Title: What Lies Beneath -
posted Dec. 8, 2005
Author: Lacey McBain
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Sheppard/McKay (just a hint)
Word Count: ~4800
Summary: John realizes he
doesn't have all the information about what happened to Rodney.
Spoilers through "The Hive" including some dialogue from the
episode. Follow-up to Tell Me
What Lies Beneath
“You lied to me.”
barely awake, but he can still make out Sheppard’s outline against the
moon-bright window. He doesn’t remember hearing the door open, is
positive he’d set the privacy lock to avoid exactly this kind of thing,
and silently curses Sheppard’s Ancient gene that lets him go anywhere
and do anything he pleases. Atlantis opens up for him quicker than a
Rodney rolls onto his back and thinks about
surrender. He would never have been one of those guys fighting to the
death at the Alamo—no, he would’ve been the one waving the white flag
as soon as he could dig out a handkerchief, because last stands aren’t
all they’re cracked up to be. Rodney thinks John grew up watching too
many westerns and war movies, and he’s sick of watching him die, but he
doesn’t know how to tell him that without giving everything away.
“You lied to me. You stood there and lied, and I want to know why.”
thinks he sees Sheppard’s hand stray towards the light, and Rodney says
“no” and “please” like he thinks Sheppard will listen to him. He’s been
living with the lights off since he got back. Too long underground in
Ford’s secret lair, away from sunlight and warmth, and he doesn’t want
anyone to look too closely. See him clearly.
hiding, at least for a while, and he’ll take every moment he can get.
He’s said and done too many things he can’t quite remember and can’t
honestly forget, and he’s got a bad feeling they’re all about to
catch-up with him like a pack of starving dogs. He can hear the angry
howls, shards of sentences that scrape away his skin and leave him raw.
Exposed. There’s a pain in his head that just won’t go away.
Sheppard leaves the light off. “You owe me an explanation.”
thought he’d have more time to sort this out. To lick his wounds. To
put his monstrous ego back together and pretend it doesn’t sting that
none of what he did mattered. To anyone. He’s heard Carson and
Elizabeth murmuring about him in quiet, concerned tones. Even Caldwell
kept looking at him like he was going to drop any moment on the
Daedelus, and Major Lorne had stood beside him and laid a hand on his
arm when it was clear nothing had survived the hive ships’ explosion.
He isn’t ready to talk about this with John who’s just back from the
dead and high on his own immortality. Rodney’s still digging his way
out from underground.
A thin finger prods his chest, and Rodney
doesn’t remember seeing John move, but he’s dog-tired and he’s sure
that’s all there is to it. Besides, John’s always perfectly silent when
he wants to be, black and sleek as a stealth fighter, and Rodney
appreciates it on missions, but not so much when it’s the middle of the
night and he’s the object of surveillance.
“Get the hell out of
my room,” he says, going for righteously put-upon and ending up with
sleep-deprived and cranky, and John’s face is lost in shadow and the
too-pale hand against Rodney’s chest looks strange in the moonlight.
Fingers too long and the nails feel sharp, as if John’s been honing
them to a point. Rodney’s breath stutters in his chest at the tiny
press of pain that blossoms in his lungs.
“Tell me why you lied.”
“Tell me why it matters.”
always given back as much as he gets from Sheppard, has never needed to
mince words or work at being polite. John’s never cared that he isn’t
polished or politically correct, as long as he’s honest. That’s been
the cornerstone of this friendship so far, and Rodney’s always known
he’d be the one to screw it up. It’s just the way he is.
he can’t tell the truth about this one, not yet, and really it wouldn’t
make any difference. No one really needs to hear about his twenty-four
hour marathon of humiliation, his slide from insane to idiotic and
everything in between, and the worst of it was that he didn’t even have
anything coherent to offer, nothing to get the rescue underway any
sooner. A wasted effort.
