Force over Distance: Chapter 87

“And what’s work, anyway?”




Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations. Extra boundary violations.

Text iteration: Midnight.

Additional notes: Gah.




Chapter 87


Young sat on the floor of his quarters, his shoulders against the couch, and stared at a blank page in the empty notebook he’d stolen from Rush. The feel of the pen between his fingers, the scrape of his clothing over his skin, the taste of recycled air—all of it came too fast, too sharp.


Across the ship, his crew prepared for the coming dial out.


Wray organized civilians into departure groups. Scott and Chloe crated alien samples. James searched out all the Ancient tech small enough to pry up and take. Park uprooted xenobiological samples in hydroponics. TJ packed up her medicinal supplies, hard won from scores of dangerous worlds. Brody supervised the preparation of the database. Eli wrangled a small herd of kinos. Greer stood watch outside Telford’s quarters, preventing any kind of eleventh-hour play.


Young pressed one of Rush’s chewed-to-hell pencils to paper.


JD—I can’t tell you any details, but I don’t think I’ll make it back from my current deployment. I wanted to let you know—


He tore the page out, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into a corner of the room.


JD—Got your last letter, the one you sent around Christmas.


Again, he ripped the page out and sent it sailing into a dim corner.


JD—Don’t have much time. Please give my love to everyone. Thinking of you.


He signed his name, tore the page free with a little more care this time, folded it in half, then tucked it into a pocket in the inner lining of his jacket. He shut the notebook and slid it atop the low table.


“Not gonna lie.” Young twisted to look at Rush, asleep behind him on the couch, his mind ablaze with dreams of math and music. “This is not what I pictured.”


“You pictured this?” Rush cracked his eyelids, unimpressed.


Young jumped. “I thought you were asleep.”


“Yes well.”


“Your mind looks like it’s dreaming.” Young frowned.


He got a wave of faint amusement across their link, and the REM-like structure of Rush’s thoughts collapsed in a swirl of light. “Adorable,” the scientist said.


“Look you.” Young flicked a piece of the man’s hair. “I’m a sleep expert at this point.”


Rush let his eyes fall shut. “Says man with sample size of one.”


“Okay then, I’m your sleep expert.”


“Not at all sure you qualify as an ‘expert’,” Rush said skeptically. “D’you know a bloody thing about ‘sleep’ as a concept? I mean, from first principles?”


“Do you?”


“No, but I’m not styling myself an ‘expert,’ am I?”


“I could write a book on your sleep patterns,” Young growled.


“I wouldn’t read it.”


Young snorted. “That I believe. There’s REM, there’s non-REM, you gotta do it every day—” already, he was running out of sleep facts.


Rush smirked at him.


“Shut up.”


“I didn’t say anything,” Rush replied, the picture of innocence.


“You were thinking it.”


“Maybe,” Rush admitted.


“Go back to sleep,” Young said.


“My awareness transcends sleep.”


“Great. If you’re gonna be handling the energy of colliding universes don’t you think you should go into this—I don’t know—as rested as possible?”


“I doubt it matters.”


“That’s the spirit,” Young muttered.


“The infrastructure to power the gate is wired into the circuitry of the ship. I don’t have to do anything except direct it. Eli’s perfectly capable of handling the technical details once we’re in close enough proximity.”


“Not what I was talking about,” Young said. “You’re gonna try for ascension, right?”


“Right,” Rush said, without a shred of conviction.


“Can you not be an obstructionist jackass right now?” Young said, his voice just as hollow. “Talk to me. For once. I’m helping you. I’m doing everything you wanted.”


“Not everything.” Rush levered himself up on one elbow.


“Are you even gonna try to ascend?”


“Why wouldn’t I?”


“That’s not an answer, and the fact that it’s not an answer is answer enough, you circuitous son of a bitch.”


Rush’s exhausted smile pulled all the wind from Young’s sails. “Circuitous son of a bitch? I quite like that one.”


“You would,” Young said, defeated.


Rush sat, shifted on the couch, then dropped to the floor to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Young.


“I’ll make an attempt.” Rush shivered. “I’ve got a something of a shipyards-of-Glasgow work ethic when push comes t’shove. But, Everett, y’have t’understand—on my own, I can’t do it. Categorically.” The scientist leaned into Young’s shoulder. “It’ll never fuckin’ happen. Not in an infinite stack of cosmic branes.”


