Title: Through a Glass, Darkly - part 1 of 4
Rating: PG-13 (some non-graphic violence, and occasional swearing)
Words: c. 14,500 when complete. Posted serially in four parts.
Characters: John and David Sheppard, for the most part
Genre: Adventure, h/c, angst
Spoilers: For Sheppard's family background as revealed in Outcast. Incredibly oblique references to early season five happenings.
Summary: When an injured John Sheppard shows up at his door in the middle of the night, David Sheppard finds himself in the middle of a desperate adventure. Hunted by implacable enemies and haunted by past misunderstandings, the two brothers struggle to survive in a world gone terribly wrong.
Notes: 1. This story is complete (barring editing), and will be posted one part a day for four days.
2. This story is seasonal in setting, but not in theme. Christmas provides some of the background trappings in a few of the scenes, but no more than that.
3. The show hasn't revealed which of the Sheppard brothers is older, and I've read good arguments on both sides, but for the purposes of this story, I've decided to go with the less popular option of making John the elder. I just felt that it provided more interesting emotional issues for the brothers to deal with.
When you hold a wine glass up to the light, splashes of red dance around the room like Christmas lights.
David Sheppard lowered the glass to his lap, cupping it in both hands. When you look into a glass of wine, he thought, it shines like a mirror, but you can't see the reflection of anybody that you recognise. When you drain it down to the dregs, it doesn't make your day seem any better than it seemed when you trudged through the door, threw your jacket over the kitchen chair, and slumped down onto the couch for a few hours of bleak existence before another day's hard work.
He sighed, placing the empty glass on the coffee table. Dad's glass, he thought. Dad's couch. Dad's house. It was a whole expanse of empty rooms, now inhabited by just one person. After one glass of wine, it was a place of ghosts. After half a bottle, it was almost more than he could bear, but he had promised his father that there would always be a Sheppard living in the old place, and that, as they said, was that.
He hadn't gotten as far as to remove his tie yet. He loosened the knot, grimacing at how crumpled his shirt sleeves were. A headache was building between his eyes, too much to let him read. Television, then. He clicked it on. Children were singing about peace and goodwill, surrounded by fake snow and sparkling lights. Dave felt his eyes drawn to the corner of the room, where the emptiness was almost palpable. He remembered when a tree had stood there; when he and Johnny had emerged on Christmas morning to a world of wonder; when it had truly seemed that the magic would never end.
He remembered smiles. But there were precious few of those left in the world nowadays; he could claim no monopoly on misery.
The song came to an end, bells chiming in a false promise of hope and happiness. Dave changed the channel, then changed it again, letting each image linger for just a second before moving on: a lion ripping up red flesh; a space captain flirting with a blue-skinned girl; world leaders speaking with grim faces; black-clad officials telling the populace what they could and could not do…
He clicked the television off, hurling the remote control across the room. Christmas cards scattered, each one with scrawled, impersonal greetings. There was no card from John, of course – never was. At least the cards had obscured the picture frames, each one turned face down so he couldn't see the smiling faces of those who had gone.
Music, perhaps. He stood up wearily, and ran his finger along the spines of his CD collection, starting randomly from the middle of the alphabet. Mozart, he thought – nothing with any emotional association with anything special in his life; nothing he had ever particularly liked. The orchestra started up, and the choir joined in, singing of death and requiem. Huh, good choice, Dave. Even now, so many years on, his mental voice sometimes sounded like John gently chiding him. Way to cheer yourself up.
Was that a noise? Was somebody…? He turned the volume down, and stood there, head cocked, listening. Rain hammered on the window, so perhaps the noise had been no more than that. He wasn't expecting anyone, and a knock on the door after nightfall always meant… Well, it seldom meant well. You heard such terrible stories. Sometimes people went home at the end of the day and were never seen again. It started with a knock on the door, or so everyone said.
The sound came again. It was definitely somebody at the door. It was probably nothing to worry about, he told himself. He'd heard about a group of people – crazy people with a death wish, everyone said – who went from door to door singing Christmas songs. It couldn't be anything worse than that. He always kept his head down; was careful about what he said and what he did.