“You’re a liar, McKay. I can see it in your eyes. But you’re going to
tell me what you did, and I’m not leaving till you do.”
hands tremble whenever he thinks about it: the way his blood hummed
with unimagined strength. He saw it in Teyla and Ronon’s faces
too—desire for something they never knew they wanted until it was taken
away—and he’s the same. He still wants it. Would take it if it were
offered because it was good to be strong, unafraid, if only for a
moment. He wonders if that’s what it feels like to be Sheppard. Alive
and humming and so goddamned brave there’s no room for doubt. The
universe kneeling at your feet, galaxies moving aside like the Red Sea
for Moses, and Death stepping out for a coffee break because he knows
there’s no point in even trying. You’re invulnerable and the universe
wouldn’t dare try to prove otherwise.
Rodney thought he knew what it felt like to be invulnerable, but he
supposes that was just a lie too.
feels the bed dip beside him. The pressure on his chest is still there,
but Rodney closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to look. He wishes
Sheppard would get the hell out of his room. Or say something that
doesn’t sound like an accusation, an interrogation. But then, maybe
that’s not a good idea either, and Rodney wonders how long Sheppard
will stay there, touching him, watching him, waiting for him to break.
This is fun for you, isn’t it? Watching me like this?
isn’t sure which of them has said the words, but they’re there. In his
mind, in the room, they’re as clear as if they’re written on the wall.
He doesn’t remember a lot about that night, but he can recall in
perfect detail the moment Carson’s eyes went wide with hurt. Accent
heavier than normal, the way it gets when he’s flustered or caught
off-guard. Rodney wants to forget those long hours when he said
God-only-knows-what while the enzyme was pulsing through his body. He
knows the room wasn’t bathed in red light, but somehow that’s the way
he remembers it. Hazy and breathless, the orange-red glow of a perfect
sunset washing over everything. He tries to forget the enzyme in the
bottle was that same beautiful colour.
He feels ashamed although he doesn’t remember what he said. Mostly.
“Carson shouldn’t have told you anything, Colonel. It’s not his place.
It was—my mistake. My decision.”
“And the world always revolves around you, doesn’t it? Maybe Carson
didn’t tell me anything at all.”
wishes Carson would get angry at him. Tell him he was wrong, wrong,
wrong, and a fucking bastard to boot, but Carson’s being careful with
him, too gentle, and Rodney can’t stand it any more. No one’s ever
treated him like that before. Like he did something worth being proud
of. Like they’re afraid he’s going to break.
of how I get to go off-world and you get stuck in this stupid, pathetic
excuse for a hospital. Jealous because I get all the women and you
Rodney hasn’t been with a woman—with anyone—in months
and he’s damn sure Carson knows it. Even though Rodney makes a show of
pestering Carson for condoms just to see him blush, Beckett was there
for the disastrous date with Katie Brown, and it doesn’t take a genius
to see Rodney’s not Atlantis’s answer to Casanova, even with Lieutenant
Cadman feeding him lines. He’s kissed exactly two people since stepping
through the stargate to Atlantis and he doesn’t remember either kiss
except as a second-hand observer in his own body. The unfairness of it
seems oddly appropriate.
“If Carson didn’t tell you—”
“There are other ways, McKay.”
fingers on his chest are massaging now, a heartbeat rhythm, and Rodney
doesn’t know why but it’s right that it hurts a little, that Sheppard’s
hurting him. Rodney’s tried to keep things from him, but it never
works, and this is the proof. The burning in his chest, the certainty
that Sheppard knows everything he’s done. Every lie he’s told—even the
ones Rodney’s never admitted out loud.
Well, almost never.
“There’s no point lying anymore. You think I don’t know what you are?”
come back to him in small bursts like the unexpected tang of candies on
his tongue, but every one is lemon and he feels his throat swell and
his eyes start to water with the memories. He chokes them back, but the
bitter aftertaste remains. Words he can’t deny are his, although he
wishes he could pretend.
You’re jealous, jealous of how vital I am to this mission. Vital,
never felt less vital in his life than when he walked into the
infirmary to find Sheppard and the others alive and well. He’s happy,
thrilled, obscenely grateful, but the reality is they didn’t need
him—not at all—and every sacrifice he made was for nothing.
vital,” Sheppard whispers. “So vital we didn’t need you. Didn’t even
notice you weren’t along. We rescued ourselves—no thanks to you.”
