Duty, Atonement, and Redemption—Chapter Twenty-Four
By SGC Gategirl
For warnings, comments, summary, etc, please see part one.
After foisting the memo on Sheppard, McKay realized that this might be the last time he'd see the man. He had no real intention of spending any time with him and if Lorne was right, Sheppard was probably heading back to 218 tomorrow. And, depending on what they found, might not even be here when the Daedalus left.
He found that thought unnerving, but knew he should be grateful he didn't have to deal with him ever again.
When he finally felt the weight of the man's gaze, he focused once again, realizing he'd been staring.
"You had a question, McKay?"
Shaking off the last bits of his thoughts, he nodded. "Yes, yes. Andrews and Clark. Why are they going back to Earth?"
Sheppard's eyes narrowed slightly, handing back the papers. "I'm sorry, McKay, but with your current status I really can't discuss it."
Sheppard moved, stepping closer to the automatic doors of the grounding station and they sighed open.
"What do you mean you can't discuss it?" Rodney demanded, taking a step closer, forcing Sheppard to back up a few more steps, his movement bringing them outside onto the small area where the control console for the grounding station was housed.
How could Sheppard take that kind of attitude with him, especially after everything? He could feel his blood pressure rising. "Those are the two—" he began, only to stop, realizing what he was saying.
Sheppard, though, was nodding, a strange expression on his face, something he couldn't place.
Sheppard glanced away, his eyes narrowing as he looked out across the ocean. He took a breath, turning back to McKay after a long pause. "Look," he began, his voice tight. "I know I owe you an apology for a lot of shit you've been through. But since you decided to resign, I don't have a whole lot of time to make it up to you—if I even can. In any case, however, I'd be remiss in my job if I didn't bring them up on charges knowing what I know—the harassment, both in person and now as I recently discovered, in email."
McKay tried not to let himself react, but it was hard not to. He had lived through more than a month of sheer hell because of his man, someone he'd considered a friend. His next words were harsh, bitter.
"Remiss in your job? Is that all this is to you?"
"What do you want from me, McKay? I'm sorry. I was angry—"
"Yeah, that was patently obvious."
"But it was more than that." Sheppard paused, dropping his gaze. "You scared the shit out of me. You could have died."
He could feel McKay's eyes on him, but he couldn't look up. Instead he moved away, his strides taking him to the railing, which he gripped tightly, his knuckles turning white. He heard the other man step closer, stopping somewhere to the left of his shoulder.
It was hard to miss the piercing glare.
"When everything hit the fan," he finally began, his words quiet, but loud enough to carry to the one man who needed to hear them. "I was angry—at you, me, the situation, everything. But you'd also scared me. If I hadn't been able to talk you down, to convince you to leave, you'd be dead. Hell, I'd be dead and we would never have had this conversation."
"It was my decision to try and get that weapon to work. It was my decision that killed Collins." While the words were strong, determined, McKay's tone wasn't as biting as a few minutes ago.
"No, McKay. You don't understand." Sheppard sighed. "It was my decision to talk to Elizabeth, to push her to let us keep trying. I thought it was a good idea, but when it almost killed us…I was angry. You'd pushed me to talk to her, using our…friendship as leverage. You instantly became exactly like everyone else I ever knew, that I hated. They knew how to manipulate people and events to get what they wanted without caring about the consequences or who accidentally died when things went to hell."
John dropped his voice again, leaning more of his weight against the railing. "I'd lost too many friends because of people like that."
Rodney's reply, when it finally came, was raw. "Is that how you see me?"
Sheppard hates me.
The words became a chant that ran through McKay's mind as the Colonel stumbled on with his explanation, the words dragged from deep within.
Now, McKay wasn't surprised events had transpired the way they had. And it made perfect sense to him, like a light had suddenly flicked on in his mind, illuminating every corner. And even as something inside clenched, he had to know the truth.
"Is that how you see me?"
Sheppard turned, his eyes wide. "No," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "Not at all. But at that moment, with everything piling up, the anger was the only thing that kept me going."
He paused, holding Rodney's gaze. "Elizabeth and I…" He shook his head. "I know I was an asshole and Elizabeth wasn't much better. And honestly, if I were you, I'd probably lodge complaints against us. And you still might, I know. I'd be the first to admit we deserve anything you want to throw at us at this point."
