"What the hell was that?" Rodney asked between heaving breaths.
"I believe Governor Weir referred to it as a Nox Green Man," Teyla supplied as she ran.
"But I though the Nox were like...intergalactic hippies? They're part of the four great races or whatever they called themselves," Rodney complained as he continued to run. The years in Atlantis, or rather the many cases of fleeing from the Wraith on foot, had left him in a much better physical condition than he'd ever been in. This also meant he could complain much more as he ran.
"This is a mirror mirror universe, Rodney!" John said as he ducked around the corner. The sounds of pursuit were in the distance now. The team crouched in the lea of an overturned wall and caught their breath.
Finding they'd been tossed into some kind of alternate universe had been a surprise. Finding that Elizabeth Weir was alive and well had been wonderful until they'd discovered that they weren't exactly in Kansas anymore. The calm diplomat he'd known for three years was a cool, calculating dictator in this reality.
A dictator whose army was currently hunting them down.
"Think you have that thing working?" John asked as he peered around the corner. The Nox "green man", a huge, hulking creature almost twenty feet tall stood in the center of the Wraith hunting party. It was covered in sharp bone with serrated edges and John had already seen what the thorns on the thing could do to a man. Whatever it was, it was taking orders from Governor Weir.
John didn't think he'd joke about Elizabeth using her powers for evil ever again. He pulled his head back so that Chuck, Elizabeth's personal body guard, wouldn't see him. Chuck in this universe was apparently not only a martial arts expert, he was a sadist.
A rustling in the bushes drew their attention and their weapons. Rodney looked up with a panicked expression briefly before forcing his head back down to his laptop.
"Don't hurt me," a voice called from the bushes.
"Todd?" John asked. A mottled green hand appeared and the rest of the Wraith followed. "I can get you to the Stargate," the Wraith said. Unlike all Wraith in this universe they'd seen so far, he didn't wear the thorny control collar.
"You're not," Rodney motioned with one hand to his neck.
"Rodney!" John reprimanded and the scientist bent to his task again.
"General Kolya freed me," Todd explained. "I know you're not the John Sheppard of this universe."
"There's a John Sheppard in this universe?" Ronon asked.
"There is. He is an extremely cruel man. We thought Marshall Sumner and Governor Weir were the stuff of nightmares," Todd shook his head sadly. "We managed to kill Sumner but we did not know Sheppard looked on him as a mentor. His wrath was terrible."
"Sorry," John muttered.
"It is not as bad as what we hear of the Milky Way galaxy. The Tau'ri Emperor is said to be very harsh to those who oppose him and that he has a twisted sense of humor when dealing with enemies."
"Yeah, evil Elizabeth mentioned something about that. Let me guess, Emperor O'Neill?" John asked as he looked over the wall again. The middle of the "green man" had opened and John thought it looked like Lorne in the center of the nightmarish plant-suit.
"I believe that is his name. Come, they are moving on." Todd scrambled away
John and his team followed the Wraith cautiously. They didn't trust him, but they didn't have any other options. Teyla stuck by Rodney's side as the scientist continued to calculate even as they fled. Ronon kept giving his vectors of cover and Todd uneasy looks. John just wanted to get home.
They arrived at a Genii bolt-hole. One of the larger ones if John had to guess as there was a fairly large company of people present. They were met by suspicion and outright hatred by many faces, Wraith and Human alike, as they were quickly guided into a meeting room.
Once again, the differences between John's world and this one were staggering.
At the head of the table sat Kolya. His expression was guarded, but once the situation was explained, the man's eyes were filled with pity and concern for John's team's minor injuries. The Wraith queen who sat at his side was the same one who'd proposed the alliance years before. She looked tired, but determined. John wasn't sure, but she and Kolya appeared to share the closeness of lovers. John wasn't sure what to make of that.
On Kolya's other side sat Michael. He had sad eyes for Teyla for some reason and there was a thick scar around his neck. Here too he was in the strange state between being a Wraith and being a human, but the other Wraith seemed to bear him no ill-will about it.
"Okay, you know what happened to us," John said after he'd explained how they'd fallen through the gate, discovered this was bizarre-world and then fled for their lives."
Their story was stunning. The Tau'ri Empire had awoken and garnered favor with an ancient warrior species known as the Nox. Though most Elder Nox still slumbered, their biological technology, and the technology of their servant races, was still around. The Tau'ri had decimated the Goa'uld, the millennium-long keepers of peace who'd sent the Nox to slumber.
Emperor O'Neill's hold on the Milky Way had been quickly solidified despite stiff resistance from the peaceful Replicator group-mind and the valiant Goa'uld. The Goa'uld were betrayed by their own kind, a faction of power-hungry Goa'uld known as the Tok'ra. The maniacal Asgard technocracy had allied with the Tau'ri to silence the gentle machines.
The surprising source of these tales was a broken Goa'uld who'd personally suffered greatly at O'Neill's hands. O'Neill had taken not only Ba'al's eye, but his mate, killing her so the host could be a gift to his friend and chief minister. Ba'al had told John and his team everything once he'd been informed of how a second John Sheppard had suddenly appeared.
Then they'd shown John the most shocking thing of all.
Another John Sheppard, complete with the cliché evil twin goatee, was stored in an Ancient stasis pod.
"This is the sole reason we haven't been obliterated. Family bloodlines and following the wishes of the Younger Nox are everything to the Tau'ri. We have Weir's mate and she will not be willing to use brute force as long as we have him alive."
"Er, why's that?" John asked.
"The Younger Nox have been following a breeding program to bring back the Ancient gene and improve the Tau'ri stock before the Elders awaken. Though they defeated the Ancients, they cannot access much of their technology," Ba'al informed him. The Goa'uld leaned heavily on the simple cane he carried as they stood in the subterranean outpost.
"The Asgard would prefer to simply grow things in sterile tanks, but the Nox prefer a more natural process. When the Nox take an interest, that which does not conform to their standards is killed and the Tau'ri try again. O'Neill and his wife have finally produced an heir who expresses the Ancient gene as strongly as he does."
"His wife? Carter?" John asked.
Ba'al shuddered. "One of the most brilliant and twisted geniuses ever produced by the Tau'ri."
"More twisted than me?" Rodney asked. John shot him a dirty look.
"Rodney," Teyla quietly called him to task.
"What? If Sam's some kind of evil genius I should be too, right?"
"I have often wondered what those in power would have been like had the Nox not interfered." Ba'al shook his head sadly. "That you exist gives me hope."
"But what about me?" Rodney asked.
"You were killed as an example to others," Ba'al informed him.
"Samantha killed you herself and gave the body to the Asgard. Your execution was long, painful and public. It is likely that you are a brain in a jar someplace on Orilla. That's what she did with Dr. Lee and Dr. Kavanagh," Ba'al mused.
"Sam killed me?" Rodney asked, shocked.
"Take comfort in knowing that in her grief and fury she killed a rival rather than obliterate another inhabited star-system."
"Oh." Rodney said. He looked pale. John didn't feel so good as well. "Who's head scientist on Atlantis then?"
"I believe his name is Zelenka."
"Ah you have heard of him? He is frightening but not nearly as terrifying as Dr. Beckett." On hearing Carson's name, the whole party escorting John's team shuddered.
"We, uh. We should go home," Rodney decided, his voice weak.
"What does this have to do with me? Or him?" John gestured to the frozen duplicate.
"It is the will of the Nox that he and Weir produce a mate for O'Neill's offspring. So long as we have him, we have some breathing room," Ba'al told him gravely.
"Almost a thousand Wraith and Genii died to capture him alive," Kolya said.
"Todd was right to get you away from her," the Wraith queen added. "She could have used you instead, and we'd have nothing to negotiate with."
"Great," John muttered. He'd wondered why the troops chasing them had been so cautious. This certainly explained the triumphant look he'd seen in Elizabeth's eyes just before he'd decided to take his people and run for it. "So will you help us get through the Stargate?" John asked.
The leaders of the resistance nodded.
"We must get you out of here," the queen said as she looked at the Sheppard in stasis. "As long as we have the only copy of her mate, we can bargain with her."
"Thanks," John said, unsure of how he should be feeling.
"It is," Kolya added with a wry look at the queen, "also the right thing to do."
The journey back to the Stargate was dangerous. Bio-mechanical Nox-drones and men in the plant-like suits roamed the hillside around the Stargate, protecting it from outsiders. John could see ships in low orbit as they criss-crossed the planet, looking for them. The plan was simple, but like all plans it didn't survive contact with the enemy.
This was how John found himself, in a bizarre twist of fate, standing in front of the Stargate with his sidearm pointed at the Elizabeth of this universe.
"Talk to me," she pleaded, turning huge green eyes onto him. John's heart twisted, but he knew this was not his Elizabeth. Only Lorne in the deadly armor stood between his team and the gate. Up close the helmet was disturbing to him in ways he couldn't quite verbalize. Rodney had likened it to Cthulu but with plants and John couldn't disagree.
The entire universe was backwards and wrong and he wanted to leave.
"You're not my Elizabeth," John said. She wasn't. His Elizabeth hadn't had such long hair. She hadn't worn golden branches with silver leaves and flowers made of jewels. His Elizabeth hadn't worn a skin tight leather dress of dark green with golden filigree.
"Not yours?" She smiled at him and there was a calculating, predatory quality to it. "You chose yours. How interesting," she commented.
"Look, we just want to go home," John said, feeling uncomfortable. He and his Elizabeth hadn't been in a relationship. Things had been too complicated.
"And I just want my husband back. We have many things to do together. Where are they holding him?" Elizabeth asked.
"I don't know. I was blindfolded."
"You're lying," Elizabeth accused as she took a daring step forward. One hand trailed down her body seductively, but John remained focused on her eyes. His Elizabeth's eyes had not been that hard.
The hiss and click of the radio startled the standoff. John and Elizabeth stared at one another as Bates answered.
"Lady? We've recovered him."
John watched Elizabeth's eyes sharpen then become calculating again.
"Maybe I should keep both of you," she mused aloud. Lorne moved out of the corner of his eye and John whirled and fired, unable to shoot her even here.
"Go through the gate!" he ordered.
John ran dodging the falling Lorne. Ronon hauled a staggering Rodney to his feet and shoved him through the gate. John leapt through the gate after Teyla and prayed they'd be in a safer universe this time.
Hail to the Queen
John staggered out of the gate and lost his balance. His arms wind milled as he staggered down a metal ramp. He caught the railing and stared in confusion at Sergeant Walter Harriman.
They were surrounded by men and women in uniform. They had a combination of Zats, rifles and staff weapons trained on them. John looked around and held up his hands. His team followed his lead and lifted their hands as well.
"How'd we get to the SGC?" John asked.
"I don't know, but this isn't our SGC," Rodney said as he warily looked at the ring of armed soldiers closing in around them.
"Gee, how can you tell?" John asked sarcastically.
"Well the whole extended cavern thing sort of gave it away," Rodney retorted. The sound he made as someone took his computer was nearly a whimper.
John looked around and for the first time saw the gate room had been extended. The walls were gone on either side and it was much higher. Above the conference room window were heavy blast doors on several levels. The new walls were grey and oddly crystalline.
John and his team were relieved of their weapons, their wrists bound and then they ushered through the halls. Where John was sure there had once been a wall there was a rounded corridor in the same crystal.
"They used Tok'ra crystals to extend the base," Rodney said as they walked.
John had been listening to the one-sided radio chatter. "What?" he asked.
"They used the Tok'ra crystals to extend the base!"
"That's what this is?" John asked.
"Yes. But the SGC was nearly a thirty story building inside a mountain aside from the publicly known buildings NORAD was in. Those are all one to three stories and there were fifteen of them. What could they possibly need more room for?" Rodney asked aloud. "Oh."
They passed onto a walkway that extended from the old SGC building into an entirely newly excavated space. It was as if the entire mountain had been hollowed out by the crystals.
The SGC and the other buildings under Cheyenne mountain were exactly that; buildings. The government had hollowed out chambers then built buildings inside of the spaces to insulate them from the shock of earthquakes and nuclear blasts at close range. John could see the NORAD buildings high up on the top of a sheer cliff. Beside them stood the SGC.A lattice of steel and crystal now encased both structures.
The cavernous space was bathed in strange twilight. Aside from the SGC and NORAD buildings, there were a few new ones made out of steel, stone and crystal. The bottom of the cavern was awash in light and what looked like space-age farms under lights. There was huge pipe on the far wall. Water flowed out of it and fell what had to be about twenty stories into an underground lake. There were points of light all around and John realized that they were probably windows into the space.
The walkway they were on was one of many crisscrossing the huge hollowed area. Many lead to a large central structure that looked very Ancient in design, yet was made out of the grey Tok'ra crystal. This place was a little like the Genii cavern that John had been in.
At a crossway with another walkway stood two people John was familiar with. Sam Carter and Stephen Caldwell. John's eyebrows arched as his group drew closer. Both were generals here.
"Sir," John said, when Caldwell's eyes met his. "Ma'am."
"What did you get yourself into this time Sheppard," Caldwell drawled. Sam was eyeing them curiously over the top of her tablet PC. She frowned at Rodney.
"Alternate reality or time travel?" she asked. The pair joined the group travelling across the walkway.
"Alternate reality. Can I have my computer back?" Rodney asked.
"Maybe. We have come across realities where the others, well, they weren't exactly nice," Sam answered. Caldwell was studying the group warily, but seemed to be taking a cue from Sam.
