Title: Truth in Action
Genre: Gen, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Friendship
Warnings: Occasional language.
Word Count: ~13,600
Prompt: Written for the sheps_atlantis 1st Quarterly Ficathon for linziday who wanted Rodney completely run down (emotionally, physically or both), team fun, and a Rodney and Ronon friendship moment.
Summary: The Doranda disaster was just the beginning of trouble for Rodney.
Notes: Thank you to wildcat88 for such patient and thorough guidance and for suggesting I 'gamble' with the team fun scene.
John leaned over the console in the control room, his knuckles white where he gripped the panel. “McKay? McKay! Answer me, dammit!”
There was no response, but a look at the jumper’s trajectory on the view screen told John all he needed to know. “McKay! Pull up! For God’s sake, pull up!”
Then the dot of light that was the jumper hit the ground...and winked out.
For a second, John couldn’t breathe. He felt as though he’d slammed into the ground himself. Then, he took off at a run for the Jumper Bay.
Four days earlier...
There was a moment each morning when Rodney awoke in which everything was the same as it always had been. Then reality came rushing in like a tidal wave. Each day, the wave seemed to hit harder than it had the day before. Rodney wondered if the wave would eventually hit him hard enough that he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed at all. He thought it might. But today wasn’t the day.
Rodney tossed aside his covers. He stared at the ceiling, taking deep breaths, steeling himself for the day ahead. Then he forced himself to get up. He had a plan. The plan wouldn’t fix what had happened. Screw-ups of that magnitude could never be undone. But the plan might just put the world, his world, back on track again. The only problem was that the plan required a lot of Rodney’s time and energy and both were in very short supply right now. It seemed like they had been vaporized along with 5/6 of a solar system.
It was odd, Rodney thought as he staggered to the shower. He’d always believed recognition of his scientific genius meant more to him than anything. Yet now, he realized, the thought that he might never be nominated for a Nobel Prize wasn’t quite as devastating as he’d expected. It didn’t make his stomach ache, didn’t make his throat feel so tight he could hardly swallow, and it didn’t make his thoughts swirl so chaotically that he couldn’t think during the day and couldn’t sleep at night - not the way losing Sheppard’s trust did.
The shower rendered Rodney only marginally more alert. Coffee. He needed coffee. Rodney dressed hastily and then headed out of his quarters in search of his personal fuel supply. He thought that maybe once he’d had enough coffee, he’d feel up to starting on the restoration plan.
With an anxious glance at the life signs detector, Rodney scurried along the corridor, grateful that it was empty for the time being. Shafts of light spilled into the hallway from an open doorway, marking his destination as being mere meters away. Rodney’s heart raced uncomfortably. He toyed briefly with the idea of scrapping his plan altogether because the whole notion was making him feel jittery and lightheaded. Then again, maybe it was his hypoglycemia kicking in.
When he arrived at the entranceway to the auxiliary weapons storage room, Rodney paused to recheck his LSD, confirming that one person still occupied the space. If his plan was on track, it would be the right person. He tucked the LSD away carefully, noticing that his hands were trembling and his palms were sweating so much that he had to wipe them off on his jacket. Maybe he needed something to eat first. A quick search of his pockets yielded a small stash of Power Bars. Rodney selected one and proceeded to unwrap it. The foil seemed to crinkle deafeningly, shattering his stealthy silence. Damn. Rodney jammed the bar into his mouth quickly. Crumbs tumbled down his shirt as he tried to chew and swallow the overly large bites.
Once the bar had been consumed, Rodney took a deep breath and poked his head around the open doorway. “Major Lorne!” Rodney hailed. “What a surprise running into you here.”
“Doctor McKay.” Lorne gave a brief nod of acknowledgement. “I don’t know that it’s much of surprise that I’m here. I was assigned to ordnance inventory.”
“True. True. Good point. But...but that we should both be here...at the same time is...is an unexpected pleasure.” Rodney was trying for a casually jovial manner and failing miserably. And he was all too painfully aware of that fact. Tugging nervously at the neckline of his shirt, he bumbled on. “Well, now that, ah...circumstance has...you know...brought us here, together, maybe we should take advantage of this time.” Rodney cringed, feeling that his approach was taking him nowhere at the speed of light.
