Now Am I Camelot
(Arthur, raise me)
John never wanted to be Arthur.
It will all fall apart again, someday; such things always do. Like Camelot, like Jerusalem, and Eden before them. Such is ever the way of the world, and he knows this. But today Atlantis is his and he is hers and the sky is very bright. Today is good.
Every night, before going to sleep, John tells Atlantis a story. Fairytales, sometimes, of brave soldiers and beautiful princesses who wait a hundred thousand years to be rescued, secrets learned from his mother in the dim hours before dawn, bits of history that should never be forgotten, a few movies that are better in memory than they were on the screen.
Sometimes he speaks to her about Arthur, he who forged a country only to have it snatched from him and lost forever. Arthur, who will come again in the hour of greatest need.
"Boy is he going to be in for a shock," John says to the ceiling, lying on his back in bed, feet dangling out over the end. (Some nights John recites Dr. Seuss with a bit too much irony--oh what a bed, oh what a house. John's father taught him never to make his men go where he wouldn't lead them, but his mother's the one who gave him the ability to sleep anywhere, through anything, and to spend a lifetime with the needle hovering on 'empty'.) "Cell phones, taxis, and a distinct lack of swords and the whole chivalry thing. Wouldn't want to be him when that happens."
Or even before, in the earlier days of the kingdom, when all the world was golden and Arthur the flower of knighthood. That part of John has always belonged to Gawain: Gawain the courteous, Gawain the devoted nephew and loyal follower, Gawain of the one small failing. Which is why, as long as no one’s in danger of dying, he’s happy to step back and let Elizabeth run the city as she sees fit. She’s not Arthur either, but that doesn’t seem to matter (although Lorne is very much an even-tempered Kai to them both, despite the supposed division between the military and everything else).
For almost three years it doesn’t seem to matter, until it finally does.
"We have a blip," Rodney declares, in a tone that suggests this is akin to having an outbreak of some fatal and horribly disfiguring disease. It would be more impressive if he didn't sound exactly the same whenever he got sneezed on during the really boring off-world missions and tried to leverage it into a early return to Atlantis.
"A blip?" Elizabeth repeats, one eyebrow up, sounding bemused. "A blip as in 'we have a crossed wire somewhere', or as in 'the Wraith are setting up camp in our attic'?"
"As in 'we don't know yet'." Rodney waves his hands a little for emphasis, his you're-not-listening-to-me-and-we're-pro
"Whatever it is, it's headed away from us, so really, there's no need to worry." Radek breaks in with the polish of much practice and the little smile that means he's either also amused by Rodney's paranoia or has finally snapped and is considering justifiable homicide. Or perhaps both. It might be time to have the Marines start enforcing lab curfew again--Rodney's hair is flat one side and sticking out on the other, suggesting he fell asleep in front of his computer (again), and Radek's cheek is smudged with what appears to be white-board marker. They both smell a little when they stand too close.
"If it's not coming this way, why bother us about it at all?" John missed his mid-morning snack for this and had to reschedule a flying lesson with Sergeant Goodman and really doesn't feel like indulging Rodney this time. "Wouldn't it be better not to do anything that might attract attention to ourselves? Assuming it has attention to be attracted and isn't space debris or something."
"Space debris moving at point nine nine nine the speed of light?"
That makes Elizabeth frown. "So it's not just a blip, then. Any ideas what might be moving that fast?"
If they could harness the power of Rodney's sarcasm, they wouldn't need the ZPM to keep things running. "Oh sure--I'll just look it up in *Jane's Highspeed Spacecraft*. Let's see, could be Wraith, Wraith, or Wraith. Not like there's anyone else in the galaxy capable of speeds like that. Not even the Daedalus could manage it for longer than about thirty seconds while making the drop out of hyperdrive."
"Well then, why did you call this *emergency* meeting?" Elizabeth looks like she's about thirty seconds away from calling Beckett in with some sedatives and an order for Rodney to get a good twelve hours of sleep before even thinking about returning to sifting through sensor data. "If we can't get to it and it's not trying to get to us--"
"Science?" Rodney offers somewhat weakly. "I could go back with the Daedalus and get some closer readings...."
Things sort of go downhill from there, but at least they do so quickly enough that John's able to fit in that flying lesson after all.
But that night he can't stop thinking about what it will be like for the blip's passengers (if they're still alive; could be the Mary Celeste of space) when they get wherever they're going--most likely the Milky Way, Rodney had said, in an attempt to justify his worry. Ten or fifteen years for them, millions of years for the rest of universe. Millions of years. "That's almost older than you are," he says to his empty (listening) room. "Not that you look a day over twenty--"
And that's when he realizes that Rodney was wrong about Wraith being the only option.
