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22 March 2008 @ 11:11 pm
Story - Eternity: Ch. 1  
Title: Eternity
Rating: T
Characters: Sheppard, some team, various OCs
Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate: Atlantis
Synopsis: “There are a lot of galaxies out there. Lots of worlds to explore. Things we can't possibly begin to imagine. If... if you... survive, if you make it back in our lifetime, find me, okay? Because I want to hear all about it.”

Warning: Future fic with character deaths and an OC pairing. That's right, I paired someone with an OC! But it's not so much a pairing as a deep friendship, and though it plays an important part, it is not the center of the story. This is a possible end to the adventure... and yet, is an adventure fic, because you know John would keep going until he could go no more. One tiny, possible spoiler for season five, but not really a spoiler depending on the outcome – more a brief speculation

A/N: This story is a manifestation of irony in that it contains things (as mentioned in the warning) that I thought I would not, and would not ever want, to write. It quite surprised me, it really did, the hold this story had on me. Tightest hold of any story since my first completed original fic. So I ask you, kind reader – whatever your stand on future fics, AUs and character deaths – that you might give this story a chance.

Finally, I would like to thank

wildcat88 and coolbreeze1 for betaing and pointing out inconsistencies.




To see the World in a grain of sand

And Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

~ Augeries of Innocence by William Blake

The Ha'kaard were one step below the Ori and one above the Wraith: rebel Ancients who entered the Pegasus Galaxy extending their hand in peace... to the Asurans. The race could sell ice to Eskimos because they somehow convinced the Asurans – by bowing, apologizing, reprogramming - not to kill them, but to join them, and together they went on a murder spree, ridding the galaxy of the Wraith's food source.

Maybe the Ha'kaard had been another Ancient project – another brood of neglected and pissed-off offspring looking to make the favorite children pay. They could wipe out a planet in a day but extended it to two days just for the hell of it.

In turn, the Wraith became desperate, and the Ha'kaard and Asurans more pissed when planets were evacuated and their victims sent to another galaxy far, far away. There were two roads to the Milky Way – only one road a short-cut that the Asurans could rebuild even if it were blasted down to its molecules, and the Ha'kaard could use to increase their kill-rate in two galaxies - and now it was the SGC's turn to give in to desperation.

They had a plan, one that began with the official dismantling of the Atlantis expedition.


Sheppard wondered if this was what the captain of the Titanic had felt like. He stepped back from the balcony rail after the Daedalus shot into the sky, shrinking into the distance – gray dot to gray speck to nothing. He then turned and rushed into the control center in time to see the last group go through the 'gate.

Taking off at a run to the chair room, John tapped his comm. “McKay? Time's up, buddy. The gate's not going to stay open much longer.”

McKay's voice was irately tight when he replied, “Two more damn minutes!”

John's long strides eating up the distance brought him to the chair room in less than two minutes. Rodney was still crouched on the floor, typing at impossible speeds, and Teyla was crouched next to him with a baby in one arm, small case of tools in the other, and a fat satchel strapped to her back.

“McKay!” John called. “The Wraith are going to be here any minute so hurry your ass up!”

“I would think it obvious that I am hurrying!” Rodney barked back. He gave the enter key a hard jab, the laptop beeped, and Rodney's mouth stretched in the biggest, most manic grin he'd ever worn. “Done! Everything's been rerouted to the chair: sensors, diagnostics, communications, you name it. But I will not be held responsible for any brain aneurysms that may result.”

“Good,” John said. He grabbed Rodney's arm and gave the man a hard yank to his feet. “Now get the hell out of here!” He helped Teyla a little more delicately but with just as much urgency, hustling both remaining teammates toward the door.

“Wait, wait!” Rodney said, whipping around. “I...”

“Rodney,” John growled, “no time.”

“I know! I know. I just...” there was an unmistakable waver to his voice that he cleared up by coughing, “want to make sure to say good-bye this time, all right?” He held out his hand. “Good-bye, John.”

