A/N: (hides behind hastily constructed barrier clutching my laptop) Ok... I know this is ridiculously late. Heck, I don't think anyone reads this story any more. I tried, I really tried to write this chapter nine months ago, but every time I got something down I absolutely hated it to death and I had to start all over again. Eventually I just stopped writing anything, but a few months ago I got back into it and after writing a few other stories for different fandoms I decided to take one last shot at finishing this.
I'm still not sure about this chapter, it's the last chapter and I wanted it to be something really special, and I'm not sure if I suceeded or not. You'll have to tell me if you like it or if you want me to rewrite it again.
Can I just say to anyone who ever wrote, favorited and escpecially reviewed this story that I am incredibly grateful. This is by far the longest thing I have ever written, and the only time I've even come close to finishing a multi chapter story. Thankyou for sticking by me and putting up with sporadic updates.
Once again I am very sorry that this is so late.
I fly a starship across the universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I'll be back again, and again
And again, and again
And again, and again
Highwayman - Jimmy Webb
John Sheppard was drifting between awareness and oblivion, reluctant to fully awaken. It was peaceful and calm here, he was blissfully pain free, his entire body felt light, almost insubstantial. Yes, he was quite content to stay here forever.
The voice intruding in his half aware mind had other plans.
"John, I need you to open your eyes for me. Can you do that." The familiar scottish brogue had never been so welcome, but that didn't mean he wanted to wake up right now.
He attempted to communicate this to Carson, managing a small noise of protest.
"Come on son, I know you can hear me." Carson chided gently.
John sighed and cracked his eyes open, "Hey C'rson."
It came out as a rough croak, his throat dry and scratchy. Carson quickly held out an ice chip, and John swallowed it gratefully.
Carson smiled, but his eyes were sad, "How are you feeling lad?"
John thought for a moment, "Honestly doc I don't feel a thing. I'm betting you've got me on some pretty strong painkillers though."
Carson nodded, "That I do, and don't go complaining about me drugging you, you needed them."
John raised his good arm weakly in surrender, "No complaints here, I'm just happy not to be in any pain."
Carson tried, and failed, to keep a smile on his face, "Aye lad, you've been through the wringer this time. We had to operate as soon as you got here, you were bleeding internally from the gunshot wound, on top of a broken arm, not to mention two broken ribs, and one cracked, add to that the bruising, half healed lacerations and burns, lingering infections, heatstroke, severe malnutrition and dehydration, it doesn't paint a pretty picture."
John tensed slightly, Carson hadn't mentioned anything about organ damage, did that mean he didn't know? Had Kolya been bluffing? No, John decided, that wasn't his style. That meant that either Carson hadn't spotted the organ damage yet, or he wasn't going to tell him about it.
Only one way to find out, he thought grimly.
"So doc, whats my prognosis, live to fight another day?"He asked, his voice light, belying the grave intensity in his eyes.
Carson hesitated, "Do you mind if I have a seat?" He asked quietly, indicating to the chair beside the hospital bed.
"That bad huh?"
"Aye." Carson said.
"I take it you know about the toxin?"
"How did you..."
"Kolya was more than happy to tell me all about it when he stuck that needle in my neck."
Carson sighed again, "Yes,I know about the toxin. I've got a whole team of people analysing it but-"
"By the time they know what it is it will be to late."
Carson nodded sadly, "We won't stop trying, maybe we'll be lucky and they'll be able to-"
"Find a cure? Tell me doc, if the cure was administered now, would I survive?"
Carson didn't answer.
"I didn't think so." John sighed.
"John I'm so sorry, if there was anything I could do..."
"I know doc, and I know you'll never stop trying, you'll never give up on me. But Carson, I can feel it. My body is failing."
"I know," Carson whispered bitterly, "By rights you should have been dead before we even got there. I still don't know how on earth you managed to survive."
John smiled sadly, "I wouldn't let go. I didn't want to die without getting a chance to... say goodbye. I needed to see everyone again, one last time, before I leave."
A tear finally escaped from Carson's eye, "I'm so sorry John."
"Don't be. This isn't your fault."
