[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_flashfic
Fic: Comes Wisdom (Abandonment Challenge / Amnesty 2006)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sheafrotherdon
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I own nothing, but do enjoy playing in the sandbox
Summary: 'In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' Aeschylus, Agamemnon (as quoted by Robert F. Kennedy). ~2700 words.
A/N: thanks to the insightful, comma-vigilent [livejournal.com profile] dogeared, whose advice about the ending was so beautifully on the mark.



John remembers nothing of how they got to this point – rough-hewn platform splintering beneath his knees; wrists bound; vision blurring from the pain at the base of his skull – but their captors are strong, broad-shouldered with obstinacy, marked by a will to survive he can almost respect. He glances right and left but sees nothing save more of the brown dirt that stains Rodney's cheek, Ronon's arms; brown dirt and the angry faces of a hundred huddled strangers, fury in their eyes, righteousness blended with fear.

An elder speaks, and John shakes his head as if to clear fog – the gate's translation technology must be broken; nothing makes sense, and the words that have the crowd transfixed are dull grunts and slow growls to his ears. But there's some sort of order given – he's dragged and kicked and slung down at the front of the platform, turned around and made to face his team. He sets his jaw, defense against bewilderment, and forces himself not to react when he sees the instrument the locals are bringing across the square.

This place may be foreign to him, but it doesn't take familiarity to understand that nothing good can come of such spikes and gears, sharp points, metal shards like fingers reaching for his team. There's power in the monstrosity they're hauling to the platform – ice-blue light in a crystal mechanism, and it makes no sense to find technology burning in the hilt of a sword – but when he drops his head to find focus, concentration, a hand clamps down on his skull and another beneath his jaw, turns his face toward Ronon, and forces him to watch.

Ronon dies defiantly, jaw clamped shut until the very end, slumping forward with an anguished cry before his body shuts down, overwhelmed by the instrument's tendril blades. Teyla is next, courage and fright in the grace of her spine as the captors press in close, let the object do its work, sever her soul, splinter the lyricism of her voice with pain.

Hands turn his head again, and he's forced to face Rodney – Rodney who's tilting his chin, blue eyes flashing, who gathers his bravery into a split-second smile before he bleeds into dull, brown dirt, his agony echoing in the darkest recesses of John's reeling mind.

John retches, empties his stomach of everything that keeps him whole; stains his shirt with failure, helplessness. He considers hoping for the instrument to slither the length of his own spine, blades embedded, poison shock-sharp –

– but before the thought is fully formed the vision begins again.

*****

"Sir, we're experiencing an unexpected anomaly." The technician's hands glide effortlessly over the dull metal console, data rushing to her fingertips; calibrating power.

"Anomaly?"

"The subject is – uncertain."

"Of his own worst fear?" The commander crosses the room, examines the equations scrolling slick across a callous blue screen. His fingers enter a rapid string of commands; new reports flash back from the scanners that guard the subject strapped to the chair. "How many scenarios does his mind hold?"

"Two, sir. But they are – " The technician frowns. "Startlingly similar."

The commander moves, examines the screens that translate John's thoughts into visual form. "Who is this man to him?" He points to subject B.

The technician shakes her head. "We cannot isolate the exact relationship maintained between the subjects, but – " She gestures to a string of numbers. "The subject is unable to decide if he fears watching this man die more than knowing his own death causes the other suffering."

John twitches in the chair, and a fresh quotient of chill, green liquid slides into his veins.

"Allow both scenarios to unfold," the commander decides. "Make sure the instruction is seamless. Harvest every measurable variable to determine which has greater sway."

"Yes, sir."

The mechanism slides agony-deep into the flesh on either side of John's spine.

*****

The room is pale, pastel-soft and washed by sunlight as Rodney pauses by the open door. He glances over his shoulder, down the carpeted hallway, his heart beating rapidly with the restless conviction that something is wrong. As he steps across the threshold, he feels the walls of the prison rise up around him, secure and impenetrable despite the wallpaper roses and sheets that seem soft, the pitcher of water and the children's books scattered on the floor.

A nurse bustles past and Rodney holds his breath, palms damp, fingers curled, but she doesn't think to see him. He crosses the room to the man in the rocking chair, whose fingers work restlessly over a tattered Rubik's Cube while he mutters rhythmic sounds, integers spilling like blood from a wound. "937, 941, 947, 953 . . . "

"No," whispers Rodney, miserably stunned. "Oh no."

