A different world
“No!!! Don't touch that! Stay away from the mirror!”
Rodney's shout was still ringing in John's ears when he hit the other side of the quantum mirror, but the noise of gunfire, screams and the sound of breaking glass and metal quickly drowned it out and forced him to seek shelter behind a large console.
They had been on a mission to check a forgotten outpost of the Ancients that had looked pretty promising for further exploration, together with Todd as the new fifth member of their team; and as Rodney and Ronon were still not really comfortable with being so close to any Wraith - even when it was Todd - John had been the one left to pair up with him as they had started to examine the different chambers.
The room he and Todd had checked had looked like a storage room or unused laboratory, and the mirror had caught his attention right away, even more as the dark glass had become translucent all of a sudden and he'd found himself staring at someone looking exactly like the Wraith standing right behind him. It couldn't be Todd though, at least not 'his' Todd, because the person moving next to the Todd in the mirror looked like Rodney's sister Jeannie and not like he himself, staring back at him with the same surprised look on her face, so it couldn't be just a reflection of the two of them but had to be something different.
The words 'quantum mirror' had flashed in his mind even before the warning, and he'd instinctively reached out to touch the shimmering smoked mirror glass when McKay's crying voice had startled him. It had already been too late, though. Something strange and strong pulled him right into the mirror, and now he was trying to stay out of the line of fire and find out what was going on. Someone moved beside him, a tall dark figure with tousled long white hair, but John couldn't be sure which of the two Todds was crouching behind the same large Ancient console, and before he had the chance to ask, the light of a stunner blinded him and everything went dark before his eyes.
The waking up was as sudden and painful as John remembered it from the countless occasions he'd been stunned before, and he groaned and rubbed his temples in the fruitless attempt to ease the sharp ache throbbing behind his temples.
“Easy, Sheppard, you got a large dose,” a well-known multi-toned voice rumbled into his ear, and a pair of clawed greenish hands grabbed him by his shoulders as he struggled into a sitting position. The movement made his mind start to spin, and John blinked several times to clear his vision and fight against the dizziness and nausea threatening to overwhelm him.
“T-Todd?” he croaked out when he trusted his stomach to keep its contents, and warm air brushed over his cheek when the Wraith hummed in agreement.
“The stunner grazed me as well, but not as bad as it hit you, Sheppard. I couldn't really move but was awake most of the time. How do you feel?”
“Like hit by a Wraith stunner?!” John groaned, peering reproachfully at his companion as if Todd was responsible for the shot. “More like hit by a truck; but it'll pass, it always does.” He looked around with a frown. “Where are we? It looks like one of Atlantis' prison cells.”
“It is one of Atlantis' prison cells. I assume that you know that the mirror pulled us into another reality, and from what I could make out, the New Lanteans from this reality fought against the Genii in that lab. That's all I could see, but I have the feeling that we will find out more sooner rather than later.”
“I see,” John murmured, even though he didn't really understand anything at this point. He'd read the SG1 reports about their experiences with the quantum mirror, and he still remembered his own experiences on board the alternate version of the Daedalus, so he didn't question Todd's words and accepted the fact that they had been thrown into another universe. But he was far from understanding what was actually going on.
“There is something else I need to tell you,” Todd started to speak again, but he was interrupted by the arrival of their guards before he could explain himself further. John had been lying on the hard floor of the cell with his face turned away from the entrance, and as he craned his neck to see whether or not he perhaps knew the Marines guarding the prison cells from their own reality, all he could do was gasp out and stare in shocked disbelief at the tall figures that had just come to a halt before the bars.
Todd had already risen to his feet, and John could see from the corner of his eye how he lifted his chin up and folded his arms before his chest as he gifted the two Wraith with the hard glance of a powerful Commander.
“Well, that was what I wanted to tell you to warn you, Sheppard, but they were faster than I – as they must have watched you waking up through the cameras that are attached to the walls and the ceiling.”
“So the Wraith have taken over Atlantis in this reality,” John said, his voice shallow. He could feel a lump forming in his throat at the thought of his beloved city being taken by the Wraith, and the fact that he and Todd had been working on an alliance between their two races for the past weeks and months couldn't really ease the dread that was taking his heart into a cold grip. He jumped to his feet despite the dizziness that was still lingering in the back of his mind, and his right hand moved to his belt in an unconscious gesture; but his weapons weren't there any longer, taken away by their saviors – or captors. This was something they would still have to find out.
The two Wraith ignored him, their glittering yellow eyes fixated on Todd, and they bared their teeth to confused and distressed hisses, but they didn't pull their stunners or show any other sign of hostility so far.
“No, they haven't, Sheppard,” Todd murmured, sounding distracted. “There were Wraith among the Atlantis team that rescued us, and they were obviously working together. They brought us on board the Daedalus with the Jumper and beamed us directly into this cell from there, so I haven't seen more of this Atlantis than you so far, but I can feel the presence of many Wraith in the city. They have denied me a real contact so far, but their superficial thoughts are not hostile towards us, and none of the humans within these walls radiate the fear you would usually expect when so many Wraith are in the city. The only logical explanation for this fact is that the New Lanteans from this reality have built a real alliance with my kin.”
John could hear Todd's words, but it was hard to process them, and he instinctively moved away from the bars and balled his fists.
“The Commander is correct, Colonel Sheppard,” one of the Wraith now said, his cat-like eyes still glued to Todd's face. “We apologize for the precautions we had to take until we could be sure about your friendly intentions. The Commander allowed us access to his deeper thoughts to prove the good will of both of you, and we will bring you to our human Commander now. He will inform you about everything you need to know.” The Wraith moved his off hand, and John watched the energy field drop and the bars open to let them leave the cell.
“After you, Sheppard,” Todd said, and John drew in a deep breath and started off towards the opening, still feeling mistrustful, but also intrigued against his will at the same time. This universe seemed to be pretty different from their own reality when the Wraith were allowed to move in Atlantis without any guards, and it was hard to imagine that this could ever be possible in his own world.
The two Wraith framed him after shooting an irritated look at Todd because he didn't want to walk in front of the small group like it would be appropriate for a Commander, but they didn't say anything, only beckoned John very politely to take the lead.
“The Commander is already waiting for you in his office, Colonel Sheppard,” the other one who'd been silent up until now said, and John nodded quietly and walked in between them through the familiar and yet so different corridors as they made their way to the office that was his own office in his reality. He was curious about his version of himself and how the other John Sheppard would react. He was actually wondering why his alternate version hadn't come personally to their cell to welcome him there – as this would be what he would have done – but maybe there was a special reason that the other John Sheppard wanted to meet them in his office.
John wondered what had happened to the other Todd, and Rodney's sister Jeannie, and whether or not they were stuck in his own universe now like he and Todd were stuck in theirs. Hopefully, Ronon had listened before pulling his gun and just shooting them like he still preferred to do when it came to their new allies and people he considered to be a threat in general, but there was nothing John could do to ensure the other Todd and Jeannie's safety being stuck in the wrong universe.
The way to his office seemed to be longer than usual, and John felt more than just a little bit irritated by the many Wraith they met, who strode through his city as if they had always belonged there, often accompanied by one or two humans and listening attentively to them. Todd was walking closely behind him as if he wanted to protect him, and John was secretly grateful for his familiar presence. He did his best to ignore the sometimes open but mostly furtive looks they got on their way, and the whispering their own presence in the wrong city aroused. Oddly enough, the people they met seemed to be much more surprised and irritated about him than about Todd, and John had a bad feeling in his gut when they finally reached their destination and the office door whooshed to the side with a quiet hiss.
“Please come in, Colonel Sheppard.” It was a voice John hadn't heard in a very long time, and he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the man who was slowly turning around now and looking at him.
“Ford! Lt. Aiden Ford, what are you doing here?” John ground out when he had found his tongue again, and his former underling and valued member of his first team smiled briefly and gestured to the chairs before the desk where John was usually sitting to write the hated reports.
“Colonel Aiden Ford, John. Please have a seat, both of you of course. There is a lot we have to talk about as it would seem.”
“Colonel Aiden Ford?!” John echoed, “that's not what I would have expected. Where – where is... my counterpart? Your John Sheppard?”
Lt. Ford's – no, Col. Ford's eyes flickered back and forth between him and Todd, who'd taken the other chair next to John and was now looking at the counterpart of the Aiden Ford John had lost in such a terrible way. There was a strange expression on Ford's face each time his gaze fell on the Wraith's features, something John recognized as longing and melancholy. Why any Ford – from which reality whatsoever – should look at Todd like that was a mystery to John, but he had the suspicion that he would soon learn the reason for the other man's rather weird behavior.
“He's not here anymore, John.” Ford said after a moment or two, “we haven't given up the hope that we will find him and bring him back where he belongs one day, though.” He raised his hand when John attempted to jump up from his chair, and his expression changed from wistful to hard and determined within one heartbeat and the next.
“Please, John. I will answer your questions – but as you are the one who obviously doesn't belong here, it's your turn to tell me more about your reality before I'll tell you about ours.”
John wanted to protest, but Todd's multi-toned voice caught his attention. “Please do as he asked you, Sheppard. We are guests here, and we'll need their help if we want to return into our own world again. I can assure you that Colonel Ford's intentions are not the least hostile in any way.”
“How can you be so sure about that, Todd? Are you reading his thoughts?” John grumbled, and the Wraith shot him a brief sidelong glance before he returned his attention back on the military leader of Atlantis in this universe. John could still hardly believe it, but the badges on Ford's olive-green jacket left no doubt that he was telling the truth and indeed held the rank of a full-bird colonel.
“No, I'm not reading his thoughts, nor would I be so stupid, impudent and impolite to try that after he's just saved our asses from the Genii with his team. Just trust me in that, will you?” Todd replied rather cryptically, and John suppressed a frustrated groan. He knew when he was defeated, whether he liked it or not.
“Okay, I have no other choice here, I guess. What do you want to know about us, Colonel Ford?” he sighed, and Ford smiled warmly at him after another quick look in Todd's direction.
“Everything, John, just everything. And as we are both of the same rank, please call me just Aiden – or Ford, whatever you prefer. My John preferred calling me Ford when he was still here.” His voice was calm and carefully controlled, but it couldn't hide the grief he still felt about the loss of the valued friend the other John Sheppard must have been to him.
“Everything will take a while, but okay,” John shrugged his shoulder and began to retell the past six years of his life, from the moment when he had flown General O'Neill to Antarctica up to the moment when the mirror had pulled him into Ford's reality.
There was a long moment of silence when John had finished telling what had happened since he'd set his foot in Atlantis for the very first time, and he was grateful when Ford offered him some water so he could soothe his throat.
The other colonel watched him drink with a thoughtful expression on his face, then he leaned back in his chair and took a pen from the desk to play with it and busy his fingers.
“Your reality is quite different from ours, John,” he spoke up after clearing his throat, and his dark-brown eyes wandered back to the Wraith sitting beside John.
“The first days after our arrival in Atlantis went similar to yours, we started to explore the city and bring it back to life, and we hoped to make friends as we didn't know anything about what we had to expect. Our first real contact was with Teyla Emagan and the Athosians – like yours, but they weren't afraid of the Wraith, but of the Genii.
