"Mr. McKay," the woman says impatiently, her eyes hard. "We can prove that under the pseudonym "equalscitrus" you have committed a number of cybercrimes-"
"I'm sure you can not, since I didn't do anything wrong," Rodney interrupts her amicably, keeping his voice calm and very friendly. He would love to be sharp and sarcastic, but John had taught him that being nice could be way more frustrating to others. (Not just by telling him either; Rodney hates nothing more than when John smiles at him and is friendly when they're actually supposed to be fighting.) Besides, the woman is lying – there can be no evidence, because Rodney doesn't leave any; he isn't one of the most brilliant hackers around for nothing. "I teach physics to privileged children. I don't know what you want from me."
The woman scowls, and Rodney can practically see her desire to stop talking and start forcing him to tell what they both know. But Rodney knows that if he even gives so much as a hint, they'll never let him go again. The Hive is as ruthless as their image is people-friendly.
Rodney curls his toes in an effort not to show on his face how angry he truly is; these people are responsible for Elizabeth's death, Radek's wife who wasn't even involved in anything. They also had made an attempt on Carson, a friend of theirs; the only reason Carson isn't dead now as well is that his then-girlfriend had been a soldier for the Hive once and knew their tactics. Cadman had saved Carson's life, and through her, Rodney had met John, another former soldier once employed by the Hive.
Truly, Rodney is surprised he lasted so long after Radek had been discovered; he'd thought they'd find him much quicker. He and Radek did a number of their stunts together, after all; even they sometimes had problems telling their work apart.
But it's no matter now. It's been two years since Elizabeth's death; he's ready to go into hiding with Radek.
The only thing he isn't sure about is whether John will come with him or not, and that's the only thing that worries him, truly.
The woman suddenly leans back in her chair, her expression of frustration suddenly morphing into smugness. "I think it's time for denudation," she says.
Uh-oh, Rodney thinks. He can't quite keep his reaction hidden; his shock and fear must be obvious, because the woman smiles. The tables have shifted; she's done playing nice now, and with that, she and her superiors have the upper hand again, and they both know it.
The door opens and a man carrying a metal suitcase comes in; he smiles at Rodney, but this time, Rodney can't smile back. He's terrified of what's in the suitcase; he had heard stories about it. For the public, the Hive pretends that it's nothing bad, but everybody with two brain cells to rub together knows that it's anything but harmless. Having nanites painfully invade your body and collect all the information they can is the stuff nightmares are made of, especially considering it's the same nanites that suck out people's lives, earning the Hive and it's employees the side-name "Wraith".
The man pulls a phial out of the suitcase. It's made of glass, and there's a transparent sort of liquid inside; probably water. The nanites aren't visible – if this were a movie, Rodney thinks, they'd faintly glitter in the light or something like that, but truly, they're invisible to the eye.
Rodney's breath speeds up when the man hands the phial to the woman, who slowly wraps her fingers around it and smiles at Rodney. Rodney truly hopes he won't tell them anything when the pain starts, but he has no illusions; he's not brave or anything.
The woman opens the phial and holds it out to him. "Drink," she says.
Rodney doesn't know how long it's been when somebody comes into the room. He's closed his eyes the moment he felt the tiny robots crawl up the veins in them, fill up his tear ducts; he's rolled up tight on the floor, trying to hold himself together with his arms. He feels them inside him, everywhere, in every limb, crawling, wriggling. It hurts all over; under his fingernails, in the tips of his toes, his whole skin, especially the parts where the skin is thin and well-supplied with blood.
A hand grabs his arm; it feels like there's tiny grits of sand in his veins and they're pressed into his flesh. He screams, hoarsely. Factually, he knows he shouldn't be able to feel them, they're way too small, but reality looks different, very different. The hand goes away for a moment, but then it comes back, gripping tightly; Rodney makes another noise low in his throat. He feels raw all over, but the grip doesn't fade this time; it tightens, and it's too much, too much stimulation.
Rodney passes out.
He hears voices.
"Too late." A gruff, deep one; nobody Rodney knows.
"We have to try at least!" Radek.
"It'll hurt him." A woman. Cadman?
"I don't care. We can't just let him die." Radek again.
"I've got it." Carson.
He can't hear John.
He wakes up because the pain is so much; he can't even think. All he knows is pain; he feels like he's burning up, like something is pulling him apart, turning him inside out and tugging him into all directions at once, and he screams, screams, passes out.
When Rodney comes to, he feels like one giant bruise. He's lying on his back and he hurts everywhere, especially where his elbows, shoulder blades, spine and coccyx press into the skin. The insides of his ears and nose hurt, his eyes, his skin everywhere; when he takes a startled breath it feels like his throat is made of sandpaper. He feels tears form in his eyes, and it burns like hell; he makes an involuntary noise, and the pain in throat amplifies by about a thousandfold. It hurts so much the tears drip out of the corners of his eyes, running in hot trails down his temples into his hair, and even that hurts, but it's still less pain than he had been in when he had had the nanites inside of him; that must mean that they're either incapacitated or gone.
