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: Episode tag to 'Sunday'. Rodney struggles to come to terms with the loss of Carson.
Central Character(s): Rodney and John, with Radek and Ronon.
Category (ies): Angst, H/C, friendship, Episode Tag.
Placement: Season Three, in between the events of 'Sunday'.
Rating: PG for some mild language.
Spoilers: 'Sunday' and a small one for Season One's 'Home'.
A/N: Another entry in my 'Aftermath' series. I know lots of people have already written fics about this, but I thought I'd have a go anyway. The dialogue in the final part of this comes from the coda of 'Sunday'.
This fic came about mostly as a bit of self therapy (WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE CARSON?!), but also because I felt like writing something set in between the team taking Beckett home and Rodney's goodbye at the end of the episode.
And finally, to quote dear Meredith:
'Sorry if I'm not a very good writer. It might be a bit, uh, overly maudlin in places...'
Rodney McKay stared out into the ocean, watching the waves gently crash and break against the outer edge of the city. His hands gripped at the cold railing of the balcony, but his body didn't seem to be registering anything – he was lost in his thoughts, oblivious to everything else. He'd wandered out here a while ago to watch the sun setting below the horizon and he'd felt a brief sense of peace at seeing the red and golden tints in the sky. He'd been able to lose himself and forget, just for a little while. To forget the pain that was crushing his insides, to forget the guilt that threatened to swallow him.
But that had been hours ago, and now it was dark and cold. He didn't notice the wind as it bit into his body. He couldn't feel it. He was numb. All he could think of was… him.
Dear God, what he wouldn't do or give to have his friend with him. His hands gripped tighter at the railing, turning his knuckles white. Rodney either ignored or couldn't feel the small trickle of blood that had started to run down the metal. He was too absorbed in his memories of the Scotsman. Everything they'd been through together, every time they'd managed to get away with things that should have killed them. Well, it looked like they'd finally been caught out and Carson had been the one who suffered the consequences. Rodney let out a small howl of anguish. Why did it have to be Carson? He missed seeing the physician in the infirmary, missed hearing the man's thick Scottish brogue that made him almost unintelligible when he was angry...
If only he'd kept his promise.
It wasn't fair. All the things they'd discovered here in the Pegasus Galaxy and not one of them could have saved Carson. In fact, it was one of their amazing discoveries that had caused the man's… McKay couldn't bring himself to say the word.
A ball of anger rose up inside him. How could he have been so selfish? Why couldn't he have just kept his promise and gone fishing with his friend? If he'd actually bothered to take the time to catalogue that lab and that stupid machine, everything would have been fine. Why hadn't he done it? Why had he assigned Hewston and Watson?
Because he couldn't be bothered with something as trivial as cataloguing.
Because he wanted to spend the day with Katie.
Because the great Rodney McKay was arrogant.
It was his fault and he couldn't live with it.
His knees buckled as the grief flooded back and he sank down to the floor. He wrapped his arms around himself, curling up into a ball as he fought the nausea that rose up inside him.
It was his fault that Carson had died.
A small whimper escaped his lips and he barely noticed the tears that began to stream down his face. As the tears became full-blown sobs, he began rocking.
He thought back to Carson's final trip home. It had been so hard telling the Scotsman's family what had happened. He'd dreaded it. Somehow, though, despite everything, he'd managed to get through it. It had helped that they had been understanding – especially Carson's mother. She'd reminded him so much of his friend that for a few minutes, his façade had almost cracked. She was so warm and comforting, so much like Carson that it hurt, and McKay could see where his friend had gotten all his personality from. He'd taken a few deep breaths and the show had gone on.
Now he was back on Atlantis and people were starting to resume their lives. How could they do that? How could they just carry on? Didn't they see the massive void that had been left by the physician?
He shivered, his sobs easing. His hands felt strangely damp, but he ignored them. All he wanted to do was… He couldn't even answer that. He lay there, staring out at the ocean, wishing like hell that he could have done things differently.
