Spoilers: Pretty much everything from the movie right through season 10 SG-1 and season 3 SGA up through "McKay and Mrs. Miller".
John Sheppard woke up and stretched, opening his eyes and then frowning.
"What the..." He sat up, looking around in bewilderment. This wasnít his room in Atlantis. It wasnít any room in Atlantis. In fact, it looked like his old room at McMurdo.
He was still staring around in shock, trying to figure out what had happened, when the door slammed open.
"Jesus, Sheppard, youíre still in bed? Do you want to get busted down to captain? Youíre due in the air in half an hour! And Iím not covering for you, so move it, Major!"
Stunned, John moved on autopilot, going through his old routine from nearly three years earlier. By the time the day ended, John was just as baffled as when it began. As far as he could tell, everyone remembered him having been at McMurdo for the last three years, and when heíd managed to fly over the coordinates of the Ancient outpost, thereíd been nothing there, nothing but the same endless expanse of ice that covered the rest of the continent.
Back in his room, he plugged in his laptop, one of his few indulgences, and tried to find information on his friends. Several hours later he knew that Elizabeth was in the Middle East, negotiating a complex treaty; OíNeillís file was classified; Zelenka was teaching at a university in Prague; Carson was working on genetics research at the University of Edinburgh, and Rodney was in Area 51. The one bright spot was that Ford was alive and well, though stationed in Iraq. Rodney was his only hope, and fortunately, John had a hell of a lot of accumulated leave time.
Three days later, John was reaching new levels in frustration. McKay had ignored the emails heíd sent, and Johnís security clearance wasnít sufficient to get him into Area 51, not even close to it. And it wasnít as if he could quote secrets to get in since the SGC didnít appear to exist in this weird world. He was running out of ideas, but he knew that he needed Rodneyís help if he was going to find his way back to his own universe, especially since he had no idea how heíd ended up here.
He sent one more email, with "Meredith R. McKay" in the subject line, hoping that would get Rodneyís attention.
"What the hell?" Rodney stared down at his laptop screen, absently reaching for his coffee mug and lifting it to his lips, grimacing when he tasted the cold liquid. This was the tenth e-mail heíd gotten from the same Air Force return address, and heíd been on the verge of deleting it as he had the others but for the fact that this person knew his hated name.
"Jeannie must have put someone up to this," he grumbled, opening the mail and scanning the contents, his frown deepening the whole while. "Just because sheís no doubt unhappy with her life is no cause to for her to have strangers solicit my assistance through the internet."
He hit the reply button and fired off a response chastising the author for allowing his sister to use him and suggesting he spend his money on porn instead of fantasizing about a married woman.
That done, he sighed in satisfaction, wryly admitting that was the most fun heíd had in months, then groaned when the intercom in his lab crackled to life. "Dr. McKay, Dr. Lee needs to see you in the main lab."
"I hate my life," Rodney muttered, saving his work and stomping out of the lab, forgetting all about the strange e-mail.
"Oh my God, heís just the same," John grumbled, sitting down to fire off another email.
ĎRodney, I have never lusted after Jeannieósheís perfectly happy with Kaleb. And if you havenít already, go visit your sister. Your niece loves you.
Anyway, the only time I met Jeannie was in another galaxy, so no, she didnít hire me to play some practical joke on you.
Look, I know youíre allergic to citrus, hypoglycemic, and havenít played the piano since you were twelve. Your teacher was a bitch, by the way, who was jealous of your talent. You play amazingly.
Stop sputtering and call me.í
John added his phone number and sent the email.
"Stop sputtering?!" Rodney sputtered, glaring at the laptop screen as if by the force of the glare he could incinerate the sender. "Shows you how much he knows, Iíve never even met my niece, and another galaxy, thatís a good one; was it long, long ago and far away?"
"Talking to yourself because no one else will, McKay?" came the snide comment as another scientist passed behind his seat in the cafeteria, but Rodney didnít even turn his head.
"Itís much better conversation than you could provide, Kavanagh; Iím surmising that youíre just jealous."
Ignoring the other manís laughter, Rodney stared at the screen again, then came to a decision, grabbed his laptop and headed for his lab, wanting to have this conversation with at least a modicum of privacy.
Once there, he dug his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed in the number heíd memorized out of habit, waiting an intermittent time before hearing a scratchy ringing as the number connected.
John lunged for the phone. "Rodney? Itís about damn time!"
"Oh, are we on some grand mystical timeline in this other galaxy that I know nothing about?" Rodney snapped.
"Use that big brain of yours. How could I know everything I put in that last email if I didnít know you?"
"How should I know; perhaps youíre some stalker with a thing for genius physicists!"
John groaned. "This is as bad as three years ago. Look, I need your help, and I know damn well youíre curious about alternate quantum universes. Or are you not the smartest person in two galaxies in this universe?"
"Just who are you?"
"Lt. Col. John Sheppard. Well, actually, in this reality, itís still Major. I work at the SGC, sort of, with you and a lot of other people who have completely different lives here. Oh, and you and Jeannie made up. Kalebís not bad for a guy who makes tofurkey." Johnís shudder was audible.
"TofuróKalebóSGC? Is that some acronym for semi-gullible cretin which you apparently think I am."
John snickered. "No, youíre only gullible when blonde astrophysicists are involved. Or at least you used to be." Smugness crept into Johnís tone. "I like the meaning for SGC though. I think it might have fit some of them. But it stands for Stargate Command, something that doesnít seem to exist in this reality. Which means the gates are still buried in Egypt and Antarctica, along with the outpost. So I canít get my hands on anything that could help me get home to my Rodney, and Teyla and Ronon; you really are my only hope." John forcibly kept himself from adding ĎObi-Wan Kenobií, knowing that it wouldnít help him with Rodney.
"Thank you, Princess Leia," Rodney snorted. "Let me get this straight; you want me to drop critical projects to run around with you and discover why some gates you lost arenít where they should be? As psychotically amusing as this conversation has been, I really need to go."
"Rodney, please!" Sheer desperation filled Johnís voice. "This isnít my life, and itís not like youíd be working alone. My Rodneyís going to be tearing Atlantis apart to get me home, but there are infinite realities. We need to work from this end too. And, well, you might like meeting my alternate once we get back where we belong."
"Is he going to be insane as you are?" Deciding that getting a little more information couldnít hurt, Rodney sighed and pulled out a notepad and pen. "All right, so just what are you suggesting we doóand where are you, anyway? Arkham Asylum?"
"Ha ha, very funny. Iím at the Motel 6 outside Vegas. The guards at Groom Lake were starting to look like they were going to shoot me if I didnít get lost.
"As for what to do, I guess you need to measure my quantum signature to know which reality I need to reach, and we need to find a way to open a gateway between the realities."
"Oh, in other words, nothing complicated. Do you even know what youíre asking?" Rodney sputtered, before sighing. "I cannot believe Iím doing this, but what the hell, itís not like my career I might be throwing away or anything."
"Thereís the Rodney I know and love!" There was a moment of dead silence, and then John said, "You might want to just pretend you didnít hear that."
"I knew it; you are some kind of stalker!"
John snorted a half laugh. "Actually, I think Rodney stalked me. The whole Air Force thing, you know. And yes, I know Canadaís much more enlightened," he added in the tone of one whoís heard it a thousand times before.
"Uh huh." Rodney was back to sounding as if he was dealing with an insane man.
"Look, Iím not planning to attack you. I know just how prickly you can be, and I have my own Rodney waiting for me at home. Which, you know, is all the more reason for you to help me get there."
"Just so you know, if you kill me, I plan on haunting you as the most annoying ghost in history," Rodney sighed. "Iíll have to clear my schedule and request some time off."
"Thank you!" Johnís exclamation was heartfelt. "And for the record, the only people Iíve killed lately have been to save Rodneyís life."
"Is that supposed to be heartening?" Rodney almost whimpered. "And no, donít answer that; Iíll call you if I can get the time off. Are you staying put there?"
"I donít have anywhere to go," John replied simply.
"You know, the only reason Iím doing this is because Iím bored beyond belief here."
"Of course you are. You always are unless youíre saving a planet at least once a week," John said dryly.
"Saving a planet, huh? I like the sound of that."
"Yeah, youíre pretty good at it."
"Iím glad someone thinks so." Rodney preened almost audibly. "And Iíll phone you once I know what Iím doing. Why donít you do me a favor and write down everything you can remember about this Ďother universeí."
"You want three years of mission reports? Iíll start with the most important stuff," John said.
"Isnít that just what I said?"
"You said everything I can remember. I can remember a fuck of a lot!"
"The important things," Rodney growled.
"Good thing I have a laptop with me. You always bitch about my handwriting. Not to mention that Iíd have the worldís worst case of writerís cramp."
"Glad to hear it; now get to work and Iíll see about getting my vacation time."
"Still bossy," John muttered not quite under his breath. "Iím in room 9. I imagine you can find your way here."
"To Vegas? I would hope so."
"I meant the motel," John sighed.
"Do you know how many Motel 6s there are in Vegas? A few landmarks might be helpful."
"Well, I was going to give you the address, but I can come up with some landmarks if you really prefer."
"Will you just give me the address," Rodney growled.
John snickered as he gave Rodney the information. "Iíll be here, waiting."
"Unless the little green men come and take you away," Rodney snorted, disconnecting before the other man could answer.
John was laughing as he hung up. After making himself a cup of coffee, he sat down at his laptop and started typing, frequently having to go back and add information since most of the key events had happened long before he joined the SGC and were familiar to him only from stories and mission reportsóthe discovery of the gate, how the addresses worked, the Goaíuld, the Antarctic gate, the DHD, Asgard, Nox, the ATA gene, the Ancient woman found under the ice who was still carrying the plague that chased the Ancients off Earth, Dr. Jacksonís encounter with the quantum mirror, the Antarctic outpost, Atlantis, the Wraith, the Ori... there was so much he needed to document.
Shaking his head, Rodney looked around his lab and shrugged, realizing there wasnít much here heíd miss if this cost him his job. "At least I wonít have to tell him why I want a vacation," he muttered before starting toward Dr. Leeís office for the second time that day.
"Youíre actually taking a vacation?" Dr. Lee pushed his glasses down his nose to peer over them at Rodney. "Iíve been trying to get you to take one for months. Why... You know what, never mind. Enjoy your vacation, Dr. McKay. How long would you like to take?"
"Iím not sure," Rodney admitted, "at least two weeks, possibly more."
"Maybe you should take a month?"
"Are you saying you want me to?" Rodney sounded shocked.
"Everyone needs time to rest and recharge, Dr. McKay. You havenít taken a vacation since you joined us."
"Thatís because I havenítóyes, youíre correct, which is why Iím asking for one now. I can leave notes on my projects though Iíd rather no one touched them."
"Of course, of course. Weíll take good care of everything. Enjoy your vacation," Dr. Lee repeated, getting to his feet and moving toward his office door.
"Yes, fine, I will." Finding himself ushered out of the office, Rodney frowned at his quick dismissal, then headed for his lab to power down his experiments and type up his notes.
Several hours later, after a trip by his apartment, he was on the road, pushing his ancient Volvo past the speed limit as he drove toward Vegas.
Lost in the information he was typing up, pulling details out of his memory, it took a moment for the knocking on his door to penetrate Johnís concentration. After a glance at the time, he got to his feet and stretched, then walked over and pulled the door open. "Hi Rodney."
"When you invite someone to participate in a half-baked scheme, itís at least polite to answer the door within the first five minutes," Rodney grumbled, giving John a visible once over.
"Sorry, teach, I was finishing my assignment. And pizza will be delivered in about ten minutes." John stepped back, making room for Rodney to come in while taking in the differences from his Rodneyólonger hair, paler skin, and just slightly heavier around the middle, much the way Rodney had been when they first met, aside from the hair.
"Well, you donít look insane, but then neither did most of the mass murderers out there." Rodney lingered in the doorway for a moment before stepping inside. "And just so you know, Iíve left a message detailing where Iím going and everything I know about you in case I donít return."
"Knowing you, you also have a GPS tracking chip in your pocket, and a nuclear bomb set on a dead man switch," John laughed. "Iím harmless, really."
"Nevertheless, Iíll stay near the door if you donít mind for now, though youíre wrong about the bomb; thermite is much more compact."
John chuckled. "And you made fun of Ford and Cadman for liking explosives. Why donít I go sit down at the table? Maybe thatíll convince you Iím not the Son of Sam."
Rodney nodded at that. "Thatís acceptable. And while youíre sitting, you can give me some more detail as to why you think youíre from another universe."
"You mean other than the fact that when I went to bed three days ago, I fell asleep with my lover lying beside me in our bed in Atlantis, in another galaxy, where weíve lived for the last three years, and when I woke up, I was back on Earth, a major again, and very definitely single?"
"Did anything happenólike maybe you hitting your head or being exposed to a large electrical current?"
"In bed. Asleep," John repeated. "I donít normally sleep with an electric eel."
"Iím just asking; thereís no need to get testy!"
"Huh. You usually snark back better than that."
"Well, forgive me for not living up to your expectations; I might as well go back to work since Iím so useless here."
"Look, Iím sorry. I should know better; it was weird enough when we met Rod earlier this year, and he never reacted the way Rodney would. I know youíre not him. But itís harder when heís not standing right there reminding me of that," John finished wryly.
Rodney pressed his lips together and nodded, though he was still looking at John warily. "Okay, now that thatís settled, can you remember anything strange?"
"I was asleep," John repeated. "I really wish I could. I want to go home."
"I donít mean at the moment you flipped for lack of a better word; I mean the day before."
"Oh. Well, nothing out of the ordinary for the weirdness thatís our daily lives. I donít remember anything that could be responsible for this, not even exploring a new lab."
"Well thatís about as helpful as a box of rocks."
"If it was simple, Iíd already be back where I belong." John slumped in his chair, raking his hands through his hair. "Three years ago I was not a happy person. I donít want this life back."
Without thinking, Rodney stepped forward and dropped into the hard-backed chair at the table, glancing at the laptop screen, then frowning and leaning in so that he could read the contents.
John watched him read, thinking how familiar this seemed and yet how wrong it all was. He shut his eyes, blocking out the sight, and waited for Rodney to finish.
"Well," Rodney commented a short while later, "you either have the most active fantasy life Iíve ever heard of or youíre telling the truth, and as strange as it seems, Iím inclined to believe the latter."
"Thatís a relief because I canít think of any other way I could convince you." John looked at him. "If this works out, you may want to meet the other me. We make a pretty good team."
"To do what? Itís not as if we have any of these..." Rodney glanced back at the screen again, "gate teams here."
"Weíre pretty good when weíre not on missions too. In case you havenít figured it out, Rodneyís the one who was sharing my bed three nights ago."
"Considering you mentioned the fact that you loved him, I would have hoped that was the case."
"Just sayiní. He loves me too." John looked up, smiling wryly. "Weíre a weird pair, but we work. We were best friends first."
Rodney watched him a moment longer before turning his attention to the screen again. "All right, you say these stargates cause temporary wormholes that people use to travel to other planets, or, in your case, to another galaxy. The power that would require..." He fell quiet, trying to calculate the parameters.
"We use naquadah generators for intragalactic travel, ZPMs for intergalactic. And Rodney and Radek are going nuts trying to figure out how to build a ZPM."
"Shh," Rodney said absently, waving a hand in Johnís direction as he frowned, his face contorting in a variety of expressions as he tried and discarded various theories.
John tried not to laugh as he watched him. "Some things are universal."
