"If I'd got to him sooner. . ."

"It may not have worked!"

"It still may not have worked, and he'd be alive!"

It wasn't worth it. This was what he got for letting himself get sucked in. No more. Absolutely no more. Sheppard turned and drove his fist into the wall. He heard a crack, and the sob that had been holding itself in suddenly escaped, framed by pain.

He felt Carson turn him, curse, and reach for a towel. "Bloodying yourself up over it won't help," he said in a more reasonable voice. His own eyes were wet with disbelief. Elizabeth had left the room to tell Teyla and Ford. Johnson was standing in the corner, his eyes not leaving the body.

"What the hell? How can you – how can you be so cold about this?" He had been waiting, for days, for his friend to wake up. Hovering around the lab. Hesitating before his quarters. Hiding in his own.

Carson led him to a chair, and turned back to his friend. It had been four days, four days with no signs of any activity whatsoever. The life support machines had been turned off. The odd pumping of his lungs had ceased. Rodney's skin was slack, his face expressionless, his eyes just opened in unseeing slits. Too still. There was no breath, absolutely no movement at all, which seemed impossible.

John never wanted to see his friend so still. It would haunt him, just as Rodney had been haunted. He would take over the ghost.

"You should get that checked on," Carson said quietly, raising his chin toward a nurse who very gently, and apologetically, took Sheppard aside for cleaning up and an X-ray. Carson watched him go, and nodded Johnson away. The other two nurses walked out discreetly, leaving Carson with his patient, his friend.

Cold. Was he cold? He was professional, he couldn't fall apart every time someone he knew died. Dammit, at least back at the hospital he didn't seem to know everyone that came through. He didn't have to go back to his quarters after a death, remembering the person cheating at poker, or how he or she hated carrots, and how he failed to keep them warm. There was a threat of this becoming way too personal, and he tried his hardest to fight that. Now he was confronted with it, evilly, and Sheppard had the balls to say he wascold?

He rubbed Rodney's arm. Removed the tubes. Pulled the covers tight around the body, already cooling from lack of circulation. He collapsed into a chair, covered his eyes with one hand, and allowed himself to cry.

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There was such peace. Such stillness, such a vast expanse of fulfillment, such calm. No need for knowledge. No need for emotion. No need for a heartbeat, because the pulse of the universe was a heartbeat, sustaining all life, all death. Explosions of birth in the form of stars, supernovas, particles spitting and hissing as they collided, creating new forms; even the death of old forms, of old ideas, old stars, old cells; everything ran together in a seamless linear fashion, more so than was ever thought, lunging onwards and falling backwards. Along this line, time itself played hopscotch like a jubilant child; bouncing over occasions and concepts, running to the front and drifting behind. It wasn't steady, but mere snapshots of moments, just blocks, building castles amongst the stars. Block upon block of moments, running together to create the line that all of creation ran along.

Then where was the circle? Where was the recurring cycle? It wasn't a straight line. Unless time really was never ending, and the cycle was stretched to eternity and beyond, folded flat into a line. Was everything that appeared three dimensional, actually only one? Was the world really flat?

The questions were never ending. The immense weight of the unknown was suffocating, and the more questions asked, the more answers eluded the seeker. Maybe it wasn't the universe that was flattened. Maybe it was merely concept itself.

There was only one way to find out. And the universe answered, "yes."

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Beckett's eyes were heavy. His body pressed into the floor, yet he knew he was standing, bearing the weight of the thin white sheet that he was about to pull over his friend's eyes. His mourning was just beginning. He hesitated, unable to cover that face, those eyes he had to force close. There was so much loss, and this was one that made absolutely no sense. He had never known someone so alive. To think it had all shut down, that it was no more. . .

He was a doctor. He saw death, he embraced it as a foe, he accepted it. Death itself was a living thing to him, something that mocked him in his deepest dreams, yet he understood it. They were two halves of the same thing. Sometimes he won. Sometimes the reaper would wield his scythe and undercut him. Later, he was going to have it out with the reaper over a full bottle of scotch. Bloody bastard had an unfair advantage.

Stop it, Carson. You're losing it.

He took a deep breath, and pulled the sheet tight, hovering it over his friend's face. And jumped as the machine behind him suddenly started to beep. Not unusual. Sometime it picked up a residual electrical. . .he stared as the line started to waver on the screen before him, and shrieked as the sheet was desperately snatched away.

"I'M NOT DEAD!" Rodney's eyes were opened, panicked; his gasp deep, full, and scared. His voice was rough, and not quite his own. "God, don't! I'm not dead! I'm not dead! I'm not dead."

Carson stared for a moment as his medical staff rushed in. His eyes rolled back, and he collapsed hard onto the floor.

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Carson woke to find Rodney stable, and dozing, and forced himself up, despite the protestations of Nurse Benning. He contacted Dr. Weir, who in turn assembled Sheppard's team together in her office.

