When he opened his eyes again, he lay sprawled on the floor of the cockpit. The jumper had landed itself. Gradually, he became aware of voices over the radio. He lifted his head and looked out the windscreen.
He was in the gateroom. He'd set down right there, rather than rising to the jumper bay. Or maybe the jumper had landed itself; John didn't remember landing it. He remembered knowing it would be all right, and that Rodney would be there, irritated and pleased all at once.
But he didn't see Rodney. Elizabeth was there, surrounded by John's men, Lorne at the head, peering back at John through the windscreen. Suddenly all the hatches opened, front and rear, and the Marines brought their weapons up in unison. If John hadn't been so tired, he would have laughed; clearly Lorne had been putting them through their paces in John's absence. More than John would have done, but that's why Evan was his second-in-command. If the SGC were still around, they'd no doubt want Lorne elsewhere, and John knew he was too good for this backwater outpost. But he also knew that, like everyone else left in Atlantis, Lorne considered this home.
The jumper said, "You're home, John. Time to go."
"Now you talk?" But John obediently tried to climb up from the floor, keeping his hands visible to show he was unarmed. To his dismay, he couldn't do much more than roll over. He pushed up to his hands and knees, but his arms trembled. Suddenly he felt warm arms around him, the first human contact in longer than he knew, and then he was upright, held by Ronon. "Your dreadlocks grew back," John murmured, leaning his head against Ronon's shoulder.
The first human contact, maybe, in John's life. Platonic, loving physical contact is also a soft spot for me, and this scene hits it perfectly.
"John," Elizabeth cried, her hands clasped in front of her.
"Get him to the infirmary," Lorne said. John closed his eyes and let Ronon half carry him, but his legs wouldn't work, and then Ronon scooped him up.
"Ferike will take care of you," he rumbled. John wondered who Ferike was for a moment and why Carson wouldn't take care of him, but then he remembered, and sighed. Ferike Biro, of course, would be waiting for him, her sad, tired face smiling down at him.
Is it wrong that I'm secretly happy whenever Carson is dead? That's probably very wrong of me. I love Biro, though!
"Welcome home, John," she murmured, and guided Ronon to a gurney where she had him settle John. "We missed you so much." He was shocked to see how grey Biro's hair had become.
"Never thought we'd see you again," Ronon said accusingly.
"Sorry," he breathed, and fell asleep again.
He knew he was dreaming because Jumper-Rodney stood by the gurney. "Hey," John said. "What the hell'd you do to me?"
"Sorry, sorry," the jumper said. "Didn't mean to freak everybody out. I just wanted you to get back as quickly as possible. They need you here, John, and they need what you brought."
"What did I bring?"
"Me." The jumper smiled sadly at him. "When you wake up again, have Radek check the composition of the jumper. I put some information in the computer, too. Quite a lot, actually."
"Will I -- never mind. Just let me wake up."
The jumper leaned over him, resting a hand on John's forehead. "I take it back," it said. "You're not suicidal. Just ridiculously loyal." It kissed John, its mouth cool and slick and tasting slightly metallic. "I'm still here," it whispered in his ear, and kissed his cheeks, left then right. "Always right here." Before John's eyes, it melted away, into the floor of Atlantis, silvery puddles pooling and disappearing, right into the fabric of the city.
There it is again, that love that's almost the John-Rodney love but isn't quite, that's almost the John-Atlantis love but isn't quite. I love the way he dissipates into the city, the way he dissipated into the alien planet: his dispersal echoes the dispersal of Rodney's presence throughout the fic.
"John?" Elizabeth's voice woke him. "John, are you awake?"
"Yeah," he said, but his throat was too dry. She helped him sip lukewarm water. "Yeah, m'wake," he tried again. "What's happening? How long?"
Tears filled her eyes again. "Too long. Over a year. It nearly killed Radek; he thought he'd sent you to your death. We missed you so much."
"It worked," he said, ignoring the rest of what she'd said. "Tell Radek it worked. He needs to check the composition of the jumper. Also the computer on it." He sighed. "I'm so tired."
There’s that simple, heartwrenching language again: I’m so tired. So very John.
"Just rest," she said. "Rest and let us take care of you for once."
He nodded, but didn't open his eyes again until Radek came to him much later. "John," he murmured, shyly touching John's shoulder. "Wake, please." When John looked up, he saw Ronon standing behind Radek, both smiling at him. "What did you do? The information is amazing. And the jumper melted! Right into the floor. There's nothing left but your books and EVA suit."
"Pretty cool," Ronon said.
"Do we worry?" Radek asked.
John struggled to sit up; Ronon gently helped him while Radek stuffed pillows behind his back. "No. It was Atlantis. I mean, Atlantis was in the jumper and was there on that planet. It said it needed something from the planet."
