Title: I Said in my Haste, All Men are Liars (sequel to Lonely Man of Faith, can be read alone but makes more sense if you read Lonely Man of Faith first)
Characters: McKay, Sheppard
Warnings: character death (spoilers for Outcast, Enemy at the Gate, Sanctuary, some SG1 cameos)
Summary: Just as McKay feared, the hole in space-time is causing a whole lot of trouble, several dozen alternate realities worth at least. He is about to meet many more variations on John Sheppard.
Nine days later McKay is beginning to wonder whether the late lamented John Sheppard had saved their asses afterall.
He’s driving in to town to pick up some last minute Earth comforts before returning to Atlantis when an SUV swerves across his lane.
An SUV whose occupants are being fed upon by Wraith.
Before he even has time to dial Woolsey a squad of marines comes haring along out of nowhere, Ronon Dex and Lt Cadman in the lead.
Only the Ronon Dex he knows wouldn’t be caught dead in a regulation hair cut and BDUs and the Lt Cadman he knew is already dead, has been since that skirmish with the Genii three years ago.
Four days and three realities later McKay is very glad Colonel Carter disregarded General Maybourne’s order to destroy the quantum mirror.
On the fifth day, just to be on the safe side, McKay decides to go and check that The Chair is ready in case the next thing to drop through the tear in space-time is another super-hive ship.
He is stunned to find Drs John Sheppard and Samantha Carter already tuning it up.
Dr Carter hooks up their new enhanced naquadah reeactor and Dr Sheppard sits down in the hot seat, reaching into his shirt and pulling out a little silver crucifix which he kisses for luck.
The pair are quite happy to share the revolutionary technology with McKay before the mirror returns them to their reality.
McKay finds it extremely disconcerting to have the schematics for the reactor explained to him in Dr Sheppard’s laid back drawl.
Three days later McKay and Zelenka are startled by screams and growls coming from the corridor outside the control room.
Two masked Wraith warriors are feeding on Major John Sheppard and an SF McKay’s never laid eyes on before.
Sheppard is dead by the time they zat the Wraith but the SF lingers another 27 hours before succumbing.
They don’t send any of the corpses back through the mirror.
Later that afternoon McKay is in mid-flow, briefing Woolsey and a posse of SG bigwigs on the unpredictable dynamics of the hole in the space-time continuum created by the recently despatched Wraith when he notices that there are suddenly two General O’Neill’s looming over him.
He blinks and realises that there seem to be twin Woolseys as well, only one is wearing an unfamiliar military uniform with three stars.
And right behind Woolsey, slouching against the wall, stand Colonel John Sheppard and – can’t be, yes, it is – Colonel Radek Zelenka, exchanging snide comments about McKay’s theories.
As he talks, Sheppard’s long fingers twine themselves around a thin silver chain, his thumb fondly toying with a delicate crucifix.
It takes the best part of the next day for the mirror controller to find the right reality, but their visitors make it home in time for dinner.
The next day McKay is just leaving the commissary after a lingering lunch with Keller when he finds himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
A shotgun in the hands of a determined and surprisingly sleek looking Detective John Sheppard. Dust and wrinkles not withstanding, his suit is obviously well cut and the still knotted tie at his throat is definitely silk. Even the ragged days’ growth of beard and the fresh cut across his temple come across as style rather than neglect.
McKay isn’t sure if he freezes in place because of the weapon or the sight of the living, breathing dead man wielding it, but he hears a high pitched voice manage a quavering “Sheppard? You? How? I…” before his brain seizes up completely.
Sheppard just stares at him opaquely from behind his designer shades before asking in his best cold command voice “Am I supposed to know you?”
The quantum mirror returns Detective John Sheppard, Vegas PD, Agent Nancy Sheppard, NID, Lt Charlie O’Neill, SGB and General Sam Carter, Homeworld Security, with as many military and medical supplies as they can carry.
Before they leave Carter tearfully tells McKay that the Earth Resistance is eternally in his debt.