“Ooookay,” Lorne agreed with a bemused expression on his face.
“The thing is...” Rodney began and then faltered as he glanced over his shoulder. “Actually, maybe I should shut the door for, ah...for a little privacy.”
“Yes. You never know when someone might decide to take a walk along this hallway, and then boom! There goes your privacy.” Rodney closed the door to the room as he babbled.
“You never know,” Lorne repeated in agreement. “After all, you just took a walk down here. Who knows when someone else might have the same idea?”
“Exactly!” Rodney declared. But he had a nagging feeling that Lorne was humoring him. “So...how’s it going...your inventory...every last bullet present and accounted for?”
“Not yet. I’m still taking inventory,” Lorne replied as he gestured to his laptop on the table. “That’s why I’m still here.”
“Ah, yes. Also a very, very good point.” Rodney chuckled nervously.
“Doctor McKay, I don’t-”
“Rodney. You can call me Rodney.”
“Rodney,” Lorne conceded, “I don’t have a lot of time right now. Maybe you should cut to the chase and tell me how you wanted to spend our few minutes of private time together.”
“What?” Rodney frowned as he processed that. “Oh! Oh, no. That’s not... I didn’t mean... No. I wasn’t suggesting that...” He felt the color rise in his face. “Did you think that...?”
“I wasn’t thinking anything.” Lorne looked like he was putting a lot of effort into not laughing.
“Oh. You’re just pulling my leg,” Rodney laughed weakly.
Lorne grinned. “Doctor McK...Rodney, what do you want?”
“Flying lessons,” Rodney blurted. “I want flying lessons. I want to learn to fly a puddlejumper.”
Lorne’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought Colonel Sheppard was providing you with instruction.”
“He is...but...I’m...I’m not very good at it.”
“You’ll get better with practice.”
“Right. So, I’d like you to give me more opportunities to practice.”
Lorne narrowed his eyes. “Does Colonel Sheppard know that you were planning on asking me for lessons?”
“Oh. Was I supposed to ask him first? I... No.” Rodney shook his head. “He doesn’t know.”
“When were you going to tell him?”
“Soon. Very soon. Well, as soon as I can fly in a straight line. Maybe I’ll just, you know, surprise him one day.”
“I see... Rodney, I don’t think that-”
“Please. It’s really important.” Rodney hated sounding desperate. But the fact was that he was desperate.
Lorne sighed. “I understand all about wanting to perform well for your CO. Okay. A few lessons. Against my better judgment.”
“Great!” Rodney clenched his hands victoriously. “How about six a.m. tomorrow?”
“I was under the impression you didn’t get up at 0600 without duress.”
“Sheppard runs with Ronon at that time,” Rodney admitted sheepishly. “He’ll be occupied.”
“Ah. So we’ll have more of our, you know, ‘private time.’” Lorne made quotation marks in the air and winked at Rodney.
Rodney huffed and shook his head. “You’re never going to let me live that one down are you?”
“Not any time soon,” Lorne admitted, laughing.
Lorne checked his watch. “You’re three minutes late.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” Rodney was still straightening his shirt and tugging on his jacket as he bustled into the Jumper Bay.
“Timing and precision are essential to being a good pilot.”
“I won’t be late again. I promise. I’ll...I’ll invent some sort of super alarm clock to wake me up without fail in the future.”
“Just don’t stay up late working on it. You need to be alert and focused to fly well.”
“Alert and focused. Got it,” Rodney nodded. “Speaking of which, I don’t suppose I could have a minute to grab a coffee?”
Damn, Rodney thought, wondering how he would summon the energy for the lesson ahead.
“Are you sure you’re ready to go through with this?” Lorne asked pointedly.
Rodney squared his shoulders, trying to rally himself. “Absolutely.”
“Let’s get on with it then.” Lorne stepped through the open hatch of the waiting jumper.
“Jesus, McKay!” Lorne blew out the breath he’d been holding while bracing himself for the narrowly avoided impact.
“Look, I told you I’m not good at this.” Sweat trickled down the sides of Rodney’s face as he struggled to guide the jumper back on course.
