The Puppet Master
Chapter Thirty Six - Back Together Again (Put Me)
McKay fled the city.
Fleeing was the only accurate word for it. Visits from Carson, Kate and then Elizabeth had left him feeling overwhelmed and claustrophobic. He had flown his room and now found himself on the East Pier, where only days previously Kezan had run, hiding from imprisonment. The night air was crisp and cool, and the lights of the city were reflected in the water. McKay followed the pier out to its end, where the metal floor dipped into the sea. It was there he waited, surrounded by papers, flames, and only his voice in his head.
At some point, he supposed, he would have to give Kate more than monosyllabic responses. But worse than the sense of betrayal was the confusion, and his inability to articulate any of what he had experienced.
At first there had been whispers in his head, and the world was different, as though skewed slightly to the left of the way things should be. Then there were memories, thoughts of past events which had never belonged to him. Remembering a brother he never had and a planet he had never been to. But he hadn't told Carson, and when he blacked out in the lab McKay blamed it on sleep deprivation.
Then the next time he had awoken to confinement. Unable to move, to speak, to do anything but scream silently at the world outside and see his body and voice act and speak in ways he could not control. Then being aware of something else, of thoughts that weren't his own.
And then thinking back a reply…
He still slept reluctantly, afraid of waking into the same prison. Then of having his own memories ripped apart, of the wall around his identity being torn down until he could barely remember his own name and feeling so lost and hideously alone until –
Until slowly they had returned, along with an apology, and a plea.
McKay shivered, and drew a little closer to the flames, concentrating on the art forming beneath his fingers.
He knew Sheppard would find him, but it took a little longer than he had predicted. He heard the man's footsteps along the metal pier but didn't look up.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh, you know," he shrugged, "passing the time."
"By making paper boats and – "
"And setting them on fire, yes." McKay pushed another creation out into the water and lit the top alight. Flames caught the paper and sparkled in the waves.
"Okay." Sheppard hovered uncertainly.
"They're my medical records. My psychological reports, dating back for the entire time I've worked at the military." He prodded the ship out into the sea with one end of the taper. "Kate gave them to me."
"So you decided to set them on fire?"
"She suggested it, actually. Although the boats were my idea. She said it might be cathartic."
"And is it?"
"No, not particularly," he admitted. "Fun, though." Abandoning the ship to the waves, McKay turned and selected another sheet of paper. His hand shook, and he closed his fingers into a tight fist, shutting his eyes and riding out the tremor.
"You okay?" Sheppard asked, taking a step closer.
"Fine." After several moments his hand stilled, and he opened his eyes. "They're getting easier. Carson says that in a couple of days I'll be fine." He gestured at the paper. "Want to help?"
"Sure." Sheppard dropped to his knees, squatting, taking up a seat beside his friend. He picked up a piece of paper and started folding it into neat creases. "You know Heightmeyer will have kept copies of these?"
"Oh, I know." McKay flashed a smile. "But she thinks I don't, so let's keep it like that." Then he added, looking down at the flames, bobbing about in the sea, "She was only doing her job."
"She thought I was crazy. Probably," he admitted, "because I was acting crazy. Since it's her job to notice that kind of thing. She did what she thought was best."
"Did Elizabeth –"
"Yes." He glanced at Sheppard. "You survived, obviously."
"She was okay. Mostly mad at me for not telling her the whole truth from the start."
"So your charm wins again."
"Actually, despite my obviously winning ways - I think it's because she would have made the same choice." Sheppard took the taper and carefully lit his boat. The flames caught quickly, and the gentle waves carried his creation out to the sea. "So I'm still on duty. And so are you."
He looked up, surprised. "Now?"
"A couple more days. Enough time to work, ah – stuff out of your system."
He nodded, and flexed his hand, stretching his fingers. "A fair point."
"Hmm." Sheppard was looking at him through slitted, suspicious eyes. "You're agreeing with Beckett's diagnosis. Are you sure you're alright?"
"Fine," he retorted, though he felt the edge of a smile. "But it would hardly do to be up to my elbows in the middle of an Ancient computer when I had a, a –"
"Moment?" Sheppard suggested.
"You could blow us all to kingdom come."
"Overkill, Major. But it wouldn't be sensible. Besides," he continued, picking up wad of the papers, "I'm rather enjoying it being a spectator sport. Kavanagh seems to have built himself quite the dictatorship and Zelenka is taking great pains to rip it apart. Here," he added, passing the wad to Sheppard, "hold this."
"Huh." Sheppard held the papers out obediently while Rodney picked up the taper and carefully set the edge alight. The flame caught after a moment, the corners turning crisp and black while a deep orange consumed inwards.
He watched the flames for a long moment, mesmerised, until Sheppard dropped the burning remains into the ocean.
There was silence for a while.
"It wasn't Kezan's fault." McKay looked down at his hand, at the skin hidden beneath white bandages and itching, persistently. A constant reminder. "Living like that, being trapped like that…" He stopped.
"No." It didn't feel as reassuring as he thought it should be. Just sad, and empty. He changed the subject. "You know," matter-of-factly, "It's not like this is the first time this has happened to me." Glanced at Sheppard, and then back to the ocean. "People thinking I'm, ah," gestured vaguely, "psycho."
His friend winced at the term. "That's not exactly –"
"PC?" He shrugged. "Sticks and stones." Looked across to the waves, crashing against Atlantis.
"It's not in your records."
"It's there." Another vague wave. "Juvenile record. It's locked. I don't think even Carson has access." He stopped, then rushed out with: "I was eleven. My parents were going through a messy divorce, fighting over every penny. I wasn't exactly handling it well."
Sheppard glanced at him, but said nothing.
