Paying the Price

Summary: With his team now addicted to the Wraith enzyme, John is feeling guilty and helpless. And he knows it's only a matter of time before Rodney breaks under the strain.
Central Character(s): Exclusively and intensely Rodney and John.
Category(ies): Angst, Drama, H/C, Smarm.
Placement: Missing scene during the events of "The Lost Boys".
Rating: PG-13 just to be on the safe side. It's rather disturbing.
Spoilers: "The Lost Boys", "The Siege: Parts I, II, III", "Runner".
Author's Note: This isn't Slash, so don't let me hear any of you even thinking that! (Shakes a finger at her slightly alarmed readers.) Anyway... This owes a lot to two wonderful "Lost Boys" missing scenes I read here: Tension by Ellex, and Helpless by EclecticTrekker. So any similarities are due to the fact that I did actually read and enjoy them very much. :) To a lesser extent, drufan's Specter was also an influence. This is pretty dark, but I'm probably more proud of it than anything I've done since Friend In Need... Oh, and I'm going off the assumption that everything's more or less mended between John and Rodney from Aurora onwards, meaning they are pretty much okay again here.
A/N cont'd: Having just read some new spoilers for The Hive as of 11/16/2005, I'm a bit creeped... Parts of this fic seem to clearly foreshadow something I didn't know about until weeks after I'd written this. I can't tell you exactly what in this fic is so psychically significant, or how much, cause that could give stuff away. Obviously, they didn't include this scene word for word! LOL! Anyway... You'll see when you watch the episode. I guess I'm just too clever for my own good, eh? Does a McKay smug grin. :)
Warning: This is quite intense and disturbing, in a very angsty and non-actiony sort of way. If you were disturbed by "Lost Boys", I don't recommend reading this. In addition, if drug addiction disturbs you - well you probably wouldn't have clicked on this at all in the first place, would you? Anyway, no character death or anything, but it is a missing scene to the first half of a two-parter, so you know it can't resolve itself really...
Disclaimer: Nothing whatsoever belongs to me. Nothing at all. Period. If it did, this scene, or something like it and longer than two minutes would have been in the show, instead of just in my head and on the computer. Actually, Lost Boys would have been really different altogether if I owned anything... Hm... (Brad Wright, Rob Cooper, and Martin Gero appear, looking irate.) I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I love your show, please don't sue me! (But I still want Aiden back!)

A/N III: For those of you who liked my earlier fics, this combines the John-and-Rodney-Friendshipness of AFIN, the disturbingness of A&SNL, and the sappiness of FA... Well, not quite, but it does have all those things in abundance despite the fact that it's not very long. Anyhow, I think you'll like it. >:)

Apologies for the long prelude...

It was late. Probably about 2:00 in the morning; but John Sheppard was still up. Pacing, and pretending he wasn't keeping watch.

He wandered back down the same hallway again, the one outside his team's designated quarters, and considered their position for the hundredth time.

They'd been captured by Ford's motley crew over two weeks ago now. They had no way of obtaining the DHD crystals to escape. Even if they could, there was still the small matter of dependency: all of his team members were now addicted to the Wraith enzyme Ford seemed to love so much. Rodney's dose was more reasonable, so his withdrawl symptoms might be bearable, but Teyla and Ronon... John didn't want to think about how dependant they had become. Or what a sudden cessation of doses of the drug could do.

He also refused to consider the fact that they might not want to be taken off it any more...

Add Ford's insane plan to the mix, and you had one of the worst situations Sheppard had ever found himself and his team in - and they'd been in a lot of pretty lousy situations.

And the hardest part was that he couldn't do a thing. His only option was to sit and wait until there was a chance. Even then something could go wrong, and the thought of his team in a hiveship with their judgement impaired... Great. And in the meantime, the clock ticked on, bringing more and more doses of the drug that was taking his team away from him.

Sheppard pounded the wall with a tight fist. He'd never been good at waiting. He cared too much to be able to put them through another second of this with equanimity.

He was the leader. He was supposed to protect them. And now he was just standing here, doing nothing, while what could have been one of his worst nightmares was being played out in front of him. All he could do for them now was be sane, be cool, be normal... And don't tell them about the plan, because he couldn't trust them any more.

Damn. He hated this.

And the worst of it all was Rodney. Sheppard had a duty to protect his entire team, yes, and every single person on Atlantis for that matter. But Rodney depended on him for it. Of course he felt terrible doing this to Teyla - God yes - and Ronon, too. But they were both strong people. Teyla could handle almost anything; John knew that. But Rodney... Rodney was strong, could take any amount of abuse - right up until he cracked into a million little pieces. And at that point, the damage was already irreparably done.

John had been watching him, very carefully. He'd seen him falter at times, a strange darkness surface in his eyes just for a moment. Then it would disappear, and he would go back to being almost his normal self. A bit more agressive, slightly more wound up - but still almost normal.

