Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay, Carson, OMC
Warnings: #32 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1); "The Tao of Rodney," thru SG1 s10e14 "The Shroud," SGU s1e01 "Air"; mentions of genocide, hard core science.
Summary: Things Fall Apart
Notes: This, at first, flowed. I wrote nearly the entire first section in 1 day. But towards the end I realized I was getting weighed down by details (and had been for days; this portion's been finished since like Fri night).
1) Josua has been mentioned on and off since "Pastor". He has a rather interesting backstory that I might one day write after I write everyone else's. 2) The Schismatica has also been mentioned on and off since "Somniati". 3) Escors is idiot. 4) We are a year out from the events of "Fradator," for perspective.
An Ancient!John Story
10 March, 2007 / XII Mai. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
There's a gasp from near Iohannes' knees, where a Kenoshan seamstress is putting the final touches on his Coronation robes, and a quick glance in the mirror shows a figure standing behind him that had not been there a second before. "Josua," he acknowledges before casting a glance back to the young woman. "You probably don't want to be around for this."
"No, milord," she mutters, quickly gathering her things before rushing out the door as fast as her legs can carry her.
Good for her. At least one of them can escape what is certain to be an unpleasant conversation.
They stand in silence for a minute or two.
For his own part, Iohannes decidedly doesn't turn around, choosing instead to examine his reflection in the mirror and take in the full effect of the elaborate silver embroidery down the front. It takes the shape of flowers and branches, moons and stars. It's a little more flamboyant than he'd have chosen for himself if given half the chance, but he'd left the details for his coronation in the hands of those rather more capable.
(-and, frankly, rather more interested. He could care less about his crown so long as having one means he can do what needs to be done to stop the Wraith.)
He can only hope that the ones being prepared for the wedding are less fussy. So far, the chances don't appear to be good.
"It is good to see that your fashion sense has improved over the millennia," Josua says at last, favouring Iohannes' reflection with a slight nod. "Though I find it curious you have gone to the trouble of having your clothing tailored when it is easily within your abilities to create any garments you should desire with but a thought."
"I have my reasons."
"You always did."
"Why are you here, Josua?" he sighs, turning around at last.
Had there been any sympathy in the other man's gaze, Iohannes thinks he might have been willing to hear him out. Unlike so many of the others, whose cold indifference had spurred a bitter hate within him, which had shattered with their deaths and left Iohannes numb inside for days, Josua Lal Tribunus had been a friend. Perhaps not a friend as the Terrans would define one, but a friend nonetheless. They had been children together, the only two in their generation, until Nicolaa had been born. They had played together, served in the War together; planned the city's defenses together. Perhaps they had not been close – becoming pastor so young had decidedly quashed any possibly of that early on, – but they'd still been friends of a kind.
But there is none. Only hardness and sharpness and the lingering nostalgia for how simple everything had been Before, when they were still friends, when the Wraith were their only enemies and it seemed like the Alteran species would weather any storm, as it had done for a billion years already and would assuredly do for a billion more.
"Mother sent me."
"Yeah, I guessed that myself actually," he says, crossing his arms over his chest. "How about some details here, buddy? Like why Ganos Lal decided to send her only child down to my little ol' plane of existence and scare off my seamstress? 'Cause I gotta tell you, that sort of thing right there smacks of interference."
"I will defer to your expertise on the matter," he says, and there's the hint of a smile that Iohannes had been looking for, but it's too late now. Then, more soberly, "Are you aware of the events your Terran brethren have precipitated?"
"It's kinda hard to miss the sound of a billion people crying out at once, especially when it leaves behind that kind of silence."
"Yes," Josua agrees quietly. "Then you are also aware that they activated the Sangraal too soon. The Haeretici were not the only victims of the device. It was active long enough to slaughter every Ascended being in Avalon, as well as destroy whatever remained of those peaceable ones who Ascended in the home galaxy before the Schisma. Only those of us in Pegasus at the time were spared."
"And how many's that?"