“I know, but Colonel Sheppard never told me just how ba-” Lorne cut himself off. “Colonel Sheppard never mentioned the extent of your...difficulties.”
Rodney bit back a retort. He might have quit the lessons then and there, except the stakes were so high. He had a lot to lose. Correction. He’d already lost it. He was trying to win it back.
Switching seats with Lorne for the landing back in Atlantis, Rodney sank into the co-pilot’s chair, his face burning with embarrassment. He rolled his shoulders to try to alleviate the increasing muscle tension and the headache threatening to blossom behind his eyes. He knew he was feeling the effects of his early morning rise, hunger and lack of coffee. The coffee and breakfast problem he’d be able to remedy in a few minutes. Maybe he could squeeze in a nap in the afternoon. But there was still the whole Doranda mess. Rodney sighed. There was no quick fix for that.
“Same time, same place, tomorrow?” Rodney asked hopefully as he and Lorne exited the jumper.
“We’ll give it another shot, but next time, try not to kill us both,” Lorne shot over his shoulder as he strode away.
Try not to kill us both. The phrase struck Rodney even harder than the wave that crashed over him every morning. Shit. He had almost done it again. Rodney felt the blood rush from his head as his legs started to tremble. He sat down heavily on the jumper ramp. It was ten minutes before he had recovered enough to make his way to the cafeteria. And for some reason, he really didn’t feel all that hungry anymore.
“Hey, there.” Rodney forced out a hearty greeting as he deposited his breakfast tray on the table and sat down.
Ronon paused in the midst of shoveling a forkful of sausage into his mouth. He glanced around before returning his eyes to rest on Rodney. “You talkin’ to me?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. I just wanted to say...um...good morning.” Rodney took several gulps of his coffee then sat back, closing his eyes as he waited for the caffeine to flow through his system.
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
“You’re up early,” Ronon mumbled around a mouthful of pancake.
“Am I?” Rodney squeaked a little. “Well, you know what they say.”
“No. I don’t.”
“It’s...ah...it’s never too early to get up.” Rodney winced. Lame. Very lame, he chided himself.
Ronon appeared to ponder that bit of Earth wisdom for a moment and then shrugged, returning to his muffin. “You just missed Sheppard.”
“Good. I didn’t want to see him.”
Ronon raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, I would have wanted to see him if I had something to see him about, but I don’t, so...” Rodney frowned for a moment before being overcome by a gaping yawn which he chased away with a few more swallows of his coffee. “I have to get a refill,” he stated as he stood. The early morning rise for flying practice was a poor idea, he thought as he refilled his mug. But probably not as poor as what he was about to do.
There was a brief lull in the cafeteria traffic when Rodney returned to his seat. It was now or never. He took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking...”
“That’s unfortunate,” Ronon deadpanned.
“Very funny.” Rodney sighed. “Look, the thing is, I’m not quite as good as you are with guns.” He paused while Ronon choked on a helping of hash browns. “I thought maybe we could take in a bit of target practice together.”
“I don’t need any practice.”
“No. No. I wasn’t implying you needed practice.”
Rodney tugged at his shirt, already damp with perspiration although the day had barely started. “But I was thinking you might enjoy some practice. Practice can be fun, right? Even when you don’t need it.”
Ronon shrugged. “Paper targets don’t do it for me.” His eyes took on a menacing look as he leaned toward Rodney. “But if I had a live target to practice on...”
The slight shake in Rodney’s hand caused him to spill a spoonful of cereal down his shirt. “Well, don’t look at me,” he yelped as he dabbed at the milk stains with a napkin.
“Yeah. Guess not,” Ronon said regretfully. “I like my targets moving faster.” He grinned.
Losing patience, Rodney tossed down his napkin. “Are you going to help me or not?”
“Yeah. I’ll help.”
“Good.” Rodney opened his laptop and consulted his schedule. Sheppard practiced stick fighting with Teyla at three. “How about today at three o’clock?”
“Fine,” said Ronon as he got up to leave.
“Fine,” said Rodney, simultaneously relieved to have crossed another hurdle but overwhelmingly fatigued at the thought of the tasks to come.
Rodney prepared his next speech all the way to the lab - not that preparation ever seemed to make conversations flow any smoother.
