Spoilers: Up to and including Reunion.
Summary: Four went out, and three came back. Sheppard has vanished, and the rest of his team lies injured. By the time they recover, the trail has gone cold. As Sheppard and his team fight their own separate battles for hope and survival, the true danger may be different from what any of them expect.
Note: I changed the title from The White Room, since I'd accidentally chosen a title that's already been used in this genre. Apologies to the authors of that story! I know duplication is inevitable, but I wasn't happy with this particular duplication. I'd been dithering between the two titles, anyway.
Part one is here, and here is chapter two:
Chapter two: The Awakening
Rodney drifted awake, swimming through drugged bleariness. He felt very little pain. Someone was moving around beside his bed. Sheppard, he thought. When I open my eyes, I'll see Sheppard, back again, safe. He would smile, chide Rodney a little for getting himself shot, for worrying…
He opened his eyes. The young face of Doctor Keller was looking down on him, smiling. Strange how it still hurt. He remembered everything, but still, when he woke up in the infirmary, part of him expected Carson.
"How's…?" He moistened his dry lips. The drugs made his tongue feel thick. "Is everything…?"
"You'll be fine," she said, with that medical cheeriness that only Carson had been able to pull off. "The bullet missed–"
"No, no," he snapped. "Not me."
"The others will be fine, too," she said. "Teyla's–"
"No." He tightened his fist around a handful of blanket. "About Sheppard."
"Oh." He saw her swallow, saw her prepare herself for the bad news. He closed his eyes, turning away from her. "Oh, no, he's not dead," she said brightly. "It's just that he's still missing."
"Then you don't know if he's dead or not, do you?" He tried to sit up, but her hand was on his shoulder, pushing him back into the pillow, and she was strong, for all her slightness, or maybe he was just weak – weak and wounded and useless.
"They're doing everything they can," she said. "They–"
"How long?" he demanded.
She looked at her watch, frowning. "Eight hours."
Eight hours of Sheppard missing. Anything could have happened during that time. Rodney remembered the rescue team going out, but then they had dragged him away, and he had fought, desperate to stay, but then soft darkness had taken him.
"Do we have any leads?" he asked her.
"I don't know." She looked tired and very young. "I've been working on the three of you–"
"Then get me someone who knows something." He tried to sit up again, and this time she let him. When he expected to feel pain, he felt only numbness.
"I do know that Colonel Carter is preparing to go herself with the next team."
He threw off the blanket. "I'm going with them."
"No." The hand was back, pushing him down against the pillow. "I'm keeping you here for at least two more days. After that, I want you in a wheelchair–"
"No. No. No, I won’t." His head was spinning. Over her shoulder, the colours of the infirmary bled into each other, and his thoughts were jagged, his hands shaking with the rhythm of his fear. "I need to go. I need to go. They won't know what to look for."
"They know what they're doing." But she looked over her shoulder, clearly desperate for help, so she didn't know anything at all. She was just a little girl struggling to fill a dead man's shoes. "They're good people – trained. Let them do their job. Concentrate on getting better."
"No!" He fought her, as everything whirled hecticly around him. "Let me go. I'm fine. I'm well. I can–"
"No, you can't." And then there were other footsteps, other people trying to keep him prisoner her. "You aren't well…"
"You're not Carson," he spat at her. He saw her recoil; it was one of the last things he saw clearly in the swirling mass of colour and darkness that was his world. "You don't know anything. You couldn't… You didn't…"
Couldn't save Elizabeth. And, as he sank back onto the pillows, he was not far enough gone to say those words. She had failed to save Elizabeth, and so he had… with the nanites… and then… if he hadn't, then she would… then she….
He felt sweet forgetfulness steal through his veins, but it came with no words of comfort. It came with no words at all, only those which he provided for himself.
Consciousness returned in slow increments. Sheppard eyes opened first, seeing only whiteness above him. Except for that, he floated in a body that did not feel like his own. Something's wrong. Faint memories, only faint. Running. The rain…
He tried to move his head, and couldn't. He concentrated on finding his hands, and tried to move them. Coarse fabric scraped against his fingers, and even that simple movement sent an aching lethargy up his arms.
Rodney wounded. Dead leaves. Rain.
