.æ. (aesc) wrote in artword,

challenge 011: Where the Light Is by aesc and ohfreckle

Title: Where the Light Is (~5,700)
Author: aesc
Artist: ohfreckle
Challenge: 0011, Illustrative Typography
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG13/R
Spoilers: Set vaguely S5, but with references only up to 4.20 "The Last Man."
Note: Huge thanks to sheafrotherdon for betaing!

Where the Light Is


What he sees: The green-grey ceiling of the infirmary, panning down as the nurse adjusts his bed, the walls, the scanners ranged against them, Keller standing directly in front of him and studying readouts, Teyla and Ronon blurry on the left, Rodney close by him on his right, more clearly resolved, looking exhausted.

He tries to turn his head to look at Rodney, to tell him Hey, this is kinda sweet, McKay, people will talk, only the words stop dead at some broken bridge, he can hear them but not say them, oh god, his mouth isn't moving – won't, can't – he can't reach for the call button not an inch away from his right finger, can't reach for Rodney, who's reaching for him.


John wants to shout, hit something, but anger only broods – as it's always done – in a chest he registers as a dead weight, twining around the fear he can't push down anymore. He can't run from it, can't run or work it out; there's nowhere to go except his own mind, and John isn't scared enough for that. Worse, he can't register how angry he is, not even in the slow pattern of blink-and-pause he and Rodney have worked out, because if his right eye stays closed too long it screws up what he's trying to say.

-. --- / ... - .- ... .. ...

"She won't, John." He can only see the very edge of Rodney's profile, the prominence of his cheekbone, his ear, disordered hair that has the suggestion of mad scientist in it. "I've made her promise."

"I gave you a week, Rodney." He can't see Keller at all. Her voice comes from stage left, over where the scanner is. Mostly what he can see is the grey-green ceiling, and the red of frustration in the corner of his eyes. Sometimes, when he can make himself admit it, the blurring of tears; other times, the haze is the moisturizing drops the nurses put in, because he can't blink his left eye. "I gave you two after he came out of the coma, and I can't justify keeping him out of stasis much longer."

"Except for the fact that it might kill him if he goes in."

"That risk is negligible, compared to having him not stasis while you try to figure things out." Jennifer stalks across John's field of vision, left to right; she starts out as a blur, comes to focus in the parentheses of John's feet, moves up the right side of his bed to stand next to Rodney, who's looking down at John now. "There's no evidence to suggest post-chamber neurological damage to anyone who goes in with a neurological condition. I know you think medical doctors are the next thing to alchemists, Rodney, but please give me some credit for knowing what I'm talking about."

"Just because I don't accept your advice doesn't mean I don't give you credit,'" Rodney says. He hasn't shaved in a couple days, his chin darker and rough-looking; John blinks this at him, .-.. --- --- -.- / .-.. .. -.- . / .... . .-.. .-.. and Rodney snorts, rolls eyes gone bloodshot and determined, this from the man who... He trails off into sudden, festering silence, and god, the one time John wants to touch him and damn the consequences, he can't.

"I've told you not to touch things," Rodney tells him miserably.

"What'd he say?" Jennifer asks.

"No stasis," Rodney snaps. "Just... three more days. Now, go away."

Jennifer goes, but only after extracting a promise from Rodney that he would get three more days and no more, and then John goes into stasis and that's final.

"She's right," Rodney says after a reluctant moment. "You really... She's worried about infection. You were healthy before the... the machine, but suffering a massive brain stem stroke is never. Well, it's never a good thing. She'd be worried about an infection with Ronon, and he laughs in the face of flesh-eating bacteria."

This is the first time Rodney's pressed the issue, even a little. -. --- / ... - .- ... .. ... John blinks again, grateful for this one way to communicate and grateful for how it clears sudden, blurring moisture from his eyes, and how, out of all Atlantis, only Rodney knows what he says. Rodney's never asked why John doesn't want to go into stasis, why the mention of it makes even his paralyzed body seem to go tense; it would take too long to explain, even with lips and tongue instead of his right eyelid.


