A/N Hello! This is my first Atlantis fic. I'm working concurrently on a Van Helsing story. The present attempt is rather depressing to begin with but will hopefully get less so :-) Story features mainly Shep and McKay with appearances by the other main characters. Warning: sort of character death. Note sort of. Feedback very much appreciated, especially since this is my first go in this fandom...sorry for any weird mistakes, my medical knowledge is rubbish (I have a phobia). Any, hope you like it!

Wavelength

Vibrant. Vigorous. Funny. Those expressive eyes, the boyish grin, the charming smile – so fundamentally alive. The eyes were closed now, the face expressionless, lifeless; the body still, silent, empty.

McKay stared down at Sheppard's motionless body in a kind of daze. He had woken up in the infirmary cursing the Major for messing with things he shouldn't and activating things they didn't know anything about and it was all his fault and I could have been killed and…is he okay, anyway?

Beckett had placed a hand on his shoulder sadly, wearily. No, he had explained quietly. Major Sheppard was not okay. He was very far from okay.

He wasn't going to be okay, either.

McKay sat silently on the edge of the bed he had woken up in, listening to Beckett give the standard speech about how he'd done all he could but the Major's heart had stopped, they'd taken too long to resuscitate, there was no brain activity…

"The machine's keeping him alive," the doctor said softly, "but there's nothing more I can do."

But he was fine! McKay's mind kept yelling, irrationally. He was fine just half an hour ago, he was laughing and joking and trying to get a rise out of me and now he's lying there like a lump of clay…it isn't right. It can't be. Something's wrong here.

McKay caught the words, 'tragic accident…' and looked up to see Elizabeth Weir standing in the doorway, Ford and Teyla at her heels. Beckett repeated his sorry-it's-over-you-missed-it speech for them. McKay watched their faces crumble; he observed, as though from a great distance, Weir's struggle to keep her emotions under control, Teyla's lovely dark eyes filling with shock and grief, Ford's open-mouthed look of shocked disbelief. McKay could not pity them; he was too overwhelmed with his own feelings, feelings he could not properly identify. There was shock there, but no grief – it was too early for that. He just couldn't get a handle on it. Couldn't get to grips with the idea of John Sheppard being dead, being gone, from Atlantis, from the universe, from the life of a cynical and socially stunted scientist whom, against both their better judgements, the Major had chosen to befriend.

"So what…what happens now?" Rodney looked at Beckett, who turned to him with that sad, patient, sympathetic look on his face again.

"As I said, he's being kept alive only by machines…"

"You're going to switch it off." Why had that only just occurred to him? McKay felt sick. For an instant he hated Beckett, hated how he could write the Major off so calmly.

"Rodney…he's gone, there's nothing…"

"Stop saying that!" McKay snapped, furiously, drawing to his full height and stepping close into Beckett's personal space. The doctor took a step back, startled. "How can you just give up on him like that? You can't switch him off like he's a computer or something. He's a human being. He's alive…he's breathing…"

Everyone was staring at McKay now, and oddly, he felt as though Sheppard himself was staring hardest of all. Wanting Rodney to fight for him. The scientist studied their faces, saw pity and understanding there, but no help, not of the kind he needed. He locked gazes with Weir, silently pleading. She bit her lip and turned to Beckett.

"Carson…you're absolutely certain that there's no hope? There's no chance he might…wake up?"

Beckett shook his head, apparently unable to bring himself to actually voice the inevitable again.

Weir met Rodney's eyes again.

"I trust Dr. Beckett's opinion," she said, quietly.

McKay glared at her, betrayed. He turned to Ford, who looked stricken and helpless. Teyla, however, spoke up.

"I do not understand the nature of the situation, precisely. If Major Sheppard's heart is beating and he is breathing…"

"There's no brain activity, lass," Beckett explained, shooting an almost apologetic look at McKay as he spoke. "His body is still working because the machines tell it to, but – well, as I say," he looked at the floor, as though he was personally responsible for what had happened, "his brain has stopped functioning, and there's nothing in the world can bring him back."

McKay had sat silently throughout these exchanges, his brain slowly accepting what his heart, as yet, could not. Sheppard was gone. His body lived but it was mindless, incapable of supporting itself. Whatever the nature of that mind had been – electrical impulses, energy, even (God forbid) a soul – it had departed.

