Title: Soldiering On (or) To persist despite adversity
Summary: "I'm not a soldier!" Rodney's POV.
Betaed by Annie: Thanks again!
Category: Angst, Drama
Warning: adult themes (mainly from The Defiant One); some humor but not light fare.
Spoiler: Season 1, Episode 12: The Defiant One
Characters: Meredith (Mer) Rodney McKay, Madison (Maddie) Miller, Jeannie (McKay) Miller, Kaleb Miller. Mention: “Colonel John" Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla, Dr. Brendan Gaul., Dr. Abrams, Peter, Griffin, Aiden.
Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis belong to Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Film Corporation. All other publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis or any other media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by linda.ljc with the love of the show in mind.
"I'm not a soldier!" Rodney stated indignantly.
"But Uncle Mer, Colonel John is a soldier, and you work with him."
"Yes. No." Rodney shook his head in frustration. How do you explain the Atlantis Expedition and what he did, what he accomplished there ... well, he couldn't. Not well enough. It was too complex for a five year old. Six year old? Whatever! And if she knew too much it could be dangerous for her whole family, and he could wind up in a worse place than Siberia, if it existed. Well, Genii might qualify.
He finally sighed and admitted, "Well, sometimes I'm a soldier, too, but mostly I'm an astrophysicist. That's important. Very important."
"More important than a soldier?"
Rodney went very still for a moment as all the soldiers he’d worked with, known well, and mourned flashed through his memory. He sighed deeply when he realized that he needed to breathe.
"Uncle Mer? Are you okay?"
Rodney nodded abruptly as he sat heavily on the couch in Jeannie's living room. He thought that now would be a good time for her to appear, but she and Kaleb were in the backyard picking something healthy and green out of the garden for supper. At least he assumed that's what they were up to. That's why he was keeping an eye on his niece.
"Yeah, kiddo. I'm okay. I was just remembering something."
"Yeah. About soldiers."
"Mommy and Daddy don't really like soldiers. They think everyone should stop disagreeing and be friends. Mommy even made me apologize to Emma for taking the last piece of cake. But Uncle Mer, someone had to take the last piece."
That was an obvious logical assumption that could apply to the last piece of anything. And this was cake. The last piece. Rodney saw her imploring look. She may be a Miller, but she was also a McKay. He assumed that the logical answer was probably not the right answer in this case. Now what would Jeannie do? What would Jeannie say even if it was chocolate cake?
He sighed and decided to give it a shot. "I can't fault your logic, kiddo, but did Emma want it too? Maybe - you could have shared?"
Madison sighed heavily. "That's what Mommy said."
"Got it in one!" Rodney muttered under his breath in relief.
As Madison headed to the kitchen, Rodney slowly pulled his laptop off the coffee table. He'd intended to power off but instead clicked on a personal file. He clicked through some "safe" pictures of colleagues and teammates. They were "approved" items, declared safe according to security protocols.
He'd been surprised that pictures of him and his team kitted out for a mission had been approved. Looking closer he could see they'd blurred out their mission patches, and Ronon was turned sideways and a certain non-regulation gun wasn’t visible. The background was the ocean off Atlantis' control room balcony. No suspicious looking architectural details were visible, just a calm rolling sea that could be a lot of places on Earth, and without a Pegasus 'whale' to break the surface and spoil the illusion.
He zoomed in on a recent photo where they'd been waiting for MALP data to come through, where Rodney, and Sheppard too, had on their usual: uniform and backpack, kevlar vest and P-90. Ronon, inconspicuously, had that big gun that Sheppard wanted in the worst way, and Teyla had just 'snorted' at something Sheppard had said. He'd been surprised, as always graceful and diplomatic Teyla had snorted in laughter. You just never knew about someone. Now, if it had been Sheppard, it would have been a given.
