Spoilers: Up to Season 2 “Grace Under Pressure”
Summary: GUP AU – what if he didn't believe Sheppard. McKay/Weir.
A/N: Betaread by fififolle and Fanwoman
He hears Sheppard telling him to open the door, and he ignores it, shaking off yet another delusion his mind has created. He may be dying but doesn't fancy being crushed by water pressure; hypothermia is preferable to opening the jumper door to the ocean. The noises don't stop, and maybe he'll admit some part of him wants that quick death, which is exactly why his mind is continuing to conjure the phantom sounds of someone thumping the jumper, or maybe it's just some more wildlife come to play. He decides the only way to put his mind to rest is to reply, so he tells the hallucination to go away and then drops his earpiece into the icy water around him.
Nobody is coming to rescue him, and he can't save himself – he's dead in the water, waiting for it to kill him one way or another.
Then he notices Sam has left him, and he feels the chill deeper than before. He's really going to die here, alone and a failure, having wasted the last of the available power on a bad plan - despite arguing with himself against that course of action. And he knows for sure death must be close when she turns up.
Elizabeth Weir, head bobbing above the water as she swims across to him, hair and clothes soaked through. She doesn't appear to feel the coldness, but then she wouldn't, considering she's a figment of his imagination. And she's wearing what he always thought suited her best, though he can only just see what top she has on because the water’s so high – the green vest and an oversized white shirt he'd once witnessed her wearing while planting seedlings on the mainland. She'd looked carefree as she'd muddled in with Teyla and the other Athosians. The rhythm of her digging a hole, plopping a plant in and firming the soil around it had entranced him. Upon later reflection, it was the simplicity and what it had drawn out of her, chattering like old friends with those around her, smiles and laughter flowing with the conversation. He'd felt odd watching her then, a voyeur of her happiness, enjoying it despite the fact he wasn't included – the invitation had been extended, but there were more urgent things to do for a man like him, upon whom so much rested. He'd wanted to see more of that Elizabeth, but he'd let the memory slip back, labelled important but not pertinent for the time being. Maybe his mind knows he regrets that choice, that he never followed up on that glimpse.
Now, she holds him close, whispering into his ear, telling him it will be okay, that he doesn't have to worry, that it will be over soon. It shouldn't be comforting, but somehow it is. He lets go of his worry and clings to her dearly, nestling his head in the crook of her neck. He wishes only that this were under different circumstances – that it might be real, instead of a phantom version of his friend being his last contact.
She kisses him gently, between her soothing words, the kisses moving across his head – avoiding his wounds. Reaching just short of his lips, ending with a tender peck on the cheek, she then forces him to face her straight on. Her forehead is resting against his, but he can barely breathe from the cold, let alone move. They stay in that intimate position for a few moments as his mind freezes up, too. Then she tilts her head, and her sweet warm lips meet his before withdrawing to simply exclaim a hushed “Goodbye, Rodney.” He's startled for a second, not knowing what to think of her words. They send a chill through him, permeating deep in a way he wouldn't have thought possible, almost to his bones - colder than the water could ever make him. Why is she saying her farewells - is this really it for him?
And then, abruptly, he is swept away from her by the water unexpectedly washing out of the jumper rather than into it, leaving him lying stunned on the floor. He doesn't remember much after that, apart from friendly, concerned voices and warm bodies that carry him out of the doomed jumper. He swears Radek is muttering in Czech, but that's about as likely as Sam or Elizabeth really being here, given Radek's fear of the ocean – he wouldn't be caught dead in a jumper several hundred feet down. If this is the afterlife, Rodney doesn't think much of it. As far as hallucinations go, he'd much prefer to have Elizabeth, or Sam, back in his dying moments. Of course, he could be in hell, though the last year – his life overall - could loosely be described as that anyway...
