Eighteenish - DVD Commentary
Codes: McKay, Sheppard/McKay
Spoilers: Tao of Rodney
Summary: They woke up brand new.
Link to story: Eighteenish by Seperis
The big thing to know about this story is, it started out as a random de-aging story. I didn't know where it was going, and there was nothing particularly interesting about it, so I got bored, stopped, then came back to re-read it and realized what it was about. That was epiphanical, I think. Even if that's not a word.
When I came back, I read the parts I had to see if I'd had a theme, because usuallywhen I stop writing something, that's the main problem; I don't have one. The three-four pages I had were uneven but oddly charged, with Rodney's contained mania and John's emo. They were kids, acting like kids, feeling like kids, impulsive and moody and feeling fascinatingly invulnerable. And that was interesting.
And that's when I had a story.
Rodney finally looks for him when he doesn't answer the radio; it's hours past dinner and he's still awake, sparking with impatient energy that demands release. He'd blame adolescent hormones, but then he'd have to admit that the doctor's got a point.
Going by his quarters, Rodney picks up his satchel where he squirreled away the chocolate and beer he stole from the messhall, pulling absently at the too-large sweatpants that threaten to slide down his hips with every step, ignoring boots that no longer fit. He checks the lifesign detector before he goes back in the hall; night shift's a little paranoid about them being out on their own.
Pretty much your clues are all here--adolescent hormones, too-large clothes, boots no longer fitting. Then again, this is Atlantis.
He goes by the gateroom, studying the darkened gate, techs still swarming the platform, running test after test. Zelenka catches his eye briefly, a wry smile twitching the corner of his mouth. Rodney slips out the door before Zelenka can see him grin.
For later reference--yes, Zelenka knows Rodney (and John, actually) are causing this. But he hasn't made the connection to *how*.
Atlantis hides him while he searches, closing warm and safe around him like an old, familiar blanket, leading him with brightened lights and warming floors.
This is an old and unrelated reference to Like Running Through Water and John and Rodney playing hide and seek. This is pretty much exactly how I amuse myself when I write.
He's never looked at the city before, not really, not like this; high ceilings glazed in bronze and copper; wide windows staining the floor with every color of the rainbow, leaving abstract shapes on his feet and knees as he wades through moonlight. He closes his eyes just to feel the city humming beneath his bare feet, following the thrum of the power conduits like a voice that guides him more surely than his eyes ever could. He's always known the city like his hand, the precise geometric shape of its corridors and rooms, the pattern of its growth from a lonely outpost in lifeless space that matured into gleaming modern towers and glass spirals made of air and light.
This isn't just adolescence that's changed him, appreciating it in a way that as a human scientist he couldn't. Rodney *knows*, or at least, can easily find out, all the secrets of the universe; that's no longer a challenge for him. Appreciating art and beauty for their own sake is part of his change as well.
I'm also, as everyone knows, a huge fan of description.
But he'd never felt Atlantis quite like this, ageless and ancient and new, this city that's older than his homeworld.
Homeworld. Where he came from. Not home, necessarily.
He can feel the transition from youth to age in the hum of energy, the changing shapes of windows and doors; Ancients went through architectural renaissances like every other culture, heavy stone replaced by wood, by metal and glass, by crystal; but the farther he goes, the older it feels.
Youth to age--the opposite of his physical state to his mental state.
The walls are thicker, built by less skilled hands, bare of decoration, clean and straight and warmer, too, though Rodney can't quite explain why.
Ancients moved from personal to more esoteric art. The older buildings, walls, were made by human(ish) hands, molded by a human mind. Most of Atlantis we see is metal, built by machines and computers, but in the beginning, the Ancients were like everyone else and had to do some things themselves.
Not the equivalent of cavemen, though I suppose compared to what the Atlanteans became, the first ones to find space kind of were.
The doorways are shaped in domed arches, teardrop-shaped spires, some cross of remembered Middle Eastern culture in the careful details on the frames. Before they were Ancients, they were people still searching, seeking something that it would be thousands of years before they found.
Architecture changes in civilizations fascinate me. They can stagnate for years, then suddenly rush through various styles. They also, at least here, are a symbol of their journey, from the very mortal people who built the first parts of Atlantis themselves to the advanced people whose world was computer-controlled.
