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That Your Eyes Might be Shining for Me

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The first time Dr. McKay met Colonel Sheppard, he was in one of the labs on Atlantis. Sheppard had come through the fabric of another reality protected by a green Ancient shielding device. A traveler from another dimension, to warn them about the creation of exotic particles their experiment was creating.

 

In that other reality, Sheppard was the military commander of Atlantis, not Colonel Sumner. Rodney had instantly been captivated by Sheppard's handsome face and lithe athletic body. Something in the way his eyes sparkled at Rodney led him to believe the attraction was mutual.

 

The two of them had spent a few days together until they had found a way to shut the experiment down. And then Sheppard returned to his world. Nothing sexual had happened between them, but McKay would never forget those sparkling green eyes and easy grin.

 

Later, he had looked into the military service record of the Major John Sheppard from his own world. Sheppard had long ago been dishonorably discharged after flying in behind enemy lies against orders to try to rescue some friends.

 

The Sheppard from his Earth was a galaxy away working as homicide detective. And from what Rodney could gather, he had little in common with the strong confident Colonel that McKay had once met. So he had put Sheppard out of his mind and continued on with his work on the Atlantis expedition.

 

Then, years later, Rodney had been called back to Earth to help the SGC determine why they were finding bodies on Earth that has been fed upon by Wraith. There were only a few of them so far, showing up in an isolated patch of Nevada, not far from Vegas. Rodney, Jennifer, Zelenka and the members of his team were recalled to Earth to investigate. As the team leader, Rodney had coordinated with Woolsey from the IOA to speak with the local detective on the case. And that was when Rodney met the Detective Sheppard for the first time.

 


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Sheppard is driving his beat up red vintage car to the crime scene again. The day is a sweltering 106 degrees, as it always is. He has been down this road so many times before, he knows what he will find here on the outskirts of Vegas. But sometimes it seems like all he has left to do is follow the steps that lead him to his own demise. That is the greater mystery he can't solve.

 

Funny how this crime scene isn't far from where he will end up dying alone in the desert. At least he won't be sucked dry like these husks of corpses they keep finding. Squinting through his sunglasses, John steps through the crime scene tape and eyes the mummified body. His eye is always drawn to a small green pool of liquid nearby, surmising that the vehicle that dumped the body here is leaking antifreeze. If only he hadn't noticed that antifreeze...

 

It used to be that John could change the loop, get on a plane to Alaska or escape this reality for a time somehow he would wake to find himself in Vegas again, reliving the loop of events. But now he can't seem to escape the desert and death here. He has tried altering the patterns, wondering if there is something he meant to do differently to finally make then end. But nothing seems to change the fixed points and events. He knows every line by heart.

 

Everything except the man from cafe, the other one who calls himself McKay. The only other person who seems to notice anything is wrong. Only that McKay is nuts, usually talking nonsense. John is half convinced the character is delusional figment of his own mind, maybe everything here is.

 

At least those conversations are always different, something to break up the monotony of interaction with a past he can't change. Sometimes he avoids talking to the man in cafe and escapes somewhere alone until the clock runs out and resets. But then inevitably, out of boredom he will find himself back there at the diner waiting for the guy to show again.

 

He always shows eventually. McKay never seems to grow tired of talking about alien pods and simulated realities but over time John has managed to get him talk of other things. The guy is a real talker and it doesn't take much to get him rambling on while John mostly just listens and sips his coffee.

 

Today is one of those days when he is just too tired to think or exert his will and when that happens he ends up back at this scene of the crime where it all began. It doesn't make sense why, but that's how it works.

 

Too much to drink last night, he feels like shit, a couple days' stubble showing on his chin. He could use a shower and shave. The case will be waiting for him tomorrow and the after that and every day of this limbo. After a dreary walk through the crime scene, Sheppard avoids his office and heads to a bar for a little hair of the dog.

 

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Sheppard wakes with a searing hangover and blinks his eyes to see where he has ended up. Much of the following night is blur and looks like the sun is already beginning to set. Jesus. How much did he drink last night? He pushes himself up from atop a scratchy comforter on the bed and recognizes the pattern. He's here at the seedy hotel. The one where he found the other body and a the bag of cash he left out to the police report.

 

There's nothing in the bathroom to shave with. If he wasn't so wasted, he could probably conjure up a razor and fresh change of clothes in his mind, but the best he can manage is to crawl into the shower and lean against the wall to keep it from spinning. If nothing here is real why are the hangovers still such shit?

 

When he has recovered some of his strength John dresses again and checks his phone for the time. The man with long white hair will be arriving soon. John pulls the window shades, watching the airstream trailer in the parking lot until he see the white haired man leaving the parking lot. This part of the plot is actually fun.

 

Shadowing the man to the casino, John reaches the private rooms for high stakes poker games. Handing over his badge and gun to the security guard, he is allowed entrance and joins the table where the white haired man is playing. He's picked a lot of bad habits living in Vegas over the years, gambling not the least of them. But being a dead man has its advantages and he has nothing to lose.

 

The white haired man eyes Sheppard and gives a sinister frown. He looks human enough now. The other gangers become suspicious when the white haired man wins hand after hand. There are other games in the casino John has memorized by watching the outcomes. But after drawing too much attention one night and getting the crap beaten out of him in an alley, he's had his fill of winning. And this is one game he can't really win.

 

As he squares off with the white man on the last hand, John considers whether to call his bluff this time. Tonight he stares impassively at the alien face across the table and folds his cards. It doesn't matter what he does. This is when the chase scene starts.

 

"Wait, Where're you going? You can't leave now!" The gangster demands of the white alien as he stares at the pile of his lost winnings, "Look at this guy. Hey!"

 

The gangster grabs the white man's arm and is thrown across the room. Next, the white figure lunges himself at Sheppard next, he knows who is real enemy is. He knocks Sheppard to the ground and takes of with his chips.

 

Casino Security fire shots into the fleeing man but they have no effect. Their assailant easily casts the casino men aside. Sheppard picks himself up and follows in a brisk run. He picks up the fallen gun left by the security officer and winds his way up to the rooftop access of the building.

 

How many times has he stood here watching the man jump impossibly to ground below and survive the fall? The first time it has been a shock to see the crushed figure get from a pool of blood and, stare at Sheppard and walk away uninjured.

 

One time he tried jumping himself to see what would happen. The sensation was quite unpleasant and painful before Sheppard found himself back at the beginning of the loop. Making his way back to the hotel, he hides the cash in his car just before the swarm of black government SUV's swoop in to collect him.

 

The agent who calls himself Woolsey greets him crisply, "Detective."

 

"Got another body here." Sheppard nods towards the hotel, "I was just about to call it in."

 

Woolsey recites his line, "I heard about what happened at the casino."

 

Sheppard narrows his eyes not bothering to ask about how they tracked him here.

 

"If you don't mind, we'd like you to come for a little drive." Woolsey states.

 

Knowing this isn't a request, Sheppard grimaces, "Right."

 

The sun is up by the time they reach the complex inside area 51. God, he feels like shit. Not that this is much different from how he spent the last 7 years of his life staggering through life before he died. All it took was dying, to shake him out of one waking nightmare and into another.

 

If he could have gone back in time, there is so much he would have done differently. He'd still have gone after Lyle and the others but he would have found a way to bring them back safely. He would found a way to do it differently instead of fleeing to another desert to hide from the past, to drink it away, to forget everything.

 

Inside the interrogation room, Sheppard rubs his sore eyes with the butt of his hand trying to rouse himself. Woolsey keeps trying to get him to sign the confidentiality agreement. There is no point in talking to him. He will just wait for the other guy to come in. He peers through the small glass window at the face that has become so familiar.

 

The man step in and introduces himself, "Detective, I'm Doctor Rodney McKay."

 

Yes, welcome back McKay.

 

But this isn't the McKay that knows things; this is just the puppet, playing out the past with him. McKay has a sharp look about him, a dark suit, dark auburn hair styled crisply about his angular face, and piercing eyes. He sets a tablet down on the interrogation table and Sheppard holds himself at a distance.

 

"I realize you have no way of grasping what's going on here. There's really only one thing you thing you need to understand..." McKay looks at him coldly, "If you fail to cooperate, I have the power to ruin your life."

 

"Well," Sheppard sneers, "then you don't realize how little I have to lose."

 

McKay lifts his chin and narrows his eyes. This is when McKay drops his head to a level gaze and looks through Sheppard in way that make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up every time.

 

"I know everything about you. You've never been married. The only thing you own is a car. You have $2,363 in the bank and are $13,000 in debt, not counting off the books gambling losses to a guy named Mikey... What else? You finally passed your detective exam after 4 years and two failed attempts... and now barely scrape by on quarterly performance reviews."

 

He rolls his eyes waiting for McKay to finish his pitch.

 

"I am getting this right?" McKay asks smugly.

 

"I also like spearmint gum." Sheppard irreverently offers.

 

"Have some." McKay throws a pack of the flavored gum onto the table.

 

"I was joking."

 

"No you weren't." McKay's eyes darken, he strides over to Sheppard powerfully, "Let's go back further, shall we? You were a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan but were dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders and trying to rescue a felid medic trapped behind enemy lines."

 

It makes Sheppard smile knowing that he still has some secrets. McKay never gets the motive for that part right.

 

"You were shot down, obviously survived, but unfortunately, the crash killed 4 American soldiers along with eight civilians."

 

Yeah, John had been so close to getting them out. If only if it hadn't been for that one unlucky shot to the tail rotor. He'd lost all of them. The entire medical team, including pretty little Sarah, the field medic he'd briefly dated. The marine -Grassman, Darren Grassman. Then there had been all of Sheppard's guys Mitch, Dex, and Lyle. Lyle had been the only to survive the initial crash. John had tried his best to get them out of there, but Lyle just bleed out in his arms.

 

That was worse than anything that came afterward, worse than anything the Taliban had done to him. The expulsion from the military was just another rejection. And Sheppard had become grown numb to rejection by then. There were too many scores to keep up, and he had become accustomed to being alone in the word.

 

It didn't matter anymore. Not even the numb world he once knew makes sense anymore. Now it is just him and the guy, McKay, stuck in this time loop.

 

The speech continues, "You avoided jail time. The record was sealed for various political reasons."

 

That would have been because they didn't want him talking to the press. But Sheppard stays silent about that. Since it happened, he's never spoken to anyone about and he isn't going to start now.

 

McKay continues, "These things happen, right? Somehow you've managed to live with yourself since then,"

 

'Wrong again, McKay.' He thinks.

 

"But I'm not sure other people would if they knew the truth." McKay threatens.

 

Yeah, this guy has no idea how little he has to lose at this point. Sheppard presses his lips together. Threats aren't going to get him anywhere, "I don't really care."

 

"Yeah, that's too bad." McKay's voice softens like he knew this tactic was bound to fail.

 

Sheppard walks forward to the table and sits in a lazy slouch. He pulls out a chewing stick of gum as McKay walks to the door.

 

Before he leaves, McKay seems to change his mind. "You know, I once met another version of you. He was very different."

 

John just lifts his brow instead of answering. He knows McKay will take to see the alien, the one who seems to see through to illusion he is stuck in. That is what he waiting for, why he lets them take him back here.

 

"Nothing is what you think it is." McKay continues.

 

"That doesn't come as a surprise to me." Sheppard smirks.

 

"Look." McKay walks forward and sets his tablet down on the table again. He take a chair, "We're not bad guys. We just want to keep the planet safe."

 

"I doubt that very much." Sheppard meant it the first time he said it and he means it now. He doubts everything about this man and what is happening.

 

"I don't expect you'll believe me at first." McKay pierces him again with his eyes, "I'm about to tell you some incredible things. Wormhole travel through a device called a stargate, ancient races of humans on other planets, other dimensions in space and time, even infinite variations of our known reality, where alternate versions of you and I play out events in ways you can't... possibly imagine."

 

This is the part where McKay admits he is Canadian. That and he takes him on the tour, showing Sheppard the strange throne chair, an alien spaceship, and finally to the cell where an alien is being held captive.

 

McKay claims that the aliens feed off of humans and are looking for a way to reach Earth. He says the killer Sheppard has been tracking has been disguising itself as a human, using its telepathic abilities to swindle cash. Or maybe McKay gets to part later? It doesn't really matter.

 

It all sounds like horseshit. And why would an alien need cash? Well, to build his doomsday device of course. Sheppard tunes out the rest of what McKay is saying. He has heard all before. How McKay is part of a space team that operates out of Pegasus galaxy and they have been recalled to deal with the alien incursion... Blah, blah...

 

And yet of all the improbable things the puppet McKay rattles off, not one of them accounts for the time loop. Unlike the other McKay, he makes no mention of an alien pod device or a simulated reality.

 

But what Sheppard never gets over is the sight of the blue green creature with white hair and gills on its face. The thing makes it way to the front of the cell, eyes locked on Sheppard. And Sheppard walks forward to get closer look at the other creature trapped here in the place.

 

The first time he saw the thing, he found himself buying into what McKay was telling him a little bit. Now he doesn't know what to think. Only, the longer Sheppard is stuck here in this loop, the more it seems like the alien is the only one who makes much sense.

 

"Fish in a pond!" The creature in the cell growls "Busy, busy, lots to do, here and there."

 

"This one fancies himself a bit of a poet." McKay remarks, "Not good"

 

"Dry as desert outside." The creature continues, "No place to go."

 

The thing is right of course; there is no way out of this maze.

 

"He's also delirious for starvation." McKay explains.

 

"Eat up! Get stronger. Think and hope. Think and hope." The creature shakes its matted white mane at Sheppard, "Don't look now! Oh, keep dreaming. There must be some other reason for your existence."

 

This seems like the most real part of the dream. John can't wake up. He can't stop dreaming. He tries to die, but in the end he is always back here, with the strange blue face, and the McKay, the other McKay that won't leave him alone.

 

Mesmerized, he whispers, "What other reason? Why am I here?"

 

"Defiance tastes like life itself." The alien poet tells them, "No river. No water. Dry as a desert! Darkness all around. The harvest moon is rising. Wraith are never-ending... I know the future."

 

It gestures to Sheppard with his hand, "Come inside. I'll show you your destiny..." The creature's breath fogs up the heavy paneled glass and he wheezes, "John Sheppard..."

 

McKay turns to him explaining, "They can get in your head."

 

But it feels like the creature knows more, like he alone can tell Sheppard about why he is stuck here... Still, he keeps on dreaming, walking out of the darkened room and into the hall with McKay.

 

"You okay?" MacKay's voice is softer.

 

"People ever going to know the truth?" John means himself as much as everyone else.

 

"Not my decision." McKay's sounds cold again, "Personally, I think people choose to live in their own happy little delusions. They don't really want to know the truth."

 

Or maybe the delusions don't even have to be happy... Maybe they just have to hide you from the truth. Does he even want to know the truth?

 

Once upon a time, Sheppard liked games, but now he feels like the mouse in a maze, unable to find his way out. He looks up at the room of people they have just joined.

 

McKay argues for a while with small floppy haired man over the purpose of the device the Wraith is creating. He is sure that it is intended as a signal to alert other Wraith to the location of Earth.

 

"But that would require a massive boost." The floppy man protests.

 

"Yes!" McKay acts like he is speaking to a 5 year old, "It would require more energy than he has now."

 

"Well,, not even a ZPM..."

 

"I know!" McKay shouts.

 

"That kind of burst is uncontrollable."

 

"I never said it wasn't dangerous" McKay hisses "It could open any number of anomalies."

 

"Like the inter-dimensional rift?"

 

"Okay. Would you stop bringing that up?!" McKay yells, "Why do you have to constantly reminding me? Especially in front of other people."

 

"You are such a child." The other man retorts.

 

"And yet, I am still smarter than you." McKay stalks away angrily and returns to Sheppard. The McKay he sees later in the game is much more agreeable than this one.

 

Gesturing to the door, McKay speaks quickly, "Don't worry, everything's under control."

 

And... back to the parking lot outside the huge hanger in the middle of nowhere. A black Suv is parked nearby, waiting for him. John knows they will let him go, not enough of a security risk he supposes. If only he could really get away from them and all of this.

 

"Thank you for your cooperation, Detective." McKay hands him the card, "If you think of anything else, call me at this number."

 

The first time John got the card he had no intention of calling McKay. He hadn't known if he believed a word the man had said. He didn't really care. He was leaving this this desert town once and for all, taking the money to disappear. Maybe somewhere cold, like Alaska.

 

The first time he had asked merely out of curiously wondering what McKay would say next, "If he's not finished yet, why did he stop hiding the bodies?"

 

"I don't know. Over-confidence that he can't be caught?"

