Just an Inconvenience
Summary: Some things in your past just never stop hurting... Rodney-centric (ya think?) response to the November 2005 Word of the Month challenge on Hopeless Romantics Anonymous. The word was "Inconvenient".
Central Character(s): Rodney. His mother, his sister, John, Teyla and Aiden also make guest appearances, but it's really just about Rodney. ;)
Category(ies): Angst, Challenge, Drama, Past Life.
Placement: Early in the second half of Season 1.
Rating: PG for some very minor language, but if mothers being mean to their adorably cute little boys bothers you: Stop Reading Now! ;)
Spoilers: References to things discussed in "Hot Zone", "Letters From Pegasus", and SG-1's "Redemption: Part II". (You probably know what I mean.) Other than that, nothing.
Author's Note: Well, I finished this a while ago, and I would have put it up sooner... Except that I'm not all that happy with it. In fact, of all the fics I've written and posted here, I probably am least satisfied with this one. But, after a lot of rereading and agonising, during which I couldn't find what was so wrong, I finally realised that my problem is that it ends completely unresolved. And sadly, after exposing a very serious problem for Rodney, I can't fix it, because I can't see him getting over this any time soon. Maybe in Season 3...? I mean, generally, I like to present a problem, examine it, and resolve it. This fic does the first, and to some extent, the second. Not the third... Arrgh, how incomplete...! Anyway, I've disturbed myself now, so there will be a sequel eventually. ;)
Also, I know most people think of Jeannie as being older than Rodney, but I've always liked the idea of her being about five years younger. It'll probably turn out totally AU, lol:p And after a great deal of thought, I've decided to have Rodney calling his mother Mum. He lets some very British things slip now and then (David Hewlett's fault, I'm thinking!), and "Mom" just didn't seem very... Rodney. So, yeah, went out on a limb there again...
Anyway, this fic does seem a bit like a rehashing of old ideas to me - but that could just be me, I don't know. (Except for his mother, I liked writing her, that was fun.) It's not such a long fic, and I'm posting it anyway, so go ahead and read it, and tell me if you think any of it's good. :) Or bad, I like that, too. ;)
Lastly... Apologies for the lengthy and rambling Author's Note! ;)
Seven-year-old Rodney McKay glanced up furtively at his mother from across the table, then returned his eyes to the food he was picking at.
It had been one of those silent dinners: preferable to the noisy ones where everyone yelled at eachother - most nights when his dad came home in time to eat with the rest of the family - but not as good as the really nice ones, so few and far between. When Rodney's father wasn't home, and Jeannie was happy, and mum paid attention to her and was almost normal... Or Rodney's conception of "normal" anyway.
He didn't know where he'd gotten the ideal he'd constructed of what Family Life should be. It certainly wasn't like anything he'd ever seen, let alone experienced. Always he'd lived with the same quarrels, the same abandonment... An emotional desert.
But Rodney still kept hoping. He hoped that someday, maybe dad just wouldn't come home, and mum would be happy and like both him and Jeannie - or something. He'd used to hope that they would stop fighting and be nice, that maybe Jeannie would mend the ever-growing chasm between his parents. They both loved Jeannie, he knew... But instead she had just bred more dissention, as they had disagreed over his little sister as much as they disagreed about everything else.
Except him. Rodney shoved some potatoes around his plate, gaining a slightly dejected air as he did so. He was well aware of his parents' mutual dislike of him. It was hard not to be, as any fight they had in his vicinity would sooner or later be turned full-forces in his direction. He was always doing things wrong... He straightened up defiantly, still staring at his plate. But some of the things they blamed him for weren't his fault! He didn't even know why they blamed him sometimes... He tried to be good. Well... sometimes he wasn't very nice, and sometimes he was mean to Jeannie... But not all the time. And he did try to be good! It was just hard sometimes when he felt lonely, or angry, or frustrated.
But if he behaved himself, he still hoped that his mum would like him someday. Because he really, really wanted his mum to like him. Mothers were supposed to like their kids. Rodney was pretending that his mother's obvious lack of love for him was his fault... It was easier that way. That way, maybe he could fix it.
