Title: I Hear and I Forget
Codes: Sheppard, Sheppard/McKay
Spoilers: Duet, The Long Goodbye, season three in general
Summary: Shifting his hands weakly, John stares up at the forcefield lines that cross below the ceiling and wonders what the hell happened.
Author Notes: Thanks to ltlj and amireal for the read-through.
Warnings: Implied sexual assault, descriptions of injuries suffered in torture, graphic sexual content, drug use
The fever had started a week ago; he thinks the doctor gave him something, or tried to; there are faint memories of arguments over his head: hands like ice on his face, his chest: fainter memories of fighting, the bruising impact of the floor and shouting. His right arm's riddled with track marks, though he doesn't know what they're doing; they took blood at least once, a vial that broke under his foot when he broke (Yamato's) a Marine's neck. Injections later to keep him quiet, because nothing they could do could keep him calm after that.
He's sure he should be hungry; his mouth's dry, numb, and he hasn't been able to talk for longer than he can remember.
Shifting his hips, John achieves quasi-consciousness and half-wishes he hadn't; his body aches like he was dropped off the side of a cliff and hit every rock on the way down. Something's wrong with his left leg, but to be honest, he's just happy that everything still seems to be there; he remembers hot, bright lights and white-clad medical staff swarming around him in fever-bright images that he doesn't care to look at too closely.
He's pretty sure that part is something he needs to remember.
Atlantis hadn't been built with the idea of needing to hold prisoners; they'd adapted with the force field cell that held Steve, Sora, and once, memorably, John was in residence, but for a long-term stay, it sucks. There's a cot; he knows that because he's lying on it. There's a bucket he tries not to think about, mostly because it's not for evacuatory purposes; he thinks there's a catheter involved and really doesn't want to know more. There's a table that hovers close to the bed; he knows what that's for.
What he can't figure out is why they don't have him locked up in one of the medical isolation units, though he thinks it might have something to do with the ATA gene.
Shifting again, a sharp pain crawls up his instep, making him hiss: the pain clears his head like a shot of adrenaline. Blinking hard, John brings the room into abrupt focus, lights bright and almost blinding. He almost thinks them down, then reconsiders; if he lowers them, someone might notice and realize he's conscious.
Start over. Inventory.
He's in hospital scrubs that smell clean; someone's keeping him clean, even if he can't remember it. It's a creepy thought. His hands are cuffed to the headboard in padded medical restraints; when he turns his head, ignoring the throb of pain that comes with the movement, his wrists look a little abraded but otherwise fine. His right arm is faintly numb, and the line of needle-marks is heavier than he remembers, trailing from bicep to mid-forearm. His left arm is starting to show the same marks; John tries not to think how much they have to have been doing to need to switch arms.
His chest feels tight, but he can breathe easily. John lifts his head to continue the visual assessment, closing his eyes as vision strobes, nausea and dizziness combining before finally easing off. Shifting his legs tell him his ankles are fastened to the foot of the bed. Great. Just fucking *great*.
John lets his head hit the pillow again, controlling the urge to pant. Even when he was recovering from the Iratus bug, he can't remember being this utterly exhausted. Shifting his hands weakly, he stares up at the forcefield lines that cross below the ceiling and wonders what the hell happened.
Memory's a tricky thing; it tells him there was a mission (where?) and coming through the gate. Carter wasn't waiting for them, though she always tried to while she learned the rhythms of Atlantis, taking what she liked to call the five-second report before sending them to medical or rest if it there wasn't urgency.
She hadn't been there, and Rodney had said--("What do you mean, she's….")--something, and then there'd been a stunner and bullets and John remembers looking into Teyla's eyes as she pressed his nine millimeter against his forehead and told him not to move.
Right. Aliens. Of course.
There's a light blanket he kicked off when the fever hit, coiled on the floor until the next check-in that will start with white-clad medical professionals and blur into nothingness. The first chills are starting to shake his body; he doesn't have a lot of time before the fever starts fucking with his head.
Time for *what* is the question: Sheppard, you think you can make a *plan*? With *what*?
Sometimes, he hates that voice a lot.
The forcefield crackles, and John lifts his head enough to see Keller and Biro with three Marines, come in. Zelenka, too, and sometimes twists hard when Rodney pushes by them, earning a scowl from Keller as he takes out something and pushes it onto John's forehead. "The fever's coming back."
"I know," Keller says, sounding pissed. "The monitors went crazy. Get back so I can get it down before it tries to fry him again."
Rodney's close enough that John could have touched him if he lifted his head, smelling of sweat and burned electronics and ozone. His expression is blank, but there are dark circles under his eyes, and he looks like he hasn't seen a shower or a razor in at least a week.
John's started by bare fingers trailing down his face, and he wants to jerk away, but it feels too good, cool against his skin; it's been a long time since anyone touched him with bare skin, unshielded by gloves; he thinks it's been a long time since someone's touched him for any reason other than--whatever this is.
Rodney doesn't meet his eyes, even though John tries to make him; he checks the restraints, apparently finding a weakness in the left one and adjusting while Keller waits impatiently, arms crossed over her chest while Biro sets up a small table a few feet away. John cranes his neck to look, but it's all Ancient medical equipment and he doesn't recognize anything but the needles.