 

"He left money behind." Sheppard found himself admitting.

 

"How much?"

 

Sheppard had licked his lips and lied easily. "A few thousand." He's never sure if McKay believed him.

 

"Not enough to worry about, I guess." McKay had answered flatly

 

John takes the card wordlessly and turns to go, but McKay stops him.

 

"That field medic," McKay narrows his eyes, "the one you defied order to go back and try and rescue, you knew her personally. You were... involved."

 

"Yeah." Shepard hides his sarcasm behind his sunglasses, "You know everything."

 

"It was a hard choice." McKay's eyes soften, "Certainly you didn't intend things to go as badly as they did. Things just don't always go the way we plan."

 

McKay blinks, looking solidly at Sheppard, "We know where to find you."

 

Sheppard turns away wishing he had made the choice to keep driving that day in the desert and never looked back. If only he hadn't noticed the leaking Antifreeze on that Airstream trailer. Now it's too late and he's dead... or something like it.

 

"Detective." McKay stops Sheppard again before he gets into the car and walks up close to him, "Remember when I told you I once met another version of you?"

 

Sheppard sighs, this is the part he wishes he'd never heard. Hearing this is what had made him turn the car around and get himself killed like some stupid hero.

 

"I know you'll probably think this sounds ridiculous, but, ah, a little while ago, a little while ago we accidently opened a rift in space-time. Went through to an alternate version of reality. It was very similar to ours in many ways. I met a team, much like the one I work with, only you were the leader. You were a hero. Saved the world several times over."

 

"Sure." Sheppard answers flatly.

 

"I don't think there's much difference between you and that other John Sheppard I met." McKay lifts his gaze defiantly, "It's amazing how one incident can entirely alter the course of your life. Still... I'd like to believe you have the same strength of character. That's why I told you the truth."

 

Sheppard is used to being a disappointment, the black sheep, but McKay's words, calling him a hero, and telling him he could be someone with strength of character... they had stung the first time he heard them.

 

Thinking of the stolen money in his car Sheppard had pressed his lips together in frustration, "What do you want me to say?"

 

"For now. Nothing." McKay had called over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

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The first time he had walked out of the police station, he had felt lighter. He had just left everything there with his gun and badge -except the Johnny Cash poster. Free of attachments, expecting to start a new life. Free to run from the past and all the ghosts. This time, he knows he the escape will be short lived.

 

As he drives out of town, Sheppard listens one of his favorite Johnny Cash songs. It's the song that got him through Nancy leaving him after she called off the wedding. He figured after that, he really was meant to be alone.

 

The breeze from the open windows ameliorates some of the blazing heat outside. He turns up the volume to hear the lyrics and looks over to bag of cash on the passenger seat. What better companion could he have asked for? If he had just kept driving...

 

I'll be what I am.
A solitary man.
A solitary man.

I've had it here
being where
loves a small word
A part time thing
A paper ring

I know it's been done
having one
girl who'll love me
Right or wrong
Weak or strong.

Don't know that I will
but until love can find me
a girl who'll stay
and won't play games behind me

I'll be what I am.
A solitary man.
A solitary man.

 

But even now there, there is some part of him that can't let it go. He rarely plays this part of the past to the end. The loop resets itself at his time of death but one thing he hasn't tried is driving as far as he can. Something seems to stop him everytime. The nagging thought that something about this is real and if he does not to make that U-turn... maybe he will change history and these aliens will find Earth.

 

"I'll show you your destiny, John Sheppard." The creature had hissed at him.

 

Maybe it was always his destiny to die this way. If it was real and he did some good, maybe it would be at least some kind of redemption. Turning the car around Sheppard prepares himself for a painful death and drives to the power grid where the airstream is connected to the power grid. Pulling out his phone, he calls McKay to tell him the location.

 

Yelling to someone else in the room, McKay says, "He thinks he's found him."

 

"How?" He asks Sheppard.

 

"I remembered the trailer from the motel. It's one of those old Silver Bullets. It's just a hunch. You said he needed more power, so I drove along some of the more remote power lines into this city."

 

McKay snaps his finger and tells Sheppard, "Harriman... He's going to tap into the grid."

 

He hears Woolsey's voice in the background, "We should have John Sheppard's coordinates."

 

"Listen to me." McKay his concern in his voice, "I know I said... but do not engage. Do you hear?"

 

The phone goes dead. That's the sign that the Wraith is about to make his move.

 

"Yeah." Sheppard mutters no one in particular, " I guess it's time."

 

Getting shot up is never fun. He slowly drives his car within reach of the trailer and sees the cords that are tapping into the city power grid. The car rolls to a stop. He's almost to the end now; he reaches for the gun in his glove box and carefully exits to driver's side door.

 

He tries a new approach but doesn't makes it very far before a bullet punches it's way through one of the panes on the Airstream. Sheppard ducks and avoids getting hit. Running back for the back for the shelter of the car, he positions himself on the far side.

 

He can feel the shots ricocheting off the side of the car, as if it is wasn't beat up enough already. The car sags as gunfire takes to air out of the tires. Poor old Betty. She deserved better.

 

Leaning over the hood to return fire, Sheppard takes a hit and has to duck back down when he runs out of ammo. He crouches to open the car door, hunting for another clip. Why does he always forget about that second clip?

 

Okay, that's two automatic rifles headed right toward him. Sheppard stands up and fires everything he has into the chest of the white haired man, or alien, whatever it is. But the thing always keeps walking toward the car as is if the bullets have no effect. Sheppard knows he is shot up pretty good now and completely out of ammo.

 

Time for his end scene. A final wave of ammunition hits the car and John crouches down against the car for support. The creature finds John clutching his bloodied chest and wheezing for air. Sheppard pulls the gun one last time just to be sure, it clicks. Still empty.

 

Closing his eyes, he pulls again. Nothing. He lowers his arm in defeat. The Wraith drops the weapon and moves his hand in anticipation of feeding. But Sheppard knows this is not his end.

 

He takes off his sunglasses and squints up at the creature. It doesn't look like an alien. Suddenly, it whips its white hair around as the sound of approaching aircraft come close. It runs back into the trailer trying to finish what it has started.

 

Sheppard feels a powerful energy pulse radiating out but the Airstream. His dilapidated car keeps him protected for the most part. Then blast from the aircraft hits the trailer. He is far enough away that the flying debris doesn't hit him outright. Doesn't matter. Whatever this was it is over now.

 

Heat from the burning wreckage starts to get to him. Harder to breathe. Sheppard crawls as far he can, then collapses onto his back.

 

Staring up at the sky, he hears the voice in the Wraith in his head.

 

"Keep dreaming... There must be some other reason for your existence..."

 

The blue sky fades away into white. Nothing...

 

When he wakes, he is back in the café.

 

The bell on the door chimes and he looks up from his stool at the counter to see McKay walk in. He takes his usual seat next to Sheppard.

 

Turning to McKay he asks, "Am I in hell? You know, I never really bought into that kind of thing but how else do I explain this?"

 

"I'm sorry," McKay looks sad, "but I had to change the perimeters, you kept running all the way to Alaska. It made it very hard to find you and have a conversation with you."

 

"You're not real, none of this is."

 

"I assure that I am very real."

 

"Right. That's what you always say." Sheppard grimaces and starts to get up from his stool, but McKay grabs his arm.

 

"Please. If you would just stop running away I could make you believe."

 

Sheppard narrows his eyes, "I've heard what you have to say and I don't like your answers. None of it adds up."

 

"If you only knew how long I've been trying to bring you back." McKay looks truly distressed.

 

"Sure. I'm in some kind of techno-stasis pod and I can leave anytime I want."

 

"Yes. We removed some from the Aurora class ship and brought them back for study at area 51. It will damage your neural pathways if I try to forcibly remove you. Your body healed a long time ago, but I don't want to damage your mind. I need you to-"

 

"But aren't you supposed to be fighting aliens in another galaxy?" Sheppard says sarcastically.

 

"I was I-"

 

Sheppard points to a figure outside the café walking by, "What about that guy, he real?"

 

"That guy? Not so much." McKay shrugs.

 

The corners of Sheppard's mouth curl up, "Snappy dresser. Now that's what you call a real Canadian tuxedo."

 

"Canadian?"

 

"Yeah, you said you were from Canada. You should know about that if you're real."

 

McKay looks back out the window in confusion.

 

"See, the denim jacket, denim shirt, and matching denim jeans. Well, not quite matching. All slightly different hues. Still, selected for maximum effect, and otherwise known as the Canadian tuxedo."

 

"See," McKay's eyes narrow at him, "I know what this is. You're mind just made that guy up so you could insult me. I knew you liked talking to me."

 

"What do you care?" Sheppard snarls.

 

"I-I don't know. I feel responsible. If hadn't said what I did..."

 

"Didn't you say I saved the world and all that? That if I hadn't found the Wraith thing when I did, the transmission would have gotten through?"

 

"Yeah. Yes You definitely saved us. Though, I'm not so sure about how Atlantis fared in the other realities, since part of it got through and tore a small hole in the space time continuum."

 

"Like from from Star Trek?" Sheppard snorts

 

"No, that show is completely unrealistic, nothing like..." McKay gives an exasperated sigh, "I'm talking about other realities, I think the transmission, the coordinates to Earth got through the tear. That it was stronger enough to reach... never mind. You saved the day and all that, so come back with me."

 

"But no money?" Sheppard asks.

 

"The moneys' gone. Car too. Sorry."

 

"Then I don't have anything to come back for, except maybe my Johnny Cash poster. Come to think of it" He gives a carefree smile, "I don't need that either. This all a delusion anyway. I think it started sometime just before I met you, I just can't be sure when. Here, I'll prove it."

 

Sheppard close his eyes and concentrates. He's back in his shabby apartment. Alone. The car is parked outside the window safe and sound. No sign of McKay. He'll just keep dreaming, dreaming until it wears thin and he has to die again.

 

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.

 

McKay stares at the empty seat in the café for a minute and disengages mentally from the pod. He emerges from the chamber feeling disheartened and returns to his main lab at area 51.

 

He had decided he could complete his work on the Wormhole drive and the PUD just as easily back on Earth as he could on Atlantis. The only reason to stay had been Jennifer, but things between them hadn't felt quite right. Maybe getting transferred back to Earth was his way of ending the relationship.

 

And then there was Detective John Sheppard. He had hoped they had rescued him in time to stop the internal bleeding. There had been a lot of surgeries, but he had stayed in a coma.

 

McKay had insisted on placing him in one of the Aurora pods to test out the level of brain activity. No one had really argued with him or cared much since the pods weren't activity being used in any projects. Sheppard was still there, but he had created an internal world that kept McKay from being able to get through to him.

 

That had been almost two years ago. The SGC had ordered him disconnected many times since, but McKay wouldn't hear of it and threatened to resign. It was outrageous that they would consider causing permanent brain damage over the use of such meager resources.

 

Brilliant inventions asides, after all the work he had done for them, he has pretty much given had the run of the place. He should be happy with all the professional freedom he has at Area 51. It's a huge lab, though it feels a bit too big. He has a gaggle of minions to do his every bidding but he hates them all -sycophants every one of them. Still, it's not like he's lonely, he has Binky after all.

 

He knows the guys make fun of his 'pet project' behind his back. And he supposes that he spends more time in the pod than he should. But Sheppard needs a consistent voice, someone to get through to him, eventually.

 

"You don't realize how little I have to lose." That's what he had told McKay.

 

Guess he was telling the truth. Sheppard doesn't seem to see the point in coming back, even if he believes McKay's story about the stasis chamber. But why wouldn't he even try?

 

Was he that committed to running from reality, even if he was living in his own personal hell? Maybe McKay was wrong; maybe this Sheppard has nothing in common with the bright-eyed flirtatious man he had met from another reality.

 

The com in his ear buzzes, "McKay, you've got to see this this. Hanger 5. The PUD lab."

 

Taking a sip of his cold coffee, he wonders how his underlings have managed to screw up this time. By the time McKay has made his way there, the hanger is mostly empty.

 

"Well, what happened?" He asks the remaining scientists.

 

"They- they took them to an isolation room to run some tests."

 

"They did, did they?"

 

Another scientist pipes up whose name he can never remember, "They just appeared. Out of thin air. You, and, and the other guy. From an alternate reality, that's what they said anyway."

 

McKay runs to his consoles to check the energy readings. The residual feedback and trace amount of radiation seem to be consistent with a jump from an alternate universe, just not one he initiated.

 

He drives with the nameless scientist to hanger 12, where the men in question are being held and finds Dr. Lam.

 

"Well?" he asks the doctor.

 

"They check out. I mean the blood work matches. Your guys from the lab say the readings are consistent. I don't really have another explanation."

 

"I need to talk to them." He tells Lam.

 

"Don't you want to know who they are?" She asks.

 

"Yes, yes, I know, it's me. Now, I just need to find out what I'm doing here." McKay is impatient; he leaves the infirmary and enters the locked isolation room.

 

His breath catches, "Sheppard. What are you dong here?"

Chapter Text

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The green eyes sparkle easily back at him with a smile, "Good to see you too, Rodney. Now are you going to get us out of here?"

 

McKay turns to look at his double. His hair lighter, his eyes a brighter blue, he has a sparkle in his eye that McKay knows he has never had. He walks over to the other Rodney. He looks physically strong and self possessed.

 

"Wow. I-I've met an alternate Sheppard before, but never, ah, a me."

 

Rodney smiles happily at him, "Well, I traced the source of the transmission with the PUD and thought this would be as good as place as any to start the search. I assume you have a working Parallel Universe Drive?"

 

"Uh, almost, almost there." McKay answers in shock.

 

"And you haven't been overrun by Wraith, I see." Rodney notes.

 

"No uh-"

 

"I assumed since the source of the original transmission was fragmented through subspace." Rodney continues.

 

"Yeah..." McKay frowns "sorry, about that."

 

John shrugs, "Water under the bridge. We were hoping you might be able to do us favor in return."

 

McKay gestures to the chairs at the table, "Why don't we..."

 

Rodney and John pull a couple of chairs out and sit close to each other. McKay sits on the opposite side of the table, waving to the cameras in the corner, "Hope you don't mind we're recording."

 

"Yes, yes. Of course." When Rodney says it, it sounds like his own voice, but it is less bitter and heavy -more cheerful.

 

"There are a lot of questions I'd like to ask you." McKay eyes him warily wondering what life altering decisions changed his life in such a way.

 

"Actually," John tilts his head, "that's why we're here. To compare and contrast, find out of there are any untapped sources of power, say ZPM's we may have overlooked in our own reality."

 

"But it must have taken a tremendous amount of energy to get you here." McKay wonders.

 

John pats his double on the back, "Rodney, here has figured out a way to tap into subspace directly."

 

"But the exotic particle problem-"

 

Rodney interjects, "Found away around it. I'd be happy to show you. In fact, it we will need to get yours up and running if we're going to make a return trip. We got a transmission just after we arrived that the drive was burning out. I don't have any idea what kind of condition ours is in or how long it will take them repair it without me."

 

"You don't think there was a catastrophic overload?" McKay leans forward.

 

"No, no." Rodney assures him, "Been there done that. This one skips between realities to discharge the exotic particles. That was what I was trying to accomplish on the Daedalus from another reality anyway. See, once I collected the research I was able to compensate for my mistakes. Well, not mine, the other me... Anyway, the drive will shut down and burn itself out before anything like that could happen."

 

"It sounded like they had it under control. Anyway, I have come to trust Rodney on these things." John adds.

 

"You have?" McKay smiles softly, "So you two obviously know each other well?"

 

"You don't know me?" John lifts his eyebrows.

 

"Oh, uh, I know you, I little bit. I mean you saved the planet once."

 

"That sounds like me." John nudges Rodney affectionately.

 

McKay is puzzled, "I guess..."

 

"So where am I now?" John asks, "Atlantis?"

 

"You're here. Sort of. In a stasis pod." McKay looks down guiltily, "You got kind of knocked around after taking on the Wraith that was trying to send the transmission."

 

"How knocked around?" John pauses, "That was a long time ago."

 

McKay smiles tightly, "Yeah, it was." He clears his throat uncomfortably.

 

Rodney breaks the silence, "How about we get something to eat and you show me the state of your PUD."

 

"Just, ah, waiting for clearance." McKay taps his com. He stares at them feeling a bit stiff.

 

"Well," John lifts his hands, "surely we can talk about ZPM's"

 

"I doubt the SGC will be willing to part with any of them." McKay shakes his head.

 

"Oh." Rodney explains, "No, we don't expect you to do that. In the past, we encountered a reality that had access to another ZPM, and it gave us they idea, that alternate realities may be able to point us in the direction of where to look."

