Chapter ten: Consequences
Rodney clawed at the pillow at his back. "I don't… I don't know… Talk about… about what?"
He felt stupid with sleep, and the dreams still lurked close by, close enough to hurt. Was Ronon…? God, was Ronon…? Oh no. Oh no no no no no. God. Please. He'd said as much to Teyla, hadn't he, accusing Ronon of being the traitor. But he didn't really believed it. He'd just been so angry, hating Ronon but not knowing why. It had been something to say against him – a legitimate reason for his anger.
"Don't…" His mouth was dry, and bitter from sleep. He moistened his lips, swallowed, tried again. "I don't know what…"
"You shot him."
Everything fell apart and reassembled. Oh. Oh crap. Oh God. Oh no. "I… I… I…" His hands were moving fast, that small sound repeating again and again like the firing of a gun. He felt queasy. He hadn't eaten enough, hadn't eaten anything like enough to…
"Is it true?" Ronon was deadly. How many lives had he ended? How many people had seen his eyes as their last living sight before Ronon killed them? Or hurt them. Tortured them. That's almost as bad. No, no. Ronon wouldn't. But they were all changed now. No-one was as they should be. Atlantis had turned dark.
"I… I didn’t mean to." He clutched a handful of pillow. He remembered the feel of the gun, and the sight of the blood afterwards. What came in between was a blur. "Not to hit him, I mean. I didn't realise I had until afterwards." He blinked several times. "I didn't tell you? Sam knew. I thought… I thought everyone knew."
"I try not to listen to gossip." Ronon said the word as if it was a sentence of death.
"Well, aren't you the virtuous one?" Rodney said. Ronon glowered. The wall pressed harder at Rodney's back. "I didn't hurt him badly," he said. I didn't hurt him badly. I couldn't have hurt him badly. "There wasn't much blood. And that… that man – the one you talked to in the bar… He didn't say anything about him being hurt, did he?"
"Why did you do it?" Ronon demanded.
"Well… Here's the thing…" His hand rose half way to his face, froze, then lowered again. "We talked about it. Sheppard thought it would add verisimilitude. Make things look more realistic, that is, if someone… if someone shot at him. I said… I said it should be you. More likely not to miss. Sheppard said that was the point. He didn't want to get shot, thank you very much. I said that… It's not true, though, that I can't hit a barn door at ten paces. I'm much better than I was. I've done some pretty good shooting–"
"Ah. Yes. Sorry." This time his hand did reach his face, trying to rub the worst of the sleep from his eyes. The grittiness remained. "Then Sheppard said that the thing with you was that it would be stun or kill, and he didn't much like his chances with either. I admitted that maybe he was right and I… uh… couldn't guarantee to miss him, and he… uh…" He looked down, where his sheet was arranged in valleys and mountains, white lines with deep shadows. "He said I could do it if I wanted to, because if we gave him some surprises, his reaction would look more genuine, but we didn't talk about it again after that."
"But you shot him."
"You're persistent," Rodney said. "Don't you ever get–?"
"You shot him."
Both hands to his face now. "Yes." He lowered them. "I don't know why. I wasn't supposed to be there. I just… I knew it was happening, him and Sam. I knew he was going, and I hadn't seen him since… since our fight. I went to the armoury and I–"
"Stop that!" he shouted. He tried to shove Ronon off the bed, but it was like trying to move a mountain. He pounded at him, and there was guilt there, and misery, but also fury, because he hated Ronon, hated him, hated him, hated him, and…
Ronon grabbed his wrist and held it in a crushing grip. Rodney twisted round, trying to ease the pain. "Ow. Ow. Ow."
"You shot him."
"Stop that!" he screamed. "Stop it! Stop it! Get out!"
