Chapter Two – Uncertain and Unsteady
There's secrets in this life that I can't hide
Well somewhere in this darkness there's a light that I can't find
Well maybe it's too far away
Or maybe I'm just blind
Lyrics from ‘When I’m Gone’ by 3 Door Down
Rodney awoke to the mother of all headaches. He had a feeling that moving would be a very bad idea. In fact, even opening his eyes seemed like a less than sterling idea, so he didn’t. He did, however, let out a low groan.
“You awake there, Rodney?”
Okay, so what was Sheppard doing in his room? And then the memories of the night before hit him. Oh crap, way to go, there, Rodney. Getting drunk and moaning about his the past was a sure-fire way of keeping the Colonel’s respect. Not.
“Okay, play possum if you want, but I know you’re awake. And probably in a world of pain right now.”
He peeled open one eye. Well, not brilliant, but not as bad as he feared, so he peeled the other one open as well. Slowly, he turned his head towards Sheppard and squinted at the blurry image before him.
“Wha’…” his throat felt dry, and he could swear something had crawled into his mouth to die. He tried again, “why you here?”
“Thought someone should keep an eye on you.”
He felt Sheppard pull him up, and he groaned, trying to push the Colonel’s hands away so that he could lie back down, but failing.
“Ah, ah, ah.” John scolded, “you need something to drink. And I’m suspecting some headache tablets would go down well right about now?”
He felt some tablets pressed into one of his hands, and a glass placed against his lips. He drank a little, and then managed the gargantuan effort of raising his hand to place the tablets in his mouth, and then swallowed them with some more water.
“Gotta go,” he muttered, dreading the trip to the bathroom, but aware that his bladder was not going to wait for the tablets to kick in.
“Okay, here we go,” Sheppard helped him to stand, and guided him into the bathroom, “I hope you can manage on your own now, I have no intention of hanging around in here watching you pee.”
“I’ll manage.” And he did, just. He washed his hands and looked at the not-so-attractive face in the mirror. He closed his eyes a moment, and then decided he really needed to clean his teeth and try and get rid of the awful taste in his mouth.
Once finished, he headed into his room, to find Sheppard waiting for him, and helping him back to his bed.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“So, you remember much of last night’s conversation?”
“Hmm. Yeah. Sorry, didn’t mean to bother you.”
He heard Sheppard sigh in frustration.
“It wasn’t a bother. Rather enlightening, actually.”
Oh great. He hoped Sheppard wasn’t about to try and psychoanalyse him or something. Bad enough when a professional tried to.
“Sounds like your parents weren’t too good at it, you know, bringing you up and all that.”
“They hated me. What else matters? Just drop it, please.”
He felt the bed dip slightly, and realised John had sat down next to him.
“Might help to talk about it.”
“Already have. Last night.” He really just wanted to be left alone right now, but he knew Sheppard could be tenacious at times once he got a hold of something. Somehow, he figured this was going to be one of those times.
“You said your dad beat you.”
He sighed. Oh yes, this was so going to be one of those times. And he really didn’t feel up to fighting with John right now. He resigned himself to telling the whole sorry tale of his childhood. And braced himself for the pity he really didn’t need.
“Only occasionally. When I did something to annoy him. Like blowing up Jeannie’s tree house, or building a model of a nuclear bomb for the science fair. Or that time he took the us to a family picnic held by his work, and I ruined it all by getting stung by a bee and having an allergic reaction.” He paused a moment, “he said it was my fault I got stung, shouldn’t have annoyed the bee. As if I would do something stupid like that! One of the other kids there had caught the bee in a bottle and shook it around, and then had thought it would be a good idea to release it next to me. I panicked, and tried to wave it away, and it stung me.”
“You tell your dad about the other kid?”
“No point. He wouldn’t have believed me, and would have punished me for telling lies and trying to get the kid in trouble.”
“So instead he punished you for ruining the day by having an allergic reaction to a bee sting? Sounds pretty crap to me.”
He closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath.
“Yeah. But it was only once, maybe twice, a year that he got mad enough to hit me.”
“Still doesn’t make it right.”
“I know that!” He looked at John, “I know that, okay? But I was a lot better off than those kids who got hit everyday, or worse.”
“But he still hit you. Must have used something to leave scars.”