McKay doesn’t tell her that the reason there needs to be an Earth Resistance in her reality is probably his fault.
A week passes with no more bleedthrough inter-reality visitors and McKay allows himself to believe that perhaps the rift has just gone ahead and healed itself.
He considers going down to the mirror lab and mothballing it again.
That thought lasts until a Wraith Dart comes screaming out of thin air to crash land in in the desert just outside the compound.
McKay arrives on the scene with the security teams just in time to see its pilot drag himself from the cockpit and stumble a few halting steps before collapsing in a bloody heap in the dirt.
As the medics swoop in he catches a glimpse of the man’s face, eyes wide open and glassy, staring skyward under a thatch of sweat spiked dark hair.
He might think it were John Sheppard - if John Sheppard had coffee coloured skin and blue eyes.
The shoulder flash on his orange flight suit reads “League of Nations Expeditionary Force – Atlantis”.
Dog tags identify him as Colonel Yehonatan Sheffer, Israel Air Force.
It’s a close call, but Sheffer (Sheppard, McKay can’t help thinking) pulls through.
McKay isn’t sure why, can’t quite bring himself to admit that he is developing a fixation, but he has to know why and how.
The why is a nuke aboard an Earthbound super hive ship.
The how is a mother who quit Wellesley for a magical mystery hippie world tour and love on a kibbutz.
She still has an oldest son named David (Dudi) working in power generation (solar panel maintence).
She still has a youngest son who carries his mother’s (great-grandmother’s) crucifix with him for luck.
They send him back through the quantum mirror too.
The fallout from the Wraith’s unintended rip in space-time lasts a further five weeks.
McKay should be upset about spending so much time away from Atlantis, but he is too absorbed, intrigued, even stunned, by all the possible John Sheppards who keep popping in and out of his reality.
He’d told Sheppard he could be more, but even he hadn’t realised the enormity of his understatement at the time.
He wonders why he hasn’t run into any alternate versions of himself, figures he is probably too vital to the running of Atlantis to be returned to Earth.
This time they wait a further three weeks before returning the quantum mirror to storage.
McKay is leaning in to kiss Keller goodbye before beaming up to the Apollo when she shrieks and jerks away.
He knows he isn’t that good at reading women, but he can’t believe he misjudged that badly except that maybe he hasn’t because as he turns to follow her line of sight he sees a naked man lying on the floor of his lab curled in on himself like a babe in the womb.
Time seems to stop for a few moments before the figure begins to gasp, gradually unfurling, groggily raising his head towards McKay and Keller.
McKay’s breath catches in his throat as he recognises hazel eyes and unruly dark hair, a fading cut below one eye and for the first time, a dazed flicker of recognition.
He thinks he should call for someone to unpack the quantum mirror.
Keller is quicker on the uptake though.
It turns out that for all McKay’s brilliance Keller was right and he was wrong.
Jackson confirms it and seems a bit put out that (disgraced, dishonoured, ex-Major, ex-detective) John Sheppard has been returned with both his scars and his memory intact.
Well, at least Sheppard’s memory up until the A-10s had come screaming to his rescue. After that things get a little fuzzy, so Sheppard claims during the days’ long debriefing.
McKay isn’t so sure.
McKay is just glad beyond reason, feels wonderfully vindicated, to see his Sheppard alive. He went with his gut that day with Woolsey outside the interview room, and he was right, even though he wasn’t quite sure he would be, to trust this Sheppard.
A week later Sheppard is wearing green BDUs and standing in his new base quarters across the hall from Jackson’s.
There’s a cardboard box on the desk in front of him containing his worldly possessions: Two pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, a few changes of underwear, one Johnny Cash poster, a faded, dog-eared photo of a Nancy in uniform and a few dollar bills folded into a battered leather wallet, a bag containing five thousand and eighty three dollars, a worn leatherbound bible with the name Elizabeth Sheppard written inside the front cover in precise, old fashioned, cursive script and a tiny crucifix on a delicate silver chain.
