Summary: “There's sweat on Sheppard's brow and a lump in his throat. One thought flows through his mind”... Action teamy/friendship-ish fic that somehow manages sort of dark and sort of fluffy at the same time.
Spoilers: Nothing specific. Vaguely set S3.
A/N: I tried to write a different sort of fic for a friend and it took a considerable detour into this, which is not my usual fare but hopefully shall be enjoyed by someone. Betaread by rodlox and planetkiller.
Lorne is first into the clearing, glancing over the lines before signaling the others to continue and Timmins comes out, immediately investigating, roughing the dirt with his foot, scrubbing away the circle outline a little. McKay follows, ambling along with his scanner held to the side. Teyla and Ronon are behind him, flanked by two more of Lorne's team, Gates and Yamamoto.
There's sweat on Sheppard's brow and a lump in his throat. One thought flows through his mind - pull the trigger, don't miss. The bullets spew forth and in what seems like slow motion he watches them fall. Each burst is carefully timed and placed square in the chest with no deviation allowed. All seven of them lie on the ground motionless. He turns to leave his cover, but stops when he hears a noise, looking back to see McKay jerking about on the floor, spluttering for oxygen. A chill runs through his body and he can't move, can't believe what he just did.
He stays there, breathing shallowly, for a minute until a thump on the back brings him out of the shock.
"You did well, Colonel Sheppard, follow us."
Brother Yusef smiles broadly at him, hand indicating the way back to the monastery.
Glancing over again, all the team members are still and silent. John grits his teeth and turns away, tries to keep up with them, feeling sick to his stomach. He resists looking back again for the sake of the others, mustn't draw attention or raise suspicion. To that aim he chats with Yusef and his companions as he walks, staying artificially lighthearted whilst his heart races in his chest. Whatever happens now he has no control over it.
The next four days are spent in luxurious accommodations - alone. It's like he's been transported to an entirely different world than the one they'd walked into. The Genii weren't the only people with a double life apparently. He'd say he prefers these underground bunkers of Ancient design to the run down radioactive ones but that goes without saying really and besides, currently he's got rather more on his mind than his own comfort. They feel like home almost, apart from the lack of balconies and windows, yet that makes it all the more nightmarish. He has everything he could wish for - food and drink, quarters with the best designed best in the universe he suspects, now friendly Uian's all but fawning over him and Ancient data up the wazoo that McKay would go nuts for... All the information in the Pegasus galaxy doesn't seem a fair trade now that he's deep in the belly of this beast of a plan. Yeah, John is stuck in hell and can't wait to get out of here. God knows what happened to Ronon and Teyla and Lorne's team, he wish he knew but he's in here and they're out there, or back home, he hopes.
Apparently he's welcome back anytime after what he's done for them - John Sheppard the savior of their culture, the man who rid them of the cursed ones, fulfilled a great prophecy. Trouble is they've got a prophecy for every day of the year and he doesn't trust they'll be nearly so lucky next time if suddenly the stones go against him as their golden boy. He dangles the data chip from a chain casually as they bid farewell. He knows there are things on it which they couldn't have dreamed of possessing a decade from now but the cost was too high. This was a mistake, his mistake - he might only have been a little bit off, but it mattered, a small difference to trajectory meant a lot for Atlantis. A lot for him too.
He says goodbye without any warmth, the word cutting their smiles from their faces, and strides through the Stargate with no regret to be leaving - what he regrets is ever setting foot on H4R-784 and every decision he made after that.
He releases a swift breath of relief on the other side, as he's greeted by his team. Elizabeth stands in front of them as they walk forward, asking how it went diplomatically - he assumes she's been debriefed on the rest of the mission already - and it's not until they're a meter away from him that he does a double-take. McKay emerges from behind her, a lopsided smile on his face and no sign of injury evident.
"You're dead!" It's out of his mouth before he realizes it and it sounds so inherently foolish a thing to say when you're looking at someone in the flesh.
McKay rolls his eyes and sticks up a finger to correct him, "No, I simply played dead. It was your idea, remember?"
"You acted choking on your own blood?" he asks as he walks closer, anger coursing within him, making the blood pulsing through his veins ferociously.
"Yup." Rodney actually has the nerve to look smug as he replies.
It's all John can do to not shake the man senseless as he approaches within reach of him, "What made you think that would be a good idea, huh?"
His confidence obviously falters at the question. "Um, I don't know, realism? Gotta give a good show, make it look believable."
"I thought I'd shot you for real!" John says, exasperated, with a frustrated jab in McKay's direction, just short of pushing him backwards, to get the point home.
John gives up on conversation after the admission and does something that's rare for him - he hugs. He hugs Rodney in plain sight of everyone and he gives thanks to whatever deity or Being is in this galaxy that he didn't miss. There's enough guilt to last a lifetime already without having killed one of the best hopes Atlantis has, and, personally, John can't bear to lose another friend. Especially not by his own hand. He'd been over and over it for the better part of a week, trying to deal with his decision and suddenly the facts aren't true.
He feels a hand on his shoulder, unexpectedly, Elizabeth's. Then Teyla's on the other side, both concerned for him, probably wondering what went through his mind, wondering if they'd have made the same choice in his situation. Then John feels his breath catch, unable to take in a proper lungful - the embrace tightened as Ronon squishes him and Rodney together, Ronon grinning like a madman.
"Group hug, right?"
Somehow, so caught up in his own misery, John hadn't properly considered the fact he's been missing for days, days - for everyone here - of waiting, not knowing his fate. He'd been surrounded by smiley happy people, who cherished him for "saving" them but it had never felt like this; no, he'd felt numb as he'd stared into their eyes, alien in every way possible. This was a genuine welcome home and if anything it made him fear for the future. The smile on his face as he lets go of McKay, and the others withdraw, isn't entirely fake, but it's artificially reassuring - he feels anything but okay. One day he will fuck up and it really would go to hell. Not today, sure, but one day he'll lose it all just like before. He always wonders if today is the day, as he stares out over the horizon and the only thing worse was there being no 'what if' anymore.