“Why not?” Young asked, the words barely audible.


“You know why,” Rush murmured.


“Because you left her,” Young whispered. “Because you left Gloria to die alone.”


“Yes.”


“Nick. That’s not how this is supposed to work. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about making no mistakes, it’s about accepting who you are.”


“That, and a lift in one’s crystal,” Rush said, his tone light. “I’m well aware.”


“I don’t see what the problem is,” Young said stubbornly.


“Of course you do,” the scientist whispered. “You’ve seen it all along. And you’ve met its solution.”


“You really think combining your mind with an ultra-powerful alien AI is gonna fix the fact you hate yourself so much you think you deserve all of this?”


“Don’t be so dramatic.”


“Nick.” Young shut his burning eyes.


Rush shifted closer. “It horrifies you. This blending of the biological and the computational.”


“Yeah,” Young admitted. “Yeah, it does.”


“But consciousness is mutable. You need look no further t’find an example of that than your own mind.”


Wordlessly, Young shook his head.


“No one escapes alteration by their environment. As we move through the world we take damage. It’s where illness comes from. Madness. Cancer. The ravages of time. It’s a part of life; the way life always ends.”


Young pulled him in. “Terrible pep talk.” He kissed Rush’s temple. “Really really bad.”


“It’s not all damage.” His chief scientist squirmed for a better position in Young’s tight grip.


“Damn straight.” Young dragged the man into his lap. “Some of it is nice damage.”


“There y’fuckin’ go, then.” Rush curled into him.


“Six hours left,” Young whispered.


“Seems like a short time to you, doesn’t it?” Rush asked.


“Yeah.” Young stroked his hair. “Mainly because it is a short time.”


Rush made a noncommittal sound.


“What’s time like for you?” Young asked.


“It stretches almost infinitely,” Rush opened his fingers in a graceful wave, “within finite bounds.”


Young tipped his head back and stared sightlessly at the lines of Ancient text engraved into the ceiling. “I can’t imagine it.”


“Think of a number line. Of the infinite span between zero and one.”


“Yeah.” Young ran a hand over Rush’s upper arm as the scientist shivered. “Mathematically I get you. It’s not like I inherited a knowledge of quantum mechanics and number theory but skipped the concept of limits.”


“Yes well,” Rush said, and Young could hear the smirk in his voice. “In my defense, sometimes y’don’t think about what y’know?”


“I asked what it was like.”


Rush considered this. “Challenging. Transient things become less so.”


“So six hours seems long,” Young murmured.


“No,” Rush whispered. “‘Six hours’ is meaningless to me.”


Young sighed.


“It’s inconvenient,” Rush admitted.


“So, how we gonna explain this to everyone? That we’re not going?”


“Nothing easier. We’ll be the last to go through the gate. Then we just—” Rush swept a hand through empty air, “—don’t.”


“They can dial in, y’know. Now they have all those ZPMs?”


“The gate’ll remain open, transmitting data. Until the end. Even if, for some reason, Colonel Carter were t’pull off a miracle and shut it down, she can’t dial back in if I don’t allow her to connect.”


“Okay fine. But people here are gonna realize there might be a problem with you going back.”


“They won’t,” Rush said. “They won’t think about it. Too many other things going on.”


“Uh huh. Eli already knows.”


“Well, Eli’s a unique case.”


“What about TJ?”


“Tamara’s also a unique case.”


Young snorted. “Oh yeah? What about Chloe? What about Greer?”


“Fuck off,” Rush said lazily. “I’ll grant y’some a’them may—”


Young’s door chime sounded.


He crossed the room and hit the controls to find Chloe standing in the doorway. “Hi colonel,” she said, her eyes wide and her expression serious. “Is it true we’re gating back?”


“Yup,” Young said.


Chloe looked at him without speaking.


//What were you saying, about no one figuring this out?// he shot at Rush.


Rush sent a wave of exhausted exasperation in his direction.


“Is he here?” Chloe whispered.


//Let her in,// the scientist said.


“Yeah,” Young stepped aside. “He’s here.” He watched Chloe cross the room and skirt around the couch. //You want a minute?//


Rush sent him a wave of assent, and Young stepped into the hallway. To his surprise, he found Eli standing just to the left of the doorway.