Oh, God, just kill me.
remembers saying it, remembers the whine of his own voice: pathetic and
desperate. Carson told him it would pass, it would get better, but
Carson’s a worse liar than Rodney and he’d known it was going to get
worse. If Rodney could’ve reached the surgical instruments, he would’ve
done it himself—sliced open his wrists and watched the blood pour out,
red as enzyme. He knows this. He finally understands Gaul’s bullet to
the head. The reason someone would end it all. And he gets why Carson
tied him down. He isn’t entirely sure that he’s grateful, but he
supposes he ought to be.
“Always taking the easy way out, McKay. Lying to save yourself.”
Rodney knows there isn’t a damn thing that’s easy about lying. To
“Do you think I don’t know you’re lying?”
breakdowns have always been incremental. The result of too little food
or too little sleep, and everyone’s more or less used to watching
frustration ratchet up to anger, anger giving way to panic and
something closer to mania. But this time was no slow loss of control,
pieces breaking and falling off a crumbling foundation. The enzyme was
implosion and explosion and Rodney’s own personal Big Bang.
only has vague recollections of marine-green and hospital-white and his
own helpless laughter that was so far from appropriate he’s pretty sure
he made the marines blush. He’s grateful Carson shuffled him off to a
private room, kept everyone out, including Elizabeth. Carson sent them
all away at some point. Sometime after Rodney started screaming like
the victim in an old-fashioned horror movie, and hopefully before he
started offering blowjobs in exchange for the enzyme. He remembers
leering in Carson’s blush-bright face, promising he could make it
worthwhile. That he knew exactly what he was doing. Maybe it isn’t a
lie, but Carson doesn’t need to know that. Not ever.
“A liar and a slut. Take the edge off. I hear you were begging for it.
hand squeezes tighter, and Rodney gets that he’s being punished for
having these thoughts. For wanting something he can never have. Someone
he doesn’t deserve. He understands how the universe works, why galaxies
are born and die, how there are immutable laws that can be depended
Everybody lies. Love hurts. There are no happy endings.
“Just give me a little enzyme. Just enough to take the edge off. I’m
Carson is supposed to know the dirty secrets he spilled, the pleading,
the way he cried like he hasn’t in years. The promises of dirty,
desperate sex in exchange for just a tiny taste, and Rodney can almost
remember the stream of filthy things he said. He isn’t sure he’s ever
talked like that in his life—not drunk, not high, not ever, but he
would’ve done anything, anything at that moment, and he’d
wanted Carson to be absolutely clear on that. There’d been no mistaking
exactly what Rodney was prepared to do.
He wishes he could wipe
his mind clean. He feels dirty, like the shame’s so deep he’ll never be
able to wash it away. It’s under his skin. In his blood. The nails
poking through his skin can feel it, Rodney thinks. Somehow John knows
exactly what he is.
He would’ve sold his soul for a break in the
pain, would’ve grabbed the needle he imagined he saw Carson hiding from
him, bright with the addictive orange glow. He would’ve pushed it into
his arm without hesitation, if he could’ve gotten his hands free.
Carson wasn’t naïve or stupid and the restraints hadn’t been there
show. Rodney has the blue-black bruises around his wrists and ankles as
proof. Every time he sees them, he wants to apologize. Again. But there
are only so many times he can do that, and Rodney’s not the only one
who wants to pretend nothing happened.
“You can’t pretend
forever, McKay. There are records. Evidence. Cameras. Medical reports.
I’ll see it all. I’ll know what you are. What you want. What you did.”
like a dog on a scent, and Rodney can feel him pushing, pushing, the
pressure on his chest making it hard to draw a breath. But Rodney can’t
take it back. Any of it. The total humiliation, the willingness to
prostitute himself for drugs, isn’t even the worst part. After the pain
had become a constant red-burn and the tremors made him throw-up and
throw-up until he was empty and gaping, Rodney remembers being stripped
to his core. Helpless and lonely and hurting, too wounded to try to
hide anything, and the only way he got through the night was by rolling
one word over and over in his mouth.