Pressing a palm to the wall, Rodney thinks he can feel how old it is, warm and thrumming in welcome. The lights rise briefly in greeting, a quick flash that leaves him squinting and a little breathless, pushing away with the tips of his fingers, delighted all anew with how quickly the city responds to him now. She answers in soft lights, dimming behind him, brighter before; floors warming for his step; a pull like a voice calling him home. Putting the detector away, Rodney lets the city guide him.
This is totally Rodney. The city recognizes him, knows him as like, welcomes him. It's also, as he never knew before, an AI with an independent consciousness.
Into a transporter; down a flight of curved metal stairs, dull with dust that's older than his planet; herded gently from damaged areas where water or time left stains waist high on the walls, broken control panels blinking on and off in warning; down, until the sea is rising around him in dark green and endless black behind walls made of windows.
This is pretty much because I love the imagery of a wall of water.
Sheppard's curled before them, staring out, bathed in moody Atlantean light. Rodney almost smirks. It figures.
It totally does. If there was ever anyone who would sulk about his own de-aging transformation, it would be John. Because no one asked him, and darn it, that's irritating.
This is where the story changes.
They'd fallen asleep on a tiny planet on the far end of nowhere and had never woken up again.
When Rodney's asked, he says he remembers the planet. It was pastoral and boring and filled with more allergens than he could count. He says he remembers being bored. John and Teyla had been taken to the temple to argue the price of grain. He says he remembers being tired. Ronon took him to the temple to rest. He says he remembers the temple halls. Strangers led them to wide, cool beds with worried voices buzzing in his ears. He says he remembers falling asleep and waking on Atlantis to a whole new world. He says, I don't remember anything else.
He's lying. That's not what he remembers at all.
Every once in a while (see, The Touch of Your Hand, A Single Breath, etc etc) I fall on top of a rhythm that I like. I loved this one. I like reading it out loud, actually--it reads like bricks building a wall, each piece a little awkward and unwieldy, but together making something I couldn't have done otherwise. The back and forth of what Rodney says he remembers and what was there are both true and pretty much lies. Rodney doesn't remember it this way at all.
This was added second draft, when I came back to it after getting bored with the idea, then realizing what had to have happened.
"What happened?" John had asked him the second day, eyes fixed on the observation window ten feet to their left.
They were in quarantine. John was making his watchers very, very nervous. And he meant to.
"Sleeping." Rodney had lied so easily that John had believed him without a second thought. "Just sleeping."
John rolls over, one arm tucked beneath his head, staring at the ceiling in vague accusation. "Alone."
Poor John, reduced to single words. He is cranky.
"Bored," Rodney offers, making himself comfortable cross-legged on the floor, surprised all anew how easy this is: no cramping muscles or straining knees. He's grinning again, knows it from John's deepening frown, mouth tightening in something so much like a pout that Rodney fights the urge to laugh.
Compare and contrast: Rodney's delighted, John's bitchy. Keeping in mind Rodney's got access to more information, not to mention later events that happened to John, it makes sense.
John is pissed because events are beyond his control. More than that, however, events are beyond his control, and he doesn't remember the events. Rodney, who would normally be there for him to calm down and give him an outside focus, is too calm.
(When I was reviewing kassrachel's wonderful remix of Shed Your Skin, my big thing on them both is that John's at his personal best when he has an outside focus to displace his own feelings on. This holds through most of my fic; John is supernaturally calm and collected because everyone else is freaking out for him. It's like a conservation of panic; cannot be created or destroyed, etc etc.)
The face is the same and subtly different; there are traces of softness along his jaw, cheekbones cutting through like knives beneath shadowed hazel eyes. The doctors aren't sure how old they are now; Rodney doesn't really care.
"I'm not surprised." John sighs, curling his other arm under his head, stretching unself-consciously. Rodney watches the slow ripple of muscle beneath his shirt, the long, lithe body beneath loose Air Force sweats. The t-shirt slides up his flat belly, pale gold, dusted in hair, and fights the urge to touch.
Yeah. John at seventeen was hot like burning.
Rodney doesn't remember adolescence like this, but he thinks maybe he should have; everything bright and eager; dramatic and purposed; a little too emotional, like getting half-high and never coming down.
Yep. See, thinking that through, Rodney maybe should have remembered better before he did his--thing. That comes later. But the emotional instability of adolescence really shows through in both of them. Rodney's hyper and not so much with consequences, John is moody and wants emo music.
"There's not a lot I'm allowed to do, you know," Rodney answers, wondering if he's supposed to seem more annoyed than he really is. There's a gate that refuses to work, a city that glows at his touch, and John, spread out on the floor like a martyr to all the things he can't yet control.
