TITLE: Arbitrary Choices
RATING: T (language, dark theme)
CATEGORY: Gen, angst, hurt/comfort (whump) mention)
SPOILERS for season 3 episode "Progeny"
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SUMMARY: Tag for season 3 episode "Progeny." Disturbed by what the Asurans did to them, Rodney finds he's not the only one who can't sleep..
Pie. All he wanted was one piece of damn pie. Was it too much to ask the incompetents who staffed the nightshift in the mess hall to have adequate supplies on hand? Especially after, once again, the team saves Atlantis from impending doom? It wasn't as though the kitchen staff had to protect their stock of flour from mutant boll weevils from Zanti Prime or other such nonsense. No, they just had to keep enough food on hand so that those who kept Atlantis from sinking into the depths or being blown to bits could be properly fed.
"Sir, we do have—"
"Yes, yes." Rodney cut off the young soldier with a sharp wave of his hand and an even nastier lash of the tongue. "Stock and replenishment issues, but perhaps you should not cater so much to the military personnel and always let them always have seconds. In fact, I'm willing to bet the last piece of pie went to someone with a gun."
A smile crept onto the thin lips of Corporal Riley's long face, and Rodney thought it really wasn't all that flattering, but then the buzzcut made the soldier look like some gawky thirteen year old. "In fact, Dr. McKay..." He motioned his thumb past the scientist.
Rodney followed the man's gesture. His eyes narrowed in contempt as he saw the target of his stomach's desire laid out in plain sight. In fact, there were two pieces of pie in front of just one man, a man at a lone table who seemed fixated on sipping a cup of coffee and staring at his watch.
Grabbing a brimming cup of hot coffee, Rodney ignored the abrupt slosh and resultant dribbling trail he left as he made his way past the empty tables. He slurped up a mouthful of the dark brew before he set the cup down with an audible thunk on the table.
"Rodney." Sheppard looked up from his watch. "It's nearly three in the morning. What are you doing up?"
"I'm always up," Rodney shot back, not caring that as he dragged a chair to the table, it made a horrid screeching noise akin to fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard. Sheppard didn't seem to care that much, except for a slightly visible wince that crossed his face. "I have more work than time. And your excuse is?"
"Can't sleep," remarked Sheppard drolly, shifting his gaze down to the pie slices. "Besides, trying to make a decision. You know, apple or cherry."
Sheppard looked like he could some sleep. Fatigue had crept in around the eyes, deepening shadows, something that Rodney had seen in the mirror just an hour ago on his own face. In fact, he didn't think any of the team was going to sleep tonight, not unless they got some help from Carson in the form of little happy pills. Carson's precious bottle of malt scotch sounded far more preferable, except that drinking in excess made Rodney sick, very sick, and a hangover wasn't worth a few minutes of mindless bliss, if he could even achieve such a state to make him forget.
"Two pieces?" accused Rodney. "And people make spurious allegations that I'm a dessert hog."
"It was just an arbitrary decision," Sheppard remarked dryly.
Rodney actually rolled his eyes. Leave it to the colonel to drag up those insane conversations they'd had back in the pseudo-Atlantis city.
"You know, it all seemed so real."
Rodney blinked in surprise. Sheppard wasn't looking at him. His gaze was on the piece of cherry pie that remained as yet unmolested by any eating utensil. Rodney didn't really want to talk about what the Asurans had done to them. Elizabeth had ordered them all to see Kate as time allowed, which meant it had to be done within the next two days. No rainchecks. Her eyes had just darkened at some remembered horror and she'd left it at that, as had Teyla. Only Ronon seemed to deal well with what had been done with him, but then, all he'd had to deal with was a fight, not being forced to….
"You're not going to change your security code again, are you?" Rodney was beginning to think his quest for a pie slice had been ill conceived. His eyes were drawn to the cherry pie – and he didn't even really like cherries all that much – but the redness suddenly too bright under the mess hall lights.
Sheppard dumped another sugar cube in his coffee. Rodney studied the extensive little pile stacked up on a dish. Not just dumped but deliberately constructed in a little pyramid. If the man was trying to commit suicide by sugar, he was well on his way toward that goal if he ate all those cubes and the pie slices. "No, I think twice was enough," Sheppard finally replied.
"Good, because with all the information that those things got out of us, I have my work cut out for me," sighed Rodney. "In fact, I'll be working on it for weeks." He yanked his eyes away from the cherry slice.
Vivid red, too much red, spattering…
"Weeks?" Sheppard put down his coffee, a worried gaze locking on McKay. "There's no danger of an attack—"
"No," Rodney grabbed a sugar cube from the stack, ruining the careful line of the pyramid. How long had Sheppard been sitting there fiddling with sugar? He dumped the cube in his coffee. "Hello? I'm not stupid. I took care of the vital systems as soon as we got back to Atlantis. What did you think I've been doing?"
Sheppard frowned, then stared quizzically at the scientist.
"What?" Rodney demanded.
"I read the SGC reports…" began Sheppard, which Rodney instantly took to mean 'I skimmed the reports for vital military stuff and disregarded all the science crap as it will make my brain hurt.' "That 'probe' ... it doesn't cause brain damage, does it?"
