The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. – Paul Valery
Teyla and Ronon met them at dawn. Rodney had been on the phone all last night and most of the morning before he'd fallen asleep beside John to rest for a few hours.
At dawn, Ronon handed him a bag of what amounted to all of John's worldly possessions. He had his own duffel slung over his shoulder and Teyla had a pack on her back.
John thought that maybe a part of him would always feel guilty for uprooting all of their lives. Ronon and Teyla and Evan, but especially Rodney.
When he confessed this, quietly into Rodney's neck as their alarm clock rang, Rodney told him he was being stupid.
Dawn was one of the few times of day when the sun was mostly visible. The smog tended to leave a path for the light to get through, just off the ground of the horizon. Purples and pinks and the darkest of oranges, the sunrise and sunset would have been beautiful if not for the fact that their beauty came from the toxicity of the air.
Somehow, Rodney had managed to secure them a van with his lab connections. There was room enough for a mattress in the back, and it load with supplies to last them a few weeks, if they rationed.
It was the best plan they could come up with, get out of the biosphere and escape into the acid-torn world. Just in case, they had hazmat suits, but inside the van they would be able to exist with a full tank of fresh air.
John wasn't a fan of running instead of fighting, but he'd done it before and now he would do it again. The thing was, even if he did have a chance against the Force and the Thieves' Guild, he couldn't risk anyone else getting hurt. Not like Ford did. Not like Holland had.
Rodney gave Evan directions, as the first one to drive, and then he hunkered down in the worn blankets strewn across the mattress and slept. John alternated between watching him and looking out from his seat on the mattress next to Rodney to watch the world outside the front windshield as it transformed from the sterilized domes they were all used to living in to a countryside of mud and dirt and thick smog just overhead.
Once, in a class on the apocalypse, John had read many of the stories of apocolyses and learned about the religions that preached them, back in the old days. He thought that if there were such a thing as an apocalypse, it wasn't like the big bang of fury that those religions depicted.
No, the apocalypse that had happened had been slow going, starting at the very birth of technology and gaining in speed and intensity until all that was left of habitable land were the man-made biodomes.
"Go to sleep, John," Evan said suddenly. Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. "They can't track us through smog this thick. They'll have no idea where we're going."
John nodded tightly, though some part of him wanted to argue, wanted to say it was too easy.
Then again, life wasn't all action scenes and hero moments. Life was a cat with patched fur and a missing leg, curled up on the mattress besides Rodney. Life was a cave somewhere with a fresh water spring and some persistent algae.
Life was a dream that Rodney dreamt and decided to make come true. And John would do everything in his power to see that reality. Rodney's reality.
The darkness made the scenery look more ominous, but then again the world outside could kill them all very easily. John wondered what it meant that he preferred to drive in the dark, with the truth, than in the murky light of day.
The headlights of the van pierced through the thick smog, illuminating the remains of an old highway. Beside him, Rodney too looked out his window. In the back, Teyla had curled up in Ronon's arms, and Evan slept on his back.
"I just don't know," Rodney said, referring to John's earlier question. Tauri was in his lap, sleeping. "It might not even be finished in my life time."
"I have faith," John said. "You are a genius, after all." He smirked in Rodney's direction, and Rodney rolled his eyes.
There was another moment of silence, and then Rodney sighed. "Do you even wonder if we're just dreaming?" he asked quietly. "That none of this is real and I'll wake up still in my penthouse with a conference call at eight o'clock in the morning."
John stayed silent, until the question tugging at him pulled too hard and he asked it. "Do you think I'm a dream?"
"Sometimes," Rodney admitted softly. "It was the first time I met you, after all, in a dream." He continued to stare out the window. "Sometimes I just wonder if I've gone mad."
"I'm real," John said, because that at least he knew. He took a hand off the wheel and threaded his fingers with Rodney's. "I don't know if you are."
"I think I am," Rodney said.
John laughed. "I don't know how this happened so fast," he said. "Maybe that's the problem."
Rodney's fingers tightened in his. "Bet you never expected this, huh?" His smile was crooked. "The first time you entered someone else's dream."
"Fuck, no," John shook his head, eyes still on the road, but his entire being occupied by Rodney. "I was trained to be a thief, Rodney. Even in the Force. That's what this… modification is, really. Just a way to steal what people can't control."
"You didn't choose it," Rodney stated, though John wasn't sure how he could be so sure. Didn't know why Rodney trusted him so much.
"I'm just…" John cleared his throat. "I'm sick of it, doing the wrong thing. At first, when I joined the Thieves' Guild… I'd kind of envisioned that ancient folktale. You know the one about Robin Hood?"
"The fox?" Rodney asked. "Oh, wait the thief of Sherwood Forest, yeah."
"Steal from the rich and give to the poor," John quoted. He glanced at Rodney. "But it was nothing like that. I'm sick of being the bad guy."
"Hey," Rodney protested. "You're not the bad guy. And neither are Teyla or Ronon, right? I mean, they're thieves aren't they?"
"Yeah, but-" John cut himself off, flushing.
"Exactly," Rodney said.
John thought of Teyla's half-hugs and jogging with Ronon and sparring with both of them and said honestly. "They became my family, when I'd lost the ones I'd had in the Force."
"Well, you regained one," Rodney said, fingers twitching.
"Evan is like my brother," John agreed and mentally cursed at the way that relaxed Rodney, as if Rodney had been worried.
"I don't have a family anymore," Rodney said. "I mean, I'm friends with Radek, I think. But… I stopped talking to my sister after she refused to modify Madison."
"Madison?" John prodded.
"My niece," Rodney murmured. "She has a citrus allergy, like I used to. I didn't think Jeannie would turn out to be a naturalist like our parents, but her husband…" he huffed.
