Title: Two Roads Diverged, Untitled Teaser
Pairings: Gen (ish)
Rating: PG-13 for mildly naughty language
Series: Two Roads Diverged (AU)
Notes: AU from "The Road Not Taken".
1 – John Sheppard
John slogged across the landing field as his support crew swarmed around the Pave Hawk behind him. Even with the sun setting, neither the heat nor the humidity showed any signs of letting up. He'd had four months to adjust to this latest posting at Joint Base Klondike and still wasn't used to the climate. He was pretty sure the name was a sick joke by someone upstairs; there was nothing at all icy or deliciously refreshing about Panama even during the dry season. After a day of shuttling around doctors to various refugee camps he was about ready to keel over. The fact that he could go back to a private air-conditioned apartment block, bare bones though it was, almost made him feel guilty. Few of the people who had poured north during the years of war and anarchy sparked by Red Monday could even rely on clean running water out in the camps despite the best efforts of the government.
He was almost to the locker room to change and head for debrief when an airman came running up. John didn't recognize him, which never meant anything good; the helicopter squadron rarely came to the attention of anyone outside their immediate working group of humanitarian workers and
escorts unless something unusual was happening.
"Major Sheppard? There's a colonel here from Peterson looking for you. He's in the admin building and would like to see you asap."
John grimaced. Anyone coming from Peterson Air Base usually meant that someone at JSOC had found a mission that needed his particular skill set badly enough for them to hold their noses. "I'll see him as soon as I shower."
"I, uh, it seemed pretty urgent, sir."
"And so's my shower, airman. He waited for me to come back, he can wait a few more minutes, and given how I smell he'll thank me for it."
John took his time scrubbing, just to emphasize his point, and decided to go ahead and log in his dosimeter readings immediately instead of waiting. If they wanted to yank him around on a leash, they could accept it the few times he had a chance to pull the other way, even in an ultimately petty way. Once dressed in his ACUs and all-important reflector belt, he meandered over to the admin building. The receptionist gave him a pointed look and directed him to a conference room on the third floor. He took a circuitous route to get there without passing through brass country. He entered the room and found his visitor waiting for him, facing out the window in the direction of the shanty town just visible beyond the western gates, past the layered perimeter of barbed wire, shockfield generators, and blast walls. He was wearing a plain black uniform, with no markings save lieutenant colonel's tabs on his epaulets. It wasn't until he turned around that John recognized him.
"Sheppard!" Lorne grinned and reached out to shake his hand. "It's good to see you again. What's it been, three years now?"
"Almost four, I think." Well before the Ongoing Emergency, certainly; even that had been a brief leave in the same location, not long after Lorne had made major. John hesitated, then asked the obvious question, wanting to get it out of the way. "How's the family?"
"Fine," Lorne said. "San Francisco didn't have as much trouble as L.A. You?"
"They were all in the Hamptons when Washington was nuked, and now it's booming business for utilities and construction. Haven't really talked with them much, just a few letters. Telecom difficulties and so on." Emphasis on "so on"'.
"Good, good. I actually happened to run into Nancy once, doing some work with Homeland, but she hadn't heard from you." Lorne must have realized how awkward he had just made the conversation, given how he immediately winced.
"I see you've made light bird," John said. "I suppose it's not much of a surprise you got there first." There were probably second lieutenants who would reach it before John did these days, old standards for time in grade be damned. Wartime promotion was fast for those with the right competencies, assuming they didn't piss off the wrong people at the wrong time.
Lorne frowned and pursed his lips. "The promotion came under special circumstances."
"Well, everyone always did think you were on the fast track to a couple stars. Guess they were right." John stopped himself from going on more. Lorne didn't deserve to stand in for all the too-smooth golden assholes John had dealt with over the years. "So, what can I do for Peterson?"
"I'm not here from Peterson. Stargate Command, actually."
"Stargate Command? I can see what you mean by special." For a moment John was genuinely impressed, before his natural cynicism took over. "Although it does make me wonder what I've done to deserve your august presence."
Lorne gave him a dry look for a moment. "I'm here to offer you a job. We're putting together an off-world expedition and we'd like for you to..."
"Wait a second," John said, holding up a hand to stop him. "Are you sure you've got the right person? There's a Jane Shepard with just one 'p'. I get her mail sometimes and this seems like it's more her thing."
"No, it's definitely you," Lorne said. "As I was saying, this could be a fairly long-duration mission. We could really use a good pilot, and you also have a special gene that allows you to control technology made by an alien species we call the Ancients."
