John needed something to do. Something besides haunting the labs after hours to check on Zelenka’s extra-curricular project.
Radek had looked at him with sympathy the first few times he’d offered his help, but had lately taken to cursing at him in Czech before John could even open his mouth. He hadn’t learned anything so far; John had gotten that much out of him. He was analyzing the different sub-routines in Atlantis’ main systems, searching for anomalies that might betray a foreign presence. He insisted John would only slow him down.
John desperately wanted to poke around the Ascension machine itself. Theoretically, it was safe; the scientists were fairly sure they’d managed to shut it down. Still it was probably a good idea for John to keep his ATA gene away from it. But—and this he didn’t tell Zelenka, and wouldn’t tell Elizabeth either, when they let her in the loop—if it came down to it, if it was the last choice, John wouldn’t hesitate to use the machine to Ascend himself and drag Rodney back.
John was self-aware enough to realize he was starting to get a little irrational, but he was pretty okay with it. And as long as he could still smile, and drawl, and lean against things, nobody needed to know about the turmoil going on inside him.
He ran, until he thought he could probably take Ronon in an endurance test. He avoided Elizabeth, so he wouldn’t have to discuss his team’s makeup. He played the grieving-friend-but-nothing-more for Heightmeyer. There were new Marines; he trained them on the firing range. It felt good to fire the P90s, but that could only distract him for so long. He was so desperate for something to occupy himself he would have done paperwork, but Lorne was being a good friend and a good second by taking it over while John dealt with the loss of a teammate.
So he moved through Atlantis, stroking things, trying to find Rodney in the walls; if anyone thought John’s new touchy-feely relationship with the city was odd, they kept it to themselves. And he could feel McKay’s presence as he grasped a balcony railing or trailed a hand across a panel. Not always, but it was there often enough to keep him looking. He tried to explain it to Zelenka, but didn’t have the words. It was like a buzz, but that wasn’t it. Or a heartbeat, but that was wrong too. Hardest of all to explain was his certainty it was McKay. Everything in him told him it was Rodney.
Even if John hadn’t been sure on a visceral level the presence he felt was McKay, an Ascended Rodney was almost as transparent as a physical one. After the third night of Zelenka ejecting him from the labs, when John could find no trace of Rodney by palming the walls, he headed to the Game Room.
It was there right away: disappointment, a twinge of hurt. He felt a little bad about that; but he was mostly elated about the real connection he was making, how Rodney was revealing himself. He powered up the consoles and scanned the most recent logs for developments. Geldar had refused his country’s peaceful and generous offering of citrus fruit. Well, he’d see about that.
John was not at all surprised when the Game’s power cut off abruptly and he found himself staring at blank screens. A feeling of petty satisfaction nudged at his mind.
“I’d be glad to let you play, McKay, but you gotta come back first.”
Then there was sadness, bleak and overpowering.
“Hey, buddy,” he said softly, feeling like a jerk. “We’re working on it. Radek will think of something.”
He could still feel Rodney’s unhappiness, hours later when he was lying in bed trying uselessly to sleep. He wanted to get up and go to the Ascension machine room right now; this had gone on long enough. He needed Rodney back, needed him with a depth that staggered him. He’d always thought of himself as self-reliant—emotionally stunted, his wife had called it—being an island unto himself worked for him. These new feelings were scary as hell. John had thought he was done with the epiphanies, but clearly he’d been wrong.
He rolled onto his stomach, reaching a hand through the twisty Ancient sculpture that served as his headboard, and flattened his palm against the wall. The sensation was there; this time it did feel like the thump of a heart, beating along in time with his own. John felt himself float along with the pulse, finally tired enough to sleep. As he drifted off, he was sure he could feel the warmth of Rodney’s palm against his.
Zelenka, the weasel, was avoiding him. John had been to all the main labs and three of the ones the scientists didn’t think he knew about. He’d staked out the mess during the breakfast and lunch services, and he had Chuck spying for him in the gateroom.
Radek was good, but John had special forces training; in the end it wasn’t a contest. Radek turned the wrong corner; John melted from his plain-sight hiding place and stood in front of him.
“Any news, Radek?”
“Colonel Sheppard.” Zelenka took a breath.
Alarm bells started going off in John’s head. “Don’t do this to me, Radek.”
Zelenka sighed. “There is nothing. No matter how many places I look, how many times I run the data.”
“So we try something else.”
“There’s nothing else to try. If Rodney Ascended,” Zelenka said, lowering his voice, “it is a metaphysical state. I have looked and looked for a physical trace, but there is nothing.”
