Word Count: ~3200
Spoilers: The Last Man
Summary: Circumstances and a three week journey put everything in a different light.
A/N: A non-gen story by me. Can you believe it? Written by request for sb4ever. The rating is for a bit of language. The relationship is G rated and canon only. A missing scene from The Last Man.
“Help me, Rodney!”
“Teyla! Where are you?”
“This way.” The disembodied voice surrounded him, everywhere and nowhere.
He ran in one direction then turned in another. The mist thickened around him, clutching at his clothes and his hair, tangling his legs. Falling, he swatted at the nothingness that held him.
Other voices joined hers – John, Ronon, Carson, Sam, Elizabeth. They screamed his name, begging for him to do something.
“Tell me where you are. I can’t find you.”
Hands touched him all over, pulling him in every direction but keeping him still. He struggled in their grasp, flailing wildly.
He bolted upright with a strangled cry and blinked at the darkness. Small hands caught his shoulders as fruit-scented hair brushed his face.
“Teyla? Oh, thank God. I didn’t think I was ever going to wake-”
“No, Rodney. It’s Jennifer.” The bedside lamp clicked on, and she gazed sadly at him.
“Oh.” He glanced around his quarters on the Daedalus. Damn. It was true. “Oh!” He pulled the sheet up to the armpits of his sweat-stained t-shirt. “Um, why are you here?”
“I haven’t seen you since we left Atlantis three days ago.” Her mouth twisted to the side as she tilted her head. “You’re the only person I know on board, and I thought you might like to eat lunch together. I knocked a couple of times, and when I heard you…. Anyway, want to grab a bite?”
“Not really.” Rodney lay back down and tugged the bed linens to his chin. “If you can turn off the light on your way out….”
Keller stood and glanced around the tiny space, her brows slanting to a V as she took in the piles of dishes and discarded uniform parts. “Have you left this room yet?”
“Of course I have.”
“When? At midnight for snack runs to the mess hall? Penicillin has already been discovered, by the way.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand to his forehead.
“I’m not sick,” he snapped.
“Well, that’s a first.”
“Very funny. I’m just catching up on all the sleep I’ve missed the past four years.”
“Rodney, I’m a doctor. I know exhaustion when I see it, and this isn’t it. You’re hiding.”
“I’m on a ship flying between galaxies. What is it you think I’m hiding from?”
“I don’t know – yourself, the past, the future.” She stood again and headed to the door. “I’ve lost more patients and friends than I can count in the past year. I’m not going to lose you too. I’ll wait outside while you shower and dress. You have ten minutes.”
Keller arched a brow at him. “Or I’ll find a Marine who will help you.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
McKay glared at her. “Fine. I’ll be right there.”
The door clicked shut behind her, and he stared at the ceiling for another minute before dragging himself up and shuffling to the bath area. He scrubbed off days of sweat and grunge, washed his hair and shaved. Unable to bring himself to put on his Atlantis uniform, he grabbed a crew jumpsuit and a clean t-shirt. He was tying his shoes when Keller knocked again and peeked in.
She gathered the trays closest to the door and looked at him expectantly until he piled the rest of the dishes together and followed her to the mess hall, sighing loudly. It was going to be a long three weeks.
“Come on, McKay. Put your running shoes on.”
He didn’t bother to look up from the laptop. “I do not run. That was Ron- I do not run.”
“Then we’ll walk.”
“Are you always this irritating?”
That earned him a punch on the shoulder. “I need a break, and so do you.”
He rubbed tired eyes and saved his document. His memories were already beginning to fade – Teyla’s laugh, Ronon’s grin, Sheppard’s smirk. He was trying to capture them, everything about the best years of his life, good and bad. Movie nights, meals together, sparring lessons, Replicator attacks, chess matches, Genii invasions, tea ceremonies, Wraith sieges, birthday parties, enzyme overdoses, Christmas presents, ascension machines gone wild. All the faces that had gathered around him when he was dying, the people who had loved him, were gone now, and he wanted, he needed to remember.
