Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Radek Zelenka, Sam Carter, Alison Porter, Anne Teldy
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Summary: Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
Series: part 6 of #39 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: This sort of flowed. I'm not sure how well it fits in with the rest, as it sort of diverged from my original intention, but it brings us thru "Travellers" and the Gubernator-arc.
1) The ship names are various characters from Greek/Roman mythology. 2) Descension is hard on anyone. 3) I apolgize ahead of time for any inacuracies. 4) IDK even what to make of this. Hopefully it makes sense.
14 August, 2007 – Aurora, The Palamede, Pegasus
“I can’t believe I’m the one saying this – and believe me, the irony is leaving a funny taste in my mouth already – but you need to rest.”
“I know you’ve not been sleeping and you can’t even pretend to tell me that you’ve been eating, but you do need to sit down for an hour or ten and attempt to relax.”
“I can sit in the jumper.”
“Yes,” Rodney says in the tone he saves for talking with particular idiots and hasn’t had to use with John for years, “but you can’t relax. Don’t get me wrong, I understand flying a jumper through a debris field is probably the closest thing you can get to a sexual experience without, well, me, but that’s not the kind of relaxing you should be aiming for right now.”
John sits down on the edge of the bunk – not to concede defeat, as Rodney had originally hoped, but to pull on his boots. “We already lost a day to me being unconscious-“
“Yet another reason you should be taking it easy instead of, I dunno, indulging your re-emergent death wish when you’ve already died three times in the past month and have had at least two other near death experiences that I know about. I know this is hard for you to understand,” Rodney says, standing directly in front of him and inhibiting the shoe-tying process as much as possible, “but you are mortal now. That means flesh and bone and soft, gooey organs that work a lot better inside you than scattered across a debris field because you were too tired to fly around the space garbage.”
There’s a storm in John’s eyes – not a literal one, thank god, though the echoes of stars remain somewhere in their depths, the only physical scar Ascension has left him with. “You built an atomic bomb on methamphetamines.”
“Entirely different circumstances and you know it.”
John seems to collapse in on himself, as if every ounce of fight within him left all at once. He refuses to look at Rodney. He refuses to look at anything. He just stares at his hands, starting at them like they hold the answers to all the questions he’d once known. “I feel so old, Rodney,” he says in the end, his voice a broken whisper, and he’s never heard John like this, never.
“I’ve wasted so much time.”
“Things are coming to a head. Everything, it’s coming to a head. All the streams are coming together.”
“John, you’re not making any sense.”
"The river tells no lies, though standing on the shore the dishonest man still hears them."
“Now you’re really not making sense,” he snorts, trying for levity but not being able to manage it around his worry. “Do you want me to radio Doctor Porter?”
John shakes his head fiercely, hands going to his head, fingers tangling in the spray of grey hair that had appeared after his latest brush with death. “It’s so loud. Why is it always so loud?”
Rodney sucks in a shaky breath, but somehow finds it in him to sound confident when he says, “You’re going to be fine, John. I promise. Just lie down for a while. You’ll feel better when you’ve had some sleep.”
Luckily John seems to agree with him this time. He doesn’t take off his boots or even lie down so much as collapse in a horizontal manner, but Rodney counts it as a win anyway, and tucks a blanket around him before easing out into the hallway.
This is getting bad.
John is getting worse.
“What do you mean John is getting worse?”
“I mean that he’s getting worse. What part of that is hard to understand?”
“Details, Rodney,” Radek’s sighs, his voice coming in perfect surround sound from the speakers hidden about the engineering department. It’s impossible to tell that Radek’s not aboard Aurora with him, but five hundred kilometres off the bow, aboard the largest of the ships they’ve been able to salvage from the Nebrian fleet. The lifecycle of the supergiant they had dropped out of hyperspace around had taxed the orbits of most of the fleet, causing the orbits of at least a dozen vessels to decay and creating the debris cloud they had appeared inside of, but six of varying size had survived the turmoil. Over the past four days, John has been able to recover five of them, and now they’re working on slaving the navigational controls of the ones they have so far to Rory’s for the journey home.
“What details? He wasn’t great went we left. This is merely a continuation of the same.”
Radek sighs more emphatically this time. “Has he been taking his medication?”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I can be without holding my hand over his mouth and plugging his nose until he swallows.”
There’s a longer pause this time. He can hear the scrape of metal against machinery over the open channel. The ships they’ve been able to recover – Mnemosyne, Terpsichore, Melpomene, Hermione and Menoetius – had been shut down during their long absence and had not achieved sentience. This means physical rewiring of circuitry is required, which, while more conventional, is also rather more time consuming. “What does Rory have to say about it?”
