Summary: "Why didn't you talk to anybody about this before, John?"
Notes: I would like to offer my most sincere thanks to my betas, opheliafic, clairshadows, and diluvian, who took this apart and put it back together again in far less time than they should have had. Thank you, thank you!
Lavvyan, Merry Christmas!
"Why didn't you talk to anybody about this before, John?"
y = nu + 14
He stumbled, bringing his running to a graceless conclusion.
It was a bright day, the sun shining clearly in a blue, blue sky and two perfect, fluffy clouds were creeping across the the world at a snail's pace. Great day for flying if he weren't stuck on the ground.
The parkland around him had children and adults dappled throughout its trees, some playing, some relaxing, others eating, going about their prosaic lives that involved things like walking dogs or turning pages or smothering another piece of bread with butter and mayo before adding meat and lettuce and a slice of tomato. It was so normal John wanted to cry.
He felt his chest constricting and managed to swallow the first sob long enough to make it to a tree that would hide him from anyone curious enough to look his way.
Really, it was all he could expect anymore.
"I'm telling you, there are only so many conclusions I can be expected to draw, and all of them are convincing me that we're doomed."
"You really think Atlantis is going to blow up just because Heightmeyer is getting married to one of the Marines?" John asked, because Rodney could come up with some strange (though sometimes entertaining) theorems and proofs, but this one might be pushing it.
"As a society," Rodney replied, hands and arms apparently trying to mime the destruction. "We're doomed as a society. Of everybody in this expedition, it's the soft sciences that are starting to breed first, which means-"
"Now Heightmeyer's pregnant?" John asked - and wasn't that something he didn't want to contemplate.
"What's wrong with you today?"
John ducked the question. "You get the email from Ronon?"
Rodney looked nonplussed. "About tonight? Yeah?"
"Good. See you then."
"Right. See you then," Rodney said, still looking slightly puzzled.
John did an about face, but he still managed to see McKay make a beeline for his laptop.
y = nu + 13
Breathe. Breathe. Just breathe.
He'd automatically covered his eyes with his hands – the sun was so goddamned bright here – and that coincidently shielded his face from view. His retinas were seared with the vague impressions of white buildings and a busy, foreign thoroughfare.
"Yo, Shep!" Strong arms gripped his head in a lock and started pulling him forward. He was released roughly with a shove that made him stumble a bit. "Man, if you're still feeling last night, how're you gonna survive tonight?"
"Where the hell am I again?"
Raucous laughter from the guy who'd grabbed him as he turned back to John. Heavy hands grabbed his shoulders. "It's okay, man, you can do this. You're in Turkey. We don't have to be back to Incirlik until tomorrow. You can do this, Shep. You're in Turkey and stay away from the raki, man. Got that?"
His head hurt. "Turkey. Raki. Got it."
Drinking sounded really good right now.
The blanket beneath John's cheek was soft, but the stitching was rough. He couldn't really bring himself to care, though, because lying stretched out just felt too good. He heard Rodney breathing softly next to him, and the lights were turned so low they weren't an irritant. Sleep was seductive at the moment.
"Why do you always flirt with me, but never do anything about it?" Rodney's voice was gentle, relaxed and tired and genuinely curious, and John's blood ran cold.
"You know I can't."
"Cut the crap. You won't. So why not?"
"Isn't it enough that I 'won't'?" John asked. Rodney's foot jerked suddenly and Rodney shifted a bit, grazing John's side with the movement.
"Sure, if you weren't still here at three-something in the morning after falling asleep after a movie."
"I was tired," John said, and that was the absolute wrongest wrong thing to say because he felt Rodney wake up, just before the lights brightened and Rodney turned over to stare at him.
"Okay, seriously. What the hell's up with you and this, because what you just said is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard you say unless you've suddenly started compulsively lying to yourself."
John sat up, bitter with himself for... For getting attached, for getting complacent or lonely or just plain needy; he couldn't tell. He didn't look at Rodney, Rodney who was still staring at him and probably wasn't going to stop until John made him.
y = nu + 10
It was hot and humid, a little past mid-day and the street was crowded with pedestrians and shoppers and cars coughing out exhaust fumes. John's skin and clothes smelled of fresh soap and detergent, contrasting sharply with the pungent, sour smell of Canal Street. People pushed past him, oblivious, some waving cameras and tour brochures, others barely skirting him with baby strollers or shopping bags. Honking cars and a cacophony of music screamed around him, and he barely made it to the middle traffic island before the light turned red.
