The Price of Cowardice (Reposted)
Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction, and as such is for fan enjoyment only. All recognizable characters/settings are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made. I'm afraid that despite wishing that I did, I don't own these characters. Not even my muses' voodoo could make them mine (and believe me, they used a LOT of chicken blood and other such occult doodads), nor could my militant blue badgers. DO NOT MESS WITH THE BADGERS. Still, I suppose that having the boys out on loan for a while is better than nothing…
Summary: Episode tag to 'The Eye'. After saving the city from both the Genii and the storm, everyone's trying to get back to normal – but someone's finding that to be easier said than done…
Central Character(s): Rodney and John, with Carson and Elizabeth.
Category (ies): Episode tag, angst, h/c, friendship.
Placement: Season One, directly after 'The Eye'.
Rating: +15 because of some bad language, graphic torture and threat of rape.
Spoilers: 'The Storm' and 'The Eye'.
Author's Note: Repost - sorry! Me daft...
Finally, after a lot of half truths and avoidance tactics that would have impressed even the most gung ho military grunt, Dr Rodney McKay managed to sneak back to his quarters more or less under the radar. Anyone he'd met in the corridors had been given one of his finest death glares – thankfully, most people seemed to know what that particular look meant now – or pointedly ignored. No one had stopped him or asked any questions and he was both relieved and grateful that his outer defences had worked. He had discovered a long time ago that if he gave the impression of being a bomb waiting to explode, people generally left him alone. Those stupid or unlucky enough to miss the subtle signals got a tongue lashing that they'd never forget.
McKay was pretty sure that no one would want to come anywhere near him once the proverbial shit hit the metaphysical fan and the rumour mill started up. It would only be a matter of time until the whole city knew what he'd done – how he'd cracked and nearly gotten the most important and influential people in his life killed. Growling to himself, he kicked off his sneakers and socks, trying to convince himself that it didn't matter what people thought. If it meant that he'd have to go back to being a cold-hearted bastard who didn't give a damn about anyone, then so be it.
Still, Radek, God bless him, had come back with the first wave of returnees and leapt into action. McKay's de facto second in command hadn't asked any questions – rather, he'd taken one look at Rodney and instantly known what was needed. He had not only provided a pretty damn effective diversion for the escape, but promised to take care of the clean-up while the Canadian got some much needed rest.
Unfortunately, that was the last thing Rodney wanted.
He lay curled up on his bed, trying to ignore the throbbing ache in his back where that lunatic Genii commander had shoved him into the balcony railing. There was no point in taking any pain meds. They wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface, and his own, private stock was long gone.
Meaning that if he wanted Tylenol, he'd have to go to the infirmary and face Carson – who was like roaming around like a seriously pissed off bull with a headache.
It appeared that concussions and Scotsmen did not mix particularly well, and once you added the fact that the Genii had made a mess of his medical stores… Disturbing Beckett for anything less than a life-threatening injury was tantamount to suicide. And besides, Rodney reasoned to himself, he was the last person that Carson would want to see right now.
His dark mood wasn't helped by the fact that the weather seemed to be mirroring his troubled thoughts – as soon night fell the rain returned, albeit more drizzle than killer hurricane. He briefly wondered if Atlantis was trying to tell him something – it felt like the city was almost sentient at times – but shook his aching head and let out a sigh. It was just the after effects of said killer hurricanes that had ripped across the planet. Oddly enough, Rodney didn't mind it so much anymore – having been out in the worst of the weather, a small shower wasn't going to trouble him a lot.
As his eyes adapted to the self imposed darkness and he listened to the sounds of the rain on his windows, Rodney's mind flitted back to that moment in Weir's office…
"You have a plan don't you?"
As he stared into Kolya's eerily calm eyes, Rodney knew that he was in a lot of trouble. "I got lots of plans about lots of things," he replied, hating the fact that his voice cracked audibly. He knew he had to stay calm. If he panicked, he was as good as dead… meaning that Elizabeth and Sheppard were too.
Come on, McKay, you can do this. Don't blab. Don't give him what he wants. Think like the Major. He almost laughed as an image of Ford wearing a t-shirt with 'WWSD?' written in bold print across the front appeared in his head.
The commander observed him with an icy and deadly calm stare. "I'm interested in the plan you have to save the city."
Crap! Crap, crap, crap! How the hell could he possibly know about that?! "I never said anything about saving anything," Rodney babbled, his heart thumping so loudly that he swore everyone in the room could hear it. He felt a trickle of sweat run down his back and he shivered. So much for playing dumb…
Kolya stepped forward and put his hand on McKay's shoulder, squeezing hard. "Not yet." He nodded to the soldier behind him and the young man drew a sharp and vicious looking knife from his belt.
Rodney fought to keep breathing as he eyed the weapon with dread. "What makes you think I'm gonna co-operate?" he asked, trying to sound more like his usual, abrasive self. "I don't have the slightest clue as to what you think I know, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that torturing me isn't going to get you what you want."
Kolya smiled darkly and shoved the Canadian into a chair. A second nod and the other soldier moved behind them and pinned McKay's upper arms, fingers digging painfully into his biceps. "You'd be surprised what a little pain does to a man, Dr McKay," he replied, and yanked Rodney's right arm out in front of him, turning it so that it was palm up. "Tell me what I want to know, and I'll spare you from it."
"I… I don't know what you're talking about," McKay stammered, still struggling to free himself and wishing that he wasn't such a bad liar. He gasped loudly as Kolya's fingers burrowed agonizingly into the tendons of his wrist.
