For a city on the brink of utter destruction, there was much more hope than Sheppard had expected. The army and airforce personnel he expected to knuckle down, to be prepared for this. The overwhelming majority of civilian, scientist citizens of Atlantis he hadn’t been prepared for. It was a horrible cliché without much real truth behind it, he supposed, one that he’d had to rethink especially being around McKay so much. For all the man complained and let his mouth run when in a panic, Sheppard had seen him do a lot of braver things than some of those he’d commanded over the years had done.
But still; no city on the brink of complete destruction had any right to be so damned hopeful.
He’d handed over the locals they picked up to Carson, expecting a worried and stressful reception. For once the good doctor had been mostly calm and sympathetic, his bedside manner firmly in place before they even reached the infirmary. Likewise Elizabeth had been less than annoyed with him for bringing yet more people home with him. It was getting to be something of a habit.
He found himself snapping at Carson, with no real reason why. He left him with his charges before anyone could say anything, to get the message to Earth over and done with. A message to the possibly non-existent family of a guy he’d hardly known as anything but the typical USAF Colonel, and potential pain in the butt. Who had then died.
He wanted to cry out of it, to get someone else to send the message, someone who knew more about Sumner than he did- but this was his responsibility, his role.
Not the role he’d signed up for, when General O’Neill had promised him adventure, new stars. He’d known he might not come back; he hadn’t known he would be in charge of a war they couldn’t possibly hope to win.
He said the lines. Talked the talk. Such a waste, such a pity, such a shame. One of gods knew how many to have fallen, the first but not the last. The one who haunted him most.
When the message was finished, he stood up abruptly and tried to leave. Lieutenant Ford, for his sins, asked him if he wanted to record a message too- for himself. He’d told him no in a far sharper tone than he intended, annoyed at himself for taking it out on the kid. He was only trying to help.
He tried to tell himself that it was Elizabeth he was annoyed at. Elizabeth, for making him record this message. Elizabeth, for sending them out in the first place. Elizabeth for… looking at him like that when he refused to make a message of his own.
Not everybody else. It wasn’t that McKay’s accidental miracle of technology had managed to give everybody else a much-needed morale boost and left him behind. Not that everyone was working with an energy he no longer felt he had, carried along in a wash of enthusiasm that couldn’t penetrate the sense of fatalism which was slowly, slowly creeping in.
He should be out there, working on battle plans. Strategizing. Calling his troops to order, lying through his teeth to them- not wishing they would stop believing in the impossible.
He hadn’t talked to Teyla since they’d returned. To tell the truth, he hadn’t really spoken with anyone. The bare minimum for Elizabeth, the long and short of it as he saw it. A few clipped words for his Lieutenant, and he’d retired to his room.
War and Peace sat heavily on his leg. Somehow the irony of it failed to amuse him.
She was right, of course, which is what makes it worst of all. There was a time- not long since- when he wouldn’t have questioned whether they should stay to save as many people as they could. There was a time when he would have been out there, emptying magazine after magazine and finally his bare fists on the Wraith, fighting a losing battle solely because it would be the right thing to do.
There was a time not so long ago when he had charged into the maw of the enemy, without thinking, to save the team he didn’t know, the commanding officer he didn’t like, and the people from another galaxy he’d only just met for tea and handshakes.
And now he would fly off and let them all die. Women and children and people who didn’t deserve this kind of treatment, no matter who they were.
And he would have left them.
He tried to ask himself if it’s what Colonel Sumner would have done, in the circumstances. If Sumner would have been able to block out the screaming and the flashing lights. If Sumner would have left.
He wondered if this is what command really was, and if he’d sold out, somehow, hung up his maverick, rulebook-dodging morals for the trappings of office. Become what he said he would never be.
It’s war, he tried to tell himself, as he remembered the look on Teyla’s face when she offered to stay without him. The rules are different here, and he’s just being practical.
But they were people, they were family and he’d made entirely the wrong decision. Teyla thought so. Dr Weir thought so. Even Carson thought so. And, one by one, they would turn from him when they realised they’d trusted the wrong person, when it became clear he no longer had control.
God help them all then.
There was a knock on the door, then, and it took Sheppard a moment or two before it registered, and he sighed in annoyance. Just what he needed.
“Yes?” he snapped as he opened it, fully expecting some new crisis for him to make worse.
On the other side of the door was a very sober-looking McKay. Dark grey jacket slung under one arm, that grim-but-determined expression on his face. For a minute, John thought someone had died.
“I wondered if I could have a minute of your time, Major.”
“Is it important?”
Rodney simply nodded, so John leaned on the doorway with his arms folded. If the other man took offence to being kept on the threshold, he didn’t show it.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking… I know, not exactly a revelation in and of itself, even of the not slept in three days kind…”
Sheppard simply waited. Most of the time, McKay would waffle himself out of breath, and get back to the point. Interrupting him usually only lead to snark.
“…anyway…” He was right. “Recording that message… made a few things clearer to me. And I wanted to say them before I think better of it and something happens and I regret not having said it.”
John shifted his weight at that, suddenly wanting to halt Rodney’s perpetual pessimism. For all he might be allowed to worry, Rodney certainly wasn’t.
A hand in the air killed any comment before it ever reached his lips. The doctor clearly had something to say, and would not be interrupted. He nodded again, chin up. He’d seen that expression before. Rodney being brave.
“I am… not known for my work as a team-member, nor am I known for my great love of all things military. But I was… thinking when I recorded my message about what’s happened.”
Seeing that Rodney didn’t really want correcting or helpful comments from the gallery at this point, he merely acknowledged the point. Sometimes he thought there should be a degree in Speaking McKay.
“Well. What I wanted to say is- I think you’re doing a great job, especially considering the circumstances. Most of the time. Except sometimes when you don’t listen to me when I’m clearly right, or your complete lack of navigational awareness gets us wholly and irretrievably lost. But apart from that, I’m glad we’re on the same team.”
And that was it. Rodney nodded, shucked the jacket up under his arm a little higher, gritting his jaw slightly.
John stared at him in blank incomprehension. Just when he thought he had Rodney McKay pegged, he went and did something else you’d never expected.
“Gee I… don’t know what to say…”
“This is possibly where I walk off in a stiff fashion and we go about our daily lives and ignore the fact that I’m suffering intense caffeine deprivation,” McKay added helpfully. “Which is possibly a good idea, because I have a tendency to go on and on and listen to the sound of my own voice, and you’re not helping because you’re not contributing to the discussion at all. Not that it’s a discussion.”
Sheppard smiled, clapped the other man on the arm. “You know your rambling is always welcome here, Rodney.” He paused. Added; “Thank you.”
Another brisk nod. Rodney made to go, turned back, shook his head and turned off again, verbosity apparently at an end.
John watched him go with a mild amazement, a little more peace and- something warm inside.
Hope, possibly. If one person still had faith in him, it was a start.
Summary: Set immediately post 'Letters from Pegasus'. Sheppard's feeling the strain of command.