Mar. 8th, 2008 10:42 pm
Characters: Rodney McKay
Warnings: Language, angst, character death, spoilers for Last Man Standing
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Beta: I made mgbutterfly cry. How much of a bitch does that make me?
Summary: Tag to Last Man Standing. Five moments in Rodney McKay's life that broke him.
Author's Note: ferret_kitty asked for h/c after Last Man Standing. That's what I sat down to write. Sorry to say, I apparently completely fail at comfort. Like. A lot. I did manage a hell of a lot of hurt, though. And to make myself cry.
They put an empty casket in the ground and they call it John Sheppard. Rodney knows it's empty, because it is precisely as heavy as Carson's coffin had been when Rodney had bore that one through the 'gate. They put a headstone up and they fold a flag and Rodney watches them hand it to some man he's never seen before.
Rodney thinks it should hurt more, being able to look at that man and see John in the curve of his nose, the tightness around his mouth. Nothing has really hurt very much since someone appointed themselves God and decided that Sheppard was KIA. The final decision, cold and arbitrary and nothing Rodney could do to change it, had come down and Rodney had stopped feeling.
Beside Rodney, standing with his head bowed and wearing a suit that doesn't quite fit him, Ronon says, "Why're they giving that to him?" Ronon never learned tact and the words are too loud under the perversely sunny sky.
Rodney thinks he should explain about next of kin, but mostly he agrees with Ronon too much to try to argue. Blood might have tied Dave Sheppard to John, but they weren't family. Not the way he and Ronon and Teyla and John were family. Not the way that mattered.
And so when Rodney should be taking Ronon back to Cheyenne Mountain, he is instead walking across the soft, thick grass to Dave Sheppard. There's a woman standing at Dave's elbow, petite and beautiful and so achingly John's type that Rodney doesn't even have to wonder if she's the ex-wife or not. She steps towards Rodney as he approaches, one perfectly manicured hand extended, soft perfect hair blowing back from her face in the spring breeze.
Rodney ignores her, ignores the way her face twists up into confusion when he pushes past her. Dave Sheppard does not have his brother's eyes and Rodney is fiercely glad of that suddenly, because no one in the world should have eyes like John.
Rodney thinks that once he would have felt small beside this man, with his black suit and slicked back hair, John's flag folded up to his chest. Rodney has words, so many, many words, building in the back of his throat and he worries that if he opens his mouth they'll all come tumbling out and gag him, smother him in their insistence to make themselves heard.
The flag is not soft under his fingers when he reaches out and touches it. It is warm, soaked by the sun, and Rodney wraps his fingers around the edge of it and stares at Dave Sheppard's unfamiliar eyes. There is grief there, graven into the man's expression, grief and Rodney envies him for being able to compartmentalize the loss down to an emotion as simple as sadness.
Dave Sheppard swallows heavily after a long moment, looking away from Rodney's eyes, out across the cemetery. When the man releases his grip on the flag Rodney doesn't hesitate to take it, wrapping his arms around it and hugging it to his chest.
The woman beside Dave makes a move to grab Rodney's arm and stops, her fingers hovering over the wrinkled sleeve of his suit, like Rodney's pain has formed a physical barrier around his skin. Rodney walks away, back to Ronon.
They have a car waiting for them and some young soldier opens the door with a carefully blank expression. Rodney slides in, the interior of the car too cold, too dark, too empty. Even Ronon, sliding in beside him, is not enough to fill up the emptiness. Nothing ever will be.
They have a body when they lay Teyla to rest. There's no coffin for her, but the Athosians do not protest when Ronon and Rodney take over preparing her for whatever afterlife she reached. The water that they're given to clean her with is lemon scented. Rodney's skin itches and burns everywhere it touches but he ignores it.
Her expression is smooth, peaceful, and Rodney wonders if she felt pain in the end or if Michael at least made sure she went easy into that final sleep. It's such a contrast to the mess of her stomach, shredded skin and organs, a stink that seems out of place and so disrespectful that Rodney wants to scream.
Ronon cleans her carefully, big hands gentle on her empty body, so very careful with the stitches he puts into her cold skin. Rodney washes her hair, anoints it with lavender oil and honeyed water, leaves it to fall across her bare shoulders. It takes a day to prepare her body and to dress her carefully in the finest clothes that Rodney could find, silks that she would have never worn in life.
The Athosians have built their pyre on Atlantis, out on the pier where an eternity ago Rodney tried to make his peace with another lost friend. Ronon and Rodney bear her out to it, the poles of the stretcher smooth, warm wood that Rodney's sweaty hands slip around.
She looks small, tiny, atop the stacked wood. There's still peace in her expression and Rodney is staring at the tiny curve of the corner of her mouth when flames start to lick around her face. The smoke, scented by herbs and the wood itself, writhes against the cloudless blue sky.
When it's done, hours later, there is only ash left. Rodney feels dizzy, sure that he's upright only by virtue of Ronon standing to his left and Halling to his right. The Athosians approach the pile of ashes one by one, going to their knees and scooping up careful handfuls, throwing the ash into the air where the wind catches it and spins it out across the crashing waves below.
Ronon approaches when they're done, falling to his knees like a tree felled, his big shoulders hitching as he gathers up the ashes and releases them. Ronon pauses by Rodney's shoulder on his way back, says nothing, just stands there for a long moment before continuing on his way.
There's only one handful left and Rodney sinks to his knees, breathing heavily through his mouth around the pressure building and bubbling up his throat. There's no warmth left in the ashes and he gathers them with his red, blistering hands, holds the last bit of Teyla left anywhere and can't bring himself to just toss her to the wind.
He raises his lips to his palms, blows hard and watches the patterns that the ashes make dancing through the air.
