Words: 3,800 (of ?)
Pairing/Charecter(s): Ancient!John/Rodney, Evan Lorne/Radek Zelenka
Warnings/Spoliers: #20 in the Ancient!John 'verse; set during "Misbegotten;" spoilers for 2001: A Space Odyessy.
Disclaimer: Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine.
Summary: In which cake is eaten, a movie is watched, and feelings are discussed. Sorta.
Notes: This flowed. Mostly. I see this as being a two-parter (as I realized a 3 month time skip might be a no-no). Idolon means apparition or spectre in Latin - for reasons that you will see below - and actually has no relation to the English word idol, though I love the coincidence. According to the Stargate Wiki, John's bday is June 14, though where this comes from no one seems to have any idea.Latin squares are... well, sodoku is a type of them, which is really the best way to describe it. Teyla really is the best plot device when it comes to emotions and the boys.... and many thanks to popkin16 who spent several hours on skype with me the other day talking about what the religion of Pegasus (ie, the worship of the Ancestors) might look like.
Also, after much discussion (ie, all 4 hours of the drive back from the concert the other night, with my mother, who knows nothing about this series or SGA) and much downloading of Johnny Cash covers, I've determined that the soundtrack for the begining of S3 is this, in order: "Some Nights" by fun. and "Folsom Prison Blues" as preformed by Jamie Lono. More will come later.
"I feel like I'm floating in the centre of the sun," Iohannes begins, only to snatch the words back as soon as he says them. "No, that's wrong. It's more like I'm the star, with all of the thermonuclear fusion going on right under my skin, and I'm trying to hold onto all of this, this light and radiation and energy I'm producing, only the more I try to hang onto, the harder it gets to hold on to any of it at all. And any second it's all just going to come flying apart." He lets his hands fall limply to the into his lap.
Teyla looks at him with solicitude heavy in her eyes. "Have you considered letting go of this energy you describe? Of not trying to hold on to it?"
"That would be worse," he says immediately, staring down at his hands. It's been two weeks since he came back from the higher planes. But, more importantly, it's been twenty-five days since he Ascended, meaning it's been twenty-five days since he's had corporeal form and twenty-five days since he's been able to touch anyone or anything. Iohannes has never been what anyone might consider touchy-feely, but he's growing desperate for touch. Even the solid presence of
Atlantis' floors beneath his feet would be a beautiful miracle at this point, one he'd gladly give almost anything for.
Iohannes has no idea how he's going to survive thirty thousand years this way.
"Are you certain?"
"To Ascend is to convert all the matter in your body into pure energy. If I let it go, I go."
"How do you know?"
It's hard to get angry or even irritated with Teyla, but it's not impossible. "Trust me," he says, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. "I know."
With impeccable calm, she suggests, "Why don't you show me?"
"Fine," he says, unable to hide his glower, and looses his hold just a little. Not much, but enough to feel himself waver at the edges, to feel the cold light start to pour from his body in torrents and waterfalls.
It's like drowning and burning and tumbling into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit - completely overwhelming and without any hope of recovery. It's as terrifying as thunder and as brilliant as lightning and more dangerous than the winds that shriek and howl amidst Atlantis' glass-spun towers during the strongest storms. It's awful and awesome beyond words and if there's anything redeeming about it at all, Iohannes can't think of it.
Desperately, he throws his controls back up. "There," he tells her, gasping like he's run a marathon with Ronon. "See. Told you it was a bad idea."
"If I wanted reverse psychology, I'd have gone to Heightmeyer."
"Kate is quite skilled at her job."
"It's not about whether she's skilled or not."
"It's about whether or not you trust her," Teyla nods knowingly.
"What? No. Now you're just being ridiculous."
The Athosian sighs, like Iohannes is being particularly dense. "John, you could have chosen to talk to Kate about your problems. Or Elizabeth. Or Rodney. Or any of your friends. And yet you chose to come to me. Why is that?"