His own face doesn't turn to greet him; his own eyes look blankly out over gardens that stretch without end beyond the window. Rodney rests a hand on the man's frail shoulder, hoping to rouse this elder version of his own skin and bone to vitality, to interrupt the damning progression of primes. "Rodney," he says in an unsteady voice.

The man looks up. "I was counting."

Rodney swallows hard. "I know. But I – "

"Prime numbers."

Gentle – "I know that too."

The man's hands move over the cube again, grazing color over color, sliding order into being. "Do you know my parents? Is that why you came? Are you from the school – the – the one they . . ."

Memory slices clean and cold through Rodney's gut – isolation, loneliness, the awkward knowledge of his identity as a prize. "I'm not from that school."

"I don't want to go there." The man looks down at his long, deft fingers, wrapped around a puzzle, amassing solutions.

"You don't have to go."

"Dad says – " The man falls silent, hunching forward, rocking in his chair.

This is worse – worse than he'd imagined, inventing ruin from head injuries, concussion, drugs that could steal his intellect but leave the memory of genius intact. He hadn't known, hadn't thought of losing not just brilliance but every memory of ever being loved. To live out old age as a child once more, tolerated, coached, but never touched; alone with nightmares, criticism stinging beneath his skin . . .

"People love you," he says urgently, awkward, desperate to make himself understood, but the hand that grips his elder shoulder is losing substance, matter dissolving before his eyes. "No," he whispers, as if he might will this body to stay whole and new. "No, no, no – "

But he ceases to exist, slides under the skin of the man in the chair, and stares into the gardens while his memory dies.

*****

"Breach on level two, sir."

The commander sighs, furious, restless. "Never trust the military to do their jobs properly," he hisses through clenched teeth.

"Should we end our work – perhaps we might . . ."

"No." He shakes his head, even as another explosion sounds in the distance. "Minard's forces will prevail, even if they ruin my concentration." Jaw taut, he cross-references the existing data with previous experiments. "These men, their capacity for – "

The next explosion is close enough to loosen dirt and dust from the ceiling, showering the consoles with grime. "Sir – "

"Once more. We don't yet know if their anguish increases with each viewing. If we're to use this knowledge, deploy it – "

There's the sound of gunfire, raised voices, shouting. "Sir, I –"

The commander's shoulders stretch rigid with impatience. "Are you a Guardian or no, Wintani?"

"A Guardian, sir."

"Then do your job."

The technician nods, cuing the commands that provoke measurable neurological feedback from both subjects. "Yes, sir."

(She doesn't feel her own death when it comes, a burst of shrapnel and scattered gunfire, but it's fitting, perhaps, that she bleeds onto the console from which she's ordered McKay's repeated end.)

******

"I'm pulling him out."

"Slow the hell down, lad," Beckett cautions, picking his way across the laboratory. "You've no idea what damage you could do. Give me a goddamn second while I work out if they're in danger first, eh?"

Ronon glowers, breathing hard. "Make it fast."

"Aye, I'll bear your medical opinion in mind."

Ronon deigns to sneer.

Gun still in hand, Teyla moves warily between the scattered monitoring stations. "I do not recognize these machines," she says, glancing at the numbers that peak and dip. "The information they gather – I cannot tell if it . . . "

John moans softly, fingers spasming in pain.

"Doc," Ronon growls.

"Aye, aye, I've ears too," Carson murmurs, scanner moving over John's chest.

Teyla pauses by a screen on which images play, frowning as she watches an unfamiliar narrative unfold before her. "Ronon?"

Ronon kicks debris out of his path, glowering still at Beckett. "What?"

"We are – " Teyla watches, aghast, as an implement of obvious torture is attached to Ronon's back. He jerks, grunts, shudders and fights.

"What is this?" Ronon asks, suspicious, quiet.

"I believe it is – " Teyla swallows hard and looks to Dr. Beckett. "I believe they have been – searching his subconscious, his dreams, his – "

Ronon growls as he watches Rodney slump to the platform. "Fears," he says shortly, and savagely kicks at a listing chair as the images distort, gray, and fade.

