For the first time since they arrived on Atlantis, Rodney regretted his choice of personal item quite fully the day they met Chaya. Although the (possibly over-large) collection of DVDs were, on the whole, of more use and pleasure to him, he decided he would have done without them for all of time if he could just have had a piano.
The fact that something so large and unwieldy would never have been allowed was beside the point. Right now he was so fuelled with self-righteous indignation that yes, actually, he had been right that he thought he damn well deserved one and could have talked anyone into letting him have it, because he was clearly so vital to the team, here.
So vital, in fact, that nobody believed him when he told them that Chaya, Athar, whoever she really was, was something other than human. So vital that Major Sheppard had completely failed to listen to anything he said.
It might take some time, he thought, but he knew his memory was good enough that he would be able to play any piece he had ever practised note-perfect. Instead, he let his fingers fly over the keyboard of his laptop, still standing hunched over it, too stubborn to sit. If he remained standing, it was much easier to pace and fume, the discomfort of the position a form of masochistic pleasure.
Calculations and notes scrolled silently over the screen, whilst his fingers unconsciously tapped in time to the music in his head. Loud and furious, and for some reason he kept hitting the wrong keys, discordant notes amidst the order and harmony he strove for. He wasn’t concentrating on what he was typing any more, but he watched as the calculations toppled over, rose and fell like Atlantis itself. Nothing was working, nothing made sense. He should stop now, before his irritation got worse, but somehow he couldn’t.
He wasn’t allowed intuition. Even Elizabeth, good old Elizabeth who was one of the few people he actually respected and who, he thought, saw him as something other than just a resource, an intellectual rival and a bad temper. Even she had said so. Other people were allowed intuition. Other people could have hunches, could have gut feelings, could be irrational. But not Rodney McKay, apparently.
He was as surprised by the sudden new skill as anyone else. Everything he had ever done had been to work towards reason; towards solid, objective, quantifiable fact. It was an escape, in a way, from his family. Their logic had been faulty, their behaviour incomprehensible. It was all his fault, his parents said - sometimes in not so many words, but enough for the young Rodney to understand - that they hated one another. It was all his fault that sometimes his dad would scream when drunk, that his mother was unhappy and that he had been driven to drink. His father was a big man, and Rodney had been scared by the way his behaviour could change so rapidly. Nothing seemed to make sense, especially not people.
Sitting behind the school piano, after everyone else had left, he’d been able to delay going home, sometimes by several hours. He would say it was study, at first, or lie that he was visiting his friends, but eventually they found out.
His mother, at least, was pleased. One of her sisters had been musical, so she was happy to pay for his lessons. And Rodney was happy to go. Scales, octaves, harmonies. People had been studying them for thousands of years, and they had yet to change. It was something real and concrete, and Rodney practised and practised until he had higher grades than anyone else in his province at his age.
And then his teacher told him to quit.
If Rodney had felt bad then, he felt even worse now.
He didn’t remember feeling much, actually, at the time. The teacher hadn’t liked the quick, arrogant, brilliant child who would play everything by rote seemingly before the page was turned. Piece after piece mastered and tucked under his belt, no pause to linger. No variation upon a theme. No soul, he expected. It was the usual complaint.
He wondered if he got that from his father, too. He’d certainly inherited his sunny disposition. Or at least the one he kept for his family, but not for public.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. That people would rather listen to a religious- no, superstitious- belief rather than attempt to save the lives of countless hundreds of people. What good was all this spiritual peace and harmony bull if you were such a selfish bastard that you would let whole cultures die and still sleep soundly in bed at night, after saying your prayers to the wondrous, spectacular Athar, whose benefice and magnanimity was clearly rather limited.
It wasn’t even a good reason to let people die. If it was, he might have sympathised. But Sheppard had been so ready to capitulate to their pathetic little ceremonies and customs than to say what he really thought and felt. Oh. Wait. Maybe he’d been too busy checking out the local priestess to care.
He accidentally caught his coffee-mug with his elbow, sending it clattering to the floor. The remaining contents started slowly spreading over the otherwise monotone wasteland, making itself as level as possible and Rodney cursed as a Prelude he learned in grade five suddenly developed minor chords where there had been none before. He could feel a migraine coming on, he was sure. That or an aneurysm. Delayed, but coming.
