Secondary Author (2ndary_author) wrote,
Secondary Author
2ndary_author

"lost in this world"

Title: Somewhere Else, Not Here
Author: 2ndary_author
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Characters: Sheppard/McKay, OC
Rating: PG-17
Length: just over 2100 words
Notes: epigraph by John Thorne; written for the doppelganger challenge at sga_flashfic

 (and why does that formatting never work?) but contains no physical doppelganger, so literalists might want to think of this as a very belated entry for the Return challenge
Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, only the words are mine.

Summary: It’s This is Your Life, right here next to the Lucky Charms.

 


"The dream of stepping through the looking glass is even older than the looking glass itself and has nothing to do with entering an inverse of the space we already too much inhabit…Forced always to look out of ourselves at the world, we long for a chance—just once—to be on the outside, looking in."



John stands in the cereal aisle in the base PX in Colorado Springs.  He’s already got microwave popcorn for Teyla in his shopping basket. Starburst for Ronon, who fills his pockets with them and makes the Athosian kids impossibly delicate origami-style boats out of the wrappers.  He wants to introduce them to the marvels of marshmallow cereal, but there are roughly a million more brands than there were last time he was on Earth for a personnel review.  He’s debating the cultural sensitivity of bring something that features goofy cartoon aliens when someone behind him says—“Major?  Major Sheppard?

John turns around, sees a vaguely familiar-looking guy, buzz cut, maybe twenty-eight, with a baby carrier strapped into his shopping cart.  Before he can dredge up the name, the guy’s shaking his hand—“Mike!  Mike Frane.  From down in Texas?  Wow, small world, running into you here!”

It takes a moment, but John does remember Mike Frane.  Michael C. Frane, from Brightman, Arkansas, seconded to the mechanics division at Lackland AFB.  Mikey from Texarkana, who had joined the Army three days after graduating Brightman Memorial High, because ever since getting a kit for Christmas the year he was seven, all he wanted to do is build fighter jets.  Of course, Mike hadn’t realized that the US armed forces don’t let you do that straight out of high school.  John, a couple years older and always spending more time in hangars than in the officers’ mess, had been the one to notice the homesick kid with the red-dirt accent.  He’d smoothed the way with a couple of old-timers, mechanics who knew more about aeronautics than any NASA engineer, letting Mikey tag along and ask stupid questions.  When the time was right, he’d left some papers lying around—applications, scholarship stuff.  It was no more than he’d done for a dozen guys over time, strays too stubborn to ask for help but smart enough to grab what they wanted when they saw it.  It’s been, like, ten years since John even thought about Mikey Frane, and he’s not quite sure what to say. It’s This is Your Life, right here next to the Lucky Charms.

The baby starts squalling and John’s social skills are rusty enough, but he finds himself saying, “Oh, is she yours?” Which is dumb, because who else’s would she be?  But everybody on any planet John’s ever visited likes to talk about their kids, and Mike is no exception: “This is Emma.  Say hello to the Major, Emma.”  Emma obligingly blows a spit-bubble.

“You must be very proud,” John says, because that’s what people say at times like this, right? 

He must be right, because Mike beams at him. “Oh, yeah! Sarah made an honest man of me…what, four years ago this summer?” Mike asks the cereal rhetorically. “She’s dropping our oldest off at pre-school and me and Emma, we’re on KP,” he jokes.

“Well.  That’s great.  That’s, uh, wonderful!”  John thinks he actually remembers Sarah—or, rather, remembers a blonde girl whose picture Mikey carried in his wallet and showed to anyone who expressed the slightest interest.  Of course, it’s been years.  Mike’s a red-head and the kid has hair that’s almost black.  Maybe it’s not the same girl at all.

“How about you?  Ever get hitched?”  Mike asks without thinking, then turns the color of the tomatoes in his cart as he realizes that’s probably not an appropriate question to ask a superior officer.

In the face of the younger man’s embarrassment, John feels a sudden sharp sympathy, a desire to tell Mike what he wants to hear, something he can understand.  “Yeah,” he finds himself saying.  “Not long after I left Texas.  Her name’s, er—Jemima,” he fibs, because he’s standing in the breakfast food aisle and the pancake mix is staring him in the face.  He sticks his hands in his pockets.  No ring.

