Rating: Mature Themes
Summary: Elizabeth sat back with a sigh, her face serious. “You and Rodney both have been walking a fine line for a while now. You’re both strung out and what happened on P4X-978-“
“Now just a minute-“
“What happened, shouldn’t have happened and you know it,” Elizabeth finished.
Rodney had been missing a week when he was finally found on a backwater planet called Artream. Ronon and Teyla had both worked the remaining connections they had to track him down and it was a poor village who didn’t realise that the people who could offer the bounty promised in the grimy pictures they had, were not around anymore to pay up.
Ronon parted with some threats and some silver they’d gotten from one of their trading partners before a bleeding and unconscious Rodney was finally handed over.
John, who’d been following up a different lead, was through the gate only an hour after he’d gotten word but was corralled by Elizabeth as he was jogging to the infirmary. He looked over her shoulder in the direction of the infirmary but Elizabeth’s “Now, Colonel,” brooked no argument.
She waited for John to sit, legs thumping and hands clenching and unclenching before she would speak. Elizabeth lowered herself into her own chair with studied patience, watching as the usual laconic Colonel who would never sit when he could sprawl, basically hovered at the edge of the chair, thrumming.
“We’re sending Rodney back to Earth to recuperate,” Elizabeth said matter-of-factly and John’s head snapped up, his fidgeting finally settling as he became almost too still.
“Why?” he asked, nothing in the question but simple curiosity to the casual observer but Elizabeth had known John long enough to catch the hint of hysteria in his voice.
“Because he’s been here three years without setting foot back on Earth and sometimes people can forget what they’ve been fighting for,” Elizabeth said, folding her hands in front of her.
“He went back with us last year,” John protested, brow furrowing.
“Oh yes, and if he wasn’t in the SGC he was on the Daedelus. I checked around. Rodney never actually left the base.”
“Well, that doesn’t-“
“Neither did you,” Elizabeth interrupted mildly.
“What has this got to do with me?”
Elizabeth sat back with a sigh, her face serious. “You and Rodney both have been walking a fine line for a while now. You’re both strung out and what happened on P4X-978-“
“Now just a minute-“
“What happened, shouldn’t have happened and you know it,” Elizabeth finished.
“Are you saying Rodney getting snatched was my fault?” John’s voice was low and resigned, like he’d already been blaming himself but it was nice to get confirmation.
“I’m not assigning blame, it was a bad mission from the start. What I’m saying is that Lorne mentioned you had said that you didn’t like it going in, but you went.”
John raised his eyebrows. “I thought you liked it when I followed orders.”
“Yes, when they don’t get a member of your team captured. You’ve challenged me before and sometimes you’re right and sometimes not, but we take the time to double-check and we’ve had some narrow misses because of it. I think your instincts are suffering because you’re strung out. You need some rest, John.”
John rolled his eyes and made to stand but Elizabeth waved him back into his seat. “That’s fine. I’ll get something off Carson. I’d like to see McKay now.”
“That’s not fine. I didn’t mean for you to grab a couple of hours sleep that will be interrupted as soon as one of your marines wants to ask you something. I mean real rest. I’m sending you with Rodney. I want you to come back full strength.”
“I’m not sure that’s-“
“It’s not a request, Colonel,” Elizabeth said, standing and indicating that John could as well. “You leave tomorrow. Jeannie McKay has been briefed and Rodney will be staying with her and she’s expecting both of you. I’ve arranged for a nurse but I know Rodney will appreciate having you there.”
“John. As I said, not a request. Pack a bag.”
It had been a long time since John Sheppard had been in a real car. He’d pretty much sacked out as soon as he was safely ensconced in the back seat of the medical van that was transporting Rodney, forehead pressed against the glass. Rodney was still on pretty heavy medication for his cracked ribs and broken leg and the myriad of other cuts and bruises.
