Summary: It was his worst nightmare made real
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Radek Zelenka
Disclaimer: Not mine, the Martins, the DeLuise, et al own 'em.
Original story: Stop All the Clocks by bluebrocade
Notes: There are references (albeit small) to events up through "The Return, Part II," and a brief mention of "The Game." And the event that occurs in the story did not happen. Also, death of a minor character herein.
Thank you to bluebrocade for writing the original tale. And huge thanks to maverick4oz for her read through and encouragement.
Escapement (The Timex Edition)
It was his worst nightmare made real.
Worse than the thought of arriving center stage at the Miss Blonde Universe--the science arm--only to find he'd forgotten his clothes and the menu was 100% citrus.
Worse than the thought of losing the Nobel, losing his voice, losing his mind.
This had been worse.
Rodney would never accuse Colonel Caldwell of being a soft touch, but the tone of his voice when it crackled over the radio, summoning Rodney from his temporary lab to the control deck of the Daedalus, was soft, strained, and sympathetic. He'd known in that instant that something was wrong--very wrong, so wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Something so very wrong that had been made all the worse--Rodney still remembers thinking as he'd walked down the corridors to the deck, his heart beating an erratic and thunderous tattoo--because whatever had happened had happened when he wasn't there.
Whatever nightmare situations he'd been imagining in that short trip--he couldn't remember then, nor could he remember now--the smoke and the destruction that greeted him just outside the window wiped every thought from his mind.
He'd seen this happen before, seen Atlantis hurt and bleeding. But those times, he'd been there.
The only thought that played in a continuous loop through his mind, jamming the signals of "what"--what had happened--and "how"--how this could have happened, how he could fix it, if he could fix it-- was he needed to find John.
Elizabeth had been waiting for him when he beamed down with troops from the Daedalus, her face pale and drawn and an angry looking bruise on her cheek. The details of the attack barely registered as they walked, first to the labs, where Radek and a too-worn looking group of the science team were busy putting Atlantis back together again, and then to the infirmary, which was too full of familiar faces, and one face in particular.
For two days the city had been hurting without him, sections of the city left in smoke and rubble from Maldoran bombs, eight friends and colleagues had been killed in the ensuing attack, including Cadman, Corporal Aster and Dr. Stuart, who had died when the Maldorans had attempted to storm one of the labs. Teyla, Simpson and John were among the twenty-two that had been injured, some of whom were in seriously critical condition.
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" He had asked, staring at John, unconscious in the infirmary bed, at the tubes and wires, at the white gauze covering injuries he could only guess the severity of.
"It all happened so fast. And when it was over, we had to make sure we didn't lose the city, and there were the injured to deal with. There was nothing you could've done, Rodney," Elizabeth said, looking the part of the diplomat and leader, and less like his friend.
He'd nodded, allowing himself the briefest touch to John's shoulder before heading to the labs to help get the city back online.
In the fifty-four days that followed, Atlantis has started to heal. With the help of the Daedalus's crew and countless hours spent in the labs, they've managed to restore most of the systems to full power, the bodies of those killed have been eulogized and sent back home to their families, and all save for two of those who were injured in the Maldoran attack have been released from the infirmary. A shaky optimism has begun to grow, and with the Earth calendar turned to December, signs of holiday cheer have started to appear.
As if by direct proportion, the more cheer Rodney sees, the darker his mood's become, the more those lost two days eat away at him.
He's falling apart and he knows it, each time he's tried to take a breath and move forward another circuit will fail, or a lost colleague--friend--will come to mind, or be mentioned, or he'll look at John and see the fading lines on his cheek, the puckered scar on his bicep and it's like someone is pulling his ribs inward, constricting and suffocating him until he has to hold the wall for support.
He wakes on day fifty-five, breathless and sweating, the sounds of screams and explosions ringing in his ears and a sense of utter helplessness weighing on his chest. But unlike the fifty-four previous mornings, he's not alone. John's hands smooth over his chest, his calm, quiet reassurances whispered against Rodney's ear. And it nearly works, until he catches a glimpse of the pink and glossy new skin stretched over still-healing wounds on John's chest and torso--the first time he's seen the extent of John's injuries in the light of day--and he has to get away, get to the lab and not think about what he almost lost.
He almost falls out of bed, babbling about subroutines and compression coils as he pulls on his clothes and heads out the door. He hears John call after him as the doors slide close.
Radek and Miko are the only inhabitants of Lab 2 when Rodney arrives. Radek makes a comment on the appropriateness of his "Bah Humbug" t-shirt, to which Miko nods in agreement, and Rodney gives them both what he imagines is a withering glare. For an hour they work in a companionable, if strained, silence; Rodney can feel the looks being shared across the room and can only imagine what his friends are thinking.
