Chapter 13 – Sadness

Rodney woke up in the infirmary. He was aware that he had spent a lot of time slipping in and out of consciousness, but he hoped that this time he would be able to fight away the pull of sleep for more than a few seconds.

He had vague memories of when he had woken up before and of being too weak to answer or even grunt at the questions thrown at him from all sides, before the pain and weariness had dragged him down into the darkness again.

His throat was dry and an angry headache throbbed between his temples. He could feel the snag of stitches in his skin warmly wrapped in tight bandages around his hand, arm, leg and upper body. He could also feel something pressing under his nose and when he breathed through his nose the pain lessened and he could feel himself becoming more aware.

A voice drifted down to him, "Wakey wakey, sleeping beauty. We've got a lot of things to ask you."

"Sheppard…" he croaked. He felt a straw in his mouth and drank some of the water before he was able to open his eyes.

He blinked a few times and then scrunched up his face until his vision cleared and the blurry forms of the people sitting with him came into focus. John was holding the glass of water with the straw he had just drunk from. He looked angry and Rodney flinched back a little from the harsh glare. John put the glass down on the table a little harder than was necessary and Rodney shivered.

He had to look away from the stern expression in fear and saw that Teyla was on his other side with her expression clouded in worry. She shot John a warning look and then took Rodney's uninjured hand as she said, "We are all very glad you came back to us, Rodney."

Ronon grunted in agreement, but John continued to stare at him with those furious eyes and Rodney said sadly, "Could have fooled me."

Teyla squeezed his hand and furrowed her brow, "We would like to know what happened to you though."

Ronon looked at John and raised his eyebrows, "And why you ignored the warnings, McKay."

"Oh, so that was it," Rodney thought. He now knew why John was looking angry and being so distant with him. He felt a creeping cold filling his traumatised mind and said quietly, "I didn't ignore any warnings. It just had the generic, 'Don't use this device,' Ancient text on it."

John narrowed his eyes and then spoke quietly, "Zelenka told us not to try and follow you or even power it up." His voice suddenly rose and he gestured with his hands in frustration, "You've got no idea…. How could you…?" It looked like he was at a loss for what to say and he ended, "Two weeks, McKay!"

Rodney shifted slightly as it felt like the mattress was swallowing him. Part of him wished it would and he would no longer have to endure the grief stricken faces of his team mates.

The heart monitor beeping quietly gave him away as the stress made the beeps more frequent. He drew his uninjured arm up and rested his broken fingers on his chest as Teyla continued to hold his other hand loosely.

He stammered, "Half the devices on Atlantis have the same warning! We have to test them all or we'd never find out what they did."

He grimaced and closed his eyes to hide from John's accusing and disbelieving look. He shuddered and groaned and then said, "It was just bad luck that that particular one took me to so many different versions of hell I didn't think I was going to survive them and ever get home again."

He opened his eyes again and glanced around at his team. Teyla was still looking sadly at him, but John's face had changed into one of shock.

Rodney said grimly, "Maybe I'm still not back. But, but at least none of you are trying to kill me, so I suppose that's a start."

Teyla held his hand more firmly and Ronon asked, "Hell?"

"Yes, different versions of Atlantis. The arch is like that drive we found on the Daedalus that sent us to other realities. Except every reality where I went I had died at some point in the past."

"Oh," John said. "Who hurt you though and why?"

He said offhand, "Lots of people and probably just because I happened to still be alive in the other realities."

Rodney did not feel like going into all the details as it felt like he needed to sleep for about a week. The wounds inflicted on him were still too painful for him to want to relive the trauma of how he had got them.

John suddenly sat up straight and leaned in towards Rodney. His face had lost most of the anger and he said, "The Wraith, the Replicators and the Genii? You mentioned them when we found you."

"Yes. Although the Wraith actually helped for once, before they did this." He ran his hand over his chest in the direction of the lacerations and grimaced.

His heart rate sped up again as the light touch and being forced to recall the memories made him tremble. He pulled his hand out of Teyla's grip and rested both of his arms against his chest as he closed his eyes in anguish.

A few seconds later a sweet female voice spoke above him, "Rodney, I'm giving you something to help ease the pain."

He looked up and saw a vision of beauty looking down at him and nodding. But her face had now become a threat to Rodney and he cried out in alarm, "Don't cut me! Please, Jennifer!"

"What?" She frowned and gripped his upper arm, "I'd never do that to you. What happened?"

John, Teyla and Ronon were looking puzzled as he turned his wide eyes to them and silently begged them for help. He could not speak though and his breathing became ragged.

She squeezed his arm and it looked like she understood as she said, "The cuts on your arm, leg and side were a lot cleaner than the ones on your chest."

He closed his eyes and turned his head to the side as he waited for her to stab him. Instead, her voice sounded a little indignant as she said, "Why are you behaving like this? I heard you talking to the others, in one of the realities am I… different in some way?"