"Not just for this. I am sorry I didn't realise how much you were hurting after Rodney's death. I knew how close you two were, I should have seen it, but I was to wrapped up in my own grief to notice yours. If I had... if I'd done something more, maybe you wouldn't have left, and none of this would have happened."
"Carson, it was my decision to leave. I made my choice, and although it didn't really work out to well, I would do it again. None of this is your fault, you couldn't have stopped me from leaving, even if you'd known."
"Why did you leave Atlantis? Why couldn't you just go and see Heightmeyer. I know you don't like people poking around inside your head lad, but to go as far as you went, to lose your job, your home, because you refused to see a phychiatrist? Why couldn't you just let us help you?"
"I think that's a question we all want answered." Colonel Caldwell stated from the entrance to the infirmary. Behind him was Teyla, Ronon and Lorne.
John looked at Carson questioningly.
"Do they know?" He asked quietly.
Carson shook his head, "I only told them that you had come out of surgery. I wanted to wait until I'd had a better chance to analyse the compound, and by then you were starting to come around. Would you like me to tell them?"
John closed his eyes briefly, "Not yet. I think you all deserve an answer first," He sighed, Caldwell, Teyla, Ronon and Lorne all moved closer to hear him speak, at last, about why he had left, "When Rodney died, I was a complete mess. I knew it was my fault, not only had I failed to protect him, I'd pulled the god damned trigger myself! Nothing I did could change the way I felt. I had killed him, I'd killed my best friend. I didn't need a shrink to tell me I was loosing it, and I didn't exactly feel like spilling all my secrets to a stranger, or even someone I knew like Heightmeyer. I knew that unless I did, I'd lose my position, probably get discharged from the air force, but that didn't bother me to much. I was unfit for command, hell, I was unfit for any duty. What bothered me was getting sent back to earth. Since coming to Atlantis, I knew I could never go back to earth, not willingly at any rate. I'd always long to be back in Atlantis, back in Pegasus. I'd waste my life away wishing for something I could never have again."
"Would it have been so terrible to be back on earth?" Teyla asked in confusion, "I always thought your planet sounded ideal, no threat from the Wraith, all that technology..."
John shook his head sadly, "And for most people it is, but not for me. I've seen to much and done to much to ever feel 'normal' again. My father swore he'd never speak to me again after Afghanistan, and my brother followed his example. All my old friends are either still in the airforce or dead. And if I can't fight, if I can't fly, what else can I do? Work in an office somewhere, retire, sit on the couch all day watching football? No, there is nothing left for me on earth."
"So you deserted," Caldwell said bitingly, "You stunned a marine and two civilians and you ran. You turned your back on the airforce just because you didn't want to go back to your own planet?"
John winced slightly at the accusation, but he didn't deny it. It was true, he had known what he was doing, known that he was purposefully destroying his career, again. He had known the consequences, he had known that if they ever found him he would be dragged back to Earth and courtmartialed, and he had still done it.
Carson and Teyla looked like they were going to protest, but he shook his head slightly, "You have every right to be angry, I'd be angry if one of my men did what I did. I knew what I was doing, but believe me when I say I never wanted to dissapoint anyone."
"It doesn't matter, you're still going to be court marshalled. As soon as your healthy enough you will be going back to Earth," Caldwell said firmly, "Even if I have to lock you in the brig so you won't run off again."
"Believe me Colonel," John said carefully, "I have no intention of escaping, even if I were able to. But I'm afraid I won't be able to be court marshalled."
"What? Why not?" Caldwell asked, his voice hard and suspicious. There was no way he was going to let the disgraced Lietenant Colonel John Sheppard get out of this one. He had wanted the Atlantis command, he had made no secret of that fact. When he first came to Atlantis he had heard all the stories, he had assumed that they were true, that John Sheppard was inexperienced and reckless. He had disagreed with many of the man's decisions, he had been certain that he could have done a better job. Over time though he had developed a grudging respect for the other man, he was determined and tenacious, and would stop at nothing to defend his city.
When Sheppard had run from the city he hadn't just been angry, he'd been furious, because the man he had come to respect had ran, like a coward. He had wanted an explanation, needed an explanataion as to why someone loved his job the way Sheppard did would throw it all away. Now he had it, hell, he may even be able to accept the man's reasons in time, but he was damned if he was going to let him escape the consequences.