Two girls were slightly behind him, both hunched over a map of the Quarter, arguing about their destination; an old black man with glasses so thick it hurt just to see them hummed tunelessly to his side.
John heard the muttering first, preceding a frenetic man pacing the length of the island, growing louder and waving a small book in the air, talking to the cars, shouting to the people across the street, who ignored him and the tourists,
who moved away. He got closer and turned directly to John.
"You can be saved! God saves the sinners who repent, 'cause repenting casts away sin, and sin is what keeps you from being saved! You can go home, brother, just save yourself. I can save you. You got to let yourself be saved. God can save you. God will take you home, God will save you, he'll save you, brother, let me save you."
John shied away. "Not even God could help me at this point."
But it didn't make a difference. John's crazy proselytizer had already been distracted by someone else. Story of his life.
Elizabeth sat at the head of the conference table, her hands folded in front of her as she looked at him, disapproving, disappointed, maybe even disbelieving. Rodney was to his right, Beckett and Zelenka opposite, Teyla and Ronon to his left. Lorne was there too, between Beckett and Weir. He didn't think they'd meant to parse out like that, it had just happened.
"John, surely you can understand why we should have known about this."
John saw Rodney and Zelenka glance askance at Elizabeth with that one. No, he was pretty sure those two understood why the hell he hadn't talked about it. Rodney had probably discussed it in greater detail with Zelenka before Elizabeth had gotten wind of the situation and called this meeting.
"Not really," he said to Elizabeth, leaning back in his chair. He gave in to fiddling with his pen for distraction. Elizabeth's entire face pursed.
"Colonel, I don't think you're treating this with the proper amount of gravity-"
"Elizabeth, did General O'Neill ever tell you what my response was when he talked to me about committing to the expedition?"
"No." Elizabeth paused, and John watched her visibly collect herself. "He didn't."
"He told me not everything was about me. And I told him that whether I decided to go was about me. It was about me making a decision that could possibly screw up my entire life - again. Don't you dare tell me I should have brought it to you or him or anybody else, because none of you knew me."
"I think perhaps we are missing what is important here," Zelenka broke in. "The Colonel's point is surely a good one. What is more important is: how did this happen to you?"
Rodney began with touches.
A light rub of knuckles down his spine; a ten-second neck rub just when a headache was imminent; a light push with a palm against his chest when he was too close to a this or a that, or just in Rodney's way. Nothing big. Nothing overt or sexual, just... personal.
The last thing John had expected was for Rodney to methodically and systematically break his barriers. And it was all the more devastating because from what he could tell, Rodney wasn't doing it on purpose. He'd apparently just decided not to hold back anymore with John, not to stop his natural inclination to touch.
One night after a rough mission through the gate, the four of them were sprawled in John's quarters, sore and fatigued and mindlessly watching a movie on his laptop. Ronon had already fallen asleep, testifying to his exhaustion, but then he'd done the lion's share of getting them back through the gate without serious injury. Teyla was starting to nod off, too, head bobbing down periodically and then back up at too loud an emission from the speakers. Rodney had already lowered the sound twice.
"I believe I will go to my quarters, now," she said finally, softly, so softly, trying not to disturb Ronon. "I apologize for not being able to stay to the end. I should like to see the rest, to know whom he chooses."
"Don't worry about it," John said. "We're all out of it. Breakfast at 8?"
Teyla nodded, rising with a cracking joint that roused Ronon, who followed her example and went to his own quarters, leaving Rodney alone on the bed. John watched Rodney shift a little, craning his neck to look at him.
"Wanna keep going or call it a night?" Rodney asked.
"We can keep going. It's only about half an hour left," John responded, and they went back to the screen.
When Rodney suddenly grabbed for his hand, John realized he'd been rubbing at it again. It was achy and sore from firing the P90 too many times, handling the recoil. Rodney still focused on the movie, but he worked the muscles of John's hand with a solid determination. John ended up scooting his chair minutely closer to the bed so the strain wasn't as awkward, because this was Rodney, and if Rodney knew one thing it was how to ease the muscles of a cramped hand.
