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Fic: another day older and deeper in debt

Title: another day older and deeper in debt
Author: das_kabinett
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: R
Recipient: rogue_planet
Spoilers: The pilot and a blink and you'll miss it little one from S3
Summary: John might be going crazy. After all, that's what people normally call you when you start to see people who aren't there.
Notes: 6800 words. rogue_planet, you said you liked time travel / Atlantis AUs, well. Here you are! Thanks to S. and J. for their help in getting this together.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go--
I owe my soul to the company store.

The first time he saw them, John thought he was going crazy. It was night and it must have been pretty fucking late, because Rodney was sleeping, his chest rising and falling with exhausted tranquility. At first, John thought his radio had gone off --he had heard voices-- but when he groped for it blindly on the bedside table, there was nothing there.

He went from bleary to alert in a moment, sliding out from underneath Rodney gently. Rodney curled tighter into the sheets, mumbling incoherently to himself. It sounded like he was complaining. No surprise there.

John grabbed his sidearm and carefully walked to the bed, avoiding the pile of paperwork that Rodney had tossed off the desk. Touching his hand to the panel next to the door, he caused the lights to turn on dimly.

No more sound and no convenient source for them. It was possible he was just dreaming or Rodney'd beentalking in his sleep again, but he had been so sure he'd heard something --


A little girl was suddenly leaning over the bed. She was flickering, like a movie played far too slowly, and he could almost see through her; her simple shift was disturbed by a non-existent wind and she turned over her shoulder to laugh, with a sweet young face and large eyes.

He threw a coffee cup at her (it was the closest thing at hand) and it shattered on the wall above the bed, sending white-edged ceramic shards everywhere and waking Rodney. He shouted in surprise, scrambling out of the bed and actually going right through the little girl. She didn't notice the cup; she just leaned down as if to pull off her shoes and then blinked out of existence.

Rodney blinked blearily at him. "Wha's matter?"

"I have no idea." John wouldn't apologize for throwing anything at him. Seven years in Pegasus had given him an understandable phobia to strange creatures leaning over the prone bodies of loved ones.

"Not surprising." Rodney was waking up and the unhappy puppy facial expression shifted into a more familiar scowl. John glanced at where the little girl had been and he went to lean down, running his fingers over the floor. It felt warm, like Atlantis always did, like she created body heat.

He crouched, staring at the spot where he'd seen her.

"John?" Rodney said.

"Nothing," he said finally, shaking it off with a quick jerk of his head. "Bad dream. Go back to sleep?"

"I would if someone hadn't destroyed my favorite mug and gotten ceramic all over the sheets," Rodney grumbled. John stood, a tolerant look on his face. He'd destroyed the "I ♥ NY" mug, not Rodney's favorite caffeine molecule mug.

"I'm sure we can fix that," John said. He pulled off the sheets and piled them into the floor, wiping off the rest of the shards with the pillow. Rodney looked it over, considering, before plopping down roughly on the bare mattress.

"I was going to go get--"

"Don't care," Rodney said, opening up one eye and looking for him, "C'mere."

John came.


He woke to the sound of the shower. Rodney was singing a song he must have picked up from John, because the ragged-edged country sound of Tennessee Ernie Ford wasn't really Rodney's usual thing.

Rodney also clearly didn't know the words. "Some people say a man is made out of mud, well a poor man's made out of something something blood. Something and blood, flesh and bone, a something that's weak and a something something something."

John pulled off his shirt and stepped out of his shorts, leaving garments behind him in a trail. When John opened the door, Rodney yelped at the sudden influx of cold air. It was winter on the planet and even though the flesh of the city was always warm, the air always seemed to leech the heat out of you.

"Sorry, sorry," John said, shutting it. He stepped into to the water, himself grateful for the chill. The shower was little, but they managed, Rodney leaning against the wall to watch John shake his head underneath the water like a dog, in order to wake himself up.

"Thought I'd let you sleep," Rodney said, tilting his head up and shaving his neck. Rodney never shaved with a mirror and John never told him when he missed a spot; he liked to chew on spots of roughness underneath Rodney's chin and rub his face against a stubbly cheek, leaving him feeling raw.

"Let me sleep much longer and I'd have missed the staff meeting."

"No loss," Rodney shrugged. "Not like you have anything useful to say, anyway."

John made a vague noise in agreement, distracted by the man and woman who were fussing at the sink. They were translucent like the girl from last night, shifting in and out of focus like someone's hand was on the lenses of John's eyes, playing. The woman was gesturing into the mirror and the man glanced up idly, shrugging off the robe he was wearing. The style of the clothing looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it.