 

"Ah." McKay nods in understanding, "I suppose, Egypt."

 

"Got it." Rodney answers.

 

"The Replicator home world."

 

"We got what was left after the place was destroyed." Rodney tells him.

 

"Hmm..." McKay thinks "Brotherhood of the 15-"

 

John winces, "Almost got it."

 

"Well, there was the stash on the Lantean home planet." McKay adds.

 

Rodney balks, "We never saw anything while we were there. Nothing in the Atlantis database. No energy signatures. I mean, we found the underwater drilling platform, but there was nothing..."

 

"No, there was nothing like that" McKay explains, "Sumner found a tablet, that I decoded. The mathematics were based on the dimensions of the Lantean home planet. When we inspected the area on the other side of the planet, we found a hidden underground cache, like the one in Glastonbury. Interesting we never found an underwater drilling platform before we left... but yeah we found a pretty good stash."

 

McKay feels proud that he something figured out that his other self hasn't yet, "Hmm. Yes, actually I was the one that figured it out. Daniel had it completely wrong. It wasn't in the actual script, it was a complex mathematical pattern that corresponded to the planet dimensions... once I knew what I was looking for-"

 

Which was?" John cuts him off.

 

"A set of Ancestral rings, leading to the interior of the planet. The entrance was a elaborate puzzle- Well, we found all kinds of things, consciousness sharing stones, personal shields, and lots of ZPMs"

 

"Lots? In terms of?" John asks with growing excitement.

 

"Lots and lots." McKay answers curtly.

 

Rodney gasps and grabs onto John's arm with excitement and John leans into Rodney with a playful look. There is something about the way these two are together that makes McKay feel like he is missing out on something. They are close friends, obviously. He feels a pang of jealously and wishes he could feel what Rodney does.

 

"Well, that's great." McKay exhales with his hands on the table. "Glad I could solve all your problems today."

 

"He's grumpy." John looks at McKay and back to Rodney, "Grumpier than you."

 

"I still like him better than Rod." Rodney quips.

 

The two of them start laughing and McKay stares blankly ahead. "Well, I suppose if you can get the PUD operational than the information would be a fair exchange."

 

"I can definitely do that" Rodney says with confidence, "Just as soon as your willing to give me a crack at it."

 

"Clearance." McKay taps his com as a reminder.

 

"And he's more serious than you." John tells Rodney.

 

"Super serious. Look at that suit." Rodney says in a low voice.

 

"I like to dress well." McKay eyes Rodney's casual attire in open distain.

 

John presses his lips together and whispers to Rodney, "He kinda reminds me of Woolsey."

 

"He can still hear you, you know." McKay looks to John in contemptuously. He isn't sure he likes these guys at all; they seem too rough around the edges to have figured a problem as complex and the exotic particle equation.

 

"Sorry" Rodney apologizes, "He only teases people he likes."

 

His face stays cold, but McKay remembers Sheppard's joke about Canadians earlier today and it makes he brightens internally, "Oh. Kidding. Ha, ha."

 

Rodney peers at McKay, "You seem very... strong."

 

"Thank you?"

 

"It's a compliment. I was just thinking... that even minute changes in the course of events can shape characters in different ways... You seem so confident, self assured, and... your hair is darker." He turns to John, "I look very commanding don't I?"

 

"Thank you." McKay answers crisply. "I was speculating today on that very phenomenon."

 

"Rakish, even." John smirks.

 

"You seem very unlike the Sheppard I know." McKay frowns at John, unsure if that is meant as a joke.

 

"Is he is Mensa?" John groans.

 

"No... He's a bit damaged."

 

"Physically?" John asks.

 

"Not anymore... He's a bit... lost these days. He's, ah, been in one of the Aurora pods since he recovered from his surgeries. But I can't get him to come out voluntarily, he doesn't believe he's in stasis, or doesn't care. I only really met him the one time before he went in and I can't seem to get him to trust me, so..."

 

"So, how do you know we're different, then?" John looks curious.

 

"We talk from time to time." McKay admits.

 

"You keep him company." Rodney says with a gentle expression.

 

"No, I, uh, just try to engage him. Explain the situation..." McKay stiffens, looking at John, "You seem more like the other Sheppard I met from an alternate reality, the one who led a team on Atlantis. This one, Detective Sheppard has a darkness about him....

 

he got dishonorably discharged from the service after a failed rescue attempt got 12 people killed. He used to be a detective on homicide in Vegas. I'd say he doesn't seem to care a lot about what happens to him, one way or the other."

 

"Oh..." John's face goes still. "12 people... Do you know who they were?"

 

Rubbing his brow thinking, McKay thinks, "A medical team of civilians, a marine, and 3 guys from his team."

 

"Dexter, Mitchell... and Lyle?"

 

"Yeah. I think that was it. He went in to rescue them against orders but the chopper went down. He and one other guy survived the crash, but the other guy didn't last long. The rest of the report was redacted. I don't know how he made it back out or managed not to do any jail time."

 

"I know." All the playfulness has gone out of John's face, "He was captured by the Taliban and tortured for almost a month. It was a fluke trade that the Air Force got him back at all and they didn't want any bad publicity about what happened."

 

"I see." McKay wonders, "But you stayed in the Air Force?"

 

"I didn't get anybody killed exactly. Dex and Mitch were already dead. The medical team was never lost behind enemy lines. I just went back for Lyle and a couple of his guys." A dark looks flashes across John's eyes, "The other 2 were dead already, and he was dying when I found him... I can't imagine what I would have done if I had all that on my conscience."

 

"I think... you felt you had very little to lose." McKay says quietly.

 

John's voice is gravelly. "Yeah."

 

"So," McKay asks, "what happened to you?"

 

"I was just exiled to McMurdo. Not a bad place to do penance... About a year later, the Atlantis expedition came through and since I had such a strong variation of the Ancient gene they asked me. Well, they didn't ask exactly, General O'Neill ordered me to-"

 

"You have the gene?" McKay asks.

 

"Yeah."

 

"Without the ATA therapy?"

 

"Uh-huh."

 

McKay blinks in thought, "Interesting."

 

"So, did you go on the expedition?" Rodney asks him.

 

"Yeah. I just didn't go back after Shep- I can just as easily do my work from here. It's a better set-up for me."

 

"Is Elisabeth alive?" John asks.

 

"Dr. Weir? Alive and well."

 

John and Rodney both smile and exchange a look.

 

"And Carson?" Rodney asks.

 

"No." He answers tersely.

 

"I'm so sorry." Rodney whispers. His face wrinkles up for a moment and he asks another question, "Alex?"

 

John looks at him sharply and McKay wonders why.

 

"I don't know an Alex." He answers.

 

"You never met Alex..." Rodney trails off "How's Jeanie?"

 

"She's fine, I guess. We keep up once in a while." McKay is curious and changes the subject, "Did you and Jennifer ever-"

 

"Yeah," John cuts him off impatiently, "they were briefly an item."

 

"Ever so briefly." Rodney gives John a deep look and places his hand on his arm.

 

Observing the body language between these two, McKay wonders if it is something more than friendship...

 

Rodney lifts his hand from John's arm with a finger in the air, "Binky!"

 

"Yes, I know a Binky." McKay smiles openly, "Best little guy. Best little friend I could ask for, I mean when I shake that food box-"

 

"And he comes running. Now that is pure love." Rodney gushes.

 

John gives Rodney a playfully hurt expression and Rodney backpedals, "Not love, love, I mean-"

 

Looking at McKay self-consciously, Rodney adds "He's a great guy."

 

McKay eyes widen a bit as he wonders more about the connection between these two men. The way they look at each other, sitting so close, touching familiarly... he had felt a spark between himself and the first Sheppard he had met, the other Colonel Sheppard. It could be possible..."

 

The com buzzes in his ear interrupting the thought. He turns his attention back to the pair, "Gentlemen, we have clearance to enter the PUD lab."

 

After a through examination Rodney declares in exasperation that it will take him at least 6 months to get the thing up and running. He mutters about the incompetence of Zelenka and grumbles about how they will be unable to send a signal back until he gets McKay's machine running.

 

John whispers to McKay that it will be 3 months tops.

 

While Rodney fusses over a list of the materials he will need, John tells McKay ruefully, "Guess there won't be a lot for me to do with you two geniuses at work."

 

"No" McKay admits.

 

"Could have been Mensa." Rodney chirps at John and he laughs.

 

Must be an inside joke. McKay motions to John, "Unless... Maybe you could get through to Sheppard... He might listen to you, to himself."

 

"I'd be willing to try" John nods thoughtfully.
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John and Rodney are given a square meal and separate quarters on the base. He isn't used to sleeping without Rodney anymore and feels better when Rodney gives him clear look to let him know he will be coming to him later.

 

The bed in his room is small and John thinks Rodney will have them out of here soon once considering how cramped it is. It reminds him of the old days when the practically slept on top of each other in order to fit in the same bed at night.

 

Actually those nights were pretty cozy. John pulls Rodney tighter and tangles himself up as close as he can.

 

In the morning there is an early knock. John is startled awake and Rodney groans practically falling out of the small bed.

 

"Colonel." McKay's voice calls out from behind the door, "Are you up yet? I thought we might get you set up with the stasis pod before Dr M- Rodney and I start work."

 

"Why does he get up so early? I never get up this early." Rodney hisses as he stumbles out of bed and makes his way to the small desk on the other side of the room.

 

As Rodney sits behind the desk in his T-shirt and boxers trying to look casual, John laughs a little and whispers. "Probably have cameras in here anyway, Mere."

 

He pulls his pants over his own boxers and a long sleeve shirt on, "If we're going to be here a while, we're going to need another change of clothes."

 

"And a shower." Rodney adds.

 

In a louder voice John calls out "Uh, yeah, hold on, McKay I'll be right out."

 

The door opens and McKay steps in with a duffel bag, "Sorry, these cells, I means rooms, weren't really meant for long term use, we'll get you some better accommodations with more than toilets... but for now I brought some military issue clothing that should fit-"

 

McKay stops when he seeing Rodney sitting in corner, "Ah... Hello there."

 

"Morning." Rodney flushes.

 

"I brought some for you, too." McKay shakes the bag in his other hand.

 

"Thanks." Rodney opts to keep sitting.

 

There is awkward silence in the room for some time then McKay offers an apology, "I shouldn't have just come in, I'm sorry about that."

 

"We were just..." Rodney falters then looks to John for help.

 

"Different quarters would be nice." John tells McKay.

 

"Okay." He nods.

 

"A bigger bed?" Rodney suggests. He shrugs at John. "They're about to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell anyways and it's not like this is our universe... and if we're going to be here a while..."

 

"Yeah..." John lifts his hands, "Fuck it. A bigger bed."

 

McKay gapes for a moment then regains his compose, "Well, I'll just leave both of these here then... Also, ah, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed here last year."

 

"I'll see you both in the mess hall." McKay gives John a strange look as he leaves.

 

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John blinks at the nearly empty parking lot of the café. He sees a red vintage car that looks like the one he had as kid, only more beat up.

 

He strides towards the entrance, the door makes a pleasant chime as it opens. His own figure is stooped from behind, leaning over the counter. He looks thin, more ragged. John steps up to the stool nearby and sits down next to Sheppard.

 

The other man turns slowly and squints at him, "This is different."

 

"Yeah."

 

"Where's the other guy?"

 

"He took the day off."

 

"Hmm... None of this is real you know." Sheppard picks up his coffee mug and sips at it. He shakes his head, "Says the crazy man to himself..."

 

"Well, I'm not actually you." John smiles.

 

"Oh, you're the hero, then." Sheppard lifts his head dismissively, "The one I should have been."

 

"No. Just luck of the draw, I guess."

 

Sheppard doesn't answer and John continues, "I went back too, but it was only Lyle who was missing. He died... after I got to him. I ended up exiled in Antarctica... The Atlantis expedition literally fell in my lap. Just luck. I would have done the same as you if I'd had to."

 

"I think you must represent my guilt or something. The idea of what I might have been if I hadn't failed." Sheppard eyes John carefully, "I liked the other guy better... I don't have anything to say to you."

 

"Your problem is that you know this isn't real, so you're dismissing all of it." John explains, "But you really are in a stasis pod. A virtual reality that you have limited ability to control. I'm in a pod right now too, trying to communicate with you."

 

"A guy from a parallel universe?"

 

"Yes, as crazy as it sounds. Rodney and I followed the origin of the transmission that that came from your reality. McKay thought I might have more luck getting through to you...

 

See, some years back, we encountered a ship full of Ancients, the race of aliens that created this technology. It had been disabled and they went into a kind of interactive cryo-stasis. The same thing happened to them. They were in there almost 10,000 years, stuck in time loop, thinking they were traveling on their way back home.

 

By the time we found them, their bodies were moribund and they had no hope of surviving the revival process. I took a look at you on the way in, and you still look pretty okay, but I wouldn't press my luck if I was you."

 

"I don't care much either way." Sheppard shrugs.

 

"See," John frowns at his double, "I think you do. The last thing I would want is to be stuck in a place like this, with nothing but my own memories to haunt me. I'd be looking for a way out."

 

"Then, I guess you don't know much about me after all." Sheppard drinks his coffee slowly, "None of this is much different from how my life before."

 

John thinks back his days at McMurdo, "The numb routine, the surreal quality, emptiness, mechanical motions... "Yeah. That didn't really change until I met Rodney."

 

"Who, McKay?"

 

"Yeah. I can only imagine what I would be like now if I had been left there... alone." John closes his eyes for a moment, "He and Atlantis, they rescued me from me from myself. Gave me a reason to keep going."

 

Sheppard lifts his eyebrows with amused distain and talks to his cup, "Maybe I should stop drinking the coffee."

 

"All you have to do is concentrate," John tells him, "just for a moment, but really concentrate on leaving the chamber. You'll see for yourself what is real and what isn't."

 

Haunted, frozen, guarded, emotionless eyes stare back at him. Heavy stubble fills out the gaunt looking face. Sheppard stands up and folds his jacket over his arm. He takes John in but reveals nothing of himself. John wonders if he was ever this broken and shut down. Is this the kind of man he was when Rodney first met him? He can't be sure anymore, in a way he has forgotten, it seems like a lifetime ago.

 

Sheppard makes in inscrutable face, "Well, nice meetin' you." and walks out of the café, leaving John by himself.

 

Hard guy to talk to. John sighs and closes his eyes to concentrate on opening the pod chamber.
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Chapter Text

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As the days go by, John can't shake the image of Sheppard's expressionless face. If there is any part of Sheppard that has hope, he can't see it. He wonders what else he might say, to convince himself, or some version of himself that seems so lost in the kind of darkness John once was. If he could only show him what it was like to be on the other side…

 

He watches Rodney, McKay and their team working on the PUD device with little else to do but think about the lost man in Aurora pod.

 

John stands up pensively and walks across the lab to McKay, "Hey, you said you had some of those stones from the Ancient cache on Lantea, right?"

 

"Yes, what about them?" McKay looks up somewhat distracted and annoyed by the interruption.

 

"Do you have the machine that activates them?" John asks.

 

"Yes, we have the machine.” McKay straightens up from his calculations, speaking with a degree of condescension, “how could they possibly transfer or share consciousness without the machine that activate them?”

 

"Share consciousness?” John asks in excitement. “You have stones that do that?”

 

“Why?” McKay gives him a dubious look, “What do yours do?”

 

“Just transfer between bodies, but that’s even better.” John pauses, “Okay, so, is it possible to open the Aurora pod without disconnecting the neural interface?"

 

" I suppose, yes." McKay begins to look mildly interested, "But only for a moment. It wouldn’t make a difference. Any kind of manual disconnect would cause irreparable damage to his brain."

 

"I'm thinking just enough time to place a stone in there with him." John explains.

 

"And you would take one in with you?” McKay's eyes widen, “It might work."

 

"We’d have to ask him ask him first, to see if he is willing to try it."

 

"And if he isn't?" McKay frowns.

 

"I'll come up with a new plan." John shrugs.

 

"What plan?" Rodney looks up from his calculations.

 

"To get through to Sheppard." John tells him.

 

"Ha!" Rodney snorts. "Good luck, that took years."

 

John thinks, "And we've got, what, weeks?"

 

"I told you 6 months, I meant 6 months." Rodney answers in a singsong voice.

 

Making a face at McKay, John whispers, "He always says that but it’s just to make himself look smarter when he gets it done in half the time.”

 

"He can still hear you, you know.” Rodney calls over to them, “Still faster than waiting for Zelenka to figure out the recall problem on hisend."

 

McKay suddenly grins and John realizes it is the first time he has actually seen this more serious version of Rodney smile.

