Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and me.
from “Us Two” by A.A. Milne
There were too many people John didn’t know, and they were all either crying or talking like they thought no one could hear them. So he stared out the window at the fields and the horses and wished there was someone his age that he could talk to. Someone other than Dave, who whined and sniffled and tugged at John’s sleeve because he was bored. John ignored him until he stared kicking John’s leg. But even as John began to turn away from the window to smack Dave, he spotted someone outside—a boy, maybe John’s age, with black hair and a suit just like John's own.
For a moment they stared at each other, the boy on the inside and the boy on the outside, and then John's father called and Dave tried to bite John's fingers, and John left the window, hand half-raised in farewell.
The other boy didn’t move. Just watched him go, and then left as well, not even a set of footprints to show where he’d been.
The hotel room was too quiet, letting him think when all he wanted to do was forget. The TV was broken, and when he tried to read the dusty books on the dresser, the letters refused to form themselves into words. He spent an entire afternoon staring at the ceiling, charting his way across the cracking plaster, pretending he didn’t keep seeing motion in the corners of his vision.
It was worse when he left the hotel and wandered the city streets, feeling almost naked without Nancy at his elbow, her fingers around his wrist. A couple of times he thought he saw her, but it always ended up being some stranger, leaving him both relieved and dimly disappointed. She was probably right about them, about how he was a terrible husband—although he had tried, really he had—but he still loved her, quietly, in his own way.
The whole way back, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following him, but every time he turned to look, no one was there.
When he got back to the room, he stared at himself in the mirror for a while before going to bed, but his face didn’t look any different than it had the night before.
He had been lonely in the city, but felt abandoned in the desert, like a shell left to bleach in the sun.
At first he thought he was seeing things, on those heat-shimmering mornings when he caught a glimpse of a second him, just there on the edge of his vision. But it was always still, always silent, always gone when he actually turned his head to look, so eventually he stopped worrying. After a while, he began talking to it, because there was no one else for him to talk to—everyone was dead or had decided he wasn’t what they wanted.
He almost started at the—voice? Thought? Would have looked around, but he was too busy trying not to get shot out of the sky.
You can save them. And he could, couldn’t he? Had to, didn't it? They were his brothers in arms, and would gladly do the same for him. It was his duty, and he could do no less. Go back.
So he did.
The MP’s were polite but unsympathetic. Or perhaps they were sympathetic—he didn’t really care. Everyone was dead. They were all dead—rescuers and rescuees alike, and only he was left. Seemed fair, since it was his fault.
“Leave me alone,” John hissed at it. “Just—leave.”
It didn’t stay gone, though, which John was profoundly grateful for by the end of his first month in Antarctica. The flights seemed shorter with someone sitting beside him, even someone silent and insubstantial. But then, that fit the way John felt, after the desert and the deaths. It was enough. Not the way John would have wanted, but sufficient, and he’d learned to hang onto that when it came along. Antarctica was peaceful. Non-judgmental. For a while, he was almost able to forget.
And then it started talking again, saying things he didn’t want to hear, secrets that weren’t his to know, for all that they were about him. No matter that John refused to listen, it continued to talk, and sound gets in through your bones, even if you stop up your ears. Wouldn’t shut up until the incident with the whiskey and the knife.
After that, John got to like the quiet of the snow.
He walked though the stargate and across the emptiness of space alone, and thought that meant an end to the matter. Shot Sumner and it didn’t reappear, and he felt something akin to relief mingled with his guilt and disappointment. Elizabeth looked at him in many ways, but never with reproach, not about that at least.
“I see you’re still in the killing business. Funny, that—I thought you were a pilot.”
“I am,” John said, and remembered the way the puddlejumper felt as she flew. “And I thought I told you to leave, and yet here you are. Funny, that.”
“Not so funny. I’m a part of you—can’t remove the thing that makes you who you are. Can’t walk in the light without casting a shadow.”
“Leave this place. You don’t belong here.” And this time it was John who walked away. Around him, Atlantis sang.
[or maybe it goes like this:]
John doesn’t walk away, doesn’t show his back to this shadow-self who’s followed him through so many years. Nor does he spurn it, for it has only done what was in its nature to do. He can no more blame it than he can blame himself for always choosing the sky.
Instead, he says “Thank you,” and holds out his hand, and doesn’t drop it to his side again when the doppelganger stands frozen. And around him—them—Atlantis waits, hushed and expectant, like the silence before a storm or the moment before the dance begins.
And John says “Thank you,” again,
And the doppelganger looks up at him again, and takes his hand, and smiles John’s crooked smile.
And when it speaks, its voice is nothing like John’s.
[or maybe like this:]
In the space of his own head, with his own face staring at him, twisted, predatory, almost lustful. For one reality-rending moment, John wants nothing more than to claw his—its—eyes out, to shred the skin off until no dark reflection of himself remains. But this, this he’s dealt with before. He’s faced down his shadow, and this is his world, his, no matter what his alien doppelganger might think. This is a trap, all right, but it’s not set for John.
[One of those things that sort of kicked around for a while but never went anywhere because there wasn't really anywhere for it to go. It was mostly just me fiddling about with words.