You must know that the war between the Lanteans and the Wraith ended differently from what happened in your reality. They almost extinguished their enemies but yet decided to leave Pegasus afterwards to return to the Milky Way Galaxy, which was larger and promised a more comfortable life to them. Some of them stayed here and ascended at some point, but the damage they had done to our Wraith allies was severe, and only the fact that they don't age and could hide with the Hives that hadn't been destroyed ensured their survival as a race. So the Wraith hid themselves for centuries and millennia, and they only came out of their hiding places when they needed to feed, and always only one or two Hives.
The human populations though grew and developed, especially the Genii. The Lanteans destroyed most of their spaceships before they left Pegasus, so the Genii thankfully never really got their hands on the old Lantean fleet, but they claimed more and more worlds and added them to their own territories. They forced other worlds to join their alliance and they rule with iron fists and punish even the smallest crime like petty larceny of food with death sentences. The Genii have tried to extinguish the Wraith and destroy the few numbers of Hives that have survived over the past ten thousand years at all cost, and they were working on developing a virus that is deadly to Wraith together with the Hoffans – like the Hoffans of your reality did on their own volition.”
Aiden Ford paused and poured himself a glass of water to empty it in huge thirsty gulps.
“Our Genii are spreading terror throughout the whole galaxy, and when they learned that we had found Atlantis – the lost Lantean city they had tried to find themselves for more than hundred years - they declared war and have made countless attempts to conquer the city ever since then. Teyla and her people proved themselves to be valuable allies, and they were friends with three Hives of a Wraith queen. This queen came to our help when Kolya and his Genii soldiers took over control in Atlantis during that huge and terrible storm, and when we had reclaimed our home together with the help of said queen, we offered her an alliance both of our people would benefit from. Colonel Sumner had lost his life during Kolya's attack, and Major Sheppard took over the Command after his death and forged a real and strong alliance between the Wraith and us.”
John stared at him in disbelief, and Aiden Ford smiled sadly.
“Many of us reacted like you are doing now at the beginning, John. They couldn't believe that the Wraith wouldn't try to feed on us, but the truth is that we couldn't wish for better allies and friends, because that is what ties us together now, true friendship. We're living in a real symbiosis, and none of our allies would ever think of hurting one of their human brothers here in Atlantis or on the planets we could win as allies and friends as well over the years.”
John licked over his dry bottom lip. “And you're okay that they're feeding on other humans, Ford?” he asked, not even bothering to hide his anger and disgust.
Aiden Ford's features hardened. “The Genii and their allied planets are our enemies, and their only goal is to kill each and every one of us – our expedition team as well as every single Wraith that is still alive. From what you have told me you have fought against the Genii from your reality often enough. Have you ever had any qualms shooting them when they wanted to kill you and conquer Atlantis, John?”
“This is different!” John defended himself, but he couldn't turn his head and meet Todd's eyes when he felt the Wraith looking at him.
“No, it is not, John.” Ford said, his voice hard and angry as well now. “I understand that you have made different experiences with our Wraith brothers, but you will respect that they belong to us and that we are equals in everything that matters. You have come here yourself with the Commander accompanying you as your teammate, and you said that you are trying to build an alliance as well now, so I don't see your problems with the friendship we have been building since our brothers came to our help without actually needing to do that. They risked their lives for us without knowing us, and we are united in our goal to make this galaxy a peaceful place and free it from the reign of terror of the Genii.”
“They really never tried to deceive and betray you?” John wanted to know, and Ford shook his head.
“No, they never did, John.”
“Well, I have to believe you that, don't I?” John chewed on his lip. “So what happened to your John Sheppard?”
Ford sighed, looking at the pen between his fingers with unseeing eyes. “We had heard about a planet where we could find new allies, and there was a young Wraith living together with her human foster father. He was hiding her from the Genii who often came to demand taxes, and her foster father was working on a cure that would prolong the time-span in between Ellia's hunger because she was still too young and inexperienced to leave the planet on her own but didn't want to harm the friendly villagers offering her shelter and refuge from the Genii. Our Carson Beckett had been working on a cure against the deadly Hoffan disease that killed Wraith when they were feeding on infected humans, and he and Zaddik decided to work together because Carson hoped that he could finish his cure faster then.”
“So you tried to turn your Wraith allies into humans as well, then!” John interrupted him with something akin to triumph in his voice, but Aiden Ford frowned at him.
“Of course, not, John. Why would we possibly want to do that and bereave our brothers of their strength and their abilities? That was never our intention, we only wanted to find a cure to neutralize the Hoffan virus. Unfortunately, there was an accident during one of their experiments, and Ellia infected herself with a contaminated probe by accident. The Iratus-DNA spread out within her cells and took over control of her, and when John tried to help her, she injured him and he got infected as well. We did our best to help him, but he fled from Atlantis before Carson had found the right treatment to turn him back into fully human, and we don't know whether or not he's still alive and where he is now, but like you are still searching for your Aiden Ford, I will never give up hope that one day I will find my friend John again.”
John swallowed and nodded his head. “Okay, that's why he isn't here and you are the military leader of Atlantis now, right?”
Ford nodded his head. “You're right, John. The Stargate Command on Earth decided to promote me and trust me with that post because I was the officer with the longest experience and best insight, and Major Lorne has been my faithful XO for more than four years now.” His gaze wandered back to Todd once more, several emotions flickering over his face. The Wraith gazed back at him, and John felt a short sting of pain shooting through his stomach at the way the Commander and the other Aiden Ford were looking at each other – as though they were sharing a secret John didn't know about
“How did you solve the problem with the names?” he asked to draw their attention back to himself, suddenly remembering how Wraith usually reacted to being given a human name.
“Pardon me?” Ford blinked and turned his head, his brows furrowed in confusion.
“Well, the Wraith from my – our - reality usually don't appreciate it when we're giving them names. Todd here is the only exception – he has at least never complained openly about the name I've chosen for him. How do you solve the problem?”
Ford smiled. “Our Wraith brothers are aware that we have problems with differentiating them without names as we don't have the same telepathic abilities as they do. Our Rodney had the idea to create a huge data base with thousands of different names from Earth and such as our human allies from this galaxy have answered to over the past millennia. This way each Wraith can choose the name he likes best for himself. It works well, and we have never had any problems. Their telepathic signature is unique and not comparable to our names, but both parties have to make concessions and compromises in this alliance, and accepting a name is a small price to pay when you can choose one you like yourself and you know that your head-blind allies are happier this way.”
The counterpart of the brave officer John was still missing so much smiled that strange wistful smile again.
“It's funny somehow that you chose the same name for the Commander as my Todd has chosen for himself.”
“Your Todd?” John inquired, and the strange pain was back in his stomach. He didn't like the way Aiden Ford was looking at Todd, he didn't like it at all, and it made him feel wary and almost angry. Even more as Todd himself didn't seem to mind Ford's looks at all, quite the opposite. He looked back and even bared his teeth to a smile of his own.
“Yes, his Todd, Sheppard,” he now said, his voice vibrating more than usual and reminding John of the loud purr of a cat. “Colonel Ford and the Todd from this reality are more than just allies and friends. They are mates, true and strong, powerful mates.”
“True mates?!” John heard himself repeat with disbelief written all over his face. “What the hell do you mean with that again?”
“What he said, John.” Aiden Ford returned John's heated glare without blinking. “I met the Commander the same way as you did. Acastus Kolya caught me when I was on an off-world mission together with my team, and I woke up in the prison cell of a bunker similar to what you described. In the cell next to me there was a Wraith, almost starved to death, tortured and held as Kolya's captive for more than a decade as we found out later. I tried to talk to him, and at first he wouldn't believe me what I told him about Atlantis and our alliance with his brethren, but I could convince him to trust me and agree to my escape plan.
I asked him to feed on me like Kolya would surely make him do, but only take as much as he would need to regain enough strength for our flight, and when Kolya did what I'd expected him to do and let his Wraith captive feed on me to blackmail Elizabeth, the Commander actually took only little, just enough to let me visibly age. The next time the guards came to pick us up and bring us to their commander, we escaped and made it to the Stargate, where I let my new Wraith brother feed on me again so he could defeat the guards protecting the gate. He fed on them and gave me back what he'd taken from me afterwards, and even some more, and I kept my part of the bargain and took him with me to Atlantis when my team showed up when everything was already over.
I still remember how we lay in the grass and watched the moon and the stars during our flight in the night, and I told him that I thought him to be as cunning as a fox. He asked what a fox was, and I did my best to describe a fox to him and why these animals are considered to be cunning. He came to Atlantis with me, and as there was already such a strong bond between us and after talking to our queen, he decided to stay and be her ambassador when she couldn't be in Atlantis herself.”
The counterpart of John's former lieutenant paused for a moment, and John could see that he was deeply lost in his memories.
“He needed a name, and we spent three nights with searching Rodney's data base for the perfect name for him. It was he who stumbled over a list of old Celtic names, and when he saw that 'Todd' is the Celtic name for fox, he decided that he wanted to be called Todd from now on.”
Ford went silent again, and he avoided John and Todd's eyes this time when he added quietly:
“It was also the night when we finally admitted our deep feelings for each other, and we have barely ever been apart from each other since then. And now he's trapped in your reality, John, and from what you told me especially about your version of Ronon Dex and how much he hates the Wraith, I can only hope that he's still alive and will be able to return to me.”
John didn't know what to say, and so he only sat there and chewed on his lip as he tried to digest when the other Aiden Ford had just told him. Not only that this Atlantis had formed a strong alliance with the Wraith shortly after their arrival in Pegasus, but also that he and Todd were together like in together together, and that his own counterpart was probably dead and still partly Iratus. It was almost too much for him to wrap his head around all at once, and he searched for Todd's gaze with a pleading look in his eyes because the Wraith he found himself tied to in so many ways without really wanting it was the only familiar spot here in this strange universe, the only being John could actually understand. Todd smiled at him and reached out to briefly touch his arm in reassurance, and for the first time since they knew each other John could welcome his touch openly and without telling himself that he still hated and mistrusted this oh so special Wraith.
It was just for a split second before Todd drew his hand away again, but it was enough for him to regain his composure, and he heaved a sigh of relief and relaxed his tensed back.
Ford's radio beeped right when he finally deemed himself ready to answer to his story, and he snapped his mouth shut again and rubbed his forehead because his headache was getting worse with every second that passed.
Ford listened for a moment and then nodded his head in acknowledgment. “Understood. We'll be there in a minute, Lorne,” he said as he rose to his feet and gestured to the door.
“We'd informed our queen about what happened when we were still on board the Daedalus, and she has arrived with her command Hive. I want you to meet her and talk to her and Richard before we decided how to proceed and bring you back where you belong. Please follow me to the conference room.”
John and Todd nodded and stood up as well, and John was deeply grateful for Todd's calming presence beside him as he followed Aiden Ford to the conference room to meet the queen his fellow colonel was talking about with so much respect and affection.
She was as impressive and beautiful as John remembered her to be.
Her shimmering brown hair was longer than he remembered it, but her tattoos were the same, winding itself along her face and down on her neck until they disappeared under the jagged collar of her ivory-white coat-like dress.
