Prompt: Traumatized Rodney who is either unwilling or unable to admit he's traumatized. At least one member of the team helps him through it.
Word count: 3,500
Notes: Unbeta'd because of my poor organisation.
Written for the Easter fic exchange at sgahcchallenges
There is darkness. Ink-black and grave-silent, thick as smoke and cobwebs. A stone cold dark.
In it he waits, and shivers from the chill and from fear. He waits by what his hands tell him is the door, although he was unconscious when thrown into this cell and so cannot be certain. He is ready for it to be opened, because John would be ready and Ronon and Teyla would be ready too.
He shakes with the tension, holding himself taut like a spring. Waiting.
And it opens. There is blackness beyond, but shaped by the breathing of someone standing there. He throws himself forward. Hands out. Knife clutched. They don't know I kept a knife! He hears it tear through skin and flesh, and warm, warm, blood surges up over his cold hands.
Teyla was half-carrying Rodney when they stumbled through the Gate; Ronon had John slung over his shoulder, arms and neck spattered with his blood. She had called for a medical team in her frantic radio-burst and one was there already, Keller barking out instructions to her staff and not wasting time on questions like who and why as they got John strapped down onto a gurney. Teyla could not help, and stood and watched as they whisked away in a flurry of activity, feeling the release from the sharp grip of urgent, overwhelming fear, as seconds which had become too precious to waste finally began to spool around her once more at their normal speed.
"Rodney?" she asked. "Shall we walk down to the infirmary?" She had seen Keller's worried eyes sweep over him and rightfully recognise that physical injuries took immediate precedence. But now that John had been taken care of, it would be time for him.
Rodney just nodded, which worried her. She would have much preferred to hear him complaining about not getting a ride.
Mr Woolsey was hurrying down the steps towards them, out of breath. He looked shocked at the sight of John's blood soaked into Ronon's shirt, as if it was the first time he had been confronted with evidence of violence. "What happened?"
"We got McKay back," Ronon said, as if McKay's presence didn't make that obvious. "Sheppard got attacked by one of the guards."
Teyla felt Rodney begin to sag against her and started walking. Ronon could certainly handle explaining the situation without her help. There wasn't really very much to explain, anyway. Of far more concern was the fact that, since rescue, Rodney had not said a single word.
"You are safe now," she murmured, soothingly. "It is not far to go, and then you will be able to rest."
She hoped that he would snap at her in return, tell her not to talk to him as if he were a child.
He was silent.
The infirmary was eerily quiet after the noise made by its staff in the Gateroom. Marie was there, looking unsurprised to see the two of them. "Dr Keller's in surgery," she said. "No update on Colonel Sheppard for a while, but she told me to expect you."
Rodney was expertly manoeuvred onto a bed. He didn't respond to questioning. "He's in shock," Marie told Teyla. "Though I guess you already knew that, and I think it may be something else as well. Can you tell me what happened?"
Teyla shrugged, feeling helpless in her lack of information, as Marie ran a basin of warm water. She clasped one of Rodney's blood-smeared hands in one of hers, trying to give him comfort from the contact of skin. He was trembling slightly; hard to see, but impossible not to feel. "You are safe now, Rodney," she said, as she had before. "Whatever was done to you, it is over now. It is all over."
Rodney shifted slightly as Marie draped a blanket around his shoulders. She had stood the basin on a wheeled table next to the bed, and now dipped a cloth into it. Teyla stopped her. "Let me, please."
"Of course." While Teyla perched on the bed next to Rodney and began to gently clean the drying blood from his hands, Marie pulled up a chair opposite him. "Rodney, I need to examine you now. Best to get it over with before everyone comes back in, but just tell me if you're not ok with it, alright?"
Rodney nodded, and Teyla exhaled in relief. She was still desperately worried about both him and John, of course, but it was alleviated a little now. She concentrated on wiping the blood from between his fingers, exposing the white skin beneath.
Marie shone a penlight in his eyes, hooked him up to a monitor, and drew a blood sample. "I think he's been dosed with something," she said quietly to Teyla. "We can't know for sure until the tests come back, though, which means I can't give him a sedative right now."
"I will stay with him." She would have in any case, but this just made her more determined.
"Thank you, that'll be good for him. I'll check whether there's an update on the Colonel's condition now."
Rodney had apparently been waiting for her to leave. "John?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
"He will be fine," Teyla said, hoping that her words would prove true. She felt a flash of guilt for not having thought of him before Marie's reminder. But Rodney had needed her more. She could do nothing to help John.
