Warning! There be angst here. No McShep for today kiddies.

- - - - -

McKay is like smoke

At least, that's what John thinks.

Smoke, is winding, unpredictable. It bends and curves with a mind of its own like a living being. In a sense, McKay is like that too. Out of all the people John has ever known in his life, McKay worries the most.

He whines the most, complaining about a different ailment a week. Restless leg syndrome, insomnia, headaches, pains all over his body, the list goes on and on and on. From the surface, to others, he seems weak, and John admits at times he can be. He isn't the one to keep a calm head in dangerous situations, and he's always the one telling everyone about how they're 'all about to die'. He's the one pacing up and down, muttering about doom, presuming the worst, always.

In short, McKay is generally a weak person, from the surface at least. Maybe that's why the interrogator's picked McKay to try and crack. They didn't even bother looking at Ronon, they probably tried Teyla, and by god they tried to crack John. He would know. His lips will probably take months to heal properly. So they turned their sights to the loud, complaining astrophysicist, thinking they'd break him easily, and faster than the others.

So what makes Rodney so unbelievably unpredictable is that he holds out. He doesn't break.

John is in the next cell. He can hear the punches colliding with Rodney's face, the boots colliding with his ribs. He can hear them gently telling him, it will all stop if he merely tells them what they want to know. A few hours later they're shouting insults at him, telling him that he is weak, just as everyone who has ever met McKay believes. Telling him he will die a lonely death, far away from everyone he has ever knew.

McKay gasps, he groans and splutters out small speckles of blood. John can hear the liquid drip onto the concrete floors. He can't hear him, but he can imagine, from the graphic sounds he's been hearing these past few days, what state Rodney is in, The pain he is going through with every breath that forces itself from his broken body. But not once does he hear McKay utter a single word, he doesn't plead with them, he doesn't bargain with them, or even insult them. And more than anything, he doesn't give anything to them. Most people who have met McKay would have bet fortunes that he would crack. That's what makes him like smoke, so unpredictable. John is astounded by how strong he can be. Under the surface, his resolve is unbreakable.

McKay is like smoke, in that respect.

Another trait, smoke shares with McKay, is that it's there for only a short time. For an instant, the trail of black and gray waves and curls it's way upwards, clear as day. Then just as quickly as it began, it wafts and disappears. For a few fleeting seconds it's open, easy to see, apparent and visible. Then it's gone.

McKay is like that, in a way too.

McKay had brought along Maria Lydon, a young scientist with Italian background. John vaguely knew her, knew that she was new and that Rodney picked her out of the rest to give her a feel of what a simple, routine mission is like. Maria was in the next room, for a few seconds John had heard her yelling when the door had swung open, but that was all.

McKay always gives off the impression he doesn't care about anyone. He forgets everyone's names, and shows no compassion. He insults anyone who speaks to him at most times, and rips apart confidences with his harsh words without a second thought.

But for an instant, John can see him. The real McKay is visible for a few seconds, from under the heavy layers of arrogance, hatred and snark, the real McKay rises up like smoke, just for that instant, for all to see.

They bring them all into one dark room that night, Rodney forward and Ronon, Teyla and John held tightly by other clad men behind him. Through the smell of oil in his gag, and the darkness, a shaft of moonlight hits Rodney's face. It's bloody and bruised, his eyelids hooded and half open, but his blue eye creeps over at meets John's gaze. For a moment they look, almost sharing a conversation just by look.

Then Rodney nods, he's okay.

Then they haul Maria out, holding her by her pony tail.

Her Italian background is apparent. Her hair is beautiful and black, her eyes dark and full, her lips large and plump. She is quite an eyeful, and John wouldn't mind spending a night out with her. But her usual beauty is compromised, her eyes are red and blotchy and full of tears, she has a few small bruises but nothing to drastic. John can almost feel her fear from across the room. Beside him, Ronon makes an attempt to run at her but his guard grabs him harder and the handle of his gun collides with Ronon's head. He doesn't pass out, but he loses the will to fight in a second.

The interrogator steps forwards, his boots clopping loud and ominously in the now silent room. Rodney's breaths are painful and labored, he doesn't even bother to look up as the man advances on him. He steps into a shaft of moonlight and his green hawk-like eyes light up into sight, narrowed down at Rodney with contempt. His messy, sandy brown hair casts spiked shadows over Rodney's face, and he sighs.

"Dr. McKay" His voice drawls casually "For a pathetic, whining, waste of flesh, you have a high tolerance for pain, I will give you that" His eyes roll over lazily to Maria, who bites her trembling lips and jams her teary eyes shut in his gaze, a smirk plays over his cruel lips.

He sidles over, takes a hold of the scruff of her neck and smiles at McKay. He has Rodney's attention, and the first words Rodney says in days whisper from his lips

"What are you doing?" He croaks

"Tell me..." The interrogator whispers, and from the sleeve of his dark jacket a small gun slides into his palm. He places it gently against the back of Maria's head, his smile widening ever so slightly "...What I want to know"

John tries to say something, anything, to buy time, to stall them off, to get them away from her. But the gag is too tight, he settles for screaming as loud as he can, but it only comes out as a distorted muffle. Rodney's bright blue eyes, a few moments ago, dim, are now shining fearfully like azure lanterns, fixed on the interrogator's face.

"The co-ordinates for Atlantis, Dr. McKay" He says quietly, and with a gentle click, the gun loads.

