Author: Beth Green
Author's Notes: Some of you may remember this from earlier, but it has been revised since last we met. This story is set post-'Sunday,' with a flashback to 'The Storm.' Bits of dialogue were borrowed from both.
After being surrounded by people for the past few days, Rodney currently felt the need for the company of no one other than himself. He tried retreating to his room. The isolation was welcome, at first. It was not long before the walls seemed to close in, robbing the room of light and air. He sought refuge outside on a remote pier, finally able to breathe and think. He would have preferred not to think at all, but that was a comfort denied his constantly calculating brain.
Rodney examined the scar on his right forearm, the fingers of his left hand repeatedly tracing the path of the remembered wound. The white puckered flesh stood out against the healthy pink surrounding skin, a lasting reminder of the past.
The events surrounding that particular wound were as permanently engraved in his memories as the scar upon his skin.
Rodney attempted to relieve his present guilt by recalling that he had been particularly brilliant that day in the past, right before he'd received the scar on his arm. Asked to do the impossible, Rodney had managed to come up with a plan to save the city. Events had proceeded rapidly after Sheppard discovered a massive hurricane heading toward Atlantis. Most of the inhabitants were evacuated off world while Rodney put into action a plan to use the storm's electrical activity to reactivate Atlantis' long-dormant shield. As an added bonus, he'd figured out a means of getting Sheppard to do most of the leg work. Rodney allowed a self-satisfied smile to cross his face as he remembered listening to Sheppard's labored breathing and unvoiced complaints as his friend traveled to the remotest of the grounding stations. The smile faded as his memory filled in the details of subsequent events.
Fate being her usual bitchy self, Rodney was not allowed to revel in his genius. The Genii used the cover of the storm to invade the city. Fortunately for the fate of the Atlantis expedition, Sheppard remained free and became an avenging army of one.
While Sheppard was off being heroic, both Rodney and Elizabeth were taken prisoner. The memory of what happened next causes Rodney's hands to curl into fists.
He cannot help the increased beating of his heart as Kolya's face looms large and menacing in his mind. Kolya was the source of many a subsequent nightmare in the ensuing months. Unlike many night terrors, the events surrounding Kolya's occupation of the city had been all too real, and were not easily dismissed. The overpowering force of the man's evil had completely obliterated Rodney's façade of self confidence.
Rodney knew that Commander Kolya judged him a coward immediately after their first encounter. Although Rodney also believed it of himself, he nevertheless tried to prove the man wrong. His attempted bravado made no impression on the Genii. Like any General plotting strategy, Kolya went right for the weak link in the Atlantis chain of command: Rodney McKay.
Rodney cursed his eidetic memory. Kolya's words during their torture session were now a permanent part of his memories.
He remembered Kolya's deceptively bland tone of voice as he began interrogating his prisoner. "Why did some of you stay behind?"
Rodney did not want to even attempt to answer the question. As had happened in the past, when his well-being required that he produce a plausible lie, Rodney proved to be dreadfully inept. All he could come up with was a vague reply of, "Oh. I was helping with things."
Kolya was not about to accept Rodney's non-answer. He prodded, "Like what?"
Rodney knew that his face would give away the fact that he was lying, so he looked anywhere but at the Genii as he replied, "You know -- make sure everyone got out OK."
Kolya continued his interrogation, accurately pointing out, "Isn't that the work of someone ... less important?"
Rodney's smile was more of a wince. He attempted a laugh as he replied, "You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
Kolya stepped closer, his presence seeming to remove all of the breathable air from around Rodney's immediate area. Rodney's senses were overwhelmed to the point of nausea by the stench of his own fear-sweat combined with the wet-dog odor of Kolya's military uniform.
Rodney knew with certainty that his pitiful attempts at deception would not work. Not only was he handicapped by the fact that he was a terrible liar; but, his constitution was comparable to a material with poor tensile strength. He would not survive for long under sustained pressure. He could save himself a lot of pain if he told Kolya what he wanted to know. However, despite his weakness Rodney was not prepared to give up Atlantis without a fight. He knew that even now Sheppard was doing everything he could to try to take back the city. For Sheppard's sake, Rodney needed to believe that Sheppard could save them all by pulling off a last-minute miracle. He had to give him all the time that he could.
Kolya continued to press for answers. It was obvious that the Genii already knew the answer to the next question he asked. "You have a plan, don't you?"
Delaying as best he could, Rodney offered a bit of truth: "I've got lots of plans about lots of things."
Kolya was undeterred. He stated, "I'm interested in the plan you have to save the city."
Despite his fear, Rodney resented the implication inherent in the man's statement. He pointed out, "I never said anything about saving anything."
Kolya put a hand on Rodney's shoulder, feeling the betraying weakness under the too-firm grip of his fingers. When he uttered the words, "Not yet," Rodney knew he'd already been broken.
He was mentally cursing his weakness as Kolya nodded toward one of his underlings. The other soldier brandished a large knife, purposely twisting it so that the blade reflected its sharpness in the lights of Atlantis.
Rodney felt faint at the sight, and might have collapsed on the spot were it not for the fact that Kolya directed another of his soldiers to join him, so that Kolya held him on the right side of his body while the other soldier held him on the left.
Kolya's voice remained low-pitched and conversational, almost pleased when he asked Rodney another question: "Are you right-handed or left-handed?"
Rodney struggled futilely against his human restraints while Kolya forced his right arm flat against a nearby console. He began to babble, "You really don't want to do this, I don't know anything, please, don't, there's nothing I can tell you, please."
His pleas were ignored as Kolya directed one of his soldiers, the one with the knife, forward. Kolya spoke over Rodney's babbling. "Right it is." His voice maddeningly calm despite his insane statements, Kolya continued, "I think we'll see if removing your hand will provide sufficient motivation for you to share your plans. If not, there are other parts of your body that we can move on to."
