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[ And It All Came Tumbling Down ]
Rodney told John 48,000 years into the future that he didn’t know if Lorne let him through the set up the hologram simulation because he felt sorry for him or because he didn’t think it would work, but the truth is it was neither.
The truth is Lorne knew it was wrong. Knew without a shadow of a doubt if he took it to Carter or O’Neill, to Lee or Zelenka or even Rush, who was crazier than any of them put together, they would all tell him the same thing. You don’t fuck with a timeline. You just don’t. Entropy, chaos. A buttefly flaps his wings in a different way and the future, the present, is lost under the tidal wave.
He does it for one simple reason. He hopes, hopes like he’s never hoped for anything before in his life, that Rodney can pull that last miracle rabbit out of his old battered and torn hat and fix this. Because there has to be a world where things turned out better for Pegasus then they did after Sheppard died, and there has to be a world where Rodney didn’t waste away at a nothing college trying to accomplish the impossible.
Two minutes after the wormhole closed it opened again and Lorne frowned as his comm crackled in his ear. “Major Lorne?”
“Yes Colonel Carter?”
“Where’s Colonel Sheppard?”
Lorne looks at his men and at the wormhole and thinks, oh no. Oh shit.
“Ma’am? He went through to Atlantis. I watched him dial it.”
He thinks, motherfucking Genii.
He finds Rodney in his lab at 3 am four days later, after they’d finally given up on the Genii ever telling them anything worth anything. Lorne had a sinking feeling that no one in the Genii camp was smart enough to pull off something like that anyway. If anyone was smart enough, it was the man sitting in his lab looking bleary, and tired, and wrecked, blinking in confusion at the computer monitor.
Plus, Lorne’s sure if anyone less smart than him had done it, Rodney would have caught it within the first fifteen minutes after they’d started their investigation.
“Pretty late, Doc,” he says, speaking softly so he doesn’t give Rodney a coronary from shock. He puts a hand on Rodney’s shoulder and squeezes gently. “You should get some sleep.”
“No,” Rodney says, eyes not leaving the screen. It’s hoarse and broken in a way that makes Lorne’s nerves dance on edge, it’s not a tone he’s ever heard on him before. Deadly, focused, threatening. “I’m not giving up.”
“I’m not saying give up, Doc,” Lorne says, squeezing Rodney’s shoulder before letting his hand slide off. “I’m saying take a break. Get some sleep. This isn’t healthy, Sheppard wouldn’t want you to work yourself sick for--”
“I don’t give a good God damn what Sheppard wants or what you want or what God wants,” Rodney growls, hands tensing over the keyboard. “I am not giving up, I’m not giving in, I am going to sit here until I get him back.”
“And if you don’t,” Lorne says, because he fucking hates to see the betrayal and hurt and fear in Rodney’s eyes but someone has to get through to the guy before he keels over. Staying awake for ninety-six hours is just not okay. “You’re never gonna sleep again?”
“I’m going to,” Rodney says, but his voice breaks and his eyes shine and Lorne watches him crumble to pieces right before his very eyes. It’s utterly heart-breaking. “I have to, I can’t.. I can’t. Carson, and, and Elizabeth, and God knows if we’ll ever see Teyla again, and I can’t, I just can’t, Lorne you can’t ask me to--”
“Hey,” Lorne says, turning Rodney around and putting his hands on the broad shoulders, squeezing hard enough to probably hurt him. It’s what he needs to do though because Rodney stops babbling. “I get it Doc, I do. And I’m not saying you won’t get him back, okay? I haven’t given up either, and I won’t. But we need you to be okay in the meantime. You haven’t slept in four days, McKay. It’s not natural. It’s not healthy. Coffee can only do so much, you’re driving yourself insane.”
“He’s…” Rodney drifts off and closes his eyes, his head pitching forward. Lorne rubs his thumbs soothingly over his collarbone and doesn’t let go. “He’s alive, I know it. I just have to. I can figure it out. I have to… it’s right there in front of my face, I know it is.”
He agrees though and allows Lorne to walk him to the infirmary, where Jennifer frets over him with calm soothing tones and a gentle touch. She wipes his hair out of his eyes and softly admonishes him for not coming to her sooner and he barely even registers the fact that she sticks a needle in him full of enough sedatives to knock him out for 16 hours straight.