It had been a fairly recent mission. He tried to look at the picture objectively. He thought he looked fairly competent, but he hadn't felt it. Still didn't. And he knew that the rest of the team would probably always look at him like he was more scientist than soldier. He knew his place in the field, in the middle of the team, the supposedly "safe" position, or at least the more protected position. But let's face it, there were times when he thought he was a danger to them and himself. But they were a team, and there were times when he did make the difference between coming "home" to Atlantis or losing everything. And that, he could be proud of.
He'd become a good shot, he'd had to or Sheppard would have kicked him off the team. When he thought about it, it was amazing really that anyone could shoot straight when their adrenalin spiked, when you were dodging from cover to cover while ducking arrows or bullets or whatever while your system was deprived of oxygen. Unless you were Sheppard. Or Ronon. And who was he kidding, even Teyla. Even being pregnant hadn't slowed her down until she got really really big, and those words must never - ever - pass his lips. He winced just remembering the hits the Colonel had taken during sparring practice for his own comments encouraging her to take maternity leave. Come to think of it, Teyla had snorted then, too, then invited Sheppard to spar.
He was about to click on the next picture when he felt Madison lean on the back of the couch and look over his shoulder. He heard her say, with true childish conviction, "Look, Mommy. Uncle Mer said he wasn't a soldier, but he is, isn't he?"
Rodney turned toward the hallway and saw Jeannie and Kaleb staring at his laptop from behind Maddie.
Jeannie slowly stepped closer to Madison and clung to her shoulders.
Maddie's shoulders hunched and her face screwed up. "Mommy, ouch! Too tight."
Kaleb came up behind Jeannie and eased one hand free and held it gently in his own.
"I'm sorry, Maddie. I was ... I was just surprised. I haven't seen that picture before."
"Uncle Mer is a soldier like Colonel John."
"Yes, it seems so. I'm sure they work together a lot."
"That's what I said, too."
"Why don't you get washed up for supper? It's just a salad with greens from the garden, and some of that fresh mozzarella pizza you like, the one your Uncle Mer will eat even if it is vegetarian. Go on, now."
Jeannie watched her disappear down the hall. When she turned to Rodney she was twisting her hands.
Rodney cocked his head. He asked suspiciously, "What? I know you. What's with the hand wringing?"
Jeannie sounded exasperated when she berated Rodney with her question. "Mer, why did you show her that?"
Rodney felt confused. He didn't understand the obvious aggravation he heard in her voice. "It's just a team picture. She knows all of them and that we're a team."
Jeannie switched her hands to her hips and glared. She tossed a quick glance down the hall and back but managed to keep her voice down. "Mer. You're all carrying guns."
Rodney glanced down the hall reflexively before turning back to answer, but he too, surprisingly, managed to keep his voice down. "Jeannie. It's what we do."
"But you're not a soldier, Mer. Is that really how you want Maddie to think of you?"
Rodney stood and sputtered, "She's the one who asked me! It isn't like I showed her the picture. She saw it over my shoulder. It's not my fault!"
"Mer, you sound like you're the six year old girl. Really, Mer. A gun? You know how we feel."
Rodney seemed to deflate. "I know how you feel. I'm glad you can feel that way."
Jeannie's surprise seemed to stop her at that and so Rodney continued.
"I hope you can keep feeling that way. I hope the whole world can. I've seen too many worlds where people would give just about anything for a weapon to fight the Wraith.
"Remember the Genii? They live on top of radioactive bunkers. I may disagree with their choices, and their choice of leaders, but at least they've managed to make some technological progress, and they've fought back against the Wraith. There wasn't anyone coming to their aid before we got there. But they've paid for it in sickness, lost allies, and a society and a strategy based on lies."
Rodney continued in a fierce whisper. "And the Hoffans killed half their population in an attempt to stop the Wraith with a virus. But there's not much hope for any of the people in Pegasus when these, these, monsters appear out of the sky or through the 'Gate. Jeannie, you've been in Pegasus. You've been briefed on the basics at least.
