blue flamingos

Almost, But Not Quite

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2008/ ~7335 words

Pairing: Lorne/Mitchell

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Just because something looks the same, doesn't mean it is.

Author's Notes: Written for [info]anglopollyanna who matched the winning bid for me in the [info]livelongnmarry auction um...a while ago.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

hr

The first thing Evan hears when he stumbles through the wormhole is a familiar voice saying, "Okay, that's different." He looks round for the speaker, convinced he's mishearing, but there's something up with his balance and he falls over before he can pick anyone out.

Someone nearby calls for a med-team over the radio. Evan tries to sit up, to tell them that he's fine, but he can't figure out where up is. It's easier to just lie down and watch the ceiling of the gate-room spin gently above him.

It takes him a minute to realize there's a person amongst the spinning architecture.

"You okay?" the face asks, somewhere between amused and worried.

Given that it's Colonel Mitchell and not Colonel Sheppard peering down at him, Evan's pretty sure the answer's no. "M'fine, sir," he says, and passes out.

hr

He comes round again fairly quickly, as Keller's helping her staff to shuffle him onto a stretcher. Mitchell's standing off to one side, watching, and he smiles when Evan looks at him. He's obviously trying to be reassuring, and doing a better job of it than Sheppard would be, but Evan's still not feeling amazingly reassured.

Though that could be the circumstances, more than the people. It could also just be him projecting.

Keller's fingers touch gently against his neck, and he looks round to see her eyes on her watch.

"I'm fine," he tells her, again, though he's glad he's still lying down. The room is still spinning, gently.

"You fell through the gate and passed out," Keller says sternly. "You know that guarantees you a trip to the infirmary."

"This isn't my universe," Evan blurts out. He needs the reminder, because this one is so close, except that it's Mitchell's soft drawl murmuring into his headset on the edge of Evan's hearing. It doesn't feel as different as it should.

"I know," Keller says. She focuses all of her attention on him for a moment, smiling nervous and reassuring and completely familiar. "But I'm sure your me says exactly the same thing."

Evan can't really argue with that.

hr

He fades out again in the infirmary. He tries not to, but he's coming off three days undercover off-world, searching out a Free Genii cell who've been trying to kidnap Atlantis' people, and now he's in an alternate universe with no idea why. The infirmary is peaceful, quiet and well-known, and he barely realizes he's gone until he's coming back.

He's still in the infirmary bed, Keller standing to one side, tapping her stylus against her datapad.

"Hey, Doc," he says, struggling to sit up. "Signing my discharge papers?"

"Maybe when you can go more than five minutes without passing out," Keller says without looking up.

"I'm fine," Evan says, feeling a weird sense of déjà vu. Probably because he's had this exact conversation with the real Keller – his Keller – before. Now that the room's stopped spinning, he can focus enough to see that she's wearing a jacket with green patches instead of blue. Finally, the SGC's need to color-code the population of the city might actually come in useful.

"You fell through the gate from another universe after an explosion," Keller says, and that's when Mitchell walks in.

"Yeah, about that," he says, shoving his hands in the pockets of his gray pants and looking between Evan and Keller. "I think we can safely assume our chief scientist is going to want to know what the explosion was. That doesn't usually happen."

They both turn to look at Evan, who shrugs. "Nothing on our end. Look, I have to – my Atlantis is expecting me."

Mitchell bites at his lip for a moment, frowning. "It's not quite as easy as just dialing whatever planet you were on and sending you through the gate."

"Right," Evan says. He wants to flop back onto the bed and close his eyes, but he can't, not in front of people – strangers.

"Don't worry." Keller pats his shoulder gently, which makes him blink. He's friendly with his Keller, but she's not much for non-professional touching. "Dr Zelenka will have you back in no time."

"Not interesting enough for Dr McKay, huh?" Lorne asks, trying to feel better about that. Zelenka's certainly easier to work with, and just as good at what he does as McKay.

"McKay?" Mitchell says, at the same time as Keller says, "Rodney?" both of them sounding surprised.

"McKay's not here?" Evan asks, except, no, that's not right, because they both know the name, and wasn't McKay recalled from scientific exile specifically for the Atlantis project?

"He's gone to work on the Fremian device," Mitchell says, then, "Which you've never heard of."

"Okay," Keller says, stepping between the two of them like that's going to make Evan less curious. "Colonel Lorne needs rest and observation, not you in here stressing him out with all the differences between our two universes, so I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Apparently this Keller is a lot tougher than Evan's Keller. Not that his Keller is a wilting wallflower or anything, but he's never seen her stand up to Sheppard like that and – "Wait a second," he says, interrupting Keller and Mitchell glaring at each other. "*Colonel* Lorne?"

