John's heard about the encounters the SGC had with quantum mirrors and other screw-ups that brought people from different realities together. Given how long he's been in the program, he's got plenty of stories to top those, especially some of the wilder events on Atlantis. He should have paid more attention, he thinks now. He should have paid particular attention to how to get home.
He didn't even notice the change at first -- one windowless lab in the Mountain looks the same in any universe, probably -- but then soldiers in black uniforms burst through the door, level odd-looking weapons at him, and drag him off to an isolation cell. He tells anyone who asks that he isn't from around here. He keeps asking for Rodney, or Radek, or Sam, or Bill.
He should have realized that this universe also had a John Sheppard. But instead of being an engineer, and being so married to Rodney that they had kids and real estate together, this universe's Sheppard is a space pirate or something -- enemy to the United State, probable terrorist, and someone they've been dying to get their hands on.
The first thing the head security officer orders is a medical scan, after which John is drugged. He wakes in his cell in the kind of pain he hasn't felt since his accident -- not really a surprise, he thinks with dull horror, realizing that every pin, plate, and screw that had been holding his leg and wrist together have been cut out. That day's interrogation, he's asked about his injuries at length, even shown all the bloody bits of metal and asked who had implanted them and for what purpose. They seem baffled that he can't walk unassisted. They give him more drugs, ones that make him pliant and eager until he has to vomit them out of his system, and he tells them the same story and over. After all, it's the truth.
John loses track of how long they question him, though it has to be weeks or months. He's cooperative and broken and despairing in turns. He tells them everything he thinks they should know, and then everything he thinks they want to hear. In the end, he himself is convinced that his past contains mutinies and raids. He's given tests, opportunities to hand over names and pass-codes, and he can't understand why he fails them all.
This finally convinces them that he's not the Sheppard they're looking for, and John becomes an inconvenience. Obviously, a John Sheppard can't be released into the general population, so he's transferred to a political prison near Area 51 and bussed in daily to spend twelve hours checking data for the project that's reverse-engineering Asgard propulsion technology.
The work is boring and tedious and John drinks it up like cool water, so glad to have even this small part of his life back.
The project manager is Colonel Sobol of the US Air Service, and she talks to John as if he's an actual person. He never trusts her -- he thinks her kindness is a trap -- but he tells her about his kids, how old they are, the music and sports they like. She tells him that being gay's a federal crime in her US and that he's never going to be allowed within 50 meters of anyone under age 21, just in case he gets possessed by some uncontrollable urge to perversion. John can't let himself think about that; he goes back to his numbers quietly and lets the math block out the world.
Because Sobol is kind to him, however, the other researchers follow her lead. John's treated with courtesy, and he even, he thinks, earns some amount of respect. There are foreigners at Area 51 who he suspects are also there under coercive circumstances; they give John embarrassed, shamed glances and make sure he gets his share when they hand out sweets from care packages. The US scientists skirt around John warily, probably afraid that being too friendly will earn them scrutiny and that being unfriendly will turn Sobol against them. Everything is political, and the politics thrive on fear.
John suspects the Goa'uld are running the planet, in this reality. What he's been able to find out about local history and politics makes the conspiracy theory that the Cold War is just a front for clandestine US-USSR intergalactic operations seem reasonable.
John thinks about escape when he can, but he needs the device he was working on in order to have any chance of returning to his own reality. He doesn't know where it is, aside from in the hands of the SGC. He hates that his hope tethers him to cooperation, and is terrified to imagine life without that hope.
One morning, Miko Kusanagi makes the rounds of the lab with a red box of caramels, each wrapped in wax paper.
"From Osaka," she tells Kavanaugh, and Simpson, and Lee, her cheeks rounding up in happiness. "From my people," she tells John, placing the sweet on his desk and showing him the package. It has a picture of a marathon runner, arms raised in victory as he crosses the finish line. "Don't chew, it's too sticky."
"Thanks," John says. He gets the wrapper off awkwardly -- the nerve damage to his right hand's worse after his involuntary surgery -- and finds a gel cap in his palm. His first thought is that it could be poison, and he feels a twist of sadness deep down in his gut because this is more of a comfort than a terror. But if Miko's giving him a way out, then she must know something. Maybe they're going to interrogate him again, or maybe they've militarized the device that sent him here. Or maybe Miko has just always hated him. John pops the capsule in his mouth and washes it down with the last few gulps of coffee in his mug.
