Title: Time To
Save the Galaxy, Rodney (The Last Man – Missing Scene)
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring these shows to life.
A/N – I'm sure there are a million of these "missing scene" stories out already, but this unspooled in my head the night after watching the episode – my brain's way of filling in the holes of what wasn't said, and what questions weren't answered – and I wrote it anyway.
Description: Sheppard's final moments in the future with Rodney, answering those last few questions. And a way to say thanks for the chance to change it.
Warm air assaulted his skin, and John immediately regretted drawing in a breath—it was like sucking in soup into his lungs. He coughed, feeling a weird sense of displacement and, well, grit. Everything felt gritty and too warm and…
Where was he again? And why did he feel so damned stiff?
"Hey," Rodney called, his voice rough as old paper. "Welcome back."
John blinked and focused, forcing the vestiges of the stasis induced sleep out of his eyes. His eyes had been open in the chamber—he was pretty sure he hadn't closed them—so it was strange to feel like he had to "open" them still. What a truly weird sensation—if it weren't for the aches and pains, he'd have thought he'd just stepped inside the chamber a second ago.
"Rodney," he croaked out, coughing again. God, he needed water badly.
"Yeah, I'm here," the hologram answered, and John frowned, looking across at the figure standing a few feet away. He was still old, still…dead. Rodney was smiling, that crooked, small smile he offered people when he thought he should smile but didn't really mean it. That smile never made John feel anything but awful.
"Okay," John said, shifting his gaze away. Looking at Rodney in that state was just…it was painful. He cleared his throat again. "So," he struggled for something to say, "it worked? It's been 700 years?"
"Yeah, give or take a few hundred. You okay? You're looking sorta," Rodney paused, "pale."
"Yeah," John said, looking down at his sand encrusted hands—the skin was a sallow color between the streaks of dirt. He coughed again, and looked around at the hazy world. God, it was hot in here. "Guess that's what no sun for a prolonged period of time, even in stasis, will do to you." He sighed. Fact is, actually thinking about the idea of it being 700 years later ("give or take a few hundred") was worsening the pounding—best not to think about it. He looked again at the hologram. "How's the weather?"
"Not so good," Rodney replied, grimacing slightly. "Sun's hotter than ever and the, uh, the shield is…well, it's on its last legs. But it's still there. You should still be able to cross back into the main part of Atlantis over the desert's surface without too much trouble. " He gave a tiny shrug. "Though you, uh, might want to cover up as much of your skin as possible. Some UV light's still getting through, of course."
"Of course," John replied, still feeling frustratingly discombobulated. He'd aged, of course, inside the chamber—and since he'd been hungry and in real need of water before he even went in…
He stepped out of the chamber and staggered slightly. For a moment, he just stood still, getting his bearings, then, slowly, he straightened. Okay. He could do this. He stopped when he saw the gear he'd dropped on the floor before going in. The gun was aged and rusted, part of the metal eaten away. The vest appeared shredded and pale—like someone had taken a knife to it, then scrubbed it in dirt for days.
Wow. He swallowed, and looked up again, shaking slightly.
"How much time have I got?" he asked then, glancing at Rodney before turning around to open that crystal drawer Rodney had shown him before.
"About an hour," the hologram answered. "I wanted to give you a little time to get over to the other half of the city, and…well, I didn't want you to have to rush."
John frowned, hearing something more in the hologram's voice. A longing, almost. Which was silly—he was a hologram.
John pulled the crystal, and placed it inside his shirt pocket. He wondered if the ancient P90 still worked—probably not. Of course, even if it did, he didn't want to arrive back in Atlantis carrying it and looking like a threat. If he didn't return exactly when he left, they might take him down before he could explain. Speaking of…he should ask Rodney if there'd be a time difference.
He turned to look at the hologram, and saw Rodney gazing unhappily off to the side. The expression was so lost, John found himself asking something else.
Rodney actually seemed startled by the question, and when he turned back, he frowned for a moment, then shrugged. "Nothing. Just…I've always…I mean, what happens when you go, I wonder. Will this all cease?" Rodney looked up, waving a hand around to encompass the room, but John knew Rodney was thinking much more broadly than that. "Or will it go on. Do you just start a new timeline, but this one continues…as horrible as it is? Or is it erased?"
John stared at him a moment, knowing he didn't have the answer. Instead, he asked, "Will you just turn off when I leave?"
Rodney lowered his head, and he looked down at the floor. Then he shrugged again, "Yeah. My programming is tied into your bio-signature. The City registered your arrival, and I powered up. When you leave, I will cease to be."