Of course, that's what gets Mitchell finally and firmly kicked out of the infirmary, and Keller refusing point blank to answer any of his questions. Evan keeps pressing anyway, until she threatens to put him in scrubs and give him a sedative – "which, believe me, no-one would argue with me about," and he's pretty sure she's kidding, but maybe not all that sure – at which point he obediently lies back and closes his eyes.

When he drifts awake – which, incidentally, starting to get really old – Mitchell's back. Evan's tempted to ask if he doesn't have better things to do with his time, like, say, running Atlantis, which must surely be his job here, since there's no evidence of Sheppard about the place. He doesn't, if only because he's sick of half-answers, and Mitchell has to be the best person to supply real ones.

"Want to go get dinner?" Mitchell asks when Evan blinks himself properly awake, and then upright.

"Sure," Evan says, then reconsiders. "Am I here? Your me. Colonel Lorne." Yeah, that still sounds wrong, somehow.

Mitchell grins. "He's not stationed here any more. Got transferred back to the SGC when he got promoted last year."

Promoted. The word bounces around inside Evan's head like someone stuck springs on it. It's not like he didn't realize that for this universe's him to be a lieutenant colonel there must have been a promotion involved, but it was a promotion in Atlantis, which means... Which means it could happen to him, and he'd get sent *back*, and it abruptly seems a whole lot less exciting than it did thirty seconds ago.

"Hey," Mitchell says, suddenly a lot closer than he was. "This isn't your universe, remember? Doesn't mean the same things will happen."

Unlike Keller, this Mitchell is exactly like the Mitchell Evan knows in his own world, stable and reassuring and always knowing the right thing to say. This is the guy who propped Evan up for three days while Sheppard was taking back Atlantis and they all thought he was going to be killed, the guy who took Evan and Sheppard and Ronon for a beer when they went back to Earth with Carson's body, the guy who sends football games in the databurst and corn chips on the Daedalus, and the fact that this isn't him at all doesn't make it any less true.

Mitchell's still watching him, like he's far from sure that Evan's stable enough to be let out of the infirmary. "Maybe we should have dinner in the office, not the mess," he suggests.

Evan thinks about all the people who he thinks he knows and doesn't, all the people who think they know him, and don't, and nods, stupidly grateful.

He can't help noticing that, when they finally leave the infirmary, he doesn't have his 9mm back. He knows they'd do the same thing, him and Sheppard, except that it's usually their people ending up in alternate universes, not the other way around.

"Where's Sheppard?" he asks, walking next to Mitchell under familiar architecture. He wants to ask about this universe's Evan Lorne, what he's doing with the SGC, if they sent him back out to the naquadah mines, but he doesn't want to sound too much like it's all about him. Plus, he's just really curious, because the more little bits of information he gets, the more it becomes obvious that this Atlantis might look like his, but it doesn't *feel* like it.

"John Sheppard?" Mitchell asks, like there could possibly be another Sheppard in Atlantis. "Visiting the Fremian project."

"Right," Evan says. The project McKay's working on; it must be something pretty damn special for McKay to be out there what sounds like permanently, instead of in Atlantis.

"The one I'm taking it you haven't found a mention of yet in your universe," Mitchell says with a weird smile, and that's when Dr Zelenka comes barreling round the corner.

He comes to an abrupt halt just too far away for Evan to reach out and steady him, and gives Evan an assessing look. "You again," he says, which is pretty far away from what Evan was expecting.

"I'm not-" he starts, but Zelenka waves him to a halt.

"Yes, yes, not from this universe. I did not think that Colonel Lorne had decided to leave SG1 for Atlantis and no-one chose to mention it to the rest of us." He looks down at his data-pad for a moment, then back up at Evan. "You are the third Colonel Lorne in six months. Soon you will be ahead of Colonel Sheppard."

"Can you not –" Evan starts awkwardly. He gestures vaguely at himself. "Major, not Colonel." It feels wrong to let anyone use the rank on him, when he hasn't earned it, even if there's some evidence that he's going to.

"Ah." Zelenka nods. "Dr Cadman did not appreciate being referred to by her military title either, I recall."

Evan wonders briefly if finding a dark corner to hide in until someone figures out how to send him back is an option. Then his brain catches up with the rest of him. "Wait a minute. This isn't weird? Novel?"

