. "They look different."
"Did they?" John asks, distractedly. He's grabbing another soda and probably not listening to a thing he says. "You know I can't even remember where it is."
"Where what is?" Rodney asks. He's not used to having to ask so many questions; he used to finish John's sentences.
"Atlantis," John says. He twists the cap off his soda and grins.
Rodney frowns, and pushes his own further away. He closes his eyes, feeling a little dizzy, a little sick. He hasn't eaten in god knows how long. "You lived there for two years," he says.
"I know," John says, "but I can't remember the coordinates to get there. I can't picture them. Isn't that funny?"
Rodney goes cold because it's not funny at all. "I need some air," he says.
John doesn't even look up as he leaves.
He runs into Samantha Carter on the street. She hugs him like an old friend and congratulates him with a smile so wide he wonders why her face doesn't split right in two. "We should do lunch," she says.
"Sure," Rodney says.
"We can talk about Atlantis," Samantha continues. "I'm thinking of going there. Maybe for a week or two or three."
Going there, like it's a tourist attraction. See the Lost City. Ten bucks for a t-shirt. Rodney smiles, says none of this. He isn't one for putting on false cheer, usually, but this is Samantha Carter, and he supposes he owes her that. "Have fun."
"I was so wrong about you," she says. "I'd love it if you would come back with me, to Atlantis. We could start over." She stares at him with wide eyes, innocence personified and flawless, just like John. He bets she doesn't have a scar on her either.
She leans forward and grabs his hand, talking on about how she thinks they should get together soon, maybe even for a date, a real one, but he pushes her away almost without thinking. He feels like he's someone else; that he must be, if suddenly he's turning Samantha Carter down.
"I'm with someone," Rodney says, because he's pretty sure it’s the truth. John lives with him, sleeps with him, and so it must be a relationship--and even if he can't remember when it started he doesn't want to give it up.
"I'm sorry," she says, and leaves. She doesn't call him about lunch.
John isn't home when he comes back. The apartment is empty, and he wanders around it, searching the surfaces for dust. Neither he nor John ever vacuum or go near a feather duster, but nothing seems to get cluttered or smudged. He turns on the TV instead of dwelling on it, and its Wormhole X-Treme, the one episode that ever aired; a marathon apparently. It plays three times in a row.
John walks in the middle of the third time. He's wearing blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and Reeboks with red stripes. He doesn't say hello.
"Where were you?" he asks.
Like a switch was flipped, John turns towards him, smiling on command. "Where do you think?" he asks, as he pulls open the curtains to let in the sun.
"Flying?" Rodney guesses.
John's still smiling; it's like everyone on Earth can do it but him. "That's right, that's exactly where I was," he says. "In the sky."
John's gone again tomorrow, but Rodney doesn't ask him where he is.
Kavanaugh calls to give congratulations. He's living in Tahoe, says "I always knew you'd do it" like they hadn't been in more vicious shouting matches than civil conversations and then hangs up again without saying much more. Rodney's still not sure what he's done that's so great.
If he concentrates hard enough, he can see his last day on Atlantis. There was a party, with red streamers wrapped around the gate. John was laughing and practically incandescent and Rodney remembers thinking he shouldn't be so happy about leaving somewhere so beautiful, but then John's always been an enigma, and it isn't like they don't have as many bad memories as good.
He's been alone all day, and he's not used to it; he's used to being crowded and starved for space, but John slipped out of bed before the sun came up and hasn't been back since. He can't shake the feeling that he's driving him away, but he doesn't know how, because he doesn't know how he ever got someone as wonderful as John in the first place.
This time, when John comes back, Rodney corners him at the door, kisses him like he needs to do it to breathe, and whispers "I'm sorry" until John finally asks "for what?"
He doesn’t know what for, just that he is. He's more sorry than he's ever been.
John is beneath him, mussed and sated, eyes gleaming with life and amusement, and it could easily take his breath away. John's fingers are tracing invisible patterns over his back, while Rodney returns the favor, running his own hands over John's smooth skin--feeling all the places he remembers being rough-edged and so much scar tissue, his hand slipping right passed where they were supposed to be.
"Can you remember them?" John asks.
He's nearly caught off-guard enough to answer. Instead, he says, "remember what?"