"Hmm? And do you happen to know just what the energy output is for those power sources you mentioned?" As he spoke, Rodney pulled out his own laptop and turned it on, tapping his fingers impatiently as it booted up.
John recited the formula for him, watching Rodney fondly, especially when his eyebrows rose.
"You say that like you understand the concept."
John grinned. "I could make you work for it, but my Rodney got pissy several months after we started working together when he found out that Iíd passed the Mensa test. Yes, I understand it."
"Youíre a Mensa member?" Rodneyís eyes widened, and he swallowed quickly. "Yes, well, let me look at that equation and see if itís even feasible."
"No, I passed the test, but I never joined. Rod said the Sheppard in his universe did though."
"WaitwaitwaitóRod? Other Sheppard? Are you telling me that there are moreówell, of course there are more than one universe, anything else is absurd, but youíve met another version of meóhimóus?"
"We only met Rod. Jeannie came up with a theory that would have given us unlimited power, but the problem was that it involved dumping exotic particles into another reality. And the one we got turned out to be inhabited. Rod found a way across the particle bridge to ask us politely to stop before we destroyed his universe. Three McKays was a lot of brainpower in one city."
"Politely? Obviously he was an inferior version if he had to ask that way," Rodney half-laughed. "And three? Was there another version of me there that you forgot to mention?"
"Jeannie. She came to Atlantis. It was good for Rodney and her. They got past a lot of issues. Weíre going to visit them the next time weíre back on Earth."
"Jeannie?" Rodneyís voice broke slightly before he recovered. "Well then, I suppose I should say good for all of you."
"Call her, Rodney. Being pissed because your sister chose to have a family instead of staying in academia is a bad reason to lose her. She loves you, Kaleb will like you if you donít hurt his wife, and Madison will fall in love with you at first sight." John laughed. "Most kids do, even when youíre trying to drive them away."
"Are you the Dear Abby of your universe or what?" Rodney frowned.
"I just know my Rodneys."
"Uh huh. And how about you let me work on this equation now."
John mimed zipping his lips, then got up when there was a knock at the door. He paid for the pizza and brought it inside, setting it on the table next to Rodney.
"Soda?" Rodney asked distractedly as he furiously typed lines of symbols, from time to time looking over at the other computer to the synopsis John had written to reference something before returning to his work.
Smiling faintly, John set a cola at Rodneyís elbow and sat back to have his own dinner.
"Well, I can safely say that producing this kind of energy with the materials we have at hand is impossibleóeven if we had one of these gates you talk about, thereís no way to power it, plus the whole idea of getting to a different universe, even if we had a reference point to it."
"So what is possible?"
"Right now? Eating." Rodney moved over to sit on the bed and grabbed a slice of the now cold pizza, eating half of it in one bite.
"Ah yes, I should have known better than to interrupt your feeding patterns," John laughed.
"Haha," Rodney mumbled through another mouthful. "Any way, what is possible is forming a micro-breech to your universe, provided your universe is attempting the same thing from the other side and, of course, the minor fact that weíd need several small reactorsí worth of power to fuel it."
John chewed his lip. "Thereís a ZPM in Egypt and a half-depleted one at the outpost on Proclarush."
"Oh yes, those are both so easily accessible," Rodney snorted.
"At least oneís on this planet! Itís that or try to call the Asgard, and I donít think we have a radio that reaches their galaxy either!"
"What about thisó" Rodney paused and dragged Johnís laptop closer so he could look at the report. "This Daniel Jackson who figured out how the gates work. Have you looked him up?"
"Heís on a dig in Egypt. What good would he do us?"
"Well, if heís in Egypt and that ZPM is in Egypt..."
"Somehow Iím not sure of my ability to convince someone to smuggle what heíll think is an antiquity, long distance."
"Well arenít you just a helpful Harry," Rodney grumbled, reaching for another slice of pizza.
"Hey, Iím willing to try, but he doesnít know me from Adam."
"Neither did I and you managed to convince me to join on this insane quest."
"Yeah, well, I know you a lot better than I know Jackson. He was on OíNeillís team, not mine. He wasnít even in Atlantis. Well, aside from that one visit."
"And I thought I was a pessimist... So what do you want to do then, strike out for the dessert or the frozen tundraóeither one is going to leave us dead, and I for one would rather stay alive, thank you!"
John sighed. "Iíll call Dr. Jackson."
"Good answer, while you do that, Iíll see what else I can come up with." Rodney took another slice of pizza and carried it back to the table, listening with half an ear as John started trying to track down a number where Dr. Jackson could be reached.
Finally successful, it took John hours more to actually reach the archeologist, but he eventually did. "Dr. Jackson, please, I realize that I sound insane, but thatís what everyone said about your theories about the pyramids. And you were right, Dr. Jackson. They were built by aliens, aliens called the Goaíuld."
Rodney left off typing and sat listening to half the conversation, his head cocked to the side as he watched Johnís reactions, trying to gauge Jacksonís comments by each slump or twitch or grin.
"Well?" he asked, when the call was finally over.
"Heís willing to go see if anythingís there. Once heís got the ZPM, I think itíll be easier to convince him to bring it here. I hope."
"Me too. Concrete evidence of all this will go a lot way to making me feel as if I didnít eat some strange hallucinogenic mushrooms," Rodney yawned, sitting up and stretching.
John snorted. "You usually stick to truly astonishing amounts of caffeine for mind-altering substances."
"You say that as if there was a problem with that."
"Not in the least. I like all that focus."
Rodney stared at him for a moment, then smiled slightly. "I can see why the other me likes you."
"See, I grow on you."
"Hopefully not like mold."
"Iím not green or fuzzy."
"Well, Iím not so sure about the second; that haircut is decidedly unmilitary."
"What is it with you and my hair?" John laughed.
"Aside from the fact that it looks like a mutant chia pet? Oh, you mean the other me has the same reaction, donít you?"
"He never compared me to a chia pet!"
"Not very observant then, is he?"
"Wonderful, I get the snark without the fringe benefits," John grumbled, but his eyes were sparkling with mirth.
"Am I supposed to feel sorry for you because of that? You seem to give as much as you get."
John laughed. "You got me. Like I said, we were friends for over two years before we got together finally. Obviously, I enjoy talking to you."
"Him, you mean," Rodney corrected absently.
"No, I got together with him. I enjoy talking to you. Well, him too, of course, but I meant you in this instance."
"Ah." Rodney nodded and glanced out the window at the dark parking lot. "Well, I suppose I should go see about a room. Did Dr. Jackson say when he was going to call you back?"
"No, but I donít expect him to until he finds the ZPM, which could take a couple of days, even with the information I gave him." John looked over at him. "You could stay here, you know. There are two beds, and I promise not to attack you."
Rodneyís gaze swung around to center on John, and he frowned slightly. "I didnít think that you would."
"Just making sure. You accused me of being a serial killer earlier," John said, half laughing.
"And I told you that if you kill me, Iíll haunt you forever, so Iím pretty sure Iím safe."
John laughed. "You realize you donít scare me, right? But Iíd never hurt you regardless."
"You love him," Rodney shrugged. "Iím obviously not the most observant person around, but even I can tell that."
"Yeah, I do. And we have good friends in Atlantis. Weíre a family."
"Youíre lucky," Rodney said quietly before clearing his throat and standing. "I should get my things then."
"This way you have twenty-four-hour access to the laptop and my memory."
"So you wonít shoot me if I wake you up in the middle of the night?" Rodney asked, smiling slightly as he headed for the door.
"Hardly. But you might want to do it from out of grabbing range till I actually wake up," John warned.
"Iíll bring back a stick!"
"Try not to beat my head in; itís the only one I have."
"What, you have a spare?"
Rodney shook his head as he opened the door. "Never mind, stupid comment." At that he ducked outside.
John stared after him, shaking his head slightly. "Oh, I am so screwed."
In a few minutes, Rodney returned, carrying a duffle and a grocery bag. He reached the door and knocked on it, giving a tentative smile when John answered.
"You donít need to knock, you know. Itís your room too."
"Yes, well, Iíll um remember that." Rodney nodded forcefully and carried his bags to the other bed.
John stretched out on his, watching Rodney. "The soda in the fridge is all okay. I got rid of everything that had citrus."
Rodney simply stared at him for a moment before nodding. "Thank you."
"Habit. My Rodney doesnít always check what he grabs when heís in the middle of something."
"Heís lucky to have you." Rodney sat on the edge of the bed and pawed through the grocery sack, pulling out a box of donuts and holding it out to John. "Dessert?"
"Thanks." John took a couple of the sweet treats before sitting back again. "Iím the lucky one."
"So, tell me about life in Atlantis," Rodney said after a bit of a silence.
"You like the hard questions, donít you?" John lay back, looking up at the ceiling as he began to speak. "Itís a city in the middle of an ocean, so thereís always the faint sound of the sea. There are a couple hundred of us there now, an international group of scientists and military, plus Teyla and Ronon. The city itself is actually millions of years old, but it looks like it was built tomorrow, all pillars full of bubbling water and stained glass and crystals. Itís beautiful."
"Actually, I meant what is it like living there, but thank you for that description, it sounds amazing."
"Living here... is terrible and wonderful, if youíll forgive the cliche. The city knows us, the ones with the ATA gene, and it responds to us. Scientists explore things that the rest of the world considers science fiction, and we meet new cultures constantly. But then thereís the Wraith. You canít imagine what theyíre like." John turned his head, fixing an intense stare on Rodney. "You have another fifty years in this reality since no one woke them. Find a way to stop them and get to Atlantis. Thereís a whole galaxy out there that needs the help."
"You seem to have a lot of faith that weíll get to that point here," Rodney commented as he took a donut and nibbled on it.
"I know how stubborn you can be, and Iíve given you a lot of the information you need to build on."
"Hmm." Reaching behind him, Rodney plumped up the pillows and leaned back against them after kicking off his shoes. "We just need to find the gates and the ZPM, and weíre on the way."
"Universe beware," John laughed. "Hopefully the Asgard will be as friendly without OíNeill. Actually, hopefully they havenít been overrun by the replicators."
"Well, you said you had this same ATA gene he does; is that why they liked him so much?"
"Iím not going near the Asgard!"
"Why? Whatís wrong with them?"
"Theyíre grey and naked!"
Rodney stared at him for a long moment, blinking in shock, then one corner of his mouth twitched. "You mean you can face off againstóhow did you describe them?--vampire catfish? But naked grey aliens scare you?"
"He winked at me," John grumbled.
"Pardon me; youíre scared of naked grey homosexual aliens?"
John gave him a narrow-eyed look. "Are you sure youíre a different Rodney?"
"I can honestly say Iíve never seen a naked grey alien, homosexual or otherwise."
John laughed. "Itís almost a shame. I think Hermiod and Rodney had a snarking contest going on."
"Maybe it was a competition for you," Rodney offered.
John shot him a horrified look. "Not funny!"
"I donít know, I think it is."
"You are a sick, sick man."
"Why thank you," Rodney grinned, eating the rest of his donut, "I do try to cultivate that skill."
"Iíve noticed." John sat up again, piling the pillows behind his back.
"So just how did you get involved in this madness?" Rodney asked, looking at him curiously.
John started to laugh. "I flew a chopper from McMurdo to the outpost, got shot at by a drone, sat in a chair, and Rodney started yelling at me. And then I flipped a coin."
"That explains it; you knew youíd fit right in."
"Actually, thatís not all that far off. Though I never expected to be the ranking officer back then. Atlantis changed a lot for me, far more than I could have imagined when I was at McMurdo."
"I wonder how the other you is doing there..."
"Probably seriously freaked by waking up on another planet, in a naked tangle with Rodney. But at least heíll be able to let people know what happened and get them all to help. This is far from the weirdest thing thatís happened in Atlantis."
"How do you stand it? Always worrying about what catastrophe is going to happen nextóhell, if your Rodney is anything like me, how does he stand it?"
"He yells a lot, makes people cry, and then comes up with some insane solution that saves us all. And we do it because it needs to be done."
"Well, he does sound a lot like meóat least the making other people cry part," Rodney admitted. "Itís the life or death part thatís giving me issues."
"We deal it with it, mourn our losses and go on."
"And it obviously works for you." Rodney nodded before yawning.
"Yeah, it does. Thatís why I need to get home." John leaned back a little more. "Get some sleep. Iíll spring for breakfast in the morning."
Rodney chuckled at that and set the donut box aside to rummage through his bag for a t-shirt and sleep pants. Gathering them up, he rose and headed for the bathroom. "Good idea, Ió" he was interrupted by another yawn, "Iíll just be a minute."
John sighed faintly as he watched Rodney disappear into the bathroom. When heíd first contacted Rodney, he hadnít expected this. After his experiences with Rod several months earlier, heíd thought the differences between this Rodney and his would be more obvious, but instead he seemed almost identical, aside from the changes brought about by three years in Atlantis. It was like having his Rodney right there with him but not being allowed to touch.
"You donít get up at obscenely early hours of the morning, do you?" Rodney called from the bathroom.
John chuckled. "I usually get up and go for a run, but donít worry, I know better than to wake you for anything less than an emergency and even then not without sending in a pot of coffee first."
"You have no idea how glad I am to hear that." There was the sound of water running, then Rodney walked out of the bathroom wearing navy plaid cotton pants and a stretched-out, faded grey t-shirt. He flopped down on the bed and groaned before half turning on his side and looking at John. "Weíll figure this out."
John nodded. "With two of you working on it, from both ends, how could we fail?"
"Obviously, we canít," Rodney said haughtily before giving a crooked grin. "Especially with you on both ends urging us on."
"Iíve gone from light switch to cheerleader. Iím not sure if thatís an improvement or not," John said wryly.
"May I mention that the thought of you in a short skirt is a terrifying thing?"
"You have no idea what a relief that is to me."
"Why? Does the other me like it?"
"Itís never come up," John replied dryly. "And fortunately, it seems from that response that it never will."
"You never know, we arenít the same person; maybe heís kinky that way."
"I repeat, a very sick man!"
Rodney chuckled and rolled to his back again, squirming until he was under the sheet and arranged to his liking. "Thank you and good night."
Rodney was just beginning to stir when John let himself back into the room after his run the next morning. With a quick glance at him, John flicked the coffee pot on and headed into the bathroom for a shower, leaving the door open without thinking about it.
"Whazzaówhoó" Rodney mumbled, opening his eyes and blinking a few times in confusion before the sound of water running drew his attention to the left. He turned his head and blinked again as a naked John Sheppard walked pass the open doorway.
"Coffee should be ready in a couple of minutes," John called before getting under the hot water and groaning with pleasure as it pounded against his back.
"Umm, thank you?" Rodney squeaked, swallowing harshly and flipping over so that his back was to the bathroom.
"My pleasure. Literally. Youíre scary in the morning before coffee! Unless sex is involved," John added under his breath.
"It keeps people from bothering me," Rodney sniffed.
"Fortunately for you, your friends know better than to pay attention."
"For your Rodney, perhaps."
"You just need to find the right people, ones you donít intimidate."
"That would mean they exist." Rodney rolled out of bed, heading for the coffee pot and trying to avoid looking in the direction of the bathroom. Once heíd poured himself a mug, he collapsed in the chair, groaning as he took the first sip. "This definitely isnít normal hotel crap; did you bring some with you?"
"Damn right. My Rodney will drink anything thatís caffeinated, but even he admits that the good stuff tastes better." John padded out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and went to the dresser to pull out boxer briefs, jeans and a shirt.
Rodney glanced toward him and quickly looked away, busying himself rummaging for a leftover donut. "So, what exactly are we doing today?"
