There is no gravity in his dreams.
Just weightless floating between silver spires and an eternally blue ocean that melts into the sky where time doesn't count and the sun is nothing more than a ball of fire against a black, starless void.
He likes the dreams because they remind him of something like home, but calls them nightmares when someone asks because that is what they have to be.
The sky is blue above him, just so beautifully blue and endless where he is that he never wants to move again. He loves the limitless width, wishes he could be one of those soft, white forms, one of the clouds floating across it, wants to spread his arms and fly. He wants the freedom that it might bring him so much it physically hurts. He always wants, always wishes for it, for the blue and beyond, it's an addiction.
His first memory, the first thing he remembers even from before being born, is the sky and nothing else. He knows that sounds all wrong and impossible when he thinks about it, knows he must keep this his secret for the others might not understand. He can't change his memories and feelings though, and sometimes, when he looks up, he feels like he was born with a piece of sky firmly locked into his heart that yearns to be released.
It is a dream, whispering to him, daring him to reach out and touch, to just jump off the nearest mountain assured that he'll never hit the ground. A dream that lets him float amongst impossible buildings of sparkling reflective material almost like metal, waves crashing at their bases and living, talking energy rushing through the walls like blood pumping through flesh. He hears the words and the whispers in the buildings and he can smell the salt of an ocean when he breathes just deep enough. He wants to feel the water splatter on his skin and press his hands against the polished surfaces like the clouds press against the snow-topped mountains, looking into a world that differs so much from his own.
He can almost remember how that might feel. Being part of that world and being forbidden to touch, as if he has been amongst the incorporeal winds and clouds once already. Forced to watch but never mingle.
It lets him know how flying like a bird feels.
Like one of the large white lake-birds standing on long orange legs in the shallow parts of the two rivers in the valley, while they patiently wait for a fish to swim by to feed upon. They take off when roused by other animals or loud noises their wings blinding white against the shadowed meadow.
Just like that, he wants to be a bird, he wants to fly again.
Like a lake-bird, just not quite the same.
"Hey, are you sure you should be going up there?"
The blue is so inviting, rippling in the summer warmth above him and he reaches out with his hand, spreads his fingers and waits. Somewhere inside him rests the sure promise of an unknown power that he does not yearn in vain, he knows that there is something he is waiting for that will indeed come and get him one day.
"How else am I gonna find out what this room does, huh? God forbid there should be anything in the Ancient database."
"Oh, there probably is, we just don't have the time to…"
The whispers and voices in the wind tell him.
"Are you alright?" One of the other, far older men calls from somewhere to his right and he is tempted to just ignore him and keep waiting for the sky to come and clouds to pick him up.
For the voices to tell him how the story ends.
"Okay, there should be a main power switch, all right, it's gotta be somewhere around here."
"Yeah!" he calls back, peering through his fingers into the sky and wondering at the colours that bleed from blue to white and into the blinding glow of the sun.
"I don't know…"
The sun's light flashes blue for a moment, swirls forwards like a snake around his fingers and licks at his skin consuming his flesh like a flame, then draws back again as if it never happened.
He's scared, lost and cold for a moment and doesn't know why.
"I think you just lost, big time."
The older man comes over to him, walking carefully as if to not repeat the performance that has brought him to his current position on the ground.
"Hey." The man looks down at him, upside down and a blurry bearded shadow against the blinding blue. "You landed very hard, friend, are you really sure you are not hurt?"
He ponders answering that with a no, because he would rather have kept lying there and waited a while longer, listened a little longer to the words but given how attentive his new friends were they would probably lift him on their freakishly muscled arms and carry him back into the village where Vinte would fuss over him just like she had done in the beginning.
"Peachy," he says and lets his hand flop back to the ground.
There is something squishy and suspiciously warm under his hand and it starts to dawn on him why, or on what, he might have slipped to begin with. He grimaces in disgust. The grass is soft and beautifully green, looks fresh and alive spread over the hills and base of the mountains that surround their settlement, but it also camouflages what the sheep leave behind.
At least until you stepped into some of the nasty little beans and slip to land ass first in a patch of yellow sleep flowers. Lovely, just lovely, he thinks.
"Peachy." The older man frowns, repeating the word as if he has to test the taste on his tongue first and asks, "Peachy? Is that a good thing?"
He has to admit that now that he thinks about it, he isn't sure what peachy means either and shrugs. He had heard it in the winds and whispers somewhere along the way.
"I guess," he says.
The man nods a little, probably wondering again what kind of friend they have taken into their houses. What the strange old woman who went out to die in peace and came back with a naked man dragged in, so to say, not that he isn't asking that himself more often than not, really.
"Come then friend." The man offers his hand to him. "The chase is not yet over."
Nope, it isn't.
He accepts the hand and lets himself be pulled to his feet, narrowly avoiding stepping into the same mess again and finding himself marvelling at the old man who still possessed so much power in his muscles to pull him up without breaking the slightest sweat or showing any sign of effort. The man beside him smiles and pats his shoulder affectionately, making it ache where he hits.
"You will learn to watch where you step, friend," he says, smiling at him like he usually does the small children.
Children are a lot younger than he is, and on this world, a lot more accustomed than he is to running after sheep meant to be sheared, or wood that has to be collected in the forest and all the other chores of the daily life. It's almost like he has to relearn everything, from walking right down to taking care of his duties in the community.
"If you think so, Tuuli," he says unsure, but Tuuli just nods happily.
He just can't fathom why Tuuli likes him, or cares for him. All the men in the village are sort of bulky and broad shouldered, not as tall and thin as he is. And they are definitely better adjusted to the climate with their weather-worn skin and big hands than he is, too. They walk around in furs and leather clothes, carefully tailored by the women and chewed soft by them in the long dark winters and keep their hair in braids held by leather strips. His hair? Just a pretty messy dark mop that Vinte charmingly named a bird's nest and ruffles on every occasion as if he is a little boy, which in the eyes of the old woman he might very well be.
He, as opposed to the hunters or shepherds, always looks like he is about to drown in leather pants and the women keep on handing him plate after plate of food to get some meat on his bones in a fruitless attempt to make it better. They treat him as if he is a hungry child or starving man. Fine, he had been found in the snow, alone and naked, but he is neither starved nor feels ill or weak anymore, not since he recovered from the initial days of fever and all he wants to do is give something back for all the care they invested in him, a total stranger.
Perhaps that is why Tuuli has taken him in, has started to treat him like one of his very own sons and stands now beside him, smiling wrinkled face and kind grey eyes all fixed on him. The old man would probably even keep him in his house if he couldn't do anything other than sit at the fire with the women and children all day long like he had in the beginning; which just makes him want to do something for him and his family even more.
"Yes, friend, no man is born as master over the creatures," Tuuli says wisely and leads him back up the hillside. "You must gain the skills and knowledge to be equal to their strength and compete with their spirits to gain benefits from them. Not everyone is as powerful as the Mother's sons to just ask the animals for their help and get their way."
He nods along, brushing his hands on his leather pants. The Mother goddess says that every animal is its own spirit, that you have to respect them; for they were who gave you nourishment, wool and leather and that when you wanted something you had to be equal to the creature to ask it and thank it afterwards for giving. As her sons had done when they saved her and that is what all men of the tribe are meant to respect even if they cannot commune with the animals anymore like in the stories. He has learned that by now.
"I understand," he says anyway and watches with a grimace how the other men, most only half as old as him and unafraid to fall and slip and tackle, hunt. Chasing brown and black, four-legged knee-high woolly animals with tiny horns and hooves that give them an unfair advantage in comparison to their human hunters, until they get them by their necks and lead them onward to the elder men ready and waiting to shear them.
He had run after one of them, a smaller one, but the animal had taken a left turn where he thought it would go right and so he slipped and fell, tumbling down the slope towards the two rivers and ending up sprawled out in the grass. He's pretty sure now being a shepherd is not his thing, totally sure, but as he's said before, he has to give back something.
He bites his lip and is all set to go and try again, but Tuuli stops him.
"Now, don't fear," he says, barely keeping the amusement out of his voice. "You don't need to run after them again like the young ones, just help my sons to hold the animals while we shear them."
For a moment, he sees someone else in the kind face, someone entirely different, but it's gone again before he can remember who it is.
"Thanks," he says frowning, and he wanders over and helps to hold the sheep down, kneeling and holding them by their chubby little legs.
One of Tuuli's sons, Arn, instructs him where to grab the little beasts to hold them down and it feels good to work like this, familiar, but somehow off anyway. Just off like the words and images flashing through his mind now and again, just like his dreams or his wish to touch the blue of the sky or clouds.
Just like he is one of them but does not quite fit right into their middle, wants to help but don't quite know how. It's familiar, this searching for the right spot, he knows.
He laughs as someone else, one of the kids, slips and falls like he had before, run over by a little sheep and Arn leans over and jokes about how it happens to everyone once in a while.
He smiles in return and thinks this could become home… someday.
He finds himself straddling a bench or bed, but the frames are not made of wood like that in the longhouse but rather of a soft surfaced kind of metal like the pots the women cook with. The people are not clothed like the villagers either and he looks around, watching them in awe though eyes that are not his own.
"Well, as far as I can tell he's fine," one says in a funny accent, smiling at him in a way which he is sure is meant to be assuring.
There are others, too, two men and a woman. More beyond that, walking around in halls and rooms that are not of stone or wood but of the polished grey he had come to find himself touching before. It looks more like the earthen pots though, not metal, and he rubs the frame of the bed for a moment not quite sure why it feels so familiar.
"He was hit by a mysterious energy pulse. How can that possibly be fine? Run the tests again!" The one left of the woman snaps his fingers again and again, radiating impatience like a fire pit does warmth.
The one with the accent sighs and glares at the snappy one.
"I've run every test I can. Blood work, MRIs, x-rays the lot. I've found no anomalies in any of the results."
He can't help but look at the snappy one more closely, his lips crooked in displeasure and eyes wide and blue as the sky.
"One more time," blue eyes repeats slowly, as if telling a child and the one with the funny accent narrows his eyes accordingly. "Mysterious energy pulse! From a device created by the Ancients?" It sounds like it could be something really, really bad and very obviously so, too.
He smiles at blue eyes beside him, can't help it.
"Who knows what kind of things we could be in for," blue eyes adds and glares at him.
"We…" He finds himself drawling and raises his eyebrows in surprise at his own voice; he's speaking differently, too.
"I was in the room, too," blue eyes says and everyone looks at him for a moment which makes the accusing tone of his words falter and his mouth hesitate for a moment. "I mean, there's gross mutation, gigantism… even invisibility…" Blue eyes counts off on his fingers and he finds himself chuckling.
"Well, invisibility sounds kind of cool," he says and it feels as if it's not him talking all over again. "Last time I turned into a bug."
Blue eyes blinks away some form of painful memory, he can almost feel it, before the eyes roll in annoyance and the one with the accent shakes his head, stepping around the bed before he says, "Like I said, as far as I can tell, he's as healthy as a horse. There is no reason not to clear him for active duty."
He swings his legs, clothed in strange grey fabric, on one side of the bed and hops down.
"Are you insane?" blue eyes argues. "At least put him under guard."
"Rodney," he snaps at blue eyes and the relief at having a name to put with the eyes is almost scorching in its intensity, soothes the yearning like water extinguishing a fire.
It's such an overwhelming feeling all turns white, the halls, the grey walls and his whole body burns alive, making him feel like the bubbles rising in boiling water all swelling and round until he bursts.
The village tree is like a skeleton hand. It reaches out into the darkness, old and dry with its bark rough and the twigs swollen and painfully bent like the hands of an old woman who has worked all her life. He has spent a lot of time in the past weeks staring at it, mostly in the first couple of days that he was sick and sitting huddled into furs by the women in front of the houses.
He has walked past the bringer of life and light while helping with the sheep and the crops, getting the wood for the cooking fires or just running with the kids to get his legs working again. It is a normal sight and horrible for him at the same time.
They say it is the hand of the goddess, the kind Mother from the time of darkness and ice, who had reached out for the stars and their eternal light one night and pulled it down to gift her sons with what she could harvest from the outside world. She had brought them the fire and the ashes, and the floating lights at the horizon to save them from freezing to death in the cold the shadow bringers had left behind. But her hair and skirt had caught on fire as she gave them warmth and her hand burned and crippled outreached to the sky as her face became inhuman and a mockery of her former beauty.
He feels like her, reaching out to the lights above and yearning for something else while freezing. Not that he's actually freezing or anything, the longhouse is cosy and warm, he's just missing something and the blue eyes in his dream, the spires and the sky are his only clues to find it.
"Her whole body was torn apart in the flames of the universe and she screamed and whined for help as she crashed back to our world. And while doing so she brought them the light of the sun as she set a part of the sky afire," old Vinte says as she tells the story yet again.
She wears her age and her countless freezing winters proudly, white hair held back with leather strips and feathers and her hands bent and crippled like the tree with age. She looks rough like the tree's bark but her voice and spirit seem kind like the softly flowing waters of the two rivers on a hot day. He smiles to himself, loving the words and the sound of her voice while dreaming his own pictures to the story.
In his vision the lights are exploding in a million colours and collapsing into balls of fire, silver tubes zipping through the eternal night sky to sink into blue ponds.
"And then they had the light and their Mother was safe," a girl pipes up and he smiles even more.
"Yes," the old woman answers hoarsely. "Yes, they had the light, collecting it from the grass below the melted ice and caching it in their pits, but she was crippled and aching and could not move anymore, caught forever in her pain."
The children she tells the story to huddle together in their furs, eager to hear the adventure one more time, even if it is the same tale almost every evening. He loves the story, too, whispers it along with old Vinte and yearns after the lights, like the Mother had yearned for the warmth and the light to keep her sons alive. She hadn't cared for the laws the shadow bringers had left behind and had done what was best for her people no matter the cost.
He knows how breaking rules for the safety of others feels.
"What happened then?" one of the younger children asks, a little scared, and curls against his elder sibling.
"The youngest one, Tuuli," Vinte continues with a toothless smile for she has named her own youngest son, the chief of the tribe, after him.
It puts Tuuli's own age into relation to her and Tuuli's son, some of them at least as old as he thinks he must be.
"The skilled hunter in their group thought to go and find some animals that could give her their skin to replace what the fire had consumed and so he went and asked them, begged them and they saw what she had done for her sons and for the animals as well and gave it to her."
That is how they got their clothing, the leather pants and the furs. He had sat amongst the children in the beginning, listening to old Vinte while still being too tired to do anything else. He learned to form words that way, learned how to speak again listening to the myths of their world. Now, after spending the day collecting wood in the forest beyond the two rivers -– finally, something he's better at than herding sheep -- he rests on a bench of the longhouse, furs pooling around his feet and one hand stretched towards where the smoke exit in the roof allows him to catch a faint glimpse at the lights in the night sky, mouthing the words along.
Vinte looks up and tilts her head a little, watching him rest there, hand reaching out like the tree. She had been the one who found him in the snow at the base of the very same mountain where the story takes place, found him shivering and freezing, halfway dead and naked as she went towards the mountains to die. She had told him the story for the first time while he was still feverish and sick afterwards and it had been she who gave him a name when he could not tell his own.
Mies, the man.
He in return might have brought her back to life as well, given her something to exist for again despite crippling pain in her limbs and never ceasing tiredness. They healed each other somehow and it binds them to each other, far beyond what Mies feels for anyone else in the village.
"Don't you want to tell the rest of the story, Mies?" she asks and he nearly falls off his bench in the hurry to pull his hand back, legs catching in the furs as he tries to sit up.
"Uh." He sits up. "You're much better at telling a story than I am, Vinte."
She smiles serenely, somehow familiar. "But you already know each word, son, and you are a person without a tale of his own to tell. So why not?"
The children have turned to him and some of the women are watching him expectantly; he can feel the blush crawling up his neck. He swallows, ducking his head in the awkward moment of silence, because what he may have to tell is nothing but fragments and tales of a broken sky.
"I'd really rather not," he says.
Vinte smiles softly; she had found him in the snow, had named him, had talked her son into accepting him into his house, now telling a little bit of the story he knows by heart can't hurt, can it?
If only there wasn't the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that insisted on reminding him that he isn't exactly good at telling stories and that the children never quite appreciated the adventures he thought of as enthralling before.
"Mies." She raises one eyebrow, prompting him to begin.
"Fine," he sighs and looks up again.
It is useless to say no anyway, he thinks, scooting forward and untangling the furs from around his legs to slip down to the ground on the children's level.
"So how did it go on?" the girl from before inquires, scooting over to lean up against him.
He can't help but smile at that kind of trust in him and ducks his head again.
"Tuuli brought back the skins but his mother was still faint and weak," he continues. "So he gave her of the animal's meat to eat but that could not sate her hunger. Tuuli again thought to act and gave her part of his own life and warmth to heal her, and it worked, but soon the part of the sky she had set alight as she returned became dim again.
"So she went out to set the sun on fire and it began anew, and as she returned another son gave her his life and after all sons had given themselves to her, their children stepped forward and nourished her.
"And since then she circles across the sky, bringing light each day and when the dark season comes, needs life in return."
Giving his life for others, yes, that is what he can relate to, what he can understand. This is why he loves the story, familiarity, understanding and the children seem to think the same as they cheer and giggle about the happy ending.
"I think that's enough for tonight." Chief Tuuli appears from where the men of the house were sitting and smiles down at the assembled children and women. "We will have a hunt tomorrow and we all should sleep now."
Mies is yet again amazed that Tuuli includes him, even though he has not proven to be of much use until now, and falls asleep, listening to whispers and snores around the house, staring at the fire and dreaming of silver-blue puddles in metal rings.
Rodney's mind is like white noise, he can remember that, busy and temperamental like the current of a fast flowing river and full of thoughts that tumble over each other faster than Mies can understand.
Mies has not the faintest idea how to follow the developments that happen in the head of the other man and it gives him a headache. He also remembers the way Rodney is bent over flat moving pictures of script and moving signs. He looks miserable and sick while doing so and Mies can do nothing else but follow the urge to reach out and lay a hand on the tense neck, thumb rubbing up against the edge of an ear to soothe the tension.
"We can't know what this is doing to you," Rodney explains and pokes another sequence of the signs, not even looking at him.
Mies has to agree with his point. There is no way of knowing what this light may have done to him, no pointers or symptoms bar the obvious. He doesn't understand most of the signs and letters spiralling through Rodney's mind, long lines of numbers and pictures of horrible things that could happen, only understands the fear and desperation in them.
It makes him dizzy. "Rodney, slow down."
"It could kill you for all that we know," Rodney snaps and shakes off his hand. "Doesn't it worry you at all? I mean the Ancients obviously discarded this experiment because something was wrong with it."
Mies can't tie meaning to most of what blue eyes says.
"Just let me work," he snaps and turns back to his signs.
Mies' shoulders slump a little and he leans against the table Rodney is working at, crosses his arms over his chest and looks away. There is a lot he could say now, try to console the other man with, but he can't, not because he can't talk, just… he doesn't talk about feelings, never has. He isn't good at it.
He wishes for something to distract Rodney from the problem, something that will make his eyes sparkle with brilliance and curiosity, something which would make him happy and not heavy with guilt and worry, but there is nothing.
"It's not your fault," he says and looks at the blinking lights on some sort of box-shaped thing he can't name on the wall. It seems to be hooked up to a large golden crystal of sorts and he is not sure it has ever done that before.
"Hey, should that be blinking like that?"
Rodney looks up to see where he is looking and turns in his chair, eyes wide and mouth open.
"What the… how did you do that?!"
He's on his feet so fast Mies can barely follow, all excitement and movement about whatever the thing does. He only catches ZPM and reloading before the white noise in his head becomes even worse, crashing over him and swallowing him whole in a blinding pain that cuts through his skull.
Now hunting, it turns out, is exactly what he's good at. It's like slipping into another body and going through motions that different shell knows as well as the first one knows how to breathe. He slips through the shadows between the fir trees and melts into the shapes of the ferns and bushes without the slightest problem.
He holds the small crossbow they hunt with like it's made for his hands, or his hands made for just that purpose and tool, and walks through the fallen needles on the ground and ferns without as much as the rustling of a few leaves in his wake.
Like a ninja, he thinks impressed with himself, faltering in his step as he fails to understand what it is that seems so impressive about that… and more importantly, what a ninja is supposed to be.
"Mies?" Tuuli's third son Arn is with him again, probably following his father's command to make sure Mies doesn't get lost or kill himself.
It's nice but annoying, since the other man is twice as loud in his attempts at stealth as Mies is and he hasn't quite figured out yet how to break that to him.
"You can go back to camp if you don't want to do this," he says and smiles. "We all respect your wish to help, but perhaps you're just not strong enough yet…"
"I'm good," Mies answers; he'll deal.
Arn nods once and continues his instructions about the traces Mies is supposed to look for. How the hooves of a triple-horn leave specific marks in the soft ground and where the marks of teeth can be found in the barks of some of the younger trees.
"This isn't a good set of tracks though." He points downward at a series of small imprints in the ground. "Nothing is stronger than a parent animal protecting the young."
Mies nods in understanding; the big three horned animals get nasty when something threatened their kids. Check.
Arn is about to guide them away from the track of the triple-horn and its young as smaller animals hurry out from the underbrush nearby and branches start to crack and burst in the bushes behind them.
All Mies can do as he turns and sees the animal coming at him and Arn is to jump out of the way like his fellow hunter does and land yet again face first in the dirt, the heavier man half-way burying him under his weight.
It's becoming some sort of joke, he thinks and groans as he picks himself up, but the situation unfolding is anything but funny. Two of the younger men follow, chasing after the giant triple-horned animal that breaks through the greenery. It's wounded and wild and Arn scrambles to his feet to go after the group, yelling for the boys to abandon the hunt.
Those two weren't even supposed to be hunting, just getting the branches ready to which the game would be bound for transport afterwards and waiting at the edge of the dense forest in their little camp.
"For the sun's sake, leave it be!" Arn yells and starts to run.