Books and equipment clattered to the floor with one swipe, before he covered his face with his hands, fingers pressing into his temples more from mere tension rather than any real hope of diverting it. He tried to calm down, waiting for some rather unmanly vertigo to pass.
It shouldn’t hurt so much, but it did. Here he was, trying to… trying to help, gods damn it, trying to save the lives of people he’d come to realise were just like Teyla, just like him- well, perhaps less smart than him, but people nonetheless. And here everyone was dismissing him again, ignoring his very real, very valid very…. right suspicions.
Really, really bad headache. The music in his head just would not stop, rising to a deafening crescendo. He should take something for it, but he had a horrible suspicion this was, in fact, merely his stress-handling mechanisms failing again, and that nothing short of a Wraith stun-blast would have an effect. Actually, that might not be such a bad idea.
There was no real reason for him to have reacted so violently that he could see. His dislike of her had been immediate, from the minute she smiled her picture-perfect smile. Perfection and order and balance and… lying through her (perfectly level and white) teeth.
Quite frankly, Rodney wasn’t sure he preferred her kind of perfect to the imperfect people on Atlantis. They seemed… more real, somehow.
These people he was forced to live with, to work with. He’d worked and lived in small, tightly knit groups before. More as the darning needle butting in and out than one of the threads, admittedly. But this was different. This was an entirely new galaxy, filled with so many wonderful and terrifying things. And no sight of ever getting home, at the moment.
Rodney was not an especially sociable creature. He snarked and he bitched and he made himself as god-awful to be around as he possibly could. Sometimes he couldn’t help it, but rather too often he was all too aware of what he was doing.
People were messy and unpredictable and emotional and illogical and- oh god please tell me he didn’t just sound like Spock- a royal pain in the ass. Nope. Possibly more like Ming.
People were a mass of accidental genetic mutations slowly accumulating and surviving. And they were so crazily interesting too. Sometimes he really did feel like he was part of another species entirely, blind to the art and the magic and the passion and the soul his species seemed to have. An anomaly, technically brilliant and scientifically interesting, but fatally flawed.
He wished he could stay that way. Wished he really did care so little about his fellow humans out here in the Pegasus galaxy that he didn’t care what was happening to them. Wished that he hadn’t even grown to like Zelenka, even if the man kept stealing all of his ideas. Wished he didn’t wonder how Teyla felt, a deserted leader. How it felt to have commanded. Wished he didn’t think that Ford was a decent kid who deserved better than this. That Elizabeth was so much warmer a friend than he could have hoped for. That Major Sheppard…
That Major Sheppard what? Had listened to him? Realised how deeply Rodney felt about this now, that his anger and his brusqueness was merely his way of coping with his newfound sense of (albeit slightly dysfunctional) community? Noticed that he was, not for the first time in his life, quite deeply hurt, and wanted him to feel otherwise? That he needed the man’s attention and respect so much.
That was really the heart of it, he supposed. He thought he and Sheppard had some kind of connection. That the way he seemed to see through his cranky, rude and anti-social behaviour meant he understood, on some level. And not only that, that he cared enough to want to avoid causing Rodney pain. But, clearly he’d been wrong. Clearly the major’s own personal sexual conquests with strangers were more important than penetrating the sham of a religion to help people, or Rodney’s own feelings.
And that hurt.
Somehow he’d slumped into the chair, after all, the heels of his hands pressed into his eyes until he started seeing shadowy after-images flitting in front of him. Nothing near as frightening as the things he had seen, both real and induced. Lost in another galaxy, surrounded by people and still so alone.
His younger self had never missed a note, got into a temper and kicked the piano. Rodney rather wished he had.
He grasped desperately for something true and real, something immutable and changeless, some bedrock amid the bedlam, but the calm would not come. The peace was nowhere to be found.
Not peace, no, he realised. He was far too cold for that. It wasn’t peace he was looking for, it was stasis. Only the catch seemed faulty this time, when he tried to climb inside, and the storm outside was fierce. He’d been handed a paintbrush and canvas, and the sudden, inexplicable urge to create, but with no idea how or what.
If only he had his old piano, he thought, with its worn and dusty keys. Then he could have played until the notes were right again.
He hadn’t brought it with him.
Summary: Set immediately post-Sanctuary. Rodney was right. Somehow that doesn't make it any better.