He thought he was dry, but he still had little sensation of possessing skin. It was as if he was flowing out into the whiteness, or floating somewhere else, a million miles away from his clumsy body that was not his own. He blinked again, and managed the faintest moment of his head. Still only whiteness, but it was no longer smooth. Suddenly the whiteness resolved itself into hard planes: a ceiling, and a wall. Even without a body, he thought he would sense the hum of Atlantis around him.
It was not there.
He found the muscles that controlled his face, and set his jaw, frowning with concentration. Digging his hands into the soft surface beneath him, he managed to move his head to the side. He saw a white door, closed, with no handle and no control crystal beside it. I've been stunned, he realised, and more than once. He concentrated on moving his arm, and the dull lethargy slowly fragmented into the familiar pins and needles. A few minutes later, he was able to move his other arm. Not too long after that - far too long after that - he was able to move his head, and slowly raised himself up.
He was on a narrow bed, lying on his back on top of coarse white blankets. A medical facility? he wondered, but he already knew that it wasn't. No, a prison. But his hands were not tied, and there was nothing keeping him on the bed.
"What happened?" He spoke aloud, forcing the sound past his numb lips, in case he would need his voice soon. The first word was silent, but the second came out as a broken rasp. He cleared his throat, and almost tried again, but he no longer had the urge to speak. He knew what had happened. He remembered running through the rain back to the Gate. He remembered watching the others disappear through the wormhole, and he was out of the rain, closing the last few steps…
And then nothing. His memory stopped from that point until this. The obvious conclusion was that somebody had stunned him and brought him here while he was unconscious. The question was: why? No, he thought, smiling wryly; there were far more questions than that. Why, and who, and what did they want from him? When would the questioning begin? Were the others…?
He half-started from the bed, before he remembered again the thing he had remembered only moments before. The others were safe. He scraped his hand across his brow, trying to fix his memories, trying to sharpen his sluggish thoughts. The others were safe. No need to… He could sit here, close his eyes, sleep…
"No." That, too, he said aloud. "Focus, John." His vest had been removed, as well as his belt, and all his weapons. He patted his pockets, and found them empty, and even his watch had gone. He had no supplies and no weapons, and he was a prisoner. Well, no… He smiled again, and lurched to his feet, staggering drunkenly towards the door. It did no harm to check… No. Locked. He curled his fingers into the gap around the door, but it was far too thin, and the door didn't move. The biggest gap was at the bottom, where there was a good two inches between the door and the floor. He noted it, but did not investigate it further, not yet.
On the far side of the small room there was a second doorway, this one without a door. Keeping his hand on the wall for balance, he lurched towards it, fighting dizziness. Inside was a crude metal tub, with two pipes leading into it, controlled by dials. A bath, he thought, turning the nearest dial and releasing a thin trickle of cold water. A smaller tub was placed in front of a mirror, and a third tub was ringed with a metal seat.
"Well, what do you know?" he said out loud. "A prison cell with a fully equipped bathroom. I like you guys better than the Genii already."
He headed back for the bed, and sat down heavily before he fell. His whole body was alive with pins and needles, but his thoughts still felt dulled. It was several minutes before he pinned down the pain that lurked beneath his muted senses. Turning his arm, he studied the small bandage, stained ever so slightly with blood.
That was the first time that he cursed. They must have removed his subcutaneous transmitter. That meant that… That meant… "Damn."
The last of the sluggishness vanished, driven away by necessity. He assessed his situation. Square room, about twelve feet by twelve feet. Locked door. No window. Cold white light. The ceiling… He cursed again, and coldness crept through his veins, the ice driving away the pins and needles. There was a large hook in the middle of the ceiling, and from that his eyes went downwards to the floor - to the stone floor that sloped ever so slightly towards a drain.
He closed his eyes just for a moment. It was to be questioning, then. Torture. He opened his eyes again, clenching his fists. This was nothing he had not been trained to withstand. Hell, he had withstood worse than this. Nothing could be worse than having your life ripped away from you an inch at a time by a Wraith. At least the others were safe. He could endure anything as long as it was only him, and no-one else was brought down because of his weakness.
Pressing his hand once to his chest as if to still his heart, he straightened his spine, keeping his head high. At least he knew. It gave him a focus, something to fight. They would come soon, and they would try to hurt him, but he would hurl all his strength at the expectation of pain. He would stay strong. He would not give them what they wanted.
