Summary: John Sheppard was a rarity, a soldier modified not for speed and strength, but for a very specific skill set. The ability to enter dreams. But John wasn't the obedient soldier the Nacon Armed Forces was hoping for and when he runs, he uses all of his experience to escape their searching eyes. Once settled into his life as a thief, John thinks very little of his newest mark, the billionaire inventor Rodney McKay, at least until he enters McKay's dreams for the first time and discovers a world that he'd believed only existed in fairytales.
Warnings: Dystopia AU
Notes: I wrote this for the McShep Match in 2012 for the prompt "honor among thieves".
Judge of your natural character by what you do in your dreams. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
John turned and smiled as his friend and fellow thief waved at him. He approached her and nodded a greeting. "Teyla."
Teyla smiled back, though more contained. "They wish to speak with you," she said softly.
John's smile dropped. "I'll go now."
"Luck be with you," Teyla intoned as John left, walking down the silver hallways of the underground Thieves' Guild.
There were no windows in the large complex that John had called home for nearly a year. The Thieves' Guild spanned a remarkably large portion of the underground of Cheyenne City, but nowhere did the building peek at the surface world.
He didn't mind too much. One couldn't live in the world he did and miss sunlight. Everyone in the North American Confederate, and largely on the planet as well, took supplementary vitamins, even the youngest of children, to make up for the Vitamin D that smog and pollution kept from them.
John took a sharp right into an empty transporter and hit the button for the very center of the complex. The transporter made no noise except the sound of the door closing and opening again. John stepped out, nodded to the few friendly faces he saw, but made no move to stop and chat.
One did not make many friends in a life as a thief, but that had not stopped John from becoming close with the few that had saved his life, all those months ago. Teyla and Ronon were the closest thing to family John could have since he'd lost his brothers-in-arms.
The large door to the central meeting room was closed. John placed his hand on the console to the left of it, waiting for it to take a miniscule drop of his blood and read his DNA. After a moment, the device pinged, and the door opened. He stepped inside, letting his eyes adjust to the slightly darker room as the door closed behind him.
There were no chairs or tables in the room, just a central pad that he stepped on, which then powered up the screen that spanned across the entire far wall.
"John Sheppard," a voice spoke. There was no face on the screen and the voice was computerized. John would never know the identity of the ones who assigned his marks, but then none of the thieves would. It was safer that way, for everyone.
"Present," John said, letting a slightly smirk fall over his face. At the beginning, Teyla had warned him to always be respectful to their anonymous supervisors, but John had finished with that sort of discipline when he'd left the Force.
Though he'd only been with the thieves for eleven months, the commander knew by now not to expect the usual subservience from him.
If not for his unique skill set, his attitude might not be tolerated. But John knew just how valuable he was, and so did the shadowed figures that demanded information only he could steal.
"You have a new mark," the voice said, stating the obvious. A picture flashed on the screen and John studied it carefully. "Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD."
Dr. McKay was on the younger end of being middle-aged, probably only a bit older than John's thirty-five, with a crooked scowl and brilliantly blue eyes. He wore a grey suit in the photograph that highlighted the broadness of his shoulders, but it was the way his hands were frozen in mid-motion that had John transfixed. He looked passionate, a bit angry, and definitely intriguing.
John had been given more attractive marks. Hell, a random person on the street was sexier than Dr. McKay. It was plain to see the man had never invested in cosmetic alterations, if not just for the way he was obviously balding.
"Dr. McKay has been a civilian contractor for several major corporations," the voice was continuing. The picture moved to the left and in its place was a list of companies McKay had apparently worked for in the past. "By all accounts, he is arrogant and difficult to work with, but brilliant enough that he remains in high demand."
The screen flashed again to show a large building that John recognized as one of the nicer apartment complexes in the city. "He lives in the penthouse of the Pegasus Complex and owns a cat, though records on his pet are scare."
John frowned. That was strange. Pets were the luxury of the rich and as such all were tagged at birth and records of their pedigree were extensive. Perhaps McKay's cat was a black market trade.
"The information you are to secure is on Dr. McKay's newest project. It appears to be his own research and is not run though a third-party company or corporation. He has sent out feelers to several smaller businesses for support, but said businesses have little record of the transactions."
John settled back on his heels, but no new pictures flashed on the screen. "What is the project?" he asked.
"Unknown," the voice said. "Information already gathered suggests he is developing a device involving agriculture, but any more specific information has been difficult to find."
