Pairing: Rodney/John pre-slash.
Warning: Character Death.
Note: (withheld until reveal)
Summary: Rodney never really wanted to be a hero.
"Let's go over this one more time," he says.
Rodney tilts his head down and digs the palms of his hands into his closed eyes, thinks of Atlantis, blue seas, and John. "I've been over it," he says. "And over it. And over it."
He can still see her, standing there like some kind of queen while Ronon held Carson back. He had always suspected she was braver than them all.
"You were on Nirel," the man prompts.
"The Wraith were coming," Rodney says slowly. He doesn't talk as much as he used to, these last couple of weeks, and his voice sounds strange, raw with disuse. "I don't know if what I did was right, but at the time, I didn't see much choice."
The man glances at him for the first time since entering the room. Rodney doesn't know him, but his guest pass says Woolsey, NID. "No one is disputing that," he tells him. "This is just a formality."
Elizabeth had him escorted to the gateroom with an armed guard; told him it was just a formality in a voice like ice. He didn't get to see Sheppard before he was sent back to Earth, and no one here was saying a thing. "How long am I going to have to stay here?" he asks.
"Just go over it one more time," Woolsey says. "Then you're free to leave."
Meyers' team found it, and Rodney recognized the structure on sight. Stargate Command had sent its own data burst back to Atlantis about all of the Ancient technology they had discovered in their year cut off from Earth, and Rodney had pored over the pictures for hours, watched the video with the distracted mutterings of Daniel Jackson for narration, read every single report. The thing that had fascinated him most was the weapon used to destroy the Replicators, and now there was one in his playground.
It was all in near perfect working order, but slightly unfinished, like the Ancients had been forced to flee before they ever had a chance to use it. It was missing only a few slight touches, all of which Rodney knew he could fix, but Elizabeth sent a wave to Earth, requesting they send Sam Carter. He was hurt at the lack of faith, certainly, but even he would admit he could use the help; and Doranda was still lingering on all of their minds.
Rodney and his team returned to the planet along with Carson while they waited to hear back from Earth. From the research left behind by the Ancients, Rodney could tell this weapon was an exact replica of the one back in his home galaxy, and could destroy all life with a touch of a button. This Pegasus version, however, had been refined, and was meant to target one species in particular--the Wraith.
They were just sitting around when it happened. He was fiddling with the power crystals while Carson pored over the genetic research, ranting about medical ethics and warning of repercussions, as though they didn't already know there was no room for error. These weren't technology-eating machines they were dealing with, this was dealing with the biological, and biology was messy.
Ronon and Teyla were both leaning against the doorway, talking quietly, when Sheppard commed them from his patrol. The gunfire almost drowned his voice out; he barely managed to tell them all to stay put before static crept into the line and it went dead.
They could hear the Wraith darts, hundreds probably, flying overhead. The temple walls were shaking, dropping dust and bits of stone down on them like rain. They all knew what would happen if this place fell into enemy hands, but Rodney shook his head when Carson said they needed to destroy it.
Destroying it meant signing a death warrant for a galaxy, and Rodney tried desperately to contact Sheppard again, because he would know what to do. He was shaking, probably more terrified than he'd ever been, when Teyla came up beside him.
She met his eyes fiercely, and just wouldn't look away. "To ensure victory, sacrifices must be made," she told him.
As last words went, they weren't bad.
Carson did CPR until he heard her ribs snap and Rodney had to pull him off.
Carson pulled away from him again like his touch burned and moved to the other side of the room, mumbling to himself, saying oh god oh god oh god.. Ronon was back within minutes, face set in stone and John hanging limp in his arms.
Ronon laid him gently down beside Teyla and Rodney tried not to look at her too closely. She didn't look dead, she looked like some kind of Sleeping Beauty, suspended in time. Rodney was grateful when Ronon reached out and closed her eyes.
"He's still breathing, but barely" Carson said. "It's probably that damn retrovirus. Remnants of Iratus DNA, close enough it couldn't tell the difference."
"No," Rodney said. "No, it's not, he'll be fine--"
Carson got to his feet and glared at him. "No, he damn well isn't," he yelled. "None of us will be, not after this."
Rodney tried to pull air in, to breathe, but he was dizzy and this all felt surreal, even for his life. "The Wraith?" he asked, turning to Ronon, because he had to ask, because it couldn't be for nothing.
