Challenge: 016 - Colors
Rating: fic: PG (swears) art: G
Spoilers: Slight mention of events of Season 5
Word Count: ~2,300
Summary: He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, unwittingly sending himself in a yawning violet spiral back down the rabbit hole.
He rides a wave of nausea to something near consciousness. It's a labored ascent the rest of the way, feeling as though he's encased in a block of murky, bottle-green glass, where his lungs threaten to burst for lack of air. John takes a deep breath, detecting hints of antiseptic and a clean sterility that means he's not in his own bed.
The first time John speaks, Rodney doesn't answer. At least he thinks it's Rodney. It's really just a quick flash of brown and dark gray moving past his line of sight. Again and again. Back and forth. Side to side. It's quite vociferous and seems a bit cranky, though John's not sure how he knows that.
He wants to turn his head to see more, but he can't. He can move his eyes but that hurts, so he stares straight ahead and wonders why they don't see that he's awake, why no one can hear him. The heat is suddenly oppressive, scorching his skin, baking his brain. It narrows his field of vision even more – like looking down a well – and okay, that is a little unsettling, but he's not ready to panic just yet. Any comfort at all comes from that blur of color, back and forth. If things were bad, Rodney would be doing more than pacing.
He struggles to remember… wading through the canal on M7X-377… water the color and consistency of pea soup… boots squelching in the muck beneath as he and Ronon fought to reach the small skiff ahead of them. The water stank and wore a bright yellow film that clung to everything, but there'd been no choice… that was where the one the villagers called Darnan had taken Teyla and Rodney.
No… something after that… being sick in the mess... knees hitting the floor with a suddenness that made the room spin… puking his guts out onto his tray. The last thing… that's the last thing he remembers before everything had gone black.
The pacing blur has finally settled down quietly beside him. John senses there's no one else in the room. He reaches out to try and get Rodney's attention, but his arm and hand don't seem to belong to him anymore. He can't make them move. That's about the time the heat gives way and the bed starts to shake, only he's not doing it, he doesn't feel anything else… only the shaking. That gets Rodney's attention.
The blur comes closer. John tries to blink it and the room into focus, but it's no use. His eyes don't seem to be his either. Is this a dream? Why can't Rodney see him? What the hell?
Rodney's talking to him, or maybe not… he's shouting now, or at least it seems that way. John can't make out the words… they sound distant, heavy, waterlogged. Suddenly someone else is there. Even if he cuts his eyes far to the left, he can see only the edge of someone standing on his other side. Light and dark. The touch is gentle and the words floating into his left ear are calming, low and measured. Maybe they're aimed at Rodney instead… he doesn't know. He can't tell what they are.
From somewhere, a breeze rustles over his face… the face no one can see. A strange warmth begins to work it's way through him, down into legs he can't move, feet, that like the hand, aren't his. His eyelids grow heavier and heavier, though he fights hard to keep them open. Rodney's still there, brown and gray, and now there's a tiny hint of blue. That helps to quell John's budding panic… sends him drifting… like something's pulling him and he can't make it stop. He tries to reach out with the other hand, and he feels it, but when he looks down, it's still lying there beneath the blanket. He sighs. It doesn't belong to him either. Heavier and heavier… pulling harder… good night, Rodney… good-bye?
Day two is spent pretty much the same as day one: bottomless sleep punctuated by fits of wakefulness inside a body this isn't his.
Well, John's calling them days. He can't be sure if they're actual days… this time between when he closes his eyes and he's able to open them again. It might be only hours, or even minutes.
For the sake of argument, today, sweat lays like heavy porcelain beads around his neck… the sheet seems damp beneath him, but he can't really feel it. He looks on, oddly detached, as hands toss layers of blankets aside. Hands that look like his own.
"Rodney?" he tries again, but he's not sure Rodney hears him. He hears his own voice, but he doesn't hear it, it's only a dull thud inside his head. The answer he gets is a low, rhythmic droning. He stares at the metal rail beside him. Just below the railing, a big, brown blob rests on the bed next to what he guesses is his knee.
John reaches out again, hesitant and jerky, like a long-forgotten mechanical toy, and this time he connects. Rodney's head snaps up and John is relieved to see the actual features of Rodney's face instead of fuzzy outlines. Words begin to fly so fast it makes him dizzy. So fast he can't pick them apart, but then he realizes that Rodney's only babbling into his comm.
In an instant, chaos clouds the room with too many faces, half-defined. He's poked and prodded while they push him away from the one face he seeks. It's still there, pale, getting smaller and smaller. He tries to raise himself but that only brings swirls of black and tiny metallic stars.
John knows something's wrong before he even gets his eyes open. A crimson veil hovers just out of reach, sweeping over him in waves, burning his eyes and the rest of him as it passes. By the time he's able to lift his head, Rodney's right there, clamoring for someone to move their ass.