Red, pooling out obscenely on the control room floor, and the screams...
"Uh, no. Just a headache that fortunately didn't last too long," Rodney answered quickly, but since when was he a physician? The headache had been the least of their worries. "Earlier encounters SG-1 had had with those forms of replicators has proven that, and I'd know if my brain was damaged. As for you, well…"
Sheppard ignored the subtle insult. He picked up his fork but still seemed indecisive on which pie slice to attack, then said very calmly, "I blew up Atlantis."
Rodney cocked his head. "Excuse me? You did what?"
"That's why I had to change self-destruct code." Sheppard put down his fork, shoving it around aimlessly on the table's smooth surface before looking up. Rodney was shocked to see what looked like regret in the man's hazel eyes. "What they made me see… We escaped and got back to Atlantis, but then the Wraith attacked. The city was falling under impossible odds – even you couldn't do anything about - It was the only course of action I could take."
Rodney shut out the screams that threatened to run constantly through his thoughts, harsh memories put at bay only by forcing his mind to work on complex problems that required no emotion, and now Sheppard was - what? - proposing dream therapy? He didn't need it. Didn't want it.
"Didn't we all?" muttered Rodney darkly. He didn't do torture very well. He'd never thought about torture, at least not until he came to the Pegasus Galaxy. They'd all had their personal nightmares to bear from the probes and quite honestly, blowing up Atlantis was far preferable to what he'd gone through. Yes, explosions. Quick, clean, but mostly, quick.
Sheppard went back to intently studying his watch. After all they'd been through, the casual but odd action just bugged the hell out of Rodney and he didn't know why except that it did. He reached over, grabbed the colonel's wrist and glared at the watch face. "What? It works."
"I know it works." Sheppard tugged away from the grasp, but not with any great effort. He straightened his jacket sleeve, and it was then that Rodney realized the man hadn't even changed clothes from the mission, except for the lack of heavier tactical ordinance. "It's just that…" He picked up the fork again, but began poking at the stack of sugar cubes instead of the pie. Rodney counted nine cubes left. "Have you ever driven from one place to another and then can't remember doing it? Like you're on automatic?"
"Yes, yes." It wasn't like he'd actually had those blank periods like other people did. He was still amazed that Sheppard had been astounded that yes, Rodney did indeed know all of the gate addresses of all of the worlds they'd visited since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy. What Rodney had sadly become accustomed to was the fact that Sheppard, nor any other team member, had the wherewithal or brain power to do the same.
"During the… interrogation," Sheppard winced as that word escaped his lips, and it wasn't the word Rodney would have chosen to describe his experience, said "I can remember the escape, arriving at Atlantis, but then suddenly, it was like hours had vanished and I couldn't remember what had happened in between that and the wraith attack."
"I guess the Asurans didn't want to waste time with getting what they wanted," shot back Rodney flatly. They'd all been shell-shocked afterwards – he knew he'd been – and if he'd thought about, he would have seen how much time had passed. Had it taken only a few seconds to put them all through hell to extract the information or did the replicators, for whom time meant nothing, just, well, taken their time?
Sheppard speared a cube with one tine of the fork. It was rather impressive, but a useless skill unless he needed to impress some beautiful female alien for whom sugar-cube-spearing had cultural significance. The colonel dumped the item in his half-empty cup of coffee, watching as the tiny cube sank out of sight.
Light glinted off the fork, its reflection brief in the muted atmosphere of the mess hall. A passing action the Rodney normally ignored, but now, he suddenly found the need to continue the conversation, anything to not think of the flash of light off razor-sharp steel, of blood cascading down torn flesh and pain and screams that split his eardrums, of his inability to act and breath. "So now you're making sure that time marches on? Really, colonel, that's rather ridiculous."
"How do we know we're even 'here'?" Sheppard abruptly posed.
Because the floor wasn't slick with blood, and the knife wasn't coming down - again and again and again.
"I could poke you in the head again," Rodney threatened as a joke, forcing the awful memories and the bile back down. It hadn't happened, but it had seemed so real. He reached across the table, poking Sheppard in the arm. "See, still there."
"I know it's real, I guess," Sheppard admitted, shrugging.
"Of course it is," Rodney forced the reply, because he needed the reassurance just as much as Sheppard did, even though the man was doing it in a roundabout and bizarre fashion. "Oberoth and his little robotic minions wouldn't waste their time letting you dawdle forever over dessert. I think even they'd have their limits." A frown etched into Rodney's face as a disturbing thought rose in his mind. "You know we're here, right? You're not going to try to blow up Atlantis, as really, I've got my room just the way I want it."
The reply was a shock because Rodney had expected a smirk to accompany some 'witty' comment that Sheppard always had in situations like these. Sheppard didn't seem to notice Rodney's concern and instead finally stabbed his fork into one of the pie wedges. Rodney grimaced as he was watched the outer crust removed in one section of the wedge, exposing the cherries beneath - very much like skin torn from a body, exposing the viscera below. P Red, red, too red. Bright arterial blood. Warm and sticky and running down his hands.