"Next time, I will use the knife," the Genii commander said softly. "My deal is a good one. Tell me the plan."
"Go to hell!" Rodney spat back, managing to aim a kick to Kolya's shin. His training sessions with Sheppard were starting to pay off as his boot connected solidly with the man's leg. The Genii commander let out a roar of pain and McKay whooped internally. Score one for the not so defenceless Chief Science Officer…
Regaining his composure, Kolya grabbed hold of McKay's arm and pulled it forward, at the same time taking the knife from his soldier. Without any kind of warning other than a look that would haunt the physicist until the day he died, he plunged it into Rodney's flesh.
McKay couldn't stop the scream that was ripped from his chest as the metal sunk in deeper. He glanced down and fought back the nausea as he saw crimson welling up over his jacket sleeve. That stain was never going to come out, he thought somewhat disconnectedly.
"Tell me the plan," Kolya repeated, his voice still quiet. Somehow, that was even more terrifying than if he'd been screaming in a rage.
"Screw you, you Nazi-wannabe freak!" Rodney yelled back, unwilling tears of pain and fear spilling hotly down his cheeks.
Kolya's face remained an impassive wall of stone as he started to rotate the knife still buried deep in the scientist's arm.
McKay screwed his eyes up with a growl, determined not to give the bastard the satisfaction of hearing him scream again. "There isn't a plan!" he lied desperately, refusing to look at the damage being caused by this madman.
"I know you are lying. Tell me."
He HAD to buy the Major more time. "No..."
The commander started to rock the blade back and forth, eliciting howls from the scientist. "TELL ME."
Rodney couldn't trust himself to speak, instead shaking his head.
Kolya sighed and ripped the knife out as suddenly as he'd plunged it in. Rodney hissed and bit his lip in an attempt to stay quiet. "You should know that I've dealt with stronger men than you, McKay, and all of them gave me what I wanted."
"Good for you," the Canadian managed to snarl, gritting his teeth tightly against the pain coursing through his arm.
"I wonder how useful you'd be if I cut off your fingers," the commander said, running the tip of the weapon over McKay's index finger. "Could you still work the Ancestor's technology? Would you still be as valuable? Which one shall I start with?"
A sudden wave of anger coursed through Rodney – dammit, he was not going to be intimidated, even with an arm that felt like it was on fire. He'd faced bullies all his life – and he hadn't given in to any of them. "Doesn't really matter. Do it and I'll be no good to you," he croaked in a hoarse, shaking whisper.
The blade moved back to Rodney's arm, stopping just above his elbow. "And why would that be, Dr McKay?" Kolya asked, his voice almost conversational. "And I'm curious to know where Major Sheppard is. I assume he was the one you were trying to contact with your little display earlier?"
"I already told you, I was just leaning."
"I am not a fool, Doctor. I know you were communicating with someone on this base and since Dr Weir was present at the time, logic dictates that it had to be the Major."
"He's not here," Rodney insisted. "He's on the mainland, helping with the evacuation."
"Liar," Kolya snarled, pressing hard against McKay's injury. "Where is Major Sheppard? How do you intend to save the city?"
The physicist remained silent, glowering defiantly… and paid the price for it.
Kolya's arm moved quickly and the knife slashed a deep groove in McKay's arm, making the physicist feel faint. "I know you, Dr McKay," he taunted. "I know what kind of man you are. You pretend to be important, brave even, but deep down we both know that you are nothing but weak and cowardly." Another quick slash and the knife moved away only to hover in front of Rodney's face, just millimetres away from his left eye. "I will ask you once more of the plan you have to save Atlantis. If you lie to me, you will find yourself with one eye less than before." The dark grin was restored as he tilted his head. "And then I'll do the same to Dr Weir… and make you watch before I take your other eye."
"You touch her and I'll kill you," McKay snarled. "I swear to God, I'll fucking kill you."
"Brave words for someone in your position, Doctor. Maybe I'll spend some quality time with her. After all, she's an attractive woman…" Kolya leered repulsively and not for the first time, Rodney cursed his graphic imagination.
The terror that had been building from the moment he'd realised what was going to happen hit home with an almighty crash. The threat of losing an eye wasn't what tipped Rodney over the edge – it was the fact that the bastard in front of him was perfectly willing to repeat this nightmare with Elizabeth in his place.
And there was absolutely no way in hell was he going to let… THAT… happen. No fucking way.
"Okay, I'll tell you! Please, I'll tell you! Just stop! Don't hurt her! I'll tell you what you want to know! PLEASE JUST STOP!" His words came out in a rush and for one horrible moment, he wondered if Kolya had understood.
The knife was lowered and Rodney bowed his head in defeat, shaking and gasping…
…Bile rose up in Rodney's throat and he rolled off the bed in a vain attempt to make it to the bathroom. He managed to get as far as his desk when the meagre contents of his stomach emptied themselves into his trash can. He had no idea how long he was crouched down on the floor, but when there was nothing left to regurgitate, his body was wracked with dry heaves.
After what felt like an eternity, it passed, leaving him limp and shaking. The tears that had fallen down his face while he was vomiting were replaced by anguished sobs that he couldn't stop.
He'd let everyone down. All he had to do was keep quiet, and there wouldn't have been a problem. That was why he'd avoided everyone, why he hadn't gone to the infirmary to have his arm tended to – he'd failed everyone. He didn't deserve their help.