"So," John shrugged, "Then, for you, it ends. In which case," he gave a shrug, "why do you care if the timeline continues?"
McKay frowned, then gave a headshake. "You're right. It's pointless." He looked up at John, still frowning. "Come on. Let's get you out of here."
John nodded and glanced down at his gear on the floor. After a moment's hesitation, he reached down and pulled open one of the pockets (which crumbled almost immediately under his touch) and pulled out the Ancient scanner. The only thing not looking like it belonged in a museum. Straightening, he glanced one more time at the stasis chamber then turned towards the door.
Slowly, he turned around to look at the chamber again. Hang on a minute…
John drew in a steadying breath, and asked, "What happened to Carson?"
Rodney's sigh was almost painful. "Can't you guess?" he asked quietly.
Sheppard's eyes crinkled slightly, his jaw muscles flexing. "They never found the cure."
Rodney snorted. "After Jennifer and I left, they stopped looking. Eventually, he died in there. I think it was, um, maybe ten years after I left Atlantis. Lorne sent me a letter. I just remembered thinking, what the hell -- just something else to stop from happening."
John grimaced, then glanced at Rodney. The hologram had tears in his eyes. Actual tears. God…he looked so human.
"Rodney?" he called softly.
He had to ask. "Are you really a hologram?"
Rodney turned to look at him, really look at him, and, slowly, he smiled. "Unfortunately, yes. Doctor McKay didn't use the ascension machine when he returned, if that's what you're thinking. Even if he had—he never really believed he could ascend, you know." He gave a shrug. "No, he just mapped every single part of his brain and put it in me. So…I'm him. Everything, even…even how he felt."
John shook his head. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well," the hologram shrugged, "if he didn't, I wouldn't be so determined to get you home, now, would I?" He grinned then, a more real smile, and he gestured towards the doorway. "Speaking of, time for you to go, don't you think? "
John couldn't muster a smile back, so he just gave a nod and, checking once more that he had the crystal in his pocket, he headed out of the chamber.
The walk back across the sand was easier without the storm, and harder because the landscape had worsened. More sand had piled up between the two jutting towers—it really was a good thing it was a fairly straight line—but he'd have to climb a little to get to a balcony on the other side that would let him enter. Walking across sand was incredibly hard work. By the time he'd reached the balcony leading into the central tower, he felt worse than ever. His legs were trembling from exhaustion, his stomach was clenching from lack of nourishment, and his head was beating like a drum. And his lungs…
He fell in through the doorway, landing hard on hands and knees, coughing violently. He saw Rodney near him, squatting down and looking worried.
"I'm okay," he choked out, waving a hand at his friend.
"I know," McKay replied softly. "One of the things I worked on was improving the stasis chambers—I managed to not only slow them down even more, but I was able to supplement some of the moisture in your body. When you can focus all they city's power on only a few things—gives you a little extra leeway." He gave a small smile, but it fell quickly. "But you're still not well. When you get home, tell Jennifer to get you started on fluids right away, okay? And tell her…tell her…" He trailed off. A moment later, he was up and walking away, arms wrapped tightly around his frame.
Sheppard frowned, looking up at the retreating, hunched form. McKay made it as far as the turn in the corridor, then stopped, his broad back to Sheppard.
Pushing himself back onto his haunches, he waited until his breathing was more normal, then made to stand.
He nearly toppled over, catching himself at the last moment on a handy console. Letting out the air in his lungs through pursed lips, he drew in a new breath and straightened. His hand came off the console, leaving a print. He snorted. Very little in the City was marked like that—he was sort of glad to be leaving something human here. A footprint in the sand, so to speak. He smiled stupidly.
The smile fell.
"Hey," he called, looking at the hologram, "when…when did they abandon the City? You said, it had been abandoned 'obviously', but you didn't say when. Was it before or after you…after McKay died?"
Rodney drew in a breath, then turned around. He looked at John a moment, then walked back, his shoulders still hunched. For the first time, John noticed Rodney left no footprints in the sand covered floor.
When he was alongside, Rodney gestured towards the corridor leading to the stairs. "We should go. I'll tell you as we move. But…are you sure you want to know?"
John nodded. "Anything I can stop from happening, I want to know," he answered firmly, glancing at the old man. Rodney actually gave a small smile at that, and straightened a little. For a moment, he looked like his old self.
"Well, as I said, Pegasus was, to put it lightly, going to hell in a hand basket," he began. "Not too long after Jennifer and I went home, it was determined that it was too dangerous to maintain Atlantis. Then came the great debate—whether to save it or destroy it." His smile grew more, "It was my last real contribution to the Stargate program. I argued for its saving—and our side won. But only after Lee and I came up with a plan to, once again, move the city."