"I've disconnected the device," Carson says, bending to open the case of medical supplies by his feet, filling a syringe. "Give me a second." The needle slides soft into the flesh of John's inner arm – he stiffens, then relaxes, his eyes rolling restlessly beneath closed lids. "C'mon lad," Carson murmurs, unfastening the restraints at John's wrists, his feet. "C'mon now, wake up, son. You've a whole mess of people waiting for you."

John groans, twisting in the chair, sluggish and shivering. "Rodney," he murmurs.

Carson nods solemnly. "Aye, son. He's next."

*****

The gardens are calm, beautiful, a respite. There's measured order to the paths, the lawns; the triangular flowerbeds (tangent equals opposite over adjacent), the curve of each bird bath (circumference divided by diameter, 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971, more, forever, numbers and numbers, infinity), the gentle curve of each flower in the breeze (14.7 pounds of atmospheric pressure, every inch of skin, all over, constant). The skies are blue (blue like Jeannie, Jeannie's eyes, blue like sadness, separation, only a baby, too small, too little, gone away) and the blanket over his lap is soft (hard words, harsh, sharp, wounding, no more, no more, not that).

But something's creeping closer; firm hands, holding, shaking, and the gardens are changing (electromagnetic spectrum, white light refracted, reflected, prisms, color) dimming and he shakes his head (no, no, order, cosine, adjacent, hypotenuse, gardens, home).

Faintly - "Rodney. C'mon buddy." Worried? Impatient.

And the gardens are gone; understanding slips into their place. There's knowledge still rusting beneath his fingernails and the world's expanding, universe spinning, growing, another galaxy and – other people, not his parents, Jeannie came back, hit him, his head, his ear, hugged him and – Samantha, Sam, Elizabeth, women who . . . Jackson, O'Neill, wormholes and energy to stretch between worlds and –

"Rodney. Listen to me, dammit . . ."

Warmth – a new sun, a new star? Belonging, a niche, a place called home with a bed too small and Teyla, Ford, Teyla, Teyla, Ronon, Carson, Zelenka, Ronon, Ronon and – "John . . ."

A swift, sharp exhale of breath. "Yeah."

Rodney cracks his eyelids – everything's too bright, hurts, but he's there, John, his hands curled around Rodney's biceps, his face so tired. "I thought – "

"I saw."

"I thought – "

Not alone.

And he launches himself forward, wraps his arms around John, squeezes his eyes tight and does not, does not fall to pieces, because people don't, not even – not even –

He feels John's hand cup the back of his head. "I know, buddy" John breathes. "Me too."

There are fingers at his pulse point, a soft Scottish brogue - "Steady, Rodney. Steady."

He nods, stubble rough against John's t-shirt before he slowly pulls away.

*****

John craves oblivion by nightfall, but sleeping pills do nothing when pitted against the image of his dying team. His body aches with tension; he works his jaw, trying to loosen each notch of watchful pain, eventually giving up to throw back the covers, fumble for his pants and head into midnight-dim halls. His day feels fractured, his sense of what's real no longer whole, but he knows for sure that if he's seeing torture, McKay's seeing gardens, and he's damned if he's letting him do that alone.

He doesn't barge in. The door chimes six, seven times before McKay hits the release and gestures him inside. "Colonel."

John nods his head. "Not sleeping?"

"Surprisingly, no." Rodney quirks an eyebrow, face pale, eyes shadowed, mouth turned down.

John shuffles his feet, thumbs at the corner of his mouth. "Look, Rodney – "

"I realize I should apologize. I'd imagined it could wait until morning, but – my behavior was completely unprofessional and I'm sorry you were forced to – " Rodney gestures.

John stares.

"Please accept my apology, Colonel. It won't happen again."

John narrows his eyes. "You think I'm here for an apology?"

"Yes?"

"Are you crazy?"

Rodney blinks and looks away for a second, as if a clue to the answer might be etched on the wall. "I don't think so?"

"Only I thought you were the guy who spent fifteen hours today strapped to a chair while he relived his worst fear over and over."

Rodney swallows. "Well, yes. There's that. But that's no excuse for –– "

"I spent fifteen hours watching you get killed," John says, low. "Fifteen hours watching you watch me die. You think I mind that you grabbed hold when you came back?"

Rodney blinks rapidly, wide-eyed.

"No really, I'm curious."