Even Mies knows that a wounded animal should best be left alone, especially those triple-horned things with their sharp horns and powerful legs. The two young men are crazy to follow it now that it's in a blind rage, not knowing if and when the sedative on the darts they use especially for hunting would work, if they even hit the animal properly.
And he doesn't even want to start to guess if it's the animal with the young to protect, which would only make it worse.
Mies is on his feet fast as that realisation hits and some sort of knowledge that's sealed into his bones breaks free and takes over, making him able to move in a way that feels like second nature. He catches up to them, sees Arn yell to gain the animal's attention and can tell the exact moment the boys realise their mistake by the way their eyes grow wide. Afraid as the animal starts charging towards them, horns lowered and ready to attack the insolent humans who dared to wound it. Mies can see the will to defend its life in the dark eyes, can see the fire and the anger; it's a telltale sign that the creature has abandoned all fear for its own good in favour of defence of his group even if they are not around anymore.
He aims and shoots the deer with such accuracy that the hunters arriving to help, stumbling out of the bushes around him, come to a halt in total awe.
He is amazed, too, or it's shock; he can't tell the difference. The kill had been easy, scarily easy. He just aimed and then did what Tuuli's son had instructed him to do to fire, pulling the trigger and sending the wooden arrow across the clearing.
It cuts through the light beams that fight their way through the dense fir trees all around them and hits a major blood vessel in the side of the animal's neck. It whines low in its throat and jerks back, rising on its hind legs in its struggle but the hit is such a precise one that blood spills from the wound in thick pulsing spurts and weakens it fast. It doesn't run very far after that and the sedative takes hold soon enough to spare it most of the pain, before it collapses, spasms a few more times and eventually dies from blood loss and exhaustion.
Seen in this light it's an unbelievably cruel death.
He is still in shock as the animal stops moving and he walks on wobbly legs over to the felled creature. He crouches above his kill, tracing the small arrow's wooden shaft down towards where it's stuck in the flesh before he pulls it out. He doesn't want to know why he is so good at this kind of thing.
He doesn't want to know why the blood feels familiar on his hands, either; why he feels like mourning something now. The spirit that has been ripped from the world in this way by someone who doesn't match it at all, it's that he thinks, it has to be that.
He does know however, that he quite possibly saved the boys and Arn from cuts and piercing wounds that could mean death so deep in the woods and that this fact feels unbelievably right and familiar inside him.
All the familiarity makes him kind of dizzy.
"Who knew you were a hunter, friend," Arn chuckles and crouches down beside him, looking the large brown animal over once. "And such a proud spirit, the Mother and her sons must have called him just for you…"
He shrugs one shoulder, twirling the arrow between his hands and smelling the copper odour of the oily substance.
"Yeah," he drawls and stands up again.
Arn rises to his feet and starts giving the boys a lecture worthy of his father, about dangers and death and things not to do if they wanted to see another circle of the sun. Things he would do to them if they ever dared to pull something like this on a hunt again.
They bind the animal to a long branch by its legs and carry it towards the edge of the forest. The trees give way to a broad expanse of shrubbery and eventually die out into the grasslands beyond. It's a couple of hours walk back to the village and they don't come back empty-handed that day.
By the time daylight fades out into a wild array of colours over the mountains, four more animals lay on the village court beside the one Mies has killed and Tuuli looks proud and assured that the confidence he has had in the man they found at the base of the mountains has not been wasted. He hears the story his son tells and his chest swells the way only that of a father could, full of approval and appreciation.
"I'm proud, son," he says to Mies and Vinte, who sits on a stone by their longhouse in the background, smiles broadly with her toothless mouth.
Tuuli calling him son is as good as being part of the family, being part of the tribe, and feeling that someone is proud of him makes him almost forget the yearning in his gut.
They play the drums in honour of the hunt and some of the unmarried girls dance and circle around the village tree that evening, skirts and hair flying. He loves watching the spectacle, smiles at some of them, blushes and averts his eyes when they smile back as he's surprised they do.
Sparks from the fire drift into the black night sky as the girls twirl and sing to invite the Mother to join them in their feast; they are thanking her great sons that they called the animals so many years back and thank the animals for their skin and the essence of their lives.
He stands among the hunters, the blood soaked strip of fur in his hands just cut from the back of the animals killed, and steps forward to bind the strip around one crooked branch of the village tree. The women at the sides of the celebration sing and the men join in with yells and whistles as he, along with all the others, presses his bloody hands to the bark of the tree.
"We thank you with our blood and our life," they murmur. "For you, Mother of the light, brought us the day and the fire."
It's the prayer of the Mother and he feels the words and light in them for the first time in that moment, the tribe circling around him and the tree and something in the back of his skull whispers home to him.
He wants to find his way back to the bench he had sat on before but one of the feistier girls swirls past him and curls her hands around his arm.
She pulls him into the circles they're drawing around the tree and hangs onto him until he moves with her. It's flopping about more than actual dancing but she doesn't mind and he's too absorbed in the fact that the girl has bright blue eyes to care that he's making a total idiot out of himself.
She laughs loudly and kisses him open-mouthed and wet, pulling him deeper and deeper into the throbbing, moving group of people and he follows willingly. Getting high on the beat of the drums and leaving bloody fingerprints all over her flesh.
He can see the stars so crystal clear when he looks up, swirls and cranes his neck to see more. It's like flying, he thinks, and loses himself a little more in the bodies around him until they give out and the sun circle starts again.
"Well, this whole floating thing is actually kind of cool," he says and just for the sake of it floats a little higher towards the ceiling until he can touch the red-grey rafters above his head with both hands.
"Are you insane?!" Rodney snaps from below. "Come down here now, before you break your neck!"
He's flying, flying.
"As if you wouldn't want to come up here," Mies chuckles, because yeah, this is awesome just like being weightless in space, without any gravity.
His mind ties the black he dreams of and the exploding lights to those words and he smiles more about this little piece of the puzzle falling into place.
"You're jealous, I can feel it!"
"Oh, I am not," Rodney yells at him from below, but he so is.
Mies looks down, eyes twinkling with happiness and Rodney looks up at him with a mix of absolute horror and curiosity that makes him want to kiss Rodney senseless. Perhaps he is a little insane as he concentrates and thinks what if, what if he could not only let himself fly but other things, too, other people.
"What are you doing," Rodney asks, narrowing his eyes and pointing an accusing finger at him. "I swear, whatever it is, stop it!"
"Nothing," Mies says grinning and concentrates really, really hard on Rodney and on his body losing all connection to the laws of physics and then… Rodney floats abandoning said laws completely.
What an irony given what Rodney usually does.
"What the…" Rodney makes an unmanly little squeak, flails his arms like he needs them to fly like a lake-bird, but looks more like a fish on dry land, while he slowly floats upwards toward Mies' position between the rafters.
"Let me down you bastard…" Rodney growls, still waving his hands and arms as he ungracefully bounces against the ceiling. "Ouch, hey that hurt! This is so not funny, I'm going to break my neck if I fall, and this is just not funny."
"Just calm down Rodney," Mies says, laughing in between the words. "Stop flailing around like that, come on."
He reaches out and clasps the other man's jacket, curling the fingers of his other hand around Rodney's bicep to pull him towards him a little. The wave of fear is almost overwhelming and the panic is as strong as the surprise in Rodney's mind, then after another moment, wonder over what is happening takes over and the flailing stops.
"It's cool, isn't it," Mies says beaming at the other man and for a moment Rodney's lips mirror the smile, because it is somehow cool to float several feet above the laboratory equipment without bonds or strings attached.
"Yeah, maybe a little," Rodney admits, raising his arm to hold on to a rafter to steady himself. A little like Superman, Mies catches from amongst the busy noise in Rodney's head, and it makes him laugh.
Part of him still has no clue who Superman is, but the rest just knows it's funny. Rodney looks over, eyes narrow but lips crooked up at one side.
"What, just what?"
"Superman? Really…" He laughs and Rodney's eyes only narrow more. "I'm feeling flattered."
"Stay out of my head," Rodney grumbles, but the flashes of pictures are there and Mies shakes his head, and lets the laugh on his lips die away into contact of skin on skin.
Rodney is in shock for exactly a second, the noise in him just whites out somehow, and Mies savours it, dares the unthinkable breaking of his own set rule and seeks entrance to Rodney's mouth. The kiss is messy and wet, their noses are in the way and he holds onto Rodney with one hand on the man's neck, steadying them both with a firm clasp to the rafter above, while savouring the echo he can read from within the other man's mind.
He touches him and it's like touching himself but more. It's touching both sides of his skin, inside and out and, if he wasn't already floating then he sure as hell would start to lose all connection to the ground now.
"This is a really bad idea," Rodney mutters into his lips, blue eyes a little dilated and wild with the thrill of floating and kissing.
Mies laughs and pulls Rodney closer. "Nobody's going to search up here."
Rodney leans in again, has no other choice with the way Mies hangs on to him, and claws his own hands into the fabric of the other man's shirt.
"We could fall down," he mumbles. "Or someone could look up."
"Don't worry," Mies says and smirks as the doors of the room they're in slide shut and lock. "I've got it covered."
Damn, he thinks, damn, damn, he's never going to give this up again, never, damn the rules, damn them all.
The halls are always long and dark and only a few gloomy tendrils of light crawl along the ground in simple patterns, shattering and reforming on his skin and clothes as he walks along the sacred path below them. He concentrates on that, only on that and tries to avoid the lack of faces all around him for the sake of what is left of his sanity.
The forest beyond the two rivers is full of high fir trees, so tall and dense they block out almost all the light except for a few thick beams that spotlight patches of ferns and the tiny yellow sleep flowers that grow between the roots. It's cool and damp in the trees' shadows and the wind that constantly blows around the upper part of the valley, where the village is, is reduced to a soft breeze that whistles in the branches above.
He can spend hours crouching on the forest floor by the trunk of a tree and watching through low hanging needled branches to wait for one of the things that live and hide below the ferns to walk into his trap.
He's good at the waiting and concentrating on the target, the crossbow hanging on leather straps knotted to his vest. It's familiar and it's soothing to be hunter and warrior, plus, the waiting for the prey keeps him from thinking too much about things he shouldn't waste his time on.
It is bad enough to wake beside Ilren, having her ask first thing in the morning what kind of name Rodney may be. Not to mention, looking at her blue eyes, wide and openly curious, just like Rodney's are in his dreams and having to lie, saying he has not the slightest idea either what that word is supposed to mean.
She frowns at him usually and shakes her head, muttering something about him and his strange nightmares. He does not correct her when she calls them nightmares although he doesn't really think they are just that.
And when she smiles at him, he smiles back.
And when she kisses him on a stubbly cheek to say farewell and good luck for his hunt, he hugs her and waves a hand as he walks off towards the woods with the other hunters. She stands on a rock by her family's longhouse and her shoulder-length black hair moves in the wind when he looks back a while later. It might be love and the promise of a family with her that makes him nervous, but the shiver running down his spine feels so wrong it makes him almost lose his footing.
He has his eyes fixed firmly to the ground the rest of the way to the hunters' camp, sees neither sky nor another face the whole time and never even thinks of looking back again.
It's what he does now.
Scouting the forest that covers one end of their valley and crawls further down a hillside where the two rivers unite again and fall over a cliff. The fir trees start to mix with other kinds of trees beyond that point and the forest ground changes from sleep flowers and grass to bushes and fallen leaves; it's a three day walk through mostly untouched forest to reach the path along the mountain's base to the next settlement from there.
This is his domain now, from waterfall to path and back to the village.
It's a place to hide from the sky and the nightmares he has, from the presence Rodney is in his fragmented dreams and from the longing to touch spires and metal walls he is sure to never have seen in reality. Yet, when he drags a thumb along the metal of his knife when stripping game of its skin, he can't stop the flashbacks bubbling up before something morphs them into strangely unsettling feelings in the pit of his stomach.
It's mostly Ilren's face that comes to mind then, real and part of his dreams too, and he just wipes down his knife in the grass nearby and tries to get away from it.
He doesn't know what it is and would never admit it, not openly, certainly not to anyone within the village, but it scares him to feel like this. Lost, alone and confused when he wakes from his dreams even with Ilren beside him, and something inside him tells him that he never liked to feel like this before, just like another part tells him that where he is now, he should not be.
He shrugs it off again and concentrates on the traps, climbing down a steep slope towards the clearings further down where the triple-horns like to be when the Mother's sun is the highest on the sky. He and the other hunters dug a couple of larger pits for the beasts down there and it is his job to look them over regularly in hopes of finding one or two of the big deer-like animals within the holes in the ground.
Tuuli compares him to the youngest of the seven sons of the great Mother, the hunter who gave his flesh to his mother so she would be as fast as he was once more, and smiles proudly at him every time Mies returns.
He talks about adding him to his family and how Tuuli is glad Mies has found Ilren to be with and all that, how he wishes them a dozen children of their own. He isn't sure who blushed more the last time he wished him that, Mies himself or Ilren.
Children, while nice and all, don't stand very high on Mies' list of things he wishes for in the rest of his life. He'd rather concentrate on the traps he has to control than on thoughts like that and walks past the untouched fields of leaves and ferns. Not that he dislikes kids, because he absolutely loves to play with them and tell them the stories of the great Mother and her sons, but his own kids, no, not into this kind of world.
Not that their world was particularly bad, he was sure other villages could have it worse, but something was just saying no.
There is only one trap left not far from his position, and as he sneaks closer he is almost sure that he can see movement through the bushes growing around that particular clearing.
He crouches down and waits, but unlike the expected squeak a triple-horn or swine would make, the scream that echoes around the woods is anything but animal.
"Damn it," someone huffs and Mies instantly hides in the shadows of a tree for cover and finds the source. "This is not what I signed up for."
He frowns and creeps closer, pushing a few branches of the bushes to the side to have a better look at the scene. Indeed, the ferns and dry branches used to hide the trap are bent upwards and something moves. The something, however, seems to be rather a someone; that comes as a startling revelation to Mies.
"Calm down and let me see," a male voice continues.
One of them, obviously the female, seems to be hurt and he looks around once more, after all it's unlikely that they are alone, before stepping out of hiding to approach the hole in the ground silently. There are only three villages within a couple of days walking distance and this late in the light season not one of them is supposed to send merchants, pilgrims or travellers through the forest, knowing that the triple-horns were aggressive when protecting their young.
The male seems busy looking over the female, neither dressed like merchants or travellers.
"Looks like a sprained ankle, Doc," he says and Mies ducks his head back before the woman can see him.
The woman whines from deep within her throat. "Feels not just sprained,."
They don't even wear the typical browns and greys of furs and skins but oddly patterned clothes in the same colour like the soft grass below his fingers and, in his opinion, impractically heavy footwear. It's not typical of any settlement he knows and he starts to wonder if he should just leave them to their fate. The man looks strong enough and the trap is meant for an animal that cannot climb, so they should be fine, even with the hurt woman. Their company would be around somewhere, searching; nobody would go through these woods alone.
On the other hand, where else should they go with his village being the closest settlement for days?
He approaches the hole again and finds the woman looking up just as he looks down; they blink at each other before she screams and he stumbles back in confusion.
"Stop screaming!" the man yells and Mies hears the sound of something metal that is unknown to him, a clicking and churning. "Who's there?"
So not a good idea, Mies thinks, he should have walked on.
"My name's Mies, friend. I'm a hunter of the village Cirellia," he says and carefully crawls into view again. "I do not come to harm you."
The man blinks at him from wide brown eyes, blinks again and lowers whatever he holds before himself as means of defence.
"See, I'm no threat," Mies holds up his hands for the man to see, crossbow lying in reach beside his knees.
"Yeah." The man blinks again and shakes his head as if he is seeing a vision or something equally scary that makes his face lose all colour.
"Yeah, you aren't," he adds.
"Oh my god," the woman mumbles. "Oh my god, that's…"
"Doctor!" the man bellows sharply at her, glaring over his shoulder to silence her.
"But…" She babbles and points a shaky finger at Mies. "He's…" She splutters before she looks back up and swallows. "Okay, yeah… I see."
Mies' bad feeling strengthens at her strange behaviour and becomes even worse as a strange, crackling sound fills the air, followed by a deformed voice that comes from seemingly nowhere.
"Lt. Baker, Dr. Brown, do you copy, please report your position."
Mies pulls back a little, frowning. "What…"
"It's a communication device," Lt. Baker says hastily and pats down his vest for the source of the sound. It's a tiny black knot at the end of a black wire that hangs out of one of the many pockets of the man's vest.
"It's harmless," he adds and tugs it back into his ear, all the time trying to look placating with one hand raised for Mies to see it is not dangerous whatever is going on. "Lt. Baker here, we are a click south of the path, sir, we fell into an animal trap but are alright."
He looks up at Mies and is still pale and nervous in his whole demeanour as he adds, "One of the native hunters found us."
And wishes he hadn't, Mies adds in his head, and rises to his feet to look around for a few branches or roots to help the two people out of the trap.
By the time he returns with a relatively thick branch to let them hold onto, the man, Lt. Baker, looks a little less spooked and has the woman leaning up against one side of the pit, ready to push her upwards.
"Ah there you are again," he says and Mies nods, lowering the branch into the hole.
"This should help you to climb out," he says.
It's a bit of a struggle and Mies nearly falls into the pit himself at one point, because the woman squeaks as he touches her to pull her out, but in the end he gets the two strangers safely out of the hole and onto the forest floor.
He helps the doctor woman sit down on a rock by the side of the pit as he hears the steps of more heavy footwear crunching through the shrubbery of the forest floor. He had known the two couldn't have been alone.
Three more men arrive, all of them clothed in the same oddly patterned clothes and with the same weapons as the one he helped to climb out of the hole. Lt. Baker straightens as he sees them and lowers his weapon that was raised in precaution, nodding shortly at the one who seemingly is the leader.
"Major Lorne," he says in greeting and Mies can see all over again how the colour drains from the faces of the newcomers.
"Hello…" the leader says slowly, obviously more than a little thrown off by Mies' presence as he looks at Baker and at the pit, unspoken questions clearly written in his eyes.
"This is Major Lorne, our leader," Baker introduces. "And this is Mies, he helped us out of the pit."
Lorne swallows hard. "Uhm, I see…"
"I am very sorry," Mies says and steps forward, "that your people fell into one of our traps, friend, but you must know that it's very unusual to have travellers this far from the path and at this time of the light season."
The man nods warily. "Yes, see, we are new to this part of the forest; our village is very far from here."
Mies nods, he had guessed that much by the clothes and all.
"The closest village to this point is Cirellia," he says. "My home village, but I don't think you will be able to cross the distance within the rest of the sun's circle."
There is something familiar about Lorne but Mies can't place from where he knows the face. It's the same with the other men, unsettling somehow, with their eyes wide and shocked, seeking reassurance with each other that they are not dreaming. They cannot possibly be that surprised to see other people in the forest, no matter how far away their village is.
"But you can accompany me to my camp," he says before he knows what he is doing, and that seems to be just what the small group of travellers hoped for since they all nod in agreement and follow his lead.
They fall into line behind him as if they have never done anything but follow his lead.
It is a little strange, more than a little actually, and he is not so sure anymore that he is doing the right thing as he brings the strangers he has picked up in the forest back to the hunting camp with him. The two other hunters who had accompanied him stand up as soon as they see that he is not alone and raise their own weaponry.
Mies doubts though, that the crossbows will do much against what the strangers have in their possession.
"Mies," Arn looks at him questioningly.
Mies can read all the questions clear enough in the green eyes that stare at him to know that, yeah, it is not one of the smartest ideas to bring them with him, but leaving people unfamiliar to the forest alone so far from any village is not the right thing to do either.
And he leaves nobody behind.
"These are travellers from a far off village beyond the mountains," he says, indicating Major Lorne as the leader of the small group. "They had left the path and the woman fell into one of our traps."
Arn looks them over critically until his eyes settle on the woman Mies has come to know as Dr. Brown. She still tries to avoid putting weight on her foot and one of the men holds her up with an arm slung around her middle.
"A village beyond the mountains, friends, this is a very long journey for this time of the light season," Arn says and gives Mies a look that clearly speaks of doubt.
Major Lorne smiles nervously and says, "Yes." He shrugs a little. "We may have overestimated ourselves there."
"Now good," Arn sighs and signals the third hunter to sit back down by the fire. "If one of you is hurt, you are welcome to stay here in our camp for the night and continue your path come morning."
"Thank you," Lorne says.
They spread out around the campsite, the men closer to the trees while the woman Brown gets a spot closer to the fire. They unpack supplies from their bags that Mies has never seen before but knows somehow, right down to the silvery packs one of the men produces from within his pack, calling it a MRE.
Arn offers some of the dried fish they have with them, but only Lorne seems inclined to try it and offers pieces of his own nourishment in exchange. It works out nicely overall, peacefully, although Mies feels a little odd about the looks the strangers keep throwing him.
They watch him go about his business in the camp, seem to anticipate his return after he goes to pick some more wood for the fire and sleep flowers for the woman, and keep track of even the smallest of his actions. It's unnerving after a while, unsettling deep inside Mies' belly.
Arn must feel the same, not undoing the knife from where it is tied to his thigh no matter how uncomfortable that is while sitting by the fire. Njir, the third hunter in the group, is just as tense as he cooks up the brew for the woman Brown.
"For the ankle," he says as Lorne asks and hands the earthen cup over to Mies. "She has to empty the cup and try to sleep then."
Mies nods and smiles at Lorne in what he hopes is a reassuring way, rises to his feet and walks over to the woman with all the strangers' eyes following him.
"Oh," she says as he kneels down by her side and holds out the earthen cup with the brew for her. "Are there flowers in there?"
"They help with the pain and make you sleep better," he supplies and she nods, taking the cup and poking at one of the tiny flower heads with a finger.
"I thank you…" she says and seems to hesitate for a moment. "You said your name was Mies?"
He nods. "Yes."
"And you are a hunter?" He nods at her question. "Must be a very dangerous life around these part of the forest."
He shrugs one shoulder and looks over to the fire.
"It's good," he says and can see her sip a little at the brew, testing what the taste might be like.