"Weird, sure," Mitchell says. "Though not as weird as when Harman turned up as a marine sergeant." He shares a smile with Zelenka while Lorne waits for the conversation to get back on track, since he doesn't know a Harman and can't appreciate the weirdness of him or her turning out to be a marine in another universe. "Novel, not really as much as you might think."

Zelenka squints at Lorne, then looks over at Mitchell. "Another one who doesn't know about the Fremian device?" Mitchell nods. "Then perhaps it would be best –"

"We were just going for dinner in the office," Mitchell says, nodding. "Join us?"

"That seems wise," Zelenka agrees, and turns back in the direction he just came, tagging along with them.

"So, this happens to you a lot?" Evan asks tentatively. On the one hand, this Atlantis doesn't appear to be full of alternate versions of the city's population, which ought to mean there's a decent chance of getting him back to his universe. On the other, this is Pegasus, so it's even odds that this means he's going to die as a result of some unforeseen complication in the next twenty-four hours.

"Not as much as it was," Zelenka says cryptically, which really isn't all that different from Evan's Zelenka.

He's hit by a sudden flash of distorted memory, and turns to Mitchell. "You said 'that's different,' when I got here," he says, fighting not to sound too accusing. He can't believe it's only just occurring to him that, just because these people look familiar and trustworthy, it doesn't mean they are. He's read the report about the SG1 who came looking to steal Atlantis' ZPM a couple of years ago, and he still didn't think anything of trusting this Mitchell enough to give up his weapon without argument.

"Ah," Zelenka says. "You are one of the ones who worries. I promise, we do not intend to kidnap you, experiment on you, keep you for nefarious purposes or sell you to the Genii. Not that I expect you to believe me, you usually do not."

"Sell me to the Genii?" Evan asks. He's not sure he wants to know about the him who thought that was a likely outcome.

Zelenka looks troubled, like he's wishing he hadn't said anything. "He was – he did not –"

Mitchell points casually down the left-hand corridor as Evan's about to turn right, and nods to a couple of passing marines, who don't look twice at Evan. They're probably used to this. "Explosion," he says with the air of a man who frequently has to really work to get to the end of a line of thought in a conversation, a feeling that Evan knows very well. "There's not usually an explosion to go with the device activating."

Zelenka frowns. "No," he says slowly. "No, that is different."

"That's what I'm saying," Mitchell agrees wryly.

"Perhaps on your end?" Zelenka asks Evan.

He's been thinking the same thing and trying not to, because two of his team are still on that planet, and an explosion there can't mean anything good. "I don't think so. There wasn't anything there."

"Then it is a mystery," Zelenka says. "Dr Simpson is reviewing the data from the wormhole, perhaps she will find something."

"So." Mitchell touches the crystal to a room that Evan's pretty sure is empty space in his Atlantis, but turns out to be a big office, with three desks and half a dozen filing cabinets, in this Atlantis. "Probably nothing to worry about."

Zelenka makes a scrunched up face that Evan recognizes as meaning the other person is wrong, but not in any way that's easy for Zelenka to describe. "Perhaps. Almost certainly nothing to worry about when it comes to sending Colonel – Major – Lorne home."

"So this isn't... something to worry about?" Evan knows they've already said it's not a novel thing, but it feels too unreal, and he wants to be really sure.

"Happens all the time," Mitchell says dismissively.

Zelenka looks up, catches the look Evan can feel on his face, and grins. "No, really. About twice a month, now."

"Because of the Fremian device?" Evan prompts.

Mitchell drops into the chair behind the far corner desk and picks up the phone, which makes Evan pause for a second. They do everything by radio or email back home, he doesn't think there's a single phone in the entire city. And there's Mitchell, calling the kitchen for dinner for three, like he's calling room service in a hotel.

Zelenka nods, turning one of the visitors' chairs to sit at the desk next to what must be Mitchell's – Sheppard's, maybe? Evan makes a mental note to get someone to explain to him how this place works, if he's not going back in the next couple of hours. And to find out who the civilian leader is, since no-one's mentioned them yet.

"It's complicated," Zelenka says apologetically. "But yes, because of the device. It was designed to allow travel between different universes through the gate, with a second, smaller device which allowed the traveler to dial home."

"I don't have anything," Evan says, fighting down the urge to panic. He tells himself firmly that they'd be a lot more worried if they knew he was stuck here – unless they're so used to it that it isn't something they worry over any more. He remembers Zelenka saying, "another one who doesn't know," so there must be some who do know, who've found a reference to this device somewhere, maybe even come on purpose.

