Word Count: 2736
Summary: War changes everyone.
Warnings: Character Death. Post Series.
Notes: This was supposed to be a quick fill on comment_fic for this prompt and evolved into this.
It was a beautiful thing, Richard thought, that Atlantis had risen and fallen with John Sheppard and Rodney McKay.
A year had passed since Atlantis had arrived on Earth, long days and equally long nights, until the IOA had finally caved beneath the weight of the expedition members and they headed to San Francisco.
The air in the city was thick with anticipation and joy; so many people were smiling, John was starting to think they'd pumped laughing gas into the life support system. They all were just so fucking happy, that not even Rodney's scientists dimmed from the onslaught of his demands.
“Tyrant,” John teased.
It was the night before the launch, only twelve hours between them and the start of their journey back to Pegasus, and everyone was down in the mess. How Rodney didn't hear the cheers and the loud, pumping music, John didn't know. Perhaps he was only ignoring it in favor of triple checking all systems; Zelenka's and Simpsons' death stares made John think it was the latter.
Rodney shot him a sour look.
Clearly it was time for someone to take a nice, long break.
John smirked at him and announced, “Radek, Kelly, go have some fun. You're done for the night,” before latching one hand over Rodney's mouth, “Now, now, it's time for all good scientists to have some food... and beer. Lots and lots of beer.”
The tongue against his fingers was only a mild annoyance, John flicking off Rodney's computer screen and frog-marching his best friend from the room. A quick thought closed it down until 0600 and the door lock clicked behind them which made Rodney's eyes practically bug out.
“You'll be fine for eight hours without a laptop, Rodney. In fact, I'm pretty sure we can come up with some very fun distractions if you start to hyperventilate over your temporary separation.”
If expressions could kill, Rodney's would have flayed John were he stood. He licked a curse into John's hand as it was, then haughtily sniffed at the air.
“Well, I was going to take my hand back, but if you're going to be a child...”
There was a shock of pain as Rodney bit down on the meat of John's middle finger.
“Ow! You bastard,” John growled, letting go and shoving Rodney hard on the shoulder. “You're an asshole, you know that?”
“That's rich coming from Mr. Childish right now.”
“Fine. See if I offer you a celebratory blowjob tomorrow.”
Rodney rolled his eyes, yanked John down another corridor and muttered, “Like you'd really resist—I've never met a man more cock hungry,” then practically threw John into his quarters.
“I just know what I like.”
“Yeah, yeah, bottom boy.”
John kicked off his partially laced boots, slung his jacket over the desk chair, and flopped back on the bed with a comfortable sigh; he crossed his hands behind his head and with a raised eyebrow asked, “So that's no to the party?”
“Hmm, a drunken party with people I could care less about or sex with my boyfriend who I've barely seen in the last four months? Terribly hard decision.”
The snicker made Rodney swat at John, who grabbed the hand and dragged Rodney down onto him.
“You have the humor of a twelve year old boy.”
“Aw, you love it.”
“I love you, you pain in the ass, and unfortunately that comes with you laughing at words like hard, stiff, and crabs.”
Another snicker. Another eye roll.
Then Rodney leaned down to pin John's wrists to the bed, kissing him hard and messy and fast, before asking, “So... skip the party?”
The trip was mostly uneventful. Except for the part where the hyperdrive blew and they were almost dead in the water, but that was kind of how things went for them and anyway, Rodney macgyvered around until they were able to limp back to New Lantea.
(“How many times do I have to mention leaves kissing water? Have you never seen a leaf touching onto water? Because I can draw a goddamn diagram if you need one!”
John grinned at the ceiling of the chair room: there was nothing that felt more like home than sitting in the chair while Rodney bitched at him over a radio. “Shut up and tell me how much power is left.”
“Like she didn't already tell you,” Rodney mumbled—and yes, Atlantis had already fed him all the stats he needed, yet he still needed to hear it from trusted lips—then said, “ZPM is 20%.”
“Aw, that's not bad. You and Zelenka will have that charged back up by morning.”
There was sputtering on the other end of the channel. Simpson was smirking behind her tablet and Radek was already cursing them all in Czech as he wandered toward the power room.)
It took a few days to get themselves situated, rosters and duty schedules confirmed or changed, and when the first mission took place, it felt like all the pieces were slotting together: John, Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla, dressed in their black tac gear while they vibrated with anticipation.
“Dial the gate, Chuck,” Woolsey ordered, clear in the sudden quiet of the gateroom.
“With pleasure, sir.”