Rolling his eyes, John took the hand and was abruptly pulled into an embrace, a big hand slapping his back, leaving him too startled to know how he should react. Rodney didn't give him the chance, releasing him for Teyla to pull him down by the shoulder until their foreheads touched. He could see the glitter of moisture on her eyelashes.

“Good-bye, John,” she said.

Despite, and maybe in spite of, the urgency, he allowed this. For a moment that he wished was an eternity, he didn't want to move away. Just for a moment, he wanted to deafen his ears to the alarms, the pounding of his heart, roar of his blood and the voice screaming in his head to hurry the hell up. He wanted to linger, just for a moment, with what was left of his family.

He didn't have a moment so he forced himself to pull away, and it hurt like a punch to the gut. He kissed Teyla's son on his fuzzy dark head then gave her a gentle shove out the door.

John imagined this to be the part where Ronon would crush the breath out of him in a bear hug, had the Satedan been alive. He wondered if Rodney's hug had been an act of proxy. The physicist had never been quick to succumb to the need for physical contact.

“I... I could go... I...” McKay stammered.

“Rodney,” John said, firm but soft, “we already discussed this. You can't come. The world needs you; it doesn't need me.”

The broad shoulders lifted in an awkward shrug. “Not really,” McKay said with a nervous chuckle.

John smiled. Rodney was so much like a little brother at times – hard to get rid of, not that John wanted to. “Really. Trust me on that.”

Rodney sighed, defeated, resigned, and obviously hating it. “So... this is it. Really, is it?”

“Yes, Rodney, it is.” John wanted to shove him out the door but, as with Teyla, wanted even more to linger and hope seconds lasted as long as minutes. “Good ride, though.”

“It was, wasn't it?” Rodney said, as if they really did have all the time in the world to discuss this. Except they didn't if Rodney was to escape the city and John was to take Atlantis into space and a galaxy even farther away where no one could find her.

“Listen,” McKay said, and John flinched, feeling each passing second like insects on his skin. “There are a lot of galaxies out there. Lots of worlds to explore. Things we can't possibly begin to imagine. If... if you... survive, if you make it back in our lifetime, find me, okay? Because I want to hear all about it.”

John nodded, placating, but still broadened his smile. “I'll do that.” He then, finally, shoved Rodney out the door. “Now haul ass!”

Rodney broke into a run down the corridor, waving farewell as he went. “Explore the hell out of the universe, Sheppard!”

“Count on it!” John called back. He darted back to the chair and threw himself into it, heart thudding when he briefly believed the recline might flip him backwards. Even in the chaos he allowed himself a grin over the fact that sitting in a chair was what had brought him to this moment – kicking him from one galaxy to another and now to yet another. Closing his eyes, his body stiffened when thousands of systems flooded his brain, disorienting him until he found a focal point that forced the rest of the demands for attention into a semblance of order. He powered up the star-drive, sucking in a sharp breath from the surge of three fully-charged ZPMs coursing through Atlantis like adrenaline, and the city shivered as it lifted.

“Good luck, Sheppard,” he heard Rodney's voice over the comm. The gate shut down, and flooded as he was with information, John's gut still twisted. He was alone in a city about to bolt to another unexplored galaxy where the Wraith, Asurans, and the Ha'kaard would never find it. His choice, his final act of defiance against two galaxies gone to hell.

The sensors told John when the city was in space and the proximity of the Wraith just now pulling out of hyperspace. John grinned, terrified and malicious.

“See ya,” he muttered. John opened up his own window and ran.


It took two months to stumble onto a habitable planet, and he couldn't decide whether to be relieved or concerned. Habitable was really a relative term. The mound of violet-blue moss he was standing on felt precariously soft, and he didn't like the looks of the red-thorned vines and purple spiked pods hanging from the mud-green trees. The shrubs, if they were shrubs, were a cluster of oozing transparent spheres crawling with oozing transparent centipedes that made the flesh try to cower off his bones. John hightailed it back into the 'jumper and off the planet before his stomach tried to eject his lunch.