“A belt, okay? He used a belt.”
Rodney looked away, embarrassed by his outburst.
“Most of the time, it was okay though. Well, relatively, I guess. I mean, they were always arguing, always saying what a pain I was, how their life would be so much better if I hadn’t been born. Especially when he got drunk. He didn’t get violent, but he got mean. Said things, you know? He, both of them actually, knew how to use words to hurt people.”
“To hurt you.”
“Yes, to hurt me. Happy now?”
“No.” Sheppard said, “you didn’t deserve it.”
“Didn’t I?” Rodney clenched his fists, hunching over slightly, “maybe I did. Maybe they were right and things would have been better if I hadn’t been born.”
“Shit, Rodney, you don’t really think that, do you?”
“Sometimes.” He admitted quietly. “I know I was neglected. And I’m not stupid, I know what they did was a form of abuse. Mental abuse. And that that can be every bit as bad as physical abuse. But…it’s hard sometimes. And I can’t help but wonder if things would have been better for them, for Jeannie, if I hadn’t been around.”
“I doubt it.” Sheppard said, “you were just a convenient scapegoat. I bet their problems would still have been there without you.”
“Well, I’m glad you were born. And a lot of people here on Atlantis are as well. You’ve saved our asses enough, after all.”
Rodney was quiet for a while, relieved that Sheppard didn’t push him, but let him be quiet. Let him think. Not that he thoughts were very nice. Memories of his childhood, and things gone wrong, and over it all, Doranda. And he really didn’t want to discuss that.
“You know, they used to say that I went out of my way to inconvenience them. Like the citrus allergy, it was just another inconvenience. Having to check ingredients of everything. And, when the hypoglycaemia started, that was just another inconvenience.” He looked at John, “do you realise how rare it is for someone who isn’t diabetic to have hypoglycaemia? Very. The doctors wanted to do some tests, rule out a few things that could be causing it. My parents refused to have the tests done, saying they didn’t have time to spare running me around for them. Well, accept they did have a few done, just enough to rule out any tumours, as some tumours can cause it, but none of the other tests. Had to wait until I was at college to get them done myself. Not that it helped in the end. I’m one of those rare individuals whose hypoglycaemia cannot be explained by so called medical science.”
He shook his head.
“I know I’m considered a hypochondriac, and I admit, sometimes I am. But the citrus allergy and the hypoglycaemia are real threats to me, and yet they are considered a joke amongst everyone. I’m considered a joke. And I know I’m only put up with because of my genius, my intellect. So, when I make a mistake, and everyone realises that I’m not quite the genius I think I am, people turn away.”
He didn’t realise he was wringing his hands, until John put his own over them to stop him. But he couldn’t look at Sheppard.
“When I’m right, I’m Rodney McKay, that egotistical bastard who saved Atlantis. When I’m wrong, I’m Rodney McKay, the biggest joke around.”
“That’s not true, McKay.”
“Isn’t it? It’s the way it’s been since I can remember. People use me to get what they want, or put up with me because of my brilliance; ignore me and laugh about me behind my back when I’m wrong. Or just plain hate me. I thought, maybe, just maybe, thing’s were different here. But I can’t let myself think that. I made a mistake here, on Atlantis. I started to let people mean something to me. But that only gives them the power to hurt me. And I’m tired of being hurt.”
Sheppard took a good look at Rodney. He had never seen him so… defeated.
“You know it’s not like that here. Not really.”
“You have friends here, Rodney. Teyla, Beckett, Zelenka, Weir, me.” He looked at McKay, “you’re not alone. And you’re not a joke, okay? Sure, we tease, but that’s what friends do. Doesn’t mean we don’t care.”
“I…” Rodney started, and then paused before continuing, “part of me knows that true, but part of me… part of me is afraid to believe it.”
“Then you need to conquer that fear and start believing it. I know it’s not been easy, this last week or so, but just because we’re upset doesn’t mean we hate you. You made a mistake, and it’s up to us to make sure something like Doranda doesn’t happen again.”
“I let my ego get the better of me.”
“Yeah, and maybe we let you.”
“I didn’t want Collins’ death to be for nothing. If I could make the weapon work…”
“You didn’t know he would die.”
