Title: Broken Trust

Author: Chaps1870

Pairing: McShep

Rating: R for language mostly. There is eventual noncom but it is only implied, not explicit

Summary: Rodney tries to regain the trust he's lost only it doesn't work out like he plans

Disclaimer: Not mine, too bad.  No copyright infringement is intended

 

Chapter One

 

 “But I saved you 'til last 'cause, um, honestly, I would ... I would hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities, or your trust. At the very least, I hope I can earn that back.”

 

“That may take a while.”

 

Rodney couldn’t get the conversation out of his head, even now, almost two weeks later. It wasn’t made any easier by those around him when he moved through the halls, worked in the lab or sat in the mess.  Eyes dropped, refusing to make contact and the message was clear…no one really wanted much to do with Dr. Rodney McKay, self proclaimed genius and destroyer of solar systems.  Not that he could blame them really and for the most part he could’ve cared less what they thought of him. Well, not where it showed anyway.  He went about his day, working as long as he could, eating when his body demanded it and fell into an exhausted sleep at the end of the day.

 

It was easier than dredging up painful memories of spending time with Colonel Sheppard. Prior to Doranda, Rodney actually thought they had something between them or at the very least a beginning.  Now he was convinced it was just his imagination and there’d really been nothing between them at all.  That was much easier than dealing with the Colonel’s complete and total avoidance since Doranda.  That hurt more than the combined shunning of the two hundred odd Atlantis personnel.  To hide the hurt he worked, immersing himself in what he knew best.  

 

His colleagues left him alone, only deferring to him when absolutely necessary.  Considering their whispered mutterings regarding his ego, it seemed rather hypocritical to actually ask him for help, but it didn’t seem to stop them. Everyone, it seemed, saw his eventual downfall and yet, even now, it was Rodney they came to when they needed answers. 

 

He was as fallible as anyone else. Unfortunately, it took something of a higher magnitude for his limits to show up.  He wasn’t perfect, and in all honesty, he really thought he could fix the doomsday weapon.  Yes, maybe it was ego, but it was also a confidence in his abilities that had been fostered not only by himself but everyone around him.  They’d come to expect he could answer what they couldn’t and he did just that, at least until the mishap on Doranda; a mishap that cost the life of Collins and the destruction of a solar system.

 

Now, they all felt justified in shunning him, afraid to even lift their eyes in the mess hall lest he think he was welcome at their table.  After two weeks, he’d once again gotten used to working alone, eating alone and spending his free time…alone. He could take it. It was just a matter of building back up the wall that had slowly come down in the past year, the one that had always been a cold comfort.  It was easier to ignore the hurt than admit he’d been hurt at all, especially by those he thought were his friends.  Even they thought it was high time that Dr. McKay got his comeuppance and joined the masses in ignoring him.  That was probably easier than offering meaningless platitudes that even they didn’t believe.

 

Rodney wasn’t stupid, he knew he’d fucked up, but was it any worse than Sheppard waking up the Wraith or Carson providing the Hoffans with a miracle drug that killed half their population.  They were accidents and perhaps avoidable if things had worked out differently.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it does little good at the time.  He was pretty sure that Colonel Sheppard would have insisted on some sort of rescue mission even had he known about the Wraith in advance.  His ego was no less than Rodney’s when it came to his men.  Carson too was certain his skills as a geneticist would be invaluable to the Hoffans and that hadn’t worked out so well either.  None of them were innocent when it came to trusting themselves about what they knew best.

 

Shifting from his thoughts, Rodney glanced at his watch and realized it was time for the mission briefing.  He’d been surprised that he’d been included, figuring that after everything that happened he’d be forever delegated to lab work. Someplace safe where they could watch over him and keep him in line. 

 

To have a place on Sheppard’s team meant more than he was willing to admit, but it still didn’t negate the apprehension he was feeling as he made his way to Weir’s office. This mission would be the first since Doranda and Colonel Sheppard would have to acknowledge his presence.  If not, it was going to be a very long mission, one that Rodney wasn’t looking forward to.

 

*********

 

They wandered in and out of several of the high rise structures, searching for the elusive power source. Kormok at first seemed like a dead civilization, but after a couple hours in the city they were approached by a rather ragtag group of citizens, who had obviously seen better days.  The natives had little to offer in the way of information.

 

Kormak had been a great and powerful city but cullings over the last thousand years had brought the once opulent metropolis to a standstill and the remaining descendents lacked the means to sustain it.  The technology, that somehow still managed to run, was on its last leg and beyond the simple ways of the present inhabitants.   They seemed thrilled by their visitor’s interest and followed McKay and Sheppard around like anxious puppies. 

 

McKay had tried getting information regarding the equipment they’d found but all he received were happy smiles and blank stares.  The natives were clueless and any technology that had once graced their planet had been lost to simple survival and quite possibly, too much inbreeding.  He wondered if any of the other cities that dotted the planet were as bad off as this one.

 

Sheppard stood behind Rodney as he crouched under yet another piece of machinery, asking with barely restrained boredom, “Anything?”  Their conversations since arriving were kept to a minimum. This one was no exception.

 

Backing out, Rodney brushed his hands on his pants and stood up. He snorted indignantly before answering,   “At one time it might have exceeded our level of technology, but the residents must have had other priorities.  So far I have yet to find anything close to working order and a good deal of the parts have been removed for whatever reason.” He glanced at the natives that stood watching them, and lowered his voice, “I don’t think asking them where they put the pieces would have the desired results. I’m pretty sure their gene pool has been corrupted.”

 

Shrugging at Rodney’s inference, Sheppard questioned with a note of annoyance, “Can you fix it?”

 

Hating to admit it, Rodney hesitated before answering, “No.”

 

John blinked and looked at him in disbelief. It wasn’t the answer he was expecting. McKay saw his stunned expression and felt the red creep into his face.  Raising his chin defiantly, he said tersely, “I’m being honest, Colonel. Isn’t that what you want to hear?”

 

Ouch, thought John.  He had that one coming, but it still hurt and he snapped back reflexively, “I want to hear that you can fix it. You’re the genius. I thought you could do it all.” 

 

“As you well know, Colonel, even I have my limitations.” Rodney reached down and snatched his pack off the floor. He stopped and stared at the John before leaving the room. “I need to look for a power source. Are you coming?”

 

John grabbed his own pack and followed, mentally chastising himself for being unable to get past this thing between them. It seemed to be the way of things lately. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve much over the course of the mission.

 

*******

 

The team sat in a pitch black pit deep within the city, waiting for their captors to appear. It had been several hours since they’d been dropped here to await their fate. McKay was certain if he could see Sheppard’s eyes he would see a look that could kill. “I only told them what I told you, Colonel, I can’t fix it,” exclaimed Rodney, his own eyes glaring in Sheppard’s direction.

 

“Sure, McKay. Let’s bypass the buildup and get to the part where you come through for the big save, because I really don’t have the time to stroke your ego,” said Sheppard rather harshly.

 

It took Rodney only a few seconds to catch the Colonel’s reference and he was grateful for the darkness as his face fell. Obviously the Colonel found some truth in the prisoner Torrell’s estimation of the scientist about ego and such.

 

Rodney’s tone was sharp as he bit back at the hurtful comment, “What part of I can’t fix it don’t you understand, Colonel? These people are practically barbarians who have somehow managed to survive in the city of their ancestors without a clue as to how things work.  No one here has the slightest hint about technology.  Half of the machinery has been scrounged for god knows what and you want me to somehow put it back together for them. It’s not going to happen. There is just too much missing.”

 

“Well unless you have another option, I suggest you pretend you can fix it or they won’t have a reason to keep us around, will they?” Sheppard’s smirk could be heard even in the dark pit.

 

“Oh yes and that will work so well when I don’t make any progress towards that end. I’m sure they’ll be so overjoyed that they’ll throw a party in my honor.”  His voice grew louder, more determined, “I can’t fix it, because there is nothing to fix it with. Unless these people know where they put the pieces, and I seriously doubt they can even remember what they had for breakfast, there is nothing I can do.”

 

The trapdoor above them suddenly opened, flooding the pit with a blinding light. A harsh, stern voice followed, “You fix now!”

 

Rodney stepped into the beam of light, squinting as he looked up, “I can’t…” 

 

“Rodney!” hissed Sheppard sharply, offering a pointed look that left no room for argument. 

 

Jerking his head towards the Colonel, Rodney glared at him before he sighed heavily, “Fine. Don’t yell at me when it comes back and bites us in the ass, Colonel.”  He grabbed the rung of the ladder and began climbing, wishing he really had the means to make it all better. Then maybe he could gain back the trust he’d lost and remove the doubt the Colonel now had every time he looked at him. It hurt when Sheppard treated him and their prior friendship as if both were inconsequential, but to not have the Colonel’s trust was slowly eating away at Rodney and he would do anything to get that back.

 

He sat staring at the machinery, trying to fathom its original purpose and was no further enlightened than he had been two hours earlier.  Several of the natives stood guard, watching him, occasionally flashing him a disgusted look.  He sneered back, no happier than they were with the present situation.  What he didn’t expect was the heavy blow to his back and the subsequent pain associated with it. 

 

Thankful he was already on his knees, he only slammed forward onto his hands rather than his face and hissed through clenched teeth, “What the hell was that for?” 

 

One of the natives, a short little fucker with a pock-marked face stepped closer, holding his club menacingly over Rodney, “You have done nothing but complain. Now you will work to fix.”

 

Rodney was beginning to hate the slow-witted inhabitants of this planet.  He’d tried to explain that there was no way to fix their tech problems but it was like arguing with children.  They had seen his interest in the machinery and had overheard his conversation with Colonel Sheppard explaining the advanced technology that might have once worked in the city. 

 

Not more than an hour later, the entire team had been escorted to a meager dinner and regaled with tales about the previous inhabitants and the wonders of the city.  An hour after that they’d woken in the dark pit, having been drugged into submission.  The Kormakans made it clear that no one was leaving until the city was up and running.  They were obviously under the illusion that it was a simple task, rather like flipping a switch.  It occurred to Rodney that his previous estimation of the native’s intelligence had been generous.

 

Lifting his head, Rodney glared at the natives, “Look, I’m doing the best I can considering how little I have to work with.” He muttered much lower, “Which is fucking nothing.”  That comment got him another blow to his back and he rubbed the offended spot, wincing as his body twisted to accommodate his latest move.  Rodney’s head snapped up to glower at his captors. “Beating me isn’t going to enamor me to your cause, you know.”

 

The nearest native raised his club. “Work!”

 

Rodney instinctively covered his head and ducked back into the machinery, adding a painful reply as he did so, “Okay, I’m working.”  Safely inside, at least most of him, Rodney dared to speak, but it lacked his normal conviction, the pain in his back taking away some of his caustic edge. “Some food might be nice. I tend to get shaky without it and then there’s that nasty falling into a coma thing. I’m sure you can scrounge up some of that slop you call soup if you want me to be semi-productive. And in case you haven’t noticed there are four of us. I’m sure my team could use something to eat as well.” 

 

As the pain in his back eased, his voice grew stronger and sharper, “Oh and if you have any small appliances be sure and bring them along. I’m almost certain I’d have better luck fixing them than what I’m presently doing.  I can get the lights flashing or something equally amazing that will impress upon your limited mental capabilities.”

 

Glancing at the stupefied looks on the faces in the room, Rodney had no doubt they only understood about half of what he was saying and took a certain perverse pleasure in taunting them. Still, he was definitely feeling the effects of not eating in over twelve hours so he peeked around the edge of the machine and enunciated his words. “I need food or I will die. Do you get that? Food. Eat.”  He motioned to his mouth hoping it would have some effect.  One of the younger ones left, finally returning with a bowl of soup and a small slab of bread.  

 

Taking it, Rodney sniffed it, then deeming it edible proceeded to eat, hardly tasting as he swallowed.  Using the bread, he cleaned out the bowl and handed it back to his captors.  “Did you take some to the others?”

 

The short one, whacked him on the back again. “We do not have food to spare on the useless ones.”

 

“Oh that is just…” Rodney wasn’t allowed to finish as another blow landed on his back. Gritting his teeth as they glared at them, he got up slowly and returned to work. He wasn’t so stupid that he couldn’t take the hint to shut up.

 

He spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to work on the worthless piece of junk in front of him.  The guards made sure his attention stayed focused on the task at hand and several new bruises later, Rodney was escorted back to the pit for the night.

 

It had been a long day and it was well after dark, not that in mattered in their small confinement. As soon as the heavy trapdoor closed, the cell was cast in pitch blackness and the only way to navigate was by touch.   Rodney stumbled a few times before finding a solitary stretch of wall where he slid down to the floor with a muffled grunt of pain.

 

“You okay, McKay?” asked Sheppard, his voice moving closer as he spoke.

 

“Fine, just a little sore from working all day,” sighed Rodney. There was really no point in whining about his injuries. He doubted very much if the Colonel would even care.  It seemed to be the way of things lately and Rodney had accepted it, unable to do much else.  All his efforts to apologize had little effect on John’s attitude and rather than attempt resolution through pity, Rodney let his sore and aching muscles go unmentioned. 

 

Sheppard moved closer and sat beside him in the dark. “How did it go up there?”

 

“Besides spending the day in meaningless labor? They don’t have anything even remotely close to workable. I’m delegated to making things buzz or flash to appease their tiny minds.”

 

“Is there any way to get free, make it back to the Stargate?” Sheppard asked hopefully.

 

Rodney snorted, “No. I have my own personal entourage and they really don’t have a sense of humor. I doubt they would take me wandering off as a sign of good prisoner relations.” He winced at the pain in his side as he shifted, leaving little doubt as to how his captors would take an escape attempt.  They watched him like a hawk and he’d never been left alone, not even to take a piss.  How embarrassing was that?  No, they were stuck here until reinforcements arrived. 

 

“It was worth a shot,” said Sheppard.  “You got any food on you?”

 

“Why?” asked Rodney, suspiciously, never one to volunteer his hoarded food.

 

“They didn’t feed us today and I’m afraid Ronon will resort to cannibalism soon.”

 

Reaching into his vest, Rodney pulled out several powerbars and handed them to Sheppard, “Make them last, Colonel. It’s all there is. Although if all of you saw fit to come on a mission prepared I wouldn’t have to resort to sharing what I had the good sense to pack.”

 

“A few less calories won’t kill you.” Sheppard gave Teyla and Ronon each one, handing McKay back a single bar. “Here.”