He entered the planet's designation in red on the database. Once again, he was forced to experiment for dinner. The Athosian raul beast-jerky pizza was, thankfully, a hell of a lot more palatable than the raul beast jerky pot-pie in chicken gravy.


The second planet – found after only three weeks of searching – was an Earth clone to a certain extent. It was a very Sound of Music setting: mountains, green hills, pine trees, birds. John was too nervous not to notice the way the birds avoided the trees so he took their unspoken advice and stayed away from them as well. A short walk over a rise brought him to the grazing herd of one-horned, reptile-deer he'd spotted flying over. John immediately dropped to his stomach, took aim, and brought two of the deer down – one for him, another for any predator looking for a quick meal. The herd took off running, some of them so scared stupid they veered too close to the forest, and the branch of a pine turned suddenly serpentine and lashed out like a whip around the bony leg of a repto-deer. It flung the poor creature up and over into the forest, provoking a feeding frenzy that got the trees swaying and shushing. The terrified trumpeting of the repto-deer ending in a liquid gurgle made John's stomach turn. He moved fast in grabbing the first carcass, dragging it back to the 'jumper and getting off that world.

The designation was marked in orange.

John decked himself out in a hazmut suit to gut and carve up the repto-deer. He took skin, meat and blood samples to the lab and analyzed the hell out of them. Carson and Dr. Keller would have been proud of him. John was just glad the medical personnel had been absent-minded enough to leave the “how-to” manuals lying around.

John sneered at the results. “Son of a...” The blood contained several toxins that no amount of nuking in a microwave or charring on the stove would get rid of: chemicals only the predatory trees were immune to, obviously. John gathered the carefully butchered meat and chucked it out the nearest air lock. Tonight, more raul beast-jerky pizza.


Planet number three, five weeks to find, was a little more promising. The locals were primitive reptile-apes in loin-cloths brandishing bone-tools. John observed them within the safety of the cloaked 'jumper, watching with mild fascination as the scaled apes lumbered in and out of caves, smashing the skulls of some kind of three-legged furry bird-thing and bugs, and mass-killing a cross between a hippo and a gopher. Their vegetable diet consisted of berries from a dark-green bush and wild tubers.

John took one of each animal back, including, much to his disgust, several insects. In the end, to his further disgust, only the insects were palatable to a human digestive tract. The rat had some kind of disease, and John wasn't going to tempt fate. The hippo-gopher, it seemed, had to be cut up like it was fugu or risk opening one of the many toxic sacks throughout the carcass. The berries contained a lot of unknown chemicals that John didn't feel safe putting into his system.

That planet's designation was marked in yellow.

Dinner was bugs that John ate with his eyes closed, pretending it was lobster. “You have no idea the kind of bullet you dodged, McKay,” he mumbled around a mouthful of not-crustacean.


John liked the desert world he'd christened Dune, with its giant sand-worms that were more like sand-dragons arching high over the pale hills. He wondered if it was possible to ride them, just like in the book, and could easily imagine Ronon wanting to try... after he shot one and cut it up to see if it was edible. John didn't feel it necessary to go as far as the latter since those things were way too big, not to mention pack oriented. Killing one could easily bring down the wrath of the rest of the tribe, which could swallow him and the 'jumper whole.

Besides, he preferred watching them glide through the sand, sinuous as pale-orange dolphins. Then there was the sunset, all rich yellow, orange, hot-pink and violet fading to blue fading to starry black. John had spent four days on this world, hunting the rodents that scurried over the rocks where he sat, and he wasn't anxious to leave. The rodents were good if you managed to scrape enough meat off of them. Fried in a little oil, they tasted kind of like chicken.

A cool breeze curling around the back of John's neck made him wonder if Rodney was back to working at Area Fifty-One. McKay would have hated this world, muttering under his breath about sunburns and skin cancer as he layered on the Coppertone.

The image put a rueful smile on his face.


