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Second Life

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John Sheppard bled to death in the desert.

John Sheppard bled to death in the desert, and then he came back to life, shaking and gasping, ears still ringing from the explosion that took out the Wraith and his trailer.

He didn't understand how at first, looking around wildly for medical equipment and doctors, but only seeing computer displays and what looked like a massive golden casket behind him. But McKay and Woolsey were there, and they explained it to him. They made it sound noble and kind, but John had learned to read between the lines a long time ago, and what it came down to was that they thought he still could be useful to them, so they had brought him back to life.

It creeped John out, to be sure, knowing that there were people out there with power over life and death. And it pissed him off too, that they thought him important enough to reanimate like Frankenstein's monster, but not important enough to save while he was still alive and breathing. As far as he could tell, they could have. They just didn't consider it until the immediate threat of the Wraith had been taken care of.

Still, when they offered him a position at Stargate Command he accepted, not that he had much of a choice. Because although he might feel alive, as far as everyone outside McKay and Woolsey's little club for space explorers knew, John Sheppard was dead. McKay had even showed him the obit. It said “In Loving Memory,” and John wanted to ask whose loving memory that was, because as far as he knew, the last person to give a damn about him bled out in the Afghani desert years ago.

“Did you guys write this?” he'd said instead.

But McKay had frowned and shook his head. “That would be your brother's handiwork.”

Good old Dave. He'd called John a disgrace the last time they met, but that had been in the privacy of the run-down motel John had been shacking up in at the time. Like a true Sheppard, Dave knew how to put on a pretty front for the public.

Being at the SGC was a little like being dead, John privately thought. The only difference was that instead of being six foot in the ground while his immortal soul was poked by demons with pitchforks, the way his nanny had always described the sinners' afterlife, he was thousands of feet under a mountain and being forced to poke alien gadgets so they could be properly cataloged.

It wasn't exactly challenging work. When John sarcastically asked Dr Lee, the scientist he'd been assigned to, how they had managed without his help all these years, Lee admitted that their gene carriers had been too busy fighting aliens to spend much time in the research lab.

“But you're a pilot too, aren't you? I imagine they just want to make sure they can trust you before they reassign you to something a little more high-profile. Because I have to say, as much help as you are to me, you'd be more useful in Atlantis or flying 302s.”

John liked Dr Lee. He was soft, in every sense of the world, in a way that no one else at the SGC seemed to be. Even the scientists were war-hardened and flinty-eyed and built like marines. But not Lee. Not John either, to be honest, even if he was slowly getting into better shape. It was amazing how much more time he could devote to working out when he couldn't gamble anymore.

Dr Lee was friendly and open and talked too much, and he wore obnoxiously patterned shirts that looked ridiculously out of place in the austere and concrete-gray rooms under the mountain. His smile was completely guileless and genuine, and John actually found himself looking forward to work since that would mean spending time with him.

One of the first times they had lunch together John asked him if he'd ever met anyone from an alternative universe, and unlike McKay he didn't turn it into an opportunity to remind John of how much he sucked at being himself. Lee just frowned and admitted that he'd met another version of himself once.

“Was he very different from you?” John asked, curious.

“That depends,” Lee said. “His glasses were square, does that count?”

John said that it did, and Lee directed a beaming smile at him. “You know, you're the first one to say that. Dr Jackson said it was just a coincidence, but I actually put some thought into what frames to wear, and for me to choose a square pair, I'd have to have a completely different sense of aesthetics. Just because I wasn't a different gender, like some people, doesn't mean I wasn't different.”

And that was another thing. Dr Lee actually seemed to enjoy John's company. He laughed at John's jokes, looked startled and pleased every time John laughed at one of his, and he made John feel at ease in a way no one else had done in a long time. It helped that he, unlike most people at the mountain, didn't seem to know everything about John. Most people he met looked at him in a way that made John feel like they saw right through him, but Lee hadn't even known what John had been doing before he started working for the LVMPD until John told him. He actually seemed to be just as out of the loop as John was, and after dealing with McKay, who made it seem like he knew everything, it was a relief to spend time with someone a little more human.

“Were you ever married?” Bill asked one day.

They were in one of the auxiliary labs on level 25 trying to coax a free-standing Ancient control platform into working. SG-11, the team that had brought it in, had thought that it was some kind of rudimentary weapons system, but John was pretty sure it was just an information kiosk. He almost wished there was an SGC betting pool for things like that, but then he remembered that he wasn't supposed to gamble anymore. He wasn't exactly in a twelve-step program, but he was trying.

