Title: Dead in the Desert
Pairing: None (gen)
Characters: Sheppard and McKay
Word count: ~3,900
Warning: None (i.e. *not* a death fic)
Spoilers: Vegas... big time.
Author Notes: At the end of the ep, I really just wanted to cry. This was the only way I could keep from doing it and fix things for poor lost John. Thanks to Koschka for the quick beta.
Summary: Because McKay knew Sheppard was still out there in the desert and he wouldn't have just left him there.
Dead in the Desert
The last thing I remember is dying in the desert.
Even out here miles from the city, the glow of Vegas is enough to dim the stars… that and the burning remains of the trailer. McKay must have called in the air strike to obliterate whatever the Wraith was working on. It did one hell of a job. The flames are blistering hot, scorching my lungs when I try to breathe. Or maybe that’s the bullet in my chest; it’s kind of hard to tell. Truth be told, I don’t want to think about that. So I concentrate instead on trying to make out the stars fighting against millions of kilowatts lighting the city in the distance. It’s hard, so damn hard to see them. I think, maybe, that I see one growing slowly brighter in the deepening gloom. Think and hope. That’s all I can do. Think and hope. McKay knows I’m out here. He called in the air strike and he knows I’m here. Think and hope. It’s all I can do. And dream…
McKay says there are other worlds out there, other realities, realities where John Sheppard isn’t a fuck up. Realities where I do something to help another person and actually succeed. Realities where there is a goddamn reason for my existence. It’s a nice dream. A damn nice dream. One I’ll never know. Because it’s nothing more than a dream and there is no hope. No hope, only darkness all around, even in my thoughts, which is why I turn my attention away from those other Sheppards and McKay and back to the stars. They have to be up there somewhere, I know it. Not because of faith‒ what little bit of faith I ever had in my life burned up in another desert years ago. No, I know they have to be there because I can see the moon. Not a harvest moon, but one that’s cold and pale, like the voice of the Wraith in the cell I can still hear echoing in my head, like the expression on the face of the one who shot me.
There are fucking aliens and one just killed me. The thought is enough to make me smile at the irony. My dad always told me I’d never amount to anything, and if I’m honest, I’ve lived my life proving the bastard right only to die in a way just a handful of people on Earth can claim on their tombstone. Not that it’s going to make the eleven o’clock news. Las Vegas homicide detective John Sheppard shot to death by an alien and no one will ever know it.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, after all.
I try to laugh at my joke and end up coughing, my throat suddenly parched. Dry as a desert. That’s what the Wraith in the cell said. No river, no water, dry as a desert, darkness all around. Wraith are never-ending. But humans sure the shit aren’t. Because there’s darkness all around me. Darkness except for that one star I can just make out. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish… I wish… McKay knows I’m here…
Wishing is too close to hoping and dreaming and those are only for the living. Those are only for those other John Sheppards in those other realities who are on teams with Dr. Rodney McKays and have real reasons for their existence.
Me? I’m dead. Killed by an alien under a billion stars I can’t see, miles away from a city I still can. Vegas is like that, it sticks with you. It’s full of hopes and dreams and wishes and every one of them a dead end. It’s a city that sucked me drier than any of the bodies the Wraith killed, a city darker than death even as it blazes with life, a city bleeding into the desert just like me. No wonder I came here after Afghanistan; we’re kindred spirits, Las Vegas and me. Hell, the stolen bag of money in my trunk just proves how alike we really are. That and the fact that even after all the dead ends, I’m still dreaming and wishing and hoping and looking for stars and thinking that McKay knows I’m out here and maybe he’ll come. Maybe he’ll come. Maybe that really is a star growing brighter above me, filling my ears with its roaring wind, and I can hope and dream and wish…
Wish I may…
"Fan out! His car is still here!"
Wish I might…
"Doctor McKay! Over here!"
Have this wish…
"Christ, we need a medic!"
I wish tonight.
"Sheppard, hold on. We’re going to get you out of here and taken care of."
It’s a nice dream. So nice I can I actually see McKay’s face looking down into my own, I can feel his hand on my shoulder, and he stays with me as I feel myself rising even as the darkness falls all around.
* * * *
When I open my eyes again, I still can’t see any stars and McKay is nowhere to be seen. Instead Keller, the new medical examiner, is standing over me.
"Shit, I died after all," I manage to croak out.
She smiles and lowers the electronic pad in her hand. "Don’t worry, Detective Sheppard, I only moonlight as a coroner. My usual patients tend to have a pulse."
