Life is for Living
Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction, and as such is for fan enjoyment only. All recognizable characters/settings are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made. I'm afraid that despite wishing that I did, I don't own these characters. Not even my muses' voodoo could make them mine (and believe me, they used a LOT of chicken blood and other such occult doodads), nor could my militant blue badgers. DO NOT MESS WITH THE BADGERS. Still, I suppose that having the boys out on loan for a while is better than nothing…
Summary: Rodney has trouble wrapping his head around the concept of child suicides. Luckily, John's on hand to give him some pointers.
Central Character(s): Rodney and John.
Category (ies): Angst, friendship, episode tag.
Placement: Season One.
Rating: +15 for talk about suicide and one case of coarse language. (Rodney McKay, you go and wash your mouth out with soap this instant, young man!)
Spoilers: 'Childhood's End'.
Author's Note: The next in my 'Aftermath' series. Not many people have done tags for this episode, so I thought I'd have a go. It just seemed to make sense that the boys would struggle to get to grips with the idea of children happily sacrificing themselves – I had a hard time myself. I've taken a few liberties with Rodney's past and it'll probably turn out to be AU, but what the hell. It's only for fun!
Major John Sheppard found himself standing outside the door to Dr Rodney McKay's lab. He'd been looking for the scientist for what seemed like an eternity, and had finally found out that he had holed himself up in his lab. Thinking about it, John realised that that made sense – Rodney took comfort in science, so the place he'd feel most secure would be his lab. He had a tendency to bury himself in his work rather than deal with things. He'd been by earlier, but the place had been empty. Thus John had been wandering around Atlantis for the better part of three hours trying to track down the increasingly allusive physicist.
In their earlier briefing with Weir, McKay had seemed distant and even more aloof and standoffish than normal. At first, John had simply dismissed it as low blood sugar or even one of the scientist's now infamous bad moods, but the more he thought about it, the more it didn't add up. Okay, so Rodney was often obnoxious and condescending, but he'd been downright rude to Elizabeth, snapping for no good reason. Once the meeting had concluded, he'd stormed out of the conference room with a dark look on his face and nearly floored Peter Grodin. For the rest of the afternoon, he'd made the lives of his science teams a living hell, barking and snapping like a rabid dog until they'd finally had enough and left him alone – whereupon he promptly vanished.
After John had seen Radek looking shell-shocked in the mess hall, he realised that all was not right with his geek and had decided to have a quiet chat. He'd headed to the lab and found it deserted and his merry chase had begun. Eventually, he'd gotten fed up with it and grabbed a life signs detector, determined to find Rodney. Anything that had McKay hiding had John worried.
Steeling himself, he ran a hand over the sensor and walked inside as the doors swished open.
Looking around, he spotted McKay in the corner, sat on the floor. His head was leaning against the wall and his eyes were closed, but judging from the way he was muttering quietly to himself, he wasn't asleep. For a moment, Sheppard considered just going back outside and leaving the scientist alone, but his feet rebelled and he found himself walking over to his team-mate.
After all, he'd spent far too long looking for the man to turn back now.
"Hey, McKay," he called softly.
"Major." Rodney didn't even open his eyes.
"Mind if I join you?"
The Canadian shrugged. "Why not? Pull up a pew." He patted the space on the floor next to him.
John sank down next to Rodney with a heavy sigh. "That was seriously messed up."
McKay let out a breath and turned to his team-mate, his normally brilliant blue eyes looking clouded and distant. "Seriously messed up is the state of your hair, Major. What those kids were doing was fucking insane."
John blinked around in surprise. Rodney McKay was not a prude and knew how to swear like a marine (in at least a couple of languages) but he'd never heard anything so heated before. "You okay?" he asked softly.
"No, Sheppard, no I'm not. I think I'm about as far away from okay as humanly possible."
The pilot frowned in confusion. McKay wasn't good with kids – hell, most of the time he wasn't all that brilliant with adults, but that was beside the point. On the planet, Rodney had been less than happy to be stuck with a group of children – he'd even made that little girl cry. Her name was Cleo, or Cleya, or something, wasn't it? Jesus, he was starting to sound like Rodney. The point was, the man seemed to have an intense dislike of them, so his outburst was surprising. "Wanna talk about it?" he offered.
Rodney sighed, but it sounded more like a choked sob than anything else. "I just don't understand how… you know… how they could willingly ki…" he trailed off as his voice cracked ever so slightly. "How they could sacrifice themselves like that." He all but spat the word, treating it like it was a poisonous animal.
"It was their way of doing things," Sheppard answered, knowing full well it was a feeble excuse and one that the scientist wouldn't accept.
"It was a waste!" Rodney snapped.
"Well, it won't happen again."
"It shouldn't have happened in the first place!" McKay jumped to his feet and started to pace. "Of all the screwed up things I've seen, both here and back on Earth, this has got to be the winner hands down. It was wrong, dammit!" He thumped his fist against the wall hard.
"Hey," John called, springing up to his feet and grabbing Rodney's shoulders, "come on, buddy. Talk to me."
"Why?" Rodney asked abruptly. "Why would they choose to waste their lives for a superstition? How could they think that what they were doing was noble?"
Sheppard shook his head. He didn't know the answer and probably never would.
