Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay, Carson, Chaya
Warnings: #32 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1, 2, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4, 5); "The Tao of Rodney," thru SG1 s10e14 "The Shroud," SGU s1e01 "Air"; character death
Summary: Things Fall Apart
Notes: This was hard, painful even, and required the listening to of some of the most depressing songs in existence as well as the reading of Marvel: Civil War "The Confession" and "Casualties of War" many times to get in the right mood. I should be sorry for that, but am not, and give each and every one of you a box of tissues before I go further. (Merry Xmas).
1) Approx. 10 hours has passed from the last chapter. 2) The languages Rodney uses are, in order: French, Russian, Latin/Ancient, French. I chose them because it is my head!canon Rodney grew up in Quebec and thus knows French fairly well, and that he obviously knows Russian and Latin from various work related things. All are translated in-context. I think. 3) I know, Chaya was never mentioned properly in-story, but she *did* appear in "Somniati". Kind of. And I never said that episode didn't happen. I just didn't want to have to deal with it back then. 4) Large parts of this were written seconds before I went to bed, after I'd given up for the day, then edited the next day for clarity. Lather rinse repeat. 5) I'm not entirely happy with the very end but... well, you'll see. Hopefully it makes sense/is readable/is something, at least.
An Ancient!John Story
8 April, 2007 / XXXVIII Mai. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
"He's not going to be back in time."
Carson fiddles ineffectively with one of the dials on the medical equipment he insists on keeping Rodney hooked up to, despite the fact that everyone in the city acknowledges they're less than useless at this point.
It's no secret that he's going to die. The only question that remains is when. To everyone's surprise – particularly his own – he made it through the night. But Rodney knows he won't make through the next one. He's already begun to lose sensation in his limbs, only to have it return infinitely stronger, so that even the weight of the blanket they draped over his body at some point seems impossibly heavy and its soft fleece so rough that it's all he can do not to cry out in agony. But the torture is always only momentary, lasting a minute or less (even if it seems to be an eternity at the time), and they're getting less frequent all the time.
This is not a good sign.
It is, however, one that Rodney's been able to hide. He's been less lucky with the others – a touch on his shoulder he could not feel, the uncoordinated movement of his hands, and the slow, creeping understanding that the words he intends to say are not those that come out: a polyglot roulette that favours English for the moment, but will sidestep into others without warning.
His question must have been entirely in English, though, for Carson answers, "He'll be back soon. I know it."
"You don't even know where he went."
Carson moves to respond – Rodney has little doubt that it is something heartfelt and worryingly saccharine – but he cuts his friend off before he can even begin. "It doesn't matter. He won't be back in time and… and there's something I need to ask you."
"I-" He swallows. He never thought this would be easy, but this is harder than he ever would have imagined. "I think in the grand scheme of things, we're, we're good, aren't we?"
"Of course, Rodney."
He breathes out, relieved. "That's- That's good. Je connais-" No, that's not right. "I know I've not always been the best friend to you. I've taken advantage of your friendship and your kindness. I know what I'm like on the best of days, but you've stuck by me through the worst and nothing I can say or do now can ever make up for all the things I've said and done to you in the past. I just hope you can forgive me, and…"
"There's nothing to forgive."
"Yes! Yes, there is! I've been terrible to you! To you and John and Radek and all the other people who for some reason call me their friend! I'm petty and jealous and self-absorbed-"
"You are a good person," Carson interrupts loudly, boldly, brashly, as if the very fate of the universe depends on his friend's defence of him. "You're nae perfect, but nobody is and nobody's asking you to be. My god, Rodney, sometimes you can be the best friend a guy could ask for and, yes, there are times when you can also be the worst, but the good far outweighs the bad. Hell, sometimes I think you're the best of everything humanity has to offer – the good and the bad – and it just destroys me to think that this is how you're going to die. All you did was try to help yourself and maybe make the universe a better place while you were at it, and maybe you went about it in the wrong way, but, God, Rodney, that doesnae mean you deserve this."
"I think you have me confused with someone else, anyone else – John maybe, but not me. Я не-," but that's wrong too and Rodney has to swallow and really focus to get the right words to come out. "I don't know where you got the idea that I'm, that I'm someone worthwhile. You know that better than most.
"So, yeah, maybe I've done a couple of brilliant things, but that's just been luck of the draw. I've," his voice shakes as he struggles to admit the truth, but he's had more than enough time over the past few weeks to meditate on his existence. If he's honest, he's known the truth all along, and done everything in his power to keep others from seeing it as well. Apparently he's done better than he thought, if he can have Carson believing this of him, "fucked up more than I've saved the day. I- I destroyed a solar system, for god's sake."