The ocean world, surprisingly, scared the hell out of John when a whale bigger than the psychic fish on Lantea tried to swallow him like a dog chomping down on a flea. He barely missed rubbery lips flattening the 'jumper and pulled Gs he could feel even through the dampeners when he shot into the sky away from that gaping mouth widening after him. Therefore, Waterworld's designation was in red.


The natives of the heavily forested “Endor” weren't cute, fuzzy and chatty. They were tall, thin, tight-lipped dinosaurs: a cross between humans and Gallimimus. John saw them watching him as he shot down three mini-ostriches. When they didn't throw their spears at him or try to take the birds away, Sheppard felt it safe to make contact. He moved toward them, waving, only for them to wander idly off as though the show were over and there was nothing left to see. He followed them, and they let him. He wandered through their village of leaf and mud huts, and they ignored him, children included though not without a few fleeting, inquisitive glances.

John felt suddenly sick and irrational with loneliness. He rushed up to the nearest dino-person, reaching out to them, just to touch them and feel the solidity of another sentient being. The dino-man swerved slickly out of his reach. So he turned his attention to a dino-woman crouched by a fire as she wove reeds into a basket, but when John headed for her, she rose with a grace that would make a ballerina envious and slipped into her hut.

John scowled. “A guy can get self-conscious being around you people,” he muttered, because it was wiser than lashing out and getting a spear through the chest rather than a clasp to the hand. He left, finally taking the hint. He designated the planet in yellow and added a small note on the natives. Stuck up dino-men.

John sat in Teyla's room, on her bare bed among the clay pots and candles she couldn't take with her. Her son's crib had been shoved into a corner to make room for a hasty evacuation.

“I was never good at being diplomatic,” he said. “I still wonder if talking about Ferris wheels and football made you wonder if I was stupid or nuts. But I don't think even you could have made the dino-men talk. Must be prejudiced against mammals or something.”

The image of Teyla's patient and sympathetic smile in his mind was as clear as the real thing.


John risked going a little further from the cataloged planets and his food source. Days became weeks that morphed into months, whittling his food supply down to the bare minimum. Most of Atlantis' supplies had been loaded onto the two Earth ships for evacuation, and all John had left were MREs and jerky. He made them last by cutting his meals to two a day, then one, then one every other day and still no planet with game to hunt. Days had less to do with hours on a clock and more to do with the tightening of his belt and the clarity of his ribs. The times his chest clenched in need for company seemed ridiculous and selfish in retrospect because real suffering was when it wasn't just him.

Every other day became every two days, and only half an MRE to have something for later. John's whole body shook with the need for better nutrients; his mind hazed, blurring the screens he stared at as he waited for the sensors to tell him of gravitational-pulls and energy output that could only come from a solar system.

Three months since leaving Pegasus, and a whole week without food was when the proximity alarms sounded, and not because of a planet or sun. It sluggishly pulled him from the fog of gut-aches, weak limbs and a starving brain to stare, gaping, at the screen telling him of two ships heading his way.

And that's how he found the first planet with advanced, sentient lifeforms willing to actually talk to him.


Eekala was like a combination of Teyla and Carson – obsessive about breaking the language barrier, patient as she coaxed John from his skittish shell of solitude, and fussy as she helped him down the road to health. Deciphering phonetic rhythms, definition and dichotomy of their two languages, some days, seemed easier than finding foods that wouldn't hurt Sheppard and touching him on the shoulder without him jumping out of his skin. When her people had found him after he'd folded to desperation and delirium, as they boarded, his manic giddiness had shifted immediately to terror over what he had done – these were strangers, aliens, babbling in a tongue there was no way to translate, and he'd happily let them onto Atlantis without a second thought.

The only reason they'd been able to get him into their sick bay was because he'd passed out while trying to run. He'd woken to Eekala brushing back his hair as she spoke softly and cooed gibberish to him, shushing him when he'd panicked over the cool, solidity of her fingers against the skin of his forehead. It was her constant worry that calmed him enough not to succumb to anxiety attacks – hostile aliens didn't fret over the condition of the victims they planned to dissect.

