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As I Live and Breathe

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They weren't going to win, John knew it. Rodney, who worked frantically from a corner of the chair room, knew it, even as he called out damage reports every few minutes. Teyla knew it, though she refused to speak of it. Ronon knew it, he was out in the corridor, holding back the newest wave of wraith drones that had beamed in.

The latest attempt to capture the city and the last surviving ATA gene carriers intact had turned into a suicide run for the wraith that had lost their queen. The Hive Ship had that plummeted through the atmosphere on a trajectory that had not only take out a huge chunk of the mainland. The resulting blast wave had incinerated the continent's surface, leaving it an ever spreading inferno. Everyone on the mainland had died within minutes of the impact.

The explosion that rocked Atlantis was bigger than anything John had ever felt. He hissed as part of the superstructure cracked and two of the science towers shivered and fell into the waves, taking a dozen soldiers and scientists with them. There had been no way to evacuate, not when the gate was being held open by an incoming wormhole, not with the Daedalus nothing more than space debris in orbit, having sacrificed themselves to take out two hives.

A war cry from Ronon signaled he was down to hand weapons. Teyla was laying down fire as several wraiths made it past the Satedan. They were forced further back, nearly into the Chair Room itself.

“Sheppard,” a voice called through the com system. “Surrender and give us the city. You shall be exulted as he that guided us to the new feeding ground.”

“Fuck off, Todd,” John growled back. “You're getting nothing from me.”

“John,” Teyla said in a rasping voice. “We can't hold them off.”

“Don't let them take the city,” Rodney said. He ran over to a panel that opened under his hand. “I've made a pathway in the city circuitry.” He pulled a crystal from the wall, inverted it, and slammed it home. “Follow the path. You'll know what to do when you get there.”

“Rodney?” John opened his eyes and saw his friend looked scared but determined.

“Do it, John,” Rodney said. “While we still have time. Don't let them take her.”

He closed his eyes and saw what McKay had been talking about. A pathway of open circuits, blazing in warning red. Rodney had bypassed fail-safe protocols as old as the city itself, a safety measure that was put in place to keep anyone from doing exactly what John was attempting to do. His mind raced through the pathway, into the main power chamber, and into the heart of the ZPM that rested there. Nearly depleted as it was, there was more than enough power to do this.

The city around him cried out in distress, from the destruction happening to the city and for what it knew he was about to do. He sent an apology out through the circuits to the AI and felt what could only be an answering caress in his mind.

In an act of pure will, John grabbed the crystal structure of the greatest power source in the galaxy and shattered it. The vacuum of subspace that held the energy contained in the ZPM expanded at the speed of light and the planet and everything within their sun's orbit was obliterated between one heartbeat and the next.

** **

John opened his eyes and sat up from where he had been sleeping. He gasped and clutched at his chest, his eyes wild as he searched frantically for something familiar. His eyes rested on an old-fashioned CRT television that was flashing images of a commercial about the latest Motorola Razor cell phone. Something that had been considered state of the art, ten years previous.

He climbed out of the bed and took stock of his surroundings. There was a garment bag draped over a chair in the corner. An opened closet door to his left showed his Air Force dress blues. A uniform that he hadn't had in years. He took a closer look and his eyes widened in disbelief. The lapels didn't show the rank of a colonel or even a major. There were captains bars reflecting light back at him.

“Okay, John,” he said to himself. “Stay calm. Figure this out. Keep looking.”

It was a hotel room, that much he could tell, a single queen sized bed, which he had just left. A mini-fridge sat under a counter with a coffee pot and a microwave. There were a couple empty bottles on the counter and two glasses sitting next to the sink in the bathroom. He turned on the overhead bathroom light and looked at himself.

He was younger like he had been after Todd had given his life back. He had no gray hair at all. There was no feeding scar on his chest, nor was there one on his neck from where the iratus bug had attacked him. He turned to look at his back; the burn scars from the explosion in lab six were also gone.

He found an Air Force issued travel bag and rifled through it. A plane ticket and an order for two weeks leave. Also in the bag was a picture of Nancy Werther. He grabbed the old style flip phone and stared down at the date in dawning horror. He was standing in the hotel room he had slept in the day before his wedding. The drinks had been with his best man Dexter Martin. The friend he would soon watch be killed by an RPG.

He felt his heart start to hammer in his chest even as his hands started to shake. This couldn't be real, he couldn't possibly be here. Hours away from one of the biggest mistakes of his life. This was the day he got married.

He remembered the emotions he had felt this day. The nervousness, the excitement, but now it was muted with the weight of other memories. The losses from years of fighting an alien race hell bent on turning the Milky Way Galaxy into their personal all you can eat buffet.

The love he had felt for Nancy was still there, but like everything else; time and distance had muted it into something that felt more like nostalgia. A lot of things that had seemed so genuine back then, paled in comparison to life on Atlantis.