"That's easy. 'Cause you're the only one on Atlantis I know of that meditates and therefore the only one who has a chance of understanding even a little of what I'm going through."
"I wish that were so, John," Teyla says, smilingly at him beatifically. It's at times like this Iohannes can't help but think how much better an Ascended being she'd make then any of the others he's ever encountered, himself included. "For all my meditation, I have never come close to anything like what you have described."
"Perhaps," she says, her smile going wry. "But what you have achieved is something many of my people - indeed, many people throughout this galaxy - have dedicated their lives to achieving. Even if it is a confusing experience, it is one I cannot help be glad you are able to have."
"Even if it's not by choice?"
"You chose it once," she reminds him.
It's true enough. Last year Iohannes had Ascended with the intent of stopping the siege of the city, only to be cast down within minutes of his Ascension, before he had been able to attack the Wraith hives above Atlantis. His choice, yes, but one only borne of desperation.
But that was then, and this time there was no choice.
They sit in silence for a long while.
Iohannes watches the smoke waft from the incense she's set out upon her Ancestral altar. The existence of the altar itself makes him very ill at ease. He's all for religious freedom, but the idea of someone else's religion being him makes him beyond uncomfortable, to say nothing of the Haeresis that is implicit in such objects.
Teyla is very good about it. She's less religious then she was, but even at the very beginning of their friendship she was careful not to bother him with it.
The other Athosians are less so. After every visit they make to the city, their shrine becomes more elaborate. The braver ones will even stop him in the halls and ask for his blessing - for their crops, for their children, for their marriages. He tries to avoid it if he seems them coming, but if they corner him he'll give it. It's the only way to make them go away, even if it makes him feel dirty inside.
After two years, the shrine room has grown beyond the small altar made out of scavenged parts it was at their arrival in the city. Now the altar itself is the size of one of the mess hall tables, intricately carved from some dark wood found on the mainland and laden with candles and incense and flowers. Brightly coloured prayer ribbons are tied to poles set around the room, fresh from the last time the Athosians had been shuttled to Atlantis. Images of Ancestors - Alterans - raising their worshipers up and casting the Wraith down line the walls.
It's brilliant and beautiful and serene and quietly holy.
Iohannes hates it terribly. But it is the room Teyla uses to meditate and, thus, the one room he can be guaranteed to find her alone in now that her people have - finally - retuned to the mainland.
The incense continues to waft.
Teyla finally breaks the silence. "May I ask you a question?"
"Have you tried talking to Rodney about any of this?"
"And say what? Hey Rodney, I know you think this whole Ascension thing is just a whole bunch of mystical mumbo-jumbo, but I've kinda gotta explore my spiritual side if I want to get a handle on my fancy new Ascended powers. Wanna help?" Iohannes snorts. "Yeah. That is bound to go over real well."
Teyla inclines her head in something that might be understanding. "Have you tried talking to Rodney at all?"
"Well yeah, of course. Just this morning we were talking about-"
"What I mean to say is, have you tried speaking with Rodney about anything not related to work since you returned from the higher planes?"
He turns to stare at the incense again. "What'd be the point?"
"Among other reasons? To reassure him that your feelings for him have not changed since you Ascended."
Iohannes continues to stare at the incense, saying nothing.
"Your feelings for Rodney," she broaches slowly, "have not changed, have they?"
"Of course not," Iohannes says fiercely, eyes snapping back to hers. "It's just," unable to hold her gaze, he climbs to his feet and strides angrily across the room, coming to stop right in front of the splendid, heretical altar. "It's just, really, what is the point? I'm Ascended. I'm going to be Ascended for the next thirty thousand years.
"And, okay, maybe, just maybe I can deal with that. I mean, I was in stasis for ten thousand years. I slept through the extinction of my whole race and managed to carve out a life for myself afterwards. Maybe I can do it again. Maybe I can find a way to live with myself year after year, millennium after millennium, while everyone I know - everybody I love - grows old without me. Dies without me. That's not beyond the realm of possibility.