 

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.

Following Sheppard into the casino, John catches up with him, placing his hand on the other man's shoulder. "Hey."

 

Sheppard jumps, "Oh, It's you again."

 

"Hey, you remembered me,” John jokes, “You're not losing your mind yet."

 

"Gotta go play poker now." Sheppard growls as he turns to go.

 

"Why? None of this real, right?"

 

"Just something I do to pass the time." The other man tells him blankly.

 

"Well, how about this time you and me have a chat instead." John proposes.

 

"Think I'll pass on that." Sheppard grimaces.

 

"Look, I'm not going to be here indefinitely, but that poker game will be. Just hear me out. I think I have something you’ll be interested in.”

 

Sheppard's eyes narrow, he looks down the hall to the VIP poker room and back to John. "Five minutes."

 

"Okay," John bites his lip, "I want to try something that might help fill in the gaps with all this strange stuff that's being thrown at you. I could give you... access to my memories. All the missions, the history, how it happened, I think it would make more sense that way."

 

"Your memories?"

 

"Look, if I'm not real, then you have nothing to lose. If I am real, then you gain my experience and understanding. It's a win-win for you." John offers.

 

"And if you are real..." Sheppard tilts his head and examines John suspiciously, "What do you get out of this?"

 

"Nothing, well… I guess other than seeing myself set free from this prison. I remember what it used to be like... stuck in my mind, alone. And I’d rather not see you stuck here."

 

"Misguided heroics?" Sheppard gives him a pained smile.

 

"Maybe” John shrugs, “And I don't like seeing Rodn- McKay so... Look, I can tell that he left Atlantis behind because of you, he's been here ever since. he feels responsible. I don't even think he realizes how unhappy he is; he's just so used to it... But you two are friends.”

 

Sheppard makes a face at John like he thinks he is crazy, but John continue anyway, “You don't know it yet it, but you need each other. He's the one who can rescue you if you let him. And he needs you to rescue him back. I want you to do it for him."

 

"Him? I don't know him." Sheppard answers dispassionately.

 

"But, he’s come in here nearly every day to talk to you... for 2 years?"

 

Something flickers across Sheppard's guarded expression, "sometimes he's not so bad to talk to -when he's not trying to tell me what to do."

 

"See," John points out "I think you're the closest thing he has to friend, other than Binky."

 

“Binky." Sheppard snorts, "He can go on forever about that cat. So let me get this straight, you want me to try to help him somehow?"

 

"And yourself," John sighs, "Look, I don't know if you remember what it's like to be close to someone, or if you ever had that. But you must have if you knew Lyle."

 

Sheppard's eyes flash with sudden pain and emotion.

 

"Okay,” John nods, “then you knew something like that once. And it meant something. But it pales in comparison to who Rodney is to me. I mean, to you. Who he can be to you. I could show you…

 

And if you still chose to stay in here alone, then you've lost nothing, right? But I think I know you, at least a little bit,” John steps forward more confidently, “and you want out of out here, you just don't know the way out. Maybe I could give that to you."

 

"You could give that to me." Sheppard repeats doubtfully.

 

"Maybe. I hope so."

 

Sheppard stares at him for while with an unreadable expression. Then finally speaks in flat tone tone, "Alright. Fuck it."

 

“Alright.” John smiles, "Nothing to lose. I'll be back." He closes his eyes and exits the chamber.

 

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Sheppard watches as his likeness suddenly disappears from the casino. He has seen McKay do it before. Maybe he should listen to himself. Maybe he does want a way out of this purgatory or whatever it is.

 

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McKay watches Rodney hover over John as he lies in the shelf-like pod, "I'm not sure this is a good idea. There could be some kind of interaction between the stones and the neutral interface. I mean, we have no idea-"

 

"There both Ancient tech, right? John reasons, “Can't go too haywire. If something goes wrong, just destroy the machine that controls the stones, it will sever the connection."

 

"Destroy it?" confused, McKay interrupts them. "Why don't we just turn it off?"

 

In unison, John and Rodney both ask, "You know how to turn it off?"

 

"Yeah." McKay shakes his head at the pair of them wondering again how they ever managed to solve the exotic particle problem, “It’s easier that way.”

 

"Okay, uh” John sits up in the pod, “Do that then."

 

Rodney scowls at the readings on his pad, "How long do you think this is going to take?"

 

"Honestly" John lays back down, "No idea. Never done this before."

 

"Well," Rodney taps his fingers nervously on the surface of the pod. "I'll be monitoring your brainwaves, if anything looks weird I'm going come get you out."

 

McKay sees John reach his hand up to touch Rodney's face. The frown on Rodney’s face disappears and he looks at John with such, such… Something so much more than anything McKay has ever felt himself. It makes his pulse quicken watching ‘himself’ that way with Sheppar -John. Not Sheppard.

 

Then Rodney leans down and kisses John. As he starts to bend back up, John pulls on the nape of Rodney's neck, lifting himself out partially back up from the pod and taking Rodney’s mouth in his. There is obviously so much between them, it’s more than just the passion that makes McKay flush and look away. He can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have someone love him that way.

 

A moment later, Rodney calls back to him, "Okay. I think we're ready."

 

"Okay." McKay clears his throat, "This has got to be fast. I don't want to disrupt..." He types into his own pad, "Yeah. We're good."

 

Nervously taking the stone from the nearby table, McKay holds it carefully with the non-transference film, careful not to accidently activate the consciousness blend himself by touching it.

 

"Okay, here it goes." McKay takes a deep breath and punches in the sequence; Sheppard's body come sliding out of the side panel, his hands folded restively across his chest.

 

McKay quickly places the stone on his chest, just above the collar of the hospital gown. He reaches up anxiously typing the code to close the panel. As the chamber door hisses back into place, he looks up to John and Rodney.

 

"You ready?" he asks.

 

Rodney nods and hands the stone, still covered in the protective film, to John. "So as soon as you make contact with the stone, you'll feel it. McKay says it might be a little weird."

 

"Yeah. Figured that part, Mere."

 

"Good luck in there." Rodney touches John’s face affectionately.

 

John unwraps the stone, "Thanks." He gasps suddenly and Rodney looks to him in alarm.

 

"No, no. I'm okay. Put me in, do it quick."

 

McKay punches in the code and watches the other chamber close.

 

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John is standing in middle of the café. It is deserted except for Sheppard's slouching figure in one of the booths. He has to get his bearings. This is so weird, remembering two lives at once. They almost fit, but they don't.

 

Everything is heavier, so much heavier. Even his breath feels weighted. The sense of numb despair is overwhelming. In his mind John sees the castle that Rodney once metaphorically used to describe his heart. The armored walls.

 

Only this heart has no deceptive garden, there is nothing alive here at all. It is scorched and burned. The resident is hiding, walled up in one of the inner chambers, dark, lonely, and so afraid. It feels colder than John ever remembers being himself.

 

"I can see all that, you know." Sheppard speaks from the booth.

 

"I know. It's..." John blinks and exhales deeply. He walks shakily to the booth and sits on the other side; Sheppard’s eyes are wide and wild looking.

 

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Sheppard sees the image of another castle in his mind, the pleasant one with the deceptive gardens that Rodney had once described. "This is how he once saw you."

 

The image changes as Sheppard thinks about the open floor plan in the tree house at Solaris...

 

He sees Rodney tracing his fingers around his eyes, gazing at him with wonder before they make love, "They're all gone."

 

Sheppard feels himself tremble the way John did under Rodney's touch as he asked, "What Mere?"

 

"All your armored walls, your defensives... They're all gone."

 

The immense trust and love in his heart spills over, too much to contain, "Only for you, Mere."

 

As the memory of Rodney's lips find his, Sheppard's body shivers in delight. He feels his heart surge again; the happiness is almost unbearable.

 

"Em.” Rodney pulls his lips away enough to whisper, “I love you."

 

Sheppard is falling, falling through space, falling into Rodney. There is nothing to protect him because he is safe now. He has been found. This is what it feels like to known and loved beyond measure. He surrenders.

 

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John opens his eyes startled by the vivid emotions of his own past experience.

 

Sheppard eyes are staring back at him calmer now, shining, almost watery with emotion. "It's so much." He whispers hoarsely.

 

"I know." John nods feeling the warzone that this other man has lived through, “You're… it’s almost like me… but you- you"

 

John closes his eyes with the pain of the memories. His mother lying in pool of blood staining the small white tiles in the bathroom, begging her lifeless body, "Please, Mommy, don't leave me."

 

His brother slapping him away when he cried. His father screaming and beating him. Leaving home on his own, the deep sense of dread and loneliness.

 

The humiliation of being outed in high school over the horrible thing he let himself do with Tyler. The shame, the self-hatred. The walls, the walls between himself and the rest of the world, to shut everything out. No light, no hope. Not even any friendship or laughter.

 

Nancy had been a glimmer in the dark that quickly faded. They never married. Such a solitary existence, for years... the years drag by in a numb silence, nothing changes, nothing matters.

 

Occasional sexual contact with a man or woman… The self-loathing is almost as piercing after being with a woman. He feels like a fraud, a leper. Trying to hide his dark soul for a night. Long enough to let himself he touched. But no one can really reach him; it's just a necessary release when the pressure gets to be too much.

 

But then in Afghanistan everything changes. He allows a few people to matter to him. Mitch, Dex... and especially Lyle. Lyle was everything to him, but he didn't dare let himself get too close. Nothing to break the perfect intimacy of their friendship.

 

John wonders if maybe some things are destined to be, unavoidable. But this timeline is different, worse. Waking up in the chopper with all the charred twisted bloodied bodies of his friends. Lyle still breathing... knowing he isn't going to make it, trying to stem the bleeding in vain.

 

He carries Lyle a short distance from the wreckage to a defensible position. And that is where Lyle slowly bleeds out in his arms. He is helpless to do anything but hold him as he fades away. Lyle is scared, but not as scared as Sheppard is to lose him.

 

"Thanks for coming back for me." He sees the love in Lyle's face.

 

Reaching down tenderly, Sheppard cradles Lyle's face, choking out the words, "But I love you."

 

An expression of relief and happiness floods over Lyle's face. "I-I love you too. You know that right? You know how much I love you?" He suddenly seems desperate for Sheppard to know.

 

Stifling a sob, Sheppard bends down to kiss Lyle, tasting a hint of blood on his lips, "I know. I know."

 

Lyle clamors to express the emotion, kissing Sheppard back, sharing the sweetness and intimacy he’d had always been afraid to show.

 

Then Lyle's lips go soft and still. Sheppard's mouth wilts into a grimace of pain as his presses his mouth against Lyle's limp face and moans, "Please.. Please don't leave me! Oh God. Oh God. Please, NOOOOO!!"

 

Crushing Lyle's body in his arms, he sobs, screams, and begs. He can't let him go, all night he holds him and pleads. Lyle is still gone.

 

Screaming. There is so much screaming after that. Capture by the Taliban, the brutal torture. And then unexpected one day, deliverance.

 

It is too late by then, of course, anything that ever mattered was dead. Died up and withered away, like the husk of his soul.

 

After the humiliation of the court martial, Sheppard ends up in the desert again, with the oppressive heat and the choking dry air. Back where he started, with blood and sand.

 

Working homicide seems like an easy fit for someone so damaged already, the grit, the filth ... he is numb to it all. The death, the gambling, the prostitution... He works just enough to scrape by and drinks enough to keep living. If what he is doing could be called living.

 

God. John shudders, it had started out the same, but the rest... none of it quite happened that way. But he feels the memories like they are his own. He looks up at Sheppard, feeling a stray tear slide down his cheek, "Ohhhhh."

 

Sheppard's mouth hangs open as he stares at John, speechless.

 

"God.” John wipes the tear off of his face with the sleeve of his shirt, “You had the courage to kiss him."

 

"You had the courage to live." Sheppard eyes flood with pain.

 

"No" John shakes his head, "I just got lucky, lucky enough to find Rodney."

 

"When you linked with me I felt it all drop away." Sheppard's eyes reflect the tortured pain inside, the terror he feels –that John can feel too- at letting himself ever hope for something different, "All the guilt and shame and, and, I don't know, everything you've let go of. I feel the, is... is... does it really feel that good?"

 

"Yeah.” John smiles gently, “Ronon was right."

 

"The other side, huh?” Sheppard asks bitterly. “Think I can get there one day?"

 

"Maybe." John offers meekly, "You know the way out now."

 

"I don't know." Sheppard rubs his stubble, "It's a lot to take in. A whole lifetime of... I could never be you. I'm not as good as you. And I feel... I'm so in love with this man... but he's not really the man I know, is he?"

 

"A little bit different but not so far apart. He's spent the last couple years trying to bring you back. He's the best friend you'll ever have. Believe me-"

 

"I know. He's your husband, he's... I remember everything." Sheppard shakes his head in disbelief.

 

"He's the one that can get through to you. Even when I tried to shut him out, he still got through to me."

 

"Chaya."

 

"Yeah, Chaya helped. But now you see everything she showed me about myself. Maybe you can get there a little faster than I did."

 

"I don't know." Sheppard hunches over the table and buries his face in his hands, "I need some time."

 

"Will you come out?" Johns asks.

 

Lifting his head wearily John knows the answer before Sheppard tells him, "I'll come out. Just, give me a minute, or an hour to process this. I dunno what to say to him. It's all just so..."

 

John can sense how fearful Sheppard suddenly is at seeing McKay again, how inadequate Sheppard feels despite his hope to be deserving of this person who has been his constant companion here in this world of lost illusion. This person McKay, that somehow he never imagined was actually real, but now is desperate to believe he is.

 

"He’ll be happy when I tell him you're coming back." John tells his double.

 

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McKay is confused. "So you're telling me that if Sheppard’s the more fucked up version of your, your, John… that you're the more fucked up version of me?"

 

"Yes!" Rodney repeats with some exasperation.

 

"How is that even possible. You seem..."

 

"Look." Rodney gives him a tight smile, "You the last thing you want is a trip down my memory lane, it's a bit of horror show."

 

But you seem so..." McKay tries to put his finger on it, "you have something. I don't know exactly… you're happy."

 

"Well, happy now,” Rodney winces a smile “but only after years of exquisite pain."

 

"I can handle pain." McKay squares his shoulders arrogantly but wonders just how much pain they are talking about; handling pain is not exactly his strong suit.

 

Rodney lowers his voice "The kind you don’t want to be exposed to. Like rape and torture and every other kind of fear and insecurity and emotional… Look, I wouldn't feel ethical about putting anyone through that.

 

"Like how much rape and torture?" McKay gulps.

 

"Let's drop it, okay. That kind of thing messes you up. You don’t need it."

 

Feeling lees sure that he does want this McKay still presses on, "It's just sharing memories, it's not like I'd have to go through it."

 

"Well we really don't know what it's like, do we?” Rodney screws his face up, “Why in the world would you even want to risk it? Other than the fact that I’m a bit more brilliant since I figured out the exotic particle problem.” Rodney tilts his head, “But, ah, in other ways you seem much more put together.”

 

"Well, I’m not.” McKay admits, “And didn’t you say you figured it the exotic particle problem from work completed by several other McKays other alternate realities?”

 

“Work they may have started but that I perfected and figured out the solutions,” Rodney gives him a smug look, “So, yes, I figured it out.”

 

McKay decides not to argue about who is smarter, anyway it’s not going to help him convince Rodney to do what he’s asking, “Wouldn't you be curious? Wouldn’t you want to know what it was like to… to know how it could have been different, to, to be happy?”

 

“What?” Rodney looks up from monitoring his pad abruptly, “If you think being inside my brain is going to make you happy, you’re sadly mistaken.”

 

“So you’re not happy, then?” McKay is certain Rodney must be, from what he has seen.

 

“Oh. Well, yes, but it's a still a bad idea.“

 

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John stands up and reaches over to squeeze Sheppard's shoulder; he flinches a bit to the touch and John sighs. He knows how shut down this man is and why, his heart aches for Sheppard to know what it is to feel a connection with someone else. Even in the smallest way.

 

"Yeah." Sheppard's mouth curls down at the edges, "I'll have to get better at that."

 

"Come here for a minute." John pulls at Sheppard's shoulder, "I'll show how it's done."

 

Knowing John's mind, Sheppard stands up stiffly to face him. They are in the memory of the first time he had hugged Rodney in the back of one of the Puddle Jumpers. It had been so hard to reach out and make contact, but it had felt so good.

 

"It was perfect." Sheppard reminisces as if it was his own experience.

 

"Yeah.” John tells him. “And it just got better."

 

His double still stands stiffly by the edge of the table, so John takes a step forward, clasping his arms around Sheppard’s stiff form until he feels some of the tension start to loosen.

