Rating: PG - mostly for swears
Spoilers: Post "Enemy at the Gate" but no real spoilers.
Warning: Major character death. This is a 4-hanky story amongst the angst and sap.
Length: 11,500 words
Summary: For the mcsheplets It's Only Just Begun Fest - As much as things stayed the same, they changed.
Author's Notes at the end.
Back to Part 1
As much as things stayed the same, they changed.
Richard Woolsey reluctantly retired, at the urging for the IOA, he told them and was replaced by a Russian, Gregor Romanov. The Americans and the Chinese weren't playing well together this decade and everyone was amazed when the Russian candidate was approved. Romanov soon proved to be something of a surprise when he took command with a light hand -- he could be fierce in dealing with trading partners as necessary and the incident with the pirates sealed his authority but he trusted the recommendations of the existing residents of Atlantis which made him reasonably popular. He was a reserved man and hard to get to know but no one had any real reason to complain.
A while after Romanov settled in, Teyla took her leave to go back to the surviving Athosians. "Torren is capable of taking my place here. He has grown up with all of you and I have shared my knowledge with him. He will work well with you all."
"He's.... young," Rodney hesitated.
Teyla gave him a stern look, "He is not much younger than I was when we first met. He will do fine."
John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder to reassure Rodney. He nodded to Teyla, "We know where to reach you if we need you."
"I will be talking to my people and will encourage them to move to Sateda also," she told them. "There never were many of us and many have been taken away over the years. They will not consider this if I am not with them, however. It is time I spend more of my time with them."
Rodney gave in, "When you're ready to move, let us know and we'll be glad to help." He threw a sideways look and a grin at John, "We might even be able to liberate a Jumper to help with the moving."
It wasn't long before Torren had his own gate team. If he wasn't quite as proficient at the Bantos rods as Teyla, Rodney knew it was only time. Torren and John worked out together regularly and Torren also took over Teyla's regular workouts with Rodney.
Rodney sat on his bed trying not to freak out. The new chemist, Dr. Rosalia Stephenson - Call me Allie - had stopped by his workstation at the end of the day.
Interested in some dinner? Join me? she had asked cheerfully.
He had looked up in surprise and had gaped at her.
Come on, she had laughed. You need to take a break and I'd love to have a chance to talk with you.
Rodney had replied with a brusque Sorry, I have plans.
That didn't seem to make a difference for she had leaned in and asked, Some other time then?
It wasn't until later that he realized she had be flirting with him. A good looking woman who wasn't too flighty -- she had earned her place on Torren's gate team after all -- had flirted with him and now that he realized and had a chance to think about it -- he wasn't interested.
Not wanting to think too deeply about it but, well, he was happy as he currently was. He had his work, he had friends, any free time he had he spent with John and that was fine with him.
"We have a new Chief Medical Officer scheduled to arrive next week," Romanov announced in a weekly senior staff meeting. "A couple of you may know her, Dr. Cassadra Frasier."
Rodney's head came up. "Cassie? Huh. Didn't realize she had gone to med school."
At the quizzical looks around the table, Rodney expanded, "Cassie is Dr. Janet Frasier's adopted daughter." No need to explain further about the adoption to anyone that didn't know about Janet adopting an alien orphan, Rodney decided. "Janet was the Chief Medical Officer for the SGC before she was killed off world."
"I did not know Dr. Janet Frasier," Romanov admitted, "but if half the stories I've heard are true, she was very skilled in her profession. Dr. Cassandra Frasier has been consulting with the SGC and comes highly recommended."
Dr. Chen sighed, "Be glad to get rid of this job and go back to just being a doctor." He looked up at Romanov, "Umm... no offense meant."
Romanov waved him off, "None taken. I understand that you are glad to get away from the paperwork involved and back to some of your own work."
It took almost twenty years to figure out what was 'wrong' with the ZedPM factory. It had continued its regular output of three to four ZedPMs a year until one day the light on the panel went from its usual amber to a blinking red. A new panel rose up out of the floor with a data screen had the fluid Ancient writing flowing across it.
"What the fuck?" Rodney swore at it.
John leaned in and read the script. "Well, I guess that answers that."
"It wants to be moved to a new location?" Rodney was flabbergasted.
John continued to read and laughed, "It's out of gas....." He read on further, "Well, out of material. At least it has some suggestions of where to look for more."
They took Radek and a handful of Marines, although why they needed Marines on a trip where they didn't expect to get out of the Jumper was a mystery to Rodney, with them out to the asteroid to find the black box floating in space with rubble all around it. "It ate through the asteroid," Radek observed.
