Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, sentient!Atlantis
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Summary: Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
Series: part 1 of #39 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: We are finally out of the eternal July 2007... barely. 1) More on the new base psychologist next installment. 2) The timeline of S3 is here but what it boils down to is "Ascensiones" was in March/April and Elizabeth died on 17 August 2006. 3) There are 6 planets in the Loegrian system. They are, in order: Latunda, Vacuna, Suedela, Nova Loegria, Arimanius, and Cybelle. Nova Loegria has 5 moons, Arimanius 27, and Cybelle 18. They all have Roman/Arthurian meanings. Arimanius is an obscure Roman Britian god who possibly came up through the Mithraic tradition, who may be the Roman cognate of Angra Mainyu, the Zoroastrianism "destructive spirit". Plutarch calls him "the worst spirit" and even "Satan." 4) Nebreus is one of the Alteran urbs-naves, destroyed in 8273 BC, about two years before Ianus is born. His mother, Beatrix Aquilidea Nebriae Tribuna, was one of the refugees who fled to Atlantis, making Iohannes 1/4th Nebrian. His nomen, Ianideus, follows the Nebrian convention. In this 'verse, they are also the builders of the short-lived Orion and the research station on which it was found. 5) Oh, and Gubernator means pilot
1 August, 2007 – Atlantis, Nova Loegria, Pegasus
"John? Are you all right?"
Iohannes lets out a shaky breath, the better part of it reflected back by the hands covering his face. "Yeah," he says as steadily as possible, almost managing to convince himself that all is well and he is not evil and they'll get through this in the end. Almost. "I'll be out in a second."
He waits until he hears Rodney's footsteps retreat on the other side of the bathroom door before lowering his hands and glancing towards the darkened ceiling.
/You are fine, pastor,/ the city assures him, her voice, like her song, a welcome caress. As old as he is, trapped inside too new skin while his mind attempts to cope with memories stretching back to the birth of the universe and beyond, he feels painfully young, as if rebuilding his flesh from stardust and moonbeams has turned back his biological clock. Iohannes is twenty-seven billion years old and he wants nothing more than for Atlantis to whisper in his ear and tell him stories like she did when he was a child, convinced that Father would end the war any day now and he would never have to hear her scream when the energy weapons hit her shields again. /You will be fine./
"You're a degenerate liar. I don't know why I listen to a word you say."
/You've gotten through worse than this before. You'll get through this as well./
"Now I know you're lying," he snorts, a hint of a smile on his face as he uses the wall to clamber to his feet. He takes a moment to lean his forehead against the cold tiles, gathering strength, before feeling his way around the glass partition that divides the shower from the rest of the bathroom.
He used to hate the darkness. After ten thousand years trapped within it, bound to the cathedra, waiting for the salvation he could not be certain was coming, how could he not?
But now? Now he has lived twice the age of the universe. In that time, for most of that time, there were no stars. No planets. No people. Until very recently (relatively speaking), everything was nothingness. Darkness. Void. And as much as he loves creation and as much as he begged and fought and pleaded for there to be something rather than nothing, sometimes it is just too much to take in.
So much noise.
So much laughter.
So much pain.
He's finding that he needs a few moments of darkness – emptiness – nothingness – every now and then to keep his bearings since his return from death. The universe is too much with him, but in the darkness Iohannes can find himself again.
Iohannes staggers over to the sink and splashes water on his face. Unable to see his reflection, he manages to convince himself that he at least looks as if all is well even if things remain jumbled on the inside, before stumbling out into the bedroom. He pauses there for socks – he's always cold now and the metal pins in his legs hold the chill – and an Air Force sweatshirt 'Helianus had thrown his way when Carson had finally released him from the infirmary the day before.
He can do this.
Atlantis opens the door.
"You okay?" Rodney asks, hearing footfalls behind him. "You were in there for a long time."
"It's just all these drugs making me sick. I'll get over it."
"You'd probably feel better if you ate something."
"Food just makes it worse."