When Rodney goes to do sciency things, John goes to his music lesson. He started them a week ago, when Teyla had brought in his iPod and set it to the music she knew he liked best.

"Pull off there, yeah, yeah, boy, like that, right when you feel it hit you." Johnny nods. His fingers are old, and twist painfully over the strings of his guitar, but the tones they pull from it echo in John's bones the same way they did when he'd been a kid listening to his records, window open on a summer night. He wears black, like he'd wear anything else, a long duster that trails down off the high stool he sits on.

"You shot a man," Johnny says. He glances around the room, the stripped-down and soul-killing cinderblock of base housing. "Shot a lot of men."

"I didn't do it to watch them die, though." John remembers his fingers being fourteen and clumsy at first, learning when to be emphatic on the strings, when to go gently.

It's his old guitar, not the first one his dad had bought him despite believing he was indulging the passing interest of a mercurial nine-year-old; it's the second, bought when he was fourteen, a clunker of a thing picked up at a garage sale. The body is a woman's sweetly curved shape, shoulder and hip resting on his thighs; he remembers how the comparison used to make his thoughts go unmusical, though now after having been with Rodney for months it only sounds strange.

But the tone now isn't much like his cheap old guitar, but something more resonant, a guitar played in some great, echoing space. He sighs into it, fingers following the track of music up and down, and Johnny's voice weaving through the notes, telling him about the songs he'd written, his guitars, why all the black.

"What would you do if you were free?" Johnny asks, looking out the window onto Afghanistani desert. John follows his gaze out, tries not to think about gravity and the physics of being tied down.

"Move out over a little," John says, and smiles, and hooks his feet behind the rungs of the chair, curves his body over the guitar as though to shelter the notes he plays.


When he goes to sleep, Jennifer has to tape his left eyelid down because he can't close it all the way. He has a feeding tube and a catheter and sponge baths, and people to pick him up and move him around so he doesn't get bedsores, and a million other indignities he can't bring himself to think of.

He has the silent, deadening mass of his body, heavy as Everest and alien, and no amount of will or wanting can make his body move, or make it anything like him again, and every reason in the world to want to go into stasis. He'd still be frozen, suspended animation, but at least he wouldn't know it.

Except that he can't imagine it, the possibility of sleeping himself into death, or the irrational fear of being like Elizabeth, waking up to thousands of years gone by and too much change to count, everything being gone. John remembers coming out of stasis with Rodney's older, grief-lined face and the red light of a dead Atlantis and not knowing, helpless while years passed him by, and he'd rather see death coming than slip seamlessly into it.

Morse code can't contain all the reasons John can barely explain to himself, let alone explain through the code of dot-dash-dot he and Rodney have between them. So he doesn't even try to say why, and is grateful Rodney, for once, doesn't require an explanation.

T-minus two days ticks away to t-minus one, Rodney gone for most of it but coming back freshly shaved and looking worse than ever.

"Hey," Rodney says, flopping down in the chair pulled up at John's right side. It's where he can see the most, propped up in all his frozen awkwardness so he can see all of Rodney's worn, worn face in the infirmary lights and the fear which John should be used to seeing after four years, but not... not like this.

--. --- --- -.. / -. . .-- ... ..--..

"No... no, not yet." Rodney's hands slip under the rail and the pee-yellow bedcovers, faintest press of his fingers against John's that John thinks he possibly imagines because Rodney's hands, how they move over him, are so familiar. "But I... there will be. Radek and one of the biomedical engineers have found something in the database that looks promising; it might be able to regenerate the tissue that the machine damaged."

-- .. --. .... -

"I know it's impossible," Rodney admits, but the sudden, fierce glow in his eyes has John's heart break into a gallop, shuffled along a bit faster by the adrenaline of McKaysian brilliance. "Which is why I'm going to make it work."