Rodney would not, could not respond. He supposed that he was in shock as his mind insisted that this was not really happening. Events took on a far-off, remote feeling of unreality as he tried to emotionally insulate himself from the impending torture.
His pitiful self-protection strategy proved totally ineffective after Kolya declared, "We'll start simply, with a cut above your wrist."
Reality came roaring back in frightening intensity accompanied by excruciating pain. Rodney screamed his throat raw as the knife was stabbed into his arm and proceeded to cut deeper and deeper as if Kolya fully intended to follow through on the threatened amputation. Rodney's struggles increased tenfold even as his legs attempted to fold beneath the weight of his abused body. He realized that he would do anything to stop the torture and heard himself begging between pain-filled gasps for air, "No, no, no … stop, stop, STOP!" The torture did not cease. Rodney's pain flared out of control as the knife held steady while he continued to choke out a combination of sobs and screamed pleas to his merciless audience.
Kolya raised his voice so that he could be heard over Rodney's pain-filled cries. Implacable as ever, he stated, "Only you can make this stop. Tell me what I want to know, before I'm forced to have you cut to the point of amputation."
Sobbing like the weak coward that he was, Rodney broke. He told him everything.
Afterward, when Kolya had been defeated and Atlantis had been saved, Rodney wandered into the infirmary. Carson's staff were tending to the doctor. In his stress and exhaustion, Rodney had temporarily forgotten that Carson was suffering from a concussion. Rodney could not bear to let anyone else see the direct evidence of how little it had taken for him to break. He grabbed a roll of gauze from a nearby tray and tended to the wound himself. It hurt when he tried to remove his blood-encrusted clothing, so he simply applied the bandage over the cloth.
It was nearly two days later that Carson actually examined the wound. "Ach, Rodney, y' should have had this stitched properly when you first got it."
Immediately concerned, Rodney asked, "What? Is it infected?"
Carson hurriedly reassured his friend. "No, it's healing quite nicely but it's too late to sew the wound edges back together. You're goin' to have a bit of a scar."
Rodney shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. He could see that Carson was disturbed by his atypically calm acceptance. Rodney rubbed his hand lightly against the wound and allowed his friend a glimpse of the disturbed depths of his feelings: "It's all right. There should be a scar."
The fact that Rodney was willing to share with Carson the pain of his humiliating behavior under torture said a lot about their friendship.
The fact that Rodney had been too selfish to follow through on a pledge to go fishing with his almost-more-than-likely-possibly-best friend, and the fact that subsequent events led to that friend's death, said a lot about Rodney, and none of it good.
Rodney not only wanted to be alone, he felt that he deserved to be alone.
Then again, perhaps not. In retrospect, it was probably his mind's attempt to soothe his guilty conscience, but his solo visit to the pier was interrupted by an unexpected visitor: Carson, or rather, Carson's ghost. Although Rodney realized the ghost was a construct of his own mind, it helped to 'hear' the words Carson said: "This isn't your fault."
Rodney felt it necessary to acknowledge the truth: "You're just telling me what I want to hear."
Carson did not disagree. "Well, that's what best friends do sometimes. And in this case it also happens to be true."
After Carson offered his absolution, there was no need for him to linger. Rodney bid his friend a soft "Goodbye," and found himself once again alone upon the pier.
Carson's brief visit left a fresh wave of grief in its wake. Remembered conversations replayed themselves in Rodney's mind. Each memory brought home the huge gaps that now existed in his life, empty spaces in idle hours that would never again be filled by Carson. The pain of loss resonated throughout Rodney's body, an endless gnawing ache reaching deep down to the cellular level. His breath caught in his throat with a quickly-stifled sob. After days of mourning and funeral services on both Earth and Atlantis, Rodney swore that he was done with crying. He was tired, utterly spent, so mind-numbingly weary in both mind and body that it leeched the strength from his bones. Rodney closed his eyes and gave in to his weakness. He slid down to the ground in a graceless sprawl, then proceeded to curl in upon himself and sit huddled with folded legs tucked close to his body and weary arms wrapped around his knees. He thought that he might cry, but it seemed that he had no tears left to shed.
In the days immediately following Carson's death Rodney had cried, and cried again until it seemed as if he would never stop. The tears were an exercise in futility. They brought no relief, no easing of the pain that was constantly tearing at his heart. Rodney sat and watched as the sun dipped below the horizon before it finally disappeared from sight. The air grew cold around him as he sat, unmoving. The cold seeped into his consciousness, numbing his thoughts.
He supposed he might have sat there all night in a mindless haze, if a certain Colonel had not sought him out.
A familiar leather jacket, warm from the body it had just been sheltering, wrapped around his chilled shoulders. John Sheppard dropped quietly to the pier and positioned himself close enough to offer a light hug and a friendly "Hey" in greeting.
Rodney's return "Hey" sounded surprisingly congested. Huh. It seemed that he had cried after all, albeit silently.
Rodney felt the last of the tension leave his body as he leaned toward John's comforting warmth. They sat silently watching the sky and the now-familiar constellations of the Pegasus galaxy. After a long while, Rodney was calm enough to speak without breaking further. He held his right arm in his left hand, again fingering the scar.
"Something this big, that hurts this deep … Don't you think there ought to be a scar?"
John nodded his agreement, then squeezed Rodney tight before letting him go and turning so that he was now sitting face-to-face with his friend. He took Rodney's right arm within his own two hands, warm fingers repeating the tracing motion along the scarred skin. His own eyes suspiciously bright, John whispered, "There is."
P.S. - Rodney is NOT a coward! However, this story is told from his point of view so I wasn't able to tell him, 'You're wrong, wrong, WRONG!!!'