"I thought you were – that you were – " Rodney tilts his chin, setting his shoulders in defiance. "You're capable of great kindness around . . . children and the infirm and people who, in general, don't shoot us or maim us, and I thought perhaps – "

John shakes his head, stepping closer. "I saw what you dreamed."

Rodney takes a step away. "You –" His hand flutters to worry the fabric of his own shirt, then away. "You did?"

"They had monitors. Recorded everything. I saw what you saw."

"Oh." Rodney ducks his head, hunches his shoulders protectively. "Well – "

"Jesus, would you just – " And John knows he's the last person on two planets to lecture anyone on how you cope with feelings, but something's got to give here, so he hauls Rodney in, pulls him tight against his body, tries to offer reassurance just by being close. It takes a minute, but resistance leeches out from Rodney's grasp and he slumps, lets out a shuddering breath against John's shoulder. For his part John closes his eyes, absorbs the heat bleeding through Rodney's shirt, the pressure of Rodney's inhalation – hoards each marker that says he's alive; takes a little reassurance for himself.

"Did you know?" Rodney asks at last. "Know that was your – worst – "

John shakes his head. "No."

Rodney nods. "Me either."

"Yeah."

John shivers as the heel of Rodney's hand comes to rest at the nape of his neck, fingers sliding into his hair. He can't move – he's suddenly weary, only standing because of Rodney's body strong against his. Rodney rubs his nose against John's black t-shirt, volumes whispered quiet in the silence between them, and John cups his hand to the back of Rodney's head, spreads his fingers over bone and intellect; reaches to soothe the memories of a child.
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(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 05:20 am (UTC)
ext_1439: (Sex)
From: [identity profile] almightychrissy.livejournal.com
This is utterly gorgeous, and while you mark the pairing as McKay/Sheppard, I think it's so perfect that you never really....I mean, this could be gen, there's no romance, it's all about a love between them that isn't neccessarily romantic, and about how that love can heal and connect them. So lovely, and I'm glad you posted it.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 05:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dogeared.livejournal.com
This is just horrifying and gorgeous and completely compelling, meeeeeep. And as . . . skillfully as you've tortured John and Rodney, it's the grounding touch at the end that really does me in—Rodney worrying his shirt and John feeling his warmth, the heel of Rodney's hand comes to rest at the nape of his neck, fingers sliding into his hair and John cups his hand to the back of Rodney's head, spreads his fingers over bone and intellect. Amazingly lovely!!

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 05:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] frantic-allonsy.livejournal.com
Ooh, that was painful and sweet at the same time. In other fandoms I've always stuck to the NC-17 stuff, but stories like this make me realize why their friendship is just as perfect as can be- because I can completely see them with these fears playing out in just this way, they matter so much to each other. I love that you can do that just as well as the softer, sweeter things.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 06:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] minnow1212.livejournal.com
You are just *so good.* I loved this, especially:

>And the gardens are gone; understanding slips into their place. There's knowledge still rusting beneath his fingernails and the world's expanding, universe spinning, growing, another galaxy and – other people, not his parents, Jeannie came back, hit him, his head, his ear, hugged him and – Samantha, Sam, Elizabeth, women who . . . Jackson, O'Neill, wormholes and energy to stretch between worlds and –

"Rodney. Listen to me, dammit . . ."

Warmth – a new sun, a new star? Belonging, a niche, a place called home with a bed too small and Teyla, Ford, Teyla, Teyla, Ronon, Carson, Zelenka, Ronon, Ronon and – "John . . ."<

and

>"I thought you were – that you were – " Rodney tilts his chin, setting his shoulders in defiance. "You're capable of great kindness around . . . children and the infirm and people who, in general, don't shoot us or maim us, and I thought perhaps – "<

and definitely the closing lines.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 07:01 am (UTC)
ext_18066: Default (Default)
From: [identity profile] apple-pi.livejournal.com
God, woman, you are cruel. And yet I love you for it.