Rodney looked down at the food he didn't want because it tasted bad, and then over at his little sister who was kneeling in her chair at one end of the table. She seemed to like her dinner: she was eating it with a great deal of apparent enjoyment, and had rejected the complicated fork in favour of her hands. Rodney felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. Jeannie was really cute when she wasn't being annoying. He did honestly like his little sister. He just forgot that occasionally when she was being hard to get along with.
Suddenly, he felt his mother's eyes on him, and turned to see her aiming a look at him that could only be described as a glare.
"What?" he asked.
"Stop fidgeting, and sit up straight," she snapped back.
Rodney sighed, obediently straightening his shoulders a little more. It was obviously one of his mum's bad nights. Not a good thing... This was when he really kept his mouth shut, as a necessary form of self-defense. She might not end up shouting at him for hours and hurting his feelings more than he liked to admit if he just kept quiet.
"What's wrong with your food, Rodney?" she demanded after a minute.
Great. She was in a really bad mood. So much for getting off easy...
"It doesn't taste good," Rodney muttered, lowering his head sullenly.
His mother scoffed. "I cooked it for you, and you are going to eat it! Jeannie likes it. Can't you take a break from whining for a couple minutes at a time? Scheeze!" She got up from he chair, her own food unfinished, and stomped over to scrape it into the trash.
Rodney watched her, and knew better than to comment on her double standards. Instead, he made a face, and shovelled some of the disgusting potatoes into his mouth. He made more faces while he chewed the stuff, until his mother started to turn around. It wouldn't do to get caught, or who knows what she'd do to him...
She shot him a sharp glance as if guessing at what he'd been doing, and Rodney pretended not to see her. So she just rolled her eyes and moved to Jeannie, her hard face softening into a tight-lipped smile.
Rodney's chewing slowed to a near-halt as he watched her with intent, thoughtful eyes. Why couldn't she ever smile at him? Even now, even when she was so mad, there was kindness in her eyes for Jeannie. Why never for him? Rodney's brows knit together in a hurt little frown, and he quickly went back to his food rather than continue to watch something so inexplicably painful. But he still listened...
"Well, you're a mess." Though it sounded blunt, it was said in a less critical tone than she could have employed. She sounded almost amused, actually. Rodney watched out of the corner of his eye as Jeannie scrubbed one potato-coated hand across her even-more-coated face. The result was less than satisfactory. But it made his mother actually laugh. Not a very happy laugh, granted, but still a laugh.
Rodney stabbed at his detestable food with a vicious fork. Mum never laughed at anything he did! Was that all it took, just getting dirty, being cute!
If his mother noticed her son's actions or his stormy frown, she didn't comment on them. "Okay, honey, let's get you cleaned up. It's time for bed." And there was definitely affection in her still-angry voice.
"I wanna story!" Jeannie piped up as their mum cleaned most of her dinner off of her pudgy face and hands. The rest, including what had lodged itself in her hair, would have to be cleaned up in the bath.
"A story?" Mum groaned. "Great," she muttered, then went on, grumpy but compliant. "Right, fine, I'll read you a story. Okay?"
"Yay!" was Jeannie's response, complete with clapping. Rodney rolled his eyes. Jeannie played "cute" for his parents on purpose sometimes. She may have been little, but, like most kids, she was smart enough to catch on to what pleased them and what didn't.
Rodney's mother picked Jeannie up and started to walk out without even another glance at Rodney, but then turned back at the foot of the stairs.
"Oh, Rodney," and the coldness had come back. Rodney didn't look up. "I'm going to take Jeannie out shopping tomorrow, so you'll have to walk home from school."
Rodney's head shot up. "But I have a piano lesson tomorrow!"
"Well then walk there, I don't care. Jeannie needs a new dress." Now she was glaring again, obviously unhappy that he'd even said a word.
Rodney shook his head. "I won't be able to get there fast enough! I'll be late!"