One secret he promised he’d never tell. And Carson was there to hear
it, but thank God he was the only one.
John. John. John. John. John.
“And finally, the truth.”
aware that Sheppard’s hand is crushing his chest and it hurts. Christ,
it hurts, long fingers piercing his t-shirt like knives. John’s grip
tightens painfully, and Rodney thinks there are claws tearing through
his skin, cupping his pulsing heart. The pounding in his ears is the
loudest it’s ever been and he knows if he opens his eyes again, he’ll
see his heart in Sheppard’s hand, blood dripping from his fingers.
And it makes perfect sense. He deserves this.
This is the truth.
the hell happened?” Carson says, already shoving his stethoscope in his
ears and listening for a heartbeat as John hoists Rodney onto the
nearest bed. He’d thrown Rodney over his shoulder and into the nearest
transporter, radioing for Carson to meet him in the infirmary.
went to his quarters to see how he was doing, and when there was no
answer, I got worried.” John doesn’t explain that it was the privacy
lock that did it. Rodney hasn’t locked him out in the entire time
they’ve been friends, and John took it as a sign that something was
seriously wrong. He doesn’t say that he could hear Rodney calling his
name. “By the time I got past the privacy lock, he was totally
non-responsive. It was as if he didn’t even see me.”
“Aye, he probably didn’t.” Carson’s flashing a penlight in front of
Rodney’s pupils and even John can see there’s no dilation.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Could be a delayed reaction to the enzyme in his system. Or one of the
other drugs I gave him to counteract it.”
night staff is scurrying around, getting Rodney on oxygen, cutting open
his t-shirt and setting up the heart monitor. Even a few feet away,
John can tell Rodney’s breathing is shaky. His skin was clammy when
John found him, his shirt damp with sweat.
John feels helpless. This isn’t his area, and he doesn’t want to get in
Carson’s way, but he needs to help. To do something.
“Should I check on Ronon and Teyla? Could they be having some kind of—”
likely. Rodney’s got allergies that complicate his recovery, not to
mention the enzyme dose he took was nearly fatal.” Carson’s drawing
blood and ordering someone to bring him an injection of something with
a lot of syllables, and John doesn’t quite catch the name. He’s too
busy processing what Carson said.
“What? What do you mean? He was taking way less than Ronon and Teyla on
the planet. He shouldn’t have—”
pushing a needle into Rodney’s vein, pressing the stethoscope against
Rodney’s chest again and gesturing at John to sit. Over there. Out of
the way. He’ll get an explanation when Carson has one to give.
sits back and it takes every ounce of patience to be quiet until
Carson’s got a moment. He concentrates on what he knows. Assessing the
situation like he would for battle, and it suddenly occurs to him he’s
missing a lot of vital information. He’d been so concerned about the
troops on the board—Ronan and Teyla and Ford. The Wraith and their hive
ships and the new knowledge that they had humans who were willing to
work for them. Worship them. He’d been caught up with the thrill of
being alive, walking back into Atlantis with the sun shining on the
water and the news that McKay was home too. They’d all made it
back—unscathed—and that felt like victory. He was so busy bringing
everyone up to speed on things, he hadn’t really thought about what
anyone else had been doing. What Rodney had gone through.
looks terrible, pale and trembling, and he’s muttering into the oxygen
mask, a constant stream of words that don’t make any sense. When John
was carrying him, he’d been babbling too, but nothing more than a few
words and if John thought he heard his name, it might’ve just been his
ears playing tricks on him.
He wishes he’d pushed him to talk
earlier. In the corridor. He’d known Rodney was avoiding something, and
John was riding high on pulling another miracle out of his ass, and
he’d known McKay would be around later. Hell, they all would. There
would be time to get out of him whatever he was hiding. Time to tease
it out slowly with coffee and chocolate and a lazy evening of doing
nothing much. Elizabeth would make sure they got some downtime—they’d
damn well earned it. John had already thought about what he’d do.
