Ascensiones (7/7)

Title: Ascensiones (7/7)
Rating: R
Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay
Warnings:  #32 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1, 2, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4, 5, 6); "The Tao of Rodney," thru SG1 s10e14 "The Shroud," SGU s1e01 "Air"; mentions of major character death
Summary: Things Fall Apart
Notes: There is nothing I can say that will give nothing away. All I will say is, like the Cylons, I have a plan. And have had one since the beginning.


An Ancient!John Story

Pars 7

{?} – The Higher Planes

"You were dead," John says. There's a note of panic to his voice that Rodney's never heard before, the kind of thing that's usually present in his own but never in John's – John is rock steady, John is certain; John never, ever has doubts. Not about anything as rational as life and death, anyway.

"Huh?" he somehow manages, surprised at the clarity of his own voice. His last clear memory is of pain – of pain so utter and complete there can be no escape or relief. It should follow that it should hurt now. His voice should abrade his bruised throat. His limbs should be tender and leaden. His eyes should refuse to cooperate when he tries to force them open and should flinch from the light when they do. But it doesn't and they don't, and when he cracks open his eyes he can see John staring down at him, handsome and perfect and panicked beyond all recounting. "What?"

"You were dead and now you're not. It's hard to explain. Do me a favour and try not to think about it too much. It'll be better for everyone that way."

John pulls back a little – not much, but enough for Rodney to see more of his face beyond a strip of forehead and half-a-mop of hair. Enough for him to make out a pair of red-rimed eyes and a set of raw lips.

"You've been crying," he says in astonishment, bringing a hand up to cup John's rough cheek.

With a wet, startled laugh, John covers the hand with one of his own, his thumb running small circles on the back of it while his right seeks out – and finds – the other. "You were dead," he repeats, a little more animated this time. "Of course I was crying."

"You never cry."

"Yes, well, you've never been dead before."

"I love you."

"I know," John tells with a warm smile and a warmer light in his eyes.

Rodney shakes his head – not much, not to deny it, but just enough to make his point known. Which is, "I love you," spoken with such quiet sincerity even John cannot make a joke out of it. He has to make sure John knows. He has no idea how he's alive now, or where he is, or why nothing hurts, but in case it's only the briefest of respites before the real end, he has to make certain that John knows. He must.

John's smile is smaller now but infinitely more earnest. "I know."

"I love you," he repeats more quietly still, pulling the other man closer.

He feels the smile as well as the answering, "I know," against his lips before they brush against his in the most gentle of kisses.

It deepens quickly. John is quick to press any advantage he finds. While it is Rodney's hand that slips from his face and cups the back of his neck to pull him closer, it is John who manages to manoeuvre himself so that he now straddles Rodney's still prone form without letting go of his hand or breaking their kiss for longer than three seconds combined.

Something warm and light and fragile expands in his chest. John has owned his heart since almost the moment they met, but he can feel himself falling in love with him all over again.

John is brilliant. John is stunning. John is the best man he's ever known, somehow able to stay so remarkably human in the face of all he's seen. He's been called the last living Ancient, the Emperor of the Pegasus galaxy; the only true god in the entire universe. He could, quite literally, have anyone he wanted. But he chose him. Again and again, he's chosen him, and now Rodney doesn't need to worry about him choosing anyone else ever again because he's Ascended now-

Yes, he's Ascended. He can feel it. All of that power, all of that knowledge, it's his too. His for the taking, if he just chooses to reach out and take it. Maybe he should. Maybe he could be the kind of god John is. Maybe he can be the sort of man that Carson seems to think he already is. Maybe, if John helps him-

But all those things can come later. Right now, this is important. Right now, this is the only thing that matters. If the worst should happen and he should die again, he doesn't want to go to his grave without remembering the taste of John's lips. He wants the atlas of their bodies entwined to remain forever etched into his mind. The feel of John's body, pleasantly heavy atop of his as they kiss – just kiss – should always be at the forefront of his mind. And if there is a god other than John, he wants to lay these memories down before his throne as proof that he lived and he loved and he loved, loved, loved.

He breathes a laugh against John's lips.

"I'm glad I amuse you."

"I'm happy, you idiot. Happy people laugh. It's a thing."

