Spoilers: Trinity. Minor ones for 38 minutes and Condemned.
Summary: Post Trinity, Rodney still has some things to deal with.
Notes: Thanks to noctuabunda and jimaine42 for the wonderful betas and to tikiberry for generally making it much better than it was.
“Thank you for the offer Colonel, but I’m not like McKay, field work is not for me,” Radek replies, still confused that Colonel Sheppard stopped by his quarters to ask him this.
“A year ago I wouldn’t have pegged McKay as the field work type either. You might learn to enjoy it”, Sheppard counters. Radek considers this, thinking maybe the Colonel has a point and time off world (and away from the stubborn, arrogant, infuriating Rodney McKay) might be good for him. Yet despite how much that egotistical jerk has hurt him, he couldn't take that away from Rodney.
“Maybe, but I enjoy lab work, I do not wish to cut down on that”, Radek replies.
“I understand that. But I need a scientist on my team. You’re not gonna make me ask Kavanaugh, are you?” John drawls in his most charming voice even though he already knows it’s not working.
“You do not need a scientist on your team. You already have one”, Radek explains patiently as if he is talking to a particularly trying child. The Colonel's silence lets Radek know all he needs to know. Radek understands how he is feeling, he’s upset with Rodney too. He also knows that, like himself, the Colonel has no actual desire to punish Rodney so severely. To ease along his decision he adds, “he made a mistake, Colonel. It happens, even to geniuses like McKay.” He hopes the words sound less hollow to the other man than they do in his own head.
“He asked me to trust him. I did. He... Well... we all know what happened.”
“So you no longer trust him?”
“I don’t think I can”, John spits out the words that have been stumbling around in his head, staring at Radek with troubled eyes.
“Really?” Radek prods, ever patient.
John isn't so sure. This is Rodney they’re talking about. Rodney, who really is as brilliant as he claims. Rodney, who on his first off world mission retracted the engine pods manually and got them home despite the odds against them. Rodney, who has never let him down since. Rodney, who only last week fixed an unfixable problem. Rodney, who despite all appearance, is brave and reliable and a good friend. Could he forgive Rodney for being essentially himself? He starts to express this, but the smile the scientist is wearing tells him he already knows.
“Thanks Doc,” he adds before walking away.
- - - -
A few hours later, Radek is fixated on his laptop in the lab. It is late, even by the standards that the Atlantis science team sets, and he is alone. This is what he wants. It gives him a chance to look over the details of the Arturos project without worrying about somebody asking him why he is even bothering. He is just about to run yet another simulation on differences between the interactions of particles from a ZPM and from vacuum energy in our own universe.
Rodney walks in and stops just inside the doors, his stride determinedly casual, as is his tone. “So….I heard Colonel Sheppard asked you to join his team.”
“I turned him down”, Radek replies, matching the careless tone, not looking away from the screen and trying not to think about how close he had come to losing him.
“Yeah, well... I suppose he’ll ask Simpson next. She’d be a good option. She’s reasonably tough. Or maybe Kusanagi, I’m not sure what she’s like with a gun, but she’s not completely useless and might not cry like a girl the first time something doesn’t go according to plan. Plus, she has the gene so that could be helpful.” McKay’s babbling now, not paying much attention to what he is saying.
“I think he decided not to ask someone else”, Radek says, again in that carefully controlled voice, but he has to put poor Rodney out of his misery, it’s breaking his heart just to watch him like this. He expects Rodney will brighten at this news and start ranting about how unsurprising this is, after all, he would find it almost impossible to believe that he could be replaced.
Rodney’s actual reaction however, is much worse. He leans against the wall, shoulders slumped, looking totally dejected. Radek can see that he’s trying to say something, but the words never reach his throat. Instead, Rodney schools his features back to neutral, remaining uncharacteristically silent.
Realising that Radek is watching him, he moves closer, still stopping at the end of the bench and asking, “so what are you working on?”
“Come on, Radek, you were not sitting here engrossed in your computer and doing nothing.”