She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. "Well, what do you suggest then?" she inquired sarcastically.
Rodney frowned and thought about it. "Why don't you just drop me off and then go shopping?" he asked in what he thought was a very reasonable tone.
"Oh, well, I could," she said, still sarcastic. "It would just ruin my entire schedule for tomorrow, that's all."
This was where Rodney could have said he was sorry, if he had really wanted to placate his mother. But he wasn't sorry, really, and it offended his seven-year-old pride to apologise for something that wasn't his fault. "I can't help that!" he said belligerently, pretending he didn't care so she couldn't make him feel guilty. He hated it when she did that...
"So you don't even care that you're putting me to a lot of inconvenience just for your stupid piano lessons?" she asked, getting angrier, but holding it in for the moment.
Rodney's gaze wavered back to his plate, but he wasn't going to give in now. "No."
With a snort, Rodney's mother said the worst thing she could think of offhand, hoping it would hurt her son. "You know what, Rodney? You will be sorry someday, because that's all you'll ever be: just an inconvenience to everyone who knows you."
She turned around and swept out with Jeannie too soon to see Rodney's shocked and hurt eyes come up to look after her, and his mouth fall open. She didn't even wait to see how much she had wounded her too-vulnerable little boy.
Rodney almost called after her to say he was sorry... But for some reason he didn't quite understand himself, he didn't. He swiped away the single tear that had escaped from his clear grey eyes that hadn't learned to hide his sorrow yet, and set his jaw, determined not to give into weakness any more than he had to. Angrily, he took the remainder of his cold food to the trash can, stuck his plate in the sink, and went up to his room.
All alone there, he could cry quietly, and no one would know how deep that heartless comment had cut into his trusting young soul.
"Major, seriously, this could be really, really important!"
John was tired, bored, and it had been an incredibly long day. He wanted to go home, have a snack, maybe hit the gym, and just relax. And now, when he had finally managed to round up his team, gotten the trade negotiations good to go, and they were ready to head for the Gate... A Rodney McKay in full enthusiastic mode had bounced up from nowhere, and started chattering at excessive speeds about Ancient ruins.
Incidentally, said ruins were apparently about three and a half miles from the village they were standing in now. In the opposite direction from the Stargate. And inaccessible by Jumper to boot.
John quirked his eyebrows in a way he'd found to work wonders with its patheticness.
Rodney, however, seemed to be completely immune. Damn. He would be.
Unfortunately, John was not immune to Rodney's persuasion tactics. These consisted of rattling on as fast as his tongue would go about scientific advancements, possibly amazing breakthroughs, ZedPMs, weapons against the Wraith, yadda, yadda, yadda... And all the while, his eyes would be shining with a sort of innocent, manic joy - impossible for anyone except McKay - and his mouth would tilt up in a way that seemed to trustingly ask you if you could possibly resist sharing in his excitement.
Most people couldn't. John was having trouble, and it annoyed him. A lot.
He held up one hand in an attempt to pause the perpetual-motion scientist. "So, you want us to walk at least seven miles, in addition to the trip we'll already have to make back to the Gate - to look at some ruins."
Rodney took a breath. John made a face, realising he'd been worried about that a minute ago. The upward tilt became a full grin, and the eyes glittered brighter. "Yes!" Rodney confirmed, and was about to launch back into his long-winded plea, but John cut him off again before he could.
"So they're pretty important..." He made it half a question, because they'd better be good for seven extra miles at this time of day.
A hint of discomfort marred Rodney's expression. "Well..." The hint became unmistakably dominant as John stared flatly. "I don't actually... knowforsure - but!" He brightened up again, one finger held high. "But it's definitely possible! I mean, considering these energy readings I'm picking up, not to mention the natives' concepts of -"
"Seven miles, Rodney?" John tried pitiful again. He was all for exercise, but enough was enough, and right now he was sick to death of this planet, and all its friendly natives and picturesque forests.
Rodney's face flashed instantly and completely into heavy-lidded, arrogant annoyance. "Would I be volunteering for that if this wasn't important? Please, Major, use your mind. I'm relatively certain you are in possession of one."