Bill was lying on his back on the dais, trying to get the console to reveal its secrets. John was watching him work from his perch on top of one of the metal tables, because the brass still hadn't seen fit to assign him to something more taxing than light switch duty, and it wasn't like he had anything better to do. At least Bill was fun to talk with, and if nothing else, this way there was someone to look after him when he was working on potentially dangerous alien technology. John had noticed that Bill was pretty much left on his own most of the time.

“Married? No.”

“Really?” Bill sounded surprised. “A good-looking guy like you?”

John had to smile at that. Bill could be surprisingly generous with his compliments.

“I was engaged once. Does that fit into your image of me?”

“It does actually,” Bill said. “Hey, think you can hand me that spare crystal? I've been here for an hour already and I just can't seem to get this darn thing to work.”

“Have you tried hitting it with your fist? That always worked when my old TV was acting up.” John suggested, but he obediently walked over to Bill's little box of Ancient bits-and-bobs and picked up the control crystal Bill had found in a faulty Ancient sno cone machine last week. If John had learned one thing since coming here, it was that Ancient technology had a lot in common with IKEA furniture: One screw fit all.

“Don't tempt me,” Bill muttered.

John handed him the crystal. “Why did you ask by the way?”

“What? Oh, that. You know. Ex-wife problems.”

“Oh. Like alimony?”

“No, no, nothing like that. I pay child support, which isn't more than right since both kids live with her, but there's no alimony.”

John nudged him with his foot. “Then what?”

“It's Freddie. He got into trouble at school, and it's turned into this whole issue and now the principal wants us both to have a meeting with the counselor. As you can imagine, Karen's really upset about the whole thing, and she called last night and shouted at me for being a bad influence on the boy.”

John had never been good at stuff like this. “That sucks,” he said, hoping that Bill would take it in the spirit it was intended. He'd noticed that Bill mostly wanted someone to talk at in situations like this, and that was fine with John. Lending a sympathetic ear, he could do.

“Don't get me wrong, I'm really quite grateful to her,” Bill's voice floated up from underneath the console. “She could have moved back to Nevada, but she stayed here in Colorado Springs for the kids' sake. She wanted them to be close to me.“

“That was decent of her,” John agreed.

Bill sighed and pulled himself up to his feet. “Of course, it's a moot point now that they're too cool to hang out with their dad anymore. You know, last time they stayed with me, Suzy barely spoke two words to me the whole time, she was so busy talking with her little friends on her iPhone.”

John made a sympathetic noise. “Probably just a phase,” he said. He remembered being thirteen and desperately trying to avoid his father. He also remembered being 33 and still doing the same, but he figured that wasn't something Bill needed to hear right now.

“Oh yeah,” Bill said. “Definitely. It's just really frustrating, you know? I get to see them on the weekends, and that is unless they need me at the mountain, which feels like it happens every weekend, and then when I finally get to see them the kids act like they'd rather be anywhere but with me.” He pushed down the console buttons with more force than was strictly necessary.

Nothing happened, and Bill swore under his breath.

“That sucks.” It was amazing how little it took to help Bill work out his issues.

“Yeah, and now I'm told I'm a terrible dad, which I'm actually starting to agree with. I don't think that putting cherry-bombs in the school toilets is 'a cry for help', but Karen's right about me being an absentee father. I should be there every day, not just on Saturdays and Sundays.” He looked helplessly at John.

“Hey,” John said. “Stop beating yourself up over this.” He grabbed Bill by the shoulders and sought out his gaze.

“Freddie's going to be fine, and you're not a terrible dad.”

“I'm not a great dad,” Bill said, sounding sullen, but he didn't try to get away.

“You're trying, and that's what's important. Weren't you the guy who stopped playing World of Warcraft and got into Counterstrike because you wanted to have something in common with your son?”

“Yeah,” Bill admitted.

“And didn't you hate every second of it?” John grinned.

“It's true, I did.” Bill said. “Never been much for first-person shooters.”

“And you still did it,” John pressed on, “even though that meant leaving your Warcraft guild.”

“That's true.”

John smacked his shoulders one last time and stepped back. Pointing at Bill, he said, “See, that is not the act of a bad father.”

“Really?” Bill looked up at him with a pathetically hopeful look in his eyes.

“Really. “

Bill adjusted his glasses. “Wow. Thank you, John. You actually made me feel a lot better.”

“Not just a pretty face,” John smirked at him.

“You know, I'm starting to get that,” Bill said, and John only had time for a startled thought of, wait, are we flirting, before Bill added, “even if it is a very nice face.”

Yep, definitely flirting. Maybe being dead wasn't so bad after all.