When the van slowed and came to a halt, John was jolted awake and looked through the small viewing window to Rodney, stretched out pale and unmoving on the hospital gurney. Carson had explained that until his pain meds were dialed back enough in the next couple of days, Rodney would pretty much do nothing but sleep, but John knew he wouldn’t relax until Rodney was awake, his usual acerbic self once more.
John slid the passenger side door open and hooked his legs out, hitting the pavement with sneakered feet. He walked around the van and at first couldn’t believe the smell that had caught him. There was a salt tang in the air and the gentle rushing noise that could only be one thing.
John rounded the van and could see a medium sized, cozy looking and caramel coloured house and beyond it a hump of grassy hill and beyond that, the ocean.
There was a boy and girl sitting on the steps leading down from the house, both around the age of twelve. A woman stood behind them, a hand on each of their shoulders. She was small in stature but solid looking, hair caught up in a ponytail and she barely looked twenty-five but when she finally relinquished her spot and came down to the van, casting a professional eye over the proceedings, the lines around her eyes and mouth made John realise she would be closer to thirty-five, if not beyond it.
John realized he didn’t know how to address her. It would be rude to just call her Jeannie and he had no idea what her married name was. Sharp eyes on him, she seemed to realise what his hesitation was and came forward, holding out a hand. “I’m Jeannie,” she introduced, and then waved a hand behind her. “That’s Dean and Danielle. I’m just going to get Rodney settled so you should just go on through to the kitchen and make yourself a coffee and I’ll be there in a bit.” She rounded John and gave him a little shove towards the house, or out of her way, he couldn’t really tell.
John approached the house but paused at the bottom of the steps as the kids regarded him. “Hi,” he said, rubbing the back of his head and wondering if he should just go on through as ordered. He was deeply uncomfortable and longing for a room at the SGC about that moment.
“For chrissakes Dean, don’t just sit there like a lump, show Colonel Sheppard into the kitchen!” Jeannie bawled from behind, making John jump a little and causing the two in front of him to snort. Dean unfolded remarkably long limbs and came up, eyes at a level with John’s and offered him a half grin.
“Come in,” he offered.
The kitchen had glass doors that opened right out onto the sand and Dean had set John up outside on a small patio setting with a steaming mug of coffee. Jeannie dropped herself into the chair opposite with a sigh and scrubbed her face.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” she asked, plucking the wire frames off her face and polishing them on the tail end of her shirt. She was wearing faded jeans, a black t-shirt and no shoes, which was evident when she swung her legs up and hooked the calves over the chair opposite, toes splaying in the dying light of the day and her toenails painted a dark red. She was one of those rare women who would look anywhere between twenty and forty given the light and circumstance.
“Classified, yeah I know,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “I have clearance to know just enough to perk my interest but Jesus, he’s been tortured.”
John grimaced, thinking again that it was probably a mistake coming here and disrupting these people’s usually normal lives. Rodney should have recovered in the Atlantean infirmary under the watchful eye of Carson and then they both could’ve just gotten back out there, back to their jobs.
Strung out, Elizabeth had said, but John didn’t think so. He really believed he just needed a good night of sleep. In fact, his eyes were feeling grainy now and he knew he was probably not far from sacking out himself, coffee or no.
“I’d tell you if I could,” he offered lamely and Jeannie put her feet down and leaned across the table, grasping his forearm lightly.
“I want to like you but you’re working my last nerve here,” she said, but there was a ghost of a smile on her face and John knew that he had been forgiven already, that she understood but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be frustrated as well. “Ah hell, I just hate seeing him like that. He’s so… quiet. It’s unnatural really.”
A gentle tapping on his arm had John awake. He sat up and swiped a groggy hand over his face. He finally focused on Jeannie leaning over him and groaned, rolling over to see the clock on the bedside table. “Sorry, I slept straight through to the morning,” he sighed, seeing it was seven o’clock.
Jeannie was smiling and John frowned at her. “What?”
“You slept through yesterday,” she said, something gentle in her tone. “I just left you because I figured you needed it.”
“I slept through what?”
