THESE EXILED YEARS
The first year in Exile is perhaps the hardest of them all.
That first year, Carson Beckett is entirely certain he will die here in Exile, lonely and lost. He imagines the myriad of ways it will happen in vivid, technicolor detail each night as he curls up in the tiny, hidden sleeping niche carved into the cold, unfeeling rock by one of the great burrowing worms rumored to have inhabited Exile long before the convicts ever started arriving. Some nights he can feel the piercing stab of a shiv at his side, the smooth, cool stone worked and polished over a whet until it holds a razor sharp killing edge. Other times, he feels the braided cord tickling at his neck before being drawn up by unseen hands to choke the life right out of him. His chest occasionally tightens with a thousand unspoken horrors, his heart lurching violently within. He cries himself to sleep each night in small, painful, lurching sobs at the thought, praying to die peacefully in his sleep only to wake once more to this awful place.
Exile is a strange, deadly place, with life perched precariously upon the brink. There is something unnatural to Exile, something in the air, perhaps. The air here is thicker, viscous in a way, and crawling upon the skin as though a live thing. It presses upon him, makes his body feel heavy and ungainly. Beckett is sure both McKay and Radek would argue the effect away as merely an altogether humble illusion of heaviness impressed upon his body by increased gravitational pull or some other easily explained phenomena.
However, that can only suspend Beckett's suspicion that he is slowly sinking into the crushing hold of a deep depression; it does not easily write off the rest of the sheer oddity to Exile. Everywhere Beckett looks, Exile is a place of hard, acute angles, the jutting struts of metal supports reaching and climbing awkwardly upon the stone faces of cliffs rising to meet the gloom overhead, each rusted, jangling structure seeming to claw and clamber at one another for a secure anchor point in the rock. The decaying hulks of mining industrial decadence weave together into a wild, unimaginable web, an intricate maze of catwalks and staircases, climbing from nowhere below to achieve a pinnacle of nothing above. The entire thing seems so dangerously perched in the deep, pressing dark of a hollowed earth, that Beckett cannot imagine the sick, twisted mind the concocted such a colorless, void of a place as Exile, lost a darkness so deep that even the shadows hunger and illuminated only by pathetic gas lamps that occasionally go from burning bright and clear to a neon green heralding a deadly toxin rising from the deep. It is every myth Beckett has ever heard of Limbo, of Purgatory, all rolled into one entirely odious place.
The first week, Beckett stumbles blinding about Exile, his heart and mind numb from the sudden loss of everything that has been his life up until now, severed from his friends, family, and even the oddly comfortingly vibration of Atlantis's presence in the back of his mind. He hangs off to the side, keeping well out of the path of the brutish creatures that inhabit Exile. Water trickles from on high, but there is no food to be found. He clutches to the rock faces and hugs his body tight on its self for warmth and to keep his gnawing hunger at bay at night. Beckett sleeps fitfully in the scattered refuse of the other convicts, using bits of spent paper and trash as his only insulation and padding between himself and the cold, metallic grating beneath.
By the end of the first week, Beckett is utterly miserable and in dismal condition. He has hardly slept a wink. His stomach growls painfully and rolls in hunger. Little black flecks jump and crawl, bite and snap at him. Beckett catches one, pinches it between his fingers and examines it. The black things are apparently the Exile equivalent of fleas, as if his luck could possibly get any worse since landing there. He finds a hidden corner, tucked away from prying eyes, and fashions a small razor to sheer the hair from his head, chest, and parts unmentionable to stem the infestation. Beckett pauses during his ministrations to survey his body, pleased at the moment to see that, despite his hunger pangs, he is not currently emaciated.
The next morning, chimes ring through Exile, the sound reverberating in the darkness and ringing through the metallic structures, rousing him from an uneasy sleep. Exile is jumping about him. The rusty metal is moving about him. It takes Beckett a moment to recognize that the movement is really people, filthy people, separating from the darkness and moving past his little niche. Beckett follows, spurned on by the excitement radiating throughout this entire macabre mockery of a city strung together by loose bits of steel and iron. What he finds is surprising, to say the least. These strangers lead him down to a pit where white, paper parcels are dropped from.... well.... somewhere, down a long shoot. The others scramble to snatch up everything, and, before Beckett can blink, much is gone. He manages to grab one parcel, which a hobbling, grizzled man informs him he had better keep close to him, as these "food drops" only occur once a week if someone snags it.
The doctor waits until far later to explore the package that has arrived from above as manna from heaven. According to the information on the side of the box, written in various languages - some of which Beckett does not even recognize at all - it is a fortified powder for a nutritional supplement. When he mixes the sickly grey powder with water, following the listed proportions, the powder yields a downright horrid slop with the consistency of paste and the taste of old gym socks. It is a miserable food, but it is all Beckett has. Even so, the abysmal taste renders the slop easily rationed, and Beckett has no trouble saving powder for his next attempt at stomaching more of the disgusting brew.
He finds a small corner to call his own, a tiny dimple in the rock where a large crossbeam has worn into the rock and created a sheltered hovel. It is a cramped little space, but Beckett finds the niche to be as close to something which can be charitably described as cozy in all of Exile. The slight overhang guides the ever dripping flow of water and human waste from the upper levels away from him, keeping him dry and clean, although not necessarily warm. He fashions a bit of plate metal to conceal his hiding hole for weekly runs to the food drops. Slowly, with an ancient bolt the length of his palm, Beckett works to carve a smaller hole in his "home" to squirrel away any excess of the awful powder.
