Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Summary: Sometimes there’s a consolation prize…
Pairing: Sheppard (pilot) / McKay (ship)
Rating: PG for one violent image
Word Count: 2,988
Author’s Notes: Written for brains_in_a_jar, and re-written about three times. A much more difficult fic to write than I thought it would be – largely thanks to the moral dilemmas raised by the Connotations girlies at Peg 2. You know who you are :)
There’s a nasty buzzing noise. And that’s that. Later, Rodney wants to scream like a girl, but only because he doesn’t have the chance at the time. And he’s due, dammit. After all, it isn’t as though he thinks the world owes him a living, exactly – he’s always earned his own way, thanks very much, but it does seem that in this case the world very much owes him a body.
On the monitors, later, Rodney watches his head bounce once one way, and his body fall the other. He wishes he was still able to pass out, but no such luck. He settles for shutting off the monitor with his mind – which is kind of cool but in no way makes up for the fact that he’s just watch himself die.
“I just watched myself die, Colonel,” Rodney says, unnecessarily, and John slouches deeper in the chair.
“I know, McKay, I was there, remember?”
There’s a pointed silence, and John reaches up a hand and rubs the beginnings of a headache that’s starting between his eyes. It should be reassuring, that he can still understand everything that McKay is saying loudly without words, but all it does is make John tired.
No, funnily enough I don’t remember, Colonel, as I was having my head cut off at the time.
He supposes that Rodney has a point.
“Six seconds, McKay,” John says, and the speakers squawk, “What, what?”
“That’s how much time I had to get you into stasis.”
“My head into stasis, you mean.” And Rodney’s still snippy, but he’s sounding more like normal pissy McKay, and that makes John relax, somehow. He takes his hand away from his eyes.
“It was easier to carry – and somehow I thought you’d like that valuable brain of yours preserved. Next time I’ll just grab your body, ok?”
There’s a sniff, and John doesn’t want to know how Rodney manages that without any proper kind of a nose.
“Yes. Well. That would be typical.”
John sits up straighter in the chair. McKay did not just say that. Except that he so did.
“What the hell?”
There’s a squeak, high-pitched and panicked, and then a squeal of feedback.
“Trauma – I’m a man who’s suffered a massive trauma here. Blood loss! Body loss! Delirium! Umm… I don’t know what I’m saying?”
But John slumps back down in the chair, and stares into the flickering lights of the ever-changing monitors. How can he explain to Rodney about that split second of absolute terror, when everything slowed down, when he’d watched the blood fountain up from Rodney’s severed neck like a shooting hose. When he’d realised what Rodney had touched, had somehow released – when he’d thought ‘off, off’ at Atlantis in a frenzy, and blacked out two piers. When he’d been screaming ‘emergency’, and ‘help me’, and ‘no, not Rodney’ mindlessly in his head, and a kind of stasis pod had appeared from nowhere, the only light left in the room.
He can’t, of course.
Although he can thank Atlantis, and does, when no-one else can see. He runs his fingers lightly down the side of the chair, all he can easily touch where he is now, and thinks, ‘thank you’ once again. He’ll never stop being grateful, since someone’s got to be, and that person apparently isn’t McKay.
“What did you do with it?” And Rodney’s voice is very small – really it’s amazing the control he has over the speakers, feedback issues aside.
“With what, Rodney?”
“You’re being ridiculous,” John says, quickly.
His head throbs. This is not the kind of situation he signed up for, all those years ago. This is not the kind of conversation anyone could ever expect to have, although compared with talking to Ford’s cousin, he supposes it could be worse.
“I want a funeral,” says McKay, suddenly, “It’s my right – I don’t want my mortal remains to be ground up for, for… fertiliser! The botanists do not get to have the last laugh.”
And as abruptly as that, it’s too much, all too much, and John starts chuckling. He leans back against the warm, translucent – stone? – of the chair, cheek against the headrest, and he giggles. He hopes Atlantis can muffle some of this, because he doesn’t want to be given any of Carson’s little white pills.
“Oh, that’s right – laugh it up, fuzzball,” says Rodney, “Mock a man in his hour of need,” but that just sets John off again.
“Why can’t I have a funeral?” Rodney asks, once John is coherent, “I was dead, wasn’t I? My body was recovered.”
“For six seconds, that’s all, and in case it has escaped your notice – you’re not actually dead, McKay!”
“For which I and the world are truly appreciative, Colonel, but still. My body remains. Literally.”
John leans back and watches the monitors flash their warm amber signals of reassurance and perfect functionality. He realises that despite everything, the memories, and the anxiety for the future, he’s remarkably content. He wonders if that’s another sign of madness in the Pegasus galaxy.
He closes his eyes, and just feels. All systems are green for go. Well, blue for go, since they’re Ancient systems, but that’s neither here nor there. And then something truly bizarre occurs to him.
“Hey, Rodney,” says John, as he opens his eyes and grins up at the camera, “Why don’t we find you some transportation, and then you can actually attend.”
And this time the indignant squawk from the speakers is music to John’s ears.
