Cage for Gods
Big Bang 2007.   Forks in the Road: Tao of Rodney - Rodney ascends.
It was meant to be a quick ascension, turn around and come back, don't let the revolving ascended plane door hit him on the ass on the way home. But maybe he got distracted or...something, because hours had become days, days had become weeks and Rodney hadn't come back.
Word Count
63948 words
Companion Artwork
  • Unlikely Angels by beeej

After everything that he'd survived, all this time of dodging bullets, accidentally starting up dangerous ancient devices, crashing things with style, getting bitten by alien bugs and every dangerous thing the Pegasus galaxy had thrown at him to date, he was going to damn well die in a pit.

Admittedly, a very deep pit. With sharp things in it and snakes, which  seemed like overkill, because they could've just shot him rather than go through all this crap. It would've sounded ridiculous if he hadn't already been in the damn thing for an eternity and the only reason he'd survived the first dose of snake bites was he still had McKay's epipen on him and had just managed to inject himself before his breathing seized up completely.

There was no reason for him to carry it any more. He knew that, but he still did because it meant that Rodney was still somewhere, even if he hadn't come back. Even though he'd promised, he still hadn't come back. It was meant to be a quick ascension, turn around and come back, don't let the revolving ascended plane door hit him on the ass on the way home. But maybe he got distracted or... something, because hours had become days, days had become weeks and Rodney hadn't come back.

John tried to shift carefully without disturbing the lethargic snakes, who were less fond of dark, cold damp pits than he was. They wanted sun, and heat and after their first irritated responses they had become sluggish which had been a very small silver lining. Everything hurt when he moved even a little, in blooms of agony, but he knew the fact he couldn't shiver despite being wet and cold was a bad sign. Fuck. No-one knew where he was, he wasn't sure if he was still bleeding, he'd been bitten by unknown venomous snakes and if that didn't kill him, the cold and injuries eventually would.

And he was still obsessing about McKay. Still looking on every planet they visited to see if he was going to pull a Jackson on them. Still searching every face, and still trying to act as if the others were crazy to talk as if Rodney were dead, rather than taking a higher plane of existence trip to a temporary vacation from their reality.

There was no question for him that Rodney was ascended, though apparently it wasn't so clear cut to everyone else. Rodney's body was gone, and that should have left no question at all. Well, most of his body. There were some DNA residues on the infirmary cot, which was cause for concern to everyone else. It wasn't like brain death from over-activity led to bodies dissolving, but John seemed to be the only person who had faith that Rodney would come back. That was what Daniel Jackson had always done, shown up when people  needed him, really, really...

John really needed Rodney. Desperately needed him, needed just a, just a hand up, because he was in agony, and if he could just get a hand at the edge of the pit's lip, John knew he could haul himself up.

But he'd needed Rodney before. He'd had near death brushes before they ran afoul of the left over Genii again. Turned out they held a grudge, seriously. He wasn't even sure if Kolya had somehow survived because his second had said something about making him suffer like their commander had suffered.

He didn't remember a pit being involved though.

"Could use a hand..." he whispered aloud, his only audience the snakes. "C'mon, you gotta be there."

If he thought about it, it might've involved a pit. They'd buried Kolya, and if he had lived, he was just the kind of guy who deserved to be buried alive. But that was Kolya, and John, okay, maybe John had killed a lot of Genii. Trying to rationalize it out in his head was harder than he'd thought, and he needed something, a flare of hope.

"I expected to find you like this eventually."

John opened his eyes in the dim light and there he was. After all this time, he was finally there looking just the same with his mouth set in a line of disapproval, his eyes blue and clear. "Hey Rodney..." He even managed a bit of a smile. "If you tell me I'm having hallucinations and near death experiences, I'll be pretty pissed. Where've you been buddy?"

"Everywhere. It's..." Rodney's spectral, or was it astral, form was dressed in bland white, like that time they'd been in the virtual reality simulation. "You just need to hang on, John. Just a little longer – Ronon and Teyla are on their way."

"That's... a pretty ancienty thing to say..." John drawled trying to sound casual. It failed as his muscles spasmed. "Fuck!" It took him a long moment to focus again because snake venom wasn't doing him any good and he was pretty sure there were internal injuries as well. "You coming home now Rodney?"

His tone was quiet and weak, even to himself. But Rodney seemed to hear him, which didn't mean that the words had even been spoken aloud.

"I can't. I can't just descend, and they're not going to let me break the rules. Because I'm the, they have problems they can't solve because their brains are locked into their rules and regulations. So just hold on, John. And could you try to be a little more careful?" Rodney had his arms crossed over his chest, and he stood at John's feet. It would have felt a little more real if there hadn't been a snake slithering through Rodney's foot.

"Sure you can..." John said, mustering all the hope in the world, even if his breath wanted to come in short bursts for some reason. "Nothing's impossible for you. You've been telling me that for years."

The snake was heading towards him, probably looking for warmth. He would have to hold still. "Ascend... come back, descend. You even had me hold onto a robe in case you were, were... naked."

It was all he could think about. Even dying, it was still more important than being in a pit.

"I thought I could. If I descend, I'll turn into Orlin. I'm, look, John, I'm still looking for a way to descend, which means you have to not die. You have to hang on and live."

"You promised." John murmured. Orlin, Orlin... oh God, brain damaged Ancient guy. "I've been looking for you. Dammit Rodney, I thought..."

He thought a lot of things, he hadn't said a lot of things and he wanted Rodney back.

"If you can't come back..." He would have to say goodbye, and maybe it was easier to give up here and now than go on without that hope.

"I'm not saying can't. I'm not, and you need to hold together because never doesn't mean a real never unless I'm dead." Rodney folded his arms tighter over his chest. "Fuck, they're watching. You'd think that if you were a god-like being, you could find something better to do than police yourself into doing nothing."

"It's not like you're doing anything apart from watching me die. By snakes." John said, and the snake was slithering over him. "In a good way... in a non-breaking rules way."

His eyelids drooped some more, regardless of the fact he just wanted to see Rodney there, every mannerism perfect and as fresh as his own memory. "How's the god-like being thing working out for you..."

"Not all it's cracked up to be." Rodney stooped down in front of him. "Stop making this hard for me, John. I'm doing what I can, and I'll be back, do you understand?"

John wanted to say, Hey excuse me for dying in front of you. Now you know what it's like, but he was stopped as Rodney's ethereal hand reached down towards him. What John didn't expect was the faint tingling, tight feeling in his chest, the sensation of hands against his skin, seeping warmth into his bones again.

"I miss you, too. I miss everything, and I'll be back if I can." The heat kept seeping inwards, almost burning, kept spreading out from where Rodney's hands were on his side. "I've been trying and I'll keep trying."

"I know..." But it was hopeless. Rodney wasn't coming back. Never coming back, not to him. It hurt more than the snake bite. The heat was growing and he shivered suddenly, getting an irritated hiss from the snake sliding over him.

"Shhh. Shhh, when you get back, have Carson load you up with the anti-venom. They're here." He moved quick, hugged him tight, and John felt a bloom of heat, like light shimmering through his skin, and then Rodney was gone.

"Colonel Sheppard!"

"John?! John, look up. We are throwing a rope down."

"Rodney..." They wouldn't hear that. If he'd had a moment more maybe he would've managed to give Rodney that reason to come back. The one that had been at the back of his mind as maybe the reason why Rodney hadn't made it back before now. Maybe Rodney didn't have an idea of why John needed him back.

The rope was another slithering sensation over him. He felt less numb, and more numb at the same time, and barely reached for the rope's rough scratching sensation with his fingers. "Hold on, John. Major Lorne's team is coming with a puddle jumper."

Rodney had warmed him up. That was probably something wrong and going to get him in trouble. He very, very slowly managed to loop the rope around him, push off the snake and if it bit him his fingers were too numb to feel it.

The effort made him nearly black out in pain but they seemed to realize he had done something and were pulling.

"Hang on..."

And there it was in the back of his head, a voice that wasn't Ronon's or Teyla's, even though they were talking to him, coaxing him to cling tight while they pulled. There was Rodney's voice in his mind, pressuring him not to let go.

It didn't matter if it was a hallucination or not.

He held on because if he didn't, Rodney would be gone again, forever. That was the fine line he was walking. The hallucination was better than the absence and he was just grateful he'd seen something of him again because living in hope was a tiring state of existence. It didn't allow him to give up, to let the hurt takeover of having lost him. He loved him and Rodney had never known and that was the reason for... pretty much everything now. Had always been the reason.

By the time they dragged him out he was losing the battle to stay awake but he managed, "Did... you see him?"

"See who?"

After that, there was no point staying awake.

This late at night, the infirmary was usually quiet comparatively speaking, assuming no major emergencies. There were no gate teams out, which usually meant that Carson let someone a little lower down the command chain control the infirmary for the night.

But the patient Teyla and Ronon had brought back that afternoon still had him concerned. John should have had more damage internally, but it seemed as if someone had pulled it out of his body.

He should be dead. Everything in the scans and the symptoms told him that. The effects of the beatings, the snakebites and blood loss were clear and present in his scans but not actually there anymore. There was just no way John should've survived.

And yet he had. He was still not in the best of shape, but a lot better than he had any right to be because he could read the scans and under other circumstances he would expect to only see those sorts of traces and results at an autopsy. Something had happened, he knew that much and Carson put himself on the night watch so he would be there when John woke up. It had always been Rodney, or one of his team before, but the vigil went unmanned this time. He still felt the ache of guilt over not saving Rodney, as well as a different sort of pain he kept to himself. It was too late to regret things he wasn't even sure were real.

He'd lost his friend, after all. He'd lost... just as much as the rest of them. Carson had lost Rodney, watched him die when it was his job to keep them all from dying. Keep them from disappearing in a flash of bright light that left him wanting for old-times again, that left him wondering just where Rodney was, and what had happened. The device hadn't been proved and tested after all. The explosion of light could've been a side effect of the moment, of the device vaporizing him. That was the most likely scientific explanation for what happened, much as it pained him to admit it.

But he couldn't tell John that because John was sure Rodney had ascended and he recognized John needed some hope just to be able to keep going. He'd watched that hope erode and fade as the weeks went on, and he'd watched John take more and more risks searching for Rodney and less and less care with regard to his own safety. It was as if that just didn't matter anymore.

He looked up at the change in the monitor sounds, moving closer.

It meant that John was awake, or shifting towards it. Awake enough that Carson might as well be present for the moment that John did pull himself out of sleep and into the no less-dark waking world. He slipped off his desk chair, and wandered towards John's bed.

Carson picked up John's wrist carefully, feeling for his pulse, preferring the touch method of checking vitals even though he could see the monitor read outs as well. They didn't tell him how strongly the pulse was beating and it felt solid and strong. "Feels like you're coming round lad. Don't make a liar out of my medical expertise."

"Why'd I do that?" John's voice was a low slur of noise, and it made Carson want to pat his shoulder and tell him he was all right. That he'd be all right, if he'd just... let go. Except it would only make John feel like a failure for not finding the thing he wanted the most.

"Because you enjoy baiting your hardworking doctor?" Carson replied softly. "You waking up? You can do better than that John." He called him Colonel in public, but since the whole turning into a bug debacle, he called him John in private.

You couldn't exactly nurse a man through turning into a bug and back without breaking down some of the barriers between doctor and patient. Especially when he had been the one ultimately responsible for that terrible transformation.

"Hey, 'm still alive. Seeing things and everything."

"Oh aye? What did you see?" Carson asked holding his hand ostensibly to monitor his vitals even as John opened his eyes and he settled next to him.

"McKay." The edge of John's lips twitched up, the first hint of a smile he'd seen in weeks. "I saw him, and he bitched, he, the whole time, I...." He waved a hand, a vague gesture.

Carson exhaled, wanting very hard just to accept that as truth, but feeling a sense of responsibility to point out the odds of there being another explanation. "Rodney? John, you were very close to death. Snake venom can be hallucinogenic. I think that maybe you wanted him to be there."

"He was there." John was frowning at him, mouth twisted up blearily. "He ascended."

"John...  John, we're not completely sure of that," Carson reminded him. It wasn't as if he'd hadn't submitted a report clinically detailing the potential mechanism of vaporization. John had evidently chosen to ignore it. "Although for a companion to hallucinate in a pit I would have to admit I could think of more slightly more sociable options."

Nevertheless he needed to know it was possible so he made a grudging acknowledgement that it might be true by asking a question. "What did he say..?"

"He said he was trying to come back. And he couldn't. They wouldn't let him." Which could have been John's subconscious trying to soothe him with reasons for why Rodney wasn't with them, but it could've also been a truth. Never mind that Carson knew what Kate would say about the matter, had said about the matter being a psychological projection of an inability to process grief and loss. Just by playing along he was breaking the secret instructions they had all received.

There was still that matter of the strangely absent internal injuries which he couldn't explain. But as far as he understood it, that was pretty much against the Ancients Code of not helping and not interfering with the natural course of things. Frankly he thought the ascended ancients were hypocrites. They created the situation that prevented others seeking the enlightenment others achieved and when they had the power to do something about it, they kicked back on their astral plain and spouted sanctimonious garbage about Prime directives of some such Star trek related concept rip-off.

"Did he help you in any way?" Carson asked looking at him. John looked exhausted in more than one way, as if he had given up something.

"I think so. He's probably in trouble for it, but they won't kick him out. Too useful." John lifted his free hand up to his mouth, muffled a quiet cough. The chill of the pit had probably done more short-term damage than the venom.

He seemed so sure about things, just as laid back as if he was talking about some new creature encountered on a new world. "Can you tell me exactly what you think he did to you?" Carson asked, even as he automatically moved to elevate the bed a little to help John's lungs. There was pneumonia lurking somewhere and it would be a miracle if it didn't come out.

"He leaned forwards, put his arms around me, and... Everything started to warm up again. From the inside out. Then he was gone." John's gaze was listless, but he turned his head to watch Carson fiddle with the controls on the bed.

"Hmm." He had to admit that it sounded a lot like Zelenka and Ronon's descriptions of their experience of ancient style hands on healing. Even John's if he went back and looked at the notes on the sanctuary. "I must admit John, there are signs on the outside that you should have severe internal damage... and you don't. Perhaps he did help you survive. I can imagine Rodney breaking rules left, right and centre."

"They still won't kick him out. They want him where they have him." And John's mouth twisted down, slid sideways for a moment as his eyes roamed to the side. "He's out there."

And he hadn't come back yet. Carson could practically hear that in John's thoughts. "John, I'm sure if he could come back he would. I'm sure he knows you want him back. You're not the only one who misses him." They all did, and Rodney had been one of his few friends. Sometimes things were a little acrimonious, yes, but all people got on like that. Nothing was perfect all the time.

"He wants to come back, and he can't. And before he knows it, we'll all be gone and dead..."

Oh hell. Rather than being the inspiring hope, because Rodney was still out there, the encounter seemed to have convinced John that Rodney wasn't coming back.

"John? You know, Rodney wouldn't stop working on it. Don't give up on him now. You're the one who has been so sure."

It made Carson's head hurt, because now he was arguing for what might be a delusion, and he leaned forwards slightly, reached a hand out to touch John's temple. Kate was going to kill him for 'feeding John's unhealthy refusal to acknowledge loss."

John's eyes drifted closed. "I... hey, since when can you grill patients this late at night?"

"Since they wake up in the wee hours after worrying me silly," Carson murmured, trying to force a smile of his own. "You're not alone, John, okay?"

"Sure. Yeah." John swallowed, a motion Carson could see, and he pulled at the sheets with one hand. "I didn't mean to worry you, Doc."

"Lad, you were born to worry me," Carson said with a twist of dark humor. "And I'm sure you'll be out there worrying me a whole lot more soon."

He brushed at John's hair with his fingers, a habit he hadn't been able to break because John's hair always looked like it was rampaging out of control. He sighed a little and asked the question that everyone had been avoiding. Had it been ongoing, had they made that connection before this happened or was John dealing with the weight of feelings never acted upon.

"Did you ever tell Rodney?"

John's shoulders lifted, rolled slightly in a vague and non-committal shrug. "There wasn't a point."

Carson was surprised after all the life and death situations they had been in and the way Rodney behaved, and John for that matter when one or other of them had been under his care. "If he comes to you again, tell him. Even if you don't think there is a point."

It also explained a lot about John's behavior and attitude. He'd been in love with Rodney and Rodney hadn't known. To someone who knew the signs it was obvious. Dead was easier when it came to unrequited love, as much as Carson hated to think that about Parna. There was no ghost of hope clinging to the mind, but with Ascension... with Ascension there was that feeling of waiting, that hope or the knowledge that they didn't mean enough to come back for.

It was funny that Rodney was the last person anyone had expected to ascend.

"I'm pretty sure I won't see him again unless I'm nearly dead, Carson."

"Doesn't mean he isn't around," Carson replied. "And with your track record... that might mean you see him in a couple of weeks John."

He tried to make it sound light but he was genuinely worried about the possibility. If John had it in his head or his subconscious to try to get himself killed so he could see their friend again... It was something he'd need to tell Elizabeth about. He couldn't just let it slide.

John laughed, a dull sound that made Carson's stomach sink. "Yeah, maybe."

Carson didn't want to do that, didn't want to tell Elizabeth that John was teetering on the edge of complete self destruction. Maybe he could head it off, fill a little bit of a gap because John could deal with physical pain, but his strategy for emotional pain was to try and push it down until no one could see it. That wasn't particularly effective.

"I don't need the over time John. I'd rather not have to bring you back from the brink too many times - I think you're already beating out everyone else."

Except Rodney, who had gone that one step further and he'd known everyone was expecting him to come up with an answer.  Carson had seen the look in Rodney's eyes when he read his mind and realized he didn't know how to save Rodney. He'd never felt so completely and utterly useless in his life as when Rodney said "thank you" for doing nothing before he died. It nearly broke him there and then.

"I'm just... doing the job, Carson. Just doing the job." Above and beyond, and yes, he needed to say something, needed to step in.

He just wasn't sure what to say to make it work. "Aye, and a fine job too. Just... there's only so many memorial services I can stand John. I'd rather not be standing at yours as well."

John cut a look up to Carson, and almost looked like he was smiling even though it wasn't funny at all. "Hey. I'm not... not trying to die here. Okay?"

Carson looked down at him, having to swallow back emotion because he'd lost one of his best friends and it hurt, it hurt a lot and seeing another do this to himself hurt almost as much if not more than going through it himself. "Okay," he answered quietly. "Okay, John... I'll stop keeping you from your rest now."

He patted John gently on the arm and then turned to leave. Maybe he couldn't be who John needed and never would be, but just because he wasn't a perfect fit was not reason to walk away forever. Maybe if he just tried hard enough, was good enough he might stop them all losing another friend.

John was pretty sure that on previous Infirmary stays Carson hadn't been quite this cautious with him. It wasn't like he hadn't been very near to death before, and he hadn't been sweetness and light in his recovery then, either, but this time it was a little strange.

Carson seemed to be seeing something in him that John wasn't sure if it were true or Beckett was just being paranoid and over sensitive. All those late night talks, the kindness and gentleness that was appreciated in a bemused fashion seemed to point to Carson thinking he was trying to self-destruct. And the weird thing was that John wasn't sure if Carson was right or not.

It wasn't something he gave much thought to, either way. He was trying to exist, trying to keep the mission going. Trying to find a way to fight the wraith, find new tools, find new weapons for the fight back on Earth. John was just working and trying to, trying to...

He wasn't actually sure what he was trying to do, because saying trying to survive was too close to admitting that there could be something to the self-destruct theory. He tended not to over analyze experience and emotion because if he did, turning into a bug and feeling his humanity drain slowly away would've had him in a straitjacket pretty quickly. Or being fed on by a wraith. Or any number of pretty unpleasant things that had happened to him in his eventful career. He just kinda acknowledged what he was feeling and tried to move on.

And what he was feeling was a helluva lot of pain one way or another. And yeah, he wanted that to stop. And okay, he wanted Rodney back and he was pretty sure now that Rodney was never coming back. It was another pain on top of the existing one, but there wasn't any predetermined thought going 'must self-destruct now'.

On the other hand, he guessed he wasn't presenting a very healthy balanced approach to dealing with the loss of a team mate. Denial, Kate called it. Sublimation of hope. Inability to grieve, rejection of bereavement based emotions -- whatever the hell that meant.

Rodney wasn't dead. He'd ascended, which wasn't that much different to a friend moving halfway around the world and just never calling again. There was no body and no solid reason for them just to dismiss Rodney like that. And no-one but him seemed to get it. He was the only one who held on to the fact that Rodney wasn't dead, so there wasn't anyone to have an inability to grieve over. Rodney was absent, not dead. It was a distinction he repeated like a mantra to himself.

Teyla and Ronon acted as if they should be happy for Rodney, while accepting him gone forever. It was a strange thing. How could be happy that he was gone? Even if he wasn't dead in a traditional sense of the way. The only one who seemed to believe in what he was saying was Carson. Even Elizabeth seemed dubious that the abrupt flash of light at the end when Rodney had vanished had not been some form of result of the machine, because no one had seen any sort of glowing squid flitting around and there had been DNA trace left.

No one said the squid thing was compulsorary. Ancients were invisible most of the time  from the reports and experiences they'd had. There was no actual rule he knew of that said Rodney had to wave glowing tentacles around ostentatiously when he ascended. Considering all the jokes he'd made about the liaison with Chaya, he could barely do it without being a hypocrite.

He turned his head as Carson re-entered the Infirmary. The man just didn't seem to be getting any sleep at the moment because he was always there whenever he was awake and that was most of the day.

"Hey. Am I cleared to go yet?" He shifted, pressed his hands against the mattress and shifted himself upright in the bed.

He saw Carson hesitate as if deliberating. "Aye John, tomorrow morning," Carson said eventually, as if he'd had to force himself to admit that John was healthy enough to leave the Infirmary. "Light duties to start with in case there are unanticipated residual effects."

"Hey, if anything turns black and starts to fall off, you'll be the first to know." He wished that he wasn't worrying Carson. The guy had his own problems, and more than enough work to take care of without John adding to it.

"Make sure that I am," Carson replied and sat down and looked at him with tired eyes. "I'm... in two minds as to what to recommend in my sign off report John. Whether I should recommend you for compulsory sessions with Dr Heightmeyer or not."

"She's said I'm showing an inability to grieve. But it's kind of hard to grieve someone who's not dead." Maybe if Carson knew he was talking to her already, he'd calm down.

"Grieving is not always about death John. It's about loss and Ascended or not, we've lost Rodney, much as it pains me to admit that."

And it did pain him, John could hear that in his voice. Carson had been Rodney's friend a long time. Since Antarctica, since before John had ever seen him and he'd watched the doctor at the strange memorial service standing there with tears pouring down his cheeks and... envied him for being able to do that. To allow his emotions free rein because that was one impossible thing for John, courtesy of his father.

"The point is John, you've been my patient too many times and I know you, how you react and it's... not like this."

"Hey, I'll just tell the Genii next time they want to bury me alive in a snake pit to lay off because you think I'm trying to kill myself." It was snappish, but he couldn't help frowning at Carson. Just a little, while he pushed himself to upright more. "You know, if Rodney had been alive, he would've ended up in that pit. Or found a way to get me out of there faster. It's... we're down a man. I'm down a man. It's like trying to do surgery with part of your hand missing."

Carson shook his head as if dismissing that as a reason. "I understand that John, and I don't think you are deliberately trying to do anything to yourself I just..." He sighed as he exhaled. "John, ever since I've known you, you've been dancing on a knife edge and pulling off miraculous survival. You've fought everything that hit you and come back from it. It's not that this happened. It's the fact I can't see you fighting like you used to. And that worries me, because I  don't want to lose another close friend."

If he said 'I'm having trouble finding something to fight for', he knew Carson would clamp down on his off-world work so fast John's head would spin, and he needed to be out there. Searching. "Hey, I'm not planning on going anywhere. I've got a city and friends that... want me around.

From the way Carson looked at him, it was like the doctor could see through him. But he nodded slowly, no matter what he thought, seemingly agreeing. "We want you around John. All of us. I'll say nothing more to Kate if you are already seeing her. Perhaps part of this is my own issues, not yours." He gave a slight depreciating smile as he sat back as if preparing to get up and leave him to it.

"How're you doing?" He didn't ask that of other people enough, because emotional talk wasn't his thing. But he could try.

Beckett chuckled slightly. "You don't want to know John. I'm fine. Like you're 'fine'."

And that was a bad, bad sign. Because if Carson was feeling like he was, then John didn't know what to do about that.

"You know how pissed off he'd be that we're still..." Torn up, John supposed. Bothered by it. Rodney hated people who wallowed, and that was what it felt like.

"I do. He used to give me a bloody hard time over my sentimental Scottish side," Carson replied with a weak smile. He shrugged a little. "But you never had to listen to him when you were in the Infirmary and he was not. He was a wreck every time, but by the time you came around he was all sarcasm again."

"Yeah, well." John swallowed a little against an inexplicably tight throat, watching Carson's slight, fidgety motions. "That's not  helping here. If it were reversed, Rodney would've... done something."

"I know," Carson replied and John realized that hadn't actually helped. He stood then. "I was intending to make you feel better not worse John, I'm sorry. Just."

He didn't look like he knew what he was trying to ask of him. "Just get some rest okay?"

"Yeah. I'll see you around, okay?" John would have to make some effort, but there was no harm on keeping an eye on Beckett.

"No doubt, I'll want you in for checkups daily for a few days so it will be hard to avoid me," Carson said a little wryly and he saw the moment where the doctor almost literally pulled himself together and put his game face back on. John wasn't sure if he was honored or uncomfortable with the fact that he'd let things slip in front of him.

He could figure it out later. "That's all right. I'd prefer if it nothing turned black and fell off."

That was enough to get a smile and a gentle pat to the shoulder as Carson headed away leaving him alone once again. He knew he had Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Carson, all of them but somehow even with him knowing Rodney was out there doing whatever the hell ancients did, there was still a gap in John's life that he wouldn't've believed possible.

A gap he was going to have to cope with, because Rodney McKay wasn't coming back.

Ascension was better and worse than he'd expected.

It was better, because he'd had mental fantasies that it would be jellyfish land. Not fantasies so much as nightmares, actually, that had made his head hurt when he realized that his world, his new world, was nothing at all like that. It was a place of motion and sensation and thoughts that were there and real and alive before he'd hardly finished thinking them. It was  energy dancing in unimaginable glorious spires that stitched the universe together at subtle levels that brushed very lightly the level of his previous existence. And it was no less amazing and astounding as the wonders of his reality. His senses were vastly different but his comprehension translated things into beauty and light. Sculpted spirals of light and color ever moving, the song of energy that attended the stars surpassing the most exquisite symphonies a human could attempt to encompass. He could see the dance of an atom, the flare of its indecision, touch the very heart beat of the universe and watch the birth of stars, and their death in black holes. He'd peered into the mysteries of dark matter, surfed quantum foam, watched the flicker of Stargates glittering like jewels in a subspace darkness and understood. It was clear to him how ZPMs functioned and all of his previous concerns that had stopped him like a brick wall, but there was no satisfaction in that knowledge.

The main problem with ascension was what he was allowed to do and not do was horrifyingly restricted.

To him, it seemed ridiculous. He was meant to be an infinite being and that pretty much meant in his mind complete and unadulterated freedom. To be honest he wasn't exactly sure how it worked and why the rules were so draconian but it seemed most of what he would've regarded as normal behavior was forbidden.

It made what should've been amazing and fantastic a nightmare. He could see them, he could tune in and hear them but he wasn't meant to do anything with that information and that wasn't the sort of person he was. He wanted them to throw him out of the energy plane, but they wouldn't. It seemed he was too useful. He had an instinctive means of 'fixing' things. And even here, or perhaps especially here, there were things to fix. All over the galaxy, experiments that had gone terribly wrong, or had had unknown impacts on the energy fields that held the universe together were now his problem to deal with.

And he had to admit, there was something pretty cool about being able to dive into the heart of a sun and correct the energy balances with the equivalent of his bare hands. It was pretty god-like if he thought about it too much, because bare hands, an actual sun, with more radiation hitting him than any device could measure and stand, but.

But they had a list of things that he needed to fix for them, and no allowance to fix the things he wanted to. He wanted to go back, wanted to be with the Atlanteans and help them. He'd even tried wheedling, trying to get 'bound' to the planet or city the way Chaya had.

No dice.

Frankly, a lot of the ascended ancients were snobs. He wasn't sure if the 'evolved' ancients thought themselves superior to the meditative 'worthy' ancients or the other way around. All he did know was that this place existed like one big tangle of rules that he didn't understand and never would.

"It is best to detach yourself from your former existence Rodney, as you will not be permitted to intervene again," Ganos Lal said, while manifesting next to him. Although theoretically it was more a case of attuning herself to his energy level rather than movement. It was all pretty complex but in the end she pretty much just appeared out of nowhere. "You will only suffer, as will they if you give them false hope."

"Daniel Jackson descended. I don't want to be here. I don't belong here. If I detach myself from my former existence... what is there?" A bunch of meditative bullshit was what there was that didn't seem to do any of them any good. He mentally folded his arms over his chest – one more sign that he was not far beyond the physical world – and kept peering at Carson and John as they spoke in the Infirmary. It was hard to adjust to the paradox of being near and impossibly far at the same time.

Ganos Lal sighed. "The mysteries of the universe to solve. Daniel Jackson was...expelled from the continuum, but Daniel Jackson did not have your skills Rodney and he had the renegade Oma Desala on his side. Do we have to go over this again? We exist as energy, thought-energy defines us and so we are limited by the thought patterns that construct our very selves. You, as an evolved Ascender have mind-patterns most of us do not have. You believe implicitly that you can work anything out. You believe you can fix anything, that you are more capable than anyone...and here, in this place, that belief has a reality as compelling as something solid on the lower planes. Many of the others do not have that Rodney... their awareness and perception of the universe is immense, but in more... esoteric directions."

"You want me to stay here because of my arrogant belief that I'm right and can fix your mistakes. The worst part is that I can. I can. I could fix Arcturus, I could probably go back and time and keep myself from screwing it up so badly in the first place." And that was an idea, and it was hard not to feel her unease when he suggested it.

"You could, but you would have to study the paradox fluctuations for a long time before you would be permitted to do anything," Ganos Lal replied dryly, and then turned serious as even the aura of light around her turned to darker more serious shades of her colors. "You need to learn to stop broadcasting Rodney. I could sense your feelings about watching your past friends from the upper levels. Not that I particularly wanted to be there, but you see my point."

"I don't know how to not broadcast. And they aren't my past friends. They're my current friends, which is more than I can say for the esoteric work-crew that likes life a few more levels removed from reality." He was an expansive sort of person. His energy field crackled like a summer storm, all actinic blues and sharp silvers, wild and uncontained.

"Then let me teach you," Ganos replied. "It can be very useful." She emphasized the last word as if she was trying to tell him something. "It is not a difficult concept, particularly for you so well versed in energetic laws."

Useful. Useful, well, if she was trying to talk to him and stress things when he was trying to eaves drop and see just how badly he needed to get involved... "Fine. Since I'm stuck here."

"Think of how the shields worked on our Lantean ships. How the energy structured itself. You can construct such a layer around yourself, allowing it to be permeable only to those emissions you want to project. Like... communication." She seemed strangely eager for him to do this.

It took a moment -- probably an infinitesimally short moment, but a moment was a moment was a moment -- to construct the shields with his mind. He did, though, reached out for thought and wrapped it around his form until he felt the shield-structure fall into place around him.

Immediately, Ganos moved closer within his sphere of influence.

"Finally!" she said. "It has been very hard to talk to you openly, without you knowing this skill. Fortunately, you have broadcast so loudly even I was instructed to teach you shielding. We have much to talk about Rodney... If you will listen. I know you are thinking of trying to Descend yourself. You cannot do that."

"Because the long-term success rate is probably in the 1X10^10 %," Rodney filled in for her. "I know. I read sg-1's reports."

"The energy of the ascended plane itself will force a Descension unless you are experienced enough to step outside it into differing energy levels..." Ganos replied making it obvious by her tone he was certainly not experienced enough. "Many of the punishments you have seen have been an attempt to stop this from happening in a disastrous way. Chaya Athar is one such. When one is falling to their doom, they can learn to welcome a rope that pulls tight around them."

She seemed agitated, her energies shifting in shades of green. He wished he knew what that meant. "It is hard Rodney, very hard to explain how it all works. Bending the rules is a risk few are willing to take and a true Descent requires the focus and support of a lot of energy, conscious and directed. I know you want to go back to them but it's more complicated than it appears. You know how hard it was to manifest on that energy level for you now...like diving down to the depths of the deepest ocean. I respect your will and determination in being able to manage it at all."

"They need me down there more than all of you need me up here." At least human mistakes were less haughty, which Rodney hadn't previously thought possible. It had been John's need that had called to him, given him an anchor point to grasp to allow him to manifest.

Ganos seemed to dismiss that consideration completely."That is where you are wrong. Though my fellows deny and resist it, the Ori will come. I myself have been restricted for what little warning I could give. One of my gifts before my Ascension was foresight and that has not changed. We need you because you can alter things, fight things and the rules hang loosely around you at the moment. That will change."

It sounded ominous, and he didn't care about that, although he didn't want to return to John, to Atlantis, a vegetable. Of all his fears, losing his mind had always been the one where he had mentally thought 'better off dead'. He'd burned his copy of Flowers for Algernon when he was ten and told his well meaning teacher she was a sadistic mentally abusive freak for recommending it.

"I'm not going to start following your pompous, badly planned rules because you say I should. What's the point of the rules, anyway? All it did was doom them, if the Ori were indeed coming to Pegasus or eyeing it.

"Then you will be cast out and return to your friends with the mental age of a 4 year old," Ganos said reluctantly. "You don't understand Rodney. Thought is real here. Tangible. The thought of a rule is as binding as chains and bars in your past reality. Thought is our physical material. Try and think of the implications. Think what it means to have a mindset. To have rules where the thought is the enforcer. You are still feeling the effects of the first rush of Ascension. That will fade. Over time the thoughts become harder and harder to shake off until you can expend most of your energy trying to resist."

He noticed she hadn't exactly answered the question either.

"Why will it fade? Will I suddenly believe in your stupid -- and I mean stupid -- rules, and fall under the shackle of them? It's like the federation in Star-Trek. It's a flawed conceptualization of a group that could do so much good."

"Many have thought that way. To interfere is to... contaminate." She sounded like she was struggling against the concept. "You saved a life that should've passed on. Who knows what changes and impact that will cause to the future timelines." She looked unhappy with what she was saying, but still she was saying it. "A sense of urgency is one of the first things to fade. The notion of linear time drifts. The only constants become the constructs of thought with which we create our reality here."