*sniffle*

This is terrible and beautiful; I see more than a few visits to Heightmeyer in the near future.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 08:25 am (UTC)
order_of_chaos: Eridan Ampora from Homestuck as a dreamsheep dreaming of dreamwidth.  Blue stripy body, purple head, yellow horns. (Lazy-review icon)
From: [personal profile] order_of_chaos
:)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 10:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] seratonation.livejournal.com
*takes a few moments to find words*

this was beautiful, it felt like I was there, watching a metal spike horror kill the team, standing at the end of the hallway, and then in the room, watching the gardens, in the chamber in the dark with dust and stone and explosions in the bacground, and then at the end. It was beautifully written, their worst fears were perfect (just perfect), and Rodney's waking up was great, at first the dissecting of the garden to numbers, and then slowly getting a sence of wait a minute, and this:

Warmth – a new sun, a new star? Belonging, a niche, a place called home with a bed too small and Teyla, Ford, Teyla, Teyla, Ronon, Carson, Zelenka, Ronon, Ronon and – "John . . ."

and then just clutching him. and not alone and the end was perfect. just perfect.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 12:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wesleysgirl.livejournal.com
Beautiful and brilliant, not that I'd have expected anything less from you. Wonderfully done -- it hurts to read it, but there's enough comfort there to be a pay-off for putting yourself through it. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 12:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sffan.livejournal.com
Ah, man. This just kills me. I love the image at the end.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 12:17 pm (UTC)
siria: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siria
God, Cate, this still makes me cry. I feel like I should buy shares in Kleenex.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] porntestpilot.livejournal.com
Ahhhhhhhh. //whimpers//

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 03:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mellyna.livejournal.com
This story has a beautiful flow to it. It's disturbing but touching at the same time. Having to live their worst fears for 15 hours *shudder*. Just holding onto one another at the end, lovely. Thank you for sharing.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] whetherwoman.livejournal.com
Wow, that was... incredible. I think you nailed not only John and Rodney's worst fears, but some truly terrible fears that a lot of us out here have. Thinking of Rodney trapped before he found people who loved him... good lord, that's scary.

I was confused for the first couple scenes because I thought only one of them was being tortured and I couldn't figure out who it was. I missed the "subject B" line. But, um, that's more likely a result of too little sleep than unclear writing. ;)

I love your writing style. I really do. I think you're one of the most lyrical and beautifully visual writers out there. Your stories always bring up intense emotions for me (although with Farm in Iowa stuff it's usually intense "AWW CUTE" *grin*) and this story is definitely no exception.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shara50.livejournal.com
That was just amazing, great job.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 06:58 pm (UTC)
aurora: (SGA JohnRodney Chemicals Between Us)
From: [personal profile] aurora
Dude! I don't say this enough, but I'm really glad you started writing SGA. ♥

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 09:32 pm (UTC)
ext_1718: (SGA Rodney complicated)
From: [identity profile] beeej.livejournal.com
You always manage to reduce me to a big puddle of wibble. This is amazing!

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 10:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] auntiemeesh.livejournal.com
Oh, wow! This is beautiful, very lyrical. Plus, there's whumping and comforting, both of which I love, and the boys are learning how to face up to their emotions. Just, this hit me just right on so many levels. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-27 11:23 pm (UTC)
ext_90: crop of 'The Morning Star' by Alphonse Mucha; woman in flowing gown with hand to forehead, painted in greens and golds (Default)
From: [identity profile] gblvr.livejournal.com
Wow...this is deep, and has so many layers. I've read it twice now, and seen different things both times -- very nice.
(deleted comment)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 12:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adafrog.livejournal.com
Very well done. Thanks.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 12:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mangst.livejournal.com
This was heartbreaking, but beautifully done. *hugs team*

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slian-martreb.livejournal.com
I have no words

I think I will cry when this utteryly tragic beauty of this properly hits me.


*pause*


oh wait. There it goes. Ow.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 06:42 am (UTC)
ext_842: (Default)
From: [identity profile] etben.livejournal.com
oh, wow. and also ow! but you make it better, in the end, and - what's more impressive, even - you do so without it feeling fake or staged; it's not a perfect resolution, but it's a very real one, and that makes it all the better. *loves*

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 10:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akacat.livejournal.com
Horrifying, then beautiful -- and the last sentence just nails it.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-28 08:46 pm (UTC)
watersword: Keira Knightley, in Pride and Prejudice (2007), turning her head away from the viewer, the word "elizabeth" written near (Default)
From: [personal profile] watersword
Yeouch, ow, ow. Ow.

"Did you know?" Rodney asks at last. "Know that was your – worst – "

John shakes his head. "No."

Rodney nods. "Me either."


OW.
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