Rush knew something was terribly wrong before he opened his eyes. His chest felt heavy and the pit of his stomach sour. Sparks of fear flitted around his heart. And something darker, something that pulled him away from himself, refused to let him open his eyes, pinned his limbs to the bed. He lay still for a minute and listened. He could hear TJ’s soft voice to his right. She was being patient but firm with someone. By the pitch of the answering voice he gathered it was Eli.
What had Mandy said? Eli had to do something. Something that made her scared and sad.
What was it?
How bad could it be?
Mandy was here. How bad could anything be?
He would fix it.
Mandy was here.
Why did he feel so awful?
What was so wrong?
Whatever it was, he could fix it. Or she could fix it.
He just needed to see her. Maybe she was already here. Why wouldn’t she be? Eli was here.
He clung to the thought of her as he opened his eyes.
The look on Eli’s face. Tamara’s face.
Memory came hurtling back like a landslide.
When Eli told him, he was livid. Rush had uploaded his consciousness into the ship to be with his, what? girlfriend?
Rush? The man who had no friends. Who showed little to no sign of needing any human interaction whatsoever. Who actively and deliberately shut down any and every personal conversation. Who recoiled from touch as if it burned him. Rush. Uploaded. His consciousness. For sex. With Amanda Perry. The mind boggled.
But then, he did trek halfway across an alien desert to murder the man who killed her. Not knowing if Destiny would be able to return, and so potentially giving up his mission and his own life. If that wasn’t love, what was?
Everett didn’t know. He couldn’t pretend to understand Rush’s motivations, much less emotions. But something about this entire charade struck him as dangerously discordant with what he knew of the man. He’d been out of the infirmary for two days. There were going to be words. A few months ago, Young thought, clenching and unclenching his hands, there would have been fists.
Now he just had to find him.
Rush had tried. After his confrontation with Eli in the infirmary, he had tried to find a way to bring Ginn back. Surely he could separate them. It made no sense for Amanda’s program to be bound up with Ginn’s.
It appeared she had written it into the program as a kind of insurance policy. The thought made him sick.
He had gone into the chair willingly, trusting her with everything he’d kept from everyone else for so long. It was unthinking. Careless. Stupid. Reckless. The same kind of recklessness that drove him after Simeon. But he loved her. And he was drowning. After the Nakai, the Lucian Alliance, the bridge, Destiny as Gloria, Riley, Young’s fists, Telford, Chloe, his twin. Her death. Simeon.
He thought she was his life raft.
He could not have been more wrong.
She wasn’t the person he thought she was. Maybe that was Destiny’s fault. Maybe death changed her. The insecurity he could deal with. The lying scared him. Sure, he had a flexible relationship with the truth. But that was with people he didn’t really know. People he didn’t really trust. It horrified him to think that Young, for all his faults—poor decisions, hesitations, anger problems, propensity for violence—had been more honest, more straightforward with him than Mandy had. When he’d only ever told Mandy the truth—mostly— and he’d spent most of his time trying to manipulate and run circles around Young. What the fuck was going on? This was not the way it was supposed to be. What was wrong with him?
He thought of Mandy’s shifting and hedging as he tried to get out of the neural interface chair. Her excuses ramped up to a terrifying lie that he was going to blow up the ship. He couldn’t understand it. Why hadn’t she trusted him? Why had she played games with him? And why did it bother him so much? He quashed a touch of horror at the memory of the kiss that he shouldn’t have been able to feel.
A small part of him protested that the parameters should have worked. Maybe it was his fault. Maybe his feelings weren’t strong enough. Or maybe he wasn’t capable of love after Gloria. Or before.
Or maybe her idea of what love was different. Too different.
Maybe she scared the shit out of him and he stopped feeling it.
Rush wasn’t answering his radio. Of course. What else was new? He tried the bridge, the CI room, the math corridor, the mess, hydroponics, even the observation deck. Nothing.
He wound his way through Destiny’s corridors to the last place he expected to find Rush—his own damn quarters.
He knocked. “Rush?”
He knocked louder. “Rush, are you in there?”