“Then you’re looking in the wrong places.”
“John,” Radek said in far too kind a voice. “I do not have the gene; I thought this was perhaps the problem, so I asked discreet questions of the scientists who do. All said the same thing. They feel no changes in Atlantis, no unusual presence, nothing.”
In Basic, John’s instructor had told them over and over at every opportunity how a good soldier has a place in himself that feels no emotions—not hate, not compassion, not love. It’s this place he finds when he needs to do a soldier’s work like shooting an enemy or killing sixty men with the push of a button. John had always been spectacularly good at finding that place. So good he sometimes worried one day he might not be able to find his way back. Right now he didn’t care.
He moved Radek back against the wall with his eyes more than his hands. He didn’t raise his voice. The words flowed from him; he barely knew what he was saying.
“You don’t believe me. You think Rodney never Ascended.”
Zelenka looked terrified. Good. “Colonel. If he did, there is nothing we can do for him. He will come back, or not, as he chooses.”
A part of John admired Radek for keeping his voice steady, even as the colder, calculating part of him wondered just what it would take to change his mind.
“Gentlemen! What is going on here?”
John turned his head slowly away from Zelenka. Elizabeth had seen them. He couldn’t bring himself to care.
“My office in five minutes. Both of you.”
And she was gone. John blinked, feeling like himself again, not happy about it. The fear wasn’t entirely gone from Zelenka’s eyes. John supposed he should feel bad about taking satisfaction in that.
He had to tell Elizabeth the whole damn story, of course. If he thought he’d gotten the sympathetic eyes before now, he’d clearly misjudged the extent of her arsenal of pity.
John could see her struggling not to judge him, to weigh the merits of his conviction. It made him a little sick to see the diplomatic tools being brought out for him. She wanted him to feel validated, not attacked. She wanted him to see that he was being taken seriously.
And because John knew that Elizabeth was a good person on the deepest level, a person of uncomplicated integrity, he knew that she wanted to take him seriously. She didn’t believe him; she thought he was dealing with a friend’s death badly, but she wouldn’t let that influence her decision.
Which was to keep the science department looking into it, for the time being. John knew this was solely for his benefit, and he also knew that it didn’t matter. Radek was convinced Rodney was dead; there would be no solutions coming from the scientists. It was time to use the machine himself. He found the idea didn’t scare him, which was a little frightening in itself. But there was no other way. He didn’t know what would happen, didn’t know if it would even be possible to communicate with Rodney after he’d Ascended, but he had to try. And he had a pretty good record with suicide missions, all things considered.
Having made the decision, he felt good, even peaceful. Coming back to himself, he was surprised to find Elizabeth watching him, Zelenka having already left the room.
“John,” she said once she saw him looking back at her. “I made this decision before today. So please try not to see it as a punishment.”
John waited calmly. It didn’t matter what she did to him; he felt beyond that.
“The SGC has been asking for someone from Atlantis to return to Earth. The IOA wants a comprehensive debriefing on the Asurans and the Ancients. And well, what we’ve been up to.”
Impossible. There were things that had to be done on Atlantis. “No.”
“It will only be for a week, plus travel time on the Daedulus. We’ll keep looking for Rodney, you know that. I need to send someone I trust.”
“And you think I need a nice little vacation on Earth.”
“I won’t lie to you. I did think the time away would do you good. I still do.”
“I’m not going to Earth, Elizabeth.”
“I can’t go to—”
A powerful rush of emotion flooded through his body. And a message, clearer than ever before, It’s all right. Go.
John wanted to argue, but there was no one to fight with. Just an overwhelming feeling. Go.
Rodney had been pushing against him all the way through this, denying it was really him, staying frustratingly hidden.
“Rodney.” He said it out loud, not caring when Elizabeth looked sharply at him.
He was sure he heard the actual word this time, ringing through his head in that familiar voice. He closed his eyes, feeling tired, beaten down. It was always so hard to withstand Rodney.
“All right.” His words weren’t for Elizabeth, but she was the one who nodded.
The trip was uneventful, notable only for the game John invented to pass the time: seeing how few words he could speak to Caldwell and crew each day. Twenty or less was a winning score. He won nine times.
And then there was Earth, looking crowded and gray and like the inside of a mountain. He nodded to Mitchell, hoped to God he wouldn’t run into Carter, said possibly two words to General Landry—one of which was “Sir”—and found himself escorted off the base and into an SUV with a young corporal at the wheel.
The corporal didn’t feel much like talking either, saying only, “Pick you up at 0800 tomorrow, sir,” as he dropped him off at the Broadmoor Hotel—which turned out to be a fancy resort at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with golf courses and tennis courts and stuff.