“I don’t exactly know, seeing as how the only means I have to talk to her are currently destroyed beyond any hope of repair.”
“I was saving your life,” Radek reminds him lightly, continuing, “How does she sound then? I am no pastor, but I’ve spent enough time around them to know that her music should tell you something.”
He can’t fight the smile that forms, “She’s happy. I haven’t heard her like this since we first got her back to Atlantis.”
“There you go. Rory warned Evan about the Colonel when he was going Ori. I am sure she’d warn you if there was anything to actually worry about.”
“Have I told you lately how much I hate it when you’re right?”
Rodney closes the channel without dignifying the question with an answer.
16 August, 2007 – Lethe, The Palamede, Pegasus
He knows it’s not real.
Real is the bridge of Lethe, the last of the lintres to be found intact in this graveyard of wreckage and debris. Real is his hands on the controls, attempting to manoeuvre them around the larger pieces of dead linter. Real is Aurora in the distance, a beacon of song and life and light in the darkness, more so then even the cold blue star behind them. Real is Miko, quietly at work in the engine room. Real is Anne Teldy, so strong and determined after everything that’s happened to her, babysitting him with a gun in one hand and a bodice ripper in the other.
Real is the blue fire that healed them all, leaving behind nothing but dried blood and a sweep of grey at his temples, as if it had drawn on his life force to heal their injuries before blood loss and carbon dioxide poisoning killed them all. That’s the suggestion Rodney had put forward, life force, after watching the security feeds over and over again, his expression growing harder and colder with each iteration. Life force, as if the fire were in some way Wraith and not merely the consequence of using Ascended powers without an Ascended plane to draw from – or so Iohannes assumes. That may not be real.
Real is the air in his lungs and the blood in his veins. Real is flesh and bone and soft, breakable organs.
Real is not the voices.
But they had once been real and that is the problem. They had once belonged to real people. He couldn’t save them and so they died and now he can hear them like ghosts from the past, screaming-
“-Wraith hive. Distance, two hundred twelve kilometres; inclination, thirty-six point three three five; azimuth, one-twelve point eight three eight-“
Instinctively Iohannes adjusts the controls, pulling them into a climb that will allow them to get up and over the hive, realizing too late it is a memory and nothing more. He plays it off as best he can, turning the climb into a turn that will allow them to avoid a chunk of wreckage further on, but he can hear Teldy turn down the corner of her paperback behind him.
Unless she’s not real.
She must be real.
“-try to outrun them, Licinus. Get as close to one of the stars as possible. Wraith hulls are organic. They won’t be able to tolerate the radiation the way we-”
“I know,” he mutters mutinously. They think he’s too young, the other bridge officers. They look at him and see child and youngest and young, so young, forgetting that he’s been actively fighting in this war since he was six years old. He knows more about the Wraith and the strengths and weaknesses of their hives than anyone aboard. He can tell which Wraith faction they’re facing just by looking at the sensor shadow and he is not young he is old, he is ancient and eternal and he was born in darkness before fire and flame. The Catalyst is coming, far off still but close enough he can taste it, and they just have to trust him to guide them through it whole.
“-certain that is advisable, Sir? We risk Tethys already by attempting to pass between the supergiant and the neutron star. Any attempt to move closer to either may cause us to be ripped apart by-“
“I really want to, Sir, but-“
He can hear his own voice now – but that’s not so strange. His voice is real. It is the only thing he’s had to sustain him through the long, cold millennia between the birth of the universe and the birth of his species. “Trust me,” he repeats. “I can do this.”
“This is the Palamede,” his navigator reminds him. “Fancy flying gets people killed in the Palamede.”
“Staying on course also gets us killed, Rhoda. Might as well go out fighting.”
“Sir!” the voice behind him shouts. Her name is Anne Teldy and she had a daughter before joining the Marines and she is not real. None of them are real. The voices are just there to distract him from the real problem.
Iohannes flips Lethe around, dodging the inexplicable debris with ease and making for the heart of the star. Lethe is little more than a corvette and lacks the shield capacity to stay within the corona of a supergiant for long, but her shields are strong enough for him to use the star’s gravity to slingshot them out of the Palamede.
If they can get out of the Palamede, they can open a hyperspace window.
If they can open a hyperspace window, they’ll be safe. All of them will be safe.
“I can save them this time.”
“Save who?” the apparition that is Anne Teldy asks, moving to stand behind him.
She’s close, much too close, but Iohannes does not answer. He does not talk to ghosts.
