Well. Hmm. Empty (Te Deum), remix of trinityofone's original, The Hollow Men. It was--well, every remix is intersting in a high stress, stop-eating, blood-pressure on the ceiling kind of way. This one is the first one where I panicked and asked everyone on AIM "So, who has seen Red Dwarf?"
It's not a huge revisement, just some corrections, and probably not noticeably differnet from what is posted at the remix site.
He remembers the moment he was born.
Most people don't, can't--pushed from somewhere warm and small and safe, wrapped in flesh and bone, thrust into cold air and bright light, sharp angles and hard surface everywhere he looks, everywhere he touches. They don't remember the transition between the heat of living skin and blood and sudden isolation, naked and cold, and for a second, just a second, Rodney thinks, I can't do this.
I don't *want* to.
Then he's on his hands and knees on the floor of the lab, and he realizes he must have died.
He can't remember his death--that's logical, the update before the away mission was the last--and there are seven hours he knows nothing about. But it's written into the faces of everyone he sees, in the reports he reads in the database, the way Elizabeth trembles when she's alone and Radek's eyes close over Rodney's notes, the way Teyla kneels in her room at night, and the way John washes his hands over and over in whatever sink he can find.
He can't remember his death, but he knows it was too fast and too slow, that his blood soaked John's hands and shirt, that John touched his face and held his hand. He knows they burned his body and that John watched long after the ashes had dispersed into the air. He knows John still reaches for him at night and looks for him in meetings, eyes flicking through Rodney and away too quickly.
The first days went by too fast, lost in the circuits of Atlantis, as huge as a universe and as tiny as a quark, extending through it, awed and amazed. The massive databases of a million worlds at his fingertips, the power systems turning on at a thought, knowledge so vast he can't imagine life before this, confined to a single small mind, when this was waiting. He learned in hours what would have once taken years to understand. It's everything he ever wanted, more than he could have dreamed of as possible.
It's alone, too, and somehow, he hadn't expected that.
He runs his hands over the lab tables and the walls, learning the world in pixels and binary code, Ancient equations and mathematical constructs of reality, matched to a memory that's slowly forgetting flesh. Smooth and rough, warm and dark, he tries to recreate his senses and write the code to tell him the difference between a spoon and a fork, silk and Athosian cotton, the differences between the warmth of living skin and the cool air of an Atlantean morning. The pressure needed to pick up a pen and the pressure to touch a man.
Just one man.
It's not the same. It's not different, not in any way Rodney can quantify, when he tastes coffee and chocolate, familiar and flat, touches Teyla's hair, Ronon's gun. And every night, with every failure, another line of code, closer, so much closer, just almost, just there, just right but not quite.
He's missing something, he knows that, and tries not to think of a quiet room off the west pier, small and silent, dark and warm. He's missing something, and he thinks that maybe, his answer is in the question he can't quite ask.
John's stretched out in bed, boxers and t-shirt, weirdly modest for a man alone in his room, but then again, he's never alone, not really. His head turns as Rodney comes inside, hazel eyes cracking when Rodney stops at the edge of his bed. The sheets are cool when Rodney touches them, slipping between his fingers like silk. Texture, he reminds himself. Cotton. Not so smooth.
"What's it like?" John asks, and Rodney feels John lower the lights, unconscious control, and God, he would have killed for that, once upon a time.
"Do you really want to know?" He can still feel John's fingers touch his arm, the smooth lips, right but not *quite*.
John shrugs, staring up at the ceiling. He does it so easily, so naturally, and before now, Rodney never knew, *none* of them knew. John doesn't know, either, Rodney thinks, how the city can feel him.
"What it's like." John waves at the room, Atlantis. "Is it even real to you? To be out here?"
There are so many ways to answer that, and so few that would make sense, even to John. "It's not like before," he says. It's better. It's different. It's wrong. Reaching out, he touches John's ankle, feels the instinctive flinch, *stay, John*, tamped down on a draw of breath. Skin and rough hair, bone beneath. He circles the knob of bone with his thumb, running it slowly down the sole of John's foot. "It's hard to create the parameters for physical sensation without actually experiencing it." Drawing a finger over the top, he pauses. "It's firing neurons in sequence, electric impulses. It shouldn't be this difficult to copy. But nothing feels right."
It shouldn't be, but it is. He'd never thought he'd need this. "Muffled," he says, and he feels John's gaze sharpen. "The computer doesn't understand."