The corners of John's mouth quirk upwards. His hair is a flyway mess haloing his face. His lips are bruised and his face is flushed and there's something bright in his eyes that cannot be attributed to Ascension alone. He is beautiful and open and perfect, and Rodney has no idea how he got to be this lucky, only that he is. "I like seeing you happy," he says. "It's been too long since I've seen you smile."

"I smile all the time." Both of his hands are now intertwined with John's now. His right now rests with John's left on his chest, the ouroboros trapped in and creating the space between their bodies. The other is bent back at a strange angle, his knuckles scraping against the strange stone ledge that makes up their bed near his left ear. If either were free, he thinks he'd slap John upside the head for the comment, but that would involve letting go. He settles for a somewhat fond, "Idiot."

But John frowns at this, his face going dark as he shakes his head fiercely. "No you haven't. Not really. Not since before Elizabeta died. Maybe not since before I Ascended. Maybe longer. And it's all my fault."

"John-" he tries to interrupt, frowning himself now.

"No, it is. I've done nothing but cause you so much pain and suffering. I love you, but all I've done is hurt you for so long… I don't know how you can stand to be around me. I don't know how you can even look at me and not want to make me pay for everything I've done to you."

Wryly, "The good tends to outweigh the bad."

"How can it? You don't even know half of what I've done. How can you let me touch you when there's so much blood on my hands it stains yours by association?"

"I thought you said the past can't hurt us if we don't let it."

John pulls back as much as he can and looks away – a difficult task, considering how they're so linked, but the Ancient manages it all the same. "I've killed people for less than I've done to you."

"You're starting to scare me, John," he says, struggling to sit upright. It's a difficult task, what with the way John's knees still bracket his thighs, but he manages in the end. The end result puts John's face in close proximity to his once more, but his expression is closed off now, his eyes flinty and alight with preternatural light. He's no longer his John. He's the man they call The Star That Fell From Heaven, The Lord of the Land Beyond Death, who is not a man at all but a god, righteous and terrible and really has murdered people for the thinnest of reasons.

But John's always has his reasons:

He killed the Tria survivors because they would have undone everything he had started with the Confederation, to say nothing of ever letting anyone from Earth return for any significant period of time. He killed Cadman because she begged him, Ford because he was a danger to the city, Sumner because it was the merciful thing to do. Maybe they aren't always good reasons, but they are the best ones. Usually that's enough for John to get on with. He can live with the consequences of any action he takes, so long as he believes it's the right one.

So long as he believes-

"You've done something," Rodney says slowly as realization dawns, "something you're not proud of. What is it?"


"What is it?" he asks more forcefully, scrambling backwards as best he can. Somehow, he manages to disentangle himself from John and scurry blindly backwards until he back hits a wall. If he pulls his knees into his chest, there's half-a-yard between them, but it's not enough. It may never be enough, because there is nothing John would not do if Atlantis or his friends' lives were at stake. Nothing. He committed genocide against the last members of his own race, for fuck's sake. If John cannot justify whatever it is to himself, it must be utterly unjustifiable.

Imagines of planets destroyed – of worlds utterly decimated – of Earth obliterated from the skies – dance through his head. The others once promised to wipe the worlds that worshiped John off the map if he gave into their heresy, and there is no doubt in Rodney's mind that John would do worse than that himself if he ever deemed it necessary.

"You were dead," John tells him dully.

"And that justifies whatever the hell it is you think needs justifying?"

"You were dead," he repeats with rising passion, "or, at least, I thought you were. You were trapped between planes – I hadn't pulled you all the way through. That's all that she meant, but I didn't understand. Not then. I didn't have all of the information yet."

"John, you're not making any sense." His eyes dart about the room, looking for anything that might give some clue as to both where they are and what John's done, but all he sees is a hallway that reminds him, somewhat disconcertingly, of the Galerie d'Apollon, albeit with a distinctly Ancient flair. The flagstone floor nearest them is covered with a layer of fine white dust, but other than that the hall is surprisingly bright and clean. If it was ever the site of an apocalypse, it wasn't in recent memory.