Planned it in his head while he’d stretched out on the cold floor of
the hive ship, when he’d woken from dreams of clowns with pale blue
He’d stop by Rodney’s room and invite himself in, just as
he’d done a hundred times. They had a sort of come-and-go freedom with
each other’s quarters, and though they didn’t have that much free time,
somehow they seemed to end up spending it together. He’d have to take
McKay’s laptop away, kick it under the bed when Rodney wasn’t looking,
or else he’d keep drifting back to it. Poking at some equation or other
all evening. John would bring out the cards or maybe they’d just talk,
but it would be easy and he wouldn’t have to think about what he said.
The words would tumble out the way they always did. He could turn off
his own filter with McKay. It was kind of liberating to be able to say
whatever he wanted, knowing it would be heard in the spirit it was
It made him brave. And maybe more than a little foolish.
heart rate spikes suddenly, the high-pitched beeps cutting through
John’s thoughts, and he’s on his feet and beside the bed before he can
think. One of the nurses tugs him back, but not before John gets a hand
on Rodney’s trembling arm. He squeezes and says, “Come on, McKay. Hang
in there,” before he’s jostled aside and Carson’s setting up an IV drip.
what’s wrong with him?” John asks when Rodney seems stable, nurses
drifting off to keep an eye on other patients in the infirmary.
looks tired, and he rubs at his eyes before he considers an answer. “I
really wish he would’ve told you. I know you’ve probably not had much
time to talk, but—”
“What did he do?”
The missing pieces
are falling into place and it occurs to John that no one’s told him
anything about Rodney’s return. No details, anyway, and if he’d been
paying attention, he would’ve realized that sooner. Even Rodney let him
supply the story. Let him build it around his own—incorrect—assumptions.
Carson falls into the chair beside John and shakes his head. “Gave us a
hell of a fright, is what he did.”
knows how careful Carson is about confidentiality, but they’ve been
living in a war zone for a year and Carson’s learned how to give
information without giving things away. So when he says “Rodney took a
wee bit of enzyme to fortify his courage,” John knows Rodney’s blood
was racing with it, and he wonders what happened to the guards left
behind. He frowns when he realizes he can see bruises on Rodney’s
knuckles, ugly bands of mottled purple around his wrists, and he knows
those marks because he’s had them himself—when the retrovirus was
turning his body against him, and the doctor had no choice but to tie
him down for his own good. Carson doesn’t use them unless he absolutely
John sits back and lets him talk, and for the first time
he realizes Carson deals with a hell of a lot from all of them. More
than mending their bones and their bodies. Maybe John hasn’t been
paying enough attention to anyone.
“It was a wee bit like being in The Exorcist,”
Carson says, and John knows exactly what that means. Hours and hours of
Rodney, unfiltered, unable to stop from saying every stupid, paranoid,
insecure, hurtful, painful thing that crossed his confused mind. No
wonder Carson sent everyone away. John wonders if he would’ve been
strong enough to be there for Rodney. To listen to every thought
usually buried deep inside. To take it all and let it go, pretend it
was just the enzyme talking and not Rodney’s fear. Insecurity. Pain.
was touch and go,” Carson says, and John knows they probably came close
to losing Rodney more than once. “I think he kept going on sheer force
of will to be honest.”
If there’s one thing John knows for
certain, it’s that Rodney McKay’s personality is just as overwhelming
as the man’s brain. There isn’t anything about him that isn’t larger
than life, and John’s learned to roll with the tidal wave that is
McKay. John’s always been good at catching the waves and staying
afloat. He’s always liked the challenge. The danger inherent with that
kind of force of nature.
“He was afraid for you, John. For all of you, and he couldn’t stand by
and do nothing while you might be dying.”
“He could’ve died.”
but I think he considered you,” Carson meets his eyes and doesn’t look
away, “worth the risk.” A big hand claps John on the shoulder and
Carson tells him to get some sleep.
