Thank you for your patience! Here it is, the last part – hope you like.
They were flying over Kansas farmland. Nothing but flat fields and an occasional scattering of buildings as far as the eye could see. The helicopter dropped altitude as they approached the target area. John anxiously scanned the ground looking for the barn Jacobson had described. John had talked briefly to General Landry informing him of the situation. Landry's tone promised of one hell of a dressing down, or worse, but true to the man's character, he had not used the opportunity to berate his subordinate, instead the conversation focused on finding McKay. A medical unit had been dispatched. John just hoped they wouldn't be needed. It took all of John's optimism to quell the negative voice in his head telling him he was too late.
"There it is!" Farrell called out, directing the pilot.
John leaned sideways to see out of the window. It was the only structure standing for what looked like miles. As they descended further he could see that it was very old, and it was a dark rusty colour, which perhaps at one point had been red. John willed the pilot to fly faster, fighting against the urge to pull the man out of his seat and fly the damn thing himself.
John opened the door before the helicopter had even landed, jumping out as soon as it touched down. He sprinted to the barn door and wrestled with removing the large piece of wood wedging the door closed.
The door creaked open and allowed in the soft rays of the summer evening sun. In the dim light, John could see the car. It was so quiet in the barn it was hard to imagine that anyone else was here, anyone alive, that is.
John reached the driver's door of the car and flung it open, grabbing for the trunk release lever. He popped open the trunk and went round to the back of the car.
John stood for a moment, taking in the sight of Rodney as the stench of sweat and fear wafted up from the trunk.
Rodney was lying squashed in the trunk in a curled up position. His legs were tied together with rope, his pants torn where he had struggled against his bonds, it looked like his hands were tied behind his back. His clothes clung to his body. There was no movement apart from the panting of his breaths, his panting breathing that was way too fast and labored to be normal. But that wasn't what made John catch his breath. Rodney's eyes were wide open and staring straight in front of him. If not for the breathing belaying the fact, he looked dead. His eyes were wide and spoke of unspeakable horror.
Farrell reached the car, and John heard him gasp as he saw Rodney.
John didn't spare Farrell a glance. "Help me get him out of here."
John looked over at the pilot standing by the open barn door. "I need something to cut the rope with." The pilot stared at him. "Now! Damn it!" John yelled. The pilot turned and ran.
John gripped Rodney's shoulders while Farrell grabbed his legs.
"Okay, on three. One, two, three!" They both lifted Rodney out of the trunk and placed him on the dirt floor.
John placed his fingers on Rodney's neck, checking his pulse. It was fast and weak.
He cupped his hand on Rodney's face, trying to get Rodney to look at him. "McKay, can you hear me? You're scaring me here. Come on, Rodney, don't do this."
Rodney continued to stare blankly into space, unseeing, his breath continuing to come in pants.
The pilot rushed over with a small knife and knelt down, cutting the rope around Rodney's legs.
They then maneuvered Rodney over to get to his hands.
"Holy shit!" Farrell exclaimed, shocked.
Rodney's wrists were a mess. The rope had cut through the skin and his wrists and hands were covered in blood.
"Shit is right," John said grimly. He grabbed the knife from the pilot and started cutting at the rope. It took a few minutes longer than it should have, as the rope was coated in blood and partially embedded in the swollen skin.
Once the rope was off, they turned Rodney again.
"What's wrong with him?" asked the pilot.
John rubbed at his face feeling frustrated and helpless. "The doctor at the hospital said dehydration." He pulled Rodney's shirt away from the skin. It had obviously been wet with sweat but had dried, clinging to his body. "I'd add hypoglycemia and shock. Rodney doesn't like closed-in spaces."
"He looks catatonic," Farrell pinched Rodney's skin then released it, "and severely dehydrated." He turned to the pilot. "Ellis, go check on the status of the med evac unit, we need it here yesterday, and grab the first aid kit."
The pilot nodded. "Yes, sir."
John looked at Farrell. "You have medical training?"
"Some. Not enough for this. This is totally out of my league."
