Chapter Ten

Mingling with the crowd was never my thing. I'd agreed to attend the wake, but now, looking around at the faces, I regretted it. My sling was gone, a hard plaster cast from just above my elbow down to my fingers in its place. The bruises had faded to sickly yellows and greens. Still, eyes kept finding me, and lingering too long.

I saw Radek gesturing in what looked to be a retelling of his close call with the Moose Beast, as the animal had been dubbed. The size was right, but that thing had had teeth. Fangs that were far from a moose's tooth. I'd been lucky that Teyla had been as fast acting as she was, otherwise I'd be minus a few chunks of me. I was also a little ashamed because part of me had wanted it. I might be admitting it to myself, but I hadn't quite gotten there with Kate. I'd assured her I wasn't a suicide risk, and she'd accepted that. Ronon had played his part well, also, because he'd gotten the Kate Heightmeyer stamp of 'sane', too.

"Colonel – join us," called Teyla.

She was sipping from a glass of what looked like champagne, talking animatedly with Beckett and Ronon. I waved with my good arm, and called back, "Just a minute." I had something to do first.

Pushing through clusters of people, I walked up behind Radek. "Doc," I greeted.

Zelenka turned to face me, his smile faltering slightly. Our first mission together had been anything less than a resounding success. "Colonel," he said politely. "How is your arm?"

I shrugged. "Healing." I pulled him from the circle of scientists and leaned in to say, "Can you excuse us for a few." Before Zelenka could ask what I was doing, I tugged him by his uniform jacket to where Teyla and Ronon were.

Carson's smile was full of warmth. He'd now seen me at every worst condition imaginable, and he still cared, was still going to be a friend to pick me up when I fell, and I wasn't so naïve enough to believe that I didn't have a few more ahead of me. Ronon and Teyla scooted to make room for Radek. "Doc here was retelling our last mission," I explained, smiling. "I think we ought to tell him about where we're going when my cast comes off."

Radek's uncertainty bled away a little, and he glanced from face to face, questioning with his look. "Is it full of Moose Beasts?" he asked.

Ronon snorted. "Worse," he said.

"What could be worse than those behemoth things?"

Teyla sipped her drink, and smiled softly. "I believe Colonel Sheppard referred to them as…dinosaurs?"

Stunned was a good description of Radek's face, and he started coughing on his drink. Beckett slapped his back hard. "Radek – they're pulling your leg, lad."

Now it was my turn to laugh. I was surprised at how rusty it felt – and I made an excuse to go get another drink, while Teyla tried to explain that we weren't joking. The trip was scheduled for four weeks from now, Beckett's estimate for when I'd have my cast off, and we were going to T-Rex World, as it'd been dubbed. We'd found it when the frantic search for a new alpha site had begun, and a recent discovery in the database had mentioned such a world as a possible location of a ZPM. But this time we were taking a Jumper.

This was a hard place to be. It was hard smiling, and including Radek, and talking to everyone, but I was doing it because I had to. Not only did I owe McKay, it was kind of crappy skipping out on your best friend's wake, but also, I knew I was close to being taken off duty and handed over to Kate unless I started showing progress. No one had said as much, but after my breakdown with Beckett, a lot of people had been checking on me. Teyla, Elizabeth, Carson and Kate, mostly. Lorne had dropped in and we'd had that conversation.

I hoped I was fooling everyone. I still felt hollow inside. There wasn't any 'recovery' taking place yet, except the fact that the nightmares weren't ruining me anymore. I could sleep, eat, do all the things that on the surface seemed normal. But I still woke up wanting to talk to McKay, and I went to bed whispering good night to someone who could never hear it.

A restlessness tagged my feet, and I spent a lot of the party wandering away from people before they could corner me. A growing realization was starting to rise up inside, and I thought maybe I could escape it with activity. When I noticed Beckett watching me, I found an excuse to leave early, and headed to my quarters. Sometimes personal revelations were just that. Personal. In the hallway, I paused. On a clear night like tonight, I would have rather gone out on the balcony, but there were too many people wandering around the command deck and balcony. Back to my room, then.