"If I'd been there, he wouldn't have even been in that pit. Time-lines change every moment because people are living their lives in surprisingly unexpected ways, whether the Ancients like it or not." Rodney bit out his words, still peering down at John and Carson as Carson walked away.

He didn't like it. He was seeing more, energies that he didn't understand and there was something worrying about that.

"Don't you think I also felt that way?" Ganos said. "They grieve and you want nothing more than to be there. The only reason that you were permitted to heal him was because of the group newly ascended who vow that their ascension was due to him and that it was not an act of hostility. Their positive regard helped, but you cannot rely on it Rodney. You should not."

He was watching John though, seeing every detail of the darkness in his eyes.

"I don't believe you. What you're saying... What you're saying is that I'll soon be useless to the cause of creating change, which is why you'll all keeping me here, but you won't let me pull a Daniel Jackson because you need me but you'll soon sap me of the ability to do what you need me to do. Does that sum it up?"

She actually laughed. "Yes Rodney, that is correct. There are many that believe that you can secure this area of the plane against the Ori. They will come. And if they do not there are others in the Outer Darkness."

It wasn't even remotely amusing.

"How am I supposed to secure this area against the Ori?" It was energy beings, ascended v. ascended, the ancients versus the snotty evil ancients. From his point of view he was seeing the attraction of ascended entities that meddled at will. That was probably some sort of blasphemy to even think that here.

"I do not know. But belief in itself is potent thing," Ganos answered. She turned away, fading from the convention of using a form to become an energy blob of rippling color ." I must report your progress. Do not dwell Rodney. Reach and make connections, and practice your shielding."

"You're going to have to forgive me, but I don't want to connect much with you all. When the sanest contact I can think of is you and Chaya, well..." Chaya, who Rodney would always think of as the squid who had sex with John.

It wasn't a comforting thought. It put a blight on a possible friendship when all they had in common was apparently a desire for John.

"It's not saying much, I know," Ganos said. "But there is time to adjust. There is always time."

For him maybe, but what about John? It had been too close, he had been dying and what if he'd lost him.

"If... something were to happen to John, could he ascend?" Because it wasn't the first time he'd intervened since he'd ascended, and Rodney didn't think it'd be the last. He wished John could just... pull it together. But he didn't know what he'd do if something had happened to John, or Carson, or even Radek.

"Can you not see the potential in him? That glow? You need to start looking properly Rodney..." Ganos sighed. "I should not give you hope, but yes... if he were helped, he could."

If he were helped. Rodney moved his perceptions towards her. "Then help me. I don't know how to look properly. I don't think like you, as a whole, do. Help me." Because if John did... No, when John did, he could stand it there.

If he could not leave then perhaps John would come here even though he'd said he wasn't an Ascension type of guy. He knew exactly what John meant, too. Rodney was used to being an outsider of sorts but this was ridiculous. He was more like an alien species to the Ascended ancients, or they were to him. They were bizarre and either ridiculously conservative or... weird. There was one ancient who hadn't moved, spoken, interacted with anything or anyone ever since Rodney arrived and apparently not for millennia beforehand. All that meditation was a lot of effort for someone becoming a glorified  nightlight.

"I will show you, but you would have to expend a great deal of effort in Ascending a person who does not breach the barrier themselves. Share with me, Rodney and I will give you the knowledge you seek if not the experience," Ganos replied drawing close once again.

That was pretty freaky. Sharing...sharing wasn't that like Ascended sex?

Maybe that was what Chaya had been doing with John, so Rodney didn't pull back from her as her energy breached his field, and there was something wrong about that, Rodney decided, as he let his physical form slip a little. He could feel her.

It was intimate, it was close. It was the essence of  good sex and friendship rolled into one. He could feel her, vast amounts of experience and a deep abiding sorrow that had lasted for millennia. She had been in love, he could tell that and it seemed that she was fighting hard to help him for reasons of her own. He was falling deeper and deeper into her, her knowledge and experience flowing into him easily.

The contact was strange, like sex but not, more intimate than he'd expected, and Rodney had no idea what she was getting out of the experience from him, but he could feel the knowledge she was sharing  mingling with his own, until some of the things she'd said to him began to make sense.

It was like a paradigm shift in how he viewed what was going on around him. The ascended ancients were not so much restrictive and conservative as trapped and imprisoned by their own mentalities. The rules had started for a reason, maybe a good one but now they existed for their own sake and perpetuated themselves. Oddly Rodney was reminded of a conversation he'd had with a rather drunk Carson and Radek about caddis fly larvae that built their shells around them as protection but kept building and building until they could no longer function and could die.

"It is rare to do this," her voice murmured to him. "But you need to understand all the dangers to you. No matter what they say or believe, we are not untouchable. There is more out there than they believe. There is hope as well."

She began to disengage and he wasn't sure if he owed Sheppard an apology, because that was the strangest not-quite-sex he'd ever had. No wonder he hadn't wanted to go into it.

"What am I capable of changing? They've been like this for ten thousand years, locked in themselves..." It left him feeling more helpless, if anything. But he could fix things, physical, scientific, mathematical things, but not the people.

"You have already changed more than any of those who have come before you in recent years," Ganos said softly. "That is why you are at once a threat and a precious resource. It is a paradox, but perhaps not so different from your life until now."

"Siberia, actually," Rodney agreed. He'd done it once, and he could do it again. And he would watch John, wait until he was needed to help  pull John up. John wasn't... wasn't that far from ascending. He could probably manage it alone because he knew the theory now, he just needed sufficient intent to power the process and when it came to John he had all that and more. If he'd known what to do when John had been in that pit, he could have done it then. So close.

She nodded in a form of assent. "I will return to you soon. Try not to get too melancholy watching your friends. It does no good to them or to you. You will be able to see them with different eyes now. Perhaps that will distract you."

"I don't think it will." He still wanted to be back there, but if he couldn't then watching would have to be enough."Thank you, though. This has helped."

"It has helped me also," Ganos replied. "Farewell for now Rodney."

She shimmered a little, and obviously switched energy levels as she faded from his awareness, leaving him here, still watching, still connected to his previous life.

Still wanting to help. But Carson was headed back to his quarters, and John was seeping down to sleep, so he could turn away, finally.

It was hard. There was some part of him that had possibly thought being able to see everyone and be invisible would be, to quote Sheppard, 'pretty cool'. But it wasn't. It hurt. It hurt so damn much because he saw things he should never have seen, the weaknesses people hid from everyone else. The way Radek cried in his quarters and drank toasts in bad Athosian moonshine to his name. The way Elizabeth obsessively read and checked every bit of information on ascension as if looking for an answer, and how she would pick up the print out of the book he had written for her and then with shaking hands put it down again unread. The way Carson tried to help all of the others and neglected himself, blaming himself in some way and taking himself down to the pier and staring at the waves as if somehow he had been wounded by him not being there.

And John... John was broken.

John wasn't there, wasn't himself, wasn't doing anything the way they had used to do it. It was in his eyes no matter how he smiled. It was in the way he would stand and watch everyone else as if he was no longer a part of them all, or had a life that hadn't just stopped at the moment when Rodney had Ascended. It was in the way that though he believed it impossible, he had become more reckless, more prone to hurl himself into danger without thinking of consequences. Rodney had never believed that John listened to him when he told him something was stupid or reckless but now he was beginning to believe he had had more of an influence than he believed possible. Teyla and Ronon were still there, trying to bring the old John back, but he was gone and this new John spent a truly amazing amount of time in the Infirmary while his team mates could only look on, as helpless as Rodney was to stop him.

At least those two had each other, that was a small mercy although he was surprised at how affected the pair of them were by his absence. Ronon had surprised him by stepping forward at his memorial after John's eulogy and telling his friends and colleagues they couldn't afford to be stupid anymore as there was no genius to bail them out.

It was a masochistic exercise though, watching and being unable to touch, and god he wanted to touch. It was hard to make a direct contact, Ganos was right about that, but when he needed to, it hadn't mattered. The want, the desire and need to be there was enough.

He wanted to Ascend John, but now after the sharing with Ganos, he realized it wasn't as simple as that. It was a difficult process, taking a lot of complex manipulations of energy - he had new respect for Oma Desala now - which of course he was capable of doing, but it also required the choice and consent of the one being Ascended and there was a strong possibility John did not want that. Or, even if he did, that he wouldn't be rejected by the energy plane.

Carson wasn't in the Infirmary, or his quarters, or the mess hall. He didn't spar or jog, and wherever he was, he'd turned off his radio, though he could probably receive the emergency alert. He'd never known Carson go as far as to shut that down, no matter how much he needed downtime,

John was pretty sure that left only one place left to look. Down on the East Pier. Carson had mentioned the view a couple of times when he'd sought him out for lunch and he got the impression the man spent a fair amount of time there when he needed some time out. Maybe he was just relaxing or taking a moment from worrying about everyone else. Stranger things had happened, especially in the Pegasus Galaxy.

The thing was John wasn't sure he ever remembered Carson being quite this elusive before. Or if he had, John had been guilty of not noticing, which was possible.

Carson always made himself available, always made a point of being a man that other people could find, either for a sympathetic ear or a little chatting. Now when John was looking for him, of course he couldn't find him, so the pier... Was his last option.

All John wanted was to have a word with him.

He could see a shape at the end of the pier as he walked down. Carson was sitting on the edge, his shoulders slumped and seemingly unaware of his approach. He seemed pretty unaware of anything, because John didn't think he was being particularly quiet. But maybe stealth was a habit. John snuck up behind him, carefully, and sat down quietly beside him on the edge of the pier. There wasn't any reason to say anything yet. When Carson wanted to talk, he would.

It was kinda weird offering himself up to be talked at. Usually he ran a mile, uncomfortable with it, but of all the people he knew, Carson had known he couldn't let go in front of his team, or his boss, or other people, but he was a doctor and a friend and anything was safe with him. It was only fair to offer a little of that back. Even if John sucked at it.

The silence drifted on longer than he expected before Carson said, "I worked out how to save him."

Shit. John looked down at his feet, and then to the mellow, rippling water beneath them. "I'm sorry."

"It's a wee bit late," Carson said a little distantly. He gave a smile that should've been wry but looked like an expression of pain. "I can be a little slow sometimes. I've been sitting here trying to work out how to tell people that I could've saved him, if I'd just been a little bit... smarter. Better."

"You shouldn't. He's not, he's not dead, to start with. He's an energy being, like Chaya." John twisted a little, looking at Carson more closely. "He shouldn't have touched that machine."

"Lad, don't make me try and feel better about this," Carson said in a rough voice. "I'll tie it up in neat rationalizations later. Right now I'm wallowing. You were the person I most dreaded telling and here you are trying to let me off the hook."

"I taught him how to meditate." Which was a lot like loading a gun before a guy put it up to his head. Whether or not all the bullets had been put there by John, the end fear was still the same. Had his help been the one to do it? "Radek found the room the machine was in. We can play the blame game all the way back, Carson."

Carson looked at him. "Don't you understand John? I could've saved him. He didn't... ascend because there was no other choice, it was because I wasn't quick enough with an answer. Rodney always managed to save the day. I didn't. He knew I couldn't do it. He read it in my mind, and he knew."

"You don't know that. It's not like he left you a parting thought of 'you suck'," John pointed out. At least he hoped Rodney hadn't.

"He was in my mind just before the end as if he was reaching for something. Maybe he was going to, but all I could see was this... clear blue sky," Carson replied and sighed. "And then he went."

Clear blue sky... he'd been thinking that, focused on it in a way he hadn't managed at the sanctuary, needing it to work and hoping Rodney could feel it and that it would help. Maybe he shouldn't have. Maybe he should have pleaded and focused and tried to pull Rodney back, but it was death or ascension. It had been the only thing he could think of. "He made his choice."

"It hurt to let him go..." The doctor looked out and seemed to pull himself together a little. "But then you know that don't you John?"

"I, I don't know if I've let him go or not." He still wanted to see him, no matter what form he was in, no matter how or...

Carson patted him gently on the shoulder again in a form of apology. "Did you want me for something John? Have I missed a radio call?"

"No. I just wanted to talk with you. You're..." John was at a loss for how to phrase it, but he pushed on. "You're not doing well."

Carson looked genuinely surprised that John had even noticed and that was not a good thing and it made him feel uncomfortable. He wondered who Carson confided in, holding everyone else's secrets to himself. The Atlantis Infirmary was a special zone where normal rules broke down and Carson ruled the place with a benevolent hand. They all liked to try and tough it out, but in the end Pegasus threw something at them that would make the toughest guy crack.

And he wasn't the toughest guy around.

"Don't." Carson said. "I don't have the right to be this way, not with you. Not more than you."

"He was your friend, too. What the hell do you gain with the manly act? I don't gain anything from it, either. You... You, we both need help. Everyone thinks I'm going nuts."

"What do you think John?" Carson asked him suddenly. "Are we nuts? Because I believe you about the Ascension. And then I think, is it that I just because I want to and it isn't real."

It was real, it had to be real, because otherwise he was way beyond just going nuts.

Forget going, he was there. "It's real. Chaya shared some of it with me, and then I spent time in Sanctuary. It's real, and Rodney was smart enough to... to do it."

"And you? You are too John," Carson said looking down. "You have more experience than most. You could try and...you know..."

He looked like it cost him to even suggest the idea, as if he hadn't thought about it already.

"'Ohm' myself to a higher state of being? I like where I am. I like being human. There's a lot of things I still want to do. Rodney's miserable up there." He gestured a little airily towards the sky even though he knew the theory was there were all places at any time.

"How do you know that?" Carson asked with a hint of curiosity. "I would've thought he would be in his element."

"He said he was trying to come back and couldn't. And he kept going on about their 'stupid rules'." John found it hard not to smile. "Even with people thousands of years older than him, Rodney's gunna act like Q."

Carson actually laughed and John felt relieved. "Aye... I hope he stirring them all up." He smiled a little longer and then looked at his hands. "I don't usually do this in front of anyone John. It feels.. .self-indulgent. I'm sorry you've had to put up with it. I don't think I'd realized how much of my life he had taken over until he wasn't there. It feels very empty right now."

"No-one harassing you in the infirmary, huh?" John leaned back on his palms. "We used to play games when we had downtime. Anything, because Rodney was a great sore loser."

"Aye, he used to say you cheated," Carson replied and smiled a little more. "Very loudly. And plot dire revenge. Generally to steal your dessert."

When he was usually happy to let Rodney have it anyway.

"I used to get the kind of jello he liked. I never ate dessert anyway." Unless it was cake, but Rodney wasn't the kind of guy to steal a man's cake without warning.

"That worked out well then," Carson replied and sighed a little. "I should stop wallowing in self pity, otherwise I'll have to refer myself to see Kate and frankly she tends to obsess a little over responsibility and guilt. Or she'll tell me that I am mourning more than a friendship."

"Are you?" It wasn't don't ask, don't tell, because Carson didn't have anything on his shoulders declaring him an American, and John was curious. Just quietly. No-one could hear them out there.

Carson hesitated and he looked genuinely uncertain. "...they said if you don't know or have to think about it then you're not," he said. "I don't know. I  don't know John. If I am it's genuinely something that I wasn't aware of. How about you?"

"It doesn't count if it was all in my head." John threw a grin which felt hollow. "You know what I never could figure out? If he, uh. I mean, the stuff with Sam Carter."

"Did you really mean the stuff with Chaya?" Carson replied raising an eyebrow. "He wanted her, but he needed you. It scared him."

"I miss him. It's hundreds of stupid, stupid things..." And him wondering if he meant anything about Sam Carter. It was enough unrequited love to make for one long lifetime movie.

"That I can understand," Carson replied. "The way you could literally see a light bulb go on when he got an idea, the finger snapping. Oh god, the finger snapping..." Carson chuckled to himself as he looked at his own hands. "The way he couldn't hide anything at all in his expression. The hypochondria which was just a way to have someone close and caring that he was alive. That terrible habit of saving everyone's lives and never letting them forget it..."

All true and uncannily like thoughts in his own mind. Whatever Carson was or had been in relation to Rodney, it was close enough to his own feelings to be recognizable.

"I used to think that he had a list of dates and situations where he saved each person's life. It was probably in one of his tac vest pockets." Rodney had always had a smarmy way about him, but John missed him.

"I think he thought people didn't respect him and was looking for a solution," Carson answered. "All he needed was for one person to believe in him and know someone cared rather than resenting him. I'm not saying that would make him a paragon or a saint, just that once I took things seriously about his physical condition, his need to inflate them faded. It was easy to be distracted by the talk and ignore the action." Carson was silent a moment and then unexpectedly continued. "When he had the Wraith enzyme he said a lot of things to me, John, that... weren't particularly pleasant and it would've been easy to concentrate on that rather than the fact he did it to try and save his team. But that became more obvious as he went on...a lot of his 'attacks' were about you. He was convinced for about an hour we were having a torrid affair."

"How come I didn't know about that?" He jostled Carson gently, bumped his shoulder against Carson's. "A guy should know if he's having a torrid affair."

"Apparently it was the secret reason you spent so much time in the Infirmary," Carson replied and smiled, a little of it reaching his eyes this time. "John, if there's one thing I know, if he comes back for a reason, it will be for you. He was just scared of... you rejecting him and I don't think he could bear to risk what you already had with the team. Rodney hadn't belonged to anything before. Never had someone willing to give a damn about him. Then there was you, constantly putting yourself between him and danger, trusting him as part of your team. Doranda..." Carson shook his head. "What knocked him back most of all was that you backed him and trusted him and he nearly got you killed, and nearly lost all that."

"Yeah, well." John tipped his head up, looking out over the water. "I can't say Doranda didn't get me angry. But he nearly got himself killed, and he wouldn't let go of it. He needed a reality check that he couldn't fix everything."

"And then everyone still expected him to fix everything," Carson replied not without irony. "And still are from what you've said. Do you believe he'll come back?"

"He said he wanted to." But that didn't mean he could. John wanted to openly have relations with people of the same gender, but hey, that didn't mean he could repeal DADT. He wanted world peace, on some level, too, and that was also not going to happen just because he wanted it.

"If he comes, will you take that step?" Carson asked in a low voice, though there was no one to hear out on the East Pier. "Because he won't remember if he comes back. Not to start with. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. "

"It'd be a second chance. I wouldn't be able to... to risk him dying with things left unsaid again." But it didn't matter, because. "I remember from Chaya. She said she wanted to experience humanity again, but couldn't. She could stay down on the mortal plane with us because of her punishment, but she still wasn't mortal. She couldn't become mortal on her own."

"That could be a problem," Carson agreed and exhaled leaning close to John. "If it comes to the second chance I promise I'll help you both any way I can. In the mean time I can be a friend."

This wasn't exactly what he'd thought would happen when he had come down to talk with Carson.

He'd expected to listen to Carson's side of things, not have it turned back around on him. But there it was, back to him, back to him somehow being more... something than Carson. important than Carson, to Carson. John wasn't sure. "I can be a friend, too. I came down here to see how you were doing, not-"

Carson smiled. "It's a bad habit I have," he said. "And I really appreciate it. More than you can know John. I always feel obscurely guilty if I indulge my own feelings and there is someone else in need nearby. Otherwise I doubt I would've gone into medicine at all. But I really do appreciate it John. Not many people take the time to notice."

"You lost a friend, same as I did. It's always hard to tell who meant something to him, but I don't think he felt he had any scores to even up with you." Or John.

"No, we... pretty much dealt with things as they came up," Carson replied. "I was his friend but sometimes, I think I cramped his style." He shrugged a little. "He didn't exactly hold my vocation in high esteem."

"He didn't understand it," John pointed out.

"Perhaps not," Carson answered. "He just... said he was sorry at the end. I'm not sure why."

"Maybe he knew you'd have to put up with me." The vast ocean stretched out in front of them seemed unending, reaching past the horizon. It was beautiful, had been the first time he'd seen it.

Carson smiled and this time his hand reached unselfconsciously to reach around his shoulders and hold there, warm and heavy with contact. "Aye, maybe that's it. I have no problem with that John."

"That's good. I'm, I'll try to be more careful on missions." Start acting like he wasn't looking for a missing limb. Rodney was out there.

It was only a question of whether he could come home.

John didn't sleep well. Rodney discovered that from his watching. Time and time again, he'd end up 'tuned in' to John at those points in time when the man was lying in bed making an effort to go to sleep and failing miserably. Ganos told him the stronger the emotions were of someone thinking about him, the easier it was to get a grip on that energy level. Emotions reduced to physics. In a way, he liked that.

But watching John emotionally bleeding out was not a fun experience.

He needed to buoy him, somehow. Needed to make contact again in a less-dire situation, but he couldn't do it in an interfering way. Even though he wanted to, wanted to materialize there and snarl at John to snap out of it because Rodney had a solution of sorts, was working on it and...

But he did want to go down to that level, wanted to interact with John.

Want was a powerful thing, when met half way by another want reaching from the other side. John was thinking about him. It was like a beacon, an anchor point for all the fact that it was painful and hurting. There was a sweetness to it that he didn't come across on the ascended plane.

It was almost startling to realize that it was love.

He knew it, knew it in a way he wouldn't have been able to be sure of what it was before. But in the ascended plane, surrounded by cold and logic and esoteric philosophical musings on existence, love was a seeringly obvious emotion that made Rodney desperate to feel it again. It made it easier to slide down, to cross through the barriers.

He wasn't visible, not yet. But almost immediately John took his arm from in front of his eyes, revealing them dark and bright in the dim light. He shifted, looking out into the darkness as if he felt something.

He pushed up on his elbows and eventually said, "Rodney?"

There were no words to say to that, no voice to speak with, but Rodney thought 'yes' hard enough that he knew John could feel it, even as he came closer to him, starting to materialize.

It was like a zone of higher vibrational energy just around where John was. Pretty interesting but right then, scientific observation be damned, because he could feel John there.

"Hey... I'm gonna be really disappointed if this is wish fulfillment like Heightmeyer says..."

It's not. I'm trying something new. He got closer, until the edge of his energy field was lapping at John's arms.

He saw John start in surprise, sensing the voice. "Oh hey... we've got a glow -- Is that you?"

It's me. 100 percent Rodney McKay. He edged closer, soaking up the sensation of emotion he was feeling peak in John, wild and surging with hope. I've missed you. I've missed...

Missed that look on John's face, lit by the soft blue-gold- silver glow that surrounded his energy form. He managed to limit himself in space, but those limited dimensions felt crushing unless he was very close to John.

John chuckled. "You're a better looking squid than Chaya was," he said and the feeling was like a shot of champagne. Heady, intoxicating and incredible attractive.

Thanks. It's hard to hold a corporeal form on this plane. Like deep-sea diving without a pressurized suit. He let himself 'talk', express more thought, so John was sure it was actually him and not a hallucination.

John reached a hand up to him to touch the glowing wisps of his energy field tentatively. "Can you feel me?" he whispered. "Can you touch me Rodney? I need to feel you..."

It ached, throbbed in his energy, a tangle of love and despair and Rodney couldn't not solidify himself, wanting to share what sensation felt like on that level. I can touch you. I can feel you. Can you feel me?

There was a moment and then Sheppard's face lit up and he felt another incredible surge of energy flow through him. "I can feel you, I can really feel you Rodney.  God, I didn't think..."

That I was real? Sorry for making you think you were going insane. You're not. He shifted his concentration a little, tried to share more energy, a smaller version of what Ganos had done for him. Of course John hadn't been sure; any time he'd reached him before he been nearly dead. That would give more than reasonable cause for doubt.

"Not a far reach right now...oh." John inhaled sharply and arched as his energy wrapped around him giving right back. Where the sharing with Ganos had been like feeling the intimate touch of information, this was something more. The slightest connections seared and burned with intensity even though he couldn't hold them for long. Flashes of densely packed, rich emotion and experience flickered into him. The wanting pierced him through, desperate and needy, images of just holding, just knowing he was safe before anything else.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry, John, I want to come back. I want you to be with me again. I could ascend you, the next time you're hurt, if you wanted it.He pushed it along as thought and sensation in turn, trying to let John feel what Rodney felt for him.

He could feel the uncertainty from John at the mention of Ascension even as he watched him stretch and groan with every nerve stroked into life. "Rodney, I don't know if I can."

It was more complex than doubt. There was a wanting there, to be with him again - he could sense that. But it was threaded through with a conviction that he wouldn't be able to stand by. He never had been able to, never would. He was the first to run for the suicide mission, not because he had a death wish, but because he had to act, saw the need and went for it while most people were still getting used to the idea.

That could be a big problem, and it was something he had vaguely known but not appreciated.

Now he could appreciate it, even as he got closer to John, surface on surface as much as energy could be a surface, sliding over John's skin. I'll try to come back. I, I'll try. Don't let me forget.

"I won't...I won't..." And John was reaching desperately for him, trying to clutch at light tendrils drifting above him, John's face lit up by the glow of his energy form, his hair wild and haloed with his light. For a moment, a sweet hot moment John was happy and the feeling of that passing into him was so intense it made him realize on the ascended plane he had been reduced to emotions wrapped in cotton wool, numb and muted. Little by little the reality of what he had been feeling had been eroded away, softened and blurred. It scared him more than a little.

This was how they forgot. This was how they could bear to stand and watch.

They'd lost what had made them human, want and love and caring and fear, they lost that and dulled away to those cold bastards back on the astral planes. Rodney clung to John, basking in that energy.

The drifting tendrils twined around John, slipping over the surface of his skin, dipping under it even without him thinking about it. He just wanted to be closer, to share, to not be alone any more. And John wanted it too, from the way he was moving, from his thoughts gripping tightly to him as if he could keep him there and the way his mind was repeating RodneyRodneyRodney over blazing emotion.

It was grounding, reiterated to him what was important about life, about living over ascension, and he could feel John reaching something like orgasm when the awareness blazed out of John's eyes.

Just like that it was as if someone had let go of him, let his hand slip and allowed him to float away and Rodney had moment when he realized that he had been taking energy from John to stay manifested for so long and he was abruptly horrified.

A swift check and he could see John's energy had dipped but he would be okay, maybe like he had a hangover and he knew John would do it over and over again feeling it worth it, but it concerned him he had done it without realizing. What else might he do without understanding?

He drifted up through energy levels, further away, even while seeming to stay just over where John was sprawled. He had to find a way, otherwise what would be left would not be anyone he would recognize as Rodney McKay.

He'd find a way. He needed to keep that contact, grounding, humanizing contact or he'd be no good to anyone, Ancient or mortal.

This Sunday had turned out to be as far away from a rest day as he could imagine. It hadn't started well, not with looking in his diary and realizing he'd booked to go fishing with Rodney not long before he'd Ascended. He could've asked John, and John might've said yes, but John had been spending time with Ronon and that was a good thing as well. He hoped that John might lose a little of that outside stance and reconnect with his team and this day seemed to be ideal. And truth be told, he'd lost his taste for the idea of it, regardless of promised space trout. Half of it had been to listen to Rodney complaining most of the time and just enjoy his company.

So he didn't even try to find anyone else, just stayed where he was, volunteering to take a duty shift. It seemed only fair as he didn't think he would be doing much of anything like fun and just because he couldn't, didn't mean someone else should also be deprived.

Just as well, because then there had been emergencies and he sometimes thought privately that the ancients were sick assholes to even come up with the freakish weapons they did. Exploding tumors! For Christ's sake, were they insane? Thank God he had a steady hand when it came to cutting the thing out and carrying it to be disposed of.

He handed the container over to the waiting marines and was exceptionally relieved as he turned his back and started to walk away. It was fine now, everyone was safe and he could be grateful for that at least and...

What happened next he wasn't sure, because there was the swiftest sensation of heat and pain and then he was somewhere else.

He was standing in a gateroom, disoriented and staring around the room wide-eyed. It was Atlantis's gateroom, soothing blues and tall stained glass windows with sunlight pouring into them. Carson took a moment to take the room in, wondering just where he was, when he saw Rodney standing at the top of the stairs, walking down towards him.

"Rodney?" It sounded trite but it was all he could think of to say. "Oh god, Rodney... it's so good to see you.." Rodney looked just how he remembered him, except he was dressed in white.

"I wish I weren't seeing you now, Carson. You're on a cusp." Rodney wasn't smiling, but he did come close to Carson, posture open and welcoming. "Your spinal cord has been severed. You're bleeding out as we speak."

"My... spinal cord?" The brief flash of heat and pain played through his mind again. "Oh bloody hell, it exploded didn't it? I'm dead aren't I?"

And Rodney was his unlikely angel.

"Yeah." Rodney embraced him, a quick, tight gesture and it felt real. "I thought I'd meet John here before you, Carson."

"You and me both," Carson looked at him. He was dying. Dead. And if he had been in the explosion he would be burned to a crisp as well. "This is a goodbye isn't it? Oh God, I can't, not like this, I can't leave them..."

"You don't have a choice. You're leaving them." Rodney stepped back, hands tight on Carson's shoulder. "I want you to come with me." That was enough to stun Carson for a moment. Rodney could not be suggesting what he thought he was suggesting.

"You want me to ...Ascend? Is that even possible Rodney?" Carson asked softly. He wasn't someone who could Ascend. He hadn't meditated, he hadn't evolved his way to brush the edges of heaven. He wasn't anyone special. Could even Rodney make something of shoddy material?

"It's possible. It's, it's more possible than I thought or you thought. You're emotionally there, Carson. You just need a hand up. Daniel Jackson didn't really meditate, either." He kept his hands on Carson's shoulders. "Just step through the ring with me. I know it's hokey, but it helps me visualize what I'm doing."

"But... John said you hate being Ascended," Carson said still finding it difficult to connect to the idea. "Won't I hate it too?" He could feel a strange sensation as if he was losing a hold on himself. But Rodney was here. Rodney was actually here and thought he was in with a chance.

"I do, but I'm getting a handle on it. You could help me shake the ancients up." Rodney's hands squeezed his shoulders. "We don't have much time, Carson."

If he Ascended, perhaps he could go back. Rodney would've been working on it and he had faith in Rodney's ability. But John, this was going to kill John. Not because it was him specifically, because he didn't rate himself that high in the other man's priorities but because it was another loss.  If he Ascended there might be a second chance even if he remember John say that wasn't the way to approach it.

He nodded slowly. Hope or death. He was a doctor and dealt in both. And he knew which one he would pick every time.

Hope it was, then.

"Aye Rodney, I'll come with you."

"Thank you." There was something a little desperate about Rodney's thanks, and he turned, pulling Carson with him towards the gate. "You won't regret this, Carson."

He hoped not, but even so, he hesitated before finally stepping through the simulated Gate.

It was like expanding out to the limits of the universe and beyond. For one brief moment he touched infinity and there was nothing left of him to distinguish the difference between himself and the universe. He was everywhere and everything, he was nothing and void all at once. Then he imploded backwards, entropy in action towards a different form on a different plane where everything was color, light and energy and he was lying there in someone's arms and he had no idea what was happening.

Ascension was obviously very much like dying.

"Hi again." It was Rodney, dressed in white, the same way he'd looked before, and beyond him a great glowing nothingness of energy that started to resolve itself into fascinating shapes and colors. "I'm still more comfortable in this form than any other."

"I seem to be comfortable in this form," Carson replied as he righted himself a little. "You know... the Ascended Plane -- I was expecting something a little more..."

He looked around and grimaced. "...impressive?"

"It's what you mentally make of it. I've taken to mentally creating a little workroom for myself, but..." Rodney tilted his head down, looking at Carson almost fondly. "I'm a little wiped out energy wise right now."

Of course he was. And here he was not even having said thank you. "Oh Rodney, you must think I'm ungrateful. Thank you. You didn't have to exhaust yourself doing this for me, though I appreciate not being dead. How do I create a room? Oh..."

It entered his thoughts as something he wanted, and it became a reality. It was a mixture of his quarters on Atlantis with all the things he had half wanted to change. He concentrated and a large couch appeared. "Alright, this part of being Ascended is rather impressive."

"I've had some fun with it. The other ascended frown on it..." Rodney stayed where he was, still half-holding Carson. "Stupid, stupid scientists. Stupid Ancients. I wish I knew what they were thinking when they made a machine that creates explosive tumors."

"I've been killed by an exploding tumor..." Carson said wondering how it was that he could feel like he had been and remember it, and feel embarrassed above all else. "Of all the things I could've been killed by that has to be the most humiliating. Sorry, I think I'm babbling. It must be the shock. I don't feel particularly god-like Rodney."

"That's your own choice, too. But I've reworked the physical makeup of a sun since I've come here. A sun. You'll come into the sense of power, too." Rodney had been dabbling in the energy of suns, and there he was, haunting over Atlantis, watching John and apparently Carson.

"Well, I'll look forward to that," Carson answered. He looked at Rodney, seeing the familiar features and then the peculiar sensation of seeing deeper and noticing the feel of loneliness and isolation. "You know we've missed you don't you?" he said softly. "Missed you a lot."

"I could feel it. It's been keeping me grounded. It's so hard not to lose sense of time and focus here." Rodney's hands pulled at him a little, kept him close. "Ganos Lal will be here soon."

"Ganos?... hold on wasn't that Morgan La Fey?" Carson had to admit he was a little surprised at Rodney wanting such close contact. He had always been the touch orientated one of the two of them, but Rodney seemed to need it and he wouldn't begrudge him that. It was the least he could do.

There was a shimmer of light and a woman appeared in front of them with a stern expression. "I once was given that name yes..." Ganos said and then turned to Rodney. "What have you done? You should not be attempting to Ascend someone on your own!"

"Tada. See, I'm full of surprises." And seemingly exhausted. It figured that Rodney was trying things that stretched his limits. "Which one of you morons made the tumor machine, by the way?"

"Tarsis Vanor " Ganos replied and sounded exasperated, which amused Carson no end because he had heard that tone in people working with Rodney as long as he'd known him.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Carson Beckett," he said politely, though he was pretty sure Ganos was ignoring him.

The way she looked at him made it clear that she wasn't impressed.

"Carson Beckett, your friend has greatly weakened himself to ensure your continued existence. This will also cause dissension as he will not be able to complete his important tasks in the required time."

"Tasks?" He looked at Rodney again. "Aye well...I will help him with whatever tasks there are."

"Hey, if it hadn't been for my friends down there, I would have died instead of ascending, and you wouldn't have someone to even half complete your to-do list of things you all ruined about this universe. So just..." Rodney waved a hand a little, barely turned around to look at her.

"If you Ascended him just to have someone help you return, it won't work," Ganos Lal said to them both. "He did not evolve to Ascension, he did not achieve it. He will not be able to hold your patterns."

"I'm glad to see I'm going to be held in such a high regard," Carson said a little dryly. "I love a place where I'm so welcome. Please...Ganos, Rodney is tired. I'm sure there is a more appropriate time for you to bother him. I really think you should leave now."

