Three days later, they're still in the infirmary. Carson has long since banished Rodney to his own section, out of the line of traffic and away from anyone Rodney could potentially harass to bring him work or a laptop or even one lousy pudding cup. His left ankle (broken in two places) is splinted and elevated, his right shoulder is immobilized until the swelling in the strained ligaments and tendons subsides, his insides are battered but not bleeding, and his ribs (three cracked and one broken) have been set and left to their own devices. He is not concussed, and is feeling humble enough at the moment to take small mercies where he can find them.
Teyla is concussed, and she has one more broken rib than he does, along with a wrenched knee and a bruised kidney. She needed 32 stitches in her right thigh and three blood transfusions, one in the jumper and two in surgery an hour later, when Carson repaired her ruptured spleen.
If the rescue team had taken much longer to get to them, Rodney might have had to watch Teyla die in that abandoned control room. He tries not to dwell on the knowledge, demanding cookies and lab reports instead.
Most of the science staff, some of the military staff, and every Athosian who could get a ride from the mainland have trickled through to visit (and to be yelled at by Rodney in the case of the science staff, since none of them have the guts to stand up to Carson and bring the things that Rodney tells them to bring. Miko tried, but her poker face is so bad that she didn't make it two feet into the infirmary before Carson confiscated the data tablet). Sheppard and Ronon have been taking turns crashing on the third bed in Rodney's little Room of Exile; Rodney even remembers waking at one point on the first day to find Elizabeth sleeping there, slanted across the mattress just enough to be able to see them if she opened her eyes.
Teyla has been in the second bed since her MRI came back clean; she groggily asserted that she wanted to stay with Rodney, and Carson shrugged and allowed it. (His actual words were, "It's your sanity, my dear, if you choose to throw it away like that." Rodney would have been deeply offended if he hadn't been on exceptionally high levels of painkillers at the time.)
Rodney likes having Teyla there, likes being able to hear her breathing at night when the walls press in. Sheppard and Ronon's presence has been welcome (although Rodney would almost rather be back in that cave-in than admit it), but Teyla is... different. Not that she hasn't always been, but the difference is more pronounced now, and he wonders if the change will last past the point when all of the accumulated trauma of the hours spent buried alive has worn off. Which should be after another, oh, 10 years of intensive therapy...
Sheppard and Ronon are currently sprawled in chairs around Rodney and Teyla's beds, doing the long-delayed post-mission debriefing with Radek and Elizabeth; Carson sticks his head in occasionally to perform arcane rituals and make sure his patients aren't getting tired. Sheppard has given a vivid description of seeing the ceiling cave in on top of his teammates and the panic that ensued, along with an entertaining overview of the subsequent excavation efforts. ("I didn't even know we still had that huge winch; O'Neill put it on the equipment list. Something about 'Sooner or later, you are gonna have to dig an archaeologist out of a cave-in. Just accept it and be prepared.' I don't think he expected us to have to dig out an astrophysicist, though.") They're up to the point where the door in the wall finally chose to open up, which is, unfortunately, the part both Teyla and Rodney are a little blurry on.
"How the hell did you get that thing open?" Sheppard is persisting. "I watched you swear at it for a solid hour with no luck, when you actually had tools and your laptop, and you weren't buried."
Rodney is tempted to claim scientific godhood, figuring the odds are good that Sheppard will buy it at the moment. But Teyla is looking at him with her eyebrows lifted as if she can read his mind and he can't bring himself to lie in front of her. Or even exaggerate much.
"It was blind luck," he admits. "For all their multitude of failings and insanely irritating lack of foresight, some Ancient at some point may actually have been smart enough to build in a failsafe of some kind."
He has to pause because breathing enough to talk still hurts his ribs; he's been expected more jokes about that from Sheppard, but they haven't materialized. "When the converter hit a certain crisis level, whatever was holding the door shut must have unlocked automatically, presumably to ensure that anyone present had access to the necessary control panel. Which was in there, by the way, I was right about that -- all lit up and just waiting for someone with the Ancient gene to do something about preventing the potential multi-megaton explosion."
"Kind of a 'hey, stupid' switch, huh?" Sheppard offers.
Rodney rolls his eyes, pleased to find that the movement doesn't cause pain, other than that inflicted mentally by certain military flyboys who shall remain nameless. "Yes, if you insist on calling it that, which I'm sure you will. Of course," he continues acidly, "if the aforementioned person didn't have the Ancient gene, it wouldn't have done them any good at all, but hey, why worry about that when you're a highly evolved, breathtakingly short-sighted race of intergalactic know-it-alls?"