It’s a month before Rodney figures it out and then there’s a flurry of commotion and running through the halls and yelling and screaming and running to the conference room and a whole bunch of words that Lorne doesn’t understand about solar flares and freak anomalies and thousands and thousands of years, but in the end it all boils down to one thing.
Nobody says it, but Lorne can read it in the way Carter’s eyes sparkle with unshed tears and the way Radek isn’t running his hands through his hair, but mostly he can spot it in the way that Rodney doesn’t say a word. Not one word.
Sheppard told him once that if Rodney ever got quiet, that still kind of quiet where you can hear the faucet dripping, to drop whatever he was doing and run like motherfucking hell.
For a second, in those few moments where everyone doesn’t say what they’re all thinking, everything stops moving. Time stands still. The world stops moving.
Lorne realizes it like a shot to the gut, a bleeding gaping wound in his stomach and nothing’s going to stop the blood from seeping out, the kind of wound that you don’t even feel because it’s too much, you can’t handle it, and God takes pity on you and stops all the pain and you lay there, blinking up at the sky and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are going to die. He sees it reflected in Rodney’s eyes too.
They’re never going to see Sheppard again.
Atlantis mourns John just as surely as they would if he’d been killed in action. Lorne watches his soldiers walk around in a daze, cracking jokes only to stop mid-laugh and realize that Sheppard’s not there to laugh with them with that stupid donkey laugh. Watches the science team shrink away from Rodney, watching him and waiting for the ticking bomb to go boom but it never does.
Watches Ronon walking around looking pissed off and caged in, incommunicative and dour like he had been when he’d first come into their folds. The only person he speaks to is Rodney, and neither of them really speak at all.
“We have to do something,” Lorne says to Carter in their morning briefing two weeks later. “The whole city is on edge. It’s like we’re all waiting to exhale.”
Carter looks down and twists her hands together. “I don’t know if we’re there yet,” she says, and grimaces. “I don’t think… I don’t know if…”
Lorne lets out a frustrated breath and pinches the bridge of his nose because everyone around him is falling apart and he’d like to be too but he just fucking can’t. “Is there a chance Rodney and Radek can fix it? Can they bring him back?”
Carter looks at him and her mouth opens to say yes, and she gets the y out. A little bit of the e. It stops before the s though, and Lorne knew the answer was no before he even asked the question.
“We need to,” he says quietly, looking away. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we need to move on. Everyone needs to move on. We need to close the chapter.”
The funeral is held a week later and Rodney’s jaw is clenched in anger the entire time. Afterwards, after Lorne tells Sheppard’s brother it was an honor and a privilege to serve under a man as good as Sheppard, after the wake and the burial, after the drinking and the tears and the hugs, Rodney bangs on Lorne’s hotel room door at 1 am with his eyes bright and shining and gloriously furious.
“He’s not fucking dead,” Rodney yells, pushing Lorne out of his way and stalking into his room. “I know you thought you were doing the right thing, having this little fucking farce of yours, letting us all move on and accept our fate, but he’s not fucking dead and I refuse to fucking mourn him!”
Lorne rubs the sleepiness out of his eyes and feels a hangover coming on and sits down on the edge of his bed to watch Rodney pace and pace and pace in front of him.
“I’m sorry,” he says, holding his hands out. “I didn’t know what else to do. We’re all stuck on pause, Rodney. Some of us needed closure. He was our friend too.”
“I know that,” Rodney says with an angry flip of the hand, rolling his eyes. “Of course I know he was your friend too, of course I know everyone else misses him, but… but…”
“I get it, Rodney,” Lorne says softly, reaching out to grab Rodney’s wrist, holding him there. “I’ve lost men too. I know that no bond is stronger than the one you had with him, and with Ronon.” He swallows and continues, because this is Rodney and Rodney won’t appreciate the nicety of leaving off the part of it that’ll sting the most. He’s too practical for that. “And Teyla. I know, I get it. I’m not pretending it’s the same for me, or anyone else. But we’re all suffering.”
“You’re right,” Rodney says, sinking onto the bed next to Lorne and hanging his head in his hands. “I know, I know you’re right. It just. There’s only so many people in my life that I love, Lorne. That love me. And I keep losing them.”
Lorne puts an arm around him and squeezes, pulls him so his weight is leaning into Lorne, because he doesn’t know what else he can do. “I’m sorry,” he says, resting his head on Rodney’s shoulder. “It all sucks beyond words.”
