Thank you for all your comments and reviews. I'm sad to see this story end, but this is the final section:
Rodney felt a hand being placed on his, holding it still. "Rodney, stop that."
He snapped to the present, realising that he was no longer in the infirmary, but in Heightmeyer's office. His hands were out of restraints, and he was picking at the bandage on his hand.
"Sorry," he said, stilling his movement with some effort.
"...Can be managed, sometimes even overcome, with treatment."
"What can?" Rodney asked, feeling as if he were arriving in the middle of a conversation.
The doctor cocked her head, peering at him intently. "What have we been discussing for the past half hour?"
Rodney cocked his head right back at her, about to respond with a crack, when he realised that he couldn't actually remember. He couldn't even remember coming here.
"Wasn't I just in the infirmary?"
"That was earlier."
"Oh." He blinked. "Okay." He stared down at his bandaged arms, wondering what he had written there with his knife. He remembered doing that. The "why" was getting a bit fuzzy.
"Maybe we should break for now."
His head snapped up. "Yeah, sounds good."
The first visitor Rodney could clearly remember was John. He was surprised to open his eyes and see Sheppard sitting there in the infirmary, chair drawn up beside his bed and book in hand. As John had read aloud, Rodney had simply shut his eyes again, letting himself drift with the flow of the words.
Next was Ronon, who incongruously apologised for not recognising the problem from the start. Rodney wasn't even awake enough to realise what "problem" Ronon was referring to before the man said that it was something he'd seen on Sateda, and he should have known. As Ronon continued talking, Rodney realised that it was the longest speech he had ever heard Ronon make, and he really wanted to stay awake for it, but...
The last was Teyla, standing silently beside him with her arm in a sling. When she saw that he was awake, she smiled gently.
"Are you okay?" he asked, nodding to her arm. He thought he remembered her being injured on the mission, but he wasn't quite certain.
"I will be fine," she replied, and her smile fell away. "I hope you are recovering as well."
"I'm not sure," Rodney replied. "Kind of..." he let his voice fade off, hands swirling around his head as he tried to explain what he was feeling.
Teyla took one of his hands, stilling it. "My people have a ritual," she said, her voice pitched low as she placed his hand on the bed, hers resting on top of it. "We feel that war is polluting," she said, squeezing his hand. "It requires us to act outside the boundaries set by society. It's as if one puts on a persona, necessary for war, but inappropriate for life," she said, emphasising the final word.
Rodney nodded, not quite sure of where she was going with this.
"Before a warrior can return to her community, she must spend time with others who have shared that experience." She smiled softly. "We need space and time, ritual and ceremony to reclaim ourselves; to shed the warrior persona that is no longer appropriate, and which may be dangerous to ourselves and others."
"You've been through this ritual?" he asked.
"I have," she replied, her eyes serious. "And I would offer it to you, Rodney, if you'd be willing."
Rodney squeezed her hand, interrupting her. "I'll think about it. Thank you."
Teyla smiled, this one lighting her eyes. "You are quite welcome."
Rodney walked into Heightmeyer's office without knocking; already talking by the time she looked up from her paperwork.
"Teyla told me about this ritual," he said, stepping to her desk and sitting in the chair in front of it.
The doctor raised an eyebrow, but pushed her work aside. "Yes," she replied, waving a dismissing hand to the medic who'd accompanied him. "She'd mentioned it to me."
"What? When?" Rodney asked, turning to the door when it clicked behind his escort, then back to the doctor.
"Today. She thought it might be helpful to you."
"What do you think?" Rodney asked, leaning forward in his chair with his hands tightly clenched.
"What do you think about it?" Heightmeyer parried.
"Not so much," Rodney replied. He leaned back in his chair and, unclenching his fingers, started picking at his cuticles.
"The ritual part isn't the important thing," she said, pushing a lock of stray hair away from her face. "It's the rest of it that's important - sharing your experiences with people who've been through similar things and who can understand. It's a way to decompress, but also to gain some time and distance, and to help you regain your sense of self."
