Title: No More Dreadful Punishment - posted May 9, 2006
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: R
Word Count: ~ 3500
Summary: “Carson’s too tired to notice when there are fewer pills than there were the previous visit, and Rodney’s careful enough that no one notices when he’s more upbeat than usual, more wired, more everything.”
Author Notes: Set after “Inferno" but before “Allies." In my usual fashion, I saw “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” and immediately thought of Sisyphus. Rock, roll. Yeah. Thanks to Blandine for audiencing and beta suggestions. Any errors are mine.
Disclaimer: SGA doesn't belong to me. If it did, this wouldn't be fan fic.

No More Dreadful Punishment

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” - Albert Camus


Rodney’s hands are moving fast, faster than he thinks possible, and yet still too slow, the seconds ticking away like the timer on a bomb, and every moment brings three hive ships closer to Atlantis.

“Two,” Radek says, although Rodney doesn’t know why. “It’s two.”

The numbers on the clock are large and black, stark against the round white face, and Rodney swears he can see them rise off the background and float for a moment, arranging and rearranging themselves into a grade-school equation. The hands are two thin lines pointing in opposite directions, and he suddenly wonders why they’re called hands, laughs because the clock has hands and a face and leave it up to humanity to anthropomorphize absolutely everything.

“Hands,” he says. He can see his fingers flexing in the air in front of his face. Ten fingers moving, snapping, and he can hear the rush of feet around him. People jump when he snaps his fingers. They listen to him even when they don’t want to. Sometimes even when they shouldn’t, and it’s Sheppard’s tread he’s listening for, Sheppard’s voice, but Rodney’s pretty sure he isn’t coming.

Snap, snap. A light in his eyes and he blinks it away, tries to forget the white blur of Doranda rushing after them, a moment of static on the long distance sensors and then nothing but silence. He’s come to hate silence as much as he hates filling the emptiness with even emptier words, and he’s been looking for something for so long, something to fill all the spaces that Pegasus has cracked open.

Carson’s never been tight with the medication. He gives Rodney something to help him sleep, something to keep him awake, something to stop the pain, and Rodney stops counting and so does Carson, and after awhile he knows exactly what he needs to drown out the gunfire and the blood, the explosions that sound like nothing at all, blue-white hands reaching for him in the dark.

Carson’s too tired to notice when there are fewer pills than there were the previous visit, and Rodney’s careful enough that no one notices when he’s more upbeat than usual, more wired, more everything. He’s always tried to be careful.

“Fight it, McKay. Dammit! Fight it, you stubborn son of a bitch.”

Rodney’s learned how to fight, hand connecting with flesh and bone, they never expected it, never saw it coming, big and dumb and stupid, and he’d gone right through them because he’d had to and the enzyme had carried him all the way, carried him over the two unconscious bodies, through the field of green, through the whirlpool of the stargate. There was something he was missing, something he had to do, someone to save, but all he could see were his own hands twirling in the air like cast-off batons, Elizabeth circling and all of Atlantis awash in red, his blood singing to him about all the wonders he could do.

“Do you have to restrain him? Carson, can’t you—”

Rodney’s hands are fluid. He can feel the rush of air when he moves them, conducting the music that’s always playing in the back of his brain. He’s humming he knows, but he doesn’t care because he loves music and it’s been so damned long since he let himself do this, have something that was sheer joy and had nothing to do with accomplishment.

“I wanted to be a pianist.”

He’d told Sam Carter, told her while she sat in a paper-thin gown on a hospital bed and he babbled about pianos and his fucked-up childhood and how hot she looked even in a shapeless shift, and he can’t forget the way she looked at him sadly and kindly, without an ounce of desire, and he’d known it didn’t matter, not really, because he wasn’t the kind of guy who ever got the girl. He wasn’t even sure when he realized he didn’t want her.

Radek’s staring at him through thick lenses. Again. Rodney hates when he does that, how he pauses to push the glasses higher up the bridge of his nose, and it’s awkward with the thick black rubber gloves and the sweat-sheen of sixteen hours spent leaning over nuclear devices that look a little like Daleks and a lot like stainless steel garbage cans, and Rodney doesn’t know exactly what Radek meant by ‘two’ so he asks even as he connects another set of wires.

“Two hive ships. Third was destroyed by satellite, remember?”