He hit the door controls. Hmm. Unlocked. He walked in.
Rush’s quarters made his own look cluttered. Aside from a chess set, a laptop and a speaker deck, the room had no personal possessions. Rush was seated at the larger table, staring at his laptop, head propped up by his left hand tangled in his hair. He had a pair of headphones in and was staring blankly at the screen. He blinked in surprise at the door and yanked his headphones out.
“Colonel?” He stood up slowly, pressing his hand into the table, as if he were in pain.
Young considered his appearance for a moment before answering. He looked worse than usual. Greasy hair, scruffier beard, clothes that definitely needed a run through the laundry, dark circles under his eyes. And he didn’t look angry. Young had just waltzed into his quarters and Rush just looked exhausted. A pang of sympathy hit him.
He cleared his throat. “We need to talk,” he said gruffly.
“Do we?” Rush sighed and looked down. “About what?” He was playing dumb, but there was no heart in it. His tone was flat. Young still took the bait, partly out of habit, partly because he was angry. And, if he was quite honest with himself, because he knew how to deal with angry Rush. Despondent Rush was making him distinctly uncomfortable.
“You know very damn well.” The part of him that was feeling sympathy knew he shouldn’t swear at the scientist, but he couldn’t quite help it. He crossed the room to stand two feet away from Rush, who he was leaning against the table. “I just spent two hours talking Eli down from reporting you to the SGC to get you stripped of your position and put under some elaborate version house arrest for murder and criminal negligence. You wanna give me a goddamn reason why I shouldn’t? What the fuck were you thinking?”
Rush, who whose irritation had been slowly—or not so slowly— building since Young arrived, bristled, shaking away his quiet demeanour and exhaustion. Unsurprisingly, anger lit the man up. His eyes flashed. “I don’t know. What the fuck were you thinking when you beat me senseless and left me on a planet to die? If you want to talk about murder and criminal negligence, by all means, let’s…,” he hissed.
Young tried to dodge. “Don’t give me that. You know that’s not the issue here. Stop playing games.”
He could tell the rant was coming. The damning, evisceration of his character. The threatening and shouting. He braced for it and Rush predictably obliged. “You’re such a control freak, and a useless one at that. Meddling in things you don’t understand. You can barely read Ancient, you know nothing of computers or math or astrophysics. How you can expect to lead this mission is beyond me. You don’t understand Destiny and yet you keep trying, keep expecting to control her. You keep trying to control me. But you can’t. I won’t let you,” he sneered. “You have no power over my decisions. My choices. I don’t have to tell you anything.” He waved his right hand dismissively and aggressively into the space between them, forcing Young to step back slightly.
As watched the other man, he could see, he could see Rush going on the offensive. He was just trying to manipulate the situation, put Young on the defensive. Insult him to distract him. Gesticulate to take up more space, be more aggressive. It was a tactic. This was Rush’s default operating mode, use his wit and his scathing disdain to scare people into submission, into leaving him alone. But something was different this time. Rush wasn’t meeting his eyes. He was upset, but distracted. The words poured out of him, but without the usual focus and conviction. As if he was an actor, tired at the end of a rehearsal. Young was surprised at what he detected beneath his words: they were empty. Old and tired insults designed to throw him off balance. They had worked before, but this time they fell lifeless between them.
Then it hit him. Rush was ashamed. Shit. This was new. And god help him, he knew what that was like. He wanted to yell back. He really wanted to. But he knew from his own experience that guilt would be much more effective than intimidation. Guilt was a way in under the armour. And guilt was exactly what Young wanted Rush to feel. It was what he deserved. Bastard. Fucking indispensible bastard. He forced himself to keep eye contact as he laid bare a painful truth, though to which of them it would be more painful—him to admit it, or Rush to hear it—he was unsure. He leaned in to Rush’s space. “That’s twice now. Twice,” he growled, narrowing his eyes.
“Twice what, Colonel?” Rush twisted the title into an insult.
“Twice," Young kept his voice low. "You abandoned the mission. Destiny. And you abandoned us.”
Rush stared at him, surprised. It was clearly not what he’d expected, not by far.