John swallowed and took one step back into the corridor, bumping into Todd as he did so.
“Easy, Sheppard, she's not the same queen, she only looks like her.” The Commander rumbled soothingly into his ear, and John nodded, but his teeth hurt from the tension in his jaw.
She was sitting on a chair at the round table and regarding him silently, her expression unreadable and attentive but without any visible hostility or hate. A tall Wraith was sitting on her right side, and it took John several long seconds to realize that he was the one who had become Michael Kenmore in his own reality – because of what John and his team had done to him. Here, in this universe, he was apparently the Commander of his queen, and if the way he was leaning towards her was anything to go by, then he was probably much more than only her Commander.
Richard Woolsey was sitting at her left side, and John's eyes widened when his gaze fell on their entwined fingers on the table top. The Richard Woolsey he knew would never have allowed any Wraith to come so close to him and hold his hand after his experiences with Todd on board the Daedalus, but the Richard sitting in the conference room and peering at him through his glasses looked perfectly fine and even happy.
“John Sheppard, it's good to see you again, even if you are not the John we know and cherish,” the queen now welcomed him, “please have a seat so we can get to know each other better.” She paused and regarded Todd standing behind John with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.
“Commander, would you please assure your brother that he does not need to fear us? We are friends, and no harm shall come to him from my crews.”
John craned his head back to look questioningly at his companion, watching Todd incline his head in a respectful bow towards the queen.
“Queen Boadicea is speaking the truth, Sheppard. She invited me into her Hive mind, and it is like Colonel Ford told us, they are living in a real symbiosis and united in deep friendship. And no, Queen Boadicea is not influencing me and violating my mind and free will. You would know it if she did because no queen has ever been able to do that without me fighting her back.”
Boadicea tilted her head in a brief bow of her own, which was something John had never seen any queen doing towards any male so far, and her full lips curled into a surprisingly soft smile.
“You are as strong as the one we have lost, Commander,” she said, “we will not give up hope that he will return to us unharmed together with Jeannie.”
“Hmm, okay, I have to believe you, I guess.” John walked closer to the table at last to pull a chair for himself. Todd did the same and they sat down opposite the queen and her two male companions. Aiden Ford was standing before the closed door with his arms folded across his chest as if he wanted to block their way out, which was probably his intention, and John was also sure that there were guards outside, ready to come in and stun him if he so much as thought of doing anything stupid.
“Richard, how are things going?” John then asked when he'd taken his seat, and the older man with the bald head made a helpless gesture with the hand that was not holding Boadicea's fingers.
“Hello, John. It's so good to see you again, even if you're actually coming from another reality. I think that Aiden has already given you an impression about our world and that we've been defending our city against the Genii for years now. We'd hoped that we could bring the things we'd found in this lab back here before the Genii came to attack us, but they have their spies everywhere. Atlantis would have fallen into Kolya's greedy hands years ago if it wasn't for our faithful brethren here.”
John had to bite his lip and turn his head away when Richard Woolsey turned his head to smile at the female Wraith with so much devotion written all over his face that he just couldn't stand watching it.
Todd leaned back in his chair and put his hand between John's shoulder blades, and as strange as it was, but it actually helped him to keep his calm and not just jump to his feet and tear the counterpart of his valued friend and fellow leader away from the queen.
Boadicea bared her teeth to a quiet hiss, probably smelling his anger and distress because she sniffed the air as she fixated him with narrowed eyes.
“You are welcome here in Atlantis as long as you respect that things are different from your own world. Richard is my cherished human consort, and you won't disgrace him in front of his own people. Am I understood?”
John gritted his teeth so hard he thought that they would break, but he nodded his head tersely. “Perfectly well, my Queen.”
Her face softened in sympathy. “You may call me Boadicea, Colonel Sheppard. I am not your queen, and I won't expect you to accept me as such.” He turned her head towards the Commander sitting at her right side.
“My Commander and Wraith consort has chosen Michael as his name, so you may address him with this name. Your brother informed me that you chose the same name for him as my ambassador Commander Todd claimed for himself in our universe, which shows that we are not so far away from each other as you first thought, Colonel Sheppard. I shall hope that your own experiences and your hate towards the Wraith of your reality won't influence your reasonable judgment.”
That was a clear warning, and John exhaled a breath. “No, it won't Boadicea. Your name sounds familiar by the way, but I can't remember where I heard it.”
Boadicea lifted her chin up and leaned back in her chair. “Dr. Beckett told me the story about a proud and strong Britannic queen from your world who fought against the arrogant Romans who wanted to conquer her homeland. As I have been fighting against the Genii for centuries and therefore share some things with your old Earthen queen, I found this to be a good name.”
John nodded slowly. “You're right, Boadicea, it surely is,” he accepted her explanation, and the smile he offered her was a genuine one.
Within the next two hours, John and Todd learned some more about the situation in this reality, and how Atlantis and the Wraith were fighting against the Genii.
“My crews would never feed on one of our human allies, Colonel Sheppard,” Boadicea said, “Atlantis and the worlds where our human allies live are Hive to us. Our brothers and sisters have never betrayed us or treated us like the monsters you apparently think us to be because of our need to feed on human life-force. We trust each other and respect our differences. The New Lanteans welcomed us in Atlantis and share their technology with us, especially the knowledge and technology of the first Lanteans and of the Asgards – and we offer protection and our healing powers to them in return. Our alliance is based on true friendship, and many of us have found a beloved mate here – like Aiden and our Todd – or Richard and I.”
John knew that it wasn't his business, but he had to ask this question nevertheless. “So your Commander Michael, Richard and you are together, all the three of you? It's kinda hard to wrap my head around that, sorry.”
Richard paled and then blushed when he realized what John was referring to. “Oh no, John, we don't have such a relationship as you seem to believe that we have. As the civilian leader of Atlantis and in that equal to Boadicea, I am her formal consort because Wraith queens usually only talk to other queens. With Elizabeth gone, this was the only way queens from other Wraith factions would accept that I represent our alliance as her equal partner. Boadicea and I share the same love for Earthen operas and literature, and our spiritual bond is strong, but our bond is absolutely platonic and not of physical nature.”
“Oh, I see. Uhm, I apologize for having judged it so wrong.” John murmured, and he couldn't really hide his relief about Richard's explanation. It was already disturbing enough that Aiden Ford and the Todd of this reality were obviously a couple, and he was deeply grateful that he didn't need to deal with anything more of this kind right now.
“Todd here once told me that there is a lot about Wraith I still don't know,” he shrugged as he tried to ease the tension, “seems that I will now get the chance to learn more.”
“It looks like that, John, yes,” Todd made himself known, “Queen Boadicea, Mr. Woolsey, my human brother John requires some time to rest, food and water, before we go on with our interesting conversation. Are we allowed to withdraw to some more comfortable quarters than your prison cells for a few hours?”
“Of course, Commander Todd. I shall see to you being brought to comfortable quarters and getting food and water immediately,” Richard hurried to agree, “would you prefer separate quarters or staying together?”
John wasn't sure what this question implied, but much to his own surprise, he felt safer and more comfortable with the prospect of sharing his quarters together with Todd instead of staying alone in this confusing version of the Atlantis he'd been calling his home for so many years by now.
“We want to stay together,” he said quickly, earning himself a sidelong glance from Todd, but the Wraith thankfully didn't object and just nodded his head in agreement.
“Yes, we would prefer not to be split apart.” Todd said, and John felt himself relax ever so slightly.
“Of course. Aiden, would you please bring our guests to their quarters?” Boadicea asked Colonel Ford, and Ford's counterpart stepped away from the door and beckoned John and Todd to follow him.
They were dismissed, stuck in another reality, and only time would tell whether or not they would find a way back home, home to their own universe and their own people.
Todd was standing before the large window with his back to John and looking outside silently while John was sitting at the table and pushing his food from one side of the plate to the other one. He didn't feel really hungry, even though he knew that he had to eat something. The events from the last hours were catching up with him at last and making him feel dizzy and tired down to his bones. The task of lifting the fork to his mouth and chew on the next bite seemed to be too much of an effort to actually enjoy the delicious food on his plate, and his fingers were trembling like the fingers of a much older man.
“It's a beautiful view, isn't it?” he asked to fill the heavy silence between them as Todd was his only ally in this strange and confusing reality, and the Wraith turned his head to look back at him, his features schooled into a mask of calm.
“It is the first time I can really see it, Sheppard. Even after our return to Pegasus I have never seen more than your prison cells, the conference room, the gate room or the infirmary. I was never invited to enjoy the incredible view from one of the balconies – or be allowed to stay in quarters with actual windows so far.” His voice was quiet and lacking any kind of reproach or accusation. The Wraith was merely stating a fact, and John frowned as he tried to remember where he'd actually taken him in his beloved city so far.
“Is that so?” he inquired, and Todd inclined his head.
“Yes, Sheppard. I wouldn't have imagined the view to be so impressive. The Lanteans did have a sense for combining beauty with efficiency.”
“That's true.” John toyed absently with his fork. “What do you think about this reality? Do you think that they have told us the truth?”
Todd came over to the table to sit down opposite John and watch him eat. “They have, Sheppard. I am aware that you still don't trust my kin farther than your outstretched arm, and that you still don't trust me fully either, but the things they have told us are true – and neither Aiden Ford, nor the Richard Woolsey of this universe were under Queen Boadicea's influence in any way when they were talking to us. And to answer your next question: She hasn't tried to bring me under her influence either. My mental powers are as strong as those of most queens after ten thousand years of training, and not even the Primary achieved gaining mind-control over me when we were on board her Hive and she attempted to force herself behind my barriers.”
The ancient Commander paused, and his expression turned thoughtful. “I wonder whether or not we could have had the same turn-out of events in our own reality if things had been different – if the Primary had chosen another queen to be the Keeper during our long hibernation – and if we weren't as many as we actually are, so many to feed with only so little human populations left.”
John shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps, but it's pointless to dwell in such thoughts, as we can't turn back the clock. I understand why you feel so intrigued and want to learn more about this version of Atlantis, but my most pressing concern is to return to our Atlantis as soon as possible.”
“Yes, I can sense your discomfort, Sheppard.” Todd tilted his head in curiosity. “What is it that is throwing you off that much? The fact that my kin are for once not treated like monsters and hated enemies for their need to feed? That Aiden does not feel as disgusted by the thought that my Wraith brothers from this reality are feeding on their enemies as you have always pretended to feel when my kin did the same in our own world? Or that he's in love with my counterpart?”
John couldn't hide his violent flinch at Todd's blatant words – and the question he hadn't seen coming, even though he should have expected it to be brought up at some point.
“Everything seems to be too good to be true,” he defended himself and his behavior, biting down onto his bottom lip and avoiding the pair of glittering golden cat's eyes that were looking at him when he added:
“I don't like the way he's looking at you. You are not the same Todd he knows – you only look like him.”
“His Todd and I might not be as different as you want us to be.” Todd paused for a moment. “Is this Aiden Ford so different from the man you still value so highly even after all that happened?”
John didn't know what to say to that and just shrugged his shoulders. “I don't know. Maybe. It's hard to tell after knowing him for merely half a day.” He rubbed his hurting temples and the ancient Commander pointed at his plate.