John hesitated, part of him didn't want to have to tell them, not after they had tried so hard to rescue him. It felt like he was just snatching their victory away from them, but he knew he had to. They deserved to know.
"I'm not going to be alive long enough to stand trial." He said simply.
"What do you mean?" Caldwell asked sharply, his eyes betraying concearn, "Carson will fix you up, you'll be fine." It sounded like he was trying to convince himself rather than John.
"No," he said sadly, "I won't. Carson is a wonderful doctor, and if anyone could save me it would be him, but Kolya was never going to let me leave alive." He sighed tiredly.
"After Lorne got through the gate I released Kolya. I suppose I could have killed him, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference, the rogue genii would have just killed me quicker. I was taken back to the compound for my execution. Kolya was sick of keeping me alive apparently, so he wanted me to die in front of all his soldiers. Bastard wasn't going to make it quick though, so he stabbed me in the gut, that was about five hours after Lorne went through. I shouldnt have even been alive when you found me, that wound should have killed me within the first twelve hours or so, but Kolya stopped me from bleeding to death and injected something into my neck. He said it was a mixture of stimulants and blood clotters to keep me aware long enough to suffer for his enjoyement." His voice was calm and matter of fact, which just made it seem even more terrible.
Carson was absolutely appaled, even though he had seen the results fist hand. Caldwell was struggling with pity, Lorne looked like he was going to be sick, Ronon looked like he wanted to rip out Kolya's throat and Teyla looked incredibly sad, like all the joy had fled the world.
But they remained silent, they knew he had to speak.
"The mixture of drugs was toxic, theres no antidote. Ever since he injected my organs have been shutting down. The damage is irrepairable. I don't know how long I have before my body shuts down entirely, but I don't think I'm going to make it back to Atlantis, never mind Earth."
They all looked to Carson, their eyes begging him to correct John, to tell them it was all a mistake, that he was going to be fine.
"I'm sorry but he's right, his body is shutting down. Even if I could counteract the effect of the drugs, it's to late, he's to far gone. All I can do is keep him comfortable. I've got him on some pretty strong painkillers, but soon even those won't be enough. I'm giving him as much as his body can cope with, but I'm going to have to start upping the dosages soon, which will do even more damage," Carson tried to keep his tone professional, but his voice failed him, "I'm sorry, I just can't do anything more."
"It's ok Carson," John said gently, "You've done enough."
"Damn it!" Ronon roared suddenly, slamming his fist into a wall, ignoring the damage he did to his hand, "We were to late! Why can't we have gotten there sooner?" The anger fled, replaced by sadness.
"We should have saved you." He said at last.
John smiled sadly, somehow serenely, "You did. I'm alive, I'm awake, I'm aware, I'm not in any pain. What more could I ask for?"
"But your dying." Teyla said sadly.
"If you hadn't found me I would have died in agony, surrounded by enemies with only ghosts for comfort. I would have died without saying goodbye, without apologising for leaving you all. I would have died alone. Thank you for saving me from that." He said earnestly, trying to make them understand.
This wasn't a defeat, this was a victory. He was free, free from the clutches of a sadistic captor, free from pain, from despair and loneliness.
"Thats the reason I held on as long as I did, to say goodbye. I knew that if I died without saying it you'd always feel guilty, like there was something you could have done to save me, but there wasn't. I'm just glad you came for me."
Teyla reached forwards almost hesitantly, placing her hand on his good arm, "We would always come for you John, we would never let you die alone if we could do anything to stop it." She said, her voice sad yet full of affection.
His smile was grateful, if slightly bemused, he was still a little surprised that they would care. A whole year of guilt and self loathing was hard to erase, and part of him was still crying out, desperate for some sort of comfort.
Unbidden the dark thoughts came back, a surge of guilt and despair that he was completely unprepared for. He fought to keep his face steady, slipping behind the smiling mask that used to come so easily. He was surrounded by friends, but it didn't matter, he still had to face the knowledge that he had killed his best friend. Nothing could change that.