He doesn't die. He waits all day for death, his hands clammy and his concentration shot.
What happens is that he gets on the armored bus at eight to be taken back to prison. He arrives, goes through security, is given a sandwich and an apple for dinner, and is shut in his cell. He hears the guard's footsteps receding, and then the room fades out around him in white light, and he finds himself standing in a cavernous dark gateroom.
A ship, he thinks. Asgard beam, but the ship is Ancient. He's not familiar with the design; it's not a ship that he knows from his reality. He turns slowly, grateful that he still has his crutches. They're cheap aluminum, but he can use them in hand-to-hand if necessary.
"We're not going to hurt you," a woman says, and John breathes out hard as Miko steps forward and grins at him. "Welcome to Destiny." She waves her hand, all-encompassing. "Sam Carter's ship." John must have a particularly stupid look on his face, because Miko rolls her eyes and speaks slower. "The resistance movement? The Jaffa Alliance and the Atlanteans?" John shakes his head. "Come on," Miko says, and jerks her head toward the doors. "People here are going to freak when they see you."
John doesn't think he can handle that, but he follows her anyway. There's a non-invasive scanner that Miko goes through first, labeled with a sign that reads Goa'uld-o-Matic and SpyTronic. John knows that handwriting, and the casual impossible familiarity of seeing it again shocks John with pain.
The scanner bleeps over John, but Miko checks and says cheerfully that it's just the transmitter John swallowed at Area 51. She waves the door open and Sam Carter's waiting on the other side, with a really bad haircut.
John remembers hating how Rodney admired Sam and tried so hard to get her to like him. He wonders about the McKay who wrote the sign, whether he has a thing for Sam. What he knows about John. John's suddenly, facing Carter's scrutiny, ashamed of not doing better and trying harder, of breaking, of being broken.
"Hey," Carter says, and gives him a faint sympathetic smile. "Colonel Sheppard rescued me from the government two years ago. If you need to talk or have questions. We're all friends here." She looks over John's shoulder at Miko, and then draws her eyebrows together in a frown. "Maybe visit the infirmary first?"
John shakes his head and moves out of her reach automatically. "No," he says, and that makes Carter frown harder.
"Yeah, we Sheppards prefer to stay away from doctors," and that's the space pirate himself, rounding a corner with his hands shoved into the pockets of his black uniform. He looks tense under a superficial casualness. A soldier's wariness, John supposes. He studies John quickly, a threat-assessment, and then nods in greeting. "John Sheppard, I presume."
"Colonel." John tries for a smile and fails.
Sheppard looks at Carter, and John can see him make the effort to project charm; he doesn't think Sheppard notices that Carter's more amused than persuaded by this. "We don't need to do the debrief now, do we?" He flashes Miko a quick smile. "It's bedtime where you're from, isn't it?"
"I'll tell Weir you're being lazy again," Miko says, laughter in her voice. "I've missed you."
"You did good," Sheppard says, and his smile slides from forced to sincere. "I'll write you a letter of reference."
"The reward for a job well done." Miko sounds like she's rolling her eyes. "Am I in the same room?"
"We reassigned your quarters," Carter says, with an apologetic tilt of her head. "We lost environmental for five of the lower levels. I was hoping you could help out with that, actually. Can I walk you to your quarters and talk?"
"Might as well," Miko says, but she puts a hand on John's shoulder, leaning close to speak. "I can stay if you want."
"If I can't trust myself, who can I trust?" John shrugs. For all he knows, this alternate-Sheppard might be evil, a replicator or a Goa'uld. But John's trapped and helpless; he needs to fake cooperation until he has more data.
"All right, then." Miko waves goodbye, a playful ironic flutter of her fingers.
When Carter and Miko round the corner and disappear from view, and John is finally alone with his doppelganger, he's suddenly hit with a wave of weariness so strong it's all he can do to stay standing.
"Come on," the other Sheppard says, sounding awkward, as if he knows he should be doing something but has no idea what. "I'll loan you jammies and a bed for the night. I guess we're probably the same size."
"Guess so," John echoes, and follows after Sheppard.
Sheppard waits until they're behind his closed door to talk, but he starts out by saying, the words falling out fast and hard and somehow desperate, "Only Sam and I've read your government file – well, maybe Miko too, but she knows how to keep a secret."