“Tuesday. It’s Wednesday and Rodney’s awake so I figured you wouldn’t mind me waking you.”
“Thanks,” John said, sitting up and swinging his legs out of bed. Jeannie retreated with a final grin and John stumbled over to his pack, pulling a clean shirt free. He looked down and decided the sweat pants he was wearing would do for a visit to Rodney McKay so he padded out of his room and down the one door to where Rodney had been set up.
John pushed the door open with two fingers and stuck his head inside, seeing that Rodney was sitting up with a mountain of pillows behind him and another stuck under his casted leg. There was a tray sitting across his middle and Rodney was poking at a pile of what looked like dry toast with a morose expression.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” John asked and Rodney looked up, the automatic smile at seeing John replaced with a scowl.
“I need real food,” he grumbled and John grinned, dropping into the armchair by the bed that had a blanket thrown across it.
“You haven’t eaten properly in a while. Just eat some of that and you’ll probably be full before you know it. I know you feel ravenous but you won’t be able to eat much, trust me.” John spoke from experience, having woken up in an infirmary more times than he could count, completely starving and sure he was ready for a three course meal, only to have trouble after a single jello cup or piece of bread.
Rodney looked disbelieving but brought one of the pieces of toast up to his mouth and nibbled in the corner. “What are we doing here?” he asked when he’d eaten half of it and had grudgingly admitted defeat.
“Elizabeth thought we needed a break and that you’d be more comfortable recuperating here. You were going to be out of action for about eight weeks for physio for your leg anyway so she thought it would be a good time for a holiday.”
“Okay.” Rodney was regarding John with a raised eyebrow. “Explains my presence but what are you doing here?” His tone said that he wasn’t displeased, just curious.
“I don’t know, she just thought I needed a break too and apparently her spies let her know that neither of us had actually made it off base last time we were earth side. I guess the rule that everyone goes home for one rotation is actually true.”
“Oh yeah, when’s she planning on coming home?” Rodney snorted and John grinned, knowing that probably the only person it would be harder prying out of Atlantis other than himself would be Elizabeth.
Rodney was looking at his cast and had noticed that there was writing all over it. “Did anyone check that there was nothing classified on here before I went?” he demanded and John snorted.
“Actually, we had to remove your cast and put another one on because Radek put something in Czech that he refused to translate. We didn’t let him near you with a marker pen after that,” John said, leaning forward and tracing his own signature with a finger.
“Did Teyla and Ronon write on it?” Rodney asked, trying to turn his leg enough that he could see the back and John put a restraining hand on him when the tray over his lap tipped alarmingly.
“Teyla wrote something on the back in reverse so you could read it with a mirror. Ronon… well, he’s…” John tapped a small space of writing on Rodney’s ankle and Rodney leaned forward to read it.
“Next time duck? Oh that’s very nice. He can talk, he got an arrow through the leg on his very first mission,” Rodney grumped. John noticed he was looking a little gray and stood, taking the tray from the bed.
“You should sleep, you’re looking a little done in,” John said and Rodney, surprisingly, didn’t protest which meant he really was exhausted. Instead he scooted down in the bed a little and patiently allowed John to remove some of the pillows.
“You don’t have to play nursemaid, I’m sure there’s stuff you want to do while you’re here,” Rodney said, his voice small and tired and his face almost disappearing in a gigantic yawn. “I’ve got my sister and the terror twins to fuss over me.”
John smiled and sat back on the armchair, propping his legs on Rodney’s bed. “I got nowhere I need to be right now. Besides, your sister’s place is right on the beach. I can surf and play nursemaid.”
“You sure you remember how?” Rodney asked; his voice almost a whisper now and John chuckled.
“It’s like riding a bike,” John said as Rodney’s eyes slid closed.
He’s worth nothing…
Rodney jerked awake, his heart hammering but a gentle hand at his temple, thumb stroking in lazy circles had him coming back to himself quickly. Rodney looked over blearily and sighed, seeing John’s green eyes crinkle in concern. “You okay?”
