</lj>Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Episode: 5.15 Remnants
Rating: PG-13 for language
Word Count: 2855
Author's Notes: John's backstory here is taken from rheanna27 's wonderful "Teenage Kicks," for which I thank her. Written for sga_episodefic 's Season 5 tagathon
John was fifteen the summer he grew up.
He would always remember the date with awful clarity and absolute certainty. November 23, 1984, Mom’s Johnny-boy became a solitary, contained man that kept everyone else at arms length. From that moment on, he resisted being touched. From that moment on, he stayed behind an invisible but solid wall that no one could breach.
Patrick Sheppard realized that John was hurting. He wasn’t a monster, John’s father – he was a man coping with enormous changes in his life in the only way he knew how – with military precision and the drive that had assured his success his whole life long. His wife’s cancer had been the unseen wraith in the house – the horror that chilled their steps since the hospital sent her home in July. Every medical measure had been taken, but Patrick made himself believe that he could, by sheer force of will, fight the cancer into remission, regardless of what the doctors said.
He never spoke the horror to either of his sons, believing that denying voice to his fears would deprive them of power, and protect the boys from grief. Dave, twelve, had spent the summer with his Aunt Louise in Chicago and came home to a mother he barely recognized – a ghost in a hospital bed, wearing a red scarf where her shiny black hair used to be.
John had refused all efforts to send him away, and instead haunted the house – reading comic books in his bedroom, riding his bike to the hills surrounding the estate or to the café in town, sitting quietly in the kitchen while Isabella cooked tempting food that seemed to taste precisely like sawdust.
Isabella had outdone herself for Thanksgiving that year – all of the family favorites were loaded onto the dining room table for the men of the Sheppard house. They ate in eerie silence, not doing the excellent feast justice. Patrick retreated to his wife’s bedside without waiting for pumpkin pie. Dave and John picked at theirs before retreating to watch the afternoon football games with scarcely any more enthusiasm.
The next morning, Alice Sheppard was gone.
The week came and went with a flurry of visitors: family, friends, distant relations, business associates. John scarcely left the gallery off the patio, where his mother lay in state. A fifteen-year-old man, avoiding the well-meant and entirely unwelcome platitudes from loved one and stranger alike; it was all the same to him.
No one would ever ruffle his hair, or call him Johnny-boy, ever again.
He wondered; had he been the only one that had known she was dying? Dave had certainly never had a clue. He had prattled on stupidly since his return from Chicago about all the things they would do “when Mom got better,” everything from going to the town café for ice cream sodas to skiing. Dad never did anything but agree with Dave when he voiced these stupid, naïve hopes. Was Dad that stupid, too?
John wondered if perhaps he should have said something. Twenty-five years later, he still wondered. If he had, would it have changed anything? He thought, perhaps, it would.
The lines were drawn that winter – John had missed the fall semester at Andover, of course, but his father was determined that he would go after Christmas break. John flatly refused, and insisted upon attending the local public high school. Patrick spoke with assurance about John attending Harvard; John steered his course for the Air Force Academy. John never dated a single girl that Patrick liked; whether or not Patrick would have liked any of the boys John slept with any better is best left as an exercise for the student.
John seemed to be shaping up when he brought Nancy home, modest diamond on her ring finger. Nancy, graduate of Vassar, met John when they were both at Stanford working on their Masters degrees: Nancy’s, in political science; John’s, in applied mathematics. John divorced Nancy after a disgracefully short three year marriage, which was the last straw for Patrick. “What is the matter with you, John? You seem to have no idea what direction you want to go in your life. I’m very disappointed in you.”
John was very still. “Have you ever not been?” he asked his father, quietly and calmly.
“John, you’re my son. I don’t understand the source of the animosity between us, but it seems like you decided years ago to resist every effort I have ever made on your behalf. I only want the best for you, don’t you know that?”
“You want what YOU think is best for me, Dad. What I want, what I think has never mattered to you. You wanted a bright Harvard MBA to take over the business, with a perky, bright wife and a couple of adorable kids. That’s Dave, Dad. Not me.”
Patrick sat down on the couch, heavily. “What do you want, John?”
“I want to fly, Dad. I want to make a difference. I want to help people. I tried, Dad, I really did try, with Nancy. I couldn’t make her happy. She wanted me to give up the Air Force and stay home. She got tired of never knowing what I was doing. She wasn’t cut out to be married to someone flying top secret missions.” John sighed, sinking into the chair opposite his father.
“Dad, you just don’t know me the way you think you do. I’m not like you.” John looked down at his hands, clasped loosely between his knees. “I’m not cut out for the cute wife and the picket fence and the 2.5 kids and the dog, Dad, just like I wasn’t cut out for Harvard and an MBA and taking over the business.”