Eekala was a fast learner, and her culture was so immersed in technology that half the work of translating John's language was handled by computers so sensitive and sophisticated they would have made even Hermiod's bulbous head spin. It took eight weeks for Eekala to say her first English words.

“No hurt. Help. Stay... us, help, you.”

Everything on Eekala's world was pristine perfection: silver spires a geometric paragon, hover-crafts, transporters, climate-control, and plain clothes of white and beige more about functionality than fashion. Eekala, tall, lithe, silver-haired and silver-eyed, preferred white robes to pants and tunics. She found John's hair fascinating, dark hair completely unheard of among her kind.

“Eet like sky... at dark...” she told him in her forced English. “Eet pret-ty.” She was taller than him, smarter than him, and yet so much like a child – bright-eyed and easily fascinated: a romantic dreamer who saw only beauty and shining tomorrows. She loved wandering the halls of Atlantis but loved even more that it had once floated on an ocean. Sheppard had had the feeling, on first meeting Eekala's people and seeing their webbed hands, that they might have once been aquatic.

Eekala equally adored showing John her planet, taking him for long walks down flagstone paths winding through the many gardens within the city, like walking through Central Park in a perpetual fall, with not a single leaf on the ground. She took him to shops selling art and antiques, museums, libraries, concert halls and introduced him to people of great importance, such as her father who ruled the city. Eekala was his tenth child out of thirty. He liked to joke that John was her “pet,” which was meant as a compliment because the natives only kept what they truly cared about.

“She is kind – my daughter; sometimes to fault,” he said of her, his tone amused but his expression subdued like any parent worrying over the consequences of their children forming attachments. Eekala blushed and glared as she translated.

She showed him the hospital and incubation room with row after row of eggs cocooned in heated and cushioned bassinets. John had had the niggling feeling that Eekala and her kind weren't mammals, and the fact that John was warm-blooded fascinated Eekala to no end, and worried her. She was a linguist, anthropologist, and archaeologist (or so John interpreted from her descriptions) not a biologist. The controlled climate and clothes functioned to keep the inhabitants perpetually warm during the day and cool during the night when they rested, and she fretted over John being too hot or too cold.

“Mammals control their own temperature,” John assured her during supper. He smiled. “If I'm cold, I'll just throw on a sweater.” In order to monitor his health, Eekala insisted he stay with her.

“You should no have to be cold,” Eekala replied. Her English was forever improving, which was good because no way could John mimic the clicking, chirping dialect of these people (he could barely pronounce Eekala's name, and couldn't begin to pronounce the name of her race). “I keen fix your room so alone it warm. I keen do that, I keen.”

John shook his head. “No, that's okay. I'm good, comfortable, trust me. My kind are designed to survive in all kinds of climates. The climate on your world is perfect. And I mean really, really perfect.”

Eekala smiled and leaned forward with an eager look. “What your world... like?”

“Schizophrenic,” he said, grinning at Eekala's confused look. He explained to her the plethora of weather, temperatures and climate zones. He described to her green trees and grass, blue mountains and seas, jungles, cities, open fields and golden deserts, finding objects with colors similar to what he described. In turn, this led to him describing his kind, causing Eekala to grimace at the idea of humans developing within their mothers' bellies instead of within an egg.

“You miss world?” She asked.

“I miss certain things on my world,” John said, prodding the gelatinous blue blob that was the easiest food for him to digest. Eekala's people had stomachs like vultures - much of their meat was left out to rot on purpose. “Like pizza, helicopters, surfing.” He grinned. “Ferris wheels.”

“You kind,” she stated with melancholy certainty, “you miss.”

John looked down at his clear glass plate and wiggling meal. There'd been a time so long ago that it felt like a dream when he'd been happy in his solitude. He remembered how it had been easier, how it had hurt less than putting up with losing people and never getting them back.