His emotions must have been showing on his face because a gentle hand landed on his shoulder, circling soothingly. Suddenly craving human contact, he leaned into it, relaxing when strong fingers kneaded knotted muscles.
“What have you been working on?” he asked.
The touch stilled and withdrew.
“Carson.” Her features tightened when he swiveled to face her, his surprise evident. “I made him a promise, Rodney. Did you think I forgot?”
“I, uh, I didn’t-”
“They cut medical personnel in the middle of a war zone. If they wouldn’t let me help the dying, they certainly weren’t going to give me or anyone else the time to find a cure for him.” She dropped onto the corner of his bed. “I thought it through. I brought most of the samples and a copy of all the research with me. I’ll find a practice with an adequate lab where I can work about three days a week and search for the answer in my spare time.”
McKay looked at her, really looked at her. Fine lines bracketed the dark smudges under her eyes, and her shoulders drooped. Sometimes he forgot that he wasn’t the only one with survivor’s guilt. She had lost several of the medical staff in Michael’s attacks, and the sheer number of soldiers she’d had to identify by DNA was staggering.
“You’re right,” he said, pushing away from his desk. “We need a break. Let’s take a walk.”
Rodney’s stomach rumbled, and he frowned when he glanced at his watch. Keller usually interrupted him at the same time every day; she was almost an hour late. He shut down his laptop then carefully closed the photo album that he had been using to jog his memory.
Elizabeth had bequeathed it to him. Maybe he’d done it to honor her memory or because he knew she would have wanted it done, but he had continued adding pictures to it after she was lost, visual evidence of who they’d been and what they’d done. It was his most prized possession.
After checking Keller’s quarters, he made his way to the infirmary and was pointed toward a research lab.
“There you are. I thought-”
Keller had both arms braced on the work table, head bowed and shoulders shaking. She flinched at the sound of his voice and seemed to curl inward as her hands flew to her face.
Something about the movement pricked his heart, and he was across the room before he realized he’d moved. “What’s wrong?”
She hesitated for a moment then wheeled around and buried her face in his chest, clenching the back of his shirt as she sobbed.
He sucked at this; he had no idea what to do. He asked himself what Sheppard would do then rolled his eyes at the thought – the only guy worse than him when it came to emotional stuff was John. What would Carson do?
Wrapping his arms around her, he held her until the tears subsided. “Do you, um, want to talk about it?”
“All those people,” she hiccupped. “Dying because of us. Thousands and thousands of innocent people.”
“It’s not your fault, Jennifer.”
Pulling away from him, she swiped at her face angrily. “It doesn’t matter if it isn’t my fault. We turned our backs on them. We created Michael then left the galaxy to fend for itself when he became too much for us to handle. Does that sound familiar?”
“You’d think we would have learned something from the mistakes the Ancients made, but no. We make the same error and turn tail just like they did.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“I wouldn’t have left if I thought there was a chance of changing their minds. You heard Woolsey. We are going to cover our asses and let Michael have the rest of the galaxy. We don’t leave our people behind but to hell with everyone else.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry. It just gets to me sometimes.”
He patted her shoulder awkwardly. “Yeah. Me too.”
Jennifer wiped her eyes again, and a blush suddenly crept up her cheeks. “Uh, if you’ll excuse me a sec, I need to wash my face.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll just, ah, wait here.”
McKay wandered around the lab, picking up test tubes and slides while she disappeared in the back. When she returned, her eyes were a little brighter than before, and a small smile played around her lips.
“Did you need something?”
He blinked in confusion. “No.”
Her smile grew bigger. “Why are you here, Rodney?”
“Oh. It’s lunchtime. Are you hungry?”
Elbows propped on the table, McKay held his head in his hands. “I thought the dreams would stop after a while. Or at least slow down.”
Jennifer squeezed his arm lightly. “Do you want something to help you sleep?”
“No. Drugs make it worse. I can’t wake up.”
“Tell me about your dreams.”
“What good would that do?”
She shrugged. “What will it hurt? Maybe you need to get something off your chest, out in the open.”
