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Summary: Relaxing was exactly the wrong thing to do, at the present moment. Because relaxing meant he had more time to think, and thinking... He stole a glance at Sheppard and hastily looked away. Thinking would get him into trouble.

(Warning: Spoilers for 'The Last Man' as well as the first two episodes of season 5)

Categories: Slash Pairings > Beckett/McKay, Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: Carson Beckett, John Sheppard, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay
Genres: Character Study, Episode Related, Friendship, Pre-slash
Warnings: None
Chapters: 2 [Table of Contents]
Series: Burdens

Word count: 3218; Completed: No
Updated: 08 Aug 2008; Published: 01 Aug 2008

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Rodney stared out over the barren landscape, observing the strange white hills rising in the distance. Water lapping at their bases, they seemed to move and swerve as if alive, threatening to fall and be destroyed like their crumbled brethren down below. Rodney did not dare to even breathe, lest he spell destruction for their precarious and regal beauty – any small movement would cause them all to come toppling down...

... But he could hardly keep his nose and mouth under the water for much longer. Not, that is, if he wanted to breathe. Surging to the surface of his bubble bath, he gulped in air as he watched his precious bubble mountain range collapse upon themselves. With a sigh, he put out his arms to gather up the bubbles and try to form them back into something interesting, but only half his heart was in the endeavour.
He had come in here to think. Thinking, of course, was already one of his favourite pastimes, as he was one of the few people he knew that could do it with any regularity. Lately, however, it had turned into a chore even for him. It wasn't that he couldn't think. Oh no, nothing so disastrous as that. It was that he was thinking too much, and in entirely the wrong direction. He couldn't quite pinpoint exactly when the thoughts had started, they had begun so slowly. Now, however, they flooded his brain and pushed into every corner of his mind, every waking moment. He could barely think straight about anything else. And that was a problem.

The bath, however, wasn't helping. He had hoped it would – expected it to – but he was finding it very hard to sit still. Pulling himself up out of the water, he quickly grabbed his towel and scrambled onto the floor, scrubbing vigorously. He always loved the feeling of just-bathed skin, and a towel upon it. But his brain was so full that he couldn't focus on it, and with a sigh he reached for his clothes. Still a little wet, he quickly got dressed – he would dry off soon anyway.

Glancing at himself in the mirror, he raised a hand to brush a few stray hairs when they fell across his forehead. He looked just as flustered as he felt. Wonderful.

He couldn't sit still so he left his quarters, walking down the hall as if he had something important to do, his brisk strides and grim countenance forewarning any of his staff who happened to cross his path. Grumpy-McKay was on the prowl.

He wished silently that Elizabeth was still there. She would give him something to do, something to distract him. She would understand with just a look – no need to explain. Woolsey was no such blessing. Rodney receives a blank stare whenever he tries to explain anything to the man, much less get original ideas for research from him. He was much too cautious, not wanting to stray far into the city looking for new research at the risk of finding anything too unpleasant. He was determined to keep a slow and steady pace of discovery, which while it may have been fast enough to keep most of Atlantis busy, it made Rodney bored very quickly.

He peeked into the infirmary as he walked by, catching a glance of Dr. Keller working diligently at her computer. This particular project he had spoken about with her many times – the key to getting 'Carson' out of stasis. He didn't say anything to her, instead slipping silently away. He had faith that she'd figure it out eventually. She had to. Carson simply couldn't be allowed to stay in there forever.

With Carson on his mind, he decided to pay his friend another visit. He had been going there often, just to... chat. He knew the path there by heart, now, and he didn't need to pay attention as his feet followed themselves. It was for this reason that he didn't notice Sheppard until he basically ran into him.

"Woah, McKay, watch where you're headed! You almost bowled me over."

Rodney blinked and looked up, to find Sheppard smiling at him bemusedly. Rodney felt very embarrassed suddenly – it wasn't like he had a good reason to explain his haste.

"Sorry, I was thinking. You know, grand important things and all that."

