Your name is not John Sheppard.
When you started your first war, you were thirteen, scared and skinny, living his life with your head in the clouds. Jake saved your life in a lot of ways, offered friendship, a purpose and family where you’d never had one before. You lasted years, five kids and an alien against the vastness of the Yeerk Empire. Following Jake’s orders was instinctual. You trusted him as much as you’ve ever trusted anyone in your life—before or after.
After Rachel dies, you stop paying attention to orders.
You never stop trying to fight a war.
The first time you see McKay, you peg him as a tech guy. Ax used to be your tech guy, looking at the normal earth technology with nothing but scorn. But Ax was a warrior just as much as he covered the Animorph’s technical needs.
So you drag McKay into the field despite every protest.
You’ve always had a knack for picking out the kind of person who might save your life.
You’ve been to the North Pole, but Antarctica is new. You like it better and not just because you don’t spent it fighting for your life. If, after long dull flights, you stand in the snow and try turning into a polar bear, no one thinks any worse of you. You’re nobody here. The glorified chauffeur, carting personnel to and from McMurdo. You’re the best pilot in the base, probably in the whole of the Air Force and nobody cares because you can’t follow orders. You suspect Cassie's influence as the only reason you don’t lose your wings.
There’s a difference between knowing how to fly and understanding how to fly. You understand flying the way most people understand breathing. It had been your life for the better part of a decade and your career for the decade after that. You know wind currents, the way a machine needs to function as a cohesive hole. You know just how long to hold a dive and how to evade anything that might be launched at you. After all, you’ve been flying under fire since before you could legally drive.
Evading a missile that looks more like a giant glowing squid is weird, yes, but not the strangest thing that’s been launched in your direction. There’s a giant secret facility under the military installation that has enough security levels to suggest it’s top secret even if you noticed its existence within your first hour of arrival. Surveillance had been your job during your first war and it’s second nature now, spotting excesses in power grids, mapping out people who don’t match the setting.
The alien tech isn’t familiar, but you’ve seen more than enough to know that is alien.
When you sit down, the entire complex goes blue.
Turns out you have alien DNA.
You should have known this would be Elfangor’s fault.
The first time you see Dr. Weir, you know she’s just like Cassie. In over her head and fighting an enemy she wants to see as an equal. Cassie managed to make the peaceful route work once. Convinced a yeerk she could be a person. Proved her golden ideal.
Every time negotiations fall through, you see the light dim in Weir’s eyes. Just once you wish she could be right. You want to take her aside, tell her about Cassie and Aftran, but every time you try the words dry up in your throat.
There are hundreds of possible permutations of gate addresses. There’s the Pegasus System and Earth’s System and you feel like you should have some idea about how the rest of it slots in. If you can dial the Hork-Bajir home world or the Iskroot. If the threat of the Yeerks lurks somewhere in Dr. Weir’s randomly generated list of gate addresses to scout.
It feels like something you should know because the base might spend hours of resources trying to boost the power, just enough to slip a message through.
But getting a message back to Earth?
At this point, the better plan might be to get a message to Ax.
The first time you see Ford you think of Marco, the way he was when he started. Before you realized what the jokes were covering. Ford’s pure in a way you barely remember, smiling and laughing and fighting the good fight.
The war ruins him.
When you're thirteen years old you spend three miserable hours behind enemy lines curled in a body that isn’t yours. No one comes back for you. You don’t hold any grudges about that. Coming back is a suicide mission. The Yeerk pool is up at arms and the night is spent listening to the frenzy of controllers trying to find the intruders who aren’t a horde of Andalite bandits but a bunch of scared kids.
There is no rescue mission so you rescue yourself. You lose your humanity, but you gain the sky.
When you’re twenty two you squint at your blunt fingers, begging them to turn back. Nothlit. That’s always going to be your curse. But Cassie’s right. Human or hawk. The fight’s over and you shouldn't be walking this line anymore.
And well, red tailed hawks don’t have much of a life-expectancy.
If nothing else, you’ve always been a survivor.
When you’re thirty four, you lose a man—a friend—behind enemy lines and you think of the scared boy using a hawk’s borrowed strength and Rachel’s face as she accepts her fate. You won’t leave someone behind. Not again.
You’ve never wanted to be Jake.
You have a brother who looks nothing like you and that’s because he’s not your brother.