Swallowing hard, he opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.
"Your vocal chords are paralyzed," Rodney says flatly; John's almost as startled by the bare fingers that trail over his ankle when Rodney adjusts the cuffs as by the words. "Please don't move; your body is being regulated by several prototypes we found in the database; you could cause significant damage if you shift them."
When Rodney turns back around, the blank blue eyes look over John in disinterest before he reaches across John's body to the opposite side of the bed and bringing another restraint across John's hips. It's pointless to fight, wasting energy he doesn't have, but John does it anyway, twisting away from the padded leather. Pain from the small of his back makes him gasp, thighs suddenly burning, and his ass and groin feel like they're being torn apart.
"*Stop*." One hand comes down on his stomach, pushing the breath out of him and holding him still long enough for a Marine to take over. Rodney pulls a second strap across his chest and a third just above his knees, pinning him to the bed.
He tries to lift his head when he feels Rodney's hand slide between his thighs, but someone pushes his head down, and another strap is placed across his forehead. Staring at the ceiling, John feels Rodney's hand move impersonally beneath the scrubs, shifting something hard and metal that makes John gasp.
"It would be easier if we paralyzed him," Keller remarks idly. John sees she's picked up a needle, looking at him like one of the mice in the lab. John thinks she might not mean temporarily.
"And you want to trust tech we still don't understand to keep him viable?" Rodney snaps. "We've had enough problems with it at this level."
Keller frowns but seems to give up the idea. "All right, I need him out. Biro, if you would--"
"Just a second," Rodney says sharply; it's the most emotion he's shown since he came in, which John figures would freak him out a lot more if everything wasn't freaking him out so badly. Waving the Marines off, Rodney rechecks the restraints, adjusting and pulling, with the end result that John's stretched out farther. A pillow is shoved suddenly at the small of his back, setting off another wave of pain that blacks out vision, and Rodney's saying, "Okay, do it now."
He feels the needle, and then he's out.
John sits up abruptly in his own bed, and--wait.
No, this isn't his room in Atlantis.
It's like his, though. His uniforms in the closet. His magazines, his books, his Rubic's cube and crossword puzzles and the sudoku that Rodney pretends he hasn't been printing off the network for him when the Daedalus didn't have his last amazon order. Standing up, John tries to work out what feels wrong, but the truth is, nothing does.
Rodney's sitting at his desk.
His uniform is crumpled and stained, and he has two or three days growth of beard, hair too long and scraggly around his neck. He smells like sweat and burned circuits, like no sleep and no shower. He looks like—
John's across the room with his hand wrapped around its throat before he can think to stop; after a second of thought, he doesn't want to stop. "What are you?"
Not Rodney doesn't so much as blink and that stops John from just squeezing and killing him; it may be something wearing Rodney's face and Rodney's body, but even so, John's not sure he can kill him in cold blood when Rodney's blue eyes stare glassily into his.
"Obviously, you know this isn't real," Not Rodney says calmly, like John isn't crushing his windpipe. Which John guessed, but that doesn't make him move his hand, either. "And equally obvious, you can't kill me here--or you can, but it won't really change anything. But if it makes you feel better, go ahead."
And Not Rodney closes his eyes, going limp.
John jerks back, rubbing the feeling of prickly-sweaty skin from his palm, watching as Not Rodney catches himself clumsily on the floor with one hand. The uniform doesn't fit him right; it's too big. That, or he's lost weight.
Dreams aren't usually this specific. "This isn't a dream."
Not Rodney gestures vaguely, sleeve slipping toward his elbow; John sees trackmarks that match his own. Far fewer, and older, but there. "I don't know," he says finally, and something crawls over his face, something that isn't blank and flat and lifeless, something that trembles on the line between self-disgust and horror or maybe both at once. "I don't even know why it happens. You never remember." Not Rodney's mouth twists. "I--kind of thought he was doing it. Just to twist the knife a little more."
There's nothing John can think to say to that. "Who?"
Not Rodney rolls his eyes, a second of discordant familiarity that John could live without. "You tried to kill me before, you know. With the gun." His eyes flicker tiredly to John's thigh, and John's abruptly aware he's wearing his holster. "I told you and you forgot. And I think I forgot, too."
John opens his mouth to demand something that makes some kind of sense--*anything*--but the glassy stare fixes on some point between them. "I'm sorry," Not Rodney whispers, voice breaking. "I'm so sorry."
The room begins to melt, darkness like drops of water sliding down the walls, puddling on the floor. "What is this?"
"He asked me a question." Not Rodney says softly. "I didn't even know he could do that, you know, just *talk* like that and never go away, never fucking *stop*. It was Cadman, wasn't it?"
John reaches out without thinking before Not Rodney's hand snaps out, closing around his wrist. "Colonel," he says, frowning, then looks at him, thumb brushing slowly over his inner wrist, pausing like he's taking John's pulse.
John watches Not Rodney's thumb on his wrist, stroking gently as the room liquefies around them. Gently, John pulls free, leaning back as his hand continues to hover mid-air, like he forgot it was there. "Rodney?" John says softly.
Not Rodney blinks slowly. "I don't know the answer."