Bingo. Control. More interesting is Rodney's reaction--again, keeping in mind he has vast tracts of knowledge John doesn't have yet. So to John, Rodney's acting nuts. They were deaged! They don't remember why! Rodney is perky! The world has gone mad!
"So stalking me sounded like fun?" John frowns, head turned away to stare at the ceiling, so ridiculously pretty that Rodney's chest hurts just looking at him. It's like flipping back in time; this was John before Atlantis, the Air Force, college.
"Well. Yes." Pushing the satchel toward John, Rodney stretches out on his belly beside him, aware of the easy stretch of his back when he shifts, the absence of pain. He'd forgotten how different it was at eighteen, at twenty, all liquid muscle and boneless sprawls; everything's so fucking easy. "Who else is there?"
Again, references to forgetting. Memory is a flexible and uncertain stretch of timespace for Rodney; what actually happened, what almost happened, what didn't happen, and what happened after. Rodney's not precisely rewriting history for himself; more, he's remembering things (adolescence, John, the planet) as he wants them to be.
John turns his head, giving him a dirty look, but doesn't try to answer; it's not like Rodney's not right. "Seriously. Go away."
Rodney remembers John in the training room with Teyla this afternoon, uncertain when she placed the sticks in his hands for the first time since they'd awakened. He'd been awkward and uncertain and unhappy, endearingly clumsy until he stopped being clumsy at all. His body was new, but it still remembered: knew every twist and curve, how to block and turn and duck. He was faster than they remembered, years of training augmented by the speed of a teenager, and Rodney remembers Teyla's wide, delighted smile when he pinned her before he backed away, sticks falling from shocked hands before he left the room
Again, control. John's outclassed by the natives of Pegasus and is fairly comfortable with it. Throwing Teyla isn't just, huh, younger body. This body is better. The knowledge of a nearly-forty man and his entire life, his body memory, is reincased in new flesh that still feels like his. It's not that he feels like this isn't his body; it would be easier that way, make it as alien as he knows it is, like it was when he was a bug. But it doesn't. It still feels like him. So all these new things he can do are utterly terrifying.
Typical John. Rodney wonders how anyone could have expected anything else.
"I'm not sulking."
He totally is.
Rodney reaches for the satchel, taking out the beer and shoving one into John's hand. "Here. It's more fun when you're underaged."
And this is the first time I ever used it. If I hadn't had the alcohol, I might not have bothered. The context of the story pretty much explained it.
It really is, too.
It's quiet after that, Atlantis dimming the lights as they watch the water. Beer tastes different, more sour, more bitter; it's possible he's lost his tolerance, and suddenly, Rodney wants to know. Sitting up, he grins down at John, waving the bottle temptingly. "Wanna see if we can still drink?"
Adolescence instability combined with alcohol. Oh, this will end well. And by well, I mean, porny.
John's head tilts in thought before he pushes himself up, taking the bottle in resignation. "Sure."
This is what he remembers. It wasn't always a temple.
Rodney dropped the glowing lamp from numb fingers; he wondered how long he'd been standing there, watching. He wonders when it became so quiet.
Long enough for Teyla and Ronon to die in front of him. This is how it happened. Teyla couldn't make it glow. She died. Ronon grabbed it when he caught her as she fell; it didn't glow. Rodney was backed against the wall and watched them die. He felt it hit his toe. He picked it up. It lit up.
He will never forgive himself for his shock, the way he stood there unable to move while his friends died.
"Do you wish to see him one last time?" the black-robed person asked as the hooded woman in the room finally sheathed her knife, hands folding into her sleeves as she came to the door. "It is permitted."
Rodney has no idea what he's going to see; he just registered that John isn't anywhere around. He holds the lamp and says nods. When he goes down the hall, he leaves bloody footprints behind from their blood. He'll use those later to find them.
Rodney didn't know a body could hold that much blood; it was smeared on the floor in patterns that built words, Ancient, Please, Help us, Hear us, We kept our promise, Set us free. He smeared them with his boots, stumbling blindly through thick, iron scented air, slipping on—-no, can't look, don't look, don't--biology class in living, breathing color, they took him apart and when he knelt by John's head—
They used John's blood to write the prayer.
I kept this as indirect as I could, but they did a vague equivalent of a drawn and quarter. Limbs first, each one supplying the blood for one part of the prayer. Removing the entrails, leaving heart and lungs for the pod.
John was still breathing.