Strong fingers kneaded his palm, manipulating the pads and attending each finger, bending and pulling then rubbing them back to normal. Hands and fingers moved to his wrist, and by extension forearm, and then back to his hand again. Eventually John started trying to return the favor, because Rodney had been discharging his sidearm, too.
But Rodney wouldn't stop and it became a dance, their hands intertwining and touching, moving against one another until Rodney pulled his wrist sharply, making John lurch in his chair, unbalanced. John pulled back, not enough to dislodge, just enough to feel Rodney move. It was back to their movie and their strange little duet until Rodney pulled sharply again; this time John just let it go, because the pull in his shoulder felt like a release of stress. Rodney didn't keep it up, just returned to his hand. A third time then, and John finally got it, got that Rodney was inviting him over, inviting him to share the bed as the people in the movie had their party and turned in essays. John let himself be pulled, onto the bed where Rodney wrapped his arms around him, a silent acknowledgment and nothing more.
Rodney was warm and solid and there, and John let himself sink into Rodney, into his presence. He let himself drift to the feel of Rodney's hands still moving over his fingers as the movie drew to a close, hot breath on the back of his neck.
y = nu + 5
His leg still bothered him at the most innocuous of times. It had gotten better over the months; he couldn't run anymore, and he missed it, missed eating up the miles and feeling the burn of struggling muscles melt away into the easy heat of long distances. Now he could do almost 5 miles at a decent walk. The campus had enough surrounding parkway that his routes didn't become boring, at least.
But every so often he would bend or step just wrong enough to feel a slicing arc of pain run from his knee to his hip and he'd have to stop what he was doing for a timeout. Such as now.
He sat down on a bench dappled in shade and booted his laptop. Here was as good a place as anywhere to work; he called up his thesis and sent an e-mail to Ingram letting him know he'd be late.
John had chosen Cal for two reasons. The Mathematics Department was one of the best in the nation, and it had Dr. Benjamin Ingram: Canadian citizen by way of South Africa, Nobel Laureate, semi-retired professor of mathematics and possibly, once John's thesis was completed, his stepping stone for a return to the SGC.
Before being cashed out of the service at O-3, John must have been an incredible slacker – one: O-3, Jesus; two: mediocre grades at best in undergrad that had left him scrambling to figure out how to get into a decent graduate school, let alone one of the top 5.
It had taken fast talking (unimpressed), an M-GRE of 990 (raised eyebrows), and four glowing letters of recommendation which had practically killed him to get (he'd still been in physical therapy and had enrolled in a lesser university to audit several math courses) to be allowed enough of a foot in the door to take the preliminary examination. Luck and extreme cramming came through for him, bringing a score of 113/120 (he'd run out of time on the first day) and garnering the immediate attention of Dr. Ingram. (He hadn't been expecting that – he thought he'd have to use his thesis idea, coincidently related to his problem, to even get a nod. Life was sometimes funny that way.)
Forty-five minutes later he wrapped things up and started towards the Ingrams' Victorian house. Tucked up on a swing hanging from the porch was Ben's wife Jane, reading a book, a glass heavy with condensation on the table next to her. She set down her book as he walked up the steps, offering him a hug. She smelled of mint, so she must have been gardening earlier.
"Hello, John. Ben said you'd be a little late, so I held lunch."
John pecked her check. "You didn't have to do that for me. But thank you."
"Is your leg bothering you today?"
"Yeah, I moved wrong or something. Had to take a breather for a while. Sorry about that."
"I know Ben didn't mind," she said, leading through the house to the kitchen. "He and his guest have sequestered themselves in the library and are undoubtedly dissecting the secrets of the cosmos."
It brought John up short. "There's someone else here? I thought Dr. Ingram and I were just going to go over the next part of my thesis."
Jane was taking out a cutting board and slicing up an apple. She handed him two quarters. "It's one of his colleagues he's writing a paper with. She was coming here for dinner tonight and caught an earlier flight."
"Ah." John took a healthy bite from one of the apple quarters and reached out for a one-armed hug. "Thanks for the carry-over."
"Tell them lunch is served in thirty minutes and not a fraction more."
John nodded his agreement, inhaled the apple and went to the library. Ben was bent over his desk, pointing to his computer screen, his chair occupied by the visitor. John cleared his throat.