"And what was worse than the whole voluntary suicide was the fact that they acted like it was the most natural thing in the world! It was as if it was no different to brushing their teeth or building bows and arrows!" Rodney shook free of John's tentative grip and wheeled away. "They considered it to be an honour, a privilege even. Death isn't something to be celebrated. Suicide isn't honourable. It's the coward's way out."
Sheppard was the first to admit that he knew very little, if anything about Rodney's past, but the one thing he was certain of was that the physicist wasn't religious. He studied his team-mate closely. McKay was shaking and breathing raggedly, and John found himself wondering if this mission had cut a little too close to home.
"Look, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but did something happen like this back on Earth?" he asked.
McKay shook even harder and Sheppard could see the tension in the other man's shoulders. He'd definitely hit a nerve. "Was it a family member?"
"No," Rodney replied quietly.
"Forget I asked, okay?" John said, not wanting to invade his friend's privacy. "You don't have to talk about this…"
Either McKay didn't hear him, or was purposely choosing to ignore him. "It was a friend." He turned back to John and the pilot saw an almost haunted look on his friend's face. "Back when I was in college. I had a room-mate… a friend… called Alex. We got on from the moment we met. He was the first person to treat me like an actual human being. It wasn't easy, you know, being fifteen when I started at university. My so-called peers were jealous and I found it… awkward trying to talk to them. All they saw was a precocious, jumped up brat with a smart mouth. But Alex was different."
John listened in shocked silence. The small amount that he did know about McKay included the fact that he'd had an unhappy childhood and possibly abusive parents, but the normally loquacious scientist was remarkably tight-lipped about his family. What Rodney had just said was starting to confirm his suspicions.
"We were in a couple of classes together," Rodney continued. "We hung out together, shared theories. We were even going to co-author a dissertation on…" he trailed off, closing his eyes. "But," he said after a couple of minutes, "he went through a really rough patch. His parents died suddenly in a car crash – they were really close. And good people. They always invited me to stay during the holidays. They were more like family than my own…" Rodney swallowed a sob. "After the accident, Alex seemed to take it as well as could be expected. He was grieving of course, but he was seeing a councillor who told him it was normal to feel like he did, and I thought he was dealing with it. Anyways, I'd been working on a project late one night and came back to…" McKay's chest was heaving, his hands fisted tightly at his sides. "I was the one who found him," he said in a hoarse whisper. "He'd hung himself. Been there for hours before I got back. No one had noticed that he hadn't shown up for class."
John covered the distance between them in a couple of strides. "Jesus, Rodney, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"
"The worst thing about it was that I hadn't noticed that anything was wrong," the Canadian continued. He gave a bark of mirthless laughter. "And afterwards, all I felt was anger. At how he could just leave everyone like that, how he couldn't even be bothered to leave a note or explain…" His hands came up to cover his face, hiding the anguish. "And then I was angry because I hadn't seen what was coming. That I'd just assumed he was okay. He never even gave me the chance to say goodbye."
Sheppard reached out and pulled him into a fierce hug. "It wasn't your fault," he said. "You can't blame yourself."
"I know that now," Rodney replied, pulling away, uncomfortable at the physical contact. "It's just… seeing those kids brought it all back."
"You helped to save a lot of lives today," John told him. "And now they know the real reason that the Wraith stay away, there won't be any more sacrifices."
McKay nodded, looking down at his feet. Sheppard grabbed his arm and tugged him back down to sit on the floor.
"They were all so young," Rodney said after a while. "They could have had so much. It doesn't seem fair."
"I know," John agreed, "but the one thing I've learned about the Pegasus Galaxy is that it's like living in Alice's Wonderland. You never know when the next crazy thing is going to happen."
"I know that we made a difference, hopefully changed the way they live their lives, but it doesn't make it right. Especially not when you think of all the children who died before we ever arrived, and all because of some twisted version of birth control."
"There's not a lot we can do to change the past," John said. "The best we can hope for is to make sure we don't repeat it."
"I'm sorry," McKay said suddenly, looking embarrassed. "I didn't mean to burden you with all this."
"Ah hell, Rodney! I'm your friend, and the last time I checked, friends are meant to look out for each other…" John suddenly realised what he'd said and paled. "Oh, God, I didn't mean it like that. I just…"
"No, Major," Rodney replied. "It's okay. I know what you meant. And…" he waved his hand around in front of his face. "…I'm glad you do. Look out for me. It's… nice."
"Well, I am your designated babysitter," John quipped, pleased to see a small shadow of a smile ghost across the Canadian's face. "Look, you know I won't tell anyone about this, don't you?"
"Good." John sat quietly for a moment, then grinned mischievously and bumped Rodney's shoulder. "I thought you didn't like kids," he said, trying to lighten the almost oppressive atmosphere.
"They're okay once they're older. When they're little it's too hard to communicate with them without resorting to sock puppets and grunts," Rodney replied, sounding more like his old self.
John snorted a laugh. "You know what we need right now?" he asked.
McKay shook his head.
"A damn good drink."
Rodney gave him a small smile. "Sounds like a plan, Flyboy." They got to their feet, intending to raid Radek's illegal stash. "Oh and… thanks," the scientist said. "I've never told anyone about Alex before. It… helped."
"Anytime, Rodney. Now, which way's the booze?"
A short while later, the two of them were stood on the east balcony, having appropriated a bottle of Zelenka's illegal rotgut. "To Alex," John said, raising his glass, "and to a life worth living."
"I'll drink to that," Rodney said.
And he did.