“Yeah… just…” Rodney waved a dismissive hand. “You think I can get up? My bed sores have bed sores.”
John grimaced. “I think so. Jeannie’s just gone shopping with the kids but there’s crutches in the corner and she didn’t say you couldn’t get up.” There was the mischievous twinkle in John’s eye that always made Rodney grin back. He held his arms out and made an impatient, get on with it gesture that had John up and retrieving the crutches.
It was awkward but they finally both managed to manhandle Rodney upright and balanced on the crutches. He took an experimental small hop forward, John’s arms on either side of him in case he fell but although he was shaky, Rodney stumped forward resolutely to the door. There was sweat pouring off him by the time he reached the threshold but he was smiling.
“Not seeing the ocean is making me edgy. Help me out there,” he said, smiling and canting his head in the direction of the kitchen. John smiled and took up position in front of Rodney as he navigated his way down the hallway, gaining confidence. He grimaced because his ribs were protesting the exertion miserably, but he wouldn’t be swayed, even when he had to stop halfway and rest, John’s hands on his shoulders holding him against the wall.
While they waited, Rodney put a hand to the side of John’s neck and splayed his fingers, crooking his index finger at John’s nape so it captured an errant wisp of hair. “You need a haircut,” he observed.
John snorted. “Leave it be.”
Rodney’s eyes were fixed over John’s shoulder, perhaps seeing into the past when he said in a hollow voice, “They said they had you as well.”
“What?” John asked, moving so he and Rodney were eye to eye but Rodney seemed to shake himself.
“Nothing. I think I’m ready now. I just need some air.”
John’s brow was furrowed in concern but he conceded and stepped away from Rodney with his hands still out, letting the other man navigate his way into the kitchen and then out onto the small decking. He lowered himself into one of the patio chairs with a grateful sigh and tipped his head back. “Smells like home,” he sighed.
John smiled, although he was still worried. “It sure does,” he agreed.
“He’s having nightmares,” Jeannie said over breakfast the next morning. Rodney was still asleep and instead of being outside, both she and John were standing over the kitchen counter, eating cereal. It was summer holidays so her kids had gone down to the beach early.
“I know,” John said, skimming his spoon through his bowl, all thought of eating vanishing.
“I want him to see someone. He could be suffering from-“
“No,” John said simply, pushing his bowl to the side and leaning back. Jeannie looked at him sharply.
“What do you mean, no?” she asked. Her mouth had only a fraction of the downward tilt as Rodney’s, except it seemed when someone said no to her. It then thinned down into a small slash and the downward tilt became horribly pronounced.
“I mean, he wouldn’t be able to actually say anything about what happened so there’s little point. We have a counselor back on base that he can see later.”
“He needs to talk to someone, surely-“
“There’s no way,” John interrupted again and Jeannie slapped the flat of her palm down on the counter just as Dean and Danielle slid through the kitchen door. Both children looked from their mother to John, worry marring their features.
The tension melted from Jeannie like magic and she turned a smile on her progeny. “Hey, water nice?”
They both looked wary but somewhat mollified and Danielle was the first to break the silence. “Really warm. You should go down. Pity Uncle Rod’s in a cast. Do you think if we bag it we could take him down?”
Jeannie smiled. “Little early for that Dan, maybe in a week or so. You guys go and scrape the sand off you and Colonel Sheppard will take you to the mall.”
“I will?” John enquired politely when the kids had disappeared.
Jeannie turned eyes on him and smiled, but now it was a stretched thing, looking less like a smile and more like a grimace. “I’m so mad right now that it’s probably best we’re out of each other’s way for the afternoon.” John blinked and Jeannie seemed to slump. “I get it, I do. Neither of you have any choice, but Rodney isn’t a soldier and he wasn’t trained to deal with torture and he’s suffering John. You’re telling me he can’t talk to anyone and I have to accept that, but I also get to be mad at you.”
