Summary: Rodney doesn't know what to do with failure.
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Spoilers: Up to and including Trinity (season two)
Disclaimer: I own nothing, and I'm making even less money.
Notes: Just a quick note that the flow of this might be a little awkward as I was trying to keep some of the stream-of-consciousness feel of the original.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Once More With Feeling by soleta
Rodney doesn't know what to do with failure. He never has; anything that isn't perfectly logical, anything that doesn't always make sense, he's always disregarded. The placebo effect? That's just medicine - voodoo - convenient only when it's saving his life from an allergic reaction because someone didn't think it was worth mentioning their citrus-free salad happened to have a lemon juice dressing. Sports? Just games for jocks and anyone more interested in using their bodies than their brains. If Rodney can't do it, he dismisses it as unimportant.
Give him mathematics, physics, engineering, give him logic, and he knows what to do. Two plus two is four. 00000100 is four. The atomic number of beryllium is four.
Sometimes he makes mistakes, and that's natural, he just rereads his notes and carries the one, or he adjusts the power distribution, or he leaves Radek to correct his workings while he tells Cadman to shut the hell up and leave him alone in his brain until he can get her out of it.
So when he can't rectify it - when he makes a mistake that he can't undo, redo, or fix - he freezes. Doesn't believe it. Not until Sheppard yells at him, hits the computer, makes him accept the readings on the screen and the fact that if they don't move now, then they are going to die.
They need to live, and if they get shot down on their way out, it's his fault.
He's too busy being angry at himself to be scared.
After Ford's multiple escapes, each time leaving Sheppard in more tatters than the last, it's a deal-breaker. It's not Rodney's fault Ford keeps disappearing - at least, he tells himself that, because Sheppard already carries that weight on his shoulder when it isn't his to carry - but Rodney's betrayal after losing Ford over and over? It's more than Sheppard, the one he'd almost let himself think of as John, can be asked to take. Sheppard's a soldier, has already seen plenty that no one ever should, but. But.
Rodney knows it's one thing to lose a friend to death, to mourn and write a letter home and know that you've done enough, you've done all that can be done, but when a friend is missing and does not want to be found?
And Rodney's incompetence just added the loss of near a whole solar system to the weight on Sheppard's shoulders. That's a hell of a lot heavier than the straw to break the camel's back.
There are lines of bruises on his thighs and shins and arms from bumping into every obstacle as he tries to avoid friends who've noticed he isn't sleeping, isn't eating, can't face the dreams he deserves to have and dream-Sheppard telling him what he already knows; that this is his fault, that this is all his fault.
He can't hide from it forever, as much as he'd like to try to. There are friends like Teyla who express their concern but trust you to take care of yourself, and there are friends who won't extend that trust. He knows someone has said something when Elizabeth and Colonel Caldwell invite-order him to their office (Elizabeth's office, he knows that, but he never seems to receive instructions from Caldwell anywhere else), sit him down, and do everything in their power to avoid telling him he has to see Dr. Heightmeyer.
Heightmeyer is as deceptively innocent as ever in her expression and her questions, open-faced and open-minded, and when he's finished answering her in as sane and sensible a way as he can imagine she asks him when he last had time off.
He's not a good enough liar.
He can't tell them that actually he'd really rather hide in the lab all day and work instead of facing his dreams, facing deaths that are his own fault, facing dream-Sheppard reminding him over and over why he deserves these nightmares, and he shrinks into himself as he tries to read, tries watching anything that might distract him on the laptop he's been allowed provided he doesn't try to access the lab archives - Radek's decent enough not to snitch on him for trying but he does make a visit to point out that he could have done, and that's a good enough warning for Rodney - but letters swim in front of his face and he can't concentrate for five minutes, let alone the entirety of a movie.
It feels like he's going mad and all his visitors blend into one faceless mass where he can answer with "Yes", "No", "Mmhm", and call it a conversation, all except Sheppard. Even then he hears nothing except the voice in his dreams as Sheppard tries to talk to him but ends up just talking at him about whatever developments have been made in Atlantis while Rodney's been 'on break', and he answers on autopilot each time until Sheppard turns up while he's counting down the last few days before he can work himself back into a stupor and Sheppard asks if he's showered since the last visit.
It doesn't occur to him it's been days since Sheppard last visited and he answers honestly - it's easier than lying when he's too busy trying to lie to himself about everything else to think of something new - and he doesn't even think to fight against it when Sheppard helps him up and into the bathroom, completely ignoring the fact it barely fits one, let alone two, even if Rodney's dropped weight by accident over the past few weeks and Sheppard is as wiry as ever.
And it's easy to let someone else wash him, someone else remember he's finished his left arm once already, time to do the right, someone else to reach the awkward part in the middle of his back and he can't quite make out the expression on Sheppard's face but it's clearer and cuts off any question Rodney might have asked when Sheppard puts the soap away and reaches for his cock, gentle and slow but insistent, and up close like this something in Rodney's mind flips a switch, remembers Sheppard when he's not a soldier, remembers Sheppard when he smiles and means it, and his chest tightens up because this is John, not the voice in his dreams, it's John and he cares and he worries about Rodney and Rodney can't handle that, cries out.
"Shh," John whispers, frowning and concerned and it shouldn't be so easy to take this, Rodney knows that, knows all the reasons why this isn't allowed, should never be allowed.
"Colonel," Rodney replies. "We can't."
John doesn't ignore the question, Rodney can see that, but his answer is a kiss and all Rodney can think of, his mind shorting out all else, is the taste of John's mouth, the shape of his lips, and the feel of his hand, speeding up as if John can sense what Rodney's body already knows.
"Trust me," John says into his mouth. "Trust me."
There's a flash of pain as he bangs his head against the shower wall but he ignores it because he's coming, and John hasn't gone away, is solid and calm despite everything and Rodney is in awe - literal, terrified and amazed awe - at the idea that this John is real.
"Trust me," John whispers once more, and it's enough. It's more than enough. "Trust me."