stillane: (Default)
[personal profile] stillane
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Spoilers: general Season 4 to date
Notes: Originally written for the Ancient History Challenge at [community profile] sga_flashfic. (It seems, however, that I wasn't quite clear on the posting scheme, so it's not over there anymore. Oops?) Title borrowed from Keats.
Summary: It's not long before the stories start.



They’re completely wrong at first.

Given prior experience, Rodney thinks they can be forgiven for that. The last time there were incorporeal Ancients wandering randomly through the city, it turned out to be whales. Really, how can one be expected to anticipate things like that?

Their (Rodney’s) first thought is that they are once again very screwed. They look for solar flares and hurricanes and Wraith on the horizon. Every sensor they have comes up clear. Rodney would be more relieved if he had any faith at all left in sensors or warning systems.

They search the Ancient database, but it’s like trying to google for the tune of a song. If they had lyrics, maybe, but ‘ghost’ doesn’t translate and ‘mysteriously appearing visions of dead people’ isn’t terribly successful, either.

On a hunch, Rodney checks dates. It wouldn’t be the first time their lives have been determined by cycles arcane and odd. The entry, when they sort out the translation, comes out to ‘Gallery of the Damned’. There’s not much by way of explanation, because as usual the Ancients didn’t need one and didn’t expect anyone else to either. Not for the last time, Rodney hates them a little bit.

With no context, he’s left with just the bare facts: the city is suddenly full of people who aren’t there, solid as life to the eye and faint as smoke otherwise. They’re on schedules, it seems, and every day, or every other day, or once a week, they loop through their appointed rounds. There’s no fanfare to their arrival, no mark of their departure.

There’s also no sound. It’s both extremely eerie and welcome. He thinks hearing one-sided scraps of conversation floating randomly through the halls would be the final straw.

The anthropologists are having a field day. It’s the kind of thing they’d probably have wet dreams about, if they weren’t all from the SGC, and if they hadn’t all been meeting phantom cultures in situ for years. The best hypothesis they’ve got going is that they’re the equivalent of family photographs. As a whole, they’re incredibly cheerful for the damned. He thinks maybe it’s a flaw in translation.

In the meantime, their invaders don’t seem to be doing any harm. If they’re drawing power from somewhere, it’s negligible at best. They don’t touch anything, don’t change anything in their environment, and so understanding them gets low priority from the hard sciences and top from the soft, and everyone goes about their daily business with a few extra shadows for company.




*******




It’s not long before the stories start. He supposes it’s a facet of humanity, locked into the daily humdrum of life and stuck with limited entertainment options. Even for them, where ‘humdrum’ equals ‘attempting to avoid painful, messy death on a semi-weekly basis’, the temptation is there.

It starts with the couple in the jumper bay.

If he’d spent any time at all contemplating Ancient courtship, it had always been in relation to certain female members of that group and their designs on a specific colonel. Outside of them, he’d pretty much consigned them all to the same corner of his mind as nuns and the extremely elderly.

The couple in the jumper bay, though… they are single-handedly disproving the idea that the Ancients were celibate. Their first appearance is in front of Zelenka, and he doesn’t stop blushing for days. After that, at 11 pm like clockwork they’re there, backed against one of the bay walls and going to town. Or so Rodney’s heard.

The embarrassment factor keeps people away for a full 10 seconds, and then they start psyching each other into it in small groups. For those less public-minded, there’re always the contraband security tapes. The city is suddenly full of the flushed and bright-eyed, and more often than not they’re splintering off into pairs.

Rodney’s not at all surprised by any of it. God knows otherwise most of them aren’t getting laid nearly as much as scifi tradition suggests. Sometimes, being an intergalactic explorer sucks.

Rodney himself stays the hell away. He’s got an image to maintain as head of his department, after all, and it’s simply not conducive to strong leadership to hang out in the Atlantis equivalent of a strip club.  He waits it out, and eventually, the novelty wears off. People stop coming to the show, evidently enjoying the paired activities more, and the jumpers are left in peace. Life goes on.