"We just came from one," Rodney complained, rubbing his face with his bound hands as he trudged along. He froze. "You killed me!"
Sam did a double take, blinking huge eyes. "I did?"
"Well the evil you killed the evil me," Rodney explained matter-of-factly.
"Okay. Why?" Sam asked, clearly curious. John spared a glance at Caldwell. He too was relaxed as Carter was. John relaxed marginally. So far so good, but the last universe hadn't exactly instilled in him a deep trust for alternate realities.
"I think the Nox made her kill her own children or something," Rodney said, his bound hands waving off the comment.
"The Nox?" Sam asked, clearly not believing.
"Mirror, Mirror Universe. Complete with evil goatees," Rodney explained. "These are really cutting off the circulation to my hands. Can you please take them off?"
"I can't do that Rodney" she said, shaking her head with a small smile.
"Come on Sam. It's me! It's Rodney. You know I can't fight these guys."
"Nice try McKay. You're all going to see Dr. Lam. Then we'll see about getting you home."
"Thanks," John answered for the group before Rodney could say anything. Instead the scientist huffed, but John was thankful he'd said nothing. The other two in the group were quietly observing around them. No doubt both would have ideas of escape routes should they need them. Something told John they wouldn't.
"Take them to the Infirmary. I'll tell the queen they're here," Sam said to the officer in charge of herding John's team.
"Yes Ma'am," the marine replied.
"Queen?" John asked.
Caldwell grinned. "Queen Elizabeth Weir, Colonel."
"What?" Rodney exclaimed. John blinked. So far this reality was nice, but on the strange side.
Caroline Lam was as professional and pleasant as John remembered from the brief stint at the SGC. John endured her poking and prodding, knowing that if the situation were reversed, or something, well, if there were alternates in his reality, they'd be poked too.
He wanted to see this reality's Elizabeth though. She was some kind of queen here? The royal title fit her somehow, John decided. It certainly made the subtle changes to the uniforms and some of the odd badges some people wore, make sense. He now recognized some people as wearing livery. This universe was friendly but strange.
John's team was shown to something that looked like a suite of VIP quarters. Ronon sprawled on the couch and Teyla settled into a chair. Rodney began pacing and John sat at the small table for a few minutes before exploring the other rooms. He found an empty bathroom and two spartan bedrooms off the main common area. John sighed and wished they'd been given a deck of cards when there was a knock at the door.
Sam peered around the corner and smiled at them as she entered the room. She was carrying Rodney's tablet PC.
"I'm going to steal Rodney," she told John as she handed over the computer. "Elizabeth got waylaid by the prime minister, but she still wants to speak with you."
"Prime minister?" John asked.
Sam nodded. "Do you have a Richard Woolsey in your universe?"
"Yes," John said with a guarded tone.
Sam smiled. "He's not so bad. It used to be Kinsey," she said, face contorting briefly into a sour expression. "Come on," she said to Rodney, jerking her head toward the door. Rodney couldn't leave fast enough.
"Where is the me here, anyway?" John heard Rodney say as the door closed behind them.
John sighed and settled back into his seat. There was another rap at the door. This time Vala peeked in.
"Hello, hello!" she sang out.
Vala was wearing a black power suit, except the jacket and pants were made of leather.
"I'm here to take you to see Elizabeth," she sad to John. She smiled brightly at Ronon and Teyla, "and so you two don't get bored, I've managed to convince some friends to be your personal guards."
She pushed open the door revealing Teal'c and Cam Mitchell. Mitchell waved a hand in greeting.
"I didn't think you'd like to be stuck in here for hours," she said with a shrug.
"Thank you," Teyla said, inclining her head.
"Come on, Elizabeth only has so much time to spare. She has a planet to run. Well, you know. Come on." She turned on her heel and left.
John quickly got up and made eye contact with Ronon and Teyla.
"We will be fine, John," Teyla assured him. John hurried after Vala, catching up with her just down the hall by what looked like an Elevator.
"Er, why does Elizabeth only have so much time?"
"Well, she's the queen now," Vala explained as she stabbed at the call button for the elevator. John's guard stood a respectful distance away.
"Yeah, people have mentioned that. What exactly does that mean?" John asked.
"Well, Earth was a bit of a mess. She was in charge of the SGC and we ended up being the ones least affected by the attack," Vala told him as she continued to stab at the call button. "I take it your reality wasn't a burning ruin about three years ago?"
"Not exactly," John said.
Vala huffed at the elevator. "I don't see why we don't have rings everywhere," she groused at the machine.
The elevator arrived and they got in with the guard. The unit was glass and ran on the outside of the central structure. They went up several floors and John watched as people moved between the underground gardens and between buildings. The elevator slowed when they reached their destination. The doors slid open and Vala led him down more Atlantis-like hallways.
"I haven't decided if I am happy to see you or not," Vala commented as they walked. "You're stationed in Atlantis with the General and we haven't been able to contact them," Vala told him.
"What happened?" John asked.
"We don't know. The Daedalus hasn't gotten there yet so we haven't heard. Here we are!"
She ended on a cheerful note, her demeanor flipping from serious to smiles so quickly John was caught off balance. She ushered him into a large room dominated by a desk covered by papers and a couple computer monitors. More screens were set into the walls. There was a huge floor to ceiling window that overlooked the cavern.
John, however, was fixated by the person behind the desk. Elizabeth was writing something down on her tablet.
"Give me a minute before the next crisis." She said, holding a finger aloft. "There," she said setting the stylus down. "Vala?" Elizabeth called, looking up for the first time.
John's heart clenched and his gut twisted at the tone of her voice, the way she said his name. There were deep emotions there.
"Not quite," John managed to give her a small smile.
"No. Not quite," Elizabeth acknowledged, her shoulders slumping slightly. She looked at her pen and licked her lips. "Have a seat," she said, waving at the chair in front of her. John slid into the seat and Vala hurried around the other side of the desk. She took some of the papers and folders there and exchanged those for others.
John watched the two interact. John wondered if Vala was some kind of chief of staff here or what. He wanted to know more about this whole queen thing.
Elizabeth looked good here. Her hair was the shorter length it had been during most of their second year in Atlantis. She didn't look as thin as she had the last time he'd seen her. She was very pale though, as if she hadn't seen the sun for months. The lines around here eyes were deeper than he remembered. But then, he wasn't sure if his memory was faulty.
John slouched casually when Elizabeth gave him an apologetic smile. Vala was definitely some kind of chief of staff, given the way they were talking and subjects of discussion John was only half listening to.
The glint of gold on Elizabeth's left hand caught his attention. Interestingly, this Elizabeth was married to someone. John carefully slouched further. He wondered who the lucky guy was. He wasn't here so it couldn't have been him.
It figured the universe where they ended up together, they were both insane.
Vala hurried off with one of Elizabeth's tablet computers and a binder. She closed the door behind her, leaving John alone with Elizabeth except for two well armed guards.
"Hi," John said.
Elizabeth sighed and rubbed at her temple, but she smiled slightly. "Hello. So, tell me. How'd you end up in my universe?"
"Well, we were heading out on a mission. We're based in Atlantis, by the way. One minute we were on our way to a planet Teyla knew of, and then I don't know. We ended up in a Mirror Mirror universe. We barely escaped that one to end up here in the gate room."
"Mirror Mirror?" Elizabeth frowned.
"Like the Star Trek Episode?" John said. Elizabeth smiled and shook her head, indicating she wasn't familiar with it.
John smirked. "Anyway, it was full of opposites. All the good guys were bad, all the bad guys were good, that sort of thing."
"Really?" she asked, amused.
"Yep. We were saved by some Wraith and the Genii, if you can believe it. Jack O'Neill was the evil Emperor of the Milky Way and you and I were his sadistic lackeys in Pegasus."
"Sadistic you say," she mused, arching a brow.
John shrugged. "Speaking of imperiums and royalty and all that. Uh, they mentioned you're the queen. The office has a distinct air of royalty," he said, gesturing at the seal painted onto the floor. "Should I have bowed when I came in?"
Elizabeth smiled and rolled her eyes. "So our realities are different in that aspect?"
"Very," John said, looking down at the corner of her desk.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Nothing that should worry you," John said. Elizabeth's eyes narrowed but she let the comment go. "But you're not queen of the SGC where I come from."
"Of Earth, actually," Elizabeth said with a sardonic smile. "It was a long and winding road that got me here, but, well," she shrugged and indicated the seal on the floor.
"What does your king think of that?" John asked, nodding at the ring. "Or…consort? Concubine? I couldn't help noticed the ring. Of is that another difference."
"They decided he was prince consort," Elizabeth said, twisting the gold band around on her finger with a soft smile. "He thinks it's funny. I'm sure in a few generations everyone will take it painfully seriously. I'm not really comfortable with that but we needed to consolidate ourselves better. I forget who even proposed the idea but I got roped in."
Elizabeth's eyes turned toward the cavern outside the window. "I think people needed something to believe in. The governments were collapsing and no-one wanted a military dictatorship. We're all still figuring it out."
"You okay?" John asked, unsure of the melancholy note in her voice.
"He's on Atlantis. Or was. We should have heard from them two weeks ago," Elizabeth explained.
"Vala mentioned I was on Atlantis too," John said, unsure of how to respond. John's eyes met hers and he wriggled under her appraising look.
"We're not married in your reality, are we?"
"M-Married? No. No we're not," John stuttered. "Uhm no. You're my boss. It- well"
"It wouldn't have been appropriate," Elizabeth concluded with a nod. "Those sorts of regulations went out the window awhile ago, here."
"They did?" John asked. She nodded and rose. John followed her to the window. She touched a control and the doors slid open. A faint breeze came from somewhere and John was surprised to smell some kind of fragrance. He looked around and found some kind of flowering tree under intense lights. There were other foods as well. Most of the cavern floor seemed to be devoted to one kind of food production or another.
"We saved as many as we could," she said. "We packed everyone into the SGC and shoved them through to Beta site for the time being. We had to shut the gate down every 38 minutes and dial out. We fed them through the mountain. I had marines literally shoving people though the gate." She shuddered.
"I had the Daedalus picking up people just ahead of the fires." She shook her head. "They had no idea what was going on. We couldn't care. We just had to keep evacuating people off the planet."
"There were lists. I tried to get the lists done so we could save more. Eventually we had to stop using the lists because the people on them were already dead, so I had the ships pick up anyone who was alive." she said quietly, eyes closed. She braced her hands on the balcony and let her head hang down. John made a move to put a hand on hers but stopped. He bit his lip and made his hand rest on hers.
She looked up and gave him a watery smile of thanks. John got the impression she didn't share this pain with many people.
"After it was over, I had the ships look for survivors. We found some, but not nearly enough." She looked out over the underground farmland. "Beta site wasn't set up to hold that many people. So many of them didn't even believe they were on a different world until the second moon rose," she said with a small laugh. "But the surface," she trailed off with a small shake of her head. "There was nothing left to go back to there."
"Rodney said these were like Tok'ra tunnels?" John asked. Elizabeth nodded.
"They were able to start off small, just tunneling into the rocks of the mountains. Small spaces we could put people. Eventually they were able to make this," she said with a gesture to the expanse. "Some of the seed vaults weren't destroyed and the Asgard have been extremely helpful with replication, hydroponics and life-support technologies. We were able to make food and shelter and bring everyone back here."
"We were looking into Atlantis as a place to expand," she concluded. "The surface won't be safe for another few generations."
"He'll make it back." John told her. She looked up at him.
"Your John. He'll make it back," he assured her.
"Thank you. So what-" She stopped as her watch beeped. She turned off the alarm and gave John the same evaluating look. Smiling with a slightly evil edge, Elizabeth pushed away from the balcony railing.
"Come with me?" she invited.
John followed. Their guards fell in behind them. John looked around as they walked.
"Why does this place look like Atlantis?" he asked.
"General Carter's brother is an architect. He was working with the Tok'ra to help design this place. Sam was showing him some pictures of Atlantis and he realized that the shapes lent themselves well to crystals the Tok'ra use. They decided to start using it as a base."
"It's nice. Maybe I'll suggest the same thing when I get home," John said. Elizabeth smiled and nodded to a pair of guards flanking a door. They greeted her with solemn nods of their own as she, John and their escorts entered the room.
It was a nursery. There were animals painted on the walls and John could make out a pile of stuffed toys in the low lighting. A few rocking chairs were spaced out between cribs and this room was carpeted. A nurse was tending to one of the cribs. She glanced at them, gave them a quick smile then returned her attention to the diaper she was changing.
"I told you the rules on dating went out the window," Elizabeth said softly. John nodded mutely. He wasn't sure he liked where this was going, but he wasn't able to stop it.
"We needed to start having children if we were going to exist as a civilization," Elizabeth continued. She stopped by one of the cribs and reached down to pull aside the blanket.
A little boy with messy hair squirmed toward wakefulness with a pout John knew only too well. He'd seen it in pictures and occasionally in the mirror. He was rooted to the spot as Elizabeth picked up the sleepy child with his ears.
"This is Thomas," she introduced. She placed a kiss on his forehead. "He's four and a half months old."
The baby opened sleepy eyes and focused on John.
"Hi," John said, feeling strange. The boy blinked and shifted with an uncomfortable expression.
"I need to feed him if you don't mind." Elizabeth tentatively explained while she swayed slightly to rock the baby.
"Okay," John said. "Should I go?"
