Spoilers: Everything up to McKay and Mrs. Miller
Waking with a yawn, Rodney stretched and rolled to his side, stroking a hand up Johnís chest and leaning in to give him a kiss, enjoying finally being able to do this after three years of dancing around each other.
"Morning," he murmured, giving a crooked grin and brushing his lips against Johnís again. "No alarms going off, no missions todayóI do believe we have time for a not-so-quickie before we have to deal with another day in Atlantis."
John woke up, and it took a moment a moment for him to register what he was feeling. A moment later, heíd let out a yell and tossed the strange guy off him while jumping out the other side of the bed.
"What the hell?! Who the hell are you? Where am I? And how the fuck did I get here?" He spotted a sidearm lying on the table and snatched it up, pointing it at the guy whoíd been pushing a hard-on against him a moment before.
"What theóColonel, is this is some kind strange sex game?" Rodney sputtered, sitting up and rubbing the small of his back. "Because I assure you that S&M and playing with guns donít turn me on!"
"Colonel? Sex game? Look, pal, I donít know what kinky games you play having guys kidnapped, but Iím a major in the United States Air Force. Just show me the way out of here, and weíll call it even, okay?"
"Did you hit your head last night oróoh my god, did Kavanagh get into one of the labs again? Iím going to kill him!" Rodney held up a hand as he slowly got to his knees, not dwelling on the fact that one naked man holding a gun on another was one of the most absurd things heíd ever heard of. "Look, John, somethingís going on here; Iím not sure what, but weíll figure it out; we always do."
"Iím trying to be nice about this, buddy, but I donít know you; I donít know how I got here, wherever here is; and I. Want. My. Pants!"
"Theyíre right there on the floor by the bed," Rodney said soothingly, promising himself that he was going to kill John if he shot himóagain! Moving slowly, he reached for his headpiece and hooked it over his ear. "Elizabeth, weíve got a situation here," he murmured.
Keeping a wary eye on the guy who was now either talking to himself or had called someone on his headset, John stepped into the pants that were lying where the man had indicated. Once covered, he felt a lot better about the situation, but he still kept a grip on the gun.
"Whatís wrong, Rodney?" Elizabeth asked, sounding concerned.
"Other than the fact that John doesnít seem to know me and is standing here holding a gun on me? Nothing at all."
"John is..." Elizabeth trailed off into silence. "Iíll be there with Maj. Lorne in a few minutes."
"Whatís going on?" John growled at the still naked man kneeling on the floor.
"Nothing at all, no need to shoot me," Rodney said quickly. "Look, I know youíre feeling out of your depth here, but thereís an explanation for it; there has to be. Some people are going to be coming to talk to youóis it all right if I get some clothes on so they donít walk in on me this way?"
John nodded, backing up so he had the wall behind him, and he watched warily as the man got to his feet. "Just no sudden moves."
"Iíll keep it slow, I swear." Rodney gave a pained smile at that as he gathered up his clothes and stepped into them, wisely not putting his hand near his holster and gun.
"Rodney, John?" Elizabeth stepped into the room, with Lorne at her side and several Marines visible out in the hall.
"Who are you?" John watched her warily, his weapon held loosely but ready to be aimed and fired at a momentís notice.
"Everyone stay calm," Rodney said quickly. "Maj. John Sheppard, this is Dr. Elizabeth Weir, leader of the Atlantis expedition and Maj. Evan Lorneóurmm, acting ranking officer."
"What?" Lorne looked at Rodney as if he was nuts.
"This is Maj. Sheppard," Rodney said forcefully. "He has no idea where he is or how he got here; having him in charge of all you grunts right now would not be a good thing, understand?"
Lorne groaned. "I really hate my life sometimes."
Elizabeth looked like she agreed. "Am I to understand that Col. Sheppard is missing?"
"Thatís what I said!" Rodney hissed. "Major, can you tell them what the last thing you remember isóand can you put down that gun, please!"
"Where the hell am I? I went to bed last nightóaloneóat McMurdo."
"McMurdo!" Elizabeth looked startled. "You didnít come with us three years ago?"
"Come with you? Lady, Iíve never seen you before in my life!"
