Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay, Carson, OCs
Warnings: #32 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1, 2, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4); "The Tao of Rodney," thru SG1 s10e14 "The Shroud," SGU s1e01 "Air"
Summary: Things Fall Apart
Notes: We have finally left the mire that was March 2007 for April, and are very close to the end of the season.
On that note, the first section I wrote in like one sitting a week ago, and I've been slaving on the second half for the last week. I'm not even sure I like it any more, or if it makes sense, or if I'm overreaching my minor writing abilities. But thoughts, comments, would be appreciated, for my own sake of mind if nothing else.
1) This is about three weeks since part 4, almost a month since Rodney installed the first device and four months since the first. 2) Athanasia Aquilidea is the older sister of Beatrix Aquilidea Nebriae Tribunus, Janus' mother in this series. It's not really important, but there was no real place to point this out in the fic and mostly results because it's hard to think up ancient-sounding last names en masse.
An Ancient!John Story
7 April, 2007 / XXXVII Mai. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
"Can you stop pacing, please? I think my head is about to explode."
"Your head's not going to explode. You're nowhere near close enough to Ascending for that to happen."
"How can you be sure?"
"Oh, yes, perfect. Let's trust my continued existence to a butchered conjunction, why don't we?"
Iohannes rolls his eyes and tries his very best to keep his own headache from building. "First of all, I'm pretty sure the linguists would call it truncation, not butchering."
"Yes," Rodney interrupts from the darkest corner, where he's currently sitting with his legs pulled into his chest, arms folded across his needs, head resting on his forearms. His voice is muffled and tinged with pain, and Iohannes hates hearing him this way, but migraines are decidedly a head problem, and he's nowhere near confident enough in his healing abilities to try his hand at fixing those. This is their only choice. "Because that is the most important issue at hand."
"Good grammar is always important."
"Says the man who truncates half the words he uses."
"'Lantis chose my accent and dialect so I would blend in, not be singled out for my speech patterns," he shrugs, continuing to circle the room.
"What do you sound like without it?"
"I dunno. Normal, I guess."
"Normal," Rodney repeats dully.
"Normal for a Lantean, anyway. I could get 'Lantis to turn off my translation matrix for a bit if you really want. I wouldn't be able to understand anything you said in English, but…"
"Don't, please," Rodney says plaintively. "With my luck, you'll sound English or something, and I don't think I can handle that right this second."
Iohannes frowns. He's spent the better part of three years around Terrans, but there are times when he thinks he'll never be able to understand them. Not entirely. "Maybe when you're feeling better."
"I'm never going to feel better. I'm going to die like this-"
"Don't say that," he interrupts, far more sharply than intended. Then, more steadily, "You are going to Ascend long before you have to worry about dying."
"But it's still a possibility."
"Everything's a possibility. Some things are just more likely than others."
"That's not very reassuring."
"Yeah, well, y'know me, Rodney. I'm not really good at reassuring."
Rodney snorts as if this was the most obvious statement in the universe and then mumbles something untellable to the city. He thinks if she could, Atlantis would lower the lights still further, but it's pitch black in the examination room already. There is nothing more she can do to help and it shows in the worried note of her songs and the way she keeps shushing Rory when her music grows too loud.
"Why would anyone willingly do this to themselves?" he complains a little while later, presumably when his headache has died down somewhat.
"Ascend?" Iohannes asks, giving up his pacing and settling on the edge of the bio bed. "Well, most people don't go about speeding up their evolution to get there, which I imagine makes it rather more attractive."
"Anytime, buddy," he grins. "But," more soberly, "seriously, just relax:
"I know it hurts. I know it feels like the pain is all there is. I know it seems like there's no end in sight, that you will never make it through the day, let alone the next minute. I know how much easier it would be to stop fighting, to just give up and let it wash over you like the tide."
"Still not helping."
"But you're stronger than the pain. I know you are. I've seen you do the impossible too many times to let you give up now. The pain does not control you-"
"-I control the pain. All I have to do is release my burdens and then my spirit will be free and my body will matter not. I know John. I know. We've been doing this for weeks, but it's not helping. I- I can't think with my head pounding like this. Just forget it. This was never gonna work anyway-"
"Don't think that way!"
