By Leesa Perrie
Set after Irresistible – spoilers for previous episodes as well.
"It's all right to make mistakes,
you're only human.
Inside everybody's hiding something…"
'Slide' by Dido
The lab was quiet, which was a blessing to the lone occupant who was busy working on his laptop. It was late, hence the quietness of the lab. A muttered curse was followed by the clicking of the keyboard, and then a loud sigh. The laptop was closed and then pushed to one side.
Dr Rodney McKay leaned his elbows onto the table, his hands massaging his temples, trying to quell a headache caused by too little sleep and too much coffee. He was exhausted but wired at the same time. Not a good combination for restful slumber.
He lay his head onto the table, closing his eyes. Just a minute or two, and then he would return to the data he was working on. Anything to distract him from the feelings threatening to bubble up inside of him. Anything to put off the time to sleep and the nightmares that pounded him. More coffee, maybe some food, and then he'd be set for a bit longer.
Though he knew it was futile, this avoidance of the inevitable. No matter how tired he was when he slept, the dreams still came.
He sighed again, and sat back up. Coffee and food, then work again. Okay, just needed to get up, get moving. Any time now would be good.
The door opened, and he turned red-rimmed eyes to the person entering. And sighed yet again.
"Carson," he acknowledged. "What brings you here?" As if he didn't know.
"I came to find the idiot I released this morning with strict instructions to rest," Carson looked irritated. "This isn't resting, by the way."
"I'm fine," Rodney snapped, pulling his laptop back towards him and opening it. "Now if you don't mind, I have important work to do…"
"Not according to Radek. He says there's nothing that can't wait a few days for you to fully recover."
"Oh, did he? Well, he's wrong. And I am recovered. As I've already said, I'm fine," Rodney turned his gaze to the computer screen, and started typing again. Only to find the laptop pulled from him and placed onto another table. He glared at Carson.
"Do you mind?" he said, getting up to retrieve his computer, only for the room to sway dizzily. He felt strong arms grab him by the shoulder and push him back down into his seat.
"Aye, I can see you're fine alright. Damn it, Rodney, just what do you think you're doing?"
Rodney pulled out of Carson's grasp angrily.
"I was working. You know, doing my job. Helping to save the universe. Ring any bells?"
"Working yourself into a return visit to the infirmary, more like," Carson took a good look at the exhausted man in front of him. Rodney was avoiding eye contact with him, which was never a good sign in his book. The man was clearly on the verge of a collapse, he had felt small tremors running through Rodney's body when stopping him from falling. He sighed, perching on the table as he decided on his next move.
Rodney, meanwhile, had placed his arms on the table, laying his head down again, fully aware that he wasn't fooling Carson for a second. He wasn't sure what to say, for once in his life. He could feel the emotions rushing at him, and he was afraid that if he tried to say anything, they would burst out of him, like water released from a dam.
"You need to rest," Carson stated unequivocally. "You're not fully recovered from the flu that's been doing the rounds. If you don't rest, I'll drag you back to the infirmary and keep you there for as long as I feel is necessary. I'll not let you work yourself into the grave."
"Fine, fine. I'll go to my room and rest then," Rodney said with a huff. "Satisfied?"
"Not really, but it will do for a start."
Rodney pushed himself to his feet, more slowly this time, and was pleased when the room stayed still.
"If you'll excuse me," he said snippily, moving past Beckett and out of the lab, with Carson following him.
"What?" Rodney snapped, realising that Carson was walking with him. "I'm doing what you asked."
"Just making sure you don't get sidetracked," Carson replied, continuing to walk beside Rodney.
"Whatever," Rodney grumbled unhappily.
"So, why aren't you sleeping?" Carson prodded carefully.
"I'm sleeping fine, just busy," Rodney replied defensively.
"Exhausted, more like. I hear that sleeping is a good cure for exhaustion, you should try it."
"Oh, ha, ha. You're not funny, Carson."
"I know, and I'm not easily fooled, despite what you might think," Carson glanced at his stubborn friend. "Nightmares?" he asked.
"What nightmares? I never said anything about nightmares."
"Aye, I know. And I know you, Rodney, and you've just confirmed it."