"Like a coward," Ronon sneered, and Rodney could have cried, and, God, how mortifying, how ridiculous, how infuriating, how stupid…
"You're just a hypocrite," he fired back. "How dare you break in and… and attack me and… and… make accusations, and…"
There was a sound at the door. They both froze. The traitor! Rodney thought. He saw the same thought flicker across Ronon's face; saw him play back the last few minutes and wonder just how loud they'd been.
"Rodney?" he heard.
"Teyla." He let out a breath. He didn't want her to come in, but Ronon was already in. His refuge was already soiled. And perhaps she'll side with me against this crazy barbarian. "It's open," he called. At least it must be after Ronon broke in.
Teyla stopped a few paces in. "Ronon." Her voice was strange. There was something about her expression, too, but Rodney was too busy worrying about himself to think too much about it.
"Teyla," he hissed. "Ronon attacked me."
"He shot Sheppard."
"I've already told you–"
"You told me nothing."
"Stop it," Teyla snapped. "Both of you."
Ronon released Rodney's wrist with a show of reluctance. Rodney snatched it to his chest and nursed it. "That really hurt. I'll have to go to the infirmary for that."
"Why has it come to this?" Teyla stood at the end of the bed. Rodney felt frozen suddenly. Ronon, he saw, was motionless. "I can hardly bear to look at the two of you. There you are, fighting like little boys, and I…" She sighed. "I do not feel…" She did not finish.
The silence lasted thirteen seconds. Rodney counted.
"McKay shot Sheppard," Ronon said, "and I'm wondering how much else he–"
"For the last time," Rodney shouted, "I didn't mean to!"
"Stop it, both of you." Rodney swallowed; Teyla could be terrifying when she wanted to be. "I know what I feel," she said, "and I know that I should not. John is in danger, and we cannot strike out against Carrick and so we seek a fight amongst friends."
Ronon stood up; stormed to the side of the room, and stopped, his clenched fist against the wall.
"Tell that to him!" Rodney shouted, still holding his aching wrist. "He breaks in here and attacks me when I'm asleep. Talk about displaced aggression, when all along he–"
"He what, Rodney?"
He was conscious of his breathing, in and out. His hand around a clump of pillow was quivering. He still remembered his dream, but there was other words, weren't there, that haunted other dreams?
"I heard what people said," he blurted out. "About what Ronon said. About what you both said. About how he… about how Sheppard… about how he reacted."
No respect. Ronon had told Sheppard that he had no respect for him, and Teyla had agreed. Sheppard was not one to confide, and Rodney was not one to listen, but you learnt a little something about a man when you played computer games with him for hours, and little things slipped out that perhaps the other man never intended, and you would never talk about afterwards, not ever. He knew that Sheppard was less confident about people than he seemed. He knew that Sheppard had more self-doubt than he would ever let on. He would die before saying anything, but he knew that it was true. Those things that Ronon and Teyla had said must have hurt Sheppard for real.
So that was it, then. It came not with fury, but with slow, sad realisation. "I hated you both," he said, "because of what you said to him, and I… I… I knew it was an act." He touched his brow. "With my head, I knew it was an act. But I heard it, and it sounded horrible the way people told it."
Teyla was looking downwards at the floor, perhaps not even listening to him. Ronon pushed himself away from the wall with his fist, whirling around. "You said–"
"Don't listen to gossip?" Rodney crowed. "Ha! You did. That's why you've been so riled. You hated me because of what people were saying I'd said." He looked at Teyla again. Still nothing. "Huh! What do you know? Doctor Rodney McKay is the insightful one. In touch with my feelings. Solving things. It's an epiphany."
"I think you are right, Rodney." Teyla looked at him and smiled.
"But you shot him," Ronon said.
"Will you stop going on about that?" He stopped; leant back stiffly into the pillow. Not such an epiphany, after all. The last vestiges of his dream gibbered around the fringes of his awareness. Oh, but he was so starved of sleep, so starved of human company that he could trust… So hungry.
Always on about food, Sheppard said in his mind.