John was drugged. John's not Teyla, but I'm pretty sure hearing Teyla and Ronon screaming and seeing knives would do the job of driving him nuts. There's no way they could have completed the ritual without either accidentally killing him or him killing himself.
The second reason is--this is supposed to be willing. Something fighting their own torture isn't willing. He was shot up with the equivalent of rohypnol to have the very loosest interpretation of consent. John felt most of it. He lived through most of it. He didn't understand what was happening to him. He just knew it hurt, and that his friends were dead.
Rodney couldn't bear to touch, couldn't not, fighting nausea with horror and anger and then hate, taking John's head in his lap—
Rodney's sanity is starting to break here. He still in shock and disbelief. He gets a few more minutes of it.
John was looking at him, bleary-eyed and paper-white. Rodney wondered if he even knew he was in pain.
Yes. He's just too crazy to care.
"There is always a price when a favor is asked of the gods," the hooded woman said softly. "His sacrifice will bring them to save us, if he is worthy."
I bet you can uses what worthy means here.
John murmured something as Rodney pulled off his own jacket, throwing it over the—the body, John's body, John's-- "He didn't agree to be your sacrifice," Rodney whispered, watching his fingers leave stains on John's face with every stroke; John smiled and closed his eyes.
"If he is worthy, he will understand."
John matches him through three drinks before they start to sway, floor tipping beneath them by the fourth, flat on their backs, for the sixth, watching Atlantis string lights into constellations, maps of the places they've seen and they've been. John murmurs the names in his ear, Ancient slipping from his tongue like warm honey, Peravada, Oryi, Sated, worlds long dead or barely living--
John's drunk. He has no idea he's speaking Ancient or that those names are long dead.
"They're still arguing," John says from somewhere above him. Rodney rubs his cheek against John's stomach, letting his eyes fall shut.
John seems to not recognize he's listening to conversations happening somewhere else entirely.
"Caldwell's arguing, Elizabeth's just letting him talk." Rodney answers lazily, leaning into the fingers stroking through his hair. "Don't worry."
Nor does John realize Rodney is hearing the same thing.
Rodney, however, does.
He doesn't. He hasn't. He won't, not yet, not when he doesn't need to.
All things considered, he really doesn't have all that many worries.
"They'll make us go--back there," John says softly; earth will never be home again.
They: Caldwell, the SGC, a million scientists on a hundred worlds who crave the promise built into their genes, the possibilities they represent.
Random eternal youth for no particular reason! It's Florida! Except you know, real.
Rodney thinks of the isolation room and twitches in memory of the needles and samples, blood and skin and hair, scrapes from his wrist and thigh and foot, waking to question after question after question, how, why, what did you do, show us where, show us what, how do you feel?
John and Rodney--not fans of being a science project.
A thousand tests and a thousand results. Rodney buries his laugh in John's flesh.
Rodney's been fucking with their results. Eventually, they might want to consider how many contradictions they're getting because Rodney was bored and thought it was funny to do that.
Atlantis shifts at John's unconscious wish—don't let the gate work. Don't let the Daedalus leave. Not yet, and Rodney shows her how to grant it with a nudge and a touch. Three technicians jerk back from a sparking console; the Daedalus loses power again. Somewhere, Novak is yelling and Zelenka is frowning and Elizabeth is watching and maybe by now she just might guess.
Atlantis responds to John by instinct. This is a problem. Atlantis, unlike Rodney, has no context on good ways to do this without being, say, really suspicious. Rodney's leading her on what to do to avoid exposure. And John himself can't clarify because he has no idea what he's doing.
"The gate's still down," Rodney mumbles into John's belly, breathing in the scent of detergent and clean sweat and soap. He can feel John's frown with his body.
John, still not noticing lots of impossible knowledge, though he might attribute it to Rodney being upstairs earlier.
"It's weird, the malfunctions," John says finally.
Yes, John. Yes it is.
Rodney bites his tongue. "I can't believe I'm saying this--to you--but you think too much."
Rodney--Zen master. You see why John was freaking out.
John snorts, reaching for the bottle, then giving up when it rolls out of his reach. "You're way too calm."
He might be. He could be, maybe, but the man who panicked over citrus and suicide missions and undercooked beef is someone that Rodney barely recognizes. Three nights ago he realized he knew how to build a ZPM; last night he ran miles and never broke a sweat. He peeled three oranges in the mess hall under the incredulous eyes of his friends, licking sweet-tart juice from his fingers.
Rodney's not being subtle either. He's being careful, but not subtle.
