Series: TREADING WATER UNIVERSE
Still Waters should be read after reading the first story in this series titled: Treading Water
Warning: overtones of child abuse/experimentation
Summary: Treading Water Universe. When Rodney was ten his family abandoned him in the Canadian wilderness with strangers. He didn't want to be with them. He didn't like them. But maybe…he needed them.
Disclaimer: The universe of Stargate and Stargate Atlantis were created by and belong to MGM and everyone else who legally owns them. Not me. So sad.
Genres: hurt/comfort, drama, abuse, Sci-Fi.
Author's notes: This is a part of the TREADING WATER universe. This story should technically be read after "Treading Water." I hope you take the time to enjoy (or dislike) that story before you read this, but if you choose not to, then please enjoy this one :D
A big thanks goes out to my Beta Laryn (I may be a little possessive of her) for all her advice and edits. One day I will figure out how to tell the difference between 'then' and 'than.' I promise J
Also, thanks to Kelly and Jess, who are forced to listen to me babble incessantly about all my ideas, the good and the bad.
Please take note of the warnings and enjoy the story!
Chapter one: Dusty Roads
The thin layer of dust coating the cars windows did nothing to prevent the heat of the sun from radiating in. It was almost unbearably hot but his dad refused to open the windows. He said the air conditioning was cool enough, but the heat swallowed the chilled air coming from the front of the car before it ever reached Rodney. The sun's brightness hurt his eyes, forcing him to squint and giving him a headache.
He didn't notice the trees on both sides of the bumpy dirt road as they drove along, too intent on not becoming nauseous from the heat and movement. He clutched his backpack closer to his chest and hoped that the trip would be over soon.
His dad didn't say anything to him from the front seat, his eyes intent on the road while Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did their best to fill the tense silence.
Rodney closed his eyes and swallowed thickly, accidentally biting his tongue as they hit a pothole. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, until the threatening tears evaporated in the baking air. When the car finally came to a lurching stop and the engine turned off, he just sat there, soaking up the silence. It echoed around him and he imagined he could feel the dust settling outside, burying the car once and for all.
His father sighed.
"It's just for the summer, Meredith. You'll be back in time for school." Rodney opened his eyes and watched the back of his father's head as he spoke to the windshield. He didn't bother answering, instead looking out the window to see a log house with a man walking out the front of it. He could hear the screen door clang shut even from here. He looked away, shifting his hold on the bag.
"That's Robert now," his dad announced as he pushed open his door and stepped out quickly. The entire car shook when it slammed shut and Rodney took a deep, shaky breath in the silence. It only lasted a few seconds and then he heard the muffled voices of the two men as they spoke just outside the car. He turned to watch them.
His dad's face was almost blank, closed off as it was so often around Rodney himself. Like it was when he wasn't comfortable or happy to be around him. He wondered what Robert had done to earn that look from his father. Either way the man who stood with his father didn't sound too happy, and Rodney was glad for the barrier of tempered glass, plastic and metal that separated him from them. He could stand the heat inside the car a little while longer.
His dad looked over at him and beckoned. Rodney ground his teeth and sighed. He didn't want to be here, but he didn't have much of a choice. Story of his life, he thought bitterly as he slowly pushed his door open. The air wasn't much cooler outside the car, but it was fresher, not nearly as oppressive. He took a deep breath as he trudged over to the two men, slinging his bag over his shoulder.
"Meredith, this is Uncle Robert," his dad introduced, as if he didn't already know that. "He's agreed to take you in for the summer."
"Great," Rodney mumbled, and then looked up at the man in question. His uncle, whom he'd never met and only heard mentioned at family gatherings, was tall. He looked down at Rodney with sharp blue eyes that were partially hidden under the brim of his cowboy hat. He needed to shave.
They looked at each other a moment before Uncle Robert stuck his giant hand out in greeting, expecting Rodney to shake it. Rodney shied away on instinct, and then looked up at his dad to cover his actions. He begged with his eyes to not be left here. His dad just frowned at him and then looked back at Robert.
"He's a bit shy. He'll get over it soon." He explained away Rodney's lack of manners and stuck out his own hand, hesitatingly, to shake Roberts in his place. "Thanks again for doing this."
"Sure," the man huffed and within a minute they were watching his dad drive away together, his car almost hidden in the trail of dust it kicked up. Rodney's throat felt thick and he resisted the urge to cough. He wished he wasn't here. He really, really just wanted to be at home, locked away in his room, alone.
"Well, get your stuff and I'll show you where you'll be staying," Robert announced and turned on his heel, marching back to the log cabin in long, fast strides. Rodney sighed and picked up the small bag his dad had pulled from the trunk before speeding away.
He couldn't get away from Rodney fast enough.
Rodney stopped just inside the door to the house and blinked in the sudden dimness. It was a nice enough place he supposed, not that he was very familiar with what different houses looked like. He hadn't been inside many that weren't his own families.