 

Rodney pushed it back at the Colonel. “They actually fed me.”

 

“What about the sugar thing, I don’t want you passing out,” sniped Sheppard, hiding his concern.

 

“I’ll live.”  Leaning sideways, Rodney lowered himself to the floor, biting back the grunt of pain that threatened. “Right now I just want to sleep. It’s been a long day.”

 

“Get some sleep,” offered Sheppard. Rodney figured he would move away, but he stayed beside him, surprising him.  He gave a mental shrug and fell asleep.

 

Chapter 2

 

Two days later, Rodney eased his way down the ladder, his bruised and battered body resisting the movement. The beatings had gone on each day, until Rodney flinched at the slightest movement of his guards, afraid if he stopped moving they’d hit him again.  It was never enough to really cause damage other than to make him sore as hell and adding to the growing number of bruises.  He was tired, physically and mentally, and it did little to help his concentration during the long days of fiddling with useless machinery. 

 

The meager food was barely enough to keep his hypoglycemia at bay, making him crankier than usual.  His guilt over actually getting fed was compounded when he saw the faces of his teammates in the brief light each morning. Thankfully it was too dark by the time he returned at night and only had to witness their pitiful looks once a day.  While he went above to work and ate his one meal a day, they were only allowed water.  Seemed the Kormakans deemed them unworthy of their precious food resources.  

 

Slipping down the ladder in the darkness, Rodney retreated to his corner without a word.  Wrapping his hands around his knees, he rested his head, fighting back the nausea from the nearly constant headache.  His hands had quit shaking after the last meal and the cold clamminess had disappeared but it would all return full force by morning, getting worse until the next meal arrived. 

 

“We need to talk,” said Sheppard. His voice came out of the darkness, the closeness startling Rodney, not having heard him approach. 

 

Scooting back to lean into the wall, Rodney grimaced in pain but kept from crying out. “About?”

 

“You’re gonna have to get us some food. I don’t know why we haven’t been rescued and we’re just getting weaker.”

 

“How do you propose I do that? I can’t carry soup in my pocket and I doubt my one piece of bread is going to split three ways.”

 

“Tell them you won’t work unless they hand over some food.”

 

Rodney actually laughed, “Oh right, Colonel. Before or after they beat me to death?”

 

Sheppard barked back, tired and irritated and it came out in his voice, “Would you listen to yourself?  They aren’t going to hurt you. They need you.”

 

He tried to hide the rising panic.  He’d asked for food every day and received a new round of bruises each day because of it.  Rodney didn’t think threatening them with not working would sit to well with his captors and said as much to John. “I’ll be lucky if they don’t kill me.”

 

“God, McKay, all you ever think of is yourself. In case you haven’t noticed we are starving here.” Sheppard huffed, “Trust me, they aren’t going to hurt you. They want their machinery fixed.  You’re just using your skills as leverage to get us some food. They aren’t going to beat you for asking.”

 

All Rodney heard was trust me, the rest of the conversation was drowned out by those simple words.  Rodney wondered if the Colonel had chosen them carefully or if he even realized how deeply they cut into him. Either way, Rodney couldn’t refuse and he half whispered in resignation, “I’ll do what I can.”

 

Falling asleep shortly after their conversation, McKay didn’t hear Teyla’s stern whispers to Colonel Sheppard, “You should not be so harsh with him, Colonel.”

 

“What?”

 

“He is doing the best that he can. He is all that is keeping us alive.”

 

“I was just trying to make him understand. You know how stubborn he can be,” said John, indignantly.  He’d felt like shit as soon as the words ‘trust me’ had left his mouth but it was too late to take them back. It was too late for a lot of things.

 

“Has he not suffered enough? Isn’t it time you yourself made some attempt to resolve things between the two of you?”

 

“This isn’t a pissing contest. He screwed up. It’s not my fault.”

 

Teyla sighed, “No, it is not. But then you didn’t have to accept his plan at the time, did you?”

 

John bristled then dropped his shoulders in defeat, knowing Teyla had seen the truth when he himself refused to.  She seldom minced words and had an uncanny ability to see through people.  It was part of what made her a good leader. 

 

He was angry with Rodney, but he was angrier with himself.  Yeah, McKay had made a mistake, a big one, but John had had the final say.  He could have trusted his own gut instinct and denied Rodney’s request, but he’d let his friendship with the man sway his thinking.  Seeing Rodney’s desperate need to find meaning in Collin’s death had been John’s undoing and he’d given in, despite his own misgivings.  Even after Zelenka had voiced his concerns he could have pulled the plug and he hadn’t, letting Rodney have his way.  It pissed him off that McKay had such power over him and even after all the apologies he still couldn’t forgive him.  Not for blowing up the solar system, but for making it so damn hard not to care. 

 

Since their falling out, John had carefully kept his distance from the scientist, knowing that they’d gotten ‘too close’ before the accident.  John feared what would happen if he crossed that invisible line and let Rodney in completely.  He would have no defenses against anything Rodney wanted and that scared him to death.  Enough so that he was willing to push aside their friendship, and whatever else they’d been moving towards, for the greater good of Atlantis. 

 

*******

 

The bright light from above woke them and Rodney slowly got to his feet, noting his teammates moving lethargically in response to the morning intrusion.  He glanced at them quickly and moved to the ladder, giving Sheppard one last look before ducking his head and climbing out of the dark prison.  Maybe if he could bring back the much needed food he would finally be granted forgiveness.  He could do this.

 

Following his captors, Rodney contemplated how to approach the conversation about food and decided he might as well wait until he was feed. It would be easier to ease into it since they would be getting his food. It shouldn’t be too much trouble to prepare something for the others…hopefully.   Not that Rodney had any real hope. Malevolent cosmic forces of late seem to swirl around him, taking every opportunity to make his life miserable. He should have been expecting it.

 

“Look, they need some food.” He stood his ground, pasting on a face of false bravado as he continued, “If they don’t get fed, I don’t work.  You don’t get your fancy machines...”

 

The first blow was only a glancing one and Rodney thought that maybe he’d escaped fate but the second one quickly reassured him that wasn’t the case.  The third dropped him to his knees and he panted between gasps, holding his ribs as he glared at his captors through pain glazed eyes. “All I want is some food for my friends.” He flinched as they advanced and shouted desperately, “You kill me and you won’t get what you want either.”

 

Someone had snuck up behind him and the next blow took his breath away. Falling forward, his hands shot out to brace himself, keeping him from landing face first on the floor.  Sweat beaded on his brow and he clenched his teeth against the pain as he turned his head to look up at his captors. They stood over him menacingly and Rodney swallowed hard before pleading, “Don’t do this. I just want some food for them. You can’t expect me to keep working if you’re slowly killing them.”

 

His stomach exploded in agony as one booted foot made contact, lifting him a few inches off the floor in the process. No longer able to hold himself up, he crumbled to the floor. The hitting and kicking continued and there was little Rodney could do but curl around himself, covering his vital areas from the worst of it.  Arms instinctively protected his head and the few kicks that landed hit his hands, breaking fingers and leaving bruises.  The pain blurred with the rest and it was hard to pinpoint the worst of it as each blow only added to his torture.  He kept on about the food until his voice gave out and it was too hard to even draw the breath to speak. 

 

It seemed to go on forever, the pain worsening until it became blinding and he slipped into the welcoming darkness of unconsciousness.

 

Chapter Three

 

Coming to, much later, Rodney’s eyes shot open and he flinched away from the scuffling of boots near his head.  He tensed, momentarily ignoring the pain in lieu of terror, but no more blows came and he allowed himself to release the breath he was holding. 

 

Everything hurt, beyond anything he could have imagined and his eyes closed, willing the blackness to come and take him again. A loud thump near his head startled him and his heart raced. Afraid to open his eyes this time, he waited, barely breathing, fearful of what might come next.  A light nudge in his ribs made him open his eyes. Blinking back the fuzziness, his eyes widened in surprise at the bag sitting nearby, but he didn’t move.

 

The foot nudged him again. “Food.” 

 

The man refused to stop his taunts until Rodney finally made an attempt to move.  His ribs, back, legs, arms, fingers all hurt and it took a concentrated effort to get a hand with broken fingers under him enough to even rise off the floor.  The effort left him sweating heavily and it rolled off his nose, splattering to the floor beneath him.  The tinge of pink alarmed him briefly, but the man towering above him took his mind off the seriousness of his injuries and he reached out for the bag.  Two of his fingers looked swollen, the bruising already spreading down his knuckles and over the top of his hand. With the remaining good fingers and his thumb he grabbed the bag and dragged it closer, coveting its hard won contents. 

 

Taking a moment to regain his breath, the pain lanced over his ribs restricting his breathing and threatening to send him into oblivion. Sheer determination kept him lucid and he lifted a knee, getting his foot on solid ground before attempting to rise. His whole body trembled in pain and it took more than a single try before his legs would hold his weight.  The room danced around him and he took in his captors, calmly standing at the perimeter, their faces expressionless as if they’d taken no part in his beating.

 

Once on his feet, he stood swaying, blood or sweat dripping into his eyes. It stung and he wanted to wipe it away, but the thought of lifting his arm was more than enough to dissuade him from trying. With a grunt of pain, he tugged the bag higher and after several attempts, it was easier to just let it drag behind him. Hunched over, his other arm wrapped firmly around his battered ribs, Rodney concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. 

 

His captors whispered and snickered behind him as he staggered towards his teammates. Breathing was a chore and every step sent daggers of pain into places he didn’t know existed and he hated to think of the damage that had been done.  He had the food so he blocked out the worst of it and continued his painful march to the tiny cell that held his teammates. The Colonel trusted him to get them food and he’d done it. It was all that mattered and the only thing keeping him going.

 

With his head down, he wasn’t aware of where he was until the trapdoor to their tiny prison appeared at his feet.  Waiting for his captors to open it, Rodney took the time to regain his composure, suddenly unsure whether his efforts would be enough.  Would he have to do this again tomorrow, or the day after or the day after that? His breath caught at the thought but suddenly he calmed, the absurdity of making it past another day of this was enough to make him laugh inwardly. 

 

As the trapdoor lifted, he steeled himself for the climb down.  It was painful and slow, his broken fingers and aching ribs only made it harder.  Slipping from the final rungs he dropped to the floor, hanging onto the ladder to keep from falling.  He was grateful for the darkness of the pit, hiding him from his teammates.  The bag of food rested at his feet and he spoke to them, surprised by the weakness in his voice, “There’s your food.”

 

The room spun even in the dark and he felt himself falling.  Impacting the floor, he cried out in pain alerting the others.  Hands grasped him in the dark and he couldn’t stop from groaning. Sheppard’s voice broke through his agony, “Rodney, what’s wrong?”

 

“Got…your…food,” gasped Rodney, a cough ending any further explanations.  Agonizing pain ripped at his sides, his chest, his lungs.   A light flashed on his eyelids and he opened his eyes, the dimming flashlight illuminating the concern on the faces above him.

 

A collective gasp rose above him and Rodney wondered how bad he actually looked. If it was anything like how he felt he could understand their reaction. His eyes drifted shut, the light seeming harsher than it really was. 

 

“Ah geez, Rodney,” sighed Sheppard, brushing his face with a shaky hand.  Very carefully, he was lifted out of the dirt and found himself resting against the Colonel’s chest.  Other hands cleaned away the blood and dirt from his face despite his muttered protests. He held his hands protectively against his chest and cried out when they pulled them away.

 

“Don’t… Please,” rasped Rodney, struggling to keep his hands close and protected.

 

Sheppard leaned over his shoulder, speaking quietly, “They’re just trying to help. We need to see how bad it is.”

 

Drawing a breath to speak, Rodney coughed again, his body racked with pain as he tried to get air into his lungs, panicking when it wasn’t enough. His eyes widened in alarm and John held him, uttering reassurances to calm him. “Relax, Rodney. Take a breath and relax.”

 

It took several attempts but Rodney finally calmed enough to realize he was getting the air he needed even with the short, shallow breaths he was forced to take. John’s voice drifted into the haze he was getting lost in.  “Teyla, find something to wrap his fingers. Ronon, you think you can straighten them?”

 

Ronon nodded, concerned for Rodney but unfazed by the request.  Teyla shifted away from in front of McKay and Ronon took her place.  The softness in Ronon’s voice surprising as he carefully reached forward to take the scientist’s hand, “I’ll be quick. Scream if you want to.” 

 

Rodney lifted his head slightly and peeked out one eye, smiling weakly at Ronon’s comment then tensed, clenching his jaw in anticipation.  True to his word, Ronon was quick, giving Rodney no warning. The first finger straightened and Rodney only managed a whimper before he passed out in blessed relief.  The others worked quickly, wrapping his fingers and ribs with what bandages they carried in their vests, no one commenting on the massive bruises that dotted his skin.

 

Offering up his heavy coat, Ronon spread it on the dirt floor and they gently moved Rodney so he could rest.  Sheppard sat beside him, a hand resting lightly on his shoulder as they waited for him to wake. 

 

Ronon reluctantly picked up the food bag and pulled some of the contents out, passing them to the others.  Even in the dim light he saw the Colonel’s shocked look and shrugged. “Seems a waste not to eat it. Don’t figure he’d want us to starve after what he did to get it.”

 

Teyla and Sheppard guiltily took what was offered and ate, not particularly hungry any more, but knowing Ronon was right.  None of them ate much and what little was left was stored away in a cool corner. They all hovered close to Rodney, watching him as he slept.

 

It was a restless sleep, broken by the scientist’s harsh breathing and whimpers as he tossed on the makeshift palette.  John moved closer, lying along Rodney’s length, his chest pressing against McKay’s back. It seemed to help and Rodney stopped his moving, alleviating some of the pain his thrashing had caused.  He awoke sometime in the night, crying out as he jerked and tried to sit up. “Don’t make me go back.”

 

Soaked to the skin, his breathing raspy, Rodney shook from pain and fear, the darkness around him hiding the worst of it.

 

Draping an arm around the scientist, John uttered softly, afraid of startling the man, “You don’t have to go back. I promise.”  Rodney relaxed and fell back asleep.  John doubted he’d actually woken up completely.

 

*************

 

It was still dark when Rodney woke again, but that was hardly surprising considering where he was.  His body thrummed with pain, but breathing easier than it had been.  Reaching for his ribs he found them wrapped and his hands felt clumsy and swollen.  His fingers throbbed but the pain was tolerable and he realized that they too had been wrapped. The pain in his gut seemed worse but that wasn’t surprising considering the number of kicks he taken there. 