He thought of Ronon convulsing when the blast of a weapon held by an enemy worse than the Wraith had brought him down for good. It had been the first time in a long time John had cried - silently, privately - because he couldn't stop himself. He'd hated that pain, hated – for two heartbeats – Ronon for reminding him why a solitary life was easier. But, damn it, he wouldn't trade having known Ronon for anything, not even relief from the pain that still scraped behind his breast bone. Elizabeth, Carson, Teyla, Rodney: dead or alive.

Crap, he missed them.

“Yeah,” John said. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“You... see them again, someday?”

John looked up into the silver eyes shining with hope for him, and his smile turned wistful. “Maybe.” As Rodney always said of him, he was an optimistic SOB addicted to hope. He liked the idea of going back when there was no more Wraith or Ha'kaard, like a promise or reward. Something to look forward to despite the fact that it would never happen. John was just that stubborn.

The days were four hours longer on Eekala's world, making early to bed, early to rise literal for John. He slept while the sun was still up and awoke when it was still dark and the rest of the city slept. He hadn't intended to stay for so long – only a few days that had turned into three weeks as Eekala learned his language and built up his strength. Three weeks morphed into a month, then two months, when the very thought of wandering aimlessly in the void of space, alone, with no known destination and not knowing how long his food supply would last, made his stomach curdle. He was content to stay among Eekala's people, among new friends, company, safety and surety.

It wasn't like there was any place else he could go.


It took seven years for John to realize something was wrong. Since then, he'd landed Atlantis on the outskirts of the city, in a clearing, returning to it in the evening while he worked in a shop during the day. Eekala had made him a translator that he always kept in his pocket, turning the clicks and shrills of the local's language into broken English scrolling across the screen, and his English – he safely assumed – into the broken local language (although Eekala was forever tweaking the device closer toward perfection). The people were friendly, at worst gawking at his dark hair and hazel eyes. Other than that, he might as well have been one of them. He had friends who invited him to their version of a bar where he drank water as they drank a clear liquid that had left Sheppard puking for two days straight the one time he'd tried the stuff. Eekala was his best friend, whom he always had dinner with, took walks with, and talked cultures with.

Everything was fine, peaceful, leaving him in a constant state of contentment over spending the rest of his life here – his retirement spot.

Then he looked into the mirror, and after seven years of having seen that same face staring back, puckered his brow over why the hell his sideburns and stubble weren't gray. There should have been gray along the edges, a few extra wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and deeper lines around his mouth. He'd seen himself at fifty on the videos of his torture by Kolya (viewed as part of the final session with Heightmeyer, per his request) and he was supposed to be gray. But his contentment made him settle for the excuse of it being the air, water, food, whatever.

Then he turned fifty, his appearance still not a day over forty-one. He let his confusion get the better of him and confronted Eekala about it over dinner.

“It is a gift,” she said, smile bright and silver eyes alight as she swirled transparent pasta onto her two-pronged fork. “You will live for a long time, now. Many thousands of cycles around the sun. And because you will live forever, you can see your people, again. That is why you have not aged.”

John froze with his fork halfway back to his plate. “Forever?”

Eekala nodded like an excited little girl. “Yes, forever.”

The fork slid from John's numb fingers, bouncing off the plate onto the table with a ringing clatter of metal and glass. “What... what... how? how can you...? How is that even possible? How did you..?”

“When you lived with me, I gave you an injection as you slept. You did not feel it; it moves through your pores. It is what you call an... organism? A plant. It never dies unless you kill it. It just regrows and regrows. We have changed it in two ways – one to heal, one to stop aging. Many wish not to age so they can live long and pass their wisdom on to many generations. You will now live long to see your people again.”

When John didn't answer, only stared and gaped, Eekala's smile slowly faded. “It is good,” she said. Asking, reassuring - John couldn't tell.

Good. Was it good? Wasn't it supposed to be good? Wasn't that what most of humanity longed for – extra years to do the things they'd wished they had done when they were younger, but with the wisdom of being older?

John's head began to shake, slowly, from side to side. Was it good? Because it sure as hell didn't feel good. “Eekala, I...” She'd injected him with a foreign substance without consent, made assumptions about his needs based on a moment of melancholy. How could that possibly be good?