The stories stay, though. Rodney doesn’t even know how he knows about them. He can’t pinpoint any one time he first heard them, anyone whose feet he can lay this at. It might have been Marines chatting in the back of a jumper, or maybe someone at the table behind him in the cafeteria. Somewhere along the way, though, it seeps into his mind like gossip and rumor and fairytales always do.

They call them Romeo and Juliet. It doesn’t fit, he thinks, given that he’s seen photos and neither of them is a day under 35. There’s nothing innocent or courtly about them. The names stick, though.

Whatever anyone might say, Rodney doesn’t go to be a voyeur. He really does need to have a look at the jumper exit interface, and no, it can’t wait until morning. It’s been sticking, and he doesn’t like the thought of locked escape routes any more than John, who comes to him with the uneasy request that he take a look.

His timing is directly correlated to a break in his work schedule. Nothing more. He honestly forgets, sometimes; he still catches himself waving to the old man who waves at someone who isn’t him outside his quarters in the morning.

He’s deep in a Gordian knot of wires and relays, crystal laid out at his feet in precise, shining rays, when he catches a flash at the edge of his vision. He’s expecting John checking his progress, or Radek coming to help. He’s not expecting them.

Just a handful of feet away from him, ten thousand years vanishes. They’re wearing standard issue Ancient military gear, looking like they might’ve just stepped off the Aurora. He’s tall and broad, the same strapping ideal that most of them seem to conform to. Her head comes to his chin, and her long, dark hair is pulled back to show a delicate curve of throat. They’re both disturbingly beautiful.

They’re standing less than a foot apart and not moving, just staring at each other, and that same serious, serene mask Rodney’s come to expect from Ancients in general is on both of them.

And then she reaches slowly to his face and traces fingertips over the grey at his temple, and he closes his eyes and turns into her palm, and Rodney sees exactly why they’ve earned their names.

Romeo takes her hand in both of his and turns it over. He presses his lips to each knuckle, to the center of its back, turns it over again and kisses her wrist. He’s stopped by the hem of her jacket sleeve, and their eyes lock as she pulls back to slip it off.

Her hands slide under the collar of his coat and push it carefully down over his shoulders, and then at the last moment she tilts her head back and nips at the point of his chin. When he grins and pulls her against him, there are laugh lines around his eyes.

They lean against the wall and it’s all a careful choreography of touch, a language of here and yes that they’re both fluent in. The closest they get to bare skin is the slip of his fingers under her shirt hem, just a trailing of their backs over her belly, and the press of her palm to the center of his back. It’s quite possibly the most sensual thing Rodney’s ever seen.

Suddenly they both freeze and look up, very clearly hearing something in the silence. Neither of them moves for a long while, but the peace melts from their expressions. Finally, they look at each other and he sighs. She bumps her forehead against his chest and wraps her fingers in the hem of his shirt, and he strokes her neck.

For the first time, Rodney realizes how weary they are.

A moment later she draws away and picks up her jacket, hands him his, and straightens. He reaches out and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and she gives him one last faint smile, and then they walk through the bay doors and out of existence.

When the silence finally seeps in, Rodney finishes his repairs and cycles through alternatives for ‘damned’. Eventually, he goes to his quarters and doesn’t sleep.




*******




He finds them in his lab, of all places. For the first time, he wonders what the room used to be.

One moment he’s contemplating simulations for circuitry improvement and how to beat Sheppard’s latest chess innovation, staring into empty space, and the next his space isn’t so empty.

He can’t look away. This shouldn’t hit him so hard. He knows there’s no difference, logically he knows that, but it doesn’t help, and he can’t look away.