"I donít know if he just doesnít remember the past three years or if this is really another John; Iím hoping Carson can help us with that," Rodney explained, still keeping a wary eye on the gun in Johnís hand.
"Look at his arm," Lorne commented, keeping his hands carefully away from his sidearm and motioning the Marines back from the door. "The scar where Ellia bit him isnít there."
"You have people running around biting each other here? Nice place," John muttered, still watching them warily but letting his gun hand fall to his side. He didnít know what was going on, but this clearly wasnít McMurdo, and he was going to have to trust them at least a little if he wanted to find out what had happened and get back...
"Shit!" he exclaimed. "Iím AWOL!"
"Actually, you probably arenít," Rodney said, smiling sickly, and Elizabeth nodded.
"I think this would be easier if we could show you exactly where we are," she said calmly.
After a moment John nodded.
"You should probably put your uniform and boots on, sir," Lorne suggested. "I donít think the colonel would appreciate having everyone see him wander around like that unless there was good reason."
John frowned, and Elizabeth put in, "You can wear one of Col. Sheppardís uniforms. There should be some in the closet."
"So much for donít ask, donít tell," Lorne muttered, making Elizabeth sigh.
"I donít think thereís any surprise here for any of us, Major."
"And I donít recall anyone asking you what you thought of it," Rodney snapped, glaring at Lorne, his gaze promising dire retribution if he or any of the Marines caused an issue over this.
Lorne glared right back, while John watched with interest. "Iím not an idiot, Doctor; itís more than obvious whatís between the two of you. We just donít normally get show and tell."
"Much," Elizabeth murmured with a faint smile.
"Not helping!" Rodney yelped before glancing at John. "And are you going to get dressed, or are you planning on giving everyone a show?"
John looked down at the low-slung sweatpants that were all he wore, and he smiled crookedly. "Distractionís a weapon too." But he moved over to the closet theyíd indicated and began dressing, after the man, whose name was apparently Rodney, tossed him a clean pair of boxers from a drawer. "For the record," he said, "I remember the last three years perfectly well. I was at McMurdo."
Relaxing somewhat, Rodney sat and pulled on socks and boots before grabbing his jacket. "Just what year do you think it is?"
"Itís 2007. Why, what year do you think it is?"
Lorne hid a grin at the conversation. Even not knowing each other, McKay and Sheppard still sounded the same.
"2007," Rodney snapped, "and I was simply trying to see if youíd been moved in time as well as space."
"Then thatís one thing we do know; perhaps we can continue this in my office?" Elizabeth suggested.
"After you," John said, and it was clear that he wasnít letting any of them get behind him.
Elizabeth sighed. "This way." She led the way, ignoring the confused expressions on the faces of the people who picked up the tension in the small group.
"Welcome to Atlantis," Rodney commented as they walked down the corridors toward a transporter. "And maybe we should take the stairs?"
"Yes, seeing more of the city is a good idea," Elizabeth agreed, veering to the side. "We can go along the southwest balcony."
"As Dorothy said to Toto," Lorne commented as they headed outside, "you ainít in Kansas any more."
John stared at the three spokes of the city that he could see. "Holy shit," he breathed. He couldnít deny that this was unlike anything on Earth.
"A little plainer now, Major?" Rodney asked, a sad smile curving his lips.
John turned stunned hazel eyes toward the man. "Where are we?"
"Youíre in the city of Atlantis, in the Pegasus galaxy, a hell of a long way from Antarctica."
John blinked twice, the only sign of his continuing shock. "And you are?" Heíd heard Dr. Weir call him Rodney, but when introducing her and the major, his erstwhile bed companion hadnít bothered to introduce himself.
"Oh, Dr. Rodney McKay, chief science officer of the Atlantis expedition." As he spoke, Rodney drew himself up straighter, and John had to bite back a grin at his obvious preening.
"Well, I canít say that Iím pleased to meet you, nothing personal, but hi." John offered a crooked smile.
"Understandable, and Iíd certainly rather have my John here than you."
"Why donít we go inside and discuss this so we can start devising a way to get you back," Elizabeth suggested.
Once they were all seated in Elizabethís office, Lorne said, "Weíre going to have to make a general announcement if we canít fix this right away. The military needs to know that they have to come to me rather than the colonel."