Ronon's hand hovered three inches above Teyla's hand, like it was as close as he could get. He wouldn't look up, and Sheppard's strained gasps of breath sounded loudly in the pause he took before he spoke.
"They're all dead."
Rodney stumbled to the edge of the temple to see for himself. Wraith darts littered the landscape like broken toys, and the bodies, colored orange from the horizon, looked almost human.
Weir had him put in a cell.
Rodney fell into the corner as the walls snapped on with a blue flicker of the forcefield. It was a little unnecessary, but he supposed she was trying to make a point. She even went so far as to call it treason.
If Rodney cared at all about himself at the moment, he might have been worried, but he wasn't there even an hour when Lorne came and let him out. "Just stay in your quarters, okay?" he said softly. "We'll get this sorted out."
"Sheppard, is he--"
Lorne looked away. "No word yet," he said, and shook his head a little. "I still can't believe it."
Rodney watched him numbly.
Lorne let out a shaky breath and then offered a half-hearted grin. "Didn't think you had in it you," he said. "I guess Colonel Sheppard was right about you after all."
Rodney was grateful when Lorne placed a hand on his back to lead him from the cell, because he wasn't sure he could do it on his own.
"She didn't know about the Wraith attack," Lorne continued. "She thought you just went ahead and did it against her orders. She didn't understand the circumstances; but honestly, McKay, you're a hero."
Rodney remembered the siege, and the way John had killed fifty men to save the city. John had said it was something he'd have to live with every day of his life, but he'd do it again.
Rodney hadn't quite understood, but after killing hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, with the touch of a button, he thought he might.
Ronon showed up at his quarters later, looking lost and younger than Rodney was used to seeing him. Ronon was a warrior, but sitting down on Rodney's bed and staring at his hands, he just looked lost. "You did the right thing," he said.
Rodney ran a hand over his eyes. "Sheppard--"
"He hasn't woken up yet," Ronon said. "Beckett doesn't know why."
Rodney sat down on his desk. "I killed her. I killed all of them."
"War has casualties," Ronon said roughly. "It was what she wanted. She died to save a galaxy--people like us, McKay, we can't ask for more than that."
Rodney closed his eyes. "Are they really all dead?"
"Wraith ships are stalled everywhere," Ronon said. "All of them are dead that we've found, just dropped on the spot. We're rescuing as many of the prisoners as we can. Hundreds, already."
Rodney bit his lip, and placed his head in his hands. "At what cost?"
Ronon got to his feet. "Nothing we weren't willing to pay," he said. "All my life I've dreamed of a world without the Wraith."
Rodney let out a shaky breath. "I doubt this is how you wanted to get it."
"I didn't care how I got it," Ronon said. "And Teyla...she understood that too."
They held the service that night. Rodney was confined to his quarters, but he still heard the singing voices, as they laid Teyla and the others to rest.
The conference room was strangely quiet, with Lorne and Radek occupying John and Teyla's usual chairs. Lorne was sitting with his back straight and his eyes on the table, but he looked every once in a while at Rodney, and offered a kind of half nod he supposed was meant to be reassuring.
Carson wouldn't meet his gaze at all.
Radek seemed like he was still in shock, and was muttering to himself in Czech as he sorted through files he'd already read three times. Rodney just slumped further in his seat, eyes red-rimmed and his back acting up again; one too many times trying to sleep sitting in his desk chair, reading over and over the files he'd brought back from Nirel--trying to figure out if there had been another way.
"I think we all know why we're here," Weir said. She was sitting at the head of the table with her hands clasped on the surface, and her voice had the same tone she used when she negotiated with the Genii.
"I'm on trial," Rodney offered weakly, and she glared at him.
"You disobeyed orders," she said crisply. "And because of it, Teyla and twenty-seven other humans--that we know of--are dead."
"And the Wraith have been wiped out," Ronon said levelly. His voice was rough with emotion he usually took better effort to hide.
Weir nodded coolly. "I understand the circumstances, the Wraith were attacking, but Carson suggested you destroy the weapon--"
"And if we had," Ronon snapped, leaning forward, "a lot more than twenty-seven people would have died for it. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions--"
"I understand that," Weir snapped. "But Rodney is not God, and it isn't his--"
"It was a hard decision," Lorne said, cutting her off. She looked angry but let him finish. "But I would have made the same one, and Colonel Sheppard would have too. If it came down to using the weapon then or never, he didn't have a choice."
"And there was no way he could have known," Radek offered softly. "He couldn't have known it wouldn't only effect the Wraith."