He could feel his heart speeding up, though, and his throat was dry, the aftertaste of the red wine acrid in his mouth. He moved towards the door, past darkened stairways and empty rooms. He looked at familiar pictures and dying potted plants; at the scuffed patch on the carpet made by two boys' feet scampering excitedly towards all the possibilities of outside. This could be the last he saw of all of this. This could be the last.
The knocking grew more urgent. Dave stopped, let his shoulders slump forward, then drew his head up, ready to face whatever it was that awaited him. The peep-hole showed only one person, leaning against the door with their head bowed and their face obscured. Only one. Dave fastened the chain – as if a chain would make any difference to them! – and pulled at the first of the three bolts.
His hands were trembling as the third one snapped open. He opened the door just a slit, and looked out, slamming the light switch with his left palm as he did so, bathing the porch in yellow light.
His visitor looked up. "John," Dave breathed. If anything, his heart started to beat even faster, and he shook with relief mingled with something else.
"Dave." John's smile was nothing like how Dave thought he remembered it, and yet sharply familiar, both at the same time. "I'm sorry. I…" His smile faded. He looked over his shoulder, peering into the night. Dave tried to look out, too, but the light on the porch turned everything else into featureless darkness.
Dave tightened his grip on the handle. "What are you doing here? I haven't seen you since… God, since--"
"I'm sorry," John said again, but he was twitchy, still darting looks out into the darkness. "Something's wrong. I didn't know… Couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Something's wrong."
Dave felt the old, familiar prick of anger; it was easier, really, than feeling anything else. "Damn it, John, you can't just…" He gestured sharply with his hand. "This. After so long…"
John blinked. "It's not that long." He seemed to struggle for a smile for a moment – that familiar sheepish smile that always made you forgive him when he'd done something thoughtless – but gave it up with a sigh. "No. No, you're right. I'm sorry." He turned to go.
It was raining very hard, Dave noticed, and John wasn't dressed for a New England winter. His clothes were sodden, and as he turned, he swayed, striking the side of the porch with his shoulder.
And Dave hadn't even drawn back the chain. Dave hadn't even fully opened the door to him. Outside was a dangerous place to be after dark, and John was family. John was his brother, for God's sake.
"No. John. I'm sorry. Come in." Dave drew back the chain, the links fumbling in his fingers.
"Shouldn't have come," John mumbled, standing on the edge of the pool of light, looking out at the darkness. "Sorry. Sorry, I--"
"Don't be ridiculous," Dave found himself saying. "Come in."
John's hand crept out to his side, as if that was the only thing keeping him up. "I don't know if… Think I shook them off, but…" He half turned round, light falling heavy on his face. "Everything's wrong, Dave."
When Dave stepped out onto the porch, the cold struck him like a fist. "You're coming in." John's arm was shockingly cold when he touched it, and Dave could feel fine tremors beneath his brother's skin. "I won't take no for an answer."
"You're stubborn." John smiled the ghost of a smile.
Dave's own smile was grim. "I learnt from the best."
It should have felt safer when the door was closed again, bolted against the things that prowled outside. John was drenched, dripping steadily onto the carpet. He looked more out of place inside than he had looked on the porch. It was as if Dave's eyes kept wanting to reshape him, to make him into the boy he had once been. He remembered John coming home with a shattered skateboard, dripping blood from his elbow and his knee. He remembering finding John leaning against the door, his hand covering his eyes, not crying, of course not crying because his first girlfriend had broken up with him.
"You're sick," he said, as John stood swaying in the hallway. "No, you're drunk."
John shook his head. "No. Not drunk." He was twitchy, though, and his eyes looked dazed. Now that he was lit fully by artificial light, his pallor was unmistakeable.
"Sick, then." Dave had no choice now but to complete what he had started. "Let's get you warm, at least."
