Lt. Colonel John Sheppard had seen a lot in his three years serving in Atlantis, but this? This one was nagging his spider-sense almost from the get-go. He stared up at the two Stasis Pods before him, and turned back to Rodney. "How the hell didn't we find this before?"
Rodney threw an irritated glance in his direction as he tapped away at the Ancient PDA. "Well, we have been a little busy these last few years, you know. With the Wraith and the Ori and the constant and oh-so-fun peril that besieges Atlantis on a weekly basis since the moment we stepped foot on it. Excuse me if we didn't explore this abandoned corridor of what looked like a completely useless sector of the City until now!"
"Excuses, excuses," John muttered, and then turned back to Ford. "Captain, get Teyla and Ronon back here. I doubt they'll find anything more interesting than this."
Ford bounced on his heels, nodding. "Sure thing, Sir."
Ford scuttled away and John turned back to Rodney as he scanned the life-signs of the two Ancients. Rodney was too engrossed with his readouts of the pods to answer any of the questions John began to ask, so eventually, he found his attention wandering back to the two elderly individuals inside the pods: one male and the other female.
A little bit of an indefinable unease crawled up his spine, and John suppressed a shudder. He couldn't pinpoint why, precisely, but those two were making him uncomfortable just by looking at them. Maybe it was residue from the whole Phoebus/Thalan fiasco, or maybe he was flashing back to the derelict Aurora and the strange virtual experiences he, Rodney, and Ford had there with the aging crew. Whatever the case, the hairs on the back of John's neck prickled with unease.
"They still alive?" John asked, barely moving his eyes away from the pods to glance at Rodney.
Rodney nodded. "Yes, life-signs indicate viability, although barely. It's remarkable. They must be over ten thousand years old."
John raised an eyebrow. "They don't look a day over nine thousand." He commented, and then eyed the old guy with harsher scrutiny. "Well, the woman anyway. The guy's kinda wiggin' me out."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh please, Colonel. Do explain to me the scientific value of your 'wiggins' and why we should take them into account here? We're dealing with two viable Ancients here and they're –" he stopped, eyes bugging out slightly. "Oh, we better get Fraiser down here immediately so she can check up on them. I don't want to piss her off this week."
John's lips threatened to curl into a smirk. "You're just upset that Janet pulled out the big needles for your last post-mission checkup. Next time, don't mouth off about her profession being voodoo."
Rodney grumbled under his breath. "Yes, well, I was drugged up at the time. Honestly, a woman of her profession should be more forgiving of a man in that condition."
"Well, at least you didn't pinch her in the ass while you were drugged – oh wait, you did do that, didn't you?"
Rodney dropped his gaze back to his scanner as his face changed several shades of red. "Why don't you get Elizabeth on the radio? She should know about this, don't you think?"
John smirked before tapping his ear-piece. As he hailed her over the radio, he fixed his stare on the two pods in front of him. The creepiness factor was still high. "Elizabeth?" he said when he finally got through to her. "I think I've got something you might want to see."
John watched as Elizabeth stared up at the two Ancient Pods with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension written across her face. Eagerness, because yeah, those were most likely Ancients inside. But apprehensive because John knew she still couldn't look anybody in the eye when they brought up the Phoebus incident – not that John was ever one to bring up that topic himself – so she was understandably cautious as well. He wondered if she was getting the same sense of déjà vu that he was.
Elizabeth turned back to catch his eye for a moment, before she shifted her attention to Janet. "What's their prognosis, Doctor?"
The petite, brunette doctor didn't look happy. "Not good. I'm surprised they're still alive. From what I understand of these designs, these pods weren't meant to sustain life for ten thousand years. I'm concerned that any attempt to revive them will actually turn out to kill them instead."
Rodney heaved an annoyed sigh. "We can't let this opportunity slip through our fingers. They could offer us invaluable information!"
From the corner of the room, sandwiched between Ford and Teyla, Ronon lounged against the wall and raised an eyebrow. "You mean like Phoebus and Thalan?"
Elizabeth, predictably, found an interesting spot to stare at; one that didn't involve making eye contact with any other individual in the room. "Yes, thank you, Ronon. Point made."
Ronon shrugged. "I'm just sayin'."
John cocked his head to the side, agreeing with Ronon. "I don't think we should get too excited until we know what we're dealing with here."
"We're dealing with two Ancients here," Rodney countered, irritated. "And I don't think we're jumping to conclusions on that fact. These pods are distinctly Ancient in design, and let's not overlook the glaringly obvious: they're in Atlantis. They're Ancients, Colonel."
John glared at him. "Yeah, well, color me suspicious anyway."
Rodney rolled his eyes and went back to run another scan near the pods.
Teyla stepped forward. "Should we not be concerned about another transfer of consciousness, like Phoebus' pod allowed?" She turned to Rodney. "Perhaps you should not step so closely to it, Rodney."
Rodney restrained his irritation, but just barely. "You meet one pair of psychopathic geriatrics, and suddenly anyone over a thousand looks suspicious. Look, I've already run scans on it. There's nothing to indicate anything like that. We're just dealing with regular life-pods, like the ones we encountered on the Aurora before it blew up."