"I knew," Rodney said, and finally looked up. "I knew it would probably kill her, everyone like her, and I did it anyway."
Weir's eyes were cold as she stared him down. "I'm sending you back to Earth," she said, and would say nothing else.
Lorne apologized as he escorted him to the gate, said 'no word yet' when asked again about John, and gave him a pat on the back before he went through the event horizon.
Rodney didn't bother to look back. He knew what he would see.
"You said this weapon is a copy of the one SG-1 used to wipe out the Replicators," Woolsey says, frowning, "so why were some of the Athosions and Colonel Sheppard effected by it? Were your calculations incorrect?"
Rodney winces. "Speaking of Colonel Sheppard, is there any word--"
"Please, Dr. McKay," Woolsey interrupts. "Just answer the question."
Rodney glares at him, but takes a deep breath, and starts talking. "I modified the weapon to target Wraith DNA, correctly," he tells him, "but some of the Athosions have trace amounts of Wraith DNA, and Colonel Sheppard was infected with a retrovirus that left him with remnants of Iratus DNA, which is nearly indistinguishable from Wraith. It's a powerful weapon, but it's still just a machine, and it couldn't tell them apart."
"Dr. Weir says in her report that you knew there would be human casualties," Woolsey says.
"I suspected," Rodney tells him, and glances at his hands. "Given more time, it's possible I could have narrowed the parameters enough to ensure there wouldn't be, but we didn't have more time."
"So, even knowing it would likely kill any human with even trace amounts of Wraith DNA, you used the weapon anyway," Woolsey continues.
"Good of the many versus good of the few," Rodney says tiredly, and runs a hand down his eyes. "It wasn't easy, but I'd do it again."
Woolsey sighs, and nods. "Thank you, Dr. McKay. I think I've heard all I need to."
"Am I still being confined to quarters?" Rodney asks tiredly.
Woolsey shakes his head and gives a wan smile. "Weir was pushing for charges of insubordination, but General Landry has vetoed them. As far as Earth is concerned, Dr. McKay, you're a hero. You've saved a galaxy."
Rodney really wishes people would stop saying that. It took until now to get why John would flinch every time he teasingly referred to him as 'the hero.' It brings more guilt with it than anything.
Elizabeth won't let him come home.
Rodney sits on the bed in his temporary SGC quarters and rests his head in his hands. They were friends, but she saw this as some kind of personal betrayal, as though she thought this was what he wanted. Rodney didn't want to be the one to do it. He would give anything if only it could have been someone else.
But Weir apparently works on the two strikes system, and he's out.
Five sixths of a solar system blown all to hell, and genocide. It's quite a resume he's acquired.
The SGC offered him a full time position. With Samantha Carter back on SG-1 they would like to have someone stationed on base, someone more competent than Dr. Lee, Rodney suspects. He accepted, but only until he can find out what happened to John.
Then...then he thinks he might just go ahead and disappear.
He still has his apartment in Colorado Springs, but he's afraid to leave the base. He just wants to know what happened, if John is even still alive, but no one seems to know. People call him a hero and then stay out of his way, like maybe he's toxic to touch.
Samantha Carter smiled at him, even hugged him, and whispered lightly, "you doing okay?" but somehow it didn't mean as much to him as he thought it would.
He asked after John instead of answering, but she didn't know how he was, either.
There is a rushed knocking on his door and he forces himself to his feet to open it, getting ready for another confrontation, or worse yet, bad news, but it's John on the other side.
His hands are shoved in the pockets of his blue cargo pants, and Rodney can see the edge of that black wristband he never seems to take off, and follows it up, taking in the familiar, thread-bare black t-shirt that John claims is lucky and then--then he's looking him in his eyes and Rodney knows this is real.
He's pale and there are dark circles under his eyes, but he's alive.
"Hey, Rodney," John says, giving a sad little half grin and a nod of his head.
Rodney's legs nearly give out, but he grabs onto John, and holds on, and somehow manages to stay on his feet.
John woke up on Atlantis two weeks after--
They would tell him about as much about Rodney as Rodney would be told about him.
He visited Teyla's grave the moment he could stand on his own, stood in the sea of stone markers, stoic beside Halling as the Athosian offered up a prayer that may they be the last lost to violence.
John was familiar with violence long before he was familiar with other worlds, so he doubted that would be the case, but he still whispered 'amen', if only to himself.
