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Summary: "We're friends, and I missed you. Why can't I hold your hand?"

Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: Elizabeth Weir, John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Angst, First Time, Humour
Warnings: None
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 6490; Completed: Yes
Updated: 02 Jun 2006; Published: 02 Jun 2006

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Author's notes: SpringWoof refused to take co-author credit for this, but this story would never have existed if it weren't for her. The idea came from an IM chat, where we were discussing possible outcomes for "Allies" (though there are no spoilers in the story). This is the outcome of me saying 'or...' :) The story idea, however, is pretty much all SpringWoof's. I've also used some of her lines (including my favorite, said by Ronon), two major plot points, and SpringWoof did the fantastic beta, too. So if you like this story, go read SpringWoof's stuff. You won't regret it.


***

When the brats of the Kid planet opened a wormhole to Atlantis to tell them that Colonel Sheppard had suddenly appeared the middle of one of their villages: naked, unconscious and (when awake) apparently amnesiac, McKay's first thought was, I can't believe it.

His second thought was, it's about god-damned time.

***

"Um," Sheppard said. He had just stepped though the gate and Weir was hugging him tightly. Sheppard's arms were stiff at his sides, like he had no idea where to put his hands. Then again, Weir was so skinny maybe Sheppard was afraid he would hurt her. "I uh, know you, right?"

Weir laughed, and pulled back, one hand still on Sheppard's shoulder, and everyone made sure not to notice as she quickly wiped her eyes. "Yes, you know me, John," she said, smiling at him. "My name is Elizabeth. Elizabeth Weir. I'm the leader of the Atlantis expedition."

"Oh," Sheppard said, like he was working that out. "So you're my boss?"

"Yes, you could say that," Weir said kindly. "But I'm your friend, too."

"And friends..." Sheppard gestured with his hand in the space between them, which actually looked vaguely obscene, "friends, uh..."

"Friends hug," Weir agreed, nodding.

Sheppard smiled hugely, like something happy had just slotted into place in his head. "Cool," he said, then he grabbed Weir around the waist, hauled her to him, and hugged her so tightly she squeaked.

Luckily he let go before McKay had to decide if he should intervene to keep Weir from suffocating. Weir looked a little dazed, but no worse for wear, and McKay manfully ignored the sudden clench in his chest, the wish that he could be in Weir's place.

Sheppard, still smiling, turned to Lorne, who visibly paled and backed up. Sheppard stopped, his grin collapsing at the edges, but Teyla stepped smoothly into the breech, gently guiding Sheppard through the Athosian forehead-touching thing. Her hands cupped Sheppard's head instead of resting on his shoulders, the way McKay had seen Halling do with Jinto. She moved with a dignified gravity that was belied by the way her hands were trembling.

"My people's prayers rose in petition to the Ancestors," she said quietly, "and the prayers were heard. You have been returned to us."

"I--I'm glad," Sheppard said, sounding awed and unsure and maybe even a little guilty. He hesitated, then wrapped his arms around her. She looked surprised--McKay had never seen Athosians hug--but she still held him tightly, the way Weir had, before letting go and stepping back.

"As are we," Teyla said seriously. "As are we."

"Sheppard," Ronon growled. He didn't hesitate about the hugging thing at all. He stepped forward and scooped Sheppard up like a kitten, folding him to his chest like McKay imagined bears would, when they were trying to crush something. Sheppard seemed to enjoy it, though, if his surprised bark of laughter was any indication.

And when Ronon let Sheppard squirm free from his embrace, Sheppard went immediately to McKay.

McKay wasn't much of a hugger. It wasn't like he didn't want to be, particularly, but hugging always had a lot of uncertainty attached to it. If you hugged a woman, would she think you were just being friendly, or attracted to her? And if you were attracted to her, would the hugging make her think you were sensitive, yet manly, or a wimp? And did you just give a quick squeeze and let go, or hold on until the other person seemed to want to let go? And how could you tell? And how hard were you supposed to squeeze, anyway?

