“In the world I see,” Sheppard says, “you stalk Wraith through damp canyon forests.”
Aiden tries to open his eyes. Tries to move, but the thick choked feeling of a stunner still weighs him down like a heavy cloak.
“Children play fearless in derelict Wraith hive ships.”
The world is blue around him, skeletal, organic, confined.
“Explorers come across great hulks floating silently in space and wonder about a battle long past.”
Aiden opens his eyes. Sheppard is kneeling there beside him. He reaches out to ruffle Aiden’s hair, like Aiden’s father was never around to do. “Feel better, champ.”
“You are different,” she says, long white hair flowing down around her, catlike eyes narrowing dangerously as she seems to sniff the air around her.
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake,” Sheppard counters, striding into the room, wearing all black now instead of his field uniform.
Aiden wants to believe otherwise, but he keeps quiet.
The Queen approaches. “Kneel . . . kneel . . . eel.” A voice echoes in his head.
“Worker bees can leave. Even drones can fly away. The Queen is their slave,” Sheppard says. He’s doing his Zen thing today – like the day he killed more than sixty Genii. He’s the calm little center the life of this world crowds around. He’s the Zen master. “We are the people you depend upon. You are us, we feed you, serve you, help you to reproduce. You’re technology, your language, your DNA, it’s all us. It doesn’t advance without us. You do not want to mess with us.”
Sheppard speaks and Aiden listens.
The Queen is listening too. She pulls back, but Aiden grabs her hand, forces it above his beating heart. He laughs. “Go ahead. But you don’t know where I’ve been. My team was on Hoth . . . you know the planet that gives you indigestion?” He cackles. “You don’t know where I’ve been.”
She hesitates, tries to pull away. Aiden pulls the knife from his boot and slits her throat, just like that.
She’s still talking, though Aiden keeps the knife there . . . sure it won’t heal.
“You will regret this. We will hunt you down. We will find your people and our new rich feeding ground. You cannot stop us.”
Aiden removes the knife, slits open those bright eyes, that sallow face. He cuts long lines down her arms, opening everything up, digging out the Enzyme pouch and tasting . . . tasting the richest rush he knows he’ll ever have. And he keeps cutting. He wants to see what’s inside. He wants to ripe out hear throat. He wants open up the Stargate, let in one of those black-fog creatures and see how the Wraith like having the life sucked out of them. He wants to put a bullet between the eyes of ever man and women who won’t screw to save their species. He wants to breath smoke.
When he’s done, he’s covered in blue Wraith-blood, the Queen flayed open before him. She looks human inside.
“What was that for?” Sheppard asks, a low drawl.
“I wanted to destroy something beautiful.”
And that’s the problem with it all. The Enzyme comes from the Wraith. He feeds of them. He becomes them, and it’s glorious. It’s power and strength and perfection, but it’s rock bottom at the same time. He’s become what they are now. He has become the ruthless enemy. He feels their hunger.
He understands their beauty, even as the ship screams around him.
“Congratulations,” Sheppard smirks. “You just had yourself a near-life experience.”
Aiden holds up the last of the Enzyme sack. “You want some?”
Sheppard shakes his head. “I gotta stay objective. I trust you to protect me.”
Sheppard pats Aiden’s shoulder, squeezing tight and comforting like he hasn’t really done before. “Come on. I’ll fly us out of here.”
“What do you got to trade?” The barkeep asks, proprietary.
“What’ll this get him?” Sometimes, Sheppard speaks for him.
“What’ll that get me?”
“No weapons.” A guy comes up behind him, brushing right by Sheppard, who raises his eyebrows.
“Is that what a real man is supposed to look like?” Sheppard asks, as Aiden whirls around and slams the guy’s face into the bar.
“So, what’ll this get me?”
They sit quietly around a table at the bar, candlelight flickering. All eyes are on Sheppard. Aiden’s the proof and Sheppard’s the objective witness. He’s the one that knows Aiden’s not crazy. That’s why he came back for him. That’s why he was on the cruiser ship, telling the Queen those things. Sheppard’s not Aiden’s father, setting up franchises and leaving Aiden behind. He’s not Aiden’s mother, lost to a Heroin overdose. He’s not McKay, who’d actually shoot his friend without real provocation. He’s John Sheppard and he doesn’t leave men behind.