"John, good, you're here. A colleague of mine from Colorado got here early and I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce the two of you, as I have little doubt you will find yourselves working closely together in the future." Ben came forward, meeting John halfway, giving John visual access to the third person in the room.
And damned if it wasn't Dr. Carter.
Sometimes the incredibly simple act of holding someone (or being held) was all it took to remind a person what the point of living was. A hug, even falling asleep in the same vicinity as someone you cared for. It had been a long time since John had let himself fall asleep to the warmth of another human being, and he'd all but forgotten what it was like to be touched in a not-carnal but not-platonic manner.
On spare mornings John would wake and lie in the dark an extra five minutes, sometimes more, just to soak up the feel of Rodney next to him. It wasn't often; schedules - amongst other things – didn't allow it. But once, maybe twice a week Rodney would come by John's room and they'd play chess or stupid math games. John would eventually wake up with his arm around Rodney, or more likely Rodney's pulling him closer. They almost never started that way, but it was always the same come dawn.
It happened just frequently enough that John started to crave having someone around.
y = nu + 4
This isn't right.
John stood in one of Atlantis' corridors. Two SFs walked past him going one direction and a scientist breezed by in the other. He turned a corner and saw Colonel Sumner approaching.
"Colonel! I need to speak with you for a moment, Sir," he said as he double-timed it closer to the man.
"Major. What can I do for you?"
"Sir, there's something you should know."
Cut the crap, Rodney had said, but the worst accusation had been about lying to himself, because that had been his only way to stay sane throughout the years, and John was pretty proud of himself that he hadn't jumped off a cliff yet.
"Listen, all I want is some fucking honestly, because I think I deserve that at least."
"And the fact that I don't want to talk about it means absolutely nothing, right? Give me a fucking break, Rodney, sometimes no means no."
"Then stop with the mixed signals! You don't say no, you sleep half the fucking night here after movies, you touch me! You don't touch anybody unless you're fighting them, what the hell am I supposed to think? How is it fair to me to keep me in this... fucking holding pattern all the time? Say yes or say no, but for Christ's sake mean it!"
Rodney was looking at him from the other side of the room, angry and mean and hurt and it pissed John off because he didn't want to be responsible for it. "God damn it. I can't do this, McKay! I'm not even from this goddamned universe!"
"What. The hell. Are you talking about?" Rodney was glaring at him, probably thinking it was some kind of joke. John wanted to scream in frustration, settled for yelling.
"I'm not from here! For over ten fucking years I've been bouncing around fucking universes like Sam-fucking-Beckett, so if you want a cosmic joke, you've got it right here. I was married! I had a life, a family that gave a shit about me, I tried for years to get home and every goddamned time something happened to send me somewhere else."
John was ready to explode, but Rodney seemed so much calmer, despite the fact that the look in his eyes would probably shred steel and his hands were practically clawing themselves into the chair. John watched comment after emotion after response race across Rodney's face, sarcastic and probably hateful, all discarded before he said anything.
Rodney took a deep breath and let it out, very, very slowly. John watched him look off to the side, obviously thinking.
"There has to be some sort of common denominator. Something to avoid, or something you're doing. A planet not to go to." His words were controlled, tight.
"No, that's the beautiful thing about this nightmare. It's not always the same planet. Hell, the damned device doesn't always look the same. And there was one universe that I don't even know how the hell I got out of, because their Stargate program didn't even exist from what I could tell. I just woke up in yet another life one morning about three days after I arrived."
John sat on the bed; he was wired and wrung out and now he got to watch the gears in McKay's head turn.
"Two things... 'woke up'? Are you asleep when this-"
"No, it's just-" Rodney cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"You said 'in another life'. You aren't running into your doubles?"
"I am my doubles. One time I'd been crippled before I got there, and when they tried sending me home I suddenly wasn't anymore."
"Huh." Rodney was quiet for a few more seconds. "No memory degradation?"
"Not that I've noticed."
"How many times has this happened to you?" John hated how gentle Rodney's voice had become, because it was just wrong.
"I stopped counting at six. And before you ask, because that's when I gave up trying to get back home."
Rodney didn't say anything else for long, long minutes and the silence grew heavy as he looked into the middle distance. John just wanted to go back to his quarters, to sleep and forget this entire night.