 

Then he pulls Sheppard in a little tighter for a real hug, "Like this"

 

Sheppard sighs and lets his forehead rest on John's shoulder the way it did when John held Rodney the first time.

 

He doesn't have to say it; Sheppard senses that John wants him to stay this way, held. He lets John comfort him a little bit, he lets his breath fall into a relaxed cadence.

 

John can hear Sheppard's thoughts as he settles into another memory of what it feels like to hold Rodney in his arms. He is scared but he wants to try. He isn't John, but maybe he can offer something, if McKay will let him.

 

He can hear Sheppard wondering if he could be better at opening up than he has in the past, maybe enough to be with McKay…

 

Responding to Sheppard's thoughts, John lets the man go, holding him affectionately by the shoulders, "I'm sure of it."

 

Sheppard gives him a faltering smile.

 

"There. That's a good sign." John encourages him, "So, I'll tell them to expect you."

 

"In a little bit." Sheppard nods and sits back down in the booth stunned and overwhelmed.
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Chapter Text

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"I really doubt I have anything of value to impart other than getting your PUD operational." Rodney argues wondering why McKay is being so persistent about this consciousness sharing.

 

"Maybe you do.” Some of the crisp arrogance falls away from McKay’s demeanor. “If you've been through pain, you must know a little bit, you must know how… unhappy I am, the things I've considered at times to end the pain."

 

“What?” Rodney looks at his double in shock, "But you said never met Alex, right?"

 

McKay shakes his head.

 

"Maybe it was something that was always there then..." Rodney regards McKay with more compassion.

 

"I've lost people too," McKay tells him, "I lost the one woman who really loved me, Katie. She, ah, slipped away from an illness that took her mind first; she didn't even know why I was holding her hand when she lost consciousness. And then she never woke up."

 

"I'm sorry, I really am..." Rodney looks at McKay with sympathy, "But, ah, Alex wasn't someone I lost. He was more like, like a bad thing that happened to me, it changed me. But if you’ve struggled with the same feelings then... maybe he changed me less than I thought." Rodney sighs, "But there’s a there is a lot more to it than that, I'd rather not have to share those things."

 

McKay sits down mutely and stares at the floor with a dull look in his eyes. Rodney wishes he could offer something to this man, but doesn't have the answers he is looking for.

 

But then John's pads hisses open and Rodney rushes to help him out, "How’d it go?"

 

"Good, he's going to come out. He just wants a little bit of time to himself first, but I know his thoughts. He is coming back." John wraps the stone back of in the non-transference film and turns to McKay, "These things stay connected until you re-set them right?"

 

McKay nods, releasing Sheppard's chamber and carefully wrapping the stone resting on his unconscious body back into the non-transference film.

 

"If you could turn off the machine now that would be great." John says.

 

McKay nods again, taking the stone that was in Sheppard’s pod and quietly leaves the room without a word.

 

Looking to Rodney with curiosity, John tells him, "Thought McKay would be more excited to hear it worked."

 

"He probably is...” Rodney shrugs a little guiltily, “for some reason he seems to think if I linked with him, he would find answers to something he's missing. He's upset I said no." Rodney offers John his arm as he climbs out.

 

"It's pretty... intense." John walks over to the lab table; suddenly he drops the stone in his hand and it falls abruptly on the surface. "Rodney? Sheppard is asking if you will do it."

 

"Why?"

 

"He feels... He thinks if they both share our memories..." John rears his head back, "Oh. He's gone. I mean, the link is gone. McKay must have turned it off."

 

Concerned, Rodney places his hand on John’s face, "How do feel, are you okay? It didn’t change you, I mean, you’re still John, right?"

 

"I'm still me, Mere." John leans in and kisses him, "It was like watching a movie all at once, but with all the feelings too... I don't know. It made me think about what my life could have been like without..."

 

John suddenly wraps his arms around Rodney and hugs him into his chest. "I was lost without you, Mere." John is crushing him so tightly in his arms, like he is afraid to ever let go.

 

"I'm right here." Rodney squeaks.

 

"Yeah. I got really lucky."

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Seeing McKay standing in the doorway, John slowly releases his grip on Rodney. McKay has a strange expression on his face and John wonders how long he has been there watching them.

 

McKay drops his gaze to the floor, "Sorry. I'll just get my technicians to wipe this." he tells John as he collects the other stone from the table.

 

They are left alone in the room again and John frowns wistfully at Rodney.

 

"What?" Rodney sighs.

 

"So, you don't want to..."

 

"No, I didn't want to put him through everything. He escaped the worst of it. No Alex… no kidnapping..."

 

"Did you tell him about it?" John asks.

 

"So of, a little. But he still seemed to think I had something he was missing, that I could transmit it to him. Is that what's it's like? Did it really change anything for Sheppard?"

 

Thinking for a minute, John answers, "In the long run I don't know. Something changed, though. I felt it shift, and I'm glad I could do it for him."

 

"You think I should do it?" Rodney examines John's face.

 

"No, if you're not comfortable with it. It's pretty intense. But if you only trying to protect him from your pain, then maybe you should let him decide." John caresses the side of Rodney's face, "I think you are a lot more than the sum of what you’ve lived through. Whatever you've become from your experiences, you are amazing and whole, and so beautiful... I think he's right, you do have something he is missing. Still, I don't know if that's something you can untimely give to someone, something that lasts."

 

"What did Sheppard want?" Rodney asks.

 

"Well, he has all my memories of you and he wants to reach McKay somehow… but he doesn't feel worthy. He thought if McKay had your memories, he might feel the way you do about me."

 

"Maybe he already does." Rodney guesses.

 

"It's not the same. Sheppard’s like me, but was so far gone from being able to connect with anyone, I doubt McKay would have been able to get through."

 

Rodney makes a face "I'm pretty persistent."

 

"Even so." John smiles, "He had run so far away from himself, too long to come back I think."

 

"And you changed that?"

 

"I hope so." And he does. John really hopes so.

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Rodney is pensive for a moment, "Well... I, I'm not opposed to seeing his movie or whatever... You don't think I would scar him for life?"

 

"I don't think so." John frowns, "I don't feel scarred. Just, ah ...empathy."

 

"Yeah. Okay, maybe..." Rodney goes quiet for a while.

 

A few minutes later, when McKay comes back into the room, Rodney tells him, "I'll do it if you still want to."

 

"Really?" McKay's face brightens.

 

"Sure, I mean, I'm just worried that you might be getting a bad bargain here." Rodney winces.

 

"No, no." McKay speaks quickly, "I don't care. I just need to know."

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McKay races back to the machine, his heart beating fast. He tells the technicians to hurry, afraid Rodney will change his mind. Where should they do this? Somewhere private. He knows an office they can use.

 

"Yes, yes, give that back me now." He barks at his assistant, "And the other one, I'm going to need that too."

 

Snapping his fingers at another guy whose name he can't remember, "You, over there. I'm going to need you to come monitor Detective Sheppard's brainwave activity. He's coming out of stasis."

 

"No way." The guy’s mouth hangs open in disbelief.

 

"Just come with me." McKay rolls his eyes impatiently.

 

When he and his assistant get back to the lab, the two of them, John and Rodney are talking intimately. When they see McKay and his assistant enter, they take a step back from each other.

 

Gesturing to the assistant, McKay tells them, "He's going to watch the readings." Then he looks to John, "Are you going to come with us?"

 

Rodney looks up at John questioningly.

 

"You might want to talk privately." John tells him.

 

Rodney nods and follows McKay to a quiet office.

 

Offering Rodney the couch, McKay sits in the overstuffed chair across the table. His hands shake slightly as he sets the stones on the table. For the first time since he suggested this, he is having some real doubts. How terrifying will this actually be? Maybe he will be be horribly changed by the experience.

 

Seeing the fear in his eyes, Rodney assures him, "We don't have to do this."

 

"No." McKay clutches one of the stones and begins unwrapping it, "I want to. I'm doing this." He holds the cold stone in his palm and sets his face in determination.

 

"How do we sever the link if we need to?" Rodney reaches for the other stone slowly.

 

"Well, I can still do it. We won't be incapacitated or anything. It will take less than a minute. I didn't exactly get clearance for this part."

 

"Ah" Rodney smiles sarcastically, "Good to know there's no back-up plan."

 

"We don't have to do this." McKay nervously rubs the stone he has unwrapped from the film.

 

Hesitating for a moment, Rodney unwraps the stone, and then touches it.

 

McKay gasps. The brightness, the full color, the volume on everything has gone up as a current of emotion and memories flood through him. His eyes are charged as he reels at Rodney.

 

But Rodney isn't feeling the way he is. He's still leaning back into the couch; there is a studious look on his face, "Huh." He mutters.

 

McKay can sense his thoughts as Rodney sifts through the memories like old books in forgotten library. To him, McKay's mind gray and dull, it seems lifeless.

 

He lets himself feel Rodney's world again. Oh my God. It punches through his chest acutely. His breath hitches in sorrow as he remembers the pain and humiliation, the losses and regrets.

 

So much hope and so much rejection. And yet, it is beautiful, the strength that Rodney has, to keep pushing himself, to reach beyond himself. Field missions, danger, John. There is always John. The mystery of John slowly unraveling over the years, pulling Rodney in closer, pulling Rodney into his arms.

 

"Come back to me, Mere."

 

He exhales and blinks in surprise to see tears falling from his eyes. He hasn't cried in years, not since Katie died. And Katie had been everything Rodney remembered, a pale, nice girl who had simply been willing to accept him even if she hadn't known truly him. And yet she had been the shining star in McKay's lonely life.

 

But the tears on his face now are tears of joy, of knowing, belonging, home, everything John made him feel.

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Rodney calmly assesses his life without John. There is no John. So, it is the story of his life is the story of the Pegasus Galaxy without John.

 

Sumner leaves Teyla and the Athosians to die in the culling, returning later in a cloaked ship to capture one of the Wraith left behind to guard the gate. Rodney isn't there of course, not on a field team. He just does his job in the lab behind the scenes.

 

The Wraith awaken early anyhow, another mission gone awry. First contact with Genii also goes badly; a handful of them are killed when Sumner steals their data module. The Genii come back for revenge and take Atlantis during the storm. Many lives are lost retaking the city.

 

They lose another 20% when one of Rodney's science teams releases a deadly nanovirus into the population. Lt. Ford is one of the casualties. As a precaution, everyone is given Dr. Beckett's gene therapy after that.

 

With the expedition whittled down and vulnerable, Sumner and Bates become even more desperate in attempts to locate another ZPM. The depleted ZPM they stole from a planet of children doesn't have enough power to dial Earth, so the situation remains dire until reinforcements from Earth arrive after receiving Rodney's SOS data burst.

 

During the siege, Beckett fires the handful of drones left in the artillery. To keep the city from falling, Sumner orders Becket and a two others with the gene to fly what is left of their nukes on suicide runs against the Hive ships. The Daedalus does not arrive in time to beam any of them back to safety, so Rodney never got to know his colleague Dr. Beckett very well before he died. Just like Teyla and Ronon, who he never met at all.

 

There isn't anyone that ever gets to know him well. He is cordial enough with Jeanie. Since Alex was never been a part of his life, Rodney resumed relations with her shortly after she left school to have the baby. But theirs is not a warm relationship. Nothing in his life has gotten very close to him, nothing too bad, and nothing too brilliant. Except for his own mind of course, and that is where he retreated.

 

With new crew joining them from Earth, it seemed like Atlantis was getting back on its feet again. But a Wraith virus infects the ship and many die before they can wipe it completely from the systems in the ship's computer.

 

When they find the Ancient Aurora vessel, Rodney is able to complete a salvage of some of the pods and other technology before Caldwell blows it up to keep it away from the arriving Wraith ships. The same pods that currently house Detective John Sheppard.

 

The Taranians all die when the Super volcano explodes because Caldwell insisted on beaming the Atlantis crew back when he realized the danger. Perhaps it was a faster way to go then dying in Michael's macabre experiments. But Michael never existed in this world.

 

Rodney's main focus for a long time is the intergalactic gate project. The Wraith cullings take a deadly toll on Pegasus, but an even bigger threat is discovered with the Replicators. Rodney is never a main player in any of the action, but behind the scenes he works wonders with the base-code of Nanite machines.

 

When Sumner captures a specimen, Rodney actives the Ancient kill code in the Replicators, the reason the Ancients created them in the first place –to annihilate the Wraith. All-out war breaks out between the Replicators and the Wraith, taking the pressure off for a time. It is shortly after that he uncovers the Ancient cache, the mother lode they have always been searching for –twenty three pristine ZPM's. They used the abundance of power to activate the stardrive and move to a new planet, a more secure location that the Replicators were not aware of.

 

Rodney's life moves along without much to mention. There are no games, no laughter, no friendship, no team to bond with. But he is given a moment of intensity and clarity when he almost dies from the Ascension machine. After Dr. Keller revives him, he resolves to try to move out of his isolation and take an emotional risk by asking Katie Brown out to dinner.

 

He and Katie form a bond, a precious connection that he nurtures -afraid it will break should she get to know him too well. They have only 6 months together, but it is the best thing Rodney has even known in life.

 

She dies with a number of other expedition members when an alien bacteria, native and rather benign to the residents of Pegasus, tears through the station. About a 1/3 of their people are killed. Some are hit harder than others. Rodney survives, but what remains of his soul is crushed.

 

Rodney tries to step up to the new leadership role assigned him, but the toll of the Replicator-Wraith wars is wearing him bare as well. It is hard to stand by and watch so many millions die. The IOA ties Elizabeth's hands, not wanting her to waste Earth resources when the threat to them is minimal. They are only interested in gathering more Ancient technology.

 

Elizabeth eventually resigns over it and Woolsey takes her place. Rodney and Dr. Keller grow closer in that time, gradually striking up a romance, but his heart isn't really in it. He feels like he doesn't have much of a heart left to give after Katie dies. It fact, he doesn't much feel like living at all.

 

The Pegasus galaxy is left in tatters by the time Rodney and some of the others are recalled to deal with a possible Wraith threat on Earth. After Detective Sheppard disrupts the transmission, the rest of the crew returns to Atlantis.

 

Given the high mortality rate and depressing state of affairs in that galaxy, Rodney opted to stay behind. The military offers him whatever he wants at Area 51. That had been the end of things with Jennifer and the beginning of his fascination with bringing Sheppard back from the dead.

 

It becomes an obsession somehow, as if he was trying to resurrect himself. Over the last couple years, Sheppard is only one he really talks to or confides in. That is, when Sheppard will let him.

 

Somehow, it is cathartic having someone to talk to, even though Sheppard usually says little in return. Rodney talks enough for the both of them. He has, for the most part, stopped trying to convince Sheppard to leave the pod, indulging in the idea that he is part of the hallucination if it means Sheppard will listen to him. He knows the whole thing is pathetic, he is so pathetic.

 

Rodney sighs and opens his eyes. McKay's face is brimming with emotion, blinking through tears. Rodney opens his mouth to apologize but instantly he knows that they are not tears of pain.

 

McKay's lower lips quivers, "Thank you." He rasps.

 

Rodney reaches across the short table and touches McKay's arm. He feels so connected to him and so sorry for what his life has lacked. He wonders if he has given McKay what he was looking for.

 

"Yes." McKay answers him with piercing eyes, then he closes his eyes for a time and Rodney can feel him collecting his thoughts.

 

"I'll turn it off now." He tells Rodney, composing himself and leaving the room.

 

Rodney is stunned. It feels like he has just witnessed something like that movie 'It's a Wonderful Life'. John is George Bailey of course, and Rodney is Mary Hatch, the lonely, lifeless woman who never knew love.

 

The rest of the galaxy, well, it went to hell just like the town of Bedford Falls. If the Sheppard in this reality could only know how much the world had lost by his absence... Maybe McKay can explain it to him. John always knows his movie references.

 

Suddenly Rodney feels the sad, lonely presence of the other man slip away from his mind. He stands up missing John terribly even though he been gone less than 10 minutes. God, he needs to feel John now, it feels like a years have passed without him.

 

Rodney runs the lab, forgetting the assistant is still there. He stares at John with hungry eyes.

 

"That bad, huh?" John asks.

 

Rodney gives him a flirtatious smile to let him know he is okay.

 

Then McKay rushes back into the room, waving at his assistant, "You, you can go now." He turns to Rodney, "You know how to operate this doesn't you?"

 

"Sure, but why?" Rodney wonders.

 

"I'm going in." McKay tells him with a flushed face.

 

"I'm sure he's planning on coming out." John tells McKay.