He’d been given the suite the SGC maintained for visiting dignitaries. Since these dignitaries were from other planets with surprising frequency, the suite was concealed underground—accessed from private stairs behind the kitchen—but it was still nice.
He wondered whether his swanky accommodations were due to the SGC not wanting him loose in Cheyenne Mountain, or if Elizabeth had pulled some strings to make it seem more like a vacation. It didn’t matter; he couldn’t see himself golfing or using the nearby Olympic team training facilities—another SGC perk. Aliens couldn’t work out in the regular gym, apparently.
Still there was a king-sized bed and a flat-screen television and Top Gun on one of the movie channels. John muted the sound so he wouldn’t have to listen to Tom Cruise, lay down on the bed, and was asleep in minutes.
SG-1 was offworld the next day and not expected back—no Carter!—but General O’Neill was among the group of military and IOA John was expected to report to. O’Neill felt that giving them back Atlantis and preserving John’s rank entitled him to slap John on the shoulder, hard, and waggle his eyebrows at him. John wondered why people thought he was weird; he could take lessons from O’Neill.
John spent a long day answering questions—no, he didn’t think the Asurans would be susceptible to Ori mind control; no, that in no way meant they could be utilized as allies in the war. He dodged rather obvious attempts to get him to say Weir wasn’t in control, and listened to them tell him Atlantis could not expect military reinforcements. His utter boredom at least had the side effect of making him fall asleep almost as soon as he got back to the hotel, and the next three days passed in much the same way.
The fourth day he finished at the mountain a little early, went back to the hotel, and swam in the infinity pool until he turned pruny. He threw on a robe, took the back stairs to his room, and found Rodney McKay lounging on his king-sized bed watching Doctor Who.
When his heart finished dropping through the floor he managed to sputter out, “McKay! What the hell?”
Rodney looked up, smiling brightly. “I can’t believe they gave you this suite.”
John stepped forward casually, more than half-convinced he was hallucinating. He dropped onto the bed. If Rodney could be cool, he could be cool. Rodney, maddeningly, kept watching the television. Fine. John couldn’t be cool. He smacked the back of Rodney’s head, leaping from the bed when his hand went straight through.
Rodney looked up sheepishly. “Sorry.” He made a little hand wave and the air around him seemed to shimmer. “You can touch me now.”
John sat cautiously. He placed a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. It seemed solid enough. God, Rodney’s shoulder. After all this time.
John realized he was gripping Rodney’s shoulder hard, clenching his fingers. He removed his hand slowly, like it was no big deal. Fuck. John had so much to say, so many questions, but none of them would come. Rodney, in his time in Ascension-land or wherever, must have developed some serenity. He seemed content to just sit there with a small smile on his face, Doctor Who blaring in the background.
John called upon a lifetime of military discipline and finally managed to say, “I think you owe me some explanations, McKay.”
“Oh.” Rodney seemed surprised by the idea, then a bit embarrassed. “Sure.” He cast a glance of reluctant longing at the television before flipping it off.
“Well?” John asked, when Rodney didn’t seem inclined to say anything further.
“Seriously, what did you do to deserve this place? Have you felt these sheets? God, I’ve missed real beds. You don’t realize how important that is until—”
“Fine. Explanations, I know. No need to channel your inner Rottweiler. I, um... Ascended.”
John let out the breath he was holding in a huff. “I know that, Rodney.”
“Oh. Um. Of course you do. Well, let me tell you, Ascension is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s unbelievably boring, for one thing. I mean, sure, infinite knowledge is nice. I developed a really neat workup of the Grand Unification Theory, by the way, remind me to tell you about it—”
“Georgi and Glashow got it completely wrong, the quacks. Of course, they were working with mortal limitations, so it’s not entirely their fault, I suppose.”
“Rodney. Why are you here?” Are you staying?
Rodney flashed a quick smile. John didn’t miss the sadness in it. “Can we talk about this later?”
Okay. John was cool. He could not push things. For now.
“Ooh.” Rodney was up like a shot, grabbing something off the phone table. “Can we order room service?” He settled in a chair and flipped through the menu. “The SGC is paying for this, right?”
John didn’t feel capable of refusing Rodney anything, and there was no reason to, so they ordered cheeseburgers, and pizza, and t-bone steaks. As soon as the waiter finished setting up their food, Rodney said, “Oh, ravioli,” so John got back on the phone and got three kinds of pasta, chocolate cake, and Canadian beer.
