Synopsis: Sam comes across an emotional and contemplative McKay.
Pairings: McKay/Weir if you squint a little
Author's Notes: This is set between seasons 3 and 4. Many thanks to everyone who has reviewed this story!
Keep a Candle Burning
It was 2.00am when the stench became too much.
Samantha Carter rolled out of bed in her temporary quarters and trudged down to the science labs
"Zelenka?" she called out.
"Yes. Yes Colonel Carter. We're working on it."
"On what exactly? I can't sleep. What's causing the smell?"
"Eh uhm...We're not sure exactly. We think the city's sewage system's backed up. I radio-ed Rodney but I never got through."
"Okay, well keep at it." Sam nodded, leaving the scientists to figure it out.
Sam left the lab, and tapped on her ear piece.
"McKay this is Carter."
"...McKay? Where are you? Please respond."
Sam sighed in exasperation as she headed for a transporter.
"Dr. Campbell." Sam called to the Canadian Gate Technician.
"Can you do a sweep for Dr. McKay's radio signal? He's not responding to my calls."
"I'll get right it on it."
As Chuck configured the sensors, Sam took a moment to look around the control room. It was graveyard shift, so there were only a half dozen technicians present. A few made wary and guarded eye contact with her, and she very much felt like an interloper. Like she wasn't wanted or really needed in the city.
"He's not in the inhabited portion of the city, but we're picking up a faint radio signal from a spire near the Northern Pier. Adjusting scan range. Yes ma'am that's him, but his radio's set to silent."
Sam rolled her eyes. Typical McKay.
"Thank you doctor. I'll go get him."
Fifteen minutes, and a couple hundred stairs later, Sam drew close to where McKay was.
Tired from her walk, cranky from a lack of sleep, and seriously pissed off at having to chase up the chief scientist, she mentally prepared a list of things to shout at him for.
At least coming out here got her away from the smell of backed up ancient sewers. The air out here was so fresh, a slight hint of salt in the breeze.
But there was another smell mixed in. A slightly spicy scent like the incense that Teal'c had gotten her for Christmas. She inhaled the scent, letting it wash over her, and a lot of her anger fizzled out.
Hearing the shift of material, Sam slowed her pace, until she rounded a corner and came across a small enclosed balcony.
Rodney sat on a small rug in the middle of the balcony, lit incense sticks lined the walls nearby. In from of him was a stand with one lit candle and four unlit.
Sam watched in surprise and confusion as Rodney proceeded to light up the second, and the third, completely unaware that he had company. As Sam stepped forward, Rodney became aware of her presence, turning around to acknowledge her.
The conversation started very formally, too formally.
"So what brings you out here on a night...morning like this?" he asked.
Still mulling over finding Rodney out here, trying to work out what he was doing, she covered over the truth..unsuccessfully.
"Oh. Nothing much. Decided to go for a walk. Couldn't sleep from the stench of the sewers..."
Sam remained silent for a moment, waiting on McKay's next comment.
"It happens a couple of times a year. The system's in pretty bad shape because the lower levels have never been pumped out...A lot of seawater and fish get into the desalination tanks...Zelenka and Richardson can handle it."
Sam nodded as McKay turned back to his candles. Obviously he wasn't in the mood for sharing what he was up to.
"What are the candles for?"
Sam watched as McKay's shoulders slumped slightly, and he turned round, a strangely wistful smile on his features. Shifting to the left, he indicated for her to join him, and Sam secretly hoped he didn't try anything on with her like he normally did.
"It's an Athosian thing...and it's a bit silly really." Rodney said nervously, trying to sound light and uncaring.
"It's a ritual they perform every year on the shortest day. A remembrance ceremony for the people you've had to leave behind."
"I don't take much stock in all this ritual nonsense, but it's a little comforting to do this. I've done it every year since we got here, for the people we've lost. Teyla told me only to light candles for those I consider true friends. To light a candle for an acquaintance would only confuse their spirit...apparently.
"In the middle of the night on the shortest day. We light the candles...When I say we...I mean the Athosians and I...I don't know who else observes this...You then sit with the candles until the candles either burn out, or daylight breaks."
Sam waited for him to continue, but Rodney clammed up, and she knew she's have to ask in order for him to continue.
"So who are the candles for?" she asked softly.
