Falling Apart

Summary: Rodney isn't dealing too well with the emotional aftermath of Trinity, and Sheppard's lack of trust in him. Then he gets some unexpected help from - Teyla.
Central Character(s): Rodney and Teyla.
Category(ies): Angst, Smarm.
Placement: During and following "Conversion".
Rating: PG for a little violence, and some very minor language.
Spoilers: "Rising: Part I", "Underground" (sort of), "The Storm" and "The Eye", "The Defiant One", "Hot Zone", "Sanctuary", "Letters From Pegasus", "The Gift", "The Siege: Parts I, II, III", "The Intruder", "Runner", "Duet", "Trinity", "Instinct", "Conversion", and sort of SG-1's "48 Hours".
Friendship Focussed: Rodney and Teyla; John and Rodney, but discussed rather than actually seen this time.
Episode Based: Missing scene and Epilogue for "Instinct" and "Conversion". Very "Trinity"-oriented as well.
Author's Note: I started writing this as an "Instinct" tag, but then expanded it to cover "Conversion" as well. I really wanted to show Rodney and Teyla getting closer and sticking together even though John was having all kinds of problems... It's very sappy! ;) It's sort of a study in how far Rodney's come in the last few of years of his life, and of his post-Trinity mindset in particular. And I guarantee that any Rodney fans will watch Instinct and Conversion a lot more attentively next time around after reading this:)
Warning: This does contain some derogatory comments about Beckett, Weir, and Dex. So if that upsets you or makes you angry, you might not want to read this. Granted, they're pretty brief (well, except for Dex), but if you are big fans of these characters, you will probably get mad. So when you all start sending me e-mails saying how much you hate me, just don't say I didn't warn you. ;)
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me in any legal sense at all. Please don't add insult to injury by suing me, because I'm sure not making any money off this stuff. And please don't use my story without asking, because that, at least, is mine! ;)

A/N cont'd: Thank you so, so much to everyone who reviewed Awake, And Sleep No Longer (including the lovely Elisa... I read your reviews more times than you did my fic!). And for those of you who asked: There are more Vestra stories planned for the future. Just be patient! ;)

This fic is more along the lines of Friend In Need - minus the whumping. Sorry. :( And John's not actuallt in it either, and I'm really sorry about that... (Tries to stop sudden exodus) But it's still good - really! For those of you still here after that last line, I'm posting this in three chapters so that it's easier to navigate, but it was really written to be read all at once, so I'll post the whole thing right off. I really hope you all like it, and reviews are, as always, very very much appreciated!

The grey waves slapped against the Ancient City of Atlantis, and the grey clouds above mocked the hope of sunlight and happiness.

And on a dull metal balcony of one of the less-inhabited regions of the largely deserted City stood one Dr. Rodney McKay, his eyes and jacket matching the dreary theme of his environment. It was one of those few days on Atlantis that was truly overcast, and Rodney found that the tone complimented his mood quite nicely. In fact, if anything, he felt more dismal than the day looked.

He'd come out here to be by himself, really by himself, so he could let his mind wander over his life, his mistakes... To try once again to make some sense out of the mess that was his current state of existence.

Everything had been so wrong lately, and all Rodney wanted was to make it right, and yet he was helpless to do so. And now Sheppard was in the infirmary with God knew what wrong with him. Rodney knew it was bad, very bad, whatever it was. Didn't really matter. He couldn't stop it, couldn't ever do anything right any more.

He leaned into the chill wind that was picking up, and shuddered as he was reminded of the Storm... He wondered if he would ever be able to go out on a cloudy, damp day and not think of the Storm.

He sighed, unconsciously favouring his right arm as he shifted his position against the railing. That had been less than an Earth year ago, and yet it seemed so far away now. His physical wounds had healed in about a month, and, thanks to John Sheppard - then a Major, not Lieutenant Colonel - so had his emotional injuries.

Sheppard had made him feel really wanted - important somehow other than scientifically - for the first time in his life. He'd really believed it for a while, that Sheppard cared. That his whole team did.

He'd been... happy. He'd had that priceless commodity: friends.

But then the Wraith had come, and the world had fallen apart. Atlantis had won - oh yes, and such a victory. Rodney snorted a mirthless laugh, and closed his eyes tightly against the bitter wind and the stinging tears. So many had been lost... Peter. Ford...