John hesitated, though, acting as if he didn't know the way. No, Dave realised. Waiting to be asked. Waiting to be invited. Pressing his lips together to keep from saying something that he shouldn't, he led John through the house. John looked at the couch, and then at Dave, clearly reluctant to sit down until he was asked. It's your house, Dave thought. At least, it should be. He didn't say that, either. "Sit down," he said. "Don't worry about getting the couch wet. It's had worse."
John sat down, but kept himself upright, as if he was expecting to have to leap up again at a moment's notice. His eyes flickered around the room. Dave saw him notice the fallen Christmas cards; saw him notice the photo frames behind them, turned face down.
"Laura left me," he found himself saying. "It wasn't me, it was her, apparently. There's no-one else. She just didn't--" He stopped, snapping the words off. It didn't matter any more, did it?
"Laura?" He saw John frown slightly. "I didn't know… Didn't know you…"
"Yeah. Still with her. Until a few months ago, anyway." As you would have known, he wanted to shout, if you've ever bothered to come home. John had met Laura years ago, and had seemed to like her. It had been important to Dave, back then, that John liked his girlfriends. Over time, of course, she had become more than just a girlfriend. He'd kept meaning to ask her to marry him, but they'd both had careers, both been forced to spend whole months apart living in different cities.
Now he would never find out how things would have gone, if life had taken a different course and allowed him to ask the question.
John blinked. "I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't," Dave said harshly. John was trembling badly, he saw, although he seemed to be trying to hold himself still, muscles taut across the back of his neck. He really didn't look well. "I'll get towels," Dave said, pushing the anger aside for another time. "Are you hungry?"
John didn't answer straightaway. Dave decided to take that as a yes, if only because it allowed him to slip away into the kitchen, to lean there with his hands on the table, to wonder what on earth had caused John to come home, and how on earth he was supposed to be reacting. He felt dazed, more than anything else. So many people in the world today looked dazed, as if they couldn't really believe the things that were happening.
The rain was beating on the window. The clock ticked on the wall, counting seconds. With a sigh, Dave started moving, putting together a plate of leftovers. There always were leftovers – just him to feed in a house that should have held a family.
John had moved when he got back, and was standing at the window, looking intently out into the darkness. As Dave approached, he let the drapes fall again.
"Why have you come back?" Dave demanded harshly. "Why come back like this after so long without a word? Is it money?"
John flinched, almost as if he had been slapped. "I thought we were over that," he said stiffly. There was something off about his movements, though. When he stepped away from the window, he almost fell, grabbing blindly for the wall for support.
Dave put the plate down, and tried to offer help, but John seemed to pull himself inwards, withdrawing from touch. "I'm good," he said. "I'm good."
"No." Dave shook his head. "No, you're not. Remember when you climbed out the window one night, to do… I never did find out what you were going to do, just that you fell. You spent three days pretending nothing was wrong. Then we discovered that you'd cracked your collarbone."
John frowned. "I don't… remember that." His hand rose to his brow, fingers pressing between his eyes.
He really was quite shockingly cold. For the first time, Dave started wondering if this meant doctors and hospitals, rather than food, coffee, and a painful, awkward night of family reunion. "Are you--?" he began, but John pulled away.
"Shouldn't have come," he mumbled. Then his head snapped up. A helicopter passed overheard, its thudding sound growing louder and louder, then fading away. "Shouldn't," John said again, as if only seconds and not minutes had passed. "Everything's wrong, and I thought… " He scraped his hand across his eyes. "Maybe I'm the one that's wrong. You'd think I'd remember breaking my collarbone. You'd think I'd remember this." His hand jabbed sharply towards the window, as if encompassing the whole world outside.
"You would remember it," Dave said, still unable to keep the sharpness from his voice, "if you came home more. Six years, John."
"Six years?" John blinked. For a moment, Dave could have sworn that that was fear in his eyes. "But I came home--"
Dave cut him off. "Save the excuses for tomorrow. I'm tired. You need to eat." You couldn't talk so easily when you were eating. Part of him – the part of him who had adored his brother Johnny as a boy – wanted John to do nothing but talk, but the part of him that had turned Laura's picture face down wanted him silent and gone.
