Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay, Ronon, Zelenka
Warnings: #32 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1, 2, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3); "The Tao of Rodney," thru SG1 s10e14 "The Shroud," SGU s1e01 "Air"
Summary: Things Fall Apart
Notes: I'm rather happy with the first part of this, mildly concerned about the last, and downright in agony over the middle. Comments/opinions/thoughts/etc would help me greatly for the next bit.
1) The first bit of Czech is, "You mean you will not fit, you mean." 2) the second is, "You are two of the dumbest smart people I've ever met." 3) The last is, "by god." 4) Thetis is an Oceanid, the mythological mother of Achillies and granddaughter of Tethys. 5) The training camp is on Genia, in case you've forgotten. 6) I think that's it.
An Ancient!John Story
21 March, 2007 / XXI Mai. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
"I do not believe you," Radek tells him, clearly exasperated, as he realigns the crystals in the drive tray for the fifth time in half as many hours. "Try now."
Rodney runs the simulation again. "Nope. It's still not working. I told you, the problem's got to be in the wiring-"
"-or in the hyperdrive itself. Yes, I know. I have been in this room entire time. I have heard everything you said."
"Yes, well, forgive me for thinking that you weren't paying attention. You give such a good impression of it that I tend to forget you actually acknowledge my genius and don't just do your own thing when you disagree with whatever it is I'm saying. Oh," he adds after a dramatic pause, snapping the fingers of his right hand, "wait."
Radek rolls his eyes. "No need to be snippy."
"Well I wouldn't have to be if you just did as I asked and went down to the hyperdrive generator and checked the connections on all the wires."
"If you think that is where the problem is, you check the connections. I will stay here and figure out the proper calibration, which will actually fix the problem."
"You're the electrical engineer."
"You are mechanical engineer. You are perfectly capable – unless the great Rodney McKay would care to admit that there is something he cannot do?"
Snorting, "Please. I just don't feel like having to crawl through all the access tubes to get there."
"Se nevejdou přístupových trubek, spíše," Radek mutters darkly, leaning over the drive dray to get at once of the harder to reach crystals.
"Hey! I know what you're saying now when you do that, you know."
"As if I could forget!"
"You're just jealous."
"Oh, yes, of course. Because there is much to be jealous of in a device that you shove into your brain that allows you to talk to Ancient city before forcing you to Ascend."
Rodney frowns. "Carson can show you the test results-"
"No," Radek says, shaking his head as he turns away from the crystals to look at Rodney with sad, tired eyes, "that I do believe. Only you would be stupid enough to invent a device that forces you to Ascend. What I do not understand is why you have not talked to the one person who can help you achieve your goal – who also happens to be your fiancé – since it happened."
Defensively, "I've been busy. We've both been busy."
"Oh, yes, because replacing the hyperdrive on Thetis with one capable of intergalactic travel is so urgent we could not do it in the first four months she sat in the hanger."
Thetis is what John chose to rename the Tria after Lorne brought her back to the Atlantis with the rest of them. As always, his reasons were his own, but for the most part John seems content to ignore the existence of the second linter, as if doing so would somehow undo all the pain its former crew had brought them.
"Well, John's been busy."
"Doing what? Questioning Evan about every incident that the Expedition has tried to start with us since they got here?"
"Yes," he lies, because he honestly has no idea what John's been up to this whole time. John knows Atlantis like the back of his hand – better even – and the city would never give up his location, even if Rodney thought to try.
"Vy dva jste ta nejhloupější chytrých lidí, co jsem kdy potkal," Radek declares in disgust, stopping just short of throwing his hands into the air. "Let me guess what has happened: you wish to Ascend, whereas the Colonel wants you to stay human. Rather than discuss the matter like two emotionally mature, intelligent, loving adults, you argued. Loudly. And now you're mutually ignoring each other so that neither of you has to apologize for what was said or, chraň bůh, admit that your feelings got hurt."
His eyes narrow suspiciously. "Nobody likes a spy."
"As if I would waste time spying on you. Many more interesting people out there."
"What do you mean more interesting? I'm plenty interesting, thank you."
"Rodney," he says plainly, plucking a handful of crystals from the drive tray and replacing them in a different order, "you and the Colonel are arguing over what kind of happily ever after you want. That is not interesting, it is nauseating."
Queuing up the hyperdrive diagnostic once more, Rodney asks, "Well, wouldn't you? If Ascending was your best way to be with Lorne forever, wouldn't you?"
"I am surprised you would. We are scientists. Life, to us, is about discovery, is it not? Discovery and wonder and awe? Newton saw apple fall, wondered if the moon fell too, and now we have understanding of gravity. Catherine Langford never gave up trying to understand the Stargate and now we are living in the Lost City of Atlantis."
"Yes, yes. What's your point?"
"My point is: Ascension gives you ultimate knowledge. And if you know everything, if there is nothing left to discover, would you still be you?"
"Of course I'd still be me. I mean, John's still John, isn't he?"