He didn’t feel much like eating, so he watched Rodney. He’d been thinking about McKay close to nonstop since he... went away, yet somehow he’d managed to forget how blue his eyes were, and how his mouth turned down at one corner when he was concentrating. And the way he could put away food; though to be fair he couldn’t have eaten anything in close to six weeks. He was making little orgasm faces with almost every bite, and saying some variation of, “Oh my God, I missed this,” every two minutes or so. By the time he worked himself up to dessert, John was achingly hard and wondering what the etiquette was for jumping your Ascended best friend.
Rodney was there, right in front of him, and he didn’t know what to say or do. He didn’t know why Rodney was there, or how he would react if John confessed his feelings, or just grabbed him and threw him on the bed. And now he was making arousing noises around mouthfuls of chocolate cake with raspberry-mousse filling, and John was completely unequal to the situation. He had to close his eyes.
After a few moments the orgasm noises stopped. John opened his eyes cautiously to see Rodney staring at him, his crooked mouth spread in a soft smile of undisguised affection.
“What?” John asked, a little breathless.
“I missed you.”
Okay, then. In one motion John rose, grabbed Rodney by the front of his shirt, and hauled him to his feet, kissing him wildly. He tasted of chocolate and beer, which was really kind of gross, and made a little “mmph” of surprise before responding enthusiastically.
This was so much better than that first kiss, so much better than the thousand kisses John had imagined since. John couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get enough air, but he couldn’t stop kissing Rodney either. And there was a giant bed here somewhere and why had John gotten dressed again? Swim trunks and a robe would have been so much more efficient.
He was trying to push Rodney in the direction he thought the bed was without taking his tongue out of his mouth when he was suddenly shoved away, hard. The only thing that kept him from falling on the floor was the bed, and, huh, it wasn’t where he thought it was at all.
Rodney didn’t follow him to the mattress, or yank off his clothes, which was kind of what John thought might be happening. Instead he gaped at him with huge eyes and a dropped jaw, hands thrust out in what John could only assume was the Canadian method of warding off vampires.
“Me,” John said, feeling dazed but agreeable.
“You—groupie! You have an Ascension kink! I knew it. I so completely knew it!”
“Man. Woman. Doesn’t matter to you as long as they’re Ascended, does it? Chaya, that hippie from the time-dilation world—”
“Who’s next, Daniel Jackson? I am not a notch on your Ascended bedpost, Colonel.” His eyes narrowed. “And we are not doing that glowy thing, so you can get that out of your head right now.”
Rodney glared at him, chin lifted, eyes flashing. John had seen that look dozens of times, hundreds maybe, any time someone failed to live up to the McKay notion of competence. He suddenly had to choke down something welling in his throat. It was really Rodney. Here, after all this time. It seemed unbelievable, unreal. He blinked his eyes shut hard.
When he opened them, Rodney was still staring, but his expression had turned puzzled. John felt ridiculously like laughing. “I don’t have an Ascension kink, Rodney.”
“No.” John took a step forward, letting every bit of his desire show on his face.
“Sure?” Rodney’s voice was small.
“Oh.” He looked aroused, and a little lost. John had to take him in his arms, had to push his face into Rodney’s neck and breathe in. He felt him shudder.
“You were there, Rodney, sort of.” He took another deep breath. God, he smelled good. How had he not remembered that? “You had to have seen what a mess I’ve been. How much I’ve missed you.”
“Naturally you’ve all missed my scientific contributions.” Rodney’s breath had quickened. He was trying halfheartedly to pull away. “And I’d like to think I’m not easy to replace on the team.”
“Rodney.” Even Ascended, McKay had the power to make him insane. John leaned in and bit his neck softly. Rodney gasped and John shifted to his mouth, moving slowly. He bit at his lower lip, before licking his way inside.
“Oh,” Rodney said against his lips. John had to smile. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” he breathed.
This time Rodney didn’t fight the move to the bed, just looked up at him with something like wonder as John pushed him down to the mattress. He didn’t feel Ascended; he felt like flesh and blood. John wanted to touch, to skim his hands across every inch of Rodney’s skin.
Instead he found himself pulling Rodney to him, hands creeping under Rodney’s shirt, arms drawing tight across his back. He had to feel Rodney against him, had to bring him close, feel solid muscle, and warm blood. Had to breathe him in, memorize the scent.
“Hey,” Rodney said softly, petting his hair. “Hey, I’m here.”
John nodded tightly, unable to answer past the swelling in his chest. He crushed Rodney even nearer.
“Sheppard.” Rodney’s voice was tight. “I can’t breathe.”