Elizabeth looked amused. "Knowing John, Iíd say that they did that anyway, but yes, youíre right. Thank heavens the Daedalus just left, or Stephen would be trying to take over again."
"Which is all we would need," Rodney snorted. "We also need to let Carson, Teyla and Ronon know soon."
"Before the general announcement, yes," Elizabeth agreed. "Actually, you should probably go see Carson to get checked out, John... Maj. Sheppard."
"Itís okay; you can call me John," he said, taking pity on them. Either they were the worldís greatest actors or they really did know him... or at least some version of him.
"Well then, John," Rodney commented, "why donít we go see Carsonóour head doctoróand get you checked out. We can get them to get us breakfast too."
"Your doctor is also Meals on Wheels?"
"Not him, his staff!" Rodney gave him a withering look and stood. "Now are you coming with me, or would you rather sit here and chat?"
"If you say heel, Iíll have to hurt you," John warned, getting to his feet as well.
"Never, I prefer cats to dogs," Rodney sniffed. "Elizabeth, Iím sure Carson will let you know what he finds."
"Iím sure." Elizabeth watched the two men leave her office before turning to Maj. Lorne. "How much of a problem will this be for the military?"
"I donít think it will be much of an issue considering some of the things weíve seen. Iíll be glad when Dr. McKay gets our Col. Sheppard back though."
"Not nearly as glad as Dr. McKay will be," Elizabeth replied wryly. "Weíll wait for Dr. Beckettís report, then make the announcement."
"So, youíre still at McMurdo," Rodney commented as he led John through the corridors toward the infirmary. "Have you happened to notice any secret government outposts while you were flying around out there?"
"íFraid not. A few scientists in scattered groups and a lot of penguins and thatís about it. Itís very quiet."
"Really?" Rodney frowned. "I hope thatís because you havenít gone in the right direction, not because you donít have a version of the SGC thereóthat would make this a lot more difficult."
"Iíve never heard of the SGC, not that I know every branch of the military." John shrugged. "I havenít seen any large groups of people or more frequent trips anywhere though."Ď
"Well, this isnít your normal branch of the military," Rodney admitted, "but you probably would have noticed the supply or personnel runs. Wonderful, this means they donít have the outpost then."
"Well, I got here without it," John pointed out, "so you should be able to fix this without it too, right?"
"Well of course!" Rodney huffed, looking affronted. "I simply need to understand how you got here, then I can reverse the effect."
John nodded. "Soon would be good. No offense, but this place is weird."
"Not denying that in the least, but itís home; give it a little time, and you might come to appreciate it."
"Itís not my home," John replied simply, startling Carson, who stared at them as they walked across the infirmary.
"Are ye planning on leaving us then, Colonel?" he asked, well aware that John would never leave Rodney or Atlantis.
"Major," John corrected, confusing the doctor even more.
"No, Carson, this is Maj. John Sheppard," Rodney sighed. "Maj. Sheppard, this is Dr. Carson Beckett. Apparently something has happened to replace our John with this one. We need to find out as much as we can about him to get my John back."
"Only in Atlantis," Carson sighed in turn. "Have a seat then, lad, and let me see if I can find anything that might explain this."
"Oh yay, I live to be poked and prodded."
"Heís too much like John for my good," Rodney muttered, hopping up on a bed near where Carson was steering John, and Carson eyed him askance, catching the low-voiced words.
"Do ye have any idea how you got here?" Carson asked, and John shook his head.
"No, I went to sleep in my bed at McMurdo and woke up here."
Carson frowned as he drew blood to test. "How verra odd."
"You can say that again," Rodney muttered.
"Try it from my side," John said somewhat acerbically.
"Well, yer in good hands here, Major," Carson said soothingly. "I know Rodney will be working night and day to return you to yer reality."
"You mean to get the other Sheppard back to this one. But it gets me home at the same time," John said with a shrug, well aware of his companionís priorities.
"And speaking of that, can you hurry up with the scanning, Carson? Iíd like some information to go on."
"Do I tell you how to do your job? Then sit there and be quiet or Iíll toss you out."
"Ooo, Iím so scared..." Rodney commented though he fell silent, chewing on his lower lip as he watched Carson explain each scan to John before performing it.