"Yes, that agrees with what the database said. It talks, John!" Radek beamed at him. "The database talks now. I just ask and it tells even me, without the gene."
Love the little subtle suggestion that the Ancients are inherently racist, and that Radek has suffered as a result of their insistence on genetic purity. I love that genetic purity is just one more kind of imagined purity that gets broken down, muddied, changed. Like John, like Atlantis, like the boundary between reality and image, between body and technology: these things no longer remain as pure categories.
"It's not the Ancients," John said. "I can't remember exactly, but it said the Ancients had used old technologies, and that it was older." He sighed, and rubbed his forehead.
"The Ancients did built on the shoulders of giants," Radek agreed. "This galaxy is old, John. According to the database, it's much older than we realized. The Ancients tried to hide how much they borrowed from the older races, but the database has given us access to material we'd been blocked from. Elizabeth and the others are working on it now."
"Ancients were liars," Ronon said, looking grim. "We worshiped them, and they were liars."
"Most gods are," John said.
Thank you, yes! I love that Ronon gets that line, gets to be the one who says it. And his "we" isn't just the Pegasus natives who are too "technologically unevolved," in the show's terms, to know better, who are just primitives struggling in the dark. Ronon's "we" is everyone in Pegasus, including and especially the Atlantis expedition. That line could as easily have come from Elizabeth. The Ancients are gods as much as the Ori, and I love the way in which this fic acknowledges that.
Radek and Ronon exchanged a long look, then Radek said, "I should stay."
"Go," Ronon said. He grasped Radek's shoulder and gently shook him. "This is my task."
John woke up a bit more watching their exchange, and sat up straighter. "Guys?" he asked.
"Both of us," Radek said, and turned to John.
Before Radek or John could say anything, Ronon said, "Remember when you asked me if I was seeing anyone? Now I am." He stared at John, who noticed that Radek was turning pink.
"Uh, good," he said. "Really good." John had always thought that Ronon and Teyla would end up together. Maybe they would have, if things had fallen out differently. But Radek needed someone as much as Ronon had, John knew, and if Ronon and Radek were together, he wouldn't have to think of Teyla's absence each time he saw Ronon. He sighed, and bit his lip.
Oh, Teyla. Where are you? What happened? I like that there are still absences, even at the end of the fic when we've gotten Rodney back. Teyla's is another name that comes up and that John has to repress, another site of loss that can't be recuperated.
PS, Ronon/Radek is AWESOME.
"So as American military, you are content?" Radek asked.
"As me, I'm content," John said, and smiled at them. "And envious," honesty made him add.
The fact that this fic takes John to a place where he can say something like "As me, I'm content," and not even have it seem strange, in an indication of how far Mira is able to bring our characters.
They beamed at him, and then at each other. "I go now," Radek said. "Much to do, time wasting." Ronon kissed the top of Radek's head and Radek rested his hand on Ronon's cheek for a moment before hurrying off.
"You sure?" Ronon asked when Radek had gone.
"Shit, yeah. You won't believe who I hallucinated about while I was gone."
"McKay." John felt his eyes widen in surprise. "Come on, John. It was obvious to all of us how you guys felt about each other."
Ha! I love that Ronon just sort of rolls his eyes and says, "Uh, McKay? Duh?"
"It wasn't obvious to me," he protested, but feebly. "I don't think."
Ronon gave him a look but didn't contradict him. "What happened? How'd you get back so soon? Radek said you should have been gone for closer to three years."
John shook his head. "The jumper did something to me. It's sentient. I don't know if they all are, or if it's because we were on that planet. It said that the entire planet was Atlantis. Or maybe Atlantis was made of the planet."
"Radek'll figure it out," Ronon said confidently. "Hey, did you know that Evan's with Elizabeth now?"
"Everybody kind of paired up. Like on Sateda at the end. I guess we all wanted to be with somebody at the end."
"Not the end, Ronon," John said. "It's not the end. Radek and the others'll figure it out. The jumper will help them."
The combination, in this fic, of that post-apocalyptic melancholy with the bright, miraculous capability for change, for newness, for recuperation, is just staggering. That combination is what makes the fic so tonally bizarre, I think. Which is, of course, a compliment.
"Radek says your Earth's gone."
John opened his mouth but didn't know what to say. He forced himself to relax and lie back against the pillows. "Maybe," he finally said.
"McKay --" Ronon started, but John held up a hand.
"Not now, buddy. Not now."
"Are you disturbing my patient, Mister Dex?" Biro asked, and John smiled gratefully at her.
"Just going." Ronon left without a backward glance.
"Don't mind him, John," Biro said, holding a thermometer in his ear. "He's very glad to see you. We all are. All right. Your temp is fine, but your pulse is a bit rapid. I want you to stay in bed and rest. Why not here, where I can keep an eye on you? It's quiet, too, I promise."