Too normal. John knew Rodney well enough by now to know that if he was acting fine, that meant he was hiding something. He was running himself into the ground psychologically while John watched.

John didn't know how to help him, and that was what bothered him the most of all. Because he knew for a fact that Rodney couldn't help himself; not this time. He would hold on forever for the sake of his team, but at what price could sanity be purchased? How much would Rodney have to pay for his ongoing struggle, whether they ultimately won or lost?

He knew Rodney could do it. He knew that even if he himself decided the situation was hopeless, Rodney would never give up. John could have sited a half-a-dozen times just off the top of his head - the Siege foremost among them - where Rodney had kept fighting the impossible odds even when everyone, including Rodney himself, had believed that there was no way out any longer. And they'd always made it somehow, though often at the hideous price of friends' lives...

And as scary as the thought of Rodney fighting his way out phisically was, John knew he'd do that, too, if it came down to it. Even if it was hopeless. Even if he had to give up his life to save his team... And what if, even then, they wouldn't go, or couldn't survive being weaned off the drug? And no matter how useless it was, John knew Rodney would give everything he had in a hopeless attempt to save his friends.

God, it had better not come to that...

Rodney knew the plan, of course. John had owed it to him to tell him, and would have even if it hadn't been the best way to get him to fix the dart. Rodney wouldn't tell; somehow, Sheppard knew that. They'd been through too much together for that.

But John had had to spell it out to him before he'd understood. And that had been the scariest part. Rodney McKay had had to have something laid out in front of him, piece by obvious piece, before he'd gotten it. John had felt a rising panic then for his best friend. He knew how much Rodney valued his own intelligence, and now that was being eaten away, dulled by some stupid chemical... And Rodney knew it. John was well aware of how much it frightened him; he could only imagine how much it frightened Rodney.

And he did imagine it: every hour of every day they spent here. It haunted him, the fear of the member of his team who still had enough wits to realise that he was losing them. And if there had been anything he could have done, he would have done it in an instant, no matter what the price was.

But all he could do was pace the corridors, and think endlessly about his adopted family's predicament.

As he passed the doorway for the eight-hundredth time, John heard a choked cry of pure horror from inside his team's quarters. He raced inside, scanning the room, the figures on the floor, even though he knew whose voice that had been. Ronon didn't stir; Teyla rolled over and continued to sleep. And Rodney was sitting up, back bowed, his face covered with his hands.

John walked up to him, knelt at his best friend's side and heard Rodney muttering unintelligibly to himself, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. "Rodney," John said softly, and placed a hand on the scientist's arm.

Instantly, Rodney's arm lashed out, whacking Sheppard in the face and knocking him over. He lay on the floor for a second, getting his bearings and reeling from the surprising, unnatural strength of the blow. Rodney had improved a lot in about a year and a half of training, but John knew from experience exactly what his limits were under everyday circumstances, and this... This was beyond impossible.

"God, oh God, I'm sorry..." came Rodney's shaky voice through the pain. "Did I hurt you?" It was asked so hopelessly that the tone sent a chill through John's heart.

He pulled himself back up. "No, I'm fine," he lied.

"I'm sorry," still in that tremulous voice. "I didn't mean to... I..."

"It's okay," John insisted, and slowly, carefully reached forward to lay a hand on Rodney's shoulder. Getting no violent reactions, he ventured a cautious pat. "Bad dream?"

A long, shaking breath, then, "Yeah."

John could feel Rodney shivering uncontrollably beneath his hand. Dammit, you shouldn't have to go through this...! "Wanna talk about it?"

"No!" An uncertain pause. "Yeah, maybe..." More definitely, "You don't want to hear about it, Colonel."

"I can take it. I've had a few of my own."

"Seriously, you don't need to hear this one."

"No, that's probably true... But that's not the point. You need to get it out of your head."

"Not sure I can..." Rodney said weakly. "And if I do, more will come. They always do... And eventually, some of them will be real."

John gulped, not liking where this was headed. "Look, I don't have all night, so unless you're going to tell me something important, I suggest you shut up and go back to sleep." His voice hadn't sounded at all as rough as he'd intended it to.

Rodney looked down at his clasped hands as they twitched spasmodically in his lap. He started to speak unsteadily. "We took Atlantis. Teyla and Ronon and Ford and... me." He took another deep breath. "I used my IDC, and we just walked through the Gate, and started... We killed anyone who tried to stand in our way. We were unstopppable."

Rodney paused, sitting very still for a moment. "We had guns, but I didn't need them. I... I killed them with my bare hands. I watched their faces while they died. God, Radek...! And Elizabeth... I killed her, too. I killed everyone, I listened to them screaming... And you - you were there, a-and..."

His hands went up to cover his face again in the dark. "I wouldn't stop," he whispered.