On his left there was a living room, two couches that looked like they may have been nice when new sat around a beaten old wood coffee table. Another table sat along the wall with a state of the art radio sitting on top of it, a shelf of tapes organized neatly beside it. There was a woodstove built into the centre of the space, separating the kitchen and dining room from the living area. Its chimney flowed straight up through the ceiling and a large stack of wood was piled against the far wall.
Off to his right there were stairs heading up into a loft of some sort, and just beneath them a short hallway split off from where they stood.
"Living room," his uncle pointed at the couches. "Kitchen" he pointed at the kitchen. "My room" he pointed up the stairs. "Bathroom" he pointed at the first door in the small hallway. "Your room," he swung open the second door and Rodney followed him in, dropping his bag by the door. It was a larger room than Rodney had thought it would be, with a small bed tucked almost against the wall, a large dresser against another, a closet door and two large windows. One window looked out at the front of the house, the dust on the driveway still settling, coating all the trees around it. The other window looked out on mostly forest. There was a wide, well worn path off to one side and he thought he could see a building through the trees.
"You take your time and get settled now. I'll be down that path there at the barn. You can join me when you're ready." His uncle's deep voice carried easily through the room and the man stood there a moment, waiting for a response. Rodney thought about saying thank you, but he really wouldn't have meant it so he kept his mouth shut. After a moment the big man left.
Rodney moved to the far corner and sat down between the bed and wall, hugging his boney knees, his backpack resting at his feet. He stared at the floor.
He heard his uncle come back twice from whatever he was doing outside. He knew the man stopped by his open door and looked in on him. Rodney pretended he wasn't there. He didn't bother coming out when the man told him there was food on the table. He watched the shadows play along the as the sun set and his stomach growled loudly in the silence.
It was dark by the time his uncle came back again, and turned on the light to his room. He blinked up at the man who stared down at him, a frown on his face, and his hat still on his head.
"You need to eat, kid."
"I'm not hungry," he said, and ignored how his disused voice croaked.
"You always been that bad a liar?" Rodney didn't say anything and the man sighed. "I left some food on a plate in the fridge in case you change your mind," he announced. "I'm going to hit the sack, but if you need something you come and get me," he waited for a response and then left, mostly closing the door behind him.
Rodney stared at the door. His eyes felt gritty and his butt had fallen asleep a long time ago. He wasn't sure if his legs would work properly at the moment and his throat hurt from all the dust outside. He didn't want to leave the room, he didn't want to go outside the door and risk bumping into his uncle. He didn't want to talk to the man who had had him dumped in his lap. He wondered what his dad had said to get him to agree to take Rodney in the first place. He thought about how easily his dad had abandoned him here.
Eventually he curled up on the bed, pulling the blankets high even though it was almost too hot to breathe. He didn't cry himself to sleep.
The smell of bacon and eggs drew him out of his sleep, the scent heavy in the air and he blinked at the sunlight streaming through his windows. His mouth was dry and his body was sore but he didn't know why. He rolled over and tried to ignore the sounds coming from outside his door, the occasional clang of a pot or cutlery scraping on a table. He heard a voice speaking quietly and he assumed it was his uncle.
What if it wasn't his uncle? His entire body tensed, sleep forgotten as his fear began to take over. What if they had come for him again?
He forced himself to take a few deep breaths and rolled out of bed as quietly as he could. He approached the partially open door and peered out, listening intently. He saw an arm waving a spatula around, heard his uncles voice more clearly.
"…still asleep. He should be up soon, but as far as I could see he was pretty damn tired. He should probably sleep until tomorrow as it is…yeah…yeah, I know. You coming over later? Right, see you then." There was the unmistakable sound of a phone being placed back in its receiver and the arm had disappeared. Rodney waited a moment, listening for other voices but all he heard was Robert in the kitchen.
It had been a false alarm. Rodney sighed in relief and then his stomach growled. He didn't feel all that great right now, he should probably eat something. He hadn't had bacon and eggs in a long time.
He quietly left his room and entered the kitchen. His uncle turned and looked at him, his cowboy hat still firmly on his head.
"You hungry?" he asked gruffly, and then pointed at the table where two places had been set up. "Have a seat," he ordered and Rodney moved to the table, careful to keep the man in his sights at all times. If his uncle noticed this he didn't say anything. He also didn't comment on the fact that Rodney was still wearing all the clothes he'd arrived in the day before. Including the shoes.
Bacon, eggs, toast and baked beans were piled onto his plate. He waited until his uncle sat and watched him take the first bite of food before he took a bite himself. It had all come from the same pan, so if there were any kind of drug in it then Robert would be ingesting it as well. He didn't think the man had any reason to do that to him, but if there was anything he'd learned it was that it didn't hurt to be cautious.