"Everyone makes mistakes," Carson says sagely, settling into the chair by Rodney's bedside. "It's what makes us human. And, for the record, you are a good man, one I'm proud to call my friend."
"I don't know why."
"You know why."
Rodney really doesn't, but it's getting harder to focus now. His limbs feel so heavy and the room grows dark even as the beeping of the heart monitor and his own breath seem to sing out in ever-sharper relief. "I think," he says quietly, "that you should get the others. If they want to be here."
"Oh, Rodney," the doctor says, voice thin and watery now, lacking almost all of its former conviction.
"Hey, stop that. There will be no crying at my deathbed, understand? I won't have it. If I can make it through this with dry eyes, you can to. So suck it up, and-"
-and it feels like he's on fire, ever inch of him ablaze, and he knows that it's just his mind playing tricks on him because cells are dividing faster than his nerves can handle and sometimes wires get crossed, that he's not actually burning, but god it feels real and he can't help the pained cry that escapes his lips during the long moment it takes for the sensation to pass.
"O, Deus. Ô, Dieu. Oh, God. I can't believe I'm gonna die." Rodney's known it for days now, suspected it for weeks, but he's not understood it until now. Not properly. In another hour or another minute or another second he will be dead (because he certainly doesn't even have another day in him, and even an hour might be being generous with things).
Dead, as in gone.
Dead, as in no more.
Dead, as in quietly disappearing, no forwarding address. Here one minute and gone the next, conspicuous only in his absence, until nothing is left of his life but the raw hole where he should be. But even that hole will be forgotten, the seemingly boundless chasm being papered over by time and other people, until there's – well, not not a hole, but something as close to normal as anyone who's ever suffered loss can have.
And there will be other people. Radek will probably take his place as rector. Evan will probably fill the void of John's caretaker and best friend. Who will take his place as amator, almost coniunx, Rodney has no wish to know. Maybe the haven't even been born yet (it's possible. There were five hundred odd generations and extenuating circumstances between him and Nicolaa de Luera Pastor. It could happen again). But there will be someone else. Eventually. Life goes on.
He wonders who will be the smartest person in two galaxies after he dies.
More than that, he tries to remember the last time he told John he loves him. It certainly can't have been recently enough. He should have done that more often. He should have spent less time working, more time with John, because John is the only good thing he's done with his life, and he's glad to have been a part of his – to have saved him, to have even given him a few paltry moments of happiness in a life so otherwise devoid of any.
John should be here. He should be here because Rodney is dying and he doesn't want his last words to be a confirmation of the fact. He wants them to be, "I love you. I love you. I love you," said enough times that John, for the rest of his damnable immortality, will never forget that he was loved the way Rodney has loved him.
But John isn't here and it's not like his voice is working properly, so what would be the point? He doesn't want John's last memory of him to be like this. He wants John to remember him as, as whatever the hell is it was that drew him to him in the first place and-
God, he can't breathe. He can't breathe. Why can't he breathe? That's one of the first things that the devices stripped from him – it's in 'Lantis' control now, not his, just like his heartbeat and his perspiration and the fuck-ton of other autonomic functions his brain can't be bothered to deal with while he's uplinked to the city. He tries to ask 'Lantis, to get her to turn his lungs back on, but he can't make her hear him, or maybe he can't hear her and-
He always thought people where making up that bit about the white light, that, if anything, it was an evolutionary throwback to the time when eyes were little more than sensors for detecting the presence or absence of light, that it was the last struggle of a mind trying in vain to do its duty even as its forced to abandon its more complex functionalities. But, no, there it is: cold and severe, like sunlight reflected off the snow on the flight into McMurdo – bright and harsh and unforgiving – unearthly, a reminder that, for all they are exploring the stars, there is still so much about their own planet they don't know yet. Only it's not their planet now, they gave up Earth for Lantea because Earth had betrayed itself at some point, or, at least, their leaders had. Their fight with the goa'uld was just, their war with the Ori justified, but their conflict with the Lucian Alliance is just stupid, all about control and hegemony and not a lick about exploration or even defence.
He'd hated Antarctica. He hated its bitterness and its brutality and ruthlessness, but Rodney loves this light, even if it's going to take him from this world and everything he loves.
It is Death and he does not fight it. He greets it with open arms and lets himself go.
The Higher Planes
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon Rodney, wake up. C'mon, please, Rodney, just wake up for me. Do that for me, will you? Please, just wake up."
Rodney doesn't stir.