"What's the question?"
Blue eyes flicker up briefly. "I don't want to remember that."
It's been days, hours, seconds since the last round. John can't tell how much time he's losing, but he doesn't think it's much by the slow growth of needle marks on his left arm. His throat's sore, and he's not sure what to make of that. A part of him wants to try to talk, but another part is almost sure that this isn't something that he's supposed to be able to do.
It does make it harder not to scream, though, because whatever the hell is going on, it hurts a *lot*.
Here's what his brief (and deeply, deeply painful) stints of consciousness have told him:
a. Steve's cell has been modified; there are more cameras and the forcefield's been altered, though he's not sure how or for what purpose. The hum's different from when Steve was here, when Sora was here, and definitely different from when he was here during the days of Lucius. In other words, pretty useless information except that he can confirm what he already guessed; he's being watched constantly.
b. He was injured badly at some point. There are bandages on his stomach and back, and something Ancient metal and warm that's apparently covering functions that usually need the assistance of a restroom attached to his thigh with some sort of elastic band. Oddly, it's around the same place his gun is usually attached.
c. They're giving him something to keep him out of it, and not just sedatives to keep him sleeping. He thinks at least one shot a day is specifically to keep him glossily aware that yes, there is something horrifically wrong going on, but he really can't quite get the energy to care.
d. He has no idea what the hell has happened to his people.
Pretty damn useful. Closing his eyes, John tries to focus on more than the glossy, glazed middle ground that feels an awful lot like he's been on drugs enough to get pretty well hooked; he suspects some of his bouts of pain are less to do with his (speculated) wounds and more to do with someone forgetting to shoot him up before withdrawal sets in.
He's still in restraints, though God knows why; they could let him free and put a gun on in his hand and he's not sure he could even remember how to move his fingers enough to pull the trigger. Much less focus enough to get a target; his vision seems to be in a constant state of blur, with brief instances of hyperfocus that allow him to see such inspiring sights as needles and scalpels approaching his midsection in vivid and nauseating detail.
The buzz of the forcefield tells him that he's got his daily visitors; John doesn't bother turning his head to watch them come in, keeping his eyes glazed and staring at the ceiling. He gets a glimpse of Rodney before the check-the-restraints goes into effect, and John remembers now why Rodney's doing it and not an orderly; something to do with the tech that's attached to the inside of each one, which may be part of the reason that John's pretty sure he hasn't moved in a month but still has some kind of muscle tone remaining, such as it is.
Something--Carson?--had been developing for use on comatose patients and had been testing--
"He's still out of it," Rodney says, sliding two fingers between the cuff and John's wrist, thumb pressing against the pulse. "I think that--" Rodney pauses, mouth still open, looking at John for the first time in what seems like forever. The blue eyes sharpen abruptly, flickering to the cuff where his thumb is pressed against John's pulse, and it's so odd that John forgets he's supposed to look drugged and stares back. "--he wont' need another dose," Rodney finished abruptly, pulling away. John turns his gaze back to the ceiling, keeping his body limp as the extra restraints go on for whatever happens next.
Truthfully, it's not all that hard to remain limp; his body really, really doesn't want to move.
Keller leans over him, moving into his line of sight before flashing a light in his eyes, then away before John can blink. "Minimal pupil dilation." She sounds unhappy. "We'll lose viability if we're not careful."
Something fairly noisy goes on around what he assumes is the metal tray from the sounds, before she comes back, kneeling on the floor. "We'll start IV's," she says finally, sounding disappointed. "You said the tech would be enough."
"No, I didn't. I said that Carson was testing it, not that he'd finished working out the kinks." Rodney suddenly sounds almost painfully normal. "And let me remind you; genius astrophysicist, not doctor. You read the research. You just asked me if the conclusions were correct."
"We'll discuss it later," Keller answers. "The woman's not giving us any better results. Get his left cuff; I need to start a line."
It's almost too easy to keep unfocused, so much so that time seems to become elastic, aware of something fairly interesting going on around his wrist, Keller wondering if the cuff will cause problems, and Rodney's, "He's non-reactive to stimuli, you checked that yourself. Just leave it. He's under observation; if he starts showing signs of coming out of it, we can be down here before he can even remember how to use his hands."
The thing is, Rodney's probably right; John's having problems remembering how to do pretty much anything.
A while later, something annoying goes on around his stomach and thigh, and the smell of disinfectant and blood permeate the air.
It's his room, or close enough to almost believe it, smooth cotton sheets sliding luxuriously against his bare back, and the air smells like salt.
Opening his eyes, he studies the spill of moonlight that pools on the floor like water. Just beyond it, he knows Rodney's sitting at the desk chair, but for some reason, John can't quite figure out why. "Why are you still up?" he asks, hearing his own voice thick and lazy. Pushing at the sheet, John squints up at the ceiling. "Why are you here?"
Something hovers vaguely just beyond his thoughts, but he's too tired to even pretend that he cares. At some point, his eyes close, because when he looks again, Rodney's sitting on the edge of the bed, blue eyes wide and surprised. "I didn't know it was like this," Rodney whispers, reaching out; John catches his wrist before the fingers touch skin; then Rodney's on his back, warm beneath John's hands, and for the life of him, John can't figure out why the hell they've never done this before.