John flew the Jumper around the black box but that's all it was. A solid, rectangular box with no external features and no indication of how it had done what it had done. It was about three times the size of the Jumper and on Rodney's data pad he could see the box AI interfacing with the Jumper AI.
"If we take it in...." Rodney continued an argument they had been having.
"Rodney....." Radek growled.
"Yes, yes, yes, I know we should just put it where it wants to go. But this is a once in a lifetime chance to..." Rodney enthused.
"Down, Rodney," John laughed. "We don't want to break it. There are more than enough toys for you to play with."
"Can't blame me for trying," Rodney grumbled half-heartedly.
Radek reported, "We have a connection and it's ready for transport."
"Understood," John replied. He sent power to the Jumper's engines, "There's a small drag but the Jumper seems to be handing it well."
"Good," Radek replied.
"Damn, not getting any readings off the box," Rodney complained.
Radek snorted, "And you really expected something different?"
"I could hope," Rodney replied in frustration. He sat back in his seat, craning to look out the window, not that there was anything special to look at. He watched his data pad as they flew to the location they had selected.
Upon arrival, Rodney could see the Jumper and the box communicate. They settled the box on the moon and watched it essentially 'settle' into place, the communication between the AIs cut off and they sat silent.
"Well, nothing here to see," Radek announced. "Now we wait to see if this has worked."
A month later they had their answer. A ZedPM was delivered to Atlantis and another six weeks after that. Production steadied out at one every seven to eight weeks giving them six to seven new units a year. Even with sending units back to Earth, within a couple of years they had enough to power anything they wanted in Atlantis with power to spare.
They worked with Romanov to send a couple of units to Sateda to assist with the rebuilding. Ronon, along with his refugee army had cleared out a significant portion of one city and the extra power would give them the ability to develop an infant industry faster.
"I think there is something you should know," Radek Zelenka persisted.
Rodney sighed. "What?"
"It is the list of new scientists the SGC is sending us," Radek stood his ground.
Rodney looked up, "Okay, I'll bite. Why should I look?"
Radek grinned, "You need to see for yourself."
Rodney rolled his eyes, "Radek....."
Rodney turned to his computer and opened the list and then grinned himself. "Whoa. I didn't think it would be this soon!"
John walked into the lab and asked, "What's up?"
Radek waved to Rodney, "Your news, tell him."
Rodney couldn't help the pride in his voice, "Madison's coming to Atlantis."
"That's great!" John enthused. "When?"
"The next set of scientists," Rodney replied.
Madison was bright eyed and eager to work with "Uncle Mer." Rodney winced the first time she used it and then had to glare at John when he teased him. "Anyone... anyone that tries to use that is dead. Do you hear me?" Rodney growled in the lab. He suspected that the nods of agreement were only to hide their laughter.
It wasn't long before Madison fit in like an old hand. She had reacted well to the revised ATA gene treatment that the SGC was using. It was working on a smaller percentage of people than Carson's original treatment but the hope was that the newer treatment would result in a stronger expression of the gene. Since they didn't really have anything to compare to, it was just a theory but any new gene carriers were always welcome.
Romanov was recalled by the IOA and replaced with a Brit, Peter Davison. "Please, I've heard all the Dr. Who jokes I can stand in my life," he said before Rodney could open his mouth.
Davison was essentially an accountant and seemed honestly shy and uncomfortable in crowds but soon settled into the position. It took Rodney months to figure out that Davison was an amateur astronomer and wanted to be invited into the lab to learn more about what was going on.
John invited Davison to their movie night occasionally and the casual conversation helped him become more comfortable in dealing with the members of the city.
Rodney wanted to rant but there was no one to rant at -- it was just Pegasus and their bad luck.
The team that came back from P47-320 were actually proud of their find. The natives of that planet had devised a chemical compound that could be used to eradicate infestations of the Iratus bug. They had brought back a sample of the compound for analysis and to see if it could be manufactured on Atlantis and used as trade material with others.
It was just bad luck that John was in the lab when the containment failed -- he was covered in the dust before anyone had time to react. The quarantine alarms kicked in and sealed them into the lab. John started to brush it off himself as the chemists came rushing up with their concern and apologies. John waived them off and said, "No harm done," got an odd look on his face and then collapsed. It was two long hours before they could air out the lab and Rodney could override the quarantine -- Rodney couldn't allow him to think about John laying on the floor of the lab as he worked and, as the doors finally released, would have fallen over himself if Radek hadn't been there to catch him.
In the infirmary, Cassie was grim faced as she ran a number of diagnostics before she would answer any questions.