Rodney stood and started pacing the width of the small room. "Do you think it would work?" he asked after a moment, glancing in her direction.
"It might." She looked at him frankly. "Are you okay?"
He stopped in front of her desk. "Yes, why?"
"You seem a bit on edge."
"A bit," he said with a chuckle. He forced himself to sit. "Why is this happening to me?"
Rodney caught a slight frown before Heightmeyer schooled her features. "We've discussed this before. Do you not remember?"
He shook his head, rubbing his face in exasperation. He hated this, these holes in his memory. They were becoming less frequent, sure, but still were a royal pain in the ass.
"In the infirmary," the doctor explained, her voice gentle. "Doctor Beckett said the drugs you'd been given served to enhance the effects of the torture. They made it more vivid."
"Oh," he replied, his voice sounding lost to his ears. "Will I be stuck with all this?" he asked, gesturing to his head.
"The symptoms may abate with time."
"May?" he asked, his voice rising as he stood. "May? What do you mean by 'may'?" He sat in the chair again. "Why?"
She opened her mouth to respond, but he went on in a rush. "I know, the drugs, I know... but that's not really it, is it? Part of this must be me," he said, touching a fist to his chest. "Because why, if Sheppard...? God, he'd been in Afghanistan, and Teyla, with the Wraith, and Ronon, he spent years on the run." His hands, which had been flying as he spoke, now stilled on his lap. "Why are they so together, while I'm coming apart?"
"You're not alone in this, Rodney."
"Yes, I am. They're all fine, while I'm..." he let his voice trail off and he shrugged in defeat. Breaking eye contact, he slumped back in his chair.
"It will happen to everyone," the doctor said, her voice quiet.
"Yeah," he replied, matching her tone. "Anyone who is as weak as..."
"No, Rodney," she said, her voice firm. His eyes flew up to meet hers. "Not anyone. Everyone. Every single person who's put in a situation of such extreme stress and horror will have a reaction to it. No one will remain unscathed."
"Even Ronon?" Rodney asked, turning on his snarky smile.
"Even Ronon," she replied. "Your reaction was amplified by the drugs, yes, but it wouldn't have been an abnormal reaction even without them."
Rodney thought about the others on his team. Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, each of whom had been through similar, or worse, events. All of whom must, according to Heightmeyer, bear similar scars, even if some of them were hiding them better than others.
He had some things to think about.
Rodney could feel the warmth of the sun as it poured through the panes of his window, breaking into colours as it fell across his body. The dawn had come in a burst of light, and streams of it were flowing past him as he stood in the centre of his room.
He felt as if he were coming out of a fog. He wasn't sure if it was time and distance, as Heightmeyer had said yesterday, or the medications that Carson had prescribed, but he was starting to feel better, clearer. He was sure that being released from the infirmary, being allowed to be in his own room, alone, had something to do with it. The infirmary made him nuts. He grimaced. Well, crazier, anyway.
His eyes traced one shaft of light as it came in, breaking across his body. Looking down, he saw it curve across his bandaged arms.
He went to his bed and sat cross-legged on the mattress, slowly unrolling the bandage shrouding his left forearm. Once he had the wrapping swirled on the bed in front of him, he lifted the gauze pads and looked at the red welts and cuts scored into his flesh.
"Oh," he said aloud. He'd thought he'd written math - hell, he even remembered the calculations - but, "I dream'd in a dream..." he saw he'd written, and the entire poem came back to him in a rush.
"I dream'd in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;
I dream'd that was the new City of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love - it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words."
He traced a gentle finger across the word "dream".
Maybe Teyla's ritual was not such a bad idea. Maybe his team would be willing to use it; ostensibly for him, to help him get through this. But in reality, it would be for all of them: Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, and himself. Maybe it would help each of them heal what wounds lay beneath their veneers of civility and sanity.
Because this city itself was not invincible. The people within it certainly weren't. But the friendship, the love - perhaps, if nothing else, that could be.
Rodney's writing is from "Leaves of Grass," by Walt Whitman.
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