The man stepped into the shower and John could hear his wife calling to him --he understood the language in some instinctual way, but he didn't catch any words, couldn’t have told you what this man's name was, only that she was asking for him and she was his wife and she loved him and she wanted to make sure that he would be ready for the dinner in time because -- they abruptly disappeared.

John was left staring into empty air, his skin tingling from the water beating against it and Rodney calling his name. He felt dazed, like the disappearance of the apparition had taken something of him with it. A hard knock to the back of his head threw his attention back into the here and now, particularly at his soggy lover, who was currently sending a twisted and unhappy grimace toward him.

"We're going to Carson."

"Do I have to?" John sighed.

"Are you fucking joking? You're a moron. You have a freak out on me last night, you have another today and you're too busy being squeamish about doctors to do anything about it. Jesus Christ." Rodney was already out of the shower and they had a brief clash of wills over the controls, Rodney finally pressing through John's mental barrier to shut off the water. John may be Atlantis' fortunate son, but Rodney was a force of nature.

"I'm not squeamish about doctors," John protested, catching the towel that Rodney tossed to him.

"Whatever. I'm not going to let you kill me when you go all Norman Bates on me."

"Mommy?" John asked. He was possibly the only one in the world who could hear the genuine worry underneath Rodney's self-concerned fretting, though Elizabeth was getting better at it.

"Shut up, god, that movie freaked me out. Not even the killing, but the idea of an Oedipal complex. Stop snickering! You'd be freaked out too if you met my mother."

In other company they'd have to backtrack awkwardly around mention of Earth, but neither John nor Rodney missed the old planet much, though every once in a while Rodney'd go pensive over thoughts of Jeannie.

Somehow, Rodney managed to get John mostly dressed without him even noticing. He only consciously realized he was being lead like a child when Rodney knelt to tie up his boots. Shoving him none-too-gently away, John bended and did it himself.

"Thank you, I can handle it."

"Like, say, you can handle a shower with so much stability?"

"I'm telling you, it's nothing wrong. I was probably still half-asleep."

"What's got you like you saw a ghost, anyway?" Rodney said, a couple of beats too late in the conversation for that question.

"Funny you should ask," John said, under his breath. He'd describe if the neurological scan came up empty. Maybe Atlantis wasn't being taken over by ghosts and he just had a brain tumor, he thought hopefully.


No joy.

"Nothing. You are perfectly healthy. Exactly like last week's pre-mission scan."

John sighed. On his way to the infirmary, he'd seen children running down the halls, playing. They'd run straight through him, with their silent ball, and he only heard the shadows of their laughter. Right now, a patient was undergoing some sort of surgery in the bed next to him, though the man that John presumed was the doctor was leaning against the wall, tapping out commands onto an electronic pad.

He was trying not to look at them, just as he kept his eyes on the back of Rodney's head when the children went playing past; he felt that every time he looked at them, they could begin to look back.

"How good is it with mental problems?" John asked, his smile tight.

Rodney probably just tore a chunk out of his own hair in their room. Carson always kicked him out of the infirmary, but it hadn't taken Rodney very long at all to hack into the security camera. John glanced toward the top right camera and grinned, hoping it would undercut the chewing out he was bound to receive.

"Fairly good." Carson frowned, tapping. "With large changes, yes. Why don't you tell me what's going on?"

John didn't blame Carson for sounding a little confused; Rodney had all but thrown John at him, babbling something about a freakout.

"Sure thing," John said, pleasantly, pulling himself to his feet. "As long as we find a balcony to stand on."

There were no security cameras on the balconies and if he had to stay here and watch the poor bastard on the table next to him get cut open any longer, John might just have to throw up.


"John," Carson said. He sounded worried. John looked out over the water, wondering if he was going to be lucky enough to see any whales, enjoying the way the air tasted.

"I'm seeing people," John said before Carson could ask the question hanging in the air. "People that aren't there."

Carson looked suddenly uncomfortable and John remembered, for what had got to be the thousandth time, that Carson really hated being a general practitioner. One time, when they were really drunk the first Christmas after they got the answering machine after dialing earth, Carson told him that he wanted more than anything to go back to his lab, if only because he wouldn't have to deal with so many sick people.

"Are they people you know?" Carson's voice was genuinely concerned. That was one thing he got right; he cared.