Goodman was along to practice his flying, John was along in case the blip turned out to be something requiring fancy flying, and Michael was along "for socialization", which really meant he was bored and had been spending too much time in the soft sciences corridor.
So while Rodney's team stood around cluttering up the command deck, John was showing Goodman how to sweet-talk the puddle jumper into letting them play the Alteran version of Tetris. "It's kind of buried," he explained as he ran through all the verification screens and warnings. "But once you've memorized where it is, you can make a kind of mental shortcut." Agreeably, the puddle jumper displayed the starting options for the game. "You want to go first?"
"Sure." the display flickered briefly as Goodman took control, the switched to almost-familiar falling shapes. "Wow. it really is like Tetris."
Michael draped himself over john's seat, presumably in order to observe the game more closely. "Is this hidden in all the puddle jumpers?"
"Some. Most of them have at least one game, though it varies. Jumper 7 has---"
"ALL HANDS PREPARE FOR RAPID ACCELERATION"
He's heard enough stories (told enough, survived enough) to know that this can't end well. Either the whole thing will turn to be a wraith trick, or something will go hideously wrong, destroying ship and all those aboard, or the rescued people--Alterans--(magicians, his mother's voice murmurs in his mental ear) will show no gratitude and kick the whole expedition out. And although he'd like to expect otherwise, he can feel in his heart and bones that the last option will win out. (The magicians in his mother's stories had been sometimes kind and often beautiful and clever, but always, always possessive of their own and patronizing of those seen as lesser.
But Rodney has stars in his eyes and Caldwell is playing optimist today, so John bits his tongue and pretends the thought never occurred to him. He bites his tongue and goes back to the puddlejumper, where Michael is annoying Goodman by second-guessing every move Goodman makes in the game. For a moment John stands in the doorway in silence, wondering if this is the last chance he'll have to watch them squabble like brothers; he'd wrought too well, perhaps, when he'd made Goodman Michael's chief guard, back before Michael had proven himself.
"So, guess what the blip is, guys."
"Huh?" the game pauses when Goodman glances over his shoulder at John, which means he now has instinctual control of the jumper interface and is a good thing. (Well, if Pegasus will play fair for once and prove John wrong.) On the other hand, his unfocused eyes and slightly dazed expression suggest he's been hooked in for more than a little too long. Which is bad, regardless. "Sir," he adds, almost visibly reconnecting to the real world.
"Wraith?" Michael starts to push himself out of the pilot's seat, already strung tight for battle; never mind that he'd have no part in one on the Daedalus.
"Nope." John collapses into one of the passenger seats and smiles, the same smile he'd worn when [...]
You are my love, my life, he tells her in the silence of his heart and the hush of the night. When he (they) is (are) alone, he runs his fingers across the walls as though they are the flank of some vast, patience animal. And in return she sings to him in his dreams, at the edges of his thoughts throughout the day.
He can still feel her, see her, states the golden age that echoes off every square inch of her labyrinthine walls, so he knows she's still there, that this isn't all some horrifying hallucination. which means that Atlantis really has stopped talking to him and ---given Helia's smugness---isn't likely to start again any time soon. Or at least in the 51 hours they have left to get moved out.
John drags his fingers along her walls anyway, silently murmuring every endearment he can think of, even the ones he would rather die than say out loud.
"So you're just going to dump me for your ex-whatevers?" he asks in the depths of that last night, heart too bitter to sleep, already mourning what's not quite lost. Not quite, not yet. "I thought you liked me better than that." I though you loved me, he doesn't say, because however much he loves her, she's still just a machine. Helia & Co. have shown him that. So the unheard 'I do' as he begins to pack his socks must be nothing more than wishful thinking.
That next morning, so early that it's nearly night still and everyone except John and Teyla and Ronon are bleary-eyed with exhaustion, the Athosians begin the process of moving yet again. John abandons his commanding officer duties to Lorne's capable care and plays taxi driver---at least the jumpers are still listening to him, although he can't get rid of the uncomfortable suspicion that helia would only need to whistle for that to change.
"Don't listen to them," he tells the jumper on one of the trips out, when he's alone again and can talk to machinery without looking like a madman. "They don't care about you the way I do."
The thing is, even as he begs Atlantis to listen to him, he knows she already is, can feel the tingle in his bones that means every spare processor is paying deep attention to him---waiting for him to do, say, the right thing, like a princess trapped in some witch's spell, waiting to be freed.