Rodney looked up at him quickly, intense and so serious. "Can I bring Radek into this? Let me bring Zelenka in."
John didn't turn him down, because the secret was out and would eventually become common knowledge no matter how careful either of them were. Rodney tapped on his radio. "Radek, I need you to come to my quarters right away." He must have received an acknowledgment because he just put the radio back down and looked at John. His eyes were strained.
"So... Married?" Rodney was quiet, his voice gravelly.
"Yeah. Annie. Annette. We got married right after I made First Lieutenant. She was... She was a vet. Thought the world revolved around animals. God help you if you were human. She could out curse and out drink everybody I ever met. Her father said her humor was drier than a Kansas drought, but she could be damned dark and twisted when she wanted to be. She had everybody fooled into thinking she was the epitome of niceness and then we'd get back home and she'd have the most scathing commentary I've ever heard. It was great. I just..."
John shrugged and stopped talking then and they were silent until a quiet rap on the door. Rodney got up to let Zelenka in, pausing before swiping his hand over the door panel.
"You know." John looked at him, at Rodney staring right into John's eyes. "You never did tell me yes or no. I wonder what that says."
The first time Rodney kissed John it had been almost a mistake. Rodney was mostly asleep in the hazy dark hours of very early/very late. John had awoken and set about straightening his clothes for the trip back to his room, and as he'd been sliding off the edge of the bed, Rodney had fumbled hold of his wrist and grazed it with his lips.
The second time was far more deliberate, and Rodney kissed John in a way that almost made John forget everything else he cared about. Long and slow and no hesitation or remorse. John loved it, and he had a feeling Rodney had known he would.
y = nu + 2
First he tried the AF Intranet.
Search query: Dr. Benjamin Ingram. Captain Samantha Carter. Dr. Samantha Carter. Dr. Ernest Littlefield. Dr. Catherine Littlefield. Dr. Melbourne Jackson. General Jacob Carter....
... Colonel Jonathan O'Neill. Captain Janet Frasier. General George S. Hammond.
He got hits on an O'Neill in CENTCOM and a Colonel Carter, Jacob F. in EUCOM.
Discreet calls told him that Hammond was retired, Sumner was also in CENTCOM. He didn't start to hyperventilate until he found a Dr. Samantha Carter, Associate Professor of Physics at Princeton University and an obituary for Dr. B. Ingram.
"Hmmm. You'll love this." John murmured into Rodney's clavicle, tasting heat and relaxation. Rodney's chest had been his drawing board for the past quarter hour, doubling his time as he tried to find the right answer, and now he was using it to word his response correctly. "The square-root of four percent..."
"Multiplied by the quadruple square root of four to the power of gamma gamma four..."
Rodney's eyes opened and gleamed at him, body still and breathless.
"Plus point four..."
"Equals six thousand, five hundred and fifty-four."
It wasn't his imagination that Rodney was hard; they were too close together for either of them to hide it, legs tangled together, arms mostly wrapped around each other. John leaned in to Rodney, was met halfway and suddenly he was sick of it, the distance he'd been keeping, that Rodney had been so carefully pushing at for months.
Sharp-edged stubble bit at his fingers and hand as he palmed Rodney's jaw, and when Rodney pulled back a little John ran his thumb over Rodney's chin, grazing his lower lip and getting a butterfly kiss in return.
John kissed him again, letting hunger graduate into something he could have for the first time in forever. He slid his hands under the hem of Rodney's shirt, and Rodney moved so that it would come off. Rodney grabbed at the collar of John's shirt once his hands were free, pulling it off almost roughly.
Rodney cupped the back of his neck, reeling John back in, biting his neck and soothing it with his tongue while John was able to move his hands down Rodney's bare sides. He already knew his body; even though there had always been the thin skin of clothing between them John had long since discovered that Rodney wasn't ticklish and a light touch to his ear would turn the man on faster than a hand on his chest or ass.
John moved lower slowly, feeling Rodney's torso expand and contract with every breath. "Hey," he whispered, getting Rodney's attention. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long."
Rodney blinked slowly, pulled John closer, held him harder. "I'm not."
y = nu + 1
"Tell me, Doctor. Do you think you're ready?"
Sumner stood casually next to the bank of computers, Alterran and not, while Ben Ingram bent over the shoulder of another scientist, spot checking her work.