"There's probably one in your Atlantis," Mitchell says, drifting over to sit on the other visitors' chair. Evan, not comfortable sitting behind someone else's desk, sits on the edge of the desk instead, trying not to kick his feet like a little kid. "We'll show you where we found them in our city, you can look once you get home."

"Probably your Dr Zelenka will be very keen to get his hands on something that allows travel at will between parallel universes," Zelenka adds. Evan's not entirely sure of that, considering their recent trials with the universe-hopping Daedalus, which is another thing to ask Mitchell about.

"So I don't need one to go home?"

"It's complicated," Zelenka says again. "The device that brought you here – the one that Dr McKay is researching – it scans for certain factors..." He looks helplessly at Mitchell, who shakes his head, like he can't help. "Think of it like a net," Zelenka tries. "Or an internet search, yes? It is pre-set to look for people travelling along certain routes, with the gene, and a... connection, maybe, to Atlantis, and it brings them here."

"Why?" Evan asks. He's used to getting reports from science teams, enough to read between the lines of this one – they know what it's doing, but they don't know why, and they don't know enough to control it and/or shut it down. Which is probably why McKay is out wherever the device is, working on it.

"McKay thinks it's some kind of automatic function, to bring everyone home in a hurry," Mitchell says. "They turned it on when they were evacuating the city, and it shut down once everyone was gone, until we reactivated it."

That – almost makes sense. Enough sense for Evan to let it go, at any rate. He's more worried about how they'll send him back.

"It was much worse at the start," Zelenka adds. "Several people every week, and sending them back required a lot of power, without the second device. That was the main reason for taking the device so far away, to a planet without a gate – the effects are greatly diminished by distance, but not so much that it has to be returned every time someone is brought here."

"So you can send me back?" Evan asks.

"Of course," Zelenka says, the way he does when Evan's asking if he can fix a busted puddle jumper, like it's easy. "We have already sent a message to the research station. Rodney will let us know when the device is suitably charged, we will dial the gate, and – so – back you will go. Find the second device on your Atlantis, you can even return for a visit."

"Cool," Evan says, channeling Sheppard for a second, and Mitchell grins at him, like he's thinking the exact same thing, even after all the experience he must have with the device. It makes something inside Evan catch, and he feels himself grinning back stupidly. Speaking of things that are different... "So does that mean you could come to us, if we find our Fremian device?"

"We believe there is only one," Zelenka says. "The Ancients in this universe created it, and placed the homing devices in all the other universes that they visited. There are several universes where the database mentions the device, but always to say that there is only one, and that it is here. This universe acted as a portal between the others, rather than there being many direct connections."

Evan gets the logic behind that – just the thought of all the connections between parallel universes, especially with the devices being able to summon everyone home, makes his head hurt. "So there might not be one in my universe?" he asks, getting it. "If there's an endless number of parallel universes being created every time someone makes a different decision, there must be thousands that didn't exist when the Ancients left Atlantis."

Zelenka looks kind of impressed, and Mitchell looks like he's fighting not to laugh. "Yes. No."

"Which one, Doc?"

"Yes, there are many that did not exist when the devices were seeded, but no, yours is not one of them. The device is set up to scan only universes that the Ancients were aware of. They had a complex equation for describing the specific signature and location of the universes that they thought must exist, it is quite fascinating, actually –"

He stops, getting the slightly vacant look that people get when they're listening to something on their radio headsets, and Evan actually reaches up to adjust his own before he remembers that he's probably not on the right frequency for an alternate universe.

"I will be right there," Zelenka says into his headset, then, to Evan and Mitchell, "Rodney has sent a message from the research station, along with some data. It appears that the explosion may have been on our end after all."

Evan feels a cold swirl of fear in the pit of his stomach. "It's not –"

"It does not seem to be connected to the functioning of the device," Zelenka says reassuringly. "Most likely a combination of several factors which led to a small explosion in the materials which help to sustain the inter-universal wormhole. Nothing to be concerned over."

"Right," Mitchell says dubiously, which Evan can kind of agree with. Explosions in the wormhole don't really sound like a good thing.

"It is fine," Zelenka says again, already on his feet and heading out. "Rodney wishes to check several things before we try to send you home, however. Regrettably, you will not be able to leave until the morning."

Evan looks at Mitchell completely without meaning to, just in time to watch something warm and anticipatory spread across his face. "I'm sure we'll think of something to keep the good major occupied," he drawls, not looking away from Evan.

Zelenka clears his throat. "Good. I will – go. Now."

"Yell if you need me," Mitchell says in a voice that clearly implies that Zelenka should try not to need him. He waits for the door to swish closed behind Zelenka, then says, "I've got beer in my quarters," one eyebrow raised.