And he would fight. They would come soon, and the gap at the bottom of the door would tell the tale of their approach. The after-effects of the stunning were completely vanished now, as he sat there, hands clenching and unclenching, every muscle alert and ready for the fight.
"Is she awake? I thought I saw her move. Is she… Teyla?" The words penetrated her sleep. It sounded like Rodney's attempt at a… a stage whisper, she believed it was called.
"Don't wake her," someone else said. "She–"
She opened her eyes. "I'm awake."
"See. See. I told you." Rodney turned in triumph to the young medic. "Now, be a good girl and clear off. We've got grown-up things to talk about here."
She waited for Sheppard to chide him with an affectionate "Rodney", outwardly impatient, but inwardly nothing but. No-one said anything. She moved her head, wincing at the pain. She had little memory of how she came to be here. It had been very wet, she remembered that. Rodney had been shot, and Ronon… Yes, Ronon's foot had been caught in a trap. After that, there was just a memory of lying here, being constantly awakened by Doctor Keller, until the soft and welcome words had given her licence to sleep.
"How long has it been?" she asked Rodney.
He looked at his wrist, but something about the way he answered told her that he had known the answer even without looking. "Fifteen hours."
She saw Doctor Keller standing on the far side of the infirmary, looking at them with something akin to pity on her face. Her hands were clasped in front of her. Of course, Teyla thought, she was very young. But no younger than Teyla had been when she had assumed the leadership of her people. Older, far older, than Teyla had been when she had seen her first death.
"Why…?" She struggled for words. Perhaps her head injury was making her thoughts sluggish, for she remembered that; remembering falling. She remembered running, a furious pain in her shoulder, and her vision swimming with every step. She moistened her lips, and tried again. "Why…?" But she could not say it. Pain did not give her a licence to be tactless. Why are you the one waiting at my bedside? Ronon or John would not have surprised her, but not Rodney. Until recently, she would have doubted whether he felt enough about her or about Ronon to even want to wait by their bed.
Rodney opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Sheppard's missing," he blurted out on his second attempt. "He didn't come back. You were unconscious. You missed it all." He sounded faintly accusing. "The effect of Gate travel on a head injury, they say. You've slept through it all, and I… They won't tell me anything. Too busy, they say."
"Too busy trying to get him back." She struggled to find the comfort of those words. Her mind was still two steps behind. Sheppard's missing. He didn't come back. And then earlier still, struggling to remember. Fifteen hours.
"So they say," Rodney said bitterly. "But it should be us out there. How many times have those mindless grunts saved this city? I have, as well you know. It's always us. We're the ones who go after him. And he comes after us, all the time. It's… it's how it should be."
Rodney's face looked raw with feelings she had never thought to hear him express. He was sitting in a wheelchair, hooked up to various drugs, and his skin was pale, with hectic flushes on his cheeks. On the far side of the infirmary, Keller's eyes flickered from Rodney to Teyla, and back again.
Movement to her left made her turn her head, wincing at the stab of pain in her head. Ronon was approaching on crutches. From the flurry of noise behind him, he must have ridden rough-shod through the objections of the medics.
"They say he's still missing." He sat down heavily on the chair beside her bed. "They wouldn't let me go. Drugged me."
"And me," Rodney said.
For a long moment, no-one seemed to be able to think of anything to say. Struggling for coherence past the pain in her head, Teyla thought of the possibilities. Sheppard, captured… wounded… dead. It was inconceivable that one of their team was missing, and that they were powerless to do anything about it. Fifteen hours. It hurt worse than the head injury.
"You should have gone with them." Rodney broke the silence. He was clutching the arm of the wheelchair with one hand. The other hand was jabbing at Ronon, one finger outstretched. "I saw what happened. Teyla was unconscious." He almost sneered the word. "I couldn't stand. I had a bullet in my leg. But you…" He turned sharply away from Ronon, and pinned Teyla with his desperate fury. "He said he'd go, but he let them talk him out of it. He walked away. I watched it. He walked away, and now… and now…"
"I would have slowed them down." Ronon said it with none of the anger she would have expected. He was looking down at his hands.
