So here it is, people, the last part of this tale. Many, many thanks to you all for the encouragement and support! Remember – you may need a hanky…
Chapter 9: Acceptance and Understanding
Two weeks later, Carson finally relented and released McKay from the infirmary.
Rodney had healed well, the bruises all but faded and the worst of the cuts hidden under layers of bandages and clothing. As he had told John, there was no sign of any harm to the man's spine (which Carson was grateful for) and the internal damage was repaired. As long as McKay took it easy for the next week or so, the physician was confident that his friend would be back to full duty within a month. Then again, Rodney McKay and the words 'taking it easy' didn't seem to quite fit in the same sentence.
Much to the scientist's disgust, Beckett had given him a pair of crutches to use – the kicking he'd received from Tarin had left him with pulled muscles. After a colossal row, Rodney had conceded defeat and accepted the crutches with bad grace.
Despite the fact that his physical wounds were healing well, the Scotsman was concerned by Rodney's distance. After his initial awakening, McKay had seemed to sink into a deep seated depression. Then after a while, he all but stopped talking to John, which Carson knew was not a good sign. He had honestly believed that the two men could finally put the past behind them, but had started to wonder if he was missing a key part of the jigsaw. Carson was all too aware of how stubborn Rodney could be – a trait that seemed to have rubbed off on John.
He was beginning to think that he should have taken a page out of Ronon's book and simply let the pair of them have it out in a good old fashioned fist fight.
For the better part of a week, the astrophysicist had refused point blank to see Sheppard and got angry when the Colonel tried to talk to him. Beckett's request that McKay see Dr Heightmeyer had fallen on deaf ears, and not even Elizabeth could persuade him.
And just as he thought things couldn't possibly be any more screwed up, Carson had heard some pretty vicious rumours circulating that the great Dr McKay had finally cracked and should be sent back to Earth to a secure hospital. Those had been squashed almost immediately, by both himself and the others, but Carson knew that people were still talking about it like they were discussing the weather.
And it made him angry.
The Scotsman was in the mess hall, lost in his thoughts. The rift between Sheppard and McKay was starting to have a detrimental effect on the rest of the expedition as various personnel took sides. He speared a potato violently, wondering at how childish everything seemed. All this fuss and nonsense over a bloody machine! Carson couldn't understand why people refused to accept that Rodney had made a mistake.
He'd been livid when he'd heard what had happened and had given McKay a fierce lecture, but when he saw the reaction Sheppard had, he pushed the anger away. He forgave Rodney for almost getting the pair of them killed – and as a result had witnessed first hand the effect that the Colonel's barbs were having.
The confident, smug man had vanished, leaving behind a nervous wreck that doubted everything and second guessed all of his actions… and it just wasn't right.
As he stared at the food in front of him, Beckett felt someone touch his arm and looked up to see Elizabeth frowning at him. Giving her a weak smile, he sighed. "Sorry, love. I was a million miles away."
She nodded, understanding. "Rodney?"
"Carson, I'm worried about him," she said. "Any time he sees John, he walks the other way. He won't even stay in the same room as him." She sighed. "It's as if… I don't know. It's like he's… terrified of him, you know? Well, maybe not terrified, but…"
Carson looked at Weir sympathetically. "Aye, lass, I know." He sat down opposite her, watching as she picked absently at the tray of food on the table. "I wish I had the answers but the only people who can sort this out are Rodney and John."
"Can anyone join in, or is this a private function?"
They looked up and saw John stood next to them. Elizabeth gave him a tight smile and he sat down next to Carson. "I saw Rodney about an hour ago," he said. "I tried to talk to him, but he just looked at me as if I wasn't there. It was like it was all he could do to not run in the opposite direction."
"We've just been discussing that," said Carson. "I don't know what to suggest. The two of you need to talk but you can't while he's playing hide and seek."
Sheppard took a swig from his water bottle. "I've had enough of this," he said.
Elizabeth looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I mean Rodney avoiding me. Sooner or later, we're gonna have to settle things, and I, for one, am voting for sooner."
"I don't think a confrontation will do any good," she replied. "It might just make him withdraw even further or exacerbate the situation."
"I agree," said Carson. "If you back him into a corner, there's no telling how he might react."
Sheppard picked up a sandwich. "I've got an idea about that..."
Rodney let out a sigh as he sifted uncomfortably on the stool in his lab. There was no one else around – it was late and he'd sent everyone to bed to get some well deserved rest. Currently, he was trying hard not to think about what had happened back on the planet. He knew he'd been babbling: he had fuzzy memories, all of which were embarrassingly painful.
Even worse was the fact that he'd happily blurted everything out to Sheppard.
The man already had enough to hold over his head and now he'd gone and added even more failures and shortcomings to John's list. It was just another nail in his coffin really, just one more way that he'd let John down.
He was considering calling it a night when the lab door swished open and a tall, lanky figure walked in. Rodney groaned internally when he saw that it was none other than Sheppard. He'd managed to avoid the Colonel for almost a week.
"What do you want, Sheppard?" he asked coolly, stiffening on the stool.
John gave him a confused and slightly hurt look. "I… I just wanted to check how you're doing," he replied quietly, not making eye contact with his team-mate.
"I'm fine, Colonel," McKay snapped. He didn't need this. "The Highland sheep botherer wouldn't have released me otherwise."
"That's not what I meant," Sheppard mumbled.
Rodney's anger flared. "Why do you care anyway?"
"How can you even ask me that, Rodney?"
