Jul. 6th, 2008 08:02 am
Characters: John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon
Rating: Hard R
Warnings: Dark, dark, dark fic. Highly disturbing subject matter. To say anymore is to severely spoil the fic.
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Beta: mgbutterfly was along for this ride. She really deserves some happy!fic now.
Length: 40k words
Summary: Sheppard's team spends two months in the little white cells. Getting out is the easy part.
Author's Note: So, sometimes me and sherriaisling sit around and talk about fics, because I love picking her genius brain. And she indulges my dark streak. And then this happens.
John wakes up from dreams of gunfire and blood, curled on his side, his back against the icy wall. For a moment he's stuck between dreams and waking, tasting blood in the back of his throat, feeling the phantom heat of a P-90 barrel against his arm.
The guards in the room are, for once, not sitting at their folding table. Their coffee is still there, steaming in the chilly air, one of their chairs knocked over. John grimaces, careful not to make a sound, pushing himself up to look for them.
Both men are standing against the far wall, yelling into the intercom there, waving their guns around. John doesn't understand what they're saying. They're not bothering to speak in a tongue that he understands. Their voices are just a cacophony of noise and pain in John's already aching head. He winces, pushing unsteadily to his feet.
It's only then that John realizes that the sharp retort of P-90 fire hasn't faded with the rest of the dream.
The guards are looking increasingly agitated, paying him no attention, and John considers his options. His mind feels distant, like his body is controlling his thoughts, instead of the other way around. The floor is cold on his bare feet when he pads across to the table, stretching his bound hands out to grab the pitcher of coffee.
The ceramic is cool and smooth under his skin, heavy in his grip. John listens to the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, his feet carrying him silently across the floor. He has no idea what he's doing, his arms, legs, body are working without any input from his conscious mind.
One of the guards turns to look at him when John gets close. The man curses, mouth twisting up in a snarl, bringing his sidearm up as John throws the scalding hot coffee in his face. A shot goes off. John has a vague sensation of heat and movement near his cheek. Another shot, the man's hand apparently squeezing them off randomly, and the other guard goes down gurgling, hands wrapped around his bloody throat.
The burned guard drops his gun, curling over, clawing at his face, and John steps up to him. The pitcher shatters, spreading white shards across the floor when John brings it down hard on the back of the man's head. The guard goes boneless, limp, his partner still jerking like a fish thrown on shore beside him.
John kneels beside the jerking guard, shoving the heavy man up onto his side so that John can grab his gun. With his hands bound, John's aim is a little off. This close it doesn't matter. The guard's head goes to gray mush with one twitch of John's trigger finger. John moves his arms, bracing the barrel against the other guard's ear and pulls the trigger again.
He leaves them there, still holding the gun when he rises and pushes through the swinging door in the back of the room, into the hallway beyond. The hall is lined with identical doors, but John knows where he's going. His feet ache from the icy chill here, he can distantly feel his teeth knocking together hard.
The last door in the hall has a giant white symbol painted on it. John had, once, thought that it was a number. Then he stopped caring. The lock is huge and bulky. John shoots it, the bullet ricocheting somewhere over his shoulder, but leaving destruction behind first.
John pushes the door open, it swings easily on well oiled hinges, without a whisper of sound.
Inside the cell it is white, floor to ceiling. It makes it hard to see where the walls are, it makes John's eyes ache. He squints, ducking his head, concentrating on what he came for. Inside the room it is even chillier, or maybe John's blood is just running like ice now. He's not sure.
Rodney is curled up in one of the corners, all twisted up, his pale skin purple and black with bruises, red and brown with dried blood. John crosses to him, his mind still quiet and blank inside his skull. The gunfire is getting louder. An explosion makes the room shudder, and John can hear words he knows being shouted, he can almost feel the pound of heavy boot steps approaching.
John kneels, reaching for Rodney and then stopping, his hands hovering over Rodney's bruised shoulder. There is a handprint on Rodney's skin, bigger than John's hand, and he curls his fingers back. John rasps, his voice rough, his throat aching, "McKay. Rodney. We gotta go."
Rodney doesn't stir, he's barely even breathing. John frowns, then the footsteps are pounding down the hall, and he can't wait anymore.
When John grabs Rodney, thinking only to pull him to his feet, to drag him out of here if he has to, Rodney moves. John's mind is skipping, moving too slowly to keep up. He blinks, and finds himself on his ass, his mouth aching, blood slicking hot down his chin.
Rodney is curled up tight again, sitting now, arms up over his head. His knuckles are bloody on one hand, blood moving sluggishly down the back of his hand. He is saying, voice flat and dull, "Don't touch me, don't touch me, don't touch me."
John wipes his bloody mouth on the back of his hand, nudging one of his teeth with his tongue, hissing at the sharp flare of pain when it shifts. Getting back to his feet is a clumsy maneuver, but John manages, staring down at Rodney, looking for words. He finally finds them, "We have to go, Rodney. Please."
For a terrible moment John thinks that Rodney will just ignore him. But then Rodney carefully raises his head, blinking at the open door to his cell with flat, empty eyes. Rodney is a mess. John feels like he's noting the injuries with surgical detachment: burst capillaries in one eye, most of his face caked with blood, his mouth split and bloody in the corners.
John repeats, holding onto the words like a mantra, "We have to go."
Rodney doesn't look at him, doesn't even look like he registers the words. But he shifts, crying out when he pushes to his knees, wrapping his arms around himself. John reaches for him automatically, but Rodney shouts, eyes squeezed shut, "Don't touch me!" John pulls his hands back, his stomach twisting.
Watching Rodney struggle to his feet is a nightmare, and yet John can't help feeling impatient. They have to go. They have to get out of here. Rodney sways when he manages to stand, one of his hands stretched out, braced against the white wall. John says, "Come on," and turns towards the door, trying not to see the smear of blood that Rodney's hand leaves behind on the wall.
Out in the hall, there are a bunch of shouting men, three of them drawing up short when they see John. John blinks at them, recognizing the black uniforms but unable to put a name to them. The other doors in the hallway are being kicked open, and one of the black-clad men is stepping out of a cell, Teyla limp and bloody in his arms.
Rodney steps out into the hall, wheezing, leaning heavily against the wall. The strangers in the hall shout, hurrying towards them and John raises the gun automatically, snapping, dumping all his anger into his voice, "Don't touch him."
Before they can come any closer, one of them kicks open another door, and shouts, "Holy fuck, one of them is still alive!" John waits for the words to make sense, and there's a bubbling, gurgling scream, followed by the pale faced stranger continuing, "Uh, never mind."
Ronon comes out of the cell dragging a body, his hand still around the dead man's throat, his eyes wild, his body bloody and busted. The strangers all take a big step back, and John wonders how to get Teyla away from them, and then a man is stepping up in front of John, his hands extended out to the side, his expression grim and set.
John thinks he recognizes the guy.
"Colonel Sheppard, we have a Jumper waiting to extract you and your team. We're here to take you home, do you understand? Colonel Sheppard?"
John drops his gaze to the gun in his hands, wondering why it's shaking so hard. Jumpers are something he knows. He likes Jumpers. He trusts Jumpers. And home. Home would be good. They could fix Rodney and Teyla and Ronon at home.
John shakes his head, squinting his eyes, struggling to make his thoughts focus. "Lorne. Major Lorne." The man nods, looking relieved, and John cautiously lowers the gun, tries to draw his shoulders up straight, "Lead the way, Major."
It's cold inside the Jumper too, and they won't let John fly. He sits in the back, watching Teyla struggle to draw breath, watching Ronon stand, growling, in the corner, watching Rodney blink slowly before swaying. John tries to catch Rodney when he slides off the bench, but doesn't quite make it.
John curses, the word ripped from his throat, shaking Rodney, trying to wake him up. But Rodney is still and limp, his eyes rolled back up in his head, and John's hands come away from him bloody. John hears himself make a sound, terrible and wild, and there are hands pulling him back and holding him away, a Marine grabbing bandages to apply over the blood pouring out of the re-opened wound high on Rodney's thigh.
Each trip through a wormhole makes John's stomach ache, his muscles all bind up and jump. And then they're landing, the soothing hum of the Jumper's engines fading away. John blinks dazedly across at Rodney, pulling himself over to the other man when he's finally released.
Rodney is pale and limp, and John chokes, running his hand over and over Rodney's head, only distantly aware of the commotion in the rest of the Jumper. Then he's being pulled back again, strong hands shoving him to the side while people in scrubs lift Rodney onto a stretcher and take him away. Teyla is already gone, John can just see them wheeling her away, yelling for tests and drips and then their voices are gone.
John sits on the floor of the Jumper, feeling dizzy and sick, ignoring the person that is trying to pull him to his feet. He just needs to sit, just for a few minutes, just to give the world time to slow down enough for him to jump back into line.
A roar of anger cuts through the soup John is drifting in. He blinks, pushing himself to his feet, stumbling out of the Jumper. Ronon is standing in one corner of the Jumper bay, looking furious and wild, snarling, his fists up. Jennifer Keller is in front of him, her mouth moving though John can't hear what she's saying. John makes himself walk over, makes himself stand beside her and after a moment his brain makes sense of what she's saying, "—have to get you to the infirmary, Ronon, please."
Ronon says nothing, dripping blood on the floor, his face every bit as fucked up as Rodney's. John swallows, forcing himself into the situation, struggling to focus his mind. He snaps, voice low and angry, "Ronon, go to the infirmary. Listen to the doctor."
Ronon's gaze snaps to John, sharp and furious, terrified. And John lowers his voice, taking a half step forward, snarling, "That's an order, soldier."
For a moment Ronon doesn't move, staring down at John, all hot anger and twisting, terrible fear. And then he dips his head, still growling under his breath. Keller flashes John a look he can't translate, stepping around him, wrapping one of her small hands around Ronon's elbow and guiding him away from the wall. Ronon jerks free of her grip, but follows her out of the Jumper Bay.
John follows, his feet taking him to the rest of his team even with the silence inside his head. The infirmary is a mess when they get there, doctors and nurses swarming everywhere. One young doctor is being nosily ill, and John watches him curiously, numbly following Keller to the bed that she leads Ronon to.
It's only then that she seems to notice that he's there, looking up with eyes that seem strangely shiny. Her voice is a croak, "You can't be in here." John just stares at her, cocking his head to the side, then looking past her to the beds where they have Rodney and Teyla, a half-dozen people working over both of them.
Keller is in front of him somehow, one of her hands hovering over John's arm, not touching, because she's a smart woman, isn't she? There's a gentle tone in her voice when she says, "Are you hurt, Colonel?" John shakes his head, absently, watching a doctor stumble away from Teyla, expression horrified and stricken.
Keller is still using her soft voice, "Then you have to leave. Go—go get a shower, okay? I promise to let you know as soon as—as soon as we know how they are, okay?"
John stares down at her blankly, hearing the words, but in no way sure how to make them mean something. She casts a desperate look past him, and a moment later Lorne is there by John's elbow, saying, "Sir, I need you to come look at something for me, okay?"
John blurts, "Don't put them in individual rooms. Please." He tries not to be irritated when Keller looks at Lorne again, somewhat eased when Lorne nods. And then John turns and walks out of the infirmary. He makes it to the hall before the manic panic and energy that propelled him that far finally give out.
The floor is warm, here, heat from the suns of this world soaking into John's skin. He lets his legs splay out, bringing his hands up to cover his face. His skin smells like blood and gunpowder. John breathes through his fingers, eyes squeezed shut, trying to convince himself that they're home and that everything is alright now.
He is somewhat less than successful.
John doesn't know when Carter showed up, but when he opens his eyes she's sitting across from him. She has her face tilted up to the ceiling, her knees pulled up, her arms wrapped over them. Her hair is messy and there are dark circles under her eyes. John wonders what time it is, absently reaching for where his watch used to be before it was taken from him.
John thinks that really, they need a waiting room for the Infirmary.
Before he can figure out a way to articulate that, the doors to the Infirmary are sliding open. John twists his head up, blinking at Keller, who is just pulling a mask off of her face, snapping her gloves off, either unaware of or unconcerned about the line of blood around her wrists. John focuses on it, wondering which of his friends it came from.
Keller says, with a weak smile, "They're all stable," and John's hearing just fizzes out. He can see her lips moving, and he can see her nodding, apparently in agreement with something that Carter is saying, because John can't get any words out around the relief in his chest.
He doesn't hear a damn thing again until Keller is kneeling beside him, still carefully keeping her hands to herself when she says, "Colonel Sheppard? Would you like to let me look you over, make sure you're alright?"
John shakes his head, laughing half-desperately before managing to make himself stop. He feels dizzy, light headed with pure relief. He makes his throat work, though it takes more effort than he likes to think about, "I need to see them."
Keller looks over his head, and John has a feeling that he's going to get tired of that really damn quickly. His voice is rough, "I need to. Please. I saw—just let me sit with them for a few minutes. Then I'll go." The lie falls easily off his lips, because once he gets in there, they'll need a fucking army to get him out.
After a moment Keller sighs, smiling tightly when she says, "Okay. But then you need to let someone look you over, okay?"
And John says, "Sure," with absolutely no intention of following through with it. His body aches and hurts when he pushes himself up off the floor. The world tilts alarmingly for a moment, but a hand on the wall keeps him steady, and he manages a tight smile for Keller when she looks at him worriedly. It's just hunger and exhaustion, which, last time John checked, are hardly a huge cause for concern.
The Infirmary is quiet inside, for once. Even the beeping of the machines seems muted. John, still barefoot, follows Keller to the curtained off area on one side. It's a swift kick of relief in his gut to find that there are three beds behind the curtain, his team close and together.
Rodney and Teyla are both unconscious, wrapped in bandages, wires hooking them up to the machines around the room. John stands between their beds, at the foot, holding onto the baseboard for support when he looks at them. Rodney looks as pale as the sheets he's lying on, Teyla ashen. Both of them are so, so still.
John has to look away, hissing.
Ronon, at least, is awake, sitting up in his narrow bed, his head tipped up. He's staring at the ceiling, his hands bandaged and balled up into fists. His face is a mess of bruises, there's a long line of stitches down his throat. John bites his tongue, hard.
Beside him, Keller's voice is soft and unexpected, "He won't let us, um, completely examine him. We can't get him to open his mouth. Not even with drugs. And he won't talk." She sounds sad and lost. John turns to look at her, finds her fiddling with one of their charts, her eyes shiny again.
John shudders, remembering suddenly and nauseatingly the wet, crunchy sound of bone breaking. He has to swallow down the bile that rises in the back of his throat, gritting out while still feeling the burn, "Leave him be."
Keller says nothing for a long moment, and then she nods, "Right. Well. I'll just—" she waves a hand before stepping away, and John stares at the floor instead of watching her go. There's one chair in the curtained off area, and John sinks down into it cautiously.
The plastic is hard and uncomfortable, and John braces his feet flat on the floor, his hands wrapping around the arms of the chair and holding on. The room feels like it might be moving, and John stares straight ahead, trying not to let the memories creep back in.
It takes all of his concentration. But he thinks it's worth it, anyway.
The stopwatch is beeping. Rodney can hear it, even though they've decided to plug up his ears along with the blindfold today. He thrashes against the men holding him down, trying to get his voice to work around the gag shoved in his mouth, his heart seizing in his chest. His whole body hurts, and the beep of the stopwatch, that's never, ever, good.
The stopwatch means sixty seconds of agony, over and over and over again, until they get bored. Rodney is breathing hard and fast through his nose, trying not to throw up, because there's no where for it to go, lost in pain and agony, his cheek being ground against rough concrete as they—
Rodney wakes shaking, sitting bolt upright. For a long moment he just stares, dumb and uncomprehending at his surroundings. He'd been in that little white room so long he'd forgotten that there was any place else, really. He'd thought he was going to die there.
Obviously, he had not.
Rodney swallows, his throat dry and hurting, but then, he doesn't really remember a time when his throat didn't hurt. He raises a hand carefully to his cheek, rough with scabs and stubble. He curls his fingers up, blinking down at the back of his hand, the I.V.s stuck into his skin. He rubs over the ports with his other hand, watching his skin move, pain burning through his arm.
There's a beep again and Rodney jerks, fear cutting through him like a knife. But there is no stopwatch. There aren't any huge, horrible men, smelling like aftershave and blood. There's just him, in a tiny narrow bed, and, when Rodney dares to look sideways, out of his own little cocoon of space, two more beds. And a chair.
Rodney stares, choking on the pressure in his chest. When John had shown up in Rodney's cell, Rodney had thought the other man was a hallucination, a delusion. But this hurts too much to be made up in his head, and he recognizes this place.
The infirmary looks so much bigger than he remembers, open and bright and beautiful. Rodney has to close his eyes, covering his face with his hands, just to make sure that it's still there when he opens them. Atlantis. Somehow they made it back to Atlantis.
All of them.
Rodney has to move, suddenly, just to prove that he can. He fumbles with the railing on his bed, managing after two tries to get it lowered. The floor here is warm, not icy, and Rodney curls his toes up on the smooth tiles. He feels like crying. Or laughing. Or both. He does neither.
Standing is harder than it should be. Rodney's knees almost give, but he braces his arms on the mattress and manages to stay upright. He hurts, so badly, a sharp ache that feels like it's burning beneath every inch of his skin. There are stabs of sharper, more vicious pain, but for the most part Rodney hurts too much to even think about narrowing the scope of it down.
One of the machines beeps again and Rodney jumps, cursing loudly. His heart is racing, and his hands are shaking. He manages to hobble around his bed, keeping one hand on it at all times for balance, staring at the machine set up, waiting for the fucking tormenting beep to come again.
When it does, Rodney is ready, and narrows in on the offending machine. It takes all of three seconds to unplug it, and Rodney throws the power cord to the floor disgustedly, his heart still pounding hard up against his ribs. His spine itches, his skin all raised in gooseflesh, his teeth chattering. Rodney squeezes his eyes shut for a long moment, squeezing the blankets by his hands, trying hard not to hyperventilate.
The fear doesn't go away, it doesn't even fade. Rodney makes himself step away from the machines, around his bed again, each footstep agony and terror all tangled together. He makes himself keep going, because to stand still is to just let it wash over him, and he can't deal with that, not even a little bit.
Teyla's bed is beside his, and Rodney lurches his way over to it, using his I.V. stand for balance.
Teyla looks tiny in the bed, the pale blue sheets pulled up around her, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looks...bad. Rodney winces, leaning heavily against the side of her bed. One of her eyes is almost certainly swollen shut, her mouth looks the way his feels. Both her hands are wrapped up, and Rodney can just see the edges of a bandage around her shoulder.
He feels ill, a burn creeping up his throat. He hadn't known, not for sure, if they were hurting the others back—back on the planet. Sometimes he'd been sure he heard screams, but he'd told himself that it wasn't Teyla, that it wasn't Ronon, that it wasn't John. That had made it easier to bear, somehow.
But he'd obviously been wrong. Again. Rodney has to bow his head, breathing hard through his mouth, hurting so badly that he thinks he might just die here. It had been bad enough knowing what happened to him. Knowing it happened to Teyla brings it all down on his head, crushing and terrible.
Rodney has to make himself move, before he screams or dies or throws up. It's difficult to push it away, to shove the memories into a ball and keep them there, but Rodney is good at doing difficult things. He hobbles around Teyla's bed, hesitating beside Ronon's.
Ronon is awake, staring up at the ceiling. He's every bit as beaten and bloody as Teyla, and Rodney feels his stomach sour even further. Rodney doesn't know what to say, if he should say anything, but then Ronon is looking at him, blinking slowly.
When Ronon nods, shifting down on his bed, curling on up on his side, and closing his eyes, Rodney isn't completely sure what to make of it. But he doesn't have to understand completely. Rodney turns stiffly, sinking down to the floor between Ronon and Teyla's beds.
That puts him almost in line with John. Rodney blinks at the other man. John is, apparently, awake as well, but he looks frozen, like a statue of a man. John is sitting stiff backed in the chair, gripping the arms so hard that his entire hands appear to have turned white. John is staring somewhere on the wall above Rodney's head, his expression completely blank.
Rodney stares at John for a long moment. Sometimes he'd thought that he'd heard John, in that place. Sometimes he'd been sure that the other man was screaming for him, over and over again until his voice broke and faded. Sometimes, that had been the only thing that kept Rodney from just pissing them off enough to kill him.
But John isn't hurt, as far as Rodney can tell. His shoes are gone, and there's some blood on him, but he doesn't look broken. The relief of that hits Rodney so hard that he can't breathe for a long moment, that of all the lies his tormentors told him, at least they told the truth about John being unharmed.
Rodney pulls his legs up, whimpering at the waves of pain that the movement sends through his body. His arms are shaking when he wraps them around his legs, and he winds his fingers tight into his scrub pants. The shaking doesn't stop, but Rodney is pretty sure that no one else will be able to see it now.
Rocking back and forth is something his body does automatically, a habit that he picked up in that white room, that it feels natural to indulge in now. It's hard to fall asleep when rocking back and forth, and there had been so many times when Rodney was terrified to sleep.
And if it's soothing, if it eases some of the smothering panic in Rodney's chest, well, then that's for the best too.
When the curtain pushes aside, Rodney is on his feet in seconds. His body protests the violent movement by spiking pain up and down his ribs. Rodney ignores it. Panic surges through his blood, making him itch, and the man that steps through the curtain blinks at him in surprise.
Rodney recognizes the nurse's uniform, but not the man's face. He wonders if the man is a plant, sent to drug them and drag them back to their captors. That doesn't seem very likely, but the idea gets tangled up in Rodney's head and sticks.
The nurse says, "Doctor McKay, you're not supposed to be out of bed," and takes a step towards Rodney.
Rodney steps back automatically, bumping his hip into Ronon's bed, praying for the other man to wake up. Rodney's voice breaks when he tries to speak, he has to clear his throat and try again, "Who the hell are you? What do you want?"
The nurse blinks, looking remarkably puzzled. He might just be a very good actor. The man says, after a pause where he takes another step forward and Rodney trips over his feet and the I.V. stand getting Ronon's bed between the two of them, "I'm Felix Lenzdour. And I'm just checking to make sure everything is alright. Do you want to get back in bed, Doctor?"
"No." Rodney bites the word out, his heart racing, wondering who decided nurses should be so burly, wishing that Sheppard would snap out of his fucking fugue state. The nurse pauses, then, and Rodney lets out a little sigh of relief, trying to keep his voice steady when he says, "What I want is to talk to my second in command. You must know him? Easily excitable European guy? Has a thing about pigeons? And a laptop, I want one of them too. Who knows what you idiots have done to my city while I've been away."
The nurse smiles, Rodney thinks that it is probably intended to be a comforting gesture, but it turns Rodney's stomach to ice. The friendly ones were the worst. He pushes down the stupid, useless, fear, concentrating on looking like he really needs a laptop. Which he does. So he figures it shouldn't be a hard look to pull off.