John snorts -- like he has any secrets left -- and limps over to drop down on the edge of Sheppard's enormous bed, laying his crutches on the floor. And then he realizes what Sheppard's talking about, and it would be laughable except for how he doesn't think he can face this reality's McKay without falling apart.
"I promise not to tell anyone that we're gay," John says, wondering how he can be here with himself and still feel so exhaustively alone.
Sheppard flinches and looks deeply unhappy. He opens his mouth, shuts it and swallows down whatever he was about to say, and goes over to the utility shelving to grab a stack of clothes. He drops them on the bed next to John and crosses his arms. "Here. I hate seeing myself in an orange jumpsuit."
John shrugs and starts undoing his buttons. He gets Sheppard's t-shirt on, and Sheppard suddenly snaps out of whatever he was thinking about and looks guilty.
"Did you want to wash up? We have running water," Sheppard says, ship-pride in his voice.
"Tomorrow." John stands to shove the coveralls off, and accepts the weird knee-length underpants Sheppard offers. He's missed underwear; he's not going to complain just because it's prudish. Sheppard's given him elastic-waist exercise trousers, but they're way too loose at the waist. John pulls the shirt down.
"Good night, then," Sheppard says. He watches John lie down; John curls on his side with his back to him. The lights dim, and he hears Sheppard strip and brush his teeth, and then settle on the other side of the bed as the light dies completely. The mattress is big enough for four people. They don't touch. "I want to help you," Sheppard says into the dark. "I'll do my best to get you home."
"Thanks," John says, short and final. He doesn't allow himself to think about his home or his family or his future. Hope might crush him alive. "Just give me a job and I'll stay out of your way."
Sheppard breathes roughly for a moment, and then says, "Okay," and that's that.
The next day John's debriefed and briefed, put into an engineering team with a complete lunatic named Rush, and assigned quarters of his own. He sees Sheppard occasionally in the mess hall, and works hard to never spend any time with McKay.
McKay really likes Carter, in an embarrassingly fawning way, but he's apparently trying to date one of the biologists in charge of hydroponics -- aiming lower for a higher chance of success, John thinks cynically. John's a little relieved that this McKay has shoulder-length hair and a fondness for loud designer clothing, which makes him look like a walking mid-life crisis, but also not much like John's husband. His voice is the same, though, and John learns to turn around and walk away and not listen. The temptation to let familiarity wash over him is never worth the heartache.
A series of missions and battles a few months into John's stay resolves in a hard-earned treaty with the Lucian Alliance, who promise not to terrorize people -- much -- in return for intel on the Goa'uld and first trading rights with any systems freed from Goa'uld control. Carter throws a party in the mess hall when all the gate teams are back on board, with rationed alcohol and dancing.
John shows up late and makes sure he's said hi to all the people who would notice his absence. He hasn't made friends; he still doesn't trust anyone. One of Carter's chief advisers is a Pegasus local who lost her people and tries to get John to open up, speak about his feelings, and release his anger. He talks with her about interior decoration. They share a fondness for scented candles, but that's not really a basis for a relationship of any kind.
John makes sure to keep away from the dance floor and the crowd around the buffet. He ends up in a corner with Sheppard, who's apparently doing the same thing. Sheppard says hey and asks how John's been, and drinks his wine-like beverage too fast. He interrupts John to excuse himself when McKay comes into view, one hand on Carter's elbow, gesticulating towards the dance floor. Lady in Red is playing on the stereo, and John thinks that's a sign that he needs to follow Sheppard in fleeing the festivities.
Sheppard obviously wants to move fast; he's full of tension and restless energy; but he waits for John to catch up and slows his pace to match John's. They walk in silence. Once they're in Sheppard's quarters, Sheppard swings around in a tight frustrated circle, slapping his palm hard against the wall with a vicious heart-felt motherfucker.
"Come here," John says, not-thinking as hard as he can. Sheppard turns on him fast, and John snaps his arm out to grab the front of Sheppard's jacket and haul him sideways. He shoves Sheppard up against the wall and Sheppard catches at John, yanking him off balance so he falls forward and ends up with Sheppard's mouth on his and Sheppard's hands in his hair. Sheppard tastes like drink and John hopes that's a good enough excuse.
"Please," Sheppard says, voice raw. "God, please, please let me have this."