Radek’s voice says Rodney should know this, and right, he should, he was on that satellite how ever many hours ago—or maybe it’s days by now—and Peter was there and Miller, the pilot who isn’t Sheppard. Miller isn’t anything like Sheppard—he’s quiet, by the book and he didn’t say anything to Rodney the fifteen hours back to Atlantis except “it wasn’t your fault” and somehow that doesn’t make him feel any better after watching Peter and the satellite disappear in an orange-white blaze that fills the puddlejumper’s viewscreen with the biggest, most silent explosion Rodney’s ever seen.

“Right. I remember,” Rodney says, but he wishes he didn’t because he can still hear the tremor in Peter’s voice when he tells them to stay where they are. Rodney looks down to see his hands are shaking, and he wonders where the rubber gloves went because the shielding on the Genii nukes has always been questionable at best. Rodney’s no Dr. Jackson and he really, really doesn’t have any interest in dying from radiation poisoning. Also, he’s pretty sure if anyone’s going to be ascending around here, it isn’t going to be him—Atlantis likes him fine, but Sheppard’s the one she loves, and in spite of the freaky things that have happened to them all, he’s just going to keep working under the assumption that death is final until someone proves otherwise. He isn’t John Sheppard and he’s got no desire to test out any hypotheses about the afterlife.

“The Colonel will be back soon, Rodney. Lie still.”

Someone touches his arm, squeezes it even, and Rodney’s being dragged away from the Wraith dart, pulled along by Ford’s men while John sits tense and angry in the cockpit, staring at him as if he can change the plan by sheer force of will, and Rodney’s pulled so suddenly around the small copse of trees that he stumbles, hitting the ground hard.

“It hurts.”

“I know.”

Teyla’s whirling around him with sticks. Sharp crack to the back of his knees, dull slap of pain across his shoulder blades, and dammit, she hasn’t even broken a sweat and Rodney’s face is dripping with exertion. He gets up again, picks up the sticks and holds them like she showed him, twirls them once inelegantly, and gets ready. He’s not good at this, probably never will be and that’s been a hard lesson for his ego to take, but he’s going to keep trying because it might mean the difference between alive and dead, between Sheppard bleeding on the floor of the jumper while Rodney tries to fly a straight line back to Atlantis, and for that he’ll risk the bruises, marines’ teasing and the raised eyebrows he gets whenever Sheppard ambles in and leans against the doorway. He’ll risk everything.

“I had to take it, I had to,” Rodney says, and Carson’s face is sad and knowing as he leans over him again, face cast dull orange in the fading sunlight, and Rodney knows he’s holding out on him, keeping the goddamn enzyme away from him just to see him squirm, suffer, beg. Bastard. Goddamn selfish jealous bastard, and Rodney tells him to go away, screams at him to go the fuck away if he’s not going to help, because he can see the judgment in Carson’s eyes, the resentment. Rodney’s figured out how to be powerful. For one moment he has it all and Carson wants to take it away from him—the energy and the strength and the feeling of being invincible. Rodney took those two men down—like a knife through butter, through Jell-o—like a knife, like the same damn knife that Kolya sliced him open with and

“Oh, God, just kill me.”

Rodney sees Carson’s face twist helplessly and for a moment he thinks maybe he’s got it wrong, gotten it all wrong, but the room is pulsing like an open wound, the light burnished gold like the last drops of enzyme. The shield is a canvas full of flowers, sunburst orange on a field of black, and Sheppard’s there beside him looking up at the sky, still at his side even through the worst of it.

“It’s almost pretty, isn’t it?”

He wants it so badly. A taste. So close he can feel it. He licks out with his tongue to catch the last drops, to taste it, but it isn’t the enzyme, isn’t even the small white pills ground up and crushed into coffee like an artificial sweetener, it’s only water and he blinks blearily even as the water trickles down his chin, and long fingers dab gently at the spill.

“Hey, easy, not too much.”

The voice is Carson and John and Elizabeth, eyes that are Radek and Laura and Ford before his left eye turned black and inhuman, then there are hands reaching, touching, holding him down, pressing him back against a wall, a doorway, hard wood at his back, mattress underneath his knees, a mouth hot on his own, and yes, god, yes, he’s wanted this forever, he’s been craving it in silence, in secret, and the moment the hands touch his skin the world explodes, silent and screaming,

“Oh, God, please, please, don’t stop.”