John shrugged. "I guess I thought youíd be figuring out how to do this once Jackson finds the ZPM and Iíd be fetching food at regular intervals." Once dressed, he went to get himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the wall, watching Rodney over the steaming brew.
"Good plan," Rodney admitted, "though we may want to look at trying to track down one of those gates as well. Have you found anything about... what was her name... Sam Carter? Or what about the woman who started all this?"
"Carterís at NASA, and Dr. Langfordís an archeologist. Strangely enough, sheís on the same dig as Dr. Jackson. As for finding the gates, if you can get the gear, Iíd say we have a better chance at the Antarctic gate. Egypt tends to watch people very closely when they start digging around over there now."
"Oh joy and bliss, freezing toes off in Antarctica, I canít wait."
"Iím more than happy to... Uh, never mind," John said, trailing off abruptly.
"Hmm?" Rodney frowned, his eyes narrowing as he looked at John closely, pausing in the middle of biting into the donut.
"Arctic gear is designed for the weather," John said, trying to avoid explaining that heíd momentarily forgotten he was talking to a different Rodney.
Rodney looked decidedly ill at the thought of having to hike across Antarctica. "How about we focus on the micro-breech idea, please?"
"Donít worry; itís not my idea of fun either. Iíve had years away to get used to not being in a frozen wasteland. Oh yeah, whether itís us or someone else later, they need to be careful of the frozen Ancient woman. She had the plague, and we donít need that getting loose." John thought about it. "I think itís worse for Ancients and anyone with the gene though. OíNeill was the only one she couldnít heal."
"Which means you donít need to get anywhere near the place!"
John smiled, touched that Rodney cared. "She wasnít actually in the cavern with the gate, so it should be fine if we have to go after it."
"I still donít like it," Rodney muttered.
"Well, I suppose we could try to get the Egyptian gate," John said dubiously. "Itís weird though. As far as I could tell, the dig where Dr. Langfordís father found it still happened in this reality. I donít know why it wasnít discovered."
"Donít look at me," Rodney protested, "how am I supposed to know how the soft sciences work?"
John laughed. "My Rodney refuses to admit that the so-called Ďsquishyí sciences are actually sciences at all."
"He would be right." Rodney stood and eyed the coffee maker before shaking his head and setting the mug down so that he could grab a change of clothes. "Iím going to go take a showeróafterward, perhaps we could get breakfast and plan out our next actions?"
"Sounds good. I gave Dr. Jackson my cell number, so we wonít miss his call if we go out."
"Good." Rodney nodded and went into the bathroom, carefully closing the door behind him before stripping and getting in the shower.
John stared at the door, forcibly reminding himself that the man in the shower was not the one who would welcome his company, and he get to his feet, pacing around the room to distract himself from imagining what Rodney looked like just then.
"All right," Rodney commented as he came out of the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a bowling shirt, his hair damp and curly. "Thereís not much at Area 51 that I think would be of use to us, but I do have some contacts at universities, so I might be able to get us some lab time to see if we can get some readings on any residual quantum particles."
John sighed. "Oh yay, I live to be poked and prodded."
"It wonít be poking and prodding; Iíll be scanning you," Rodney huffed.
"Yeah right. At some point, someoneís going to take some of my blood. They always do."
"Iíd guess having it taken was better than having it shed by whatever did that to you." Rodney nodded at the faded scars on Johnís neck and arm.
John looked at his arm and made a face. "I should probably warn you that I have bug issues."
"A bug did that?"
"No, a bug did this." John indicated the scar on his neck. "That was where a Wraith girl hopped up on untested, unstable trial medication bit me... and turned me into a bug."
"You know, Iím liking the sound of the Pegasus galaxy less and less; homicidal bugs, crazy vampire catfish girls," Rodney murmured. "I need food."
"Well, if you get there," John said, opening the door so they could head out to the restaurant, "make sure you bring a spare ZPM since there wonít be a failsafe and the shield will be about to collapse. And when you get to Athos, if you go to the abandoned city, make sure your John doesnít pick up a necklace on the ground; itís a Wraith transmitter. If you avoid that, he wonít end up killing the Caretaker and waking the Wraith early."
Rodney sighed and fumbled in his pocket for sunglasses when the morning glare made him squint. "Youíre going to have to make a lot of notes, and are we walking or driving?"
"Since Iím sick of the restaurant here, letís drive into the city and treat ourselves to an expensive breakfast at one of the good hotels." John headed toward his car. "And I was planning to leave you the files with all my notes."
"You certainly are free spending your other selfís money," Rodney commented. "You driving or me?"
"I checked his balance. I donít think heís spent anything since going to McMurdo. Trust me, he can afford to buy us breakfast." John gestured toward his car. "Iíll drive."
"It doesnít feel right, and I doubt Iíve spent much more than he has the past few years. As my salary certainly outstrips his, Iíll buy."
John shrugged. "If it makes you feel better. Itís not like Iím throwing it away. Iím at the Motel 6, not Caesars Palace, after all," he pointed out.
"Yes, and my retinas will never be the same."
John snickered. "You want to redecorate?"
"Do I look like an interior decorator?" Rodney snapped as he followed John to his rental car. "I just think that no sane person on this earth would combine those colorsóthough perhaps itís something youíre used to..."
"I live in Atlantis, Rodney. Iím used to brilliant stained glass, clean white, and the color of the sea."
"Well, how do I know what it looks like; these Ancients of yours could have all the taste of Donald Trump."
John shuddered. "I think weíd all have slit our wrists. Constant mortal perilís bad enough without your base looking tacky too."
"Thatís good to know, and are we planning on walking to the strip?"
John rolled his eyes and unlocked the car doors. "Happy now?"
"Very," Rodney smirked, getting in the car and fastening his seatbelt.
"Just the same," John was muttering as he started the car and headed into the city for sustenance.
"You and Rodney are damn near identical."
"If I thought about that for any amount of time, Iíd probably be disturbed by it."
"Itís not a bad thing, just very confusing from where Iím sitting."
Rodney was silent for a moment, watching the architectural insanity of the Strip loom closer. "It must be hard for youóbeing with him, but not."
"Itís harder and easier," John said, staring ahead. "I donít miss him as much because half the time I forget youíre not him, but then the other half of the time I have to remind myself youíre not him."
"At least you know heís out there." Rodney raised a hand as if to pat Johnís leg, then seemed to think better of it.
"Thereís a serious problem when weíre in separate sets," John muttered.
"Other than the being in the wrong universe?"
"That too, but I could deal with that if we were together."
"So being apart is actually worse than being somewhere strange?" Now Rodney was looking at him in shock.
Seeing the look, John shrugged, but he also nodded. "Iíve been in a lot of strange places, but usually Rodneyís right there with me."
"Better him than me, I canít imagine being in situations like youíve experienced."
"He felt the same at first, but heís learned a lot. I wouldnít trust anyone else as much at my back. Heís saved my life several times."
"And Iím sure youíve saved his just as much."
"Itís our thing. Any preference where we go?"
Rodney shrugged and glanced up at the billboards advertising various hotels. "The Luxor? We can wish Dr. Jackson luck while dining with the fake pharaohs."
John laughed. "Sounds good to me." He pulled up in front of the hotel and gave the keys to the valet. "I think I could eat a horse."
Rodney nodded as he climbed out of the car and started into the building at Johnís side. "I have to agree, and hopefully this will be better than what I normally eat."
"If you eat anything like my Rodney, I can pretty much guarantee it."
Rodney gave a slightly crooked smile at that and shrugged. "The after-effect of too many long nights working, I suppose."
"Thatís what he says too." John rested a hand in the small of Rodneyís back as they stepped inside the restaurant.
Once they were seated at a table and had fresh cups of coffee, Rodney picked up his spoon and stirred the liquid even though he hadnít added anything to it.
"Iím beginning to feel like a not quite right copy of myself if you must know."
"I never meant to make you feel that way," John exclaimed. "Youíre not a copy; youíre you. I just keep looking for him," he admitted.
"I get it; I know you arenít doing it on purpose, but as someone who prided himself on his uniqueness, hearing that someone else says everything you do is disconcerting." Rodney sighed and set his spoon by his mug. "I donít know about him, but Iím not much good at talking about all this squishy stuff, so Iím going to go see whatís on the buffet."
John bit back a comment that his Rodney was the same. "Good idea. I really am hungry."
Rodney nodded and got up, leading the way to the buffet but feeling Johnís gaze on his back the whole way.
John bypassed the orange juice without thought and automatically tasted the cold fish. "Thereís lemon on it."
"What? Oh. Thank you." Rodney gave a quick glance back at him before turning his attention back to the food before them.
"No problem," he said. "I donít happen to have an epi-pen in this reality."
"Donít worry, I have one," Rodney replied without thinking before turning again, trying not to stare. "You carry epi-pens?"
"Of course. So do Teyla and Ronon for that matter, though I suggested it to them at first."
"Heís very lucky to have you all." Rodney turned back to the food, adding eggs, muffins, and sausage without really looking at them.
"Itís mutual," John replied, helping himself to the food and adding extras of Rodneyís favorites without thinking about it.
Rodney nodded, passing up the fruit and heading back to the table, downing his coffee and signaling for a refill before starting in on his food.
John sat down as well, digging into the Canadian bacon with a soft groan of pleasure that had Rodneyís gaze flying up to his face before quickly returning to his own food.
"IóI suppose thereís not much of that where you were."
"Well, weíre better off than we were the first year, when we were totally cut off, but itís still impossible to get fresh food. It takes eighteen days for our supplies to get to us." John took another bite, followed by one of the fluffy biscuit, and his expression was one of pure rapture.
"And then you never know if your friend the naked grey alien might have put some kind of aphrodisiac in it to compromise you."
John cast him a look of sheer horror. "Donít even joke about that!"
Rodney couldnít help it; he snickered.
John glared and pointed his fork at him. "You are so going to pay for that!"
"How? You need my help, so torturing me is out of the question."
"Iíll hide all the blue jello!"
"Fine with me, I like red."
John gave him a baleful stare.
"What? Do you think Iím lying to you?"
"That would have to be the first noticeable difference," John sighed. "Some days I think the universe hates me."
"Great, now the guilt trip, fine, fine, I like blue jello best, back to Rodney 2.0."
Johnís fork stopped halfway to his mouth as he stared at Rodney. "What guilt? Never mind, this conversation is too much for me on an empty stomach. Eat!"
"Bossy," Rodney grumbled before turning back to his food.
"Self defense," John muttered, pushing the small plate of chocolate chip muffins into the middle of the table, and Rodney darted a glance at him before snatching one, eating it quickly.
"So, realistically, do we have any chance if Dr. Jackson doesnít find what heís looking for?"
"With me working on it? Of course!"
"Thatís what I like to hear." John grinned at him.
"Weíll get you home, John," Rodney promised, reaching across the table and gripping the other manís arm.
"Thanks." John smiled crookedly at him. "And then you can meet the other John. Iíll bet you get along great."
"With my luck heíll be totally unlike you," Rodney snorted.
"Doesnít seem likely considering how much youíre like my Rodney. Or heís like you, if you prefer."
"Pessimist here, remember?"
"I know. And Iím ignoring it."
"Why do I have the feeling youíre very practiced at that?"
"Because youíre a genius."
"Exactly, so that means Iím more stubborn than you as you probably know as well."
"And just what are we wagering?"
"Name your stakes," John laughed.
Rodney opened his mouth, then shut it. "Everything you have is the other Johnís; taking it wouldnít be fair."
"We can work around that. So name Ďem."
"Why donít we just concentrate on getting you back where you belong," Rodney hedged.
"So are you saying you canít multi-task?" John challenged.
"No, simply that I donít generally have people offering to make wagers with me!" Rodney hissed, his face flushing with embarrassment.
"Hey, no big. I didnít mean to make you uncomfortable." John reached across the table, placing a hand on Rodneyís. "Just tell me to shut up when I push it. Old habits."
A quick glance down at their hands and Rodney caught his lip between his teeth. "Understandable, Iím sure you have to be pushy to get anything past him."
"Well, yeah, but itís also that heís used to me and we have a certain rhythm. I keep forgetting youíre not used to it, and it might sound worse to you."
"Trust me," Rodney pulled his hand back and toyed with his fork, "itís nothing compared to what Iíve dealt with."
"I donít want to be something youíve had to deal with. Iíd like to be your friend."
"Iíd like that too."
"Good." John reached across again to shake Rodneyís hand, causing the other man to chuckle.
"As long as you keep stopping yourself from saying everything I do reminds you of him."
"I swear. Scoutís honor."
"Multi-universe traveler, flyboy, and boy scout, you must have been every motherís dream."
John snorted a laugh. "I sound like the main characters in one of Heinleinís young adult books."
"Oh, even betteróyouíve read them?"
"I like Heinlein."
"You would," Rodney sighed. "Not that I mean anything bad by that; I do too."
"Hey, he didnít get the title of Grand Master for nothing."
"My favorite isówell, is there a point in even saying it?"
John laughed. "No, because then weíd be here all day arguing the relative merits of different books."
"I had assumed that you would know it already, but that would lead into the comparison issue plus the fact that I never assume anything." Rodney picked up his last sausage with his fingers and ate it.
"Okay, we might still be here tomorrow night," John laughed.
"Which might be problematic."
"Yup, so letís table that discussion. Once I get back, we can get in contact every so often just to talk. If we can do it once, we can do it again."
"Iím sure once you get back to your Rodney, youíll have better things to do than talk to me," Rodney chuckled, leaning back in his chair and resting his hands on his stomach.
"Not twenty-four/seven," John laughed. "Even we need some recovery time."
"Oh, thank you for that lovely image!"
"Any time," John said agreeably.
"Very funny," Rodney sniffed. "Thatís too much like mental masturbation for my liking." He stopped and his eyes widened. "Not that I was thinking of thatóyouó" Groaning, he closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "My life was much more simple when I was just dealing with a bunch of broken junk that was possibly of alien origin."
"But you donít like simple," John pointed out.
Rodney peered out at John from behind his hand. "The fact that you know me so much better than I know you is supremely unfair."
"Iím an open book."
"John, Iíve known you for less than a day, and Iím not the most observant person on the planet, but even I can tell you thatís a lie."
"Most people buy the act," John replied with a slight shrug.
"Iím pretty good at it." John leaned back to allow the server to refill his coffee, then picked it up and took a sip.
Rodney nodded and drank from his refilled mug as well. "I can see that."
"It makes things easier if people donít get too close," John admitted, this Rodneyís similarity to his making him react as if it really was his Rodney that he was talking to.
"Then they canít hurt you."
"For someone whoís supposed to be so bad with people, you do a little too well with me."
"Maybe youíre used to showing more of yourself to your Rodney."
"Of course, but youíre easy to talk to, too."
Rodneyís skeptical look told John just what he thought of that.
"You underestimate yourself as much as he used to. And sorry, I know I said Iíd stop comparing you, but that one is something you both need to work on."
"There are some things you canít change," Rodney shrugged, picking up his spoon again and toying with it.
"Yes, you can. And Iíll help you with that as long as Iím here." He thought about. "You should try to hold of Beckett once we get the gate and get a stargate program up and running. He can develop the artificial gene therapy so you can work directly with Ancient tech. And youíll want to get Carter and Zelenka involved too."
"Sure, weíll just have a parade while weíre at it."
"Once you have the gate working, theyíll want to be in on it. Theyíre some of the best minds on the planet."
"One thing at a time; letís concentrate on getting you home first."
"Well, yes, thatís my primary goal too. But youíre wasted where you are. All of you are, but you in particular. You are capable of extraordinary things."