Exile is an odd, socially stratified world, Beckett immediately learns from keeping his ears open to the rumors drifting and circling about him. At the top of this world, rule the Halfbeaks, the Crimson Kings, and the Zorans, odd groupings of hulking men as cutthroat and ruthless as the worst of Earth gangs yet as organized and machined as the most cultured of mobs. They keep the upper echelon of Exile held in a tight fist, along with, as Beckett discovers in time, the occasionally drops of emergency medical supplies and other essential tools for life in Exile. At the lower levels are the choking gases that quickly snuff the life out of whoever is foolish enough to wander there. Only the Lowlives lurk down there, creatures below worth and meaning who are rumored to leap out and kill any who trespass in their own territory. Beckett is not sure if any of this is true at all, but he is not game to press his luck so soon in Exile.
Beckett instantly recognizes the danger to this place populated entirely by male convicts condemned all to the same fate to be cut away from society as a cancer. He is not strong and burly like Ronon, able to throw his weight around and get by in the rough on sheer intimidation factor alone. He is not quick witted and cocksure like Sheppard, able to wriggle out of a bind on the skin of his teeth by pure, dumb luck alone. Teyla's skill with words and diplomacy has never graced his own tongue, nor has he ever dreamt of the wide, fantastic world of absolute genius that he suspects McKay and Radek occupy alone. He is a doctor, plain and simple, with soft, weak hands and an even softer heart to match, hands for nurturing and healing, not for fighting and defending.
Numbly, Beckett falls into the routine. Each morning, he wakes long before any of the others on his level. He mixes a bit of gruel and chokes it down. Then, he shaves himself, head to toe, to keep the fleas away. After that, he slips from his little hole and covers it once more with the steel plate. He spends his days pacing, exploring areas not claimed by the roving gangs or warlords of the different territories. Beckett is never certain what he honestly seeks, perhaps a way out, perhaps a familiar face in these scowling, bitter, distrusting exiles along with him, perhaps even a means to end himself and this miserable existence. The wandering grounds him and worries him all at the same time. When the Lowlives or the gangs come poking about, he tucks himself up in his hiding hole and holds his breath until they pass once more. Each day, the same routine over and over again.
Beckett uses a bit of charcoal of count the days on the walls of his niche, forming a makeshift calendar of sorts. He draws the singular lines on the wall in clumped formations demarking weeks and months. It is important. It helps him track both when the food arrives and when important dates arise. Beckett's heart aches when holidays come up, but, for some reason, he constantly insists upon torturing himself by charting when they are due to arrive. On what Beckett thinks to be Christmas, he uses a meager bowl of fetid water to half-heartedly toast his health, his mother, his family, Atlantis, and the general sense of good will toward men.
When the weekly food drop occurs, Becket is always sure to be among the first there, but, after all the grabbing and snatching, it never seems to be enough to last the entire week. However, that is only on the rare weeks when the gangs do not decide to descend from the upper levels to start trouble. The gangs enjoy coming down to pick on the unorganized, softer, weaker people of the mid levels. Beckett, as he is not a fighter, often takes a sound thrashing during these roustabouts. Once the beating is severe enough to have him pissing blood for a week, a concerning symptom of potential kidney damage he distantly notes.
Occasionally, a fight breaks out among the other exiles. There is nothing much to do here in Exile save sometimes gamble over foodstuffs and some other, unsavory things that Beckett can hear going on in the dark nights. Thus, tempers often run raw, and the men tend to take it out on one another. Sometimes, Beckett finds himself dragged kicking and screaming into the fray of a fist fight turned into near riot only to finally manage to crawl away hours later and end up holed up, licking his wounds for days.
By the end of the first year, when Beckett catches a glimpse of himself in a small puddle of water collected in an overturned bowl, he hardly recognizes himself. His hands are rough and calloused. His once thick hair has been replaced by a coarse stubble. The weight has dropped off of him considerably, leaving his face gaunt and haggard. His skin has paled to a ghostly marble white without the sun.
However, after a year, Beckett has survived, and even that is impressive in Exile for a loner like him.
The second year is a strange year.
Beckett spends much of this year avoiding contemplating too hard upon his situation or his future. Instead, he fights to find small diversions, anything to keep his mind occupied. He explores the lower levels, but only so far as his nerve will hold until the thoughts of the beasts and Lowlives send him shivering and rushing back to his own level, tail tucked firmly between his legs. He discovers through experimenting that he can make something like a grain alcohol from the starchy fortified powder excuse for food, saving some of it for a laughable attempt at first aid supplies while using the rest to mix with the filthy swill of water running down to them and dripping from above as a strange, eternal mist and rain. Beckett even fashions a small collection system for the precious water.
The doctor finds himself so occupied by his other tasks that his notice almost escapes him. Korruban. One of the tougher members of the Halfbeaks, second only to their leader, the gruff Talis. Beckett first notices his stare during one of the food drops and, again, a week later. Tall, proud, and built like a brick shithouse, Korruban stands easily a foot taller than Beckett, with muscles that would have made Ronon look utterly wimpy by compare. Beckett can feel Korruban's eyes upon him, even behind the metal plate he uses as a makeshift door, even though he has been quite careful not to lead Korruban back to his home. Korruban makes a point now of hosting daily appearances on the lower levels where Beckett hides, hurling insults and fists wherever he cares.
At night, Beckett shudders to himself at the thought of this new notice of his. He has no friends in this place. No human friends. Korruban's attention, his quick glances and dark gaze, is the closest thing Beckett has to real human contact, and it terrifies him. The terror crushes him so that Beckett resolves to stray from his hovel as little as possible from then on, abandoning his explorations of the levels below.
However, Korruban's unnerving gaze is boon in disguise, for, in that fateful second year, Beckett finds he shares his hovel with a tiny, albino creature not too dissimilar from a gerbil or kangaroo mouse. He only spies it at what passes for dusk in Exile, skulking in the shadows just beyond Beckett's reach. The thing comes in search of food. Surprised by its presence, Beckett leaves a tiny mouthful of his gruel to the mouse each day, coaxing it to come out. Over the course of many long months, Beckett finally gets the creature accustomed to his presence, comfortable enough to eat at the doctor's side. Beckett continues to tempt the thing closer and closer until, eventually, he coaxes the tiny mammal to take food from his palm and sit with him, snuggling for warmth during the long hours that pass for night in Exile.
