Warning: Can be read as deathfic.
Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate or the characters or the episodes. Sadly.
Summary: Daedalus Variations alternate reality fic; AU of Mortal Coil. It had seemed like a really good idea. A lot of his good ideas, in retrospect, sucked.
"Please tell me those weren't Replicators," John said, trying to make his voice sound normal as he walked away from his A302. He loved inertial dampeners, but his sense of balance was always off after he'd been flying. "If we have to deal with Replicators on top of X-Men, well. It'll suck. A lot."
"Eloquent," Rodney said, with a derisive curl to his lip. He used to say eloquent as always, but John wasn't the same anymore and neither was their friendship. John tried not to let it get to him too much. "Zelenka says no, Santa did not bring us Replicators for Christmas. If we believe his data."
John kept walking, slowing a bit so that Rodney fell into step with him. He stopped by where Mitchell was rounding up the other pilots, but Mitchell just waved him on, like John figured he would. He wasn't Mitchell's favorite person.
"It was the Daedalus," John said, pausing at the corridor, waiting for Rodney to indicate a direction. Rodney turned towards the labs; John followed. "Someone named Sheppard did hail Atlantis. I talked to him," he added.
Rodney snorted. "Everyone heard the two of you up there stroking each others' egos. Skilled pilot, I'll grant you. Dedicated commander, a bit too much. Man of great integrity made me want to laugh. Or throw up."
John felt queasy himself, but he told himself it was from the balance thing. "Just for today," he said, keeping his words slow and careful, "can we talk about what the other John Sheppard was, and not make this all about me? Again."
"Sure," Rodney said, with a viciously affable smile. "There were no traces of Replicator nanites on the ship, not the transmitting kind, the dumb kind, or the Milky Way kind. Ergo, the other Sheppard was probably not a Replicator. Unlike you, Colonel." His smile widened, froze, and then disappeared so abruptly that no trace of it remained on his face.
John flinched; he couldn't help himself. He tipped his head to the side and managed not to sound strangled. "Touche, I guess." He looked at his watch, not really seeing it. "Mail me the relevant information, I've got to --" and he was off walking towards the staircase as fast as he could with his back painfully straight, feeling Rodney's eyes following him until he was out of sight.
He radioed Lorne that he was grabbing a quick shower, and then went back to his quarters to do so. He made a point of slicing the hell out of his face shaving, afterwards, and then watched in morbid resignation as the long gash knit itself shut without so much as a scar.
When he'd realized that he and his team were all nanite-built copies, he'd felt betrayed. He had all of John Sheppard's memories and feelings and abilities. He even had the Ancient gene. He also had total superpowers, the ability to heal and faster reflexes and a limited ability to stick his hand in people's heads. When he met with John-the-original, switching places had seemed like a really good idea.
A lot of his good ideas, in retrospect, sucked. He bet the loquacious Sheppard from the mysterious Daedalus didn't have that problem, or else he would have realized that by saying all those things he was just highlighting John's flaws. John was a little unnerved still by how hungry he'd been for praise, even when part of his brain had been filled with nightmare visions of a fleet of Replicated Sheppards invading Atlantis, his own faces smiling as everyone he was sworn to protect died.
He was in a purgatory of sorts. He couldn't be sent back to Earth because of the security risk; no one here liked him because they didn't believe that he was real. He knew that he'd never have survived the collapse of Michael's base without his fast healing; he'd have bled out, and then Teyla and Torren would have been lost. He'd been the logical person to send after Keller when she started mutating. Every tentacle that punched through him had hurt like fuck, but he'd completed his mission. He thought of himself as real, but people went out of their way not to touch him.
He felt heavy with weariness, but his body needed only a precise six hours and thirteen minutes of sleep and was nap-resistant. So he went to go plow through the hideous amount of documentation required after an outer-space battle with another of the mysterious X-Men's ships, and then went to grab a dinner tray to eat in his quarters. Food didn't taste good to him in his new body, and he never ate for pleasure anymore. It was just fuel to keep the machine running. Even if sometimes he wondered why he bothered.
Rodney was waiting for him when he got back, sitting at John's desk and playing solitaire on his laptop.
"Hey," Rodney said. "Isn't it late to be eating? And why the hell do you have so much broccoli?"
"Broccoli's good stuff," John said, and ate a floret in one bite to demonstrate.
"Do you remember on the Midway Station, when you ordered me to vent the atmosphere?" Rodney asked, with the same tone of idle curiosity.
John did a pretty good job of not choking. "Hard to forget."
