Miles (6/6)

The Ancient!John 'verse: Miles (6/6)
Characters: Evan Lorne, Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Sam Carter
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, background Sam Carter/Jack O'Neill
Summary: Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
Series: part 6 of #38 in the Ancient!John 'verse (see part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) . Part of Locality.
Notes: It has taken me almost a month, but RL sucks and this is a nice long one, so at least it was worth it. I hope.

1) This is a "Doppleganger" rewrite for those of you who've not yet caught on. 2) There is some quoting from Paradise Los, which I actually dispise but is a useful source of quotes. 3) In the story, about 51 earth hours have passed. Because days are shorter Nova Loegria. And hours. 4) I'm off to Squee Weekend after class tomorrow, so if there's a delay in answering, that's why. 5) Please enjoy


An Ancient!John Story

{?} – {?}

"Ave, Licinus," the voice says in the old way. The fact he finds it old is momentarily stranger to Iohannes than the voice itself, a discordant note amid his jumbled thoughts too jarring not to notice. He can recall nothing of what he has been told occurred between the moment he sat down in the cathedra ten thousand years ago and the moment he woke in the infirmary this afternoon, yet he thinks the greeting old. In his memories, Nicolaa had said just the same to him just this morning, yet hearing it now seems strange and out of place, a throwback to an era better left forgotten.

He opens his eyes.

The ceiling of the Gate Room stares back at him, silent and cold. The glow from the left tells him that the porta is open; the shadows on his right that it late in the night, creeping towards the small hours of the morning.

"I've been waiting for you a long time," the voice continues. There's something familiar about it – familiar and carefully disinterested, as if afraid he'll give away too much anger if he allows himself to speak freely – but the only thing Iohannes can say clearly about it is that it is male.

Iohannes coughs, his lungs protesting his attempt to sit up. "That so?" he manages to ask, just as causally, and gets his feet under him before glancing about for the speaker.

He's scarcely recognizable. The uniform he wears is unfamiliar, only borrowing themes from the Terran legata he'd been introduced to, but obviously of the same design. Long black sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, beneath bright patches of colour on both shoulders. The shoulder boards are empty, the collar open; the gait easy, and yet… And yet it is Iohannes' face the speaker wears, and that alone is enough to set off alarm bells where others would find none. He knows what games he plays. He knows better to make the same mistakes he incites in others.

His duplicate gives him a twisted, macabre smile, as if he knows exactly what Iohannes is thinking and thinks him a fool for feeling any sort of control over the situation. "Yep."

"Mind telling me why?"

"What good would that do?"

"I think all this deserves an explanation, don't you?"

"You say that like there's a simple answer."

"Not everything has to be complicated."

"Nothing's ever simple either." His duplicate starts down the Gate Room stairs, taking the steps two a time. Except for the clothes, he appears as if he could very well be but another version of Iohannes himself as he stands with his back towards the porta, clad in the bone white uniform of a Lantean Guardsman made hoary with age, but…

But there's something sinister about this copy, something dark and slick and spiteful. Despite the illuminated lettering on the risers, all the shadows seem to bend towards his duplicate, his twisted doppelgänger, though light gathers in the whites of his eyes and the spaces between his words.

No light, but rather darkness visible, he finds himself thinking. The palpable obscure.

"I'm not afraid of you."

The duplicate laughs – a deep laugh, honest and true that cuts him to the bone. "You can only lie to yourself for so long, Licinus. I'm the only thing you've ever been afraid of – not the war, not the Wraith, not even losing all the friends you don't remember you had: just little old me. Because I've been here all along. I've always existed, waiting, because what do the Wraith matter when under your skin is a demon just waiting to be released?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't you?" the doppelgänger asks, a dangerous note in his voice as he takes those final few steps to the lower level. "'Lantis never saw it. The Terrans certainly never did. They thought you were strong enough to use the power they gave you wisely, but we both know better, don't we Licinus?"

"Now I really don't know what you're talking about. I-"

"Erased the last three years of your memory? I know. But that doesn't change the fact that the others were right all along: you are a danger to every sentient being in the universe. D'you have any idea how many people have died because of you, Licinus? How many of your friends have gone to their graves because you failed them? You brought this on yourself and there is nothing you can do to stop it."