Grinning, John loosens his hold on Rodney's hand, sliding his fingers through Rodney's. "Hey."
Rodney doesn't move, doesn't even seem to breathe, not even when John leans down, kissing lips that part at the softest pressure. Rodney's fingers tighten in his, a low, surprised sound that ripples against John's mouth, and when John pulls back, Rodney's reaching for him again, hand scrabbling desperately at his shoulder, arm hooking over his neck, "Yes, please," Rodney whispers, licking into John's mouth, sucking softly on his lip, and touching, touching, spreading his palms over John's back and shoulders, murmuring into his neck, "John, I didn't--you're--he--"
Rodney gasps a startled breath as John works a hand between them. "I didn't know it was like this," he breathes, and John almost asks what he means, but Rodney pushes him over, straddling his thighs to stare down at him hungrily, blue eyes dilated black. "It's a stupid question," Rodney breathes, but before John can think of something to say to that--*Sorry I asked?*--Rodney kisses him, both hands buried in his hair, licking open his mouth with clumsy enthusiasm, tongue quick and wet.
Time seems to stop altogether; there's an eternity of slow, wet kisses, warm lips, sharp teeth that nip carefully as Rodney learns John's body, drowning him in sensory overload that leaves him breathless and panting and weirdly passive, letting Rodney do what he wants, shifting when he's moved, relaxed in a way he's never been with sex, always edged with time limits and complications, expectations he's always known he could never hope to fulfill.
Rodney doesn't seem to want anything terribly complex; clothes peeled away, Rodney takes his time, startled every time he touches newly-revealed skin, watching John as if he expects him to vanish. Rodney's mouth closes tentatively on his cock, clumsily eager and a little too toothy, but John doesn't mind. There's no urgency, just enjoyment, *wallowing* in the contact, the warmth, a slow build of pleasure that John's never experienced before.
Like Rodney *knows* him, his body, reading him with eyes and fingertips, giving John what he wants before he can form the thought--*yes*--and Jesus, every touch and kiss is better than the last, more certain, more sure, more—
John opens his eyes abruptly on the ceiling above him, waving hazily as his vision strobes out while Rodney reinvents the blowjob with his perfect mouth around John's cock, getting *everything* right.
John's had a lot of sex, and he may have read a few Penthouse Letters in his time, but he'd never believed them. Reaching down with a heavy hand, he tries to pull at Rodney's head, get him up—*this isn't real, it can't be*--but his fingers feather through instead, something pressing heavily against his thoughts, pushing them down and away. Rodney reaches up, lacing their fingers together, looking up with hungry blue eyes before he pulls off with a dirty suck to the head. "It's okay," Rodney whispers, sounding breathless and happy, like John's giving him a gift. "I know how you like this."
No, you don't, John wants to tell him, or *shouldn't*, but he can't form the thought to match it—it's *Rodney* and he's wanted him for longer than he can remember, even if he'd never thought to do anything about it. His closest friend and team member and partner and this was supposed to—of *course*, why not, he's never trusted anyone else enough to--
There's a hard, bright slice of pain across his abdomen, cutting through the soft part of his belly and grazing his spine; John sits up, nauseated, staring down at the thick flow of blood, too bright and too sharp for the shadowed room, like a black and white movie turning color. Suddenly his body feels heavy and exhausted, nerves taut and shaky, like the far edge of a morphine overdose that turns the world into a slow, glossy nightmare.
When John looks up, Rodney's kneeling on the edge of the bed, eyes huge, mouth open in horror. "No."
The pain floats away, leaving John oddly disconnected; reaching down, he runs his fingers over the jagged cut, feeling the slick. spongy dampness of intestines pushing up against his fingers. His boxers are still around his knees, so he's not spared the vision of the ripped flesh, jagged hunks of meat cut from his thighs and crotch, bones crushed to powder.
He just really, really doesn't care.
"I didn't mean it," Rodney whispers, hands covering his face; when he pulls them back, they're covered in blood. Desperately, Rodney starts to wipe them on the blanket, leaving long red stains, but his hands never clean "We didn't know, *I* didn't know, *I didn't know what it would feel like*."
Rodney stumbles to his feet, swaying as he looks at his hands, then the science uniform that's growing wide, steady stains that glisten wetly purple, a knife growing into his palm before he shrieks, throwing it aside for another one to take its place. "Stop it! I wasn't part of that! I *didn't touch him!*"
John watches the clever hands twist together, trying to remove blood that never seems to vanish; for a second, he's back in college in one of those fucking compulsory lit courses, hating every second that he's not in the lab, surrounded by idiots and—
Huh, John thinks. I didn't take Shakespeare in college. "Lady McBeth," John hears himself say. Rodney's head jerks up, eyes wild. "It never comes off."
Something cradles him down, warm and comfortable, familiar, and John doesn't know what it is but recognizes it all the same. *Just a little longer* slips through the top of his mind, and, *I promise, you won't remember anything.*
"You know, he'd kill us if he ever woke up."
It's Rodney's voice.
John breaks with his communion with the ceiling, abruptly aware that the cot beneath him is damp and so is his skin, sticky and smelling of sweat. Fever, he remembers, then stops. *Fever*.