Rodney scowled at him, about to make an angry reply, but then the fight seemed to drain out of him.
"Okay, so I've had a few. I can handle it."
"Not sleeping isn't handling it," Carson pointed out.
"I'm handling it," Rodney insisted. "And I don't need you poking your nose in where it's not wanted."
"Maybe not, but it's my job to ensure the continuing health of everyone here. So if I have to poke my nose in, then I shall bloody well do so."
Rodney scowled, but didn't answer.
"I could give you something to help you sleep," Carson offered.
"No thanks. Last thing I need is another addiction. Once was more than enough."
"True," Carson agreed, thinking back to Rodney's withdrawal from the Wraith enzyme with a shudder. "But used wisely, you wouldn't get addicted…"
"I dream every damn night, every damn time I close my eyes and drift off…" Rodney paused, obviously surprised and somewhat embarrassed by his outburst. "I start taking sleeping pills, and I can guarantee I'll not want to stop."
"Okay, but you need to rest. Not sleeping will only make things worse. Sleep deprivation causes its own problems, including bad dreams, as you should know."
Carson watched his friend's face, seeing emotions warring there; fear, pain, hurt…and also the fact that Rodney was very much aware that his actions weren't helping. So why was Rodney making things worse for himself? He was a smart man, he clearly knew that not sleeping wouldn't help, would in fact makes things worse…
And that was it, wasn't it? Punishment. Rodney was punishing himself.
"What do you dream about?" Carson asked.
"Just…stuff. Bad things. Doesn't matter."
"Ach, of course it matters, you bloody fool," the physician said in exasperation.
They reached Rodney's room, and Carson followed Rodney in before he could dismiss him.
"Look, I'm going to sleep, but not with you watching me, so if you'd just go…?"
"You need to talk about this with someone. You talk to me, or to Dr Heightmeyer, but you will talk about this."
"You're punishing yourself for something, aren't you?"
"Go away, Carson," Rodney said angrily, and Carson knew he'd hit a nerve.
"Fine. But I won't be letting you back to work until this has been sorted out. I'll have a word with Radek, make it clear that the science staff are to report to me if you take one step into the labs before I say you can, and believe me, they'll do it too."
"I can, I will and I am," Carson crossed his arms. "As Chief Medical Officer my say is final when it comes to the health of the people here. I can't let you carry on like this until you collapse."
Emotions flickered across Rodney's face again; anger, fear, uncertainty, returning to anger. Carson cut in before Rodney could form the protest clearly showing in his eyes.
"And as a friend, I can't and won't watch you self-destruct."
Rodney's shoulders slumped. He sat down on the edge of his bed, a hand absent-mindedly rubbing his tired eyes.
"I'm not…I'm not punishing myself…I just…I just can't sleep."
"You're 'just' making things worse, and you know it."
Rodney didn't answer, which was answer enough for Carson. He sighed, and sat next to Rodney on the bed, and waited. And then waited some more. He knew pushing further wouldn't help right now.
Eventually, he heard Rodney sigh heavily, and knew his friend was giving in. He'd known when he'd given Rodney the choice of who to talk to, that the physicist would choose to talk to him and not to Kate. Rodney didn't like talking to Kate these days, hadn't really since the whole Cadman incident, which had shaken his trust in her.
"You're not going to drop this, are you?" Rodney asked, already knowing the answer.
"You're a bully, you know that, don't you?"
"Aye, sometimes I need to be. Especially when dealing with stubborn idiots, like Sheppard…or you."
Rodney huffed a laugh at that, before briefly turning pain filled eyes to Carson, and then looking at the floor, trying to work out what to say.
"Nightmares aren't new to me," he closed his eyes. "Been suffering with them on and off most of my life, more so since coming here. Sometimes it's Gaul or Abrams, sometimes it's Peter, or Lindstrom, or Collins. Dead and dying, over and over. Mainly now though, it's other things; like seeing my colleagues…my friends…dying around me, in truly horrifying ways. Or else I see Earth, and the Wraith are culling everyone, and it's all my fault. It would have been my fault…"
"No! Don't tell me I'm not to blame for that, because I am. I should have been more careful with the data from that damn hive ship, should have realised it was infected…"
"Ach, you're not solely responsible, Rodney. Elizabeth agreed for the data to be spread between terminals. Radek agreed with you that it was safe. And anyway, it was my fault that the Wraith were here in the first place, due to my experiment with Michael."
