Title: Fading
Author: Illman
Category: pre-slash, McKay/Zelenka
Warnings: none
Spoilers: 38 Minutes
Rating: G / FRC
Summary: Losing the present.
Disclaimer: It's not my universe.
Author's Notes: Written for karra in the Zelenka Ficathon.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Isn't that what they say? He can see it now, the long corridor of darkness and the faint light in the distance far ahead.

Someone has lowered the volume on the world. Everything is toned down a notch. The ground on which he is lying is not quite so cold anymore. The wetness that is soaking through his uniform and touching his skin is merely there, but it doesn't bother him anymore. The sharp sting of pain which woke him has dulled to a faint twinge that is a mere remainder of the reality that is unfolding around him.

Sensations fade; the cold, the musty, stale smell of the air, which no living being has breathed for millennia, the coppery, sweet smell of his own blood.

The demands of the world start to fade; the pressure of finding technology to help them fight the Wraith, the need to find a way home, the constant hunt for a ZMP, the mystery of the abandoned outpost. Everything suddenly seems not so important anymore. All the things that have governed the waking hours of the last three months of his life start to fade away like they were never all that important in the first place, like it was just a fleeting passion, a temporary project, not the biggest endeavour of his life.

His mind starts to wander, away from the darkness and pain. There is nothing holding him back here. It's all not important anymore. A small voice in his head is trying to tell him that he is missing something, but it too fades away into the soft darkness around him.

It was the night before their departure and he was spending it alone in a hotel room. It wasn't what he had imagined. It felt wrong not to be with friends, not to be saying good-bye to people he knew and loved. But his good-byes had been said long ago and he knew the feeling was born out of nostalgia more than anything else. He had no real doubts, no more than he should have given the fact that he was about to travel to another galaxy, where, to borrow the Star Trek reference, no man had stepped before. All in all, life was going fine.
Atlantis was much more than he had dared to dream about. More than he could do in ten life-times. No one would ever hear about his work there, but it didn't bother him too much. Not that he was not ambitious, he certainly was, otherwise, he would never have gotten on the expedition team, but being among the first humans to see the technology of the Ancients more than made up for the fact that he couldn't publish his work.

His first impression of Rodney McKay was that the man was just too much of everything. Too arrogant, too restless, too pushy, too mean. But he could see his merits, McKay was brilliant, without a doubt, and his experience with the Stargate technology justified his position as the scientific leader of the expedition. The man behind the brain was a mystery to him. Behind the snide comments, the ruthless criticism and the hyperactive mannerisms had to be a man hiding. But who was he to judge?

He got his first glimpse after the incident when the Jumper carrying McKay's team had been stuck in the open wormhole.

He went back to the lab after cleaning up in the Jumper. It long past midnight and the halls of Atlantis were deserted, only the Gateroom and the infirmary were still manned. He wasn't surprised to see a sliver of light from under the door of the lab area; a few of his colleagues worked long hours, himself included. He let himself in and headed for his workstation. At first the lab seemed empty, and he was about the turn off the main lights when he spied McKay in his office, hunched in front of a blank computer screen.

He walked closer, making his way through the veritable jungle of equipment.

"Is everything all right?"

McKay startled and turned around, looking at him as if he was trying to recall who he was.

"The major is going to be all right."

"I meant about you."

"Oh." McKay paused. "I'm fine. Fine. More than fine. I just nearly let everyone die." McKay's voice was getting shrill.

"You didn't. Everyone is fine. Go to bed." He didn't know what else to say. People weren't exactly his specialty. And people weren't Rodney McKay.

"Come on." He went over and grabbed McKay by the arm. He hadn't thought about it, it was what needed to be done. He couldn't let McKay sit at the lab all night, working himself into hysterics.

McKay shrank back at his touch, as if burned.

"What the hell do you think you are doing!"

"Getting you to your quarters. You need sleep. There is a briefing at eight tomorrow morning about energy use in the city. You need to be fit for it." The briefing was not important, they both knew that, but he had to say something to explain what he was doing.

McKay wrestled free of his grip.

"Don't touch me!" He glared at him, but followed him out of the lab all the way to the section where their living quarters were located.

McKay made an appearance at breakfast the next day. He looked tired and sat down next to Radek without greeting or invitation.

