"Rodney, if this is about the Arcturus experiment…"

"Disaster," McKay cut in brusquely. "No, as it happens I've been offered a fellowship at a prominent university. Pure research. I've been waiting my whole life for this opportunity and the work I did in the Antarctic before joining the Atlantis expedition has finally received the recognition it deserves."

Weir regarded him steadily for a moment before she spoke, grey eyes intent on his. McKay clamped his mouth shut, lips in a thin line.

"What a wonderful opportunity for you although I'm very sorry to hear that you want to leave, Dr. McKay." His jaw tightened a little at her use of his title, but he didn't look away.

"I'm sure Dr. Zelenka, while certainly not my equal, will be more than up to the task."

"That hasn't always been your opinion," she said, her tone neutral. Color blotched McKay's face.

"It wouldn't be the first time I've made a mistake."

"Leaving Atlantis won't change anything," Weir said, still impassive. McKay shifted a little impatiently.

"Elizabeth, if you're referring to my rather dramatic miscalculation, I am also well aware of the important role I've played in the success, dare I say successes, of Atlantis, and now it's time to reap the rewards of my labor."

"If your decision is final, then I suppose there's nothing I can say to change your mind?"

McKay shook his head, two short jerks. "I'll be returning with the Daedalus tomorrow."

Weir raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you know? The Daedalus' return to earth has been delayed for two days."

For the first time, McKay's composure seemed shaken. "De-, delayed?" he stuttered.

"It looks as though you're going to have to wait an extra day."

"And I don't suppose you'd consider…"

"Allowing you to use the gate?" Weir broke in smoothly. "Rodney, you of all people know how little we can afford to be careless with the ZPM we've got."

McKay glared, at his most pugnacious. "I'm not going to change my mind, Elizabeth."

"Then you will have no problem waiting the extra day," she replied steadily.

McKay drew in a long breath, weighing his options and then relented. "I would …greatly, …appreciate it," McKay said rather haltingly, "if you would not announce my imminent departure." Weir's eyes widened in surprise, but he wouldn't meet her gaze. She placed her hands flat on her desk and sighed.

"I will miss working with you, Rodney," she said, a line appearing between her brows. Resentment, regret and bitter resignation passed rapidly over McKay's face before he turned away.

"Yes, I will miss our interactions as well," he replied stiffly. "You will, uh, speak to Colonel Caldwell on my behalf?"

"Of course."

"Then, if you will excuse me," he said, shuffling uneasily toward the door and down the stairs.

The light streamed into the gate room and fell in warm patches on the floor in front of the gate. McKay's steps slowed and he gazed around him as techs, scientists, and soldiers respectively stood or scurried about. Atlantis was positively humming with activity, and for the first time since he'd arrived, he wasn't at it's center. He watched for a moment, and then moved on, feeling almost invisible. McKay was almost back to his quarters to begin packing when he heard the call over the radio for Beckett.

'Couldn't be Sheppard,' he muttered to himself, coming to a halt a few meters from his door. McKay knew very well the colonel wasn't due back for at least two days. He was counting on it. But he found himself tapping his earpiece all the same to reach Beckett, whose response was brusque and hurried.

"Rodney, I haven't the time for any of your foolishness; Colonel Sheppard's been wounded," came the Scot's exasperated tones. McKay stood for a moment, then leaned heavily against the wall, passing a hand over his face. But the curious looks he received from a couple of passing marines pushed him upright again.

"Aren't you supposed to be somewhere serving as practice dummies for Ronon the Barbarian?" he snapped and they moved on hastily. 'Huh…I'm going to actually miss Carson,' came the random thought as he moved wearily on down the hallway and entered his quarters..

Bitterness burned up in his throat as McKay gazed at the picture of himself holding a diploma, and the other certificates that lined the wall. The memory of Cadman's nightstand, crowded with pictures of friends and family flashed into his mind.

'Sentimental drivel,' McKay told himself, and taking three jerky steps across the room, snatched down the framed picture of himself. Staring down at it, he muttered, 'simpering idiot,' and hurled it across the room. The resulting crash was startlingly loud and, feeling ridiculous at the emotional outburst, he picked up an empty crate from the corner. He placed it on the rumpled, unmade bed and began slowly placing items inside.

He couldn't believe the amount of crap he'd accumulated over the past year and a half. His nose wrinkled as his packing began to disinter half-eaten and then forgotten meals along with dirty laundry and other odds and ends he'd dragged back to his quarters to examine more closely in his "spare time." His earpiece beeped and Zelenka's voice was in his ear.

"Rodney? Where are you? We still have much data to analyze."

"Do it without me, Radek. I'm busy," he replied abruptly as he continued pitching garbage into the corner he'd designated as his trash.