Ford stepped forward, face lighting up with a thought. "Hey, are they hooked up to a freaky virtual reality, too?"
Rodney sighed. "Fine." He snapped. "I stand corrected. They're nothing like the Aurora pods. There's no virtual reality. No transfer of consciousness. No weird, funky side-effects to these pods besides growing really, really old at an absurdly slow pace. They're just sleeping, people!"
"Why?" Elizabeth asked in a distant voice, as if she wasn't even remotely concerned with Rodney's latest outburst. She stared intently at the pods, thoroughly absorbed and fascinated by them. "Why are they here? Why didn't they leave with the other Ancients all those years ago?"
"Well, that's obviously only something we'll learn if we revive them."
Janet stepped forward in protest. "You revive them, and you might kill them. As it is, even if they survive the revival process, they won't have more than a day before their bodies shut down from massive and wide-spread organ failure."
John cocked an eyebrow. "How's that any worse than sleeping to death, doc?" He turned back to the pods, eyes drawn to the male figure entirely on their own. Despite himself and his previous experience with Thalan, he felt a bit of sympathy for these two. This was no way to survive. "I gotta figure we should at least give them a fighting chance to live."
Elizabeth paused, expression tight, and then gave the go-ahead. "Do it."
"Doctor Weir–" Janet protested.
"It's my decision, Janet," Elizabeth cut in. "Revive them."
She turned on her heels and walked out the door, leaving the room – Janet, in particular – with little to do but follow her orders. Rodney bounced on his heels in excitement, and went over to order Ford and Ronon to begin moving the Pods towards his laboratory. As Janet stepped forward to override that order with some of her own: "To the infirmary, Doctor McKay. Or nowhere else." John left the group to catch up with Elizabeth.
He caught up with her just before she made it to the transporter, and slipped inside beside her as she hit the Control Room as her destination. Beside him, Elizabeth was all tense shoulders and wringing-hands. There was a sense of nervousness about her that John could easily recognize. He'd come to recognize a hellava lot about her in the three years they'd known each other. He could think of only a few people – almost a non-existent number – that he'd learned the personal quarks and habits of better.
Quickly taking in her appearance, he threw her a causal glance. "You alright?"
She licked her lips, and nodded. "Yeah, it's just… I don't know what it was. Staring up at those two, I got a sense of…"
"Déjà vu?" John offered. He couldn't think of any better term to name what he also felt.
"Yeah," Elizabeth answered, weakly. "I suppose."
The transporter doors opened and the sight of an energetic Gateroom greeted them. Immediately, Elizabeth was drawn aside by two technicians that needed her on whatever latest thing demanded her undivided attention or else. John waved casually at her as she was pulled away by her duties.
He shuffled into the Gateroom, and then decided to head back to his quarters instead to catch a quick nap and a shower. He knew Rodney and Janet weren't going to be able to revive the Ancients for a couple of hours, and once that happened, rest and routine would likely take a back seat to finding out everything they could from their two guests.
Remembering the pale and wrinkled faces of the Ancients inside their pods, John had no doubt it was going to be an interesting day.
Ford knocked on his door just as John was pulling on his jacket to get ready to head back out. He answered it quickly, and found his teammate holding up two sandwiches: one Turkey on rye.
John grinned. "Good man, Ford."
He smiled back. "That's why I'm your second in command. The Docs are calling you, Sir. They've managed to get the man up and awake, if only for a moment."
John raised an eyebrow. "Already? That was quick."
Ford shrugged. "Apparently the guy's in better shape. They're still trying to work on the woman."
"Oh," John replied, stepping into line beside Ford as they walked.
He grabbed his sandwich and took a chunk out as they made their way to the infirmary. Beside him, Ford had that look on his face; the one that said he wanted to say something but wasn't sure if it was appropriate. Even after three years serving together, John still couldn't get Ford to relax when it came to chain of command. To be honest, though, John wasn't too annoyed with the Captain about it. Ford was the only person on his five man team that he had any real control over. Teyla and Ronon were both aliens well outside the military command structure, and Rodney was… well, Rodney. Some days, it seemed like Ford's unwavering presence and loyalty was the only thing John could rely on without a headache.
Still, it sometimes seemed exasperating to constantly give permission for things that should have been as natural as breathing. "A penny for your thoughts, Captain?" John asked, slanting him a glance.
Ford grinned. "Actually yeah. I was just thinking about the Aurora."
John nodded; the Aurora wasn't an experience he was ever likely to forget. Being trapped inside a virtual reality with aging Ancients was bad enough, but couple that with A) Captain Loren somehow freakishly knowing John's name and implicitly hinting at the fact that they had somehow already met – impossible, obviously – and yet refusing to fully divulge how. Or B) a Wraith spy disguised as one of the random crew members that eventually led to the destruction of the entire vessel.
John was still pissed about that; equal parts because the Aurora crew had seemed like decent people – Captain Loren especially, his uncanny recognition of John notwithstanding – and because of the vital communiqué information that was destroyed in the process. He had no clue what was inside that communiqué, but whatever it was, even if it was as essential as Captain Loren had claimed, it was now going to remain forever a mystery. That annoyed John to no end.