"Damn it, Carson, you're not to blame…"
"I am, as much as you are, probably more."
"I…no…damn you," came the quiet, resigned response, followed by a soft snort. "Crap, what a pair we make."
"Aye. You don't have the monopoly on guilt, that's for sure. We all make mistakes…"
"Yeah, and when I make them, big things happen. Five sixths of a solar system destroyed type things. Wraith finding out Earth's address type things. People die. I can't afford to make mistakes. I shouldn't be making them anyway, I'm a damn genius, and I shouldn't…" Rodney's voice trailed off, and he placed his head into his hands, breathing deeply, trying to regain control of his emotions.
"You're only human, Rodney. And you're not the only one to make big mistakes. How about Hoff, or Ellia, or the Colonel turning into a bug, not to mention the whole mess with Michael and what that led to?" Carson sighed. "You're not the only one who has nightmares."
"How do you cope?" the question was honest, and Rodney looked to Carson, hoping for an answer; desperation in his eyes.
"By talking about it; to Kate, to Elizabeth, to my friends. You're not alone here. You have friends; your team for a start."
"I don't think the Colonel is too pleased with me right now…"
"Aye, well, using the herb on him was low, you have to admit that."
"I know, I know. I didn't really think it through, I just wanted…to be liked," he laughed a hollow laugh. "Maybe I wanted to piss him off. Push him away. I don't know. I really don't know what's going on in my head right now," he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't deserve friendship, especially when being my friend could get a person killed."
"So, you're pushing him away, punishing yourself, and working yourself to collapse whilst you're at it," Carson shook his head.
"I guess that about sums it up, doesn't it?" Rodney paused, his eyebrows drawn together in thought. "Maybe I am an idiot after all," he said with a depreciating laugh.
"Hardly," Carson smiled gently.
"I think…I think I should try and get some sleep…and maybe I'll schedule an appointment with Kate, give her another chance…"
"I think that would be wise."
"And find Sheppard and apologise, again. Though I'm sure he'll think of some kind of revenge…I just hope it won't be too embarrassing, and that he waits until I'm over this flu thing."
"I could ask him to go easy on you…"
"No. My mess, my problem. I'm sure I'll survive."
"Okay. Try and get some sleep. And stay away from your lab for tomorrow at least. You need to rest, not work," Carson said with a stern look.
"Fine, I'll try."
"Good," and with that Carson bid goodnight and left Rodney to his rest.
Rest hadn't come easily for Rodney, and he had spent most of the time tossing and turning, sleeping for short periods and then waking up from the nightmares. Morning came, and he felt like crap, and so stayed in his room, trying to rest, his breakfast consisting of a powerbar.
By lunchtime, he'd had enough, and needed to get out of his room, away from the dreams, just for a little while. Knowing that going to the lab would be reported to Carson, bringing his wrath down onto Rodney's head, he went to the mess hall. Food first, and then…well, he'd figure that out after he'd eaten.
However, the food on his plate lost its appeal after he'd sat down, and he found himself poking at it and eating very little. He really felt bad, and not just physically at that. After a few minutes trying to convince his stomach that food was good, he gave up and wandered towards Sheppard's office.
The chances that the Colonel would be in his office were remote; he rarely was. Sheppard had an open door policy, only closing it when he didn't want to be disturbed, or he was in a meeting. If the door was closed, then he'd just leave and try to find the Colonel later.
He was close to the office when he realised the door was open, and paused. Okay, just his luck, the Colonel was in. Part of him thought a retreat was probably a good idea, but another part of him wanted this over with.
He approached and stood in the doorway, watching Sheppard, who had his head down reading a report.
"Don't hover in the doorway, just come in," John said, without looking up from his report. When he realised the person hadn't entered he looked up, and was surprised to see McKay standing there. "McKay, get your ass in here, or go away, but for goodness sake, quit it with the hovering. Oh, and by the way, you look like crap."
