The Meaning of Fear
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 for 'Doppelganger'. After their encounter with the entity, the boys need to talk…
Central Character(s): Rodney and John.
Category (ies): Angst, friendship, H/C, some humour.
Placement: Season Four, after 'Doppelganger'.
Spoilers: Season Four's 'Doppelganger'
A/N: Again, this is a part of my 'Aftermath' series. I have no idea where this came from if I'm honest – neither the bunnies nor the muses are claiming credit, so incredibly, it might have been me. After the events of 'Doppelganger', it seemed only natural that the boys would be suffering from nightmares and so on, so this is the result of that thought.
Lt Col John Sheppard was decidedly uncomfortable.
He seemed to be lying on something cold and hard but he couldn't work out what that something was. Whatever it was, it sucked… The pilot also failed to understand why it was so dark. Gingerly, he reached a hand out and met something that felt an awful lot like metal. Moving his hand up a bit higher, he then touched a softer, warmer object. Realisation dawned.
Cursing silently at himself, he opened his eyes.
He was in his quarters, lying on the floor, his chest heaving as if he'd just finished a run. He blinked a few times, eyes trying to adjust to the early morning light that was beginning to make its way into Atlantis. Right then. Time to do a quick situation assessment. He was definitely on the floor, next to his bed. Why was that? Surely he was a bit too old for the 'I-fell-out-of-bed' routine? He frowned as he realised that his skin felt damp. Raising a hand to his cheek, he felt a cold sweat. Why was he sweating? He wasn't ill – or, at least, he didn't feel ill.
Slowly, his sleep addled brain finally slammed the pieces together and he grimaced. He'd been having a nightmare. Ghosts of emotions and fleeting images sprang to his mind, but they were too faint to recall properly. He dragged himself back up to sit on the edge of his bed and ran a hand through his hair.
Dammit. He was shaking. Must have been a bad one. He took a few deep breaths and glanced at his clock. It was too early to get up really, but the prospect of going back to sleep for a few hours suddenly seemed to lose its appeal. Growling, he headed for the shower.
As the warm water cascaded down his body, John felt some of the tension easing away. Come on, Shep, he thought to himself. It was just a stupid dream. Get a grip… He turned the water off and stepped out.
After he'd dressed, Sheppard decided to go and grab an early breakfast. There wouldn't be that big a queue at this time in the morning – in fact, the mess would be more or less deserted. Maybe a few of the night staff, or the civilians who were on swing shifts… Good. Less people to wonder why he was awake at this ungodly hour. He trotted along the corridor to the mess hall, thinking longingly of coffee.
Despite repeatedly telling himself that he was too old to be freaked out by a bad dream, he couldn't help but feel unsettled. The fact that he couldn't really remember much about it really rattled him. Normally, his nightmares were fairly graphic – far too detailed for his liking and far too easily remembered.
Not that he thought nightmares were normal. This one, however, had been… different. Ever since the encounter with the entity, he had been more wired than normal. Everyone was – no one knew what other nasty surprises were waiting for them. It had been three days since they had returned the crystals to the planet, and none of his team had really slept in over seventy-odd hours. Eventually, his body had mutinied and crashed hard from continued exertion and lack of sleep… and the nightmares had come.
If he was being brutally honest with himself, John would have admitted that having an alien steal your face and invade the minds of your friends and colleagues was unsettling. It made him angry to think that Teyla, Ronon, Keller, Lorne and the much missed Kate had all encountered his evil twin. And the whole time, he'd been fast asleep, totally oblivious to what was going on. His internal rage wasn't helped by the fact that he'd been suckered into touching that damn crystal in the first place, despite McKay's warnings. Okay, so it was how the things lured their victims, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow.
He jogged into the mess hall and grabbed a tray of food, snagging an extra muffin and a cup of coffee so strong that even Rodney would have balked at. It was more or less deserted, pretty much as he'd expected. A couple of marines just finishing the night shift were sat chatting in front of coffee and a few scientists were milling around. John nodded to the soldiers, waved at the geeks and headed out to the balcony. Eating breakfast while watching the sun rise sounded ideal – the perfect thing to help him shake off the lingering unease.
He was about to sit down when he saw a lone figure at the far table. He frowned for a minute then headed over.
As he approached, he saw Rodney McKay slumped over the table top, coffee cold and long forgotten, fast asleep. John grimaced. Had this been any other time, he would have thought that the Canadian had probably been up all night playing with some new discovery or other, come to grab some refills and dozed off. But Sheppard knew better. He hadn't seen McKay sleep at all since entering his dream to try and save him from the entity. Christ, the man must have been running on fumes and caffeine. Admittedly, the physicist had some of the weirdest sleeping habits in two galaxies, but he hadn't spent this long awake since the Siege.
John shuddered at the memory – Rodney had been dosed up on stimulants and when the crisis was finally over and he'd been able to rest, sleep had been elusive thanks to the drugs. It wasn't until he collapsed in a briefing that Beckett had stepped in and sedated him for forty hours straight.