Kolya's words sounded over and over in his head – I know what kind of man you are…
As the sobbing blew itself out, he managed to get to his knees, shaking from the effort. His arm was beyond painful now – his crude dressing hadn't been the hapless first aid attempt that he'd wanted everyone to think. It had been both a distraction and a necessity. The fabric of his uniform had dried to the wound, making it virtually impossible to remove without entering a whole new world of pain. He gingerly unwrapped the dressings, hissing as they pulled the sleeve of his jacket. Once that was achieved, he picked up some fresh bandages from his desk and staggered into the bathroom.
Rodney turned his shower on with a thought and grabbed a towel. Bunching it up, he held it under the warm water until it was completely soaked through then placed it on top of the wound. At first it felt oddly soothing, but after a few seconds became almost agonisingly uncomfortable. Lifting the wet and now pink stained towel away, he saw that his jacket was no closer to being unstuck than it was an hour ago. He knew that he only really had two options: stand here for hours and have no luck or suck it up and deal with the problem like a man.
He quickly shrugged his left arm out of his jacket, and managed to get his t-shirt up and over his head, leaving only his injured arm. Only one thing for it. He took a deep breath and braced himself as best he could…
Rodney let out a howl of pure agony as he ripped the fabric away in a single motion. Part of him thought dizzily that it was like an über-band aid – it certainly felt like it – and he giggled manically. He crashed to his knees, trying to force the black tint at the corner of his eyesight to bugger off somewhere else, thank you very much.
Taking some deep breaths, the urge to pass out faded and he observed the damage. His arm was bleeding again, which was to be expected after all that, but it looked… wrong. The edges of the cuts were swollen and puffy, and leaking a clear fluid – start of an infection, and no doubt about it. Cursing to himself, McKay finished undressing and stumbled into the shower, whimpering slightly as the water came into contact with the bruise on his back.
For some strange reason, his face felt sore too.
Rodney trembled and shivered, the warmth of the water suddenly making him realise just how cold he'd been. He hadn't really noticed it before – he'd been too busy trying to stop the city from sinking and then arranging his escape plan with Zelenka.
He'd been too busy avoiding Major Sheppard…
"Dr McKay recently shared with me there's a plan in action to save the city."
"Oh, he did?!"
The shock and anger he heard in the Major's voice had made him flinch. He felt his insides writhing with self-disgust and closed his eyes. He'd let Sheppard down… and vowed he'd never do it again. There was only one logical course of action – he'd resign from the team and find a suitable replacement.
That way, he wouldn't fail anyone else.
Rodney turned the shower off and stepped out, wrapping a fresh towel around his waist. He grabbed a smaller one and dabbed at the cuts on his arm before applying another dressing – properly this time. Once that was achieved, he found some dry, clean clothes and struggled into them. He couldn't bear to have anything other than the bandage touching his skin, so he tugged on his 'I'm With Genius' t-shirt and scrubbed at his hair furiously with the towel, making it stick out at odd angles.
McKay glanced up and caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. His eyes widened as he saw the deep bruise circling his cheek and eye – and he flushed as he worked out when that had happened, humiliation eating away at him like a ravenous wolf.
The more he stared at his reflection, the more disgusted he felt. "You're a coward, Rodney McKay," he growled. "He was right. You're a weak fucking COWARD!" He grabbed the mug on his sink and threw it as hard as he could at his reflection.
The mirror shattered spectacularly, pieces of glass scattering across the floor. The physicist stood still for a moment, chest heaving as he panted, trying to regain control of his anger. Then he spun around and headed for his balcony, desperate for fresh air and space.
Major John Sheppard was furious.
He stalked down the corridor on his way to McKay's quarters, with a look on his face that would have curdled milk. Tension radiated out from him, his shoulders bunched and locked, his hands clenched into fists by his sides. Everything about him screamed 'don't mess with me' – as a couple of marines discovered when they tried to ask him about something. John simply glared at them, his eyes dark with fury and the men had retreated wordlessly.
But his anger wasn't directed at Rodney – it was at himself for being so blind. He'd been so concerned with making sure that Elizabeth was okay that he'd neglected to remember that Rodney had been in the same situation as her – a hostage to an unstable, violent sociopath. He'd forgotten that McKay was a civilian, not a soldier.
And what made it worse was the fact that Kolya had tortured Rodney for the plan. The son of a bitch had held both of them captive, with a gun to their heads on more than one occasion, and then crossed that invisible line from mere threats into physical harm.
He'd hurt McKay.
At first, he'd thought that the badly applied bandage on McKay's arm was from a minor injury – after all, Rodney had a habit of over-playing paper-cuts, so why should this have been any different? The more he thought about it, though, the more the pilot realised that he should have known something was wrong. Rodney wasn't trying to elicit sympathy or attention over it, instead choosing to fob everyone off with some excuse or other, downplaying his injury and fleeing at the first opportunity.
Even more worrying than the Canadian not complaining about his injuries was the fact that he hadn't been to the infirmary – since when did Rodney McKay ever avoid getting first aid? Carson hadn't seen him since he'd left the control room to put his infirmary back together. Neither Ford nor Teyla had set eyes on their team's geek, and a quick sweep of his usual haunts proved useless. The Air Force man had eventually cornered Radek, who, after a little friendly persuasion, had told him where McKay had retreated to: the one place John hadn't thought to look. After all, McKay very rarely used his quarters, often falling asleep on the small cot in the corner of his lab or over his computer.
John's mind was racing as he turned the corner, heading for the transporter to take him to the scientist's digs. After tossing and turning for most of the night before the exhaustion finally caught up, he'd finally gone to Elizabeth's office to try and find out what had happened to his friend.