"I know, I know. I don't have much time left. Can you…?" he waves a hand pitifully in the direction of the counter, upon which is a syringe filled with one of the few drug cocktails that can still take an edge off his migraines.
Iohannes slides off the bio bed with a sigh and tries not to feel disappointed as he reaches for the syringe. It's not Rodney's fault, he's a terrible teacher, especially when it comes to Ascension, and now Rodney's going to die before his physiology stabilizes enough for him to pick up the mental component of Ascension, because of course the devices Rodney's shoved into his brain work too well, even in this, and he's going to lose him just like he's lost everyone else.
He should hold out, he knows, and make Rodney try harder. They'll never get anywhere if Rodney can't even begin to take control of his mental state, but Iohannes can't stand seeing Rodney in pain. "Yeah," he whispers, kneeling in front of his sponsus. "Okay. Give me your arm."
Rodney does and, thankfully, is out of it before too much longer – not asleep or even unconscious, but in some sort of drug-induced hazed beyond the realm of hurt and suffering. Iohannes leaves him sitting in the corner and slips out of room as quietly as the door's mechanisms allow.
The world is too bright outside of the examination room, so bright he almost misses Carson waiting for him in the hallway. "How is he?"
"Worse," he's forced to admit, avoiding the doctor's eyes. He picks at the laces of his vambraces instead. "His brain is rewiring itself faster than he can adapt to the changes. I don't know if he'll stabilize before he reaches the point where it's either Ascension or death."
"His synaptic activity was eighty-three percent last night," Carson reminds him unnecessarily, sympathetically, tiredly.
"It's probably closer to ninety now."
"And you said he needs to reach ninety-six to Ascend?"
"Ninety-six will kill him."
"You cannae know that."
But he does. His people devoted their entire lives to Ascension. Even when all the odds were stacked in their favour, few achieved it. It was foolish to imagine that he could teach Rodney to Ascend, but even so that had been before the Devices had shown their true nature. If they had merely lightened the load for the rest of Rodney's brain, perhaps they would not be in this position, but the Devices have stimulated cell growth and division at a rate that has proved untenable. Before long, they'll have surpassed the potential of the human mind. Who knows what will happen then? It is too much to hope that Rodney will stabilize and remain a highly evolved human until he masters the spiritual components of Ascension. No, more likely the Devices will continue as before and what was once advantageous will become cancerous. Once that ninety-six percent is reached, Rodney is not likely to last the night.
If he even gets that far.
Iohannes runs a hand across his face, an unwanted realization dawning. "He's not going to be able to do this himself."
He follows the trail of a long, carmine sleeve as it rises from the floor to hoover just off the ground as Carson places a hand on his shoulder. He still can't bring himself to meet his friend's eyes, but Iohannes can easily imagine the concern that must be there. "You've done everything you can, lad. You may be Ascended, but you're nae actually a god. There's nothing more anyone can do. Sometimes," he swallows, his voice growing taut, "people just die."
"I can still save him." It would mean doing the unthinkable, but he's done worse for less. He might not be a god. He might not be able to save starving worlds or change the course of the stars, but Iohannes can do this for him.
"I- I'll be back," he says quickly, shaking off Carson's hand. "Keep an eye on him for me, will you?" And before he can answer, Iohannes allows himself to slip free of his false flesh and slide by means beyond mortal understanding into the higher planes, where space has six dimensions and the last fifty-three members of his species wait, the only people in the universe that can help.
Concursus Maximus, The Higher Planes
He flickers into existence on a broken skyway, the sound of his boots measuring out careful steps echoing along fallen columns and shattered tiles before his body has quite materialized on this plane. Holes in the ceiling reveal a night sky aglow with the light of hundred thousand galaxies, all shining faintly red or blue or pale, milky white. Gaps in the floor give glimpses into a desolation so complete that even Iohannes, who has known darkness and silence and marked their passing with scars upon his soul, has not seen its like.
Iohannes moves forward with a purpose, knowing that time moves strangely between planes.