McKay refused to look away, trying to read into the other man's expression, but it was as if everything was laid bare, nothing held back. He finally had to look away, the tension and emotion too strong.
"Just forgiving you is not going to make everything better."
"Right now, I'm not even sure things can ever get better."
"I know that too, and that's what makes me angry now, that things got so screwed up." John took a breath, letting it out slowly. "And when you were culled…I thought I'd lost any opportunity I might have had to fix it, make it right. And when I read that note you left and realized what we'd driven you to—" Sheppard broke off, glancing away, but not moving. "I was angry, confused, scared. I'm the one that's supposed to be willing to die to save Atlantis, not the other way around. I couldn't understand why you'd do that, why you thought it was the only way to fix things."
McKay could feel his eyes widening at Sheppard's comments. He glanced back, seeing the raw emotion on the other man's face.
"I was angry at you. I was angry at myself for letting you think the only way you were useful to us anymore was through your death. That's the furthest thing from the truth. We need you here on Atlantis, want you here. No one wants to you leave, resign. Give us a chance to prove it to you."
"I'm only asking for a chance to set things straight."
"But how can you say that when you don't even trust me?"
Sheppard felt his eyes widening at the simple question and the sheer resignation in McKay's voice.
John wanted to kick himself very hard in the ass, hating that his friend felt this way and knowing it was entirely his fault he did.
"Rodney," Sheppard said, taking a step forward, his eyes fixed on the scientists'. "I said that in anger, as a way to make you feel bad. I was looking for a way to get back at you, even as petty as it was. I was angry. Confused. Hurting. But right now, you need to know I have never stopped trusting you and I will continue to trust you with my life. Am I clear?"
McKay nodded slowly, disbelief in his eyes and etched into the lines of his face. Nearly a minute passed before the physicist spoke.
"I don't know if I can…we can…fix this," he said finally, a hand rising to gesture between the two of them.
McKay looked at him for several beats before glancing away, the forgotten sheets of paper in his hand crinkling as he folded his arms over his chest, shoving his hand into his armpit.
"I need time to think about everything."
"Take the time you need," John said, already moving toward the door. "But do me a favor, and remember all the people who've you've helped this week. None of them want you to leave, and none of them only want you here for your brain. We're your friends."
McKay nodded, standing in the middle of the balcony, uncertainty on his face.
"If you need anything, call someone, please. You don't have to do this alone."
The other man turned, catching his eye for a moment. "Right now I do."
Sheppard nodded and McKay turned away, moving to stand at the railing, leaning against it, gazing out across the water. John paused for a minute, simply watching the other man, wishing he could do something more, but knowing that he'd done everything he could.
Taking a breath of the ocean air, he stepped into the hallway, allowing the doors to close behind him.
Now, all he could do was wait—and pray.
Carson Beckett glanced up from his medical journal when he heard the knock on the door jam to his office. His eyes widened when he caught sight of Rodney. It was a lot earlier than he expected.
"Rodney?" he asked, rising to his feet.
The scientist almost looked apologetic. "You said I needed a departure exam, but you look busy. Should I schedule it for another time?"
"No," Carson said, his heart dropping. "We can do it now if you want. It won't take but a few minutes to get everything set up."
"Okay," he replied, nodding slightly, his eyes fixed on a patch of the floor.
Beckett moved past him, gesturing to a nearby bed. "Hop on up and I'll be right back."
He retrieved the equipment he needed, conducting the exam quickly and efficiently, neither man seemingly in the mood for conversation. In a way it was surreal, since the Canadian didn't complain one iota about the blood draw or any of the tests.
About thirty minutes later once everything was complete, Carson jotted down a few things in the chart and nodded to McKay. "You're all set. It looks like you're good to go, but we won't know of or sure until the results come back from the labs. If you experience anything…out of the ordinary, please inform me immediately. Understood?"
Rodney nodded, sliding off the bed. "Yeah," he replied absently. He paused a moment before focusing on Beckett, offering a half-smile. "Thanks, Carson, for everything."
"My pleasure," he replied instinctively, but also knowing that Rodney wasn't thinking about the exam.
McKay moved slowly, meandering through the infirmary, throwing a last look over his shoulder as he headed out the main door. Glancing at bedside table, he took a few steps closer, reaching out to grab the slightly warm vials, moving instinctively to the lab to drop off he samples for testing.