Nancy shrugs her small, helpless shrug and says, "I'll take care of the paperwork; you just take care," and walks away. John glances at the calendar and realizes it's their third wedding anniversary; three years since the date, he thinks, although what followed in those three years probably didn't qualify as marriage. The knowledge doesn't bother him, because there's nothing to be bothered about, really; instead, he picks up his gear and heads out to the drive where he climbs into the cockpit of his X-Wing.

John has a good memory, not particularly useful for remembering birthdays and anniversaries, better at books and movies and random quotes, best for numbers and chess strategy and anything that the body needs to remember: pressure, gravity, kinetics, torque, friction and slide and arc.

His mind runs him along those first flights, the headrush and the blue sky opening up and up, and the widening darkness at the top of the world, nosing up into it and his instructor hollering murder in his ear and being deaf to it because there's still all of that up there. His palms don't sweat, his stomach stays cool and steady in the cradle of his gut because this is it, this is what he does, what something like destiny has meant for him to do.

So it's easy to step from his cockpit and out into space and laugh when gravity catches him and the earth spins madly and it's physics that has him, merciless, beautiful, he wishes he could tell Rodney and maybe he will some day, the taste of cold air in his mouth and the wind in his ears, and he can't die. It's a fantasy, so when he lands it isn't splat on a cornfield but with a soft thump of boots on the decking of Atlantis, as though the years and everything in them hadn't happened.

While Jennifer studies the latest round of scans and Ronon keeps the nurses away, John relives his first walk through the gate, the second, the fiftieth, endless homecomings, and the city closing around him with its low hum, I am here, I am here not the closing of prison walls or the reassertion of the earth, but something warm and foreign and unexpectedly needed, something John recognizes when Rodney looks at him and smiles or insults him, or does any one of the thousands of things he does.


"It's not going to work."

They're at T-minus twelve hours and despair. Teyla and Ronon stand close while Rodney paces; they're the only people John lets see him like this, other than Keller and two nurses.

"The pinky-grow machine didn't work," Ronon tells John, who blinks. It's the only way to communicate anything, from surprise to dismay to annoyance, to the mean curl of disappointment and anger at Rodney for failing.

"It did work, or does," Teyla corrects. Her hand on John's is thin, dark but still too pale. The rest of her seems thinned down to ghostliness; John wonders if she really is that way, or if maybe he's the one starting to go, his body fading to nothing, phantasmic as a severed limb. "But Radek said it would not be adequate to what is required of it."

"The…. the pinky-grow machine Radek and what's-her-name discovered was only intended to heal minor injuries; apparently, regrowing a pinky nail is about the extent of its powers." Rodney pauses, as though no words are strong enough to support the weight of the scorn he's loading on them. "Seeing as the Ancients all had a phobia about the physical body...." He trails off, and there it is, there it is, that look, the one that makes John's body want to come up off the mattress with shared excitement.

"Ascension!" Finger-snap, Rodney's body kinetic now, up and out and moving around and John wishes he could smile. "Of course... we still have the Ascension machine downstairs. You could be healed by supper tomorrow, which is good – great – I mean, because hello, you'd be walking again and annoying me from a vertical position, but it's Salisbury steak tomorrow night and you hate missing that…"

"He says no, McKay."

"What?" Rodney stops his headlong circling and stares at Ronon. "What did you say?" He pivots to look at John. "You were saying something about how no, you aren't going to let me save your life?"

John blinks twice, as hard as he can, medical-drama shorthand: once for yes, and twice for no.

"Is that a 'No, I'm not going to let you save my life,' or a 'No, I wasn't saying anything because even when completely paralyzed with enough time to reflect on my own stupidity I am still a moron with great hair'?"

For a moment, John thinks Rodney's going to leave without further argument, rushing off and bent on stupid genius heroism like before, when he'd wanted to kill himself because it meant Jeannie wouldn't die.

"I could," Rodney threatens. "I mean, what are you going to do? Come over here and stop me?"

.. -- .--. .-. --- ...- . / - .... . / .--. .. -. -.- -.-- -....- ..-. .. -..- .. -. --. / -- .- -.-. .... .. -. .