So apparently this Atlantis is maybe a little different from Evan's in a couple other ways too. "Sure," he says.

Mitchell grins. "So let's go."

It's still early evening, which means the corridors are pretty empty, most people still on duty or at dinner, so they're nearly at the residential quarters before a marine rounds the corner and says, "Oh, Dr Mitchell."

Evan waits for him to correct himself, or for Mitchell to do it, but Mitchell just says, "What's up, Sergeant?" like this is normal. Like people say that to him all the time.

"Major Teldy's team just radioed in to say they'll be staying an extra night on M1D 589, and asked that we let her know when we're dialing to send Colonel Lorne home, so there won't be any crossed lines."

"Major Lorne," Mitchell corrects. "Make sure Banks knows for tomorrow morning."

"Yes, sir," the marine says, and walks away.

"*Doctor* Mitchell?" Evan asks when he's gone. He thinks this is actually more of a shock than discovering that he's been promoted and sent back to Earth in this universe.

"Yeah," Mitchell says, half-questioning. He touches the crystal, opening the door to one of the bigger rooms in the residential corridors, like Dr Weir used to have, and Woolsey has now. It's neat, looks almost empty, despite the books lining a couple of shelves, and the stack of DVDs on the edge of a desk. "Want a beer?"

"Yeah," Evan says absently, then, "Sorry, in my universe you're..."

"Still in the Air Force?" Mitchell takes two bottles from a small fridge under the window and hands one over. He's not quite looking at Evan, his face twisted up with something that makes Evan wish he hadn't said anything. "That happens a lot round here."

"It's none of my business," Evan says, even though he's desperately curious. Sheppard, he could understand – he knows Sheppard is brighter than he makes himself out to be, hangs out with the scientists more than most of the military on Atlantis – but Mitchell's never really seemed the type to go into academia, especially with the implied prior career in the Air Force. He wonders if this Mitchell was injured worse in the crash than his own Mitchell, except he doesn't seem any more badly injured, and it's only been four years since he came to the SGC, barely long enough to have gotten a PhD, never mind been appointed to head up Atlantis.

Mitchell takes a long swallow of beer, then drops down onto his bed, leaning against the wall and waving Evan down next to him. Evan carefully doesn't look at the three comfortable-seeming chairs, just sits next to Mitchell, both of them sideways on the bed, not quite touching.

There's a long moment of silence, then Mitchell sighs. "There was an accident," he says, quietly. "Bad intelligence, and a bunch of people died who shouldn't have done." He's not talking about the crash in Antarctica, that much is obvious, but Evan has no clue what he *is* talking about. "I quit, went back to school. One of my advisors on my PhD ended up working for the SGC, and she recruited me. Brought me out here with her when the expedition first came, kept me around. Trained me."

He looks down, turning the bottle in his hands, and Evan knows exactly who they're talking about. He tries to imagine, Weir and Mitchell in civilian command, Sheppard thrown in charge of the military, like he was in Evan's universe, must have been here. He missed that entire first year, of course, but he's read the reports, listened to the marines, to Zelenka, and it makes him feel weirdly sad for his own Sheppard, because this universe's Sheppard must have had it so much easier, with someone else in charge who knew what the military was like, even if he'd left it.

"They put me in charge when she was killed," Mitchell says, his mouth twisting up in remembered grief. Evan thinks, Killed, not captured, and knows he'll never ask, even if he comes back for a thousand visits, if she was captured by the Replicators as well.

He shifts slightly, pressing his shoulder against Mitchell's in the easiest comfort he has, and Mitchell looks up, smiling awkwardly. "Is she still there?" he asks.

Evan shakes his head. "Woolsey's in charge."

Mitchell cracks up, his eyes going wide and disbelieving. "You've got to be kidding me. Richard Woolsey, from the IOA?"

"Shocked me too," Evan admits. It's still shocking him, as much as Woolsey seems, bizarrely, to be fitting in to Atlantis. "Sheppard's the military commander here?"

"Yeah," Mitchell says with a fond smile that Evan tries not to get too jealous of. They've fought through five years in Pegasus together, lost Dr Weir together, and, also, he has no claim to this Mitchell. To any Mitchell, but particularly not to one in another universe. "Major Teldy took over from our Lorne as second in command after he got promoted."

Evan tries not to wonder if that's why she's just come out to Atlantis, then tells himself to stop being paranoid. That's what Atlantis has McKay for, after all. "Still me, back home."

"But not me, right?" Mitchell pushes.