It felt familiar, it felt like being in the Infirmary and caring for a patient and it made it easy to somehow face her down. He wanted her gone and he didn't care if he had to be rude about it.

There was some peculiar flare of some sort of energy and Ganos looked surprised before abruptly leaving. Rodney chuckled a little, and ducked his head down until his forehead pressed against Carson's. "Oh, that was priceless."

"What?" Carson said, briefly wondering if kissing was acceptable on the Ancient plane, but quashing the thought. "I just told her to give you a break. Wasn't I meant to?"

"You banished her." Rodney kept laughing, still close, holding onto him. "That was fantastic!"

"I...banished her? But..." Carson didn't know what to say. "But all I did was ask her to leave because I knew it was important that she didn't bother you, because you need rest and to get your energy back. I didn't do anything."

"Asking is thought is action taken with the full strength of your will." Rodney grinned wide at him. "It's all right. It won't last too long, and she'll be back."

"Oh joy," he replied but couldn't help grinning back at him. It reminded him of a few rare moments on Atlantis when Rodney seemed pleased to see him and not mid crisis and..

"Oh my god... Atlantis. John. How could I have forgotten about them? "

Immediately an image appeared in front of them, summoned by his thoughts.

"How long has it been?" The experience could've taken moments or years, he didn't know. Time felt strange here.

"A day or two." Rodney paused for a moment. "38 hours. They're probably planning your funeral now. I'd say don't watch, but I did."

"Your ...memorial nearly killed John. And me," Carson said. "Were you watching all the time? Do you know how he's been because I was doing my best to keep him balanced and if I'm not there..."

There would be no one to keep that spiral of self destruction in check.

Now it would be John there by himself, coping by himself. Well. Not by himself. There was Teyla and Ronon, but Carson knew neither of them had particularly cleaved to Rodney the way he and John had.

"Carson. I can hear your thoughts. You're projecting." Rodney said it softly, voice tipped towards sadness.

"Oh, crap." Carson sighed. "How do I stop that? I can't hear yours. Or is it an ability some have and some don't?"

He tried to distract himself from thinking about his friends but the images flickered back and forth to them all as his thoughts darted around. Teyla, still in his Infirmary...not his anymore and that hurt. Ronon, god...Ronon who didn't bend or break with anything privately distraught. Elizabeth, her composure completely gone and John...

It locked on to John the moment he saw the look in his eyes. All his fears were realized. He instinctively understood the emotion energies and what they meant. John would be dead soon. He just wanted to find a worthwhile way of going out, but he would take that first exit. All this time, John had managed to hide that inside of himself because, he knew it wasn't over him.

Above him, Rodney grimaced. "Imagine a wall, or a net around your mind. All it takes is thought."

Not so hard. He did that all the time when he was secretly thinking that a patient was doomed and having to say nice hopeful things to them. He pulled that together and it slipped over him easily. "Better?"

"Sorry. I haven't felt that much emotion since I last visited John, and it feels... raw. Nails down a chalkboard raw." Rodney shifted, and Carson felt a strange tingle, like energy lapping against his skin. "I watched. I know how he was doing, how you were doing, how.... I've watched everything."

"How have you managed to stand it?" Because it felt like torture to him.

"There isn't a choice to not stand it. You start to... after a while, you go numb. It loses sense. The world disconnects. I watched, yes. I watched everything for a while. But then I just tuned into your wavelengths -- you, John, Teyla, Ronon, Radek -- because I couldn't take the mass..."

"Easy Rodney..." It was easier to concentrate on him than on that rawness from John. "I...don't know what to do, how to fix this."

"I didn't bring you here to fix," Rodney murmured. "I brought you here because I couldn't watch you die."

"And I can't watch you be hurt anymore up here, than down there," Carson replied. "What can I do? Can I help you?"

"I don't know. You'll have to get used to being here, first." He could feel Rodney's energy shudder, shift. "Woo. Winded."

"I don't think I'll ever get used to it," Carson said. "Not really. " Instinctively, he reached out to steady that energy, much as he would've held a patients hand, read them for vitals. This was strangely natural to him, to read that in depth internal problem as a diagnosis and look for a way to cure it. He fed some energy back, slow at first but warm and just...right. It was easy for him, a natural extension of what he had lived and breathed in his work for years.

Rodney seemed to take a deep breath, and his energy settled down. "I've missed you, John, I, god, I'm going to have words with Tarsis Vanor."

"How the man managed to Ascend after building such a thing, I'll never know," Carson replied, finding it oddly comforting to be so linked in to a familiar energy. It was like resting with his arms around a loved one, feeling their life under his hands. "They won't know I've Ascended will they?" he asked as he had the realization. "Not like with you when there was a fifty fifty chance you might've ascended."

"They'll think your body burned in the fire. There's no way to know but to try to contact John. I can't do that until I have more energy."

"Shush, shush, I know..." Carson soothed, worried that Rodney would over extend himself. "I feel pretty shaken myself. Dying is not an everyday experience...for obvious reasons. How about we just do whatever the Ascended equivalent of sleep is hmm?"

A bed appear literally under them, or the idea of a bed at least, and the idea of comfort and closeness. And he was never letting go of Rodney unless he told him to. What else was there here for him except his friend?

"Dissipation." Rodney seemed to smile, and he leaned back, still clinging to Carson. "I'm so sorry I couldn't stop it from happening. I'm sorry...."

And Rodney seemed to fade away, but he was still there, awareness fading back like sleep.

For a while Carson was alone with his thoughts, but in the end for all his anxiety, his grief and loss, shock and terror two things stood out. He was better off than a lot of people because 1) he wasn't dead and 2) he wasn't alone.

And as he drifted into a not quite sleep his rambling thoughts built filigree patterns of a silver lining all around them, images of Atlantis appearing tangled over and over until it was difficult to see it any more.

It worked better than he'd thought it would.

Carson was maddening, sometimes, but the mere fact that there was that kind of interaction that he could have with someone who was like-minded, human. Human enough to remember humanity before infinite-seeming power. There was a comfort in Carson, in them sticking close despite Ganos' tsking at inappropriate connections.

It was easy to understand that he might be different to someone like Ganos, but it was in working with Carson that he understood what Ganos meant about the differences in the shape of their minds and thoughts. He'd known Carson and had a memory of how different they were personality wise, so now things made more sense.

Carson was a bit of an enigma when it came to being Ascended. It was obvious that the others expected him to be nothing very much, but he had somehow banished Ganos Lal within very little time of him coming to awareness. And god alone knew there had been times Rodney had wanted her to go and she hadn't. The emanations of his energy had been growing intense, but they weren't based on anything that he had seen in the ancient plane before, so Rodney had no idea what this meant. Carson was purples and golds when he didn't concentrate on a form, a complement to his own blues and silver. Most of the other ancients were pale bleached out colors, nearly white. Ganos had one of the stronger tinges of color with her green and Chaya was reds streaked with orange. In fact the only correlation he noticed was that the newer arrivals had stronger colors. Maybe it was something that they lost as they lost touch with their humanity.

They had established that Carson couldn't do what Rodney did, not in the same natural easy way that playing with time and space seemed to come to him but then Rodney was sure that once again he was unique in that ability. But he could and did seem to have an unparalleled ability to look inside of him and help fix him. Not just him – he seemed to be able to tell things about living beings in a way that bemused Rodney. After Carson soothed him  he didn't feel that emotion draining way anymore, he felt more stable with Carson here, more himself. It might've been coincidence but he seemed to be able to do the same with complete strangers as well.

Rodney was good with the building blocks of the universe and Carson it seemed was good with the building blocks of people and emotional energies.

Neither of them were any closer to any type of solution for Atlantis, or bypassing the rules, but Rodney felt more grounded, more able to do all sorts of things. And sometimes it was as simple as mentally holding together a room for the two of them to sit in while they looked over their respective plans and the tasks the other ancients piled onto them.

"Carson, what kind of horrifying list were you given?"

"Things I am pretty sure I don't have a clue how to deal with," Carson replied as he sprawled in a ridiculously comfortable looking chair. "Do any of the others do this or is it just us?"

"As far as I know, it's just us. They're like the academics that lecture on quantum physics and then flail helplessly when presented with a broken down toaster. There's one ancient who hasn't moved in thousands of years. His energy pattern is static, still meditating even now." Rodney leaned back in his chair, sagging into relaxation.

"Bloody ridiculous." Carson replied with more than a hint of frustration in his voice. "The whole thing is completely bloody ridiculous. They think I can repair the mindset structure of the ascended plane like you can apparently fix the connections to the energetic structure of space. Why would they think that? And more to the point, why would I do that? They're stagnant here, like...like a lake dammed up, swimming with tadpoles or something. Only...they're not changing because something is missing. And they can't see it."

Carson sounded annoyed and Rodney understood that. It was frustrating to see so much waste and stupidity among beings who were meant to be superior. The moral high ground wasn't that helpful if you weren't in existence to look down on anyone and he could see the ascended ancients rapidly progressing to a show down with the Ori that they would lose because of that moral high ground. And it wouldn't be them who would suffer, it would be the beings on other levels. "Okay, they can see it, but it doesn't seem important."

"They don't care. Hey, I'm supposed to protect this galaxy from the Ori. No suggestions, just 'Go forth and do'."

"Which is stupid," Carson replied, and it was always surprising to see him get worked up. Rodney wondered if he felt like a thunderstorm about to break when he got like that. "Has none of them even try reaching into the structure of the plane? They go on about the Rules and they don't even understand them properly. The Rules were put firstly into place because of the Wraith. I can hear it in the structures, the emotions of fear and regret that dominate them. The non-interference policy...yes, all that stuff about destiny and free will, but basically because they screwed up so spectacularly. They have to know this."

"Maybe they used to know it, and they've been so far removed from reality... Think about it. The longer we're here-- If you weren't here, I'd be just like them by now. I was losing focus, and the few people who are clustered together have done much better when it comes to their ability to, oh, think and function up here."

"It's like they've given themselves an emotional lobotomy," Carson said sprawling very close to him. Rodney wasn't sure what they were to each other. More than friends certainly. Something deep, rich and complicated but not the same as what he felt for John. He couldn't even say platonic because there was an attraction there he couldn't deny and they often rested entwined with energy bleeding from one to another, comfortable and gently intimate. Kindred spirits seemed far too airy fairy a description and frankly, they were opposite in a lot of ways. But there was a love there, a love of a different shade that remained unspoken, but there nonetheless.

"And you'd never be the same as them. Never Rodney." Carson sighed a little. "No wonder so many want to Descend again after achieving immortality. What use is that if it is an empty purposeless existence? If you give up all the things that made being human worthwhile, why bother to Ascend. John has the right of it I think."

At the mention of John, the image portal opened up in front of them showing the Colonel wandering the city at night. Rodney remembered that Sheppard did that and would drop by the labs, see if he was working late, talk a while. He'd never connected it before to the Colonel not being able to sleep.

Rodney could sleep at the drop of a hat, if he had time for it. If there wasn't a pressing project to work on and there had always been a pressing project to work on, whether it was one of his pet projects or a matter of life or death.  And John had showed up, and then they'd head down a couple of levels to play that civilization simulation, and...

And. And Rodney missed that, and John's aimless pace towards the labs seemed to say the same. "I think they thought it would be more."

"It should be," Carson replied, his attention also following John, and compassion and concern leaking just a little from him despite his shields. "Have you ever watched what happens when someone dies? I mean without Ascending.  They pass through the plane. I tried following someone up as far as I could go....and they went further. They don't dissipate they just move on. Somewhere else. And we're all stuck here thinking this is it. Frankly, non-interference is a cop out."

"It makes you wonder if... Ascended can die. I mean, I'd think that we could die an astral, energy-laden death. This is an evolutionary state, not the end point." Rodney mused

Even energy could fall victim to entropy after all. Carson sighed as they watched John hesitate outside the door to the lab as if he was uncertain why he was there and for what reason.

"You know, there's a common misconception that evolution automatically means changes for the better. This is different here, not necessarily better." Carson said. "You know what it reminds me of? A chrysalis. Enclosed, defined with the potential for incredible change locked away inside. Only problem is, they think that this is it. They never hatch out. Whereas... John, look at him. His energies are changing all the time. Not particularly for the better but they change." He sighed. "Listen to me, I sound like I have a clue what I'm talk about. I find it frustrating, I find it painful to watch and not help."

"How can we help him? I can't descend. You can't descend. The next time he's hurt, he... the last thing he'd want is to be up here .And I've been blocked from intervening again."

Rodney leaned back a little, but he was watching the portal. With Carson there, he said it was easier to see through the levels, to watch John and step down to do it. The only problem was that right now John couldn't hear him.

"We're fixing all the bloody mistakes they've left behind them, I'm sure we can work out how to Descend ourselves," Carson replied thoughtfully. "Maybe they just believe it can't be done. Or they have no interest in getting rid of the first people actually doing something constructive and getting away with it. You know, I think a lot of Ascended beings start off like us, and then their will and motivation, their emotional connection to the other planes cease and they become inert. So they make the most of the time before then."

John had entered the empty lab, moving over to Rodney's workstation. It had been filled with clutter as someone had spread into it. Almost absently, he packed up the bits and pieces, clearing away from where it didn't belong.

It made Rodney's chest clench, made his energy ache, raw with watching. "We should work out how to do it. I can't watch him, all of them, until they die." And then they'd move on without him, and he'd chase them up through the levels until finally he would be the one left behind, all alone.

"He loves you," Carson answered, seeming to sense his melancholy. "Not loved, he still loves you. I can see it. He's remembering you not just with his thoughts but with every bit of his being." He sounded a little wistful as he said it though, even as John finished up and then looked around at the board with Zelenka's messy calculation on it.

To him it was the equivalent of toddler math speak but even so, he was surprised when John just added a few bits here and there and immersed himself in doing a little bit of an equation. It felt strangely like watching a parakeet pick up chalk and take a shot at writing the Great American Novel. But there it was, and Rodney watched in silence before John carefully put the chalk back down. "I know. And knowing this now doesn't help me."

It didn't help to know that John was slowly disintegrating without him, because he kept up a good front, thought he was doing okay and that made his slow sliding into a quiet meltdown even more affecting than any hysterical reaction.

"I know Rodney. I thought it might comfort you a little to know someone misses you still," Carson replied. "I don't think I have someone missing me in the same way."

Plenty of them missed Carson, missed him as a friend. People who thought highly of him, liked him, cared him, but none with the same intensity that John was directing at Rodney's loss. "If you look at it in terms of wattage... John might be the 500 watt bulb, and I'm sure there's a couple of twenties out there, and Radek might be a 100, but everyone down there misses you. Period." He sometimes almost wished he'd let Carson pass on through, not ascend, but Rodney could admit to himself that he was greedy and wanted companionship. Wanted his friends alive in any form he could keep them in. It was meddling, but not specifically because he was ascended.

"Thinking like this will make me maudlin," Carson replied. "I should count my blessings, I'm not dead, and I have you here. That's enough to make me grateful let alone all the things we have managed to do. I don't know what I'd do without you being here Rodney. I don't know how you stood it alone."

"It..." Rodney felt at a loss to explain it. "For a while, I was amazed, and then I started to realize something was very wrong about it."

"All this time everyone looks towards Ascension as enlightenment and all it is, is a bloody cage for gods," Carson murmured. "Did Morgan...Ganos Lal tell you what it was that made Descending impossible or is it just because we are wanted to do their dirty work?"

"Keeping in a coherent form after the fact. If you do it incompletely, you'll fall apart. Someone experienced needs to do it for you, and.. They want us to do their dirty work." Rodney shrugged, watching John still. He halfway wanted to will the vision to end, but he was drawn to it time and time again.

He couldn't leave John alone, even when they had tried to contact him, tell him Carson was there too, and met with the equivalent of white noise around him. Ganos had told him it often happened when the persons energy field became saturated with negative emotions like depression or despair.

"Well, then....we'll have to find a way to practice those skills, " Carson replied as John stopped looking at the board and looked around the lab, staring into shadows.

Then he left, moving on through the corridors that they could hear singing with happiness for his presence near them.

And his energy field reflected none of it. It didn't interact with the city any more.

"Sooner rather than later might be better."

If only for John's sake. He didn't need to look at Carson to know he understood what he meant and why. Carson understood more than most and maybe between them they could come up with a very different answer that would mean they could go home.

On the whole, John considered that Teyla had been holding back when they had sparred, despite his frequent aches and hurts. He knew Ronon did, but it was a bit of a shock to discover Teyla had a punch that rivaled the big Satedan's worst hits, almost as much of a shock as her hitting him in the first place. This was not meant to be how the plan went, he should've come alone because he hadn't counted on the Wraith Queen getting a grip on his other team mates even as they deactivated the self destruct device as he acted as bait.

She hadn't left Teyla behind, just towed her across in one of the suits he and Ronon and Zelenka had used to walk across to her ship. Maybe she wanted a snack or found her useful, but even if Teyla's ploy had initially worked, she'd left herself wide open to being controlled in a dazed state.

He went from being bait in a trap, to being caught right in it. When Ronon shot the Wraith Queen, she grabbed at him with that inhuman strength and diamond drill compulsion, and his own shots had ceased at the point where she put Ronon and Teyla between herself and his gunfire.

John had to stop, what else could he do? Fighting back wasn't an option when it meant killing his team. The last ones left to him and the Queen Wraith knew it. One thing to fight the Wraith, another to fight his team.

As a result the pair of them, their eyes unfocused and undoubtedly seeing something very different, were merrily kicking his ass. Seriously kicking his ass. Fractures and dislocations and if Ronon hit him like that a few more times then, fuck, internal injuries were practically a certainty.

He didn't need internal injuries. He just needed the self destruct off, which was almost there, and for Zelenka to do his part, which John hoped he realized was his part now, since Ronon hadn't been able to do it. Not that he knew where Zelenka was, but they'd work on that later, because hell. Hell, he needed his bones, arms and legs intact, and he couldn't fight Ronon off, not with Teyla  double teaming him.

John wasn't completely passive, no, he was trying but even on a good day when he was on form he needed to be turning into a giant alien bug to get the drop on Teyla, and Ronon had a savage ruthlessness in him that he could only sometimes fathom. He suspected the only reason he hadn't had his neck snapped or been shot with Ronon's gun was because the Wraith Queen wanted him as a pilot, but wasn't particular in the condition he was in, as long as he could slump against their command console... Pity they hadn't actually done that modification Teyla had implanted and...

He heard the Wraith Queen hiss with rage as she sensed his thought. "You have lied to me...". Teyla jerked upright in response to the Wraith's anger and he could see the pain on her face and a terrible fear filled him that the Queen was going to make her head explode or something. Somehow, he managed to kick back Ronon and hauled himself up, even as the Wraith Queen raised her hand to plunge it into Teyla's chest.

He couldn't lose another one, not of his team, not his friends, and he literally hurled himself at the Wraith. It took her down for all of a moment and then she was pinning him, her non-feeding hand slashing at him even as he concentrated on stopping the other from getting to his chest.

She was well and truly distracted, and so was he, and he didn't notice the moment when she lost her compulsion over his team.

But he was retrospectively grateful for it, and the sound of shots ringing out, the creature above him going stiff in shock, fighting back against John hard for a moment in desperation. Then she was falling to one side, and someone was pulling John backwards.

Normally at this point he should be pushing himself up, joining in the fight, finishing off the fugitive from a dominatrix vampire fetish flick and taking control. Seeing if they were all okay, but somehow the movements he could make were pretty weak and the pain strong.

It was Ronon who had hold of him, nearly crushing him with his strength even as the whine and thump of Ronon's gun discharging several times meant that yes, that Queen Wraith was very dead.

"Stay still, Sheppard," Ronon said as John tried to get up and failed.

"She dead?" He asked it, slurring, trying to sit up again. That was a very bad idea. Incredibly bad.

"Very," Radek said crouching next to him looking shocked and alarmed. John couldn't remember if Radek had ever had to kill before, or face a Wraith. Stupid, he should be able to remember that sort of thing.

Teyla was not better even as she was shaking out emergency dressings from her uniform vest. "We are secure John. You are injured."

The tone in her voice told him it was "badly"

"I kind of guessed. Hey, you sent out the help signal?" It wasn't like they were going to turn up immediately. They were at the bottom of the damn ocean.

"Yes...yes, yes," Radek said and he could see him physically shaking. "We will have to stay here,"

"Can't move you," Ronon agreed still holding on to him, his voice gruffer than normal. "You're beat up pretty bad this time. Clawed too. That Wraith bitch opened you up."

John hadn't noticed. Couldn't be too bad if he hadn't noticed right? Teyla's expression had to be guilt not worry. He shifted, let Ronon kneel behind him and okay, Radek was elevating his legs with his tac vest, probably thinking he was going into shock. He hoped not, because that sucked.

"They can come to us."

"Well, hey that's good," he murmured. "I'm not that bad...I didn't get any of you guys did I? Heh... yeah, like I could." He was feeling a little fuzzy, but the pain was not allowing him to go anywhere just yet. "Crap... I think I've got something dislocated."

There was the aching pain of fracture radiating when he move a little and he had a feeling he was probably bleeding some as well.

"I would say that was accurate," Teyla said, getting some of the field antiseptics and looking a little regretful as she pulled his shirt back and wiped it over wounds he hadn't even felt were there until they lit up with fire making him bellow with shock and reaction.

"Easy, easy, Colonel. You will wake the dead." Radek was rubbing at one of his legs, as if to keep circulation going, which was kind of weird, unless he was losing more blood than he thought. He closed his eyes a moment, thinking of Carson who wasn't going to be there when they got him home, then Rodney who was as good as dead. He hadn't felt him since that Sunday, hadn't sensed him when he lost one of the few people he thought of a family. He was sure, sure now that Rodney had lost the battle to come back because he would've tried to stop Carson from dying, same as he'd done with John. That it wasn't going to work and he'd drifted from him to do whatever it was that Ascended ancients did for hobbies.

"Colonel? John? You can't fall asleep," Teyla was coaxing him and he was feeling a little strange. Who knew what a ten thousand year old wraith had under their fingernails?

"Why? Won't wake the dead then will I? Though I doubt... doubt Rodney or Carson would say anything even if I did."

He could see Radek compress his mouth, and Teyla was saying something to him even as he heard another, more intense voice in his ear.

"You have to hang on, John. Do you understand? One of us is coming down to be with you as soon as we can, but you need to hang on long enough to get to Atlantis."

He frowned a little turning his head. It didn't sound like Ronon and it made no sense and he was sweating now. "Hey, I'm hanging," he said thickly. "I'm hanging, I'm fine... gonna be fine."

"He is very hot. Should there be a fever rising so swiftly?" Teyla was saying and her hand felt like ice on his forehead. It made him shiver and then he couldn't stop.

"He's hallucinating," Radek added, frantically pulling out their meager medical supplies. "Poison? Wraith are...not so nice after floating at bottom of sea."

"I believe the wraith queen had started to evolve separately of the rest of her species after so much time down here..."

"John, just forget about what they're saying, all right? Concentrate on my voice. I need you to promise me that you'll hang on and fight for me. Carson and I have a plan."

"Carson's dead..." John murmured. "Dead. Fucking ancients." He was freezing, shivering uncontrollably now. "You don't come and see me anymore. No more squid sex. Kinda liked that."

"He's delirious," Teyla said in a worried voice. "I've never seen anything like this Ronon."

"Should dunk him in cold water. Might help," the Satedan replied and the grip tightened on him a little.

"I can't breach your energy field anymore." There was a glow starting to form up in front of him, and if he squinted, it started to look like Rodney. "Negative energy is hard to get through, like radio static. I caught Carson before he died John. I don't want to have to do that with you. You'd be miserable up here. You need to hang on."

"Cock-blocked by negative vibes." John found that hysterically funny in one part of his brain that was functioning, even as he started seeing drifting colors over him, his own personal lightshow. "Oh hey, glowy." He tried to move his hand to reach out and touch the light and yelped as he used the wrong arm.

"Cold water can also be dangerous," Radek cautioned sounding worried.

"He's out of his head," Ronon said. "Doctors aren't gonna get here for a while. He'll fry his own brain if we don't do something."

"Ronon is right," Teyla said reluctantly. "We did this to him. His temperature is getting worse not better. Already it is dangerous. We should do something. There is the entrance pool. That water is very cold."

"No, what? No, that water's filthy, you'll fester on contact! Stop talking to me, John, and..." And, and something, because John couldn't see the familiar glow for a moment, but Radek, Teyla and Ronon were all gently knocked back from him. "I'm sorry, I really am. And the odds are pretty high that Carson and I are going to fuck this one up royally...but I can't watch you do this anymore. You're going to die and I can't even stop it!"

"You're too hard on yourself. Hello, John."

It was weird, his imagination had Carson's Scottish brogue down pat. "Hey...aren't you blown up Carson?" John mumbled still shivering. "'m cold."

"Aye lad, that you would be with your temperature breaking the 105 barrier," Carson's voice said softly. "Rodney, we can't affect him directly, but nothing's stopping us making sure that water isn't clear when they put him in...just microbes and temperature. Teyla's right, if they don't keep his temperature down he'll go into febrile convulsions."

"What was that? Wraith not still alive?" Radek said sounding panicked. John was amazed they couldn't hear the voices.

"I do not know," Teyla admitted looking around.

"Right, right. That's not interfering. Just pay attention to me, John. Get through this alive, and we'll be home soon."

"No, no you won't," John said sadly through his shivers. "s'okay, I know you would've if you could've."

"If we're going to do it we should now," Ronon said. "I'll take him in."

"Will take in turns. Must not stay in long," Radek replied. "They will not be too much longer coming here."

"Right." Arms were moving around him and the jolt had him choking out a scream as he was moving and every tiny shift made parts of his body yell for attention.

"Brace yourself John, this won't be pleasant," Carson's voice warned.

Even dead, Carson was a master of understatement. When Ronon lower them into the water, it was so cold on his fever hot skin that he would've screamed if he hadn't been robbed of breath. He tried thrashing around heedless of his injuries to get away from intolerable cold, but he was held there, until everything faded completely except the cold.

And then even the cold faded out.

Stepping back to their correct dimensional level was a head rush. Carson hadn't done that with Rodney, not until then, but when the other man had dived down through the planes to interact with John, riding in his wake had been relatively easy. Getting Rodney to calm down and think of a way to help and not break any explicit rules was also worth the trip down. The doctors in Atlantis would know what to do and how best to treat John, no doubt in his mind. He'd left behind good, caring staff.

It didn't stop his urge to do something himself, but it had taken a lot just to be heard by John surrounded by that closing in of energy. He could see the others practically reeking with guilt at what had happened and that would be something to deal with he was sure, but right now he had to deal with Rodney. And dealing with Rodney when he hadn't been a non-corporeal being of infinite energy had been testing in the extreme, let alone now when he was.

"Rodney, Rodney calm down. That isn't going to help," he soothed again, surreptitiously feeding him calming energy. He knew what was going to have to happen now, so did Rodney, the difference was that he had accepted the inevitable conclusion with regard to Descending, and Rodney had not.

Rodney was a jitter in their self-designated, shielded space in the field, a bizarre construction that had the other ascended suspecting they were mad for not carrying on their boring affairs in public like the rest of them did. "No, it's not, but how are we going to do it? It's like trying to create a... push-me, pull-me. I know that logically, it's sewing two camels back to back, but the tiny technicalities are what's going to get us killed."

"We have to accept that we can't both go Rodney," Carson replied regretfully, his decision made. It had to be Rodney that went back. John didn't need a doctor, he needed Rodney there to stop him doing this sort of thing. "I've researched it and I think I understand the process better than the explanation Ganos Lal gave you. It's like separating conjoined twins. If you try to tear a split by force 'chunks' get left on the wrong side of the planes. That's simplifying it, but that's the basics. Someone has to hold the energy pattern intact and disentangle it at the same time from the ascended plane. That's why there can be no memories of the ascended plane left... they are rooted here."

"But if I go, you're going to be here alone." And Rodney had had a miserable enough time there alone that the thought of it clearly pained him to think he was inflicting it on Carson.

Carson was silent. He knew that, but he was used to giving up things and this was going to be no different. "Yes," he said eventually. "Rodney, we've talked about this. There are other doctors who can do what I do...did. But no one who could take the place of you. That's just fact. And John loves you."

Whereas he didn't love him. Cared for him yes, but not love. He could read that in John so easily now it was like a book spilling the other man's secrets in front of him.

"It doesn't seem right. Can't you, afterwards, talk Ganos Lal into..." Rodney waved a hand slightly, in a circular motion. It was the only reason he hadn't jumped on Carson's offer to help, the fear of leaving Carson alone. Well, they were past nursing that fear because John was in danger now and another incident like this and his luck would run out. In Carson's opinion, that made the whole thing moot.

"You know I'll try," Carson replied. He didn't add assuming that he was going to get over doing this when usually it took the combined energies of a lot of ancients because Rodney knew all of that and knew what both of them were risking in doing this, but John was worth it. "You know I'll...miss you."

More than miss him. What they had was beyond friendship, their different shade of love. The type of love that had him willing to give Rodney his chance at happiness no matter what because that was all he could give him. Whereas other ancients seemed to lose themselves, Carson felt he had become more of himself, more focused and intensely compassionate and empathetic. That meant doing this was something he needed to do no matter the cost.

A step towards the ever looming self actualization, Carson noted wryly.

"I know." Rodney stopped his relentless pace, stopped rattling around their space, and edged closer, energy signals reaching out in apology and entreaty. "I'm sorry I couldn't work out how to do it."

"Rodney, you worked out how to do a one to one, even though it is risky. You sure you want me to do this? The chance of brain damage is still high," Carson said, merging the fractal infinities of their energies together like soft reassuring caresses.

He could feel the soothing echoes that Rodney projected. He would miss that, but without that almost idle comforting they shared, Carson supposed he could get a lot more done although the question remained of whether he would care anymore. He was looking for a bright side and the silver lining was growing very thin.

"I want you to do it." Rodney was definite about that at least.

"Okay." Okay, and he twined around him giving in to that need to hold on to what he'd had even if it hadn't been enough. "You won't remember me Rodney. You won't remember you ascended me so... I'll be dead to you because you won't be reaching for me like John was to you, so I guess this will be goodbye."

And it was breaking his heart, and he was trying not to let Rodney see that because Carson was happy that he was going back as well. Greater love hath no man...

"Come back, if you can. Give me a sign. Give John a sign, something. I'd rather be... confused, and wonder forever, then think that you're dead when you're not." His energy edged closer, tangling again in comfort and desperation.

He wanted to share with him, open up everything but that would just confuse Rodney, because it might give him a reason to stay when this wasn't where he should be. "I'll try, I'll try..." he promised.

Or he would find a way to stop himself from becoming a soulless shell. He had to be confident about this, he had to believe with his entire being this was the best thing, the right thing otherwise he would fail. "Are you ready Rodney?"

"As I'm going to be. The less time he has down there to wonder if I was lying, the better. I'd rather keep my promises then..." Then be 100 percent sure that he got down there with his brain intact. No, what Rodney had to mean was that he wanted to keep his promise to John more than preserve his intellect in all surety.

That made him all the more determined to make this work. "Then start linking yourself to me, and I'll detangle you from this energy level. Then I'll dematerialize you on Atlantis."

As simple and as complicated as that, but Rodney understood that words couldn't express the deeper concepts, as he let himself bleed into a pure energy form.

It was something so complex that even the powers of ascended ancients struggled to deal with it. It was like trying to untangle a billion cobweb strands without breaking a single one. It was being given the bases for DNA and being told to assemble them in the unique pattern to make a human being while trying to hold onto water in his bare hands. It was a thousand impossible tasks rolled into one and all that was at stake was his friends life and sanity, and the possible survival of everyone he had cared for.

So he held on, he held tightly onto everything that made Rodney, Rodney and with desperation as he teased out the connection to the Ascended plane and constructed a body. It was harder than he believed possible, and his own energy was going to be dangerously close to natural dissipation - which didn't mean he would die, but that he would take a very long time to re-coalesce. Long enough that  everyone would be dead to him, and he might as well be dead to everyone else.

He would, though. When it was done, he would bring himself back together, and Rodney would make it down there whole, in a few moments of time that seemed impossibly short and easy to anyone watching on the other side. But to him, time had no meaning. He just wanted Rodney to live on, on the other plane.

Want became belief, belief became action with a force of will behind it. He was ready to do this last step, knowing by now they had John in the Infirmary, and that was somewhere he felt comfortable materializing Rodney if he could. Time for the last hard dive down and the worst effort of all.

Worse than running a marathon up Everest, worse than bleeding out everywhere, oh god, he wasn't strong enough to hold this together and stop Rodney flying apart, but he had to be, he had to try even if it was like gripping a red hot firebrand, or stepping into vacuum and feeling blood boiling. If he could just...

And then with a dizzying rush it was too late to try any more.

He should have taken lessons with the marines.

It was as simple as that, and for all that they had mocked Rodney's off world prowess, where he made himself look like a mouse going to battle with great warriors, Rodney had tried. He hadn't scoffed and been too busy, not very often, for training that John had mandated. He had done his best against great odds and a lack of physical strength to keep up with his team, and Radek could not say that he had been able to do the same.

Radek had never asked to go off world, or on field missions and when it came to it, he had frozen just a little too long. He'd thought that there would be no need for him to act beyond his ability to do science and pull the occasional trick rabbit out of the hat but this last mission had taught him that had been naive. It had been down to him. He had a gun, and he knew that it was down to him, but he wasted precious time trying to get the gun to work and the Wraith Queen had been so fast and Ronon and Teyla so brutal in their attack that he wasted precious time being astonished.

He'd been so startled by what they had done that he nearly dropped the weapon, and he'd seen John just seem to give up, but then... somehow manage to fling himself at the Wraith Queen. Crazy. The man was crazy and that shouldn't've been necessary if he'd just done his job and not fumbled shooting the Queen Wraith while John's teammates methodically took him to pieces.

Which he had not, which brought him full circle to where he was, wondering if he could get away with turning in his patches and rank and get some scientist less likely to get them all killed to work on the team. Parrish, perhaps. He was not sure if they would have a use for flora updates to that degree, and yet...

Perhaps John would not be clinging so tenuously to life, and Teyla and Ronon would not be hovering so with guilt evident in every movement and posture.

They'd had to take John practically down to hypothermia to stop his brain from broiling itself with fever, and that had meant all three of them getting far too cold and having to stay in the Infirmary for observation. All he knew was there had been surgery, that John had IVs of ridiculous amounts of antibiotics and anti-toxins laced with antipyretics to try and counter the poison of the Wraith Queen's 'talons'. Dr Keller seemed more confident now, but Teyla and Ronon seemed to be slipping into guilt infested waters with every moment that passed.