"Boy, thanks Colonel, I wasn't aware of that," Rodney said sarcastically, entering and taking a seat in front of Sheppard's desk, but then stopped before he said anymore. He hadn't come here to piss the guy off more than he already was, after all.
"So, what brings you here?" John was disturbed by just how pale McKay seemed, but wasn't about to fuss. He hated it when people fussed over him, so he wasn't going to do the same over Rodney.
"I, ah, I thought you deserved a better apology than the one I gave you, after using Lucius' herb, and all that," Rodney's leg was jittering nervously, but he stopped it when he realised what he was doing. He found a spot on the wall away from the Colonel to fix on, not able to meet Sheppard's eyes. "So, I guess I should…say I'm sorry about that. I mean, really sorry."
John narrowed his eyes at the mention of the herb and Rodney's misuse of it. Rodney met his eyes briefly, before flicking his view down to the desk between them, clearly uncomfortable.
"Okay, you're sorry. I get that, but what I don't get is why you did it."
If anything, Rodney tensed even more, and one hand started to rub the other in an unconscious nervous action.
"I…" he stalled, not wanting to go into all of this, and yet Sheppard deserved some sort of answer. He looked towards the wall again. "Carson backed me into a corner last night, wanted to know why I wasn't resting…threatened to keep me off duty until I talked to someone," he gave an embarrassed laugh. "Been having nightmares."
Sheppard didn't interrupt, long used to Rodney's way of speaking. He knew the physicist would come back to the question, and that this was probably related to the answer.
"He seems to think I'm overworking and…other things…as a sort of punishment for my mistakes," Rodney rubbed his eyes briefly, before returning to rubbing his hands. "He's right, I think, though I'm not entirely sure what's going on in here," he pointed to his head, before grimacing. "Oh crap, I suck at this, don't I? Look, I knew it was a bad idea, the herb and all that. I knew you'd be mad at me when you found out what I'd done, and I think that's why I did it."
"To punish yourself?"
"Partly, yes. And to…to push you away, I guess," Rodney shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his gaze returning to the desk. "I make mistakes, and people die from them sometimes. Or solar systems get badly damaged. Or the Wraith find Earth, and nearly get there. It's dangerous to be my…friend. Crap, it's dangerous just to be my colleague. And it's even worse when people trust me…" he trailed off for a moment, brow furrowing as he thought about his next words. "I don't deserve to be trusted, and it's dangerous for people to do so. I feel like, recently, we've, you know, sort of got over the problems after Doranda. I mean, that things have been better, that maybe I've regained your trust, at least to a large extent, and…after what has happened recently, I…I don't want you to trust me too much. It's too dangerous."
"Rod-ney," John drew the name out, causing McKay to look him in the eyes, and, oh crap; the fear, the pain, the guilt shone through clearly. Sheppard was uncomfortable, but knew his friend needed some help, some reassurance. Sure, he was pissed at what McKay had done with the herb, turning him into a sycophantic slave, but…not enough to turn him away. He sighed. "I do trust you. And this, this hasn't changed that. Sure, it hurt, but…Elizabeth pointed out to me that I was being an unmitigated bastard about things, about the way she and others were fawning over Lucius, and I just figured you were trying to make me see things from their, and your, point of view. That you were pissed with the way I was acting, and this was a sort of object lesson. Okay, I was still planning to get you back for it, but I'm not as pissed as I think you want me to be. Of course, now I'm wishing it was as simple as that."
"You were being a pain about it all," Rodney agreed. "Wish I could say that was my motive, but…"
"But it wasn't," John leaned back in his chair, considering his next words. "You do deserve to be trusted, McKay. And you're not solely responsible for what happened with the Wraith. Crap, I wouldn't put any of the blame on you, to be honest. So you didn't detect the virus or worm or whatever that was hidden in the data, neither did anyone else. And it was Elizabeth's decision to spread the data between terminals."
"Because I said it would be okay. Because she trusted my judgment…"
"Because there wasn't time for anything else. The Wraith were putting us under pressure to do things quickly, and now we know why, don't we? So that we would make mistakes…and we all made mistakes, McKay. All of us. You were not to blame, we all were."