The whoosh, John would remember, sounded like a benediction, and the wash of the puddle as it took him in, cleansing away his sins.
Euphoria flooded him as he stepped out onto New Athos.
It didn't last.
The fucking Vanir.
John should never have allowed them to run off, should have followed them to the end of the galaxy and back again like the cowards they were.
Anger surged in his veins, Kanaan's grisly corpse a permanent image in his mind.
Rodney had seen John angry, bitter, vengeful, and prepared to die. Sad, post-coital, depressed, happy, outraged, and drugged.
He had never seen John as ruthless though, or unforgiving.
But then, there wasn't anyone in Atlantis who hadn't lost their optimism, hadn't become harder and more vicious. Constant attacks, constantly losing their friends and partners, it was hard to hold onto such pretty things like ideals and hope.
Rodney's team had come through with an energy weapon, not completely unlike the ARG, that made it easier to shut down the Vanir's suits. Without them, they were merely Asgard and easily dispatched, and a game had been started by the Marines.
A score sheet on the community bulletin board kept tally of kills.
John was far in the lead, and Rodney cried in the shower every time the number crept forward. He kept his tears there, hidden by the water, and slid into bed each night knowing that John would cry his own into the sheets.
Carson had come home a few weeks after after New Athos, taking up station at Jennifer Keller's request as co-CMO, and five months on, he often wondered how Rodney kept John tamed: the slaughter of thousands across Pegasus had broken the man, left him feral and bitter.
“How's he today?” Beckett asked over lunch on a morose Tuesday.
The breeze crept in through the broken Mess hall window, the last gift of the Vanir, leaving Rodney and his team furiously working to fix the structural damage and shattered glass panels within the central tower.
“A little better. I think helping Jinto re-learn to walk is giving him something to focus on that isn't, you know, murder.” Rodney pushed the eggs around the tray. “How's Elizabeth?”
“Remarkably well for a woman who was ascended until ten days ago.”
“She, um, remember anything?”
Carson knew what Rodney really meant was Does she remember anything that can help us? God, how desperate they were for something, anything to help them fight back. He regretfully shook his head, “She barely remembers who and where she is.”
“You'll let me know if she does, though?”
Suppressing the sigh was almost instinctual these days; Carson muttered, “You should come visit her. She remembers you, Rodney, she asks about you.”
“I can't,” Rodney replied, and then, like so much spooked scientist, darted off.
Two years into the war, the Daedalus was headed back to Earth when the Vanir laid an ambush. Twelve of their small, powerful ships against the single vessel, and Caldwell had known how the battle would end before the first volley.
He'd beamed them all off with not a word; Marks and Novak each recounted how they'd been mid-preparation for reprisal when they realized they were standing on land while a tremendous explosion lit up the night sky.
Earth didn't send another ship nor ever would, offered to open the gate to bring the crew of the ship home, but no one took the offer.
So Atlantis grew by a complement of 64.
Novak took over the spot on AR-1 left vacant by Teyla stepping down from active duty—Jinto, Wex, and Torren had been the only three to survive the massacre, and all were in desperate need of a caregiver—and proved to be a dependable fighter. Rodney had been more than surprised by her accuracy with a knife as well as the VSSG.
Her count soon reached as high as John's and Rodney hated her a little for it.
Then, it was Marks who explained, over Ianiot liquor and Ruus wine, that Caldwell and Novak had been the latest in a long line of SGC members to ignore the frat regs.
He swirled a glass, looked down at the swish of it, and murmured, “He was her end of the line...”
And Rodney couldn't hate her.
Year six, a plague swept through Pegasus.
No one knew if it was a final bid by the last of the wraith queens or if the Vanir had decided to include biological warfare into their battle techniques, but it mattered little to the Atlanteans as they worked, fast and furious, to find a cure or at least a vaccine.
Carson and Jennifer slept in turns, Marie running the Infirmary while nurses ran circles around Atlantis: Medical, Botany, Science, and Engineering had all bound together to try to attack the nanovirus, but it was slow work and time was not on their side. EMPs weren't working against the tiny bastards and the course of the disease was a painful, gut-wrenching three weeks.
They lost Meghan Biro first, then Sora Tyrus, Megan Cooper, and Katie Brown in quick succession; Oliver Parrish and Chuck Campbell collapsed, but managed to rally long enough for John to capture and drag a small crew of Vanir back to the city.
Kicking and screaming as John ordered the suitless bastards into the room with Oliver and Chuck, the little bastards proved they'd been at the heart of the disease spread. They spit and screamed and called John a murderer, but he stood, stone-faced, outside of the isolation room, asking the same questions over and over until one of them broke.
