Chapter Nine

There are lights all round. And dark figures that whisper. But the light doesn't claim him yet. He is still tethered to life. To darkness.

He's uncomfortable and wants to move. But there are tubes so he mustn't move. Daniel's whisper is there. He needs to ask… to ask… he remembers that Atlantis is safe. Then the pain hits sickening, cutting in two and he's swallowing in desperate lungs full of oxygen from the mask.

"John, John, keep calm, try not to move," the whispers say. "We're getting you back as fast as we can."

Back? Back where?

The whispers don't say.

The lights circle like fireflies, sending him to darkness.

-oAo-

Daniel looks down at John, sleeping. A spaghetti of wires surrounds him, to support each and every one of his organs. Daniel can honestly say he's never seen so much equipment to keep a man alive. And he can also admit, he's been unprepared for how quickly John's condition has worsened to this point of life threatening.

"So tell me," he asks, "is this anything I should be concerned about?" He doesn't mean to appear selfish but he has to know.

They assure Daniel that he's ok. That this pattern of deterioration doesn't look like it's happening to Daniel. He would have shown signs by now. And John had been too long in cryonics, had already encountered difficulties in the latter stages. They say they thought they had put things right. That there are still opportunities to put things right. That they are not going to give up on John just yet.

But if John dies, Daniel will be alone. Yeah, he's selfish. But he's not sure how he feels about being alone. He believes if he keeps busy, which is what he wants to do, then it won't be a problem.

The Gate is open now. He can be given a new team and he can explore the Milky Way and Pegasus all over. Todd and all signs of Wraith are gone. He tells Earth's new military that he supposes that Todd is keeping his word and will stay away. But can you ever trust a Wraith?

Daniel awkwardly puts his hands in his pockets. There's nothing he can do to help John now. He shakes his head. This is the part of being a team that's crap, when they lay injured or helpless in some way – and he supposes that John has become his 'team.'

He hadn't realised the man was so sick. Osterholt has theorised that it's psychological as much as medical, but then Osterholt would say that. John simply does not want to be here, Osterholt had said. He belongs elsewhere, he'd said.

"Where, heaven?" Daniel had half-joked.

But Osterholt hadn't replied.

And Daniel remembers Todd's hand at John's temple. Had Todd also seen that?

And Daniel goes through all the memories of the last few days. Because watching a man struggling for life makes you kinda do that. Sifting through all the conversations. Wondering where things went wrong. Feeling guilt that sometimes he might have said the wrong thing. He remembers a conversation with John. When they'd been killing time, waiting for the ready for the Gate. They'd been taking a walk along the concrete tunnels of Cheyenne. Couldn't walk above ground because of the sub-zero temperatures and a howling blizzard.

"You don't really want to be here do you? Admit it. You don't feel like you belong." Daniel had been light-hearted and hadn't meant to be taken seriously. He'd simply been taking the piss out of the way that Osterholt talked.

"No. No, I don't." And John had been all set to storm off. And Daniel, surprised by how suddenly sensitive John was, and feeling bad, had grabbed him by the arm. It'd been the closest they'd ever come to falling out, he's sure of that.

"Hey! It's not that I'm saying you're weak or anything. That I'm better than you. "

"Then what are you saying?" John had asked bitterly. "You've just got more of a sense of adventure?" Where had that come from?

"I seem to recall we all volunteered for the Stargate programme. Why did you join in the first place if it weren't for a sense of adventure?"

"I flipped a coin and it said 'heads.' " With that, John had walked away.

"There you go," Daniel had murmured, "risk, adventure."

-oAo-

Daniel is waiting outside John's room. Now and then, he peers through the small round window set in the door. He lifts his optics and wipes at tired eyes, feeling exhausted by the bedside vigil he's been keeping these last two days.

Hjelm, Osterholt and a doctor, who Daniel hasn't seen before, are inside, huddled in a discussion at the foot of the bed.

Daniel has to admit to butterflies. His stomach lurches as the three approach the door and he stands back, making way for the door to flap open, admitting the three out into the corridor.

Hjelm reaches forward and shakes his hand. He says he is sorry. He says they've all made a dreadful mistake. He says he hopes they can make amends now. There are even tears in the old man's eyes. Hjelm is here on behalf of the Ethics Committee. The vote was unanimous this time round. Daniel watches his back as the man leaves. The man's shoulders sag as he walks slowly down the corridor. It had been a unanimous decision but not an easy one.

"You are ready?" asks the doctor. "He will be awake soon and we are facing time limitations before the pain sets in once more."