He pressed one hand to his face, then drew it down, fingers covering his face. "I don't know why," he said quietly. "We'd talked about it, but it wasn't the plan. But I knew he was about to go. I didn't… I think…"
Teyla sat down beside him, and touched his other hand as it gripped the bedclothes.
"I think I thought I could stop him, you know?" He blinked, mortified and horrified to find that his eyes were stinging. "So soon after Carson, and then Elizabeth… And he was going deliberately. I didn't want… I always thought it was a crazy idea. I hadn't slept, and our fight…" He blinked again, and blessedly no tears fell. "I fight with people all the time, and this felt different. We both knew this wasn't real, but it felt real, and I didn't want… I didn't want it to be the last time I saw him. I thought… I told myself that one extra person there would make the break seem even more real. So I shot at him. I don't think I wanted to hit him, but…"
He closed his eyes. He thought of Sheppard falling to the floor of the jumper bay; of doctors surging around him, taking him away. Another few days in the infirmary, and the whole stupid plan called off.
"I wasn't trying to hit him," he said. "I really wasn't. But I…"
Teyla's hand closed on him. "We understand, Rodney."
But he didn't. He didn't understand at all. This wasn't like him. He wasn't sounding like himself, wasn't acting like himself. He laughed harshly, silently. Of course, that was the whole point, wasn't it? Sheppard's plan had them all acting like strangers. It was hard to keep hold of what you were really like inside.
"Ronon?" he heard Teyla say. He had missed something pass between them, but, oh, he was so tired he didn't think he cared.
"Yeah," Ronon said, but he didn't sit down, he didn't stop pacing. "Makes sense."
"We need to stay united," Teyla said. "We all said things to Colonel Sheppard that we did not mean. We are all feeling powerless. We are all unhappy with the need to lie." And still she held Rodney's hand. The skin started to itch with the discomfort of it. "We must not turn against each other."
Ronon sat down heavily on the end of the bed. Get out! Rodney wanted to say. Get out, both of you! This was his room, and they had both…
But they were his team, and he supposed he had to count for something. They were his team, and at least he knew he could trust them, and he supposed he ought to take comfort in that.
So he let Teyla squeeze his hand, and managed a small smile at Ronon – but my wrist still hurts! – and despite everything, he felt a little better after that than he had felt before. Without Sheppard, and with the shadow of treachery hanging over them, they were not what they should be, but perhaps they were enough.
Manning was unconscious. His chains had been removed, but his wrists were a mess. "Hey." Sheppard touched his shoulder, but there was no response. Stupid, John. As if he's going to want to wake up to see you.
He extricated himself from the man's body. He looked at the door, at the camera, and back at Manning, who looked troubled even in sleep. Dreaming of betrayal. "Guess we're on our own here, buddy." He had asked for this, after all. He'd made Manning's safety a condition of his help. "Didn't expect Carrick to take it quite so literally," he said, but he supposed it was a good thing, really. As long as they don't plan to torture him while I watch.
There were few parts of Manning's body that were not encrusted with dried blood or stained with fading bruises. Sheppard looked at the bed. "Got to get you up there." He tried for a grip under the man's shoulders. "Best do it before you're awake. Hurts less." He heaved, his voice cracking around the sudden exertion. Up, and then steadying him in his arms. Almost onto the bed, then remembering just in time to tug the blanket away with one hand. Manning's head lolled against his own, blood-encrusted hair harsh against his cheek. The smell made him swallow hard against nausea. When he lowered Manning, his head sagged heavily. Sheppard lowered him in place, arranged his legs, pulled the blanket over him…
He sat down, then; just looked at him. Manning didn't move, but his chest was rising and falling with slow breaths. Was that…? No. No. Manning lapsed back into full unconsciousness again. There was fresh blood on the side of his head, but Sheppard suspected that he had been stunned, using a stunner on a stronger setting than the one they liked to use on him.