"Only if you're uncomfortable," Elizabeth said. "My days so booked, Vala had to squeeze you in during feeding time." She blushed slightly. "I thought you'd be you even if you weren't exactly my John. I thought maybe we might even have a child in another reality, so what harm could it do?" she admitted.
She picked up a shawl from a table near the crib and walked over to the rocking chairs. She sat down in on and situated herself to feed the baby. John sat in one of the chairs opposite her.
"What happened to me?" she asked when Thomas was settled under the shawl.
"What?" John asked.
"In your reality. Something happened to me."
John sighed and leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs. "There isn't an Elizabeth in my reality anymore."
He watched Elizabeth let out a slow breath then nod. She bit her lip and the hold on her son got tighter for a second.
"What happened?" she asked.
John rubbed the back of his neck. He didn't want to relive this. Seeing the first alternate Elizabeth had reopened the wound. Seeing this Elizabeth nursing his alternate's son had poured salt on it, John thought. Maybe it even poured gas on it and lit it all on fire.
"Do you have the Asurans here? Ancient-made replicators" John asked. Elizabeth shook her head.
"Good. Don't do a preemptive strike on them if you ever do find them."
"Okay," Elizabeth said, drawing the word out.
John took a deep breath then told her how his Elizabeth had died.
He opened his eyes and only then realized he'd closed them. She was looking thoughtful but gazing off into the corner of the room.
The squeak of a toy was the only warning John got before he was hit in the shoulder. The assault was followed by a giggle. John found the toy that had hit him under the next chair over. It was a plush duck.
"Abby," Elizabeth admonished gently, shaking her head and making a gesture with her hand. "No. We don't throw things."
John looked at his assailant. She had brown hair, huge blue eyes and an impish smile. Currently she was using the bars of her crib to help keep her standing more or less steadily.
"Your duckie m'lady," John said as he offered the toy through the bars of the crib. The little girl laughed delightedly and took the plush back, hugging it closely.
"Duckie duckie fly!" she exclaimed. John had definitely seen that smile and those eyes before.
"Sam's daughter?" John asked, turning back to Elizabeth. While his defenses were down he was smacked in the head by the duck.
"And Jack's," Elizabeth added with a smirk.
"Yeah, I get that," John laughed as he reached for the toy.
"Abby," Elizabeth admonished. "No throw."
"No throw," the girl repeated with the same gesture Elizabeth used.
"Right," Elizabeth said nodding. John handed the toy back.
The toy went sailing over John's head and landed near the pile of toys.
"Why don't you play with the turtle Uncle Daniel gave you," Elizabeth said while John retrieved the duck.
"No fly," The girl said, shaking her head with exaggerated slowness.
"She's got you there," John said. "Sea turtles do not fly." He handed the toy back but Abby appeared to have tired of the game. She let go of the bars and plopped back down on her rear to gnaw at the duck.
"She's talking?" John asked.
Elizabeth nodded. "She still mostly signs, but she's talking and putting words together in short sentences."
"Like ducks fly?" John asked.
"Jack and Daniel play a game where they toss the duck around for her," Elizabeth explained. "I don't think she knows what flight is or that the duck is something other than the toy."
"Still, I didn't think kids started to talk until they were older," John said.
"She's on the early side, but Jacob Carter says Sam did the same thing," Elizabeth shrugged. "She's just over a year old."
"You were doing something," John said, repeating the motion. "Signing?"
"Baby signing. Airman Hahn and his wife taught their son. They've taught it to anyone else who wanted to know. Dr. Hahn is one of our pediatricians and she loves it. I don't think it hurts."
"Are you and your John going to?" John asked.
"He's already learned. I'm still trying to pick it up." Elizabeth shifted so she could burp the baby. "I was skeptical but it actually works so," she shrugged and fixed her top under the shawl. John looked back over at Abby who was quietly babbling to herself and playing with some kind of puzzle affixed to the crib's walls. The toy had a very Jaffa look to it.
"General O'Neill's on Atlantis too."
"And they just found out they have another on the way," Elizabeth added.
John watched Elizabeth watch Abby. It was easier than watching her son, he found.
"And her birthday was when?" John asked.
"A few days before the expedition left for Atlantis," Elizabeth said with sadness.
"Kinda close," John said, changing the topic.
"Abby took awhile. They thought a second would take as long so they started trying very soon. It didn't take as long for her to get pregnant again," Elizabeth said with a small smirk. She grinned at her own child, "And none of us let them hear the end of it," she assured him in a sing-song voice. The baby burbled happily. John chuckled.
"So that's the heir apparent?" John teased. Elizabeth nodded and settled Thomas against her shoulder.
"Yes, poor thing. He gets saddled with everything unless he gets a sibling. Then he could abdicate." She brushed gentle fingers though Thomas' hair.
"How exactly is it all working out anyway?" John asked.
"Not easily but we're getting there." She nuzzled the baby and stroked his back.
"I wasn't sure about kids at first. I have so much to do and there are so many unknowns but we needed to start having children. And I don't just mean us as a society. We specifically did if we were going to have any chance of the new government lasting."
She rocked the chain slightly. "And y- John is so sweet with them." She smiled wryly. "Even when I was about to kill him, he was sweet and supportive."
"Yeah?" John asked. Nancy hadn't wanted kids for a number of reasons and John had been young and enjoying just being a couple. He figured it wasn't in the cards and wasn't going to dwell on it.
"I think Jack coached him a bit. Doesn't matter, though. He's still wonderful." She dropped her eyes. "Thank you for staying."
"Sure," John said.
Elizabeth adjusted Thomas in her arms, but John got the idea that she was stalling. "He's usually here with me," Elizabeth said. "John is. We decided this was family time. We're both so busy, and Vala determined that I should have a quiet moment to nurse. It seemed like a good idea for just the three of us to be together quietly."
"It must be hard with him away," John commented.
Elizabeth nodded and continued to rock silently.
The door opened. Both looked up as a tired-looking Sam walked in. She tugged out her pony tail and ran a hand through her hair with a sigh.
"Mama!" Abby reached up to be held.
"We think you've got a way home," Sam told John as she picked up her daughter. She sank into one of the unoccupied chairs to cuddle. Abby tucked her head under Sam's chin contentedly. Sam let out a long sigh and relaxed into the padded seat.
Now that John knew she was expecting he looked for signs that she was showing. The BDUs she wore were fairly concealing however, and Abby blocked much of John's view as well.
"Rodney's collecting Teyla and Ronon," Sam explained as she set the chair to rock slightly. "Bill's triple checking the equations we put into the dialing computer. We loaded some software onto Rodney's tablet that should help in case you get stuck somewhere else." She shrugged, "better safe than sorry."
"Thank you," John said.
Sam nodded. She bit her lip and eyed him then asked, "Are Jack and I together in your reality?"
"Yeah, but no kids though. You're ah, you're actually my CO right now, so it's a very, very long distance relationship" John told her with an apologetic smile.
"Really?" Sam arched a brow, a sparkle in her eyes. "Huh." She turned to look at Elizabeth over Abby's head. "Jack's 29 and 4. There will be no living with him now," she joked.
Elizabeth snickered as she stood. Seeing John's confused look she took pity on him. "Of the alternate realities we've encountered, Jack's been with Sam in all but four," she explained.
There was another knock at the door and Vala entered with an apologetic smile and an armload of paperwork.
"I'm really sorry but these can't wait."
"That's fine" Elizabeth said. "I know I've gotten longer than my usual time this afternoon. Hold him for a moment?" Elizabeth asked John.
"I, uhm, Okay. I don't really,"
"It's easy," Vala chimed in.
Elizabeth carefully handed the sleepy child over and John cautiously took him. Thomas woke a little but was apparently unfazed by John's inexpert handling.
Vala spread the documents out on one of the counters for Elizabeth to read and sign.
John looked down at Thomas, who seemed to be fine with being on his back on John's lap. The kid seemed to okay with John not really being his father. John wondered if he could tell.
John bit his lip. That was weird. This was his alternate's child. With Elizabeth. Who was dead in his reality. John stopped that train of thought, compartmentalizing it. He decided to look at the kid objectively
John thought the kid might be named after Elizabeth's father. It was a good name. Thomas looked like he might have been unfortunate enough to get John's ears, but he seemed to have Elizabeth's nose.
"Sorry for the interruption." Vala apologized again as she collated the papers. "I'll go find Teyla and Ronon," she said on her way out. Elizabeth picked Thomas up and kissed his forehead. John wondered if he was just sleepy or if he was a really laid-back baby.
"Sam?" Elizabeth called over as she put Thomas back down into his crib.
"Yeah?" Sam asked, blinking. John thought she looked as if she might have been falling asleep.
"Take Abby home and take the rest of the day off," Elizabeth told her while she pulled the blanket back over Thomas. Clearly it was an order. Sam scowled, but John could tell she wasn't going to protest too much. She looked worn out.
"Lady Abigail and I will see their royal highnesses for dinner?" Sam teased. Elizabeth gave her a mock-dirty look but nodded.
"Daddy's with Uncle John," Sam explained. Abby looked over at John then back at her mother with a confused expression.
Sam laughed softly.
"I think she's a bit young for Quantum theory," Elizabeth commented.
Sam grinned back at her then tickled Abby's sides. "Can you say Quan-tum Me-chan-ics?" she asked, enunciating the syllables
"Starting her down the path of science early?" John mused archly.
"Darn right," Sam said. "Want to go see the Stargate?" she asked.
"That's right," Sam assured her as she stood.
"Let's go before Richard hunts me down and drags me off to another meeting with the agriculture guild," Elizabeth suggested.
"Vala will tackle him to the ground," Sam assured her.
"She's started sparring with Teal'c," Sam told her.
"Really?" Elizabeth sounded surprised and amused.
"She's getting to be pretty good at it too. It's making Daniel nervous as hell," Sam said, sharing a smirk with Elizabeth.
The women continued to chat as they walked down the halls. John distracted himself by making faces at Abby who watched him over Sam's shoulder. They arrived in the gateroom just as Vala, Teal'c, Cam and Daniel were escorting the rest of his team. They were given their weapons and tac vests back.
John waved bye to Abby as Sam ascended to the control room and pointedly ignored Rodney's confused look. Elizabeth folded her hands on front of her and watched him suit up.
"Good luck," she said, quietly.
"Thanks," John said as he checked his gear. Behind him, the gate spun up and Walter called out the chevrons.
"He'll be back," John said as the gate connected behind him. "He'll be back."
Elizabeth nodded. He could see hope in her eyes under the calm mask. "You better go."
John nodded and led his team up the ramp thought the Stargate.
Am I blue?
Atlantis was dark and warm. This was the first thing John noticed. He thought for a moment they might be underwater but then he remembered how cool Atlantis had been when they'd first arrived, and dismissed that notion.
Ronon drew his gun, the weapon making a high pitched whine as it charged.
"Is the power out or something?" Rodney complained as he pulled out his computer.
"Something tells me we're not home yet," John groused as he pulled his sidearm.
"What was your first clue?" Rodney asked irritably.
"Well the dim lights and warm temperature are unusual, but the blue people with scales are the real give away," John said.
"Blue? What?" Rodney looked up. Several people in various states of dress and clothing type held weapons in the shadows. Eerie reflective eyes watched them in silence.
"Hi," John said, a bit unsurely. He looked over at Ronon and Teyla and held his hands off his gun. "Look, uh, we're just trying to get home and it looks like we got a wrong number. Again."
"I'm working on it," Rodney hissed under his breath.
The figures surrounded them, resolving into faces John was almost familiar with. John's stomach churned as he recognized the blue skin and scales. He'd looked like that after Ellia had infected him.
"They look like-" Rodney started to say.
"When JOhn was infected?" Teyla responded. "They do."
"Look, we're from an alternate reality," John said again. "We just want to go home. Sorry for barging in like this. We'll just be on our way."
Teyla groaned, at hand at her temple as she fell to her knees.
"Teyla," John called moving to cover her. There was a burst of movement in the darkness out of the corner of his eye. John recognized his own face a moment before he felt a sharp pain and he saw stars.
John woke up with a throbbing headache. He groaned and sat up slowly.
"Everyone alive?" he asked.
"More or less," Ronon answered.
"How long have we been here? John asked. He checked his write and found his watch, answering his own question. He'd been a couple hours if his watch could be believed.
"They grabbed McKay. Said they were going to find us a way home. Teyla's still out of it," Ronon reported.
Teyla groaned much as John had.
"Never mind," Ronon added. John helped Teyla sit up. She winced and rubbed at her temples.
"You okay? John asked.
"I am fine. There is a lot of mental chatter. I can't make out what they are saying but it is not an entirely pleasant sensation," Teyla told him. "Where is Rodney?"
"Ronon said he got dragged off to help us get home, supposedly."
The door opened and Rodney was shoved inside.
"You okay?" John asked.
"They said I was slowing them down!" Rodney protested. There were a number of chairs in the room. Rodney walked over and sat down in one. "And they took my laptop."
"So what do we do?" Ronon asked. "I searched the place. Didn't find any way of escaping."
"Like back home?"
"Like back home."
"I guess we wait and see if they really mean they're gonna send us home," John said. He slouched in one of the chairs. Ronon didn't look happy. He resumed pacing the perimeter of the room. John was fairly sure he wasn't going to find anything, but it would keep him occupied.
John watched the observation glass. Iratus Ronon and Iratus John arrived. John ducked below the window then picked up a little girl with messy curls and Elizabeth's nose. Iratus John began to point them out as if he were taking his daughter to a zoo. John rolled his eyes. He was with Elizabeth here too, it seemed. Eventually the little girl got bored and the John was led away. Ronon left in the other direction a few minutes later.