"Hey," John said, squeezing Rodney's fingers. "I'm your family now, if you want."
Rodney looked at him and his eyes were bright, a contrast to the darkness surrounding them. "I do. So much."
John had to stop the van briefly so he could kiss Rodney, but it was worth it. Rodney was worth all of it.
When they finally stopped, they were outside of what looked like a self-contained biosphere.
"What is this?" Evan asked, looking just as confused as John felt.
"An acquaintance," Rodney stated. He directed Ronon to drive up to the entrance of the dome.
Ronon did, and the glass opened to let the van in and then closed behind them. The pocket they were in was suddenly aired out, funneling the smog back into the atmosphere, before they were allowed to proceed up the driveway to the cottage-like house.
John stepped out as soon as the van had stopped, staring. All around them were plants. Trees and flowers and ferns and, fuck, bugs. There was a beehive. A real live beehive.
"Rodney," John breathed.
Rodney grinned at him before knocking on the cottage door. It opened quickly, revealing a young man with short-cropped brown hair. "Rodney!" he greeted, pulling Rodney into a hug.
"Uh, Parrish," Rodney coughed.
"David," the man scolded. "It's gotta be David by now, shouldn't it?"
"Yeah," Rodney agreed. "David. These are the people I was telling you about. John Sheppard, Evan Lorne, Teyla, and Ronon."
"Come in!" David said, opening the door wide.
John glanced back to Tauri, who'd jumped out of the van and was now sniffing around. "Should I…"
"You can leave him," David said. "He won't cause any damage, will you, Tauri?"
Tauri didn't react to his name, just bounded off towards the nearest tree and began scratching it.
Rodney snorted and marched inside. After a moment, John followed.
Thirty minutes later, they all sat around the small coffee table drinking tea. Rodney had just finished explaining the situation to David, who apparently had been helping him on some of the more biological aspects and ecological implications of the Phoenix Device.
"Hmm," David hummed. His eyes flicked to Evan, who seemed to have a permanent blush on his face from the attention he'd been receiving from the skinny botanist their entire visit. "So you're heading to a secret undercover lab where you can all live happily ever after and finish the device of your dreams?"
"Something like that," Rodney gave a long suffering sigh. "So?"
"Sounds like fun," David said smartly, grinning. "I'll go pack."
"What?" Rodney asked once David had left the room and John had turned to stare at him. "I'm surrounded by your posse, I figured I might as well start bringing in my own."
John found himself laughing at that, quickly joined by Evan and Teyla and Ronon and, once he'd come to check on the source of the noise, David as well.
Soon enough, they all piled into the van and began the long trek west, to a coastal city of promise and the lab that Zelenka had secured for them. That would be their home for who knew how long, but with Rodney by his side John thought he could live anywhere.
Rodney ended up leaving Tauri behind to live with the other residents of the self-contained biosphere. A woman named Katie promised to take good care of him before packing them a lunch for the road and waving them off with a smile.
John could tell that Rodney was sad about saying goodbye to his cat. John drew a thumb over Rodney's his shoulder comfortingly and was glad when he allowed John to kiss on the nape of his neck.
It was comfortable between them, even with their constant company, in a way John had never had before. In some ways, it felt as though he'd always been waiting for Rodney.
But he'd never say that aloud.
"Look," Teyla said, her voice clear. At the wheel, Ronon grunted.
David peeked his head up from where he'd been sleeping against Evan's shoulder. Evan still was red in the cheeks, but he too glanced towards the front of the van. Rodney shifted, half in John's lap, and they both together turned their heads to see.
In front of them stretched the beginnings of the biosphere and beyond it the spires of the city of Atlantis.
Atlantis, one of the few cities left on the coast, nearly surrounded by water on all sides. Atlantis, where they would try to make their dreams come true.
Rodney turned back to John, his eyes sparkling and John returned his excited grin with one of his own.
The grass prickled their bare feet. John laughed, kissing Rodney on the cheek as he pulled his lover into his arms.
"I'm getting sunburned, John!" Rodney said. "Sunburned."
John laughed again and reached forward to rub at Rodney's red nose. "You are," he agreed.
"Don't do that," Rodney wrinkled his nose. "Ow."
John kissed it softly. "Better?"
Rodney's eyes darkened and he hummed. "Maybe." He paused, as if he had something different on his mind, and John smirked.
The wind whipped at them suddenly, tugging at their loose clothes. John lifted his face against it, grinning broadly. His arms broke out in goosebumps, but he barely noticed. Rodney's warm presence was by his side, anchoring him in the gust.
There was a pressure on his leg and John looked down to see Tauri wrap a tail around his calf. The cat blinked up at him, purring, before he pounced into the grass.
"My cat likes you more than he likes me," Rodney pouted.
"But I like you most," John stated, smiling.
"Well, in that case," Rodney rolled his eyes, but smiled as John pulled him even closer.
John stood still for a moment, marveling at the reflection of his own feelings in Rodney's sky-blue eyes. His lover, his lover, pressed harder against him, as if they could become one by just pushing against each other.
"I love you," Rodney stated suddenly. His eyes flashed and then lowered to half-mast. "I love you so much, John."
"You are the love of my life," John told him honestly… and because he and Rodney were always competitive.
Rodney rolled his eyes again, before leaning forward to kiss John's lips chastely. John followed him as he retreated back and deepened the kiss.
Around them, the short grass continued to grow, soaking in the light of the sun above them. In the distance, the sound of the ocean could be heard just slightly over the echo of their hearts.
It was more than perfect.
Whether or not John wakes up… well, that is up for you to decide.
And to dream.
Whatever you do, never stop dreaming. – Darren L. Johnson