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That Your Eyes Might be Shining for Me

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The first time Dr. McKay met Colonel Sheppard was purely accidental; due to a mishap with his sub-space particle bridge, McKay created an inter-dimensional rift and broke through the fabric of another reality; one which closely resembled his own.

 

In that other dimension, Sheppard was the military commander of Atlantis rather than Colonel Sumner. McKay had instantly been captivated by Sheppard's handsome face and lithe athletic body. Something in the way his eyes sparkled at McKay led him to believe the attraction was mutual.

 

The two of them spent a week together until they finally found a way to shut his dangerous experiment down. It wasn't one of McKay's finer moments as a scientist, since his 'bridge' was leaking exotic particles through the rift and  would have ultimately have destroyed Sheppard's entire universe. But he'd enjoyed every moment he spent with the man, which was really saying something since he couldn't stand most people.

 

He'd been strangely sad when it was time to return to his own world. Not that anything sexual had transpired between the two of them, but McKay would never forget those sparkling green eyes and easy grin.

 

Back home, he'd found a military service record for a Major John Sheppard from his own world. Sheppard had long ago been dishonorably discharged after flying in behind enemy lines against orders to try to rescue some friends.

 

The Sheppard from his Earth was a galaxy away working as a homicide detective. And from what McKay could gather, he had little in common with the strong confident Colonel from the other dimension. So he'd put Sheppard out of his mind and continued on with his work in the Pegasus galaxy.

 

Then, years later, McKay was called back to the Milky Way to help the SGC determine why they were finding bodies on Earth that had been fed upon by Wraith. As more victims began to show up in an isolated area on the outskirts of Vegas, he, along with Jennifer, Zelenka and some others from Atlantis were recalled to investigate. As the team leader, McKay coordinated  with Mr. Woolsey from the IOA to speak with the local detective on the case.

 

And that was when he met Detective Sheppard of the Las Vegas Police Department for the first time.

 


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It used to be Sheppard could change the time loop, get on a plane to Alaska or escape this reality for a while before he'd wake to find himself in Vegas; once again reliving the chain of events.

 

These days he can't ever seem to escape the desert.

 

He's tried altering the patterns, wondering if there is something he's meant to do differently to finally make it end. But there are certain fixed points and events he can't seem to change. He knows all the lines by heart.

 

Well, except the man from the cafe. He's the only other person here who remembers things or says anything new. Only McKay is nuts, usually talking nonsense. Sheppard is half convinced the character is a delusional figment of his own mind; maybe everything here is.

 

At least his conversations with McKay break up the monotony of this repeating cycle. Used to being alone, Sheppard sometimes avoids him, hiding out in an alcoholic haze until the clock runs out and resets. But inevitably, he finds himself back at the cafe waiting for the guy to show again. He always seems to be there waiting for Sheppard.

 

McKay never seems to grow tired of spinning theories about alien stasis chambers and simulated realities, but over time Sheppard has managed to get him to talk about other things. And the guy is a real talker once he gets going. As he rambles away, Sheppard mostly just listens and sips his coffee.

 

But today Sheppard is just too tired to talk... Too much to drink last night, he feels like shit, a couple days' stubble showing on his chin. He could use a real shower and shave.

 

Weak and aimless, he finds himself drifting back to where it all began. He doesn't know why he does this, what he could possibly hope to learn in this limbo. Maybe it's just so he gets to end up playing poker... or to see that alien creature later at Area 51.

 

Sheppard drives his beat up red vintage car to the crime scene again. The day is a sweltering 106 degrees, as it always is. He's been down this road so many times before, he knows what waits for him on the outskirts of Vegas.

 

Sometimes it seems like all he has energy left to do is follow the steps that eventually lead him to his own demise. Maybe it's the punishment he deserves.

 

Funny how the crime scene isn't far from where he will end up, dying alone in the sand. At least he doesn't get sucked dry like those husks of corpses they keep finding. Squinting through his sunglasses, Sheppard steps through the police tape and eyes the mummified body. His gaze is always drawn to a small green pool of liquid nearby. If only he hadn't noticed that leaking antifreeze...

 

After a dreary walk through the crime scene, Sheppard avoids his office and heads to a bar for a little hair of the dog.

 

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He wakes with a searing hangover and blinks through clouded eyes wondering where he's ended up this time. Much of the following night is a blur and it looks like the sun is already beginning to set.

 

Jesus. How much did he drink last night? He pushes himself up from a scratchy comforter on the bed and recognizes the pattern. Ah, he's at the seedy hotel. The one where he found the body... and the bag of cash that he conveniently left out of his police report.

 

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

 

When he has somewhat recovered, Sheppard dresses again and checks the time on his phone. The man with the long white hair will be arriving soon. Sheppard pulls the window shades, watching the airstream trailer in the parking lot until he sees the white haired man leaving the parking lot. This is one part of the plot he actually enjoys.

 

Shadowing his killer to the casino, Sheppard reaches the private rooms for the high stakes poker game. Handing over his badge and gun to the security guard, he is granted entrance and joins the table where the man is already playing. Living in Vegas over the years, Sheppard's picked up a lot of bad habits, gambling not the least of them. But being a dead man has its advantages; he has nothing to lose.

 

There are other games in the casino Sheppard has memorized by watching the outcomes. But after drawing too much attention one night and getting the crap beat out of him in an alley, he's had his fill of winning. And ultimately this is one game he can't win.

 

The white haired man eyes Sheppard and gives a sinister frown. He looks human enough now; but he's seen one of those alien things without the prosthetic disguise. And he knows this one will be the death of him. 

 

The gangsters at the table become suspicious when the white haired man wins hand after hand. Sheppard squares off with the alien on the last draw, considering whether to call his bluff. Tonight he just stares impassively at the cold face across the table and folds. It doesn't matter what he does. This is when the chase scene starts.

 

"Wait, Where're you going? You can't leave now!" The gangster demands as the white man gets ready to cash out, "Look at this guy. Hey!"

 

The gangster tries to grab the man's arm and is thrown completely across the room. As if he knows who is real enemy is, the white figure lunges himself at Sheppard next; knocking him to the ground, he takes off with his chips.

 

Casino security fire shots into the fleeing figure but they have no effect. Their assailant easily casts them aside. Sheppard picks himself up and follows in a brisk run. He winds his way up to the rooftop access of the building to see the jump.

 

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

 

One time Sheppard tried jumping himself to see what would happen. The sensation was painfully unpleasant; then he found himself at the beginning of the time loop again.

 

Making his way back to the hotel, Sheppard hides the cash in his car just before the swarm of black government SUV's swoop in to collect him.

 

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

 

He doesn't bother to say anything, Woolsey always recites the same line.

 

"I heard about what happened at the casino."

 

Sheppard narrows his eyes waiting for the inevitable; he's just here to see the other alien. The one who speaks in riddles that make more sense than anything else here.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

If he could go back in time, there's so much he'd do differently. Of course he'd still have gone after Lyle and the others but he'd have found a way to bring them back safely. Who knows, if he'd been caught in a time loop like this, maybe he would have found a way to change everything.

 

Instead, he'd just ended up running. Trading the sands of Afghanistan for yet another lonely desert, trying to hide from the past, to drink it away, to forget it all.

 

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

 

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

 

'Yes, welcome back McKay.'

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I also like spearmint gum." Sheppard offers irreverently, but really he wants that gum McKay has in his pocket; if he doesn't say the line, he doesn't get the it.

 

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

 

"I was joking."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah, he'd been so close to getting them out. If only it hadn't been for that one unlucky shot to the tail rotor. He'd lost them all. The entire medical team, including pretty little Sarah, the field medic he'd briefly dated and the marine -Grassman, that was his name, Darren Grassman.

 

Losing his own guys had been hard enough... Mitch and Dex. But losing Lyle destroyed him completely. Lyle had been the only one to survive the initial crash. Sheppard tried his best to get him out of there, but Lyle just bled out in his arms.

 

That was worse than anything that came afterward, worse than anything the Taliban had done to him. The expulsion from the military was just a minor humiliation at that point. And Sheppard had grown too numb by then to care. There were too many scores to keep of those he'd failed, too many losses that left him alone in the world; he'd given up on anything other than trying to blot it out from his mind.

 

But now he doesn't even have that. Not even the numbness makes sense anymore. Now it's just him and the guy, McKay, stuck in this place that never stops repeating.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

'Wrong again, McKay.' He thinks.

 

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

 

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

 

"I don't really care." 'Just take me to see the alien.'

 

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

 

Sheppard walks forward to the table and sits in a lazy slouch. He pulls out a stick of chewing gum as McKay walks to the door; he knows McKay's not really leaving.

 

"You know," McKay stops on his way out, "I once met another version of you. He was very different."

 

Sheppard lifts a brow instead of answering. He's just waiting for McKay to take him to see the alien, the one who seems to see through this illusion. That's the only reason he lets them take him back here.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I doubt that very much." Sheppard meant it the first time he said it and he means it now; he doubts everything that is happening.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What Sheppard never gets over, is the sight of the blue-green alien creature with white hair and gills on its face. The thing makes its way to the front of the cell, eyes locked on Sheppard. He walks forward to get a closer look at this creature, trapped as much as he is in this place.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Mesmerized, he whispers, "What other reason? Tell me why I'm here."

 

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

 

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

 

McKay turns to him, explaining why it knows his name, "They can get in your head."

 

But it feels like the creature knows more, like he alone can tell Sheppard about why he is stuck here... still dreaming.

 

Leading him out of the darkened room and into the hall, McKay asks in a softer voice, "You okay?" 

 

"People ever going to know the truth?" The first time Sheppard asked that it was a straightforward question; this time he's pleading for himself, for the answer he can't find about what happened to him after he died.

 

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

 

"Or maybe the delusions don't even have to be happy..." Sheppard muses. 'Maybe they just have to hide you from the truth. Maybe it's his punishment to keep running the same way he did in life.'

 

McKay gives him a quizzical glance, not responding to his deviation from the script. 

 

Once upon a time, Sheppard liked games, but now he feels like the mouse in a maze, unable to find his way out. Or like the alien says, a fish in a pond... a pond that is drying up in the unforgiving desert. Busy, busy, busy... with nothing to do but slowly starve.

 

He looks up at the room of people they have just joined.

 

McKay argues for a while with a small floppy-haired man over the purpose of some device the alien murderer is supposedly creating; McKay's sure that it's intended as a signal to alert other Wraith aliens to the location of Earth.

 

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

 

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

 

"Well, not even a ZPM..."

 

"I know!" McKay shouts.

 

"That kind of burst is uncontrollable."

 

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

 

"Like the inter-dimensional rift?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard sleepwalks to the scorching parking lot outside the huge hanger in the middle of nowhere. The black SUV is parked nearby, waiting for him. They think they are letting him go, that he doesn't pose enough of a security risk for anyone to believe him. But he never escapes them, he'll always find himself drawn back here looking for the answers.