He tries to sit, tries to get Rodney's attention, to get him to quiet down, but his first movements leave him with tunneled vision and a roiling in his stomach that's unbearable. He takes hold of the metal rail, forcing himself to hold it together. Soft, cool hands find his face as his head falls back against the pillow. Even with the room a blur, he knows it's Marie. She's the light and dark with the soothing sky-blue voice. He turns his head to find Rodney, and that's when the room closes in on him again.
All's quiet the next time John wakes. He turns to the side of the bed, but this time Rodney's not there. Hushed but urgent voices hiss and drone from the opposite direction. There, by the door, Rodney's trying to keep his voice down. John blinks a few times, like that will adjust the brightness level of the room. Someone else is there with Rodney.
Golden hair, small stature, but it's not Teyla. Keller. She doesn't seem to care if her voice is low. She's telling Rodney there's nothing he can do, that he needs to go to his own quarters, get some sleep.
He blinks again and even manages a little grin. Rodney stands his ground, arms folded compactly against his body. John doesn't need to see clearly to know what Keller's facing; he's seen that look more times than he can count. One word from him will bring Rodney back to the bed, but there is a bizarre voyeuristic contentment in Rodney's defiance on his behalf. It prickles across John's skin, electric. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, unwittingly sending himself in a yawning violet spiral back down the rabbit hole.
"Keller was right…" his throat feels like a bowl of sand, "…should sleep in your own bed."
Rodney looks up. He's on his feet in seconds with water, holding the straw to John's mouth. "You heard that?"
John takes a few measured sips. Rodney's much clearer today. In fact, everything is much more in focus, his head less like a tub of wet cement. "What the hell hap—"
Before he can ask, Rodney takes over completely, filling in the blanks of the past few days. A parasitic fever. That certainly explains a lot. "Yesterday was the last gasp of the little buggers. Jennifer says that's the worst of it… you're out of the woods now."
From the look on Rodney's face, John wonders just how far into the woods he'd been. He nods in Rodney's direction. "You been here the whole time?" He tries to push himself up, but it's no use, his muscles give up almost immediately. "Your back…"
Rodney waves him off, then looks away, stumbling over his answer. "I didn't want you to be—I didn't want you to wake up and be alone." That last part comes out a little too fast.
John watches him. He says nothing until Rodney looks up and their eyes meet again. "Been a long time since I was afraid of monsters under my bed."
Rodney snorts and smiles. "Who're you kidding… you were never afraid."
John tries to smile back. If Rodney only knew. They stare at each other a long moment before Rodney rambles on.
"See, that's the thing about monsters, they're crafty. They know the same silly faces and ridiculous shapes won't scare us anymore once we're older—so they change…" John looks away, wondering how many of Rodney's childhood monsters are still after him. "…they get more complex. Just because you don't see them anymore doesn't mean they don't exist. They just change their hiding places."
John nods solemnly. This is not necessarily unfamiliar ground for either of them, he thinks, as an ominous pack of memories rush him, loose and undefined, like the outer edges of the room. Seeing the dark places of Rodney's fears firsthand, like so much India ink splashed across textured paper.
He looks up at Rodney without raising his head. He knows all of this, Rodney's being here, is more about Rodney being afraid and he understands that. In a strange way, he's even a little grateful for that fear. They've both been to this dance before: sitting by, waiting, hoping, promising their soul for the life of the other. A feeling that's all too fresh in his mind. Watching Rodney regress, watching Rodney leave him day by agonizing day, unwilling to let him slip away. Helpless is made of the dullest gray, cold and empty.
Rodney's fingers graze John's hand. It's a small touch, but it could be the sun's own rays the way it warms him as Rodney lets them linger there. Finally managing a smile, John turns his hand and twines their fingers together, a move that feels much more intimate than it should and he half wishes he could take it back. But it's done now, and as if that simple action had taken an enormous amount of energy, John finds himself drifting again, fighting to keep his eyes open.
The four walls and the windows don't look any different now than they did this morning, just a little more muted as the Lantean sun begins to set, but they're his walls, his windows. Under strict orders and on bed rest, at least he's in his own quarters and if he's a good boy, he'll even get to eat real food for dinner – bland, boring and mostly liquid food, but it's something.
He'd passed the previous day with a little physical therapy (sitting up and walking a few steps away from the bed and back) and catching up with Teyla and Ronon. Ronon, who'd proved to be an excellent bouncer, shooed away anyone who'd even looked like they were going to get comfortable and stay a while. When he'd asked about Rodney, Teyla had explained that he was in the lab. That wasn't surprising. Now that John was on the mend, it was back to work as usual for Rodney.
