It’s the blood, John thought absently when he felt his heart constrict painfully. I’d be this worried if any of my team were dropped back in the cell this bloody.
He stopped thinking as instinct and training took over and he examined Rodney’s wounds. Bruising, a lost tooth, a possible sprained wrist. He was unconscious, but that didn’t last long. After a few minutes, Rodney bolted upright, whirling around, looking at the room and finally focusing on John.
“Dr. McKay. Rodney. Be calm. It is only us.” Teyla’s words must have penetrated because they did calm him. Or maybe it was whatever Rodney saw in John’s face.
“All right, Rodney. Now that you’re awake, let’s see how you really are.” John took a step toward him and Rodney shied away.
“I’m fine, Colonel.” He turned his back on them and started studying the door. “I just need to find a way to get us out of here.”
John exchanged a brief, worried look with Teyla. Rodney? Saying he was fine? Even if he hadn’t been so obviously hurt, it would have been absurd. He was always complaining just for the sake of the complaint.
He put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder and felt, though didn’t see, him flinch.
“You’re not fine, Rodney.”
Carefully, Rodney turned. His face was carefully blank. Surprisingly so, on so animate a face. John felt his heart tighten again when he saw Rodney’s eyes. He didn’t think anyone else would notice, but there was pride in those eyes. What did those bastards do to him? John thought savagely.
“I am fine, John,” Rodney said slowly. “Now let me do my job and get us out of here.”
He turned his back on them again and this time, John let him. He backed away until he hit a wall and slowly slid down. Thoughts flickered through his head until one, bright, painful truth made itself clear. Rodney had been tortured. He’d been tortured for information. And he hadn’t talked. The explanation felt right.
He scanned Rodney’s frame for evidence of injuries that hadn’t been immediately obvious. He cursed himself for not stripping Rodney down to bare skin to check the damage. Was that a limp? And the tenseness of the right shoulder. That shouldn’t be there.
“Ronon.” The familiar tone and the familiar finger snap brought John’s thoughts to an abrupt stop. “You always have dozens of knives on you. I need something small and thin.”
Ronon’s hand moved and there was a flicker as he brought out a knife. Rodney took it, examined it briefly, and nodded. He dropped to his knees – and he’s putting more weight on the left – and fiddled around with the door. A loud click echoed through the room and Rodney stood back up, handing the knife back to Ronon.
Training took over again as John led them out. And if he got a little more satisfaction than usual at knocking the guards out, who would know? They found their gear and another few guards were knocked out with more force than was strictly necessary. The rest was a blur until they got to the DHD. Rodney dialed Atlantis and John sent through his IDC.
“Let’s go home, people.”
And was it his imagination or did he hear Rodney quietly whisper, “Gladly?”
On the other side of the wormhole, Rodney put on his usual bluster and managed to convince Elizabeth of two things. That he was going to die a horrible death at Carson’s hands and that they should have the after-mission briefing before getting checked out.
“The man’s going to take one look at all of my bruising and knock me out for the next twelve hours, Elizabeth. Let’s just get the meeting done and then we’ll let the kook work his supposed miracles, okay?”
It convinced her. When did Rodney ever downplay an injury?
Once, John thought, remembering the Genii raid of Atlantis. But that’s once among dozens of similar incidents, during all of which Rodney ranted and raved and bitched and complained. Who would remember the one time he didn’t?
It was with that in mind that he sought out Rodney in the infirmary after he got himself cleaned up. Only to find a surprised-looking Carson.
“What do you mean, he’s not here?”
“I’m sorry, Colonel. He probably just got caught up in the lab. Or decided to skip the whole after-mission exam. Like some other people I could name,” Carson said, giving John a pointed look. “If he were really hurt, we all know this would be his first stop. But since you’re here, I suppose we can—Colonel! Colonel!”
John ignored him as he raced out of the room. Rodney’s room wasn’t far. When he got there, he signaled for Rodney to open the door. When that didn’t work, he knocked. Loudly. Then called. Finally, he used a trick that Zelenka had taught him and picked the lock. A brief look through the room told John that Rodney wasn’t in his room. Next stop, the lab, and an irate Czech who had definitely not seen Rodney. The commissary, several more labs, the Chair room, and finally the botanical labs and a botanist that had not seen and had no desire to see Rodney.