"Oh, you are in infirmary with Colonel Sheppard. How is he?"

McKay's hands fell still.

"I don't know. I'm in my quarters. Check with Beckett." There was a moment of silence as Zelenka processed his response. Before he could speak, McKay cut in again. "If there's nothing else, Radek?" The Czech's voice came a moment later.

"You are being weaselly rat bastard, Rodney," he said matter-of-factly and then the line was silent in McKay's ear again. McKay closed his eyes and sighed. 'Carson would have called if Sheppard was serious,' McKay told himself.

It was quite late when he finished. The room had been reduced to a large pile of crates, a bed, nightstand and desk where his laptop sat open and blinking. Sitting down heavily on the bed, McKay eased back, his arm over his eyes. Checking his watch he saw that it was a little after one a.m. He'd just go down to the infirmary and see what was happening. He needed some Tylenol for this headache, anyway, he told himself. Pulling his jacket on, McKay headed out the door, the unacknowledged concern for the colonel propelling him at a more rapid pace than was comfortable. He arrived at the infirmary slightly out of breath to find Beckett still there. The doctor sat in his office, test tubes and other laboratory paraphernalia scattered around him, one of the latest medical journals open.

"Rodney, I've been wondering where ye were. What did ye need earlier?"

McKay looked down at his hands, saw he was wringing them and jammed them into his pants pockets.

"I, uh, just came down for some Tylenol. Headache, you know."

"Surely ye havna gone through that bottle you brought back with ye?" and Beckett looked slightly concerned. "It's not good for yer stomach to be takin that much acetaminophen."

"Yes, yes, I'm aware of the danger," said McKay, getting irritated. "I believe it's marked rather clearly on the bottle, may result in liver damage including yellowing of the skin or eyes, nausea, abdominal pain or discomfort…" He trailed off at the expression on Beckett's face.

"The colonel will be fine. That daft fool Ellingson got antsy and shot him. Honestly, how the man took Sheppard for a Wraith with that shock of hair, I'll never know. Maybe he needs glasses," he mused, then glanced back up at McKay's anxious face.

"He SHOT him?" blurted McKay. "God, at least I managed never to do that. Are you sure he'll be all right?"

"Oh yes, the colonel will be just fine if I can keep him in bed long enough. No wonder the military thinks we're all idiots. The colonel was returning from a reconnaissance of the area. Ellingson swears he saw a Wraith, but nothing has been found. Stupid idjit hit the one spot not covered by Sheppard's flak jacket. The colonel was lucky, nothing vital was hit, but they were a ways off from the gate and by the time they'd gotten him back, he'd lost quite a lot of blood."

"He asleep?" asked McKay.

"Aye, and will be for some time if I have aught to say about it." Beckett sniffed disapprovingly.

"Think I'll just uh…," began McKay but Beckett was already looking back at his journal.

"Third bed on your right," he advised without looking back up again. After McKay passed, Beckett looked after him for a long moment. The astrophysicist, intent on Sheppard, didn't notice the worried look in Beckett's eyes.

Quietly Rodney pulled back the curtain from a corner of the bed and peered in. There was a chair already beside the bed. Teyla most likely, he thought to himself. Somehow he couldn't imagine that walking bearskin rug keeping vigil by anyone's bed, not like Ford would have. But he pushed that thought away.

He settled into the seat gingerly and glanced at the colonel. Sheppard seemed to be sleeping peacefully enough, though his face was very white against that ridiculous black thatch and there were tired lines around his eyes. At some point he'd received a cut down his left temple and the red was livid against the pallor of his skin. His hands lay on top of the thin infirmary blanket, an IV needle with crimson droplets feeding slowly into one bound wrist. McKay sighed and slumped back in the seat. There were no other patients in the infirmary, just Beckett, settled in his office, presumably giving one of his nurses an evening off and catching up on his reading, though McKay suspected he too wanted to be sure Sheppard was all right.

"I just wanted to tell you I'm leaving," he said, his voice sounding uneven against the steady hum of the monitoring equipment. "I'm going back on the Daedalus tomorrow. If I know Carson, he'll keep you sedated into a near coma to keep your skinny ass in bed," and he smirked, then grew serious, eyes on the electric blue line of the heart monitor . "It looks as though I won't have the opportunity to get back in your good graces as I'd hoped, but perhaps someday, when you're back on Earth you'll look me up and …,"he glanced back at Sheppard's still face. "Well," and he cleared his throat. "I guess that's that." Awkwardly he got to his feet and walked with hasty steps out of the infirmary.

He considered going to the mess to get something, but couldn't face the idea of trying to carry on a conversation with others. Standing in the door of the infirmary, outlined by the soft glow of the Ancient's lighting, he made a decision and headed to one of his favorite parts of the city. Carson watched him go, looking thoughtful.