"Sure we carry guns, and worse, because we have to if we're to have a chance to return home, or to save people under attack. And there are too many times when we have to flee for our lives anyway because we're outgunned."
"But Mer, you need to leave that to the soldiers. You're a scientist! What do you know about being a soldier?"
Rodney could only sigh. "Quite a lot, actually. I think you'd be surprised. Probably you'd be appalled. I'm a good enough shot to provide fire support. All of the soldiers and scientists on the Gate Teams have trained in small unit tactics. I can make bombs, although Cadman is better at defusing them, and don't tell her I said that or I'll never hear the end of it."
He flipped his hands this way and that and added, "I know those hand signs we use, and believe me, they're harder than you think. Sheppard says I need to stop improvising. He said when I add little flourishes to them, it's not helpful, but he's just nitpicking. Ronon's even teaching me how to track and survive in the wilderness if we get separated. I know for a fact that he's really good with traps. Did I ever tell you how we met? Never mind. And you know Carson. He's taught us so much first aid I could probably do field surgery." At that Rodney gave a little shudder. "Hell, I have done field surgery. And you know what I think of the voodoo that they call 'modern medicine'."
"Anyone who has the ATA gene can use Ancient tech, so that automatically puts them, and therefore me, on the front lines. But I've also had my arms elbow-deep in Wraith tech, and you must have some idea how truly gross that is. But there have been plenty of times when I've had to use their weapons, too."
"Have you... have you ever killed anyone?"
Rodney felt stunned. Didn't she know? Couldn't she guess? "Besides Wraith? And people that shoot at us?" Rodney really couldn't prevent the exasperation that bled through his words but he managed to keep the volume of his words down. "Jeannie, I was with the SGC for years before I went to Atlantis. If I didn't shoot someone with a gun, then I definitely killed people some other way. Out there it's war."
Rodney sighed roughly at the remembered guilt; the nightmares he'd subdued only with nights of sleepless, frantic work. "And it wasn't always just the people that were shooting back at us. You know we destroyed hives. They had their, their ... food ... on board." Jeannie looked horrified.
Rodney hadn't actually stopped to consider those words very carefully. If he had, he'd have known that neither Jeannie nor her liberal professor husband would take them well. But maybe these were hard truths she needed to understand. She had to understand.
He plowed on with what he had to say. "Jeannie, research itself is dangerous. People - scientists and soldiers - died just clearing areas of Atlantis. It's dangerous work using technology we don't really understand yet."
Jeannie nodded sharply. "I do know, Mer. That's one of the reasons I could give up my studies. I could see where it was heading ... where you were years ago."
Rodney seemed to deflate with a heavy sigh. "I guess I can't really blame you. When I built that model of a nuclear bomb, I was just a kid. It was the coolest toy I could imagine. I was going to show everyone just how smart I was. But it wasn't a toy, even though it couldn't have hurt anyone without fissionable material."
Rodney started to pace. "Before we went to Atlantis I thought 'what an astounding opportunity it would be', and 'there's so much to learn', or 'maybe we can find something to fight the Ori, or the Replicators, or the Goa'uld."
He stopped quickly, glanced at Jeannie and Kaleb and asked, "You know about all of them, right?"
Jeannie gave a quick nod, and Kaleb frowned in dismay. She patted him on the chest softly and said, "Confidentiality agreements. That's the only reason I didn't tell you. The Wraith were enough to take in."
Rodney just sighed. He was going to have some explaining to do back at the SGC. He might as well have them send out another stack of paperwork for Kaleb.
"Anyway - now – it’s not a Nobel Prize I hope for. Sometimes I wonder if we should have gone at all." He waved his hands in negation, and sputtered before continuing. "No. No. Don't get me wrong, I know we had really good reasons to go. We thought that by going to Atlantis we'd make technological leaps to put us ahead of our known enemies, and we did, but we also found another enemy.