“The first rule of the Enzyme,” Sheppard smirks. “Is that you do not talk about the Enzyme.” It makes sense, Aiden thinks. Too many people knowing about it means that the Wraith will catch on. Maybe it means that they’ll add a deadly setting to their stun weapons and then they’ll all be screwed.
“The second rule of the Enzyme is you do not talk about the Enzyme.”
“The third rule of the Enzyme is that you get more before it runs out.”
“The forth is that you get it for yourself.”
“And the fifth and final rule is that if it’s your first time, it’s on me.”
Aiden winks, pulling out a needle and a hacky-sack, still warm, blue and almost mushy in his palm. “So, who’s first.”
Kaneyo extends his arm, watching carefully as Aiden plunges the needle in. He starts to tweak within minutes.
“Good, huh?” Aiden asks.
Kaneyo nods, though he’s shaking.
“Run a lap around the building to get the tension out. Then we’ll fight.”
Kaneyo’s off before Aiden can say ‘go.’
Sheppard comes to stand at his side. “He seems okay.”
“He’s former Genii. Do you know what kind of intelligence he could provide us, Sir? We could protect Atlantis . . .”
Sheppard turns away, combat fatigues he’s never worn before helping him to fade into the twilight. “You have to promise never to talk to them about me.”
“But, Sir, you’re my CO. How am I supposed to . . .”
Sheppard holds up a finger. “I don’t want to have to make it an order, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Sir, I just said I promise.”
“That’s three times you promised.”
When you’re on the Enzyme, you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake.
The Enzyme paints a smooth coat over everything. Sometimes, in the night, while Aiden lays awake, heart still pounding with the power of it, he thinks that he hears things - things that might not even be there. He thinks about Teyla and how she can hear the Wraith. He wonders if the Wraith can hear her. If they’d think she’s beautiful.
Aiden stands, walking to the mirror and looking at himself, really looking - skin washed with sweat and waxy. He wonders what Teyla would think of him now. Would she look at him and his blackened eye and really see, or would she, like everyone else, just look to Sheppard for leadership?
“Do you miss Teyla?” Aiden asks, knowing that Sheppard’s somewhere nearby. He’s always been a light sleeper.
“No,” Sheppard says. He’s wearing black again. “I don’t miss any of them.”
“Not even Weir?” The base rumors said Sheppard and Weir had a thing. Maybe they were true. But it doesn’t really matter, because Sheppard never lets anyone get to him, not alien priestesses that he fucks, not Teyla, not Weir, not Aiden sometimes. The only one who’s ever managed to annoy himself a little bit under the barrier is McKay. But McKay’s not here.
“We’re a generation raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really what we need,” Sheppard says.
Aiden nods. After the Enzyme, he doesn’t need to jerk off. He doesn’t even feel the urge to fuck. But Sheppard goes off sometimes, smiles at local women in villages they visit. They look more frightened of him now than they did before, but Aiden hears the bed shaking when Sheppard takes them. In the end, they’re always oddly silent.
Aiden looks at his own obsidian black eye. It’s probably best that he doesn’t feel the need anymore. He’d probably have to take what he wanted by force.
“Hey, even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart.” Sheppard shrugs with an enigmatic smile.
Sheppard is the guerilla terrorist of the military industrial complex.
Aiden’s not aware that Sheppard has had any formal demolitions training. He is a flyboy after all. But Sheppard is full of useful information, like making all kinds of explosives from simple household items.
“You know, with enough soap you could blow up just about anything,” Sheppard says from where he’s leaning casually in the doorway.
Aiden’s already made napalm out of gasoline and some orangey Jell-o stuff that they trade by the bucketful on MX-something-or-other (Oringina, Aiden calls it. Sheppard lets him name things now. McKay had called it Planet Anaphylactic Shock). That Wraith-Worshipper’s camp had sure looked neat going up in flames.