Unfortunately, the nurse is saying, "You really need to get some rest. Come on, get back in the bed."
"I will not." Rodney bites the words off, meeting the nurse's eyes as steadily as he can. They can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do, not here, and he'll be damned if he's going to let them. Rodney jerks his chin up, "Get me Radek, my laptop, and some pudding, you power drunk bastard."
The nurse gapes at him, and Rodney feels compelled to go on, holding onto anger and impatience with everything he has, "And it better be chocolate pudding. What are you waiting for, Christmas? Go, shoo, don't come back until you've managed to be useful."
Now the nurse is making a soft, understanding face, setting down the charts that he carried into the room and saying, "Doctor McKay, I'd really appreciate it if you—"
The man cuts off when John jerks out of his chair. The movement is so abrupt, jerky, that Rodney jumps, shouting. John flashes him a quick look, dark eyes reflecting hurt, and then John is barking at the nurse, "You fucking heard him. Get the fuck out of here and leave him alone."
The nurse opens his mouth and John moves again, up in the man's space without touching him, his voice a growl, "You do not want to push me right now. Go. Away." For a moment neither of them move, and then the nurse raises his hands, dropping his gaze to the ground and backing out of the curtains. John stands where he is, shoulders heaving, hands balled up into fists at his side. When he speaks, his voice sounds almost absent, "You said chocolate, Rodney?"
Rodney can only nod, his hands sweaty and shaking around the I.V. stand, fear turning his stomach over and over. John grunts, apparently in answer, and then follows the nurse out. Rodney stares after him, before exhaling shakily, and finally letting his legs give. He sits on the floor, curling up into a ball, trying to get himself together.
When the curtain stirs again, Rodney jerks back to his feet, heart in his throat. Radek comes through looking mostly asleep, his hair sticking up everywhere, his glasses crooked, a trail of dried drool in the corner of his mouth. John has a hand wrapped hard around the other man's upper arm, one of Rodney's personal laptops tucked under his other arm. Radek is staring down at the pudding cup he's holding, looking like he isn't quite sure why he's carrying it.
John says, "Brought you what you wanted," and sits the laptop down on the foot of Ronon's bed. Rodney feels a little of the strain go out of his shoulders, waiting for John to sit in his chair again before hobbling around the bed to grab his laptop. For a long moment he just holds it, clinging to it, feeling the bite of one of the edges against a bruise over his ribs and not caring.
Radek is still staring down at the pudding, and Rodney rolls his eyes, snatching it away before the other man does something stupid like trying to eat it. Radek finally looks up, his eyes going huge when he sees Rodney. It makes Rodney look away, arranging himself on the floor again, popping his laptop open and shoveling a spoonful of pudding into his mouth.
Rodney is not surprised when Radek says, "What happened?"
Neither is Rodney inclined to answer. He snarls, "It's not important. What the hell were you doing messing with the power converters for the saline plant while I was away? How much brine did you manage to create?"
For a moment there's no answer to his question, and Rodney snaps his fingers impatiently, ignoring the way it makes his whole hand ache. He cradles the laptop, hands flying over the keys, his fingers stumbling when he sees the date. Two months. Almost two months lost in that place.
Before that can reach up and overwhelm Rodney, Radek is sinking to the ground beside him, not close enough to touch, not even close enough for Rodney to feel the other man's warmth. Rodney scoots away anyway, feeling his skin crawl.
Radek says, sounding confused and exhausted, "You see that I followed your instructions completely, yes? Any flaws in the system are your creation."
Rodney rolls his eyes, pulling up the schematics in a separate window, feeling better already, and this is just what he needed. More proof that the medical profession was staffed by a bunch of fucking idiots. Sleep was the last thing he wanted or needed. This, this helped.
Rodney snaps, "What, were you reading them upside down? Maybe I need to draw them in crayon for you next time, is that it?" And while Radek tries to make excuses, Rodney finishes his pudding and cracks his knuckles, hissing at the ache and burn.
The work flows over him, into his head, and Rodney crams as much in as he can. There's only so much he can think about at a time, and Rodney fully intends to keep his mind so busy with this, with the important things, that the fear disappears. If it has no place to exist then Rodney doesn't see how it could effect him.
He holds onto that thought, trying to ignore the way his hands shake every time Radek reaches across to point at something on the screen.
This will work. It just might take some time.
Above him, one of the machines by Ronon's bed beeps.
Jennifer is really not sure that releasing the team from the infirmary is the best idea. But their bodies are healing quickly, none of their wounds overly severe to begin with. They'd all been in shock when they came to her, and she's fairly certain they still are, to varying degrees.
But they have word that teams three and five are coming in with heavy injuries, bringing a village full of severely burned people with them, and the sad fact of the matter is that Jennifer needs the beds. Besides, as much as she itches to do something else to help them, she has no idea what that would be. And there's a part of her that's relieved that they're going.
They have nightmares, constantly. That's hardly a surprise, but that doesn't stop it from tearing Jennifer up every time one of them starts screaming bloody murder. It helps, though it's odd, that they never sleep at the same time. There's always at least one of them awake when she rushes in to help.
That doesn't make it easier to handle. Not when Rodney wakes up screaming, wild eyed, hyperventilating, and Jennifer is sure that he's going to give himself a heart attack. Not when Teyla wakes up whimpering, thrashing around on her bed, always waking with a tiny, final sob. Not when Ronon just sits bolt upright, curling up over himself. He gets sick, almost every time he wakes.
John has nightmares, too. She'll catch him twitching in the chair that he's set up camp in, ignoring the bed they wheeled in for him when it became obvious that he wasn't going anywhere. His expressions flash through horror and terror, and Jennifer always nudges him to wake up, which just gives him an opportunity to blink up at her with his empty, flat eyes.
Jennifer doesn't know exactly what happened to them. None of them say a word about it. She's almost glad, in a way, because seeing the wounds left behind is bad enough. She isn't sure that she's ready to handle the details of what caused them.
They leave one at a time, and Jennifer hates how lost and confused they look. Ronon disappears first, Teyla following on his heels. Rodney lingers, eating quickly. None of them eat at the same time, either. She's watched them, the way they all stare at each other before one of them takes a bite of the food they were served. And then they all wait, ignoring their food for at least a half an hour, before they finally eat, one at a time.
The implications make Jennifer sick to her stomach, but there's nothing she can do about it. She watches Rodney eat the rest of his meal quickly, fast and messy, like he's afraid that it'll disappear. And she knows that for all the jokes, he wasn't like that before.
When he leaves he's staring at the floor, laptop under his arm, and she still hasn't figured out how he managed to get that into her infirmary. She hadn't had the heart to take it away from him after he had it, not when he slept with it under his arm, not when it was the first thing he reached for when the nightmares woke him.
Jennifer is starting to think that she doesn't have the stomach for this job.
John leaves last, still sitting in his chair once the others are gone, staring straight ahead. He hasn't let her examine him once, and she can hardly force it. She is, actually, afraid to force it. Of all of them, he's the one that looks the most ready to just snap. Jennifer doesn't intend to be the one that pushes him over the edge. She's pretty sure that would be a direct violation of her oath.
So she doesn't ask. She just watches. John stands carefully, like he's sore, which, considering the amount of time he spent sitting in that chair, he probably is. He grabs the baseboard of the bed that had been Teyla's, hanging his head. Jennifer watches him breathe, watches him kick the ground, the muscles in his arms moving as he clenches and releases his hands over and over.
When he finally leaves, it is without looking up.
The halls of Atlantis have not ever felt this foreign to Teyla. Even when the city was new to her, there had been a familiarity to it, styles of architecture that she recognized, little pieces of the Ancestors that made it feel as though she had been in this place before.
Now the wide hallways echo oddly with each step she takes. Shadows linger in some of the doorways, and Teyla hurries past them, walking as close to the far wall as she can, looking out of the corner of her eye as she passes. Each time she finds the doorway empty she exhales in relief, only to have the fear return as she approaches the next.
There are so many people in the halls, and Teyla isn't sure how she can watch all of them at the same time. She has to press herself against the wall once, letting a crowd of loud, laughing men go past. She feels ill, tracking their movement, tensing up in case one of them tries to grab her.
They go past without looking at her, but Teyla stays frozen in place anyway, waiting for them to come back. Eventually she realizes that she's been standing against the wall for some time. The hallway is temporarily empty, and that is almost worse than it being full of people.
Teyla does not run, though she wants to, because she knows fear only attracts predators. She walks as quickly as she can towards the transporters to the crew quarters, and then freezes in front of one. The room is small and familiar, but, looking into it, all Teyla can see is the blank white of her cell.
When she turns away, her hands are shaking. Teyla balls her hands into fists, clenching and releasing, marshalling all the calm she can to turn away from the transporter. The stairs are completely empty, and Teyla hurries down them, hearing her own footsteps pounding loud, sure that she hears the echo of following steps gaining on her.
Teyla spins around, fists up, heart racing, but there is no one there. She is alone, halfway down the stairs, and she can already feel cold sweat sliding down her back. Teyla makes herself turn, gripping the railing hard, and walks slowly down the stairs. She keeps her footsteps soft, quiet, so that she'll be able to hear if someone tries to follow her.
By the time she reaches the bottom her heart is pounding so hard against her ribs that it's all she can hear. She tries breathing deep, slowing down the mechanism of her pulse, but it doesn't work. She had not, really, expected it to.
Teyla's quarters are close down the hall, so she walks to them, her legs feeling more like jelly with each progressive step. She keeps her head up, her shoulders back, even as she feels like curling up into a ball and covering herself so no one can see her.
The doors to her quarters open for her, and she steps cautiously into her room. The windows are still open, as she left them before the mission that was supposed to last only an afternoon. Her drapes are tangled and her books have been blown open where they rest on her desk. Her bed is made, the hairclip that she had found on the floor still sitting in the middle of her comforter, right where she left it.
Teyla brings the lights up as bright as she can get them, making a slow circuit of her room. There's nothing under the bed. No one in her bathroom. Her closet is full of clothes, but nothing else. Teyla pulls the windows shut after looking out to make sure that the dizzying drop down to the ocean is still there.
This is her place, but now it feels alien. She does not feel comforted or safe, she does not feel restful or at peace with herself. She checks the closet for intruders again, pulling her clothes out, just to make sure that no one is hiding behind them. No one is.
Teyla makes herself take a breath, standing in the midst of her shirts and pants. When she picks them up, they smell like sea salt and the soft soap that she washes them in. Hanging them all up gives her hands something to do, and for a moment Teyla doesn't have to think. Her heart rate slows, though when she raises a hand to her face she finds her skin hot and damp with sweat.
Teyla surveys her room again, before crossing to her bed. It is heavy, and her body is sore, aching. She manages to shove it over in front of her door anyway, blocking the door off, satisfied that while the barrier might not keep people out, it will at least make her aware of their intentions to enter.
A shudder races up Teyla's spine, her stomach dropping even as bile rises in her throat. She flattens her hands on the bed, leaning over, panting open mouthed, wondering if she's going to be sick. After a moment the nausea passes, leaving her skin feeling as though it's on fire and her shirt clinging to her back with sweat.
Teyla takes a deep breath, her ribs aching, her throat burning, and makes herself walk to her bathroom. All is as she left it, and she turns the water on in her shower before stepping in. The water is burning hot, and Teyla sits beneath the falling drops, folding her legs and resting her hands on her knees.
For a moment all she is aware of is the pain from the too hot water against her skin. Everything else is on the periphery, the spreading puddle of water outside the shower, the way her clothes get heavy against her skin, the sweet taste of the water that slides into her mouth when she swallows a deep breath.
Teyla keeps her eyes open, steadying her breathing, focusing on making her mind quiet.
Keller tells him to rest, so Rodney goes down to the lab they have set up for working on shielding experiments, because he won't have to move very much there. On the way he stops at the locker room, because he keeps spare clothes there. He showers with his back to the wall, watching the door as he scrubs quickly.
Mostly, on the outside, he is just bruised. It still feels like every square inch of his skin burns and stings when he touches it. Rodney half-expects the water to run pink, the way it had when they'd occasionally dragged him out of his cell, holding him against the floor in the hallway and blasting him with water until he was inhaling it and choking and—
Rodney blinks, on his hands and knees and not sure how that happened. His throat is burning, water beating a rhythm against his back. He pulls himself up quickly, hands shaking when he reaches out to turn the water off. There's still soap in his hair. He doesn't care.
The clothes he pulls on are too big, and for a moment he frowns at them. They're his, his initials carefully inked into the tags. He feels awkward, hating the way the pants hang on his hips, too loose, too easy to pull off. He zips his jacket all the way up, staring at the lockers lining the walls.
Rodney only has to break into three before he finds a belt. He pulls the pants tight, ignoring the bite of pain from the bone deep bruises on his hips. There are mirrors on the way to the door, but Rodney keeps his face turned away from them, pushing back out into the hall, back towards his labs.
It seems like a longer walk than he remembers, like it will just never end, but then he's there. He bites his lip against the relief in his chest. There are a handful of his worker bees already in the lab, but only two of them look up when he enters, the rest rightfully absorbed in their work.
Rodney glares at the two that look at him, marching over to his main station and pulling up the information for the project. His left hand is shaking, so he shoves it into his pocket, typing one-handed, scowling at the information on the screen. After a while he can't feel the shaking anymore, so he carefully pulls his hand out to look at it. Everything looks normal. He clenches and releases his fingers, no sign of a tremble, and lets out a shaky breath of relief.
It takes him a moment to notice that the only tapping of keyboard keys is coming from him. Rodney blinks, twisting to look over his shoulder and then turning completely. He raises his eyebrows, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling at the other scientists in the room.
Most of them immediately turn various brilliant shades of red before hurriedly turning back to their work. A few keep staring, prompting Rodney to snarl, "Have you morons somehow discovered a way to make your computers do your work for you?"
Miko, one of the few that had not been cowed, which is a disappointment, because Rodney had thought she was smarter than that, takes a half step towards him, "Doctor McKay—"
"I realize Zelenka allowed you to slack off while I was gone. Well, I'm back now, and you all are so far behind you must have passed your asses going the other direction. So you can thank him for all the extra work you're going to be doing. Now. I recommend that you start, if you ever want to see the outside of this lab ever again."
Miko looks surprised, her eyes huge and dark. Rodney holds her gaze, fighting every instinct to look away, to make himself small. He doesn't do that shit in his lab. He has never. He will never. It's his lab, goddamnit. He sneers, "Is there a problem, Kusanagi?"
The woman finally shakes her head, stepping back to her station. Rodney turns back to his own work, listening to the rapid movement of fingers over keyboards, the chatter of idiots discussing their shit ideas amongst themselves, and exhales shakily.
His hands are shaking again. Both of them now.
Ronon isn't sure how long he's been running. He doesn't even know what time it was when they let him out of the infirmary this morning. He's not measuring time the way he used to anymore, falling back to the habits he developed from running, when the day was divided only by the need to sleep, eat, and doctor himself.
It's better than the way he had to keep track inside that cell, when his day had been full of waiting and pain.
Ronon does know that he's been running for a long time. The sun had been bright when he started, and on the opposite horizon. Now it's sinking, blood red, down into the waves, looking like it's preparing to boil the ocean. Ronon would like to see that.
He'd hurt, at first. It's been a long time, by any measure, since he ran. But he'd needed to, needed to keep his mind busy, to give his body something to do with all the anger and rage building in his chest constantly. Running has always been good for that.
The pain had passed, at some point. He'd stopped feeling the sharp, jagged ache in his left hip, or the fire up his spine. He'd moved through the burning in his ribs, though his breathing is still too fast and too ragged. His mind is fuzzy, now, and that might be why the pain is gone.
He doesn't care.
There's a slick of wet warmth down his side that Ronon is just now becoming aware of. He slows, leaning his back against a wall, scanning automatically for anyone around him. He is alone, and he looks down at himself, finally.
His shirt is clinging to his skin, stained dark brown and red. Ronon frowns, picking at the damp fabric, pulling it up. The stitches that Jennifer put in his skin are undone, the cuts over his ribs reopened. Ronon watches blood trace paths down his skin, the red liquid moving sluggishly. He rubs a finger through it.
Ronon's blood still tastes salty, human. He wipes the heel of his hand over his mouth, letting his shirt drop down. The blood is soaking into the waistband of his pants, making the fabric rub against his skin, rough and grating. Ronon turns, making his way back to his quarters.
By the time he gets there, the pain that he had worked so hard to escape is back. Ronon's head is pounding, his entire body burning. There's a first-aid kit under his bed, provided originally by Sheppard and augmented extensively over the years.
Ronon lowers himself down to the floor beside his bed, the room spinning over him. He wonders if he should have eaten or drank something. But getting up seems out of reach right now, so he just pulls the first aid kit out, popping it open and dragging it over beside his thigh.
When Ronon pulls his shirt off, it tries to stick to his skin, some of the cuts over his ribs trying to clot up in the weave of fabric. Ronon grunts, tossing the ruined shirt aside, stretching his arm above his head to see the wounds. The skin over his ribs is molted purple and black. He can see hand prints in the bruises, and the outlines of boots. There are teeth marks, no longer scabbed, but leaving behind dark half circles on his skin. He wonders if they'll be scars that he's damned to carry.
The cuts are still oozing blood. Ronon presses on one, pain splintering out through his entire chest from the point of pressure. He blows air out through his lips, resting his one arm along the top of the mattress, reaching for the first aid kit with his other hand.
The alcohol wipes burn and sting, but compared to the other pain they're inconsequential. Ronon uses eight of them, wiping his skin clean, holding one pad over the seeping cuts. The stitches that Jennifer had put in his skin are still sticking in him in a few places, so Ronon pulls the thread out absently, piling it up with the used alcohol wipes.
In the first aid kit he has his own needles, and the thick, tough thread that he'd used to stitch himself up when he ran. It's thicker than the stuff the doctors here use, rough. It leaves scars. But it won't pull free, something in the root it's made from bonds with the skin and won't tear out.
Ronon threads a needle, blowing air between his lips again, pulling the alcohol wipe away and getting to work. There are four cuts that reopened, and Ronon works quickly. By the time he's done his fingers are stained crimson, there's blood caked under his fingernails, more of it dripping down onto his floor. But he's put back together, and that's the important part.
Ronon drops the needle back into the kit, telling himself to wash it in the morning, shoving the kit absently away and letting his head fall back against the bed. It's dark outside his windows now, and Ronon stares. It's been a long time since he saw real dark, since it wasn't just the inside of a sour, bitter smelling hood. There are stars.
For a moment Ronon considers going out to his balcony, but his body feels too leaden and heavy to manage movement. He stays where he is, leaning against the side of his bed, staring either out of the window or up at his ceiling. He's tired, bone weary, but the thought of closing his eyes makes him growl in his chest, even though there's no one here to threaten.
Ronon made lots of enemies in that cell, learned lots of things to fear. But sleep, sleep has to be one of the worst. The betrayal of his body needing rest, the sweet promises it had made him about feeling stronger when he woke, and the inevitable realization that it was all a cruel lie. Waking up he'd always been every bit as broken, every bit as hungry, every bit as cold.
And then there had been the times he woke up to those bastards holding him down. Ronon pushes on the newly stitched cuts, the sharp bite of pain distracting him from the unwelcome slant of his thoughts. His skin feels hot, feverish, and he stays like that, pushing on the wounds when he needs to keep himself awake, to keep his mind away from all the things he can't think about.
John isn't sure what he's doing. He thinks that should probably worry him, since he's been doing it all day. But it's still hard to concentrate. It's easier to just do what his body needs to do, his mind staying hidden and quiet, content to be a passenger in this, as it has in so much lately.
His legs ache, unfamiliar strain making his thighs burn. He's walked the same path, or a slight variation of it, for over twelve hours. Even if he wasn't running on auto-pilot, he's pretty sure that his feet would have memorized the steps. He might be able to sleep while he does this.
Teyla's door is still closed, her room silent inside. John hesitates outside, leaning against the wall beside her door, not trying to open it, just listening. If he strains his ears he can just hear the cascade of her shower, the soft patter of the water that's been running since he started this loop hours and hours ago.
John pats the wall, pushing away, ignoring the ache up his back, the pain in his feet from walking for so long. The city is quiet now, most of its inhabitants safely tucked into their beds. John passes a night patrol, the soldiers nodding to him. John's body nods back automatically, even while his mind absently wonders how difficult it would be to kill the two kids. They look green, new. John thinks they probably wouldn't know what to do if he went for his sidearm.
And then they are gone, talking to themselves about a video game as they pass him. John shakes his head, following the hall to the transporter. The weightless moment that comes with transport leaves John a little dizzy, so he rubs the bridge of his nose.
His boots echo on the floor, and John considers taking them off. He'd gotten used to being shoeless, to worrying about losing his toes to frostbite. He likes how the black boots feel and look, even if they are loud. For now he leaves them on.
Ronon's quarters are down close to the infirmary, though John doesn't know why. He can't remember anymore if they'd assigned them, or if Ronon had picked them. It doesn't really matter. Not a whole lot does. John pauses beside the other man's door as well.
There are no sounds at all from inside Ronon's room, but the LSD shows him there, by his bed, the same place he's been since he finally wandered in there hours ago. John had a hell of a time tracking Ronon earlier, the other man running around and around the city. It had made John sick and nervous, not being able to check on him, not being able to reassure himself constantly that they were all where he knew they were.
John pats Ronon's door absently, stepping away from it. His feet carry him forward, to another transporter, up into the south-west tower.
Rodney is the only one of John's team that didn't go back to his room. At all. John had trailed him to the locker room, watched him come out, still wet, looking pale and like he was about to fall over. John had followed him to his lab. And that's where Rodney had stayed.
John leans against the door outside the lab. There had been other life signs in the room earlier, but they're gone now. It's just Rodney, moving around the room, not even sleeping. John curls his shoulders over, watching the LSD, his eyes going blurry with exhaustion.
There is a part of him that wants to open the door, to see how Rodney is actually doing. But John would have to talk to him if he went in there now, and John has absolutely no idea what to say. There are no words, at least not any that he knows.
Instead he stands outside, watching, until he's satisfied that Rodney isn't going anywhere for a while. John brushes his fingers over the door again. It's become habit at some point in the last twelve hours, like a good luck charm to make sure they stay safe until he gets back. John takes a deep breath before starting for Teyla's quarters again.
Rodney runs out of stashed food before he's ready to. He's left growing increasingly dizzy, with an ache in his stomach, and no other options. The last thing he wants to do is pass out. Last time he had passed out had been in that place, and he'd woken choking, his head bashing into the floor over and over and over and over and—
Rodney shakes himself, pushing decisively away from the desk. The lab is empty, computers humming merrily along in the background. His body is stiff and aching, the last of the drugs Keller had loaded him up with finally wearing off. There's a bottle in his pocket, but he's read the side effects and he's thinking that a drug that sometimes causes paranoia is really about the last thing he needs right now.
