Not So Shallow
By Leesa Perrie
My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
'Til then I walk alone
- Boulevard Of Broken Dreams by Green Day
First Year on Atlantis
It was that time of year again. That time when he threw himself into his work even more than normal. Trying to obliterate any thoughts not work related, with only a few trips to deal with bodily requirements, such as food.
His colleagues had backed off, deciding to leave him to his obsessive work after a few extra snappish remarks aimed at those who interrupted him. Even Zelenka had muttered something no doubt derogative in Czech and left him well alone.
He had worked solidly from the time he had woken up, which had been very early in the morning, until now, late in the evening. Everyone else had packed up hours ago, most heading to the rec room. It was movie night, which happened every two weeks or so. And, despite the fact that there were only twelve movies to choose from, and everyone had seen whatever was on offer more than once, most people still went. It was a social thing. He, of course, rarely went. And tonight, there was no way he would be going. He had work to do. Work he needed to do, to keep the thoughts at bay; the ones that always came this time of the year.
The Ancient device he was working on had been puzzling him for some time now, and he was determined to solve it today. He wanted, needed, something to make all this work worthwhile. Something to justify his obsession. A reason to avoid the real issues.
He prodded the insides again, and was zapped with an electric shock for his efforts.
"Crap!" He was slammed backwards onto the floor. "Damn it!" He shouted, and then checked his hand. There was no signs of burning, so he guessed it wasn't as bad as it had felt. On another day, he'd have called Carson. But today, he didn't want to deal him, or anyone else for that matter. He sighed, and pushed himself up off the floor, and sat back down in his chair. He felt winded, and closed his eyes for a moment, gathering himself together, before those thoughts caught up with him.
He wasn't fast enough.
There they were: All those feelings he had been hiding from all day.
When he was a kid, he'd looked forward to two days in his life. One was Christmas day, which meant presents and food and little else to him, and the other was his birthday. Even though his parents didn't seem to like him much, they always gave him a present and a card. The present was usually something boring, like clothing, but there were his grandparents' gifts, and gifts from uncles and aunts, which were usually much more exciting. His birthday was best, as that was his day. No one else got presents that day, and whilst his grandparents were alive, there was always special food. All of his favourite things.
But as he grew up, and people died, first his maternal grandmother, than his paternal grandfather, and so on, until he had no grandparents left, things started to change. Less presents, less cards, no special food except at Christmas.
Eventually, his uncles and aunts decided he was old enough not to need presents anymore.
And as he became an adult, making his own way in the world, even the cards had slowly stopped. He wasn't bothered about Christmas. He didn't believe, and so never celebrated it. He never sent cards or presents, so he was never disappointed to receive none. But his birthday, that always hurt. His parents had stopped bothering almost as soon as he'd gone to college. And then Jeannie and he had drifted apart, until she didn't even bother as well.
And as for work colleagues, well, he never told anyone when his birthday was. Not anymore. Too many times he had been snubbed. So he'd learnt not to say anything. He knew he was far from well-liked, and he didn't need people to thrust the point home by purposefully ignoring his birthday.
It was this time of the year that he regretted many things. When he wished he could be well-liked. But he couldn't change who he was, and it was better this way. He didn't have the time or energy to spare for making friends. Especially as often they were just using him to get what they wanted. Or they would betray him. Or die.
He was never any good at telling who wanted to be a real friend from those who just wanted to 'suck up' to the smart guy, or the guy in charge, so he had given up on trying.
And Jeannie? One day a year, he truly missed her. Truly wished he could change things between them. But she had chosen her way, and he his, and it seemed they were meant to be estranged. This was the one day that he considered contacting her, not that that was possible at the moment anyway, but on Earth, there was always the fear that she would reject him to hold him back. Better to leave things as they were than that.
He knew tomorrow he'd feel better. Be able to push the feelings back, pretend they didn't exist. He sighed. And went back to work. It was going to be a very late night.
Second Year on Atlantis
Another year. And it was that time again. He'd woken early, again, and had rushed to the lab as soon as he was clean and dressed. Immersing himself into his work, before the thoughts could plague him.
Just one day. It was just one day. Except that it wasn't anymore. There were many days now that the thoughts plagued him. When he wondered about being so alone. When he wondered if he was. This year, he had almost let Sheppard know about his upcoming birthday. Thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, this year would be different. That he had some people around him who might, just might, not ignore his birthday.
But then his courage had failed him. And the events on Doranda had pushed all thoughts of letting anyone know aside. He didn't want to risk it. It would hurt too much if they decided to ignore him. If he woke up and there were still no cards.
So, here he was again, in his lab, working harder than normal, trying to ignore his thoughts of loneliness, and uncertainty, and fear.
It was nearing lunch time, but he had some power bars in the lab, and a supply of coffee, so he didn't need to leave his work. He didn't want to go down to the mess hall right now. Didn't want to risk bumping into people, like Sheppard.
Damn, he'd forgotten he'd put his radio headset on this morning out of habit.
"I have found something on the east pier that you should look at," came Radek's excited voice.
"Well, what have you found?" He snapped.
"No, I think it is better you come and see for yourself."
"Hey, McKay," this was Sheppard, "he's right. It's really better if you came and saw for yourself."
"Oh, okay," he grumbled, "I'm on my way. But it had better be worth it, Radek!"