"So it is important?"
The astrophysicist did his patented head roll. "I don't know, because I haven't seen them yet! That's why I need to look!" Rodney threw up his arms, then let them drop to his sides and stood with his head slightly forward, the picture of impatient anticipation.
John just turned to share a look with his other two contrastingly patient and silent team members. Ford looked restrainedly amused - though John thought he caught a swift wink - and Teyla looked kindly sympathetic.
"Isn't it worth it to find out?" Rodney asked, having reached the end of his very short rope of silence.
John sighed. He wouldn't be getting out of this one. "I dunno," John muttered, as he gave in and beckoned to his team to start moving in the direction Rodney had indicated. "It's pretty..." He paused, searching for the right word. "Inconvenient," he ended wryly.
He didn't notice the way Rodney's eyes flickered up from his scanner with a queer half-formed expression in their depths. He did hear Rodney snort. "Oh, well, let's delay this possibly Galaxy-shaking scientific breakthrough indefinitely because it inconveniences you, Major," he said sarcastically.
John snickered to himself. "If we did that, we'd never go anywhere with you, Rodney. Everything about you is inconvenient."
John stopped when he saw Rodney freeze in his tracks at those words. "Rodney?" The scientist's entire body had stiffened, and as John watched, his eyes went very wide, and his mouth fell open, making him look shockingly young and vulnerable.
Then something seemed to snap, and with the speed of a cyclone, Rodney had whirled on John, his eyes blazing with anger. "Oh, that's it, huh? That's all I am to you - just an inconvenience! Well, fine! I don't care, you can walk all day until your feet fall off, but we're going anyway! I don't care if I'm nothing but inconvenient to you!"
"Woah, woah!" John said as soon as he could get a word in edgewise, and moved closer to his now silently fuming friend with the rest of his team. "I didn't mean it like that Rodney," he said gently.
Rodney blinked at him, anger and pain warring in his eyes. He didn't seem to comprehend John's words.
"You okay, Doc?"
The concerned voices of his teammembers finally penetrated, and Rodney deflated, his stance shifting from belligerence to broken dejection. For a flash of an instant as the anger evaporated, the helplessly hurt look behind it was clearly exposed. Then one hand came up, and his head went down into it, hiding his expression until he could harden himself again so no one would know his weakness for what it was.
"I'm sorry... Um, uhh... Bad memory," he muttered unsteadily in explanation.
"Yeah, I gathered that." Sheppard's voice held a note of ruefulness.
Rodney didn't have a clue what to say then, so he didn't say anything.
"Uh, should we -?" Aiden broke in uncertainly after a minute.
Rodney cut off anyone else's response by speaking himself, snapping his head back up again, as if he hadn't been fighting old demons a second ago. "No, no, no, I'm fine, let's just go!"
Rodney's gaze darted to the side almost as quickly as his friends' when he realised they were all staring at him. Then John nodded, and led the way onwards, wisely leaving Rodney to do his own thing. If any of them had noticed that his eyes were a little too bright, or that his voice shook a bit, they gave no sign.
Teyla laid a caring hand silently on the scientist's arm as she passed, and Rodney hoped he didn't offend her when he didn't look up from the safety of his scanner screen. He couldn't face anyone just now, whether they meant only kindness or not. He was barely holding it all together as it was, and he really, really didn't want to lose it in front of his team.
Hearing something so close to his mother's cruel words from all those years ago coming out of Sheppard's mouth had completely unbalanced Rodney for a minute. He never thought about his parents, if he could help it. It only hurt, reopened old wounds that had never really healed in the first place. He didn't need that, and he didn't want the consciousness of his own weakness that came along with it. There was a reason he had tried so hard to leave his childhood behind. He'd thought up till now that he'd been pretty successful.
He was a bit disturbed to find that his mother, dead and gone for years and unkind right up to the end, still had the ability to hurt him.