"Move the city?" Sheppard repeated, starting up the stairs they'd just reached. "You mean, this planet isn't—"
"Are you kidding?" Rodney snorted. "With a sun this unstable? I would never have moved the city to this solar system, or anywhere near it, had I been involved in the choice. Sloppy decision, clearly." He shook his head. "No, no, this planet was chosen by someone else—Kavanagh, probably. I can see his sloppy little hands all over this setting." He shook his head. "No, no, they used the last of the ZPM's power to move the city to this location, then shut it down. It was evacuated by all but a dozen or so personnel, and the gate sealed from access from any point other than the Milky Way."
"So…it was abandoned in your lifetime," John said quietly, his eyes on his feet as they climbed up the metal stairs. "In the end—we were no better than the Ancients. In fact, we made it worse."
"Yeah," Rodney agreed unhappily. "I know."
John turned on the landing, and started up the next set of stairs. Then a new thought came to him.
"Wait, if you moved the city, how was I still able to gate into—"
Rodney smiled, humming slightly. "Stole a puddle jumper and moved one of the abandoned orbital Stargates to the old planet, then installed a program to direct any incoming wormholes from the planet you'd gated from to come here. Pretty clever really. The marines in the base had no clue what I was up to, not even when I changed the gate protocols to allow that one exception to the 'no Pegasus gates' rule."
"Marines?" he frowned. "I thought you said the city was abandoned. Why were there marines here still?"
"Oh, well, it wasn't completely abandoned," Rodney said. "Didn't I say that they left a few personnel behind? Twelve marines lived here, on three month rotations, I believe. They were manning it like a lighthouse, essentially. Their jobs were to monitor the long range sensors—monitor Michael and the Wraith. They watched—to make sure he didn't make a move towards the Milky Way. As far as I know—he never did."
"Content to keep to his own galaxy, eh?"
"Yeah. I'd always sort of wondered about that—I would have tried to come after us, if I were him."
John just hummed, not sure how to answer that. He turned another corner and started up to the next landing. Still five to go. Man—he missed transporters. If he thought his legs hurt before…
"So, how did Lorne explain your presence to the marines?" he asked.
"He told them I was working in improving the sensors. Which I did, by the by. I'm not sure how he really managed to keep it totally quiet that I was here from the top brass, but he must have done, because no one bothered me."
"How long were you here?"
"About ten years."
Sheppard's eyebrows shot up. "Ten years?"
"Give or take." McKay shrugged again, "Saw a lot of different marines in that time. None of them ever bothered me. I went for my rations once a week, and that was it. I rather liked the solitude."
John felt that in his chest—the sheer loneliness of it. He looked over his shoulder at the hologram, but Rodney was watching his feet the same way John had been. Ironic, since he really didn't need to.
John had to know one more thing, so he stopped in the stairs, forcing the hologram to stop behind him and look up.
Rodney frowned, "What?"
"Rodney," John drew in a tight breath, "Did you die here?"
There was a long pause, then another shrug. "Yeah. I finished the program. I knew it was done, and I was so happy—and so tired. I was 74 by then, you know. Confident that there was nothing more I needed to do, I apparently went for a lie down. I never woke up. According to the logs, it took them two weeks before they went looking for me. They buried me in the ocean outside, and sent a note home to my niece—my only living relative by then. " He gave a small laugh. "Fitting really. I always thought I should die in Atlantis. And, seeing you now…" he smiled warmly, "I don't regret any of it at all."
John nodded, facing forward again. After a moment, he started climbing again.
No, Rodney, he thought to himself, you are not going to regret this at all, because it's not going to happen. It was not.
The Gateroom looked a lot like when they'd left it, though the temperature was apparently higher. It was hard to tell, it being so dry. The air felt more heavy than hot. John knew it was an illusion—his body was craving water badly now. He wanted the ocean back.
Rodney moved over to the controls, waving a hand over the one with the DHD. It came to life on command. Then he looked out the window behind the room, his eyes narrowing slightly.
"About five minutes left now," he said.
"Wow," John was surprised. "It took us that long to get here?"
Rodney snorted, glancing at him. "You're not moving very fast. The walk across the desert took you almost forty minutes."
John couldn't deny that logic—it had felt like hours. He sighed then, taking one last look around, then started down the steps. Rodney left the DHD and followed him. John paused halfway down, looking up at him. "Don't you need to dial?" he asked.