 

"Doesn't matter. I have to go to him." McKay opens one of the empty pods, then takes off suit jacket, hurriedly. He folds it neatly and then and climbs in quickly.

 

John looks at the jacket in amusement, "Wow, that's something I don't see everyday -Rodney folding his clothes."

 

McKay looks up at Rodney, his eyes alive and vulnerable.

 

Understanding, Rodney moves to the controls and types into the pad. The door hisses shut and he walks over to John.

 

He places his hands on the side of his handsome face with determination, "Oh, God. How I've missed you." Rodney pulls him down and takes his full lips squarely in his.

 

"Mmm." Rodney murmurs "It's a wonderful life."
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Chapter Text

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The bell on the door rings and McKay sees Sheppard look up at him from the booth. He has no idea what he is going to say. He feels short of breath as he walks forward to take a seat on the other side.

 

"You're real." Sheppard stares at him.

 

"Yeah." McKay exhales, "I knew you were coming out... but I had to..."

 

McKay looks down at the table nervously, "I had to know, so I asked Rodney to let me... to link with him so I could know why..." His eyes look back up to the man has been chasing for so long, Sheppard looks different somehow, eager and afraid.

 

"Why, uh, you've been so important to me." Rodney finishes.

 

"You know?" Sheppard's eyes get wide, "...the same things that, uh..."

 

"Well, I have Rodney's -Mere's, memories, yeah."

 

"Mere and Em." Sheppard nods.

 

"Yeah." Rodney feels like his chest is on fire and wonders what Mere will make of his brain patterns.

 

Sheppar-John reaches across the table and takes Rodney's hand, "Let's get out of here."

 

The room changes and they are in a large hotel room above one of the casinos.

 

"Where are we?" Rodney asks.

 

"Just a place I stay sometimes." John drops his hand nervously; he walks to the large window overlooking the city below.

 

Rodney follows him to window, standing close.

 

"So, why did it matter?" John's face looks impassively out the window "Did you figure out why was I important?"

 

"Why wouldn't you come back?" Rodney counters.

 

"I don't have anything to come back for." John says softly.

 

"You have me." Rodney offers shakily.

 

"But I'm not him. I'm not Em. You're not Mere are you?"

 

"I'm not the same. But, ah, I already felt something for you... long before Mere shared his memories with me. I just didn't know how to make sense of it." Rodney pauses, "Do you think I could ever mean something to you?"

 

John turns looks at Rodney with tenderness, an expression he has never seen in guarded eyes before. "You have... meant something... mystery man who follows me and tells me strange stories I don't believe."

 

Reaching out his hand, John strokes Rodney's face familiarly then pulls it away with a frown, "Sorry, I don't know why I did that."

 

Rodney feels his heart leap. He has never felt anything like this before. So emotional and raw, wanting so deeply. He reaches out and brushes his hand against John's stubble.

 

"I'm still not him." John closes his eyes something between a look of pleasure and a wince crosses his face.

 

"I want to know you." Rodney holds his shaking hand on John's jaw, "I only feel like I know you a little because of... I don't really know what your life has been like... I mean, mine, mine has been nothing like Mere's."

 

"Nothing at all?" John reaches his hand up and takes Rodney's hand in his. He threads his fingers through Rodney's the way Em does with Mere. Rodney weaves his fingers slowly through John's. It feels amazing.

 

"No. Nothing really at all." Rodney looks up at John full of wonder, "There was no you. You're like Bedford Falls, I mean like, James Stewart in 'It's A Wonderful Life'. I never knew what I was missing, but everything was empty without you.

 

None of those terrible things happened but none of the good things happened either. Now that I've seen my life with both ways, I, I nee- I want..." Rodney falters looking up at John for reassurance.

 

The expression is soft and open, touched and amused at the same time. John asks, "So, you're Donna Reed?"

 

Rodney smiles in embarrassment and looks down. John's long arm snakes around his waist and pulls him close up against him.

 

"Oh... That feels right." John lets out a shaky breath.

 

"Uh, it does." Rodney's own breath catches and he squeezes John's hand.

 

He looks at his John feeling everything that never passed between them but that he wants so much. "I know I'm not Mere. But I think we fit together, the way that they do. I think we, we have our own story, and, and that's the reason I never returned to Atlantis. You were important because I somehow sensed I needed to know you."

 

"I'm no hero." John's face grows sad, "I'm not George Bailey. I'm just... I'm not..."

 

"It doesn't matter." Rodney wraps his arms around John and pulls him in as hard as he can.

 

John starts but doesn't pull away. Rodney continues, "I'm happier right now than I've ever been in my life. Do you, do you feel anything like that?"

 

"Yes..." John sighs reaches up to pet Rodney's soft brown hair, "I feel it all. I don't ever want let you to go."

 

Then John lets himself go, his body moves into Rodney's curves and stoops slightly to let his chin rest on Rodney's shoulder.

 

"Then don't" Rodney whispers into John's chest.

 

"Rodney." John lifts his head suddenly reaches up to hold Rodney's face in his hands, his eyes are full of longing and desire.

 

A rush of lightheaded tingling washes over Rodney's entire body as he looks up at John.

 

Leaning down, John touches his lips lightly onto Rodney's mouth. He hesitates.

 

"Just kiss me." Rodney commands.

 

John's full lips press sweetly onto his, they are full and pouty, just the way Mere remembered them, they fit his perfectly.

 

Rodney moans and reaches up to run fingers through the back of John's hair and pull him in for more.

 

He can feel John trembling as his tongue licks the crease of Rodney's lips. Then he presses his mouth more firmly, puckering slightly and sucking. The tongue licks at the part on his lips again and Rodney lets John lap at the sensitive inside of his lips. He parts his lips further and the tip of his tongue brushes against John's.

 

John groans with desire and crushes Rodney into him, thrusting and curling around Rodney's receptive tongue. Oh God, he feels so possessed and taken by John's raw sexual strength, it is intoxicating. His whole body is vibrating, like a pleasant pins and pins current running through him.

 

"God! Is this real?" John suddenly pulls back, looking at him.

 

"I think so." Rodney feels weak and lightheaded.

 

His knees wobble and John's strong arms hold him steady, "You okay?"

 

"Yeah... uh, I... you're just really..." Rodney answers shakily; he trails off looking up at John's handsome face, all the words floating out of his mind, he can't think at all.

 

A smile starts in the corner of John's eyes and warms his face. His arms squeeze Rodney tight, then he pulls him playfully, "This way."

 

Rodney stumbles as John pulls him towards to the bed. John sits on the edge tugs gently on Rodney's arms to join him.

 

Sitting down and reaching to untie his shoes, John tells him. "You can just imagine them off."

 

"Oh." Rodney flushes thinking about what else he could imagine off. "Are we?..."

 

"How about we just start with shoes." John's warm hand rubs up the smooth white fabric of Rodney's dress shirt.

 

When Rodney looks up John's attire has changed. He is wearing loose black cotton pants and a soft looking long black T-shirt. It looks comfortable, and Rodney closes his eyes, imagining one of Mere's blue long sleeved shirts and a pair of boxers.

 

"Your eyes are darker." John peers at Rodney's face then folds his legs up into the bed and sits behind him. His long arms reach around Rodney's chest as he tells him, "but blue still looks good on you."

 

Rodney leans back into him and closes his eyes to the familiar sensation of John's hands on his chest.

 

"So, you still think you know everything about me?" John leans his face into Rodney's neck.

 

"Mmm..." Rodney whimpers in pleasure and John's finger trail along his chest, "No, obviously not. No."

 

"And if you're nothing like Mere, then I know even less about you."

 

"What do you want to know?" Rodney asks.

 

Hmm... Let's see... favorite superhero?"

 

"Batman, of course"

 

"Mmm. Of course." John kisses the back of Rodney's neck, "And would you say you're more of less or arrogant than Mere?"

 

"Uh, honestly..." Rodney pauses, "More, probably. Did you pass the Mensa test?"

 

"Once upon a time."

 

Rodney smiles. Good, that's hot. Intelligence turns him on.

 

"You know how to fire a weapon?" John asks.

 

"Of course." Everyone on Atlantis had to be trained; life there had been dangerous and grim.

 

"That's hot." John murmurs. Brushing his lips across Rodney's neck. "Are you deathly allergic to citrus, bees, and everything else?"

 

"No allergies to speak of."

 

"Really?" John nuzzles him playfully.

 

No, nothing I can think of. Not hypoglycemic either."

 

"You any good at chess?"

 

"Better than you, I'm willing to bet." Rodney challenges.

 

John laughs and pulls Rodney backwards onto the bed with him, "Come up here with me."

 

Rodney awkwardly scoots himself up to lay down on the pillows at the head of the bed as John reaches for his hand and gazes at him softly.

 

"Favorite movie?"

 

Rodney heart beats impossibly fast and his breath is short as John threads his fingers through his.

 

"Solaris." He tells him softly.

 

"So, you are a romantic." John's eyes sparkle in a way he has never seen on his stoic face.

 

He hasn't ever been one to take big risks, but John makes him want to risk everything. Rodney bites his lips feeling incredibly vulnerable. He inches forward so that he is lying with his face just next to John's.

 

"Yes." He kisses John deeply and sweetly.

 

"I knew you had to be, because you..." John cradles Rodney's face softly, trailing his fingers along the edge of his cheekbone. "You, came back for me."

 

"Yes."

 

"Then maybe you're the future, the destiny he keeps talking about." John say with a pensive expression.

 

"Who?"

 

"The Wraith in the cell, the one that always knows my name..."

 

Rodney kisses John again. Oh... Even the Aqua Velva smells real.

 

John moves his mouth down to kiss Rodney's neck, then pulls lightly on the collar on of his shirt to graze lips across his collarbone. Rodney sinks his hands into John's luminous mane and enjoys the satisfying feeling of gripping it in his hands.

 

"So, what happens now?" John asks.

 

"Anything we want to. We could work here probably, I mean, you have the Ancient gene... but I don't know. I don't need to stay. We could go to Alaska for all I care..."

 

"You'd quit your job?" John looks surprised, "Run away with me?"

 

Rodney rakes his finger through John's thick hair, "I'll go anywhere with you, as long as you don't run away from me anymore."

 

Holding Rodney's head in his hands, John pulls back just enough to gaze into Rodney's eyes.

 

"No. No more running. You were always my destination."

 

Then John leans down to reward Rodney with a passionate kiss.

 

All these references, they are their stories, not yet. But Rodney has been yearning for John, waiting for him for so long, even if he didn't know exactly why. He remembers being Mere, wishing up at the stars, loving Em but thinking he wasn't good enough, believing that he was never meant to be Em's destination. He has never been so happy to be so wrong.

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Rodney taps his fingers on the reading console, "Hmm."

 

"What?" John asks sitting lazily on a lab stool nearby.

 

"Just..." Rodney makes his way over to the other pod and examines the reading there. "It's just, they're both experiencing a tremendous amount of...

 

"Oh." Rodney flushes, "Never mind. Nothing to worry about."

 

"Tremendous, huh?" John looks up with interest.

 

"I think we can safely say they made contact." Rodney smiles.

 

John grins and stands up, walking over to Rodney, squeezing his ass from behind, "Then, it's safe to say they are probably going to be in there a while?"

 

"Probably..." Rodney leans his back into John for moment and then turns, his eyes flashing with desire, "I wonder..."

 

"What?"

 

"I was just wondering what it would be like to fuck you while being connected through those stones."

 

"I think at some point,” John grips Rodney's ass again and pulls him in for a kiss, “it would be scientifically prudent to find out."

 

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When Sheppard and McKay's pods open and release them, John and Rodney help Sheppard get to his feet; he is a bit weak and wobbly, having not been on his legs for some time.

 

"Do you have any idea how weird this?" Sheppard says staring at the faces in the room.

 

"Yeah, I think so.” McKay rushes to his side, “I have some quarters for you to rest in and find your bearings."

 

"Lead to way." Sheppard locks eyes with his protector and smiles as he slings his arm over McKay's shoulder. The two of them slowly make their way down the hall.

 

Later, John and Rodney meet up with McKay in the cafeteria and ask about Sheppard's condition.

 

"Medically he's clear, he just needs to get his strength back. I brought him some dinner earlier and I'll be back to check in on him after this."

 

"You two...” Rodney speaks bluntly, “You have a connection. You're like us, I think."

 

"Uh, I don't know." McKay blushes, "We'll see. You guys are like, married right?"

 

"Over a year." John states proudly.

 

"Well, I don't know what to think of this, it's kind of overwhelming. Any words of wisdom?"

 

John starts to speak but Rodney cuts him off, "Sure, only we'd like to ask a favor in return."

 

"What kind of favor?" MacKay's eyes narrow.

 

"The stones" Rodney explains, "If we could try them... for scientific purposes..."

 

"And in return..." McKay smiles.

 

"Words of wisdom." Rodney grins mischievously, "He wants to be with you, just be patient with him."

 

"He's been alone for a while,” John adds, “if he seems distant or shut down, he’s just not used to being close to people. He'll come around. You're the best thing that ever happened to him; he'll figure it out."

 

McKay's head turns curiously, "We seemed pretty close last night..."

 

"Good." Rodney smiles. "Maybe it won't take you guys years to get there. Just don't leave things unsaid, don't let too much time go by."

 

"Take good care of each other." John smiles, "You can get through to him in a way no one else can."

 

"The same is true for you," Rodney chimes in, "His love will change your life."

 

"You can't know that he loves me?" McKay seems taken aback.

 

"He does." John quickly answers, "Even if he can't admit to himself yet, he does. Trust me."

 

"Okay," McKay smiles then closes his eyes for a moment, "later tonight I'll take the machine from inventory. I'll teach you how to use the stones, reset them and turn them off. But the minute I say they need to go back into storage, you hand them back over. Agreed?"

 

They both nod happily as McKay makes his exit.

Chapter Text

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Later that night, John sits with Rodney sit bare and cross-legged on their large bed, with the machine between them.

 

He exhales, "You sure-"

 

"Yeah." Rodney grins, "You?"

 

A smile slowly spreads across John's face "Definitely."

 

Rodney's eyes look teasing, "No more secrets between us... Are you sure want me to know... everything?"

 

"Will you still love me?" John reaches his hand across the blanket to take Rodney's in his; he squeezes tenderly.

 

"Always, husband." Rodney leans over the circular device, careful not to touch it, his lips gently on John's mouth. "Always."

 

John feels the warmth in his chest, radiating with trust and desire. Mere is the only person he would let seep into every crack of his mind. The possibility of doing so makes him crave to share everything of himself, give every last drop.

 

He runs his fingers across the face of the man who has most fascinated him, captivated all these years... He kisses the lips of the person he always yearning to be closer to, no matter close he gets. He always wants more... to understand the love of his life so completely.

 

"Mere, I could only love you more."

 

The look in Rodney's eyes tells John he believes him completely. He melts into the kiss John pulls him into.

 

When he hears the sound of Rodney taking one of the stones from one of the shallow cradles in the machine. John leans back wide eyed, staring at him.

 

"Your turn." Rodney grins at him in challenge.

 

John's gaze flits to the stone remaining in one of the slots. He breathes out slowly and inches his fingers towards the device. He blinks up at Rodney, longing and the insecurity both teasing at his emotions. His hand wavers above the stone.

 

Reaching up a hand to cup John's face, Rodney's eyes exude unconditional love and acceptance. He looks like he is just about to say something when John finally lets his hand drop onto the stone.

 

They both inhale sharply as the rush of everything floods through them. It feels like they are breathing in unison. It feels like slivers of hot and cold racing through his brain, filling in copies of memories.

 

Some new, some overlays, two sets of the same experiences. Memories of another life. He stares at Rodney, holding his face in his hands.

 

'Oh Mere. Mere, you are so beautiful, so amazing.' John wants to wind through his soul, hold Rodney through every moment... Those cold winters, wind whipping around his chapped cheeks. Dreading the walk to school, staring at the dreary icicles along the way. Wishing he could disappear from the daily humiliation of being 4 years younger than his classmates.

 

The harsh words of his father urging his footsteps on. "You were meant for greater things in life, the road to genius is one of solitude. I don't want to hear you complain to me or you mother again about the opportunities you've been given. Hurry home and we’ll finish our equations."

 

Dry words with no hugs or affection punctuate Rodney's childhood much like John's early life.

 

"Yes, sir,"

 

Pain hangs in his chest like the cold strains of the piano keys now left behind. The music understood the emotion, he could feel the sorrow falling on the ivory keys when touched them, like they knew him. But his father said it was a distraction, he needed to focus his mind on mechanical problems instead.