After time, the delicate, white-furred thing befriends Beckett and becomes the doctor's constant companion, riding in the man's increasingly tattered pocket. Beckett smiles when he spies the pointed little snout, oddly finding that it reminds him somehow of Radek, however, when Beckett tries to remember, he can only vaguely picture the Czech. It saddens him oddly, but Beckett forces the sorrow down in favor of the companionship of his new acquaintance. He names the little mouse-like creature Radek.
A part of him during that long second year takes heart in Radek's presence, clinging to him as his only friend in this harsh place.
It is during the third year that Beckett loses his name and regains his title. One of the others fall from above, likely when a catwalk rips from its holdings - that does, unfortunately, happen occasionally. The body lands hard with a pained cry right outside of Beckett's hide-y hole. The sound of impact and the subsequent whimpers rouse Beckett from his sleep to a cringe.
To his eternal shame, Beckett honestly spends a full minute or more contemplating what to do. He is not a doctor anymore. He has lost the right to call himself that, in truth. In fact, his own failings as a doctor is what landed him in Exile in the first place. His sin of ineptitude had finally caught up with Beckett, and these, his days in Exile, are his penance for his more awful failures. He is here in Exile because of the Hoffan drug and his pathetic original attempts at a retrovirus to counteract iratus DNA. Beckett has been cut away from society at large and discarded like the rubbish he is into Exile to prevent any further mistakes. He swore to them, swore on his heart, on his mother, on everything that could possibly be construed as sacred to the judge, a pudgy man with a squinty pig face, to never practice medicine again, but the sentence had already been set.
Beckett squirms in his spot behind the metal sheet in the cramped hole. He closes his eyes and shuts out the sounds of agony from just beyond the metal. It could be a trick, a test of his resolve. He is not here to help. He is here to pay for his crimes against the Pegasus galaxy. However, Beckett has never been of the strongest resolve, especially when faced with such agonized sounds from so close. Eventually, even that pathetic little resolve breaks.
Cautiously, Beckett peers through a crack between the metallic plate and the rock. The catwalk before him is empty and quiet, save for the howling man in a crumpled heap maybe six to ten feet away. He bites his lip, chewing on the little fatty tissue remaining there. There is no one to spy him, no one to get into a brawl with, just the poor, suffering sap that cannot even stand, sobbing and whimpering in pain.
Beckett climbs slowly, uncertainly, from his hiding spot, slipping between the plate and the rock to step lightly on the catwalk. He glances from side to side. He has not survived this long in Exile without learning to be cautious. Fortunately, there is no one in sight.
He scrambles easily from his spot and assesses the damage to the leg. It appears to be broken, severely judging by the deformation of the ankle and the sickening discoloration to the flesh. However, without an mri and x-rays, Beckett cannot be certain if there is any further damage. Before Beckett can register exactly what he is doing, he has the bones realigned and securely splinted.
When he finishes and sits back on his heels, a deep chuckle resonates in the dark from above, vibrating against the metal of Exile and sending chills down Reckett's spine. Beckett glances up to spy Korruban peering down at him and grinning with a toothy leer. His heart falls. It was nothing more than a trap set by Korruban to prey upon his sentimentality and softness.
"Nice work, Doc."
Beckett shudders, wondering just how many people Korruban has pitched over the rail from higher levels in search of him. Fortunately for him, though, Korruban slinks away now that he has located his prey. By the next morning, the name "Doc" has stuck.
In the forth year, Beckett sells himself.
Exile is a place of two, entirely distinct seasons. The summer is hot and blistering, filled with a pressing heat and cloying steam that rots away just about everything in Exile. The winter is equally unforgiving; Exile freezes in the winter months, turning cold and frigid. However, there is an alien beauty to Exile in the winter. Delicate lacework of frost casts elegant patterns across the ugly, rusted metal. Shimmering icicles dangle from the metal overhangs, trickling fat, heavy drips of arctic water from above. Light dances through the ice, casting brilliant sparkles upon the rock and metal. Breaths hang frozen on the air in thick vapor clouds.
It is during these long, frigid months that Beckett falls ill, starting with nothing more significant seeming than a mild runny nose and a nagging cough. He shrugs it off at first, thinking it nothing. Eventually, the cough grows worse, deepening and lodging in his chest with a heaviness. His breath wheezes in his lungs, a frightening sound as fevered shivers play his body. For days, Beckett forges on, trying to ignore his ever worsening symptoms.
After three weeks, Beckett wakes one morning to realize he has been allowing his symptoms to advance into pneumonia. He does not have the energy to rise. Each breath is agonizing, painful, and unsatisfying, accompanied by a vile, wheezing sound. Beckett's head swims as his body cries out for more oxygen than his wet lungs can provide. His chest feels heavy, as though something is crushing down upon him.
After three weeks of trudging about, that morning, Beckett cannot summon the effort necessary to leave his hovel. He curls up, cradling the furry little Radek close to his chest to keep the creature warm against the bitter cold of Exile's winter. Radek nuzzles against him, imparting a small measure of his miniscule body heat to the doctor that he seems to have come to love or at least appreciate.
Beckett cuddles Radek close, his lips twitching into a faint smile. Radek sometimes chitters nervously in Beckett's face, placing a paw upon his chin. Beckett marvels at how, in the past, he would have tried very hard to squash the little rat thing on sight. Now, however, Radek is his only companion the dark and unforgiving realm that is Exile. He strokes the snowy white fur and is comforted by Radek's presence.