Daniel glances to the door that hasn't quite come to a halt and is still swinging slightly. He finds himself ridiculously wondering why they haven't installed something automatic. He nods numbly. He's shoving hands deep into pockets.

"Though... I'm not exactly looking forward to this. Not something you do every day, is it? You know that, in our time, in most countries, this was still frowned on?"

Osterholt has already prepped him. And Daniel has already told him that.

Osterholt, as usual, had asked him, 'How do you feel? What are your thoughts?'

'I don't know... I honestly don't know...' Daniel had said.

Osterholt had assured him. 'He is unhappy. It is for the best.' But is that enough of a reason?

The three enter the room. The room's lighting is subdued. A nurse looks up from her place beside the bed. She reels off some facts and figures in a low voice at the doctor's ear and handing him a data pad, leaves.

The doctor goes to John's side. Since Daniel has last seen John, the breathing apparatus has been removed, replaced by a nasal tube. The man still looks like crap, pasty with dark rings under closed eyes. He is half-sitting, propped up on a mound of pillows. His hair is limp against his fore head. There's a sheen from fever. On top of everything else, John's immunisation system is shot to pieces.

"John. John. Can you hear me?" asks the doctor.

And John stirs, scarcely able to open his eyes. He blearily looks round, trying to focus on the room, on the medical equipment.

"Whas wrong with me?" he struggles out. He's been told a thousand times but the doctor patiently repeats it.

"You remember Dr. Carson Beckett. How he was cloned?"

"Yeah... Organs failed... Same as me, huh?"

"At this very moment, we are preparing replacements from your DNA."

"But… There's… always… a but." He closes his eyes. His breath is already coming in gasps and he's drawing heavily on the oxygen. He prises them open again, squinting towards the doctor.

"There is no guarantee, John, that the same thing won't re-occur."

John is silent. Taking this in.

Osterholt continues. "We know how you feel about being cloned. How it has made you unhappy."

He's still silent. His eyes shut and open again. Searching the room, seeming to sense that Daniel is standing in the shadows away from the bed. But he sees nothing. Daniel knows he is nearly blind now.

"We believe," Osterholt glances at the doctor who shakes his head. "Correction, I believe this might be why your organs are being rejected. It is not entirely due to the overlong cryonics stage."

"You guys… you guys read too much…" and John seems to sink further back into the pillows, too tired with the attempt to talk.

"John…" defends Osterholt, "John, you know it…"

"What is this? You saying it's my own damn fault?" John lifts his head, and the machines seem to go mad at his effort. He raises a hand but is prevented by the tubes in his arms. He gasps with some new pain, and collapses back again, closing his eyes once more. The doctor quickly sees to one monitor that's been sending off a high pitched whine. He adjusts the fluid level in some sort of tubing and gradually the noise dies down.

The doctor indicates to a clock. "Please," he remonstrates with Osterholt. Time is running out. "Please do not upset him. We may... lose him..."

"John…" prompts Osterholt and he looks up anxiously to the doctor, wondering why he's not getting any response. "John," he tries again.

"I admit it," John says suddenly, re-opening his eyes. "I… admit it. There... Happy now?" He sighs. "I don't... I don't belong here." There are tears in his eyes as he stares up, unseeing, towards the ceiling.

"We know. We understand how difficult this has been. There has been grief for your friends too. Grief for a life that has passed. We're sorry that we put you through this. We had no right. But we did not know, did not fully comprehend how it might be a wrench from... I suppose death... peace that you must have experienced. There will be no more cloning, certainly not of those already... passed away." John has shut his eyes once more.

"John? Can you hear?"

"Yeah... I hear."

He hand twitches in an attempt to wipe his tears. He peers down to see what's preventing his hand, but can't see the tubes. He seems confused. The doctor steps back and beckons Daniel in, beckons Daniel to take hold of John's hand. It's awkward for Daniel. But he knows it's needed. If the situation were reversed, he knows he'd be grateful for the same gesture.

"Hey, it's me. Daniel," he says simply.

John nods. And it's enough.

Osterholt swallows hard and continues to explain. Oddly, this seems to be difficult for him. "John, on Earth now, when someone is facing a critical illness such as this, and feels they have fulfilled their rightful term on earth, euthanasia or, self-euthanasia is practiced. Do you know what this means?"

He nods again. "Suicide."

"We don't see it like that. Those who elect to do this, do so when they are currently in good health. They undergo hours of counselling. It's never then a result of depression, the wish to escape the pain of the illness."

"I don't run away. Ever." He knows what they are driving at.