And Ford wasn't even dead. Not physically, anyway. But the young, exuberant, joke-cracking Lt. Aiden Ford was gone, perhaps forever. Rodney still had nightmares about that day. The panic, the crack of a gun in his own hands... The betrayed, murderous look Ford had sent him... Still Aiden somewhere behind the violent insanity. Lost and hurt, and Rodney had shot him.

Rodney gulped, feeling sick.

Sheppard hadn't been there then to tell him what he should do. He hadn't been there when Kolya had tortured him either. Both times, Rodney had screwed up. Horribly.

But Sheppard had still seemed to care. After the Siege, after P3M-736, Rodney could have sworn Sheppard was still his friend, that he still had his trust to a certain extent.

And now... Rodney had screwed up again. More horribly than ever before. Probably more horribly than anyone in the history of the human race. Huh, trust Rodney McKay to surpass them all, he thought sarcastically, and then cringed at his own choice of words.

He had had Sheppard's trust, Rodney saw that now. Sheppard had been the friend, the brother he'd never had. And now he'd lost it all. It had been there, though. Rodney still believed that. The Major had cared. Too bad the Colonel didn't.

And Rodney couldn't stop caring. He'd left his friend in the infirmary when it had been clear he wasn't wanted, and hadn't been able to think of any other excuses to stay. What was wrong with Sheppard's arm? That was the puzzle, wasn't it; or rather, how come there wasn't anything wrong with it all of a sudden.

Rodney knew it was illogical - just another feeling. He tried to ignore feelings, they weren't scientific. He had a lot of feelings, and if he followed them all - well, that just wouldn't be rational. It had been a long time, though, since he'd had this sense of overwhelming doom, especially at this magnitude. It had been building since he'd first heard about the Wraith on the mission. And now it had come to a head at seeing Sheppard's arm: bloodied but completely whole.

He couldn't explain it, and therefore refused to trust it. But it was still there, nagging insistently at the back of his mind.

And Sheppard still wouldn't let him help. So Rodney had run off to be alone. Somehow, he felt that something was going to happen... And that it was his fault for failing back on Doranda.

Project Arcturus... It was supposed to have been the rising star of the Ancients' civilisation, but it had turned out to be the downfall of everyone involved in it. And ten thousand years later, it had been the death of a man named Collins and the newest scar in the growing collection of Rodney McKay's emotional traumas. His ever-lengthening list of lost friends, and irreparable failures.

If Rodney didn't know better, he would say the Project had been cursed. But it wasn't that easy.

Rodney knew that had been his fault. He hadn't tried to excuse himself to anyone, least of all the Colonel. He'd apologised left, right and centre. He'd tried to be good about it, to be mature and... and everything. He'd hoped it would be all right; if not immediately, then someday. That they could get past it, that he could, with Sheppard's help.

Every day since the planet had gone up, taking most of a solar system with it, Rodney had heard Sheppard's words ringing in his ears: But... I'm sure you can do it. If you really, really try. Rodney had taken that slim chance of comfort to bed with him, but he had cried more than he had slept that night. Over Collins, and over Lindstrom, Dumais, Hays, Johnson, Abrams and Gaul... Over all the times he himself had failed at the cost of others.

God, he didn't want to lose Sheppard, too...

He needed John Sheppard. Rodney had never liked to admit that he needed people. He had even spent years, decades of his life trying to pretend that he didn't need anyone. Hoping that if he pretended hard enough, he might believe it himself and stop being so miserably lonely. But he couldn't pretend any more now, didn't really remember how to do it; he didn't even want to if he could.

He had grown dependent on his little family. And now that he'd finally learned what it was like to have people actually care about him, they were all being taken away. Ford was gone. Sheppard was not the man he had been a mere week ago; he was a cruel, cold, angry shadow of the older brother Rodney had known. And the hairy person of Ronon Dex added only insult to the many injuries.

It should be Ford, not Dex.

Rodney wasn't sure how much more he could take of missions like this last one - the first one since Arcturus. Walking along, pretending there was something normal about this, when everyone knew nothing was right. There was no team left any more.

Once, he might have thought about quitting, asking to be taken off the team; but not now. Somehow, the past year had taught him how to hope even in the face of obvious catastrophe. He'd never really been able to do that before. He always knew the odds, the time, the chances - always spelling doom so nearly certain, it could be scientifically termed inevitable.