John turned back to Rodney; he spoke in a calm voice. "Hey buddy, can you hear me? We got you. It's going to be okay now, Rodney. You're safe. Its okay, Rodney. It's Sheppard. I got ya, buddy."
Ellis, the pilot, arrived back and crouched on the floor with the first aid kit. "ETA on the med evac unit is twenty minutes."
"Okay, we can't do much for him here, but we can start to prepare him for transport, that should save us some time when the paramedics arrive. His wrists are still bleeding a bit. Let's clean and bandage them. At least that's something."
John nodded agreement. Doing something rather than nothing was always good in his book.
Farrell worked on Rodney with Ellis helping. John continued to talk to Rodney.
"Hold on, Rodney. We're going to get you out of here now. We're going to take you to a nice comfortable infirmary bed. Lots of nice drugs to make you feel better. Just hold on, you have to hold on. We have you now. Everything will be fine now. Do you hear me, buddy?"
Rodney's eyes slowly drifted shut.
"Rodney." John tapped Rodney's face - his head rolled to the side. "Rodney!" Nothing.
Then suddenly Rodney's body started shuddering. John looked at the unconscious man in horror. "What's happening?"
"He looks like he's having a seizure," Farrell answered.
Rodney's body convulsed out of control for a few moments, then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, and Rodney stilled.
Farrell checked Rodney's neck for a pulse while John grabbed his wrist to do the same. "Hold on, McKay. You need to hold on."
Rodney's panting breaths began to slow, stuttering in their frequency.
"Crap, Rodney! I told you to hold on!" John was now practically yelling.
"I think I can hear the med evac unit," Ellis said standing up. "I'll go check."
John looked up. He could hear the helicopter coming. He locked eyes with Farrell, understanding passing between the two men. This was going to be close.
Rodney gave a shuddering outward breath, and then there was silence.
"No." John felt for a pulse. Nothing. "No!"
"CPR, come on, sir, the medics are almost here." Farrell moved to breathe for Rodney but John got there first, opening Rodney's mouth and blowing in air. Farrell started counting out as he started compressions. It wasn't long before the med evac team entered the barn. They pulled John away as they placed a mask with a bag over Rodney's mouth and pushed oxygen into his lungs.
"I have a pulse," someone called out.
Relief flooded through John. Rodney was alive.
The next few minutes were a blur to John. He stood by and nervously ran his hand through his hair as the medics worked furiously assessing and treating Rodney, and getting him ready for transport. Farrell took responsibility for briefing the paramedics as to Rodney's condition, something John was grateful for.
As they loaded him onto the gurney to take him out to the helicopter, John grabbed one of the medics. "How is he doing?"
"It's not good, sir, but we'll do our best for him."
John used all the authority he could muster in his voice. "Give it to me straight."
"Well, sir, his blood pressure is practically non-existent and he's deeply unconscious. At the moment he's circling the drain. We need to get him to an ICU ASAP."
"Then you'd better go," John said grimly.
He stood for a moment staring after the retreating medical team then felt a hand on his back.
"Come on, sir. Let's get moving."
John turned to Farrell and nodded. "Let's go, Major."
The flight back to the SGC seemed to take forever. It was the General's call to bring Rodney back to Cheyenne Mountain. John felt the man needed to contain the situation – Doctor Jacobson was also being taken to the SGC.
As they flew they could see the med evac unit ahead of them. John found it difficult to watch without knowing what was going on inside the other helicopter. It took all his willpower to force his mind to stay positive and not conjure up images of Rodney flat-lining. Hypoglycemia – you needed glucose for that right? Dehydration – saline. He would be okay. The catatonic stuff could be sorted later – Rodney's mind was still there, it just needed coaxing out. It would all be fine. If they had got to him in time. Please let them have got to him in time.
Circling the drain. Fuck.
After what seemed like an eternity the helicopter landed. They were already unloading Rodney's gurney and all the paraphernalia that came with it. John ducked as he got out, the downdraft forcing him to a slower pace than he wanted. He caught up to the others but got no more than a glimpse of his friend as the medical team entered the building. They rushed through the corridors with John in their wake. Someone was holding the elevator open for them and the team rolled the gurney inside.