"Now now, none of that!" A familiar voice drawled from behind the group, "You were doing so well, don't start beating yourself up over my death again."
Every person in the room except John jumped in surprise, whipping around to face the dead scientist.
"Rodney..." Teyla breathed.
John was confused, "Wait, you can see him?"
"Of course she can John, everyone can. I'm breaking the rules, again, but for some reason the other ascendeds aren't punishing me. I think they like you Sheppard," He grinned, raising his eyebrow, "Or at least, the women do."
"But wait... you really are ascended? I thought I was just crazy."
"You were, a little. Sometimes it was me, sometimes it wasn't. But I really am ascended, and a lot of the time I really was there."
The others could only look on in complete confusion.
"Ok, long story short I ascended after I was dead, hard to do, but possible. Ascension is... strange. I suppose I could have done anything, but instead I decided to follow Sheppard around, in between hanging around Atlantis to make sure some idiot didn't blow her up while I was gone. There were rules though, I couldn't show myself, I couldn't interfere with 'lower plains of existence'?
"Still, I may have... bent the rules around Sheppard. Those times when I screamed and yelled at you for killing me? That wasn't me. That was you going nuts. Pretty much everything else was really me though, starting when you decided to try a little DIY surgery." He smirked at the look on Carson's face.
"Dare I ask?" Carson asked, his voice filled with shock.
"Colonel Sheppard here decided that it was a good idea to cut out his subcutaneous transmitter with his tactical knife and a pair of tweezers." He said, dobbing Sheppard in with glee.
"If you can't interfere, why are they letting you talk to us now?" Caldwell asked, trying to regain some control over the situation.
"Like I said, they like Sheppard. They've been letting me talk to him, they even let me tell him I was ascended after Kolya stabbed him. Thats all I can do though, talk. I coudn't heal him, I couldn't save him, all I could do was be there with him. After you guys saved him I thought I could butt out for a while, but apparently he's not finished rolling in self recrimination yet."
The ascended Rodney turned to John, his voice firm, "Stop feeling guilty! My death wasn't your fault, you thought you were defending a friend from an enemy soldier, you couldn't have known it was me, so stop hating yourself for it. I know it's hard, it's hard to erase months, years of guilt, but you have to try. Because I know why the others are letting me break the rules, I know why they're letting me talk to you, talk to all of you. They want you to ascend. I want you to ascend. The only one who doesn't think you deserve it is you!"
"Rodney, I already told you, I'm not going to ascend, it's not for me..."
"How do you know? All you know about ascension you learned from a group of humans, humans with there own beliefs. You don't know what it's like, no one can, until they do it."
"What's it like then." John asked.
Rodney's eyes went distant, "I can't tell you much, it's hard to put into words and I think ifI told you some things I'd get in an awful lot of trouble. But John..." he breathed, his voice filled with wonder, "You would love it. Well, maybe not the rules, but they're a small price to pay."
"I know you would never chose ascension over life on this plane, your sense of duty is to strong for that. But your dying. If it's a choice between Death or Ascension, please choose Ascension."
John closed his eyes, closing everyone out, just for a moment. He tried to get himself under control, battling the sruges of emotion within his soul. Guilt, pain and despair battled with hope, joy and love, the firmness of Rodney's voice driving away an lingering doubts, the presence of his friends soothing the loneliness. The darkness was slowly being driven away, the light winning.
After a while he opened his eyes, his face composed once more, peaceful, the last traces of guilt leaving his face. He smiled lightly at Rodney.
"I don't know if I can ascend, I've never given it much thought, but I'll try."
John hid a grimace as his body began to ache once more, the painkillers no longer enough to keep him from feeling the failure of his body, even at dangerously high doses. He didn't want Carson to worry about it, there wasn't anything he could do to fix it.
Everyone around him had settled. Caldwell had gone back to the bridge, Ronon and Teyla were sitting by his bedside, Lorne had been bullied back into the infirmary bed he had recently vacated, Carson was watching the monitors carefully and Rodney was trying to explain ascension, in aroundabout sort of way.
"All that Ancient mumbo jumbo about 'releasing your burden' is a little confusing, it's all about getting into the right mental state. You've actually got a bit of an advantage, it's easier to do with the help of someone who's already ascended, for example, me."