Rodney smiled slightly as he twirled his spoon in his fingers. "With that kind of support, I can see how your Rodney has done the things he has."
"Heís supported me too."
"I didnít mean that he didnít."
"Sorry, knee jerk reaction. Rodneyís a bit of an acquired taste, and sometimes the new Marines take the surface as being all there is."
"Well, considering how much you say we are alike, I think I can understand at least some of what heíd do."
"Vengeance is mine, sayeth Rodney."
"Never mess with a genius."
"Thatís what he always says too."
Rodneyís crooked grin quirked his lips. "Thatís one I wonít complain about sharing with him."
"Why am I not surprised?" John chuckled.
"Because I doubt anything I do would surprise you."
"Oh, I doubt that. Iím sure you could manage to surprise me often."
"Iíll do what I can." Rodney grinned again.
"Heaven help me."
"Well, I promise that none of them will include bugs."
"Thank you!" John shuddered. "I never want to see another one. At least there arenít any Iratus bugs on Earth."
"Thatís the bug that bit your neck?" Rodney asked, tilting his head to the side to study the scar there.
John nodded. "That was the first time I died. It seems to be a thing for gate teams."
"The only way to make it stop feeding on me was to kill me. They shocked me to stop my heart, and then they had to bring me back."
"First time?" Rodney croaked.
John shrugged. "Itís not the safest life in the universe, but weíre making a difference, and so far it hasnít stuck."
"Should I ask how many times heís died?"
"None so far, but heís come a lot too close more times than I like to remember."
Rodney attempted to smile, but it came out sickly. "I suppose that should be heartening."
"He tends to bitch at me whenever I do something to save him... if it endangers me. Other people, he yells at to protect him," John added with a wry smile.
"And do they?"
"Usually. We all have a longer life expectancy with him alive."
"Thatís good to know," Rodney chuckled, reaching for the check when the waitress came over with it.
"Itís something of a relief to all of us," John admitted. "Weíve gotten used to him pulling miracles out of his ass."
"That sounds painful," Rodney chuckled, sliding a debit card into the folder and setting it on the table.
John groaned. "Oh, that was bad."
"That very bad joke of yours."
Rodney shrugged at that. "Well, miracles arenít what Iíd want to be going in or out of my ass, thanks."
John opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly. "Yes, well, you shouldnít be so smart then."
"Regarding what? Jokes? Rodney asked, frowning in confusion.
"Everything." John shifted uncomfortably. "Do you need any equipment that we should go get?"
"Let me make a few calls; Iíll see what I can come up with." Still frowning, Rodney got up, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he walked toward the bathrooms for some privacy.
John watched him go, sighing faintly. It was so difficult to remember that this wasnít his Rodney. He kept wanting to reach out to him, to touch him.
When Rodney returned a while later, he was looking grimly satisfied. "All right, weíve got lab time at UNLV."
John eyed his expression. "Who did you have to kill?"
"I had to sell my firstborn, and as I doubt Iíll ever reproduce, which is a loss to the human race, thatís not an issue."
"Okay, youíre going to have to give me a minute to recover from the idea of you as a father," John snickered.
"Which is why I said Iíd never have them; Iím fucked enough on my own without inflicting it on anyone." Rodney reached for the credit slip that the waitress had brought while he was gone and scrawled his name on it.
"Yeah, youíd be a prime candidate for Nanny 911," John laughed as he got to his feet. "So, off to the college?"
"Off to the university," Rodney corrected as they stood.
Having already had this conversation once, John said, "Same thing in this country, Rodney."
"It never hurts to be precise," Rodney sniffed.
Rodneyís scowl mirrored Johnís smirk. "Why do I have the feeling you have a lot of experience saying that?" he asked as they walked through the hotelís lobby.
"I canít imagine," John replied serenely, humming faintly under his breath as he strolled along in Rodneyís wake.
"What are you humming about?" Rodney finally snapped, half turning to scowl at the other man and almost walking into a bellhop in the process.
John caught his arm and steered him around the hapless young man. "Just humming. It doesnít have to be about anything; it just means Iím in a good mood."
"Oh." Rodney was still frowning. "Why are you in a good mood?"
"Why not? No oneís trying to kill me, good company, and I know youíll get me back home, so I might as well enjoy the vacation."
"Oh," Rodney repeated, allowing John to steer him over to the valet stand. "I suppose thatís a healthy attitude."
"Thatís me, Mr. Healthy Attitude," John said agreeably. "Besides, itís not as if I can do anything myself."
"I somehow doubt Iíd feel the same if our positions were reversed, but IóIím glad you have faith in me."
"I do. I wasnít in nearly as good a mood two days ago. No offense to your world, but I really donít want to stay here."
"No, I canít blame you for that; in your place Iíd want to go home as well."
John nodded. "Iím just glad you were here."
"Iím glad I answered your email," Rodney admitted.
"Iím glad Jeannie told us your real name so I could get your attention."
"I bet he didnít feel that way though."
"No, he looked like heíd swallowed a porcupine."
"I certainly canít blame him." A valet pulled the car up, and both men climbed inside.
"Youíll have to give me directions. I have no idea where the university is."
Rodneyís snort said heíd heard Johnís emphasis. "Go south on the boulevard and east on Flamingo; once we get to the campus, Iíll tell you more."
"Sounds simple enough," John said, turning onto the boulevard.
"If you were going south."
"Huh? I am."
"South is that way." Rodney pointed in the opposite direction. "Are you sure youíre a pilot?"
"Directions are easier in the sky. I like horizons and instrumentation." John pulled a U-turn and headed back the other way.
"Uh huh..." They reached Flamingo, and he nodded. "A right here."
"So, why exactly are we going to the college?"
"Because they have the equipment I need, and measuring your residual radiation and quantum particles is the first step in the road home, remember?"
"Yes, I remember. But you didnít bother to mention what we were going there for, and unlike you, I donít know the location of every piece of equipment in North America."
"Well why would we be going there if not for that?" Rodney asked, turning sideways in the seat to stare at John. "And you need to turn right on Maryland, then find a parking spot; weíll walk to the Bigelow building."
"Rodney, for all I know, we could be here because theyíre serving cake that you like in the cafeteria today." John followed the directions and parked the car.
"We just ate!" Rodney protested. "Weíre here to see Daniel Proga and his lab."
"Am I supposed to know who Daniel Proga is?"
"Heís a physicist studying black hole phenomena here."
"I think I would have noticed going through a black hole!"
"Excuse me, whoís the genius here!"
"Both of us," John retorted.
"So tell it to me in math," John said, enjoying the give and take of the discussion.
"You have got to be kidding."
John started to laugh. "Pretty much, yeah."
Rodney glowered and looked as if he was searching for something to throw at him.
"Something wrong?" John asked with spurious innocence.
"How has he kept from killing you?"
"Really, really good sex and no interest in necrophilia."
"So whatís stopping me?"
"Umm... intellectual curiosity?" John suggested hopefully.
"Good point, so youíll live for now."
"Youíre too kind. And where is this Bigelow building, in the next county?"
"Pretty much, apparently they designed parking here for the maximum effort necessary to get to the actual buildings."
"Good thing Iím in shape from hiking from the gate to settlements. This is damn near as bad."
"Poor baby, at least you arenít getting a sunburn like I am."
"What, you donít make your own SPF 100 sun block?"
Rodney shook his head. "No, not lately, and I donít want to know where youíve gone that you would need it. And thereís the building." He pointed at an edifice off to the right.
"I didnít," John grumbled, veering toward the building Rodney had indicated.
Rodney considered the comment as they walked, then nodded. "Well, if he did, Iím sure there was a more than adequate reason for it."
"Ganging up on me, and youíre not even in the same universe," John muttered.
"You said you had met another version of us, so you should be used to it by now."
"Actually, Rod was a lot more like me than like you. It ticked Rodney off royally."
"He was a flyboy stud?" Rodney snickered.
"Ha ha. No, he was outgoing and sociable, friendly to everyone he met. And he liked to golf."
"It sounds as if heíd been dropped on his head as a child!"
John laughed. "Because he has social skills?"
"Or perhaps he was on drugs," Rodney mused as they walked into the building.
"He was not on drugs!" John laughed.
"If he was so wonderful, Iím surprised you didnít want to keep him."
"I already had Rodney," John replied simply, feeling like he was caught in an instant replay.
The look Rodney trained on him was cool and assessing, then he nodded sharply. "Good answer." They climbed the stairs to the second story and walked through corridors until they reached a set of double doors. "All right, we have," Rodney glanced at his watch, "an hour of lab time; weíd better make it count."
"And now Iím a lab rat," John sighed, following Rodney inside.
"There," Rodney finally announced as he saved data to a flash drive and pocketed it. "We can go over the scans once we get back." He glanced back at the control panel and pressed a series of buttons, then several more. "And that just deleted everything I just didóto be safe."
"Thatís probably best. I really donít want to end up in a cell somewhere being studied."
"Especially since I donít have the skills to break you out." Rodney patted the pocket with the flash drive, did a final check of the equipment, and nodded. "Letís get going."
"Iím right behind you." John followed him out the door, pulling it closed behind him before they started down the stairs.
Once they were outside, Rodney breathed a sigh of relief. "All right, give me a moment to get my heart rate under 150 and we can go."
"Oh, pull the other one. We were going down the stairs."
"And I usually take the elevator!"
"Exercise is good for you."
"Pretty much all the medical studies."
"What do they know, and just where are you going?"
John looked over at him. "Back to the car, of course. I thought you said we were done here."
"The car is back that way," Rodney sighed, pointing behind them. "How the hell do you lead theseówhat do you call themógate teams?"
"Ancient equivalent of GPS... which Rodney hangs on to," John admitted, stopping.
"I canít blame him." Rodney set his hand on Johnís shoulder, turning him around so they could start for the car.
John grumbled wordlessly, but he went where Rodney pointed him, and they reached the car a few minutes later, Rodney chuckling the whole way.
"Iím starting to wish I could shoot you," John grumbled, clearly not meaning a word of it.
"Iím supremely confident that you wonít because if you did, then youíd never get back home."
"Iím so screwed," John said before laughing. "At least Iím never bored."
Rodney grinned at that, the smile lighting up his face. "Exactly!"
"So where to now, boss? Back to the motel or do we need something else?"
"Ió" Rodney paused to think the request over. "I should look over this data."
"So back to the motel. You can sit with your laptop while I play Minesweeper."
"Now that sounds exciting."
John shrugged. "I donít think Iím going to be of any help with what youíre doing."
"I meant for you, not me. If you want to watch a movie or something, go ahead; it wonít bother me."
John shrugged again. "I got out of the habit in Atlantis. And I got really good at Minesweeper."
"All right, if thatís what you want to do, and itís a left here."
John nodded and followed Rodneyís directions until they reached the motel again. "You know," he mused as they headed inside, "thereís no need to stay here. We could go somewhere more comfortable."
"There you go, spending his money again..."
"Look, Iím stuck in his life as much as heís in mine. Heís sleeping in my bed, spending time with my friends, wearing my clothes and drinking my damn hoard of bourbon. I donít think heíd begrudge me some money he clearly isnít using."
"Okay, okay, Iím sorry!" Rodney held up a warding hand. "Youíre right; Iím wrong. Iíll just work on this." Rodney dropped into the chair, fishing out the flash drive as he booted up his laptop.
John stretched out on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Sorry, I didnít mean to bite your head off. Let me know if I can help with anything."
"No, Iím sure Iíll be fine," Rodney said quietly, bringing up programs and beginning to enter the data.
Feeling like heíd kicked a puppy, John sighed quietly, but he knew pushing would only make it worse. Heíd get food later and make it up to Rodney.
Several hours later, Rodney spoke. "Okay, I believe Iíve narrowed down a group of variables that read differently on you than on me. What we can do with themówell, that will depend on what we hear from Dr. Jackson."
"Hopefully thatíll be soon," John said sitting up. "We canít really do anything else till we do."
"I know being here has to be frustrating."
"Itís just that I feel like Iím stealing his life, and I know mine is waiting for me. And God knows what might happen there. Anythingís possible in Atlantis."
Rodney nodded and slumped slightly before turning back to the computer. "Iíll see what else I can come up with."
"I know you donít want to hear this, but you remind me too much of him. I keep forgetting youíre not him, and Iím afraid that Iíll... Well, it would be better if I went home soon."
"Youíll what?" Rodney asked, frowning.
John turned his head to face Rodney. "Iíll do something that will hurt all of us in the end."
"Whatóoh." Rodney nodded tightly at that. "IóI understand." He bent back over the laptop at that and returned to his typing.
"Iím sorry," John said softly.
Thereís nothing to be sorry about; you belong in your own place, not here."
John sat up, staring at him. "Iíll find a way to call you sometimes when Iím back home. Youíre a good man, Rodney."
"Donít. Even if itís possible, just... donít," Rodney whispered.
John winced. "Iím sorry," he said again. "Maybe someday youíll want to call me. Iíll welcome it if you do."
"I think youíll be busy with things there." Rodney suddenly pushed back from the table. "I need to take a walk. If you want to look at the data, go ahead."
John watched him go, knowing that anything he said could only make it worse, and knowing that most of what he felt was for his Rodney. It was just that this one was so close that his emotions had trouble telling them apart.
"I picked up lunch," Rodney said when he returned over an hour later. "I justóI was hungry and thought you might be too." He set several bags from a local taco place on the table and shrugged. "I have no idea what you like, so I got some of everything."
"Thanks. I like pretty much everything, so this is great." John moved over to the table and started checking out the bags, grabbing a burrito to start.
Rodney bent to get a drink from the mini-fridge. "Want something?"
"Beer would be great." John sat down, watching Rodney but trying not to make it too obvious.
Rodney grabbed one and a cola for himself, straightening up and handing the first to John while keeping the other for himself. As he opened the can, he dug a taco out of the bag and bit into it.
"This is great," John said, his words muffled by the food, and Rodney nodded.
"Iíve been here enough to know where the decent places are."
"Fortunately for me. I tend to stick to the chains when I donít know the town."
Rodney nodded at that as his mouth was full, and he swallowed before speaking. "I was thinking while I was walking; is there a point in staying here? I do have a house not too terribly far away in the grand scheme of things."
"I donít want to intrude in your home," John said hesitantly.
"Itís noóoh, of course. Perhaps I should just get a different room here; it would be less difficult."
"I donít know what weird idea just occurred to you, but I have no problem with going to your home. I just didnít want to make you feel like you had to offer," John said, grabbing a quesadilla.
"Because a motel room designed by colorblind people is so much more comfortable than my own bed."
John chuckled. "Fine, after we eat, Iíll pack up my stuff, and we can go to your place."
Rodney paused while digging for another taco. "Just so you know; there are two bedrooms, so you donít have to worry about sleeping on the sofa."
"Thatís a relief, considering my height. Did you get any... ah, you did!" John beamed as he came up with a stuffed pepper.
"As I said, I picked up a little of everything except the items that had citrus. Iíll have to empty off the bed and find some sheets..."
John laughed. "Why does this not surprise me?"
"I donít have people visit often," Rodney shrugged.
"Their loss," John replied easily.
"Not according to them," Rodney murmured under his breath as he lifted the can to his lips and took a drink.
"What was that?" John looked up from his food, not quite having caught Rodneyís comment.
"Nothing important," Rodney answered, giving a quick smile.
John shrugged. "If you say so. Here, have one of these peppers; theyíre great."
"Thanks." Rodney reached out and took the offering, nibbling at it with less gusto than heíd shown before. "Do you have a problem with cats?"
"Not as long as weíre not talking a freakish number of them."