Was that the only thing he'd achieved with all this fighting: just a shallow front that could be penetrated with a single, simple word? Rodney shook his head slightly, and let out his breath in a small sigh without noticing. It had never gotten better then, and it was far, far too late to hope it would ever get better now.
"You wanna talk about it?" the Major's voice at his side startled him.
Rodney glanced up, then down again, never quite meeting his friend's eyes. "Um, no," he replied, adding, "Thanks," a second later.
"Okay," Sheppard acquiesced. "We're here if you change your mind." And then he dropped the subject.
Rodney appreciated the thought, he really did. And a part of him wanted to lay it bare, to get it all out from inside of him where it continued to rankle after all these years. But the stronger part of him, the part he had relied on for most of his life, couldn't bear the thought of digging that up intentionally, let alone showing it to anyone else. Pride was his sanctuary, and Rodney heeded its voice instead of the smaller, weaker one that always hoped for comfort, for love.
Rodney knew his friends really did care for him. They were the first real light in his entire life of darkness. But it had been too long, and too many people had hurt Rodney for him to be able to respond as he once would have, so long ago. The voice of innocent hope still cried out within his soul, but Rodney could no longer trust its blindly trusting nature. He'd learned to be cynical, suspicious of anyone who appeared to be friendly, wary of any show of kindness, because it could so easily be false, and then the pain would follow quickly in the steps of his naiveté.
Maybe someday, he'd be able to regain his faith in humanity, if only through a few people. Rodney's mouth formed a tiny smile. He really did believe his team cared... He just couldn't take any chances any more, and what he had striven so hard to bury was going to stay buried. It was his past, and it was as extremely personal as it was private. Whether because he couldn't or wouldn't talk about it, he would hold himself and his long-ago troubles in the darkness where they belonged.
The past was irretrievably gone, thank God, and had nothing to do with the here and now.
So... why had he blown up like that?
A panicked sense of embarrassment made itself belatedly known. What - what had he done? He'd let a nightmare from his childhood affect him enough to scream at Sheppard, when he'd known the Major never meant anything like that! He'd responded like that little boy to his heartless mother... God, he'd acted totally irrationally, in front of his entire team! Oh, great, just great... Suppose they told Elizabeth or something? Seriously, what if they thought he would do that again? What if they thought he was crazy or something? He must have seemed crazy... What had he said? He couldn't even remember now!
But he'd apologised, right? Yes, he remembered doing that, anyhow. Well... Maybe they'd just forget about it.
Rodney looked around him apprehensively. They didn't seem to be thinking he was nuts. Well, he'd make sure it didn't happen again. Maybe they'd forgive him for the slip.
In fact, come to think of it, he'd done much dumber things around them before, and they'd forgiven him for those... So he could reasonably assume it would be okay this time.
Rodney brightened up enough at that thought to start prattling somewhat nervously to Ford, who was immediately behind him, and then to the Major and Teyla as well. He talked about nothing the whole rest of the trip, and was relieved to note that they all acted perfectly normal in return. It helped him regain some measure of normality himself, and he ended up satisfied that another minor catastrophe wouldn't be rearing its head over his undignified actions.
So Rodney succeeded once again in talking about anything except what was really bothering him, and reinterred his broken childhood to some place deep inside of himself, where he wouldn't have to look at it or touch it. It was a method that any psychologist would have told him was a very bad idea - and a few had. But he hadn't ever listened. This was his way, honed and perfected through years of use. It had gotten him this far, and, for now, it was still the only way he knew to survive.
Perhaps, in time, he could learn a new way.
A/N: See?I told you it ended unresolved. / So, yes, there will be a sequel someday. Hopefully, it'll be sooner rather than later... And hopefully, they won't steal my thunder by doing it on the show before I can get at it. Then it'll have to be an epilogue or something. :p It'll almost certainly be called Because of You... Just don't hold your breath. :( Sorry.
Ooh, and I will try to answer your reviews this time around, using the handy new message feature - assuming it works, that is. ;)But if I don't get to it (again!): Thank you, thank you, thank you! You're all great. :D