“Alright, Zelenka. I’ve already apologized and you have graciously accepted. You’ve also proven yourself to have an admirable level of self-restraint these past few days. But let’s not delay the inevitable any longer. So...just go ahead and say it.” Rodney thrust out his chin, bracing himself.
“Say what?” Radek looked up, his mouth slightly agape.
“‘I told you so.’ Go on. Say it. Say it and get it over with. That way we can be done with it and it’s out of the way.” Rodney made a dismissive gesture with his hands.
Radek pushed his glasses up with one finger. “That is not something I have been wanting to say.”
“Well, you must want to say something. I’m sure you’ve been gloating silently for days. Maybe you want to say ‘I was right, and you were wrong.’ Something like that. So, just say it and then we can move on.”
“I am not you, Rodney. I have not been gloating and I have no need to point out that I was correct.”
“Well, what do you want to say about it then?”
“You should have at least seriously considered my input.”
Rodney gritted his teeth. Turning over a new leaf was going to kill him. “Fine. In the future, I will try to take what you have to say into consideration.” He practically choked on the words.
“Thank you,” said Radek. He turned and pulled up a series of charts and calculations on his computer. “Now, we need to run the simulation for the new power distribution plan.”
“I know what we have to do,” Rodney snapped. “Hello. Head of Department here.”
“I thought you were going to make an effort to listen to what I had to say.”
“Not if it’s redundant.”
“What is not redundant, then, is to say that the simulation was to have been run yesterday.”
“I know that too. I just think it behooves us to recheck the plan.”
“Again? We rechecked it twice last night. Rodney, it is only a simulation. I think we are ready to run it.”
“Don’t tell me when my project is ready to go. I’ll decide that and I say it is not ready to go.” Rodney’s head pounded as though his blood pressure were rising.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll listen to what you have to say, but only after I ask you to say it, and right now, I am not asking to hear you say anything.”
Radek tossed his hands in the air and wandered away, muttering to himself in Czech.
Rodney watched Radek’s retreat and then rummaged in a drawer for the acetaminophen Carson had given him two days ago. He tossed back the last two pills, hoping they’d take effect soon because he had a lot of calculations to recheck. Better safe than sorry.
The calculations took much longer than Rodney had anticipated. Maybe it was because of the damned headache which the acetaminophen had barely touched. And the headache was worse, because he hadn’t realized just how long his work was taking. So, he’d lost track of time and missed lunch.
Radek wordlessly plopped a sandwich down on Rodney’s desk sometime mid-afternoon. Ravenous, Rodney wolfed down the first half, but held off on the second half when he started to feel vaguely nauseated. Besides that, it was just about time for his target practice with Ronon.
Target practice went only marginally better than the flying lessons.
The first shot went wide - really wide.
Ronon tipped his head, studying the space between the target and the spot where Rodney’s bullet had struck. “What were you aiming for?”
“I was visualizing two Wraith approaching and I just took out the one over to the right. I left the other one for you.” Rodney’s reply dripped with sarcasm.
Ronon scowled at Rodney which effectively cut off any further excuses. “Try again.” He watched closely as Rodney aimed.
The second shot was no closer to the target.
“Might help if you keep your eyes open when you shoot.”
“Brilliant. I never would have thought of that,” Rodney grumbled. But he backed down when Ronon fingered the blaster at his side. Maybe Ronon hadn’t totally abandoned the idea of a bit of live target practice.
It wasn’t long before the weight of the weapon made Rodney’s shoulders feel as if they were on fire and the tendons in his wrist protest in pain. “I can’t do this anymore.” Rodney put the P90 down.
“Quittin’s not one of the options when your life’s on the line.”
“I’m not quitting. Research shows that short, frequent practice is best for improving skills.”
“I’ve found that being about to die is best for improving your skills.”
Rodney gave an anxious laugh, not certain whether or not his newest teammate was joking. When Ronon didn’t crack even the tiniest smile, Rodney picked up the gun again. This plan really sucks, he thought to himself.
After dinner, Rodney headed back to his quarters, looking forward to a long, hot soak in his bathtub. He loved the bathtub. In his opinion, the bathtubs were the greatest luxury on Atlantis. They weren’t at all like the narrow water-saving trough that passed for a bath in his old apartment. That tub was so narrow that he had to wedge himself into it. And the water conservation design allowed for a depth that was barely more enjoyable than soaking in a puddle. The ample tubs on Atlantis, on the other hand, were pure bliss.