 

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

 

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

 

The first time he'd asked questions out of curiosity, even found himself admitting  there'd been a little bit of cash in the room with the dead body... mostly to gauge McKay's reaction and see if he already knew.

 

When McKay had asked how much money, he'd licked his lips and lied easily. "A few thousand." He'd never been completely sure if McKay believed it, but he let Sheppard go.

  

Wordlessly, Sheppard takes the card, ready to leave with as much unnecessary conversation as possible. He turns to go, but McKay stops him anyway. God, he hates this part.

 

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

 

"Yeah. You know everything." Sheppard drawls sarcastically with his sunglasses hiding his emotion; he doesn't know why, but he feels a stab of grief over the fact that no one will ever know what Lyle meant to him... what they meant to each other...

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard turns away, uselessly wishing he'd made the choice to keep driving and never look back. If only he hadn't noticed the leaking Antifreeze on that Airstream trailer.

 

But it's too late now. He's dead and somehow stuck living out his last days over and over.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Sure." Sheppard answers flatly, none of this fucking matters now.

 

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

 

Sheppard had long become accustomed to being a failure; But McKay's words, calling him a hero, telling him he could have been something else... they'd stung somewhere deep, somewhere inside himself where he hadn't been able to extinguished the last lingering embers of hope. It made him want to be a better person than he really was...

 

Or maybe it made him think he could redeem himself for not being that better person; picturing the stolen money in his car Sheppard had pressed his lips together in frustration and asked, "What do you want me to say?"

 

"For now. Nothing." McKay called over his shoulder as he walked away.

 

This time Sheppard keeps his mouth shut. He knows better, he knows he's irredeemable. 

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Chapter Text

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The day he died, Sheppard quit and walked out of the police station feeling lighter. Expecting to start a new life, free from the past, he left everything behind; except the money, his Johnny Cash poster, and his car. But no matter what road he takes now, he knows his escape was only meant to be short lived.

 

Sometimes he stays drunk in a dark bar, sometimes he drives as far as he can get on the highway before everything resets, more often he just stays and talks with McKay. 

 

But lately Sheppard has started to consider that he was meant to relive his death. Like maybe there are a finite number of times he has to suffer before his penance is over. Today is one of those days where he opts to drive to the desert and bleed out.

 

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

 

Maybe it was always his destiny to die this way. If everything that happened was real and he did save lives, maybe he went out doing good. Just not good enough to redeem himself.

 

If his choices still matter, maybe every selfish act, every time he runs away again and chooses not to stop the alien, it sets things wrong and strikes another mark against him.

 

Even if it does all just mean nothing, part of him has come to crave the pain. In a way Sheppard needs the hurt to feel anything; it's all he has left, his destiny. 

 

The lonely Johnny cash song playing on the car stereo seems to understand. It's the song that got him through Nancy leaving after she called off the wedding. He figured after that he really was meant to be alone. At least until he met Lyle...

 

From the open window, the breeze ameliorates some of the blazing heat outside. Sheppard turns up the volume to better hear the lyrics.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sheppard prepares himself for the painful death that awaits him and drives out to   where the trailer is connected to the power grid. Pulling out his phone, he calls McKay to tell him the location.

 

"He thinks he's found him." McKay shouts to someone else in the room, "How?" He asks Sheppard.

 

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

 

He hears McKay talking to someone and then Woolsey's voice in the background as he confirms that they have his coordinates. 'Yep. From that friendly tracking device you planted on my car'.

 

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

 

The phone goes dead.

 

That's Sheppard's cue that the Wraith is about to make his move, "Yeah." he mutters to no one in particular, "Guess it's time."

 

He slowly drives within reach of the trailer, "We had a good run." He pats Betty's dashboard as the car rolls to a stop.

 

Almost to the end now. Sheppard reaches for the gun in his glove box, remembering the extra rounds this time, he carefully exits the driver's side door.

 

For the hell of it, he tries a new approach but doesn't make it far before a bullet punches through one of the trailer panes, like it always does. Sheppard runs back for the shelter of the car, positioning himself on the far side. Shots ricochet off the other side. As if it wasn't beat up enough already, poor old Betty sags as the gunfire takes the air out of her tires.  She deserved better.

 

No matter how careful he is returning fire, he always manages to get hit. But what's one pistol against two automatic rifles... The planes will get here soon, his job isn't to survive, only to keep the alien from finishing his job.

 

Sheppard stands up and fires everything he has left into the chest of the white haired thing. The bullets have no effect, but Sheppard's shot up pretty good. A final wave of ammunition hits the car and he crouches down against it for support.

 

As the creature looms over him, Sheppard clutches his bloodied chest, wheezing for air.  He pulls the trigger one last time. It clicks, still empty. But the distraction is working.

 

Sighing with his eyes closed, Sheppard pulls the empty trigger again. Then his arm falls weakly to the ground. He has no fight left in him and the Wraith sees this. It's eyes gleam as it drops its weapons and reaches out a hand in anticipation of feeding and draining what life remains from him.

 

But Sheppard knows this isn't how he goes out. He takes off his sunglasses and squints up at the creature without fear. In the distance there is the sound of approaching aircraft.

 

The thing whips it's head around suddenly and runs back into the trailer to finish what it started.

 

Moments later, a powerful energy pulse radiates out from the Airstream. His dilapidated car keeps Sheppard protected for the most part. Then seconds later, the missile blast hits the trailer and destroys everything. Flaming pieces of debris go flying out in all directions.

 

He wants to believe he bought them enough time like McKay says he did. It's not as if he hasn't tried other ways to stop it sooner... reaching the trailer earlier, or just telling McKay where to find it when they first meet. But it never plays out right; it's as if something is indelibly etched in time that can't be changed.

 

Doesn't matter. Whatever this was, it's over now.

 

The heat from the burning wreckage makes it hard to breathe and Sheppard crawls as far away from the smoke as he can before collapsing on his back. 

 

Staring up at the sky, the last thing he hears is the voice of the Wraith prisoner in his mind.

 

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

 

The blue sky fades into white until everything is gone. 

 

And then it begins again.

 

He is back in the café, sitting on a stool.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I assure you that I am very real."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I was but-"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Canadian?"

 

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

 

McKay looks back out the window in confusion.

 

"See, the denim jacket, denim shirt, matching denim jeans... Well, not quite matching, slightly different hues but close... that's the classic Canadian tuxedo."

 

"Okay." McKay's eyes narrow at him, "Your mind just made that guy up so you could insult me."

 

"What do you care?" Sheppard snarls.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Like from Star Trek?" Sheppard snorts

 

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

 

"But no money?" Sheppard asks.

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard closes his eyes and concentrates. He's back in his shabby apartment. Alone. The car is parked outside the window safe and sound. No sign of McKay. He'll just keep dreaming, dreaming until he wears thin enough that there is nothing left of him.

 

.
.


.
.

 

Staring at the empty seat in the café for a minute, McKay disengages mentally from the pod. He emerges from the chamber feeling disheartened at how short his conversation with Sheppard was today.

 

Back in the main lab, McKay mulls over how unsuccessful he's been at getting through to the detective after all this time. They'd rescued him soon enough to stop the internal bleeding but there'd been a lot of surgeries. Sheppard almost didn't make it, but then after he pulled through, he'd stayed in a coma.

 

McKay was supposed to head back with the others to Atlantis but he decided he could just as easily complete his work on Earth. At that point it felt like the only reason to go back would be Jennifer; but things between them hadn't felt quite right. It wasn't her fault, he'd never really been the same after Katie died.

 

Maybe getting transferred to Area 51 was his way of ending the relationship. Or maybe it had something to do with the responsibility he felt for Detective John Sheppard. 

 

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

 

That had been almost two years ago.

 

Sure, the SGC has ordered Sheppard to be disconnected many times since, but McKay won't hear of it and has threatened to resign. It's outrageous that they would consider causing permanent brain damage over the use of such meager resources.

 

Brilliant inventions aside, after all the work he's done for them, he's pretty much been given the run of the place. Theoretically he should be happy with all the professional freedom he has at Area 51. It's a huge facility, though it almost feels a bit too big. He has a gaggle of minions to do his every bidding but he hates them all -sycophants, every one of them.

 

Still, it's not like he's lonely, he has his cat Binky after all.

 

He knows they make fun of his 'project' behind his back. And he supposes that he spends more time in the pods than he should. But he tells himself that Sheppard needs a consistent voice, someone to get through to him. And eventually he could come out... But McKay doesn't know if he believes that will happen anymore.

 

"You don't realize how little I have to lose." That's what he'd told McKay the day they met.

 

Guess he was telling the truth. Sheppard doesn't seem to see the point in coming back, even at times when he seems to entertain the possibility that McKay is telling the truth. The fact that he won't even try tells McKay that the guy cares very little about what happens to him. 

 

Sometimes Sheppard thinks he's living in some kind of hell. He's so committed to running that McKay wonders what could be so painful about reality that he would choose that over life. 

 

Maybe he was wrong; maybe this Sheppard has nothing in common with the bright-eyed flirtatious man he met from another reality.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"They did, did they?" He snaps.

 

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

 

McKay looks to his consoles to check the energy readings. The residual feedback and trace amount of radiation seem to be consistent with a jump from an alternate universe. Obviously not one he initiated, since he still hasn't worked out the problems to get his own PUD running right .

 

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

 

"Well?" he asks the doctor.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yes, yes, I know. It's me, from another universe." McKay is impatient, "How exciting. But what I need to know is why." He huffs out of the infirmary and enters the locked isolation room.

 

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

.

.

Chapter Text

.
.

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

 

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

 

"Well." He walks over to the other Rodney, "I-I've met an alternate Sheppard before, but never, ah, a me."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"No uh-"

 

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

 

"Yes-" McKay scowls, "sorry about that, it couldn't be helped."

 

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

 

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

 

Rodney and John pull a couple of chairs and sit close to each other; McKay sits on the opposite side of the table, waving to the cameras in the corner, "I assume you understand we need to record this encounter."

 

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

 

"There are a number of questions I'll need you to answer about the nature and intention of your visit." McKay eyes him warily wondering what potentially life altering decisions may have changed his personality in such a way.

 

"More than happy to," John tilts his head, "We're here to compare and contrast, find out of there are any untapped sources of energy, specifically a power source like a ZPM that we may have overlooked in our own reality."

 

It sounds like an implausible use of resources to him, and McKay doubts it, "But it must have taken a tremendous amount of energy to get you here, to look for... yet more energy?" 

 

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

 

"But the exotic particle problem-"

 

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

 

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

 

"No, no." Rodney assures him, "Been there done that. This one skips between realities to discharge the exotic particles. See, once I collected the research from a Daedalus that was skipping through dimensions, I was able to compensate for my mistakes. Well, not mine-mine, another me, several other mes... A-Anyway, the drive is designed to shut down and burn itself out before anything like that could happen."

 

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

 

"You have?" McKay frowns, "So then you two obviously know each other well?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

McKay is puzzled, "I guess..."