Rodney doesn't do anything. There is a narrow, low shelf at the end of the skyway and his body lies upon it, as cold and still as a funeral effigy, but that is all. There's no movement, no breath, not even the suggestion of a heartbeat beneath his skin – but he cannot be dead. Dead men cannot Ascend.
He doesn't know what he did wrong. Maybe he should have waited for the knowledge to sink in a little better before he attempted to use it, but he didn't have any time. Rodney was dying. He had to do something.
So Iohannes Ascended him, just as the others had Ascended him nearly a year ago, albeit (presumably) not quite so against his will.
Maybe he was too late. Maybe that is why Rodney doesn't stir. Yes, the body is here – or the energy that had once made the body up, anyway; this is the higher planes – but maybe the spark is gone, the spirit fled. Maybe everything that made Rodney Rodney is gone now, and all that remains is a comatose ball of energy that will soon dissipate without a consciousness to hold it together.
Maybe he's given everything up for nothing – sacrificed it all for nothing – doomed himself to an eternity burdened by knowledge he cannot un-know for nothing.
No, not for nothing.
He had to try.
He has to try.
Iohannes, already kneeling beside his amator, leans forward until their foreheads touch – a cold, lifeless mockery of all the touches that have come before, filled with so much love and warmth that he wants to flinch back away from this one now, to better preserve the others in his memories. Then, with all the strength and all the determination and all the stubbornness within him, he wills Rodney to live.
Iohannes doesn't know how long he stays like this, only that his power is already sorely drained from Ascending his amator in the first place and that, when he finally pulls away, Rodney remains as cold and lifeless as he was before.
A terrible sob escapes him unbidden.
It wasn't supposed to end this way, he thinks.
Another terrible sound escapes his lips and Iohannes can't quite believe they're coming from him – he's never made sounds like before this in his life – has never had reason to make a sound like before – but he can't bring himself to care either. Let the others hear what their indifference has done. Let the entire universe hear. They should know what type of people they consider to be gods. They should know those people – those people who so many considered to be good and just and kind – just stood back and watched while the best man in the universe died for no reason other than they couldn't be bothered to prevent it.
Iohannes couldn't prevent it.
He couldn't prevent it, just like he can't prevent the tears now. He doesn't even try to. Perhaps he should. Perhaps gods aren't supposed to feel sorrow, and maybe that has been the problem all along: for all his people tried not to be gods, the more godlike – the more inhuman – they became in the process. They stopped feeling and caring and loving and in so doing stopped living as well. They became living statues, as immovable as marble and as inflexible as the paths of the stars.
They were wrong. Iohannes knows that. He's known that for longer than he can remember. But, right now, crying with his face buried in Rodney's chest, hand clutching ineffectively at his shirt, he'd give anything for that coldness, for that distance, if only it would make it stop hurting so much.
Footsteps echo down the skyway towards him, and when he lifts his head he sees her standing in front of him.
"I see I am too late," she says wryly, as if the most amusing thing ever to happen to her is to have found Iohannes in tears over his dead amator.
The only reason Iohannes doesn't empty a clip into her where she stands is because he's fairly certain it wouldn't do any good here in the higher planes. "Why are you here, Chaya?" he asks, glaring at the schismatica with eyes that feel heavy and leaden and unwilling to leave Rodney, even for one second.
"I came to help. It took me some time to get away," she says delicately.
Everything about her seems more delicate than he remembers from his brief visit to Proculus. Her steps are more cautious. Her words are more deft. Even her voice seems better able to incite warm, fuzzy feelings in whoever might be listening than it used to. And while she's wearing something that's more sheer than not, with arabesque lace covering the parts of her that want covering, and it should be provocative or, at the very lest, suggestive, the outfit somehow comes across as fragile and soft and rare instead.
It's all very well done, if Iohannes was in to that kind of thing.
"If you really wanted to help, you should have said something back there," he gestures back down the skyway with the hand that isn't still fisted in Rodney's shirt, towards the others and the amphitheatre where they'd left them, "where it might have done some good. I want nothing to do with secret pacts and backroom deals or whatever the hell else it is you have in mind."
"I must be careful. The others have only recently welcomed me back into their fold. There are many who still distrust me for my perceived crimes."
"I didn't think you wanted to come back."
"Wouldn't you, if they offered? After being so alone for so long, wouldn't you welcome the chance to return?"
"They have, and I haven't."
"Then we are less alike than I would have believed, Icarus."
"We are nothing alike," he spits, hand clenching at Rodney's shirt like a man clinging to the last lifeline in a storm, which it is, because otherwise Iohannes will start shooting regardless of the effect it will actually have and not stop until the pain goes away. "You are a schismatica. I am not."