John had thought, at the time, that he had loved her with all his heart. He had liked her a lot, the sex between them had been fun, and his father had actually liked her. It had been great, until the two of them had conspired to try and transfer him to some desk job in Washington, D.C., with the ultimate goal of using what connections he might create there to influence government policy in some way to favor his father's company. This was something he hadn't known until after the divorce papers had been signed.

Nancy had been working in DC for years but hadn't shown where her ambition had truly lay until after their first six months married. She had been pushing for him to request a transfer stateside since the honeymoon had ended, but John had never been one to abandon his post. He and his crew had the best rescue and retrieval records of all the Pararescue units in Afghanistan and he'd still had another six months left on his current deployment. He wasn't going to destroy unit cohesion just because his wife didn't like that he was getting shot at.

After he and his unit had their deployment extended another year, things started to get ugly. The fights they'd had via Skype hadn't been fun, but he had a skill set which could not be easily replaced. Also, he wasn't going to be a paper pusher in the military culture of Washington so that she could have trophy husband to take to important fancy dress dinners.

The divorce hadn't been pretty but it had been fast. John hadn't even cared at the time that it had restarted the rumor mill regarding his sexuality he'd just wanted it over. Of course, the letter he'd received from his father about how disappointed he was and 'wasn't that just like him to screw up the one good thing in his life' had been the icing on the cake.

He looked around the room again and saw a large laptop computer on the floor next to the bed. It had been state of the art when he had purchased it. Nearly an inch thick and probably eight pounds in weight. It looked like a brick compared to the slick data pads that he was used to. It was plugged into the wall and it had an Ethernet cable that was also plugged into a jack in the wall.

He turned it on and logged into the hotel's network. From there he was able to get onto the internet with relative ease. It had been a long time since he'd had to think about security protocols. He did a quick search for the one name he hoped would be easy to find.

“M. Rodney McKay, Ph.D.”

The results weren't terrible; a MySpace page with a very much younger and thinner version of his best friend than he had ever seen before. There wasn't much else, but that wasn't surprising since McKay had been working on classified projects almost his entire life.

“Okay,” John took a deep breath and went to the site, not expecting much. To his surprise, there was an email address. After checking around for a free email service, John created a free yahoo account and logged in. He had to think about what he was going to say. What if he said something Atlantis related and Rodney didn't know what he was talking about. Would that mean he was here alone?

He ground his teeth and sent:

To: RmcKay@compuserve.net
From: puddlejumperace@yahoo.com
Subject: 105578

Tell me I'm not here alone.

Less than five minutes later the mail client chimed.

To: puddlejumperace@yahoo.com
From: RmcKay@compuserve.net
Subject: Re 105578

105663

Oh, thank god. I thought it was just me going crazy. I woke up in my old apartment in Nevada of all places. It's 5AM here by the way. Where are you? Never mind. I'm going to pick up a burner phone as soon as the stores open. Get one for yourself and email me the number. We need to talk.

 

John fell back onto the bed feeling so relieved he could barely think. The codes where their personal IDC codes, not just the team codes. Only used when they had an off world emergency and were dialing the city from the Alpha site. There was no mistake, Rodney was here with him in the past.

There were so many things he wanted to talk about, so many things that had been left unsaid. They had been given a second chance and he was going to take full advantage of it. But first, he had to make sure he didn't make the biggest mistake in his life for the second time.

He called the airport and found a flight that would get him to Las Vegas in less than twelve hours. Luckily there had been an opened seat for the next available flight which was scheduled to leave in four hours. He took a quick shower and packed his bags. He then called the lobby and asked for them to call him a cab to pick him up in an hour. He needed to talk to Nancy before he left, a sudden disappearance would bring in the authorities. This had to seem impulsive, not dangerous or reckless.

John dressed in a clean set of BDUs and headed down to the dining room where the wedding party was supposed to have breakfast. He remembered doing this the first time, being nervous but excited about this new chapter of his life. Now he was nervous for a completely different reason. He entered the dining area to find Nancy, his father Patrick, his younger brother David sitting together. Dex, Lyle Holland, and Peter Endi were seated together along with some of Nancy's relatives.

He squared his shoulders and walked in, his eyes searching for any sign that this was some sort of illusion or that he was being manipulated. Even though he was ninety-five percent sure at this point that this was all very real. He stopped in front of Nancy's table even as he waved off the invitation to sit down with his buddies from the Air Force.

“Nancy, could I talk to you in private?” he asked.

“What's the matter, John,” David asked from across the table. “Not getting cold feet are you?” He said it loud enough that everyone in the room heard it. There were titters of laughter from those assembled, but those died down when they noticed that John wasn't laughing.

“John, what's wrong?” Nancy asked. She looked worried. “Why aren't you wearing that nice suit I bought for you?”