John felt the prick of tears in his eyes, knowing that this nightmare was based not on wild imaginings, but on something all-too-possible. And the thought of Rodney turning into that... "That's not gonna happen," he said, trying to sound confident.

"It might..." was the barely audible response.

"No, we won't let it -"

"You don't understand." Rodney had raised his head, and his eyes were on Sheppard. Now his voice was frighteningly even. "I enjoyed it. I killed my friends mercilessly - and I liked it!"

John found himself lost for words. "It was just a dream," he finally got out.

"For now, yes." Rodney sounded like he was discussing the weather. "But there's more to it than that. This drug, it makes you amazingly strong, and shockingly stupid, not to mention brutal. There's only so long anyone can hold out against his own altered biochemistry."

"Rodney, I know - hell, we both know that you would never do anything like that!" Sheppard said forcefully.

Rodney continued to gaze back at him. "Really? I'm staying in control for now, Sheppard, but what happens when I do snap, huh? What then? I just hit you for no reason, without even thinking about it! Since when has it been my instinct to react like that? When did I lose my brain enough to not think before I act?"

There was desperation written in every line of the man in front of Sheppard, and he could detect it even in the darkness. He noticed Rodney's eyes shining as they flicked restlessly over the room. John realised with a sick feeling that Rodney could probably see very well where he himself was almost blind for lack of light.

"It's only a matter of time, Colonel." And the resignation did not sound like Rodney McKay.

"Look, you haven't done anything crazy so far, and you're on a lower dose than they are," John pointed out reasonably with a gesture towards the two slumbering team members.

"That's true," Rodney mused. "I'm scared of them, you know? Kind of strange... I'm not used to being this scared of Teyla. I like Teyla." John blinked, trying to keep up with the mood swings. "Ronon, on the other hand..." He shrugged. "I've really always been scared of him."

"I know," John said.

"You do?" Rodney blinked in the dark. "How?"

"Well, jeez, who wouldn't be afraid of him?" John tried, brushing it off.

"Yeah..." Rodney agreed distractedly. "I was scared of Ford, too. I'm more scared of myself, though. Or of what I am now. It's funny, you know? I always wanted to be stronger - not such a weakling physically and emotionally. Now I've got my wish on the first count, and soon I'll lose any recognisably human emotions..." He laughed. "Be careful what you wish for, huh? Everything has a price. Should have know that. And I'm paying for it now, even though I don't remember signing for anything... Kryptonite, secret identities... Superman had nothing on this." He laughed again, unnervingly.

"Listen to me, Rodney," John demanded. "You're going to be fine. We'll get out of this."

"But what if I don't want to?" Rodney asked fearfully. "It feels really good when I let it. A-at first, I wouldn't accept it, made myself sick on purpose just so I wouldn't feel how good it was. And I couldn't think, but I pretended I was imagining that... I wouldn't let it make me feel that way, I fought it, but I couldn't stop it from changing me. I'm still not giving in to it, but - but if I did..." Then, suddenly, he switched tacks yet again. "I could take you, you know. I could fight you and win."

John opened his mouth, but no sound came out. The un-Rodneyness of the comment was too shocking.

"I want to try. I could hurt you so easily now. And then I could run and run and run and never get tired." His eyes were unfocussed now, staring straight through Sheppard. "I could blow up all the Wraith. I could defeat SuperFord, and get us all out of here, and then take over Atlantis. Hell, I could do anything! It would feel really good, too, you know?"

"Rodney, please..." Sheppard couldn't believe how weak and sad his own voice sounded in his ears.

Rodney didn't even seem to hear him. "I always envied you military types with your strength and your training and your guns. Now I can be that. I don't need anyone else. I don't have to be afraid or helpless ever again, because..." He gulped, and then, before John's astonished eyes, Rodney appeared to collapse in on himself. "Because I won't be me any more," he said in low-voiced conclusion.

John licked painfully dry lips. "You're not there, Rodney, and you never will be. I know you: you won't give up." Even if I fail you in the end... "You'll make it one way or another," he finished grimly. And John believed that completely. He wanted Rodney to understand that he had faith in his friend: that he knew he could make through anything.

But Rodney didn't seem to be able to process anything John was telling him, and continued down his own dead-end track at top speed. "I never liked running - I get all hot and sweaty and tired - and dirty, and I hate being tired, I hate physical exertion - I mean, I can stand it, but I never really enjoyed it, and now all I want to do is -" He broke off abruptly and there was total silence, except for four people quietly breathing.

"Rodney?" John queried, wanting to know what was going on in his friend's head, and unable to see enough to read his expression.

"God... Sheppard, I'm so scared!" A heartrending, terrified whisper was the answer. John gripped Rodney's arm tighter, and felt him trembling again. Dammit...

"Of what?" Stupid question.