Perhaps things would seem clearer in the morning. Perhaps things would be easier if he had that second glass of wine.
Dave walked towards the table, then stopped dead in his tracks. "John?" His voice sounded dry. He swallowed. "Johnny? There's blood."
He turned in time to catch John as he slumped sideways. "No," he heard John mumble, "I'm good. I'll leave. I'm sorry," but Dave shook his head firmly, and manhandled John's semi-conscious body over to the couch.
"You're not good," Dave said. John's eyes were open only slits, his head sinking back into the cushions. "Johnny, there's blood all over the couch."
"Blood, huh?" John gave half a smile. "Didn't know. Knew I'd taken some fire, but I didn't know… didn't think it was… You know how it is: adrenaline. I didn't think…"
Dave felt cold all over. "No, I don't know how it is." He didn't know what to do. You saw these things on medical dramas, but you didn't have to do it in real life. You'd seen so many more terrible things than you'd ever thought to see, but you didn't expect to be in a situation like this. "You're shot. John, you're shot."
John smiled, but his eyes were beginning to glaze over. "'s no big deal. Been shot before." His eyes cleared. "There's worse things. Worse things…"
Dave swallowed hard. "Stay still," he ordered. "I need to see…"
See what? Seeing it wouldn't make a difference, but he had to… He unfastened the top button of John's shirt. John sucked in a breath, held it for a long time, then let it out again. He turned away, too, biting his lip, averting his face. Dave unfastened the second button, then the third. John still wore dog tags, he saw. "I thought they…" Dave began, then stopped, suddenly unwilling to talk about that particular issue when John was hurt and vulnerable and trusting in front of him.
The wound was half way down John's right side, and Dave had absolutely no knowledge of anatomy, to know whether any vital organs were housed there. Blood had soaked through John's shirt, and the skin of his stomach was thick with it. But not thick enough to hide the other scars, one on each side. And when Dave's eyes rose in horror towards John's face, there was no blood to hide the scar in the middle of John's chest, and no blood to hide the thickened skin at the side of John's neck, just where it met the shoulder.
"You went off to fly planes," he found himself saying – stupid words, when you had your brother's blood on your hands. "It was just a game. You were ducking out of the responsibilities of real life. You were playing – trying to go as fast as you could; always trying to go as fast as you could."
John looked at him. His mouth fluttered towards a half-smile, but then it faded again. "Yeah," he said. "It was like that once."
Dave looked at the wound. "I…" He swallowed. "I don't know what to do."
"Pressure bandage," John said. "Stop the bleeding. Stabilise. Fluids. Wait for--" He stopped abruptly, as if he had caught himself on the verge of saying something that he shouldn't have said.
"Or call for an ambulance, like ordinary people do," Dave said, his voice harsher than he had intended it.
"Yeah." John gave a rueful smile. "I keep forgetting…" He frowned, shaking his head. "I walked past a hospital when I first… When I…" He shifted position, his face tightening with pain. "Didn't like what I saw," he said. "Soldiers. Barbed wire." He made as if to grab Dave's arm, then seemed to think better of it, gripping the arm of the couch instead. "Something's very wrong here."
"You've only just noticed?" There were bloody handprints on the fabric. "God, John, you've been shot, and--"
This time John really did grab his arm, his fingers strong on Dave's wrist. "I don't think that a hospital is a good place for me to be."
You heard such hideous things. You heard of people being arrested as they presented themselves, dragged off by the enforcers before the doctors had finished treating them. You heard about people going to the hospital and never coming back, no word ever emerging on what had happened to them. But you also heard of people, crazy people, who saw conspiracies and danger in everything. You heard of people who refused medical treatment because they didn't want anyone to know that they were taking drugs. Even today, not all the dreadful stories were true.
Dave looked down at John's hand. "But I've got to do something."
John didn't appear to hear him. All bleariness was gone from his face, and he was upright and alert, his head tilted slightly to one side, as if listening.