"Besides, one thing I know about Rodney McKay; he learns from his mistakes. That's why I trust the guy, one hundred percent."
Rodney was surprised at that, looking around the room, eyes flitting from one thing to another, before settling back on John.
"Maybe you shouldn't," he said simply.
"There's a lot of things I probably shouldn't do, but do anyway," John smiled, before turning serious again. "And this trying to push me away crap? As well as the punishing yourself shit? That's just stupid. Especially as now I know what you're up to. No chance of me turning away from you now, McKay. You're a part of my team, and I trust you," John looked away, feeling self conscious about what he needed to say, but saying it anyway. "You're my friend, Rodney. Family, even. So drop it with the trying to push me away crap, will you? Won't work."
"I…" Rodney was at a loss of how to reply.
"Okay," McKay sighed heavily. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'll try not to, you know, try to piss you off or anything."
"Good. Now that that's cleared up, I think you need to go get some rest. You really do look like something the cat dragged in. Actually, I'm not sure the cat would bother with you. I think it'd be embarrassed to drag something as pathetic looking as you in," Sheppard grinned.
"Oh, ha, ha." Rodney huffed, before standing quickly. Only that wasn't such a good idea he discovered, as he suddenly felt light-headed, and his body started to sink to the ground.
John had seen Rodney's face pale alarmingly, and vaulted over his desk quickly, grabbing his friend before he could do himself any damage, and easing him gently to the floor.
"Hey, easy there," he said, as Rodney appeared to recover slightly and he helped him back into the chair.
"Sorry, just stood up too fast…" Rodney trailed off as Sheppard activated his comm unit.
"Hey, don't…" John threw Rodney a look that shut him up.
"Hey, doc, it's Colonel Sheppard. Do you have time to come to my office? McKay decided to collapse on me."
"Did he lose consciousness?"
"No, but I'd be happy if you could take a look at him."
"Already on my way, Colonel."
Rodney was glaring at him, but he just smiled back, making McKay even more annoyed.
"You didn't need to do that," he protested. "I'm fine."
"Uh, uh, sure. Consider it payback for the herb thing. We're even now."
"What? Rather a pathetic payback for what I did, don't you think?"
"True, but you're not seriously going to argue me into doing something worse, are you?"
"Ah, no, guess not," McKay looked slightly sheepish.
"Good. Otherwise I'd have to think you're still trying to punish yourself or something equally as mixed up as that. And then I'd have to try and knock some sense into that stubborn head of yours."
"Great. I should never have told you that."
"Maybe, but I, for one, am glad that you did. Can't watch your back if I don't know what I'm watching out for."
Just then, Carson entered Sheppard's office, having been not too far from it to start with.
"Ach, what are you doing here, Rodney? I thought you were supposed to be resting."
"I've rested, and I was on my way back to my room when Sheppard panicked over nothing."
"I did not panic," John said. "And it wasn't over nothing. You stood up, went chalk white, and collapsed. You're lucky I have fast reflexes, otherwise you'd have some bumps and bruises to add to your list of woes."
"It wasn't that bad," McKay denied, trying to pull his arm away from Carson, who was attempting to check his pulse rate. Carson tugged Rodney's arm back and gave him a look that boded ill, and Rodney reluctantly settled and let Carson check his pulse.
"It was," John disagreed.
"Did you have anything for lunch?" Carson asked.
"Yes," and at another look from Carson, admitted. "Okay, I wasn't that hungry. Managed to eat a few vegetables before I gave it up as a lost cause."
"Hmm. How much sleep did you get since last night?"
"Not much. Maybe four or five hours of interrupted sleep."
"Not nearly enough," Carson pointed out.
"Yes, well, I'd sleep for an hour or two and be woken by a nightmare. Forgive me if it took awhile to try and get back to sleep again after one of those."
"Maybe you could give him something to help, doc?" John asked.
"We've already had this conversation, and he doesn't want anything."
"Oh," John realised he was missing out on something, but decided to leave it alone for now.
"Okay, I think we need to get you back to your room, and then I'll get you some soup. Hopefully you'll be able to get some of that down you," Carson said to Rodney.
"I'll get the soup," Sheppard offered.