“For God’s sake, John! What on earth does any of that mean? You weren’t raised to be this rootless! Your mother and I were married for 18 years and if she had lived, we would still be married today! Do you think we didn’t have our disagreements? Do you think we always wanted the same things? Divorce is just an easy way out – it means you just plain weren’t trying!” Patrick got up to pace, furious at John, and frustrated that he wasn’t getting through. Like so many other times, he just wasn’t getting through.
“Dad, I couldn’t stay married to Nancy. It wasn’t fair to her.”
“Did you ever once consider that maybe she was right? You’re not going to be young and carefree forever! For God’s sake, you’re not a kid anymore, John! It’s time to stop seeing yourself as a comic book hero and take on some grown up responsibilities! Being a husband and a father may not be as exciting as flying on top secret missions, but it’s rewarding in its own way – it’s important in its own way.”
“I don’t dispute that, Dad. Believe me, I don’t. I just can’t be that person. I couldn’t keep lying to Nancy that I would be.” John wanted out of this conversation. He wanted out of the house. He wanted out of the state. “Dad, I couldn’t ever be the husband she wanted…”
Patrick waited, his arms crossed.
John seemed to shrink in on himself. “I never should have married her. It was a lie.”
“Why, John? Why do you say that? What on earth do you mean?” Patrick knew, he just knew that he didn’t want to hear whatever it was that John was trying to say. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself from asking.
“Because, Dad,” John said, quietly and calmly, getting up to face the fireplace. “The worst night I ever spent with a man is still better than the best night I ever spent with a woman. And that’s the truth. The truth I could never tell you, the truth I could never tell Nancy. But she knew. And now, you do, too. I’m gay, Dad. I always was. I always will be.”
For long minutes, neither father nor son spoke; neither man looked at the other. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the room.
Patrick spoke, brittle and cold. “I just thank God your mother isn’t alive to hear this. I wish to God I wasn’t. This would have broken her heart. If the cancer hadn’t killed her already, you would have killed her with shame. You disgust me. Get out. I don’t ever want to see you again. You are not my son.”
And for the first time since he was fifteen years old, John Sheppard did exactly what his father wanted. He never saw Patrick Sheppard again.
For a long span of years, John never let anyone close enough to hurt him again. He flew through life, spending his care and his energy from a distance. Rather than the touch of a lover, his was the distant hand of the rescuer. He had buddies in war, and anonymous fucks in myriad out of the way places. He had teammates he worked with and his “people” that he would not leave behind. Love, for John, was compassion. Friendship was camaraderie. He had no family, no lovers, and no true friends. He touched no one and no one touched him.
When he casually reached to sit in a chair in Antarctica, he never realized that his days of isolation were over. As the control chair and the Ancient consoles lit up like the 4th of July around him, and the voices of his new teammates surrounded him, he didn’t know his old life was ending and that his resolve to be isolated was about to be broken.
In spite of what he may have preferred, he was now the center of a community of people that trusted him and the touchstone of a city that loved him. His every moment, waking or sleeping, was spent touching and being touched by Atlantis; the city itself and her new people. He still operated at a remove from most of them, but some were gradually eroding his isolation, chipping away at the impenetrable wall that he had built when he was fifteen.
Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Carson, and Rodney – his chosen family – became closer to him than Dave and his father ever had been. The void left in the aftermath of his mother’s death began to be filled by this strange mixture of people, from different walks of life, different perspectives, and even different galaxies. And as the touch of these new hands made their presence known in his life, John’s fears occasionally reared up and reminded him; this touch was not for him, this love was dangerous. Every day he had this, he risked loss.
And he did lose. He lost Ford; he lost Carson, and Elizabeth. He nearly lost Teyla, Ronon and Rodney more than once. And, he had nearly been lost himself. He lived daily with the fear that had haunted him in the summer of 1984. Was this the day? The day he lost it all?
He didn’t particularly fear impending loss one particular day, when he decided to accompany the astro-biologists to the mainland for an overnight specimen-gathering expedition. There was something adorable about Dr. Spinoza. He wasn’t above a little flirting, especially since Ronon promised to fire some innuendo at Rodney. Rodney had certainly unsettled him often enough lately, having loads of cozy lunches and endless cups of coffee with Jennifer Keller. John was dying to see if Ronon’s salacious gossip about John’s mainland jaunt with Spinoza and Parrish would put him in the driver’s seat for a change.