Between the hour-long soak in the tub and the ibuprofen Rodney obtained in the infirmary when the acetaminophen ran out, the worst of the headache and the aches and pains of the day dissipated. But the ache inside persisted. No amount of hot water could ease Rodney’s fear that he had screwed up his entire career on Atlantis. No amount of hot water could stave off the chill of his vision of being shipped back to Siberia. No amount of hot water could erase the image of Sheppard giving him the cold shoulder at dinner.
When Rodney woke the next morning, the wave hit harder than the day before. He felt it crushing him, pinning him to the bed. After yesterday’s resounding lack of success, Rodney’s plan didn’t offer him quite the same degree of hope anymore. It had lost some of its power to force him out of bed. He debated giving up once again, but he had everything to lose...or gain. With a weary sigh, Rodney persuaded himself to give it another try.
“What do you not understand about the concept of a straight line?” Lorne stared at the clearly not-straight line on the HUD.
“I’m trying!” Rodney shot back. “The problem is that I never think in a straight line. Never. My mind is a very, very complex place.”
“Are you suggesting that good jumper pilots have simple minds?”
“No. I... No. Not at all. Pilots are...” Rodney glanced over at Lorne. It was hard to tell if the major was insulted or was toying with him again. With Sheppard, on the other hand... Well, Sheppard wasn’t here right now.
Rodney steeled himself and poured all the focus he could muster into the flying exercises. By the end of the session, he’d flown in something resembling a series of jagged lightning bolts. Not great. Not even good, really. But it was better than yesterday.
What wasn’t better was Rodney’s headache. Maybe it was the two cups of coffee before six a.m. that had reawakened the beast. Maybe it was the late breakfast again. Maybe it was the monumental effort required to contain his mental processes in a straight line. Probably it was a combination of all three.
The headache was making Rodney feel queasy again. By the time he reached the cafeteria, breakfast seemed much less appealing than he had anticipated.
Rodney selected coffee and plain toast.
Ronon looked at Rodney as he sat down. “You grabbed someone else’s tray by mistake?”
“Very funny. Not.”
“Are you feeling ill?” Teyla asked. “You look pale.”
“Could everyone just mind their own breakfast?” Rodney snapped.
Teyla acquiesced with a nod, but Rodney felt her sneaking concerned looks at him throughout the meal.
Rodney sneaked concerned looks at his hands which he kept hidden below the table as much as possible. He couldn’t stop them from shaking. Maybe this cup of coffee, his third already this morning, was too much. He knew his stomach certainly wasn’t too happy about it. He thought about eating some more food to absorb all the coffee sloshing around in his gut, but was vaguely worried that the whole mess might slosh its way back out of his stomach.
Rodney’s musing about his breakfast was cut short when Radek radioed him. Rodney tapped his earpiece. “Zelenka, if you tell me the power levels are dropping on the redistribution simulation, I’ll...I’ll...I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pleasant.”
There was a pause before Radek replied, his words obviously carefully chosen. “The power levels are not rising and they are not holding steady.”
Damn. “I’ll be right there.”
While the morning’s jumper practice might have been said to result in some progress – if you squinted sideways at the outcome – the same couldn’t be said for the weapons practice.
Rodney’s arms ached so badly that they shook almost constantly. He swiped his hand across his eyes trying to clear his vision which he swore was beginning to blur. His concentration was off because his mind kept running the equations from the still malfunctioning simulation.
In the end, Ronon suggested he put Rodney out of his misery with the blaster.
Rodney was just sinking into the tub when Elizabeth radioed him. “Doctor McKay, we were supposed to meet to discuss the power supply issue.”
Crap. He’d forgotten. “Yes. Yes, I’m on my way right now.” With a sigh, Rodney shut off the taps. Redressing in his uniform took longer than usual due to the ache in his arms. He grabbed a cup of coffee along the way and hurried to the meeting with Elizabeth.