 

Still tired, he closed his eyes, sinking into the warmth at his back.  His eyes shot open with the dawning realization that it was John sharing his body heat.  Thinking to roll away, Rodney stopped when an arm draped his chest, holding him firmly in place.  It surprised him somewhat that the Colonel hadn’t woken. Although, considering how little he’d eaten in the past few days it made sense that he was less alert than normal.  The closeness felt nice and even though Sheppard was still in the throes of sleep, Rodney could convince himself that there was conscious, albeit sleepy, thought on John’s part to offer the comforting presence.

 

Morning would come soon enough and John would once again return to his senses, pulling away as he’d done so much lately.  Rodney closed his eyes and sighed, enjoying the warmth while he could. 

 

The next time he woke, it was to voices and he tried to block them out, hoping for blissful sleep and the absence of pain. As the voices grew louder, he sat up groggily, blinking against the light that penetrated the cell.  Glancing up, he found the Colonel standing above him, his back turned as he stared upward at their captors.  His voice was stern as he spoke, “He not going with you today. Forget it.”

 

A sudden gunshot startled Rodney, making him jump and he watched as the Colonel grabbed for his shoulder and fell to his knees. Rodney scrambled to his side, followed by Teyla and glared up at those above. Ignoring the pain the sudden movement had caused, Rodney snapped at his captors, “What the hell was that for?” 

 

Ronon was already at the ladder, ready to climb up and rip limbs apart, but was stopped short by more gunfire. Their own guns came to bear on them from the natives above. “You will come work or we will kill them,” said one of them, staring directly at McKay.

 

Turning his gaze to Sheppard, Rodney paled.  The Colonel held his arm, blood oozing between his fingers and his jaw clenched tight with pain. Rodney didn’t hesitate. As he started to rise, John grabbed for his jacket sleeve. “Don’t go. You don’t have to do this.”

 

Rodney stared at him, “Oh please, Colonel. They have no qualms about causing bodily harm. Do you think they’d hesitate to kill you next time?” He tugged his arm out of Sheppard’s grasp and stood up, swaying momentarily at the dizziness.  His legs almost buckled but he stood his ground. He looked down at the Colonel and shrugged, “I’ll be fine. Like you said, they won’t kill me.”

 

John could see the fear reflected in the scientist’s eyes and he stumbled to his feet, making a final grab for him. “Rodney, don’t do this.”

 

Jerking away, Rodney stepped towards the ladder, his tone resigned. “I have to. You have no idea how long we’ll be here. You said yourself, I’m the only thing keeping all of you alive.” 

 

Having risen with Ronon’s help, John looked at Rodney through pain glazed eyes and had no choice but to concede, his own words coming back to haunt him. He backed off with a barely discernable nod, holding his arm as he watched the scientist begin to climb out of their reach.  If it was just himself he could have stopped Rodney, but he had Teyla and Ronon to consider.

 

Rodney’s ascent was slow and he had to stop half way up just to catch his breath.  It didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates as they gathered around the base of ladder, worried he might fall.  He ignored their concerned looks and silent pleas, eventually clearing the top with some concentrated effort.  The men above manhandled him over the rim and slammed the trapdoor, casting the pit into darkness once again.  Ronan, Teyla carefully tended to the Colonel without saying much and they all settled in to wait for the scientist’s return.

 

Chapter Four

 

The day started out as bad as it could for McKay, and his captors had no sympathy for his injuries, insisting he work regardless of the fact that manipulating anything was painful with four broken fingers. The mass of bruises added to his misery but it had little effect on his guards.  They seemed to take pleasure in prodding him and Rodney was beginning to feel uncomfortable under their watchful eyes, seemingly waiting for him to slack off.   

 

By mid day, Rodney had taken to hiding deep in the bowels of the latest piece of machinery, away from their glares and safe from their heavy clubs. He also ignored the machines and took to working on his scanner, converting it into a homing device.  It was difficult with his fingers and took far longer than it should have.  Pain was a constant companion and yet he found himself dozing off in spite of it. 

 

He was pulled from his comfort zone by rough hands as they jerked him from his safe place, their angry tone left no doubt he’d been caught sleeping.  It must have been later than he thought, but still disoriented, he couldn’t quite figure the passage of time as they practically dragged him back to the others.  He barely had time to clear the trapdoor when it was slammed above him.  Hanging onto the ladder for a few extra moments, clearing away the cobwebs and breathing through the pain their harsh treatment had aggravated, he started down.

 

Remembering he wasn’t the only one hurting, he clambered down and only managed to keep his feet when strong hands reached out to support him.  Ronon’s voice was soft, belying his size and normally intimidating presence, “You should rest.”

 

Rodney lightly shrugged him off, but still allowed him to help as he turned towards the dark cell. “How’s the Colonel?”

 

Teyla’s voice answered from several feet away, quiet yet full of concern, “He is sleeping at the moment. I fear his wound has become infected and he is hurting far more than he is letting on.” 

 

“Where is he?” asked McKay, barely constraining his fear.

 

“He is here, Doctor. Follow my voice,” Teyla answered, leading Rodney to where she sat with the Colonel.

 

Rodney eased himself to the floor, suppressing a grunt of pain as he settled and reached out blindly for Sheppard. Finding a pant leg, he traced a frantic path upward until his hand rested near John’s head. Very gently, mindful of his own injured hand, he lifted Sheppard’s head and let it rest on his thigh, only relaxing when his hand strayed to the Colonel’s chest and he could feel the steady beat of his heart.  He sat for a moment before finding his voice, “How long has he been out?”

 

“Only about an hour.  The lack of food, plus the blood loss has made him very weak.”

 

Even in the darkness, Rodney could sense her concern and hear Ronon pacing in the small confines of their cell.  He was still startled when Ronon leapt onto the ladder and slammed himself into the trapdoor above them. After several failed attempts, he dropped to the floor in disgust.

 

Frustrated by his own helplessness, Rodney rolled his eyes. “Thank you for that wonderful display in futility.”

 

Tempers flared and Ronon snapped back, his voice loud in the small space, “We can’t just sit here. I’m tired of waiting for someone else to rescue us. We need to get out of here ourselves before Sheppard gets any worse.”

 

Always the voice of calm and reason, Teyla spoke up, “There is little we can do. The Colonel was shot for trying to…”

 

When she hesitated to finish, Rodney completed her thoughts, “To save me.” His voice was low and drifted off and it seemed to take with it all the anger from his companions. Silence descended as they all contemplated the situation until Rodney spoke up, “I’m working on a homing signal. Maybe someone will find us if I can boost the signal. I’ll see if they will give me some medicine and maybe some more food tomorrow.”

 

Teyla answered immediately, “You cannot, Doctor McKay. The Colonel would not want you to risk another beating.”

 

The few good fingers that rested on John’s chest flexed and Rodney tensed slightly as he spoke in a false bravado, “As the Colonel said, they won’t kill me.  If it means helping him then I really don’t have a choice, do I?”

 

Their silence answered his question and no more was said. Rodney dropped his head, the day catching up to him quickly.  His body was growing weaker despite eating every day and the nausea and headaches never really went away.  If they weren’t rescued soon, it wouldn’t make a difference. It was only a matter of time before his body gave out and even a token effort to work would be out of the question.  Leaning back into the wall behind him he drifted off, his hand still resting on the Sheppard’s chest.

 

****

 

All Rodney could think of as he sat eating his lunch under the menacing glares of his captors was the heat coming off the Colonel when he’d woke this morning.  He’d spent all morning begging them for food and/or medicine and getting very little work done in the process.  The only thing he’d managed was enhancing the signal on his makeshift homing signal and punching in directions to the rest of the team, afraid his demands would leave him unable to help in locating them. 

 

There was still nothing to show for his persistence, other than ribs that protested a bit more and enough new bruises that lifting his hand to eat was painful.  His eyes darted between the men guarding him and the shaking spoon he guided to his mouth.  After five days on such little to eat, his stomach didn’t care if it was edible or not and he ate quickly, hardly tasting it.  Finishing, he pushed the bowl away and leveraged his hands on the table to get to his feet. It was a slow and painful process, interrupted by the sudden appearance of another native. 

 

Rodney eyed the new stranger nervously.  He was dressed well, better than any of the previous guards and his eyes held a spark of intelligence that seemed absent in all the others. They were cold and calculating and Rodney found himself swallowing hard, before dropping back into his chair.  Seeing a bag in the man’s hand, Rodney kept his hope at bay, but it must have shown.

 

“So, Doctor. It seems you feel yourself worthy of making demands on my men,” said the man, throwing the bag on table in front of him.  He reached into his shirt, retrieving a smaller bag. Opening it, he carefully pulled a vial from it, deliberately showing off the contents for Rodney’s benefit. Medicine.

 

Brightening, despite his best efforts, Rodney shuddered inwardly as the man smiled at his response.  Steeling his emotions, Rodney lifted his chin defiantly, “Who are you?”

 

“I am Toban T’rok.” He gestured to those in the room. “These are my men.”

 

Frowning, Rodney asked as he shifted nervously in his seat, “Why haven’t I seen you before now?”

 

Toban shrugged, his demeanor that of one in authority. “I have been away. Had I been here I would have seen that you were treated better.  Unfortunately it’s too late for that and I am forced to deal with what I have. I’m a man of means and you, Doctor, are in no position to make demands.”

 

His tone sent a shiver up Rodney’s spine. “You can’t expect me to work for you when you are slowly killing my teammates.” His glare hardened, “Your men shot Colonel Sheppard. If he dies, I won’t be fixing anything else for you.”

 

“Strong words, Doctor.” The man stepped closer, using his height advantage to intimidate as he leaned over, encroaching on the scientist’s personal space.  His hot breath was sickening as he spoke low and threatening, “The way I see it, you are hardly paying for your own upkeep, let alone that of your companions.”

 

Stepping back, Toban sat on the edge of the table, his hands idly fingering the bag of medical supplies. He carelessly flipped it from on hand to the other. “I want something from you and you want something from me.” He paused, his eyes raking up and down Rodney’s frame as he continued, “Unfortunate for you that you only have one thing left to offer that makes me even consider giving up precious medicine.”

 

Rodney pushed back from the table, the pain barely registering as his chair skittered backward and he stumbled away from the man’s presence. He knew that look and it only meant one thing. Panicking, Rodney rambled nervously, “You’re kidding, right?” He glanced at Toban, taking in his serious expression. “Okay, not kidding, but I…I…this isn’t what I had in mind.”  It was ludicrous, something out of a bad B-movie. And there was no way in hell this was really happening.

 

The man had the audacity to laugh, “Perhaps not, Doctor.” Toban’s eyes narrowed and his voice lost the humor as he stared directly at the scientist, holding his gaze. “What is the life of your friend worth?”

 

Eyes wide, his whole body trembling with the mounting fear, Rodney appeared to consider before his frame slumped in resignation but he still couldn’t make himself say the words.  His heart raced frantically and his eyes darted around the room, calculating his chance for escape. 

 

Backing away from the advancing leader, sweat trickled down his face and suddenly there didn’t seem to be enough air as his breathing increased. “You don’t have to do this. I’ll work harder. I’ll fix anything you want.”  Even as he pleaded, Rodney knew he had no choice.  Still, his mind refused to accept what his heart already knew.  This was the only way to save the Colonel and his team.

 

The leader growled, his eyes darkening, “Too late.” Toban looked at the guards and motioned towards the door. “Get out.”  They left without hesitating, taking their clubs and knowing smirks with them.

 

Rodney stumbled backwards, hitting the wall behind him. Panic, fear, and desperation pulsed through his veins. He thought of Sheppard, seeing him shiver from the chill of fever.  Squaring his shoulders, he crossed his arms and glared at Toban.  Jutting his chin in defiance, Rodney snapped, “Fine.”  There was no point in making this any harder than it had to be.

 

Chapter Five

 

As consciousness returned, so did the pain. It was worse than the first time and with it came the shame of what had transpired just before the welcoming darkness.  Rodney’s throat felt raw and dry, probably from screaming.  He lay in a heap on the floor, trying to get air to his lungs without the agonizing pain that followed each desperate breath.  Opening his eyes made the room spin violently and self preservation dictated he close them or risk puking.  The thought of heaving was enough to quell the desire to see at the moment.

 

His mind drifted in and out, finding focus difficult.  Shifting on the floor, he cried out and tensed when every muscle and bone protested.  It was too hard to breathe and the burning pain in ass was a grim reminder of what he didn’t want to remember.  The only affect it had was to get him moving, afraid that if he closed his eyes and gave into the sweet darkness, he’d never get up again and all the sacrifice would be for naught.  His team had entrusted him with their lives and he’d promised himself to never take it for granted again.  He’d unwittingly done so with the Colonel and this was his only chance at redemption. 

 

Pulling his legs under him, he grimaced as they threatened to cramp and his teeth clenched.  Dragging his arms enough to rise up to his hands and knees, he fell forward, his head resting on the cool floor.  Several breaths later Rodney tried again, using the table to pull himself to his feet, leaning into it heavily as he fought to stay upright.  The pain was almost overwhelming and sweat soaked through his clothes, making him shiver.  Opening his eyes as the nausea passed, he spotted the two bags on the table.  A quick glance about the room brought surprise as he realized for the first time that he was alone.

 

Too tired and hurt to wonder about the implications, he reached for the bags and pulled them into his chest, guarding the contents as if they were precious metal.  It was difficult to walk, his legs rubbery and stiff at the same time. Stumbling towards the door, he could feel something dripping down his thigh, but he refused to acknowledge it and staggered into the hall.  Stinging sweat dripped into his eyes and he blinked away the saltiness, letting the wall hold him up until he got his bearings.

 

His mind focused on going forward, the unknown condition of his teammates, John especially, driving him on. It seemed to take forever and each step grew heavier until his strength gave out and he fell to his knees, coughing.  Falling forward onto his hands, he watched in morbid fascination as blood splattered onto the floor beneath him with each cough, wondering absently where it had come from. 

 

Glancing down, he found one hand clenching his PDA and the other, two cloth bags. Sinking to the floor, he clenched the items to his chest, refusing to release his hold on them. Rodney knew he had to keep moving but he could no longer remember why exactly, only that he had to protect his possessions until he reached his destination.  Even knowing he had to keep going, he needed a moment to rest.  Just a minute and he’d feel better. Closing his eyes, he drifted easily into blissful peace. 

