He didn't notice until he was shrugging his coat on in the hallway that his gray t-shirt bore a red stain just where Kate's head had rested. The skin beneath the stain burned, but he buttoned his coat over it anyway. He was vaguely aware of walking into the waiting room, where three men of his and Kate's mutual acquaintance turned their faces downward. He ended up at home after some period of time, and robotically took off his shoes and coat before he walked up the stairs. He took pajamas out of his dresser and walked into the bathroom, where he saw himself in the mirror for the first time since Kate had asked him to stay the night.
His face was drawn and pale, and his red-rimmed eyes bore bruised arcs beneath them. The stain on his shirt had begun to turn a rusty red-black on the edges, but the middle was still a sickening red. He brought his fingers up to touch the still-damp splotch, and vomited a little into the sink. He didn't try to stop it, but he did turn his attentions to the toilet—he didn't feel like having to clean out the sink later—as whatever Max had forced into him earlier that evening came back up. When his stomach stopped convulsing, he yanked off his shirt and tossed it in the direction of the trash can. It missed, landing instead in the corner behind the can, between the counter and the toilet. He stripped off the rest of his clothes and turned on the shower. He stared at himself in the mirror while he waited for the water to run hot. A patch of skin just beneath his collarbone was tainted a light shade of red. It burned fiercely, hotter than the shower water that poured over him as he scrubbed his skin until it was raw and pink. He scrubbed the place where the stain had been, but he couldn't erase it. His mind dragged up a memory of her blood on his hands and face, and he scrubbed those, too, over and over, until he bled. He scrubbed until the hot water ran out and then he collapsed in a heap under the cold spray, freezing water pouring over his raw, bleeding skin as hot, salty tears flowed down the drain.
Max came in some time later, when Daniel had cried himself out. He shut off the water and draped a towel over Daniel, then helped him out of the shower and into his pajamas. Daniel collapsed into bed without a word.
He didn't go to her funeral. He'd already had one that night in the hospital, and he couldn't handle another. He stopped going to lectures. He didn't get out of bed for two days, except to stumble to the bathroom and stumble back, and when he did, he went downstairs and collapsed on the couch. Max forced him to eat at least once a day, but he ate mechanically and didn't taste the food. The days crawled and flew, the television droning on the same channel day and night. Daniel faded in and out of sleep, his mind running wild with dreams and delusions while he watched passively, uninterested in the ramblings of his diseased mind. He lay on the couch, body ablaze with the searing agony of her absence and the stinging patches of raw skin on his face and hands. He hurt all over, and in the complete pain, he was utterly numb.
The TV stuttered and shut off, and a familiar, impossible voice greeted him out of the silence. "Daniel," Kate called. She walked in from the entryway and sat on the edge of the sofa, on the edge of Daniel's vision. He didn't want to look, but he didn't want her to leave.
"Kate," he croaked forlornly, his voice hoarse with disuse.
She slipped her hand in his, and he looked at it. It was soft and clean, and bore no bruises, no marks where the IV had been. In his astonishment, he looked up at her, and felt his heart and stomach lurch at the sight of her, face flush with health and life, cheeks tinted a light pink. Her hair, pulled back the way she usually wore it, held more luster than it had when she died.
"I need you to do something for me," she said.
Daniel's heart quickened, because he had a feeling he knew what she was going to say.
"Get up and go to the hospital."
"I can't," Daniel moaned.
"I know. But you have to do it. You have to try." She stood up, and he clung to her fingers. "Daniel," she said sternly. "Come on. You can do it."
"For me," she said. "I love you, and I want you to be okay."
Daniel pulled himself off the couch. He managed to keep his feet as the room spun for a few seconds and then stood still. He still clung to her hand, and when he turned his head toward where she stood next to him, he could detect the faint smell of her, vanilla shampoo and black coffee. He knew it was all an illusion, a lie, but even the memory of the smell stole the breath from his lungs and constricted his chest until his eyes watered. "How?" he asked.
"You'll find a way. You always do."
Daniel heard footsteps on the stairs.
"There's something else you have to do, too," Kate said. Her fingers relaxed in his, and Daniel shook his head. He whispered something like no, and she nodded.
"Don't go," Daniel begged.
"I don't want to," she said. "I never did. But I didn't have a choice. You do."
Daniel stared at her, silently begging her to change her mind, to stay with him.
"Doc?" Max inquired.
Kate put a hand on his chest, just below his collarbone where he'd scrubbed the skin raw trying to cleanse himself. He felt nothing, not even the pressure of a hand. She was just a ghost, a creation of his mind designed solely to haunt him. He put a hand over hers, and her fingers disappeared into his.
"Let me go," she said quietly.
Daniel's breath caught and faltered, but as she stepped back and her fingers came away from his chest through his hand, he forced himself to open the other hand and release the fingers it held so tightly to. This wasn't Kate; this was his mind, playing cruel tricks on him. He turned around to face Max's concern.
"What—" Daniel cleared his throat, trying to make his voice sound normal, not hoarse with emotion. "What time is it?"
Max looked at his watch. "Nine-thirty."
"Half an hour," Daniel said. He needed a shower—a quick one, in lukewarm water—and time to shave and throw his things in a bag. "I need to go to Rexford."
"Rexford? Are you sure?"
Daniel nodded. He couldn't go to Hubble. That was where—no, he was letting go, and that meant not thinking about her. Rexford was before she came back to Chicago, before she saw first-hand the depths of his insanity. At Rexford, he could let go.
"I have to stop and get gas," Max said when the car dinged at him. They were only halfway to Rexford, but it was almost an hour and a half drive from the house. Daniel shrugged and Max turned off the highway into the next solitary, middle-of-nothing gas station.
On an impulse, Daniel got out of the car to stretch his legs. He walked to the little patch of grass and leaned against the station sign, staring out across the bare fields. The highway was only moderately busy—only ten or twelve cars passed by in a single minute. He heard Max call him and started back to the car. The scream of brakes and rubber on pavement filled his ears, and he turned toward the source of the noise.
A/N: Well, that's the end. Yes, really. No, there is no more. No, I will not tell you what happens (though I'd love to hear your theories, if you have any).
Thank you all for sticking with me (even if you read this all in one go). DFTBA!