Weir was quiet in the midst of celebration, pacing the length of her office, giving him concerned glances. "I don't like what happened here, John," she told him. "I don't like what we're becoming."
"We're not becoming anything," John said. "We've always been like this."
She gave him a narrowed eyed look and then sat on her desk.
"Where is he, Elizabeth?" John asked, putting a little more edge to his voice, because asking nicely hadn't gotten him anywhere. "Lorne said he's on Earth, but it's a big planet, and I want to know why the hell he's not here."
"He disobeyed orders," Weir said.
"He annihilated the Wraith," John snapped. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what we've been trying to do?"
"Not just the Wraith," Weir snapped back. "Teyla. The others. Nearly you."
"I can't speak for them," John said, "but I would have gladly died if it meant taking those sons of bitches with me--"
"That's not the point," she interrupted. "This is genocide."
"If you can't see the necessity here," John said quietly. "You have no business being in charge."
"Don't try that with me," Elizabeth said. "I'm in charge because I don't act on impulses. What Rodney did--"
"I would have done it," John said calmly. "From what Ronon says, Teyla wanted him to do it. Ronon would have done it, too. Lorne. The list goes on. Hell, I can hear the celebrations going on from here. So I guess you'll have to get rid of us all."
She looked away. "You should be in the infirmary."
John ignored her. "You know I'm right."
"He thinks he's capable of anything," Elizabeth told him. "I can't...he's dangerous, John."
"He's the only reason we're here," he said. "I'm going to Earth, and I'm not coming back here without him. You still don't want him back, then I'll resign and stay there."
Elizabeth looked at the floor, and sighed resignedly. "Go ahead and bring him home."
"Rodney, Rodney, hey--you okay?"
Rodney keeps his eyes closed just in case. He's had dreams like this before. "God," he says. "I thought...I thought I'd killed you."
"I'm fine," John says. "Knocked me on my ass for a couple weeks, but Carson says I'm fine. It stunned me and sent my system into shock, but it didn't kill me."
"They wouldn't tell me--" Rodney finally opens his eyes, and John is still there. He lets go of his shirt, embarrassed, and backs away.
"Mitchell says they've had you locked up here nearly two weeks," John says.
"Yeah," Rodney says, nodding, and not taking his eyes off of John. "But I'm free to leave now. All cleared of responsibility." He laughs then, a little on the hysterical end, and then bites his lip. "I can't go back to Atlantis, though, you know."
"Yes you can," John says. "We need you."
"Weir is battling her own conscience," John interrupts. "If she'd had the time to sit and debate and think it over, she'd have reached the same conclusion as you. It was the only way. Atlantis needs you, Rodney." John glances away for a moment, and then sighs softly. "I told her I would have ordered you to use that weapon, if I could have."
"But you didn't," Rodney says quietly.
"I would have," John says firmly, but Rodney doesn't seem to hear him.
"No one told me to. Hell, Carson begged me not to." Rodney finally looks away. Suddenly it hurts too much to hold his gaze.
"That's why Carson's a doctor," John tells him. "You're a scientist."
"Exactly," Rodney says. "And I'm following in the footsteps of all the worst ones."
"The Athosions are making gifts for you," John tells him. "All kinds of things. They're the ones that had casualties, but they don't blame you. You've given them peace."
"Don't," Rodney yells, then places a hand to his forehead. "Don't make this okay. It's not."
"It is okay," John says. "If you hadn't done it, Rodney, Teyla would be dead anyway, and you, and me, and Ronon, only we would have died for nothing. She didn't die for nothing."
"I know that, logically," Rodney snaps. "Logically it all makes perfect sense. A few lives for millions more. A parasitic race eradicated in one fell swoop. But she was my friend. And if you--I don't know what I would have done..."
"Sometimes we have to do horrible things," John says. "Sometimes it's the only way."
Rodney falls to sit on the bed, sucking in air to force himself just to breathe. "I killed her. I killed them all."
"Teyla would want her people to be safe," John says softly. "And they are now. Thanks to you."
"The ones that aren't dead," Rodney says, closing his eyes. "And even the Wraith, I mean, I know, but they--they were still living beings, sentient beings, and I--"
John kneels down in front of him, and places his hands on Rodney's knees; looks up so he can meet his gaze.
"I don't know if we're better, if we deserve it more, but it was always going to be them or us; it's survival, Rodney," John whispers. "And if nothing else, we're good at that."