A/N: The story takes place after the end of season 5 and I assume that they went back to Pegasus. WARNING: Dr Keller died before the events of the story occur.
Lots of thanks to my beta The Wishyles, who must have a lot of work with it! I really thank you for the suggestions you made. All remaining mistakes are mine.
At the Psychiatric Institution
Sheppard drove into the parking lot of the psychiatric instituition. The sky was cloudless and the first rays of the spring sun had started to warm the biting frost of winter. Birds were chirping; flower buds were ready to open.
As the Colonel walked towards the main entrance, he could hear the familiar crunching of gravel under his feet. He looked at the building. It had been state-of-the-art when it was constructed, but now, somehow, reminded him of a prison although the surrounding gardens were well looked after and inviting.
The porter, recognising him, let him in. The corridor was decorated with paintings and coloured handicrafts, obviously the work of patients who were treated there. Two patients stood in the corridor having a lively conversation. A pleasant atmosphere, but Sheppard knew that the ward McKay was in, was far more oppressive. Sheppard entered the staircase and went up two floors to the locked ward.
The nurse on duty knew him already, so no explanations were needed.
"Morning. Can I see him?"
"Yes. He'll be glad to see you. He hasn't been aggressive for days."
"That's good. Finally an improvement."
"The doctor thinks if he keeps improving, he can be moved to an open ward."
"That'll make him happy. I know he finds being locked up a strain. Does he know?"
"No. We're waiting to see how he goes and we don't want to raise false hopes."
"I see. I won't mention it to him."
The nurse picked up a bunch of keys. "Please follow me." She unlocked a door leading to a white, painted corridor. The lights in the ceiling were covered with bars, as were the windows of the common room at the end of the corridor. Again it suggested a prison.
The nurse stopped and knocked on one of the doors but opened it without waiting for an answer. "You have a visitor."
McKay was at his table reading an issue of "National Geographic". He turned to the door and when he saw that it was Sheppard, he smiled at him, raising Sheppard's mood tremendously. It was the first time in a long time that Sheppard had seen McKay smiling.
The nurse turned to Sheppard and pointed at a bell. "You know the procedure. If you need anything, push the bell once."
Sheppard nodded and entered the room while she locked the door from the outside.
"John." McKay stood up to welcome the Colonel.
"Rodney." Sheppard took one step towards McKay, but then left it to the scientist whether to come closer or not. McKay seemed unsure and shifted his weight from one leg to the other before he finally came up to Sheppard. The Colonel clapped his colleague on the shoulder. "You're looking good. Much better."
McKay moved away. "I'm feeling better as well. Take a seat." He pointed at the chair and sat on the bed.
Sheppard looked around the small room. A bed with restraints. A small chest of drawers, a table and a chair. A jacket hung over the chair. As in the corridor, the light and window were barred. Pens and papers, some magazines, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and an ashtray with a glowing cigarette in it were on the table. Sheppard sat on the offered chair and pointed at the cigarette. "You're allowed to smoke unsupervised? Isn't it…" …too dangerous, he was about to ask, but stopped himself before he could embarrass McKay with the question.
Nervously the scientist grabbed at his left forearm. "I don't do it any longer. The psychiatrist trusts me. So he should. I don't have the urge to do it any longer."
Sheppard smiled encouragingly at him. "You're making good progress. Soon you'll be back to your old self."
"I'm on a different medication, which helps me more. I'm… I really think I'll get there. The nightmares are also diminishing."
"And what about the group therapy?"
McKay pulled a face. "I still don't like it. But…" He paused and reached for the cigarette in the ashtray. "Now I hold myself back. Nevertheless: the one-on-one conversations are a lot better."
Lost in thought the scientist started to rub the knuckles of his right hand. Sheppard noticed they were scabbed. "What happened to your hand?"
McKay looked embarrassed. "Hit a wall."
"Why? You just said…"
"I didn't do it to hurt myself! I just… I was angry."
Sheppard look anxiously at McKay. The Canadian noticed his look. "Oh, please, don't worry, I didn't want to punish myself." McKay looked at his wounded knuckles. "It happened so suddenly. It wasn't about the pain, just the opposite, the pain strengthened my anger."
Sheppard wasn't comfortable talking to McKay about his aggressions. It reminded him of how much McKay had changed. Maybe it was cowardly to change the topic but the last few months had worn Sheppard down. So he pointed at a note on the table. "You filling something in?"