Outside the lab, the sun is rising, and Rodney hesitates in the threshold. He can hear footsteps, and he sinks back against the wall, holding his breath. The footsteps pause for just a second outside the door to the lab, and then continue on. Rodney lets out a shaky breath, rubbing his hand up over his face.
Any more paranoia would definitely be a bad thing.
Rodney peeks carefully out into the hall. John Sheppard is walking away, his hands tucking into his pockets, his head ducked. Rodney frowns, waits for the other man to turn the corner, and then hurries out. Rodney passes a few other people on his way to the mess hall, glaring at the ones who look at him, ignoring the ones who don't. It's like they've never seen a person with the shit beat out of them before.
The mess hall is huge and open, and for a moment Rodney just stares up at the ceiling. His body, not quite keeping up with the program, still expects to find blank white walls every time he opens his eyes. The relief when he doesn't is embarrassing.
Rodney shakes himself, hating the way his brain feels slow and thick. Most of the tables are empty, though Ronon is sitting at one of the corner tables, his back to the wall, staring up at the ceiling. There's no food in front of the other man, so Rodney moves quickly through the line, grabbing fruit, checking each skin to see if it looks undamaged, and a whole loaf of bread, still in its plastic wrapping. There are some bottled waters, and he grabs those too, not even considering the coffee or juices.
Ronon doesn't look down when Rodney sits beside him. Rodney doesn't particularly mind, keeping as much distance as he can between himself and the other man as it's possible to while still sitting at the same table. Rodney picks up one of the bright pink fruits from MXR-918, and takes a big bite of it, chewing and swallowing before sitting it down.
At first, back in that place, Rodney hadn't realized they were drugging him. It was cold and he was hurt, it was to be expected that he'd sleep a little heavier than normal. Then they'd started changing the drugs, including things in the cocktails that made colors swim around Rodney's head, that made him feel like there were bugs crawling under his skin, that left him awake and coherent but unable to move.
After that, it had been pretty obvious what they were doing. Rodney had eaten the tainted food only when he had to, which was still too often to negate the effects of the drugs, half the time. But when his only other option was falling into a coma, he'd chosen the lesser of two evils.
Rodney doesn't want to think about what they would have done to him if he'd fallen into a coma. A shudder climbs his spine, and he crosses his arms hard, trying to ignore the icy chill that's creeping into his fingers. He knows it's not cold in here.
It takes a small eternity for the clock above the door to finally pass a half-hour, and while Rodney is significantly hungrier, he doesn't feel symptomatic. Rodney reaches out to set the pink fruit thing in front of Ronon, before tearing open the bread and taking a bite out of one of the pieces. After a moment Ronon reaches out, taking the fruit and cutting it up into tiny pieces before eating slowly, with his head down.
Rodney is bouncing his foot impatiently, watching the hands of the clock slowly creep around the dial, when Ronon looks up, expression sharpening. Rodney follows the other man's gaze, blinking in surprise and then shrugging.
Teyla still looks like someone took a cement block to her face. Which...Rodney isn't counting that out. Her skin also looks reddened, which is especially noticeable because her hair is gone. All of it. Her scalp catches the light, a few spots scabbing up where she cut herself. Rodney cocks his head to the side and then shrugs again, offering her a slice of bread when she looks their way.
Teyla nods back, crossing the room, pausing a handful of time when people step anywhere near her. When she finally gets to their table she looks wide eyed, and Rodney clears his throat, offering her the bread again, "I tried it, it's safe."
That gets another nod, Teyla picking at a piece of bread, rolling it up into little balls and then popping them into her mouth. Rodney takes another bite out of one of the fruits, leaves it to sit and reaches for some bread himself, because the dizziness is really starting to get annoying.
They're halfway through the loaf when Ronon looks up again. Rodney blinks with a mouthful of fruit, looks up to find Sheppard standing in the doorway. The man still has his hands in his pockets, staring at their group for a long moment, his eyes flat and unreadable before he nods and walks over to the nearest table, sitting down to the confusion of the three people already sitting there.
Rodney exchanges a look with Teyla, who only shakes her head, turning back to her meal. It takes a long time to get through it, but finally all the food is gone. Rodney pushes away from the table, feeling full, if not actually better. Sheppard is still watching them, picking at the tray of food that he commandeered from one of his table-mates.
Rodney waves at him, short and sharp, not sure what else is expected, before hurrying out of the mess hall. It's getting way too full, loud and bustling with way too many people. Rodney feels sick by the time he gets back to his lab, half sure that the last piece of bread was drugged.
The words on the screen of his computer don't make any sense at all for a long time. Rodney curses, under his breath, squeezing his eyes shut and gripping the edge of the desk, making himself remember where he is. When he opens his eyes all the equations are where they're supposed to be.
Teyla had meant to go see her people the previous day, but hadn't managed it. The water had felt too good, beating down on her head and shoulders. She had found herself sitting under it for hours and hours, until her mind finally went blank, until she could breathe without feeling like there was a crushing weight on her chest.
That feeling hadn't lasted, not even when she'd hacked off her hair, because she couldn't get it clean. It didn't matter how many times she shampooed it, she could still feel the stickiness in the strands, could smell the salt that wasn't the ocean. So she'd cut it, wet strands falling around her feet, until there were only tufts sticking up all over her head. And then she'd, carefully, shaved that off as well, working the blade over her head again and again.
Teyla wishes that she could do the same thing to her skin, cut herself out of it and grow a new one.
Unfortunately, she cannot think of a way to do that, though the idea still appeals to her. She goes to see her people to distract herself from the bloody thoughts, from the weight of the knife that she has hidden under her loose shirt.
The halls of Atlantis still feel unfamiliar, are still full of shadows and bouncing voices. Teyla expects to feel relieved when she makes it to the section given to her people after their rescue from Michael. There had not been enough of them to leave them on a planet again. She anticipates the warm smells of home, the smiles of her people, to ease the horrible ache inside of her.
They don't. Teyla steps cautiously into the level that they've been given, smelling roasting food, looking at the bright tapestries hung across the walls. There are children running and playing, her people moving around, happy and alive.
Teyla wants to run. She makes herself stay, nodding when someone asks her something, not hearing the words. She picks her way slowly through the halls and rooms of her people, until she has come to the nursery, to the one person that she actually came to see.
Her son is sleeping, almost exactly as she left him. Except he is bigger. Teyla leans against the side of his crib, watching him sleep, his hair falling in dark curls around his face, his tiny lips open and covered in drool. Each time he breathes a little spit bubble forms. Teyla thinks that it should probably make her smile. It doesn't.
It is warm in the nursery, the lights kept dim to facilitate sleep. Teyla feels nervous with the shadows, anxious to be out of here, and wonders at herself. It feels wrong, twisted, to not want to be with her child. She grits her teeth, reaching down, intending to smooth her hand across her son's brow, to relearn the feel of his soft, warm, skin.
Teyla's fingers stop short of their goal. She is close enough that she can feel the warmth of his skin, that his hair almost brushes her fingers. She curls her fingers up against her palm, pulling her hand back, folding her hands carefully over her stomach.
Her son has not woken, sleeping deep and peaceful. He looks content, innocent, and that twists something in Teyla's chest. If the world were fair at all then he would be able to stay like this, safe and happy. He would never know the terror of the Wraith, or the far worse things humans do to each other.
Teyla looks to the side, reaching absently out to pick up one of his stuffed toys. It had been a gift from one of the women from Earth, a giant purple animal with abnormally large ears and a tube-like nose. It is very soft, and Teyla squeezes it, turning it over and over in her hands, looking back at her son.
It is a cruel world to bring a child into.
Teyla shakes herself, stomach twisting and sour. She drops the toy on the floor, stepping quickly away from the crib, her blood pounding in her temples, bile burning the back of her throat. She stumbles out of the nursery, sucking in deep breaths, feeling too hot in her skin, sure that she is going to be ill.
There is a soft hand on her shoulder, strong and large, and Teyla shouts, jerking. For a moment she sees everything, faceless men with big hands all around her, her people staring at her worriedly, Halling with both hands over his mouth, blood seeping between his fingers.
Teyla blinks, looking down at her aching hand, two of her knuckles split. She says, her voice sounding strange and unfamiliar to her own ears, "I—forgive me. I did not intend to harm you." Which is a lie, burning bitter on her tongue. She had meant him more than harm, in that moment.
Halling nods, his hair still short, wincing when he rubs at his mouth. His eyes are dark and understanding, and he just looks at her. Teyla hesitates, knowing now why she came here, but still unsure if she dare go through with the ritual. She knows they will do it for her. She knows they will do it gladly. But it is much to ask from them, who she is supposed to take care of. Halling kneels in front of her, making himself small, his hands spread to the sides.
Teyla says, "Thank you," and is surprised to find she means it. She reaches out, grabbing two handfuls of his shirt, and ripping. The sound of the fabric rending seems to swallow everything else. Halling nods, rising slowly to his feet. Around them her people are all sinking to their knees, hands out, accepting. Waiting for her.
When John shows up for his appointment with the shrink, the man opens his door with a softly disappointed expression. John just shrugs, offering no excuse for his tardiness. After a moment Dietrich sighs, stepping back into his room, saying, "How are you doing today, Colonel?"
John settles in the chair he always sits in, the one closest to the window, and then stands again, going to stand behind it. He feels itchy under his skin, anxious to be out of here already. He shrugs with one shoulder, lying, "Fine."
Dietrich sits heavily behind his desk, head looking a little sun burnt. John wonders if the man is making those fishing trips like he wanted to. John thinks about asking, but then he gets distracted by the way the light is shining on the water outside. Dietrich says, "Do you want to sit down?"
John turns to blink at him, leans forward to brace his elbows on the back of the chair, and tells the truth, "Not really." What he wants is to not be here. This is a waste of time that he could be better spending. His team is out there somewhere, and anything could be happening to them while John is trapped in here. He doesn't like it. At all.
Behind his desk, Dietrich sighs, taking his glasses off to clean them, "Do you want to talk about why you were late?"
The thing that John hates most about these visits is the guessing games Dietrich feels the need to play. Especially because the man's been trying to do it since he took over for Heightmeyer, and has never had even a tiny hint of success using this questioning style with John.
John shrugs again, "I was trying to be fashionably late." He hadn't been able to find Ronon anywhere. John had spent hours looking for the other man, who he had left in the mess hall, and who had then disappeared completely. John had been on the way to full blown panic before he'd accidentally stumbled upon the other man, sitting on a catwalk above the botany labs, his life sign confused with the four scientists working below him. And then John had needed to go check on Teyla, still with her people, and Rodney, still in his lab, before he could relax enough to even think about coming here.
Dietrich says, "You can only get as much out of our sessions as you put in, Colonel."
John tries to make himself smile. It doesn't work right, and not just because his mouth still hurts from where Rodney hit him, "I know my file says I'm not self-motivated." Which he thinks is unfair. John is plenty motivated when he has need to be.
The words get another sigh from Dietrich anyway, the man sliding his glasses back on, asking finally, "And what would you like to talk about?"
John shrugs, managing a slightly better smile, or at least it feels not so much like his face is about to shatter into a thousand pieces, "How bout them Cowboys?"
It's a long hour, and as soon as their time runs out, John is out of the room. The LSD is heavy in his pocket, but he ignores it for now, rushing down to Rodney's lab, because he's most likely to be easiest to find. And, in fact, John can hear Rodney arguing with someone all the way at the transporters. John heaves a sign of relief, walking past quickly, down to the area of the city they gave the Athosians, peeking his head in to check on Teyla, wondering how he's supposed to find Ronon.
Ronon doesn't like being out in the city proper. He spends another day running, until he can't take it anymore, until he can't stand the feeling of everyone looking at him anymore. His quarters are safe, though. Quiet. Empty. Ronon brings food back there, things that he saw other people eating in the mess, so he knows it's not poisoned.
Eating doesn't seem to take away the ache of emptiness inside him, but then, nothing really does. Ronon tosses the plate out of his window, watching it tumble around and around, down to the dark water. He'd disposed of the alcohol swabs the same way the night before, hiding any evidence of his weakness.
Ronon paces around his room, over and over. His body hurts, worse today than it had yesterday, and for a half second he regrets tossing out the pills Jennifer gave him. But it would have been stupid to keep them. Weak. And Ronon can't afford to be either of those things.
Pacing loses its appeal pretty damn fast, but Ronon doesn't know that he can be still. He doesn't want to be still. He growls, frustrated, lowering himself to the ground, holding his body stiff, his hands braced shoulder width apart on the ground.
Pushups pass time, he learned that in the cell. He'd never really done them continuously before, never had time to when he ran, never had reason to in Atlantis. But in the cell he'd had nothing but time and pain. The pushups had filled up the time and distracted him from the pain. They still work for that.
Ronon blinks after awhile, sweat running down the side of his face. He feels like he's burning up, and he grunts, shifting up just long enough to pull his shirt over his head. His wounds are bleeding a little, blood sliding out around the stitches, mixing with his sweat, dripping down onto his floor.
Ronon shakes himself, bracing his hands again, working his tired, aching body. Each push up makes his body burn, arms, shoulders, down the line of his spine, his stomach, his ass, the back of his legs, his feet. Each slide down threatens collapse. Ronon is breathing hard, open mouthed now, here in the safety of his quarters.
Sweat is dripping off his nose, running down his arms to pool between his fingers. He squeezes his eyes shut, pushing and pushing and pushing, tasting salt in his mouth, not sure if it's blood or sweat. He goes until he can't, his back giving with a hot spear of pain down into his hips, feeling like something inside him is tearing.
Pain dumps him on his face, against his sweat slick floor. Ronon lies there, breathing hard, eyes still screwed shut. He pounds a fist onto the floor, sending another jolt of pain up his arm, racing up to his shoulder and splintering there.
Ronon doesn't intend to curl his arms up over his head, but that happens anyway. He rolls onto his side, drawing his legs up, another stab of agony up his back dragging a hoarse grunt from his throat. He balls himself up as tight as he can, his skin on fire, his muscles nothing but pain, sweat running into his eyes and leaving them stinging.
Ronon has no idea how much time passes before he pushes himself over onto his back, blinking up blindly at his ceiling. His heart is still racing, his chest tight. He keeps his legs tucked close to his body, twisted together, his arms folded over his chest.
On his ceiling the light shifts and changes, the clouds outside crossing the moon and stars and creating endless patterns. Ronon watches, gasping for breath, trying to will the pain away, until the ceiling starts to stain pink and orange with morning. He wonders if he's ever going to be able to sleep again.
The first time John consciously recognizes that there's something different about the Athosians he stops and stares. A group of them walk past him, their eyes cast down, their heads shaved, wearing long black robes. One of them has a scrape over her ear, razor burn, and so John assumes that the shaved heads are new.
The three women don't speak or even so much as look his way, which is weird. John has gotten used to them touching him whenever they pass him, offering him food or little trinkets, their unnecessary thanks for his team rescuing them. In a way, it's a relief that they don't try to touch him.
John knows that he deserves no one's thanks, no one's trust or respect.
Still, it's weird seeing them throughout the city looking like that. Both the men and women are shrouded, and John doesn't see any of them out individually. He starts looking, needing somewhere in his head to check out this new change, to make sure that it's not in any way a threat to his team. He can do that, at least.
By the time he manages to find Halling, the tall man's head shaved again, wearing the same dark clothing as the rest of his people, John is all nerves. Halling has Jinto with him, two younger children as well, and a pair of women. Not one of them looks up when John sits down in the empty seat at their table. They're wearing gloves that go up under their sleeves, so that John can't even see the skin of their wrists. It's odd.
John watches them eat for a while, noting the way they're all careful about not reaching for a dish at the same time. The click of their utensils seems louder without their voices to distract from it, metal against ceramic, setting John's teeth on edge.
He finally asks, unable to stand the quiet anymore, "So, how's the chicken?"
None of the Athosians so much as look his way, their heads down, eyes fixed on their plates. The dark makeup they have smeared around their eyes irritates him as well. It makes them look like someone hit them, and John has no patience for their fraudulent bruises, not after the injuries inflicted on his team.
John stands, reaching for Halling's arm. The other man jerks away from him, ducking his head down further. The response reminds John of Rodney, back in that cell, moving away from John like he was a threat. It hits John like a kick to the stomach, like a fist to his mouth, his teeth aching in sense memory.
Around the table, the rest of the Athosians have stopped eating, staring down hard at their plates, their hands folded in their laps. John rubs his hand over his mouth, tasting bile in the back of his throat, stepping away from the table. He says, more to hear himself speak than anything else, "Fine. I'll stick with the beef, then."
There's no response. At this point, John hadn't honestly been expecting one. He makes himself turn his back, walking away, freezing again when Teyla steps into the room, flanked by two men. She's got her head down, wearing black. There is black make-up around her eyes, smudged over the bruises on her cheeks and brow.
She walks past John without looking up at him, smelling like burnt wood, the loss of her hair making the weight she lost even more obvious. She looks gaunt and thin, fragile, and John wants to take her out of here, put her somewhere safe and not let anyone else see her like this.
Instead he shakes his head, wiping his mouth again, his lower lip still aching, his fists clenching up before he turns and walks out of the mess hall. He kind of wonders what they're even doing eating here so late, but figures that maybe it has something to do with there being almost no one else in the room.
The corridors are empty and silent, so John stomps his feet just to get some noise. He doesn't like the quiet, but he doesn't like noise either, and he half thinks that he just can't be pleased anymore. He reaches out, pounding his fist against the wall with each step, setting up a pattern to distract his mind.
John's legs carry him past Ronon's room, his little dot on the LSD safely inside. John pats the door, mumbling, "Safe, safe," under his breath before turning and walking away. It's become more than habit by this point, almost ritual. Like he can keep them all safe and protected by walking past, by touching their door, by whispering prayers to Atlantis.
John walks quickly back through the halls, tapping his fist against the wall, kicking the wall in the transporter over and over and over again. By the time he gets to the level of Rodney's lab, he's itching under his skin. He hurries down the hall, leaning his shoulder against the door outside Rodney's lab, watching his light move around.
Never once since John started this ritual has he seen Rodney be still. Never once has he seen Rodney go anywhere near his quarters. It worries John, because Rodney needs sleep, his body needs to heal and rest, and Rodney isn't giving it the chance.
John bites his bottom lip, considering his options. He hasn't spoken to any member of his team, not since they were released from the infirmary. There are too many words built up in the silence now, things that probably need to be said, but that he can't bear to even consider. He's worried that releasing the pressure now would just blow the entire thing up.
But someone has to do something, before Rodney just runs himself into the ground. John draws his shoulders back, gritting his teeth and waving the door open even as the bottom drops out of his stomach. He feels like he's stepping up to his execution, going into the room.
The lab is so familiar it hurts, whiteboards covered in Rodney's handwriting set up everywhere, most of the computers asleep. The lights are painfully bright, no shadows in any of the corners, and Rodney has pulled his workstation around, put his back against the wall and given himself a clear view of the door.
When John steps into the room, he finds himself looking right at Rodney, who frowns at him, and then snaps, "In or out, Sheppard."
John hesitates for a half-second, before moving into the room, the doors sliding closed behind him. He walks to the work station beside Rodney's, keeping the desks between them, leaning a hip against the smooth metal and shoving his hands into his pockets.
Rodney, who has dark circles under his blood shot eyes, who looks pale as snow, goes on in the same sharp tone, "Yes, what is it? I'm very busy here." And his fingers are flying over the keyboard, though John wonders how he's even concentrating on the amount of sleep he's had.
John almost, almost, asks how Rodney is. But there's no way he can make himself do that, not even knowing someone has to ask, not even knowing it should be him. Because he's terrified that Rodney would tell him the truth, and he's not sure he can handle that.
Instead, John shrugs, "You know, just figured I'd see if you had any new toys to play with."
The look Rodney gives him is completely disgusted, the emotion seeping through into his voice, "I don't have time for games. Some of us have people counting on us." John feels his heart lurch, Rodney still looking at him, blue eyes going wide and surprised before he looks away. Nausea rips through John's gut, and for a moment he thinks he's going to be sick, before Rodney says, brisk, "But since you're here anyway, I might as well show you what I found the other day. I think it's some kind of transporter beam for the Jumpers. Here, I pulled it up on there for you." Rodney is motioning to a computer two stations down, presently blinking to life.
John still feels sick, guilty and horrible, but he makes himself step over to it, sit down and bring up the schematics. They don't all make sense to him, but he can see how they might work. He scrolls through the information, slouching down in the chair and looking at Rodney out of the corner of his eye. Rodney is focused back on his computer now, expression exhausted and pained. John wonders if Rodney realizes he's wincing.
John opens his mouth and discovers he can't be the one to tell him. He says, instead, "It looks more like a tractor beam emitter to me."
Rodney looks startled, blinking at John owlishly, like maybe he'd already forgotten John was there. It doesn't last, irritation covering the confusion. He says, "Yes, well, that's why you get to fly things around and I get to build them."
When Rodney's stomach starts rumbling, he's surprised that John is still in the room. John has one elbow braced beside the keyboard, his expression glazed, his eyes half-lidded. Rodney looks at him, head tilting to the side, dissecting the other man's appearance the same way he would a math problem.
John looks bad. His bottom lip is still red, chapped, and Rodney's knuckles ache just looking at it. His stubble, barely in control at the best of times, is dangerously close to a beard now, the black shot through with white. There are dark bruises under his eyes, his hair lying almost flat on his head.
Rodney feels another rush of relief, almost dizzy with it, that John is okay. Because the way John's sprawled in the chair shows nothing in his posture that screams of pain or healing wounds. The gratitude that one of them made it out okay, that it wasn't all for nothing, almost overrides the swift bitter anger that keeps swimming up when Rodney doesn't expect it.
He doesn't blame John, necessarily. No more than he blames everyone else. No more than he blames himself.
Rodney rubs his hands over his face, a headache pounding in his temples, pain twisting down his spine. He keeps his eyes open, because he doesn't like what he sees behind his eyelids. When he looks up, John is still staring blankly at his screen saver, and some light is creeping in through the high windows.
Rodney stands slowly, his body hurting more than it had when he sat down, stiff and aching, sharp flares of pain from his wrists, ankles, stomach. He has to brace a hand on the desk, breathing raggedly through the blinding agony until it passes.
It doesn't go away, but it does dim, enough for Rodney to make himself think. He hates how hard it's getting to marshal his thoughts, to keep himself thinking clearly. The concentration required is a little scary and a lot frustrating.
Rodney says, to distract himself, "Sheppard, wake up."
John startles, blinking rapidly and jerking to his feet before finally focusing on Rodney. For a moment his expression is wide open, fearful and nervous, focusing on Rodney with startling intensity. John takes a half step towards Rodney, eyes dragging up and down Rodney's body, voice sharp, "Are you okay?"
And then John shakes himself, drawing up short, opening his mouth and then closing it before looking to the side. Rodney shifts uncomfortably, looking down at the floor, away from the naked emotion in John's expression.