She does not look like the typical traveller,; aside from clothing and strange gear, neither do the other participants of their travel company look much like merchants. Sometimes men went to other villages to find wives, taking along their brothers for protection and coming back with the woman in their midst, but she seems a little old to be a young bride and none of the men among her company looked as if one saw her as his wife either.
"The triple-horns can become nasty but you must know that, I'm sure they are native on the other side of the mountains, too."
She blinks for a moment. "Of course they are," she says. "We just call them differently."
He nods. "Like what?"
"Uhm…" She is a little bit at a loss of words there. "I don't know, you know, I'm not a hunter…" She swallows another gulp before adding, "I'm more of an expert for plants."
"Like an herb-woman or midwife?" Like Vinte in her youth.
"A little." She nods, bobbing her head up and down but very obviously lying. He has not seen one place in this world the yellow sleep flowers have not grown, except for up in the snow where nothing at all grows anymore. Even he knows the women use the plant to soothe cramps and pain at childbirth, nobody of the profession she claims to have cannot know that.
So either the yellow flowers do not grow on the other side of the mountains, which is unlikely, or she really lies. It's a fitting thought, because if he is right then the weaponry they carry with them is not good for hunting or defending themselves against predators either but simply for dealing with conflicts with other humans.
Lorne, Baker and the three others keep together at one spot of the camp, not far from Brown but with a certain distance that shows that they are meant to protect her but that none of them has the personal need for it on the emotional level Mies would have when it came down to Vinte or other members of his tribe.
It's as if they wait for something, for Mies or Arn, even Njir to spill a secret or something, and as Mies looks over to them, Lorne smiles hopefully at him, expecting something that Mies will not give.
"Anyway," he says and turns back to her. "Empty the cup and try to sleep for a bit."
He pats her knee and walks back over to the fire, nodding at Lorne in passing before flopping down by Njir's side. Normally Njir would banter and joke with Arn, like brothers usually do, but on that evening both remain silent and tense.
Eventually the lights in the dark sky wander past and the sun comes back up and neither of Mies' people has slept, nor has Lorne.
He still smiles at Mies as they clear up the camp to send the strangers on their way, assuring that they will come back in a few weeks and that they will seek out Cirellia for a trading agreement.
"Maybe even for some of your dried herbs," Brown adds. "I'm very curious what you have beyond these yellow flowers you offered me last night."
Her leg is a lot better and Mies gives her a handful of sleep flower leaves to chew against the pain along the way.
Arn nods. "I am sure the chief will welcome your village's merchants and their goods in the Mother sun's name."
Lorne nods, as if he knows what that means. "Great."
Mies stands beside Arn and watches the small group of strangers set out down the path and towards their destination. Lorne looks back one last time and as he turns back again and away, Mies lets go of the breath he wasn't aware he was holding. Arn's hand on his shoulder startles him to such an extent he shakes all over.
"This will mean trouble," Arn says, face turned to him.
Mies can't help but agree.
The spires and towers of the place in his dreams are alive and whisper in a language without words to him. There is so much within her that she wants to share, so many secrets she wants to tell but has nobody who understands her language but him.
He becomes better with the deciphering of her signs and notes with every moment he spends within her walls, opens his mind to her and in return she opens herself up for him. It's like caressing a lover, like floating below the rafters and doing things suspended in nothing but feelings and energy.
"Slow down, slow down," Rodney says somewhere to his left and Mies opens his eyes to look at him, smirk firmly in place.
"Why?" he drawls. "Am I too fast for your genius?"
"No," Rodney answers glaring a bit indignantly in answer to Mies' assumption. "But our computers can't keep up with the data you pull out of the database."
Mies exhales, closes his eyes and forces the flow of words to go slower, trying to master the enthusiasm with which the voice tells him all her secrets and bring her down to a speed that the computers attached to her can hold up to.
"Better?" he asks and Rodney nods, snapping his fingers at one or the other helper that comes to see glowing screens and data readouts. "So far so good." He shakes his head at one readout and takes it from the hands of the dark-haired female. "This is amazing, really, you made the city database spit out equations for more efficient use of the star drives and energy equations that would have taken decades to figure out."
Mies can't help but shrug. "I guess that makes me smart enough for your chess club, huh?"
Rodney laughs and it's one of the most beautiful sounds in the world, Mies decides and of course that is when the bad news arrives. Ilren enters in the clothes of the woman he has seen in the beginning, with Lorne at her side, she looks worried and Mies can read in her mind that something very bad is about to happen.
"What is it?" Rodney snaps at them. "We've got work to do here."
Ilren fights with emotions like loss and hope, pain. I don't want to lose you, he can read, I'm so sorry we can't change it.
"It's okay," he says.
"What…" Rodney blinks at him. "What's going on? Elizabeth, what's going on?"
"I figured out what the database says about the machine," she says and her face flickers from Ilren's familiar features into someone else and back.
Mies nods slowly, somehow he figured already this couldn't end any different. He will die and there is no cure for that.
He can see the moment in Rodney's mind as he understands the finality of that sentiment.
"No," Rodney says, brow narrowed and hands twitching. "No, no…"
"I'm so sorry," Ilren says softly and Mies sighs looking to the ground and away.
"It may not be the end," Ilren says, standing before him in a red and black outfit. "You can try to ascend and eventually retake human form. Doctor Jackson has done that before… others have done that."
He studies her and her shoulder-length curls and she looks away to Lorne who stands beside her for a moment, seeking help with her argument, only to look back to him out of a different face, older and sharper than Ilren's features, her eyes of a different colour.
Rodney's eyes grow wider as if he can see the change and he clicks his fingers twice before pointing at Mies.
"That's it," he says enthusiastically, eyes full of hope all of a sudden. "That's it, Elizabeth is right, we make you ascend and then you can retake human form."
"Rodney, it's not that easy," Mies drawls irritated, because it is not.
Whatever this whole ascending thing is and whatever it has to do with the village ancestors, it is not easy to achieve that he knows.
"We could still try contacting Earth, perhaps they know how to help," Lorne suggests.
Mies rolls his eyes and closes them, rubbing the bridge of his nose. It's nice that they try, it really is, but he knows it won't work no matter what or who they try to call for help.
"Teyla could try teaching you meditation," Rodney says and grins.
"I don't think this will work; it's not that easy."
"You are the only one who has been with people trying to ascend before," Elizabeth says hopefully. "You helped them ascend, just try it…"
The whole reading of emotions thing makes it a whole lot easier for the others to express things they can not say, now he just wishes the others could read his emotions as well so he would not have to say them out loud.
Tuuli listens to the description of the people and what they have told Mies, Njir and Arn as their point of origin. How they have come to explore new paths and villages for trading and how they were surprised to find someone to form trading relationships with and promised to return.
He is worried, that much is sure. The wrinkles around his eyes have grown deeper and his eyes a little darker than usual for the bright and happy elder man.
"Father…" Arn asks concerned.
He can read his father even better and is as alarmed by the reaction as Mies is, looking at some of the other village men who have assembled.
Tuuli slowly looks towards the fire contemplating his answer. "There is no village on the other side of the mountains, sons, none that has been inhabited in many generations."
Arn and Mies look at each other.
"But they said…" Mies begins.
"They have lied to you."
"Why should they do such a thing?" Mies inquires. "I mean, why should they lie about their origin, they didn't look as if they meant to harm anyone."
Fine, the Doctor Brown had not known much about what she said was her profession but there was still the off chance that neither sleep flowers nor triple-horns lived on the other side of the mountains.
Tuuli shakes his head. "Why should they say the truth?" He leans forward, fire reflecting in his eyes. "There are many people out there that do not cherish life and peace like we do, they need to explore and expand their grounds and they do not honour other people's traditions or gods."
He pushes himself to his feet with a bone-tired sigh, that for the first time since Mies has been with them, shows a little of the age the elder man must really be.
"The bringers of shadows, those that overcast the world with darkness and conjured the time of ice and frost upon our forefathers, came here much with the same intentions," he explains. "They talked about safety and protection, about trading and evolving, but what did it bring our people? Nothing but death and cold, until the great Mother and her sons sacrificed themselves to bring the light back…"
Arn seems to know what is coming now; Mies does not. "Father."
"We will go and ask the Mother what it is we shall do should these people return," Tuuli says after a long moment of hesitation. "You will both accompany me my sons."
Arn and Njir seem to know what that means and nod before leaving to gear up for the journey. Mies can see Arn's wife by the hearth fire, looking worried as he tells her that he will leave and frowns at the worry one simple visit of strangers can create in their community, even if he has to admit the group of Lorne's men was a little bit strange.
"You as well," Tuuli says and a hand comes to rest on Mies' shoulder, squeezing hard. "It may have been a sign that the Mother sent you to us at this time and made you the first to meet with these people."
Mies chews his lip, hesitating; he knows where the place is the Mother is supposed to live in this time of the season. When she doesn't walk the circle of the sun, she sleeps close to the spot in the ice where he had been found. A place only spoken of in whispers and stories the children should not hear. The most sacred place of them all, the one their village has protected and cherished for unnumbered seasons. It is what makes their village special and well known amongst the other settlements, what makes it a goal to pilgrimage from the other villages at the end of every dark season.
"Let's hope that," Mies says after another long moment and Tuuli smiles and leaves him to change as well.
He isn't sure he wants to go with them, doesn't know why either, so he swallows his hesitation and slips into the layers of clothing that the cold temperatures up in the mountains require. He has not visited the place since he was found and perhaps that is all there is to his insecurity, that and nothing else.
But maybe not, maybe it's the dreams and the sky all over again. The longing for the blue hasn't gone away at all, and running around in the forest and hunting things seems like a minor distraction. Somehow the meeting with Lorne's men has made him just more desperate for it than he was before; it makes the longing sharp and fresh again. He looks up to the hole in the ceiling through which the fire's smoke is supposed to escape and catches a glimpse of turquoise and white.
"You should not go there."
He turns and finds Vinte standing not far behind him, worry clearly written in her eyes. She looks at him as if he is doing something very wrong as he pulls the fur coat over his shoulders, something very, very wrong.
"You really should not go," she says and puts one of her crippled hands on his arm to keep him from turning and following the other men.
They must hurt, he thinks, and covers her hand with his own. "I have to."
"Because Tuuli asked you to?" she says without accusation in her words, merely worry for him.
"Because the strangers could become a problem."
"Do you think they will be one?" she asks and he is not sure.
He has started seeing Lorne in his dreams and is not sure if he is there because he has just met the man or if he was supposed to be there before he had seen him in the woods. It is confusing him more than the fact that Ilren has been replaced by Elizabeth and that he is about to die in his dreams.
Which alone should freak him out a lot.
"I don't know."
"Concentrate on your breathing," Teyla says slowly, her chest rising and falling in even deep breaths.
She is of darker skin than anyone he has seen before, looks serene and peaceful. Radiating an aura that is as calming and reassuring as Vinte is for him and it's not hard to trust her from the moment she comes into focus before his eyes.
Still, all the calm and serene feelings in the world cannot stop the nervous flutter that has settled in the pit of his stomach and that makes breathing calmly much more difficult than it sounds.
Mies tries anyway and tries, really hard, really. In the end however it's as useless as the six months he'd spent trying before – at least that is what the others have said he had done - and all he wants to do is get up and run a bit to get the stiffness out of his knee that always settles in his joints when he sits this way.
Running is like hunting, moving free and in his own pace.
"Teyla," he sighs. "I appreciate the effort, really I do, but this is not working," he admits and staggers to his feet, shaking his stiff leg a little to loosen the cramp.
She does not move, merely opens her eyes and looks up at him. She understands him, feels compassion but not in the way Elizabeth does, it's understanding and warmth. She wants to save him as much as everyone else does, hopes that there is a chance for him to stay, but yeah, it's not that easy and she knows that, too.
"I wish it would, god, I really do, but it isn't," he continues.
"I understand," she says after a long moment and slowly, gracefully rises to her feet as well. She sidesteps the candles that stand between them and closes the distance, laying one hand on his shoulder while bowing her head.
Mies does not know what she wants from him for a moment until he can read her expectation of his reaction in her mind and mimics her. Joins her in the traditional gesture of her people and that little touch means so much to her, he can feel it.
"Whatever your journey may be, know that you will always be in our hearts."
And there it is, the warmth, the love, the assurance that he is not alone. A little like what his tribe gave him as they welcomed him in their midst, just more familiar, without the expectations of him that others have. She does not want him to talk more than necessary about all of this either and respects his decisions as they will be made.
That is the moment he begins to understand that releasing his burdens the way everyone talks about may not work the way they hope, not for him, but at least it will give him a chance to properly say goodbye to everyone he every cared about. Starting right here, right now…
"Thank you Teyla," he says softly.
Vinte's behaviour is just what he needed in addition to the walk towards the mountains. As if his nerves weren't unsettled enough.
And this walk to the sacred place where her sons gave their lives to their Mother is already a very uneasy march for him as it is. Perhaps it is that he, technically, must have been born out here, amongst grey gravel fields and ice, since Vinte had found him here at the end of the last dark season, cold, naked and sick.
It's a colourless landscape they need to cross to reach their destination, with the blue sky above and the green of the valley far behind them. It's crushing in its intensity, and even Arn and his younger brother Njir fell silent hours ago, which is unlike them with their usual banter and jokes.
That may also come from the determined face Tuuli has had since they set out from the village, fully intent on finding a way to deal with these strangers from beyond the mountains if they do indeed try to contact the village. He is far older than Mies and his sons but so fast in his pace that the three younger men have no easy time keeping up with him.
Mies turns more than once, watching the green valley and the village become smaller and smaller in the background, watches how the green forest that drapes over the slopes at the end of the valley like a soft fur becomes black with shadows, and how the sun, hanging low on the sky, sends blood red tendrils along the horizon.
"It's a sign of something bad to come," Njir says stopping beside him and looking back as well.
And it is, but not the way Njir may have meant it.
The shrine is a dark hole in the otherwise white and spotless snow field, a pitch black stone ledge hangs over it like a predator's mouth, wide open with sharp stone teeth bared threateningly at anyone who dares to come too close. It's like the giant head of something dark and dangerous, peeking out from below a white and harmless sheet, like a monster that will devour them, and even the snow seems afraid, giving it a wide berth.
Tuuli stops at the border between white snow and black gravel ground, raising both hands into the air while ducking his head. Arn and his brother crouch down, heads lowered and Mies, awestruck by the black monstrosity looming ahead, nearly slips as he follows their example.
"My Mother, eternal sun, please open your house for your reverent child," he says, waiting for response but there is nothing more than the whistle of the wind.
"I seek entrance to speak in the name of our village, for there are foreigners that have come through the woods…" Tuuli continues.
Mies dares to look up as breeze cuts through the snow and twirls a few flakes through the air, head still bowed but too curious for what is going on to not peek. Mies nearly falls backwards and on his ass, all muscles in his body tensing simultaneously as an invisible wall that keeps the snow from claiming the ground by the ledge falls in a shower of sparks that glow in the upcoming night.
"What…" he babbles.
"It's nothing to be afraid off," Arn whispers and smiles, reaching out to steady Mies with a hand on his shoulder. "It's the breath of the mother inviting us in."
From the moment the small group follows Tuuli onto the black gravel and into the tunnel beyond, everything becomes unreal and terrifying.
The next few moments pass like in one of his dreams, but some vicious force has sucked all colour and warmth from the nightmare he is walking through. The light comes from above and throws foreign patterns on his skin and the stone walls morph into what looks like living black flesh only a few feet from the cave opening. Signs dance over surfaces and skin hangs from the quivering muscles, moving in the air while veins pump dark bloodlike liquid through the semi-transparent surfaces. It's cool and smelly and the deeper they go, the more accurate becomes the picture of a monster's throat that Mies feels like he's slipping down.
Their path guides them past webs and shadows hiding in alcoves along the walls. Past what looks like brittle bones and old skin caught forever in awful grimaces and hollow eye sockets watching him veiled by even more of the unknown material.
It's nothing like the places out of his dreams.
Where the silver spires and lights feel like salvation and freedom this place feels like the darkest pit where no light reaches and only flames and death reign over contorted corpses.
The word hell comes to his mind, and although he knows not what that word means, he finds it strangely appropriate for the place around him. He starts to understand why Vinte might have warned him not to follow Tuuli and the other men. It's terrible, and it only becomes worse as they reach what looks like the belly of the beast.
Fog curls on the ground, grey and heavy, and giant bent bones surface on both sides of the room, leading like arches to what can only be described as a throne.
It's black and creepy and nothing like what he would have imagined the shrine of the sun to be. All his instincts tell him it's wrong and dangerous to be here, like walking right into a predator's striking range or something and as Tuuli kneels down a few feet away from the throne, his sons following the example, Mies keeps standing, hesitating and unsure if he should not just follow the feeling in the pit of his stomach and turn around.
"Mother sun, your reverent sons greet you."
And then there's a light, bright and accompanied by a hiss that echoes in the silence of the room. He can't look away from what the beam leaves behind, even if he would want to, and remains standing mouth gaping and eyes wide.
"Mother," Tuuli says and bows a little deeper.
She is tall, taller than most women of the tribe and thin, her skin of a strange ashen colour that glows faintly blue in the odd light and her hair is a startling white-silver curling over her shoulders and almost to mid waist. The worst is her face, caught in a hissing distorted mask that seems only faintly human, marred even more by symbols Mies is sure he has not even seen in his dreams.
Arn grabs him by the wrist and pulls, and Mies is so startled and shocked by the creature they worship as their goddess and Mother than he crashes hard on his knees and doesn't even feel the pain of impact.
She curls her lips back to expose sharp teeth in what may be meant to be a smile and reaches her hand out towards Tuuli, stepping down from her pedestal and putting the hand on the grey haired head of the village chief like a Mother on a child.
"Son…" she hisses and looks them over, moving surreally slow. "Children," she adds as greeting to them all. "What leads you here?"
"Strangers have come through the woods, Mother," Tuuli says and lifts his face towards her, taking her pale hand from his head and cupping it between his.
"Strangers," she says. "Villagers you do not know?"
"They did not come from these parts of the woods and said they were from a village on the other side of the mountains," Tuuli explains and she nods slowly, turning her head away and towards one of the skins in the wall that glow faintly.
It wakes to life at her attention; full of signals and signs the same as those she wears on her skin, moving down over the screen. Mies should know them, he thinks, but can't tie anything to it.
"They wore strange clothes and weaponry and knew nothing about the way of our lands," Tuuli adds and the Mother nods so very slowly again.
"They have not spoken the truth," she says. "There is no village on the other side of the mountains, only what remains of the shadow bringers…"
Tuuli nods, he had been right all along, and looks up to the Mother, holding to her hand like a small scared child. "What shall we do?"
She tugs her hand from his and moves back to her throne, slowly and with an unbelievable grace.
"Be careful my children, do not trust these strangers," she says and turns back to them.
"But do not worry, I will protect you, my children," she says and reaches her hand out as if she expects someone to take it, pulling her lips back to show more of her disgusting teeth in what is probably meant as a smile. "I will always protect you, like you always come to heal me."
Tuuli gives his son who kneels beside him a long look, reaches out and rests it on the younger man's shoulder, sounding a little broken as he says, "Son."
Njir's eyes fly wide for a moment, but deep down he may have expected this. It comes with a price to request the help of the Mother and suddenly Mies also understands why Njir's wife and all the other women looked so sad and frightened as they wished them farewell.
"Father," Njir says and rises, taking the hand the Mother offers to first kiss the osseous ornaments adorning her fingers before guiding the hand to his chest and bowing his head.
They leave and Tuuli walks out the way they came at a brisk pace, not faltering as the screams of his son echo through the halls behind them.
Mies stops though, looking back as the sparkling wall rises from the ground behind them and cuts off all sound that may have come from within the shrine. It's completely silent for what seems to be the most terrible moment of Mies' life.
Mies stands there, hands deep in his pockets chewing on his lower lip. The sun shines through the large coloured windows outside in the hall and give the laboratory a faint orange tint. Rodney is hunched over a bench, circuits and parts of machinery Mies cannot name spread out before him, crystals and screens glowing and pulsing in the rhythm of the other man's typing.
He's tense, very tense, and Mies wishes he could do something about the miserable feelings Rodney experiences in that moment. There is all the grief and guilt and pain, the sadness because of a death that has not happened yet and Rodney seems to feel as if he is the only one to blame in the whole galaxy.
"Look," Mies sighs deeply. "It's not your fault…"
If possible the shoulders grow only tenser, head ducking closer to the screens. Usually there would be an explosion of accusations and arguments now, yelling and pointing and waving of hands to emphasize his point, but there isn't.
Rodney has not given up, never would, but sometimes there are things he cannot change and accepting that he failed breaks him, seeing Rodney like that really qualifies as one of the worst moments since he met him. Even blowing up the better part of a solar system pales in comparison.
Mies is too tired to stay on his feet as they return from the pilgrimage to the home of the Mother, but he stays awake long enough to see how Tuuli walks up to the wife of his son, tells her how the Mother wished him to stay with her and how he followed fearlessly and with his head held high into the light of the stars.
She is visibly shaken but tries to keep it together, leaning into her eldest daughters and granddaughters who take her away. Ilren is among them and he doesn't know how she is related to Njir, he just knows she will not return to Tuuli's house or Mies' bed for a while.
He tries not to feel too relieved about that fact, at least until the feast is over.
A feast for Njir and for the Mother.
They will hold a feast in Njir's honour and his wife and female descendants will hang strands of their hair onto the village tree, singing for him as the wind carries the hair away and out onto the grasslands. It's sending a piece of a beloved person on their way into the light.
The men will talk about how they are glad for Njir to have been chosen by the Mother to give her his life and strength, in exchange for her protection. For Mies it borders on madness; he wants to believe the whole story, the giving of life and flesh to become eternal. Something dark inside him, strangely enough coming as a faceless voice from deep in his dreams, tells him however, that he has just let someone walk to his death.
A cruel, painful death nobody deserves, least of all the loving man he had known Njir to be. Something about Njir's fate makes him incredibly angry, makes him feel guilty and helpless, makes him want to get his crossbow and march back up into the mountains to get Njir back. He doesn't want Njir to stay behind, alone and scared, although Mies knows very well that he's dead and that Mies may only bring a corpse back, if anything at all.