As he does, broken columns piece themselves back together and leap onto their plinths ahead of him. Flagstones spring into existence in the lacunas in his path before he can so much as risk falling into the empty chasm below, utterly indistinguishable from their fellows when he strides across them. Overhead, the vaulting ceiling knits itself together, the expansive view of stars being replaced by bold swaths of colour that remind him achingly of Atlantis' own dreams for interior renovation.
The skyway eventually empties out at the top of an outdoor amphitheatre. Seating for billions has been carved into the sides of a great gorge, the stones of which have been stained umber and ochre by time. The steps are broken, the stairs crumbled, and slivers of oblivion have worked their way between slabs like particularly terrifying and persistent grass, but it's still one of the most magnificent things ever built, even if it is less a construction than an interface willed into being by those than inhabit this space.
He takes the steps three at a time, (here too the stone seems to grow more solid underfoot, as if Iohannes' very presence can restore them to their former glory, but he ignores this for his own sake of mind), but still it seems to take too long to reach the bottom of the arena, where he can see the others clustered, all fifty-three of them, the last survivors of the greatest race the universe has ever known.
"You know who I am," he announces out when he's – finally – close enough, stopping on the third to last riser, so that they all have to turn around to look at him, those seated on the lower two levels and the handful standing on the arena floor. "You know what you did to me. You know what you took from me a year ago in this very place. You know why I'm here."
"Contrary to popular belief, Icarus, the universe does not revolve around you," says Josua Lal Tribunus from the arena floor, standing rigid between his mother and another woman who he cannot identify, all suggestions of friendship long fled with his outlandish belief that Iohannes has given into Haeresis. "Why are you here?"
"Rodney is dying."
"Who?" asks one of the men in the stands – a wizened man with dark, leathery skin and a neatly trimmed beard, who he remembers without ever once knowing is called Nicomedes Lahir Peritus, who Ascended from Tarquinus not long before her Fall.
He counts to decem, reminding himself that he's not going to get anywhere with the others if he tries to shoot one of them. Somehow, Iohannes manages to keep his hands on his hips and his voice level as he says, "Meredith Rodney McKay, formerly of Terra. Also known as Moreducus Ignius Pastor, the current rector of Atlantis, and the man I plan on marrying next month."
"And why is this a concern of ours?" inquires the young woman standing beside Josua and Ganos. Her feet are bare and her dress is hardly more than a span of white fabric worn for modesty's sake, covering no more and no less than Alteran custom calls for. Iohannes' memories provide the name Athanasia Aquilidea for her. (She is also one of the youngest people in Alteran history to Ascend, having been only fifteen at the time.) "Death is a natural part of life, no different than thirst or hunger. Those that die re-join the universe and will be reborn in the grass and the earth and the stars."
Through clenched teeth, "I'm rather attached to these atoms just where they are."
Athanasia tilts her head to the side, a confused little bird confronted by something she, at fifteen, never had the chance to know or even desire.
Dryly, Josua translates this into something she can understand, telling her, "Icarus fancies himself in love."
"I fail to see how that changes anything," she says firmly. "Life is life. Death is death. Love does not change either."
Iohannes should hate her for saying this, but it's hard. He can't see the millennia-old Ascended being, only the fifteen-year-old girl she was when she Ascended (a girl he never knew and doesn't remember now). He can only hate the society that told them both it is wrong to love, that it is wrong to care, that it is wrong to feel at all. She did everything society ever asked for her by Ascending, but at the cost of her own life, so that how she cannot comprehend it's very purpose: to love whoever is around to be loved.
"I need you to save him."
"Salvation is the work of gods," says Creon Syagrius Valens Praetor (the military commander of Tirianus during the Minor Diaspora and for a short time after, his memory informs him), robes billowing around him as he rises from his seat on the lowest level, "of which we are not."
"Most of us, at least," Josua adds, sotto voce, but his voice carries and Iohannes makes out his words easily.
"I am not a god," Iohannes says firmly, struggling to hold his ground, "and I make no claims to be. I never wanted to be like this. I never would have Ascended if you lot hadn't dragged me into this plane kicking and screaming. It's within my rights to ask for anything after that, punishment or not. All I'm asking is for you to Ascend Rodney. Please. He will die if you don't."
"If he deserves to be here, he should be able to get here on his own," Athanasia says, head tilting the other way now.
"You know I would never be asking you if there was any other way. He's going to die before he comes close to Ascending."