John nodded. He wasn't ready to face the staleness of his old quarters. He wasn't sure when he would be.
"Just drift off. If you want something to read, or a movie to watch, let me know." She pushed the hair off his forehead. "You'll need to start wearing dreads like Ronon, or a ponytail like Doctor Kavanagh." She smiled at him so kindly, so happy to see him, that his throat closed up, and he looked away.
"John," someone said softly, waking him. "John, dear." He opened his eyes to see a beautiful woman, pale and ethereal, like an illustration from a fairytale, smiling down at him. "Thank you."
You know, I wonder why we always write Atlantis as a woman. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's certainly interesting, but – well. If you don't have a gender-segregated society in which male homosocial groups (like sailors or pilots) are cut off from women and begin to imagine ships or planes as the women who are absent from their society . . . if you don't have that, why would a city be female? This doesn't particularly matter in this story – perhaps she appears as John imagines her, etc. But I do wonder about that. What kinds of stories (John/Atlantis or John/Atlantis/Rodney stories) would we write if we personified the city as male? If Atlantis was no longer a female substitute/gobetween but rather a male substitute/gobetween?
"You're welcome," he said automatically. "Who are you?
"Don't you know?" She touched his cheek with the back of her hand and he felt the low thrum of Atlantis.
"You're the city," he whispered.
She nodded, smiling even more. "I am. Or rather, we are, for we are many. Thank you for going home for us. We needed that. The Ancients were careless, as you know; more interested in ascension than in maintenance and improvement of this plane of existence. They are young, though, even now."
"Older than we are," John pointed out.
She smiled at him. "Very much. But John, you admit your ignorance and accept your youth. These are strengths most Ancients do not possess. More than that, you welcome our assistance, which they did not. They preferred to pretend that Atlantis was entirely their creation."
I find this fic just so satisfying, because it completely encapsulates all the things that I find creepy and annoying about the Ancients. The Ancients are technology as technology: cold, hard, scientific. Technology for the sake of ascension, too, for the sake of abandoning physical bodies, for privileging the image/mind/spirit over matter/body/sensation. This story is “against” the Ancients because it’s all about the magic that results from the connection and intermingling between those two poles. In this fic, technology takes a physical form – which might be a shadow, might be a hallucination – that bends and kisses you and leaves a mark behind. Much better than the Ancients, who only leave behind data.
"But it isn't?"
"Oh no. Atlantis is old, older than we are. She has been rebuilt many, many times, and will continue to be reimagined. Perhaps by you and your people."
Perhaps the reimagining occurs whenever people allow themselves to be changed by and with the technology, rather than attempt to make it boxy and still, as the Ancients did. Perhaps there's already a lot of John and Rodney in the city, reimagining her, just as she's reimagined John. And, crucially: perhaps that reimagining of Atlantis is what Mira is doing right now.
"Rodney --" he began.
"Dear Rodney." She smiled at him. "Fetch him home, John. He belongs here. Radek is a brilliant scientist and a very good man, but we miss Rodney almost as much as you do. He will help."
"But how? He's on Earth, and Radek says Earth is gone."
"You've traveled so far, John; do you really understand so little?"
"You're not saying that Jumper-Rodney can replace the real Rodney," he began hotly.
"No, of course not, dear one. Of course not. We can only be simulacra of your kind. We are entirely alien, more than you can know. But Rodney is still available to you. Ask Radek for help, and Elizabeth."
"Wait, why not you? Why be so mysterious? You're like the Ancients, just hinting at things, pretending you know more than you do, lording it over us pathetic humans."
She shook her head and took his hand. "I will tell you, then. Not all bridges are broken."
"Wait, what? The bridge? Rodney's intergalactic bridge?"
"See? You only need hints." She squeezed his hand; he couldn't believe how warm and vibrant she felt. But even as he watched, the pressure on his hand lessened, and she faded from sight, not melting into the floor the way Jumper-Rodney had, but simply disappearing.
"John? John?" Biro shook him. "You're talking in your sleep. Why don't you try to eat something now. Evan brought you a tray."
"Hey, Colonel," Lorne said, sliding the tray onto a rolling stand and wheeling it near him. "The doc said nothing heavy, so the mess fixed some soup, and the bread's real fresh. There's custard, too."
"Thanks, Lorne." John felt groggy and his head hurt, but he struggled to sit up. "I need some fresh air."
"After you eat," Biro called to him. "Evan, you can take him for a walk afterwards."
"I'm not a dog," John called back to her, but not really irritated. A walk would be good. "So, you and Elizabeth," he said to Lorne, and spooned up a mouthful of soup.