She’s young, maybe early twenties – Rodney’s never been good at this – and pretty. She’d be almost plain, if it weren’t for the way she smiles, the way her eyes almost disappear when she laughs. Her clothing is simple, a dress that looks comfortable and soft, not meant to impress anyone. The sun comes in through the window she’s sitting next to and turns the wisps of hair trailing out from her careful style into little golden rebellions.

What keeps him rooted to the spot, though, is the baby in her arms. It’s round and happy and laughing. It waves one tiny, tight fist in the air, and leaves the other wrapped in the woman’s sleeve as she wrinkles her nose and strokes under its chin. The baby laughs harder, and something in Rodney screams don’t watch this, don’t.

They’re so terribly alive.

He’s been there long enough for his feet to ache from standing in place when the sound of footsteps behind him registers. Lunch, he realizes distantly, and probably Sheppard coming to haul him away.

John likes kids, he knows. Really, desperately, awkwardly likes them. Probably wants them, someday, and that’s what finally snaps Rodney out of himself, makes him get moving to block John’s view. He only makes three steps and four words of babble before he knows he hasn’t been fast enough.

John just stands there, eyes tracking over the baby, over the woman. There’s nothing at all on his face. Rodney feels that like a kick to the chest.

After a minute, John turns and starts to leave, voice perfectly normal as he tempts Rodney away with the promise of fishsticks and coffee, and Rodney slips into stride next to him and doesn’t call him on it.

Neither of them look back.




*******




On the ninth Wednesday since it all began, John comes to him in his quarters.

“Shut it down,” he says, and it’s the tight fury around his eyes that makes Rodney say, unthinkingly, “Okay.”

He understands later, when he hears about Samantha Carter sending a team through the gate, Elizabeth beside her.




*******




It doesn’t make sense. Once they turn their full attention to figuring out the system, it becomes abundantly clear that it makes no sense at all.

Their visitors are memories. That much isn’t a surprise.

Whose memories they are is.

It shouldn’t come as a shock, not after all this time. They’ve met space vampires and alien whales and people made of fog. They’ve seen worlds end and begin, life start fresh and fade out. They’ve had an Ancient living in their midst for years and never known it. This is nothing, in comparison.

And yet.

It’s a program. Just a simple, clever few lines of code. Their ghosts are footage edited down into condensed, fever-bright glimpses. Someone chooses a moment to store and the moment stays, a blend of recall and observation. Moving photographs, exactly like the anthropologists thought.

Except, when they trace the system back to its storage files, they don’t stop. There’s a gap in them, yes, but then the files begin again. There should be no one to save them, no one to understand them, but there they are.

Somewhere in that list of files is Elizabeth. Somewhere, Carson. Peter, Kate, Markham, Gaul. Maybe all of them.

Rodney can’t see how it picks and chooses, but it does. Somehow, it knows which moments are the right ones, and it keeps them.

The city keeps them all.




*******



It’s ridiculously easy, in the end. They just reset the cycle.

Flick of a switch and they’re all gone again for another hundred or thousand or ten thousand years.

The files, though, are still there. When Rodney checks, there are always more of them.




*******




Inanely, what sticks in his head is the old man outside his door. He doesn’t do anything, really. He just waves. That’s his moment, the point in time that defines him, and Rodney wonders what that means. Wonders who he was waving at, that it meant that much.

He thinks about it all the way back to his quarters one night. He thinks about it all the way through brushing his teeth and stripping his clothes off and sliding between cool sheets. He thinks about it as he dresses again and walks down the corridor and stops at John’s door.

He’s still thinking about it when John answers, and then he’s stepping inside and brushing his fingers over the faint trace of grey at John’s temple, and he’s not thinking anymore.

John’s eyes go wide and then slip shut. His breath catches and stutters against Rodney’s wrist, and then he steps forward until Rodney can feel the rise and fall of John’s chest against his own.

“I’d wave to you,” Rodney says, sounding stunned to his own ears, and even though it’s not what he means to say, John must hear the right words. He lays his hands on either side of Rodney’s face and pulls him in, lays his lips against Rodney’s and kisses him careful and slow.