The next day, his breathing is even more labored, and he knows his fever is raging, from the sweat dripping off his body juxtaposed so succinctly against the impossibly arctic chills that ravage him every few seconds. He has few options. He can curl up in his hole and wait for himself to either get better or just die already. Or.... well, Beckett does not wish to think about that particular option.
By mid afternoon, however, he has no choice; he can hardly breathe.
He goes to Korruban, who smiles so very sweetly when he lays out the terms of the trade for the antibiotics Beckett knows he needs to fight this infection. Korruban knows he can pretty much demand almost anything from the Scot, and, so, he does, all the while bearing a wide, leering grin that sends Beckett's stomach lurching. Beckett takes the offer, selling himself to Korruban and Korruban alone. The bulky Halfbeak administers the medicine with a tenderness that surprises Beckett and beds him just the same, but that does not stop Beckett from weeping silent, soul scalding tears the entire time.
Beckett returns to Korruban daily for the required doses of medicine, each time submitting to Korruban's lustful will, each time dying a little bit inside as his body grows stronger and fights the infection. Afterwards, he returns to his little niche to clutch Radek close to him and cry in painful, lurching sobs until his body gives out on him and he drifts into the dark abyss of a dreamless sleep. The healthier he gets, the darker and deeper that abyss seems, the more welcoming when Beckett drifts into it.
The only plus side to this is that, now that he is "Korruban's man" is that this has made him a made man. He does not need to fight for food anymore, just go to Korruban's side when summoned and... perform dutifully. No one will touch him. Beckett may walk freely about Exile without any fear of the gangs, the Lowlives, or even the common brawl. The other men dart him wary glances, well aware that he holds the ear of one of the most influential and powerful creatures in all of Exile. It is a terrible thing to be both feared and respected now for something Beckett only despairs at the thought of.
The only thing the makes this long forth year mildly bearable beyond that is Radek.
Beckett can only ponder at what a pathetic existence is his now.
At the end of the fourth year, well beyond the infection and his deal to Korruban, Beckett digs his heels in and pulls the wire tight. He refuses to go to Korruban, hiding out in his little hole. That lasts for a matter of hours before Korruban finds him; the Halfbeak can always find him. Korruban drags him out of the hole and beats Beckett to within an inch of his life. And, when Beckett lies at his feet in agony, bleeding from various wounds and pitifully begging for the drugs that he knows will ease the pain away, Korruban merely laughs and tells him this is a lesson.
It is a lesson Beckett will never forget.
The fifth year passes without much incident, save that Beckett is slowly sinking into a deeper depression, dragged down by Korruban's sick and twisted desires, his insatiable lust and his nearly impossible stamina. By the end of the fifth year, Beckett recognizes the signs of clinical depression in himself, well alarmed by his suddenly flippant opinions on the mercy of suicide, something once quite abhorrent to him. The weight begins to drop off of him, no matter how much of the nutrient sludge Korruban forces into him. Dark bags hang beneath his sunken eyes. His face hollows. He is dying through this long year, the death of a broken heart and a shattered spirit. Beckett finds, grimly, that this is a much slowly and must more sadistically painful death than any other passing he could possibly imagine.
In the sixth year, Beckett kills a man with his bare hands.
The filthy little Lowlife has been poking around in Beckett's niche, hunting out anything worth stealing, trading, or eating. His grubby paws find the concealed hole Beckett dug during the first long year, and pull out both the hoarded food and Radek. The food, the Lowlife pockets. The rat-like creature which Beckett has grown so attached to the Lowlife snuffs the life out of to smoke and eat later. Beckett arrives just in time to see him stuffing the limp body into his pocket, leaping at the Lowlife, grabbing him by the neck and squeezing down upon his throat.
A blind rage overcomes Beckett. He remembers, once, in another lifetime, asking Ronon what it was like to fight, to kill, mistakenly thinking the Satedan would take pride in the kill, or honor from it. Ronon had replied simply that there was no honor in a kill, no matter how clean or swift. He went on to say there was no emotion attached to the act, explaining that his body acted without conscious thought behind his actions in a natural reaction to defend himself, his friends, his family, or his world. Only when the corpse of the Lowlife twitches in death spasms and lies limply in his hands with red marks about its neck from where Beckett strangled him to death does the doctor understand.
He howls in anger, frustration, and sorrow. It is a primal, animalistic sound the pierces through Exile and rattles in the old, rusting metal, a wordless expression of everything and nothing all at once.
And, yet, it is Korruban who answers Beckett's mindless outcry, scrambling down the levels and rushing to his side in a heartbeat. And, to his eternal shame and disgust, when Korruban pulls him close, Beckett allows it, going without resistance. When Korruban puts his arms about Beckett to comfort him, it has been so long since anyone has touched him lovingly that Beckett folds into the warmth of Korruban's strange embrace. Korruban cradles him carefully as Beckett cries with almost womanly sobs escaping his lips, rubbing the doctor's back and shushing him with quiet whispers of care and concern. In time, Beckett calms and allows the Halfbeak to whisk him up from that hovel and back to his territory, never to return to the niche in the rockface ever again.
When Korruban lays him down to sleep and his eyes close on the world of Exile, whatever left of the man who was Carson Beckett in him dies a grizzly death. When he awakens sometime unknown length of time later in the cold twilight of Exile, there is only Doc left in him.
Doc travels Exile for another three years without measuring the days. It is too painful to think of how long he has been here, how long his once friends and supposed family have left him to this Hell. Instead, it is easier to ignore the past and the future and keep focused on the present.
In what is possibly the tenth or eleventh year, Doc spots him.