One of the men held out his arm, stopping John from following them, a slightly apologetic look on his face.
"Sorry, sir. You will have to catch the next one."
John looked at the man pumping air into Rodney's mouth as the doors slid closed.
He closed his eyes, feeling frustrated and powerless.
John stretched, trying to unkink his back. One of the nurses had brought him a padded chair, which was more comfortable than the hard plastic one that had become home for his backside more hours than he cared to recall, but sitting still for so long was hard on his body.
Rodney was going to live. It was going to take a while for his body to recover from the trauma it had been through – but he was going to pull through. John felt like he had aged ten years while the doctors had worked on Rodney, trying to pull him back from the brink of death – but in the end they had succeeded.
John's eyes roamed over Rodney's body for what felt like the hundredth time. Rodney was hooked up to less than he was before, but there was still a lot of equipment attached to him. John took in the wires and tubes that assessed Rodney's condition and provided sustenance and medicine. His eyes lingered on the bandaged and splinted wrists.
Doctor Lam had said that in addition to the burns and cuts Rodney had on his wrists, he also had stress factures due to struggling with the ropes binding his wrists. She had said that Rodney's hypoglycemia had become serious due to the compounding effects of dehydration and that hypoglycemia could cause combative behaviour, which may have made him fight his bonds despite the pain it must have caused. She was grim when she added that an extreme state of panic could also have resulted in the same thing.
John shook his head slightly as he thought about what his friend must have gone through in the truck of that car. He knew that Rodney tended towards claustrophobia; being shut in a car trunk for hours would freak anyone out, let alone someone with claustrophobia.
John looked at Rodney's face, the normally expressive features slack in sleep, well, unconsciousness to be exact. He wondered how long Rodney would carry the scars of being locked in that truck in his head, and in his soul. It should never have happened. They were on Earth, damn it! Why did the crap follow them home? John shrugged internally. Well, crap wasn't exclusively the property of the Pegasus Galaxy, he of all people knew that.
John sighed as he thought about the thing he had left for last in his latest assessment of his friend's condition. Possible brain damage, from the extreme dehydration and hypoglycemia.
It was unthinkable, Rodney with brain damage. His brain was how he defined himself, his most precious asset. Rodney's mind was an amazing thing. Not that John would ever say so to his face of course.
They weren't going to be able to check for brain damage properly until Rodney woke up, and he was sure taking his sweet time doing so. Until then all John could do was wait and endure the meaningless well wishes of the people around him.
Yes Rodney was going to live, and for that John was profoundly grateful, but John couldn't help wondering that if Rodney were brain damaged, would he want to be alive?
John almost missed it when Rodney's eyes did open. John looked up from the magazine he was flicking through to see Rodney's eyes open and staring.
John dropped the magazine and shuffled forward in his chair.
No response. John pushed the call button, and then tried again.
"Rodney, can you hear me?"
Still nothing. Silence and McKay just didn't go together. Come to think of it nor did stillness and McKay.
John stood up and shook Rodney's shoulder gently.
"Rodney, can you hear me?"
John watched as Rodney's eyes slid shut again just as the nurse arrived.
As he heard her come up behind him, John spoke over his shoulder.
"He was awake. At least, his eyes were open."
She came over and checked the monitors, "I'll go let the doctor know."
She disappeared, leaving John alone with Rodney again.
John sat back down in his chair, disappointed. Well, that was a bit of an anti-climax, he thought. He picked his magazine up but couldn't quite bring himself to start reading it again.
He sighed again, and waited for the doctor.
The doctor said that all the sleeping Rodney was doing was normal. After all, his body had been through the wringer. But the time Rodney was awake was not normal. He stared into space, completely unresponsive. The words 'psychological trauma' were bandied about, along with 'unknown brain damage.'