He'd have to break the news to the group, to Sheppard, but right now he needed time to think.
After grabbing a quick dinner in the mess hall, Rodney felt restless. He still had things to pack, but he wasn't in the mood.
Instead, he headed for the science labs, his lab.
He didn't bother with the overhead lights. Instead, he relied on the ambient glow of lab equipment and the lighting that spilled in from the hall to the illuminate the room.
Pushing back the stool, he sat, allowing the room to close over him. He listened to the hum of the city and it soothed his nerves, easing some of the tension in his body. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath and released it slowly, more anxiety draining away.
He was torn.
He didn't want to leave, but he wasn't sure he could stay.
Sheppard had said all the right words with the right tone, but was it too little, too late, or had it really made a difference?
A light tap pulled his attention away from his thoughts, his head coming up as his eyes scanned the area, finally landing on a sheepish Major Lorne standing in the doorway.
"Sorry," he said, offering an apologetic shrug. "Am I interrupting?"
Rodney just looked at him, not really sure of the answer. Lorne took his silence as an invitation to enter and McKay didn't stop him.
"You talk to the Colonel?" He asked, sliding into a nearby stool, an elbow resting on the edge of the worktable.
McKay nodded. "We talked, yes."
"And you people are worse than old women, you know that?" he finally replied, shaking his head.
"But, did it work? That's the real question." Lorne raised an eyebrow, a smirk slowly growing on his face. "If it did, I'll let you call us anything you want."
Rodney couldn't help but chuckle, rolling his eyes. "Maybe."
"Maybe? That's all I get?"
"Look, Major, this isn't a joke. We're talking about the future of my career and my life here. I don't intend to flip a coin and decide."
Lorne held up hands. "I know. I realize that. I just wanted to check in on you and remind you that you have friends here who are…concerned about what's going on in your brain right now. We all screwed up. We know that. And if you'll let us, we'd like to make it up to you."
McKay sighed, rubbing his hand over his face before snaking it around to dig at the muscles of his neck.
"I know, Major. I just need to figure this out myself."
Lorne nodded. "I understand. If I don't see you again," he said, rising to his feet, quickly straightening and giving McKay a salute. "It was a pleasure to work with you, sir."
He held McKay's eyes for a brief moment before turning and leaving without another word, silence settling over him like a blanket.
Turning, he leaned against the table, resting his head on his forearms as he took another deep breath, weighing all the pros and cons in his mind.
He didn't want to make the wrong decision. He had a life full of them already.
He sighed again, allowing the hum of the city to comfort him, to hold him together.
He stayed there, bent over his desk, letting his mind drift, examining and studying each and every situation and scenario he could come up with. When he finally raised his head, his eyes were gritty, his entire body sore and tired.
How much time had passed? He wasn't sure, and didn't particularly care.
He finally had his answer.
Pushing away from the desk, he moved out into the hallway. There was hardly anyone around and he glanced at his watch, noting the time, surprised it was nearly 2700 hours. He turned, headed toward the senior staff quarters, his long strides eating up the distance.
Stopping in front of his destination, he paused before raising his hand, signaling the door chime.
He waited as patiently as he could, counting the seconds until the doors slid open to reveal a half-asleep John Sheppard in a rumpled t-shirt and boxers.
"It's going to take more than an apology to fix things," he said without preamble, meeting Sheppard's bloodshot eyes with his own.
Sheppard dragged his hand through his hair. "I know that."
"But I'm willing to try if you are."
A smile broke out on the Colonel's face, relief mixed in. "More than willing."
"Good," Rodney said, nodding. "And I want to go to 218 tomorrow."
An eyebrow rose in reply. "Tomorrow?"
"I think I deserve a chance to examine the Ancient base there firsthand. And I need to figure out what that Oracle is."
"Well, then," Sheppard said, "you should probably get some sleep. We're scheduled to leave at 0800. And pack for overnight. We're probably staying."
"I can do that." McKay took a few steps away, before turning back to the Colonel. "Thanks."
"No," Sheppard said, shaking his head, his expression serious. "I'm the one who should be thanking you for giving us a second chance."
McKay paused, tilting his head to the side. "Think of it this way, Colonel. This will give us both the opportunity to earn each other's trust back. Let's leave it at that."
Sheppard was silent, offering a tired nod.