“That’s great!”  Emma’s still fussing and John gestures as if to make his exit, but Mike waves him off.  “No, no, she’s fine.  Aren’t you, doll?  You’re just fine.”  He unstraps the baby from her seat.  “And now you’re back in Colorado?”

“No!” John says, too quickly.  “I mean, just for a few days.  Shipping out tomorrow, actually.  Going back to—uh. Uhm, New Mexico.  Do you…need a hand, there?”  Mike is trying to balance the baby and fish a bottle out of the diaper bag buried under an avalanche of groceries.

“Oh, would ya mind?”  he says, and John meant he could find the bottle, but somehow he ends up holding Emma while Mike digs through the groceries. 

He holds her the way McKay held that electrophysiological transducer that they found on MX-112, like she is fragile and volatile and might sublimate at any moment.  But Emma is having none of it.  She seems to like the fabric of his t-shirt and her tiny fingers catch the loop of his dogtags where they run under his collar. He doesn’t think he’s ever held anything this valuable.

Mike finds the bottle, takes the baby, and keeps asking questions.  Somehow, John keeps answering them. He tries to remember what they said about him on the mist planet.  That he was particularly good at creating his own reality.  It’s true: he can picture it all.  Jemima looks a lot like his ex-wife might look now, older but happier.  Calmer, more confident, still beautiful.  He imagines the kids, the boy about eight, red-haired, girl a little younger…maybe five.  Couple of lazy cats, a big, dumb dog, all the pets he could never have growing up in base housing. He can see the house—simple, one story, blending in with the red and beige of the high desert.  After Afghanistan, he swore he’d never set foot in the desert again.  It’s one of the reasons he didn’t fight the reassignment to McMurdo. But this last trip, Rodney had invited him down to Area 51 via Roswell…no, invited is too strong a word.  Rodney had appeared on his doorstep with a duffel bag and his car keys: “Come on, with two drivers we might get there before they do something really stupid.”  John had found he liked the place; no water, but something about the consistent weather, the seamless horizon, the unchanging landscape reminds him of Atlantis.  Besides, there’s a lot of sky, which is all he needs, really.  

“Doing a little of this, a little of that. Lots of paperwork,”  John says when the question comes up.  It’s an answer calculated not to answer, a bland way of saying that he’s not authorized to say any more.  Mike gets it, but John can see him wondering: experimental jets?  war games? Let him wonder; he’ll never guess.

                                                                                                        

Out of the corner of his eye, John sees Rodney come wandering down the aisle, miraculously dodging shopping carts without looking up from the list in one hand.  He has a jug of laundry detergent in the other and a box of the stuff tucked under his arm.  He’s wearing two shirts—a short-sleeved button-down over something with long sleeves—because, on Earth, he is always cold.  The pockets of his cargo pants jingle with random keys, scraps of paper with important, critically important notes-to-self, broken pieces of things he hasn’t had a chance to fix yet.  In a store full of people wearing uniforms and Navy Marathon t-shirts, he looks like he always does on this planet: mismatched.

“D’you remember the name of that soap, the one…” Rodney looks up, realizes he’s walked into the middle of something. “Oh.”  The hand with the list makes a self-conscious aborted wave.  “Hi.”

“Rodney, this is Lieutenant Mike Frane.” John launches smoothly into introductions.  “Mike, Dr. Rodney McKay.  Rodney and I work together, out in New Mexico.” 

“Hey, lucky you,” Mike grins, sticking out a hand.  “The Major here’s a hell of a commander.”

“Colonel,” Rodney corrects without thinking.

“What?” 

Rodney goes completely still, realizing his mistake.  John’s in civvies and, of course, Mike wouldn’t know that he’s been promoted for his services in the defense of an intergalactic outpost whose existence the Pentagon will deny until the earth falls into the sun. 

A second later, he’s juggling detergent containers, freeing one hand to shake.  “Capital, I said.  It’s really, uhm, capital!  Yes, why, we’re always saying, you know, how good it is to have him…out in, err, New Mexico?” 