John pushes him off so suddenly that Rodney almost bites his tongue, catching himself before his head touches the floor. John hip checks him onto his back, then the lithe body straddles him, long thighs folding on either side of his ribs. Rodney smirks up at the hazel eyes. "Not so drunk."
John tilts his head. "It's different." We're different, he doesn't say, and it's not just new flesh and new bone, not the strip away of time and age and wear; it's something that woke with them in the infirmary, something that slept for years, for all their lives, brightly restless, waiting.
This is something John senses, but again, without context, it's another thing he can't understand or really control.
Rodney reaches up, curving a hand around the back of John's neck, soft hair tickling the back of his hand. "Does it matter?"
John slow blinks a maybe, then lets Rodney pull him into a kiss, slow and deep and careful, like they're the teenagers they appear, like they're sitting under the bleachers or in a car or back behind the school. Rodney had never lived it, never wanted to, but John's body tells him stories he's long guessed; girls who loved his face, boys who loved his body, the people who never looked at him and saw anything but a--
"Possession," John whispers, pulling back. The pink lips are swollen and wet, parted in shock. "How did you--"
Rodney is neither subtle nor careful here.
The thing is--and John's general behavior tends me in this direction--John's used to attractive being something he has to work around. It's useful, like a weapon, but it's not something he's interested in outside of application purposes. And being pretty, he'd be used to being considered dumb, and lightweight, and accepting it seemed easier than dispelling it. Plus, it got him laid a lot.
Rodney pulls him back in, licking open his mouth. "John. Don't think."
Rodney pressed a finger against John's pulse; a steady, maddening beat of life, life, life, when he shouldn't be alive at all. They were careful; they were practiced. Even now, it will take a long time for him to die. "We don't--we aren't--"
"He is in the hands of the gods," she said, implacable and faceless, hooded robe hiding everything but her voice. "With this we keep our promise, and the Ancestors will return to chase the Wraith--"
"That's bullshit!" John gasped softly, blood bubbling between his lips. Rodney wiped it away with a shaking hand. "They're never. Coming. Back. They Ascended—they left. They don't care."
Rodney's about to break; this isn't happening, it can't be happening, and these insane people who seemed nice and normal just killed his friends and tortured his best friend.
The woman didn't answer, simply watched them in her blood-splattered robe. Rodney wondered if he could kill her. He wondered if he'd even need a weapon.
He's almost there.
"We--we need to take him home." Military burial; no, cremation on Atlantis. No. Suspension; in a thousand years, maybe they could fix, Jesus, who could fix this--
Trying to find a solution; this is Rodney to a T. Under pressure, the man is second to none in finding solutions. The more pressure, the better.
This is everything in his world, destroyed in minutes.
"He cannot survive outside the temple," she said, and Rodney heard something new.
"You can't—you can't think you can keep him—he's going to die anyway."
The woman paused, one arm coming up. Beneath the folds of her robe, he thinks he can see her blood-stained hand. "Not if he's the one the gods desire."
I know you.
He does; Rodney knows what lives beneath this fragile skin, knows what hovers behind masked hazel eyes. He knows because he touched it, felt it, breathed it; people look for this all their lives, groping blindly after something so far beyond their small minds that they have no idea what they're searching for.
Welcome to my moment of soulbonding! Finally! I waited so long! Technically speaking, pretty much.
Rodney found it, found John, John found him; this is what you've been looking for Rodney tells him with his hands and his tongue, writes into John's skin with his fingernails, with his teeth. You know, even if you don't remember. You will. I promise.
They took Rodney to the tiny room where they'd keep him.
Rodney registered the stasis pod where John would dream for a thousand years where John would sleep away his own death. Rodney ran a shaking hand over the cylinder, mind pulling the pieces into a pattern.
Pressure + knowledge. He wants to fix this unlike anything in his life, and now there's data to use to solve with.
"You're trying to make him Ascend," Rodney said slowly, staring at the display that they never could have understood. There was a body inside, long dead and rotting from the inside out. Rodney wondered how long it took for him to die. "To call the--call the gods?"
Bingo. The other body just died. That's why they grabbed John so fast. They're getting irritated with all these bad sacrifices.
This one wasn't willing either.
"Yes," she said. Rodney turned numbly to watch one of them carry John in, blood dripping like a trail of breadcrumbs behind him.
Blood leaves trails to all the places they've been. Rodney's shoes, John's body, the woman's robe.