And hugging men, of course, was just an enormous minefield of potential social destruction that McKay had tried to never, ever step into. Ford was the first man he'd hugged in years, probably decades, and it was only because Ford had basically thrown himself at him in relief at not being about to die.

So, not so much on the hugging. And here was Sheppard, freshly kicked out of the glowing squid club, wrapping McKay in his arms and apparently comfortable to just cling to him, with his face buried against McKay's neck. And he sighed contentedly, like he wasn't planning on moving any time soon.

McKay blinked, awkwardly patting Sheppard on the back. At least he'd gotten his wish, though he hadn't considered the deep embarrassment that came with it.

But there was no longing, there, in the abused morass of what McKay was feeling. Absolutely no longing at all.

"This isn't...entirely appropriate, Colonel," he said as quietly as he could into Sheppard's nearest ear. He could see Lorne, looking painfully uncomfortable, out of the corner of his eye. Not to mention the normal batch of Marines assigned to the gate room, all shifting on their feet miserably like they were being forced to watch something humiliating.

If anything, Sheppard just clutched him a little more tightly. "Rodney," he said, like he'd just discovered the best word ever. McKay was just pleased Sheppard was basically murmuring it into his neck, so hopefully no one else could hear it. "I remember you." His lips were right against McKay's skin, warm and lush and McKay was working very, very hard on not noticing that. "I think I missed you a lot."

McKay blinked again, and his arms seemed to tighten around Sheppard's back entirely involuntarily, since he was completely sure he'd been just about to let go. Sheppard's hair smelled good. It smelled kind of like what McKay thought of when he thought of summer back in Toronto--The good ones, which were few and far between. Like ozone and promise.

"I missed you too," he said. "We all did." One of his hands had apparently settled on the back of Sheppard's neck of its own accord, stroking through that delicious-smelling hair, and McKay really had to let go right now before he ruined both their reputations, even if Sheppard had amnesia as an excuse. "You have no idea how bad it was."

"I'm sorry," Sheppard said, and he sounded so earnest that McKay felt a twist of guilt, because it hadn't been Sheppard's--

Well, okay, it had been Sheppard's fault. But he hadn't had a choice. Possibly. Even if he should have maybe listened to the Science Head before he went rushing off to go out in a blaze of martyrdom.

McKay was still fairly certain that Plan A would have worked.

But none of that was conducive to untangling himself from Lieutenant Colonel Limpet, and he was sure they'd been clinging to each other for far too long as it was, so he hurriedly let go, and Sheppard, thank God, seemed to get the hint and stepped back himself. And McKay resolutely ignored the flash of--disappointment? Hurt?--that flickered through Sheppard's eyes just before he smiled again.

"We should probably get you to the infirmary," Weir said, and her voice was so gentle and understanding that McKay was suddenly terrified at what she might be thinking, what she'd seen. She smiled again when Sheppard turned to look at her.

"What's an infirmary?" he asked.

"Oh, you'll love it," McKay said, being very, very sure not to touch Sheppard again. "You'll want to stay there for hours, really. It's so much fun."

"Yeah?" Sheppard said eagerly, and McKay belatedly realized he should have asked if Sheppard remembered sarcasm.

***

"What is this?" Sheppard asked, poking dubiously at his plate.

McKay leaned across the table, so he could peer down at Sheppard's lunch. "Well, it's, uh... Actually, I have no idea what it is," McKay said. He sat down again and shoveled up a bit of his own meal. He had no idea what that was either, but he recognized it from the day before and remembered that it tasted okay.

Sheppard picked up a dripping chunk of...something, with his fork, staring at it. "Do I like it?"

"Yeah." Ronon nodded, his own mouth full. He was sitting across from Teyla, next to McKay. "It's pretty good."

Sheppard didn't look like he entirely believed that, but he shrugged and bit the chunk on his fork anyway, chewing with great concentration. "Hey," he said a few seconds later, after he swallowed. "It is pretty good." He grinned and began eating with true enthusiasm.

