Title: Sins of the Flesh
Summary: The Ancients are not gods. 'Higher' does not necessarily refer to morality.
AN: Season 1, epilogue for "Sanctuary"; written for the 7 deadly sins challenge on sgaflashfic
He's operating on autopilot and not quite sure how he managed to land the Jumper, let alone fly it home.
He nearly trips as he steps from the ramp, thinking only that he needs to get somewhere and lie down. But there's a slight hitch in that plan. Rodney McKay stands just inside the Jumper bay doors, arms crossed firmly over his chest. "Did you have a nice date?"
John tries to shrug off the snide tone and brushes past him. Unfortunately he miscalculates the distance and clips his shoulder on his way through. He stumbles, gasping in surprise.
He doesn't respond, intent on nothing more than getting away. But the new pain is intruding on the numbness he had been enjoying.
He tries to keep walking, which turns out to be a mistake. His vision darkens around the edges and his balance is suddenly non-existent. The collision with the floor actually hurts even more than he was expecting.
Then he's vaguely aware of McKay crouching over him, yelling into his radio as an all-too-familiar look of panic crosses his eyes.
"Physically, other than a few bruises, you seem to be fine. Can you tell me what happened?"
John stares up at Carson. "I don't really remember it all, Doc."
"You fainted," McKay puts in helpfully from the end of his bed. "If he's so fine, why did he faint?"
Carson ignores him, intent on his patient. "I can't find anything physically wrong with you. How are you feeling now?"
Sheppard shrugs. "Tired," he admits. "No pain or anything."
"Why don't you tell me what you do remember?"
He hesitates a moment. "She said she wanted to 'share' with me."
"Well, I don't need to hear this," Rodney declares, sounding annoyed and disgusted, and yet he doesn't move away.
John swallows, and lets his eyes slide closed. "She held onto me and did a glowy thing—took me with her."
"She ascended you?"
John frowns, not sure that sentence makes sense, and not sure that he knows exactly what it means. "Not completely—I don't think. I don't really know. I know I wasn't really aware of my physical body." He pauses to lick dry lips and furrow his brow in thought. "I think she wanted me to stay with her. She let me see what it would be like."
Rodney frowns, crossing his arms tightly again. Carson just purses his lips in thought. "So what was it like?"
He struggles for the right words, not sure they exist. In the end he says, "It was like the normal, physical boundaries between people just ceased to exist. There was no touch, really, it was just like she was in me. I could feel her presence, moving in and out, swirling around me…"
Rodney snorts. "Ancient sex. Thank you for the colorful description, Major."
John ignores him as best he can and addresses Carson. "That's all I remember."
"That's it? Nothing after that, nothing about flying the Jumper back? Nothing about those bruises?"
With a bit of effort he shrugs away his discomfort and responds lightly, "Nope. If I'm all right, can I go?"
But Carson is still eying him warily. "You said you were tired. You rest here, where I can keep an eye on you. You can go when you wake."
He huffs his acquiescence and lies back in defeat, glaring at the two men until they move to leave him alone.
It was true, what he'd said to Carson. At that point he couldn't remember. It came back to him later, in pieces.
The initial rush was like nothing he'd felt before. His description may have made McKay cringe, but it wasn't dirty or overtly sexual. It felt pure. It was a connection on a level he'd never felt with another person.
It was tentative, but he could sense her emotions. They were separate from his own, a gentle knock on his consciousness that let him feel her happiness at having him there as well as a bit of anxiousness about sharing with him. It was endearing, and he relaxed, trying to help with the connection.
She began to lead him through some of her memories.
He saw long years of a peaceful existence, watching over healthy and happy people. He sensed her security with the knowledge that she could protect them and keep them safe. Meanwhile she had led a relaxed, easy life, seeing them on occasion but otherwise resting in the beauty and seclusion of her sanctuary.
He couldn't see it, but he could sense her smiling as he marveled at her world. It did seem like a rather nice way to exist.
Atlantis seems even brighter than normal, more alive somehow. It responds to him as quickly as he can formulate the thoughts, making Rodney frown at him in annoyance and doing nothing to mend their slightly tattered friendship.
And he isn't helping. But it's not just Rodney. He's having weird reactions to everyone. He has an odd desire to be around them constantly, to spend as much time with them as possible. But at the same time, he can't relax with anyone. He feels uncomfortable in close proximity. It's an odd feeling, kind of like mistrust, but even with the people he trusts with his life.