"Fifty-four, counting yourself and the Schismatica."
Fifty-four survivors of the last iteration of the greatest race to ever touch the stars. Fifty-four out of the billions who'd ever lived. Fifty-four out of the millions who'd ever Ascended. It's difficult to wrap his head around. As much as he hates them for their part in his own Ascension, he's never actively wanted them destroyed. Showed up? Yes. Busted down a peg? Certainly. But destroyed? The thought had never even crossed Iohannes' mind.
He swallows. He can remember ten thousand years of silence just fine. He doesn't need to contemplate a future filled with more, not if he wants to keep what's left of his sanity. "Again, what does this have to do with me?"
"It is time to come home, Icarus."
"Atlantis is home."
"Atlantis is for mortals. Ascended beings belong on the higher planes."
"Is that so?"
"You know it is, Icarus. Terrible things happen when folks like us start getting involved in the lower planes. The Haeretici are merely the worst example."
Iohannes wants to shake him. "Stop blinding yourself with dogma, Josua. We weren't born to live just for ourselves. We were born with the privilege of strength into a society that conquered war and poverty and sickness long before our births; it's our duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves, to keep them from making the same mistakes our people did."
"Mother taught us the same lessons. You know as well as I that every time we have tried to help younger species we have only ever given them the reins to their own destruction. Morderatus, Gaheris, Valuanii – we destroyed each of those worlds through our ignorance and our arrogance and created the Haeresis in the process." He shakes his head. "No, Icarus. The only way to prevent more suffering is to let the universe take its course. Other blue worlds will be destroyed, yes, but others shall survive and their people will be the wiser for it."
"I'm not gonna stand by and watch people suffer when I can do something about it!"
"You will destroy yourself if you don't."
Iohannes throws up his hands and turns his back on Josua, furious at his obstinacy-
-but he can still see the other man in the mirror, his entire countenance filled with genuine concern. Ganos might have sent him here, but Josua honestly believes everything he's saying. He earnestly believes that, despite his best intentions, Iohannes will become a Haereticus; the only question is one of timing.
He wants to hate Josua. Everything would be so much easier if he could hate him. Yet Iohannes can easily remember a dozen times that Josua stood by his side Before, doing everything from making excuses to his mother about why Iohannes was not in class that day to helping him convince the Council to follow through on Iohannes' plans for what would eventually be the Battle of Tirianus. They'd never had the closeness he'd shared with Nicolaa (even before their relationship had turned romantic in nature), but he'd still been friendly.
It's with that friendship in mind Josua continues, "I cannot deny that you have done good works during your emperorship. You have ensured basic freedoms for those who, without your interference, would have remained underrepresented or disenfranchised for centuries to come. You have established a system to provide basic healthcare and elementary education to thousands. Most importantly, you have given all the peoples of this galaxy hope for the future and a means to bring that future about. You have achieved more in a single year than any Alteran has in twenty-five millennia.
"But now it is time to put aside those things. You are not of this plane. Your further presence here can only harm those you've fought so hard to protect; the fact that it has not already is a matter of chance, not providence.
"Return home with me, Icarus," he pleads. "Help us. Mother speaks of rebuilding our civilization. There has even been talk of finding a peaceable planet and Descending en masse, to give our species a second chance. But regardless of whatever is decided, your assistance would be invaluable. And you would not risk the lives of so many in the process."
Iohannes closes his eyes. It's not the offer that tempts him; it's the idea of finally belonging. But the Other's offer is too late. He's found a new people, a better cause. He has a place here. They want him.
"Or you could just Descend me."
Josua sighs. Whatever friendship they may have once had, it will not help him here.
He doesn't wait for a reply. "Or you could join me," he offers instead.
Josua blinks, visibly nonplussed by the suggestion.
"Join me," Iohannes repeats, turning at last back to face him. "All of you – Ganos, Chaya, everyone else who's still around. Think of all the good we could do if we worked together, all the people we could help – not just in this galaxy, but in all of them. The Descendants would easily accept a pantheon-"
"That is Haeresis."