"In order to ascend you need to understand yourself, you need to know your faults and accept them, but you also need to accept your strengths. You're not going tobe able to do this if you keep thinking you don't deserve it."
"When you're ready, I can help you through it. We don't need to do it now," he said, looking around a little wistfully, "You can stay for as long as you need, say your goodbyes, get your affairs in order, then, when you're ready, we can begin."
John nodded, "Thank you Rodney," he said, "For everything."
It was something he'd never imagined he'd have to do, getting his affairs in order, facing his death, or Ascension, and preparing for it. Hed never thought that he'd know the hour of his death. Sure,he updated his will, wrote letters to family and friends, but it was always just in case, never with the knowledge that he really was going to die.
This was different. These letters weren't going to be some broad statement covering all possibilities, but his last words to his family and friends. Even if he could ascend, he would still be gone.
His arm shook as he forced himself to write, the letter adressed to his father and his brother. He didn't know if they'd even read it, but if Ascension meant accepting yourself he supposed he had to face the way he felt about his family.
Dear Dad and Dave
I'm sorry that I won't be able to deliver this letter in person, when you recieve this letter, I'll be gone. There won't be a body to bury I'm afraid, probably just a flag, maybe not even that considering I went and did something monumentally stupid and career destroying, again. I'm sorry I can't tell you where I've been for the past three years, I'm not really sure what they told you after I left McMurdo but the location is classified. Pretty much everything is classified, but I'll tell you what I can. Maybe one day it will all be made public and someone will be able to tell you everything.
I have spent much of the last four years on a base in a remote location. When I say remote, I mean more even more remote than McMurdo, I'll leave it to you to ponder how that's possible. It's hard to believe, but for the first three years I was actually the milliatary commander of my base. Even I find it hard to believe sometimes, I didn't think anyone would give me a chance, not after the mess in Afghanistan. After the last millitary commader was killed though I was the highest ranking milliatary officer left. We were cut off, and so no replacement commander was sent. Apparently I did a good enough job so that even after we were connected again I kept my command and was actually promoted. I was Lietenant Colonel John Sheppard, although I'm not sure if the rank is still valid.
I loved my job, our base was filled with wonderful people, milliatary and civillian alike. I led a team that consisted of myself, our lead scientist and two people native to the area. We were very close, more like brothers and sisters than friends. Our base was so remote that after a while we were all like family.
It was dangerous, there have been many times when I was certain I was going to die. I always managed to escape though, most of the time through sheer luck. Other people havn't been as lucky, I've lost men under my command, civilians as well, far to many. Everyone's luck runs out at some point, and now it is my turn.
As I said earlier, pretty much everything is classified. All I can really tell you is that I was captured and injected with a toxin, it's destroying my body and I probably only have a couple of hours left. I won't make it home, I wob' ever be able to tell either of you how sorry I am.
I'm sorry I ran out on you both. The moment I was eighteen I was out that door, never looking back, all I wanted to do was fly. I didn't stop to think how much I was hurting either of you, I didn't consider the fact that you might have been worried about my safety, all I knew was that I wanted the sky and I thought you two were keeping me from it. I know we reconnected after I graduated, but I know you never really forgave me for it.
I'm sorry about what happened in Afghanistan. I screwed up, I screwed up so bad I thought that nothing would ever be the same again, and it wasn't. When I was given the opportunity to come on this expedition, I didn't even think about telling you, even though I knew there was a very high chance I wouldn't be coming home.
I was a coward, I couldn't face you. And I'm sorry.
Most of all, I'm sorry that I left it until now to tell you just how sorry I am, for everything. These things should have been said a long time ago, they should have been said face to face. I should have turned up at your door and told you, even if you didn't listen I still should have tried.
Instead all you'll get is this letter. You'll never get to see me again, you'll never even know why.
And I'm sorry.
I just wish I could have made things right between us before I had to leave.
I never talk about my feelings, I never tell anyone what they mean to me, but if I don't say it now then I'm never going to get the chance to.
I love you, both of you. I am thinking of you now and always.
I wish I could have been a better son, and a better brother.