He also can't sleep. When he starts to drift off is when he remembers what it felt like, surrounded by Chaya's glow, and when he pushes to remember other bits and pieces.
He takes comfort in the city and its responses to him, and he feels like he belongs.
As she led him through some of her memories, she let him see their picnic on the balcony. He got a taste of her reaction to the food. He thought he had some favorite foods that he really liked, but he'd never experienced anything like this. Every taste came alive for her, pulsating and unique. She reveled in each bite, experiencing it to the fullest.
But he remembered her speaking to Weir about her people growing what they needed, and anything beyond that being gluttony. And she didn't need to eat at all.
But she did love to, nevertheless, and took great pleasure from it. It was a very mortal desire.
She was a walking contradiction. And that made him a little uneasy.
"Well, Captain Kirk over here seems to have lost his mojo."
John doesn't have the energy for this. "McKay," he growls warningly.
"Oh, please. I can't think of a better way to put it."
Elizabeth is trying hard not to look amused, despite the shallow stab wound that's put John's shoulder in a sling. He's finding that a little grating. "We had a simple misunderstanding about native culture."
McKay is looking far too smug as he adds, "It had a little something to do with the Chief Priestess and her daughter."
Elizabeth takes the implication. "Major Sheppard, honestly…"
He thinks he ought to be more offended by that. "I was a perfect gentleman."
"He hardly gave them any attention at all, Ma'am," Ford pipes up, and John kind of wishes he wouldn't try to help.
"Then what was the problem?"
"That was. Turned out it was an insult not to compliment the ladies'…er…assets."
Now Ford's trying not to snicker, and Elizabeth's not looking quite as amused.
McKay takes up the charge. "In short, he nearly got us shish-ka-bobbed because he was not paying attention to the women." At Elizabeth's raised eyebrows he adds, "I know. It's like the twilight zone."
John is flat out glaring at his scientist now. "He's conveniently skipping the part that made them actually go for the spears."
"Hey, someone had to take up the slack."
Elizabeth puts a hand to her forehead. She's gazing at the smooth table top as if she's convincing herself not to bang her head in frustration.
John glances at his own patch of table longingly.
But no, no. That would be unprofessional.
Banging McKay's head into it probably would be, as well.
They didn't speak aloud during the sharing, but they were able to formulate understandable thoughts to convey to each other.
She eased out of her memories and let him have a moment to just revel in the feel of the connection before she asked, 'Show me your world?'
It seemed like a question, at least, but his memories were off and running before he'd really decided to answer affirmatively.
Earth might have its high points, but John's life had never been a parade of the positive. He tried to steer his thoughts to bright moments, but they kept veering back to the people. People he'd been close to before Atlantis; people he'd barely known, but felt responsible for; people he'd eventually lost.
It was the first moment when the sensation of the encounter itself was unpleasant, though he couldn't really explain why.
She pulled away, apparently sensing his discomfort. He received a blanketing feeling of sympathy and comfort.
Then she showed him her people. She went back many generations, through their unnaturally long lives, until she was remembering the ones she had known when she was still mortal.
Intermingled there he got a brief flash of the Atlantis expedition—of his friends now. He felt a protective rush, and she joined it with her own, making the feeling more powerful than anything he'd ever experienced.
Then she showed him how she protected them.
He could practically feel the power coursing through his own veins.
These people were hers, and no one was going to tell her she couldn't protect them. She'd decided to screw the rules, because she was sure she knew best. And in the end, she felt she had made the right choice for them.
This was not an unfamiliar concept to him.
It was simply the method that was new—stronger, enticing for the assurance of success.
He's sitting on a balcony well off the beaten path, watching the waves, when Carson finds him.
"Major. You were supposed to let me check that wound today."
"Sorry, Doc," he drawls lazily.
"Yes, you seem very repentant." Carson settles beside him, the first aid kit coming to rest within easy reach. "May I?"
He shrugs his good shoulder. "Why not? You came all this way."
Carson gives him a measuring look but says nothing until he's divested John of his sling, shirt, and bandage and is prodding at the wound. "Is everything all right?"
He does his little half-shrug again, pretending it doesn't hurt. "Sure. Why?"
"You've just seemed a bit off lately. You know that anything you tell me is privileged if you wish it to be."
John hesitates, then admits, "I guess I'm still feeling a little rundown."
"From your encounter with Chaya?"
"I wouldn't say from that, necessarily."