"Oh, and Colonel?"
"If you do anything like this ever again, I will kick your ass before I resign."
"Understood. And, McKay?"
Rodney paused, looking at Sheppard carefully.
"If you ever even consider risking your life for no apparent good reason without talking to someone about it and trying to find another way, I will kill you."
Pursing his lips, McKay nodded once, and moved off down the hallway, allowing the darkened corridors to embrace him.
"Anyone sitting here?" Rodney asked, tray in hand as he hovered next to the table, visibly uncomfortable, as Lorne and Beckett glanced up, breakfasts momentarily forgotten.
Lorne responded first, shaking off his initial surprise at seeing the scientist—complete in grey BDUs no less. "Just Carson and I," he said, gesturing to the empty chairs. "Feel free to join us."
Carson's mouth was open a little, his eyes refusing to leave Rodney as the other man walked behind Lorne, sliding into the adjacent seat. Glancing up several times as he pushed the food around on his plate, McKay finally spoke up. "Do I have something on my face? I'm usually not that exciting to stare at. Although it might be my brain that has you totally enchanted—"
Lorne swatted him casually, chuckling as his comment broke the awkwardness. "As if, McKay, as if."
"Rodney," Carson finally said, shoving his reconstituted eggs around on his plate, "I'm a mite surprised to see you down here this early. Not that I didn't want to see ye before you left, but I thought you'd be finishing your packing for the departure later today."
The scientist dropped his eyes, his left hand fingering the mug of coffee on the corner of his tray. "I'm not going."
Lorne and Carson exchanged a quick, triumphant smile before they turned back to McKay. Now the clothes made more sense. "What changed your mind?" Lorne asked, shoving his tray forward so he could lean an elbow on the corner of the table.
McKay shrugged. "It's not totally made up yet, but I decided to give things a chance to settle out, see if everything would get worked out to my satisfaction. If it can't I can always take a quick step through the gate…I guess I always could, instead of waiting for the Daedalus to visit…but then there's the whole wasting resources debate and since we never really have figured out exactly how much energy is needed to transfer a person through the gate back to the SGC…"
Lorne waved his hands, trying to get the obviously nervous scientist to slow down. "It's fine, McKay. You don't have to explain it to the very last bitter detail. We're just glad you decided to stay."
"You are?" McKay's head perked up a little, an eye peering out toward the two men. Any response they may have said was interrupted, however, as Ronon and Teyla approached the table, sitting down to join them.
"It is good to see you again, Doctor McKay," Teyla began, a wide smile on her face as he picked up her mug of Athosian tea. "I was pleased to hear you have decided to join us on the mission today."
Carson's head snapped around. "Mission? You're going on the mission?" His eyes narrowed. "And just when were you plannin' on tellin' us about this?"
Rodney glanced between all of the table's occupants, a sheepish expression on his face. "I..ah…wasn't…exactly going to say anything."
"McKay," Lorne growled. The twitch of a smile on his lips, though, cut any of the harshness away.
"What do you want me to say?" McKay asked, his hands waving, his face showing the familiar range of emotion they were accustomed to. "I didn't think I needed the vampires in the infirmary to poke me with any more holes since I just had my departure exam yesterday and I spoke to Sheppard last night and he agreed. So, here I am."
"It's about time you got back to work, McKay," Ronon commented. Lorne caught the twinkle in his eyes that the Satedan allowed the scientist to see.
"Yeah, yeah," McKay muttered, scowling toward the man, but refusing to be baited. He dug into his breakfast, the food disappearing at a fast rate. Lorne finally broke the silence.
"So, did you happen to mention this to Doctor Weir yet?"
McKay's fork poised mid-flight. "Not quite," he replied around a mouthful of food. Grabbing his mug, he washed it down with a gulp of coffee.
"When were you thinking about breaking the news?" Carson asked.
Rodney's mouth twitched in a small smile, the corner rising. "Oh, just before we left I imagine."
A tapping on the edge of her office door made Elizabeth glance up mid-sip. She switched between coffee and the Athosian tea Teyla had introduced her to when they'd been trying to save some of the java beans for the scientists who seemed to live on the stuff.
"Doctor McKay," she said, eyes wide, obviously not expecting to see him.