“Eat your dinner, Sheppard. Then you will sleep while I watch over you. You'll feel better after some rest, and it'll also help with your headache.”
“I'm a big guy, I can decide for myself what's good for me!” John objected, but the damn Wraith only offered him a toothy grin.
“Is that so, Sheppard? One wouldn't think, hearing you talk and seeing you behave. I will leave you to your sulking then.” Todd rose to his feet and crossed the room to make himself comfortable on the floor before the window, sitting down with crossed legs and his hands resting in his lap. He straightened his back and closed his eyes like John knew from the time when the Wraith Steve had been their prisoner, and he realized that Todd wouldn't talk to him again until he'd finished his dinner and actually gotten some rest.
The colonel with the messy dark hair scowled at his companion before he went back to finally emptying his plate. Todd was actually right and he really felt exhausted, so the prospect of getting some hours of undisturbed sleep was much more tempting than he cared to admit.
Maybe he would feel less confused and irritated by the way Aiden Ford was looking at Todd when he was less tired tomorrow, and there wasn't much he could do about their current situation without Ford's help anyway. John pushed his plate aside and made his way over to the bed in the other room, and he was already fast asleep when his head touched the pillow.
He was alone when he woke up again.
John blinked his eyes open as he sat up and looked around in confusion before his memory came back and he realized where he was. He looked down at himself and frowned because he was sure that he hadn't bothered to undress more than his boots before he'd crawled under the covers, but someone – Todd – had undressed him down to his underwear during his slumber of exhaustion, probably to make him more comfortable.
The thought of Todd touching him so intimately while he'd been defenseless and unaware of the touch of those long and clawed green-grayish fingers made him shiver, and – much to his dismay and embarrassment – it was more a thrill of excitement than a shiver of real disgust.
The colonel shook his head to clear his mind and get the picture out of his head, making his way over to the shower before he dressed with the fresh uniform that was neatly folded and waiting for him on the nightstand beside the bed.
He fought the feeling of disappointment and betrayal that Todd hadn't been there when he'd woken up, considering his options when he was ready to face the new day, and the people who looked like his family and his friends but were yet so strange and different from everyone he'd come to cherish over the last years.
His rumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten all of his dinner last night, and starting the day with a hearty breakfast was probably the best option to choose, especially the prospect of hopefully getting some hot and strong coffee along with his breakfast.
The corridors were mostly deserted and John met only few people on his way to the mess hall, who gave him curious looks as they offered him a brief greeting with small but genuine smiles. It spoke for Aiden Ford and Richard Woolsey that the members of their expedition team minded their own business and accepted the arrival of another version of their own John Sheppard and Todd without any visible signs of disbelief and open mistrust, or even hate.
There were thankfully no Wraith crossing his way, and John paused on the threshold to the mess hall for a second or two to scan the room for familiar faces he could perhaps talk to. His breath hitched in his throat when his gaze fell on the table with the three people he considered to be his family more than his birth family had ever been to him, Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex. They were sitting together with Aiden Ford, and Todd was there, too.
His Todd. Sitting opposite the counterpart of John's former teammate and lieutenant Aiden Ford and listening to him with his head cocked in this familiar way that it made John's stomach tie into a tight knot and twist something deep in his abdomen. Ford's eyes were glued to Todd's face in this special way that made John want to ball his hands into tight fists, and Ronon's features were not the usual grimace of hate and fury whenever he looked at any Wraith - even Todd - but showing a fascinated and almost happy expression, as though he was catching up with a long-missed friend. Rodney was talking and gesturing widely with his hands, cutting Aiden short again and again like John knew from his own Rodney, his expressive features filled with deep worry about his missing sister.
Teyla was quiet and just listened to Ford and Rodney, but her entire posture was relaxed, and she looked perfectly comfortable in the presence of a Wraith sitting so close beside her. It was not really surprising that she was also the first one to sense and notice John's presence, and she turned her head and waved at him.
“John! It's such a pleasure to see you again, please come over here and join us for breakfast. Todd has just given us a quick report about your situation.” she called over to him, and John drew in a deep breath and forced his feet to move forward until he reached the table where the other selves of his own team were sitting and smiling at him.
“John!!” Rodney now shouted through the whole mess hall as well, waving with his hands again and almost shoving his plate from the table. “You're not our John Sheppard, but you look close enough to the real thing, so we're happy to have you here! You don't happen to know anything about my sister Jeannie and our Todd, do you? I hope that they'll be safe in your strange reality! I'm especially worried about your Ronon – Todd has just told us that he hates all Wraith – which is really weird, isn't it? I mean, how can someone hate our allies? They are amazing and so...”
“Rodney! Stop talking, please,” Teyla chided the blue-eyed scientist gently, and Rodney snapped his mouth shut with an indignant expression.
“I was merely...” he tried, and Ford, Ronon and Teyla nodded their heads in perfect unison.
“Yes, we know, McKay. We're all worried about Jeannie and our Todd. But they don't know any more about their well-being than we do, and if their version of you is as genius as you are, then they will surely find a way to bring them back to us.” Ford stopped his next speech rather abruptly but with a smile that made his eyes crinkle, beckoning John to sit down next to himself.
“Please, have a seat, John. We were talking about our next moves. Todd said that you were still sound asleep when I came to pick both of you up, so we decided to let you sleep for a while longer.” The other colonel turned his head to look at Ronon.
“Ronon, would you get Sheppard his breakfast, please? You'll make it through the line faster than any of us,” he chuckled with a meaningful look at the long line before the counter.
“Sure thing. Good to have you here, Sheppard. I'll get your food.” Ronon rose to his full impressive height and strode over to the counter without bothering to line up with the other citizens, and John grinned when he saw that they all made room for the Satedan without objecting.
“So they found a way to undo your transformation in your reality?” Rodney asked when John had sat down at the table, regarding him with slightly narrowed eyes. “Carson was working day and night, but our John escaped from the infirmary one night before the treatment was complete, and we never saw him again. We're still searching for our John Sheppard and hoping that we'll find him again one day, but the war against the Genii is taking up most of our resources and manpower, and we couldn't spare any of our teams for a proper research within the last year.”
The counterpart of John's best friend regarded him with a resigned and wistful expression. “It's weird and good at the same time to have another John Sheppard sitting at our table again.”
John shrugged his shoulder in a nonchalant way and forced himself to smile. “It's weird to see so many Wraith walking through Atlantis without guards, and see them sitting in the mess hall together with people who look like the people I know but are not the same in so many ways. It'll take a while to wrap my head around that. 'My' Ronon hates the Wraith more than anything, for example, and 'my' Rodney would never allow any other Wraith than Todd to come too close to him.” His eyes drifted to Ronon's tall figure when the Satedan came back to their table and put a tray down before John's seat.
“Wraith are good, Sheppard,” he said with a shrug, slumping down onto his own chair again and stretching his long legs under the table. “They are great fighters, and they kill Genii. That's reason enough for me to like them.” His jaw tensed and he tightened his grip around the huge knife he used to cut the food on his plate. “The Genii destroyed Sateda.”
“I see.” John didn't really know what to say, and he looked away to unconsciously search for Todd's eyes. The ancient Commander had followed their conversation silently, his posture much more relaxed than John had seen him in a very long time. The dark-haired colonel knew that it was because his Wraith companion was for once not treated like an enemy, and that it was mostly his own fault that Todd had never felt as accepted and welcome among the New Lanteans in their own reality as he felt here in this new and so strange and different one.
“The New Lanteans from my reality have been fighting against the Genii ever since their arrival in Pegasus as well, but our situation is very different from yours,” Todd now said, and John lost his appetite when he saw how Aiden Ford shifted his attention back on him instantly again.
“I would love to show you more of our world, Todd,” he said, his voice too soft for John's liking. “But I fear that we won't have much time for that. Queen Boadicea has sent some of her fighters to the outpost where we found the mirror, but we won't make it back to the lab there with as many Genii guarding the outpost as there actually are. The only possibility to send you back to your own reality will be to use the quantum mirror we have on Earth, but to dial Earth we'll need a fresh ZPM.
We'd been sending out undercover agents to get some valid information about possible locations where so far undiscovered ZPMs could still be over the past months as this has been one of our most pressing concern in our fight against the Genii anyway, and the planet with the lab and the mirror had been on our list of planets we wanted to check for ZPMs. That's why we were actually there when you stumbled through the mirror and our Todd and Jeannie were thrown into your world at the same time. There is another planet one of our agents told us about, but it's a world with a strong EM-field, so we can't use a Jumper but have to go by foot. We only have some old legends as evidence that there could be a ZPM hidden inside the ruins of the abandoned old city, but it's worth a try as the Genii don't know about this planet so far.”
Ford looked back and forth between John and Todd, and John nodded his head eagerly. Anything was better than just sitting here in the mess hall and watch the military commander of this Atlantis make goo-goo-eyes at his Todd.
“It's surely worth a try,” he nodded his head, doing his best not to sound too eager and relieved. “But Todd and I want to come with you.”
Ford pursed his lips, and his eyes were sparkling with amusement. “I wouldn't have thought of asking you to stay here and wait for our return, John, don't worry. We've only got word from our agent that this planet is safe this morning, and the preparations will take a couple of hours, so I suggest that you make yourself a bit more familiar with our Atlantis in the meantime. I'll let you know when we're ready to leave. Queen Boadicea requested that the Commander spends some time with her, but you're free to walk around freely in Atlantis as much as you'd like to do, John.”
John didn't like the thought of Todd spending too much time with the queen and apart from him, but he knew that he didn't have much of a choice here, and so he only nodded his head.
“I will do that; thank you, Ford,” he said, hoping that the preparations wouldn't take too long. The sooner he and Todd returned to their own reality, the better. The Aiden Ford of this world seemed to be honest and one of the good guys, but John really didn't like the way he was looking at Todd, and apart from that, they really didn't belong here and were needed in their own world.
John rose to his feet when the others did the same and followed them out of the mess hall, and his stomach tied itself together in a painful knot when he watched Todd leave him to talk to Boadicea.
“Would you like to join me, John? I could tell you more about our life and our alliance with the Wraith,” Teyla offered him, and John smiled at her.
“Yes, I'd like that very much, Teyla. Thank you,” he said, and when he looked into her kind eyes, it almost felt as if he was back in his own Atlantis again.
Change of perspective
The next hours passed by surprisingly quickly, Teyla showing him around and feeding him more information about this weird reality that was still so strange to John. Her Elizabeth Weir had suffered through the same transformation like the Elizabeth John had admired and cherished so much, only that she had become injured after an attack of the Genii. She was gone like his own counterpart, and John felt homesick like never before as he walked through the familiar corridors and rooms with Teyla by his side. He did his best to hide his flinching each time Boadicea's Wraith crossed their way, and he longed for Todd's calming presence badly, even though he hated himself for his sudden longing for the usually pretty annoying Wraith.