Now was not the time to give in to pain. She forced clarity, and looked from one to the other. "It would not have helped John if you had gone out wounded," she told Ronon. "Everyone here is exceptionally capable. If they could not find him, I am sure we would have been unable to find him, either."
She could tell that her words meant nothing at all to either of them. They felt hollow to her own ears, too. Even so, she turned to Rodney. "I understand why you want to blame someone–"
"No, you don’t," he shouted. "You don't understand anything at all." He tried to push the wheelchair backwards, but failed, and crashed into her bed. For a moment, she thought he was about to cry.
"Rodney," she said. "Rodney…" But then Doctor Keller came over and ended it all.
But no, she thought, as Ronon was led away, locked in silence. No, as Rodney shouted at everyone, and fought all the way back this bed. It was not over. It was not over at all. She would close her eyes and will herself well. John needed her. John needed all of them.
No, she thought one last time, because she was honest. They needed this.
Footsteps sounded on the far side of the door, loud on a hard floor. Sheppard's heart started to beat very fast. He tilted his head to one side, listening. Two people, he thought. No. Three. Three people, one with a longer stride than the others, and one light, almost silent.
Guys? Nothing could still the tiny spark of hope, but he dampened it ruthlessly. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
The steps came closer; slowed. He had stood up; stalked to the door without realising it. He stood just inside, clenching and unclenched his fists, standing lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to grab any moment that presented itself.
Patches of shadow showed through the gap at the bottom of the door. The feet with the long strides stopped. The soft steps halted silently. One set of footsteps carried on for three more irregular steps, paused, shifted, then were still.
"Guys?" His lips moved, but only the faintest sound came out. "I'm in here."
Silence. Only silence. He edged forward; raised his hand; lowered it. He listened for the rattle of keys, for the sound of other things, worse things. He imagined that he could hear breathing, but perhaps it was only his own.
Not his team. No, it was too much to expect that is was his team. McKay would never be so silent. Ronon could be stealthy, but preferred to fight. No, these were his captors, and they were going to come in, and… He swallowed, very aware of the hook on the ceiling behind him, but every last tiniest shred of his concentration was focused on the door, and the sounds beyond it.
As soon as it opened… As soon as they made the slightest move… As soon as they tried to subdue him…
A step. Something touched the door, like a hand pressing against it, resting on it for a moment.
He felt as if he was overflowing with adrenaline, his heart pounding, his skin tingling with the expectation of a fight. In a moment… In a minute… Any… minute… now…
The steps moved on. The long stride left first, followed by the faltering one. The soft one moved on so quietly that he barely heard it.
"Hey." His heart was still pounding, and it overflowed into sound. "I called for room service. A burger. Cheeseburger. Lots of bacon." The footsteps did not falter. They walked further away, faded, and then were gone. "Hey!" he shouted. He slammed his fist into the door, then spat out a curse at the pain in his hand. "I won't be recommending this hotel to any of my friends."
His voice echoed forlornly in the sparsely-furnished room. Beyond the door, there was only silence.
"Dammit." His fist were clenched so tightly that they were trembling, and he snatched it back a moment before it struck the door a second time. Instead, he started pacing, forcing his hand to uncurl, raking it through his hair. "Dammit." His heart was still pounding, blood surging in his ears. He sat down on the edge of the bed, but it felt like a bed of nails, and he surged to his feet again.
This time he went for water, splashing it on his face with one hand, while he turned to keep his eye on the door. Coldness trickled down his neck, almost like pain. He took another cupped palmful of water, and scraped both hands across his face, fingers digging into his eyes. Some of the water spilled onto the floor, and he watched it snake slowly towards the drain.
Above him, looking down on him like monster hunched on the ceiling, was the hook. He turned his face away from it, walked to the bed, and this time managed to stay sitting. His hands by his sides, though, were never still.
After twenty-one hours, Colonel Carter came to see him. Sitting upright in his bed, Rodney watched her approach. "How are you, Rodney?" she asked, but she did not sit down.
"Fine. Fine." He waved his hand in a circular fashion, hurrying her up. "Have you found Sheppard?"
She shook her head. Behind her, Ronon approached, faster on crutches than many people were with two legs. He heard Teyla's voice, saw someone push back a curtain from around her bed, and saw her watching them intently.
"What have you been doing?" Ronon demanded.