Her large, expressive eyes carried something that Sheppard couldn't understand. He listened to the news, watched Teyla sink into a chair in disbelief, watched Ford slowly back to the wall, shaking his head, and launched himself out of the office, hearing his name fade behind him. He had to see for himself. Sheppard skidded into the doorframe of the infirmary, clipping his shoulder as the door hissed open. He ran to the bed, skidding again, nearly landing on the man he had come to see. Blinking didn't erase the scene before him, and yet it took some time to accept.

Rodney's face was slightly flushed. His breathing was easy, his eyelids flickering as he dreamed. Or, knowing him, he was performing some sort of mathematical computation that would lead to building a device that would save the station, or universe. . .and Sheppard broke into a huge, stupid grin.

Carson came up behind him, holding an icepack to his head. "Just can't keep that bugger down, can we?"

"What happened to him?" John turned, his eyes filled with excitement, narrowing as he noticed the pack. "What happened to you?"

"Let's just say his waking was a bit of a shock."

"You fainted, didn't you?"

"Passed out." Carson grinned like a fool.

"What happened?"

"I have no idea. He just woke up."

"He just woke up." John faced the sleeping form, then rounded on Carson. "You don't just wake up from being dead! That's. . .that's. . ."

"Impossible? Unlikely? Strange?" Carson shifted his pack. "Aye, I totally agree with you. But considering the alternative, I just as soon not question events too deeply, you understand?"

"You think Dot had something to do with this?"

"I don't know." He shifted uneasily. "Not sure I want to, to be honest with ya."

"Hey. . .trying to sleep here," Rodney muttered.

"Holy. . ." Sheppard leaned over, seeing blue eyes quint up at him. He almost laughed, such was his relief. He waited until Rodney's vision had a chance to clear, and made a conscious effort to hold back the flood of questions. "How you feeling?"

There was a faint moan, and Rodney cleared his throat. "Exhausted doesn't begin to describe this," he forced out in a rather gravelly voice.

Sheppard winced at the sound, and looked at Carson, who shrugged. "He was dead," was the doctor's only explanation.

"I was. . .floating," Rodney said softly, his eyes once again fluttering. A smile fluttered across his lips.

"What?"

"Saw. . .everything. . ."

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John still didn't know what happened. Rodney insisted that he had no clue; he no longer remember waking from the dead, and was accusing his friends of acute over exaggeration. Sheppard poked and prodded and was sent out of the infirmary for raising Rodney's blood pressure, but he couldn't help it. He was still floating on the proverbial cloud. After all, the man had cheated death in a way that no one else had. He was DEAD.

But not so much.

And that warranted some explanation.

And of course there was the question of whether or not his risk actually succeeded in sending Dot to hell, or heaven, or whatever passed. He no longer seemed to carry the rabid fear he'd housed for so long. His rest in the infirmary had been complete. Everything seemed to have settled down, but so as far as he was concerned. . .he'd see.

He stood just outside the gateroom, overlooking the moving sea. The skies were still intermittently grey, forcing him to wonder what storms were to come. He should take a jumper and fly the skies, see what was going on. He could feel a change in the air. His bones ached, the way they did when the pressure dropped back on earth.

Or maybe he was starting to feel his age.

Gripping the rail tightly John leaned over, watching the waves crash below. Yep, the waters were choppier than usual. Something was definitely up. "Hey." The voice startled him, and he bolted upright.

"Hey yourself!" Sheppard couldn't help but smile at the figure of a rested, rather robust looking Rodney McKay, clothed in loose jeans and faded t-shirt. "You look good! Feeling better, I take it?"

"I escaped imprisonment, if that's what you mean." He almost seemed. . .bouncy. . .more like the McKay that had first arrived on the station, full of anticipation. His lopsided smile was back, and it was obvious he felt better than he had in ages.

"He just released you?"

"Yeah. Thought you might be here, so I came to. . .you know."

"Well, it's a great view. Best on Atlantis." Sheppard watched the seas, feeling his friend arrive at his shoulder. "What is it with us and balconies, anyway?"

"Good meeting places." Rodney shrugged. "Good jumping off points if you like to swim." He eyed the water with disdain.

"Mm. If we're not careful, we might make this a habit." He didn't look at Rodney. "You know, it being a good meeting place and all."

"Best on Atlantis." He didn't look at Sheppard.

He didn't need to.

"How's the hand?" Rodney asked.

"Hurts. How's yours?"

Rodney raised his unbandaged hand, eyeing the slight scarring. "Think it'll attract the girls?"

"My experience has been, it's more what you do with it that matters."

"Oh. That's all right then." Rodney bounced importantly on his toes and clasped his hands behind his back.

There were no more words. They eased into the warmth of their companionship with leisure as they took their seats. Heavy boots propped on the rail. The wind carried the smell of salt, and puckered their skin. There were no questions, just a healthy appreciation of what was. For the first time in ages, they relaxed, sitting together, neither man budging until the sun set and the skies darkened.

Atlantis suddenly darkened with it, as the power outage blackened the city, leaving a starless sky.

TBC in Sea'scape Three (thanks so much for reading!)