"But to go through all those years like this?" Iohannes slams his hand down on the altar and knocks all the idols and offerings, candles and incense to the floor. Or, at least, he tries to. He wants to. Instead, his hand passes harmlessly through all of it, as if he'd done nothing at all. As if he's. Not. Even. There. "What good am I to anyone if I can't touch anything?"
"Relationships are based on more than physical contact, John. I am sure you and Rodney will be able to reach some sort of understanding."
"This is not about Rodney!" Iohannes snaps. Then, running his hands through his hair - a useless gesture that he cannot in any way feel or even sense, "At least, it's not only about him. I'm a soldier, Teyla. I may not have joined the Guard until I was seventeen, but I've been fighting all my life.
"I mean, what choice did I have?" he asks the wall beyond the altar, hands balling into useless fists at his sides. "I was a pastor and Ciprian was so old, even back then. He was in no shape to be spending hours in the cathedra, but we were at war and someone had to. What choice did I have?" he repeats.
Teyla's voice, when it comes, startles Iohannes. She'd stood at some point while he'd been talking and joined him next to the altar, close enough to touch if he could still do so. "How old were you?"
"The first time? Six. And before you say it, no one made me do it. It's just...
"Look, there were over twenty hives in orbit at the time and they were carpet bombing the entire planet. The mainland was one giant firestorm. The oceans were being flooded with toxins. The Wraith were trying to make Lantea uninhabitable and Ciprian had collapsed trying to deal with it all.
"So while the adults were taking care of him, I snuck into the cathedra. Must have taken out six hundred darts before they realised what I'd done. They were upset, sure, but they didn't stop me until the darts retreated back to their hives. That's how I got this first laudis councelium," Iohannes adds, tapping one of the stars on his right shoulder. "Tell me, what choice did I have after that?"
Teyla, wisely, says nothing.
"The only thing I am is a solider. What good am I to anyone if I can't even do that?"
"You are much more than a soldier, John."
"I'm really not."
She turns to him with a gentle, teasing smile. "I was a under the impression that self-awareness is a key aspect of Ascension."
"Yeah. I'm not really in the right mood for all that metaphysical, mystical, meditation mumbo-jumbo anymore. Sorry."
"It is all right," Teyla says, her smile growing brighter. "I was considering getting something to eat instead. Would you care to join me?"
Iohannes sighs. "Y'know I don't need to eat anymore, right?"
"Which is why you shall keep me company while I eat."
The mess hall is never empty. There are times when it's less crowded than others, but it's never empty, so Iohannes isn't really surprised to see Ronon and Elizabeta sharing one of the middle tables with Rodney and Zelenka despite the hour. While Teyla goes to get her food, he heads on over.
"Hey guys," he says, sliding into the empty seat next to Rodney.
Elizabeta gives him a smile that crinkles her eyes and makes her whole face shine. "John. Just the man we were hoping to see."
"Yes. You've got to help me. We were thinking of having a movie night tonight - you know, our last chance to relax before Woolsey starts poking his greasy nose into things he has no hope of understanding tomorrow - and these two," Rodney points accusingly at Zelenka and Elizabeta, "want to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's."
"It is good movie!" Zelenka protests. "Audrey Hepburn manages to turn what should be the highly implausible character of Holly Golightly into a charming and believable performance."
"Oh my god," Rodney scoffs loudly, "what are you? A '60s housewife?"
"It's a classic!"
"You are a physicist! A male physicist! You should be pulling for 2001 with me. Or, at the very least, offering a suitable science fiction alternative. Hell, I'd take The Matrix over Breakfast at Tiffany's. John, tell them."
Iohannes looks at Ronon, who shrugs unhelpfully, then back to Rodney. "Someone made a movie about matrices?" He's always had a slight obsession with matrices, particularly the sort the Terrans call Latin squares, and while Iohannes is uncertain as to what form a movie about them could possibly take, it's almost guaranteed to be fascinating. Most Terran movies and television shows he's seen so far have been, if only for their horrible inaccuracies and misconceptions.