He wakes up on Atlantis feeling groggy, among other things, and hearing Carson and Kate Heightmeyer talking urgently in the rather empty infirmary. Across the room, near Carson's office – far enough away he can't hear the words even if he were to try and concentrate, though he has enough sense to not attempt it with how he's feeling. He doesn't know what it's about, but he guesses there's a good chance it might be him. Thank God they didn't know how crazy he'd been – which is what reminds him of how Sheppard called for him to open the hatch. He realises how close he had been to dying, not because of circumstance but because he couldn't trust reality when it mattered.
He turns away from them, sensing they might glance back at him any second now, and he swallows nervously, hoping no one ever brings up the issue. But he knows that's a foolish wish; he can't keep this from them. They're bound to ask what he meant by his comment to Sheppard, if Sheppard tells them, that is...if he hasn't already.
As it turns out, Sheppard hadn't shared that fact with anyone, except Elizabeth. She looks slightly scared as she sits by Rodney's side, waiting for an answer as to why he ignored Sheppard's instruction to open the jumper door and let them in. She's fairly composed, yes, hands neatly clasped in her lap, but there is an underlying nervousness there - as if she's shocked by the potential of his action, or rather his lack of it. How can he expect her to understand? He had been dying; he’d had a head wound that had caused him to hallucinate, as he was well aware – nothing had seemed particularly real after that moment Griffin had sacrificed himself by sealing off the front section.
He'd been cut off from certainty, even his own mind had been betraying him, creating visions and sensations that shouldn’t have been there. It had been easier to believe Sheppard was just another one of those than to risk making yet another mistake, or perhaps it had been his own punishment for the first he'd made. Not that ignoring hallucinated Sheppard, had he been such, had been any better a plan than ignoring Sam's warnings. Nothing had gone right down there. He'd faced his own worst fears and his wildest dreams all in one, and the only reason he'd come out was because his friends hadn't given up on him. They hadn't let it go, which furthered the shame he felt that he'd given up and almost forsaken their own efforts at rescue. And he couldn't bring himself to admit any of this. He should have been able to save himself, to be who they all expected him to be. He'd failed them all - he was lucky to be here, but luck shouldn't have had anything to do with it.
“Sheppard heard wrong.” He states it with as much confidence as possible. He knows he isn't good at lying, but he can sound sort of certain of it if he tries hard, convincing himself as much as her. If it's convincing anyone at all.
“Really? Then what exactly did you say?
“Um... you know, I don't quite recall,” he replies weakly, “but definitely not that.”
She raises an eyebrow, disappointment showing in her expression, but she lets the issue go, leaving his bedside and exiting the infirmary at a much quicker pace than she usually walks. He knows why, but he doesn't like it. Here is where he notes the difference between the phantom who'd held him as he 'died' and the woman to whom he couldn't explain the simple truth - that he doesn't have faith in anyone but himself, not even himself - let alone express how he feels about her. In the back of that jumper, he’d had nothing to lose; he was already dead, and she wasn’t real. He'd run out of time there, unable to confess his feelings simply because of the abrupt rescue, only to find he has plenty of time here, yet he can't find the courage to use this opportunity.
Today, he's alive and perfectly conscious of the effect each word he wants to say could have. Maybe she'd take it in her stride, not be insulted by him giving up on his life - on the real her. But she might react much worse than what he'd just induced by lying. The problem is, he can't tell, and he can't put himself out on the line when so much is at stake. He settles for something rather than nothing. He cares that she walked out of that door, whereas, for all the comfort the hallucination had provided, he could accept a phantom goodbye just fine because she was only in his head. Her words, like those he wished to say, were only in his head. And for all the comfort he wishes he could give his real Elizabeth, especially just now, he can't. He can't say he cares, even though he does, much like he can't tell her what went on down there, because he doesn't want to risk what she might read into his words, what truth might be discovered that he's not ready to reveal. Oh, yeah, he's definitely back in reality - and suffering for it - but he'd never want less. The perfect fantasy can never compare to the possibility of more.