Some time later, Carson leaned back on one of the beds. "Well, youíre in perfect health, Major, and identical to our Col. Sheppard in every way, aside from a few scars. I donít think thereís anything here that will help you, Rodney."
"Wonderful," he sighed, hopping off the bed and motioning to John. "Come on, I have a few ideas."
"Do I at least get a treat if I do as Iím told?" John asked dryly.
"Maybe later, Coló" Rodney paused and cleared his throat. "Iím sure the mess has some kind of dessert available."
"That would be a no. Though I wouldnít mind breakfast," John hinted. "I havenít had anything since last night."
"Oh, yes, of course. Carson, are you done?"
"Yes, go get the man some food. We donít starve people in Atlantis."
Rodney nodded, though he was rolling his eyes at Carson. "Major, come with me then; Iíll show you the mess hall."
John nodded and stood up from the bed. "After you."
Rodneyís smile didnít quite reach his eyes, but he nodded as well. "I will warn you to be careful here; the city loves you."
"The city... Okay, Iím going to need you to explain that."
Rodney sighed and stopped walking. "You possess what we call the ATA geneóthatís Ancient Technology Activation. Somewhere in your past one of your ancestors got funky with one of the Ancientsóthe people who built this city. The gene lets you activate Ancient technology, hence the name."
"Okay, sounds weird, but okay. But the city loves me?" John eyed the walls of the corridor warily.
"John was the first person with the gene to set foot in here in ten thousand years; sheís very reactive to him," Rodney sighed. "Itís not as if robots are going to jump out of closets and molest you."
"Thatís a relief. I prefer human molestation."
John chuckled at his expression. "What, are people in this universe all unaware of sex?"
"What?" Now Rodney looked pole-axed. "Ofóof course we know about sex!"
"Then why look so shocked that I said I like it?"
"Not that you like it, but that youíre soóso open about it."
Looking baffled, John asked, "Why wouldnít I be?"
"Ah, youíre talking about women; in that case, I suppose you wouldnít be."
John seemed even more confused. "I was talking about anyone, though I tend to go for men more often than women."
Rodney simply stared at him.
"What? You canít tell me heís different, not when the two of you are together."
"Of course he isnít," Rodney sputtered, "he just isnít as open about it, considering the fact could get either of you thrown out of your Neanderthal military."
John gawked at him. "What on Earth are you talking about? Why would that get him thrown out of the military?"
"Donít ask, donít tell? Does it ring a bell?"
John stared blankly. "No."
"Donít ask, donít tell what?"
"Am I right in understanding that your military doesnít have antiquated policies regarding homosexual relationships?"
"Your military regulates peopleís personal lives?" John sounded appalled.
"Of course not! Hell, Mitch, Dex and I shared married officersí quarters."
Rodney just stared at him, his mouth hanging open as he struggled to find something to say.
"Youíre not going to faint, are you?" John asked warily.
"Did they die?"
Johnís expression shut down. "Yes."
"Oh. Oh! Shit! Iím sorry!" Rodney cursed himself and reached out to squeeze Johnís arm, halting himself just before the contact. "I have a big mouth at times; my John has gotten very good at telling me when to shut up; feel free to do the same."
"Just... donít talk about them." John managed a faint smile.
"Not a problem, I wonít say a word; Iíll... just get you to that food now," Rodney said quickly.
The smile was more genuine this time. "Sounds good. This has been a lot to take in before so much as a cup of coffee."
"You can say that again," Rodney sighed as they started walking again. "And if a hulking Neanderthal comes up to you and starts talking about going for a run, that would be Ronon; heís your friend."
Johnís eyebrow shot up. "Hulking Neanderthal?" he repeated. "This just keeps getting better."
"Just wait until we tell you about the vampire catfish," Rodney murmured as they headed for the mess.
Johnís head whipped around so he could stare at Rodney. "Please tell me thatís some kind of weird joke?"
"I wish I could," Rodney sighed, "but no, Iím not. You shouldnít see them though, so you donít need to worry about them."
"Why do you people stay here?"
Rodney stared at him again, plainly confused. "How could we not? This is another galaxy, ColóMajoródamn, Iíd just gotten used to the other one too! The chance to discover new technologies, new worlds..."
"New ways to die..." John shook his head. "Didnít we already have enough of those?"