Evan takes a drink of his beer, going warm in his hand, and wonders whether he can get round the question or not. Probably not. "You're the leader of SG1," he says, and doesn't mention the 302s, or the accident.

"Huh," Mitchell says. "That's only the second one." Evan looks at him, and he adds, "Universe where I'm leading SG1. Mostly I'm flying 302s."

Evan wonders what it says that neither of the Mitchell's he's met now are doing that, that they gave up flying when most versions of Mitchell didn't. Some of them probably never crashed, of course, but he's sure it says something, even if he doesn't really know what.

He blinks when Mitchell's hand comes down lightly on his wrist, the other gently removing the half empty bottle from Evan's hand and twisting to place them on the floor. "What?" he asks, and Mitchell cups Evan's cheek with his free hand and leans in to kiss him, careful and slow.

Evan kisses back, raising one hand to grip Mitchell's shoulder. God, it's been way too long since he kissed anyone, since anyone he liked and knew kissed him, even if it is someone he really doesn't know at all, and Mitchell's hands feel good on his skin, then even better when Mitchell eases him carefully down onto the bed, sprawling over him.

"So," Evan says after a while, relaxed and loose, his shirt off and Mitchell's dark-blue button-down half-open, "Do you do this with all the alternate universe Lornes?"

Mitchell laughs, warm against Evan's neck, and sucks gently on the skin there until Evan sighs. He feels like he's got electric currents buzzing under his skin, only much, much better than that sounds. "Nope. But you're my favorite."

Evan feels his face going red, pulls Mitchell up to kiss him again before he'll notice. Mitchell laughs into the kiss, which probably means Evan didn't cover it up as well as he was hoping. Evan pushes Mitchell's shirt off instead, touches the line of muscle down his back and listens to Mitchell hum, pressing back into the touch. Mitchell's hand skates across Evan's hip, dulled through layers of clothing, and it's not a turn on at all, but it feels really good, safe and warm and –

And Mitchell pushes himself up, sitting back on his heels, and says, "Mitchell," into the air.

Into his radio, Evan realizes a moment later, reality crashing back in, washing away the feel of Mitchell straddling him, Mitchell's hand resting on his bare stomach for balance, the way Mitchell looks, half-naked and mussed up. His face darkens as Evan watches, his jaw tightening.

"How did they –" he starts, and whatever the person on the other end says can't be good, because his eyes slide closed for a long moment. "Fuck. Okay, get Sheppard – right, right, never mind. Remind me next time why I don't let the military command go off-world at the – Yes. Please. In the conference room in five, I'm on my way." He taps the ear piece off, still not looking at Evan, and says, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," low and angry.

He closes his eyes again, and when he opens them, he's looking right at Evan, mouth twisted in a wry smile. "Guess I ruined the moment, huh?"

"Have to go save the city?" Evan guesses. Cadman used to tell him it was everyone's biggest complaint about Atlantis, how often they got interrupted in the middle of really good sex to go save the city. Now he's going to have to admit that she might have a point after all, and he'll never hear the end of it.

"Something like that." Mitchell swings himself off the bed, reaching for his shirt, and Evan notices for the first time that they're still wearing their boots. "You should stay here."

Evan pauses, halfway to putting his own shirt back on. "I'm the military second in command of the city," he says. "I'm not staying here."

Mitchell blinks at him, then, to Evan's surprise, laughs. "Fine. But put your shirt on first."

hr

"How many?" Mitchell asks as he walks into the conference room. Zelenka doesn't even bother looking up from his laptop, but both Teyla and Ronon take a moment for a second look at Evan. He barely notices, distracted by the fourth person at the table, who's openly staring, like this isn't a regular occurrence. Evan has a feeling his own face pretty much matches.

"Two," Zelenka says, tapping his laptop keys; an image of two dots – ships – in the sky above Atlantis appears on the big screen. "They have made no attempt to contact or engage us, but it can only be a matter of time."

"They know you're here? Where you are?" Evan asks, looking at the ships. It's not like Atlantis' location is a huge secret, really, but they don't get Wraith hives dropping in on them unannounced.

"Of course," Teyla says. "We were once allies, it would not have been possible without giving out our location."

"Allies," Evan says. He really, really hopes he's wrong. "With the Wraith?"

Teyla makes a sharp, shocked sound, Ronon glares like Evan's suggesting it's a good idea, and Ford – God, Ford, and Evan can't think about having to tell Sheppard this – is half on his feet, "What the hell kind of universe do you come from?"

"Okay, everybody calm down," Mitchell says. "No, not with the Wraith. We don't do that, and I assume you don't either."