Rodney's smile was soft. "I can dial from anywhere," he said. "I'm part of the City, remember?"
And, strangely, that made John smile. Of all the things he'd been told, that was the only thing that seemed right. His eyes narrowed playfully.
"For the record, Dr. Rodney McKay," he said, "I'm not letting you quit Atlantis, not if I'm still there to say something about it."
Rodney's soft smile grew into a pleased grin. He shrugged. "And I wouldn't leave if you were still there to say something about it," he admitted. "None of us would."
John gave a nod, and looked up at the gate. He patted the crystal in his pocket one more time.
All of a sudden, it was dialing. It was a beautiful sound. It felt like freedom.
The kawoosh of the event horizon was like a welcome coolness across his face, and John stared at the wormhole a moment, before looking back one more time at Rodney.
"Go," the hologram said. "Do what you do, Colonel. Save Teyla." He smiled. "And, you know, if you have time," he waved a hand around in a circle, "save the galaxy."
John just smiled back, "I'll do my best." He gave a nod, then grinned wickedly. "See you earlier, McKay," he said, cheekily. Then he was running, wanting to hit the other side and get home with a desperation he had never felt before.
John had given the bulk of his debriefing in the isolation room, as Keller both studied him…and healed him. She was gentle as she connected a new IV bag to his line, smiling softly from behind the haz mat suit. John tried to smile back, but he was itching to go. Despite the weakness he still felt, and knowing that they could probably afford the 24 hours Carter had demanded he stay in isolation, he still wanted to go now.
He looked up at the room above, spotting both Ronon and McKay watching him from above. Ronon looked stoic, while Rodney just looked worried. Since he'd been in here, Carter had shown up a few times in the window, as had Lorne, but McKay and Ronon were like fixtures. They didn't seem to be talking to each other much, though. Ronon brooded, occasionally working through some fighting moves to pass the time, while McKay hovered, working on his tablet or on a laptop—looking to verify the 48,000 years into the future thing. Right now, though, both men were just watching him.
Just then, Ronon said something to McKay and McKay nodded. Ronon then looked down at Sheppard and mouthed, "Be right back." John nodded. Ronon disappeared then, but John knew he'd be back quickly.
The most talking John had seen happen up in that room was when Rodney, at one point, had clearly gotten into an ugly argument with Carter, and Ronon said something that backed McKay up, so that Carter looked thoroughly annoyed at them both and left the room. Sheppard could guess what it was about.
Still—he knew it would work out. They'd go, and they'd find Teyla, and…and he'd keep his promise to Rodney's hologram. To Rodney.
He looked again at the scientist, who gave a fast smile, then averted his eyes from his and wandered away from the window, probably heading to one of the chairs in the room, his attention once more on his tablet. Rodney looked thinner—but John couldn't tell if that was because the hologram was that much plumper than his friend had been, or if he'd lost weight since he'd last seen him. Either way—he wouldn't tell him. The involuntary "genius" comment when he'd first come through was honest, true, and totally accurate, but he still hadn't needed to tell Rodney that. Never feed the scientist. Though…he really did need to thank him somehow.
A noise to his left distracted him from his musings, and he found Keller smiling at him.
"Hi," she said, pleased to have his attention once more. "Just wanted to tell you that you're looking good. Your body has essentially recovered from your ordeal, though you should definitely get at least one more good night's sleep." She turned to look at the monitors as she spoke, and John followed her gaze to the displays. They really didn't mean anything to him, so he looked back at her.
"That's good," he said. He glanced up at the hood she still wore. "You get to take that off soon?" he asked, gesturing at the suit.
"Oh, yes, in fact…" She pulled the hood off. "There." She let out a puff of air and smiled brightly at him. "Much better."
John's eyebrows lifted. "So you're convinced I'm not dangerous then?"
She shook her head. "Not to my health, no," she answered. She put the hood down and picked up a tablet by his leg on the gurney. He reached out and grabbed her arm, and she jumped slightly. For a moment, she looked worried, but she soon settled.
"Keller," he said.
"Yes?" she asked warily.
"Wear the suit whenever you check on people with the Hoffan virus."
She frowned, showing her confusion. "But it's not an airborne virus. I—"
"It will be. You need to be prepared."
She frowned more, then drew her arm back. "That's not good," she noted darkly. "How soon will it mutate?"
He shrugged; he didn't know. He wondered if it was on the crystal—but he didn't know. Her eyes searched his for a moment, then she nodded.
"I'll be prepared," she promised. "And it's good to know it's capable of that. It actually helps me. Thank you."
