John kept dying, and the bastards kept bringing him back. The last time he felt himself start to slip away again, he managed to get his eyes open and get a good look at the monster with its hand pressed hard to his burning chest.
"Dr Lam," the creature said, staring down. Its eyes had a sickly-looking glitter to them, and its teeth were ragged and serrated. "He's awake."
Behind the creature's dirty white hair John could see the sky, high bright blue, like heaven. He took a breath and everything wavered like heat on blacktop as his eyes flooded with unstoppable tears. Below the creature's hand he felt an itch like the need to cough, even though he knew dead-certain he wouldn't survive anything more than short careful inhalations through clenched teeth. Death would be better, easier, welcome.
Someone picked up his arm and the familiar violating tug under his skin suggested needles and the respite of drugs.
"Hi," said a voice, followed by the efficient sweep of a cloth over his face, and then a woman's face next to the monster's; short dark hair, pursed mouth. "John, I'm Dr Lam. You're safe now."
John shut his eyes. He didn't know much, but he knew when he was being lied to.
with Cam and Lam
Against his own stubborn inclination, John was up and walking within the week. He'd had surgery to get the bullets out and, apparently, the life-forces of six now-dessicated corpses poured into him. His body had tried to puke automatically when he heard that, remembering dead bodies in the desert.
"They were all brain-dead," the guy whose team had rescued John told him dismissively. "Lam brought them home from work." His name was Cam and he was a former Air Force pilot, and John wondered if his intel had included McKay's extensive file on John's military past. "The Wraith calls it the gift of life. Says it makes you his brother, or something."
Cam was in a wheelchair, and John very nearly asked why didn't he try the damn gift of life, see if a few hideous murders got him up and walking again. John didn't ask; not because he wasn't that much of an asshole, but because Cam and Lam were trying to save the whole damn world from government conspiracy and alien invasion, and John... hadn't had anything to believe in for far too long. He had this sickening weakness for idealists.
"What's its name?" John asked now, pushing himself up to sitting, arms still weak, stabbing pains in his chest. They'd moved to a safe house as soon as John stopped bleeding into the sand, and John spent most of his time on the sofa, wearing Cam's old sweats and wishing the TV remote was within reach. "The alien. The Wraith."
Cam shrugged. "Never asked," he said. He gave John a calculating look. "Go get me an ice cream and I'll tell you about Atlantis and the aliens."
John nearly told him to get it his own damn self, except he wasn't sure Cam could reach the freezer. The house was safe and isolated, but it wasn't pretty or clean or wheelchair accessible.
John shuffled his feet over worn floorboards and leaned hard on the walls to get there and back again, but Cam said thanks and sounded sincere, and while he ate he told John about the Stargate program.
"Wormholes," John said, recalling his talk with McKay.
Cam talked about robot spiders and brain-snakes and little gray men. "I was in the SGC, I toed the party line," Cam said darkly, his lips grape-popsicle blue. "But I found out some disturbing stuff after I was shot down. I met another you, once, in a part of the medical center I wasn't supposed to be in. Spoke to him a little. He seemed like a decent guy. Pity they tortured every bit of information out of him and fed him to the pet Wraith McKay brought home from Pegasus." Cam flicked the sticky wooden stick hard towards the wastepaper basket, and missed. "That's when Lam approached me about getting control of the Stargate out of the US military's hands. Stop having secret wars and invasions, go public."
"You don't need me," John said, testing the words, feeling sudden gutting disappointment that he was being put through the pain of being alive out of, what, misplaced nostalgia?
Cam laughed, short and mean, and kept an angry smile as he spoke. "The one thing the other Sheppard never confessed to was having the Ancient gene. You have it, too," he added, offhand. "There's special spaceships only gene carriers can fly, computer systems and data repositories we can't access without you." He shrugged. "The Wraith tasted the gene in him and threatened to tell McKay unless Lam helped him escape. He's got all his screws loose and a batty belfry but," Cam shook his head, "I think he kind of digs the irony of bringing you back to life after killing the other you. And of using you to destroy the SGC." He raised his arm and pointed to his wristband. "Lam's got an explosive charge in his head, so if he tries anything stupid, boom." Cam mimed pressing a button and a double-handed explosion. "Wraith tech and your tax dollars at work."
