John left the infirmary still rubbing the one inch incision just below his ribs. The procedure had been quick and painless, just as McKay had promised, but it had been one of the hardest things John had ever done. After it was over, John had ducked around the curtain to take a look at his alter ego. Staring down at himself, a wave of envy engulfed him. The other's wife, Teyla, was asleep beside him, her head resting on her arms at the side of the bed. The son was fast asleep, snuggled up to his father on the other side. John impulsively reached down to run his fingers through the boy's curly hair and guiltily glanced up at the other Sheppard, who had awoken and was watching him. Snatching his hand back, John didn't know what to say – how to explain himself. Luckily, he didn't have to. The other Sheppard just smiled a crooked knowing smile, whispered thank you and fell back to sleep. John fled the scene after that.
Walking down the corridor, he was unsure where to go now. He hadn't been assigned quarters as everyone expected him to be leaving too soon to warrant them. Stopping briefly, he considered his options – which weren't many, glad that for the moment the MP that had been assigned him was nowhere in sight.
John turned swiftly as he heard light footsteps come up behind him.
Teyla Emmagan Sheppard looked up into face of the doppelganger of her husband and was speechless for a moment. They were exact duplicates physically. Shaking herself out of the momentary shock, she began to speak.
John immediately interrupted her, glancing at the floor. "I'm not a Colonel. I'm . . . out of the service."
Teyla's eyebrows rose at that bit of information. Her husband would have never left the air force or the Star Gate program. Looking into the eyes of the man in front of her, she noticed the first difference – his eyes. This man's eyes didn't hold the glint of humor, of joy, her husband's did. The eyes she was looking into held pain, and loss and the edge of something that unnerved her. Regardless she continued.
"Very well. John. I wanted to introduce myself and . . ."
" I know who you are. You're his wife, Teyla."
Teyla tried to catch John's eyes but they seemed determined to look anywhere but at her. "Yes, I am. I wanted to thank you for what you have done, not only for him and my son but for all the people of Atlantis. You can't realize how . . ."
"important he is," John interrupted again, a hardness creeping into his voice. "Yeah, I got that."
"I was going to say grateful to you, indebted I am." Teyla softly corrected. For some reason she couldn't explain, her heart hurt for this man so like her husband and yet not. Gently she placed both her hands on John's shoulders, looking him directly in the eyes. "You have saved my husband's life – kept my family intact. If there is anything I can ever do for you . . ."
Teyla's next words were cut off by a squeal as a bounding child ran towards John in a flash, flinging himself into the air. John caught the boy out of instinct and as Torren wrapped his arms around John's neck, John was stunned by the wave of emotion that rushed through him. Tightening his grip around the boy so not to drop him, John pulled the boy back to look into his face, so like his own. The boy looked back with shy eyes and a lopsided grin that John unconsciously mirrored.
John had to lean his head close to the boy's mouth so he could hear the quiet voice. "Daddy said you saved his life because that was what family does – help each other. He said you were family just like Unca Rodney and that I should thank you so . . . thank you," and the child leaned forward to kiss the startled Sheppard on a rough cheek.
Sheppard cleared his throat, blinking to remove the mist that had filmed his eyes. Smiling at the child and looking at his mother, he said, "Well little man, I did it to make your mother happy, cause you know if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
John was rewarded with a brilliant smile from both mother and child and Teyla reached up to pull John's head down. For a moment, John was afraid, and kinda hoping, that Teyla was going to kiss him but she simply touched his forehead to hers and closed her eyes. John also closed his eyes and allowed himself to enjoy the moment, the feeling of her skin on his, the weight of the child in his arms, the sweet smell of them both. But the moment was shattered by an unfamiliar voice.
"Well, well, Colonel. You recovered much more quickly than we anticipated." John jumped back, startled. Swinging around he took in the man in Athosian clothing now holding a blaster on him and Teyla. "and what a touching scene – back in the bosom of your family, I see."
"Teyla, take Torren," John said tensely, shoving the toddler back into his mother's arms and taking a protective stance in front of them both.
Teyla complied but looked over John's shoulder. "Sargeant Bates, what is the meaning of this?"
John glanced around, looking desperately for the MP that had been assigned to him earlier. Bates noticed and smiled menaceingly. "If you are looking for help, there's no one around this time of night. Now, Colonel, don't make me shoot that pretty wife and kid of yours. Just come along quietly and we will be out of here before anyone gets hurt."
"What do you want?" John asked in a growl, trying to stall.
"You, of course. Dr. McKay has not proven quite as helpful as we had hoped. But then, he was critically injured in the blast – hardly coherent I understand. How does that feel, by the way, leaving your best friend behind to die alone so you can live?"
John tried not to let his confusion show. He knew this guy had mistaken him for the alternate Sheppard but what was he talking about? Had the alternate Sheppard really abandoned Rodney, left him to die?
Instead of replying to the taunt, John pushed Teyla and Tagan back further away from the man. "So what's your plan?"