Sheppard grimaces in agreement, Ronon and Zelenka snort in eerie symmetry, and Elizabeth turns a small laugh into an unconvincing cough; Rodney's opinion of the Ancients has been going downhill ever since they found the energy-sucking shadow creature that the previous inhabitants apparently just left lying around, and even Elizabeth has reluctantly conceded that he might have a point. Teyla looks mildly disapproving, but she doesn't argue.
"Once the door was open, the rubble had shifted enough to allow us to free ourselves," she continues the report instead. "We made our way over to the panel on the wall, and Doctor McKay was able to activate the control panel."
"It was much more difficult and involved much more pain than she's making it sound like," Rodney points out, purely for the sake of accuracy.
"I'm sure it was," Elizabeth says soothingly. "You were both very brave." And there's that kindergarten encouragement thing again, which isn't any easier to take from Elizabeth. He's really going to have to call them all on that at some point. When he's not in traction.
He lets it go for now, as he's got questions of his own. "So, I seem to remember you saying there was a discharge? Like lightning?" he asks Sheppard.
Sheppard nods. "Lorne says it was a couple thousand feet tall, from the ground right above us into the air. If we hadn't brought the jumper down to try to hook it to the converter, it could have been ugly. As it was, we lost radios for a while, and Lorne's ears are still ringing." He looks suddenly speculative, always a dangerous expression on Sheppard. "Too bad we can't work up something like that on Atlantis. Be kind of fun to see the expression on the Wraith's face if we used it to knock a cruiser out of the sky..."
Rodney pauses in admiration of the image. "Maybe if we..." He comes abruptly back to his senses. "No! No no no! Have you already forgotten that that thing almost killed us? Not only are we not messing with that converter again, we should lock the entire planet out of the dialling system."
"I don't know," Sheppard says, his forehead furrowed, "if the Wraith find it..."
Rodney throws up his arm in exasperation. "Let the Wraith find it. They can get buried alive or blown into little tiny Wraith bits. We'll set a MALP up with cameras to capture the moment and watch it on instant replay, while we eat popcorn and mock them mercilessly."
Sheppard nods slowly in appreciation of that image; Teyla and Ronon also look approving. "Yeah. I like it. We'll do that."
"Well, now that that decision has been made..." Elizabeth says pointedly, reminding them of her presence, and Sheppard looks a little guilty. Rodney doesn't -- he thinks. "Is there anything we should try to salvage from the facility before we lock it out?" she continues.
"Just the stabilizers," Radek answers absently, without looking up from the data tablet he's been absorbed in.
Rodney pops as straight up as he can manage considering he's in traction. "Stabilizers?" he demands.
It's Zelenka's turn to look startled and mildly guilty. "Yes, stabilizers. I am quite sure I told you about the stabilizers."
"And I'm very sure you didn't." Something is nagging at the corner of his mind, though... "Wait, wait, wait. Those round things, in the corners?"
Radek grins and nods cheerfully, apparently thinking he's off the hook. "Yes, exactly. We were able to take readings while waiting for the excavation crews to work, and the devices seem to be specifically designed to combat the forces of the earthquakes."
"Of course! Ancient building materials are strong, but even they would need extra assistance to survive 10,000 years of constant seismic activity."
"Precisely. We believe they generate some form of energy field powered by the converter, similar to Atlantis' shield but within the walls themselves."
Rodney taps the palm of his hand rapidly against his leg as he follows Radek's thoughts. "Which would cause a constant low-level energy bleed from the converter, which is why it didn't overload about 9,999 years ago."
Sheppard's head has been going back and forth between them as they talk, until he suddenly contributes, "The stabilizer thing in the corner by the control room door -- it wasn't working. The circuits must have overloaded like the converter's did, which left that wall standing on its own."
"So it collapsed as soon as a strong-enough quake hit, exactly," Rodney finishes. "Given its location nearest to the control room entrance, it was probably receiving a higher percentage of power in order to make sure that wall in particular stayed standing--"
"--so, of course, it was the first thing to burn out, making that wall's collapse inevitable." Elizabeth pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "I really am beginning to agree with you about the Ancients, Rodney. Among other things, they should never have left that converter running for all these years."
"You think?" Sheppard snarks softly. It's Ronon and Rodney who snort in unison this time, and Elizabeth suppresses another smile. Teyla shakes her head at all of them.
"Well, all that matters today is that both of you--" Elizabeth pauses to give Sheppard a speaking look, "--all of you survived. For which I, personally, am very grateful."