It takes Rodney a moment to make his throat work, "I was going to get breakfast." It's not an invitation, not really. Especially because John tends to show up when the rest of them are eating anyway, though he never sits with them.
John nods, sharp and jerky, "Yeah," before motioning towards the door, "Me too." And Rodney frowns, crossing his arms over his chest and heading for the door, hearing John's footsteps behind him and wincing with each footfall, imaging hands reaching out to grab him. Within steps he has to stop, let John go past, grateful when the other man doesn't ask why.
John doesn't say a word when Rodney takes the long way to the mess hall, avoiding the transporters. That's a relief as well, because Rodney doesn't know how to explain that he can't be in one without hyperventilating, no matter how many times he tries in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep.
In the mess hall most of the tables are empty and abandoned. There is a family of Athosians in one of them, all shaved heads and black robes, and Rodney isn't sure what to make of that, so he just ignores it. Ronon is sitting at their usual table, and Rodney grabs food, the things that the Athosians had been eating, stumbling over to the other man.
John hesitates for a long moment before sitting down in a chair beside them, but not at their table. He looks tense and uncomfortable, and Rodney grabs one of the little sausage sandwiches, sitting it on the corner of the table where John can grab it if he wants.
No one speaks during the meal. Ronon doesn't even look up, cutting his food up into tiny pieces before he eats it. Rodney picks at his own food, nervous even after seeing the Athosians eating it, half sure that somehow they adapted the poison just for him.
He's in the middle of poking his eggs, suspicious and increasingly nervous, when Ronon sways in his seat. Rodney looks up, startled, heart leaping up into his throat, and watches Ronon's eyes flutter closed, the man slumping down and to the side.
Rodney jerks to his feet, sure now that they've been poisoned. He's moving to grab Ronon, drag him out of here, and god, there's nothing like the sharp thrill of panicked insistence in his mind that he should just run and leave Ronon behind. But he can't make himself do that, no matter if it's the smart thing to do or not.
John says, "Wait," and Rodney freezes, responding the tone of the order because things go better if he listens to orders. He doesn't move, holding his breath, feeling himself tremble, and John curses, "Wait, no, Rodney, it's okay. I didn't—he's just sleeping. That's all. He's okay."
Rodney just nods, ducking his head down, easing sideways, trying to make himself look small. Fear is running like fire through his veins, and he can feel himself gripping the edges of the table, easing down to his knees, ignoring the flare of pain from his right, because he thinks if they hit him, if they beat him down to the ground again he won't be able to get up anymore.
John curses again, his voice horrible and tight, "Rodney, no, no, buddy, please don't."
A shudder races through Rodney's body, not sure what they want from him, shaking his head back and forth. He hunches over, eyes focusing on Ronon's arm, hanging down towards the floor. For a moment anger cuts through the fear. He wonders if he could grab Ronon and tug him towards one of the doors before they get him.
And then there's a soft, familiar voice, "Good morning, Colonel Sheppard." Rodney blinks dazedly, looking sideways. Teyla is sitting beside him, her legs folded up under her body, her eyes dark shadows in her face. She continues, "Go away now."
For a moment nothing changes, and then John stands quickly enough to topple his chair over, the crash of it making Rodney jump. He sits there, shivering, until Teyla goes on, "Will you sit with me while I eat?" And then Rodney nods raggedly and pulls himself back into his chair.
Teyla just takes his tray, which is fine, because Rodney's appetite is completely gone. She eats slowly, eyes down, wearing gloves for some reason. Rodney puts his face in his hands, his heart still beating way too fast, trying not to hyperventilate, waiting for the burn of the adrenaline in his blood to fade. His body hurts, and he's not sure how much of that is phantom pain, how much is just from his injuries being aggravated.
There's silence over their table, heavy and thick. Rodney watches Ronon, slouched sideways, breathing slow and even. He doesn't look drugged. Just exhausted. Rodney wonders if maybe Ronon isn't sleeping at night either, if he's just worn completely out the way Rodney feels.
Teyla says, when the food is gone, "You are both welcome to join my people if you wish."
Rodney turns to look at her, blinking, feeling lightheaded around the headache drilling away at his temples. He shakes his head after a minute, exhaling heavily, "No." Because he doesn't want people looking at him, doesn't want to draw even more attention wandering around in black. And his hair is all going to be gone soon enough anyway, he sees no reason to rush it. He just wants everyone to forget about this, including himself, the faster the better.
Teyla just nods, folding her hands in her lap and staring at Ronon. There's a bruise over her right cheek, turning green and light yellow. Under her ear there are stitches, holding the soft skin there together. Rodney reaches for his own throat automatically, remembering teeth, biting and tearing, knives warm and wet with blood, struggling not to make a sound, not to even breathe, terrified that he'd jar them, that they'd kill him.
"Will you watch him?" Teyla's voice is soft, distant. Rodney nods automatically, not taking his eyes off Ronon. He thinks that, really, he should have thought of this sooner. In the infirmary, they'd slept in shifts, and it had been the only way Rodney could close his eyes without wanting to scream.
For a moment no one moves, and then Ronon snores, and Teyla says, "I will see you later," standing silently. Rodney nods again, not looking around to watch her leave, leaning back in his chair and trying to get something approximating comfortable. That's nothing but an exercise in futility, but he tries anyway.
When the mess hall fills up Rodney has to fight down the urge to leave. He keeps his eyes on Ronon, watching the other man as his pulse races, sweat sliding down his back, his heart running way too fast. People laugh and yell and talk around them, and Rodney holds onto the sides of the table, breathing fast and shallow.
By the time the breakfast rush is over, people trickling out, Rodney feels like he's been driven out of his head. He can't slow his pulse down and even blinking is hard. He feels sick, his legs bouncing up and down, nervous energy making it impossible for him to sit still.
Someone sets down a plate of food in front of him hours later and Rodney blinks slowly, turning his head to look up. John is already walking away, shoulders up around his ears, hands in fists by his sides. Rodney turns back to the egg salad sandwich in front of him, carefully pulling the wrapper open, eating slowly and carefully, relieved when some of the dizziness actually goes away.
Then the lunch rush comes in, and Rodney spends two hours going slowly insane again, voices blending together in his head, blurring out to something menacing. He feels worn down, more tired than he's ever been in his whole life. He just wants Ronon to wake up, so he can run away, so he can get out of here. Because he can't leave Ronon.
Rodney reviews wormhole theory in his head, constantly getting distracted, his mind skipping and jumping around. The frustration of not being able to think clearly makes everything worse than it already is. He keeps trying anyway, over and over and over to pass the time.
It's habit, a clutch he grabbed in that cell that he's not ready to let go of. He doesn't know if he'll ever be ready to, if his math is ever going to stop being tied so closely in his head with agony and trying so hard to just be somewhere else, someplace where they couldn't touch him, where he couldn't feel. It had never, ever, worked. But he'd tried over and over again.
John drops off another plate of food before the dinner rush. Rodney almost calls after him, but can't force the words through his throat. Instead he just eats, dreading the rush of people. It is every bit as bad as it was the last two times, and Rodney wonders why it doesn't ever get easier to deal with. Why none of it ever gets easier to deal with. It seems like it should.
Ronon doesn't stir until the sky is darkening into night. He wakes up quickly, jerking upright, his eyes wide and startled, blinking across at Rodney. Rodney just nods, and after a moment Ronon nods back. He still looks exhausted, worn thin, messed up, but Rodney thinks that maybe if he tilts his head to the side and squints the other man looks a little better.
Rodney leans forward slowly, folding his arms and resting his head carefully on them. There's a flare of pain from his wrists, where the skin is still a little raw. His eyes feel impossibly heavy, burning and itching when he closes them.
Sleep should be impossible, with the fear and the pain and everything else, but Rodney can feel himself being dragged under. Between one breath and the next, hearing Ronon picking through what food is left on the trays on their table, he falls into a sleep so deep that there aren't even dreams.
When Rodney finally wakes, feeling warm and heavy, there is an extra jacket over his shoulders and the sun is bright through the windows. Ronon is sitting across from him, and nods when Rodney blinks sleepily at him.
Ronon has never understood the psychologist, nor the fact that after some missions, visits with the man are requirements. He still doesn't.
Dietrich is soft, and he knows nothing of battle, of the fear of being hunted, the terror of being captured, or the scars both leave behind. The man does not even understand Atlantis. He's a transplant from Earth, years after Earth stopped being a factor in this place at all. He is not even pretty to look at, the way Heightmeyer had been.
Ronon goes anyway, because he was ordered to, and orders, the stability they represent, are all that he has left. He goes and stands, one forearm braced against the window, staring down at the waves below. The man is asking him questions, but Ronon just tunes them out. No one has ordered him yet to interact with Dietrich, and so Ronon does not.
The questions that he does catch are stupid, anyway. He wonders if anyone actually expects him to say how he feels. There are not words for how he feels. Any kind of adequate explanation would make the listener tear their ears off, anything to be able to stop having to hear it.
In any case, Ronon feels better this week, just a little bit. He thinks it's the sleeping. The first week had been hard, his mind and body refusing to turn off, no matter how much he ran, how many pushups he did, how much he prayed to the old gods of his childhood for relief.
It is easier to sleep around Rodney, because Ronon knows the other man will wake him if someone comes for them. Rodney knows, the way that Dietrich can't, the things that are in Ronon's head. In a way that makes Ronon nervous, because he doesn't want anyone to know, doesn't want anyone to have that piece of him, that ability to look at him and know what was done.
But Rodney doesn't talk about it. In fact, Rodney seems determined to pretend that none of it happened, and Ronon can appreciate that. He wants to do that himself, and thinks he's mostly managing. It's just that the anger builds if he doesn't constantly concentrate. If he doesn't run and exhaust his body, he just wants to hit something, someone, anyone.
Sometimes he wants to hit Rodney, who trusts him enough to sleep around him. Because for all the pretending the man does, when someone moves too fast or talks too loud, he reacts. Ronon has watched him freeze, lock up, multiple times. Ronon has seen him flinch and curl up when the situation is too much. Ronon thinks he could hurt Rodney, easily, and there is a part of him that wants to, that sees only opportunity to excise some of this horrible anger in his chest.
But he doesn't. Because trust is important, and something that Ronon knows he doesn't deserve to have, not after the things he's done, the things done to him. And that makes him angry too, though he doesn't know why.
When the hour is finally over, Dietrich offers Ronon his hand to shake. Ronon stares at it for a moment, wondering how easy it would be to break every bone, to make the man scream and beg. He doesn't try to find out, but he wonders.
Instead Ronon grunts, turning and walking out of the room without looking back. Sometimes he thinks that he's forgotten how to talk, that two months in that little box did what seven years of constant terror from the Wraith couldn't. Other times he just accepts that he has nothing to say, that his mind is empty when he looks for words.
Ronon is starting to think that it is a linguistic failing of his people, this inability to express what happened to him, because Dietrich certainly seems to think he should be able to.
Exhaustion is making Ronon think in circles. He pauses outside Dietrich's office, wracking his pounding head, and then stumbling forward. He finds Rodney in one of his labs. Ronon sinks down into a corner and pulls his legs up, pillowing his head on his knees and letting sleep reach up and take him as Rodney yells at one of his little workers.
Ronon wakes up breathing hard, a nightmare chasing him back into the waking world, to find the lab empty except for Rodney, still sitting in front of his computer. Ronon grunts, just to let the other man know that he's awake now, and Rodney turns to blink at him blurrily before curling up a little in his chair and just falling off to sleep there.
Ronon stares at the ceiling, and does not hit Rodney.
Teyla finds herself throwing up over the railing on one of the balconies for the fourth morning in a row, and leans back, sweat breaking out across her forehead, her stomach still roiling. The two women behind her are silent, standing with their heads down and their hands folded, waiting.
Teyla wants to tell herself that it is just something she ate, or perhaps a memory of her time in that cell thrashing around in her stomach. It would not be the first time that has happened, and she has seen it happen to the others, as well, she knows that she is not alone in the sickness that rises up sometimes.
But she is not an idiot, nor does she see any reason to lie to herself. There is no time for that, no room for it, not in this cold, empty place she has reached inside her own head. During her first pregnancy, the sickness had been a surprise, not striking in the morning as her people had always told her it would, but instead whenever she smelled the cinnamon bread the cooks in the mess hall sometimes made.
For the last four days they have made the cinnamon bread, hot and sticky with sugar, and Teyla has found herself ill at just the smell of it.
The salt air is bracing, and Teyla lingers out on the balcony longer than she should, watching the sky, thinking. It is not a decision that she feels should be easy, but she cannot deny that she knew what her course of action would be before she ever started thinking about it.
The two women with her accompany her to the infirmary, and Teyla is glad of their company and support even though they are silent. She does not want to do this alone, she wanted to do none of this alone, and they have supported her when she lacked the strength to support herself.
The infirmary smells of disinfectant and salt. Teyla takes a deep breath before stepping in, one hand coming up automatically to cover her stomach. She tries to feel life there, but it feels heavy and dead to her, cold and empty. She balls her hand up into a fist, feeling ill again, though there is no cinnamon bread here to upset her stomach.
Before Teyla is even a step into the room, Jennifer is there, waving the other doctors away and hovering just outside Teyla's space. She looks concerned, expression open and earnest, so very sweet and innocent that it makes Teyla hurt, deep in her chest.
She is glad that the other woman was not on that planet. She fears what the men there would have done to Jennifer, with her innocence and sweetness so plain for the whole world to see. Jennifer says, "Hey, what's going on? Do you want to go to one of the private rooms?"
Teyla looks down at her hand, fisted over her stomach, and finds that the words are not as hard to say as she thought they would be, "I believe I have been impregnated." The words feel almost excessively stilted, but they're the only way that Teyla can think about it in her head.
Jennifer's mouth drops open, her eyes going wide before she recovers herself. She says, "Oh," her jaw working a few more times before she turns, gesturing for Teyla to follow her, "Here, sit here, I just need to take a little blood, okay?"
Teyla pushes up onto the bed, rolling her sleeve up, unable to feel the fabric through her glove. The glove comes up nearly to her elbow, and she pulls it down just a little bit, flexing her hand to make the veins stand up, looking expectantly up at Jennifer. She already knows what the answer will be, deep in her chest, but she needs to make sure anyway.
The bite of the needle into her flesh is almost painless, because Jennifer is good at her chosen craft. Teyla watches her blood fill the little vial, dark red, the same as it ever was for all that it feels so different pumping through Teyla's body.
Jennifer pulls it out carefully, giving a tight little smile when she presses a cotton ball over the wound, "Just a minute and I'll run the test, okay?" And Teyla ends up with a piece of tape over the cotton ball, staring down at her knees as Jennifer heads over to her equipment.
When Jennifer comes back she looks deeply sad, and that is answer enough. The doctor stops at the end of Teyla's bed, her hands tucked into her robe, her voice soft, "You're pregnant. Do you—is the father—?" Jennifer trails off, making a face like she just bit her tongue.
Teyla slides off the table, pulling her sleeve back down. She feels cold inside, saying, "Thank you," and turning for the door. Jennifer says something, maybe trying to call her back, but there is a noise like the roar of the ocean in Teyla's ears, and she cannot make out the words.
The door opens before she reaches it, John Sheppard stepping in, focusing on her immediately, his expression tense and worried. He looks run ragged, the way he has since they came back, and for a moment she pities him, watching his mouth move, almost reading the words though she can't hear them.
Teyla says, "It is fine, Colonel," and steps around him, the two Athosian women following her, closing ranks behind her in case John attempts to follow her. He does not, and she is relieved, even though she has a feeling that only means he has stayed behind to try to figure out from Jennifer what is going on. Teyla believes that Jennifer, with her empathic soul and soft eyes, will almost certainly tell John at least the gist of Teyla's visit.
Still, Teyla does not rush. What she does with her body is of no concern of John Sheppard. It is of no concern to anyone but her, and she takes a surprisingly sharp, vicious thrill in that. It is hers and hers alone, no one to control her or torment her for a choice they do not approve of. It is hers, and no one can take that from her. The relief, the tingle under her skin, the lightheaded rush of emotion is almost frightening in its intensity.
She expects, slightly, to be sick with this decision. Her first child she had felt alive within her, his mind a slow, warm brush against her consciousness. He had been all she had left of her people, and they had been tied tightly together. There had been times when Teyla had been sure that she could feel the echo of his heartbeat against her skin, when she had been sure she was hearing him laugh with joy, even in her womb.
This child feels like a lead weight in her stomach, she knows through no fault of its own. Teyla does not know which of the bastards fathered it, she does not even want to consider, though she feels that it must have not been too long before their rescue, if the pregnancy was not detected during her initial examination.
It does not matter, in any case. Teyla cannot bear it to be in her anymore, regardless of its innocence, regardless of the silent beat of its heart. She cannot carry it. Even knowing that it has lived within her this long stirs fury and betrayal in her chest, that her body would harbor such life against her will.
When she reaches her people, they are silent, dressed in the robes of death, their eyes blackened. They do not look up, moving individually through the underworld, waiting for her to find her way back to the world of light and life.
Teyla walks among them carefully, picking her way to the medicine room, to the old women and men that sit there. They do not question her when she picks out the herbs she needs, nor do they question her when she boils the water and stews the leaves and roots.
The tea that she makes is bitter as blood in her mouth, sour and thick. Teyla coughs after the first drink, surprised by the way it makes her entire mouth taste bad. There is still most of the cup to get through, and she holds her breath, downing the rest in a long gulp.
In her stomach, the tea settles warm and heavy. Teyla sets the cup aside, rubbing her stomach, wondering how long she will bleed.
John showing up in Rodney's lab is not exactly a surprise. He's been doing that more and more frequently, stopping by and hovering around Rodney's desk. Most of the time John doesn't say much, if anything, and so Rodney allows it. He feels more comfortable, knowing a member of his team is in the room, even if it is John, even if some days he isn't sure how he feels about John, caught between anger and relief.
Rodney doesn't look up when John starts pacing in front of his work station, tracking John by the falls of his boots against the floor, the agitated sound of his breathing. The simulation Rodney's running hasn't worked right all day, and Rodney is expecting Ronon to be by any moment, to sleep in the corner.
Then John braces a hand on Rodney's desk beside his computer, and says, voice low and hushed, "Teyla was pregnant."
Rodney blinks, blinks again, then looks up into John's face. John looks stressed out, his lips pressed thin and tight together, his eyes gone almost brown. Rodney frowns, then says, "What?" because that doesn't make any sense to him at all.
John winces, hand coming up to tug on his hair, and that's a new little tic, "Those bastards—they—she was pregnant. But I think she, uh, terminated it. They must have—" And Rodney can't quite wrap his mind around the thought that they're talking about this, that all of a sudden they're admitting that there were people on that planet, in that complex, people that hurt them.
It becomes rapidly apparent that Rodney is not ready to deal with this yet.
Rodney feels the world tilt, but doesn't realize that it's because he slid out of his chair until his knees hit the floor. Rodney lurches forward, catching himself on one hand, his other grabbing at his chest, where his heart is pounding way too hard.
The floor under his hands is brown. Rodney knows that, but it looks white, so white it hurts to look at, splattered with perfect little drops of red blood. Rodney can feel blood running down his chin, his bottom lip split wide open, people pulling on his arms, trying to yank them out from under him, trying to force him down to the ground.
Rodney squeezes his eyes shut, trying to push past the feel of an elbow coming down on the back of his head, knocking him senseless. He coughs, choking on, "Stop!" the word barely making it out of his throat, feeling rough hands grabbing his thighs, trying to pull them out to the sides.
There's a spear of pain, right through his gut, mingling with the lightning bright agony in the back of his skull. Rodney chokes, not wanting to black out, because there's nothing worse than coming back to consciousness to his body being ripped open.
Someone grabs his shoulder, fingers digging into the muscle there, and Rodney yells. He doesn't think, there's no room for thought. The pressure on his arms and legs disappears, and he jerks up, reaching for the arm of the man grabbing his shoulder, pulling, twisting, bringing his other hand up.
There's a scream. All Rodney really knows is that it wasn't from his throat. He can see a blue shirt, glasses, and then he's got the man on his back, his hand around the man's neck. Rodney squeezes, bringing his fist down again, so angry he can't breathe around it.
John yells, voice sharp and rough, "Rodney! McKay! Stop!"
Rodney freezes with his arm pulled back, breathing raggedly, only now becoming aware of the pain in his hand, the man batting at him desperately. Zelenka is kicking around on his back, face turning red under the blood pouring out of his nose and from the cut above his eyebrow. The man's glasses are broken, his eyes huge and dazed.
Rodney twists to the side, gagging, the space behind his eyes going momentarily dark. The smell burns in his nose, and he pushes clumsily to his feet, needing to be gone, to just be somewhere that isn't here. He catches the corner of the desk with his hip, hard enough to hurt, and then he's free.
The door slides open for him and Rodney throws himself through, feeling his stomach clench again. He stumbles down the hall, shoving a man that runs into him away violently. He doesn't know where to go, where it might be safe, if he can't be in his labs.
Rodney doesn't even consider his quarters. They'd never exactly been welcoming before, and now he's terrified of the emptiness he'd find there, the clean walls too much like that cell for him to even comfortably think about. He doesn't want to be in them. He doesn't want to be anywhere near them.
Rodney trips over his feet, throwing himself into a transporter and going to his knees again, one hand holding onto the railing. He's grateful that the transporter is empty as his legs go out from under him, his head spinning.
The ceiling of the transporter is blue. Rodney stares up at it, heart in his throat, and then rolls sideways to throw up again, unable to stop himself. His body is shaking, and he pulls himself carefully up, lurching against the control panel and randomly selecting a destination.
By the time he manages to stumble out of the transporter he can't breathe, the pressure in his throat tight and terrible, his heart ricocheting from one side of his chest to the other. He throws himself out, barely managing to stay upright, stumbling forward on legs that feel like they're about to give.
He doesn't know what he's supposed to do, how to make his head quiet again. His knuckles burn.
Finding McKay isn't that hard for Ronon to do, once he hears what happened and decides he wants to. There are a limited number of places that will be empty enough for the other man to go to if he's intending to hide, and fewer that Ronon thinks Rodney could stand to be in for more than a few moments at a time.
Balconies had been the obvious choice to check first, because they were open, and mostly ignored. It still seems odd, that the people here barely seem aware of the beauty of their surroundings, but Ronon has always found that to his favor, and so he sees no reason to point it out.
Besides, the balconies are where Ronon goes when the pressure gets too bad, when he knows that he's going to hurt someone if he doesn't do something. He dislikes, in a way, that Rodney has copied him in this as well, because Ronon has only checked a half-dozen balconies when he finds the other man.
Rodney is standing to the side, his back to the ocean, his face tilted up to the sky. When Ronon steps out to join him, Rodney jerks his head down, his eyes wide, his mouth tight and thin. Rodney has his arms crossed, the knuckles on his right hand red and split.