"What--?" Dave began to ask, but then he heard it, too. The helicopter was returning. "It's nothing," he began, but John was already standing up, sliding out from Dave's restraining touch as if that touch was made of no more than water.
Dave watched the clock; saw it pass through two whole minutes. John stood at the window throughout, shirt open to his waist, his skin pale, his hair damp with rain. He held up the edge of the curtain, peeking through a tiny gap, looking out into the night.
And all the while the helicopter grew louder. Its searchlight cut through the house.
"I thought I'd shaken them off," John said. "I'm so sorry, Dave. I've got to go."
It was hard to hear anything over the noise of the helicopter, but was that the sound of shouting? Was that the sound of car doors slamming shut?
Dave opened his mouth to say something, but John was quicker, his face set in an expression that Dave had never seen on him. "I've got to go," he said again.
It was stupid to pretend ignorance, stupid to question. Dave had seen too much on the television news to live in a world of innocence any more. "No," he said, perhaps in denial, perhaps in prohibition; he didn't know which.
John started buttoning up his shirt, his fingers moving adeptly. "I didn't know I'd bring them here," he said. "Stupid. I wasn't thinking. If I go quickly…"
"To protect me." The words felt cold. Dave flashed on a memory – one so old that it was more one of impressions than anything else. He remembered cold earth and scuffed knees, and Johnny standing over him, commanding the bad boys to go away. He remembered years of trailing after his brother, and then remembered the time when Johnny had just gone, leaving behind a house full of shouting and resentment, and an empty hole where he once had been.
"Listen, Dave." John grabbed his wrist. "I know how to deal with guys like this. You don't."
"Like this," Dave echoed. He thought of the board meeting he had chaired just that afternoon – all figures and objectives and strategic plans.
The light outside was dazzling now. John pulled Dave away from the window. "Do you have a gun? They took mine when they…"
"A gun." He barely recognised his own voice. "Yes. Dad's. You know how he was." Illegal now, of course. He'd never really thought to turn it in.
He walked through the house to the study; reached beneath the desk for the key; turned the lock. John took the gun hungrily, and it was as if some invisible switch had been pressed, taking John one more step away from being anyone Dave recognised.
Lights pulsed through the uncovered windows elsewhere in the house. "I'm sorry for bringing this down on you," John said.
"Sorry." Dave was echoing like an idiot. His hand was still sticky with John's blood. "You can't go," he said. "You're hurt."
"I saw enough on the way here," John said. "I don't know who these guys are, but I know what they can do. They're entirely capable of killing. They might blow up the house just because they think I'm in it."
"So you're going to show that you're not." He felt as if he was looking down on his body from above, listening to himself speak. "Lead them away. Lead them away from me."
John did something to the gun, making it click. "I'm going to try."
Dave scraped his hand over his face. Someone started hammering at the door. "You're hurt…" he began.
"I haven't got time for this." John pulled away.
The hammering grew louder. Voices were shouting, calling his name. "No." Dave blinked, and for the first time felt fully there, faced with a brother who was trying to slip away from him once again. "I know what they're capable of," he said. "Of course I do. But I'm not letting you go out there by yourself."
"I can't stay--"
Somewhere on the far side of the house, there was an enormous crash.
"No," Dave said. "But I can go with you. And not outside, either." He grabbed John's arm, half dragging him towards the kitchen, but John broke free, and ran slightly hunched over, one arm pressed to his wound, and the other clutching the gun, ready to fire behind them.
In the kitchen, Dave scooped up his jacket from the back of the chair, rattling it quickly to make sure it still had his car keys. Then he hurled himself to his knees, and scrabbled for the hidden slits, hooking his fingertips through them to raise the trap door. "You must be kidding me," he heard John say, and looked up to see him looking honestly shocked. "That wasn't there… That wasn't…"
Dave looked up at him. "You know how Dad was. He got worse."
John looked at him for a moment longer, then nodded, accepting it. As harsh voices shouted in the far parts of the house, the two of them climbed down the ladder, down into the darkness.
end of part one
On to part two