That was when she'd finally told him what she knew…
"How are you doing?" John asked as he watched Elizabeth across the desk. The leader of Atlantis looked tired and sore, and he wasn't all that surprised. After his own excursion around the city, his body had been on the verge of mutiny by the time he'd finally crawled into his bed the night before.
Pulling her attention away from the gentle streams of the sunrise, she gave him a wane smile. "Ask me again in a month."
Sheppard snorted a laugh. "That good, huh?" He studied her closely, trying to hide his concern under a rakish grin.
She simply shrugged. "I'll be fine. I just need some time and possibly some of Radek's illegal hooch." She let out a shaky breath. "Thank you, by the way."
John frowned. "What for?"
"The rescue. Very well timed, that man."
The Major grinned cheekily. "Hey, it's all part of the service. You know, saving the city, protecting the geeks, rescuing damsels in distress. Hell, I'd have even rescued a kitten stuck up a tree except there's a 'no pets' rule in force."
Elizabeth laughed but when she looked into his hazel eyes, she found herself wondering about the darkness she'd seen there when he had shot Kolya. She shrugged again, pushing away the sudden pang of fear. "Well, that's good to know," she replied, forcing a light tone. "It's probably best if we try not to make a habit of it though."
"Hey, what happened to McKay's arm?" Sheppard asked suddenly. "I tried to talk to him, but he just gave me one of his super-speed whirling dervish impressions and neatly avoided the subject. Then he left the Gateroom at a speed I never thought I'd see from him. You'd have thought he was being chased by a Wraith."
Elizabeth stiffened in her chair and started to fiddle with the corner of her laptop – a sure sign that she was nervous. "I'm not sure I'm the one who should be telling you this," she started, looking up at the Major. When she saw the expression on his face, however, she relented. "I'm not entirely certain," she confessed with a heavy sigh. "Kolya ordered me to show Sora and some of the soldiers where the Wraith data device and medical supplies were. Two of the men stayed put along with Kolya and Rodney. I was gone maybe an hour tops, and when I got back, Rodney's arm was bleeding. I tried to ask him about it, but all he'd say was that he'd 'tried not to talk'." She swallowed heavily and when she spoke again, her voice was small and frightened. "I… I think they tortured him. You should've seen him, John. He was in such a state…"
John's face darkened and he growled under his breath. "Son of a bitch."
"What?" she asked, not liking the look on the pilot's face. "You can't blame Rodney…"
"No, I meant Kolya," John cut in hurriedly. "Next time I see him, he's dead."
…It didn't take a genius with two degrees in advanced physics and an ego the size of New York City to fill in the blanks.
The insane alien bastard had cut Rodney.
McKay was a civilian, dammit! He wasn't trained to deal with situations like that! Hell, he shouldn't have been in that position full stop, should never have had to suffer that. It made the Major wish that he'd shot Kolya smack between the eyes instead of in the shoulder. Next time, he promised himself. Next time…
As he drew closer to Rodney's room, something writhed in Sheppard's gut. He knew what it was like, the place his team-mate was in, and it was somewhere he'd hoped that none of his friends would ever be. He'd been there himself, back in Afghanistan. He could still smell the breath of his interrogator; he tasted the bitter iron tang of his blood; he saw the dagger dripping red…
Mentally shaking himself, he banged on Rodney's door. "McKay? Hey, buddy, open up." He was met with silence. "I know you're in there," he called. "C'mon, I need to talk to you."
"Okay, Answer Man, we can do this the hard way if you really want." He pulled off the panel to the door controls and set about hotwiring the release – a nifty trick that McKay had shown him for use in emergencies. He wasn't sure if this actually counted, but to hell with it. He could live with the complaints. Bridging the crystals, the door swished open and he stepped inside.
The room looked empty. A quick glance at the bed showed that the physicist had tossed and turned, and Sheppard's nose wrinkled as he caught a whiff of an unpleasantly familiar smell. He glanced down and saw the trash can's contents and swallowed hard. Moving it aside with the toe of his boot, John then noticed the discarded dressings lying on the floor. He grabbed a pen from Rodney's desk and gingerly lifted one up, unable to stop the small gasp that left him.
They were covered in blood. A lot of blood. Suddenly, Rodney's disappearing act had become a lot more serious.
"McKay?" he called, growling in frustration when he was met with a wall of silence. "Rodney? You in here?"
Letting the bandages fall into the trash can, he stood still for a minute, wondering where his friend might be. A waft of sea air caught his attention and he looked up to find that the door to the balcony was slightly ajar.
As he stepped forward, he heard a soft crunch from under his boot. Puzzled, he looked down and saw what appeared to be bits of glass covering the floor. He ducked his head into the bathroom and let out a soft groan as he saw the shattered mirror.
As carefully as he could, John scooped up the glass shards and wrapped them in a blood stained towel before placing them into the now stinking trash can. He then walked over to the balcony door and it swished open.
As soon as he saw the sight in front of him, his hand flew up to his headset and he was calling for a med team.
McKay was lying on the floor of the balcony, shivering and moaning softly. The thin material of his sweatpants and t-shirt were soaked through, indicating that the Canadian had spent a considerable amount of time in last night's rain. Further examination showed that the dressing on his arm was speckled with dark red spots.
Sheppard knelt down next to his team-mate and gently touched the man's shoulder, alarmed at how just how violently Rodney was trembling. "Hey, buddy," he called softly. "Whatcha doing out here?"
Rodney gave a strange half sobbing noise and flinched under John's touch. "G'way," he slurred, trying to curl up.