He balls his fists and watches how the women weep and sing a sad song that floats across the grasslands, together with the stray strands of hair settling in the grass and waving in the breeze like spider webs in the early morning. He can't stand it for long and returns to his bed in Tuuli's house as soon as custom allows him to.
"I don't understand this," he whispers and sits down on his bed, shaking his head. "I just don't understand this."
Vinte sits by the fire opposite him and avoids looking at him, her hands curling around pieces of wood she wants to throw into the flames, and she seems overall unhappy and sad. He doesn't wonder why; she has been Njir's grandmother of sorts, and now that he comes to think of it, he can even start to guess how many members of her family must have joined the Mother.
"Vinte." He stands up again and walks over to her, sitting down at her side with only the basket of wood between them. "Are you alright?"
She smiles wryly at his question, eyes fixed on the flames.
"I'm fine," she says softly; oh but he knows she's not. He is not, nobody is.
He wants to ask why Njir stayed behind and what the Mother has done with him, why there had been screams he is very certain were Njir's as he left the cave and why everyone seems sad on one hand but envious of him on the other. She looks old and fragile in this moment though, so much so that he doesn't dare to ask and instead joins her in looking into the fire, chewing on his lower lip.
She looks at him out of the corner of her eyes, face still turned to the fire. "Have you seen how Njir gave his life?"
He shakes his head. "I heard someone screaming," he says and she nods.
"I told you not to go," she says and one piece of wood falls into the flames. "It is cruel how the world is and giving your life for the Mother is always one of the cruellest things in it, no matter what good it does for the community."
"Why do it then?" he asks and she sighs heavily.
"There is a story before the story of the Mother," she starts and throws another piece of wood into the fire. "It tells of the first people that lived on this world and how people from the darkness of the sky came to help them out of poverty and hunger. They knew of miracles and flying cities amongst the lights of the sky and while these strangers, at first, promised great things and miracles they left eventually for a war against a nameless threat."
She hangs her arm into the basket of wood and looks inside, fingers dangling over another small log of wood and her fingertips tracing the round edges where the material has been split. He can read sadness in her old eyes, almost something like pity and figures it's probably for the poor people she's talking off.
"And then?" he asks when she hesitates a few moments more.
"They were left behind with not more than the promise that their helpers would return one day. But they never did, and after a while, nobody could man what the strangers had left behind for them anymore," she says softly. "Eventually, after the last of the those the strangers had instructed on the handling of their legacy died, all lights went dark around them and the cold and darkness came back far worse than it had ever been before. Since these days we call the strangers the shadow bringers."
He frowns and nods. This point in history must have brought the appearance of the Mother and her sons and her struggle for her people, the battle she fought for them to bring light back and all the pain she went through.
"The Mother made all better," Vinte continues but a good amount of the usual belief in her words is missing. "All she wants in return is the flesh and life of a few, for the survival of all."
"Huh." He can still relate to that; still, the feeling that Njir's sacrifice seems wrong is still there.
"I do know you feel it is wrong; most youngsters do," she says and the hand formerly inside the basket reaches out and comes to rest on his arm. "But it's the way it is meant to be; some things you cannot change."
Oh, yeah, he's so good at holding still and doing nothing, because seeing others hurt and dying while he could change something about it is so easy. The acidic sarcasm in that thought startles him to the core for a moment and it must be visible on his face as well because Vinte pats his arm and smiles in her usual way, all wrinkles and bright eyes.
She puts the last of the wood into the fire and rubs her hands against her dress to clean them of remaining sawdust and splinters.
"Help me up!"
"Sure," he says and hurries to do so.
He sets the basket aside and hoists the old woman up gently. She signals him to bring her towards the door and outside, where they stop under grimacing figures carved into the door frames and watch the tribe mingle outside for a moment. He spies Ilren dancing slow and tired around the village tree, her movement lacking the fire he has grown to like about her and she seems too worn out to even lift her head; all the women seem to be as they move around the tree. Njir's wife is hoarse as she chants and watches, wrapped in the furs of the last game of her late husband, how strands of his family's hair lift from the tree branches and into the falling night's purplish blues.
Vinte curls her hand around one of his and leans over a little, drawing his attention to her with the movement.
"Do not worry, Mies," she whispers. "Great times of change are about to come."
He frowns down at her for a moment but eventually his eyes drift back to the people outside as the music dies out. They are silent, the entire tribe staring into the sky as night finally settles above their heads, trying desperately to find the new star Njir is supposed to be at the horizon. Njir's grown children point at the sky for their own kids and younger siblings to see, some light here or some light there, it's mostly an attempt to explain it to the children and Mies is sure there is no new star by Njir's name out there, won't be ever.
Tuuli climbs on the stones by the fire to tower above his people after what seems an endlessly long moment of silence and claps his hands three times.
"The time of darkness will come soon," he says and smiles, although it doesn't reach his eyes as it usually does. "And the Mother has warned us that with the night there will be strangers coming from beyond the mountains, curious, two-faced and dangerous to us."
Whispers and mutters go through the crowd, not understandable over the hiss of the fires and the blowing of the wind around the houses. Tuuli quiets them with the raising of his hands towards the night sky in the same way he had called to the Mother and the beast's mouth.
"But you must not fear," he says. "The Mother shall see their true intent and the Mother will judge them," he adds and smiles.
Mies tries to hide the flinch at these words and is thankful as Vinte pulls on his arm to turn and go back into the longhouse. As he lies down he hopes to dream, even though his dreams are full of cruel things and confusing pictures, they still promise the comfort he yearns for now amongst all the confusion.
Mies reluctantly knocks at the metal frame of the door, waiting patiently until she looks up in reaction to the sound and registers that it's him. The, for her, typical wave of compassion and sadness comes over him again and he tries to raise the shield Teyla had talked about with little effect. All he can do is block the nagging feeling in his stomach just enough to put on a smile that makes his cheeks hurt and feels somehow fake.
Elizabeth sees him and she stops doing whatever she is doing, all focused on him right down to the last cell in her brain. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," he drawls and shoves his hands into his pants pockets, looking at the ground for a moment before adding, "Really good in fact."
She nods shortly, but the frown gives away her concern as much as her emotions. "Rodney updated me on his progress just a few minutes ago; it looks good so far."
He inhales deeply and shrugs. "Yeah."
He knows he won't make it until Rodney will figure the machinery out and also knows that she is aware of it as much as Rodney may be, even if she tries to hide it better.
"Look," he starts. "I just came by to… sort of…" He trails off and rubs his neck; this is so damn hard. "I gave you a lot of trouble in the past, a hell of a lot, and I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for that."
"Please, this isn't…" she starts and he holds up a hand to stop her; he can feel what she wants to say and really don't needs to hear it.
"I filed a few recommendations for promotion and my paperwork." And it is hilarious that he worries about that now, but somehow he does need to leave things in order. "I wrote a few letters, too," he adds.
Elizabeth is a leader through and through, looking at him with compassion in her eyes and even more so in her heart, sadness deep and endless like the sky and, god, he doesn't want to delve into that again.
"I just…" he tries to finish. "Could you pass them on?"
She sighs sadly and after a long silent pause nods once. "I will."
He nods back, eyes downcast and hands back in his pockets.
"Thank you, Elizabeth," he says, and he means it not just because of the letters. She nods again and perhaps even sniffles as he turns and walks out of the office, head still down.
That it has to be that hard, he thinks, concentrating on the soothing flow of his city around him to get out of the way of all the people's minds and thoughts. That it has to be that hard. Riding a nuke into the core of a Wraith Hive was so much easier than this, so much, well, simpler, then saying goodbye to everyone. He, of all the emotionally crippled people, and releasing his burden, yeah, that worked so well until now, really.
"Wake up," Arn calls and as Mies opens his eyes, finds him standing above his bed shoving a fist against Mies' side. "Wake up, Mies, people are coming!"
He blinks blurrily around at the house for a moment, taking in wood beams and tar smeared into the slits for insulation instead of blue-grey metal walls and vibrating voices of an almost living building around him. It makes him groggy and his bones overly heavy to see the difference in the milky light that comes in through the vent in the roof above the fire pit. Arn stands out as a sharp shadow in it but the most startling thing is the cold water dripping on Mies' skin where the other man towers over his bed.
"What," he drawls and swallows around the dryness in his throat.
"People," Arn grunts. "Probably from the village beyond the mountains; we'll need to get ready."
Mies nods and sits up as Arn turns and walks towards the door. He swings his legs over the edge of his bedding and scrubs at his bristly chin while reaching for his leather boots with the other hand. Vinte watches him, chewing on a piece of soft cooked vegetable that she shares with a toddler playing by her knee, he smiles at her in greeting and she returns it as reassuring as if he was just another toddler playing at her feet.
Outside it rains.
Thick heavy clouds in grey and light blue cover the usually clear sky and the fog hangs heavily over the grasslands and between the houses like a sheet thrown carelessly over everything. The drops are so large his hair soaks through instantly and flattens down over his brow and only the leather of the shirt he wears keeps the rain from soaking through to his skin completely as they make their way through the assembled men of the village towards the edge of the settlement.
Tuuli stands at the front, a blanket thrown over his shoulders to keep out the cold and wet that always comes as first sign of the upcoming time of darkness. He looks out over the two river valley into the direction of Mies' hunting ground, frowning deeply at the things to come.
The people are just dark dots marching through the blur of the weather as Mies comes to halt beside Tuuli. They stick out in grey-blue against the milky white and green, a little like the sky poking out between clouds and the pang of yearning is fresh in his stomach, making him cringe visibly.
"I'm worried, too," Tuuli says as he sees Mies' reaction, misinterpreting it. "If these are the people that have met you, then it is impossible for them to have crossed the mountains in such a short time."
And that's true; the handful of turns the sun made was not enough to reach the other side of the mountains and come back, never. Not by foot or wagon, it is simply impossible.
"What are we going to do once they are here?" Arn asks next and Tuuli lowers his face, chin pressing against his chest and pulls the blanket closer around his form, contemplating his options for a moment.
"We'll treat them like guests," he says slowly. "We will offer them shelter from the weather and water for their thirst, let them talk about the trade they are so keen for."
He turns around, looking at Mies and Arn as the two who have already spoken to people of the visitor's kind before. "It's best to know one's enemies, learn their weaknesses and their story," he says and turns to return to the warmth of his house. "The Mother will tell us what to do and when to do it."
Arn nods and Mies, hesitant and still sensitive to the Mother part, bites hard on the inside of his cheek to try and silence the uneasy feeling that is becoming worse by the second.
"Let the women prepare the welcome rites for them," Arn says to one of his sons and the younger man dutifully walks away.
The dark dots become human shapes, gain faces and features and he shivers at what he sees taking shape not just because of the cold rain that presses down on him. He can see Lorne in the first line, Lt. Baker walking to his left and a group of others behind them, men and women. One of the men sticks out from all of them, tall and with odd hair and the feeling worsens.
His heart starts beating hard against his ribs, hammering harder with every pace the strangers come closer enabling him to see. Oh, he sees them and can't believe it. The tall man with the odd hair and the darker skin, he knows him, has seen him in his dreams… nightmares. He walks in an easy swagger, one hand on his weapon at his thigh, and beside him is a woman of equally dark coloured skin and hair, matted down from the water, but bronze coloured like the mountains in the evening sun.
He thinks his heart may stop at the one walking behind her shoulder, his face down and his body almost hunching over something tiny and glowing in his hands. He knows that man! Mies knows this man from so many dreams, knows his face and his blue eyes, as they look up, concentration and curiosity written in them so very, very clear.
"Rodney…" he mutters and takes a shocked step back, nearly slipping in the mud on the ground.
He crashes to the ground in Rodney's room, just as he has worked up the courage to finally, finally try and voice what he feels and the irony of the fact that this avowal is the one he will probably not be able to make, of all the others, is not lost on him even if everything else around him just slips by faster than light.
Of course nothing around him is that fast, expect for Rodney's mouth perhaps, as he calls for help, but it feels like it. All swinging molecules and dots and sparkles, god, it's beautiful and he wishes Rodney could see, to feel the things he feels, for he knows the other man would be delighted.
For the human mind, it's all about being physical, being able to touch and feel and taste. For him, not so much anymore; there is something just out of reach that promises more than any kind of touch can and one part wants to follow that promise and sate his curiosity for new things.
Fly without help, spread his wings and become one with wind and drift. He can be a cloud; can be the rain and the thunder. He can, if he wants to, be all at the same time, or nothing. It's all just sitting there and when he reaches out and closes his fist around it, he can have it.
And then there is Rodney.
All that holds him back.
It's a little hilarious how he tries to be all stoic and manly, watching his best friend… lover… die because of something he can neither change nor repair like one of the machines he tinkered with throughout all of Mies' dreams.
The only thing worse is that Mies can't find the words to soothe the feelings the other man is broadcasting so loud, it blocks out all the other voices by now. He's terrible at this, never was good at helping others when it was about feelings, or emotions in general, or thinks he always was terrible at it because Mies is no longer sure it's really himself he is dreaming about.
Vinte's stories and the things he has seen in the Mother's cave mess with his head.
Most does make sense by now on a basic level, somewhere deep down inside him he is sure it does, and even Njir's death makes sense in terms of their history. This world differs so much by now from all that, he starts wondering if the fact that he is dying in this world, with the promise of a better world waiting, is just a sign that the rift has become too large to maintain his dreams any longer.
"Rodney," he croaks.
"I'm sorry, I'm just…" Rodney shuts his mouth and opens it again, eyes turning wet although he seems to try to really, really keep them from tearing up. "This is my fault. I should be the one dying, not you."
Mies cannot muster the energy for words, and licks his lips, eyeing the other tired and sad faces around the room. Elizabeth stands there and Lorne, a tall one with odd hair and Teyla… the one with the funny accent he still has no name for. All of them.
"It's fine," Mies says. "I'm fine."
"It's not," Rodney protests, but the truth is, Mies is fine.
"It is," he says, voice clear, and then the boundaries of corporeality lift around him and something golden and warm embraces him, carrying him away.
For a very long moment it truly is okay.
Her creation is perfect.
The unique flawless idol of his generation and as he sees her for the first time he falls to his knees and worships her.
He sells his soul to her, and there is no way of gaining it back.
Rodney, impossible blue-eyed floating-below-the-rafters Rodney!
Mies shivers and a cold heavy weight settles in the pit of his stomach, while his heart, not at all fitting to the heaviness of shock settling on the rest of his body, tries to beat its way out of his ribcage, preferably right through his dry throat. He swallows hard, once and a second time, but the saliva doesn't help. It all becomes fuzzy at the corners of his eyes for a moment but he is stronger than that, has more control over himself that his dreams have, and forces his face into a carefully neutral mask meant to cover the tiny earthquakes that intensify with every raindrop that hits his skin.
Still, shock remains clearly written on his features, no matter how he tries to hide it. He wants to ask the man standing beside him if he sees the stranger with the blue eyes and the receding hairline as well or if Rodney is just a figment of Mies' always painfully hyperactive imagination which has managed to cross the border between nightmare and reality. On second thought it's hilarious to do something like that, will probably mark him as an outsider amongst the others more than he already is, so he doesn't, instead chews his lower lip so hard he can taste the brash note of blood and pain and welcomes it as proof that he is not asleep.
Rodney becomes clearer and clearer, comes closer.
And that he's not asleep becomes a bad thing.
He is just like Mies knows him from the scenes playing out in his head, head bowed and hunched over a tiny flickering screen that he wipes dry now and again with his hand before rubbing the hand against his pants to dry it off. It's futile of course, because the rain has not stopped yet and has saturated the visitors as much as it has Mies in the short time he has stood there, oh but that doesn't keep the man from going through the motions. He even finds the grimace Rodney makes familiar, narrowed brow and mouth turned down at one corner like he has seen it a million times before. Displeasure and annoyance about the weather and what he carries in his hands is so evident in his body language that Mies can taste it clearer than the blood on his tongue.
"Be friendly," Arn reminds the men standing around him. "Welcome them like guests not like enemies."
The men nod or grunt in affirmation, some of the younger, more daring ones whisper with each other and laugh but not one of them steps out of line as Arn moves to greet the foreigners. Mies stays behind as well, watching Lorne, who leads the group, put on a smile and return the greeting words Arn directs at them.
The rain is too loud to hear all of the exchanged words but Mies really doesn't need to hear them to know what is said.
It's enough to see how Lorne, while still talking, scans the lines and finds him amongst the villagers. It's enough to see how his smile turns from tense and fake to true and relieved and how the world practically stops as Rodney -- and maybe the others, too, but really mostly Rodney -- see that he indeed stands amongst the village's people.
Mies doesn't know if it's just his perception that tells him they all focus on him or if they truly do, but the strange moment of recognition that makes Rodney's eyes go wide and so intensely blue against the grey green of their surroundings that he could easily replace the sky, makes him feel faint for a moment.
"They don't look like they're used to our climate," someone in the crowd behind Mies whispers.
"Perhaps it's different on the other side of the mountains," a younger boy adds and the first voice scoffs snidely, "It's not that different there."
Mies mostly ignores them, too absorbed in Rodney to care.
"And you're so sure about that? Ever been there?"
"Nobody has since the shadow bringers," another one says.
There is still the faint hope that Rodney's not the same man, that it's a pure accident that he and the others look like they are from out of his dreams. A coincidence where his mind has created figures and places that have never existed and just happen to look a little like Lorne, Teyla or Rodney, and anyway, he can't tell if Lorne's face had appeared in his dreams previously to meeting him or not. It doesn't mean anything he tells himself firmly and exchanges the mask on his face for a faint smile, preparing for them as they come towards him.
"Father will welcome you soon but first you should warm yourself at the fire," Arn says as he reaches Mies and the others; he smiles and gestures at the villagers to indicate their names and status and ends his introduction with the most familiar face. "You do remember Mies?"
"Yes, of course I do," Lorne says cheerily.
"Friend," Mies greets him and inclines his head slightly. "How is Doctor Brown? Has she made the travel to your village safely?"
"Oh yes she has, don't worry."
Lorne looks briefly over his shoulder towards the rest of his group before smiling back at Arn, and Mies uses the moment to study them; three unknown men, Lorne and Baker and of course the faces from his dreams.
"Our leaders were so delighted about your invitation that they sent us on our way back almost on the same day we came home!" Lorne continues. "All so we can come to a beneficial agreement before the dark season."
"That is very wise and we welcome you," Arn bows his head another time and makes an inviting gesture towards the houses. "I have to bring the news of your arrival to my father. Mies will bring you to my house where my wife will host you for the duration; she'll show you a place to dry a little and offer you something to eat," Arn adds and signals Mies to move.
"We are very grateful for your hospitality," Lorne says and smiles at Mies as well, expecting him to lead the way.
Arn smiles back; it's all fake and tense before he leaves. "It's custom, friend."
"Of course," Lorne agrees. "Friend."
So they trail after Mies, surrounded by one or the other of the village men and walk towards Arn's longhouse. It's right alongside that of his brother and by the time they reach it most of the family's women are busy tending to their children and the hearth fire. Lorne's people stand in awe at the entrance of the house, looking over the wooden beams and furs covering the beds and benches. They marvel at the carved faces at the walls and the rafters above, wonder about the people while seeing the activity at the tables and the elders by the fire.
At least most of them seem fixed on them, others rather stare at him and awkward doesn't even start to cover how he feels about it.
The one Mies thinks to know as Rodney whispers something to Teyla and she, Mies can see it from the corner of his eyes as he looks around the room for Arn's wife, tries to calm him with equally whispered words; he can only catch the last one but that's enough to give his knees the rest and he holds to the frame of the entrance to stay on his feet.
"I know," he says and Mies can't help but stare at them for a moment, Arn's wife forgotten as she spots him and comes over wiping her hands clean on a cloth.
"Ah, be welcome, friends," Unnr, Arn's wife, welcomes them.
She's the chubby suave type that welcomes everyone with hugs and cordiality like a mother would, her hair held back with strips of leathers and her face wrinkled and always, always smiling warmly.
"Come in and step up to the fire, you must be wet to the bones."
"I… know we never… I never said…"
She waves them inside and sends the girls with woolly towels to dry the newcomer's hair, lets them put their backpacks down and take their wet jackets off. She's like a whirlwind, directing the women and children with the same fire that Vinte must have possessed at one point in the past and Lorne's men, but especially the tall one, are more than a little overwhelmed by the attention they get.
"Now, nobody should say we don't treat friends the way it's custom!" Unnr says and pats Rodney's cheek, grinning broadly.
The tall one snorts and Teyla smiles serenely as Rodney splutters something incomprehensible; Mies feels inclined to just stand there by the entrance, study the reality his dreams have become and the other way around, and hold to the wood for a while, recovering from the shock. And oh, this is one, larger than waking in the middle of nowhere naked and cold, absolutely.
"Thank you," he hears Lorne say.
"Oh child, now, how is your name?" Unnr continues and holds out another towel to the woman, smiling.
"Teyla Emmagan," she answers and it's another knee jerk moment for Mies that throws him violently off his centre.
Two of the group, and Lorne, Mother sun,… his heart just wants to jump out of his chest and suffocate him in the process and his lip will probably be worked raw once this is over.
"Now and you!" Unnr calls and violently pulls him out of his stupor. "You're dripping all over my floor, so either in or out!"
"I never was good at this, never. Rodney…"
"Out," he stutters and leaves as fast as he possibly can.
Outside the rain's like a wall into which he slams headfirst; it's like being tossed back into reality where he lands hard and painful as he stands there for a few moments getting wetter not daring to move again - or think. He looks up into the grey sky and wishes for the blue to come back, for the sun to appear and take the doubts and confusion away. Nothing makes sense anymore; for a while he had thought his dreams had settled, the dying in them should have brought him peace, for a while they were just full of lights and darkness like they should be and no longer full of people and faces and now?
Now they are back, worse than before, live and real and in the form of actual humans.