"That one was unworthy," she said carelessly, pressing the release. Two figures in black appeared, taking the shrunken body away. "He did not reach them."
From somewhere far away, he heard his voice, calm and reasoned. "Has it ever worked?"
Rodney's working out what they want out of this. It's insane. But it's a freaky logical insanity.
Her hand paused as John was gently placed inside, the cover sliding slowly closed. Rodney watched John's face blank into peace; he looked terrifyingly young. "When the sacrifice is worthy, it will."
They make out on the floor for what feels like hours, Atlantis rumbling beneath Rodney's back and against his thighs, thrumming through him like his heartbeat; on a world a thousand light-years from home (Atlantis) he watched John fall asleep (slowly die) in a quiet temple for gods (Ancients) that never answer.
He'd never been afraid to go where John led; Rodney would follow him anywhere.
I love this line. Just--I need a moment with it. He does, too, always has; following him to death isn't that huge a leap.
"How?" Elizabeth had asked when they woke, and Rodney had answered, I don't know.
"Rodney," John whispers against his skin, sucking a hickey into the side of his throat. Rodney thinks of tomorrow, the eyes that will see the shape of John's teeth in his skin, "Rodney," the way they'll look away and God, he wants that. Wants to be as young as he's become, stupid and reckless and careless, do everything that he missed the first time around and maybe do it twice, "I want--"
Rodney's choice of age and the emotional instability of it was actually a choice. He wants to be reckless, careless, wants not to think of consequences when it's so much easier to gratify himself now. The man he'd been wouldn't think like this, he knows that; he had to become someone else.
Me too, Rodney thinks, tilting his head back, threading his fingers through John's hair, breath catching when John's cock rubs slowly up his thigh. Grabbing for John's hips, Rodney arches beneath him, listening for the hiss of breath, teeth biting into his lip, "--want you," John whispers breathlessly, helplessly, grinding down against him. "Want you, Jesus, this is--"
Sparks dance behind his eyelids as John pants against his collarbone, hooking a leg around John's thigh, more, sliding his hands beneath John's shirt, stroking slick, silky skin, drawing his nails down to feel John shudder, gasping his name before Rodney swallows the word.
John comes with a shudder that shakes his body; Atlantis trembles with them, lights bright and hot above them, speaking in a language that Rodney knows now in his bones. John, Rodney murmurs, feeling John and Atlantis and the galaxy wide open around him--
Gods don't come back.
They left him alone after a while, kneeling beside John's pod (coffin), watching the readings. There was logic (bring the body near death), stasis (get him to the meditative state), wait for him to die (Ascend). It was here, written in flashing lights, in dials and buttons, in the language of a brilliant people that abandoned a galaxy to darkness and ritual and this--this--
So that pretty much explains their logic, such as it is. It's science wrapped in religion, but he's a *scientist*. Now that he understands what they were doing, he knows he can do it better.
He's a man who faces Wraith, watching people die around him because the Ancients were stupid. He can do this better, too.
"I think we could--do better," Rodney said slowly, pressing his hand against the pod, leaving his fingerprints in drying blood. "I need--I need--" His mind stuttered to a halt; this was what the Ancients left them. Not technology so far beyond them it could be magic; not a city that lights up for them, around them, with them; not gates and new worlds and science that explained the universe. They left them this. "I need tools."
This is when Rodney broke.
Rodney lurched to his feet, stumbling into the door, smearing John's blood across the frame before he can jerk it open. "I can call them. I can make sure they hear you," Rodney yelled, words tumbling from between his lips before he knew what he was saying. He was almost frightened by how calm he sounded, how certain, but there was nothing that could ever scare him again.
There's not. He knows what to do, how to do it, and he knows it'll work.
The woman paused and turned to face him.
"The gods. You want him to reach them? I can make it happen."
She took a step toward him, pausing uncertainly. "How would you know how to reach the gods?"
Rodney felt his mouth stretch in an impossible smile. "I live in their city. I know what they want to hear."
Yep. He does.
Interesting point on this: what Rodney doesn't know then, though he does later, is they were reading a philosophical treatise on Ascension. As academics tend to do, some Ancienty academics were examining the slippery-slope of rushing Ascension and making arguments that the pursuit of perfection could lead to ethical dilemmas--such as: someone bringing themselves to the point of death, then forcing stasis on their bodies. Unfortunately, there was some bad translation of the original point; this doesn't work.
This would never work.