Samantha is another empty casket. One more in a long line of friends whose memory is all Rodney has left to carry back to their friends and family in the Milky Way. It seems as though everyone that ever worked in the Stargate program is crowded in the 'gate room when the Daedalus beams them down, but all their faces look formless and blank to Rodney.
Rodney stands alone at the head of Sam's casket, one hand on the smooth, cold wood, trying to find the words that just aren't there. He barely recognizes General O'Neill when the man steps up, grief graven into the lines of his face.
Daniel Jackson is behind O'Neill's shoulder. Teal'c materializes out of the crowd, shadowed by Cameron Mitchell and Vala Mal Doran, and Rodney steps away from the casket, leaves Sam in the care of those who knew and loved her best. This is their grief, their sadness, and he'd gladly leave them to it, but it became his, too, somewhere along the line.
It's Teal'c, Jackson, O'Neill and Mitchell that lift the coffin, that move with it out of the room, and Rodney watches them go, feeling as though they're dragging a little piece of him away with each step. Vala's touch on his wrist is a surprise, her fingers cold and questioning.
Vala pulls him along and somehow Rodney is still standing beside her two days later when they put Sam in the ground. Vala is crying, not noisily or demonstratively, and so is Jackson. Rodney watches the tears rolling down their faces, because it's easier than watching the men he doesn't know shoveling dirt over one more woman that he respected and loved.
Rodney leaves them to their sadness, to their own private goodbyes, once the ceremony is over. When he turns back, standing by his car, they have all fallen together, arms clinging tightly to one another, one of them sobbing loudly enough that he can hear it from the car. Rodney turns his face away, and wonders if they know how lucky they are that they still have each other, at least.
Rodney refuses to believe that Ronon is dead, even when his second in command shows up in Atlantis with the news. Ronon is invincible. He always has been and he always will be and Rodney refuses to believe that any Wraith could ever kill him. They just don't know Ronon as well as Rodney does, they don't understand that he always comes back, no matter what.
They spend days searching the planet for anything, anything at all. Rodney doesn't believe, has excuse upon excuse, right up to the moment that he turns over a piece of ruble and finds the titanium bead that he had given Ronon once upon a time to wear in his hair.
The ashes are still hot, the ground scarred by the explosion, and Rodney sits in them, staring dumbly down at the bead in his hands. It's charred, smudged with ash, and Rodney rubs his thumbs over it, again and again until the metal shines through, bright in the fading sun.
Rodney doesn't even notice the transmitter, the one that Todd had reluctantly agreed to let them put into the back of his neck all those months ago, until Lorne reaches out and rests a hand on his shoulder. Rodney gathers the transmitter up as well, tucking it into his pocket beside Ronon's bead.
No one knows what a traditional Satedan burial ceremony is, but Ronon had liked the pyre they built for Teyla, had said that it meant more than being buried in the ground. Rodney is the only one that's left to build the sticks up off world, working for hours and hours until the pile is huge, as big as Ronon was in life.
There's no body for him to burn, but he puts the bead in midst of the lumber, beside the transmitter, and lights it all on fire. He knows that Ronon would have appreciated a huge, vicious fire, and so he douses it all in gasoline and watches the flames lick up to the heavens.
The bead and the transmitter survive, sitting in the middle of the ashes, indestructible as Ronon should have been. Rodney buries them, side by side, and tries to think of the words that should be said over them. There are none, and besides, Ronon never had much use for words.
Rodney gets to watch Jennifer die. He gets to watch her pretty skin go yellow and sallow as her organs fail. He gets to be there as her grip on his hand goes from strong and sure to weak to nonexistent. He gets to hear her last words, to feel the soft rasp of her now dry lips against his ear.
She looks so small in the bed by the end, her skin gone paper thin, her hair going dry and brittle almost overnight. The doctors explain her condition every step of the way, narrate her death for Rodney, and he wishes they would just stop it.
Rodney doesn't tell her some of the news, and feels guilty about it, right up to the point that he looks into her pain filled eyes. And then he knows that she has enough pain and that he has no right to even think about adding to it.
Jennifer dies holding his hand, looking up at him with her soft, gentle eyes. Rodney leans over, slides her eyelids closed and presses a last kiss to her dry, cold lips. He buries his face against her shoulder, bones sharp under her skin, and tries not to scream. Screaming won't help.
Rodney has more control over this funeral than the others. He buries his wife in her home town, where she'd asked him to lay her to rest. No one argues with him when he demands a separate grave for the unborn child she'd been carrying.
Rodney stands with her family at the funeral, her father and her mother who looks so much like her it's painful. Her little sister is there, and her older brother and Rodney wants to tell them how wonderful she was, how much he loved her, but if they don't already know he doesn't know how more words will help.
They stay for a long time, standing around him silently as the sun beats down on them warm and cheery. Rodney thinks they might even ask him along when they go, an invitation for dinner or at least enough liquor to fill his stomach. He doesn't remember, later, what he says to make them go away, but they're gone when he looks up next.
Rodney wanders forward on legs that feel weak as a newborn's, sinks to the ground between the two fresh graves and lets his head drop between his knees, folds his arms over the back of his neck and sits still as he can. The dirt is moist and wet. He's ruining another suit, but he can't bring himself to care.
By the time he shifts the sun has set and the stars wheel overhead. They're unfamiliar now, patterns wrong, different than what he's used to, than they would be if he were home. He knows what he has to do. He's known for days what can fix this, the price he'll have to pay to make things right.
Rodney will pay it. Willingly. He shifts, reaches out to drag his fingers across the name on the headstone to his right. He leaves the cemetery with the letters still burning against his fingers. His son's name, Jonathon Aubry McKay.
Rodney has work to do.
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