 

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

 

"You are here. In an unofficial capacity." McKay looks down guiltily, "In a stasis pod, actually. You were injured after taking on the Wraith that was trying to send the transmission."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Just, ah, waiting for clearance." McKay taps his com and stares stiffly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Ah." McKay understands and considers their request, "Well, it would be quite difficult for you, but we were able to retrieve one from the distant past." 

 

"Egypt. Got it." Rodney answers.

 

Surprised at the similarities, McKay thinks of another and wonders if they were able to find it as well. "Brotherhood of the 15?"

 

John winces, "Almost got it."

 

"Hmm." McKay feels smug, "We were able to find it." He fails to mention that it was depleted, "Of course you could always try to steal one from the Replicator homeworld, we considered that at a time when things were desperate, but it just isn't viable."  

 

"Actually, we got what was left after the place was destroyed." Rodney gives McKay a curious look.

 

"Or at least recaptured some that the Wraith stole after our joint attack." John mutters sheepishly

 

"Destroyed?" McKay doesn't know how to process the idea of the Replicators being defeated, let alone a joint attack with the Wraith."You destroyed the Replicators?"

 

"I designed a Replicator capable of binding the nanites on the subatomic level and used it as a Trojan horse," Rodney speaks excitedly, "combined with a ZPM overload-"

 

"And maybe a little help from the Armada I pulled together." John gives a scolding look.

 

McKay exhales a small huff of disbelief, "Well, I don't know what else I could tell you. Other than the main stash we found on the Lantean homeworld, I can't think of-"

 

"Whoa-Wait!" Rodney balks, "We never saw anything while we were there. Nothing in the Atlantis database. No energy signatures. I mean, we found an underwater drilling platform, but there was nothing to indicate the presence of a ZPM..."

 

"No, there wouldn't be." McKay explains, "Sumner found a tablet that I decoded. The mathematics were based on the dimensions of the Lantean homeworld. When we inspected the area on the other side of the planet, we found a hidden underground cache, like the one in Glastonbury. Interestingly enough, we never found an underwater drilling platform before we left."

 

Given that his own PUD isn't working, McKay feels a bit better that he figured something out that his other self hasn't yet, "Hmm. Yes, actually I was the one that solved it. Daniel had it completely wrong. It wasn't in the script itself, but rather a complex mathematical pattern that corresponded to the planet dimensions... once I knew what I was looking for-"

 

Which was?" John cuts him off.

 

"A set of Ancestral rings, leading to the interior of the planet. We found consciousness sharing stones, personal shields, and a lot of ZPMs-"

 

"A lot?" Rodney asks with growing anticipation, "Exactly how many?"

 

"More than enough." McKay answers curtly, still suspicious of their motives.

 

Rodney gasps and grabs onto John's arm with excitement and John leans into him with a playful look. There's something about the way these two are together that makes McKay feel like he's missing out on something. He feels a pang of jealousy that they are so close.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rodney peers at McKay, "You seem very... self-possessed."

 

"Thank you?"

 

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

 

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

 

"Rakish, even." John smirks.

 

"You seem very unlike the Sheppard I know." McKay frowns at John, unsure if he should be offended. 

 

"Is he Mensa?" John groans.

 

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

 

"Physically?" John asks.

 

"Not anymore, but he's a bit lost these days. He's ah, been in one of the Aurora pods since recovering from his surgeries. I can't get him to come out voluntarily, he doesn't believe he's in stasis, or doesn't care. Really, I only met him the one time before he went in and I don't think he really trusts me, so..." McKay lifts his hands, then decides he's probably already said too much.

 

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

 

"I speak with him from time to time." McKay admits.

 

"You keep him company." Rodney guesses right with a gentle expression on his face.

 

"No. I, uh, just try to engage him. Explain the situation..." McKay stiffens, looking to John, "You seem more like the Sheppard I once met from an alternate reality, he led a team on Atlantis. Detective Sheppard has led a darker life I think...

 

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

 

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

 

Rubbing his brow, McKay tries to remember the file, "A medical team of civilians, a marine, and 3 guys from his team."

 

"Dexter, Mitchell... and Lyle?"

 

"Yes. I think that was it. He went in to rescue them against orders but the chopper went down. He and one other survived the crash... initially. But I believe the other member of his team died shortly after the crash. Most of the file was redacted, so I don't know why Sheppard survived or how he managed to keep from doing any jail time after stealing a military chopper."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John's voice is gravelly. "Yeah."

 

"So," McKay is intrigued, "what happened to you?"

 

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

 

"You have the gene?" McKay is incredulous.

 

"Yeah."

 

"Without the ATA therapy?"

 

"Uh-huh."

 

McKay blinks in thought, "Interesting."

 

"So, is Atlantis based here?" Rodney asks, "This looks like Area 51."

 

"Why would it be on Earth?" McKay catches himself before he says too much, "The location is classified."

 

Rodney doesn't seem phased, "Then you're no longer part of the expedition."

 

Gauging how much to say, McKay supposes this is one question he can answer. He wants to keep them talking and he's just as curious about them, "5 years was enough, I chose not to go back after Sheppard- I mean, I determined I could just as easily do my work from here; things in Pegasus are less than ideal."

 

"Is Elisabeth alive?" John asks.

 

"Dr. Weir? Alive and well."

 

John and Rodney both smile and exchange a look.

 

"And Carson?" Rodney asks.

 

"Carson? Oh. Doctor Beckett, no."

 

"Oh." Rodney looks sad; his face wrinkles up for a moment, "...Alex?" he asks cautiously. 

 

John looks at him sharply and McKay wonders why.

 

"I don't think there was an Alex on the expedition." He tries to recall.

 

"You never met Alex..." Rodney trails off, "On Earth?"

 

"I don't believe so, sorry." Clearly this name is an important one to John and Rodney given the looks on their faces.

 

"Never mind." Rodney blurts out loudly, "How's Jeanie?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I do know a Binky." McKay finally allows himself a slight smile, "Best little guy I could ask for, I mean when I shake that food box..."

 

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

 

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

 

Looking back at McKay self-consciously, Rodney adds "He is a great little guy."

 

McKay's eyes widen a bit as he wonders more about the connection between these two. The way they look at each other, sitting so close, touching familiarly... He'd once felt a spark between himself and a Colonel Sheppard from another dimension. Maybe if they'd had more time together something more would have developed..."

 

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

 

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

 

Ignoring Rodney's tirade, John leans over to McKay and whispers that it will be 3 months tops before he has it working.

 

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

 

"No." McKay admits, "I imagine it might get a bit dull for you since you'll need to stay confined to certain areas for security reasons."

 

"Could have been Mensa." Rodney chirps out and John laughs heartily.

 

Assuming it must be an inside joke, McKay motions to John, "Unless... Maybe you could get through to Sheppard... He might listen to you -I mean, to himself."

 

"I'd be willing to try" John nods thoughtfully, "I've been in one of the Aurora pods before."

 
.
.


.
.

 

John bides his time while the two McKays discuss the project. Eventually they are given a square meal and shown to separate quarters on the base. He isn't used to sleeping without Rodney anymore and feels better when Rodney gives him a clear look to let him know he will be coming to his room later.

 

The bed in John's room is small and he imagines Rodney will have further incentive to get them out of here considering how cramped it is. It reminds him of the times when they practically slept on top of each other in order to fit in the same bed at night.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pulling his pants over his boxers and quickly donning his long sleeved shirt, he adds, "If we're going to be here a while, we're going to need another change of clothes."

 

"And a shower." Rodney makes a face.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Morning." Rodney flushes.

 

"I was going to bring some for you too." McKay shakes the bag in his other hand.

 

"Thanks." Rodney opts to keep sitting.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Okay." McKay nods.

 

"A bigger bed?" Rodney poses more boldly. He shrugs at John. "Look, if we're going to be here a while... They're about to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell anyway and it's not like this is even our universe; I mean, what are they going to do to us? "

 

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

 

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

 

"I'll see you both in the mess hall." McKay gives John a strange look, "Okay, uh, leaving now."

 

.
.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yeah."

 

"Where's the other guy?"

 

"He took the day off."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"No. Just someone who's had a bit more luck I guess." 

 

When Sheppard doesn't answer, John continues, "I went back too. In Afghanistan? But it was only Lyle and a couple marines who were missing. The marines died before I got there. Lyle too... but after I got to him..." John sighs. "I did the same as you, I had to. It was just, the circumstances were different and I didn't end up... I just ended up exiled in Antarctica. And uh, the Atlantis expedition, it literally fell into my lap. Just luck. 

 

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

 

"I'm not what you think I am." John tries to find the right words, "Look, McKay thought maybe I could get through to you... But if I were you, I'd probably be pretty skeptical too." John pauses, "Truth is, you really are in a stasis pod, a virtual reality that you have limited ability to control. Right now I'm in a pod next to you, that's why we're able to communicate."

 

"Let me guess. You came through some sub-space dimensional rift?" Sheppard sneers.

 

"Not through it exactly. But sort of, as crazy as it sounds, from another dimension. See, that transmission you stopped did tear through sub-space. We followed the source of the signal that came from your reality.

 

"Right." Sheppard stares ahead with eyes glazed over

 

Okay." John keeps trying, "Where I'm from, some years back we encountered a ship full of Ancients -the race of aliens that created this technology. They were in some kind of interactive cryo-stasis for years, stuck in a time loop, thinking they were almost home. But their ship was-"

 

John stops, "Okay, all this technical stuff isn't what I'm good at, so maybe I'm not the best person to explain, ah... Look, the point is, by the time we found them, their bodies were too far gone and they had no hope of surviving the revival process. I took a look at you on the way in, and you seem okay for now; but you can't stay like this indefinitely."

 

He doesn't bother to mention that it actually took the Ancients about 10,000 years to decay to such a state, he'd rather present the situation in a more urgent light.

 

"Real or not, I don't much care." Sheppard shrugs with the same vacant forward gaze.

 

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

 

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

 

John thinks back to his days at McMurdo, "I remember a time when the emptiness was a comfort to me, the numb routine, the surreal quality, just going through the motions." He'd almost forgotten how that felt, "Yeah. I guess that didn't really start to change until I met Rodney."

 

"Who, McKay?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard stands up and folds his jacket over his arm. He takes John in but reveals nothing of himself; heavy stubble fills out the gaunt looking face;  haunted, guarded, emotionless eyes stare back at John. 

 

Was he really this broken and shut down when Rodney first met him? John can't be sure anymore, in so many ways he has forgotten; it seems like a lifetime ago.

 

"Well, that was different." Sheppard makes in inscrutable face and walks out of the café, leaving John by himself.

 

'Okay. That is one really difficult guy to talk to.' John closes his eyes and concentrates on opening the pod chamber.
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Chapter Text

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As the days go by, John can't shake the image of Sheppard's expressionless face. If there was any part of that man that had hope, he couldn't see it. Meeting him was like seeing a ghost; or some version of himself lost in a darkness beyond  the kind John once knew. 

 

If he could only show him what it was like to be on the other side… John wonders what else he could possibly say to convince himself. 