And yet, somehow, they'd always made it. Well, he had. Peter hadn't, nor had Ford.

And he and Sheppard almost hadn't either, and that would have been Rodney's fault. And now...

With Arcturus, apparently, Rodney had finally crossed the line. He'd truly thought that he and Sheppard had something better than that. And not without reason: Rodney had screwed up badly enough in the past. So many times, so many lives lost, so many irreparable failures... But Sheppard had always forgiven him. Rodney had stopped trying to understand it, and just happily accepted it. He'd never taken something that wonderful for granted, though; at least there was that.

Maybe blowing up a solar system, asking for his friend's trust and then being so completely wrong had showed Sheppard that, in the end, Rodney McKay really wasn't worth anything.

Rodney was beginning to think so himself.

He'd never been one for people - they were too unpredictable, too chancy, too easily unkind. He'd separated himself from the rest of humanity from a very young age, and he'd worked to keep it up ever since. He'd thrown himself into science, thinking it was safer because he could predict it. That he could use his brains to make people respect him, because no one would ever really like him.

It was round about the time he'd been assigned to Antarctica that he'd realised just how lonely he was. Science, when all was said and done, was not anything like human companionship, and therefore no proper replacement.

In his desperation, he'd opened up just a little - and made some friends. Carson and Elizabeth for instance.

The thought of these two brought him back to his present train of thought. So much for them...

Carson hadn't been very understanding about the whole solar system thing, to say the least. In a way, Rodney couldn't blame him - or any of them - but all the same, something inside of him was hurt, disappointed, and angry.

And Elizabeth... Rodney sighed again. As much as he'd love to blame her current behaviour on the Arcturus fiasco, he was well aware of the fact that she hadn't been the same for a long time now. Somehow, somewhere along the line, he'd lost her respect. He still didn't know how that had happened.

But Sheppard... Sheppard had stuck by him through it all, more or less. There had been a few bumps, of course: the infamous Chaya incident, for one. But they'd always gotten through it, either with words, or without. It had never really mattered after a little while.

He'd felt Sheppard knew him, and he knew Sheppard. That had been the security, that there were no new surprises about Rodney's flawed character for his friend to find out, because he'd already seen them all and still cared. But now Rodney was beginning to doubt that they'd ever really known eachother at all.

How had he disappointed Sheppard that much? What was there that he didn't understand? Because Rodney knew he didn't understand something. He hadn't expected this. It didn't make sense, unless everything he'd thought he'd known about himself and the Colonel had been wrong.

Rodney rested his forehead against one tightly balled fist, trying to work it out. He wanted to fix things so badly, had thought he could. Just like he'd thought he could fix the Arcturus project. Maybe this was the same: people were inherently unpredictable. You could never fix them, never make them behave properly or know what was coming next. Never could trust them.

Rodney didn't know what to think after this mission. Sheppard had seemed fairly normal at first, though he'd rather ignored Rodney's significant glances at the obvious Doctor Who lines being exchanged. But Rodney had sort of expected that. It hadn't been so bad. And he had thrown Rodney a sideways glance when remarking, "We're just travellers."

But then something had gone wrong. Maybe it had been Rodney's loudly-voiced doubts about going after a Wraith. Yes, he'd been afraid; but that had been no reason for the Colonel to give him the looks he had. They'd bordered on scornful, and Dex's blank, condescending stare hadn't helped either.

It had wounded Rodney that Sheppard so obviously trusted and respected Dex when he so obviously had no faith in the man he'd considered his best friend up until a week ago. Rodney had baited Sheppard, trying to get him to talk, to admit that this was a crazy idea, to even say something less than fanatically praiseworthy about Dex. He'd been humiliated and smacked upside the head for his pains.

Why the hell had Sheppard done that?

The fact that the whole situation had brought back memories of the Super-Wraith incident hadn't helped either. Back then, they'd been friends. Sheppard had trusted him - God only knew why. He'd just recovered from the whole Storm thing, in which he had failed pretty badly. Telling Kolya the plan to save the City... Nice one.

But Sheppard had been there for him then, let him know he cared, that it was all right. It hadn't made any sense, but Sheppard had said it, so Rodney had believed it. And then they'd gone to that damned planet, and Gaul and Abrams had died... Rodney would never get over that in any normal sense of the term, he knew. But the fact that a certain Major Sheppard had told him on the way back to Atlantis that he wasn't alone had helped immeasurably.