What now? he thought. No, it didn't matter. It didn't matter that the cameras were watching. It didn't matter that this, even this, was probably a test. It didn't matter what Manning thought about him. This was an injured and traumatised man. Damn it, he was Sheppard's man. Sheppard would do everything he could for him, and Carrick knew that, but even if Carrick had not known that, he would still do it.
He went for water, filling the battered mug. "Not much I can do with this." He tried, though, using a corner of the blanket to wipe the dried blood from Manning's face. The bruises below were not as bad as he feared they might be, and were all at least several days old. They stopped hurting him when they got me. But before that, all the time he had been making plans, and all the time before that, before he realised what needed to be done…
That made him clutch the blood-stained blanket, to breathe in and out harshly. Can't show… Can't show… Cameras staring. Carrick with his steepled hands. I wasn't the one who did this, he told himself firmly, hearing it in Teyla's voice, in the voice of his first commanding officer, in the voice of all the shrinks they had ever made him see in all his years in the air force. It was Carrick, and he… Watery blood oozed out from between his fingers, red on his knuckles. Carrick's going down.
Manning began to stir. Sheppard sat back, still on the bed, but no longer leaning over the injured man. Relaxing his clenched fist required the greatest effort. He did so in increments; could not do so all the way.
"Sir." Manning blinked; groaned. Sheppard saw the moment when he remembered everything.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Sheppard said, hating the sort of world where it was possible that he could have to say such a thing to one of his own men.
"But you…" Manning moved his hand, then seemed to realise that he was no longer chained. He tried to struggle up the bed, tried to bring his knees to his chest, tried to get away from Sheppard, as far away as he could. "You…"
"Didn't shoot you," Sheppard said sadly. He wished he could be John, the man who thought that all of this was worth it.
"You… You…" Sheppard stood up, letting Manning move the blankets wherever he liked, letting him cower away from him, letting him hide. "Why… Why am I here?"
He walked to the table, and leant on the back of a chair. He had meant to take it to Manning's beside, but perhaps he would just stay here, turned away. "I made it a condition," he said. "They had to stop hurting you or I wouldn't help them."
Manning made a sound in the back of his throat. Sheppard couldn't see his face. Had it been the right thing to say? It was the truth, and he perhaps it would give Manning comfort. But then he remembered the look of betrayal and revulsion on Manning's face, and wondered if he had said it only because he never wanted to see such a look again.
"Why?" Manning sounded naked.
Sheppard turned round. He had to, really; couldn't hide. "I haven't changed," he said. "I'm still…" Still me.
He remembered what it had felt like to hand his only weapon over to Carrick. This was worse. He had had days to psych himself up for talking to Carrick, but playing a part before Manning was so much harder. He felt as if something essential was being torn away from him with each word.
"Then why are you helping them?" Manning demanded. "They tortured me. They tied me down and they–"
"Don't," Sheppard gasped, but Manning had already stopped.
"And you're helping them. It was all a waste of time. I should have given in." Manning raised his chin. "I thought of you, you know, sir. 'Colonel Sheppard wouldn't give in,' I thought. I wanted… I wanted you to be proud of me, when you found my body. I wanted… I don't want to die, but I… but I…"
He couldn't look away. That, perhaps, was his punishment. Behind his back, his hand clutched the back of the chair as if it was the only thing holding him to life.
"I should have given in." Manning was openly crying now, broken by his commanding officer when he could not be broken by torture. "I could have saved myself from all that. If only I'd known… If only I'd known that you…"
"Sergeant…" It didn't sound like his own voice at all.
"It may as well have been you." Manning tore open his shirt and showed the shocking wounds there. "You did this, colonel." He spat the word with hatred. "You. "
Sheppard scraped the chair around, and sat – fell, really – onto it, then gripped it stiffly at the sides of the seat, and managed to sit upright. "I know," he said, only his lips moving, no sound coming out.
end of chapter ten
On to chapter eleven