Ronon had wondered if the report he overheard from one of the Marine patrols passing under his hiding place had been true. They'd said that Doctor McKay had blown up in his lab, went completely bat-shit on some other doctor for making a little mistake. They'd said the other scientist had to be taken to the infirmary for stitches, and that McKay had run off after ordering that no one was to even think about following him.
For a long moment Rodney just stares at Ronon, and then he tilts his chin up, just a little, his voice flat and hollow, "Did Sheppard send you?"
Ronon shakes his head, still looking at the other man's busted knuckles.
He wonders how it felt, to let go, to hurt someone. All the times that he's thought about it and resisted seem like such a waste. Pointless. Ignoring it, wrestling it down, doesn't make the urge to make someone bleed go away.
Rodney sighs then, shoulders dropping just a little. Ronon thinks that looks like relief. "Well, okay then. You can come out if you want." And Ronon raises his eyebrows, wondering why Rodney thinks Ronon wants or needs his permission, stepping out to lean against the railing beside the other man.
The sky is blue and wide open, so big that Ronon wishes he could fall up into it and just float there. There are no clouds, the only movement the great dark shapes of the huge water-birds circling on the thermals rising off the city.
After a long time Ronon looks down again, his neck aching from the angle, spots swimming across his vision from staring up into the painful brightness of the suns. Rodney's knuckles are still bloody, scabbing up, proof that he did what Ronon had been afraid to do.
It makes Ronon wonder if Rodney would be willing to do it again, because Ronon, as much as he needs to hurt someone, anyone, is terrified that his intent would be misunderstood with someone else. But Rodney understands his need to have someone there when he sleeps, understands that Ronon can't just eat whatever is set in front of him, understands close spaces and crowds. Rodney apparently understands anger.
Ronon shifts, palming the fighting stick he'd picked up from the sparring room on his way here, its grip smooth and warm against his skin. It's been a long time since he held one, and it feels just a little awkward when he reaches out to lay the tip of it against the back of Rodney's hand, right below the drying blood.
Rodney turns his hand, unfolding his arms and tracing a finger across the sanded wood. Ronon cannot read the other man's expression, something closed off and tight, before Rodney says, "Yeah. Yeah, let's do that. Right now." And the surety in his voice, the almost relief, makes Ronon exhale shakily. He had thought, dreaded, hoped, that Rodney would say 'no'.
Instead, they make their way back through the city, avoiding transporters and the well traveled corridors. One of the sparring rooms is empty, and Ronon watches Rodney wave his hand over the door control once they enter.
Ronon keeps expecting Rodney to say something, but the man is silent, picking up a pair of sticks and then pausing, looking at Ronon expectantly. Ronon nods, grabbing the mate to the stick he already has, adjusting his grip, taking a shallow breath, because his stomach feels oddly tense, and that's it.
The first strike of their sticks together echoes like a shot through the room, sending a jolt up Ronon's arms and across his shoulders. Rodney meets his gaze, blue eyes sharp and angry and Ronon sucks in another breath through his nose, letting go.
When he had first thought of this, Ronon had intended, somehow, to maintain something like control. He's not sure how he ever thought he was going to manage that. There's no room for control, or mercy, here. They're both attacking, defense almost utterly forgotten, and it is everything Ronon wanted.
Ronon ducks a wild blow from Rodney, sliding both of his sticks into one hand and swinging hard. He feels the impact with Rodney's cheek, the man's head snapping to the side, a sharp, hurt sound torn from Rodney's throat. Ronon waits for guilt, but feels only a kind of detached, empty joy.
And then Rodney is spitting blood at him, one of his sticks rapping across Ronon's knuckles while Ronon is distracted. Ronon growls, low in his chest, jerking back into the blood sport, no skill or technique here. There is just anger, desperately flooding out through this outlet.
Ronon steps quickly to the side, bringing a stick down across the back of Rodney's neck, the other man stumbling down to one knee even as his arm snaps up, grabbing Ronon's wrist and yanking. Ronon overbalances, Rodney shoving back to his feet, punching Ronon while still holding onto his stick, the blow setting off spots behind Ronon's eyes.
Ronon growls, backhanding Rodney, the other man's grip on his wrist going lax. Ronon hits him again, pressing the advantage, kicking Rodney's knee, driving a fist into the space below his ribs when he starts to go down, reaching for Rodney's neck and drawing his fist back again.
Rodney, bloody and dazed, manages to elbow Ronon across the face, hard enough that Ronon hears something in his nose crack. Ronon growls, driving another blow into the man's temple, dropping him to the ground and kicking him, sticks forgotten and abandoned.
Rodney jerks, coughing wetly, one hand splayed out across the ground, fingers leaving behind bloody stains. Ronon kicks him again, as hard as he can, Rodney grunting and lashing out, fingers closing around Ronon's ankle, his eyes wide and furious.
Ronon yanks his leg back, Rodney holding on stubbornly, and Ronon is growling, intending to stomp on the man's arm with his other foot when there's a flare of white hot agony in the back of his skull.
The room twists and jerks, settling with Ronon staring up at the ceiling, feeling wet heat sliding down the back of his skull. His ears are ringing and he shakes his head, pushes up onto his side and finds himself blinking up at the barrel of a gun.
Sheppard looks furious, his eyes wild, his grip on the gun white-knuckled. His lips are moving and after a moment the ringing goes away enough for Ronon to hear, "—one reason not to shoot you right now." Sheppard's voice is low and thick with anger, and Ronon just blinks at him, still breathing hard from the fight, tasting blood in his mouth, aching from the blows Rodney landed.
Rodney, who is pushing to his knees behind Sheppard, looking rather bloody himself, one arm wrapped around his ribs. Ronon stares at Rodney, and Sheppard takes a half-step forward, snarling, "You fucking son of a bitch."
Rodney is hunched over, one hand on his knee, dripping blood down to the floor. He manages to sound more irritated than anything, snapping, "Sheppard! What the hell is your problem?" And Ronon pushes to his own feet, watching Sheppard whip around, expression going flat and tight with disbelief.
"My problem? What, besides finding Ronon beating the shit out of you? Besides that?"
Rodney spits out a gob of blood, glaring at Sheppard, "Yeah, besides that. You know, that problem that keeps you bugging me in my labs all the time? Or fucking stalking Ronon and Teyla around the city like some kind of psycho? That's the problem I'm interested in."
Watching the fight go out of Sheppard is almost creepy, the way the gun goes down and his expression just breaks. The man says, "Rodney, I—" and that's all the farther he gets before Rodney is turning, shaking his head disgustedly and heading towards the locker room.
In the doorway Rodney pauses, not looking over his shoulder when he spits, "Or did you just get used to watching, you bastard?" Then he's through the door, and Sheppard is cursing under his breath, looking stricken when he sags towards the ground, sitting down heavily and covering his mouth with his hands, his shoulders jerking up.
Ronon leaves him there.
Rodney hurts, or will hurt, he's not sure at this point. Right now there's so much adrenaline in his veins that he's not really feeling anything, except angry. But the blood that's slicking down the side of his face, the pulse of heat against his ribs, that promises pain later.
Right now Rodney doesn't care. The locker room is empty, and he's glad, distantly. He stalks over to the showers, knocking the water on, bracing his hands against the wall and letting his head hang forward, just for a moment. There's blood all over his fingers, and he hisses, pulling them under the water and watching the drops swirl pink down the drain.
Sitting hurts, a sharp flare of agony from his knee that makes him hiss again through his teeth. He doesn't really remember how that happened, the fight with Ronon is nothing but a blur of disjointed images, slowly bringing pain with them.
Rodney curses, softly, easing his back against the wall, breathing fast and shallow around the rising pain. He lets his legs splay out, water pounding down on him, mixing with the sticky blood on the side of his head and making his shirt, jacket, and pants cling to his skin.
The water starts out hot, too hot, really, but between one blink and the next it is cold. Rodney tilts his head up, watching the drops fall, catching a few in his mouth and swallowing. He's shivering, his toes curled up in his boots, thinking that he should probably get out from under the water but managing absolutely no motivation to actually do it.
He likes how it feels, the same way he likes the sting of pain every time he flexes his fingers. He likes less the sharp jag of hurt when he breathes too deeply, or the ache in his jaw. But he doesn't really even mind those. He's had so much worse.
Rodney closes his eyes, letting the water run down over him, and when he opens them Teyla is sitting beside him. She's turned on the shower head beside his, sitting under the water, the black makeup around her eyes smearing down across her cheeks.
Rodney tilts his head to the side, watching her, the way the water follows the lines of her face before dripping down onto her black robes. She has her legs folded, her hands on her knees and after a moment Rodney grunts, shifting around to mirror her position, his wet pants clinging to his skin.
Teyla blinks, looking at him then, nodding. Rodney nods back, letting his head dip forward, water pounding against the back of his neck. There are splashing footsteps, and Rodney looks up to find Ronon standing over them.
For a moment the big man just watches them, and then he grunts, turning on the water on Teyla's other side and sinking down, mirroring their posture. Rodney wonders if he's as bloody as Ronon, and then figures he must be, because he's fairly certain he remembers most of the blows being directed from Ronon to him.
They sit in silence, and Rodney can think of nothing he wants to say. Besides, his mouth hurts, the blows leaving his jaw aching and stinging. After a long time Rodney's stomach rumbles, and he sighs, reaching up to turn the water off, pushing awkwardly to his feet.
His right leg has fallen asleep, and he curses, leaning heavily against the wall, exhaling shakily. After a moment Ronon turns his shower off, Teyla following suit a moment later. They're all soaking wet, and Rodney sighs, hesitating only a moment before pulling down the zipper on his jacket down.
Teyla and Ronon are the only people he can bring himself to trust at all, really, and even then shrugging his jacket off has his hands shaking. Rodney grits his teeth, throwing it into the hamper and turning his back to the others, pulling his soaking shirt off and over his head.
The skin over his ribs where Ronon kicked him is purpling up already, almost black where the edge of Ronon's boot must have hit. Rodney hisses, dragging his fingers across the bruise, shaking himself. Under that dark bruise there are paler, yellow-green ones, and he has to drag his gaze away from them, concentrating on kicking his shoes off.
Rodney wraps a towel around his waist before attempting to wrestle his pants down. His right knee is black and purple as well, and Rodney wonders if the bruise will drain down his leg. He shakes himself, still not looking up or around when he gathers the spare clothes from his locker, pulling them on carefully, wincing at the aches and protests of his body.
By the time he's done, Teyla and Ronon are both changed as well, staring at the ground. They're all shoeless, though Teyla is wearing black socks, and Rodney blinks at them, still not knowing what to say. Eventually he gets tired of trying to find words, crossing his arms and heading for the exit.
Finding John outside the door is something of a surprise.
John is leaning against the wall, one hand in his pocket, the other resting on the butt of his sidearm. He's scowling, glaring, even as Rodney watches, at a group of botanists walking down the hall. Rodney hesitates beside him for a moment, Ronon and Teyla stepping out behind him, nodding and then moving off.
Rodney clears his throat, "Look. About—earlier. I—" the words are all getting tangled together in Rodney's head, the ones that he can form getting stuck in his throat. John blinks, slow, like he's waking up from a deep sleep, turning his head to look at Rodney. John flinches then, like he's been struck.
Rodney finally blurts, "No one expects you to not be messed up, Sheppard," before turning on his heel and trying not to limp away. He doesn't particularly want to go to the infirmary, but he has a feeling that the cut on his temple is still bleeding, and blood doesn't go over particularly well when it drips on his computers, and they're expensive to replace.
Sam completely forgets that she has her weekly review with Dietrich until the man shows up in her doorway. He's wearing a sweater, has a laptop tucked under his arm, but is, thankfully, not smiling this time. Sam had decided almost immediately that nothing good ever came of her subordinates coming to her smiling.
There are about a dozen projects in need of her immediate attention, but it's not like she can send the man away when she set up the reviews, so she makes herself smile and waves him in. He opens his laptop when he's sitting down and Sam closes hers, leaning forward on her elbows and bracing for the worst before asking, "How are they doing?"
Dietrich makes a disappointed face at her, "I'm still uncomfortable speaking about my patients without their consent."
Sam resists the urge to reach up and pinch the bridge of her nose, "I've noted your protests, doctor. I'm not asking you to tell me what they tell you, just...give me some idea of their mental states. You do remember we're in the middle of a war? I need to know if—when—they'll be able to be my front line again."
Dietrich frowns some more, and Sam thinks that, really, the expression would be much more effective without the big bushy beard. She wonders, taking a sip of her coffee, if the beard is specifically designed to put people at ease. It's hard to feel threatened by someone that reminds her so viscerally of her grandfather.
The man finally sighs, "Honestly, I don't have very much to tell you in any case. They're not—" he waves a hand, settling back into his chair, taking his glasses off to clean them, "—exactly Chatty Cathys."
Sam raises her eyebrows, "Not even McKay?" not sure if she's surprised or not. As near as she's been able to tell, he still talks as much as he ever did, which is oddly reassuring given the way the rest of his team has gone completely silent.
"Oh, yes, he talks plenty. I get dissertations about the state of his labs and the caliber of the other scientists he is forced to work with. Our last visit he spent the entire hour explaining to me a modification to the Jumpers that he wants to start work on. He also makes sure to reassure me that he's positive I got my diploma from a Cracker-Jack box at least once a session." Dietrich sounds just a bit frustrated.
Sam sighs, "Aren't you supposed to, you know, direct the conversation?"
The look he shoots her could almost be described as dark, except for the grandpa-thing ruining it. He says, "That requires actual room for participation in the conversation on my part. Though, I must say, his teammates are no better. Mister Ronon Dex won't speak at all, and Colonel Sheppard varies from session to session, but never says a thing about the...mission."
"And Teyla?" Sam asks while looking down at her hands, her own demons rising briefly in her head before she pushes them back down. She knows, logically, that it's unfair to assume that it must have been worse for the sole female member of the team. Sometimes logic has nothing to do with anything.
Dietrich sighs, "She's very calm and polite. And I think that she knows more about my family and history than my wife does, at this point." He sounds faintly embarrassed, and Sam gives in to the urge to rub her temple, trying to ease the headache she can feel building there before it gets fully under way. She has a feeling that she's already too late.
"We do know that they remember, right?" And she hates to ask, because the question seems stupid, but she's had weirder things happen over the last ten years. It's way too much to ask, but for a half second she allows herself to hope that they all just magically forgot what was done to them.
Dietrich is, unfortunately, already shaking his head, "They know. It's just a matter of them cracking. It'll happen sooner or later."
And oddly, Sam does not find that in any way to be comforting.
Teyla is not used to being the first one in the mess hall in the morning. Usually Ronon is there first, sitting at their table against the wall, or Rodney is there gathering the food. But this morning, neither of them have arrived, and Teyla hesitates only a moment before moving towards the food line, the Athosian man and woman behind her following along.
There is more packaged food on the line than she remembers there previously being, and she wonders if they are just having trouble securing fresh food supplies, or if there is someone on the kitchen staff that understands. She does not know how anyone would, but she discounts nothing.
She is just getting bottled water for them when Samantha Carter steps into line beside her. The woman is fidgeting, reaching out to grab a piece of heiblon fruit, rubbing its skin against her shirt sleeve. Teyla nods at her, turning and walking towards their table.
When Carter follows her, Teyla is surprised.
Still, there is no sign of Ronon or Rodney yet, and so Teyla motions to one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table, sitting carefully. Carter hesitates for a moment, turning her fruit over and over before finally pulling out the chair and sitting down.
Teyla says, when the other woman does not speak, "Good morning," and carefully peels back the wrapper on her small packet of cereal. She does not understand why there is a bright orange cat on the top of the carton, and John's explanation had not helped her when she asked. She holds onto the pointlessness of the question, using it to keep her mind busy.
Carter looks up, her eyes startled, before she smiles awkwardly and says, "Yes, I suppose it is," and then takes a huge bite of her fruit. Teyla does not smile back, because she does not want to seem too friendly, intent in giving no sign that she wants any kind of company. She pours her milk, chocolate, watching the little golden flakes float in it.
Carter sighs, sets her fruit down with one huge bite taken out of it, and says, "So, how are you, ah, doing?" Teyla blinks at her, chewing her cereal, swallowing, wishing Rodney or Ronon would show up, because she is fairly certain Carter would leave if they did.
When after a moment it becomes obvious that the men are not going to appear through the doorways, Teyla swirls her spoon around, saying, "I am fine. You are well?" taking another bite quickly, wanting to be out of here.
"Good. I'm good, I mean. And, it's good that you're good. Fine." Carter takes a deep breath, staring down at her hands, where she has folded her fingers together. She sounds steadier when she continues, "Look, I just wanted to tell you, I know that...certain things...are hard to talk about. But you're not alone. If talking about it with Dietrich makes you uncomfortable in any way then just say the word."
Teyla sets her spoon down, feeling something cold clench tight in her stomach. She does not understand the fixation everyone seems to have with making her discuss the things done to her body. It is not their concern, not their business, and not something she wishes to share with them.
They weren't there, and Teyla has no interest in reliving it just for them. She has no interest in reliving it for anyone, certainly not in the name of their fraudulent healing. Carter is still staring at her hands, though, looking painfully earnest, and Teyla makes herself take a deep breath, really looking at the other woman.
"You are not alone either, Colonel Carter."
Carter looks up at her, then across the room, her expression twisting up as though she tastes something sour. Her body has gone very still, as though she is remembering something, and her voice is very tight, "That isn't—I know that."
Teyla watches her, wondering why she had not noticed before. She knows that she has no right to press this issue, no more than Carter had to ask her. But she cannot stop herself, "And was it hard for you to speak of, as well?"
When Carter looks at Teyla, her expression is very still, tight, restrained. Someone laughs loudly across the room and Carter flinches when Teyla does, a flash of recognition of shared pain that makes Teyla's chest icier than it had been. She feels selfish about her pain, does not want to share it with anyone more than who she must, with Rodney and Ronon who know, who were dragged down the same paths she was.
Carter shrugs, then, twisting one side of her mouth up, "It gets easier."
Teyla knows it to be a lie, can read the untruth in the tone of Carter's voice and the tight control the other woman is keeping over her expression. Teyla picks up her spoon again, though she believes that her cereal must be soggy by now, saying, "Perhaps when it is easy enough we will both talk about these hard things."
For a long moment Carter just stares at her, and then the woman nods, standing jerkily, grabbing her fruit almost absently when she turns to walk away. Teyla lets out a shaky breath when Carter exits the room, placing her hands flat on the table, pressing down until the shaking is unnoticeable.
The Athosian man sitting at the table beside her reaches over, taking Teyla's soggy cereal away and replacing it with a fresh, unopened container and another carton of milk. Teyla busies herself preparing the food, cutting a quick look up when Ronon sits down across from her. He grunts in greeting, grabbing for his food, hunching over it.
Rodney shows up a few minutes later, looking exhausted, still bruised from his sparring match with Ronon. Two of his fingers are splinted together and he makes a face, grumping, "Seriously, all Frosted Flakes? You couldn't have gotten some Count Chocula? Or Smacks? This is why we're going to let me get the food from now on, okay?" And then, "Oh, hey, chocolate milk!"
Teyla watches the two men eat out of the corner of her eye, feeling some of the ice in her stomach ease. She is not ready to speak of what was done to her, but when she is, she knows who she will share the nightmares with. Because they already know.
When they stand to leave she catches Sheppard's gaze across the room, the man wincing when she looks at hm and dropping his gaze down to the table lightning quick. There is a sharp stab of sadness through her stomach, and then Rodney is shouting, "Sheppard, I need an extra set of hands with Jumper Two, hurry up."
The first thing John's team is required to do is attend the yearly banquet with their trading partners from MM9-90M. John doesn't even realize it's due until Jatthais and his court come through the 'gate, already a little drunk by the way they're moving. And then the streamers and white table clothes in the mess hall all make a lot more sense.
John tells himself all day long that it's stupid to be nervous about it, because they've been trading with Jatthais for three years now. The man and his people have never been anything but friendly and accommodating in their dealings with Atlantis. It would make John feel better if he wasn't aware that part of the reason Jatthais had been so friendly over the years was because the man was intent on making Teyla wife number four. Every other year she'd been tolerant and apparently flattered by his increasingly lavish attempts to win her favor, but John has a sour feeling that it really won't go over so well this time.
By the time he catches Ronon and Rodney in one of Rodney's labs, playing rock-paper-scissors, John is already dreading the evening. He hesitates in the doorway, watching them, wincing when Rodney loses, wondering why Rodney would choose scissors when everyone knew Ronon always chose rock.
Rodney rubs a hand up over his face, "Okay, fine, I'll do it. It just means I get to eat first anyway," and John steps back out of the room before they see him, frowning. Because, right, a banquet means lots of specially cooked dishes, and no chance for his team to snag unopened food.
The night is just looking worse and worse, and John grits his teeth, stomping off to the kitchens.
In the end, the banquet isn't nearly as horrible as John had been anticipating. Apparently whoever had designed the seating chart hadn't been a complete idiot, and his team gets sat towards the back, right near an exit, and mercifully far away from the tables of honor.
John arrives first, scoping out the seats and pulling the table just a little farther away from everyone else. He barely has time to set out the wrapped meals he confiscated earlier from the mess, but it's worth it for the way Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon just sort of pause when he reaches the table, staring down at the food before blinking up at John.
John just shrugs, sitting down, scooting his chair away from the others, unwrapping his own meal because it doesn't seem right to eat the other food when his team is eating this. Other people are coming into the room now, the guests of honor entering with fanfare and cheers.
Rodney winces, ducking his shoulders and slumping down into his chair. For a half second John thinks that the other man is just going to slide under the table, but then Rodney catches himself, though he's managed to nearly curl up in a ball in the chair.
John takes a moment to hate every single person in the mess hall, especially the bastard blowing away on his trumpet. By the time the music stops, the rest of his team looks pale and drawn, and John braces both of his elbows on the table, clenching his hands together against the urge to reach for the gun that he snuck in, because fuck it if he was coming unprepared
They'd liked music, in that place. And they'd made it beautifully; sweet and perfect notes that fell into place one after another after another. John still hears it in his nightmares, the happy, catchy rhythms, marred by the screams that he can't chase out of his head no matter how hard he tries.
John stabs his food, because he can't stab anything else. He doesn't look up through his meal, barely hearing the soft hum of conversation around the rest of the room, the click of utensils against plates from his own table. None of his team speaks. He is not surprised.
By the time everyone else is having their dessert plates cleared away, John is ready to bolt, to take his team out of here. He pushes his chair back as quietly as he can, leaning forward to grit out, "Come on," praying that they'll listen to him, though he knows he's given them absolutely no reason to.
For a moment they don't move, and then Rodney is pushing his chair back, rising with his shoulders still slumping over, Teyla and her Athosian guards following, Ronon last. John is holding his breath, not daring to relax yet, heading towards the nearest exit as quickly as he can, needing to get out of here before the music comes back.