Furious, his duplicate aims a punch at Iohannes' jaw, as if all this talk has been but a prelude to the bloodshed he desires to follow.

He ducks, but it is only a diversion. He gets a boot to the gut before he can scramble backwards. It knocks the breath right out of him and nearly his lunch, but Iohannes manages to stay on his feet. He catches a backhand to his face before he can return the blow. For his – blocked – right hook, he gets a punch to the stomach and his legs swept out from under him.

Iohannes lands hard, stunned.

His duplicate presses his advantage, kicking him once, twice, three times in the belly before circling him to repeat the movement on the other side. He manages four kicks there, digging the steel tip of his books deep into the soft tissue of Iohannes' gut, before stalking away, disgusted.

"Get up. C'mon, Licinus. Fight!"

Iohannes pushes himself onto elbows, knees with a struggle. "If you want to kill me, kill me," he coughs around a mouthful of blood.

"Eventually," the doppelgänger assures him, leaning in close. "It's your fault, y'know. All of it. You told yourself it was inevitable, that it was preordained, that no one could have stopped it – not even the god-devil you became. But you were wrong. You could have stopped it at any time. But you didn't. You choose not to, all because you were a lost little boy who didn't want to be alone any longer. You allowed tragedies on the chance that it would lead the victors to Atlantis – and to you. Trillions upon trillions of senseless, needless deaths – all because you were afraid of the dark."

"That's not true," he insists, not knowing the meaning of the words he says. His head is spinning. He can barely breathe. His vision is whiting at the edges and he has no idea what's happening except that he wants it to be over with. He just wants to escape whatever nightmare he's trapped inside so he can begin rebuilding his life, one recovered memory at a time. He wants to live. "It had to be like this. For good to win, it had to be this way."

"It's your fault Heightmeyer's dead. Your fault Elizabeta is dead-"

Something within Iohannes snaps. He launches himself at his duplicate, awkward and ungainly and uncoordinated, but still he somehow manages to tackle his doppelgänger to the ground.

They grapple across the Gate Room floor, a sprawling mess of elbows and near-escapes that only serves to bring them closer to the open porta. Neither of them is particularly skilled at hand-to-hand combat, but rage gives Iohannes the upper hand despite his injuries. Even so, it is luck and determination alone that allow him to pin the monster with his face to the ground.

Iohannes has a bruised jaw, a blackened eye. His stomach might well have been impaled on his spinal column at some point and he'll be pissing blood for a month if makes it out of this at all. But he's got the monster – Icarus it calls itself, he realizes – pinned, and that's all that matters.

He goes for his knife, but it's not in its sheath at the small of his back. It is gone, as is the manuballista that should be holstered at his side. He has no weapons, no way to kill this monster but with his fists, but he hasn't the strength.

Iohannes wraps his hands around his duplicate's neck, but to no avail. Icarus unseats him and pins him to the floor, scant feet from the porta, and when he goes for his KA-BAR, it's there. "Death is better than you deserve, but it's the best I can do," he says, holding the tip knife to over his heart.

But Iohannes wants to live. He has never wanted to live more than he has in this moment. He's made mistakes, more than his share, but it was always, always with the best intentions.

He grabs the blade with his hands, slicing his palms in the process and turning them to ribbons as he wrenches the knife from his duplicate's hands. When it clatters to the ground, Iohannes bucks his opponent and grabs the knife, stabbing Icarus in the back. Iohannes yanks it free to a spray of blood and plunges it into whatever soft tissue he can find over and over and over again, until his doppelgänger finally falls forward, limp and defeated.

Exhausted, Iohannes slumps to the floor beside him, limp and bloody, and finds he can no longer hold his eyes open. Sleep would be so welcome right now…

24 July, 2007 – Atlantis, Nova Loegria, Pegasus

The shock has worn off by the time he makes it to Sam's office.

"Do you know anything about Ancient funerals?" he asks, sinking into one of the armchairs that have been in room since Elizabeth's tenure – pieces of furniture that had just appeared in the earliest days of the First Expedition without any apparent rhyme or reason. The rest of the senior staff had put it down to Grodin's superior administrative skills and never questioned it (why would they when there had been so many other things to question in those early days, from John to the Wraith to if they would ever see Earth again), but Rodney had always thought it was John's doing. John knows where to find anything in Atlantis that wanted finding, from mattresses softer than a slab of concrete (a warehouse on the edge of the North Pier and the Inner City) to superconductive materials (scattered throughout the sublevels, usually in the most deserted corridors possible). Armchairs are easily in the realm of his ability.