"I can't 'improve the pinky-fixing machine,'" Rodney barks. "Do you think a pinky nail and a bundle of neurons are practically identical in terms of complexity? Or that there's a dial on the side with a setting for repairing extremely complicated and intricate neural pathways? It is not a transmogrifier, Colonel."

"Rodney…." Teyla sighs.

Rodney goes stiff and muley, shoulders back and so much like the bitter, hostile man John used to be that it hurts, hurts to look at him. It's the Rodney who won't allow comfort, or listen to reason, or do anything that might bring him close again. It's been a long time since they've been like that, since before John told Rodney I can't and found his conscience an acceptable sacrifice.

..- ... . / - .... . / -- .- -.-. .... .. -. . / --- -. / -- .

"The machine that you initialized was designed as an Ascension device, too," Rodney whispers. He's distant, half-lost in the memories that are swamping John, blue sky, blue sky, where he tries to spend so many of his days. "There's no point in concentrating on your physical body if you can't move it or feel anything with it. But you can't meditate yourself to that level in ten hours, John. You can't, and I know you've made a career of the impossible, but take it from a person who's something of an expert when it comes to meditating and the aforesaid impossible, you can't do it."

John doesn't give Rodney the satisfaction of blinking. Rodney scowls.

"I know how it works now," Rodney continues, pacing his tight, controlled circle. Excitement and frustration play across a face John hasn't touched in far too long. "I know what to expect, and Jennifer knows what to do; she's read Carson's notes. It's not that I want to accelerate my mental and evolutionary development to the point where I either Ascend or die, although come to think of it, my brief return to the realms of the super-super-lightyears-beyond-his-time-genius could enable me to refine the calculations for the puddlejumper hyperdrives…" He pauses. "But anyway, we know how my development is going to progress and we know how to reverse it now. It's risk-free!"

There's no stopping him now, John knows, no stopping him because Ronon and Teyla look ready to go along with his madness, and because even if they weren't Rodney would have gone right through them and climbed over John's hospital bed on the way out, if he'd had to.

"Salisbury steak," Rodney reminds him as he turns to leave, but despite the confidence that pours off Rodney along with all that anxious energy, there's a bleakness that leaves John cold. He can’t move, can’t do anything except stare at the far wall and its arsenal of scanners as Keller darts by, her blond hair bright in the clinic lights, shouting for Rodney to come back.


More memories, jumbled up because John can't be bothered to keep them straight: attending his father's funeral in the uniform he'd worn to his own commissioning, explaining to his father, who's looking up at him from his casket, why he did what he did, and why he is what he is.

“I always liked Nancy,” his father says vaguely.

“I liked her too,” John tells him, “just… not that way.”

His father nods, and because this is John’s fantasy, closes his eyes and leaves it at that.

When he's done he plays more guitar by the pool and listens as evening comes on, the chirp of crickets and the nightingales and the ancient owl that lives in the barn. He lets Johnny sit in one of the deck chairs and listen while he plays "Ring of Fire" and imagines that there's a Ferris wheel behind the stable, where Virginia ends and the mainland on New Atlantis begins. The torches the Athosians use flicker to life; in the distance, out in one of the pastures there's the odd, atonal thrum of the music the Athosians love.

"Never played that sort of music before," Johnny says.

"It grows on you," John tells him. It's a prayer, like most Athosian music is.

He wanders out to it, leaving Johnny his guitar, a final check on Halling and the others before his thoughts circle back to Atlantis, the space and the people he calls home and family: Teyla in her room with her son, Ronon dancing a deadly dance with a partner only he sees, Jennifer, Radek, Lorne, the spires and the labs and the gateroom, the control chair, Rodney's quarters, Rodney.

"Hey," he says to Rodney's sleeping back, bends low to the warm space between Rodney's neck and shoulder, where there's calm and sleep and the low tension of Rodney's dreams.

"Nnnnf," Rodney murmurs, sighing but obedient when John nudges for him to move over. And it says something about Rodney, John supposes, that when the rest of his memories can merge and flicker and flow, and Earth can be the same as a water-covered planet and the stairs of his childhood home can lead him up impossible heights, Rodney doesn't go anywhere, and the weight of him, and the warmth and permanence John can hold – that doesn't disappear.