He's too slow. There's the sweet whistle of the flute, followed by the base beat of drums and John curses, stepping to the side and waving his team by, ignoring the way Teyla has her eyes squeezed shut, the way Rodney is reaching up to cover his ears before pulling his hands away, over and over again.
When someone shouts, happiness evident in their voice, "Dance!" John doesn't even have the breath to curse. Ronon goes sideways, almost swaying into a wall, and Teyla wraps both arms around her waist. For just a second John is sure she's going to be ill.
John wants to grab them all, to drag them out of here, but he knows that would just make it worse. Instead he can only hover, useless, always so fucking useless, as they manage to drag themselves out into the hall. John waves the door closed desperately, pacing in a tight circle as Rodney slumps down the nearest wall, hands over his ears, eyes squeezed closed.
Teyla is ill, then, one of her hands braced on the wall, the Athosians with her clustering closer, not talking or touching, just there. Ronon is stumbling around, shaking his head, and John curses, going after him, worried about where he might wander off to like this.
Getting Ronon back with the others is almost certainly an exercise in futility, because John can't touch him, can only talk to him, words that John can't even hear over the pounding of blood in his ears. He doesn't know what to do, and isn't that just the story of his fucking life.
And that's when a familiar voice says, "My fair flower! What ails you, darling?"
John spins around, eyes going wide, watching Jatthais come sweeping down the hall. The man has his gaze locked on Teyla, concern drenching his expression, and John knows that it just doesn't matter. He jerks forward, as Jatthais is continuing, "I wondered why you were not at the dance, my darling, let me—"
When Ronon shoves past, he forces John against the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of John's chest. John curses, watching Teyla curl up into a ball, Jatthais reaching for her. He doesn't touch her before Ronon is there, grabbing the man's arm and jerking it down hard over his knee.
John can hear the snap from where he is, right before Jatthais' screams override it. By then Ronon already has the man on the ground, one hand wrapped around Jatthais' throat, his other still squeezing the man's broken arm.
Jatthais stops screaming after a moment, his face turning purple, and John has a feeling that he should be doing something, anything here. The doors to the mess hall burst open, worried people flooding out into the hall and John snaps, "Ronon, enough!" praying that it actually works.
He's surprised when it does, when Ronon shakes the man one last time before jerking to his feet. Jatthais curls up on his side, sobbing, his fingers turning red and swelling up. John swallows hard, leaning against the wall, watching the Athosians gently but quickly hustle Teyla away, looking at Rodney still on the floor, rocking now, Ronon breathing hard and fast, eyes on fire.
Carter pushes her way out into the hall, takes in the scene, and then snaps, "Someone get Keller out here. And someone for Jatthais, too."
Dietrich says, "And do you know why you reacted so strongly to the music?"
Teyla blinks at him, tilting her head to the side. She'd been briefly distracted, trying to think of something nice to say about the pictures he had shown her of a grand-niece's dance recital. Teyla does not understand the purpose of dressing up children to make them dance. She had planned to spend the rest of their session getting him to explain it to her. The change of subject is a surprise, she says, "Excuse me?"
The man folds his hands on his desk, smiling at her in what she is sure is supposed to be a friendly way. It makes her nervous, and she balls her hands into fists, getting out of her chair and moving to stand behind it, just in case. He says, "The music at the party the other night. Do you know why you reacted the way you did to it?"
Teyla frowns, "I do not know what you mean. The food I ate did not agree with me. How old did you say your grand-niece was?"
Usually, that would be enough, but apparently not today. Dietrich sighs, leaning forward a little, "Miss Emmagan, I know you don't want to believe me, but talking about what happened to you will help." He is looking at her from behind his glasses and Teyla winces, remembering the press of cold glass, sharp edges where they had no right being.
She has to work to keep her voice steady, "Your ways are not the ways of my people."
Dietrich reaches up to pull at his beard, "And is the meditation helping, then? Have the nightmares diminished?" He sounds honestly curious, and Teyla stares at him, her fingers digging into the back of the chair. She concentrates on breathing deep, down into her stomach, on keeping her heart rate slow.
"These things take time," though honestly, Teyla does not know how she will ever be better, how she will be who she was before. She can no longer remember what it was like to walk down a corridor without fear, to look at a man without dread, to sleep without nightmares.
"That's very true, but, Miss Emmagan, if you had a field to plow, would you do it by hand and just accept the time it took, or would you accept the help that your neighbors offered you to make it go faster?"
Teyla stares at him, feeling something harden in her chest, her voice sounding foreign to her own ears, "You are not my neighbor." She knocks the chair over, satisfied with the bang it makes, somewhere deep inside, "Do not ever believe that you are."
Dietrich looks stricken, eyes wide, "Miss Emmagan—"
Teyla turns, heading for the door, her shoulders tense and her stomach tight as a rock, "I am saying the word. I do not know when I will be ready to speak of the things that were done to me, but I do know that I will not be comfortable speaking of them with you."
He is still calling for her when she steps out of the room. She takes a deep breath, feeling shivery, and oddly relieved. Movement to her right makes her startle, and she turns to find Ronon, pushing away from the wall, nodding at her.
Ronon has not been very far away from her since the banquet, shadowing her steps on silent feet, always hovering in doorways or corners when she looks up. He does not try to speak to her, or to those members of her people that stay beside her. He is just there, arms crossed, expression hard and flat.
Teyla wonders if she should perhaps feel angry about his presumption that she needs protection, if that is what his purpose is. In that place, in those cells, she doubts he did any better defending himself than she did. They are neither of them suitable to offer another any kind of comfort or safety.
But she feels, not better, knowing he is there, but, perhaps, less alone. He understands, in a way that even her people can not, no matter how earnestly they try. She would not wish the understanding upon them, the experiences that would give them the same cold knot of fear in their stomach that she cannot rid herself of no matter how much she tries.
Teyla nods back, the two Athosians standing against the far wall stepping away to flank her.
She is not ready to speak of what was done to her yet. She does not know that she ever will be, or that it will serve any purpose if she ever decides to take that step. But if the time comes, there are but two people she can imagine sharing the words with, because they are, she thinks, the only two that would understand the full extent of the emotion and loss.
But for now, she keeps the words in her chest, waiting for time to numb her to them enough to be able to give them voice.
Three months is very nearly the longest John can remember his team being benched. He doesn't count the six months they spent on Earth, or the six months he spent communing with the birds and butterflies. He feels, alternately, stir crazy or relieved that they haven't been put back on active duty.
He knows he's fine. His injuries, what few there were, had been healed with a few nights sleep and regular meals. But the rest of his team is not. John has a sick, cold feeling that maybe they won't ever be. It's not that he blames them for it, can't blame them for needing time to heal, but he worries that they've gone too long without getting back out there. Almost as much as he worries about them walking through the 'gate and not being prepared for what's on the other side.
John brings it up to Dietrich, as much as he hates talking to the shrink. The man won't tell John anything about his teammates, any progress they've made, and John chooses to take that as confirmation that they haven't been making any. It doesn't seem like they have.
When John mentions going back out himself, with another team, Dietrich looks at him hard for a long moment, until John feels like squirming. He's fine. He's been fine, and sitting here, having to watch his team suffer hour after hour, day after day, week after week, is something he's already had far too much experience dealing with. He doesn't want to have to do it anymore.
Dietrich shuffles the papers on the desk in front of him without looking down, saying after a moment in his patient voice, "I have a report that you sent a Lieutenant Mrartz to the infirmary with a broken arm two days ago, Colonel."
John clenches his teeth together, shrugging, because it had only been a hairline fracture, nothing serious and certainly nothing that the little punk didn't deserve. John had seen the bastard brush against Rodney in the food line, and there had been absolutely no reason for that. The one thing Atlantis had in abundance was plenty of space.
The gesture had been threatening. John had handled it. But, looking across at Dietrich's blandly concerned expression, John has the sudden feeling that the other man wouldn't see it the same way. John sighs, "That means no, huh?"
Dietrich smiles, gently, "These things take time, Colonel. What did the Lieutenant do to deserve a broken arm?"
John leans back in his chair, and nearly jumps out of his skin when the radio in his ear buzzes to life. John snaps, "Be right there," after the request for his presence in the command room, nodding at Dietrich when he heads for the door.
By the time John makes it to the command room, Rodney is already there, standing along the back wall, his shoulders up by his ears. John meets Carter's eyes across the room and leans against the wall a few feet away from Rodney, watching the techs moving around the room for any sign of suspicious behavior.
When Larrin's voice comes over the speakers, John almost doesn't recognize it. She sounds angry and scared at the same time, giddy and worried. But it's more than the surprising emotion. He knew her in what felt like another life. It's hard to remember that time, to remember how to relate to her or anyone that hasn't been dragged kicking and screaming into this new world.
John wonders if that's why sometimes it seems like everyone outside of his team is speaking in tongues.
Larrin is saying, her voice dripping with pride and lazy, easy, charm, "I know I'm not really supposed to call you, but I thought you'd want to hear about this. We always do have such a good time when we team up, don't we, Sheppard?"
And all John can do is grit out, "Just get on with it." She laughs, but does.
It's been a long time since Rodney wore his field gear. It fits weird, just like everything else, slightly too big. But after a few hours the vest just feels good, and the thigh holster feels better. Rodney drops his hand to it between pulling off miracles, the metal of the gun cool under his fingers, soothing, solid.
When, in the end, the shields almost come down as they bomb the hell out of a Hive-world, and one of the ship's officers leans over Rodney to pound desperately at the controls, Rodney grips the gun until his knuckles go white, breathing hard and fast.
They live, through some twist of sheer dumb luck. They win through a miracle he creates, the tractor beam he manages to latch onto the moon working just enough with the slingshot maneuver of the ships to slam the satellite down into the planet. They lose two ships in that final, desperate, gamble, but Rodney is too busy trying not to shoot someone to feel either joy about winning or sadness over the lives snuffed out.
Half the circuitry in the engines is fried, and Rodney makes himself release his gun, reaching for the blackened computers to distract himself. His hands aren't shaking, and the relief of that makes him bite the insides of his cheeks, staring down at his dirty, steady hands.
Someone behind him laughs, patting him on the shoulder, and Rodney flinches to the side, not looking up, focusing on the broken systems. It's the only way to keep his hands steady, to keep his stomach settled, and he throws all he has into it.
Which is probably why he misses the first several hails to his radio. It's not until Colonel Ellis snaps, "Doctor McKay, are you there?" that he blinks and shifts away from the computer systems, raising a hand carefully to his forehead, the dull ache between his eyes.
Rodney remembers to click his radio on after a moment, "Yes, excuse me, I was only trying to keep your ship from blowing up, what's so important?"
Ellis makes an impatient sound over the radio, sharp and irritated, and Rodney bites his bottom lip hard, gripping the butt of his gun. The man says, "We've got repairs here under control, Doctor. Our...allies...on the other hand, are considerably less well off. They say they've got an engine core threatening to overload and are requesting some aid."
For a half-second Rodney is frozen in the face of two powerfully conflicting impulses. Going over there is a nightmare. The Apollo is almost like home. It's familiar enough anyway for him to know. For him to understand. The other ship is alien and he has no idea what kind of people they are. But they need help, and Rodney knows damn well that he can fix the problem faster than anyone else. It doesn't matter what it is.
Rodney swallows hard, fighting down the useless panic in his chest, forcing out around the pressure in his throat, "Just let me grab Colonel Sheppard and—"
"Colonel Sheppard is in the infirmary. Look, McKay, I don't have time to play—"
On the upside, Ellis will not be on the other ship. Rodney holds on to his irritation, because it, at least, blots out some of the pressure from the fear. He snaps, feeling reckless and disproportionately angry, "Fine. Do it. Oh, and you're welcome for saving your ass. Again."
Rodney isn't sure if Ellis heard it all or not, because the transporter beam activates halfway through his sentence, wrapping him up and shuffling him across space. Rodney only realizes when he finds himself staring into dirty, greasy, unfamiliar faces, that this is a really bad idea. He swallows audibly, fingers curling around the butt of his gun in absent comfort when he makes himself tilt his chin up and order, "Alright, show me what you idiots have managed to fuck up."
The nurse is just finishing wrapping John's left hand, the burns on his palms making him hiss at the pressure even with the numbing agents she applied to it. He still doesn't know what possessed him to pat the hull of his 302. He has a feeling that he'll never hear the end of it, though.
The woman flashes John a harried smile before moving on to the next patient, and John flexes his fingers experimentally. The stretch pulls a little uncomfortably across his palm, but there's no real pain. He wonders how hard it'll be to make Rodney believe that he sustained the injury in brief, unrecorded hand to hand combat with a Wraith. And then wonders why he thinks Rodney will even care.
John flinches at just the thought, hand fisting up, gritting his teeth because that hurts.
That's when Lorne charges into the room, the man looks tired and sweaty, with helmet hair. It takes Lorne all of a few seconds to focus on John, and then the man is heading towards him, expression tense and worried. John's stomach goes icy. He manages, "What—"
And then Lorne is talking over him, "Doctor McKay was beamed over to one of the other ships." John blinks, jerking down off the medical bed, Lorne going on with a tense set to his jaw, "For repairs. I thought you should know, sir."
John manages, "Thank you, Major," the words absent, more habit than anything. There's a helm officer sitting in one of the beds across the room and John shoves his way over, taking the man's radio out of his ear, his own damaged when he'd cursed and accidentally knocked the damn thing out trying to get his hand off the burning metal of his 302.
The officer protests, "Hey!" but John isn't listening, fitting the radio into his ear and flicking it on.
John snaps, angry and more afraid than he knows how to deal with, "I need to be beamed over to Doctor McKay's present location." And when Ellis starts to say something, John talks over him, voice gone low and quiet, "With all due respect, right the fuck now, sir."
When the beam surrounds him, John has a half second to be giddy with relief.
The other ship isn't as bad as it could be. It's crowded and dirty and smells like grease. It couldn't be much further from how those cells were, sterile and white and empty. John tells himself that's a good thing, ignoring the surprised expressions on the faces of the people closest to him, shouldering his way through the crowd because he can't stay still, yelling, "McKay! Where the fuck are you?"
Rodney pops his head up from across the room, standing ankle deep in a tangle of wires, one bundle thrown over his shoulder when he rises. He looks a little pale, his eyes too big and his mouth too thin, but at least he isn't curled up in a corner somewhere.
John curses with relief, shoving people out of his way, making his way over to Rodney as the other man says, "I thought you were in the infirmary. They said you were in the infirmary." He sounds suspicious and accusing and John raises his bandaged hand in explanation. Rodney says, "Oh," and then, cutting his eyes towards the ground, voice going strangely flat, "Everything okay?"
John nods, realizes Rodney isn't looking at him, and says, "Yeah. You? You're okay?" John looks at the mess of greasy parts and sparking wires and decides that it looks like an accident waiting to happen. He dislikes Rodney standing in the middle of it.
"I wish people would stop asking me that," Rodney sounds pissed off, and John looks at him, finds Rodney yanking viciously on the wires he's standing in, expression stormy and closed off. "I'm fine. I don't need your concern."
John grits his teeth, his stomach clenching, says, "Sorry," even though he isn't. Not for asking. For about a billion other sins, yes, but not for asking. Rodney makes a dismissive sound, waving a hand and then returning to his work.
John stands, hovering beside him, unable to walk away or turn his back. His chest feels oddly tight, watching Rodney work, hearing him talk distractedly to himself, both of them ignored in the larger rush of the busy ship after a battle.
There are no cameras here, not like on Atlantis, not like in the labs and the mess hall or the locker room, the only places Rodney goes. There are no nosy people, lingering around like vultures, waiting for the slightest smell of pain to tear his team apart. They are the most alone they've gotten, and John blinks, startled, his stomach twisting tight and sour.
His mouth isn't waiting for his brain to catch up with this new information. He hears himself, words like fire in his throat, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Something about his tone makes Rodney look up, the man's expression shocked, eyes wide and startled. Rodney shifts, crossing his arms, hunching his shoulders in just a little, staring at John like he's never seen him before and the words are just there, battering at the back of John's teeth, "I'm sorry that I couldn't—that I couldn't do anything. I'm sorry I couldn't kill them all. I'm so sorry that—"
Rodney is shaking his head now, scrambling at the wires on his shoulder, shoving them off and taking a stumbling step backwards. Rodney holds up a hand, like he's warding off a blow, just like that, his voice low and hoarse, "No. Stop it. Stop it," tripping over his own feet trying to get away.
John's heart feels like it's tearing in two in his chest. He gasps for a breath, trying to figure out how to make Rodney understand, "You don't have—I don't deserve to be forgiven, okay? I know that. I know. I just, I'm so sorry. I want you to know that if I could have—I wish it had been me instead."
Rodney's head jerks up, and the flare of anger across his features overwhelms everything else. He's on John in seconds, one hand fisted in John's shirt, shoving him back hard, the other throwing a punch so telegraphed that John could have avoided it without trying. He lets it happen, the blossom of pain across his jaw filling his mouth with blood.
Rodney is spitting, voice furious, "You fucking bastard. You fucking—you don't know anything." And then he's swinging again, enough force behind the blow to make John's ears ring, to tilt the world and slam John down to his knees and one hand.
John spits blood out onto the floor, and then Rodney is grabbing his hair, yanking him up off the floor just enough to punch him again. John's world blurs momentarily, and he deserves this, this and more. He knows it. He's sort of relieved that Rodney knows it too, that Rodney is yelling, "You son of a bitch!" and the next blow just doesn't land, Rodney's words trailing over into a wild shout of fear and anger.
There are two men pulling Rodney away, holding his arms, trying to get him on the floor. Rodney's expression is the kind of terror that John swore to himself no one would ever put there again. John growls, sub-vocal, pain forgotten, shoved away, shelved.
They'd taken his gun away from him back on that planet, but John has it now, perfect and comfortable in his grip. One of the men goes wide-eyed, mouth opening, voice a low even tone when he starts, "Hey, what—" and John puts a bullet through his throat.
Rodney jerks and kicks away from the other man, making a tight sound in the back of his throat. The man is scrambling to his buddy's side, hands over the bloody gaping wound, screaming for help. Rodney is gagging, and John is painfully aware of the crowd closing in around them.
John slaps his radio on, yelling, "I need transport for two right fucking now!" reaching down, grabbing Rodney's arm as around the room weapons are drawn and leveled on them. Rodney jerks against his hold, tearing free, but by then they're on the bridge of the Apollo, Rodney getting sick again, John pointing his side arm at Colonel Ellis.
For a moment there's absolute silence on the bridge, and then John takes a deep breath and carefully lowers his weapon. He clears his throat, trying to keep his voice even and calm, "There was a bit of a situation."
Ellis raises his eyebrows.
Rodney's hand hurts. The throb of pain across his knuckles, the way his index and middle fingers are splinted together, keeps distracting him, making him lose his concentration. He picks at the brace absently, running his fingers over the scabs, and Dietrich clears his throat.
That's the other man's tell that he's about to ask a question that Rodney won't want to answer. Rodney sometimes feels like he should let the other man know about it, but it's far too useful for Rodney right now. Instead Rodney pushes aside the distraction of his aching hand, trying to pick up where he left off, "And the air ventilation systems were completely clogged. It's no wonder those people seem half insane. They're probably not supplying their brains with nearly enough oxygen to function normally."
Dietrich sighs, Rodney doesn't look at him, turning his hand over and continuing, "I could have fixed it, but there wasn't time. Or supplies, probably. That ship was held together with spit and prayer, at my best guess. If any people in the Pegasus needed duct tape, it would be them. They could come up with brand new uses for it, I'm almost certain."
Rodney has spent very little time thinking about the ship since he left it. He doesn't want to. But Dietrich had wanted to talk about it when Rodney showed up for their mandated session, and Rodney does try to cooperate with his psychiatric professional.
He continues, absently, "The engines weren't fixed either, but we couldn't exactly stay to complete the repairs. I doubt they would have helped in the long run. Like I said, spit and prayer. Anything I did would have been a temporary solution at best. And when I say temporary I mean a few months, tops, before everything starts falling apart again."
Dietrich manages, when Rodney pauses to take a breath, "And how do you—"
Rodney talks over him, "I could have left them instructions, but no one ever listens to them anyway. Everyone thinks they know best, never mind that their teeny brains couldn't even comprehend the instructions unless I dumbed them down significantly, and so there's absolutely no reason for them to believe that they can rig up their own solution. And they wonder why their ship is going to pieces."
Rodney sighs, rubbing at his neck with his uninjured hand. He has a horrible headache, and grimaces, continuing, "And did I mention that I'm fairly sure I've got some mild carbon dioxide poisoning? Or, well, who knows what kind of mold was growing in there. This headache just won't go away."
"How much medication have you taken for it?" Dietrich sounds soft and calm, which Rodney is sure is his way of being sneaky.
Rodney scowls at him, "Honestly, if you thought I was suicidal then you'd have me under watch night and day. My brain is far too valuable to the program to risk me hanging myself in my lab. Are you even reading the right file over there? Maybe you have Sheppard's instead?"
"Have you taken anything at all for your headache, Doctor McKay?" and now he's scribbling something on his notebook, and Rodney feels his headache get a little bit worse.
Before Rodney can point out that he's taken quite a bit of Teyla's herbal tea, even taken the time to make it himself, the clock clicks over onto the end of their hour. Rodney forces a smile instead, standing and calling, "Next week, then, I assume?"
The first time John sees Rodney after the abysmal ending to the mission is when he walks into Carter's office.
Rodney is already there, sitting in one of the uncomfortable chairs, his feet planted on the ground, arms crossed belligerently over his chest. Rodney doesn't even look at John's face, just twists around, blinks at John's shoulder, and then stares forward again. John thinks that really, this is all a very bad sign.
Carter smiles tightly at John, her voice full of strained friendliness, "You're late, Sheppard."
John nods, leaning against the back of his chair, not wanting to risk a smile with the way his face feels. Rodney hadn't been pulling the punches, and John's right eye had swollen up nicely overnight, along with most of that side of his face. He had spent more time than he likes to think about in the bathroom, staring into the mirror and pushing on the bruises, swallowing each hiss of pain that threatened to escape his chest. He offers in explanation, "Had some supply orders to sign off on."
Rodney snorts, but doesn't say a word, doesn't even look John's way. Which is probably for the best, because John can't help but wince, digging his fingers into the back of the seat. He hadn't really thought that apologizing would make everything better. But he had hoped, anyway.
John shakes himself, "So what's going on?" because this meeting hadn't been planned. John figures best case is they decided that the last mission proved they were field ready again, even if he had gotten a bit trigger happy there towards the end. Not that the bastard hadn't had it coming.
What comes out of Carter's mouth is pretty much John's worst case, "When was the last time either of you were back Earth-side?"
John blinks at her, not wanting to believe they'd do that. Rodney is already snapping, "Don't you remember? My sister was kidnapped? Almost killed? Evil alien tech? Any of this ringing any bells for you? Excellent vacation all the way around."