“I should have been more careful…something…”
“Leadership carries responsibilities, and you’re not the only one who has given an order that has led to the death of another person, people even. It happens.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier to live with.”
“No.” John paused, thinking briefly of some of the men who had died as a result of his orders in the past. “But you have to find a way to go on. We all make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes since coming to Atlantis. Hell, I woke the wraith! All you can do is deal with it and move on.”
“It’s hard. I…” Rodney sighed again, “I have to fight the ghosts from the past. My parents, telling me I’m a failure. Socially, physically…in every way but one.” He gave a sad laugh, “even they had to admit my IQ was high, that I wasn’t a failure in that area, just in every other area of my life. And then there’s those who have betrayed me, pretended to be my friend for their own purposes, and then turned on me when I was no longer of use to them. I’m used to be despised by the people around me. I’m not used to friendship. Real friendship. Even after all this time on Atlantis, I find it hard to believe it’s real. That if I made a mistake, like at Doranda, that I wouldn’t be discarded. That the friendships wouldn’t prove to be hollow.”
“You’re still on the team. Okay, we have a problem we need to work on, but you’re still my friend, and I still want you on the team. Still want to spend time with you, Rodney McKay, my friend, not just with Doctor Rodney McKay, super-scientist.”
Sheppard saw McKay smile at that.
McKay snorted softly, rolling his eyes.
Super-scientist? Really, Sheppard was every bit as bad as Ford was at naming things. But it helped, to know that the Colonel still considered him a friend. He knew he would have to work to regain his complete trust, and he hoped that he could manage that.
It was true, what he had told Sheppard, about fighting his past. He didn’t think he had any true friends before coming to Atlantis. Even Sam, despite his efforts to convince himself otherwise, barely tolerated him at best. So this friendship thing was still new to him. He was getting better at it, but… there were times like now that the doubts and the fears returned.
“You know, going to the funeral might exorcise some of those ghosts,” Sheppard suggested.
“Or it might just reopen the wounds. And I really don’t need that right now.”
”Think it’s too late, don’t you?” Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Or did you get drunk just for the fun of it?”
He sighed, and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“No, not for fun. I’m not sure why I did it. Self-pity springs to mind.”
“So, you going?”
“I don’t think so. Why should I honour them that way? Not like they deserve it.”
“True. But won’t Jeannie be there? Maybe you could mend some fences.”
“I doubt it. I’ve tried to make contact since regaining contact with Earth, but she hasn’t replied. It’s clear she’s not interested in mending any fences between us. She won’t expect me to be at their funeral, anyway, so it won’t be a surprise to her when I’m not.”
“But if you do go, you’ll be able to see her in person. And the fact you have gone could be enough to start things off.”
It was clear Sheppard wasn’t giving up on this easily.
“Look, don’t think of it as honouring your parents, but as making sure that they are really gone. Maybe finding some closure, knowing that they can’t hurt you anymore. And if the relationship with your sister improves because of it, then that’s an added bonus.”
“And if she really does hate me?”
“Then it’s her loss, not yours. And at least you’ll know where you stand. If she’s too stupid to see that your parents were wrong, or that you’ve changed, then she doesn’t deserve you as a brother anyway.”
“I know it would hurt, but isn’t it worth the risk?”
“And you don’t have to go alone. I’m sure Elizabeth will agree to let Beckett or me go with you.”
“You… you’d do that?”
“Yes. So would Carson.”
He wasn’t sure about the idea. If Jeannie rejected him… but he wouldn’t be alone… and maybe John was right. Maybe it was time to lay the past to rest.
“Okay, I’ll go. And I admit I’d appreciate your company.”
“Sure, no problems. That’s what friends do for it each other. Help out in times of need.”
He managed a small smile at that.
“So, I guess I’d better call Beckett now?”
“Carson wants to see you. Probably offer you some nice meds to make you feel better.”
“Oh great, you told him I got drunk, right?”
“Hey, I was worried about you, so I called him last night after you passed out. He came over, checked you out, and told me to make sure to contact him when you woke up.”
“Lovely. Who else did you tell?”
“No one. And Carson won’t tell anyone either… not this time. Of course, do this again and he might feel he needs to tell Elizabeth…”
“Believe me, I have no intention of doing anything as stupid as this again. Who knows how many brain cells I killed off last night alone!”