John shook his head. "No. I don't feel insane --look. I--" pause "--I'm trying really hard not to sound totally nuts in my effort to make you believe that I'm not, but hell. I think they're real. As in, 'oh those wacky Ancients and their wacky technology' real, not 'real-in-my-head' real."

Carson looked comforted. "I'm going to make you talk to Kate anyway, you know that, right?"

John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Okay."

"But if you really think it’s a tech issue -- and I'm not saying it's not, lad, lord knows we've seen some of the strangest things-- you should talk to Rodney."

John smiled, grimly. "Don't worry. He's coming."


"John Sheppard!" Rodney said, walking out on the balcony, in a fury. "You will tell me what is going on right now."

"Told you," John said to Carson. Carson looked faintly amused.


"I'm seeing people who don't exist. I don't think I'm crazy -- I think the city is fucking with me. You are both good at fucking with me--" Rodney smirked, John manfully ignored him. "--and with the city. Figure it out?"

"You seem remarkably relaxed about this," Rodney said. John noticed him calming down, too. They knew how to deal with Ancient-y nonsense.

"Well," John shrugged. "Could be worse."

At that moment he saw a woman dive gracefully off the edge, her dress whipping in a strong and non-existent wind, non-existent rain soaking her to the skin. She looked happy, diving off, and John smiled.


They were everywhere, now. He could see them always and their numbers were increasing; no more flickering, no more faded edges and soft curves, like he was seeing them through glass many inches thick. Now he could almost touch them, they looked so real, and he'd flinch when people walked through them. Rodney fluttered around him, more ghostlike than the actual fucking spirits, tight and unhappy.

No one really knew what to do, but Rodney was the most upset. How was he going to deal with ghosts? Rodney didn't have much patience with anything remotely supernatural. Nature was quite enough for him.

"They aren't ghosts," Rodney would say, pressing his fingers down into John's skin to make it white and then watch it fill with blood. "Some whacky ancient phenomenon, but not ghosts."

He got to know the people wandering around him, caught flashes of their thoughts and recognized their interaction. It was pretty weird to watch a silent world go on around him, though occasionally very fascinating. There was one couple that would always have screaming fights in the mornings, the man landing on his ass outside of the quarters next to Rodney and John, holding his robe to his chest. The woman would follow him out, point and gesturing, her hair flying all over the place.

John didn’t even know her name, but she was beautiful when she was furious. Judging by the vaguely slap-happy look of her lover, John figured he either agreed or was dumb as an ox to keep upsetting her like that.

The spirits, or whatever they were, used the room the Atlantians turned into a shooting range for a ballroom. Once in a while, he'd go in there to be surrounded by swirling people, so close that he could almost hear their personal whispers, though he never heard even a note of music. Once he went in there and instead of the whole swirling lot of them, there were just two, dancing together. They were laughing, the man rubbing his head and looking like he wanted to sink in the ground. John watched them and made up stories, gave them histories, and likes and dislikes and never thought about it too hard when he'd hear snippets of conversation and he turned out to be right.

He went back to the armory every day for a week, hoping to see them again. But by the time that week was over, it had been three weeks since the visions started and John was becoming more transparent by the day.

The mirror showed a weary man, but he didn't feel it; he felt just as vital and strong as ever, though each blue vein was stark underneath his skin and he could feel the shivery warmth of fever. They'd tried everything; Carson had run the gamut of scans and the linguists were obsessing over the databases and Rodney hadn't really slept in a week, he was so obsessed with finding something. John tried to care like they did, but he never really could gather the energy. That in and of itself was probably a bad sign.

Midway through the second week, Elizabeth had decided to send him off world, see if it would help. John had clutched to the arm of his chair, digging the heels of his boots into legs of his chair and wanting nothing more than to slip his socked feet out of his boots and curl them against Atlantis' forgiving floor.

"This is a bad idea," he warned them. He knew this with a certainty, felt the city sinking hooks into his innards; he didn't know how much she would keep with her if he tried to rip them out.

"Do you have any better ones?" Rodney said, his lips curling into a sneer. John heard, we need to try it because we need to save you.

John smiled ruefully and kicked Rodney's shin underneath the table. He jumped in surprise and sent John a glare, but something softened in the set of his mouth.

"Gentleman, enough," Elizabeth said, in the tone of voice that reminded John a little too much of his mother. The old rumors, back when they were still in contact with earth, about how he was fucking her always gave him the wiggins for that precise reason. He's pretty sure it was his little shudder of disgust whenever the topic came up that squashed the rumors, more than any respect his men may or may not have for them and woah, he's pretty spacey today.