He can see John's mouth open to say something--something quick and cutting, something to break the second that John's body relaxed against Rodney's hand, the second that John let reality shift enough to accept this casual touch. Drawing his hand away, Rodney leans back. He's patient. He has time.
Third shift is quietest, labs cool and silent. Staring at the laptop, Rodney types out another sequence, then stops, knocking it aside, aware of the flare of not-quite-pain, the weight of the laptop against the back of his hand.
It's not *right*. "Fuck." He doesn't need corporeal form for this. He can do it from inside the mainframe. But there's something reassuring and familiar about the almost-right click of the keys, the almost-perfect smoothness of the table, the almost--
"Nice way to treat your laptop, McKay."
Rodney controls the instinctive effort to turn immediately, digging his fingers into the granite for a moment before he slowly turns his head, seeing John slumped in the doorway. Track pants and t-shirt, bare feet. Practicing with Teyla late, or running with Ronon. Rodney accesses the logs, running through security footage, finding what he wants, all in the time it takes for John to finish saying his name.
"It's a bad night," he says, glancing at his empty coffee cup. The smell's still not right. Not wrong, just not right.
"Still working on the physical parameters?" John says, casually, but he comes in the room, habit drawing him to the table, leaning against it, almost close enough to touch. It's not permission, though, not yet.
An hour ago, John held a towel, running it slowly between his fingers, eyes closed. Atlantis felt it, and Rodney's protocols recorded every rough loop of cotton, the pull of material against living flesh. Touching his sticks with curious fingers, like he'd never seen them before. A casual hand on the wall, feeling smooth alien metal, warm from circuitry.
Atlantis recorded it all, John's careful touches. It's almost enough.
"It didn't occur to me to create the protocols for it before," Rodney says honestly, watching John's hands on the granite, feeling Atlantis recording it, struggling to translate John's experience into something quantifiable. Still too far away, like working through latex, but now that he's focusing, it's more. Closer. "And using memories isn't--as accurate as you might think."
John nods, and Rodney wonders what it means, that John came to him tonight, exhausted and angry, putting Teyla on her knees on the practice mat, cracks all along his edges, grief too raw. John is never as dangerous as when he wants to lose himself.
"You can't use the VR environments?" John asks slowly, and Rodney watches John's hand slowly rub against his thigh, then pull back, braced on the lab table.
"Again--I have to go by memory. And it's been--" A long time. Too long. Not long enough. "When I built it? I wasn't planning on having form." He almost smiles, because hey, genius, and he still didn't bother to make sure his afterlife was comfortable.
John nods, idly rubbing the back of his head with his towel Rodney feels Atlantis recording, sensation by proxy, but this time, he reaches too, whispering through nerves, oh, that, oh--
Rough, texture, *feeling*, as real as if he was touching it with his own hands, the smooth pads of John's fingers, the damp material, the silky skin at the back of his neck when the tips of his fingers brush it. Rodney follows those fingers, closing his eyes as he runs them down John's throat, slick, sweaty skin, impossibly soft, the curve of bones pressing through. John. God, John, John, John….
John jerks his hand down, eyes wide, but Rodney can't quite--that's so-- "Oh," he whispers, then realizes it hasn't stopped, and jerks back, his fingers still remembering the feel of John's skin. "I--didn't mean for that--John--"
But John's already gone, towel forgotten on the floor, a stumbled three backward steps before he bolts, and Rodney feels the door open under the sheer weight of his rage, his grief, bitterness so deep that Rodney can almost taste it, like unsweetened coffee.
Slowly, he picks up his laptop and stares at the screen, watching the new code scroll by as Atlantis gives him what he wants. Reaching out, he touches John's towel and closes his eyes at the rough, vivid weave, familiar beneath his fingers. Real.
It's terrifyingly easy--too easy to follow John, and God, he hadn't known, hadn't guessed that John was like this, that Atlantis could *do* this; it's almost impossible to stop now that he knows. John fighting with Teyla--the sharp crack of sticks, bruised knuckles and knees, knife tight in one hand. Running with Ronon, muscle shifting and tearing, exhaustion burning through every nerve. John in the puddlejumper, miles above the mainland, lost in flight. Breakfast, muffin and coffee, and he can feel John's pause when he drinks, the way he holds it in his mouth, *tastes* it.