She's in white and he's in black and he's never considered the possibility of being Mordred.
Arthur pulled a sword out of a stone. John does something much more dramatic.
Maybe Helia is Arthur
"You were the one charged with the city's defense, Helia says, eyebrow raise and mouth twisted to suggest she unimpressed. The 'were' beats at john over and over, until he thinks it should leave bruises.
"Yes," he says, making the word as unpleasant as he can. "Would have made my job easier if you'd left some notes."
"If you were capable of doing the job properly, you wouldn't have needed any," Helia parries, all amused scorn. John holds his tongue, puts on his best blank face, and leaves before he gives into the urge to punch her. "You'd know better than I, Ma'am," he says, and saunters away to foil the marines' attempts to leave behind any surprises for the city's new occupants.
"Couldn't you at least have dumped me for someone nicer?" he asks in the privacy of what's still his room for another umpteen hours. "I mean, I understand the attraction, but genetics aren't everything, you know."
John never had liked Malory.
On the one hand, he gets it. Atlantis is the closest the Tria's crew can get to home now, and having a bunch of (primitive) strangers running around would shatter that semi-illusion. It's same the reason John hadn't visited his grandparents' farm for twelve years after their deaths, despite a standing invitation from his cousin. But he had gone back, eventually, and found it less painful than he'd expected, and no matter how he tries he can't summon any sympathy for the crew.
So he packs with an economy born of anger and stretches every sense he has in the futile hope that Atlantis will deign to whisper to him one last time.
The room seems hollow, insubstantial, as though John could put his hand through the wall, if only he reached out to do so. The inside of his head feels empty without the constant whisper of Atlantis, but the silence is . . . expectant, somehow.
He hasn’t let himself even think of trying to convince Atlantis to listen to him; he can imagine well enough what it would feel like to be denied access, and he doesn’t need to experience it for real. But now . . . now that he's paying attention, he begins to wonder.
Hey, girl, he thinks, and though he's still alone in his head, the lights flicker once. “Easy there,” he says softly, and the sense of waiting intensifies. “It’s just me,” he tells the city, and puts his hand through the invisible wall.
“Why are you here?” Teyla sounds almost angry, although she hides her sharp edges well, as always.
“Someone accessed the mainframe from this room.” Beneath Helia’s arrogance is the slightest hesitation, as though she realizes she has intruded on something that she has no right to see. But she doesn’t let that stop her. “Which of you did it?”
Teyla draws herself together, edges becoming visible, and Ronon sort of leans, in a way that manages to be menacing without turning into an out and out threat. Their unquestioning faith is heartening, proof of what the expedition has forged over the years, what John had bled and sweated and lost sleep over. It's a reminder that John is infinitely grateful for, because he'll need that strength for what he's about to do.
“I did.” Teyla’s sharply indrawn breath stricks like a knife, but Ronon remains steady, trust solid as a mountain.
“You? How? The system is locked to respond only to us.”
“You are not one of us.”
“You know, my mom used to tell me stories when I was a kid, all about the great general Helia, and the rearguard defense she fought to allow her people to escape. She herself was lost, but because of her efforts, her people were able to make it to safety. But I guess she was only temporarily misplaced after all.”
“You turned around because you had nowhere else to go. We came here knowing how dangerous it might be, and we’ve bled and died to stay here and to keep others alive. We’ve stayed, even when we could have left, when if would have made sense for us to pack up and go, to follow in your footsteps.” The words spill out of him like water, like blood, as if the hurt he still bears is physical.
“What right do you have to condemn us?”
“What right do you have to tell us to leave?” John counters.
“You have no right to judge me—us—in this manner. Those last days—you don’t know what it was like.”
“No, but I’ve heard stories, lived through cullings, lost men. If I was to judge you, I would have every right. You made a mess and then left it for others to deal with.” But the ‘if’ is a lie, because he does, he has, ever since he first heard the story at age seven.
“You’re not human.” She speaks it like an accusation—or benediction—and he doesn’t turn to see how Ronon and Teyla take it. Doesn't need to. He ca n feel them against his back, unmoved, unmoving.
“Not quite, but let’s keep that between the four of us. I was raised human, and that’s what matters.”
“You need not leave when the others do.” She sounds as though she expects him to stay.
“I swore an oath. A whole bunch of them, actually, and I think the USAF owns my spleen. Besides, I might not be human, as you put it, but I’m definitely not one of you.”
And then the world goes silent and the only reason he doesn’t gasp in shock is that he’s been half-expecting this to happen. Well, something like this. He hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly and completely.