Sentiment and emotion having entered the discussion, everyone else takes it as a cue to break up the meeting. Sheppard talks aimlessly at Ronon about the theoretical expressions on the faces of the hypothetical exploded Wraiths as they leave; Elizabeth pats Rodney's hand and rolls her eyes as she follows. Rodney holds Zelenka back for a quick discussion of Things Which Can Wait for the Report, and Things Which You Had Better Tell Your Head of Science About Immediately If Not Sooner (with a quick digression into Who Do You Fear More: Your Doctor or Your Boss? The answer, sadly, appears to be Carson; something else Rodney's going to have to deal with at some point).
When Radek leaves, Carson immediately moves in to fuss over them, and Rodney finds himself tired enough to let him for a few minutes. The latest round of painkillers is kicking in, making sleep seem like a really good idea. He's managed to stay awake for a good three hours this time, which means he's getting closer to the day he will finally be released from Carson's clutches.
Carson checks machines and asks annoying questions until Rodney snarls at him, then throws his hands up and retreats. He stops to pat Teyla's hand on the way out and glares over his shoulder at Rodney; the lights turn themselves off as he leaves. The door stays partly open so that the lights from the rest of the infirmary hold back some of the darkness, but Rodney still hears Teyla's sharp indrawn breath, hastily stifled.
He doesn't hesitate. "Carson!"
Carson's head reappears in the doorway. "What now, Rodney?" he demands testily.
Rodney glares back, crossing his arms over his chest as well as he can while laying down. "Did it even once occur to you that people who've been buried under piles of rubble in total darkness might like it if, oh, the lights stayed on?"
Carson starts to snap something back, then visibly stops himself, looking chagrined. "I'm sorry, Rodney, you're right. I should have asked."
Rodney had expected that snappy comeback, planned for it; the apology leaves him flailing. "Yes, well... " Rodney concentrates briefly and the lights come back up at about 20 percent, which will probably always be cool. "That's better. Thank you, Carson, that will be all."
"Oh, well, glad to be of service, then," Carson says sarcastically, and leaves with another apologetic smile in Teyla's direction.
Silence falls, broken only by the quiet murmur of voices from the infirmary, and the ever-present susurration of the ocean against the walls of the city. Rodney has a theory about Atlantis' acoustics and architecture, that the Ancients deliberately designed the city to allow the sound of the waves to be heard everywhere, even in isolated rooms hundreds of feet above the ocean. Given that they incorporated water into every other aspect of the city, he thinks his theory has merit, although it's far down on his list of priorities for experimentation.
"Thank you," Teyla says quietly. "I... am not fond of the darkness, now."
"I'm not exactly a fan at the moment myself," Rodney answers after a moment, not as sarcastically as he could have. "I've been assembling quite a collection of brand-new phobias courtesy of the Pegasus galaxy -- we'll just add nyctophobia and claustrophobia to the ever-lengthening inventory. I've never understood people who collect things," he adds on a yawn, his eyelids starting to drift shut.
Teyla laughs lightly and echoes his yawn; he opens his eyes enough to see her turn her face into her pillow, her eyes closed. Her face is still bruised, a cut above her eye stitched shut, and he muses for a moment on the vast and impossible odds against meeting one of the most beautiful women he's ever known far out here in this hellish galaxy.
He could be home now, on Earth, with no explosions or jumpers crashes, or Wraith attacks or murder attempts by lunatic city-states. No earthquakes or cave-ins or new phobias. No nightmares about everything he's done and didn't do. But he's out here instead, and Earth isn't home any more, and at this moment, he doesn't know if he'll ever choose to go back.
Teyla's eyes open, catching him watching her, and she smiles drowsily. "You did very well, Rodney."
He thinks about it, then nods. "Yes. Yes, we did." He keeps his eyes on her face until her smile widens and she nods back, a tiny, gracious incline of her head.
It's a quiet little moment -- rare for Pegasus, rarer for them -- and Rodney finds himself oddly reluctant to let it go. But Teyla's eyes eventually slip closed, and she murmurs "Good night, Rodney," gently but firmly.
"Ah. Yes." He turns his face back up towards the ceiling and makes a show of closing his eyes. "Good night."
Rodney listens to Teyla sleep for a little while, enjoying the peace and the safety and the not-being-alone in ways he's still only just learning to appreciate. He's not aware of his breathing falling gently into rhythm with his teammate's as he drifts off.
He dreams of light and of breakfast and of flying, high above the ground and the towers of Atlantis.