As quietly as he could, Sheppard sat down opposite his team-mate. He really wanted to have a verbal sparring match with the physicist to help him feel more like himself, but didn't really have the heart to wake him. It was so rare to see McKay actually sleeping (outside of being a patient in the infirmary that was) that to disturb him for such a stupid reason just didn't seem fair.
McKay muttered something and frowned. His right hand was resting on the table and it clenched into a fist. Sheppard narrowed his eyes as he watched his friend. The scientist seemed to be having a pretty wild dream, but John didn't really want to know what about.
That was one part of McKay that used to be better left unknown. But he'd seen Rodney's dreams for himself, hadn't he? He'd seen the look of absolute terror on his friend's face when McKay thought that John's evil twin really could kill him…
Pushing his tray to one side, the Colonel rested his elbows on the table, holding his head in his hands as he tried to make out the mumbled words.
Something didn't seem right…
Rodney's breathing quickened and a look of fear crossed his unconscious face. He let out a moan and his left hand started to claw at the air. Sheppard reached over and grabbed the man's shoulders, giving him a shake. "McKay," he said loudly.
The physicist started to shake and twitch, his moans and cries becoming progressively louder. Sheppard stood up and went to McKay's side. "Rodney!" he yelled. "Come on, wake up!" He shook him roughly.
McKay's eyes suddenly shot open and he gave a cry of pure terror. He jerked upright, batting at John with his hands. Sheppard had to hold onto him tightly to prevent the scientist from falling off his chair. "No! No, get off! Get it off me! Stop it!"
"Rodney!" Sheppard was alarmed at the scientist's reaction. "Take it easy! It's me!" He reached out and grabbed the Canadian's arms before he could hurt either of them.
McKay gave a gasp and looked around, his eyes darting wildly as he slowly realised where he was. He looked up at Sheppard. "C-Colonel?" he asked, his voice trembling.
"It's okay, Rodney. You were just having a bad dream." John gave him a reassuring smile. He turned his head, shaking it at the small group of people who had risen from their tables to offer assistance. The last thing Rodney needed was an audience.
"O-oh." McKay's chest was pounding and he struggled to calm his near-hysterical breaths. "Sorry."
Sheppard let go of Rodney's arms. "You okay?" he asked. The Canadian looked pale and clammy.
"I, uh… Yeah, yeah I'm fine. It…" McKay trailed off, looking embarrassed. He ran a hand over his sweaty face.
"Wanna talk about it?"
The scientist frowned. "What?"
Sheppard sighed and returned to his seat. "Your dream, Einstein."
McKay looked uncomfortable. "It was just a bad dream, Colonel. There's really not much to talk about," he snapped. "Besides, you've already seen one of my all time worst ever nightmares."
"I was just saying that talking can help," John suggested.
Rodney scowled at him. "Who are you – Dr Phil?" he asked.
"It was only a suggestion. And quite frankly, I'm worried that you know who that is."
McKay let out a shaky breath. "It… I was…." He paused, looking confused. 'I can't remember,' he muttered quietly. "It's all… fuzzy." He closed his eyes and leant on the table. "So, what are you doing up so early?" he asked, in an attempt to change the subject.
"Oh, you know," replied Sheppard. "Thought I'd grab an early breakfast, miss the mob and that."
"Right," said McKay, clearly not buying the pilot's excuse. He glanced at his watch. "Well, as much as I'd like to hang around here chatting, I've got work to do." He made to stand up, but the jelly feeling in his legs pushed him back into his chair. His head felt like it was about to explode.
"Are you sure you're okay, Rodney?" asked John, looking concerned.
"I'm fine. Like I said, it was just a stupid dream." The physicist tried standing again and was successful. "If you need me, I'll be in my lab."
He only made it as far as Sheppard's chair before his knees buckled and he sank to the floor.
"Rodney? Come on, buddy, open your eyes."
McKay groaned as the voice pulled him back into consciousness and he found himself on the floor of the mess looking up at a very worried Lt Col.
"Hey," John said, smiling. "Welcome back. You had me worried there."
"Ow," Rodney replied. "Help me up."
"I think you should stay still for a minute. You're not looking too good."
The Canadian rolled his eyes. "Maybe, but this floor is murdering my back."
Sheppard sighed and gently helped his friend into a sitting position, leaning him against the table leg. Rodney was pale and there were dark rings under his eyes that made him look almost like a raccoon. John crouched down in front of him, grabbing a water bottle from the table.
Helping the physicist to take a drink, he then placed it on the floor within easy reach. "So," he said eventually, "wanna tell me what's going on?"
McKay grimaced and looked down at the floor. "It's nothing," he replied, although he knew that the lie would be easily uncovered.
"Yeah right," John replied. "Sorry, genius, but you fain… manfully passing out and looking like something a Wraith dragged in is not 'nothing'. Care to try again?"
Rodney looked up at John. He'd never been able to lie to the pilot and that wasn't about to change now. "I… I haven't been sleeping well," he admitted eventually. "In fact I've hardly slept a wink since…"
Sheppard nodded, understanding. "Nightmares?"
"Yeah. Bad ones." He looked away, embarrassed by his confession. "I know it's ridiculous but…"
John reached out a clamped a hand on the Canadian's shoulder. "I'll let you into a secret, McKay," he said quietly. "Me too."