Frustrated, John headed to the Jumper bay to grab one of the life-sign detectors. He grabbed one and was heading back out when he heard a noise. Thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk. He followed the noise back to its source and found Rodney throwing a baseball at one of the Jumpers.
“You need to go to the infirmary, Rodney,” John began. He saw Rodney about to reply and continued before Rodney could speak. “And don’t give me that crap about being fine. You’re not fine.”
“No,” Rodney finally said quietly – tonelessly – as he continued to throw the ball. “My left wrist probably has a mild fracture, my right knee and shoulder are both dislocated, not to mention all of the bruising and possible internal bleeding.” He stopped and a speculative look crossed his face, as if considering whether to say something or not. After a minute, he continued in a hoarse whisper. “And then there’s my back.”
John felt that tightness in his chest again. It seemed to have migrated to his stomach, as well.
“Your back?” It was a question that he probably didn’t want to have the answer to, but he asked it anyway. Slowly, Rodney got to his feet. And didn’t cry out in pain or even wince once. He turned his back on John.
“Lift the shirt.”
John grabbed a hold of the shirt and hesitated. Did he really want to see what they’d done? Not really. But he owed it to Rodney. Bracing himself, he lifted the shirt.
So that’s what acid does to human skin, he thought absently. He brought a hand up to Rodney’s spine and his hand ghosted over the skin, never quite touching. Rodney shivered and John abruptly came back to himself and jerked back.
“God, Rodney. You have to go see Carson.” The laugh that came from Rodney was dark and bitter and he sat back down, throwing the ball again. Thunk-thunk.
The pain must be excruciating, the part of John’s mind that wasn’t dull with shock thought. He’s using the arm that’s dislocated.
“I didn’t give them what they wanted, you know.”
“What did they want?” Technology. Codes. Entrance into Atlantis. Nothing he came up with prepared him for the answer.
“You.” Rodney stopped throwing the ball long enough to see the expression on John’s face – utter disbelief. “Oh, don’t be an idiot,” Rodney said, with some of the normal acerbic tone back in his voice. “You’re the head of the military of Atlantis. Even if they don’t believe that Atlantis is still around, you’re definitely known for being in a position of power. And having the ATA gene. They wanted you.”
“And you didn’t let them have me.”
Thunk-thunk. The ball was back. As was the toneless voice. “Of course not, Colonel. That would be counterproductive. You’re the one that always comes to my rescue. What would I do without that kind of guarantee?”
“If I remember right, you were the one that picked the lock this time. You came to our rescue.”
“Right. I save the galaxy. I save Atlantis. I save the team. You save me.”
There was a definite distinction in the words. John heard it, but it was like a song that you just can’t quite remember the name of. He knew the tune, but there was something missing. Something on the top of his tongue that he couldn’t quite remember.
Abruptly, Rodney stood up. “I’ll be fine, Colonel. Honestly. Damage is done.” And just like that, he was gone.
It took about two hours to realize that Rodney still hadnít hit the infirmary. And despite protests to the contrary, possible internal bleeding nullified the ‘fine’ statement. Therefore, John set out to track Rodney down again.
“He took a Jumper out to the mainland, Colonel,” one of the techs in the Control room said. “About ten minutes ago.”
He rushed back to the Jumper bay, heading into his Jumper. Odd. Rodney had left the Jumper that they normally took on missions and had taken one of the others instead. Shrugging that aside, he received clearance to take off and headed after his wayward scientist.
“I’m fine, Colonel.” The words came out of nowhere, but John wasn’t all that surprised. If he could see Rodney, Rodney could see him.
“You’re not, Rodney. You keep saying that, but you had me worried when you mentioned internal bleeding. Your wrist. Your knee. Your shoulder. You need to see a doctor.” He saw the dot that was Rodney slow and then stop. He’d landed. He glided his own Jumper in and landed next to Rodney’s.
Warily, he stepped out, looking around. It wasn’t Rodney he saw first, it was the ball. Rodney was about twenty feet away from the Jumpers, on his back, throwing the ball up in the air.