Todd's tall figure was nowhere in sight though, and the dark-haired colonel wondered what was taking him so long. He even felt hurt that the ancient Commander obviously didn't need him as much as John needed him in this odd situation they found themselves in, and the memory of how Aiden Ford had looked at Todd – John's Todd, and therefore the wrong one – was still so fresh in his mind that he wanted to hit something in a sudden bout of anger and hurt. It wasn't that he felt jealous of the other colonel, of course not, but he felt betrayed and left out each time he saw Ford and Todd interact with each other, and he really didn't like to be the third wheel in this constellation.
The beeping of Teyla's radio released him from his misery at last, and the Athosian brought him back to the gate room where Aiden and his team were already waiting for them. Todd was there as well, meeting John's heated and reproachful glare with this unnerving calmness and a hint of mocking amusement glinting in his yellow-golden cat's eyes.
Boadicea and Richard Woolsey were watching them from above, standing before the railing near the stairs, whereas her Commander – the Michael Kenmore of this reality - was waiting for them next to Ford with his hands clasped behind his back, his posture showing off the proud and powerful Commander John's 'own' Michael had never gotten the chance to be. John swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat and lifted his chin up in defiance, determined not to reveal his confusion and inner turmoil to any of these people.
“John, here you are! We're ready to go if you are. As you came here without any baggage, we packed some things for you. The ruins of the city are about a proper day's march away, and we'll have to spend one or two nights on the planet, but we should be back the day after tomorrow if everything goes according to plan. As this world is not listed in the official database and star maps of the first Lanteans, we shouldn't run into another trap of the Genii this time. We're not sure why the Ancients wanted to keep the coordinates of this world a secret, but it might be a good sign that we'll indeed find a full ZPM there.”
John came to a halt beside Todd and let his eyes sweep over their team. Ronon gifted him with a toothy grin that made Rodney roll his eyes and give him a dig in his ribs, and John frowned when he realized that Carson Beckett would join them, too. The two Wraith John already knew from the previous day were carrying their equipment on their backs without any visible effort, and two masked drones were standing in the background behind Commander Michael. John didn't really like the thought of Boadicea's Commander coming with them – as this Michael was the counterpart of the former Wraith who had become the biggest threat in John's own universe until Teyla's motherly rage had defeated him – but he knew better than to voice his true thoughts too openly.
“Uhm, do you really think that we need to be so many, Ford?” he just asked instead of uttering his concern, but Aiden Ford just shrugged his shoulders.
“We're not taking any risk, John. Like Ronon said – Wraith are pretty damn good fighters, and they're strong enough to carry our baggage with ease. Carson is a regular member of my team and has the Ancient gene, and Commander Michael is the one knowing more about the technology of the Ancients and the traps they loved to set up than anyone else here in Atlantis except for Todd – my Todd – who isn't here to help us at the moment.”
Aiden's eyes softened when he looked at the other version of his own mate, and he smiled apologetically. “No offense, Commander, but your reality is too different from mine that I could take your surely amazing knowledge into account for this mission.”
John gritted his teeth when Todd inclined his head politely and returned the smile. “No offense taken, Aiden. Colonel Sheppard would have come to the same conclusion and decision if things were different and you stuck in our reality. I would not count on the knowledge of someone I don't really know either if I were in your position.”
“I feel as if I have already known for a long time, Commander... Todd,” Aiden murmured, and John felt the sudden urge to wipe the wistful smile from his face. He pushed his hands into his pockets and cleared his throat to draw their attention to him before things got worse than they already were.
“Well, fine, it's your decision anyway. No need to waste any more time, right? The sooner we leave, the better. Come on, guys, let's go.”
“As you wish, Sheppard,” Todd rumbled, but his sidelong glance told John that the Wraith was seeing right through him. Ford only nodded and waved at his team to get ready for their departure. Ronon let out a sound of agreement and Rodney took his bag with another roll of his eyes and turned to face the Stargate as it started to move, probably on the command of Boadicea who was surely connected with her Commander and Wraith consort. The drones took the other bags and walked towards the blue horizon as the first ones of their rather long line whereas the two Wraith officers took up position at the end to cover their backs.
John found himself in the middle of their small procession and stepped through the wormhole together with Todd, relieved that he could leave this mirror version of his beloved city for a while. Their hands touched briefly when the wormhole swallowed them, and John's last thought before he emerged on the other side of the gate again was that if he had to spend the rest of his life in this reality and never see his friends again, he would at least not be alone then but have Todd by his side, a thought that was actually far more consoling and comforting than it should be.
Their trip through the wilderness and beautiful landscape was uneventful, and they made good progress on their way to the ancient ruins of the city one of Boadicea's cruisers had located from space. The strong EM-field made it difficult for them to use the Ancient tracking device, but their Wraith companions with their heightened senses always found the right direction, and the mountains rising in the distance were a good way-marker as well, as the cruiser had spotted the ruins right at the base of these mountains.
Boadicea's consort and Commander Michael was walking at the front of the team again, together with Ronon, then came Aiden Ford and Todd. John was marching right behind them, flanked by the two Wraith officers, and each of his attempts to shake them off and join the front group had quickly been thwarted. He'd finally resigned himself to his fate and contented himself with glowering at his unusual bodyguards reproachfully now and then, which didn't seem to impress them much, though. Rodney, Carson and Teyla were walking at the end of the line, together with the drones which were supposed to cover their backs again.
Not that John really trusted them to actually protect him in the not-so-unlikely case that the Genii yet came here to attack them, but he didn't have much say in this matter and could only accept what he couldn't change.
“I'm a big guy, I don't need babysitters,” he grumbled when the twigs and branches of a bush next to him rustled all of a sudden and the Wraith walking at his left side pushed him out of the way and behind his own body instantly, raising his stunner at the same time in one single and graceful motion.
“The Commander was very clear about his wish to see you protected at all costs, Colonel Sheppard. We cannot hope to bring our Commander Todd and Jeannie Miller back to us if something should happen to you. We will protect you with our own lives without a doubt.”
The Wraith lowered his weapon down again when he was sure that it was only a bird that had caused the rustling, and John gazed at him from the side. His babysitter was of the same strange alien beauty John had gotten used to over the years, and which he could finally acknowledge and even appreciate without hating himself for it. His long hair was falling over his back like a silvery waterfall, in contrast to the dreadlocks of his companion. He was tall and of slender shape like most Wraith, and his skin was more bluish than actually green.
“You would really die for someone you don't know, and who doesn’t mean anything to you? I actually don't have any real right to be here, as I don't belong to your reality.” John countered, and the Wraith tilted his head and looked at him with an expression that was actually kind and friendly.
“It's not your fault that you are stuck here in our universe, Colonel Sheppard, so the least we can do is help you find a way back. Plus, you have a lot in common with the John Sheppard we have lost, and whom we still value and cherish as a dearly missed friend, so you're not a stranger to us at all. You don't need to worry that we have a death wish or something like that. We value our life as much as you do, but our alliance will always come first. We cannot risk it for selfish reasons, and Cendrig and I volunteered to be the ones protecting you during the mission as we have a much better chance to survive than our human allies.”
“'Cendrig'?” John gazed at the other Wraith now, and the officer with the dreadlocks and the stocky figure bared his thin lips to a smile. “Cendrig is a very honorable Athosian name as Teyla Emmagan explained to me. I like the sound of it and chose it as my 'human' name, Colonel Sheppard.” he explained, and John pursed his lips in surprise.
“I see. I'm sorry that I didn't think of asking you about your names so far.”
“There's no need to apologize, Colonel. This is all new for you, and we understand that the concept of Wraith accepting names willingly is still new to you. My name is Alasdair, an old version of your Earthen name Alexander which I found in Dr. McKay's database about the different names and their meanings. I do see myself as the protector and defender of my human brothers and sisters against the Genii.”
John regarded his two bodyguards for a moment. They were so different from what he'd come to know about Wraith in his own world that his head began to throb each time he tried to process all the new things he was confronted with. Yet their willingness to accept and answer to human names made it easier for him to see them as individuals and not just as Wraith, as the monsters all Wraith had been for him since his first fateful encounter with the Keeper. He'd stopped seeing Todd as 'just Wraith' a long time ago without ever really acknowledging this important truth, but Todd had been the only one John had acknowledged as an individual with both good and bad qualities. All the other Wraith he'd named before Todd – even Michael – had still been only Wraith and lethal enemies for him that must be killed and defeated at all costs, never individuals and living beings with their own rights and special unique features.
It was about time to rethink his prejudices, John thought with a suppressed sigh, and he gifted Alasdair with one of his special crooked smiles. “Good choice of name, then, Alasdair. I'd prefer that we all stay alive and that none of us has to sacrifice himself for another one, though.”
“We all prefer that option, Colonel Sheppard,” Cendrig agreed to his remark, and John decided that he could just as well use the opportunity to learn more about his two babysitters. Their trip to the ruins would take them several more hours, and talking to them would keep him busy and distracted from staring miserably at Todd and Ford's backs as they were engaged in their own vivid conversation.
John was truly pissed off that Todd seemed so eager to spend time in the other colonel's presence, and was more or less stubbornly ignoring John's own attempts to attract his attention again. Two could play that game, he decided, and he started to ask his two bodyguards curious questions about their duties and daily lives in Atlantis, one ear focused on their stories while he furtively strained the other one in order not to miss what Todd and Aiden Ford were talking about.
It would be a very long march for him this way, that much was clear, and the feeling tightening his throat each time he saw Todd looking at Aiden Ford with such a genuine and fond smile couldn't be jealousy, could it? He was probably only thirsty and hungry, and if he told himself often enough that he didn't care about Todd and Ford's sudden closeness at all, then he would perhaps be able to believe his own obvious lie in the end.
They kept marching through the wild for many more miles until darkness began falling over the planet and they had to stop and pitch up a camp for the night.
John was glad that he had something to do that was also reducing his talks with Teyla, Rodney and Ronon to the absolutely necessary minimum as he still felt wary and rather uncomfortable in their presence. They looked like his best friends, but it was clear that they weren't the 'real' Teyla, Rodney and Ronon, and they actually seemed to feel the same way about him and respected the invisible wall he'd built around himself.
As strange as it was, John felt much more relaxed in Alasdair and Cendrig's presence, and he stayed close to them until the campfire was burning and they came all together to sit around it in a large circle to enjoy their well-deserved dinner. The two drones were guarding the camp, and Commander Michael had disappeared somewhere into the darkness some time ago as well since he didn't require solid food or time to rest like his human team members.
John's bodyguards were rather talkative for Wraith, which might be because of their still rather young age which they had been willing to tell him. Compared to the usual human standards of life-spans, they passed as Methuselah with their respective twelve hundred and eight hundred years, but for proper Wraith they were still young, even more as they had spent half of their life hibernating until now.
John stood by the fire for a moment, unsure where to sit down, and his throat tightened again when he saw Ford and Todd standing close together and talking quietly to each other. They raised their heads when they felt John looking at them, and Todd met his gaze for a moment before he turned around to disappear between the dark trees and bushes like Boadicea's Commander had done earlier.
Aiden's shoulders moved as he drew in a deep breath and beckoned John to sit down by the fire with him. Carson and Teyla were filling plates with the food they had warmed over the fire, and the Scottish physician smiled at him as he handed John his plate and water bottle. “Enjoy your meal, lad,” he said in his heavy accent, “you must be hungry after all you've been through.”