"Just one and she keeps pretty much to herself. Iíd left her food and water for a week, but Iím glad for the chance to check in on her."
"Iím more of a dog person, but I like cats just fine. I just hope youíre not expecting to live on Doritos once we get there."
Rodney opened his mouth to answer, then frowned. "I suppose weíll have to go to a grocery store."
"That or weíll be ordering in a lot."
"You have been out to the area, correct?" At Johnís nod, Rodney smirked. "Not much to order from out there."
"Good point, weíll stop for groceries." Finally satisfied, John leaned back in his chair while Rodney continued picking at his food, eating a little of this and a little of that.
"Do you want to stay here tonight or head out?"
"Itís past check out time, so weíd have to pay for tonight anyway. We might as well stay and get a good nightís rest, then leave in the morning."
"Makes sense," Rodney nodded. "So, do you want to make some money?"
Johnís eyebrows rose. "Doing what?"
"Not anything illicit! My god, your Rodney must be kinky!" Rodney gave a full-fledged laugh at that. "Gambling."
"They tend to throw you out on your ass once they realize you can count the cards without trying," John pointed out.
"Ah, but that would mean they caught you at it."
John laughed. "Sounds like fun."
"And hopefully it will get your mind off the situation for right now."
John nodded. "Itíll be good. And then I can leave Maj. Sheppard with more than he had when I arrived."
"Something Iím sure heíll appreciate."
"And then you can stop thinking Iím some kind of thief," John added wryly.
"I donít think youíre some kind ofófine, fine, I can see how it might have sounded like that."
"Letís go play carefree tourists for a while," John suggested, getting to his feet.
Rodney chuckled at that. "You may want to clean your face; youíve got a bit of salsa on your cheek."
"What?" John hastily wiped his cheek. "Did I get it?"
"Yup, that did it." Rodney nodded as he bundled up the wrappers and garbage, throwing it in the garbage can. "Any preference on casinos? Iíve hit them all so itís your choice."
"Doesnít make a bit of difference to me. Theyíre all the same, aside from decor. Pick whichever you like best."
"Yeah, Iíd like to see what your favorite is."
"I donít have one, I bounce; it keeps them from catching on."
"Another criminal mastermind," John chuckled. "So letís go to whichever youíd normally hit now."
"Fine, then itís the Golden Nuggetódowntown, not on the strip, so let me drive."
"Why do I get the feeling that you donít trust me to get us there if I drive?"
"Because I donít want to end up in Mexico?" Rodney snickered.
John pouted, and Rodney scowled. "Donít try it, or Iíll leave you to security if they come after us."
"Some host you are! This universe is only getting two stars in my inter-universal guidebook."
"Boo hoo, my life is over."
"Very poor customer service," John decided.
"How would you know?" Rodney shot back before clearing his throat and digging in his pocket for his keys.
"Because the customerís always right!"
"Only when Iím the customer!" They headed outside and over to Rodneyís Volvo, Rodney unlocking the passenger side before going around to let himself in.
"Oh, so you have a double standard," John exclaimed as he slid into the car and fastened his seatbelt.
"Of course I do; thereís me, and then thereís everyone who isnít me; itís a very simple system." After starting the engine, Rodney pulled a pair of sunglasses from the visor and slid them on before backing out of the parking space.
John burst into laughter. "Well, at least youíre honest about it."
"And he isnít?" Rodney asked with a slight grin.
"Painfully so," John admitted with a chuckle. "People have shot arrows at us because of it. Among other things."
"And how often do you get hit?"
"Not too often anymoreóweíve gotten really good at running. And we have Ronon."
"Ronon?" Rodney asked, canting a quick glance toward John while he was stopped at a light.
"Another member of our team, Ronon Dex. Heís Satedan, um, from the planet Sateda in the Pegasus galaxy, and heís one of the few survivors of his race. Heís big, muscular, and fairly scary when he wants to be. Rodney calls him Conan."
"I can imagine why. Is there anyone else on your team?"
"One more, Teyla Emmagan. Sheís the leader of the Athosians, another race native to Pegasus, a warrior and a diplomat. She can beat any of us with sticks, sort of a martial arts weapon, but sheís also serene and incredibly beautiful."
"Thatís quite the team," Rodney mused.
"We do pretty well. Weíre a family."
"That sounds nice."
"It is. We can trust each other and always know that the others will be there."
Rodney nodded at that and pulled forward when the light changed, driving away from the bright lights of the strip to the slightly seedier downtown area.
John watched him for a moment, then added, "Ronon and Teyla both trust Rodney with their lives just as much as I do."
"You told heíd saved your lives a lot."
"Yeah, he has. And weíve saved him a few times too."
"I would imagine so."
John shrugged. "I donít think thereís anyone in the city who hasnít had to be saved by someone else at some point."
"And I would want to go there, why?"
"Because itís Atlantis! Itís another galaxy and technology, and how could you not want to go?"
"Oh, possibly the multiple chances for my death!"
"Well, going now, you wonít have the Wraith issues we did since I could tell you what not to do, so it wouldnít be nearly as dangerous."
"Somehow I donít think all those people shooting at you were Wraith!"
"Well, no, but they were a lot crankier thanks to being under constant attack by the Wraith."
"I can imagine that would do that." Rodney turned the car into the parking lot adjacent to the casino and drove up the ramp until he found a spot. "And here we are."
"So show me how itís done, Dr. McKay."
Rodney quirked a crooked grin at that. "Gladly, Col. Sheppard."
"I expect to leave here a rich man," John chuckled.
"If thatís the case, you can pay for the groceries."
"Sounds fair to me." John got out and waited for Rodney to come around the car and join him before starting inside.
"Coffeeís done and thereís a water bottle in the freezer if you want it," Rodney yawned when John came in from his morning run.
"You are a saint among men," John panted, heading for the fridge to grab the water. "You know, you could join me for a run some morning."
"And then you could join me in a lovely trip to the ICU," Rodney snorted before leaning back as a small calico cat jumped up on his lap, kneaded his legs a few times, and dropped down in a compact circle.
John turned around when he found himself watching the cat enviously. "I promise not to let you keel over."
"So the run will last all of ten steps?" Rodney took a sip of his coffee, absently stroking the catís smooth fur.
"You know Iím going to keep bugging you about this." After draining the water, John filled a mug with coffee and took an appreciative sip.
"Hard to get you back home when Iím in an oxygen tent..."
"Getting some exercise would improve your health and stamina."
"So I can run from all those people trying to kill me if I ever get to the Pegasus galaxy."
"You are so very much a Ďglass half emptyí guy," John chuckled.
"Thatís because Iíve never had cause to view it as anything but," Rodney shrugged. "Itís not a bad thing; it saves me letting other people disappoint me."
John started to reach for him, then leaned back against the counter as he realized what he was doing. "Sometimes people can surprise you in a good way."
"Thanks, but Iíll stick to Eva here."
"Lucky Eva," John murmured.
Rodney half-smiled at that. "Though I have to admit, you have me rethinking that from time to time."
"Weíre making progress. Do I have time for a shower before we do breakfast?"
"Please, go; we donít need sweat in the cereal."
John laughed and leaned down to rub his sweaty cheek against Rodneyís on his way by. "Iíll be right back," he called over his shoulder, running for it.
"Thatís disgusting!" Rodney shouted after him, though he was grinning, and when he raised a hand to wipe off his cheek, it was almost a caress.
Laughter was Johnís only reply.
When he came back downstairs a little later, he cautiously poked his head into the kitchen. "Am I safe to enter?"
"I donít know; did you use soap?"
"I usually do in the shower," John retorted, edging into the room to see Rodney standing at the stove, cooking eggs.
"Iím glad to hear it." Rodney nodded toward the table. "Thereís cranberry juice there."
"Thanks." John picked up the glass and sipped at it while Rodney cooked. "Can I do anything?"
"You can throw some toast in; the eggs should be done soon."
John put two slices of bread into the toaster and set two more next to it, ready to slip in once the first two were done. "It smells good," he observed.
"Messing up scrambled eggs would take a lot of work," Rodney observed before taking a drink of his coffee. "And, if you havenít noticed, Iím a decent cook."
"Iíve noticed. And thatís something I wish you could share with my Rodney," John added wryly.
"He doesnít cook?"
"His idea of cooking is tearing open the MRE."
"That sounds disgusting; I had one of those once and almost got sick."
"Rodney thinks theyíre delicious," John said. "No one understands it."
Rodney shuddered at that. "Well, thereís one difference between us at least."
"So itís not genetic; heís just weird. Heís never going to hear the end of this."
"Well, at least he canít take it out on me," Rodney chuckled, scooping eggs out onto two plain white plates and holding them out so that John could put toast on each plate.
"The man is just like you. Do you really think he wonít find a way?"
"Possibly, but until then, heíll take it out on you."
"Gee, thanks." John made a face at him as they sat down and started their meal.
Rodney smirked as he dug into his food. "I think youíll survive."
"Fortunately, I have ways of distracting him."
"Yes, I gathered that." Some of the animation left Rodneyís expression, but he retained his smile.
"Sorry, I know it makes you uncomfortable, but you donít have to worry."
"Worry? About what?"
"About me jumping you." John seemed to find his eggs fascinating, and Rodney stared at him, blinking.
"You think Iím worried about you jumping me?"
John shrugged, pushing the food around on his plate.
"More the opposite," Rodney muttered.
"Huh?" Johnís head shot up. "Oh, I am so fucked now," he groaned, gripping the edge of the table.
"You donít have to worry," Rodney said quickly, the pitch of his voice rising. "Itís not as if Iím going to try to throw myself at you; I know Iím not him."
John laughed bitterly. "Then youíre ahead of me, because I donít always know that, and even when I do, the same things that drew me to him draw me to you."
"Then whyóoh." Rodney fell silent. "So, should I dye my hair and have a cheery demeanor?"
That surprised an honest chuckle out of John. "No, just hope we donít both slip at the same time. I donít want to cheat on Rodney, and you deserve better than someone who canít separate you from someone else."
Rodney nodded at that and concentrated on his plate, pushing his eggs around and taking a bite from time to time until the low sound of country music caught his attention. "Do you hear that?" he asked.
"Thatís my cell phone!" John pulled it out, grinning at the Johnny Cash ring tone. "My other self has good taste. Hello? Dr. Jackson!"
"Whatís he saying?" Rodney hissed, darting around the table and leaning over Johnís shoulder to try and hear. "Did he find it?"
"How can I hear with you talking in my ear? Sorry, not you, Dr. Jackson." John tilted the phone and turned the volume up so Rodney could hear too. "So you found it. Do you believe me now?"
"He found it? He actually found it?" Rodney gasped, grinning widely.
"Considering the fact that it was exactly where you said it would be, I have to," Dr. Jackson commented. "And Dr. Langford would like to talk to you."
"That makes me wonder if they didnít find something on that dig all those years ago," John mused. "But sure, Iím happy to talk to her whenever she wants. But first, are you going to be able to bring the ZPM back stateside?"
There was a crackling sound, and then a womanís voice came over the line. "That wonít be a problem, Maj. Sheppard. I believe Daniel said you were currently in Nevada? Good, then a trip to Colorado wonít be too far of a journey for you."
"Itís colonel," John corrected her, "and why Colorado? Thereís no SGC at Cheyenne Mountain in this universe."
"Iím not quite sure what this SGC of yours is, but there is something there youíll want to see."
"The stargate?" Rodney asked breathlessly as he leaned in against Johnís shoulder. "Is that what it is?"
"If your stargate is a huge circle made of stone, with strange symbols carved into it, then yes," Catherine said.
"Oh my God, you did find the gate!" John gasped, his eyes closing in relief.
"And itís in Colorado?" Rodney asked.
"Yes." Catherine was silent for a moment. "We left it there in storage after our first attempts to use it failed."
"Iím very sorry for you loss," John said, deciding not to tell her that Ernest Littlefield hadnít died sixty years ago but rather less than a decade ago when the storm destroyed the meeting place on the planet where heíd been trapped.
"You knowó" she began, before taking a deep breath. "If we can successfully use the ring this time, it wonít have been in vain."
John hesitated, finally saying, "My knowledge of how it works and whatís necessary to compensate for stellar drift will make the difference."
"When are you going to be in Colorado?" Rodney demanded.
Realizing that Dr. Langford and Dr. Jackson must be wondering whose voice they were hearing, John introduced Rodney.
"A pleasure, Doctor," Catherine said briskly. "We have a flight out of Cairo this afternoon, so we should be there tomorrow night, your time."
"Weíll meet you at the airport," Rodney promised.
"Just give us your flight information," John said, writing it down as Catherine read it off. Once that was done, the conversation drew to a close, and John sank back in his chair, grinning at Rodney.
"Iíd say that just made getting you home a thousand percent easier." Rodney leaned in, then backed away to sit in the chair next to him.
"I had a feeling youíd like it." John beamed at him. "And you can start up the stargate program."
"Just donít give me all the answers," Rodney warned. "I want to figure some of this out myself."
"I couldnít if I wanted to," John laughed. "You astrophysicist, me pilot."
Rodney grinned widely at that. "And just you remember it!"
"Sir, yes sir!" John snapped off a salute.
"Good answer, Colonel."
"Try not to let it go to your head."
"Now what would be the point in that?"
John laughed. "Try not to take over the entire galaxy."
"Oh, but why? Itís my natural right," Rodney smirked.
"Well, youíre better than the Ori."
"The what? No, wait, I donít want to knowóI really donít want to know."
"Which should be safe since the event that made them aware of our galaxy wonít happen."
"You really need to leave a list of things we shouldnít do," Rodney chuckled. "And all right, we should be booking flights unless you want to start driving right now."
"I plan to," John said, getting up to get more coffee. "And yeah, flying would be good."
"Go ahead and eat; Iíll go see what I can get us. Are we going into Denver or Boulder?"
"Well, Denverís a little closer, but both are driving distance. Whichever one has more convenient flights. We can drive to Denver to pick up Jackson and Dr. Langford if need be."
"Iíll see what I can find through Denver; we can stay overnight there to get them," Rodney commented as he picked up his plate, scraping his leftover food into the garbage.
"Sounds good. Iíll clean the kitchen up while youíre doing that."
"Thanks." Rodney shot him a crooked grin. "Just think, in a few days, you could be home."
"And Iím looking forward to that more than you can imagine, but Iím going to miss you."
"No, you wonít," Rodney grinned. "Youíll have your own Rodney to keep you busy."
"And Iíll be very busy, but Iíll still miss you. Youíre a good friend."
"Yeah, I feel the same." Rodney gave a lopsided smile. "Iíll go see about those tickets."
John turned to watch him go, wishing that things could be different but without being different. "Iím so fucked," he muttered as he started clearing the table.
Rodney was gone for quite some time, and when he returned, he was carrying several sheets of paper. "Weíre booked on the five oíclock to Denver, and I booked us a hotel room at the airport; no point in leaving when we just have to go back there."
"Sounds good. I guess Iíd better go pack my stuff up."
"Damn," Rodney murmured, making John raise an eyebrow.
"I have no idea how long Iíll be gone, and I donít want to leave Eva here alone."
"Oh, of course. Well, can you bring her with us?"
"I donít have anything to carry her in..."
"We have time to go buy something."
"Yes, yes, youíre right. We can pick that up on the way to the airport," Rodney nodded.
"See, Iím good at problem-solving."
"I never doubted you were and thank you for doing the dishes."
"It was only fair since you did the cooking."
Rodney nodded and glanced around the kitchen. "Iím going to go pack then."