Carson is silent as he rewraps the shoulder. When he's finished he looks at him long and hard. "As your doctor, I need to be able to treat you. As your friend, I would hope you'd trust me enough to let me."
John looks away. "I still don't remember everything."
"Is that what's bothering you?"
Is it? His gaze wanders back to the water as he contemplates the question.
Finally he looks back to Carson. "No. I think I'm just coming down with a cold or something."
'You see, John? We are not so different.'
'Not at heart, maybe. But there is the little matter of you turning into pure energy.'
He sensed her rueful smile despite that he had no sense of her physical body. 'There is that. There is also that I am alone up here.'
He tried to offer her a smile of his own. 'I wouldn't mind visiting.'
'Wouldn't your friends miss you?'
'Sure. But I think they can do without me for a bit every now and then.'
Abruptly he glimpsed another memory: Chaya as a mortal child, playing with friends.
She stopped the scene as quickly as it had started, cutting it off from him, but not quickly enough to make him miss the ache she felt for it. He was beginning to realize just how much she missed her mortal life.
She wouldn't give up ascension; she appreciated the power and knowledge too much for that. But she had a serious longing for all the trappings that only came with mortality.
She wanted it all. And he had a strange sense that, in him, she was finding what she wanted. After all these years, she was going after it.
Teyla is kicking his ass in their training session, which in itself is not that unusual. But she's doing it much more thoroughly than normal.
He's exhausted and his movements are uncoordinated. He can't seem to gain the upper hand for even a moment and as such is constantly on the defensive.
And she's far too good on a normal day. He finds himself backing off the mat, losing his own weapons one after the other. And then he's on his knees fighting for balance, his back against the wall, Teyla's sticks crossed at his throat.
They aren't actually even touching him, but he can't breathe.
He freezes, then panics in a decidedly un-Majorly fashion. She senses something and backs off, though he'll never admit that's the only reason he was able to knock the sticks away and lurch to his feet. He stands braced against the wall, sucking in oxygen like a drowning man and fighting sudden spots in his vision.
"Major Sheppard? Is something wrong?"
Her voice is brimming with concern, but he's tired of that question.
He's even more tired of these unexpected and inexplicable responses, and he'd like them to stop now.
More affecting than her hunger and her desire for companionship was the glimpse he soon got of her desire for him.
And everything he'd said about it not being sexual went out the window when he remembered this part.
It was truly like there were no boundaries between them, like she was a literal part of him. Her desire coursed through him and compounded his own, culminating in a feeling of ecstasy unlike anything he'd ever felt on the mortal plane.
He got the niggling sense that he shouldn't be indulging in this. But she was a beautiful woman, and this was a level of seduction most men could only dream about. He was only human, after all.
But she pulled back after a mere moment. She was denying herself because he wasn't hers to keep.
Not yet anyway.
Her presence drew closer again, maintaining a distance that kept it from feeling like physical intimacy. 'I could never help your people. But you…perhaps you could do more than visit.'
He tried to pull himself back to stable ground, trying to comprehend what she was intimating. It wasn't easy.
'You could be one of us; I could show you how.'
He was startled at the suggestion, for he somehow hadn't seen it coming. She wanted him to ascend?
'Stay with me, John.'
The idea was almost too far out there for him to even consider it. 'I can't. Atlantis…They'll need me when the Wraith come. Even if they didn't—they're like my family.'
'I can be your family. You like it here, don't you? You belong with me.'
And, suddenly, he fully believed that and wanted it too.
Too suddenly. It came with the flood of desire and a wash of comfort that he started to relax into—before he realized that it didn't ring quite true.
Comprehension came with a jolt. She was influencing his thoughts.
The lights seem too bright and the frenetic bustle is almost worse than battle. At least in a fight he has a job to do and he knows that he can do it well.
The infirmary is always this way.
Somehow, he prefers being on the gurney to standing beside it. He also prefers a teeth-grinding, gasping injured team member to the still, quiet, and bleeding young man before him now.
He's not sure what went wrong. He knows he was tired, but he was still alert. He knows better than to get distracted in the field. But the sun was too warm and the natives were watching him curiously, and Ford was down before he even knew what had hit them.
When he finally snaps out of it and turns to look at them, Rodney's staring at him with an odd look that he can't quite decipher. At his side, Teyla is a bit more proactive. She takes John's arm gently and tugs him away from the fray.
He glances back at Ford's still form, and he finally thinks that maybe something isn't right. He's in trouble, though why is still eluding him.