“What?” He breathed sharply, almost a whisper. He narrowed his eyes and stared at Young hard.
Breathe, Young thought to himself. The worst was over and there were no explosions yet. Stick to the facts. Rush can’t argue with the facts. He took a deep breath.
“Twice. First when you went after Simeon.” He paused, letting it sink in for Rush. He remembered the panic on the bridge and the cold fear blooming in his chest when the implications of Rush not turning back to the gate sunk in. Even Brody, who rarely lashed out and usually took Rush’s antics in stride, was angry. Everyone was scared. Chloe, god bless her, was more like Rush than anyone had noticed, or even considered likely. She refused to admit defeat. She wouldn’t leave him on the planet. Not for anything. She found a way, plotting a new FTL course and turning the ship around. And she had screamed at him after, as he stumbled through the gate, losing coherence in her tears: “How could you? How COULD YOU?” It had reminded Young of the first time. All righteous, destructive fury, she had blamed him for her father’s death. She had hated him then. Now, well… so much had changed. Chloe was one of the few people on the ship Rush spoke to and who spoke to Rush. Rush hadn’t gotten angry. He’d just stood there stoically and took it, gripping the railing with white knuckles and gulping water. “It doesn't matter,” he’d said. "I’m here now.” It had made her more angry, and she collapsed against Eli and Scott. As they lead her away, Eli looked like he wanted to murder Rush himself, though whether it was because he’d done what Eli couldn’t or because he’d endangered them by disappearing, Young didn’t know.
Because out here, on the edge of the universe, it was more dangerous without Rush. By far. He hated to admit it. But it was the truth. He was worth every damn ounce of work Young put into him as far as he was concerned. Especially after the Lucian Alliance. And Chloe’s abduction.
He looked at Rush’s surprise and continued. “And second, when you uploaded your consciousness to the ship.”
Rush shook his head, hair falling in his eyes. He looked down. He tried to cover. “I did no such thing. I knew that Chloe…”
“Save it.” Young interrupted. “I saw your face when you came back. You didn’t know. You didn’t care. Where was the mission then? The greater good? How are we supposed to do this without you, you bastard? You want to stay on the ship. You call for volunteers. You convince me. The mission. The secrets of the goddam universe! I don’t fucking know. But I want to. You made me want to. You made a lot of us want to and then you fucking leave? You take off on a suicidal revenge quest for someone who is already dead. You couldn’t help her. Where was your goddamn fucking pragmatism then? Makes me think that all of this is just according to your whims. You have a lot of rhetoric, but it seems you actually do things because you just want to, the rest of us be damned.”
“You’re mad,” Rush said slowly, carefully, as if he barely believed the words, as if someone else was saying them. “You’re mad because I left?”
“Yeah, genius!” Young scrubbed a hand over his face in frustration. “You think we can do this without you? Of course you don’t. Because you’ve spent months trying to prove it to us. And I’ve got news for you. We believe you. I believe you. And you know what that means? You have a fucking responsibility to the people on this fucking ship. You wanted power? Well congratulations. You got it. And that means you can’t recklessly endanger yourself.” He stopped, fixing Rush in a hard stare. His eyes were dark and his voice low as he growled, “I promised you. I promised you I would protect you like anyone else on this ship, so help me god, so what the fuck am I doing it for if you don’t protect yourself?”
“I wasn’t—“ Rush protested, hand running through his hair, exasperated.
“Don’t.” Young cut him off. This time when he leaned into Rush’s space, he jabbed his chest with his index finger as if punctuating a sentence. “You almost died.” His throat was tight. He heard his voice crack slightly. He hoped Rush didn’t. He hated to admit it to himself but the thought of Rush dying had been next to unbearable. It wasn’t just fear for their ability to handle the ship, and the increasing threat of drones and whatever else the universe would throw their way. It was him. Rush had changed. After the confrontation on the alien ship, Rush had been significantly easier to work with, and his hard veneer had started to crack considerably. He’d seen his concern for Chloe and his relief when she was returned healthy. It wasn’t just her math abilities he’d valued. And Chloe had told him about the conversation they had. He’d been conforting, kind, and admitted that his time on Destiny was causing him to question his way of being in the world. Young could see it. He could see the man becoming part of the crew. He could see him becoming a friend.