Korruban has been politicking lately in the wake of the untimely death of the leader, Talis. Doc hates to admit that he played a role in Talis's demise from a concoction of his own hand, but the act has pleased Korruban. Life is always simpler and easier when Korruban is pleased, and, so, Doc also assists in Korruban's attempts to sway the underlings of Exile, heading down to the lower levels to dole out treatment and medical advice. It isn't much, but Korruban aims to use his sway with the lower class of Exile to prove his worth as leader of the Halfbeaks and building them up as his army just in case anyone dares question his authority. It is a cunning political play.
Doc says nothing. He tends to the weak and weary, his own heart as heavy and sad as their eyes. He is dead here, in Exile, as dead as any man can be.
And, then, he spots him. A set of bright, crisp blue eyes. Rounded features. A set of pursed lips gathered together in a petulant scowl that Doc could never, would never forget so long as he lived. Doc's heart stops, slamming to an abrupt halt as the man looks to him, his eyes widening and his grimace melting to an expression of what? Joy? Doc's lips part. He wants to say the name, but the words freeze on his tongue, burning sharp like liquid nitrogen down to the quick.
A wave of some obscure emotion tumbles over Doc. It is an eerie coupling between earth shattering delight and near demonic rage. His body trembles as his mind and heart flip flop back and forth, ping-ponging over warring sentiments and struggling to form a coherent thought. It is a nearly palpable emotion, stiffening him and shaking his dead heart from languid stupor.
It simplycan't be him.
"Rodney," Doc whispers to himself.
Doc swallows the lump in his throat and tries to look, to spot him again in the hustle and bustle. Suddenly, the crowds gather close, each of them eager for attention, their many faces swallowing his. In the span of a millisecond, Rodney McKay's visage is gone.
Korruban's voice rumbles into Doc's ear in annoyance at the sudden surge. "We're done here."
They depart, Doc without a second look over his shoulder. It couldn't have been him. They forgot about Doc. They left him here to rot and die a miserable death. They forgot about him. And, as much as he admits that thought is a painful one, it is somehow crueler to think that, after all this time, they may have come back for him, finally decided he was worth their effort.
Doc shakes his head and turns to Korruban, shuffling the thought loose from his mind. After all, it's just easier to forget.
Doc does not see Rodney after that, not immediately at least. The sudden burst of interest in Doc has rattled Korruban, and, thus, the Halfbeak keeps his precious little pet secluded away in the upper levels, away from the dregs of society to Exile. Something has spurned visitors inquiring about Doc to the Halfbeaks, relaying messages through the ranks to Korruban asking about his pet. Doc is neither pleased nor disappointed by this; he has become too accustomed to life as Korruban's lap dog to even care that he no longer has a say in anything unless he wants to taste Korruban's wraith once more.
He begins to think it was just a trick of the light and the depression he knows lingers on within him. Rodney's face had been pale and smooth, his hair shortly cropped to his head, too long to suggest he had experienced any of the insufferable parasitic lice of Exile. Rodney's face was still youthful, the same face Doc recalled as though from another, distant life. He had a puzzled look to him, as though lost. No, the more Doc muses upon it, the more he thinks it impossible. The more he contemplates the impossibility of it, the more amusing it becomes. How silly he has become after all these years in Exile; Doc will have to be more careful to keep his wits about him if he thinks Rodney McKay is there in Exile with him.
A few days pass.
Another of the Halfbeaks brings word to Korruban that sends the man scowling and raging. Doc does not know what has been said, but he curls up in a far corner from the burly man. He tucks himself back, hoping to escape notice, but even that is not enough to be spared Korruban's ill temper. The Halfbeak is rough and possessive with him that night, claiming Doc with his teeth and leaving him shivering, torn and bleeding before hurling him to the cold ground. He wakes in morning covered in crispy flakes of his own dried blood and the dappled bruising of Korruban's hand.
A day passes. Doc shambles uneasily through Halfbeak territory in the chilly morning air. His body aches and protests from the prior night's exertions, but Doc needs this. He needs the clarity his walks bring, and he knows the motion will kept his muscles from stiffening and hurting even more. He knows this with the clinical mind that has kept him going these last few years.
The crowds of convicts part for him to pass. Doc knows this is not out of concern for his obvious wounds but out of their entirely mutual fear of Korruban. He ignores it, shambling along with the stiff, uneven gait of the half dead.
A voice whispers that cursed name from a lower level with such febrile urgency that even Doc stops dead in his tracks. He crouches slowly, carefully easing his body down as a low moan escapes his lips. Doc clutches his aching ribs as he settles on his heels, peering through the grates to the level below. It is Rodney again, staring up at him with wide eyes.
"Jees, Carson..." Rodney breathes, his face wrought with concern as he winces in sympathy at Doc's pathetic appearance. "You.... look terrible."
A corner of Doc's lips threaten to curve into a smile. Even after all these years, even as a hallucination, a fabrication of his addled, psychologically traumatized brain, starved for some real, honest form of human comfort after all these exiled years, Rodney is still Rodney. Still arrogant and socially awkward as ever. A part of Doc pangs at the bittersweet memory of good times spent sitting about and sipping some steaming brew, listening to Rodney bicker and gossip in snide tones about every person in his department.
"Are you..... are you okay?"
He wants to say yes, to suck it up and take it like the man he is supposed to be. He needs to be tough to survive Exile, and such weakness as injury is one he can ill afford. However, Exile has worn that strength of will away. He wants to say no, to admit to what he suspects are broken ribs and possibly internal damage courtesy of Korruban. Doc wants to acknowledge the fact that he is currently wondering if he is suffering the effects of long term depression or perhaps a traumatic brain injury of some form. He wants to say these terrible, forbidden words, to curl up and let this figment wrap his imaginary, intangible arms about him, to comfort him and whisper soft promises that Sheppard is on the way with Ronon and Teyla to whisk him away to the safety of Atlantis. All these things he wants to say but cannot.
Instead, all Doc can do is shake his head slowly and admit, "I don't know."