John stays in the infirmary
long after Rodney’s breathing has evened out and his blood pressure has
settled. The chair scrapes along the tile floor as he drags it closer
to the bed, and he reaches out to touch Rodney’s arm. There’s bruising
in the soft skin of his elbow from previous injections and John wishes
it wasn’t insane to place a kiss right there. A wish to make the hurt
John traces the bruises on Rodney’s wrist, letting his
fingers linger against the rapidly beating pulse. It tells him Rodney’s
alive. Battered, but alive, and it’s another kind of miracle. One John
didn’t know he needed to be grateful for, but he is.
have told me the truth,” he whispers, letting one hand reach up to
brush a wisp of hair off Rodney’s forehead, and he can’t help but smile
at the irony of it all because he’s got his own secrets. The truths he
hasn’t told. Rodney would call him a hypocrite if he knew.
a sound beneath the oxygen mask, and John’s looking up into blue eyes,
a little wild and still not quite focused, but better. Closer to Rodney.
It’s a wet murmur, but it’s recognizable, and John tugs at the oxygen
mask because Carson had said Rodney could take it off whenever he woke
up. It’s only now that John realizes Carson knew he wouldn’t leave.
That he’d still be here when Rodney woke up. Carson knows them both
surprisingly well. Or maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all.
takes a deep breath and another, and John doesn’t say anything, but he
wraps his fingers around Rodney’s hand and waits for him to speak.
Rodney’s looking at him like he isn’t quite sure John’s real, so he
gives him a small squeeze and the blue eyes look confused, but not
unhappy, and it’s enough to give John hope.
“You scared me,”
John says. It’s a whisper and it wasn’t at all what he planned to
say—something carefree and smart-ass that would let Rodney know
everything was the same as usual. Except it isn’t because they’ve never
sat like this before, never touched like this, and John can feel the
need for it whispering under his skin.
“You scared me too.” A
raw almost-laugh and John knows he doesn’t quite get the joke, but
Rodney blinks it away like it’s a dream and the blue eyes look clearer
and more alert. Rodney looks at him like he doesn’t quite understand
what John’s doing here, and John unfolds Rodney’s fingers and brings
the hand up to his cheek. Lays Rodney’s fingers flat against his face.
real. I’m not going anywhere.” John doesn’t know why, but it seems
important because Rodney was moaning like someone was ripping his heart
out when John found him, and he wants Rodney to know there’s no chance
of that happening here. Not if he can stop it.
smiles at that. Everything’s an argument with McKay, and it’s strange
to have him give in this easily, but maybe John’s actually gotten
through his thick skull or maybe he’s just too tired to fight. John
shadows Rodney’s hand, the one against his face, and presses a kiss
lightly into his palm.
“No more lies. Even if you think it’s what I want to hear.”
“Everybody lies.” Rodney looks away, tries to tug his hand back, but
John’s not letting go. He’s gone this far.
“You don’t have to. Not anymore. Not with me.”
none of it matters," and Rodney's voice is devastatingly soft, and John
feels his heart breaking a little. "It didn't make a difference."
"It matters. It makes a difference. To me."
eyes are wide. This is uncharted territory. Things they’re not supposed
to talk about—like the way they sometimes sit closer than absolutely
necessary, sprawled on Rodney’s bed, or that John is surprisingly
ticklish behind his knees and on the bottom of his feet, and that
Rodney wrestled in high school and can still pin John to the mat
without a lot of trouble. Of course, John doesn’t resist that much.
“There are things you don’t know. Secrets.”
“You suck at lying,” John says, and it’s the truth. Rodney’s mouth
lifts at the corners. Slightly.
“John, there are things about me, things you might not want to—”
“I want it all.”
a small movement to rise out of the chair, though John’s legs are
shaking like he’s run a marathon. He leans in and kisses Rodney,
presses him back against the pillow with a kiss that’s firm, but not
demanding. John’s just telling it like it is. He’s here and he wants
this—secrets and lies and all the dead weight they’re both carrying
inside. He’s not hesitating anymore. He’s 37 years old and for the
first time in a long time he knows exactly what he wants. This doesn’t
have to be complicated; it can be the simplest thing they’ve ever done.
He puts all of that into kissing Rodney and when he pulls back he
thinks, just maybe, he’s made his point.
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