But even as he says it, Rodney knows it's not true. It's nothing drastic, nothing anyone would notice unless they're looking, but it's true all the same. They used to be on par, him and John. They love each other, yes, but they used to need each other as well – I save you, you save me. But John hasn't needed anyone to save him in a long time, and even if he did, there's nothing Rodney – so terribly, stupidly, helplessly human – could ever do that would possibly make a difference to an Ascended being.
He shakes this thought off quickly, not wanting to dwell. "And maybe Ascension isn't the end, not really. Maybe there's more to know, more to discover up in the higher planes, and we can't even guess at them because it's all too complicated for our primitive human brains to understand."
Radek frowns, removing his glasses to polish them with the trailing end of one of his sleeves. "That sounds like quite the leap of faith to me," he says, being kind enough to leave the, "and neither of us have ever been big on leaps of faith," unspoken.
"It's a nice setup you've got here," Iohannes says, focusing on keeping his eyes facing forward, on the beaten-earth aisle between columns of tents they're walking down, rather than looking about, as he would like. But looking straight ahead limits the number of people he sees and, thus, the number of salutes he has to return. His arm is already starting to protest the repeated use, which is all manner of ridiculous, but there it is.
"It needs work," Ronon tells him.
"Don't see how, unless you want to start laying foundations and stringing electrical wire."
"It's better this way. Most of them come from planets a lot less advanced than Sateda. Clean water and three meals a day are enough for them to get used to."
Iohannes frowns. He doesn't like the idea that hunger, true hunger, exists in the galaxy he supposedly controls. He thinks of all the hours that went into planning his coronation. Certainly at least one world could have been cured of hunger for that same effort. Certainly someone somewhere could have been found and engaged to teach at least one village how to farm more effectively. Or, if not, then they certainly could have vaccinated an entire planet for the most common illnesses for the same cost, or constructed a school or-
He should be able to do something. People call him a god. The power of his belief is so ardent now that he finds himself forced to loose his hold on it all, allowing it to leech into the world around him, or else risk losing his hold on it all and causing even greater destruction than he did to Asuras when he killed Elizabeta.
Elizabeta. She would have known what to do with all this power rushing through him. She would have been able to find a way to balance all the contradictory desires coursing through his veins. She would have been able to mediate things so that the great rift that's arisen between Terra and Lantea would never have happened. She would have found a way to help all the worlds in need. She would have known what to do now, when he is so lost, seeing no other way out of this mess he's made himself than to plunge onwards and hope that everything he loves somehow manages to survive.
Iohannes misses her so much it hurts.
"It's not your fault."
"What's not?" he asks, quickly, feeling like he's lost the thread of the conversation somewhere.
"Whatever you did that brought on this visit."
"Maybe I just wanted to see you."
"You saw me two days ago," Ronon snorts as they turn down a side path, this one leading them away from the columns of tents and towards the practice grounds. It's a bit of a walk, but Iohannes doesn't mind. The distance and the time of day limit the number of people who'll want to salute him, and he feels understandably reticent discussing this where he might be overheard.
"Yeah," he drawls, "but we didn't get a chance to hang out. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for everything you're doing here, but we're a team – you, me, Teyla and Rodney. We work best together, not scattered across the galaxy."
"You planning on a mission anytime soon?"
Regretfully, Iohannes must admit, "No." He is Imperator. His unfortunate place is on Atlantis, dealing with the worlds that are already in the Confederation, not bringing new people into it – or so he's been told by any and everyone who feels they have a say in what he gets to do. They're probably right, but he's been a solider for longer than their civilizations have existed. Making the transition from the front-line to the planning room is proving difficult.
He wonders how Elizabeta managed it. Granted, she wasn't a soldier. She'd never been a soldier. But how had she managed to stay in that tiny glass office where everyone could watch her – judge her – and do it day in, day out, knowing that she was sending people out to risk their lives, knowing that she was sending some people to their deaths….
For all that they disagreed at times Iohannes always respected Elizabeta. But now that she's dead and her job has fallen on his shoulders, Iohannes truly understands the burden that she carried so gracefully. She may have worried too much and believed too extensively in the innate goodness of others, but she did the best she could-
-and her best is beyond compare. She could make people want to be better. All he can do is put the fear of god in them and hope that's enough to make a lasting difference – that maybe fear can somehow spark hope in a galaxy that's been without for longer than even he has been alive.
"Then my place is here."
"I thought you'd say that."
Ronon grunts in acknowledgement. "So why are you really here?"
"I-" They're well past the tents now and still quite a ways from the (mostly empty) practice fields. "I had a fight with Rodney."
"Never mind then."
"If you had a fight with McKay, it probably is your fault."
Indignant now, he asks, "How so?"
"You knew what he was like before you started sleeping together."
"And he knew what I was like," Iohannes counters. "And what d'you know about any of it? It's not like you were there."
"I know enough."
"To know that any fight Rodney and I have is somehow my fault."
Shaking his head as if Iohannes is deliberately misunderstanding him, "It is if you're running away."
"I'm not running away."
"Doesn't McKay even know you're here?"