"But we've sent probes and various communications out from this system since the radio was invented. They, someone, would have found us eventually. They're not totally stupid, unfortunately. At least we've taken steps to defend ourselves.
"But now, if we don't stop the Wraith in Pegasus, they'll come here, because we woke them from hibernation too soon. They know about us, and they're starving. I hope when that time comes, if it comes, you'll have a soldier to protect you, because that might be all that stands between you and tragedy.
"Have you even made plans for an emergency? A bolthole just-in-case? Supplies and a medical kit? Places to meet if you get separated? Do you have radios, not just cell phones?" Rodney felt a little sick at the blank looks he got. His voice had started to rise a little until Jeannie glared at him. "Not even if you get snowed in? What kind of Canadians are you?"
"Don't get me wrong, I never want you to have to pick up a gun but you may not have a choice if you want to protect the ones you love." He really wanted to ask them both if they had a gun, a big gun, or knew how to use one but he figured he already knew the answer to that question. Kaleb was looking as sick as Rodney felt. Kaleb at least was considering the possible consequences of inaction. Good. At least one of them was.
"Protect the ones you love?" asked Jeannie in the shakiest voice he'd ever heard from her.
"I know you'd fight for them, Jeannie. I know you would. But there are things you can do now to give yourself a better chance."
"Is that what you do? Do you fight for us?"
Rodney looked wistful for a moment. “I had plans. Nobel Prize. A little fame. A little adulation. I didn't plan on becoming a soldier. Understand, I'm not brave or anything. Now Sheppard, he's brave; suicidally brave sometimes. Ronon, he's fierce with an anger I hope none of us come to truly understand. Teyla is the leader of what's left of the Athosian people. She has a, a responsibility that's ingrained and a mother's love that knows no bounds because she knows how little stands between her and - disaster. Me? Well, I do what I can do even though weapons research and soldiering on isn't what I planned to do with my life. I'm an astrophysicist, but there came a time when I had to pull my head down out of the stars and see the danger all around. Every day I wear my dogtags just like everyone else on Atlantis."
Jeannie blinked in surprise. "You have dogtags?"
Rodney bit his lip and gave a one-shoulder shrug. "Sometimes that's the only way a body can be identified." Rodney felt unaccountably sad. Jeannie wasn't stupid; not at all a moron like so many people he knew. He'd always chafed at keeping the Stargate Program secret, but he had to wonder what would happen if pacifists got their way. Would they be decimated by an Ori plague? Or be cattle for the Wraith? Maybe end up being destroyed totally by Replicators? When had the possibility of becoming slaves of the Goa'uld come in last on the list of Apocalypse Scenarios?
He admitted to himself that he was frustrated by innocence. He was afraid. He was so very afraid that people wouldn't wake up in time. That they'd expect ‘the authorities, the government' to march in and remove all the inconveniences that came along. Just like he had.
Well, Wraith were some inconvenience, and they were still a threat after thousands of years of war against a much more technologically advanced opponent. And the governments of the world were afraid of releasing any information at all about the Stargates. How shortsighted was that? Some day it was going to blow up in their faces. Hopefully it wouldn't end with an invasion by a species that would sweep through the human worlds in the Milky Way like ... like Wraith. There was no other worthy comparison, because the horrible truth was, that for them to live, we have to die.
We’re all fighting for our survival as a species. There would be no diplomacy. No collective bargaining. They would NOT go the way of the Wraith Worshipers or the Genii. They wouldn’t sacrifice some to save the rest. No one was left behind; not on their watch.
Wraith were the reason he was a soldier, however reluctant. If he could come up with a weapon to take out the Wraith he could ... he would ... count himself a good soldier even if pacifists would call it genocide. He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He sincerely hoped he did find the answer even if they'd want to hang him for the crime.
But which is it, genocide or survival of the fittest, if only one side can win? How can we let them live? Who do we surrender to their ‘care’?
But when he called himself a soldier, he felt very inadequate. The rest of his team were good soldiers - the best. He knew all too well that he'd be dead ten times over if not for them.