Lorne turned red, his mouth twisting. "Ah, yeah. Just sorta happened."
"Ronon says everybody's pairing up."
Lorne shrugged. "It was hard, John. You know that. Besides," and he grinned, "she's great. Smart, funny, and pretty; what's not to like?"
"How long was I gone?" At Lorne's puzzled look, John added, "I tried to keep track, but towards the end, everything slid together. I slept a lot, too."
"Over a year. Which is less time than Radek said it would take, but a long time to be without you. No word from Earth," he added, anticipating John's next question. "Not a fucking word."
"Atlantis told me to try the bridge."
Lorne looked at him evenly, then nodded. "I thought it was destroyed," he said, more mildly than John knew he could have responded.
"She says not."
"Well, okay. When?"
Lorne is amazing: so calm and so willing to believe John. Actually, I really like a lot of the secondary characters in this fic: Ronon, and Biro, and Lorne, and Radek, all take up a lot of space in this fic, even though they each only have brief appearances. The first paragraph says: John had been travelling alone for a long, long time, but the whole story refutes his alone-ness.
"When I say he can go," Biro interrupted, crossing her arms. John loved her smile. "And not a minute sooner. But keep eating like that, John, and you'll be up and about in no time."
"Get your strength up," Lorne agreed. "You look like shit."
"Haven't looked in a mirror for a while," John said. "What's wrong?"
Biro tugged at his hair. "Too thin. Malnourished. Dehydrated. Bone density lessened -- not enough gravity for too long. Heart, well, not damaged, but not as strong as it was. Evan's still in charge until I say you're ready to return to full duty."
"Fine with me," John said, clanking his spoon against the ceramic bowl to scoop up the last of the soup. "Shitty job with shitty pay."
"No shit," Lorne said, and handed him the cup of custard.
Cracks me UP.
Biro let Lorne help John to the toilet after his meal, and then to the nearest balcony. Lorne flung open the doors and the cool sea air settled on John's face. He inhaled hugely, holding it in his lungs like good dope before exhaling.
To his surprise, it was late afternoon. The sun was setting behind them, behind Atlantis, and they looked into the deepening twilight. The two brightest stars of the night already gleamed against the deep blue evening. For the first time, he felt at home.
Almost shyly, he rested his hand against the wall, happy to feel the oscillation that he interpreted as the presence of Atlantis. Lorne had the gene, too, so he understood, and nodded at John, helping him lean more comfortably against the railing while keeping one hand on the wall. When Lorne touched him, he felt the connection deeply, and knew Lorne did, too. They were connected, he thought. By their years on Earth and in the military, by their time on Atlantis, by their strange inheritance that permitted them to experience whatever it was that made Atlantis Atlantis.
I love it when you read a McKay/Sheppard fic that still cherishes the personal, emotional relationships between other pairs or characters. Lorne and John do have a lot in common, and do seem like they'd understand one another implicitly; I'm glad to see that written so lovingly.
And now that he knew it wasn't the Ancients, he was even happier to have that ability. The Ancients were prim and prissy hypocrites, and maybe he wasn't related to them at all. Maybe to the even more ancient ancestors who really had created Atlantis, whoever they might have been. The ones that Jumper-Rodney had referred to.
"You said Atlantis told you," Lorne said, and for a moment, John thought he'd read his mind.
"Uh, yeah. Or maybe it was a dream, but I think she's right."
Lorne nodded. "Fine with me. We should check up on the bridge anyway. Maybe there's a message or something."
"Or something," John agreed. Or something.
Biro made him take it slow, and he secretly agreed with her. The artificial gravity of the puddlejumper hadn't been adequate to keep him in good shape, and he hadn't been eating or keeping hydrated for the entire return trip. He grew stronger, and went for walks with Ferike and Elizabeth, then running with Lorne and Cadman, and finally with Ronon. Ronon had gotten a lot chattier in John's time away from the city; John thought Radek was a good influence on him. "Learned some science," he'd told John when he'd found him in the labs.
"He's a natural," Radek had said, grinning up at Ronon, John tried to look disgusted, but he thought they looked cute.
I like the idea that Radek got more field-hardened and Ronon learned some science – that’s people blending into each other, too.
Lorne and Elizabeth were living together, he discovered. "Mom and Dad of Atlantis," Cadman told him during a run. "It's sweet. He's the only one who can change her mind. I wonder what their sex life is like."
"Eww," John had said. "You just said they were like mom and dad, so don't talk about their sex life."
"Jealous because you don't have one?" she teased him. He didn't tease her back; she was one of the few singles left.
When he could run his old route with Ronon and keep up, Biro cleared him. "I'd like to see you put a bit more weight on," she told him at a staff meeting, embarrassing him, "and you're terrible about keeping hydrated, but you're good enough for this flight."
