Warnings: Some swearing.
Beta: ga unicorn, to whom I owe a huge debt.
Requests: Written for the "Back to Basics" ficathon, for Kara (aricadavidson). Kara requested a story involving one of the following: torture (and lots of it), or two consciousnesses sharing one body, or our heroes as Wraith prisoners. I went with the first, and twisted it.
Notes: Huge debt to Joss Whedon on this. I love Buffy, and I've used some elements from a Buffy episode in this one. Any obvious references are intentional.
"Get down!" John shouted over the roar of gunfire. Rodney ducked behind a pillar as chunks of plaster sprayed out from it. Heart beating wildly, knowing that the pillar's shelter was only temporary, Rodney made a dash for the nearest doorway. As he ran, he felt projectiles spin past him and hit the ground at his feet. Thank God that the Cadrai are as poor marksmen as they are scientists, he thought as he threw himself through the opening. He crashed headfirst into Anita Gupta, one of the members of his science team.
"Up, up, up!" he said hurriedly, yanking the scientist to her feet and pushing her in a mad rush down the hallway. They sprinted to the next doorway where Rodney thrust out a hand, forcefully stopping her momentum. "Wait," he whispered, peering around the edge of the opening, scouting to see if there were any armed Cadrai in the area. Seeing no one - just a large, leafy courtyard, Rodney nodded and waved her forward.
Anita nodded, her dark eyes bright and scared, and took a step into the courtyard.
The blast spun her, then threw her against the far wall.
Rodney stood, frozen, as the world slid into slow motion. She was just...What had just...He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped.
"We need to go," John said, his expression intent.
Rodney blinked, and the world speeded up again. "But..." His eyes moved to Anita again. She was dead. It was obvious. She was dead. It was her first off-world mission, and she was...
"We need to go," John repeated urgently. "We'll come back for her later, if we can."
Rodney nodded and, as John turned away, he saw Anita's eyes flash open. Rodney took an involuntary step backwards. She was dead; the crush injury to her head was enough to...God, she was dead, but her eyes were open, and she was staring at him, her gaze burning into his and...
Rodney's eyes flew open. He flailed against sweat-dampened sheets as he struggled to sit up. Heart pounding madly, he triggered the lights.
His room was empty. He was alone. It was night.
He let himself fall back onto the bed. It was a dream, some sort of nightmare, because Anita had died back there. Her eyes had never opened. Even when they'd gone back there to recover the body, her eyes had been closed. He knew, because he'd made sure he was part of the team who... He ran a shaking hand across his face, then pushed the covers away. There was no way he'd be able to sleep after that. He stood and grabbed yesterday's shirt from the back of the chair. Pulling it and his sweats on, he left his room.
Rodney kept up a brisk pace as he moved through the empty, night-dimmed corridors, doing simple equations in his head as a way to shake off the dream, which still clung to him. Head down, he started doing random calculations. The density of loose granular sugar, versus that of hard candy. It was odd that he'd had this dream now, rather than right after Anita had died last week. He did another mental calculation using crystallographic information and molar mass. He was sure that Heightmeyer would have an answer, but he wasn't about to -
Rodney's head snapped up and he stopped, surprised. "John. Sorry." He grimaced slightly and tugged at his wrinkled shirt. John, even this late at night and out of uniform, looked completely together, while Rodney was sure that he looked -
"You okay?" John asked, head cocked to the side, his gaze frankly appraising.
"Yeah. Yeah," Rodney said, distracted. "Why?"
John glanced at Rodney's feet, then back up. "You're not wearing any shoes."
Rodney looked down at his bare feet, then back up at John. Before he could comment, he gasped. Anita was there, large as life, just past John's shoulder. John started talking, but Rodney didn't respond, unable to take his eyes away from Anita. Christ, God and all that was holy, what -
"What is it?" John said, looking back over his shoulder to where Rodney was staring.
Rodney could barely hear John over the sound of his own heartbeat. He stared into Anita's eyes as she stood there, umoving. He frowned. There was no accusation in her eyes - in her place, Rodney would be screaming vitriol, but Anita was just staring. If anything, she looked a bit sad.