"We understand. But we're satisfied that... though you are outside our preferred timescale of free choice, you would rather not be here... that you don't belong. Those are your words. You feel... displaced. Your circumstances are exceptional. You have, therefore, been granted a special dispensation by the Ethics Committee to make this decision now. It is your decision. Yours alone. We are not forcing the issue. The transplants and all the surgery will be ready for you if you decide to... 'remain' here. Nothing will be denied you. But we are certain that if you come to this decision, it's not because of the illness, but that it is due to a belief that this is simply not your time to be here on Earth. You have been receiving sedation to take the pain away, but this has been reduced so you can still make that choice with a lucid mind. That is our legal requirement. You must be given advice too. We must answer any questions you may have to help you reach a decision. And even if you decide to accept surgery, this 'quiet death' as we call it, is always yours, at a later date, if you should ever require it. Do you have any questions, John?"

There is a pause before John replies eventually.

"How?" His voice is low and husky.

"A drug," puts in the doctor. "You will simply go to sleep. You will feel nothing. This has to be administered by yourself or by someone that you select. A friend like Daniel. That's one reason why we have asked him to be present."

"What... what do you think?" Daniel is listening to all this, studying the bedclothes. He feels John's hand tightening, tensing in his. The question is directed to him and he wishes it weren't.

He shakes his head. "It's not for me, John. It's not for me to decide."

"Not... not asked you yet?"

"Actually…" and he has thought about it and nothing else for the past twenty-four hours. " I imagine the capacitor would argue that my motives were questionable. I'd want to be with Sha're," says Daniel quietly.

John falls silent and seconds pass. The doctor believes he has fallen asleep.

"John?"

John abruptly flicks open his eyes.

"You..." he swallows, "have a coin? No... I forgot. No money."

"A coin? I don't understand," says Osterholt, looking from Daniel to the doctor, who's equally mystified.

"As a matter of fact, John, you know that I still have your dime?" Daniel lets go of John's hand and retrieves John's dime out of a pocket. He doesn't know why he still carries it. He just does. Some link to the past?

Osterholt and the doctor are still baffled.

"Do it. Heads. Heads I... go," says John.

Osterholt cottons on to what Daniel is about to do. "I'm not certain if this is in order."

"You said it was his decision," points out Daniel. "You didn't say how he should reach it."

Daniel flips the coin, slaps it down on the back of his hand and takes a peek.

"Want best of three?" he asks.

"It's heads," says John, leaning back, as if resigned to his fate.

"Yeah. Yeah, it is," confirms Daniel.

"You do not have to do this. You do not have to be bound by this." Osterholt is getting flustered. He looks to the doctor for appeal. "Please re-consider. I'm not certain if this is legal."

"I've decided," says John. He's sick but Daniel can hear from his tone that he's determined now.

"You asked me here to be a witness. To make sure he's not pushed into anything. He's decided," says Daniel to Osterholt.

The doctor nods. He goes to a counter in the shadows of the room and returns with a needle linked via a strap to some small device. He swabs John's left wrist and inserts the needle's point. John, with closed eyes, barely winces. The doctor then wraps the binding round John's wrist, attaching the device. He gently takes hold of John's thumb and guides it to a small button on the device.

"You press here when you are... ready. It's very light. It requires little pressure. This then opens the valve. John, only when you are ready." John wearily lifts his head and hazily tries to look down but fails.

"Ever felt like a condemned man?" The question, the joke is aimed at Daniel. And Daniel admires the man's attempt at humour at a time like this.

"I don't understand," says Osterholt again, looking from John to Daniel.

"They have no crime, so no death row, no death penalty," says Daniel, smiling slightly.

"No. They don't, do they?"

Osterholt is still puzzled but doesn't pursue it.

"Do I… do I get special requests … like… being alone?" asks John, sucking in hard on the oxygen again. It's getting more and more difficult to get his breath back between words. But considering how ill he is, John is suddenly very coherent. It's as if… it's as if he now has purpose...

"I regret. No. There has to be at least two witnesses present. I'll leave if you like," offers Osterholt.

"No... No matter. At least... turn off the camera."

Daniel looks up sharply. How did John know?

"Apologies. Another legal requirement. For your safety. It has to be ensured that we have not actually... murdered you."

"Any more 'legal require... requirements' I should know about?"

"John… your… remains…"

"I have to make a will?"

"I don't understand again. Your remains-"

"I'd not thought... I'd honestly not thought. I'm already buried on some planet somewhere... jeez... I don't know." He buries his head in the pillow. His resolve cracks and there's tears again and his right hand clenches at Daniel's again. "Why am I... feeling... so damn sorry for myself?"