With Ronon, that translated to brooding and looking at his hands as if he believed they should be chopped off before turning on his commanding officer. Radek remembered something about the Satedan chain of command being quite a lot more intimate than their own and if that were the case, then he could understand the depression.

"Dr Keller says he is doing better," he offered hopefully. "You saved his life cooling him, yes?"

"I shouldn't have let her get a hold of me." That was all he was going to offer, Radek was sure, but it was still nice to hear something from the man, some words. Radek slouched, leaned his elbows on his  knees.

"I am thinking you did not have much choice," Radek replied. He didn't miss Teyla's stricken look either. Of course she had also attack Ronon. "Neither is it your fault Teyla. Without you whole planet would be exploded?"

"If I had been stronger, then John would not be injured. I caused him many injuries," Teyla replied. "And Ronon as well. I was the weak link. And John still tried to save me."

"I am sure there is plenty of blame to be handed around," Radek said. "I did not shoot when I should have done. That is a fault as well. We have survived yet again."

And John was spending more time in the Infirmary. It was more and more frequent, he noticed that and it made him wonder if those moments when he seemed not to fight back had been a self-destructive element after all.

Or if he had simply not wanted to see yet another friend die on him. The mission had lost many, and Radek did not want to see the Colonel become one of those many, but it seemed he was headed that way.

The way he had talked deliriously back in the Wraith ship, as if he could hear Carson or Rodney or some other person had been a sad sort of conformation that the contacts he'd talked about had been all in his head. Radek knew how much Rodney had wanted John, it was hard to miss it. Rodney had been surprising easy to read, with the emotional finesse of a teenager at times, and he had watched him fall harder than he could've believed for the Major who seemed so oblivious - and who had been better at hiding his feelings than anyone had suspected. He sighed again.

"On Sateda I would've been punished for an unprovoked attack on my superior officer," Ronon said suddenly. "Publicly whipped and discharged with dishonor. I would never have been able to get a place anywhere after that. It would be... like someone who betrayed a great trust."

"Ronon, even Colonel Sheppard could not fight the compulsion, you told me that," Teyla said immediately offering the absolution she denied herself. "He will forgive you."

"He was trying though. Never felt anything like her from any Wraith." Ronon replied and it made Radek wonder how many times in those long years as a Runner the Wraith had gotten that close. "And just because he will, doesn't mean he should."

"He will no doubt be unhappy if you do not forgive yourself," Radek shrugged, and he'd been about to add a little more when there was a flash of light in the middle of the waiting room that bleached out all vision just for a moment before it coalesced into a centre point and then...

Radek did not expect to see Rodney ever again, naked or clothed, let alone staring disoriented at all of them, hair wilder than his eyes.

There was a moment of complete stunned silence as all of them turned around and focused on that dramatic appearance and then paused, waiting for their brains to catch up with what they were seeing.

Then Radek realized he had started swearing in Czech almost absently and then stopped as he stood and took a step towards him. It was too good to be true, too much to even hope for but there he was in the flesh. Literally.

"Rodney?... Is that really you?"

All this time John had said Rodney had Ascended and was trying to get back but he hadn't believed it. He hadn't allowed himself to believe it, because he couldn't imagine that Rodney could make that jump because for all his intellectual prowess, emotionally he seemed very inept.

Beside him, Teyla and Ronon were also standing, then moving closer, completely stunned as a couple of marines started to catch up with the fact there had been a strange manifestation right there in front of them all, and someone sounded the general alarm.

Rodney looked back at them with confusion on his face, and he opened his mouth for a moment, a low noise leaving his throat as if he were testing it. "I, hello?"

"Rodney!" Teyla said in delight, not needing anything else except the sound of his voice to convince her that he was the real thing.

Even Ronon, habitually suspicious was so willing to believe good news that he said, "Welcome back McKay!" and half lifted him in a bear hug embrace.

"He will not be remembering anything," Radek reminded them. "I have read reports of SG-1...give him some room. He will have no memory."

Or worse. There could be brain damage but he didn't want to alarm them. He'd just seen them smile properly for the first time in a long time. He just wished Colonel Sheppard was awake to see this.

Rodney let out an 'oof' of noise, and half-clung to Ronon for a moment, still looking disoriented. "I, I think I'm home? Who am I?"

"Assuming you are not a replicator or a clone or some sort of duplicate android, which again would seem impossible if you had not been reading SG-1's reports," Radek said aware he was babbling with relief, "You are Dr. Rodney McKay and yes, you are home on Atlantis."

"We've missed you so much Rodney," Teyla said in a voice that sounded close to tears. "All of us have."

Radek thought it a shame that the one person who would most want to see this moment was the one who was unconscious in a hospital bed behind them all.

But he would wake up. He would wake up and the first thing he would be told was that Rodney was back. Rodney was back, and looking at them all dizzily, before he finally declared. "Uh, I'm naked?"

"Your powers of observation are undimmed," Radek replied and he was grinning inanely and didn't care. Give him a little while and no doubt he would be cursing that Rodney was back to plague him, but the truth was he was never so good as when he was fighting and arguing with Rodney.

"I think it's time that we did something about that, and just ran a few tests," Dr Keller said as she approached cautiously. "Dr McKay? Rodney? How about you come over here, and we can get you a gown and see how you are after your trip. I'm sure all of your friends will catch up with you later. Re-introduce themselves...that sort of thing. " She reached towards him hopefully.

He twisted away, closer towards Ronon and Teyla and Radek. "No, no, who are you? Why do you want me to go anywhere? I just got here."

"I'm Dr Keller, I'm the Chief Medical Officer here in Atlantis Dr McKay, and we're not going very far...just over there, to that bed," she said soothingly as if she was dealing with a half-wild animal. "I expect you are feeling a bit disorientated right? A lie down might help."

"It's okay Rodney, really," Radek tried to reassure him. "Nothing is going to happen to you."

It was at that point that Elizabeth made it to the Infirmary.

"Oh my God...Rodney?"

"I think so. I, I do feel disoriented." That was addressing Elizabeth and Doctor Keller in the same breath, whirling again trying to take it all in.

"He has amnesia," Dr Keller said and very carefully eased Rodney over to one of the empty beds. "Here, lie down, and... oops, here we go...a nice gown for you. A little revealing in places but not as bad as being naked."

Radek moved to stand with Elizabeth who was looking a little shocky herself. "He came back. He actually came back. Dear God."

"He obviously had good reason," Radek said in a low voice.

"Okay..." Rodney was evaluating, clutching at the gown for a moment once he had it on, and then he laid back in bed, eyed focused on John as if recognizing him.

"Still. I wasn't even sure he'd ascended..."

"John was," Radek replied noticing the look. They had treated John a little like he had been mentally ill when he had probably been the sanest one of them all. "And that's the most recognition I've seen from Rodney. You want him back, then keep them together. Turn blind eye to what will happen."

"Turn a blind eye to what?" She cocked an eyebrow at him, and folded her arms over her chest. "Doctor Keller, if you could bring me the results of any tests you run..."

"Sure," she replied. "As soon as I've got anything conclusive." And she turned back to coax Rodney into sitting still for an injection.

"He came back for John, Elizabeth," Radek said in a low voice. "I think everyone knows that."

There was another vague eyebrow lift. "Radek, I thought I was going to turn a blind eye to it. If this..."

"They will follow your lead in reacting," Radek replied. "Rodney will remember, Elizabeth and maybe John will stop...all of this."

He gestured a little trying to encompass in a gesture what he was failing to impart in words. They would lose the whole team if they were not careful. That had already been happening in a slow disintegration as John let go little by little. But now they had been given a second chance and even if it meant him being unusually frank with Elizabeth, it would be a small price to pay.

"As soon as John wakes up, make sure he knows Rodney came back." She nodded a little curtly, eyes lingering on John. Over in the other bed, he could hear Rodney's voice in questioning pitches and Doctor Keller trying to answer him as best she could.

As soon as John was awake.

Everything was new and old-feeling at the same time.

Everything, every motion, every sight and every voice echoed in him, brought up vague feelings from the inside to meet the sensory information from the outside, and he had no idea what to do with any of it. There were pressures against his skin, pokes and stabs and blood drawn, seeping out of him, and then he was left alone in the infirmary to soak up awareness again.

He couldn't remember his name. Well, he could because they had told him his name was Rodney McKay but he could only remember that since the time they just told him. There was a big silent blank when he tried to reach back past the past hour or so. But then another part of his brain was telling him things, he knew what the concepts were. He knew what an hour was, he knew what a doctor was, that tests were necessary, but.

But he didn't know anyone or anything about himself.

So going on the evidence so far...

He was a pretty popular guy. A beautiful woman - apparently called Teyla - had nearly been in tears to see him back. He wasn't sure how he knew the big guy, but he seemed pleased to see him as well, and that one with glasses and wild hair who seemed oddly emotional about his return as well.

But he kept looking over at the guy who didn't have half the fanfare. It left him feeling a little guilty that he couldn't remember any of them from a hole in the wall, and there was some guy who probably would know them, and there was hardly any attention at all on him. Rodney wondered if he knew him, too.

He had messy hair. Rodney wasn't sure why that was the thing he noticed first considering he was wrapped up in dressings and bandages with tubes plugged in all over the place which were in fact more noticeable.

He was just lying there unconscious, comatose or whatever and people were walking past as if that were totally normal and commonplace and coming up to Rodney instead and saying things like. "Rodney it's so good to have you back," "How was the Ascended plane?" "Never believed it was possible..." or just burst into tears like that one woman scientist.

Who knew what that was about? He wanted to say "hey thanks, but shouldn't you be standing vigil at the bedside of someone you actually know?"

Or someone who actually knew them?

Eventually, once the strange people thinned out, he shifted, pushed back the sheets to stretch his legs. He had slept for a while, but not long and there was a doctor's stool nearby that he could snag.

It just seemed like a thing to do, something he would do. He was pretty sure that he'd like to have someone there if he woke up, and it would be nice to know if he knew Mr. Messy Hair.

Rodney felt a little steadier than he had before. His hands had been shaking some before and he'd definitely felt overloaded but he seemed to be settling down. Talking was a little difficult. He had to think about the shape of the words before saying them but it worked.

He sat and watched the other patient, feeling curiously relaxed. He had no idea why. There had to be some reason. They told him he'd ascended, which was supposed to mean something profound, and had come back with amnesia, and all he knew was that he had no idea of what had happened in his life until the moment he'd woken up standing there. But he had a feeling of being relaxed, an ease from just sitting there with Mr. Messy Hair. This took no effort, no work.

It was just a natural, almost relieved sensation which he had no context for and no way to explain. He sat there contemplating his thoughts for a long time before he noticed the guy's hand twitch just a little. Enough to get his attention at least.

He seemed to be stirring.

"Hey. I figured you might want some company. Everyone was in here fawning over me, and I don't know who any of them are." He patted at the hand that had twitched, and then just kept a vague hold of it. Yes, that was very calming, even if words felt like things he was reaching for.

There was a sudden stillness, complete and a little terrifying before his eyes cracked open and green gray eyes focused on him. "Rodney?..."

It was a rasping sound, but there was a twist of hope there even he could hear.

"So I'm told." He smiled, patted the man's hand again. "You have a name?"

For a moment the man looked startled and then smiled, a surprised amazed smile. "For a moment I thought you had.... yanked me up there, but if you don't know...then.." He huffed a laugh to himself. "John. My name's John, but I don't think you've ever called me that. It's usually Sheppard, Colonel, idiot, Captain Kirk or something like that."

His voice seemed to be getting stronger and so was his grip on his hand.

"You came back. You said you would find a way."

"I did?" And yet everyone had seemed so damned surprised that he was there. He squeezed back. "Then when I start to remember more, I'll be glad that I did."

"You know, I'm going to be really pissed if you turn out to be another hallucination," John replied and he was still smiling. He had a nice lazy looking smile. His hazel eyes were locked onto him and he was being looked at intently. "You look the same. What can you remember?"

"Not much. From when the big guy tackled me to now. Talking is hard." He threw in what felt like a smile after he said that, in answer to the other smile. "You hallucinated me?"

"All the damn time," John replied and his voice had a tone that he recognized somehow as being a little drugged and hazy. "I think I did with all this now but...I can't remember a lot either." He was looking at him with a lazy smile curving his lips. "Y'know, I could tell you all sorts of stuff about yourself to suit myself but I kinda want you back."

"I must be a pretty great guy if so many people are glad to see me." John was comfortable, welcoming, and he was definitely going to be a buffer for Rodney as he tried to cope with being... something again.

"You are...when you're not being an asshole," John replied and there was a faint chuckle. " Y'know, Rodney, I had to do your memorial eulogy, one of the last things you asked me to do."

John had to be a close friend for him to ask to do his eulogy, because that wasn't the sort of thing you would just ask anyone. John still had that hazy edge to his words and he appeared to be rambling slightly.

"Which sucked by the way, you weren't meant to ask me that sort of thing. But it was full of the good stuff about you being a great guy. I said, 'Rodney would've hated us all standing around wasting time, not getting on with solving the mysteries of the universe. And he would've called us all hypocrites for pretending to mourn someone who we all secretly hated. And for the first time, he would've been wrong. He was the first person to say he was bad with people, a genius with everything else. He was more aware of his faults than anyone else and his abilities and in both everything he said was an unvarnished truth. If you listened to the words, you would have one impression of him - if you looked at his deeds, you realize rather suddenly that he was in fact a hero."

John paused a moment, as if he was drifting slightly. "I followed that up with some of your greatest moments. It was a pretty cool speech even if I didn't want to say it."

"Why am I not dead?" That, John was the person he'd been looking for. Someone who'd known him, who he'd asked to do his eulogy. A friend, and information about himself. "And why do you look like you are dead?"

"There was this device.. you got zapped by it and it accelerated your evolution," John said starting with the first question. "It was built to help the Ancients...uh the people who lived in Atlantis first, to Ascend to escape the war they were losing. Ascending is basically becoming pure energy and having god-like powers. The machine took you to a point where you would Ascend or die and...most people thought you'd died at the end. When you get your memory back you are going to be really smug about that." He swallowed a little looking uncomfortable as he shifted. "As for looking like I'm dead, which...thanks, I need that boost as a sick guy here, I had a close encounter with a super powered Wraith Queen who hadn't cleaned under her nails for several millennia. I kinda remember that happening. Ronon and Teyla were under her control and beat the crap out of me too."

It sounded a terribly normal thing by his voice but there was something in his expression at odds with the flippant tone. It bothered him more than he would ever let on.

"And now I'm back. Because..." Well, because. If he had god-like powers, he had to have a good reason for coming back. "Because you ran into a wraith queen, or I wanted to come back and be smug."

John huffed a weak chuckle and immediately looked to be in pain, but like he didn't care. "You're part of my team. Along with Ronon and Teyla. Radek...he's a Czech scientist who is pretty much the only one who can follow your math and science. You're pretty shitty to him most of the time, but when you were dying you apologized. He missed you. He hated going off world in your place."

"I bet he did." He wasn't even sure what Off world was, but John had a tone of voice when he said it that made Rodney decide it was bad. "And you're my friend?"

"Yes." John didn't even hesitate in answering that question despite being on drugs and just woken up from a near coma. "We kinda take turns in saving the world and each other in our team. Technically I'm in charge but you generally ignore that." He looked at Rodney again. "I'm not even vaguely familiar am I?"

"You actually are. I just can't place why. You feel... like I belong here." There, somehow. He liked it, liked how he was as he sat there with John.

"Hey, score one for me," John replied his eyes just about tracking him now. "I've missed you Rodney. Although I have to tell you, your real first name is Meredith. I'm very sorry to have to break that to you."

And he was smiling again, which made even his pale and battered face light up.

"Meredith? Really? What the hell is wrong with my parents?" And where were they, actually, which was a funny question to pop into his mind, because he seemed to know that they weren't around.

"That I don't know. I think you were named after some famous genius or something," John answered and then rambled on. "You kept it a secret from us for years. Uh...you've got a sister though, Jeannie. I've met her and she's married with a kid, Madison. You hadn't spoken for about six years or something but some of that was pretty explicable because we are in another galaxy to them and we were cut off for a year or so."

Another Galaxy. For a moment, it felt like his brain was going to grind to a halt, or he was going to have a seizure and crack his skull open on the floor, because they were in another Galaxy and he had a vision of rippling water and knew, knew that they were in another Galaxy right then and there. A city, a place he thought of as home, but it wasn't Earth. It was a place worth coming back to, no matter what, no matter the danger or the cost, or...

"Rodney? McKay!" John was trying to get his attention and looking worried. It made him look a lot less well than the smiles he had been giving him. "Come back to me - you zoned out on me there. You okay? You need a... a doctor?"

He winced a little as if he'd remembered something that Rodney wasn't going to like as he said those words. It was sort of funny, but he didn't have anything in his mind click with that one. "Sorry, no, I'm okay. We're... in another galaxy."

"You remembered something," John murmured. "Least I know what it looks like now. We're in Pegasus. We come from Earth which is in the Milky Way a helluva distance away. We got here through the Stargate which we souped up with what you call a Zed PM. But that's because you're Canadian and we all pronounce it properly as ZeePM."

His eyelids were drooping some as he spoke and he seemed to be making a visible effort to keep it together.

None of it conjured up the thoughts and feelings the way what John had said before had, and he seemed tired. "Okay. You look like you need rest. I'll still be here when you wake up."

"You make sure you are Rodney," John said giving in and closing his eyes with obvious reluctance. "If you're a hallucination I'm going to kick your ass when I'm up and around."

Right then he didn't look like he could kick the ass of a sedated puppy, but there was something about it that sounded just a little bit familiar.

"I bet it's hard to kick a hallucination's ass. Go on, sleep. I'm glad you woke up." He was glad, too, that John seemed connected to him more tightly than anyone else he'd met so far.

"Yeah so am I," John murmured with a faint smile that persisted even after he had very evidently gone back to sleep.

He wasn't sure what they'd been to each other but he was pretty sure he wouldn't ask someone who wasn't a good friend to do his eulogy, and for there to be a vaguely familiar  feeling about him when everything else was completely wiped clean that had to be a sign as well. A sign of what he wasn't sure but, still a sign.

It was one of those times where he almost wished he was dead instead of having been horribly injured. It wasn't that he didn't have fractured bones, which he did. His ribs were a mess, and his right leg and right arm were borderline broken, enough to get a soft-cast on his leg and a sling to hold his right arm against his body. That didn't even start on the massive antibiotics Doctor Keller had shoved at him for the horrifying rips across his stomach.

No, it was the fact he wanted to be moving, doing things and he just couldn't do it the way he wanted to. The whole thing with waking up and seeing Rodney there had turned out to be amazingly unbelievably real and that woke up an energy in him that was incredibly impatient with physical frailty. Especially his own. Dr Keller had gone on and on about how close he'd been to dying again and how the infections and poisons from the Wraith Queen alone would've finished him if he hadn't nearly been made hypothermic and...

He didn't actually care because he'd opened his eyes and Rodney had been there.

John's memory of what happened after the fight was hazy and even that first waking up seemed surreal but he couldn't forget that. Rodney had found a way, he'd descended and god, that meant a whole new set of options and things he had promised himself he would say and do.

The problem was that he had to wait for Rodney's memory to come back before he could go further because otherwise it seemed a little like taking advantage of someone with a concussion or something and that wasn't his style. Rodney had to want him as well, otherwise all of this was beside the point.

The other worst part was that Keller had advised that John take 'custody' of Rodney, since he was finally starting to irritate them in the infirmary with his questions and halting phrases. It definitely wasn't Rodney's old endless way of talking, where everyone sort of wished he'd shut up for just a little while, but he was no less insistent or stubborn.

He had a sneaking suspicion it was a convenient distraction for them both. Him looking after Rodney would keep him from pushing himself to get back to duty and they needed someone who was not busy doing other things to look after the amnesiac scientist. Right now he was having to concede that he wasn't up to using the crutch to get around and was having to use a wheel chair, which he swore he would never do unless it came with wings. He remember the first time he had said that and Carson had promptly turned up with a chair that had wings stuck on it and some fake control buttons and made him get in the thing. He still didn't know how he was going to tell Rodney about Carson when he remembered him, but right now they were off on their first mission to Rodney's quarters which had somehow always been put at the bottom of the clearing out roster and never quite made it to actually being cleared.

Darn the luck. He just hadn't wanted to do it, and fuck, fuck, the notification the Rodney was dead had been passed on to his family. He needed to contact Jeannie to tell her that he wasn't, that Rodney was un-dead, and he'd do that as soon as he had the forethought to tape the message. God only knew how he'd phrase that message. If he had the chance, it might be better to try and talk to her at least, and let her see for herself.

Rodney seemed to be having a hell of a time pushing the wheelchair. Not that it was hard, but that he kept being distracted, peering at things in the hallway.

"I'm gonna get some motors attached to this thing," he said aloud just to make a point.

Rodney seemed to draw himself back. "I was just looking out at the city. It's incredible. There's a pier running all the way down to the ocean."

"I'll show you that... later. I thought we ought to take a look in your private quarters. They didn't get cleared out. Here, this one. You keyed it to you, but Atlantis likes me and tends to override if I ask nicely."

He thought hard at the door and watched as it slid open. "Let's have a look."

"What do you mean, I keyed it to me? Why does the city like you? How is this... working? Is the city psychic?" Rodney pushed the wheelchair in, but he seemed to be lingering in the doorway, staring at the control crystal mechanism.

"There's this thing... a genetic thing," John said trying to work out how to do the explanation without bringing up Carson too much. "It's pretty much the only reason they brought me along. It's called the ATA gene. Ancient Technology Activation gene. There were very few people who had it naturally. Three or four of us. I'm one of those, but a treatment was developed and about half of those people managed to activate their genes as well. You are one of those and the city works on that. A lot of Ancient technology works through thought and mind control. I apparently have one of the strongest expressions of the natural gene."

"Huh. I've never really thought of genetics in varying shades of intensive. Who ever heard of more or less dominant blue eyes than someone else?" And it was things like that that made John feel like there was a hope for Rodney coming back to himself.

"Hey, I didn't make it up, I just sat down in a chair and the place lit up around me," John replied as he wheeled himself awkwardly inside the room. "That was the first time I met you. In Antarctica back on Earth."

Rodney stepped in behind him, and seemed to startle a little. "Oh, hey, I should be pushing that for you."

"It's okay... I'm annoyingly stubborn," John replied with a lazy drawl that masked the effort he was having to put in. "You tell me that a lot. Anything looking familiar?"

It took a moment, but Rodney wandered towards his wall of self-worship, lingering and staring at the diplomas and pictures of himself posing with awards. "There, there's something. I'm not sure."

"Well, tell me what you do get and I'll try and help out. You haven't told me everything but..." John smiled a little. "You can't stop talking most of the time."

"It's still hard." He turned, mouth tugging into a smile. "It's like something isn't attached. In my mind."

"There's this other guy... he Ascended and came back too, and it took a while for his memory to come back, but it did," John said and leaned back in the chair. "Look around, tell me the impression you have of the person this room belongs to."

"Arrogant. Proud of himself." Rodney shoved his hands into his pockets. He'd been in a kind of jumpsuit, and then Radek had come down here to put him back into a real uniform. Rodney seemed more at ease with that than a spare flight suit. "It's too clean."
"You have been arrogant and proud of yourself, yeah," John said. It would've been easy to lie, and try and convince Rodney he was different but that wasn't right somehow. If he'd wanted that he would've made a play for Rod instead. "See, here's the thing.. .and you might tell me when you're all back to full memory that I'm wrong, but you fall in a different bracket of mind to even the normal level of super smart we've got here. Enough to get people's backs up just by breathing. No one gives you credit so you give it to yourself because 99% of the time...you are really that good. Of course, the remaining 1% of the time you have managed to fuck up on a grand scale, but we're all guilty of that."

Rodney had his hands folded behind his back, and he seemed very still, unresponsive as he looked at the photos. The first time that had happened, John had been deeply concerned. Now he was just concerned, and wary, but it seemed to be Rodney's way of processing things.

John tried to get comfortable and was failing. The bed was looking pretty inviting and he got himself over towards it as they were going to be spending time in here. "Bringing back anything?" he asked as he attempted to get out of the uncomfortable chair and onto a more comfortable bed.

There was more silence, and Rodney startled. "Sorry, there's, it's a lot. Do you need help?"

"Nah, I thought I'd just borrow your bed here while you are looking. That chair is damn uncomfortable. I hope Dr Keller reminded you that you are allergic to citrus," John replied settling himself down. He'd done this a couple of times since Rodney had Ascended. Just come here and sat on the bed and tried really hard to move on, or get some sort of definitive contact from him.

Better. Much better.

It was ten hundred percent better with Rodney standing there, looking at the wall, and then back to him. "Okay. I, that was strange."

"What was strange?" John asked allowing himself to relax properly for the first time in a very long time.

"I apparently had sex with someone on a lab table at some point in my life. I wish I had a context for this."

John laughed and then degenerated into "Owowow..." and clutching his ribs. "It wasn't me," he finally said with a smile. "I have it on good authority that men with brains are very attractive to women. At least, that's what you told me."

"Right, well, unless she was some kind of genetic freak, I don't think she was a woman. Not that I don't have other memories with women, also without context, but that was particularly... striking."

"A guy?" John asked. He'd been pretty sure but there was being pretty sure and being told. "You never came out and said you swung both ways."

"I don't think that's usually welcome information sharing. I mean, did I seem the kind of guy to walk up to people and say, 'Hi, we're going to be stuck on another planet for the next few years. I like cock. What's your name?' "

John chuckled. "Actually..." he drawled. "You sounded more like yourself then than anything up until now. And you had a thing for Sam Carter - blonde and brilliant and noticeably female."

Rodney squinted for a moment. "No, no, never got anywhere with her. She's not on the base, is she?"

"Nah, not that I know of. I've kinda been out of it for a while as well," John admitted. "The guy anyone special?"

"Didn't seem to be. Like I said, I'm running short on context." He moved and sat down on the edge of the bed beside John. "This is going to sound cheesy, but. Are you someone special?"

John felt his amusement drain away at the question and turned away a moment trying to decided how he should deal with that. He didn't want to lie, but he wasn't sure there was a truth to tell.

"Let's just say... you don't realize what special could be until it's gone," he said slowly.

"All right. I'll take that as an answer for now." Rodney shifted, leaned back on one hand. "So, do you want to help me dig through my drawers?"

"Sure. If I get to mock what we find in there," John answered trying to claim back some of that lightness they had originally. "Mr. Stylish you're not."

"Is black on black stylish?" He gave John a glance, even as he leaned forwards to pull out the first drawer that came to hand.

"Classic," John replied with a smirk. He hadn't pried when he came in, just sat and felt the atmosphere, trying to will Rodney to contact him. If he'd been convinced Rodney was dead and hadn't ascended maybe then he would've gone through his things but he'd been waiting for an order, rather than appear like he was invading his privacy.

The first drawer was underwear, and he smiled just a little. Despite their regular requirements for whatever reasons to strip down to their underwear, Rodney still hadn't cottoned onto the fact that novelty amusing boxers were sometimes difficult to explain off planet. His lips twitched as Rodney pulled out one pair. "Those nearly started a minor war. Apparently the Garshan people find it irreverent to make jokes about someone's fertility."

Rodney tilted his head as he looked at the pair. "But they're just smiley faces. What's wrong with that?"

"Apparently, it's mocking towards the penis," John answered with mock seriousness. "A terrible, terrible crime. I was fine with it myself."

Rodney snorted, and absently folded them back up. "Barbarians, I'm sure. You're right. My taste is pretty, uh... Bland."

"We wear uniforms, and we didn't have much space allocated to personal clothes. There's been a few native bits coming into circulation but I don't think you've taken anyone up on that. We're all pretty bland when we're not accessorizing in rainbow." He waved towards his bruises.

It got him another smile, and Rodney dug around in the drawer for another moment before he shoved it all back in. "I guess I'm not the guy to hide anything interesting in my underwear drawer. Not sure why I thought I might."

"I'm pretty sure that if you hid something somewhere it would be something a little more cryptic and puzzling. Not to say your underwear isn't cryptic and puzzling but.." John smiled again and reached over. "Your laptop is likely to be where things are. Over there." He gestured to the laptop on the side.

Rodney didn't waste time in standing up and hurrying towards the laptop, the very motions themselves fun to watch because it meant Rodney was alive. "You tend to use prime numbers as passwords. Or the name of your cat for a while," John supplied trying to remember his attempts to hack the computer. "You practically slept with that laptop, so I'm pretty sure something will seem familiar after a while."

He relaxed again just watching. The movements were the same, the way Rodney sat, the expression when he was puzzling about something. He'd heard some people speculate that maybe Rodney was brain damaged and just not as brilliant as he had been, but he knew it was still in there. It just needed the right spark to get going.

He was still disconnected, not quite all there yet. But John could see it, could see him getting a little closer to himself every moment. Rodney settled back down beside him on the bed, and settled the laptop on his knees. "There's a lot of prime numbers, John."

"Yeah, an infinite amount or something," John said. "Pick one. It came from your subconscious after all."

"Infinity divisible by 1 and itself, technically." Rodney eyed the keys for a moment, and then closed his eyes, fingers skimming over the keys. Whatever he'd hit in came up as *s, and didn't take. "Okay, not the first number that came to mind."

"Try a famous prime. Something to do with Riemann's or... one of the theorems," John suggested.

"Might be a cat name. What was my cat's name?" He shifted, looking at John as if of course he'd know that.

"Uh...You named him after a famous scientist. I'm just trying to remember which one," John said. "Faraday? Or Einstein."

"Einstein..." Rodney shook his head. "No, too obvious. No, uh..." There was another pause and Rodney typed another smatter of letters quickly, and hit enter.

It took. "I was lamer than I thought, actually."

"What was it? Or is that top secret?" John asked even as it loaded up slowly.

"Schrödinger." Rodney almost looked sheepish as he shifted. "Mind if I sit with you?"

"Okay that was lame. You seriously called your cat Schrödinger?" John said lying back again because his stomach was aching again. "But you know, pretty cool that you got it on your own."

Rodney shifted, scooting up to sit beside him near the head of the mattress. "Like I said, I have pieces and no context. And apparently I'm running a non standard operating system. Not surprising."

"Nothing about you is standard Rodney," John replied. "You come up with last minute hauling our asses out of the fire idea's pretty much every day of the week." He grinned a little. "Sometimes I do, but not like you."

Rodney shifted, staring down at the screen. "If we need saving now, I can't be sure I can pull anything out of anywhere."

"Hey, pretty much all I could manage right now is turning up or a suicide mission," John answered lazily. "Not alone there."

There was another moment of hovering fingers and Rodney stopped bringing up whatever he'd been looking for. "You do that a lot."

"What, turn up?" John asked raising an eyebrow. "That's part of the job, yeah."

"No, suicide missions." Rodney tilted his head, eyes still fixed on the screen, but attention clearly all on John. "You, I made a nuclear bomb for you?"

Strange though it was to get excited about something that had made things a bit difficult between them, John found himself sitting up again. "Yeah... yeah you did. It wasn't meant to be a suicide mission. We had this plan for remote flying a jumper. It wouldn't work and I flew the jumper up there. Got scooped out of there by the Daedalus. You were not really very happy with me afterwards."

"I wonder why not? I made a nuclear bomb and one of my few friends decided to try to hand deliver it!"

"We were all going to die!" John pointed out experiencing déjà vu to the first time he'd had this argument. "That's my job. I take the risks because I am expendable. Because I'm responsible. We couldn't wait...I didn't want you to feel responsible."

And at the time, it had not only made sense, but saved their asses. Rodney had been strung out from building them with Radek, and... and it was just something they did. Rodney turned his head, shifted to look at John. "I was responsible. I built a bomb. Two of them! How often do I end up being sat down and told 'here, work on these nukes'? I'm getting the feeling I don't get paid well enough for this."

"Probably not," John replied a little uncomfortable at the feelings Rodney had obviously kept hidden at the time. "And technically you fixed a bomb. We borrowed it from the Genii. When it comes to saving our ass weapons or shields, then yeah...it happens pretty often."

He wished it didn't, but they took it for granted and maybe they shouldn't.

Maybe they needed to stop taking it for granted, but Rodney also probably didn't remember the insecurities that had probably made him put up with it in the first place. "And you said I was the head scientist?"

"Yeah, you rule them with a rod of... sarcasm," John replied. "Zelenka argues back. He's a good guy."

"He replaced me while I was gone? The squirrelly guy, right?" Rodney made a one-handed gesture over his own head, imitating Radek's hair.

"As much as you could ever be replaced," John said lying back again. "You gotta remember that pretty much everyone thought you were dead. Killed by a side effect of the machine. Radek tried to fix it in time and couldn't - even Carson only worked..."

John stopped unable deal with an unfamiliar sense of loss. Damn the pain drugs, he hated not having as tight a grip on things as he wanted.

"Who's Carson?" Rodney leaned back again, against the headboard, and half-closed the laptop.

"Carson was...Carson was probably your best friend," John replied slowly, taking the decision to talk about him. "He was the Chief Medical Officer and probably the nicest guy I've ever known. He... he was killed not that long ago Rodney. Another stupid Ancient weapon gone wrong."

Rodney shifted again, closed the lid of thee laptop, and scooted down until he was almost shoulder to shoulder with John. "And this happened... while I was gone?"

"Yeah." John closed his eyes trying to shut out the replaying memory of the security cameras where he saw Carson smile with relief and then walk away and then the explosion that killed them all in that corridor engulf him in a blaze of light. "He was the only one that believed me when I thought you had Ascended. He helped me a lot. Patched me up all the time." He paused a moment and sighed. "I'm kinda glad I'm telling you this while you don't remember him."

"Did I try to contact you, either of you, while I was ascended?'

John opened his eyes and looked at him. "Yeah. Though, the first time was... I got my ass kicked by some Genii - exiled soldiers. I was dying and you saved me. Broke a few Ascended rules and healed me some so I didn't die in a snake infested pit."

He smiled again. "Nowhere near as fun as the visits at night though."

"Night visits....?" Rodney half-asked that, but slouched down again, and settled the laptop onto his stomach. "What was I doing then?"

"Making me unconscious?" John laughed a little. "Honestly, I'm not sure. Sure felt good though. You seemed to get something out of being close to me. Energy thing."

"Energy vampire, maybe?" Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, and all John wanted to do was watch. He just wanted to watch his friend, watch his friend's face, the way he seemed to finally relax.

"Nah. You said something once about it taking a lot to manifest on this level. I'm pretty sure you were trying to stop me self destructing, not suck me dry."

"Why were you self destructing? Because of me? Because of Carson?"

"Both I guess," John said truthfully. He promised Rodney the truth in his own head. "Carson stopped me spiraling out of control after you, and when he died, there was nothing to stop that."

"Why were you out of control? I mean, I wasn't and he wasn't that important to you, were we? I, I don't think I ever expected or would have expected that someone would..."