A hand touches his face, thumb pressing against his temple before stroking back through his hair; he has to fight the urge to flinch. "He cannot remember his own name," another voice says, one he thinks he should know. "Much less understand what has happened."
"Yes, yes, yes, it's very impressive, reducing a human being to a guinea pig," Rodney answers, sounding bored. "And fun, I'm sure."
Something unfamiliar breaks into the gloss; John thinks he used to call it anger. Clinging to it, John lets his eyes fall half-shut (not at all hard to do), aware the hand in his hair is stroking down his neck in a way that he's fairly sure isn't connected with any kind of medical procedure. His body wants to flinch so badly its an effort to control it; every brush of skin on skin raises something dark and blank in the back of his mind that threatens to engulf it, and he can't, can't, *can't* let that happen now.
"It is--interesting," the other voice admits, sounding amused. "With some--adjustments--when this is over, he will be a pleasing pet. Like the other one, perhaps."
Yeah, anger. The rush of adrenaline almost makes him dizzy, but it helps his focus, control the urge to pull away, concentrate on what he's hearing.
"The readings are showing agitation," the voice says abruptly, pulling away. "He should not be capable of agitation--"
"Still remember what he did the last time he got loose, huh?" Rodney says, an unfamiliar edge of bitter mockery souring his voice. "How brave of you to come back to gloat when he's drugged and tied up."
"Check him." The other voice sounds like she's speaking between clenched teeth.
"Hold on." Footsteps cross the room, a hand touching the machine on his leg. "Misfire. I told Keller this wasn't meant for long-term use." A thumb pushes into the cuff, pressing hard against his wrist; John's suddenly, hideously aware of the beat of his own heart, hard against Rodney's thumb.
"Low normal, like always," Rodney says, pulling away. A light shines abruptly into his eyes, making him blink. "Low-reactive pupils; and they say you need a degree to perform voodoo."
"Are you certain?" The voice sounds nervous. "Perhaps the doses should be raised; his tolerance may have been reached again--"
"And if we do that, we have to stop everything and start from scratch," Rodney answers, so casually that John wants to look at him just to see if he's rolling his eyes. "We go much higher, permanent brain damage--"
"That will be inevitable if he is to be kept alive," the voice says sharply. "He is too dangerous to be left whole--"
"And it turns you on more to fuck someone with the intellectual capacity of a three year old, I know. I'm shocked."
If Rodney had been checking his pulse then, John's fairly sure they'd be aware that yes, he's pretty fucking agitated.
The silence stretches out uncomfortably, but for once, John's almost vividly aware of how much, and how real it is. "Rodney--" the voice grates out. John feels the snap of recognition like a rubber band. That's *Teyla*.
"Lie to yourself all you want; it's not like anyone cares. You can mutilate him to your heart's content when this is over and no one will give a damn, so please spare me the protestations." Rodney's voice drops. "You were there when they first got him and the other one. You enjoyed damaging them."
There's an odd hesitation. "We didn't know it would be like this," she says; for some reason, the words are oddly familiar. "It could not be anticipated that they have yet to evolve beyond--"
"Ah. Blame it on evolution; that's a new one. Wait, it's *not*." Rodney snorts softly. "Was his skirt too short?"
"Sometimes," she says softly, edged with a menace that Teyla always seemed to express best when facing Wraith, "you seem to understand all this far too--intimately."
"And sometimes, you're very stupid. This isn't new; it's just too much fun to give up this time, right? When we're done, they'll modify him as you want; the other one too. You'll have your very own toy. He'll smile at you and tell you he loves you if you want him to, he'll let you touch him or hurt him or humiliate him and he'll never know the difference. He won't remember why he's being punished and he probably wouldn't understand if he knew. The real question is--"
Rodney's voice cuts off like a light going off.
"Rodney?" Teyla says warily. John doesn't think he's ever heard Teyla sound quite like that before.
"I just wonder if--" Rodney's voice cuts off abruptly as a woman's scream cuts through the room; John's body reacts instantly, pulling against the restraints, but luckily, neither of them are paying attention. "Never mind. Keller's going to be here soon if she's finished up with the other."
"I did not--oh." Teyla growls softly. "I had turned off my radio."
"Keller will be pissed if she finds out you were here. I'll alter the tapes; get out."
The hand on his shoulder tightens briefly, then footsteps echo away that cut out as the door closes.
John holds still; Rodney's still in the room. Doing--nothing, apparently. There's no sound but soft breathing. "This is new to us," Rodney says finally, sounding tired. "It's been too long since we were exposed to all--this. Confusing. And I'm talking to the vegetable. This can't be a good sign."
There's a sudden dip in the mattress near John's hip; pushing down the instinct to shift away, John lets his body slowly slump over, side braced against Rodney's thigh.
"It's odd how it seems to affect us. I remember when we met, you know, and I remember--" Rodney's voice stops short. "I know that they're his memories, but I want them to be mine. I want to have them. If you'd just--God. If you'd just let it happen, if you hadn't resisted--" Rodney's hand touches him almost tentatively, stroking through his hair far more gently than Teyla, intimate in a way that makes John's skin crawl. "How did you do it? How did you even realize we were there?"