"Oh uhm...well...the first one is for Dr. Brendan Gall. I'd known him for a couple of years. He turned up at a lot of the same conferences as me. Very intelligent, was one of the team leaders in the department despite being one of the youngest scientists on the expedition. Brendan a great sense of humour and could make anyone laugh..."
"Brendan died on a mission in this system a couple of years ago...He uh...he was fed on by a Wraith...I was with him when he died."
Sam remained silent, waiting on him to continue.
"The next one is for Peter Grodin. I met him at the Antarctic Base. He was British y'know...Stiff upper lip and all that. Didn't think much of him until we came here. He knew exactly how to shut me up when I got ahead of myself. I think that's why Elizabeth kept him in operations when I wanted him in the labs. He had some of the funniest stories. Such a quick wit. He was a genuinely nice person, and I never really took the time to get to know him until...well...Until it was too late. He was a hero. Destroyed a Wraith hive ship on it's way to the city before the other two destroyed the satellite."
She remembered that mission report. One of the first Colonel Caldwell had brought back with him to Earth.
"This one," Rodney said, pointing to the middle candle, "is for Ford. Lieutenant Aiden Ford...Don't know if he's dead or not, but well...
"He was part of our team. Second in command to Sheppard. He was a big kid. Wet behind the ears and eager to get into the thick of things. Normally people like him annoyed me, but Ford had this way of making you like him even when you wanted to break his jaw. He saved our asses so many times in that first year. Then he got attacked by a Wraith, nearly died and OD-ed on Wraith Enzyme, went a little crazy and set up a mercenary army. Then probably got himself killed when that hive ship blew up!"
Sam was taken aback by McKay's sudden burst of emotion. Ford's being AWOL had obviously affected him. She thought back to how worried she was Daniel had joined the Ori. At least they'd found out what had happened to him quickly. Sam didn't want to imagine what it would have been like if they'd remained clueless as to what had become of him.
As quickly as his emotions had peaked, Rodney quietened down, and lit the fourth candle.
"This one's for Carson. The closest friend I ever had. He..."
Rodney's voice quivered slightly.
"He made this place seem alive. He was so full of life and kindness and patience. When everyone else would get fed up with me and tell me to get lost, Carson had infinite patience. He listened to all my problems...not just mine...he had time for everyone. Always knew the right thing to say and when to say it, and he saved more lives than anyone else here, never with a thought for himself. And it got him killed."
"But he went out doing what he did best, and he saved a lot of lives that day...But if only I'd gone fishing with him..."
Rodney trailed off, and for the first time, she saw tears in his eyes.
"Fishing?" She asked tentatively.
"Yeah...He died on our day off and we'd arranged to go fishing on the mainland. I didn't want to go, so I got out of it...spent the day with Katie instead..."
Sam didn't bother to ask who Katie was. Rodney would tell her if she needed to know.
Rodney had become totally silent. Then he looked back up, and sucked up a breath. Carson's death had obviously had a huge impact on him, and Sam found her thoughts drawn back to when Janet died, when she felt that someone had ripped out her guts and trampled on her heart.
After a moment, once Rodney had composed himself, he lit the last candle.
"And this one, is for Elizabeth."
As if reading her mind, Rodney continued. "I know she's not dead. But she's not here, and we have no idea if we'll ever find her...Even if we do, the Asurans will try and stop us from getting to her."
He stopped abruptly, trying to stop his trail of negative thoughts.
"The Athosians light candles for the lost souls of their friends and loved ones. She might not be dead, but I'll light this candle, and hope that somehow it can help guide her soul back to Atlantis."
Sam knew how unlikely it was they would ever find Elizabeth, but Rodney seemed to be in tune with her thoughts this evening.
"I can't give up on her. If she's dead I don't think I'd be able to go on I...She means a lot to me...I can't handle the thought I might lose her..."
Sam sensed more feeling there than just friendship but let her questions go.
"I'm helpless to do anything to bring her home, so all I can do is light a candle and hope that the Ancestors watch over her."
Rodney now became completely silent, and a lot more peaceful, and once again his gaze was transfixed on the Atlantean ocean. Sensing a silent invitation, Sam shifted slightly, and joined him in his quiet meditation.
They sat like that without a word, until the sunrise, and the start of a new Athosian year.