"I believe so, Colonel."
"Well forgive me if I'd like a bit more reassurance. I'd like to have my deputy commander back sometime soon, and I'm sure Major Sheppard would like to get home safely as well."
John looked over, standing a bit straighter. "It'd be appreciated, Sir."
Getting used to the slight feeling of surreality that came to him every time he spoke with this Colonel Sumner was coming more naturally to John. This wasn't the same Marshall Sumner whom he joined for cards on Friday's, or who brought his family over every 4th of July along with half the command staff. He was slightly harder, a bit more rigid in his command style. He didn't smile as much, either, or maybe he wasn't used to smiling around John.
"This has been a fascinating study in quantum realities, Colonel," Ingram volunteered. John knew all Sumners well enough to know how happy it made him. "Stargate Command will be fascinated by the data we've collected. There's always been speculation that the Alterrans dabbled in the science of extra-quantum realities, but this is the first real proof we've ever had that they successfully managed a blending of two. I do wish I had the opportunity to study the device which sent you here, Major."
"Believe me, if I could get it to you, I would." Oh, wouldn't he.
Ingram gave him a sympathetic smile while Colonel Sumner asked him how much longer he thought it would be.
"If our times are even remotely synchronized," John nodded, "then both Sheppards should be home in time for dinner."
John felt something tight inside him relax. Home by dinner. That meant he'd only be gone about four days. Worrisome, but he'd gone missing longer than that before, and tiding things over with Annie would be easy enough. Home by dinner.
"Our Stargate program was about fifteen years ahead of yours. We didn't have the same early problems yours did because the Goa'uld didn't know we were around, and by the time they did, Anubis had joined forces with Sokar against Ra, so they were all too busy to pay attention to us. Add to that the fact we'd already made some pretty powerful alliances including the Asgard and the Furlings – and by the way, you guys have met the Furlings, even though you don't realize it. Earth was fairly safe and we were able to concentrate on exploration.
"Daniel Jackson and Ernest Littlefield concentrated on translating the stuff at Gelamen and Melbourne headed up the archeology teams. I was drafted into the program when I was a Lieutenant. The Ancient gene was discovered pretty early on because of the Antarctic site."
Beckett interrupted. "You're telling me you discovered Atlantis-"
John smirked. "Four years into the program. At first we didn't have enough energy to get there, and then O'Neill got his head stuck in a database repository and suddenly we knew how to make very crude ZPM's."
"You didn't go on the expedition?" Elizabeth asked.
"No. I had... ties to Earth. Didn't help me in the long run, though. A lot of tech was sent back to Earth for study. One of the things sent back popped me into another universe. Lucky me. I've tried over and over to get back and I finally gave up because after this long I wouldn't recognize where I came from if I was handed the coordinates on a platter."
John sometimes, very, very early in the morning, woke up in a sweat, feeling like he was living on borrowed time. It always happened the the dead time between night and dawn, and never when he slept alone. He would awake, feeling like he'd been forcefully shoved back in his body, off-kilter and maybe a little desperate. Whenever it happened, he took a sip of water and lay back down, draping himself over Rodney's back.
The Wraith reared up again, and then again. In between they had to deal with the Genii, the SGC, science experiments gone awry, mass hysteria, the Athosian resettlement, and the Ori and Goa'uld by proxy.
At the end of the really crappy days, John would take off his radio, override Rodney's locks and crash on his bed, because at the very least it meant only one person knew where the hell he was. Doing that usually meant they had to stay apart for several days after, but it was worth it when he was woken by Rodney crawling into bed next to him, bitching about stolen pillows and covers and the general stupidity of the universe.
Rodney was on the other side of the door when John answered it, looking nervous and determined in equal measure.
"Hey. Can I come in for a minute?"
John let him in without a word. Rodney entered, stopping almost dead center of the room and looked him over sharply, not saying anything. "What's up, McKay?"
"Does that wristband ever come off?"
"Only to shower or if medical takes it off." Rodney stared at his wristband rather than responding. "Rodney, is there a reason you're asking?"
"Give it to me for a moment," he said and then snapped his fingers when John didn't immediately. "Oh for – what am I going to do, toss it out the window?"
"Again: why am I giving you my wristband?" John asked, handing it over. Rodney took a package out of his pocket, sitting on the bed and opening it.
