"Fresh blood," the Colonel says, and he's referring to himself, to the men and women who came through the Stargate with him. He slaps his thigh as he says it. Like it's a good thing, like they're single-handedly responsible for saving Atlantis.
They're all in the dining hall, because it's mealtime, and the Colonel is surrounded by the people Rodney calls his cronies, but are actually his second and third and fourth in command. Elizabeth is there with him, but only because she's in command, too.
Meal times used to be a 'sit wherever you want affair', with the scientists generally gravitating to one side of the room, the military personnel to the other, but now it's divided like this: head table, everyone else.
Zelenka is hunched down beside Rodney, sipping at his cup of coffee--not guzzling, like the Colonel is, because he's been drinking it back like they won't run out again in another five, ten weeks. Kavanagh and Simpson are across the table, down a seat or two, but they're still sitting with him, Rodney supposes. The rest of his scientists are at the next table over, heads bent together, probably working over some problem that they just couldn't leave in the lab.
Three tables over, Rodney sees Ford looking at him. His cap is pulled down over his face, and he's sitting with some of the new soldiers, but with Bates, too. They're making nice, and Rodney mostly doesn't blame him. He's military. These are *his people*.
Ford's back is to the Colonel, but Rodney knows he can hear every word that's said. The Colonel's voice seems to echo around the room, subsuming every other conversation, and as much as Rodney wishes he wouldn't, *he's still talking*.
"You can always use some fresh blood," the Colonel says.
And suddenly Rodney can't take it anymore, not when they have all this *fresh blood* and all he wants is some of the old blood back. The blood that's never coming back. He stands up from his seat, downing his coffee in a way he told himself he never would again, not when it was unclear that he'd ever get it again, and slams his cup back down, before picking up his tray and carrying it out to the kitchen.
There's no way to slip out the back, so he walks back through the dining hall, quickly, carefully looking only at the doors and not meeting any of the gazes that he feels resting upon him. Then he's in the thankfully empty hallways, where there's quiet and he can't hear that booming, arrogant, son-of-a-bitch bastard's voice talking about goddamn 'fresh blood', and Rodney swallows, suddenly, over the large lump in his throat. It's almost a sob. He drops his head, eyes suddenly misty, and starts walking.
He's not conscious of where he's going until the door opens in front of him, letting him into the empty room. It's dark, but with a thought, the lights come up, illuminating the stark emptiness between the four walls. All of Sheppard's belongings have been removed, packed away into storage with the belongings of the rest of their team members who haven't survived this one way trip. It's still Sheppard's room, though. Still his desk, his chair, his…space.
Rodney walks over to the bed, sits down at the foot, and lets his head fall into his hands. He's not sure how long he sits there--time itself has seemed sluggish since he watched Sheppard fly that jumper into the Wraith ship, was it only two weeks ago?--but then the door opens again, and he looks up and Elizabeth is standing there, with Teyla by her side. Teyla, who hadn't been in the dining hall, which meant that Elizabeth must have searched her out and brought her here.
"Rodney," Elizabeth says, and Rodney blinks. He realizes his eyelashes are clumped together, wet. He hadn't even realized that he'd been crying. He wipes his face quickly as she comes in, Teyla comes in, and before the door can close, Ford is there, too.
"I thought I might find you all here," he says, and while Elizabeth and Teyla sit on the bed, one on each side of Rodney, he sits himself down on the floor, cross-legged.
"When I'm in my office, and I close my eyes," Elizabeth says finally, "I sometimes think that when I open them, he'll be walking in to give me a report on something. I can see it so clearly. I can almost hear his voice."
Rodney nods. He bows his head again.
"We all miss him," Teyla says.
"He should be here," Rodney says, and he can feel all of them nodding around him. The door is closed again, no one to walk past and see.
It's Ford who says, "Do you remember the time--?"
Rodney listens, and he does.