"Iím not so keen on those myself, but what weíve found here..." Rodney smiled, his expression going tender for a moment. "I wouldnít change it for a thing."
John stared at him. "Col. Sheppardís a lucky man."
"Hmm?" Realizing heíd been caught reminiscing, Rodney flushed. "Actually Iíd say Iím the lucky one."
"I guess youíre both lucky," John said. "His life turned out so different from mine," he murmured.
"I wonder what mine turned out like there," Rodney mused. "You havenít heard of me, have you? Perhaps in conjunction with a Nobel Prize?"
John laughed. "Sorry, Doc. I wouldnít know who won the Nobel anyway. But things seem pretty similar, aside from the obvious," he waved a hand, indicating Atlantis, "so Iím sure youíre still a scientist."
"If I wasnít, it would be a supreme waste of talent," Rodney huffed as they entered the mess hall and walked over to the cafeteria-style food line. "Word of warning, donít eat the green squash things; youíll hate them."
"Good to know. Wow, orange juice? How did you manage that here? Or is it Tang?" John asked, eyeing it suspiciously.
"No idea, I donít touch the stuff." Rodney kept well away from the pitchers as he took several slices of thick, grainy bread and spooned what he knew was a strawberry-ish jam on the plate next to them.
"You donít like orange juice? Thatís practically un-American. Or un-Canadian, if you prefer," John added, having noticed the Maple Leaf patch on McKayís sleeve.
"The fact that a taste of citrus will have my airways closing up and me dead in less than three minutes mitigates its healthful goodness."
John blinked at him and drew his hand back from the glass of juice heíd been reaching for. "Well, that sucks."
"Yes, it does, though thatís no reason for you not to have it," Rodney shrugged.
"I think I can live without something that could kill you if you grabbed the wrong glass by mistake," John said easily, adding a bottle of water to his tray instead.
"Yes, well, thanks," Rodney said gruffly as they finished getting their food and walked over to a table.
"No problem." John sat down opposite him, then looked up in surprise when two other people joined them. One was a tall, muscular man who looked like heíd give the Hulk pause, and the other was a beautiful woman whose midriff-baring top showed her excellent physical condition.
"Before you two say anything, while this may look like John, it isnít our John; heís Maj. Sheppard from," Rodney sighed, "another reality."
"Hi." John half waved, and the two newcomers stared at him.
"Where is our Col. Sheppard?" Teyla wanted to know.
"If Iím right, and you know Iím always right, heís taken Maj. Sheppardís placeóat McMurdo. In his universe they havenít come to Atlantis."
Ronon eyed the new John speculatively before shrugging. "Youíll get it sorted out, McKay."
John heard the unspoken Ďyou always doí at the end of that, and it was his turn to eye Rodney. "I guess Iím in good hands."
"Thatís what John always says," Rodney murmured.
"So weíre alike in more ways than the obvious," John replied, and Teyla smiled faintly.
"It would seem so," she agreed.
"I bet youíre still slower than I am," Ronon smirked.
"Well, if Iím still here tomorrow morning, we can find out."
The larger manís grin grew. "Youíre on."
John eyed the grin wryly. "We who are about to die salute you," he muttered.
"Just remember," Rodney pointed out, "we need him in one piece to get Col. Sheppard back."
"Youíre assuming we need to exchange them. We didnít with Rod," Ronon retorted. "Maybe we can keep them both. Two Sheppards can only be good for us."
"Hey, wait a minute," John exclaimed.
"Thereís the minor issue that we thought we couldnít get Rod back home!" Rodney protested. "I want my John back!"
"No one said otherwise," Ronon replied. "I suggested getting him back and maybe this one would want to stay too."
"I do have a life of my own, you know!"
"I am sure that Maj. Sheppard has many things waiting for him in his own universe," Teyla put in.
John opened his mouth to agree, but then he hesitated, realizing that he really didnít.
"Well, you will when you get back," Rodney commented between bites of his meal.
"What do you mean?"
"Iím saying that if you donít find me and find the gate and ZPM that are on your Earth somewhere, youíre nuts."
John chuckled. "You before the gate and ZPM, huh?"
"Well, of course, otherwise, how are you going to figure out what to do with them?"
"Right," Ronon snorted, and John grinned.