Rodney stared at his hands, now pale and clean, and then at the reddened water. "That's his blood?"
"Yes, it is." She kept her voice level. "You broke out from your cell, remember? And you found John. You saved him, you know, by putting pressure on the stab wound. You were very brave."
Rodney shuddered. "No."
She would have asked him what he meant if Marie had not emerged at that moment from the surgery door. At the sound of her footsteps Rodney appeared to retreat back inside himself again.
"They've stopped the bleeding," she said. "They're beginning to stitch him back together, and then he should make a full recovery."
The worry which had clenched Teyla's chest began to relax. "And what about Rodney?" she asked.
Marie knew what she meant. "It'll be a while before his blood work comes back. In the meantime, we should see if he can sleep—that will be the best treatment for him right now."
She already had a set of folded scrubs in her hand as she drew the curtains around the bed, and Teyla stepped outside them, nearly running into Ronon as he came into the infirmary at a brisk pace. "Woolsey wanted a full debriefing," he said by way of explanation. "He said I'd just be in the way down here. Knew he was right."
"John will be fine," Teyla said, not needing to hear the question spoken to read his concern.
"McKay say what they did to him yet?"
"Not yet, no. He is in shock and probably also drugged."
Ronon said nothing, but the frown lines on his face deepened. The two of them might not always get along, but they were a team, above all else. No one was allowed to hurt them.
Marie was quick and efficient. The curtains were already being partly opened, to reveal Rodney lying under blankets, his eyes closed and his head turned away. "You can stay with him," she said, before Teyla could ask. "Be quiet, though. He needs to rest."
It was a long night. Teyla thought that Rodney was asleep, but wasn't certain. She kept her hand folded over his, hoping that it would give him reassurance, while Ronon lounged against a nearby piece of wall. When John was at last wheeled in and set into a bed nearby Ronon went to sit beside him, and fell asleep with his feet propped on John's cover.
Teyla didn't sleep. She stayed awake all night, in case she should be needed.
"How is Colonel Sheppard?" Radek asked, with no prelude except his appearance.
Rodney glanced up from his computer screen. "Fine," he said brusquely. "Aren't you supposed to be working?"
"The city will probably not explode while I take coffee break."
Rodney pointedly resumed his typing, but the other man was apparently refusing to take very blatant hints. He came round the desk to peer at the screen. After a moment he pointed. "There is an error, there."
He was right. A child would have spotted it.
"I knew that already," Rodney snapped.
Radek raised his eyebrows, and snorted in a way that could have just about have passed for a cough. Rodney glared back, daring him to actually verbalise his disbelief.
"Maybe you are tired," Radek suggested, with what he probably considered to be tact. "You are supposed to be sleeping much, but in your quarters the light was on while it was very late."
Rodney scowled. "I was asleep."
"With the light on?"
"What about it?"
Radek opened his mouth, and then apparently thought better of it. Rodney waited, refusing to give him an out.
Into the stalemate of silence stepped a woman who was presumably a scientist, going by her uniform, although Rodney couldn't remember having laid eyes on her before. She balked. The air did seem to be getting tangibly thicker.
"What?" Rodney asked, with what he thought was positively commendable politeness and calmness.
Possibly it hadn't worked as well as he'd thought, judging by the fact that the nervousness on her face didn't lessen. "Um, Dr McKay?"
"Yes, that's my name. What do you want?"
"Um, I'm Dr Derry. From the botany department. Um, the lights in one of our labs have stopped working, and we're growing specimens in there. And, um, there aren't any windows so we really do need them fixed soon..."
He wondered if she always said 'um' a lot, or if it was just nervousness. "Radek, go and fix their lights. Or get someone else to do it."
"Why don't you do it?" Radek asked. "I will check over your code while you are gone. A second pair of eyes is always useful."
"No," said Rodney, shortly.
Radek's eyes flicked to the bright lights above them. "Ah," he said, and Rodney hated the sudden understanding in his voice. "You are right. I will go."
Dr Derry looked slightly confused, but Rodney ignored her and turned back to his coding as Radek shepherded her out. He caught two more mistakes, one of which would have rendered the entire program useless, and scowled fiercely. Some footsteps began to make their way in his direction, but they suddenly stopped, and reversed quickly. He didn't bother to look up and see who they belonged to.
A quiet beep from the computer alarm he had set drew him back into the city. It was time for him to go and visit John, according to his schedule for the day. He fully locked his computer before he left, in case Radek decided to take it upon himself to 'help' with the code.