"Wraith Worshipper!" Teyla shouts, shuffling her knees forwards and yanking her head free. "Your quarrel is with us, not w-" Just like Ronon, the gun smashes into her temple, but unlike him she crumples and falls silent. The interrogator hasn't even blinked. He won't tear his eyes off Rodney and Rodney won't tear his eyes off him.

"I..." Rodney mutters hoarsely, his eyes breaking free and darting a little. And there it is. Plain as day. Rodney is torn. He knows he can't give away the co-ordinates of Atlantis, the Wraith would be there in a week. But the interrogator is about to kill Maria, and all his hate for his colleagues, his carelessness with people, it all crumbles down at the look of terror and hurt on Rodney's face. Like smoke, it's there, for just an instant, these few minutes.

"Tell him" Maria murmurs. Tears are welling on her face and rolling over her cheeks.

"...Can't" He breathes, he looks at her pleadingly, begging her to understand, but she wriggles and sobs.

"No! I have a son, a husband, I-"

"-Maria..." Rodney breathes again

"TELL HIM!" She screams, her eyes shining in the moonlight. The look of terror in her face is tearing John to pieces. He can't begin to comprehend how Rodney feels. The look on Rodney's face is only a fraction of that inside and it's killing him. He knows without a doubt if Maria knew the co-ordinates for Atlantis, she'd be splurging them out this instant.

"You have ten seconds" The interrogator murmurs. The darkness enveloping him twists a little as he stiffens. "Then this bullet goes into her skull"

Rodney swallows, and in the moonlight John can see the base of tears beginning to form at the base of his eyes. He swallows again, his eyes darting rapidly.

"Maria... thousands would die, you know I-"

"NO!" She trails off into hysterically chokes and sobs and starts to squirm with all of her strength. Loose strands of hair whip around her face, but she can't break free

"10"

Sobs break from her chest like waves, they come with her tears and fall in the darkness. Rodney is watching her with dark bruised eyes, his eyebrows lifted in his own terror and pain. His breathing is becoming faster as his eyes break from the bullet to her face.

"9"

"You have to understand-" Rodney begins

"8"

"-That I can't"

"7"

Her words become incomprehensible. She claws with her free hand at the concrete, John makes out, the words 'God' and 'my son', but everything else is lost in her hysteria

"6"

"YOU BASTARD!" She suddenly screams and Rodney flinches as if he's been hit

"5"

"Don't you dare let him kill me!" The moonlight is bouncing off her wet face and her hands are shaking

"4"

"Oh god..." Rodney murmurs "I-..."

"3"

"Maria, I'm so-"

"2"

"-So sorry...

"1"

For an instant she opens her mouth to scream, but the bullet piercing her brain cuts her off. John has to, he just has to turn away. The gun shot is so loud that when it sounds his heart grips and skips a few beats, he winces as if he's been shot as well. Vaguely, he hears a shuffle of fabric and a gentle thud as Maria's body hits the floor. He cracks open his eyes, and looks over at Rodney

From what John can tell, he hasn't even blinked. He's still staring horrified at the spot where her head used to be, frozen, rigid. His mouth is open in a strangled gasp, and John thinks he's forgotten how to breathe. The smell of smoke and oil is so strong, and now he can pick up the coppery scent of blood. Then Rodney's face changes, his eyes dim back to their empty, solemn gaze and his mouth slowly slides closed. His eyes flutter shut and he hangs his head silently.

Like smoke, he's gone.

He has one more quirk, element to McKay that John can liken to smoke.

When Atlantis storm the place and save them, John has to tell Lorne Maria is dead. His face is grim, but he has to shrug it off, it's his job. The jumper ride back is perhaps the longest John has ever had, Zelenka explains how Atlantis found them, but John isn't listening, he's watching Rodney, who's being tended to be Carson.

Beckett wraps the bandage under Rodney's arm, he dabs ointment on his bust lips, and throughout it all Rodney doesn't even wince, he's looking into nothingness like he's lost, and it's worst thing John has ever seen.

The one last thing, is that John can't seem to catch McKay. Smoke is almost impossible to capture, notoriously thin and small and winding and almost untouchable. When John tries to talk to Rodney, tries to get him alone and break through his impenetrable veil, for just a second, John thinks he has him.

"Rodney-" John interrupts eight days later, stepping into McKay's lab. He's using Rodney's first name deliberately, to provoke something from the emotionless state his friend has dipped into. John thinks he sees Rodney stop typing, but for all he knows maybe Rodney was reading some text. The typing flows, perhaps even faster than before, and Rodney doesn't even turn his head.

"Rodney, please stop"

"Go away"

"We need to talk"

McKay turns to him. His face is dark, but slightly illuminated by the blue screen. His eyes are dull and broken, but John can just see the pain capering behind them. Hefs withdrawn so far into his shell, trying to lock himself away from his pain. John understands him perfectly well. He steps forwards and places a hand on his friends stiff shoulder

"You couldn't have done anything else"

Rodney's face almost breaks, in fact it does, just for that instant. His eyes brighten and fill to the brim with agony, his eyebrows lift from their stone hard gaze and his lips tremble as if he's trying to form a word. His knuckles clench so hard they turn white.

"I should... never have taken her. It's my fault" Rodney shakes his head, his eyes close and the film of tears disappears under them. John crouches just a little

"It's not your fault"

Rodney's fingers relax, his eyebrows lower slowly, he exhales on slow long shuddering breath and opens his eyes. He rolls them upwards to John, emotionless

"I'm fine"

He turns and continues typing

McKay is like smoke.

Because every time John tries to hold him in the moment, to make him talk, to open up and let go of the pain...

Every time John tries to catch McKay

He slips through his fingertips