Sighing, he decided it was worth a try. Talking with Heightmeyer used to work. “They’re basically variations on a theme. I’m caught somewhere dark, and my team is begging for my help, but I can’t find them.”
“Do you blame yourself for what happened to them?”
“Sheppard – yes. Teyla and Ronon are maybes. Sam, Carson, and Elizabeth-”
“Not everything that goes wrong in the universe is your fault, you know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“We were in this together, Rodney. All of us. It wasn’t a one man show. Activating Dr. Weir’s nanites was my idea. No one else went fishing with Carson that day either. Dozens of us searched for Teyla. Ronon and Col. Carter knew exactly what they were doing. As for Col. Sheppard, you can’t control solar flares.”
“No, but I could control the gate operating system. I shouldn’t have let anyone travel while we were experiencing glitches.”
“What would he tell you to do if he was here?”
“To stop using my mouth and start using my brain.”
The corner of her mouth quirked upward. “And have you?”
“God, Jen, I’ve thought about it every day since Sam and I figured out what happened to him. I don’t have a clue how to reach forty-eight thousand years into the future.” His throat tightened painfully. “I should have done more. I should have stopped all of this from happening.”
Taking his hand, she softly asked, “How? What could we have done differently?”
“Do you think they’ll ever rebuild Midway?” she asked.
McKay was transfixed as hyperspace flowed around them. “Hmmmm?”
Jennifer nudged his shoulder with hers. “Pay attention.”
“Do you think they’ll rebuild the Midway Station? That’s where we are, isn’t it?”
“Close. We passed that point yesterday. In answer to your question – no, I don’t think they’ll rebuild. It would be too easy for Michael to gain access to Earth.”
“Are you OK? You sound… lost.”
He turned from the window and sank into a chair. “I’m homeless.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know. Without a home. Homeless.”
“Yes, Rodney, I understand the definition of the word. You’ll have tons of job offers, and you should have a ridiculous amount in savings already. Why would you be homeless?”
“I didn’t say I don’t have a place to live. I don’t have a home. Atlantis was the first place I ever really felt at home. It was the people. And I never told them.”
“They knew.” She said it with such certainty he almost believed it.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I was there, remember? Everything you think marches across your face. Especially what you feel. I saw you when Teyla and I returned from New Athos, when you brought Col. Sheppard home after the Travelers captured him, when Ronon came back from the mission with the Wraith worshippers. I also saw their faces when we got back from being stuck in that hole in the ground. They felt the same way about you.”
“I still wish I would have said it though. I would have screwed it up, of course, but at least I would know that they knew.”
“What’s done is done.”
“I hate that phrase,” McKay muttered.
“I do, too, but that doesn’t make it any less true. What you can do is let your past change you. If that’s your regret, decide now to be different. Don’t close yourself off. Make new friends and tell them how you feel. Tell your sister when you see her.” Her eyes lost focus as she stared into the distance. “I can’t wait to hug my dad and tell him I love him.”
“Is that where you’ll go when we get to Earth? Where your dad lives?”
Jennifer shook her head. “Chippewa Falls is too small. I need a place that has the proper research facilities. I was thinking of Chicago or Minneapolis or-”
She smiled shyly at him. “Seattle’s nice, too.”
“…but do they listen to me? No! Why bother asking? I spent a month installing these systems on the Phoenix, and I have more experience than everyone in the engineering department. Added together. They call me down there then completely discount what I have to say. Of course, they couldn’t find two brain cells to rub-”
“Take a breath,” Jennifer said calmly.
“Were you even listening?”
“Of course I was. Everyone was. They can hear you in the Ori galaxy.”
“Well, aren’t you the epitome of wit today.”
She struggled to keep a straight face then dissolved into giggles. “Your face is beet red.”
“You’re actually enjoying this!”
“Absolutely. That’s the first time in over two weeks you’ve sounded like yourself – all sassy and smug.”
McKay stared at her in horror. “Did you just call me sassy?”
Laughing even harder, she wiped tears from her eyes. “You heard me.”