"Yeah, doc. Be a good excuse to escape the paperwork for a bit," he grinned, heading out the door. "I'll meet you at his room."
Carson helped Rodney to get up slowly, and then followed him back to his room. Rodney shrugged off any help, managing to walk, well, stagger, back unaided.
Once back in his room, Rodney disappeared into the bathroom to take care of business and change into sweats and a t-shirt, whilst Carson moved some items from a table and chair, ready for when the Colonel brought the soup.
"I really think you should take a pill today," Carson said as Rodney re-entered the room, sitting down on his bed.
"I told you, I don't want that."
"Aye, I know, but I'm not talking about giving you a bottle of the bloody things, just one. You'll not get addicted with that. Besides, I'll not let you. Trust me, for once."
"I…ah…damn it. Just one, just this once."
The Colonel knocked and entered carrying a tray with some soup, bread and a glass water on it, placing it on the table that Carson had cleared down earlier.
"Okay, lunch is served," he said, waving McKay over to the table.
"Thanks," McKay muttered. He looked at the food, still not really hungry, but knew they weren't going to let him off eating it. With a sigh, he picked up the spoon and dove in, unenthusiastically. "You don't need to stay and watch me eat. It's not a spectator sport," he grumped at them.
"I'll stay, doc, make sure he eats it all and then rests."
"Okay," Carson turned to McKay, who had rolled his eyes at the exchange. "I want to see you tomorrow morning for a check up. Let me know when you're awake and I'll make a house call," Carson turned his attention back to Sheppard. "Make sure he eats the soup at least, and takes the sleeping pill."
"I thought he didn't want one of those?" John asked, confused.
"We came to an agreement," Carson said, and John figured the less said the better, having been on more than one end of an 'agreement' with the doc.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Rodney. Get some rest," he ordered as he left.
Sheppard looked around the room, moving items from another chair so that he could sit down.
"I have to admit to being a little bit hurt," he said sadly, though not entirely seriously. "I mean, all my hard work, putting stuff away, and a few days later the place looks worse than before I started on it."
"Oh, that," Rodney shook his head, and then continued to eat the soup at a look from the Colonel, rolling his eyes again in exasperation. "Yes, well, you put everything away and then I found that Icouldn'tfindanything," he finished in a rush.
"You couldn't find anything?" John interpreted, and then laughed. "Not so good, then, having someone else clear your stuff away."
"No," Rodney look a little embarrassed. "I got everything out again and was in the midst of re-organising it all when I came down with the dreaded flu," he shrugged his shoulders, and gave a little huff of laughter. "Guess I'll have to finish sorting it out later, when I feel better."
"Yeah, guess so."
McKay had finished the soup, and moved over the his bed.
"Well, if you don't mind, I should try and get some sleep," he said, only to see John approaching with the glass of water and the pill.
Rodney sighed, and hung his head.
"Okay, okay, I'll take the damn pill," he took it from John and swallowed it with a gulp of water. "Happy now?"
"Ecstatic," Sheppard smiled. "I don't have much on for tomorrow, just more paperwork," he made a face at that. "So, I could bring lunch? And if you feel up to it, you could tell me where to put things and I'll help you clear this mess up," John indicated McKay's room.
McKay was stunned, and temporarily speechless. But only temporarily, of course.
"Why would you do that?" he winced, realising how ungrateful that probably sounded.
"Hey, it's what friends do," the Colonel stood. "So, I'll see you tomorrow then, depending on any unexpected emergencies?"
"Aren't all emergencies unexpected?"
Sheppard sighed and looked heavenwards, shaking his head.
"Lunch sounds good…and the rest too. Thanks."
"No problem. Get some rest," and waved a hand in farewell, leaving McKay to his own devises.
McKay settled down, already beginning to feel the effects of the pill. It would seem that trying to push Sheppard away wasn't that easy, and he found he was actually glad of that. He just hoped he didn't get the Colonel, or anyone else for that matter, killed because of it.
Still, he was Rodney McKay, genius. He'd learn from his mistakes, and he'd be more careful in the future so that he didn't make anymore. Or at least, that he didn't make as many.
And with that thought, he drifted into a dreamless slumber.
"One who makes no mistakes never makes anything." – Anon.