Rodney sat in a small room with Davison, waiting for any updates. They waited in silence for Rodney had run out of words and Davison was even less talkative than Ronon, if that was at all possible. Rodney jumped up as Cassie came into the room. "Well?" Rodney barked. "What?"
Cassie took a deep breath and said gently, "Rodney, sit." At Rodney's mulish look, she pointed to a chair and stood there waiting. When he was seated she began. "The chemical that was brought back from P47-320 is essentially a form of pesticide that is used to eradicate Iratus eggs. Dr. Sheppard's previous exposure to the Iratus bug DNA has made him susceptible to the chemical. Even if we had been able to get to him immediately, I don't know if I could do more but the chemical is attacking his DNA." She put a hand on Rodney's arm. "I'm sorry but I don't know how to undo the damage. I don't think we can."
Rodney gaped. "What..." He swallowed. "What does that mean?"
Cassie said softly, "It's unraveling the DNA in his cells and shutting down his organs. His spleen and liver are almost gone already."
Rodney was stunned. He snapped his fingers, "Stasis... Then we can.... transplants....." He panted for a moment. "That will buy us time to....
"Rodney," Cassie got his attention. "It's in his entire body." She hesitated but went on gently, "It's in his brain."
No. No. No. No. No. Rodney wanted to protest.
Davison asked, "Anything you can do?"
"We can make him comfortable but that's about all," Cassie told him.
Rodney closed his eyes and breathed deep to compose himself. "How long?" How long does he have?"
Cassie sighed, "A couple of days, at most. I'm sorry."
Rodney gripped the arms of the chair for strength. "Call... call Teyla and Ronon. They will want to come..."
Cassie nodded. "Anyone else?"
Rodney couldn't think. "I... I don't know. See if there's anything in his file?" He saw Davison nod at that. Rodney looked at Cassie, "Can I sit with him?"
"In a bit, once we get him settled," Cassie allowed. "He's unconscious right now and probably won't know you're there," she warned.
"Going to be there," Rodney gritted.
Cassie said nothing more as she went out.
The nurses had kicked Rodney out as they were doing some of their mysterious voodoo. One had taken pity on him and dragged him to the break room and put a cup of coffee and a danish in front of him. "Eat," she said as she went back to work.
Rodney slumped in the chair, beyond exhaustion. He wasn't going to leave... or give up hope.
Cassie sat next to him and quietly took his hand.
"No..." Rodney protested. "Not fair...." Too soon... Teyla and Ronon hadn't had time to get there.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "There's nothing more we can do. It's just a matter of time...." She let that trail off delicately knowing that platitudes were all she had to offer.
Rodney rubbed his other hand on his forehead wearily. "Can I.... Can I stay with him?" he asked.
"Of course," she replied firmly. "Come on, let's get you comfortable." She drew him up and they walked to the isolation room together. She released Rodney's hand and grabbed a chair. "I don't want you standing too long... you have to sit," she directed. She settled the chair next to the bed and guided Rodney into it. Once he was sitting, she moved to the equipment on the other side. "I'm turning off the alarms so they won't disturb either of you," she explained. Coming to stand next to Rodney she added, "I don't expect him to wake but stranger things have happened. I'll monitor everything from the office." She placed a hand on Rodney's shoulder, warm for a moment, then left them alone.
Rodney stared at the pale face in the bed. John looked lost among the monitors. Without thinking he reached out and took John's lax hand in his and chafed it lightly as if he could warm it up. Rodney could see the flicker of the readouts of the machines in the corner of his eye.... they seemed to be an omen, changing at will, not connected to the frail body in the bed.
"Why is it always us?" Rodney whispered in the silence. "You deserve better than to..." he couldn't say the word die... "go like this. We're not that old and I thought... I thought there was time." Rodney moved the chair forward so he could be closer and... touch.... "Even when you left, I knew you were there and.... I guess I always hoped you'd come back. And you did." Rodney stopped to compose himself, taking deep breaths. "I'm sorry about Jennifer. I did love her, you know. But I never realized that I loved you more, you idiot." A short, rueful laugh.
"I'm so sorry...." Rodney put his head down on John's head and let himself cry. Cry as he never had for Jennifer all those years ago. This was more painful, for John was the other half of himself. He didn't know how he was going to carry on, he quietly sobbed in the silence. "I didn't know and I didn't get to tell you....." the words were broken and muffled.
"s'ok." A breath of voice. The hand in his tightened briefly. "Knew...."
"John!" Rodney looked up, startled.
John's eyes fluttered briefly then closed but the slight grip came again. Rodney wanted to wail, to rage against the fate that hadn't shown him they could be together until it was too late. He gasped air desperately, holding on to a shred of composure, to be the person John had shown him he could be. It was too much.....