John thought about the persistent throb of headache from where his spine met his skull. Lam had told him it was nothing to worry about. He wondered if he'd fall on his ass if he punched Cam in the face, but was saved from the impulse by the distinctive rattle of Lam's battered van pulling up the long drive and shuddering to a stop in the yard. He didn't like Lam any better than Cam, but she took Cam's attention off John, which he appreciated.
"Hey," Lam said, walking in and pulling off her sunglasses to give John a cool clinical look. John gave her a level glare back, but she still talked to Cam and not him. "Any problems?"
"Nah." Cam crossed the room and slid an arm around Lam's waist, looking mellower already. "I got it covered."
Lam stared down at him, unamused, but let him pull her onto his lap. "I spoke to Sam."
Cam leaned up and kissed a line across Lam's cheek. By the time he reached her mouth she was smiling despite herself, and John looked away as she curled her fingers into Cam's hair and took possession of his mouth. Cam slid a hand under her t-shirt, and where it rode up John could see a pale curve of skin.
John pushed up from the sofa, but instead of going into the kitchen like he usually did to get away from them, he headed outside. Cam and Lam didn't say anything. He figured they knew he wasn't going anywhere.
The Wraith was sitting on a lawn chair outside the garage reading. The house had come with a box of Reader's Digest Condensed Books and Sidney Sheldon, which John had rejected; apparently the Wraith was too bored to have standards.
There was a heavy metal cuff around the Wraith's ankle, attached to a chain which was anchored to the garage's cement floor. Other than that, he wasn't restrained, but John wasn't afraid like he'd been that first time with McKay. The Wraith could have killed him anytime; he hadn't.
"Mind if I hang out here?" John asked.
John got a pointy-toothed smile as the Wraith dropped the book to the ground and flowed effortlessly to his feet. "Not at all," he said, voice low like a growl, but with a sweep of a hand towards the dim interior of the garage. John nodded short and walked in, his knees wobbly already. He went straight for the only furniture, a mattress against the back wall covered in cheap flowered sheets, and sank down, willing his body to get over this fucking weakness already.
The Wraith looked down at him like John was amusing, and then made a rough noise, a snort and a tongue-click together. "Here," he said, and fetched John a bottle of Mountain Dew from the case by the door, his chain hissing over the floor as he moved. "The refreshment of your people."
John took it automatically, catching a glimpse of the feeding slit as the Wraith let go, and remembered with a jolt the press of the Wraith's hand against his chest, forcing him back to life like some bad SF movie. He drank half of the soda before the sweetness became disgusting and the Wraith's keen scrutiny grated his nerves raw.
"Look," John said, and put the bottle down, and then paused. "What's your name?"
The Wraith rolled his hands through the air like a choppy wave. "Before I killed you you told me my name was Todd."
John sucked in a long careful breath, letting himself feel anger for (against) that other, better John Sheppard. He wondered if that Sheppard had left a family behind.
"That works," John said roughly, thinking about Mr Todd his junior high English teacher, with his long gray hair and Dickensian suits and not thinking the wrong Sheppard had survived. "You trust them?" He jerked his head towards the house, Cam and Lam and whoever the hell Sam was. They weren't even creative enough to pick decent fake names; John had no idea how they planned to fight the military and the aliens and win.
Maybe winning wasn't the point.
"We made a deal," Todd the Wraith said, and smiled like a predator. "I honor my deals. As long as they amuse me."
"Great," John said. He picked up his drink and drained it, wishing it was alcohol, something strong enough to push the world away.
"You amuse me," Todd said, still smiling. "John Sheppard." He bent to take the bottle away from John and tossed it out the door with enough force that it hit the dirt just short of where the driveway joined the empty highway, and shattered. He placed his fingertips lightly along John's cheek, the pads rough and dry, the nails the slightest pressure, like a tease. John turned his head sharply away, except he didn't, and somehow his mouth was opening to the feeding slit, his tongue sliding along it in a way that made his body sing with wrongness for a bright terrible second. And then his eyes slid shut and there was fire in his blood and strength in his muscles and he was pulling Todd down on top of him, and he wasn't afraid of anything.