"Just one gate at a time," Elizabeth reminded them. John, Lorne, Ronon, and Cadman were going. "And stay in contact with us."
"At every gate," Lorne promised her, and kissed her cheek. Radek came to say goodbye to Ronon; they stood aside holding hands, talking quietly. Chuck said to Cadman, "Be careful, okay?" and John suddenly realized that Cadman wasn't as alone as he'd thought.
Chuck/Cadman: sweetest thing ever! Though I admit that I kind of wanted Cadman to stay a singleton. Ronon talks about everyone pairing up under the stress, PLUS in fic we almost always want to pair up almost everyone, but I liked the idea of Cadman just doing her own thing.
He climbed into the jumper and sat in the pilot's seat. Not the one he'd flown to the other side of the galaxy, of course; that one had never rematerialized after it had been absorbed into Atlantis. But all the jumpers were different now; smarter and more sensitive. Lorne said they really could read minds now, something the people without the gene had said all along. John thought the jumpers were truer to themselves now, that somehow the Ancients' influence had been purged by whatever he had brought back from that planet.
Seventeen gates formed the bridge between Atlantis and Midway Station, John remembered. They weren't using Rodney's macro this time, though. They were going to examine each individual gate, so although the time between gates was minimal, they'd need about an hour at each gate to inspect it. This would be a long trip.
Biro made sure they had about six months of supplies on board, and Radek had loaded the onboard computer with thousands of alternate gate addresses, in case something happened. They had back up plans to their back up plans. It was overkill, but John understood that it was also needed by the people they were leaving behind.
"Come back safely," Elizabeth said to them all, and sitting next to her, Chuck nodded vigorously. "We'll keep the lights on." John remembered feeling Atlantis calling him home, as if she really were a lighthouse, and he smiled at her.
"Let's go," he said, and Ronon shut the hatch.
By the third gate, they'd started to relax. The gates were in good shape; Atlantis or John's dream had been right about that. They functioned perfectly, responding instantly to the DHD that Cadman operated. Radek had figured out a way to send through a small robotic device with a camera prior to the jumper, so they could check the gate visually, make sure the robot got there safely, before they made the jump. It slowed the trip down, but John thought the reassurance was worth the extra time. They'd already lost so much in the last years.
They took a lunch break at the fifth gate, and a longer break at the tenth. John slept soundly as he always did these days; sometimes he thought he'd never get enough sleep. Biro promised him there was nothing to worry about, but he did wonder if Jumper-Rodney had done something irrevocable to him. It had said that he'd changed John so he could get home quicker, and John could still see space in more dimensions than he would ever admit to Radek or Fireke, could feel the way the world moved beneath him, and moved around its star. Now, so far from Atlantis, he knew exactly where it was in the sky. He didn't think he would ever get lost again.
Oh John, John. He's just so lost, in some ways, especially at the beginning of the fic, and the gradual way in which he finds his way home – home to Atlantis, home to his own contentment, home to Rodney – I just can't deal, it hits so many character-kinks of mine. So it makes perfect sense that he would, after being so irrevocably changed, have a greater sense of his position in space. It feels almost like a callback to Rising: "Imagine where we are in the solar system." John hears that, and something in him changes, gets switched on in his chromosomes. And, as in Rising, it's the confluence of Rodney, and technology, and his own newly apparent alien-ness that enables him to understand his place in the universe.
They took another break at the fifteenth gate, and still all was well. When Lorne and Cadman sent the robot through to the sixteenth gate, the jumper grew quiet. No chatting, nor joking; not even Cadman had anything smart to say. Ronon was more like his old self: quiet and brooding as he watched. John felt unmoored, as if the artificial gravity wasn't working at all.
The sixteenth gate worked perfectly. The stargate was as beautiful as the first one John had seen, gleaming in the starlight. John kept the jumper hovering longer there, circling it carefully, letting Cadman take close photos of it using the robot. They had a longer check-in with Atlantis, too, and his three companions each took a moment to speak quietly to someone while the others worked hard not to overhear. At last, Lorne looked at John, who nodded, bit his lip, and pointed at Cadman. She dialed, and sent the robot through to the seventeenth and final gate.
In less than a minute, it had arrived at Midway Gate. For the first time, John let himself remember how proud Rodney had been of this contrivance, and all the trips they'd made hunting unused stargates to collect for the creation of the bridge. "Not all bridges are broken," Atlantis had told him, and apparently she was right. He wondered if Atlantis was aware of all gates everywhere, the way he was now always aware of Atlantis. He wondered if whatever the pewter material that planet had been made of now circulated in him.
Atlantis is in his blood, literally. And that’s why all bridges aren’t broken, and that’s why we’re able to mend this last bridge and recover Rodney, the absence at the center of this story.