Crap, what if he'd prattled on about wanting to die?

John's heart shrank back from his ribs, his stomach shriveling, killing his appetite until he thought he was going to puke back up what he’d eaten. She'd injected something into him, and he never knew.


A foreign... alien... substance. What if it had reacted differently to his body, altering his cells, his DNA – the retrovirus all over again but with no reversing cure? John looked at Eekala, into her large, innocent eyes bleeding concern and worry and anticipation of gratitude. John didn't think when he rose from his seat with an abrupt force that knocked the chair over and backed away from her.

He gasped, “You changed me?”

Eekala shook her head, silver hair flying. “No, not change. You will not age; that is all. The organism will not hurt you. It does not hurt anyone. I made sure… I made sure it would not harm you. I tested it on your blood, what we collected when you were hungry and sick. I made sure. This is a good thing, John. A very good thing...”

John's shook his head with vehemence. “No. No, it's not a good thing, Eekala. You should have asked me first. What you did... you don't do that to someone, not without letting them know, not without asking first.”

“It is an honor among my people,” she said, still so jovial, so hopeful that John would see reason and finally thank her. She rose, moving toward him, reaching out for him. “Few can afford the serum. To receive it by the hands of another is a great gift.” She stopped when John stepped back. “You have many cycles ahead of you to return home. You can see your kind again.”

John backed up further until his spine hit the wall by the door, and he slid down it to the floor as he scrubbed both hands through his hair. He never could learn when to keep his mouth shut, to check his words and read between the lines of what came out of his lips.

“I can't go back, Eekala,” he breathed, and it was like taking a sledgehammer to all his false hopes. “I can never go back, not in my lifetime, not ever.”

Eekala crouched in front of him, placing a long-fingered hand on his knee. The coolness of her skin bled through the thin cloth of his pants, into his skin, making him shiver. As much as he wanted to pull away, he forced himself to keep still, reminding himself with words brittle as ash that Eekala was naïve, culturally different. She didn't know. Couldn't have known.

She still should have asked.

“I told you about our enemies,” John continued. “Wraith, Replicators, Ha'kaard. If I go back, they'll take Atlantis and use it against us. They don't even need the entire ship. Just one piece, nothing bigger than a grain of sand, and they can rebuild it and use it to destroy us. Bringing it to this galaxy was the only way to keep my kind safe.” He locked his gaze onto Eekala's, and she stiffened at the intensity of it.

John swallowed. He forced the words, the last hammer blow, through his throat. “I can never go back.”

Eekala's hand slid from his knee.

“You should have asked,” John said. “You should have...”

The girl's eyes shimmered like solid quicksilver. “I...” Fluttering eyelids fought the tears. “I used what was meant for me. I...” She blinked, the tears rolled, then she fled through the door with her face in her hands.

John sat there breathing through the guilt, confusion, anger, and uncertainty squeezing his chest. He wanted to be mad, couldn't be mad, so he settled for numb just so he could draw in air.


The “organism” synthesized into the anti-aging serum was difficult, therefore expensive, and it had taken Eekala twenty years to save up enough of their local currency to buy it. This left her family, her father and several brothers and sisters, in an awkward position. To sacrifice the serum for another was the epitome of selfless acts – the ultimate honor, just as Eekala had said. No one asked to receive this honor because everyone wanted it, and for John to show no gratitude... he might as well have spit in Eekala's face and shoved her down.

But John was of another culture, other rules, and Eekala and her family tried to respect that, they really did. Conversations became stilted, backs rigid whenever John entered a room, and many refused to make eye contact with him. They were a kind, open people, but they had their ways, John had his, and he was surprised a culture clash hadn't materialized sooner.

He tried to fix it. Most of what he earned he gave to Eekala, only to have it refused.

“It is her mistake,” her father explained. “And she is willing to live with it.” He added, with a sad smile, “She has always been too eager to help. Far too eager her whole life. Kind to a fault, no?” It didn't seem fair, right, that something so simple as not asking had cost her so much. John gave the currency to one of her brothers instead, who took it without a lot of hope.