Were. They were in the realm of his ability and are not any longer because John is dead and never coming back. He has found everything he will ever find. If that includes the peace he was looking for, Rodney will never know.

"Doctor Becket made the call then?"

"He only held off as long as he did because Evan asked him not to."

"Not you?"

"It's hard to argue with a corpse," he informs her, looking anywhere but her eyes. Rodney's had enough of sympathy for a lifetime. If he has to see it reflected in anyone else's eyes ever again he won't be responsible for his actions.

He looks at her office instead and takes in all the changes she's made to it in the scant few days she's been administrator of the city. The furniture's the same, but gone are the plants and the hideous tchotchke from a dozen worlds that Elizabeth had filled it with and John had never bothered to change. Instead there are picture frames everywhere – pictures of her old team, pictures of her wedding, pictures of her son – interspersed with the shadowboxes military types uses to show off their medals and the flag they'd given her when her father died. There are the usual gewgaws as well, but they actually manage to fit into somebody's idea of décor this go-around.

It's one of the pictures on the end that catches his eye: a candid in a plain wooden frame, taken in the questionable light of the SGC, of SG-1 dressed for some undercover mission – something involving the Lucian Alliance, he guesses, given the amount of leather. Rodney looks at it and can't help wondering if there are actually any pictures of their team floating around. There are some from that first year with just him and John and Teyla, Ford being the shutterbug among them, and a couple that people have snatched since of John and Teyla or John and Ronon sparring, but none he thinks that have the whole team.

Rodney's never actually looked at the wedding photos – he's been much too busy dealing with one crisis after the next. Maybe he'll find something in there.

"I'm sorry, Rodney."

"It's not your fault," Rodney says, his voice sounding distant to his ears. He almost doubts whether he spoke at all. The shock is gone – there is a body this time, which he's spent the last two, almost three local days watching for any sign that this death will be as temporary as the last – but the cold fact remains that John is gone, just gone. He's almost lost him so many times to the most extraordinary of things; to lose him now in a hospital bed seems like a bad joke. The only thing extraordinary about it had been the way every single organ in John's body had shut down all at once, functioning reasonably one moment and not at all the next.

To her everlasting credit, Sam is all business, or enough of it as to make no difference. "So you want to hold an Ancient funeral."

"He was an Ancient."

Sam ignores the comment, which is probably for the best. "Daniel might have come across something in his research. Would you like me to dial Earth and see if he can't send some of what he's found?"

"That's not the problem. I know exactly how an Ancient funeral goes. I just don't want to stick him in a retort and leave 'Lantis' waste reclamation system to deal with the rest."

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Sam stand, walk around her desk, and move towards him as if to embrace him before realizing the folly of her plan and leaning against the nearside instead, as if that had been her intention all along. "You know," she says almost delicately, "you don't have to follow the Ancient funeral to the letter."

"I don't want to turn it into a three-ring circus either."

"I'm sure we can figure out something in between."

"I don't want to figure out something in between. I just want John not to be dead." Rodney lets out a heavy head and leans his head back, closing his eyes to avoid having to look at the ceiling and all that that implies. "Sorry. Sorry, it's just- it wasn't supposed to end this way. I mean, I am – was, sorry, was – his husband. You'd think I'd know if he wanted to kill himself."

"We don't know that's what happened."

"How else are we supposed to take it? Even if he was just trying to erase the last however many years of his memories, isn't that the same thing? The guy he was when all of this started is not the man he was three years ago."

"That man erased chunks of your memory and declared himself a living god."

"I know. And I should hate him for it – I even do, sometimes – but he was still John. I still love him."

"Even after all that?"

"Even after all that." Leaning forward, he wipes a hand across his face and says, somewhat belatedly, "Thank you."

"Thank you? Thank you for what?"

"For taking this job. For trying to help John. For listening to me."

Mildly, "We're friends, Rodney. You don't have to thank me for any of that."

There's really nothing Rodney can say to that.