"Which is why you want me," John said. "I'll take it."
Not that he had a choice in the matter and he knew it. Still, it sounded interesting enough. Though John at first had balked at the idea of stealing an individual's hard-earned invention to give to the highest bidder, he'd soon grown indifferent to that nature of a thief's trade. He'd had to, to survive.
"Touch your hand to the console. The remaining information will be transferred directly to you," the voice instructed.
John waited for the console to light up in front of him before putting his hand over it. There was a small feeling similar to a zap, and then information was flowing into John's brain, too quickly for him to process.
This wasn't a new experience for him. The Force had a used a similar method of mission briefing, and so John waited until all the information had been transferred before he started sorting through it.
"Dr. McKay is scheduled to leave Cheyenne next month. You have until then to procure the plans for his newest invention," the voice stated. "Dismissed."
John gave a mock salute, because he could, and left the room. As he walked along the hallway back to his own bedroom, he let his brain work. The information he'd received began to trickle slowly to his conscious memory.
McKay was rich, very rich. It wasn't inheritance money either.
John suddenly remembered where he heard McKay's name before. The man had been one of the lead engineers in the manufacturing of the new and improved ZPM. ZPMs powered the world; it was no wonder McKay had money.
Regardless of his wealth, it seemed as though the only luxury items McKay owned were his penthouse and his cat. McKay did not appear to dine in the restaurants of the wealthy, and it seemed as though the only time McKay left his penthouse was to go to business meetings or occasionally to work in a lab.
He was a reclusive man, Rodney McKay, which actually made John's job easier. A man who slept in one place, and slept alone, was a man whose dreams John could easily infiltrate.
And that was just what he planned to do.
It was night, and the city streets were deserted. Glowing lamps hung from the upper beams of the enclosed glass tunnel provided the only light. John paid little mind to the world outside the glass, where smog obscured everything beyond a couple of yards above the ground. He never even glanced up at the sky, knowing that the tiny balls of glowing light told of in stories, the stars like the sun but millions of light years away, wouldn't be visible.
On some days, he didn't even believe they existed.
His mark's building was close to one of the eastern exits from the Thieves' Guild, and John walked quickly, staying in the shadows. John was wearing dark clothes, and he carried nothing with him, not even the required-by-law ID. An ID was dangerous for him; better to be an unknown than John Sheppard.
John wasn't expecting much of this night, but he was interested in what the billionaire genius would dream of. He had to get a sense of how McKay usually dreamed before he could manipulate McKay's dreams to find and discover the secrets within them.
Everyone dreamed differently.
The Pegasus Living-Complex was nearly deserted so late at night, with just a single security officer at the desk. John slipped past the man easily, the officer half asleep at his desk, and walked quickly and quietly to one of the transporters would take him to McKay's penthouse.
The transporter doors closed, but before they could open again, John hit the emergency stop, the one that kept the small space contained. It was designed to be used only in case of an atmospheric break, if one of the tall glass ceilings shattered and began to let in the poisonous air of the outside world. If that happened, people living in the Complex could retreat to the transporters and wait there until rescue arrived.
Luckily, by the plans the Thieves' Guild had given him, the Pegasus Complex was not one of the buildings that blared an alarm should the emergency stop be activated. That alarm only blared when the sensors picked up an excess of toxic gas in the air, so when just the stop was hit all the showed was a small red light at the security officer's desk. John hoped the man had fallen asleep and wouldn't notice, but if he did then he'd probably assume the usual drunken elevator make-out.
Tonight, John halted the transporter for a completely different reason. After all, he didn't need to be in the same room as McKay to work his "magic".
John scoffed at his own thoughts. None of his skills were magic, as much as he wished it was something so fantastical.
No, his ability was the result of modification and training, and the Force had never let John forget it.
Sighing, John wiped his thoughts clear of past woes and sat down on the floor of the transporter, leaning comfortably in the corner. He let his mind stretch out, searching for the nearest dreamer.
The sleeping man's thoughts pulled at him like a whirlpool and before John knew it, he was asleep.
The wind plucked at his clothes, like the touch of an overeager child. John opened his eyes, breath catching in his throat as the breeze caressed his face and arms. There was grass at his feet, easily felt between the soft soles of his boots and yet almost unrecognizable in unfamiliarity.
He was in a field, what he thought the written-of grassy fields of old must have looked like. The grass was expansive spreading out in every direction, touching the horizon.