Hours later the door opened and Elizabeth walked in, flanked by both her John and Lorne, with her Ronon brining up the rear.
John looked over at his Ronon. The Satedan was tense, his jaw set and disgust plainly evident. The other Ronon regarded his human counterpart with a lazy contempt. Elizabeth sat down in one of the unoccupied chairs across from John. The other Ronon began to lazily pace in a circle around the group. John saw his teammate tense.
"Think maybe you could ask him to leave?" John said, nodding to indicate Iratus Ronon. "I don't want and problems and I don't think you do either," he told Elizabeth.
She regarded him with unblinking alien eyes then nodded once. Iratus Ronon stopped, smirked at his counterpart then sauntered from the room.
"Thanks," John said.
Elizabeth reclined back in her chair. She watched for a moment then held out a hand. John pulled a small cell phone sized device out of a pocket and handed it to her. Elizabeth flipped it open and began to type, thumbs flying over the keys.
"You will not return," the device stated. "You will leave. You will not interfere with us again."
"Not on purpose," John assured her. "We're not going to try and come back to mess up the-" John waved vaguely. "The whatever you have going."
Elizabeth studied him for a moment, tilting her head to one side. John rubbed the back of his neck.
"Did you need anything else from us?" he asked.
Elizabeth's reaction was a slow, heated smile and to look at him up and down. John coughed and shifted in his seat. He noticed that his counterpart was appraising him as well and felt distinctly uncomfortable.
"A pity," she typed into the box. "Rodney says you all have to leave."
"Well if we don't go within 24 to 48 hours, we'll suffer from entropic cascade failure," Rodney broke in.
"Then you should go," Elizabeth's box told them. She stood and handed the box back to her John. She swept from the room, taking him with her.
Lorne waved for the travelers to follow them. John's team trailed after Lorne through the darkened halls of Atlantis, a heavily armed guard followed after the group, ensuring that John and his people didn't do anything.
People watched them from the shadows of the hallways, but John couldn't make out who they were. There was a quiet chittering here and there, but otherwise the only sound was their feet on the floor.
They arrived in the Gate room and Elizabeth motioned for the team to have their weapons and equipment returned to them. John and his team said nothing. The locals didn't either, communicating telepathically with one another and with silent gestures to his team.
John clipped his gun back to his vest and thought of something. His counterpart was standing behind Elizabeth who'd ascended to her customary place on the walkway. They were entwined together, watching John's team leave.
"One thing," he called up to his counterpart. The other John arched a brow and picked his chin off of Elizabeth's shoulder.
"If you ever have to fly the city, don't let her stand near any open windows or someplace high," John told him. "It's a rough ride."
Elizabeth tilted her head to the side a fraction, confused. The other John seemed to understand. His clawed hands snaked around her middle and pulled her closer. He nodded solemnly back.
"Let's go," John said to his team.
"Thank god," Rodney muttered as he took his computer back from his own counterpart. "This place is giving me the creeps."
John looked one last time at the couple on the walkway then focused on the Stargate and stepped through the event horizon.
Further off course
John had a fraction of a second to realize something was horribly wrong as he and his team were forcefully expelled through the gate on the other side.
He had a vision of a vast blue sky and an even larger ocean spread out beneath him. There were a few seconds in surreal slow motion as John realized that the plane of water rushing at him was so clear he could see the bottom. Then he hit the surface.
The slap of the water stung and took his breath away. John twisted, disoriented, before he began kicking towards the surface. The muffled sounds of other people splashing into the sea told John that Teyla, Ronon and Rodney had all come through the gate at least. John broke through the surface with a coughing gasp. The rest of his team close behind.
"You guys okay?" John asked as he treaded the water. His gear was dragging him down and he couldn't see a shore. John thought about ditching it, but he had no idea where they were. John looked around for the Stargate. The gate seemed to be able to float on water.
"Head for the gate," John said as he began to swim. "Kick off the boots and take off your tac-vest if you need to." He'd keep his, but he wasn't going to prevent anyone else from removing theirs.
Where the hell had the bug-people sent him?
The gate was floating on the water, held up by a ring of odd-looking buoys which went around the edge. Larger buoys with old, tattered flags were at three points around the gate, to stabilize it. It was the weirdest configuration John had ever seen a Stargate in.
John wrapped an arm around one of the circumference floats and sighed. He rested for a moment as his team joined him in using the Stargate as a giant life preserver. John hoisted himself up so he could sit on the ring. If the gate activated he could slip off and not get hit by the Kawoosh. After a moment, Ronon hauled himself up. He carefully walked over to one of the three stabilizers and began scanning the horizon. Rodney climbed onto the ring with a hand from Teyla.
"You okay McKay?" John asked. Rodney had been quiet so far, which told John that he'd been busy with other things, like surviving. As soon as McKay started to complain, John would feel much better.
"Fine," Rodney huffed as he draped himself along the ring. "Just fine. I think everything electronic we have is probably dead. I still have the computer for all the good it will do," he held the device aloft. It tumbled out of his trembling hands. Teyla dove in after it and grabbed it before it could sink too far.
"Why don't these vests have flotation devices?" Rodney groused as he took the waterlogged computer from Teyla. "I mean, we live in a city on an ocean. You'd think they'd include something."
"You could take it off," John commented. He tugged off his boots, tied the laces together and draped them on either side of the ring of buoys.
"The gate was here and who knows where the hell we've ended up," Rodney pointed out. John nodded. He'd come to much the same conclusion and was glad Rodney had had the same survival instincts.
"Find anything?" John asked Ronon.
"Looks like there's an island over there," he replied, pointing in the direction of a low stretch of green on the edge of the horizon.
"Think we can make the Stargate a raft? Get there?" John asked Rodney.
"Maybe? Aside from the fact that we could all be killed by the inner ring if it activates, we seem to be okay here. Let me think on it," Rodney replied. John nodded.
"I have observed many fish," Teyla reported as she looked over the edge of the Stargate into the crystal clear waters. She met John's eyes. "However we do not have any fresh water."
"Well, sushi isn't so bad for dinner," John commented. Teyla was right about the water though. He'd had everyone take an ocean survival course. It only made sense since Atlantis was in the middle of one. Food was fine but they needed water to survive. "Anyone have any containers or their emergency thermal blanket? Maybe we can make a solar still from seaweed."
John looked up and saw Ronon motioning him over. He carefully crawled around the ring of the Stargate then carefully joined Ronon at the buoy. The tattered white flags had had some kind of design on them at one point, but John couldn't make out much more than some curvy lines.
"Looks like a ship," Ronon said, pointing to the horizon. John nodded. A huge sail had appeared where the sea met the sky. John squinted and tried to judge the distance and size before finally giving up. Whoever it was, they were coming in fast.
"Company," Ronon said. He leaned against the stabilizer and checked his gun. John crawled back to McKay who'd propped himself up against another stabilizer, well away from potential death by Kawoosh. Teyla sat nearby with her feet dangling over the edge on the outside. She was going through the pockets of Rodney's vest.
"Can you get this thing working?" John asked. Rodney held up the laptop's back panel and watched seawater drain from the interior. "Guess not, huh."
"If I can get it dry and if there isn't too much salt, maybe." Rodney said. "But that's going to take hours. It was a good thing this was off before we went through or I'm sure it would have been completely destroyed. I'm not sure it will work at all but there's at least a chance."
"It looks like we're going to get some company," John said.
"What, like pirates?"
John shrugged. "No idea."
"Maybe they won't come this way," Rodney suggested.
"Maybe," John allowed. The sail on the horizon continued to grow.
The ship was huge, John thought as he warily watched it sail up to the Stargate. It slowed as it approached. John could see a number of people moving around on deck and in the rigging. There was a large group collecting at one of the craft's longboats and John watched as the smaller boat was launched.
John sat and waited for the group to arrive. Ronon was deceptively relaxed against one buoy, Teyla against another. Her P-90 was waterlogged, but it was clearly a weapon. Rodney had lost his to the sea and John had his casually across his lap. Rodney was hidden around the other side of Teyla's stabilizer buoy, trying to coax his computer back to life.
The longboat pulled up and John was surprised to see Lorne. Well, the man in charge seemed to be Lorne at least. The other man looked at John with a mixture of confusion and surprise and not a little bit of suspicion.
"Hi!" John greeted. "We seem to have once again fallen into the wrong reality."
"Wrong reality?" The Lorne of this universe asked, curious.
John tried to stay both relaxed and on top of the Stargate's ring. The sea shifted him around, making the task difficult. "Yep. You wouldn't be able to give us a hand getting home by any chance, would you?" John asked.
Lorne looked at John then Ronon then Teyla. His eyebrows lifted and John looked over his shoulder to see Rodney peeking around the corner. Rodney shuffled around, seeing he was caught. He clutched the laptop to his chest. John saw the screen was still dark. He looked back at Lorne and hoped this version was like the counterpart in John's universe.
"We could really use a hand," he told him.
Lorne looked the group over once more and motioned the rowers to move the longboat next to the floating Stargate. He smirked as he offered John a hand into the boat. "We'll see what we can do."
"Great, I'm Colonel John Sheppard." John noticed Lorne's smirk deepen for just a moment.
"Evan Lorne," he replied, shaking hands.
"Rodney McKay. Teyla Emmagen. Ronon Dex," John said, pointing to each in turn.
The trip back to the ship was largely uneventful. They hadn't been asked for their weapons, but then John was pretty sure they knew they'd be waterlogged and useless. The small crew in the boat weren't people he recognized, but they kept giving him strange looks. John wondered if he had a doppelganger here too.
The boat was hoisted back onto the deck and John was surprised to see a small generator of some kind doing most of the lifting. He wasn't surprised that the operator was the Rodney McKay of this reality. The other McKay was covered in smudges and his clothes had small burnt holes. His hair was tied back in a messy ponytail and he was completely focused on the generator which whined and clanked. He didn't seem to be mistreated, just unkempt.
Ronon prodded Rodney's shoulder as he watched the other McKay with a grin. John could feel his own smile of anticipation grow.
"What?" Rodney asked irritably. He'd begun to try and work on the laptop again during the crossing.
The Rodney at the generator looked up sharply as Ronon once again poked his McKay.
"What is your problem?" McKay snapped and looked around. His eyes met the other Rodney's and the two stared at one another. McKay grunted and stowed the stylus of his laptop. "Well," he said as he eyed the scruffy McKay on the deck, "At least Sam didn't kill me in this reality," he grumped.
"Why would Sam kill me?" the other Rodney demanded. John's group got out of the boat with helping hands from the crew on deck. "And why do you look and sound like me?" the other Rodney asked once they were onboard.
"I wouldn't mind knowing that, too," a voice drawled from the stairs. Jack O'Neill, or at least this universe's version leaned against the stairwell. John noticed that his clothes were nicer than most of the rest of the crew. His outfit was much less haphazard and he had a hat which screamed "pirate" to John. However it was the sure-fingered hand which casually rested on the hilt of a sword which concerned John the most.
"Sir," John said as he straightened slightly. O'Neill might not be a general here, but he was clearly in charge.
"Sam! Why would you kill me?" pirate Rodney asked the person standing in Jack's shadow. Sam Carter ducked around O'Neill to look at John's group curiously. She wore her hair short in this universe and her clothing, while neat had some working smudges like Rodney's.
"Well, I wouldn't do it on purpose," she teased the scruffy Rodney. The other man rolled his eyes.
"I said I was sorry for the incident with the powder kegs!"
Sam snickered and pat Rodney's shoulder in a sisterly way. "So, who are you?" she asked John's group.
"And why do you look like me?" pirate Rodney demanded to know. O'Neill stood next to his people and John became aware that his team was surrounded.
"He said he was from an alternate reality," Lorne added. He stood in the boat, one leg casually resting on the edge.
"Well if they used the wells, that could be something," Sam mused.
"Did you know they could do that?" Rodney asked her. She shook her head. "I wonder where else they go then," Rodney pondered aloud.
"Look, we just want to go home. I-" John stopped when they were joined on deck by two more people, the version of himself in this reality and also their Elizabeth.
His alternate was dressed very nicely, but his clothing didn't seem entirely appropriate for life on a ship. John wondered if the other John was a passenger. He was also casually fingering his sword hilt. Elizabeth was wearing men's clothing like Sam was, but her hair had been pulled into a hasty ponytail. If John had known his Elizabeth less intimately, he might have missed the slightly mussed look. He wondered if this was yet another reality where they were together.
"Well," Jack said, turning to Sam, "Today has been far more interesting than I expected it to be." His hand finally left his sword hilt and John could feel the crew relax around him. Sam smirked as he thread an arm around her waist.
"Mr. Wallace," Jack said, gesturing vaguely to Elizabeth, "let's get our visitors dry and get them some food then hear what they have so say."
Elizabeth's eyes flicked to the group briefly before she looked back at Jack and nodded. "Will do," she replied.
Wallace? John wondered as his team was lead off into the ship.
Food turned out to be some stew and they were able to hang up their soaked clothing. Elizabeth saw they were all given some dry things to wear, clearly from the ship's stores.
John felt extremely plain sitting across the table from his counterpart. John wasn't much of a judge of clothing, but he could tell the other man was wearing fine things.
"So are you a passenger?" John asked. The other John smirked as he lounged against the table.
"No. I've recently had a change in occupation," the other John told him evasively.
"Yeah?" John prompted.