‘You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world!’ Sheppard had screamed, laughing into the inferno. He was wearing combat gear again – the uniform of a Marine.
Sheppard’s smirking now. “But, it still doesn’t beat C4.”
“We can’t get C4, Sir. We’d have to go back . . .”
“The Genii still have some.”
Sheppard smiles, handing Aiden a hammer. They’re building bunk beds. He doesn’t know why. “What do we need C4 so bad for anyway?”
“You’ll see,” Sheppard says with a wink.
It’s Kaneyo who brings the first one in. He’s young - blonde hair and blue eyes, slow to smile. He’s a little messy, a little small. The Enzyme will make him better, but he’ll never be a soldier.
“This is Chase,” Kaneyo says. “He was a scientist. Kolya used to kick him around. He wants to come work for you.”
“This is why we needed bunk beds,” Sheppard says, like he’s got it all planned out. Maybe he does.
“He’s too skinny,” Aiden says, thinking about all the protein drinks he had to down before he joined the Corps. His hair’s too long, he thinks, but he won’t say that in front of Sheppard. “He’s too . . . he’s too fucking blonde.”
Chase steps back, cowering. Kaneyo look surprised.
“We should test them,” Aiden tells Sheppard. They can’t just accept all of Kolya’s kicked puppies.
“There’s an old monk’s practice. First you tell the applicant that he can’t train here. If the applicant then waits for three days without food, shelter, or encouragement he may then enter and begin his training.“ Sheppard’s zen again, wearing a black silk robe, tied with a wide red belt.
“Take him outside,” Aiden says.
“Sir?” Kaneyo questions.
“Wait!” Chase almost whimpers.
“He’s a scientist,” Sheppard reminds him, looking far away. Maybe Sheppard misses McKay. Aiden doesn’t.
“One day, then.”
A couple of weeks and the caves became a living, breathing thing. They sleep in shifts, going out on patrols, capturing Wraith, training, strategizing in the labs, farming out in the wide, open fields around the Stargate.
Aiden tries to teach them the values of the Marines. He tries to teach them about brotherhood and honor and how you give your life for the guy beside you because he’d do the same for you. He tries to teach them about loyalty and family, and all the things the Corps meant to him.
They don’t listen.
Sheppard doesn’t help.
“They don’t work together, Sir.” Aiden sighs. He doesn’t know what he expected. These people aren’t trained. They’re just a bunch of outcasts, all from different worlds, different backgrounds. They’ve all been taught to believe that they’ll grow up to be heroes and warriors, working farming and working shit jobs, struggling towards progress just so the Wraith can knock them back down again. They are the middle children of history, god’s unwanted children. He looks around and he sees so much potential, only to see the Wraith squander it. The Wraith have taught them not to care about each other, because one day, they’ll all be taken away. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone drops to zero.
“That’s not my fault,” Sheppard says, sprawled in a comfortable contortion on one of the lab tables. He’s wearing black pants and a spandex top today. The shirt is a golden green with a little sparkling almost-triangle in the corner. Aiden recognizes the uniform of Captain Kirk, even though he’s too young to think Star Trek is cool. He wonders how Sheppard got a hold of that in the Pegasus Galaxy.
“But they’re stupid! They’re like a bunch of monkeys running around, working against each other.”
“ Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken,” Sheppard says.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Sheppard shrugs. “I think we should call them Space Monkeys.”
“Tonight, you all have homework assignments,” Sheppard says. Today he’s Obi Wan Kenobi in flowing beige robes. The thin side-braid must be fake. “You’ll start a fight. You’ll start a fight with the Wraith and you will lose.”
The Space Monkeys look at each other, skeptical. Figures.
“You will let yourself be captured, and then you’ll turn on them, capture them in return.”
“But how are we supposed to . . .” Chase asks, looking just a little terrified.
“The first rule of Project Pegasus-Freedom is that you do not ask questions,” Aiden replies.
McKay would have asked why they have to call it that. But McKay’s not here.
