“You sure this is the place Dr. Coleman was talking about?” John blinked
as lights came on, flooding a laboratory like dozens of facilities they’d
found all over the city. He looked around, then up at the ceiling, and
collided with Zelenka, who was doing the same.
“You were expecting a neon sign blinking: 'This way to the forbidden technology’?”
Rodney shouldered past them toward the main console in full-on nervous-excited
mode. His laptop was already open, balanced expertly on the palm of one
spread hand while he typed in rapid-fire bursts with the other.
John righted Zelenka and straightened out his lab coat with
an apologetic pat. "No, I just remember the other Elizabeth saying Janus
took his research with him when the Ancients cleared out of here."
"Well, hopefully he didn't take all of it." Rodney set the laptop
down and gave the console an appraising look. Zelenka hurried over to
help hook up the crystal-computer interface, mumbling something in Czech.
“Hey, I’ll be just as psyched as you guys if we find something cool,”
John said, trying to be unobtrusive as he peered over their shoulders
"We?" Rodney made a backhanded shooing motion. “Like you’re here for any
reason except to avoid doing inventory, or something equally stupid.”
John shrugged. At least this would keep him busy; it wouldn’t exactly
convince Elizabeth he was fine if she found him snoring over his quarterly
evaluations. Of course, he’d be a hell of a lot finer if they’d
just quit worrying and let him go off-world again sometime soon.
“A time-traveling jumper sounds pretty cool to me," John countered, being
of the admit-to-nothing school—especially when it came to Rodney. "Anyway,
freaky things have happened in these labs before. Nanoviruses. Hairy plants.
Ten-thousand-year-old Elizabeths. I thought a few security precautions
would be prudent.”
Rodney straightened and turned—the body language of a withering comeback.
But instead of the expected sarcastic reply, he narrowed his eyes and
looked at John for a moment. “Well…stay out of the way,” he muttered before
returning his attention to the laptop.
"Adaptor, please." Zelenka reached a hand out blindly, and Rodney passed
him a cable without looking up; they were on.
"Okay, while you guys do your thing, I'll...take a look around." John
started to wander away, then paused a beat, waiting for it:
"Don't touch anything!" Rodney shouted after him.
John smiled, then started strolling slowly around the lab. It was big—larger
than the space Rodney had comandeered for the physics department. There
were some smaller consoles and different kinds of work surfaces,
as well as the usual assortment of inscrutable Ancient doohickeys.
The murmur of Rodney and Zelenka's voices grew distant as John continued
down the long axis of the lab. The only sounds in his head now were his
own steady footfalls and the faint, contented hum of a city not
in crisis. He stifled a yawn.
Reaching the far wall at last, John spotted what looked like
a long, low padded bench tucked away in the corner.
Score. After a quick glance back at Rodney and Zelenka, he stretched
out gratefully across it. Something in his spine popped as he tried to
get comfortable, but he was growing sadly used to his body's small betrayals.
Mostly, he was glad to be off his feet.
Ah, yeah. Now if only it were a little less bright...
Atlantis granted his wish, dimming the lights above him and
adjusting the color to a soothing amber. Perfect. He rolled
his shoulders and settled in. Those guys would be up front for
hours. No one would even notice if he rested his eyes for a moment.
The morning briefing was torture. Rodney tried to be discreet as he checked
his watch again—Elizabeth had already caught him three times, and she
was beginning to look a little pissed. He glanced across at Zelenka, who
seemed to be having similar trouble containing his antsiness.
They'd stayed up most of the night down in Janus's lab and hadn't even
scratched the surface. There were descriptions of dozens of experiments,
all ingeniously mislabeled. It had to be part of Janus's secret
work on dimensional manipulation, Rodney could feel it. After all,
he was kind of Janus's spiritual heir—if there was anybody who could
unravel the secrets hidden in his data, Rodney was the one.
Warmed by the thought, Rodney reached for a donut from the tray at the
center of the conference table. He was about to take a bite when Sheppard
suddenly swiveled around, facing Zelenka.
"I'm a what?" Sheppard asked, head tilting curiously.
"Huh?" Zelenka looked startled.
"Did I do something to piss you off?" Sheppard continued in a lower voice.
"Piss me off?" Zelenka spread his hands helplessly. "I am afraid I don't
understand what you are talking about." He looked around the table
as though seeking confirmation. Sheppard did the same. Everyone looked
confused. Rodney set his donut down.
"None of you just heard Zelenka call me an obnoxious, know-it-all..."
Sheppard's eyes shifted as his voice trailed off uncertainly, "MENSA...wannabe?"
Rodney shook his head along with the others, although he hadn't exactly
been paying attention.
"I didn't hear him say anything," Ronon confirmed quietly from
the corner, and that seemed to settle it—Ronon had hearing like a bat.
After an awkward moment, Zelenka leaned in toward Sheppard and said, "Colonel,
I hold you in highest regard. I would never say such things."
"Yeah, I guess...uh. Jeez, sorry." Sheppard scrubbed a hand distractedly
through his hair. "I must’ve dozed off there for a minute.” He cast
Elizabeth a pleading glance. "Can we just pretend this didn’t happen and
get back to the meeting?"
Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Teyla, you said the Athosians have had
dealings with the Bomoldani in the past?" And Sheppard and Zelenka both
looked relieved as Teyla's voice smoothly filled the silence.
Rodney picked up his donut again, feigning a thorough eye-level inspection
of the chocolate sprinkles while he surreptitiously observed Sheppard
through the hole. He looked like hell. Sheppard always seemed remarkably
able to shake off a crisis once it passed, but this last thing with
the Queen... Even Rodney had noticed, surprised by the vulnerability
he'd seen in Sheppard's exhaustion-bruised eyes under the unforgiving
lights of the lab.
Of course, once he'd gotten caught up in the excitement of finding Janus’s
old files, he’d forgotten Sheppard was there at all until they found
him, almost by accident, after deciding to take a quick look around
the rest of the lab before finally calling it a night. Except for
the detail of his ever-present sidearm, Sheppard had looked like an overgrown
kid back there, curled up on a bench in the corner, sleeping so hard Rodney
hadn't even felt inclined to tease him after Zelenka shook him awake.
Teyla finished her report on the trading customs of the Bomoldani, and
the whole table went silent again until Elizabeth stood.
"All right, thank you, Teyla. Rodney, I know you and Radek would
like to get back to your work," she said with a nod in Rodney's direction.
Then she bit her lip and glanced at Sheppard, who was staring down at
his folded hands like he already knew what was coming next.
"John?" Her voice was kind. "May I have a word with you in my
Rodney hesitated as the meeting adjourned. While his dominant
impulse was to bolt from the conference room and get back down to
Janus's lab as fast as humanly possible, another part of him wanted
to loiter long enough to make sure Sheppard was okay. He wound up standing
self-consciously beside the table while people skirted around him to file
out of the room.
Fortunately, Zelenka was smoother in social situations, waiting until
the room was mostly clear before reaching over to clasp Sheppard's
shoulder. Sheppard looked at him and they seemed to reach some
kind of understanding in a bafflingly subtle display of nods, shrugs,
and small, embarrassed smiles. Then Sheppard looked over at Rodney,
giving him a nod too. Rodney nodded back vigorously, hoping it all meant
that whatever Zelenka had "said" went for him as well, and yes please
don't actually be coming apart at the seams or whatever, because
that would be...surprisingly bad on an unexpected number of levels.
Right. Rodney snagged another donut for later and strode away.
The moment John tells himself to flip again and make it best two-out-of-three,
he knows he's not going to Atlantis.
Maybe if it were O'Neill heading up the military contingent, things would
be different, but five minutes in the company of Marshall Sumner was enough
to show John a clear glimpse of a future that looked depressingly similar
to the recent past—another by-the-book CO who would mistrust and despise
him on the basis of a rote faith in regulations that John could never
share after Afghanistan.
It's a shame, because this Doctor Weir seems like a nice woman, passionate
about her work—and sure, the whole genetically controlled crazy technology
thing is intriguing. But John has been in the military long enough
to doubt that an old-school guy like Sumner will ever really let a civilian
run the show. And being stuck —maybe forever—at the mercy of a
commander who doesn't want him is just not something John's feeling inclined
to put himself through.
At least at McMurdo, people pretty much leave him alone. He flies his
choppers, he minds his own business, and he stays out of trouble. If he keeps
under the radar long enough, everybody who has it in for him will
eventually forget and move on to other things and—who knows?—maybe he'll
get back into the cockpit of a jet again before they make him retire.
Until then, the endless white snows of Antarctica will just have to be
alien landscape enough.