“I used to be on the baseball team, you know,” he said when John moved closer. “I was also on the science club, in a rock band, and on the math club.”
“Not always the brilliant young scientist?”
A dry laugh. “Not even close. That was my sister. She just brought me along for the ride. I never did forgive her when she quit.”
“John.” The words were a mockery and they stung. Worse than John expected. He closed his eyes against the pain and when he opened them again, he was looking into blue eyes. “Why do you care so much? If I’d been Ronon or Teyla, you’d have believed what they said. They’ve been hurt as bad and you let them deal with it their own way. Let them go to Carson in their own time, as long as there wasn’t an impending mission.”
“And yet you keep hounding me. I’ve seen you more in the last three hours than I have in the past week, missions included.”
“Obviously I was exaggerating about the internal bleeding. I’d be a lot worse off now f I was bleeding.” A lie, but John let it slide.
“So would you please let me know what’s going on?”
“Why don’t you tell me, Rodney?” The angry face closed down. “There. That. Something happened that you’re not telling me.”
“Let’s just say that they had Ancient technology. Or something.”
“No, let’s not say that. Let’s be more specific.” John saw the cliff. And he didn’t so much jump off it as he was pushed.
“They made me see things. Like the illusion that we were back on Earth. Or the one where you rescued us from the Pegasus galaxy Replicators. When physically torturing me didn’t work, they tried manipulating what I thought. See, they didn’t just want you. They already had you holed up in that cell. They wanted a way in.” He looked away. “Luckily, they picked a scenario so totally unbelievable, that I saw through it. Eventually, anyway.”
“Is that why you’re punishing yourself? Because you almost gave in?”
“No, Colonel.” He wasn’t looking at John, now. He was looking at the ball he was rolling around in his hands. “I’m punishing myself because even though I knew it was fake from the beginning, I almost gave in anyway. You love flying, don’t you? What if you were told that every memory of flying was a dream? That in the real world, flying wasn’t possible. But if you did one thing, one small, insignificant thing, that you could stay in that world where you could fly. Wouldn’t you be tempted?”
“I—“ It was a hard question. Never be without planes. Never be without his life. “I—maybe. Yes. Yes, I’d be tempted. But you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t.” The blue eyes came back into view. “But I almost did. It was so tempting. And then it went away. Everything I’d wanted. Vanished.”
Awkwardly, John patted Rodney’s good knee. “Look, Rodney. I’m not all that good at…well…this.” Feelings.
“And I’m any better? That’s why I wanted to be alone. But instead, I have you.” Another flicker of something across Rodney’s face and John’s heart squeezed painfully. He tried a joke to relieve the pressure.
“So, what did they offer you? The Nobel?”
“No, Colonel. They didn’t offer you the Nobel.”
“A person. They offered me a person.”
“Oh. So…Katie? I know you two stopped seeing each other after Cadman took over your body for the date.” Instead of relaxing, the pressure grew worse and there was a tone in his own voice that he didn’t recognize.
“No. Not Katie.”
“Not either of them.” A sharp inhalation of breath. “They…they offered me…you. They offered me you to betray you. To tell them how to break you. To share any little thing that I might ever had known about you. To do worse than that. To convince you to help them. They offered me you.”
The silence was deafening. Rodney’s face was suddenly animate again. And there was hope there. Hope that John had seen on any countless number of missions whenever rescue was imminent. Hope that was replaced by the defeat that John had seen at Arcturus. Defeat that went to the bone. And slowly, Rodney got to his feet and headed to his Jumper. The next few seconds are instinct and then he’s in front of Rodney and his blue eyes and – Huh, he tastes like coffee.
The kiss was really nothing more than a brush of lips. But John could feel the tightness in his chest ease even as his breath caught.
“You really are an idiot, McKay.”
“Ow, ow, ow. I think I wrenched my knee.”
“You mean the one that you dislocated?” John asked with a grin. The complaints were music to his ears.
“No!” The ‘you moron’ was implied. “The other one.”
“Well, then. Carson?”
“Yes. And you can fly. We’ll pick up the Jumper later.” And with that command, Rodney headed back to their Jumper. But for all Rodney’s bluster, John didn’t even have to look to see his grin. Because Rodney’s grin was the one answered on his own.