McKay seemed to be relieved with the change of topic. "A study about PTSD. It's about the risk factors. But, honestly, I don't think that multiple choice questionnaires are useful. I mean…" McKay now stood up and pointed at a question, "Did you have an authoritarian upbringing?"
"Look at this question. What is an authoritarian upbringing? There are some people who would call it authoritarian if their parents forced them to do their homework. Do you know what would be a better question? 'Describe your childhood and the way you were brought up.' But of course the evaluation would then be more extensive and time-consuming. Even better would be an interview. Some people can't express themselves well and a skilled interviewer can draw out more from the subject than a written questionnaire."
McKay was so agitated about the unscientific nature of the survey that Sheppard wasn't able to suppress a laughter. McKay looked sadly at him. "You don't take me seriously, do you?"
"What? Of course I take you seriously! It's just been such a long time, since…" Sheppard paused and sighed. "You just sounded so completely normal, I was relieved."
"So. Relieved." McKay shrugged his shoulders with doubt, stubbed out his cigarette and sat again on the bed.
Sheppard took a drawing out of a pocket of his jacket. "I nearly forgot. Torren did this. By the way, Ronon and Teyla send their regards. They've been asking if they can come next time."
McKay ran his fingers through his hair. Then shook his head. "I…I would find it rather unpleasant. I'm not that far gone and I don't want them to think that…" He sighed. "I'm not insane."
"They know you're not but, you are sick. And there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Anyway you're looking much more relaxed."
"I… I still have breakdowns, not as often as before, but… And if they come and ask me about… about that thing…" McKay started trembling and Sheppard touched his hand to calm him.
Of course Sheppard was curious and wanted to know what happened on P8I-J65. He'd asked McKay about it briefly after the rescue. The scientist refused to answer and Sheppard let it alone for a while.
He'd once asked point blank, after McKay had been admitted to this place. Too direct. When he thought about how his question had shattered McKay, it grieved him.
After that he was more cautious. But now it was only when 'Jennifer' was mentioned that the scientist changed into a picture of misery. Or he became angry and yelled at Sheppard, something he had done on other occasions, as well.
Yes, Sheppard was sure there were a few things McKay did that he was ashamed of afterwards.
Once McKay had had a new bandage when Sheppard visited him. He told Sheppard that he needed to punish himself. Sheppard had asked why.
"I couldn't do anything, that's what I did!"
Dr Townsend, Atlantis's psychiatrist, called it 'survivor guilt'.
At first McKay hadn't wanted any visitors. He didn't want other people to see him weak and lacking self-control. It was McKay's psychiatrist that had changed his mind. Sheppard was grateful and was convinced that McKay welcomed his visits.
The Colonel sighed. "Tell us when you change your mind. Ronon and Teyla would really like to see you." He gave McKay the drawing.
McKay took it. "What's it supposed to be?"
"Atlantis? I'd never have guessed."
A knock at the door interrupted them and the psychiatrist came in. "Good morning, gentlemen."
Greetings completed, the psychiatrist turned to Sheppard. "I need a moment with Dr McKay. Do you mind waiting in the corridor?"
Sheppard left the room and leant against a wall in the corridor. His thoughts took him back four months.
P8I-J65. They were searching for McKay and Dr Keller who had been captured by unknown people two weeks earlier. They had found the building their source had described and entered it without any resistance. Water, boiling on a stove and other signs of a hasty departure indicated that the people had preferred to flee at the sight of the Marines. Sheppard grabbed a bunch of keys and walked along a hallway. There were heavy doors on both sides and he assumed they were cell doors. With one exception all doors were open. He unlocked the closed door and found McKay. At first the scientist had shrunk back but when he recognized Sheppard he looked straight at him though he didn't say a word. He looked unscathed and a subsequent medical examination was negative apart from some black stains.
"Colonel." McKay's look was apathetic.
"No time for small-talk. Where's Dr Keller?"
McKay stared past Sheppard and said in a barely audible voice, "Dead."
"Oh my God! Are you sure?"
The scientist didn't answer, but his posture left no doubts about Dr Keller's demise.
Later they found the body under a heap of leaves, scantily covered, just enough to make sure it couldn't be seen straightaway. The autopsy showed that Dr Keller was tortured to death. Sheppard already knew that by just viewing the body.
Most people were sympathetic when McKay refused categorically to talk about it.
Nobody was surprised when he didn't speak at Dr Keller's funeral service and when he finally broke down crying.