Carter closes her eyes for a second, and John is just preparing to mention that as far as the evil alien tech went, his last trip had really been remarkably similar. Before he can, Carter is saying down to the desk, "It's been suggested that you two—your whole team, really—take some leave. The Daedalus is leaving at 0600 hours tomorrow. You're both going to be on it."
Rodney is already protesting, "I can't, I have far too much—"
And Carter talks over him, flattening one of her hands on her desk, "You will. Doctor McKay. Rodney. I know this isn't—for the record, I disagreed with this solution, but the IOA is expressing their concern and they want you both to get some rest. I managed to get them down to a week spent on Earth. Just. Take it. Don't argue or they'll probably extend it."
Rodney jerks to his feet, looking furious, clenching one hand into a fist, the other hanging bandaged at his side. John reaches up to brush his fingers across his cheek automatically, barely hearing Rodney, voice gone low and tight, "This is a mistake," before Rodney is turning and storming out of the room.
John sighs, watching him go, startling when Carter says, "Something you wanted to add, Colonel?" She looks tired when John looks up at her, her elbows on her desk, fingers folded together. John just shakes his head, exhausted himself. He turns and walks away.
John doesn't know what he's going to do, how he's supposed to deal with not being able to check on Ronon and Teyla. If he's not here, then there'll be no one to make sure they're alright, to guard their doors and it makes John's stomach sick and tight.
John had forgotten how hard pacing was on the Daedalus. The corridors just aren't designed for it, too narrow and with too much traffic, for him to really get into a good rhythm. Not that he has anywhere to pace to, here. John is just circling the ship purposelessly, moving because he needs some way to keep his mind distracted.
They've spent a week on ship, and he knows every rivet by heart, has left boot prints over every square inch of flooring. It's not helping. He's not sure that it ever was to begin with, but he doesn't know what else to do. He's officially on leave already, and the crew is at full muster, anyway. They don't need him.
So John paces laps around the ship, annoying the hell out of crewmen who actually have places to be and things to do. He tries to feel guilty, but there just isn't enough room for more guilt. He's filled up with regret and self recriminations and bumping into people in the halls doesn't even register on the scale he has to measure his sins on now.
He finds himself pacing in time with his worries, which is in complete opposition with his intent, but he can't seem to stop himself. There are just too many worries to push aside. Teyla and Ronon, abandoned on Atlantis, weigh heavily on his mind.
John had cornered Halling before he left, carefully explaining that he was going to be gone and that it would be great if the Athosians could all watch out for Teyla a little bit extra while he was away. The tall man hadn't said a word, of course, but John has to tell himself that his point got across.
There had really been no one that he could ask to take care of Ronon. Even the idea of it had seemed odd. Even after everything, the other man puts off so much strength that John doubts anyone would take him seriously. John had almost asked Keller, but Ronon seems even more uncomfortable around her than other people, so he hadn't.
Leaving Atlantis always sits badly with John. The city is more his home than any place on Earth has ever been, and she's carried them through so much. He feels, deep in his gut, that if they aren't all there, she could fall at any moment. He knows that's ridiculous and self centered. But that doesn't stop him from believing it, bone deep.
And then there's Rodney.
Rodney is, frustratingly, both the one person close enough for John to actually think about protecting, and the one that John has absolutely the least idea how to so much as speak to. He tracks Rodney around the ship, not hard with the other man having shouting fights several times a day, leaving behind anger, or, occasionally, tears.
It took John two days to decide that Rodney wasn't sleeping, again, and he doesn't know how to fix it now anymore than he did when Rodney wasn't sleeping back on Atlantis. There's no Ronon here for Rodney to trade watch duties with, and John wonders if back on Atlantis, Ronon is not sleeping either.
He hates, briefly and viciously, the people that decided it was a good idea to split his team up. They're all in pieces, but at least together they'd been able to fill in some of the gaping holes. Now John feels like he's watching Rodney bleed out, and he doesn't know what to do to stop it.
It's been a week. Rodney still isn't sleeping. John still has no idea what to do about it.
And that's before he finds Rodney standing in one of the hallways off the engine room, just staring at the far wall. Rodney is leaning his shoulders back against the wall, slouching to the right, his head leaning to the side, his eyes slitted open, dark circles like bruises beneath them.
Rodney is always pale, but now John is half sure there's a yellow-ish tint to the other man's skin. John tells himself it's just the lighting making Rodney's skin look paper dry, making him look sick. John is, in all honesty, getting pretty good at lying to himself.
Still. Some lies are impossible to swallow. Rodney looks rough, like he's about to fall over. John clears his throat, asking, "See something interesting?" as he walks closer.
Rodney blinks slowly at John's voice, the moment dragging before he finally manages to focus on John. He looks utterly exhausted, and John is surprised that Rodney hasn't managed to just fall asleep standing up. Rodney says, sounding accusing, scornful, "John."
"I'm really not that interesting." John waits for a snort of scorn, but Rodney just blinks at him. John frowns, leaning against the opposite wall, the space between them feeling miles wide, "When was the last time you slept, Rodney?"
Rodney shrugs with one shoulder, slurs, "I sleep."
John nods, not wanting to start an argument, tapping his foot. He should be able to do this. It's his fucking job to take care of his team, and he just keeps failing, over and over again. He takes a bracing breath, "Look, I know you don't trust me. That's—understandable. But you're going to pass out if you don't sleep soon. When you do, it can be with me there to watch out, or it can be with any of these other people. You get to choose."
Rodney narrows his eyes, for a moment his expression twists up with disgust before he yawns. There's still venom in his voice, but the obvious exhaustion beside it dulls the acid edge, "Well, you are good at watching, aren't you?"
John flinches, hissing, the fact that he deserves that not making the words burn any less. Rodney makes a harsh sound, almost a laugh, and John looks up in time to watch Rodney slide down to the floor. John jerks forward a step and Rodney snaps, "You stay over there and fucking watch. Just watch. That's what you do, you stupid bastard."
And then Rodney is pulling his knees up, wrapping his arms around them and letting his head sag forward. The position can't possibly be comfortable, but within minutes John can hear Rodney's breathing even out, his eyes closed, his mouth open and slack.
John rubs a hand over his mouth, exhaling shakily, and straightens up a little against the wall.
If this is all Rodney will let him do, if this is the only recompense he's allowed to pay, then he'll pay it. Gladly. John flicks the safety off his side arm, and keeps his eyes peeled, watching for ghosts, demons, and nightmares.
The nightmares even show up. Rodney wakes up yelling, eyes snapping open, and John kneels across from him, trying to keep his voice soothing and even. When Rodney finally looks up at him, his expression open and bleeding and afraid, it hurts more than it has any right to.
John looks away, unable to say a goddamn thing.
John must have done an alright job of guarding Rodney's dreams, because Rodney sleeps curled up near him the rest of the trip. It gets them weird looks, because Rodney still puts off sleep as long as he can, two or three days between the brief hours he sleeps, which means he might show up anywhere, hunch over into a ball, and just fall asleep.
John glares at anyone that looks their way twice. Rodney looks different when he sleeps. More like he used to. Less guarded. It scares the hell out of John, because he only realizes then, watching Rodney softly breathe, how much trust this really is that Rodney is giving him.
It makes the need to protect him, already focused down with the removal of Ronon and Teyla, even worse. John itches with the urge to lock Rodney in one of the empty crew quarters and just sit outside his door with a gun in his lap.
Instead, John sits in the mess hall, his back to the door, Rodney slumped forward over the table, snoring just a little bit. One of Rodney's arms has slipped off the table, is hanging down towards the floor, and John wants to pick it up, but touching is not part of the deal that they've settled on. He keeps his hands to himself and makes sure everyone else does as well.
Still, he is contemplating the potential for locking Rodney in one of the rooms under the mountain. He doubts that Rodney is going to want to go out shopping or eating. John figures there's at least a small chance he can convince the other man to hide out in a room where John can make sure no one comes near him, no one hurts him, no one even looks at him wrong.
The idea is almost dizzyingly relieving, and John doesn't like to think about that too long.
When the announcement comes over the ship-wide that they've reached Earth, it thankfully wakes Rodney, taking the worry about how to accomplish that out of John's hands. Rodney jerks into wakefulness, blinking rapidly, calming when he tugs on his jacket and looks across at John.
John nods back, trying to figure out how to bring up the idea of not leaving his room for the next week.
Ronon is losing his mind. He doesn't like the feeling, but doesn't know how to make it go away. He doesn't know how to halt the advance of the insanity, or to wrestle back the sanity that he has already lost. All the things that have worked for him in the past are failing him now.
Ronon runs until he is exhausted, until he can't breathe, and even then his mind is full and angry, thoughts and memories reaching up to drown him. He does more pushups than he can count, into the thousands before his concentration breaks, the past breathing hot down the back of his neck, making him gag and want to just curl up.
Sparing had worked briefly, when it had been Rodney. Ronon's mind had gone deliciously quiet when the other man had met him in the ring, nothing but the intention to leave each other bloody and broken beating through the air between them. It had been perfect and beautiful.
But the few times Ronon tries it again, now that Rodney has gone, do not work so well. Ronon can't do it, not with the children that offer to spar with him. They are so young. Green. Innocent. They dance around, like it's a game, and when Ronon accidentally opens one of their cheeks with a blow he threw too hard, the boy looks surprised and stricken.
Ronon can't fight them, not without worrying, and that destroys the whole point, ruins the relief it should be offering.
He finds himself following Teyla more and more, because she is all that there is left. She doesn't seem to mind, and when he falls asleep, exhausted, in her presence she is still there when he wakes up, sitting calmly with her hands folded in her lap.
Ronon wishes he knew how to thank her, but all he can do is stick close to her, offer her the dubious security of his protection. He feels the need to check on her more frequently now, in any case, knowing that Sheppard is no longer in the city to make his constant rounds.
Ronon knows that things went all to shit when they got separated in that place, and he cannot help but figure that the same thing will happen here, that they are doomed to history repeating, trapped in a cycle of horror and pain, monsters that he can't kill.
He has no idea what to do about it.
They assign Rodney and John quarters under the mountain. Rodney had spent ten minutes standing in the doorway of the room they had given him, staring at the metal walls and the tiny cot before he'd turned and walked away, ignoring the shudder up his spine.
That had been nearly twenty hours ago.
They hadn't given Rodney a lab, and his pass card has been disabled for any of the working rooms around the base. He spends an entire day walking up and down corridors he doesn't really see, scratching at his hands, rubbing at the back of his neck where there's a headache pounding away.
The trip on the Daedalus had been bad enough, all cramped spaces with way too many other people around. But at least there he'd been able to duck into an empty room and trace the circuitry through the walls. There he'd still been able to keep his mind busy. Here they have taken even that away from him. Rodney feels like he's going out of his mind.
Part of that might be the exhaustion. It's been weeks since he slept regularly, because John isn't Ronon and Rodney hasn't been able to just let himself rest since they left Atlantis. He considers going to find John now, curling up with one eye open and falling into the shallow, unsatisfying sleep that he's been subsisting on for the last three weeks.
Apparently he's not actually that tired yet, because he discards the idea. Instead he just keeps walking the corridors, up and down narrow stairs, under the harsh fluorescent lighting that is only making his headache worse, breathing the stale recycled air, dealing with the increasing noise as the base wakes up around him.
He misses the salt air of Atlantis, the ability to just step out on a balcony and look up into the vastness of space. He wants to see the stars, even if they'll be wrong and unfamiliar from this planet. It's better than looking up to find more of the same gray ceiling, always more of the same gray ceiling.
They had given him the keys to a rental car when he got here, as well. Even the card key to a hotel room in town, in case he'd wanted to spend the week watching Pay Per View, apparently. Rodney gropes around in his pocket to make sure he still has the car keys, because this close to the mountain he doubts he'll be able to see any stars at all.
He has to take an elevator to get out, and the damn thing is even worse than the transporters. Rodney covers one eye with his palm, trying to wish away the stabbing pain in his optic nerves, to blot out the bloody images behind his eyelid.
When the door finally opens, he stumbles out, managing to duck around someone trying to enter the elevator at the last second. There might be words called after him, but Rodney isn't listening, tripping his way forward, moving on autopilot.
Outside, the sky is gray-blue, staining pale orange along the horizon. Rodney breathes out heavily, his breath fogging up in the mountain air, hanging in front of his face for just a moment. The air is chilly, and he wraps his arms around himself, tilting his chin up, staring at the sky.
It's already too bright to make out any of the stars, the moon nothing but a sickle thin shadow off to the side. Rodney frowns, rubbing his arms and shifting back and forth. He doesn't want to go back under the crushing weight of the base. He doesn't particularly want to go to some unfamiliar hotel room, with only a weak metal lock between him and the rest of the world. He doesn't want to stand out here and freeze his ass off, either.
For a half second he considers going to find his old apartment. But it holds the same appeal that his room back on Atlantis does, that the room they assigned him here does. He doesn't want to be there. Trapped with the hollowness of his life.
Rodney wants to be distracted, to be annoyed, to be angry. Hell, he'd settle for being anything but cold and sick, the way he feels now. He almost goes to find John, because there was a time the other man had been good for providing an irritant, but lately John tiptoes around him. Just like everyone else.
Rodney wonders how Jeannie is.
There's no way she knows what happened to him. There's no reason for her to be anything but his pissed off little sister. Distracting and annoying. Rodney bites his bottom lip, bouncing the car keys in his hand and then closing his fingers around them, heading down to the parking lot.
The passport and documents provided by the military are stiff in his back pocket, and Rodney pulls them out, tossing them onto the passenger seat as he climbs into the little sedan that's been provided. Driving, if nothing else, gives him something to distract his mind with.
It works well. He leaves the radio off, winding the window down and letting his arm rest along the door. A tiny voice in the back of his head insists that he's being stupidly reckless, but Rodney ignores it. The cold wind against his face keeps him awake, the road noise filters through his mind like a low level hum, muting the racing of his thoughts down to something simple and controllable.
Stops for gas and at the border come and go in a blur, Rodney nodding his way through any conversations. His voice feels caught in the back of his throat, pressure building and building, water looking for the weak point in a dam. Rodney has no idea what the words are, but he can almost taste them.
He doesn't really care, because his mind stays silent.
The sun is just easing towards the far horizon when Rodney finds himself putting the car in park and popping the door open. The gas tank is almost on empty again, and Rodney blinks at it dazedly before pulling the keys out, dropping them on the seat, and getting out.
His back cracks, his legs tight from sitting for so long. Rodney barely notices, walking across Jeannie's lawn, blinking down at the little dead spots in the grass, bending to pick up the little purple Nerf ball that's lying abandoned by the porch.
When Rodney knocks, he's staring down at the toy, squeezing it over and over in his hand. He's not paying attention, and so it's a surprise when from the other side of the door Jeannie yells, "Meredith!" before she's yanking it open, repeating herself, staring at him with a completely surprised expression.
Rodney opens his mouth, pressure squeezing in his chest. He means to say that he came to see if she'd managed to get a real job yet. If she'd found a man in any way worthy of her intelligence to take up playing house with. Something, anything to make her mad.
What he says is, "I'm sorry."
Jeannie blinks at him, looking over his shoulder before frowning a little and saying, "Okay?" And then when he just stares at her, jaw clenched as tight as he can get it, because the words are all banging, banging away inside him now, and he doesn't want to be here anymore, "Why don't you come in and tell me what you're talking about?"
Rodney means to turn around and run for the car. He steps into her house, which smells like cooking and Windex. He can hear the television on in the background, Maddie's laughter mingling with the sound. Rodney stares at the floor, breathing way too fast, and Jeannie says, her voice weird and low, "Hey, Mer, you're scaring me a little bit here."
Rodney looks up at her, she's watching him, her brows drawn together, and Rodney blurts, "I'm sorry," because he didn't mean to worry her, and it's a mistake, because that's the last straw, his mouth won't close again. "I just drove here. They gave me a week of leave and I drove here."
Jeannie nods, one corner of her mouth lifting in a hopeful smile, "Were your minions threatening to rebel?"
And Rodney feels himself shaking his head, his hands jerking at his side, his mind trying desperately to shut his mouth up, "No. I'm bad, my head. My head is messed up. I'm not sleeping." Which is probably the explanation for him ever thinking this was a good idea.
Jeannie's smile is gone as quickly as it appeared, replaced with soft confusion as she twists her head over her shoulder, looking at the stairs, "Did you come to sleep on the day bed? Because, honestly, that's just kind of weird, even for you and—"
Rodney thinks they're having two different conversations, words tearing themselves out of his throat, "I can't sleep because the first time I fell asleep there they woke me up by shoving a gun into—into me. I didn't, I couldn't tell what it was. They wouldn't let me move my shoulders. I didn't know what it was until they pulled the hammer back and I heard—I thought they were going to shoot me."
The expression on Jeannie's face isn't one Rodney can read. Her eyes are huge, her mouth falling open. Rodney pushes his shoulders back against the wall, wrapping his arms around his chest, unable to stop the tangled knot unraveling inside his brain, "It would have been better if they did. But they wouldn't. They just—" he shudders, squeezing his eyes shut and panting, pain tearing his chest up, "—I bled. Oh, God. I couldn't get it to stop. It hurt so bad to move."
There are footsteps, too heavy to be Jeannie, a male voice saying, "Oh, your brother is here?"
And following like thunder to lightning, "Uncle Mer is here? Uncle Mer!"
Rodney shakes his head, raising one hand to crush his palm over his mouth, unable to shut himself up. The words just come out broken and ragged, "They didn't even take the gun out of me. They didn't take it out, Jeannie. I had to—I had to and the sight tore—tore—tore—"
Jeannie says, in what Rodney is sure is too calm a voice for the circumstances, "Take Maddie out of here," and after a split second, sharper, "Now, Kaleb!" The front door opens and closes, but Rodney can't make himself open his eyes, not even when Jeannie says, softer again, "What are you saying?"
Rodney laughs, jagged, too loud, "I don't know. I don't. It won't stop. No matter what I do. I can't make it stop. I couldn't make it stop. I would have done anything, but they wouldn't stop. No one cared and they wouldn't stop and I don't know what to do."
"Meredith, look at me," Jeannie sounds scared, so Rodney makes himself look at her. Her face has gone very pale, her mouth thin and tight. "Are you telling me someone," she tilts her entire head to the side, neck going tense, before she manages to continue, "Are you telling me someone raped you with a gun?"
"The gun was just for when they caught me sleeping." It didn't matter how he curled up. They were willing to force it down his throat, too, the slide catching and ripping against his skin, hard metal cracking against his teeth over and over again.
Jeannie raises a hand to her mouth, making a harsh sound before swallowing so loud Rodney hears her. Her voice is raw, "Oh, God, Mer, you're not kidding." And all Rodney can do is shake his head, because he wishes he was. "Have you—did you tell anyone about this? Tell me you told someone."
Rodney shrugs, his legs giving out on him, all the stress from driving finally catching up. He sinks down to her nice floor, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around his legs, "They know. They already know. They saw me. I couldn't get the blood or—I couldn't get anything off before they saw."
When Jeannie sinks down beside him, Rodney is a little surprised, but too numb to really think about it. Her hands are both balled up like fists, her voice very tight, "Can I touch you?"
Rodney blinks across at her, then nods wearily, because he doesn't see what difference it makes. He's not prepared for her to slide up beside him, warmth and softness all against his side, one of her arms curling behind his shoulders, her fingers curling around his arm, squeezing.
Rodney sighs, closing his eyes, letting his body lean into hers. She makes a sound almost like a cough, guiding his head down against her shoulder, petting at his hair. He can feel her mouth moving against his hair, her voice so sad that it hurts, "Why don't you tell me, okay? I don't know, so you can tell me, okay?"
So he does, the words tumbling out while she rocks him back and forth. Outside it's getting dark, and there's no light on in the hall. He doesn't mind, whispering secrets to her as she holds him closer, her voice gone hoarse the few times she prompts him, wet warmth streaking down through his hair from where she has her face pressed.
Rodney says, into the space between them, "I thought it was going to be okay. They're dead, they're all dead, but I can't—it's like they're not. No matter what I do. Like they're still alive in my head. Looking for me. I can't—"
Jeannie croons, voice pitched high and comforting, "It's okay, it's okay now. I promise." And she's the only one that knows, that knows just what Rodney knows, and so maybe it's alright to believe her. He wants to believe her, so badly it hurts.
Before he can ask her how she knows, though, before he can reassure himself that she might be on to something, the door bangs open with a crack. Rodney shouts, grabbing Jeannie and getting tangled when he tries to push to his feet, intending to drag her away, to shove her towards somewhere safe.
Moonlight illuminates the man that charges through the door, tense shoulders and the long line of an arm, glinting off the metal of a gun. Rodney swallows the scream in his throat, because screaming doesn't do any good anyway, and John Sheppard growls, "Get your fucking hands off him."
Jeannie shouts, "What the hell?"
And John is talking over her, stepping further into the house, gun level and steady, "Get away from him right now. Rodney, are you okay? I said let him go! Don't make me shoot you." There's an edge of complete wildness to John's voice that makes Rodney's stomach feel cold. Colder.
Rodney pushes awkwardly to his knees, disentangling himself from Jeannie and reaching for the barrel of John's gun. The press of cold metal against his fingertips makes him winces, makes his stomach turn over, but he pushes that aside, tugging on the gun and trying to get his voice somewhere in the same neighborhood as even, "Sheppard, it's okay. It's okay. She's not hurting me."
For a moment he doesn't think the other man is going to listen, but then John exhales shakily, his grip on his gun loosening. Rodney takes it from him, flicking on the safety and shoving into his waistband while Jeannie pulls herself up, groping around for the light switch.
The sudden flare of light hurts Rodney's eyes and he winces, squeezing his eyes shut, raising his hands to his face. John's voice is tense, shaky, "Someone want to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
Rodney is relieved when Jeannie answers, sounding calmer than Rodney knows he could manage, "Why don't we all go sit down? Talk about it without waving guns around, hm?" John makes a harsh sound that Rodney takes for acquiescence.
Pushing all the way to his feet gives Rodney a flash of vertigo that he pushes firmly away. He only then opens his eyes, not sure how to feel when he finds John glaring furiously at Jeannie, Jeannie staring back with raised eyebrows and a tense set to her mouth.
Rodney doesn't have the energy to try to figure them out. He feels completely worn thin, empty and aching inside where all the pressure had been, like someone scrapped the inside of his chest empty with a piece of broken glass. He manages to stumble his way into the living room, curling up on one end of the couch and letting his head tip back, blinking up at the ceiling.
When the couch dips beside him he lets his head shift to the side, and finds Jeannie looking at him. She says, "Come here," and opens her arms. Rodney considers for a moment, but she's warm and somehow over the last few hours she became safe. She knows and she doesn't care. He slumps sideways, letting her pull on him, her hand rubbing up and down his side.