John's a warm, comfortable weight across his chest; Rodney loops an arm around his waist with one trembling arm, burying his nose in John's hair, breathing in the scent of sex. It's new, like everything is, sharp and he wants to wrap himself up in it, breathe it all day.
"The city feels different," John whispers like a secret, nose pressed against Rodney's throat. "It feels--like it's mine." John lifts his head; the dark eyes are dilated to a thin ring of green around the endless black of space. "Ours."
Rodney's letting him see more of what's going on, trying to ease him into what's happened to them. See, he remembers the John he woke up.
John touches the floor with wondering fingers, eyes widening as Atlantis reaches for him, lighting for him, showing him the secrets she's hidden for ten millennium in her depths. Rodney's breath catches as John shudders, she's been waiting, all her life, all eternity, for the people who built her to use her. Engines hum at John's wondering touch, she's never been just a city, she's waking up for them, recognizing them, finally, finally finally….
Atlantis the AI was superfluous once the Ancients discovered Ascension. Their definition of eternity changed, and Atlantis wasn't a part of it. John and Rodney loved the city first; they aren't Ancients. Ascending isn't a goal, it's just a start point.
"What happened to us?" John whispers. Rodney gently cups John's face, rolling him onto his back, pressing him into the floor, licking the question away with the tip of his tongue, hard again already; he forgot how his body could do that now. "Rodney," John breathes when Rodney licks slowly up his neck. "What happened?"
"I gave them their gods."
It wasn't hard; he'd done this before, touched the edge of eternity and came back before he knew what he would miss. He'd been close, so close that he could taste it, and then returned to Atlantis mundane and small, contained in fragile flesh and blood that shattered so easily under every strain.
Tao of Rodney. Rodney remembers touching infinity.
He knew how to do this, knew it like he knew his own name.
"Where did you get this?" Rodney asked, the guts of four computers spread around his knees. He pointed at the pod. "Are there more?"
She nodded slowly. "Many."
Many. "I need another one," he said sharply. If he stopped to think, he'd never remember what to do, what he'd done before, what he has to do again. If he stopped to think, he might go crazy. "Get it, bring it up here, and get out."
Yeah, he's already crazy; he's trying to stay there. Being sane now will end everything. He's got to believe he's the smartest man ever born; more than that, he has to believe he's smarter than the Ancients.
She hesitated, then nodded, calling two acolytes with a wave of her hand. After they disappeared out the door, Rodney paused, leaning against John's pod, checking the steady readings that were still too high. "Just stay there," Rodney whispered, leaning his head against the cool metal. Sleeping. "Remember what you told me? I bet you're dreaming of football, aren't you?"
When they came back, staggering beneath the weight of the pod, Rodney checked it for viability, ignoring their hovering presence beside the door because he thought he might kill her if he saw her wearing John's blood one more second. "Almost there," he whispered to John, stretching out the receptors to the second pod. "Just wait. I'm coming. I'm right behind you."
He'll follow John anywhere, even there. No sane world, no sane universe, would let a people kill John like this.
"What do you remember?"
John blinks, eyes going distant as he pushes through uncertain memories, back through two weeks of confusion and fear, back to--
"We were in the temple," John says slowly. "Arguing about the price of grain."
Rodney's letting him remember now.
Rodney had wandered through the village with his scanner, watching for readings that never came. There were Ancients here, he told Ronon bitterly. You'd think they'd have left something.
"They had this--thing on the table," John says, forehead creasing in thought. "It looked like a lamp. Teyla's contracts kept trying to blow off the table. I moved the lamp--"
Ronon had taken out his gun, hand on Rodney's arm; Rodney had looked up in annoyance when Ronon stepped in front of him, pointing it at ten black-robed people who told them that Colonel Sheppard--that Colonel Sheppard--
"The lamp lit up."
They'd gone with them, because they didn't have a choice, taken to the empty room where Teyla's body was stretched on the floor, blood soaking the stone from a throat slit ear to ear. A lamp lay an inch from her fingertips, dark and silent.
They had killed Ronon like that, too, but Rodney thinks that they paid with their lives before they took his. He's not sure; all he could hear was John screaming.
This is where John broke.
This is Rodney's memories layered with John's, so it's double subjective on the series of events.
They led Rodney to John's cell, glowing lamp clutched between his hands, where he watched them torture his leader for absent gods who left a galaxy to superstition and ritual murder, half-understood science turned to mysticism and magic. Left this, left children on planets to commit suicide and hide ZPMs and pray for a savior that would never come to save them.