All John knew was that this silent and still person wasn't Rodney. Rodney was still lost in the trunk of that car and John had no idea of how to reach him and bring him back. He had plenty of time to think about it, sitting in that chair, but now time was running out. Landry had kindly given John time off – but had started to talk about putting him back on active duty. Psychiatrists had been consulted, but as yet no one had managed to communicate with Rodney. John did the only thing he could do – he talked. He talked to Rodney about Atlantis, about past missions, about Teyla, Ronon, Carson and Elizabeth.
Landry dropped by from time to time, Elizabeth had also made a fleeting visit. They both wished Rodney well and asked him to come back to them. So far nothing had helped.
John was in the middle of yet another mind-numbing monologue when a hand tapped his shoulder.
John grinned as he turned towards the familiar voice.
"Hey, Carson. I wasn't expecting you back yet."
"Well, I heard about Rodney." Carson looked serious. "I cut my visit short. I had to come to see if I could help."
"Go ahead, Doc. I think we're fresh out of ideas."
Carson pulled up a nearby chair.
"Well, why don't we start by you telling me the whole story?"
"Rodney, it's safe to come back. Ya friends are here. Colonel Sheppard is here. Aren't you, Colonel?"
"Yes, I'm right here, McKay. It's safe to come back now."
"That's right, you are tucked up safe and sound in the infirmary. Come back to us, Rodney."
They had been at it for hours, trying to reach Rodney in the dark frozen place his mind had gone to. But so far nothing. Why was nothing with Rodney ever easy?
Carson sat back in his chair and locked eyes with John. "Well, that's me out of ideas."
"What do they normally do with people who are catatonic?" asked John.
"Well, in some cases of catatonia, medication, and even electroconvulsive shock therapy have been used with some success, but in this case I don't think it is appropriate. The psychiatrists ruled out anything like that given his current medical condition."
"I should think so," said John with a shudder.
They both sat together in silence for a while lost in their own thoughts. Then John spoke. "I have an idea."
"Let's hear it."
"Well, we've tried the reassuring carrot approach. How about the stick?"
"What do you mean?" asked Carson suspiciously.
"We've tried talking to him about normal things and how safe he is, and he is safe, tucked away in his mind. So how about we wake him up by reminding him of where he last was?"
"I don't know about that, Colonel. That could distress him even more."
"And it could wake him up. If his mind is hiding somewhere safe, it has no reason to come back to us."
"I don't think it works like that, Colonel."
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," said John.
"Something Rodney might say?"
John nodded. "So we do it. Come on, I'm not going to go overboard. With all this talk of happy times we're denying how he's feeling. Trust me, I know Rodney."
"Okay, Colonel, you can try, but be warned I will stop you if I think you're going too far."
"Fair enough," agreed John. He stood up and moved closer to Rodney. "I know that bastard Jacobson locked you in the trunk, Rodney. He tied you up. You were cramped and you couldn't move. It was dark and it felt like you were running out of air. It was hot and he left you there. You yelled and probably screamed and no one came. You couldn't get free no matter how hard you struggled. You were hurt, you were sick and you couldn't hold on any longer, your pain and your panic took over. I know. Well, Rodney, I met Jacobson. I put my hands around his neck and cut off his air." John ignored Carson's sharp intake of breath from behind him. He had left that little tidbit out of his talk with Carson. "I forced him to tell me where he had left you. I came for you, Rodney. I'm here. I'm going to open the trunk now. You are free."
It was in the category of be careful what you wish for. One moment Rodney was quiet and unresponsive and the next his eyes shot open impossibly wide and full of terror. He catapulted unto a sitting position, his arms swinging and out of control, and started screaming. Not yelling, not calling out, but screaming, the sound ricocheting off the walls and into the hearts of those in the infirmary. It was a noise impossible to endure for long, speaking of horror and fright beyond imagining.
John and Carson were dumbstruck for a moment with shock, and then Carson muttered, "Dear God."
John and Carson tried to grab Rodney before he fell off the bed, trying to capture the flailing arms without being hit. John wrapped his arms around Rodney, attempting to subdue him.
John yelled out, "McKay!" The he changed his tactic, talking in a normal voice right into Rodney's ear. "Rodney, it's okay, it's over. You are safe. It's all over. Got your back, buddy. Everything is fine. Calm down."