"Because this will work best if it's touching your skin as much as possible. It's a tracker," Rodney said, easily answering John's next, obvious question. It looked like he was starting to sew something metal into the wristband. "Radek and I designed, well, I designed and Radek did most of the building once we found materials to use which is harder than you would think in a city this s-"
"Yes, well. If you, if you get sucked into another dimension again, it'll tell us. Hopefully right away."
Right. Given his position here it would be important to know quickly. "Wouldn't it be better underneath my skin?" And had he really just offered that?
"Of course it would be better, but this has got a lot of delicate pieces – and when I say delicate I mean Zelenka and I were using an electron microscope for some of this – and we can't trust that body acids won't interfere or dissolve some or most of the filaments."
"Okay, fine." Sorry. He watched Rodney finish in silence and put the wristband back on when Rodney handed it to him. The metal felt slightly odd, but he figured he'd get used to it quickly enough.
"Listen... John..." And didn't that sound odd, Rodney saying his name? "We. I can't promise anything. None of us can. But on the bright side, it's already been what? Six years? Maybe nothing is going to happen. And that would be good. Very good."
John didn't say anything, didn't even look at McKay, just fiddled a bit with his newly improved wristband.
"Look. All I'm saying is... don't let this run your life." Rodney got up to leave and as he passed John felt a hand touch his shoulder. "It's not worth it."
y = nu
"Wake up. You're going to be late."
A hand shoved at his shoulder, pushing him dangerously close to the edge of the bed. He braced himself before he toppled off, rolling over when it was safe and trapping the offending limb in his grasp.
"That's not waking up, Sheppard." John groaned as Annie extricated herself and left the bed, flipping the covers off him as she went.
Eventually he heard the toilet flush and the water stop running and decided it really was time to get up.
He headed to the bathroom, listening to Annie rummage through the closet as he brushed his teeth.
"Hey!" Annie's voice was muffled by clothing. "I have a splenectomy late this afternoon, but I was thinking that if you get out of the mountain early enough we could go to MoZaic's for dinner. My treat."
John froze, mid brush stroke, trying to remember what he'd missed. Annie's head appeared around the jam of the door.
"You can unclench now, Slick. You haven't forgotten anything." Her head disappeared.
"MoZaic sounds great," he said and he heard her snort from the bedroom.
When John walked into the kitchen Annie was sitting at the table on her phone. There was a glass of orange juice waiting for him.
"I swear to God, if I have to listen to another person complaining that their dog isn't housebroken when the idiots keep it in a cage 24 hours a day I will beat them to death with a fucking telephone pole. 'But we just don't have the tiiime.' Awwww. The world should cut you a check."
John just smirked and sat on her lap, drinking his orange juice. She tried pushing him away but he leaned back on the table so she couldn't dislodge him. He let his index finger travel down the buttons of her shirt.
Bastard, she mouthed at him, like anybody else would hear her. When she reached for her pen and paper he held the phone for her while she took notes, pressed three when she said and hung up when she nodded.
"You know," John said, leaning awkwardly to mouth at Annie's neck, "you aren't a very nice vet. I always thought they were supposed to be kind and caring. Stuff like that."
"If humans were animals, horses would ride. And oh my God, haven't I ever introduced to you Art McElroy? That man makes people cry when their animals are perfectly healthy."
John almost got to another base, but she pulled away. "Damn it. I've got to get going," she said, and John reluctantly pulled away.
As Annie collected her things he turned on the toaster oven she'd prepped for him. She kissed him good-bye as his bagels finished toasting. "Don't take 25. C-DOT says it's backed up to hell and gone."
He got to the mountain and checked in, sat through his morning meeting. He was down by the science labs when he saw Sumner and O'Neill.
"I need to see about getting out of here at a decent time. So, I'm putting in a request for no major disasters, no teams in need of S&R and no funky pollen that makes us do strange stuff."
"Got a date, Major?" O'Neill asked.
"Aren't you married, Sheppard?" Sumner asked.
"Eight and a half long, long years. We don't need to tell her about it though. Maybe we'll even hit nine."
"God forbid intergalactic events interfere with matrimonial harmony," O'Neill replied.
"Well... why not? We just got another shipment from Atlantis last night. Get in there and help them for a few hours and we'll call it even. Sumner and I will cover with Hammond if it comes up."