Rodney looked up with a surprised expression. "Seriously?"
"Seriously. They're always the same – I'm alone and trapped and I can't get out. I can't call out or move and I know that if I don't, something terrible will happen. There's nothing I can do to stop it."
"Sounds familiar," McKay muttered. "Except… in mine, there's something after me. It never matters how far I run or where I go, it always finds me."
Both men looked at each other, aware of how silly their dreams sounded in the light of day, but saw recognition and understanding in the other's face. Rodney slumped against the table. "It's stupid," he spat, suddenly angry. "I know that it's only because of what that damn alien did to us, but I can't help it."
"It's not stupid, Rodney," Sheppard replied. "It's natural. We all had a pretty stressful time of things and this is the body's way of coping. They'll go away after a while."
"What if they don't?" Rodney's question was a whisper.
"They will," John insisted, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "Anyways, I never had a chance to say thanks."
"What for?" asked Rodney, the sudden change in direction throwing him.
"For coming back. For saving my sorry ass yet again." He looked away for a moment, smiling embarrassedly. "He was seriously kicking my butt in there."
McKay managed a grin. "Was he? I can't say I was paying much attention. And I still say there should've been more hot chicks."
Sheppard laughed, and sat down next to his team-mate.
"And… it should be me thanking you," Rodney continued. "You didn't have to… you know," he pointed to his head and twirled his finger around.
"I wasn't gonna let some thrill seeking alien who got its kicks out of scaring people to death kill my best friend," John replied, his voice strained. "Not without a fight." And boy, what a fight: John was glad it was a dream because that would have seriously hurt otherwise.
"Thanks," McKay said, smiling softly. "So, I guess that means we're even then?"
"Yeah, Answer Man. We're even."
They sat in companionable silence for a while.
"How… how do you deal with them?" asked Rodney. "The nightmares, I mean."
Sheppard frowned. "I… I go for a run or blow the crap out of the target range."
Rodney laughed. "Makes sense. You're military after all."
"Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it."
"I don't do running unless it's a mad dash for my life," the Canadian replied. "You of all people should know that by now."
Sheppard snorted a laugh, shaking his head. "What about the shooting then?"
Rodney thought for a moment, then nodded. "I guess I could do that."
John got to his feet and reached down to tug Rodney up, waiting until the physicist had stopped swaying before letting him go. "Come on, infirmary."
"But I'm fine!" McKay argued, glowering. "It's just sleep deprivation. A cup of coffee or two and I'll be back to my normal genius self."
"Tough," Sheppard replied. He saw his friend about to protest and quickly derailed it by saying, "I'll cut you a deal. You let Keller check you over just to be on the safe side and then we'll go down to the range, okay?"
Rodney nodded reluctantly and sighed, allowing himself to be herded out of the mess.
As they walked down the corridor, John let out a deep sigh.
"You know," Rodney said, shoving his hands into his pockets, "you never really told me what the first part of… it... was. You know, before I came back." He smiled ruefully. "I can't really see you being scared of anything. Well, apart from your obvious issues with clowns that is."
Sheppard gave him a crooked frown. "It?" he asked. "You mean when the entity decided to hop over to me?"
The pilot sighed again. This was something he had hoped that they'd never have to talk about. Deciding to hit the proverbial nail on the head and get it over and done with as quickly as possible, he replied, "I was too late to save you."
McKay said nothing, just looking at his friend in shock.
"I… I woke up in the observation room and you were in cardiac arrest. Keller couldn't revive you." He ran a hand through his tangled locks and swallowed heavily. "I suppose I thought that it was the fear of letting you all down, of not being able to save any of you."
"But you did," Rodney replied, stopping to turn and face John. "You took an incredible risk to save my life," he continued, all trace of his usual acerbic wit dropped. "And you've never let any of us down. You know what? I think your real fear is more to do with not being in control of a situation, of being in a position where you can't do anything." He paused for a moment, offering up a crooked grin. "You have the worst case of autophobia I've ever seen."
Sheppard managed a small smile. "It was horrible," he admitted after a while. "The thought that you were dead and that I couldn't do anything..."
"Well, unless I'm actually a ghost come back to haunt your sorry ass from the next world, I'm still here." He paused, his familiar lop sided grin well and truly restored. "At least, I was the last time I checked."
Both of them laughed at that thought and resumed their walking.
"It's your turn next time," John said.
"The next time one of us is in trouble, it's your turn to save us."
"How do you figure that?" asked McKay, scowling. "I did save you, remember?"
"Yeah, but only after I had to go into your twisted subconscious!" Sheppard replied, silently glad of the banter.
"And whose bright idea was that, Hotshot?"
"So?! I instigated it, therefore it's your turn next time!"
Their friendly bickering continued all the way to the infirmary.
Autophobia is the fear of being alone – I couldn't find one for 'fear of loss', so I settled for the closest thing I could. (Interestingly enough, autophobia is also the fear of being one's self. Oh, the layers Johnny has!) If anyone knows what the proper term is, please let me know. It's driving me crazy!
And one last piece of useless trivia – Coulrophobia is the term for fear of clowns.