He nodded in return, watching as she went back to studying his chart on the tablet. She was frowning now, clearly thinking more about what he'd just said than what was on the screen.
He glanced up at the room above. He couldn't see anyone up there now—not even Rodney. Looks like the scientist had slipped out as well.
"Anyway," Keller said, clearly struggling to draw her thoughts back. "On you, I can probably release you soon. But you should head back to your room, okay? No stopping by the armory or the Jumper Bay or Rodney's lab, or anywhere else where you might get ideas to go out before you get a good night's sleep." She gave him a stern look, one that suggested she knew him too well.
"I can't go anywhere anyway," he said, shrugging, "not without Carter's say so."
"Oh," she frowned prettily, "right. Forgot about that. You and Rodney always seem so…well…you know."
John's eyebrows lifted. "Self-motivated?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Reckless," she replied, definitely not meaning it as a compliment. "And intractable. You'll do whatever you want. Rodney in particular—how he gets away with all the crap he pulls...I swear, all he has to do is give people that puppy dog look of his and…" she trailed off, shaking her head, returning her attention to the tablet.
John grinned. He couldn't help it. Did she just use the phrase 'puppy dog look' about Rodney? She felt his stare and blushed slightly. Quickly, she glanced up to glare at him, then turned back to the tablet.
"What?" she demanded, a little hoarsely.
John glanced up to make sure the room really was empty, then asked softly, "You really ask McKay out the other week?"
Her eyes widened, and she suddenly looked up at the room above as he had done. She relaxed visibly to see no one there. Then she glanced at him, blushing more, and tried to look nonchalant. She failed completely.
"So if I did?" she demanded, tapping the tablet nervously. "So what?"
John laughed. He'd thought Rodney had been exaggerating about that when he'd told him, looking for advice as to whether it had been an actual date or just a friendly drink. "I just…I'm surprised," he admitted. "I mean, you and Rodney…"
"What?" she snapped. Oh, definitely defensive. Jackpot.
"Well, you know, you're gorgeous, and he…he's…." John struggled to find the right word. "Well, you know…"
Keller pursed her lips angrily. "First of all," she stated angrily, "if you think I'm that shallow that I only look skin deep, then you're sorely mistaken. And if you can't see the beauty in him, in who he is and how much he loves all of you and this City and how much more he has to give, then you…you…." She trailed off suddenly, her jaw clamping shut as she suddenly clued into who she was talking to. Wide eyed, she looked down at the tablet, then promptly whirled around to place it on the side, nearly tripping over some of the cords on the ground. She stumbled, straightened, nervously padded down the haz mat suit, before giving him what could only be described as the 'deer in headlights' look. "I gotta go," she said suddenly. Whipping around, nearly tripping on the cords again, she stumbled down around the end of his gurney, heading in the direction of the door.
John raised a hand. "Keller, wait."
"No, no," she stammered, tripping again in her haste. "Must go. Very busy. I'll tell Carter you're clear to go, and, look, um, don't tell Rodney I said anything, okay? I mean, you know how he is and I—"
"Keller!" John snapped, getting her attention and causing her to stop. She gave the glass room above another nervous glance, before raising her eyebrows at John, waiting for him to finish. John just couldn't repress the smile he felt.
"Keller," he said, his voice softer now, "ask him out again."
She blinked, then frowned. "But, I thought you didn't…"
"No," he said, trying to put as much meaning as he could into his words. "I do. Ask him out again." He softened his voice more. "Trust me."
She stared at him a moment longer, still wide eyed, and then her previously tense shoulders seemed to loosen. Blinking slowly once, she closed her mouth and turned around, away from him. Slowly, thoughtfully, she walked to the door. She didn't look back at him once.
A few moments later, he was alone in the room.
John looked down, plucked at the white scrubs, then looked up again at the glass room. Still empty.
But it wouldn't be for long.
He smiled again. He still felt deeply indebted to McKay for what he'd done, but, with any luck, that would make a dent. Not that, if he had his way, McKay would ever actually live the life that had made that thanks necessary. Although, he had, so…oh...stop thinking about it.
Right. Time to go. He tapped his radio.
"Colonel Carter," he called out.
There was a short pause, then, "Yes, Colonel?"
"I'd really, really like to get a team together to go through the gate now."
"Has Keller cleared you?"
"Then get dressed and I'll see you up in the conference room."
John grinned. Finally. "I'll be there in ten minutes," he promised, hopping off the gurney and tapping the radio off.
Time to save the galaxy, Rodney.
The End. Thanks for reading! Feedback always loved.