"The coordinates," John says, laughing. "It's been driving me nuts."
Rodney watches him, and John blinks, completely unmoved. He looks airbrushed and blurred. "Where have you been going?" Rodney asks, instead of answering. "I've missed you."
"I've been flying, Rodney," he says. "You know that."
Flying what, Rodney wonders. He closes his eyes, and decides he's tired enough that he doesn't even care. He drifts on the edge of sleep, listening to the sound of John's pulse, and counting the beats.
It sounds wrong, but Rodney ignores it. Everything has seemed wrong since he came back home.
He tells John to take him with him. John pulls another frayed black t-shirt from his endless supply and says, "no problem" like he's been waiting for Rodney to ask him all the time.
The helicopter is black, sleek, and thinner than Rodney remembers helicopters being. John gives him a helmet and straps him in, and then they're lifting off into the perfect sky. Rodney's never had anything against flying, but he's never seen it the way John does.
He's never had that kind of connection, that kind of drive, at least not about this, and when they get higher, Rodney doesn't really feel like they've moved at all.
They're scattered all across the dining table, single sheets of lined paper, each with a different chevron, a different constellation, sketched on its surface. John is hunched over a blank sheet, tapping a pencil against the table. "I can't remember the rest," he says.
Rodney stares at them. They're perfect replicas, the edges smooth. There are no eraser marks or smudges, no double lines. John has drawn them like he's Xeroxing. He nearly reaches out to touch them, to order them, to pick out the ones most familiar but something stops him.
John smiles at him, sweetly and sad. "Will you help me?" he asks.
Rodney closes his eyes, and then shakes his head. "I have better things to do than this," he says. He ignores the flash of hurt in John's eyes and walks into his office. He slams the door, and turns the lock, and then he slides to the floor.
He doesn't know what he has an office for. He doesn't work for anyone anymore.
John's obsessed, Rodney realizes. If anyone can recognize the trait in someone else it's him. Takes one to know one, they say, and Rodney watches in disbelief as John arranges the pieces of paper along the floor.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"I can't remember," John says, desperately, like something bigger than Rodney realizes is hanging in the balance over this. "I don't know why I can't remember."
"Don't worry about it," Rodney says. "Go fly your helicopter."
John looks up at him, his lips curving down. "I don't have a helicopter," he says. "If you would just help me remember..."
"It's not important," Rodney says. "We're never going back."
He doesn't know why. He sees the red streamers, but he can't remember what the banner hanging above the steps says. He doesn't know why they left.
"I just want to remember," John says, looking up at him again, through his eyelashes, one hand curling tight around a piece of paper and ripping the edges. "If you would just tell me, we could be happy."
"I don't know the coordinates," Rodney says.
He knows them.
"I try and try and try and you're never happy!" John yells. The papers are gone. Rodney's searched for them, but he can't even find one pencil in the entire apartment. Things have a habit of disappearing here.
Rodney places his head in his hands. "What are you talking about?"
"We had to leave," John says, ignoring him. "I thought you would be happy with me. I thought it would be enough..."
"Why did we leave?" Rodney asks, looking up suddenly, because this is the first time John has ever acknowledged that at some point they had to have gone from Atlantis to get here.
John frowns. "I was shot," he says. "I had to be brought here for medical treatment, you wouldn’t let me go without you. Don't you remember?"
He remembers John laughing at the going away party, but now that John mentions it, he can hear a gunshot; he can even smell the blood and fear. He sees a gurney disappear through an event horizon, sparkling blue and clear.
It's funny the things he's forgotten.
Katherine Heightmeyer is etched into the glass door. He's here at John's insistence, but its strange and familiar to enter that office and sit across from her again. He doesn't know how she can work here, listen to people bitch about their bosses and their kids after counseling people through watching their best friend go from twenty-five to eighty-six in two minutes.
It would drive him mad very quickly.
"How have you been, Rodney?" she asks, crossing her legs demurely, and tossing her hair over her shoulders. She looks exactly the same as he remembers.
"I'm fine," he says. "It's like I'm on indefinite leave. I don't need to be here."
Kate ignores him. He often wonders if she's ever actually heard a word he's said. "John says you've been acting oddly. He says you have trouble remembering things."
"John has problems of his own," Rodney says.