John put out a hand and touched Rodney's arm. He didn't know what to say, or whether saying anything would help. "No you wouldn't've expected, but that didn't mean that it wasn't true," he said softly. "Fact is... I thought I was dealing. Thought I was getting through losing you but there were things I couldn't see everyone else could. You guys are my...you guys are the closest thing to family that I have. I told Teyla that once when we went after Ronon on Sateda. He gave himself up for us, would've died for us. I would've done the same for anyone of you without hesitation."

It still felt like a lie, because he was omitting that critical thing about Rodney, that he was more than just family. "To be honest Rodney, I don't know where we stand in relation to each other but I can definitely say that you are someone I would protect with my life, need to see safe."

"I wish I could..." Rodney waved a hand slightly, a slow circular motion. "I wish I had the context for this. I feel like this is some huge revelation for me, and I wish I could really appreciate this."

John shrugged a little painfully with his shoulder wondering if it was one of the drugs making him so open or if he needed to share this much. "I guess it's a big deal. You might change your mind completely when you get back your memory. And you will. I'm sort of wanting that to happen and... kinda hoping some of it won't. We've had a few problems. Sometimes me, sometimes you. Neither of us are usually much good at talking about this sort of thing. Right now I'm thinking it's the drugs talking."

"I wish I had some drugs right now. Of course, with my luck it'd trigger some kind of brain damage directly related to the act of having recently descended." Rodney closed his eyes, and seemed content to lay there for a moment. "What kind of problems do we have?"

"Aside from the times when you manage to offend everyone and we have to run like hell?" John chuckled a little. "I guess it was summed up from my side by Doranda. You were on to something, I backed you, put my neck on the line and through arrogance, you refused to see that something was wrong, something you shouldn't do. And I was right there with you. It went very wrong. People died, we were nearly killed and you were really shitty to Zelenka and the upshot was that the best part of a solar system was destroyed."

He was silent for a moment after revealing that, wondering if Rodney remembered that one. "I was pretty angry about that. Not that there was a mistake, but because you refused to believe you'd made one. From your side...I think you think I'm stupid, which is probably fair to say because compared to you most people are. You think I'm an oversexed idiot with a death wish, I take too many risks and I probably shouldn't've been in command."

He wasn't sure where all that came from, but he wasn't feeling at his most robust just then. This whole conversation made him feel surreal and way too vulnerable for his liking. Because he was just laying it out there for Rodney, and Rodney wasn't at all reacting like Rodney.

He was quiet again, and John figured it was another one of those fugue-states, maybe remembering, maybe not. One of those times, he was going to hit the trigger that finally got Rodney remembering everything.

"It was an unpopulated solar system."

"Yeah. We were lucky about that. Kinda makes people nervous though," John replied and his hand was still resting on Rodney. "We got over it. Took a while but we did. Did you just remember stuff?"

"Yeah. It's sort of funny how the mind works. It's... less about what you just mentioned, actually, and more about a stint in Siberia. So there's some mental link there between the two events."

"Yeah probably is," John agreed after some thought. "You got sent there after you were kinda wrong about something. Doesn't happen that often."

"Well, if success is the expected status quo, and failure of any kind leads to complete ostracization and reassignments out of spite... I wonder why when the military says 'can you find a way to make it work' I didn't say 'Actually, it's probably a bad idea.'" Rodney still had his eyes closed, but he didn't move away from John.

John found himself just looking at him. Everything was just the same. Every detail, every imperfection adding to a whole, that strange quirk of a mouth even at rest, the line of a jaw that would set in stubborn annoyance. It was all there in front of him, an impossible gift.

Without realizing exactly what he was doing he had reached to touch the line of that jaw with finger tips sure they wouldn't find anything solid. But they did, touching Rodney's skin, feeling the faint raise of stubble beneath his fingertips. Rodney turned his head a little, into John's fingers. "Hi."

He should've flinched away, he should've snatched his fingers away sharply, but he didn't. He couldn't. He played it light on the surface of things because that was how he survived the crazy shit he dealt with every day, but he wanted this. No, he needed it and that was what made it so damn terrifying. But all that time Rodney had been gone his mind had repeated the litany of just one kiss, just one kiss and Rodney had been back long enough.

"I really, really need to do this...even if it's just once Rodney," he murmured and let himself freefall with the risk as he leaned down ignoring the pain and just very gently kissed Rodney.

It was an easy motion, simple to commit, and Rodney didn't pull back. But John wasn't giving him too much of a choice about it, either, and he wasn't sure what Rodney was going to do until he leaned into the kiss a little himself.

A relief spread through him, and he let himself respond again, remembering the tantalizing sensations of a not-there Rodney in comparison to this very real, very warm and solid Rodney. He leaned in a little more and let it burn through him, all that wanting and need. It had attracted Rodney before, like a moth to a flame.

It seemed to attract him again, because Rodney shifted, finally, wrapped an arm around John's shoulders, holding and keeping him close while he finally kissed back.

He had to relax into that because he just didn't have the strength to keep the effort going. The kiss was sweet with want and he wanted it to say We could be special, we might be special, we could try to be special together.

All those 'what if's' Carson had pushed at him were bearing fruit here and now. He just hoped whatever this new growth was it would survive when Rodney came back to himself. Because this was new, something dangerous and strangely wonderful.

And Rodney didn't remember the way things were between them, didn't remember the arguing and the back and forth, and that might be a reason for it to all fall apart when he did, but for now--

For now, Rodney pulled back a little and exhaled. "John, you'll hurt yourself."

"I don't care..." John replied, but it was true. His body failed him as he ended up collapsed back on the bed, trying to pretend he wasn't shaking. "I had to, I needed to Rodney, before things changed."

"You're afraid I'm not going to like you any more when I get my memory back?" Rodney twisted, leaned over him. "Oh, wow, I think I'm back in grade school. What kind of two beer, well, two amnesiac queer do you take me for?"

John chuckled a little, weaker than he cared to think about. "You'll understand when it happens. I probably shouldn't've done that. Taking advantage of you when you're not...whole."

Rodney squinted down at him. "I have spotty memories and trouble talking. This does not mean I'm someone who needs to be treated with kid gloves. I'm still me."

"So you're okay with this?" he gestured a little. "You want it? Or did the last near death thing completely unhinge me?"

It sounded like a joke, but he was serious. He'd been walking such a thin tightrope of sanity for a while, it could've happened. What he worried about was not noticing when he fell off.

Because he'd always hoped that if he did fall off, Rodney would give him a heads up, but this Rodney, Rodney now and back from the dead-Ascended, didn't remember John well enough to gauge.

That was all he needed to know, and maybe once he started recovering they could go a little further. Rodney's memory was coming back piecemeal and he felt like his sanity was probably in a similar state. When it came down to it, that was all he could hope for considering the miracle that had already happened, So he didn't answer in word, just reached out and held onto Rodney's hand as if he was never going to let go again.

He'd taken himself pretty bloody close to dissipation Descending Rodney. The stupid thing was he couldn't fathom in his head how an energy being could feel so exhausted, so much like he was ill, but he had felt barely coherent after the Descension progress so it had to be possible. Carson had barely had the strength to bundle himself up in comfortable thoughts and just drift on the ascended plane all alone and pretty much ostracized by the majority of the Ancients for doing something so patently against the best interests of them all.

If Rodney had felt like this Ascending him no wonder he had been completely flaked out. The sad thing was, he really was alone now. He'd understood that when Rodney had said it, made it sound like it wasn't a problem but it was. He missed Rodney, he missed all his friends and loved ones and not even his casual connections here on this level were interested in seeing how he was.

Rodney had had John to believe in him, to reach out to him and as predicted with Rodney's memory wiped he didn't even remember that he had Ascended him. In fact, he didn't even remember him at all.

That hurt more than he thought he could bear. He'd said to John once he wasn't sure if he loved Rodney, but now he knew the answer to that question which was yes, but sadly also knew the answer to the flip side. Whatever Rodney had felt for him hadn't been the same as what he felt for John. Rodney loved John and he'd done all of this because Rodney should be happy, so should John and he cared about them enough to do this with no strings, no means of recompense, nothing but an unconditional sacrifice that seemed to bemuse the other Ancients.

Well fuck them all. And his mother would have him washing his mouth out for even thinking the word, but that was what he felt. Part of what kept him unresponsive now was depression and loneliness, weighing like chains on him in this place where thoughts had an expressive reality of their own.

"You brought this upon yourself Carson Beckett," a voice said next to him as Ganos Lal manifested near him. He didn't know if he was relieved for any contact or desperate to hide from what was no doubt going to be an object lesson in kicking someone when they were down.

Oh joy. "Aye, I know that Ganos," he said wearily, not in the mood for her self-righteous lecturing right now. "I also know I shouldn't've been able to do it, that you have all been avoiding me ever since even though I could've used someone's help."

"I have come to you," she said though her tone was diffident and cold. He didn't have to be experienced to see that she had been ordered here. It was written all over her energy signature.

"Oh please, you come because it is your punishment for interfering and telling SG-1 where to go," Carson answered from his thought constructed comfort zone.

The Ascended were strange, they wanted the impossible and then were apparently surprised at the simplest things.

Her energy stilled. "How do you know that?" she said in a low voice, her shield abruptly enveloping them both.

"Well first I was on Atlantis for that incident, and I don't doubt you were mentoring Rodney for the same reason," Carson pointed out, pretty sure that dealing with Rodney was regarded universally as a punishment. "So it is obvious."

She seemed to relax then even as he added, "...and it's not like I can't see it in your energies and read the imposed intent and thought form locked around you."

It was like reading and hearing voices threaded in her energies, whispering and repeating what was locking her into place.

"What?!" Ganos Lal startled, her form bleeding light as she became distracted. "You can see imposed patterns?"

"Aye?" Carson answered. He was still tired and these mind games were stupid and pathetic, because this was like trying to trick a child of three or something. "I know Rodney couldn't do that but he wasn't tuned in that way, never had been. People were as much a mystery to him as quantum physics was to me. I assumed all of you were more that way inclined because it's not that hard to read between the lines. I know you think I don't belong here, I know you resent having to babysit me, that you only talk to  me because of that thought-imprint because you want to stop Myrddin from  doing something stupid like sacrificing himself and you're not allowed to go. It's obvious."

"No, no it is anything but obvious," Ganos Lal said, somewhat shaken by what he was saying. "Can you see this with others?"

"Oh aye," Carson murmured starting to come to a few conclusions. It did explain why he had been able to Descend Rodney at all, because without seeing those sorts of things, holding someone's patterns would be close to impossible, whereas it had been nearly impossible for him. "It's ridiculous. A lot of the older ascended are wrapped up in ancient layers of prohibitions rooted into structure of the plane. Ikarius, so conservative he barely exists, used to be the greatest risk taker around. He gave a species flight so they would be free, and the rest of them pushed the planet too close to their sun and all of them died because they thought it would be too great a weapon in the hands of others.. You can read it in the patterns if you get close enough - a hypocritical punishment I might add considering they had done nothing wrong, and neither had he. I think John would've liked him when he was first newly Ascended."

He sighed and lay back even as Ganos seemed to pace.

"This is a most unusual ability Carson Beckett. "

"Well, I thought it was a little like diagnosis actually. Are you telling me that you really can't do this?" Carson said genuinely surprised. That was unexpected, there were evolved and meditative humans who learned healing abilities which he had assumed to be a progression of empathy. In his opinion this empathic ability was a logical and natural extension of that.

"Carson, this is the first time that anyone has been able to distinguish patterns like that," Ganos said in a low tone. "You are unable to do this with physical phenomena, no one would even believe this was something possible, especially from you."

"Well thank you lass, I don't think. The physical -that was Rodney's bailiwick," Carson pointed out, a little pricked by the backhanded compliment. "Mine was always people. It's not particularly useful though. Except in understanding why someone is being particularly unpleasant."

Ganos Lal seemed to acknowledge the dig at her behavior and moved closer.

"Carson, if you can comprehend something well enough for it to be visible, and meaningful you might be able to affect it. Just try, see if you can influence the bond."

He shrugged a little and reached out with his energy field and found the compulsion there, tactile in an odd way much like a twined rope. He 'tugged' at it and felt it start to give under his attention eliciting a gasp from Ganos.

"Stop! stop..." Ganos said and he stopped. He was too tired to push hard even if he wanted to show her he wasn't a wasted of ascended space.

"You can affect it!"

"Apparently so," Carson admitted a little shocked himself. "But I'm still tired. I don't think I'm quite ready to get into unraveling duty just yet."

But perhaps if he did, he could trade favors. Get someone to Descend him home. Perhaps if he unraveled those punishments right down through the structure of the plane things would be better here.

"I must think on this Carson, and consider what this means. Do not let others know of this, for if they were to know you could possibly break the punishments dealt out I do not know their reaction." The other Ascended told him.

"Maybe they would descend me?" he asked hopefully.

She looked at him pityingly. "I somehow doubt it. Re-energize yourself. Find a sun to bask beside, that will help you and I will return."

With that she vanished leaving Carson alone again. With a sigh he moved himself into the vicinity of a sun, one of those Rodney had fixed because that in itself made him feel good, and let himself absorb radiant energy.

His thoughts drifted back to Atlantis and he found himself tuned back into Rodney again. He was more than half proud of John. He seemed to be facing up to things, dealing with them and supporting Rodney at a point when no doubt he was not feeling too well himself. Whatever Ganos wanted from him, whatever he decided to do could wait until he was sure John and Rodney were finally going to take those final steps. That was the reason he had done this, and he wasn't going to prematurely step away from responsibility for them both. If anyone needed a Guardian angel, it was Atlantis and those two in particular.

Atlantis was a strange city.

It was the only thing Rodney was sure of, that he could feel bone deep and know he'd believed before. Oh, it was beautiful, but there were so many secrets they couldn't access, things that itched at his mind and didn't work no matter how hard he'd apparently tried. Re-reading his notes had been telling, actually, more than John had expected. There was no simple 'diary' to catch back up to himself with, but there were running projects, notes, information and thoughts in pieces of documents and excel files, and it was all starting to fit together.

Occasionally he would have distinct fragments of memory ambush him from nowhere, feelings without a context but now it was starting to feel more like the puzzle pieces were there, but hadn't been put together yet rather than not having a clue what the puzzle was. John was surprisingly patient with him, but then as he said, he had little else to do in the mean time while he was waiting to get through his convalescence, but even then he pushed it. He knew John was taxing himself from the amount of time the man just crashed out on him.

Normal people didn't push themselves until they dropped, but he was starting to think he wasn't normal either.

Tonight though, they were going to work on the Team. He could hear the capital letters when John said it, as if it was something wonderful and important to him and should be to Rodney too.

He supposed it might be. He supposed he might have felt the same way, before, but now it was nebulous and not attached to anything at all. Rodney hoped that, with time, he would remember again. Maybe the team-building exercise would help.

Apparently it involved popcorn, beer and food - which was good, and a selection of DVD's which they had watched before so they could be on, but not interrupt any talking that was going on. John had himself installed in the most comfortable seat going, with Ronon and Teyla looking equally relaxed.

"They both think Earthers are crazy," John confided in Rodney as he stole popcorn awkward.

"No, we think you're both crazy," Ronon corrected.

"Ronon..." Teyla said warningly and then smiled. "Maybe a little eccentric then."

He'd finally gotten to read the reports on how they had met each of them and become a team, and he had moments, flashes of memory that made his mind ache for the missing information. "Well, we have completely different backgrounds, to start. You can't just write John and I off as weird Earthers."

"You get your foreskins cut. Voluntarily." Ronon pointed out and John nearly choked on his popcorn.

"Hey, ladies present," he said gesturing randomly.

Ronon gave a small smile and said, "Oh yeah. Sorry McKay," even as Teyla lightly slapped him on the arm.

Rodney snorted, and hugged the bowl of popcorn closer to himself. "It's not voluntary if it's done when you're all of newborn. Now, the fact that parents want to do that to their children, all right, I'll give you that it's weird."

"Like I said. Crazy," Ronon said. "That and the fact when I first met you, you were hanging upside down dressed in a bright orange rubber suit. "

"For sunburn and radiation," John said clarifying that point. "First impressions have irretrievably scarred our working relationship"

"When I met you John, I thought your superior was an idiot," Teyla replied. "You at least talked to me with respect."

"It's been downhill since then," John quipped back and sipped his beer.

"I'm not sure how it can go downhill when you start with being stranded in an alien universe and having to mercy kill your superior officer." Rodney gave John a sideways glance.

"Not my best moment," John admitted eyes staying on the screen ahead of them.

"Sumner was not familiar with the threats that this Galaxy posed John. He underestimated the strength of the enemy. That was not your fault," Teyla added. "You saved my people."

"And the city. I'm sure he was a great guy, and no-one deserves to die, but I'd rather have a flyboy leading me than a Marine. Well. Lorne is an exception." Lorne was un-hinged, and painted like Bob, bob something. The mellow man with the trees, that was what he reminded Rodney was.

"He makes a great job of my paperwork too," John said happily. "Anyway, we're meant to be jogging your memory Rodney. Plus we get to remind you of all the embarrassing things that didn't make it into mission reports or...sanitized."

"Like the itching berries on the Serosia homeworld," Teyla said with amusement.

"Or the Suri Cacti." Ronon pointed out looking at John.

"Told you, I don't remember any of that," John said innocently. "We're not meant to talk about that mission ever anyway."

"But if you don't talk about it, how will I remember it?" Rodney shifted, eyes travelling from Teyla to Ronon and then back to John beside him.

"It involved me being painted with a pretty hallucinogenic gold pollen dust," John said with an exaggerated sigh. "Ronon claims I was trying to... get it on with a cactus."

"That wasn't all," Ronon said. "McKay stopped you anyway."

He wished he could remember it. He wished he knew what it was that triggered memories when they did hit him, creeping up out of nowhere. "I did?"

"Yeah," Ronon replied putting his feet up on the low table.

"I'm not surprised you can't remember it considering it never happened," John said emphasizing the last few works. "Look you are meant to be reminding Rodney of things. Tell him some experiences you've had."

Teyla considered. "Before you Ascended Rodney, you came to me and performed the tea ceremony for the anniversary of my father's death. It...it meant a great deal to me."

"I didn't know he did that," John said sounding a little surprised.

"And you came up to me, going on about my scars on my back and then you hugged me," Ronon said. "Which was pretty embarrassing, right up to the point you said, I've just healed them for you."

"Now, that I knew," John contributed giving him a thumbs up for that one.

"Nothing. No, no connection, no..." Rodney slouched a little more, waving one hand in a circle. "I don't know. Am I trying too hard?"

"I believe you are Rodney," Teyla said. "There are tales and legends of those set back by the ancestors and for some it takes many years before they truly remember."

"Yeah, but Rodney's been remembering a lot," John put in. "Seriously, he's been doing good when we've been talking."

"Bet you didn't tell him the bad stories about you though. Might be what he needs to shake a memory loose," Ronon suggested. "He tell you about when the Genii got him and tortured him with a Wraith? You were shitting yourself."

"No? See, these are the things I need to know." He had a sense that not all was sunshine and light in Atlantis, and if that was true, then sticking to the narrower definition of their existence would... help, maybe.

"He's the only guy I know who made friends with a Wraith to escape," Ronon added. "We saw all of it. Kolya filmed it."

"It was... very distressing for all of us," Teyla said softly, glancing at John. "I believe he still has feeding scars."

"You can hardly see them," John said glancing down at his chest.

There was something about that that made Rodney twist to look at John. "I want to see it."

"You want to... you want to see it?" John looked a bit startled by that.

"It's a warrior tradition, Sheppard," Ronon pointed out. "Show him."

Teyla nodded as well. "We have seen it all before John," she said sounding amused.

"Fine, you want to see scars, you get to try and track them down under chest hair," John said, but just about managed to pull his shirt open. "Knock yourself out Rodney."

John had apparently over estimated how hairy his chest was. Where his chest had been scarred, there wasn't any hair. The skin had been warped and turned shiny permanently from what Rodney guessed was the feeding spot. It looked... strange, not natural at all, and Rodney reached out to touch it.

There was something about the scars, something that tugged at a memory, like a fish on a line. From the reactions of the others he could tell that what John was doing was some sort of big deal. Maybe he hadn't been so open before. Rodney let a finger trace it a moment and then without thinking splayed his hand out to map out the shape of the marks.

He heard John inhale sharply and realized that Sheppard might look cool about a lot of things but under the surface it was all there.

Images started to dart back, sharp and painful, memories of terror and anxiety, despair so strong he could taste it.

He kept his hand there, looking at Sheppard, and that was when the memory washed over him, or seeped back to his consciousness. A grainy TV transmission on screens that could do so much better, like a bad horror movie, a man's face right up to the screen talking and then this creature feeding off of John, and John screaming...

"Rodney...? Okay, Rodney, I'm a little bit uncomfortable with...uh..." John's voice sounded a little distant as the memories surged forward. He'd known, they'd all known that no one could survive that. He remembered Gall then, killing himself after one feeding and flinched at the phantom memory of a gunshot.

He remembered after the third time knowing it was over, or wishing for John's sake that it was. And then on the planet, John screaming and running there to find the wraith over him and then John getting up, fine and untouched except for these scars and no one would've know it happened.

Rodney pulled back, took his hand away, but kept staring at the wound. "I, uh... Sorry."

"No it's okay....if you remembered something," John said although he looked a little tense. "I'm just a.. uh, bit cautious about that sort of movement. "

"Did you remember Rodney?" Teyla asked leaning forward.

"I remember what happened to John, and Gall." He remembered who Gall was an annoying upstart of a scientist who probably, maybe might've surpassed Rodney some day. Maybe.

"Then it helped," John said but he still looked away from Rodney, hiding in drinking his beer.

"You have scars of your own. Do you recall where they came from?" Teyla asked and John twitched in discomfort.

"Teyla, I don't think Rodney should..."

"Not up to you Sheppard," Ronon cut in.

"No, I actually don't." There was the one on his forearm, and Rodney started to pull his shirt sleeve up. "This one...."

"No, look this is a  bad idea," John said trying to sit up a little. "Some things he doesn't need to remember."

"Yes he does John," Teyla said firmly. "You cannot take the good without the bad. Rodney, the man who was ...in charge of torturing John. That was not the first time we met him. There was a terrible storm headed here, and you were trying to save the city and Kolya, Acastus Kolya led a Genii strike force here. They captured you and Elizabeth. They persuaded you to tell them information by demonstrating their willingness to cut you."

Rodney looked down at the scar, and ran his thumb over it, hard enough to feel the difference of skin, the raised ripple of the scar's edge. It was a less vivid memory, less intense, but maybe it was all the wrong trigger, or not the whole story. But he could see the gun, and faces, and could remember cold pouring..

"He's remembering," Ronon said. "Can't help you much with that one. Before my time. The one your butt is from an arrow. You got shot with that making a run to the Stargate and I ended up on Sateda again."

"I got shot in the ass?" That was what he got, apparently, for not spending more time in one on one introspection.

"Yeah. You were as high as a kite by the time Teyla and I made it back. " John said. "But, I came to the lab to find you lying on your front on the floor with a laptop working so you could get the sensor working to find Ronon. And you did. We went after him. Mind you, he'd pretty much kicked nearly everyone's ass by the time we got there."

That was a vague memory, too, and Rodney supposed he'd have to work on it. "Do we ever have quiet days here? I have a scar on my, up on my side, and another one on my shoulder."

"Don't know about the shoulder one," Ronon said stealing a packet of chips.

John grimaced and put his hand up. "Think the one on your side was me. I uh...kinda shot you."

Rodney had been just ready to dive into the popcorn again, but that made him stop short. "You shot me?"

"I didn't mean to!" John protested even as Teyla tried  hard not to smile. "I was under the influence of an alien device. I thought you were Taliban. Besides, it's not like you haven't shot me before."

"I've shot you? Really? Are you sure we're on the same side?" He only had to ask that half seriously, because while they were on the same side, they were also apparently fairly hard on each other.

"Yeah. You had reason. And believe me, you didn't let me forget about that," John replied. "Not even for a moment."

"You are very much on the same side. It is very fortunate that we have the both of you," Teyla said calmly. "You owe your life to the fact that John, even hallucinating would not kill in cold blood."

"Now when he's being attacked or the city," Ronon said and smirked. "For a while I thought he didn't know how to fight. He seemed to like being tied up a little too much."

"I did not!" John replied sounding shocked. "I can't believe you said that."

And it eased away into banter. Rodney felt like he knew that signal, the moment when it all eased back from tension again. "Really? Who tied him up last?"

"The Genii probably," Ronon said with a shrug. "Unless it was Teyla at practice."

"I definitely didn't enjoy that at all," John pointed out. "Wait, wait, Teyla at practice?"

"No, I like the sound of that," Rodney murmured. "I mean, if you spend enough time being tied up that it's noteworthy, why not practice getting untied?"

"I will be more than willing to demonstrate the process for you both," Teyla replied with a slight smile. "It is a very worthwhile skill. Ronon is most proficient."

"Yeah, I got out of a Wraith cocoon while McKay was talking us both to death," Ronon pointed out. "You remember that?"

"No." From the shifty look John gave him, he was glad that he didn't. "So, let me understand this. I've been shot, stabbed, cocooned, ascended, descended, and probably a hundred other things that just don't come to mind and I came back?"

"Ascending must not be all it's cracked up to be," John said sounding deliberately light. "You wanted to come back, I know that much."

"And we are very glad that you did Rodney," Teyla added giving a sideways look at John.

And again, he was missing some subtlety, some connection that he should have known about but was completely missing. Well, except that he'd probably or apparently come home for John and oh god he had foot in mouth disease. "I guess you were all worth it me. Uh, and I don't mean that in past tense."

He wanted his nuances back, his awareness of the in jokes, the shared experience. It was incredibly frustrating feeling that he was on the outside of a group of which he had been the heart. He could feel it now, a tantalizing shape in his mind that he would try and grasp and it would slide away like some slithering oiled snake. Random  recollections danced through his head waiting for a structure to string them together and make them meaningful.

"Glad to hear it, " John said and deflected his near gaffe. "You know, I think you need a new T-shirt. With "I went to the Ascended plane and all I got was this lousy amnesia!" on it."

"I do have a pretty lame shirt with 'I'm with Genius' pointing an arrow up at me, don't I?" Rodney wanted just to be with John, wanted to apologize, because apparently not only was he having trouble remembering from the past but holding on to memories from one moment to the next.

"Your favorite," John confirmed and looked at Rodney for a long moment before Teyla cleared her throat.

"John, I believe you should be resting soon. Perhaps Ronon and I should leave."

"Film's not fi-" Ronon blinked a little before he looked at Teyla and Rodney was pretty sure there had been an elbow in the ribs or equivalent. "Oh yeah. Don't want Keller getting mad at you again. Call it a night."

"Okay, uh..." Rodney looked at his watch, and then at Teyla as she got up, and it felt like there was a conspiracy against him.

"Make sure he rests," Teyla said touching him lightly even as Ronon grabbed the rest of the chips and followed on after her.

"See you tomorrow McKay," he said and smirked a little at John as they both eventually left.

John shook his head with a smile as their team mates deserted them. "Subtle they are not," he said finally.

"Not really." It made Rodney smile, just a little, and he shifted, twisted to look at John. "Uh, what I said before. I'm sorry, I didn't want it to sound like that. I know that I, that you mean a lot to me."

John glanced over at him and he'd have to be blind not to see something in his expression. "How sure are you? Because I never really thought you had anything but contempt for a lot of things I did. Seriously... Things get complicated with history stuff. I want that back for you, but I'm... well, let's just say I'm not sure that going back to exactly where we were would be good."

"I was ascended. Maybe I got past where we were. Not that I'm going to remember it, but I'll remember this, now, and..." Maybe it would make a difference. Rodney kept his eyes on John. "It doesn't have to be complicated, does it?"

"I don't know, does it?" John answered in that infuriating calm tone he used when he was trying to hide how something affected him. "We just seem to have a talent for that sort of thing. Or maybe it was my fault before because I couldn't just... say something. Right now, I've been nearly dead and missing you too often to not just say something. Carson...Carson told me to do something about it if I got my miracle second chance. So I'm putting it out there. Yeah, I want you. Wanted you for a long time."

And the words seemed so simple, so easy. John wanted him and he wanted John, and... "Then I don't see why it needs to be complicated. Carson's dead, and I'm, I'm back from the dead and I promised you. I promised I'd come back. For you."

"We could try easy for a while," John said. He smirked in a familiar way that struck Rodney with an impact of familiarity. "You'd tell me often enough I was that way anyway."

"Yeah, because you're so obviously a slut.  I was jealous." He was sure of it. Sure he was jealous, and it was a pretty five year old way to handle it, but he was sure that was the problem.

"Yeah well, might've done my own share of uh, cock-blocking," John admitted. "That super-volcano place. Let's just say that we're not in touch with common sense when it comes to each other."

He should have expected that. There was half a feeling that he never handled anything like that, interpersonal matters, really well, and it was sort of nice to know he wasn't alone. "There's no reason we can't try."

"We'll there's the whole thing where I might get fired and stupid military rules but, you know, that seems pretty unimportant right now," John replied relaxing a little. "Because I'm thinking everyone thinks we are and they haven't turned us in yet, so...we could just try, yeah."

Fired and, and there were rules against it? It was funny that it brought out the mental image of him kneeling down in front of someone, the odd-angled image of camo close to his face while he sucked cock.

"I can be quiet. I can keep it a secret. If they don't have proof..."

"Rodney..." John looked uncomfortable. "It's not that, it's that I don't want it to have to be a secret. I know you can keep secrets if you know they are to be kept. I just... I'd like it to be easy, and nothing's ever easy. I'm sorry."

The edge of Rodney's mouth quirked up. "We'll make it work.  But first, I think I have to wheel you to bed."

John smirked a little. "Best offer I've had in a while. Wanna come with?"

The man was not long out of intensive care and already he was propositioning him. Rodney could at least understand where his previous comments had come from. Or he was putting up a front. There were worse things to handle while Rodney struggled to get his memory back. The constant companionship of John while he recovered had probably sped things up for him. "Are you serious?"

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm usually serious," John replied. He was smiling, but he seemed a little more than casual. "Please Rodney - even if it's just to be close. I don't sleep that well. I keep thinking you're still gone."

John was right there, and it was stupid not to turn towards him, reaching to slide an arm over his shoulders. "Okay."

The smile John gave him then paled all of the half smiles into insignificance. "Cool." He raised an eyebrow. "I've always wanted to say this, your place or mine?"

"Seeing as we're here now, and it's your place, then yours." Rodney shifted, leaned back so he wasn't leaning on John, and palmed John's shoulder. "Getting you off the couch is going to be pretty unromantic."

"I'll keep the manly grunting of pain down to a minimum," John replied wryly. "Here, let me try and stand."

It was a good attempt, but calling it an attempt was probably being charitable about its chances of success.

Rodney hung onto him, and started to stand up. "We should try it together, I think."

John huffed a little. "Ronon is so going to kick my ass when we start running again," he said leaning heavily on Rodney. "Hey, verticality. Haven't managed that for a while. At least my bed is close."

"At least. You're going to have to put up with Ronon running by yourself. I'd say I'll be there for moral support, but... No. No, I actually won't be. I'll find something else to do."  John wasn't that heavy to carry, but the lurching motions he made when he tried to actually walk was harder to handle.

It was a relief when the other man let himself practically fall on the bed, hiding his reaction to make it seem less. Rodney couldn't see the point in that. It made sense to tell the doctors exactly what was going on. He always told Carson exactly what the problem was in great detail, because hello, who knew what an innocent scratch could do. And Carson never....

Rodney stopped a moment, eyes wide.

And thousands of textured memories, sight, sound, emotion centered around Carson exploded silently into his awareness. Carson never wrote him off completely, and John had said Carson was dead, and Rodney could remember arguing with the man, about readings and the body being less voodoo and more science and physics and, and...  It was like a gut-punch of memory, too much at once, and all he could do was stand there and take it all in as things slotted into place, as more context came into his mind.

He remembered Carson. He remembered the closest thing to a best friend he'd ever had in his life because when he had been younger, everyone else had been freaked out by the kid who could correct teachers because he didn't know how to be normal. He remembered time after time when Carson had been the one to seek him out, to talk and give him as good as he got as if he  enjoyed his company. He'd been so used to people using him, hating him or being sycophants he knew he hadn't treated him the way he should, and the knowledge he'd been killed hit him like something solid and painful.

He got Carson back in his mind, and then had to lose him all at the same time.

"Rodney? I hope you're remembering something because, I'm finding this a little disturbing," John was saying. "C'mon McKay, talk to me."

He had to sit down, because his breath felt caught up and his knees felt like they were going to fall out from under him.  The bed at least had a little give to it. "Carson's dead. I, I just remembered him and he's dead."

"Oh... crap Rodney, I'm sorry," John said with that uncomfortable grimace that seemed to appear at the prospect of emotions. "I'm really sorry. You two were  close. He... he cared a lot for you."

It was a gut feeling, that what John was saying was true, that he had lost a friend and didn't even know it, hadn't even been aware of it. But Rodney slouched, and gave up before he lay out beside John on the bed. "You knew him, too."

"Yeah. We all did. He saved our lives...probably as many times as you did if I think about it," John replied moving to awkwardly reach for him, to give some sort of comfort by touch. "You knew him from before. From Antarctica. He nearly shot me down by accident before he even met me. I tell...  used to tell him that he knew I was going to be his biggest headache before he met me. No one has a bad word.. Dammit, had a bad word to say about him, except maybe the Wraith."

John didn't know, didn't know what he'd spewed out when he'd been off his head with some drug or other... the enzyme, with the enzyme because John was going to get himself killed again...

"No, I did. I was... out of my head, and I said things I shouldn't have said, it was something with an Enzyme?" And everything went back to trying to keep John from getting killed again, to keep him safe and alive.

He was noticing a trend in that at least.

"Rodney, Carson wouldn't hold that against you, you weren't in control. I've said or done a few rash things in my time too," John said in a soft voice, not his usual laid back drawl. "The man felt guilty over a wraith who mentally tortured him, I think he could put together that you weren't exactly firing on all cylinders."

"I wasn't even here when he died. I was off in some bizarre version of the astral plane, or where-ever it is that ascended people end up. For all we know, it's a Starbucks in Hoboken. I didn't stop it from happening, but I stopped you from dying." So why one and not the other? Was it only a matter of timing, or was it part of some grander choice that he wasn't even aware of now.

"And you broke the rules for me, maybe you weren't allowed to do it again," John murmured. "You did care for him didn't you? I think he did for you as well. More than he realized."

"And here I am. And he's dead." Rodney shifted, closer to John. "We could be dead, too. I could be dead. You probably should be dead five or ten times over."