Rodney laughs and looks at him. “Eloquent.”
Lorne cracks a grin at him. “What do you want, I’m drunk and sleepy. It’s not like there’s any right way to say it anyway.”
“No,” Rodney says, sighing heavily. “I don’t suppose there is.”
When they get word on a planet where Michael might be keeping Teyla Lorne thinks Thank Christ, because they need this. Something good for once.
Then they find Teyla’s body and all Lorne can do is look at the way Rodney’s shoulder slope and feel the tears prickling at his eyes.
After Teyla’s funeral, a fiery Viking sort of thing, Lorne stays behind on New Athos with Rodney and Ronon to watch over them and sends everyone else home. He stays 100 yards away and doesn’t dare approach them, only occasionally looking across at the fire that’s still burning because Ronon keeps feeding it and watches Rodney and Ronon hunch together and say things only each other will understand.
The next morning he’s woken up by Ronon unzipping his tent and grunting at him that they’re ready to go. The hollow eyes looking at him out of both men feel like hot pokers and Lorne’s throat burns but he grins and packs up camp and helps them pick up the site.
Ronon leaves shortly after to go out and teach Pegasus how to fight for itself and Rodney watches silently from the balcony, waving a little and smiling half-heartedly as Ronon turns around to look at him one last time before stepping out into the gates horizon.
It’s the last genuine smile Lorne sees out of him for a long, long time.
Rodney is a shell. A walking corpse, breathing only because he’s used to it. Lorne finds himself shadowing Rodney most days, prodding him and poking at him, trying to make him angry enough to yell at Lorne.
He feels kind of like a dick for doing it, kind of like he’s kicking a friend while he’s down, but this is what they do, this is his relationship with Rodney. Lorne goads, and Rodney loses it. A pissed Rodney is a happy Rodney and Rodney hasn’t been pissed in months.
Rodney’s lost it, and there’s not a god damned thing Lorne can do about it.
He comes back to himself a little when the General Hammond comes and he and Carter get to work making it battle ready. Lorne likes to fill in on shifts up there with them, listening to them bicker and argue, lobbing insults at one another.
It’s been a long time since Rodney’s been distracted enough to forget all the shit that’s happened and let go and be himself again, and Lorne wouldn’t admit it on pain of death but he’s missed the hell out of that condescending tone, the biting remarks and searing commentary.
Rodney comes back to Atlantis when Carter takes off and smiles grimly at Lorne. “It’s such a waste. She’ll be dead within a year.” He says it with a shrug, and just like that Lorne knows that Rodney will never, never be the same guy again.
Carter dies within the year and Ronon before that, but by this time Rodney’s become numb. Lorne expects bitterness or anger, he expects Rodney to maybe crumple again, cry again, but he doesn’t.
He just sits there and nods at Lorne and says nothing.
Lorne takes over Atlantis in Carter's absence, but he’d never wanted to be in charge. There’s too much bureaucracy, too much red tape. Too many battles with the IOA and the talking heads and stewing in his office clenching his hands into fists and thinking Sheppard would be doing this better. Sheppard would never stand down and let Michael take over Pegasus.
Lorne hands over the reigns to Woolsey and he feels immense, immense relief, and he feels like a total fucking failure.
Three short days after Woolsey takes over Rodney walks into Lorne’s office and tells him he’s leaving. He doesn’t know why Rodney does it, why Rodney comes to him, except for the fact that Lorne is kind of pretty sure it’s not really Lorne Rodney’s talking to. He thinks it’s Sheppard, he thinks Rodney’s waiting for Sheppard to yell at him and tell him he has to stay, but Sheppard’s not here anymore, and Lorne can’t fault the guy for wanting out of this sinking ship.
Lorne thinks about saying it’s a shame that Rodney’s leaving. He thinks about saying good luck. Thinks about saying take care. It all sounds empty though, so he just smiles at Rodney and lifts a shoulder. “Gotta be better than here,” he says. “Can’t possibly be worse.”
Rodney gives a short, humorless laugh, and Lorne knows it was the right thing to say. Anything else and Rodney would have lost whatever respect he might still have left for him.
Lorne has never been happier than he was when he got an email from Rodney a few weeks later that stated he and Jennifer Keller were dating, but of course, as ever, it’s short-lived. Lorne gets word just a few months later that Jennifer is dead and at the funeral Rodney is manic, and shattered, and broken, and scribbling in a pad the entire time.