“Hi,” Eli said, his eyes red-rimmed, his tone miserable. “For the record, I came with Chloe. I’m not just standing outside your door like a creeper.”


“Hi.” Young leaned into his own doorframe, crossed his arms, and looked down at his boots.


Beneath their feet, a quantum engine hummed a subsonic chord.


“There are some people,” Eli whispered, “who are gonna take this really hard.”


“I know.” Young stared at his bootlaces. “Chloe figure it out on her own? Or—”


“I didn’t tell her,” Eli said. “She knew. The whole Science Team knows. As soon as Wray broke the news. Everyone is—” the kid came to a stop, his throat closing.


“Pretty sharp,” Young finished.


“Actually,” Eli wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I was gonna say ‘really upset.’ But, uh, I don’t know how many people have necessarily worked out that you’re staying as well.” He shot Young a fiery, wet-eyed glare. “Like an idiot.”


Young nodded.


“You ever consider, I don’t know, telling people?


“Eli, this is hard enough as it is without—” He shook his head and looked down the corridor.


“Yeah,” Eli said. “Yeah, I get that. But I don’t think you guys know—either of you, really, how much you mean to everyone.”


Young said nothing.


Eli said nothing.


At the back of his mind, the glassed-up swirl of Rush’s thoughts slowed as he watched Chloe cry.


“Can I—“ Eli broke off. “Can I be in the last group?”


“Yeah,” Young said. “Of course you can.” He shut his eyes against the blurring of the corridor lights, then forced them back open. “You mind doing something for me?”


“Of course. Duh. Anything.”


Young reached into his pocket and pulled out the folded leaf of notebook paper.


“Can you get this to my brother? The SGC has his contact information.”


“Yeah,” Eli breathed. He pulled the letter out of Young’s grip.




Hours later, on his way to the gateroom, Young passed the open infirmary doors. A flare of gold in his peripheral vision caught his attention, and he backtracked to see TJ standing in the middle of the room, her head cocked, her eyes full of tears. She stared down at the small device cradled in her hands, like it was speaking to her.


“TJ.”


Startled, she looked up at him, her eyes wide and lacy-red.


“You okay?”


She compressed her lips, composed her expression. “I’ll miss this place.”


He nodded.


“What will happen to you,” she whispered, “when you reach the collision point?”


“He’s gonna try to ascend,” Young whispered.


“I asked,” TJ replied, her voice ragged, “what will happen to you.”


“Not sure,” Young lied.


They looked at one another for a long moment without speaking.


“Can you explain it to them?” Young asked. “You and Eli? All the people we didn’t tell?”


“Not sure anyone can explain it,” TJ whispered.


Young nodded.


“I’ll see you in the gateroom.” TJ turned away, running her fingertips over the device in her hand.


As Young started down the long stretch of empty corridor, he pulled in a few slow, deep breaths to steady himself.


“Please go with them.” Emily materialized from nothing, walking in lockstep beside him. “Everett, please.”


“Sorry,” Young whispered. “It’s not happening.”


“It’ll be easier for him if you go.”


“Not sure if you’re capable of understanding this, kiddo,” he murmured, “but this isn’t just about him.”


“I know,” Emily whispered.


“This is my decision.”


“I know,” Emily whispered again, and walked into nothingness.


In the gateroom, Eli, Brody, and Volker huddled over a monitor.


Rush stood apart from them, feet planted, eyeing the gate with fever-bright eyes. The set of his shoulders was straight, despite his fatigue.


He carried himself well. He’d always carried himself well.


Young cleared his throat. “We ready?”


Rush quirked an eyebrow and looked at Eli.


Eli unclipped his radio. “Chloe, how’s the in-circuit testing?”


“Just finished.” Chloe’s voice crackled over the radio. “Integrity’s good.”


The deck plates shuddered as FTL cut out.


“A little warning would be nice.” Eli glared at Rush.


Rush gave him a small smile and a casual shrug.


“We’ve got an Obelisk World dead ahead of us,” Chloe said over the radio. “Just on the edge of our long-range sensors. This is what we want, right?”


“Yup,” Eli confirmed. “Shut off sublight. Let her pull us in. Long and slow.”


“The planet looks like a nice place,” Volker said, studying the monitor near the gate. “Spectrally speaking, I mean.”