"Look, I know I was delirious and I really don't need a reminder of how much of a screw-up I am." He rose to his feet, grabbing his crutches and intending to flee. "I can't change what I did in the past, but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep what I said to yourself."
John was stunned into silence for a moment. When he found his voice again, his words were hoarse. "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. And for your information, I'd never repeat what was said to anyone. Do you really think I'd stoop that low?"
"Honestly, Colonel, I have no idea. Maybe not before… but now… Some of your recent comments have been below the belt."
John winced, knowing that the Canadian was right. "I wouldn't do that, McKay, not to you or anyone else. You're my team-mate, not to mention my friend."
"Friend? Is that what you're calling it these days?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If you have to ask, you don't understand."
The Colonel's own anger reared its ugly head. "Goddammit, McKay! Quit the cryptic talk and answer the question!"
"Let's just say that you haven't exactly been friendly lately," the scientist replied, being careful to keep his tone neutral.
McKay shook his head. "I can understand your position, Sheppard, really. What I did was unforgivable and I was a fool to think that we could just carry on like normal."
"No, you're not…"
"I thought that you just needed time. I thought that things would get better, maybe even close to how they used to be. I thought I could earn back your trust, prove to you that your faith in me wasn't misplaced." He swallowed heavily, fighting back all of the emotions that were threatening to break through the surface. "I thought that… that you'd start treating me like a human being again."
John stood in appalled silence. Had he really been so callous?
"You've been different lately," Rodney continued as if reading the Colonel's mind, "so… cold. It's like I don't know you anymore. The man you've become is so quick to throw out savage jibes whenever the mood takes him…"
Oh my God, John thought, wanting to curl up in shame. Every word, put-down and snap came back with a vengeance and they made him feel sick.
"I'm not saying that I haven't deserved them," Rodney continued, "but… I know I acted wrongly, that I let my ego get the better of me. I've worked so hard at fixing this damn mess, at fixing us, that now I… I don't think it can be fixed."
"That's where you're wrong, Rodney," John said, his voice hollow. "I'm so, so sorry. I've been a complete ass hat."
That caught McKay off guard. "What?"
The pilot let out a sigh. "The thing is, buddy, I need to stop blaming you." He looked down at the floor with a pained expression. "I was the one who said yes when you came to me. I was the one who agreed and twisted Elizabeth's arm. I could've said no at any point, told you to drop it, but I didn't. This is as much my responsibility as it is yours. I should've been able to protect you."
"Protect me from what?"
"Yourself," John answered. "I was angry, at you and at myself. We nearly died, Rodney!" he snapped, making the Canadian wince and flinch. He softened his tone and repeated, "We nearly died and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. It terrified me to see you like that – obsessed to the point of sacrificing yourself for nothing more than a piece of equipment. And when you tried to apologise, that was all I could see. It made me want to hit you in the teeth."
This time it was Rodney who stood in silence, shell shocked by the brutal honesty coming from his team-mate.
"I've vented on you since then, made your life hell and I know now that it was wrong. We all make mistakes, whether we like it or not. Elizabeth thought the Athosians were spies. Carson created a drug that wiped out half a population and I woke up the Wraith. But despite that, you never judged us, never treated us as badly as I've treated you. You're only human, regardless of what we think you're capable of, and we forget that far too often. You have as much right to make mistakes as anyone else."
"Even if they're the explosive kind?" Rodney asked with a rueful grin.
"You, uh, you heard that, huh?"
McKay nodded. "Yeah, amongst other things. Do… do you think we can get past this then? Honestly?"
"I do," Sheppard told him, meaning it with every fibre of his body. "What do you say we draw a line under this, chalk it up to experience and grab a beer?" He held out a hand and gave McKay an imploring look.
Rodney studied the offered appendage for a moment, letting out a shaky breath. Then he grasped John's hand and shook it, nodding as he did so.
John used the scientist's grip to pull his friend into a bear hug, smiling a little when Rodney returned the embrace with just as much force.
"Good plan," McKay said as they separated. "Just don't tell Carson or he'll have kittens. I'm not really meant to be drinking alcohol yet."
Sheppard gave him a cheeky grin. "Who's gonna tell? Besides, if he finds out, we'll just say it was for medicinal purposes."
McKay gave a chuckle at that and John was pleased to hear the sound. "Are you really that brave?"
"No," the pilot replied with a snort of laughter. "That's why I'm hoping that he won't find out."
The mirth on Rodney's face died a little. "Is it really as easy as this, John?" he asked. "Is it that simple to just move on?"
"Yeah. If we want it to be." He smiled a little. "I don't know whether you heard me or not while you were pulling your sleeping beauty impression in the infirmary, but I offered you a deal."
Rodney nodded. "I seem to recall something about you wanting me to wake up?"
"Got it in one. I'm willing to put Arcturus in a box marked 'never open' and move on. I don't know about you, but I want to start fresh. If you do too, then it really is as simple as you think it is."
McKay nodded, resettling his crutches. "I certainly do."
"Then the problem's solved." Sheppard snaked his arm across McKay's shoulders as they set off in search of the beer. "We good, buddy?"
"Yeah, Hotshot," Rodney replied, his crutches clicking on the floor as his familiar lop-sided grin was restored. "We're good."
Phew! Done, finished and complete! Happy birthday, Terri! :p Hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did writing it… And the badgers have abandoned their plan to take over the world using cereal boxes and a pirate flag. Apparently, there weren't enough explosions involved…
Bye for now!