From time to time, on his midnight patrols of the (his) city, John would think about what he'd do if--when--ordered to return permanently to Earth. He'd go, of course; no choice there, not really, but he could try to leave behind as little mess as possible, could Teyla a better goodbye then when he'd run out the door after the siege---could try to make sure Ronon didn't lose yet another home.
But in all his planning, he'd never once considered being order to leave by anyone other than his superiors. This is, however, the sort of limited vision Pegasus has been trying so very hard (and successfully) to broaden, and so John finds himself watching, wordless, as Atlantis is reclaimed by her owners and the expedition given an eviction notice.
What he says about the matter doesn't match what he's actually thinking. All the time he's pointing out the reasonableness of Helia's position, he's inwardly fuming they left, they left, they LEFT. They broke faith with half a galaxy, as they now break faith with their rescuers. Let Elizabeth and Heightmeyer make excuses for the Alterans' behavior, but John didn't care.
John hadn't expected the silence to hurt, but it does, like a pebble in his shoe or a gaping chest wound. When he'd first arrived in the city, short years and long ages ago, he'd thought he might go mad from the constant mental whisper. But now it feels like as if he's gone suddenly and completely deaf or blind. The first hour or two of it, running around with the Marines, figuring out what to take, what to leave, he can almost ignore it, can let everyone else open the doors and turn on the lights and almost forget that before, he'd never needed to even ask.
Elizabeth keeps him away from Helia & Co. because she thinks he wants to punch them all in the face, but she doesn't know the real reason why.
"How could you do this to us, to *me*?" he asks the walls of his room as he packs his personal items--more than he'd brought with him, but not by much. He can still fit everything into a single bag if he tortures the zipper and makes judicious use of half a spool of string. "What've these guys have that I--we--don't?" the lights don't flicker slightly at the sound of his voice the way they would have a day earlier, and that's almost worse than the long stare Deb had given him along with the divorce papers.
"I almost *died* for you," he tells the floor. "Some of my men *have*. Does that blood not matter because it's the wrong kind?" John's mother had taught him that blood was all the same, that where you went mattered more than where you'd come from, but it seems Atlantis agreed with Helia, not Anantha Sheppard.
The room's quiet presses in on him, like mental suffocation, a lack of air to think in.
"So, you kick us out and move back in. Then what?" John asks, patient as the city beneath his feet.
"We regroup," Helia says.
"And then what?"
She starts to say something—'what right' again, as though rights came into the equation anywhere—then thinks better of it, the click click click of her thoughts fitting together almost audible. "What is your purpose in asking me these questions," she tries instead. "You can’t expect to convince us to let you stay."
"No, but I can hope. Less likely things have happened here, and this time the worst that can happen is I wind up playing desk jockey somewhere with broken air conditioning." Breaking about two dozen promises in the process, he doesn’t add, because that card’s already been tried. "And anyway, if you see someone doing something that’s going to hurt them, you can’t just walk away." Not without trying to help first. Both Teyla and Ronon look—not puzzled, but unsure of where he’s headed. Michael, though, has gone from angry and hurt to grimly satisfied, and John would bet the last of his chocolate that he knows exactly what John’s going to say next.
"And then what?" John repeated. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ronon and Teyla's faces. Teyla's expression hid confusion, but he could tell that Ronon knew exactly where John was going with this.
"We live!" Helia spat, frustration finally getting the better of her. "What would you have us do, attack the wraith, knowing we would all die futile deaths? Join our cowardly brethren and unmake ourselves? Ally ourselves with some abjectly ignorant and backward people and breed ourselves into oblivion?"
"Who're you calling backward?" John asked, lightly, almost jokingly.
"He is not human," Helia states with all the certainty of someone with a city's-worth of biometric sensors at her mental fingertips. Michael doesn't look up, doesn't stop bandaging John's wrist, but he goes stiff suddenly, like an affronted cat.
"Michael's more human than I am," John says, hoping that everyone listening will hear it as the truth it is and not dismiss it as hyperbole. "He chose to be human. I just got born this way." Because his mother had chosen to be human, although Helia's baffled frown suggested she doesn't understand the difference.
[This was to have been the big AU where the surviving Alterans don't get killed off in the next episode--except I could never quite catch at the thread of the story and so wound up with nothing but pieces that didn't fit together. And somewhere in the middle of it I wrote And Bob's Your Uncle, which actually said pretty much everything I needed to say on the subject, along with a trio of drabbles. If I did write it now, it would just be because I love the title too much to let it go. Which is a bad reason for writing something.]