“McKay,” Lorne says for the fourth time, feeling his heart in his throat and thinking it’s a wonder it took him this long to really lose it, to go clear off his rocker. There are twenty people crying in the room and a hundred more outside but here Rodney sits, scribbling furiously. He should have expected this. “Rodney, hey man, can you look at me?”
Rodney holds up a finger and continues scribbling in his pad. “I’m onto something, I can feel it.”
Lorne reaches over and takes the pad away from him. “Rodney.”
Rodney looks up. “I can fix it,” he says, grinning maniacally. “I can change it all. Save everyone. No one has to die!”
Lorne flinches and takes Rodney’s arm and steers him outside and down the hall and into a little room, closes the door behind him. “Okay. What?”
“I can fix it,” Rodney says, grabbing a napkin and beginning to scribble numbers and symbols on it, and Lorne realizes he should have taken the pen not just the pad. “I can make it all go better next time, none of this has to happen next time, no one has to die and no one has to leave me, I can save Sheppard and Teyla and Ronon and Jennifer and I don’t have to lose anyone ever again and I can marry Jennifer and we can have kids and I can be happy again, Lorne, don’t you see, I can fix it!”
He clenches his fingers into his thighs and lets the tears fall down his face and listens and doesn’t understand a word of it.
Lorne never knew Jennifer that well but he cries more at Jennifer’s funeral than he did at Elizabeth’s or Carson’s or John’s or Teyla’s or Ronon’s, watching Rodney scribble hard enough to make etchings into the table beneath his napkin, babbling happily and nonsensically.
“I know,” Jeannie says later, as he walks out feeling empty and hollow and knowing he must look it because she hugs him to her tight. “He’s gone crazy. Can we really expect different?”
“No,” Lorne says, laughing lightly and hugging her back. “It still sucks to see.”
Lorne stays in Atlantis another 10 years and at the SGC another 15 after that. Every leave he has he goes to see Rodney in his teeny tiny apartment filled with white boards and sketches of numbers and symbols. He’s not as manic anymore, he’s not as scattered and nonsensical anymore, but he still vibrates.
Five years after he leaves Atlantis he drives to Rodney’s and sits and watches Rodney drink coffee and eat a bagel and scribble on his board, tossing out equations and numbers and physics terms that make Lorne develop a headache, and Lorne thinks, I can’t do this anymore..
Another 10 years later Rodney walks into his office looking tired and satisfied, and happy like he hasn’t been in 25 years. For 25 years he’s watched Rodney working on this project that he hasn’t understood and he’s never asked Rodney for details because he’d thought Rodney just needed something to distract him from the hell his life had become.
Lorne gives a speech about changing a timeline, about having a right to do it, about not being able to get it authorized but he knew from the second he read the proposal and finally understood what the hell Rodney had been talking about for the past two and a half decades that he’d let him do it.
“It’s good to see the city again,” Rodney says, smiling as they walk through the corridors, surrounded by faces so young and fresh and happy that it’s hard to believe they had at one time been like that here in this place. “Let’s get down to business shall we?”
Lorne stands guard as Rodney sets it up, distracts people from the science team, redirects the military from getting in. It’s nice, familiar, listening to Rodney grumbling and cursing out wires, calling inanimate objects stupid. He grins to himself and thinks 25 years is a long time to take to come back to yourself, but at least it finally happened.
Rodney sighs 25 years worth of relief when it’s all said and done and they’re back up on the Daedelus. “Finally,” he says. “I can sleep.”
He dies three days after they get back, and at the funeral Lorne closes his eyes and lifts his face up to the skies and thinks please, please let him be at peace.
He finds himself wishing he could know, obsessing himself for the last ten years of his life, wondering if what Rodney’s done will work, if there’s a universe that’s branched out now where Rodney doesn’t lose everyone and Pegasus doesn’t tremble under Michael’s wrath and Teyla and Ronon and John get to live long, happy, healthy lives.
“Damn you, McKay,” he says, laughing, two years before his own life ends as he stands in front of Rodney’s grave. “It better’ve worked.”
He dies in his sleep at the age of 82 and in his dying thoughts he thinks of Atlantis, beautiful and terrible, the best and worst thing he’s ever been through, and smiles as he takes his last breath.