"But I'm not. And I don't particularly want to be, "John said obviously trying to find a comfortable position. "I didn't think I wanted to be before no matter what he said, but maybe he was right. I wasn't looking to get killed, I just wasn't trying so hard to stay alive."

"When you're not a mess of broken bones, you're going to try hard to stay alive again. And I will remember everything." From sheer force of will, if he had to. Memory attached to Carson was all there, all of it, and it gave him a lot of context he hadn't had before.

It shocked him that he had forgotten someone who was that important in his life so completely, because the texture and nuances that returned to him with those memories were intense. It made him wonder what would happen when John returned completely into his mind. He'd never had the feeling of completely forgetting John. Forgetting things about him, but not him as a person. He felt familiar, and he felt important but as yet he was waiting to feel everything about him. He could only assume if he felt like this about a friend he had forgotten, then things would be even more intense in the recollection of John than this already overwhelming feeling.

"Yeah, I know you will," John replied as if he had complete faith in his abilities to do whatever he said. "And believe me, broken bones aren't that much fun that I want to be having them on a regular basis."

"By the time you can go back to the field, I'll have remembered enough that they'll have to let me go." Unless they  dwelled on the moments where he seized up in memory. That could carry on for years, and Rodney didn't want to think about that very likely possibility.

"I won't be going anywhere without you," John replied with a smirking smile. "Now get over here, I didn't lure you in here to have you sit platonically next to me."

"Hey, I thought you were injured. I was just.... Trying to not push it." But he'd also been palming one of John's old injuries, so words and action clearly weren't meshing well. They could at least kiss without something going wrong.

"I think I can deal," John replied and it seemed that his desire was strong enough to override his caution. "This'll be a new memory," he promised reaching up and gently cupping a hand around Rodney's neck and pulling him towards him.

It wasn't familiar at all. It didn't spark any memory in the depths of his skull, but it did stir a sense of wanting, an itch that slid down his spine. There were memories that surged up with that feeling, with wanting someone that much, but Rodney struggled not to fall down with their rising, leaning down into John to enjoy the taste of that lazy mouth.

His lips were as good as they looked, warm and tasting of the popcorn they had eaten watching the DVD. Perhaps it was just as well Sheppard wasn't able to get away; maybe this forced him to stay put while he explored his mouth. He was kissing back, slow and with a sense that he was filling the experience with every sensation and emotion he had at his command. This wasn't just wanting what he couldn't have, this was need.

It was need and there was every reason for Rodney to give in to that need, to let John have and do what he wanted with Rodney. He let John keep his hand there, at the back of his neck, and shifted closer, an elbow on either side of John's body, trying to keep himself off of John's injuries.

It was disconcerting when John broke for air and just stopped and stared, locking his gaze with his own gray green eyes as if he was witnessing a wonder that surpassed anything the Pegasus Galaxy had revealed to date. Rodney was pretty sure, screwy memory aside, that no one had ever looked at him like that before, so intensely amazed to have him there.

"Hi." His voice broke a little when he said it, and he knew his face had to look a little goofy, but. It was pitched low and quiet, and Rodney wanted to lean in to kiss John again.

"You came back," John said in a low voice. "You said you would and you did. I should've known that you'd figure a way." His fingers shifted to trace over his cheek almost reverentially and Rodney got the impression this was a side to John that no one  else ever saw.

He liked it. He wanted to see more of it, more of John in general not acting as if Rodney was going to jump up and shout 'You're on candid Camera' and god, why did he have to remember that and not so many other things in his life? "You wanted me to. I had to have missed you."

"Well, it could've always been a burning desire for Sam Carter or Katie Brown," John answered half joking. "No, don't answer that, I don't care. You're here now."

And he kissed him again.

Pulled him down close again, close enough that their chests touched, and Rodney strained not to put weight on John, not to put weight on John, not to--

And then he realized that John's slow groans weren't related to discomfort.

Endorphins were a marvelous thing, because surely moving like that had to be difficult, but John was pressing against him shifting his more mobile leg a little and striving to touch everything at once. He wanted him, not just for a kiss, he wanted more that much was obvious.

It was hard not to push for more action, for more of John's vaguely stifled motions. "No, hey, we can use this as an excuse to change your clothes, we can take this slow, John, I'm not going anywhere."

"Better fucking well not be," John replied in a near growl. "I... dammit, this finally happens and I'm in no shape to do anything I want to do." He sounded frustrated at the fact and aroused.

And while John was healing, Rodney wouldn't have called him in bad shape, not at all. That was the farthest possibility from Rodney's mind. "Just what do you want to do, exactly, that's so impossible?"

John grinned a little. "Let's just say things could've been acrobatic," he answered a little cryptically. "Getting my legs up on your shoulder might be a bit beyond me."

And he was thinking about going that far now? Breaking into things gently seemed to pass him by.

And, all right, he was pretty comfortable with the idea of where things were headed, pretty damn sure that he was gay and yes, attracted to John, but there was 'not really sex' and then there was full out fucking when maybe he hadn't said anything to John because he had some horrifying STD or something and didn't want to have to bother and oh god, what if he did have a horrifying STD? What if he had space clap and hadn't told anyone and didn't remember?

"I usually buy a guy dinner before we get that far..."

"We've shared plenty of dinners," John murmured. "Usually my dinner and your appetite but..." He smiled again. "It's okay, we don't have to do anything."

Yeah right. He didn't sound at all sincere. He wanted more and that was easy enough to tell from the way he was touching and holding on to whatever he could.

"You're still injured. I'm going to go with my original plan, here, which involves me undressing you and seeing where it goes." Because he'd come back from the might-as-well-have-been dead, and John had had time to get good and desperate.

"Aw, come on Rodney," John wheedled. "You're the genius, you must have some sort of plan."

"You want to have sex with me while injured? Because you crazily think that endorphins will override the pain and the fact that your ribs are a mess?" Rodney leaned back, but not to get away from John. It was just easier to start taking his shirt off that way.

"I just want you..." John replied and for once he sounded serious. "Get me comfortable and I'll give you a blow-job you won't forget. Which considering the state of your memory can only be a good thing right?"

"I could do it for you, you know," he offered, looking at John as he let his hands linger near the bottom buttons.

"I'm not going to say no to any sort of offer," John replied sounding very happy with that suggestion. "Especially not from you."

Truth was, he looked like this was the best time he'd had in a very long time.

"Okay, good. That's what I want to offer." Rodney ghosted his hands over John's abdomen. "Want to sit up and help me get you naked? There isn't any rule against you sleeping naked, right?"

"Nah, " John replied even as Rodney felt the outlines of the bandages and dressings strapped around him.  "If you are naked too . I think that's the rule."

"I can do naked a lot easier than you can. Actually, have you seen me naked before? Just out of curiosity." And to distract himself while he slipped John's shirt off and dropped it to the floor. Pants were left, and socks, and they were good to go.

"Yeah, but it was not the best circumstances. Weird alien trust rituals...and this one time when we got covered with this corrosive and the whole lot of us ended up being naked." John replied.

"Not great circumstances, no." Rodney settled to kneeling on the bed, and decided that he wouldn't comment about how that made his knees ache, because it was the easiest way to get John's sweatpants off.

"Well, y'know, I enjoyed what I saw," John replied. He moved enough to allow Rodney to get them off and really, naked was going to be a bit of a misnomer because the man was still swathed in bandages.

The only thing was that John didn't have bandages over his dick, and Rodney guessed that was the important part for John. At least that was open-air, unbandaged, and Rodney stopped just to appreciate the view.

"You know, I don't even really know if you're into guys," John said with a half smile. "You're going to be really pissed if you wake up straight one morning."

"No, I have some pretty vivid memories that involve, uh..." Rodney gestured to John's crotch, and then reached to palm it. "This specific bodily organ."

"Well you're a guy. Most of our memories revolve around it," John said and then practically swallowed his tongue as Rodney touched him. From the feel of him he'd managed to be half hard for some time.

And it was all Rodney's doing. On a better day, he might have reveled in it, and someday he probably might, if he didn't fuck it up and accidentally turn John off. He probably had sky high expectations of Rodney and that could only lead to doom. "Not kneeling in front of it."

"Well, yeah... kinda pointing to the gay there unless you have some religious belief you never mention that involves worshipping cock," the other man answered.

"You haven't heard of the Church of Cock, then." Rodney reached to scowl a little, but couldn't, not while he was undressing himself, struggling out of t-shirt and uniform pants.

"Now there's something I'd sign up to," John answered in a deliberate laconic tone. "It's incredible... you look just the same."

"Why wouldn't I? I'm still me." Rodney half-folded his clothes, but he did look down at himself.

"I don't know, maybe I thought..." John shrugged a little. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, get on over here before we both get cold."

The fact that Atlantis had environmental temperature controls was neither here nor there.

Neither of them were going to get cold, even if Rodney stood in the middle of the room in a bucket of ice cubes, but he didn't say that. He just got over there beside John, stroking bare patches of skin where he could find them. "I want to suck you off."

"Not in a position to say no," John replied. "Not that I want to say no... crap, Rodney just... do something before I lose the ability to think.

"It might be a little late for both of us," Rodney pointed out, grinning a little as he  leaned over John and pressed a kiss beneath one bandage.

"Oh, now that's just going for my weak spots Rodney," John protested. "Which is disturbingly hot I might add. But right now pretty much everything is."

John was sprawled still managing to look indecently hot no matter his bandage festooned appearance.

"Disturbingly hot? Am I the disturbing part, or....?"

"You could be if you'd just get on with it," John replied with a growing tinge of impatience in his voice. Waiting was obviously not one of his good points – either that or he counted the years leading up to this moment as foreplay. "You know, here I was thinking that given the opportunity you would be as fast about sex as you are about everything else."

"Hey, you're important to me. I don't want to screw it up." He knew that, knew how John was some central factor in his life, and when he could be bone-deep sure of that with no distinct memories, it was a scary thing to consider losing. "I mean, what if I sneeze?"

"I think I'll survive, whereas I might just expire if you don't do something with my cock right now," John answered and it was sort've flattering to have someone so in need of him, wanting him so much.

"Pushy, pushy." He scooted down, though, all undignified fumbling as he worked his way down John's body, kissing and enjoying the bare skin he could find.

It seemed to have the desired response though. Either John's skin was particularly sensitive right now, or he was keyed up, but he acted like those touches and kisses were the most skillful caresses from the hottest porn movie. It took remarkably little to have him practically moaning under his breath.

But Rodney savored every moment of it, every time John squirmed or arched up for him. He closed his eyes, and just let his mouth guide him, tasting skin until his mouth hit thicker curls of hair, and he opened his eyes to find himself looking sideways at John's dick.

"Oh god Rodney...  take it back, you're here to kill me, you bastard..." John said breathlessly. "Don' t make me beg...fuck!" He squirmed again as if that would help and his cock, drugs and injuries regardless was definitely hard.

Rodney turned his head a little, mouthed it. John tasted like he needed a damn long shower, but Rodney could help him with that in the morning, and it would probably just be a sponge bath. But he was hard, and he wanted Rodney, just Rodney, nothing else.

The response was immediate and a low almost rumbling moan that was somehow surprising. "Oh holy crap that's good..." John managed "Yeah, like that Rodney.." His hand found its way to his hair, teasing through it gently.

"Just tell me how you like it." He only broke off the contact of lips on skin long enough to tell John that, and then he shifted his head to slide his tongue over the head of John's dick.

"Any way you want to give it. Just...take it all in, I don't think I can hold on too long," John managed." Oh... yeah, do that, do that again."

The same motion again, then, tasting and enjoying the way John got half a squirm of hip motion thrusting up against Rodney's mouth when he started to take John in.

It settled in then to John trying to move, him trying to suck and a very satisfying amount of incoherent noises from the other man. John was definitely enjoying it, wholeheartedly focused on the experience and trying to move in his mouth.

He didn't try to pin John down or keep him still because no matter how much he moved it wasn't that much. It wasn't anything Rodney couldn't handle, and he still seemed to know how to suck cock.

Either that or he was a genius in all aspects of life.

John started breathing in gasps then, with little hitches in the end of them as if he was belatedly remembering that it hurt to breathe deeply and he managed. "Rodney I.. Rodney, gonna..." before he suddenly did come, almost without warning.

It was startling, but John had meant it when he said he wasn't going to last, and that was all right. Rodney swallowed most of it, and some of it spilled out of his mouth because he hadn't been expecting to have to swallow so soon, but he didn't choke.

It seem like that was enough for John for now as he went loose limbed and relaxed in the aftermath. It made Rodney wonder how long it had been since John had gotten laid.

"Jesus, Rodney..." John managed with a faint exhausted sound that betrayed how hurt he still was despite his willingness and own demands. "I think you've melted my bones."

"I doubt it. I'd need a high frequency resonance creator to manage that, like the soviets used to fiddle with." Rodney leaned up, and wiped at his mouth with the back of his left hand.

John seemed to want to kiss him again, and had a half lidded expression to his eyes. "I'm pretty sure that's classified stuff. God... you need a hand there?" he said gesturing to Rodney's evidence of a good time.

Yeah. It was a good blowjob and probably a better partner when he got and stayed hard and more than interested the whole time. "Yeah, I could use a hand. If you're up to it."

"We'll if you want a hand that's easy enough," John replied. "But if you want more, you're gonna have to come to me. Moving is a little tricky. Willing either way though."

Rodney leaned up, and then decided he could lie on his side facing John. "I think just a hand is good. I want to look at you. The more I see, the more things fit together in my head, and you're a lot more scenic than your wall."

"That wall gives me some pretty tough competition," John said but smiled as he reached out with his less injured hand and caressed his way towards Rodney's cock.

"No. The structure itself is fairly poorly constructed, and you've withstood a lot more in your life than the wall has." Of course, Walls didn't get shot attacked and stabbed unless someone  disliked the decor.

John's hand, as deft and agile as he should be closed around his erection, warm and tight, teasing with his thumb. "You know lube would've been a cool idea. I've got some somewhere over there," he offered.

"Dry is pretty damn good, too," Rodney murmured, voice falling quieter. He stretched a hand out, laying it on John's stomach.

The dressings had rucked up a little, and he could touch skin here and there, and there was something comforting about that and he didn't know why.

"Mm." John took his hand away and then licked at his thumb before getting a grip and then using the slick moist thumb to roll back and forth over the head of Rodney's cock.

"Oh, oh, fuck." He had to shift, move against John's hand, and he leaned up on the one elbow so he could watch the motion of John's hand and thumb.

John had a strange grace to the way he moved his hand, which surprised him considering how often he must heft guns around and do very physical military things. But his grip  was curiously careful and firm and he wondered if John flew planes like this...flew into a clear blue sky...

Flew up and up and up, just to make Rodney squeamish and Atlantea had a beautiful sky and John flew like a damn eagle, just for fun, and they, the two of them, explored, and when Teyla and Ronon were there with them, and Ford, it...

"Rodney? I can't be tripping your memory, I haven't done this before," John was saying, his hand stilled. "You with me? C'mon...you in there?"

"Yeah." His voice sounded distant to Rodney, and it took Rodney a moment to get his body to catch up with his mental awareness and move. "I, I remembered flying."

"I thought you didn't like flying much," John murmured softly in his ear as leaned over. "But this can be kinda like flying." The grip turned to stroking then, firm and hard.

"This is a different flying." He liked that, liked John's murmur in his ear, and his firm grip. Rodney leaned in closer, thrusting against John's hand.

"It's being free," John replied and kissed him on his neck, his jaw as he kept the motion pacing Rodney's movements.

Almost there, he was almost there, too damn close and he tried to blank his mind so he could just feel John's kisses, his lips and teeth and fuck fuck, his fingers were a beautiful thing, and it made Rodney wonder how John's mouth would feel, while he made those last few hunching thrusts against John's fingers.

For a brief moment as he came in John's hand, he lost track of everything again and it was a strange sensation because it wasn't a blank any more, there was the merest sensation of things going on forever and not being alone. It was like his subconscious knew there was more he had touched and experienced than this plane and was showing him the shape in his mind where it had been, even if the content had been removed. It was very bizarre and also the orgasm was worth waiting for even as it drowned out that weird sensation in a blaze of pleasure.

He was slouched against John when hi head cleared, lips loose against the edge of a dressing, and the vague taste of antiseptic. "Uhn, wow."

"It was only a hand job," John murmured. "I think I got the best out of this deal."  He sounded mellow and relaxed and that was odd in itself. He noticed John didn't often seem that way.

He wished he were that way more often. "Nah. I wouldn't think that this would bring up memories, but it did. It's like stirring up a murky cesspool."

"Now I'm trying to imagine you with dirty thoughts," John said. He felt a twitch warm next to him, but he didn't seem to be ill. "I wish I could give all your memories back."

"They're coming back. Faster than I think Keller expects of me, but hey -- I'm a genius. If they didn't come back quickly, you should all be worried. The last one was just... strange. Vastness and companionship. And nothing."

"You think that was an Ascended memory?" John asked stroking at him absently now he had wiped of his hand. "Never heard of anyone having one of those."

"I don't know. It's not a memory, more a... sensation. Maybe however I got back wasn't the usual 'kosher' way of doing it." He shifted closer, and then sat up abruptly to grab the sheets from the end of the bed.

"Got the impression that was the only way," John said and just like that they were going to share a bed, sleep together.  He was sure there were a hundred and one reasons not to do this, why it shouldn't happen but somehow he couldn't bring himself to remember any of them.

Funny how that worked. When he came back to himself more, all right, yes, he might find problems, but he wasn't going to let something good fray away in the face of fears he couldn't remember.

He was pretty sure with the background he'd been hearing that he have more than enough new fears to deal with. But at least being alone wasn't going to be one of them.

Absorbing the radiant energy from a sun went a long way to helping Carson regain his equilibrium and he was left alone for a lot of his unusual convalescence. And that meant he had little to do except think, and observe his fellow Ascended and his friends which in term had led to some surprising revelations.

He'd let his apparently unusual empathy  sense roam over the ascended plane mapping the imprint of 'the Rules' that could reject an Ascended if their thinking was not compatible with the precepts embedded into the foundation energy.  Some concepts were sensible, but mostly, they had their roots in antiquity. The majority of the first Ascended were those fleeing from the Wraith. They were war weary, paranoid and heartsick with regrets for the actions many of them had taken in the name of that lowly existence and the foundations of the rules were based on their mindsets. Most of the rules of non-interference came not just from the more laudable aim to allow people free will, but from a rejection of their mistakes and a culture of fear that demanded that they be safe here and at peace finally.

The problem was, they got that wish and the stagnation it implied. They set in motion a system based on mindsets that rejected conflict in general, no matter the cause involved and a rejection of interaction and anything that could lure them out of their safe corner of existence. Things such as Rodney healing John had not triggered a rejection automatically because it was an act of peace, not an act of aggression. Only retroactively was it blocked as a course of action.

Carson sighed a little, watching other ancients from a distance. What he had done had affected him somehow, changed him. He wasn't the same any longer and it seemed where others grew paler and more... hah, wraith-like and diffuse, his presence was compacting and growing darker and more intense and he had a suspicion it was to do with why he had done what he had done. He had acted out of a pure emotion, one with no rational basis in fact, no hope of being anything than an unconditional sacrifice and that was totally at odds with the way the Ascended realm worked. Like throwing water over live electric cables, gas on glowing embers, red hot iron and snow – it changed things and not the way he expected. He felt more rather than less, his emotions raw and stirred to a critical mass. He felt everything, and where Rodney had complained that emotion drained slowly away  he was instead becoming tempered into fire like the heart of the star. It was emotion undisrupted by the concerns of the physical and it refined itself over and over at his centre like some sort of emotional singularity.

He didn't understand why he was so different because he was 'just Carson' whose life could boil down to the phrase, 'he tried hard and with the best intentions'. He wasn't the type of genius who could save the day at the last minute. Give him a month or two after the event and he might get there but when it was needed he couldn't pull answers out of thin air. Okay, maybe once or twice but not like Rodney or John, the last minute specialists. In fact the only thing he did excel at, which was understanding people, dealing with them was pretty much anathema to the Ascended realm. Perhaps he  wasn't meant to be here and it had only been Rodney's bloody-mindedness and stubborn refusal to accept the impossible that had brought him to this place where he didn't belong.

And he didn't belong down there anymore either. Rodney and John were breaking the barriers between them in their own particular fashion - in other words painfully slowly. Even so he was surprised and pleased that John was letting himself risk so much because he could've easily tried to protect himself from further hurt by locking everything down. Carson could read the threads of his influence in that decision, but most of it was all John allowing himself to need where he had denied it for a long time.

On the plus side, Rodney without a memory had no context for his defensive aggression of expecting rejection and craving affection and attention. He was nowhere near as harsh as he had been though the essential Rodney-ness was still there. Carson was proud he had managed to keep all of that intact at least though it had cost him dearly.

The other ascended were agitated, their usual solitary mediations dissolving into a more disturbed set of discussion and meetings, first in ones and twos, then in increasing groups. He suspected it was to do with the developments with the Ori who were encroaching ever closer to this particular area of the Ascended plane. He wasn't exactly sure how the concept of space and distance seemed to apply in a place without space and distance, but it had something to do with tying them to areas of belief. They drew their power from external belief, so they were powerless in area's without belief in them so he had to assume that was the reason they stayed away until they had converted enough followers. He'd thought hard about it, because the Ori proved that the moral code of the ascended plane was not absolute, it was self-constructed and localized to dominant belief systems.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized the ancients were doomed if they did not change, and unfortunately, their world denied them the opportunity to change, resisted it because of the legacy of their insatiable meddling.  It was the proverbial Catch-22 with the arguments as tangible and effective as bars on a prison cell.

He concentrated again, touching the binding threads of energy and following them down and down like the roots of a tree. There was a point he was working on. It was like all the bindings converged in a mass that acted like a stopper on the repressed emotions and kept them bottled up. He could read the intent at the heart of that, that emotional responses were dangerous. They led to human reactions, destruction, war, loss of reason, interference, uncontrollable passions, to being Ori...

They were wrong, so incredibly wrong about that, but it was that core that siphoned away their humanity and in turn powered the cages they existed in. He wasn't sure he could do anything about that. He had quietly unraveled tiny little segments without anyone being any the wiser, but that like snapping a cobweb in comparison to trying to sever a tree trunk wide titanium steel rope. If he tried it would take his all and then some just to put a hole in that millennia old dam, but then what else was there anymore?

There was no one here for him, and no one there either. He couldn't in all conscience Ascend any person he cared for into this place because he knew them. He knew why Rodney had done it, he appreciated that he had but as time wore on he felt himself consider how much easier it would've been just to pass on through to whatever came next. He watched them flicker continuously through Ascended plane, a rainbow of brief flames spiraling upwards until they couldn't be followed any more. When he touched them on his travels, he inevitably felt their lives and the pull somewhere. He came to the rather unclinical opinion that the ascended plane was the space between heaven and hell, or that separate them from the worlds below. It certainly wasn't the final destination and that seemed an obvious revelation to him and a rationale if it were needed to take what might be seen as suicidal action. He'd achieved what he wanted to achieve, because John and Rodney were getting together and that was what he wanted but...

But it meant there was nothing left for him. Rodney didn't remember him, John did, but he'd never loved him in the same way that he did Rodney. If not for that bomb, perhaps he would've comforted him and gravitated together but it would've been a hollow love, knowing John's thoughts were elsewhere. Same with Rodney. He felt lucky and privileged he had a chance to  love him, even for just a little time and was grateful that Rodney loved him at least a little back. But not like that feeling inside he had for John that he had sense whenever they twined together in companionship. He knew if something happened to them perhaps he would try and intervene, but...

The ascended plane would stop him. The others would as well. Unless he snapped the bonds first... but then he would be wherever dead ascended ancients went – scattered across the universe.

"Once more you are in solitude," Ganos Lal said as she manifested and spread her shield over them both. She didn't believe in a warning before she appeared which he always felt was a little rude. "We must talk."

"We can do whatever we like," Carson replied and then sighed. "Go ahead lass, it's not like I care either way."

"You're energies are... very dense," she said as she got closer, her expression becoming concerned.

"I'm assuming that's a bad thing," Carson replied, resisting the urge play along. "You did say I didn't belong here."

"Carson , I regret saying that now," she answered with something that did appear like regret in her tone.

"Oh, now you say that," Carson replied. Typical, just because she saw him as useful now she was worried. "Look, you're right, I don't belong here. I feel wrong, and as if I'm too... something to be here. The only reason I'm here is for them. "

He nodded to the ever present image portal for Rodney and John.

"The time will come when I break the rules for them and then this will be over," he said. He could be a guardian angel at least once just as Rodney had been for John and for him. That much he was sure of and held on to otherwise he was sure he would just somehow slide out of this existence.

"They will stop you," Ganos replied with a solid finality. "They are noticing your difference. Soon there will be those who will be aware of what you could do and the risk you are to all ascended."

"They won't stop me if I break the bindings," Carson replied. "I think they might be a wee bit busy."

"That is impossible Carson. Not even the most powerful of us could do that," Ganos answered.

"You mean do that and survive," Carson corrected gently. They were so blinkered – they found it hard to believe that someone who had ascended would risk the existence that they had. Changing state was one thing, but an energy death was unthinkable. "That second part is not looming high on my agenda. The people I love... They think I am dead. I might as well do the job properly and make it mean something."

He'd actually managed to shock Ganos and he didn't care.

"But...you can't!" she interrupted. "This is a rare gift that you have."

"For you maybe," he answered. "For me... I am the only one that feels, and I feel everything.  It makes being here a torment. I gave up both my friends out of love and I'm happy for them, but I hurt for myself. I have nothing left apart from that sacrifice and the meaning I'm making from it and in this place that defines me – I'm a bloody martyr or sacrifice always at the point of dying. Do not tell me I have a rare gift when you know nothing about its cost."

"Carson Beckett...I..."

"You want to be freed, you want to feel that love you felt so long ago for Myrddin," Carson said heavily. "We shall see. When I am stronger, if I give myself that one moment, then I'll do it. But if I do and then I am gone, I will have your promise to save these two Ganos Lal."

"The rules will not let me..." she began and Carson shook his head.

"The rules will not exist Morgan." They were blind to the implications of what he was proposing. "That is the point. You will be able to act because there will be no Rules."

And let her think that was all he was doing, breaking rules. The shock of emotions heading her way would be too much for them to appreciate. Most of them would not realize what had happened until it was on them.

"If there were no Rules I would honor your request," she said finally.

"Good," Carson settled again. "But right now, there's no hurry Morgan love, so rest a while. Stop this floating hither and yon. Perhaps we can get to know each other a little better."

And make that promise something more real than words in an empty world of energy.

John didn't miss the damn wheelchair even when he pushed himself too far. It was a symbol of weakness to him and he couldn't afford to appear too weak for too long. Even so, he wasn't released to anything more than the occasional bout of wrestling with paperwork, so he spent a lot of time entertaining Rodney. And Rodney entertaining him.

It was hard not to smile about that at least. Somehow after that surreal night, it had become normal for them to sleep together. Sometimes there was sex, sometimes not, but mostly they were together and John rather secretly, and yes, selfishly, half didn't want Rodney to regain his memory because there was that suspicion he could lose all of this.

He wasn't sure why he suspected that, but he did. Possibly because for one of the few times in his life, he had everything, and he knew that it never lasted that way. He never got to keep everything he wanted. He only got to taste it, touch it a little while and then something happened to take it away from him again. It was simply John's life reduced to facts.

There had been very few people worth taking the risk to even get close to, but he figured that without Rodney he seemed to have entered a strange self destruct mode without even noticing which was alarming in itself, so it was worth trying to take what he could get.

Rodney was getting better. More like Rodney but he freely admitted he didn't remember John. He'd watched as other people came back to Rodney. They'd been eating lunch when he remembered Zelenka, and Rodney had stopped mid bite and then took off down to the labs to find him. John had followed, bemused but the look on Radek's face when Rodney burst in and started haranguing him about something he had said before and Rodney hadn't had chance to dispute was worth it.

He'd grinned until his cheeks hurt.

It was slowly coming back together, pieces of memory growing into bigger chunks, and the fact that Rodney still didn't remember John was... disconcerting. He remembered Teyla, sharper than any of his memory pieces he'd had of her before, and had accidentally revealed that he was a lot more fond of Teyla than John had ever suspected.

If he'd known that before then he might have hesitated about making a move, but he'd been on the drugs, feeling a little surreal and desperate and he just kept thinking about what Carson had said when they'd sat out on the East Pier. He wasn't going to waste this second chance, even if it cost him his job. His job used to be his life, but he'd proven it wasn't strong enough to hold him if Rodney wasn't there. He was banking on them not being able to do without his gene and had the possibility of going native if it became necessary.

Today he was meeting Rodney on the balcony, where they'd used to stand quite often, and was thinking about taking him down the pier. He'd avoided that up until now, but maybe it was time to revisit the spot.

Carson would have approved, on some level that he was even thinking about it.  That it meant he was mentally healing or some bullshit that John couldn't ever be  comfortable buying into entirely.

"So. We used to hang out here...?"

"Yeah. It's got a good view," John replied leaning on the railing looking out over the ocean. "Sometimes your friend Sam the whale drops by."

"I have a friend whale?" It perked Rodney's attention a little, and he wandered closer, leaning his elbows on the railings.

"So you kept telling me," John answered watching the play of light on the waves. "There was this thing when you were trapped in a puddlejumper at the bottom of the ocean. Radek and I found you because a whale pretty much led us to you. He's dropped by a couple of times."

"He comes by? Why? He must think we're food, or, or, that we'll feed him." Rodney leaned against the railing, peering out into the ocean as if he could will the 'whales' to come by.

"No, just to say 'hi' I think," John replied and looked out for a moment. "See over there... that's the East Pier. I spent a fair amount of time there. Carson used to go down there. It was quiet."

"Why haven't we gone down there?" Rodney leaned to look at that, too. John liked that posture, more relaxed, a little less self conscious because Rodney freely admitted that he didn't remember himself much, either. It reminded John a lot of Rod.

John hesitated. "I miss him," he said simply. "I don't deal with loss very well - you being a case in point, but I miss him a lot. There's knowing... and there's feeling y'know?"

"I know." He wasn't even there for Carson's death. He'd been out, being Rodney, being ancient, and when he came back all he could remember was Carson alive, and the factual knowledge from John that he wasn't anymore. At least John had the whole story to help him cope, even if it did involve exploding tumors.

"We should go down there. Together."

John nodded. It wasn't somewhere he could keep avoiding.  "Yeah, okay... now?" he suggested.

"Sure. I have free time, you have free time, why not? Also, I need to think about some of the accusations Zelenka's made. I think he's trying to see what he can get away with based on just how shoddy my memory is." Rodney turned a little, and cocked his head to the door he'd just come in through.

"Yeah, pretty likely," John answered with a smile, incredibly grateful that Rodney's mind seemed to be completely intact even if his memories weren't. "He missed you, and you missed him and you both know it. You just geek out with equations to tell each other that."

He started working towards the door, to lead the way to the nearest transporter.

"I remember healing him." Rodney looked down at his hands when he said that while they walked, and wiggled his fingers. "Because there was no other option and I wasn't going to let him die because I was reconfiguring the power."

"Yeah, that was something to watch," John replied. "You did that to me when you were ascended. Bent the rules for me, though I guess they stopped you doing that again. That's when Carson started believing you hadn't died."

The transporter was just around the corner and ordinarily John would've run down for the exercise, but he wasn't that recovered just yet. He still needed to conserve energy, rest and recoup. "You're my friends. You, Zelenka, all of you. And that you are my friends, it means a lot to me. I don't have many memories of being close to people and trusting and wanting their trust as much as I have here."

"Yeah, I think that's pretty much the size of it for most of us," John said as they both stepped in and he thought the location at the console and then pressed the button to take them there in a flash of light. They stepped out together and headed outside, down the long pier. "I don't have family except for you guys."

"None?" No, and even Rodney didn't know what one, didn't know the whole ins and outs of that story. John didn't talk about it.

"None," John said flatly and then made a conscious effort to relax as they walked down the pier. "There was a day once... when there wasn't a crisis and we had a party of sorts down here. No one wanted to go inside even though it got cold. We sat drinking the Athosian beer and made up better names for the constellations than the Ancients came up with. You're right, they really suck at names."

"Pretentious bullshit. I think you suck at names, too. Puddle jumper. It goes through a gate, in space, and you name it puddle jumper?"

"Come on... Gateship? Ford couldn't name a damn thing. Gateship is something big and impressive. " John protested. "Puddlejumpers hop gate to gate...ad you've got to admit that the wormhole looks like a big puddle."

They strolled down towards the end of the pier. He could remember vividly Carson sitting there taking those rare moments to himself. It did hurt after all. Time hadn't dimmed the impact of loss as much as he hoped.

"Gateship is something more dangerous than impressive, that's the, that's the..." He could see Rodney hang up for a moment, and he tilted his head. "Ori battle cruiser. The Ori battle cruiser."

"See, you remember that. But then I guess even as a glowing squid, you were thinking about the Ori," John replied as they reached the end of the pier. He sat down, legs dangling over the edge. "Probably more so."

Rodney took his time sitting down, relatively close to John's side. "I wasn't a glowing squid at the time. I was being threatened with lemons, I seem to recall."

John smiled a little remembering giving the fake lemon he'd presented to Mitchell. "Yeah, sorry about that. Kinda a moment of revenge for the bugs you and Radek kept planting everywhere. It wasn't a real lemon. Like they'd ship one of those out here."

He'd had enough eyebrow raises over a request for a fake lemon as it was, until he explained how he intended to use it. Then he'd narrowly got away without them sending him a crate.

"Too much hassle, I suppose. Still, I thought it was real for a while." Rodney leaned his elbows on his thighs, peering out over the water. "I probably had it coming."

"You were drooling over Sam -the blonde not the whale," John pointed out. "My fragile ego was threatened."

He smirked again. "I did tell Mitchell that if he did anything to you I'd kick his ass."

He paused a moment, looking out at the water, then over at Rodney. "I wonder why you don't remember me."

"I'm not sure. I think there's some triggering moment for all of these memories. The start of them, or the most intense one. How did I meet you, again? Because I remember you in a visceral sense. I knew when I saw you that you were important." Rodney lifted his head, looking out over the water.

"The first time you saw me I had accidentally sat in the Command Chair at Antarctica and it lit up," John say. "You kept me in there a long time." He hadn't known what was happening, just listened to Rodney's voice making the terrifying and strange become something exciting and wonderful."

"It probably hadn't ever lit up like that. Carson, Carson hated the chair, hated that kind of power." Rodney tilted his head again, staring at John more than the water.