 

Watching Rodney, McKay, and their team working on the PUD device, he has little else to do but think about the damaged version of himself in that Aurora pod.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I suppose so. Yes, for brief time." McKay looks mildly interested now, "But it wouldn’t make a difference. Any kind of manual disconnect would cause irreparable damage to his brain."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"And we've got," John tilts his head, "what, weeks?"

 

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

 

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

 

"He can still hear you, you know.” Rodney calls over to them, “And it's still faster than waiting for Zelenka to figure out the recall problem on his end."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Why? None of this is real, right?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Your memories?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"That McKay guy?" Sheppard makes a pained expression, "Wish I'd never met him."

 

John continues anyway, “You don't know it yet, but you need each other. He's the one who can rescue you if you let him. And he needs you to rescue him back. I want you to do it for him."

 

"I barely know him." Sheppard answers dispassionately.

 

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

 

There is a slight flicker across Sheppard's stoic expression, "sometimes it's better than having no one to talk to - at least when he's not trying to tell me what to do."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard's eyes flash with sudden emotion.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Maybe. I hope so."

 

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

 

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

 

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Sheppard watches as his likeness suddenly disappears from the casino. He's seen McKay do it before. Maybe he should listen to himself. Maybe he does want a way out. If it really exists.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yes." McKay shakes his head at the pair of them wondering again how they ever managed to solve the exotic particle problem, “That would be the  easier way.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Okay, here it goes." McKay takes a deep breath and punches in the sequence; Sheppard's gaunt body comes sliding out of the panel, his hands restively crossed like someone in a coffin.

 

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

 

"You ready?" he asks.

 

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

 

"Yeah. Figured that part out, Mere."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

McKay punches in the code and watches John's chamber close.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I can see all that, you know." Sheppard speaks with his head hanging.

 

"I know. It's..." John exhales deeply, walking shakily to the booth and sitting on the other side.

 

When Sheppard meets his gaze, his eyes are wide and wild looking.

 

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

 

The image changes as Sheppard thinks about the open floor plan in the home they share at Solaris... He sees Rodney tracing his fingers around his eyes, gazing at him with wonder before they make love, 'They're all gone.'

 

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

 

'All your armored walls, your defenses... They're all gone.'

 

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

 

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

 

'Em.' Rodney pulled his lips away enough to whisper, 'I love you.'

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John closes his eyes with the pain of the memories.

 

Many of them are the same. His mother lying in a pool of blood staining the small white tiles in the bathroom, as he begged her lifeless body, 'Please, Mommy, don't leave me.'

 

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

 

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

 

Here the memories diverge.

 

Nancy had only been a glimmer in the dark that quickly faded. They never married. For years such a solitary existence... and the years dragged by slowly, nothing changed, nothing mattered.

 

There was the occasional sexual contact with a man or woman… The self-loathing almost as piercing after being with a woman. He felt like a fraud, a leper. Trying to hide his dark soul for a night. Only just long enough to let himself be touched. But no one could really reach him; it was just a necessary release when the pressure got to be too much.

 

Then in Afghanistan everything changed, much like it did for John. Sheppard allowed a few people to matter to him. Mitch, Dex... and especially Lyle. Lyle was everything to him, but he didn't dare let himself get too close. Nothing to break the perfect intimacy of their friendship.

 

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

 

He carried him a short distance from the wreckage to a defensible position. And that's where Lyle slowly bled out in his arms. He was helpless to do anything but hold him as he faded away. Lyle was scared, but not as scared as Sheppard was to lose him.

 

'Thanks for coming back for me.' He saw the love clearly in Lyle's eyes.

 

Reaching down tenderly, he cradled Lyle's face, choking out the words, 'Because I... I love you.'

 

Lyle's whole body seemed to flood with relief and happiness, 'Love you too... Y-You know that right? Have to, have to know how much I love you?' He seemed so desperate for Sheppard to know.

 

Stifling a sob, he bent down to kiss Lyle, tasting the hint of blood on his lips, 'I know, I know, I've always known.'

 

Lyle clamored to express the emotion, kissing him back, sharing the sweetness and intimacy they'd always been afraid to show.

 

Then his lips went soft and still.

 

Sheppard's mouth wilted into a grimace of agony as he pressed his mouth against Lyle's cold face and wailed, 'Please, please don't leave me! Oh God-Oh God. Please, NOOOOO!!'

 

Crushing Lyle's limp body in his arms, he sobbed, screamed, and begged. He couldn't let go, all night he held him, pleading. But Lyle was still gone.

 

Screaming.

 

There was so much screaming after that. Just like John's capture by the Taliban, the torture had been brutal. Then one unexpected day, deliverance came.

 

But it was too late by then; anything that ever mattered was dead. Dried up and withered away, like the husk of his soul.

 

After the humiliation of the court martial, Sheppard ended up in a desert again, with the oppressive heat and choking dry air. Back where it all ended, in blood and sand.

 

Working homicide seemed like an easy fit; the damage didn't reach him any more. he was numb to his surroundings, The death, the filth and grit, the gambling and sad souls selling their bodies. He worked just enough to scrape by and drank enough to keep himself alive. Not that he could call what he was doing really living.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"When you linked with me I felt it all drop away." Sheppard's eyes reflect the tortured train wreck inside; John can feel it too, and the terror this man has of letting himself hope again, "All the guilt and shame and, and, I don't know, everything you've let go of. I feel him, and... does it really feel that way?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"He's the one that can get through to you. No matter how much I tried to shut him out, he still got through to me."

 

"Chaya."

 

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

 

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

 

"Will you come out with me?" John asks hopefully.

 

Sheppard lifts his head wearily and John knows his answer before he says it out loud, "Just, give me a minute, or an hour to process this. I'll come out but I don't know what to say to him. It's all just so..."

 

John can sense how fearful Sheppard is at seeing McKay again, how inadequate Sheppard feels despite his hope to be deserving. His heart is open and accepting, even yearning for this person who has been his constant companion here in this world of lost illusion. His McKay, who he never imagined was actually real; but now he is so desperate to cling to the belief that he is.

 

"You can't imagine how happy he'll be when I tell him you're coming back." John assures him.

 

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

 

"Yes!" Rodney repeats with some exasperation.

 

"How is that even possible. You seem-"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Well, I’m not.” McKay admits, “And didn’t you say you got the solution to the exotic particle problem from work completed by several other of your personas from alternate realities?”

 

“Work they may have imperfectly started but which I perfected,” Rodney gives him a smug look, “So, yes, I figured it out.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

He doesn't have to say it. Sheppard senses that John wants him to stay this way and lets John comfort him. His breath becomes less ragged and slowly falls into a relaxed cadence.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sheppard gives him a faltering smile.

 

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

 

"In a little bit." Sheppard nods and sits back down in the booth, stunned and overwhelmed, he holds his head in his hands.
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Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

McKay shakes his head and Rodney quietly regards him with more compassion.

 

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

 

"I'm sorry, I really am..." Rodney looks at McKay with sympathy, "But Alex? He wasn't someone I lost. He was more like, like a bad thing that happened to me, that changed me. But if you’ve struggled with the same feelings... I'm so sorry." Rodney sighs, "But there’s a lot more to it than that, I'd rather not have to share those things or ever think about them again."

 

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

 

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

 

"Good, he's going to come out. He just needs a little time to himself first, but I feel his thoughts and emotions. He's definitely coming out." John wraps the stone back into the non-transference film, "These things stay connected until you re-set them right?"

 

McKay nods, releasing Sheppard's chamber and carefully re-wrapping the stone resting on his unconscious body. Then he quietly leaves the room without a word.

 

Looking to Rodney curiously, John asks, "Thought McKay would be more excited to hear it worked..."

 

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

 

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

 

"Why?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John suddenly wraps his arms around Rodney and hugs him into his chest. "I was lost without you." John crushes him tightly, like he's afraid to ever let go.

 

"I'm right here." Rodney squeaks.

 

"Yeah. I got really lucky."

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.
.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"What?" Rodney sighs.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"No, if you're not comfortable with it. It's pretty intense. But if you're only trying to protect him from your pain, then maybe you should let him decide."

 

John caresses the side of Rodney's face, "I think you are a lot more than the sum of what you’ve lived through. Whatever you've become through your experiences, you are amazing and whole, and so beautiful... I think he's right, you do have something he is missing. Still, I don't know if that's something you can ultimately give to someone, something that lasts."

 

"What did Sheppard want?" Rodney asks.

 

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

 

"Maybe he already does." Rodney guesses.

 

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

 

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

 

"Even so." John smiles, "He'd run so far away from himself... Too long to come back I think."

 

"And you changed that?"

 

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

 

.
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.
.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Really?" McKay's face brightens.

 

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

 

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

 

.
.


.
.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rodney looks up at John questioningly.

 

"You might want to talk privately." John suggests.

 

Rodney nods and follows McKay to a quiet office.

 

Offering Rodney the couch, McKay sits in the overstuffed chair across the table. His hands shake slightly as he sets the stones on the down. For the first time since he suggested this, he's having serious doubts. How terrifying will these memories actually be? Maybe he'll be horribly changed for the worse by the experience.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hesitating for a moment, Rodney unwraps his and the smooth surface makes contact with his skin.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

'Come back to me, Mere.'

 

He exhales and blinks in surprise to see tears falling from his eyes. He hasn't cried in years, not since Katie died. And Katie was exactly how Rodney remembered her; a pale, nice girl who had simply been willing to tolerate him even if she hadn't truly known him.

 

And yet she had been the shining star in McKay's lonely life.

 

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

 

.
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.
.

 

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

 

Sumner left Teyla and the Athosians to die in the culling, returning later in a cloaked ship to capture one of the Wraith left behind to guard the gate. Rodney wasn't there of course, not on a field team. At that point he just did his job in the lab behind the scenes.

 

The Wraith still woke early from another mission gone awry. First contact with the Genii went worse; a handful of the expedition were killed when Sumner stole their data module. The Genii came back for revenge and tried to take Atlantis during the storm. They got it back, but too many lives were lost retaking the city.

 

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

 

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

 

During the siege, Beckett fired the small handful of drones left in the artillery. But to keep the city from falling, Sumner ordered Becket and two others with the Ancient gene to fly what was left of their nukes on suicide runs against the Hive ships. The Daedalus didn't arrive in time to beam any of them back to safety.

 

So Rodney never got to know his colleague Dr. Beckett very well before he died. Just like Teyla and Ronon, who he never met at all. In fact there isn't anyone that ever got to know him well.

 

Since Alex was never a part of his life, Rodney resumed relations with his sister Jeanie shortly after she left school to have the baby. There relationship was always cordial enough, but not warm.

 

Nothing in Rodney's life had gotten very close to him, nothing too bad, and nothing too brilliant. Except for his own mind of course, and that's where he retreated.

 

With new crew joining them from Earth, it seemed like Atlantis was getting back on its feet again. But a Wraith virus infected the ship and many died before they could wipe it completely from the systems.