He’s kind of stunned McKay included the cash he pilfered from the Wraith’s motel room.
He wonders idly what happened to his watch and his wrist band.
It’s still too much to comprehend.
Behind his lids he can still see -
The rocky desert scrub
Sense the heat of the desert intensified by the flaming debris scattered around.
Feel the icy cold seeping into his bones as he stumbles away from the bullet riddled wreckage, his legs finally giving out, his life blood draining out of him, seeping into the dirt.
His dimming eyes take in the darkening sky, the first pinpricks of stars
The desert around him, disorients him for a moment, memories of a remote crash site in Afghanistan flood his mind.
He looks around, expecting for a moment to see familiar faces, familiar long dead faces, but even as his vision starts to grey out around the edges he realises the truth of his situation, that this time he really is finished, this time it really is his time.
He would laugh if he had the strength, surrounded by fires and bullet casings. Talk about a blaze of glory.
There was a voice, his mother’s voice he thinks.
"You did good Johnny”
It’s all he can remember until waking up shivering, naked like a newborn, on the cold floor of McKay’s lab deep underground.
He looks down at flesh and blood hands gripping a solid wooden desk, cheap nylon carpet covering the concrete floor under his government issue boots.
In the mirror over the desk Sheppard sees clean healthy skin, wide eyes, still dazed from the shock of this unexpected life.
He lifts his shirt and peers at the faint, faded pale pink scars on his shoulder and flank.
They look old, well healed, indistinguishable from the years old marks left over from that disasterous crash in the Afghan wilderness. There is no rational way he can square them with the multiple gunshot wounds he sustained a matter of weeks (two months?) ago.
He shouldn’t be alive now, let alone standing here running his fingers over barely there scars.
He thinks to himself: “ I was brought low, but He grants me new life.”
In his mind he hears his mother’s voice, sees her reaching to him from her bed, her weak hand caressing the well worn page of the leatherbound book lying beside her, her eyes bright with a hope and optimism his young heart struggled to understand.
“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eye from tears and my foot from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the lands of the living.”
Johnny has heard his mother recite the verses so often that his lips move automatically with hers.
“I kept my faith, even when I said, I who had suffered so greatly. I said in my haste, “All men are liars.”
He knows that he didn’t understand it then, he’ll be damned if it makes much more sense to him now. He never did inherit his mother’s unwavering faith, the belief which guided her far too short life.
At least he thinks he didn’t. Doesn’t.
Besides, she hadn’t been granted new life, only a brief extension full of false hope to her old one.
The Book still comforts him though. Sheppard isn’t sure why, but he’s lost count of the times he’s secretly recited those well worn pages of Psalms. He doesn’t know if it’s some latent, hidden residual faith, or because whenever he reads the words he hears them in her voice.
The voice he heard the day he (thought) he died.
Two months later and they trust Sheppard enough, or maybe are just disconcerted enough (as disconcerted and disturbed as he is?) to give him back his old life.
The one a hasty (but right, the only one he could have made) decision stole from him all those years ago in Afghanistan.
His old, old life.
Well, after a fashion, anyway.
Jackson is intrigued by what he describes as Sheppard’s unique status as a “Descended almost Ancient” (or ATA Descended as he’s listed in the reports – it’s all gibberish to him) and spends hours trying to question him about his experience.
(After Jackson tells Sheppard his own crazy death and resurrection stories Sheppard thinks that at least Jackson should believe him when he said he couldn’t remember ever being glowy.)
Sheppard probably won’t be flying anything in the near future. Well, at least nothing that makes any sense to him, though since they found he had the same gene as his (several dozen or so? Infinite?) alternate versions, McKay says it shouldn’t be too long now before they have to let him try a Jumper.
The name makes him think of cropdusting, he’s not sure why.
They’re testing him, checking him, watching and observing until he’s almost ready to toss it all in and walk out. Or run out. But not quite.
He can’t decide yet if McKay’s persuaded the Air Force to give him a second chance because McKay still sees the potential in him to become the alternate-John-Sheppard-heroic-knight-in-s
Either way, he doesn’t think he has much choice.