Perhaps sensing this, Sam places a hand on his shoulder and gives him a little shake. "I'm going to have Chuck dial New Athos and ask Teyla back here. She should be able to help you figure out how you want to handle the funeral arrangements. But until then you should try to get some rest. You don't have to decide everything tonight and you certainly don't have to do it alone."

Maybe the shock hasn't completely worn off, because Rodney finds himself back in the morgue without any clear memory of how he got there, let alone of having decided to return.

He's not alone: Evan's sitting on one of the mortuary tables across from John's body, legs dangling over the edge like a exhausted child just waiting to be told it was time to go home. "I didn't want to leave him alone," he says by way of explanation.

"He's dead," Rodney answers flatly, moving to stand next to his examination table. He can't be near John's. As pale as he is, particularly in the stark white scrubs they'd dressed him in after the first time they tried to restart his heart, he only looks like he's sleeping. If Rodney looks too closely, he can still trick himself into thinking he'll wake up any second now, and that's the last thing any of them need. "I don't think he cares."


"Don't – just don't, Evan."

"It thought he was just trying to finish what he started," Evan continues, sounding smaller than he ought. "I thought that if we just left him to it…"

"I think he did just what he set out to do."

Evan shakes his head violently in protest. "This isn't want he wanted. It can't be what he wanted. Icarus wouldn't kill himself – sacrifice himself, yes, but not kill himself."

"If he thought it was to protect us, he would."

"What good does his dying do anyone? We need him. We can lie to ourselves all we want about defeating the Wraith and holding together the Confederation with out him, but we need him. We can't do it without him. He's the only one that knows what he's doing. He's the only one with any sort of plan."

Rodney has nothing to say to that. He feels like he has nothing to say at all anymore, as if John had taken all his words with him when he dies. But no, that makes no sense. It's more like John had been the only one he'd ever really wanted to talk to and, now that he's gone, it doesn't seem worth the effort to try explaining himself to other people. John always got him. Even before they were anything more than friends, John had understood him in a way no one else ever had.

Or maybe John had just listened – listened where no one else had before, to all the things he said and all the things he didn't say. The only one who could ever hope to understand how he feels about John being dead is John, which helps nobody.

He doesn't know what he's supposed to do now that John's gone. He can't go back to that empty, meaningless life he had before, not now that he knows there's something better out there. He can't go back to his lab, not when he knows that there's no chance of John ever trying to drag him out of it again, no chance of John perching on the countertops and teasing him about all the things humans think they understand. He can't walk out this door, not when the next time he'll see his husband is in a casket, to be placed into a retort and reduced to his component atoms, so that ashes can out into the universe, until all that he was mixes with all that ever was, forming new stars and new planets. John would have wanted it that way.

Rodney doesn't know what he wants.

Quite suddenly, Rodney can't stand to be in the room any longer. He needs to get out – away – as far as possible. He can't be in the same room something that looks like John but isn't. The John he loved is gone. The John he loved has been gone for ages and will never be back because there's no such thing as miracles. There's never been such a thing as miracles. Miracles can't exist in a universe filled with false gods and fake gods and would-be devils.

Rodney can't understand how John's dead. He's always come back before. Why not this time? Why not one last time?

"Pops?" Evan asks, less hesitantly now. "Are you alright?"

"Get me out of here," he chokes.

Evan jumps off the mortuary slab and immediately places a hand on his shoulder; the same one Sam had shaken earlier. "Alright."

Before they've taken two steps towards the door, there's a sharp intake of breath behind them, impossibly loud in the sharp, bitter silence of the morgue.

"Rodney?" the voice asks on the exhale, sounding bone tired and not a little broken, but still so recognizably John that he probably sprains something spinning around. "Why is it so cold?"

Rodney blinks. John is alive.

John is alive.

He has no idea how, but John is alive.

I feel like Rodney is going to be pissed with John, once the relief and happiness wears off, because John was dead *again*, doesn't he know what that does to Rodney? But oh, oh, JOHN IS ALIVE. I kept saying, "He'll wake up now. Now. RIGHT NOW." and he didn't.

I love that Evan calls Rodney 'pops'. I also love that Sam was smart enough to recall Teyla to help Rodney out.
Thanks bb. But you're right, things will be tense between John and Rodney for a while (they'll figure it out eventually, promise). But until then, I've a Teyla POV planned and some Sam POV... girl power.