And then Ronon asked, "What's that?"
They bumped heads peering at the monitor. "What is that?" Lorne murmured. "The gate isn't broken; the robot went through."
"There's something there," Cadman said, jamming her index finger on the monitor and smudging it. "Look, it's plain as day. It's another ship."
"A jumper?" Lorne asked
"Can't tell," Cadman said. "Let me get the camera . . ." she trailed off, punching buttons on her laptop, guiding the little robot closer.
"It looks like a Winnebago," Lorne said, and John laughed, a harsh barking sound that made the others look at him, but Lorne was right.
"It's a fucking Winnebago in space," John said, and suddenly he knew.
I love it so much: it's just Rodney all over isn' t it? Of course John knows it’s Rodney – who else would do something so harebrained? And it's such a great contrast to the magical-pewtery technology from earlier: it’s so mundane. John makes the magical into something physical by taking it inside his body; maybe Rodney elevates the mundane into its own quirky kind of magic. And they meet in the middle.
"What's painted on its side?" Ronon asked. "Cadman, get the camera -- can you read that?"
"Sam," John said before the image resolved. "It's named Sam."
"How the hell did you know that?" Lorne asked. "Who names a Winnebago Sam? Who gets a Winnebago in -- holy shit."
"Let's go," John said, grinning so hard his face hurt, and took the jumper through to gate seventeen, Midway Gate, the last unbroken gate in two galaxies.
"Why the hell took you so long?" Rodney shouted at them over the radio. "Do you know how many millennia I've been here? And how small a Winnebago is?"
Whenever I read this section, I am always laughing with joy through the whole thing. They're all just so crazy-happy to see each other, shouting and swearing and pushing at the windshields.
"What the fuck are you doing in a Winnebago in space?" Lorne shouted back. He, Ronon, and Cadman were all standing as close to the windscreen as they could, crowding John who circled nearer until they were nose-to-nose with the Winnebago. Rodney had his hands on his hips, glaring at them through the windshield.
"It wasn't easy, let me tell you," he said, and wiped his face. John realized that Rodney was crying, and that his sarcasm and anger were his attempt to hide his feelings.
"It's all right now, buddy," he murmured. "We came back for you."
"Sheppard?" he asked, and put both hands on the window above the dashboard. "John?"
Whenever I see two members of a slash pairing separated by glass, I always get a little verklempt at the Star Trek III-ness and Henry Jenkins-ness of it all. This scene is so moving, and so simple – again, there’s so much said when the characters say so little. John calling Rodney “buddy” at this moment makes me choke up; Rodney’s transition from “Sheppard” to “John,” the hope in his tone and his hands on the window also make me a bit misty.
"Yeah. I'm here, too."
"Fuck," Rodney said.
"How we gonna get him in here?" Ronon demanded.
"Stand back," Rodney said, and moved away from the window. "Just, hang on." He brought one hand up to his face and poked at his wrist. A light flared like from a lighthouse and he was standing in the back of their jumper, and then falling to the floor. "Shit," he whispered.
John pushed past the others, dropping beside Rodney. "Hey, hey," he tried to say, but his voice wouldn't work.
All that loss, all that necessary repression of Rodney’s memory for so long, all that time watching shadows of Rodney flicker past his vision, and suddenly John is confronted with Rodney himself, whole and alive and physical. No wonder it’s overwhelming. But part of the reason it’s overwhelming is because we spent so much time knowing Rodney as a dream, as a simulacrum, as a memory, as a name. His physical presence now is saturated by all these images of him that pervade the fic up until this moment.
"Oh, fuck," Rodney said, and seized John, pulling him tightly to him, wrapping his big arms around him and holding on. John practically lay on top of him, holding him back, and they rocked slightly. For the first time since they'd lost contact with Earth, John's head didn't hurt, and his heart felt free. He sighed, and sniffed, and hugged Rodney even tighter.
I can’t say enough about this, because it’s just such an emotional money-shot: I could reread these two paragraphs over and over and over. But it's just . . . through the whole fic, the quest wasn't really to find Rodney, but this moment recharacterises the whole beginning of the fic. It proves, retroactively, how much it was about Rodney all along, about his absence, about his absence which defined all the places he wasn't: in the Jumper with John, on Atlantis, on the pewtery alien planet. The solidity of that hug, the emphatic presence of Rodney's big arms and the tightness of their embrace, emphasises the emptiness that we were living with and didn't even know about.
It's also the final piece in the puzzle: John, Jumper-Rodney, Atlantis, Rodney. And the John/Rodney is important in and of itself – these are two flesh and blood men who just love each other so much – but it's also important because it has become metonymic for the relationship of humans-through-technology. Rodney was woven into Atlantis's computers; John has something of the pewter technology flowing in his blood and in his breath. So when they come together, it's not just the solidity of their bodies and the reality of their big love (though those things make me, just, so happy); it's also the human connection that is made better, stronger, more possible, by the man/machine hybridity.