Like a distant dream, John remembers the gate room, coming through. Carter wasn't there, and she should have been. Rodney wanted to know where she was. There wasn't silence, but pressure, presence, startled recognition at the squirming *thing* that clung to the edges of his mind, trying to burrow inside, and for a second, he was beside a pod from space and another man was climbing into his skin--
*I remember this.*
This time, though, he'd known what he was fighting. And he knew why.
Rodney's hand slides over his cheek, and it takes everything in John not to jerk away. "She hates you," Rodney whispers. "And she wants you and doesn't really understand why. And I do too, but I--I think I know why."
Rodney leans down, and for a horrified second, John thinks he might try to kiss him, but Rodney's forehead just rests against his, warm and heavy, familiar. "I remember wanting to--I saw her put that gun against your head and I--I just--"
Wet heat smears over his skin. "And the thing is, it's not me. It's not for me. None of it. And I want it anyway."
John feels his mouth open before he can stop it, words tumbling out without checking in with his head. "What--what was the question?"
He can't hear his own voice; for a second, he thinks he imagined it. But Rodney tenses, stiffening, and John belatedly realizes that he just royally fucked himself over--they know he's aware. They know he can *talk*.
A second passes, then another, before Rodney pulls away, staring at him with an unreadable expression before moving away. The next thing John feels is the pull of the needle in his arm; turning his head, he sees Rodney push something into his IV. The blue eyes are wet. "I know the answer."
John wakes up to a world that's cold and bright, and he remembers exactly what is happening.
Homicide isn't an option, but he really wants it to be.
His body's stiff and sore but *there*, gloss stripped away for a cold, hard cot and a chilly room. Experimentally, he opens and closes his fingers, aware of the machine on his thigh, the hum muted.
John barely has time to take in the fact that he can move when the buzz of the forcefield shutting down gets his attention. There's no time to fake anything; he's half off his pillow and his left hand is reacquainting itself with the skills of fine motor coordination.
Not Rodney gives him a passing glance on his way to the table, dropping a bag on the floor before placing a smooth silvery cylinder on the surface. Passing his hand across one side, Not Rodney kneels as tiny lights sparkle over the surface like tiny Christmas bulbs.
"Right," he says softly, then turns, looking at John. "That disabled the cameras, just in case. You know I'm--not him. Even if I want to be."
John slow-blinks how much he does not give a shit about what it wants, working his left hand in the cuff; there's a little more space than usual, and he'll break his wrist if he has to. "Where's Carter?"
Not Rodney doesn't seem to hear him. "It was just--to see what it was like. We didn't--we didn't know what--we didn't remember." Taking a breath, Not Rodney stares at the floor. "We forgot what it was like, what flesh was like, how it felt. How it just--" Rodney laughs softly. "We just--it was *feeling* again. It was amazing."
With a wrench, John gets his left hand free, reaching for his right, then glances warily at Not Rodney; Not Rodney flattens his hands on his thighs. "Go ahead. That's—that's kind of the point."
John strips the cuff, sitting up with a shock of pain he sets aside instinctively, jerking the blanket down and reaching between his legs, feeling the strap of the machine, the connectors that are connected to-- "Fuck."
"Yeah, I--" Not Rodney gets to his knees, then stops short at John's glare. "I can help. I've--he--your friend. Him. In me. He's here."
John stares back. "Why should I believe you?" Though he has to admit, he can't see why Rodney--*Not Rodney*--why he's doing any of this either.
He takes a breath, blue eyes pleading in a way that Rodney's never had been and never could be. "We got the bodies. The memories. The skills. But it's not--not the same. I can do whatever he could do. But I couldn't do what he could *imagine*."
"Like a puppet," John says slowly.
"The others can't get all of it. Your people *fought*. They couldn't win, but you've evolved a little; we can't get all the way inside anymore, not unless you let us." He laughs softly, eyes shining; it takes a second before John realizes that they're tears. "My people are envious, that I know--that I can be human. That I know how to *use what he knows*. They don't know it's because he's making me live it. Every second of it. He never--he never stops."
John's still as Not Rodney comes to the bed, shifting the blanket back farther. John stares at the gauze around his stomach, stretching down to cover-- "Jesus," he whispers.
"No permanent damage," Not Rodney says quickly, hand resting briefly on John's thigh. "I mean, it's fine, and they didn't even--but he got fucking *hysterical* and I had to--make them think you'd die if it wasn't--but it's healed. It's been healed. Everything. We can still do that, even in this form." Rodney's hands peel away the gauze over John's belly, revealing smooth, pale skin, soft and almost hairless; there's a crisscross of white lines that lead down to his groin, and John makes himself watch as Rodney eases the rest away.
It's odd. The skin's pale and new-looking, fine hair like he remembers from adolescence just pushing through the skin. But otherwise, it's-- "What happened?" John whispers. There are a lot of things he can imagine, and none of them are pleasant.
Not Rodney hesitates. "You fought back. When one of us tried to—and he died."
That fits. "I don't remember." Though he almost thinks he does.