And Rodney thinks yes and this, and nothing else.




*******




Somewhere else, there’s probably a version of him watching a gateroom fill with ocean. He’s probably the picture of heroism, futile though it may be. He’s steady and brilliant and strong in the face of death. He’s alone.

Then is not now. There is not here.

In a thousand thousand years, he thinks maybe there won’t be a Rodney McKay for anyone to see. There won’t be a him hunched over a console, not one walking through the gate, not one frantically collapsing the universe into variables and if/thens to keep them all alive for another day.

He thinks, as he closes his eyes and gives in to the feel of John’s teeth over his collarbone, of John’s shoulders under his palms, that if he’s very lucky, there might be one right here.

He thinks maybe he got the better end of the deal.





Page 1 of 3 << [1] [2] [3] >>

Date: 2008-02-17 09:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mecurtin.livejournal.com
This is incredibly beautiful. Thank you.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:47 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thanks so much! Glad you liked it.

Date: 2008-02-17 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] burkesl17.livejournal.com
That was utterly perfect, right down to the truly wonderful ending.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:48 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it.

man, there's a lump in my throat.

Date: 2008-02-17 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kormantic.livejournal.com
This was so lovely, and just soaked in subtle heartbreak.

Re: man, there's a lump in my throat.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:55 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! *carefully mops up heartbreak*

Date: 2008-02-17 09:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adler1013.livejournal.com
Oh, wow. This really touched me--it's melancholy, but with enough hope mixed in to make me want to go hug somebody.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:57 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! Just in case you didn't find somebody, *hug*

Date: 2008-02-17 10:08 pm (UTC)
aurora: (SGA JohnRodneyAtlantis)
From: [personal profile] aurora
This was absolutely gorgeous.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:58 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you, m'dear.

Date: 2008-02-17 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shaenie.livejournal.com
This is gorgeous and sad and hopeful all at the same time. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

Date: 2008-02-18 12:59 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for reading!

Date: 2008-02-17 10:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ignipes.livejournal.com
This is so beautiful and lovely. Fantastic.

Date: 2008-02-18 01:00 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you. :)

Date: 2008-02-17 10:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mellyna.livejournal.com
Wow, beautiful and moving. Thanks for sharing.

Date: 2008-02-18 01:00 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you for reading!

Date: 2008-02-17 11:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirabile-dictu.livejournal.com
Just lovely and so touching. Thank you.

Date: 2008-02-18 01:01 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm so glad you liked it.

Date: 2008-02-17 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unamaga.livejournal.com
oh. oh, that is beautiful. thank you. <3

Date: 2008-02-18 01:03 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! :)

Also, icon of Sheppard hair! I never get tired of Sheppard hair.

Date: 2008-02-17 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kalikahuntress.livejournal.com
Truly gorgeous, thanks for sharing:)

Date: 2008-02-18 01:03 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you for reading! :)

Date: 2008-02-18 12:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stillthestars.livejournal.com
Wonderful concept, gorgeous execution ♥♥

Date: 2008-02-18 01:04 am (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you!
(deleted comment)

Date: 2008-02-18 09:41 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2008-02-18 02:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lilyfarfalla.livejournal.com
What a lovely, interesting story. Rodney's sense of wrongness at watching these moments, the sense of melancholy that it brings is a little heart breaking. And yet, the joy that Atlantis feels in her people, that the city is recording these moments...it seems so hopeful and celebratory an act. Just, the idea that a wave could be so important--I love that, and Rodney's reaction is perfect.

And, oh, that last section...it's really beautiful writing. An interesting mix of Rodney's voice and a narration of pictures in his head, and it evokes such distinct images and feelings...anyways, I really like it!