He wasn't sure how long they lay entangled, murmuring the kinds of things two grown men don't get to say to each other, especially in front of others, when he finally pulled away and sat next to Rodney. "Been a while," he said, clearing his throat.
Seriously, though, I could read that all day.
"Oh, yeah," Rodney said, and looked at the others. "What're you looking at?" he demanded.
Ronon nearly tripped over John to hug Rodney, lifting him to a sitting position. "Glad you're back, buddy," he said, rubbing the back of Rodney's head. "Really glad."
"Me, too," Rodney admitted.
To John's surprise, Lorne hugged Rodney, too, and Cadman kissed him and held his hand. "Dammit, McKay," she said, but girls didn't cry in front of their commanding officers, so that was all she said. John appreciated her restraint.
And, again, it's not just about John/Rodney: it's kind of everybody/everybody, in that Great Big Atlantean Family sort of way that always, always gets me where I live.
Eventually, they got Rodney off the floor and into one of the seats in the front of the jumper. Lorne poured him a mug of coffee from a thermos they'd filled at gate fifteen, and Ronon handed him a bag of cookies the mess had sent along with them. "Oh god," Rodney moaned ecstatically, crumbs falling into his coffee. "Bless you all."
"Please, Rodney," Cadman said, putting her hand on his forearm. "Earth?"
He shook his head, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "Gone," he whispered through the cookie. He gulped down more coffee and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Fucking gone. Everyone, everyone. I tried to tell them, tried to get them to come with me, but they just wouldn't believe me. They wouldn't even listen to me."
Earth has to be gone: there can be no more "pure" place for humanity, no home that upstages Atlantis as home. All homes, all humans, are now a little alien. Hybrid. Mingled. Multiple.
John put his arm around Rodney's shoulder. "How the hell did you get a Winnebago in space?" he asked.
Rodney beamed at him. "See? See why they should have come? They wouldn't give me the jumper; kept it locked up in a fucking museum at the SGC. The others went out on the Daedalus, the Odyssey, and the Apollo, but they said I'd be a hindrance." He shook his head.
"But what happened? Why did Earth stop answering?" Lorne asked.
"Nobody at home, I guess." He took another bite of cookie. "I don't know, but I can guess." He looked grim. "When I realized that they didn't want me, I knew I had to get home. But nobody would help. They wouldn't send me through the gate, they wouldn't let me use the jumper, nothing. So I rigged up the Sam. It's a converted motor home. Made it so it wouldn't bleed atmosphere in a vacuum, filled it with supplies, a chemical toilet, all the computers I could cram in it, installed a DHD, and basically drove through the stargates. Just up the ramp in the SGC, and then from gate to gate. No need to navigate, you see; the wormhole does that for you."
"You drove here." John couldn't believe it, except it was Rodney, so he could. "You fucking drove to the Pegasus Galaxy!" He started to laugh, everyone laughed, even Rodney though he looked a little offended at first. "Only you, McKay!"
I'm with John: Rodney is just so completely awesome. The whole narrative of Earth ignoring Rodney and not letting him have access to anything is a little odd – maybe even OOC for the SGC – but if it gets us Rodney driving a motorhome to the Pegasus Galaxy, I'll take it. Plus, it reinforces the fact that this story is about our SGA people, our SGA people who go a little native in all sorts of ways, so preserving anything of Earth wouldn't have worked.
"Well, of course. I told you I was a genius."
"Why not drive all the way to Atlantis?" Lorne asked.
"Goddamn make-shift DHD died on me. If only the SGC had given me access to some real technology, but no, I had to Home Depot my own DHD." Rodney scowled at his coffee, then gulped it down and held out his cup for more. "Plus I couldn't figure out how to signal Atlantis that it was me knocking."
"So you just waited," John said quietly.
After a few seconds of un-Rodney-like silence, he said, "You never leave anyone behind, Colonel."
"No," John said, looking at the Winnebago. "Not if I can help it."
"So it sounds like we need to tow the Sam home," Lorne said when the silence stretched on too long.
"Oh, hell, yeah. It's crammed with stuff I need."
"That an Asgard transporter you got on your wrist?" Cadman asked, and John remembered that she and Lorne had been at the SGC a lot longer than he had. "Why don't we just go back and finish driving the rest of the way to Atlantis. The jumper's DHD works just fine, so it can lead the way."
Rodney looked at John. "Let Cadman and Lorne do it. You stay here," John said.
