Although it took me a while to get my assigned remix done and I was having some trouble with it and cursing myself for signing up, after it was done, I was totally in love with it and wondering if I had signed up to pinch hit because I really wanted to write another remix!
As it turned out, I apparently had. And when I got the email from musesfool and saw gblvr was my potential remixee, I said yes without hesitation. I really liked [shift] Reality and it has so many different possibilities for remixing that I knew I could easily come up with something in a few days left before the deadline.
But as I read over the fic, I started to have doubts again. I didn't want to remix it in a way that settled on one reality, because what I love about it is there are so many possibilities for what is true. I didn't want to nail down just one.
So I scrapped the idea of doing the remix as something that was directly related to the original and instead began thinking of it along the lines of "if I were writing a story about 'shifting reality' how would I do it?" and that's where I hit upon the idea of a John who has had this ability all his life. From there it all came pretty quickly.
My first idea for the formatting didn't work out, but I originally planned it to be five sections, each set off by a quote about John from someone in the story. The first section was to have a quote from a teacher, like from a report card, maybe, saying "Johnny has a wonderful imagination, but he needs to remember that make-believe isn't real" or something like that. The second section had a line from John's therapist telling his parents he had ADD. The third section had a line from Nancy saying she couldn't take it anymore and felt like John was never there. For the last two sections...well, I'll talk about that more when I get down there. Anyway, I was sorry to lose the quotes as a way of setting off the sections, as I liked them a lot, but when I changed the ending, I just couldn't think of a good quote for the final section, so I ditched that idea.
It probably isn't the first time. After all, the first memory you have of someone doesn't mean they didn't exist before. But the first time John remembers it happening is when he was six.
I knew I wanted this to be a story about John for the most part (with a tiny bit of John/Rodney as a nod to the original) and I wanted to start from the beginning, though I futzed around with the opening paragraphs quite a lot, unsure whether I wanted to have it past tense or present. I eventually went with present because to me that feels more focused on the moment rather than looking back remembering.
He's lying in bed. It's summer, still light enough outside that he wants to be out there playing. But he must be tired, because he yawns and closes his eyes, and there it is, this funny feeling like he's floating, a familiar itch under his skin.
He opens his eyes and he's not in bed. He's not in his room, not in his pajamas. He's at a playground he's never seen before and a boy he won't meet for ten, twenty, thirty years says, "Don't just stand there, push!" The swing comes back towards him. He pushes.
I admit, I'm really fond of the line "a boy he won't meet for ten, twenty, thirty years" (who is supposed to be Rodney, btw, if you couldn't tell from the bossiness, but it doesn't matter if you know who he is or not).
It's always like that when he's little, and it's a long time before he realizes that's not what other people mean when they talk about dreams.
So as a little kid, there's this weird thing he can do, but he doesn't know it's weird, or that other people don't do it. I like that for quite a long time he thinks that's what dreaming is, because it's something that happens to him when he's (falling) asleep.
He's in high school, maybe junior high. It's not just when he's sleeping anymore; it hasn't been for a while. He can almost make it happen, kind of zone out until he starts feeling that itch. It usually doesn't go anywhere, though. He usually doesn't go anywhere.
He tries a lot at school, though, and at the stupid shrink's when he's supposed to be talking about not paying attention in class or whatever. If he could just do it right then, let some other John take over or go on autopilot or whatever happens when he's not there, life would be so much easier.
Mostly it happens when he's not thinking about it. It happens once when he's jerking off. He's so close, this close, heels dug into the bed and hips pumping up to meet his hand and there it is, a snap like ropes breaking as he comes loose, shifts over.
I like the idea that before he learns to control it, it's something that can only happen in moments when he's not really paying attention, like just before drifting off to sleep, or in the middle of an orgasm. So even though he can kind of zone out enough to almost get there when he's trying, he can't quite do it precisely because he is trying.
It's not his room, not this him or any him. Somehow he knows that like he knows the name of the guy between his legs though he's never seen him before in his life. Brian, that's him. Brian who's on the football team with this John, Brian whose cheeks are hollowed around his dick.