Rodney turned and looked up at her. She seemed sad, but continued to hold his arm as she waited for a reply.

"Yes, you could say that."

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry for whatever it was that the other version of me did to you, but you're home and safe now."

Rodney felt his chest tightening at her clipped tone and he released a long sigh, "Yes, I'm sorry. I just… it still hurts and I don't want to be on the receiving end of any more scalpel work."

He had tried to make it sound offhand, like it was not really bothering him. Although it hurt him right to his heart and John's eyes widened in shock as Jennifer's grip around his arm tightened.

He winced and shivered, "I know it wasn't you. Sorry."

Jennifer loosened her hold on him as he turned away again and inhaled a sharp breath. She said, "We got the tracker out of your back with no problems. It was one of the earlier ones, like Ronon's, so it wasn't too tricky."

"A first edition, huh?" Rodney said tiredly.

She continued, "But you'd lost so much blood you nearly died. We gave you a transfusion and stitched up the lacerations. There was something else though… it took us a while to find out what it was."

"The cellular degradation." Rodney said softly. The painkillers he had been given must have been strong because he could only feel a ghostly trace of the agony he had been in before.

Jennifer frowned at him and then nodded, "Yes. We were close to putting you into stasis as we struggled to find a cure. But then you started to get better on your own."

John narrowed his eyes, "So the other realities were like poison to him? But being back here got rid of their harmful effects."

Jennifer shrugged, "We can only assume."

Rodney blinked slowly and asked, "So, how long until I'm out of here and can I have my laptop?"

Ronon chuckled, "At least we now know it's definitely our version of McKay who came back through the archway."

Jennifer rolled her eyes and then returned her concerned gaze to Rodney. "Well, you've already been in here for a week..."

Rodney's mind reeled and he gasped, "A week!"

"Yes, the blood loss combined with the cellular degradation impaired the function of many of your internal organs. We had to hook you up to all manner of things, Ancient and Earth equipment alike, just to keep you going."

John grimaced, "It wasn't a pretty sight."

Ronon mumbled, "Never is, even now."

Rodney gave Ronon a scathing glance that usually made everyone flee the room before him, but Ronon glared right back and smiled.

Teyla sighed and said, "I am sure that it will not be much longer before you are back on your feet, now that you are fully awake, Rodney."

Jennifer nodded, "Yes, a couple of days at most. You should start trying to eat again, now that your system is nearly functioning normally again."

"Okay, good," Rodney muttered tiredly.

Jennifer shooed his team out of the infirmary to let him get some uninterrupted rest and came back over to him. Rodney smiled at her and said, "Thanks. I'll answer all of their question eventually, but I'm not ready yet."

Jennifer rested her hand on his shoulder and said, "I know."

Rodney shifted on the bed slightly to ease the stiffness in his back from being still for so long. His free arm moved and he jolted and gasped as a sharp pain near the site of the IV line set his frayed nerve endings alight.

Jennifer pulled her hand away and said calmly, "Don't panic and don't move. I'll be back in a few seconds."

Rodney stayed as still as he could while tears of pain ran down his face and he valiantly fought not to twitch violently even as he shook gently.

Jennifer soon came back with one of the nurses and together they worked on Rodney's arm. After a moment, he had steeled himself sufficiently and looked down at what they were doing and what had happened.

His eyes widened in shock and realisation as he watched them working the IV line needle out of his arm very carefully where it had snapped. He said, "Oh no! I'm still not back am I? That's completely impossible!"

They ignored him in their concentration and soon had the sharp metal out of his vein. Jennifer dropped it into a tray and then pressed a pad down on the site of the new cut as blood ran across Rodney's arm.

She said, "Fairly unlikely, but not impossible. You're lucky I was with you when it happened or it could have been far more serious."

She kept up the pressure on the inside of his left elbow and said, "Oh and another thing; we found a small Ancient device inside your arm. I didn't remove it as it doesn't seem to be doing any harm. Radek had a look at it, but he's not sure what it is."

Rodney gritted his teeth as Jennifer lifted away the pad briefly and then pressed it down again.

He said, "I need a scanner. It tells me whether I'm back in the right reality. Judging by what just happened and the reaction of my team to me being back, I'd say not." His voice trailed away in misery at the end.

Jennifer picked up a roll of gauze from the tray next to her. She replaced the pad with a clean one and wrapped the bandaging around Rodney's arm.

"I'll see what I can do." She let go of his arm and moved away. "Try to get some rest."

He nodded and closed his eyes, but it took him a long time to fall sleep as his mind kept showing him visions of ceiling supports falling down and crushing him as he lay unconscious and unaware in the bed.

"Was it enough?" Rodney thought for what felt like the millionth time since he had been released from the infirmary and sent to his quarters to rest.