 

He didn’t feel the pain of his injuries. He didn’t hear the distant gunfire. He didn’t see the alarmed look on his rescuer’s faces. He didn’t feel them pull the PDA from his hand and rush off, leaving him alone in Carson’s care.  The only thing that registered in his mind was them trying to take the bags. His fingers clenched, squeezing tightly in a death grip the most important thing to him…trust.

 

******

 

The trapdoor opened and both Ronon and Teyla waited anxiously for Doctor McKay to appear. Shock and relief registered on their faces when Major Lorne’s appeared and he called down to them, “Do you need help?”

 

Ronon reacted immediately, grabbing Colonel Sheppard and draping him carefully over his shoulder, “We can make it.”

He climbed the ladder, Teyla right behind him as she asked worriedly, “Have you found Dr. McKay?”

 

“Yeah, Dr. Beckett is with him,” answered Lorne, helping Ronon with the Colonel as Teyla emerged from the pit.  Nearly five days in the dark with little or no food made even Ronon look haggard and gaunt. Teyla had faired no better and both were covered in dirt and grime. 

 

Teyla squinted in the harsh light. “How is he?”

 

Lorne hesitated then shook his head, his eyes not meeting hers or Ronon’s.  “He didn’t look very good.” 

 

Impatient, Ronon growled, “Sheppard needs a doctor.”  He shifted the burden on his shoulders as he retrieved his weapons from the other soldiers as they offered them back, having confiscated them from the natives. Teyla did the same and they wasted no time replacing them on their person.

 

Pointing down the hall as he led the way, Lorne spoke hurriedly, “This way.”

 

Arriving at the place where he’d left McKay, Major Lorne was surprised by the activity surrounding the scientist and the medical team.  He’d already been shifted to a stretcher and an IV was dripping fluids into his system.   Rodney’s jacket and shirt had been cut away and Carson was crouched over him carefully inserting a chest tube.  As he continued to work, barking orders as he tried to stabilize McKay, the others shifted their attention to Colonel Sheppard. 

 

As Ronon lowered him to the floor, the Colonel roused, his eyes glazed over with fever. He glanced around, recognition coming very slowly.  As his eyes found Rodney’s still form, they widened in alarm.  Ignoring the efforts to keep him flat, he batted hands away as if they were a minor annoyance in his attempt to shift closer to McKay.

 

Teyla dropped down and tried to reason with him. “You need to let them look at your shoulder, Colonel.”

 

 Carson looked up to see what the commotion was and seeing the Colonel’s face, barked at his team, “Sedate him if you have to. We need to get Rodney back to Atlantis.  He’s punctured a lung and who knows what else they’ve done to him.” 

 

John’s eyes never left Rodney. The heavy bruising was a sharp contrast against Rodney’s pale skin and without his shirt, it was obvious he’d taken a terrible beating. Letting the medical team tend his shoulder, John looked at Carson, his eyes glistening with more than fever. “Is he gonna make it?”

 

“I don’t know, Colonel. The only response we’ve gotten is when I tried to take the bags from him.”  His head nodded towards the two bags that rested against Rodney’s side, his broken fingers still entangled in the draw strings. 

 

John paled noticeably as his eyes fell on the bigger of the two bags, recognizing it for what it was.  His head dropped and he whispered, “Aw damn it, Rodney. Why?”

 

Finishing with Rodney, Carson asked, “What’s in the bag?”

 

Shaking his head, Sheppard answered, “Food.”  The Colonel’s eyes seemed to lose focus and they rolled back just before he swayed and tipped to the side.  Hands reached out and lowered him to the floor. 

 

Major Lorne got on his radio, “Wimsat, I need you up here ASAP. You’re gonna fly the other jumper. Bring another stretcher too.” An answer must have been made because Lorne responded, then addressed Ronon, “Do you feel up to leading a few of my men to the other jumper. Take the Colonel’s remote. Lieutenant Wimsat can fly it home.”

 

“Yeah, I can do that,” said Ronon, anxious to be doing something besides standing around useless. He took his coat that Teyla had grabbed from their cell and putting it on, waited only long enough for Wimsat to arrive before leaving without a backward glance. 

 

Lorne shooed his men to follow. “Keep your eyes open, I don’t want to make another rescue.”   The natives had put up a gallant fight but it took very little time to overpower them. Those they’d missed had vanished as suddenly as they’d appeared. He stood over Dr. Beckett, informing quietly, “I got a jumper waiting outside. We’re ready when you are.”

 

Getting Sheppard on the second stretcher, Carson nodded, “Aye. Let’s go then. The sooner we get back the better.”

 

Walking with Teyla as they made their way to the jumper, Carson looked her over, asking softly, “How are you doing then, lass?”

 

Teyla’s eyes never left the two stretchers in front of them, but her shoulders slumped slightly. “I am very tired.”

 

Chapter Six

 

The infirmary was quiet, no one voicing their concern as they lingered outside, waiting for some news on McKay’s condition.  Several had seen him as he was carried through Atlantis hallways on the way to the infirmary.  The scientist’s deathly pale skin and the bruising, ranging from green to deep purple shocked many into following, contemplating the sudden lurch of emotion at seeing the man so still and lifeless.  It was easy to push him aside after the fiasco on Doranda, but now it seemed a rather petty treatment of one who had in fact saved their collective asses on more than one occasion.

 

When Dr. Beckett finally emerged from surgery four hours later, only Elizabeth and Radek remained, sitting between Teyla’s and Ronon’s beds.  The two sat up, anxious for news of their teammates.

 

Carson answered their unspoken questions without prompting, “Colonel Sheppard is resting. The blood loss and poor eating didn’t help but he’ll be fine. We’ve put him on antibiotics to control the infection.”

 

“And Dr. McKay?” Teyla asked, worry evident in not only her face, but the others as well.

 

Pursing his lips, Carson answered, “It was touch and go. If we hadn’t gotten to him when we did…” his voice left off, unable to pursue that line of thought and he continued, “In addition to four broken fingers, he has several broken ribs, one of which punctured his lung.  There was some internal bleeding we had to repair.  He’s going to be very sore but I think he’ll recover."

 

They all released a collective sigh of relief, the tension of waiting easing away with the good news.  Radek smiled, dropping a hand to Teyla’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze, wishing someone else to know he was thrilled with the news. Teyla turned, a similar smile gracing her own features.  Ronon visibly relaxed, but said nothing.

 

Carson hesitated, unsure how much those before him really needed to know the rest of it.  After a moment to consider, he turned to Elizabeth.  “Can I speak to you alone for a moment, Dr. Weir?”

 

Glancing at the others, she turned back to Beckett. “Of course.”

 

Ushering her into his office, Carson sat down wearily into his chair. "I thought you should know that Rodney…” He paused, his voice dropping and a sadness clouding his eyes, “He was raped as well.”

 

Elizabeth gasped, covering her mouth.  Of all the things she’d thought about, this was not it. She must have zoned for a moment, because Carson was suddenly leading her to a chair.  Sitting, she waved off his concern, “I’m fine. Just a little shocked is all.”

 

“Aye.” Carson rubbed his eyes and returned to his seat, dropping heavily into it, the day suddenly catching up with him. “I don’t know what happened and Rodney may not be forthcoming with the information.”

 

“Neither Teyla or Ronon mentioned anything so severe, although the beatings were bad enough. Apparently, Rodney was the only one that was allowed out of their cell, and he was forced to work on machinery that had little or no hope of being fixed. He asked for food for them and was beaten for it.  Teyla said that after Colonel Sheppard was shot, Rodney must have asked for more food, because he wasn’t that bad off from the first beating.”

 

Carson sighed, “And medicine.”

 

Eyebrows furrowing, Elizabeth frowned. “Pardon?”

 

“That is what was in the other bag he was carrying. He must have asked for medicine for the Colonel.”

 

“That would explain why he wouldn’t let go of it then.” Elizabeth paused a moment before continuing. “I sometimes forget just how loyal Rodney can be, not only to his work but to his friends.  We all get so caught up in his foul moods and arrogance that we fail to see all of him.”

 

Carson nodded, lost in thought for a bit. “He’s had a tough time of it.”

 

“In what way?” asked Elizabeth, clearly puzzled.

 

Crossing his arms, Carson settled against the edge of his desk. “Ever since he blew up the Dorandan system no one has really gone out of their way to reassure him or even find out how he’s doing.” He looked at Weir, his eyes questioning, “Were you aware that pretty much everyone here has been avoiding him.  He eats alone, and from what Radek says, he has been working alone unless it was unavoidable.”

 

A brief look of surprise and then guilt flashed across Elizabeth’s face. She slumped into the chair. “I didn’t know it was that bad.” 

 

Not that she had really taken the time to notice and that was unsettling.  She had been so angry with Rodney that not having to run into him had been a blessing of sorts.

 

  “I don’t think anyone did, and to be honest I don’t think they cared. They were so happy to see him put in his place that they didn’t even notice he was pulling further away from everyone.” Carson sighed, “And I was no better than the rest. I was too busy to notice.  We all take for granted he can do anything. Instead of demanding he step back, he was allowed to push ahead thinking he’d make it work. When it didn’t work, no one thought twice of condemning him.”

 

Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly, recalling how she had berated him in full view of everyone in the Gateroom. She was angry at him and herself that day, knowing deep down she should have, could have, stopped it just as easily as Colonel Sheppard or even Colonel Cadwell.  Each of them had ignored Dr. Zelenka’s warnings when any one of them could have called a halt to the test and demanded a further look at the weapon system.  They hadn’t. Instead they’d let the blame fall squarely onto Rodney’s shoulders rather than bearing some of the burden of responsibility. 

 

She hung her head. “I know and it’s not like we haven’t made mistakes ourselves.”

 

Reflecting on his own shortcomings since arriving in Atlantis, Carson never would have considered it possible to kill off half a planet doing his job.  It was in the past now, just as Rodney’s mistake should be.  Moving towards the door, Elizabeth rose to follow. Stopping just before leaving, Carson turned to her and said softly, “He’s going to need friends when he wakes.” 

 

Elizabeth nodded, “He’ll have them. I don’t think we are the only ones to realize that Rodney is as human as the rest of us. I’m just sorry it took something like this to make us see it.”

 

Carson smiled, “Don’t let him hear you say that.”

 

Exiting the office, Elizabeth looked in on both Rodney and John but finding them asleep, went in search of Dr. Zelenka to make a much needed apology of her own.  

 

*****

 

John lay in bed staring at the ceiling, once again wondering why he was always wide awake in the middle of the night during his enforced stay in the infirmary. Glancing to the side, he paled at the sight of McKay, hooked up to an array of monitors, wires and tubes interlacing his arms, chest and face.

 

Sitting up with a grunt of pain, he reached for his shoulder and gingerly touched the bandage covering the gunshot wound.  It was sore and painful. Gritting his teeth, he eased himself to the edge of the bed.  His feet on the floor, he stood up and his knees buckled.

 

A strong pair of arms grabbed for him. “What do ya think you’re doin’, Colonel?”

 

Turning, Sheppard smiled innocently, “Hey, Doc.”

 

Carson rolled his eyes in exasperation, “You need to be in bed. You’re in no shape to be goin’ anywhere.”

 

“I’m fine. Just need to get my feet under me. How’s McKay doing?”

 

“Don’t be changing the subject,” snorted Carson, shaking his head as he manhandled John back into bed.

 

John shoulders slumped. “I just want to see him.”

 

“There’s nothin’ to see. He’s asleep and will hopefully stay that way for a while yet.” Carson nudged him back into bed as he continued, “You need to rest, Colonel. You’ve lost a lot of blood, you’re malnourished from not eating and you are still fighting an infection.”

 

The slight exertion left him exhausted and John had little choice but to let Carson help him lie down. He glared at the doctor. It lost its effect when he yawned.

 

Carson smiled, “There’s a good lad. Get some sleep and we’ll talk about doin’ more when you wake.”

 

“No. I want to know about McKay. How’s he doing?” said John stubbornly.

 

“He is lucky we found him when we did. We’d been searching for several days.”

 

“What took so long?”

 

Flashing Sheppard an exasperated look, Carson explained, “In case you didn’t notice there were several inhabited cities on the planet. We had no idea where you were. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.  We started with those closest to the gate.  Good thing Rodney gave us a signal or we’d still be searching.”

 

John looked stunned. “What signal?”

 

“Rodney managed to construct a homing signal. I don’t know how but it worked,” said Carson.

 

As much as he hated to ask, John had to know. “How bad was he?”

 

“He had two very serious beatings. The first one broke his fingers, his ribs and probably caused the internal bleeding. The last beating aggravated those injuries.”  Carson wasn’t going to elaborate on that beating or mention the rape. “Those two alone were bad enough, the others were only meant to keep him in line.”

 

Sheppard paled. “Others?”

 

“Well I can’t be certain until he wakes up, but it looks like he was beaten throughout the time they held him. The early bruising isn’t as serious but I’m sure it hurt just the same.”

 

Stunned and a little confused, John questioned Carson, “So you’re saying they beat on him before they broke his ribs and his fingers.”

 

“Aye, that bruising is pretty distinct, as is the last one. The previous bruising is faded so we can say with some certainty that it was more than the two times Teyla and Ronon were aware of.”

 

“He didn’t say anything about it,” said John quietly, the implications of Carson’s findings screaming at him for his stupidity. He could still hear Rodney insisting that any ultimatum for food would only lead to personal injury.  John had jumped all over the scientist, insisting he was thinking only of himself and they wouldn’t hurt him. Sinking into his pillow, John crossed his forearm over his eyes, wishing he could block out the despair he suddenly recognized in Rodney’s voice when he’d finally agreed to face his captors.  He knew then that they’d beat him but he’d done it anyway.  Why?

 

The Colonel slammed a frustrated fist into the mattress. Rodney had done it because John hadn’t listened or given him any choice.  He’d uttered two words that he knew would stop any further argument…trust me.  And Rodney did.

 

************

 

The voices drifted, getting louder and clearer as time passed. It was hard to say how long, but the voices changed each time he tried to find his way out of the darkness and dreams. 

 

“I’ll only let you go if you promise to eat, Colonel. You’ve lost weight you could ill afford to lose.” Rodney decided that was Carson speaking, the accent a dead giveaway.  He listened absently, too tired to move.

 

John bit back sarcastically, “Yeah, starvation does that. How come you aren’t harping on Teyla or Ronon?”