 

His music was too precise and perfect anyway, too mathematical. But when they took the piano away, Rodney felt he lost a part of his soul. He mourns it, his only friend. And when he needs to, he still plays it in his mind, to hear the haunting refrains that tell his lost story. The pain of loneness always with him... always being overlooked, scorned and spurned, mocked, unwanted.

 

Rodney gets used to people making him feel weak, retreating to his mind. The clarity of equations saves him from the cold, the beauty of the cosmos spinning around him.

 

He eventually learns to find his voice in order to be noticed, he brags, complaining loudly to whoever will listen. They may not like him, but all least he isn't completely unnoticed.
He may be good with physics but he is terrible with people, though God knows he tries.

 

By the time Alex finds him, he has been alone so long and so full of self-doubt. He wants to believe that someone could really care for him. Vulnerable, needy, and desperate...

 

These failings give Alex the upper hand, feed his ability to prey on him, inflict such humiliation, and fill Rodney with despair and self-loathing. And after that, he is filled with a sincere desire to end it all.

 

In his cowardice, he keeps going, but he vows never to let someone hurt him like that again. He keeps going like he always does, alone, without any real connection. The pain doesn't matter if he can escape in his mind. And he can escape to the perfect world of his mind, the folds in space and time that no one else can see.

 

John understands it all with perfect clarity now, he can bend his mind with Rodney's and move... the dimensions, the wormhole theories, the, the, all of it. The things he couldn't comprehend have suddenly been illuminated. Seeing this universe so completely... he understands Rodney's disconnection to the world around him and his preoccupation with the things that seem more real, more meaningful.

 

Then suddenly Rodney is brought back, crashing down into the pain of everyday life. Blinded by the snow and the haunting face of the John Sheppard.

 

He succumbs to the pitiful longing of human emotions. Vowing to escape, but never breaking free of John's hold on him, until he eventually lost all will to do so. He nurses the fragile hope, no matter how often it is crushed. He hopes to be loved in return. He dreams of John's arms around him, caring for him as deeply.

 

And then, the warmth of the friendship begins to tend to his frozen heart, it isn't everything he wants, but it is enough. As long as John is happy with him and has a place for him in his life.

 

John feels Rodney's face tremble with the vulnerability of the emotions exposed. Everything he always told John was true, about his absolute power over him. If John had reached out, just the smallest bit, Rodney truly would have given him everything.

 

Holding the face of his beloved, John tenderly kisses his lips, he knows Rodney can hear his thoughts, more than that, he can sense the warmth of his heart bursting with more love than he even knows how to express.

 

The regret floods through him, wishing he had held Rodney sooner, made him safe, taken away the pain. All of it, all the way back to childhood and those sad strains of piano music.

 

He wants to hold Rodney the way Rodney held him the night after the siege. It hadn't been a dream; he knows that now. He can see Rodney holding him and guarding over him for hours. So cautious not to cross any kind of line, but too protective to leave until he was sure John wasn't in pain anymore.

 

They were always meant to be together, why couldn't he have found Rodney sooner. Saved him from this sooner... Why did it take him so long? All those years together on Atlantis, he could have been happy, he could have made Rodney happy.

 

'Stop'. He feels the thought push into his mind. 'You made me happy.' Rodney thinks.

 

A rush of images and emotions tumble through him. The seed of home and belonging that John planted in him, the happiness growing as their friendship deepens. The wonder and astonishment of discovering John's heart.

 

Feeling inadequate, and afraid of being exposed, yet pushing himself always further into the warmth of John's soul. Letting himself surrender and be taken care of when he is broken, completely at John's mercy.

 

The trust so immense... The explosion of happiness takes flight, beyond anything even in his imagining. The love growing brighter and more fantastic every day, filling his soul many times over what he is capable of retaining.

 

To Rodney, the joy is indescribable, but John can feel it, how it feels to Rodney. Now he is the one trembling feeling ebullient and lightheaded with boundless pride that he could make Rodney feel this way.

 

'Oh, my love. My love.' His hands shake on the side of Rodney's face as he kisses him.

 

Rodney's hands stroke the side of John's face as he returns the passionate and tender embrace. Then, one of his hands slides down John's long neck and over his heart, where John feels the heat in his chest. Rodney can feel it too, like it is his own. John is a furnace of passion, burning through all the walls or chains that tried contain him. He is stronger than he ever realized.

 

Rodney's hands are John's now, bloody fingers, burning, sticky. Red covering the bathroom floor and his chest as he holds his mother to him, wailing and begging her to come back. He feels like his heart is bleeding out, the way hers is.

 

She always said her heart belonged to him, that she loved him even more that Dave or Dad... It was supposed to be their secret. But how could she love him, if would leave him like this? She had wanted to love him, but he was just wasn't enough. Not enough to stop her pain... He has failed her.

 

The ghost of Rodney's presence is there with him now, in the memory. His presence wraps around young John, holding him while he cries.

 

John's father comes into the room and rips him away from her body, "Are you stupid? Call 911! Don't just sit there crying and being useless."

 

John backs away from the image of his father shaking his mother's body, "Melinda goddamnit! Wake up! Melinda!"

 

He races to phone, the blood on his hands causes it to slip onto the floor at first, but calls the ambulance, begging them to come as fast as they can.

 

Rodney reaches into the dark crevices of John's mind, where shadows and fears still linger, he forces himself into the place where all the pain began, he fills the cracks with his love instead. He feels John reaching for it, the forgiveness he has always sought. And Rodney feels the peace settling in John's heart.

 

She never comes home from the ambulance ride and he is lost without her. Reaching for Dave's door, John sobs, "Please Dave. I'm scared. I don't want to be alone."

 

But the door slams in his face and he is utterly alone, cast away. Those dark hallways of the mansion stretch on forever. John hides in the garden, where no one will blame him for crying. Again, Rodney's presence folds around him protectively and wipes the tears from the faded memory.

 

He knows better than to ask his father for anything and Dave doesn't care. No one wants him, not even his own mother. He will have to learn to hide his heart, learn to be alone. Now he has to try to be the kind of man his father wants him to be, to be like Dave.

 

The years stretch out in front of him like a prison sentence, lonely and cold but the fire still burns in his chest, keeps him fighting. He stays to himself at school, finding his freedom in the air, when he flies. The pain seems to all float away when he's soaring high.

 

Rodney can't help but feel contempt for the way that Patrick Sheppard treats his son. Berating him, beating him, and making him slave for the family business. His heart hurts for John, John who can't stop himself from caring, desperately trying to earn his father's approval.

 

Something bright comes to life in John when he finally establishes a real friendship with Tyler. Rodney can understand the bond, they were inseparable, like brothers, like the brother John never had. Still, there is something more that John feels, a desire to be closer, more than brothers.

 

John doesn't really understand it. But then it all unravels, implodes on him before he ever has a chance to understand. Burned by the fire in chest again, charred to a cinder. Smoking ruins of self-hatred. Pounded into his body when they attack him at school, Seared into his flesh when his own father beats again a week later.

 

The look, that look... he can't ever forget the hatred in his father's eyes. The rejection, complete and absolute.

 

He is truly alone now without a family. He steels himself to the harsh reality, and his new life as a soldier. Soldiers are real men, not faggots. Soldiers don't feel, they just follow orders.

 

Again, the years stretch out in front of him, just another prison sentence to be endured. There are a few encounters with anonymous men in the military, more girls but those affairs are short lived as well.

 

Then someone gets through the wall a little, Nancy makes him want to hope again, to believe he could let himself feel without the searing pain. A small ray of hope in his dim world, John reaches for it.

 

He knows he is broken, not everything she wants him to be. But he promises her he will get better, really open up to her. He means it when he makes that promise. But he just doesn't know the way back out, he tries... but his own heart is the prison now.

 

The shame and self-loathing that John clings to over the failure of that relationship is suffocating. Rodney breathes his thoughts into John's mind 'You are forgiven, my love. For everything that was broken. You aren't broken anymore.'

 

'No. I'm not.' John presses his forehead into Rodney's, thinking, 'You've healed me.'

 

He holds John's mind tenderly as they wander through the memories of losing Nancy and the damage it did to his soul, as he finds his way again with a band of brothers in the Air Force. John watches over them and protects them, they are his family.

 

And then it all goes to Hell, first when Mitch and Dex die. And then when Lyle dies in his arms, the last of John’s spirit gives out. Lost to oblivion now. Lost in the wild drifts of snow and empty solitude. Nothing would ever reach him again.

 

Rodney winces, realizing for the first time just how much pain John was in when he first met him. The sorrow, it was like it hollowed out his bones and the ache followed him everywhere. John had just become so accustomed to it, calling it numbness. He saw himself as nothing more than a walking corpse after what the Taliban did to him.

 

'My lost soldier, it was unbearable.' Rodney nestles his forehead closer into John's with sympathy. He runs his fingers through his thick, dark mane.

 

'I don't think I was conscious enough to even register any of it'

 

'You were so sad when you met me. I wish I could have reached you and loved you then.'

 

'I didn't know how to be loved yet, I needed you to teach me that... But when I saw you...'

 

And Rodney sees himself through John's eyes. As he was then... The large shining blue eyes, the orange fleece jacket setting them off. His face so angular and beautiful, strong, slightly arrogant and proud. The hands gesticulating, the skin shining so smooth.

 

John's mind undressing McKay as he stands in front of the chair... The warmth in his chest flushes with deep desire. He has to have this man. It is wrong; he knows it's wrong to want another man this way. But something about McKay... Oh, McKay.

 

Rodney feels the sense of shame and self-loathing John felt after having sex with him, greater than any shame Rodney has ever felt himself. John runs from himself swearing to never do it again. But he lays in bed the following night, tossing and turning. Wanting to go to McKay again, wanting to do it again. Trying to drink himself to sleep, but the alcohol only fuels the fire he doesn't know how to control.

 

For the first time in his life, John finds himself returning to a man he desires. Drunk and terrified, but it is good, so good. Once it is over, the self-hatred takes ahold of him again, he can't face McKay. He has to go.

 

That night he just stumbles out of the room in a drunken haze, but the other times, when John presses his hand against McKay's back or hugs his chest tight, he is trying to transmit something he is feeling. It is all so unfamiliar but he needs to give the warmth he can feel in his heart, an offering to McKay.

 

They had always seemed like cold gestures to Rodney at the time. So strange after being so intimate to leave the room without words. Now Rodney's eyes water as realizes how much of himself John was actually trying to give.

 

Each time they are together, John feels himself drawing closer, not understanding this connection, wanting more, not quite sure how to get there. But McKay... the things he feels for him...

 

'So I wasn't crazy, you were falling for me, too' Rodney sighs into the memory, as he recognizes the stilted emotions John couldn't name.

 

'Yeah, something like that.' John shudders against him.

 

Kissing him gently, Rodney thinks, 'I like knowing you felt something for me too.'

 

As John kisses him back Rodney feels him thinking, 'So much, I've always felt SO much for you, Mere."

 

He sees the memory of John coming back for him in the shower, the vivid emotions in his heart, messy and unplanned, but with the intent to share them somehow with McKay...

 

Until he sees him on the floor, sobbing. The image that will haunt him for years to come, like that day when he found his mother. This is wrong and he is hurting McKay. He is causing him pain, when all he wanted... He can never let himself do this again.

 

John feels the memory from Rodney's point of view, the flashbacks of Alex he is trying to keep at bay, wanting more from John and the pain of thinking he doesn't care.

 

'I'm so sorry I ran. John thinks, I could have saved us so much-'

 

'Maybe you were right. Maybe we had to go through all this together. To get close enough to really reach each other.'Rodney sifts through the early years of Atlantis, confirming John's conflicted emotions for him, but feeling always a burning desire, wanting to be close, as close as he could let himself. Even if he is fighting it, struggling to himself away...

 

He is surprised by the memory of Chaya... Seeing John jump away when she tries to kiss him, much like how he acted when Rodney tried to kiss him. The internalized homophobia isn't there, but the same fear of closeness, fear of being consumed by the fire within.

 

Chaya is gentle with him, drawing him in. None of it is meant to spite Rodney or hurt him in any way; John is just trying to escape the part of himself that he was ashamed of. And then Chaya shows him everything in the blending. The twisted, convoluted emotional mess John had never planned to deal with. She sees it with compassion and no judgment, "Rodney... He is important to you."

 

And just for the moment, John lets himself surrender, "Yes."

 

The jealousy Rodney once felt over Chaya melts away as he realizes that she was the instrument who helped John find his way back, back to him.

 

It shocks him that John could ever have thought himself lacking a heart. He may have hidden it away, buried it, but it was always burning hot. The acuteness of his feelings for Rodney... it's so strong.

 

He fights the desire for so long and when John finally admits he is in love, it is heartbreaking to witness his inner anguish. The regret over the many moments wasted. He almost manages to tell Rodney how he feels but it is too late and Rodney has collapsed in arms unconscious.

 

He sees John crying and holding him, "I was going to tell you earlier but I'm not good... I love you Rodney. I can't say goodbye... but I can tell you that I love you... that I've loved you for some time now. I always will."

 

So that is where that familiar and haunting phrase came from...

 

Rodney watches himself die through John's eyes, as John is breaking down and fearfully trying to contain his emotions in the room full of people. Clenching his jaw and fighting back the tears.

 

They both see the tragedy of John's words spoken in haste to hide the truth from the others. Rodney takes them as a final sentence that his love for John will never be, just as John is summoning the courage to declare his love.

 

John shrinks back into himself as Rodney begins dating Katie, firmly believing that Rodney deserves more than he can offer... Years of agony, trying to cope with being in love with a man who once cared for him, but who has now rightfully moved on. A man he never deserved. He would never do anything to disrupt Rodney's happiness, only protect him.

 

But being so close, yet, so far away, the pain becomes excruciating -especially once he has let go of his fears of being with another man. He knows he could really love Rodney now, even if he can't give him everything he really needs. But it is too late.

 

The torture of watching Rodney fall in love with Jenifer is more than he can bear. Rodney has found his true happiness now; he doesn't need John to protect him. Eventually Rodney will come to accept that John had to leave.

 

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Chapter Text

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They cling to each other, knowing the terrible memories that follow, neither of them try to stop it, just holding each other as they relieve the experiences from each other perspectives. John feels Rodney's horrific abuse… and Rodney as John, screaming and pleading at the bars trying to save the man he loves. Hating himself for failing and trying so hard to protect him carefully after that, tending to him every moment, slowly convincing him to come back to life.

 

Rodney now knows how each of the men dies; he feels the satisfaction John wrests from the vengeance. And Rodney wrests his own satisfaction from the details of their demise. They've never talked about, not since the day John told him. And it feels good to have it all known. Even then, just knowing that he was loved that much, that John would seek vengeance and kill for him, gave Rodney the courage to face life again.

 

Realizing the effect his efforts had on Rodney, John experiences a sense of triumph that something he did made it better. And he can feel the fragile vulnerability of Rodney in the past as he timidly exposes his heart, telling John he loves him and admitting how much he needs him. Even though Rodney is so terrified that he will left alone again. But John doesn't leave, he takes him and never lets him go.

 

'You healed me, Em.'

 

Rodney shares the exquisite happiness he felt when he realized John was never leaving again, proving his commitment by marrying him, building him a home, and gathering all their loved ones around him. And he fully understands now the true devotion of the endeavor, how John's heart still aches to be enough for Rodney.

 

The Maison is his Taj Majal. Rodney had known the endeavor was epic, but to see all the work that went into it... and yet while building it, John's heart was filled with fear that Rodney would reject him. Fearing that his love is as flimsy as a 'paper ring'. Fearing he would lose him but daring to try to win him anyway.

 

It had to be grand enough. A 7 pillared worthy house... the number of tiered pillars supporting the Maison corresponding with the poem by T. E. Lawrence.

 

The poem is so passionate and melancholy... Written by a British WWI soldier who was inspired to champion the Arab revolt for his love, Dahoum. John had expected, in some way, to lose Rodney in the end, no matter how hard he fought. Much like Lawrence, who discovered, after a final victory in Damascus, that he had lost Dahoum to Typhus fever.

 

Why hasn't John ever shared this with him before?

 

'It's a complex story, I was waiting for the right moment to try to explain it all to you, in some romantic notion.'

 

Now Rodney sees the entirety in John's mind.

 

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.

 

'It's the sweetest, saddest, love poem I've ever heard... beautiful...' Rodney sees himself through John's mind. To John, Rodney's eyes tell the story of everything, his shining, beautiful eyes. John can't bear to see them burdened by pain... and when they shine for John... his life is complete.

 

The love John has for him is so boundless, sprawling and expansive. The kind that kingdoms are lost and won over, the kind that will either consume the body in torment or lift it up to soar above the rest of mere mortals.

