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be faithful in his absence

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There's this glow over the hospital bed, and then Rodney's just- just gone.

It isn't the first time John's watched someone Ascend, but it still doesn't really hit him. He just keeps staring at the space where Rodney should be.

Elizabeth has the audacity to look pleased, even as she wipes away a tear. He really wants to call her out on it, but he can't figure out where he thinks he gets off doing it.

The funeral is sadder and more heavily attended than Rodney would have ever believed, in his infinite self-doubt. Zelenka keeps crying and John fucking hates that, fucking can't stand watching anybody cry, much less a full grown man- but he likes Zelenka, so he pats his shoulder awkwardly and tries to act like a normal person.

John hopes that Rodney comes back, just so he can tell him what a bastard he is to have left them like this.

--

It started with Evans in the anthropology department.

No, no, Rodney started it, but Evans continued it.

John hadn't even known she had the gene- it's not like he keeps track of these things unless he has to- until she'd gone down to the machine one night.

He knows more about her now than he ever did before- before it happened. From Oregon. A specialist in comparative religion. With the expedition from the start.

Now, an Ascended being.

Fuck, John thinks, watching the security footage again. He feels sick to his stomach; something tells him this won't be the last time.

--

Teyla and Elizabeth keep trying to get him to meditate.

It's like just because Rodney went up, this is now somehow a viable option for them. And hell, for Elizabeth or Teyla it just might be, but John? John's never going to fucking Ascend. John likes his cool toys and his anger and his puddlejumpers, and if he has to trade all that for an eternity of having his hands tied, then fuck Ascension.

--

Just before the effects of the machine kill him, Carson perfects his gene therapy.

John and Radek watch as the staff line up for it.

--

Ronon leaves one day and doesn't come back. John doesn't look for him. Hell, most of the time John regrets not going with him.

--

After Elizabeth goes up, he and Radek get fucked up drunk in what used to be her office.

It's not like anybody even notices, what with everybody acting like a bunch of goddamned hippies all the time. John doesn't know how they fell so far so fast; he thought he'd picked people with better sense than to get wrapped up in all this bullshit. He'd thought he could trust them, and above all, he'd thought he could trust Rodney- Rodney, who might have been his best friend, and isn't that just a little fucking sad? John's past the age where he figured he could stop worrying about making new best friends.

Rodney's going to be forever, but John's actually going to have to live with this.

And, Christ, now he's crying into Radek's shoulder, and ain't that some shit? They must have come full circle now.

--

A new commander is brought in for Atlantis, and does not last a week before making the recommendation that the entire mission is compromised and must be postponed indefinitely.

John and Radek- along with Lorne, Stackhouse, Dr. Brown, and a depressingly small handful of misfits and cynics- leave with the last flight of the Daedalus.

They both resign as soon as they're back on Earth.

--

He goes off to live in the mountains for a while. Has a nearly-inaccessible cabin, no phone, the whole bit. Every once in a while he drives into town and checks his email at the internet cafe, but that's about it.

He's there for a year before he realizes that it's fucking stupid, that he's the worst hermit ever, and that being trapped alone with just four walls and his own thoughts is pretty hellish, honestly.

So one day he just loads up his stuff and moves to California.

He stays with Lorne's dad for a while in San Francisco. John's prepared for him to be some little shit-kicker like Lorne, maybe a retired Marine, who'll ride his ass a little about being a Zoomie and set John's teeth on edge. But the guy teaches history at Berkeley, for Christ's sake, and John starts to think that maybe Evan was just as much of a giant disappointment as John was.

--

Atlantis is now consigned in his memory to the broad category of places he used to live. It confuses him sometimes, all the places that have been home; sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks how he should go for a jog to Pier 3, and he'll be halfway into his running shoes before he realizes that Pier 3 is hundreds of millions of lightyears away. It's a cold, dull ache in his heart, horrible and tired, and all he wants is to forget.

None of them can, though. He finds himself having beers with Evan or calling Prague in the middle of the night or emailing Katie for advice on his gardenias.

He has gardenias, for God's sake.

--

Rodney just appears on his balcony one morning, in between John and the ocean that he's trying to enjoy, like it hasn't been ten fucking years since he left Atlantis behind.

"Get out," John says, flat and blank.

"I'm not really here, any more than I'm anywhere else," Rodney points out.

John gets up from the table and goes back into the house.

When John goes back out, hours later, to retrieve his coffee cup, Rodney is gone.