The Major sat down next to McKay's head and gently turned it towards him. The scientist was pale and clammy, his normally brilliant blue eyes pale and unfocused, shadowed by the purple bruise that was creeping up his face. "You don't look so hot," he whispered, trying hard to suppress the sudden burst of rage that gushed through him as he propped his friend's limp and unresisting body against his. The scientist's skin was icy cold so he quickly shucked off his jacket and wrapped it around Rodney's shoulders.
How long had McKay been out here like this? Why hadn't he said anything? And why the hell hadn't he gotten his arm seen to?
Then a thought struck him, making him close his eyes and shake his head sadly. Rodney hadn't gone to the infirmary because of what had happened in the control room.
Cursing himself for not having any field dressings with him, the Major pulled out a couple of handkerchiefs from his pocket before slowly removing the sodden bandage on Rodney's arm. He growled out loud when he saw the extent of the damage. There were three cuts, varying in length and depth. The middle one looked to be the worst: it was the deepest of the three and John's stomach lurched as his mind unhelpfully decided to try and supply images of what might have caused the laceration.
Pressing the cotton onto the wound and elevating the arm, he sent up a small prayer to whatever deity looked after head-strong, obstinate physicists. It was obvious that Kolya had known what he was doing – it was all too clear that the injury was bad and the gashes were deep – but by itself not life-threatening. The son of a bitch had taken care not to get too close to the artery in Rodney's wrist.
After all, if McKay had died as a result of the torture, the Genii wouldn't have gotten any information.
Rodney moaned again and John tightened his grip. "Hey, Rodney, it's okay. I got you. Carson'll be here any minute and have you patched up in no time."
Rodney's head lolled on his shoulder and the bleary, blue eyes struggled to focus on his face. "M'jor?" he slurred.
"That's right, McKay. Just stay still."
"'M sorry…" The physicist's voice was no more than a whisper.
"None of that," John said sternly, shifting the scientist's arm up a little higher, wishing that the blood would stop already. "What's wrong with your bed?" he quipped. "I know you bitch about your back, but it must be more comfortable than the floor out here."
Rodney seemed to become limper.
"Rodney? C'mon, stay with me!" Sheppard felt a wave of panic and gently jostled the physicist.
"Stop…" McKay managed to say. "Stop it."
"Sorry," John replied, feeling sheepish. "You didn't answer my question."
"Felt… like some air," Rodney said, sinking down further.
There was no response. As McKay's head slumped forwards, John fought the sudden flash of panic.
Sheppard turned his head in the direction of the Scottish brogue, muttering a litany of blessings and thanks to the big guy upstairs. "We're out here!" he bellowed. "Hurry up!"
Seconds later, Carson Beckett appeared next to him, cursing softly. "The daft bugger," he muttered as he peeled back one of Rodney's eyelids to check his pupils. "Rodney? Can you hear me?" He tapped McKay's cheek lightly and growled when there was no response.
"Doc," John croaked, not relinquishing his death grip on McKay's arm. "He's cold. His arm…"
"Okay, son," Beckett soothed, prying off the pilot's fingers, "it's okay. Let me have a look… Sweet Mary, mother of God…" He closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"He was talking a minute ago," Sheppard said.
"It's alright, Major…"
"I couldn't get him to wake up again."
Carson took hold of one of John's arms and shook him until he turned to look at him. It was obvious that the Major heading into the early stages of shock and Beckett needed him to snap out of it. "Listen to me. It's going to be okay. I need you to be calm, lad. I'll not let anything happen to Rodney."
Sheppard's gaze flicked between the Scotsman and his team-mate and he nodded.
Beckett started yelling instructions to his team, and in no time, the wounds had been dressed with pressure bandages and Rodney had been loaded onto the waiting gurney, bundled under heated blankets.
"Is he gonna be okay?" John managed to ask, his head buzzing slightly as they walked out to the door.
Carson sighed. "I hope so. His arm looks infected and I doubt that spending the night out there will have helped any." He shook his head angrily. "He should have come straight to me. I don't know what the hell he was playing at. What about you?" he asked, looking at the pilot with narrow eyes.
"I'm… I'll be fine," John said, knowing that he wasn't sounding too convincing. "It was just…"
"Aye, son, I know. It's not nice finding a friend in that situation," Beckett replied. "But he's in good hands now, so don't fret. Although once he's feeling better, he'll have some explaining to do."
Sheppard grimaced. "Go easy on him, doc," he replied. "I'm pretty sure he's not thinking straight at the moment."
The physician nodded in agreement. "I'll say, Major." He nodded to his medics and they wheeled the litter in the direction of the infirmary, Carson hot on their heels. "I'll call you when he's settled," he said, then disappeared around the corner.
John's legs felt like jello. He walked back into McKay's quarters and grabbed a bag, intending to collect some things for the physicist. Instead, he sank down on the bed and held his head in his hands.
Why hadn't he spoken to McKay? Why had he just assumed that the seemingly incompetent first aid attempt was just another ploy for a bit of attention?
When the hell had he stopped listening?
He swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat and blinked until his suspiciously misty vision cleared. He refused to give into that. Rodney needed him, even if the physicist didn't know it himself.
John got up and threw a change of clothes and a couple of books into the bag before shouldering it and setting off for the infirmary at a run.
Finally, after cajoling, wheedling and blatant begging, Carson relented and let John in to see his team-mate. As he approached the physicist's bed, he felt a wave of gratitude towards the Scotsman – Beckett had made sure that McKay had been placed in a fairy empty part of the infirmary, away from prying eyes. He made a mental note to send the man a couple of bottles of his smuggled beer when things were back to normal.