"So I’ll live?" The room is comfortably warm and I still have that sensation of floating and I can’t help but grin in return.
"If I have any say in the matter, yes." She sobers as she tells me. "But you were very lucky, Detective. If Rodney’s team hadn’t found you when they did it might have been a different story."
I’m vaguely aware of pain radiating down my entire left side, but it’s as distant as those stars had seemed to be as I lay under that desert sky
"McKay found me," I note groggily, my eyes drifting shut again.
I don’t ask it as a question but she must think that I am seeing as she confirms, "Yes, he did. And they brought you back to the base where we performed surgery. Like I said, you were very lucky."
"I owe him my life," I mumble, not wanting the secret to get out to too many people. But, hell, she’d cut a bullet out of me, patched me up, probably saw me naked and I didn’t even have to buy her dinner. So, I figure I can trust her.
She seems almost reluctant to admit the truth of the matter. "Among others, yes, you do."
"Are you and he… involved?" I put the same inflection on the word that McKay had when he mentioned my rescue attempt in Afghanistan.
"Me and Rodney?" Keller seems almost shocked by the question, or maybe embarrassed. "No, no we’re not." I can hear the unspoken part of her answer… but not from lack of trying… and from the look she gave him in the hall, she’s the one who’s been trying. "Besides, what sort of man who wears a purple shirt with his designer suit would be interested in someone like me?"
"I heard that," McKay notes from somewhere near the foot of my bed.
"Crap, did you hear what I said, too?" I manage to crack my eyes open enough to look and see that he’s still wearing the suit in question, minus the tie and jacket. At first I think it’s because it must not have been that long since I last saw him. But then I notice the dark shadow on his jaw and realize it’s because he hasn’t bothered to change.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did," he tells me smugly.
"Fuck. I didn’t want you to have the upper hand again."
"Don’t worry about it, Sheppard. Eventually you’ll come to learn that I always have the upper hand." There’s an arrogance to him that I should find grating but it just sort of seems to fit him as well as his tailored suit does, as well as that damn purple shirt does when it really shouldn’t.
"Eventually?" He’s disappeared from sight and I realize my eyes have closed again.
"We’ll talk more when you wake up," he promises. "Jennifer’s going to run me out of here soon if you don’t get your rest."
"You could use some yourself," she chides before assuring McKay. "He’s doing well. I’ll let you know when he wakes again."
Apparently Keller thinks I’m already asleep, so I decide not to disappoint her and let the haze settle heavily around me.
* * * *
It’s the next evening before McKay shows back up in my room again. He has changed clothes this time, although this suit is just as nice with a dark blue shirt replacing the purple.
"Sorry," he says as soon as he bustles into the room. "I meant to come by sooner but I had a few emergencies to deal with."
"Anything serious?" I ask with a raised eyebrow.
"Fate of the world kind of stuff," he dismisses easily and I come to the conclusion that the reason he’s so pompous is that he probably deserves to be. "Don’t worry, you eventually get used to it."
"Eventually." I contemplate the word with a frown. "You keep using that term in regards to me."
"Yes, well, I suppose it’s time we talked."
I get the feeling that McKay doesn’t talk to people much. At them, sure. To them, not so much. Me, I really don’t care to do either. Few people have ever taken the time to listen to what I’ve had to say over the years and even fewer have had anything to say that I’ve been interested in hearing. But so far, everything McKay has told me has been worth the time to listen.
"So talk," I tell him.
He waves a hand at a wheel chair in the corner of the room. "You up for a ride?"
"Depends. The last ride I took I ended up meeting you and being shown a crashed space ship and a creature who could eat me with his hand while he spewed forth alien prophecies."
McKay pulls another pack of spearmint from his breast pocket and tosses it into my lap. "I gave you gum."
I don’t touch the pack as I point out. "And in return I gave you the location of the Wraith you lost."
He wheels the chair over and looks at me expectantly. "And now I plan to return the favor and give you back something you lost."
What the hell does he have that I could have lost? The way the son of a bitch knows every damn thing about me, it could be my baseball from the perfect game I pitched in little league. And with the goddamn power he has at his fingertips, it could easily be my virginity. More than likely it’s the bag of money in my car, and if I have any chance of starting over someplace new and put all this bullshit with life sucking aliens and secret military bases behind me, I need that money. But by the way he’s still staring at me impatiently, I also get the impression that Dr. Rodney McKay doesn’t often take no for an answer.
