Author: elementalv (Tara Keezer)
Summary: Rodney would put up with anything to keep John alive and in the world.
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Notes: McShep, though you couldn’t necessarily tell it by what I wrote. But trust me, in the original and in my mind, this is definitely McShep. malnpudl is the best beta in the whole world, and I thank her for taking a look at this.
Original Story: And I Cannot Feel The Sun by Ekaterinn is an intriguing AU, and I’m grateful I had the chance to play in that particular ‘verse. This remix also borrows from the prequel Ekaterinn wrote, Got Lost Sometimes, and it’s well worth a read.
Before John and his red Corvette showed up in Berkeley, before Rodney left the mountain without a backward glance because the SGC had turned into rat bastards, and before Atlantis rewrote John’s brain, Rodney’s dreams were, for the most part, nightmares. If he wasn’t caught in a storm on the ocean, he was standing in front of the Nobel committee with his fly open and his dick hanging out limp and useless.
Stress dreams sucked, but there were other dreams, worse in their own way, where he wasn’t abandoned or facing death, but where he was facing a long, slow slide into obscurity. Either some up-and-coming physics star made the discovery of a lifetime while Rodney withered in a third-rate program at a second-tier institution or he, Rodney McKay, was unable to remain on the bleeding edge of discovery because of some unspecified disaster involving whales and donuts.
For the most part, Rodney’s dreams had been horrifying enough that he’d welcomed the insane pace of Atlantis and the chance to avoid his subconscious. The longer he was awake, the less chance he had to dream, and as far as he was concerned, that was all to the good.
The dream starts out Rodney-normal, but over the last few months, Rodney has figured out that doesn’t mean anything other than he slipped into REM sleep earlier than usual. He’s aware of this as he works in vain to defuse a bomb while a gigantic clock overhead ticks down the seconds to annihilation, and he’s more than a little bitter over the fact that he doesn’t know which is worse — the bomb dream or whatever dream he expects to find himself in before morning.
A voice — not really male, not really female — starts issuing instructions in Ancient, and Rodney’s hands falter on the wiring. He has only a few seconds left to prevent detonation, but the voice doesn’t care about the bomb and continues speaking, and Rodney is sucked out of the room and into a terrifying void.
Before John and his red Corvette showed up in Berkeley, before Rodney left the mountain without a backward glance because the SGC had turned into rat bastards, and after Atlantis rewrote John’s brain, Rodney’s dreams shifted a bit. Certainly, there were the angst-ridden nightmares that had plagued him from childhood, but for the few days he lasted at Cheyenne, there were dreams that had a different slant to them. These new dreams shimmered with dry amusement or raw wonder instead of stark terror.
At first, Rodney put those dreams — the new ones, the vaguely pleasant ones — down to relief at being back on Earth where he wasn’t necessarily viewed as a menu selection. The more he thought about it, though, the less likely it seemed. For one thing, his blood pressure was higher than ever, and that was clearly because everyone in charge at SGC had discovered his or her inner asshole. For another thing, the new dreams didn’t feel quite right and didn’t exactly fit inside his head.
He might have tried to nail it down, but then came that final debriefing, and it was the last straw in a month full of “last straws.” By that time, Rodney had done everything he could for John and Elizabeth and the other eight people in the infirmary. He’d needed to get out of Colorado before he did something insanely stupid (or smart), like blow up the place. It hurt like hell, leaving the mountain, but it would have hurt even more if he had tried to stay.
Rodney hates this moment of freefall, hates it every single time it happens, yet still, he’s grateful for it. He’s alive and in the world, and there’s nothing Rodney wouldn’t give to ensure that continues to be true. Maybe later, after Rodney has grown more accustomed to the sensation, he won’t feel the vertigo quite so acutely.
Or maybe he’s just lying to himself, because this doesn’t get better. If anything, it gets worse.
Before John and his red Corvette showed up in Berkeley, and after Rodney left the mountain without a backward glance because the SGC had turned into rat bastards, Rodney’s dreams went back to their usual doom-and-gloom misery. The terrors were just as frightening, but they were also comforting in a way he didn’t want to admit to anyone, let alone to himself.
Still, he thought about those dreams for a long time one night, as he sat outside in his yard, counting stars and trying to remember where in the sky the Pegasus galaxy was at that time of year. It was odd, the way his dreams had become somewhat alien right after they were dumped back on Earth. But without appropriate resources — he would never understand Heightmeyer’s decision to stay with the SGC after they way they treated the Lanteans — he had no way of determining what had happened in his head during those early days following the evacuation.
By the time he went to bed that night, he’d developed a working theory that there had been some sort of alien tech at SGC, something that affected the subconscious or disrupted a person’s REM state. It wasn’t a perfect explanation, but it went a long way toward letting him get to sleep that night.
Rodney thinks he’ll never get used to the clutching that seems to come out of nowhere and everywhere. The sensation reminds him of a cat’s claws piercing through layers of skin and muscle, stretching down until they hit bone. The pain is searing and cleansing and all together unsettling, and Rodney is grateful the pain doesn’t last very long, because no matter what, he’ll accept any level of agony as a reasonable price to pay.
After John and his red Corvette showed up in Berkeley, Rodney’s dreams went strange again.
John’s dreams are always about Atlantis. The only thing that changes is John’s perspective of the city, and tonight, that perspective is of the city rising from the sea. It’s too early yet for Rodney to figure out if the city is rising from when they first arrived or if the rising is wish-fulfillment on John’s part.
In the dream, John looks at him — or through him, more likely — when Rodney strokes his arm, and Rodney ignores the pain of realizing that while John clearly feels affection for him, he doesn’t recognize Rodney at that moment. Not really.
He asks Rodney, “Aren’t I going home?”
Rodney aches at the plaintive question and deliberately imagines Elizabeth in an effort to make John think of something else. There’s a wave of gratitude and relief from John that Elizabeth is safe and well, but the distraction doesn’t last long, because John repeats, “Aren’t I?”
He shakes his head at first then gathers John in for a hug and says, “Yes. Yes, you are.” It’s a lie, but Rodney can’t stand to see John’s bewildered suffering. It’s too raw in these dreams that John forces Rodney to share.
Rodney woke up well before John — an impossibility before Atlantis rewired John’s brain and a regularity after they returned to Earth — and went to make coffee. John’s dreams were intensifying in a way that scared the hell out of Rodney, and he knew he was going to have to tell Keller what was going on before too much longer. He hated the thought of it, of having to explain what was happening to him and John night after night. It sounded like voodoo, and Rodney hadn’t yet managed to rephrase the problem in more scientific terms.
As it was, if he couldn’t figure it out soon, he would be telling Keller, “Hey, remember that bit where John is going through Atlantis-withdrawal? He’s figured out how to get his fix by latching onto my brain every night.”
Yeah. Right. Not happening.
For now, Rodney would wait John out. Sooner or later, the witch’s brew Keller gave them to help John’s brain cope with the lack of Atlantis in his life would kick in for good. When that happened, Rodney would be alone in his head again, and he and John could finally get on with their life. And if the intensity of John’s contact seemed to get a little more painful with each passing week, so be it.
Rodney would put up with anything to keep John alive and in the world, even if the world wasn’t the one John wanted.