John is sitting in a chair across from them, looking stiff and angry. His gun is digging into Rodney's stomach, but Rodney doesn't feel like giving it back, so he just doesn't. Between the reassurance of the firearm and Jeannie, Rodney feels almost safe. And so very tired.
Rodney lets his eyes close, wincing at the first bright flash of an ugly smile. Jeannie says, "Sh," and rubs her other hand back over his head, and Rodney settles. He can already feel his mind going slow and disjointed, barely hearing it when Jeannie says, a mix of soft and determined, "And what about you, Colonel? You carrying around secrets like this too?"
Rodney manages to force his eyes open just a crack, but only for a moment before he's dragged down again, exhaustion, physical and mental and emotional, all tumbling him down. John's voice comes through fuzzy and distant, like a radio broadcast from another planet, "No. Not me."
Jeannie puts off taking a shower for hours, but finally she disappears upstairs, casting one last look back at Rodney on the couch. John watches her go, before straightening out of the chair he'd spent most of the night sitting in, hovering over Rodney, itching to pull the blanket tighter around the other man.
John resists. Instead he wanders into the Miller's kitchen, fussing around with the coffee maker and ransacking the cabinets for filters before finally getting the thing going. He leans against kitchen table, watching the coffee drip down, the rich smell filling up the small room.
When Rodney stumbles in, dragging the blanket along, his hair all messed up, John startles. He opens his mouth, and can't make himself say a thing, watching Rodney mess around in the cabinets before retrieving a coffee cup and pouring himself a big cup.
Rodney drinks the first cup while standing right beside the coffee maker, hissing from either the heat or the taste before refilling his cup and ambling over to the table. John watches him sit, feeling tense and unsure before finally pulling out a chair of his own. Rodney still hasn't acknowledged John's presence, and John doesn't want to push things.
When Rodney finally speaks, he's staring down into his cup, "What are you doing here, Sheppard?" He sounds tired, sleep rough. John feels like an ass for making coffee, because he should have known it would wake Rodney, and the man obviously needs more sleep.
Still, there's nothing for it now. John shrugs even though Rodney isn't looking at him, "You disappeared off the base without a word." He's pretty sure that should be explanation enough. He'd woken up to find that no one had any idea where Rodney had gone, just that his rental car was missing. John had taken a wild guess that ended up with him at Jeannie's.
Rodney sticks a finger in his coffee, fishing out a ground and wiping it on his pants before answering, "So, the stalking thing isn't just an Atlantis only behavior, then?" There's a sharp edge on Rodney's voice, even softened as it is by sleep.
John winces, not bothering to deny it, "I can't help worrying."
That gets Rodney to look up, his blue eyes sharp, "I don't need your worry. Teyla and Ronon don't need your worry. Or your apologies, either." Each word is barbed, almost spat, and John forces himself to hold Rodney's gaze. He almost asks what it is they need from him, but he's too chicken shit, too afraid that Rodney would say 'nothing'.
Instead, John says, "Are you coming back?" Rodney looks surprised at the change of subject, blinking, and John hurries on, "At the end of the week, are you coming back with me? To Atlantis?" He hates having to ask. But he honestly isn't sure, not after the way Rodney had just curled up with Jeannie, the way he'd seemed almost relaxed for the first time in months and months.
Rodney stares at him for a long moment, before looking back down into his coffee cup, and then somewhere over John's shoulder. His voice is funny, flat, "Atlantis needs me."
John answers automatically, "I—yes. Yes, Atlantis needs you."
And then Rodney takes a deep breath, meeting John's gaze again, and forcing out with visible effort, "I'm not going to let them take anything else away from me. They took enough. They don't get Atlantis too." And he sounds determined, so sure.
John has to look away, because he can't talk about what they took, not here. Not in Rodney's sister's kitchen. Rodney sounds bitterly amused, continuing, "What, are we only allowed to talk about what happened when surrounded by complete strangers? Or were you just out of your skull on pain pills that day?"
John has no answers, his jaw clenched up tight. Rodney sighs, goes on, "I'm staying here for my leave. If Jeannie will let me. I want her help on—on something to take back. Shall I assume that you'll be pacing around the halls like Hamlet's father?" All John can manage is a nod.
Teyla worries about Ronon.
She thinks that, perhaps, that is only fair, because she knows that he has spent much of the last few months worrying about her. His anger is growing large, she fears too large to completely contain, sometimes. He sleeps more and more, but she does not believe this is a good thing. He never looks more rested when he wakes, but haunted and angry.
Teyla does what she can for him, sitting with him when he sleeps, eating her meals with him in the mess hall. She offers when she sees him to let him join her people, to be accepted into the circle, so that he can share his pain more evenly.
She is not truly surprised when he refuses. Ronon is trying so very hard to pretend that he is not in pain at all, and she knows not how to tell him that it's alright. That the pain is not something he needs to hide so viciously.
But it has never been his way to wear his agony, and that is what she asks of him. Instead he runs more, and she catches him staring into the sparring room, his expression sharp and considering.
Teyla prays for the swift return of the rest of their team, because she feels, deep and sure, that they should be together, not separated like this. They are stronger together, bearing up the weak pieces in each other, not so likely to collapse.
By the time their week of leave finally ends, John is sure that it's actually going to continue forever. Kaleb brings Maddie by one evening, but they only stay long enough to gather up some clothes before taking off again.
John figures that was for the best. Even after six days, he's still never prepared for it when Rodney's eyes go flat and distant and he just starts talking. The first time Rodney had been cleaning up dishes, and he'd said, voice almost absent, "They would hold my head in a bucket and while I was trying to hold my breath, they would," he'd waved a suds covered hand, "hurt me. I almost drowned once."
Jeannie had stepped up, one of her hands rubbing across Rodney's shoulders. John had run, stumbling over his own feet to the downstairs bathroom where he'd barely managed to get the lid on the toilet up in time to gag. He'd retched for what felt like an eternity, and there had been cool fingers on his forehead, Jeannie's soft voice saying, "Sh, let it out, let it all out, sh," and he had, because he had no choice.
All week, John keeps expecting it to get easier to deal with, but it doesn't. It gets worse each time, the memories replaying with Rodney's words, picture perfect recall that John wishes he could erase, that he'd almost managed to convince himself Rodney must not actually remember.
Knowing that Rodney does, that he knows all of it, everything those motherfuckers did to him, makes John's stomach sick all over again. John becomes intimately familiar with the toilets in Jeannie's house, and a few times the wastebaskets, and once the kitchen sink because it was closest.
Of course, they didn't spend the entire week just listening to Rodney blankly recount what was done to him. The siblings spend most of their time with Jeannie calling doctors and Rodney tearing through the internet, printing off what has to be books worth of paper.
John spends three evenings watching them split papers up, stapling things together, the conversation hushed and intense. He hadn't wanted to know, not really, because the chances of it actually being a good thing were so close to nil it wasn't even funny.
So John had waited until they were both asleep, slouched together on the couch, before picking up one of the little folders full of information and deciding to preemptively move to the bathroom. He'd lifted up the toilet seat, leaned back against the sink, and read.
Some of it he understood. The articles on panic attacks, anxiety and flashbacks, sleeping difficulties, depression, and therapy had obvious explanations. Some just made him nervous. The pages about suicidal thoughts made his stomach twist. The self harm and eating disorders had sparked the same nervous tightness in his chest. It was thorough and comprehensive, which, really, isn't any less than he would have expected from Rodney.
And on the last page there were dates and times, all starting about a month in the future, with rooms listed. There had also been a radio channel included, and John had rolled up the papers, bracing his wrist over his mouth, breathing hard through his nose until the bile taste eased out of the back of his throat.
Now that the Apollo is just waiting to beam them up, John can't wait to be out of here. He's shifting uncomfortably, holding the box of papers that Jeannie had shoved into his arms, watching Rodney hesitate before reaching slowly forward and hugging his sister. John grits his teeth, not able to completely subdue his knee jerk reaction to not let anyone touch Rodney.
Jeannie holds her brother for a long moment, her eyes squeezed shut, one of her hands curled against his neck. But it's Rodney whose hold looks desperate, and for a while John thinks that the other man just won't let go.
Then Rodney nods, stepping back and waving awkwardly before bending to pick up his own box. Jeannie waves back, rubbing the heel of her hand over her eyes, her voice thick when she says, "You better keep in touch, you hear me?"
John thinks that Rodney smiles, right before the Apollo beams them up.
Rodney had hoped absently that he'd be able to sleep now, like some magical switch in his head had been flipped by his stay on Earth that would allow him to close his eyes and relax without fear. He can't. Which is disappointing, but not exactly a surprise.
Rodney sits in the Apollo's mess hall, watching the stars streak past. They're beautiful, white and red and blue, even a few that might be yellow, or that might just be his eyes playing tricks on him. They blur out into tangled lines from the Apollo's speed. Rodney wants to trace them with his fingers, but keeps his hands balled up in his lap.
Footsteps make him look up, and he twists his head over his shoulder to watch John walk up. John nods, sitting down a few feet away, turning his face towards the stars as well. Rodney says, "Late night snack?" resting his chin on his knees.
John shrugs, "Couldn't sleep,"
Rodney nods, "Yeah, me either," his voice sounding soft and distracted even to him. He wonders if that's normal, but he's too tired to really waste much time thinking about it. They're passing through the remains of a planet, the dust that's left over playing like music over the ship's hull.
John stretches his legs out, crossing his ankles, his voice almost managing casual when he says, "Why don't you try now?" And Rodney is too tired to do anything but nod, slumping to the side a little bit, letting his heavy eyelids slide down.
Before he falls completely asleep, he swears he hears, "Sweet dreams, you hear me?"
It doesn't matter if he heard it or not, because it doesn't work. Rodney wakes up shaking, breathing hard, John still sitting beside him, gaze fixed hard on the stars going by, jaw set and tense. Rodney doesn't say anything, wrestling his breathing back down to normal, watching the stars.
Rodney can tell already that this trip is going to be just as much fun as the last one.
Ronon knew sparring was a bad idea. He'd known from the very beginning. It had never even been a question in his mind that he shouldn't do it, but the anger had just gotten worse and worse, and made sparring seem like a better and better idea.
Ronon still has blood on his knuckles from the man he left screaming on the floor. His fingers are slick with it, his skin pulling tight where it's starting to dry. He wonders distantly, as he throws himself out of the transporter, if the doctors will be able to save the other man's eye.
A few years ago Ronon would have said that there wasn't a chance, but he's seen the doctors here do some impressive things. They might be able to fix what Ronon broke. He hopes that they can, because the kid hadn't really deserved it, hadn't known what he was walking into when he consented to going against Ronon in the ring.
None of them know what they're walking into. It's not safe or fair to any of the other people in the city, and Ronon has known that as well, right from the very beginning. He's dangerous, more than dangerous, and no one here seems to realize that.
Except, of course, for the poor man with one eye, most likely screaming in the infirmary by now.
Ronon charges into his room, his mind tense and noisy. He has to leave, to get away from here before he hurts someone else. He should have done it long ago, but he'd been reluctant. He hadn't wanted to abandon his team, hadn't wanted to leave Teyla here all by herself when Rodney and John left, but she's got her people to watch out for her. And at this point, Ronon is sure that he's more dangerous to her than helpful.
The city has been his home for three years, and he has accumulated possessions without quite realizing it. He stares around his room blankly for a long moment, knowing that he can't take them with him. There's no time, and there will be no room for them once he leaves.
His heavy leather coat is gone, months ago, and he spares a moment to think fondly of it. It had been warm and serviceable. It had been his. But thinking about it now is doing him no favors. He pushes the thoughts aside, yanking open the doors to his closet and throwing what weapons he thinks he can carry onto the bed.
When Ronon's door slides open for a half second he expects it to be Marine guards, come to escort him to the brig for what he did. He looks up, gun in hand, because he can't let them delay him, and tilts his head to the side when Rodney says, "Hello to you too."
Ronon lowers the blaster, shoving it into its holster and grunting. He has a feeling that Rodney will understand this. If he doesn't, well, Ronon will just have to convince him. Either way, Ronon cannot stay here, not even with Rodney back from Earth now.
It's too late, and his mistake is even more frustrating now, because if he had just waited, apparently Rodney would have been back. Ronon is pretty sure the other man would have sparred with him again. And would have fought back, viciously, the way Ronon needed him to, instead of looking confused when Ronon tore into him.
For a long moment Rodney just stands in Ronon's doorway. Ronon ignores him, continuing to choose and discard weapons, then bending to drag the first aid kit out from under his bed. Ronon is in the process of pulling out his special thread and the analgesic cream from Earth when Rodney says, "I need you to come with me to see Teyla."
Ronon pauses, turning and blinking at him. Rodney shrugs, "It's important," and then turns and steps out of the doorway. Ronon hesitates, staring down at the mess on his bed, balling his hands up into fists. He knows he should just go. But he supposes he owes his team at least a goodbye. After everything they've been through, he owes them at least a goodbye.
Rodney is waiting for him outside the door, which is not a surprise. The fact that Sheppard is there beside him, head down and arms crossed, kind of is. Ronon stares at the other man until Rodney says, "Well, come on then," and turns and walks away.
Ronon follows him, itching between his shoulder blades when Sheppard steps away from the wall to follow them down the hall. Ronon wonders what this is all about, but figures that sooner or later Rodney will tell them. It's not like he ever stays quiet very long.
When Teyla's door beeps, it startles her out of the mediation she'd settled into. She blinks, gathering herself up, pulling her black robe tight across her shoulders and moving slowly to the door. She is not sure what to make of the fact that the rest of her team is standing outside the door, looking exhausted, and in Ronon's case, bloody.
It is Rodney that speaks, "Can we come in? Do you need to get some other people in here first?"
Teyla steps back from her door, "Come in, do not worry about it." She thinks that with any other people she would not feel this way, but these three men are her family every bit as much as the other Athosians are. Even John.
The men still hesitate for a long moment, before Ronon finally steps into her room, followed by Rodney, John lingering another second before joining them. Rodney looks around her room, his arms crossed tight, before nodding determinedly and sitting down in the middle of her floor.
Teyla blinks, surprised, but accepts it. She sinks down carefully, folding her legs up, Ronon following their lead after a moment. John stays standing, leaning against the wall beside her door, his arms crossed and his chin down against his chest.
Teyla opens her mouth to ask what their visit is about, but before she can Rodney takes a deep breath, and then blurts, "The very first time, they held a knife to my throat and told me that if I bit them they'd slit my throat ear to ear."
Teyla feels her breath catch in her throat, her eyes going wide with surprise. Ronon is staring at Rodney, his eyes narrow and sharp, Rodney staring down at his own hands. Against the wall, John hunches his shoulders in, his eyes squeezing shut as though he is in pain.
For a moment Teyla does not know how to respond, if she should throw them out, if she should scream that she is not ready for this, that this is not how she expected to finally speak of it. There should have been a fire, cleansing hot water, her people all gathered around to listen and understand.
But they wouldn't have understood. Not really. Not as much as they have tried. They could not understand as these men do. And Teyla feels a burn up her throat, fear and pain and relief all tearing through her even as she chokes on, "The first—the first time, one of them bent over and they held—they held me across him and I could not move. Not even to kick them."
Rodney lets out a breath so shaky that his entire body rocks with it. She wonders if he feared that they would just leave him hanging there, if he had spoken anyway. Against the wall John turns his face to the side, uncrossing his arms to cover his mouth with one hand. Ronon is staring up at the ceiling, his mouth still firmly shut.
Teyla wonders if it will end there, the others not daring to speak, but Rodney swallows nosily, his voice coming out rough and ragged, "They put, they would put me against the wall, and told me to keep my arms up, and that they wouldn't, that they wouldn't hurt me if I kept them there. I tried. I tried so hard, but I couldn't—" and his words break off, his hands coming up to squeeze hard at his arms.
This time, the words are there before Teyla even has to look for them, "When they were—done, they would," she has to swallow, clear her throat, "they would use my hair, to wipe—to wipe—" the words stick in her throat, sour as rot. She can't force them out, shoving them aside, "They would not let me clean it. I could feel it itching. Against my scalp. I could not get it off."
Rodney sounds broken, "Jesus, Teyla," and she nods raggedly, groping a hand out, relieved beyond speech when his fingers find hers after a moment. She grips his hand hard, his skin warm even through her glove, familiar and strong and he knows. The relief of it makes her dizzy.
It's been so long since Teyla heard Ronon speak, that his gravely rasp is almost completely unfamiliar. Teyla jerks her head to look at him, finding him still staring up at the ceiling as he says, slow and considering, "Bit them. Didn't believe they'd slit my throat. Broke out my teeth instead."
Teyla stares at him, feeling her gorge rise when he raises a steady hand, pushing his lips out of the way, revealing the tiny, splintered remnants of his teeth. Rodney sounds like he's talking around a mouthful of cotton, "Oh my God," reaching out and turning his palm up.
Teyla watches Ronon stare at the other man's hand for a long moment, before Ronon reaches out slowly, walking his fingers across the floor and taking Rodney's hand. It makes Teyla's chest burn, and she shifts up onto her knees, gently taking Ronon's hand away from his mouth, pressing a soft kiss to the crown of his head as she squeezes her eyes shut against the burn behind them.
She barely hears it when her door slides open, but she hears the way John gags before he manages to scramble out.
Rodney is saying, voice tight, barely managing steady, "We're going to the infirmary in the morning, okay? We're going to fix them, okay? It'll be okay." And when Ronon nods raggedly Teyla and feel it, wrapping an arm around his neck and holding him loosely, reaching her other arm for Rodney, clinging to both of them.
Rodney keeps his word, and in the morning Ronon finds himself sitting on a bed in the infirmary, Teyla standing beside him as Rodney disappears to grab Jennifer. Ronon has to grip his knees hard, because there is a part of him, a big part, that doesn't want to show this to anyone else. There's a part of him that knows somewhere in this room there is a man with only one eye, and that it's his fault.
Before Ronon can flee, Rodney is coming back, Jennifer following in his wake, looking confused and worried. Rodney pulls the curtain closed around the bed before crossing his arms, his voice tight when he says, "Okay, show her."
Ronon hesitates for a moment, and then Teyla is touching his shoulder gently, her glove warm and soft. Ronon takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and reaches up to push his lips up and down. There's a dull ache of pain from his teeth, what's left of them, but that's something he's been living with for so long he barely even notices it anymore.
Jennifer says, "Oh my God, Ronon!" and he can feel her stepping forward, the brush of one of her gloved fingers along his lips. She says, sounding suddenly professional, "I need you to open your mouth for me, okay? So I can see?"
Teyla squeezes Ronon's shoulder again, and he swallows hard before opening his jaw, letting Jennifer poke and look around his mouth, shivering and unable to stop by the time she is finished. He's glad when she doesn't mention it, when she just says, "There are a couple of options. I need to go talk with our dental specialist. I'll be just a minute, okay?"
She seems to be expecting some kind of answer, so Ronon nods, and only opens his eyes when he hears her walk away. Teyla is still standing beside him, radiating comfort, but Rodney is gone. Ronon raises his eyebrows, still not really ready to start talking again on a regular basis.
Teyla sighs, dropping her hand off of his shoulder, "I believe he went to look for Colonel Sheppard." Ronon nods, reaching down and lightly grabbing Teyla's arm, putting her hand back on his shoulder. She blinks at him, but leaves it there. He's glad.
When Rodney finally finds John, it's in a Jumper, which, really, shouldn't be a surprise. John is on his back, staring up at the ceiling, his expression blank. Rodney raps his knuckles on the metal, stepping in carefully and sitting down on one of the benches.
After a moment John looks at him, eyes distant and flat, "When you passed out I thought you were dead."
Rodney blinks, looking down at the floor under John, the blood stain that they apparently can't quite get out. He only has vague memories of their escape. Mostly he just remembers being dizzy, the world tilting sideways, and John screaming.
Rodney finally shrugs, "I'm not."
"Yeah. But I thought you were. I thought you were all going to die. Back there." He sounds almost sleepy, and Rodney wonders how much John has been sleeping, if he's finally so out of it that he's talking about this. Rodney probably shouldn't take advantage of the situation, but if he doesn't it seems unlikely he'll ever be able to get John to talk about it.
"You can talk about it, you know. You'll feel better, as stupid as that sounds." Rodney scuffs the toes of his boots back and forth against the floor, watching the movement so he doesn't have to watch John. John, who laughs hoarsely, rolling himself onto his side.
John's voice is sharp, bitter, "I don't have anything to talk about. They took my shoes and stunned me if I got out of order. There. I don't feel better." John's eyes are hard and angry now, his whole expression all twisted up, and for a moment Rodney has to close his eyes, swallowing deep breathes until the fear fades enough for him to think. John says, sounding wretched, "Fuck, I'm sorry. I didn't—"
"Stop apologizing, damnit!" Rodney snaps his eyes open in time to see John flinch, "Just stop! Look. Look. There are days when I hate you." John winces again, his shoulders just dropping, "There probably always will be. It's irrational. I don't care, I deserve some fucking slack. But. John, you won't talk to us. You won't...you won't eat with us. Or tell us what they did to you, we can't just—"
John's voice breaks, the words thick and grinding, "They made me watch. Okay? You know. You knew that already. Everything they did to you. Everything they did to Teyla. Everything they did to Ronon. They made me watch and I couldn't, I couldn't do anything to make it stop."
Rodney swallows, turning to look up to the ceiling, feeling his stomach twist and turn over. His own voice sounds curiously flat, "They couldn't make you—"
And John interrupts him again, this time with a sharp bark of laughter first, "They couldn't? You sure? If I looked away—if I even blinked too long—they'd do it all over again. I couldn't, God, Rodney, I can't get it out of my head, I can't make it go away." He sounds exhausted suddenly, young, afraid, "I keep hearing the screams. Every time one of you open your mouth. Screams."
Rodney takes a deep breath, "See, I hate you less already."
John just looks at him, eyes dark and tired, and Rodney rubs a hand over his mouth, "John, are you telling me you don't hate all of us, just a little, for being part of it? For what you had to see?" And John just stares, before dropping his head, his nod tiny and defeated, "That doesn't mean we don't want—that doesn't mean we don't forgive you too. We're...this is all we have. Us. And there's supposed to be four of us, not three."
John makes a choking sound, his voice so strained Rodney can barely hear it, "How can you say that?"
Rodney shrugs, picking at his pants leg, "In case you didn't notice, I'm a little bit mentally unstable right now. I think that explains anything you might think sounds crazy, don't you?" This time John's laugh sounds steadier, almost real. "Now, if you're done being an asshole, we need to go see Ronon's new teeth," Rodney speaks while standing, finds himself hesitating, looking down at John.
When he offers John a hand up, it's a surprise even to him. For a moment John just stares, his expression conflicted, before he takes a deep breath, reaches out, and grips Rodney's hand.
Rodney pulls him to his feet.
::back to index::