"Have any further memories returned to you since yesterday, Colonel?" Teyla asked over her teacup, which she'd been blowing on to cool.

McKay, who had been concentrating on his lunch, looked up again. "Right! Good question, Teyla--anything useful come back to you? Like, how to recharge ZedPMs?"

Teyla narrowed her eyes at him. "I was referring to Colonel Sheppard knowing himself again."

"Well, yeah, sure," McKay said quickly, "that too."

Sheppard looked like he was thinking about it, making trails with the tines of his fork in the mash on his plate. "Nothing about ZedPMs," he said, and McKay was so startled at Sheppard using 'zed' that he almost corrected him. "But I think I remember the actual ascending part." He pursed his lips. "There was a lot of noise."

Ronon nodded again, hefting a huge helping of the stew-like thing on his spoon. "It was really cool," he said. "You exploded, but like fireworks."

"You glowed in the night sky for days," Teyla said, looking like she had found that considerably less cool than Ronon. She fingered her cup, gently swirling her tea. "You were greatly mourned."

"Yes, well, the Colonel's been thoroughly apprised on the whole mourning for him thing," McKay snapped. He stabbed another piece of mystery vegetable with his fork, though he wasn't really hungry anymore. "But being as he's no longer actually dead, can we move on, please?"

Teyla almost growled at him, but McKay ignored her, attacking the remains of his meal with vicious desperation.

"I didn't mourn him," Ronon said. He shrugged when McKay and Teyla glared at him. Sheppard just looked at him in curiosity. "We all knew he'd ascended, right? So, he wasn't dead."

"Right," McKay snarled. "Because, oh, say, leaving bits of your corpse so small they drift down like snow for days after the huge explosion, has nothing to do with being dead. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me. How silly of me to waste my time grieving for someone I thought I was never going to see again."

Sheppard looked a little stunned at McKay's outburst. "Are you mad?" He looked at Teyla and Ronon when McKay just grunted in response. "Is he mad about something?"

Ronon shrugged. "I think he's always like this."

Teyla, looking a bit stunned herself, took a sip of tea before answering. "I believe Doctor McKay does not wish to dwell on the great sadness of the past four months," she said diplomatically.

"Oh," Sheppard said, looking thoughtful again. Then he reached across the table and put his hand over McKay's. And held it. "I'm really sorry, Rodney," he said seriously.

McKay froze with his fork halfway to his mouth, watching in numb fascination as Sheppard turned his hand over--and McKay really, really had to stop him, any second now--so that Sheppard's fingers could settle into the spaces between his. Like Sheppard had practiced it. Like they held hands all the time.

And McKay had been so proud of himself, too. He hadn't touched Sheppard at all since the impromptu clutching session in the gate room. When he'd gone to Sheppard's quarters in the morning (and he was only there to kindly volunteer to walk him to breakfast, to make sure he still remembered where it was from dinner. Sheppard didn't have the greatest sense of direction, after all. McKay hadn't forgotten that, even if Sheppard most likely had along with everything else), he'd stood well back from the doorway, giving a quick, impersonal wave before Sheppard could lunge for him, bravely ignoring the disappointment on Sheppard's face, as if Sheppard had been...anticipating hugging him, or something. Which was patently ridiculous.

And McKay had managed to avoid getting or giving so much as a hand on the shoulder the entire morning, all the way through the reacquainting-Sheppard-with-the-city tour, the reintroduction-to-the-civilians-and-soldiers meeting, and even through Sheppard's almost orgasmic glee at the rediscovery that they had spaceships! Spaceships he could fly!

Casually sidestepping Sheppard's clear attempt at a tackle-hug had been a little difficult at that point, made more so by the obvious dimming of the naked joy in Sheppard's eyes when McKay avoided him. Luckily Ronon had manhandled Sheppard up again, so it had ended all right.