Rodney's scowling fiercely at him and his fingers keep on messing with his hair, making it into little poofy tufts.

"We're going and I'm driving," Rodney said. John figured it was best not to argue.

"And a med team," Elizabeth said. "Just in case."

There was a man doing paperwork in the seat next to her and when he glanced up absentmindedly to stare out into space, his eyes went to John and it was the first time that John felt like one of them saw him.


They didn't end up needing Carson. Not because it went off with out a hitch or anything hopelessly utopian like that; instead it was because the pain was so bloody obvious that it didn't take an MD to figure out that they had to turn around.

John started to puke and he couldn't stop, until he'd worked past all the food he had for his entire lifetime and was just left with the sour liquid of his stomach. It felt like pieces of his brain were working out through his skull and he could feel himself start to shake, his boot heels tapping a cadence against the floor of the jumper. They were outside the atmosphere of some nearby planet and John could feel the cool indifference seep up through the floors and into him, causing his teeth to chatter and making his convulsions worse.

There was a swarm of people around him; he couldn't really focus on any one of them long enough to identify them, but he could see colors and he could feel the intermittent touch of warm hands on his skin. Not soon enough, they went through the gate again and all the pain abandoned him, soaked up by the good will of the city.

He shut his eyes and relaxed, his muscles feeling like they'd drip off into puddles on the floor.


"Oh god, you taste disgusting," Rodney breathed, in between kisses. "Don't you know how to use a toothbrush."

John fisted his hand in the back of Rodney's shirt, "Stop harassing the invalid."

"Seriously." Rodney kissed him on the lips again, hard and almost-chaste from lack of tongue. He made as if to pull away and then thought better of it, kissing the fold of skin at the side of John's mouth. "You've got to go wash your mouth out, or I'm really going to throw up."

Rodney pushed him away, hand flat and comforting against his chest.

"Your love overwhelms me." John went to the bathroom and rinsed out his mouth, nodding a cheery little hello to the middle-aged man on the toilet seat. He gave no indication of recognizing the gesture.

John emerged back into the main room. Rodney was sprawled on the bed, his shirt pulled out of his pants and his eyes closed. John shucked his clothing and climbed on top of Rodney; he liked the way the clothing scratched his skin.

When Rodney felt the contact his eyes snapped open and he flipped them so that John was pinned. Rodney leaned down and kissed John harshly, quickly moving off of John's lips to lavish his neck with teeth and tongue.

"Not where people can see," John gasped, slipping his hand underneath Rodney's shirt.

Rodney rolled his eyes, but moved farther down. He suckled a trail of bruises down John's chest and John could do nothing but gasp, make embarrassing noises and wonder where the fuck this was coming from.

He felt Rodney's teeth drag across his hip, so that his skin felt like it had been pricked and exposed to the air, digging into his bone and leaving him aching, his hips pressing into nothing. He felt like he was saying something, but he didn't even know what; Rodney's fingers were too distracting.

Oh, Rodney took him down quickly and it hurt, because he could feel Rodney's happy little sounds and he could see the obscene way his mouth was stretched around John's cock and the pain was honestly probably from the fact he bit his lower lip right through and he tasted blood.

Rodney kept on marking him, his fingers scoring lines down John's chest and his hot wet mouth scalding him. John had to close his eyes, had to put a layer between himself and the world, because his skin seemed on the edge of tearing, flimsy and insufficient against Rodney's assault.

Everything stretched and pulled and John felt he like either had to give in or break. His eyes were still closed, but he felt the rest of him open -- his knees falling further apart, his mouth parted wide to gasp, his neck thrown back. Rodney's hand moved from where it had been gripping John's thigh and slipped into the soft skin of his groin, reaching back to tug gently on John's balls. Then a clever finger slipped to rub John's opening and he released a long-held breath in a moan and came.

They rested a moment, Rodney's head in the hollow where John's leg met his hip.

"Up," John said, tugging on Rodney's hair. "Lemme help you."

"No need," Rodney said ruefully. He slithered up anyway and John flinched away from the contact; he hated to be touched just after he came. John opened his eyes just in time to see Rodney smile at him and wipe his hand on the sheets. They just breathed, then, no more talking, though Rodney was as fidgety as a cat, shifting his head from place to place on John's chest.

Rodney started to suck on a patch of skin just above John's nipple and John groaned. "Not gonna happen, buddy."