Not Rodney's fingers remove the connections; John hisses softly as the catheter comes free. "I took it away." At John's start of surprise, Not Rodney looks up, mouth curved in an odd smile. "We can do that. That's why—that's why it was always safe for us to do this. We'd remember what it felt like again, being in flesh. And when we left, we would take the memories and you, none of you would know. Well," and the voice changes, *he* changes, and John recognizes Rodney pushing through, sarcastic and bitter, "and we'd wonder what the hell we did for three days, but who cares about the underevolved humans, right?" Not Rodney stops, flushing, blinking away the bit of Rodney that pushed through. "Like I said. He's always here, right here. In my head. And he never. Shuts. Up."
The smile fades as Not Rodney gently finishes, setting the machine aside, then reaching to uncuff John's ankles, sitting back on his heels as John swings around, feet planted on the ground, wishing he had a gun and knowing it wouldn't do a damn bit of good. Not Rodney stays on his knees, hands loose, like he knows exactly how much John wants to wrap his hands around his neck, jerk once and hear his spine snap, like he knows-- "Let them go." John clenches his fingers in the blanket. "How do I get you out of them?"
Not Rodney swallows hard. "He's been working on that part. I have. We have. Though mostly him." Not Rodney stops, looking up at John. "Do you know what question he asked me?"
John has a second of--something. Like his room, but not—not quite. Rodney and-- "You said there was a question you couldn't remember." Not a dream. "That was you."
Not Rodney nods, getting up so abruptly that John's groping for his non-existent gun. But Not Rodney just crosses to the bag, taking out a familiar uniform, John's guns, boots, socks, coming back to lay them on the bed by John's hip.
"He asked me if I understood what--if I understood how it felt to watch, to feel--" Not Rodney stops short. "How it felt to watch people you cared about being hurt. See them injured and beaten and see someone you--that you love--" Not Rodney's mouth tightens. "I told him I didn't. And that I didn't care."
Not Rodney's hands clench. "He said--he said, then now you get to learn."
John reaches for his weapons as Not Rodney backs away, strapping the holster on by touch, checking the gun before sliding it in, then his boots, his knife, and finally stands up, picking up the second gun. He's lightheaded, bright energy running through him like water. It's a familiar feeling; at least he knows what Not Rodney gave him. "How much did you give me?"
Rodney gestures at the empty needle by the IV stand. "Enough to finish this."
"Okay," John says softly, cocking his gun. "Show me."
It's ridiculously easy to get to the labs; there's no third shift, no security, *nothing*. The lights flicker uneasily when they pass, doors half-open, clothing left in the middle of the hall. A brief glance at the messhall is enough to make John wince and look away; the smell of rotting food is almost overwhelming.
"What the hell have you been doing?" John hears himself ask, too appalled by the blinking screens and garbage that litters everywhere they go to stop himself.
"It's overwhelming," Not Rodney says, but John can see him flush. "We're not used to--this anymore. What flesh feels like."
Right. They've been eating, fucking, and sleeping. And-- "What were they doing to me and Carter?"
"Testing why you were resistant," Rodney answers as they round the corner. "You and the—and Carter. We didn't know that was possible." John thinks of his time in the cell with a sick feeling; Rodney's eyes flicker to him and then quickly away. "She's—I took care of her too. He did, I mean. She'll—she'll be okay. She won't remember either."
Jesus. John doesn't want to know what they did to her.
The lab doors open immediately, room lighting up in welcome, and John takes a second to stare at the mess of bottles and chemicals, tech and clothing, paper in snow-like drifts on the floor, lab tables dusty with weeks of disuse--everywhere but Rodney's station, neatly organized and clean, orderly. Used. "He made you work," John says in shock, and for some reason, it makes him want to grin, imagining Not Rodney surrounded by God knows what (people fucking? Drinking?) and staring at a laptop screen and *working*.
Not Rodney's fingers trail over the table. "They'd ask me why I wasn't enjoying it. All of this. Why I sat here and worked when I didn't need to. I couldn't tell them why."
John watches as Not Rodney opens the laptop. A few minutes pass as he rushes screen by screen, getting Rodney's look of intense concentration, hunching slightly until John can almost imagine it *was* Rodney there.
Then he stops, hands trembling on the keyboard. John eases his finger onto the safety and sets the barrel against Not Rodney's head. "Finish it."
Not Rodney licks his lips. "I thought--I wrote this to--" The long fingers begin to tremble. "One night I was on observation. She--Teyla went to your cell. She--she touched you. You were lucid and you were in pain, because they—they didn't give you drugs, not back then. She made--made you scream. So she gave you the shot--that shot to stop it. So you couldn't talk and couldn't move, and she told you--" Rodney's hands clench. "He was in my head and he made me watch. And he showed me how it felt. How he felt."
Not Rodney draws in a shaking breath.
"I wanted to kill her. I found my gun--his gun--and I went to your room and I aimed for her head and I knew I wouldn't miss. And I knew it wouldn't be enough."
Not Rodney turns his head, looking up at John in sick horror. "I went to Keller and told her that we needed to keep you out, keep you quiet, that being aware would slow us down. I went to your room and gave you the first dose, then I touched your mind and took everything they'd—that we'd done to you. He--he made me feel every memory before I took it. Carter, too. And he said that it wasn't enough."