Having the city light up for him, to react to his slightest thought – that’s also kind of cool, Rodney knows. There are lots of cool things about his new situation. The way he can see – everything. All spectrums, all wavelengths. The way he doesn’t just read Ancient, but thinks in it sometimes. Breathes it, even, if he had any breath at all.
He thinks he knows now what it’s like for Sheppard; the whisper of Atlantis under the skin, like a second heart-beat, just below the first. Except, of course, Atlantis is his only heart-beat now, his life, his everything.
He wonders sometimes that he doesn’t freak out more.
“You said transportation, Colonel,” says Rodney, with a whine, although it’s a tinnier sound than normal, coming as it does from a hastily jury-rigged speaker grill mounted next to the HUD. “I had in mind some kind of cyborg body – something streamlined and cool, like the super-soldier, hmm? Or Number 6 from BSG – well, not actually Number 6 because that would be creepy and wrong, not to mention, umm, girly bits – not to say that those are creepy and wrong, but – oh, you know what I mean!”
John grins. It’s taken a lot of work to sort this out. He’s not even sure how they’re doing it – Zelenka muttered a lot more than usual, mostly in Czech, although some of it in German, oddly enough, which John knows some words of, courtesy of a nomadic childhood. He reckons that an international expedition rubs off on everyone eventually.
In the end, they have to turn off the cameras and feeds to the whole ‘jumper bay, since Rodney wants to help, and when he can’t do more than make suggestions, which Radek ignores for the most part, he gets frustrated – which means that they all get frustrated, because apparently Rodney can turn up his speaker volume really high when he’s annoyed.
Being shut out of the loop makes Rodney even more mad, but that surprises no-one.
John grins again and thinks the systems on. The interface has been completed in record time. It seems that Atlantis wants to help them – crystal arrays that shouldn’t really work, suddenly do. Radek almost gets teary-eyed, but John reckons it’s because she’s got two favoured sons now. And one of them is intent on making this work, and a genius besides.
“Rodney?” John asks, lifting his head – it’s the hardest part, not knowing where to look, where to focus. Well, perhaps not the hardest part, but that is a chasm so wide and deep that John doesn’t even want to think about it. “Rodney, try testing something. Waggle the windshield wipers, will you? Or pop the hood.”
He can’t stop grinning, he thinks, even as the lights on all the displays in front of him come live at once, like a big Christmas fairy light show. This is some kind of present anyway, even as he mutters, “Yeah...”
“Yes, thank you, Colonel All-My-Metaphors-Suck.”
“So?” John waits, and then lifts an eyebrow, “How does it feel?”
There’s a silence that ought to have John worried, but somehow he’s not. The HUD is green and gold and amber – more good colours, and he can feel a tickle at the corner of his mind that means she’s happy, even though he’s deliberately trying to leave the ‘jumper alone. And he’s never admitting that’s how he thinks of her to Rodney, not ever, wild horses wouldn’t be enough.
“It’s… different,” says Rodney, and his voice is full of wonder. John closes his eyes, and does not see Rodney’s face all wide open with the joy of discovery, his eyes huge and blue. He might never see it again.
“It’s like… I’ve almost become the jumper, somehow. I can tell the air scrubbers need to have their filter changed, and there’s a scrape that’s been healed… I mean repaired, down my left side. Umm, port nacelle, that is. Huh.”
And John opens his eyes again, smiles like he means it, and says, “So what are you waiting for, McKay – permission?”
“Not all of us want to throw ourselves into danger like Evel Knievel, except… Oh wait, that would be you, wouldn’t it, Colonel? Let me just… That is…”
He trails off into familiar muttering, and John can almost turn his head and expect to see the real Rodney, anxious and rumpled, doing the pre-flight checks. Even when John was training him, when Rodney was impatient, and yet nervous as all hell, he still didn’t rush the pre-flight. John never really said so, but he approves. Can’t be too careful, unless there’s an emergency. Of course, on Atlantis, there’s always an emergency.
John takes a breath, deeper than he wants, and it makes his chest ache.
“So let’s do this already,” he says, nearly growling, “Hit it.”
And they do.
Of course, it’s Carson that Rodney feels the most sorry for, when he’s not feeling sorry for himself. This is precisely the kind of Dr Frankenstein voodoo that Carson would love to get his teeth into, but instead he’s tearing his hair. Serves him right, Rodney thinks, with just a hint of smugness. He’s got too much hair anyway.
Rodney tries not to remember that his own hair, or lack of it, doesn’t really matter any more. He likes to ignore the hysteria too.
Carson can’t even discover exactly where Rodney’s head is in Atlantis. He’s still looking. Rodney wants to help, but he can’t tell him either – it seems to be a defence mechanism. And Rodney is everywhere, and nowhere. His body is the city, he has a hundred eyes and a thousand ears. He’s heard it all.
And, believe you me, when he gets out of this? There’ll be plenty of heads rolling besides his own.
The jumper would roar if it was in the nature of the beast, but instead all it does is take the purr that is its usual cadence to a higher pitch. John finds his hands are sweaty, and he rubs them on his BDUs. He’s a terrible back-seat driver at the best of times. And this is not the best of times.