He finally understood her punishment. She'd taken it upon herself to decide when she had the right to interfere, and now she didn't make that choice. She was sentenced to protect them all the time, in any circumstance, forever. They were all she could have, and yet she couldn't really have them.
And okay, yes, it must suck to be alone. But he had no desire to inflict it on himself.
He was having a harder and harder time delineating what he wanted.
He was seeing more than she wanted him to. He realized that when he realized she was doing more than sharing her thoughts and emotions—she was dictating his. But as soon as the realization formulated into thought he received another blanketing rush of power from her, making his thinking muddled, immersing him in the seductive draw. Still, there was a moment of clarity. She was having to push deeper to keep her hold on him.
It was possible that this wasn't good. There was a chance he was in over his head here, a chance he might have jumped the gun by agreeing to this, a chance he might have misjudged Chaya. And he really needed to find a tactful way to get himself out.
'Chaya, I'm flattered and all, but…I'm just not ready for something like this. Atlantis needs me. I'm sorry.'
He was expecting disappointment, maybe even a little wheedling he'd have to resist. What he was unprepared for was a strong wave of anger. He doubted she was trying to inflict it on him, but with the connection it flooded freely between them.
He tried to pull back, to mentally turn away and escape from the unwelcome rush.
She yanked him back with a nauseating force.
"Major…John. Your team is worried about you."
He begs to differ. Teyla has gone to the mainland while the team is on stand-down, McKay is being his usual snide self times two, and Ford still hasn't regained consciousness.
He doesn't point any of this out to Elizabeth, however. He blinks and tilts his head inquisitively, as if he has no idea what she's talking about.
"Please understand; I'm not trying to accuse you of any fault in Ford's injuries."
He gives her a tight smile. "I'm responsible for my team off-world, Elizabeth. The buck always stops here."
She nods understandingly. "Nevertheless, several people—and not just your team members—have come to me with concern about your actions of late."
"And you think…what? That I'm having some sort of breakdown?"
"I'm not saying that. This job was thrust upon you unexpectedly, and it does place a lot of weight on your shoulders."
It sure sounded like she was saying that. "So what are you suggesting, exactly?"
"I'd like for you to spend some time with Dr. Heightmeyer."
It doesn't really seem like she's offering him a choice.
So he sits on Kate's couch, enjoys her office view, and chats about shepherding young marines far from home and corralling scientists unaccustomed to military life—or normal life, for that matter.
She eyes him with a measuring gaze but follows his lead, and when he leaves he's had a nice hour of polite conversation He's no closer to fixing whatever it is that he's not admitting is bothering him.
Her strength took him by surprise.
It wasn't seductive anymore, it was forceful. He'd thought he understood her power but he'd really had no idea until he'd felt its impact on him.
The bright side of her abandonment of the seductive element was that he could see more clearly. He could direct the connection to some degree and learn what he wanted.
What he found surprised him. She wanted him to stay, she was abandoning principles in a desperate attempt to get him to do so. But it wasn't that she wanted him. It was that she hated being alone, she wished she still had his life and, barring that, she would take someone sharing her fate.
He felt sorry for her for a moment.
It was a moment when he weakened and the fight he was putting up wavered, and she delved deeper still. Her presence flooded him, intoxicating and nauseating at once. He tried to pull back again, and this time found that he couldn't move at all.
Underneath the emotions she was trying to convey he could feel a steady panic building, slowly engulfing him.
He quit trying for tact. He didn't have the strength to be firm. He was screaming, perhaps incoherently, perhaps even aloud. But the thought was simple and surely clear enough—'No.'
In an instant that felt both quick and eternal, she pulled away. The connection was cut off abruptly as she stepped away physically as well. The glow disappeared.
He hit the ground hard and rolled into the nearest pillar, disoriented. He grunted, sitting up painfully, and looked up at her.
He thought he saw a flash of horrified regret. But then the beautiful face was set, carefully concealing whatever she was thinking. "You should go," she announced calmly.
And then she turned, and swept away. Back up to her sanctuary and her seclusion.
Feeling a bit sick and not at all certain he'd be able to stand on his own two feet, he simply sat there, staring after her.
In the end he's not sitting on Heightmeyer's couch, or on the balcony with Beckett, or even in Elizabeth's office. He's sitting in the co-pilot's seat of Jumper Three, staring out at the trees surrounding the mainland's landing site, an irate Rodney McKay at his side.