"There is too much to know… Knowledge takes time but wisdom takes longer. I thought she was mocking me. I thought she was belittling us. But she only wanted to help. She really did just want to help. It's so obvious now. Why couldn't I see it then? Why couldn't I see it in time?"

"What's going on, John? Who are you talking about?"

"Chaya, of course," he says like it's the most obvious thing in the universe. "The schismatica."

Utterly baffled by this answer, he asks, "What's she got to do with anything?" Rodney hasn't thought of her beyond the most fleeting suggestion of jealousy and irritation in ages. Why John might be talking about her now is beyond the scope of his wildest dreams – or worst nightmares.

"The Sangraal destroyed all the Ancients who ever Ascended – all of them, but for fifty-four who happened to be in a part of the higher planes that roughly corresponds with Pegasus. We're not-" John gestures emphatically, nonsensically, making impassioned movements with his hands that convey no meaning beyond depth of feeling. His eyes are bright and white and severe, and Rodney is filled with the terrible premonition that this is where he starts to lose him.

No, that's wrong. This is not the start. Ever since John Ascended, he's been slowly losing him, because the man who is The Lord of the Land Beyond Death, The Father of All Men and Maker of All Worlds is not the man he fell in love with. He looks the same, talks the same, even acts the same, but he's not the same. John, before, could care less about power. He did what he had to do, full stop, and if people wanted to give him medals for it, so be it.

But now…

But now it underlies his every action. He's tried to supplement his need for it by building the Confederation – by avoiding divinity by miring himself firmly in the profane, – but there is no averting apotheosis, not when one is an Ascended being. They wanted to turn him into a god, and so a god he's become, as great and terrible and capriciously vindictive as any ever dreamed by man.

Whatever John has done, he's done it for power. He's not able to live with it – yet – but he will. Because that is the way of power: it corrupts all in time, twisting all to its will until they can no longer see how gnarled and knotted they've become.

"It took us entirely too long as a species to realize it, but we are only as strong as we are united. On our own, we are each a threat to the collective. An Ascended being alone will, inevitably, give in to Haeresis," he says, as if voicing a truth he had refused to acknowledge until it passed his lips. "The others knew that, so they invited Chaya to return, spouting forgiveness and redemption and-

"It doesn't matter. They did to her what they wanted to do to me, but she was smart enough to know it wasn't real. She came to me for help and I killed her. I killed her because I needed her strength to pull you through. I needed you to not be dead, so I killed her."

John's killed people for him before, but not like this. Never like this.

"I didn't know I was doing it, but I did it. I had to save you. I had to."

Rodney has nowhere to go. He cannot run down the hall without moving past John. He cannot sink further into the stone. He's an Ascended being himself now but all he can think is that he has no options. He can only watch helplessly as John destroys himself, one word at a time.

"I-" he manages, somehow, to choke out. "I told you. You don't need your Ascended powers to protect me. I save you, you save me, remember?"

John looks away. He's still kneeling in the centre of the shelf, dark and black and terrible, eyes aglow and shadows dancing about his frame.

He's dressed like the first time Rodney saw him – the very first time Rodney saw him, in the uniform of a Lantean Guardsman, but in shades of charcoal and ebony and obsidian. Five silver stars sit upon his shoulders, three on one, two on the other; at his neck is the disc insignia of a legatus he inherited from his mother. Blood stains one whole side of his brigandine and the cuff of his opposite sleeve, and there are jagged slashes in the fabric where glass was once impeded.

"No one can save me now."

Oh God, oh God, he can still taste John on his lips. How can his heart be breaking now? "People make mistakes," he hears himself say, recalling Carson's earlier words. And how long ago was that? A year? A day?

"But not gods."

"You're not a god, John."

"They worship me. Isn't that enough?"

"John, please," he begs. "Listen to me. So you made a mistake. Don't give up everything you've worked so hard for because of that."

John jerks his head once, sharply, as if shaking off whatever last lingering uncertainties may remain. "Chaya Sar had been a schismatica for too long to give it up just because I asked. Even if I had helped her, she would have eventually become like the heretica Abomination, Adria. She would have destroyed millions. It was no mistake to kill her – but she did, at least, teach me one thing."

"And what's that?" Rodney squeaks, fingers pulling at his hair in a desperate attempt to convince himself this is not real, this is a death-induced dream, the fanatics were right and I've been sent to Hell for my sins.