There's a pause before Iohannes repeats, almost resignedly, "I hate you," and another, even longer, before he continues, "Rodney's Ascending."
"Yes!" Iohannes says emphatically, thrilled beyond telling to have someone agree with him at last. "Exactly. But all anyone can do is talk about how wonderful it is and how isn't it just great that we can be together for eternity. Nobody has even stopped to think about what eternity means, what it does to people."
"Give 'em time."
"Time's all I have," he snorts mirthlessly, raking a hand through his hair. His fingers tangle on the circlet he's forgotten he's wearing, all silver and moonstone and diamond, and it takes supreme effort not to yank it off his head and cast it to the ground. He asked for it, he reminds himself – the burden, if not the crown – and settles for balling his hands into fists at his sides.
"Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to get you anywhere."
"Worked for me so far."
"Sure it has."
"I'm starting to wonder why I thought talking to you would help at all."
"Beats me," Ronon says, dead serious-
-and for some reason this has Iohannes laughing, faintly amused at first but soon sending him into paroxysms of a manic, almost deranged sound that might be laughter but could easily be sobbing instead. Somehow it ends with him sitting on the grass by the side of the path, Ronon standing solidly stalwart beside him, as always, occasionally glancing about to make sure no one will see his momentary madness.
He could live a hundred thousand more lifetimes and never deserve this kind of friendship.
"I can't lose him," Iohannes admits when his voice returns to him, tired and ragged and broken, but still there
"Then help him Ascend."
"I can't destroy him either."
"Then it looks like you've got to make a choice."
Rodney isn't asleep when he hears John come in. He's just dozing really, resting his eyes while, while the keys of the four laptops he's spread out across the kitchen table clatter happily to themselves. Unlike John, telekinesis appears to be the first power he's picked up on the way to Ascension, rather than healing abilities.
He's working on a program that will increase the efficiency of Aurora and Thetis' shield capabilities on one computer. On another, he's working on a virtual prototype of a hyperspace generator that could fit into a puddle jumper. A third is typing up this truly brilliant solution to the renormalization problem that's plagued all attempts at unifying gravity with the electronuclear force for most of his professional career, or, well, would be if he didn't have to invent a new math for it. The last is jumping between half-a-dozen projects, mostly trying to avoid the fact he's come to Elizabeth's death in the biography he's trying to write for her and the all-too-late realization that his pitiful literary skills can in no way do her life – or death – justice.
A thousand ideas vie for attention in his mind. He'll never get everything done. There's just. Not. Enough. Time.
Even so, all four keyboards still when he hears the front door to the suite open and shut, signalling what can only be John's arrival.
Maybe if Rodney is really quiet, he can pretend he's actually asleep and John will leave before long. He'd thought their suite was safe because John tends to avoid familiar places when avoiding him, but evidently John's changing the rules because here he is and, yes, there's the sound of the kitchen door opening and shutting too.
Rodney keeps his eyes closed. He doesn't want to have this fight again, and he doesn't know what else he can do. He never asked to Ascend, but now that he's been given the chance, he's not going to give up the opportunity. Until John gets that through his floppy-haired head, they've nothing to talk about.
Silences reigns for a moment that stretches into minutes that stretches into whole radians of the clock face. It tests Rodney's resolve to keep his eyes closed, to not get into the fight he knows John wants, to take the high road for once in his life-
-but then John breaks the silence, and it's not with some indolent remark designed to bait Rodney into a fight. It's not even something that he knows it will goad him into angry sex. It's just a quite, almost tentative, "'Lantis told me you'd be here."
Rodney hates this broken, lost tone. He's heard it far too often from John of late, as if the sheer weight of his responsibilities threatens to paralyze him – or, rather, not paralyze him, but force him make decisions he doesn't agree with, to make choices that should never be made. John will make them regardless, Rodney knows, but he cares too much to make them easily.
"I don't want to fight," he says, sounding just as tired.
"Fighting would be easier," John sighs.
The scrape of a chair being pulled out that follows this admission has Rodney opening his eyes. But to his surprise, John's not looking at him. Siting across from him, yes, but staring at the computers in front of them as if they held some secret that could undo the past.
"D'you really want to go through with this?" John continues, gesturing at the laptops. "You could stay like this, a highly-evolved human, if you wanted. You'd get to keep all the best parts of humanity and Ascension. You'd probably even live another decade or two."
"But not forever."
"Forever is overrated."
"You've got what? Thirty thousand years left on your parole?"
"Thirty thousand, seven hundred sixteen years, fifty-three days, nine hours and twenty minutes. Give or take a couple seconds."
It's not a flippant remark. It doesn't even try to be. It's just heavy, worn, old. It has Rodney wondering against his will if this is what people sound like before they try to kill themselves, like it would be a blessing just to end it all.
"And," Rodney continues, proceeding as if John hadn't spoken, as if his words aren't breaking his heart, "You're an idiot if you think I'll let you go through that alone again."
John sucks in a breath at his words.
Rodney doesn't know what to make of that.
"Alright," he breathes. "I'll help you."
"I'll help you Ascend."