"Yeah, doesn't need to," Rodney said and bit him. John smiled and rested his hand on the curve of Rodney's back, enjoying the simple ministrations like he knew Rodney enjoyed the thought of the great big fucking bruise John was going to have in the morning if Rodney kept going at it like that.

The ventilation system kicked in and John repressed a snort of laughter. "I think it's telling us we smell."

"Mmmm," Rodney said. He sounded half-asleep and John could feel his own eye-lids drift lower and lower, before he felt a jolt of energy, all his muscles tensing to the point of pain.

Rodney disappeared in an instant and there was a woman screaming, clutching a towel to her chest. John tried to do something, tried to move, but he was frozen in the same relaxed position he had been in moments before. He couldn't even move his eyeballs; he couldn't even breath, and in this suddenly very high-adrenaline situation, that was beginning to be a problem.

Fire ran down underneath his skin as he tried to force unwilling muscles to listen; nothing worked. He could feel himself straining and the woman was still screaming and a guy got out of the bathroom dripping water. She had shifted from pure primal yells to what sounded like language, though John was only hearing the gist.

And then, just as suddenly as it had happened, he was back and Rodney was staring at him. His blue eyes seemed bigger than normal and he looked scared for the split second before he realized that John was sentient again and sarcasm snicked back into place.

Rodney was clearly trying to be smug. "I didn't realize the sex was that good."

"Shut up," John said. He closed his eyes and kept them closed, trying to fall asleep.


It took four weeks of the visions, apparitions, ghosts, people --whatever the fuck they were-- before John couldn't walk anymore. He'd try to stand and the room would lurch around him and he'd feel like the floor of Atlantis herself was crumbling underneath him. His breath would quicken and his heartbeat pound and there was nothing, nothing he could do.

Nothing Rodney could do either, and that drove him up the fucking wall. He called Ronon to their rooms the morning where John first couldn't stand and was crumpled in a heap on the floor, gasping to himself, when Rodney came out of the shower.

Rodney helped John into a sitting position and tapped his radio for Ronon and a med team, over John's objections. Ronon came so fast he must have been running -- Rodney was still pulling on a shirt when the door slid open.

"This is totally unnecessary," John said.

Ronon grunted and Rodney directed him to grab underneath John's arms and lift on three. They both ignored him.

"Let's get him on the bed at least," Rodney said. They lifted him too easily, and he felt the bed buck underneath him from vertigo.

"Everyone is over-reacting," he informed the room. The woman in the corner laughed; her teeth were too white.

"Shut up, Sheppard," Ronon said, just as the med team came in.


Normally John hated the infirmary, but this time he couldn't bring himself to care. Everything seemed too white and too clean, swirling around him so that even all his friends, even Rodney, seemed too white and clean.

Carson gave him tray after tray of calorie rich food and Rodney all but forced power bars down John's throat, but John couldn't bring himself to eat very much at all. He felt delicate, like a shell of a man with the innards sucked out, and normally he would hate it, normally he'd have worked himself into a frothing rage, tried to escape from the infirmary, even if he couldn't stand. Nothing was normal at all.

And every night for a week of days, when John finally fell asleep because he could hold his eyes open no longer, he dreamed.


"What is your name?" She looked like a good-natured woman; there were smile lines creasing her cheeks, despite her obvious stress.

"Who wants to know?" John asked. He didn't know how much of a dream this was -- he'd seen this woman among the spirits, but he's been dreaming about them for some time now. Real dreams, were he's flying through seas of people, all living and laughing and loving and never, ever noticing him.

She laughed at him, though it seemed bitter underneath the rich tone of her voice. "Why are you so aggressive?"

"Why won't you answer a question?" John said. He felt stronger now than he's had for weeks, and he sat up easily on his hospital bed.

"We are the people of Atlantis, just like you are. Only it is a different Atlantis."

"This is your city, this is your city on an alternate universe? You don't look anything like an egg."

She gave him a blank look. He grinned. It was a simple joy, but he felt good and almost healthy and he relished the feeling of caring, even in a dream. He swung his legs around and stood up, holding the too big pants on his hips with one hand while he stretched.

"Isn't it nice to be healthy?" she said. She was smiling at him so benignly and he froze.

"Are you the one making me sick?"

"I don't even know your name." She stood up, turning back to fuss with some equipment.

"That isn't an answer."

"Tell me your name and then you might get answers." She turned around with a glass bottle of clear liquid. She reached out as if to hand it to him; he didn't take it.