I walked in, surprised at the relief of being along again. I'd drank a little too freely at the wake, and it hadn't helped me any with making my decision. I slipped out of my jacket, and tossed it onto the bed.

"Finally!" exclaimed McKay, jumping to the side so the jacket didn't go through him. It always creeped him out when that happened. "Do you have any idea how boring it is, sitting here, waiting for you to come back." Rodney walked up to John, and peered into his face. "Have you been drinking?" he asked sharply. "Jesus – you have! I can't believe this! I'm stuck in this room, trying to be here for you, and you're off having a party."

I paused, and turned around – I thought I'd heard something in my room. Atlantis was a scary place at night, full of sounds that no one could ever catalog. With everyone at the wake, it was quiet back here in the quarter's wing. "Look at me, afraid of the air recycler's," I grimaced. "Next thing you know I'll start believing in ghosts." Disgusted, I turned on my small lamp, and pulled out the chair from the desk.

Rodney waggled his hands in front of Sheppard's face. "Woooooo woooooo!" He snorted. "If only – for over a month I've been trying to talk to you and tonight you finally seem to sense something, and they tell me I have to leave." He rolled his eyes, and threw himself against the wall. "That's my kind of luck. Sucked dry by a Wraith, allowed to spend extra time saying my farewells, only to get nowhere until my time is up. Jesus, I need a new job." When McKay realized he was getting a new job – a new something, he frowned, and walked around Sheppard, sticking his hands through the computer screen and trying to disrupt the electronics enough to create a signal. He didn't know why he bothered…it hadn't worked any of the other four hundred odd times.

Sitting down, I stared at the computer screen that was scrolling steadily with a cascading screensaver of binary numbers. Rodney had set it up for me when he'd caught my lame bouncing toaster one. "I miss you, McKay," I admitted, talking to the wall. I breathed deep. "More than even I would've figured." I don't know when I started talking to him after – the first week, even while drugged to the gills. I think that's when. I remembered something about Ronon pinning me to the bed and shouting that McKay wasn't there. I could've sworn that I'd seen…stupid. It was just stupid, and not that kind of stupid – the real kind. It'd contributed to my week long stay in the Hotel Lorazepam.

Pulling his hands out of the screen, irritated, Rodney admitted, "Not as much as I miss you, hence, I'm still here." McKay frowned at Sheppard's back. "At least you've got everyone else to talk to."

"You would've enjoyed your wake," I said. Time was running out – I'd come to a decision, and I knew I had to follow through. "Lot's of booze, women, and Radek agreed that you were the most brilliant scientist he'd ever met." Radek had a few too many drinks, also. Hell, most everyone had. I leaned forward. The picture on my desk was face down, and I lifted it, staring at the familiar faces; smiling, full of laughter and life. "I couldn't do it, you know – and I still haven't been able to figure out if I'd do it any differently."

Rodney sighed, and sat on the bed. "I know you won't believe me, but I couldn't have done it either." He frowned at his fingernails, and held his hand out, inspecting his cuticles. "I didn't know it was possible to get dry cuticles when you were dead – Radek should've said that, it's the truth." He dropped his hand. "At least you were at my wake, and not just any old party – my time's running short and it'd really suck if I missed saying good bye because you were out living it up, but my wake – always exceptions."

I set the picture down correctly on the desk, looked at it for a minute, then turned it just enough that it could be seen from my bed. The chair was hard against my back, and my arm was hurting tonight. Maybe a storm was moving in – didn't matter, the pain gave me something to focus on.

McKay watched as John moved the picture frame, and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "You wouldn't have. If you'd accept that there was no other way for it to end, you'd get over this a lot quicker. In the time I've been with you, all I've seen is 'fall apart here, fall apart there'…what's going to happen when I'm gone?" His face twisted. "I mean, gone gone, not gone as in still here gone."