Love, John Sheppard.
He set the pen down, ignoring the stinging in his eyes. He didn't know how his family would react to his letter, he didn't know if they'd ever be able to accept his apology, but he had tried, and that was all he could do, in the end.
The next letter was shorter, just a few lines really. The last thing he wanted to do was open old wounds and bitterness.
I'm sorry I couldn't make our marriage work, I'm sorry I couldn't give you what you needed or deserved. I hope you found someone who can give you everything I couldn't, I hope you live a long, happy life.
All my love.
His possessions were easier to organsise, his will had already included provisions for all his friends and family, all that really needed to be done was arranging Rodney's share to go to his sister instead.
The business done, he turned to his friends with a smile.
"Everything has been taken care of," he sighed, "I suppose I could go now, but I want to stay around a little longer." He smiled at his friends again. Everyone in the infirmary had pulled back a little to give them the semblance of privacy.
"I missed you guys, more than you can imagine. Before I came to Atlantis I was used to being alone, I'd been alone for solong, ever since Afghanistan, that it just became normal. You guys know I'm not really into the whole... feelings thing but your the closest thing I've ever had to a family. Rodney and Ronon, you're my brothers, Teyla, you're my sister. When I was on Atlantis I knew, no matter how bad things got, you'd always be there. Ronon, you'd always take me running or drag me down to the gym when you knew I needed to work off some steam, Teyla, you'd always try to help me meditate when I was worried or stressed, and you didn't seem to mind to much when I fell asleep, Rodney, you'd always be there when I was bored, taking me down to the labs to turn on ancient devices, playing chess or just discussing whether Batman could beat Wolverine in a fight. Even when I woke up in the infirmary drugged out of my mind after going ten rounds with a wraith or losing an argument with the floor you'd all be there. I never knew how much I needed that until it was gone."
Ronon clasped his good arm gruffly, "Sheppard, you are my brother as well. After Rodney died I blamed you, I was angry, I was hurting, we were all hurting. But I didn't think how much you were hurting. That was wrong, and I'm sorry."
Teyla put her hand on his shoulder, smiling sadly, "I am sorry as well John. I knew you were
hurting as well, and I did nothing. I should have tried, but I didn't."
"It's ok, really it is. I don't hold it against either of you, I'm just glad that you're here now, that I'm not alone anymore."
Rodney just smiled at all of them smugly, obviously pleased that his meddling had worked.
Ronon suddenly grinned slyly, "I wonder what would happen if you threw jello at an ascended?" he pondered. John grinned, Teyla merely raised one eyebrow, and Rodney looked indignant.
"Hey! No throwing jello at dead people!" Rodney protested.
"Would that even work?" John asked curiously, "I mean, we can see him and tal to him, but he's not really here, so wouldn't it go right through him? What do you think Teyla?"
Teyla's eyes glittered with unexpected mischief, "Well I suppose if we wanted to find out we'd have to put it to the test." She suggested.
"Carson, can we have some jello?" John asked innocently.
Carson looked confused and slightly suspicious, "Why do you want jello?"
"Oh, no real reason," Teyla lied, her voice filled with wicked humor, "Just trying to satisfy an idle curiosity."
"Don't believe them Carson," Rodney warned, "They want to throw jello at me to see if it would go through!"
"Well I can't have you lot making a mess in the infirmary, even if it is in the interests of scientific discovery, although..." he pondered, rumaging through his pockets, "Cotton buds wouldn't make much of a mess."
With that comment he proceededto throw a handful of them at Rodney, watching with curiosity as the sailed through his insubstantial form.
"Carson!" Rodney moaned.
John relaxed into the matress with a beatific smile as Rodney used his ascended powers to toss cotton buds at Ronon and Teyla, who proceeded to throw them at each other, while Carson watched as his infirmary began to resemble a snowglobe. This was home.
It was getting harder and harder to keep his eyes open as he talked with Rodney, Ronon and Teyla, weariness seeping slowly through his body. It wasn't the bone deep, soul crushing weariness he had felt before though, it was light and plesant, a comfortable feeling that promised rest and relaxation after a long day, the soft call of sleep.