"Okay. So what do you do around here?" John pressed. This was, by far, the weirdest reality. The highest technology they had seen had been the generator the local Rodney had been using. John wasn't yet panicked about returning home, but he was concerned.
"Turns out I'm a pretty fair navigator," the other John said, breaking into his counterpart's thoughts. "I had a great deal of free time in my previous job. Well, before I began to run the place," the other John said with a casual shrug. "I read a lot."
John peered at his finely dressed doppelganger. "What did you do?"
"I was a gentleman companion," The other John told him with another small shrug. "A highly skilled and highly paid one," he added with not a little touch of pride.
John waited to see if the other him was joking.
"You're a whore?" Rodney asked, his jaw dropping. "Oh my god!"
The other John looked mildly affronted.
"Rodney," Teyla called the scientist to task. Rodney chuckled into his stew.
"I could show you, if you like," the other John leered. Surprised, Rodney's head snapped up and his jaw dropped for a second time. His mouth worked silently and the other John sat back in his seat with a smug smirk. "I'll even charge you a fair price."
Rodney's eyes got large and even John was a bit uncomfortable with the naked look of lust on the other John's face. It was really weird to see that look when he wasn't looking in a mirror and it was even more bizarre that the look was focused on Rodney.
Ronon chuckled over his bowl. "He got you."
"What? Oh- For-" Rodney began to bluster which just made Ronon smirk more. Teyla shook her head and left the table for more intelligent conversation. John noticed the amused look on his doppelganger's face, but he wondered how much truth was there as well.
They were interrupted by this reality's Carter and McKay. The two bustled in with a stack of papers and arms filled with notebooks and inkwells.
Sam set her stack down in front of a startled McKay. "We want to know everything," she told him. Rodney blinked owlishly up at her and his alternate self.
"Starting with that," she said, pointing to the laptop still drying on the table.
"I thought we were going to start with everything he knew about combustion engines," the alternate McKay protested.
"Yeah, but I want to know what that thing is first," she said pointing at the laptop. "Don't you?"
John exchanged a look with Ronon and the two stood up, leaving Rodney to his fate. The alternate John quietly got up and followed them.
"So tell me about where you come from," alternate John asked. They were walking on the deck. Alternate John looked up and over as they meandered across the ship. This reality's Elizabeth was speaking with Lorne and the helmsman who was an SGC guy whose name John couldn't remember.
"Well," John began. "I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. Ronon's from Sateda. I'm from the Milky Way galaxy and Ronon's from the Pegasus galaxy. Teyla's from Athos also in Pegasus and Rodney's from Earth like I am. You have no idea what I'm talking about."
"Not really," the other John shrugged. He looked over at Ronon. "I haven't met you yet, not Teyla. I haven't heard Athos or Sateda either. Jack might have. You could ask him."
Ronon shrugged. "I'm not planning on staying here long," he said.
Alternate John shrugged and rocked on his heels. A breeze picked up and the sails overhead snapped full. John watched himself close his eyes against the breeze with a look of peace.
"So," John began, "Why'd he called Elizabeth Mr. Wallace?"
"You have an Elizabeth, too?" alternate John asked him.
"We did," John admitted. He sat on a crate. The other John leaned against the railing.
"Since the invasion, woman have had to take more subservient roles. She and Sam dress like men when we're in port."
"And when you're sailing?" John prompted.
"Everyone's mister. It makes it easier," he nodded in the direction of Teyla who was now conversing with the local Elizabeth. "You had her and she was obviously a solider. Obviously you weren't going to balk at our first mate or shipwright."
"Obviously," John muttered. "Wallace?"
"She's Simon Wallace in town. A doctor of some skill, actually. Though, between you and me, I believe she's far happier on the sea than in surgery."
John grimaced at that image. He wondered if there was a Carson around here or not. Simon had been the name of the man she'd had a relationship with on Earth. He wondered if she'd assumed the name here because Simon had been here as well, or if it was one of those weird coincidences alternate realities seemed to be full of.
"You said had."
"What?" John asked, looking up. His counterpart was studying him.
"You said you had an Elizabeth."
John frowned at the water as it swept by. He nodded once.
"There was an accident," John told the other man. "She didn't make it."
The other John frowned then looked at his Elizabeth. John followed his gaze.
She looked well. She was more tan here than she had been. Her hair was pulled into a tight pony tail. Clearly she'd fixed the earlier attempt. She was thin, her cheeks sharp, but her eyes up close sparkled. She'd bound her chest and wore men's style clothing. He supposed she could pass for a man if she tried.
She was…relaxed, John decided. Well and truly relaxed on the open sea.
"You know, its no fair," the other John commented.
"It was a week or so before I got my sea legs. You haven't been sick once," he joked.
John smirked at him. "I live in a city on the sea and I'm a fighter pilot. A ship isn't going to make me sick."
"You're a what?"
"Gentlemen," Jack O'Neill said, joining the two Johns.
"Sir," John said. He started to slide off his seat but Jack waved him back.
"I take it I have a counterpart in your reality?"
"Yes sir. You're a general in the Air Force. Colonel Carter's currently my CO."
"A general and Colonel eh?" Jack mused with a small smile. "I'll have to tell Sam that. She'll get a kick out of me being an officer in the military. The air force?"
"What, pray tell, is an air force. I assume it has something to do with both air and force of the military kind?"
"We fly fighter planes, cargo planes, helicopters," John began. Jack grinned.
"We fly? Now that is something. Definitely going to have to tell Sam and McKay that one."
John told the men a little about his life. He recounted the alternate realities that they'd encountered so far. The men told John about this universe, the invasions, the wells, the life at sea. Some of it was pretty fantastic. It certainly explained the why they'd accepted his story so easily.
The sun set and dinner was passed around. John ate, listening to the locals talk. Elizabeth wandered down from her place by the helm and sat next to her John. He put an arm around her shoulder and she let her head rest against his shoulder.
The stars came out and most people went below decks to sleep while some others came up for the night watch. Jack stood and stretched.
"I believe it is time to retire. If you don't mind, I'm going to rescue your McKay from Sam," Jack said.
"It'd be a good idea for me to check in on him," John said. Alternate John and Elizabeth rose as well.
"We'll be turning in too," John said.
They followed Jack back down into the mess. The scientists were deep in discussion about something. Their books and pages were spread over the table as they wrote down equations. Both Rodney McKays were gesturing wildly with their hands as they discussed some point or other. Carter was scribbling down careful notes as they spoke. It was all too excited and too technical for John to really follow.
Jack watched the group for a moment with a bemused smile. He stood behind Sam and plucked the quill out of her hands.
"Hey!" she protested, quickly reaching for another.
"Sam," Jack called.
"I'm almost done," she said as the new pen dipped into the ink well then flew across the page.
Jack sighed and set the stolen pen down. It was immediately grabbed by his McKay who began to write out something for John's Rodney. Jack slipped one hand around either side of Sam and groped her.
"Time for bed," he growled into her ear.
She straightened in her chair, surprised. She held the pen up in the air as Jack's hands kneaded her breasts. Her head fell to one side as Jack began to kiss her neck. Sam set the pen down and slid her notebook down the table at her McKay. By now the McKays had noticed the little show. John's Rodney looked shocked but alternate Rodney smirked.
"Take good notes," she ordered, taking her fingers off the book.
Her Rodney saluted jauntily. "I always make excellent notes."
Sam snorted at him but let herself be helped off the bench. Jack's hand was down the back of her pants, pulling her to his side with a grip on her ass. She grinned and playfully smacked him.
"Night," she said, winking at both John and her version of John and Elizabeth. The two continued down the hall, playfully groping one another like teenagers.
"Are they always like that?" John asked his alternate self.
"Only all the time," Elizabeth replied, clearly amused. "We only have so much space, so you four will have to share. I showed Teyla and Ronon where you'll be bunking already," Elizabeth told him.
"Thanks. Think he can find his way?" John asked of Rodney. Elizabeth looked around then nodded. The two were already talking again.
"I think so."
John followed Elizabeth through the ship. There was a small room with four hammocks. Teyla and Ronon had already claimed two, but weren't quite asleep yet.
"Good night," Elizabeth said, the slipped down the hall with her own John.
John sank into the lower hammock then realized he didn't want a sleepy McKay climbing over him in the night. He climbed into the higher one and kicked off the boots he'd been given.
"Our clothes should be dry by morning," Teyla said. "How are the Rodney's doing with finding us a way home?"
"Not entirely sure," John said. "He and the other one are still talking."
"Then we will find out in the morning."
John stared at the ceiling for hours, his mind wandering. Why were all of these realities so different? Were they getting further from home instead of closer? Did they somehow not have a reality to go home to? Why was there an Elizabeth in all of these realities but not his own. Was his reality the exception? Was the universe taunting him or was he reading into things too much. John finally was able to find some sleep just before dawn.
John swatted at the insect tickling his nose. It returned and John smacked at it again. The bed shifted under him nearly tipping him out.
Ronon. Ship. Hammock. Alternate realities. Right.
John glared at Ronon who grinned. "Come on. Rondey thinks he's really got the way home this time."
"What time is it," John asked.
"A bit after 10," Ronon said. He had John's clothes bunched in one hand. "These are dry."
"Why didn't you wake me," John asked as he carefully got out of the hammock and began to change.
"Teyla said not to. Said you were tossing and turning all night. We saved you some breakfast," he offered over his shoulder as he exited the small cabin.
John changed quickly and walked back onto the top deck. Elizabeth stood by the helm. His alternate and pirate Jack were looking at something on a table near her. John wandered up, nodding at Lorne who was lounging around with something that smelled suspiciously like coffee.
"Good morning," Elizabeth said as John passed by. John nodded.
"Finally awake in time to head home," Jack quipped. "Breakfast?" he offered, gesturing to a tin plate of biscuits on the table. John took one and nibbled around the sides.
"Your McKay and mine are working on something," he nodded in the direction of the mid-deck where there seemed to be a great deal of activity going on around the generator.
"Are we back at the gate? The dragonwell?" John asked.
"We're at a different one," Elizabeth answered.
"The one here, to be precise," alternate John added, pointing at a spot on the map spread out on the table. John didn't have the first clue of how to read a nautical map and nodded, taking his counterpart's word for it.
John finished his biscuit and wandered off to find Teyla. The odd looks their Elizabeth kept giving him were beginning to become uncomfortable. Teyla stood, leaning on the railing at the front of the ship.
She smiled softly and shifted to one side, making room for him at the railing. John nodded silently. Clouds had gathered in the west and were sweeping down on them quickly. John watched them come as the ship sailed toward the gate. He wondered if they'd be leaving before the storm hit. Teyla put a calming hand on his shoulder. They stood and watched the horizon as the ship continued on.
Eventually it slowed as it came upon another gate and buoy contraption in the water. The sky was dark and the wind had picked up. John was nervous but the crew didn't seem to be too bothered.
Rodney and Rodney were another story.
"If we don't hurry, the rain will start and it might short circuit the generator," his McKay told him. John nodded.
"You've got to go now," Jack said, holding out a hand. "I hope you get home."
"Thank you sir. Good luck to you as well."
His alternate stopped him by the railing. "Good luck."
John shook his hand and looked back at Elizabeth who was watching the helm. "Watch out for her," he told his alternate. The other man nodded and John swing over the side of the long boat.
The sea was becoming choppy and there were occasional raindrops now. The local Rodney had run cables to the Stargate and Rodney was plugged in with his laptop.
"Got it!" he called out. He unplugged his computer and held onto the upright buoy as the gate dialed and kawooshed outwards, shooting a column of water into the air. "Jump in!" he said when the event horizon had stabilized. He stepped top the edge of the gate and jumped in, not knowing where the floor would be on the other side.
Lorne gave John a helping hand to the edge of the gate as well. John looked back and saw that Ronon and Teyla were right behind him. A wave crested and John called out a warning. Lorne and his crew, fell back, clinging to their boat. John nodded to teyla and Ronon., the three let the wave carry them into the event horizon.
Almost but not quite
The wave pushed them out of the Stargate onto the floor in Atlantis. John gasped, soaked again. Ronon and Teyla had landed in a heap on McKay who was protesting.
"Everyone okay?" John asked, wiping saltwater out of his face.
"I believe I am okay," Teyla said as she helped Ronon to his feet. John staggered upright and reached down to help her haul Rodney to his feet as well.
"Are we home yet?" John asked, looking around. It looked like Atlantis. There was a surprised Chuck, and there was a startled Xiao. He waved at Colonel Carter who looked at him curiously for a moment before speaking into her radio.
She looked across the bridge. John followed her eyes and groaned as he saw himself and Elizabeth leave her office. John sighed and shook his head as he looked at the floor.
"You really need to stop doing this, Sheppard."
John's head snapped up and he saw a man he hadn't seen in more than four years. The last time He'd seen Marshall Sumner, he'd shot him. Here he stood at the top of the steps in the gate room.
Sumner descended, looking more amused than anything. John stared dumbly and fought the strange urge to come to attention.
"First time travel and now this," he said, shaking his head. He looked up at his counter part in this reality. "Seriously, John. You need to find a new hobby."
"Sorry sir." this reality's John smirked as he spoke.
"What's with all the water?" Sumner asked, stopping at the edge of the wet spot on the ground.
"Uh, well," John tried to explain, "the gate was on the sea. And there was a storm and there were pirates….Sir?"
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Sumner smirked. Taking pity on John, Sumner chuckled. "You're from one of the realities where I'm not alive right?"
"Uhm, Yes sir."