“By the time she earns enough to purchase another,” he said, “even with what you make added, she will be at an age where she will not want to take it.”

And Eekala, to be around her; see her forced smile that never reached her sorrowful eyes; making himself ignore that he had become an ever-present reminder of what she had lost; pretending she hadn't put him in the position of either outliving his friends or killing himself if he wanted to die; ripped little pieces from his heart day by day.

So he left, against Eekala begging him not to, thinking she was driving him away. It made him feel like a coward, avoiding the mess he'd made because he couldn't clean it up. But he didn't know what he could do to make it better.

The day he picked to leave, five weeks after Eekala's revelation, Eekala walked with him to the edge of the city where he'd set the 'jumper.

“I'm not mad at you, Eekala,” he told her.

She smiled a small smile that made her seem years older, like a child having grown up in a day. “I know. You have told me ten times, now.”

“And it's okay to be mad at me.”

She shook her head. “I am not.” Her hand on his arm stopped him, and both turned to look at each other. “I do not think you cannot go back. Not now, yes, but, later, perhaps? I still think this is a good thing, John Sheppard. And I hope it becomes a good thing for you.”

John took her hand in his. “Maybe,” though he didn't really believe it. He smiled anyway. “And maybe I'll come back to visit, bring you something so interesting and awesome you can use it to buy another serum.”

“Maybe,” she said, her smile a little less heavy and a little more bright. “I do want you to come back when you are ready. It will be good.”

John chuckled. “Yeah, it will.” He released her hand and boarded. After taking off, he swung the 'jumper around to wave farewell and to see Eekala's return wave. Then he left.


Because there had been no hostility, only confusion, Eekala and her family had provided John with crates full of packaged, freeze-dried meat and a few potted plants that grew edible fruits and vegetables. The bigger addition was to the database: star charts and information of planets to check out and planets to avoid.

John had to admit, having supplies and a map made that vast void outside all the windows a hell of a lot more tolerable. He shoved thoughts of wandering for eternity, and initiating the self-destruct sequence when he became sick of eternity, to the back of his mind. With or without an anti-aging serum, he still had plenty of years ahead of him, and he'd never been the kind to waste anything.

“Bet you would have been all kinds of hyper about getting an anti-aging drug,” John said to the blank walls of Rodney's room. He was sitting on the edge of a prescription mattress, facing the general area where Rodney had kept Carson's turtles that not even the chaos of evacuation could force him to leave behind. “All that time to finish theories you thought couldn't be solved in a lifetime?”

John liked indulging in the wistful fantasy of people leaving invisible footprints, creating invisible connections every place they walked and with everything they touched. And through these connections, John would talk, and Rodney, Teyla – even Ronon – would hear.

“So, can I come back yet?”

No answer.

The only problem with the connections was that they were one way.


To Chapter two


Current Mood: anxiousanxious
negolith2: Shep whistfulnegolith2 on March 23rd, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
And off John goes, in his high tech Flying Dutchman....

This first chapter gave me goosebumps and a lump in my throat. Whoa....

Yeah, I can see why this grabbed hold.
titan5titan5 on March 24th, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)
This is completely amazing. It is so real and so frightening and so sad. The emotions and loneliness and frustration at the misunderstanding are all so perfectly woven into the story. I can't stop reading, even as I reach out for the box of tissues. I must go read more (you know, instead of doing lesson plans like I'm supposed to be doing).
drufandrufan on March 24th, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
This is amazing! Totally different, completely entrancing, just awesome. Had to stop and tell you.
reen212000reen212000 on March 24th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
Wow! This is nicely different for you! The exploration of John Sheppard as a real person who gets lonely and desperate and melancholy is always a win for me. And him choosing the rooms of his teammates depending on the situation.

But.. I'm sad for him! I love it.
(Anonymous) on April 13th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
Can't wait to get involved
Hey - I am really delighted to discover this. Good job!