It can't be an accident that they look so much alike, let alone that they are named the same. Mother sun help him, he's losing his mind and nothing can stop it. The lifting of his hand towards the sky only partly serves to shield his eyes from the large raindrops falling on his face; it's the longing again and he hates it, hates it suddenly so much. Not because it's the same sharp need from the very first time he had seen the blue sky above him, not just because of that, but because part of what he longs for is just in reach back in the longhouse behind him.
He hates the possibility of turning and touching like the creature the village tree mimics, the hand reaching out to the sky; it's too much and too confusing.
"Mies?" Arn appears from the direction of his father's house and Mies lets the hand fall to his side. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," he lies, because he is absolutely not.
"Good," he says. "Father says we shall keep an eye on them,; he will see them later today."
Mies has no other choice than to wander back into the house alongside Arn and watch how he and Lorne sit down and talk by the fire, together with Lt. Baker and the four nameless men, Teyla, the tall one and of course Rodney who looks at Mies from the moment he enters onwards like he's the most interesting thing in the world.
"You're wet to the bones," someone says and as Mies tears his eyes away from Rodney and looks over his shoulder to the source of the voice, he finds Ilren standing there, an amused expression on her face.
She still looks a little worn out from Njir's departure and as she comes closer he can see that her eyes are bruised from lack of sleep and fatigue, shadowing the bright blue like the rain clouds on the sky.
"You'll get sick," she says and tugs on his wet shirt's front. "You should change."
"I'm fine." He shrugs and shakes his head. "And I'm going to go out again anyway," and that's true, he'll run at the first excuse he gets.
She laughs and walks back over to a basket and a small group of women where she probably had been busy moments before, returning with one of the thick scratchy wool shirts they have been busy sewing for the dark season and a towel hanging over her shoulder. She holds it up for him to see and smirks at him.
"You can at least warm up a little," she says and he can't fight against the blue eyes or the voice she uses when she's determined to help him with something; it's what had drawn him to her in the first place.
He pulls the shirt off and accepts the towel Ilren holds, rubbing over his back and chest where the rain has travelled below the isolation of the leather shirt and just wants to throw the towel over the bench nearby and slip into the shirt as she snatches it from his hands and leans up on the tips of her toes to rub the black mess of his hair dry. One of his hands settles on her hip, steadying her as she rubs and scrubs, letting his hair, he is sure, look wilder than ever before, but then again she always had loved his hair.
"All finished," she says grinning.
He pulls the wool shirt over his head and welcomes the scratchy warmth it covers him in, before adding the heavier leather over the wool. It's indeed warmer and he leans down to kiss Ilren on her cheek in thanks to the loving gesture, making her giggle as a breathless sound makes him remember that they are not alone.
Mies turns his head towards where Rodney is sitting, surprised at the intensity in the other man's look.
He's flushed and his eyes are narrowed, his mouth twisted unhappily – more so than before and probably because of a different kind of displeasure than before as well – and the blue in his eyes dimming. Mies let's go of Ilren momentarily and takes a step back, feeling caught in the act and as if he'd done something very wrong in the other man's eyes, which he probably has. Somehow… he doesn't know.
She catches onto the strange mood and follows Mies' look, frowning. "Is that one of the guests?" she asks low enough for only Mies to hear. "Why does he look at us like that?"
"I don't know," he answers. "Look, why don't you go back to the others and continue your work, I'm fine now, really."
She throws Rodney one last look of discomfort before returning to the small group of women at the other end of the longhouse, sitting down and returning her attention, as much as possible with the distraction of the strangers present, to her sewing work. Mies tries to do the same, sitting down on one of the benches and waiting for time to pass.
The day becomes a long and wet affair.
He throws himself at the first work coming up that requires him to go outside, desperate to move and do something away from the visitors and Rodney, most of all away from his eyes. So as one of the boys who tends to the sheep appears in the doors and asks for help with a few of the animals that have run off towards the wrong end of the pasture he's out within moments.
Mies spends the entire afternoon, of all the things, catching sheep again.
This time with more grace, however, and as the evening comes and peace settles over the village he's cold, wet and miserable, but it's a different kind of miserable and makes the sitting by the fire in Arn's house while the guests listen to the stories and adventures Tuuli has to tell about his sons and tribe more bearable. It's mostly a game of deception their chief plays with them, creating familiarity with the strangers and acting as if he would accept a trading agreement while, in truth, not once letting them further in on the tribe's secrets than he wants them to be.
If they notice it, they certainly don't complain and Mies has to admire how they keep their act together when he can't even look at them. Luckily Tuuli absorbs almost all of their attention, and really, Mies doesn't want it on him anyway as the evening progresses.
He stays where he is, in his spot on the bench, until Arn invites the guests to go to bed, offering several of the beds alongside the longhouse walls for their use. They settle down and Mies watches still, watches how Rodney flops down on a bed not far away, and can't make himself move away from his position at the bench even after Ilren leaves the house and smiles at him invitingly.
Rodney seems to test the hardness of the bed with his hands and Mies has to smirk at the unhappy face and the muttered complain about the state his back will be in once morning comes when he has to sleep on wooden beds with thin wool and straw mattresses. The words are a familiar song that Mies feels like having heard a million times in a million different locations.
"It's not that bad," he says nonchalantly, guided by the mood. "You just have to try and arrange the furs the right way."
Rodney's head snaps up and he blinks at him. "Uhu," he babbles. "Just my back's not gonna like it, believe me, no matter which way the furs lay. My back is always killing me, always."
"Of course it does with the way you hang over your blinking screens all the time, it can't be good to sit that way all day long."
"You always say that and he never listens," the tall one says and flops down one bed over on the other side grunting at the hard bedding. "A little more training would help you too, you know!"
"As if running for my life on a daily basis isn't enough," Rodney snaps and glares at him over Mies' shoulder in time with Teyla's lowered voice.
"Ronon," she says from her position sitting on the bed next to his, promises of violence should he not shut up in her eyes. It's the first clear emotion Mies can find portrayed on her face as he turns to her and it makes him respect her instantly.
"What, it's true; Sheppard always say he's got to move more and hang less over his computers…" Ronon adds, sitting sprawled out on his bedding with his feet planted on the stone floor and his upper body up against the wall behind him.
Sheppard. Mies knows that name, but can't tie a face to it. Lorne and his men who have settled down on the beds around seem put off as well, or at least look a little startled as the name is mentioned.
"John doesn't-" Teyla starts to argue and falters mid word.
John? John… he can't come up with a face to that name either and it makes him so unbelievably glad still unknowing why.
Mies narrows his eyes and she turns her glare at Ronon into a smile directed at him. "It is true," she says tilting her head to one side. "We and friends of ours often try to argue with Doctor McKay concerning his health and the way his back seems to hurt mostly from his unhealthy way of sitting over his computers."
"That's right," Rodney says nodding and jerks a hand into the direction of his neck or head. "They just can't shut up about it! Even if I told them so in order not to get into trouble!"
That is directed not at Mies but at Ronon who narrows his eyes in a way that would make any proper warrior cower, but leaves McKay obviously unimpressed.
"I do think it is time to settle down for sleep now," Teyla says and shakes her head softly at McKay and Ronon. Mies knows she's probably trying not to sigh too exasperatedly at the manners of the two men in front of the rest of their travel group and Mies' people.
The group agrees and they settle down, Mies sitting still on the bench as they do so. He knows he should go, now more than before but instead watches how Rodney falls asleep taking up the whole space of his bedding and can't help but look on with a strange fondness. He remembers mocking him about using up all the space in the narrow beds when he just sprawls out like that and smiles, up until he realises that it's a memory from his dreams -- or rather nightmares -- and that it never happened.
Ilren waits for him as he returns to Tuuli's house and he's glad that she has in mind to share his bed with him. He spreads her out below the fur covers and maps her body with his hands and mouth, avoids her eyes and the expression of pleasure on her face, avoids her similarities to Rodney and tries, as he sinks into her, to forget how Rodney feels in his dreams. Afterwards, after muffled gasps and moans and her clawing at his back, he rolls off her and turns on his back, throwing an arm over his eyes praying to the Mother to finally end those dreams and this whole confusion and just… just be no longer so cruel to him. He feels like his mind is slipping away, getting exchanged with another person that he can't remember being but of whom he has memories and knowledge that seems to overpower what he truly is.
He falls asleep repeating over and over again how he can not be someone else but is, and always will be, Mies of Cirellia.
He has no eyes or skin with which to see or feel, but feels much more than his body could before and sees so clearly that eyes, by comparison, feel like a limitation he was burdened with for his entire corporeal life, crippled by his senses and body.
He feels and sees things, missing the words to describe them merely because there is no word in any language that could do them justice and now, after being like this, he knows all words the universe has.
Mies is overwhelmed, feels no longer like himself, more like he's watching a ritual in which the young women dance around the village tree. Just that it's not a tree but the entire universe and not the village women in their leather and rough linen skirts, long hair flying and their voices clear as the sun, but actual suns glowing and planets running their circles around stars. Balls of fire and iron burn up around him in pulsing blue and gold and no, no, he knows there's more to see and more to name but he can't remember it and knows nothing but an empty place where those secrets of the eternal black outside once were.
He feels like the sun as well, glowing and bright in the darkness and blind, oh so blind and isolated.
He always circles back to the silver spires and the blue of one world though, no matter what wonders he sees. He comes back and stands in the shadows, is the shadow, in the dark laboratories, and hears the whispers of the city, whispers himself a little and nudges people in the right direction when they need it without ever actually breaking rules.
The others, and there are not that many anymore, have become more tolerant of those like him, look away more often than not and have their own wars to fight, but he knows still that there are some rules he cannot break without risking losing it all again. He tries though and holds doors shut that hide things that could harm, takes machines that cause hilarious kinds of death out of the way of the humans before they can even reach them wondering for what exactly exploding tumours could be good for.
The one who built the machine neither explains nor feels shame, just had left it behind him a long time ago and tells Mies he should really do the same, but he never does stop worrying.
And there is a lot to worry about in his city.
Worry about the gigantic flaws in the plans the man that comes with his steel creature wants to put into action for example; how can this bald, dark skinned human even dare think of taking out such powerful enemies, and although Mies can not clearly pinpoint what's so bad about these replicating human beings, he knows that there will never be peace with them and an end to their conflict does not come with an easy price and never, just never, is as easy as thought.
Mies knows that this Ellis man should have taken a look into all the nameless examples he is sure Mies knew once from his world's history, but he hasn't and that's the entire problem.
You can only avoid repeating past mistakes when you know how they happened the first time around.
He can feel the heat of the ball of metal falling to the blue pearl suspended in black eternity. It fights against gravity and friction as it goes, creating heat and chaos amongst the tiniest pieces of space as it breaks the atmosphere and splits.
It gives birth to half a dozen smaller metal pieces and each of them hits the ground causing a blast so strong it cracks the surface of the planet like an earthen cup that falls to the ground. The heated core of the world spills upwards and melts metal and silver, consumes everything but not enough.
He could rip his hair out over the stupidity of this heated plan, knowing it just never can be that easy.
The morning is quiet, dry and uneventful.
The children play around the village tree and the women sit in the shadows of the roofs and knit or spin wool. Mies strolls alongside the strangers as they walk past the storage houses and around the village tree, listens to Tuuli explain and gesture, show off the members of his family; sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, toddlers and youngsters and girls who smile at Lorne's people a little more hesitantly than the boys.
Mies doesn't know if Lorne and his people have noticed but most of those they meet carry knives with them. Some even their swords, well hidden below fur coats and overlong shirts but visible when one knows where to look. The entire village is ready to defend itself, even the women seem tense and ready to flee into the houses and barricade the doors, but the strangers are oblivious to it for they don't know any differently.
For them it's the village with the laughing children and friendly people, led by the always smiling old village chief who carries his youngest grandson on his hip and talks openly about sheep and wool while the infant slobbers a long trail on Tuuli's shoulder. Of course, the topic of showing the strangers everything brings them beyond the village borders where the sheep mill about the grass and all the little surprises Mies has learned to hate with a passion wait, now that the grass is still wet from the rain more so than before. It doesn't take long for Lorne's people to catch up to that as well and step into something.
"Eh this is…" Rodney sighs beside him, and looks down to the ground wiping his foot desperately over a knoll of grass to get rid of something. "Oh this is disgusting, honestly."
Something Mies has avoided this time.
"That happens," Mies says full of malicious joy and watches him whine and flail about the little black remains the sheep leave behind wherever they go.
"Yes," Arn says as he walks by with Lorne and pats Mies shoulder brotherly. "At least you have not slipped on them, friend McKay! That truly is uncomfortable. Am I not right Mies?"
Mies rolls his eyes and glares at Arn's back as he walks away deep in conversation with Lorne and that Ronon man. He is pulled back into reality only by the hand that holds his arm all of a sudden, as if it was natural to break into his private space like that. He frowns at McKay for a long moment, paralysed by the touch and the question of whether he should just hold still and let it happen or if he should push him back. On one hand, this single touch, so small and careless reminds him painfully much on his dreams – nightmares – and makes him wish to just get rid of it and be done with these people… on the other hand, however, well, he craves the touch as sort of a affirmation that he is not still dreaming.
He decides to let it pass, justifying it to himself with the fact that he can't push a guest away when that would end in the man sprawled out on his back after slipping on sheep shit.
"Uncomfortable and not to forget probably very smelly," McKay says scoffing and one of the animals around baas up at him, demonstratively producing more of the tiny black balls. "Oh, this is disgusting, Sheppard, honestly. I hate sheep. It's Carson's thing to get all cuddly with them… not mine!"
He waves his free hand at the animal, drags his foot over the grass and looks a little like a flailing child holding to an adult so as not to fall over. Mies raises one eyebrow and resists the urge to ask who Sheppard and Carson are, feeling strangely happy at the fact that Rodney mentioned Carson at all. He remembers an explosion; a ball of fire that had coloured the halls in his dreams in clouds of smoke and fine ashes floating in the air that would have cost the man's life if not for Mies…
A voice in his head mutters something about exploding tumours? Seriously, and he shakes his head to chase it away.
The animal baas again, black eyes fixed on McKay's jerking hand and he pulls it back. "What? Stop staring like that, I'm not edible!"
Mies snorts. "They don't eat you," he says. "They eat grass."
"Uhu," Rodney huffs. "You said that about the giant buffalo things on PM3-8432, too, and after running away from them for hours we spent three days in the infirmary getting our wounds treated!"
There were bruises on McKay's side; Mies had been the one with the concussion. "I spent three days there, McKay; you just stayed so you could bitch at me about your sprained ankle!"
That was… he couldn't help himself there for a moment.
"John?" Rodney mumbles looking up at Mies with a somewhat hopeful expression and Mies just wants to ask what he's hoping for and how he can help.
"Uh," he answers eloquently, frowning deeply.
He remembers laughing and joking and oh so unforgettable times spent floating freely below rust coloured rafters, times Rodney named him John instead of Mies, but it feels all wrong and far, far away; something that is wrong and should not be so he twists his face into a friendly smile that hurts his muscles and tries hard to ignore the last few moments.
"Are you ready to follow the others now, friend McKay?" he asks and Rodney's face falls in obvious disappointment.
"Sure," he says nodding and pulls his hand away from Mies' arm.
He wants to have the touch back almost the instant it stops, wants the memories back and doesn't dare to want them at the same time.
"You know," Rodney says as they start following the group of people ahead of them again. "Your people…are very friendly." It's forced and wrong how his voice sounds and Mies swallows hard and nods.
"We are," he says.
The questions hang on the tip of his tongue and the fact that he's walking alongside McKay between sheep and natives just makes it worse. It's so natural to have the other man at his shoulder, so natural.
"Say…" he starts out unsure how to go on. "Friend McKay, can I ask you something?"
And there is the hopeful look again, all directed at Mies.
"Who is this John?" he asks and Rodney twitches visibly, setting his mouth into the familiar thin line. "You called me John today and your people mentioned him last night… and…" he shakes his head a little helplessly. "I don't know with whom you confuse me, but my name is Mies."
They stop their walk amongst the baaing sheep and grass and Rodney licks his lip slowly. Such a well known movement, so familiar, Mies thinks.
"You are John," he says. "You are John, you were one of our people until you died, ascended and returned to save us from a very powerful enemy... you broke some ludicrous rule with saving us and so many other lives and the other ascended punished you." Rodney falters in his explanation and he sighs. "I know it sounds insane, and hey it is, because seriously, I personally think their stupid rules are just a lame excuse for those petty bastards to not have to face the consequences of all the shit they left behind…"
Rodney is worked up and flustered as he talks and Mies, eyes large and eyebrows so far up in surprise – and yes, perhaps horror of what he hears and has dreamed before – that they almost meet his hairline. Mies shakes his head and opens his mouth but can't say anything in reaction to the words bubbling from the other man's mouth. There's just nothing he could say. Too much resembles his dreams, too much is part of what he has really seen in his dreams at one point.
"John was a friend of ours," Teyla says patiently as she steps up to McKay - seemingly out of nowhere - and lays a placating hand on the man's arm. "A very dear friend, especially to Doctor McKay here, and you look very much like him."
"In fact you look so much like our lost friend, you could be him," she continues, worriedly looking at McKay's flustered face. "You have to forgive Doctor McKay for confusing you."
"Of course," Mies says, too put out to do anything else and she inclines her head and leads the still lowly cursing man away.
He stands there and watches them walk before he follows, straining his ears to hear as if the words they speak are water and he about to die of thirst. The longing, though painful and sharp, sends him right towards McKay and what he has said makes him want to cut the connection that must be there and get back to the life he has here, back to Ilren and the children he could have with her, and the grandchildren… just it's a lie.
"…he needs to remember himself…" He hears Teyla say to Rodney, her head bowed in towards the man as if whispering secrets and Mies falls back a little, trying to drown the sound out against the wind and the baas of the sheep.
He needs to remember himself.
Remember what? And why him?
His head starts to ache and Tuuli gives him strange looks as he notices him trailing behind, as if he wants to ask what might cause them, but Mies just shrugs one shoulder and follows. Tuuli tells of how their people have started to settle there and how the village has become the goal of many pilgrims for they are the closest to the shrine of their goddess. He asks in return how the travel from Lorne's village has been and if they have not encountered problems with the impending dark season's heralds and the rain that falls so often around this time of the circle.
They falter in their excuses now and then, tell of paths over the mountains that are easy to travel and of means of transportation that seem to make Tuuli uneasily squirm in his seat; the worst part, however, and the strongest reaction from their chief, comes from the computer – Mies is sure by now it's called that – that McKay lays on the table before him to call up the information about how much exactly they can offer in return for the wool and cloth Tuuli offers.
He excuses himself fast after the last words of the agreement are spoken and leaves the longhouse quickly and with only a few whispered words exchanged with Arn as he passes him. Arn watches a little confused but puts up a smile for Lorne's people, excusing his father's behaviour with other things he may need to attend to.
"Are you sure we have not said something wrong?" Teyla asks, having done most of the trading talks up to this point. "We are very sorry if Doctor McKay's ways have angered your father in any way?"
It's just logic to assume that given how he left but Arn shakes his head again. "He's just a busy man," he assures. "And if you excuse us, my brother Mies and I will see if he can help him with this urgent matter!"
He signals Mies to follow as the women start to prepare the meals for a feast they will be holding on that evening. All in honour of the strangers and the trading agreement over five wagons of wool in exchange for taba knolls from across the mountains, or that is what Tuuli has agreed on with Lorne's people. Mies knows better and is glad to excuse himself and follow Arn out of the longhouse and into the cooler air outside.
"Father went to the grave fields," Arn tells him and Mies follows him past storage houses and stables towards a slope in the valley that lays a few paces away from the settlement and behind which the piles of stones indicate the grave fields where the forefathers rest.
Nobody really goes there unless someone dies and even then it's entirely taboo for young children and women who could be with child. Mies has never been there before in the entire time he has been with them and doesn't know why Tuuli would want to meet with them between the stone piles of their forefathers of all places, not until he sees Tuuli stand at the pile that, judging by the wooden mask laying at its head, is the one of Tuuli's father.
He looks grim and tense, staring down at the mask and moving his lips as if it could talk to him, and the way it mimics the Mother's grimacing face Mies just hopes it can't talk back because he has enough nightmares as it is.
"Father," Arn calls and Tuuli raises his head, turning it towards them.
"Sons," he says and looks back towards the mask. "The Mother has given us a sign what to do."
"She has?" Mies is surprised and would love to ask how exactly that has happened without the whole village taking notice of it, let alone without Tuuli leaving his sight even once.
"Yes," Tuuli nods and reveals an object resting in his palm which glows faintly and looks a little like the heart of a triple-horn, just black instead of meaty red. "Her envoy has spoken to me as friend McKay has shown the evidence of their origin."
He closes his hand around the object and lets it fall back into the pocket at his belt, well hidden to their view.
"He has used the same kind of tricks as the shadow bringers, so they must truly be their successors or worse, just a shape to lure us into false trust…" He sighs deeply. "We have to bring these people to the Mother and make sure none of them will ever come to see our village, or any other village, ever again."
"They will certainly struggle…" Arn begins and Tuuli silences him with another shake of his head.
"Tell the women to add sleep flowers to their meals, enough to sedate them for the night," he orders. "We will bind them once they sleep and bring them to the Mother's shrine tomorrow morning."
"Yes, father," Arn says after a moment's hesitation and Tuuli, satisfied that everything will be done as ordered just turns away.
Mies wants to argue but Arn pulls him with a hand on his arm, leading him back up to the village and away from the graves. It's a matter of just a few steps that Mies lets it happen before he digs his heels in and stops, pulling his arm from Arn's hand.
"Arn, we can't do that…we can't follow his order!" Mies argues, pointing back towards where Tuuli still stands by the grave. "They've done nothing to threaten us; they just tried to tie a trading agreement with us... what the Mother will do to them is not what they deserve!"
Arn narrows his eyes and steps up to Mies, taller and bulkier than he and glaring fiercely. Mies sees his mistake, of course Njir had not deserved it either, or any of the other men and women who have gone before, but the Mother had demanded her sacrifices and the people followed her demands.
"They lied to us, right from the beginning," Arn snarls.