And then at lunch, Sheppard's feet had been nudging McKay's under the table. For the entire meal. McKay was absolutely certain Sheppard had never nudged his feet before, despite his long legs. McKay was pretty proud of himself for having ignored that, too.

And now he was letting Sheppard hold his hand, in full view of everybody, and it looked like all his careful avoidance tactics had gone straight to a fiery hell.

"Colonel!" he hissed, trying to snatch his hand back. Sheppard just held more tightly, fingers scrabbling to keep their purchase, and McKay relented angrily before one of them got dragged across the table. "You can't do this!"

"Why not?" Sheppard asked, genuinely uncomprehending. "We're friends, and I missed you. Why can't I hold your hand?"

"Because--!" McKay stopped. He closed his eyes for a moment, rubbing the forefinger of his free hand over his forehead. "It's complicated," he said, when he felt enough in control again not to shout.

"Because why?" Sheppard asked. And the obvious lack of understanding, the...the horrible innocence on Sheppard's normally guarded face, was like a punch in McKay's chest.

He couldn't take it any more--it made his heart hurt like cardiac arrest, and his throat feel like he was having an allergic reaction. So he stood, and said, "all right, come on," before his heart burst or his esophagus closed up entirely and he died.

Sheppard stood as well, looking no less confused. "Are we going somewhere?"

"Yes," McKay said. "We're going somewhere. Now. Come on."

"Okay," Sheppard said. He let go of McKay's hand only long enough to circumnavigate the table. McKay gave just a half-hearted attempt to prevent Sheppard from grabbing it again once they were walking side-by-side, hating himself for his weakness.

"Bye, guys!" Sheppard turned to wave at Ronon and Teyla, who were watching McKay all but drag Sheppard away with some interest. "Are you taking me on another tour?" he asked McKay. "Can we see the Gateships again?"

"Yes," McKay said, changing his admittedly-vague plan between one step and the next. "We can go see the ships again. Only they're called Puddlejumpers," he corrected absently, because Weir had been wholly unfairly pissed at him about that.

"What are puddle jumpers?" Sheppard asked as he followed along, his head turning this way and that as he tried to take in everything. "And why aren't they called Gateships? They're ships that go through the gate, right?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" McKay muttered, as they entered the nearest transporter.

***

McKay was going to have it out right there in the jumper bay, but Sheppard was so enthusiastic about being inside a jumper again that he let go of McKay's hand as he bounded across the bay. So they ended up inside Jumper One ("it's your favorite. No, I don't know why") for several minutes, just letting Sheppard basically fondle the controls, long enough for him to ask "can I take it up? Please? I'm sure it'll help me get my memory back" about forty times, and McKay to not give in even once. Though it was a close thing.

Finally, McKay said, "look," and Sheppard did look at him, turning away from the blueprints he'd thought into existence and had been gushing over. The translucent display flickered off, leaving Sheppard smiling at him attentively.

He looked so beautiful that McKay briefly considered lying.

Instead he swallowed, then crossed his arms so he wouldn't be tempted to drum his fingers against his thumb, the way he did when he was anxious. "Look," he said. "You have to stop touching me."

Sheppard looked puzzled. "I'm not touching you."

McKay was very, very good and did not roll his eyes. "I don't mean right now," he said, though he suspected that despite the amnesia, Sheppard had been mocking him. "I meant in general. Like, with the hugging. And hand-holding. You really, really have to stop holding my hand."

Sheppard's eyes went wide and bewildered. "Why?"

"Because..." McKay took a very, very deep breath. "Because you can't, okay? It's not...It's not what men do. Not with other men. Not in North America, anyway," he amended for the sake of accuracy.

Sheppard's eyes hadn't changed. "Why?"

McKay had to close his own eyes. He rubbed both his palms over his face, took a few more deep breaths. "Okay," he said. He opened his eyes again and pointed to the Canadian flag patch on his sleeve. "You see these?" He waited for Sheppard's nod. "You recognize them?" The headshake didn't surprise him. "They're symbols of the countries we come from--you know what a country is, right?"