"I was forced to protect my world for ten thousand years, alone, because I loved too much. Perhaps my love was of a different nature than yours, but the others named it the same crime," Chaya says so beautifully earnestly. But they're only that – beautiful words, "and handed down the same punishment. Yours is only longer because they wanted to punish you – unjustly – for those crimes they deemed your father and your grandfather to have committed as well."
"I helped people," he finds himself shouting. "I did all I could to help as many as I could. You, you coddled that world. You treated it and it's people like children. What will they do now that their Athar is gone?"
"They will survive."
"Or they won't. It's a great, big, terrible universe out there, and unless we help each other out where and when we can, nothing good will ever come out of anything we do."
"The universe isn't the cold, dark place you believe it to be-"
"The universe is nothing but pain and suffering and loss and death. I don't know why every species in the universe understands that but ours. Maybe because we're the ones who've caused all the pain... I don't know.
"All I do know is that those people worshiped you and you abandoned them. You can't just- You are responsible for what you create. Maybe Proculus existed before you got involved and maybe you didn't mean for them to start worshiping you, but you created that society and so you're responsible for it and you have to know they're in no way equipped to handle a life where Athar isn't healing their every hurt, let alone the next time the Wraith decide to visit that world."
"Children have to grow up some time."
Shaking his head violently, "That's not how this works, Chaya."
"Then teach me."
"Teach me," she says again with painful earnestness. "After Josua visited you, he shared your conversation and your offer with us, declaring it proof that you had embraced the Haeresis, as did the first of your name. The others named him a fool for so much as thinking you could still be swayed, but I knew it for what it was: an honest hope and an honest offer. I should have come to you sooner, but I was afraid. Nothing can excuse that, I know, but I wish to join you all the same."
Iohannes shakes his head sharply, still clinging to Rodney's shirtfront. "It's too late for that. That offer is off the table. You had your chance."
"Don't judge us all by Josua and his mother's impossible standards."
"I'm not," he tells her. His voice is sharp, but in control. He doesn't know how he can be in control of anything with Rodney dead, but somehow he's in command of this. "I know what you are. Maybe there's hope for redemption in you yet, but I don't want any part of it. I want you as far away from me as possible or I swear I won't be held responsible for my actions."
"You can't just offer to help than take it away."
"The Descendants aren't the only ones who need guidance," Chaya implores him, desperate and messy and not the least bit delicate anymore. "Icarus, I understand that I've made mistakes – horrible mistakes which have hurt the very people I tried to protect – but all I've ever wanted to do was help. I thought- I thought that if I could save just one blue world, all my suffering would be worth it. I thought that anything would be worth it, if I could just save them, even if it made me complacent to so many other deaths.
"But I'm tired of being complacent. I'm tired of watching innocents die and knowing that I could have prevented their deaths if I only tried. I'm tired of being afraid that every action I take will get me sent back into exile or worse. I don't want to be afraid anymore and I hope, with your guidance, perhaps we can create something wonderful together. Something worthy of this universe of wonders we have been born into."
"Get out of my sight," Iohannes spits.
"You can't just-" she begins, reckless in her desperation, and takes a step forward.
Iohannes flings out a hand to stop her. His mind is reeling from the unbounded knowledge still filtering into his mind now that he's lowered the floodgates, each new insight grappling with the others for dominance within his mind. None of it can overcome the ragged, raw awareness of all the spaces Rodney used to inhabit, and all he knows is he wants Chaya to hurt as much as he hurts.
What happens next he can never explain. All he can be certain of is that a beam of white light, harsh and cold, leaves his hand and hits Chaya square in the chest. Although this should do nothing to her, though nothing should be able to harm an Ascended being, a pale layer of hoarfrost covers her body in seconds, radiating outwards from the place where the energy beam touched her. That hoarfrost quickly turns into proper ice and it is all too clear from the horrific sounds she makes before she can make sounds no more that the schismatica is freezing from the inside out. Soon she is only a perfect, cold statue of all she once was, unmoving and immovable – an Alteran-shaped nuclear explosion frozen mid-detonation and nothing more.
Iohannes has no explanation for it. It is all he can do to say that it happened and that, preposterously, he was the cause of it.
Somewhat shocked, he lets his hand drop back to his side. But this too is a mistake because the moment he does, the statue explodes into a thousand tiny shards of light and energy that fall with a slight slivery tinkle to the flagstones below.
"How-?" he manages before the impossible happens again and his train of thought is broken by the sharp intake of breath from the corpse whose shirt he's still clenching.
Chaya is dead; Rodney is alive.