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard." It had been years since they've had any contact with earth, but they all still used their old titles and old words, like there would be people on the other side of the Stargate, this time, or the Daedalus would radio them tomorrow.

"Which one is the name you prefer to be called by?"

"Colonel," he said, without hesitation. This woman hadn't earned the right to use his name.

"Colonel, then," she said. "You have a very strong gene--" John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "--and we need you. We are under attack and our gene has been weakened by centuries away from our home. When we finally came back, the blood line was weak and we had lost the trick of artificially giving people strong genes."

"You can work things; I've seen you."

"We can work things, but the city itself won't listen to us. It doesn't respond to people sitting in the chair."

"Terribly sorry, why do I care?" John said.

"Because we are dying. We are dying, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and you have the gene to help us."

"How do you even know that?" John said, feeling a bit peevish toward his biology.

"The device wouldn't have called you unless you were."

She opened her mouth to say more, but suddenly the vision disappeared and he was staring into the face of Carson and blinking blearily at the sudden change. He felt weaker than he did before he started to sleep, like he hadn't rested at all. His entire body ached and his mouth was dry, which was probably why Carson was holding up some water to his lips.

"I think we have a problem," John said, after he wet his mouth and could speak again.


Rodney was pacing. "Did you see the device?"


"Did they say anything about where it was or what it looked like?"

"No, Rodney, I told you exactly what they said--"

A dismissive wave. "Fine, fine. You're not useful to me. I'm going to go try and do the impossible again."

Rodney didn't even look at him when he left. John didn't blame him. He could hardly keep his eyes open and he felt like he was going to shatter at the merest breath; he had never felt so useless in his life. Every breath rattled his innards and made him ache, made him want to sink deeper into sleep, but he was afraid of how he was going to feel when he woke up. If he woke up.

The infirmary went blurry, then dark.

"Welcome back," the woman said.

"You never told me your name," John said.


"What is it with you people and fantasy names? It's like your baby name book was a Robert Jordon novel."

She blinked serenely at him. "I do not believe you have come in contact with my people before. It is far too early to perceive a trend."

"I was talking about you people in the sense of 'mysterious aliens trying to destroy Atlantis or its occupants, in some way or another.'" John said. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, still in his hospital bed. Allyria was sitting on the chair next to him, in a different pale and boring dress than last time.

Her face grew hard and angry, the usually calm eyes narrowing. He could see her fingers clutch at her skirt and he lips purse like she was trying to stop a scream. "We are the ones dying. We aren't trying to destroy anybody, we are just trying to live."

There was a long silence. John could here the faint thud thud thud of bombs against the shielding. "You seem like you’re doing fine."

"We are almost out of power and the city isn't listening to us; soon the enemy will be upon us. Leave your Atlantis; come to ours and help us!"

"Woah, lady," John said. He could feel his own face hardening and he tried to smile through it, though it was probably diamond and cold. "I'm not leaving my people. Why don't I go sit in the chair like this and then you let all of me go back?"

"It won't work. We need you more, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. And if you won't come, we'll take you."

"How are you doing that, by the way?"

She was fading before his eyes; he must be waking up.

"I can't tell you that." He heard clearly, and then opened his eyes into slits and saw Rodney, who didn't seem to notice. His thumb was rubbing gentle circles on John's wrist and the other hand was supporting his forehead.

Rodney's eyes were closed and his face was tight, worried. There were lines in his eyebrows and his mouth was in a flat line, like he didn't even have the energy to frown. At first, John thought Rodney was asleep, but when John shifted the slightest amount, Rodney's eyes snapped open.

"I'm not dead yet." God, did John's voice really sound that weak? Even to his own apathetic ears, it was wavering.

"You aren't going to die, shut up about it," Rodney snapped. He stood to go. "I should be working, nice to see your getting your beauty sleep, I'll just--"

"Wait." John propped himself up by the elbows and tried to ignore the way the room swayed nauseatingly at the movement. "Don't you want to hear about my dream?"

"It won't help anymore than the database unless you got a description of the device." Rodney sounded peevish and unhappy. John heard worry and an ache behind his words, that made John want to soothe him. Any attempt toward that end, however, would probably just infuriate Rodney; John settled for a smile.

"Find something that doesn't need the gene," John said. "They don't --"

"Doesn't need the gene? That's absurd. All the high level technology needs a-- oh shit, it can't be the quantum mirror, can it?"