"s'ok....." John breathed. The hand tightened and then loosened.... a last time.....
Rodney didn't see the lights dim briefly as the monitors stuttered and didn't hear Cassie come up behind him and put her arms around him as he sobbed with his head pressed to John's hand. He didn't know how long they were there and didn't want to move.
Cassie coaxed him into another room where she gave him some pills and water to wash them down, got a cool cloth to wipe his face and then took his shoes off. She pushed him down on the bed, covered him with a blanket and commanded, "Sleep."
Rodney hiccupped sadly and gave in.
"Uncle Mer!" Madison cried. She put her arms around him. "I came as soon as I heard...." She hugged him fiercely. "You should have sent word earlier, I would have come back. I'm so sorry...."
"It was so fast," was all Rodney could tell her. "There wasn't time to think..."
"What can I do?" she asked softly.
Rodney gave up any pretense of pride when he whispered, "Help me."
Ronon and Teyla came back to Atlantis within hours of each other. Rodney let Madison take care of organizing the notifications that needed to be made.
Teyla and Ronon sat with Rodney as he slept in the infirmary. Rodney heard Cassie say things like "depression" and "sleep" and "shock". But she could have been talking about anyone as far as Rodney was concerned. He ate when Teyla coaxed him, changed his clothes and took a shower when Ronon hauled him into the bathroom.
Slowly, Rodney started to become aware of his surroundings. As he became better able to take care of himself, he hugged Teyla gently and mumbled a rough, "Thanks," to Ronon. Both accepted the gratitude gravely.
Unknown to them all, John had left instructions that he was to be cremated. Most of his ashes were to be spread above the city with enough sent back to Earth that David and his family would have something to bury.
Rodney, tell Dave I'm sorry we didn't get along better, John wrote to Rodney. Okay, I can't believe I'm saying this but if you're reading this I'm gone. Sorry. I hope I got to say good-by this time, I won't do that to you again if I can help it. The past few years have been special and I wanted to tell you how much you mean to me. Take care of yourself.
"You're ready for this," Rodney said firmly.
Madison protested, "But everyone'll think it's nepotism! And how do you get to make this decision anyways?" She looked at him suspiciously.
"You're the only one who's lasted in Atlantis this long," Rodney ticked on his fingers. "The gene therapy worked for you, you know the city almost as well as I do and, importantly, you're the best one for the job." He gave her a smug grin. "And Davison has already run it through the IOA so it's a done deal."
"But...." Madison continued her protest, weakly this time.
Rodney put a hand on her shoulder, "It's yours, kiddo. Congratulations on being the new Chief Science Officer for Atlantis."
"But what will you do?" Madison asked.
Rodney looked down at his hands. "It's been three years, Mad." Three years since John died. "My heart isn't in it and... it's time for someone younger to run things." He grinned at her. "Besides, I'm not going anywhere, I'm just not going to be in charge anymore. I get to work on my own work for a change."
Madison looked at him and Rodney looked steadily back. He really did mean this. "No interference?" she asked.
"Ha! Didn't promise that," he laughed then sobered. "No, no interference," he promised her.
Rodney went back to his lab on the south pier.
Ronon and Teyla would come to visit on occasion, bringing news of what was happening on various worlds, gossiping about people Rodney didn't really know. Each in turn dragged Rodney off of Atlantis, supposedly to consult but mostly just to get Rodney off world and to keep him busy.
The pain of losing John didn't as much lessen as become bearable.
Rodney walked the pier regularly, thinking. And remembering. Back to the early days when John shared his delight in his development of the Ancient gene. The days when Rodney was learning how to handle a weapon and John insisted he was needed on his team. The time he got shot in the ass with an arrow and they went back to Sateda to rescue Ronon. When they took Carson's body back to Earth. Just hanging out together.. movie nights, chess, drinking beer on this very pier. How they saved each other's lives time after time.
He regretted the way he took John's friendship for granted in those early years. First going after Katie Brown and then marrying Jennifer. That was the hardest admission of all for he had truly loved Jennifer. John's coming back to Atlantis and willingness to be his friend again was more than he could have asked for.
What he recognized too late was that loving John was as natural as breathing.
They were sitting around the kitchen table in Ronon's home on Sateda. Rodney looked critically at Teyla and Ronon. "Why is it that you two don't look any older and I'm...." he waved a hand at himself, "decrepit?"
"Ain't decrepit," Ronon shot back. "Just old." He grinned.
Rodney had to laugh at that. "Seriously," he said. "I know both of you are younger than me but you really haven't aged as much. What's with that?"