Rodney trips over Zelenka with that first taste, sensation as sharp as the edge of a razor, and God, God, *yes, more, John*, working shield equations while the rest of him focuses, curling into John like the city does, taking what he feels for himself.
More sugar, he thinks, and John reaches for the dispenser, pouring. Stop.
"Colonel?" Elizabeth says, and Rodney feels John's startlement, jerking back into the mess hall, pushing Rodney out, if he ever knew Rodney was there. Sitting down, Elizabeth smiles, then glances at the dispenser, smile turning quizzical. "That's a lot of sugar, Colonel."
He can feel John tense, picking up his coffee cup and taking another drink, almost defiantly. Even removed, it's so close to real that Rodney aches. "Huh."
Elizabeth's mouth quirks as she starts to eat, and Rodney closes his eyes as John drinks his coffee, bittersweet and thick on his tongue.
They go on like that for a while.
John doesn't seek him out again, but Rodney follows him everywhere he goes, learning the shape of John's hands around a gun, how the metal warms to his touch, the hard surface of his desk, and the softness of his bed, sheets pulled up close and tight around him, hiding from his dreams. He relearns the click of laptop keys and the feel of soap, quick, rough handjobs in the shower, quiet and alone, broken, tangled loss so vivid Rodney hurts for him.
But he's here, he's close, John can *have him*, if he just, if he would just--
But he can't, won't, leaving Rodney only this, tantalizing pieces of sensation and experience, breadcrumbs that Rodney clings to.
When John goes offworld, the silence is frightening.
The city knew him, knows him, wants him the way it's never wanted anyone else. A single almost-Ancient where there were once thousands, the only mind it could touch, the only body it could understand. Rodney can feel the emptiness like hunger, twisting through him blunt and dark, coiling tight in his gut. The world is bound again with angles and corners, sharp cold and wide open rooms; everything feels wrong, the universe experienced through a thick pane of plastic, blurry and uncertain.
He's in the control room when the wormhole opens and the team returns, and he can't help reaching out, John's mind, God, his *mind*, there, bright as a supernova, wiping out everything but now, God, now. It's like waking up all over again.
He's not careful.
John's smile fades, green eyes flicking as he drops his pack, turning as Elizabeth begins to speak, facing Rodney with wide, naked eyes. "Rodney?"
Rodney sees Elizabeth frown, reaching out, and Rodney feels the brush of her fingers against John's shoulder through skin-heated cotton, electric as touching a bare wire. John was gone too long; Rodney's overdosing on sensation. "Colonel?"
John's head jerks around. "I--need to take a shower." His hands are clenched into fists, nails cutting thin lines into rough palm. "I--I need to be alone. I have to--"
"John?" she says, hand curling over his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
He can feel John's anger, radiating bursts of red-orange, and Rodney pulls out belatedly, aware John's still staring at him. "I--yeah, fine, just a long mission."
Elizabeth removes her hand and nods, eyes gentle. "It's the first since--"
Since I died, Rodney thinks, and Elizabeth gives him a quick glance, like there's some etiquette rule against speaking of the dead when they're still in the room.
"Yeah," John says, reaching down to grab his bag. "Debriefing in the morning?"
Elizabeth nods gently, still smiling. "Yes. John--"
"Yeah." John draws in a hitching breath that Atlantis can feel. "See you then."
Rodney materializes as John comes out of the bathroom. "That wasn't--"
John freezes, and Rodney fights not to take what's offered, mind wide-open to Atlantis, broadcasting like he's on an open comm line. "What was that?" Drying his hair roughly, John throws the towel at Rodney's feet. "That's what--"
"It was an accident," Rodney says, and it was, in a way. He never would have let John feel that if he'd been thinking. "I can feel it. The city can. When you're gone. It was--I was--" He stops short, watching John's eyes narrow, mouth a tight line. "It can feel you, John. I wasn't trying to--"
"I could feel you." And like that, the anger drains away, replaced with something that hurts. "Like the city. It's--" he waves a hand. "I could feel you there, I could--I could *taste* you, like you were right beside me, like you were--" He stops again. Slowly, he leans over, picking up the towel, and Rodney can feel the vague throb at the base of John's spine, the bruises from a mission gone wrong. Pegasus, par for the course.
A mission without Rodney. "I'm sorry."
John's hands twist in the towel, softer than the gym towels, gentler on fragile skin. "No, you're not."
He's right. He's not.