“I… guess you do,” John said, shrugging.
“Look, if you have your way you’re going to stay cooped up in this house until it’s time to head back, I just know it. Go out and mingle in the real world and work off some of that nervous energy thing you seem to have going. My kids will exhaust you, I guarantee it.” This was said with a more genuine smile and Jeannie squeezed John on the shoulder as she past him. She looked back when she was at the threshold of the hallway. “I’m not mad at you, not really. You’re just the only bit of the military I can see right now. You care about Rodney a great deal, don’t you?”
John blinked. “Of course,” he blurted.
Jeannie crossed her arms and regarded him for a few moments and then a secretive smile washed over her face. “Yeah, I thought so,” she said.
“Your niece and nephew are monsters,” John groaned, flopping face first onto the end of Rodney’s bed. Rodney tapped John’s flank with his uncasted foot.
“I told you. What possessed you to take them shopping?”
John rolled over and regarded Rodney with one arm propping up his head. “Your sister thought it would be a good way for me to work off my nervous energy.”
Rodney snorted. “It’s definitely a novel approach, I’ll give you that.”
“Rodney, I get the feeling Jeannie… knows.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course she knows.”
“Oh, I thought we weren’t telling anyone.”
Rodney reached forward and grabbed a handful of John’s hair, tugging lightly. “I didn’t tell her, but the second I was conscious and she knew I wasn’t in mortal danger anymore she pretty much drilled me. She was worse than a fifties dad with all the questions and casting aspersions on your dubious intentions.”
“My dubious intentions, what about yours?” John smirked.
“Well, according to her the pretty ones are always flighty and she thought I would be with someone a little more… grounded by now.”
“So, she hates me,” John said, frowning.
Rodney sighed and leaned back, rubbing his stomach absently. “No, unfortunately she adores you. It’s always easier when she hates them.”
“How?” John asked, sitting up and tapping the toes poking out of the end of Rodney’s cast gently.
“She’s always easier to handle when she hates something. When she likes something, I can never tell what she’s going to do.”
“She’s mad at me.”
“She’s mad at the man,” John couldn’t help but snort helplessly with laughter when Rodney made air quotes. “You just happen to wear the man’s uniform. She’s mad at the situation.”
“I am too,” John acknowledged. “You need to talk to Doctor Heightmeyer.”
“I’m fine,” Rodney said, waving a dismissive hand and carefully avoiding John’s gaze.
“Rodney, you’re not. You’ve been having nightmares, which are to be expected, but you need to talk about this and if you aren’t comfortable talking to me, you should talk to someone else. We can see if one of the SGC docs can come out and-“
“No,” Rodney said, as simply as John had said it that morning.
“Rodney…” John moved up the bed until he could rest a hand lightly on Rodney’s torso, over the bandaging and the abused ribs beneath.
“I’m not ready yet,” Rodney said more firmly, his eyes down and following John’s hand.
“You said something yesterday… something about thinking they had me-“
“I’m really tired. Can we do this tomorrow?” Rodney asked, pushing John’s hand aside so he could pull up his blankets.
John regarded him for a moment before sighing heavily. “Sure, okay. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Men with bloodied hands were in his room, holding a small box out towards him and he desperately didn’t want to see what was inside it because they told him…
They told him…
Rodney came awake with sweaty sheets wrapped so tightly around him that glassy pain was rolling through his stomach. He tried to get free but other hands were there, helping. Rodney squeaked in surprise until a lamp was clicked on and it was just Jeannie, leaning over and patiently helping him to untangle, the dim light making her eyes shadowed hollows and nothing more.
“You can’t tell me what’s going on, can you?” she asked, her voice small and hurt and the edge of tears in the back of her throat.
Rodney lay back, dropping one arm over his eyes. “Wish I could, scrappy,” he sighed.
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, but it was half-hearted, almost like a reflex and nothing more. “I don’t like your job,” she said seriously, dropping back into the couch at the side of the bed and throwing the blanket over her legs. She dropped her head sideways into her hand and regarded him, her eyes possibly searching for the answers she couldn’t actually be told.