“Do you need to?” John finally found his voice, even if it sounded shaky to his ears. “Aren’t you pure energy or something?” But he forced himself to relax, to let go.
“Very funny, Colonel.” Rodney pinched John’s arm. “Do I feel like energy to you?”
Only Rodney would pinch someone to convince them he was real. John felt a surge of overwhelming affection. Rodney stared down into his eyes, seemingly convinced for the moment that John wasn’t having some sort of breakdown, and leaned in for a kiss.
John held himself back, willing to start slow if it meant he could feel Rodney’s lips against his. As they kissed, a familiar sensation started to buzz all around his body. His skin tingled with it—that warm quiet murmur that had meant Rodney to him ever since he’d woken up that day in the infirmary able to recognize it for what it was.
And now John was able to move, able to flip them so that he was the one on top, straddling Rodney. He ground down, and Jesus that was Rodney’s cock underneath him. His cock, and John had made it hard. Rodney suddenly groaned. John had thought he knew Rodney so well, had seen him in nearly every possible situation, but he’d never heard him make a noise like that. He thrust his hips, rubbing their cocks together, so he could hear it again.
He leaned forward, needing to kiss Rodney now. The chocolate and beer were gone now, all that was left was the taste of Rodney. He had to have that, as much as he could. He heard the needy, desperate sounds he was making in the back of his throat, but didn’t care. Threading his fingers in Rodney’s fine hair, he learned the curve of his skull, the back of his neck.
“Clothes.” Rodney gritted the word out. He was so smart, a genius; John had missed that. He sat up, feeling Rodney’s cock against his groin, and urged Rodney onto his elbows.
He was in one of his ridiculous civilian get-ups. Why did a man need two shirts? It just made it that much more difficult to take them off. John growled as he finally managed to get rid of the first one, then stripped Rodney of his long-sleeved t-shirt in one smooth move.
And there was Rodney’s broad chest, with its smattering of fine hair. John had to touch, had to rub. He needed to feel Rodney’s beating heart under his hand, had to grip Rodney’s solid biceps. He wanted to leave marks, wanted to be able to see a thumbprint bruise and know that Rodney was real, was with him.
He got another one of those glorious moans as he thumbed a nipple, so he took it in his mouth. Rodney’s moans got wilder, and he thrust his hips uncontrollably. It was maybe the best thing John had ever felt; he never wanted to stop.
“Pants,” Rodney said.
John sat up so quickly he felt a head rush. Somehow they managed to get their pants off. John couldn’t remember how he’d lost his shirt, but it was gone, and he hadn’t been wearing socks, so as soon as they yanked their boxers off, they were naked together.
“Jesus, Sheppard.” Rodney was smiling, looking a little freaked out, but happy.
“Yeah,” John said. “Yeah.”
Then Rodney was on top of him again and he had, fuck, John’s dick in his hand and he was stroking it, making a tight fist, and John was thrusting, and he’d never felt anything like this, ever—this rush of emotion, and lust, and drowning pleasure.
Rodney’s hand was suddenly gone, and John had time for a small whimper before Rodney was rubbing against him, rubbing their cocks together, and it was different now that they were naked; it was amazing. John gripped Rodney’s shoulders, and if he hadn’t left bruises before, he was now. Rodney moaned again; John could feel the sounds buzzing against his chest, but all he could hear were his own harsh pants, all he could feel were bright bursts of pleasure.
Then Rodney said, “John,” and John heard that, and came harder than he ever had in his life, dimly aware Rodney was doing the same thing. He pulled Rodney close again, tight, and held him while the last shocks rolled through their bodies, and kept holding him, even after.
“God,” Rodney said, as John released his dick from his mouth and swallowed. “Why didn’t we do this when I was human?”
“We will,” John said.
Rodney didn’t say anything, just smiled a sad little enigmatic smile, and he was not the goddamn Mona Lisa. Afterglow gone, John pulled on his boxers and stalked to the telephone desk. He should be at least partially dressed for this conversation.
“Tell me what’s going on, Rodney.”
Rodney sighed and scrubbed a hand across his face. “I didn’t die. Obviously.” He made a hand motion across his body to indicate his unmistakable state of not-death. “Thanks for the eulogy, by the way. ‘An honor and a privilege,’ really?” He made a pleased little hum.
“Right. Well, after I Ascended against my will, I was all set to come back, but—”
He broke off, with a pained expression. “Look. There are things I’m not allowed tell you.”
“Not allowed? I don’t think so, McKay.”
“It’s not my choice. Ascension’s no picnic. There’s all these... rules. I thought academia had senseless and archaic policies, but they have nothing on the Ancients. Not even Princeton.”
