The room filled with white light, pure and shining and so beautiful Rodney wanted to look away. He couldn’t. He’d never believed in the soul; it was unquantifiable, and therefore unprovable. But Rodney thought maybe he’d been wrong, because he was certain he was looking at John’s soul.
There was a sob from someone in the room as the light dissipated. Rodney closed his eyes, an after-image on the back of his eyelids. John was gone, the infirmary bed empty, and he tried to be happy. John had been in so much pain.
We are made of starstuff, Carl Sagan said. If that statement was true of anyone, it was true of John. He’d belonged to the sky, belonged amongst the stars.
“I’m going back to work,” Rodney said. His voice sounded faint to his own ears.
He left the infirmary without a backwards glance.
There were bets being made around the city, about when and where John might reappear, a la Daniel Jackson. But Rodney was staying out of it. He knew that the difference between Jackson and John was that Jackson had reasons to return to his life, over and over again. What did John have? A war there was no clear way to win? A family that wanted nothing to do with him? The weight of responsibility for an entire expedition?
John wasn’t coming back.
Rodney tried not to take it personally. He and John had only been together a couple of months before John ascended, though Rodney felt they’d been dancing around each other for much longer than that. They hadn’t made each other any promises. It didn’t stop Rodney from missing John’s warm presence beside him in bed.
Was John learning the secrets of the universe? Was he giving the other ascended Ancients a lengthy lecture about all the ways they’d screwed the Pegasus galaxy over?
Was John happy?
It seemed like the whole of Atlantis filled the corridor outside the infirmary, waiting for confirmation that the Colonel had returned. No reflection on Major Lorne or the job he was doing, but John would always be the heart and soul of the expedition.
“The Colonel is fine,” Carson said, coming out to make the announcement to the gathered masses. “He has some memory loss, which is to be expected, and he’s resting now. So off with you. Shoo!”
He waved everyone away, everyone except Teyla, Ronon and Rodney. Carson eyeballed them, but knew better than to refuse them.
“One at time, and only for a minute.”
Rodney held himself back, waited, his heart pounding in his ears as he tried to understand why John had returned. As he tried to figure out what it meant for him, for them.
Ronon came out and gave Rodney a big, swept-off-his-feet hug, his grin wide across his face. Teyla was more subdued, her eyes glistening with tears, and she gave Rodney’s arm a squeeze.
He stood outside the infirmary a little longer, staring at the door.
“Hey,” Rodney said, his voice hushed.
“Hey,” John whispered back. His head was pillowed on his hands, and he looked incredibly young. Not that his face had changed in any way. It was more like he was unfettered from all worries or concerns or responsibility. Memory loss, Carson had said. Temporary, if Jackson’s experiences were anything to go by.
Rodney sat down in the chair next to the bed.
“You’re here,” John said. He looked so happy about that, his whole face alight.
“I was hoping I’d find you.” John didn’t move, just kept lying there and staring up at Rodney, a sweet smile on his face.
Rodney stared back at him. “What?”
“I came back for you. I don’t remember your name, but I’d know your face anywhere.”
Rodney’s throat closed up, and he had a hard time swallowing. “You came back for me?” he rasped out.
“You have starlight in your eyes,” John said.
“So do you,” Rodney whispered.
John was so open and innocent, Rodney wanted to take him and hide him away from the expectations of the expedition. They’d want him to take back leadership, take back the responsibility of keeping them all alive, and that bright-eyed look of open affection would be snuffed out.
“What’s your name?”
“I missed you, Rodney.”
“I missed you, too.”
They were all made of starstuff. And Rodney was lucky enough to have a star all his own, one hidden behind black BDUs and smirky grins and sunglasses. He was careful never to take John for granted, to never suppose they had time enough. Because sometimes starlight still shone out of John’s eyes.