John raised an eyebrow. "What about the Aurora?"
"You remember what Captain Loren said?" Ford asked. "Just before we got out?"
"You mean 'Say hello to Dr. Weir for me'? Yeah, I'm not about to forget those spooky words anytime soon."
"No, not that," Ford responded. "Although that was a little Twilight Zone there, but I was talking about what he said before."
John licked his lips, and then remembered. "You mean that whole thing about the repercussions of time-traveling? 'Your presence here proves that the future has already changed,' yada, yada, yada."
"Yeah, it took him all of five seconds to accept that we were ten thousand years ahead of his time," Ford said, confusion in his tone. "No explanation necessary. No resistance to the idea at all. He just accepted everything you claimed. I still find that odd."
"There was little about Loren I didn't find odd, Ford," John countered, "What's your point?"
"He also called you Major Sheppard when he said that."
John nodded, getting exasperated. "Yeah, again, weird. Permission granted to get to the punch line any day now, Captain."
Ford looked utterly confused and slightly weirded-out. "The old Ancient guy in the infirmary now, when he briefly woke up? He glanced around the place, saw me, and then called me Lieutenant Ford."
John stopped walking. His gaze slid to Ford, surprised. "Really?"
Ford shrugged. "Yeah. I swear there's something really creepy about these Ancient people. They're all, like, psychic or something. How did he know my name?"
"Did you ask him that?"
"He fell back asleep before I could."
Vaguely disturbed – again – John started walking, speeding up just a little to reach the infirmary quicker. When they finally arrived, the entire place was hushed with an unusual silence. Rodney and Janet were talking in the corner and the rest of his team along with Elizabeth were gathered around the two Ancients lying prone on the infirmary beds.
As they approached, John curiously noted that Elizabeth seemed to be standing a little aloof from everyone else. He cast her a curious glance before the equally tense faces of everybody in the room managed to catch his attention.
Something was definitely up.
He stopped at the foot of the bed where the female lay, still asleep, and raised an eyebrow. "Okay, what did I miss?"
Everybody paused, nervously shuffling their feet, and anxious glances were exchanged all around. Teyla started to say something, then glanced at Elizabeth and paused. She recovered with a tight smile. "The woman woke up, Colonel," Teyla said, in a tone that never boded good news in John's experience. She picked her words carefully. "She… claimed things."
"Claimed things," John repeated in a drawl. "Like what?"
Elizabeth glanced up at him, expression carefully controlled. "She claimed…" She opened her mouth and closed it again, and her control slipped. She adopted a look of utter confusion, and spoke in a faint voice. "She claimed that she is me, and he –" she pointed towards the aging male "–is you."
For a moment, John was convinced he heard wrong. "What?"
"Time travel," Ronon supplied, looking entirely annoyed. He slanted an incredulous look towards John. "She said she's a version of Weir who traveled to the past. To the time of the Ancestors. That other guy is you, supposedly."
Equally incredulous, John could only repeat one thing. "What?"
"If anyone should be deaf of hearing here, Sheppard," a raspy voice rang out, "It should be me." John turned his head towards the owner of the voice, and found the elderly man watching him with pale hazel eyes that looked glossed over with the worst case of cataracts John had ever seen. Still, they were sharp with humor. "You know," he said, aged lips growing into an eerily familiar smirk as he gave John a once over, "I always thought I was taller."
Hours later, Janet walked over to them with a computer tablet in hand. "The results of the DNA tests are in. They're both a match."
"Huh," John commented, feeling that was a pretty much an accurate description of his thought processes for the moment.
Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth was a bit more articulate, although not by much. "How is this possible? How did they get here?"
Rodney spoke up, looking quite eager to explain. "Actually, I've been thinking." He turned towards John. "The Aurora."
John had been thinking about that all day, but in that instant, the last of the puzzle pieces suddenly snapped into place and he groaned, closing his eyes. It all made a type of sense that was entirely screwed up and unrecognizable as normal. In a nutshell, it was perfectly congruent with the rest of his life since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy.
John sighed. "All that's missing is a really nice DeLorean."
Rodney heaved an annoyed breath. "Don't even get me started on that movie."
"I liked that movie."
"I bet you—"
"Gentlemen." A female voice cut in, except it was aged and weary and belonged to another Elizabeth altogether. John turned to find the old version of Elizabeth stirring in her bed, tired eyes latching onto her younger double first, then John. She smiled, skin wrinkling around her eyes. "You haven't changed at all," she commented, then glanced from John to the older man – his own double, apparently – who slumbered heavily once again. He caught a hint of sadness in the older Elizabeth's expression, but then she glanced up at John again with a smile. "Yes, exactly as I remember."
Next to him, Elizabeth raised an eyebrow in amusement. "The hair will never be tamed," she dead-panned.
A sharp rasp of a laugh escaped the elderly woman, so John let the dig slide. She turned back to Elizabeth, and raised an eyebrow back. "I see you've grown out your own hair. I like it."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, and I considered growing a Mohawk briefly in high school. As fascinating as this critique on hairstyles is, maybe we could use this precious time for more important questions, hmm?"