He just hoped that would be sooner rather than later.
Pulling up a chair, he sat down next to his team-mate and pulled the books out of the bag, placing them on the nightstand. He knew that Rodney got bored easily, and when he was bored, he got cranky… and as a result drove the medical staff to distraction. Maybe having something to occupy his mind would help. Once that was done, he sat back and observed the Canadian.
Rodney looked a mess. He was lying on his side, facing the pilot, his knees drawn up to his chest in a defensive posture. Carson had said something about a vicious bruise on his back and John was determined to get to the bottom of that. In the bright lights of the infirmary, the painful looking black eye seemed to be even more prominent.
Sheppard had a pretty good idea about where that one had come from – McKay had mentioned something about Kolya hitting him when they were in the control room. With a sigh of relief, he saw that the scientist's arm had been properly bandaged – no doubt stitched up as well – and an IV line snaked underneath the dressings. Rodney was suffering from a small but virulent infection, but Carson had assured him that it would be cleared up easily with an antibiotic. As for the cuts, the Scotsman was confident that they'd heal nicely. Although they had been fairly deep, the damage to the surrounding muscle wasn't as severe as it looked, and Beckett was adamant that there wouldn't be any permanent harm.
It could have been so much worse…
The physical wounds would heal fairly quickly, but the mental ones would take some time. And based on the physicist's condition when the Air Force man had found him, Sheppard was sure that his friend was blaming himself.
John had thought that Rodney was asleep until a small groan pulled his gaze back up to the man's face. "Hey," he said, trying to keep his voice light. "Looks like you've done yourself a mischief."
McKay swallowed and frowned. "Where…?"
"Infirmary," John replied. "I gotta say, taking a nap outside wasn't the best idea you've ever had."
Instead of a scathing comeback, Rodney's face crumpled. Not good at all…
"C'mon, McKay," the Major said. "You can talk to me. It's okay."
"No," came the small, weary reply. "No, it's not. I don't think it'll ever be okay."
"Look, I know what that rat bastard did to you and I'm sorry you had to go through that. Believe me, if I could have swapped places with you, I'd have done it in a heartbeat." John sighed. "I know what it's like."
"How can you say that?" Rodney demanded softly. "How can you be so… fine with everything?"
"What?" The change of direction caught Sheppard off-guard.
McKay screwed up his eyes and winced as it pulled on the bruising. "I let you down," he whispered. "I nearly got everyone killed. I don't know how you…"
"No, Major," Rodney said angrily. "I couldn't keep my mouth shut. The one time when all I had to do was keep quiet, and I screwed it up." He gave a bark of derisive laughter. "The great Rodney McKay, biggest brain in two galaxies offered everything up in a second. A couple of nicks and I spilled my fucking guts."
"Look, it wasn't your fault," John tried, not liking where the conversation was heading. "And what's all this 'a couple of nicks'crap? Did you get a look at your arm at all?"
"But it was," Rodney insisted. He buried his head in his hands, shoulders shaking. "I'd have done anything, anything to get him to stop. And I did in the end. I begged like a child when instead I should have kept quiet. I should have told him to suck on it. I should have…"
Sheppard's anger returned with a vengeance. At last he'd found the reason for the avoidance – McKay thought he'd been weak. The pilot wasn't having that. "If you'd done that, you'd be dead, Rodney," he said hotly, being blunt but not caring. "And I don't know about you, but personally, I prefer you being amongst the living."
"I tried not to talk," the scientist whispered. "I really did. I tried so hard but he…"
"I know," John said. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and grabbed hold of the scientist's shoulder. He pulled gently, trying to get the man to face him. McKay lowered his hands, but kept his eyes firmly shut. "Look at me."
Rodney shook his head. "I can't…"
"You can. I said look at me, McKay."
Reluctantly, Rodney opened his eyes and gazed at John.
"You did what you had to do to survive," the Major stated. "Everyone has their breaking point, even the toughest Marine, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either talking crap or a liar. You weren't trained to deal with a situation like that."
"I should have been," Rodney whispered. "Maybe if I could've held out a bit longer…"
"No," Sheppard said forcefully. "It's my job to protect you, not the other way around. I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"I… I let you down."
John shook his head, glowering. "No. No, buddy, you didn't."
"You didn't let me or anyone else down," Sheppard said again. "Dammit, Rodney, you saved Atlantis!"
Tears formed in McKay's eyes and fell down his cheeks. "But I nearly killed Carson and Teyla," he whimpered.
"If our roles had been swapped, I'd have reacted just the same," Sheppard said. "You'd been tortured and held at gun point! You were stressed out! After what you'd just been through, I'm not surprised that you just needed someone to remind you wait a couple of minutes." Beneath his fingers, McKay shook even harder as he fought not to sob out loud. "You did good, Answer Man," John insisted.
Rodney said nothing, looking down at his arm.
"Hurt, didn't it?" John asked.
The Canadian gave him a puzzled stare. "How… how do you…?"
John sighed. "Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it."
"Bet you didn't crack."
The Air Force man smiled ruefully as a long-buried memory surfaced. Pushing aside the image of him breaking down in the rescue chopper and sobbing like a baby, he swallowed before answering. "Well, then, you'd lose a lot of money. I blabbed. Okay, so it took a couple of days before I did, but I broke just the same as anyone else. And I spent a long time hating myself for it."
"How did you… you know… deal with the…?"