"Sorry," Rodney said, quickly and sharply, to Beckett. The doctor looked surprised, but said nothing, merely squeezed his shoulder. McKay found his gaze drawn to the bed where Sheppard – or his mortal remains – lay; and his heart leapt into his throat. An instant later it was gone, but – he could have sworn he had seen the Major sitting up, staring at him accusingly. Shaken, nauseated, McKay turned wide eyes to Beckett and the others. No one else appeared to have seen, although Weir was actually standing by Sheppard's bed, looking down at him, saying goodbye, Rodney supposed. Was he imagining things? It was the shock, that was all. Also he'd just received a lesser version of the electric shock that had injured…that had incapacitated…that had killed Sheppard. No wonder he was a mess. No wonder his hands were trembling. No wonder he was seeing things. He was traumatised. He considered mentioning the hallucination to Beckett, decided he didn't want to give the doctor a reason to keep him in for observation. Usually Rodney was happy to spend time in the infirmary, it being a good excuse to relax and actually get some sleep, and the food being decent…but this time he couldn't imagine anything worse than being made to lie still with his own thoughts.

He'll be doing that forever, McKay thought, looking down at Sheppard – and shivered.

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The lab bustled with activity, as always. Janet DuBois, a young research assistant whose PhD had not yet been officially granted, but whose ATA gene made her worthy of the expedition, sat examining the remains of the device that had electrocuted Sheppard. She worked under the direction of Peter Grodin. Both of them looked up as McKay entered the room; they, and the rest of the lab, fell silent.

"How is Major Sheppard?" Eyes wide and anxious behind his round spectacles, Dr. Zelenka made his way through the maze of concerned scientists to McKay's side. Rodney glanced around at the worried faces. Sheppard was – had been – popular, apparently, even among the city's geek population. He hadn't wanted to talk about it, especially not to the entire lab, but the Czech had given him no choice. After all, they had a right to know, and would have found out soon enough – presumably Weir was planning an announcement, but hadn't got around to it yet.

"He…uh…" McKay hesitated, surprised at the sound of his own voice; it was shaky, throaty, his usually strident and nasal tones softened and stultified. "Following the – the accident, Major Sheppard is currently," he swallowed, "being kept alive by a life support system. That system," he realised he was wringing his hands, jammed them angrily into the pockets of his trousers, "will be switched off tomorrow morning."

There was a horrified silence. No one seemed to have anything to say. Zelenka closed his eyes, muttered something in his native language – a prayer for the dead, perhaps, or the equivalent of 'rest in peace'. The Czech laid a hand on McKay's shoulder in a gesture of wordless sympathy. Rodney turned away from him, glared at the floor.

"That's all," he muttered. "Get back to work. And figure out what that is," he pointed at the unknown, murderous Ancient device. Then he strode right through the lab and into his own adjacent quarters, ignoring the stares the other scientists sent after him, ignoring in particular one woman's mutter of, 'callous bastard', and part of her friend's answer, 'his fault anyway…' which he heard as he slammed the door. He didn't hear, however, Zelenka say sadly to Grodin,

"He is very upset," and the Englishman reply grimly,

"Yes…we'll have to keep an eye on him."

He didn't even notice that most of the stares following him were sympathetic, not accusatory. But then, he never had.

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Five hours earlier

Sheppard opened his eyes slowly, wincing as blinding light poured straight into his brain. What the hell was that? He wondered, and following that, I got knocked on my ass. Why didn't that hurt? Carefully he turned his head, expecting pain, getting none. His vision was out of focus, however, blurred and distorted. He felt oddly distant from his surroundings. Hence his suspicion that he must've hurt his head – and yet, still no pain. Anywhere.

His vision clearing, he made out the motionless, apparently unconscious form of Rodney McKay lying beside him. Damn! He's gonna be so pissed at me… lifting a hand he tried to activate his radio. Nothing happened. Shock must've knocked it out…

He rose slowly to his feet, turning his back on the blackened and shattered Ancient device they had found in a previously unexplored part of the city; a device he had unintentionally activated and apparently destroyed. It had damn near killed him, he suspected. He leaning over Rodney, thought he saw the scientist's chest rise and fall, bent to take his pulse to be sure.