Sheppard looked at him. "I have amnesia. I'm not retarded."

McKay lost the fight against rolling his eyes. "Oh for--I know you're not--never mind. The point is, your country has a...to put it delicately, a generally less than charitable view of men who... Hold hands with other men. Or hug them under anything less than life-or-death situations."

"Oh," Sheppard said quietly. He looked absolutely crestfallen, and McKay got that horrible anaphylactic feeling again. "But, we're friends. Weir said friends hugged."

"They do!" McKay blurted, because he couldn't bear that look. "At least, sometimes, they do--like the whole, life-death situation thing. Like you coming back from the dead!" He exclaimed, thrilled to have discovered the loophole, because Sheppard's smile was creeping back.

"Cool," Sheppard said. And his grin turned incandescent. And then he was on his feet and hugging McKay like one of them was about to die. Or live.

"Oh God," McKay said. Or maybe moaned, he wasn't entirely sure. Sheppard was pressed against him, exactly the way he had been in the gate room, with his arms tight around McKay's back like he didn't even want to think about letting go, and his face buried in the junction between McKay's neck and shoulder, like he was trying to breathe McKay in. Sheppard's hair smelled different--ordinary clean, like shampoo, which was disappointing--but McKay still wanted to thread his fingers through it, so he did.

"That's better," Sheppard murmured against his throat, and McKay couldn't help the shiver that raced down his spine at the buzz of Sheppard's lips against his skin. One of his hands had moved from McKay's back to stroke up the back of his neck, into his hair.

The longing, which McKay had refused to acknowledge in the gate room, the longing which he'd refused to acknowledge ever, was a surge like pain somewhere around his heart. John Sheppard was back from the dead, from the sky, and they were friends and Sheppard was holding him, and it should have been enough--it was, in fact, more than McKay had ever asked for, more than he'd ever expected or hoped--but he couldn't help it. There was still the longing, the wish that there was more than this.

There couldn't be more than this. This, McKay knew, shouldn't even be happening.

He let go of Sheppard and moved back.

"Rodney?" Sheppard's hand slid away from McKay's neck reluctantly, leaving a line of warmth. Sheppard was looking confused and unhappy, and McKay was getting really, really sick of feeling so guilty.

"All right," McKay said. "You have to know--we don't do this, you and me. We, we're not in the habit of hugging on a regular basis. Or at all." He sped up, because Sheppard's expression had gone thoughtful, which was always a little disconcerting, "We don't hug. You don't hug. Except maybe women. Like Weir. And Ancients. But never me. Which is possibly why I'm teetering on the precipice of a panic attack ri--"

And that was when Sheppard kissed him.

It was sweet, which was something McKay would have never thought to equate with kissing Sheppard--he had tried to never think about kissing Sheppard at all--but it was. Sheppard's lips were gentle and warm and surprisingly soft against his, and McKay didn't know whether to panic or enjoy it.

Sheppard tasted good, which McKay thought was an odd thing to notice, but he was definitely noticing now. It was hard not to notice, in fact, what with him being suddenly so intimately acquainted with Sheppard's tongue and teeth and the inside of that mouth. Sheppard tasted like electricity. McKay was strangely sure of that, though of course he'd never actually tasted it, not even when he was almost hit by lightning. He wasn't even sure it was possible to taste it, but he was sure that's what it would be like. Maybe it was a side-effect of having been de-ascended.

De-ascended. Right. He'd forgotten that. Somehow McKay had forgotten that Sheppard had been returned to them less than two days ago, and that he still didn't remember anything.

And that was why McKay put his hand against Sheppard's chest and gently pushed him away.

Sheppard looked frustrated now, bordering on irritated. "Why do you keep doing that?"

"Because it's wrong! It's wrong," McKay blurted, strangely relieved and disappointed at the same time. "Because--because, remember the stuff I just said about your country, and how it's not a good place for men to hold hands? Well, you belong to the military of that country..." He stopped. "Do you remember what a 'military' is?"