Of course, by “adorable,” he meant that Dr. Spinoza looked about eighteen and had an irrepressible puppyish enthusiasm for photosynthesis that made John wish he were about twenty years younger and just a little bit less gay. Lorne’s pet botanist, Parrish, was somewhat less adorable.
He certainly hadn’t expected to find the ‘jumper in the process of being vandalized, nor had he expected to wake from being knocked unconscious to find himself trussed up with rope. Weird things happened in the Pegasus galaxy, certainly, even on New Lantea’s mainland. John didn’t really, really feel an uptick in his anxiety levels until he was face to face with Acastus Kolya – the enemy that he had personally shot dead nearly three years previously.
Kolya was an imposing man – he would have been handsome if he had not been so badly scarred; if he ever smiled with anything other than ugly anticipation for John’s pain. They had first encountered each other the first year the expedition was in Atlantis, when a giant storm gave Kolya’s people, the Genii, the opportunity to try to take Atlantis. Kolya had killed two of John’s men in cold blood and threatened Elizabeth and Rodney. Kolya had nearly allowed Atlantis to be destroyed by a giant tidal wave in his hubris and greed to possess that which was John’s. And John had killed most of Kolya’s strike force singlehandedly, including nearly 60 Genii soldiers flattened into non-existence when John raised Atlantis’s ‘gate shield.
Certainly, the storm would have been enough to ensure their mutual enmity, but they had met again. Whether you considered their encounters to be high-stakes games of cat and mouse, or a particularly deadly on-going game of one-upmanship, Kolya became John’s personal bogey-man, particularly after feeding John, in small doses, to a starving Wraith.
Certainly, their games should have been at an end when John shot him, efficiently and finally, but here he was; John’s own personal devil.
And now, John was tied to a tree, and Kolya was attempting to beat John’s personal identification code for the Atlantis shield out of him. On one level, John was proud. He hadn’t broken. On another, he just wished the torture would end.
“You can tolerate more than any man I’ve ever known. Now why is that?” Kolya said, with undisguised admiration.
“I was married once,” John replied.
The bad guys, though, always seemed to have a “Plan B.” Kolya’s men had repaired the puddlejumper, and now only lacked John’s ancient gene to initialize it. Leave it to Kolya to come up with a way to get a sample of John’s DNA in the cruelest way possible.
John stood numbly, arms held by two Genii soldiers. Kolya, like a true “B” movie villain, drew a huge machete. “Last chance, Johnny boy. Are you gonna give me that IDC?” John knew he was going into shock even before the blade sliced through his arm, severing his bones and tendons. But, had Kolya really just called him “Johnny boy?”
He could almost hear the last voice to call him that. And, he could almost feel her delicate hand ruffling his hair. And, just at that moment, the irony of losing his hand – half of his capacity to reach out and touch – was not lost on him.
Of course, Kolya couldn’t resist taunting him with the deaths of Spinoza and Parrish – “Just two more you couldn’t save, Sheppard.” So, when his captors were otherwise occupied, John slipped away.
Wrapping the stump of his arm, John methodically took his revenge. It was just like his first encounter with Kolya and his men. John led them into traps; the Genii fell for them. John was like an avenging action figure, killing them, one after the other, until it was only himself and Kolya, once again. Unfortunately, Kolya had the upper hand, as John swung from a cliff by his good hand.
“This has gone on long enough. Use your other hand. Go on.” Nothing had prepared John for pulling out his arm, finding a whole and uninjured hand where he was expecting a stump. “I have no intention of letting you die. Now, climb back up, John. That’s it.”
John did, and turned to face his old nemesis, who now regarded John with a gentle equanimity that Kolya’s face had never possessed. “What the hell’s going on here?” John demanded. So, Kolya told his fantastic story, of the extinct race, and the seed carriers, and the need for him, the artificial intelligence of the seed carrier, to distract John.
Distraction; such an innocuous word. “And that,” John said, remembering the beatings, the torture, the feeling of his hand being severed from his body, his mother’s nickname on the lips of his enemy, “is what you chose to distract me?”
“No, John,” Kolya-AI said. “That’s what you chose.”
“Are you saying I tortured myself?”
“You torture yourself every day, John.”
Perhaps for the first time ever, John had to agree with Kolya.
In Atlantis, safe and sound, both Spinoza and Parrish alive and well, and none the wiser for John’s experience, John, Rodney, and Mr. Woolsey waited for the seed carrier to be beamed up to the Apollo.
The A.I. turned to John. “John, I realize that may have been an unpleasant experience.”
John ignored Rodney’s squawking about not being able to see the A.I., who continued, “I’m sorry for what you had to go through.”
But John hardly noticed the apology. The A.I no longer looked like his worst enemy.
She looked like his mother.