Sheppard smiles approvingly, playing aimlessly with his light-saber. He trusts Aiden to lead.
Kaneyo brings the first one in. He’s a drone, all big green muscles and pecs so large you could almost call them bitch-tits. His hair is stringy and soft looking. Sheppard strokes his hands through it to pull off the mask that all drones wear. It’s almost a caress.
The team to bring it back looks frightened, and they’re even more terrified when Sheppard pulls the mask away. No one has seen behind a drones mask before. They’ve all had opportunity, but they’ve all been too scared, expecting a gaping maw, or a some twisted disfigurement - a bug’s face, or no face at all.
But none of them is expecting this – smooth cheeks perfect, slightly slanted eyes, long eyelashes; no flat nose, no sharp, jaw-twisting teeth, no extra nostrils like gills in the cheeks. If it weren’t for the pale olive tinge, he could be human.
Sheppard cups the smooth cheek. He’s Joe-Normal today, jeans and a white t-shirt. “His name is Robert,” he says. “We’ll call him Bob.”
The Wraith stirs a little as Sheppard caresses his cheek.
“Sir?” Kaneyo asks.
“Shhh . . .” Sheppard says, stroking further, without fear. The Wraith quiets without them even having to use the stunner.
“But, Sir,” Kaneyo protests. “The Wraith don’t have names.”
Sheppard turns to him and grins. “No, they do. They live and they breathe and they have wants and dreams and laws and things just like us. They are not better than us. They are not unstoppable. They are not beautiful or unique. They are the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We are all. Our gods have abandoned us, the Ancients have abandoned us. We are God’s unwanted children? So be it! So are they! No one will be saved. We’ll all fight and whoever wants to survive more, will survive. They have names, and we’ll name them. And then we’ll feed off of them.”
“So, once captured, a Wraith has a name?”
Sheppard smiles. “His name is Robert. Robert Paulson.”
“His name is Robert Paulson,” the space-monkeys chant.
Aiden looks down at the Wraith, Sheppard’s pale hand still stroking the unblemished flesh of its cheek. Aiden feels sick. He needs to get out of here.
After the Enzyme, life just sort of gets the volume turned down. Aiden could take even McKay’s shouted ramblings right now.
He pictures it. McKay would be wearing his cornflower blue t-shirt, the ones with the strips down the side that make him look slimmer. ‘And why didn’t you just disconnect the thyroid capacitor from the electromagnetic thing-o-bob? That’s right, because you’re a moron.’ But this time, instead of gritting his teeth and taking it, Aiden’d just laugh. And Sheppard would laugh with him for once.
“Sir, sir!” Someone yells, and Aiden snaps out of his musings.
Chase is conversing excitedly with Sheppard. “We’ve got it! The last piece of the puzzle! We know when and where the ship’s going to make a hyperspace pause – right by a planet. I won’t be for more than a month, but that should give us time to prepare!”
“Good work,” Sheppard says. Today he’s dressed to kill – tight jeans and an almost bondage-like leather top. He puts an arm around Chase, leaning against him almost seductively. “Because of you, I think we can do this.”
Jealousy burns bright like a raging bile duct. Sheppard’s always liked scientists. He more than tolerated McKay, after all. He laughed at his jokes and made fun of Aiden’s complete lack of ability to understand prime numbers. And no matter what he does, Aiden will never be quite that intelligent. The Enzyme can make him strong like a Marine and brave like Sheppard. It can make him graceful like Teyla and his travels can make him as wise. But he’ll never be as smart as McKay. Someone else will always hold that place.
“Clever,” Sheppard says, giving Chase another backpat.
“How’s that working out for you, being clever?” Aiden grunts.
“Good, I guess. I mean . . . not better than before, really.”
“Chase,” Aiden says, a little vengeful. “Fix the dart. I’m cutting back your Enzyme dose until you do. I want you to be able to think clearly.”
Sheppard raises his eyebrows at that, but doesn’t say anything. When he leaves the room, his hips are swaying tauntingly.