Sheppard nodded, though he was looking like all this meant very little to him, and that he'd definitely tipped from frustrated over to irritated. "They're the ones who taught me to fly."

"Yes! Those people." McKay nodded vigorously. "And the people who taught you to fly really, really hate the idea of men kissing each other. You could, well, you could get in a lot of trouble for that. And not just with them. The men you have to lead, here, they're pretty cool for military-types," McKay admitted, albeit reluctantly, "but they still might not like to be led by, by a man-kisser." He tried not to wince. "They could make things very bad for you."

"Then they don't have to know," Sheppard said, like it only made sense. He dove in again, lips already opening, and it was all McKay could do to keep his hand on Sheppard's chest and hold him back.

"I think you're missing the point," he said, as gently as he could possibly manage, which probably wasn't very. "We don't have that kind of relationship. I don't know what you think you remember, but it's not right! John Sheppard does not kiss Rodney McKay!" No matter how much Rodney McKay might have ever wished otherwise.

"But I do remember you," Sheppard insisted. "I'm in love with you."

McKay could actually feel his jaw drop, and it seemed to take a long time before he could lever it closed again. "What?" he managed finally. "You what?"

"I'm in love with you, Rodney," Sheppard said, like it was nothing more than the truth, like McKay should have somehow known it all along. And, God help him, but it was obvious to McKay that Sheppard really believed it.

"No," McKay said, putting his fingers over his eyes. "Nonononono. This isn't..." He sighed, dropping his hands. He hadn't been in awe of the Ancients in a long time, but he'd never actually disliked them until this moment, Chaya notwithstanding. "Something must have gone wrong in your head, Colonel. I'm serious," he added, when Sheppard's eyebrows rose. "I don't know who you're remembering, but it can't be me. If you really remembered me, you wouldn't actually even like me, probably. Well, maybe a little, but...but, you don't love me, Sheppard. And I don't love you."

"I'm sorry," he said, because Sheppard's expression had changed from irritated to very sad and horribly comprehending.

"Oh," Sheppard said, moving back, and McKay did not miss his proximity, not even a little bit. "I guess, I guess I'm remembering things wrong, then."

"Yes," McKay said, voice gravelly. He nodded, slightly frantic. "Yes, you are. I'm sorry," he said again, because he was. Terribly, terribly sorry. "You never felt that way about me before, Colonel. I assure you."

Sheppard rubbed his hand over his mouth, as if trying to keep in the taste of McKay's lips, which was really a stupid thought. "Then why do I feel like this now?"

"I don't know," McKay said honestly. He wished he did, wished there was something he could explain. "Maybe...maybe because..." He shrugged helplessly. "I don't know."

Sheppard nodded slowly. "I'm sorry I, bothered you, then." He reached for McKay's arm, but hesitated. He smiled, but it was a little wary. "We did touch each other, right?"

And McKay just nodded, because he didn't have the heart to tell him that he could count the times Sheppard had touched him on less than one hand.

And that he had always, always wished it were more.

***

They had never cleared out Sheppard's quarters. McKay had insisted he was going to come back, that it was just a matter of time. And wasn't he (almost) always right?

Of course, he'd never told anyone what he actually thought--that Sheppard was gone. That an immortal existence spent flying around the entire universe would be infinitely more appealing than a mortal life spent in constant danger in an Ancient city. McKay didn't think he could have turned his own back on that, and Sheppard was so much more courageous than he was, so much more willing to walk into the unknown. As soon as he had seen the tell-tale tendrils of light hovering above the city, McKay had honestly believed that Sheppard would never return.

But Sheppard had, and now McKay was pacing the corridor in front of his quarters that had never been emptied, and McKay was wondering if he should have factored in Sheppard's almost overwhelming sense of duty as military head, his need to protect everyone, always. Maybe that tugging at him would have been enough to make him give up infinity.