They swoop into an orange and magenta sunset, past a deepening sky that is so clear John finds his eyes watering as he stares. It’s something he never sees, in the normal way of things, too busy keeping control, looking ahead. The horizon is stained like child’s paintbox, and it’s almost enough to make John catch his breath. For all that they’re surrounded by ocean, swallowed in the sky, it’s surprising how little of it he usually sees. In slices, when running. In carefully defined slots, when practising his golf. The skies he watches most often are on other worlds, when they’re running for their lives. He remembers skies and oceans from long ago, when sand would squish between his toes, and ice cream melt in a sticky hand. John thinks longingly of the surfboard he never gets to use.
And Rodney. There’s something… John would swear he’d be whooping for joy if he could get away with it. Maybe he is – Rodney can hear and vocalise across a much wider spectrum these days, it’s something he boasts about. But it makes John uneasy, the whine from the overworked engines acting on him like nails on a blackboard.
He sits up straighter, and a shiver crawls its way between his shoulder blades. This isn’t Rodney. This isn’t nervous, cautious, meticulous Rodney.
“What are you…” he starts, before the HUD in front of the co-pilot’s chair lights up and shows him that all systems are green, green, green.
“Oh relax – you do this to me, all the time!” says Rodney’s voice from the speaker grill. He’s sounding unutterably smug, and that, more than anything else, makes John relax.
“Yeah, and you bitch to me about it, all the time,” he shoots back, trying to lean away from the controls, which his fingers are itching to take back again. He folds his arms and stares wide-eyed out of the windshield instead.
“But it’s different now, Colonel,” says Rodney, as though it’s blue jello, and chocolate, and peanut butter all rolled into one. “I can feel…”
And the ‘jumper pulls up, and the inertial dampeners kick in too slowly, so John feels the very beginning of the gees they’re pulling, before he realises they’re headed vertically up into the atmosphere. Soaring...
“I could never ride a bike properly as a kid, did you know that?” says Rodney, out of the blue.
John’s too busy being fascinated by the way the sky is turning dark around them so fast, but he grunts his attention.
“And I was terrible on roller skates, and skateboards – anything with real balance. I started playing the piano because it was something I could do – it let me practice precise co-ordination and movement in a limited and controllable way. I think now I must have had some mild version of developmental dyspraxia, although that’s a condition that’s only really been diagnosed in the last twenty years or so. Generally people just thought I was clumsy.”
And somehow Rodney sounds wistful, rather than defensive, and that pricks John’s curiosity, even as he mourns for all those things that Rodney’s missed out on. It’s not like Rodney talks about his childhood often. It’s not like any of them do.
“But now... Now I can...”
John realises he’s not looked at the read-outs for at least thirty seconds. A lifetime in operational terms. He realises he’s actually sat back and is beginning to enjoy himself. It’s a scary thing to be so calm, when he’s not in total control.
He clears his throat. It’s unaccountably dry. “Hey, Rodney. It’s ok.”
There’s a silence that’s not awkward, but John doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Should he say something more? Should he pat the console in a comforting way? He sucks at this emotional reassurance thing, but surely Rodney knows that?
There’s a whisper from the speaker now – almost so faint John has to strain forward to hear it.
“I just wanted to say that I understand, ok? I get it. Well, maybe not so much the college football or the Ferris wheel thing. But going more than two hundred miles an hour? I totally get that now. I do.”
And there’s an awe in Rodney’s voice, even distorted as it is. It’s the sort of reverence John’s only ever heard before when Rodney’s contemplating a full ZPM or a newly completed Millennium Problem. It’s unlimited chocolate, and sole credit, and a Nobel Prize. It’s the sky darkening to velvet black and lighting up with stars. It’s not losing your best friend, but finding out instead that he can share something you never, ever thought he would.
It’s the horizon.
“Yeah,” says John, his own voice suddenly scratchy like the speaker, “I get it too.”
“Rodney? Can you hear me?”
“I’m disembodied, not deaf, Carson. What is it? Have you found my head?”
“Not really, but the investigation turned up something else that’s very interesting.”
“I’m sure that whatever treasure hunt your minions have seen fit to occupy themselves with might be fascinating to other practising witchdoctors, but really, I’m a busy man here. Busy consciousness. Whatever.”
“Well, you won’t be wanting to know what they’ve discovered then?”
“Yes, yes – please keep the man who’s had his head removed from his body in suspense. Really, that’s going to help the healing process, well done.”
“We’ve been tracing power spikes, as you know, to try and track you down – without much success, if truth be known. But you won’t believe what we did find. Rodney, you can access all of Atlantis’ systems, can’t you? Look at the unit here, if you don’t mind. You see?”
“Oh, my god. It’s a pink blob. Be still my heart - you’ve discovered blancmange.”
“Yes, all right. It’s... It’s... Oh, my god!”
“You’ve said that once.”
“Yes, but... It’s a baby!”
“Not quite. In fact, it seems to be acting as some kind of sophisticated organ bank. The Ancients... well, the Ancients must have just grown whatever spare parts they needed.”
“And what we need now…?”
“And what we need now is an entirely new body. Congratulations, lad, it’s going to be a boy.”