John actually didn't feel this hungry, but he took the plate with a smile nonetheless. “Thank you, doc,” he murmured, and another wave of homesickness for his own reality hit him. Homesickness and longing for his friends and the proud and beautiful city he loved so much – hell, he even felt homesick for his 'own' Wraith. Most of them were still his lethal enemies, but he at least knew what to expect from them. Swallowing hard against the sudden tightness in his throat, he stared down at his plate with unseeing eyes, struggling to win back his composure so he could put back the mask of cheerful carelessness again.
“I'm aware that this is hard for you, John, but it's hard for all of us, believe me. Rodney is sick with worry about his beloved sister, and I... Well, let's just say that our whole alliance will be in danger and not the same as before if Todd... my Todd... doesn’t come back to us.”
John couldn't hide his flinch when Aiden addressed him all of a sudden, and he gritted his teeth and turned his head to give him a sidelong glance. “But your concern about your alliance is not the only reason why you want him back, is it?” he asked bluntly, too worked up to beat around the bush.
The counterpart of the great officer John had lost smiled sadly. “No, of course not, John. I want my beloved mate back, and I will do what's necessary to bring him back where he belongs, no matter the cost.”
“Yeah, that's pretty obvious. You and 'my' Aiden Ford are pretty much alike in this regard. He could be just as ruthless as you are to reach his goals,” John snorted, more to himself than to Ford, but the other colonel heard him nevertheless.
“He is yours, John,” Ford said, “I have no intention to take him away from you. Not that I could do that anyway. He made perfectly clear that your well-being, safety and comfort are his first and only priority; which doesn’t surprise me. Your Todd and mine are still the same person in so many ways and everything that really counts, even when we are all separated by two different universes.”
The tension in John's shoulders eased at last, but he kept his face impassive. “He's not 'my' Todd,” he objected, his voice shallow, and the apparent lie earned him a soft chuckle from Ford.
“Of course he is, John. Who do you want to fool? Enjoy your meal and try to take some rest. Our friends will watch over us, they are all freshly fed and don't need to sleep.”
“They fed on Genii.” John stared at Aiden, ignoring his challenge to finally admit that he and Todd were tied together by more than just the bonds of friendship.
Ford stared back at him without blinking. “Yes, they fed on Genii. On our most hated enemies, who are trying to kill all of us – them and my people. How many Genii have you shot in your own reality because they were your enemies, John Sheppard? You will do what's necessary to keep your people safe, and I am doing the same. Our ways might be different, but you and I are not as different as you want to believe, so stop that, John. I consider you my friend, but I won't take that shit from you. You are not any better than I am, nor are your methods. I won't apologize for what I have to do, and I expect you to respect that this is my world and not yours. Please excuse me now, I need to see to Rodney and comfort him as best as I can.”
Ford rose to his feet and went over to where Rodney and the rest of his team were sitting, and John stared after him with a dumbfounded expression. He knew that Aiden had a point here and that he was behaving like a dickhead, and this was mostly just because of his jealousy. He would have to apologize to Ford, but not now, when he was still so confused and angry. Angry with Ford and Todd, but most of all angry with himself. He stood up and shook his head when Alasdair and Cendrig prepared to do the same and follow him.
“Uhm, thank you guys, but I'd rather not be watched while taking care of business, if you know what I mean. I won't go far, I promise,” he said, and thankfully they did seem to understand what he meant and nodded their heads without following him when he started to move.
The twigs of the bushes were rustling quietly when he squeezed himself through them to seek some peace and quiet, and John inhaled deeply the cool night air when he was finally alone. It was the first time that he could breathe freely and easily without feeling like being choked by an iron band around his chest, and he wandered around aimlessly for some minutes and without really looking where he was going.
“Do not leave the safety of the camp, Colonel Sheppard.”
The voice next to his ear made him reach for his sidearm and jump backwards against the next tree that stopped him from falling. “What the hell...” he cursed, snapping his mouth shut again when Boadicea's Commander and consort emerged from the trees beside him. He wore his hair long and in a ponytail, not cut short like the hybrid Michael Kenmore had worn his gray hair after his transformation. It was still silver-white, and the Commander was still fully Wraith, but the similarity was there, and their voices were almost the same as well.
“You should go back to the others, Colonel Sheppard,” the Commander now said, and John grimaced when his racing heartbeat finally slowed down again.
“And you shouldn't sneak up on others like that,” he retorted, still a little bit out of breath after the fright he'd gotten.
“I didn't, Colonel Sheppard. You were too lost in your own thoughts to notice me early enough. You are lucky that I am not Genii.” Commander Michael's voice was calm and even, and he didn't sound threatening or reproachful, he was merely stating a fact, and John knew that he was right in reminding him that he'd been pretty foolish.
“I trust you to keep the Genii away,” he said with a grin and a shrug of his shoulders, and the Michael of this reality tilted his head in curiosity.
“Your trust in us is astonishing, Colonel, considering that the Wraith of your world are your lethal enemies.”
“Well, I have no other choice than to trust you, right? Colonel Ford was very clear about that.
The Commander looked at him with glittering eyes, and John halfway expected him to try and read his mind, but there was no pressure behind his eyes that indicated such an attempt.
“Walk with me for a while, Colonel?” was all he asked, and John thought that he had nothing better to do anyway as he was still too upset to go to sleep.
“Yeah, why not?” he agreed, and for a few minutes they searched their way through the darkness side by side in rather companionable silence.
“You are thinking about my relationship to my Queen and Richard,” the Commander broke the silence at last, and John's eyes darted to the side to look at the Wraith who was so different from the Michael he knew.
“Are you reading my mind or is it that obvious?” he wanted to know. Michael stopped and turned to face him.
“The High Commander would rip my brain into pieces if I were merely thinking of invading your mind, Colonel Sheppard; and yes, he is one of the few Wraith who can do that next to our Queens. He's watching over you the whole time, and no, he is not reading your mind either. But your brotherhood-bond is very strong, and this bond will alert him whenever you are danger, serious discomfort or pain.”
“Oh, I didn't know that.” John frowned, but there was a warm feeling spreading in his body, easing the pain in his limbs from the tiring march and the tension he'd felt the whole day.
“Yes, that was clear to see from your behavior. To answer your question, Colonel: your curiosity about the relationship I have with my Queen and Richard was showing on your face. You're good at hiding your feelings for a human, so I think that you actually wanted me to see it to make me tell you more about it.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” John snorted mockingly, and the Wraith inclined his head again, his face serious and his voice sincere when he replied:
“You're welcome, Colonel Sheppard.”
“Okay, tell me more, then.” John sat down to lean against the tree, and the Commander lowered himself down onto the free space next to him with the natural elegance all Wraith seemed to possess.
“I had already been the consort of my Queen for centuries when Dr. Weir and Colonel Sumner arrived in Atlantis with their expedition team. Our bond is strong, only death could tear us apart. Dr. Weir and Teyla Emmagan were representing Atlantis and our new human allies until Dr. Weir became severely injured and the nano probes Dr. Beckett used to save her life took control over her body and mind. We had to let her go, and the Stargate Command on Earth decided that Richard would be her successor.
He didn't know what would await him, and to make himself familiar with the situation he decided to join Aiden's team on an off-world mission shortly after his arrival in Pegasus. I was accompanying them as the official ambassador of my Queen, but we went right into another trap of the Genii. Richard and I were separated from the others and running for our lives. I was fatally wounded because I had protected Richard with my own body to save his life and taken a shot that had damaged my carotid artery, and he offered himself to me to save mine in return.
There was no time left for consideration, and in my agony and mortal fear I took almost all of his life. I was still feeding on him when the Daedalus beamed us on board in the very last minute. My Queen had sent her out because she had gotten a warning about the trap of the Genii, and all I know and still remember is that Aiden tore me away from Richard's wrinkled and drained body before I could take all of his life. There was hardly anything left inside him when we reached Atlantis and beamed him down right into the infirmary, and I hated myself for what I had done to this brave and selfless human.
Richard always says that he is not as brave as all those soldiers and warriors risking their lives in our war against the Genii on a daily basis, but to me he is one of the bravest humans I have ever met in my very long life. He didn't know anything about Atlantis and what he had signed up for, and his first mission ended up with one of his allies ripping his life from him in the worst way possible. Richard never held against me what I did to him in my pain, though. On the contrary, it was him consoling me when he was lying weak and in greatest pain in the infirmary bed, and my Queen was the one giving back to him what I had taken, saying that it was her honor and duty to reward him for his selfless offer and sacrifice that had saved her Commander and beloved consort's life.
I don't know how it is in your world, Colonel Sheppard, but here in ours, the act of a Queen bestowing the Gift of Life on someone is usually reserved for her consort, and as Richard is male and wouldn't be accepted as an equal among other queens, her most gracious gift also made sure that no other queen will ever doubt his rightful position as Atlantis' wise and brave leader. If you're asking yourself now whether or not there is any jealousy between him and me, I can assure you that there isn't. Richard is my friend, and I could never begrudge my beloved Queen what she's finding in his company.
My kin has lived under the threat of extinction for millennia, we could never indulge ourselves in such pleasures like fine arts or any other kind of cultural life, and I am deeply grateful that Richard can offer to her what she has been missing so dearly for so long – music, literature and theater. Our alliance with Atlantis and Richard offers us the chance to have all of that again, to be more than just hunters and warriors, and there is no jealousy, envy or mistrust between us. We are living in a real symbiosis, and Richard and I share the same deep bond of brotherhood as you and the High Commander are sharing, Colonel Sheppard.”
John felt heat crawling up into his face, and he was grateful for the darkness, even though he knew that Michael could see it anyway because of his good night vision.
“Well, not quite the same, I think.” he murmured, and it was much easier to finally admit out loud what he'd already known deep inside his heart for longer than he'd expected it to be.
“No, not that part of your bond. But I assume that you know what I mean, Colonel,” the Wraith said with the hint of a smile, and John nodded and smiled back.
“Yes, I do, Commander. I've been told on several occasions since my arrival here that I and my people are not so different from all of you after all, but you are for sure very different from the Michael I knew, and I am glad about that.”
The other Michael nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, the High Commander was so kind as to open his mind and share his memories and thoughts with me to give me an insight about your reality, and I understand your issues better than you can imagine, Colonel.”
“You always call my Todd High Commander, Michael, why is that?” John asked curiously, and the Wraith regarded him with a surprised expression.
“Because that is his rightful title, Colonel. He has been the Primary's High Commander for more than four thousand years, commanding twenty powerful Hives on her behalf. You didn't know that?”
John swallowed. There was apparently a lot about Todd in special he didn't know, and he slowly shook his head. “No, I didn't know that. Actually, he killed the Primary a couple of years ago...”
“He killed the successor of the Primary he had served so faithfully for so long. The one he took revenge on became the Primary only because she killed his Queen and took her place. He escaped the new Primary with one Hive that remained faithful to him and didn't swear loyalty to their new ruthless ruler like all the others, but I do believe that he should tell you all of this himself. I apologize, I thought that you already knew about that.”
“No, he never told me much about his past and his life before we met,” John murmured, and he had to blame himself for that. He had never bothered to ask Todd about his past, and his behavior hadn't really encouraged Todd to start such conversations himself either.