Rodney had echoed that sentiment to Ford on P3M-736... And had ended up shooting him, driving him away when he needed help. He was so obviously a failure as a friend, why did he have the arrogance to wish someone else would be a friend to him?

Though he'd been told time and again that arrogance was not something he was lacking in. As if he needed anyone to tell him that! Did they think he didn't know his own character? That he wasn't all too familiar with his many shortcomings, his hard-to-get-along-with traits? Did they really think they were telling him something new?


That's all most people ever saw of him, and then they had the arrogance themselves to assume he didn't realise what was so obvious to them. He had avoided people, acted abrasive on purpose for years and years. People were stupid, and selfish, and so very unkind. Now he'd seen that some people could not only be kind to him despite all his defenses, they even kept it up after they knew him better.

He didn't understand it. But it was there... Had been there anyway. And Rodney had responded to it, gotten sucked into this whole friendship thing despite how dangerous he knew it was. Well, now he was paying. He'd listened to his feelings over his reason. Not so smart after all. And worst of all, he knew that if he and Sheppard ever got through this... He'd do it all over again.

Rodney had grown so dependant on not being alone... After the Storm, Gaul and Abrams, the Siege... Things hadn't been the same after the Siege - how could they? Rodney had thought his best friend, his brother, was dead, gone the way of everyone else he'd ever failed. It had been war, and neither of them had fully recovered from that, maybe never would. Rodney had closed it all up inside with Ford, had pretended it didn't exist, prattled shallowly to ignore it until the pain went away. He thought Sheppard might have been doing this, too.

No, it hadn't been the same, but people were always changing. They had had a little fun on Earth, though recent events had made that "homecoming" a hard one. And the trip back in the Daedalus, though long and boring at first, and fraught with panic over a Wraith computer virus towards the end, had been easily bearable because he and Sheppard had stuck together. They'd helped eachother. It hadn't been bad; not like this.

"And hunting Wraith?"

Rodney cringed as Sheppard's voice played back in his head all too clearly. With the many reminders of the Super-Wraith, this had been a blatant slap in the face. Sheppard had told him once that he was impressed with the way Rodney had emptied two clips into the monster, and stood up to it the way he had.

Maybe he was lying.

Be that as it may, Rodney had been proud of himself, in a pathetic sort of way, that he'd earned his superiour's approval in something involving military training. He'd worked hard enough at it after Kolya, certainly.

And now, when Rodney tried to follow his team going to hunt another Wraith, he'd been told to stay with Beckett. Written off as worse than useless. Sheppard didn't want him.

"And hunting Wraith?"

He'd seen Sheppard had remembered the Super-Wraith, too. And it had been the deliberate hurt of the dismissal and the manner of delivering it that had made Rodney stay without arguing, not the logic of it. If Sheppard thought he was that useless, what was the point of arguing? He knew he'd really be no good anyway, so if no one wanted him, he didn't want to come.

And of course, Carson hadn't wanted him around either. Why would he? So Rodney had gone outside to wander and kick some trees. Oddly enjoyable, even if it did hurt your feet a bit. Sometimes the bark flew off in pieces, which was nice. He'd managed to identify the species that he could do the most damage to pretty quickly, and had gone after them more than the others.

He'd been tempted to shoot holes in them, too, but that would have brought company, which was the last thing he'd wanted since they didn't want him. Would have been pretty hard to explain, too...

And he'd cried a little out there. Rodney had gotten very good at not crying back when he was a boy, had prided himself on it. It only made things worse, at least in public. But now he always seemed to be crying. The sting of salt in his eyes right now wasn't from the ocean spray.

Purely by chance, he'd been able to do something useful, spotting the villagers out for a stroll. He'd been unsure of his voice because of the tears then, and was quite certain he'd never be able to direct Carson by radio to the random, rather distant point he'd wandered to, so he'd run back. The release of energy had felt good.

He'd called Sheppard on the radio to tell him, one of the few times he'd talked to Sheppard at all during the mission. The Colonel had sounded normal. But what was normal about the fact that he consistently called Teyla, Beckett, anyone instead of Rodney if he had something to say? And was it normal that of the few times he'd said a word to Rodney other than an order, it had been instigated by Rodney first?

Maybe that's why Sheppard had hit him, because he'd talked. "Shut up, McKay."

