Characters: Ancient!John, Rodney McKay, Evan Lorne, Carson Beckett, Sam Carter
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Summary: It takes ten times as long to put yourself together as it does to fall apart. Or, John's Plan.
Warnings: Contains mentions of suicide.
Series: Part 6 of #37 in the Ancient!John 'verse (see part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Part of Locality.
Notes: 1) Believe it or not, after almost 2 months struggling with this story, I'm finally finished with "Vir" - and ended up writing this chapter all in one day. 2) The quotes are from Alistair Reynold's excellent Revelation Space. If you ever wanted to read the type of SyFy book Rodney might write, that is is. 3) NGC 5236 and NGC 4945 are distant galaxies. 4) odala is the name of the rune they use for the Asgard in "The Torment of Tantalus." I think, if I'm reading it right. 5) My head!canon for Stargates. 6) The Second Wave.
An Ancient!John Story
21 July, 2007 – Atlantis, Nova Loegria, Pegasus
"Sylveste had to let his mind rest for a moment," he reads, shifting the book to alleviate the cramping in his hand. He should really put the text down – his voice is growing hoarse and his eyes are straining – but there are hardly twenty pages left and he's invested in the ending by this point.
"The immensity of it was dwindling now, leaving only the ringing aftertones, like the last echoes of the final chord of the greatest symphony ever played. In a few moments, he doubted he would remember much at all. There was simply insufficient room in his head for it all," Evan continues, noticing the light in Icarus' observation room beginning to change.
Is it sunrise already? Had he been here all night? It appears so. He'd only meant to grab a few things from his office before retiring for the night, regardless of what dreams may come. Then he'd found this book amid all the papers Icarus had left behind – a real book, made of paper and ink, rather than the digital files that were far more common in Atlantis – and thought that it might hold some special significance to his adoptive father. Evan had held the vain hope that reading aloud from it might help Icarus find his way out of the depths of his mind, where he'd retreated following the revelation that his memories are infecting the humans around him, and back into the land of the living.
With twenty pages to go, Evan's hope seems to have been extremely misplaced, but ever the optimist, he continues to read. "And, strangely, he did not feel the slightest sorrow at its passing. For those few moments, it had been wonderful to taste that transhuman knowledge, but it was simply too much for one man to know. It was better to live; better to carry a memory of a memory, than to suffer the vast burden of knowing."
Somebody snorts. It takes Evan a moment to connect it with Icarus, who somehow manages to seem utterly at ease and completely awake despite still being strapped to his hospital bed on nominal suicide watch.
"How long have you been awake?" he asks.
"Since about chapter two?" Icarus manages to shrug despite the band across his shoulder and the second restraining his upper torso. "I can see why Rory likes it when you read to her. You really get into it."
Evan snaps the book shut, feeling rather foolish. "You could have said something."
"It was distracting – something to focus on other than all of the various ways sentient beings have discovered to inflict suffering on each other." Icarus goes silent, still, eyes focused into the ill-lit distance on something that only he can see. His jaw clenches, his hands curl into fists, but otherwise he gives no sign of the horrors he must be experiencing; the drugs Heightmeyer prescribed have done that at least.
It takes Icarus several moments to come back to himself after the memory passes – or, maybe, it simply takes him that time to reach the decision to pretend that this memory, like all those that must have come and gone over the last five hundred pages, never happened. He just waves his hand as best as the padded cuffs will allow and says, "Don't mind me. Go on."
Evan, for lack of a better option, resettles and goes to do just that.
"Actually," he interrupts before Evan's even turned to the right page, "do you mind getting me something to write with first? And maybe un-cuffing my hands – or just one, maybe?" He wiggles the fingers on one of his hands experimentally, as if to test circulation. "It's just, I'd like to write some of this down."
Evan thinks the suicide watch is pointless – if Icarus wanted to kill himself, he would have done so before now – and the cuffs even more so, so he releases both of Icarus' hands before looking around the room for something he could write with. He finds a stack of printer paper inexplicably in one of the cabinets, steals the pen from the clipboard at the foot of the bed, and presents them both to the Ancient, who looks mildly amused at the primitive level of technology but accepts them both readily.
Once the bed is tilted forward enough that Icarus can write despite the straps across his shoulders, chest, and thighs, Evan reopens the book and begins to read: "It was better to live; better to carry a memory of a memory, than to suffer the vast burden of knowing. He was not meant to think like a god…"
"She spread arms wide, as if she had wings; as if she could fly. The red ground – fluctuating, shimmering as ever – dropped smoothly away," he finishes, automatically glancing at the ceiling to see what his audience might have thought of it.