Marco’s name is ‘David’ now and there are a hundred thousand reasons that makes your skin crawl. But he managed to get you a message through two galaxies and a daunting network of military red-tape, so it must be important.
He’s standing stiffly when he finally sees you, eyes flickering to Ronon without even a wince of intimidation. “Thanks for coming ,” he says by way of greeting. “You know, I think we really need to talk. You know… alone.”
Ronon rolls his eyes and moves toward the buffet table.
You cross your arms over your chest. “My father is a blue alien centaur who died when I was thirteen. ‘Dad died?’ This was a hell of a message to get.”
“It wasn’t dad,” Marco says. “Jake died. A heart attack. Doctors said it was stress. Cassie’s out of the country, Ax is out of the solar system. Rachel’s gone and Jake just died. I knew you wouldn’t come if I’d told it to you straight and… I wanted to talk to someone who mattered.”
“He got Rachel killed.”
“He was my best friend,” Marco says. “And I know it ended badly, but he was your friend too.”
That you spend most of your leave fighting robots with Ronon is mostly spite. At the end of it, Ronon’s the one who makes you go back. Ronon doesn’t have any family left, would give anything to be able to talk with them one last time.
Marco’s surprised when you knock on the door, but his face fades into a smile. “Tobias,” he says.
“Dave Sheppard,” you reply.
He steps back to let you into the house. “Do you have a problem with the David part or the Sheppard part?”
“I know where you got David from. Sheppard isn’t a coincidence.”
Marco smiles. “Cassie’s idea. I couldn’t really go back to a normal life after especially considering most of my family already had a death certificate. Had to pick out new names. Jake wanted me to just take his, but I had mom and dad to think about too. I figured... well I always wanted a brat kid brother.”
“I’m older than you.”
“And your human form was stuck at thirteen while the rest of us aged gracefully. You’re my kid brother and if you leave the fucking galaxy without telling me again I will turn into a gorilla and tear you in half.”
Your smile fades and a second later Marco realizes his mistake. “Shit dude, I’m sorry. I forgot how you liked living in a forest and eating rats.”
“Remind me why I missed you?”
“You missed me?” Marco says.
“Of course I did.”
You don’t talk about the war, but you do talk about your old friends. The moments between the fights.
It doesn’t hurt as much as you expected.
The first time you see Teyla, you think she must be Rachel. She holds herself the same way, the warrior stance, the danger coiled in her limbs. She’s a leader, the type people follow to the end of the world and she decides she’s going to follow you.
Before you realize what’s happened, you’ve assembled a team.
The puddle jumper is the first vessel you’ve had in years that feels like a true extension of yourself, that responds to your thoughts. You find yourself squinting hard at the sky, looking for the invisible patterns of thermals that will let you rise without effort, let you dive with the kind of speed humans only dream of.
When you have time, you spend it in the sky. You forgot what it was like. The sheer joy of flying through a cloudless sky.
You wonder if anyone realizes you fly like a hawk.
“You should come back with me,” you offer on a whim. You’re sprawled out on Marco’s couch, your voice hoarse. You haven’t talked this much since you were human the first time and even then, you never had someone to listen. “Atlantis is… it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Beautiful.”
“I know that look. Beautiful and terrible. I can’t believe you signed up to fight another war. Yeerks 2.0. This galaxy is alien invasion free at the moment and I’m not going to fight space vampires with you after I wasted my teenage years fighting mind controlling slugs. You did your time, too, you know.”
“I have a team.” The words come abruptly. You haven’t had one of those since you were a kid. “They're not the Animorphs but…”
“They have your back. I get it. I should have figured you’d keep fighting.” He stands and pours you both two fingers of scotch.
You stare at yours. “I killed my commanding officer like twenty minutes into my first day. I think I have unresolved issues with authority.”
“Well considering they promoted you to base commander after that, it must have been the right call.” He smirks at you, raises a glass and says, “Here’s to Tobias Fangor, savior of the human race.”
“John Sheppard,” you correct and clink a glass against his.
By the time you meet Ronon, you’ve stopped looking at your team like replacements.
Once upon a time you had your own wings. You had a meadow and an alien best friend and you fought a war to save a planet you never quite belonged to. Everything’s different now, but nothing’s really changed.
Your name is not Tobias.
But once upon a time it was.