“Good.” Sheppard activated his radio, “Beckett?”
“Aye, Colonel, has he woken up, then?”
“I’ll be right down.”
They sat in silence whilst waiting for Carson to come. He really did feel awful, and his stomach was threatening a revolt. He was studiously ignoring it. Heaving right now would be a world of hurt, though he knew he could only fight it for so long. He hoped Carson brought something for the nausea.
A few minutes passed and then there was a knock at his door. Sheppard got up and opened it, letting one unhappy looking doctor into his room. Great. Just what he needed, a lecture on the evils of getting drunk.
“I hear you drank the last of the whisky.” Carson said, narrowing his eyes, “and here I thought you were going to share it with me.”
“Well, I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly.” Rodney said quietly.
“Aye, or not thinking at all, more likely.” Carson sighed, “okay, let’s take a look at you, you daft fool.”
Carson checked him over briefly.
“Well, nothing unexpected. You’re dehydrated and probably have a massive headache, right?” Rodney nodded, and Carson continued, “what about nausea?”
“Yeah,” he responded.
“Okay, well I can do something about that.” Beckett took a vial and attached it to a needle, “this will help take the edge of the nausea and the headache.”
He looked at the needle. He’d never been overly fond of them, but right now… He thrust his arm out.
“Then fill me up,” he said, grimacing when the needle went in.
“You need to drink, get yourself hydrated, and you need to eat something. Believe me, you’ll feel better for it.” Carson shook his head, “I can’t believe you finished the bottle on your own.”
“I didn’t,” he said, looking at Sheppard briefly before turning back to the Scot, “The Colonel there poured the last of it down the drain.”
“He did what?” Carson exclaimed, turning to pin Sheppard with a glare, “you can’t be going around throwing an excellent Scotch malt whisky down the drain, lad! What are you? Some damn Sassenach?”
“Hey, I didn’t want to risk him finishing it off, Doc! Besides, it just a bit of alcohol.”
“Just a bit of alcohol?” The Scot said, outraged, “I’ll have you know it’s made with the purest of Scottish water, with a history that goes back centuries. There’s history in every bottle, every drop. You can’t be throwing history away like that!”
And Carson winked at Rodney, as he tried to hide his smirk, but John caught the exchange.
“You winding me up, Doc?” he growled.
“Yes, of course I’m winding you up, Colonel. After all, it’s just a bit of alcohol. Very nice alcohol, and expensive at that, but nothing more.”
Sheppard shook his head, rolling his eyes.
“Now, away with you, lad. You look like you need a rest. I bet you didn’t rest much last night?” Carson said to Sheppard.
“No, you’re not. You’re exhausted. Go get some rest, Rodney here will be fine. I’ll be checking up on him regularly today.”
“Okay,” John sighed, knowing there was little point in arguing with Beckett, “see you later.”
As soon as John was gone, Carson turned back to Rodney.
“I’ll get a bite to eat from the mess for you, and I want you to drink some water whilst I’m gone. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson?”
“Oh, believe me, I have.” He grimaced slightly, and turned his red rimmed eyes to Carson, “As I told Sheppard, I have no intention of doing anything as stupid as this again.”
“Good.” Carson got up and grabbed a glass, filling it with water and handing it to Rodney, “I’ll be back shortly with some food. Don’t worry, it won’t be anything heavy. I don’t think your stomach could handle that right now.”
He watched Carson leave, and could hearing him muttering about the ‘daft galoot’ as he left.
He drank some of the water, and then laid down on his bed. He was beginning to feel a little less nauseous, and the headache had abated slightly. And he was feeling better about others things as well. Like friendships. He knew he probably should talk some of this over with Heightmeyer, but he really didn’t want to. Maybe talking to Sheppard would be enough. Though he probably owed Carson and Elizabeth at least some sort of explanation for his reaction yesterday, and to Carson for getting so blindingly drunk. It would mean letting his guard down a little, but maybe it was time to start trusting others with this.
Sure, it was a scary thought, but John had seemed fine with him. Not pitying him or despising his weakness, but, if anything, John had been pissed at his parents. And at Jeannie too. He smiled at that thought, that someone cared enough to get pissed at those that had hurt him. It was a novel feeling, but one he found he liked.
Maybe he wasn’t such a failure at this friendship thing after all.