"I'd like that," Rodney said softly, and took off the heavy wristwatch. "See, it works like this," he said, bending over the dial with Cadman. "I tuned it to go to Ancient technology as well as a beacon in the Winnie." He twisted something, and strapped it onto her wrist. "Major, you'll need to, ah, yeah. That's it."
Lorne said, "May I have this dance, Lieutenant?"
"Why, certainly," she said, grinning at him, and they embraced.
I love these two; I think the way that Mira writes them together is a perfect extrapolation of their characters on the show. Sweet, goofy, and charming, the both of them.
Over Cadman's shoulder, Lorne said to John, "See you in a few, sir," and in another shocking flash, they were gone and waving back at them from the Winnebago.
"No one would ever believe this," John said to Rodney, still staring at the Winnebago.
Rodney shrugged. "You believe it," he said.
"Call Atlantis," Ronon reminded John.
"Shit, yeah," John said, and reached out to dial the gate, then hesitated. "You want the honors?" he asked Rodney.
"Very much," he said, and unhesitatingly dialed the sequence for Atlantis. The blue of the event horizon exploded out and then settled into the familiar rippling pool. "I can't believe I'm going home," Rodney murmured. Then he picked up the mic. "Atlantis? Anybody there?"
After a long pause, Chuck's voice said, "Um, who's that?"
They all burst out laughing, and John could see Cadman and Lorne laughing in the Winnie. "It's me, you idiot, except no, no. Sorry. You're not an idiot, Chuck. It's good to hear your voice."
"Doctor McKay? Doctor Weir, Doctor Zelenka! It's Rodney!"
The joyful noises over the radio made John smile even harder.
So many homecomings, in this fic. And so many new definitions of home.
"John? Is that you?" Elizabeth's voice said, trembling with emotion.
He tapped his earpiece. "It's me, Elizabeth, but we found somebody at Midway Gate."
"Hello, Elizabeth," Rodney said gently. He was staring into space, as if he could see Elizabeth's face so far away.
"Rodney," she said, her voice fainter, and then Radek began speaking in Czech, no doubt cursing Rodney thoroughly.
"Radek," Rodney said softly. He rested his hand on John's knee, and John could feel him trembling, too.
Again: the moment of connection. Rodney trembling is yet another of those light, deft touches that Mira uses throughout the story: it carries a whallop of meaning in just a few neutral words.
John took Rodney's hand, turning it over, studying it in the flickering light of the jumper and stars and event horizon. This was the real Rodney, he thought, not something conjured up by distant Atlantis or the missing jumper. This was the hot-tempered, arrogant, brilliant, sensitive man who had haunted John's dreams and kept him company on his measureless journey. He looked up at Ronon, and found him smiling approvingly at them.
"I missed you all so much. When I couldn't get home . . . " Rodney's voice trailed off.
"We missed you," Ronon said roughly. "John nearly died."
Rodney looked at him suddenly. "Not really," John said. "But I did go a little crazy when we couldn't reach Earth and our best scientist. It was your turn to save my life, too."
"I kept seeing you," Rodney said, his voice gentle. "In my dreams, you'd visit and talk to me. Sometimes you'd yell at me."
"I saw you, too," John admitted very quietly.
They were each other’s shadows, each other’s images, each other’s longing and loss. And their reunion is all sweetness, like the goat’s song is all sweetness, because it is a reunion steeped in loss. They’re in each other’s blood, in the same way that Atlantis is in their blood, in the same way that they are in Atlantis’s blood.
"Come home, Rodney," Elizabeth's voice interrupted them. "John? Bring him home."
"Yes, ma'am," he said. He squeezed Rodney's hand. "Watch this," John said quietly to him. "Look, ma; no hands," and he closed his eyes. The jumper trembled beneath them, joyous at the opportunity to fly. Home, he thought. Take us home.
He opened his eyes to watch Rodney's face.
So, of course, we end on that moment of connection: John, Jumper, Rodney. John, Jumper, Rodney, all bound up in the ecstatic moment of homecoming, the joy of stepping through the gate and trusting it to take you to where you belong.
I don’t know that I have anything to say here at the end; I feel like my thoughts on this fic are very disconnected, in a way, and don’t necessarily add up to a neat conclusion. More than anything, I’ve tried to show you how this fic made me feel, the kinds of images and connections that it brought up in my mind. As I’ve said multiple times, the fic is very close to my heart, because of the way it hits on these issues – on hybridity, and magic, and people who are the gods in machines, and homecoming, and love that redeems us, and the image of the other that becomes the image of yourself, and the image of yourself that becomes the body of the other. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, but more than that: by mixing different scifi aesthetics, by mixing SGA with Lem’s novel (and so many other bits and pieces from all over) it’s also a beautiful piece of rewriting, a beautiful piece of hybrid writing. This is why I love fandom: this right here.