“Good. Then you won’t miss it when you come back to Atlantis with me.”
“Um, yeah. About that.”
“I’m not giving you a choice here, McKay,” John said in his best command voice.
“I can’t, Colonel. It’s... complicated.”
“Not from where I’m sitting.” Huh, maybe therapy was working. He was really starting to feel some anger toward Rodney.
“They let me have one day. I was lucky to get it. The Ancients don’t really like me all that much.”
“Can’t imagine why.”
“Hey, hey. None of that. You like me. You said so in your eulogy.”
“I’m beginning to rethink that.”
“There are reasons I can’t come back. I want to tell you, but—I’m not supposed to interfere. That’s their biggest rule.”
John coughed something that might have sounded like, “Chocolate.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Very mature, Colonel.” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving half of it standing up. John did not think that was cute. “I have a certain leeway because I’m not an Ancient. They let me do stuff for Atlantis. But not if I de-Ascend.”
That made no sense. Rodney wanted to stay with the Ancient navel-contemplators so he could make municipal improvements? John felt the breath leave him as he figured it out. “Something’s going to happen to Atlantis.”
“No!” Rodney said quickly. “Not if I’m there to protect it.”
“What’s going to happen to Atlantis, Rodney?”
“I—can’t tell you. But I can save it. If I’m Ascended.”
“No. We do it together. Like always.”
“You don’t need Ancient hocus-pocus. You do a pretty good job just as McKay.”
Rodney looked tempted for a moment, and pleased. “I do, don’t I?” His face fell. “You don’t understand.”
“I’m not letting you leave, Rodney. We’ll figure something out.”
“No. It’s hard to explain but I can... see things. Possibilities. Every possibility. We can’t even evacuate because—it’s like everything already happened, and that never did.” He rubbed both hands over his face. “Ascension is so stupid. It makes a mockery out of physics.”
“Are you sure the Ancients don’t like you?”
Rodney just sighed. “When I try to save Atlantis as a human, people die. You die. Sometimes it’s not right away—but Atlantis always falls in the end.”
“Okay.” John felt desperate. “Save us and de-Ascend afterwards.”
Rodney smiled the sad smile again. Where had he picked that up? “I won’t be able to then. I’m not even sure I’ll be around, after.”
“That’s why I’m back now. To say good-bye.”
No. John felt like someone had reached in his chest and pulled out his lungs. He crawled onto the bed. He’d hold Rodney so tight he couldn’t leave.
“I was hoping I’d have time to see my cat, too. And my sister. But this was nice. This was... more than I’d hoped for.”
Rodney was starting to go transparent and golden around the edges. John had seen this once before. He tried to grip Rodney tighter, to keep him here, but Rodney felt insubstantial as smoke.
He was gone. John had his arms around empty air.
Fucking Rodney. Fucking, fucking Rodney. John couldn’t wait for his non-com chauffeur; he took a cab to Cheyenne Mountain. Jumping out at the guard post, he barked, “Pay the driver, Sergeant,” at one of the poor slobs on sentry duty and went in search of General O’Neill, who was the only person both highly-ranked and crazy enough to order a wormhole opened to Atlantis.
O’Neill was already there, thank God, and remarkably easy to convince, seeming to like the way the idea turned Landry red. John tried to give him his heart-felt thanks, but O’Neill just waved him off, mumbling about Ascended beings in a way that didn’t inspire confidence. Still he did say he was sorry he couldn’t send any Marines back with John, which was nice of him.
A few minutes later he was back in Atlantis.
He expected surprise at his return, and questions. No doubt he would have gotten both, but three minutes after he stepped through the wormhole, the Asurans dropped a satellite-borne gate through a hyperspace window.
It seemed that while he was away on his little vacation the IOA had sent a Daedalus-class cruiser—and appropriated some of his own men—for a strike on a shipyard on Asuras. John was briefly furious beyond reason at Elizabeth, but he believed her when she said she’d known nothing about it, and had tried desperately to have him recalled when Colonel Ellis and the Apollo had arrived two days before.
There was no time to be angry, anyway, because the Asurans on the other side of the satelite-slash-stargate were sending a beam of sustained energy through the wormhole straight at the city. Zelenka didn’t think the Asuran gate would shut off in the standard thirty-eight minutes; the Replicators had the essentially unlimited power that would let it remain open. And the Asuran gate was interfering with their own, so they were well and truly screwed.