"Youíre really good at justifying, arenít you?"
"When itís something I want done? Damn right. Of course the colonel is almost as good at getting around me."
John grinned. "Good to know."
Ronon and Teyla both laughed.
"Ahh, but he knows me and you donít, while I know you."
"Somehow that doesnít seem fair."
"Keep McKay fed and give him new toys to play with, and heís happy," Ronon shrugged.
"I believe Rodney also requires Johnís presence," Teyla observed, making John smile.
"A very lucky guy," he said.
"Yes, I am," Rodney nodded, watching John, then blinking in consternation as he remembered that this wasnít his John.
"I meant Col. Sheppard," John said a little wistfully.
"Oh." Rodney stared at him for a long moment, clearly unsure of what to say, but Teyla rescued him.
"Perhaps you will find what you are looking for when you return to your own universe, Major."
John cast a sidelong glance at Rodney. "Maybe," he said noncommittally.
"Well, if youíre done, we should do those scans now; the more information we have, the easier it will be."
"Iím suddenly wishing for ruby slippers."
"So if youíre Dorothy, does that make me the Scarecrow?" Rodney asked, giving a crooked grin.
"I think youíre the Wizard," John said with a chuckle.
"A blowhard hiding behind a curtain?!"
"I was thinking more of the Ďgreat and mysteriousí, but fine, you can be the Scarecrow."
"I was thinking more the lion," Ronon put in, earning a glare from Rodney.
"This from the flying monkey."
"Did you not say you wished to run scans?" Teyla interrupted.
"That depends if the major is done with his meal."
John pushed his tray aside. "Iím ready if you are."
"Always," Rodney retorted as he stood.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Major," Teyla said, inclining her head toward him.
"Likewise, maíam." John followed Rodney out of the mess hall, glancing back once. "In my reality, we havenít come to Atlantis, so theyíd be living their lives out among their own people rather than being here. Itís a strange thought, but I suppose they have good lives without us."
"Teyla maybe," Rodney shrugged, "but Ronon doesnít have any people other than us. His planet was wiped out by the Wraith almost a decade ago."
"Oh." John thought about that as they walked. "So what did he do before you got here then? If it was after McMurdo, it had to be within the last four years."
"Ronon?" At Johnís nod, Rodney expression turned inward. "He ran. They put a tracker in him and used him to train on."
Johnís expression looked sick. "So in my universe, theyíre still playing with him like a cat with a mouse?"
"If heís still alive, but heís resilient, so I bet he is. When you come back here, try to find him."
John nodded slowly. "I feel like itís my fault, somehow."
"How can it be your fault? Itís not as if you knew about this and chose not to come and even then... Iím going to have to write up a list for you and for the other me because there are some things I donít want either of you to have to go through." Rodney chuckled quietly at that. "Iíll bet you anything that Johnís doing the same thing for him."
"I would," John said simply. "Itís not often you get a do-over, so itíd be nuts to waste the opportunity."
"One of the most important things I can tell you is do not let the other me start playing around with a weapon on a planet called Dorandaóand you shouldnít go near the Wraith homeworld, and donít go exploring the abandoned city near Teylaís village; that should keep most of the Wraith asleep for another half century and give you all some breathing time, andó"
"Breathe, Rodney," John said, looking amused and stressed at the same time. "It sounds like thereís a hell of a lot we shouldnít do. Are you sure we should even come here?"
"Yes." Rodneyís voice was full of conviction. "After we get the scans done, Iíll show you why."
"Okay. I have to assume you know what youíre talking about."
"I always know what Iím talking about," Rodney huffed.
"Sorry, I forgot I was talking to Superman."
"He doesnít have any cool superpowers," John pointed out.
"Exactly, he uses his brain to do what he needs to do, no namby pamby powers required."
"I think the flying would be pretty cool."
"Why does this not shock me? Do you want to carry a Ferris wheel around with you while you do it?"
John laughed. "So I always have one with me? Sounds good to me."
"It would," Rodney chuckled.
"Itís a little weird that you know pretty much everything about me, and all I know about you is youíre allergic to citrus and like another version of me."
Rodney paused and chewed on his lower lip as he led John to a lab. "Oh. Well, what would you like to know?"
John shrugged. "What are the most important things about you?"