“It’s all planed out,” Aiden says. “You’ll fly the dart. You swoop down, pick us up, drop us in the Dart Bay to lay charges and then you grab us and come back. It’s simple.”
“It’s a good plan,” Sheppard replies, nodding to himself. Today he’s a general, though he wears the uniform more like a stripper.
Aiden tries to hide his grin. He’s never seen Sheppard quite this pleased – at least not by anything Aiden did. When he shot McKay he came pretty close.
“We just need to get the last of the C4 and wait for Chase to finish the dart, and we’ll have everything we need,” Aiden adds, happily. Once they take out a hive ship, Weir will have to accept them. She’ll have to listen to Aiden’s advice, take the strong route instead of following her feminine intuition or whatever, trivializing all Aiden’s suggestions.
Sheppard’s smile dims a bit at that, like he knows something Aiden doesn’t and is trying to protect him from it.
Aiden scowls at him, but Sheppard remains silent.
When Chase finally comes, it’s holding a vial of something. It doesn’t look like a Wraith dart, which has Aiden pissed.
Sheppard is inscrutable beneath his aviator sunglasses. He’s wearing his uniform again. “Whatcha got, buddy?” he asks.
“Well . . . I . . . uh . . . I’m sorry, Sir, but the Dart is just beyond my ability.”
“You’re not trying hard enough,” Aiden says.
“No, it’s okay.” Sheppard smiles encouragingly. “Whatcha got there?” he gestures to the vial.
“It’s uh . . . it’s the Enzyme, Sir. You were right about how it clouds judgment. I’ve theorized that this might have something to do with the Wraith’s psychic ability. It promotes a certain degree of suggestibility, mood swings, maybe even schizophrenia. But I’ve found a way to refine it . . . tune down the negative side-effects.”
“That’s great!” Sheppard grins, hugging Chase to him. “Now that it’s refined, do you think we could do other things with it?”
“Sure. We might even be able to put it into our food. It won’t come on as strong that way . . . be more constant. I can try that now . . .”
“You do that,” Aiden snaps, grabbing the vial from Sheppard. “What are we going to do now with no dart?”
“Hey, it could be worse,” Sheppard offers. “A woman could cut off your penis while you’re sleeping and toss it out the window of a moving Puddle Jumper.”
“The Puddle Jumpers don’t have windows.”
“We need Rodney.” Sheppard sounds far too eager.
“No, we don’t.” Everywhere Sheppard goes, the ghost of McKay’s there, in the meaningless banter and indulgent smiles Sheppard doesn’t engage in anymore. He’s like that little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if you’d just stop tonguing it. If Aiden had a tumor, he’d name it Rodney.
“Without him, we won’t be able to fly the ship and without the ship, the plan won’t work.”
Aiden hangs his head and sighs. He doesn’t want McKay here. But the man is the best at what he does. “Fine.”
“Good, because I already talked to some of Kaneyo’s contacts. They’re going to tell some of Teyla’s former trading partners about a fictitious ZPM. I’ve already drawn up plans for an ambush, all we need to do is . . .”
“You went behind my back?”
“No. I helped things along.”
“You didn’t think I’d do it, did you? You think I’m too young to plan an ambush, to trust with our friends lives?!”
“Of course not. You decide your own level of involvement.”
“I will! And I want to know why you didn’t include me in the beginning.”
“I did. The Enzyme was the beginning. But now we need McKay and I’m going to get him. I know you have a problem with Rodney, so I took the initiative . . .”
“I don’t have a problem with McKay. I thought we were doing this together.”
“We are. Look, you just don’t know . . .”
“I know that friends don’t go behind each other’s backs, John.”
Sheppard turned away at that. All this time, and Aiden still wasn’t allowed to use his first name. “Fuck what you know. You need to forget about what you know, that’s your problem. You need to forget about what you think you know – about life, about friendship, and especially about you and me.”
“What’s that’s supposed to mean?!” No matter how hard Aiden tries, sometimes he still doesn’t understand Sheppard. McKay would probably understand.