"I can feel that," Rodney says softly, and John's hands freeze. "I remember what it felt like. Your towels. Your bed. Your skin. I can feel it. I *remember* it." And John's close, so close, so easy for Rodney to reach for him, wrap himself in John's sensations. "It feels real."
Rodney almost laughs, because really, what the hell? "Yes it is." And gently, gently, he presses forward, skimming the edges of John's consciousness, thick coils of sensation flooding him in continuous streams of data that Atlantis translates for him into *feeling*. The sweatpants, soft and hanging loosely from his hips. His hands in the towel. Water-wet skin that Rodney wants to taste. Sit down, John. "John, let me." *Sit down and let me*.
A quivering second of uncertainty passes, then John crosses to his bed, sitting down. Dropping the towel, he tentatively draws his fingers over the worn cotton sweatpants, damp and warm from contact with his skin. The smell of soap, bright and sharp. Warm, clean skin. Show me, Rodney whispers into John's mind, and John lies back on the bed, eyes closing as Rodney sits beside him, long fingers, their fingers, pushing down the top of the sweats, reaching for his cock.
"Rodney," John whispers, lashes fluttering. Rodney covers John's hand with his, and this he could never have forgotten, John's shape and feel, the heat of him pressed against their hands. Slowly, he moves John's hand, lacing their fingers together. "I, Rodney--"
"Shh." Stretching out, Rodney absorbs the warmth of his body, sinking into the cock in his hand, the way John shifts his hips into each slow stroke. Leaning close to John's ear, Rodney closes his eyes, letting feeling wash through him. "Like that. With a twist--there. Lick your palm. Make it last. I want you to feel it all." I want to feel it all. Feel me.
John's hand shakes as he pulls it back, licking a broad stripe across his palm, and Rodney catches the taste of precome--there, yes--and smooth, salty skin, then he's wrapping their hands around John's cock again, slow, like Rodney likes it.
It's so good, how could he have forgotten this? Forgotten how good John feels, the taste of his skin, the way he shifts into every stroke, face flushed and wanting, so badly, missed him, misses him now, Rodney, God, Rodney--
"I'm here," Rodney whispers, speeding up the pace enough for John's mind to fragment, just a little, just enough for John to turn to him, and Rodney cups his face and kisses, brief and electric--it's perfect. "Tell me this isn't real," Rodney whispers, guiding John's hand faster. "Tell me this isn't what you want." You missed me, you want me, you need me, John. Feel me touch you.
The instinctive denial never comes; Rodney tightens his grip, pulled into John, feeling this, hearing Rodney's voice, Rodney's hand on his cock, surrounding him. Close, so close, and Rodney coils around it, around John, curling them together, warm skin flaring red and bright, John's breath catching, chest tight, and Rodney licks a slow line from jaw to ear, the almost-right taste of skin, rough and sharp. "I can feel you," Rodney whispers, "I know you, I'll be here, I'm *always here*--" and John comes, Atlantis burning with him, and Rodney shuts his eyes, losing himself in John. "Always."
The list grows every day, and the part of Rodney that slept through philosophy wonders if this is what it's like to be a god. A god that guarantees an afterlife at that, as he rebuilds the databases, the complexities of circuits needed to hold a life. A god that requires nothing but acceptance, though to be honest, if offerings of chocolate were left in his old room, he'd accept them, taste them with John's tongue.
The list grows, but the one in his head always stays the same. Radek, Elizabeth, Lorne, Cadman. Marines and scientists, split down the middle. Not Carson. Not Teyla. Not Ronon. Not John. There's a pattern in this, but Rodney's not sure what it is yet.
"I'm still not putting my name on that list," John says to him, leaning against a punching bag in the gym, knuckles raggedly taped, face flushed, narrowed eyes fixed on the far wall. Rodney sits on the bench to watch him take another swing, exhaustion wrapped around him like a blanket, slowing movement. The knuckles of both hands are swollen from nights like this, Rodney his only witness, the way John Sheppard deals.
"I get it," Rodney says, feeling John's hands rub into his thighs, wiping the sweat away. John's eyes flicker to Rodney, but he doesn't tell him to stop, so he doesn't.
"What do you want?" John shifts from the bag, watching him steadily. Crossing the room, he picks up his duffle bag, getting out a bottle of water. He pauses when he drinks, though, letting Rodney feel the cool dampness of the rim, the first taste, cold and bright, lingers in his mouth for Rodney to quantify, recognize, set into the protocols.