"Ióto me or to someone else?"
"To you." John could see that Rodney was as uncomfortable as he would be with the question, but he really wanted to know, wanted to connect to someone in this beautiful but alien place.
"Before coming here, it would have been my intellect, and thatís still one of the top two, but most of all, itís the family Iíve made here." Rodney cleared his throat and pointed at a stool. "Why donít you have a seat?"
"And Sheppardís part of that family." It wasnít a question, and John again looked wistful as he sat where directed.
Rodney nodded and smiled ruefully. "The most important part to me. Of course, we got on each otherís nerves some in the beginning. We didnít get together until earlier this year; I basically had to jump him because of those damned rules here."
John shook his head. "I think thatís the weirdest thing youíve told me so far. How can they expect people to fight for a country thatís trying to force them to deny who they are? Or think that a person who likes his own gender is less able to fire a gun than one who likes women?"
"Hey, donít look at me!" Rodney protested. "Iím Canadian; we donít have this problem."
"So itís only the US? Thatís even crazier. No offense, but I think Iím going to be glad to get home."
"Thatís one thing I wish I could change about this universe; having to hide or at least be very careful, isnít the easiest thing." As he spoke, Rodney picked up a scanner and walked over to stand by John. "I promise this wonít hurt."
"I know." John sat quietly, letting Rodney do what he wanted, and watched him.
"What about you?" Rodney asked as he pressed a series of buttons.
"What about me, what?"
"Whatís the most important thing about you to you? I know how my John would answer, but what about you?"
John hesitated for long moments before finally answering very quietly, "Not leaving anyone behind."
Rodney reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "Going back for them and helping Holland was the right thing," he whispered. "Never let them make you think anything other than that."
John looked up, meeting the bright blue eyes that saw right through him. "No one else seemed to think so, not even my own father."
"Theyíre the ones who are wrong, John, not you." Rodney squatted down so he could look the other man in the eyes, his stomach clenching as he held the hazel gaze that was so familiar but yet so foreign. "You have no idea how much confidence it gives people, knowing that you will do everything humanly possible to get them back. I swear, itís a strength, not a liability."
"Maybe your Sheppardís better than I am."
"Why would you think that? I bet you two did the exact same things to end up at McMurdo."
"But this..." John gestured around, taking in Atlantis, Rodney, Johnís whole life.
"What about it? Let me tell you something, you do things here that you never, ever would have dreamed you would have done; take it from me, the original coward." Rodney gave a lopsided smile at that and winced theatrically as he straightened up.
John finally smiled slightly. "I really doubt youíre any kind of coward, not if you deal with things like this every day and still look forward to getting up in the morning."
"There have been some that I didnít want to face, but you get up and move even when you donít want to."
John nodded, understanding that. "But you still love it here."
"Yes, I do; I wouldnít trade it forówell, for almost anything."
"Thatís how I used to feel about flying."
Rodney glanced down at the readouts and nodded as he downloaded them into his datapad. "You can have that again, the way you felt about flying."
"Iíd like to believe that."
"Come with me." Rodney took several steps toward the door before turning to look back at him. "Well? Are you coming?"
"I donít heel," John reminded him, falling in beside Rodney.
"Not even with the rightóAhem, forgive me, Major; Iím just used toówell, to having these conversations with my John."
John chuckled. "Sounds like fun."
"They are; heís very good at reminding me that thereís more to life than work."
"I wish I could meet your John. It sounds like he could remind me of some things Iíd forgotten. Then again, I have a feeling you might be the one who reminded him."
Rodney grinned and shrugged. "Well, having him shoot me might have had a part in that and hold on a minute." He tapped his earpiece. "Elizabeth, Iíd like to take the major out in a jumper."
When Rodney finished his conversation with Elizabeth, John was still gaping at him. "You people take spousal abuse to a whole new level!"
"He shot you?"
"Oh, that." Rodney chuckled. "There was the little fact that I was invulnerable at the time. He pushed me off the balcony in the gate room as well." Rodney smiled fondly at the memory. "I think that was when I started to fall in love with him."
"If thereís a shrink in this place, you might want to go have a chat with him."
"Her, and you donít get itóhe trusted me enough to believe me when I said it wouldnít hurt me."