"Iíll do the same and meet you back down here when weíre done." John started to lean toward Rodney, then jerked back, realizing what he was doing. He stared at Rodney for a second before almost bolting out of the room.
Rodney stared after him, his lower lip caught between his teeth before he turned away, rubbing at his forehead as he walked toward his bedroom.
"Dr. Jackson, Dr. Langford," John called, drawing their attention.
"Col. Sheppard, Dr. McKay, itís a pleasure to meet you."
"Yes, yes, now where is it?" Rodney demanded.
Catherine regarded him coolly. "You remind me of my father."
"Well, he must have been a very smart man."
"It wasnít a compliment." She waited a beat. "But yes, he was. And the ring is at Cheyenne Mountain, in storage, where itís been since before you were born."
"What did I say?" Rodney asked John, bewildered.
"What else can you tell us about the people who built this?" Daniel asked while John patted Rodneyís shoulder.
"More than we have time for at the moment. And the ones who built it arenít the same ones who used it in Egypt. The original Earth gate they used is in Antarctica." John started herding them all toward the exit while Daniel kept shooting questions at him, interspersing them with his own theories.
"Iím sorry if my question seemed rude," Rodney said stiffly.
"Donít worry about it, Rodney," John said, automatically slinging an arm around his shoulders and hugging him. "Social skills arenít your shining talent, but you have lots of others."
Rodney leaned into the embrace for a second before straightening up quickly. "Then I suppose Iíll let you talk to them so I donít mess this up."
"Forgive me, Dr. McKay," Catherine interrupted. "Iím afraid after a lifetime of having to prove myself to men, I may overreact to certain personality traits. I think weíll all make more progress if weíre all free to be ourselves."
"No, I should apologize; I get very focused on my work and have been known to be rude."
John choked back a laugh. "We should get going," he said in an only slightly strangled tone.
"Once we get our luggage, we really do need to sit down and discuss this," Daniel put in.
"We can do that in the car. Without worrying about anyone overhearing us," John pointed out.
"And the hotelís not five minutes away," Rodney said quickly.
"Unless youíd like to get a meal first, I thought we could just order room service. That way we can figure out what weíre going to do."
Daniel glanced toward Catherine inquiringly.
"Room service sounds good to me," she agreed. "Weíre going to have to find a way to get you in. Even with parts of the complex closed down, thereís still security."
"I have security clearance," Rodney commented. "What level do you need?"
It turned out Rodneyís clearance was more than sufficient to get him inside, which left John and Daniel. "I can break out the dress blues and be your escort; that might get me inside. I do have some clearance, after all," John said.
"Iíll make a few calls." Catherine glanced at her watch. "In the morning. I should have enough pull to get you clearance, Daniel."
"And then things really get started."
The conversation on the drive to the hotel and through the meal revolved around the stargate, the experiment that had been performed in the past, and what John could tell them about what he understood about how it functioned.
Once theyíd eaten, John, Daniel and Catherine continued to talk while Rodney examined the ZPM, testing it as much as was possible with the limited equipment he had on hand, most of it scavenged from a quick trip to Area 51 before they had left Nevada.
As Catherine and Daniel got sidetracked into some arcane archeological debate, John let his attention wander to Rodney, and he was hard put not to laugh. "Are you planning to take it to bed?" he asked, fond amusement filling his tone.
"The idea of that sounds painful and vaguely illegal," Rodney commented before glancing over at John, his eyes alight with excitement. "This is so far beyond anything Iíve ever seen that itís almost unbelievable."
John grinned at his enthusiasm. "The Ancients, the Alterans as they called themselves, were flying their city around the galaxies more than a million years ago. I think itís safe to assume that their technology will hold a few surprises for you."
"Youíre such a tease," Rodney laughed. "I wishówell, it doesnít matter."
"And you call me a tease? What do you wish?" John didnít notice that the two archeologists had abandoned their discussion and were now watching him and Rodney curiously.
"Like I said, it doesnít matter; itís not going to happen." Rodney gave a sickly smile. "We should be talking about the quickest way to get you home."
John frowned. "I thought we were. Or are you saying weíre not allowed a single word thatís not related to that?" He absently petted Eva when she jumped up into his lap and curled up, purring.
"This is related to that subject we agreed not to discuss, so therefore Iím not discussing it, understand?" Rodney realized that the two archaeologists were staring at them, and he scowled. "What?"
"I think Iím dizzy," Daniel said, sounding amused.
"You get used to it," John chuckled.
"Are you calling me confusing?"
"Yeah, but itís part of your charm," John said soothingly.
"Stop placating me," Rodney grumbled.
"Thatís part of my charm."
Daniel snorted, and even Catherine was hiding a grin.
"How does he get any work done?" Rodney groaned.
"He makes me go do my paperwork," John laughed.
"So go find some to do!"
"Sorry, nothing came through with me... which means Lorne is having to do it for me right now," John said with a beatific smile.
"Iím going to regret asking this, but... who is Lorne?"
"Maj. Evan Lorne, my second in command. Whoís probably cursing me right now for dumping all this on him."
"Or perhaps heís saving it all for when you get back."
"Naw, he knows Iíd delegate most of it right back to him if he did that, not to mention that heís probably hiding from Rodney, and paperwork gives him a good excuse."
"This is fascinating," Daniel commented. "I wish there was time to catalog the differences between the two universesóat least as far as you can tell, Colonel."
"They all seem to be a result of the lack of a stargate program. I havenít discovered any differences in everyday things."
"A single defining event," Catherine nodded.
"Leading to splintering, yes, yes, now can I get back to my work?" Rodney asked.
"I donít think anyone was stopping you, and I know damn well youíre more than capable of ignoring people when you want to," John retorted.
Rodney scowled at him before turning his back as much as possible and beginning to type again.
"I think Iím in the doghouse," John chuckled to the others.
"Youíd better be careful he doesnít send you to some other dimension," Daniel laughed.
"Naw, he likes me."
Catherine nodded knowingly and stood, rubbing at the small of her back. "Iím going to call it an evening, gentlemen. Iíd suggest you do the same as weíre going to have a busy day tomorrow."
Daniel got to his feet as well. "You make an excellent point, Catherine. Weíll see you both for breakfast."
John nodded, walking to the door with them. "Thank you again for your help."
Rodney waved a hand in their general direction and went back to his work, shifting slightly when Eva jumped up in his lap and settled down there.
"Try to get him to get some sleep," Catherine murmured.
John looked back, a fond smile curving his lips. "Iíll do my best."
"Good night, Colonel," Daniel said as he followed Catherine out into the hall.
John went back and stretched out on one of the beds, watching Rodney. After a little while, he asked, "Are you planning to sleep at all tonight?"
"Hmm?" Rodney looked up, startled, then flushed. "Oh, sorry, I didnít mean to keep you up with this."
"Iím more concerned with you keeping yourself up. Iím going to need that brain of yours in good working order."
"Right now Iím too keyed up to sleep." As he spoke, Rodney glanced toward the ZPM again, his expression covetous.
"Well, maybe if you stopped lusting after that thing, youíd be able to relax enough to sleep."
"At least itís safe to lust after," Rodney muttered, closing his laptop with slightly more force than was necessary and grabbing a change of clothes before heading for the bathroom to change.
John stared after him. "That doesnít help me," he murmured.
When Rodney emerged, his face and hair were damp, and he picked up a mug and poured himself some of the hours-old coffee from the pot. "All yours," he commented, glancing toward the laptop, then sitting down, pushing a pile of pillows behind himself so that he could lean against the headboard.
"Thanks, I think Iíll take a shower tonight," John said, leaving out that it would be a cold one.
"Yeah, itís been a long day."
John nodded. "Yeah, it has." He got to his feet and headed into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Once alone, he slumped back against the door for a moment, letting out a long breath. "Get it together, John," he muttered to himself. "Heís not yours."
Outside, Rodney flipped the television on, turning up the volume slightly and flipping channels at random, not settling on one for any length of time.
When John came back, he avoided looking at Rodney and slid under the covers. It would have been easier on both of them if theyíd gotten separate rooms, but somehow, without any discussion, theyíd ended up in the same one.
"Iíll turn this off," Rodney said quickly, clicking the remote at the television.
"It doesnít bother me if you want to leave it on," John said quietly, turning his head to look at Rodney.
"I wasnít watching anything," Rodney shrugged, setting the remote on the table between the beds and picking up his coffee again. "Give me a minute and Iíll turn out the light."
"No rush. Iím good." John turned onto his side, facing Rodney, who steadfastly looked at his mug.
"I just donít want to keep you up."
"It wonít be the light that does that."
Rodney sighed at that. "This was a really bad idea."
John suddenly got up and walked over to sit on the edge of Rodneyís bed, wearing nothing but his boxers and dog tags.
"And you doing that is a really, really bad idea," Rodney babbled, scooting over until he was on the verge of falling off the bed. "You said yourself, you donít want to do anything that would make you feel guilty when you went back, and I think that you sitting here, half-undressed, is one of those things."
"Just one kiss, Rodney. Thatís allowed, under the circumstances, and you know weíll both regret it if we donít." John shifted closer, leaning in.
"Can he ever say no to you either?" Rodney whispered.
John shook his head, leaning closer until there was barely a hairsbreadth between their lips. Rodney groaned low in his throat and lunged forward, one hand curling around the back of Johnís neck as he kissed him with desperate hunger, and John opened to him, tasting the familiar flavor that was somehow different.
Rodney whimpered and his other hand circled Johnís arm, holding him into the kiss, exploring the taste and texture of his mouth. John braced himself with one arm, fighting the urge to stretch out next to Rodney, but he allowed himself to enjoy the kiss, to steal this one moment just for them.
"You need to move," Rodney rasped, his lips brushing against Johnís mouth. "Because if you donít, Iím not going to be able to let go. I know I should, but... Iíve never been good at doing what I should."
John slowly drew back with a final lick at Rodneyís lips. "I donít regret it, Rodney. And for the record, I know exactly who you are."
"Thank you for that," Rodney whispered, his hand sliding down Johnís arm to rest on the bedspread. "I just hope you wonít regret it when you get back home."
"I wonít," John promised. "If Iíd met you first..." He trailed off, shaking his head, and went back to his own bed.
"Donít do that either. No regrets, John."
John nodded. "No regrets." He rolled to his side, again facing Rodney. "Good night, Rodney."
"Good night, John," Rodney said quietly as he turned off the light and shifted around until he was under the sheet and blanket, curled on his side, staring across the darkened space toward the other bed.
They lay like that for a long time before they each edged into sleep, not quite knowing when it happened.
John took a sip of his water at breakfast the next morning and promptly grabbed Rodneyís, setting it down away from him. "Lemon," he said simply.
"Oh, thank you." Rodney murmured, before shrugging at Daniel and Catherineís questioning glances. "Citrus allergy."
"That must be inconvenient," Daniel observed.
"Only when breathingís imperative."
"Ah, a bad allergy." Daniel considerately moved his water farther away from Rodney.
"Epi-pen. Jab it somewhere and let the drug do the rest."
"Most people who work with Rodney in my reality tend to carry one," John added.
"Apparently he saves their lives a lot," Rodney smiled.
"Itís his thing," John shrugged, digging into his blueberry pancakes.
Daniel nodded. "I can see how that would come in handy."
"Yeah, Iím fairly fond of living."
They spent the remainder of the meal interspersing comments on the daysí activities with eating, Rodneyís gaze roving from John, to the case by his chair, then back to John.
"So youíre sure it wonít be a problem getting us into the base?" John asked Catherine, who nodded.
"Yes, I was able to get clearance for Daniel."
"So weíre going once weíre done here?"
Catherine nodded. "Yes, and then weíll see what we really have."
"They arenít going to have a problem with Eva, are they?"
Catherine blinked. "You want to bring the cat?"
"Well, I certainly canít leave her here!"
"I suppose itíll be all right," Catherine said dubiously.
"They can hardly consider a cat to be a security risk," Daniel said.
"Exactly, and as far as they know, weíre going to go see some old, outdated equipment," Rodney sniffed.
"Letís just avoid drawing attention to her, and we should be fine," John suggested.
"An excellent idea," Catherine nodded as she finished her coffee. "If weíre all done, letís gather our things and meet in the lobby in half an hour."
"That long?" Rodney asked.
"Fifteen minutes?" Daniel suggested, getting nods of agreement from the others.
"That anxious to get rid of me?" John asked Rodney as they went back to the room to collect their bags and Eva.
"Getting rid of you is the downside of this, not that Iím not going to do my best to get you home as quickly as possible." Rodney admitted as he tried to coax Eva into her carrier.
"Thanks," John said simply. "I hope you give the other me a chance."
"Iíll do my best; remember, heíll have met him as well." Rodney gave a crooked smile.
"Which just means heíll already know he likes you," John shot back.
"Unless theyíve killed each other."
"I somehow doubt it." John looked around to make sure they hadnít forgotten anything. "Looks like weíre good to go."
"Yeah." Rodney hoisted his laptop case over his shoulder, and after a failed attempt to pick up his duffle bag, Evaís carrier, and the ZPM case, he turned a pathetic look Johnís way. "Help?"
"God, Iím so easy," John muttered, coming over to take Rodneyís duffle. "I assume you want to handle Eva and the ZPM yourself?"
"They are the more important things."
John just shook his head, chuckling. "Come on, your beast of burden is leaving, with or without you."
"Iím coming, Iím coming," Rodney laughed, following John out the door.
"I feel as if Iím going back in time," Rodney murmured as they followed Catherine and their escort down long, grey corridors deeper underneath the mountain. "Are you sure they know where theyíre going?"
"Well, weíre heading toward the general direction where the sGC would be in my reality," John replied softly. "It bodes well for finding what weíre looking for."
"Then thatís a good thing, I suppose."
"Weíll see when we get there."
"If we get there before we get to Mordor."
John snickered. "I can carry you, Mr. Frodo."
Rodney goggled at him, then broke into giggles, causing the others to glance back at them. "Youíre insane!" he hissed through his laughter.
"People keep telling me that," John said mournfully. "But the voices in my head say to ignore them."
"Is the other John going to have these voices too, or did they start when you went to Atlantis?"
John grinned. "Theyíve been my friends for years."
"Do they have names?" Rodney sniggered.
"Naw, they prefer not to be limited."
"Do they even have genóis that it?" Theyíd reached a large room, and he was staring at a large boxed item at the far end.
"Not having x-ray vision, I donít know," John replied dryly, "but it looks to be the right size."
"Oh, very funny," Rodney grumbled even as Catherine turned to look back at them.
"Yes, thatís the ring."
As John moved toward it, he accidentally banged another old case, and the dry wood split, causing one side to fall over. John reached to catch it and froze, his eyes widening as he stared at what was inside.
Rodney peered around him, frowning at the squat device. "What the hell is that?"
"Thatís the DHD." John sounded stunned.
"The DHD? You mean the device that dials the gate?" Now Rodney pushed around John, crouching beside John and reaching out to touch the side of the DHD, getting it open and peering inside with a look of rapt wonder.
"This is going to make things a lot easier." John looked over at Catherine and Daniel, who had drawn up behind them. "This is going to help immensely. The gate works a lot better with the intended control device."
"That isnít going to blow up or anything if he fools around with it, is it?" Daniel asked, pausing in the act of leaning in over the top of the DHD to study the symbols there.
John laughed. "No. But once we connect it to the gate, it can open wormholes to other planets, and even to the gate in Atlantis when itís powered by the ZPM. Which raises the issue of how are we going to work on this without people questioning it?"
"Does anyone really pay any attention to these things?" Rodney asked without moving from where he was. "Itís a closed base full of antiquated junkóor so they think."