The long fingers unclench, spreading open over the keys. John eases the gun away, looking at the lines of meaningless code. "It kills them, doesn't it?"
Not Rodney's mouth curves into a smile that John's never seen before. "No. He didn't think that would be enough."
Not Rodney shakes himself, fingers flying across the keyboard. "We always take the memories, did I tell you that? Sensory information, so we can—so we can remember what we used to be, what it was like to be human." Not Rodney taps the last key and sits back as the screen comes to sudden, shocking life. Turning away, Not Rodney looks down at his own hands. "He programmed the city to tell the difference; all Keller's research on you and Carter was how he taught it to tell us apart," he says bitterly. "He told me every test to make her run, every exam she was supposed to do, and then he made me bring her here and type it in herself."
John licks his lips, fighting off the edges of exhaustion creeping into his mind; not yet. He doesn’t have time. "What does it do?"
"Throws them out of the bodies so they can't get back inside. Doesn't let them keep the memories they made." Rodney types in a final sequence, hands shaking. "But they get to keep one thing."
John wishes he could brace himself on something, anything. "What they did to each other?"
Rodney shakes his head, a smile curving up the corner of his mouth. "No. Everything you felt when they—when they tortured you. And everything he felt when he watched. He—he said that was almost enough."
John swallows, fighting a brief, bitter battle with nausea before he can open his eyes again. Yeah. That might be almost enough. "Tell me that we—that my people won't remember."
Not Rodney hesitates; John's stomach tightens as he thinks of Keller and Teyla, Rodney and Cater--God, the entire expedition, of the faint, shadowy edges of the things he can't remember but his body does with every flinch and every breath.
"No," Not Rodney says slowly, looking into the distance with unfocused eyes. "No one will. Not even us."
John waits until Not Rodney looks up, and it's almost Rodney's expression, almost the man he knows. One hand reaches toward his face; realizing the intent, John moves out of reach, shaking his head. "Not mine."
"I don't understand—" Not Rodney stops short, staring at him, a corner of his mouth quirking up. "You ever think of being a little less a martyr?"
John almost smiles. "Why stop now?"
Not Rodney pushes off the stool, fingers brushing against his cheek. John jerks away before he realizes what he's doing, nauseated and sickened by turn at the touch of—Jesus God, of another human being, skin twitching from the contact like he just touched a living Wraith.
Not Rodney flinches, hands clenched at his sides. "I'm sorry. I can't—I don't know how to take that away."
John shrugs, pretending his skin doesn't still crawl in the memory of that touch; he'll deal with that later. "I'll live."
Not Rodney nods sharply, looking anywhere but at John. "Right. I--. They'll all be out about an hour or so, then--well. You'll--you'll have to--"
"Explain, yeah." John will think about that later. Lowering his gun, he sees Rodney wince, hand going to his head, looking surprised. "Oh," Rodney says, sliding off the stool shakily. "I didn't remember--"
There's a startled second of vertigo: like freefall at five thousand feet; like flying the jumper into upper atmosphere and taking a dive; like a dream of falling from the sky for a lifetime made of seconds. John feels Atlantis wrap around him like a protective coat between his skin and the world beyond it, something that's not quite power and not quite light but something of both.
Two months: it washes through him like a river, two months of images and feelings as the aliens are pulled from the flesh they stole; two months he lives in seconds through hundreds of minds before they begin to vanish into inky darkness, leaving nothing but blank, open space behind.
He thinks he can almost feel the things' bewilderment, reaching back for the bodies they lost, unable to catch hold and climb back in, the minds they'd been taken from locked to them forever as they cling to memories that slip away beneath their touch; for a second, John sees himself in the control room, looking at his friends, his people as they turn on him, when they realized what he'd done, when he hadn't known himself.
They hadn't remembered what it was like to die, not until he had killed one of them.
John realizes abruptly he's sitting on the floor, wall cool and hard against his back. Reaching down, he jerks up his shirt at the burn of remembered pain slicing open his belly like a sharpened knife, the memory of what was done to him crowding into the blank spaces that Not Rodney had made in his mind; his friends and his people attacking with the blind rage of animals and the kind of cruelty that only comes with sentience, seconds that last forever as he lives what was done those three weeks that he can't remember.
At the end, he realizes--remembering those last hours where he crawled for them, anything to make it stop, *anything, Jesus Christ, stop, stop, please* when he forgot how to think or talk or that he even had a name--there wasn't anything human left of him.
The memories vanish like water in the sun, like they were never there at all, excised as bloodlessly as removing a pencil from a box, leaving nothing but relief behind. John closes his eyes, imagining Not Rodney somewhere far away and going farther by the second; the screams of the creatures living three weeks of John's life that will never end.
John gets clumsily to his knees, crawling across the floor to press a thumb against Rodney's pulse, controlling the instinctive flinch and rising nausea until he's sure that Rodney will be okay. Sitting on his heels, John looks around the lab before he gets slowly to his feet, nudging Rodney onto his side before his back starts to ache; he'll be pissy enough later. No reason to make it worse.
Around him, the world seems to sleep; John shifts back to the wall, closing his eyes, one hand pressed to a wound that only his body can remember, and waits for his city to wake up.