“No one cares,” Brody said. “What does the CBR look like?”


Volker shifted his weight in a small show of silent dignity. “Collision in process.”


“Lisa,” Eli said into his radio. “Lower the collectors.”


“Collectors are down,” Park replied.


Rush braced himself against the wave of power that broke across the glassy pattern of his thoughts. Young grounded his chief scientist as the man built fractal circuits to house, disperse, and direct the incoming energy.


Young watched Eli watch their power reserves climb and tried to think of nothing. Tried to pretend time wasn’t passing. That he, too, could live lifetimes in the intervals between seconds.


“Dial it up,” Eli said.


He felt Rush’s attention arrive like the tide—a slow swell of pressure and charm. The scientist turned to look at him, his shoulders straight, the fringe of his hair brushing the edge of half-designer, half makeshift glasses.


Young nodded.


The gate began to spin.


Incoming energy met outgoing power requirements in a harmony that chimed deep beneath the ground of his own conscious mind, flowing from his link with Rush, until, with a final clear tone, the event horizon exploded to life.


A year ago, Young would’ve given anything to see this.


He couldn’t bring himself to feel happy about it now.


The ripple of blue stabilized, and Rush’s thoughts returned to their spiral of iridescent disorder.


“Holy crap,” Eli whispered into the silence. “Somehow, I didn’t think it would actually work.”


Rush rolled his eyes.


Young cleared his throat. “Send our GDO frequency.”


“On it.” Brody keyed in the command.


They waited.


“Everett, that you?” O’Neill’s voice was a burst of static.


“Yes, sir,” Young replied.


“Yeah, Daniel said you might call,” O’Neill drawled over the sound of background cheers. “Start sending your people through any time. We’re prepped for hot arrivals.”


“Will do,” Young said.


The room was silent.


“Well,” Young said into the stillness, “call them in.”


Eli lifted his radio. “Camile, we’re ready for the first group.”


“I’ll be on the bridge.” Rush spun on his heel and made for the door, which opened at his approach.


Young sighed. //People are gonna want to—//


//No,// Rush snapped, already out of the room. //Absolutely not.//


//All right.// Young said. //Go.//


He felt Rush try and fail to suppress a surge of relief.


Young was sure he’d been just as unsuccessful in suppressing his own wave of disappointment.





Alone, against the wall at the back of the gateroom, Young watched Wray tick off names as crew members passed through the event horizon at seven second intervals. All the nonessential personnel had been evacuated when Greer joined him against the back wall.


“So,” Greer said. “Where’s he at?”


“The bridge.”


Greer snorted.


James and Barnes approached. “Final sweep was clear, sir,” James said. “Everything on Wray’s list is accounted for, packed up, and ready for transport.”


“Good,” Young replied.


“Eli’s running the kinos in search mode,” Barnes said. “He’s rigged them to a feed so Homeworld Command gets live video of the whole ship.”


Young nodded. “Check in with Wray,” he said. “If all non-essential personnel are through, we’ll start transport of equipment.”


They nodded and moved out.


“Med supplies are first to go.” Greer turned and headed for Wray.


Young watched TJ scan the room, the lights glinting off her hair. She pointed out crates to Greer, to Dunning, to Varro. Young watched boxes pass through the gate, one by one. When they were gone, TJ, who’d been avoiding his eyes, turned to look at him.


She crossed the room.


“Hi,” she said soundlessly.


He shook his head.


She dropped her bag.


Young wrapped his arms around her.


She leaned into him, her face buried in his shoulder. The hug was hard and fierce and long.


She stepped back, and Varro came to stand next to her. The former LA operative extended his hand to Young. They gripped one another’s forearms.


TJ looked up at the ceiling and took a shaky breath, willing her tears not to fall. When she looked back at him, her face was composed. “Tell him thank you.”


Young nodded.


TJ picked up her bag.


He watched them go, dark silhouettes against the brightness of the event horizon. They paused at the threshold to look back at him.


First Varro, and then TJ vanished into the blue.


He watched scientific specimens and carefully packed hard drives go through the gate over the next twenty minutes, followed by James, Barnes, Atienza.


Young moved to stand with Wray. “Who’s left?”


“Not many,” she looked up at him. “Greer. Scott. The Science Team.”


Young’s eyes flicked to Volker and Brody, who stood together at the monitor bank.