Date: 2008-02-18 10:01 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Rodney's sense of wrongness at watching these moments

Yes! I'm so glad that came through. The idea of Atlantis being a city full of ghosts has always fascinated me, and it was so neat to get to play with that. On the one hand, they're representations of people that are long beyond caring, just glimpses of the past like any photograph. On the other, the very fact that they're moving adds another dimension to them and makes them more immediate. They're real in a way that it's hard to get distance from.

And yet, the joy that Atlantis feels in her people, that the city is recording these moments...it seems so hopeful and celebratory an act.

In my head, Rodney's exactly right. 'Damned' really is a bad translation; it should be something more like 'lost', or simply 'gone'. Atlantis, if she really were more than metal and glass, would be essentially immortal. At some point, memory would become the one thing that she could keep, and therefore more precious than just about anything. I imagine her trying very hard to get it right, to make sure that the very best of what she cares for will last. You're completely right; I think it's very much about joy, and about love.

Just, the idea that a wave could be so important

The funny thing is, the old man was just supposed to be a throw-away line, and then I couldn't stop wondering what he was doing there. And then, of course, neither could Rodney. *g*

Thanks again for reading, and for leaving such lovely feedback.

After Thousand Aves Told - story

Date: 2008-02-18 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maxinemayer.livejournal.com
What a wonderful story! Beautiful and moving! Thank you for sharing.
Love, max

Re: After Thousand Aves Told - story

Date: 2008-02-18 10:02 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for reading! Glad you liked it. :)

Date: 2008-02-18 03:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hebrew-hernia.livejournal.com
Found this through a rec by [livejournal.com profile] ignipes. This gave me goosebumps. It's beautiful beyond words-- like the scenes you've described. Thank you for giving this to us.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:18 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Oh, wow. Thank you for enjoying it so much.

Date: 2008-02-18 04:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] omglawdork.livejournal.com
Beautiful. I loved seeing what's been lost and remembered and how it affects people. Really lovely.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:23 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you so much!

Date: 2008-02-18 04:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 20thcenturyvole.livejournal.com
Oh, this was stunning, and kind of terrifyingly intimate. Beautiful work.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:25 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you. I, um, might have gotten a little obsessed with everyone in this. Like, they all have backstories, even. It's possible I'm slightly too attached to the dead people. *sigh*

Date: 2008-02-18 06:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bluebrocade.livejournal.com
Fascinating story. Such an interesting, original idea!

Date: 2008-02-18 10:25 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it!

Date: 2008-02-18 07:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chaps1870.livejournal.com
Brillant.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:25 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2008-02-18 07:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hieronymousmosh.livejournal.com
Oh, oh wow. That was just gorgeous, I loved it.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:26 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thanks so much!

Date: 2008-02-18 07:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gaffsie.livejournal.com
Oh, this was lovely. Melancholy and hopeful at once.

Date: 2008-02-18 10:26 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you so much!

Date: 2008-02-18 08:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bluedrgn52.livejournal.com
What a beautiful fic. Lovely, sad, but the perfect ending. *sniffs just a little*

Date: 2008-02-18 10:26 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
*hands over tissue* Thank you!

Date: 2008-02-18 12:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jessebee.livejournal.com
I have no words that have not been used before, I'm afraid, by commentors before me, nothing new and clever. So I'll just say that this is utterly, startlingly beautiful, in a way that I rarely ever find prose-heavy stories to be. My throat tightened up there at the end. *applaudes you*

Date: 2008-02-18 10:32 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
I can only answer with my own much-used but no less heartfelt phrase: thank you so much, both for reading and taking the time to leave such kind feedback. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it, and that it hit on something that worked for you.

(Additionally, however, your icon cracked me up. That's a syndrome I'm painfully familiar with. *eyes book stacks*)

Date: 2008-02-18 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gnine.livejournal.com
That was haunting and beautiful and just, ohhhhh. Loved it!

Date: 2008-02-18 10:33 pm (UTC)
ext_1740: (Default)
From: [identity profile] stillane.livejournal.com
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. :)
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