John blinks awake and startles in a moment of confusion. The walls are silent and still with milky tendrils of twin moonlight undulating against them. He looks at the clock beside his bed. It isn't late, but he's missed dinner; a cold metal tray sits atop his dresser. He's thinking about Rodney and whether he might have stopped by, too, when a soft but weary voice sounds in his earpiece.
"McKay?" John answers, "where are you?"
"My quarters. Just wanted to, uh, check you were okay. I've been trying to catch up on work. Let a lot of things go."
John stretches, clasping his hands behind his head. "I'm fine. A little weak, but I'm sure a few days in the gym with Ronon will remedy that."
"Yeah, well you might want to start with Banks or maybe someone from the Botany lab first, that was one nasty bug."
John feels oddly comfortable with the tone of concern in Rodney's voice. "Are you kidding? Banks would probably wipe the floor with me. At least Ronon might feel sorry for me."
"Oh yeah, and go easy on you… don't count on it."
There's always been something in Rodney's voice, even high pitched and whiney, that gives John a sense of home, even refuge at times, like there's somewhere he'll always belong, and he knows that's crazy, but…
"I miss watching you sleep…"
John's mind freezes; his mouth dries. For a moment, he's sure the fever is back the way he flushes hot.
"Don't worry—we're on a secure channel." There's a canyon-sized pause – long enough for John's insides to begin to twitch – before Rodney speaks again. "You know, I got kind of used to it."
John takes a deep breath. He'd been certain it was all back to business for Rodney, just like every time before this. They never talk about it and okay, that's mostly John's fault, because, Jesus, this is… "That's dangerous ground, Rodney."
"I know. I don't care anymore." John says nothing and Rodney continues cautiously, "Couldn't we just talk about it?"
John thinks another week in the infirmary might be easier. "Is that what you want?"
"No, what I want is to be there, but this might be best. This way talking can't lead to anything we aren't supposed to do…" John feels a shiver start up his spine, dragging a shadowy thread of desire with it. "…that is, anything your country's archaic sense of—"
"It's the regulations, Rodney. It's what I have to abide by."
"Yes, because you've always been so good at following orders."
John's aware that Rodney didn't reach the top of his field without knowing how to be vicious, but, Christ, that cuts deep. It just takes John a moment to work out if the fiery rumble in his veins and the pounding in his ears are the result of Rodney's indifference or his honesty. Because he's made his point. Like a dull knife.
"Okay, then you tell me, what do we do about it?"
"About what?" John stares out into a room awash in silvery light.
"Whatever this is… this… thing between us. And don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. You can't deny th—"
"You mean our friendship?"
Rodney clears his throat and follows it up with an exasperated sigh. "Is that—oh never mind, this isn't going to work. You can't—yes, we're friends. Friends who save each other's lives on a somewhat disturbingly regular basis, friends who lose a little bit of ourselves each time we think we've lost the other, friends who stand by holding our own needs hostage while we do the right thing. You know, just… I'm sorry I bothered you. Have a good ni—"
"Good night, John."
Rodney leaves him with nothing but an earful of closed silence. Lying there, trying to control his breathing, John blinks into his colorless prison, a place where all his possessions loom waxy and cadaverous in the soft Lantean light. Nothing stands out and the edges of the room may as well be smudged with charcoal. John tries to make it make sense. Is there some meaning to it? In the infirmary, there had at least been the electric blue of Rodney's defiance, the withering scarlet of his sarcasm, the deep green serenity of that touch, and it had all been for John.
This thing. It'll be his call. It always has been and John knows the only logical answer. He closes his eyes and lets the weight of it bear down on him. Logic.
Had it been logical to defy his father and give up a fortune to chase his dreams? Had it been logical to go back for Holland and the others? Had it been logical to base the most important decision of his life thus far on the flip of a coin? He tosses and turns, begging for the sleep that had come so easily the past few days, massaging his temples against the monochromatic flood of thoughts. Too restless to lie still any longer, he gets out of bed and pads over to the mini-fridge. He has his hand on a beer, then thinks better of it.
Logic would have left him standing on the other side of the stargate. Forever. Logic has evolved into a necessary trade off for what he desires most, what he desires for himself.
Heart pounding, he reaches for his earpiece and taps it twice. "Rodney?"
"Yeah, still here."
John licks his lips and ignores the slush of blood in his ears. "I think there's something under my bed," he says, his body finally unwinding in the warm, golden wave of Rodney's laughter.
Author's Notes: First of all, to my artist, berlinghoff79, thanks for taking a chance and asking me again and for another amazing piece of art. It is always a pleasure to work with you. *twirls you* And many thanks to my beta, quasar273, for her wonderful insight and suggestions.
Artist's Notes: I want to thank my ArtBetas for their helpful suggestions and provisions. You are the best. I also want to thank neevebrody for pairing up with me again.*runningtackleglomps*