"Thank you, both."
"Oh, we expect treats for this," O'Neill said and Sumner's smirk backed him up. "Preferably those fudge brownie things she makes. But cookies will do."
John laughed, agreeing to the terms. "Understood," he said, and headed into the labs. Wilson and Mrakowicz honed in on him immediately, but Sparby got to him first.
"Major, we have some brand new ancient technology over here to look at..." Discretion was better, so John just smiled indulgently and followed.
y = nu + 14
So now he had to pull himself back together. Try. Again. Fuck.
He couldn't get his breathing under control – couldn't get his goddamned tears to stop and he wondered if this is what a panic attack was, this complete loss of every kind of control you may once have had and everything just spins out.
His chest hurt and his face was hot and blotchy and it took him a few years, but finally he could mostly breathe normally again. He was thirsty and tired and forget his chest, because now everything was hurting. He looked up and around, checking his position; the park scene was still normal, idyllic and perfect looking, nobody having noticed his breakdown, thank God.
Buck up, man. Pull yourself out of it.
Right. He checked his pockets and found a wallet telling him Fort Wayne, Indiana. A key was in the wallet and there was enough cash for a cab ride of decent length, so he hailed a cab, claiming a pulled muscle when the driver looked at him oddly after he gave the address. Three and a half blocks later he was at the footsteps of a townhouse that matched his key.
Inside he made a cursory check to see if anyone else lived there (thankfully not), before numbly stepping into a shower and then falling into bed.
Hunger woke him.
A clock said it was hours later and he felt just as sick as earlier because he'd dreamed about Rodney and now he was thinking about Ronon and Teyla, too. He went into the kitchen and found something to eat.
In the living room there was a desk he searched through. He found paystubs that told him where he worked. He put them back; he'd probably be quitting anyway. There was nothing else he could find that indicated an overwhelming attachment to anyone or anything he would need to worry about immediately. A cell phone said no new messages and no saved messages. Last call received was 'Work' two days ago.
He lay down on the couch, and for some stupid reason it made him think of Rodney, so he turned on the television and ignored anything that may have come out of his eyes.
It was dark when John woke again. His arm was sore and his legs were stiff and there was a news program on. He shut it off and went to the kitchen. There were pears, so he pulled one out and started slicing it and he refused to acknowledge the tiny part of his mind that said slicing himself might not be so bad about now.
John put his head down on the kitchen table.
"Colonel, is that you?"
John jerked up which sent him careening off balance because he wasn't sitting down anymore, he was standing with Zelenka and Rodney looking at him anxiously. Teyla and Ronon were flanking Elizabeth and Heightmeyer of all people. He sat on the floor hard and fast. Heightmeyer came forward slowly and gently.
"John, is that you?" she asked.
He nodded, looking at Rodney, hearing a general exhalation of relief from everybody. "How?"
Rodney walked over to him, offering him a hand up. "The tracking device I gave you alerted us when the signature of your quantum resonance changed."
Zelenka joined in. "There's been enough research into alternate dimensions that Rodney and I were able to pinpoint where the new Sheppard was from."
"We pulled you back and sent him home," Rodney said. John hadn't let go of him yet. He was real. "We think that's why it didn't work for Ingram and the others. They were trying to send the other guy away before pulling you back."
Zelenka was there now, too. "If you remember, Colonel, the dimension you said you don't know how you left? Essentially, we believe that in the dimension prior to that one they tried to get you back when they realized their mistake, however, rather than pulling you back, they thought sending the other Sheppard away would immediately fix the problem, returning you. Rather, it made you jump to another dimension. It was this that gave us a clue on how to proceed."
"Clue? What are you talking about, it told us exactly how to proceed." Rodney's grating, irritable, wonderful voice washed over him and John let go of Rodney long enough to hug Zelenka, who made an odd noise at the contact.
"You are most welcome, Colonel Sheppard."
He did the same to Rodney, but this was warmer, stronger. Returned just as much. "Thank you. God, thank you."
Rodney's arms tightened even more around him and John buried his face in Rodney's neck. "I'm sorry," Rodney whispered. "We can't get you home. Your original signature has just degraded too much, we'd have no way of knowing what your real-"
"I don't care. Rodney, I don't care. This is home. This is home to me now."
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