I though about having this be Rodney, but I didn't want it to be that shippy, like every person he meets is not Rodney.
He cracks his head on the headboard but it's still the best orgasm he's ever had. Does it count as losing your virginity when you were only there for part of it?
When he goes back to this John's house (he knows the way without thinking), there's a paper fan above his bed, just like at home. He made it in fifth grade. Not every him did, but this one is close, just one fold over. That's what he decided the universe is like, folded up like a fan, and you can spread it out or close it up, and when it's closed that's when you can shift. Jump, slide, whatever. One minute you're you, the next you're getting head.
People seemed to like this description a lot, which makes me happy. I came up with it as soon as I started thinking about the story. The idea of the multiverse as folded paper is sort of where it all began.
It's a secret he shares with himself. He used to ask people, to hint around when he saw somebody more than once. Did they know? Could they do it, too? Nobody knew what he was talking about. They all looked at him like he was fucking crazy and maybe he is.
So it's just him and these other hims.
And here, in contrast to the innocence of John when he was little, we start to get the beginnings of the man he'll become. There's this feeling that he's all alone in the world because he's the only one who can do this, this feeling that he's the only one who's real.
When things start going wrong with Nancy, he tunes her out, literally. He can do it without even trying anymore, like flipping a switch in his head, and if he doesn't like where he ends up (if someone else is chewing him out for not paying enough attention), he just moves on.
John has always used this talent to get out of situations he didn't want to be in, from the very beginning we can see that with him wanting to play outside and (unconscously) making it so he can. By the time he's with Nancy (late '20s/early '30s), this has become a deeply ingrained habit.
He was about twenty-five before he really got it down, and even then there was still the odd unconscious jump. Now it doesn't happen unless he wants it to. It still needs fine tuning, though, a way for him to choose where he wants to go instead of channel surfing til he finds what he wants.
I like the idea that in each section, his talent is getting refined. It starts out being only when he's sleeping or about to fall asleep, then it's something that happens randomly and that he can almost make happen, here it's something he can make happen, but he can't control where he ends up, and then in the final section we see him instantly switching back to "his" world, showing that he's finally learned to control it fully.
Sometimes he wonders what happens when he's gone. Do they all shift over one place or does he switch with whoever's life he's borrowing now? No one seems to notice anything's different, so the other hims, they must be as good at this as he is.
Sometimes, not very often, but more than once, more than five or six or ten times, even, he gets these panic attacks. Because he wonders, he's always wondered, if this is really his world, here with Nancy now in bed, another round of make-up sex to try and patch together something they both know can't be fixed.
This is where he spends most of his time, this is what feels like home in a way that nowhere else does, no matter how long he stays. But maybe he's not John Sheppard, maybe he never was.
Maybe he's no one from nowhere, just borrowing his own body.
Now we have two things setting him apart. Not only is everyone else less "real" than he is because they can't do what he can do, but there's the feeling that he might not even be who he thinks of as himself. Is he really John Sheppard, a man who can shift between realities, or is he some other person (or thing) inhabiting the bodies of these John Sheppards? I do believe he is John, but that doubt is something that causes him to pull back from other people even further.
There have always been certain people who show up a lot. His parents usually. Dave, too, though not always. John liked those only-child universes when he was a kid.
The others he thought were just coincidences at first. The kid he meets when he's six sits next to him in algebra, smokes pot with him in college, is his boss or his neighbor or his boyfriend. A girl he dates for all of a week in seventh grade shows up a lot, too. A boy he babysits for. A kid at the pool the summer he teaches swim lessons. The woman he almost marries, maybe does, later. He hasn't gone back.
I really like this paragraph. Not that it matters, but the first one is Rodney, the second Elizabeth, then Ford, Ronon, and Teyla.
It sounds like a lot, but he meets millions of people. He has more lives than he could ever count. The repetitions that start to build up, they don't really even register at first.
But now it's almost always the same people, everywhere he goes. It's weird to meet someone and think I fucked you, you dumped me, you died. But it's familiar. He likes these people.