“You'll have a lot to talk about, then,” Michael observed, and John sighed.
“I guess so. You gave me a lot to think about, Commander – Michael. It's late, though, I should better try to get some sleep.” He was running away again, and he knew that, but the Wraith just nodded his head.
“Of course, Colonel Sheppard. Good night,” he said as he rose to his feet and bowed his head briefly before disappearing between the trees again. John stared after him until he was gone before he stumbled up onto his feet and made his way back to the others to crawl into his bedroll. Carson, Teyla and Rodney were already sound asleep, but Ronon was still awake, his eyes glowing in the darkness as he watched John's attempt to get more comfortable on the hard ground.
“Good night,” John whispered in his direction, and the tall Satedan gave him another long look before he responded:
“Night, Sheppard.” He closed his eyes, and John did the same, but it took him some time until he felt the slumber of exhaustion approach him and his muscles relaxed. He was missing Todd's familiar and soothing presence, and the last thing he saw behind his closed lids before he fell asleep was Todd's face with the star-like tattoo around his left eye, which he'd come to love so much no matter how hard he'd been fighting against his feelings.
John had slept peacefully for the rest of the night, and he was eager to break the camp and continue on their way to the ruins. Talking to Rodney and the other counterparts of his own team and friends was much easier this morning, and he didn't object when Alasdair and Cendrig joined their vivid conversation about the different experiences they’d had since their first arrival in Atlantis. Some of them were quite similar, while others were not, and John found himself intrigued and willing to change his opinion about some things and his view on Wraith as well.
Maybe this was the final push he'd needed to make the alliance he wanted to build with Todd and his Hives truly work, he thought, when they were leaving the clearing to reach the ruins today, and he walked with revived spirits and in a much better mood than he'd been in the previous day.
“Long time no see,” he said as nonchalantly as possible when Todd slowed down to keep him company during their march on this sunny morning, and the Wraith gazed down at him.
“I was always near you, Sheppard,” he rumbled, “close enough to protect you in any case of danger, but I thought it good to give you the chance to learn more about this reality and the people living here.”
John rolled his eyes. “Oh no, not you of all people too, Todd. I'm a big guy who can take care of himself. I really don't need a babysitter doing that for me.”
Todd inclined his head in agreement, and his brief smile warmed John better than the sun. “There was never a doubt about that left, Sheppard. I would never underestimate your abilities as the brave and experienced soldier you are.”
“You were quite busied with Aiden yesterday,” John blurted out, unable to stop himself, and Todd gave him an unreadable look from the side.
“As I said, Sheppard, I was always close enough to you. Aiden told me some interesting things about my counterpart, and my presence seemed to ease his worries and help him focus on our mission, so I was glad that I could offer some help.”
“Hmm.” John uttered noncommittally, “I'm not sure that I want to know more about the John from this reality.”
“To each their own, Sheppard,” Todd offered, “I think you would find it enlightening, but it's your decision to make.”
“I have to think about it,” John mused, peering up at Todd against the bright sunlight. “The Commander – Michael – told me some things about you yesterday that I didn't know before...”
Todd's face changed into a mask of carefully controlled indifference within the blink of an eye. “I see. I assume that you were talking about my position under the predecessor of the Primary I killed when I was on board her Hive with Teyla about two years ago?”
“Yes, we were. Why did you never tell me your real motives to kill her? I would have understood you much better if you had.”
“Would you really have, Sheppard?” Todd countered, looking almost angry, and John took a step away from him. The Wraith's expression softened instantly when he noticed John's reaction, and he made a calming gesture with his hand.
“Wraith have a photographic memory as you know, John, and it's still painful to think of these events and what happened to my Queen. She was amazing and a worthy Primary – as opposed to her successor. The one I killed – she was the one responsible for my captivity in Kolya's bunker. Her henchmen handed me over to him all those years ago.”
“Oh, I see.” John was at a loss for words for a moment. He looked at Todd and unconsciously balled his fists. “Now I regret that I wasn't the one killing her,” he finally ground out, and the look he got from his Wraith in return made something flutter deep in his abdomen.
“So you simply took back from her what she had stolen from you,” he stated, and Todd nodded his head, his golden eyes glittering with something that could either be fury or passion.
“That I did, John Sheppard. At least some of the Hives she had stolen from me and my Queen. Most of them have remained faithful to me after my return to Pegasus, and there will be more Hives joining our alliance when we return to our own world.”
“If we return to it,” John sighed, but Todd shook his head.
“It's not a question of 'if', John. We will return, and when we're back where we truly belong, we will finally talk, Sheppard. We will talk, and there will be no hiding and lying and pretending anymore.”
John swallowed, and he couldn't keep the stupid grin from spreading on his face. “Is that a promise or a threat, Todd?” he inquired, and the Wraith grinned back at him.
“Whatever pleases you the most, human,” he purred, and John's silly grin deepened.
“Guess we have a deal, then,” he said, and the grin stayed on his face for the rest of their long walk to the ruins.
“Wow, that must have been an important outpost! The city was much bigger than we could see from outer space!” Rodney exclaimed when they reached the base of the mountains and the ruins of the abandoned city of the Ancients came into sight.
“It will take some time to check them. What is our energy detector telling you?” Aiden stated, and Rodney shrugged his shoulders.
“Not much, the EM-field is too strong and covering other possible energy readings. This way perhaps?” He pointed in the direction of the mountain base, where most of the ruins were nestled against the gray rocks.
John had felt a weird pulling in his mind for several minutes already, and at first he'd thought that one of their Wraith companions was causing it, but Commander Michael had told him that Todd wouldn't let any of them mess with his brain, and he actually did trust that Todd wouldn't allow something like that to happen to him.
Apart from that the strange pull reminded him of something he'd once experienced in his own reality, he just couldn't remember where or when it had been. It seemed to be coming from the mountains indeed, and so he set off to make his way to the huge rocks through the remains of what had once been a flourishing and proud city.
Yes, we have to go to the mountains,” he said to the others, earning himself some astonished looks.
“How can you know that without a detector?” McKay complained, but Ronon only shrugged his shoulders.
“Instinct, McKay. Something you still don't have,” he stated as a matter-of-fact, following John to the mountains without any other word. Alasdair and Cendrig were doing the same, flanking John again, and after a moment or two, Commander Michael and Aiden followed them together with the rest of the team. Only the drones were staying behind, probably at the mental command of Michael to secure the area.
The mountains were farther away than John had anticipated, and it took them another hour to make their way to the base and the still tall and impressive ruins of the former Lantean outpost. They had to meander around debris and huge rocks that were blocking their path, and none of them were in the mood to talk, at least not out loud with spoken words. John guessed that Todd was communicating telepathically with the other Wraith, but he couldn't be sure about that either, and he was grateful that even McKay had stopped his usual bickering and complaining.
The pull became stronger with every meter that brought him closer to the huge gray stone walls, but he still didn't know from where he knew this sensation until Todd came to an abrupt halt all of a sudden and said:
“I can feel the presence of an Ancient. They have been masking their presence until now, but I have met enough of them to know that and sense their mental activity.”
Now the penny dropped and John inwardly slapped himself for having been so blind. “An Ancient, of course, an ascended one.”
“Why can you feel the presence of an ascended Ancient and I cannot?” Carson asked, the scientist in him waking up. “We both possess the natural gene.”
“You have probably felt a weird tingling for some time, Carson. Not strong enough to really arouse your attention and alert you, but still palpable when you concentrate on it,” John explained to him, and the Scottish physician frowned as he listened inwardly. He nodded his head after a few seconds. “Now that you've said it, lad, yes, there is a strange tingling in my head.”
“As Todd said – they have been masking their presence so far. Not sure why, but they didn't try to hide from me. They have been guiding me here for some time. There must be a cave somewhere in front of us,” John mused aloud, and Commander Michael and Ronon started to move again.
“We'll check that. You stay behind, just in case that this is another trap.” they decided, but John shook his head and raised his hand to stop them.
“No, you won't find anything. I don't know the reason for that either, but they want to talk to me. Alone. It's not a trap, it's a test.” John looked around, and he shook his head in regret when he saw Todd preparing to accompany him.
“I'm sorry Todd, but I have to go there alone. Please wait here together with the Aiden and our team. I'll be safe, and I'll return to you soon. I think I know this Ancient – or at least her counterpart from our own reality.”
The Wraith hesitated but then stepped back. “I trust that you know what you're doing, Sheppard,” he made the decision for all of them. “We will wait here for you.”
“Thank you.” John took a deep breath and left the small clearing without looking back to follow the strong and yet soft pull that was guiding him to the mountains, curious whether or not his suspicion was right and it was really Chaya waiting for him there.
John spent some time wandering alongside the rocks until the gray wall in front of him became transparent all of a sudden, revealing the entrance to a large cave that was shielded by an energy field. John could see the field flicker in the sunlight, but the pulling in his mind urged him on to step through it. He stopped before the field to scan the cave with attentive eyes, and he found the large hole to be empty except for a pedestal in the center of it that seemed to be made of the same grayish stone but was glowing in a yellow-orange light. The light was emanating from three spots within the gray surface of the rock, and John thought that it must come from three ZPMs that were most likely hidden inside the pedestal.
Uncertain what to do he remained where he was for a couple of minutes, and the presence of the Ancient was almost overwhelming in his mind now. John took a step forward in the direction of the energy field, and then another one, and before he knew what was truly happening to him, he was pulled inside the cave and standing in front of the pedestal.
“Hello, is anybody there?” he asked, and he couldn't suppress his flinching at the echo of his voice.
He was met with silence at first, but when he looked around, he could detect a whirling golden light beside him which manifested more and more to a solid humanoid figure.
The Ancient stood there motionless until the whirling light faded and she appeared like a normal human woman, smiling at John when their eyes met.
“Hello John. You're as remarkable as my sister told me.” Chaya greeted him, and John regarded her with a small frown between his brows.
“Hi, nice to meet you. You're not 'my' Chaya, are you?” he inquired, still cautious and wary, and the Ancient shook her head.
“No, I'm not. I belong to this reality like you belong to yours, John. But we can cross the barriers between our different worlds without needing the quantum mirror to do so, and my sister from your universe has told me a lot about you. You have impressed her pretty much, and I understand her much better now. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet John Sheppard when he was still commanding Atlantis. I had to guard and protect this planet like the Chaya you met still has to protect and guard her people. It was her informing me that you had crossed the barriers between our realities and needed help to return home again.”
“I see. How could she know about that? We never met each other again.” John wanted to know, and the other Chaya smiled at him.
“The ascended ones have their ways to know such things, John. She still cares a great deal about you, and she has been watching you over the years. She asked me to help you because you are the one who can change things for the better in your world - together with the Wraith who came here with you.”
“Yes, the one you call Todd. He is one of the most powerful Wraith that have ever existed in both of our realities. He fought against us ten thousand years ago and was one of our biggest enemies back then, but he is also the one who is willing to leave the old paths and bring peace to the galaxy – in my world as much as in yours. Together the two of you will achieve what countless other people, either Ancients, humans or Wraith, have never achieved until now.”
“That's a whole lot of responsibility,” John observed, but the Ancient only regarded him curiously.