"No," Evan says. It's easier than trying to explain Todd, and the messed up relationship between him and Sheppard, him and Atlantis. "Of course not, I just assumed they were hives."

"They're Ixilirans," Ronon says. He's still eyeing Evan mistrustfully, but Evan can handle that. "They were supposed to be our allies and they betrayed us."

"Ronon," Teyla says reproachfully.

"They did kidnap Colonel Sheppard," Ford says, half-apologetically, Evan assumes for arguing with Teyla, which isn't something Evan would want to do. It shouldn't feel so weird to have Ford around – he's never been around Ford much, beyond the couple of months they both spent at the SGC before Ford went to Antarctica and Evan went to mine naquadah. It shouldn't, but it does, like he absorbed Atlantis' sense of loss, or maybe just Sheppard's.

"For what seemed to them to be good reasons," Teyla says, and Mitchell makes a stop gesture with both hands.

"As much as I'd love to rehash the argument over how exactly they went from being our allies to our enemies in three days, because Lord knows I haven't done it often enough for Stargate Command and the IOA, the fact remains that as much as they might have liked us before, now they hate us and want us dead." He pauses for a breath. "So, how many, and can we get 302s in the air before they start firing on us? Because the Apollo is four days out and sitting here watching them pound our shield for three days doesn't fill me with joy and happiness."

"Two ships," Zelenka says, again. "No unusual readings, so probably no strange weapons, and no sign of them launching fighters."

"Okay, good." Mitchell nods. "Ford?"

Ford makes a twisted face, like he doesn't like his own answer. "Sheppard took the last jumper in the city," he says. "And three of the 302 pilots are off-world. We can get them back."

"Who's in the city?" Mitchell asks.

Ford names four people that Evan's never heard of, but since they have 302s, they probably have pilots who are actually trained on them, unlike his Atlantis, where they have people who know how to fly and have been shown round the controls of one.

"Four's better than none," Mitchell says, sounding pretty unhappy with the situation anyway.

"Five," Evan says, and everyone looks at him. "You do realize that I come from a universe where I do this for a living, right?"

Ford looks down at his hands, and both Zelenka and Mitchell laugh. "Do you even have the Ixilirans in your universe?" Mitchell asks.

"No."

Zelenka taps at his laptop again, and a picture of a ship with an elongated X painted on the side comes up.

"Oh," Evan says stupidly, which gets everyone looking at him again. "About four months ago, did the Daedalus show up out of thin air during a fight with the Ixilirans, then disappear?"

They all look at each other. "Yes," Mitchell says slowly.

Evan decides this is a good moment to sit down. "Yeah, that was us."

hr

After all the discussion prompted by that comment – not that, as Zelenka points out after a while, it really makes any kind of difference, since none of them have actually met each other – taking off in a 302 seems like it should be a bit of an anti-climax.

It's anything but.

It's been a year and a half since Evan flew a 302, longer since he flew one fast, in a fight, and he's never been a fighter pilot, never been Sheppard, who lives on speed and danger, but he's always been a pilot, and the 302s are a rush that the jumpers will never compare to.

The few seconds between take-off and engagement, flying in formation with the four other fighters, are even better, a solid click of connection, even though he doesn't belong with them, that he barely remembers, it's been so long. It doesn't matter that Evan doesn't know the names to go with the flight numbers, doesn't matter that he only knows the Ixilirans through Sheppard's descriptions and Ronon's surprisingly good drawings – the other pilots pull him in, slot him into their unit like the space was just waiting for him.

"No shields," Hunter says on Evan's left.

"Let's hope it stays that way," Green, the leader of their tiny flight, says. "Lorne, stick with me – if they haven't got shields, they'll send out their fighters once we get close."

They've been through this twice already, along with twenty seconds of video footage of the last attempt on the city, the one after Evan's Sheppard and Mitchell's Sheppard fought them off. "Roger that," he says, and then the five of them break atmosphere, the sky going black around them, the two ships dead ahead.

"Anything?" Green asks.

"Nothing –" Liu starts, then, "Scratch that, they're sending out fighters."

"Liu, Hunter, focus on the ships; Grodowski, left, Lorne, with me. Go."

Grodowski peels left in her 302, spattering weapons fire against the side of the ship, still apparently unshielded, and two of the fighters scream after her. That's as much as Evan sees before he's got the other four on his and Green's tails, shooting some kind of pulse that's nothing he's ever seen before. He flips the 302 sideways, dodging the pulses and watching them disappear off into the black of space, wishing for the jumper and its cloak. He's hyper-aware of Green, half-following, half-leading him; more distantly aware of Liu and Hunter blasting at one of the ships, and the dot of Grodowski's 302, lit for a moment by the bright explosion of a fighter.

