Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney McKay, Evan Lorne/Radek Zelenka, Colonel Ellis
Warnings: #35 in the Ancient!John 'Verse; everything thru "First Strike," and considers everything thru The Ark of Truth in SG-1 to have happened (i.e., everything but Continuum, which I consider to be post-SGA S4).
Summary: The worst are full of passionate intensity.
Notes: This is the start of S4. I had considered holding out and waiting until had more ready, but then I decided I needed to publish or it might never happen. Exstinctor most adequately translates as Annihilator, I hope there is adequate pain and angst, and reviews make the process go faster.
Without further ado:
An Ancient!John Story
29 June, 2007 / XXX Qui. a.f.c. I – Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
The very picture of insouciance, John lifts his hands off the back of the couch and holds them high, wide, and inviting, as if he were welcoming Colonel Ellis and his threats into the city rather than laughing at this latest lie. Chuckling slightly, "Go right ahead," he says, allowing his arms to fall carelessly back onto the couch, one of them brushing against the back on Rodney's neck as it lands. "The few of my kind that remain in the Higher Planes are idiots and imbeciles, more concerned with clinging to their out-dated, broken philosophies than they are with doing something good and just and right for once in their miserable lives. I'll even press the button, if you want. After all, what's one more genocide on my conscious?"
Rodney's eyes, which have been watching Colonel Ellis manage to somehow stiffen despite the metal rod already shoved up his ass, snap to John. "Be serious," he admonishes.
"I am," John says lightly, not even looking at him. "Go," he tells the Colonel, waving one of his hands dismissively. "Get the Sangraal. I promise to wait right here for you to get back. I won't even shoot at your ship or anything."
"John," he hisses. "Don't be stupid. The Sangraal will kill you."
"The Sangraal only kills things in the Higher Planes," he says confidently, barely glancing his way, "and I'm rather hopelessly mired in this one."
"How about we not test that theory," Rodney suggest before turning to the only other sane person left in the room. "Lorne, just tell the man you don't want to be imperator and finish this mess now. I'm tired and I'd like to go to sleep some time before morning."
Lorne just stands there, shaking his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Doctor McKay. If there was any other way, believe me, I'd take it, but Icarus is… He's not himself anymore. He's let them turn him into a god."
"Don't be an idiot, Major. John knows he's not a god. He only puts up with the Ancestral religion because we needed a compelling reason for planets to join the Confederation."
"He's been abusing his powers."
"To build us ships!"
"To build us ships," Evan agrees quietly, "and to alter your memories."
For a second, the only sound Rodney can hear is the rush of blood in his ears – no one in the room seems to dare breathe, and even 'Lantis, normally so vibrant and full of life, pauses her song. He cannot believe it. He doesn't want to believe it. Yet Evan seems so certain of it, to the extent that he's sided with Earth and Colonel Ellis against them…
He turns towards John. Quietly, so quietly that even he has to strain to hear, he asks, "Is it true?"
Oh, that tone of voice. John has been able to make him do any number of things with that voice. And here it is now, trying to make him understand with that one word, trying to make him forgive the unforgivable just by how he says his name. That he's using it all is proof enough, but Rodney has to hear it. He has to hear him say the words if he's ever going to believe it.
He jumps to his feet. Ignoring Evan, ignoring Radek, ignoring Colonel Ellis, he moves to stand directly in front of John, so close that an inch or two more would have him standing between his spread legs. "Tell me," he begs, hating how his voice quivers but unable to steady it. John has always made him brave, but how can he be brave against John? John is-
John is a good man.
John is selfless and righteous and kind.
He is the best man Rodney has ever known.
He won't meet Rodney's eyes.
It takes a lifetime for John to answer, and though he's not moved from the couch everything about him has changed. Everything about him is sharper now, harsher, colder. He's no longer then man who spent the last hour joking and drinking shitty redcurrant wine with the enlisted men in the mess hall; he's become the man who ordered them to annihilate a planet without so much as a second thought, the one whose hands are stained by the blood of his own people; the one who still believes deep in his soul that the only thing worthwhile about himself is his ability to destroy and so gave himself over to the task with the greatest aplomb.