Everything is quiet when he gets back to his quarters, and then he remembers
it's movie night. Just as well. He finds a thin bundle of slightly wet mail
bound in a rubber band sitting on the floor in front of his door, consisting
of two letters that are actually for Jim Simpson and a battered copy of
Surfer magazine three months past its cover date.
He lets himself in and shrugs out of his jacket. He looks around the latest
spare iteration of "home" and tries not to remember what that chair felt
like surging to life beneath him.
He peels out of his snow-covered boots and one layer of wool socks and
climbs into bed with the magazine. The cover shot is a curling wall of
aquamarine water, twenty feet high, and bold type promises exclusive coverage
of the Big Wave Classic in Tavarua. He flips through pages of golden bodies
advertising sunscreen and flip-flops and tries not to let himself wonder
what the hell it means that he has this thing that impatient
scientist kept babbling about so excitedly.
It's pointless to think about, because it doesn't matter. John
He isn't going anywhere at all.
They had just opened what looked like it might be a master data file when
Rodney got the call.
"What the hell happened now?" he asked breathlessly, wiping a bead of
sweat from his temple as he arrived at the infirmary. Elizabeth, Teyla,
and Ronon were already waiting out front.
"Sheppard's not crazy," Ronon replied with a glower that dared anyone
Teyla patted Ronon's arm. "No one is saying that. Doctor Beckett is only
suggesting that John has been under a great deal of stress and perhaps
he needs a more significant rest."
"What kind of mumbo-jumbo bullshit is that?" Rodney demanded, adopting
Ronon's arms-folded stance.
"He thought he heard me speaking to him this time," Elizabeth said.
"As though we were back in Antartica."
Huh. Maybe that didn't sound so good. "Like a flashback?" That was
supposed to happen to military types.
"I don't think so." Elizabeth shook her head. "It was a conversation I'm
certain we never had."
"And then what, he passed out?" Rodney asked, sure he wasn't getting the
whole picture yet.
"Not...exactly." Elizabeth hesitated, glancing back at Ronon, who still
looked to be taking any pronouncement on Sheppard's condition as a personal
Teyla stepped in. "Doctor Beckett said John was conscious, but unable
to respond to anything around him. He didn't speak, or move, for a period
of several minutes."
"Jesus," Rodney whispered under his breath. He knew Sheppard was exhausted
and all, and the thing with Zelenka this morning had been odd, but this
sounded bad. "Is it because of the..." Rodney broke off, uncertain
what to say. None of them seemed to know how to talk about it. "The thing...
with the Queen?"
Ronon turned away, mouth pressed into a hard line and Rodney knew he was
still beating himself up over Sheppard’s capture. Teyla squeezed his arm.
"We do not know," she continued. Her voice sounded calm and sure as usual;
her eyes looked anything but. "Doctor Beckett said his scans didn’t show
any obvious physical cause. Doctor Heightmeyer is on her way."
Rodney leaned back against the wall, wanting to give something his weight.
"Where's Sheppard now?" he asked.
As if in answer, he heard Sheppard's voice, rising in exasperation: "Quit
asking me my name! Look, I'm always John Sheppard. That's not the
An examination bay curtain yanked open and Sheppard emerged, pulling on
a lightweight black sweatshirt.
"Colonel, please," Carson said, trotting after him. "You've been in quite
a state. You should stay here until we know more about what's happening."
Sheppard turned and faced Carson, hands on his hips. "What's happening?
Well, I seem to be hearing voices and you guys are afraid I'm losing my
"John..." Elizabeth started.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Nobody's saying that. You're just thinking it."
"What happened to you in Elizabeth's office just now goes far beyond hearing
voices, laddie," Carson said with more authority, moving in and taking
Sheppard's arm. "And until we have a better idea of exactly what that
is, I’m putting you on medical leave."
Sheppard looked to Elizabeth, who shook her head apologetically.
"I'm sorry, John."
“Great,” Sheppard muttered.
"Probably just need some sleep," Carson tutted, tugging Sheppard back
toward the examination bay. "The lot of you, go on about your business
now. The last thing he needs is people fussing and hovering about, even
As he was being led away, Sheppard's eyes met Rodney's for a moment. He
looked miserable, like a cat stuffed in a crate for a trip to the vet.
Rodney started to open his mouth to say something, but shut it when he
realized he was acting out of habit. He'd grown so used to being able
to fix any problem Sheppard couldn't shoot his way out of, that his brain
was already beginning to rev in preparation, fingers practically twitching
for a keyboard.
But he couldn't fix this. So he just watched silently, feeling oddly helpless
as the curtain closed.
"I’m sure you will receive word as soon as there is more to know," Zelenka
said with a kind hand to Rodney’s shoulder when he returned to the lab.
"Meanwhile, I believe I have both good news and bad news." He stepped
to the side so Rodney could take his place at the console. Rodney took
a deep breath to clear his mind and looked at the screen.
“What’ve you found?”
“The bad news is, I'm afraid this is most general and preliminary work."
Zelenka indicated various points in the data as he spoke: "This, for example,
looks like an idea based in quantum tunneling. These appear to work on
offer-echo wave transactions. And this, if I’m not mistaken, describes
plans for constructing an incredibly huge rotating cylinder to induce
a global causality violation." He pulled off his glasses and polished
the lenses on the sleeve of his lab coat. "That is only what I've been
able to recognize, so far—there are more.”
“Sketchbooks,” Rodney sighed. At some point, the chance to pore over Janus’s
brainstorming sessions would be a joy. But right now, their lives would
be made a hell of a lot easier if they knew which direction he’d ultimately
gone in. "So, what's the good news?"
“The good news is, we can probably eliminate many of these since we know
the device Janus wound up using fit in the back of a jumper,” Zelenka
said. "Which still leaves us with quite a mystery, but at least it's a
It was a start. Rodney's thoughts drifted briefly back to Sheppard
in the infirmary, but Zelenka was right; when there was more to know,
they would tell him. Meanwhile...
“All right,” Rodney said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get Coleman,
Richter, and a coffee machine down here. It’s time to set up shop.”
The next morning, there was no regular briefing; Elizabeth called Rodney
to her office. Kate Heightmeyer was sitting across from Elizabeth's desk
when he got there and he had the sinking feeling that meant bad news.
"Carson sedated John last night so he could sleep, but now he’s having
another…episode. There's nothing we can do until he comes around," Elizabeth
explained, waving Rodney to a seat. She looked terrible: tight, dry lines
pulling at the corners of her eyes and mouth. "I asked you here as my
acting second in command. I'm not ready to start reassigning John's duties
yet, but I thought you should be aware of what's going on. Doctor Heightmeyer?"
Rodney sank down wearily to listen. It wasn't until Sheppard's solid,
steady presence was missing that Rodney ever realized how much he'd come
to count on it.
"Nearly three weeks have passed since the Colonel’s capture. And although
he appears to have escaped without any lasting physical harm, it doesn't
change what he experienced," Heightmeyer started. “Having his mind laid
bare to an enemy, the continuous threat of a slow, agonizing death at
"Hey, you don't have to tell me," Rodney said, more sharply than
was probably called for. But Heightmeyer had never been swept up in the
culling beam of a Wraith dart; she'd never been on a hive ship. She didn't
know anything. The brief moment Rodney had spent face-to-face with
the Queen after MB8-690 was the stuff of his own sleepless nights, thank
you very much. And Sheppard had been her prisoner for two whole days.
"It's not unusual for severe events to be repressed initially, only to
emerge later through symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Heightmeyer
continued, seeming unbothered by Rodney's interruption. “Sleep disturbance
and hallucinations are actually fairly common. However, these catatonic
episodes the Colonel is experiencing now are…unexpected.” She shifted
in her chair. “And taken alongside the delusions, we need to consider
that what we’re seeing here is not, or not solely, PTSD."
“So you’re thinking it’s…what?” Rodney asked, sitting up straighter. He
didn’t like where this seemed to be going.
“We’re really not sure. Doctor Beckett’s tests came back with no evidence
of a tumor or stroke, or other physical problem. And your team hasn’t
been off-world since the Colonel’s return. At this point, we need to look
at all the possibilities,” Heightmeyer said. “Schizophrenia, for example,
can take several years to develop.”
“Schizophrenia? You’ve got to be kidding me.” This was out of left
field. Rodney glanced at Elizabeth for support, but she was staring down
at her desk—obviously, she’d already had this conversation.
Heightmeyer’s face was professionally patient. “The signs can be difficult
to detect, especially in someone as guarded as John Sheppard. His personality
has always been...a bit unusual.”
"Yeah, in the good way! I mean, he’s nuts, but he’s not nuts!"