I stood up, and walked to the bathroom, filling my cup with some water. Beckett had taken me off the pain meds, but he'd given me some Motrin for when it got really bad. I chugged it, swallowing the pill in one gulp. Rodney would've lectured me about keeping the sling on, taking my pills, staying up late, drinking too much – I always thought it was ironic. He lectured me endlessly, and then stayed up all night sucking down cup of coffee after cup of coffee.

McKay watched him, frowning. "You should be careful; you might choke."

The water glass now empty, I headed back to the bed, and sat by the pillow, shivering as a breeze blew across my skin. The t-shirt was the only thing that I could wear because of the cast. I avoided my uniform jacket whenever I could. I had to wear it with the one sleeve empty and draped over my shoulder. I felt like some bad imitation of Zorro every time.

"I can't take it anymore," I whispered. "Rodney – I've got to say good bye, and I don't know if I can." This was it. I think deep down I'd realized this day was coming, but I'd fought against it as long as I could.

"Yeah, tell me about it." McKay sat next to Sheppard. "Limbo isn't supposed to last this long, and I'm getting bitched at." He cocked his head, a finger to his chin. "Did I say that already? I think I did – oh my God, I'm forgetting things already…"

Endings sucked. I had come to realize that this conversing with an imaginary McKay was a tool I'd been using as a crutch, and it had to go. With it, I could never truly accept that Rodney was gone. If I missed him, I found a reason to escape somewhere private, and told him everything I needed to. I knew some people did it when they lost loved ones, and it worked for them, but I was having a hard time moving on, and I needed to. The only problem with knowing is that doing is often a lot harder.

"You better reserve a spot for me," I said hoarsely. "The rate we're going in this part of the galaxy, it won't be long, anyway."

"Jesus, Sheppard, and you accused me of being a pessimist," swore McKay. The light bathed his face, and he turned up towards it, glaring. "Fine – fine, five minutes, that's all I'm asking. Five more minutes – in the span of eternity, it's not so much!"

"Five minutes," I said. "That's all I would've needed to tell that bitch everything; Earth, Atlantis, hell – my life story. Five fucking minutes. That's not so much, and I wouldn't be sitting here talking to thin air." I'd be sitting here talking to McKay.

McKay stood, and looked at Sheppard, his face falling. "Tell Jeannie I died saving the world." He laughed when he realized, that was exactly what'd happened. "I can't believe it, I really did."

There were so many things I wanted to say to Rodney before I shut that door for good. How much he meant to me, how much I'd learned from him. But all I could say was, "Good bye, McKay."

The light brightened insistently, and McKay huffed. "I'm coming – damn impatient afterlife people." He turned back to look at Sheppard. With a crooked smile, he patted John on the back. "It's not good bye, you know the cliché - 'see you later'." He paused before adding, "And that had better be much later."

You know that feeling, the one where the hairs on back of your neck stand up, and you feel like someone is watching you? I felt it now, and even though I'd pulled the blanket around my shoulders, I shivered. The impulse to keep talking to Rodney was overwhelming, but I didn't. I'd said my good bye's and now it was time to hold to it. I'd made some promises, and if I was going to keep them, I needed to move on.

As I stretched on the bed, and let my eyes close, I pictured Rodney again, but this time, I replaced the dying memory with the first time we'd met. The one where he'd ran up to me and asked, "What did you do?" That's how I wanted to remember McKay. With the universe at his feet, and no one realizing what adventure waited on the other side.

The End.

The waves now have a redder glow --
The hours are breathing faint and low --
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

Edgar Allan Poe

AN: Thank you Shelly, for challenging me, thank you Kylen for pushing me, and thank you nebbyjen and Linzi for helping me catch those nagging, annoying mistakes. I've tweaked a bit since they saw it, so all remaining mistakes are mine, naturally. If I've made you cry, I both apologize and celebrate.