For all this, John doesn't look like he's going to start attacking anyone. He looks resigned but not repentant, as if he'd do it all over again, exactly the same, from the moment he sat down in the Control Chair so many years ago to this moment now.
Rodney should hate him for it, but he can't. He loves John, loves him even as he breaks his heart, saying, "I had no choice-"
"Dammit, John!" he snaps, the flush of betrayal making him bold. Love or not, this is his mind they're talking about – the only thing that makes him anyone important, that makes him anyone at all. If he wasn't undeniably the smartest person in two galaxies, then nothing Elizabeth could have said or done would have made him part of the First Expedition. Without which he would never have met John, if they had even managed to find John in time, before he bled out from ten thousand year old injuries.
And John had risked destroying that with every time he meddled with his mind. "How many times?" Rodney asks, voice remarkably even.
"You wouldn't listen-"
"How many times?"
"I had to make you listen-"
"How many times?"
"You bastard," he rails.
John rises to his feet, more smoothly and gracefully than he actually managed as a mortal, his robe swirling like the shadows around him. "I did what I had to do," he says. "I didn't like it, I didn't want to, but it had to be done," his voice powerful and pleading at once.
John is a mess of contradictions at the best of times – a confused, tangled mass of old and young, alien and human, solider and civilian, Caesar and supplicant; utterly loyal but incapable of believing anyone might be loyal to him, full of violent good faith but sceptical to the point of incredulity, a believer of people but not ideals, a consummate soldier but not militant by nature, dismissive of blood but fiercely protective of his chosen family. In short: a good man who refuses to be great, which has the rather unusual consequence of making him the best of them all.
But this is far from the best of times. As a result, the diametric contention at the core of John's very being has been pushed to extremes – he is now hero and villain, saviour and conqueror, creator and destroyer, prophet and pariah, god and the devil himself all at once. The slightest touch could push him to either terminus once and for all, without recourse or remorse.
"How is meddling with my memory something that had to be done?"
"You weren't listening. I had to make you listen – I had to make you see."
What Rodney doesn't know is how he couldn't see it before. The man he fell in love with is gone, or near as. All that remains is the mask he wears to hide the truth that Evan saw long before he did: that people are what they pretend to be, and John had played god for too long for it not to have an affect on him.
"See? See what?"
"That I've not changed. I'm still the same person I was before I Ascended."
Maybe there is still something of the ridiculous, impossible man he'd fallen on live with in this creature – this fallen angel, this nascent god. Maybe. Possibly. Hopefully. But, "You think you're a god!"
"They worship me. Isn't that enough?"
"That doesn't make you a god!"
"Every thing that I am, through no action of my own, is considered divine. To be myself is to be transcendent. I am sacrosanct by existing. I am holy because I am."
"That sounds like an awful lot of justification for someone claiming to be a god," Colonel Ellis interrupts – stupidly, in Rodney's opinion. Really, what is the American military teaching its officers these days? Certainly not how to avoid conflict and bloodshed, that's for sure. Still, he's grateful for the interruption. It covers the sound of his heart shattering into a thousand splinters that smash against the office floor.
John's eyes snap upwards, staring the other man down over Rodney's shoulder. "I'm taking the time to explain because I know you have a hard time understanding. Blind obedience isn't exactly something I go in for, or obedience at all, for that matter. Unlike some people, I don't think fear or forced indoctrination does all that much good in the long run."
"Funny coming from a man who just finished committing genocide on his second species in six months."
"I'm not looking to make it a third, but that doesn't mean I won't."
"Is that a threat?"