John’s mouth hot against his, desperate and panting, the first time so fast neither of them had a second to think about what the hell they were doing or what they were going to do afterwards, fingers caught on skin and hair, tangled in vests and holsters, and Rodney’d had bruises from it, red lines where Sheppard’s teeth had scraped his neck, sucked hard into his skin, and he’d known he was marked for life, even after the signs had faded.

“Sssh,” Carson whispers, and Rodney blinks at a room full of marines, tight angry faces, jealous, jealous, except he can’t remember what’s true and what isn’t, and they were on Ford’s planet a long, long time, enzyme rippling through his blood like a fever and mostly it’s a blur, but sometimes he thinks that he knows the feel of John’s hands gentle on his skin, the taste of him against his mouth, the way he sleeps curled in upon himself like a shell, and Rodney wants to hold him to his ear because he knows he’ll hear the ocean and it will be whispering Atlantis, Atlantis, Atlantis.

Carson’s laughing even though he pretends to care, pretends to sit there and hold his hand, wipe his sweaty face, and all the while Rodney can hear the sound of laughter, the echo of John’s footsteps running away from him, Ford’s impatience and Teyla’s pity and Ronon’s anger. Gaul looks at him with pasty skin and too-old eyes,

“Go on. Save the day, Rodney.”

Samantha tells him to go suck a lemon, Elizabeth pats him on the arm and says, “Atlantis, Rodney! We’re really going. We’re going to Atlantis,” and General Hammond says the plane leaves for Russia in an hour.

“Do you have any idea what the food’s like in Russia?”

Someone’s swearing in Russian, except it sounds more like Czech, and Rodney thinks he needs to pay more attention to what the guy with the round glasses and the fluffy hair is saying behind his back.

“Why can’t I remember his name?”

Even with the awkward heavy gloves, he can feel himself shaking and that’s really not a good thing when you’re building nuclear bombs. Not good at all. He tries to connect another set of wires, but he’s doing it wrong, he knows he is, and he tears off the gloves and reaches inside, fingers twining among the reds and blues, searching for something to take hold of, and someone’s yelling for Carson.

Maybe it’s him.

It seems like an eternity, or maybe just a heartbeat later Carson’s there. Rodney shrugs him off, avoids the hand that reaches for his pulse, and bullies Carson into giving them more stimulants because yes, there really isn’t anyone else who can do this, hello, building nuclear bombs here, and Rodney isn’t about to trust their lives to someone who isn’t him, or at least Radek, and if he doesn’t, if he can’t do this …

John’s running away from him down the hallway, black hair a spiked silhouette, “so long, Rodney” barely registering in his ears beneath the sound of running feet, and Rodney’s heart stops for a moment when he realizes what it means, and he can’t do this without Sheppard, he can’t,

“Stop! Major!”

“It’s Colonel now. You know that. Come on, McKay, don’t do this to me.”

Someone’s holding his hands and they’re all tangled up with the wires inside the bomb. Rodney knows copper tubing shouldn’t feel thick and plastic, shouldn’t have a relentless beep like a blood pressure monitor, and when he tries to draw a breath there’s a mask over his face and he smells the scent of pure oxygen and whatever Carson uses in the infirmary that gives every hospital everywhere, even in another galaxy, that sickeningly familiar odor—the one that reminds him of old age, people dying, all the things he absolutely can’t control, and he listens for the music, stretches his fingers across the white keys that feel surprisingly solid, like flesh and bone, and he starts to play the opening notes of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor because it always made him feel powerful, like he could rule the world.

“Dammit! Can’t you give him something?”

John’s voice is tight and angry, and Rodney winces because he’s heard that tone before, so he turns towards Sheppard’s silhouette and says,

“I don’t have anything,”

because he doesn’t, he’s got nothing at all, nothing left, and if he did, he’d give it to John if it would take that tone out of his voice, the disappointment out of his eyes.


John’s face goes comically blank, his eyebrows pressing together in the middle before he shakes his head and puts a cool hand against Rodney’s cheek.

“Jesus, Rodney, no. Not you. You don’t have to do anything. Just—just get better.”

Rodney doesn’t quite believe him, but he leans into the touch of John’s hand and closes his eyes. He knows John doesn’t really mean it. There hasn’t been a day in Atlantis when someone hasn’t wanted him to do something, create miracles, turn the laws of physics inside out and upside down, raise the city from the ocean like Lazarus from the dead.