"It's only Haeresis if you actually start believing you're a god."
"That is not how it works, Icarus."
"As the guy currently doing just that, I think I know."
"How long did it take for you to start believing your own lies?" Josua asks, a strange sense of revelation passing over his face. "How much longer will it take for you to start giving over to the Haeretici's excesses? Or is it too late for that as well?"
"You're being ridiculous."
"Am I? Then come with me now, while you still can. Stop this madness and save the lives of a billion people whose only fault was in having too much faith in a being no less fallible than themselves."
"I can't control what people think, Josua. All I can do is keep telling them I'm not a god. The people of this galaxy aren't stupid; their development has just been stymied because of the Wraith. One day they'll advance enough that they'll finally believe me. Until that day comes, all I can do is deal with it as best I can."
"Call it what you will, Icarus, it still looks like Haeresis from where I stand." He shakes his head, something sad and heavy in his pale grey eyes. "I must tell Mother."
"Jo- Josuea!" he begins, but it's too late. Josua is gone, back to whatever corner of the higher planes he's been hiding in all these millennia.
Iohannes spins round and slams his fist into the mirror. The glass breaks, but the shards fall harmlessly to the ground, passing through his false flesh as if it were no more than a shadow.
He finds Carson in his office on the tenth floor of Tower Forty, which after recent renovations is now serving as the main building for the IHC. There's still some construction work going on in the middle levels – as advanced as they Ancients were, they'd not needed anything resembling an ICU and as such building adequate intensive care facilities where there had been none is not a small task – but this floor, at least, is finished, if only because they'd not needed to make any major changes to the layout to get suitable offices for the medical staff.
Though they had added placards next to all the doors, so that people would actually have half an idea of where they were and where they were going when they ended up transported somewhere they hadn't intended. John had disliked the idea, saying, "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago," but had been overruled by the rest of the senior staff on the matter.
John had pouted for days after that decision. Though that might have had something more to do with the recent deployment of the Sangraal, which had wiped out nearly every Ascended being in existence, then the ballistic office supplies Zelenka had threatened to send in his direction if he didn't let them have their way.
Either way, Rodney finds Carson in the office actually marked Carson Beckett – a mark-the-calendars first – with the doors stuck in the open position, giving a clear view of the chaos within: Half-a-dozen packing crates crowd the entry way. Piles of charts and reference materials are stacked haphazardly upon every flat surface, more than one of them threatening to slide to the floor at the first clack of the air recycling units. A painter's ladder leans inexplicably against one wall, apparently secunded for use as a valet stand. No less than three of the long-sleeved robes Teyla's seamstress friends keep making for them hang from the rungs; his lab coat has missed the ladder entirely and lies in a heap at its foot.
In the centre of it all is Carson, who's actually managed to fall asleep at his desk, which is in itself an impressive feat as Rodney's not actually sure how he managed to get behind his desk in the first place. There's no clear pathway through the clutter and, unless it closed behind him, Rodney rather thinks a point-to-point transporter – of the Star Trek variety – has to have been used.
"Carson," he says, manoeuvring between stacks.
There's no response.
"Carson," he tries again, rather more loudly this time, wedging himself into the space between the desk and the visitors' chairs, both piled high with a riot of luridly coloured binders – pink and neon green, canary yellow and cadmium orange.
There's still no response.
There are a few empty square inches of desktop within reach and, for lack of a better option, Rodney slams his hands down on the heavy metal surface. Files shift. Journals slide. A cup filled with pens, tenuously perched on one of the outer stacks, smashes to the floor with an explosion of ink and cheap ceramic.
"Wow. That actually is kind of impressive," he admits with a strange sort of awe when Carson doesn't so much as stir. "Figure out how to bottle this and we could fund Atlantis for a lifetime." Shaking his head, he says, "Paging Doctor Beckett," more out of exasperation then real expectation.