Well, except for Wormhole X-treme, but that's fascinating for a whole other set of reasons.
"Huh. That's disappointing."
"Yes, yes it was - though for different reasons than the one you're probably thinking of. Can you just, I don't know, tell these two that we refuse to watch a romantic comedy so we can move on to more important questions, like who's turn it is to contribute snacks?"
Cocking an eyebrow, he turns to Elizabeta and repeats, "We refuse to watch a romantic comedy."
"It's okay," Elizabeta says, mouth quirking upwards on one side. "If I've learned one thing since joining the Stargate Program, it's that science fiction is more than a simple interest, it's a way of life."
Both the scientists at the table snort.
"It is my sincere belief," Zelenka goes so far to say, "that when the Stargate Program finally goes public, a young doctoral candidate in a department of history somewhere will notice how many of the people involved only became interested in outer space because of Star Trek. He will write his dissertation on how Gene Roddenberry saved the universe and it will become a mainstream success which we will never see a penny from."
Rodney and Elizabeta snort this time, the former adding huffily, "Get your liberal arts major boyfriend to write it."
Doctor Z's eyebrows rise impertinently. "Evan studied philosophy, not history."
"Same difference. Either way, it's a completely pointless degree. He might as well write it."
"I am having a hard enough time trying to convince him to finish his dissertation - he's ABD from Stanford for a PhD in ancient philosophy."
"Impressive," Elizabeta says.
Ronon just looks bored.
"Well, I dunno about ancient Terran philosophy, but I know plenty about old Alteran philosophy if you ever get him to change his mind."
Elizabeta looks at him dubiously. "Really?"
"How d'you think I Ascended in the first place? The first time, I mean."
"To be completely honest? I never really put much thought into the how," she says. "Mostly, I was just curious as to how you came back so quickly."
"Yeah, well, how deep is the river if you cannot see the bottom?" Iohannes shrugs.
"I dunno," Lorne answers from behind him, carrying a large cake stuck through with several dozen tiny candles. "Depends on the river, I guess."
"Even the shallowest waters can reflect mountains."
"Only if they're calm waters." He gestures with the tray holding the cake. "Now, Sir, do you want to trade some more aphorisms, or do you want your cake?"
Lorne sets it on the table in front of Iohannes. "Yessir. Happy Birthday."
"Birthday?" Iohannes repeats blankly.
"Yes," Teyla agrees, setting down a stack of plates after Lorne moves out of the way. "You are to be congratulated for reaching such an age. It is an extraordinary and auspicious thing among the people of this galaxy."
"Yeah," Ronon snorts. "My grandfather lived to be seventy-four. I've never heard of someone reaching your age before. How old are you supposed to be, anyway?"
"Er, ten thousand, two hundred thirty-nine. Or maybe thirty-six. Stasis makes these sorts of things confusing. But what I don't get is why we're celebrating it."
Elizabeta bites her lower lip. "It is today, correct? I asked Rodney too look it up in the Ancient database last Christmas, after you mentioned your people didn't have holidays."
"I dunno. Possibly. Probably. It's not exactly something I ever thought to keep track of."
"It is," Lorne answers, grinning broadly. "'Lantis told me."
"Oh, really?" Iohannes asks, scowling at the ceiling. "And what else has she been telling you?"
"How you got the nickname Licinus for one thing," the major smirks at him.
Carson walks up then an deposits a collection of flatware atop the plates - presumably, he'd come from the same shadowed corner Teyla had found Lorne in, and not simply chosen to shower them with random cutlery, "That sounds like a story."
"It's not really," Iohannes says quickly-
-but not quickly enough, it seems, as Lorne has already started in on his story. And then Atlantis flickers the lights playfully overhead and cries for him to blow out the candles come. And then there is cake, which he cannot eat but the others thoroughly enjoy. And then they let Rodney bully them into watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, and despite everything - the Wraith, Iohannes' Ascension; Woolsey's upcoming IOA inspection - they have more fun and laugh harder than he remembers doing at any point in his long, long life.