It wasn't sleep that called, but a deeper, more profound rest, the shedding of all burdens. It didn't matter what awaited him, either ascension or death. He didn't want to leave yet though, he wanted to savor this feeling of belonging and peace, of family and friendship.
He could feel all his cares slipping away, and, for the first time, he actually believed that he could ascend, if he wanted to.
Rodney caught his eye and winked, and John smiled.
The smile was tinged with sadness though. He didn't want to go, he didn't wantto leave half his family behind.
He knew he had to though, the painkillers were losing there effectiveness, pain once again rippling through him. His body was failing. If he delayed much longer he didn't know if he'd be able to even try to ascend.
He looked at Ronon and Teyla, trying to convey all his love in that look, before turning to Rodney with a sad smile.
Carson had given him one last dose of painkillers, just enough to take the edge off without making him drowsy. Caldwell had come down from the bridge and was standing at a respectful distance. Lorne was sitting on the adjacent bed despite Carson's strict orders to rest. Ronon and Teyla were on either side, Carson standing by.
It was time to say his goodbyes.
He turned to Colonel Caldwell.
"Colonel, I'm sorry you won't be able to court marshall me." he said with a half smile.
Caldwell smiled in spite of himself, "I think I can live with that," he said dryly, "I found myself not looking forward to it like I thought I would."
"For what it's worth, I may not have always respected your authority, but I always respected you."
The Colonel's eyes widened in slight shock, "The sentiment is mutual Sheppard, while you may not have always made decisions I agreed with, everything you did was for the safety of your men. If that isn't worthy of respect, I don't know what is."
"Thankyou sir." John said, saluting his commanding officer as smartly as he could. Caldwell returned the salute just as smartly, before returning to his spot further back in the infirmary.
"Lorne, you were one heck of an XO, I knew I could always rely on you to take care of Atlantis when I wasn't around, and to keep people safe. Take care of the old girl for me would you?"
"I will sir." Lorne said, and he meant it. Atlantis was far more than just a city, and she needed someone to talk with every now and then. He to moved away to give the group a bit of space.
"Carson, please don't think any of this is your fault. You did a great job keeping me alive this long, and I'm not just talking about this time around. I can't begin to imagine what life would have been like without you there to patch me up, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have lasted a month. Your a wonderful doctor, even when you chasing me around the corridors with a needle or bugging me to eat more. Not just that, you're a great friend."
Carson smiled, though it was a slightly watery smile, "You're a bloody terrible patient," he tried to laugh, "But you're the best man I know, and a true friend. Never forget that John."
"I won't" John promised.
Carson drew back slightly, never going far enough away that he couldn't be there if he was needed.
"Ronon, Teyla, I'm sorry I have to leave you again, I'd do anything to stick around, but we all know I can't. Ronon, keep the marines from getting to cocky, they need to get there asses handed to them every now and then to remind them that they're not invincible. I wish I could fight like you can. Teyla, try to keep the expedition from making too many enemies. I suppose I can say it now because you won't be able to get revenge, but you are really pretty!"
"Take care of each other, don't let the expedition make too many mistakes."
Teyla smiled gently, moving in to touch foreheads with John in the Athosian manner, "We will John."
Ronon clasped his arm gruffly, his eyes saying more than words ever could.
Rodney moved in.
"Ok John, you need to close your eyes and relax as much as possible for me," He said, his eyes filled with purpose, "Ronon, Teyla, if you could each put a hand on his shoulders, just enough to let him know you're there, I think it would help. John, you'll feel like your falling unconscious, but that's good, let it happen."
They did so, and John let himself relax into the infirmary bed, his eyelids growing heavy and sliding shut, his breathing slowing and his hear rate dropping. He felt the gentle pull of unconciousness, but this time he did not resist. The infirmary faded away. He could still feel the light touches on his shoulders, he knew he wasn't alone.
Rodney watched as John seemed to fall asleep, nodding to himself. He looked at Carson and smiled nervously, "This should work."
Moving forwards he placed his hand on John's forhead, ignoring the looks of shock when he disappeared from the infirmary.
John looked around, he was asleep, wasn't he? But at the same time, he wasn't, he was on the balcony in Atlantis, watching the sun rise over the ocean, a light sea breeze running through his hair. He slowly became aware of Rodney leaning against the rail beside him.