"Are you okay?" Sheppard held the fork up, motionless, until a glop of cherry fell off, back to the plate. "You look a bit pale."
"Just hungry." If anything, Rodney had lost his appetite as the dark memories kept resurging in his mind. He knew he required food, and that need had driven him to the mess hall. He hadn't eaten a thing since they'd returned and despite his previous assertions that coffee was a food group in itself, it wouldn't do to embarrass himself by passing out from lack of sustenance.
The slice of apple pie was shoved toward him. "Help yourself," said Sheppard. The colonel looked around the table. "Sorry, but I brought only one fork."
Rodney studied the proffered plate with mild suspicion. It wasn't like the apples were held together with a watery paste. Despite his complaints about the distribution of food in the mess hall, the pies they made were thick and tasty, and could easily be a meal by themselves. Maybe it was the squat mainland apples that made the difference, but he could live on finger food for a while. Just the thought of sharp, shiny metal instruments of any kind made his stomach roil. He picked up the pie wedge carefully with his hands.
"Are you okay?" Sheppard repeated.
Rodney frowned. Of course the colonel would wait until he stuffed half the pie in his mouth to ask that question. The pie tasted too good to spit out even one crumb, so he savored the food and swallowed, thankful for the brief reprieve. "Just hungry, I'm fine."
Sheppard let his fork clatter to his plate, placing both forearms on the table. For a brief second he looked upset, but calmed whatever emotions were troubling him. "Rodney, Teyla won't even talk to me about what they put her through. and Elizabeth said she'd been through worse with the NID. Ronon, well, he's Ronon."
"I'm fine," repeated Rodney, biting off another piece of pie before it crumbled in his grasp, or before he crumbled, said something he didn't want to say.
"Oh yeah?" Sheppard studied the scientist for a long moment in obvious concern, which made Rodney feel rather uncomfortable. He arched an eyebrow quizzically. "Hideous and… intimate? Somehow, I don't think they had Carter basting you in lemon juice."
Rodney nearly choked on the pie, but managed to swallow the mouthful. "Are you trying to kill me?" he squeaked, coughing. He took a healthy swig of coffee, then realized with disgust that he left sticky apple all over his mug.
Sheppard was still looking at him like a specimen under a microscope, with that piercing gaze that, if Rodney had been some underling in the military machine, might have made him uncomfortable and fearing for his chances of promotion. Yet in this case, it was oddly comforting, like a balm against a throbbing wound.
Rodney forced a smirk on his face. "Yes, hideous," he said lightly, although his grip on the coffee mug would have broken it if it were not metal. "While you were busy blowing up Atlantis, I was busy saving it. The usual stuff, you know."
"Uh huh," muttered Sheppard. It was obvious he could see through Rodney's bald-faced lies. He poked listlessly at the cherry pie and McKay again found the boring surface of the table much more interesting. "Listen, I'm heading off. See if I can catch some sleep. Kate's got you scheduled for tomorrow morning, well, later today."
Rodney met Sheppard's gaze. "As if Elizabeth hadn't mentioned it several dozen times already."
"Well, sometimes you don't listen," said Sheppard with a grin, but the smile was tired, rife with underlying dark emotions that the lateness of the hour couldn't keep hidden.
Rodney just nodded, watching Sheppard dump the hacked up pie slice in the garbage as he left with a cold cup of coffee.
He'd remembered Sheppard's deep scream piercing his consciousnesses, as well as the insane thought of how could torn flesh and lifeless eyes and a pulseless body scream? Rodney's eyes had shot open at the horrible scream that echoed through the Asuran cell, his one nightmare ending and another beginning as Oberoth extracted his hand from inside Sheppard's skull and the colonel collapsed bonelessly to the floor.
Yet a second later Sheppard had raised his head off the cold floor, confused and in shock but he'd spoken, and the living nightmare of still being a captive of the replicators surged through Rodney, and he realized that the other memory had been false.
Rodney had been cornered in the control room. The whole scenario had been a hideous recreation of when the Genii had tried to take Atlantis. Two of Oberoth's people had held him prisoner in their steel grasp, squeezing his arms behind his back so painfully that it brought tears to his eyes, while Oberoth towered over him, a smooth smile insidiously etched in his face. If Rodney didn't hand over the city, people would die, and to prove that they weren't lying, Oberoth had Sheppard brought out.
The colonel had struggled, but he'd been easily overwhelmed by sheer numbers. He'd been knocked down, pinned to the floor like a frog to a dissection plate. Sheppard ordered Rodney to keep his mouth shut no matter what they did to him, but then one of Oberoth's men brought out a knife and began cutting Sheppard. Deep cuts, slicing flesh down to the bone and severing muscles and tendons, drawing cries of agony and letting loose rivers of warm blood. Again and again. Over and over. Rodney had screamed and begged and told them whatever they wanted to know but they wouldn't stop their vicious assault. The blood pooled out around the colonel's mutilated body. A final, pained gasp tore from the man's bloodied lips before his eyes turned cold and accusing, the life in the body extinguished.
An hour with Kate wasn't going to make him forget what the replicators had nearly convinced him was real. Rodney stared into the depths of his coffee mug. Nothing would.