He'd been volunteered by Carson to go hunt Wraith then. Sheppard hadn't had a problem with that. Bad, bad idea... Rodney had almost died out there. It was really quite astonishing that he hadn't, actually. Carson Beckett was notoriously inexperienced with guns, and inherently fearful of anything that made a flash and a bang. It was lucky that Evil Ellia hadn't been too interested in either of them at the time.

Or maybe not so much. Maybe it would have been better for everyone if Rodney had died back there.

There hadn't been much reaction from Sheppard when he'd come running up with Teyla and Dex after that. Carson had told the story, briefly. Rodney hadn't said much at all, watching for any signs of... concern, relief, something from the Colonel. He'd gotten nothing; as far as appearances could be trusted, Sheppard couldn't have cared less about his former best friend.

He'd felt like giving up then and there. But somehow, he couldn't.

And then Rodney had been told to stand and do nothing again, nothing except watch a man die while his friend went off to hunt Wraith Version 2.0 - Now With Additional Updates! Again reminiscent of the original Super-Wraith... Only this time, there had been no hope at all of Sheppard listening to him if he told him not to go. And even if Rodney had gone after him to save his life, Sheppard wouldn't have wanted it. Probably would have hit him again or something...

Rodney didn't think he'd have been able to help anyway, not now. He knew he had always been a coward, and a weakling - why else would he be out here crying right now? But something outside of himself had given him the strength to work past that in some of the crises when he'd needed it. But not this time, not any more. Something vital was gone.

Sheppard's faith in him was lost.

Sheppard had come back with an arm that looked like it had been torn by a tiger... There'd been only a curt "Fine" in response to Rodney's almost involuntary, "Are you all right?" He'd still refused to look at or speak to Rodney as he was rushed to the infirmary, followed by Rodney who had conveniently discovered a splinter that had probably been there for hours. Rodney didn't know where he'd gotten it - maybe kicking trees. Or scrambling for his life from a starving Wraith.

It didn't matter. He'd mostly wanted to make sure Sheppard was all right, maybe let him know Rodney still cared enough to hang around. Finding out that the soldier's erstwhile copiously bleeding wound had mysteriously healed had given him a very nasty feeling.

Werewolves. That's what it reminded him of. Rodney had once heard that when a werewolf bit you, the wound healed immediately, without a trace. Only, you were already infected... Rodney shivered, refusing to follow the nagging train of thought.

Apparently, Sheppard had almost died, had run off by himself when Teyla had gotten hurt. What had he been thinking! But Ronon Dex had saved him, leaving Teyla alone in the process. Not much of a choice, really. Rodney had always thought that that was why you had four members to a team, so you could split up in pairs.

But then there wasn't really a team at all anymore, was there?

Sheppard, Ford, Teyla and himself. They'd been a good team. Too bad they'd lost it all.

The team had all fallen apart since Ford had... left. And now Rodney was falling apart himself without even one other person to hold on to.

You're not alone.

He hadn't been then. For the first time in his life, he'd really believed he wasn't alone in the Universe.

But it had lasted less than a year. Sheppard had been his final remaining lifeline... And now Rodney felt that, even if he hadn't lost the Colonel's friendship for good, he was about to lose him forever anyway. Something was very wrong with Sheppard, and Rodney knew it and dreaded whatever was coming... But he couldn't stop it, wasn't even allowed to help his best friend if he could.

Now he was truly alone again.

And then Rodney let the tears come... For everything he'd lost through his own fault, and everything he had yet to lose. Crying again, for the umpteenth time in a week, violent sobs wracking his body. Cursing his own weakness as he banged his fist into the cold metal railing again and again, irrationally hoping the physical pain would assuage the mental.

It didn't. But after a few minutes, the tears slowed a bit, and Rodney stood there gazing uncaringly at the grey, windy ocean, and letting the last of the deluge wear itself out in streams down his unhappy face.

It took him a moment to register the soft whoosh of a door opening behind him, then he turned in a panic at being discovered.

Teyla stood there, obviously surprised to see someone else on what should have been a deserted balcony. Rodney blinked at her, then drew his jacket sleeve across his eyes to try to hide the evidence, and looked back towards the ocean, hoping she hadn't noticed.

"Oh. Hi, Teyla."

Thank God it wasn't Sheppard.

Author's Note: Okay, on to the next bit...