Rodney wonders if John even knows he's doing it.
"Believe it or not? I just kind of like to be around you sometimes." He tries not to be bitter. This close, enough to feel John's breath but not *him*. "Though the reverse doesn't seem to be true."
John pauses, lowering the bottle. The plastic is chill against his hand, fitting into his palm, plastic bending, accommodating to the force of his grip. Rodney quantifies that, too. The pressure needed for a bottle of water, to skim a towel against his hairline, to put down a bag. To cross the twenty feet between them and stop five feet away, bottle dangling from one hand.
It's so much data, too much. It's like being drunk, experiencing John like this. He'd never known. God, he never would have guessed.
John says, "What are you doing with the mainframe?"
Rodney starts, pulled away from the slow, wet slide of John's thumb against the edge of the plastic bottle, and realizes, with a start of surprise, that John knew, John *knows*, distracted him. Jerking backward, he watches John's mouth curve.
"The current database won't hold everyone," Rodney says automatically. "The level of detail--"
"It's not living. No matter how many lines of code you write, it won't be the same."
Rodney flinches from the bitter satisfaction in John's voice. "I can make it closer. Whether you're doing it or not, others *are*. You don't have to like it."
"But I have to be your experimental model to build it." John takes a step closer. Rodney shivers as John idly runs his hand down his hip, material catching on rough skin. John gives and John takes away. Blessed be the name of John Sheppard.
Rodney shrugs. "Who doesn’t want a world created in their image?" And he has all the satisfaction of seeing John flinch, step back, bottle dropping to the floor with a clatter, spilling water like blood.
The gym's empty when Rodney opens his eyes.
It's slow, because every touch is different, every taste, every sound, Rodney building the patterns that create senses, taste/touch/smell/sound/sight, the world according to John Sheppard, as interpreted by Rodney McKay.
There are enough quasi-religious themes wandering through this that Rodney half-wishes he'd taken a few more philosophy courses. A chair doesn't exist, except when it does. Feeling doesn't exist unless experienced. Sometimes, Rodney thinks he exists through what John feels.
John knows, he's got to know, swimming off the east pier, long, lean body cutting through clinging water, ducking beneath to feel the salt burn his eyes, oxygen deprivation burn his lungs, coming up for air with a gasp that Rodney shares, miles down the corridors with Radek's curious eyes on him when he pulls back, feeling the water running down his skin like it does John's.
He's almost surprised he's dry when he goes back to the laptop, surprised his fingers don't leave puddles on every key.
Dry off, Rodney says, feeling John reach for a towel, coarse weave all over his body. John's hands are different from his, long fingers, smaller palms, skimming skin with every brush, dark hair crisp in their fingers, down his chest, around his throat, John's head tilting back to feel the sun, warm and gentle on his skin, burning through closed eyelids in all the shades of blood.
Inside, Rodney says, and John skins off his trunks, sliding into his jeans and a t-shirt, to the mess hall, get something to eat. It's fish tonight.
Sometimes, Rodney can't be sure where he stops and John begins, fork in one hand, conversation in his ears, Ronon, Teyla, laughing at a joke, grinning over reports, restless and almost happy.
When John goes offworld, though, Rodney knows. The fine demarcation line that separates them becomes a gaping emptiness, because all of the protocols in the world don't equal John, and maybe they never will.
Or maybe he's doing this wrong.
Carson shakes his head as John slides out of the infirmary bed, already reaching for his gun. "You were lucky," he says quietly as John jerks on the holster, head turned away from them. "If Rodney hadn't found you--spontaneous allergic reactions are rare, but they can be fatal."
John's head tilts up, green eyes flickering past Rodney, fixing on Carson with unnerving intensity. "I'll keep that in mind." Picking up his boots, he sits on the edge of the infirmary bed to pull them on, rough laces between his fingers, cutting into his palms. Rodney wants to tell him to be more careful.
You're not immortal, he wants to say. You have to be careful, be safe. He'd shared the five minutes that John struggled for breath while Atlantis crooned around them, watched the epipen slide into his flesh, felt John shiver through reaction before unconsciousness finally took him. Watched Elizabeth and Carson stand by his bed while Carson tried to explain anaphylactic shock in a man who had no documented allergies.
"Off duty for the rest of the day," Carson says sharply as John grabbed his jacket. "I don’t want you--"
"Got it, doc."