Rodney tapped his cast. “Sometimes I don’t either,” he agreed.
“They tried to tell me it was an accident. Unless you fell over and hit a bunch of fists on your way, I’m not really buying it.”
Rodney grinned wryly. “You were always too smart for your own good,” he said, real affection in his tone.
“I thought Siberia was bad. Not even knowing where you are is worse.”
“It’s nicer than Siberia. There’s a beach.”
Jeannie snorted, scrunching down in her chair so her feet were pressed against Rodney’s side and he realized that was the way she was able to tell he had started thrashing about, even in sleep and he thought, why did we lose touch, I love this woman.
“He’s not just pretty, is he?” Jeannie asked, changing tack, her voice sleepy.
“No Jeannie, he’s not just pretty,” Rodney agreed, already letting sleep tug him under again even though he’d like to resist it because in sleep there was a dark cell, dark men and the promise.
The promise that he wouldn’t get out alive.
John had an audience next morning for breakfast. He would look up from his cereal every now and again to smile at Danielle but she persisted in the staring that was now starting to worry him. Finally Jeannie entered the room, took one look at what was going on and smacked Danielle lightly on the back of the head.
“Ow! What?” Danielle protested, rubbing her head.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than creep out Colonel Sheppard?” Jeannie snapped. She had a basket of laundry on one hip and waved a dismissive hand when John made to rise to help her.
“Uncle Rod said he had a Kirk thing. I was just trying to figure out what that was.”
“I had a what?” John spluttered, milk coming dangerously close to being ejected out of his nose.
“I heard mum and Uncle Rod this morning and she was saying that she got that you were cute but you had funny ears and he said all the better to hold onto-“ At this Jeannie paled and John gave up any attempt to eat and dropped his spoon, “and she said that there was appeal but she couldn’t put her finger on it and he said that it was your whole Kirk thing.”
“Go to your room,” Jeannie said in a tiny voice, flushing scarlet.
“But mu-um,” Danielle wailed, looking scandalized but a short jabbing finger in the direction of the hallway had Danielle scampering.
“I didn’t… I mean we didn’t… ah hell,” Jeannie sighed, dropping the laundry basket onto the kitchen countertop and planting her face into it, cheeks blazing. “Can you tell me when you’ve left the room so I can come out?” she asked, voice muffled.
“I hope that’s clean laundry,” John smiled.
“Dean’s dirty socks. I deserve death by pre-teen foot odor,” Jeannie, at last emerging and taking a large lung full of air. “You don’t deserve to be talked about like that. It’s rude and I apologise,” Jeannie said, her tone heartfelt.
John grinned. “It’s fine. If anything, I’m glad Rodney’s sounding more like himself.”
“He’s got physio today. Do you want to take him?” Jeannie asked, neatly changing the subject.
“Sure,” John nodded, accepting the car keys he was handed. He used one of the keys to scratch his ear and chuckled while he left the room as Jeannie flushed all over again.
“That woman is trying to kill me,” Rodney griped as he banged out of the physio room. John was sitting outside, sprawled in one of the plastic chairs with a magazine he’d only flipped through on his lap.
“I’m sure she’s only trying to hurt you a little, no actual death,” John sighed, standing and grimacing when his knees popped unpleasantly. He didn’t like the enforced rest he was being subjected to; it was feeling too much like being put out to pasture. He knew Elizabeth just wanted him relaxed and sharp but all he managed to feel was sidelined.
“I’m better on the crutches though,” Rodney noted, swinging by John and the pausing to look over his shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked and John felt warmed that Rodney would forget his own worries so quickly.
“Fine and dandy,” John grinned but it was hard to do looking at Rodney. There were deep shadows under his eyes and John pretty much knew that that meant the nightmares were persisting. “Are you sure you don’t want to maybe give the SGC a call and see if they can send someone?”