With a sigh, I cram a piece of gum in my mouth. "Hell, it’s not like I have anything better to do right now anyway."
He helps me into the chair, easy of the bandages on my left shoulder and wheels me down the hall of the medical facility. It’s military, no doubt, given all the uniforms I see roaming the halls among the civilians. But it sure isn’t like any VA I’ve stepped foot in with all the angled arches of the architecture and stained glass that seems to be everywhere. And when McKay wheels me out onto a balcony to overlook a foreign city that seems to be floating on the ocean, I know I’m not in the desert any more.
I start to rise from the wheel chair. "Where the fuck…?"
McKay’s hand lands on my right shoulder, just like it did the night he found me more than half dead, and I ease myself back into my seat. "Welcome to Atlantis, Detective. You were unconscious for your first trip through the stargate, but maybe that was for the best. It can be a little disorienting the first time."
"Stargate?" I demand. "The thing that takes you to another planet?"
"Yes," he confirms. "Although, in this case, it’s actually another galaxy. You’re in Pegasus. It’s where the Wraith originated, as well as the Ancients. You’ll learn more about them… that is if you’re interested in staying."
"Staying? You want me to stay here? I don’t even know why you brought me here in the first place."
"The reason I told the SGC was because you were a flight risk. After all, you had a small fortune in that bag in your trunk, Sheppard. And we both know that you hadn’t been squirreling that away over the years underneath your mattress."
"So what? This is a prison for me?" If nothing else, I’d always managed to stay free. As fucked up as my life had ever become, I had always been my own man. "I should have known that story about just letting me go was a big pile of bullshit."
"If you say the word, Sheppard, I personally guarantee your safe return to Earth. I’ll even give you back the money. You have my word. I just ask that you hear me out first."
He still has his hand on my shoulder and I look from it to him. I owe the bastard my life. The least I can do is hear what he has to say. "I’m listening."
"Knowing what you do now, do you ever regret going after that field medic in Afghanistan?"
I’m not expecting that question. Here we are overlooking a city in another goddamn galaxy and he’s asking me about the war. "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"
"It has everything to do with everything. I told you before that I met another version of you and ever since then, I’ve been keeping tabs on you."
He steps forward and leans against the balcony looking out across the city lit up at night. "Don’t you think that it’s fascinating that in at least one reality we know each other, work together every day, we’re friends? Wouldn’t you have been curious about me if the situation had been reversed?"
I can’t really argue with him there. "So you’ve been stalking me for a couple of years now. What does that have to do with my military record?"
"That Lt. Colonel John Sheppard managed to stay in the Air Force and came to Atlantis and saved the city and Earth from the Wraith time and time again. And you were kicked out, never stepped foot in the city until now, and yet you’ve managed to do the same thing. What are the odds of that happening randomly?"
"Are you saying this is my destiny or some shit like that?" The Wraith had talked about knowing my destiny. But it was crazy from hunger. Right?
"I’m saying that there are millions of multiverses out there with billions of variations in the choices that are made by any one of us. Sometimes those choices are so insignificant they have no impact on the outcome of the fate of those realities. And sometimes they can change not only their reality but others as well. We saved the Earth today, Sheppard, but in the process we probably doomed thousands of other realities to the fate we avoided. Maybe even the one where I met Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. And I can’t help but think if I would do anything different or not had I known. Would I knowingly jeopardize the lives of millions in other realities to save this one?"
I really have no clue what he’s talking about. I thought we’d managed to somehow save the world from a bad sci fi movie invasion and now he’s talking about multiverses and crap like that. And I still don’t want to talk about Afghanistan so I deflect the question with one of my own. "What was so special about that other John Sheppard you met anyway?"
"He has the gene that allows him to operate much of the equipment here on Atlantis and the chair back on Earth. In fact, no one in either this reality or his has one stronger. Chances are very good that you have that same gene. It’s one of the reasons I would like you to stay on here in Pegasus."
"Me?" I demand in surprise. "You want me to stay here and turn on and off all the junk you have lying around."
"Well, I would hardly call some of the most amazing technological advances known to human kind junk, and it’s a little more involved than playing Ancient light switch. But yes, an ATA gene of that strength would be a great help to us. Not to mention your combat experience and your piloting skills. Plus you were the one who found the Wraith when no one else from the SGC could."
"Not even you?" I ask in feigned innocence.
"I was closing in on him," McKay grumps and I can’t help but smirk at the crack in that infallible self-confidence.