“There is a code within the programming. It is a killswitch.”
John cocked his head to the side. “For the virus, right? Not the people?”
The Vanir looked uncomfortable at that.
“The nanites were programmed to survive at all costs, to ensure the death of the host. We cannot guarantee the host will survive the killswitch being activated.”
Disgusted, John turned to exit the infirmary; he needed to find Rodney, share what he'd learned. He ordered Lorne to leave their prisoners where they were, “Let them spend some time with the people they're killing.”
“Yes, sir,” Lorne snapped back, voice steady and respectful.
And John turned tail and made for the labs, desperate to hear Rodney's voice. He needed the comfort of his husband, the man who made him feel like he was still sane in this whole mess, and he needed it now, before he went back to the isolation room to line up the half-dozen Vanir and shoot them.
Radek was in the lab when he arrived, though, not Rodney. He looked worried and unsure, and he bit his lower lip when John arrived.
Immediately, John's hackles went up. “Hey, where's my egotistical other half?”
“He demanded I not tell you until you were done in the Infirmary.”
“Tell me what?”
Radek swallowed. “Rodney was exposed. He's isolating himself in the lower lab to work.”
It turned out that, with two of their number dead at their feet and brain matter splattered across them, the motivation to help stop the nanovirus increased tenfold.
(Rodney came home to a trembling John.
“I can't,” John muttered, pulling Rodney into a crushing hug; he buried his face into Rodney's neck, words dragging along his skin, “Please. Please don't let me lose you.”
And Rodney ran a hand along the back of John's neck, through the fringe of hair starting to turn gray, refusing to promise anything.)
The tenth year of the war dawned to a new Pegasus.
With the wraith having died out at last, the Atlanteans and the Vanir were stylized as Victors and Villains and people began to pick sides. Worlds hung flags to show their allegiance, ships were painted gold and aquamarine or black and silver; Ronon took to training new recruits with Lorne and Sheppard, vicious as he took each to the mat. Teyla gave no quarter with the bantos rods either.
Technology advanced, armies took rise over the militias of old.
The old paper, tattered and taped, on the bulletin board was taken down: it was no longer amusing to see the tally of John's kills. Had stopped being amusing around the time Laura Cadman took her little Traveler-made fighter plane into a Vanir base.
Rodney burned it on the South Pier with Elizabeth, both poignantly remembering the early days and a John who laughed and teased and smirked.
The ashes blew away into the chilly evening breeze, embers dying, and Rodney asked, “Remember when he shot me?”
“I'd say I couldn't ever forget that, but...”
Seriously, it'd taken six years and a fuck ton of therapy to coax her memories back and even then, Elizabeth question them regularly.
He wiped a hand over his eyes. “I miss that John sometimes. Stupid. Innocent.”
She smiled softly at him, sadly, and threw an arm over his shoulders. She told him, “Me too,” and looked out across the water.
They tried to invade Atlantis via Stargate on a Monday.
By Tuesday, a battalion of ships circled overhead.
Elizabeth froze when she saw them, her body so frightfully still that Carson had to touch her to reassure himself that she was still breathing. The touch ended up startling her into movement, and she started to cry.
“This is it.”
“What's it, love?”
“This is how it starts.” She looked between the ships and Carson, then back through the balcony door at the approaching John and Rodney. “Oh, God, Carson,” she choked out.
He wrapped her up in his arms. “Elizabeth.”
All things end.
Elizabeth was fond of saying that, like the sages of old, and John had always assumed she was holding out hope for peace in the galaxy.
He'd thought she was ignorantly optimistic, but he knew now that it was so much more.
The chair swirled and turned, stars over his head and the light of the sunset coloring the room in yellows and reds while Rodney dashed around the room. He felt the activation of the Stargate, the wistful longing of his people as they left Atlantis in the hands of the two who'd loved her the longest.
They'd spent another year fighting after the Vanir had besieged them, a time so eerily reminiscent of their first year John had felt deja vu with each glance at the bright golden spots of kamikaze fighters impacting the shield. Eventually the Vanir forces had dwindled: the Atlantean tactics had turned the tide of the war.
But as in all wars, the final surge came on the heels of their victory.
The Vanir had regrouped and returned, launching their final salvo of the war.
A klaxon came on, a whining, growly sound, and John felt the tears gather in his eyes.
This was it.
He called Rodney's name and pulled his husband down, into his lap. “I love you.”
And Rodney murmured, voice broken but not terrified, “I love you,” back as the first explosions rocked the city.
Also available on AO3.