--

Radek is in town for a conference; he sleeps in John's guest room and smuggles in a truly astounding amount of really good liquor.

"I have done something very stupid," Radek says, putting his foot up on John's coffee table and pulling up the leg of his pants. "You are going to think I am very maudlin." And there, on the back of his calf, is Pegasus. It's not the mission logo, exactly; it doesn't say Atlantis. It doesn't need to.

John just rolls up his sleeve and shows Radek his arm.

--

Many more years pass before he sees Rodney again; somehow John knew that it wasn't over. John tied himself to Atlantis and her people, and it just seems inevitable now that they'd be inextricably linked.

"So," Rodney says, when he appears in John's garden, sounding expectant in a way he has no right to.

John looks up at him briefly, then goes back to his planting. "I'm busy."

"Sorry to bother you," Rodney says, with the ring of insincerity that he had even when he wasn't supposed to be above earthly matters. "Elizabeth said to tell you hi, by the way."

"I notice you're not leaving," John says.

"Do you really want me to?" Rodney asks.

"I certainly don't want to have a friendly chat," John replies.

"That's a little rude," Rodney says.

"You know I hate you, right?" John says, stabbing his trowel into the earth; it feels like an immature question, but he'd rather be immature right at the moment.

"You don't have to," Rodney says, with a neutrality that makes John want to be even more immature.

"We had paradise," John tells him, "and you fucked it up."

"Yeah, for you I did," Rodney says, and John hates how he doesn't even sound surprised or hurt by the accusation. "I hope one day you forgive me."

"Get out of my yard," John says, and he doesn't look up from his flower bed for a long time.

--

"Sometimes I think it didn't happen," Evan says confidentially, as they sit on John's deck looking at the sunset. "Like I'm crazy, and all of this is an elaborate fantasy I had."

"Maybe it didn't," John says flippantly.

"There are a lot of people to be involved for it to be a hallucination," Katie points out. "Of course, if there were a device anywhere that caused that kind of hysteria-"

"Somebody would have accidentally sat on it in McKay's lab," Evan finishes.

John laughs, even around the pang in his chest.

--

And John's life goes on.

John is getting old. He finds that he likes it, all things considered. It doesn't beat being young, but there's a calmness to his life that John thought he hated.

John thought he hated a lot of things.

--

"Are you going to throw me out this time?" Rodney says, appearing in John's living room while John is trying to read.

"It depends," John says. He looks at Rodney consideringly. "Do you get tired of wearing that?"

Rodney looks down at himself. "This?" he says, sounding confused. "I don't think I paid more attention to my clothing before I Ascended."

"Fair point," John says. He's a little amazed at himself, that he doesn't order Rodney away when he brings up Ascension; the years have sanded down the edges, filed away the spikes that stabbed into him whenever he thought about it.

"I don't look great in off-white, I'll admit it," Rodney says. "I keep wanting to bring up all the other colors that we could easily be wearing, but nobody really seems to care."

"I'm not shocked," John says.

There's a lull, one that wouldn't be there if Rodney hadn't Ascended. Or maybe it would be; maybe in all the years they would have had together they would have been driven apart, they would have lost touch, they would have fought, they would have become like strangers.

Rodney never left. John did.

It's not something John would apologize for, but he thinks about it long after Rodney is gone.

--

It's a beautiful, sunny day in Prague when John goes to bury Radek. If it were somebody else, he'd say Radek would have wanted it that way, but this is Radek; he took particular joy in finding things to complain about even under the best conditions. Maybe a storm would have been more appropriate.

The service is not particularly long; that part Radek would have liked. When they pick up the casket, it's much lighter than John expected.

John suddenly realizes that there may not be anything inside of it.

The thought doesn't bother him nearly as much as he thought it would; he almost even smiles.

--

It's inevitable that John gets sick. He's old; that's what happens. He can't tell if he's at peace with it or in denial, because they both look calm on the outside.

"I thought the grim reaper was supposed to wear black," John says when Rodney appears next to him.

"Good for him," Rodney says. "It's slimming."

"I know you came to say something," John says.

"I came because you have something to say to me," Rodney replies.

"What does it feel like if you're ready?" John asks.

"I don't know," Rodney says. "I didn't get a choice. Well, I guess I got a choice, but the other option was death."

"Did I ever really have a choice?" John says. "Was it always going to end like this?"

"You tell me," Rodney says.

John is silent for a long time.

"Imagine yourself sitting on a ferris wheel," Rodney says, and John shuts his eyes.