The infirmary was surprisingly quiet. Rodney walked awkwardly over to John's bed. "Hi."
"Oh, hey." John was playing on his gameboy, but put it down. "How's life?"
"We're all grounded until you get better, so I've had time to actually do some proper work, for once."
"Glad to hear it. Aren't you going to sit down?"
There were bandages visible above the v-neck of John's scrubs. Rodney swallowed, and perched on a chair left helpfully beside the bed. "Are you, you know—" he gestured—"okay?"
"I got stabbed, McKay. If you were the one trapped in the infirmary because of that you'd be bitching everyone's ears off."
There it was. A perfect lead-in to the question he'd been desperate to know the answer to for three days now, ever since he'd woken up in the infirmary himself. "Do you...remember it? Being stabbed?"
John cocked an eyebrow. "What is this, morbid questions day?"
"I was only wondering." He hoped he sounded suitably nonchalant.
In any case, John seemed to be bored enough to grasp at any conversational opportunity. "Nah, don't really remember anything past getting into the compound and going down endless dark corridors trying to find you. Keller says that's a perfectly normal response to severe trauma, though." He tried to push himself up a bit against the pillows behind him, and winced. Rodney felt himself also wince in sympathy. "Teyla and Ronon are just being as uncommunicative as they can possibly be about that. They probably think it's unhealthy to dwell, or something. Didn't even tell me straight if they got the guy who did this to me."
Rodney felt cold. "I think he got away," he said.
"That's probably why they're being cagey," John said. "Figures, I guess."
He wasn't really sure what to say next. Thankfully he could see out of the corner of his eye Keller approaching. He had been beginning to think that he had his times wrong.
John had also spotted her. "You always seem to turn up when I'm busy talking," he protested.
Keller laughed. "Not my fault, Colonel. You're due your next dose of painkillers now. The schedule for them is fixed."
John mock-pouted, but it was clear from the tight lines on his face that he wasn't going to argue about it indeed being time. "Stop turning up when I'm being put to sleep, McKay," he ordered instead.
"That makes you sound like an aging pet," Rodney muttered.
"The depth of your sympathy astounds me."
Keller paid no attention to the bickering as she swapped out the IV bag for a new one. "Try and sleep, John," she said.
"Do I have a choice?" he asked. His eyelids were already beginning to droop as the drugs entered his system.
"Not really, no." She straightened his covers over his mumbled protests that he wasn't a child, and stood next to the bed until it was clear that he was indeed asleep.
Rodney waited until she turned away, and then got up himself.
"John's right, you know," Keller said. Rodney glanced around to find that she had halted a few paces away, clearly to watch him. "Every time you've come to visit he's either been asleep or about to be. It's quite a coincidence."
Rodney shrugged. "Do you really think I have either the time or the inclination to memorise the times at which you pump him full of drugs?"
Keller raised her eyebrows slightly, but her face remained calm. "Rodney, I think you need to talk to someone. I can't force you, and if I tried to it would achieve nothing, but... I think it would be a good idea."
Rodney snorted. "And here I was, thinking you were nearly a scientist."
She didn't rise. "Whether you accept me as a scientist or not makes no difference to the fact that I'm your doctor, and your friend. In both capacities, the fact that you still haven't spoken about what happened to you while you were held captive worries me. Clearly something did."
"I've said it was dark and small, the space I was in. Isn't that enough?"
And she still didn't retreat into frustration. "I think you know that isn't what I mean. That's the only answer you've given anyone."
He reached up to his radio. "I've got a call." He had opened the channel before she could say anything. "Yes, Radek, what is it?"
"This is your new greeting?" Rodney didn't answer, turning and hurrying out of the infirmary without looking back, and waiting for him to say something else. "As a matter of fact, this power problem does not originate in the lab. There is a bug somewhere in the system—I have had several reports from elsewhere in the city."
"Why has no one reported this to me?" Rodney demanded, already heading back towards his lab.
"First, because they happened only a few minutes ago. Second, because you are very angry at the moment and are scaring scientists who are not so used to you."
"They shouldn't be so sensitive."
"I am thinking that maybe you should be more sensitive. When Colonel Sheppard is better he will calm you down." There was a click as the channel closed.
Rodney came to a halt in the empty corridor, unable to fume and walk at the same time. This had been happening for days now. People treating him in subtly different ways, as if there was something wrong with him. And the implications that he was just worried because someone had nearly killed John—
If they knew—
Overhead the lights flickered, and went out.