With that, he headed towards the east pier, grumbling under his breath about a certain Czech who seemed to enjoy being mysterious and down right annoying.
When he arrived at the east pier, Sheppard was waiting for him.
"Out here," he pointed, and then headed onto the balcony.
"Fine," he muttered, and headed onto the balcony and stopped. And stared.
Beckett, Zelenka, Elizabeth, Teyla, Ronon and Sheppard were standing on the balcony next to a table that had crisps and other nibbles on, and in the centre was a birthday cake.
"Happy birthday!" They cried.
He looked at them, shocked. And then blinked.
"Th-thanks," he managed to stutter.
"Ah, 'tis end of the world. Rodney is speechless." Radek teased.
He scowled at him.
"Come on then, lad, get those candles blown out so we can get down to eating."
That was Carson.
"Best idea I've heard all day," he said. He blew out the candles, thankful, if curious, that they had only put two on his cake, not the full amount. "Why only two?"
"Because this is the second birthday you've had on Atlantis." Sheppard explained. "Oh, and by the way, sorry we missed it last year."
He wasn't sure how to react. This was more than he could ever have hoped for.
"We going to eat?" Ronon asked.
He smirked. Well, there was one thing Ronon and he had in common. Food.
Amidst teasing and jokes, he helped himself to food, enjoying the company for what it was. There were cards, as well, he noticed. And presents.
As he ate, he opened the cards and presents. The first one he opened was from Beckett. The card was, well, not exactly flattering, if funny. And he wasn't quite sure what to make of Carson's present; a book about hypochondria, and how to cure it.
"Thanks, I think," he said, glaring at Carson, who merely smiled innocently back at him.
"Open mine next," Sheppard said, thrusting them into his hands. He snorted.
"Just like a kid," he muttered, opening the card. It made Carson's seem downright polite, and inside it was an obviously home made key ring saying 'My other car has a flux capacitor'. He grumbled about that damn stupid film, and then opened the present. Another home-made item, this time a manual entitled 'How to Fly a Jumper in a Straight Line'. He glared at Sheppard with a greater intensity of the glare he'd sent Carson's way. Though he couldn't quite keep the smile from the edges of his lips.
"Boy, thanks," he said sarcastically.
"Well, I thought a few tips from various pilots might help…" Sheppard grinned, not fazed in the slightest by Rodney's glare.
He huffed, and then he smiled wickedly at Carson, "I could always lend it to you…"
Carson rolled his eyes at that.
The rest of the cards and presents were more thoughtful; an Athosian blanket from Teyla, which she suggested he could use on the make shift bed in his lab when he crashed there some nights. He agreed that was a good idea; a decorative but still deadly knife from Ronon, for when he got into trouble, Ronon said. Which touched him more than he thought possible; a set of science journals from Radek, for him to rant and rave about the stupidity of fellow scientists, according to Radek. He snorted at that, but knew it was probably more true than he'd like to admit; and a book from Elizabeth, who claimed to have overheard him say he liked this particular author, and so had gotten him the latest novel. He was surprised she had overheard him, in fact, he suspected someone had ratted him out, not that he was going to complain to said person. Too much. This time.
And if that was not enough, Elizabeth smiled and pulled out another card and present for him.
"I was asked to hold onto this until your birthday, it came in the last mail shipment from Earth."
He took it with shaking hands. He knew who it was from. He recognised the handwriting immediately.
Slowly, he opened the card. Jeannie. He closed his eyes, having to gulp a few times to avoid breaking down, which he was sure he'd never be able to live down.
He opened the present, and smiled. Typical of Jeannie. It was a photo of them as kids, at some school event or other. Sheppard leaned over, and snickered.
"Is that you?"
He glared at him, before snapping out a 'yes'. He tried to hide the photo away, but Sheppard grabbed it and showed it to the others before he could.
"Hey," he said, trying vainly to grab it back.
"Very cute," Elizabeth smiled, with a definite look of mischief in her eyes, "adorable, even."
He felt himself beginning to blush, which was no doubt what she'd intended.
"Those clothes make you look like a dork." Sheppard said, grinning.
"Or perhaps a…strašák…a scarecrow, yes?" Radek added.
"Aye, he does look dodgy in them, doesn't he?" Carson added, with a smirk.
"Oh please, grow up! I'm sure you all have embarrassing photos of your childhood somewhere!" He growled, trying again to grab the photo, but failing as Ronon took it.
"You look like a sedlan fitcher."
"A what?" He asked warily.
"It is a creature on Lathkan." Teyla explained, not totally helpfully.
"It looks thin and weakly…" Ronon continued.
"Oh thanks," he said snippily.
"…but it is actually very strong."
He glared at Ronon, only slightly mollified by the latter statement. Ronon gave him the photo back, much to his relief. Yes, trust Jeannie, and her sense of 'humour'. No doubt she asked Elizabeth to make sure it was opened in the presence of his friends.
He muttered and complained about the unfairness of their comments. But deep down, he found that he didn't really mind. This was the best birthday he'd had for many, many years.
He was no longer alone.
A/N: Apologies to any Czechs if the word strašák is not an accurate translation of scarecrow – I had to rely on a translation site and can only hope this is correct.
Thanks to Jayne for the key ring and jumper manual ideas.