"Doctor McKay, I'm trying to tell you that we don't know," Heightmeyer
continued. "But it’s possible the Colonel's capture caused a break
of some kind, bringing on a more acute manifestation of a previously undetected
condition. We're just going to have to continue to monitor him, and evaluate
as best we can."
Rodney folded his arms across his chest. "Well, as Sheppard would say:
this really sucks."
The fire pops and orange sparks dance toward a star-pricked sky, illuminating
the twisted wreck of the crashed dart behind them. John tosses a silver-streaked
braid back over his shoulder before reaching into the embers with a long,
pointed stick to spear one of the heat-puffed lizards they're roasting
"Mmm, extra-crispy," he muses mostly to himself. The majority of what
he says seems lost on Ronon. "These are done, you hungry?" That will register,
he knows. And sure enough, Ronon emerges from the shadows a moment later,
dropping into an easy crouch across the fire.
They eat in silence. Ronon's never much of a conversationalist, but even
less so at meals. It's not until he met Ronon that John ever realized
how much he's taken to talking to himself over the past...three years?
He wonders if the stream of self-directed commentary sounds crazy. He
knows he must look like a madman—although maybe fractionally less
so since Ronon sat him down the other day to weave his hair into order
with bits of bone, shell, and leather.
"More?" John asks, watching Ronon chew the last bits of meat from his
Ronon nods and hands John his stick. The fire spits, punctuating the silence.
John spears another lizard and Ronon crunches into it contentedly, tipping
his head back to look at the stars.
John gnaws at his own meal. It's not good, but not bad, either. The lizards
are plentiful and easy to snare. All in all, he's not complaining.
John blinks when he realizes Ronon is speaking to him. "No, not really."
And surprisingly enough, it's true. The sinew knots held, and the poultices
have been amazingly effective. Aside from a low, deep throb in the knitting
muscles when he's trying to settle to sleep on hard ground, he's barely
aware of the healing wound in his back anymore. "You?"
Ronon shakes his head. "Thought it'd be worse. I tried myself once and
it got infected, pretty bad. You dug it out clean, though. Thanks."
"Sure." It's one of the longest conversations they've ever had and John's
not sure what else to say. "Uh, you too."
Ronon nods again, then rises and kicks the lizard carcasses into the fire.
"I'll check the perimeter," he says, striding off across the clearing.
Sometimes John wants to tell Ronon about everything: the ice fields of
Antartica and the spires of Atlantis. He wants to talk about friends he
wishes he'd had time to know better, like dry-witted Mike Holland who
died in Afghanistan, or the impossible genius of Rodney McKay, still out
there in hiding, cooking up something big that will save them all,
John hopes, looking at the sky.
His memories are beginning to seem unreal. Ronon would be the perfect
person to share them with, to bring them back to life—he's steady, impassive,
like a shrink with no ulterior motives. But something always holds John
back. Maybe it's the sounds he hears Ronon make in his sleep at night—the
soft, anguished cries. A woman; maybe a child.
John wonders whether it's better, or worse, that he has less to mourn.
The gloomy silence in Elizabeth’s office was broken by Carson’s voice
in their headsets telling them Sheppard had come around: “He’s a little
confused, but otherwise seems himself.”
“…really weird,” Sheppard was saying to Ronon and Teyla, who’d made it
to the infirmary first. He sat up and tugged at a spiky lock of hair,
measuring its length with his fingers. “This is normal?”
“Normal for you,” Rodney replied. “Why?”
“I just, um…” Instead of answering, Sheppard looked at Ronon. “Did we…first
meet on a hive ship? Or a high-radiation planet, chasing Lieutenant Ford?”
Everyone exchanged nervous glances. Hive ship? Oh, this was so
“Chasing Ford,” Ronon said quietly.
“Okay.” Sheppard nodded, hesitated, then shifted to look at Carson and
Heightmeyer. “I don’t know what I remember from here and what I remember
from, uh, you know, here.” He tapped his head. “It felt so real.”
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room. Finally, Sheppard smiled
wryly at Teyla. “I guess what I want to know now is where you’ve been."
“John—” Teyla started, looking alarmed.
“Oh, no,” Sheppard waved a hand at her confused expression. "Just…you’ve
always been there when I've had hallucinations in the past."
“Ah. The sentient mist.” Teyla’s expression turned mischievously amused.
"I did enjoy the shopping."
"And let's not forget the time with the haywire Wraith generator—where
you shot everyone," Rodney added, hand automatically going to his
side to find the scar. His brain tumbled over Sheppard’s observation:
Teyla had always been there; Teyla was from this galaxy; weird things
happened here. "You know, not that Sheppard doesn’t have perfectly good
reason to be a basket case, but are we sure there’s no Pegasus-type
"Gee, thanks," Sheppard said. "But…yeah.” He twisted around to face Elizabeth.
“I'm not saying that I don't have plenty of nightmares—‘cause believe
me, I do. But, I think I’m pretty square with how I feel about the Queen."
He looked down and picked at the hem of the bedspread. "It isn’t what
she did that was making me lose sleep. It's more that she got me in the
"That wasn't your fault!" Ronon cut in, bristling.
Sheppard shrugged but didn't raise his eyes.
"Okay, look, the two of you can have a he-man heart-to-heart about all
this later," Rodney said. "The point is, Sheppard never heard voices or
whatever until the meeting yesterday with Zelenka, right?"
"All right, let’s re-examine this,” Heightmeyer said, glancing first at
Carson for confirmation, then arching a see, I’m not the enemy
eyebrow at Rodney.
Rodney resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her as unhelpful.
Fair or not, he was still annoyed. Alien phenomena he knew how to deal
with; simple human tragedy…not so much.
“Colonel, can you take us through yesterday morning one more time?" Carson
asked, stepping up to the side of the bed.
"Before the briefing? I had breakfast in the mess with Teyla and Ronon,"
Sheppard said. "Coffee, cereal, fruit. Nothing strange."
Teyla and Ronon both nodded in agreement.
"And prior to that, you were asleep in your quarters?"
"Um," Sheppard snuck a guilty look in Elizabeth's direction. "Just walking
around the southwest pier for a couple of hours, actually."
He turned toward Rodney and confessed, "I couldn't get back to sleep after
we left the lab. How long did I nap down there, anyway?"
Rodney froze. Janus’s lab. "Oh my god, what did you touch? I told
you not to touch anything!"
"Nothing!" Sheppard threw up his hands. "Sheez, Rodney, I learned
my lesson after that...thing made me sweat for a week. I swear,
all I did was lie down and go to sleep."
"I'd like to be certain of that," Elizabeth said with a decisive nod first
at Sheppard, then at Rodney. “Gentlemen? Let’s go see this lab.”
They gathered around the bench in a semi-circle. It did look ordinary
enough. Ronon gave it a suspicious prod with his foot. Nothing happened.
“So, what precisely did you do?” Rodney asked, turning toward Sheppard.
It was weird; he looked so normal now, just standing there, handsome,
strong and confident, with his artfully chaotic hair and deceptively thoughtful
expression. But Ronon had come along, ready to return Sheppard to the
infirmary in case he blanked out again. Went catatonic. Things
weren’t normal at all.
“Well, I was trying to stay out of the way while you guys were working,”
Sheppard said. “Looked around for a while, but I felt pretty beat, so
when I spotted this,” he indicated the bench, “I thought I’d rest for
a few minutes.”
Rodney kept staring at the bench, waiting for something to come to him,
for some pattern to begin to coalesce in his brain, but none did. He hated
to think they were barking up the wrong tree here, that something really
was just wrong with Sheppard after all.
“I think I may have found something,” Elizabeth said, frowning in concentration
at Rodney’s laptop. “According to Janus’s description, this is some sort
of biofeedback-assisted meditation device. The user activates it by…”
She looked up, expression deadpan. “Lying down, turning off the lights,
“Great.” Rodney rolled his eyes.
“The lights were off back here when we found you,” Zelenka said
“I guess I did do that,” Sheppard added, biting his lower lip. “Although
now that I think about it—they just dimmed, and turned kinda orange. It
was nice. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“The device must have interpreted your wanting to rest as a wish to activate,”
“There's not very much here about what it’s supposed to do,” Elizabeth
“Probably because it’s all bullshit, anyway,” Rodney said, going to her
side to look at the data for himself. “Remember, Janus was trying to hide
the true nature of his research from the council. Whatever this thing
really is? I'm almost positive it's got something to do with his work
in dimensional manipulation.”
“Meaning?” Sheppard asked, coming around to peer over their shoulders.
For once, Rodney didn’t mind.