“It’s work. You can’t even talk to me about work?” he asks, trying to keep his voice from breaking.
“There is no point. You would not listen.”
“Never stopped you before.” He doesn’t mean to say it - it is out before he can stop himself. “Anyway, you shouldn’t take it personally. I don’t listen to anyone”, he adds hastily to cover for his earlier slip.
“Fine,” Radek answers, resigned.
“I was wondering if it would be possible to collect the energy dissipated by the interactions of the particles outside of a vacuum, bypassing the need to predict them and therefore any kind of containment breach.”
Rodney looks awed for a split second, then remembers how much trouble this has already gotten him in.
“That’s never going to work.”
“Are you sure that it is not just ‘professional jealousy’?” Radek counters with such bitterness that Rodney physically takes a step back and has the decency to look remorseful.
“Look Radek, I already apologised for that,” he says, thinking back to yesterday. After getting chewed out by Elizabeth with half of Atlantis listening in, Rodney had gone to find Radek, needing the comfort. He had known that he had some major grovelling to do, but never expected his lover to be so icy, thinking that his relief at seeing him relatively unharmed, would compensate for most of the anger. Boy, had he ever been wrong. Twice in one day. That had been a personal record.
“Yes, you apologised”, Radek agrees, not at all sounding like he was agreeing.
“And?” Rodney prompts.
Radek looks at him for a long moment, watching the confusion and frustration flit across his face.
“Why?” he asks finally.
“What do you mean?”
"You are saying the Great Dr. Rodney McKay cannot figure it out? Let me enlighten you. You have a bad day and want somebody to blow your brains out so you don't have to think about your failures for some time. You think for all this to happen, all you have to say is, 'I'm sorry, Radek’, and I feel enough pity to give you what you need." He pauses before continuing, "not this time, McKay." Rodney stiffens at the formal address.
"This time, you went too far. I try to warn you, but you rush ahead like always. Risk your life and use insults to push me away. I am not forgiving you just so you can put me through that again." Here, he is practically shouting, his glasses slipping down his nose, unnoticed.
The room fills with an oppressive silence. Rodney is processing Radek’s words. The bluntness of them forcing him to consider the meanings behind them.
“I should have listened to you.” Rodney is almost whispering, not because he’s ashamed to admit it, but because he is only just realising the truth of it. “I really am sorry. I messed up big time. Collins is dead. Elizabeth is mad at me. Colonel Sheppard doesn’t know if he can trust me and 5/6ths of a solar system is no longer there”, he says quietly, as soon as he is sure his voice would be steady.
The sincerity in his voice breaks Radek’s resolve. He steps towards him, wanting to hold him, but stopping just short. Still not able to completely let it go.
“You say this now. But what about the next time?”
Rodney can see Radek softening; he wants to know what it is he has to say to make Radek forgive him. His mind doesn't supply him with an answer. He was just never good at saying what others wanted to hear.
“I don’t know”, he replies honestly, “I’d like to think I would handle it differently, but I suspect that I won’t.”
“Yes. This I believe. Nothing changes you Rodney”
“You did.” His voice is filled with quiet conviction. He places his hand tentatively on top of Radek’s. The touch makes his nerve endings tingle and he cannot make himself move away. Rodney starts to gently rub his thumb in circles over the back of his hand sending goosebumps up Radek’s arm. Some of the tension he has been feeling seeps out and he leans into the touch. Encouraged by this, Rodney shifts forward and places a chaste kiss on his lips. A kiss which deepens when Radek still makes no effort to move away. A gentle tongue conveys desperate need and the real depth of his sorrow. Mixed in with the combination of relief and hurt Radek has been trying to ignore, the kiss goes on for several minutes, neither of them wishing to break contact. Eventually they come out breathless, still clinging to each other.
Radek knows Rodney can't change who he is. His arrogance, his ego... those aspects might not be pleasant, but they are part of who he is. Maybe from now on, Rodney will start listening to other people's advice. He is too much of a realist to believe that Rodney will not fail him again. However, he hopes Rodney will at least try. He does not wish to lose the man he is holding.