His hand touched empty air.

What the hell…?

He tried again. Still nothing. Dazed, without thinking, he tried with the other hand. Same effect. He turned to the nearest console and tried to touch that. He couldn't. His hand simply seemed to pass through the thing, into it, disappearing…

It was then that he spotted his own limp body lying next to Rodney's.

"Ah, crap!" it was hardly fitting, but it was the first phrase that sprang to mind.

"Major Sheppard…" he jumped, swung around, saw no one. Then he realised it was Weir's voice, coming over the intercom. "Major Sheppard? Are you there? Answer me, please. Major? Dr. McKay?"

Sheppard took a deep breath, leaned over his own still form and shouted into the radio,

"Elizabeth! We need help!"

There was no reply.

Sheppard sank onto the floor, his head swimming. He wasn't sure what he thought about death and the afterlife, but he certainly hadn't expected this. What was he…a ghost? Some kind of wraith? He winced slightly. Bad choice of word. Ghost would do just fine for the moment. And yet he couldn't believe it, couldn't accept that this was some sort of supernatural thing. There had to be an explanation.

A few minutes later, the medical team arrived, and Sheppard's day got worse.

Not one of them was able to see or hear him.

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A short time later, in the infirmary, Sheppard watched Beckett desperately trying to revive his body, while McKay lay limply on the next bed, attended by a nurse. Sheppard watched as the chief medic fought to bring him back, expecting all the time to feel a tug and a rushing sensation and to suddenly wake up gasping in his body again, just like one of those ghost movies. It didn't happen, though Sheppard realised his heart must be beating now, because Beckett had put away his resuscitation equipment and was rigging the Major up to some kind of machine. They were scanning his brain, he realised. With a vague sense of horror, he also realised what they would find…

A few minutes later he watched as McKay regained consciousness under the eye of a defeated-looking Beckett.

"The damned idiot," Rodney was gesticulating, "I told him not to touch that thing! We had no idea what it did. I could have been killed, for God's sake, but would he listen to me? When does he ever?" a pause. McKay was staring at Sheppard's motionless form. His face changed as his eyes flicked to the life support machine.

"Is he okay, anyway?"

"I'm sorry, Rodney," Beckett said quietly. McKay stared at the doctor as though he'd grown three heads.

"What?"

"We did all we could, but his heart had stopped when we got to you. By the time we managed to resuscitate, it was too late. There was no brain activity."

McKay's mouth opened and shut like a fish's. In other circumstances seeing that expression on his face might have amused Sheppard. He was faintly amused as it was.

"The machine's keeping him alive," Beckett said softly, "but there's nothing more I can do."

McKay stared at Beckett, his eyes wide and dazed. Sheppard felt the absurd desire to ask him if he was all right. Rodney might have said something – it would probably have been, 'wuh?' – but the door opened and Weir, Ford and Teyla came in, all three looking tense and anxious, not one of them, Sheppard suspected, honestly believing that he might be dead, because he couldn't. Just couldn't get to grips with the idea.

Beckett explained again what had happened, how he couldn't do anything more. Sheppard couldn't help being touched to see how stricken everyone looked. McKay seemed stunned. His eyes were a little glazed. Sheppard wasn't surprised – the poor guy had been electrocuted, after all.

"So what…what happens now?" Rodney asked, unsteadily.

"As I said, he's being kept alive only by machines…"

"You're going to switch it off." McKay sounded sickened, as though this had not occurred to him. It hasn't occurred to Sheppard, either. He felt his gut wrench, the sudden cramp doubling him over. They were going to turn him off. To kill him. But I'm still here!

"I'm still here!" he yelled at them, looking desperately from one to the other. "You can't turn it off. I'm not dead. Come on, you guys…look for an alternative…there must be something…"

"…You can't switch him off like he's a computer or something. He's a human being. He's alive…he's breathing…" Sheppard gave up shouting in time to hear McKay say this, sounding furious. Right on, Rodney, the Major thought. You tell 'em.