“Meaning, deliberate distortion of spacetime to allow travel outside the
present dimensional position," he explained. "The notes Zelenka and I
recovered contain an incredible assortment of theoretical models. I wondered
whether any of these preliminary ideas ever made it to the prototype stage,
and now I guess we have our answer."
"But what is this thing doing to me?" Sheppard asked, folding his
arms across his chest. "And how the hell do we turn it off?"
"Ah. That...I don't know yet," Rodney admitted. "However, I'm pretty sure
what we've been referring to as your 'hallucinations' will turn out to
simply be glimpses of parallel universes."
"Simply?" Sheppard frowned. "So, are you saying all this stuff I remember
might have really happened to…”
“Other John Sheppards, living other realities, in other spacetime? Yes,
I should think so," Rodney mused. "I'm curious, what exactly do
"Um, it's weird. The first couple of times, it was just voices, but now..."
Sheppard scratched at the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable. "I'm
not even aware anything's going on until I come out of it, then it's like
waking up from a really vivid dream. I can remember whatever the other
me was thinking, and it feels like whatever happens to him, happened to
me. I can't always separate out his memories from my own. "
"That's why you were confused about where you'd first met Ronon," Rodney
said, glancing over at Ronon, who was leaning against the wall looking
huge and menacing, with an expression that read as hostile, but Rodney
knew was just worried.
"Yeah." Sheppard nodded. "I couldn’t figure out which memory was real."
"Interesting." Rodney tapped his chin.
“Glad you think so,” Sheppard grumbled. Then his face went blank, and
he crumpled to the floor.
“Clear!” John sets off the C4, blowing a hole in the hull of the grounded
hive ship. “Go, go, go!” He waves to signal Ronon, Teyla, and the Marines,
knowing his shredded voice can’t carry above the noise.
They pour through the portal of smoke into the belly of the hive, the
sharp report of P90 fire marking the progress of the advance. Another,
more distant explosion rocks the ship as Cadman blasts an entrance for
the three teams under Lorne's command. There’s not much time before the
second hive drops out of hyperspace—hell, they might already be too late.
But maybe the Wraith will have sensed what Rodney knows and saved him
as a prize for the Queen; hopefully, they’ll have just kept everyone
they swept off the outpost on MB8-690.
John signals Coughlin and Sherman to take their teams down the first two
corridors they pass; he heads down a third with Teyla and Ronon. His shoulder
brushes against a wall and the vascularized membrane pulsates faintly
at the contact. Gross. Was there anything about the Wraith that didn’t
threaten to eat you?
There's a rustle in the semi-darkness of the passage ahead, then John
hears Ronon's gun go off and four Wraith are illuminated by the blast—one
falling to his knees. They all open fire and everything is a haze as the
fighting intensifies; more Wraith emerge, stepping past the bodies of
the fallen, and John's world narrows to shooting until the last one drops
“Colonel Sheppard, we’ve located the prisoners!” Lorne’s voice crackles
over the radio.
John taps his headset. “Good to hear.” He nods at Ronon, who peers around
the next corner. “Everyone accounted for?”
“All but Doctor McKay, sir. Sergeant Reed says they just came for him
a minute ago. Billick thinks they’d be taking him to…”
“The Queen, yeah.” Shit. “What’s the status of the others?”
“Two dead—Doctor Moran and Corporal Santiago. Three injured, including
Reed, but he's mobile. The rest seem shaken, but all right.”
“Damn it. Okay, you get everyone back to the rendezvous point for beam
up to the Daedalus. Have Coughlin and Sherman meet you there. We’re
going after McKay. Sheppard out.”
They never should have gone to check out those ruins. No matter how good
Rodney’d gotten at taking care of himself in the field, John shouldn’t
have let him out of sight. Getting Rodney home safely is John’s responsibility,
and he didn’t do it, and now…
Two of the hulking, faceless Wraith turn the corner, stunners raised.
John opens fire on one and Ronon blasts the other, but they’re harder
to kill than the ones before them. They're more recently fed. John swallows
down a wave of sick feeling; they've got to find Rodney and get him the
fuck out of here.
“The Queen is this way,” Teyla says, indicating another corridor and they
head off toward the weird, sanguine glow.
“Hang in there, Rodney,” John says under his breath. He nods to Teyla.
Conversation had run out some minutes before and now they all just stood
around the front of the infirmary, staring at the floor. Waiting.
Elizabeth had witnessed one of these episodes before, but Rodney was shocked
by Sheppard's state: clearly breathing, clearly conscious, but utterly
inert. That athletic, active body, suddenly lax, even when Ronon
scooped him up off the floor. His face was expressionless, eyes unfocused—an
empty shell where just a moment ago John Sheppard was being, very definitely,
What had sounded theoretically fascinating, actually looked just…creepy.
Where had Sheppard gone?
The hive is strangely quiet now that the main strike force has evacuated
back to the Daedalus. John's not sure how severely damaged it was
even before they arrived, but he's guessing by the surprisingly light
resistance that it was pretty bad. Teyla thinks the Queen is desperate
now that her hiding place has been discovered. That can either be good
news, or bad.
There’s still no sign of Rodney as they pass through the silent gloom.
Somehow, John keeps expecting to hear him, the torrent of words
Rodney uses as both sword and shield. He imagines Rodney’s brutal litany
of complaints about the conditions, his captors, the gross injustice of
his fate. John sighs and thinks he’d give a lot to hear Rodney call him
an idiot right about now.
Caldwell's voice barks over the radio into John's ear, breaking the silence:
"Colonel Sheppard, what is your status?"
"Just a few more minutes, sir," he says as quietly as he can. "Teyla senses
Teyla looks back over her shoulder and nods silently.
"Surely I don't need to remind you that we're in no shape to engage with
that second hive ship," Caldwell warns. "Hurry it up, Colonel."
"Yes, sir. We're just gonna get Doctor McKay and get out of here," John
replies politely. Ronon makes a rude Satedan gesture at the radio.
Teyla splays her hand in a stop signal and they pull up behind her. She
stills, lost in concentration, then opens her eyes and blinks.
"They have gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" John asks.
"I do not understand it either. I sensed them here before and now...there
is nothing." Teyla shakes her head apologetically. "The Queen is very
powerful—she may have detected my presence and blocked my mind from connecting
with those around her."
There's a distant, low rumbling sound.
"What the hell is that?" Ronon asks, looking at John.
"Oh crap," John sighs, reaching for his radio. "Colonel Caldwell, this
is Sheppard. Can you check your scanners and let me know if you see a
Wraith cruiser taking off from here?"
The rumbling stops and a long moment later Caldwell's voice replies, "That's
an affirmative; leaving the atmosphere, heading away from our position—looks
like it's prepping for a hyperspace jump."
"She's running from the other Queen," John says. But then: "Rodney!"
They burst into the Queen's chamber.
"We're out of time, Colonel..."
Caldwell's voice hangs in John's ear as he sees it, in the corner, on
the floor—the familiar blue of an Atlantis science uniform.
Rodney’s jacket. Worn by a desiccated corpse.
Oh god, no. John skids to the floor on his knees by the body, hoping against
hope that he’s wrong. And he knows it’s bad, wishing for it to
be someone else, but he doesn’t care. He just fucking doesn’t care, because
Rodney is Rodney, damn it. He’s different, special. He just matters
“Please, please, don’t be,” John whispers, but up close, there’s no mistaking
Rodney’s jacket, Rodney’s civilian tags. It’s too late. John didn’t get
here, couldn’t do his fucking job and now…The most vibrant mind
he’s ever known is nothing but a dry, brittle husk.
Something in John’s chest tightens unbearably; he thinks he's going to
There was a crash, followed by Sheppard's voice in a hoarse cry of “Rodney!”
that made Rodney's blood run cold.
"It's me, it's me!" he panted, racing in. "What happened?"
Sheppard stopped thrashing and sat up suddenly, staring at Rodney, wild-eyed.
"I…couldn't save you."
"He's all right, lad," Carson said soothingly, moving in and gently pushing
Sheppard back against the pillows. "Look, he's fine—aren't you, Rodney?"
Rodney's heart began to pound; what the hell did Sheppard mean, couldn't
"Rodney?" Carson prompted.
Rodney looked back at Sheppard, who was a sweaty wreck, still staring,
"Hey. Yeah, fine." Rodney gave a small wave and what he hoped passed for
a reassuring smile.
"But, MB8-690—that happened here too?" Sheppard asked, turning
searching eyes from Rodney, to Ronon, to Teyla.
Rodney's smile vanished. Oh god, not that again... But after a moment,
he took a deep breath and pulled himself back together; maybe going over
it would help Sheppard remember where he was.