"We haven't told them anything either!" Mies argues, trying hard to equal out the height and difference in body with a matching glare. "Where's the difference?"
"We have to protect our people; if you do not understand how important that is then you don't need to help!" Arn looks him up and down, shaking his head at him as if Mies was just another one of his sons. "I have seen you befriend them in the short time they have been here and understand how you can doubt," he continues and there's a hint of accusation behind it, not very obvious but enough to show what he thinks of that.
"I don't doubt," Mies grits out between clenched teeth, but oh he does.
He has ever since Njir had gone away, ever since he saw the goddess, probably for even longer. Ever since the people in his delusions had gained names and now that they actually sit in the longhouses waiting for his return, more so than ever before, but these are also his people. It's his village and they have taken him in, accepted him, taken him as he is and always were there for him. He owes it to his people to protect them. He is one of them and has to be there for his village.
"Then help to make sure our village will stay safe," Arn says calmer.
He must see the thoughts that tumble over each other in Mies head and reaches out to lay a calming hand on Mies' shoulder, it looks too large in compare to Mies' still skinny body and he resists the urge to wince as Arn squeezes hard.
"It's our home Mies, our people."
And Mies knows what he means.
"We have to do everything we can to protect our people."
Mies nods; he agrees. He would do anything for his people, anything he can.
So he makes a decision to make all the sacrifices worth it and make sure his people are safe.
It's cool but at least it doesn't rain and the sky is clear as the night falls. They have carried some of the tables and benches outside, and fires and torches light the square around the village tree. Some of the women sing for the newcomers, songs of the time of growth and the light and Mies watches how they smile and how some of the braver girls pull Lt. Baker and two of the other men out of their seats to dance around the village tree.
It is just another feast, just that none of the villagers eat or drink from the same pots as their guests do.
Mies hands Rodney the cup with honey beer, smiling, but it feels painful and wrong. Rodney doesn't see it, trusts him too much even only after such a short time of knowing him and that will be his failure, Mies thinks ruefully, and averts his eyes as the other man drinks.
"Hm, this is damn good," he says and grins broadly, Mies knows without looking.
He can see the other men Rodney has brought with him amongst his tribe, Lorne and the large dark skinned one with the funny hair, the woman with the serene look that reminds him so much of Vinte as she found him. All of them. They sit around the village tree and smile and laugh, celebrate a trading agreement and a friendship that in reality is none.
It's wrong, it's so wrong.
If he does this for his tribe, for his people, then why does it feel like betrayal at the same time? It gives him a headache and makes the hair on his neck stand on end, damn it.
"Do you have some more of that… what is it? Deer?"
Rodney twirls a finger right in front of Mies' face, pointing towards the bowl with triple-horn meat and Mies reaches over and secures the entire earthen bowl for Rodney, setting it down in front of him.
"Triple-horn. Here!" He can't help the smile that spills forward as the other man almost bounces in his seat before he digs into the meat with grabby hands.
"You sure like to eat," he says and Rodney, who has his mouth full, swallows, nodding in agreement.
"Sure, if it's that good." Rodney's eyes are wide and blue, his pupils already a little dilated but that comes from the yellow flower in the beer and he seems to not notice at all how the drug steadily increases in power over him.
"Not always of course, I'm deathly allergic to some things, like…"
"There is no lemon."
Mies blinks at himself and shuts his mouth before more such things can come out. More repeats of what had been said in his dreams more than once. He doesn't dare look over at the other man, not for a very long moment, because he knows exactly how the other man will look back at him.
It will be shocked and hopeful but wounded somehow at the same time. Mies can't look at him, just can't, and reaches out to get the beaker with the beer instead.
"Here, drink some more," he says and Rodney holds out his cup without a second thought.
"You know, we did things like this a lot."
Mies fills the cup to the brink and sets the beaker back down on the wooden table before them. "Things like this?" he asks.
"Eating with the natives," Rodney says and uses a piece of the dark bread Ilren and the women have baked to scoop up some of the triple-horn stew. "John and I, but the stuff wasn't always that good."
"As I was one of your people," Mies says and Rodney nods after a moment. "Before I died."
Another nod with the cheeks puffy and stuffed with triple-horn meat, he grows a little red in the face, too.
"Came back to help you and got punished to live again somewhere else?"
Rodney swallows. "It sounds a little crazy if you put it like that," he says softly.
"A bit," Mies drawls.
Still it creepily makes much sense when looking upon his dreams.
"So if this is a punishment for me," he continues, "why have you found me then?"
Or how have you found me, he wants to truly ask.
Rodney shrugs suckling a bit of the stew off his fingers, and hell, if Mies could just not look at the fingers and the mouth so many things but be a lot easier to deal with.
"Perhaps the Ancients thought you deserved a second chance." He waves a hand about while explaining and Mies finds his eyes fixed on them involuntarily.
It's crazy, as if now that Mies has decided everything about Rodney is sharper and stronger, directing even more attention towards him.
"Who knows, honestly I'm pretty damn smart but I've no clue what those guys thought they're doing half of the time, not that I can't figure out most of it, really, it's not that hard, but leaving all these half-finished death traps all over the galaxy," Rodney snaps and shakes his head. "It's just irresponsible."
"Yeah." Mies agrees so much and don't knows why.
His eyes are drawn to Ronon who yawns loudly and leans on the table with one arm, obviously tired already. It's a matter of a few more moments until they all will fall over and go to sleep. They will not even notice how they will end up tied hand and foot and bound to the faces at the side of the longhouses where they sometimes tie up the cattle to shear or milk them.
It's just a matter of moments and they all will fall asleep.
"You said he saved your people," he asks and looks at Rodney. "Did it work?"
"Oh yeah, oh yeah it did." Rodney's head bobs up and down, already a little sleepy. "We'd be all dead, not just me and Teyla and Lorne, everyone: Teyla's people and the entire expedition…" he trails off. "Everyone."
Mies nods and closes his eyes for a long moment that Rodney is entirely busy with chewing on another piece of meat.
As he opens them again the other man rests his head on an arm, hanging over the table like over one of his computer screens and Mies reaches out and lays his hand on his neck, just where the collar of his grey-blue clothes exposes his neck.
"That's good," he says.
The grainy TV is just a metaphor for a window into the bodily world; ascended work with that kind of stuff a lot. It's the same with the crappy motel room he finds himself in, the smelly sheets on the king size bed and the milky light that falls onto the red-brown carpet through curtains that seem yellow from too much nicotine and dust.
He can't possibly imagine why it's this motel room, one that he had spent one single night in so many years ago. Why the one night back in the last week before he joined the military was that important. It doesn't quite matter though, since the important thing is that he can see into the world he had left behind there, has a body... well, of sorts… and the others leave him relatively alone with his own head.
You can only float and be one with the cosmic energy for so long before you've seen everything, heard everything and become incredibly frustrated with the fact that you aren't allowed to do anything but watch all that's going wrong out there and never touch or help. There is also only so much patience beings that haven't touched the real world in several millennia have before you start to annoy them so much it becomes dangerous to sneak around the tiniest of rules.
He had done that in the beginning, coaxed Atlantis into giving a little information there, urged the Jumpers to fly a bit faster here. He could not just watch, but there was a line the others warned him not to cross.
That's what the motel room is for, that's what the TV is for. And that is why he would like to throttle the high and mighty that have come up with the no interference rule, because honestly, how can they allow so many people to die while they have the power to help just at the tip of their fingers.
He lifts his hand and presses it flat against the screen, fingers spread out and wishes, wishes so much he could really touch the blue sky and silver spires rising into it and not just watch his city and his people float through time and space in their little universe.
He hopes, hopes so much, that Rodney is smart enough to see the signs for the impending attack, sees that there's no way this inane plan of a first strike against the Replicators could ever possibly work. Not ever. Tries to spike words and arguments into Rodney's head and coax him into talking to Ellis just the way a military leader would, but it doesn't work.
They drop their fucking bombs and he begins to pace up and down the narrow room, from window to TV and back, chewing his lip until it's bloody and watches how the reaction unfurls.
He sees how the Replicators' wrath swells and how the collective of machine minds unites powers to set things into motion, things that easily could mean a final end to his city. He could put an end to it; he knows how to end the spark of inspiration given to the machines, to take the energy they name life is so damn easy from his point of view, but he can't because of the rules. It makes him ball his fists tightly and stop in front of the TV, the picture flickers and the channel changes to Atlantis and her halls, full of people and of course full of Rodney's voice.
There is a knock on the door and his head snaps up. Usually they leave him alone in this place, give him some space and he isn't sure why he's doing it as he walks over and opens the door for whoever is outside.
"Hello, John." Vinte smiles as she sees him.
He's not so happy. "Vinte."
"May I enter?" she asks and he steps aside, letting her walk into the motel room and towards the TV.
She watches the people as he kicks the door closed behind him, joining her by the TV and shoving his hands into his pockets.
"What do you want here?" he asks and she looks up at him.
She sighs and turns away from the TV, her old and wrinkled face melting into that of another woman. She becomes brown blond with soft blue eyes absolutely unlike Rodney's but familiar all the same.
She tilts her head sideways knowing she no longer looks like an old woman before she says, "You cannot help him; you do know the rules."
"Yeah, well, you know me," he drawls, wracking his brain for the name that just seems to dance at the border of his mind but remains always out of his reach. "I am not that good at playing by the rules."
She looks at him from the corner of her eyes, narrowing them to slits.
"There will be a punishment," she says. "And I fear that, in the light of previous attempts, it will not be as easy on you as it was on the others."
He shrugs his shoulders and sets his lips into a thin tense line.
"They are all that I've got."
The circle of the sun becomes shorter the closer the dark season comes, days become colder and nights longer until eventually the light will be swallowed completely by darkness. It's the time when the Mother hides in her shrine, tired, sickly and in need of her children. It is that time that pilgrims come, walking through the nightly forest and through the snow past the village and towards the shrine. The same distance Mies has covered a handful of days ago, and, just as with Njir, only half of these pilgrims would come back.
People in the village whisper that with the strangers now, the Mother will perhaps not need as many of these pilgrims at the end of the dark season as she usually does to shine again, and that the fact that they offer them now will perhaps postpone the months of night a little longer. Mies doubts it, simply from the thin layer of ice that covers the grass in the mornings and how the sleep flowers huddle closer together as if to hide from the cold.
It rains more often and he hasn't seen the whole blue sky since the day they walked to the Mother's shrine.
It's a change Mies watches with fascination and awe as much as with terror because he doesn't want to see people he knows go towards the shrine again and not come back, it being the way of his people since countless circles or not. Neither does he want to see the strangers, Rodney, go and end like Njir, oh and they will, that is about all he is sure of.
The sun can barely light the heavy layer of clouds as she comes up but the rain has momentarily stopped as the first of their captives awakes.
They have leaned the group of sleeping figures against the side of the longhouse where the roof stands over enough to shelter them from the rain, their hands bound over their heads and tied to the lines of carved faces that stand out against the wooden side walls. Their weapons have been shared amongst the families although not one of the men knows how to work them; Mies has a fair idea how the black square weapons with the metal drops inside work, but hasn't dared to touch them as of yet. It's the one Mies has learned is called Ronon who comes back from the sedative first and struggles in his bonds growling gruffly while twisting and stretching against the leather strips used to bind him like a caged predator. He seems exactly like one of the wild hounds trailing the outskirts of the forest in hopes of catching a young lost triple-horn or piglet, ready to act and practically made to hunt and kill.
His looks tell of uncounted hunts and fights as his eyes narrow; promise wild and violent revenge for any harm done to his people, just as the snarl that he directs at his captors.
The others, as they wake, struggle as well but not nearly as strongly as Ronon does or in the same way.
Teyla for example just tugs on her bonds to check their tightness before she pulls her bound legs back a little and away from where the rain, should it start again, could soak her pants further. She pulls on her ties to turn her head and shares a silent look with Lorne who sits beside her and his men before returning her focus on Ronon.
"Ronon," she says and the giant calms down, glaring at her.
An entire conversation seems to be exchanged between her and him after which he quiets down and she turns her attention towards Mies. She eyes him with calm and a sober expression that tries to assess how much of this John they have talked about may truly be hidden away inside him, not being angry or mad with him for drugging them like Ronon is, just carefully studying. He doesn't know what to make of the look and avoids the eyes that pierce him and make the hair on his arms stand upright, turning away from them towards the circle of men that guard them. Some of them now wear the vests of the strangers over their shirts, or some of the smaller weapons they had with them, showing off their ranks in their families by the size of what they have.
One of them has small soft square objects with signs on them that he can't read, it's pliable like the clay they make pots of and he had started to form sheep figures from it as the night progressed, others started to pick things from the vests, unfolding packs that looked like bandages and tiny packages of transparent material containing sweets.
They all stand around a small fire at the corner of the longhouse, the roof sheltering most of them, but not all, and Mies purposefully stands where the faint drizzle that starts again can reach the heated skin on his back. The cold soothes the tenseness a little and makes it easier to ignore what he is doing and one of the younger hunters who is excited about his wife giving birth to a child soon does the rest to distract him with talking about names should it be a boy. It's enough for a while, at least until the last of their captives wakes, announcing that fact loudly.
It's Rodney who voices his thoughts about his shitty situation, complaints obnoxious in nature and more than obviously not happy with his accommodations on the polished stone ground below the side entrance of the longhouse. He curses and growls and struggles over the puddle someone obviously put him down in until one of the younger men marches over and tries to put an end to it.
Mies ignores the conversation and keeps his back to the whole show up to the point where Agni, Arn's brother-in-law grunts and walks away from the fire and towards Rodney.
"Silence!" he yells loud enough to wake the children inside the longhouse as Agni can no longer find the patience to listen. "Just be silent already, or do you want me to silence you instead!" he adds, cocking one eyebrow challengingly at the man before him.
"Oh and what are you going to do, huh?" Rodney snaps and Lorne and the other captives seem to mutter hushed words to make Rodney stop provoking the natives, but in vain of course.
Agni is a little rough in nature, not as balanced as his father-in-law, and toys with the hunter's knife he has at his belt, grinning before he changes his mind and instead pulls the weapon he had taken from Ronon from his belt, directing it at Rodney's head without truly knowing what he does.
Mies turns slightly, looking back over his shoulder at the way Rodney stares back at the gun. His lips are a flat line and his eyes narrowed in anger, a faint flush is creeping up his cheeks and the way he sits looks truly uncomfortable. Mies itches to move and help him, but knows he shouldn't do it. Yet the weapon poses a threat and Agni has no clue how to use it.
"You shouldn't do that," the first boy who still stands there says and Agni huffs, shoves the weapon back into the back of his pants and pulls his knife from its sheath instead, crouches down, wriggling it into the direction of Rodney's face while grinning broadly.
"I'm pretty certain the Mother won't mind if I just cut your tongue out!" he says. "She doesn't like loud people."
It's the fact that Agni never makes empty threats which makes Mies act in this moment, or that is what he tells himself. It's not the cold pang of guilt and fear, the surge to protect the man he knows so well and has only met less than two days ago.
"Agni!" Mies calls and balls his hands into tight fists before he turns fully.
He walks over to where the younger man towers over Rodney, one hand already grasping firmly around the other man's jaw. Rodney is struggling and grumbling words that come out jumbled through the way his jaw is fixed in place, fear evident as the blade sparkles in the sparse light of the morning.
"Don't," Mies says sternly and walks over from his position by the fire.
He stops beside the Agni and the younger man looks up questioningly.
"Why not?" he asks. "He's annoying and can't keep his mouth shut. Do you want him to wake everyone?"
Mies only wants to keep him from doing something he might later on regret, or that is how he justifies it.
"Just don't," Mies says eyes daring Agni to try and protest.
"Yeah, yo hea h'm…" Rodney agrees muffled. "D'n't!"
Agni huffs, lets go of Rodney's jaw and stands up. "Fine," he grunts and shoves his knife back into its sheath. "But if he wakes the entire village with his squeaky voice I blame you!"
"I don't have a squeaky voice!" Rodney protests and the kick Agni delivers against his shin is hard enough to make him really squeak.
"Agni," Mies warns again but the younger man just laughs and shoulders Mies aside as he passes and swaggers back to the fire.
He's shaking his head and saying something to his friends who stand around the flames that makes them look over at Mies and snort or chuckle derisively. Mies is sure that the sheep tackle story gets dragged out all over again for the occasion and probably also how he did only women's work for the first few months he lived amongst the tribe. He will never hear the end of those, and narrows his eyes in return to the looks they dart his way.
"Thank you," Rodney says and makes him look back down and away from the fire.
The first thing that draws attention is a trail of blood that wanders down from a spot at Rodney's hairline and Mies crouches down and reaches out to check out what he had missed as he refused to turn around before. It's nothing, just a little nick that bleeds more because of wetness and it being a head wound. The momentary feeling of terror about the blood becomes replaced with cold fury towards Agni and his more than rough way to treat people; he never particularly liked him.
"Hey, ow… hey!" Rodney whines and pulls his head back, hitting it against the wall behind him. "Ouch, damn it that hurts, too…Ow"
Mies sighs and pulls his hand back, resting it on his knee. "It's just a nick," he drawls. "Nothing you could actually die from, McKay."
The kind of ridicule in the voice he just used feels so familiar, so well worn that it startles him for a moment and seems to make Rodney grin brightly enough to split his face. Some of the other members of their group make a similarly glad expression about just this little sentence that Mies feels nearly compelled to ask what's wrong with them and this whole story of their vanished friend they're bringing up constantly, but doesn't for the eyes of the men at the fire still watch his every step.
He's strange enough for them. He doesn't need them to become suspicious of him for being too friendly with the strangers.
"Be quiet," he says and looks from one of them to the other. "Just be quiet until the sun is fully up," he adds.
"Why? So we don't wake your entire village up before the time to roast us on a stick over a pyre is scheduled?" Rodney asks and Mies has to blink at that.
"We won't roast you on a stick," he says irritated and raises one eyebrow. "Who said we'd do that?"
"One of your young friends did." It's Lorne speaking this time but in a lower voice that's not loud enough to be heard by the fire, or so he hopes. "He told us we would be brought to the sacrificial place and given to the Mother sun to burn our flesh away."
Mies hangs his head for a moment, closes his eyes and inhales. He can see the cave of the Mother and the sparkling field protecting it from snow and ice before his inner eyes and cringes. Burning the flesh away seems fitting when he remembers the screams and the walls of the cave that looked like made of flesh itself.
"You're not going to be burned alive," he says.
"But we will be sacrificed," Teyla says matter of factly , "to your Mother goddess?"
"Yeah." Mies nods, because they will. "You're descendants of the shadow bringers and the Mother said you have to be brought to her in order to protect our people from them."
He repeats what Tuuli had told him, had told the entire tribe. He has to do this to protect his people and his nightmares are just nightmares and will only end once the whole confusion around him ends as well.
"But we are not," Teyla says. "We are your friends, John; we have searched for you for a very long time and now we have found you again and you must feel that we're telling the truth when we say that we are not familiar with these people's shadow bringers."
They feel familiar to him, he knows them, he dreamed of them so often it's like he has spent years with some of them in another kind of world that consists of metal buildings and glass walls, vertical ponds in rings of silver with blue signs that flash and sparkle all over them. But they are wrong, they have come and brought along the same things as those Tuuli named the relics of the shadow bringers. They have turned the world to an icy cold landscape deadly to all forms of life until the Mother came and Mies is not ready to let this happen again. He has made a decision now he has to go with it.
"They brought the same screens with them than you did," he says and looks at them again. "They came, brought technology and things that you have spoken of in your trade and left it with us as they went out to fight in a war," he adds and stands up, towering above their bound forms. "They didn't care that our people couldn't man what they had left behind and suffered from hunger and thirst, they just left them alone and dying in the darkness until the Mother came and brought the light back. We only try to protect our people from making the same mistakes twice!"
"Your shadow bringers were the Ancients," Rodney says eyes wide in recognition and when Mies' experience with him in his dreams tells anything then that McKay would probably underline that kind of voice usually with a lot of wild pointing around. "They brought these people technology and when they left because they lost in the war against the Wraith, they just left it behind and nobody could work with it because nobody had the gene!"
Mies narrows his eyes, tempted to silence him now as well. He has drawn some of his own conclusions about the parallels of his dreams, their myths and the stories the strangers have told, and he doesn't want them spilled out like this. Somehow, hearing them aloud from their lips is worse than thinking about them in the privacy of his own head.
"But you have it!" Rodney says. "You have the gene! You can work with these things! You must believe us, we are no threat, John!"
"Shut up," Mies grunts and kicks Rodney himself, hard in nearly the same spot as Agni.
It's desperate and lacks logic, he regrets it the very second his foot touches the other man's leg, but he can't undo it now. There are too many confusing emotions inside him to deal and the look speaking of pain and surprise that Rodney directs at him… it cuts right into his flesh.
"Do not attempt to talk my sons out of their beliefs," Tuuli says as he emerges from the shadows of the side entrance of his longhouse.
He narrows his eyes at Mies to signal him that he can move now and walk back to the fire, before he continues and Mies is actually glad he can leave.
"We have served our Mother for a long, long time and only she has delivered us from the darkness your ancestors brought upon us and she is who you will receive your punishment from," Tuuli says voice sharp and loud enough for Mies to follow.
"We are no threat," Teyla tries one more time but it's pretty pointless.
"That is the Mother's to decide," Tuuli adds and signals with a generous wave of his hand for the young men that have gathered around the fire to move and prepare the captives for the long walk to the shrine.
Mies tries to keep out of these preparations, pressing his eyes closed and holding his hands out to warm over the fire. The nightmares no longer wait until he's asleep to surface – the borders are blurring -- and it's hard to tell, now that Rodney and the others are around, if he's seeing them in his dream or if he's awake.
He no longer can clearly see if it's him or if it's John, or Sheppard, whatever they call him.
He can no longer hold together what has been his life until now.
"Mies," Vinte asks and as he opens his eyes she stands just a few paces away from him, leaning against the wooden wall and sheltered from the moist weather by the roof.
She is barefoot and looks as if she has just climbed out of her bed and walked out without any care for weather or cold.