 

When they found the Ancient Aurora vessel, Rodney was able to complete a salvage of some of the stasis pods before Caldwell blew it up to keep it out of the hands of the arriving Wraith ships. The same pods that currently house Detective John Sheppard.

 

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

 

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

 

When Sumner captured a specimen, Rodney actived the Ancient kill code in the Replicators, the reason the Ancients created them in the first place –to annihilate the Wraith.

 

All-out war broke out between the Replicators and Wraith, taking the pressure off for a time. But then the Replicators begin to annihilate human worlds to starve the Wraith of their food supply.

 

Shortly after that Rodney uncovered the Ancient cache, the mother lode they had always been searching for –23 pristine ZPM's. Sumner opted to use the abundance of power to activate the stardrive and move to a new planet, a more secure location that the Replicators were not aware of. He'd had little concern for the dying human worlds in the galaxy; gathering Ancient technology had been his primary goal. 

 

Rodney's life moved along without much to mention. There were no games, no laughter, no friendship, no team to bond with. But he was given a moment of intense clarity when he almost died from an Ancient Ascension machine. After Dr. Keller revived him, he resolved to try to move out of his isolation and take an emotional risk by asking Katie Brown out to dinner.

 

He and Katie formed a bond, a precious connection that he nurtured -afraid it would break should she get to know him too well. They only had 6 months together, but it was the brightest time of Rodney's life.

 

She died with a number of other expedition members when an alien bacteria tore through the station. They about lost a 1/3 of their remaining expedition. Some were hit harder than others. Rodney survived, but what remained of his soul was crushed.

 

He tried to step up to the new leadership role assigned to him, but the toll of the Replicator-Wraith wars was wearing him bare as well. It was hard to stand by and watch millions die. The IOA tied Elizabeth's hands, not wanting her to waste Earth resources when the threat to them was minimal. They were only interested in gathering more of their precious Ancient technology.

 

Elizabeth eventually resigned over it and Woolsey took her place. Rodney and Dr. Keller grew closer in that time, gradually striking up a romance, but his heart wasn't really in it. He felt like he didn't have much of a heart left to give after Katie died. It fact, he didn't much feel like living at all.

 

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

 

Given the high mortality rate and depressing state of affairs in that galaxy, Rodney opted to stay behind. The military was eager to see the development of his PUD and wormhole drive, so they offered him whatever position he wanted at Area 51.

 

That had been the end of things with Jennifer and the beginning of his fascination with bringing John Sheppard back from the dead.

 

He denied it to the others of course, but it really did become an obsession, as if he was trying to resurrect himself somehow. Over the last couple years, Sheppard was the only one he really talked to or confided in. That is, when Sheppard would let him.

 

Somehow, it was cathartic having someone to talk to, even if Sheppard usually said little in return. Rodney talked enough for the both of them.

 

Over time, he stopped trying to convince Sheppard to leave the pod -for the most part. That only made him run. Instead Rodney took what he could, even if it meant at occasionally indulging Sheppard in his idea that Rodney was a hallucination. Anything for his company, the chance to have Sheppard listen to him. He knew the whole thing was pathetic. He was so pathetic.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yes." McKay answers him with his piercing eyes; then he closes them and Rodney can feel him collecting his thoughts.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"That bad, huh?" John looks worried.

 

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

 

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

 

"Sure, but why?" Rodney wonders.

 

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

 

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

 

"Doesn't matter. I have to go to him." McKay opens one of the empty pods, then hurriedly takes off his suit jacket; he folds it neatly before quickly climbing in.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Oh, God." He holds John's handsome face with determination, "How I've missed you." Rodney pulls him down and takes his full lips squarely in his, "Mmm." Rodney murmurs, "It's a wonderful life."
.
.

Chapter Text

.
.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Mere and Em." Sheppard nods, referring to the affectionally abbreviated names their doubles privately use.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Where are we?" Rodney asks.

 

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

 

Rodney follows him to the window, standing close.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"You have me." Rodney offers shakily.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Feeling everything that's never passed between them like it already has, Rodney  wants him so much. "I know I'm not Mere. But I think we fit together, the way they do. I think we have our own story, and, and that's the reason I never returned to Atlantis. You were important because somehow I knew you... I needed to know you."

 

"I'm no hero." John's face draws in with sadness, "I'm not George Bailey. I'm just... I'm not."

 

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

 

John flinches a little but doesn't pull away.

 

Rodney continues, "I'm happier right now than I've ever been in my life. Do you feel anything, anything even a little bit like that?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A rush of lightheaded tingling washes over Rodney's entire body as John's green eyes draw him in.

 

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

 

"Just kiss me." Rodney commands.

 

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

 

Rodney moans and runs his fingers through the back of John's hair to pull him in for more.

 

He can feel John trembling as his tongue licks the crease of Rodney's lips; he presses his mouth more firmly. The tongue licks at the part again and Rodney lets John lap at the sensitive insides. He opens his mouth further and the tip of his tongue brushes against John's.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yeah... uh, I... you're just really..." Rodney trembles and trails off at the sight of John's handsome face; all the words float out of his mind, he can't think at all.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Mmm..." Rodney whimpers in pleasure and John's fingers trail under his shirt, "No, obviously not. No."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Batman, of course"

 

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

 

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

 

"Once upon a time."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"No allergies to speak of."

 

"Really?" John nuzzles him playfully.

 

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

 

"You any good at chess?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Favorite movie?"

 

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

 

"Solaris." He answers softly.

 

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

 

Never being one to take big risks, Rodney bites his lip feeling incredibly vulnerable. But John makes him want to risk everything. He inches forward so that he is lying with his face just next to John's.

 

"Yes." He kisses John deeply, sweetly.

 

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

 

"Yes."

 

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

 

"Who?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"So, what happens now?" John purrs.

 

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

 

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

 

Rodney rakes his fingers through John's thick hair, "I'll go anywhere with you, as long as you stop running away from me."

 

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

 

"No. No more running. You were always my destination." Then he leans down to reward Rodney with a passionate kiss.

 

All these references, they aren't their stories, not yet. But Rodney has been yearning for John, waiting for him for so long, even if he didn't know exactly why.

 

He remembers being Mere, wishing up at the stars, loving Em but thinking he wasn't good enough, believing that he was never meant to be Em's destination.

 

He's never been so happy to be so wrong.

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.


.
.

 

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

 

From the nearby stool, John lazily lifts his chin up, "What?" 

 

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

 

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

 

"Tremendous, huh?" John straightens his slouch with more interest.

 

Rodney smiles at him. "I think we can safely assume they made contact." 

 

John gives one of his easy grins; walking over to Rodney, he affectionately squeezes his ass from behind, "Then I imagine we'll be waiting a while longer?"

 

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

 

"What?"

 

"Just wondering what it would be like to fuck you while connected through those stones."

 

"I think at some point,” John grips Rodney's ass more firmly this time, pressing hard against him, “it would be scientifically prudent to find out."

 

.
.

 

When the pods open, John and Rodney help Sheppard get to his feet.

 

He's a bit weak and wobbly, having not been on his legs for some time, "Do you have any idea how weird this is?" Sheppard stares at their faces.

 

McKay rushes to his side, "I think they do. Let's get you to my quarters where you can rest."

 

Locking eyes with his protector Sheppard smiles as he slings his arm over McKay's shoulder "Lead the way." 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Over a year." John states proudly.

 

"It's a little overwhelming." McKay's usual arrogance has dropped away, "Any words of wisdom?" He searches their faces for a sincere answer.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Scientific purposes?" McKay laughs, "And in return..." 

 

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

 

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

 

McKay's smiles sheepishly, "We seemed pretty close earlier."

 

"Good." Rodney gives a lopsided grin, "Then maybe it won't take you guys years to get there. Just... don't leave things unsaid, don't let too much time go by."

 

"Take care of each other." John slides his hand over Rodney's, "You can get through to him in a way no one else can."

 

"The same is true for you," Rodney squeezes John's hand, "His love will change your life."

 

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

 

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

 

"Okay," McKay's face lights up, "later tonight I'll take the machine from inventory. I'll teach you how to use the stones, reset them and turn them off. But the minute I say they need to go back into storage, you hand them back over. Agreed?"

 

They both nod happily.

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Later that night, John sits with Rodney bare and cross-legged on their large bed with the machine between them, he exhales, "You sure-"

 

"Yeah." Rodney's voice hitches with excitement, "You?"

 

A smile slowly spreads across John's features, "Definitely."

 

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

 

"Think you'll still love me?" John reaches a palm across the blanket, tenderly taking Rodney's hand in his.

 

"Always. Husband." Rodney leans over the circular device, his lips gently brushing on John's mouth. "Always."

 

John swallows at the pleasant rising warmth in his chest, an ease of radiating  trust and desire. There is a measure of control the user retains over how deep the link plummets into the soul. Mere is the only person he'd let seep into every crack of his spirit. Unafraid, he is craving it now, the need to share everything of himself, give every last drop.

 

His long fingers trace the angles on the face of the man who has fascinated and captivated him all these years... Lush and slow, he kisses the lips of the person he is closest to. No matter how perfect they are, he's always wanting, needing to give more to the love of his life .

 

"Mere, I could only love you more."

 

The look in Rodney's eyes tells John he understands completely. He melts into the seductive caress John pulls him into.

 

When he hears the sound of his husband taking one of the stones from a shallow cradle in the machine, John leans back in wonder at the dazzling blue of Rodney's eyes.

 

"Your turn." Rodney bites his lip in anticipation.

 

John's gaze flits to the stone remaining in one of the slots. He breathes out slowly and inches his fingers toward the device. His lashes flutter up at Rodney, with longing and just a hint of insecurity teasing at his emotions. His hand wavers over the stone.

 

Reaching up to cup John's jaw, Rodney's eyes exude unconditional love and acceptance. He looks like he is just about to say something when John's hand drops down.

 

They both inhale sharply as the rush floods through them. It feels like they are breathing in unison. It feels like slivers of hot and cold racing through his brain, filling in copies of memories. Some new, some overlays, two sets of the same experiences. Memories of Rodney's life.

 

Sliding over the smooth of Rodney's skin, he holds his face in his hands, 'Oh Mere. Mere, you're so beautiful, so...' His breath sucks in with the burst of joy Rodney is feeling.

 

He wants to wind through every lost moment, hold Rodney through every hurt he's ever felt... Those cold winters, wind whipping around his chapped childhood cheeks. Dreading the walk to school, staring at dreary icicles along the way, wishing he could disappear from the daily humiliations of being 4 years younger than his classmates.

 

The harsh words of his father urge his footsteps on, "The road to genius is one of solitude, you were meant for better things than simpleminded friends. I won't hear you complain about the opportunities you've been given and I want to see those finished equations." 

 

Much like John's early life, Rodney's childhood is defined by a lack of care or affection.

 

"Yes, sir," Rodney answers the dry commands.

 

The chill clung to his bones like a distant refrain from the piano. The music always understood the emotion, he could feel his sorrow falling on the ivory keys as he touched them. But his parents decided it was a distraction, insisting Rodney focus his mind on mathematical problems instead.

