Author's Notes: Well, it's been so quiet lately that I thought I'd polish off a vignette idea I had and give folks something to chew over. This isn't the long bunny I mentioned (I'm getting to that), it's just something I started after I had a bad day of my own.
In Rodney McKay's opinion, there were three kinds of days. Good days, disaster days, and bad days.
Good days needed no explanation. Everyone knew what a good day was like. Even though hundreds of things could happen in near infinite combinations to make a day a good day, they were really all the same when you got right down to it.
Disaster days and bad days, on the other hand...most people didn't seem to see the difference. Rodney had only rarely bothered to explain it to them (because when you're having either one, the last thing you want to do is explain something you consider simplistic to someone who thinks an undergraduate education makes them smart), but when he has explained it, it sounds something like this:
Disaster days are days when one or two really huge things go wrong. These things are such enormous problems that one must put aside all other priorities and concentrate exclusively on fixing the issue at hand. Getting stuck halfway through the Stargate in a puddle-jumper made for a disaster day, even aside from the bug that had affixed itself to Major Sheppard's neck. Being stuck inside a personal forceshield while everyone else in Atlantis concentrated on the energy-eating creature also qualified as a disaster day.
Rodney actually didn't much mind disaster days. While they were happening there was so much to do, so fast, to solve the problem that he never really had much of a chance to think about how much it sucked. And once the disaster was taken care of everyone would relax and there was a feeling of community, somehow. A sense that they were all thinking, "Look, we survived. We can do this."
But bad days were a whole other thing. Bad days were the days when one small thing after another went wrong all. Day. Long. None of the problems he had on a bad day were so big that he could justify putting everything aside to concentrate on them, but they all needed taking care of. They all contributed tiny little increments of stress, until the cumulative irritation made him want to strangle the next person who walked into his lab.
The worst part of bad days was that none of the problems were really worth telling anyone about. When you had a real crisis on your hands you could go to someone--a friend (hah, right) or a colleague--and tell them all about it and get it off your chest a little. But when all you had to justify your bad mood was a dozen tiny little irritations, it just felt stupid and petty to be bitching about them.
So Rodney just plodded back to his quarters that night, instead of trying to pin down someone to unload on. What he really wanted was to curl up on his couch at home and watch a movie with his cat and a beer. But home was a long way away and he'd given the cat to a neighbour and they hadn't run out of beer--they just hadn't brought any with them at all. So he went back to his quarters to sleep. Maybe tomorrow would be better.
When he turned the corner to the stretch of corridor housing his quarters, he found Carson just turning away from his door. Rodney's door. "Ah, there you are," he said. He was, Rodney noticed, holding a mug in each hand.
"Do you need something?" Rodney asked snapishly. All day it had been one thing or another. You'd think he was the only damned scientist they'd brought with them. Technically he wasn't even an engineer by training, but somehow he kept getting pressed into labor as one.
Carson just shook his head. "Just thought you might need a drink," he said, holding out one of the mugs. Rodney sniffed. Hot chocolate. "I'd have brought coffee," the doctor went on, "but I didn't think it was such a good idea."
Rodney's spine stiffened and his shoulders went back. "Contrary to popular opinion," he snapped, turning away from the hot chocolate and stabbing the trigger for his door, "I am not solely responsible for the depeletion of the coffee supplies in Atlantis. You'd think it was a goddammed life or death crisis, the way people keep bitching about it."
He stepped into his quarters and started tugging impatiently at the first layer of his uniform. Christ, why did they have to wear uniforms? He was a civilian and they were so far from any central military authority--aside from Major Sheppard, who, let's face it, wasn't all that spit and polish himself.
After a moment, Rodney realized that the door hadn't whooshed shut behind him, as expected. He ditched his uniform jacket, scratched at his shirt, and turned around, brow wrinkling. Carson was standing in the doorway, still holding two mugs of hot chocolate. Strangely, he didn't look pissed off, or offended, or impatient. In fact, he looked almost sympathetic.
"All I meant," he said, still standing in the doorway, "was that it's late. You should be sleeping, not dosing yourself with caffeine."
"There's caffeine in chocolate," Rodney muttered, scratching the back of his neck. Why was the man being so nice? People weren't nice to him. That's not the way it worked.
"Not as much as in coffee. Listen, can I come in?"
Rodney blinked and realized, with some surprise, that Carson had been waiting there, politely, for an invitation. "Of course," he said, barely supressing a wince at the fact that the surprise leaked through into his voice. "Have a seat." He gestured, but the Ancients apparently hadn't been too big on proper furniture, because all there was to sit on was his bed. Or maybe he was the one without the furniature. Why bother?