Nicomedes speaks up then, saying, "I have studied the one you wish us to save," as if he'd not been pretending to be unaware of Rodney's existence just moments before. "He is vainglorious and cruel, craven with his own life and reckless with others'. Even under ideal circumstances, he would never be capable of Ascension."
Rarely has Iohannes wanted to shoot someone so desperately for sheer stupidity alone. "You're wrong," Iohannes tells him instead, a muscle in his jaw twitching from the rapidly failing effort to keep calm. Rodney needs him calm. "He is the smartest, bravest man in the universe. Braver than you lot, certainly. Sure, he makes mistakes, but at least he acts. At least he does something, even when he's scared, even when he thinks it will mean nothing but certain death for himself and everyone involved. How many of you would do half as much if placed in his situation?"
"He has spent his life building weapons," Valens inserts.
"You spent your life using them," Iohannes counters just as quickly. "And anyway, I thought it was intentions that mattered, not deeds, and you'll not find a man with better."
"Perhaps," Josua admits. "But he would never be able to keep himself from intervening in the lower planes. Then there would be two of you."
"There wouldn't be one of me, if you hadn't Ascended me."
"You let yourself be worshiped," Athanasia reminds him casually, easily, as if he'd asked the day of the week and not questioned their whole basis for refusing to save Rodney's life. "You had to be punished."
He can no longer even pretend to be calm, the anger settling into his veins with icy bitterness as his words grow sharper, colder, "Yeah? And how's that working out for you? Do you have any idea what good I've done for Pegasus by interfering since you Ascended me? Do you have any idea how many lives I've saved? How many people I've helped? I've more power at my command than all of you put together and I don't use to hurt people because I know I'm not a god.
"And d'you know how I remember that?" he asks bitingly and continues without so much as pretending to wait for an answer, "Because of that man whose life you're so casually dismissing."
"Then you've not learned your lesson-" Valens begins, but Iohannes is having none of that and, the very embodiment of fury, shouts back-
"Because I don't want to learn it! There are people suffering out there and nothing you can do to me will convince me just to let them suffer when I can do something about it."
"You alone must be responsible for your condition. Blame and benefit must fall to you alone."
Athanasia says this with implacable calm. The fifty-two souls between him and her look on just as serenely, as if he's not screaming at them, demanding to be heard. And if anything this makes Iohannes even angrier, because he can deal with anger. He can deal with opposition. But this steely-eyed conviction in the surety of their beliefs is impossible for him to counter. Nothing he says will ever make a difference. Nothing he can do will ever change their minds.
But he still has to try, because Rodney is still dying on the lower planes, and he can barely remember what his life was like before Rodney found him, except to know that he doesn't want to become that person again, that he can't go back to moving through the motions now that he knows how wonderful life can be.
"He's a good man," he tries, both plea and acrimony.
"There are many good men," she says, still calm, still indifferent. "Who are we to decide which to help?"
And its then that he realizes that all his efforts are futile. The others will never help him. They'll just continue to sit here in their ivory tower and judge and refuse to do anything, too afraid of their own shadows to take a chance and try to do some good in this universe.
He should have known – he should have suspected – but he had hoped, and hope was all he had left after every other avenue had been excluded.
"You're going to regret this. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will regret the moment you had the chance to help me and chose instead to stand by and do nothing. Because I won't forget this and can't guarantee how forgiving I'll be after Rodney's gone."
"You do not frighten us, Icarus. Many like you have come before, but none now remain."
I think I'm the only thing that frightens you, he does not say. Instead he stalks away, back up the stairs and towards the skyway from which he arrived.
There are only fifty-three of them now, and with the faith of a quarter of a galaxy at his disposal, his power easily outstrips theirs. Only their knowledge keeps them superior (indomitable, invincible, impossible to break free from) and theirs is infinite knowledge. It's not even just knowledge or information – it is understanding on a level that he will never-
Their knowledge is infinite and beyond the realm of mortals. But Iohannes isn't a mortal anymore and hasn't been for a long time. Their knowledge can be his as well, if he lets it. If he stops pretending to be mortal (because some doors cannot be unopened, because some choices can't be undone).
He'd be able to save Rodney.