Atlantis' feelings on science fiction, however, tend much more towards abstracted tolerance than Rory's exuberant voracity, as illustrated by her rather perfunctory, /That was lovely, Argathelianus. Thank you./
Evan doesn't mind. He understands that, however much the city likes him, it had been Aurora who had chosen him. He would always belong a little bit more to the linter than he would to Atlantis, for all it was she who had finished his conversion process, such as it was. 'Lantis is John's in a way she has never been anyone else's. 'Lantis will always be John's. And if she doesn't happen to share John's fascination with Terran science fiction, well, that's just one more mystery in a galaxy full of them.
He goes to ask Icarus if the book was sufficiently distracting, but sees that his hospital bed is already covered with papers so he asks instead, "What are you writing?"
"Things you'll need to know. Things I need to remember. The future," Icarus answers obliquely, peeling a newly finished page off the top of the stack of printer paper and thrusting it at Evan.
He squints at the sheet. It is covered top to bottom, front and back, in soldier-straight columns of Ancient letters. Some phrases are much bigger than others – towards the centre of what he assumes is the front is the Ancient word for Destiny written in letters an inch tall, although most of the rest of the page reads as complete gibberish at first glance. "You couldn't have written it in English?"
Icarus doesn't answer, so he picks up a few more. A great number of them seem to be equations Evan couldn't begin to make sense of even if they hadn't been written in base eight, with obscure titles like the course of chance and destiny and planning alone is insufficient. No few are written entirely in blocks of texts like the first, all with even more impossibly bizarre titles, of which the prize goes to one that has the words trace the river backwards to the source of the stream and there is always one who is two who is none curling outwards from the centre in a perfect Golden Spiral.
There is one written in English, however, that he finds after it falls to the floor. On it are six words: FREEDOM, CHANCE, DISCOVERY, DESTINY, INTEGRITY, and AUDACITY. The last two are crossed out, the first with the words supernova, NGC 5236 written beneath, the second with the words black hole, NGC 4945 above it in drifting letters. Arrows point out from the rest – the arrow from FREEDOM towards the stylized eye symbol that is one of the only things they know about the Furlings, DISCOVERY to the odala rune of the Asgard, CHANCE to a giant question mark, and DESTINY to a series of nine glyphs that Lorne does not recognize but immediately knows can only be one thing, though how exactly he knows this he cannot later say.
With a glance back at Icarus, who is writing too furiously to pay him any heed, he opens a comm line. "Doctor McKay? Colonel Carter? What do you guys know about nine chevron Gate addresses?"
"This isn't a Gate address," Rodney scoffs, taking one look at the paper before passing it off to Colonel Carter in favour of examining the other documents that litter Icarus' bed. "It's sort of numerical code or cypher."
"Why do you say that?" Carter asks with genuine curiosity.
"Well, for one thing it doesn't look like any symbol in any Stargate system that we know of."
"Exactly – that we know of."
"For another," Rodney says, running roughshod over her protestation, "even if it did belong to a network of Stargates that we don't know anything about, every symbol we have come across has some basis in the constellation of the world on which it was originally developed. The ones in the Milky Way use the constellations as seen on Earth sixty-five million years ago-"
"Sixty-four point four, actually," Icarus corrects, shoving a sheaf of papers at his husband, upsetting the stack already in his hand.
Unlike before, Rodney takes this interruption magnanimously, continuing with the correction, "Based on the constellations on Earth sixty-four point four billion years ago. The symbols for Pegasus are what Lantea's constellations looked like ten thousand…." He glances towards Icarus.
"Ten thousand, three hundred forty-five years."
"Thank you. They are what Lantea's constellations were ten thousand, three hundred forty-five years ago. But these," Rodney gestures with the roll of papers Icarus had handed him, "are nothing but dots, dashes, and squiggly lines. That screams code to me, not constellation."
"Maybe it's both."
"Both? Why would it be both?"
"Why not? We know the Ancients were on the run from the Ori for a long time." She pauses deliberately, glancing towards Icarus. When he fails to offer the exact timeframe, Carter continues, "Maybe it was an extra way of keeping their Gate addresses safe. There's nothing anywhere that says Gate symbols have to be based on constellations."
"But why nine symbols then?"
"Well, we never have figured out what the ninth chevron does."
"Who says it has to do anything?" Evan asks, a little tired of being forgotten in this conversation. "As much as we like to pretend otherwise, not everything the Ancients did had a purpose, particularly the farther back in history you go. There have to be at least a dozen better, more efficient ways to build a flying city and yet they chose to go with spires and stained glass windows. That's aesthetics, not functionality." He glances quickly at the ceiling. "Sorry, 'Lantis."
Atlantis flickers the lights in a way he takes to mean no offense taken.
Colonel Carter looks at them both amusedly. "Why don't you just ask the city what it means then?"
Evan, seeing no reason why not, "What do you say, 'Lantis? Know anything about these symbols?"