Rodney turned back around and started stumping down the hallway, double time. “I said no, John. Can’t you just leave it?”
John jogged lightly to catch up, rounding on Rodney and planting himself in the way so Rodney was forced to stop. “You went through something, and just ignoring it isn’t going to make you heal. You need to talk about it with someone. It can be me but if you aren’t comfortable about that, it’ll have to be someone else.”
“It doesn’t have to be anyone,” Rodney said, swinging his crutches and making to go around John, who merely sidestepped and laid one hand on the nearest crutch, pressing lightly.
“Rodney, yes it does. Either you see someone, or I won’t sign off on you going back into the field.”
Rodney blinked. “What? You have to,” he said, brow furrowed.
“I can’t sign off if I don’t believe you’re not completely up to it, and right now, I don’t think you are. Something is going on with you and you’re not setting foot in Atlantis until we get a handle on it.”
“I have a handle on it, Colonel,” Rodney snarled. “I’m doing fine. Atlantis needs me there and Doctor Weir will sign off no matter what you say.”
“No she won’t,” John said, voice level and sidestepped as Rodney made another attempt to bypass him. “Elizabeth said before we left that it was my call.”
Rodney narrowed his eyes and John could see anger rolling off him in waves. He knew it was a dirty trick, but if he could get Rodney to open up, it would be worth it. Threatening him with one of the few things Rodney held precious was the only card John had up his sleeve.
“Fine,” Rodney all but growled. “My problem is you.”
“Okay, whatever it is, we can fix it,” John offered without missing a beat but saw Rodney drop his head, shaking it back and forth, anger still cording his neck.
“You can’t fix anything. When those men were holding me, they said they had you too. They had your jacket, I don’t know, they must have snagged it from our camp. It was covered in blood and when they brought it in they had a little box and it…” Rodney’s voice broke and he seemed to slump, the crutches the only thing keeping him upright. John reached out a hand but Rodney jerked backward, so violently he nearly toppled over. He used the wall to steady himself. “I had been hearing screams all night, horrible sounds and so distorted that it could have been you and half starved and exhausted, I believed them when they said it was.”
“What was in the box, Rodney?” John asked, his voice pitched low and a greasy feeling in his stomach. He had a sense he would regret knowing, but if it lessened Rodney’s burden any, it would be worth it.
“They were frustrated because they couldn’t contact the Genii and they were convinced I would know how. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them that even if they did find the Genii, those in power now had withdrawn the bounty.”
“Rodney,” John whispered, reaching out a tentative hand and this time Rodney let him drop it onto his neck and John could feel sweat trickling through his fingers.
“They had this tiny box and in it were two severed thumbs, a right and a left. They said every time they asked me and I didn’t answer, they would cut something else off you.”
John swallowed. “Jesus,” he breathed, feeling ill and Rodney shrugged off his hand.
“They beat me but that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst part was hearing those screams and being sure it was you.” Rodney swallowed and looked up, taking an experimental step forward and John leaned back, giving him passage. Rodney paused when they were on a level, his face pale.
“I let them torture you, even though I knew how to reach the Genii and they could’ve confirmed it themselves, but I was afraid-“
“Of course you were,” John began but Rodney held up a hand awkwardly, tightening his arm so the crutch stayed under his shoulder.
“I was afraid when they found out, they would kill us both. While you were screaming you were still alive and that was enough.” Rodney got a few paces past John and said in a strange voice John didn’t even recognize, “I’m tired now. Can we go back to Jeannie’s?”
“Sure,” John said, shoving hands into his pockets and following in Rodney’s wake. “Anything you want.”
“He talked to you and it was bad,” Jeannie said, lowering herself down next to John. Once Rodney had been settled he’d come out to the beach to watch the sunset and dig his toes into the sand and just… think.
“He said something?” John asked, surprised.