Teyla answered, "Dr. Frasier and I have talked about this and she is still looking into it. She does think that over the centuries when the Wraith were culling planets, many of the infirm and aged were often taken first because they could not hide as quickly or as well and healthy children were usually well protected. Over time, those that survived the culling and the work needed to survive became hardier but for the same reasons many did not have time or nutrition to grow to a true old age."
"Survival of the fittest," Rodney added and Teyla nodded.
"Ronon and I had the advantage of physical security with Atlantis, regular and good food, as well as good health care from your doctors," Teyla explained. "With those advantages, we are now better able to grow much older than we would have otherwise. We are seeing this also in the settlers in that there are now many more older members of a group than there ever had been in the past. Dr. Frasier thinks that the natural life expectancy of someone in Pegasus is well over one hundred years but no one ever had the chance to grow that old before now."
"Well, that's not fair," Rodney protested. "We brought all this to Pegasus and you're getting the benefit of it."
"But a legacy to be proud of, Rodney," Teyla replied gently. "You have not saved a world, you have saved an entire galaxy."
Oh. "Guess I never thought of it that way," Rodney admitted.
"It's the treatment you were given to activate your ATA gene," Cassie explained. "It's breaking down."
Rodney looked down at his hands. The intermittent shaking had gotten worse and he had been forced to see Cassie professionally. Well, it was that or Madison would physically drag him into the infirmary herself. Somewhere Madison had learned to channel both Teyla and Jeannie and could be very scary. So Rodney ended up in a familiar position, sitting on a hospital bed having blood taken.
"What's happening?" Rodney asked calmly. "Be honest."
Cassie sighed. "I don't know," she frowned in frustration. "But it's affecting your entire body and.... well.... it doesn't look good. I have to look through the notes I have on the gene therapy since I never worked with it and don't know enough to make an informed guess."
Rodney laughed ruefully. "Carson, Carson.... who knew?" He looked up at Cassie, "Worth it, no matter what happens now. I got to do a lot with the gene that I'd never been able to do otherwise."
"Rodney...." Cassie put a hand on his. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he replied. "Okay, how long?"
Cassie frowned, "Months, I think. I'll know more when I've looked through the data."
"What about.... Madison?" Rodney forced himself to ask calmly.
Cassie shrugged, "Yours was one of the first treatments so at the very least you've bought us time to look for an answer. And Madison's treatment was slightly different which doesn't mean anything good or bad. But right now the focus is on you."
"So what do I do now?" Rodney asked.
Cassie shrugged, "Do what you feel you can do. Don't do anything strenuous by yourself because you don't know how your body will react. I want to see you every morning for the next couple of days so I can take more blood samples and do scans to get a baseline."
"Vampire," he muttered reflexively.
Rodney remembered laughing with John at one point that they were more than likely to die together. Being on the same gate team and in the same trouble made it more than likely that whatever would kill one would also kill the other. That had actually been comfort to Rodney in those early years for dying alone was something he had dreaded.
Now that he was actually dying, he wasn't with John but he wasn't alone. Madison was at his side and her kids were hovering outside the room. Torren and Teyla stood solemnly at the foot having come back as a result of Cassie's message to them. Ronon was on the other side of the room, not saying much but leaning against the wall, waiting patiently.
"Rodney," a familiar voice said.
"John?" Rodney asked. He could feel Madison's hand on his arm but it was a light and fading feeling. She was becoming less substantial as John became more real.
"It's time," John said softly. It was in his head, Rodney suddenly knew. But he could see John standing in front of him, waiting.
"Come with me," John offered a hand out to him.
"I....." I'm scared Rodney stuttered as he held out a shaking hand.
"It's worth it," the voice said as warm arms came around him, "I've got you." Then again softly, a whisper, "I've got you."
Rodney reached out to put his arms around John and knew he had come home.
AUTHOR'S NOTE - I originally started parts of this for sga_santa but I quickly realized that this wasn't going to necessarily be a happy story. In many ways it is, but this wasn't going to be what my reader was looking for. Many thanks to velocitygrass for organizing this fest, for this is -- hopefully -- a better place for this story.
For those of you with the question: "What about....??" I debated but (a) wanted to actually finish this piece and (b) it's John and Rodney's story. This could have been a novel but I suspect 11,000 words is enough.
Many, many thanks to fenchurch1 for listening to me waffle over the story line and correcting multiple version of this story for me. I, of course, couldn't resist tinkering right up to the end so any remaining errors are mine alone.
Song of Solomon - This is my beloved, this is my friend.
Dedicated to Fenny, the brave little kitty who fights on.