They couldn’t destroy the enemy gate; it had a shield that was drawing power from the beam itself. John had a glimmer of hope when Zelenka said that firing on the shield had weakened it slightly, but it wasn’t enough. All the firepower in the city couldn’t collapse the shield while the beam was active. All they could do was watch the red energy beam strike their own shield and dissipate over its surface. It was kind of pretty, in a deadly way. Zelenka estimated Atlantis’ shield would hold a little more than a day.
Would it have really hurt the space-time continuum for Rodney to have given him a heads-up on this? It wasn’t like he had more than a day to do anything with the information. John sighed. Okay, Rodney. Do your stuff.
He didn’t really believe Rodney could do anything. Ascended or not, he was just one man. But John had to take some action, no matter how useless, so he backed carefully to a wall, leaning against it casually. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, probably wondering why John cared about looking cool at a time like this. Reaching back with his bare hands, John could feel Rodney in the materials of Atlantis. It was nice, knowing he was there. Tell me what to do, buddy.
He felt something nudging at his mind, urging him to the chair room. Rodney was wrong this time; they just didn’t have enough ordnance to throw at the Asuran shield. Sitting in the chair would be pointless. But it wasn’t like he had any better ideas.
He trailed a hand along the walls of Atlantis on the way to the room; Rodney was with him the whole time. It had been months since John had used the chair; it looked welcoming now, like an old friend. When he sat down, it thrummed beneath him. He’d thought he’d felt Rodney in the structures of Atlantis before, but it was nothing compared to now. The comforting buzz was stronger than it had ever been—not just in his head but flowing all around him, caressing his body the way it had been in the hotel.
John felt ridiculously, absurdly happy. He was with Rodney; really, he didn’t want anything more out of his last day alive. But he could feel Rodney working through him now, and the chair, showing him drones upon drones stacked in the storage bays. It was breathtaking; there were thousands. Even so it wouldn’t be enough. Then Rodney was in head, nudging an idea into his brain, and John knew suddenly, with crystal certainty that Rodney could make the drones stronger, could increase their explosive force.
John tapped his radio. “Elizabeth. Tell Ellis to be ready to nuke the Replicator gate. I’m taking down their shield.” He switched off the radio in the middle of her startled reply. “Okay, buddy,” he said out loud, and let himself melt into the chair, let his mind go.
John didn’t know how long he sat there; it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but it felt timeless—like hours, or the blink of an eye. Together they fired the drones as fast as they could through the weapons portals. Then there was a rush of satisfaction, with a tinge of justified smugness. Rodney’s presence seemed to dissolve out of the chair, and John knew they had won.
“I suck at this, Kate.”
“Yeah, you do.”
“You’re not very supportive for a therapist.”
“I can’t do the work for you, John.”
“I’m going to make a confession.”
Kate raised a shapely eyebrow.
“Not long ago, I could... feel Rodney. In Atlantis, all around me.”
“What was that like?”
“Comforting. Like I wasn’t alone. Like I was loved.”
“That must have been a nice feeling.”
“Yeah, it was. He’s gone now.”
“He said he probably would be. He didn’t think he could do much more.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Since I got him back, I think I understand why he had to leave.” John sighed, feeling ridiculous. “That doesn’t make sense. I told you I sucked at this.”
Kate smiled. “You know... on the day of the attack, when we were watching the drones launch, and we got word the Apollo had destroyed the Asuran gate...”
“Well—for just an instant—I was sure I heard Rodney say, ‘Good-bye, Kate.’ Of course he wasn’t there, but for a moment I was convinced of it... I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“And then,” Kate said suddenly, as if just remembering, “there was the oddest thing. When they powered down the shield, for a moment it had this beautiful golden glow, before it just sort of... misted off into the air. No one knew what caused it.”
“Huh,” John said. “I would have liked to see that.”
Something was making a noise somewhere near his shoulder.
Lorne? How did Lorne get on his bedside table? John struggled to wakefulness. Right. His radio. He grabbed it. “Sheppard here.”
“You need to get to the gateroom right away, sir.”
“What?” He still felt half asleep. “What’s going on?”
“Sir, I just—I really think you should get down here. Lorne out.”
He pulled on the clothes that were nearest and double-timed it to the transporter. Was it the Asurans again? Why the gateroom? He would have heard the offworld activation alarm.
When he got there, he saw Lorne and a cluster of Marines standing in front of the inactive gate, peering down at something on the floor. A scared-looking private noticed John’s arrival first. “He just... appeared, sir.” The kid was actually trembling. “Not through the gate or anything. Just out of the air.”
John pushed his way into the group. There, on the gateroom floor, asleep, was Rodney McKay. Naked Rodney McKay, covered only by a silver emergency blanket.