Five minutes into his rapidly delivered scientific dissertation, Elizabeth interrupted. She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes and wrinkling her brow, her face a mixture of curiosity and concern. “Rodney, are you aware that your shirt is on inside out?”
“What?” Rodney tugged at and studied his shirt, noting with chagrin the unmistakable seams on the outside. “I...uh...I had a stain on it and I thought this would...this would cut down on laundry, which would in turn cut down on power consumption across the city.” Rodney smiled, somewhat pleased that he had managed to turn this gaffe around – or so he thought.
“I see.” The tight look on Elizabeth’s face indicated she clearly didn’t buy the explanation. She shook her head slightly as though refocusing herself. “So, the bottom line is that we are about two days behind schedule?”
“It’s Zelenka’s fault,” Rodney blurted.
Elizabeth raised a hand to silence the excuse. “I want an analysis of the current problems with the project and a revised timeline on my desk by tomorrow morning.”
Rodney bit his lip, thinking for a moment. “I’m not sure that-”
“Will that be a problem?”
Rodney’s first impulse was to say that it would, but he reined himself in, knowing he’d never regain his reputation that way. “No. Not a problem. Tomorrow morning. I’m on it.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth nodded curtly.
Rodney rubbed his eyes tiredly as he dropped into the chair in front of his computer. He had a chance to redeem himself in Elizabeth’s eyes and he was screwing it up big time. Sheppard would hear about it and... With a sigh, Rodney reached into his desk and took another couple of ibuprofen. His head felt like it was being squeezed in a vise.
Fueled with several cups of coffee, Rodney worked through the early hours of the morning until the simulation problem was fixed, and then he headed back to his quarters. Exhausted, he dropped onto his bed without even undressing. But he couldn’t sleep. Too much coffee, too much to do, too much thinking...
In the morning... Well, in the morning it wasn’t so hard to wake up because he hadn’t even fallen asleep yet.
During the jumper practice, Lorne said Rodney flew about as well as a dodo bird.
Rodney’s thoughts were skittering away from him. He needed to rein them in, needed to focus. He’d battled with them all afternoon and lost. The goddamn headache had won again. More coffee was out of the question because he’d just finished throwing up today’s caffeine consumption along with his lunch – if he’d eaten lunch – Rodney wasn’t sure about that. But he was sure that he definitely didn’t want dinner right now. He splashed cold water on his face and shuffled over to his bed, dimming the lights as he went. When he reached the bed, he flopped down on it and curled up, shivering. He’d have pulled the blanket out from underneath himself and wrapped it around his body, but that required too much energy.
Rodney woke up again three or four hours later, feeling slightly better, except that he was starving and lightheaded. He decided to head down to the cafeteria. Dinner would be over, but there was always something available.
Shuffling through the hallway lost in thought, Rodney startled when he heard his name being called. Crap. Sheppard. The last person he wanted to see right now.
“McKay...” Sheppard approached with a brief smile. “I’ve been trying to catch up with you for two days now. Where the heck have you been?”
“I’ve been very busy,” Rodney replied tightly. “You know, you didn’t have to waste time looking for me. We have radios.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sheppard rubbed one hand awkwardly over the back of his neck. “I just -”
“I’m still very busy. What do you want?”
“Well...nothing specific, really...”
“Always a good reason to waste two days looking for someone.” Rodney saw the muscles in Sheppard’s jaw tense and twitch in response to the snarky remark. This is going well. Not.
Sheppard was obviously pissed off now. “McKay, have you learned anything, anything at all in the last week or so?”
“Learned anything. Funny. Kind of ironic choice of words for this week.” Rodney laughed briefly, feeling a bit giddy. He really needed to eat something.
The ticked-off look on Sheppard’s face was replaced with one of concern. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine, thank you very much, Doctor Sheppard,” Rodney spat sardonically. He had a sense that his moods were about as much beyond his control as his thoughts had been earlier, but he couldn’t seem to pull together the energy to care about that. Too much work and not enough sleep... Maybe too much coffee... He really needed to chill out... Maybe he should take up meditation or relaxation... Maybe Teyla could help with that...
“What?” Rodney suddenly became aware that he was still in the hallway talking to Sheppard.
“I was saying, maybe you should let Carson take a look at you.”