Sheppard smiles sadly, reaching out for Aiden’s hand, enclosing it around the vial of refined Enzyme. “Take your medicine. I’ll see you soon.”
And with that, he’s gone.
It had been three days. A little withdrawal slowing down to the refined Enzyme had Aiden in bed for two of those days, but when he finally came out of it, his head was clear. He no longer had that almost-sleepy, underwater feeling. He could finally get a good night’s rest and still take out three guys at once on the mat. He couldn’t wait to tell Sheppard.
Except Sheppard was gone.
His father left him, his mother left him, and now Sheppard had left him.
Aiden roams the fields, calling Sheppard’s name. He looks everywhere, high and low, but even with his improved vision, his better hearing, he can’t find anything.
He bursts into the laboratory. “Have you seen Sheppard?” he asks Chase.
Kaneyo steps in then. “Are you alright, Sir?”
“Fine,” Aiden answers. He’s feeling the best he’s felt in months, clear-headed and energized. “Have you seen Sheppard?”
“This first rule of Project Pegasus-Liberation is that you do not ask questions, Sir.”
“Fine,” Aiden pushes him out of the way as he stalks out, running through golden fields, watching the Space Monkeys farm potatoes or something, until he’s deep into the woodland, alone. They’ll lace the food with Enzyme and they’ll feed it to McKay. He’s seen how addicted McKay is to coffee. He’ll have to stay with them then, and maybe after that, Sheppard will come back.
“I broke your stupid rule, John! I’m a Marine who breaks his promises! Come back and tell me off! Give me fucking KP, Sheppard!”
But no one answers him, not even a bird.
Aiden spends hours walking, looking for Sheppard’s familiar boot-print in the dirt, tracking a ghost.
When he returns to the caves, he goes looking for Sheppard’s room, for his things, for his five-bazillion different costumes, his masks. Except then he realizes that he doesn’t know where Sheppard slept. He doesn’t even know how he managed to drag all those clothes here. They weren’t on him in the cruiser and he’s pretty sure that they wouldn’t qualify as a personal item either. But then again, Sheppard was crafty. McKay and he probably could have smuggled a whole elephant onboard the Dadelus.
But wait . . . did that mean Sheppard had been back to Atlantis? Was he playing Aiden this entire time? Maybe he went back to them. Maybe he warned them. Maybe he wanted to protect McKay from Aiden’s men.
Aiden runs to the war room, unfurls the ambush plans that Sheppard said he’d drawn up.
There are plans to capture four: Ronon Dex, Teyla Emagen, Rodney McKay, and John Sheppard. Their relative strengths and weaknesses are listed along order they’re most likely to walk in line, additional personnel that might be taken along, though this is deemed unlikely. Ford smiles at the description of Beckett – loud, annoying, whining about following orders. Except that’s something Aiden would say, not Sheppard. And McKay . . . Sheppard would never describe McKay as an unqualified Nerd, more likely to shoot a friendly than the enemy. Sheppard liked McKay.
And Sheppard’s description of himself . . . he would never admit to being sometimes clumsy and easily lost.
Plus there was the whole thing about it all being written in Aiden’s own handwriting.
It promotes a certain degree of suggestibility, mood swings, maybe even schizophrenia.
No, it couldn’t be.
You need to forget about what you think you know – about life, about friendship, and especially about you and me.
But then again . . . how had Sheppard gotten aboard the cruiser? How had he managed to wake up before Aiden, without the Enzyme? How did he change clothes like every five seconds?
And when had Sheppard ever thought Aiden’s plans or Aiden’s names or Aiden’s ideas were any good?
No, it have never been Sheppard at all. It had been a figment of Aiden’s imagination.
But the good news . . . the good news was that the real-Sheppard was still out there. And so was McKay. The plan could still work. He could still prove himself. He could still drug McKay. Sheppard could still be his objective witness. He could still see that Aiden could do things on his own. He’d still be proud of him. He wouldn’t leave. They do this plan and then they’d all return to Atlantis victorious, a family again.
*A/N: I’d thank a certain book/movie for the inspiration for this work, except I’m really not supposed to talk about it.