“I'd rather not discuss our private business in front of all these people,” John said, to her quietly.

“Please, John, we're all family here,” Patrick said with a dismissive wave. “Sit, have a decent meal for once. God knows what swill you're served in that hell hole of a base you're stationed at.”

“Fine,” John looked right at Nancy. “I would have rather done this without making a scene, but since you don't seem to give a crap, I'll just say it here. The wedding is off.”

“What?” Nancy stared at him in disbelief.

Patrick rose to his feet. “You can't be serious.”

John turned to the gathered guests. “I'm sorry to have placed you all in this uncomfortable moment and I know that many of you have traveled quite a distance to be here for the wedding of Patrick Sheppard's oldest son. However, I can't in marry someone that doesn't respect my career choices.”

Nancy's naturally pale complexion turned ashen. “I don't know what you're talking about, John.”

“I'm talking about all those calls between you and Dad that had nothing to do with the wedding and everything to do with my future,” John replied. “Calls that started well before I ever proposed to you.”

“Now, son,” Patrick started, standing from the table. “This isn't the time or the place to be talking about something that is clearly a misunderstanding.”

“Dad,” David stood as well, his eyes switched quickly from father to brother. “What is he talking about?”

“It's nothing, David.” Patrick tried to sound reassuring, but it was obvious that David didn't buy it.

“You said John was on board with this,” David said, his eyes narrowed. “You said it was just a matter of time and he would be an asset to the company.”

John turned to his brother. “So you weren't in on this. Good to know.” He filed that way along with the long list of misunderstandings and general crap that had happened between the two of them over the years. “Listen, David, I know you don't understand my life choices and I know you resent my going into the military.”

David's face turned red with embarrassment. “It wasn't like that.”

“Really?” John crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side.

“This isn't the place for this,” Patrick said. His stern gaze locked on John, though it was clear he was keeping an eye on the movements of the people in he room.

“What's the matter, Dad? You afraid to lose a couple investors?” John asked, all the old bitterness he had lost upon his father's death rose back up.

“John!” Nancy hissed, taken aback by his cold demeanor. “What's gotten into you?”

“Clarity,” John replied. He turned back to his brother. “You want the company to go forward into the future? Invest in alternative energy technology. Solar and wind tech is going to be huge and unless you want China to be supplying the parts, you'll need to pour money at R and D into it.”

David blinked at him in shock. “Okay, right.”

“And you,” John turned to his father. “You need to take better care of yourself. Go to the doctor and get a checkup.”

He turned and went to his friends at the other table. Everyone was staring at him like he had lost his mind. “Gentlemen.”

“John are you alright?” Dex asked. “Are you in some sort of trouble?”

“I'm fine,” John replied with a laconic smile. “Sorry, there won't be a party.”

“Hell, we can always entertain ourselves,” Dex said with a shrug.

“The question is,” Lyle said in a low tone. “Is there anything you can tell us?”

“It's nothing like that,” John replied. “I just woke up and realized I was doing this for all the wrong reasons. I'll see you all when leave is over.”

“Where you headed?” Lyle asked.

“To see an old friend,” John replied.

“Are you sure?” Peter asked.

“I'm sure.” It hurt to look at his friends, knowing that in less than two years they would all be dead. “But you listen to me all three if you. You make sure you're gear is up to spec and verify all intelligence before you head out anywhere. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” They all said together, then blinked in surprise.

“See you in a week.” John gave them all a sloppy salute and headed for the lobby, ignoring the calls from both Nancy and his father. He got to the main desk and retrieved his rucksack where he had left it after turning in his room key.

The cab was waiting for him just outside the main lobby just as he had requested. He handed the driver his bag and was about to climb in when he heard someone call him.

“John, wait!” David said at a run.

“David?” John replied.

“What did you mean about investing in R and D?” he asked, breathlessly.

“Growing up you always had the best ideas when it came to energy storage,” John said. “Remember that battery you made as a science project. It lasted twice as long as a D cell bought in a store.”

“I remember,” David replied.

“Dad never let you pursue your dream to be a research scientist, but that doesn't mean you can't get your hands dirty now.” He placed his hands on his brother's shoulders and looked him square in the eye. “Get into the mix and make the world a better place. You'd be amazed how much the world will change in a few years.”

“Dad won't-”

“Dad has his head stuck in the fossil fuel industry,” John replied. “Just look at the lengths this country is willing to go to protect and control it. We're at war for all the wrong reasons and good people are dying every day because of it.”

“I never thought about it like that,” David admitted.

“Listen, I have a flight I need to catch,” John said. “But call me, if you feel like it.”

“Okay,” David replied, surprised.

“I'm still your big brother. You're important to me.” John almost pulled him into a hug but didn't because that would have been too out of character for them. He climbed into the cab and headed for the airport, he didn't look back.

** **