"Oh, I get it," John said with a bitter laugh. "That makes a whole lot more sense. The Air Force doesn't need me. It needs my body, and unfortunately the rest of me comes with it."
"For the love of god," Lorne muttered, rubbing his forehead in frustration. "Actually, Colonel Carter specifically requested you from a pool of candidates, and I agreed with her. Believe me, there are plenty of people who'd be happier if we hadn't."
Even John, stuck in the middle of the Canal Control Zone with only bare-bones communications and news services, had heard of Samantha Carter. It only made him more suspicious. "What does the savior of the world want with me?"
"Actually, it's a long story and mostly classified, but once you're officially part of the SGC I can fill you in."
"Doesn't matter. I'm not joining."
"Sorry. I'm not joining, sir."
"I haven't even told you the details yet. Believe me, it's pretty exciting and right up your alley."
"I really don't care. You've told me enough. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I'm not interested." John would be damned if he let the Air Force or anyone else decide they could uproot his life after spending three years trying to forget he even existed. Moving him around the planet was one thing, it came with being an airman, but unilaterally deciding to send him into space was beyond the pale.
"This is important, Sheppard," Lorne said, increasingly frustrated.
"Take a look around you, sir," John said. He spread his arms wide. "Maybe things seem fine in Colorado Springs, but even after two years this is still one of the biggest humanitarian crisis zones in history. The work is important. The people are important, and not just because they're inconveniently close to critical infrastructure."
"I know that. I have nothing but respect for the work you're doing. These people are just as important as anyone else on the planet, even if some people in the Springs don't recognize that. But what I'm talking about really is bigger in scope, serious fate of the galaxy stuff. The entire planet may be affected, for better or for worse."
"Then I'm glad you're the one doing it and not me. I bet there's plenty of brass who feel the same way."
"I don't get it, Sheppard," Lorne said. "I know you were dealt a bad hand, but why not let bygones be bygones?"
"What the fuck do I care if the Air Force has suddenly decided I'm more useful than expected?" John said with sharp, bitter laugh. "The only reason they keep me around at all is because they need pilots with a unique skill set, and when they don't need that they stash me away doing humanitarian work where I can't hurt anything. That has been made perfectly clear to me. So you know what? I really don't care if the Air Force will pretend to forgive and forget, especially if means taking me out of the cockpit. I'm going to keep flying until they make me stop, and once that happens I'm gone."
"What exactly is it that you want, Major?" Lorne demanded. "An apology and an official pat on the head? Rank and authority? If that's all you're worried about, then you never would have tried to rescue Boxcar 12 by yourself instead of waiting for backup. Hell, you could have left this job anytime and gone back home. A man with your experience could have slipped right in to VP of Reconstruction at Sheppard Power and Light. Unless it's all just a matter of pride, which I'll admit, does color some of your actions in a different light."
"You don't know anything about me," John growled. He realized his fists were bunched up and had to consciously relax them.
"Maybe I don't anymore, but Carter thinks you have something of value beyond your genetics, and I'd like to think she's right. You can stay here, though, if you really don't give a shit. I'm sure the government will be happy with the occasional cheek swap or sperm sample. Just remember you have a chance to do something more." Lorne pulled out a card and flipped it at him, then tapped his ear. "Lorne to Phoenix. Beam me up."
There was a flash of light and John was left alone in the room. He stood there staring at the empty space, quietly shaking with anger. He couldn't believe the arrogance of the man, although maybe it wasn't all that surprising for a member of the president's interstellar lackey squad. John didn't know how Lorne thought he could show up acting like they were friends and then insult him when he didn't immediately jump at the chance to join his... his...
...shit. Okay, maybe John had shut Lorne down before he'd had a chance to explain what exactly it was he wanted. He had a right to be angry anyways, though. The Air Force had screwed him over too many times to really believe that it would overlook his record because of some genetic quirk, even if some small part of him still hoped there were still leaders in it who held true to the professed ideals of the organization he'd once loved. Even then he wasn't sure he'd jump at that kind of get-out-of-jail free card. He'd had one in his pocket for a long time without playing it already. It didn't seem fair to give them some easy excuse to forgive him instead of accepting him as he was.
He opened the door to leave, then paused and sighed before picking up the card from the floor. He couldn't just ignore it. Lorne wouldn't give up so easily, for one thing. Maybe John would give him a call later, after he'd had a chance to run a few laps around the base perimeter and clear his head out. If nothing else, he could tell him to fuck off and die in a fire having thought it through first instead of as a gut reaction.
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