He stepped inside, rolling his shoulders a little under the weight of his off-world pack. Pack? Had she missed a memo? She had spoken briefly with John earlier but he hadn't mentioned anything about Rodney. She pulled her thoughts back to listen to what McKay was saying.
"…and I thought I should probably stop here before the mission."
"Mission?" she said, her forehead furrowing. Yes, she'd missed something big. "But I thought—"
"Yeah, but that's not why I'm here. You know that letter I gave you? I'm going to need it back."
An eyebrow rose in response as she gently placed her mug back on her desk before she spilled it all over her computer. The last thing she needed was him yelling at her about short-circuiting another piece of equipment. She swore her ears were still ringing from the lecture she received when it happened nearly fourteen months ago. "I think I missed something."
Rodney glanced away, his eyes focusing on the gate for a moment before he turned back, chagrin and discomfort on his face. "I probably should have…explained it a little better when I first walked in, I imagine. But, I decided…late last night actually after falling asleep in my lab…but that part's really immaterial…" He waved his hand absently. "I decided, to, ah, try to fix things here before giving up entirely. I know it's not going to be easy, but the Colonel and I have reached an…understanding."
She nodded slowly. "If that's what you want…"
"I think it is," he said, nodding. He turned a little, catching Sheppard's eye as he stood at one of the consoles talking to Zelenka. McKay offered a small smile which John returned before the scientist swung back around to her.
"So, the letter?"
"I'll make sure it's in your quarters when you get back."
"Good, good," he said, turning to go, but stopping at Weir's next words.
"Rodney," she said, her voice quiet, hopeful. "I'm glad you've decided to stay. But I was hoping that we could…talk about what happened. I'm…sorry that things went as far as they did."
He nodded slowly from his place just inside the door. A long moment passed before he turned back toward her, his nearly silent footsteps bringing him closer, his fingertips resting on the edge of her desk, turning white as he pressed down.
"I'm not going to say that I'm not…angry or hurt, about what happened. I am. There's no getting around it. The entire…situation, in my opinion, was handled badly, unprofessionally."
Weir nodded, wincing, but knowing he was exactly correct.
"But then, what I did wasn't exactly a small thing and tensions were at an all-time high." He shrugged, a rueful expression crossing his face. "I know we probably should…talk about what happened, but right now I need some air and this looked like a good way to get some. Sheppard agreed."
"Okay," she said, nodding slowly. Her eyes drifted past him where the rest of the team—John, Teyla, Ronon, Lorne, and Carson— waited before they headed up to the jumper bay. "But promise me we will talk."
He rolled his eyes and sighed, but nodded. "Yes, fine."
"Good," she said a genuine smile on her face. At least she'd get the opportunity to try and rebuild things. She wanted that, needed it even.
He turned to leave once again, but her words stopped him again. "Rodney, I'm sorry and I'm glad you decided to stay."
He let out a long breath and turned slightly, glancing over his shoulder toward her. "Where exactly would I go? I'm already home."
She let him leave this time, walking out to stand next to Carson, still keeping his distance from John, but she knew that would change in time. At least now they had a chance to rebuild what they'd torn down.
And Rodney was right. This was home.
Additional Author's Notes
First of all, I want to thank everyone who's reading these notes for sticking with me until the end. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this story and for continuing to comment and review and support me through the whole process.
In short, you have all been wonderful and marvelous.
When I first thought of writing this story, I had a brief idea about the events in Trinity and some of the events/attitudes I saw in the episode immediately following (Instinct). Part of me couldn't imagine that things had gotten back to normal (or semi-normal) within such a short time. Something had to have transpired between those two episodes. And, after Elizabeth's reaction at the end of the episode where you can see and hear her yelling at McKay, the very first ideas slowly formed. I wanted to know what would happen to friends and colleagues after a horrible, terrible mess when decisions were made in anger without real thought or consideration for the consequences. How would these characters respond? What and who would come to the forefront? And what would happen once time transpired and the intensity of the moment passed?
I hope that I was able to work through some of those issues at least a little and provide an enjoyable story at the same time.
Your comments and reviews—in LJ, on fanfiction, and via email—have been overwhelming. I never even considered that I would get this kind of response when I was writing the fic or even when I started posting. Just ask my betas (who I continued to gape at when the responses and comments and hits continued to increase—they just nodded and smiled).
Thank you so much for your kind words, compliments, and support. It is greatly, greatly appreciated.