Rodney frowns, wanting to press the issue, but getting John to admit that anything is wrong at all is in itself a minor miracle. He doesn't want a fight – he just wants to be happy that John's alive and sane and not evil – but Rodney knows he'll get one if he asks anything further. But still, he's hardly seen John eat anything at all since they released him from the IHC. With all of the antidepressants, alpha-blockers, and mood stabilizers the new base psychologist put him on before letting him go, he should be eating something, even if it's only thin soup to get his stomach used to the idea of eating again. "If you're sure," is what he settles for instead.
He means to leave it at that, he truly does, only John has about as much colour as his corpse did. Leaning against in the kitchen doorway, practically drowning in an oversized Air Force sweatshirt, John looks worse than he did before his release. He's putting on a good show of it – John always does – but a stiff breeze could knock him out of commission right now. It's going to be a long, hard road coming back from Ascension, and, "It's just, the last thing you need right now is hypoglycaemic shock on top of every-"
"I'm fine, Rodney."
"You were dead-"
"And now I'm not."
"And it doesn't bother you that you were inexplicably dead for fifty-one hours? Or that you are not dead now and nobody has a clue how?"
"I'm alive," John insists, crossing his arms haughtily. The sleeves of his borrowed sweatshirt are so long on him that several inches of cuff poke out, empty, on either side, giving him a somewhat ridiculous, childlike look that runs counter to the overwhelming age of his eyes. Even before he Ascended they were old, but now they are ancient, eternal, and too bright for his face, as if some trace of his former power lingers, visible only there. "I'm mortal again. I thought that would make you happy."
"I am happy."
"Then why are you complaining?" he demands, pushing away from the doorframe and taking an agitated step forward before pausing, turning heel as if to leave before and burying his hands in his hair and turning back to face him. Somewhat desperately, he continues, "This is our chance to have a normal life together, the kind we always wanted. I don't get why you can't just accept that."
"First off," Rodney says, making as violent a gesture as possible while burdened by a pair of thermoses. When it fails miserably, he sets them both on the counter and glares at them rather than John, who'd only pout, "when have you ever known me to just accept anything? And secondly, I happen to like you being alive. Forgive me if I'm rather invested in seeing you stay that way!"
"I'm not going to die. Not anytime soon, anyway."
"How do you know that?"
"I just do."
"See, I was willing to believe that when you were Ascended and had all the knowledge in the universe tucked into you head. I'm less willing to believe it after I spent the last month watching you die three times. Three times, John. Three."
"Yes. I know. I was there. I can count."
"I don't know, can you? Because three seems a bit excessive, even for you. I mean, I'm used to you risking life and limb and my blood pressure doing something incredibly suicidal once, twice a year, but three times in four weeks is just pushing the limits of sanity – yours and mine."
Rodney is ninety percent sure that the only reason John doesn't shout his next words are because he hasn't the strength. Instead his voice is barely above a whisper, filled with such so much need for everything just to be normal again that it's like a knife to the gut. "I told you, I'm fine. You're fine. We're both fine and for once we have an actual evening to ourselves, so why don't we make the most of it?"
He bites his lip and shakes his head, a gesture he knows he picked up from John only after he does it. "You're not fine," he says, hastily continuing as John bristles, "You will be, but you're not now."
John deflates at this, somehow managing to become even more lost in the sweatshirt than he already is. Slumping back against the doorframe, he sighs, "I don't want to talk about it."
"You probably should, at some point."
"Didn't work out so well for Heightmeyer, did it?"
Rodney rolls his eyes. "I was under the impression that you just stared at her until she made a diagnosis by process of elimination alone."
John looks sheepish. Pale, tired, and… sheepish.
"Oh my god. You don't remember. You don't remember any of it."
John comes alive at the accusation, pushing away from the wall and gathering himself to his full height. The effect is somewhat undermined by the oversized sweatshirt, but the result is about the same as throwing a couple of ice cubes on a bushfire – pointless and somewhat absurd. "I remember stuff."
"Look, it's no big deal-"
"No big deal!"