 

His music was too precise anyway, too methodical. But when they took the piano away, Rodney lost a part of himself. He mourned the missing piece. And when he needed to, he still played the keys in his mind to hear the haunting melodies that unlocked his forgotten story... the one of loneliness that was always with him... as he was overlooked; scorned and spurned, mocked and unwanted.

 

Retreating to his mind, Rodney got used to people making him feel weak. But in the clarity of equations he found the beauty of the cosmos revealed, spinning around him; it helped take away some of the bitter cold. 

 

Eventually he learned to find his own voice, bragging loudly to whoever would listen. At least he wasn't completely unnoticed then; he might have been  terrible with people, but he was a genius with physics.

 

By the time Alex found him, he'd been alone so long trying to compensate for his crippling insecurity and self-doubt... He was desperate to believe that someone really could care for him. Vulnerable, needy, and so hungry for human contact.

 

These failings gave Alex the upper hand, fed his ability to prey on him, inflict  humiliation, and fill Rodney with self-loathing and a new despair unlike anything he'd ever known before. And as time went by, he was filled with a sincere desire to end it all by ceasing to exist at all.

 

Too much of a coward to attempt suicide, he kept going. But once Alex abandoned him too, he vowed never to risk letting anyone in again. He would seek solace in the work as he always had, alone. Pain didn't matter where he could escape in his mind. And that was where he retreated, to that perfect world, through the folds in space time that no one else could see.

 

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

 

But then, only 6 months later Rodney is suddenly brought back, crashing down into the harsh, bare sensations of everyday life. Blinded by the snow and the haunting face of John Sheppard.

 

Despite himself, he succumbs to the pitiful longing of human emotions. Vowing to escape, he never breaks free of John's hold on him. And eventually he loses all will to do so. He nurses the fragile hope, no matter how often it is crushed that John will come to care for him again. Pitifully longing to be loved in return, he dreams of John's arms around him, wanting him as deeply.

 

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

 

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

 

Delicately stroking the face of his beloved, John closes his mouth over Rodney's lips. He knows Rodney can hear his thoughts; more than that, he takes in the warmth of John's heart bursting with more love than he's ever known how to express with words.

 

Regret seeps through John's every pore, wishing he'd held Rodney sooner, made him safe and taken away the sadness. All of it, all the way back to childhood and those sad strains of piano music.

 

He wants to protect him - the way Rodney did for him the night after the siege. It hadn't been a dream, he knows that now. He can feel Rodney holding him, guarding over him for hours; so cautious not to cross any kind of line, but too protective to leave until he was sure John wasn't hurting anymore.

 

They were always meant to be together. It was John's fault, his failings that held him back and kept him from finding Rodney sooner. He could have saved him from all this if he hadn't been so damaged and empty. Why did it take him so fucking long? All those years together on Atlantis, they could have been happy. He could have made Rodney happy.

 

'Stop'. Rodney pushes the thought into his mind. 'You made me happy.' He tumbles a rush of images and emotions through John.

 

The seed of home and belonging that John planted in him, his happiness growing as their friendship deepened. The wonder and astonishment of discovering John's heart as it slowly opened. 

 

Despite feeling inadequate and afraid of being exposed, Rodney kept pressing forward to reach the warmth of John's soul.

 

And when he'd been swallowed by darkness, lost all will to go on, he'd trusted John enough to tend to his broken body and spirit. Letting himself surrender and be taken care of, completely at John's mercy.

 

Clawing his way back to life was excruciating but John carried him most of the way. John swallows back the tears in disbelief at the immense trust he didn't deserve, the realization that Rodney's life really was in his hands. 'At least that's one time I didn't fail you.'

 

'You think you fail everyone.' Rodney admonishes him, 'You were always enough.'

 

Rodney shows John the explosion of happiness that sent him soaring beyond anything he could have ever imagined. The love between them growing brighter and more brilliant every day, filling his heart many times over what he is capable of retaining.

 

The joy is indescribable. Now John is the one trembling, ebullient and lightheaded with boundless pride that he could effect Rodney this way.

 

'Oh, my love.' His hands shake on the side of Rodney's face as he dips his head to Rodney's brow. 'My love.' 

 

Soft hands trace the sides of John's face as Rodney returns the tenderness. Then his palm slides down John's long neck, pressing over his heart. He feels the beat pulsing, he belongs to Rodney completely.

 

'And my heart belongs to you.' Rodney's thought radiates into the pulse and runs through his veins. 

 

To Rodney, John is a furnace of passion, burning through all the walls or chains that ever tried to contain him; stronger than he ever realized.

 

Rodney's hands are John's now, in a far distant past with bloodied fingers, feverish and sticky. Red covers the bathroom floor, seeping into his chest as he holds his mother's body to him, wailing and begging for her to come back. It feels like he is bleeding out, the way she is.

 

Mom always said her heart belonged to him, that she loved him more than Dave or Dad, it was supposed to be their secret. But it wasn't really true if she would leave like this. He just wasn't enough... not enough, he'd failed her.

 

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

 

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

 

Racing to the phone, the blood on his hands causes it to slip to the floor at first. He dials and pleads with them to come as fast as they can.

 

They take her away but she never comes home from that ambulance ride; he is lost without her. Reaching for Dave's door, John sobs, "Please Dave. I'm scared. I don't wanna be alone."

 

The door always shuts in his face, casting him adrift. Dave doesn't care and John knows better than to ask his father for anything. No one wants him anymore, not even Mom. He has to learn to hide his weakness, to try to be the kind of man his father wants him to be, to be like his brother.

 

The dark hallways of the mansion stretch on forever and John hides in the garden where no one will blame him for crying. 

 

The ghost of Rodney's presence is there with him in the memory. He folds around young John, holding him while he cries. He reaches into the dark crevices of John's mind, to this place where it all began, where the shadows and fears still linger. He forces himself into the empty place, filling the cracks with his love instead. John reaches for it, the forgiveness he's always sought as peace begins to take the place of loss.

 

Rodney can't help but feel contempt for the way Patrick Sheppard treated his son. Berating him, beating him, making him slave for the family business. He aches for John, the John who couldn't stop himself from caring, desperately trying to earn his father's approval.

  

With time John hides deeper and deeper into the walls he builds around himself, finding his only freedom in the air. The pain all seems to float away when he's soaring high above the clouds.

 

Too many years stretched out in front of him like a prison sentence, but a fire still burned in John's chest, it kept him fighting. And then it began to come to life again in his friendship with Tyler.

 

Smiling at the memory of what they shared, Rodney wishes he'd known John then; those two had been inseparable, like brothers, like the brother John never had. But there was much more between them than that. John didn't really understand it yet as they explored it; it all unraveled, imploded on him before he ever had a chance to.

 

Burned by the fire, charred to a cinder, smoking ruins of self-hatred are pounded into his body when they attack him at school. Then again seared into his flesh when his own father beats him for his sin.

 

The look, that look... he'll never forget the hatred in his father's eyes. The rejection, complete and absolute.

 

He was truly alone then, without any family. He steeled himself to the stark reality, his new life as a soldier. Soldiers are real men, not faggots. Soldiers don't feel, they just follow orders.

 

Again, the years stretch out in front of him like another sentence to be endured. There were few encounters with anonymous men in the military, more with women; but those affairs were almost as short lived.

 

Then someone managed to press against his inpenatrable wall. Nancy made John want to hope again, to believe he could let himself feel without the searing pain. He reached for the small ray of hope in his dim world though he knew he was broken, and not nearly enough. When he promised her he would change and learn to open up, he meant it. Just, he couldn't find his way back out; he tried... but his own heart had become the prison by then.

 

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

 

'No. I'm not.' John curls his fingers into Rodney's hair and buries his face into his neck, 'I didn't deserve you, but you healed me anyway.'

 

He holds John's mind protectively as they wander through the memories of Afghanistan, as he finds his way again with a band of brothers in the Air Force. They become the family he never had and John watches over them.

 

When Mitch and Dex are lost, John believes himself responsible for failing to be there with them on that mission. He'd have broken completely without Lyle. 

 

And after Lyle dies in his arms, the last of John’s spirit gives out. He'll never let anything reach him again.

 

Not caring if he lived or died, not even the torture inflicted on him after being captured by the Taliban mattered; as if he thought he deserved it. Lost to oblivion. Lost in the heavy drifts of snow and empty solitude of Antartica.

 

Rodney winces, realizing for the first time just how damaged John was when he first met him. The sorrow hollowed out his bones, the ache followed him everywhere. John had just become so accustomed to it, he called it numbness. He was little more than a walking corpse after losing Lyle and enduring what the Taliban did to him.

 

'My lost soldier, it was unbearable.' Rodney nestles closer into John, petting his fingers through his luminous, dark hair.

 

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

 

'You were so broken when you met me. I wish I'd understood, wish I could have reached you and loved you then.'

 

'I didn't know how to be loved yet, I needed you to teach me that... I would have stayed broken without you. But when I saw you...'

 

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

 

John's mind undresses McKay as he stands in front of the chair... flushing with deep desire. He has to have this man. It's wrong; he knows it's wrong to want another man this way. But something about McKay... God, McKay.

 

Shame and self-loathing tortures John after they have sex, greater than any shame Rodney's ever felt himself. John runs from him afterward, swearing never to do it again. But the following night, he lays in bed tossing and turning, wanting to go to him again, wanting him so much. Trying to drink himself to sleep, the alcohol only fuels the fire he doesn't know how to control.

 

Drunk and terrified, John finds himself returning to a man he desires for the first time in his life. And it's good, so good. Only once it's over, the self-hatred crushes him again. He can't face McKay. He has to go, to hide himself away and stumbles out of the room in a drunken haze. 

 

But John summons a little more courage each time they sleep together. When he presses his hand against McKay's back or hugs his chest tight, he tries to transmit something of what he's feeling. It's all so unfamiliar, he doesn't have the words, but he needs to share the life he can feel returning to his heart, he needs McKay to know how much it means.

 

These had always seemed like cold gestures to Rodney, strange and disconnected after being so intimate. It always hurt that John would leave so abruptly. Rodney's eyes water as he realizes how much of himself John was actually trying to give.

 

Each time they were together, John felt himself drawing closer, trying to nurture the connection, wanting this man who made him feel so much. 

 

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

 

'Yeah.' John shudders against him.

 

Lifting John's chin, he kisses him gently, 'I like knowing you felt something for me then too.'

 

John kisses back until they are lost in each other, 'So much, I've always felt SO much for you, Mere."

 

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

 

Until he sees Rodney on the floor, sobbing. An image that will haunt him for years to come, like that day when he found his mother. John tells himself this is wrong, he is hurting McKay, causing him pain. All he wanted was to be close to him... God, he can never let himself do this again.

 

John feels the memory from Rodney's point of view, the flashbacks of Alex he is trying to keep at bay, longing for John and suffering because he thinks he doesn't care.

 

'I'm so sorry I ran.' John's mouth pulls into a grimace, 'I could have saved us so much-'

 

'Maybe you were right. Maybe we had to go through all this together. To get close enough, to really reach each other.'