Weir asked Beckett if there was any hope – not sounding very hopeful. Teyla seemed to be backing Rodney up too – but Beckett went through his explanation again. They looked more convinced now. Gripped by a sudden fear that Beckett was going to switch off the machine right now, Sheppard darted to the bed where his body lay – sparing it a pained glance - and lay on top of it, hoping in a frantic and confused way that somehow it might reintegrate him with the – well, semi-corpse. Needless to say nothing happened. Then he heard McKay apologising to Beckett, in a tone that suggested he too had given up. Sheppard sat up sharply and glared at him, angry and betrayed.

And for a second, a split second – he could've sworn Rodney had seen him.

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Sheppard followed McKay to his lab, thinking with some annoyance that the scientist should hardly be considering going back to work following such a devastating bereavement. He talked to Rodney all the way, hoping to break through again, that McKay would hear him and tell Beckett to do something useful rather than all this crazy talk about turning off the Major's life support. Sheppard had a deadline now. Tomorrow morning, his body would be gone.

McKay went into the lab, which effectively stopped all conversation – everyone knew about the accident, it seemed. Sheppard was touched by the scientists' concern; he was even more touched by the waver in Rodney's voice when he told them all what had happened. He felt a tremendous urge to slap the stupid bitch who called him a callous bastard, and punch her stupider friend who'd said that the accident was Sheppard's own fault.

Rodney went to his quarters after that, ignoring the comments, though Sheppard was sure he'd heard them. The scientist went immediately to a pile of MREs lying near his desk – typical bachelor's quarters, these – and rummaged through them.

"Charming," Sheppard told him. "I'm dead and you're thinking about eating. And don't come out with the hypoglycaemia thing again."

McKay picked up one of the boxes. Sheppard stared at it.

"Hey, that's got lemon juice on it. Pay attention to what you're doing, Rodney. Don't want us both lying on slabs in the morgue – hey, though, maybe we could be ghosts together. Just you and me, haunting Atlantis for the rest of eternity." McKay glanced at the MRE, did a comical double-take and threw it aside, selecting something else, muttering to himself. Sheppard shrugged. "Probably for the best. You and me together, alone, for eternity? I think I'd prefer oblivion."

McKay tore open the box and began eating the stuff inside, without even warming it up.

"Ew, that looks disgusting. Kinda like dog food. How can you eat that?"

Apparently McKay agreed with him, because he shoved the box ahead and stared glumly at the black screen of his laptop, with a vacant expression on his face.

"Come on, McKay. We're working to a deadline here. You saw me once. I know you know I'm here, on some level. That's why you freaked out when Beckett said he was going to turn off the life support machine, isn't it? Because you knew I wasn't gone. Just pay me some attention, already. I'm right here." He reached out and tried to grab McKay's arm. Sheppard felt nothing, but the scientist jumped slightly and glanced down at the limb as though he felt something – a rush of air perhaps. But he merely shivered and wandered across the room to pull on a dressing gown.

"Look, we're running out of time. What do you want me to do? If this was a movie I'd – I dunno, possess your body or talk to you telepathically, or something. Or maybe we could get a medium like that guy in 'Ghost' – well, maybe not exactly like the thing in 'Ghost'. I'm not planning on doing any sexy pottery sessions with you, thanks. Now what are you doing?"

McKay had picked up something from his bedside table – a little green device that looked like a small turtle. The personal shield he had found soon after they came to Atlantis. He turned it over in his hands, staring at it. And Sheppard realised he knew what McKay was thinking.

Weird…my fondest memory of John is him throwing me off a balcony…and I think he enjoyed it too much…but it was the look on his face, that grin, like a kid playing with a new toy. I felt the same. We really connected. It's never been that easy before, I've never felt comfortable around anyone so quickly. Except my cat. And she's a cat, it's just not the same thing…doesn't count…oh and obviously Jimmy but he doesn't count either…

It all came rapidly, a spew of not-exactly-words. Sheppard said, "Rodney, you think like you speak. How the hell do you understand yourself?" He thought, Jimmy? Who's Jimmy? And had a flash of a young boy with dark hair and a warm lopsided grin a lot like Rodney's. Then he thought, you never called me John when I was alive. And it was gone – the image, the thoughts. Gone. Damn! Why hadn't he tried to communicate then? But he'd been too startled by the prospect of actually being able to see inside McKay's mind. Scary in there.

"Rodney," he said aloud, "I think we're going to have to step things up a little. Don't panic, now…"

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A/N Ooh, what next? Please review :-)