"The guilt?" Sheppard finished. Rodney nodded. "I kept telling myself that I had nothing to feel guilty about. It was a matter of survival. A few pieces of random information for a life seemed like a fair exchange to me." He looked at McKay, his face softening. "And it still does."
McKay nodded, understanding. "I… I really thought he was going to kill me," he whispered. "When I saw the knife… I honestly thought I was dead."
"He needed you too much for that," Sheppard replied, knowing that his team-mate needed to get this out of his system so that they could move on. His own experiences told him that the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours were the most crucial in cases like this, and if he could get Rodney past this stage, the healing process would speed up exponentially. The trick was to help the scientist understand that it wasn't his fault… which was proving to be somewhat of a challenge.
"I only talked… because he said that he'd… that he'd do the same to Elizabeth if I didn't. It was bad enough knowing he was going to… torture me, but I couldn't let him hurt anyone else."
The pilot's mouth dropped open in surprise. He had never really been angry with Rodney for folding, especially not once he'd found out the details, but this was unexpected. No, that was unfair to the physicist – over the last couple of months, McKay had proved his loyalty a hundred fold. The thought that he'd protected Elizabeth not once but twice filled him with a new found respect for the scientist.
"He… he said that if I didn't tell him the plan that…" Rodney swallowed, a choked sob escaping his clenched teeth, "… that he'd… hurt her and make me watch. That he'd ra…" He looked back up at John, an anguished look on his face. "I couldn't let him do that," he said.
Sheppard squeezed his shoulder tightly, a heady mix of emotions twirling around in his head. "Thank you," he croaked, his voice oddly hoarse. Next time, he thought. Next time I see that piece of shit…
"It didn't matter if he… if he hurt me. After what he said…" he trailed off, his voice cracking. He covered his face with his hands.
"Hey, easy," John soothed as the tears morphed into full blown sobs. He grimaced – seeing a grown man like this always made him feel awkward, but at that moment, something inside him broke. McKay was his friend, his best friend, and he deserved some support.
Again, he'd been there and done that. Literally.
He scooted his chair closer and wrapped an arm around Rodney's shoulders. "You did good," he repeated softly, gently rubbing McKay's back. "You saved Elizabeth. You stood in front of a gun for her, stopped Kolya from killing her. You stood up to the bastard even after he hurt you. And you saved the city and the rest of us. Dammit, Rodney, you saved me. You have nothing to be ashamed about."
The desire he'd felt to kill Kolya earlier returned with a vengeance. John vowed to himself that if he ever crossed paths with that whacked out psychopath, he'd finish the job.
Eventually, the sobs died away, and Rodney swiped at his face. He was obviously embarrassed about breaking down in front of Sheppard, so the Major released him and handed him a handkerchief, looking away while Rodney sorted himself out.
"So," he said, once McKay had finished, "just how did you get those bruises on your back?"
Seeing the raised eyebrow, Rodney knew that he wouldn't be able to lie to John. "Kolya," he mumbled.
"I'd kind of figured that, genius," John quipped. "What did he do?" he asked, his voice becoming more serious.
Rodney grimaced. "He… pushed me into the rail on the balcony. I thought he was going to throw me over. He wanted me to lower the Gate shield, but I said I couldn't. That's when I thought I was going to take a swim."
Because of me, John thought guiltily. Because I'd just killed nearly sixty of his men… "What stopped him?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.
A ghost of a grin. "Elizabeth and bad bluffing."
Sheppard snorted a laugh. "And you say you suck at poker?"
This time, Rodney smiled properly.
"And what was so wrong with your bathroom that you decided to do some aggressive interior decorating?"
The grin fell. "I was angry," McKay said, "and ashamed of myself I guess. I just… I don't know. It felt like the right thing to do." He looked away, almost embarrassed. "I… I didn't want to look at myself. I…"
Sheppard regarded him closely. "Next time you feel like that, you come and find me," he stated in a no nonsense tone of voice. "Is that clear? Don't ever think that you're weak, Rodney, because you're not." He gave the scientist a quirky grin. "I don't care what that ass hat said to you – he was wrong. You've never been weak."
"I'm a coward."
John shook his head angrily. "Bullshit. And I never want to hear those words come out of your mouth again. Understood?"
McKay nodded, surprised by the intensity radiating from his friend. "I don't really remember much after I smashed my mirror," he admitted. "I went out to clear my head and the next thing I know is I'm up close and personal with you." He smiled weakly. "Thanks, by the way. I don't know what would've happened if you hadn't been there."
Sheppard returned the smile, hiding his surprise at the honesty coming from his friend. McKay's natural defences were pretty much shattered at the moment and John was shocked to see how young and vulnerable Rodney looked. "Just as well I know how to hotwire a door. I'm gonna start charging for my Florence Nightingale impersonations though."
Rodney snorted a laugh and the atmosphere seemed to lighten. "Guess I made a bit of a mess, then, huh?"
"You did," Sheppard replied. "I cleaned it up for you though."
The sound of footsteps made them both look up – Elizabeth was walking over to them.
"Just follow my lead," John hissed.
Rodney looked confused, but nodded.
"Boys," Weir said with a small smile. She turned to Rodney. "You gave us a scare, you know."
He nodded sheepishly. "Sorry about that. I wasn't exactly having a good day."
Much to his surprise, Elizabeth walked up to his bedside, leant over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "That's a thank you for saving me," she said by way of explanation.
He grinned shyly. "Well, I guess you're welcome," he replied.
Sheppard rolled his eyes but smiled when she gave him a kiss too. "See, buddy? I told you the chicks dig heroes." Beside him, McKay smirked.