Rodney snapped his fingers. “You know what? I just remembered that I was so busy this afternoon that I missed dinner. I must be having a hypoglycemic reaction. I need to get something to eat. I’ll be fine after I eat.” Rodney spun away and headed to the cafeteria. He felt Sheppard’s eyes on his back all the way down the hall.
Rodney grabbed a sandwich and then headed off to find Teyla. While he walked, Rodney unwrapped his sandwich and took a few bites, but it made his stomach turn. He dumped what was left in a wastebasket on the way by.
Checking his watch, Rodney noted that his timing was good. Teyla would be getting ready to start her meditation in a few minutes.
“Teyla!” Rodney called, catching up with her just outside her quarters.
“Rodney.” Teyla tipped her head in greeting.
“Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you at breakfast. I...I haven’t been sleeping very well and-”
“It is alright. Think nothing of it.” Teyla smiled warmly. “Perhaps you should seek Doctor Beckett’s assistance.”
Rodney felt a flash of irritation at the suggestion but managed to control his response this time. “I’ll consider that. In the meantime, I was wondering if I could maybe...uh...join you for meditation. Maybe it’ll help me unwind.”
Teyla’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the request.
“It’s okay. Forget it. Bad idea. I -”
“You are welcome to join me, Rodney. I was merely taken aback for a moment. I was under the impression you did not feel you were suited to meditation practices.”
“Well, no harm in trying, right?
“That is true,” Teyla nodded in agreement.
“Great. So...um...lead the way.”
The meditation must have worked. Rodney recalled sitting on a floor-mat in Teyla’s room and then...nothing. When he opened his eyes again, the sun was beginning to rise over Atlantis and stream in through the windows. Rodney rolled over with a groan. His back was stiff and aching. With surprise, Rodney noticed that he was still on the mat on Teyla’s floor, now with an added pillow and blanket.
Rodney glanced at his watch. “Crap! I’m late,” he exclaimed rather loudly.
Teyla’s eyes flew open.
“Teyla. I’m sorry. I- I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m just...I’m late.” Rodney scrambled up off the floor. “I have to run. Thanks for-”
Teyla sat up in bed and glanced at her clock as her teammate rambled. “Rodney, it is only 5:45 in the morning.”
“I know. I know. That only gives me fifteen minutes... Okay, maybe if I skip the shower and keep the same uniform on again, because I put the shirt back on the right way, I could make it... No time for coffee either, which probably isn’t a bad thing considering yesterday...” Rodney muttered more to himself than Teyla as he ran from the room. He thought he heard Teyla call out to him, but he didn’t have time to turn back.
Lorne wrinkled his nose as he looked Rodney up and down. “If you’re trying to emulate Sheppard’s meticulously disheveled look, you missed it by a long shot.”
“Huh?” Rodney’s head was not aching so much as it was feeling like it was stuffed with wool.
“Change your uniform and shower before tomorrow’s lesson, McKay. If we’re spending an hour together in an enclosed space, you need to shower.”
“I had a bath,” Rodney protested with indignation.
“Yeah? Since you came to Pegasus?”
Rodney missed the barb because he was still trying to dredge up the memory of his last bath. He seemed to remember having one two or maybe it was three days ago.
“Focus. Pay attention to what you’re doing right now. Pilots can’t let their minds wander.”
Yeah, well, do you want to know what else pilots can’t -
“Pilots can’t what?”
Did I say that out loud? Rodney wondered. “Nothing. Nothing. Focusing on flying now.”
At the end of the lesson, Lorne announced that he’d give Rodney one more day and, if there was no improvement, he was quitting as Rodney’s instructor.
“Quitting’s not one of the options when your life’s on the line.” Rodney repeated the bit of wisdom he’d gleaned from Ronon.
“My life’s on the line every time I fly with you. Quitting might just save it,” Lorne retorted.
Grabbing a quick breakfast, Rodney headed to the lab where he found that the simulation program was now running smoothly. He sat back, grateful for the moment of respite. Despite the solid night of sleep and light breakfast, Rodney realized he was still tired and he felt kind of dizzy, too. He thought about going to the infirmary, but he’d been there a couple of times already this week for painkillers. Nobody turned up for medical attention for little things as much as he did. Maybe it was time to start toughing it out.