Fighting the urge to laugh himself, he glared at her. “I am not, nor have I ever been, sassy.”
“I may have been irritated but not irritable.”
“Of course. Silly me. What was I thinking?” Jennifer grinned at him as she removed her gloves and lab coat. “Now that you’ve gotten it all out of your system, are you ready for dinner?”
“I could eat. What was I getting out of my system?”
“A full-blown, trademark McKay rant.”
She hugged his arm as they headed to the mess hall. When she slid her hand from his elbow to his wrist then intertwined her fingers in his, he completely forgot about the sarcastic quip he’d been formulating.
Rodney stood at the viewport as they glided past Mars. He’d seen many amazing sights in the past few years, but this one never ceased to thrill him. They’d come out of hyperspace early, and he’d been watching for hours as first Saturn then Jupiter slid by.
He’d also been rehearsing what he wanted to say to Jennifer. They’d spent almost every waking moment together the past few days. She did laundry with him, prompted him with stories from Atlantis’ infirmary, hugged him tightly on Teyla’s birthday. He brought her coffee, watched Titanic for the tenth time with her, bit the inside of his mouth until it bled when she insisted that Spiderman was cooler than Batman.
He had decided to take her advice to make new friends and tell them how he felt. And he was going to start with her. He knew he’d trip over the words and embarrass himself, but she’d already seen him at his worst and was still speaking to him.
This definitely was not the life he’d expected or wanted to have, but he had been given another chance to start fresh, and he was going to take it. He would live, and he hoped his friends, his family, would be proud.
“Are you packed?” Jennifer asked as she materialized next to him.
“I finished last night. You?”
“Yep. I’m ready.”
“Are you?” Rodney turned to face her. “Are you really ready to go back to living a normal life on Earth?”
She brushed her hair from her face as she studied the stars. “Nothing about my life will ever really be normal again. I’ve seen too much. But I am ready to move forward. I won’t ever forget, but I’m going to try to not dwell. What about you?”
“I have no idea what normal is. I’ve worked in the Stargate program for over eight years and consulted with the Air Force on top secret projects before that. I can’t imagine what it will be like to have a regular job, to live in a house, to drive to work. To not carry a gun or get shot at or fly or have things work because I think about them. I run into my door at least once a day.”
Jennifer chuckled quietly. “It will definitely be-”
McKay stuffed his hands in his pockets then pulled them out again so he could talk. “I wanted to, um, talk to you… ah, well, I wanted to ask if, uh….” He felt his ears get hot. This was worse than he’d thought. “I was hoping….”
She turned to face him with a smile. “You are so bad at this.”
“I know. I can absolutely skewer people with words most of the time, but then I get into… a… situation….”
Stepping into his personal space, she kissed him softly. “It’s just me, Rodney,” she whispered. “Talk to me.”
He got lost in her eyes for a minute and found himself kissing her again. She smiled encouragingly at him so he took a deep breath and said it as fast as he could.
Jennifer blinked at him and grinned. “I have no idea what you just said.”
Groaning, he turned away, but she tugged at his chin until he faced her again.
“Say it again. Slowly.”
“I’m crazy about you, and I want you to come to Seattle with me.” He cringed as she regarded him for a moment, her gaze piercing.
“Really? You don’t want to think about it or something?” It couldn’t be that easy.
“I like you too, Rodney. A lot. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time now.”
“Yes. Are you?”
“It’s the first thing I’ve been sure of for a long time,” he admitted. “Hold that thought.” He turned her to face the viewport. “Don’t miss this.”
She gasped when they flew past Earth’s moon, and he smiled at the delight on her face as the beautiful blue dot in the distance that was their homeworld grew until it filled the window.
“I love that part,” he said. “I guess we’re home.”
“I’m a little scared,” she confessed.
“There’s nothing to be…. I’m a little nervous myself.” Rodney looked at her seriously. “I’m glad I don’t have to do it alone.”
Jennifer ran her hand down his arm, and he leaned down to kiss her once more. Time to start living again.