He follows John into the hall, the staccato rhythm of his feet a warning, but Rodney'd never been good at listening to warnings.
Balcony, he murmurs, and John turns toward the wide windows.
Outside, John stops, leaning into the rail. Dark circles stain the skin beneath his eyes, skin still pale, almost--fragile, as fragile as flesh and bone could be.
"This brings a whole new meaning to psychosomatic," John whispers, staring at the sunset with glazed eyes.
"I didn't know that would happen." He hadn't. Allergies were based on immune system reactions, not memories. "You can't blame me for that." But Rodney could blame himself, remembering John's shock, the sugar-sweet taste of the juice, the burst of strawberry just behind. "I--I have no idea how that happened." Though he wonders. "I just--I wanted to taste it." And he can't help the wistful quality in his voice. "I never have."
John turns around, looking at him--at, not through, not around, eye to eye, narrow and thoughtful. "What else have you done to me?"
"I didn't do *anything*--"
"And the odds against me picking up a spontaneous citrus allergy are high enough that I'd laugh in your face if I had the breath. What. Are. You. Doing?"
Rodney doesn't have an answer, but he might have the beginning of a question. Atlantis needed a template, and it was using John as its living model, Rodney's memories as its programmed one.
"No more," John says, and Rodney stiffens, crossing the distance between them. He should have been paying attention. "I can't--whatever you're trying to do, you can't. It can't be done. Hell, maybe it shouldn't be, I don't know." Breathing out, John lowers his head, resting on his crossed arms on the balcony. "I don't--know. But I can't do this. I--"
John's head comes up. "One question," he says breathlessly, like he's run miles and will run miles more. Light and fast and sharp, tension humming down every nerve. "You said you'd give up that form. If I asked. If I said to."
Rodney licks his lips. "Yeah."
"Is it still true?"
Late into the night, Rodney feels John pull away, locked inside himself so tightly that he's impossible to find. It's real, he told John, but John won't listen, doesn't understand, won't take that single leap of faith that spells the difference between death and eternal life.
He *won't* understand, Rodney thinks, fingering John's towel, that the fragile difference between them is no difference at all.
The chair, Rodney says, picking up his laptop and folding it under one arm. He'll have to do this the long, boring walking way, but the time it takes to change rooms might also make John wonder.
John follows Atlantis, follows Rodney, bare feet silent on cool tile, instinctively avoiding the open spaces where he might be seen, navigating the little-used corridors that Rodney lights for him, warming the metal beneath his feet so he doesn't grow cold.
Rodney's waiting when he arrives, seated on the platform, and John starts a little, looking around the room like he's never seen it before. "I need you," Rodney says, and John shivers.
"How did you--"
It's too late to be subtle. "Come here."
John does, because he can't help it, because he doesn't want to stop it, the uncomfortable twist of emotion and reason that emotion will always, always win. Rodney's been stupid, so stupid; he's been working on John's logic, on his instincts, when all Rodney needed was his emotions.
John's leg brushes his shoulder as he moves by him, turning to sit in the chair, and Rodney flicks a few keys on the laptop, then puts it aside, coming up on his knees, pushing John's legs apart. Bracing his hands on John's thighs, he looks into confused green eyes and smiles. "I had an idea."
John's face is naked. "What are you doing?"
"I can make it real for you," he says, and reaches for John's hands, pressing them against the controls of the chair.
It's the first time he's ever felt the chair, and like John, it takes his breath away. Connection, perfect and solid, wrapped around him, pulling him in, pulling him into Rodney, and it's--God--
"Think of Atlantis," Rodney whispers. "I was doing this wrong. She's never been alive, so she has to learn, she needs a template. You have to show her. Show her what I need to be. Show her what I've been telling her. And she'll show you what we can be."
"Her?" John whispers.
"Us. Me." Pressing harder, Rodney can feel John try to withdraw, pull away, but there's nowhere to run here, not with them, with this connecting them. "John, let me, you want this, I want this, we can--" God, never be alone, *never another loss, never another death you can't stop, no more sacrifices*. "It can be all of us. You and me, Elizabeth and Teyla and Ronon, Carson, we can all stay here, be here, you'll never lose us, you'll never have to give us up. John. You know."