 

“They are eating to their normal standards and are well within their weight range,” said Carson.  “Unfortunately, you are the one that suffered the most from the weight loss.”

 

The voices continued, brushing the edge of Rodney’s consciousness.

 

“What about McKay?”

 

“Aye, he lost weight but he had some to lose.  He was more in danger from the hypoglycemia than losing pounds.”

 

“But they were feeding him.”

 

“Well, he wasn’t fed much judging by the weight he lost. I’d venture to say that he was pretty miserable most of the time from the low blood sugar alone,” said Carson, keeping his face neutral as he considered how much affect the rape alone would have had on Rodney.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“His blood sugar was dangerously low when we found him. If they were feeding him, it was only enough to keep him alive. My guess would be once a day and for Rodney that is like being starved. After six or seven hours he was probably feeling the effects. The more time passed the worse he felt. Headache, nausea, shakiness then he would begin feel lightheaded, fuzzy, less able to think clearly.”  Carson continued, “He probably went through the same cycle each day.”

 

“Why didn’t he say something?”

 

“And what good would it have done, Colonel?”

 

“Damn it, Carson. He let them beat him and then went back for more so the rest of us could eat. What the hell was he thinking?”

 

Carson had no idea how to answer that, because Rodney still hadn’t woken and he hated to think about why he’d been raped and what he thought about at the time. “He probably wasn’t. Between the low blood sugar and pain, he was reacting to very basic needs and what his subconscious was telling him was the right thing to do. We found him in the middle of a hallway trying to get to the rest of you.  He had food and medicine and could have escaped with the guards gone. Instead he tried to get to where you were being held, literally crawling until he couldn’t anymore.”

 

“Damn stupid fool.” John turned on his heels and fled the infirmary.

 

In the corner of the infirmary where Rodney lay feigning sleep, his fingers loosened around a small medicine bag. It slid from his grasp to the floor.

 

Chapter Seven

 

It was four days before Rodney really woke up enough to actually be considered awake and another three days before he managed to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time.  Thankfully the week of sleep had done wonders for the pain and healing and even though he sported a multitude of bruises, splinted fingers and bound ribs, he was doing better than he had been, at least physically.

 

Opening his eyes, Rodney fought back a groan as he shifted higher on the bed. Teyla’s voice at his bedside made him turn his head, “How are you feeling, Doctor?”

 

Lifting his hand, the weight of it surprised him and his eyes were drawn to his splinted fingers and bruised hands.  It took him a few seconds to realize they really didn’t hurt all that much anymore and he answered, “Umm…better, I think.”

 

“That is good to hear. We have been very worried,” said Teyla, smiling.

 

“Some less than others,” huffed Rodney, softly. Even being out of it for several days, he hadn’t missed that Sheppard had been noticeably absent from his bedside.

 

Well aware of the Colonel’s absence, Teyla changed the subject.  “Ronon brought you some chocolate.”

 

Turning enough to see it, Rodney didn’t bother reaching for it. He hadn’t had much of an appetite lately. “Why?”

 

Teyla shrugged, a small smile gracing her face, “I believe it is his way of repaying the favor.”

 

Clearly confused, Rodney frowned. “What favor?”

 

“You supplied us with much needed food during our imprisonment, Rodney,” explained Teyla, her voice conveying her sincerity.

 

Rodney sighed, “Too little, too late.” 

 

*******

 

Carson had tried to bring up the rape, but Rodney adamantly refused to acknowledge it even occurred.  Even Heightmeyer couldn’t get him to budge and with no other recourse, they had to let it go. Neither was convinced.  

 

Rodney wasn’t about to admit to it. It was a lot easier to deny it happened than deal with the fallout. Finding out that they’d been rescued before he could deliver the medicine made his sacrifice a lot less noble. The only good thing that had happened was he was too drugged to care those first few days when Carson treated the worst of it. By the time he woke up, it was all but healed and even a final examination of the area was done when he was too groggy to notice. It made putting it out of his mind a lot easier.

 

Later in the day, Ronon appeared with his lunch tray. The man had said very little, focusing instead on making sure Rodney had whatever he needed. Finding out that the scientist wasn’t eating as he should, Ronon took matters into his own hands and began showing up at mealtimes with his own tray of food and would sit with Rodney while they ate.  For some reason, Rodney didn’t feel so guilty about eating with Ronon there. He just happened to be visiting when Elizabeth, Radek and Sheppard all appeared shortly after lunch.   Rodney vaguely remembered that both Elizabeth and Radek had been at his bedside a few times when he’d woken earlier in the week, but he couldn’t recall once having seen the Colonel there. 

 

He once thought of them as friends, but after the mishap on Doranda he wasn’t so sure what to believe anymore and he was in no mood to be having any kind of meaningful conversation with any of them.  His feelings were too close to the surface and the last thing he needed was another reminder of his flaws and failures.  John’s absence the past week made it all the more unsettling.  Rodney could only imagine what the Colonel was thinking about their latest mission.  He was grateful that Carson hadn’t made the rape public knowledge. Rodney wasn’t sure he could’ve dealt with Sheppard knowing the truth.

 

Ronon grabbed their trays and made a silent goodbye as the others gathered around the bed. Searching their faces for some clue to their presence, all Rodney could see was the awkwardness they were obviously feeling. Well, except for the Colonel, who refused to make any sort of eye contact. Rodney wasn’t all that surprised.  He’d let him down despite his best intentions. Teyla and Ronon had forgiven him, John was obviously not so inclined if his absence the previous days was any indication.

 

On his guard, Rodney interrupted their discomfort, hoping for the emotional advantage, “If this is where you tell me that I messed up again, then save your breath. I already figured that part out myself.”  Head up and expression firm, Rodney couldn’t take his eyes off the sling supporting Sheppard’s arm.

 

Their shocked looks were broken by Elizabeth, “You did nothing wrong, Rodney. We came to see how you’re doing.”

 

Rodney stared at their expectant faces in disbelief. The silence grew awkward when he didn’t respond. What exactly did they want to hear from him?

 

Pushing up his glasses, it was Radek that finally spoke, “This is where you answer, I am doing better, thank you for asking.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why what?” stated Radek, puzzled by McKay’s confused expression.

 

Shifting, Rodney sat up straighter, ignoring the stab in his side as he glared at them. He could feel the heat rising in his face and he answered defensively, “Why do you care?”  The shock of his comment registered on their faces in a combination of confusion, hurt and then guilt.

 

Elizabeth reddened, surprised by Rodney’s question, “You’re our friend. We’re concerned about you.”

 

Rodney snorted sarcastically, wincing at the discomfort it caused, “Yes of course, how could I not know that. You treated me like a leper for weeks and suddenly because I’m hurt we are all friends again.  Obviously I missed an important step in there.” Agitated, his breathing increased and it pulled at his ribs.  Their stunned looks with mouths agape only gave him more fuel. “If I hadn’t been hurt, how long were you going to make me suffer, a few more weeks, a month… forever?” The last word was said with contempt.

 

Rodney’s face was red and his breathing labored when Carson appeared, having heard the commotion. One look at McKay and he reached out to help, trying to ease him back onto the bed. “You need to calm down, Rodney.”

 

Clearly agitated, Rodney pushed away Carson’s hands as he scooted back out of reach, and practically shouted, “I will not calm down!” He glowered at the others, his splinted hands moving of their own accord as he vented his anger, loudly, “You come in here claiming you’re my friends but where were you three weeks ago. No one saw fit to see how I was doing then.”  Rodney shouted, his hardened gaze glued to Sheppard as he continued, “I know I screwed up. I know you were mad and you had every right to be, but I apologized.”

 

When no one said a word, only stared at him in shock, including John, Rodney seemed to lose the tight control he had on the whole situation. He no longer addressed Elizabeth or Radek and all his internal turmoil was focused on John. “I did all I could to get your trust back and it meant nothing. You made me go back. You said to trust you. Well I did and it was for nothing. NOTHING! I tried to help. I tried to get food, medicine. I let that bastard Toban r…”

In his vehemence, Rodney began coughing, gasping for air.  Carson reached out once again, settling his hands on Rodney’s chest and began to gently push him back onto the bed.  Rodney wanted no part of it and struggled against his efforts, trying to bat at Carson’s hands. Sheppard and Radek both tried to help as the scientist fought the doctor’s attempts to calm him. Rodney was becoming more frantic, his voice rising sharply in panic as he rasped out harshly, “And stop touching me!”

 

His hands pushed them away as he pressed into the bed to get out of their grasp. Rodney gasped between breaths, pleading desperately, his voice high and strained, “Don’t… touch… me!”

 

Seeing the genuine fear in Rodney’s eyes, Carson raised his hands away and backed off, pushing the other hands away in the process. This was not the time for Rodney to have a flashback, not with everyone gathered to witness it.  “It’s alright, Rodney. No one is goin’ to touch you, but you need to calm down.”  Rodney was sucking for air, the pain in his eyes a clear indication that breathing was becoming difficult. He only relaxed a little when they backed away, giving him more room, but the distress was still there.

 

Carson reached for the oxygen mask as Rodney gasped for air. Rodney’s eyes darted nervously between each of them, stopping on the Colonel’s face.  He saw concern and something he couldn’t identify.  Accepting the mask Carson offered, Rodney took a couple of breaths and warily let the doctor help him lie back on the bed, his breathing still very painful and shallow.  Closing his eyes for a few seconds while he took in some precious air, he opened them to the concerned expressions of the others.

 

His anger fled and he sighed wearily, “Forget it. You can all go back to pretending you’re my friends and we can all live happily ever after.”

 

Sheppard stepped closer and reached out hesitantly to touch McKay’s arm, “We are your friends, you know?”

 

Unconvinced, Rodney shrugged his arm away and rolled to his side with a pained sigh, “I’m tired.”

 

Carson, seeing Rodney’s distress over the whole situation, motioned towards the door to the others, “He needs to rest.”   He began administering a sedative to Rodney’s IV, hoping it would calm him down.

 

They all turned to leave, but not before Elizabeth gave Carson a pointed look of concern. All Carson could do was shrug. Rodney obviously wasn’t dealing with the situation as well as he thought he was. Dr. Weir had also heard Rodney’s almost slip, telling them both that he did indeed remember what happened on Kormok.

 

In the hallway, Radek wisely slunk away when John cornered Elizabeth in a stern voice, “You want to tell me what the hell that was all about?” 

 

“You were there. You know as much as I do,” said Elizabeth, her face betraying nothing. 

 

“That’s bullshit, Elizabeth and you know it. You and Carson know more than you’re saying. Why did he react like that?”  His arm gestured to the infirmary and what had taken place there. John must have seen the look that she’d given, and sensed that something was going on with Rodney that they weren’t telling him.

 

Elizabeth crossed her arms, relying on her diplomacy skills to get through this conversation, “I’m sorry, John, but I’m not at liberty to tell you. It’s between Rodney and his doctor. I have to respect patient-doctor confidentiality.”

 

Colonel Sheppard was glaring fiercely at her and she fought the urge to step back as he growled, “He’s on my team.”

 

“I understand that but there is nothing I can say. If you want to know you will have to ask Rodney.” With that she walked away, hoping he wouldn’t follow. It was difficult not to tell him the truth, knowing if anyone could help Rodney it would be Sheppard. They were at one time best friends and Rodney needed that now more than anything. She only hoped that John wouldn’t give up.

 

Sheppard watched her walk off, his rage barely contained as his hand clenched into a fist. Seeing Rodney shaking in fear and screaming at them was unsettling.  McKay could rant with the best of them and there was no escaping his sharp tongue, but this was different. There was terror in his eyes as they’d tried to help and their attempt to console him had fallen flat. Their closeness had made things worse, not better.  The bond of friendship had been broken and Rodney no longer trusted them.

 

Rodney was perfectly justified in his reaction considering the way they’d treated him before being injured. What was disturbing was the vehemence in his words and the deep down hurt that they’d caused him by denying him the same consideration they’d have expected from friends. Once again, John felt as if he’d let his friend down.

 

Sitting heavily into a nearby chair, he stared at the infirmary door for several minutes before lurching to his feet with a new determination.  Radek…Radek could help him do what he needed to do.  It would take some convincing, but Radek was Rodney’s friend and between the two of them they should be able to sneak into the files and find out what Carson and Elizabeth were hiding.

 

Chapter Eight

 

John walked blindly down the halls, his mind on Rodney.  All he could think of was his earlier conversation with Carson and Rodney’s verbal attack in the infirmary.

 

 He’d forced McKay to confront their captors for food, using words he knew would get results.  Rodney had tried to tell him that it would end badly, but John let his anger and frustration blind him to anything Rodney was saying. It hurt more than he thought possible knowing that Rodney had taken a beating, one that he knew he’d get before even asking for the food. And it was all made worse when the damn man did it again…for him.  Rodney had gone back for more food despite having been beaten once for doing just that. 

 

It was bad enough he’d ignored his friend in the days following the Arcturus incident but everything since the mission was slowly eating away at him.  He couldn’t blame Rodney for anything he said in the infirmary. He knew it was directed at him more so than the others and he deserved it. Deserved Rodney’s contempt. Rather than show him some support during his recovery he’d vanished, letting his own guilt consume him. Not very good friend material and Rodney had finally snapped and called him on it.

 

John shifted his arm in the sling, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. It was still sore when he moved it just wrong.  It was minor compared to Rodney’s injuries. Another grim reminder of his lame efforts to protect his friend.

 

He’d never expected the Kormaks to shoot him, but then he hadn’t expected them to beat Rodney for asking for food either. He’d underestimated his captors a second time and hadn’t been unable to stop Rodney from going back, even after he promised he wouldn’t have to.  It was a promise he shouldn’t have made but at the time he’d have done anything to soothe Rodney’s fears. Holding the trembling man as he tried to sleep brought up feelings John had tried to bury after their friendship went to hell, feelings that both men had barely begun to acknowledge, let alone discuss or act on. 

 

Arguing for Rodney’s freedom when the enemy had guns probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.  Getting shot only made the situation worse and left Rodney with little choice but to go back to work. There was no way McKay would stand by and watch the others get hurt if he could prevent it. As much as the man bitched and moaned about personal injury, he didn’t hesitate when it came to his teammates. John should have known that, should have trusted Rodney enough to know that he was doing all he could even before John had made him feel like a heel about it.