 

'It's so beautiful...' Rodney marvels.

 

Everything is beautiful. There are nothing but explosions of happy memories now, swells of the passion shared between them, an unending joy that has never stopped... Except for those dreadful months when Rodney thought John was dead.

 

'You stayed to die with me' John understands.

 

'I want to be with you always. Those were our vows. Death shall have no dominion.'

 

'You didn't really think you'd find me. You thought I was dead. What were you looking for, Mere, my ghost?'

 

'I don't know. Whatever I could find.'

 

John recalls Rodney's memories as he cries over John's 'grave'.

 

Rodney feels embarrassed. He should have known John was alive, he should have searched harder, he could have found him sooner-

 

'You thought I was dead and you still came back for me. Only you would love me enough to chase me after death.' John kisses him tenderly, his chest is burning, alive with passion and pleasure. It feels so good to be known, known everywhere, every aspect of his being. It all belongs to Rodney now.

 

Squeezing his arms more tightly around John's back, Rodney shares his thoughts. He sees himself through John's eyes now. He is so relaxed, so unfettered by his past fears and insecurities. The heat from John's heart burns bright, purifying any lingering doubts.

 

They have all been seen and blown away, like ashes scattered by John's blazing fire.
John who is always larger than life, stronger and faster, braver than any man has a right to be. So fierce and loyal, always protecting Rodney. The passion burns so deep; Rodney is engulfed by the flames, the pyre of John's eternal love.

 

'Oh Mere, you and your superhero visions. I've never been that brilliant, it's only you that ever saw me that way.'

 

When John looks at Rodney he sees a jewel of cool ice and angular chiseled bones, refined and ridiculous all at once, a man of arguments contradictions, mental clarity, genius and sharp wit, fascinating and alluring... and sexy, always so sexy. Even when Rodney himself was so oblivious to it.

 

Rodney was always so oblivious. Like the time he looked around the empty simulation of John's mind, "Huh. I always figured there'd be more hot chicks?"

 

'Only you, Rodney' John had thought.

 

So often Rodney said those oblivious things that drove him wild. Dancing along the periphery of Rodney's memories, he draws up a few choice moments to point out. John laughs a little as he remembers the time Rodney said this line.

 

'Let's see how far we can jack this up and penetrate.'

 

"Penetrate?" John had blinked and stared out the Jumper window.

 

But Rodney just kept his elegant nose buried in his calculations.

 

As John recalls another moment, Rodney laughs.

 

'Shaft needs a brushing lube.'

 

'Oh, like I was the only one.' Rodney is amused, 'You did that kind of stuff all the time. Remember that containment vessel, you were saying we needed a bigger one?'

 

'No, no.' John reminds him, 'You started it. You said 'Size doesn't matter'. How was I supposed to respond to that?'

 

He smiles at the image of Rodney on the other side of the com, choking on his food as John quips, “That's a myth.”

 

His chest floods with warmth knowing Rodney was thinking about John's huge cock when Rodney replied, “It'll fit”

 

'What did you say?' John thinks 'Something about how it would fit, I just had to get it all the way in?'

 

'All the way in... So. Much. Homoerotic Tension.' Rodney laughs, ‘How did we ever manage to keep our hands off of each other?'

 

John's skin ripples with goosebumps, he can feel the hair stand on Rodney arms too. It is like a ricochet. Everything he feels, Rodney feels, comes rebounding to him in a physical and emotional current. They kiss in perfect movement, each sensing where the other is moving, the level of ardor, or sweetness, a sublime union of spirit.

 

Somewhere on the back of John's mind hears the echo of the passing thought, 'Penetrate.'

 

He feels Rodney laughing again with his lips on John's neck, thinking, 'You wanted me to jack you up... and see how far you could penetrate?'

 

He worships Rodney's face and neck, thinking, 'Yes, please... And then plug it into the right slot.'

 

'I can see your mind was really on that mission'

 

'I tried, I really tried, you never made it easy on me. Telling me to land the craft by kissing the surface.’

 

'Well, there's plenty of kissing now' Rodney takes John's mouth deeply in his.

 

'Everything is known now, I can barely feel where you begin and where I end' John wraps his body around Rodney's completely, pushing the machine now off to the side. He has never felt more complete, or connected.

 

'It doesn't matter.' Rodney reminds him, 'Everything we've ever done is forgiven.'

 

Pressing his hands lightly against Rodney's palms, John thinks, 'You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen... you're even more exquisite that I knew you were.'

 

He feels the emotion radiation back at him from Rodney; no words are needed to share how deeply he returns the feeling.

 

Every touch that sparks between them sends a reverberations waving back forth, between the sensation of touching and being touched...

 

Even the smallest thing feels incredible, Rodney wants to lightly drift his fingers over John's skin, he wants to grab him and curl up so far inside him that their minds will always be one. Nothing has ever felt like this before, not even... well there was that one time he did ecstasy with a girl in college –Wait that was John. 'You did drugs?'

 

'Don't freak out, Mere.' John smiles and ghosts his finger slowly back over Rodney's.

 

'I'm not. I did drugs once, too.’

 

'I think whatever it was you smoked in college, well, it was probably a bad reaction to oregano, nothing more.'

 

Remembering the handful of times John smoked weed in high school, Rodney realizes he right 'Yeah, if that's what being stoned feels like, it probably was oregano.'

 

'But you got me beat with the Wraith enzyme doze –that was pretty crazy.'

 

'That was when I made you mine, huh? I claimed you?' Rodney leans forward slowly biting down John's shoulder.

 

John furls his body into Rodney wrapping his arms and legs around him, aching to feel as close as he can physically be. John's hands move effortlessly knowing what Rodney desires, knowing what it will make him feel.

 

When their lips begin to touch again, it is electric. The meaty, soft flesh licking and sucking together, as if they are having one conversation. He has forgotten how to use words now, they are unnecessary. His thoughts and feelings are enough to penetrate the deepest levels.

 

'Let's see how far I can jack this thing up'. Rodney hands brush over John's growing erection.

 

He laughs as Rodney rolls him onto his back, delighting everywhere his hands linger on his skin. Begging for more from his beautiful mouth. He craves these kisses that only his husband can make him feel. Rodney complies without question, thumbing John's lower lip, then lightly sucking on it before they perfectly curls their tongue together in unison.

 

All the while, Rodney's lowered hand caresses John's cock, so delicately but firm enough send his mind spinning. Rodney is exploring the sensations, cataloguing the favorite ones to use later to drive John mad.

 

His mouth explores further to taste John's hard cock and try out every technique he can think of. John's mind is cloudy but the thoughts drifts through his mind.

 

'Not fair, I want to try'

 

‘When I'm done' Rodney's thought tell him.

 

John doesn't ever want him to stop, he wants to stay in this place forever rippling in pleasure, forgetting everything else exists. Rodney sucks his ball, licks the shaft, teases the head.

 

He feels Rodney grip the firm rod, thinking, 'Turns out this thing can get pretty jacked up'. Rodney holds it in his pulsing hand, bringing his delicious mouth back to John's hungry lips.

 

There is such desire burning through his chest, the lust, the need to take Rodney utterly, to possess him and claim him. God, his chest is beating so hard with pure animal instinct to take Rodney. His fingers curl into Rodney's flesh, and his bites his lower lip, not wanting to be too rough.

 

'You're not going to break me you know...' Rodney teases him, 'I want you to show me how far it can penetrate.'

 

John groans in pleasure, he can feel Rodney wanting it as much as he does, he rolls Rodney onto his back, taking his arms in his and holding them over his head. God, he can't ever get enough of this man. His tongue makes contact with the smooth skin on Rodney's chest.

 

Ohhhh. God, he can feel the desire burning in him and the effect he is having on Rodney at the same time. He sucks on Rodney's nipple and his own chest ripples with flutters. He was planning to be rough, but the delicate pleasure of exploring how he makes his Rodney feel is too compelling.

 

Now he just wants to worship him, every aspect of him. John trails kisses up Rodney's neck. He can feel every pulse of blood quickening in husband's throat. John licks over the jugular vein, he grabs the back of Rodney's hair and pulls his mouth over his hungrily.

 

Taking in the amazing sensation as his bare skin washes over Rodney's, he smiles at the way it feels to Rodney when John's leg and chest hair tickles him. Rodney loves it when John presses his hard body into him. Grabbing at his flesh with mindless desire. Pushing and pulling him around, flipping his body around with such ease. He never realized just how much Rodney loved this.

 

The mental image of John kicking his knees out from under him and pushing Rodney down to that couch fills his mind. Rodney wants him to do that again. John pulls Rodney up by his shoulders and kisses him roughly.

 

Laughing and struggling to get away, Rodney moves to stand up. John gives him just enough space to throw his leg under Rodney's knees, throwing his body down on top of him and pinning him to the bed.

 

His fully jacked cock rubs into Rodney's, the pressure of his weight holds him down and his looks into Rodney's mesmerizing blue eyes with tenderness.

 

'Like this?' He thinks.

 

Rodney nods with a completely smitten look on his face. Now John feels Rodney wants to be loved. He can do that too. He's never loved anyone more.

 

He takes Rodney's lips softy, carefully, making every kiss last, savoring the incredible sensation of kissing and being kissed simultaneously. Feeling all the love that is Rodney's heart, each nuance of emotion as their tongues dance together.

 

For John, his thoughts and feelings are one blinding force, shouting gloriously over and over, 'I love you.'

 

They toss and turn on the bed, trying to sate the unquenchable thirst they have for each other. Even now, with their bodies and minds as one, it is so maddeningly novel, twisted up in the sheets and in each other. Learning how much to push forward, how much to let go. It reminds John of learning to fly a plane.

 

For Rodney it is something more complex, like the fibers of their souls have knitted together into a beautifully gnarled tree, a tree that strums like an instrument or sails like a ship. Rodney's visuals are always more complex and compelling, just like Rodney himself.

 

Feeling Rodney's hand reaching for his cock again, the warmth spreads down John's legs as he senses Rodney's desire, the lust he has for John's huge-

 

It pains him to stop what Rodney is doing. It is strange to hear himself speaking out loud, "Mmm. No, it's my turn."

 

He smoothes Rodney back down into the sheets and returns first to sucking his nipples before working his lips down to the meaty cock he lusts for. He licks the pool of pre-cum collecting at the head and savors the taste. Why does Rodney always taste so good? Not too salty, a hint of sweetness, and a musk that drives him wild.

 

Memorizing all of Rodney's favorite sensations, John learns what every motion feels like to Rodney. Well, he already knows the favorites, but learning to fine tune it is another matter, like knowing when to bring in different musical sounds into a song, to create the combination of chords are perfect for each moment. Building the tempo up, the beat, at just the right pace, keeping Rodney under his thrall.

 

'I'm always under your thrall' He hears Rodney's thoughts a bubble up.

 

John's lips dance across the head with a smile then he lowers again, sucking that fat cock in his mouth, radiating with the pleasure it is giving his husband. His hands straddle Rodney's grinding hips, he loves the way they fit in his hands. He rocks them in time with his suction.

 

When he feels Rodney growing too close to the edge, he pulls back and reaches one of his hands toward to the machine, groping for the bottle of lube he remembers being nearby.

 

Rodney's hand grasps it instead, he has a better angle. It is weird how John can feel Rodney reading his thoughts, it feels like his own hand finding the bottle. When Rodney slips it in his palm, John wastes no time in slicking his stiff cock and coating it on his fingers.

 

He kisses Rodney's soft thighs as he plays with him, opening him up and stroking that favorite spot inside. Oh it aches so good. John can feel it every time he runs his fingers over it. He leans back in to take Rodney's cock in his mouth, savoring the taste and the diaspora of physical impressions that delight his body.

 

'Oh baby, You are so good. I love you. I love you. God, I love you.'

 

'I love you, Em.' Rodney is gasping for air but his thoughts are clear, 'What you do to me... I'm so... Oh, God. I love you.'

 

John's hand rocks inside Rodney and makes his hips gyrate. He can feel that Rodney is ready for real penetration.

 

'Oh, God. Mmm...show me how far you can penetrate.' Rodney taunts.

 

The passion in John's chest radiates out through his limbs and moans. He pulls a pillow from the top of the bed, grabs Rodney's legs and props the pillow under his ass.

 

His palm presses down on Rodney's chest, there is a current of love and connection that he knows Rodney can feel; he can feel the warmth, the protectiveness, and lust.'Oh baby, I'm going to penetrate you' He pulls Rodney's legs up over his shoulders and smiles down at his husband.

 

'Make sure you plug it into the right slot.' Rodney smiles, quoting his old line form the past.

 

As his finger trails over Rodney's hole, John laughs, recalling what he once said, 'There's only on slot, Rodney.'

 

He can feel Rodney thinking, 'Oh, God, give it to me. God, I love that huge cock. I can't wait, I love it so much.'

 

Using his strength to pull Rodney up from the pillow, John holds Rodney's legs over his shoulder with one hand, guiding his thick cock into Rodney with the other.

 

The sensation of penetration is brilliantly blinding; Rodney's tight hole squeezes around John's head. As Rodney aches to be filled, he pushes further, deeper, even when it stretches Rodney a little painfully.

 

But it isn't too much. Rodney wants it so bad. And the angle is so good, reminding them both of that long ago night they shared together, when they felt so close in Antarctica, but neither of them could admit it.

 

John slides in, rotating his hips to burrow deeper. 'I'll probably never be completely sure of the moment I really fell in love with you. There have been so many levels and layers over the years... But that night in Antarctica... That might have been when I lost my heart to you, Mere.'

 

'I loved you too, that night... so much.' Rodney's palm curls over John's hand on his chest, pressing it harder into his heart.

 

'Only this time, the ending will be different.' John's chest is on fire and he drives his cock all the way in, causing Rodney to take short breaths of shock as he adjusts to the pressure and intensity. He leans over Rodney, still holding his legs up and kissing him fully on the mouth.

 

Now Rodney's thoughts are chaotic. Mostly just 'Oh, God. Oh God.' But he follows John's guiding hands to keep his legs folded over John's shoulders, allowing John to support himself as he leans forward to play with Rodney's cock again.

 

He likes the way Rodney is seeing him in his mind's eye, as some sort of sleek powerful panther, taking his prey. Graceful and lithe as he toys with Rodney's body. Rodney loves feeling helpless under John's touch. There was a time when he didn't, but now that he knows how he deeply he is loved, he revels in it.

 

And he realizes that Rodney is happily surprised to know he has just as much power over John. As he begins to thrust, pulling slowly back and over Rodney's prostate, the combined pleasure overloads their senses...

 

Like they are detaching from their bodies somehow. No, as if their bodies have become formless particles, mixing with each other. There is no way to keep track of who is feeling what anymore, just a wash of pure bliss weaving in and out.

 

They are the spray from a stream of sea, foaming into each other. The pulse, the breath, every part of their spirit seems to sing together, filling every pore, every movement, ringing like the strum of bass strings over the ocean, the trill of a piano keys crashing over the waves.

 

Two pitches in harmony, perfectly aligned. The low guttural moan of wooden beams on an old ship, creaking and swelling along the swim of the current, along the perfect blue ocean...

 

the perfect hue of Rodney's eyes. The voyage skims across the surface; seamless in the way they meld together, as if they form a single vessel.

 

It builds to an orchestra, the math of space and time bending around them, penned into sheet music as their bodies climb into ecstasy. It is a single orgasm that shines forever, a single voice that screams in utter abandon.

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John was right. It only takes 3 months to build another generator capable of returning them to their reality. Of course, Rodney had plenty of help from his McKay double. And John was able to contribute as well, especially when he and Rodney were linked through the stones. Seeing the limitless universe through Rodney's mind, he could compute simultaneous problems.

 

During those months, the two of them spent as much time linked as they could, exploring each other's minds and bodies, bonding on the of deepest levels possible.

 

When they weren't working or holed up together in their room, they got to know their doubles pretty well. Sheppard has come a long way; he seems at ease with himself now, planning to stay on at Area 51, at least for the short run, to see if he likes it. Wherever they end up, Sheppard and McKay seem to make each other truly happy.

 

The four of them are all together in the lab when they receive a successful signal test back from the Magellan. The IOA had assumed that John and Rodney made it through safely and have been attempting to repair the overloaded drive with the help of Zelenka.

 

Afterward, Rodney grins smugly, "I knew it. I knew he wouldn't be able to do it without me."

 

"And yet" John rolls his eyes, "You were completely wrong about how long it took us to get the drive operational."

 

Sheppard laughs, "You know, I'm almost going to miss these guys."

 

McKay makes a face and simply offers an ambivalent shrug.
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