"Radek, have you seen McKay?" asked Sheppard.
"No, Colonel. Not since he left his lab this afternoon."
"Did he say anything?"
Zelenka shook his head. "Not a word." He looked troubled. "It is not like Rodney to be so… quiet. It's not in the man's nature."
Sheppard grimaced. He'd been trying to find the scientist for hours without success. He knew that the Canadian was taking Carson's death hard – hell, they all were – but his sudden absence was worrying. McKay had barely said two words to anyone since they'd got back from Earth – that scared John more than he could admit. Like Radek said, a quiet McKay was never a good sign, and now no one could find him...
John looked back at Zelenka and noted that the Czech seemed to be just as concerned for their friend as he was. "Can you find him with the city-wide sensors?"
Radek shook his head. "I'm sorry, Colonel, but they are off-line at the moment. They were damaged by Car…" he faltered, swallowing hard. "By the explosion. We have not managed to finalise the repairs yet."
Sheppard bit his lip. "Okay, Radek," he said softly, giving the man's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Looks like I'll just have to do it the old-fashioned way."
Zelenka gave him a small smile. "Find him, Colonel. I am worried about him. Rodney is not himself."
"Sure thing, doc." Sheppard sighed inwardly. He just hoped that he could find McKay before the physicist did something stupid.
As Sheppard made his way through the corridor, a hand grabbed his shoulder. He spun around to see Ronon looking down at him. "Wotcha, bug guy," he said. "What's up?"
"Heard you were looking for McKay," he replied.
"Yeah. You seen him?"
The Satedan nodded. "Couple of hours ago. He was heading for the west balcony."
Sheppard gave his team-mate a relieved smile. "I owe you one, buddy," he said as he set off.
"Hey, Sheppard." John turned back. "Want a hand?"
Sheppard shook his head. "It's fine, Ronon. I need to talk to him."
The Satedan grimaced. "You know he blames himself, don't you?"
Sheppard nodded. "That's what I wanted to talk to him about." He started off again.
Within a few minutes, John was standing outside the door that opened up onto the balcony. He took a deep breath to brace himself and ran a hand over the sensor. The door swished open and he stepped outside.
He immediately pulled his jacket tighter. It was freezing out here. "McKay?" he called. "You here, buddy? Listen, we're all worried about you. Even Radek's getting panicky. Can you believe that?"
No response. Jesus, it was dark. He scanned the balcony, straining to see anything in the near blackness. He was about to give up and look elsewhere when he caught a small movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head, he saw a trembling figure huddled on the floor in front of him. He was by McKay's side in an instant.
"Rodney?" Sheppard laid a hand on the physicist's cheek, drawing it back with a hiss of surprise. McKay was frozen and didn't react to John's touch. "Come on, McKay. Talk to me."
Rodney turned to look at Sheppard, and the pilot suddenly saw the tear marks staining his friend's face. "Leave me alone," McKay whispered.
"Can't do that, Rodney," John replied. "You need to get back inside. You're like ice."
"I don't care."
"Okay, genius. We'll play ball your way if that's what you want." Sheppard sat down beside the Canadian's feet. McKay stared back out at the ocean.
"It's my fault." Rodney's voice was barely audible.
"No," said Sheppard. "It's not and you know it."
"It is," McKay insisted. "I should've gone with him. I should've checked the lab…"
"Rodney, you can't blame yourself. It won't bring Beckett back." McKay whimpered at the sound of the physician's name. "This isn't what Carson would've wanted and you know it."
Rodney gave an oddly hollow laugh. "Do I?" he asked. "Wasn't that good a friend."
"Dammit, McKay, that's bull and you know it," Sheppard shot back. "You're not the only one who misses him."
Sheppard's features softened – anger wasn't going to help anyone. "What's done is done. Nothing can change what happened."
"You sound like Ronon."