"So this is what your mind came up with to relax?" Rodney said, looking around curiously, "Very nice?"
John smiled, "It's peaceful," he said as if it explained everything, "I used to come here nearly every morning, just to relax and watch the sun rise. Then I could walk through those doors into a brand new day."
"You know why we're here?"
"You're going to try and help me ascend."
"Yes, I am. I think you can do it, you're nearly there already. All you have to do is let go and walk through those doors."
John felt a tickle of doubt, "What if I'm not good enough?"
"John, the very worst thing that can happen is nothing at all. You will either acend or die, but either way you will go with the love of many. Do yourself a favor and try. I'm not very good at this spiritual mumbo jumbo, but try to see yourself as others see you."
"When people look at me they see a failure." John said sadly.
"No, when people look at you they see a man who tries. You beat yourself up over every death, because you try so hard to protect people. You see yourself as a failure because people die, but for every person you can't save, you save many many more. You have single handedly saved everyone on Atlantis many times over, just as many times as I have. If I can ascend, surely you can to?" He challenged.
"Please, just try."
John stood, slightly shocked at Rodney's words. For all that people told him he was a good person, he had never really believed them. He was a soldier, he killed to protect, it was his job. The way he saw it, laying down your life for the safety of others wasn't being a hero, it was just doing his job. He was expendable, Afghanistan had taught him that.
Of course he would never ask any of his men to do that, they were under his protection. He would die for any one of them. He realised that his sense of self worth was more than a little skewed, he was always willing to put himself in danger before everyone else. His own safety was something he rarely even considered.
Did that make him a good person, or just an idiot with a death wish?
Why did he feel such a strong need to protect?
Because every person was valued, every person was needed, every person deserved to be safe, and he could make them safe. He needed to protect them.
What else could he do? Could he turn his back and let someone else die in his place? Could he put his own safety before the safety of his men, or the civillians he protected?
No, he could never do that.
He was more than just a soldier following orders. He was more than just a man doing his job.
He was a protector, a guardian, always willing to do what was necesarry to keep his people safe.
And maybe, just maybe that meant he was a good person.
He squared his shoulders slightly.
"Ok Rodney, I'll try."
He walked towards the Door, feeling the world around him slip away. The balcony, the ocean and the sky, all of it fading away until all there was was the Door. The Door, two hands on his shoulders and Rodney standing triumphantly.
With a final breath he raised his hand to the Door. The Door opened, light pouring out and engulfing him.
Everyone watching was shocked as the monitors screamed frantically, John's heart had stopped.
The light surrounded him, it burned but there was no pain. His body was broken, but he no longer had any need of it. With a smile he turned to Rodney.
See you on the other side.
He walked through the Door.
Rodney appeared as suddenly as he had disappeared, and was instantly bombarded with questions. Carson had lept into action, instinctively moving to try and restart John's heart.
"Carson, wait. Just watch." he said, smiling despite everyone elses panic.
Ronon and Teyla jolted back in shock as John's body started to glow, brighter and brighter and brighter until there was no body at all, just pure light, shining brighter than the sun.
He was shining, he could feel it. He could 'see' the infirmary, 'see' the shapes of his friends around the bed where his body had once lay. He almost wanted to stay.
But he couldn't.
With great effort he forced himself into a form they would recognise and stood before them, smiling. He was still glowing, still shining.
Rodney stepped forwards.
Are you ready?
John looked at his friends one last time.
Only one way to find out.
The forms of Rodney and John flared inandescent white for one moment and then they were gone, leaving this plane of existence behind.
It was... indescribable. There were simply no words for it, the very concept was intangible and insubstantial, it defied description. Pure energy swirled, power just a thought away, things he could never have imagined seeing or knowing or doing. He had no eyes to see with, no face to smile with, but somehow he grinned at Rodney, who was somehow there, but there was no there. He was everywhere, and nowhere, all at once.
Elation and delight flared within his soul, he was truly and finally free.
It felt... like flying.
A/N: Love it? Hate it? I really don't know if it's any good. Do you guys want an epilogue?