Rodney frowns solemnly, marring his smooth and perfect, pristine features, untouched by the march of time that has so cowed Doc. "Hang on, Carson."
Doc closes his eyes and sighs heavily. He already knows what the physicist is going to say. After all, this incarnation of Rodney is simply a creation of his own mind; of course Dog knows what Rodney will say. He muses, sadly, that this is, perhaps, the awful part about being a medical doctor, being so sorrowfully aware of his own psychosis. That does not stop a small part of him from desperately wishing his logical mind would just stop pointing out such things, just allow him to savor this sweet delusion.
"I'm going to get you out of here, okay?"
Doc feels a tear slip down his cheek, and he shudders.
Rodney presses, calling that awful name and pleading with him. "Carson.... Carson, please. Just hang in there. We'll be back home in no time and-"
"Stop it," Doc grinds out.
Rodney furrows his brow, clearly taken back by the sudden angry flaring behind Doc's dead eyes. He starts, his eyes wide and fearful suddenly. The color drains from his face.
"Just. Shut. Up," Doc growls, bitterly, shaking his head and scrubbing his cheek with the back of his hand. He lets out a heavy breath and nearly cries, "Please?"
Rodney's lips flap for a moment's hesitance, but Doc leaves him no time to come up with any response. Instead, he climbs uneasily to his feet, his body protesting bitterly from the motion screaming as he ambles back to Korruban's lair. He does not have to listen to this illusion's pathetic promises of hope and rescue, not after managing to survive all these years. He will not sit through this just to have the rug pulled so cruelly out from under him.
Doc staggers back to Korruban's side and goes down on his knees before this, his master, for the painkillers he so desperately needs. And, once the vile deed is done and the blissful warmth of opiates curls about Doc's brain, he cries in earnest for the first time in years. He hugs his arms about his rib cage in empty comfort, shaking near to pieces as he sobs.
God, what a pathetic little nancy boy he is.
He sees Rodney again the next, morning, lurking one level below as before.
"I'm working on getting you out of here. You know that, right?" Rodney states simply, folding his arms across his chest in a childish pout as he walks at the convict's side. "I've nearly got this place figured out."
Doc sniffs. As if there is anything truly complicated about Exile to 'figure out.' Life in Exile is the simplest thing to understand, in Doc's all too humble opinion. Everyone is your enemy. No one is your friend. Simple enough.
However, the physicist goes on, waving his arms in wild, grandiose gesticulations, fluttering his fingers as he does. "I'm projecting myself into this reality-"
"Rodney?" Doc breathes, uncertain of exactly what to say, the impulse already dead as the name graced the tip of his tongue..
The Canadian blinks in surprise. "Hrm?"
Doc shakes his head, frowning at himself. "I don't know."
Rodney looks at Doc, really looks at him, scrutinizing every detail with eyes meant for swift analysis of dozens of variables to complex systems. For an odd moment, the convict feels oddly naked in the face of the younger man. He feels.... dirty, exposed, and unquestionably ashamed. He wonders if this incarnation of Rodney can see into him, see all his sins laid bare. The Lowlife he killed. The chittering little Radek. All the vile things he has allowed Korruban to do to him. Doc shudders, curling his arms about himself against the cold and the tears that threaten.
Rodney reaches for Doc, his pale, perfectly manicured hand crossing the distance between them. For a wonderful, horrible moment, Doc wants to reach out to him, to close the gap between them. He holds his breath, his heart thumping heavily, throbbing painfully in his ears with a thundering rush of blood. His fingers twitch in.... is it terror or longing? It has been so long since Doc has felt anything other than utter fear that it is impossible to tell the emotion from any other. Yet, when Rodney's hand reaches Doc's, it never makes contact. It passes through Doc's with a faint warmth tingling at the hairs on the back.
Doc's heart falls, and he jerks his hand back. "You're not real."
He never was. Doc had known it all along, and, yet, he had dared hope for but a brief second that the Canadian was real, tangible even, the only small measure of comfort in Exile. Doc feels himself collapsing inwardly at the stark realization.
Rodney frowns, his lips pursing together. "Well... no, of course I'm not really real. I told you, I'm projecting myself into this reality through the portal they shoved you through using a modified jumper cloak."
Doc smirks, ever so faintly and uncomfortably. "I knew you'd say that."
"Because it's such an incredibly inspired plan that only a genius of my caliber could come up with it?" Rodney boasts in a tone that borders between playful and dead serious.
"No." Doc smiles wistfully and shakes his head at himself. "No, I knew you'd saw that because you're just a coping mechanism. A stress induced hallucination brought on by depression and exacerbated by...." Doc caught himself before he could say those desperate words, before he could admit what Korruban had done. "Anyway, of course I'd know what you'd say."
Rodney grimaces strangely. "Wait, wait, I can prove it to you! We've known each other for years, right? What's something only you and I would know?"
Doc scowled. "If you're a hallucination, then you're a part of my mind, and you already know everything I know."
"Right...." Rodney blushed furiously at his own error. "Carson?"
The convict winces at the name, gritting his teeth. "Stop calling me that." He turns away. "No one's called me that in years."
Rodney blanches, giving an uneven, hesitant nod, clearly flustered. "Okay...." The man nods again swiftly, quickly trying to regain ground with the convict. "Alright... then what should I call you?"
"Doc. That's what everyone calls me here."
"Okay.... Doc," Rodney whispers, his voice cracking with emotion. "Well.... Doc.... I've never been any good at this.... touchy feel-y stuff. You know that." The physicist swallows hard, as though bracing himself. "I'm not really sure how to say this, but I have to ask, and, please, be honest with me..."
"Just ask it." Doc huffed in irritation, knowing if he did not cut Rodney off, the physicist would just keep going and going.
"Are you.... alright?"
Doc closes his eyes. "Fine."