 

The soldier was supposed to be the one protecting the scientist, not the other way around. John’s trust in Rodney had been damaged by the Arcturus incident, but he’d let his own mistrust guide his actions. By not trusting Rodney, he lost his friend’s trust in the process. How could Rodney trust him when he couldn’t even protect him on a mission? Rodney had done everything in his power for his teammates and John had missed it, denied that the scientist was capable of doing the right thing.

 

John should have stayed in the infirmary with Rodney. Should have found out what was bothering him so much that he didn’t want any of them even close to him.  Deep down he was afraid of what he’d discover. 

 

Still, he had to know and maybe going in the back door would shed some light on the whole thing with Rodney and make some sense of it. He hoped that looking in McKay’s medical file would at least give him some leverage in helping Rodney through whatever was bothering him. He’d spent too much time wallowing in his own guilt, it was time to suck it up and do right by his friend.

 

Entering the labs, he found Dr. Zelenka, glasses in hand and rubbing his eyes tiredly. Sensing a presence, the man slipped his glasses on and looked up. “Colonel. I did not hear you come in. Is there something I can do for you?”

 

“You look like shit, Doc,” said Sheppard as he wandered into the lab. He sat on the edge of a nearby desk.

 

Radek shot him a look and deadpanned, “Yes, almost as good as you.”

 

“Yeah well, I haven’t been at my best lately,” said John, not bothering to hide the meaning in his words.

 

“It would seem none of us have, Colonel,” sighed Radek. He added quietly, “I only hope that we have a second chance.”  The tone of voice and grim expression drew a concerned look from Sheppard.

 

“That’s why I’m here. I need your help,” said Sheppard.

 

Radek frowned. “My help?”

 

“Yeah, I need you to hack into McKay’s file. Find out what they’re hiding. Something is going on with him and I need to know what it is.”

 

Shaking his head, Radek replied, “I do not think that is wise, Colonel.”

 

“Why not? You saw how he was.”

 

“Yes, Colonel, I saw,” sighed Radek, pushing up his glasses as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

 

“Well?” Sheppard was beginning to get impatient and worried about Radek’s reluctance to say anything and it showed.

 

“I do not think you want to know and I could be mistaken,” said Radek, unable to look Sheppard in the eye. He turned his chair and tried to focus on his laptop.

 

Sheppard gritted his teeth, his patience wearing thin. Something was going on and he was being kept out of the loop. He stepped up over desk and leaned over the top of the computer Radek was blankly staring at. “I’ll take my chances. You either tell me or you can help me hack into the file. Either way I’m gonna find out.”  His tone left no room for argument.

 

Pushing his chair back, Radek stared at Sheppard, before releasing a heavy sigh, “When I was younger, my uncle was imprisoned for going against government. He came to live with my family after his release and would not allow anyone close to him. If anyone tried to touch him he reacted much like Rodney does.” Radek hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck where the sweat was gathering.

 

“Why?” It was the only response John could utter as he kept the tremble out of his voice. He could feel the cold, clamminess of fear build on his skin and the tightening of muscles as they tensed, ready for the worst.

 

Radek lifted his head slowly, looking Sheppard in the eye as he answered, his own anguish evident, “He was raped.”

 

John paled and as his stomach started to roil, he pointed sharply at Zelenka’s computer. “Open his file.”

 

Shaking his head, Radek didn’t move. “Please, Colonel, I could be wrong. I do not think we should do this.”

 

“Open it!” John demanded sternly, his body taut and ready, but barely held in check as he stared at the scientist.

 

Blowing out a breath, Radek scooted his chair closer to the desk and adjusted the laptop. “I only do this because I know you are concerned for Rodney. If he finds out we have done this he will not be very happy. In fact I predict much screaming and shouting.”

 

“So we don’t tell him,” said Sheppard, not really convinced that if what Zelenka was saying was true he would be able to act as if he didn’t know. He still hoped the man was wrong and there was something else responsible for Rodney’s behavior.  If it was true, then…oh god, he didn’t even want to think about it. His guilt was pressing in on him as it was. This…this would…he wasn’t going to think about it.

 

It was then that Radek paled and reaching out for the laptop, slowly turned it so John could read it. He didn’t need to. The look on Radek’s face confirmed it. His stomach chose that moment to rebel and rushing to the lab sink, threw up until the dry heaves had him gasping for a breath.  A cool rag brushed his neck as he leaned onto the counter, his trembling knees threatening to send him crashing to the floor.  He saved himself the spectacular fall and slid down to the floor, cradling his head in his hand.

 

Radek dropped down beside him and said softly, “I am sorry, Colonel.”

 

John lifted his head and let it fall back on the cabinet behind him, his eyes closed. His voice wavered as he spoke and was filled with recrimination, “I should have stopped him. Shouldn’t have let them take him.”

 

“You could not know they would do this. I’m sure Rodney knows this.”

 

Opening his eyes, John looked down again, unable to meet Radek’s gaze. “I didn’t trust him to do the right thing. I kept pushing him to get us food.” He shook his head, disgusted with himself, “I let him go back after they beat him the first time. I was afraid if I didn’t they would shoot Teyla or Ronon. I put them ahead of him, because I was so sure they wouldn’t kill him.”  

 

Drawing up his knees, Radek spoke quietly, “And they didn’t, Colonel. Yes, he was raped but that is better than being dead.”

 

“Tell that to Rodney,” huffed Sheppard.

 

“I plan to,” answered Radek then added cautiously, “if it comes up.” 

 

His response got John’s attention, who realized that the scientist was taking the practical approach, not unsurprising really. Radek was one of the few that could talk to McKay on a personal level and not get his head ripped off. Usually he gave as good as he got. “So I take it you aren’t mad at him any more.”

 

“Are you?”

 

John shook his head. “More angry with myself.”

 

“You should not blame yourself, Colonel. You have no control over the actions of people with no conscience.”

 

“It’s not that,” sighed John, shifting his shoulder as he tried to find a more comfortable position on the floor. “He apologized after the accident, a real honest to god apology and I couldn’t forgive him. I was so pissed off that I threw it back in his face and told him he’d have to work at gaining my trust back. Everything he did on that planet was him trying to do that and I treated him like shit. They were beating him from the start and I sent him back into the lions den, and he went with his head down and his tail between his legs.” In frustration, Sheppard pounded his head into the wall a few times, “What kind of friend does that? I wanted to see him suffer and I held my trust over his head like a fucking carrot. Just out of reach.”

 

“I don’t think any of us are too proud of how we treated him, Colonel. I was angry too, but for different reasons.”

 

“You mean other than him telling you that you didn’t understand it on the same level he did?”

 

“Which is true of course, but that is not why I was angry with him. He is smarter than anyone I have ever met and has great faith in his abilities.  It can be very intimidating.”

 

“I can’t imagine you being intimidated by McKay,” said Sheppard, knowing Radek was one of the few, beside himself, who did not back down from Rodney’s daunting personality. 

 

“Personally, no. Intellectually, yes…sometimes.  I should have argued for more testing or at least tried to reason with him more. I thought perhaps I had missed something. It is rare, but it has happened and I second guessed myself that day. I was angry because he made me doubt myself and I took it out on him, just as we all did.”  Radek stopped and looked at Sheppard. “Rodney is my friend, probably the best friend I have here. He was right to get angry with us.  If he had not gotten hurt, I would not have realized how much I would have missed him and would have continued to ignore him.”  Hesitating, Radek sighed as his eyes grew distant, contemplating the possibilities. “It does not make me a very good friend, so you are not alone in guilt department, Colonel.”

 

“How do we fix it?” asked Sheppard, wondering if it was even fixable.

 

Radek shrugged. Standing up, he reached out a hand to help the Colonel to his feet “Perhaps you should tell him what you have told me and I will do the same. He is smart man, maybe he will understand.”

 

John took the offered hand and stood. He didn’t want to think about the rape, but at least Radek had helped him realize some truths and he felt like he had a starting place to get back what he’d lost.  Turning to leave, Sheppard dropped his hand on Radek’s back, “Thanks, Doc.”

 

“Is no problem. I hope you can help him. You and he are…” Radek paused, clearly considering his next words carefully.  “You are good for each other. Do not let this stand in your way.”

 

Taken aback, John stuttered, “Umm…we’re just friends.”

 

“More than friends I think. I won’t ask and you do not have to tell me.” He hesitated briefly, then said sincerely, “I think it is good thing even if you do not tell me.”

 

John shrugged sheepishly, “I gotta go. Thanks for the help.”

 

Radek smiled, “You are welcome.”

 

Making his way back to the infirmary, John tried to sit with Rodney, but Carson was playing doctor, insisting he return to his quarters to rest.  He probably could have fought it, but the pain lines in his brow were the killer and Carson wasn’t taking no for an answer. 

 

His conscience was only eased by the fact that Carson insisted that Rodney was down for the count and wouldn’t be awake for quite some time.  The sedative, in combination with the exertion, had taken their toll on the scientist. Beckett made a point of saying he didn’t want to see John before morning.

 

Returning to his room, John drifted into an uneasy sleep, his dreams littered with images of Rodney.

 

“Tell them you won’t work unless they hand over some food.”

 

 “Oh right, Colonel. Before or after they beat me to death?”

 

“Would you listen to yourself?  They aren’t going to hurt you. They need you.”

 

“I’ll be lucky if they don’t kill me.”

 

“God McKay, all you ever think of is yourself. In case you haven’t noticed we are starving here.”

 

“Trust me…

 

“We found him in the middle of a hallway trying to get to the rest of you.  He had food and medicine and could have escaped with the guards gone. Instead he tried to get to where you were being held, literally crawling until he couldn’t anymore.”

 

 “I did all I could to get your trust back and it meant nothing. You made me go back. You said to trust you. Well I did and it was for nothing. NOTHING! I tried to help. I tried to get food, medicine. I let that bastard r…”

 

John jerked awake, soaked to the skin and gasping for air.  A sob escaped as it all fell into place. Rodney had let Toban rape him for the damn medicine.

 

Chapter Nine

 

John arrived at the infirmary the next morning as Radek was leaving. Judging by the smile on the scientist’s face, things had gone well with his apology to Rodney.  Unfortunately, John wasn’t so lucky because Rodney refused to speak to him.  That wouldn’t have been so bad if Rodney had displayed some anger or frustration or even hurt as John offered his own apology, but all he did was roll over and close his eyes, completely shutting him out.  When Carson arrived, Rodney calmly asked that he not have any more visitors.

 

Sheppard tried arguing, but Carson practically dragged him into the hall. Shrugging from his grasp, John glared at him and tried to go back. “Look, I just want to talk to him.”

 

Carson planted his hand firmly in the middle of the Colonel’s chest. “He doesn’t want to see you. Unlike some, I respect my patient’s wishes.”

 

“What does that mean?” growled Sheppard, pushing against Carson’s hand.

 

“I know what you did. I also know you couldn’t have done it alone. I’d put money on Radek,” said Carson, truly angry at Sheppard. “What the two of did violated Rodney’s privacy.”

 

“I just wanted…”

 

Carson cut him off, “I don’t care about what you wanted, Colonel. You hacked into his medical file and took information I’m very sure he wouldn’t want you to know about. How do you think Rodney is goin’ to feel when he finds that out? As hard as he’s trying to forget it happened I don’t think he’s goin’ to be too happy with you knowin’.”

 

“I wasn’t planning on telling him. I just wanted to know why he acted the way he did.” John looked at Carson, his voice quiet, “I just want to be there for him. Is that too much to ask?”

 

Sighing, Carson answered, his eyes apologetic despite his words. “I’m sorry, Colonel. Rodney doesn’t want you in there and I won’t go against him. Not on this. He’s coping with it the only way he knows how and if that means keepin’ you away than I have to respect that.  Right now he’s in no condition to deal with much more than getting better physically. I’ve no doubt the other will come with time. I’ve asked Kate to come by and see him later today and maybe with what happened yesterday, he’ll talk to her.”

 

“So what am I supposed to do until then, just sit around and let him think I don’t care?”

 

Carson closed his eyes briefly, opening them as he turned to leave, “You already did that, Colonel, when you didn’t visit him all week.”

 

John watched Carson reenter the infirmary and drifted closer to the door, his eyes finding Rodney’s bed. He watched as Carson stood at his bedside, the two of them talking. It should have been him in there talking to Rodney.  His guilt gnawed at him and it wasn’t going to get better until he had a chance to talk to Rodney, make him understand that none of what happened was his fault.  John knew it wouldn’t be easy. Rodney could be stubborn to a fault and he’d already made it very obvious that he wanted little to do with him.  Considering what they almost had a one point, it made the hurt that much worse. 

 

*********

 

It was three days before Rodney was finally released to his room. Three days that John paced the hall outside the infirmary, roamed the depths of Atlantis late into the night and agonized over how to approach Rodney if and when he got the chance.  He was beginning to regret hacking into the files. Not because he found out about the rape, but rather the way it would appear to Rodney. He’d once again betrayed the man’s trust.  Even if John never gave himself away, he knew he’d have to eventually tell Rodney what he’d done. He promised himself it was time to be honest with Rodney and hacking into his medical file wasn’t the most honest way to win back the scientist’s friendship. 

 

John found Rodney shortly after he settled in his room, but was quickly dismissed with an exhausted frown. “Please, just leave me alone.”

 

“I just want to talk.” John hated that he was practically whining, but at the moment he was ready to beg.

 

“Well I don’t want to talk to you. I think we covered it,” said Rodney as he got up and trudged to his dresser for some clothes. Picking something out, he headed towards the bathroom to shower.  He looked over his shoulder at Sheppard. “Why are you still here?”

 

Without thinking, John stepped closer and put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder as he turned away. “Just give me a second, would you?”

 

Rodney reacted, jerking away from John’s grasp. “Don’t!” 

 

Even through Rodney’s shirt, John could feel him trembling and pulled his hand away, angry at himself for the slight. He should have known better than to touch the man, he just wanted to talk to Rodney before he escaped. “Sorry,” said John, sympathetically. “Look, Rodney I just need to say some things. I was wrong, okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. Everything you did on that planet was you trying to earn my trust when you never should have had to do that.”

 

Rodney stared then shook his head, almost amused, but the sadness still lingered in his eyes. “You have no idea.”  He seemed to go blank then, lost in thought for a second or two.

 

“I do,” said John softly.

 

“No. You. Don’t,” blurted Rodney, his anger resurfacing.

 

John hesitated, unsure what to do. He could admit he knew about the rape and face Rodney’s wrath or back off and risk Rodney pushing even further from him. Taking a deep breath, he made the decision. “I know that Toban raped you and I know you did it to get me the medicine.”