God only knew what Sheppard had done to be cast out of heaven.

Whatever the deciding factor for Sheppard had been, what it wasn't was because he missed McKay. McKay was certain of that, absolutely.

Which didn't entirely explain what he was doing pacing back and forth in front of Sheppard's door.

But. But Sheppard had hugged him. A lot. And said he missed him. Missed him, not just as a general member of Atlantis, but as McKay, himself, specifically.

And Sheppard had kissed him, and said that he loved him.

Loved him.

"Right," McKay said, standing in front of Sheppard's door. "Right."

He wasn't courageous, not like Sheppard, but sometimes he could be brave.

McKay slapped the door panel with his palm, and Sheppard let him in.

***

It was astonishingly late at night, but Sheppard was still in his uniform, sitting on his bed. He had a guitar in his lap, which was unexpected, though Sheppard wasn't playing it. He was just sort of plucking at the strings.

He had looked up when McKay entered, and smiled, but McKay had never seen Sheppard so sad. It was like the gaps in his memory had stripped away his ability to lie with his expressions, leaving only the things that Sheppard normally never let other people see. It was awful, in a way, to see him so open. Sheppard was not a man who should ever look as vulnerable as he did at that moment.

It made McKay hate the Ancients a little. Well, a little more than he maybe already did.

"Can I play this?" Sheppard asked him, raising the guitar up a bit by the neck. "I've been trying to, but I can't remember what to do with my fingers."

"I don't know," McKay said. "I didn't know you had a guitar. I've never been in your quarters before," he explained, when Sheppard looked surprised to hear that.

"Right," Sheppard said, sounding resigned. He looked back down at the guitar, pulled at one of the strings in a single, mournful note. "We're not... We're friends."

"Yes, friends." McKay nodded, nervous. "Well, no," he said, then, "look," at Sheppard's shocked expression. "I mean... Okay. Look." He took a breath. This had all sounded so much more suave and cool in his head when he was pacing in the hallway. He tried again.

"Look. I'm in love with you too, okay? I think I've been in love with you since you threw me off a balcony."

Sheppard's eyes widened.

"No! No, it's okay! I asked you to!" McKay said quickly. "It's a long story," he continued, when Sheppard opened his mouth. "But it was a consensual balcony-tossing, I assure you. And that's not the point, anyway--the point is, I'm in love with you."

He waited a moment, watching Sheppard process that. His heart was beating so fast it was a little hard to breathe.

Sheppard looked like he was trying to figure something out. "But you said we don't have that kind of relationship," he said, sounding like he was quoting.

"Of course I said that!" McKay said. And he was really, really trying not to snap, but he was anxious and Sheppard was making him explain. "Because we don't! You have never, ever, not once, given me any indication that you might, actually, want that kind of a relationship. With me. And thanks a lot for that, by the way. Kirk."

Sheppard blinked. "Who's Kirk?"

McKay waved a hand. "Never mind. But the thing is, we've been on the same team for over three years, and you never let on that you might feel anything for me other than, well, friendship I guess, and then all of a sudden, out of the blue--pretty much literary, in your case--you're holding my hand and, and, hugging me, and then the kissing and pledging undying devotion--"

"I don't remember doing that," Sheppard said mildly.

"Okay," McKay revised immediately. "You weren't pledging undying devotion. But it was getting there, I'm sure. The thing is," he plowed on, "I, genius though I may be, got a little confused." He nodded in emphasis, then thought about it and frowned. "Okay. Maybe, maybe I was worried. Like, you could have had brain damage. A de-ascending-induced aneurysm, or something."

Sheppard just looked at him.

"Well, I don't know!" McKay nearly yelled, waving his hands in frustration. "You were kissing me! And saying you were in love! And, and..." He paused. "And all I could think of, was that it couldn't be true," he said quietly. "That you'd been put back together wrong. And you were risking your career for, for nothing."

McKay shrugged, suddenly at a loss for words. "So," he said. "I might have lied a little."