And nobody thought that it was strange when he buried himself in his work to distract himself from his experiences.
When Sheppard thought back he couldn't pinpoint when the scientist had started to act out of character. Of course he wasn't normal from the moment he returned, but that wasn't unexpected considering the circumstances. No, Sheppard wanted to know when McKay first showed symptoms of PTSD. Dr Townsend, who had looked after McKay since his rescue to prevent a PTSD (unfortunately without success), told him that the disorder came with a delay, not immediately. But at what point of time could he, Colonel John Sheppard, have noticed, should have noticed it? He doubted he would've been able to change anything, but nevertheless it tormented him.
A couple of days after the funeral service, Sheppard was picking McKay up for lunch from one of the underwater labs. He saw the scientist standing in front of an enormous glass pane, absent-mindedly staring into the ocean.
"You can never get tired of the view, hey?" Sheppard said.
McKay turned towards the Colonel, holding an unlit cigarette in his hand. "Yeah. The sea gives you a great sense of serenity." He put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it.
"Quit before coming to Atlantis. Now… Don't know. It calms me."
No, Sheppard thought, that didn't hint at PTSD. Stress and emotional strain, but not a mental disorder. What if McKay had started smoking again? Sheppard didn't feel uneasy about it too much. He concentrated again.
"Here you are." Sheppard called on the scientist in his lab. McKay had missed a meeting and they couldn't reach him via radio. It wasn't the first time since the funeral service that this had happened but everyone was still handling him with kid gloves, though Sheppard privately doubted this was the right way to act. Maybe, he thought, it would be the best to treat McKay normally.
"Why weren't you at the meeting?"
McKay looked at his watch. "Oh crap, I didn't notice how late it was. I was busy."
"Why isn't your radio on?"
The scientist sighed. "It disturbed me. So I turned it off."
"McKay? This isn't the first."
"I…" McKay hesitated a moment. "It won't happen again."
Suddenly Sheppard remembered this hesitation. Had McKay been about to tell him something? And why didn't? Oh yeah…
"Colonel Sheppard?" Chuck called him via radio. "We have an emergency on PHT-546. You're needed in the gate room."
"On my way."
Sheppard came back to the present as the psychiatrist joined him outside the room. "Your colleague is on the road to recovery. He has made great progress since your last visit. The therapy is having a positive effect and the medication is aiding in his recovery, as well as your visits and those of his sister, Mrs. Miller. Both of you have helped him to accept his illness and therefore the treatment."
"The nurse told me that he could probably be moved to an open ward?"
"Yes, that's right. But first we need to observe him for a little bit longer. At the beginning there were only a few physical attacks on other people and while these attacks have now stopped we are still concerned about a recent self-harm incident."
"The thing with the hand? He told me that he didn't want to hurt himself."
The psychiatrist nodded. "I feel inclined to believe him. But I don't want to take unnecessary risks. Um, something completely different: would you agree to take him for a walk in the park? I don't think he would cause trouble, but still, I'm reluctant to let him out unsupervised."
"Good. I'll let the nurse know that she is to let you both out." The psychiatrist let Sheppard into McKay's room again.
McKay was now sitting in front of the table, smoothing out the drawing Sheppard gave him.
"Pining for Atlantis?"
"Yeah. I miss the city."
"I understand. – Would you like to go for a walk in the park? Your psychiatrist said I could take you."
"Yeah. I'd love to." The scientist put his jacket on. The idea of a walk in the park seemed to cheer him up. "You know, normally I'm only allowed to go with a male nurse and never for long because they are short-staffed."
The nurse knocked at the door and opened it. "Are you ready? Dr McKay, you know the way. The male nurse in the common room knows and will let you out."
Sheppard and McKay walked along the corridor to the common room as McKay explained, "You can go through the common room to the balcony and then there's a stairway leading to the park."
Two patients sat in the common room. One was glued to the TV watching "Blue's Clues" while the other played chess against himself. The male nurse, who stood at a door, seemed to be bored. The chess player stared suspiciously at McKay and didn't look away until McKay left the room. The door to the balcony – a real door, not a glass door – was unlocked by the male nurse as they approached. On the balcony Sheppard asked McKay why the chess player had stared at him. "I once threw a bishop at his head, and he hasn't liked me since."