~"Colonel Sheppard? The Apollo is coming out of hyperspace into our orbit."~

John frowned and tapped at his radio. "The Apollo? Did we know they were dropping in?" he said even as his mood shattered. It had been quiet recently in comparison to the near death experiences. He sighed a little and got up carefully, unable to move with his normal fluid grace.

~"I thought I'd mentioned it to you. It's a new ship they've put into circulation..."~ Shit, shit, and if he seemed out of it to Weir, there was no way he could skirt past whatever commander they'd put on board.

"Oh right..." he said . "I meant were we expecting them now." It was a lame attempt at getting credibility back and he tried to move away from that mistake by asking. "Let me guess you want McKay and I up in the control room asap, right?"

~"Right in one. I'll see you there soon."~ Rodney was still staring at him while he stood there, and he hadn't moved.

John blinked. "What? We've got company coming Rodney, and I'm going to look as incompetent as all hell if I don't get up there. You okay?"

Rodney was just staring at him.

John frowned again but there was a part of him that didn't want to be the failure that everyone assumed he was going to be. "Look, whatever it is, we'll deal with it later okay? I've got to be there..."

And it took him longer than usual to get places at the moment. He headed off, wondering what the hell that was all about. Maybe Rodney had been remembering something, maybe not but he'd ask him later. Right now, he needed to try and be a little professional.

He needed to act like he was still on top of things after a long down time.  He needed to get to the transporter, and he was almost there, almost moving in a timely enough manner to get there without looking like a slacker commander.

When he needed time there was none. That was how what he remembered of his life had always gone, the fact that when he needed time to work or think or cope, there was no damn time to be found and he was desperately needed for Stupid Project Number whatever. First Strike. What a stupid name for it, and what a stupid plan, because he knew that tactically, attacking a sleeping lion was always the best way to handle things. The nukes wouldn't finish them off and if there was no time to finish them off why bother?

Yet the nukes were away bombing the Asurians' cities and the ships and it was incredibly simplistic of people to think they could get all of them. A touch of the hand had infected Elizabeth. Nanites were pernicious little bastards and if he were a replicator, he would certainly have provision in place for an all out attack.

But no, they assumed throwing bombs at something would work and John was out there in a puddlejumper going to skim down over the surface to see if there were any signs of them left. It was a typically John thing to do - and he could say that now and mean it.

He could remember enough of John to know that when the other Commander suggested it, he wouldn't take it as the obvious invitation into a death-trap that it was, but a challenge that he had to meet and that he possibly was the only one who could do it and come out alive. For Rodney, that was all the justification that he needed for no-one ever to try, but no, John had to be that guy, the one who hand delivered the nukes into a Wraith ship, the guy who was always first in line to get shot, beaten half to death and oh, thrown in a snake pit.

It frustrated him into anxious angry pieces. John never understood that. He never saw it coming, not just with the interest by various aliens, but with things like this. He wanted John to see, to understand that he wasn't Mr. Expendable and that was part of their problems with each other.

He remembered all of their problems now, and where everything had seemed so simple before that walk down the pier, it had knotted itself into complexities

It wasn't going to stop him, not assuming that John survived at all, but that was half of the complexities right there. And John could lose his rank, and John could die at any moment, and Rodney could die at any moment, and the Apollo could bring robot nanite death on all of their heads if just one of those clung to the underside of John's puddle Jumper, which was likely given that they were probably floating as nuked out particles in the air.

"Colonel Sheppard, are you getting any readings?" Colonel Ellis asked again. The responses had been disturbingly quiet which was obviously due to EMP bursts, but the Puddlejumper had different communication systems that should compensate unless it was  heavy interference.

~ "Well, it's pretty wasted down here,"~ John drawled back. ~"Area's looking pretty much like toast."~

"Fantastic. The scientific depth there is astounding. Colonel, get back up here." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, trying to give Colonel Ellis a dirty look that the man might take seriously.

"He's not completed his sweep," Ellis said. "You were the one stressing the importance of getting them all."

"Well, I can't even see where they used to be," John replied. "If this doesn't get them all, I'm not sure what will."

And John being down there wasn't exactly helping. It was needless risk. If they'd allowed him a bit of time he was sure he could've rigged up something.

A drone, a camera, but no, they wouldn't allow that it would have been too fucking simplistic and easy and low on the cost of life. "We didn't get them all. They're nanites! At best, we scattered them, disrupted their patterns."

"The nuclear EMP burst that stopped the nanites in your brain Dr McKay destroyed them as they obviously did not come back.," Ellis said. "They had no time for preparation, they were caught out."

~"No harm in being careful,"~ John answered over the radio. ~"This is my last sweep. Dr McKay is right though sir, these things are like hell to get rid of. Space doesn't deactivate them, just makes them dormant. I suggest a thorough decontamination when I get back."~

Huh. John was thinking about it as well. Maybe he wasn't completely ignorant of the risk involved.

Good. "A whole planet, Colonel Ellis. We have to worry about a whole planet worth of them, and if just one survived, we're done."

"I have been assured that the destructive burst is enough. Any signs in the last sector Colonel Sheppard?" Ellis replied, and Rodney just knew this wouldn't end well because things just weren't as easy as that.

~ "Nothing on the scanners sir,"~ John replied.

"Come on back to the Apollo. We'll make sure you're nanite free and then head back to Atlantis," Ellis replied and he looked smug and satisfied. He actually smirked a little as if it  had been that easy.

"Just who assured you that the destructive burst would be enough?" Rodney demanded in a hiss.

"Stargate command," Ellis said. "Who have been researching this issue for the last two months."

The implication was their judgment would be superior on the basis of more time. Which was ridiculous.

"And did they send us any of the prototypes of anti-replicator technology? Oh, wait, NO, they haven't. This was a stupid idea and we are going to be the ones to reap the complete lack of benefits of this unbelievably stupid plan."

"Dr McKay, the ships would've been finished before the Planet Wide weapon was finished," Colonel Ellis replied brusquely. "As Colonel Sheppard so astutely surmised, the target of their attack was unlikely to be Atlantis and more likely to be Earth itself. We could not let the ship reach a point where they were flight worthy. The mission was to remove that capability. We have done so."

"Colonel Sheppard is landing sir. Detonating EMP bursts in the launch bay now," a soldier reported and Rodney resisted the urge to gape.

"Because that won't compromise your electronic systems in any way," Rodney muttered, because it was time to give up. The military was just that way, and they'd regret it and then they'd blame the scientists, but that was what they always did.

He hadn't realized how much bitterness he'd accumulated and forgotten. It was something sharp and painful to grow accustomed to once again. Ellis seemed to have moved on to ignoring him.

"Hazmat teams working on Colonel Sheppard," came the report and that was the last thing John needed. He wasn't even meant to be on active duty yet.

He was still a mess, a walking wounded mess. There was one that the Doctor who'd replaced Carson with had insisted be swapped with alcohol once a day, just to keep it clean, because it wasn't healing in a tidy manner. They needed to get back to Atlantis, and he was going to quietly hope it would all go away.

Even if it wasn't going to.

John knew he'd done something to annoy Rodney, unless it was the whole situation that was annoying the other man, but the trip back on the Apollo had been a little tense and frankly, he was tired enough that making the effort to ignore it was not easy.

He'd been down to the Infirmary and then released and  was half surprised to see Rodney waiting for him.

"Hey. Been told to take a break," he said by way of trying to breach that gap he could feel between them. "You want to join me?"

"Sure. Why not? I don't  want to spend the countdown to everything going wrong by myself." It was a pretty blunt, bleak statement, even for Rodney, but John had heard Zelenka and Rodney complaining off to one side about the madness of the plan.

He hadn't been much behind it himself but he was more versed in dealing with choices that were taken away from him. A career in the military would do that to you. And a career as General John Sheppard Senior's son as well.

"I need to change. They stole my uniform for Hazmat," John replied. "Decon is never as much fun as it should be." He headed into his quarters not rising too much to the bait. There was something different about Rodney.

Something he wasn't quite sure about, but he was carrying himself differently, looking a lot more like old Rodney. "You look good in the Airforce jumper."

"Well thank you Rodney," he half drawled. "I'll bear that in mind." He pulled off his top a little gingerly, looking down at the fresh scar tissue, and the odd remaining dressing. "So I take it that you're not impressed by ...First Strike?"

There was a snort, and Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "No.  It wasn't enough, armada or not. It was like poking a snake with a stick while you wait for the guy with a shotgun to drive up. It's not a good idea, and it's going to be the worst 'I told you so' I've ever had to clean up after."

"Yeah, well... it does seem like they got them all," John replied feeling that need to vaguely defend his profession even when it had been the most stupid idea he'd ever been a party to. He'd gone because he trusted himself not to gloss over problems in looking for victory. "So, that's going to help right?

"Because when the ancients tried to wipe them out to nothing, it worked so well," Rodney uttered, and if he had have dripped any more contempt, John figured they both would have slipped in a puddle of it. "Yes, they were completely destroyed, and didn't proceed to build a large society for themselves, and functional ZPMs and anything else they needed from scratch, no."

John sighed a little. "Okay, it was a sucky idea," he said as he pulled on some clean clothed. He smelled of disinfectant. "I know it was a sucky idea. I just didn't get a lot of say in it."

"I know." Rodney still had his arms crossed, and then he started forwards, reached to help John a little. "You idiot, though. You volunteered for the surface skim why, exactly?"

"I like flying?" John replied. "Okay, because I thought that I would at least know what to look for and would be looking rather than mentally rubber stamping the mission as a success."

"So now when the mission proves to be a failure, who are they going to turn against first, do you think? You, who flew yet another suicide mission so some commission could later blame you with the destruction of Earth?" Rodney pulled John's t-shirt down over his head a little sharply.

Okay, that didn't sound like the Rodney he'd woken up with that morning. He narrowed his eyes a moment looking at him. The tension was back in the jaw line.  "I'm a professional scapegoat," John replied flippantly. "Every mission has to have one."

He was only half joking. "Okay... Rodney, what's the deal? Something's different."

"I remembered you, for a start. I also remembered years of bitterness, but that was completely unrelated to you. The commander of the Apollo and his kidnapping in the name of stupid missions tactic took care of that just fine. Every mission does not need a professional scapegoat, and you people have no idea how horribly wrong this is going to go, do you? You can't even conceive of how bad this is going to be when they regroup."

Rodney remembered him? John stood and stared and with a sinking feeling realized that must be the source of the distance between them. He'd been right; all these chances he'd taken while Rodney was a blank slate were going to come and bite him in the ass.

"Does "bad" cover it?" His mouth went onto autopilot, just saying the first inane thing that came to mind.

"Bad probably barely covers it. Look, you were having trouble walking earlier. Do you think that maybe you could tone down your healthy and Macho act at Colonel Ellis for a little while?"

"Rodney, I'm not that bad," he protested and Jesus, suddenly was like Rodney had never been gone. Except for the fact he was helping him dress in his quarters. "We'll have to deal. It's what we do."

"Which part, the impossible to avoid death, or you posturing like a rooster at another posturing fellow officer?" Rodney was snappy, sharp, his motions a little less gentle, and he made John sit down on the bed.

"Hey." John winced a little. "I was not posturing. I was trying to convince the guy I am fit for command so they don't move in permanently here. Elizabeth was getting twitchy too."

"And thus ends the myth of the great American meritocracy." Rodney turned away and pulled open John's drawers, searching for a uniform.

John sat there wondering when Rodney was just going to say he was leaving, because since he remembered him he hadn't been happy at all, not even talking to him.

"So uh... remembering me has reminded you I'm a jerk then?" he tried tentatively and then wanted to shoot himself for sounding so pathetic.

"No, remembering you has reminded me that sometimes I'm not sure whether I want to kiss you or throw you off a balcony, and also your insane penchant for almost getting yourself killed, which I thought we'd already talked about you trying to not do anymore." Rodney found pants first, and one of John's jackets. "Boots, are those your boots or someone else's boots?"

"Someone else's," John replied. "I wasn't trying to get myself killed. I can try a lot harder than that." He tried smiling a little, but he couldn't help looking at him with a hint of worry.

"Don't." Rodney snapped that out, even as he knelt down and pulled John's boots off. "Zelenka thinks we have little to no time at all until they manage some kind of strike force. So either he's right or I'm going to be wound up like this for weeks."

"I can think of a way to unwind..." John suggested before he could censor what he was saying. What the hell, take the risk, go for the suicide run. "If you still want that..."

That was the question. They'd never made it that far before. And now they had start on that route Rodney might've changed his mind.

Not that it seemed like he had his mind back. That was what had been missing from Rodney, the aggression, the arrogance. Without his memory, he was all open interest and curiosity and awe, and with it, Rodney was all of that and an asshole. "You aren't worried about Colonel 'my ship is substituting for my penis'?"

"You know, I've been ordered to 'rest' so I've got to not be around for a bit," John said. "And if he's got it in for me, nothing's going to stop him."

"Fantastic." Rodney's jaw went visibly tighter, and then he leaned into John, halfway to getting up. "We could. Should, I mean, if you're still interested."

"I am. I'm just surprised you are," John answered. He really was, because he'd been sure that Rodney would back off. He never got this lucky. Actually, considering they could be blown away at any moment, this probably was representative of his sort of luck. "Now I know that you remember all the things about me that piss you off."

"Yes, because I'm looking to spend time with someone who doesn't piss me off even occasionally. That would narrow my prospects to... a cup of blue jello," Rodney declared decisively, standing up close enough to John to almost bump foreheads before he leaned in to kiss him.

Somehow it felt like a first kiss because this was Rodney remembering, this was it happening without him taking any sort of strange advantage because Rodney knew who it was he was kissing. And that made it special; more than the hot need they'd experienced before, more than just a kiss. It was everything.

He never wanted to let Rodney go.

He knew he'd have to, just for functionality's sake, just so life and everything could go on, but for the moment, that moment, he wanted to never let go of Rodney, and that meant pulling him closer, shifting back further on the mattress and taking Rodney with him.

He wasn't perfect but he was better than he had been and he could move this time. He could pull him into his body, wrap around him, move with him. "Rodney..."

"Uhn, why are we talking, do we have to talk? I don't want to have the relationship talk right now, John, because I'm here and you're here and we'll just make it work." And then he kissed John again, like he could stop all words.

That'd work. In fact, as far as John was concerned, that'd work for the rest of their lives.

There were no words, just soft sounds, movements and touch that revealed how desperate they both were. They both knew this could be the last time they were together. A lot of things could go wrong, very wrong but here and now they were alive and sex was definitely on the agenda. And John was damn sure he was going to get the full deal this time because he was well enough for that, and if this was going to be their swansong before they were attacked he wanted more than just a blowjob to remember the experience.

It was silly and melancholy, and self indulgent, maybe, but he finally had Rodney back, and Rodney was muttering to himself about the t-shirt that he'd just nearly forced down over John's head and pulling it back up over his head without pulling it too much out of shape. It was Rodney, the real and not the surreal Rodney, who was leaning down to kiss John's  chest, who nipped briefly at a nipple.

He arched a little and moaned, his hands expertly slipping over Rodney's stomach, tugging at his clothes, moving quickly because time was of the essence. He was urgent, and wanting, and this was his Rodney. The one who rubbed him raw with alternating irritation and desire, who was there and indelibly impressed  on his mind, because he couldn't deal with life without him.

He wanted slow and easy and it would possibly happen sometime after they were sent Earthside for making the two humped beast on a military base or something like that. Rodney's fingers caught and fumbled at John's belt, and he finally got it, pushing John's pants and underwear to his knees in one fell swoop.

"You wanna...?" he managed in among the kisses and it was an invitation as much as anything for Rodney to decide what he wanted. John knew he was pretty easy when it came to this sort of thing, probably because he didn't care too much. He'd done his share of anonymous fucks out of sight where no one could find out pretty much fitting in with whatever the mood was.

"Yes, god, fuck, yes, I want to, I want to..." Maybe take the lead, from the way he was stroking a hand over John's thigh, and then nudging John's pants down with his knee. "God, I'm going to trace every mark on you when the bandages are off."

"You can do whatever you want," John said with a smile. "As long as you behave when we're on mission's." He smirked a little then, knowing the bribery was probably pointless but it amused him any way. "Lube in the drawer."

Rodney had probably been the one to put it there. They had used a little but not actually  doing much.

"Behave, wait, just what do you mean by behave, because I'm not sure this is the kind of contractual obligation I'll be able to meet, seeing as it's never been ,my fault in the first place that people target me on missions or that..." Rodney leaned back, while he talked, and grabbed the lube from the drawer, and stood there fumbling with his own pants. "Fuck, I never should have put these on.:

"I'll just be turning over waiting," John drawled, enjoying the fact that he knew that would drive Rodney mad. He managed to do it with a deliberate languid movement that he could see caught Rodney's eye.

He could hear Rodney exhale hard, and there was a moment where he thought that Rodney might be wondering if he should bolt for it. And then he felt a hand rest on his ass. "I just think this should be savored. Possibly noted for prosperity."

"What, my ass?" John replied, smiling to himself. "You are not putting my ass in stasis. It never works properly anyway."

"I know. It would still age, and I'd never get to touch it like this." Rodney's hand trailed, stroking, and he edged John a little further onto the bed. "You want to do it this way?"

John felt himself half lid his eyes with the touch. "Yeah... then when I get the all clear, I'm gonna have you do it so I can watch you."

Just the thought of that was enough to make him ache. He wanted to see Rodney's eyes when he pushed into him. He wanted to see how he was feeling, kiss and taste him at the same time. So he was a little greedy, but this was everything he'd been waiting for.

"Here, up on your knees might make it easier..." Or something like that, because Rodney seemed to be crouching behind him but not doing much more than pulling his hips up a little. "Are your, your ribs all right?"

"They'll be fine," John replied and dragged the pillows down, settling himself over them carefully and getting his knees up so he was comfortably ass in the air and able to stay that way without strain. "I don't want them to call an emergency before we get to..."

"Do you think being in the middle of it would be any better?" But while he dragged the pillows around, Rodney must have gotten the lubricant ready because he reached out towards John with his other hand, two fingers probing slowly at his ass.

It was enough to make him inhale sharply before relaxing again with a conscious effort. "Might be difficult to do my macho posturing with your cock in my ass," he managed even as he felt that first burn and stretch.

"You'll still be pretty macho." Rodney's fingers were slow, careful, and his other hand stayed on John's ass, massaging a little.

"I could probably pull it off," John said letting himself relax into whatever Rodney was doing. This was his Rodney, and after everything, saving lives, life and death, there was one very certain thing and that was he could be trusted with fingers inside of him.

"Yeah. God, it's been too long since I've done this. You're, you're..." He petted at John's back, and  leaned his body in against John's while he thrust with just the two fingers.

Out of practice he wanted to say. It had been a long time, longer than Rodney probably thought since he'd done this. "I'm good," he murmured, easing into the pressure and feeling that sensation over take him, so like flying.

"Amazing," Rodney murmured, pulling his fingers out. "Are you, is now okay?"

"Yeah, I can take you," he murmured, because it was all in the relaxing and he could do that with Rodney. He'd imagined it, dreamt it, wanted it for long enough that the reality wasn't a threat to him. They'd had enough casual contact so that nerves weren't going to get him and right now, there was a slow fire burning inside, waiting for more.

More, all of Rodney. That was what he wanted, he wanted all of Rodney. Rodney shifted and pushed his hips forwards, both hands on  John's hips with fingers angled a little to the inside of his stomach. The head of his cock bumped against John's asshole, and then Rodney was thrusting in.

Obviously Rodney was as eager as he was. He knew he made a noise as he inadvertently clenched and relaxed a low groan of sound that seemed to spur Rodney on. "Oh...fuck..." he mumbled, pillowing his head on his arms, his own cock at full attention and pressing into the pillows. "Move Rodney... move."

"Moving, fuck, I'm moving..." And Rodney exhaled in a shivery sound, before his fingers clenched gently. He started to move, no real waiting because it had to feel good for him, too.

They settled into an easy natural rhythm that was incredibly easy to find. John had never had that before, it had always been some sort of conflict in getting it together, but not this time. This time they were moving together as if they had done this a thousand times before and fuck, it felt good. The world narrowed down to the movement, the burn, the bursts of intense searing pleasure at just the right angle and the words dissolving into sounds in his mouth.

They didn't need to talk, but Rodney did, tried to talk, babbles of words and curses and sounds that rose up from low in his throat that John could feel against his back when Rodney leaned forwards and pressed close, the rhythm stuttering a little but so much more intimate.

His healing wounds were drowned under sex endorphins and he moved free and with more flexibility than he would've imagined. Rodney was in deep and he started pushing hard against him with more vigor, spurring him on, wanting that rush to freefall ecstasy.

NowNowNow, he was thinking and maybe he was saying it too, who the hell knew because everything started to come together, focused to a point of no return.

It was better than sex with Rodney-the-Glowing-Squid, better than a lot of sex, because Rodney was still moving, and wasn't sapping the life out of him. He was surging with life, and so was Rodney, and he was there.

He came first, with a muffled yell into the pillows, clenching tightly in reaction around Rodney, even as his mind filled with stars and light bleaching out his awareness of everything except pleasure for those intense moments of climax. Rodney was still thrusting into him as he relaxed and was able to feel every last movement of his last strokes inside of him

John knew that his sex life had just gotten a whole lot better than him and his right hand.  Rodney slouched against him, breathing hard against John's neck, but he was careful not to rest too much weight on John. "Jesus, hi."

"You know... that was pretty good for starters," John managed eventually after he got his breath back and twisted his head to the side to try and see Rodney and flash a smile. "Got anything as a follow-up?"

Like he had the strength to do it - but he wanted Rodney to know he wanted him, he'd enjoyed it and if anything he wanted more after that one experience.

"Not just yet. Shitty refractory time. Who needs blood vessels and nerves to rest?" Rodney pressed his mouth against the ridge of John's spine.

"We'll work on that," John replied and chuckled. "That was... great. Really great Rodney."

Words seemed inadequate but he was basking in the afterglow and they also seemed unnecessary.

It was then he heard the dual click of both of their radios triggering in sync and he had a bad feeling about what he was about to hear. Sheppard's Law – something good happened to him had to be followed by something amazingly bad in direct proportion to the intensity involved.

~"Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay, Doctor Zelenka, Teyla, report to the command center."~

John huffed a sigh. "Radek was right then," he murmured. He reached over, grabbed the radio and said, "On the way," before easing out from under Rodney. Duty called, and he just hoped that it wasn't the worst case scenario they had speculated upon. Not now when it was finally coming together.

"Radek was right," Rodney murmured, looking a little wide-eyed and vaguely caught off guard as he turned to lay on his side before he levered himself off of the bed.

"When this is over..." John murmured cleaning himself up and dragging on clothes at high speed. "We'll pick up where we left off. That's a promise Rodney."

He just hoped it was a promise he was going to get to keep.

"Oh bloody hell no."

Carson startled out of his contemplative state as he saw the drama unfolding rapidly in front of him. This was bad, this was very bad. What on earth had persuaded them that attacking the Asurians was a good idea? It was like poking a hornets' nest with a sharp stick and expecting the swarm not to attack. He could see the doubt on the part of all the Atlanteans, with good reason, but still they had gone ahead and attacked.

But he wasn't allowed to interfere, to stop them which was a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the Ascended system. The Ancients were responsible for the Asurians, for the Wraith among many other  catastrophic cockups, and would not intervene  - technically so that free will could be preserved.
Which was frankly bollocks because  with every day that the Wraith persisted, the Asurians and all of the others, the free will of billions was oppressed. The choices were taken away, people were killed and instead of allowing development, their actions had stunted it and their negligence maintained that situation. It was like watching someone deliberately withhold shelter and food from children for their own good.

He guessed it was the fact that the other ancients were so emotionally detached that allowed them to do it with some rationalizing and clear conscience. He did not have that luxury, and nor did he want it. His experiments with his capabilities had proven him more than attached emotionally. In fact, as a result he could connect to any of the  emotional binding constructs and was able to effect them.

He'd thought it all through and come to an inescapable conclusion; if he acted to save Atlantis personally, the ascended would close ranks on him before he got anywhere and he wouldn't stand a chance though he was willing to suspect he could do the astral equivalent of bloody a few noses in the process. If he didn't act at all, the way the timelines were unraveling, Atlantis would be destroyed, John and Rodney with them... and he didn't put himself in this situation to go and lose them now.

So he had an idea, but he just wished there had been a little more time before it reached this point.

"Ganos Lal? I need to talk to you," he called out. "Chaya Athar, you too." His will directed his thought and it found them immediately. He was a little abrupt but that was anxiety talking and they were used to communication shorn of diplomacy.

The pair of them manifested, although in Chaya's case it was a peculiar sort of half presence, and he could see the interdictions upon her as clearly as if she was loaded with chains.

"What is it Carson Beckett?" Ganos said and automatically shielded them from the other Ascended.

"Circumstances are forcing my hand," he said not wasting any time. He nodded at the image portal showing the energy beam blazing on the city shields. "My friends will die if there is not some sort of intervention."

"Carson, you know that I am unable to Ascend anyone," Chaya replied with a hint of regret. "I am already renegade."

"Aye I know that, and I know they are watching Ganos, and will not allow myself to act either. Besides, how would I choose to ascend people who I know would hate it here." Carson said a little bitterly.

  "I am afraid your friends will pass Carson," Ganos replied with a hit of regret. "There is little else that can be done. The combined will of the others will ensure you cannot intervene. They will also be watching and knowing your distress will be prepared to act."

Carson knew that, he knew he was taking a chance and that this was the last chance. The worst thing was that if it worked he would be reliant upon the good will and promise of these two to do what he could not.

"I do not intend to intervene with them," he said and looked at Ganos. "I have an entirely different target in mind."

Ganos went still. "You cannot truly intend what I think you are saying..."

"It is a little earlier than I'd like, but it's the only way," Carson said seriously. He was more than ready to do it as well.

"Do what?" Chaya asked looking at them both.

"He intends to attempt to sever the Ascended plane rules and interdictions," Ganos said, lowering her voice even now."

"Is that even possible?" Chaya sounded stunned. "It is untouchable."

"No lass, it can be affected," Carson said. "I'll find a sun about to go supernova and channel the energy to help me, but it is my only option. I need to save my friends, I need to act, but.."

"But doing this is going to kill you," Ganos replied. "Carson, their lives are nothing compared to ours... eye blinks of time and.."

"Don't ever say that!" Carson felt a icy anger descend upon him and his energy blazed with reaction. "That... that right there is everything that is wrong with this place. Their lives will be cut short because of things the now Ascended did when they were incarnate. You assume their worth is less because of a factor of time? You of all people should know how little meaning time has. They have something precious, something wonderful which, if you bothered to study what happens next is the secret to moving on beyond this place. They have love, Ganos. A life in exchange for love is a more  than fair trade even if it is my life and their love."

Chaya seemed to agree but had seen the flaw in his plan. "But if you do this and..."

"And even if I succeed I will not be able to save them, I know. Which is why I've asked you here," Carson replied trying to envelop them in his own influence to sway them. "I need your solemn word that if I break your  bonds, that one of you will do this for me."

It was trusting a lot to chance. He hadn't told them he was going to release their emotions as part of the process and he knew that it could result in Ascended ancients going crazy with the outpouring that had been dammed up so long. But he had to try, he wanted to try and this was the only chance he was going to get.

"It's impossible. Nothing can break the structure of the ascended plane," Chaya said shaking her head. "Carson, I would willingly save them, but it's impossible."

"Nothing is impossible save where it cannot be conceived of by thought," Carson replied pretty sure he was paraphrasing or quoting or something. "The point is, I'm going to do this. It's thought impossible because none of you  can imagine that an ascended being would imperil themselves to do this. Which is stupid because every single one of you has that impulse chained up. For whatever reason I haven't had that yet so I must act now before that falls away."

"You are insane," Ganos said softly. "But my own thinking has made it clear that if this is to be done it should be done to all at once. I cannot think of an idea that does not leave you to be intercepted or stopped. If you can do this Carson Beckett, I will ensure that your friends survive."

"I too," Chaya replied. "I owe John Sheppard much. When I was with him, I felt things I had not experienced for a long time. For that I am grateful."

"Thank you... thank you both." He glanced up at the image portal as the city rose through the skies and the attacking energy grazed it. "It is time. I must get into position."

He had a nice red giant of a sun ripe for plucking all picked out. He had seen enough from Rodney manipulations of energy to know how to hasten on the natural process. The rest then would be up to them.

The only thing that surprised him then was the whisper of regret  in Ganos Lal's energy as she brushed him and then vanished away, leaving him to make this final effort alone.


Everything had been typical of Pegasus, and later, later if there was a later he'd carefully enumerate how everything that had happened had been part of the repeating pattern of shit going wrong that made up his life. Later.

Elizabeth was injured, and he hadn't had time to work out how badly. Ronon was hurt, he and Teyla were hurt, and John wouldn't hold fucking still in the chair. "Concentrate on the -- John, Colonel, concentrate on the schematics of the engine room." Zelenka was on his way down, but Rodney had shut transporters off as part of the power-saving precautions. It was worth it for 20 more minutes of shields, because it wasn't as if Radek needed to be there immediately. Rodney still had no idea what was wrong

"Engine room... right." John brought them up with a fraction of the effort he used. The only time he's ever run the chair like this was when he'd been evolving towards Ascension. "Rodney, there's got to be something else I can do... Maybe we can try the hyperdrive again."

"Hello, I need to see it first, which is why you're showing me schematics of the engine room. Okay, to the left, I need you to zoom in and slowly pan across the room. Bring up the energy pathways. But you can't just turn it on without possibly blowing it permanently or crippling us worse."

He seemed to do what he wanted without trying. "Rodney, there's stuff going on here that I don't know ...I've never had this before," John said closing his eyes a moment. "I mean... everything's coming in down here."

"Because the command center was damaged, probably. What, is there anything particular urgent that you can show?"

"Everything is urgent," John replied and opened his eyes and Rodney could see him go tense. "But it feels different." He blinked a little. "Okay, now I'm feeling freaked out ...I can't move."

"Then don't try it. Just, tell me something, give me some feedback, something that might help us get moving again before we all die!" He wished he could plug his laptop into John, if all of the feedback was coming there, and maybe it was time to jerry-rig it into the command chair, after all.

"I'm trying Rodney," he said, and he  was, Rodney could see that. Things were cycling through and John appeared to be selecting out things that might help. "I... I can shut down peripheral energy. I've got some sort of directional control not connected with the main start drives. Crap, .I think I've set the database running for positional mapping in the background."

"Knowing where we are might help." Rodney felt like he was hovering, but it was the best he could do as he knelt beside the chair. "Okay, see, this is a start? Take out the peripherals that I wasn't able to with the first try. You know the drill, life support and emergency lighting and things down in the infirmary are most important, but shields win out."

John concentrated and shut them down, one by one, and Rodney could see lights shift and flicker.

"You need an interface port right?" John managed, still with his eyes closed. "Here, this work? I think they used it for chair diagnostics."

A small seamless tray popped out.

"This will never stop irritating me," Rodney muttered, eyeing the tray for a moment before he crouched down to interface his laptop  with the command chair. At least he was old hand at getting ancient tech to talk to their tech.

"What won't?" John asked. "The life and death situations or trying to find an adaptor for Pegasus sockets?"

"Not being able to work the chair, but knowing how it works," Rodney muttered, staring at the set up for a moment before he started to loop wires. "Okay, this is going to work..."

"Ow... ow... hey, I can feel that," John protested and sighed a little. "You know, this pretty much figures. Just when things are working out other things hit the fan."

"Shields fail, everyone dies.  We're getting to reap the benefits of thousands of years of carefully cultured idiocy, starting with the ancients themselves and moving right up to the SGC." And it looked like the connection was going to take but what would he be able to do with it?

John made a strange sort of noise and then information started to flood into his laptop. "Whoa."

Okay, this wasn't good. He had an interface and it was heavily integrated with John not just the chair. He was pretty sure that there wasn't meant to be an interface between a laptop and John.

"Colonel, what just happened?" He started to move through the data, looking for a reason for their hyperdrive to have failed, even as he shot a glance at John.

"Well, I felt that... and.. uh... I can feel Atlantis and she not in good shape. Told you, this feels weird," John replied and he sounded a little  drifty as well. "Feels like you're looking at me when you do that."

"What? No, no, no, you are not allowed to become one with the damn chair, emergency situation or not!" He tapped his radio, looking down at the screen again before he decided the exact order to hail people in. "Zelenka, when you get down there, it looks like the hyperdrive seized up. There's no more information than that and the computer seems to be indicating that it hasn't had maintenance since ever. Doctor Keller, I need you to send a medical team up here to the control chair!"

"Rodney, I told you I can't move, it's got me in lock down. Think its linked stuff up to my own systems so be careful what you shut off okay?" John murmured, sounding almost like he was a little bit high or something.

"Keller here, what's the problem?" came one call over his radio and then Zelenka with "Nearly there Rodney. Much damage here. Something has overloaded."

"See if you can tell what it was and if we can manufacture a reasonable replacement in the next 24 hours. Keller, the Colonel is having trouble separating himself from the chair and we need, I don't know. One of you to come up here and work your voodoo."

It had to be some sort of emergency protocol Atlantis had in the event of things going completely down the pan.

"Right. I'll be up. Keep an eye on him," Keller replied like that wasn't obvious.

"Rodney," Radek's voice sounded like he was about to import bad news. "The control crystals... shattered. Freshly blown. Some fire here."

Shattered.  "How many, Radek?" They could take them from the doors, they could...

"All. Cascade failure," Radek said mournfully. "We can replace the subsystems from door crystals but there is a king crystal. It is gone. I do not know if there is a spare."

"Not in the inventory," John added obviously listening in.

"If we start working on our positions, we can get to the planet with the tower. They don't need their control crystals for their stardrive system." They could, and he started to look for some kind of coordinate to work on where they were in relation to where they were now.

"Yeah, that would depend on finding a lock," John replied and not sounding hopeful about it.

Until then Rodney was stuck trying to eke out power without killing all of them. He could not accept that there wasn't a solution.

"I will be replacing with spare door crystals," Radek said. "In case one comes to light."

Rodney knew that was unlikely if not impossible. Finding a reference point in a place without reference points was going to be nigh on impossible, but he couldn't just sit down and wait to die. He was the king of the eleventh hour rescue. He just had to hope and think harder and it would come to him. They would get out of this because otherwise he was going to lose John now and they'd just made it together.

Doing this was harder and easier than Descending Rodney. Harder in that the energies involved were beyond the scope of comprehension, easier in that he wasn't trying to preserve patterns, he was trying to cut them loose and didn't have to be careful, he just had to be strong.

And he was stronger than he had been, or maybe even more determined - whatever it was he was convinced he could do this through sheer force of will. He had waited because perhaps Rodney could find a solution but it wasn't going to happen and they were in the last moments before the point of no return where the future set and nothing could be done to change it.