"What the hell is wrong with you? If you're still so pissed at me then why did you agree to this? I'm not such a terrible pilot, you know. The constant criticism is just a little distracting!"
Rodney's rant continues; John listens half-heartedly and tries to think up the retort that should have come to him easily.
"You've been weird ever since that thing with Chaya. If you're so lost without your little light-up play bunny then maybe you should just go back and stay with her."
And John suddenly feels as if he's been punched in the stomach.
The Jumper that he feels so at home in abruptly doesn't have enough air. He isn't going to throw up in here; the poor ships take too much abuse already. So he stands and lurches a little drunkenly towards the rear hatch.
The concerned "Major?" from behind him sounds eerily familiar.
He moves faster, and makes it to some nearby bushes before emptying his stomach.
When he's able to pay attention to his surroundings again, he's not alone. McKay has a soothing hand on his back, a bottle of water to offer, and a disgusted look on his face. He tugs him up and steers him back to the jumper, letting him settle on the ground with his back against the metal.
"You want to tell me what that was about?"
He takes a few moments to just breathe, and while it shocks him to the core he finds that yeah, he does want to tell him.
He just starts talking, before he can change his mind. He doesn't take the time to wonder why he's willing to share with the man who's been sniping about this whole mess from the beginning. And he doesn't pause to censor anything, knowing that if he does he might never start again.
He looks straight ahead, keeps his voice flat and emotionless. He risks a few glances at McKay throughout the telling, and there's enough emotion in his eyes for both of them. Rodney has a lousy poker face. His features, which John has seen clearly displaying smugness, annoyance, and fear, are also more than competent with shock, compassion, and righteous anger.
When John's finished, he feels drained. There's a chance that holding in emotion takes more energy than actually releasing it would.
There's absolute stillness for a moment. Then Rodney reaches to put a hand on his arm. He pats it once and then latches on. It's a bit too tight, but John hardly notices. He's preoccupied.
Skin to skin. There's nothing electric about it. But it's solid, and warm, and real.
"Ah…I don't…Okay. The best sex you've ever had—that I was expecting. But the rest…I knew I didn't like her. I tried to tell everyone, but no, Elizabeth thought she was 'worth the risk'…"
John cuts his eyes to him, feeling a strange warmth despite the situation. Though he's surprised Rodney isn't accusing him of bringing it on himself.
He did, after all.
Rodney catches the look and scrubs his free hand across his face. "I'm sorry; I'm no good at this."
John shakes his head. "You're doing fine," he offers softly.
Rodney gives him his best frustrated glare. "You should see Heightmeyer. And, you know, actually talk to her while doing so."
"Maybe," John agrees absently, still soft. "You know, somehow when we talked about higher beings I imagined them…higher."
He's not sure that was coherent, but Rodney seems to understand. "They're not gods. Higher doesn't necessarily mean better, at least not by human moral standards. They were just people once."
"Just like us?"
"Well. More advanced technologically, and eventually physically. We can learn about Ancient technology. But as far as their character and morals…well, what do we really know about them? I'm still a little stuck on the biological weapons lab."
John nods, seeing his point. "So not so different," he adds ruefully.
"Only in form and longevity. They're far from perfect." The strength of the anger in his tone is surprising. He catches John's raised brow and tones it down. "At least the ones who play by the rules seem to realize that."
"That's why they don't interfere. Because with their power, if they let human emotions rule them…"
Blue eyes search his before Rodney finishes his thought. "They could do serious damage."
The word is never said, and he's grateful for that. Even when he talks to Kate about thoughts perused without his permission and unwelcome emotions inflicted, even when he tells Carson about trying and failing to wrench away. The battery of medical scans eventually determines it to be Heightmeyer's domain rather than Beckett's.
It wasn't physical, and he really doesn't want to label it as such.
They don't have a word for whatever this was.
He hadn't thought he had an elevated view of the Ancients. He hadn't known that much about them, his eyes hadn't lit up when talk turned to ascension or even advanced technology. But somewhere in his subconscious, he'd apparently decided that the people who'd built this magnificent city and the awe-striking ships must have been truly amazing.
And perhaps it isn't fair to judge an entire race that lived 10,000 years ago by one exiled ascended. But he can't help it. The Ancients have fallen from a pedestal he hadn't even known they were on.
Atlantis feels different now, colder.
He knows that it's him. It isn't the city reacting to the situation, because Atlantis was reaching out to him earlier, when it first happened. He's holding back now.
He's not so sure he likes what the gene represents anymore.