Some people collect key-chains, and some collect stamps. Rodney McKay collected gadgets. In his room, upon almost every surface there were examples of Ancient whatsits and gizmos.
Yes, if anyone loved Ancient technology, it was Rodney McKay.
Most were long-defunct objects, always palm-sized, their purpose unknown and their power depleted. Some were as beautifully crafted as those Faberge eggs you see in museums. All inlaid coloured crystal and gold outlines. Breathtaking.
Truth be known, of course, most of them had no business being in his room – in his 'private' collection, as it were, but he jealously guarded them, felt they belonged with him – belonged to him.
He would often gather them together, work through them one by one, marvel at their design and perfection, and then carefully set them back in their various places around the room. Sometimes, like today he would shine them with a soft cloth, turn them this way and that, catch them in the sunlight; breathe and polish, breathe and polish….
His mind drifted back to a time years before. There had been a death in the family. He and his parents and Jeannie had to drive up to Ottawa. He must have been about fifteen. They arrived to find Aunt Maud working with a cloth and a tub of beeswax, polishing the large solid pine dining table that had been her pride and joy. As she rubbed lovingly at the honey-coloured wood she seemed unaware of the big fat teardrops falling to its surface, she just gathered them into her cloth and rubbed them right on in. Rodney hadn't understood how her anguish over Uncle Bob was somehow bound up in that table.
His mother's explanation was characteristically baffling, "Aunt Maud doesn't know how she'll manage without Uncle Bob."
Rodney had simply looked vacant, mouth hanging open in that wonderful adolescent way. His mother was patient…. long-suffering, "She's just looking for some comfort," she said.
Was it healthy, Rodney wondered, to look for comfort in pine furniture? At the time he had been happy to dismiss the whole thing as just another mystifying 'female' thing, and had gone on to wonder if good old Bob had remembered Little Roddy in his will.
But now as he sat alone in his room, rag in hand, turning first one object over in his hands and then another; cleaning and polishing each piece with the care it deserved, he thought maybe he was beginning to understand Aunt Maud, and her beloved table.
Here were the things that could never be taken away, the permanent things, the safe things.
Of course they were comforting, especially now. Breathe and polish, breathe and polish (cough)…
Maud had thought she'd loved that table, she'd bragged about it enough – apparently it's hard to get really good pine nowadays and in such good condition..
When she was left alone, though, as the result of a tiny problem they called an embolism, try as she might, no amount of polishing filled the void. She wasn't just crying for Uncle Bob, she was crying because she knew that the small pleasures in life could no longer bring her any joy.
The door chimed. Rodney carefully set down the piece he was working on, rose stiffly and opened the door. It was Sheppard. Oh, God, not now.
"Hey," said Sheppard with a smile that was almost convincing.
"I'm busy," Rodney threw back, listlessly.
"Spring cleaning, McKay? You surprise me." John had craned his neck to see inside the room. Rodney cleared his throat noisily and moved them both out into the hallway.
"Now's not a good time." He really couldn't do this now, and he was about to say so when John continued, "I just want a minute of your time," he said evenly.
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then reluctantly Rodney turned his back and walked into the room, allowing the colonel to follow.
"Well," demanded Rodney, turning, "What is it?"
At first John gave him an odd, blank look, and then seemed to recover himself.
"Err… I – I was wondering, McKay – Rodney.." and he shifted from one foot to the other.
It was odd; Rodney thought Sheppard looked kind of uncomfortable… mentally squirming, wearing an expression of…. was that distaste?
John took a deep breath, " … wondering how you were doing…. about Carson, I mean."
There was a silence then, and they looked at each other. Rodney could feel the early afternoon sun warm on his back, could now and again hear the cries of sea birds through the open window. Well, that explained it. Sheppard was doing the 'feelings' thing and sucking at it, big time. So, the Colonel was worried about him, well, he was a little worried about himself. Carson's death had been a shock, but he'd found a way through. It had been surprisingly painless. Not thinking about it helped… not talking about it really helped.
But Sheppard had not finished.
" … and I was wondering when you were going to deal with… that?" and John made a vague flapping motion with his hand close to the left side of his neck. Rodney knit his brows, sending a non-verbal 'what?' to Sheppard.
The colonel just opened his eyes wider and pointed.
Okay, Rodney thought; avoidance, I can do avoidance.
It really was a beautiful day, he thought, turning to face the sunshine. He had to close his eyes, it was so bright - but he opened them pretty quickly after it sent his balance all to hell. To his surprise, he saw now that Sheppard was at his side, also looking out at the sea, but even he had his eyes screwed up against the glare.
"We missed you in the infirmary," said Sheppard casually.
"I was there!" shot back an irritated McKay, and turned his face once more to the window, "I just didn't stay is all."
He had gone down to the infirmary with the others but found when he got there he just couldn't go in. He'd felt sick and had the overwhelming urge to run – which he did, although it was more of an accelerated stumble than a run.
He heard a scuffle from behind and looking back, he found to his horror that his guest was now leaning over the desk, rummaging through the group of objects Rodney had left there.
"Do you mind?" he snarled and went to slap John's hands away.
Quickly snatching back his hands, John just gave him a strange look and said, "Do you want to sit down?"
Rodney was just not getting this conversation… It was very hard to follow, confusing.
"If I wanted to sit, I'd sit. Can we please just do this some other time.." He knew he was whining, but he was getting weary of all the talking and the listening, his head was aching and his neck was stiff. He rolled his shoulders tiredly…
Rodney felt himself moved rapidly to the bed and he was made to sit there, on the edge, panting as if he'd run a mile. Something was on his shoulder pressing down and preventing him from moving. He opened his eyes and saw the dusty black of standard issue shirt and pants. John had one hand on McKay's shoulder and the other at his own ear. Tattle tale, thought McKay.
All around haziness ensued and Rodney, his ears buzzing, could only catch snippets of what was being said.
"No, I think it's stopped…. there's really no need and it will only freak …. can do this, trust me,…. back to you in a few minutes…."
Next thing he knew, something was being pushed painfully against his neck. He grayed out again for a moment and when he opened his eyes, John was crouched in front of him pressing what must have been a field dressing to the right side of his neck, his other hand providing support on the other side.
"You are a dumb-ass, McKay.." he said softly, slowly shaking his head, but Rodney thought maybe he saw the hint of a smile.
Looking down at himself, Rodney seemed to see for the first time, the dark, wet splash of blood on his jacket. Obviously the bleeding had not stopped.
"And you're a liar, Sheppard."
There was a lot of blood. Most of it was old, but some was fresh and bright; he thought it smelled of death.
How deeply poetic, Rodney, he thought to himself.
"Okay, well, yeah, but it's stopped now." John had let up slightly on the pressure, and was peering behind the gauze pad. "You know you really shouldn't get hysterical about things..."
Rodney didn't have the strength for a proper retaliation, so he quietly seethed while Sheppard finished up. He watched (well, squinted down actually) as John taped the dressing in place. Then, as if by magic, a bottle of water appeared and it was thrust into his hands with the order, "Drink," and then as an after thought, "..please."
So he drank, and it did make him feel slightly better… feisty, even.
"I guess this is the part where you drag me down to the infirmary, kicking and screaming, hmm?"
"No, Rodney," and now John was looking right at him, seeming to gather his strength and determination, as if for battle, "This is the part where we talk."
TBC and thanks for reading!