"Vinte," he says and walks over to her, pulling what keeps the rain off his back from his shoulder to wrap the fur coat around her. "You really shouldn't be out here!"
She smiles as softly as Teyla has previously and her eyes are strangely different, the same like those of the young woman in his dreams. "You should not be here either," she says and rests her hand on his chest, just shortly over his heart. "You are not meant to be here, you never were. I worry about you, Mies, I worry so much."
"I'm fine," he says and frowns.
"You are not," she whispers. "You never were. I know of your dreams and your nightmares."
"We should get you back into the warmth of the house," he says ignoring her words and urges her carefully around and towards the closest entry of the longhouse. "Tuuli will certainly hate to see you becoming sick because of me."
"They are not just dreams," she continues ignorant of his attempts to steer her around.
"What do you mean?"
She looks at him, wrong eyes peering into his soul.
"Mies!" Arn calls for him from where they have gathered the captives, they have cut the bonds around their feet and tied their hands on their backs, leading them on by rope slung around each of their necks connecting them to each other. He wears his furs and crossbows – the heavy ones, the light ones for hunting triple-horns -- as well as his sword and Tuuli is already ahead of him, walking towards the edge of the village without looking back. "We need to go!" he adds and waves his hand once more.
"I'm coming in a moment!"
Arn grunts in answer and signals for the other man to start urging on the line of captives to follow his father and the other armed men. Ronon is the first in the line, tall against all the other figures of the group, Lorne and his men come next then follows Teyla. Rodney is the last in line, chewing unhappily on his gag and too absorbed in looking back at Mies for a moment to pay attention to where he's going. He nearly falls over a stone in the path and stumbles forward into the form of the woman as Mies looks away, unable to watch.
"They are real," Vinte says. "They are real!"
Rodney sits bent over his computers. There are at least 5 others going through power simulations and database scripts spread over the laboratory benches around him but the majority of them show "failed" in big red letters over and over again.
Mies is in the air he breathes and in the walls, listening and seeing, and can't decide if he should make that last step into corporeality.
Another screen flashes red and Rodney makes a sound of utter frustration and, yes, maybe desperation.
His face looks shadowed in the red light coming from outside and he looks so much older in that moment, it's almost painful.
John… No, Mies can no longer hold back and falls into place like a breeze, combing through the spiky hair on Rodney's head where his hands come to rest on his neck.
"Rodney," he breathes.
Rodney looks up and swirls around, one hand on the gun he had started to wear at his thigh a long while ago.
"What the…" he mumbles, his eyes as wide as they go. "John?"
Rodney makes one step forward and John wants to make one step back in return.
"I don't have much time, okay? You must listen to me…" he drawls and Rodney blinks before a smile spreads on his face and hope lets him raise his shoulders and stand finally straight again.
"I knew you'd come back," he says pointing at him. "I just knew it. There is no chance in hell you'd pass up on a suicide mission like this!"
Mies cringes and looks away for a moment as another simulation fails.
"Don't call it that and just shut up and listen for once, I'm trying to help you here," he says and walks over to one screen, hoping to all non-existing gods in the universe that the others were otherwise occupied in the moment.
"You have to try and move the city, the star drives can do it when I help a little," he starts and wants to type a line of commands into the console but Rodney stops him with a hand on his arm.
"Wait, wait, wait… won't they punish you for that?" he asks and John's shoulders slump just the tiniest bit, but he keeps steadily looking at the console and the screen before him, biting his lower lip.
"Never been good with rules," he offers as consolation.
"John," Rodney says but John only shrugs, he's never been good with feelings either.
And with Rodney on the control consoles and him in the chair he powers the shield and lifts his city off the ground, smiles as he sees her break the atmosphere like she is supposed to. He does not stop there, however, because they will punish him for this, that is true, and it might as well be worth the effort and the punishment.
He had made his decision and it's the only one he can make for his people.
He shares one look with Rodney, a last one, and smirks leaving his city alone and on autopilot towards the planet he has picked. She'll do this with Rodney as her caretaker, saving the expedition and all the people John has grown to love, she promised him.
Then he concentrates on the energy beam and the satellite orbiting the old planet and targeting the city's former location. He slips into the energy and crawls along the molecules like he is the energy holding them together, that's the way to cross the event horizon and impact on the Replicator planet like an unleashed firestorm.
In one second he is the energy between all their replicated molecules, feels their lives, and although he knows full well it's a form of genocide, divides them, shatters the parts and undoes them completely.
He stands amongst the ruins of uncountable Replicators as the others finally wake up, grab him by his limbs and drag him away in a burst of light.
No matter the punishment they will think up, though, it was worth it.
His decision was the right one, the only one.
And he can't shake the feeling that they may waited until he had completed his work with stopping him because they knew as well.
He can feel the invisible hands tugging on his form, pushing him down into a corner of a world that has no boundaries or corners to begin with. It's like a feverish daydream of sorts, like those blurry pictures he had in the first days after Vinte had found him and as he opens his eyes again she looks at him with clear eyes that have nothing of the age her face portrays. He opens his mouth and wants to say something but no words come out, nothing.
"Mies!" Arn calls another time, already further away and Mies turns a last time.
"I must go," he says hastily, carefully tugs the fur coat from around Vinte's shoulder once he's sure she's within the shelter of the threshold and turns to run and catch up with the rest of the men.
They reach the gaping black hole in the blinding white snow after a few hours of almost uneventful walking. Sure, the tall one – Ronon – struggles and growls still, but overall they accept their fate and follow. Mies avoids their looks and is so thankful for the silence the gags enable that he can almost pretend.
If only it didn't all feel so terribly wrong.
Tuuli once more raises his hands towards the monster's head and bows his head, most of the village men fall to their knees in recognition of the holy place and Mies, who knows what will be coming, bows as well, going to one knee. He can feel the piercing looks of the captives, how they are torn between watching him and the darkness at the same time, and fail to do honour the shrine in their confusion.
"Kneel!" Agni growls and kicks against the legs of his favourite victim, McKay.
Rodney yells out, muffled by his gag, and goes to his knees, tumbling forward and pulling Teyla with him. They land less than gracefully on the ground, Lt. Baker by her side trying in vain to stop the fall. In the end they all go to their knees as well, more or less of their own free will and Teyla wriggles and pulls until Rodney is no longer on his belly in the snow.
"Now, isn't that much better when he can't talk back?" Agni chuckles and pushes against Rodney's shoulder to urge him back down into the snow.
Mies is tempted to help him but a look from Arn beside him makes him go tense and his mouth turn into a thin tense line as he watches them struggle. The way he first looks at him and then towards the captives is not new, it has happened a few times since their arrival and every time growing more and more mistrusting and unsure towards Mies; their argument has not helped either.
"My Mother, eternal sun, please open your house for your reverent child," Tuuli says and distracts Arn enough for Mies to momentarily relax. "I seek entrance to bring you, Mother, the descendants of the shadow bringers…" Tuuli continues.
For a long moment there is no sound or reaction except for the ever present wind and Rodney's muffled grunts as he fights to stay on his knees. Mies hopes it remains that way, hopes the Mother might ignore them but the sparkling curtain of light, that had been there the first time, flickers again and falls to the ground. He can see the shock in the body language of their captives as he peers at them from the corners of his eyes, they go all tense and wide-eyed and especially Teyla seems to sense what horrors may wait for them beyond the dark entrance.
"Get them on their feet," Tuuli orders turning shortly. "I do not want the Mother to wait."
"Yes, father," Arn says and helps the other men to pull Rodney and the others up.
They struggle a little more now, fight against the hands that push them forward so hard it seems to be a horror for them to just step from the snowy field over the border where the darkness begins. It's only midday so the light difference is harsh for the first few moments, but afterwards it's the same path that Mies has walked before; the black walls that become muscles and living quivering flesh after a while and the skin that stretches over them flickering and pulsing with black blood.
The sparse light makes the people around him look like beasts as well, the furry coats and long hair taking all human shape out of their forms. Mies can only imagine what the captives must feel like as they are led down the dark halls and past the alcoves he knows more shadows wait behind, but as he turns they seem, yes afraid, but also strangely calm as if they know what's coming. He meets Rodney's eyes for a split second and below all the terror they carry there still is this hope that he can't understand.
Probably hope that he will help them, will save them from the Mother and their fate as sacrifice, but he can't. He owes it his people to help keep them safe, he owes it to Njir and the sacrifice he brought in order to assure the Mother's protection. He just has to keep his people safe, no matter what it will cost.
That's what he knows matters the most, even in his dreams.
They round that final corner and he is in first line alongside Arn and Tuuli as they step up to the throne. This time the captives seems to know what is expected of them and they kneel, if a little unwilling in the case of Ronon, almost all on their own.
"Mother sun, your reverent sons greet you."
And then there's a light again, and the hiss that accompanies it. This time he does not look at the Mother as she appears, face forever caught in that snarling smile that bares her sharp predatory teeth and the way her eyes seem to be so inhuman it makes him doubt that she ever looked normal.
"Mother," Tuuli says and bows a little deeper.
"My children," she snarls in what must be pleasure as she sees the captives kneel amongst Tuuli's men and raises her hands, palms up to show her worshippers should rise. "My children you make me so proud!"
"We are glad to serve you Mother," Tuuli says and bows his head deeper before he rises from his knees, smiling broadly up towards her.
She steps forward and down from the pedestal she had appeared on, moves toward the line of captives with a strange grace to her movement and purrs at Tuuli and his men as they move to the sides to give her space. She circles once around Lorne and his companions, the rustling sounds of her white dress the only noise except for the grunts Ronon makes into his gag.
"You deserve my gratitude for bringing me these people," she says, stopping in front of Teyla.
They look at each other and while the human woman lowers her eyebrows in something between concentration and anger, the Mother recoils, baring more of her teeth. There are words spoken Mies cannot hear, something that happens between the Mother and Teyla, he knows, but the human woman looks like the loser in the argument as she crunches her face up in pain.
"They could become a great danger to you, my children," she says and steps up to Lt. Baker who kneels beside Teyla, bowing over the man with something in her eyes that Mies had seen last as she had picked Njir.
An icy cold weight coils like snakes in his guts, turning his stomach around and making the sour taste of bile a sharp presence in the back of his mouth. He should move and stop her, has the faint images of a man before his eyes who wordlessly begs for mercy as a creature similar to the Mother bows down to his kneeling form and takes all his life with her hand digging into his chest.
Her pale hair falls forward over her shoulders as well and obscures her face as she traces her finger down Lt. Baker's jaw, along the gag and towards his throat. He doesn't struggle but the fear is written into his eyes as she purrs, sprawling her hand on his chest.
"And I, your Mother, will make sure that will never happen," she says and her voice echoes in Mies' mind like in a large empty cave.
Baker screams into his gag as she pushes against his chest and the others start to put up a fight. They growl and yell into their gags and kick against their bonds, or at least that's what Ronon does and Lorne, moving so much Agni and the others have to hang onto their bodies to bring them down. Rodney struggles as well, eyes terrified and wide and Mies steps into action, puts his hands on his shoulders and holds him in place with all the strength he can muster.
The look he receives from Rodney in return to this gesture is silent accusation of betrayal and hurts worse than Baker's muffled screams.
The Mother is unimpressed with their protests and pulls back as nothing more is left of Lt. Baker than a dried up corpse in too large clothes that hangs between Teyla and another of Lorne's men like a useless doll and the sound the Mother makes as she turns is almost something like a laugh, throaty and reaching right down into Mies' core to tear on it a little.
But the nightmare – oh and this truly is one – does not stop at this point.
The Mother stops right before Tuuli, her hand raised as if she wants to strike once more. "I will reward you," she says and Tuuli grins.
He undoes his coat with skilled hands and lets it fall from his shoulders and to the ground, groans as he kneels once more and spreads his arms, palms up, to offer his chest and throat to her.
"I'm your humble servant!" he says and closes his eyes.
Arn jerks as the Mother connects her hand to his father's chest and looks away maybe ashamed, maybe disgusted, but Mies can't look away. It's the death of Lt. Baker backwards; wrinkles fade and grey hair recolors into the shade Tuuli has shown in the time of his youth, muscles strengthen and the aches that have made him move a little slower sometimes fade before their very eyes.
She pulls her hand back and walks slowly back to her throne, turns and looks down at them all teeth flashing and lips curled back, and Tuuli just stands up, new energy and life pulsing in his veins and chuckles throatily in obvious joy about his regained life.
"I thank you for the life and flesh you have gifted me with," he says and bows his head, seeming no longer as old and grey as before but not one day older than Arn or Mies.
How many times has he done this, Mies wonders, how many of his own children has he sacrificed to be alive?
The Mother nods slowly and gestures at the captives. "Do bring them into one of the holding areas, and you may leave," she says and all of the men around Mies seems relieved as she finally vanishes in the same bright light she came with.
He is too, in an odd way, because it means that neither Arn nor Agni or one of the other men has to stay. It also means that Rodney and the rest of Lorne's men will have to stay and he looks down at Rodney, his fingers tightening around his shoulders. The blue eyes seem to scream at him to just remember already and do something about this, just do something already, and he shakes his head miserably in return, helping him to get on his feet.
They cut what's left of Baker out of the line and walk down another hall.
"I'm sorry," he whispers as he leads Rodney out of the room, following the other men and Tuuli towards the location of the aforementioned holding area. "I really, really am sorry."
And he is still, so very, very much as he pushes him into the small room at the end of the barely lit hall and watches how the spider web-like door falls into place behind them. Tuuli doesn't waste time with words and turns away, leading his group of men out of the dark labyrinth with renewed energy and confidence that their village is safe.
Mies doubts it, but he no longer knows what is wrong or right anyway, the lights and shadows blurring as he walks behind the others towards the light at the mouth of the beast…
…or Mies, oh he can't tell anymore…
… remembers sitting in the same ratty old motel room as the first time around, still wondering why it's the one with the crappy carpet and disgusting wallpaper instead of all the other possible places. Then again, a motel room with peeling wallpaper and insect-infested carpet seems to fit him quite well in the great scheme of things.
He is aware of what he has done, how he not just saved his people but may have overstepped some greater borders and rules about this whole all the powers of the universe thing, and he knows that and accepts it. It was just a tiny push from saving his city to getting rid of the whole problem and he's not really sorry for doing it, even if it had been sort of genocide.
He isn't ashamed or guilty for what he has done, if he still had had a body and any means to do what he had, in fact he's sure Rodney would have found a way to do just that and get rid of them all.
Vinte…stands before him and looks down at him, her head tilted and eyes full of what could pass for compassion, so much so that he looks down at the threadbare carpet.
"You broke the rules," she says and crouches down, one hand coming to rest on his knee. "They warned you and you still went off to do it."
"I had to," he simply says because it's true. He had to do this, couldn't leave the city and its people unprotected and knows very well that it means punishment now; he's ready for that.
He always tried to play by the rules and when he couldn't he always took his punishment without argument since he deserved it, mostly. It was worth it, mostly, not always but Atlantis was worth it.
"Loyalty and love," she sighs and shakes her head before focusing back on him.
"I understand that." She pats his knee. "And I will try to help you."
He doesn't know how, but she stands up and holds her hand out for him, takes it pulling himself up and the world around him, his room, turns white and blue and endlessly wide.
John… Mies… whoever he is, knows this can't possibly be right.
He looks up as the world stops tossing and turning and moves to the alcove in the wall he is closest to, touches the slimy flesh-like structure with the tip of a finger and traces a vein that stands out against the skin towards a tiny hole in the membrane.
He peers in, not really knowing why – it can't be curiosity since he knows deep down what to expect -- and recoils instantly.
Staring back at him is a skeleton face, distorted and misshaped in a final scream of agony. Forever caught like that because the poor soul's skin has dried up and shrunken over the bones, exposing the teeth and hard, fleshless shapes of the corpse. Bile threatens to rise in Mies' throat once more, but he steps closer anyway, using his hunting knife this time to peel the skin-like structure back and take a better look.
Yes, it is a body; a dead one. He, or she, wears weathered leather clothes that once may have been as clean and fresh as those he wears. He imagines Njir, the Mother hissing in pleasure as Njir accepted his fate to stay with her, and how his mouth would stand open in a scream of terror forever now.
"No…" he mumbles and moves back, staggering until he bumps into another of the soft walls, whirls around and sees another face.
There are so many faces, so many chambers and so many dead as he stumbles around, blindly ripping at the alcoves to see their insides. They are all dead like Lt. Baker, with pain and desperation written into their features as it was in his last moments.
"No, no!" He shakes his head. "No!"
The hand rising towards heaven and the hands spread out on a chest, a shot, blue halls and shadows. It's as if beams of light break through a thick layer of clouds and highlight memories and pictures, aging faces that turn to ashes within a moment and the goddess standing above them, grinning from an inhuman face.
Houses and childhood memories, his father, his mother's death and how he stands in an ill-fitting tux at a graveside in the rain. How he marries Nancy and how he divorces her, Dex and Mitch and black machines that drift across endless oceans of blindingly hot sand.
The freedom caused by technology drumming and vibrating under his touch, helping him fly.
Smoke, falling pieces and death.
Oh and freedom, caressing his mind and welcoming him back although he had never been in that place before.
A man, older than him, his superior then, the man's face slack and old, his eyes begging to be delivered from fear and terror. A shot, and sparkling blue lights. Slow motion for one terrifying moment then the pictures start to spiral and tumble in his head, going too fast and too slow at the same time.
The spires and buildings of his city come into focus, her voice soothing and female in his head becomes clear, the blue sky that stretches out around her sky scraping towers real, and the feeling of her walls palpable below his palm.
She whispers to him from the moment he sets foot into her halls and never leaves him alone again. He can hear her scream under the strain of energy beams and ships impacting into her shield as if someone cuts into her living flesh, feels the damage.
The faces of so many people, dead and alive, come to his mind. Dex and Teyla and Ford, his fate still stings in his chest, Elizabeth and Lorne.
All of a sudden, he can put names to their faces and meaning to the looks and his skull feels ready to split open and spill his brain as he goes to his knees.
It's not over yet.
A million planets and ideas come back, words become meaningful and he relives all his dreams again in just the blink of an eye. Kissing suspended below ceiling rafters and the jokes and banter exchanged over so many days and nights.
He remembers Rodney and John.
Sharp elbows and too narrow beds, secret touches and smirks and arguments, banter between friends and connection between lovers.
He remembers himself.
He remembers how he died... Oh, and that is when it really feels like slamming into a brick wall headfirst.
He can feel fear and his own rage, the power curling under his incorporeal skin and how he unleashes destruction.
How he not only stops the attack, no, he goes all out and turns the threat off to make it worth what he does even if it may be the last thing he can do for his people before accepting a punishment he doesn't think he truly deserves.
A supernova explodes behind his eyes and he crashes forward to the dirty ground, mouth open to scream but not a single sound coming out.
"I don't have much time, okay, you have to listen to me…"
"I knew you'd come back, I just knew it. There is no chance in hell you'd pass up on a suicide mission like this!"
"Don't call it that and just shut up and listen for once, I'm trying to help you here…"
"Wait, wait, wait… won't they punish you for that?"
Oh yeah, they have, John thinks. They already have.
It takes him a few moments to come back to his senses but the will to get up is stronger than his knees' ability to support him and he clings to reality with all he has, crawls a few feet until his legs carry him fully and staggers towards the next beam of the hall, holding to it for as long as his world needs to stop spiralling away from him.
A world and a life that is his own and has been taken from him comes back and settles into his bones, fills all the nooks and crannies that have been left empty and never quite filled fully with Mies, Cirellia and the stories of the circle of the sun.
Jesus, he just watched one of his own men die! The men he had sworn to protect! The men he had died for and he did nothing. He even offered his people up to the same fate. Oh damn, oh damn.
He's in the middle of a Wraith base – at least he thinks this is what it looks like – and has helped to gag, bind and lock up his people as if serving them up for the creatures on a silver platter!
The need to protect them and get them out of there comes back full force, and if he has not been fully John until now, he is from this second on. He has only his knife and doubts he will be able to fight against Tuuli's people or the Wraith, but he probably won't have to if he comes in time; he turns around towards the holding area and runs.
He thinks of Wraith soldiers and the stunners they may have, but he hasn't seen them yet either, so perhaps he has some luck in that department, too, and there won't be any. Oh, and he really needs luck in this because he has no good cards in this gigantic fucked up game the Ancients played with him.
Sure, he had messed up, had gone too far. Yes, yes, he admits that, can't hide it, but this is just not fair…they couldn't expect him to watch his people die and do nothing, could they? They couldn't want that… he jogs around the corner, closes in on the holding area his team is in.
It's his team, he remembers them now!
And as Lorne, who stands by the door, looks up, sees him and makes a surprised sound, the others struggling in the background to get rid of their gags and bindings all freeze in place.
"S'phad…" he mumbles into his gag, it sounds a little like a question and Sheppard knows what he means, covering the last few feet.
"Don't worry, Lorne, I'll get you out," John says and pulls the knife from its sheath to work on the half-meat, half-technology of the locking mechanism; it groans and sparks fly before the web falls away and opens the entrance.
The next thing to go are the bonds around their hands and Lorne pulls his gag out as soon as he can move his hands again.
"Sir?" he asks, his eyes wide and hopeful.
There is a whole set of questions that Lorne wordlessly asks, too, but there is no time for that now.
He nods his head slightly. "I know," John says and the tiniest nod from Lorne just enforces what kind of great XO he really is… was, before Sheppard died, ascended and went all spirit of vengeance on the Replicators.
He had called down a storm of flames and destruction on them and ripped their molecules apart with what felt like his bare hands, snapped their bodies into pieces and broke their incredibly complicated minds in less than a millisecond. Now, in retrospect, he has to admit it was perhaps a little much, but it was the last thing he could do for his people and seen in that light, as the last desperate measure to save them, it was not too much, just a little cruel.
There are so many cruel things done to his people in the past that he couldn't stop though, and someone had to do something to put an end to this circle, no matter the cost. He pauses to cringe as he frees the remaining Marines before he goes on to Rodney.