"You're allowed. On this occasion, you're allowed, you know?" says Daniel.

"We were hoping..." continues Osterholt, awkward about intruding with practicalities, "the Atlantis Memorial. May we ask for permission to place your ashes there?"

"Yeah," John says faintly. "But... no statues. Nothing like that. No choirs. No speeches. No grand parade."

He attempts to look down at his strapped wrist again. The tears well again.

"I'm tired, Daniel."

"Yeah, I know. You don't have to justify anything, John. And-" Daniel finds it's not easy to get his words out. Osterholt has given him counselling, but when it comes to it, he's not prepared for this. Who is? "And, yeah," he coughs into his free hand, "I'll miss you. You still owe me a game of chess, you know? At least, an equaliser. And... keep a place warm for me, huh?" he says, trying to keep the mood light when it's anything but.

"Sure... sure. See you on the other side."

"Yeah."

"I'll be ok, Daniel."

"Yeah. Sure you will."

"So... now what?"

"I dunno. Some famous last words?"

"Yeah. Don't eat gum."

-oAo-

He lays back and squeezes his eyes tight. The pain's crowding in now. His head hurts. The doctor whispers with Osterholt.

"If he doesn't do this soon. It will be too late. It'll be said it was the pain… then it will have to be another day..."

I'm tired, he thinks. And thinks too, that he's thought that too many times lately and meant it.

Osterholt whispers something. He hears Daniel whispering back. "I couldn't do this. No way." And Daniel… he feels Daniel draw back into the deeper shadows at the edge of his vision.

Osterholt whispers something.

They think he can't hear. They're giving him space. Discreet. He feels he should thank them, but he's just too damn tired.

He's made up his mind. The flip of a coin. Then why doesn't he just press the freaking button?

He threw his life down back then, for the greater good. Now... this is for him. Pure and selfish. But he's dying anyway…

You can never tell which way a coin will fall, but neither are there ever guarantees about the outcome of choices.

He sacrificed the lives of others for the greater good… but Todd said… hey, Todd of all people… an alien… a Wraith said… he is forgiven

He's killed a lot of guys… but… he is forgiven.

There are whispers.

He's sure there are whispers.

He sees his mother, his father, his brother as a happy family. Somewhere he hears the distant laughter of a boy.

Somewhere, he sees Teyla.

She whispers through the tears.

'We will meet again, John. I know it.' Words choke him as he watches her disappear into the blue. He knows so clearly, so exactly what she means by her whisper.

The noise of the final fight is like the hush of an evening tide. Light flashes and dances around them, slow, like the sun caught in a breeze that caresses the overhead leaves of a forest glade.

Ronon grips his arm firm though he whispers, his voice is only as a sigh.

'Hey buddy, it's been good knowing you.'

'The best,' is all John can reply.

And they nod to Rodney, who nods back. And there's tears in his eyes too.

"Too many memories," he murmurs out loud. Though… they can't possibly be his memories… so long ago...

And the light catches in the stained glass of Atlantis and she seems to scream out his name, to beg him not to leave, though she has no words. She never has words, when she speaks to him. It's as if… she's part of the light too.

But he has decided. He has decided to leave.

A darkness comes out of the shadow. He fights the darkness as Atlantis screams out his name. Pain pierces his chest and he drowns in the darkness.

"John? John?"

He jerks open his eyes but the dim light seems to burn bright… beckoning… you are forgiven…

"Guys… hey guys… where are you?"

"We're here," says Daniel somewhere in the shadows.

"No… I mean…" The Others…

You are forgiven…

There's a monitor whining loudly and someone whispers his name.

"Ok… it's ok… I'm ready."

Someone whispers again. Offers to help. But he's going to do this. He's decided now. He can fight. He can always fight. But sometimes it's harder to surrender… to surrender to the thought that he doesn't have to fight… not anymore… no more duty... freedom... he can let go…

And he squeezes his thumb against the device. Feels instantly a wave of numbing warmth surging through his body. The drug is a poison, after all, he guesses.

"There's a light." And his own voice sounds surprised.

And another voice that's distant says, "it's over."

But it's never over, never finishes.

A light. A white light.

It's nearly like... nearly like... And words fade.

The light grows larger. Takes him. And releases him. Free.

The Others are there. And he is home again. He is wrapped in light. And ghosts wrap him in love like he's never been gone...

End

A new amended ending after a suggestion from Endgame65. Many thanks. Reviewers comments are always appreciated.