"When you belong to me, nothing will hurt you," Todd said. John's chest burned, and he was tongue-fucking the slit on Todd's hand already, so when Todd leaned down and told John to take his pants off, it didn't seem like such a big deal. Todd spread John's thighs open with the pressure of his legs and for a moment John thought this was maybe one of the worst ideas he'd ever had. "I've seen your destiny," Todd growled deep. "Oh, the things you do when you mean well, John Sheppard," and he was holding John still with his free hand and shoving something hard against John's asshole, "the people you betray and lead to their deaths, it's delicious," and he pressed his hand down over John's mouth at the same time as he breached John's body, swallowing his cry. "I'm a great fan of yours."
"Don't," John said, trying to get his hands to do what he wanted, coordinate himself enough to pull backwards. But Todd just stared down at him with his rheumy slit eyes and John stopped trying to free himself. "You can't make me," John said, but that was obviously a lie, and when Todd started to pull his hand back John grabbed his wrist without even thinking. He needed, and Todd provided.
"You belong among the stars," Todd said, twisting his hips to drive even more of himself inside. John could feel unyielding ridges and a terrible fullness and his ass stretched wide and wider, like he was going to be ripped in half by alien dick. A crappy way to die, he thought, and then imagined Todd slamming his hand down to revive John each time he got fucked to death. And damn if John's dick wasn't hard and leaking hot over his stomach where his shirt ruched up. "I see the stars around you, John Sheppard," Todd said, face shadowed by the fall of his hair. He looked like death and he tasted like life; John met his eyes and saw himself, the same in every one of a million universes.
John shoved Todd's hand away and felt his body hollow itself out with an orgasm that arched him up off the bed, biting his shoulder to keep from shouting, shaking apart until there was nothing left of him to resist. Todd waited for John to finish and then pulled out, each hard knot of him making John flinch and tense. When he was all the way out, John raised his head to get a good look at what Todd had been drilling him with -- holy fuck -- and then flopped back on the bed. After a minute, he pulled his pants up.
John felt like he had superpowers: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, outrun bullets, fight like motherfucking Bruce Lee, make not just bad decisions but insanely bad decisions.
"I won't share with you again," Todd said after a minute of adjusting his shabby clothes so he didn't look like he'd just screwed John into the mattress. He raised his hand to his own mouth and licked delicately. "You humans find the feeding enzyme addictive. I wouldn't want your thinking... clouded." He smiled, jagged teeth shining. "Though if you want to beg, I would enjoy that more than the non-procreative copulation."
"I'd sooner die," John said through clenched teeth, sitting up, ow, and shoving to his feet. He felt better than he had in years, and he bounced a little on his toes, breathing deep, chest no longer banded by pain. He skirted around Todd, stepping over his chain as he walked to the garage door -- which had been open the whole time, damn it, anyone could have seen him giving his ass up for X-Files sex. Through the living room window he could see Cam and Lam tangled up on the sofa, shirtless, sweat on skin shining in the last low rays of sun that made it over the hills. Looking behind the house to where the great emptiness of the land met the split-rail fence, John could already see stars in the rising dark.
"When I die," Todd said, voice ghostly behind John, raising the hairs at the back of his neck, "I don't want it to be under this alien sky."
"You and me both," John said, more bitter than he'd usually allow himself to be. "Guess I need to stay out here a bit longer."
"I have Monopoly," Todd offered. "I will allow you to be the metal car."
"Are you mind-controlling me now?" John asked, trying to be blasé about the fear that was eating away at the back of his head like the itch of an implanted explosive.
Todd shook his head. "Everyone is controlling you," his voice low like a caress, "but you and I are friends, John Sheppard." The noise Todd made then was an odd creaking, almost like a death rattle, but when John turned he saw that the Wraith was laughing, mouth open as if in delight, eyes narrowed like a prophet's staring down the terrible future.