"The rest will come back."
"You don't know that," Rodney contends, anger giving way to tired acquiescence.
An argument is the last thing he wants right now, yet here they are, well on their way to shouting the most horrible things at each other. If this keeps up, there will be no sign of John when the smoke finally clears. The Ancient will have disappeared into the depths of his city, not to be seen again unless it's under his own terms. And the last thing John needs right now is to be alone.
(Who is he kidding? The last thing he wants is to be alone again either. Rodney's not sure he'll be happy until he's spent the next couple of years of his life looking over and making sure John's still with him, John's still alive.)
"I have to believe it," he says, voice rough as he visibly holds himself back from saying anything truly unforgiveable. It's not like him, but it lends him come colour at least.
Rodney breathes in deeply, doing his own level best to keep things passably civil. It's harder than he remembers. When did the get to the point where it was easier to raise their voices than actually talk? Why did they let it get that far? "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I'd hoped they would come back by now."
"Of course you did," he doesn't say. Instead he asks, "What do you remember?"
John bites his lower lip, eyes darting toward the floor. For a moment, Rodney worries John won't say anything at all – that he'll just turn and leave and they'll be right back to where they started. But then, after a nudge from 'Lantis, he says, "Bits and pieces mostly… I remember being in a hallway and thinking you were dead… There was ice… ice and blood, but none of it's clear. All I get are flickers. Sensations. Ghosts of memories."
"And that's the last thing you remember?"
"Before the morgue? Yeah."
There is a chair behind him. There must be, for when his knees give out he does not fall to the ground. "John, that was over four months ago."
"I know. 'Lantis told me."
It doesn't matter what 'Lantis told him. Four months – that's everything. That's their wedding. That's the erasure of his memories. That's the Asuran Counterstrike. It may as well be a lifetime.
"What else?" He scarcely recognizes his voice. "What else are you missing?"
"I don't… None of it's all that clear… The last thing I really remember is being in Elizabeta's office the day you found the address for Asuras."
A year, almost to the day – that's how much John is missing. Not just the wedding, but also the Second Exodus and Hegira, the Alteran Massacre and the establishment of the Confederation of Pegasus. John has changed the face of universe – and he remembers almost none of it.
"I've remembered a couple things, though." There it is – there's the John he remembers. He still sounds tired, maybe even a little lost, but he's still John. Underneath it all, after everything that's happened, John is still John, and that's all that really matters. "I'm not sure how useful they are, but at least it's something."
His voice is still distant, but Rodney can at least recognize it as his own. "Like what?" he asks.
John glances toward the ceiling. "C'mon. I'll show you."
They go out onto the roof. There's already a stack of quilts waiting for them, their storage unit miraculously undisturbed by recent events. John spreads one out on the rooftop before pulling him down to the blanket.
"So I was trying to figure out why I chose this planet. It doesn't have anything going for it besides a big ocean, but 'Lantis would've taken another ground landing if that was all we could find. It makes no sense to come here when there were plenty of other, closer systems that fit the bill."
"But then it hit me." He takes Rodney's hand and points it towards a red-tinged spec about fifteen degrees above the celestial equator. "That's Arimanius."
This, of course, means nothing to Rodney, and he says as much.
"It's a planet – just your average, run-of-the-mill gas giant. It's not particularly large, has about the usual number of moons, and has no interesting cloud features of which to speak."
"Why bother naming it then?"
"'Cause its got one of the most interesting moons in the galaxy – not quite as big as Terra's, but just about as massive, and all the volcanic activity an enterprising species might want if they were looking to experiment with geothermal energy."
That catches his attention. "You mean there's an Ancient outpost there."
"A Nebrian one, yes. They abandoned it when Tarquinus Fell. Either they left in a hurry or they figured the moon would do the work of destroying it for them."
"But it didn't?"
"And why's that important?"
"I don't know," John admits, still staring at the sky. "All I know is that it's imperative we go there. Soon. There's something important there… Something we need to solve the puzzle."
John shakes his head. "I don't know."