"Jennifer wants him to reconsider using the Ascension machine," Teyla says. She sits close by him, enough so John can smell the faint perfume of her incense. Everything about her leaps out into sharp relief, brought out by a brain that can only obsess on input instead of action: the small flaws in her skin, the exhaustion under her eyes, the bright, determined glow of her pregnancy dimmed. He wants to tell her he's sorry, he's taking her away from her son, how when he means family he means she's the one to look out for and be taken care of, her and Ronon and Rodney, not him.

"There are problems." Teyla takes his right hand in hers. "Resetting the device to save Rodney the first time has caused some... uncertainty as to whether or not it will work. Rodney is, of course, very confident." She smiles, gives John a moment to appreciate this, to imagine Rodney shouting at Jennifer and detailing all the reasons she's wrong.

"He's a stubborn jackass," Jennifer snarls. John hears her before he sees her; she stops in the left periphery of his vision, not much more than a blur. "The machine reset his DNA, but only approximately, as close as it could get given that it's ten thousand years old and didn't work properly to begin with." She draws an aggravated breath that John has learned to associate with people who try to tell Rodney why's he wrong and what he's doing is dangerous. "Its original intention was to extrapolate an evolutionary pathway specific to a certain DNA sequence, but it's an extrapolation only." She does something with his left IV; John can't see it, but he's pretty sure she's frowning.

She explains, even though John doesn't need it, mathematically basic and disastrous as it is. Small changes propagate through time, the butterfly in Rodney's DNA flapping its wings and instead of putting John's brain stem back together, Rodney turns into something out of Star Wars, or dies.

John wonders if Rodney's calling his bluff after all, because he knows, he knows, and John knows, he'd go into stasis way before Rodney gets to risk his life like this.

I can't, and there's no one to tell that to this time.

"I am sorry, John," Teyla says, sounding as close to helpless as Teyla ever gets, and the terror, kept reined in for two weeks, roars up, a heavy, choking weight when it crashes down on him, swamps breath and vision and no no no, calm the fuck down, he thinks. "Jennifer agreed to let him try, but only, I think, because he was stepping into the machine while she was... talking to him."

Of course, John thinks, and closes his right eye.

Teyla seems to sense what he wants and closes his left, her finger gentle on his eyelid.


They take him out to the balcony one last time, Ronon and Teyla. Ronon keeps the corridors clear and helps Zelenka with disabling the security cameras; John wants to tell him that they don't need to, Atlantis knows, cloaking him, hiding him from anyone who'd want to see Teyla pushing his wheelchair. It's the last time before stasis if this doesn't work; they'll know tomorrow if Rodney can fix John, or if he'll die.

Rodney comes with them, shrugging off Keller's threat of an escort. He's pale and drawn, chewing on a power bar, with more stuffed in his pockets for later. John isn't entirely sure he wants Rodney walking on his right side, with John unable to look away; he haunts the edges of John's vision, a reminder of what's happened, how far out of John's control Rodney is, or can be.

"It's working faster than before," is all Rodney says when Ronon asks him if he needs to be carried. "And shut up, I'm not like the bog corpse over there." He pauses. "But thank you for worrying," he adds, even though Ronon hasn't said anything.

"Wasn't worrying," Ronon grumbles.

"Of course you weren't," Rodney says, but he looks pleased.

-. --- - / .- / -... --- --. / -.-. --- .-. .--. ... . John blinks at Rodney, when he's sure Rodney's looking at him.

"Of course you're not," Rodney says roughly. "You're..." He looks forward again, just as the balcony doors swish open, the adjective hanging unspoken as always, but it's what's always been in Rodney's eyes whenever he looks down at John spread out naked underneath him.