“He looked cold.” Lorne appeared at his elbow.
John knelt carefully down to Rodney. His breathing was even; his color was good. “Hey, buddy,” he said quietly. Part of him wanted to yell. Part of him wanted to kiss Rodney awake. Part of him wanted to manfully pass out and let the Marines deal with it.
That part might have been winning when a medical team rushed in and carried Rodney away.
Rodney woke up eleven hours later in the infirmary in perfect health and devoured a plate-and-a-half of pancakes like he hadn’t eaten in months. Which John knew for a fact was not true.
John had been there the whole eleven hours. The others had drifted in and out, staring at Rodney in shock, seeming to need to touch his hand or his forehead to know that he was real. The only person who hadn’t seem surprised was Ronon. He walked in, grunted approvingly, and left a pile of replicator chocolate.
Elizabeth told him that the few people who’d come back from Ascension invariably lost their memories, so John had prepared himself. It was a complete surprise then when Rodney opened his eyes, said “Colonel,” in a clear ringing voice and promptly went back to sleep.
After a few more hours John decided Rodney might be hungry when he woke up again, so he went to bully the mess staff into making pancakes. He couldn’t have been gone more than forty-five minutes. When he came back with two plates of pancakes—hey, he was hungry too—he could hear Zelenka’s voice pitched high in excitement.
Radek fell silent the instant John walked in, and watched him warily. Rodney had woken. He smiled at John with such pure joy John felt his heart flip. Then Rodney saw the pancakes. John was not jealous. At all.
Eventually Rodney came up for air, looked around, and said, “Where’s Radek?”
“He left twenty minutes ago.”
Rodney eyed John’s half-eaten plate hopefully. John handed it over and took a breath. “You told me you couldn’t come back.”
Rodney had a mouthful of pancakes. He swallowed hard. “They kicked me out! Can you believe it?”
John felt a strange happiness bubbling inside of him like a fountain. He hadn’t really let himself believe Rodney was staying. He tried to keep a straight face. “You? Why would they kick you out?”
“They had it in for me from the beginning. You ask one Ascended Ancient to please stop fucking with physics.” Rodney shook his head at the injustice of it all.
“Well.” John felt suddenly shy. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“Me too.” Rodney smiled goofily before taking another bite of pancakes. “I didn’t even lose my memory like Jackson. Except for my Grand Unification Theory. You,” he pointed an accusing finger, “wouldn’t let me tell it to you. Of course you wouldn’t have understood it, but you might have retained enough to get me on the right track.”
The accusing finger waggled again. “Radek’s been getting me up to date. Marines in the labs? That ends yesterday. I had no idea my death would leave you so prostrate with grief that you’d lose all sense of judgement. It’s flattering, but, no.”
John nodded. He’d already decided to end the lab detail, but he liked hearing Rodney complain.
“And you’ve stopped exploring the abandoned labs? Do you know what kind of discoveries you’ve denied us? Of course you don’t. Because you haven’t been exploring!”
Rodney seemed to have more to say, but the door to Carson’s office opened. “Well, Rodney, you’ve had a wee nap, haven’t you?” Carson glanced at Rodney’s monitors. “Colonel, are you aggravating my patient?”
“Yes.” Rodney tilted his head self-righteously. “I’m gone for a few months and he institutes martial law. And he’s got Radek scared to death of him.” He looked thoughtful. “Actually, how did you do that? That could be useful.”
Before John could answer, Elizabeth and Teyla walked in. Teyla tilted her forehead to Rodney’s and Elizabeth kissed him on the cheek. Rodney looked unbearably smug.
John had to wait four hours to get Rodney alone again, but it was worth it because then Carson said Rodney could go rest in his room if he wanted and asked John to keep a close eye on him.
John kept a close eye on him all the way back to the staff quarters and into his room until he pushed him against the wall and kept an even closer eye on him and a tongue in his mouth.
“Wait.” Rodney pulled away. “What? We’re doing this now?”
John groaned. “Rodney.”
“Well, forgive me but the last time we did this on this planet, you ran away like a blushing virgin.”
“I was not blushing, and you ran away—”
Rodney waved a hand. “Technicalities.”
“And what was all that on Earth then?”
Rodney looked unsure. “Your Ascension kink?”
“Rodney.” John used his very expensive military training to sweep Rodney’s legs out from under him and deposit him on the bed. “I do not have an Ascension kink.”
“That’s convenient.” Rodney sounded a little breathless—probably because John was sucking his neck. “Because I’m not Ascended.”
“I know,” John said, licking his ear. “I know.”