“You are known to accept this kind of responsibility, John Sheppard. My sister and I have faith in you – and in Aiden Ford - that he will reach the same goal together with his mate, the Wraith Todd who belongs here.”
“Hmm, you're right about that. I trust Aiden and Todd to do that, too. I must admit that I am pretty impressed by what they have already achieved with their alliance. We are still so far away from that in my world.”
“But you eventually will, John,” Chaya assured him, walking over to the pedestal. “During our war against the Wraith, I belonged to the few who didn't want to see the Wraith extinguished, and I used the powers I had gained after my ascension to lead one Hive to a planet with three ZPMs. The other Ancients saved the ZPMs before the young Commander of the Hive – Todd - could get them, and they brought the ZPMs here to this abandoned outpost and sentenced me to guard them until someone with the right gene and mindset would find them and only use them to protect our lost city Atlantis in the future. I have been trapped here for ten thousand years, alone and waiting for this right one to come. I didn't expect this right one to belong to another reality, but here you are, John.
I am responsible for the EM-field that makes it impossible for ships to reach this planet, and have been guiding you here ever since you entered this world through the Stargate, but I couldn't help you with the energy field protecting this cave, you had to find your way past it on your own. You got access to this place because your gene is strong, and it tells me that you are actually more Ancient than human. It allowed you to enter this cave, and with your strong gene, you should also be able to pull the ZPMs out of the stone.
They are fully charged, and they will help you to reach Earth through the Stargate and protect Atlantis efficiently against any attack of the Genii for a very long time. Tell Aiden Ford that these ZPMs will destroy themselves if they are ever used as a weapon against their enemies, they can only be used to operate the Stargate and protect Atlantis, not for anything else.”
She paused and moved her hand, offering something to John on her palm. “This stone will tell you when you have found your own reality when you use the quantum mirror on Earth, John. It will warm up and start to shine, so you can be sure that you will return where you and Todd truly belong. The EM-field will be gone together with me, and you will find one of the small ships you call Jumper near the place where your team is waiting for you. You can take it to fly back to Atlantis. This stone and the ship are my way of thanking you for coming to release me from my punishment after this long time, John.”
John took the small black stone and closed his fingers tightly around it. “Thank you, Chaya. For everything you have done to help us. It was good to see you again – even though you are not the same person as the one I know. What will happen to you now?”
Chaya inclined her head, and her body was already disappearing into another whirling golden light as she answered his question.
“My punishment is fulfilled now that I don't need to protect the ZPMs any longer. I will return to my kind and watch over Atlantis and her people. Maybe we will see each other again one day, John, and I will ask my sister about you when I see her.”
“Well, I'm glad that you're not stuck here any longer. Take care!” John thanked her, and he waited until she was gone before he went over to the pedestal to put his hands onto the glowing rock. The glowing increased, and after a few seconds, the ZPMs glided upwards and out of their hiding places within the stone.
John took them very carefully to stuff them into the bag he was carrying over his shoulder, and when they were safely hidden deep inside it, he left the cave without looking back.
Todd and Aiden were waiting for him, and he was more than eager to finally go back home and see his own people and friends again.
Setting foot in the mirror Stargate Command on Earth didn't feel as strange as being in the 'wrong' Atlantis had felt at the beginning; but Earth had stopped feeling like home to John years ago, so it was probably owed to that fact he thought when he stepped through the wormhole together with Todd, Aiden and Rodney.
He and Todd had spent one more day in Atlantis to learn more about Aiden and Richard's alliance with the Wraith, and John was positive that the alliance he wanted to build with Todd could truly function now that his view on their former lethal enemies had changed completely. He had spent time with Alasdair and Cendrig, and saying goodbye to them had been harder than he'd anticipated, just like saying goodbye to Richard, the counterpart of Michael Kenmore, and all the others.
But now his focus was on returning home together with Todd and seeing his friends again, and he unconsciously accelerated his steps as he walked down the short ramp to meet the mirror selves of Colonel Carter and Dr. Daniel Jackson.
“I need more time for the equations to find the right reality!” Rodney stumbling after him repeated nervously even before Colonel Carter and Daniel Jackson could greet them, his voice sounding like the voice of a stubborn child in its defiant phase. Sometimes it was almost scary how much the two Rodneys were alike, and John suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at him because soon they would have to part, and John would really miss his new friends from this reality.
“Don't worry about that, McKay. We only need flip through the different realities until the stone Chaya gave me reacts to the right one. It can't take so much time, can it?” was all he said to console him, gifting the other man with one of his crooked smiles.
The blue-eyed scientist gave him an incredulous look and opened his mouth to object, but Samantha Carter was faster and proffered her hand to John with a smile.
“Colonel Sheppard! It's good to see you again. Welcome on Earth!” she said, and John smiled back at her.
“Hello Sam! The same here, it's good to see you, even though you are not 'my' Colonel Carter. Some things are always the same, no matter which reality, I guess.” They shook hands, and Carter nodded and made a vague gesture with her free hand.
“You could be right about that, John.” She turned to greet Todd with the same blinding smile, and the Commander very carefully took her much smaller hand into his own and bent his head in a small respectful bow.
“I am pleased to refresh our acquaintance, Colonel Carter. Our first encounter in my world was much more tense, given the circumstances, and I find our visit in your universe to be inspiring and enlightening.”
Carter chuckled warmly at that. “I'm pleased that we can offer you a better welcome Commander, and I am sad that you have to leave us so quickly again, but you must be as concerned about your people as we are about ours.”
“Indeed, Colonel Carter.” Todd bowed his head again, and then it was Daniel Jackson's turn to greet them. Rodney was shifting his weight from foot to foot while he waited for the niceties to come to an end, and he blushed when he caught John's amused glance.
“It's not that I want you to leave, Sheppard,” he defended himself, “but I'm really worried about Jeannie and our Todd.”
“Yes, I know, Rodney. I promise you that we will bring them back to you. With Chaya's stone, it should be easy to find your reality again - just in case that my genius McKay hasn't already found a way to return them here.”
“Hrrrmppf,” McKay said, and John grinned at him.
“We brought the mirror here from Area 51 while we were waiting for your arrival.” Daniel pointed to the exit, and the group set into motion to go to the lab where the mirror was waiting for them. The corridors looked like those John knew from his Earth, and their walk was short and ended in a room that looked more like a storage room than like a laboratory. Four heavily armed Marines were already waiting for them, a precaution in case that someone came through the mirror that shouldn't come through it at all.
“I really should...” McKay started once more, but Aiden silenced him with a grim and determined smile.
“I trust John that his stone will work and show us the right reality. We can assume that Jeannie and Todd are stuck in theirs, so just activate the mirror, please.” The other colonel sounded impatient, his voice trembling ever so slightly with the mounting hope that he would soon be reunited with his beloved mate.
John remembered how shocked he had been when he had learned about Aiden and the other Todd being a couple, but the time he'd spent in Aiden's reality had changed his perception and his view on things thoroughly, and he felt a thrill of anticipation run through him at Todd's promise that they would finally talk to each other after their return. He had fought against his own deep feelings for 'his' Wraith for so long, but now he didn't want to fight any longer. Whatever it was that tied them together, John wanted to embrace and explore it, and when he looked at Todd and their eyes met for a short moment, he could see that it was the same for the other male.
John smiled to himself and focused his attention on the mirror and the stone in his hand. It hadn't changed so far, lying cold and dark in his palm as Daniel flipped through the different realities with the device that belonged to the mirror. Figures appeared and disappeared quickly again in the mirror, some of them pausing what they were doing and turning their faces to stare at them through the smoky glass that served as a gate to thousands and millions of other universes.
Several long minutes had passed when John's gaze fell onto a familiar face all of a sudden, and the stone in his hand heated up and started to glow at the same time.
“Stop!!!” he cried out instantly, and Daniel almost dropped the device as if it had burnt his fingers. Two Todds were staring at each other through the mirror glass, and the woman standing next to him looked very much like Jeannie Miller. Her hairdo was a bit different from what John remembered, but she was definitely Rodney's sister.
“Well, I guess we found the right one. That went faster than I thought. Looks like your guys were preparing to return to you as well,” John stated, his fingers tightening around the stone as he turned to face Aiden Ford.
“Time to say goodbye, Ford. I hope that you will find your John Sheppard one day.”
Aiden Ford looked at him, and then he surprised John as he pulled him into a brief but tight hug. “Thank you, John. Maybe you will find your Aiden Ford one day, too. I hope that it's not too late for him.”
John returned the embrace, and there was a wave of gratitude washing over him that fate had given him this chance to see his friend again, even if said friend was not the one he'd once known and valued so much, but his counterpart from another reality.
“Take care and don't let the Genii defeat you. I count on you!” John pulled away to give Rodney a quick hug as well, and he could see from the corner of his eye that Aiden was embracing Todd, but this time it didn't anger or disturb him.
Carter and Daniel had withdrawn to let them say goodbye to each other, and John stepped forward when Todd next to him did the same, his gaze directed at his counterpart in the mirror.
“Ready to go home, Todd?” he asked, and the Wraith inclined his head.
“Whenever you are, Sheppard.”
“Okay, let's go then.” Together they moved forward in the same moment when the other Todd and Jeannie Miller did the same, and when John had passed the gate and turned his head around, he could see mirror Aiden and mirror Todd holding each other by their shoulders, their eyes closed and their foreheads touching. Their deep bond was palpable even through the smoky glass that slowly went dark now, and John felt truly happy for them.
“John! Good to have you back!” A familiar voice beside him said, and when he looked up, his team was there, Rodney, Teyla and Ronon.
“Hey guys, looks like we've been missing all the fun!” he greeted them with a silly grin curling at his lips, and he stepped forward to shield Todd with his own body, just in case that anyone would be stupid enough to make a wrong move.
“You did, John, but we will tell you everything, don't worry: Looks like you had some fun with Aiden Ford, too,” Rodney said, and he surprised John when he offered his hand to Todd to welcome him back home without flinching away from the Wraith's touch like it had always happened in the past.
Maybe he wasn't the only one whose perspective on things had changed, John thought as he followed his friends out of the lab, and the hope that he and Todd could build a real alliance with each other was suddenly much more than just a hopeful thought.
“Are we going to talk now?” John asked when he joined Todd on the balcony that granted a perfect view over Atlantis. Two days had passed since their return to Pegasus from Earth, two days filled with negotiations and settling back in their own reality.
Today was the first day that he and Todd had actually a few moments to themselves, and John's inner compass had led him to the balcony, telling him that he would find the one he craved to see there.
“Yes, we are, Sheppard. But there is something I want to do before we talk,” the Wraith said, taking a step closer to John. The dark-haired colonel did the same until their bodies were almost touching, peering up at his companion under his lashes.
“And what would that be?” he wanted to know, even though he had a pretty good idea about what Todd wanted from him.
“This, John Sheppard,” the Wraith said as he bent down and inclined his head, pulling John close to his strong frame. John wrapped his arms around him and stretched to meet him halfway, and when their lips touched and his eyes fell close at the sensation of their first kiss, John felt like he'd finally come home.
For it didn't matter in which universe life would throw him, as long as Todd was by his side, John would always be at home.