"I played a few games of chess with him. During one of the games, the nurse asked me to fill in my meal orders for the next week. When I came back to the game, I noticed he had moved some of the chessmen. I was annoyed, so I threw the bishop at him." McKay sighed. "You know, John, it's no fun losing your self-control." The scientist stepped up to the high railing of the balcony and drew fresh air into his lungs.
Sheppard did the same and let his gaze wander over the park. Rounded hills with meandering paths, a fountain, old trees and a pond where ducks were swimming. He remembered the last day McKay spent in Atlantis.
Although Sheppard was exhausted after a five-hour tactical training with new marines on an uninhabited planet, he knew immediately something was wrong when Teyla met him at the gate with a worried face.
"Rodney will be sent back to Earth tomorrow, for the reason that…" Teyla paused as Woolsey approached them.
The man looked unhappy. "Colonel, I'm sorry and I assure you that this decision wasn't an easy one."
"Hasn't Teyla told you?"
"She was just about to do so."
"Oh." Woolsey seemed unnerved. He had probably been hoping that Teyla had explained everything before his arrival. But now she left the two men with a nod of her head. So he continued, "Dr McKay is to be admitted to a psychiatric institution against his will."
"I beg your pardon?" Sheppard was stunned.
"I talked to the psychiatrist, Dr Townsend, and he has already prepared everything and the SGC has been informed."
Woolsey took a deep breath and shook his head. "There was an incident in the lab. Dr McKay hit Dr Zelenka and…" The head of the expedition thought for a moment. "Dr Zelenka better tell you the details, I can only relate what he said. Dr Townsend and I tried to persuade Dr McKay to start voluntarily as an in-patient because of his posttraumatic stress disorder, but he refuses. Maybe you could try to influence him? Dr Townsend is afraid that the chances of success aren't the best if the treatment is forced."
"Is it really necessary to admit him to a psychiatric unit against his will? You didn't tell me a lot. I mean, why did he hit Zelenka at all? What…"
Woolsey interrupted Sheppard with a gesture. "There are endangerment to self and others' issues." At Sheppard's horrified look Woolsey added quickly, "We aren't talking about suicide. In civilian life Dr Townsend wouldn't carry out an involuntary commitment. But article 96 of our employment contract..."
"Uh, I never read the contract."
"Really? You didn't?" Woolsey picked up his pc tablet, typed something into it and read aloud, "Article 96, paragraph 1: If a member of the Stargate programme is unable to carry out his or her service because of a temporary or ongoing mental disease or disorder, it is permitted to admit the concerned member to a psychiatric or equivalent facility with or without his or her explicit permission, as long as there is a danger that secret information could reach the public because of the condition of the member." Woolsey looked up for a short moment, "Actually, that's always a danger." He looked back at the tablet and continued," Article 203: The undersigned acknowledges the above articles and disclaims any other rights he or she is legally entitled to, if these rights are affected by this contract. So you see, the admittance was legal."
"I still don't know what actually happened."
With a tired look, the head of the expedition answered, "Ask Dr Zelenka. Then you will understand that Dr McKay needs a level of psychiatric treatment we can't offer him here."
"I want to talk to McKay first."
"No. Talk with Dr Zelenka first. Then you will be able to judge the situation and maybe work on Dr McKay."
Sheppard called on the Czech in his quarters. Zelenka looked unhappy and Sheppard got the impression it wasn't just about the black and blue coloured left cheek. After a short greeting, both sat down and the scientist talked about what had happened. "Somehow I suspected that something was wrong with Rodney. I mean, he never was the epitome for friendliness, but the last days he was increasingly irritated and started to yell at his people for trivial reasons. I was about to tell you but then I decided to talk to him in person first."
Sheppard nodded. He would've liked to have known about it, especially since for the last few days he had hardly seen McKay because of his workload, so he hadn't noticed this development, but the Colonel understood Zelenka's decision.
This man continued, "I know that he was alone in one of the labs and I thought that the opportunity for a heart-to-heart talk was good. When I came he sat at a table. At first he didn't notice me and I thought nothing of seeing a cigarette in his hand. I noticed that he rolled up one of his sleeves – just one! I thought what's that about, but then I saw how he held the glowing cigarette at his forearm to burn his skin." Zelenka paused and seemed to watch the scene in front of his mind's eye again. "At that moment he noticed me. He rolled down his sleeve hastily, but he knew that I had seen it. He seemed to be embarrassed and didn't look into my eyes. But then he made some fast steps in my direction, grabbed me at my shoulders and ordered me not to tell anyone about it. I told him that he urgently needed help and that this behaviour isn't normal. He yelled at me, meant that I am against him, that I wanted to dispute his right to his position and that I would think he is weak. I tried to calm him, but he became even more agitated, in a way I never witnessed before. And suddenly he hit me. He raised his hand a second time, but I dodged and went for help. Since then he is in the cell and Dr Townsend stayed with him nearly continuously."
