"When I arrived in Antarctica, he wasn't the first person I met, but he was the first person I talked to... well, it was the other way round really. I remember him walking in and scanning the room with this huge grin on his face, like he knew everyone there. When he saw me he just stalked right on over and started chatting, like we were old friends. Nobody else was saying much of anything, all too high and mighty, all too busy watching their own backs - me included, I guess. But Carson, he wouldn't stop talking. I remember thinking, "What does he want from me?" I was used to people who were climbers; on their way up, they would use anyone to get what they wanted. Carson didn't want anything."
Rodney was staring blankly into space, absently rubbing at a piece of tape stuck to his neck...it itched. Suddenly, he smiled.
"I remember his mother used to send him chocolate. Piles of the stuff. He gave me something once...he called it a 'teacake'.. chocolate marshmallowy thing wrapped in foil..." Rodney laughed gently, it seemed like only yesterday.
"He knew I liked them... he'd save them for me. He would bring them down to the lab and if I wasn't there he'd leave them by the coffee machine. I'd get back and there they were... I don't think I ever thanked him."
He took a deep breath.
"He liked me, I don't know why, but he did. We'd be sniping at each other most of the time, but it never meant anything, you know? I'd never had a friend like that...A good friend. It was difficult at first, but... I liked it... I suppose I got used to it, and now..."
Rodney's eyes drifted over to the desk.
"These things..." and he snatched one from the desk top, "These stupid, stupid, meaningless things..." breathing hard, he found he didn't have the words to continue, to explain what he meant. Why couldn't he get back to how it was before? He'd never needed anyone then, what was so different now? Unable to contain his anger, he threw the pretty ruby-red disc down on the table top, where it bounced spectacularly, causing all the objects to jump and clatter back.
Rodney ran a shaky hand through his hair.
He looked over at John again, surprised to see that the colonel was still standing, listening, still expressionless. Rodney suddenly blurted out, "It's like waiting for something to happen... to me. Something's going to happen to me."
Still Sheppard just stood. McKay felt the words spill from him in a desperate gabble, interspersed with halting breaths and painful swallows:
"You.. you know those prisoners on death row? You know, they... they don't want to die...obviously, right?... But deep down ... part of them must want it over with... you know? And.. and they're just like... "Oh, God, please let it end.." They're so very, very grateful for every reprieve, but really they're only putting off the inevitable."
"What's inevitable, Rodney?" John's voice was very soft;
Rodney's was almost a squeak.
"That I'm going to fall apart. I can't fall apart."
He felt Sheppard's hands land hard on his shoulders, startling him. He felt himself trembling and he knew John could feel it too.
"Yes," he said firmly, "you can."
"Let it go, Rodney. Let it go now." John's hands gripped tighter and Rodney was shocked to see the brightness in Sheppard's eyes.
Then, quieter, but with a firm determination, John said, "Do it."
And Rodney McKay did let go, he let it all go; and when his legs just suddenly refused to hold him up and he flopped down onto the bed, sobbing like a school-girl (his words), it was Colonel John Sheppard who sat resolutely - and, yes, a little awkwardly - by his friend's side, now and again patting McKay's hand or nodding in an understanding fashion, taking deep, thoughtful breaths and letting out long and comforting sighs.
Rodney didn't hear the quiet words spoken into a radio; he didn't know how he came to be lying down, he did feel the welcome weight of another warm blanket come to settle over him. He didn't hear his door opening and footsteps moving about here and there. He may have felt the hands that gently lifted him, but he was unconcerned by them, drifting in a kind of sleepy daze, with the thump thump of the dull ache now in his neck, just background noise. He did feel the solid, warm hand that clasped his; he felt it from the moment he was laid on the stretcher, until the tiny sting of a needle caused him to slide into the fluffy, pink world of heavy-duty painkillers.
Because sometimes all we need is someone to be there. Someone who knows what it's like to stand by the coffin of a friend, someone who also lies awake at night thinking of how things might have been.
When death comes a-knocking you won't be losing your beautiful solid pine dining table or even your depleted power core modulator, you'll be losing a piece of yourself, a piece you'll never see again. Rodney knew this; but he also knew that having it, was worth the risk of losing it.
Carson had been his friend.
What more could he say?
What more could he have asked for?
"It was raining that day in Scotland, you know."
Rodney looked away from the chess board for a moment to glance out at the rain. It had been a warm and humid day, and the cloudburst was a welcome relief. There was a damp but slightly metallic smell coming from the hard decks of the city. The drapes at the window blew gently. Across from him, John sat hunched over, the fingers of his left hand cupping his chin and rubbing thoughtfully. He gave no sign that he had heard Rodney's words.
On the day Rodney knocked at Jean Beckett's door, the rain had been lashing down. Not really down, more like sideways. He remembered with a smile Carson telling him once, as they had stood in the rain at some Athosian ceremony, "This? This is no' rain, Rodney... When it starts comin' at you horizontally... that's rain. Many's the time I ran home from school battling wind and rain... It was like runnin' uphill!"
Carson's mother looked so much like her son, that the shock almost took the breath from Rodney. He couldn't remember how he told her the news... that her son was dead. But she'd said, "Thankyou, Rodney," which had made him feel so unaccountably wretched. Of all the things she could have said... she had thanked him.
Rodney blinked and watched the gray of the sky slowly giving way to blue. It had been almost a week since his injury, a week ago that he'd answered his door to find John Sheppard. His wound was healing well after being properly cleaned and stitched.
"I want to ask you something...why did you come... that day?"
"You don't know?"
He shook his head slowly...
Sheppard seemed to consider for a moment, then said, "What would Carson have done.. if he'd been here?"
The pilot and the scientist looked at each other, and then Rodney sighed and looked down.
"Thanks," he said, his mouth turning up into a small smile. When he looked back at John, he found him with his attention back on the board, hands on his knees, eyes fixed.
Rodney thought for a moment, then wordlessly, he got up and went across to his nightstand. Turning back to Sheppard, he held out his hand, palm up.
"Here, I know you liked it... saw you looking at it. It's a favorite of mine too..."
In his hand was a tiny purple and gold pyramid. It was finely etched in black with a feathery design, it's control buttons looked like emeralds; it was exquisite.
John took it from Rodney's hand carefully, smiling broadly.
"Rodney, I don't know what to say.. I'm... touched."
"Well," McKay said roughly and he loudly cleared his throat,"Just.. you know, look after it, okay? it's ... special"
Sheppard gazed at it, as if in love, held it up to the light and... spat delicately upon it and proceeded to shine it against his shirt. Rodney's eyes widened and he made a kind of choking sound... or was it a whimper?
"And .." he squeaked, "... and if you get ...well, like you don't really lov - like it anymore, then don't.. you know, get rid of it or anything... 'cos I have plenty of room... I'd be able to - probably - you know, have it back." He was nodding emphatically, but he had to fold his arms to prevent his hands from snatching the gift back.
Come on, McKay, it's only an object, a silly little thing...
It was okay...
Everything was okay...
After all, it was only on loan... to a good friend.
Well, that's it... Hope you liked it. Thanks again for all your friendly, encouraging comments. Cheers!