"This is nothing like the effects of the quantum mirror," John said. He could feel a bubble of excitement rising behind his chest. Maybe--

"Maybe they adapted it somehow, just using our link. A search and replace function or something."

"To a mirror?"

"Not just a mirror." He sent John a withering look, not even thinking about his invalid status. John felt a rush of pleasure at that, even though he could feel his body crumbling around him.

"Let me check this out, okay?" Rodney said finally, after having lapsed into silence for long seconds, presumably thinking about his idea. "I haven't the slightest idea what the fuck to do about that, but hell, might as well try your method."

John raised an eyebrow, not bothering to put words to the sentiment.

"Blow it up."

Rodney looked at John for a long moment and then leaned down to brush dry lips against his forehead. John could see Allyria in her chair over his shoulder, ghostly and smiling at him, so he closed his eyes. He wanted to feel alone with Rodney, even though he wasn't.

He hoped this worked. Wasting away like a 19th century consumptive was a pretty fucking undignified way to go. He drifted off to sleep again.

"He seems like a nice man," Allyria said.

"I don't fucking want to talk to you."

The room was quiet for a long time. John didn't open his eyes; he liked the darkness even in this dream world where he could use his limbs with ease and his ribs didn't feel like they were collapsing into his chest and his muscles didn't seem like they were oozing out and staining his sheets. He was whole, in this world, and he hated it; they made it this way.

"We aren't trying to hurt you."

John snorted. "Are you kidding? We could have found a way to help you, but I'm not even going to tell them that you need it, now. You're taking me away from my people. I'm normally a pretty selfless guy --glad to help, usually. Ro--McKay says I have the self preservation of a moth to flame, but that's only for me and mine. You aren't mine."

She sounded sad when she spoke again. "I'm genuinely sorry you feel that way. We never meant to--"

This nonsense had to fucking stop. He wasn't going to listen to this for another moment. He climbed out of the bed in a smooth movement dropping into a crouch to Allyria to the floor. She landed badly, yelping, but he felt good. It was so nice to move again. She was wiggling on the ground but he placed his bare foot on her throat and pressed, ever so gradually, until she froze.

John reached over and grabbed what was probably a bed pan, knocking her out with a gong-like crash. After bending down and feeling that she still had a pulse, he didn't feel particularly bad about it; these people had put themselves in the place of the enemy. So many years in Pegasus gave you a pretty goddamn clear sense of priorities and his Atlantis was at the very top of his list.

He kept the bedpan. Not the most dignified weapon, but it would do. He pulled the drawstring of his pants tighter and went toward the door, glancing out to see if there was anyone there first. A doctor was fussing with medical supplies in the corner, but his back was to the door.

John thought open at the door as hard as he could and even this Atlantis unfolded for him like a blanket; he only had to push through a slight resistance, which he hoped was caused by the rest of himself still at home. He sprinted through the infirmary and into the hall, dodging people who were going about their business.

He could hear people start to raise the alarm, so he put on another burst of speed. His lungs burned with exertion and his bad knee was starting to twinge, but it was so nice to be able to move, to be able to stretch his limbs and just go for it. He didn't really know where they kept their quantum mirror, but he ran toward the labs all the same.

Labs were probably the best bet for technology.

Some guy tried to tackle him, but John neatly stepped out of the way, bashing him with the bedpan as he went down. Football was clearly good for something.

The skin on the bottom of his feet felt raw from running on the floor without any shoes on and judging by the feel of it, he'd torn off a nail. There wasn't much longer to go, though, and he just had to--


Sudden, immense pain like there had been before when he tried to leave the city. He collapsed, vaguely recognizing that he ran into someone but not caring at all, too absorbed in the cacophony that his nerves were making. It felt like the fibers of his muscles were trying to untangle and leave him a bloody mess of string on the floor; he couldn't even gasp underneath the onslaught, because his lungs weren't working and --

As suddenly as it came, he was fine, back in the infirmary. Weak again.

He could hear footsteps outside the door and Rodney burst in, face flushed from running and a slight pant behind his breathing.

"Feel better?"

"Not really," John said. Rodney's face fell. John hastened to add, "But I think you did it. I think you broke the link, I just, uh--"

"Will have to recover," Carson said, bustling into the room. Rodney was doing a pretty good job of hiding his relief, but Carson was beaming like a moron. John didn't care about Carson, though; he was too busy watching the subtle movement in Rodney's forearm as he clenched and unclenched his fist.