“Maybe McKay can fix it.”

They want him, need him, to fix the shield, construct a cloak, make a bomb, create energy out of sub-space, destroy a nano-virus, and he always wanted to be needed like this except it’s harder than he thought and sometimes he thinks he needs a little something too.

“In spite of what you all may think, I’m not Superman.”

They need him to figure out how to open the doors and turn out the lights—because Sheppard lights up the place, but never remembers someone’s got to pay the electricity bill—and even his own room doesn’t listen to Rodney the way the city listens to Sheppard, and he might be jealous if he had any time at all to think that it’s a random characteristic and not a sign of genetic superiority despite the self-satisfied smirk and the almost-innocent “did I do that?” in the blue-and-white chill of Antarctica.

Rodney isn’t Superman or Answer man or anything that they think he is, and if they knew, if they knew, they wouldn’t want him anywhere near, wouldn’t ever lay a hand on his shoulder or lean in to press a forehead against his. If they knew. He carries their responsibility, their expectations around like a stone in his heart, and the weight of it is killing him inch by slow inch, but there’s no way he can tell them the truth.

He lies awake at night thinking about Sheppard’s skin, the way it would feel to slide his fingers down the lines of his ribs, press his face into the warm angles of his hips and breathe, breathe, breathe. He wants to do impossible things to him, imagines the glide of his tongue down the length of John’s cock, licking and swallowing around the thick flesh, while slick fingers slip inside him, hot and tight, and he can hear John’s moans, not at all soft or careful, so fucking dangerous for them to do this, but they both need it, and God, Rodney wants


“I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

He licks his lips, tastes salt and water and something bitter, chalky and white like pills ground to powder, the colour of bones, and all around him, floating in the air like a field of debris are pieces of planets, the world broken into things he can’t fix, doesn’t know how to fix, and he isn’t any use to Atlantis if he can’t do what they need, if he can’t be what they need.

“I had to do something.”

“Not this, Rodney. Not like this.”

Rodney’s a superhero now. Better even than he was on the enzyme, although if he could’ve found a way to replicate that he would have, and the longing look he’d given Michael when they’d had him in the labs was lost on everyone except maybe John, and then it had been met with confusion and something Rodney didn’t have time to think about. He’s been going without sleep, without real food, without anything except a handful of dust in too many cups of coffee—he keeps losing count, can’t remember how much he’s had, so he takes more just to be safe. Still there’s the barest hope of something in John’s dark eyes, or there was, but Rodney knows he’s screwed up this time, screwed up so bad he’ll never be able to earn back the trust that died on Doranda.

“But I’m sure you can do it if you really want to try.”

Oh, God, he’s been trying, trying so goddamn hard he thinks he’s lost something inside him because he’s never fought this hard for anyone in his life, and maybe that’s why he hasn’t seen his sister in seven years, hasn’t thought much about his parents since he left home so long ago, but for Sheppard and Teyla and Carson, he’ll try harder than he ever has before.

Except right now he feels a lot like Sisyphus and every time he thinks he’s done it,

“Can you get life support up and running?”

saved the day,

“Figure it out, or you’re going in after him!”

earned their trust,

“You fix that Dart we all get out of here.”

there’s another hill to climb,

“Any chance of getting the cloaking generator powered up too?”

another rock to roll.

“There’s got to be something you can do.”

And another.

“Get your ass back to work and fix those damn engines!”

And another. Every day the same thing in a different disguise, but it’s been two years and Rodney knows it’s the same rock he’s rolling up the same damn hill, Atlantis’s ocean breeze blowing through his hair, the scent of salt and sweat chasing him up the summit until he’s within sight of it, so close he can reach out and touch it, and then it all starts over again like a bad dream, an eternal punishment, but he’s accepted that’s the way it has to be. He’s managed to do it without them finding out.

“I found a way to keep going,” he murmurs, and John’s voice sounds unbearably sad when he whispers,

“I know.”

His eyelids are heavy and his body is aching everywhere, but Rodney leans into the voice, the soothing touch. He listens for Atlantis whispering music in his brain, quiet, so quiet, hears the ocean when he presses his face against John’s palm, lets his lips touch skin for the briefest moment of time, so quick he’s sure John couldn’t have noticed, and maybe it isn’t too late, maybe he can have this if he just tries a little harder.

Tomorrow. He’ll do it all over again.


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