John grinned. "Yeah, well it sounds to me like he had the right idea. Nobody blames you, Rodney. It was an accident. Dumb luck. Carson risked his life to save Watson and the rest of us, and the last thing he'd want would be you dying of hypothermia under our noses." He nudged the scientist's boot to punctuate his point.
McKay let out a shaky sigh then tried to push himself upright. He let out a cry of pain as his hands touched the floor and sank back down.
Sheppard grabbed the Canadian's jacket and pulled him into a sitting position. "Show me," he demanded. Rodney reluctantly held out his hands – there were deep gashes along each palm and his hands and jacket were covered in blood. The scientist stared at them in shock. When had he done that?
"Jesus, Rodney," Sheppard breathed, tugging out a couple of handkerchiefs to wrap them in. Once he'd finished, he stood and hooked an arm around McKay, hauling the man to his feet. Seeing that the scientist was in no condition to walk, John placed an arm around his waist and supported him as they went back inside.
As the door opened, Sheppard was surprised to see Ronon stood just inside. Without a word, the Satedan walked over and took McKay from Sheppard. "Figured you might need some help after all," he said, noticing the pilot's querying look.
It was funny really, how little his hands hurt. Rodney knew that he should be in pain, but he barely registered the needle going in and out of his skin, sewing up his wounds. It should be Carson patching me up, he thought, feeling his eyes prickle with tears. It should be Carson, not this… other person. He should be standing here, threatening me with even bigger needles and telling me how much of a bloody fool I am…
Sheppard sat on the bed next to his team-mate – he had managed to get a blanket around the scientist and was feeling happier now that Rodney was warming up. Ronon had eventually carried the physicist into the infirmary after the effects of being outside in the cold for hours had kicked in. Seeing McKay collapse was awful, but the Satedan had taken it in his stride and scooped him up before he hit the deck, carrying the man like a child. Once Rodney was safely deposited, he had nodded to John and quietly left.
John could understand why the ex-runner had vanished – the infirmary didn't feel right without Beckett there. It was going to take some getting used to.
The Colonel smiled at the nurse as she finished the stitching and wrapped some bandages around McKay's hands. "You'll need to come back in a couple of days for a check up," she told him. "Just so we can make sure that there's no infection." McKay nodded mutely, unable to look up, and the nurse left.
"So, Rodney, wanna tell me what's going on in that big old head of yours?" asked Sheppard.
McKay clenched his jaw, fighting to control his emotions. "You shouldn't be worrying about me, Colonel. I'm sure there are more important things for you to be concerned with." He tried to sound commanding, but his voice betrayed him.
Sheppard let out a sigh. "This is important," he replied. "You're a member of my team. It's my job to be concerned." He paused for a minute, as if trying to work out the sentence in his head. "You're my friend, Rodney. Friends look out for each other."
McKay let out a snort. "Friends," he spat, as if the word were a venomous snake. "If I were you, I'd start to look elsewhere for a replacement. I might end up getting you killed as well."
"Dammit, McKay!" Sheppard snapped. "For a genius, you sure can be an idiot." He hopped off the bed and grabbed the physicist's arms, forcing him to look up. "For the last time, it's not your fault. Nobody on this base thinks that and you shouldn't either. There was nothing you could have done."
"Oh, really?" McKay tried to be sarcastic, but his voice just sounded pitiful.
"Really. Besides, any one of us could have gone fishing with him. We all said no, not just you."
"That's… that's something, I suppose." He stared down at his hands. "Why can't I feel them?" he asked.
Sheppard was taken aback at how child-like McKay's question was. "The nurse says that it's the grief. It does funny things to people, you know?" He gave the Canadian a small grin. "It sure is weird not hearing you complaining. The last time you had stitches, Carson nearly beaned you with a bed pan to shut you up."
McKay managed a small smile at this. "Yeah."