So they ended up sitting on the edge of the bed together. Carson held out the mug of hot chocolate again, not quite so hot now, and this time Rodney sipped it and sighed. It was better than hot chocolate had any right to be, especially here, where they couldn't make it the way it should be made. He felt a sudden urge to apologize for bitching, and quickly squashed it.
"Bad day?" Carson asked after awhile.
"You have no idea," Rodney moaned.
"So tell me."
Tell him? "Tell you?" he asked foolishly.
"Sure," Carson sipped at his own mug. "To give me an idea."
For a moment Rodney was really tempted to just spill out all the stupid little shit that had happened. But he'd learned a long time ago that no one was actually interested in hearing about someone's bad days. Good days, yes. Disasters days, even, could be interesting. But bad days? "No," he said aloud. "It's no big deal."
Carson was looking at him now with an expression far too much like a doctor assessing his patient. Okay, so Carson was a doctor and Rodney was all too frequently his patient, but he wasn't supposed to be right now. "It's not like you not to say something when there's something wrong."
Yeah, well, bitch and complain long enough and someone would start paying attention. Squeaky wheel and all that. "Nothing's wrong," he muttered.
Carson poked him. Actually poked him. Rodney could only stare with an apalled expression on his face. "Spill," the doctor insisted.
Inexplicably, Rodney found himself doing just that. He blurted out all the stupid details, like how he'd woken up by falling out of bed and banging his hip so hard that he'd bruised himself, and how he got to his lab to discover that two of his three research group members had "called in" sick. He and the remaining assistant had got along as best they could, with their schedule completely fucked, for maybe an hour when the assistant had made a mistake so basic that Rodney had indulged in a class A rant, after which he'd gone ahead to do it himself...and promptly made exactly the same mistake. The only difference was, the experiment could recover from the mistake once, but not twice, which meant that he'd just completely ruined several days of work, and there was no one to yell at for it but himself.
So he'd left the lab, hoping that coffee and a lot of sugar might improve his mood, and promptly been bitched at by Major Sheppard for drinking too much coffee, never mind that that had been his first cup of the day. Deprived of even one cup of coffee, he'd gone wandering around the city a little, trying to distract himself by finding something new. Which he managed. He found the bathroom. Which would have been fine, except that he found it by stepping into the shower, which activated automatically and proceeded to drench him.
Clothes, change, lab, and he was back to dealing with his single, sullen research assistant. At least, he was until the two missing members of the research group walked in, not looking sick at all. No, they looked pretty satisfied. Or was satiated the better word?
By the time he finally wound down the recitation of the day's woes, finishing off with the fact that Weir had had him running back and forth across the city fixing minor and yet somehow inexplicable glitches until well after midnight, the hot chocolate had gone cold and Carson had been reduced to the occasional 'hmmm'. Rodney rubbed at his eyes and waved his hand at the doctor. "Listen, you've done your good deed for the day, you can go now. Leave me alone. I need to sleep."
"I'm not filling some sort of quota," Carson said mildly.
"Then why are you here?" Rodney asked, staring down into the wasted hot chocolate. A warm touch passed over his fingers and gently took the cold cup out of his hands. Turning his head to look up, face still mostly squashed into his palm, Rodney found Carson watching him with a very strange expression on his face. The scientist didn't even try to quantify it--people had never been his strong point.
"Because I'm your friend," Carson answered his question, "and you had a bad day."
That was all? Rodney couldn't decide if that wasn't making sense because he was so tired or if it was his own skewed social skills.
"I should let you sleep," Carson said. He stood up, a cold mug in either hand, and went to the door, a curious mirror of a moment at least an hour before.
"Wait," Rodney said suddenly. Carson paused and turned back towards him. "You...I never gave you a chance to return the favor." Carson just looked confused. For a moment Rodney almost told him to nevermind, but he pushed on before it could quite take hold. "I mean, to tell me how your day went." He trailed off and scratched the back of his head, uncomfortably aware of how awkward and imprecise his words had been.
Carson glanced down at the cups he held. "It's cold," he said after a moment.
Rodney hesitated and chucked a thumb over his shoulder. "I, ah, rigged a hot plate in here. We could heat it up."
A slow smile stole over Carson's lips. Abruptly remembering that he was supposed to be tired, Rodney waited for the doctor to reject his offer. But instead Carson stepped back inside and signaled the door shut. "Are you supposed to have a hot plate?" he asked, still smiling a little.
Rodney's lips quirked. "No."
Carson laughed and handed over the mugs. "Heat it up," he ordered.
"Happy to oblige."