"Yes, we found an abandoned Ancient outpost there," Rodney started, glancing
at Carson, who nodded for him to continue. "I brought a group from engineering
to go over the structure and... we think someone accidentally activated
an old Wraith beacon."
"Is that what you remember?" Elizabeth asked Sheppard. He nodded
at her, but kept sneaking glances at Rodney; he didn't look convinced.
"You, me, and Teyla went to check out some other ruins nearby," Ronon
added. "While we were gone, a dart came through the Gate and swept up
everyone at the outpost. They got McKay and six other scientists; four
"We were taken to a hive ship that had been grounded for repairs," Rodney
Sheppard glanced at Teyla questioningly. "You thought it was in a fight
with another hive."
"That was my impression from connecting with them," Teyla agreed. "They
had lost most of their crew and were too damaged to fly. They were sustaining
themselves with small culling raids while they worked on their ship. Responding
to the beacon at the outpost appears to have been a mistake—I believe
that is how their enemy hive located them."
"This all sounds...yeah," Sheppard said. "We used the Daedalus
to get in before the second hive got there. Lorne's team found everyone
but..." He turned toward Rodney, brow wrinkling. "They'd already come
Rodney nodded. "They said they were taking me to the Queen for interrogation."
He began to pace as the memories bloomed color:
They pulled him out of the holding cell and brought him to her cavernous
"You know much," the Queen hissed, her acid-sour breath in his face as
she leaned in and ran a bony finger along his jaw line. "I will have everything,
before you die."
He tried to evade her reptilian eyes as she forced him to his knees, half-wishing
he could tip his shuddering panic all the way over into a massive coronary—anything,
god, so he wouldn't have to go out like this. Because Sheppard wasn't
here, and neither were Ronon or Teyla; none of the people he'd come to
trust, however irrationally, to actually get him out of hopeless situations.
When the first explosion hit a second later, he almost didn't believe
it. But the Queen shoved him away, roaring something at her guards, and
they fled. Abandoned, Rodney hauled himself to his feet, hiding behind
a column to avoid being hit by stray weapons-fire. There was another explosion,
shouts and smoke, then Sheppard's voice, raw from shouting, calling his
"Here!" Rodney yelled three times before the sound that croaked from his
throat was even audible. There was more deafening noise as the Queen's
chamber lit up with the suddenly beautiful red glow of P90 discharge,
then he heard the pounding of booted feet and his team burst into the
"Rodney! You okay?"
It was a moronic question and Sheppard grabbed his arm too hard, but Rodney
didn't care—he'd never been so happy to see anyone in his life. He nodded
and tried to stay on his feet, tried to stay coherent, although all he
really wanted to do was clutch Sheppard’s tac vest in both fists and blubber
"You're all right, buddy." Sheppard loosened his vice-grip on Rodney's
arm and patted it instead. His face was streaked with soot, but his eyes
were soft. "You're all right."
"The Queen went that way," Rodney managed, pointing a trembling finger.
"With three others, I think."
Sheppard nodded, and Rodney could see the way his body tensed as he returned
"Here," Sheppard pressed a warm Beretta into Rodney's still shaking hands.
"Teyla, you help Rodney out to the rendezvous. Ronon, you’re with me,"
he said. "Let's see if we can get her."
And then Rodney was swaying against Teyla, and Sheppard and Ronon were
gone again, disappearing into the noise and smoke.
"So, the Queen didn't…" Sheppard trailed off, and Rodney realized he was
"No, you got there in time for me," Rodney said. He stopped pacing, unsure
how to continue. He glanced at Ronon and Teyla before looking back at
Sheppard. “But you guys got ambushed when you went after her, she must
have had more guards stashed somewhere. She escaped in a cruiser. For
whatever reason, she left Ronon and took you. That was three weeks ago.”
The room went quiet as they waited for Sheppard to remember; Ronon stared
at the floor.
“Yeah,” Sheppard said finally. “And here I was sort of hoping that
was just a bad dream.” After another long moment, he looked back up at
Rodney. "You've gotta figure out how to make this thing stop."
Rodney swallowed. "I will," he promised.
"Why don't you go on back to work now,” Teyla said, coming over and touching
Rodney's arm gently. She smiled at Elizabeth too, who'd been standing
by quietly, listening and looking stricken. “It's all right. Ronon and
I will stay with him."
Rodney nodded dumbly. It wasn't like he was going to be able to figure
out a solution sitting around here; he needed to get back to the lab.
And Sheppard was okay now—or at least as okay as he was going to be until
he didn't have to worry about getting randomly yanked into alternate universes
that sounded...pretty uniformly shitty. (Rodney refused to think about
his own apparent fate in this last one, because.... No. He wasn't
thinking about it.)
Elizabeth patted Sheppard's hand and gave him a sad smile before she turned
to go. Rodney started to follow her out, but not before noticing a small
stab of something indefinable in his chest as Ronon pulled up a chair
and Teyla sat on the edge of Sheppard's bed, one slim leg tucked up beneath
her. He knew they weren’t trying to exclude him—hell, Sheppard was counting
on him now. But somehow, it just didn’t feel right to leave.
“Hey, Rodney,” Sheppard said quietly, and Rodney paused at the door. “It’s…good
to see you.”
“Yeah." Rodney's fingers curled uselessly into a fist at his side. "It’s
good not to have been Wraith-food.” He managed a small smile, and left.
Janus's lab was filled with quiet sounds long into the night: the muted
clack of keyboards, murmured discussion of equations, and the burbling
coffee machine. Rodney set Coleman and Richter to assisting Zelenka in
running through the data: analyzing, testing, eliminating the impossible,
freeing Rodney to concentrate on the big picture. The big picture that
still wouldn't, damn it, come clear.
He radioed Carson (sleeping; annoyed, but forgiving—as Rodney knew he
would be) and learned that Sheppard had been sedated for another night.
They didn't know if it actually prevented the episodes from happening,
but so far it seemed to let him rest.
Rodney pushed back in his chair and swirled a mug of tepid coffee.
You're all right, buddy.
It was stupid to let that mean anything. Foolish. Surely, it was just
an absent-minded thing Sheppard did, something he said without thinking.
Rodney had always had colleagues. Now, living and working among them in
Atlantis, some of those colleagues had become genuine friends. But he'd
never really had anyone consider him a buddy before, and especially
not someone like Sheppard. It managed, paradoxically, to make Rodney feel
both normal and special, all at the same time.
You're all right.
Well, Rodney was; but Sheppard wasn't. And Rodney needed to fix it. He
rubbed at his eyes and got back to work.
John palms open the door to his quarters and drops his duffle bag onto
the floor—he’ll deal with unpacking tomorrow. Right now all he wants is
his own shower in his own room. His own bed.
What a colossal waste of time.
“Twenty-four fucking days.”
John looks up to see Rodney sitting at the desk, reading a physics journal
by the light of a small task lamp.
“Tell me about it,” John says, smiling—because Rodney will. He’s
much better at complaining on John’s behalf than John ever is on his own.
“Pulling you away from our important work here for mysterious meetings
about what, exactly?” Rodney stands and stretches, tossing the
journal back onto the desk. “Caldwell better not have been behind this.”
“You know, now that he’s had a taste of life in the Pegasus galaxy, I
don't think Caldwell wants this job anymore,” John says, watching Rodney
approach. “This was more of a—review.”
“Review,” Rodney snorts, stopping in front of John. “Did they at least
give you a promotion?” John shakes his head. “Raise?”
John grins. “Nope. They still hate me.”
“Assholes,” Rodney mutters, and then he’s leaning in, tugging at John's
shirt. "You smell like the Daedalus."
John lifts his arms to help Rodney get the shirt off over his head. "Eighteen
days as a passenger,” he grumbles. Rodney tsks sympathetically,
dropping John’s shirt on the floor. “I’m ahead in War and Peace.”
“That’s…” Rodney starts, then pauses, scowls, and pokes John’s bare chest
with his finger. “Not a word about speaking Russian to you.”
John laughs—he’s not surprised Rodney still remembers. He raises his eyebrows.
“Even if it makes me really hot?”
Rodney shakes his head with a chagrined you’re-never-going-to-let-me-live-that-down
smile, then he takes a step back, eyes raking up and down John’s body.
“I don’t think you need any help in that department,” he says, and
just that fast, the air is charged between them.
John leans back against the wall, shifting his weight, settling his hips,
inviting Rodney to keep looking. He still feels a little shameless doing
this, but Rodney likes it, and his reaction is always worthwhile—pupils
dilating, nostrils flaring, color rising on his cheeks.