"No, it was an invitation to dinner – of course it was a threat," Rodney snaps, turning around so glare at Colonel Ellis himself. He's met people with less common sense, but all of them are dead. "Only, John doesn't do threats. He tends to tell you exactly what it is he's doing to do and proceeds to do it in exceptionally violent and nightmare inducing ways – and that was before he got it into his head that he was a god."
"You want me to believe you've not changed?" he asks, rounding on John madly, all sense of self-preservation lost alongside his heart and any hopes he might have had for the future. Madness is driving him now, because it is either madness or heartache, and heartache won't get him anywhere – won't stop John from wiping his memory again if he decides Rodney doesn't adequately understand this time either. "Then you let Colonel Ellis get The Ark of Truth off his ship. If you're still singing the same tune after you look into it, then we'll talk about this god business. Otherwise we start taking separate vacations and figure out who gets the kids."
"I'm serious about-" Rodney blinks. He hadn't expected this to be this easy. He hadn't expected this to happen at all. The moment god had slipped past John's lips, he'd thought he'd lost him forever. "Fine?"
"Rodney," he says patiently, and he doesn't look any different. He just looks like John, eyes a little too old for his face, expression a little to alien for his features. He certain doesn't look like someone whose gone Ori and betrayed every trust Rodney had in him. But his is and he did, and that makes John's next words hurt all the more, "You're the only good thing that's ever happened to me. If looking into the Ark is what it takes for you to believe me, I'll do it twice a day and three times on Sunday for the rest of our lives."
"Oh," Rodney breathes.
Even after years of being together, he always is surprised by the ferocity of John's love for him. That, even so far gone, so close to the edge that he must be clinging to the edge of reason with his fingernails, so close to falling that he hasn't got a clue how deep he really is, he's willing to risk all of that for him.
John is Ascended. Even if he's not the god he claims, somewhere, locked inside the brain that is only a manifestation of his desire for a tangible body with all the trappings of mortality, is the knowledge of how the universe works: The nature of dark matter. The superfluous details of the universe's birth and the shape of its death. The exact method of unifying gravitation with electronuclear force and finding that final theorem, the theory of everything.
Rodney's not stupid. He's easily the smartest person in two galaxies. On his good days, he'd even go so far as to extend that qualification to the known universe. But the fact remains that he will never acquire even a tenth of the knowledge John now has, even if he devotes himself entirely to solving the unsolved problems in physics and doesn't concern himself with any of the fifty-odd crises that are happening on or around Atlantis at any given time.
And despite all that, John loves him. As ignorant and tiny and mortal as he is, John loves him. Loves him enough to sacrifice everything he believes, for him.
It's a terrible and heady thought, and he's counting on it to save John.
"Colonel Ellis," he manages when he's finally found his voice, Rodney's voice sound thin and distant even to his own ears, "go get the Ark." Only dimly aware of the Colonel contacting his ship and beaming out of the room, he turns his full attention back to John. "After all of this is over, you and I are going to have a long talk."
"I hated it. Every time I had to-"
"Don't," Rodney says sharply, finally turning away. He catches a brief glimpse of Radek, sympathetic, and Evan, cautious, before he closes his eyes to shut them and the whole rest of the universe out. "Just, don't, please."
He can hear John audibly sink behind him. "Alright."
An eternity passes. Then another. He considers looking at his watch and seeing just how long Ellis has been gone, but that would involve opening his eyes and having to admit to the world just how red they've become. If he doesn't admit it, it's not real. If it's not real, than this is all just a terrible, terrible dream. If this is all just a dream, then John is still the man he's loved all this time and not some devil wearing his face and using his voice, saying such seductive lies that he'd almost rather believe them then risk losing the one good thing he's ever had.
But this isn't a dream. John isn't a devil yet. Once he looks in the Ark, he will remember the truth. Then this terrible eternity will end and everything will go back to normal. Only that sounds like some god-awful lie Jeannie would tell Madison, like the tooth fairy. Even if they get John back, he'll never be the same.
He's already lost everything.