“Colonel? What’s going on?” Her hand brushes against his shoulder, and that’s too much, much too much, and he snaps out reflexively, dropping her to the floor without turning away from the controls. Teyla would be proud. Possibly. She may not be real either.
Real are the sobbing children and the burning planets and the whispers on the wind that he can’t ignore – can never ignore – no matter how much he tries.
Real is the noise and the laugher and the pain – so much pain.
His hands come off the controls of their own accord, shuttering Lethe to a halt above the pole of the star, translating all momentum to heat and groaning metal. His palms press to his forehead but the pressure doesn’t stop the screaming and-
He doesn’t hear Anne pull herself off the floor.
He doesn’t hear her upholster her sidearm.
He doesn’t hear her whisper, “Sorry, Sir,” before the butt of the pistol crashes into the back of his head.
18 August, 2007 – Atlantis, Nova Loegria, Pegasus
“How is he?” Sam asks, turning away from the glass to give him at least the illusion of privacy. It seems wrong to see Sheppard like this, so broken and frail, in isolation once more, haunted by demons none of them can understand. She remembers her own troubles after her forced blending with the Tok’ra Jolinar and wonders how much worse it must be for the inescapable nightmares to be one’s own.
Doctor Porter sighs, lightly tapping her pen against her notes. “His bloodwork shows he stopped taking his medication at some point – that, or they’ve been flushed out of his system faster than they would in a human, though I’m inclined to think the former. He was showing remarkable improvement before we left for the Palamede.”
“And this is the result of going off his meds?”
“That and extreme stress, I believe. He was part of a mission to the Palamede once before, before he went into stasis.”
“I am aware.”
“I think…” Porter bites the inside of her cheek, reconsidering her statement. “I’m not comfortable making a diagnosis quite yet. My knowledge of Ancient physiology is shoddy at best, to say nothing of the psychology of a formerly Ascended being, but… But I think a lot of stuff happened in his past that Sheppard never allowed himself to work through.”
Sam frowns. “I thought stopping his heart the last time was supposed to get rid of those memories.”
“The ones from when he was Ascended, maybe, but I think it stirred up other memories he was trying to repress, amongst other things. He’s not had the easiest life.”
“Anything I should be concerned about?”
Porter frowns, tapping her pen in a sharp, staccato rhythm. “I don’t think so? I’m under the impression that he was even more isolated among his own people than he is now, so things are already looking up… But it’s going to take some time. From what I’ve seen of his record, he’s a these things I do, that others may live kind of guy, and he’s had to watch a lot of people die over the years.”
With a sigh, Sam joins the other woman on the couch. “Where’s McKay? I’d have thought he’d want to be here for this.”
“He and Doctor Beckett were attempting to remove as many nanoids from Major Lorne’s bloodstream as safely possible. They believe,” she continues at Sam’s raised eyebrow, “that the Colonel might recover more quickly if the city is less upset about being unable to communicate with Doctor McKay. The data port they originally used is too damaged to allow a replacement Device anytime soon, so they’ve decided to do things they old-fashioned way.”
“Because brain surgery is the old-fashioned way,” she says with faint smile. “Never a dull day in the Pegasus galaxy.”
“I should go check on them – make sure they’re not getting up to too much mischief without Sheppard to watch over them.”
“Just one more thing before you go,” Porter adds quickly. “When we took off those things he wears on his arms – armbands? Vambraces, maybe? Anyway, when we took them off to put him in restraints, we found that this.” She flips through her notes quickly, eventually pulling out an incongruous Polaroid and offering it to Sam. On it is an infinity symbol, livid red like-“It’s been branded onto his right wrist.”
“He did this to himself?”
“I can only assume. Colonel Sheppard seemed surprised when I asked about it, so he may not remember doing it. Not even Doctor McKay knew about it. But that’s not the interesting part.”
“You’ve found the symbol somewhere in the ships they brought back? Something that might explain why John felt the need to burn it into his skin?”
This earns her a tight, lopsided smile. “No, or, at least, not yet. I wish it were as simple as that. Asking how it got there gets me nowhere. Eventually I got smart about it and asked why, which is the interesting bit. He just told me to ask Doctor Jackson. Every time I asked, that was his only answer.”
Surprise doesn’t quite cover Sam’s reaction. “Daniel? What would he have to do with it?”
“It could be an Ancient thing he doesn’t want to explain to us himself. Hell, it could be an I was once Ascended thing. I don’t think we’ll know until we get Doctor Jackson here and ask him a few questions.”
“McKay’s going to love that.”
“Somehow,” Porter muses, “I think he’s going to be okay with anything, so long as it helps the Colonel manage his condition, whatever it may be.”