He was plunged into black.
There is darkness. Darkness filled with the thick stink of blood and the heavy sounds of it dripping onto the flagstones. It pulses between his fingers, which are still around the knife-hilt, against the man's chest, although he's lying on the floor and not moving, and he's crouched over the man and all there is the weakening gushes as the heart slows... slows...
"Rodney!" someone said, and shook his arm, and he found that the unseen floor was cold beneath his hands. "Rodney, it is alright! I am here with you."
His pulse was fluttering in his throat, too fast for him to fit breaths around it.
"Rodney," and there were hands on each of his shoulders now, "we are in Atlantis, and there is nothing to worry about. You need to try to breath slowly."
"Teyla?" he gasped out.
"Yes, I am here."
Her voice was steady and he focused on it, trying to take some of her calm for himself. He breathed.
"That is much better." Her hands guided his back to lean against a wall, and he heard and felt her settle herself next to him. "I am sure we will have light soon."
"Power malfunctions," he said. "Radek's working on it."
"I am glad to hear that."
"Yeah, me too." He was also glad that he wasn't alone, although he wasn't prepared to put that into words. This was the first darkness he had encountered for three days. Even with Teyla next to him he was having to fight down panic. Too dark. Too like the cell.
"You have been avoiding all of us," Teyla said, quietly and matter-of-factly.
Rodney felt himself tense. "Do we have to talk about this now?"
"When else?" While he was still trying to come up with a valid suggestion, she continued. "We would have found you, you know. We had not stopped looking."
He was surprised enough to forget that he had been hoping to be able to change the subject. "What?"
"If you thought we would not come for you, you were mistaken."
"I..." Rodney for the first time strained to remember exactly what had happened, exactly what he had thought. "I think I knew you would. But it could have been too late."
"It could have," Teyla agreed.
"Rodney." Her voice was firm. "You are not alright, and we need to know why. We are a team, but if we keep too many secrets we cannot work together with trust."
"Says the person who hid that she was having a baby," Rodney muttered. And then, louder, "It doesn't matter."
"Some things will eat you up from inside if you do not speak them. If it is an affair which truly does not matter then you have my word that I will never speak of it, to anyone."
Darkness invited secrets. Some secrets came from it, and belonged to it. Rodney swore inside his head, and then took a breath. "I was the one who stabbed John. Are you happy now? Still trust me?"
Teyla's hand tightened over his. "Tell me how it happened," she said.
Rodney started to say that he had already given her what she had wanted, but then stopped before the first word was fully out of his mouth. And instead, he talked. He told her about the jittery terror which had come from both himself and the drug, and about how they would have wanted him to break out, and about the hidden knife, and about the blood on his hands in the blackness. And then she and Ronon had been pulling him off the man who had become John Sheppard.
"You should have said this before," Teyla softly said when he had talked himself into silence.
"We're a team," Rodney said, bitterly. "You don't half-murder teammates and get away with it."
Her hand tightened again. And her voice sounded oddly choked. "Rodney, you were not the one who hurt John. You said that it was dark both in and out of your cell, as it is here. But when we found you, John's flashlight was still lit."
"I could have—could have turned it on without realising—"
"You would have transferred blood onto it while doing so, but it was clean. You did not hurt him."
The heartbeats slow, and slow, and stop. He stands, balancing himself against the wall, because he still has to get out. Get out, and his team can find him and bring him home.
He walks, fighting for breath, coming down from whatever has washed through his system leaving him wrung-out and unsteady.
He falls into a puddle of light, but that's a puzzle to process later because he must have come full circle, come back to the man he killed, but the man's still somehow breathing and he knows him.
And now all that matters is that he must save him...
"I still killed someone," Rodney said. "With a knife. I stabbed him."
"But it wasn't John."
"And that makes it okay?"
"It makes it better. Sometimes that is all you get, so you have to make it enough."
There was a smile in her voice. He smiled back, tentatively, although he knew she couldn't see it. Because, as tended to happen, she was right. "Better. Hmm. I guess I can live with that."
"And now you must talk to John," she chided, not leaving him more time to enjoy his revelation, instead dragging him back down to reality.
"Yeah." Now, of course, he wished that he had before. "When, you know, it isn't dark anymore."
"Of course," she said. "We will wait together."
It didn't seem so dark anymore. Or, at least, he didn't mind it. Not with one of his teammates there too.
And then, there was light.