"Sure you were," I patronize. When he glares I ask casually, "So how’s the pay? Do I get a bonus for having the gene?"
"The pay is remarkably good for civilian contractors like us. Not that you really need it seeing as practically everything you need is provided by the expedition."
My eyes narrow in suspicion. "Then what’s the catch? Do I have to start wearing one of those snazzy suits?"
His lip twitches as he spreads his jacket open. "No, these are typically reserved for trips back to Earth. Here we tend to be a little more casual. Although it wouldn’t kill you to use an iron now and again would it?" He breezes past that little zinger and continues. "No, the only catch, Sheppard, is that you have to start actually believing in something again."
I frown at that accusation more than at the wrinkle comment. "And what exactly do you believe in, McKay?"
"Myself, obviously… and, surprisingly, you. If you join my team, I expect you to do the same."
"Your team?" I challenge. "I thought in the other reality I ran the team."
McKay turns around and leans back so that he can raise his eyebrows at my suggestion. "In the other reality you weren’t so far in debt to your bookie that you were stealing money from a crime scene."
"Hey, you were the one who wanted me to believe in myself."
He considers my argument with a surprised, "Oh." Then he waves his hand to dismiss the idea. "Regardless, it’s going to remain my team."
"I’ll take that into consideration when I make my decision."
"Seriously, Sheppard, what do you have to go back to? You have no family, no friends. I mean, you even quit the pathetic job that you had."
I frown harder at his brutal honesty. "Are you always such a fucking asshole?"
"Usually, yes," he snaps. "Are you always so stubborn you can’t see the chance of a lifetime when it’s being offered up to you on a silver platter?"
"Usually, yes," I snap back.
"Well, now that we’ve taken the time to get to know each other, what’s your answer? Yes or no, Sheppard? I have far more important things to do than be your personal self help guide." When I simply glare at him he taps his watch. "Tick tock, Detective. I’m taking valuable time away from saving the known universe."
"Okay, fine, I’ll do it," I grumble, staring pointedly out at the ocean.
"You will? Seriously?" McKay seems somewhere between shocked and pleased.
"I said yes and I meant it. Christ, don’t seem so surprised."
"It’s just I was starting to think you didn’t have it in you to actually think of something bigger than your own petty wants and needs."
"You really need to work on your people skills, McKay," I glower.
"Yes, Detective Manners, I’ll take that under advisement." He straightens happily now that he has what he wanted, which is odd to think that it’s me. But what is even stranger is to think that I’ve somehow ended up with what I wanted and it involves him. "Now that that’s settled, we should get you back to the infirmary…"
"Do we have to so soon?" Hell, it’s my first night in an alien city. I should be able to enjoy the view for a little longer.
McKay blinks at the request before relenting, "No, I suppose we could stay for a while longer if you want."
He moves back to lean against the railing and look out across the view before us. It is, hell… beautiful, amazing, breathtaking, whatever you want to call it. I can’t really wrap my head around the fact that I’m actually here. Especially considering that just a few nights before I’d thought I was dead in the desert.
But the longer I sit and stare at the ocean and the night sky, the more I come to the conclusion that I really had died out there. That a part of me stayed in that desert, just like another part of me will always be lost in the sands of Afghanistan. And what remains? Here’s hoping it’s the remnants of that dream for the reason for my existence. It was the reason I followed my hunch about the power lines and the Wraith’s trailer. It was the reason I disobeyed orders and flew my helicopter into enemy territory on a doomed rescue mission.
"I never regretted it," I finally admit. Even though we’ve remained silent for several long minutes, McKay knows what I’m talking about. "I mean, sure, I regret how things went down afterward, but going out in the first place, I’ve never thought twice about. What kind of person would I have been if I hadn’t at least tried?"
"The kind who wouldn’t have turned his car around and nearly gotten himself killed when he went in search of a rogue Wraith on Earth when he was home free with a bag full of money." McKay’s mouth quirks up in an angle. "You wouldn’t have been John Sheppard, that’s for sure. And I wouldn’t have asked you to join my team."
My last memory on Earth was dying in the desert under a starless sky. Not exactly the most pleasant memory to have but somehow it’s a fitting one. And now, here I am on a whole new world full of new possibilities and maybe, just maybe, I can find on this world what I lost somewhere along the way on the last. I turn my gaze heavenwards, up to a night sky more dazzling than any casino marquee could ever attempt to be. It’s glistening with a million stars, each more vivid and inviting than the next. Each filled with hope and dreams and wishes.
Each one never-ending.