"Of... of losing who I am..." Rodney's voice was so low, John had to strain to hear it. He seemed almost to be talking to himself, lost in his own tiny universe of fear. "I never really wanted to be Superman, because then I wouldn't be me. That's always been my greatest fear, that I could turn into something else, and not even know it... Maybe even like it better. Like... Ford." He had his arms protectively around himself now. "Everything... everyone else changes. If I do too, then what's left? I just... I was proud to be human..."

One hand reached out unerringly in the dark and grasped John's hand. "I'm still human, aren't I?" He questioned piteously, but didn't stop for breath or for a response. "I'm still me, Dr. Rodney McKay, right? Somewhere inside... And it's not that I'm stupid now either, right?" The grip on John's hand started to tighten painfully, but he refused to flinch. It wasn't Rodney's fault he didn't know his own strength any more.

"I'm still smart, I just can't think because of the drug... Because otherwise I would be useless. Then... then I'd have to just become something else to be worth anything... I don't want to be something else!" The hand retracted again, frantically, but John grabbed it and held on with a firm grip that he could only hope was reassuring.

Rodney looked up at John, and the expression on his face caught by the all-but-nonexistent light was something Sheppard had never seen before. It was the look a child gives a parent when experiencing fear for the first time, not even knowing if it will ever end. "I'm so scared," he whimpered pitifully.

John wrapped both his arms around his best friend, and held him tightly as the tears started to fall. Rodney cried almost silently and didn't move, huddled in a limp, unresponsive heap. John wasn't sure he was even aware of his surroundings any more.

Once again, John was helpless. Rodney McKay, the friend who was like a brother to him, was experiencing something no one should ever have to go through. And if Sheppard didn't know better, he could have sworn Rodney had shrunk to a child. A very, very small and frightened child.

Eventually, Rodney's breathing evened out, and John knew he'd fallen asleep. Probably to have more nightmares - something else John couldn't protect him from.

But he didn't let go of Rodney just yet.

When he finally did, Rodney, half-awakening, reached out his hands pleadingly with a pathetic sound. John took them in his own and stayed until Rodney quieted again.

"You're not alone, Rodney," he whispered reassuringly in the dark. "No matter how bad it looks, I won't leave you to face it by yourself. I promise." He didn't know if Rodney had somehow heard him or not, but he hoped his words had helped in some way.

Then he got up to go, but not to sleep. He returned to the hall to continue patrolling, keeping up the pretense that he could do something for the people he was responsible for. For his friends - his family.

John knew Rodney would deny any memory of what had just happened in the morning and every day after. Not that Sheppard would ever mention it either. And with the enzyme in his system... John wondered if that would aid any possible efforts on Rodney's part to bury all remembrance of the moments when fear had completely overwhelmed him, tearing down every barrier and leaving him exposed in all his weakness.

But John wouldn't forget; he couldn't. When they got out of this - if they all got out of it with any measure of sanity still intact - it would be relegated to the back of his mind, and he wouldn't usually think about it. But like so many other heart-achingly painful moments he'd been through, it would come back to him sometimes... Late at night, when he woke from a dream he couldn't recall... Or in those eternal moments when death stared him in the face... Sometimes when someone would say a word, and he would get lost in a flash of something he'd rather have forgotten.

He hadn't needed another of those memories. He didn't need to be shown so clearly how appallingly he was failing his friends, and exactly what that was doing to Rodney. Tomorrow, Rodney would go back to fixing the Dart, working towards their escape, trying to think past the clouding of the drug, trying so hard to stay sane and act normal... And failing in all those almost imperceptible ways that brought Sheppard's heart into his throat when he noticed them and Rodney didn't...

All John could do for his best friend was to be there when he had no choice but to surrender to the mental anguish, and the uncanny physical well-being... And hope that his presence accomplished something in comforting Rodney, because that was all he could give.

John cursed his own helplessness. He cursed what Ford had become, and he cursed himself, and Atlantis, and the whole damn Pegasus Galaxy... And especially whatever pitiless Fate it was who had drawn an innocent man here to be tortured and slowly destroyed - and forced him to be fully aware of it as it was happening to him.

He cursed whatever cruel chance it was that had constructed this situation so that he could watch his friends being inevitably taken from him by a Wraith drug, and uselessly stand by as Rodney paid the price for something he had never done, condemned to a doom he didn't deserve.

John paced back and forth like a caged tiger and vowed that sometime, somewhere - someone was going to pay for this...

The End

A/N: So... Did you like it after all? Please tell me what you thought, I'd love to hear from any and all of you, as always. :) Seriously, I read every review over, and over, and over... :) For those who have reviewed my earlier fics and didn't get a response: Thank you SO much! LOVED the feedback! And for those of you who will review this story - Many, many thanks in advance!

See you all soon! I hope... :)