“No, but you both look a hell of a lot worse, so I guessed,” she said, leaning forward and grasping a handful of sand, letting it trail out of her fingers. “I know it seems horrible now, but believe me, that was the worst part. You can concentrate on getting better now.”
“You mean he can,” John said, looking sideways at Jeannie in the dying light of the day. She stood with a strange smile, brushing sand from her jeans.
“You both can,” she said, touching John lightly on the shoulder before making her way back to the house.
”He’s useless. Kill him,” the dark man said and Rodney lifted his bound hands, in supplication.
“No, kill me instead. You’ve done enough.”
“We are going to kill you, do not worry about that. We are just going to drag him in here so you can watch first. Unless…unless there is something you would like to tell us?”
“No,” Rodney had croaked, letting his head fall. “I don’t know where they are and even if I did, we’re not worth anything to them anymore.”
“You must be worth something to someone. Tell us where your homeworld is,” the man offered, leaning down so his sour breath washed over Rodney.
“I can’t do that,” Rodney moaned.
“Fine. Cut something else off our other guest. His ears this time, yes?”
Rodney woke slowly this time, a hand reaching up and feeling an arm across his upper chest. He followed the arm with his fingers until he reached a shoulder and then a narrow expanse of back. He traced finely wrought shoulder blades and then followed the spine down to the little indents just above the hips. The head next to his on the pillow finally turned and eyes gleamed at him in the darkness.
“Does Jeannie know you’re in here?” Rodney asked, letting his hand travel back up until it was curled lightly around a lean bicep. John had always been achingly fragile to Rodney’s questing hands.
“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” John mumbled, the last dregs of sleep catching on his words. He turned slowly on the bed so as not to jostle Rodney and also not disrupt his light hold until he was off his stomach and on his side. “I’m sorry I made you-“
“It’s okay,” Rodney interrupted, bringing his other hand up to brush fingers over John’s lip. “I needed to… I needed to tell someone. I shouldn’t have dumped it all on you though, not like that.”
“I’d rather know. You shouldn’t keep something like that inside.” John leaned up onto his elbow, ghosting a hand over Rodney’s.
“In my nightmares, it’s you. They’re not pretending to trick me. I know it’s you. I’m certain.”
“It wasn’t just a nightmare for me,” John said mildly. “You were gone.”
“I know and I’m sorry about that too.”
“How about we stop apologizing for everything. None of this was our fault.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Rodney agreed, but when John had settled back with his head on the pillow, Rodney reached out a hand and brushed knuckles across John’s temple.
“Can we go home?” he asked in a small voice.
“Anything you want,” John smiled in the darkness.
“It’s a pity we have to go back on the Daedelus,” Rodney grumbled, watching John manhandle their luggage towards Jeannie’s front door.
“I know, but just think how much time Alannah the tyrant physio will have with you in a confined space.” John grinned.
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Rodney groaned, pointing with his crutch towards a bag John had missed.
Jeannie was waiting for them outside, in front of the black van that stuck out like a sore thumb in the sleepy, beachside town. She came forward when John had dropped the bags for the driver to retrieve and slung an arm around Rodney’s neck and one around John’s.
“You be safe, my boys,” she said, pressing a quick kiss to each cheek.
“You know me,” Rodney grinned. “Any hint of danger and I will run away in the most manly fashion possible, possibly while screaming in a high pitched fashion that will still, ultimately, be manly.”
“You make sure he does,” Jeannie aimed at John and smiled.
“Yes, ma’am,” John said, touching his temple in a small salute and grinning.
“Kirk factor,” Jeannie sighed, shaking her head and John chuckled while Rodney shot her an embarrassed glance.
Once they were bundled into the van, Rodney sighed and slumped in the wide backseat, sprawling in such a way that he was only a hair’s breadth away from touching shoulders with John and making it look completely accidental.
“Home, James,” John called and their driver looked back at them with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s Marteze, Sir,” he corrected, looking confused.
Rodney chuckled helplessly, smacking a hand to his forehead.
“Home,” he sighed, letting his eyes slide closed.
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