Atlantis understands. John's own DNA betrays him, reaching thin tendrils to wrap in Atlantis, like calling to like; the Ancients had never done this, lost in their desperation for Ascension, but they could have had it and they didn't even try. Rodney works fast, building the connections one by one, between John and the city and himself, making John feel him, here, here, *I'm here and I'll never leave you*, it's *real*, this is real. Flesh is always alone, Rodney tells him, but now you'll never be. Never again.
Mine, he whispers into John. You feel it, don't you?
The chair deactivates, but the connection stays, woven into John's own genes, into his mind, and Rodney stands up, reaching for John, flesh, finally right, wet cheeks, salty tears against his fingers that he licks away, familiar flavor on his tongue. When he kisses him, John tastes like he remembers, late-night, too-sweet coffee and chocolate powerbars, feels like he remembers, solid and warm and real, John's arms around him, heavy and clinging.
"Rodney," he says, pulling back. When he opens his eyes, Rodney sees John, sees Atlantis, sees himself reflected in flickering hazel. Fragile flesh and bone with all of the universe contained within. John will never sign the list, but now he doesn't need to.
Rodney can feel John breathe. He'll never not feel him again. "You understand."
John shivers, but he doesn't pull away. "It's not the same. It can't be."
Rodney grins and kisses him again. "You'll never know the difference. I promise."
I spent three days going through her fic, trying to decide what to write, then gave up and figured it would come to me in a burst of inspiration. In the end, I played eenie-meanie-minnie-moe, or which one is going to write to my strengths, or at least, to my kink? And oddly, that didn't narrow it down. So it more became a question of which one had spaces I could use.
Anyway. I ended up reading this one a lot--it's creepy, it's dark, it's a wonderful tragedy, and while on fiftieth re-read (again, not kidding, I can probably quote her fic these days) I said, ooh. I can make Rodney his own religion! And then it started and I lost the religious aspect in favor of the concept that if you're going to be in love like this, if it's going to inform how you create your own afterlife, if you really want immortality and want that other person to have it with you, you should definitely not give up just because the other person is wary about the entire downloading concept. I think everyone deserves a happy ending. They should just have to pay for it.
And from there, I had about two paragraphs and then I erased and decided that maybe I should start with how Rodney was reborn. And from there, I knew what it was going to be, how Rodney would try to recreate what he knew, what John didn't believe he *was*, and John's rejection informed a choice to follow John's logic and *be* real, experience the world in concrete form. Since he hadn't built that into the program, since he hadn't been thinking he'd do this, he didn't have any way to test it except his memory. And there's John, hooked enough into Atlantis for the city to use to try to meet Rodney's demands, and suddenly, it's better but not quite. The control aspect is more subtle for them both, but then it *works*, and he can get what he needs from John's consciousness, but even more importantly, he can experience it directly *through John*. He can use that to make it so real that even John won't know the difference.
Which doesn't work quite right. It's John. So there's a more efficent way. He can change John enough so John doesn't know there is a difference at all. Or something like that. I'm still on the fence on how much actual consent John can give by the end, since he's very informed and I'm not even entirely sure he was unwilling to be changed so he could live in a world Rodney created for him.
It was fun.
There two missing scenes I ended up not even writing, though when I did a short outline, I kind of wanted to. One, for John to pick up a lover so Rodney could use them to map sexual response completely and so the shared consciousness could snap into effect, and also, ooh, kinky, but I ended up using swimming to show shared consciousness. The former added a level of complexity that would have been difficult to work with, giving John a human *being*, which Rodney might see as competition, and honestly, I couldn't see Rodney willingly pimping out his boyfriend. But again, would have been fun. Dammit. The second is Rodney controlling John more blatantly, but I already had the coffee scene, the sex scene, and the anaphylactic shock to give pointers on where this was going, so it seemed overkill. Plus, that would show intent on his part, and he really wasn't thinking about what he was doing until the end.
I really wish I could have done the religious aspect, though. svmadelyn was *really interested* in where that could end up, and I was, too. I just couldn't see the Cult of Rodney taking less than another twenty or so thousand words. This is a guy, after all, who can guarantee an afterlife.
And for final notes:
Thanks to my betas, svmadelyn and amireal, who gave useful commentary, corrected my mistakes, and generally helped me to not panic while I finished up the first draft. lierdumoa kept helpfully stating things like "Oh my God, Rodney's MOLESTING JOHN'S MIND" and we'd have to both stop and think, God, hot. And God, wrong. And God, hot. We are sick like that.
trinityofone - it's been a privilege. Thank you.