As he watched, she turned away, her movements fast, too fast.
Rodney stood there, frozen.
John was looking at him, studying him, and seeing too much. Rodney turned and left without a word.
Knowing that attempting sleep would be pointless, Rodney spent the rest of the night in the lab, trying to lose himself in work. Whenever his mind would drift back to John, or the dream, or whatever he'd seen in the hallway, he would start to calculate the density of the objects around him. When that didn't work, he began expressing those densities in terms of different base units - metric, Imperial, then even to more obscure units, like bushels - mindless calculations designed to keep his mind occupied.
When morning came and the city began to wake, Rodney assigned himself a project as far from the control room, and as far from John Sheppard, as possible.
And that night he had another dream.
He woke before sunrise, his bladder full from the drinks they'd had at the celebration the night before. Stumbling from the tent, he started walking toward the nearby outhouse. The small building was silhouetted in the moonlight, and Rodney found himself musing on some of the constants they'd found on the planets they'd visited. The similarities between lavatory facilities, for example - He felt a sharp pain at the side of his neck. Slapping his hand over the area, he felt a feathery something embedded in his skin. He carefully, delicately pulled it away. Puzzled, he stared down at the tiny white object cupped in his palm. Then the world spun, and the ground came up to meet him.
Rodney leapt to wakefulness with a gasp, his pounding heart and harsh breathing filling his small room. No, no. It was a dream, it was a dream, and it hadn't really happened. That particular mission, two days ago, had gone well. In fact, that mission was actually one of the few that had done so, lately. It seemed as if, ever since Anita had died, all of their missions had been rather spectacular failures.
He ran his hands through his hair, glanced at the clock and groaned. Only two more hours before he had to be at work, so forget sleeping. Instead he got up, dressed, and went to his lab. Throughout the day, he saw Anita everywhere: over Radek's shoulder in the lab, behind him in line for lunch, sitting beside Elizabeth in the briefing room.
Just brief glimpses, here, there, and everywhere...There one moment, and gone the next. Finally, after spying her for a brief second in a hallway, Rodney hid himself in one of the bathrooms. He ran water into the basin and pressed his wet hands against his cheeks, then his forehead. Staring at his own reflection and cocking his head to the side, he realised that he looked - well, not good. Tired, he looked tired, that was all, and all of this was just because he was so "...damned tired," he muttered aloud, his voice echoing in the empty space. He tried to smile at himself, but let it fall away.
He was beginning to think he was coming a bit unhinged, whether from exhaustion or guilt, he didn't know. He heard quiet laughter in the empty room, then noticed that it was coming from him, so he raised an eyebrow at his own reflection and rephrased - had come unhinged. Maybe he should talk to someone. He stared into the mirror, gazing into his own, wild eyes. Right. Someone, definitely, but not Heightmeyer, because she'd take one look at him and know, she'd know...actually, he wasn't quite sure what she'd know, but it wouldn't be good. He wouldn't go see her unless he was ordered to. But he had to talk to someone, so...John. He tapped his radio and barked, "Where's Colonel Sheppard?"
"You've had guys die, right?"
Rodney had finally cornered John in his room, and it was quite obvious that he'd woken the man from sleep. It wasn't until John had answered the door, rumpled and half-dressed, that Rodney realised how late it was.
Fabulous. He could add "losing track of time" to his existing list of "nightmares" and "hallucinations of dead people."
Rodney suddenly noticed that John had said something that he'd missed, so he repeated his question impatiently. "You've had guys die. Members of your team. People you were responsible for?"
John looked puzzled, but waved him inside.
Rodney spun to face John as the door closed. "I mean, where it was your fault."
John's expression changed, closed down, and he crossed his arms over his chest.
Rodney flinched. "Well, not your fault, but under your command." He hesitated, then tried again. "Listen, I'm not saying this right."
John still looked closed off, but he started talking. "What are you trying to say?"
Rodney sighed and looked away. "I...I've been having these..." He turned back to John, a fake smile plastered on his face. "Sorry, stupid idea," he said, and left as quickly as he had come.
Please let me know what you think of this story so far. Thanks!