"I'm not strong enough to protect you."

"I don't need protecting!" It's not scream. It's not a shriek either, though that may be the closest comparison. It's sharp and shrill and his voice cracks in places, and this has to be a nightmare. It has to be a nightmare because there is no way that John is saying what he thinks he's saying. "I can fight my own battles. I can take care of myself. I just need you to be at my side."

"I let you die!" John counters, and that is a scream, full of anger and rage and self-loathing. "I wasn't strong enough to save you. But I will be. A quarter of a billion people in Pegasus call me god already… That might be enough."

"You don't want to do this John."

"I have to."

"No, you don't. I'm safe now. I'm okay. Just, please, don't do this."

"I already have."

Never have three words so shattered – wrecked – broken him. He could have lived a hundred thousand years and never thought to see the day when John would go Ori, yet here it is.

Rodney tries to think of something, to formulate some response that will undo all of this, but then John moves forward, reaching out as if to weave their fingers together once more, and he finds himself saying harshly, "You don't get to touch me anymore."

Just like that, John changes again. He's no longer that god – that monster – Ascension has turned him into, he's John again, just John, looking as wretched as any lover might at those words. "Don't be like that, please."

A choked half-sob, half-laugh, entirely manic sound escapes him. "You want me not to be like this?" he asks, aware his words don't make anything but the barest sense, but it's the best he can manage. "I want you to be yourself again."

Frowning, "I am myself, Rodney."

"No, you're not. You, you've become that other Icarus. That first one. The one who betrayed your people."

"I didn't betray anyone," John says fiercely, drawing closer but stopping just short of actually touching him. "They betrayed me."

That may be true. The others are definitely at fault here, for everything from Ascending John in the first place to not stopping the Ori to not stopping John from becoming this. But John wasn't forced to take this path. He had to accept it willingly.

"John," he breathes.

But that is as far as he gets, because next thing knows John's shaking his head, as if he knows everything Rodney is going to say – has ever said – will ever say – before declaring with all the vehemence of the convert, "I will make you understand."

And then, quicker than his eyes can follow, John darts forward and kisses him on the forehead – hard, hard enough to bruise, hard enough to feel all the way to the back of his skull.

And then he is falling, falling into darkness. He scrambles for light, for purchase, for anything, but there is nothing, not even the whistling of air streaking past before he hits the ground.

8 April, 2007 / XXXVIII Mai. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus

His eyes open.

There is no hatred in them, no fear, no betrayal, only sleep and confusion and the sort of bright, warm, pure elation one only gets upon seeing someone one loves unexpected.

"Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Where did I go?" he coughs out, voice a rough. But that is only to be expected: Rodney's body converted to light and energy when he Ascended. When Iohannes Descended him, he needed a new one. This throat has never been used; this mouth has never spoken.

"You almost died. I nearly wasn't able to Ascend you in time."

"Then why does it hurt now?"

"You Descended." It's the truth, almost. He just had a little help, that's all.

"I don't remember."

"Don't try to hard," Iohannes says, perhaps too quickly. He hates it, but he can't risk Rodney remembering. Not until he can make him understand, make him see that this is the only way to keep him – and Atlantis and Pegasus and the whole damn universe – safe. "Descendant brains aren't made to deal with that much information, remember?"

"Yeah, I kind of picked up on that, thank you. But… There was something I wanted to tell you. Something I needed to tell you. Desperately. What was it?"

Iohannes heart freezes mid-beat. "Oh?" he says, trying to make himself sound anything close to normal.

He must succeed, for a second later Rodney is pushing himself in the hospital bed and snapping his fingers. "I remember now. I wanted to tell you I love you."

Iohannes smiles at him, so happy and relieved there are not words for the wonderful, light feeling growing in his chest, over and above the steady thrum of power outright singing in his veins. "I know."

I don't know how to properly express my feelings. SO MANY FEELS THOUGH. You have broken my heart, set it on fire, and then scattered the ashes.

John. WHY.

:( Poor Rodney.
You know why, bb. He had to save Rodney. And he would do anything - anything - for Rodney.

Poor Rodney indeed. Poor John. And the wedding's the next installment...