John's in his black t-shirt and BDUs, an Athosian coverlet over his lap to defend against a fall chill and Jennifer's remarks as to their relative sanity. Autumn air and light, brush over his face; he wants to tip his head back into the warm-cool spill of it, but all he can do is let air and light fall over him the way it wants.

Teyla parks his wheelchair and moves to stand by his left shoulder; he can sense her more than see her, the calmness of her that sometimes pisses him off or unnerves him but calms him, too. Rodney and Ronon stay on his right, Ronon more solid than anything else, even the city behind them, more solid than the ghost-presence of John's body, than Rodney, who in John’s mind is halfway through the stratosphere.

"I'm not going to die, Sheppard," Rodney informs him. And Rodney's rewritten history because of him, John thinks, and Rod crossed universes without any guarantees, and yeah, no control over him at all, or the way John's thoughts go weird when Rodney's in danger, or absurdly happy about something, or even lying in bed passed out after a caffeine high dropped out from under him.

"Oh, for..." Rodney's mouth thins dangerously – "I'm not going to hit him Teyla, for god's sake – and he steps closer, kneels, and John tells his body come the fuck on, just fucking move please, move this time, just once. Rodney stares at him with an odd, bleak ferocity, an intentness that disassembles John and his thoughts and everything.

"Don't be stupid," Rodney whispers to him, bending close.

Rodney's mouth on his doesn't register clearly, only the knowledge of a kiss makes it what it is, makes John's right eye slip shut, makes his body remember what it is to thread his fingers through Rodney's hair, pull them close and close, the quickening thrum of electricity however innocent they start out.

But it's Rodney's palm on his cheek again, placed precisely the way it had been when John had first woken to this nightmare – that, that.


John doesn't sleep that night. He stares at the perimeter of the ceiling allowed to him, tries to will away the itch of the tape over his eyelid.

One bed away, Rodney sleeps heavily. John knows he's there but can't turn to see, can only count the seconds between light, snoring breath and wonder fearfully if the seconds draw out too long, if this one – no, this one – is the last, if tomorrow morning Teyla will help turn him over so he can see an empty bed.

He thinks about chasing butterflies as a kid, popping wheelies on his bike, kiting off to Stanford and then flight training, never motionless in his life except for once, when some guy in an orange fleece told him to sit still and think of where they are in the universe, and even then, he was moving. Now, forced to stillness, his mind wanders out over too many things, the oddest memories in a storehouse of forty years' making, bringing Rodney along with him to say, hey, look at this when he relives his old comic book collection, the last disastrous mission in Afghanistan, the night after his mother died, these other things that are a lot more important now.

Rodney breathes.


John wakes when it's still dark, annoyed with himself for drifting off when there'd been a watch to keep, aware suddenly of a difference he can't qualify right away: a stillness, no breath, no way to call out for Rodney.

No. He listens closely; no rustle of Rodney turning over in his sleep, no snore that Rodney would insist is a sign of sleep apnea. A quiet hum of voices comes from the distance, deliberately hushed so they don't wake the locked-in guy. John strains to make out the voices but they're too low, too far, and he can't turn his head to hone in on them. They could be saying anything, the nurses gossiping, Jennifer dictating her endless notes, arrangements for funerals.

"– Rodney?" a voice says. For a moment, John thinks it's his. "I knew this would – "

"No time." Keller's voice is light, carrying. "He's going – "

No no no. John can fill those blanks with so many things, none of them good, all having to do with death and stillness and stasis, him, Rodney.

"Shut the hell up and go away; you're freaking him out."

And that... that's Rodney.

"Hey," Rodney says, materializing at John's right side. John automatically tries to turn his head, but the ceiling stays the same, and so too does the frustration that filters through a relief that makes John dizzy despite lying down. Rodney leans over him, and this is it, this is it and he doesn't know whether to be relieved that this is almost over or angry at Rodney for doing what he's done, but all Rodney does is gently peel the tape from John's left eyelid. The world rolls open a little more, closes when the soft pad of Rodney's thumb smoothes away grit and suspicious dampness.