"C'mon, you'll feel better with a hot meal inside you." He helped McKay off the gurney and the two of them began the trek to the commissary. "It'll get easier, you know," he said as they walked.
"What will?" McKay asked. He hadn't really been listening.
"The grief. It gets easier as you go on."
A look of confusion and mild suspicion passed Rodney's face. "How d'you know that?"
Sheppard grimaced. "Let's just say I've seen my fair share of friends' deaths."
Realisation dawned on Rodney. "You mean… Dex and Mitch?" he asked, hoping that he'd got their names right.
Sheppard gave him an odd look. "How'd you know that?"
"It was in your mission report after that incident on M5S-224," he said quietly. "You know, when we were trapped in that illusionary version of Earth?"
Sheppard nodded. "Yeah. I'd almost forgotten that." A strange look crossed his face for a few moments as he recalled seeing his two friends turn up after they'd been dead for several years. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
McKay suddenly looked tired and defeated. "I can't do this anymore," he said quietly.
John stopped and turned back to him. He knew the scientist wasn't exactly a poster child for optimism, but the words sounded so hopeless - even for Rodney. "It must have been pretty hard seeing his family," he said quietly.
McKay gave a small nod.
"Believe it or not, I've been there too," the Colonel continued. "I know you don't want to hear this, but telling Carson's family took a lot of guts." He gave his friend an embarrassed look. "I couldn't have done it."
McKay shrugged. "They were great," he said quietly. "Well, not great, obviously, but… understanding, you know?" He paused, fiddling with the bandages on his hand. "I don't want to have to do that ever again."
John nodded. "Hopefully, you won't have to." He sighed. "You know, Rodney, I'd have come with you. I wanted to, but…" he trailed off.
"It's okay. I understand."
Sheppard suddenly felt angry. "Dammit, it's not okay! You shouldn't have had to do that alone."
"It was better that way," Rodney replied with a meaningful look.
And Sheppard suddenly understood. The scientist wasn't good at showing emotions in public and hadn't wanted his friends to see him break down. "How are you doing?" he asked, instantly regretting it. "Sorry, stupid question."
McKay swallowed hard. "I don't know how to do this," he said, ignoring the confused look his friend gave him. "I've never been any good at this sort of thing. Dealing with people. That's why I became a scientist in the first place – so I wouldn't have to think about things like emotions. Science I can cope with. Facts and figures, theories, equations… I know where I am with them, but this… I don't know how to deal with it. It feels like my insides are on fire and I can't catch my breath." He gave a small sigh. "It's like… someone's ripped a chunk out of me and all that's left is this endless chasm."
"I know, buddy," Sheppard replied softly. "It feels like you're gonna die, doesn't it?"
McKay nodded. "Every second of every minute of every God damn day… It's such hard work. I see people going on with day to day stuff, carrying on with their lives, looking normal and I don't know how they do it. I hate them for it. I hate that they can just carry on like nothing happened."
Sheppard couldn't find an answer for McKay and let him carry on. It sounded like he needed to get this off his chest.
"I wasn't prepared for any of this," McKay said quietly. "There have been so many deaths since we arrived here. Gaul, Abrams, Peter, Lindstrom… And now Carson. None of them deserved it. It's not fair. You know, I wonder when our luck'll finally run out." He looked up at John. "There's been so many close calls, so many near-misses, that I'm starting to wonder how much longer we can keep doing this. How many times we can dodge the bullet… I know we're at war and there are going to be casualties, but…" his voice cracked slightly. "I shouldn't have teased him. It was childish. I shouldn't have been so selfish…I just…" McKay stopped and leant against a wall, shaking. He struggled to keep the tears in check and fought against the lump that formed in his throat.
"Easy, Rodney," said John, gripping his shoulder. "No one's ever prepared for death. Even if they tell you otherwise."
"I… I never got to tell him that I was sorry," McKay whispered. "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye." He closed his eyes and drew in a couple of shaky breaths. "Sorry. Uh, food, wasn't it?"