The older-Elizabeth laughed. "You haven't changed a bit either, Rodney. It's so good to see you. To see you all. You have no idea what I – we – have been through to see this day."
John stepped forward, glancing back briefly at his slumbering double. "Yeah, I bet that's some story."
"You have no idea, Major."
He tried not to puff out his chest. "It's actually Lt. Colonel, now."
Elizabeth – his Elizabeth – chided him in an exasperated voice. "Now's not the time, John." She stepped closer to her double, and gently grabbed hold of one her hands. The sight was entirely unusual for John, but Elizabeth seemed to be handling the news of her double better than John was. "I have so much to ask you, I don't even know where to begin."
"There's so much to tell you… The letters. We had letters."
Elizabeth glanced around, confused. A moment latter, John vaguely remembered some loose leafs of paper tucked away in the corners of the Stasis Pods. Those had been quickly forgotten when other more important things had captured his attention, but now he nodded his head eagerly and called out to one of the orderlies nearby to retrieve it.
He turned back to the older Elizabeth. "We'll get them," he assured her.
She nodded her head, eyes already closing as sleep threatened to overtake her again. "Everything you need to know is in there. Read them, but privately."
John traded a curious look with Elizabeth, and then turned to find both older doubles once again in harmonic sleep.
A short time later, when the rest of his team had left the infirmary and it was just him and Elizabeth, John's double woke up again. It turned out to be more disconcerting than John thought it was going to be; mainly because of the way his considerably older double acted around Elizabeth.
"You really do look hot with that hair, Lizzie."
Elizabeth's eyes widened, and John nearly choked on the cup of water he'd been drinking from. A slight blush crawled up her neck, and she smiled embarrassed. "Uh, thank you, Major."
She glanced at John briefly, but he took the opportunity to glare at his older double. The geezer was old enough to be her great, great, great, great, great times infinity Grandfather. That was just another creepy comment to add to the list for today, even if John conceded to the fact that Elizabeth did look hot with long hair.
She quickly cleared her throat, and got back to business again. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I'm fighting off ten thousand years worth of jet-lag," his double rasped lightly, groaning. He shifted in his bed, and cast another thinly veiled look of concern towards the sleeping older Elizabeth. He'd been doing that a lot. The two had been alternately waking up, only for a few minutes at a time, and had yet to catch each other in their brief moments of consciousness. "How is she doing?"
Elizabeth smiled, although John could pick up the tightness in her expression. "She's just resting."
Apparently, the older John picked up on her tells as well. "Liar." He licked his lips, and scrutinized his aging hands with a glare. "Our bodies are way too old. How much time does Beckett say we have?"
John's brow furrowed with confusion for a moment. "Who?"
His double shot him a pointed look. "Carson Beckett." When all he received was blank looks, his double continued in a persistent tone. "You know, our Scottish doctor? Has the Ancient gene. Likes to say stuff like "wee little things" and stick needles in sensitive places. You know, that guy?"
John traded a look with Elizabeth, before answering, "Our doc is a lady named Janet Fraiser. Always has been."
It was his double's turn to look confused. "That's impossible. Carson was on the original expedition. He's the reason I found out about the Ancient outpost in the first place."
Elizabeth stepped closer, intrigued. "He was responsible for telling you about Atlantis?"
"No, he was responsible for nearly killing me in Antarctica. He's not here?"
John wasn't sure if he was following the logic of that statement fully, but he simply shrugged. "Don't know what to tell you, buddy. Never met a Carson Beckett. I've never even been to Antarctica."
His double looked dumbfounded. "That's impossible."
John raised an eyebrow, incredulous. "You time-traveled ten thousand years into the past, and then slumbered all the way back to now, to met us, your doubles… and that's impossible?"
He licked his lips, and turned to look away. "Son of a bitch, Moros was right. We did change the future."
"Who?" Elizabeth asked, but the older John was too lost in thought to answer her.
There was a vague haunted look that passed over his wrinkled features, and John was suddenly seeing a whole new side to him. Instead of the flippant version he'd seen so far, this older man now looked vaguely horrified by some dark knowledge that he alone understood. John still recognized the look easily, though. It was the same one he woke up to every time he had a nightmare about the Wraith (or whatever latest disaster had recently befallen them) that had nearly killed him or anyone he cared about.
He had a feeling that his double was dealing with more than just nightmares, though.
Cautiously, Elizabeth stepped closer to his bed and reached to grab hold of one of his aged hands. She squeezed it in reassurance and threaded her fingers between his double's. John was silently struck by the intimacy of the gesture, and how in some nonsensical way, she was technically holding his hand like that. She managed to tug the older John out his funk with a small smile.
"Maybe I should tell you about my story," The older John said, looking like he wasn't about to let go of Elizabeth's hand anytime soon. "Where should I start?"
John stepped forward. "The beginning's always good."
His double smirked, but it was completely humorless. "The beginning is where it all ended, Colonel. Right here, when that damn shield caved to an ocean full of water." He licked his dry lips, and a darkness settled into his eyes. "The first time this all happened, Atlantis drowned. So did every member of this expedition. Elizabeth and I - we were all that survived."