“Pack it in, guys,” he said, more gravel than words.


They walked forward, bags over their shoulders.


“You sure?” Volker asked. “Something could come up.”


“We’re good,” Young said.


Volker’s eyes flicked from Young to Wray to the gate, and back to the open door to the gateroom. Brody looked away, his eyes on the base of the monitor bank.


“Colonel—” Volker began helplessly.


Brody stuck his hand out. The handshake was hard, almost desperate. “Do it,” Brody said, fierce and awkward. “Get it done. Whatever it is.”


“Yeah,” Volker sighed, offering his own hand, “don’t let him tear the universe apart, I guess.”


“You got it,” Young breathed.


“I’ll see you on the other side,” Wray said to them, steady and warm at Young’s shoulder.


They nodded reluctantly and passed through the gate.


“Call the rest,” Young said.


Wray spoke quietly into her radio.






Chloe, Scott, and Park arrived together. Chloe’s chin was stubbornly angled up, but her eyes were wet. Scott flanked her. Park, just behind them, carried a small box of seeds.


“We’ll see you on the other side, sir?” Scott asked.


“Yup.” Young couldn’t meet his eyes. “See you soon.”


Scott nodded.


Chloe looked at Young, then back at Scott and Park. “You guys go first,” she said. “I’ll be right behind you.”


Scott looked at her uncertainly, but at Young’s nod, he turned and made for the gate.


“They’re in hydroponics,” Park said. “Eli. Ron. Rush. If you’re looking.”


“Thanks,” Young said.


Park started for the gate, but after a few steps she turned back. “Colonel I—I wanted to say. I thought you and Rush—” She brought a little steel into her voice. “You did a good job.”


Young nodded.


Park looked to Wray. “All three of you. A fantastic job.”


Wray smiled and wiped her eyes.


“I tried to tell the doc,” Park continued, “but he wouldn’t let me. You know how he is. I think he knows, but—tell him, for me, will you? At least he’ll let you finish a sentence.” She smiled and brushed away a tear.


“Yeah,” Young said. “I’ll tell him.”


Park gripped her box of seeds and headed for the gate.


Young turned to Chloe.


She gave him a teary-eyed smile.


“I’m sorry,” Young whispered hoarsely. “For everything. Everything you went through. Everything they did. It was my fault you—”


She wrapped him in a hug. “It’s all right,” whispered, the words high and tight. “Are you coming back?”


He shook his head.


He felt her nod, her arms tight around him. “I’m sorry I’m such a crier,” she said, the words barely understandable. “It makes everything harder.”


Young shook his head. “Nah,” he managed.


She wiped her face with her sleeve. “Goodbye.”


He squeezed her shoulder, unable to speak. Her hand rested over his for the span of a few heartbeats, then she tipped her chin up and made for the gate.


Young and Wray stood together in the empty gateroom.


“This is,” Wray said, her voice wavering, “more difficult than I envisioned.”


“Oh yeah?” Young breathed.


“And what I envisioned,” Wray said, just as breathless, “was pretty bad.”


“You’re not gonna drag me through some heartfelt goodbye, right?” Young asked. “Not sure I could take it.”


“Never,” Wray said, her voice cracking on the word. She looked up at him, a real smile behind her tears. “You’re on my to-do list. I’ll be explaining you and Nick to the SGC for decades.”


“Decades?” Young whispered.


“Oh at least,” Wray said, without sound.


“Better get started then.” Young glanced at the gate. “I’ll make sure Greer and Eli get through okay.”


“When I’m home,” Wray whispered, “when I’m drinking wine with Sharon in front of the fire, when I’m at dinner with my parents, when I’m running early in the morning, when I’m doing favors for Daniel Jackson in the middle of the night, whenever I feel safe—” she gave him a teary smile. “I’ll think of you.”


“C’mon,” Young rasped.


“There’s value in endings,” Wray whispered. “When they’re done well.”


“You learn that from Jackson?”


“No.” Wray brushed away a fallen tear. “I learned that from you.”


“Get outta here,” Young whispered.


She nodded. He watched her approach the gate. She pressed her bag into the blue of the event horizon. She turned, her eyes taking in the whole space—the walls, the floors, the spiral stair, Young himself—as though trying to fix it in her memory. Then she stepped through.