 

'Rodney sifts through the early years of Atlantis, confirming John's conflicted emotions. He'd always wanted it, no matter how much he tried to run. There was always a burning desire as John wrestled with himself, even when he was fighting it, struggling to keep himself away. He wanted Rodney. He needed to be close to him, to draw him into his world the way Rodney had with him.

 

Seeing John jump away when Chaya tries to kiss him, Rodney is surprised. It's almost exactly how he acted when Rodney tried to kiss him. The internalized homophobia isn't there, but it's the same fear of closeness, the fear of being consumed by the fire within.

 

Chaya is gentle with him, pulling him back in. None of it was meant to spite Rodney or hurt him; John just wanted to escape the part of himself that he was so ashamed of.

 

Then Chaya shows him everything in the blending, the twisted, convoluted emotional mess John never planned to deal with.

 

She sees it with compassion and no judgment, "Rodney... He is important to you."

 

And in that moment, John lets himself surrender to the truth, "Yes."

 

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

 

It shocks him that John ever thought himself lacking a heart. He may have hidden it away, but it was always burning hot... an acute ache of intensity for Rodney that couldn't be sated.

 

He fights uselessly against the desire until all he can do is surrender, admitting to himself that he's been in love with this man for years. He's about to tell Rodney the truth but instead his heart breaks with the realization that it's too late, consumed by anguish over the lost and wasted moments he can never recapture; the chances he never deserved to begin with. 

 

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

 

'So that's where that familiar and haunting phrase came from...'

 

Through John's eyes, he watches himself die, as John fearfully breaks down trying to contain his emotions in the room full of people. Clenching his jaw and fighting back the tears.

 

The tragedy of John's words spoken in haste to hide the truth from the others... Rodney took them as a final sentence that his love for John would never be returned just as John was summoning the courage to share his heart.

 

John shrinks back into himself as Rodney begins dating Katie, firmly believing that Rodney deserves more than he can offer... He endures years of agony, trying to cope with being in love with a man who once cared for him, but who has now rightfully moved on. A man he never deserved.

 

And he would never do anything to disrupt Rodney's happiness, only protect it. But being so close, the pain is excruciating -especially once he has let go of his fears about being with another man. He knows he could truly love Rodney without holding back, but believes he would never be enough. What Rodney wants are things he can't give, a normal life with kids and marriage. 

 

Then comes the added torture of watching Rodney fall in love with Jennifer. It's  more than he can bear. Thinking Rodney has found his true happiness and  doesn't need John anymore, he tells himself Rodney will come to accept John's absence and eventually forget him completely.

 

Even though John will never stop needing Rodney, all he hopes for is to somehow survive living without him.

 
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They cling to each other, knowing the terrible memories that follow, neither of them try to stop it, just holding each other as they relieve the experiences from each other perspectives. John feels Rodney's horrific abuse… and Rodney as John, screaming and pleading at the bars trying to save the man he loves. Hating himself for failing and trying so hard to protect him carefully after that, tending to him every moment, slowly convincing him to come back to life.

 

Rodney now knows how each of the men dies; he feels the satisfaction John wrests from the vengeance. And Rodney wrests his own satisfaction from the details of their demise. They've never talked about, not since the day John told him. And it feels good to have it all known. Even then, just knowing that he was loved that much, that John would seek vengeance and kill for him, gave Rodney the courage to face life again.

 

Realizing the effect his efforts had on Rodney, John experiences a sense of triumph that something he did made it better. And he can feel the fragile vulnerability of Rodney in the past as he timidly exposes his heart, telling John he loves him and admitting how much he needs him. Even though Rodney is so terrified that he will left alone again. But John doesn't leave, he takes him and never lets him go.

 

'You healed me, Em.'

 

Rodney shares the exquisite happiness he felt when he realized John was never leaving again, proving his commitment by marrying him, building him a home, and gathering all their loved ones around him. And he fully understands now the true devotion of the endeavor, how John's heart still aches to be enough for Rodney.

 

The Maison is his Taj Majal. Rodney had known the endeavor was epic, but to see all the work that went into it... and yet while building it, John's heart was filled with fear that Rodney would reject him. Fearing that his love is as flimsy as a 'paper ring'. Fearing he would lose him but daring to try to win him anyway.

 

It had to be grand enough. A 7 pillared worthy house... the number of tiered pillars supporting the Maison corresponding with the poem by T. E. Lawrence.

 

The poem is so passionate and melancholy... Written by a British WWI soldier who was inspired to champion the Arab revolt for his love, Dahoum. John had expected, in some way, to lose Rodney in the end, no matter how hard he fought. Much like Lawrence, who discovered, after a final victory in Damascus, that he had lost Dahoum to Typhus fever.

 

Why hasn't John ever shared this with him before?

 

'It's a complex story, I was waiting for the right moment to try to explain it all to you, in some romantic notion.'

 

Now Rodney sees the entirety in John's mind.

 

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.

 

'It's the sweetest, saddest, love poem I've ever heard... beautiful...' Rodney sees himself through John's mind. To John, Rodney's eyes tell the story of everything, his shining, beautiful eyes. John can't bear to see them burdened by pain... and when they shine for John... his life is complete.

 

The love John has for him is so boundless, sprawling and expansive. The kind that kingdoms are lost and won over, the kind that will either consume the body in torment or lift it up to soar above the rest of mere mortals.

 

'It's so beautiful...' Rodney marvels.

 

Everything is beautiful. There are nothing but explosions of happy memories now, swells of the passion shared between them, an unending joy that has never stopped... Except for those dreadful months when Rodney thought John was dead.

 

'You stayed to die with me' John understands.

 

'I want to be with you always. Those were our vows. Death shall have no dominion.'

 

'You didn't really think you'd find me. You thought I was dead. What were you looking for, Mere, my ghost?'

 

'I don't know. Whatever I could find.'

 

John recalls Rodney's memories as he cries over John's 'grave'.

 

Rodney feels embarrassed. He should have known John was alive, he should have searched harder, he could have found him sooner-

 

'You thought I was dead and you still came back for me. Only you would love me enough to chase me after death.' John kisses him tenderly, his chest is burning, alive with passion and pleasure. It feels so good to be known, known everywhere, every aspect of his being. It all belongs to Rodney now.

 

Squeezing his arms more tightly around John's back, he sees himself through John's eyes now. He is so relaxed, so unfettered by his past fears and insecurities. The heat from John's heart burns bright, purifying any lingering doubts.

 

They have all been seen and blown away, like ashes scattered by John's blazing fire. John who is always larger than life, stronger and faster, braver than any man has a right to be. So fierce and loyal, always protecting him. The passion burns so deep; Rodney is engulfed by the flames, the pyre of John's eternal love.

 

'Oh Mere, you and your superhero visions. I've never been that brilliant, it's only you that ever saw me that way.'

 

When John looks at Rodney he sees a jewel of cool ice and angular chiseled bones, refined and ridiculous all at once, a man of arguments contradictions, mental clarity, genius and sharp wit, fascinating and alluring... and sexy, always so sexy. Even when Rodney himself was so oblivious to it.

 

Rodney was always so oblivious. Like the time he looked around the empty simulation of John's mind, "Huh. I always figured there'd be more hot chicks?"

 

'Only you, Rodney' John thought.

 

So often Rodney said those oblivious things that drove him wild.

 

Dancing along the periphery of Rodney's memories, John draws up a few choice moments to point out.

 

He laughs a little as he remembers the time Rodney said this line. 'Let's see how far we can jack this up and penetrate.'

 

"Penetrate?" John had blinked and stared out the Jumper window.

 

But Rodney just kept his elegant nose buried in his calculations.

 

As John recalls another moment, Rodney laughs.

 

'Shaft needs a brushing lube.'

 

'Oh, like I was the only one.' Rodney is amused, 'You did that kind of stuff all the time. Remember that containment vessel, you were saying we needed a bigger one?'

 

'No, no.' John reminds him, 'You started it. You said 'Size doesn't matter'. How was I supposed to respond to that?'

 

He smiles at the image of Rodney on the other side of the com, choking on his food as John quips, “That's a myth.”

 

His chest floods with warmth knowing Rodney was thinking about John's huge cock when Rodney replied, “It'll fit”

 

'What did you say?' John thinks 'Something about how it would fit, I just had to get it all the way in?'

 

'All the way in... So. Much. Homoerotic Tension.' Rodney laughs, ‘How did we ever manage to keep our hands off of each other?'

 

John's skin ripples with goosebumps, he can feel the hair stand on Rodney arms too. It is like a ricochet. Everything he feels, Rodney feels, comes rebounding to him in a physical and emotional current. They kiss in perfect movement, each sensing where the other is moving, the level of ardor, or sweetness, a sublime union of spirit.

 

Somewhere on the back of John's mind hears the echo of the passing thought, 'Penetrate.'

 

He feels Rodney laughing again with his lips on John's neck, thinking, 'You wanted me to jack you up... and see how far you could penetrate?'

 

He worships Rodney's face and neck, thinking, 'Yes, please... And then plug it into the right slot.'

 

'I can see your mind was really on that mission'

 

'I tried, I really tried, you never made it easy on me. Telling me to land the craft by kissing the surface.’

 

'Well, there's plenty of kissing now' Rodney takes John's mouth deeply in his.

 

'Everything is known now, I can barely feel where you begin and where I end' John wraps his body around Rodney's completely, pushing the machine now off to the side. He has never felt more complete, or connected.

 

'It doesn't matter.' Rodney reminds him, 'Everything we've ever done is forgiven.'

 

Pressing his hands lightly against Rodney's palms, John thinks, 'You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen... you're even more exquisite that I knew you were.'

 

He feels the emotion radiation back at him from Rodney; no words are needed to share how deeply he returns the feeling.

 

Every touch that sparks between them sends a reverberations waving back forth, between the sensation of touching and being touched...

 

Even the smallest thing feels incredible, Rodney wants to lightly drift his fingers over John's skin, he wants to grab him and curl up so far inside him that their minds will always be one. Nothing has ever felt like this before, not even... well there was that one time he did ecstasy with a girl in college –Wait that was John. 'You did drugs?'

 

'Don't freak out, Mere.' John smiles and ghosts his finger slowly back over Rodney's.

 

'I'm not. I did drugs once, too.’

 

'I think whatever it was you smoked in college, well, it was probably a bad reaction to oregano, nothing more.'

 

Remembering the handful of times John smoked weed in high school, Rodney realizes he right 'Yeah, if that's what being stoned feels like, it probably was oregano.'

 

'But you got me beat with the Wraith enzyme doze –that was pretty crazy.'

 

'That was when I made you mine, huh? I claimed you?' Rodney leans forward slowly biting down John's shoulder.

 

John furls his body into Rodney wrapping his arms and legs around him, aching to feel as close as he  physically can. John's hands move effortlessly knowing what Rodney desires, knowing what it will make him feel.