In an instant, Rodney moved across the infirmary and pressed his face into John's neck, not crying. He took deep breaths, like he was trying to be sure that John was really there. John rested his hand on the back of Rodney's head, stroking the soft bit of skin where his hair started and his neck ended. John felt a little sideways; he had been running second before, running to save his life, but Rodney'd gotten there first. He just had to hold on, be held, accept that it was over and it hadn't been him that ended it.

After a long moment where they just touched each other, feeding off the contact, Rodney pulled back and cleared his throat.

"Mention this," he said, still looking at John but clearly talking to Carson, "and you will regret it."

"I think you've already broken your façade of emotionless bastard," John said.

"Damn it." Rodney pulled up a chair and three powerbars, tossing two of them at John. "Need to stop dying, then."

"I'll try my best."



( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 13th, 2006 12:36 am (UTC)
Oh man, I loved this. The slowness of the danger--first just friendly ghosts and then all the way to John physically weakening. John and Rodney's relationship is a lot of fun too--caring, but mean and snarky anyway.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
I'm really glad you liked it! I'm particularly glad you thought that John and Rodney were both caring and snarky.
Dec. 13th, 2006 03:13 am (UTC)
Oh, this was really good. I love how everything had a dreamlike quality. I could picture all those people exactly especially the little girl at the beginning. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
This fic grew out of the images... I'm glad it appealed to you!
Dec. 13th, 2006 03:34 am (UTC)
Very cool idea. I particularly liked John's lack of compassion toward the people trying to steal him - darned right they weren't his people. Also, the spare way you have John and Rodney communicating is wonderful and a very believable extension of canon. I really enjoyed this.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:40 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I appreciate that you liked John's characterization ... it was hard for me to make this work.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:40 am (UTC)
Yay, thank you! I'm glad you liked the stuff about earth.
Dec. 13th, 2006 04:46 am (UTC)
Oh, this is so neat. I love the idea of another Atlantis trying to find someone, anyone, to save them, and John fighting it every step of the way, because he loves his Atlantis.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:41 am (UTC)
Thank you! He's very possessive, isn't he?
Dec. 13th, 2006 07:30 am (UTC)
This is so cool, the flashes of the other Atlantis, the sense of desperation; and Rodney saving John, in the end. *hugs story*
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:41 am (UTC)
*hugs you!* I'm glad you liked it.
Dec. 13th, 2006 09:56 am (UTC)
The slowness of the danger is great... chilling.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:42 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
Dec. 14th, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
Huh, very odd - I liked it, but I'm curious about these other people and what they were doing on Atlantis and why there were so many of them and what happened to them in the end. I enjoyed the hints about his world though: no contact from Earth, etc. Very interesting!
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:42 am (UTC)
I hope that is a good odd! &heart; Thank you for reading and commenting.
Dec. 15th, 2006 08:49 am (UTC)
When John stood up in the alt-reality and hit the alt-woman with his bedpan, I seriously felt like cheering. Right on! No one takes John Sheppard away from the people he loves and protects without suffering the consequences, and then of course Rodney saves him because he really is *that* smart. LOVE! The last emotion-laden touch between them with Carson looking on and the abrupt switch to snark afterwards is so very their dynamic. I liked this story a terrible lot, and thank you for it!
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
Yay for hitting people with bedpans! I'm really, really pleased you liked it.
Dec. 15th, 2006 12:35 pm (UTC)
Great story!
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 15th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)
Wonderful 'sort of' ghost story.... well paced to add lots of tension.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
I love ghost stories... so I had fun trying this! Thank you!
Dec. 15th, 2006 08:18 pm (UTC)
Wonderful! Thank you so much, I really enjoyed this story. And I can't stop humming the song... ;-)
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
I love that song! I'm glad you liked it. Thank you!
Dec. 16th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
This was very cool!
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 18th, 2006 04:20 am (UTC)
Excellent story - the idea of Sheppard being slowly sucked into an alternate universe is fascinating.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! Thank you!
Dec. 18th, 2006 06:31 am (UTC)
What a lovely, long plotty story--a real treat full of evocative images. I loved this:

>At that moment he saw a woman dive gracefully off the edge, her dress whipping in a strong and non-existent wind, non-existent rain soaking her to the skin. She looked happy, diving off, and John smiled. <
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
I'm glad you liked the imagery... as I said above, this story grew out of the images and it's nice that they seem to have held true. I'm so pleased you liked the story, thank you for reading!
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( 46 comments — Leave a comment )


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