"You don't look 'fine,'" Rodney presses, drawing dangerously close once more, so close Doc knows he should feel the warmth of Rodney's breath upon him. "You look.... god.... you look awful.... what's wrong?" The physicist seems to melt as he surveys Doc closely. "Please... please, just tell me so I can relay to Keller what kind of supplies she'll need on hand when we get you out of here."
"Getting out of here," Doc sniffs in palpable derision. "There is no getting out of here. This is Exile. Sort of defeats the purpose if you can just 'get out of here' whenever you feel like it, now doesn't it?"
He should be defeated and deflated, cowed by Doc's scorn, yet Rodney merely melts, oozing sympathy that is utterly unbecoming from him. "We're trying. I promise. Just a little while longer."
"DOC!" A voice bellows from above. Korruban.
"I told you, I've almost got it," Rodney cries out.
"DOC! WHERE'D YOU GET OFF TO?" The Halfbeak sounds angry with his pet; Doc knows it is best to keep on Korruban's better side. "DOC!"
"Please.... just wait.....," the scientist pleads, bleating like a little lamb. "They've got you in some odd energy field, like another dimension. I've been making headway in triangulating your position to pull you out of here, I swear, but most coordinate systems seem to fail beyond the event horizon. I've almost got it, though."
Doc shudders and faces Rodney, his expression clouded somehow. "Best be off now."
Rodney blurts it out, practically spewing the words. "Please don't go!" Doc blinks once more in earnest and looks over his shoulder, furrowing his brow, but Rodney just takes a single step forward. "Don't give up on me, Carson." There is a sorrow to Rodney's eyes, a pain to his voice. "Please... we haven't given up on you, so don't you dare give up on us."
"DOC!" Korruban shrieks once more, his voice echoing against the metal and rock of Exile, sending chills down Doc's spine and his heart racing.
"Don't call me that!" Doc screams and hunches over, clamping his shut to hold back the tears that threaten. "I don't need you or any other hallucination giving me false hope. And, even if you are real.... I just...." He sighs, feeling heavier than could be. "I can't."
"DOC, GET YOUR BONY ASS BACK HERE!"
He sighs and steps away, but Rodney shakes his head timidly. "Carson, don't do this. Don't go to him." The physicist fidgets. "I'm close to getting it. Don't go. You can run. You can hide somewhere. Just give me a little time."
"Don't." Doc's mouth barely moves as he utters the word. "Please.... just don't, Rodney." His voice is thick and somber. "This is hard enough as is." He glances about to the ragged, metallic structures clinging to the rock. "I got through ten yearsin Exile without you."
Rodney opens his mouth to argue again, but it is too late. Doc is gone before Rodney can say another word, if he was ever really there. Doc sighs to himself and stuffs his hands in the pockets of his tattered pants. He will go to Korruban, as always, for there is no doubt in his mind as to whether or not the Halfbeak actually exists. Korruban's rage is equally as real and tangible when he strikes Doc, hitting so hard that it sends the smaller man staggering and falling to the ground with a loud thump.
"Little bitch!" Korruban growls darkly, looming tall over Doc before kicking him over and onto his back. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?"
Doc's vision swims, and his mind reels. Find out? Find out what?
Korruban does not answer, choosing instead to vent his fury physically upon the cowering man. Doc lies insensate to anything save the agony coursing through him even as Korruban continues to beat him savagely. Afterwards, he leaves the battered, broken heap that is Doc lying on the floor in his misery, discarding him. And why not? Who would want such a pathetic creature as he? Even the shining, fair Atlantis that took in all manner of refugees had abandoned him to this suffering.
Doc draws a shuddering, haggard breath and coughs a hacking, debilitating cough. Red blood splashes across his tongue with a copper tang, splattering on the metal beneath him in a delicate mist of tiny, crimson droplets that glitter and gleam in the dark of Exile. He groans. It is a bad sign, his clinical mind argues, yet he has no diagnostic tools, no medicines, no assistance, and certainly no controlled, sterile environment to treat himself.
Doc's heart clenches. This is it. After more than a decade in Exile, this is the end. And, somehow, he feels the world draw about him in nearly painful anticipation. Exile and eternity yawn before him uncertainly, although, really, aren't they one in the same? Yet, where Exile is a cold, unfeeling horror, there is something oddly warm and embracing about the other.... something sweet about this end that has come after far too much stalling.
Doc had, in another life, been a good Christian, an alter boy even, much to his mother's pride. However, Exile is a trying place, so much more so than Pegasus, taxing the faith of any man condemned to it. Doc used to pray every night, doubly so upon his arrival in Atlantis, while he could not stomach the thought of prayer in Exile.... until now. Now, he prays in silent, gasping whispers to a God he is not sure exists or cares anymore, begging for it to all be over - and quickly, before Korruban returns. No regrets, nothing left to lament.
Footsteps thump upon the rusted grating beneath him, hammering against his head. Doc crushes his eyes shut tight and holds his breath, hoping beyond hope is just Korruban's goons and that they will leave just as quickly as they came. They will never touch him, not without Korruban's permission, but they have other ways of toying with him that are perhaps just as bad, if not worse. Each footstep thunders as a death knoll in this, his darkest moment.
A hand clamps down on Doc's shoulder, and he cannot help himself. He looses a scream, hoarse and ragged as tears course down his filthy cheeks. The hand jerks away as though burnt by the contact.
"Carson!" It is Rodney's voice, cutting through the fog like a dagger. "We've got you, Carson, we've got you!" The physicist blinks and shakes his head. "Doc. Doc, I mean. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." A hand brushes his forehead as Rodney stammers on. "We've got you now."
Gunfire explodes in Doc's ears as shouts of harsh profanities that grate upon the man's brain.