It was the middle of the afternoon and he stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom soon after waking in only his boxer shorts. He kept his eyes averted from his reflection in horror and sadness as he asked the question again out loud, "Or is it enough?"

Jennifer had brought him the scanner and placed it on the bedside table in the infirmary a couple of days ago after his request. He had then checked the implant in his arm. At first the numbers had appeared to be identical. He soon discovered the number itself was infinite as he scrolled sideways for about five minutes and it just kept going and going as it never ended.

He had seen a single different number after the first minute. An anomaly in the chain and it chilled his heart until he had passed out again. Maybe there had been a moment at some time in the past when he had turned left instead of right, but the outcome had been the same.

This reality had its reservations about him as well. The IV line snapping was the only thing so far as he now realised his team's reactions had been justified.

John was angry with himself rather than Rodney. He had apologised and explained the next day when he had visited Rodney alone. He said that he felt guilty that he had let the scientist go and had not even tried to get him back. That had then meant that Rodney had suffered a great deal of pain and nearly died without him being able to do anything about it.

"Is it enough that it's not quite the same?" Rodney looked up and furrowed his brow when a pair of terrified blue eyes gazed back at him from the mirror. Obviously this reality thought so, as the cellular degradation had stopped and his body had not been so badly damaged that it could not heal from the effects.

It was no longer affecting him physically and he would never put himself through another ordeal to locate an exact match to the last digit of infinity. It was enough. It would have to be; it was too late for him to change his mind now anyway.

Zelenka told him that the archway had mysteriously vanished when he had gone down to take some more readings a few days ago. Rodney was glad that no-one would ever get caught by it again and that Telan had finally succeeded in destroying the archway which had in turn affected it in every reality.

His eyes drifted down to the pale form reflected back at him in the mirror and settled on his chest. His breath hitched when he saw the jagged marks left by the merciless claws of the Wraith Queen as she had torn his flesh. The wounds were nearly healed, but the scars left behind would be very ugly. They served as a permanent reminder to him of the shock he had felt when he had seen the culled version of Earth and the Wraith infested Atlantis.

His skin was as white as the bandages still holding the splints in place around his broken fingers. The angry red marks stood out starkly in the harsh glare of the bathroom lights, throwing them into contrast and only serving to sharply intensify his sorrow.

He hated the fact that his actions had caused so much misery in the realities where he had died and not been able to undo his mistakes. Many of the deaths had been directly caused by his actions. It was difficult for him to stay upright and not howl in despair whenever he saw the evidence of his ordeal sliced into his skin like a tattoo.

Jennifer had not been to see him yet that day. When she had been before, she had seemed distant and businesslike. Almost as though he was just a random stranger who had happened to end up under her care after a nasty accident.

He had desperately tried to distract himself from his miserable loneliness by one finger typing on his computer, but he found that he could not concentrate. The cut on his forearm soon hurt so much he could no longer continue anyway.

He would understand if Jennifer did not want to stay with him any more. He did not blame her. How could she continue to love him with such terrible marks across his skin? They horrified him to look at and they were now a part of him, so he did not want her to have to see them either.

It was more than he could stand just to look at himself in the mirror. All he wanted to do was shield Jennifer from suffering the brunt of the fallout from his pain and sadness.

He turned around and saw the mark on his back from the Wraith tracker. It was just as bad, but not something he could see without a mirror. He then looked at the cuts on his side and inner leg. They were smaller, but more painful as the sharp scalpel had stabbed far deeper than the other slashes. His arm was also horrendous, but Jennifer had assured him that the cut was clean and the mark it left behind would fade over time.

He frowned, first in anger over how helpless he had been to defend himself against the injuries and then in soul deep sadness about how he had been left with such scars from the trauma of being attacked. He knew that every time he had to look at his reflection he would be reminded of the pain and fear over what had happened to him.

He furrowed his brow and saw the barely visible knot in the skin over his side from the bullet hole from when the hallucinating Sheppard had tried to kill him, "At least in this reality he failed."

The marks on his chest pained him the most though. He ran his hand over them and blinked as his vision blurred. He stammered, "How could she ever love me now?"

He looked down at the ground so that he no longer had to look at the man in the mirror and sighed. The sadness did not diminish like he had hoped, but seemed to get more intense with every heartbeat.

He was so utterly lost in his own dark thoughts that he did not hear the door chime or anyone coming in until they spoke.

"House call!"

Rodney looked up and swiftly covered his chest with his arms in panic as he looked in the mirror and saw Jennifer standing behind him, "But you're not due for a few more hours."

She smiled and shrugged, "I know." She then moved around next to him and looked at his face. Rodney kept staring into the mirror and could not bring himself to meet her eyes. She rested a hand on his back and said, "Actually, I'm off duty."