Rodney nodded and shut the computer lid with a snap. "I never wanted to get involved with you because there was a very good chance you'd die. You promised me you'd be careful and you wouldn't take risks and you'd always come home, and while I get that a lot of that was probably sexually frustrated lies, it felt real. And then you went and got yourself killed and left me with this remarkable facsimile, and I couldn't understand it at all. I loved you. You died."
"Still here," John said. He stuck his tray on the desk and went to go sit on the bed, careful to keep his distance from Rodney.
"I would have killed you," Rodney said. "On Midway. If you had been human, you would have asphyxiated. Realizing that made it easier to hate you."
"It's been a long day." John ran his hands through his hair in annoyance. "I don't really enjoy these little chats of ours. Just so you know."
"I had this wild, irrepressible temptation to trick the Daedalus into beaming down their Sheppard and getting rid of you," Rodney said, all in a rush. "That's what's at the top of my Christmas list, a flesh and blood Sheppard, still alive."
John was tempted to go get his razor and give Rodney a demonstration of just how alive he was, but he settled for spitting out, "I bleed, McKay. Just not as long as you'd like."
Rodney looked at him. John could count on the fingers of one hand how many times Rodney had looked him in the eye since the Replicators killed the original Sheppard. "Do you really have all of his memories?"
John grimaced. "Yeah. As far as I know."
"I used to ask him what he wanted for his birthday or whatever holiday was coming up, and I never got an answer. Was that just because he'd reached a kind of Zen level of satisfaction with his material possessions, or because I should have been able to figure it out on my own, or because he just hated those kinds of things, the commercialism and the greeting cards and the mountain of gifts under the tree?"
"It is possible to have everything you need," John said, succeeding in sounding so snide that he grated on his own nerves. After a minute, he sighed and added, "And to be given exactly what you've always wanted even if the giver's too clueless to realize that."
"Huh," Rodney said, and then stood up briskly. "Here, I want to show you something. Are you really going to eat this mess?"
"Not hungry," John muttered. He didn't want to get up and follow Rodney, probably down to some lab to look at some device, but then again a part of him always did want to be where he belonged, at Rodney's side. Which sucked. He stood up, and let Rodney escort him to the transporter. They emerged just outside Hydroponics, and Rodney palmed his way through a door to the left to a wide, dark balcony.
"Light pollution," Rodney said. "They put the plants here so that the city lights don't disrupt their delicate little growth schedules. This is the darkest part of the city, sadly, but good enough for our purposes."
"Your purposes," John had to say, crossing his arms against the chill wind that whipped up from the ocean.
Rodney stretched out one arm, pointing thirty degrees up from the horizon and to the left. "You see the star that forms the lower point of that triangle? The faint one."
"You don't need to dumb things down for me that far," John said dryly. "Faint star. Gotcha."
"That's Sheppard's Star," Rodney said. "We're in the process of naming things, and everything ends up with about ten names anyway, but we didn't have a name for that one and I called dibs." He opened his hand out as if making a grand dramatic gesture, and then dropped it self-consciously. "It's a binary star system. Which felt appropriate. Given your circumstances." He shrugged, and then put his hand very deliberately on John's shoulder. "Merry early but what the hell Christmas."
John had been about to ask what he was supposed to do with a star, of all things, but he had to concentrate fully on not leaning into the touch. No one had touched him, aside from doctors and curious scientists, since the original Sheppard had died.
"The Sheppard in the Daedalus, he was probably an asshole," Rodney went on, and tugged at John in a wholly unfair way. "He sounded full of himself. Maybe he was a space pirate. The thing is, I've been mourning my John Sheppard." He moved, and got his arm around John's shoulders with his side pressed companionably up against John. "Who apparently isn't really dead."
"Not yet," John said, going off balance again, leaning despite himself, as if pulled in by Rodney's gravity.
"Do you think ? we could pick up what we had again? Would you even want to try?"
John was too dizzy with the feel of Rodney's solid warmth to make a reply, but he turned and kissed Rodney blindly, finding his cheek and then trailing his mouth down to Rodney's and kissed him there as well. He didn't allow himself to hope until Rodney kissed back, tentative and wary at first, and then with more confidence as he remembered the way John kissed, what he liked, how he moved. John was terrified that he'd do something wrong, betray that he was an imposter or fake or cheap knock-off, but Rodney was holding him and said, "John," and he felt like himself for the first time in a long time. The Sheppard's Star rose in its arc across the night sky above them, and as hard as John looked he always saw one star and never two.
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