I was going for this idea that John's life sort of solidifies as he gets older, so he encounters more and more of the same people. Also that, because he likes these people and finds it familiar/comforting to have the same people around, he deliberately chooses closer universes. If he were to choose somewhere further away, there would be less chance of it being the same people.
There's no Stargate in this world, or maybe there is, but he's got nothing to do with it. No, there isn't, probably, because Ronon and Teyla are here, from Earth.
I kind of wish I'd worked in something about John himself sometimes being from Pegasus, but there never really seemed to be a good place.
He stays here, though. It's a nice break from Wraith and Replicators and things trying to kill him. And the nice thing about Rodney is he's rarely seeing anyone, in any universe.
Okay, this is, again, my wanting to put in something that helps it not read as shippy as it might otherwise (though some people will read it that way anyway). I wanted to avoid painting it as him and Rodney always finding each other because they're soulmates or whatever, and have it instead be that John chooses Rodney a lot because he likes Rodney (just as he likes the other team members) and that Rodney is almost always available. (Because let's face it. Whether or not you think Rodney is the hottest thing that ever hotted a hot, which I know many do, he has some personality problems and is not exactly great at relationships. So most of the time John finds him unattached.)
The bad thing about Rodney (other than all the reasons why he's rarely seeing anyone) is that it can be hard to convince him. Sometimes it's easy. This is one of the hard times, but he likes a challenge.
So this is my nod to the original fic. I didn't really want to get into that story a lot, so I left it vague. If you know the story of [shift] Reality, you can imagine this fitting in there. If you don't (or if you don't want to), you can imagine it as whatever you want. Just, a universe where there's no Stargate and John is trying to seduce Rodney but not having an easy time of it.
And then Rodney goes and gets hit by a car and takes all the fun out of it.
I wanted this line to be flip, because I really want the sense of John as an incredibly self-centred person to come across. (Someone who, I think, couldn't help but be self-centred because of his talent.) So he's not particularly upset that Rodney was in a car accident (whether he's dead or not is up to you; obviously in the original he didn't die, but as I said, this doesn't have to follow that story 100%); he's upset that his game has been cut short.
John flips back to Atlantis, to his Rodney. He finds himself in the infirmary and his heart nearly stops when he sees Rodney lying there, bruised and bloody and way too still.
This is where I was at a crossroads. I had originally planned to stick more closely to the original fic and have Rodney shift realities, too. He wouldn't have John's talent, but through the coincidence of him being in a near-fatal accident in both realities, he would switch between the two as a sort of one-time thing.
It was going to have Rodney eventually tell John what had happened, and the quote for this section would be him saying to John, "you'll never believe it" or something like that, and after Rodney explained, John would say he did, and it would end there. It would be up to the reader to decide whether John tells Rodney about his own talent and bonds with him that way or he doesn't tell him and goes on unchanged. Well, this is me, so of course in my mind it was the latter. XD
But I couldn't get it to that point, from the accident to Rodney's confession, without it being too expositiony, and changing the tone that I wanted. It felt like trying to force the fic to something I didn't like, just to stick slightly closer to the original.
So I ended up not doing that at all, and I'm much, much happier with the results and glad I didn't force it.
This isn't supposed to happen. This is definitely not how it works.
Someone commented that John might learn a lesson about his actions having repurcussions in other universes, but that's not what I was going for. I did want it to be a coincidence that both Rodneys were injured at the same time. What happens in one universe doesn't affect the others.
His knuckles are white on the bed's guardrail. He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and then he's gone. There are other universes.
There are other Rodneys.
While he wasn't upset about the other Rodney, he is upset about this one, because he feels this universe to be "home". But rather than deal with changes in his home universe, he does what he's always done and just goes somewhere else. He hasn't changed at all.
I think you can read it as a happier, more shippy fic (I'm sure some people have done or will do so), but I was gratified when telesilla and zillah975 read it over for me and their first comments were about John's selfishness.
Some people have brought up how it could also be read as meta on fanfic itself and how we write AUs. I was aware of that interpretation while writing, but that wasn't my goal. I was much more interested in the story itself, and in this John, than in commenting on fandom.
Anyway, feel free to ask anything more, if you think I've skipped some aspect you wanted me to discuss.