"Uh huh. Alright, well, we have a meeting in an hour. Woolsey has finally given the go-ahead on M18-P95, and we're slated to go." He paused, eyes narrowing ever so slightly as he regarded McKay. "You alright, Rodney? You look more flustered than usual."

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Rodney lied. It was unnerving that even Sheppard noticed. Bad, bad, bad. "Now, if you'll excuse me..." He slid past Sheppard in his best 'I'm terribly important and busy' mode and continued down the hall, trying not to let his feathers get ruffled. When he got to the stasis room, he glanced around to make sure Sheppard didn't follow him here, and slipped inside.

"Hey, Carson," He said, offering his frozen friend a forced smile. "Me again. Just here to see how things are doing, you know." He pulled up a chair that he had placed here days ago, and sat down in front of the doctor and began to ramble. At first he rambled about nothing – everything – talking just for the sake of it. He told Carson about the research he was vainly trying to accomplish, about the planet they were next set to explore, about how Teyla had a baby and Sheppard had come back and everything was looking up again.

"He was gone for twelve days, you know. Twelve whole days. But, he's back. It's amazing, you know? I just..." He trailed off, a lopsided frown slowly drawing across his lips. Twelve days, and according to Sheppard, Rodney had spent almost his entire life to bring Sheppard back. Those twelve days had been bad enough. Having to go through that with two of his best friends, of the closest people to him in the universe, had almost been enough to break him. He could hardly blame his alternate-timeline self. He would probably – no, definitely – have done the same thing. And he would do it again.

"... 48,000 years." He whispered. Sheppard hadn't told him a lot about what his almost-future had held, but Rodney could guess at some of it. He had felt some of it, in those twelve tense days.

"But he's back now." He said quickly, forcing another smile, "And Keller will have you out of here in no time, and both of you will be back and we'll all be... all be fine." He grinned, somewhat stupidly, the smile not quite reaching his eyes. Carson was so eerily still, kept frozen in stasis, that looking at his grim face too long sent shivers up his spine. McKay stood from the chair, pressing his hand up against the stasis chamber.

"I miss you, buddy," he whispered, staring at him. "You'd tell me I was just being stupid, get me to laugh and forget all this. Come home soon, okay?"

Fingers lingering for a moment, he finally pulled away, and with a slump in his shoulders started making for the meeting he was due to have with Woolsey and the team. Even with Carson frozen, he couldn't say what he meant to say. Couldn't quite voice all the things tumbling in his brain... he wasn't sure that he could vocalize them yet if he tried. He felt that if he said them aloud, suddenly he would have to face them as reality, and... and...

Well. He just had more important things to worry about. Like keeping Atlantis up and running, and everyone in it alive. Yes. Nothing was more important than that, and he was the only one who could do it.

When he arrived at the conference room, he found Sheppard was already there. He was relaxed – his eyes closed, his feet up on the table and his hands clasped behind his head. Rodney paused awkwardly, wavering between whether or not he should wake him, or if he should just leave until the rest of the team showed up. Finally, however, he coughed a little too loudly and took a seat.

"Glad to see you so comfortable," he said, the sarcasm dripping from his tongue.

Sheppard cracked an eye open, the corresponding eyebrow rising slightly in a silent question. "It's nice," he said smoothly, "Relaxing. You should try it more often."

Rodney bristled slightly. "Sure, I'll relax soon after I finish saving everyone. Again."

"Nah, you'll never finish. We all get into too much trouble." He grinned slightly and pulled his feet off the table. "Seriously, Rodney, we're in no immediate danger, the city is holding together, and everyone is fine. You're allowed to take it easy, you know?"

Something painful in Rodney's chest twinged, but he forced himself to ignore it. "Yeah, okay, sure. Take it easy. Got it."

Sheppard rolled his eyes at him and turned his head to watch Woolsey and Keller walk into the room, followed by the rest of the team.

McKay frowned, not looking up, and certainly not looking at Sheppard. Relaxing was exactly the wrong thing to do, at the present moment. Because relaxing meant he had more time to think, and thinking...

He stole a glance at Sheppard and hastily looked away.

Thinking would get him into trouble.

End Part One