Iohannes might not know much about birthdays, but he's pretty sure this qualifies as a good one.
"I'm just saying, the whole premise of the movie is wrong."
"You," Rodney accuses as they make their way down the darkened hallways to his quarters, "don't know what you're talking about. 2001 is the single greatest SyFy movie ever made, with the possible - possible - exception of Blade Runner. And maybe the second Star Trek."
"I'm not saying it wasn't good," Iohannes contends, attempting to shove his hands into his pockets, remembering too late that the Lantean Guardsman uniform he's still wearing has none. He rests them on his hips instead, but it's not the same. "I'm just saying it's wrong. I mean, above and beyond the whole let's abduct the Terran thing - which, really, is something the people of your planet worry far too much about-"
"In our defence, our ancestors were abducted by the goa'uld for slave labour, so it is a valid fear."
"Nuclear holocaust is a valid fear. Abduction of single individuals by an advanced race? Not so much."
"You're only saying that because your ancestors nuked your homeworld."
"Exactly. Which makes it a valid fear to have, unlike little green men plucking random farmers out of their homes and leaving strange symbols in their corn fields."
"The Asgard Loki used to abduct people from Earth all the time."
"Yeah. He got General O'Neill once."
"Huh." Iohannes pauses. "Did they make a Wormhole X-treme about it?"
"I never should have introduced you to that show."
"Oh, I dunno," he drawls. "It's more interesting than reading the mission reports."
"I'll give you that," Rodney concedes, giving him the small, brilliant smile his amator reserves for those rare moments when he's truly happy. It makes Iohannes want to lean over and kiss him right here in the middle of the hall where anyone could see them and the only reason he doesn't is because his lips are just as insubstantial as the rest of him right now.
/This is torture,/ he tells Atlantis. /It's not bad enough that they threaten to destroy dozens of innocent worlds if I screw up, or forced me to Ascend entirely against my will. No, they've made it so I can't even kiss the person I love. How is that right?/
/Punishment isn't supposed to be fun, pastor,/ she reminds him quietly.
/I shouldn't even be being punished in the first place!/
/We know, pastor, and we agree, but what can be done? The others have spoken and their word is law. You can no more Descend than we can Ascend, and without a body you can no more kiss than you can do anything else./
Iohannes sighs and watches the smile slip off Rodney's face, as if he'd somehow noticed the direction his thoughts were taking him. He tries to bring it back, disputing, "That still doesn't change the fact that the whole premise of 2001 is wrong."
"No," Rodney argues, more for argument's sake than anything else. "It is perfect. It is the best science fiction Earth has to offer, and until you show me a decent Ancient movie, you cannot say otherwise."
"Hey, I liked it. I really did. I'm just saying that that computer? HAL? He can't have been a real AI."
"What makes you say that?"
"AI's are real people, and real people can believe two entirely different things at once without going crazy. It's a hallmark of true intelligence. If HAL was really an AI, he'd have been able to deal with lying to Poole and Bowman. I mean, 'Lantis lies to me all the time, and while I'd be the first to admit she's not exactly the pilar of mental health, none of her neuroses are caused by that."
"Maybe. But AI or not, I'm glad you liked it."
Rodney stops walking. It takes Iohannes a moment longer than it should to realise it's because they're at the door to Rodney's quarters, and though he has no stomach, he swears he can feel it sink. He doesn't want the night to be over.
"Do you want to come in?"
"I want to, but-"
I can't touch you, though I would love nothing more than to kiss you like you deserve to be kissed.
I can't sleep, though I want nothing more than to fall asleep in the curl of your body, with your chest pressed against my back and your arm slung heavy over my hips.
I don't want to lose you, but I don't have any idea how we can manage to stay together.
"I know. Just... I'd rather have you and not be able to touch you than lose you altogether. So, please, just come inside."
Onto Pars Dua