The sixth time his calculations fail and he watches his simulation burst into pixilated flames, Miko suggests maybe he needs a break--they all need a break--and he snaps.
"Right, a break. So that the next time the bad guys decide to drop in for a little death and destruction, we can be even less prepared? Maybe we should just hang a sign outside that says 'come and get us,' how does that sound?"
It's been a long time since he's made her cry, and it feels even worse now to watch her eyes fill with tears as she excuses herself and heads out of the lab as quickly as she can.
"Rodney," Radek grips his arm tightly, his gaze pinning Rodney into place. "You have to stop. Colonel Sheppard survived. You have to let yourself remember and accept that."
Sometimes, Radek is too damn smart for his own good.
"I'm well aware that he's -- I know he survived."
"Then start acting like it. The labs are not empty because the Christmas spirit has claimed everyone, you are being worse than a Grinch. Colonel Sheppard should get a medal for putting up with you. It is amazing what we do for love."
"Radek," he hisses, looking around the empty labs. "He's not-- He. How did you know?"
"Everyone knows." Radek says this with such certainty, with just an air of condescension that Rodney can picture him, hair askew, wearing cords and a tweed jacket, definitely, teaching his graduate students back in Prague. "We are not so blind or idiotic as you like to say. That betting pool was settled long ago. It made the excuses--jumper lessons and gate harvesting that much more amusing."
"Hey, we really were looking for gates." Rodney adds, not trying to be contrary, but it's true.
"Imagine our surprise when it was learned you two really were playing that game of yours. You disappointed, McKay. There was quite a pool on --"
"Radek, stop, please, I don't want to know."
Radek, thankfully, listens. He nods, curling his hand around Rodney's bicep, squeezing gently. "Who knows, who doesn't know, is not the issue. You have been royal ass lately, and you have to stop, for everyone's sake. For the sake of the season, if nothing else."
"He almost died, Radek. John almost died, and I wasn't here when it happened." The words scratch Rodney's throat as if they were made of glass. It's the first time he's allowed himself to say them out loud.
"But he didn't die. You are lucky. Others were not so fortunate. Carson lost Lieutenant Cadman, but he has been more pleasant than you."
"Lucky, right." He's been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hasn't had a chance to tell Carson how sorry he is about Laura. He's tried, but he doesn't even know where to start. "This time was close, it's always close. I saw the scars last night, all of them, for the first time. How long before his luck runs out?"
"Even a genius cannot predict that. Colonel Sheppard would be the first to tell you we live on borrowed time here. All of us do. He could die tomorrow. Or you could. Or me--"
"You really suck at this, you know?"
"And you suck at being pleasant when your colonel is hurt."
"I thought I was always unpleasant?"
"You may have grown on me a little. That or I have built up a tolerance."
Rodney can't help but laugh at that, and his chest feels lighter for a moment.
"So, you will try to be less of an unpleasant man and will appreciate you have very tolerant friends, and an alive colonel?"
He nods and opens his mouth when a noise at the door interrupts him.
"Hey, McKay," John says, leaning in the entryway with a smile--smirk, really--in place, and it's the first time Rodney's seen him do that, be able to lean against his shoulder and side, since the attack and that mere, that simple fact makes Rodney ridiculously happy. "I just stopped by my office and there's a big stack of mission reports piled on my desk. I was thinking you might be able to help me with those."
"And when you say 'help,' you mean will I summarize them for you so that you don't have to read them all yourself?" There's a smile tugging at his mouth for the first time in what feels like forever. "I wasn't on any of those missions, as you well know, Colonel."
"I know, but I thought we could split the job, two heads are better than one, all that stuff." John aims what's considered in every civilized culture to be a full-fledged pout, even his four-year-old niece would be impressed, and Rodney feels his resolve crumble.
"You do realize that people over the age of eight don't use pouting to get their way, right?" Rodney hears Radek's bark of laughter when John raises his eyebrow. "Oh good God, fine! But I'm not going to read them to you."
"Yes, yes, please take him. He has scared everyone from the labs, and it is making my job more difficult having to do their work because I'm the only one not scared of him. Go, take him, fix him." Radek pushes him towards John, shooing like a hen driving her chicks out of the roost.
If he weren't already, Rodney would ask Radek to be his best friend.
"I will close down your work. Go."
Radek waves him away, barely containing a smug grin.
"What was that about?" John asks as they head down the hallway.
"Radek was pointing out an error in my methods." Rodney lets the back of his hand brush against John's as they step into the transporter.
"And?" John's index finger hooks around his own, squeezing lightly.
He looks over at John, passed the scars still lining his face, and smiles. For the first time in nearly two months, he can breathe. "He was right."