The silence of the empty gateroom pressed down on him like a physical weight.


In Young’s peripheral vision, Daniel Jackson leaned against a console, pulling the shirtsleeves of his white sweater down over his palms.


Young unclipped his radio from his belt. “Eli,” he said. “Drag ‘em down here, will you?”





While he waited for Eli, Greer, and Rush, he didn’t look at his watch. He tried to ignore the passage of time. Tried to live his whole life in the wait between the radio call and the opening of the gateroom doors. The Wyoming sky, the scrape of skates over ice, the feel of a rifle, the sound of gunfire in an alien atmosphere, a math professor with style who would never, in any universe, be quite what he’d turned himself into here.


The doors swished open and his last three remaining crew members entered the room.


“Hey,” Young said, his voice admirably steady.


“I’m staying,” Greer said, all stubborn steel and banked fire. “Last through.”


“You’re fuckin’ not,” Rush fell in at Young’s shoulder. “Quantum fluctuations could necessitate a shut-down of the gate at any time—”


“Yeah or whatever.” Greer caught Rush’s gaze and held it. “Point being, you never know when you might need an extra pair of hands.”


“No,” Rush said, even and flat and staring Greer down.


“I’m afraid not, sergeant,” Young said. “That’s an order.”


“We’ll be fine,” Rush added.


Still, Greer hesitated.


Rush pointed unceremoniously at the open gate.


“My god he’s a drama queen,” Eli whispered.


Greer snorted. “Gonna miss you, you little Scottish asshole.”


“Yes well,” Rush dropped his hand and looked away. “Should I survive this, there’s a non-zero probability I’ll miss you as well.”


“Stay outta trouble. Don’t unmake the universe or something.”


“I’ll take that under advisement,” Rush said dryly.


“Sir,” Greer looked to Young and gave him a formal salute. Young returned it. The sergeant slapped Rush on the shoulder, then turned, and stepped through the gate.


“So,” Eli said weakly. “Everyone’s gone, I guess?”


“Yup,” Young said.


“Okay,” Eli replied.


The word lingered uncomfortably in the air above them.


“Eli,” Rush said, looking away, “we don’t have all day.”


“You’re such a jerk,” Eli whispered. “But I’ll miss you anyway.” He bent to pick up his bag and settled it over one shoulder. He looked at Young. “Don’t let him push you around.”


“I won’t.” Young grabbed the kid’s offered hand, then pulled him into a hug. “I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said. “Any of it.”


Eli nodded, then turned to Rush.


Rush didn’t look at him.


No one spoke.


“Well, good luck,” Eli whispered finally, and turned to the open gate.


“Eli,” Rush snapped.


“Yeah?” He turned back.


Rush looked up, fixing Eli with the full force of his gaze. “Your work is consistently flawless. Inventive. Creative. It improves under pressure. In a lifetime of teaching, I’ve never seen anything like it.”


“Really?” Eli asked, silhouetted by the pale blue backlight of the active event horizon.


Rush nodded.


“Thanks,” Eli whispered. “For what it’s worth—” he broke off, his eyes fixed on Rush. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be who I am now. Y’know?”


Again, Rush nodded.


Eli passed through the gate.


Young stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nick Rush in front of the open wormhole, looking at the blue-white turbulence of the event horizon. On the other side of their open link, Rush’s thoughts, shard-sharp, blazed with acuity, with swirl, with light, with edge.


“They’ll be all right,” Young said.


“Yes,” Rush breathed. “Yes, I’m sure.”


“Something’s bothering you.”


“Imagine that,” Rush whispered, and his thoughts spiraled in on themselves.


“This is your show,” Young murmured. “What now?”


“We’re approximately two hundred and fifty thousand kilometers away from the point at which spacetime will begin to warp, our phase will begin to flux, and incoming energy will destabilize the structural integrity of Destiny’s circuitry.” He fixed Young with a searching look.


“So you should get going, then?”


“Yes,” Rush murmured.


Young gestured toward the door.


Rush didn’t move.


“You’re certain,” his chief scientist said softly, “I can’t convince you t’go through that gate?”


“Sorry, genius,” Young whispered. “No dice.”


Rush sighed, shut his eyes, and pressed two fingers to the space between his eyebrows.


“Yeah yeah,” Young said, unimpressed.


Rush side-eyed him.