“God, you’re amazing,” Rodney whispers. His tongue darts out, a flash
of pink, moistening his lips, and John unconsciously mimics him, doing
the same. Rodney takes a step closer and John grabs for him, pulling him
“C’mere already,” John says, and they’re kissing, finally, twenty-four
days of absence and longing working itself out in an intricate tangle
of lips and teeth and tongues.
They break and Rodney sighs, “That’s nice.” He kisses John again. “But
right now, I really need to suck on you or I think I might die.”
By the time the words register, Rodney is already skimming down John’s
body, dropping to his knees and yanking open John’s fly. John’s cock springs
out helpfully as Rodney pulls John’s pants down, eager for its reunion
with Rodney’s mouth.
“Rodn…” John starts, then forgets what he was about to say as Rodney leans
in and takes him down in one fast, greedy swallow. His head thumps back
against the wall and he closes his eyes, giving in to whatever Rodney
wants to do—he is a genius, after all. God, yeah, an absolute fucking
genius. John's hands pet restlessly at Rodney’s head and he lets the universe
change around him, reordered and remade in the sweet, unrelenting pressure
of Rodney’s mouth.
After three and a half weeks of jerking off, by himself, with fantasies
of feeling pretty much exactly like this playing behind his eyes,
John knows this isn’t going to last very long. Rodney’s too good, the
bastard—beautiful bastard, he amends, as Rodney works him, doing some
amazing swirling thing with his tongue, wrapping it around the head of
John’s cock and just sucking, pressing, right there, until John
can't take it anymore. Right, he gets the hint—they can do slow later,
Rodney wants this now. John groans, grabs Rodney’s shoulders, and
lets go, exploding relief as he comes in Rodney’s mouth.
In a moment, when the stars clear behind John’s closed eyes, he tightens
his fists in Rodney’s shirt and hauls him to his feet. Rodney’s face is
red and he smells like John, which is just about the best thing ever.
John pulls him in, kissing him deeply, tasting himself on Rodney’s tongue.
Rodney leans heavily into John, hips shifting restlessly.
He breaks off the kiss and says breathlessly, “God, I’m close, if you
“Yeah.” Of course. John gropes to the front of Rodney’s pants, finds them
already open, Rodney’s cock poking insistently through the slit of his
boxers, hard, hot, slippery-wet at the tip. John settles his grasp and
starts to pull, strong and steady the way he knows Rodney likes it, wanting
to get Rodney to the same place he is already. “Come on, Rodney,” he whispers,
“You’re almost there.”
“Mmmph,” Rodney bites an answering groan into John’s shoulder, and John
can feel the tension rising in his body as he pushes into John’s hand,
hips rolling to match John’s strokes.
“Mmmm,” Rodney groans again, a higher, more desperate sound, hitching,
ragged breath. John tightens his grip on Rodney’s cock and braces himself
against the wall, ready, coaxing. “Yeah, that’s it,” he says as Rodney
begins to writhe, panting furiously against John’s neck and battering
himself against John’s body: shoving, and shoving, and shoving
himself into John’s hand until he suddenly stops, stuttering and jerking,
gasping, “Oh, fuck…John,” as he comes, pulsing, hot and slick over
John wipes his hand on Rodney's pants and pets his back soothingly. They
rest, collapsed against the wall and each other. In a few minutes, they’ll
stagger, stupidly spent and grinning like idiots, into the shower—but
for right now, John’s happy just feeling the warm weight of Rodney’s body,
and the competing patterns of thumping heartbeats and heaving breath,
each slowly returning to its regular rhythm.
After a long moment, Rodney pushes off, unsticking from where he’s been
plastered against John’s chest. He scans John’s face, then leans back
in, surprising John with a rib-crushing hug.
This is different, but okay, yeah, John can do this. He loops his arms
loosely around Rodney’s waist and it’s…nice. Rodney gives a satisfied
snuffle against John’s neck.
Then he breathes, “Missed you,” and John’s hands clench against
the small of Rodney’s back.
In the morning, Sheppard was still staring at him. If anything, he was
staring more. And while Rodney was never averse to being the center
of attention, the sheer intensity of Sheppard’s gaze was starting to make
him feel a little squirmy.
He glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed, but Zelenka was looking
dazedly at some indeterminate point in the center of the floor, swaying
gently on his feet after being up all night. Carson's back was turned
while he consulted quietly with a nurse about the concussed Marine a few
beds down, and they were all waiting for Elizabeth. Rodney checked Sheppard
again and yeah—still staring.
"Um, I’m alive, remember?" Rodney said uncertainly, pointing at his chest.
That snapped Sheppard out of it. His cheeks flushed and he looked away,
eyes shut tight, mumbling, "Fuck, sorry," under his breath.
Rodney felt bad for calling him on it, but it was weird, like Sheppard
was cataloging him or something, piece by piece. And suddenly, thinking
about it that way…Rodney flushed and looked away too.
Thankfully, Elizabeth chose that moment to come striding into the infirmary
wearing her favorite take-charge red shirt, and Rodney had someplace else
to focus. Carson ended his conversation and joined them.
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said, nodding at everyone before turning to Rodney.
"You have some news for us?"
“Yes,” Rodney said brightly—this was the kind of attention he was most
comfortable with. "It seems Janus designed the device to be a low-risk
way of locating potential dimensional jump points," he started. Sheppard,
who had taken to assiduously studying his fingernails, looked up. "For
lack of a better metaphor, it's turned Colonel Sheppard into a sort of
'radio receiver' to seek out parallel universes that have reasonable similarities
to our own."
"How does it work?" Carson asked, obviously intrigued.
“Ah, we're still not sure of the precise mechanism, but we believe the
device is working phase transitions on a select number of the electrons
in Sheppard’s brain, giving them the effect of...something not terribly
dissimilar from an extremal, or micro, black hole," Rodney explained,
blithely omitting that his flash of inspiration had come while he was
half-asleep, watching a platter of chocolate donuts seem to dance before
his eyes. He’d yelled for Zelenka, and they spent the rest of the night
poring over everything in the data that had anything to do with the density,
charge, and spin of electrons.
“Wait a minute, turning them into what?” Sheppard sat up straight,
and it was almost a relief to see him pissed off—at least that was normal.
"Rodney," he said between clenched teeth, "Are you telling me I have black
holes in my brain?"
"Not exactly. Similar—just without all the, you know, disastrous side-effects,"
Rodney clarified. "Anyhow, it doesn’t work as well as they’d hoped. First
it took a while for the device to even calibrate to your system, but more
than that, the process of locating candidate universes just seems to take
a lot longer than is really practical. Probably why the project was abandoned.”
Sheppard groaned, burying his head in his hands. "I hate the Ancients."
"Hey, even the greatest super-genius lays an egg once in a while,"
Rodney said, feeling defensive on Janus's behalf. "I mean, maybe if that
stupid council had let the guy do his damned work, he could have tinkered
with it a little more... But at any rate, I think we're going to have
to try to get you to do the ATA equivalent of a manual shut-down."
Sheppard peeked warily through his fingers. "How do we do that?"
Sheppard looked even more unsure lying down on the bench again. He shot
Rodney anxious, isn’t-this-how-we-got-into-trouble-in-the-first-place?
glances, filled with hope, fear and trust, that made Rodney swallow down
a lump in his throat and wonder how the hell his formerly clean, neat,
theoretical work had gotten so damned mixed up with people.
“Just ‘tell’ it to reverse the phase transition; you’ve seen all the universes
you need, thanks very much,” Rodney instructed, hoping that made sense.
The lab went completely silent as Sheppard closed his eyes. The lights
dimmed around them, then subtly shifted color, bathing Sheppard in a warm
amber glow. Rodney could feel the worry radiating from Elizabeth and he
wished he were better at being reassuring—both for her sake, and his own.
A few minutes later, the amber light faded and Sheppard looked more or
less the same way he had when Rodney and Zelenka found him the first time—peaceful
“Colonel.” Carson approached Sheppard cautiously, voice barely above a
whisper. “Are you awake?”
Sheppard’s eyes blinked open. “Far as I can tell.” He sat up and tilted
his head from side to side, popping a couple of vertebrae in his neck.
Carson leaned in, checking Sheppard’s pupils. “Do you feel all right?”
“I think it worked. It’s…different, although I’m not sure I could say
how.” Sheppard looked at Rodney. “This means I should be back to
normal? No more black holes in my brain?”
“They weren't...” Rodney started, then gave up the explanation as hopeless.
"No more. Should be nothing left now but your pre-existing nightmares
Sheppard gave a surprised-sounding laugh. “That, I can live with.”