Sheppard looked at McKay sympathetically. "You bet." He pulled Rodney away from the wall and they began walking again. John automatically put a hand around the physicist's shoulder – normally, he wasn't a touchy-feely person, but he knew that McKay needed a bit of support. After everything they'd been through, it was the least he could do. "Look, I know you don't believe in God and all that stuff, but I think Carson's in a better place now. He'll watch out for us."
"You think so?"
Sheppard laughed. "I know so," he said. "If we come back from missions with so much as a graze, he'll kick our sorry asses from the next world."
McKay's mouth quirked up slightly. "He would, wouldn't he? I can just picture his face."
The two men carried on walking. "You know," said Sheppard softly, "you could try… I dunno… writing Carson a letter or something?" He cringed at how that sounded – Rodney McKay was not a letter type of person.
"A letter?" asked McKay, frowning.
"Maybe," suggested Sheppard. "Or just go somewhere on your own and talk to him. Tell him everything you never got a chance to. Whatever works for you. Maybe Dr Heightmeyer can help."
McKay gave Sheppard one of his trademark scowls. "I'm not that far gone, Colonel," he shot back. The pilot was relieved to hear the physicist's biting sarcasm even if it was on the weak side.
"I never said you were."
Rodney sighed as they entered the Commissary. After collecting their trays, they found a quiet table and sat down, eating in relative silence. After they finished, McKay stood up. "I think I'm gonna go get some sleep," he said, by way of explanation.
"Sure thing. Just make sure it's in your bed not outside, yeah?"
McKay smiled. "Will do." He made to leave but turned back to Sheppard. "Oh, uh, thanks," he said. "I mean it."
"Anytime, Rodney. You know where to find me."
A few days later, McKay found himself standing on the end of a pier at the edge of Atlantis, gazing out over the ocean. His hands had healed pretty quickly and once again, he was watching the sunset. He'd been thinking about the things John had said to him – they made sense, so he had decided to try the 'talking to Carson' thing Sheppard had mentioned.
Being a scientist, he found it more than a little stupid and embarrassing to be doing it, but Sheppard had been adamant that it would help. And the way McKay was feeling, he'd try just about anything. So, he'd come out to the pier where he was sure that no one else would find him.
Subconsciously, he saw Carson walking over to stand by his side.
"How'd it go back on Earth?" Imaginary Carson asked.
Rodney smiled softly. "It was, um, it was awful." He turned to Carson and smiled at him. "Your family was amazing, though."
Carson smiled back, his eyes gleaming mischievously. "Aye, they are. Good turnout?"
McKay shifted his gaze back out over the ocean again. "Oh, packed the church."
"Oh, that's good to hear!"
"It's not gonna be the same round here without you," said McKay softly.
Carson grinned. "Oh, you're tellin' me!"
"You know, the universe is a big place." Rodney looked at Carson hopefully. "Who knows, maybe we'll… bump into each other again."
"Aye, who knows?"
McKay felt the lump in his throat again and turned away. He could feel the tears forming in his eyes. "You were the closest thing to a best friend I ever had," he said, his voice shaking. "I'm really, really sorry." He looked up at Carson wistfully. "I should have just ..."
"Hey. This isn't your fault," said Carson.
McKay gave him a rueful smile. "You're just tellin' me what I wanna hear."
"Well, that's what best friends do sometimes. And in this case it also happens to be true." Carson smiled at him. "Take care of yourself, Rodney."
McKay raised his hand. "Goodbye, Carson," he said softly.
Carson smiled at him one last time, and then faded out of existence. McKay stood alone at the end of the pier, lost in the sunset. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Sheppard had been right. The grief and loss were still there, still gnawing away at his insides, but he'd deal with that. In time, they would fade – they'd never leave, but they'd be more bearable for the simplest of reasons.
Rodney had finally made his peace with his friend.