The city was eerily silent as Rodney walked down the puddlejumper's ramp except for his footsteps which echoed in the cavernous jumper bay as he edged towards the door. The empty corridors lit up as he strode through them, the bubbles of the decorative water towers the only thing that moved, apart from himself.
The city was perfect. There was no trace of the scorch marks from the energy weapons, of the grooves on the walls made by the projectile impacts, and the crystals once broken in a myriad of pieces were once again whole. There wasn't even a wisp of dust or a single drop of blood. It was like the city was brand new and nothing had happened.
Yet, something was different. The low level hum that all ATA gene carriers felt in the backs of their minds from the city had changed. Unlike the cool touch from before, now it was a warm sensation that spread though his mind.
Rodney descended the stairs to the control room and stopped in the middle of the floor. Though nothing was visible anymore, his memory supplied the picture of the pool of blood left by the gash on John's side before he managed to get up and limp to the control chair, one arm over Lorne's shoulders, the other hand ineffectually trying to stop the blood slowly leaving his body. Rodney closed his eyes and swallowed hard as the memory tried to overwhelm him.
Slowly, he moved to the gate controls and sat down. The Stargate stood pristine on the floor below, with the brushed metal sparkling under the evening light that filtered through the stained-glass window over it. Rodney took a deep breath to steady himself and dived under the console. Everything seemed in order, all crystals in place and so clear that he could see the platinum connections under them.
However, when he pushed the chevrons nothing happened. The chevron key under his finger didn't light up, and neither did the ‘Gate. Rodney hit the key again and again and again, first with his fingers and then slammed it with his closed fist. His hand throbbed with a dull pain, but the Stargate remained silent.
Suddenly, Rodney felt a low tremor passing through the room and, just in front of the gate, the floor seemed to ripple in circular shockwaves. It took Rodney several seconds to realize they were waves of nanobots emerging from the walls of the city and coalescing on a single point. Rodney jumped out his chair, grabbing the rail to steady himself, conflicted between wanting to see more of that technical marvel and running up to the jumper for something to create an EM pulse with.
In the center of the floor the nanobots were merging in a single column of metal that rippled as it started taking form, like a statue modeling itself from within. While the lower part remained undefined, from the middle it started taking humanoid form: first the waist, then the torso and arms and finally the head.
The features were the last thing to be defined: an oval face framed by messy cowlicks that seemed to have just come out of bed, directing his gaze to a pair of eyes that, though it should be impossible in something made of metal, seemed to shine with its own hazel light. The lips curved into a smile that was, at the same time, irreverent and sincere.
It was a face he'd seen hundreds of times (full of wonder in an Ancient chair in Antarctica, steely and closed off when dealing with a threat, soft and sated in his bed here in Atlantis), and Rodney's heart thumped faster. He walked down the stairs slowly, the remaining nanobots opening a path for him. The figure was looking directly into Rodney's eyes and offered him it’s right hand, open and inviting.
Rodney swallowed hard, closing his hands into fists to stop the trembling, a part of him screaming against the impossibility of it all while another hoped against hope that Atlantis had made the miracle possible. The figure with John's face never took its eyes away from him, and its smile widened as Rodney moved closer. He stopped right in front of him, his gaze moving from its extended hand to its face and back again, biting his lip nervously while trying to decide if it was really John.
Memories flashed through his mind, and under them all shimmered three facts:
One - John had been wounded fatally when he took the Chair, and Carson didn’t believe he’d survive. They’d lost communication with him after the Daedalus evacuated the last members of the expedition but, as it flew away, its scanners saw the chain of explosions that destroyed the Wraith fleet.
Two - something had rebuilt the city while he was away, and Rodney knew the automatic maintenance programs weren’t up to that.
But the most important was - Three - that Atlantis had never had any kind of AI or anything remotely similar before. Nothing like the wave of affection and love that now poured into his mind from his connection with the city.
The statue leaned forward, trying to extend its hand farther, its expression morphing into one of intense longing, its eyes fixed on Rodney’s, while its lower part started to ripple again.
Was it John or wasn't it?
Rodney closed his eyes and took his hand.