Sheppard raised a single eyebrow, looking remarkably Sheppard-like for the first time since they'd found him. "Maybe?" he said. "A little?"

"Fine," McKay conceded. "Totally lied. A lot."

Sheppard beamed. Kind of smugly, McKay thought. "So, it's okay that I love you."

"Well, no," McKay said, then put his face in his hands before he had to see Sheppard's reaction. "That didn't come out right. What I meant," he began, when he looked up, "is that, yes, I want it to be okay. I cannot tell you how very, very much I want it to be okay. But..." He sighed. "You still have amnesia."

"I know how I feel," Sheppard said seriously. "Getting my memory back won't change that."

And God, McKay wanted to believe that. He really, really did. "How do you know it won't?" He asked. "You don't remember." He rubbed an eye with his palm. "You never told me, Sheppard. Not once in three years. How can you be sure you won't regret telling me now when you have your memories back?"

Sheppard carefully put the guitar down next to the bed. Then he stood, and crossed the tiny distance until he was standing right in front of McKay, so close that their chests nearly touched.

"Rodney," he said, sounding fondly annoyed, "you just said you've been in love with me for three years too, and you never told me, either."

"Of course I didn't!" McKay snapped. "You're straight!" He stopped, registering what he'd just said. "Oh."

Sheppard's raised eyebrows were eloquent. "Oh," he echoed. "Did it occur to you that maybe I thought you were straight, too?"

"Wait, wait, wait," McKay said, because it was easier than admitting that, yes, that hadn't actually occurred to him. Though really, with Chaya and Teer and the chick from the Ren Faire Planet, he thought he could be forgiven for that particular lapse. "You have amnesia! How do you know I never told you?"

Sheppard's eyebrows climbed a little bit higher. "Because if you had," he said with slow, deliberate gravity, "you would have mentioned it by now."

"Oh," McKay said again. "Right."

He suddenly registered just how close Sheppard was standing to him, the fact that Sheppard's hands had managed to migrate to McKay's shoulders without him noticing. All he had to do was nudge forward and upward a little and they'd be kissing again.

He had to force himself to keep talking--the only thing he wanted to do was bury his own protests in the welcome heat of Sheppard's mouth.

"What if you're wrong?" McKay asked. "What if you kept it secret all this time for a different reason? Or, or what if you don't really want this at all?"

"Rodney," Sheppard said, now sounding a little more annoyed than fond, "I swear if you don't stop over-thinking this, the next time I toss you off a balcony it won't be consensual." But then his expression softened, and he moved his hand to gently stroke his thumb across McKay's lips. "I'm flattered you're so intent on protecting my virtue." He smiled. "But the more that comes back to me, the more sure I am that it's you. It's always you. I might have forgotten to care how you'd react if I told you, but that doesn't change how I feel. How I know I've been feeling, for a long time."

"Oh," McKay said. His lips brushed the pad of Sheppard's thumb. "That's... Wow. Okay." He still couldn't believe it, really. Part of him was waiting for Sheppard to realize that all this was a terrible, terrible mistake. That he'd missed someone else instead, but somehow remembered them as McKay. McKay was still waiting for the apology; and embarrassment, and the halting, awkward promises to pretend it never happened; the pledge of an unchanged friendship that would actually be destroyed. He was still waiting to find out that people like him really didn't get their happy endings.

He was sure a part of him would never stop waiting for it.

But he thought he might be prepared to live with that.

"So can I kiss you now?" Sheppard asked dryly. "Or do you need to freak out some more? Because you could always come back in the morning..." Apparently he had remembered sarcasm, though his smile kind of ruined the effect.

"God, yes," McKay said. "I mean, no, no more freaking. Kissing. Kissing now is good."

"Cool," Sheppard said. And his grin was incandescent, just before he leaned in.

And McKay kissed him back, and breathed him in, and it was a little like ascending--like the universe was spreading out before him, glorious and infinite, but with every direction leading home.

***