Doctor Lam approached the bed, a prepared syringe in hand, Carson's glance at her keeping her at bay.
John kept talking through the screaming as they continue to hold Rodney down. Pressing him back onto the bed. After what seemed like forever, but probably was only a few moments, the struggling became less intense and the screaming gave way to pathetic mewing noises as Rodney panted for breath. Carson let go and grabbed an oxygen mask and put it over Rodney's mouth and nose.
"Easy, lad. Slow deep breaths. It's okay now, Rodney."
John eased his hold on Rodney but only backed off a few inches. He looked directly into Rodney's face. "Can you see me, Rodney?"
Rodney nodded, his eyes still open wide.
John smiled. "Good. Welcome back, McKay. It's all over. You're safe now. You understand?"
Rodney stared at John a few more moments, then nodded again, his body slumping against the bed as the tension leached out of it.
John sighed in relief. "Good. Very good." He perched back on the edge of the bed.
Carson had been busy, checking Rodney's vitals. A nurse handed him a cotton ball and tape to stop the bleeding on Rodney's arm where he had pulled out an IV. Carson applied pressure to the wound as he assessed his patient.
"Rodney, how are you feeling?"
Rodney continued to take panting breaths then raised his free arm and pulled away the oxygen mask. "Confused." His voice sounded cracked and broken.
"That's understandable. Just know you are safe now. Everything is going to be fine."
Rodney nodded, his eyes blinking. "Hurts. Tired."
"Aye, I'm sure. You can sleep in a minute. I need you to answer a couple of questions first. Can you try for me?"
Rodney paused then nodded again.
"Good lad." Carson looked pleased. "Do you know where you are?"
Rodney looked around. "Infirmary? How did I get here?"
"All in good time. "Can you tell me your full name?"
Rodney frowned. "Rodney McKay."
John couldn't resist. "Really? Your full name? All of it?"
Rodney looked at him in disgust. "Rodney McKay is all you are ever going to get out of me." His voice was hoarse, but the trademark McKay sarcasm had begun to creep in.
John grinned, visibly relaxing. "Now that's the Rodney I know."
Carson continued, "Can you tell me your birth date?"
Rodney's eyes blinked slowly again, his voice was slow and deliberate. "You said a couple of questions, unless there has been a big change in the English language while I have been unconscious that means two. Hold on, I'll save us both some time." He held up his finger and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again. "Yep, I'm all here. Now if you don't mind, I'm obviously a sick man and I need my sleep." He yawned. "Tired here… very ti…" With that his eyes fluttered shut and his breathing became slow and heavy.
Carson gently placed the oxygen mask back on Rodney's face.
John looked at Carson. "I'm thinking he is fine."
Carson looked directly into John's eyes. "We will still have to test him, but my opinion is that we can rule out brain damage. Thank goodness. But don't kid yourself, Colonel, something like this is hard to get over. He has suffered a significant psychological trauma. We will have to help him work through it. He is not fine, Colonel." Carson smiled. "But I think he will be. I've learnt never to underestimate Rodney."
John returned the smile. "You can't keep the man down for long."
Carson patted Rodney's leg. "I hope not, Colonel. I hope not."
Rodney opened his eyes and immediately looked over at his visitor's chair. It was obviously night-time, as the lights in the infirmary had been dimmed. But he could still see Sheppard clearly. He had a book in his lap and was fast asleep, twisted in the chair with his legs dangling over the arm and his head resting against the padded back of the chair. He looked very uncomfortable.
Every time Rodney had woken he had found either Sheppard or Carson at his side. They were obviously taking shifts. Rodney could never admit to anyone how that made him feel. It caused him pain. Deep in his heart, making his chest feel tight and his eyes prickle from the unshed tears that would embarrass him should they overflow. But it was a pain he could live with, maybe even one day accept. Then perhaps it would feel normal to realize that people cared about him. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt. He didn't really know why it hurt. Perhaps it was just too much emotion, something his soul had been craving for without realizing it. He had enough insight to know that he covered up how he was feeling with abruptness and sarcasm, but he also knew that he wasn't fooling these men, his friends.
