"I want… to see… the sky!" he yelled. He liked to have something to yell when he had the strength. Sometimes it was just a string of barely remembered obscenities. Today it was a request that was unlikely to be met. It made him feel powerful in a strange way. Like he was still a person, a living human being. But it was getting more difficult. As days ran into weeks they were beginning to wear him down.
His eyes were squeezed shut as usual. It was better this way. He was ready for the pain as rough hands grabbed his arms and wrenched his shoulders painfully. Two or three smacks to the head later and the back of his skull hit the ground in a blinding flash of pain. They didn't seem to care what he said. They never did. As they kicked him around and ground his fingers under their boot heels, they didn't care if they heard words or screams.
A token struggle later and he was dumped back into his cell. There was a brief clatter and bang as his meal was thrown in with him. It wouldn't be touched; Rodney had decided the previous day that starvation was preferable to endless torture. They had started on his ribs, and Rodney was terrified at the thought of enduring that kind of pain again. He'd spent hours thinking of a way out for himself and considering they had taken everything he had except his clothes, starvation was all he could come up with. They didn't come for him every day but when they did he was beaten and generally roughed over, more or less for the hell of it. They never asked him anything.
He managed to pull himself to sitting and leaned heavily against the slimy wall of his prison. Sleep would come now, he could tell. The dizziness was worse every day, brought on by hunger and the regular beatings, he supposed. Rodney closed his eyes and thought of sky.
Rodney liked the sky. It was big; never oppressive, never too close; there was always room to breathe where you could see sky. God, he missed it. Missed it so much he felt like crying. Actually, he was crying. There was no sky here. There was darkness and cold, black walls. The ceiling was low and the room he was locked in was small. As he wept it occurred to him that maybe he was slowly going mad. He looked down and saw that Teyla had her arm around him now. He could almost feel it, especially if he raised his head and gazed into her sad, dark eyes. Maybe this time she would stay and not fade away into the gloomy, damp walls. Sometimes he would ask her a question or beg her to stay, but this time he just watched her quietly and let the tears slide down. She never answered his questions, only looked at him with such pity and regret that he couldn't bear it. He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed for sky. Prayed so hard…. and abruptly and blessedly it was there, in his mind. The clear blue sky of his first summer in college. Lying on his back against cool grass, soaking up the heat while insects buzzed and the scent of clover drifted in the air. A time when he had felt invincible, one bright spark amidst so many mediocre ones.
He awoke to rumbling and a vibration that ran through the floor and walls.
"Sky is falling, Chicken Little…" he mumbled and managed a small chuckle. Opening weary eyes he found that Teyla had indeed gone. It didn't surprise him but it gave him a pang of sadness; he was alone again. He gathered the tatters of his clothing around him, hugging himself to keep warm. He could feel a shiver run down his back, a vague tightness in the chest, and he allowed himself a moment of pure joy when he considered that contracting a serious illness would mean an even quicker release from his nightmare. Then a sun exploded right next to him and he was slammed sideways into the wall.
"Ow…" Rodney lowered his head to his hands and watched while stars sparkled and popped behind his closed eyes. Well, this was new. He wondered vaguely how this invention of his defective brain could feel so damn real – painfully real, and he rubbed at his bruised shoulder. But it couldn't be real. He had accepted the truth early on. No one was coming for him. He knew he would never see sky again.
So, when the dust settled and he saw John Sheppard standing where the wall should have been, he actually giggled. He wanted so badly to shout some witty yet biting comment across to Sheppard – something like, "Hey, why'd ya leave me?" - but found his giggles had turned into breathless, gasping laughter. Curling around himself he tried to hold together his broken ribcage.
Hands were on him now, ghost hands that felt so warm and real he almost dared to hope. He felt he ought to struggle somewhat, and he weakly batted at the air. A warm hand laid gently on his cheek, another took hold of his flapping left arm, stilling his movement. Still laughing weakly he was surprised when he felt himself firmly scooped up, coming to rest against a comfortable surface, his face pressed into something warm. He inhaled a scent that was fleetingly familiar; it calmed him and slowed his breathing. As the laughter turned once more into hitched giggles he realized his eyes were closed and he had no real strength to open them. He was drifting – through space, and in his own mind too. Again he saw the sky. This time, the deep and inky blue of that hour before daybreak as the stars begin to blink out. An alien sky he had watched so many times standing on a chilly Atlantis balcony clutching a coffee mug. Was it really so long ago that he had left his city? Left with his team, only to be abandoned and imprisoned by persons unknown for reasons unfathomable.
He could hear now a strange and unsettling sound… someone was sobbing, sobbing uncontrollably, and it scared him. His face felt cold and wet, but then careful hands wiped away the chilly moisture. He realized that he was now lying flat, on a firm but comfortable surface… and he was warm. Oh, Jesus he had not felt warm for the longest time. He was lying cocooned in soft blankets, whilst nearby, there was the murmur of friendly voices. Suddenly, he knew that the unthinkable had happened: His team had not abandoned him. He heard the crying cease and began to hear distinct voices instead, some loud and some barely a whisper.
"Hold on, buddy; almost there"
"Yes Ma'am, we have him"
"I need you to get us in the air now, Major. All possible speed."
Hands on him again. But Rodney was not afraid just thankful, so thankful.
"Hailey, try the other arm…. No, don't speak, lad…"
As he struggled for words that just would not come, a small, soft hand lightly grasped his and he knew for certain it was Teyla.
"You are on your way home, Rodney", she breathed, and he could feel her breath on his cheek as she leaned close.
He wanted to say thanks, because he never ever wanted to go back to that dreadful and sunless place. But somehow, by the time his brain and mouth had figured out how to speak again, he gasped,
"Stay….. Don't go…. "
He was fighting to breathe, and he felt the cool whisper of oxygen on his face. One hand weakly felt for the mask, the other still clutched Teyla's hand.
"Leave that there, son, you need it. Teyla? I think he means you, love"
Warm and welcome pressure on his fingers as Teyla squeezed tighter.
"I am here. I shall not leave", she said simply.
And Rodney knew that this Teyla - the real Teyla - would stay.
Carson was here too, and Sheppard…Yes, Sheppard had come for him. Who else was there?
He couldn't see a thing, which immediately struck him as strange. Why were they all sitting in the dark?
Sudden panic gripped him…
"Can't see you… W-where are you?"
"Rodney," a voice said firmly "you still have your eyes closed. Easy now, we've dimmed the lights for you "
Making a conscious and deliberate effort, Rodney forced his eyelids open and immediately saw dim but recognizable shapes.
On his left, was Carson and a gently smiling nurse. Somehow they had between the two of them managed to strip him of his rags, splint several of his fingers, hook him up to two IV's and were now administering oxygen. Flopping his head to the right, he saw Teyla at his shoulder, her face hanging above him smiling like an angel.
His head rolling back to centre he found that he was squinting down the length of a jumper, his body on the floor and his head slightly raised. It was bright and he blinked rapidly, trying to clear blurry vision. Up ahead he saw two – or was it three – hazy figures. By the familiar way they moved, he recognized both Sheppard and Ronon.
But they were not the object of his attention.
Behind them, filling the front screen and causing the figures to dim and recede, was the most beautiful, vibrantly blue sky.
Rodney smiled to himself.
He was going home.