Sumner nodded. "Well I'm alive in this one, so I don't really give a damn. Guns? We'll take you all down to Doc Beckett and make sure you're just run of the mill alternate…yous." The group of Marines Carter must have summoned, arrived.
This reality's John had descended and began to help with relieving the team of their weapons.
"What happened to you guys?" alternate John asked him.
"It is a long story," Rodney answered. "A very long story. C-Carson? You have a Carson here too? And an Elizabeth! Oh, I want a sandwich with them," Rodney said as he shrugged off his tac vest. "And then I want a nap."
"I thought he got some sleep?" John asked his Teyla. He hadn't seen one from this reality yet.
"Apparently he was not as truthful as he could have been," Teyla said, frowning at Rodney. "Or as he should have been."
John nodded. Teyla had always had a protective mothering instinct for her teammates. It had only grown after the birth of her son. John shook his head at Rodney and shrugged out of the sopping wet tact vest.
Elizabeth had joined Carter in the control room, John noticed. John turned his attention to his counterpart as they left the gateroom for the infirmary. There was a silver wedding band on his left hand.
"Let me guess," John said, pointing at the ring. "Elizabeth?"
The other John looked at his hand, "What? Oh. Yeah. You?" he asked looking for a band on John's own hand.
John shook his head. "No."
"Something happened. Your Rodney said we have an Elizabeth and a Carson too. What happened to them?" John recognized the protective tone in the other man's voice.
"Elizabeth? We had to leave the planet and were attacked mid flight. An energy beam hit the control tower. She was knocked back and had an extremely bad fall. its more complicated than that, but she didn't..."
"And Carson?" the other John asked.
John walked a few more steps before the other John shook off his surprise and caught up.
"Are you kidding? You're not kidding. That's-" he broke off with a shake of his head.
"I know," John said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'll give you the details," John said rubbing his head. "Hopefully you can avoid that one too."
"Thank you. So, no as in never with Elizabeth? So no kids?"
"Kids?" John asked. "Here too?"
"Yeah. Two girls. You've been to other worlds where we had kids?"
John rubbed at his eyes as they waited for another transporter. "Boy in the reality where Elizabeth's queen of earth. A girl in the reality where we all were turned into Iratus bug people."
"You mean when we got that virus from Ellia?"
"Yeah. That happened here too?"
The other John nodded, shuddering slightly.
"You okay?" John asked.
"Yeah, fine," the other John assured him. "So, wow. You don't have Elizabeth."
The other John regarded him for a moment seriously as the transporter cycled. "I think you need to tell me exactly what happened to her, right now."
John nodded. "Do you have Asurans here?"
John endured Carson's poking and prodding and scans. He was pronounced healthy and not possessing anything which could harm the city. His counterpart in this reality ended up dragging him off to his quarters to get some clean clothing and a debrief on exactly what had lead to Elizabeth's death.
John didn't want to relive that time any more than he had to so he gave the report with military precision during their walk from the infirmary to John's quarters. The walk took a bit longer since this John lived in some of the larger quarters in the lower levels of the central tower.
This reality's John stopped in front of a door and looked his other self over with a small frown.
"What?" John asked.
"I'm just wondering if Evie will be confused by you and me,"
"Daughter. Evelyn," the other John clarified with a smile.
"Wait, not as in The Mummy, right?"
"Yep!" John grinned.
John smirked. "And Elizabeth let you get away with that?" he asked, impressed.
The other John grinned. "Elizabeth found out later."
"You're kidding! So what is the other one called." John asked, remember his counterpart had mentioned two girls.
"Kara," the other John replied, grin even wider now.
"Yeah. Jack named her though, so I can't take full credit for it. I just liked it," the local John responded.
"What did Elizabeth think of that? And Jack?"
"Jack O'Neill. He, uh, well Kara arrived suddenly and he caught," the other John said, scratching the back of his head a bit awkwardly. John sensed there was a deeper story there.
"And," he added, "Elizabeth didn't know about that one either."
"Your Elizabeth hasn't seen the new Battlestar? Huh," John commented.
"What?" his counterpart asked.
"Elizabeth and I watched Battlestar with the group after we started to get regular runs to Earth," John said, remembering the weekly showings.
Season one had made the rounds and proven to be quite popular, so Elizabeth had added it to the list of weekly showings of some of the more popular shows. It was a little like movie night and it had done wonders for morale around the city.
They'd claimed center seats, cheerfully abusing rank and sharing popcorn with Teyla who usually got the pillow on the floor in front of them. His heart ached remembering those evenings and how they'd never happen like that again.
"Sorry," the other John said. "I can't even begin to understand."
"But you were at least good friends. I don't think- I- Okay this is going to sound stupid but we were destined in this universe. It- It Is a really complicated and messed up story, but there was time travel involved."
"Yeah," John said, trying to follow his halting counterpart, "Sumner mentioned that."
"I think because I knew we ended up together I was more willing to take the chance," the other John said.
"Well Sumner's here. So you weren't her head military officer either," John pointed out. The other John shrugged.
"True but that almost didn't save us-"
"Are you going to talk all day?" Ronon asked abruptly. Both Johns turned in surprised, not having heard the door slide open. "You sound like you're talking to yourself," Ronon added.
"Clean clothes?" the other John offered.
John walked into the room and was impressed. He hadn't been down to this part of the tower for a long time. The view wasn't as spectacular at this height, but the rooms were certainly larger. John had almost forgotten how impressive the quarters here were.
The door opened into a small alcove which opened into a much larger space which extended up two floors. The floor of the central space was in two elevations with a low wall of stained glass preventing someone from seeing the lower area from the door. Off to one side John could see a small kitchen area and a table and chairs. The dining area had a huge bay window which overlooked a broad, partially covered balcony. Stairs connected to the upper rooms which John remembered were sleeping quarters. There was a doorway to the balcony on this level.
On the slower level of the central area there were shaped windows that looked out at the ocean from under the balcony. There was a short hallway off to some other rooms and stairs to the second level. John turned and looked up. Over the entrance alcove was a small seating area that overlooked the first floor. The bedrooms on either side were connected by a walkway with this place in the center.
It had reminded John of a beach-house in a lot of ways with the light, airing feeling.
While John had been busy looking around, his counterpart had headed down the stairs. John walked over to the railing and saw his counterpart pick up a small girl who was probably two. She began to babble animatedly. It didn't make much sense but, the other John nodded gravely as she chattered at him.
"You babysit?" John said, turning away to look askance at Ronon. The Satedan smirked.
"I'm the best."
Evie had been slightly confused by the copy of her father, but she'd gotten over it fairly quickly. John assumed that since her dad and "uncle" didn't seem worried, she shouldn't be as well.
Soon John found himself sitting across the table from a chatty two and a half year old.
The words weren't quite perfect and her sentences were on the simple side, but apparently Evie's toy whale was deeply and madly in love with her plastic lion despite the fact that it was already with her sippy cup. The giant crocodile had a thing for minced veggies which seemed to be fine with Evie as she didn't seem to care for them at all. Panda was disappointed in Lion for breaking up a happy home and her little puma cub had somehow lost its mother and was latching on to crocodile to fill the void. Obviously it too was disappointed in Lion and Whale's extramarital affair. Everyone was some sort of phenomenal acrobat and there was great tension in the circus troupe.
There was a lot of babbling and hopping animals talking to one another at least. Evie was old enough or well-mannered enough she didn't constantly bang things around or scream and cry like most kids John remembered. He thought this last with a little sense of guilt. Those kids were probably badly behaved because of their parents and John couldn't see either him or Elizabeth ever letting a child get away with bad behavior.
The John of this reality was already seated next to him. Elizabeth sat across from him and was helping Evie. The other John was keeping an eye on the sleeping Kara in her carrier.
John was chewing his sandwich thoughtfully when two trays were set down at the remaining free spots at their table. John looked up and was half out of his seat before O'Neill waved him back down.
"I'm retired. No need to stand on my account," O'Neill said as he slid into his seat. Sam sat across from him, next to Evie.
"Yes, sir," John answered immediately. There was a sound that was suspiciously like a snort from Colonel Carter but when John looked over her face was impassive.
"Jack," O'Neill corrected. "I traded in all of that. I am but a simple house husband. I cook, clean and do laundry."
This time there was no mistaking the snort from Sam. "And dinner better be on the table when I get home from work," she mock threatened.
"Yes, dear," Jack replied mildly, which sent Sam into such a fit of giggles she had to set her fork down. Jack smirked triumphantly as he ate his sandwich.
Evie squealed as she dragged the whale across her tray. Elizabeth quickly reached out to prevent the remains of her lunch from being tossed around. She mostly succeeded. A couple halved grapes bounced down the table, one landed in John's drink with a small "plonk", another landed on Sam's tray. John fished the grape out of his water and held it for a moment before Elizabeth took it with a sorry smile.
"I thought you were out of the food throwing stage," Sam smiled at Evie who giggled at the sudden attention.
"You'll have to deal with that soon enough," Elizabeth pointed out to her.
Sam smiled cheerfully. "But I will be able to drink coffee again by then, so it evens out." She poked at her salad again and added, "Daniel says he's going to send me half a pound of Kona and half a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain." She ate the pasta with a pleased expression.
"That's coffee, right?" John asked. Sam nodded as she chewed.
"Daniel thinks Sam's some kind of martyr for giving up coffee for so long," Jack commented to the table at large, rolling his eyes. "Didn't he go without for a year on Abydos?" he asked her.
"We've agreed this is worse," Sam told him. "There wasn't any coffee on Abydos, but I'm surrounded by it here," she explained with mock gravity, eyes sliding to Elizabeth's beverage.
"Sorry," Elizabeth apologized. Sam shrugged, resigned.
"What about me?" Jack pouted.
"You don't have to give up anything," Sam pointed out.
"Yes, but do you know how wired you're going to be when you can finally have coffee again?" Jack asked, feigning fear. His expression turned thoughtful "I wonder if McKay could harness that power as another energy source." Sam snorted and reached for her Jell-O cup.
"I hear we're not going to be sleeping much anyway," Sam pointed out as she ripped off the top and began to eat.
"Well, I supposed that true, but- Is that red Jell-O?" Jack asked, pointing an accusatory finger at the cup in Sam's hand. Sam froze, spoon still in her mouth and looked slightly miserable. "You hate red Jell-O!" Jack pointed out.
Sam glared as she finished the bite she'd taken. "I know," she replied angrily.
"Are we out of blue?" Jack asked.
Sam slumped a little. "No." She rubbed a hand across her stomach and leaned back in her seat, annoyed.
"It looked good," she admitted, glaring at the offending dessert. The glare was transferred across the table to Jack. "I blame you for that."
"I'm sorry?" Jack replied.
Sam muttered as she picked up the cup and began to eat it again. Elizabeth stifled a laugh and this reality's John was biting his lip. Sam pursed her lips and looked at them askance.
"Traitors," she accused.
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said.
Sam sighed and set the remaining half f the Jell-O on Jack's tray. "I can't eat any more of this." She turned up her nose in distaste.
"Yes, they're always like this," Elizabeth said archly, looking over at John. He'd been watching the back and forth whit quiet amusement. John smirked but quickly focused on the remains of his sandwich.
"And here Sam thought this would be the most entertaining table to sit at," Jack mock pouted as he peeled his orange. "I didn't think we'd be the entertainment."
"What were the other realities like," Sam asked John, changing the subject. She shifted in her seat again. "Rodney kept muttering about how I'd killed him or something."
"Well, that's what Ba'al told us," John said. He immediately winced at how confusing that must have sounded.
"Ba'al?" Sam questioned
"Lets me start from the beginning on that one," John said. "So, opposite universe. All the good guys were bad and all the bad guys were good, that kind of thing. You," he pointed at Sam and Jack, "were the evil rulers of the Milky Way and the Nox were some kind of evil elder god things."
"The Nox? The little twigs-in-their-hair-we're-not-going-to-help-you-because-we're-pacifists Nox?" Jack questioned.
John nodded. "Yeah. Anyway Ba'al was there. I think Kolya was sleeping with that Wraith Queen that double crossed us, and they were all nice." He shook his head. "Rodney pissed the Empress off so she executed him."
"Sounds like a fun place," Jack commented. Sam looked uncomfortable.
"Well its not on my list of placed I'd like to take a vacation," John said, remembering the look in that other Elizabeth's eyes. "The other places we traveled to were more interesting," John told them. He smiled "We were all pirates in the last one. That's why we arrived in a wave. The Stargates were all on the sea. The locals called them Dragonwells."
Sam frowned as she shifted around so she could rub her lower back with both hands. "That doesn't sound anything like our reality. You shouldn't have gone that far away from where you started from. Did y-"
"Ah!" Jack interrupted. "You can ask McKay later. Technobabble now detracts from the cool factor."
"Of the fact that we are all pirates in some reality," Jack said, waving a hand vaguely. "Come on, that's cool. Back me up?" He asked, looking of at this reality's John. The other man looked thoughtful.
"That is pretty cool," he agreed. "Pirates are awesome."
Sam rolled her eyes.
"Sometimes I wonder if men ever grow up beyond the age of six," Elizabeth observed. Sam nodded agreement she started to respond but frowned at her radio.
"Yes Rodney? Lunch. Because it's lunchtime," she said smirking in amusement. Elizabeth chuckled. Evie laughed too, wanting to be in on the joke. Elizabeth tickled her sides.