They stand there, the three of them staring for a moment in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Rodney shifts awkwardly, glancing between the other two. “Anyway, I’m just trying to remember the name of the laundry stuff that doesn’t give me hives—I have very sensitive skin,” he explains in an aside to Mike, “the stuff they use in…er, New Mexico gives me a terrible rash all up and down…uhm.” Another moment of silence.   “You know, I can probably remember it myself.  I practically remember it already—began with an m.  Or…something.  So.  Nice meeting you. Bye.”

Mike looks utterly bewildered by Rodney’s sudden appearance and equally sudden withdrawal. 

John shrugs, unconcerned.  “He’s very brilliant,” he says.  It’s the same explanation he gives whenever Rodney gets strange looks from the natives.


“So, uh, married Jemima,” Mike tries valiantly to pick up the threads of the conversation.   “Any kids?”

“Two,” John replies, automatically, “boy and a girl.”  He can tell Rodney’s listening, see him hesitate, half turn, shake his head, keep going.

“Hey! Let me guess—John, junior?”  Mike grins and, really, John thinks, he always was legitimately happy for anyone else’s good luck.

“No, no…we, uhm, named him for my father, actually,” John says.  “William.” Rodney’s gone now, blended in with the shoppers surrounding the oatmeal at the end of the aisle.   “And the girl’s Ke’helin….uhm, my wife’s maiden name,” he adds quickly, seeing Mike’s confusion.  Actually, according to Teyla, it’s the Athosian word for the reflection of the summer sunshine off the Atlantean ocean and it’s the prettiest word John can think of.  But Mike will never know that.

There’s a sudden bleating sound that makes John jump.  He’s Activation minus 27 hours and his nerves are already tuning up for the Pegasus Galaxy.  Mike finds his cellphone under a pile of produce.  “Hey, Sarah.  Sure, I’m, uh, practically in the checkout line.  You’ll never guess who I ran into…”


“Sarah,” Mike explains, unnecessarily, when he hangs up.  “She’s waiting in the parking lot.  Hey, I don’t suppose you…”

“I really have to get going,” John interrupts. For an awful moment, he thinks Mike will try to hug him, but the younger man settles for a joking salute, left-handed because he’s still carrying the baby. “Well, take care.  Have a safe trip, Major.”

“Yes,” John says, looking at the kid in front of him.  Not such a kid anymore, of course. Gotta be about Ford’s age, now.  The age Ford would be.  The age Ford is, somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. “You, too.”

 

John doesn’t know how long he stands in the cereal aisle, forcing other shoppers to circle around him.  Sometime later, he realizes Rodney is standing next to him, looking after Mike with the vague, slant-mouthed expression he gets when he’s slowly figuring something out.  John wonders what he thinks he’s discovered.

“Who was that?” 

“Mike? He was connected to my squadron at Lackland, a while ago.  Before Afghanistan.”

“No. The guy with the two kids and a wife named Jemima.” Rodney’s bewildered gaze shifts to him for just a second, wide and gray, lost in this world.

“Oh. Him.”  Neither of them are much for holding hands, even off-base, so John runs his palm up Rodney’s back, hooking two fingers into his collar.   “Nobody you know.”  The muscles in Rodney’s shoulders are locked, tense beneath John’s forearm.  No wonder he ends up with those blinding headaches, John decides, and thumbs gentle circles into the back of his neck until some of the strain bleeds away.  “Nobody you’d want to know.  He’s…pretty boring, actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah. Wife, kids, office job, picket fence, same damn thing day after day.”  John wonders if Rodney has an imaginary double somewhere, living a perfect Earth-life.  Probably not; that’s one of his favorite things about the physicist. 

Rodney wavers for a minute, like he’s going to say something else, ask something more.  Then comes to a decision—immediately and completely, as always—his mind constantly moving onward, outward.  “Okay, then.”  He dumps a box into John’s arms. “32 loads at $3.98 per box—what’s the unit price?”

“Twelve cents per wash,” John says instantly, then reconsiders, “well, almost twelve and a half cents.”

Rodney shakes his head, jostles John's shoulder.  “God, you are such a geek.”

Tags: fic, sga
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