Carson's head snaps up. A sheet of paper sticks to one side of his face as his hands go for a beeper that's not on his belt – or, thankfully, anywhere in this galaxy.
"I cannot believe that just worked. In fact, I refuse to believe it. You are the Chief of Medicine, the guy who I'm supposed to trust with his hands messing around with my insides, and I'm going to go on deluding myself that you sleep regular hours in your own bed and don't have what looks like a stick figure dog on your face. Purely for my own sanity, I hope you understand. "
"I thought you said sleep was for the weak?" Carson asks, sounding remarkably awake considering how deeply he'd been asleep less than a minute before. He unsticks the sheet of paper off his face and turns it around with a frown. "And it is supposed to be a sheep."
"God, that's just worse. I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. So I'm going to ask you why you aren't having your minions do your paperwork instead of devoting brain power to coming up with an adequate response to that."
"This is nae paperwork, Rodney."
"You still have minions."
"Not that I'd trust with this."
"What is it?" he asks, only distantly interested, moving some of the binders from one chair to another. The additional weight causes the second chair to creak dangerously. Rodney decides he doesn't really need to sit down after all.
"My notes on Michael."
Maybe he does need to sit down. "Carson…" he begins awkwardly, unsure where to go from there. There's no safe ground.
"I know what you're going to say. I know Laura's death was nae my fault. Be-" he chokes up a little here, "Being fed upon is a traumatic experience. Her heart just could nae take it. Nothing I could have done could have saved her. But the Wraith retrovirus was my idea, as was the live trial. I had Michael brought here. My experiment failed. I as good as killed her."
No, he wants to say. Your experiment failed, but John killed her. He killed her because you could have saved her and she didn't want to be saved. Not if it meant the kind of life she would have had after. But he can't, because he made a promise, so what he says instead is, "No you didn't. You did exactly what you should have. None of us could have guessed he'd manage to escape like he did."
"He'd never have been on Atlantis-"
"And she'd never have been on Atlantis if O'Neill had never discovered the Antarctic Outpost and Jackson hadn't found the Gate address. And we'd never have done either of those if some Ancient hadn't left really creepy Repositories of Knowledge throughout the Milky Way. And humanoid life wouldn't even be on Earth if the Ancients hadn't lost their war with the Ori sixty-something million years ago. You start pointing fingers here and soon enough you're start blaming the universe for expanding."
Carson rubs a hand across his eyes. This only seems to increase their redness. "Logically, I know that, Rodney, but my heart keeps telling me that I could have saved her if only I'd done something different."
"Don't tell me you've been working on it all this time." He can be unobservant at times, but Rodney's certain he'd have noticed if Carson'd been working himself up into this state every night since Cadman's death. Carson's his best friend. As busy as Rodney has been, as wrapped up as he's been with everything that's been going on with John, he had to have noticed that much. He had to.
"Nae. I've tried nae to think about it, actually. And I've been so busy, what with everything else that I've nae had time. But then I looked at the calendar last night and realized that realized she's been gone for almost a year and…"
And so he pulled out his notes and did the only thing he could: try to figure out what he could have done differently to save her.
Rodney understands. He really does. He's done the same too many times to honestly count and will, undoubtedly, only add to that figure in the future. He knows how destructive it can be, how dangerous. Hell, the proof's in its port behind the mastoid skin of his right ear. "What you need," he says sagely, "is a distraction."
"A distraction?" Carson repeats with an air of tired amusement and half a watery smile.
"Yes. Like you've said, it's been almost a year, and while I've got to admire the whole dedication to your dead girlfriend thing you've got going on, I'm pretty sure she'd be kicking your ass ten ways to Sunday if she could see you now."
"Aye, that's true."
"So what do you think about Keller?"
"What? She's moderately intelligent and not exactly hard to look at. What more could you want?"
"That sounds like your type, Rodney, nae mine."
Rodney considers this. "Alright, you've got me there. But don't worry, I've got an even better way to take your mind off things."
"I need you," he says, pulling a small box out of his pocket, "to put this into my brain."