Young caught his gaze and held it. “Thanks.”


“For what?” Rush asked, his voice pained.


“For respecting my decision. For not making a forcefield and shoving me through that gate.”


“Believe me when I say,” Rush whispered, “that I’m familiar with the importance of personal agency, having had my own stripped from me in so many ways.”


The irregular light from the open gate played over the pallor of his skin, the darkness of his eyes.


“Yeah,” Young said. “I get that.”


Rush looked down at the deck plating, his thoughts a disorganized swirl of acute misery.


“C’mon,” Young said. “It’s not so bad. In the grand scheme of things, we’re in the black. Crew home. We’ll get our people off the CPU. We’re fulfilling an aspect of Destiny’s mission—” he trailed off at the expression on Rush’s face.


“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?” his chief scientist whispered.


“I just want you know that it’s okay.” Young projected calm as he spoke, trying to soothe the distressed flare of Rush’s thoughts. “I don’t want—” he gestured vaguely at himself, “I don’t want this to be the thing that holds you back.”


“It won’t,” Rush said with difficulty. A muscle in his cheek twitched. “At least—not for the reasons you think it should.”


“You’ve said something like that before.” Young felt a surge of unease.


“Have I?” Rush asked. “I don’t recall.”


“You wouldn’t.”


Rush glanced at him. “Still just me up here.” He tapped the side of his temple with two fingers. “Speaking of, would y’mind—” he broke off, uncertain. “Would you see if there’s anything left y’can fix in a relatively time-efficient manner?”


“You think it might help you pull this thing off?”


“Possibly. It’s worth a try, anyway.”


Young pressed his thumb against Rush’s too-warm temple, his fingers tangling through damp strands of hair. “This’ll work better if we—” Young trailed off.


With a spike of misery that drove itself into Young’s mind, Rush stepped forward.


Young pulled him in.


Rush kissed him, his mind a torrent of formless distress.


Young projected as much calm as he could into that fiery flood of thought—


Until.


He felt the unmistakable sensation of a needle jammed into his arm.


He shoved Rush away, sending him to the floor of the gateroom.


Too late.


“God damn it,” Young roared, dragging Rush off the floor by the front of his jacket. “You bastard.” He yanked the syringe out of Rush’s hand and threw it across the room. “I trusted you. All that talk about agency? I TRUSTED you!”


“Yes.” Rush held up his hands, palms out. “I’m aware.”


“I trusted you.” Young tried to shout, but whatever Rush had injected him with was working fast.


Very fast.


Rush caught him as his knees buckled, controlling his fall to the floor in front of the open gate. The scientist knelt on the deck, his chest to Young’s back, his arms wrapped around him.


Young’s head rested against his shoulder.


In front of him, the gate lit up the room.


It was all he could see.


“If you thought,” Rush said in a cracked whisper, “even for a moment, that I’d let you stay here and die, then y’never knew me at all.”


Young clenched his jaw.


“Don’t pull it forward,” Rush continued, barely able to speak. “You’ll be all right if y’don’t pull it forward.” He clamped his hands on the material of Young’s jacket.


Young’s mind spiraled with distress at the thought of the scientist alone, attempting something nearly impossible, locked to a piece of metal as it was torn apart in collision between parallel universes, fused with a dying ship, feeling its destruction like it was a part of his body—


“It’s all right,” Rush said. One hand came up to run through Young’s hair. “It won’t be like that.”


His voice was calm and assured, but there was nothing in his words or tone that Young could trust.


“You’re a lot of work,” Young managed, wishing he could see the scientist’s face.


“And what’s work, anyway?” Rush murmured into his hair. “Just force, applied over a distance. Nothing so difficult about that.”


Young couldn’t speak.


“If I make it,” Rush whispered. “I’ll try to let you know.”


//How can you do this?// His projection warped with distress that lacked a physical outlet.


“How can I not?” Rush asked, his voice wavering. “You’ll be all right, eventually.”


//I’ll never forgive you.// Young projected past the despair that weighed down every turn of his thoughts.


//“I know.”// Rush tangled their minds into a bright mass of misery, of guilt, of relief. //“I know.”//


Despite Young’s best efforts, sensation and conscious thought slipped away until he was left with nothing but the familiar feel of Rush’s thoughts against his own.


In the end, even that faded.

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