"He's in a cell? Woolsey didn't tell me that. Is he still aggressive?"
"Rodney calmed down a bit, he probably got a sedative, too. I saw him briefly, at that time he apologized. I think it's more to his own protection that he will stay there till tomorrow." Zelenka shook his head. "You should've seen his forearm. Several burns, I really don't know what else he would do to himself."
Devastated Sheppard went to the cells. Dr Townsend had left to write his evaluation of McKay. The Colonel entered the cell wing and looked between the horizontal bars. McKay sat on the bench; his eyes were red. Sheppard opened the cell door. "Hey."
McKay studied him for a short moment. "You know, don't you?"
Sheppard seated himself next to McKay. "Yes. Wanna tell me your version?"
"What's the purpose of that? I went over it again and again for hours with Dr Townsend. Did you talk to Radek?" The Colonel nodded. "Then you know what happened." As McKay slumped down, his sleeves slipped up slightly, showing new bandages.
"Why don't you go to the psychiatric unit voluntarily?"
The scientist now stared at the ground and wiped tears from his face. "Why can't I stay here? Dr Townsend is looking after me."
"Do you think you are fit for work? Do you really think you are mentally stable enough to do this job?"
"Today was a mistake. It won't happen again."
Sheppard pointed at the bandages, "And what about that?"
McKay pulled down the sleeves and said in a low voice, "That's my concern."
"You need help and nobody in this place is able to give it to you."
"I don't want to go to a psychiatric unit!" The answer was so loud and furious that Sheppard jumped.
"I'm not insane, just a little bit stressed. It will pass. I'm not sick." The scientist became more and more quiet and it looked as if he wanted to convince himself and not Sheppard. "My mind is the most valuable thing I have. I can't lose it. I'm not sick. I'm not."
"Listen to me, McKay. You need help and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you'll feel better again. Do you understand?" The Colonel waited for an answer, but McKay stayed silent. "McKay? Do you understand why we're so worried?" The Canadian stared at the floor, still silent. "Are you listening to me?" There was no answer. "Shall I go?"
McKay looked sadly at Sheppard and nodded briefly, "Yes, I'd like to be alone now."
"All right. Can I get you anything? A book maybe?"
"No, thank you."
Sheppard got up and left the cell. "Sleep well, McKay."
"I just… there is something you can do for me."
"Tomorrow, before I leave, I would like to see the city once more. From a balcony. I won't be allowed out on my own, would you take me?"
Sheppard was pulled out of his thoughts when McKay tapped him on his shoulder. With a studied, reproachful tone McKay said, "Colonel, I thought we were going to the park, not stand for hours on the balcony."
As they walked along the path, Sheppard gave McKay a rundown on what everyone had been up to in Atlantis lately. After a time, McKay pointed at a bench, "Let's sit for a moment." Suddenly the scientist looked very serious. He didn't say anything, but watched the ducks on the pond. Then he took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket and absent-mindedly offered Sheppard one. "No, thank you, I still don't smoke."
"What? Oh yeah, of course." He lit the cigarette and stared at the pond.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Hmm. Did you know that there are more male than female mallards?"
"No, I didn't know that. And I doubt that you want to speak to me about mallards."
"Right." McKay sucked deeply on the cigarette before he continued. "I was about to say something to you. You haven't had an easy time with me." Sheppard wanted to interrupt him, but the scientist went on. "I yelled at you, not just once; I insulted you, though you just wanted to help. I'm incredibly sorry. I'm also sorry that you…" He paused for a second. "… had to see me in my weak moments."
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Stop apologizing. I won't say it was easy, but I'm glad to have been there. For you. For a member of my team. For a friend. For the head of science of Atlantis."
"Former head of science."
"No, head of science. Zelenka is only the provisional head of science."
"Really?" McKay was surprised, but in a way also relieved. Silently they sat for a while staring at the pond.
Then McKay interrupted the silence, "What do you think? Will I get better? Completely better? Will I be allowed to come back to Atlantis and work again?"
Sheppard was confident.