"Maphrem!?" Rodney growls into the gag and Sheppard knows exactly what he wants to say, accuse him of, really, but he remembers now, he can remember everything, and perhaps he also knows why he did what he has done and accepted the consequences.
He grins, slowly. "Do you want to be saved McKay, or do you want to argue?"
"Hmph," is all McKay can say with the gag still in his mouth, but his eyebrows speak volumes.
"I thought so," John says smiling.
And Rodney smiles back for a long moment. They repeat their, he has to admit, stupid stare-and-grin game, one of the crucial trademarks of their relationship and Sheppard shrugs one shoulder awkwardly instead of saying anything. This had always worked for them; Rodney speaks for them both but today Rodney is strangely silent, too. Ronon stops the odd reunion with a hard slap to Sheppard's back and a sound of approval.
"Let's get out of here," he grunts and John has never agreed more with anything than that.
It brings back the question how to do it to begin with, though.
"Mies, where are you!" someone yells and John snaps to attention.
"He's probably got lost," Agni sniggers and elbows his friend. "Or slipped on something and hit his head again!"
John signals Lorne and the others to duck into the shadows of the alcove to hide for the moment before stepping out on the hall, the knife back in its place and acting as if his epiphany had never happened.
"Mies!" Agni calls as he sees him in the badly lit corridor. "There you are!"
"Sorry," John says sheepishly and shrugs coming towards them. "I guess I got a little lost in the corridors," he adds.
Agni snorts and shakes his head. "Yeah, I bet. Can't you pay attention to where you're going? Really, one day you're going to break your neck…" And it doesn't sound as if Agni would be particularly sad if that day came soon.
He shoves John forward with one hand on his shoulder and John is happy he remembers the moves now -- no longer just muscle memory but his mind's as well – and grasps the other man's wrist, turns his arm and smashes him with the gravity of his body's own weight hard against the wall. The other boy is momentarily so shocked by the move he doesn't even react until a fist hits him in the face and knocks him out too; both crash to the ground in a heap and the others leave their cover to salvage what there is of crossbows and other weapons.
John grabs Agni by a handful of his furs and throws him on his belly, checking for his gun and knife, and throws the gun back to Ronon. The tall man grunts in approval – another thing John missed -- and sets the gun's setting with the familiar artificial sound echoing through the hall.
"Just stun," John says and after a moment of wordless questioning Ronon nods, changing the setting again.
The other boy merely has a 9mm, no ammunition and John hands it on to Lorne while taking Agni's crossbow. Teyla takes the other one, probably the only other person from Atlantis – except perhaps for Ronon – who knows how to use it. It's a quick decision how to proceed and they send Sheppard off to lure them inside.
He yells that they have been attacked inside and Tuuli's men come running, stunned by Ronon's gun one after the other so fast the first three or four tumble to the ground within seconds of crossing the snowline. Given that they had started out with a little more than a dozen plus Arn and Tuuli, it's a good start. Arn and the last of the men are harder to get and throw themselves behind some of the fleshy beams of the hall.
"Kill them!" Tuuli yells over the noise of Ronon's gun and the men it fells. "Kill them before they can escape! Shoot!!"
"They still have Mies and the others!" Arn yells back, ducking back into cover as the man beside him falls to the ground, stunned.
The younger man lets his crossbow fall as he crashes to the ground and also loses the P-90 he had taken as his loot from disarming Lorne's team.
"Shoot them!" Tuuli yells again.
Arn looks around the corner at the same time John raises his head out of cover and their gazes lock. It's that moment of recognition that packs a punch not unlike the previous flood of memories. Arn gapes in shock before he narrows his eyes and ducks back into cover.
John's sorry, Arn was something like a brother to him, a good friend, and this must be the worst kind of betrayal for him.
The next thing John sees of Arn is as he narrowly avoids being hit, rolls over his shoulder across the ground and picks up the P-90 the younger man discarded on the way. The younger one did not know how to use it but Arn, out of arrows, figures out fast what's going on with this thing, and fuelled with what John assumes is a feeling of hate caused by betrayal, fires.
"You dare to betray us!" Tuuli yells as he too finally picks up on whom they are facing down, face red with anger. "Kill them, kill them all for the Mother!!"
John doesn't expect different from the chief and ducks as a miserably aimed round of bullets comes his way. Arn, and he must give him credit for that much, is not stupid and by no means unable to adjust; it really is not as much of a surprise as it should be that he, of all people, would be the first to figure out how to work a P-90.
John is now John again, but even as Mies he knew he would be the one to take Arn down, he owes him that much.
John hears one of his Marines – and they are now his again – yell as he ducks out of cover and fires his crossbow, he doesn't mean to really hurt Arn and wants to orchestrate this whole thing so that the least damage would be done to his tribe, yet it's the same game as a hunt and John is not allowed to be the triple-horn in this. He has two chances to shoot, thanks to Arn still having problems with the recoil of the gun, and the second arrow hits Arn in the leg. He jerks sharply and falls back against the fleshy wall.
John hates to do it, hates it as Ronon stuns Arn and sends him to the ground.
The rest is a matter of a few minutes and in the end they all fall as his team prevails, but John won't leave his tribe behind bleeding and unconscious. He can't do that, they had not left him alone and naked in the snow either after all, and he won't leave the bodies inside the cave either. All the time he is hoping the Wraith are slow enough to realize what's going on to not come running around the next corner any second.
They don't, even after the group of men are bound and outside and the shield rises after the last of them. He can ignore the questions of possible reasons for that for the sake of concentrating on escape, all but the uneasy sour feeling in the pit of his stomach he gets when looking a last time over the tribe's men and Tuuli.
John actually feels pretty bad for doing this to people who had treated him as one of their own, so not killing them is the least he can do. Talking them out of serving a Wraith Queen might be possible eventually but not today and not while still so close to the Wraith Queen's shrine; god, he is well aware that even leaving them here might be their death sentence, but right now, he can't change it, he can't.
The only one he truly no longer feels bad about leaving behind is Tuuli, lying in the snow at the edge of the area the force field usually covers. He looks indeed not older than John, and now that he can remember all he knows about Wraith and knows again how to look for the signs in the behaviour of the older man, he understands so much about him. Understands how he probably has lived a long life and had many children in that time, sending countless numbers of them off to be sucked dry. He understands how Vinte can be so proud of her son and look so sad for everything he has done at the same time.
"John," Teyla calls him and he leaves his tribe and Mies behind, reassuming his true role as leader of his team.
He has no time for doubt.
He knows the path down from the mountainside the shrine is on and towards the valley of the two rivers, but it's hard to hide where they're walking and John hopes the rain and murky weather it causes makes it harder to see their crouching figures against the grass. He's thankful as the village, visible as not more than a dark shadow perched on the slope above the two rivers, and the villagers within make no attempt to follow them as of yet. They probably do not see them as anything other than a few sheep or something, moving swiftly in the direction of the woods.
He signals Lorne with a twirl of his hand to stay low as they walk along the riverbeds. Some of the sheep baa and run off in different directions and it's just another thing John hopes won't alarm the villagers; it will take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for Arn and the others to wake up or for the Wraith to notice that their lunch is missing.
And he isn't sure if he should be more afraid of the villagers, given that he knows how they hunt, or of the Wraith. He hasn't seen any Wraith activity; any foot soldiers or darts, and perhaps they don't have any around, though it's unlikely and he keeps expecting the hiss of Wraith darts echoing through the valley at any second.
"How far is the gate from here?" he asks.
"The gate's location is on the moon, we're here with a jumper," Lorne supplies. "It's parked in a clearing close to the forest's edge."
That explains the whole business with the village on the other side of the mountains. So a few hours walk, fewer hours if they run and he's glad he had made the forest his favourite hiding spot over the last months or he would be lost on the way in the upcoming night.
It's familiar, so damn familiar to lead his team, his people, across the grasslands and towards the bushes and trees. It's like slipping back into a well-worn pattern of behaviour, into a second nature that has just waited, and he is reminded of the first time he had stepped into the forest months back, of the way the crossbow felt like it had been made for his hands, like he always had it. He can remember how he paced the forest like a soldier patrolling the perimeter, like he'd done a million times on missions and it all makes sense now.
It all makes so much sense now.
The story of the Mother and the shadow bringers becomes clear; how the Ancients came and left again because of their war a long time ago, how people with the gene were culled or starved to death and how the Wraith came and made this place a steady source of nourishment in the times when most Hives where hibernating. It makes sense how the Queen had taken them as her worshippers, probably beaming in from a nearby Hive or base whenever the sensors showed activity… or so he thinks; that part of the theory still lacks in detail.
If the gate were in space – or on the moon -- then the jumper would have noticed a Hive upon arrival. If the facility in the mountains had been big enough to be a real base, then the jumper would have picked up on the energy signals – which it should have anyway with the shielding and all -- and where were the Wraith hiding anyway? Unless of course it's just the one Wraith, just the Queen and Tuuli and his men, he shakes his head.
"Did you notice anything about the Wraith when you came here first?" he asks, knowing that Rodney is behind his shoulder as they move. He is always there, was always there, and for a moment John grins stupidly at having that back now.
"There were Ancient ruins on the other side of the mountains, but we got no energy readings or anything out of the ordinary from our scans. It was all pretty much levelled," Rodney says.
John imagines how Rodney and a team just flew across the village in their invisible jumper and walked through the woods on the other side of the mountains while John worked and hunted and had no idea who they even were.
"Well, nothing but the life signs from a handful of villages that is," Rodney continues. "And obviously some greenery that they thought was worth checking out."
Rodney is openly disgusted by whoever he means by 'they' and swirls a hand to illustrate. It's just like in the old times, home.
"That was why you had Doctor Brown along?"
"Caldwell and Woolsey thought it might be a nice place to get the more base-bound scientists out for a change," Lorne adds. "They also thought it was better to stay away from the natives."
So Caldwell took over for John, he had figured that would happen, had actually watched it happen, though the details are all slowly floating out of reach already. The Woolsey thing, he senses, might be a bit of a longer story he might not enjoy too much by the way Rodney and the others around him look. The IOA had already tried to have more of an influence on the expedition before, now they just may have managed to do it.
"Didn't work out with the avoiding contact to the natives thing, huh?" John drawls.
"No, it didn't, sir," Lorne says, relief evident in his voice. "And you have no idea how glad Dr. Weir was to hear we saw you," he adds.
John may have a certain idea, but she certainly would have had anything on Rodney pestering Caldwell and Woolsey into agreeing to check it out. He actually would have liked to spy on that briefing.
The rain pounds down harder on them and the sky darkens a little more, the shortening of daylight the closer it gets to the dark season showing and yet there is no sign of the villagers or Tuuli and John hopes it stays that way as the first sporadic trees and bushes come into view. Lorne takes over the lead, navigating in an almost straight line towards where he is sure the jumper must be.
And John wants to believe it's as easy as that but there is a sound in the woods. The cracking of branches is hardly audible above the pitter-patter of the rain but all weapons are aimed at the source as their small group falls into complete silence. It's nobody John would have expected to catch up, though, of all the people to follow them, from Wraith to Tuuli, it's her.
"Mies," Vinte says and steps out from behind one of the trees, eyes wide and afraid at the guns directed at her.
"Lower them," John says and hurries over to her, guiding her back to lean against the tree. "Vinte, why did you come here? You should be back at the village!"
How could she even be upright right now the way she looks, let alone how she could have walked all the way here?
"How have you even managed to walk here?" he asks and she just smiles, her face bright and happy despite rain and cold.
"It's alright, John."
He raises his eyebrows at her mentioning his name and blinks, taken aback by the fact that after the second time his eyes close for just a split second, it's no longer the old woman but the young one from his dreams. He looks over at the others to seek confirmation he's seeing this but they don't seem to notice the change. They all look as if they don't even know that she's there, like they're suspended in their own little world for a moment.
"John…" she says and lays a hand on his cheek that draws his attention back to her. "I'm glad you remembered this. I was so worried you would never find your way back."
"I…" he tries to says something but doesn't know exactly what. He remembers her now from the months he spent with her and her people, helping them succeed against fear itself and showing them the way to ascension.
He had not done much in his opinion, nothing but fall asleep at meditation and fight, which was what he still did best, but it had helped to put their fears to rest and now she was here, again.
"Teer, what…" he says but she shakes her head and smiles.
He wants to ask a million questions and more, details of his dreams still sharp but other memories he has just regained less than few hours ago are already slipping away, so much is lost already and most of it from after the point of his death.
"It's okay, I told you I would help you, and I have helped you to remember." She looks over to his friends. "For now you're safe from them, so leave."
She doesn't mean Tuuli and his men but the others, those ascended who were keen on punishing him. Those bloody incorporeal bastards that haven't set foot on a solid piece of earth in several millennia who came up with the fantastic idea to make him the enemy of his own people.
"They will punish you for it," he says and knows they will come up with something, if they already haven't.
She has taken on the form of Vinte, who probably had died in the snow before John had even been made corporeal again, had hidden in the old woman's form to give him the dreams or… well, that is what he figures must have been the reason. He's a little foggy on the details. He has no clue what she has given up helping him, what kind of true punishment she will be facing or has already accepted.
"Don't worry about me," she says. "I've seen our story long before it happened and have told you so before. I may not have changed your punishment much, but I have postponed it in this way…"
He frowns at her words in confusion but then things fall into place and the grand scheme of things in the game they play becomes clear.
The Ancients have taken his mind for what he has done and Vinte… Teer… has helped him to preserve the memories of his people somehow, he knows, and it's bad enough that Baker died and John had done nothing before he truly could remember, but now, now the Wraith – be it just the one Queen or an entire Hive – will know something is wrong down here and because of the Queen draining Baker they also know that Atlantis is aware of this village and this world and his tribe.
They are still his tribe. Mies is still inside him.
The hunter who has been son to Tuuli and lover to Ilren, friend to Arn and who mourned Njir; Jesus, he damned them with remembering that he is not that man, has probably broken their entire lifestyle. Sure, they are Wraith worshipers and he now understands most of what has been going on over the months… but… Vinte has changed his punishment by making him remember and he starts to wonder if that's not the real punishment to begin with.
"It's alright," Teer says and pats his chest again.
"No… it's not!"
"Go now," she says.
He wants to protest, but the faint hiss of Wraith darts breaking the clouds above is suddenly startlingly clear in the cacophony of rain drops hitting the ground and he looks up to see the black darts zoom in on their location. So not just one Wraith Queen, he thinks as the world starts moving again.
"Sir!" Lorne yells for him and most of the team is already running.
Vinte… Teer… has vanished into thin air as he looks back to her, done with her part in this show, and he looks back in the direction of his tribe once before running as well.
The jumper is cloaked but the heavy rain drums over its surface and illustrates its shape sharply enough to know where it is and as John catches up to the others and sees it, just its ghostly imprint into the weather is enough to make him take a deep breath and feel a strange relief flood over him.
No matter his tribe and the darts, home is so close, so damn close.
He commands the ship to become visible and it complies. The sound of the hatch opening and the ramp lowering sounds like music to him. He's in and runs to the front, up to the pilot's seat, where he flops down and waits for a moment, laying both hands flat on the controls just to cherish the call that the Ancient machinery sends out to him. He grins and pats the console, closing his hands around the handles of the jumper almost gently.
"Seriously, you can flirt with your jumper later, for now I'd very much rather get the thing in the air before the Wraith are on top of us!"
"I'm on it, McKay!"
John takes her off the ground gently and virtually floors it as soon as he's above the treetops, zipping along the expanse of green and towards the mountains beyond with the hiss of the darts behind him and their weapon fire hitting the snowy tops of the mountains as he narrowly flies over their peaks, avalanches crashing down the ravines and cutting into the forest green as he touches the clouds and beyond.
It's like coming home to see the stars and the darkness of space again, even with the darts and the narrow misses that rock their ship.
It's a miracle they take no direct hits, and it's a even larger miracle that the Hive that looms above them, called as reinforcements to the scene, misses as well.
"Thank you," he whispers and knows to whom.
A dart hisses after the jumper, shooting narrowly past and he pushes the Ancient engine a little further, makes her purr in his mind as he flies a curve and lines up to the Stargate. He will have to do a hell of a breaking stunt on the other side, even with the city's dampeners catching him but right now, right here, he just has to reach the gate and get away.
"Hold on!" he yells and they cross the horizon.
The shield rises as soon as they are through and they can hear the three impacts into it even in the jumper, everyone looking a little shaken and soaked through with rain except for John, who smiles because he's home.
Home, he thinks as he sees the control room, Elizabeth on her balcony and the stained glass windows at the top of the stairs. Oh, and the looks on Woolsey and Caldwell in the background are priceless. He closes his eyes and welcomes the city into his head, letting her roam his thoughts freely for a moment and takes the jumper up into the bay without opening his eyes again.
"This is going to be one long briefing," he hears one of the remaining Marines mutter and can't hold the relieved laugh that wants to bubble from the pit off his stomach in any longer, looks over and sees Rodney in the co-pilot's seat.
He looks back, one hand still on the console before him, and grins as if he'd discovered something really cool like a really big gun or something, and John is just happy he can remember what to compare the expression with again. Finally.
The next hours give him no time to think about anything other than that. The briefing is indeed long and tiresome since he can't answer much. It's as if he has lost most of what he'd known the very moment he remembered himself – as odd as that may have sounded to Woolsey and the others present— the dreams he had had the entire duration he had stayed with the Wraith worshippers have mostly become fuzzy and unclear, too, and all he knows is that he is back and that it feels, ignoring the fact that it is well over 18 months since he died, like not much more time than perhaps a few days have passed.
The soldiers in the halls greet him with the same small nods or gestures of respect as they had back in the day and almost everyone smiles at him, welcomes him back. He even finds himself okay with the tendency of a large part of the female expedition members to hug him tightly, but that's mostly because Rodney looks a little pissed and he always loved to tickle Rodney's jealous streak.
Oh, and he can be pretty jealous and throw fits with the best of them; he's in his element when he is allowed to yell for whatever reason.
And John, as absurd as it sounds, missed that so much.
The wildly flying hands, the eyes, the mouth, the curve of his jaw and the spot where Rodney has that little, not quite double chin, well it's not really one, it's more like a small roundness at his chin becoming prominent when he glowers, oh, and he missed that, too, not quite as much as his city though.
God, he missed his city's beautiful soft voice in the back of his head, the warm motherly presence… although he thinks about not using that word to describe her for a while, rather naming her caring or provident something like that. She is pleased to welcome him back, he feels it, and the world he had picked to evacuate them to fits her and her inhabitants well with the wide oceans and the mild climate. The only true difference to Lantea are the two moons and the longer hours of the day, things nobody quite cares for anymore so he doesn't either.
Rodney has told him that it had been three months until the last of his minions managed to adjust to the newly calculated 31 hour system without arriving late all the time, told him that some of them have degrees in math and should know how to read a simple clock and probably just tried to sleep a little longer or something. He had babbled a lot as John was in the infirmary for the first day or so, and has rambled on at every given moment since then, determined to make him catch up to every last thing.
It's nice, and the offer that Caldwell made about retaking his position as military commander as soon as he has caught up to recent developments again makes it even better. That offer was the last thing John had counted on after coming back, but Caldwell seemed actually glad to get rid of the command although he, of course, didn't say that out loud.
John knows it, however, can read between the lines by now.
Rodney is still accusing him of having done several things while he was ascended, like giving him pointers to the energy station and the Wraith Queen hiding close to it, or that Carson somehow ended up with just a hand full of scrapes instead getting killed in an explosion – seriously, exploding tumours—and all the other small things.
"I can't remember anything," John says then and grins.
He can't remember anything of it, of course, but knows that he had not just stood by as his people got themselves into trouble. He also knows that this rescue, even with the victims on both sides, was still too easy and that the true punishment is waiting. Caldwell, after much asking from John and – what may pass as begging – sends the Daedalus which is now constantly stationed on Atlantis and may be another reason Caldwell would not mind John back in his position, back to the world of John's tribe to look for them.
It is no true surprise that the Wraith have taken out their anger about the escaped Atlanteans; in retrospect, the balance between Tuuli's people and the Mother was too fragile to hold in the current times anyway. Another part of him knows that Teer has been punished somehow, as well, in this game and not just for holding to him and helping him, and that the biggest part about his punishment may be that he is to blame.
His true punishment is to live and remember.
He had broken the rules and broken them again, lost his place as an ascended being in exchange for his people's security, eradicated sentient machines and is to blame for the Wraith destroying his tribe for saving his people again. Mies hates him for it as much as John is happy to be back. It's like Dex and Mitch and all the other times breaking rules ended bitterly combined, but for now, at least he's back home.
He tries to forget, even as he tries to get Rodney to stop babbling the best way he remembers, the punishment will never go away and he may never get used to this guilt.
"I seriously can't remember that Rodney," he says fondly, and covers the busy mouth with his own.
Rodney's mouth still moves and muffled words spill from his lips, but John is determined to get him to talk about other things instead, things John can remember, or better, things John can make new memories of. Relearning the cartography of a body he had forgotten for so long, have Rodney mock John's hairstyle after combing through his hair while John goes down on him. Oh and the shape of Rodney's mouth when he comes… all these little things.
He collects them and builds a wall with them around the guilt.
He knows the Ancients are watching, probably just waiting for him to mess up again and inflict yet another creative punishment on him, some trap here or unlucky mission there, but for now he may as well give them a proper show to make their time worthwhile.
He knows they will watch him.
John Sheppard awakes standing on a vast expanse of ice, lonely and freezing. There is a green valley spreading below and dark woods looming in the distance, endless incredible blue sky spreads towards the horizon and when he reaches out and spreads his fingers he can almost touch the clouds.
He looks up into the blue and remembers Atlantis and his friends, holds to them a last time, then closes his eyes. He imagines the ocean and the silver spires he knows inside and out until a tug on his hand brings him back into reality.
Teer looks up at him and smiles, and together they start walking towards the valley and warmth.
He forgets a face, a piece of his life, a fragment of his being with every step, until they are all gone, until even Rodney is gone, and only the blue sky and the smiling old woman's face above him where Teer was just seconds before is left.
That is how Mies is born.