"Thanks," he mumbled when he was finished and took his dishes to the sink.
"No problem. Just leave the dishes there, we'll do them later." Rodney did as asked and then went back to his room. He slowly unpacked his things. If his dad hadn't come back for him by now then he knew the man wouldn't, despite how much he had asked to no be left here.
"There's not much to do around here," he spun around as his uncle spoke up from his doorway and glared at the man for scaring him. "Throw on some old clothes and you can help me muck the stalls," he announced and left. Rodney stared at the door. Muck the stalls? What did that even mean?
When he followed his uncle to the barn he learned pretty quickly and decided that maybe he'd just traded one hell for another.
Bobby watched the kid out of the corner of his eye, making sure he didn't hurt himself as struggled to push the wheelbarrow to the manure pile at the end of the small paddock. The boy didn't look happy, not in the least, but at least he was doing something other than sitting in the corner of his room like the condemned. Bobby usually had a lack of tolerance for people who did things like that, child or adult, but this time he had let it slide.
His instinct told him to not push it, and he'd always trusted his instinct.
At least the physical labour had made the kid talk more, even if it was only to complain about the work, the heat, the dirt, and the diseases that were probably lying in wait for them.
The kid complained like his mother.
When they were done Meredith looked around, his face as closed off as it had been when he'd arrived. He was a skinny boy, his boney arms hugging around his torso awkwardly and his clothes looking a few sizes too large for his frame. His sister had never been very good at shopping for clothes, for herself or her son it seemed.
"Thanks for the hand," Bobby said and Meredith merely shrugged, his skinny shoulders lifting and falling almost too quick to notice. "We'll come back later to bring the horses in, in the mean time I'll give you a little tour," he announced, and again received another uninterested shrug. He didn't bother to wait and see if the boy followed him as he began heading back down to his cabin. He heard the quick footsteps behind him.
"You've seen the house. You've seen the barn. I have one fenced field just beyond the barn where I keep the horses and donkey. You head north here," he pointed at a path in the woods, "and you'll hit the lake. Be careful when you go wandering, I only own eight hundred hectares, but this wilderness can stretch on forever beyond that." He stopped on his porch and sat in his chair, picking up the knife and half-carved piece of wood he'd been whittling on earlier. "Also, there's bear, moose, wolves and coyote to keep an eye out for, so don't go wandering at night and always tell me when you're going off anywhere." He nodded at the boy, satisfied, and began carving his wood.
"That's your tour?" Meredith asked, sounding indignant. "You pointed at some trees and tell me to not get eaten alive and you think that's enough information?" Bobby frowned and looked at him.
"Yeah. There isn't a lot else out here."
"Now I know why they sent me here," he muttered under his breath and Bobby, hiding a frown, pretended not to hear. The ten year old looked out at the trees surrounding them, the frown on his face showing his first bit of real emotion since arriving here.
Honestly Bobby had no idea why they'd sent him here. He hadn't heard from his sister in years. He hadn't heard from any of his family in years, and then two days ago Kate's husband had called and asked if Meredith could come up to stay for the summer.
Of course he'd said no. He didn't want to take care of their kids for them, and it sure as hell wasn't his responsibility. Hell, they'd made it pretty clear a while back that they didn't want him involved in their lives.
They'd offered to compensate him and he'd laughed. Seriously, money was the least of his problems.
Then Lyle had called in his favour, and Bobby might not like them, or want anything to do with them anymore, but he was also a man of his word. And he owed them.
Lyle had dropped his boy off without so much as a glance back and the thing Bobby noticed after meeting his nephew for the first time was that he was as pale as a ghost. He was too skinny. He had huge purple bags under blood shot eyes. He held himself wearily. He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
No child should look like that. What the hell had they done to make him that way?
Meredith didn't look at him again as he sat there carving at his wood. Instead, he gazed around the small yard, his eyes lingering on the sundial, on the wooden wind chimes singing softly at the edge of the trees, at the soap hanging off the two apple trees Bobby had planted years ago. He stared at the old pickup truck parked in front of his work shed and at the rusted Chevelle that was tucked away to the side, half buried in the grass. He looked back at Bobby, spending a long moment just watching him, and then he disappeared back inside.
Later, when Dave showed up with some steaks and a salad, Meredith joined them. He didn't talk and didn't ask questions. He stared at Dave with suspicion and kept both men in his sights as much as possible. The knot of unease in Bobby's stomach grew the longer he watched the boy's reactions. Dave pretended not to notice, talking about how the seaplane at the marina was beginning to show its wear and tear and how the local kids had caught a coon and were attempting to tame it.
They kept it as normal as possible, sitting around the table on the deck, swatting at the black flies. Meredith ate quickly, and not a lot, before silently going back inside to his room.
Dave looked at Bobby then, the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced in his unease. They held each other's gaze, not needing words to convey what each was thinking, and then finished their meal in silence.