Halfway through his story, just when his double was getting to the good parts about his past experiences with the Aurora and the delegation – which answered oh-so-many lingering questions in John's head regarding Loren's strange behavior, he didn't even know where to begin – the older Elizabeth woke up.
The instant her aged eyes connected with his double's, John saw a transformation in both of them that he couldn't begin to describe. A thousand different emotions hovered on the surface, and while the infirmary was full of life and John and Elizabeth were standing right there, he suddenly got the feeling that their doubles weren't noticing much but each other.
He felt like they were intruding on a private moment – an extremely private moment – and a sense of awkwardness quickly settled heavily on his shoulders. Elizabeth looked equally uncomfortable witnessing the strange looks passing between their older doubles, and she quietly made excuses for both of them to retreat so as to allow the other two some privacy.
They barely got any acknowledgment in return, and as they retreated to the far corner of the infirmary, John looked back at the couple with a gnawing suspicion suddenly growing in his stomach.
They couldn't be… could they?
At the opposite side of the infirmary, aged hands intertwined across the empty space that divided their two beds apart. The gesture was extremely tender, and coupled with the hushed voices and the significant looks… suddenly, there was very little doubt left in John's mind at the type of relationship his double had with Elizabeth's double.
Shock swallowed his tongue whole, and he was left standing speechless next to Elizabeth as silent realization sunk in simultaneously for the both of them. Neither turned to look the other in the eye, but John knew the same thought was going through her head as well.
They were lovers.
John fled to read the letter the next time they fell asleep, slipping into one of the random empty rooms along the nearest corridor to catch some much needed privacy. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to find inside, but John found himself obsessively curious about any information that he could get his hands on. Janet had been clear on the prognosis of the two patients, though. They had a couple of hours, a day tops, before their bodies would shut down completely. As it was, they were sleeping away the majority of their last hours.
He sighed, trying not to focus on the morbid thought that in the room next door, a version of himself was slowly dying. It sent a chill up his spine, and he was almost thankful that he'd be able to get some information without having to sit through the game of watching himself breath the last moments of his life. He glanced down at the letter in his hand, and paused.
The name on the envelope was addressed to a Major John Sheppard, and it was the little things like that which helped solidify that fact that he and this other version had gone through two different lives and, of course, there was going to be surprising differences to be had. Still, when he tore open the top of the Ancient – in every definition of the term – envelope, he stared at the sloppy handwriting that was painfully familiar and realized that whatever differences there were, there were still going to be similarities.
It started out as a simple narrative of what had happened to them after they'd been thrown back in time, with again, eerily familiar humor peaking through every now and then. Mostly, though, there wasn't much to laugh about. The letter must have been written during a time when his older double hadn't been in a particularly good mood, because John recognized his own idiosyncrasies throughout the letter. It was tinged with latent and frustrated anger. He may have acted easy-going and flippant all the time, but really, John just liked to give people that impression. He wasn't surprised that his double did that same thing.
He hunkered down in a plastic chair, and read about a life that wasn't his own.
Afterwards, John felt like somebody had sucker-punched him in the stomach. The letter had been brief, but telling. His double hadn't even mentioned the type of relationship he had with his Elizabeth, but John managed to pick up on what hadn't been said all too well.
Later, when he reentered the infirmary, he spotted Elizabeth quietly standing watch over the two slumbering figures. He didn't have the slightest clue how to act around her right then. He noticed, vaguely disoriented by the sight, that somebody had drawn the two infirmary beds directly side by side, as if to offer them some measure of closer proximity. That was just… weird. He had no other word for it, yet.
John walked up to Elizabeth, clearing his throat. "Hey."
She slightly jumped, startled, and then glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes when she recovered. "Hey." She greeted, never making full eye contact. "You just read your letter?"
He nodded. "Yeah. You?"
Elizabeth nodded, emphatically. "Yeah."
And then awkward silence settled in, thick and choking.
He shifted in his stance, trying to think of something to say, to do, but everything just seemed so pathetically… pathetic that he stifled the action before he could do it. He ended up glancing around the infirmary with interest, as if he'd never seen it before and was cataloguing the oh-so-fascinating layout; anything in order to avoid looking at Elizabeth or their sleeping doubles. It was just suddenly too much.
Way too much.
He had never been so glad to have Rodney barge in and begin a long-winded scientific tirade in his entire life. John wasn't even paying attention to the words – something about the quantum theory of time-travel and some of the divergences between their parallel realities that occurred as a result – but his mind was stalled on only one thought. Thankfully, Rodney seemed too infatuated with sprouting out ideas that he didn't notice the proximity in which their two doubles lay. It wasn't like their doubles were even touching or anything, but John's chest seemed to constrict and they may as well have been spooning for the way it was making him feel.
And he still couldn't look Elizabeth in the eye.
When Rodney finally drew his explanation to a close, silence reined for several seconds before John pulled his head out of his ass and noticed.
Similarly, Elizabeth looked up at Rodney and blinked. "Right," she said, recovering. "That sounds… fascinating."
Rodney grinned with enthusiasm. "We should ask them if they learned anything about Ancient technology," he said, snapping his fingers in quick succession. "That and their history, sciences and any other details that they can answer to. The opportunity they represent is astounding. They just have to wake up some time soon!"