"I guess we should see if the gateroom is clear to use. And weíll need to get a shield or iris on it so we donít get any uninvited guests. You still have Goaíuld running around this galaxy, and you really donít want them dropping in." John watched Rodney with amusement, knowing that they were all going to hear about his back once he finally straightened up.
"Why donít we let Dr. McKay continue what heís doing while we check on the ring?" Catherine suggested.
"Sounds good," John agreed. "I think they want to be alone anyway."
"I heard that," Rodney muttered though he didnít look up at them.
"I think you were meant to," Daniel chuckled before following Catherine over to the huge crate covering the gate.
"Hmm? What? Oh my god, my back hurts!" Rodney exclaimed as he responded to the tap on his shoulder by pulling back from the DHD enough to turn and look back over his shoulder.
"Thatís what you get for squatting half inside a crate for half an hour," John said with a distinct lack of sympathy. "Stretch it out."
Ignoring the byplay, Daniel explained why heíd interrupted Rodney. "The colonel doesnít know what connects the gate and DHD. Weíre wondering if itís simply proximity once both are powered."
"Which would make sense since you can control the gates from a jumper," John put in.
"And how are they powered normally?" Rodney asked. "I canít find anything even vaguely resembling one here."
"Control crystals. From what little I understand, and I usually tune the techno-babble out, theyíre both controls and power source," John explained vaguely.
"Well, thatís really helpful," Rodney sniffed.
"You said you didnít want me to tell you everything," John retorted. "Use that big brain to figure it out."
"The longer it takes me, the longer youíll be stuck here."
"Still not an expert in Ancient technology!" John pointed out.
"You need to pay more attention to him when he explains things to you," Rodney grumbled.
"Heíd probably faint if I did!"
"So you could kiss him back awake then," Rodney shrugged.
"Actually, I usually kiss him to get him to stop talking," John admitted with a grin.
"And is it effective?"
"Always." Johnís grin widened. "I think he sometimes starts talking just to get me to make him stop."
"Canít say that I blame him for that." Rodney paused and pressed his lips together before clearing his throat. "Yes, well, I should probably get back to work on this. Did youó" He finally focused on the area behind John, and his eyes widened. "My god, thatís beautiful," he gasped, staring at the stargate.
"Just wait till you see it activated," John said. "Itís incredible; the event horizon is like a sheet of water, shimmering there, and itís just one step to almost anywhere in the galaxy."
"If I believed in heaven, Iíd say that sounds like it," Rodney murmured.
John smiled at the familiar glint of scientific curiosity in Rodneyís eyes. "Thereís a hell of a lot waiting for you out there."
"And youíre the one who gave it to me."
"Itís only fair considering that another version of you gave it to me." John smiled, remembering looking up into the incredibly blue eyes as he was ordered to picture where he was in the solar system.
"Was that when you knew?" Rodney turned his attention from the stargate to John again.
"That he was it for me? No, that took a while longer. At first, like everyone else, I just thought he was annoying and arrogant, but after I put him on my team, I realized that he really was everything he said and a lot braver than he gave himself credit for. We got to be friends first, and then one day he just kissed me." John smiled at the memory.
"Funny, I never would have taken you for the shy type."
John shrugged. "Iím not, but Iím more than a little attached to my career. Iím really not looking for a dishonorable discharge."
"For what?" Now Rodney looked even more confused.
"For being gay, of course."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
It was Johnís turn to stare. "Itís not allowed in the military."
"The United Statesí." John was looking very confused now.
"Youíre kidding, right?"
"Noo," John said slowly. "You mean itís not that way here?"
"You mean the US military apparently having some issue with homosexual relationships? No, itís not that way here."
"Rodneyís going to want to emigrate!"
"They seriously think that who you have sex with has a bearing on how you do your job?" Rodney asked. "Thatís barbaric!"
"Thatís what Rodney keeps saying. Canada doesnít have that rule and even recognizes same-sex marriages."
"Well, of course it does, but here the United States does as well."
"Gentlemen?" Daniel interrupted, "While normally Iíd be fascinated by the sociological differences between the two universes, can we get back on task?"
John chuckled. "Are you going to crack a whip next?"
"I leave that to Indiana Jones," was the dry reply, and Rodney snickered.
"Well damn, there go all my fantasies," John said.
"You fantasize about Daniel with a whip?" Rodney asked, his shoulders shaking with laughter.
"Idiot," John muttered. "Go figure out the stargate."
Rodney grinned and walked toward the stone circle to do just that, while John hopped onto a crate and settled himself comfortably to watch the other three geek out.
"My god, I cannot believe this technology!" Rodney enthused when they returned to their hotel room. "Well, obviously I can, but still... itís amazing." He turned to look at John, his smile lighting his whole face.
"Told you so." John grinned at him.
"Yes, yes, you did, and Iím not even going to complain about the gloating." Eva wound her way around their feet, and Rodney picked her up to stroke her head. "Iíll always remember this and that you gave it to me."
"I wish I could give you more," John said quietly.
"So do I, but we all know what good wishes are."
"Well, at least weíre avoiding that road to hell so far."
Rodney nodded and set Eva down, then bent to pick up her bowls to give her food and fresh water. "So far, so good."
Watching him, John scooped the cat up and petted her. "Iíll just keep petting Eva."
"Good idea, I know she appreciates it."
"And itís allowed."
Rodney sighed and nodded at that. "Yes, thereís that."
John smiled slightly. "Looks like the cat comes out ahead."
"Sheíll be so spoiled that sheís going to sulk when you leave."
Eva purred, seemingly in answer, and John chuckled. "Iíll miss both of you."
Rodney looked thoughtful at that but nodded. "Same here. Now," his tone changed to one of brisk efficiency, "I should probably do some more work on these calculations."
"And Iíll quit bothering you. I might as well watch a movie while I can," John said cheerfully, going over to his bed and piling the pillows at the headboard to support his back.
Rodney watched him for a moment before turning away, swallowing hard as he booted up his laptop and went to work, wanting to lose himself in the complex world of theories and equations if only because it meant that it would give him no time to think of anything else.
Although John found a movie he hadnít seen and that should have held his interest, he found his attention drifting to Rodney. Eventually he gave up all pretense of watching the film, instead observing Rodney while stroking the loudly purring cat curled up on his lap, and Rodney mumbled to himself, entering lines of code, then frowning as he watched the results scroll over the screen.
"You realize that you scowling at that thing makes me very nervous, right?" John observed conversationally.
"Hmm?" Rodney glanced up at him, and his frown melted away to a look of surprise. "Oh, no, itís nothing bad; actually itís goodófor you and your return trip."
"Well, thatís good. So why the frown?" John let his hand fall to his side when Eva decided she had had enough petting and walked away.
"Just... thinking selfish thoughts, I suppose," Rodney admitted quietly.
There was a moment of silence before John said, "I wish I could take you back with me."
"I donít think he would like that much if you did."
John sighed. "Iím sorry, Iím being selfish. I want you both, and I know I canít have you."
"I wish I could be more selfish and say take me with you, but knowing myself, and him, since weíre alike, it wouldnít work, and weíd all get hurt," Rodney murmured.
"If that was the only reason, Iíd say we could make it work, but thereís a John Sheppard whoís coming back to this reality, and heís going to fall in love with you just like... too."
"Like heís probably doing with your Rodney?"
John winced slightly. "Possibly. It seems inevitable when you stick a Rodney McKay and John Sheppard together."
"Yes, it does," Rodney murmured. "Well, I suppose weíll just see what happens when we finally meet."
"Youíll make a great team," John said, having no doubt.
"I hope so; that would be nice."
"Trust me, you will. I know." John watched him closely, and Rodney tried not to squirm under the gaze.
"What?" he finally asked.
"I envy him, getting to know you and having all this to look forward to, together."
"You shared it with him; why be jealous of the major?"
John just looked at him, and Rodney managed a rueful smile. "Trust me, John, if things go my way, we wonít be having nearly as many adventures as the two of you did."
"Well, donít skip them all. Some were fun!"
"Finding and testing the personal shield."
"Because I have such a hidden desire to have someone shooting at me," Rodney snorted.
"Well, yes, there is that, even if heís not quite you, but then I suppose Iím not quite him, but even so, hopefully weíll become friends."
"Iím sure you will. Your strengths complement each other." John grinned quickly. "And no one else could put up with either of you."
"Iím not sure thereís much Ďputting upí when dealing with you."
"Most of my commanding officers would disagree with you."
"That sounds like most of my bosses, so we both know just how wrong they all are."
"They didnít appreciate us," John agreed. "Iím really glad Carson shot a drone at me," he said with a chuckle.
"I hope you made him pay for that," Rodney smiled, having heard the story before.
"Every time Iím stuck in the infirmary," John agreed with a wicked grin.
"I almost feel sorry for the poor man."
"Oh, he holds his own," John said, his eyes sparkling mischievously. "Despite the innocent exterior, he can be diabolical."
"Iíll have to remember that," Rodney chuckled.
"Definitely! Bloody-minded Scot," John laughed. "But heís been a good friend to both of us, and he was the first one to ignore Rodneyís bluster and get to know him in my reality."
"I look forward to meeting him."
"Youíll get along well. Heís a great guy."
"You hope; maybe heís Dr. Mengele in this universe."
"I find that highly unlikely," John said, shaking his head. "Mr. Pessimist strikes again."
"Thatís Dr. Pessimist, thank you," Rodney sniffed.
"Youíre such a nut sometimes," John said, laughing.
Rodneyís grin turned melancholy at that. "Sometimes."
"Itís a good thing," John said softly.
"I suppose itís better to be considered a nut than an ass."
"How Ďbout a nut with a great ass?" John suggested.
Rodney smiled crookedly at that. "How about we change the subject before it gets us in trouble?"
"Youíre no fun," John chuckled. "So, have you started listing the people you want to get assigned to the program and tracking them down?"
Rodney shook his head and glanced back at the laptop and the lines of equations filling its screen. "No, Iíve been somewhat preoccupied with figuring out how to get you back home."
"Good point. Well, thatís something I can do. Iíll make up a list of the people you need to get for the SGC and Atlantis, and Iíll see what I can find out about their whereabouts," John decided, reaching for his laptop.
"Didnít you say youíd looked some of them up already?" Rodney asked as he turned back to his work.
"Some, yes, but far from all of the people youíll need. I was more interested in my friends, but we should start getting all the others too, including the key people from the SGC, like OíNeill, Hammond, Landry, Davis..." John trailed off, momentarily overwhelmed by the immensity of the task.
"I think Iím getting a headache just thinking about it," Rodney groaned.
"So donít. You concentrate on what you do best, and Iíll be your logistics officer for a while." John booted up his laptop and began his search while Rodney just shook his head and went back to his own work.
A little while later, John exclaimed, "Shit! Well, weíre going to need to find someone to take the generalís place; heís dead here, has been for ten years." John had winced at the terse report of the death of OíNeillís son, followed a short time later by his suicide.
Rodney had glanced over at the exclamation, and he sighed at the news. "Thatís not good news; he was one of the most important people in your SGC, wasnít he?"
"He was one of the founding members and even ran it for a while after he was promoted to general. But you can do it without him, although weíll have to hope the Asgard like someone else here as much as they liked him in my reality."
"I would assume the other version of you will have the same gene you do," Rodney offered. "Perhaps theyíll like him."
"Could be, though Asgard kind of freak me out," John reminded him. "Though maybe your major will be more at ease with naked grey aliens."
"Hopefully they wonít flirt with him like they did you."
John shuddered. "Itís not funny!"
"Yes, it is," Rodney grinned.
"I hope the Asgard in this universe like you!"
"Feeling the love here, Colonel," Rodney chuckled.
"Be thankful theyíre asexual or you might be!" John retorted.
"No, no, I have faith that itís you they prefer; my virtue is safe."
"Ooo, thatís threatening! Iím so scared," Rodney snickered.
Johnís eyes narrowed, and he had to remind himself that kissing this Rodney to shut him up was not an option. "Donít you have work youíre supposed to be doing?"
The teasing light suddenly left Rodneyís eyes, and he nodded. "Yes, of course, IóIíll get back to it then," he murmured, turning in his seat to stare at the laptop screen, his shoulders hunched forward.
The reaction made John wince. "Donít. Please. I didnít mean to snap," he sighed. "But you have no idea how hard it is for me stay over here and keep my hands to myself."
"I have a fairly good idea, which is why I should be working, not thinking of... other things."
John slumped against the pillows. "Iím sorry. Maybe I should get another room," he said reluctantly, clearly not wanting to.
"If you think itís a good idea, perhaps you should."
John sighed. "I donít want to, but I donít want to make things harder for you either."
Rodney shrugged one shoulder, still without looking back at John. "Youíre the one who has to go back to him; I think it would harder for you."
"Thatís not a hardship. I love him," John replied simply. "But I care about you too, and I donít want to hurt you because itís too easy for me to let the lines blur."
"I understand," Rodney murmured. "Now I really should work on this so that you can go back."
John nodded even though Rodney was still staring at his laptop. "Iíll stop bothering you then and get back to my own research."
"You donít bother me, John."
John smiled wryly. "Iím not sure if thatís good or bad."
"Considering the situation, itís probably bad." Rodney finally looked over his shoulder at John and managed a smile as he saw Eva had wormed her way into his lap again. "I think she likes you more than she likes me."
"She knows Iím a soft touch," John said wryly, looking down at the purring cat. "And I like having someone to pet, which she takes shameless advantage of."
"Iím sure he does as well," Rodney murmured.
John grinned quickly. "Well, yes. I havenít heard any complaints."
Rodneyís answering smile was somewhat slight, but visible. "I can imagine."
"Iím sure you and Maj. Sheppard will work it out to your satisfaction," John said with a faint smirk.
"That would be nice."
"It will be, I guarantee it."
"Hmm..." Rodney stared at the laptop he had attached to the DHD, then at the stargate, then back at the laptop. He paused to enter a few commands, read the results, making the same noise again as he did so.
"Care to expand on that?" John asked laughingly after waiting a few seconds and nothing else seemed to be forthcoming.
"These readings are... odd."
"Could you be a little more specific?" John was reminded of many conversations heíd had with his Rodney.
"Look at this." Rodney shifted his laptop so that John could see the way the power grid was spiking rhythmically every forty-five seconds. "Iím not seeing any build up, but..."
"Thatís too regular to be natural, not at that frequency."
"Exactly my point." Rodney entered a few commands, his eyes widening at the result before he began typing frantically, glancing from the keyboard to the screen.
"Something?" John asked, trying to coax information out of him.
"Look at those readings!" Rodney demanded, pointing to a small square that had popped up in the corner of the screen.
"What exactly am I looking for?"
Rodney growled in frustration and brought up a second graph. "See anything similar?"
"They look the same."
"And thatís the point! Thisó" Rodney stabbed a finger at the lower graph, "is the base readings I took from you at UNLV; this," here he pointed to the upper reading, "is the signature of the pulse hitting the stargate."
"Rodney!" Johnís eyes shot to the gate, and he took an involuntary step toward it.
The other Rodneyís expression sobered at that, and he nodded, turning his concentration back on the screen. "So it would seem. Now we have something to lock on to when I get the program finished to open the rift."
"Youíre a genius in any universe."
Rodney managed a fleeting smile without looking up from the screen. "Of course."
Catching the tone, John focused on him. "I wish I could take you back with me."
"So he could kick me back through? I think Iíll stay here, thank you."
John watched him wistfully. "I am going to miss you."
