“Rodney, you’re awake.” Sheppard bounded into the infirmary plopping himself onto the bed beside Rodney’s. He was wearing a grin, happy to see the astrophysicist looking so alert. McKay had surfaced a few times over the last two days, but the sedative and his injuries still had him drifting mentally. This morning he’d woken clear eyed and more aware.
“Colonel Sheppard. Is there something I can do for you?” That got John’s attention. The formality threw him completely off balance, “I, uh, I came to see how you are.”
“I’m as well as can be expected, though I suppose Dr. Beckett or Dr. Biro can give you a more detailed run down.” Rodney was talking to him as if he were someone’s distant cousin.
“Has Carson seen you yet today?” John wasn’t sure if he should ask what was wrong or wait until he could talk to Beckett. If Rodney didn’t realize he was acting oddly it could mean something serious was going on.
“No, he hasn’t, but I expect him soon. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll sleep.” It was a dismissal, there was no mistaking that and it left John wondering what he’d done, or what had happened.
“Okay, Rodney. You get some rest.” He went in search of answers, pulling one of the nurses aside. “Have you spoken with Dr. McKay this morning?”
“Has Dr. Beckett been in?”
“No, Colonel, but he’s due soon.”
“Call me when he gets here?” She nodded and went back to her work, leaving John to go for breakfast and wonder what was going on.
At first Rodney hadn’t remembered anything. Even with the pain at a tolerable level, he’d been so tired and weak that his mind refused to deal with memories of recent events. It was enough that Carson and his friends were there for support. This morning it had all come back, Arcturus, being frozen out, leaving the city behind. His physical pain paled next to what the memories brought back.
“Dr. McKay, I know it hurts, but you have to cough.” If anything, the nurse giving Rodney his respiratory therapy that morning was faring worse than John had.
“You know? What do you know about pain! Get out!” He hissed it between clenched teeth. When she tried to put the mask over his mouth anyway, Rodney reached up with his good hand and swept the equipment off the bedside table, sending it smashing across the floor.
“Rodney! That’s enough!” Carson was standing in doorway, furious. “She’s only trying to help you man.” McKay had never been a good patient but this time he was passing hellacious. Taking a deep breath to calm down, he started again. “Rodney, you need…”
“Dr. McKay.” He barked it out, slicing across whatever Carson was going to say.
Confusion replaced anger momentarily, “What?”
“It’s Dr. McKay.” Carson stared at him, shocked. A few seconds ticked by in silence before he opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t come up with any words. Rodney watched as the shock gave way to uncertainty and fear, and finally hurt. Jaw clenched against the pain of what he was doing, McKay stayed silent as the doctor turned and walked out of the room.
A few mornings later, Elizabeth gathered the senior staff, minus her Chief Scientist, in her office. “Kate?”
“There’s nothing I can tell you. He won’t talk to me anymore then any of you. For what it’s worth, he’s calmed down. He’s not rude or objectionable, he’s…..nothing…polite, distant, cooperative. It’s like we’ve barely been introduced.”
Kate wasn’t the only one to be confronted with that behavior. Rodney was confined to the infirmary for two weeks and for once he didn’t make a nuisance of himself. It should have been a relief to the staff, but ultimately it felt unnatural to them as well as anyone who stopped in to see the scientist. Radek dropped his laptop by one morning and set up a wireless connection for him to log into the network. McKay worked as much as his fatigue would let him, ate meals, took his medicine and had as little to do with anyone as possible. The rest of the team had been banned from visiting. When asked why, they were told it was at Rodney’s request, one he’d made at the same time as refusing Carson as his doctor. Biro was in charge of his recovery.
When it finally came time to release him to his quarters, Biro’s only requirement was that he have someone there most of the time to help. He would be spending the next four to six weeks in a wheel chair and was going to need an aide. Rodney sent an email requesting that Dr. Weir assign a member of the military, anyone but Colonel Sheppard.
It wasn’t hard to force most of the expedition members to a safe distance, even his own staff. Rodney was his usual critical, demanding self. He railed at stupid errors, demanded perfection, and poked his nose into everyone’s work. Now he just did it with an air of detachment that left everything feeling as though it was tipped a few degrees off center.
Sheppard, Zelenka, Teyla, and Ronan were harder. At first they tried to force their way past Rodney’s defenses, but that just earned them a reprimand from Elizabeth when he emailed her complaining. Finally, Kate Heightmeyer sat them down and laid it on the line. “You can’t force this, and you need to accept that it may not happen.”
“He can’t be happy this way.” Elizabeth voiced what they all were feeling.
“I doubt that he is. But it’s safe. You can’t lose what you don’t have.” She leaned forward, elbows on the table and fiddled with her pen. “It’s my opinion that Rodney is not going to risk having friends again. From the looks of it he wants to stay in Atlantis, it’s probably as close to intellectual heaven as he’s ever come. It’s up to you to decide if you are going to make him so uncomfortable that he feels forced to leave.”
It hadn’t been a hard decision to come to, all of them felt that they owed Rodney the ability to at least continue the work he loved. If it meant they had to give up on is friendship, so be it. Sheppard found that he’d lost both McKay and Beckett as friends and that hurt more than he could have imagined. Carson was deservedly bitter about Rodney breaking off their relationship. He ached as much for the pain he knew his lover was feeling as he did for his own loss. It was too hard to face John or any of the others knowing that their misguided treatment of Rodney had cost so much.
Staff meetings were the hardest. At first everyone walked on eggshells, thinking he would explode, and when someone slipped and called him Rodney there would be a collective holding of breath. When none of those fears panned out things settled into a less tense dynamic. The only exception was Carson. It hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the doctor didn’t attend the meetings unless ordered to by Elizabeth.
This particular morning Carson waked in late, relieved to find that the remaining empty chair was between Teyla a Zalenka. They discussed the mission, deciding that Sheppard would take along Radek and Carson. The people of F3H-T8M had been known as healers before they’d been wiped out by the Wraith. From Teyla’s description, Carson thought there might be valuable information on treatments for some of the diseases peculiar to the Pegasus Galaxy, illnesses that didn’t readily respond to Earth’s drugs.
Over the weeks, Biro had scheduled Rodney’s time in the infirmary around Carson’s absences. The only time the two had seen each other since the day Rodney had ended their relationship was when the casts were being cut off. It was a long procedure, removing the old, soaking the arm and leg, and applying a walking cast to the still healing leg. Beckett stayed in his office the whole time, only coming out at the end. “Well that’s grand, Rodney. Congratulations. I know it must be a relief.” He’d left quickly, before anything more could be said, not that he expected it. Biro was the only one who noticed the flash of pain that surfaced in McKay’s eyes before he clamped back down on his emotions. Oddly, with him so distant, she’d gotten to know him better. Without all the surface bluster she’d found herself paying more attention to what was hidden between the lines and in the silences. Rodney McKay was a good person who had been hurt once too often.
His mind came back to the present. Sitting across from one another in the conference room, Rodney couldn’t avoid looking at Carson. The weeks hadn’t been good to him and it showed. McKay frowned. He was about to mention that Beckett didn’t look fit for an offworld mission when suddenly the meeting was over and everyone was leaving.