Rodney is not OTP with crazy religion. At least, not right now.
"Rodney," John whispers, reaching between them, touching the smooth skin of his stomach with frantic, searching fingers, eyes widening in horror. "I remember. They--"
This is what Rodney's been worrying about, and this is why he waited.
Cut him open while Rodney watched, gutted him like a fish, like an animal, reading from a corrupted scroll that had been miscopied a thousand times into gibberish and nonsense, we must free the soul by destroying the body. Rodney reaches gently for John's seeking hand and pins it to the floor. Atlantis croons soothingly as John begins to shake. "They thought killing you would call the gods. The Ancients."
John licks his lips. "They thought--"
"It worked. I made sure of it."
Rodney has what might be called a real advantage here; he knows how to do this. And more than that, he's motivated beyond words to get it done.
There was a part of him that had been waiting for this since the day they brought him back.
"Almost there," Rodney told John, wondering how long he'd been working; his eyes burned, vision doubling, his hands shaking when he made the last connection, but he was done, so it didn't matter. Typing in the last commands, Rodney went to John's pod, looking down into John's still face. "Don't go without me. Keep dreaming of football. Or jumpers. Just--stay there, okay?" The readings were lower, but not quite enough; Rodney memorized the number and closed his eyes briefly. "I'm coming. Just wait."
John is the single thing in the universe that is keeping Rodney from snapping. He can save him. Nothing else matters.
He had pushed his pod beside John's, forever damaging something in his back that burned with every shift of his body. Brushing his fingers against the clear faceplate of John's pod, Rodney turned, climbing into the second one, surprised when the familiar feeling of suffocation didn't overcome him as the lid slid shut; there was nothing left to fear.
Rodney closed his eyes as it activated and reached for that still place that had been waiting for him all his life. "Almost there, John. Just give me one more minute."
This is where Rodney decided sanity was overrated.
"I heard you. You told me you were coming."
They were waiting for him, what was left of a civilization that reached the stars and never looked back at the universe they left in pieces for others to destroy.
"No," he said, thought, felt; the entire universe opened up, tempting him toward a forever knit in light and seductive knowledge that stretched to infinity.
They'd been here too long; Rodney remembered bleeding flesh and dying worlds and villages where the Wraith had passed, taking life and hope because the Ancients had forgotten what it meant to be alive.
He remembered kneeling in a tiny room on a mudball in the middle of nowhere where he cradled John's mutilated body because they forgot to pick up their toys before they left the galaxy to slowly die.
I have better idea.
Because really, how the hell are the Ancients going to enforce the prime directive? Rodney's Ascended and smarter than any human born, and utterly nuts. Good luck stopping him. And start running when John wakes up.
"The thing is? Chaya never thought she could tell them no."
John was close, so close--Rodney thought in a thousand years, he might have done it on his own. Rodney felt John flare as bright as the supernova that began the universe, shock and horror and rage edging his final memories of what was done to him, memories of what had happened to Teyla before they dragged him away. What--
He was tortured near to death and watched two of his friends die and had no idea if Rodney survived. He listened to them chant and use his own blood to write prayers on the wall. He watched them cut him apart. Rodney helped a man who went completely insane Ascend to omnipotence. John broke with reality and now can remake it as he pleases. And this is how he pleases.
I'll show you.
It took a second of eternity to show him, a second longer for him to understand what Rodney had done, and one more to make a choice that wasn't a choice at all. He knew John.
And he does. Rodney chooses to be just as crazy.
Yes, John told him, staring steadily into a tiny room on a mudball in the middle of nowhere. Two acolytes and a hooded woman looked in wonder at the empty pods. Let's do it.
Later, people called this Armageddon.
John convulses beneath him, eyes wide and unseeing as memory slams through him; there was a planet and now there's not: a solar system that vanished into something less than dust: a people wiped from history.
I mean that literally. John bent spacetime. They don't exist now. And they don't exist, like, ever, anywhere, even the memory of them. They're gone. He didn't leave anything of them behind.
Teyla and Ronon woke up with them in the infirmary. John hadn't thought they'd be ready to remember quite yet; Rodney thinks they'll tell them soon why Atlantis now lights for their touch.
John was *crazy*. And Teyla and Ronon Ascended, they just don't know it.
"You did it," John says in wonder, in fierce joy that Rodney can feel in every new bone; Rodney kisses him and thinks So what next? Wraith? Ori? Genii?
John says, yes. Yes. Yes.
And this is how the world ends.