John grabbed Rodney's forearm before he could turn around. "Give 'em a moment, McKay. They're tired."
"Yes, well," Rodney snapped. "They've been sleeping for ten thousand years. Not to seem rude, but they don't need any more beauty sleep. We need to ask them questions now."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow; this one in warning. "Give them time, Rodney."
He blew out a forceful breath, and shifted from one foot to another like a kid with an extreme case of ADD. "Fine. Okay." He turned back to look at the older couple before John could stop him, and it really said something about the intimate portrait they painted that even Rodney paused in surprise. "Oh," Rodney said as a comment, slightly dumbfounded. "Why are they so close?"
John closed his eyes, and silently groaned. If he said one more thing…
Anybody who ever claimed Rodney was unobservant to all things related to the human condition was, in John's expert opinion, absolutely right. Which just pissed him off all the more that Rodney picked this moment to suddenly get a freakin' clue. Rodney turned back to them, lips twitching upwards with humor. "Is this… what I think it is?"
John pointedly glared at him. "Rodney–"
Rodney rocked on his heels again, amused. "Well, that's… hmm, unexpected, I suppose. Although not really, now that I think about it. You two always did–"
"Rodney!" Both of them snapped simultaneously. Even though they yelled it at the same time, John had the distinct impression that it was Elizabeth's sharp voice that caused Rodney to turn abashed and mutter a nearly incoherent apology. John glanced briefly at Elizabeth, then slid his eyes back to Rodney and turned them dark with a silent warning. Rodney's lips sealed into a thin firm line, and even if he did have the gall to smirk, he didn't say anything further. After all, the one thing more finely honed than Rodney's brain had always been his survival instinct.
Elizabeth cleared her throat, trying to maintain some semblance of composure. "If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to speak with Dr. Fraiser and get an update on our guests."
She turned on her heels and walked away with tense shoulders. John and Rodney watched her go, and then Rodney broke his silence with smug laughter in his voice.
"Oh, you are so screwed."
John tried to keep his jittery nerves from being painfully obvious by shoving his hands into his pockets and strolling through the place like he didn't have a care in the world. He didn't think anyone bought the facade, but he continued with it anyway. About an hour later, he noticed that his double was waking up again, if barely. A brief moment of hesitation later, John redirected his nonchalant strolling towards the beds. He'd been thinking about it for some time, but he still wasn't actually sure how he was going to frame the question to his older double.
Hey, I have no proof or anything – mainly because you were annoyingly succinct in your letter, although I get why – but I was wondering if you've slept with my boss? I only ask because, while, yes, you haven't done anything particularly overt-like to hint that you and this other version of Elizabeth have done the horizontal cha-cha at some point, you're still giving off those vibes. So, like, yeah? Have you slept with her?
His older self smirked as John approached, turning annoyingly amused even as his eyes fluttered closed in exhaustion. "You aren't involved with Elizabeth here, are you?"
Instinctively glancing around to make sure no one was around to eavesdrop, John found the coast clear. The older Elizabeth was still out cold, and everybody else in the infirmary wasn't in listening distance. He released a deep breath and turned back to stare, slightly annoyed, at the older version of himself. "Say it louder next time. I don't think the SGC heard ya there."
"So, is that a yes?"
John glared and then whispered in a tightly controlled voice. "No, it's not."
"Hmm." His double said, nodding. He glanced up at John with scrutinizing eyes, and then commented: "Idiot."
John sighed. He had a feeling his double wasn't seeing the picture clearly. "Major, she's like my Commanding Officer."
"She'd be worth a Court Martial," his double replied lightly, then paused for a moment to give a deep yawn. "You read my letter?"
John paused, confused at the non-sequitur. "The nightmare inducing note that mentioned your expedition drowning, the stick-up-their-ass Ancients, those fun-loving Wraiths and some vague details about some good ol' fashioned torture and mayhem in between all that? Yeah, I managed to read a word or two."
Even groggy, John recognized the serious look that settled onto his double's expression. "All that?" He rasped, and glanced at the slumbering feminine figure next to him. "She was worth that, too." And then his eyes fluttered opened and closed, and he fell asleep again before John could respond.
Not that John knew how to respond to that.
Hours later, John had finally pieced together their story from beginning to end. The details that the letter left out, the older versions of Elizabeth and John personally filled in. Between the lapses of consciousness spread over the long day, their doubles managed to tell a story that was both horrifying and amazing.
The bulk of the information was given during midday, when both had finally managed to stay awake for an extended period of time. They were gently shifted into wheelchairs and rolled out into the fresh air of Atlantis. The older Elizabeth insisted on taking in the above-water view of the ocean from one of Atlantis's balconies, so he left the two Elizabeths out there to talk while he gave a tour of the place to his own double – not that the older John had really needed a tour of this place.