“It’s good to have you back in our here and now, John,” Elizabeth
“Thanks,” Sheppard said, but he glanced at Rodney again, then looked away
and Rodney was pretty sure he didn’t entirely mean it.
Carson kept Sheppard in the infirmary for one more observation day, running
his endless tests and making sure the episodes really were over. Sheppard
was good at faking cheer for everyone. He smiled as he asked people questions
to clear up his memories—did Teyla have knee surgery last year? How was
Carson’s mother? Who won the Rose Bowl?
But, Rodney had seen Sheppard trot out that smile on planet after planet;
it was the one he used to charm locals suspicious at the sight of their
tac vests and P90s into inviting them to dinner, the: We’re peaceful
explorers. Seriously, grin. The episodes might have been over, but
something still seemed to be wrong with Sheppard.
He didn’t ask Rodney any questions.
John stood outside the infirmary after Carson finally released him. He
wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. He still had to check in with
Doctor Heightmeyer before he was issued a clean bill of health and returned
to active duty—but he wasn’t exactly in a rush to get to her office.
Lorne had already done and submitted the quarterly evaluations, and since
John hadn’t been off-world in three weeks, he was pretty much caught up
He ruled out going down to the practice room to see if Teyla wanted to
spar, because Ronon would probably be there too. At some point, John was
just going to have to shake him and order him to stop being an idiot.
But not today. He’d already had a shitty enough week without having to
go over and over again, in painstaking enough detail to get through to
Ronon, why getting captured by the Queen was his own damned fault and
his own damned responsibility. (Of course, now that he’d seen how things
were going for other John Sheppards out there, at least he knew
it could always be worse. Way to go, John—all of you.)
And then, there was Rodney. Fuck.
It wasn’t fair to be avoiding Rodney, but John didn’t know what else to
do. It wasn’t fair that he had memories and feelings that didn’t
belong to him, either. Because John wasn’t supposed to remember the sweetness
of Rodney’s mouth, or the sure touch of Rodney’s hands on his body. He
wasn’t supposed to know what it sounded like, to have Rodney panting in
broken sighs of pleasure as he came, hot and wet, in John’s possessive
He really shouldn’t know what it meant to have Rodney love him;
but now he did. And every time Rodney walked into the room, it all came
back in a flood so visceral John didn’t trust himself not to do or say
But that would be the really unfair thing, to Rodney, and to their friendship—whatever
it actually was. He couldn’t even remember the real boundaries anymore.
So, John took off for the quiet refuge of the southwest pier. He leaned
against the balcony rail, looking out, while echoes of other realities
and other possibilities danced in his memory like reflections on the shimmering
Rodney hesitated outside the door to Sheppard’s quarters. He wasn’t sure
what he was even doing here—it should have been Elizabeth with all her
“gentle wisdom”, or something, instead. But Sheppard hadn’t shown for
several meals, even though Rodney knew Carson had released him, so he’d
decided enough was enough.
He rubbed the sweat and cookie crumbs from dinner onto his pant legs,
took a deep breath, and hit the door chime. There was no response for
long enough that Rodney was about to try again, when the door slid open,
and an unshaven, bleary-eyed Sheppard stood on the other side.
“Hey,” Rodney said, trying to sound as though he just dropped in on Sheppard
all the time. “Um, were you sleeping?”
“No, just…” Sheppard shook his head and didn’t finish the thought. “I
thought you must be Elizabeth, or Doctor Heightmeyer.”
He didn’t invite Rodney in. In fact, he hadn’t really looked at
Rodney since opening the door. Rodney was pretty sure it wasn’t just his
hyperactive imagination at work now. Sheppard was uncomfortable—with him.
“Okay, well then I’ll…” Rodney started to turn away, because what was
he supposed to do? But there was something so miserable in Sheppard's
expression that Rodney changed his mind. This was ridiculous. He barged
past Sheppard into the room, demanding, “This isn't because I died, is
it?” Obviously, Sheppard had a bit of a complex about losing people—his
people—but this was crazy. He was right here!
“Because…? Uh, no.” Sheppard shook his head and dropped his gaze to the
floor. He was barefoot, Rodney noticed, and losing his long-walks-on-the-mainland-beach
tan after three weeks of being holed up in the city.
“Well, then what? Was there a universe you didn’t tell me about,
where we were mortal enemies, or something? And why the hell didn’t you
have any questions for me when you were in the infirmary?” It wasn’t until
he said it out loud that Rodney realized how much that bothered him. It
was silly, of course, it wasn’t like Sheppard had any control over who
and what he’d seen in those other universes. But…
“I know we’re friends,” Sheppard said after a moment. The uncertainty
in his tone felt like a blow.
“Of course we are!” Rodney practically shouted, then added, more quietly,
“We’re…buddies.” But he hadn’t counted on how incredibly small and stupid
it was going to sound.
Sheppard looked up and Rodney held his breath, wondering what he was on
the verge of blurting out, but the moment passed. Sheppard averted his
eyes again. He scrubbed a hand tiredly through his hair and sighed.
"What do you call me when we're alone?"
"Shep—" Rodney only had the name halfway out when he saw the quick, sad
quirk of Sheppard's mouth—and suddenly Rodney wished he'd given a different
answer. Wished he'd been able to.
“That’s what I thought,” Sheppard said and Rodney could feel him retreating,
pulling away, slotting Rodney into some mental compartment of acquaintanceship
that was just wrong, wrong, wrong. Okay, Rodney was terrible at
this, everybody knew that, it didn’t mean…
Sheppard chewed on his bottom lip. He looked like he wished he could leave,
except he was stuck, because it was his room. Suddenly Rodney couldn’t
take it anymore.
“Look, I’m sorry, all right?” He threw his hands in the air. “I’m a bad
friend, the same way I’m a bad brother. I don’t, you know, go around telling
people that I wish we were closer, or whatever idiotic nonsense...I’m
busy! And it’s not like you do, either, Mister—“ Rodney shut up
when he noticed Sheppard’s head was down, eyes closed, hands fisted at
his sides so hard the color had drained from his fingers.
“I know,” Sheppard said under his breath, quietly enough Rodney wasn’t
even sure he was meant to hear. “I know it was them, but it felt
like me.” He looked up. “And you.”
“It—?” Rodney’s mind went to work, finding the pattern, putting it together—the
intense way Sheppard gazed at him in the infirmary, and how it made Rodney
feel: unbalanced, giddy. Flushed.
Oh. Oh, wow.
“You mean—?” Sheppard looked away again, and Rodney knew he should probably
just shut up, but he couldn’t help it. “That’s…but, you’re not even…Are
“Fuck, I don’t know!” Sheppard muttered in a low, aggravated shout. “Obviously,
one of me is.” He waved a hand toward the night sky twinkling beyond
the window, his voice trailing off to a quiet rasp. “And he’s the only
one that’s happy.”
Rodney was quiet for a moment, absorbing that. Then: “We’re happy?” The
question was out of his mouth before he completely considered it.
“Seem to be.” Sheppard shrugged. “They seem to be.”
“Right, yes,” Rodney corrected quickly. Not them. Duh.
“I know everything you like,” Sheppard said softly, and when Rodney looked
up, he was closer—much closer, staring at Rodney with that same dark longing
he had in the infirmary. The rational part of Rodney’s brain immediately
recognized how crazy this was. Sheppard’s feelings: a) weren’t actually
his and, b) were about a different Rodney. That should have been Rodney's
cue to plant his hand in the middle of Sheppard’s chest and say, Back
off, cowboy; this too shall pass.
But, fuck, that wasn’t what Rodney wanted to do at all—not with Sheppard
in grabbing range, looking at Rodney like he was starving, and saying,
I know everything you like. No, frankly, faced with that mouthwatering
potential reality? Rodney was ready to reach for the first rationalization
that resulted in getting laid. Because, seriously, how different could
those other-universe guys have been? How far was it really, from buddies
“John.” Rodney tried the name out in his mouth, rolling around the unfamiliar
intimacy of it. It seemed silly now, that he’d never…unless some part
of him had known more than it was letting on all along.
“Yeah,” John said, and then his hands were on Rodney’s shoulders and Rodney
went to him, not waiting to be pulled. He didn’t want John to come to
his senses, didn’t want anything to stop this—because he wanted
to be happy too, damn it. Even if it was just for a little while.
And John kissed him like he knew him, like getting back into Rodney’s
mouth was the only thing that had been on his mind all day—like he really
did know everything Rodney liked, and Rodney’s cock swelled and
hardened in record time just thinking about it.