But now he was in the  swollen crimson sun as it collapsed inwards around him towards supernova and instead of a vast out pouring of light and energy into the void of space, he channeled that coruscating energy like a  blazing sword into the Ascended plane and then tried to control it to sever the root points of all the thought forms that made up their prison.

It was like trying to change the mind of a stone.  He was cutting away at the source, cutting, pulling and yanking at it unrelentingly but progress was slow. Some bits were easier than he had thought, others like pure diamond and impenetrable. In the endless moment he was working in, he tugged and pulled, cut a little here, burned some there and all the while trying to maintain a shield around what he was doing so he wouldn't be stopped by the other ascended. Soon they would realize that they shouldn't be monitoring Rodney and John for his rash intervention, but a completely different target.

Only a quarter done and he was exhausted already. He was doing this for Rodney, for John because he loved them and he was dead to them already and that meant he could throw himself into it with no holding back because of regrets. They had each other and that was important and he needed to stop existing with all this feeling inside of him and nowhere for it to go.

He was anticipating the release of the stored emotional energy, which would be cataclysmic if he could just get to that point. It was pulling him apart and he couldn't quite... he had to drop the shield because it took too much energy.

He was aware of the ironic parallel with Atlantis itself, with what had happened to the city as it rose in flight and he gritted his teeth and then went for it, hurling himself at the block even as his actions were revealed to the ascended plane. He could sense the  immediate alarm  from the others but he was in the light now, buried in the heart of the  star energy and forcing it to his will. He had swallowed a supernova to do this and there was no time for finesse, just that final commitment to getting the job done. Before they could lock around him, coordinate enough to stop him between one thought and the next he released it all at once at his target.

The rush was shredding him apart and he was sure they could hear him crying out all across the Ascended plane. Even as they arrived at the speed of thought they were too late to stop him piercing that final barrier. At that instant, he ripped the archaic stifling thought form apart and ten thousand years worth of rules and emotional inhibitions blew up in his face.  It was all of nature's worst disasters in one.

All of the Ascendeds' humanity pent up and now released in a riot of blazing colorful energy; some good, some bad but most of all free again and unstoppable. Whether the ancients wanted it or not their humanity was return to them with all the rawness of emotion they had ignored for years. He knew he was potentially releasing the good with the bad, but what the Ascended failed to realize was that they had robbed themselves of the crucial things that allowed themselves to go further. They had wisdom without love. They had free will without choice. The Ascended plane without the emotions was a paradox - Ascension without feeling love was a dead end and he hoped and prayed as he felt everything fall away from him that they would realize that.

Ganos, Chaya... had to save them, he needed them to save Atlantis. There was nothing worse than a meaningless death. He should know, he'd had one already and now, this final one, inevitable for all his existence as energy, it had to mean something.

He let his thoughts drift to Rodney, John, his friends and family and allowed himself a sad farewell and stopped trying any more, finally exhausted beyond measure and let the energy take him and hurl him where it may.

The Ascended plane twisted and writhed unseen, unlocked and unfettered. Across the galaxy, those who served the Ancients sensed something momentous had occurred. In the night skies a star blinked out and no light showed its passing. In the physical realm strange phenomena took place as temples saw beings of light touch the ground of long lost homes and weep or laugh with joy. It was a day of wonders and a curious sense of hope spread across the galaxy with the knowledge something profound had changed - but not what it was.

And all for a promise that might not be kept.

John generally thought of himself as the eternal optimist when it came to surviving impossible odds, but right now he knew they were out of options. Dr Keller's attempt to get him out of the Chair had been downright disastrous and had resulted in him apparently yelling a lot and then some automatic locks clamping down on him. He suspected that only happened because Rodney had disengaged the force field capability so he could work on the chair systems. So it was pretty obvious he wasn't going anywhere and he was trying to get Rodney to make it to a puddlejumper because any moment now the force field was going to come down.

"Rodney..c'mon...there's nothing else you can do," he said. "You can use the jumpers. Give you a few more hours of oxygen."

"In which to smother," Rodney snapped at him, head bent down over his underpowered laptop. "Yes, fantastic, I've always wanted to relive that episode of Firefly. Unfortunately there isn't going to be anyone boarding the ship with a part to save us all, so... Also, there are other people who need to evacuate more than I do."There was a pause, and he tapped his communicator. "Zelenka, are you in the jumper bay with Teyla, Dex, and the uh, rest of the command staff that isn't Colonel Sheppard and myself?"

"Yes we are. There is little room Rodney, but you should be here," Radek replied and John completely agreed.

"You heard the man," John murmured. "I feel like I'm keeping the damn shield up by force of will."

"I'm going to stay in an attempt to... Doctor Zelenka, go. Your Puddlejumper should be leaving now." Rodney said. "I wouldn't get there in time. Never have run that fast. Hey, I lasted longer in this universe, and somewhere else there's going to be another me who survives. I drowned right off that first time, remember?"

"Yes but we know that was a paradox universe," Zelenka replied. "Very well we are leaving. Good luck Rodney... John."

"Yeah, you guys too. " John replied and felt the Puddlejumpers leave, along with as many Atlantis staff as could squeeze in safely. "They've gone. Just us now."

Rodney shifted, sat down with his back against the side of the chair. "I'm out of options. How much time is there?"

" Ten minutes. Unless I am keeping it going so I reckon I can push it further," John replied. "Shit Rodney, I wish you'd gone. I don't want to see you die."

"I wouldn't have made it to the bay in ten minutes." Rodney closed his laptop, and leaned his head back against the chair. "It's my damn city, too. We've had so many of our friends, our mission die for this city. You've done enough for me that I didn't want you to be the... sole sacrifice."

"Dammit Rodney..". John tried to move again. Rodney might move if he could. He grunted with the effort and fell back panting, feeling the trickle of blood from his slow healing wound. Not that it mattered. "I never get to keep...anything I really want."

"I'm going to get awarded a posthumous Nobel prize after they declassify my work fifty years from now." Rodney's voice sounded low, idle. "We've, we've had good lives. Done things most men don't even dream about. I finally got to have sex with you -- that was a persistent daydream, actually, when we had time to day dream. You're... I'm still glad I came back. From being ascended."

"It wasn't just about sex," John answered turning to look at him. "You know that right? People don't just completely lose it  like I did when it's just sex."

Rodney had to know that, it should be obvious even if he'd never said it.

"Yeah. I know. I know. You... I came down from a higher plane of existence to, because of you and the expedition, but I think mostly you needed me back. I got a few, a couple of  nice weeks, and you for that time." He could feel the vibration, faint, of Rodney banging his head, and then a hissed 'ow'.

"What're you doing down there?" John asked. It wasn't his imagination, it  was getting more and more difficult to breathe for him. The effort involved was increasing and at this rate he wasn't going to have a simple death of asphyxiation through lose of atmosphere. "I wanted more than a couple of weeks Rodney."

"I did, too. Do. Not that what I want in this moment matters much. The ancients are probably laughing at us right now, you know that? I probably said something to piss them off, and this is their revenge. Well, the joke's on you -- I don't even remember you bastards!" Rodney exhaled hard. "Oh, god, the air's getting thin."

"I thought... it was just me." John replied and concentrated to seal the rooms over the city to give people just a little longer. "You must've had someone looking out for you or annoyed the lots of them to be chucked out."

Breathe in, breathe out... he was breathing for the whole damn city and it was taking its toll.

"I hope it was the last one. I doubt I made any great friends up there." Rodney shifted, twisting around, and staggered to his feet, looking down at John. "I, I think I love you. Not that it matters, because I'm going to be dead soon and so will you, and this isn't one of those I'm dying, you're dying things, but it's not something I would have announced over tuna casserole one night, either, because you're, you're important and I'm sorry it's gone this way."

Rodney loved him. He wanted to say it, he should've been the first to say it but in some ways Rodney had more courage than he did.  Able to take those risks, able to admit that sort of thing when he kept his emotions inside. "Rodney, first of all...tuna casserole? I hate that. And second, I know. I care for my team, but I... love you. Saying it shouldn't be this hard."

But he owed him the truth and to match his courage with his own.

"The air's pretty lean. It's excusable." The edge of Rodney's mouth quirked, and he leaned a little, clutching one hand over John's. "Apparently telling you to sit in the chair this last time was my worst suggestion to date."

"I can deal with that," John replied. "I've made a few pretty crappy ones myself." He gripped at Rodney's hand, even as he felt the sweat bead on his forehead. "I'm really sorry. We're... we're okay aren't we? "

"Other than a disconcerting sense of Déjà vu, we're okay," Rodney confirmed quietly. "In the metaphorical relationship sense. In the physical sense, I'm going to sit down because my legs are burning."

He breathed in and out slowly and everything hurt. Fuck. "One more kiss?" It seemed the thing to do. To go out with Rodney there.

To go out with any other human being there, because that wasn't how John had expected his life to end. He'd expected to be alone, and at least... at least he wasn't. "Yeah." Rodney leaned down, leaned in close, and brushed his mouth against John's. "Huh, stubble. Nice."

"I think we can do better than that," John said kissing back harder but unable to hold it any longer because of the need to breathe.

Any moment. Any moment he was going to lose this...

And then a glowing light filled the room and for a brief terrifying moment, he thought Rodney was leaving him again. But Rodney was there, looking at him, looking around and an ancient was floating over them both.

"Hello Rodney," the voice said. "I told you Descending was not a good idea. Let's see about getting you out of this mess."

"Getting... who are you?" It wasn't as sharp as some of Rodney's demands, but he was definitely confused-sounding, and John was there with him.

"Ganos Lal, and as John here has managed to connect himself to the city, I'm going to have to borrow him a moment to put things right. He's shared enough not to be surprised by the process." She said and then without any other warning plunged into John in a burst of warmth or light.

"Rodney!" He couldn't help the alarm in his voice because things were totally out of his control and information and energy was pouring through him into the mainframe. The ZPMs were recharging, the Crystals regrowing and he could feel her vast presence there. "What's happening?"

"My laptop just caught fire!" He couldn't see what Rodney was doing, but there was some kind of noise, and the distant-feeling connection with the earth-made piece of equipment dissipated. But he could still feel Rodney's hand on his. "Jesus."

"Power... the power is coming back," John said gasping. "I didn't think they could do this."

Because there was another glowing being of light there. "Hello John."

Wait, he recognized that voice. "Chaya?"

"Your people have been returned to Atlantis, they will be safe now."

"I must have been a better ascended than I thought." It was almost muttered to himself, but Rodney had to be staring at Chaya as much as John was. Chaya. It was from Chaya that John had learned a lot about the ancients, and their reasonings and why she chose to protect her people rather than be free to move as she liked. She had been in Atlantis, once, been one of those beautiful ancients like the ones in the sanctuary.

Hang on... John realized something. "Chaya? I thought you couldn't leave your planet? Not that I'm ungrateful but I've got one of you guys inside of me, which is kinda freaking me out, and you seem to be saving us and rescuing Atlantis and I'm pretty sure that's against the rules."

"There are no rules anymore," Chaya said and she sounded happy, really happy. "We made a promise that we must keep."

"What happened to your rules? I'm grateful to still be alive, but..." But Rodney was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yeah, so was John.

"Let us just say you proved to have a strong ally Rodney," Chaya replied.  "We cannot say more. It was his last wish."

John lost track of the rest of what she was saying when the systems came back on line and with no further ado, Ganos Lal exited his body and the emergency protocols of the chair shut down. He blinked, seeing strange images without context of Ascended beings in disarray among other and noticed as the two of them returned to light, this time their forms were chased with colors, vivid and bright.

"Strong ally," Rodney murmured, staring the way they'd gone. "Huh. John, are you all right?"

"I'm a bit woozy, but hell...we're not dead right?" John replied. "The place is working again. I can fire the hyperdrive and get us where we are meant to go."

"And then we'll land the ship and never do this again, right? Because as amazing as flying a city is..." Rodney pulled away, groping for his laptop. Hopefully it wasn't burning any more.

"Yeah, I'm feeling a bit tired." That was an understatement but John was still reeling in shock. It hadn't sunk in, even though the air was fresher, the power flowing again and his head filled with strange images. He looked at Rodney and couldn't stop himself from smiling. "You did it again. Eleventh hour rescue... stop leaving it so late McKay."

This one wasn't even me. I was going to pass out on top of you if I kept standing up any longer." Rodney wobbled a little as he stood back up with his laptop in hand. "We're still alive. We're still..."

Alive and apparently in love because both of them had been pushed to the limits and said the words. He'd said the words only once before and swore never again, but here he was at that 'never again' and he was glad it was out there. A bit scared by what it meant, but glad all the same.

"Firing the hyperdrive," he murmured still looking at Rodney as he felt the jolt of response from Atlantis. "This time we'll make it."

"When we land, I'm going to sleep for a week," Rodney murmured, sitting back down on the floor so he could attempt to reconnect his  laptop. "Here's to hoping the capacitors didn't all blow."

"They feel fine, " John answered. "You know, I think I might just join you in that sleeping thing. Once we've checked out in the Infirmary. You've got some cuts there."

And he was bleeding again but it wasn't anything significant. He wanted to go back, disappear with Rodney and show him in actions what he found so difficult to express in words.

Maybe once things settled down, when they landed, they could do that. "Not a big deal. There's
enough people who need to be in the infirmary."

"Okay, then maybe you can help me get down there again," John said relying on a different tactic to get Rodney there. "Think I bust a few things in all the excitement..."

"I need to stay here and monitor the systems." It was Rodney sounding  a little strained and stressed. "I'll, uh, call for a medical group,  if you can get out of the chair now?"
"I'm not going anywhere until you go," John replied resorting to unfair tactics. "I know how long you been doing this. Radek can monitor the systems - you need a break. And something to eat."

"Okay, sure, we'll -- can you get out of the chair?" Rodney staggered to his feet again, looking down at John.

He mentally asked Atlantis if he could leave now and a little reluctantly the city released the link and he felt exhausted. But he could walk. "Yeah. We can do this. We're on route, we'll be there in a couple of hours. We didn't die."

"They'll know where to find us," Rodney agreed. He reached up, tapped his radio on even as he reached to slide an arm over John's shoulders. "Zelenka? I'm taking Colonel Sheppard to the infirmary. If you could come up here and take the controls."

"I will. I am glad to hear you alive Rodney. If only because I won money off of most in the Puddlejumpers that you would find a way to survive," Radek replied sounding a lot livelier than they felt. "I will come. And yes, I will radio if anything looks strange."

"Thanks Radek," John contributed and it was all he could do to take a couple of steps before leaning on Rodney. There were strange images in his head that he was pretty sure wasn't anything to do with him, but he was sure had some meaning. It had to be something to do with Ganos Lal using him as an interface.

He'd sort it all out later. Later, after sleep and time and breathing and realizing that the city would carry on in hyperdrive and the command center was a wreck, sure, but they could manage. They'd survive.

Rodney had never been so happy to see a battleship leave Atlantis's Orbit.  Not that it was actually Lantea anymore, because there was no more planet of the gorgeous endless oceans and hysterically deadly hurricanes, there was New Lantea as Teyla had taken to calling it.  New Lantea, where the Athosians could live in comfort and protection, where they had wide swaths of rich land and good hunting. He was going to rig up a land-related gate for them, eventually, and Teyla felt better for being able to do that for her people.

Rodney felt better for just having Colonel Ellis leave. He hadn't thought he'd ever miss Colonel Caldwell, but he did, just a little. Ellis clearly wasn't gunning for anyone's positions, but he did his job to the letter, no interference allowed by, oh, sanity, which they were all already on pretty short supply of, but that was on what Pegasus took the greatest toll.

It was the one thing they couldn't get shipped in from Earth, either.

Still he had toothpaste and power bars, and John muttering into the bedding beside him. In twenty minutes, Ronon would be by to get John for a run, and in thirty, Rodney guessed he could roll down to the labs and start work for the day. He missed sleeping in until noon or a mission break, whatever came first.

John seemed to sleep restlessly since their miracle rescue and when pressed he'd said something about weird images that he reckoned were from that ancient who pretty much forced herself into him, which was all kinds of wrong, as he kept trying to point out. Sometimes he'd say things in his sleep in languages he didn't recognize, mention names that half seemed familiar but who he hadn't met and he'd never done that before.

"..mm... he will not survive without help..." There it was again. And there was something about the cadence and timbre of John's voice that wasn't his. It was a memory, or something else, and Rodney reached out to jostle John as much from annoyance as groggy curiosity, because he'd been handling it for three, almost four weeks now just fine, but he couldn't leave it unsolved for much much longer, at least not without trying to work out what the hell was going on.

"John... Who won't survive?"

"Will they help?" John said again in a different tone. "After what he did." There were more indistinct sounds and then "Gift or curse."

Gift or curse. What the hell? Rodney leaned, and jostled John just a little harder. "Colonel. Colonel John Sheppard, it's past time for you to wake up since you're keeping me awake."

"G'way.." John mumbled. "Gotta help Carson..." And he tried to burrow back into the pillow again, trying to stay in the dream.

"Carson's dead. You told me that yourself." Rodney pulled at John again, one hand tight against John's shoulder.

John turned and protested even as he came awake, looking very confused. He paused sinking back against the pillows frowning, squinting at Rodney for a moment as if disorientated. "Shit, sorry Rodney I was having this weird dream. Carson wasn't dead.. .he was kinda purple though. And gold... and he was just lying there and a whole load of  ancients were just... watching."

It would've been laughable if John hadn't been so disturbed.

Rodney didn't laugh, though. He leaned back, staring at John, and then laid back on the mattress. "You were talking in someone else's voice. I thought you needed to be woken up."

"I was?" John screwed up his face a little and said. "You know, I'm pretty tired of all of that. I'm remembering things that aren't mine and I don't know what's real or a dream. That had to be a dream I guess. With Carson."

A dream with Carson. "Do you have a lot of them? Is that what they're generally about?" He wasn't sure if that bothered him or not or why it even should bother him.

"Not always about him," John replied. "I think I keep coming back to that because they are all just... waiting. Watching and ...I'm not that good at that."

"But it's a dream." And John was talking in other people's voices, which was the creepy part, because it wasn't as if people couldn't share bodies in Pegasus. They could and did and stranger things had happened.

"I think so, though I'm not sure way I'd dream him sort of purple," John replied. "It's probably nothing. " He paused a moment. "Huh... and you blue and silver at one point. that's weird."

"I was blue and silver?" Rodney shifted, patted at John's chest. "You're not really inspiring me to get out of bed today, you know."

"You looked good in blue and silver," John pointed out capturing his hand. "Wanna stay in bed?" He tugged at him just a little to stay with a half smirk. "Hey, did you have ...were you those colors as an ancient? Chaya was shades of red, and Ganos Lal, greens."

"I don't remember. If I did remember, I think I'd be worried about my impending sanity. The only thought-memory I've had about then is this feeling of vastness.  And that maybe I wasn't alone." He shifted, clutched John's hand hard, just because he could. "We're already breaking military rules. We don't have to be lazy like you want to get caught at it. Of course, if we do get caught, I'd rather be caught over full on sex than you handing me your pudding cup."

"I don't hand you my pudding cup," John protested and grinned again. "You've been taking them for years."

He decided that nibbling at Rodney's fingers was something he obviously wanted to do. "I've been thinking about that. What they said. You had someone on your side apart from them. You remember not being alone. Who did you hit it off with?"

"If I had any memory of the time, John, then it wouldn't be called memory loss." Rodney leaned in, turning his fingers a little, just touching John's lips.

"You didn't get thrown out, you escaped," John said. "I'm pretty sure that one is a memory not a dream." He kissed at the fingers and then absently teased them a little more with his mouth. "There's an image of you holding someone as well. Looking exhausted."

John paused a moment. "I think I'm mixing my own stuff in because I think it looked like Carson."

"You want a kinky threesome," Rodney accused lightly. "First gay sex,  then three ways with friends, then orgies with the whole city. There is no end to the downward moral spiral that I have set you on." He leaned in, moved his fingers and kissed at John's mouth. "When I was, when I was not-dead, did you dream of me?"

"Yeah," John replied. "All the damn time. You were as insistent being not-dead as you are alive. Though I was never entirely sure which were dreams and which were you connecting with me. Or trying to... You jealous?"

He smirked a grin at the end that had no right to be so good looking considering he had just woken up.

"What? No, no, I'm just curious. I mean, does this whole dream thing leave you with sort of a déjà vu?" Because maybe Carson wasn't dead.  Maybe he was alive, just ascended, and Rodney wasn't sure if that were wishful thinking or what. The way things were going, he was going to suspect every dead person in the mission ascended.

"No... well..." John seemed to think a little. "It doesn't feel the same as a normal dream. There's usually a whole lot more nudity and a lot less symbolism in my normal dreams."

That he could believe and Rodney was starting to wonder. From John's stories about what happened while he was 'Squid-Rodney' as he so affectionately and disturbingly put it in amongst jokes about tentacle porn, he had said the others wouldn't let him. And Radek had said to him that John had been delirious and talking to him and to Carson when he'd been injured by the Wraith Queen. He had been there, he was sure of that so maybe...

So, maybe. Maybe it was wishful thinking on Rodney's behalf, but he stretched onto his back again, looking restlessly at the ceiling.

"Maybe he's not dead."

John turned to look at him, surprised by the statement.  "What makes you say that? It could be wishful thinking on my part. I miss him. When it hit me he was gone, it hit hard. I just assumed everything was my own thoughts."

"You said, a while ago, that when, before I came back, you were talking to me and Carson. Well, I'm here now, real and in the flesh, so..."

"I was out of my head with some sort of Wraith poison. I'm going on what Teyla, Radek and Ronon told me," John said. "I want to see him again, but..maybe it was just want. And look, if it was him I'm remembering with Ganos Lai's memories, and then things didn't look too good for him."

"They are just energy creatures, not infinite gods. So..." Rodney shifted, sat up. John was baffling, and so quick to dismiss what were otherwise decent intuitions. It was a shame there wasn't a way he could import some of his own self-assuredness that everything he saw or felt was right, into John.

"So.." John paused. "Look, the way I figure it, I had to be thinking about you, wanting you here to give you a boost to come visit. Maybe ...there were some times when I felt he was around when I went down to the Pier. You want to test the theory out?"

At oh god a clock in the morning. Rodney looked at him, and then nodded slowly. "It's not exactly scientific, and you might want to leave a note for Ronon."

"I'll put one on the door," John said. "C'mon, let's go have our own Atlantean version of a séance. Or watch the sun rise - whatever comes first."

He gave Rodney a kiss and then got up purposefully, the injuries and problems finally faded so he moved how he should, all smooth and sure. Not as graceful as Teyla, not as deadly as Ronon, but all John.

Lean and sort of loose-muscled. He could still be tense underneath of that, and it threw mixed signals at Rodney, but that was nothing new. John's body could say 'I am at peace with the world' and his hand could be millimeters from the trigger, ready to put a bullet in someone. 'Come hither' postures sometimes meant 'Fuck off, I have a headache and want alone time.'

At least being confused by that was nothing new for Rodney. He couldn't even blame it on memory loss. "We should do it not-naked."

"You think?" John said giving him one of those looks. "And there I was thinking hey, skinny dipping would be good."

He managed to pull on clothes with remarkable speed. Rodney wondered if that was a military thing to be able to do that, because John could go from naked to ready for duty in under a minute.

While Rodney was still sitting on the edge of his bed, barely in pants, shirt inside out while he pulled his boots on.

"Skinny dipping in ocean isn't a good idea. There's all sorts of dangling things and new sea life here that might think it's chum."

"You know Rodney, you have a talent for quashing the spontaneous," John answered, but he didn't seem too worried. "C'mon, I'll write the note. Get dressed."

"I'm getting dressed! I just don't think it's a good idea to see if there's a small feeder fish that looks like penii in this ocean by swimming naked in it." He pulled his shirt back up over his head and wiggled it down over his head after a moment's struggle. Good enough.

"That isn't most people's normal thought about water," John replied, scribbling a note to Ronon. "Although there was once this training course about leeches which means I'm never getting into swamp water ever."

"Which is a smart decision given the bacteria level in a swamp," Rodney agreed, standing up and shifting his clothes so they fit the way they'd been intended to fit.

John snorted. "C'mon, it's pretty cool down on the pier at this time of day anyway, and it's not like Ellis is around to spy on us anymore." He moved over to the door and  looked oddly thoughtful for all his smile. "It would explain a lot if it were Carson."

"It would." It would explain how he had a 'powerful friend' among the ancient ranks, and how he had descended in the first place, because that had been bothering him. The only self-descended had gone insane, hadn't finished the job right, so for him to feel as whole and not-near ascension as he was just then, Rodney knew he had to have been descended, either by the group as punishment, which then failed to explain the amazing last minute rescue, or someone working by themselves had done it for him.

Which would have been Carson, if Carson were ascended.

By the time they got to the pier, the sky had the pearly grey tinge of pre-dawn light, and the see look oddly like mercury, somehow made more solid in that peculiar half-light.  John just stood a moment and the breeze ruffled his hair and then sat down. "Y'know...he told me once he didn't want to have to sit through my memorial service. I think, in retrospect, I got the shitty end of the deal with you two. I had to do both. I had to go home and tell his family, like I told Jeannie. He was so damn worried about me getting myself killed, he didn't even think he was going to be the next to go."

"Jeannie might still never forgive you." Rodney's mouth quirked as he carefully sat down beside John.  He'd talked to her since, and she'd seemed doubtful that it was him, that he wasn't somehow someone else's Rodney.

"Whose fault is that Meredith?" John replied looking over at him. "Anyway, my point was, I'm pretty sure he was in love with you Rodney. I'm not usually good at spotting this sort of thing, but sometimes looking at him was like looking in a mirror. You ever notice anything?"

"What?" It caught him off guard, and he twisted a little, staring openly back at John. "No? I mean, he was my friend, and he was a good friend and I wish I had been here when it had happened because maybe then it wouldn't have happened at all, but no? Has this suddenly turned into some strange planet where everyone loves Rodney, when I know damn well that it's not  true?"

John shrugged. "Guess you underestimate yourself Rodney. A lot of people love you. Some of us are in love with you but I think I'm the minority on that, but I'm pretty sure he did as well. Things he said. Stuff he did. The state he was in after he discovered the solution a month or so late."

"I didn't know that." Rodney moved a little, twisted back to look out over the water. It wasn't  the east pier anymore. It was sort of the north-easterly pier, but even a good landing couldn't be completely perfect. "And knowing now doesn't change that he's gone, but I'm back and you're still alive."

"Yeah. He made me promise to... take the chance I was given if you came back. To tell the truth to you." John squinted a little as the sky started to glow with dawn pinks and purples. "I hope he didn't do something stupid to save us. "

"This coming from Colonel 'I have a stupid idea that will save everyone but me! Let's act on it!"." Rodney leaned, bumping his shoulder lightly against John's. It was a gesture he could get away with, other than smug looks, and he was going to abuse his new-found right to be in John's personal space. "If, If I saw that sort of thing happening and recognized it, I might have done the same. And so would you. We've had enough people die here that it's not unthinkable to hold something that works as precious."

"Yeah. With you there." John looked out at the sky. "I was hoping you were right, that he was ascended. Because I wondered why you bothered with me and not him."

"I, I don't know? It never struck me as a one of you versus the other. You're John. You're Colonel Sheppard. You've been a pain in my ass, and one of my, well, I've always thought of you as one of my closest friends even when I'm pretty sure we were on the outs. It just is."

"Yeah. I guess it is," John replied closing his eyes a moment as if he was focusing and concentrating. "He was purples and golds in the dream, and they weren't sure of themselves any more. The ancients. They should've left him but for some reason Ganos Lal felt she couldn't. Obligation?"

"Ganos, Ganos... The one who was pretending to be our hologram?" She was pretty naturally interactive for an ancient, pulling tricks like that.

"Morgan La Fey, Jackson called her, but she was the one who borrowed me, left me with memories," John replied. "I'm pretty sure I've been dreaming in her point of view. Does anything sound familiar?"

"Nothing. I'm piecing together what I can with logic. But, you said you talked to Carson and me, so I'm willing to believe that he's out there."

"I could use a sign." John said. "It  helps." He let his hand stray over onto Rodney's thigh a moment, looking at him before looking out to sea again.

Then he sharply looked around as if sensing that someone had walked up behind them.

It made Rodney jerk and look, but there was nothing there that he could  see. "What, John? Are you trying to get caught?"

"Maybe, but not by the military. I thought I..." He narrowed his eyes a little. "You can't feel something?" he asked. "Like being watched? Someone there?"

Rodney closed his eyes and pushed back any kind of active thought that was crawling around in his head, and tried just to feel, just see if there was anything more than a paranoid itch...  "Maybe. Or I'm sharing a mass hallucination with you."

Two people isn't a mass hallucination a voice said and John shifted then and there was a faint image that grew stronger the longer they looked at him. Hello Rodney, hello John. Sorry I can't do the full on glowing ancient effect, I'm not quite up to that yet.

"Carson..." John's expression was blinding in its hope and relief.

It got Rodney's attention, because there was Carson, vaguely present, standing there. "I was right! Hah, I knew it! There was no way I'd made friends with the ancients and if John remembered talking to both of us, then..." Then Carson was the sense of companionship that he remembered.

Then John would be right, Carson replied with a faint smile.

"Are you coming back?" John asked immediately. "You seem to have allies up there now"

I can't at the moment. I over extended myself a wee bit, Carson explained as he came closer.

"You saved the city, didn't you?" Or made it possible for others to interfere, which was probably better on the grand scale of things, as far as accomplishments went. He looked like he was smiling at Rodney as he said that.

"Aye...well, technically it was Ganos Lal and Chaya who did that but I bargained for it," Carson replied smiling at them both. "In fact they are lending me energy to see you now because Rodney made me promise to let him know somehow that I was alive. I would not have survived if they hadn't all helped. I did not go to all the hard work of getting you two back together to have you killed by a technical fault."

"But you will come back?" John said with a hint of an order in the words.

Carson sat down next to Rodney with all the substance of a breath of fresh air. "That depends on what happens next. The Ori are coming and now the ascended here have awoken to the trouble, they think my particular ability will be vital. I'm not all that sure about that but I certainly do not want Pegasus or the Milky Way to become mindless converts to feed the Ori with their belief."

One more issue for them to face. Rodney stared at Carson. "I think the Ori will find a lot of unpalatable minds out this way, and not many humans. I'm, you're alive. I'm glad you're alive."

"All down to you Rodney, Carson answered softly and the touch of his fingers was ethereal against his skin. You saved me first, you did the impossible first, but we both knew John needed you back."

"Carson, I know that..." John tried interrupting.

"It doesn't matter lad, Carson replied, cutting him off. "It really doesn't. What matters is that you are happy, the both of you. And I will be here doing my best for you. We have new rules now, better ones but some of the reasons for not interfering are good ones. Don't count on me being able to act... so no self-destructive streaks John."

"I'll keep him from that," Rodney promised quickly. "We're just glad that you're alive. Death by an exploding tumor is pretty unbelievable."

"Aye, you're telling me," Carson said. "I'm glad you both realized I am around. It makes it easier, but I don't have long. It's like making a call long distance on someone else's money . One day, assuming we make it through what's ahead, I'll try and come back. But I have a responsibility to what I did. That was what I was trying to tell them. Change can be made if you have a responsibility for your actions. I freed the Ascended, and gave them back their humanity. And that might be a good thing in some cases, but in others it might be dangerous. You need to know that too. There's a bunch of them going around up here like love struck teenagers. It's...ridiculous in a lot of ways, but dangerous in others."

"So, not like us at all," John drawled and Carson chuckled.

"We'll report this back to the SGC, and... Well, they'll do nothing, but when we start running into ancients again, at least they won't say no-one told them." He kept looking at Carson, staring in a little sense of awe because he was still alive. And Rodney had somehow done that.

Carson nodded, looking back at him, and there was nothing translucent or unreal about his eyes. Just then, in that one moment he realized John had been right. Everything Carson had done had been for him, for some unimaginable reason - what had been companionship for him had undoubtedly been more for Carson and he'd known there had been no future in it for him, and he could still be happy for them both. It made him want to shake him for being so self-sacrificing.

"Well it is only here I have managed this, and only then because I destroyed a star - not one of the ones you fixed Rodney, and then those who were grateful to feel again pulled me back. Perhaps it will spread back home, otherwise we might travel through the Stargate sometime." Carson said explained and then sighed. "I must go."

"We miss you. You should remember that, that you and what you did is not going to be forgotten." They'd have to tell everyone, but after what had happened with Rodney, who was going to look at him and John as if they were crazy.

"I'll be around," Carson reached to touch Rodney's cheek a moment, and then John's who looked startled. "You two need a guardian angel. Or two. Maybe more, however unlikely they are. Trouble magnets the lot of you. Give my love to everyone."

He was fading out now, the faintest images between them even as John watched him go little by little.

"See you around Carson," he said finally, his voice sounding rough.

"We will, too, because you will come back," Rodney insisted, leaning up a little as if he could still squint and see the edges of Carson as he disappeared.

There was the faintest mere imagining of a kiss on his cheek before that nagging feeling of someone else there was gone and there was nothing but the sounds of water lapping against the city walls.

"Well, that seemed to be a yes." John said eventually.

"Your dreams are predictive," Rodney murmured, and leaned in to hug John, eyes still half-fixed on the spot where Carson had 'stood'.

"My dreams were memories. The Ascended equivalent of someone tracking dirt through on the carpet," John said and smiled a full, relaxed smile for the first time in a long time. "We haven't lost him. Just... temporarily misplaced him."

"It means we can get him back, if he wants to. When he can. If he ever feels not responsible for the other ascended ancients." Rodney leaned back, and caught John's smile like a contagion. "I think our day got a lot better than I was expecting."

"Mine had pretty high standard considering I started off next to you in bed," John replied. "You know...Now I've missed the run, you want to go back to my place and celebrate?"

"And then tell them?" Rodney craned around looking to see if there was anyone around them. "Yeah, we could. Seeing as we're up with dawn,"

"Good news is always worth waiting for," John said and leant in to kiss him, in public as if he didn't care who saw them, because the sun was rising over the new ocean bright and sure.

Perhaps he should've stopped the kiss for fear of them being caught. Perhaps he should've been the one with common sense , but it was hard to do that having looked hard at a miracle and found it real. It made him want to take that kiss and sink into it, feeling the cool dawn breeze, fresh with ozone from the sea flicker around them. That rare gesture of public affection was more precious to him than the offer of sex back at their room. It showed him John didn't just take risks with his life, but he started to take them with living as well. That was as much a miracle as him ascending, him making it back and Carson still being alive.

For the first time in his life, Rodney began to believe that there might be someone or something out there that liked him, not just their very unlikely angel.

The End