"Shh," he hears; fingertips brush his cheek and he flinches at how rough they feel; he feels raw all over, and when he flinches, a shockwave of pain courses through him.
"Ice," someone says; Carson, he recognises, clinging to that knowledge to distract himself. Something cool and wet brushes his lips, and he opens them; the ice chips melt on his tongue and the cool water drips soothingly down his throat. He's afraid of swallowing, and when he has to it does hurt, but it also appeases the pain there at least a little.
There's touch on the inside of his elbow; an IV drip has been connected to his veins when he was unconscious, and he feels something cold seep into his arm. It pulls him under again.
When Rodney comes to the second time, he's still in pain, but it's less prominent. His throat is still raw, but breathing doesn't hurt anymore, and neither do his nose or ears. His eyes feel dry, gritty, so he doesn't open them; instead he just listens for a while.
There's somebody else breathing in the room; he hears a fan somewhere in the distance. It smells sterilised and faintly stale.
"Rodney," someone says; it's John, and his voice is rough. Rodney is so relieved he blinks; the light is thoughtfully low and it only hurts his eyes a little.
He turns his head and there he is; John, sitting on a chair next to his bed. He looks tired, dark shadows under his eyes, and his head is wrapped in a bandage. There's the faint smudge of a bruise and a shallow cut on his cheekbone. All in all, he seems pretty banged up.
"Wha-", Rodney starts, but his throat burns; he has to cough. John suddenly starts to move; Rodney closes his eyes when he gets a little dizzy, and he hears a cupboard and the clinking of ice.
"Here," John says, and Rodney blinks up at him again; John holds out a spoonful of ice chips. Rodney opens his mouth and lets John feed them to him; it soothes his throat like it had earlier, but Rodney is certainly not going to try to talk again anytime soon.
"Shh," John makes; Rodney is too tired to glare. He hates being patronised. "Carson says it'll take you a while to recover." Suddenly, John puts the glass of ice chips on the nightstand; his eyelids are fluttering and he sinks down into his chair, breathing heavily. He flaps his hand at Rodney and Rodney swallows, trying to stay calm. He's really worried; what the fuck happened to John? Now that he thinks about it, it actually seems likely that they appraised John at the same time as they appraised Rodney; maybe they sent assassins after him as they did with Elizabeth and Carson. At least it's apparent John is more or less okay, or Carson would never have let him get out of bed. And that he has and that John didn't sneak out seems sure, because Carson would also not have left Rodney alone; he or somebody else would be here and watch him if John weren't able to.
Rodney hasn't seen or heard from Carson or Cadman since the assassination attempt fourteen months ago; he had made sure he was in a safe place together with Radek, but it had been too dangerous to visit either of them. He had gotten short messages from Radek from time to time, assuring him that they were fine, but they were both deep in the underground; it would have endangered them and everybody with them if they had kept in closer contact. Rodney obviously has been rescued from the facility of the Hive and brought to their hiding place; he only hopes nobody is got hurt because of him, even as he's relieved that they made the effort.
"You're okay," John finally says, still sounding breathless. "The nanites are gone. We're in Athos, where your friends are hiding as well."
That's right; John has never met Radek or Carson in person.
"How?", Rodney mouths; he wasn't aware there was any way to remove nanites without controlling their programming.
John lowers his gaze. "Magnets," he whispers, and Rodney closes his eyes. So that's where the pain came from. Crude, but apparently effective; right now, Rodney isn't sure if he wouldn't rather have died, but once the pain has faded a bit, he knows he'll be glad they did it.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't get you out sooner," John adds, sounding pained and guilty and a couple of other stupid things.
Rodney glares. He wants to raise his head to amplify the effect, but he knows he'll just get dizzy and ruin the effect. Instead, despite the pain, he rasps out one word: "Idiot."
"Don't talk," John says hurriedly and gets up again; he crosses the two steps towards Rodney's bed and leans against it, taking the ice chips again to feed Rodney another spoonful. "I can hear you arguing, even without you saying a thing," he adds with a glance at Rodney.
Rodney reaches out despite the twinges of pain the movement chases up his arm and grips the hem of John's shirt between index and middle finger. He can tug only a little, then his strength lets out, but his message comes across: John looks down at his hand, startled, then looks at Rodney again, but he gets it. Gently, he takes Rodney's hand and puts it back next to his body, then sinks down onto the edge of the mattress.
"You'll be fine," John says, feeding him another spoon of ice chips. "Just a couple of days of rest, and then we'll blow up some Wraith asses."
Rodney nods slightly. The last thing he thinks before he drifts off to sleep is that he can't wait to get his voice back; the last thing he feels is lips that brush his cheek.
Maybe he imagines the whispered, "I can't lose you" that follows him into unconsciousness; he'll never be sure.