They seemed to know that he needed them, and it was true, he did. Particularly when he woke thinking he was still locked up in that trunk. They were there to calm him and to tell him he was safe. And they knew exactly when to lighten the mood when he was fully awake to stop him feeling too humiliated by his own weakness. He was absurdly grateful; he just didn't know how to show it.
Rodney lay in the infirmary bed and let his mind drift over the last few days. It hadn't been an easy time. He hated it when his body betrayed him by being weak - it left him too vulnerable and meant he had to rely on others to help him with the simplest of tasks. He hated it even more when his mind betrayed him as it did when he was asleep by making him think he was still trapped in the car, in that dark tomb, where feelings of panic were like a whirlpool trapping him in its current, sweeping him away, out of control. Amazingly, he was thrown a lifeline every time and pulled back in. He didn't know what would have become of him without John and Carson to guide him back to safe reality. He could feel himself getting better. His body was recovering and he was feeling more in control, and he had his friends to thank for that.
He thought about the visitors he had had in the last few days. Landry had popped by on more than one occasion. He seemed truly horrified by what had happened to Rodney. The General appeared shaken that he had not somehow seen through Jacobson's illusion of sanity. He told Rodney that Jacobson had been judged psychotic and was unlikely to see the light of day for a considerable amount of time. Rodney had to bite back his automatic response to this apparently earth-shattering announcement. Although a mumbled 'ya think?' may have sneaked out under his breath. Landry spent some time talking about the work at Area 51, obviously hoping Rodney was still interested in working there, despite the fact that the staff there were obviously murderous lunatics hell-bent on kidnapping and hurting potential newcomers. Sure, he told the General, no problem.
Rodney smirked to himself.
Elizabeth had dropped by as well, though she seemed more subdued than usual. She appeared genuinely saddened that Rodney had been through such a horrible experience, but she wasn't her normal feisty self. Rodney was going to talk to Carson about her. He had a feeling that she was finding it even harder than the rest of them to let go of Atlantis.
Rodney's mind wandered to a most unlikely visitor he'd had earlier in the day. Woolsey. Woolsey had been on a short visit from Atlantis to brief the IOA in person. He had come saying he felt it was his duty as Rodney was still officially on the IOA payroll. He expressed his disgust at what had happened, and joined Landry in saying that he would do what he could to make sure Jacobson got what he deserved.
Woolsey also expressed his regret at the loss of Atlantis and said he understood how hard it must be for Rodney. Woolsey had compared himself to Rodney, saying he had some understanding of what it must be like to be a person who was used to a safe life in the background and then to suddenly find himself on the front line. He said he had read reports from the SGA and had envied Rodney's ability to successfully make such a transition, and that it would be hard for Rodney to go back to his old life. Rodney had never been much impressed by Woolsey, and he thought the comparison between a bureaucrat like Woolsey and a certified genius like himself was ludicrous. But Woolsey had seemed sincere and, well, he had a point.
Rodney had lived a different life in Atlantis than he had on Earth, he had discovered much about himself, including the fact that he could be more than a scientist tied to a lab whose only close personal relationship was with his CPU. He had found out all he could be in Atlantis, his potential. It was true that life on Earth was going to be hard for a while, maybe a really long while. However, he acknowledged that he had changed while he had lived in Atlantis and was only now realizing that while he might miss the challenge of Atlantis he was never going to go back to being the man he used to be before he went to the Pegasus Galaxy. The change was permanent. And it was a good thing.
Rodney looked at his friend, his unlikely friend, with his hair sticking up in its usual ridiculous fashion, and Rodney allowed himself a smile in the half-light. He might not have Atlantis anymore, and one day maybe he would learn to live with that, but he had to admit that he was a lucky man. After all, not many could boast friends such as his. Jacobson was wrong, Rodney was wanted. Who would have thought? Yes, thought Rodney as he felt the gentle lure of sleep call him once again, he was a lucky man.