John steered Rodney wordlessly back to the bed, pushed him down and pulled
off Rodney’s clothes before taking off his own. That was unbelievably
hot—Rodney had seen John’s body plenty of times, but he’d never really
given himself permission to look. Not like this. Or god, to touch—running
his hands over lean, strong muscle, feeling the surprising soft contrast
John kissed him again, then nuzzled at his neck, and the rasp of John’s
stubbled jaw seemed to spring every nerve-ending in Rodney’s skin to life,
sending a message racing ahead through his body, promising: this is coming
for you, shoulders, chest, belly, wherever…Rodney didn’t know, didn’t
care; he wanted it all.
“Mmmm,” he moaned, wriggling as John climbed over him, moving unerringly
to all his favorite spots: nibbling at his nipples just enough to hint
at sharpness; sinking teeth into the tender flesh of each armpit; gliding
fingers smoothly down the soft skin of Rodney’s inner thighs, skimming
just past his ball sac without touching, a deliberate tease that made
Rodney kick his legs in frustration.
Then John was kneeling between Rodney’s knees, pressing down on Rodney’s
thighs to still their restless movement. A feral smile played across his
kiss-swollen lips and Rodney held his breath, heart hammering, wondering
what…John tugged at Rodney’s legs, bending them at the knees and pushing
them back toward his chest. Rodney let his head fall back against the
pillow and closed his eyes. His breath was coming again now, heaving hard
John’s weight hovered over him, shifting, moving, then he felt a wet kiss
just behind his balls. And another, and another, moving down. Oh. Oh,
god. Rodney squeezed his eyes shut tight. A nibble right at the bottom
of his perineum, then a lick, again moving down. Rodney’s hands clenched
in the light blanket covering the bed. This was… God. He felt the
flat of John’s tongue, then the point, circling, pressing, teasing him,
until he thought he was going to lose his mind; John knew things about
Rodney’s body that he didn’t know. What else was there? What else?
Rodney was trembling now, sweat beginning to spike across his skin. His
cock ached, outraged at being neglected. He reached for it, trying to
pull just hard enough to placate, without losing control. He whimpered
when John looked up and the hot, wet pressure left his ass. He wasn’t
above begging at this point, but then there was a different pressure,
harder, blunter, and okay, Rodney had done fingers before and knew he
liked it; he hummed in approval as John’s spit-slicked finger slid inside
him. Then John’s other hand tugged at Rodney’s wrist, pulling Rodney’s
hand off his cock. An automatic protest began to bubble up in Rodney’s
throat, but it transformed into a moan before it found voice as John leaned
down and took Rodney’s cock into his mouth.
“Yes, oh god, yes…” Rodney gasped, bucking under the combined pressure
now around his cock and in his ass. John sucked on him slowly, deeply,
leaning hard against Rodney’s hips to hold him still. The tension was
unbearable; Rodney thrashed against John’s weight. “John, please, you
have to…I’m going to…fuck.” John wiggled his finger deep inside
Rodney’s ass, and that was it—Rodney came, and came, and came,
for what felt like forever, clutching helplessly at John’s shoulders,
raking through his hair, grabbing whatever he could reach.
He returned to his body with a gentle kiss pressed to his forehead. When
he opened his eyes, John was lying beside him, smiling, satisfied, arching
a told you eyebrow.
“Don’t be smug,” Rodney laughed, he still felt too wiped out to put any
bite behind it.
John didn’t answer, just leaned in and kissed him, a long, searching kiss
that reminded Rodney that there was still something very much unsettled
between them. Rodney broke off the kiss and whispered, “I don’t know how.”
He looked down the length of John’s body, at John’s cock, hard, waiting,
curving up off of his belly. Rodney swallowed, torn between wanting to
try, and worrying he’d screw it up and ruin everything.
“S’okay…just use your hands,” John whispered back, eyes closing, and fine,
yes, definitely—Rodney could do that. Good plan. He reached down between
their bodies and grabbed John’s cock, encouraged by the way it surged
in his hand, ready, eager for Rodney’s attention.
Rodney kept his eyes on John’s face, watching with wonder as pleasure
washed across his features. Rodney tightened his grip and stroked harder,
faster, monitoring the smallest changes in John’s expression. A twist
at the top—yes, that was good, and Rodney drew in his own breath
as John’s teeth caught in that sinful lower lip and he arched up into
“Rodney…” John panted, “I…” His eyes opened, looking at Rodney in a wordless
plea. Rodney leaned in and kissed him, speeding up his hand. He jacked
harder, with serious intent, until he felt the change in John’s body,
the sudden tightening, and then John was moaning into Rodney’s mouth and
spurting wet heat into Rodney’s hand.
“Ow!” John woke with a start, feeling like he’d just been kicked—because
he had been. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. Rodney had pretty much stolen
the whole blanket, wrapping himself up like a burrito. He had the pillow
too, stuffed under his face like he’d fallen on it. John already knew
about the snoring.
It was funny, he had expected to get shot down last night. In fact, he
was pretty sure he’d pushed it with Rodney expressly so that he would
get shot down—to get it over with already, so they could deal and move
on. But Rodney, as usual, had his own ideas. And now that it had happened…John
didn’t want it to stop.
He supposed he should be more freaked out about the sex thing, except
the other John most definitely wasn’t, and his certainty still
held sway over John’s feelings. So long as Rodney didn't freak out, they
could do this. Their counterparts were careful to be discreet with
physical affection, but they more or less carried on the way they always
had. They just didn't tell—and no one in their Atlantis seemed to think
“Hey, Rodney.” John shook Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney made a disgruntled
sound into the pillow and turned over, muttering, pulling the blanket
with him. John smiled and shook him again. “Rodney!”
“What?” Rodney barked. Then he seemed to realize where he was.
“Oh, hey,” he added sheepishly, rolling onto his back.
“Something I forgot to ask has been bugging me—did I blow up the Queen’s
cruiser when I escaped?”
“To fucking smithereens,” Rodney snorted, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
“It was awesome. We all watched from the bridge of the Daedalus.”
“Good.” John nodded. It was nice to have that memory squared away, once
and for all. “So, um, are we good?”
“Yeah,” Rodney said, then hesitated. “I mean, I think so? I’m…good, if…”
John rolled his eyes. Talking—the ruiner of all. He pushed Rodney back
down against the pillow and kissed him hard. “I’m very good. You want
“You really are some horrible morning person, aren’t you?” Rodney asked
suspiciously, licking his lips.
John grinned. “Most days, I’d have run ten kilometers by now.”
“Aagh,” Rodney groaned, burying his head back into the pillow. “What was
“Come on,” John laughed, going to his wardrobe and digging out clean sweatpants
and a fresh black t-shirt. “We'll stop by your quarters so you can change.”
John went to the bathroom to take a leak and brush his teeth. When he
returned, Rodney had managed to haul himself out of bed and pull on his
slightly rumpled clothes—of course, he slept in the lab so often, nobody
who saw him that way would even blink. He stood by John’s desk, looking
around, running curious fingers over John's things. After a moment, he
picked up War and Peace, checked the bookmark, and chuckled. He
turned to John.
“Are you really still reading this?”
“Am I—?” John paused, then shook his head, replaying what Rodney had just
done. It was weird, like an echo in his brain. “This is…I remember
Rodney put the book down. “What do you mean, remember?” He looked concerned.
“No, it’s more like, I remember remembering it,” John clarified. He pointed
at Rodney. “You were about to ask me if I’d ever seen A Fish Called
Wanda, and then mention 'casually' that you picked up a little Russian
when you were in Siberia.”
Rodney’s jaw dropped open. "Oh my god, it sounds so much more lame when
you say it out loud like that."
"I’m still not sure what to make of being cast as Jamie Lee Curtis," John
said with a smirk. Then the realization hit, and he broke into a real
smile: “It was you and me." He wondered if that was why he felt
so calm. Except: “I don’t remember remembering the rest of this stuff,
though. Is that possible?”
"Theoretically, I don't see why not.” Rodney chewed at his lower lip thoughtfully.
“We don’t know exactly how the sensory transfer between dimensions works.
But even if it wasn’t actually us, it was likely a very close parallel.
Although of course, what you experienced would have been just one potential
future—by discussing it right now, we’re probably changing it.”
“Okay, then we should stop,” John said, alarmed. “It's not like they’re
ever gonna give me another promotion anyway, right? Just in case; it’s
a good future, let’s not fuck it up.”
“Uh, it doesn’t really work that way…” Rodney protested, looking like
he was about to launch into an explanation.
But John didn't want an explanation; he knew who he was, finally.
“Rodney,” he sighed, grabbing Rodney’s arm and pulling him towards
the door. “Just...shut up, and be happy.”
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