"I acted out." He gave another shrug. "Not my proudest moment." McKay turned his head slightly to shoot a look at Sheppard, then dropped back to the ocean. "I set fire to my tree house."
This was greeted with a snort of laughter. McKay lifted his head to stare at the Major, dismayed.
Sheppard sobered quickly. "Sorry. Guess my mind was leaping to conclusions," he explained, apologetic. "Some not so great images. But blowing up your tree house? Kind of relieving. It's more, you, McKay."
A smile flitted across McKay's face. "Never thought of it like that. I suppose it wouldn't be the first time, either. Science experiments as an eight year old can be a little messy."
"They can get messy now," Sheppard pointed out.
"True." His expression darkened, and he resumed his gaze back out across the sea. "My parents weren't so, ah… they were alarmed. A juvenile pyromaniac for a son. They overreacted. Rushed me off to some overqualified specialist who slapped me with an ADHD label and gave my parents a handful of different prescriptions to try. I decided it was better to stop setting fire to things, my parents forgot about the pills as soon as I'd straightened out, and that was that."
Finding himself lost for words, Sheppard grasped onto the first phrase he could. "They were doing what was best for you."
"No," McKay responded coldly, "They weren't." He stopped himself from going further, wondering why he had said so much, dropping the unfinished boat to the wet walkway and hugging his arms across his chest.
"I just –" he stopped, then began again: "Is it that easy to believe I could go –"
"Wacko?" Sheppard supplied. "No. Well," he flashed a grin, "no more than usual."
"Hah hah." McKay pushed his hands beneath his arms. "Seriously."
"Seriously? It was the last possibility."
"But once you have eliminated the impossible," he quoted, "whatever remains, however improbable –"
"I know," Sheppard interrupted. "I get it. But it's not entirely true, McKay. There was an explanation that fit. Didn't mean we were going to give up looking for an alternative."
"You did what was best," he repeated, hollowly.
"We all were. We just got it wrong. Really, badly wrong."
McKay addressed his collar. "You figured it out eventually. And I know Beckett was…" He stopped, and retried: "I get it, y'know? Logically, I get it. It's just, ah, it's just going to take a little longer to…" He faltered, lapsing back into hand gestures.
There was a brief, awkward silence.
"Look, Rodney –"
He looked up apprehensively. Sheppard was staring at the sparks as they were slowly extinguished by the water beneath them. He wore a strange expression, a mix of guilt and grief and something McKay couldn't quite place.
"My father –" Sheppard stopped, took a breath, then started again. The explanation came in staccato pieces. "He was in a military hospital. Before he died. Alzheimer's, amongst other things. Didn't recognise me. Wouldn't –" And another pause.
Rodney flushed, and looked away. "John –"
"My dad," Sheppard interrupted firmly, as though determined to get the words out, "he and I, we were never close. He was a good man, a fine solder, but not much of a father. But I was still the only thing he had and I wasn't about to forget that, even if he had."
He shifted uncomfortably, feeling the sudden heat of Sheppard's gaze on him.
"Point is – you don't do things alone. That's not what we do. Not here, not ever."
He flinched, and stared at the floor intently, bunching his shoulders defensively. "I know that." There was a short silence. McKay lifted his head to find Sheppard had his head cocked to one side and was looking at him critically. "I know," he repeated, firmly.
Sheppard stared at him for a moment more, then gave a satisfied nod and turned away.
"I remember," McKay added, quietly.
"He let me watch, Major. When you went to speak to him. Kezan let me see."
Strapped down to the infirmary bed, unable to control his movements, but able to see, and to hear. His voice had spoken and he had seen John, sat in a nearby chair, his expression tightly controlled and anger seething behind his eyes.
"So I came. Talk to me."
"He s-says you can be trusted. That y-you'll do what needs to be done."
"Depends on what you're asking."
"To let me go."
And to feel Kezan's loneliness, and pain, and grief, bound up in a plea over nine hundred years old. Begging so hard it hurt.
"Oh," Sheppard said simply.
"We made the right choice."
"There's no doubt from me."
Rodney nodded slowly. "None from me, either."
There was another pause.
Sheppard straightened, rolling his shoulders and wincing. "It'll be good to have you back on the team. Zelenka is a poor replacement."
He huffed. "Of course. Like I could be replaced."
"Never," Sheppard promised him. "And besides, it would take too long to mould him. I've only just got you housetrained."
"Oh please," McKay retorted, "I think if you'll look closely you'll realise that it's I who have been training you, Major."
McKay shifted so his back was propped up against a railing, and looked out across the ocean, tension easing from his shoulders.
"So…" Sheppard cast him a sideways glance. "You going to be okay?"
He considered the question thoughtfully. He thought of Kezan, and his desperate desire for silence. He thought of trying to sleep, terrified of waking up trapped and gagged. He thought of screaming with no one to hear. And then he thought of the guilt behind Carson's eyes, and the man's gentle ministrations in a hospital bed. He thought of Teyla, Ford, and Peter, keeping a vigil in a nearby room, and thought of Zelenka, risking life and limb to grasp at the impossible. He remembered the warmth of Elizabeth's hand against his ankle, and the strength of Sheppard's grip around his wrist.
And he thought of Samantha Carter, and a Tok'ra named Jolinar, and what he would say to her if he could.
"Yes," he replied, simply. "I am."
A/N: Thanks to every single person who stuck with me through this, and particularly everyone who was kind enough to review. Belisse, Szhismine, Porthos1013, Out of Phase, EmergencyFan, Cryogenie, Jen, and everyone else - you all get a chocolate covered Czech scientist to play with. But begood enough to give him regular exercise and feed him plenty of greens.