The horizon. A clear horizon, visible miles off. John held his breath and slowly looked up to the sky.
There was a lazy cloud drifting in the wind, and beyond that blue. A clear blue sky, like that nursery rhyme his mother used to sing to him.
Never forget what it feels to lie
On the grass under a clear blue sky
Never forget what it feels to swim
In the ocean on a whim
Never forget what it feels to cry
For the animals passing by
Except he had forgotten, or at least, had not been allowed to remember, because there were no more skies like this. Not in the real world.
And just like that, John remembered that he was dreaming another's dream. He reluctantly tore his eyes away from the wonder that stretched just over his head and instead began to walk in the wonder all around him.
"It's so beautiful," he heard whispered around him.
John spun, surprised, to see McKay just a few yards from him. McKay was sitting with his legs spread as he looked around. When he turned to look at John, his eyes were as blue as the sky above them.
"Will it be this beautiful?" McKay asked.
"I don't know," John answered honestly, because he had no idea what McKay was talking about.
And because, even although he was confused, he was also intrigued by the sight of the man he knew to be brash, rude, always working, always doing, sitting still in the grass like that was all he cared about.
"Yeah," McKay said. He lay back on the grass, the cloud making a shadow on his face.
John opened his mouth, to say what he wasn't sure, but then the grass whipped around him. He turned to look at the horizon to see a sandstorm of smog approaching, coming to consume them.
McKay made a distressed noise and John took a step back, his heart pounding as the landscape was quickly covered is black.
The walls of the transporter were uncomfortable against his back and he winced. Standing slowly, John used the still-closed door to support himself as he stood, panting.
"Fuck," John cursed. He'd learned nothing, absolutely nothing, and yet even the thought of slipping back into that dream, or any other that night, was enough to make his stomach roll.
What he'd seen… what he'd seen was the stuff of fairytales. Of children's stories, before the child grew too old and too jaded at the state of the Earth.
John had stopped believing in clear oceans and sandy beaches and grassy planes and forests of trees and above all of clear blue skies on the day his mother had died. On the day his father told him to stop being a child and grow up.
With a shaking hand, John pressed the button for the ground floor and walked as steadily as he could past the now fully asleep security guard, out of the complex, and back towards the guild, to his own bed and his own dreams.
The dry bread crunched in John's mouth. He preferred softer loafs, but it was food and he'd learned long ago not to be picky about what was on the dinner table. Sure, there wasn't a food shortage per say , but good food was hard to come by.
After all, the few biodomes used to grown organic food were rare and most products, like the bread John was eating, were created in labs. Though they sustained the human body well enough, the technicians had yet to be able to recreate wheat that led to soft bread.
Teyla ripped off a chuck of sausage and passed the hunk of meat his way. John accepted it, grabbed his own chunk before throwing the rest to Ronon.
Ronon grinned and ate the meat in two bites, like he always did. Teyla shook her head at him, but didn't comment.
"You finished with your mark?" John asked them curiously. Ronon and Teyla were often sent out on heists together. They worked well as a team, more than just well if John was being honest, and sometimes he envied them.
His type of theft had to be solo work. It was dangerously easy for John to slip into the wrong dream if he was near many others.
"We have completed our task," Teyla said. "They said that perhaps we would be given a small break before our next."
"That's good," John nodded. "You happy about that, big guy?"
"Yeah," Ronon shrugged, swallowing down the last of his beer. There was more that he wasn't saying, but John heard it anyway.
When there weren't other options, sometimes having a mark was the only thing that kept any of them from going insane.
"And yourself, John?" Teyla asked. "Have your nights been fruitful?"
John flashed back to the dream he'd shared with McKay and shrugged. He didn't tend to share specifics about his marks, and nor did Ronon and Teyla. It was too dangerous.
But for the first time since he'd come to the Thieves' Guild, John kind of wanted to. He wanted to tell them of the blue skies and the grass and how real it had all seemed, in the way dreams do. Except, while many forgot their dreams upon waking, John never did. Neither his own or his marks'.
It was both a blessing and a curse.
"Same old, same old," John said instead. It was dangerous, and regardless, he couldn't put together the words to describe the wonder of what he'd seen.
Teyla hummed and Ronon grunted and John relaxed in the company of the friends he hadn't thought he would make.
Somewhere, on the other side of the city, John guessed that McKay was eating lunch alone, but he brushed the thought aside before he could let it bother him.