John doesn't dream. Rodney – the Rodney hologram – raises his hand, a perfect imitation of Rodney's awkward goodbye wave, and then it's like the picture stutters, like there's a jump in the film: Rodney was standing there, and now he's standing there; the hand that was raised in goodbye is now clenched at his side, his thumb running nervously against his index finger. It's so Rodney that John almost forgets, again, that it's a hologram, wrinkles and grey hair notwithstanding.
He wants to reach out and touch Rodney's face, ghost his fingers over the curve where his mouth slopes downward, but he can't.
Years and years have passed, it seems.
"John?" Rodney asks tentatively. John wonders how Rodney – the real Rodney – programmed the hologram with so much emotion, so much of himself. He wonders why, as well.
"Yeah, I'm fine," John says. He doesn't feel fine; he feels weak. Not hungry, anymore, but weak, empty, maybe in the same way that the hologram is empty.
"Come on, we haven't got much time."
John nods, and steels himself for one last run across the city.
It's hotter than he remembers. He wonders how many more years until the planet is completely uninhabitable, until the city is buried completely in the sand dunes. It's already piled high in the corridors, so high in some places that John has to duck to keep his head from hitting the ceiling as he scrambles through the shifting sand. His legs ache and burn.
"You're almost there, John," Rodney says, a voice in his ear.
John keeps running.
When he gets to the gateroom, everything is as dark and red as the rest of the city, drifts of sand covering the equipment. The gate itself is dark.
"Rodney?" John asks, out of breath.
"Relax, it's okay," Rodney soothes, appearing in front of him. "We've got another minute or two until the flare. I wanted to give you enough time to get here."
John nods. Another minute or two, and he can go home. He walks down the hill of sand that has replaced the gateroom steps, getting ready. Rodney follows him down.
"Ninety seconds," Rodney says.
Then it's quiet: just him and McKay standing here in the dead city, still and waiting. He can't resist looking up to meet Rodney's eyes.
"What are you going to do, when I go?" John asks abruptly.
Rodney looks surprised by the question. "I'll shut myself down," he says, shrugging. "My purpose is fulfilled." He glances at the floor, shuffles his feet the way that Rodney does sometimes.
"Oh," John says.
Then John reaches out: places his palm against Rodney's cheek, cupping it; runs it slowly down his neck to his shoulder. There's nothing to touch, it's just air, air and photons and lightwaves and whatever else, but he can't help himself: he presses his fingers against the empty place where Rodney should be.
Rodney swallows hard, even though he can't feel John's hand where it rests against his shoulder. When he speaks, his voice cracks. Such a perfect imitation. "You maybe didn't . . . I don't know if you knew, but, he, uh, cared about you. A lot."
"I knew," John says. And then he leans in, eyes open, and presses his lips against Rodney's. He feels – he can almost imagine that he feels the ghost of a touch, just a slight pressure, like a breath of air against his lips. Rodney keeps his eyes open, too.
It's only when John pulls back, puts inches of air between them, that Rodney closes his eyes. "Ten seconds," he says.
John draws his hand back from the representation of Rodney's body.
Ten seconds later, the gate blooms into activation, a sudden and impossible blue against the red, shimmering and liquid in the heat haze. The sight of it quenches a thirst inside of him.
"So long, Rodney," he says.
"So long, John." Rodney answers, and gives him another one of those awkward little waves.
John runs forward, into the event horizon, cool blue washing over his skin and taking him home.