Or anywhere else to go.
He doesn’t think they’d let him go even if he wanted to.
For all that everyone keeps telling him how lucky he is to have his life back, he isn’t so sure about actually having his life back.
It often feels more like it belongs to McKay and Jackson and Colonel Carter and all the other scientific and military types who suddenly seem to own his time.
Sometimes he wonders if he is dead and this semi-indentured service to the SGC is purgatory.
After another couple of months he is just desperate enough for a break that he brings up the issue of some unfinished personal business he could use to take care of.
McKay raises an eyebrow but manages to persuade the powers that be to let him venture out unescorted.
In his previous life they put a tracking device on his vehicle.
This time McKay reminds him there’s one under his skin.
Sheppard isn’t sure whether it’s a matter of trust or his estimated value to the programme.
Somewhere out there is a grave with John Sheppard’s name inscribed on the tombstone and the fragmented, charred remains of a Wraith in it, buried in the Sheppard family plot.
(Jackson’s suggestion, what with Acsension leaving no physical body to bury).
Somewhere out there is a brother John Sheppard hasn’t spoken to in so many years he finds it hard to conjure up the man’s adult voice in his mind’s ear.
He figures a surrealist bizarre fresh start is better then none at all.
That’s how he finds himself in his new dress blues, standing on the doorstop of an impressive Virginia home, silver chain and crucifix in one pocket, small overnight bag in the trunk of his rental, just in case.
He thinks of sinners and the Road to Damascus, eyes being opened to redemption.
He thinks all these thoughts in his mother’s voice.
For the umpteenth time he mentally wacks himself upside the head and wonders what the hell he is doing here, what illogical sense of duty to an almost stranger has him travelling across the continent just so he can be here in person for one of the most awkward moments of his life.
It takes a further 10 minutes of concerted effort for Sheppard to summon the courage to ring the bell and when the door is opened by a clean cut beautifully coiffed man in a preppy button down shirt and khakis he almost mumbles that he has made a mistake with the address.
John Sheppard can see that David Sheppard is about to dismiss him with a “Don’t you government types have anything better to do than to…” when Dave’s eyes go very wide and he turns a very sickly white.
For a second John is amused that Dave is the one looking ghostly.
David opens his mouth and for once in his life has no words.
John lifts his head, looks up at David with a hope and optimism he hasn’t believed in for years, looks his brother in the eye and smiles at him for the first time in far too long.
“I believe I have some explaining to do”
Well, as much as the cobbled together cover story O’Neill gave him will allow.
Part iii (epilogue)
Seventy-two realities down the line Lt Colonel John Sheppard is the man in black standing by the outgoing wormwhole that will take him to The Chair and Earth.
He adjusts the black band around his wrist, long fingers lovingly tracing the sharp outline of his mother’s silver crucifix and chain securely wrapped within, safe under the soft fabric.
Loathe to leave his beloved City, he looks around one last time, wondering if he’ll see her again.
His fingers brush the hidden charm once more, waiting, knowing.
“You’re doing good Johnny, I know you are, you always do” says the voice.
The voice that speaks to him before every mission, every trial, every time he stands on the precipice, the crossroads that may lead him to disaster or salvation.
Every time the Wraith sucked the life out of him, every blow Kolya and ever other foe ever landed on him.
John Sheppard will never admit it to anyone, but it’s what grounds him, keeps him together, keeps him going when he’s sure all is lost.
He lied to Teyla when he said he had no family.
He hadn’t lied to Weir when he said he had no one to record a message for.
He doesn’t know if she is a ghost, a benevolent spirit, guardian angel, ascended to a higher plane or some other unknowable, unexplainable being. Maybe it’s all in his head. Maybe something snapped the summer she died. Maybe he’s delusional and he’s been fooling the psych evals all these years.
All he knows is that even in another galaxy she is always with him, has been, will always be.
He smiles and steps through the shimmering pool.
AU sequel "While the Candle Still Burns"