She folded her hands in front of her, fingers twining loosely. "We went back as soon as we could, but there was no trace of him. He had to move carefully because of the traps."
"And the gunmen." Rodney gestured at his leg. "Invisible gunmen… Have you seen what they did to…? Oh. No." He subsided, because words couldn't help, words couldn't delay the inevitable. "Being quiet."
"There were no gunmen." Her smile was faint. "We had four teams out there, searching on foot, but they've found no trace. We did, however, make contact with a local who says that off-world bandits frequently come on raids–"
"So he was taken by space bandits," Rodney interrupted. "Of course he was." He could hardly bear to look at Carter… And, yes, she was Carter suddenly, not Sam. This was not the woman he had hallucinated under the ocean, the woman who had saved his life. This was the leader who was trying to replace Elizabeth. This was the woman who taken charge of the mission to find Sheppard, and had failed.
"We've harvested all the addresses recently dialled…"
"Who did that?" he demanded.
"Doctor Zelenka went with one of the teams, and–"
"Radek?" He laughed, and had to look away. Zelenka, always so afraid of going off-world… Zelenka, whom once he hadn't trusted to… But that had changed, hadn't it? Zelenka had changed, and even Rodney had had to admit that he had skills that… No! "I want to check them myself," he said.
Ronon edged closer to Carter, standing at her shoulder, towering over her. Of course, Rodney was angry with Ronon – furious with him, blamed him, hated him. Ronon should have gone… No, he should have gone.
"Dr Zelenka knows his job," Carter said. "We have the addresses. We have teams working their way through the list. I've been out myself." Her hand moved as if she was about to touch his hand, but then she moved it back awkwardly. "I came to give you all a progress report when I got back the first time, but you were sleeping. Then I needed to sleep myself."
She looked tired and worn, her eyes shadowed with grey, and her hair looked as if she had twisted it up without a thought. Rodney turned away from her, and looked instead at Teyla, watching so fiercely from across the room.
"I can't make promises, Rodney, all of you…" And then, for a moment, she sounded like the Sam Carter from his hallucination, and that was almost more than he could bear, for that thing had died, if it had ever existed at all outside his own mind. "I can't stand here and say that we will get him back unharmed. No-one can make promises like that. But we will try. We have tried."
"Just not hard enough." He could not stop the words from escaping.
A member of medical staff – he had no idea of most of their names now, after Carson – faltered to a halt near the foot of his bed. "You asked for another breakfast?"
"Yes." He spat the word. The young man folded out the tray, and placed the plate of pastries on it. Rodney saw him swallow nervously; watched him flee.
He remembered when it had felt good to have people flee from him, fighting tears.
"We have also made contact," Carter said, all stiffness now, "with the man who claims to speak for the city nearest to the Gate, one Lord Dareon. We are having a formal meeting tomorrow to discuss further relations. We will, of course, be–"
"He's probably the one who took Sheppard," Rodney exploded. A sharp edge of sweetness reached his nostrils, and he eyed the pastries, feeling almost sick.
"I'm aware of that," she said quietly, "but confrontation isn't always the way to–"
Ronon snorted. Swallowing hard, Rodney reached for a pastry and took a large bite. It fragmented in his mouth into dry shards, and it tasted of ashes. He chewed it slower and slower, swallowed it with an effort, and put the rest of the pastry down.
"I want to be there for the meeting," he said. He saw Teyla nod, and saw, too, the agreement in Ronon's eyes.
"I'm not sure that's wise," Carter said. "Doctor Keller says–"
"We're going to be there," said Ronon. "Don't try to stop us." Rodney, normally so unstoppable with words, just looked at her silently.
Eventually, she nodded. "Get some rest until then." Again, she made almost as if to touch Rodney's arm, but withdrew. Her departure seemed awkward.
Elizabeth would have touched me, he thought.
No-one spoke for several minutes after she had left. In the end, Rodney flapped his hand vaguely at Ronon. "Have my breakfast, if you like. No no. Not all of it. Leave me some. No, no, leave me that one, with the cherry on. I need to eat often, you know…" It ended with a sigh, his hands limp on the bed covers. Ronon took the other pastry, though. Perhaps it was a sort of apology.
"We'll get him back," Ronon said, but in the light of Carter's honesty, it was no promise at all.
End of chapter two
On to chapter three