“Careful colonel. Someone might think that you actually cared,” Rush sneered, pushing away Young’s hand.
“You asshole,” Young said, rolling his eyes in disbelief. ” Of course, I care! You’re a member of this crew.” He paused. How much could he actually tell Rush? Should he tell Rush? “You’re a member of this crew. And you scared the goddam shit out of me.” This time, he knew Rush could hear his fear and he didn’t care. In for a penny, in for a pound. Maybe it would make Rush think. See things really had shifted .
Rush blinked, narrowed his eyes, cocked his head and bit his lower lip, considering Young as if he were a new piece of Ancient technology he’d never seen before.
“Why?” Young continued, not quite able to stand the silence. “I want to know what the hell was so fucking important.”
Rush shook his head, shaken out of his contemplation. “Eli told you,” he said quietly.
“I want to hear it from you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk about it!” He turned to go back to his computer. “Now please leave,” he hissed.
Young caught his shoulder and spun him around. “Too bad. Talk.”
Young could see Rush’s fury rise up like a storm cloud. He tore his arm away from Young, and used the momentum to veer into Young’s face. “Or what?” he challenged, menacingly.
Young stepped back and clenched his fists, fighting an urge to hit Rush. No. He was not going down that road again. A physical confrontation would do nothing but give Rush the moral highground. He put his hands in his pockets and planted his feet. “Or nothing. I can’t do a damn thing.” He shrugged. “I won’t hit you again. I can’t lock you up. I refuse to see you fired or stripped of your position. You’re too important. And I am not afraid to admit it.” Let’s see you turn that around. He felt like he was using an opponent’s swing against them, running with the momentum, speeding it up, so they’d tumble forward off balance and give him the upper hand. Rush was so adamant about how essential he was. Fine. He could roll with that. Actually, it was kind of liberating. “Makes things a hell of a lot easier if I just tell the fucking truth.” He paused. “We need you. You left us. I’m angry and I want to know why. So I’m asking you to talk to me. Because this can’t happen again and I need to know where your head is at.”
Rush looked confused. He glanced back and forth, trapped. “It won’t happen again,” he said quietly after a moment. “It can’t.”
“What about next time?” Nope. You’re not getting away that easily.
“What next time, Colonel? She’s gone. I can’t bring her back. It would be unadvisable even if I could. So it won’t happen again.”
“I’m not talking about your computer simulated booty call. I’m talking about what happens next time your emotions get the better of you because of someone you love?”
Rush stared at him. “Love?”
Young shook his head, disbelieving. Wow. A lotta work. “Yes. I assume you loved her. Nothing else makes people that stupid.”
Rush snorted. “Ill-considered maybe — not stupid.”
“Whatever. I don’t care about semantics. You know what I mean. So? What happens?”
Rush looked down. His shoulders fell. He sighed. “It won’t happen again.”
“How do you know?” Young pushed, frustrated. Why was getting a clear answer out of Rush always so goddamn impossible?
“You’ll just have to trust me,” Rush said firmly, clearly not budging.
“Not good enough. Talk. I’m not leaving til you answer my question.” Young grabbed the chair from the small table by the door and swung it into the middle of the room where he’d been standing, and sat down, staring at Rush.
Rush rubbed a hand through his hair in frustration and considered his options. Frustration, mixed with disbelief, radiated off of him. He turned away and threw himself into the armchair on the far wall. His room was small though, so he was still less than 10 feet from Young. They locked eyes. Rush looked away.
“Because, colonel, there is no one left,” he bit out through clenched teeth. “Is that what you want to hear? There’s no one left in this universe whom I love, so no, it won’t happen again.”
And then, to Young’s great shock, and Rush seemed to crumple where he sat. He sank his face into his hands.
A wave of sadness hit Young and he swallowed a lump in his throat. His own eyes prickled. Shit.
And just like that, Nicholas Rush unravelled in front of him.