"I see your mirror broke," Weir said with a pointed look.
The smug look vanished, replaced by dread. "I…"
"That's was my fault," Sheppard said, cutting McKay off. "I… I lost my temper after I found Rodney and his mirror was the closest thing at hand to vent on."
"But…" Rodney started.
"I know, I'm sorry, McKay," the pilot said smoothly, with a meaningful glance at the man. "I'll get you a new one."
"Oh," the physicist replied, finally understanding what John was playing at. "Yeah, you better, Sheppard."
Weir looked at the two of them, shaking her head. She hadn't been fooled by the Major's story for even a second, but was willing to let it go. Rodney had obviously worked through some of his demons with John and that was good enough for her. "Well, gentlemen, I can't stand around here all day. I've got a city to run." She gave them a brilliant smile. "And that's thanks to both of you." She turned on her heels and walked away.
"You didn't have to do that, you know," Rodney mumbled once Elizabeth was out of earshot. "All she'd have done would be order me to talk to Kate."
"That's true, but I know how much you hate talking to the shrink."
"Anytime, Rodney," the young Air Force man replied, smiling warmly.
They looked over to see Carson stood, bearing a large needle. Rodney whimpered slightly.
"Looks like my cue to leave," the Major said, rising to his feet.
"What?" spluttered McKay, looking panicked but sounding more like his old self. "You can't just abandon me!"
"Sorry, buddy, you know I hate needles." He made to leave, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
"Actually, Rodney, this is nae for you," Beckett said, with a wicked grin on his face.
"Really?" McKay sounded relieved and curious.
"Aye, lad. See, Major Sheppard here was out in that storm on and off for a while, and there could be any number of pathogens floating around in his system. Some of them could be quite nasty."
"Now hold on, doc…"
"So, vitamin shot?" Rodney prompted, managing to turn around enough to sit up.
Carson nodded. Sheppard looked to Rodney with a desperate 'help me out here, would ya?' glare.
"Vitamin shot in his ass?" the scientist asked hopefully.
"Come on, now, Major. It's better safe than sorry," the Scotsman said, leading the pilot behind a closed curtain.
"Never mind, Sheppard," Rodney called, laughter in his voice.
"You're so dead, McKay!" John shouted back. "Just you wait till you're out of here!"
"You shouldn't threaten injured men, Major," the physicist replied. "Not nice."
After a whispered exchange that Rodney couldn't make out, there was a sudden yelp and the sound of muted laughter.
Several seconds later, John reappeared, rubbing his behind and glowering at Carson. "That's you off my Christmas card list," he muttered.
Rodney couldn't keep a straight face and dissolved into laughter. It was bordering on the slightly hysterical, but Sheppard couldn't care less.
Silently relieved to see their friend more like himself, Carson and John smiled at each other – the 'shot' had been a ruse. Besides, Beckett had already sicced one of his nurses on the pilot – one of the prettier ones that he had seen the Major flirting with – to administer the antibiotics.
Oddly enough, there had been no complaints from Sheppard.
"Yeah, yuck it up, genius," said Sheppard in a mock angry voice. "You won't be laughing so hard when it's your turn."
"Och, leave him alone, son," Carson said, winking at the pilot. "He's poorly, you know." He patted Rodney on the shoulder. "Don't you ever do that again, you hear?" he demanded. "I'll not have you being afraid to come to me when you need medical assistance." Seeing his friend nod sheepishly, he smiled and wandered away.
John stood next to McKay's bed, grinning despite himself. "Feeling better?" he asked.
Rodney managed to stifle the last of his giggles and looked over at his friend. He smiled and nodded. "Yeah." Knowing that John understood – and, more importantly, didn't blame him – had helped him more than he would have thought possible. He looked across at the nightstand and saw the books. "You bring these?"
"Yep. Thought I'd save Carson from your moaning."
"I do not moan. I can't help it if I get bored quickly. I have a very active mind, you know. I am a genius after all." He jutted his chin out defensively.
"I think it's more like the patience and attention span of a four year old," Sheppard teased.
"Hey, I'm not the one who got a shot in the ass, Flyboy."
"Yeah, thanks for the support with that."
"Are you blind?" McKay shot back, waggling her injured arm gingerly. "I've got at least a hundred stitches in here, you know, not to mention a bruise the size of Toronto on my back! It's not like I could just leap up and come to your rescue."
"You could have thrown your cup at him."
"'M not Superman, Sheppard," Rodney muttered, a yawn overtaking him as his exhaustion began to show.
"Yeah, you are, buddy," the Major replied quietly. "You're a modern day superhero."
The physicist smiled, closing his eyes. "That must make you Jimmy, then," he mumbled.
"I can live with that." John patted Rodney's leg through the blanket, relieved that the physicist's normal banter had been restored. "If you promise to behave, I'll smuggle your laptop in here later," he whispered conspiratorially as he pretended to re-arrange one of McKay's pillows. "And I'll get Ford to find some blue jello."
"You've got a deal, Major," Rodney replied sleepily.
John smiled affectionately. "Good man." He waited until the Canadian was asleep before he left.
He sighed in relief as he walked down the corridor to the mess, trying to fathom out the best way to hide a computer under his jacket. He was sure that Rodney would be back to his old self in no time – moaning, bitching, arrogant, smart mouthed, quick witted, sarcastic… just so wonderfully McKay – and that meant that everything else would soon be back to normal.
Or, at least, as normal as things could be in a floating city in a different galaxy.
John couldn't wait.