For Rodney, toughing it out as best he could meant heading back to his quarters and lying down for another nap...
“What?” Rodney woke with a start. He looked around his room, disoriented. He wasn’t sure what day it was now. He wasn’t sure what time it was or how long he had slept. Most concerning though, was that he didn’t know why a large man with dreadlocks was looming over his bed.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” Rodney demanded.
“You didn’t show up for target practice.”
“Oh, shoot! Ha! No pun intended.” Rodney laughed a little maniacally as he sat up.
Ronon frowned, looking Rodney over. “Are you okay?”
“Why does everybody keep asking me that?” Rodney swung his feet over the side of the bed and then stood up. Maybe he stood up a little too fast. The room seemed to tilt underneath his feet. Rodney swayed, trying to balance himself.
Ronon grabbed his teammate by the arm, steadying him and guiding him to sit back down on the bed. He saw no need to provide the self-evident answer to Rodney’s question. “Wouldn’t try that again in the next few minutes if I were you,” Ronon advised.
Rodney nodded weakly and leaned forward over his knees, waiting for the dizziness to subside.
Ronon picked up a tray of food from Rodney’s desk and brought it over to the bed.
“Where did that come from?” Rodney risked lifting his head a little to look over the offering.
“How informative,” Rodney grumbled.
“Sheppard said you needed to eat.”
“Oh, he did, did he?”
“So, eat,” Ronon commanded as he pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down.
“Are you just going to sit there watching me eat?”
“Did Sheppard tell you to sit and watch me eat, too?”
“No. He just said to make sure you ate.” Ronon folded his arms. “Guess he left the method up to me.”
“What if I don’t eat?” Rodney challenged.
“I’ll have to try another method.”
Rodney gulped and started picking at his food. He ate in silence while Ronon continued to stare at him.
“Being stared at is not good for digestion, you know.”
Ronon shrugged. “Sheppard didn’t say I had to make sure you digested dinner. He only said I had to make sure you ate it.”
“I’m eating, alright?”
Ronon watched until Rodney was about halfway through his meal. “I heard about Doranda.”
“Did Sheppard tell you about that, too?”
“No. Heard some in the Gateroom when you and Doctor Weir were having it out. Heard the rest because everyone was talking about it.”
“Great. Just great.” Rodney shoved the try aside and lay down on his bed again. “I’m not hungry anymore.”
“You messed up,” said Ronon.
“Thank you for letting me know.” Rodney’s tone said he was clearly not grateful.
“You’re not gonna fix it by making another mess of things here.”
“I’m not trying to make a mess of things. It’s just...happening.”
“If the same mess keeps happening, you’re probably still making the same mistake.”
“What mistake would that be?” Rodney crossed his arms.
“Don’t know. Been working on fixing a mistake myself. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.” Ronon stood up and placed the tray of leftovers on the desk. “Get some more sleep. You look like you need it.”
It was dark when Rodney woke up. He struggled to recall why he was lying on his bed in his uniform again. One thing that was abundantly clear was that his head hurt was hurting - a lot. Rodney struggled to get up to see if he had any painkillers left but the effort of sitting up made the room spin wildly. Rodney swallowed, battling the reappearance of dinner, which never had digested. He felt awful. Maybe he really should have visited the infirmary earlier. With a sinking feeling, Rodney realized he’d made a wrong call yet again.
Rodney fumbled around on his bedside stand for his earpiece, thinking he might call the infirmary, but he couldn’t find the device. He tried to recall where he had left it, but couldn’t pull his thoughts together. Slowly and carefully he stood up, stumbled out of his room, and headed to the infirmary, keeping close to the wall for support.
In the transporter, Rodney stood for a long time studying the control panel. It suddenly looked very complicated and the markings seemed to swim before his eyes. It took two trips to incorrect locations before Rodney was able to reach his destination. By the time he reached the infirmary, Rodney had to clutch at the doorframe to keep from falling over as dark spots filled his vision.
Voices swirled around Rodney and people grabbed at his arms. He was glad someone was holding his arms to keep him upright because he knew he couldn’t hold himself up any longer.
“Bad headache. D-dizzy. Feel sick,” Rodney slurred before succumbing to the darkness.