"Youíre making me want to pretend to try and then say I canít do it," Rodney whispered, swiping a hand over his face.
"Except that youíre not very good at lying." John hesitated before speaking again. "I donít know if this helps or makes things worse, but itís not just that you remind me of him. At first, yeah, but youíre you. And Iíd have fallen for you even without knowing him first."
Rodney dragged in a hitching breath before looking up at him, his lower lip caught between his teeth. "I donít know which it does either," he admitted, raising a hand to touch Johnís before drawing it back, but John caught hold of it and held on as he moved closer and kissed Rodney.
"Iím sorry," he whispered.
"For what? Being you?"
John smiled faintly. "For making things hard for you."
"Understatement," Rodney snorted under his breath.
"So like I said, sorry."
Rodney tightened his fingers around Johnís and managed a lopsided smile. "I donít think itís fatal."
"Glad to hear it." John returned the smile.
"Now stop bothering me and let me get some work done."
John grinned and let go of Rodneyís hand after a final squeeze, then sat down out of the way to watch Rodney work.
"Iíd like you to do something for me, Colonel." Rodney was fidgeting as he spoke, and he was looking anywhere except at the other man.
"Sure," John replied easily. "What?"
"When you go back, take Eva with you. You said he missed his cat, and Iím certainly going to be too busy in the near future to take care of her."
"Rodney, no," John exclaimed. "You love that cat."
"I tolerate her, and she tolerates me back. You she likes." Rodney glanced at the way Eva was curled up in Johnís lap and let his eyebrows rise to make his point.
John looked down almost guiltily. "I wasnít trying to steal your pet," he said in dismay.
Rodneyís smile was firm if a bit melancholy. "I know that, and thatís why she should go with you. I suppose you just have that effect."
"I..." John hesitated, still petting the cat. "You would miss her; I donít want to take her from you."
"Iíll miss you as well," Rodney shrugged.
John winced. "Iíll miss you too," he admitted, staring down at Eva.
Rodney glanced down at the cat as well and sighed, not wanting John to see that he didnít believe that. "So youíll take her then?"
John nodded slowly. "Thank you," he whispered.
Rodney shrugged again and turned back to his work. "Itís just a cat."
John knew it was much more than that, but he let Rodneyís pretense stand, simply stroking Eva and knowing that he was going to miss the man.
"Are you sure youó"
Rodney held up a finger and cut off the question.
"But what about theó"
"Daniel, if you ask if Iím sure about this one more time, I am going to break that no doubt ancient vase over your head!" Rodney snapped. "You said you were sure of your translations, and I believed you; now believe me when tell you I know my physics!"
John hastily caught hold of Danielís arm and drew him out of the room.
"Daniel, I know youíre nervous and just trying to help, but if I know my Rodneyís, he wasnít bluffing with that last threat. Sit. Stay!"
"Woof," Daniel muttered, watching the colonel go back into the room with the stargate.
"So are you really ready to try this?" John asked nervously, his eyes intent on Rodneyís hands.
"No, Iím just standing here because I feel like it," Rodney snapped before taking a deep breath and glancing at John, the dark circles and lines of tension under his eyes throwing them into stark relief. "Sorry, Iím a little keyed up. Do you have everything? Because if this connects when I try it, it may be your only chance."
John smiled crookedly. "You forget, I arrived in my skin. As it is, Iím stealing the clothes on my back, but I imagine heís in the same boat. All I have is Eva." He raised the cat in his arms in illustration. "And this." He leaned in and kissed Rodney, who fisted his hands at his sides to keep from grabbing onto him and holding tight.
"Then I suppose youíre ready," he said gruffly after taking a step back away from the other man. "We should get Catherine and Daniel."
John nodded, anticipation and wistful sadness vying for dominance in the hazel eyes that watched Rodney intently. "Good luck," he said quietly.
"Youíre the one whoís going hurtling on a trans-universal trip, so I think you need it more." Rodney bit his lower lip and blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. "Take care of yourself, Colonel, and take care of him as well. HeísóIíll go get them." He ducked away at that, hurrying out of the room.
John started to call after him but in the end simply watched him go, knowing he had no right to anything more. "Youíd better take care of him, Major," he muttered.
He forced a smile shortly afterward when Rodney returned with Catherine and Daniel in tow. "Thank you all for everything youíve done to help me get home again. And good luck with your own explorations of the galaxies," he added.
"Thank you, John," Catherine said, leaning in to hug him, being careful not to squash Eva between them. "And thank you for giving us all of this."
"I was glad to." John looked at the three of them and smiled crookedly, part of him wishing he could stay to help them get started but most of him eager to get home. He raised an eyebrow at Rodney.
"Here." Rodney thrust a duffle bag at him. "Itís her favorite kind of food and a few toys. Itís about time for them to start pinging again, so weíd better get going." His movements brusque, he turned to the computer and entered in a series of commands. "Go ahead and dial Atlantis."
John stared at his back for a long moment before turning to the DHD and dialing the familiar address, praying to hear Elizabeth and Rodneyís voices once a connection was made.
The gate opened, not with the familiar splash of blue, but with a ripping sound that left a tear of blue light in the middle of the gate.
"John? Are you there?" Elizabethís voice came through the void, followed quickly by Rodneyís.
"Well, of course heís there; it wouldnít have opened otherwise!"
"Yes, Iím here," John interrupted with the ease of long practice, "but Iíd like to be there. Can I just walk through?" he asked, eyeing the rip warily.
"You should be able to." The answer came from both Rodneys at the same time.
John turned to look at the Rodney standing near him for a long moment before he turned toward the gate. "Iím coming through!" He strode through without any further hesitation.
The bright blue light resolved into the Atlantis gateroom and another Rodney staring at him from behind the main console, and John stumbled to a stop. "Rodney?" he whispered, staring up at the other man, his heart in his eyes.
"Anyone who doesnít want to witness an embarrassing display of emotion, turn around now," Rodney ordered before darting toward John and catching him in a tight embrace. "Oh god, itís you, itís really you, itísóI kissed him."
Johnís breath left him in a huge sigh of relief. "Oh thank god. Me too." His arms tightened convulsively around Rodney.
"Itís just that he was so much like you, but so sad and so alone that Ió" Rodney pulled back to stare at John, his eyes narrowed. "Me too?"
"Take everything that you just said, and reverse it. I kissed him. A couple of times. But thatís it."
"Oh. All right. I hope he and the major can work something outóand why is there a cat clawing my chest?" Rodney pulled back to stare downward.
"Because she didnít like us squashing her?" John offered with the faintest of smiles.
"You brought a cat back with you?" Wary of the catís laid back ears, Rodney raised a hand to stroke her behind the ear.
"Her name is Eva. She was Rodneyís, but she sort of adopted me while I was there, and since Iíd told him how much you missed your cat..." John shrugged.
"He sent her with you." Rodney pressed his lips together as he stared down at Eva, feeling her relax under his and Johnís caressing hands. "I understand."
Eva began to purr, and John smiled. "Itíll be nice to have her around."
"Right now Iím happier that youíre around, and why are we standing here when we could be doing other things?"
John chuckled, but the tight grip he maintained on Rodney expressed his agreement. "Thank you all for getting me back," he said, raising his voice as he looked around the room at his friends. "Elizabeth, if you donít mind, I need to... reacclimatize myself to Atlantis. Iíll give you my report in the morning."
"Whenever youíre ready," Elizabeth replied. "Welcome home, John."
"Yes, yes, leaving now," Rodney grumbled, keeping an arm around Johnís waist as he relieved him of the duffle bag he held. "Whatís in here? Rocks?"
"Cat food and toys, supposedly. I didnít stop to inspect it when Rodney gave it to me."
"Ahh, well, that will keep her busy while weíre busy." As he spoke, Rodney was walking John out of the gateroom.
"Thatís good because I plan to be very, very busy." John groped Rodneyís ass as they stepped into the transporter.
"Donít squeeze the cat!" Rodney laughed. "What was her name again?"
"Eva. And sheís not the one I want to squeeze."
"Weíll have to get her a litter box, and you in bed."
"I think he may have put one in. I donít really remember. And youíd better be in that bed with me."
"Of course! Has your IQ dropped while you were away?" Rodney sputtered, dragging John into their room, barely giving him time to set Eva down before grabbing him and kissing him hungrily.
John decided kissing was much more interesting than responding to the insult, and he pulled Rodney closer while trying to meld their mouths together.
"Oh god, missed you so much," Rodney gasped, as he yanked at the Air Force uniform John was wearing. John nodded frantically, tearing at Rodneyís clothes as they fought to get closer, both starved for the feel and taste of the other.
"You got me used to regular sex, so itís your fault that I havenít been able to sleep," Rodney groaned as they stumbled toward the bed, leaving a trail of clothes in their wake.
"Right back at you," John growled, biting at Rodneyís jaw while his hands moved over Rodneyís body, reassuring himself that this was his Rodney and yes, he could touch.
Rodney nodded as his hands roamed over Johnís body, finding and cataloging the scars heíd earned in his time on Atlantis, proving to himself that this was real. John smiled faintly as his own fingers touched Rodneyís hair, petting the familiar shortness, and then moved down to the broad shoulders.
"God, Iíve missed you," he whispered.
"Tell me about it later; I want to be in you now," Rodney demanded.
"Fuck yeah," John breathed, practically throwing himself onto the bed, Rodney following, pressing down against John and kissing him again, his hands tangling in Johnís hair. John arched up and moaned into the kiss, loving the sensation of Rodneyís weight on him, their bare skin pressed together as they tasted one another.
"Not going to last," Rodney gasped, pulling back to fumble in the bedside table for the lube.
"Hard and fast," John begged, dragging one of Rodneyís hands to his aching cock which was already leaking precome, and Rodney groaned in response, yanking himself back to hurriedly stretch John, then slam forward, groaning as he sank home.
"Rodney," John moaned, his eyes falling half shut as his hips jerked up to meet Rodneyís thrust. "Yes."
Rodney nodded tightly as he began to move, short, hard thrusts that left him gasping for breath. John moaned with every thrust, his body tightening around Rodneyís cock as if determined to hold him inside after so long apart, and he reached for his own erection, curling his fist around it and jerking himself in time with Rodneyís rhythm.
"No!" Rodney barked, grabbing Johnís hands and holding them over his head. "I want you to come from me."
John whimpered, writhing under Rodney as he sought more stimulation. "God, Rodney, please, I need..." he panted.
"And youíll get," Rodney promised, driving into Johnís ass as he stared down into his eyes, his own full of love and need.
"Need you," John rasped, wrapping his arms and legs around Rodney to hold him close as they moved together. "Missed you."
"Love you too," John whispered before biting his lip as the pleasure surged through him, driving him ever higher as Rodney surged above him, dipping in to nip at Johnís mouth as they moved together.
John opened to him, groaning in pleasure as Rodneyís tongue swept into his mouth, and his body tightened.
"Yes, John, god, need to feel you," Rodney gasped before kissing John again.
John nodded jerkily, panting for each breath. He was so close, his entire body tightening.
"Come for me, John," Rodney whispered. "Come for me and show us both youíre home."
John gasped sharply, staring up into the vivid blue of Rodneyís eyes, and came. Rodney moaned and managed a few more thrusts before he came as well, driving forward, then collapsing over John.
"I think Iím going to chain us together at night from now on," John muttered, nuzzling into Rodneyís cheek.
"How about you just not go wandering among the universes from now on."
"Thatís fine by me!"
"Me too. I wasóI was worried I wouldnít get you back."
"I wasnít. With two Rodney McKays on my side, how could we fail?"
Rodney chuckled at that and nuzzled Johnís neck again. "So, I take it they found the ZPM?"
"The ZPM, the stargate and the DHD. Theyíre off to a good start."
"Lucky," Rodney muttered.
"Hey, you got me."
"Which makes me supremely lucky."
"Itís entirely mutual." John kissed Rodneyís chin.
"Damn right, and is it too early to ask you just how you got them to get all this done so quickly?"
John shrugged. "I know my Rodneys. And Catherineís father had found the gate; she just didnít continue after Ernest Littlefieldís disappearance. Once I directed Daniel, and her, to the ZPM, they were on board."
"Hrmm." Rodney shifted enough so that Johnís legs could settle back on the mattress. "Did you have a hard time convincing the other me of your story?"
"Well, at first he thought I was a crazy stalker," John laughed, "but once we managed to get past that, no, not so much."
"You always did know how to get me to do anything."
"Itís a talent," John said with a grin. "Like herding cats."
"Speaking of cats, whatís she doing?í Rodney pushed up onto his arms to look around the room for Eva.
"Knowing that cat, basking in the sunlight," John chuckled without moving.
"She got herself out onto the balcony?"
"Through the window, Rodney."
"Ahh," Rodney chuckled. "I wondered if there was a cat version of the gene."
John shuddered. "Thatís a truly terrifying thought."
"The cat who could walk through walls..."
"Wasnít that a Heinlein title? Strange book. And why are we talking about the cat?"
"Because I donít want to have claws digging into my ass any time in the near future."
"Good point," John agreed. "But I think you can trust me to protect your ass."
"I would hope so because Iím also hoping you plan on taking it once weíve both recovered."
Rodney chuckled at that. "Now thereís the colonel I know and love."
"And donít you forget it." John grinned at him before giving him a quick kiss.
"As if I ever would."
"It was almost like having you there," John said quietly, "but not. I think in some ways it made me miss you even more because it seemed like I should be able to touch you."
"I know," Rodney murmured. "There were times I could almost forget, but never wholly, because he was never youóand at times I wasnít sure which of us was more sorry for that."
John nodded. "I think I hurt him. I didnít want to, but..." He sighed. "I hope they find each other."
Rodney nodded at that, shifting his weight to one arm so he could run his fingers through Johnís hair. "So do I because I think I did the same. I suppose for them it was what everyone wishes they could find: someone who knows you without any effort at all on your part."
John nodded again. "Well, that and we know weíre susceptible to each other," he pointed out. "I really did like him for himself, but it would never have gotten to that point if I hadnít seen you in him first."
"I know; I suppose I have a weak spot for you, and he was you if you hadnít come here." Rodney paused at that and brushed a kiss over Johnís mouth. "I sent back all the reports I could so that when they come here, they wonít make the same mistakes we did."
"I typed up everything I could remember too and left it with them. Hopefully they can benefit from our experiences."
"Thatís all we could do."
"And weíre all where we belong now," John said with deep satisfaction.
"Mmmhmm." Rodney squirmed around enough so that he was comfortably draped over John. "I missed my favorite pillow."
"And I missed my favorite blanket," John chuckled.
A small weight leapt up onto the bed, and Eva butted her head against Johnís shoulder, making Rodney smile. "And I think we have a new bedmate."
"At least she doesnít take up much space."
"She is awfully small; is she full-grown?"
"How the heck should I know? I have no idea how old she is. Itís not like sheís going to grow to the size of an elephant if sheís not."
"You didnít ask?"
"It didnít really seem important."
"Hrmm, true." Rodney reached over to stroke Evaís side, feeling her chest rumble as she purred.
"You donít mind that I brought her?" John finally asked, watching Rodney pet her.
"No," Rodney replied after a momentís silence. "If it had been anyone else, I probably would be tearing myself apart with jealousy, but I can understand why he did it, and you came back to me; thatís whatís important." He sighed at that and rubbed his thumb over Johnís chest. "And how can I be jealous when I felt the same about the major?"
Johnís hand moved over Rodneyís back, slowly petting him the same way Rodney was petting Eva. "Exactly. If it was anyone else... But it wasnít, and weíre together. I have to say it... thereís no place like home."
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