"Jen didn't bring you a sandwich?" Sam asked. "Yeah I thought I saw her leave here with food. No, you really don't deserve her. Did you figure out the problem we were having with the 4th dimensional trajectory? Yeah? I'll be there."
"Rodney and Rodney are on to something?" Elizabeth asked.
Sam nodded. "Jen left them lunch but they didn't even notice. They want Radek and I to look at what they've been doing." She smiled over at John, "You might get to go home before dinner."
"I'll take your tray," Jack said. She smiled radiantly and hurried off.
"I should put Evie down for her nap," Elizabeth said to her John. He nodded.
"I'll give you a hand with Kara," Jack offered.
"Thank you," Elizabeth said.
John helped his counterpart clean up the trays at the table then stood awkwardly by as the other John kissed his wife and daughters good bye.
Then they were mercifully alone, walking through the halls of the city, passed only by the occasional jogging marine or bustling scientist.
"You've got a good thing going on here," John said to his counterpart as their meandering walk took them to one of the piers. The other man nodded.
"Yeah, I know. It doesn't seem real sometimes," the other John told him. They watched the light play on the water in silence. The sound of the sea lapping against the pier reminded John of the great ship of the last reality.
The moment ended when Rodney triumphantly told them they'd figured out a way home, for real this time, and they should hurry to the gate room.
Both Johns arrived at a jog. There were marines where with their gear and Rodney was gesturing wilding to Sam and his other self up in the control room. He and Radek were adjusting something on the Stargate.
"What's going on?" John asked Teyla who was snapping on her tacvest.
"Rodney and his counterpart here have found a way home for us, but it involves some timing. If we do not go now, then we may need wait and we cannot be here long."
"Right. Entropic cascade failure," John said, nodding understanding as the other John helped him into his tec vest.
"Keep the clothes," the local John smirked. John grinned back.
"Thanks. Hey," he shook hands with his counterpart. "Take care."
The other John nodded as the gate connected behind them. "I'll remember what you told me. John? Good luck."
"We need to leave now!" Rodney shouted to his teammates.
"You too. With two girls, you're going to need it," John said smirking. The other John frowned. With that parting shot, John hurried after his teammates thought the Stargate.
John coughed. His throat was dry so he swallowed a few times. He opened a bleary eye and found he was in the infirmary.
"We home yet?" He asked. The last trip had been strangely hard. He remembered stepping through the gate, then suddenly he was being thrown out of the Stargate back into the gateroom. There were blobs at the foot of his bed. He rubbed his eyes and groaned as he discovered a nasty bruise on his shoulder.
"No," one of the fuzzy shapes answered. It resolved into Rodney. "We're not."
"Great. What is it this time?" John asked. "Are we all space lizards? Am I the grand High Poobah of the South China sea? Do I have twenty kids? Am I a Cylon?"
"Actually you're dead this time," Rodney answered, far too cheerfully in John's opinion.
John scowled at Rodney. The scientist was wearing scrubs and a smug smile as he bounced on his heels at the foot of John's bed.
"Teyla? Ronon?" John asked. The Teyla and Ronon standing behind Rodney weren't dressed for a mission, but they weren't wearing scrubs either. Teyla actually looked like she might be pregnant again. Or maybe for the first time since this was a different reality.
"Still asleep. But Carson's here, Elizabeth's here, Heightmeyer's here. You're dead," Rodney informed him. "I've been working with my counterpart on a way home."
"Hello!" another Rodney said, waving a bit as he walked into John's field of view. "It's," he paused and cleared his throat. "It's really good to see you again, John."
"We have missed you," the local Teyla added, her eyes suspiciously moist.
John let out a puff of air. "What happened?"
"Kolya," the voice that had woken John answered. John turned and saw Elizabeth was sitting on a stool nearby. Her smile was a touch watery. "Kolya shot you as you were escaping."
"Elizabeth," John called, surprised to see her red eyes more than he was to see her. She'd been in every other reality so far.
"Rodney—Your universe's Rodney," Elizabeth clarified, "says I'm gone in your universe."
"Yeah," John confirmed. "During the Asuran attack when we had to leave Lantea. That happen here?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No. They're our allies here."
"Oh. That's good."
"Everyone out," Carson said, herding the group at the end of John's bed out.
"But-" the Rodneys complained.
"You heard what I said. You wanted to get working on a way home and I am letting you go. Now get out," Carson made a shooing motion until the two McKays trudged out, following after this universe's Teyla and Ronon. Carson turned to Elizabeth.
"I know you want to talk to him as well, but I want to give him a once over, and-" Cason was distracted by coughing in the next bed over. Teyla was waking now. Carson turned and went to help her sit up, leaving Elizabeth at John's bedside for now.
"How long have I been…" John looked for a word.
"Gone?" Elizabeth supplied.
"Three weeks, four days. A few hours. But who's counting, right?" Elizabeth tried to joke, but her voice cracked slightly.
"Yeah. Wow. Kolya? I thought I killed him."
"That's what we thought too," Elizabeth said, taking his hand. She seemed to realize what she was doing then dropped it. "I'm sorry."
"We were together here, weren't we," John asked. Elizabeth nodded, biting her lip.
"We got General Carter to be your official supervisor. Since she's at the SGC and we have Midway it isn't so hard."
"The IOA was surprisingly okay about it," Elizabeth added. "I think they want to start this as an off world colony. They're relaxing the interpersonal relationship guidelines."
"We were leading by example?" John joked. Elizabeth nodded.
"Something like that."
"They promote Lorne?" John asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. "They're considering from the Lt. Colonels in the SGC. I think they want Evan to have more time in the grade before they steal him back."
Elizabeth looked thin and tired. Her hands were shaking slightly in her lap. John's insides twisted. Since he'd been on this crazy ride, he'd seen vastly different possibilities, but in every one, he'd been with her.
"I'm not him," John said.
Elizabeth licked her lips and nodded. "I know. We weren't together in your reality, were we?"
"We couldn't be," John answered.
"I was the problem, right? I was here. John had to convince me," she said, smiling ruefully and blinking rapidly. "Things were going so well, I thought I could take the chance."
"Hey," John sat up and swung his legs over the side. He put a hand on hers. "He died helping the city, right?"
Elizabeth nodded mutely.
"Then it was worth it. He did it for you."
Elizabeth sniffed and suddenly John found himself being crushed in a hug. She sobbed into his chest. John was startled but quickly realized he should return the hug. He'd lost his Elizabeth and she'd lost her John. He understood. Even if he hadn't been lovers with his Elizabeth, she'd still been his close friend.
Carson pulled the curtain around their bed and John gave him a nod of thanks. Carson looked relieved and John wondered if Elizabeth hadn't been doing well here. His heart hurt for her.
"I know you're not him," Elizabeth said, "And I know I'm not her. I just…let me have a moment?" Elizabeth asked. John wrapped his arms around her a little awkwardly.
"I didn't get to say goodbye either," he admitted, remembering the look in her eyes as she'd told him to leave. He'd never been more proud or more torn, but it would have been a betrayal of her trust if he'd gotten himself, Rodney and Ronon killed as well.
"I haven't been able to clean out your room yet," Elizabeth told him. She drew a shaky breath. "We told your family, but John…I haven't been able to clear your quarters yet."
"I know," John said. He held her face and wiped a tear away with his thumb. "Believe me, I know."
"I…" Elizabeth's eyes slid away from his and she shook herself. "Never mind."
"Nothing," she said. She was smiling, but John knew it was a façade. "Dumb idea." She shrugged minutely.
John searched her face. They were together in the insane reality. They had a son in the second reality John had visited. They had a daughter in the third one where they were a mated pair who'd apparently converted the entire expedition and then some. They were together again in the pirate reality and they had two daughters in the one where Sumner was still alive.
The John of this reality had been with his Elizabeth. But now he was gone and she was alone. Like he was. He recognized that hollow look in her eyes. John wanted to erase it. She had everything going for her in this reality, she shouldn't be anything other than happy.
John had missed his Elizabeth deeply. This little misadventure had thrown it in his face. Repeatedly.
With that insight John leaned forward and placed a tentative kiss on Elizabeth's lips. It was short and sweet. He pulled back and wondered what the hell he was doing and why he didn't care.
"Do you want me to stay?" he asked. Hope flashed across her face, replaced almost instantly by measured calm.
"Your people. Your Atlantis. They need you," she said, looking away.
"They don't need me here?" John asked. Elizabeth took a shaky breath.
"I couldn't do that to your people. They've already lost one leader."
John watched her and while he didn't quite know her suffering, he thought he felt close to it. Elizabeth had taken him from McMurdo and a life of mediocrity. She'd shown him an amazing world and challenged him to be the man he'd forgotten he could be.
Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon couldn't stay. They'd suffer horrible deaths from some kind of cascade thing, Rodney had explained. But if he was dead, he could stay.
Moreover, he wanted to.
It wasn't the friendly Asurans, or the Atlantis filled with friends still living. It was Elizabeth.
"I should go," Elizabeth said as she stood. John reached for her hand. She looked at his fingers then up at his face. "I can't be that selfish."
"I could," John said as she walked away. Elizabeth paused mid-step then continued out of sight.
Doubt crept in. If he stayed, could it work? He wasn't her John. What if her John came back from the dead? Was he consigning himself to death? What about his reality? He'd seen the haunted look Rodney had worn when Carson had died, and the depressingly happy one on the Rodney in this reality. Could he really do that to his friend?
The curtain parted and Teyla stepped into the small space around his bed. She didn't look accusatory, merely thoughtful.
"You want to stay," she stated, cutting to the heart of the matter. John pressed the hells of his hands to his eyes. There was no way around it and no lying to Teyla.
Teyla nodded and sat on the end of his bed. "I heard a little," she admitted. John winced.
"I don't even know what to say," John told her, averting his eyes.
"The transition I have made has not been an easy one," Teyla began. "I debated whether I would return to your team or not after Tegan was born. If I had lost Kanaan and my people as you state happened in an alternate timeline," she trailed off. "I would not have."
"Yeah I kinda got that. Eventually," he told her. John was unsure where Teyla was going with her talk.
"If I had lost them," she began the halted and recomposed herself. "If I had lost my child and his father then found them, missing me? I am not so sure I would return to my original reality either."
John let out a slow breath and nodded, letting her know he didn't take offense at her words.
"But I wasn't with Elizabeth in our reality," John protested.
"In your heart, I believe you were. As she was with you," Teyla said, head tilting to one side. She looked at him with wise eyes and John turned his own to study the floor. Sometimes Teyla could be uncomfortably insightful.
"She's right though. I do have a duty to my reality. I just can't abandon you," John told her.
Teyla reached out and put a hand on his. "I believe that things happen for a reason. There was a reason events happened as they did the day we met. There is a reason that our lives played out as we know them. There is a reason that I found Kanaan again, that Kolya did not take your life, that you have lived and our Elizabeth has not."
"You and Elizabeth led your people, but as there was a time for me to leave mine, this may be the time for you to leave yours." Teyla smiled softly, reflecting on something before she spoke again.
"Charin once told me that life is a series of meetings and partings on a long road. Those we began the journey beside are not always the ones we finish it with."
"Teyla," John tried to interrupt. Somehow he didn't think Charin had been talking about alternate realities.
"John, if staying here brings you even a small part of the happiness I have experienced with Kanaan, then I believe you should stay."
"You believe that?"
Teyla nodded. "With all my heart."
"But-" Truth be told, he was surprised she was telling him to stay. However it didn't lessen the feeling that he was somehow betraying his friends for even considering staying.
"John? Rodney and Ronon have seen the same realities you and I have. They may not like it, but they will understand. Now," she pushed off the bed with an impish smile. "I will distract Carson and you will sneak out and find Elizabeth."
Teyla arched a brow. "Yes."
She left the small enclosure and found Carson, dragging him off to the side to explain about the clone in her universe. John snuck out, careful to avoid knocking anything over and wondering if Elizabeth had the same quarters here.
Halfway to his intended destination, John wondered if she was even in her quarters. Frowning, John continued onward anyway. It was as good a place to start as any.
Taking a deep breath, John hit Elizabeth's chime.
John willed the door open then locked behind him. Elizabeth's eyes were more red than they'd been in the infirmary and John hated to think she'd been crying again.
John took a few steps into the room, but stopped at the sound of her voice. He could turn around and walk out. He could say he wanted to talk about something else. He could return to his reality and never even broach the subject with this world's Elizabeth.
He could take the chance at happiness here.
"I want to stay. Please let me stay. Even if I can only be your friend. I need to stay." The words came out in a rush before he could take them back. They hung in the air and John felt guilty for even saying them, but at the same time…there was a rightness to them.
John set his jaw and waited for her to answer. His heart beat rapidly and he silently prayed to whomever was listening that she'd let him stay.
She looked like she was going to tell him no. John stepped forward, feeling desperate. "I talked with Teyla," he interrupted. "I think I'm supposed to be here."
He dragged a hand through his hair. "We're six and one," he said.
"I've seen six realities in the god knows how long we've been gone. We're together in every single one but the one I'm from."
"We are?" Elizabeth asked. John nodded and took another step forward, another step closer to the couch she'd curled up on.
"Yeah. Even the one where we're psychotic and evil."
Her lips twitched and John knew he was getting through to her. He got the feeling she wanted him to reach her. He took another step forward. She stood as well, and took a half step back. John closed the distance and hesitated only a second before he crushed her in a hug. He'd run out of words and only had actions left.
Elizabeth returned the hug and gradually he felt her relax. He buried his face in the crook of her neck. She smelled of flowers and sea air and something that was uniquely Elizabeth. He'd missed her so much.