/They are indeed symbols for the astrae portae,/ she offers, /but we do not know what their destination is. Only the sator that they came from would know that./
Rodney glances at the ceiling as if betrayed. "What the hell is a sator?"
"Seed ships," Icarus answers, surprising them all, "sent out during the Second Wave to seed humanoid life throughout the galaxies. If the Haeretici ever tried to find us, we hoped to disguise our trail by placing Descendants on every planet capable of supporting life within a hundred galaxies. There were six originally. Only two remain." He drops his pen, rolls up the last few pages he's written, and passes them to Rodney. "You'll need these."
Rodney adds them to his earlier pile. "What are all these?"
"Things you'll need," Icarus shrugs. "Equations. Histories. Formulas. A formal declaration of abdication. My will. A Do Not Resuscitate order."
Evan had been watching Rodney shuffle through the papers in his hand – all appeared to be in Ancient, of course, but then again Rodney was rather more practiced at reading Ancient than Evan was – but now his eyes snap towards Icarus-
Icarus, who's still strapped to his hospital bed everywhere save his hands, and even they are limited in motion by the leather bands across his shoulder and chest. The ballpoint pen Evan had given him now lies somewhere around his knees, capped and far out of reach. There are a few sheets of paper still on his lap, but most have migrated into Rodney's arms or onto the floor. His right arm is raised, trying to scratch at a spot underneath the left side of the strap across his chest, and there is absolutely nothing he could use to harm himself within reach.
Until his right hand starts to glow. A terrible wail rises from his heart rate monitor.
Suddenly, doctors are streaming through the door. Someone is saying, "He's in V-fib," and another answering, "Asystole," and other words are being passed that he neither catches nor understands.
"What happened?" Doctor Beckett asks between a request for paddles and the order for them to be charged to two hundred. "I thought you were watching him!"
"We were!" Rodney insists, moving to the side just enough to be out of the doctors' way but still close enough to be a bother. He manages to look more resigned than worried, as if he'd expected Icarus to try something to try something like this sooner or later. "He must have stopped his heart, like he did with Captain Cadman."
It's impossible to tell if Beckett's gone completely still or if his muscles have somehow seized up along with Icarus' as they try to shock his heart into beating. "What?
"No change," says one of the nurses.
"Charge to two twenty," he orders, one eye still on Rodney. "What do you mean like he did with Laura?"
"She begged him to help her die after Michael fed on her. I'll explain later, just save him now."
Beckett, to his credit, attempts to do just that, looking shaken.
"What about the DNR?" Evan hears himself asking, stupidly. He hadn't thought Icarus – his adoptive father, the man he would have followed into the heart of a star once upon a time and for whom he'd broken every covenant he'd ever made – would honestly try to kill himself. Perhaps he was overly fond of flirting with death, yes, and had yet to meet a suicide mission he didn't like, but that didn't mean Icarus actually wanted to die – or so he'd have thought. But if he truly wants to die, that's his choice to make. They should respect that rather than force him to live with the impossible burden of knowledge his time as an Ascended being has left him with.
"Need I remind you, Argathelianus," Rodney says sharply, "that your dear old dad was on suicide watch when he signed it? It doesn't count. I'm his husband; I say shock away."
The doctors do once, twice more, until normal sinus rhythm has been restored. Only then does Rodney allow the nurses – as well as himself and Colonel Carter – to be shepherded out of the room, to answer questions and be offered surprisingly decent cups of coffee while they wait for answers
Six hours later when Icarus finally wakes up, they are the first ones through the door.
The first thing Iohannes notices is the pain. Every inch of him aches, from the tips of his toes to the ends of his hair, and he doesn't think he'll ever not hurt again.
The second thing he notices is the noise. Atlantis has never been quiet, not even when she'd been empty, but this is more than just the quiet, sleepy song of a slumbering city; it is voices. People, speaking in a language he doesn't know and can't understand.
"What the hell was that about?" one of them demands, all but quivering with barely contained energy, his hands moving in a way that, even in silence, seem to ask who and what and why why why. "Do you even know what you put me through every time you do something like this, John? Do you? At this rate I'll be the one whose heart finally gives out from the stress of it all. I did not marry you to be sent into an early grave."
Iohannes closes his eyes, allowing the words to wash over him until the tide of speech ends.
The man who'd spoken continues to watch him worriedly, his hands wringing inside the sleeves of his vaguely Tirianan pulviale. Another man, with Father's colouring in military dress, stands at the foot of the bed, weary but concerned. Between them is a longhaired blonde woman in clothing the likes of which he has never seen, with slashes of dark carmine on her deep grey uniform. She too is concerned, but there's a hardness to the set of her jaw.
"Qui estis?" he asks with deliberate slowness. "Quam Atlante adestis?"
** The Ancient at the end is: "Who are you?" and "How did you come to be on Atlantis?" **