They settled into the conference room some time afterwards, with John's team joining in to listen. There, they were finally told the story in all its full detail. Their original expedition. The shield collapsing. The time-traveling Gateship – Puddle Jumper, John automatically corrected. His older double had grinned in response and shared a significant look with the older Elizabeth; who simply rolled her eyes in exasperation. They talked about the ill-fated and completely bat-shit idea of the delegation, and how they still set out on it. The various friends, enemies, and friends-that-turned-out-to-be-enemies that sprinkled the story made up for an interesting look into the heart of Ancient politics. By then, Loren's name being dropped had been expected, as was the mention of the Aurora again.
John hated to be the one to add more bad news on top of everything, but he had to tell them about the destruction of the Ancient vessel. Their doubles had paused, grief stricken, but they had taken the news as well as could have been expected. Then again, John was still holding his breath for the moment both of them – hell, either one of them – suddenly exploded with anger at all the shit they'd been through. Their story hadn't painted the prettiest picture.
When Athos was eventually mentioned, Teyla had literally balked, her natural composure faltering under the unexpected reference to her homeworld. "You saw Athos fall?"
The older Elizabeth glanced at the Athosian, probably still unaware of the connection she had to the planet. "No, not precisely. Athos was one of the planets among the Alterian's strongholds that suffered the worst when the final Wraith siege began." She paused, awkwardly. "John and I had been on the Aurora when they were first sent the call for aide from Athos."
Ronon raised an eyebrow, expectant. "Yeah? And?"
The older John exhaled harshly, looking grim with the memory. "The Aurora hadn't been able to do anything to help."
Teyla looked about as pale as she could get without fainting. "That is… to be expected, I suppose. I grew up in the ruins of what must have been destroyed that day."
The older John sat back in his wheelchair, surprised. "You're from Athos?"
Teyla nodded, mutely.
He raised an eyebrow, looking at her with a thinly disguised expression of sympathy. "Small galaxy, huh?"
Then, they learned how the delegation ended – with spectacular fireworks that had nearly gotten everybody killed. Added in was a splash of more chaos, a betrayal, and more death, John was nearly struck speechless by the time they tagged the entire story with the details of their decision to sleep through millenniums to save this expedition. He couldn't imagine making that type of sacrifice, and although he knew he would if he had to, the stark evidence of it in his double's wrinkled face made the entire thing morbidly real. He swallowed through his dry throat, and tried to not to think too much about the sacrifices these two had made.
Elizabeth cleared her throat, and stood up at the crux of the curved conference table. "I think I speak for everyone here today…" She paused, glancing down at the tabletop, and took a moment to regroup. When she looked back up, she looked almost overwhelmed with emotion. "Words of gratitude seem utterly useless in this case."
Older-John grinned. "Dr. Elizabeth Weir, speechless. I never thought I'd live to see the day."
An aging feminine hand had enough strength in it to whack him in the shoulder. "Quiet, Major. I'm trying to say something."
Elizabeth shared a smile with her double, and then turned serious again. "We wouldn't be here without you. You sacrificed everything to save us. This seems inadequate as a response, but… thank you."
When the two were settled back into their beds and once again asleep, John propped his feet up against the edge of an empty nearby infirmary bed and pretended to fall asleep as well. Rodney was lying prone in another bed behind him, and up front, John pretended not to notice Elizabeth's vigil over their two guests. They both slumbered now, exhausted by ten thousand years of rest and one full day of activity. It had been an eventful twenty-four hours, to say the least.
He took a moment to thank whatever deity was up there that their doubles had left out any details of their personal lives in their narrative earlier today, especially with his teammates around to listen in. But the words omitted in their story still rang with crystal clear clarity in John's ears, and his imagination fixated on everything not said. For every pause and carefully placed word, John's mind supplied half a dozen insinuations into each one.
He suspected Elizabeth was doing the same thing, even if she kept up a good pretense. Besides Rodney, he doubted any one picked up on the slight shift in her behavior, and even if they did, she had the good excuse of being overwhelmed by the presence of her ten-thousand year old doppelganger as a cover. John knew that they'd have to confront this issue eventually, but for the time being, he was fully willing to let Elizabeth keep to herself for as long as she wanted. He wasn't sure what he'd say to her at this point anyway.
Hey, Elizabeth, you can't tell me you haven't ever considered us being like that, all couple-y, at least a few times since we came to Atlantis. 'Cause I sure as hell have.
'Cause I sure as hell have.
Yeah, he wasn't sure that would go over all too well. Elizabeth was all about protocol and propriety and regulations. She'd balk at the idea of anything more between them, which was largely why John never let his thoughts stray down that particular line of thought too far. Now, though, that door had been opened and John wasn't sure if he'd be able to shut it closed again. Staring at their doubles, even if they never overtly said or did anything, the implications of their relationship seemed to be the most salient thing he noticed about them. He knew, without even being told, that their relationship ran deeper than simply respect and co-dependency.
With a woman like Elizabeth, John knew it'd have to be.
"John," Elizabeth called quietly. "I know you're not asleep. Get up."
John blinked his eyes open, pretending to be groggy. "Yeah, what is it?"
"I think we need to give them some privacy," she said anxiously. "I think it's time. They… they want to say goodbye to each other."
He turned to catch sight of the older Elizabeth closing her eyes in exhaustion, and his own double's concerned reaction to it. Elizabeth began drawing the white curtains closed around them, and the last glimpse John got of them made him feel instantly miserable with an undeniable weight settling into his stomach like a solid block of lead.