 

“You don’t know…” Rodney’s eyes widened and his face lost all color as he realized what John was saying. The despair and mortification John saw briefly was quickly replaced with a fury he’d never seen in Rodney’s features before, not even in the infirmary.  Rodney pointed to the door, “Haven’t you heard of fucking privacy. If I wanted YOU to know I would have told you. NOW, GET OUT! I don’t need your fucking pity.” 

 

Being pushed towards the door, John twisted away but had to grab for Rodney as he lost his balance at the sudden move.  Holding Rodney in his arms jolted John more than he imagined it would and for a brief moment he was sure Rodney felt it too. The rightness of it only lasted a second before Rodney erupted, his arms flailing as he struggled to get away.  John tried to reach out, hold him and make it better, but Rodney was panicking, his breath coming in fast pants as he glared at Sheppard, “OUT! Just get out. I don’t want this. I don’t want you. I want you to leave. NOW!”

 

“Damn it, Rodney. Why won’t you let me help you?”

 

 “Because it doesn’t mean anything. I tried you, bastard, and you didn’t want anything to do with me.” Rodney‘s face filled with rage as he shouted at John, “I let you in again and the next time will only be worse. I don’t need you and you made it pretty clear you didn’t need me. Leave!”

 

John was shaking now, afraid of letting go of his last chance to make Rodney see the truth, “Please, Rodney. I know I treated you like shit and you have every right to be pissed, but can’t we fix this? I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry for everything I did and how I treated you. I’m sorry for everything I said to you on the planet. I was wrong.”  Desperate, John reached into his pocket and pulled out the medicine bag. He shoved it towards Rodney, “This…this is what you did for me. I know that, Rodney. I know you let Toban rape you for the medicine. You think I can just let that go?”

 

Snatching it out of John’s hand, Rodney’s jaw clenched tightly. “Where did you get this?”

 

“Ronon found it in the infirmary and said I should have it,” shrugged John.

 

“It wasn’t any of his business or yours,” seethed Rodney, tossing the bag away in his anger. Rodney’s whole body was shaking now with anger, or pain, or both.  One arm wrapped his ribs, so John knew that Rodney was hurting, but the man refused to acknowledge it. Instead he glared at John, his body sweating and swaying from the exertion and his breathing getting worse.

 

Concerned, John tried to stir him towards the bed, “You need to sit down before you fall down.”

 

Backing up, as John moved closer, Rodney was breathing heavily. He held his splinted hands defensively, his eyes pleading, “Can you just back off? I need some space. I haven’t a moment to myself since I got back from the planet.” He swiped his forearm across his sweaty brow, “I just want to be left alone. Is that too much to ask? I need a shower…” The back of his knees hit the bed and he sank, his voice faltering as the fight went out of him, “…I need to sit down.”   His breathing still labored, Rodney looked exhausted, physically and mentally. 

 

John wanted to sit beside him, take him in his arms and somehow make it better, but Rodney was still eyeing him cautiously.  Instead he backed off, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “Sorry. I just want to fix this. I hate that we can’t get back to where we were.”

 

Dejected, Rodney shook his head, “There’s nothing to fix because I can’t go through that again.” His look was one of utter despair as he muttered, “I can’t.” Grabbing his clothes, Rodney hurried into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. 

 

Staring at the closed door, John was almost glad he was alone.  He was sure his face showed all the pain and hurt he was feeling as Rodney turned his back and walked away.  Of all the things he imagined when he’d come to talk to McKay, this wasn’t one of the worst case scenarios, although now it really was the worst.   He imagined anger and screaming, maybe even outright rejection, but the total despair in Rodney’s face when he said he couldn’t do it any more tore at John’s heart.  Seeing Rodney hurt this way was even worse than holding his battered body that night on the planet.  And he only had himself to blame because he’d put that look on Rodney’s face…the one that said I don’t trust you not to rip out my heart again.

 

John debated staying, being there when Rodney returned or leaving as Rodney had asked. In the end he walked away, giving Rodney the time and solitude he needed.

 

Chapter 10

 

He tried to keep busy. Tried to give Rodney the space he needed, but John still found himself wandering the corridor outside McKay’s room at odd hours. It had only been a two days and Rodney still hid out, only letting Teyla or Ronon in and only because they insisted he eat.

 

It was late when John got the call. One of his men passing by McKay’s room heard a racket and when it didn’t stop, he’d called Colonel Sheppard. Now John was running full tilt through Atlantis, his heart pounding and not from exercise. He passed Carson and then Heightmeyer on the way. Rounding the corner near Rodney’s quarters, he saw Zelenka and a couple of his own men staring nervously at the door. 

 

Skidding to a halt he asked, “What’s going on?” John flinched away from the door when a loud crash came from inside Rodney’s room. 

 

Radek nodded toward the door. “That is what is happening.”

 

Without hesitating, John thought ‘open’. When the door didn’t respond he backed away and snapped at Radek, “Open it.”

 

“I will need some tools,” said the scientist, hesitant to leave.

 

Another something hit the door and Sheppard growled at Radek, “Go!” 

 

“Yes, yes I am going.” Radek hurried away.

 

John turned to his men, “You can go.” They didn’t need to witness Rodney’s meltdown.

 

“Yes, sir.” Neither man argued, grateful to get away from their commanding officer.

 

Facing the door, John grabbed the door frame and pressed his forehead into the door, “Open the door, Rodney.”  Something loud hit the inside of the door, making John jump and he cursed loudly, “Damn it, McKay, open the fucking door or I swear to God I’ll break it down.”

 

Another crash came from within and John reached up to pound on the door.  Kate Heightmeyer’s voice came from behind him, ‘Colonel.”

 

He ignored her and continued pounding on the door, yelling at Rodney to open the door.

 

“COLONEL SHEPPARD!”

 

John turned on her sharply and barked, “WHAT?!”  Seeing her flinch at his brusque tone, he felt badly and sighed, “I’m sorry. What do you want?”

 

Squaring her shoulders in an effort to regain some confidence she spoke, “I think you should wait before you try barging in on Rodney.”

 

Staring as if she’d grown two heads, he questioned, “In case you didn’t notice he’s tearing up his room.”

 

“I know what he’s doing, Colonel and I think he needs this,” said Heightmeyer.

 

John was thinking she was absolutely nuts and was about to say so, when Carson cut him off with an explanation, “Rodney has been in denial. This is the first real reaction he’s had to the whole situation. I know it’s not ideal and frankly I’m worried he’s going to hurt himself but Kate and I both see this as therapeutic. At least he isn’t denying it and after he’s done being angry maybe we can help him.”

 

“So we just sit out here and wait until he runs down or hurts himself?” asked John, hiding the anxiety he was feeling at the thought of Rodney alone inside his room.  

 

Kate spoke up, “I know it’s difficult.”

 

Difficult didn’t begin to describe what John was feeling. Crossing his arms, he leaned against the door, getting as close as he could without appearing too obvious. If he’d been alone, he’d have his ear to the door, desperate for any sounds that came from within.  He closed his eyes, shutting down the sense of sight to concentrate on hearing. It didn’t help and when Elizabeth arrived, he was forced to open his eyes.  A quick update later and they were all listening intently for Rodney to stop his tirade, which didn’t show any sign of letting up.

 

Radek reappeared, out of breath.  He started right in on the door, only to be stopped by Sheppard’s hand on his arm. “Wait.”

 

Confused, Radek stopped, “Huh?”

 

Elizabeth explained, “Dr. Heightmeyer thinks it better if we let Rodney get this out of his system.”

 

Unconvinced, Radek looked at Sheppard for confirmation, who nodded briefly. There was no mistaking the conflict in the Colonel’s eyes that only Radek noticed before the mask fell back into place.  He addressed the scientist, “Do what you have to do to fix it. I want it open as soon as we have a go.”

 

Nodding, Radek set to work. As the others settled to wait, Sheppard sidled up to Radek and leaned close, his voice for the scientist alone, “I’m going in alone. Can you keep them out ‘til I’ve had a chance to talk to him?

 

Radek looked at John and gave him a barely discernable nod, then whispered back pointedly, “You have strong gene, Colonel. I’m sure if you lock the door, it will prove difficult to get in…even with my help.”

 

Going back to the door, John resisted the urge to pound on it.  Instead he turned his back and slid to the floor, listening for silence. Silence would mean that Rodney was finished and John could go in, do damage control.  He winced when the door at his back reverberated from the impact of something from within. Rodney was obviously well and truly pissed.  The others settled along the wall opposite, no one really sure what to say so they that sat in an uncomfortable silence…waiting. 

 

Glancing at his watch, John was shocked to discover it had only been fifteen minutes since his arrival. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.  Time passed with the occasional sound behind him.  Opening his eyes, he looked at his watch…seventeen minutes. At nineteen minutes no more sounds came from within Rodney’s room and John jumped to his feet, ready to go in.  He ordered Zelenka, “Open it.”

 

Radek turned to comply when Carson jerked to his feet, “Wait.”  Stopping, Radek looked at Sheppard for direction.

 

John glared at Beckett, his hand clenched in a fist at his side. “I’m going in there.”

 

“I’m not saying you can’t, Colonel, but I think we should give him a little more time.” Carson paused and Kate supplied a reason, “He’s right. Rodney may need a few minutes after all that anger.” 

 

Joining them was Elizabeth’s final plea for John to wait. “Please, John, I know this is hard.,,

 

Cutting her off, John snapped, “No! Hard is sitting here knowing he’s having a meltdown in there and we are out here discussing it like it’s some temper tantrum.”  His arm gestured to the door, “He’s in there alone because he thinks he doesn’t have any friends he can go to. Well, no more!” John stormed to the door, shot a look at Radek and growled, “Open it.”

 

Radek didn’t hesitate and fiddled with the panel. John gave him a final look as he stepped inside and the door hissed shut behind him. He could hear a muted argument but tuned it out, assured that Radek would come through, allowing him this time with Rodney.

 

The room was bathed in heavy shadows and it took a few seconds for John’s eyes to adjust. The room was completely and thoroughly trashed. Glass, furniture, books and unidentifiable rubble littered the floor.  Dust settled, outlined in the light that filtered into the room with the setting sun. Nothing had been spared Rodney’s wrath. John’s heart raced, fear for Rodney paramount after seeing the destruction.  His eyes darted around the room, never settling until he found what he was seeking. There, in the corner, only the top of his head visible behind the overturned bed, sat Rodney. His back to the room, he seemed unaware of John’s presence.

 

Even in the pale light, John could see Rodney’s shoulders shaking, but oddly there was no sound. He called out quietly, his voice wary, “Rodney?”

 

Stepping closer, the sound of crunching glass alarmingly loud in the eerily quiet room made John stop.  Rodney heard too. Even from where he stood behind him, John could see the man raise his arm and with his sleeve, wipe his face. A raw and shattered voice followed, “Go away.”

 

“I can’t. Not this time,” said John with a wavering voice, his own eyes glistening.  Stepping through the debris and around the bed, he caught a better glimpse of Rodney.  He stopped in his tracks as Rodney sniffled and wiped away tears that continued to fall.

 

  Rodney sat on the floor, his shirt blotted with sweat, his hair damp with it.  His face was red, his eyes puffy and raw looking. Splinted fingers were dappled with blood, the tape and wrapping hanging haphazardly.  John could see Rodney’s chest rising and falling in heavy breaths as he continued to check for injury, ending in Rodney’s wounded bare feet, no doubt from the glass that lay scattered everywhere.

 

Nothing seemed life threatening and John buried the need to fix it immediately. It could wait. He stood watching Rodney compose himself, waiting for permission to stay. It never came but he wasn’t asked to leave either, so that was something or so he thought.

 

Rodney seemed embarrassed by his tears and dropped his head. “Please…leave.”

 

“I’m not leaving until I know what’s going on inside that genius brain of yours, Rodney.”

 

“Doom, despair, destruction,” sighed Rodney sullenly, his tears dissipating.

 

“I see the destruction and…despair.” John wasn’t sure if it hurt more seeing it written on Rodney’s face or admitting to it. He added quietly, hoping to keep the conversation going, “I don’t see the doom.”

 

 “You’re the doom,” said Rodney quietly.

 

“Ah,” grimaced John, not sure that was what he wanted to hear, but the change from despair to more Rodney was encouraging.  He stepped closer and eased himself to the floor, leaving a good foot between them. Rodney eyed him suspiciously but didn’t move away. John let go the breath he was holding and gave McKay a sideways glance.

 

“You’re bleeding,” said John, something to break the heavy silence.

 

Rodney slowly lifted his hands and glanced at his feet as if noticing the blood for the first time. He spoke quietly, barely a whisper, “They don’t… hurt.”

 

Surprised that he’d gotten a response, John kept it light, letting Rodney set the tone. “Adrenalin. It’ll pass.”

 

“Why do you care?” Rodney asked, his head down as he sniffled again.

 

Resisting the urge to reach out and touch, John took a deep breath and spoke from his heart, hoping to get through Rodney’s melancholy. “I care, Rodney. Maybe too much…” 

 

“You have an odd way of showing it.” There was no recrimination just fact, as if Rodney had lost all the will to fight.

 

“I know I handled everything badly. I’m not real proud of that, believe me. I got so pissed after Doranda and I took it out on you.”  He turned to Rodney, wishing he would look at him, but Rodney kept his head down. John didn’t miss the nervous twitch in Rodney’s fingers. “When you apologized…mentioned the trust thing, I grabbed for it. It gave me an excuse to avoid you. I was scared, Rodney. I was scared of what I was feeling and how much control it had over me. How much control you had over me.  It was never about trust.  God, Rodney I trust you with my life.”

 

Rodney’s breath hitched as he stammered, “I trusted you, you know…on Doranda. I needed you there. I trusted you to stop me… and you did. Though, in all honesty, I didn’t think it would be necessary.” His voice dropped and John could hear the anguish as he continued, “I didn’t mean to blow up a solar system. I didn’t think it would end that way. I didn’t think I’d lose so much.”  Rodney blinked rapidly willing back tears and John’s gut clenched. The hurt in Rodney’s voice was killing him.

 

Even afraid to know, John found himself asking, “What did you lose?”

 

“I lost everything. I lost my friends, their respect. I lost your trust in me.” Rodney paused, taking a deep breath to keep from sobbing, “I lost you.”