Kate's lips tip upwards wryly. "Even so, why don't you tell me about it."
"About what?" Rodney asks.
"Are you having trouble remembering things?" she asks.
"No," he says, rolling his eyes, crossing his arms; assuming the standard back-off stance.
"Then you won't mind if I ask a few questions," she says. "What year it is?"
"Are you kidding me?" he snaps.
"Rodney," she said, raising an eyebrow.
"2006," he says.
"Your name?" she asks.
"Doctor Rodney McKay. Am I actually paying you for this?"
Kate continues to ignore him, scribbling down endless notes instead. "What's your address?"
Rodney frowns. "What?"
"Of your apartment," she says, looking up at him. "You know it, don't you?"
He tries to search his memory for the numbers, the street name, the city even, but it all slips away. "These are stupid questions," he says.
Kate narrows her eyes. "How about the coordinates for Atlantis?"
"I'm not doing this," Rodney snaps. He leaves the building and doesn't look back, and when he gets home, he still doesn't know the street name, but the number on the building is 720.
He's in apartment 213.
"This isn't working," John says. He's packing his things. "I'm going back."
"Back where?" Rodney says, feeling numb. He's been waiting for this, but it doesn't feel anymore real than all the rest; and you have to have a beating heart for it to break.
"To Atlantis," John says. "If you care about me at all, you'll come with me."
He nearly says yes, to break up the monotony, to continue his search for something with substance, even, but he can't. He sits down, dizzy, at the thought. They'd make him dial the gate. He's the only one that knows. He's the only way to get there.
"You're going to die alone," John tells him before he slams the door.
But John would never say that. Not to him.
It's after John leaves that the world starts to crumble. The next morning, when the sun starts to rise, the sky stays red. Buildings start to fade, one by one. "I tried to warn you," someone says. "You're running out of time."
"You shouldn't have let John leave," Kate tells him. "You don't care about anything but yourself!"
His apartment has become her office. His diplomas are mixed with hers on the wall, and he can't separate them, figure out which are which. Things blend far too easily in his mind these days. She looks angry, though, and he notes distantly that he's never seen her angry before.
"Just tell me the coordinates," she says, voice quiet again, soothing and pure, "and he'll come back. You can have everything you ever wanted; everything I've been trying to give you."
He lies down on the couch and throws an arm over his eyes. Things are shifting dangerously everywhere, and when he looks up again the ceiling is silver; a mosaic of interlocking chips, held together like puzzle pieces.
He thinks maybe its better this way.
The world is finally ripped away, and he's screaming, on his knees. Something pops, and then pieces of metal are raining down around him. He leans forward, holding his hands over his head. He can feel his pistol on his thigh; the rough and comforting feel of his uniform against his skin.
Someone shouts "over here." Sounds like Teyla, but he knows better than to assume.
A moment later and John is kneeling in front of him, forcing him to meet his eyes. "Rodney, are you alright?"
"You went back," he says.
John frowns. "We weren't going anywhere without you," he says.
Rodney grabs at his sleeve. "Where do we live?" he asks desperately.
"We live on Atlantis," he says with a frown and then drags him to his feet. "And we need to get you to Carson. God knows what they did to you."
"Who?" Rodney demands, even though John is pulling him through the trees and he was out of breath when they started. "Where have I been?"
"The replicators," John tells him, but Rodney still makes them dial the gate.
He watches Teyla's hand suspiciously as she dials, but she hits all of the right ones.
He keeps searching for the cracks. "We thought we'd never find you," John says.
Rodney ignores him, intent on his task. His wrists are bandaged, somehow worn raw, but he's busy. He's drawing constellations on notebook paper.
"We found an Ancient weapon, like the one General O'Neill used," John continues. "One blast and the whole ship was falling apart, and you were right there, in the middle of everything."
"The coordinates," Rodney says, looking up at him. There are specks in John's eyes, little flecks of color, and he counts each one as John stares right back at him.
"What?" he asks.
Rodney spreads the papers across the floor, the same manic determination in his eyes that John had earlier in his. Well, not John. "What are the coordinates to Atlantis?"
John kneels down, picks out seven of the papers, and then lines them up. "There," he says. "Do you think maybe you can get some sleep now?"