Peter, and Gaul and Abrams. Griffin. And Aiden. They weren't all soldiers, but in this fight some good people were lost and the uniform they wore - soldier or scientist - made no difference at all. That's really the way it was all through history. He sighed again. He owed them so much, and what had he done in return? He'd survived. He'd kept Atlantis floating and free, but not without a lot of help from his team and his scientists. And the soldiers.
Soldiers were a necessity but unfortunately they expected the "geeks" to pull miracles out of thin air. Sometimes the pressure got to him. Like now, when a little girl asked him if he was a soldier.
Before Atlantis he'd never taken orders without questioning, but he knew now that sometimes a soldier didn't have that luxury. He'd never, before Atlantis, rushed into a dangerous situation to aid someone else. He'd never stood his ground to defend the innocents. He'd never put his life on the line like Sheppard, until Atlantis. Until Atlantis, Rodney would have scoffed at the very idea that he would do the same.
Rodney stood stiffly for a moment. He felt the despair of a time he wished he could forget, a scene, a death, only he was alive to remember. His voice nearly a whisper, he said, "I don't know if I ever mentioned Dr. Gaul or Dr. Abrams." Jeannie slowly shook her head, but Rodney’s thoughts were focused far away and he barely noticed.
"Sheppard took us on a mission that got diverted by a Wraith type of S.O.S. from one of their ships. From what we could tell, it had crashed during the Ancient/Wraith War. It was amazing really; ten thousand years and it still had enough power to be broadcasting. So, we went looking for tech and tactical information.
"What we found was a hibernating Wraith. One Wraith. He woke, while Sheppard and I were separated from the other two. The Wraith fed on them." Jeannie's gasp earned a quick glance from Rodney and a one armed hug from Kaleb. Both looked very sad, but Rodney wasn't done, and they knew it.
"We found them there in the ship. Abrams was dead. Gaul, nearly so. He'd been younger than me but - not then. He was barely hanging on. I was supposed to stay and guard him. Sheppard's orders. I was to protect him in case the Wraith came back, or if there was another one. We couldn't be sure without a thorough physical search. Whatever, it couldn't have taken much more - life - from Gaul, but I stayed, and worried about Sheppard out there alone. Remember I mentioned he could be suicidally brave?
"Well, Gaul was so weak that he could only watch me pace and fidget. I… I gave him his gun to hold, just in case I couldn't stop the Wraith."
Rodney saw Jeannie lean in closer to Kaleb. Both wore a shocked frown. But Rodney needed to continue; finish this story now that he'd started it.
"Brendan wanted me to go. He said he knew he was dying. He knew I wanted to help Sheppard. But I couldn't leave him. With just his handgun he would really have been helpless."
Rodney stopped in his recitation and glanced quickly down the hall, for Madison, because she'd started happily singing and making splashing noises at the bathroom sink.
"Spongebob squarepants." Rodney muttered. "Sounds like a name Sheppard would love."
His shoulders drooped when he heard Jeannie ask, "What happened, Mer?"
When Rodney turned he knew the pain showed clearly on his face. "He made a sacrifice. To let me go where I needed to go. Where I might be able to do some good."
"He had his gun. He used it."
Jeannie didn't need to say anything, just let the tears come silently.
"Since Sheppard and I are both still alive, you know we were able to kill the Wraith. It took every bullet we had, and a bit of luck besides.
"Jeannie, he was a scientist. And not a stupid one, either. He told me that I had changed since we came to Atlantis. He was right."
Gaul was right. Rodney had changed. He'd never noticed when that line had been crossed. He'd never considered that he was a soldier, and had been since he'd stepped through the 'Gate to Pegasus. He'd never considered that term would ever apply to him. But he was a soldier if that was what was needed. For scientist or soldier, saving the world was a tough job. It was the one job he truly felt inadequate for, but it was one he had to do right.