John cups Sheppard's face, thumb nudging his chin up so John can kiss him slow and dirty, the way he likes to be kissed, like the prelude to mindblowing sex. "I've got you," he murmurs when he pulls back for air.
Sheppard's eyes are dark. He looks like he wants to be fucked, and like he has no idea what to do, and furious about both those things. "I've never," he starts, and John cuts him off by telling him to strip and get on the bed.
John doesn't let himself look at Sheppard and remember his body before the accident. Instead, he thinks about everything he likes, and plots about the best way to take Sheppard to pieces. He kisses Sheppard and teases his nipples, and then pushes Sheppard's head to the side and sucks in his earlobe, bites down his neck, licks along his shoulders and tastes sweat. He gets Sheppard to groan and swear when he closes his mouth over one nipple and catches it in his teeth. Sheppard doesn't touch John until John's resting his head on Sheppard's stomach and watching his left hand stroke idly along a dick that's identical to his, except for being attached to another body. John's not in a hurry.
Sheppard, though, has other ideas; he puts his hand on John's head gingerly, patting at his hair distractedly for a moment and then tightening his grip around a handful and shoving down.
"Say please," John tells him. "Beg for it." He slides his thumb through a bead of precum, smearing it, and leans down to swipe the head of Sheppard's dick clean with his tongue.
"Stop fucking around," Sheppard says. "You're fucking killing me. I need -- "
"So tell me," John says, and runs his fingernail just under the head, putting blunt pressure at the point where it hurts in the way that makes him want more.
Sheppard curls halfway off the mattress, and both his hands are on John now, demanding.
"Please," he says. "Suck it."
"Pay attention," John tells him. "I want the same thing from you after."
That makes Sheppard drag in a harsh breath, and John tells him to stick a few fingers in his mouth to practice on.
John's never been flexible enough to suck his own dick, though he certainly tried hard enough as a teenager. But he knows what he likes, and he's always enjoyed sucking cock, the pleasure of giving pleasure, the inescapable intimacy of the act. He likes that Sheppard takes his orders and says please every time John does something he likes. Sheppard stills and digs his feet into the mattress, toes curling under, when John takes him in as deep as he can and rolls his balls between his palm and fingers, an intensity that John always anticipates but finds nearly unbearable in practice. Sheppard swears and twists and pulls John's hair and cries out and asks, almost formally, if he can come in John's mouth.
John doesn't pull off, just keeps sucking, and strokes his fingers up behind Sheppard's balls. Sheppard smothers the noises he makes when he comes with his hand, and John swallows, self-satisfied and turned on, and then stretches out on the bed, jacking himself lazily while waiting to see if Sheppard's going to be too freaked out to reciprocate.
Sheppard manages to be both freaked out and too stubborn not to reciprocate, so John ends up getting the world's most hesitant blowjob. John tries not to be too demanding, and pushes Sheppard off right at the end, so he finishes with come wet on his stomach and not in Sheppard's mouth.
"Next time," John says, because he just wants to drift off to sleep on the tide of good feelings, and not have some stupid conversation. He asks Sheppard for tissues, mops up, and shuts his eyes. He doesn't dream; he never does. But he wakes up with a warm naked body sprawled over him, and his first thought is that he's finally home, that the whole thing was just a long bad dream.
The warm body is the wrong one, of course, and John's probably never going to see his home or family ever again. He shifts around until he can kiss Sheppard awake, and gives him a quick and dirty lesson on frottage, which Sheppard takes to enthusiastically, even though the result is more like wrestling.
Washing up together afterward at the sink in the corner, Sheppard says, "The Air Service'd shoot me for this." He scrubs hard at his chest with the towel. "Twenty years." He shakes his head, mouth mashed into a tight line of anger.
"I've never cheated on my husband until now," John snaps.
Sheppard has the grace to look away.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," John adds, letting his tone imply because I'm not an idiot. Sheppard nods. "If I still had any hope of getting home, I never would have."
"At least we have each other," Sheppard says, mouth crooked with bitter humor. He tips his head to the side, cracks his neck, and goes to grab his clothes. He waits until John's dressed and ready to head out to add, "I can hope enough for the both of us."
The offer is awkward and ridiculous, and John can't accept; he'd have to trust Sheppard for that. But he says thank you and kisses Sheppard goodbye before going to work. Sheppard's hand holding his own is strong and warm, and it's nearly -- nearly -- enough.