They were about to die.
"Oh," John said dumbly. He took a deep breath himself, suddenly uncomfortable in his own skin. "So… privacy then?"
She quietly walked over to him, and glanced behind him at Rodney. "He asleep?"
John stared, scrutinizing, and confirmed it with a nod. "Dead to the world." And split-second later, he wished he hadn't said the "D" word out loud.
Mutely, Elizabeth nodded with a tight expression on her face, and then started walking towards the exit. John cast one last look at the white curtains drawn closed, and he could hear aged voices whispering to each other behind it. He thought he caught wind of the word "love" somewhere in there, and suddenly, there was another rush of tightness in his chest. He turned on his heels and followed Elizabeth out the door. Outside the infirmary, this late at night, it was just the two of them.
"I don't believe this is happening," Elizabeth said softly, pacing the corridor. John stood still and watched the tension build in her shoulders. "It's just too surreal, you know?"
He nodded, and then cleared his throat. "Elizabeth…" She stopped and looked at him, and it took a moment for him to recover sufficient courage to plow through. "You do realize we can't avoid the pink elephant in the room forever, right?"
She froze, and then said tightly, "What's to discuss, John? Those two in there," she said, shaking her head, "they're not us."
John licked his lips, looking away. "Yeah, no arguments there. But…" he trailed off. God, after everything he'd been through, he was still a complete coward when it came talking about his feelings. Even with Elizabeth. Especially with Elizabeth. He forced himself to look her in the eye, turning curious. "Have you ever thought about it?"
Elizabeth paused again, and then said faintly, "Thought about what?"
John gave her a look; the one that told her he knew she wasn't that oblivious. "You know what."
She closed her eyes briefly and looked away, emotions hovering too close to the surface for her to hide. She didn't even need to say anything, but John suddenly knew the answer. She had. Holy shit, she had thought about it. About them, like that. A rush of elation shot up his spine, and entirely without his command, he found himself stepping forward. She stepped back in retreat, and John realized immediately that he needed to back off.
He looked away, suddenly overwhelmed with nameless emotions. "I have, you know," he commented, lightly, as if he was talking about the weather. He turned back to look at her, eyes slowly turning serious as they locked onto hers. "I've thought about it. A lot."
She hesitated, unable to look away from him. "You have?"
The conversation was all subtext - about things not said - but then their entire relationship had developed that way. He wasn't sure where all of this was suddenly coming from, though, or why neither one of them was turning away when all logic should have demanded they stop this conversation right here and now. Elizabeth, especially, should have shut this conversation down under normal circumstances. Today wasn't normal. Seeing the possibility of what-if? played out so vividly before his eyes had thrown John for a loop. Apparently, by the look of things, he wasn't the only one.
When he stepped forward this time, she didn't step back. "I have."
Her lips parted to say something, but she seemed rendered speechless. Suddenly, his hands were sweaty like a teenager's, and his heart beat away in his chest so loudly he wondered if she could hear it. John found his eyes drawn to her parted lips, and the urge to kiss her turned sharply fierce. He'd entertained the fantasy more times than was probably healthy in the last few years, but in that second, it felt more real – more palpable - than any other time.
Silence settled between them, but John wasn't struggling for a way to cover it up. It was filled with everything they couldn't say – hadn't said to each other the years – and the silence was more telling than words. The knowledge that they both wanted this, both wanted the same thing, was born in that moment.
"John," she began, knowingly, feeling the same thing he was. "This is beyond stupid."
"Yeah," John agreed, and then thought – But some things are worth being stupid for. Before the opportunity slipped through his fingers, he impulsively invaded her space and found himself staring at her from a breath away. She didn't move. Hell, she barely even breathed. And John's normal flippant disposition was overridden by a wave of determination that turned his voice sober and serious. "But one of the first things I ever told you—" he said, licking his lips, "—was that I'd get us into all sorts of trouble."
And then he kissed her.
At first, she was immobile. John knew the repercussions and consequences of this were playing through her head just like it was through his, from the chain of command to the SGC to the decisions that would never be the same after this, but then she leaned into him and they were both instantly lost. As his mouth moved over hers, he could taste the hesitation slip away into oblivion, and acceptance and need quickly take its place.
There were few things in life that made John Sheppard feel like he was flying blind, free falling with no control whatsoever. This, he quickly found out, was one of them. Three years they'd been friends. Three years they'd relied on each other and grown closer and survived. It took him today to realize that it had always been more than that. His double may have been older, but John suddenly realized his wisdom came from other things. The lucky son of a bitch had this all along.
During the entire time, not far from them, another version of John and Elizabeth whispered parting words to each other with their last breaths… and then slipped away into their final slumber.
While one story ended, another was finally beginning.
Cause it's you and me and all of the people with nothing to do.
Nothing to prove.
And it's you and me and all of the people.
And I don't know why, I can't keep my eyes off of you.
What day is it? And in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive.
I can't keep up and I can't back down.
I've been losing so much time.
"You and Me"
(A/N: As cliched as it sounds, this song was literally the inspiration for this entire story.)