 

When their lips begin to touch again, it is electric. The sweet, soft flesh licking and sucking together, as if they are having one conversation. He has forgotten how to use words now, they are unnecessary. His thoughts and feelings are enough to penetrate the deepest levels.

 

'Let's see how far I can jack this thing up'. Rodney hands brush over John's growing erection.

 

He laughs as Rodney rolls him onto his back, delighting everywhere his hands linger on his skin. Begging for more from his beautiful mouth. He craves the kisses that only his husband can make him feel. Rodney complies without question, thumbing John's lower lip, then lightly sucking on it before they perfectly curls their tongue together in unison.

 

All the while, Rodney's lowered hand caresses John's cock, so delicately but firm enough send his mind spinning. Rodney is exploring the sensations, cataloguing the favorite ones to use later to drive John mad.

 

His mouth explores further, down to taste John's hard cock and try out every technique he can think of. John's mind is cloudy but the thoughts drifts through his mind.

 

'Not fair, I want to try'

 

‘When I'm done' Rodney's thought tell him.

 

John doesn't ever want him to stop, he wants to stay in this place forever rippling in pleasure, forgetting everything else exists. Rodney sucks and licks, teasing him exquisitely.

 

He feels Rodney grip the firm rod, thinking, 'Turns out this thing can get pretty jacked up'. Rodney holds it in his pulsing hand, bringing his delicious mouth back to John's hungry lips.

 

There is such desire burning through his chest, the lust, the need to take Rodney utterly, to possess him and claim him. God, his chest is beating so hard with pure animal instinct to take Rodney. His fingers curl into Rodney's flesh, and his bites his lower lip, not wanting to be too rough.

 

'You're not going to break me you know...' Rodney teases him, 'I want you to show me how far it can penetrate.'

 

John groans in pleasure, he can feel Rodney wanting it as much as he does, he rolls Rodney onto his back, taking his arms in his and holding them over his head. God, he can't ever get enough of this man. His tongue makes contact with the smooth skin on Rodney's chest.

 

Ohhhh. God, he can feel the desire burning in him and the effect he is having on Rodney at the same time. He sucks on Rodney's nipple and his own chest ripples with flutters. He was planning to be rough, but the delicate pleasure of exploring how he makes his Rodney feel is too compelling.

 

Now he just wants to worship him, every aspect of him. John trails kisses up Rodney's neck. He can feel every pulse of blood quickening in husband's throat. John licks over the jugular vein, he grabs the back of Rodney's hair and pulls his mouth over his hungrily.

 

Taking in the amazing sensation as his bare skin washes over Rodney's, he smiles at the way it feels to Rodney when John's leg and chest hair tickles him. Rodney loves it when John presses his hard body into him. Grabbing at his flesh with mindless desire. Pushing and pulling him around, flipping his body around with such ease. He never realized just how much Rodney loved this.

 

The mental image of John kicking his knees out from under him and pushing Rodney down to that couch fills his mind. Rodney wants him to do that again. John pulls Rodney up by his shoulders and kisses him roughly.

 

Laughing and struggling to get away, Rodney moves to stand up. John gives him just enough space to throw his leg under Rodney's knees, throwing his body down on top of him and pinning him to the bed.

 

His fully jacked cock rubs into Rodney's, the pressure of his weight holds him down and his looks into Rodney's mesmerizing blue eyes with tenderness.

 

'Like this?' He thinks.

 

Rodney nods with a completely smitten look on his face. Now John feels Rodney wants to be loved. He can do that too. He's never loved anyone more.

 

He takes Rodney's lips softy, carefully, making every kiss last, savoring the incredible sensation of kissing and being kissed simultaneously. Feeling all the love that is Rodney's heart, each nuance of emotion as their tongues dance together.

 

For John, his thoughts and feelings are one blinding force, shouting gloriously over and over, 'I love you.'

 

They toss and turn on the bed, trying to sate the unquenchable thirst they have for each other. Even now, with their bodies and minds as one, it is so maddeningly novel, twisted up in the sheets and in each other. Learning how much to push forward, how much to let go. It reminds John of learning to fly a plane.

 

For Rodney it is something more complex, like the fibers of their souls have knitted together into a beautifully gnarled tree, a tree that strums like an instrument or sails like a ship. Rodney's visuals are always more complex and compelling, just like Rodney himself.

 

Feeling Rodney's hand reaching for his cock again, the warmth spreads down John's legs as he senses Rodney's desire, the lust he has for John's huge-

 

It pains him to stop what Rodney is doing. "Mmm. No, it's my turn." It's strange to hear himself speaking out loud. 

 

He smoothes Rodney back down into the sheets and returns to sucking his nipples before working his lips down to the meaty cock he lusts for. He licks the pool of pre-cum collecting at the head and savors the taste. Why does Rodney always taste so good? Not too salty, a hint of sweetness, and a musk that drives him wild.

 

Memorizing all of Rodney's favorite sensations, John learns what every motion feels like to Rodney. Well, he already knows the favorites, but learning to fine tune it is another matter, like knowing when to bring in different musical sounds into a song, to create the combination of chords are perfect for each moment. Building the tempo up, the beat, at just the right pace, keeping Rodney under his thrall.

 

'I'm always under your thrall' He hears Rodney's thoughts a bubble up.

 

John's lips dance across the head with a smile then he lowers again, sucking that fat cock in his mouth, radiating with the pleasure it is giving his husband. His hands straddle Rodney's grinding hips, he loves the way they fit in his hands. He rocks them in time with his suction.

 

When he feels Rodney growing too close to the edge, he pulls back and reaches one of his hands toward to the machine, groping for the bottle of lube he remembers being nearby.

 

Rodney's hand grasps it instead, he has a better angle. It's seamless how Rodney responds to his thoughts, it feels like his own hand finding the bottle. When Rodney slips it in his palm, John wastes no time in slicking his stiff cock and coating it on his fingers.

 

He kisses Rodney's soft thighs as he plays with him, opening him up and stroking that favorite spot inside. Oh, it aches so good. John can feel it himself every time he runs his fingers over it. He leans back in to take Rodney's cock in his mouth, savoring the taste and the diaspora of physical impressions that delight his body.

 

'Oh baby, You are so good. I love you. God, I love you.'

 

'I love you, Em.' Rodney is gasping for air but his thoughts are clear, 'What you do to me... I'm so... Oh, God. I love you.'

 

John's hand rocks inside Rodney and make his hips gyrate. He can feel that Rodney is ready for real penetration.

 

'Oh, God. Mmm...show me how far you can penetrate.' Rodney taunts.

 

The passion in John's chest radiates out through his limbs and moans. He pulls a pillow from the top of the bed, grabs Rodney's legs and props the pillow under his ass.

 

His palm presses down on Rodney's chest, there is a current of love and connection that he knows Rodney can feel; he can feel the warmth, the protectiveness, and lust.'Oh baby, I'm going to penetrate you' He pulls Rodney's legs up over his shoulders and smiles down at his husband.

 

'Make sure you plug it into the right slot.' Rodney smiles, quoting his old line from the past.

 

As his finger trails over Rodney's hole, John laughs, recalling what he once said, 'There's only on slot, Rodney.'

 

He can feel Rodney thinking, 'Oh, God, give it to me. God, I love that huge cock. I can't wait, I love it so much.'

 

Using his strength to pull Rodney up from the pillow, John holds Rodney's legs over his shoulder with one hand, guiding his thick cock into Rodney with the other.

 

The sensation of penetration is brilliantly blinding; Rodney's tight hole squeezes around John's head. As Rodney aches to be filled, he pushes further, deeper, even when it stretches Rodney a little painfully.

 

But it isn't too much. Rodney wants it so bad. And the angle is so good, reminding them both of that long ago night they shared together, when they felt so close in Antarctica, but neither of them could admit it.

 

John slides in, rotating his hips to burrow deeper. 'I'll probably never be completely sure of the moment I really fell in love with you. There have been so many levels and layers over the years... But that night in Antarctica... That might have been when I lost my heart to you, Mere.'

 

'I loved you too, that night... so much.' Rodney's palm curls over John's hand on his chest, pressing it harder into his heart.

 

'Only this time, the ending will be different.' John's chest is on fire and he drives his cock all the way in, causing Rodney to take short breaths of shock as he adjusts to the pressure and intensity. He leans over Rodney, still holding his legs up and kissing him fully on the mouth.

 

Now Rodney's thoughts are chaotic. 'Oh, God. Oh God.'

 

But he follows John's guiding hands to keep his legs folded over John's shoulders, allowing John to support himself as he leans forward to play with Rodney's cock again.

 

He likes the way Rodney is seeing him in his mind's eye, as some sort of sleek powerful panther, taking his prey. Graceful and lithe as he toys with Rodney's body. Rodney loves feeling helpless under John's touch. There was a time when he didn't, but now that he knows how he deeply he is loved, he revels in it.

 

And he realizes that Rodney is happily surprised to know he has just as much power over John. As he begins to thrust, pulling slowly back and over Rodney's prostate, the combined pleasure overloads their senses...

 

Like they are detaching from their bodies somehow. No, as if their bodies have become formless particles, mixing with each other. There is no way to keep track of who is feeling what anymore, just a wash of pure bliss weaving in and out.

 

They are the spray from a stream of sea, foaming into each other. The pulse, the breath, every part of their spirit seems to sing together, filling every pore, every movement, ringing like the strum of bass strings over the ocean, the trill of a piano keys crashing over the waves.

 

Two pitches in harmony, perfectly aligned. The low guttural moan of wooden beams on an old ship, creaking and swelling along the swim of the current, along the perfect blue ocean...

 

The perfect hue of Rodney's eyes. The voyage skims across the surface; seamless in the way they meld together, as if they form a single vessel.

 

It builds to an orchestra, the math of space and time bending around them, penned into sheet music as their bodies climb into ecstasy. It is a single orgasm that shines forever, a single voice that screams in utter abandon.

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During the months that follow the two of them spent as much time linked as they can, exploring each other's minds and bodies, bonding on the of deepest levels possible.

 

John was right. It only takes 3 months to build another generator capable of returning them to their reality. Of course, Rodney had plenty of help from his McKay double. And John was able to contribute as well, especially when he and Rodney were linked through the stones. Seeing the limitless universe through Rodney's mind, he could compute simultaneous problems.

 

When they weren't working or holed up together in their room, they got to know their doubles pretty well.

 

Sheppard seems at ease with himself now, planning to stay on at Area 51, at least for the short run, to see if he likes it. Wherever they end up, Sheppard and McKay seem to make each other truly happy.

 

The four of them are all together in the lab when they receive a successful signal test back from the Magellan. The IOA had assumed that John and Rodney made it through safely and have been attempting to repair the overloaded drive with the help of Zelenka.

 

"I knew it, Rodney grins smugly, "I knew Zelenka wouldn't be able to do it without me."

 

John rolls his eyes, ""And yet you grossly miscalculated how long it took us to get the drive operational."

 

Sheppard laughs, "You know, I'm almost going to miss these guys."

 

McKay makes a face and simply offers an ambivalent shrug.
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