 

John twisted, getting up on his knees so he could face Rodney, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for pushing you away and making you think you had to earn my trust back. For making you think I didn’t care.” John’s voice cracked, “If I hadn’t, you never would have done what you did on the planet. If I could take it all back I would.” John slumped back on his haunches and muttered as he dropped his head, “Make it all go away.”

 

“It wasn’t just you,” said Rodney, his head lolling back on the bed as he closed his eyes. John lifted his head and watched a lone tear leak out and trace Rodney’s cheek. His hands gripped tightly to his pants to keep from reaching out and brushing it away.

 

Thinking of those still waiting outside, John spoke, “You have friends, Rodney. Right now they’re outside your door waiting to make sure you’re okay.”

 

“Humph.”

 

“I know we all handled Doranda badly, treated you like shit. We all know that and it took almost losing you for us to realize that. Friends don’t always do the right thing, but that doesn’t make them any less a friend, not when it’s all said and done. You’re my best friend and Radek’s and Carson’s.  Three people, Rodney. Three people that look at you as their best friend.”  

 

As if on cue, a knock came at the door, startling both men. John’s expression turned to frustration at the interruption and Rodney just paled.  Seeing it, John said softly, “Rodney?”

 

Rodney stared at him, eyes wide and on the verge of panic as he pleaded, actually reaching out to tug at John’s sleeve, “Don’t let them in. Please.”

 

The knock came again and Rodney was clearly on edge. John tried to reassure him. “They’re just concerned. I’ll just tell them you’re alright and send them away, okay?”

 

Nodding quickly, Rodney hunkered down behind the bed, trying to get out of sight. John might have laughed if it hadn’t been such a desperate need for privacy on Rodney’s part.  Starting towards the door, John stopped and asked tentatively, “Is it okay if I stay, so we can talk more?”

 

A slow nod later, John released the breath he was holding. He and Rodney had made some progress but they still hadn’t made any real mention of the rape. They still had a ways to go and John wasn’t willing to give up the chance to fix things if there was one.  Hurrying to the door, he used his body to block the entrance as he thought open. 

 

Chapter 11

 

Radek, Carson, Elizabeth and Kate were all standing on the other side of the door with anxious faces.  As soon as the door opened they tried to come in but John held them back, stepping into the hallway as they peered over his shoulder. He was grateful Teyla and Ronon had gone to the mainland. It meant two fewer people.

 

“How is doing?”

 

“Is he hurt?”

 

“Can we speak to him?”

 

John looked nervously over his shoulder and lowered his voice, “He’s okay. He just needs some time.”

 

“I’d like to speak with him, Colonel?” said Heightmeyer.

 

“He doesn’t want to see anybody right now and he’s talking to me so that’s something,” said John, thankful when Kate answered with a nod.

 

Carson asked again, “Is he hurt?”

 

“His hands and feet are cut up some. It didn’t look too bad, but I didn’t want to crowd him.”

 

Carson sidestepped around the Colonel. “I need to see him.”

 

Stopping him, John shook his head then reconsidered, “Let me ask him first. I don’t want to spook him.”

 

“Aye,” nodded Carson.

 

John returned a few minutes later, smiling inwardly at the three who stood outside the door, peering into the darkness as they tried to satisfy their curiosities and concerns. He looked at Carson. “You can treat him, but he won’t leave and he won’t let you stay when you’re done.” John shrugged, “It’s the best I could do.”

 

“It’ll do,” Carson said, motioning to the room for John to lead the way.

 

As they turned to enter the room, Elizabeth spoke up, almost nervously, “Give him our regards.”

 

Nodding, John and Carson disappeared into the room, the door closing behind them.  They moved slowly, John leading Carson through the wreckage. Carson muttered a few curses at the destruction, but seeing Rodney he ignored everything but his patient. He looked up at Sheppard as he knelt down next to Rodney, “Can you get me the first aid kit? There should be one in the bathroom.”   John agreed and Carson went back to tending Rodney, speaking in a soft, soothing tone, “So how are you doing, Rodney?”

 

“I’m bleeding, Carson. How do you think I’m doing?” Rodney certainly hadn’t lost his edge. It was comforting to hear.

 

Carson retorted in kind, “Tsk. I’m thinking you’re a bloody fool for running around in here without shoes.”

 

Rodney tilted his head and rolled his eyes. “Yes of course, I’ll try to remember that prior to my next breakdown. Put on shoes.”

 

John returned and Carson took the kit. “Let’s get him on the bed first. The floor isn’t the best place for this.”  None of them could argue that with all the glass scattered about and John set about righting the mattress. The bed was a lost cause, but he flipped the mattress, brushed away the glass and set it on the floor.  Rodney lifted himself the eight inches and eased onto it, the pain finally setting in if his grimace was any indication.

 

Moving cautiously, Carson picked up Rodney’s foot, having to grip it tighter as the scientist tried to pull away. Rodney hissed through gritted teeth, “Fuck that hurts.”

 

“Yes well, glass in the foot tends to do that,” quipped Carson,

 

“How about playing Doctor and get it out then,” snapped Rodney, doing his best to ignore the pain.  John sat close, but maintained a distance between himself and Rodney. It surprised him when Rodney reached out and gripped his arm tightly as Carson removed the small shards of glass from his feet.

 

“Can’t you give him something for the pain?” John dared to shift closer, offering what comfort he could and Rodney leaned into his shoulder. 

 

“Not unless you want me to go to the infirmary to get it.”

 

Lips pursed in pain, Rodney shook his head, “Just get it over with.” He was sweating and shaking anew and John felt the hand on his arm tighten.

 

Carson worked swiftly but efficiently as he checked Rodney’s feet for glass, cleaned them up and wrapped them. The damage was minor, but he wouldn’t feel like walking for a few days at least.  With a light pat on Rodney’s leg Carson got his attention. “That’s it for your feet then.”

 

Rodney nodded and took a couple of deep breathes, wincing at the tug on his aching ribs as he slumped further into John. Carson noticed, but kept silent about it, glad to see Rodney accepting the comfort being offered. “I’ll need to look at your hands, Rodney.”  It wasn’t so much a comment as it was asking for permission.

 

Holding out the hand that wasn’t gripping John’s arm, Rodney let Carson clean it up and retape the splint back to its proper position.  When it came time to do the second hand, Rodney reluctantly released his hold on John.  Hating the loss of contact, John placed his hand on Rodney’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. Rodney was trembling by the time Carson finished. “Is there anything in that kit that resembles a pain killer?”

 

Aye, let me get some water and you can have a couple Tylenol.” Carson got up and retrieved a glass of water from the bathroom. When he returned, Rodney was pulling away from John, his eyes glued to something on the floor. John tried to pull him back but Rodney jerked from his grasp, instead reaching for the medicine bag he’d spotted on the floor.  His face paled as he picked it up, his eyes widening.

 

Alarmed by the sudden change in behavior, John motioned for Carson to go. Setting the glass down, Carson tiptoed around the bed and left the two men to sort through things. John appeared to have made some progress with Rodney and that was more than any of them had done so far.   By the time Carson left, Rodney was sweating profusely and shaking from head to toe, his eyes glassy and distant. John eased closer, reaching out, “Rodney?”

 

Jerking away, Rodney snarled, “Don’t.”  He fidgeted with the bag in his hands, the splints getting in the way of his nervous habit.  John watched as Rodney seemed to crumble before him.  Rodney pulled up his knees, and wrapped his arms around them, making himself smaller as he rocked back and forth, mumbling incoherently.

 

Shifting on the mattress, John hesitated, torn between his need to touch Rodney and the need to keep his distance for fear of making things worse for the scientist. His voice was a mere whisper, his anguish unmistakable, “Let me help.”

 

“Leave me alone,” pleaded Rodney. He continued to rock, caught between where he was and where he’d been. Rodney shivered, rubbing his arms to rid them of the phantom touch that assaulted him. 

 

John sat helpless, begging to do something, “I’m not gonna hurt you, Rodney. Please, I want to help you with this.” 

 

Rodney shook his head frantically and John shifted, moving so he was kneeling beside him on the bed. Hesitating, John reached out and laid his hand lightly on Rodney’s back, trying to soothe him with gentle circles. The muscle beneath his hand rippled almost repulsively as Rodney lurched away from the touch, screaming, “You can’t help. It’s too late.”

 

John’s gut churned at the fervor behind Rodney’s words. He was losing Rodney and felt helpless to stop it. “Please, Rodney, don’t do this. I want to be here for you. Help you with this.” He was rambling, but he was desperate to get through to Rodney. He didn’t realize his own cheeks were wet as he pleaded. “Please trust me to help.”

 

 Gasping for air, his chest heaving, Rodney was getting more wound up with each breath, his anger rolling off him.  In the next instant, Rodney slammed his hand into John’s chest, pushing him away.  “I Can’t!  I let that son of a bitch rape me… because I would have done whatever it took… to save you, even after you… pushed me away… I still did it.” Tears rolled down his cheeks unbidden as he screamed the hurt he was feeling, “I trusted you with my fucking heart and you made me work for yours and it still never mattered. You never came to see me in the infirmary. You left me alone! How can I trust you after that?”

 

Lying on the floor, holding his injured shoulder that Rodney’s hit had aggravated, John’s own hurt and anger, combined with the intense pain, exploded. He sat up, his face red as he shouted back angrily, “Don’t you get it? That’s what scares me so damn much! I would do anything for you. ANYTHING!”  His own breathing was harsh and he tried to calm down, but his words still came out loud and forceful, the emotion honest. “If our positions had been reversed I would have done the same thing you did. I would have let him rape me for the same reason you did.”

 

That got Rodney’s attention and the two men stared at each other, their breathing loud in the still room. John closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them, his expression softer as he spoke, “When you asked me to help you on Doranda, I didn’t have a choice…because you asked me too let you do it and that scared me to death. I’ve never trusted anyone like I do you but it had nothing to do with why I let you do it. I did it because you asked me to. Because I love you, damn it.”  The confession left him breathless and John waited…waited for Rodney to say something, anything.

 

All of Rodney’s emotions were right there for him too see. The hurt, the shock, the dawning realization and finally the truth he’d been hiding.  He watched as Rodney pulled in a big breath and was seized by a great gasping sob.  All of John’s resolve not to touch vanished. Rodney’s shoulders shook and John wrapped himself around him, tentative at first and when Rodney didn’t pull away, he held him tighter.

 

It seemed to open the floodgates and Rodney cried as he relived the terror on Kormak between sobs.  All John could do was hold him, let him vent it, his own tears mingling with Rodney’s as he listened to all the man had endured at the hands of the natives. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant, but just telling someone else allowed Rodney to share the burden. The tears eventually stopped and Rodney’s breathing began to ease as the weight of his demons was lifted. John held on, unwilling to release what he’d now claimed as his own.  No matter what Rodney said or did, it wouldn’t change how John felt about him. He needed Rodney to know that.

 

Helping Rodney lie down, John didn’t join him. Instead he sat beside him, rubbing his back in long soothing strokes. John’s voice was raw but soft as he spoke, “I’m really sorry about getting into your files. I shouldn’t have done it.”

 

Rodney was exhausted and it showed in his voice, “Don’t be. I would have done the same thing.” The conversation was easier now, all the tension of the last month eased away with the anger and tears. “I know you didn’t do it yourself, so Radek must have helped.”

 

“How did you know?” John shifted on the bed, leaning back into the wall for support.

 

Chuckling, Rodney smiled, “He’s a devious little fucker that lives for subterfuge.”

 

“You’re not mad at him…” John paused then added, “or the rest of it?”

 

Rodney hesitated then curled up, his back pressed against John’s legs. “No, not any more. I’m tired of being angry…tired of being alone. I just want to move forward, forget it all happened.”

 

“All of it?” uttered John, a mere whisper as his heart skipped beat, waiting for Rodney to answer.

 

“Did you mean what you said about loving me?” asked Rodney, equally soft.

 

“Yeah, I meant it.”

 

“Then no, not all of it,” said Rodney, drifting into sleep.

 

Epilogue

 

It had been two months since that night and while healing happened slowly, it was not an easy time for either man. Apologies were made by everyone and Rodney was slowly coming around to his normal irascible self, accepting that mistakes had been made and sometimes it took an extreme situation to bring friends closer. The trust between them had been damaged but not broken.

 

There were moments of awkwardness between John and Rodney and more than once Rodney did a slow freak out if someone got too close, even John sometimes.  John made sure he always had Rodney’s permission to come close even if it was an unspoken one.

 

Entering the balcony, John found Rodney leaning against the rail watching the sun set. He stood in the door way and called out softly, “Rodney.”

 

Rodney turned, a smile gracing his face. “Care to join me?”

 

“I might be convinced.” John sauntered forward and slipped behind Rodney, enveloping him with his lean frame. He tried to pull away when Rodney flinched, but was held in place by a firm grip on his forearm where it wrapped Rodney’s chest.

 

 “Sorry,” said Rodney, hanging his head at the automatic response to being touched. Sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn’t. He had little control over the reaction.

 

John sighed, “Don’t be sorry. I know it’s gonna take time. I know I have to earn your trust back.”

 

Rodney stilled for a moment then teased, taking all the sting out of his words, “I’m sure you can do it if you really want to.” He added more seriously, “But it’s not about trust, not really, not any more.” Leaning into John’s embrace, he stammered, “I like this, I just don’t know… I… I… after what happened I don’t know if I’ll be able to…” His hand twirled to emphasize his thoughts, “…you know.”

 

“Sex isn’t everything, Rodney,” said John, trying to reassure him.

 

“It’s not?” joked Rodney, trying to lighten his embarrassment.

 

John leaned over his shoulder, his voice sincere, “Not in this case, no. Whatever you want is fine with me.”

 

“Don’t do the sappiness, it makes me nauseous,” said Rodney, even though he melted further into John’s arms.

 

“Hmmm. I’ll keep that in mind,” quipped John. His tone changed to one of concern as he asked, “Anything else?”

 

“I just want you to know it’s not you I’m afraid of.  Sometimes…sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that it’s him touching me.” Rodney hesitated, unsure what he wanted. “I’m not saying never, just that I need to go slow.”

 

“We can go as slow as you need to or not at all. Whatever you’re comfortable with. I really don’t want to get sappy on you, but it’s not about the sex, Rodney. I enjoy just being with you.” said John, his lips lightly grazing Rodney’s neck. The man shivered pleasantly and John was encouraged, knowing how difficult it was for Rodney to accept his affections.  He stopped his playing and held Rodney close as they watched the sun go down.

 

THE END

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