Facing His Demons
In the aftermath of tragedy, once the screaming stopped and the lights came back on and there was nothing but a shattering silence around him, Rodney McKay realized his life had changed irretrievably. Watching numbly as the bodies of the injured, the dying, the dead were carried away, he was only cognizant of one thing. That for one of the very few times in his life, he knew without a doubt that he was fallible.
He pushed himself awkwardly to his feet, cradling his injured arm against his belly. He took a step forward towards the door, towards escape then came to a shocked halt as another stretcher was wheeled past him. “God!” The word breathed past his lips, more a curse than a prayer, and he instinctively reached out a hand to the injured man on the gurney. “Radek…” He bit his lip against the emotion welling in his throat, fought his way past it to say, “I’m so sorry,” then turned and walked to the door, guilt shadowing every stumbling step.
The alarm had finally been silenced and Rodney mentally thanked whoever was responsible. His head was pounding, still resonating with the sound and pressure of the explosion. He’d been far enough away still when it happened that he’d simply been caught up in its tumultuous path and flung away from imminent death into the wall of the lab, landing with a force that momentarily stole all breath from his lungs and consciousness from his mind. He’d only been out for minutes, he realized when he came to. Rescue crews were just entering the lab, fire extinguishers at the ready while medics followed them in and began their search for those who could still be helped. Rodney had brushed off the medic who hurried to his side, knowing already he was far less injured than many. The smell of scorched flesh and the agonized cries of the injured finally became too much to bear and he’d made his escape. There was nothing else he could do to help. What he had done already had been too little, too late.
He wandered past personnel whose wide eyes and pale faces probably mirrored his own but shied away from any hand that reached out to him. He didn’t feel he merited anyone’s comfort. There were those who needed it, deserved it far more than he. Nobody seemed to find his behavior odd. He supposed his prickly persona was well enough known for that not to be the case, even as obviously injured as he supposed he currently appeared.
Glad not to be intercepted by anyone who knew him well, he continued on, not sure exactly where he was going, just that wherever it was it would be a temporary sanctuary at least, a haven from misplaced sympathy.
The pier was cold but mercifully quiet and he made his way to the edge of the decking and sat down, awkwardly keeping his injured arm tucked against him. It had taken on a low level throbbing now that kept pace with the hammering of his heart and he took a few deep breaths, trying to bring his emotions under control. He was a scientist, not easily overcome by frailties of the human spirit; at least that’s what he’d always believed. Now though, thinking back on his terror as he’d reached out for the computer control panel, on his absolute knowledge that he’d be too late, he began to realize how much he’d changed since coming here. The people he’d come to see as friends, the experiences he’d had, the city herself had changed him. He could no longer wall himself off so easily in his ivory tower. Suddenly consequences had human faces, human feelings.
The sound of footsteps behind him made him sigh impatiently. He turned his head and bit back his almost-voiced retort that he was perfectly fine when he saw it was Sheppard. Instead he turned back to his blank-eyed appraisal of the city below and let Sheppard sit down beside him.
“Hey,” Sheppard said, giving him a sideways nudge against his good shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. You okay? One of the medics said you didn’t look so good but you refused treatment.”
“It’s just my arm,” Rodney replied. “Sprained it or something when I landed.”
He turned his head in time to see Sheppard raise his eyebrows at that and snapped, “Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a hypochondriac.” He lowered his voice and added, “Other people were injured a lot worse than I was. I figured the medical teams had their hands full enough.”
“You’re also not a medical doctor, Rodney,” Sheppard retorted reasonably enough, taking Rodney’s injured arm into surprisingly gentle fingers. He palpated Rodney’s wrist and hand, ignoring his wince and muttered oaths. “It’s pretty swollen for just a sprain. How about we go to the infirmary and let the docs look at it?”
Rodney pulled his arm free. “Ow!” He rubbed at it softly then sighed. “I’ll go soon, okay? Look, I appreciate you coming to check on me but I really just need some time alone, all right?”
“It wasn’t your fault, Rodney,” John said, as if he hadn’t heard him. “There was nothing you could have done to stop it happening.”
“There was plenty I could have done,” Rodney said loudly, guilt flaring to new heights. “I was too slow. I knew what to do but I didn’t get there to do it in time. I saw the readout, I knew what was going to happen but I was too slow.”
“You’re not Superman, you know. You’ve had almost no sleep for the past forty eight hours,” John pointed out. “You’ve been so busy exploring that new lab your team found, you haven’t slept and you’re exhausted. It’s no wonder-“
“That’s not a lot of comfort to me right now,” Rodney replied. “Knowing that I allowed myself again to get so caught up in something that I ignored the possible consequences…”
“This is nothing like what happened on Doranda-“
“It’s close enough. Only difference is this time I killed… actually killed people… People I knew.”
Sheppard shook his head. “No, Rodney, you didn’t kill anyone. The Ancients did that when they decided to boobytrap that lab. Do you know what it was for? Why they’d do that?”
Rodney shook his head and offered a faint shadow of a smile. “For once I’m really not all that interested in knowing right now. Somehow other things seem more important at the moment.”
Sheppard nodded. “Understood. In the meantime there are people in the infirmary who need to see you’re okay, whether you believe that or not. Radek, for example…”
“Radek’s okay?” Rodney hadn’t dared think past the fact that he’d looked so badly injured.
“Well, okay’s probably pushing it.” Sheppard rose to his feet, bent down and helped Rodney up then turned him back toward the doorway to the city. “But Carson seems pretty sure he will be in time.”
From the doorway, Teyla and Ronon stepped forward and walked across to stand on either side of Rodney.
Teyla smiled at him. “I’m glad to see you are not too severely injured, Rodney.”
“Hurt my arm,” Rodney said, holding out his injured appendage for her inspection.
“So I see,” she replied, placing an arm around his shoulders. “I’m sure Doctor Beckett can help with that.”
“Course he can, buddy.” Ronon grinned down at him.
“I kinda screwed up big time,” Rodney said.
“Hey, we’ve all done that,” Ronon replied. “Remember that village I stayed in when I was a Runner?”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah. Guess we’ve all been there, huh?”
“Yes, we have,” John replied from behind him, ushering Rodney forward with a hand in the small of his back. “It’s called being human, Rodney.”
Rodney didn’t resist the gentle pressure on his back. He walked forward slowly. It was time, he supposed, to face his demons anyway. A man couldn’t hide from his conscience forever.