He flinched and Jennifer asked, "Are you in pain?"

Rodney looked down and mumbled, "Uh, yes."

He felt her take hold of his upper arm and she said, "I can go and get you something for it. Just hold tight."

Rodney said, "Whatever pills and drugs you've got, they can't help me." It was not something he could physically feel or quantify. Unless they could numb the pain caused by the memories in his mind, but only a sedative could do that. His heart pounded and ached inside him to almost the point of physical pain, but not quite.

Rodney sighed in frustration and quickly moved away from her and into his quarters. He pulled out a clean shirt and tried to tug it over his head, but Jennifer had followed and she grabbed his wrist to stop him.

Rodney gritted his teeth and cried, "No!" in shame as Jennifer saw the marks on his chest. "Please, I don't want you to have to look at me like this."

She let go of his wrist and said, "I've already seen it and I'm sorry for what the Wraith and my alternate self did to you, but you don't have to cover it, I don't mind."

Rodney pulled the shirt over his head and sighed in relief as he smoothed it out over the unsightly ripped skin on his chest and hid himself from her eyes.

She took his undamaged hand and led him over to the chair by his desk and then pulled up another chair and sat opposite him. She brought her other hand forward and held his tightly in both of hers as they sat there.

She said quietly, "We need to talk about this."

Rodney pulled his hand away and snapped, "What are you a shrink now?!"

Jennifer sat back and looked like she had been stung. She shook her head and said, "No."

Rodney was instantly sorry, but he could not bring himself to talk to her. It was his pain to deal with. Everyone else had enough of their own to be getting on with and he did not want to see the look of pity in her eyes he knew he would receive if he opened up and told her everything that had happened.

Normally he would have asked John to help him or have waited until John noticed how much pain he was in and then came over to offer his help. Rodney was too proud to ever actually admit it when he was really in trouble, but for some reason, John always knew exactly what to do and how to make him feel better.

Jennifer trying to help him was a new thing though and he did not know what to say to her. He just looked down at his shaking hands and then at the floor as he mumbled, "It's just… you deserve more."

She kept quiet and made a grab for his hand again, but he pulled it away. When their eyes met, he saw that she was looking at him sadly and almost willing him to speak and let out whatever it was that was troubling him.

Jennifer suddenly stood up and offered her hand to him, "Come with me."

Rodney looked up and asked, "Where?"

She shook her hand at him impatiently, "Come on!"

He was curious so he reached out and let her pull him upright. She guided him across the room and back into the bathroom. She positioned him in front of the mirror and Rodney turned away in fright, "No. I don't want you to have to see it."

Jennifer raised her eyebrows, "I've already seen it, Rodney! I was the one who cleaned and stitched all of your injuries."

"Oh, yes," he said lamely. "Then you already know how ugly I am, so why are you really here?"

Jennifer pursed her lips and said very flatly, "You are not ugly."

"But the marks and scars and the horrible claws." He trembled and grimaced.

Jennifer shrugged as she watched him in the mirror from where she was standing behind him, "I don't see anything different."

Rodney looked up at her and patted his chest lightly as he said, "That's because they're covered."

"Even when they're not, I still don't see any difference."

Rodney frowned in confusion. He felt anger building inside him and he pulled the shirt over his head, flung it on the floor in rage and gestured at his bare chest. He shouted, "What, are you blind or something?"

Jennifer gazed at him neutrally and said calmly, "No. Not at all. I just see you. But I don't think it's only the visible scars that are troubling you, is it?"

Rodney's mouth turned down in misery as his breathing evened out and he admitted, "No."

He could not bring himself to elaborate. What he had been through was too recent and the images and fear were vividly etched into his memory like he was still there.

Jennifer suddenly drew her arms around his midsection and pulled him back into a hug. She kissed his shoulder and Rodney furrowed his brow as he watched her in the mirror.

She looked up and kept her eyes locked with his as she moved her arms up and hugged him around his ribcage. Rodney twitched and felt uncomfortable at her touch being so close to the cuts on his chest, but her face did not alter in disgust or revulsion and he felt himself calming as relief went through him.

She said, "There. You see. No difference."

He raised his eyebrows and said, "No, I suppose not."

He knew that if he could live with the physical scars that the mental ones would also become bearable. She was helping him in a way that John never could.

He turned around, moved his arms around her and hugged her back. He drew her in close to his chest and she smiled as he whispered, "Thank you," in her ear.

As Jennifer continued to hold him, Rodney suddenly knew that, given time, he was going to be okay and that somehow they would still be alright together.

The End!

A/N – Thank you for your continued support and kind reviews throughout this story! I couldn't have done it without you :)

What's next from x Varda x's fic producing brain? Hmm, I'm going to have some time off to catch up with some one-shots (and sleep) and then… maybe… I'll write a few more long ones. Stay tuned!