"There," Rodney says softly. Softly, and it's inconsiderate and boisterous Rodney talking like that, Rodney who's looking at him, and John remembers clearly enough, painfully enough, the quality of distance that had crept into him over the weeks of lying here, trapped inside himself with only blink-pause-blink to connect him to the world—no, to Rodney, who had become the world, somehow, when John wasn't looking.

His mind's laid out, John thinks uncomfortably, forty years of living and feeling and memory the only things really present to him anymore. Terror that he'll be stuck like this, or placed in stasis, and he couldn't explain that to Rodney before in the dot-dash-dot of their private language, but he can explain it now, and the weird gratitude mixed up with anger that Rodney had known John hadn't wanted him to do this.

"It's Salisbury steak night," Rodney says with determination, and slides one hand under John's neck, thumb careful in the small divot where spine flows into skull, almost where that machine had broken John into two, into body and mind, freezing one while the other has wandered circles through the sky and the past and the everywhere-but-here.

Rodney's eyes close, and it's warmth and a spreading haze, and a coming back to the hesitant curl of his fingers around Rodney's hand, the scrape of his heel on the mattress, a pressure lifted, light light light and flying.

"Hey," Rodney says. His voice shakes when he looks down to see where their fingers are twined together. "Do that again."

John does.


They gear up for a mission to M71-44A, a routine of nylon and gun oil and Rodney bitching about being dragged away from his actual important work to chase down rumors off-world. Like everyday the gate roars to life and pulses while it waits for them, and Rodney double-checks his life detector and Ronon checks his gun.

M71-44A is cool and dry and sunny, a replica of a fall in Virginia. The air has that clarity that pulls things out of the ordinary and into sharp relief, the individual strands of Teyla's hair, the rip of velcro when Rodney fishes for something in a pocket, Ronon's shadow across the grass. John pulls down his sunglasses and the sharpness fades, but he can still feel each faint drop of sweat on his forehead, the freshly-starched scratch of his shirt.

They pass an hour in walking before they get to the ruins and the obligatory mysterious power signature, but no natives come out of the stonework to tell them they're trespassing on sacred ground. It is, in fact, sacred ground, according to Teyla's decipherment of the carvings, an Ancient temple, "the stairway to heaven." This makes John snicker and Rodney roll his eyes, and requires explanation.

"Overrated," Rodney sniffs. "I bet you were one of those guys who shouted "Freebird!" too."

Even under the sun the temple doesn't warm up, a chill that crawls insidiously up John's neck and settles in clamminess on his scalp. Dust sharpens the air, unpleasant needles in John's nostrils and tickling the base of his lungs on each breath; Rodney mutters discontentedly about allergies. The main room, for all that it's airy and cathedral-like, has a weight that oppresses, that grows greater the closer they come to the end of a long aisle of columns. The columns that are still whole reach up and up into darkness, while at their feet, shattered ones hunch like broken teeth.

"The Mines of Moria," John says.

"As long as there aren't Orcs," Rodney mutters distractedly. "You know, I think this was a ceremonial hall." His voice fades in dismissal; this is something for the anthropologists and not something that requires any more of Rodney's invaluable time. "Some kind of ritual, the ritual of Separation."

"Sounds like amputation," Ronon says. The columns are among the few things that make Ronon look insignificant.

Rodney's hovering over a pedestal situated next to what looks like altar steps, transferring his scowl between it and his energy detector. John steps closer to get a better look at what has Rodney frowning, and possibly to tease him about it.

He steps closer, that's all, steps closer into white pain and falling and darkness, and waking to stillness and his body gone deathly silent, the only thing speaking the few inches where Rodney's palm lies against his face, the only thing that keeps him in the light.


.end notes: Inspired by Le scaphandre et le papillon by Jean-Dominique Bauby, with title from John Mayer's "Gravity". The Morse code does actually work; you can back-translate it here.

ps to newkidfan: could we get an artist tag added for Sanami? ♥ ♥
Tags: 011 - illustrative typography, art: wallpapers, artist: sanami276, author: aesc, fandom: stargate: atlantis, pairing: john/rodney

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