"Sorry about last night. And thanks." He rattled off quickly, before biting into his sandwich.

"You're welcome. Although the team around Simpson did the most work. I was just working on my own little theory." He said and reached for his tea cup.

"I didn't mean that."

They ate in silence.

Breakfast together became a habit, even though they usually didn't speak much, aside from talk about upcoming projects. McKay never nagged him that he was not much of a team worker, something that had cost him a few positions in the past. Time passed quickly and he was up to his arms in work. McKay was mostly lording over the science department and getting on the case when things were critical, but he wasn't doing much base research anymore; he was spending too much time off-world with Major Sheppard's team. When talk started that Sergeants Markham and Stackhouse were taking on scientists for their teams, the entire department bubbled with excitement. A lot of the scientist didn't want to go off-world in the first place; it wasn't what they had signed up for. But there was a small group of them who was eager for a spot on one of the exploration teams. Dr. James, a geophysicist with the ATA gene seemed to be likely bet for one of the two spots, especially since he was very keen on going off-world. No one was surprised when Sergeant Markham chose him for a trial run on his team. To everyone's surprise Sergeant Stackhouse picked him to have a go for his team.
He stepped through the Gate for the second time in his life. It was better than he remembered. There was still the slight chill, but he didn't feel like he was going to be sick any minute. Scanner firmly in hand, he followed the rest of the team, his team, as they set out across the open grassy field. It looked so much like Earth, tempting him into relaxing, but he focussed on the energy signal that they were following. He couldn't help feeling ill at ease. In Atlantis they were threatened by the Wraith, but it was different here, being out in the open on an alien planet. There had been no signs of civilization, yet that didn't ease his feelings of vulnerability as they entered into a forest. The idea of being the only people on an entire planet seemed bizarre and unimaginable. When they stepped out of the forest again, looking down into an enormous valley, he knew that it was worth it, that there were wonders of discovery not only inside the lab.

Beneath them lay a gigantic structure, shimmering golden in the mid-day sun. It looked to be hexagonal with six towers at the vertices and the highest in the centre.

He was sitting at his desk, trying to type his mission report one-handed. His right hand and arm had been burned when they had tried to enter the structure and had run into an invisible force field. Only Sergeant Stackhouse had been able to walk through. The rest of them had crashed into the field, suffering moderate burns in the process.

McKay came up to him.

"I talked to Elizabeth and Stackhouse, you won't be going back to M7X-967, or any other planet for that matter." McKay stated matter of factly, getting ready to leave again.

Radek snagged him by the sleeve.

"I thought you said you figured out how to drop the force field around the outpost." He referred to the planet he and Stackhouse's team had visited.

"Of course, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about you. One shouldn't think you got on this expedition for your brain." There he was hiding behind snide comments again.

"Why did you have me taken of the team, talk to me Rodney!" Radek moved in front of Rodney, blocking his way out.

Rodney sat down in the nearest chair.

"Your abilities are better used her in the lab doing research. It's my job to allocate the human resources of the science department." Rodney said defensively.

"I don't believe you."

"Look, we have already lost too many good people..." Rodney trailed off.

"Let me work on the outpost. You can't do that alone, it will take years."

It was an accident, a stupid accident. He worked on the transporters. For some reasons they were not working. He was testing every single connection at the time, having worked since the early hours of the morning, when it happened. It's laughable, really. One moment he was standing on solid ground, then he stepped to the side to get better access to the panel holding the crystals, but there was nothing beneath his foot.
The memories are painful but they are all he has now. He clings to them, afraid to be lost in oblivion without them. Familiar faces become harder to recall. They swim hazily through his mind, but the names will not come to him any more.

He is losing the present. It's been reduced to a surreal collection of impressions; flairs of pain, the wet fabric against his back, cold air against his skin. As soon as a sensation appears, it's gone again. He can't get a lasting grip on any of it.

The future is hurtling towards him. There are no more questions. He knows how it'll end.

He opens his eyes. There is only light and darkness. The light in the distance is waiting for him.

Panic, he doesn't want to die. It's too dark, too cold. He doesn't want to be around when the end comes. The light brightens and falls directly down on his face. It's so bright that he has to close his eyes. Suddenly there is noise, voices in the distance.