"Save the reunion for later, McKay!" Sheppard now, bellowing the order with a cool, stern authority; Doc could never forget that voice. "We've got hostiles inbound. You've got the doc?"
"Yes, yes! I've got him!"
Sheppard again. "Alright, then, let's get out of here while the getting's good!"
An arm curls about Doc. It is warm and comforting, solid against him, absolute and undeniable in a way he cannot place. It is simply bliss to his weary body and soul. Doc folds into it, collapsing into the embrace. There is a flash of light, and, then, nothing. A great silence and stillness enfolds Doc, and it is heaven.
When Doc awakes, it is to a light so bright, so blinding, that it hurts. He screws his eyes shut against it, but the rays scorch through the lids. He throws a weak arm across his face, shielding himself from the burning light, but it does little to nothing to stave the overpowering radiance. Doc writhes against the soft mattress beneath him, squirming and rolling away from the source. Exile was never this bright, and, likely, his eyes have atrophied from years of near dark. Fortunately, Atlantis answers his unspoken prayers and cuts off the lights about him, plunging him into darkness. He tries valiantly and quite adamantly not to acknowledge that this merciful shade is the same cimmerian shade as Exile.
They like to tell him things. All of them. Doc sits in silence and listens with the same obedient caution he excised with Korruban for all those years.
First, Keller. The physician stops by to check on him every few hours. She carefully lists out his medical conditions with a cold, clinical distance to her voice but a soft hint of sorrow and pity to her eyes, of which he is undeserving. She starts with simple facts Doc has long been aware of; the malnutrition, the dehydration, the broken bones and gashes. Her scans have indicated infection in some places and internal parasites, both of which are likely exacerbating his injuries. Keller goes on to state how lucky he is and not to worry, but Doc cannot feel lucky at the time.
Once Keller has given her permission for visitation, the next morning, then, Ronon. The Satedan stands with a cowed look, hanging his head and hunching over at his shoulders. He seems shrugged by the weight of a heavy conscience. Ronon only apologizes to Beckett. He should have gotten Beckett out as soon as the natives recognized him as the source of the Hoffan drug, well before that mockery of a trial.
His is quickly followed by Rodney. The physicist banters on and on about his own personal greatness in finding Doc, extolling his own virtues to nearly ludicrous detail. He details how Exile was really a time dilation field, not unlike the sanctuary that held Sheppard a few years earlier. To Doc, ten or eleven years have passed while, for the rest of Atlantis, only about ten or twelve hours have passed. It is a cruel blow to Doc to know that, while he suffered so heavily and for so long, that no time has passed, no time at all. It is as if time stood still just for him and his agony.
He has several visitors over the course of a few days time, but, eventually, their grief and their shame is too hard for him to bear, ever lurking behind their fake, forced little smiles and trivial social niceties. They act as though they care, when they left him to die for so many long years in Exile. And, really, why should they care for a convict, a murderer like he? Doc asks them to stop. He simply wants to be alone. It is almost diabolically comical, ironic in a way that is not lost to Doc. After all that time in the dark, begging to be home with his friends, now, Doc just wants to be alone in the dark again. He hugs his pillow close to him and bites back the tears.
However, his last visitor refuses to be turned away so easily; his last visitor is John Sheppard.
"I know you and I aren't as close as you and Rodney are," Sheppard starts in a slow, somber drawl. "But I know you're hurting. I know what it's like to think that you've been left behind. I did my fair share of time in the sanctuary."
The freed convict sniffs hotly. "Sanctuary was paradise. Exile was....." He sighs in dejection. "It's just not the same."
"No, it's not," Sheppard concedes. "Only a few months passed for me. Rodney's guessing you spent something like ten years or more in there. I can't imagine what you went through there."
There is a pregnant moment between the two, spanning awkwardly between them before Doc finally speaks once more in a hushed whisper. "I killed a man."
"You did what you had to do to survive," John states simply, closing the distance between them. "No one blames you."
"No. I didn't kill him for survival," Doc growls in shame and self-loathing. "I killed a man over a rat. He was my only friend in that place, and, when that fucking Lowlife killed him for food, I strangled him. How stupid is that? A rat?!?"
Sheppard pauses, flushing slightly before shaking his head. "You were in a survival situation, Carson."
Sheppard gives another shake of his head. "No. That's bullshit. Your name is Carson Beckett, and you're a good person, a better person than you obviously think you are right now. A far better person than most people out there. But you were in a survival situation. Your mind and body were stressed beyond your limits, and you reacted to a threat to your survival, mentally and physically. You're a doctor. You know this."
"That doesn't make it any easier." Doc sighs, rubbing his forehead. "I was a doctor, colonel, for crying out loud, and I killed a man. I can't face those people."
"I know, but you can't hide in the dark forever. You can't give up on us, not like this. We didn't give up on you," Sheppard presses gently.
"I know that," Doc mutters flatly. "In my head. By my heart.... it just isn't so sure."
Sheppard nods slowly. "Not going to lie - I felt the exact same thing when you guys showed up in the sanctuary. But, you guys proved that you still cared, that you were still looking for me, even if I didn't think you were." He holds out a hand, open and welcoming in Doc's direction. "I'm not asking much, Doc. I'm just asking for a chance to prove the same thing to you."
Doc looks at the proffered hand, eyeing it suspiciously, but, in the end, his hand moves of his own accord, reaching out and taking Sheppard's. He looks up and smiles faintly, as Sheppard grins back. The colonel helps his friend into a wheelchair and pushes him calming, smoothly, out of the infirmary to where his friends - no, family - await. Sheppard shows him just how much they care for Carson Beckett; they all show him. And it is beautiful beyond compare.
The first year in back in Atlantis is perhaps the hardest of them all, but it is worth every moment.
Author's Notes : Yeah, nothing really good, just shameless Carson-whump. But, as always, hope you enjoyed it.