"First you are going to step away from your wife and child. Then you are going to come with me, quietly and order the gate technician to open the gate to a location of my choosing and we are going to step through. Simple, really."
At the wave of the pistol, John stepped away from Teyla, hoping to draw the man's eyes away from them. Just keep him talking, John thought, people are bound to come any moment.
"They won't open the gate for me or recognize my command here. The John Sheppard from this reality isn't in the military or even a part of the chain command."
Bates narrowed his eyes for a moment, sighed and instantly swung his blaster around, shooting Teyla and Torren from three feet away. Both crumpled to the ground.
"No!" John yelled lurching forward but he was too far away and the blaster was still trained on him. John tried to control the anger he could feel swirling up. If he lost control now, Teyla and Torren might die. He had to keep control.
Bates smiled his shark smile again and reached down. His eyes never left Sheppard's as he grasped Torren's small arm in his hand and hauled him up like a sack of potatoes. "Not to worry, Colonel. They are just stunned. I'm sure they will be fine – although I've never stunned anyone quite so small before."
John watched at Bates threw the unconscious boy up over his shoulder like a bag of dog food, his anger growing harder to control by the moment. "I'll kill you, you son of a bitch. I swear I will."
"Why Colonel, you don't usually lose your composure so easily. Perhaps you are not feeling as well as you look."
"Just put him down and I'll do whatever you want."
"You'll do what I want and THEN I will put him down," Bates replied pulling the child down into his arms making it look as if the child was merely sleeping against Bates' chest. The pistol swung around and was hidden under the child but John could see the muzzle buried in the child's stomach. He knew a second blast from point blank range would certainly kill him.
"Let's go," Bates ordered and John slowly moved, taking a position slightly in front of Bates. He had no idea how he was going to get out of this but he knew that the little boy that might have been his, that was his in another life, was going to make it out of this alive – if it was the last thing he ever did, he would make sure of that.
They had just entered the gate room when John was brought up short by Jack O'Neil. Jack's eyes narrowed at the peculiar scene, taking in the sleeping child in Bates' arms and the way Sheppard's eyes darted around the room, panicked in his pale face. Something wasn't right.
"Hey John," Jack summoned a smile to his face. "You're up awful late. I would have thought all those training sessions with Teal'c would have worn you out . . ."
John's eyes closed briefly in relief. Jack O'Neal hadn't missed a thing. In response, John replied, "Naw, I outweigh him by at least twenty pounds. It really wasn't a fair fight. Bates and I were just talking about taking a walk on the outside and wanted to know the best way out. We thought we do a favor for Teyla. Torren's been a little cranky and won't sleep unless you walk him – you know how kids are . . ."
John trailed off, waiting to see what Jack would do, waiting for any kind of signal. However, he was disappointed when Jack only said, "The best way is to head up the south tunnel. Sergeant Mackey will show you."
The Sergeant, clueless that anything was amiss, turned and said, "This way sir." Just as he and Bates turned to follow, three shots rang out. John turned again, crouching, barely able to catch Torren as he was dropped from Bates' hands. However, Bates didn't go down. John watched stupefied as the wounds closed themselves, as if they were never there. Bates shot back, stunning O'Neil and the gate tech. Mackey attacked him from behind but was thrown over the railing with inhuman strength.
Bates swung around again as the sirens of Atlantis began to wail. "Not smart, Colonel. Not smart at all." He jerked John up with a grip of steel and began punching in a code on the control panel.
"What the hell are you?" John gasped as he was drag down the stairs, towards the open stargate.
Bates glanced at him suspiciously and John realized he was supposed to know. Gasping again as if trying to catch his breath, he continued, " . . .going to do? What do you want?"
"We're going home." Bates replied roughly pulling John up the ramp. John struggled but Bates' grip never faltered. As they reached the top, the doors to the control room opened and twenty marines burst through the door followed by McKay and Beckett. John screamed over his shoulder, "Doc, Torren - control room," Beckett only hesitated a moment before shooting up the stairs towards the boy, McKay hot on his heals.
"McKay Stop!" Bates thundered pulling Sheppard up in front of him and holding the weapon to his head. McKay immediately froze on the stairs looking down at Bates and Sheppard. "Disengage that worm hole and I'll kill him right in front of you, I swear," Bates threatened.
"What do you even want with him?" McKay asked anxiously, slowly coming back down the stairs. "He's not even . . ."
"McKay!" John shouted, cutting Rodney off, afraid he would blow the ruse. "Rodney," he said more quietly, more intently, "it's okay. It's better this way. Just . . . take care of Teyla and Torren."
Seeing the frustration and concern on Rodney's face, John actually smiled. At least Rodney would miss him. That understanding plus the fact that Teyla and Torren were safe somehow made it okay.
John wasn't sure but he thought he heard Rodney shout his name just before he was pulled through the gate and that knowledge gave him some comfort, as he knew no more.