"Watch your ten o'clock," Green says, sharp in Evan's headset. He glances over, clocks the fighter up ahead, closing in on Liu, and angles round, locking on and trying to remember that he can't control any of this with his brain.

The fighter goes up in a ball of orange flame, and there's a jubilant, "Yeah!" in his ear. Evan grins, swings round to make another pass.

"Fuck, no," Grodowski growls, then Hunter says sharply, "Move, move, you're in –" and both 302s fire, breaking up one of the ships.

"What the fuck was that?" Green asks, sounding out of breath. He streaks by under Evan's 302, something on his tail, and Evan doubles back, trying to shake his own tail and take out Green's.

"They were powering their hyper-drive," Grodowski says. "Did you see that?"

"Yeah, yeah, you're a super-star," Liu says dryly. "Someone got a hand to give me with the other ship?"

"Just – one – second," Grodowski grits out, then Evan's tail stumbles and starts spiraling down. A moment later, it explodes, taking out Green's as well.

"Nice," Evan says, cruising a big circle, trying to find the last two fighters. The remaining ship is strafing the entire sky, not just Hunter and Liu, and the remains of the other ship are drifting, too far away for the planet's gravity to pull them in. All five of the 302s are firing, it's as much work to avoid hitting one of their own, or getting hit, and Evan knows he's grinning like an idiot, because this feels so damn good, and it's been a long time since he's served with anyone who'll get it other than Sheppard.

"Where the hell'd they go?" Grodowski asks, sharp and pissed off. "Anyone got visual?"

"Negative," Green says. "What happened to upgrading the radar in these things to get past their shielding?"

"You wanna go on that now?" Hunter asks, then, "Fuck, Christ, that was close."

"So watch the damn road," Liu says. A pulse bursts past Evan, so close he should be able to feel it burn, and in the bright white of the after-burn, he sees two fighters coming straight at them.

"They're back," he says.

"Not for long," Green says darkly.

The sky lights up with weapons fire, the five of them wordlessly in sync, and then it's one big explosion and a whole hell of a lot of silent, empty space.

"Oh yeah," Hunter says, sounding like he's grinning.

"Say that again," Green says. "Nice work, everyone."

And Evan has to pull his mask away – feeling like he's floating back to consciousness, like coming out of a dream – just so the others won't hear him laughing, hysterical and high.

hr

Mitchell takes one look at him when he wanders into the control room again, still in his flight suit, and turns to Chuck. "I'm off-duty for the rest of the night," he says. "Call me if the city catches on fire."

"Yes, sir," Chuck says, not hiding his grin very well.

Evan's got a lot of bad puns about things catching on fire, but he doesn't get to use any of them. On balance, he's pretty sure he got the better end of that deal.

hr

"You're sure the explosion didn't mean anything?" Evan asks, for the third time, standing in front of the empty gate the next morning, hair still damp from the shower, diagram of the device he needs to dial back to this universe tucked in his pocket. He's back in full uniform, vest and P-90 and 9mm, but he doesn't feel quite real under it all, still soft-edged from the night before, from Mitchell the civilian commander and Ford who isn't dead and knowing that someone from his world has been to this one before, that he can come back. Will come back, because there's a whole lot here worth coming back for, and maybe seeing some of it will help ease the way Sheppard sometimes looks like he's going to crack under the weight of everything lost.

He wonders what the two Sheppards will make of each other, meeting when they both know who the other is.

"Quite certain. Dr Simpson and I checked several times," Zelenka says firmly. "You are ready to go?"

Evan's not, quite, but his team are on the planet he left, wondering where he is, and Atlantis was expecting him. There'll be plenty of people back there wondering where he is, worrying about what's happened to him, and as much fun as he's having playing in a version of Atlantis where he gets the fun stuff and none of the responsibility, it isn't him and it isn't his place. "I'm good. Dial it up."

Zelenka nods, heads up the stairs to input whatever code he needs to link to McKay and the Fremian device. Mitchell wanders up, stands next to Evan, looking at the gate as the chevrons start to light up. "Got everything?" he asks.

"I'm good," Evan says again. "Thanks for – looking after me."

Mitchell grins. "My pleasure." The gate wooshes into life, a slightly greener shade of blue than usual. Evan can't remember if it was when he came through last time. It seems like something he would have noticed. "Don't be a stranger."

"No chance," Evan tells him, and steps through the gate home.

Timestamp: Six months after


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