Rodney frowns at them. It's the address, right there in front of him. No one is supposed to know but him.
"How are you doing, Rodney?" Kate asks, crossing her legs demurely, and tossing her hair over her shoulders. She looks almost real, but it's all a little too much the same.
"Fine," he says. "I've been keeping busy in the lab."
At least he has something to do; but he's asked around, and apparently he hasn't won the Nobel Prize yet here. Pity. That had been the best part of having his mind fucked with.
"Colonel Sheppard tells me you're acting distant," she says. Colonel Sheppard is no longer John. That had been the real best part of having his mind fucked with, but he's not thinking about that.
"I live in building 720. Apartment 213," he tells her. She watches him for a moment to see if maybe he's making some kind of joke, and then she starts writing something down.
"Adjusting might take awhile," she says, ignoring the comment. "Why don't you tell me about what they made you see."
"They made me see you," he says. "Among other things."
"Rodney, please, you need to open up..."
He's been ripped open already. His dreams have spilled out of him like water, and been strung up around him on paper walls. They thought it would work, giving him everything he's ever wanted, but they didn't get that he would be so untrusting.
Rodney never gets everything he wants.
Colonel Sheppard catches up to him in the hallway. He's smiling, but Rodney's used to all the smiles by now. He knows every one John has. "You doin' okay?" he asks.
He pauses, meeting John's eyes. John had been his touchstone, but John hadn't been real. None of it had. Possibly, none of it is. He'd reach out and touch him now but he's pretty sure John would send him back to Heightmeyer. "I never thought it was real," he says.
John nods, eyes narrowed. "And do you think this is real?" he asks. John has always known him too well, from the very moment they met on.
"You seem real enough," Rodney says.
John grins, and Rodney catches sight of the scar on the side of his neck, the thin little circle from the Wraith-bug that had attached itself to his neck. He can't stop himself this time. He reaches out and runs his fingers over it.
John's grin slips. "What?" he asks. "What's wrong?"
"You kept asking me the coordinates," he says.
John watches him, not blinking. "It wasn't me," he says.
"It was you because you would make it hurt the most," Rodney protests.
"I would never hurt you," John says.
"That's why you were the only one that could," Rodney tells him; but of course, John doesn't understand.
He counts the days now. Marks them down, each one. They don't slip away like before, but he's not getting complacent. John watches him too often, with narrowed knowing eyes. He corners him one day in his quarters, after Rodney has held back from missions three times.
"If you want off the team then say so," John says. "I know I can't understand what happened to you, or what you think I've done--"
"We had sex," Rodney says bluntly, stopping John in his tracks.
"We..." John starts, before turning away. "Well, it wasn't real."
"No," Rodney says. "It wasn't."
John watches him, dropping down to sit on his bed. "Tell me about it."
"About the sex?" Rodney asked.
John shakes his head. "No, about what they made you see."
"They gave me everything I ever wanted," Rodney says. "Made it just flawless enough so I would know it wasn't real."
"Oh," John says, then his eyes widen and he looks up. "Oh."
"Yeah," Rodney says. He isn't surprised when John leaves.
He doesn't see John for two days; not until he shows up at his door again, looking confused and like he hasn't slept. Rodney lets him in because if he doesn't Atlantis will.
"You're still not sure," John says, meeting his eyes. "You're not sure any of this is real."
"Of course I am," Rodney says.
"You haven't yelled at anyone since you got back," John says. "It's starting to freak me out."
Rodney doesn't really care. "Why are you here?" he asks.
"Would you know the difference if I kissed you?" John asks, after a pause, looking as scared as Rodney has ever seen him.
Rodney feels himself go cold again. It's starting again. He saw Benson with red streamers just two days ago and nearly had a panic attack. "Don't," he says.
John doesn't listen. John never listens. He leans forward and kisses him, gently at first and then harder, and John's lips are rough where he's bitten away at it, but smooth around the edges. It isn't like before, and his knees give out.
John holds him up. "I'm real," John whispers. "I promise you that I'm real."
Rodney pushes off his jacket frantically, helps him out of his shirt, runs his hand up the sides of him; the scars are faded but they're there, Rodney can find them all, the ones he knows and the ones he doesn't, the old and the new, and when John frames his face to kiss him again his hands are freezing cold.