"You want to stay with me?" she sounded unsure.
John pulled back to look at her. "Yes."
She studied his face for a moment before she reached up and tentatively touched his hair. Her fingers gently drew through it and John's eyes fell closed. He opened them again to find her smiling slightly, eyes bright.
She leaned up and kissed him.
John returned the kiss, trying to convey his need to stay with her .She pulled back with a small laugh.
"You kissed that way when we started dating," she explained, drawing gentle fingers along his jaw. "I think you were afraid I'd suddenly change my mind," she mused.
"I'm not him," John said. "Think maybe you could like me?" He felt very clear, for the first time in days, maybe months even. He brought out the big guns and pouted shamelessly.
"Maybe," Elizabeth said before she kissed him again. John let his hands wander just a little, learning where she seemed to like his hands. She sighed into his mouth and he could feel her own hands wandering as she relaxed further.
Elizabeth sighed. "If you'd like to stay, we'll need to check with the SGC."
"Will Carter be my boss again?" John asked.
"Is that what you want?" Elizabeth asked him.
"If that's what it takes to give us a try, yeah."
Elizabeth's bright smile warmed his heart. He knew he'd made the right decision.
They'd found him some clothes in his room. John was both disturbed and relieved to discover that his alternate had been so similar to him. John had put aside his unease and had traded his scrubs for a set of his black BDUs. He'd hesitated a moment before stripping in front of Elizabeth, but she hadn't seemed bothered. The walk back to her office was quiet, the people he passed only had sad smiles for him.
Carter was a general here, in charge of the SGC while Landry had been promoted to General O'Neill's old post in Washington. General Caldwell, he was told, was still commander of the Daedalus but was also in charge of Earth's small but growling fleet of starships.
The SGC had been informed via Midway of Atlantis' visitors, but Elizabeth authorized a direct connection to Earth this time. When the connection was made, the call was transferred to Elizabeth's office.
"Elizabeth," General Carter said with a smile. She was taking the call from her office, a setup that had only recently been installed for Landry in John's reality. "Something wrong? Were you able to get the group from the alternate reality home?"
Elizabeth shook her head and gestured for John to walk into the video pickup. "Not yet."
"Colonel," Sam said, nodding a greeting when John entered into the picture.
"Ma'am," John said with a nod of his own.
Elizabeth straightened her shoulders. "General," Elizabeth began. John watched as Carter leaned forward and folded her hands on the desk, picking up on Elizabeth's serious demeanor. "The John Sheppard from the alternate reality would like to stay here," Elizabeth stated.
Carter's eyebrows rose, but John didn't think she looked displeased by the idea. "You do?" she asked him.
John nodded. "Yes. I-" he tried to think of something that didn't make him sound like some kind of lovesick fool. "I'd really like to stay." John looked from the video to Elizabeth then back again. "I'd also like it if you could be my boss."
John found Ronon sparring with the local Ronon. John stood by the door, shifting his weight until the two men noticed him.
"Hey," his reality's Ronon said. The other Ronon picked up a water bottle and a towel.
"Look, uh, Ronon. Both of you," John began awkwardly. Both Ronons gave him the same impassive look. John focused on the Ronon from his reality, an easy task since the Ronon here hadn't cut his hair.
"You're staying," Ronon said before John could.
John looked him in the eye and nodded. "Yes."
"Is it because of Elizabeth?" he asked. Ronon nodded at his counter part. "He told me."
"Yes," John confirmed.
"Good." Ronon said, idly twirling the practice sword he carried. "Because if I thought you were staying because it was easier," he trailed off letting the threat hang in the air.
"Easier?" the other Ronon questioned. John's Ronon smirked at him.
"So, you're gonna stay?" the local Ronon asked. John nodded. He winced as a practice sword was none too gently slammed into his chest.
"Good." he commented, falling back into a ready position. John groaned as both men circled around him. He sank into a more balanced stance and accepted his fate.
John hung around outside Rodney's lab. He winced as the new bruises ached when he breathed. He supposed he gotten off easy though. One Ronon was saying goodbye in his own, painful, way. The other had definitely been testing him, measuring him against his predecessor. John thought he'd passed muster.
Now he had to face Rodney.
John lurked at the entrance to the lab. He wasn't looking forward to this, bur the sooner he told Rodney, the longer John had to try and make him understand. Except they'd been there a day already. Maybe it could wait another day. Rodney seemed to be having a problem figuring out something that he hadn't yet tried.
John winced and stepped into the lab. "Hi Radek. How's it going here?" he asked.
"Not well," one of the Rodney McKays answered. John saw he was wearing beat up mission gear and realized it was the one from his reality.
"No?" John asked, stalling.
"No the other Rodney groused. "And we only have a few more hours before he starts to feel the effects of Entropic cascade. You're safe since you're, well, dead."
"Yeah," John said, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
"Carter says she's got Lee and Hailey working on it at the SGC," John added, as he wandered around the open area in the center of the lab.
"Yes, yes," his universe's Rodney replied, waving his hand dismissively. "We got their emails. He turned to look at John. "Can you believe she's in charge of the SGC here?'
"Oh, well," Rodney turned back to his work. "I think we're on to something here, but it's far more complicated than it looks."
"It always is," John said.
"What do you mean by-" Rodney stopped mid sentence. He grimaced and his imaged blurred. It was as if Rodney was suddenly standing, sitting, gesturing and walking all at once. The momentary overlay of images stopped and Rodney leaned forward groaning.
"What was that?" John asked.
"Entropic cascade failure," Rodney, Rodney and Zelenka said at once.
"Do you need to see Carson?" Zelenka asked. The Rodney from John's universe shook his head. "No. We knew this was going to happen if we were here too long." He winced as he turned back to the computer.
"Huh." The other Rodney was watching John with a sad expression.
"What?" John asked.
"Well it's just you didn't get it," Rodney said, gesturing vaguely.
"You said I was dead," John added, "He told me it doesn't happen in the universes where you're dead."
"Right. Right. That's true it's just," Rodney's shoulders sagged. "It just means you're really, really dead. What?" the last was directed at his radio. "Yes, he did. Okay."
"Ronon and Teyla too?" the other Rodney asked.
The local Rodney nodded. "Yeah. They're okay for now. We need to finish this."
"Rodney, I'm not going back," John said. There wasn't any other way to say it than to just come out and say it.
"You're not?" the Rodney of this universe asked, sounding hopeful.
"What do you mean you're not coming back," Rodney from his universe asked. "You have to come back," he stood up and gestures broadly. "It's, I mean- You have to come back! What makes this place so great?"
And like that Rodney's anger faded. "Elizabeth? You're going to stay with her?"
John nodded and stuffed his hands deep into his pockets again. "Yeah. Carter's working out the back from the dead paperwork. She said she'd send it over as soon as she fed my request up the chain to Landry."
"I bet they'd be happy to get you back," Rodney commented, distracted.
"Yeah. And well-" John studied the corner of the room. "I'm not exactly the same person, but we're going to try to make it work."
"Make what work? Oh! Oh. Elizabeth."
"You've seen the other places we went to, Rodney," John said. "I just-" He shook his head and studied his shoes. "I think I could be happy here. Happy like the last guy was."
"You can't have her in our reality," Rodney commented.
Rodney scowled at him for a minute before turning back to his machine. "Intellectually I can understand, but that doesn't make me less angry. I need to fix this before the rest of us die a horrible death."
"Right," John said. He turned and left the lab.
His radio buzzed as he was walking around on one of the piers. "John?" Elizabeth's voice was tinny over the headset.
"Yes?" He answered, reaching for the earpiece.
"Can you come to the gateroom? The SGC paperwork is here."
"On my way."
John walked quickly to the gateroom. He wasn't sure about Rodney. He hoped he hadn't distracted him from the task of getting Teyla, himself and Ronon home. John had lost enough people and was on the verge of losing three more friends, even if they had counterparts here.
Elizabeth was talking with someone in her office. It took John a moment to recognize Dr. Daniel Jackson. Daniel stood to shake John's hand as he entered.
"Colonel Sheppard. Sam sent me with these," Jackson explained, gesturing to the stack of papers on Elizabeth's desk. John felt his hand cramp in anticipation of the paperwork.
"What's that?" John asked.
"These are the official back from the dead forms," Daniel said, plucking off the first hundred or so pages from the stack and handing them to John.
"This next pile are the classified back from the dead forms," he handed stacked the pile perpendicular to the previous one. "And then this is the preliminary alternate reality debrief forms."
"Yeah," Daniel agreed with a heavy sigh. "And they don't get any shorter the more you do them," he admitted.
He put a friendly hand on John's shoulder. "Fortunately for you, I've already been through this a couple times. If you have any questions, I'm here for the next three days to help you out. And study the artifacts brought back from MVX- 299," the Archeologist admitted.
"Thanks. I think," John said, carefully placing the stack of papers back on Elizabeth's desk before he dropped them.
"Still want to stay?" Elizabeth asked. Her voice was light, joking, but John could see the specter of fear behind her eyes.
"Yeah," John said, a slow, reassuring grin spreading across his face. "You're not getting rid of me that easily."
The wind off the Lantean sea ruffled his hair. John Sheppard held on to the woman in his arms, tightening his grip on her as if she would suddenly disappear. Elizabeth stroked his back soothingly.
Rodney and Rodney had found what they thought would be a final trip home for John's team. The entropic cascade failure was continuing for all three of his teammates. Every time they suffered and he didn't, he saw Elizabeth cringe because it meant his counterpart was truly dead.
His team was assembling in front of the gate without him. Elizabeth had pulled him onto the balcony to catch some air and help ease the feelings of guilt. John's frown deepened as he held on to her. She was grounding him with her warmth, her smell, her presence.
"You don't have to stay," Elizabeth offered.
"I do," John answered quickly. "Unless you don't want me?"
Her arms on his shoulders tightened, silently asking him to remain. John sighed and slowly withdrew from her embrace. He caught her hand before she got the wrong idea.
"I need to see them off," John said. Elizabeth nodded understanding. He led her off the balcony and down the steps to where his team was assembled. The gate was dialing behind them as he led Elizabeth down the steps.
"Sheppard," Ronon held out a hand and John clasped the Satedan's arm.
"Ronon," John replied. Neither was a man of words, but the short exchange said everything that needed to be said between them.
The gate connected behind them, bathing the gate room in the familiar watery glow.
"John," Teyla held out her arms and John took them. As their foreheads touched, Teyla squeezed his forearms.
"Thank you," John told her quietly.
"I wish you joy," Teyla told him.
"I hope you're happy too. Tell the little guy about his Uncle John, okay?" John smirked. Teyla returned the smirk and nodded as she stepped back. She walked forward and embraced Elizabeth.
"I did not get a chance to say a proper goodbye before, my friend," Teyla told her as their foreheads touched. "I will treasure the memory of your strength and of your friendship."
Elizabeth sniffed and hugged Teyla.
Next Teyla faced herself in this reality. "I know you will take care of my friends," she said. "Remember to let them care for you as well." The other Teyla inclined her head serenely.
John faced Rodney who seemed inordinately busy with his tac vest.
"Rodney," John said, holding out a hand. Rodney looked at it for a moment before shaking his head and taking it.
"Take care of everyone," John told him with the sincerity of a battlefield order. Rodney straightened minutely and nodded once.
"I'll do that," he assured John before frowning. "What do I tell Carter?"
John pulled out folded piece of paper from the front pocket of his BDU shirt. He handed the note to Rodney. "To: Colonel Samantha Carter. From Brigadier General Samantha Carter," had been written in neat handwriting. Rodney opened the note and read it aloud.
"I hereby approve the transfer of Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard from his previous reality to the one he has traveled to and currently exists in. Signed General S. Carter." Rodney looked up with an amused expression. "She pulled rank on herself?"
John shrugged. Rodney folded up the paper and tucked it into his vest. He pointed a finger at himself in the control room. "You need to harass the two of them for the both of us," he told his counterpart.
The other Rodney smirked back. "Absolutely."
Elizabeth stepped forward and hugged Rodney and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Take care of yourself," she told him. Rodney nodded mutely.
"Well." Rodney hefted his computer and turned to Teyla and Ronon. "I guess that's that then."
He turned and walked into the gate, the event horizon rippling outward from where he'd disturbed it. Ronon followed a step behind. Teyla turned back just at the gate and smiled at John and Elizabeth before she followed her teammates.
John let out a breath as the gate disengaged. Elizabeth found his hand again and squeezed it. John watched the inactive gate for a few minutes as life in Atlantis began to return to normal.
He closed his eyes and began to learn the sounds of the city. If was almost like being home before the Asuran attack. He could hear Campbell and Xiao bantering in the control room with Rodney and Zelenka. Teyla and Ronon stood nearby, taking quietly with Dr. Jackson, who'd come to see his team off as well. Elizabeth was a warm presence at his side, the pressure of her fingers on his reminding him that it wasn't a dream.
John opened his eyes again and looked at Elizabeth. He smiled, the gentle, honest smile it seemed he'd only used a couple of times used since she'd died in his reality.
"I have a small mountain of paper work to finish," John said.
Elizabeth smiled. "I think it can wait a little longer."
"Can I buy you a cup of coffee?" John asked.
She tucked her arm into his as they began to walk away from the gate. "I'd really like that."
A couple of these AUs are based on works done by others. Ok, mostly by Oparu, who was kind enough to let me play in them. Go read these things people! they are awesome!