"I guess that makes sense," John said slowly, still appearing dubious. "Never mind. You said something about a jumper. Whatís that?"
Rodneyís grin turned into a smirk. "Something youíre going to love."
John eyed him suspiciously. "Should I be yelling for help?"
"My god, Iím not going to try anything lewd with you!"
"Too bad." John smirked at him.
Rodney watched him, his eyes narrowed, then broke into reluctant laughter. "Youíre too much like him for my good. Come on, Iíll give you something to think about." They reached the jumper bay and Rodney pointed upward.
John followed Rodneyís gesture, and he frowned. "They looked like stunted subway cars."
"These subway cars fly."
The hazel eyes shot to Rodney, then slowly returned to the jumpers, inspecting them in more detail. "They really fly?"
"In the atmosphere and out of it."
"Theyíre space-capable?" Now Johnís expression radiated pure lust.
"And they respond to your thoughts." Rodneyís grin had been growing with each comment, and he nodded at the nearest jumper, then up at the now open roof. "Want to take one for a spin?"
"God yes!" John reached over to run a caressing hand over the vehicle, and he jumped when it suddenly opened.
Rodney ducked inside and settled in one of the seats at the console, waiting until John joined him. "Want me to give you a quick run-down, or do you want to figure it out for yourself?"
Johnís hands were already running possessively over the controls, and he grinned as the displays appeared. "I think Iím in love."
"The only thing it canít do is get you a turkey sandwich."
"No replicators, huh?"
Rodney shuddered at that. "As a hint, that word has totally different connotations hereóthink murderous machines in human form as compared to things that create whatever food you want."
John looked over at him. "Is there anything that doesnít try to kill you in this galaxy?"
"Actually, theyíre in the Milky Way tooóIím not sure if that helps or not though."
"You know, when I went to bed last night, it was in a nice, safe universe where there werenít any aliens, and the only thing likely to kill someone was another human."
Rodney pressed his lips together, his fingers beating a nervous tattoo on the console in front of him. "Iím sorry, I know itís a lot to take in at once; even people prepared for it sometimes come out here and canít adapt." He tried a small smile. "Have I mentioned the jumper has a cloaking device?"
"This thing is so cool! And I wasnít blaming you for it; I know itís not your fault. This is just a lot to take in."
"Well, of course itís not my fault! Now, are you going to do something with this or just tease it?"
"Just remember you asked for it." John sent the jumper straight up, at maximum speed, and let out a whoop of pure exhilaration at its responsiveness to his desires while Rodney paled and groaned.
"I should have known better."
"I want one of these!" John said ecstatically.
"See? One good reason for finding Atlantis in your universe. Just make sure you find the ZPMs on Earth because the cityís going to be under water when you get hereóhrmm, you probably should bring scuba gear as well. Drowning once was enough for one of me; Iíd rather not have it on my conscience that it happened again."
"I think youíd better give me a list. Thereís obviously a lot to do and to not do."
"I promise I will, and Iím sure John will give the other me a list once they get together. We wonít let you all make the mistakes we did; you both can come up with your own."
John laughed wryly. "Iím pretty good at that."
"Trying to save them wasnít a mistake; Iíll tell you that until you believe that, just like I did with my John," Rodney said seriously.
"I wish Iíd met you a long time ago." John looked out at the stars surrounding them and laughed softly. "This has got to be a dream."
In answer, Rodney leaned over and pinched him.
"Ouch!" John glared at him. "Donít antagonize the pilot."
"Just proving you werenít dreaming," Rodney chuckled.
"Donít do me any favors!"
"Did I mention this travels through the stargate?"
John turned to look at him. "Can we?" he asked eagerly.
"Not this time, hot shot," Rodney chuckled. "Maybe another day." His smile died away at that, and he looked away, concentrating on the darkness outside the jumper.
"Well, maybe when we get to Atlantis in my universe."
"You have to save something for then, right?" Rodney turned back to look at John. "And donít tease the other me about his poor piloting skills."
"Hey, Iím a pilot. Itís my God-given right to make fun of everyone else for not being one."
"And as the most brilliant person in two galaxies, itís my god-given right to tell you that youíre full of shit."
John burst into laughter. "I like you, Rodney."
"Whatís not to like?" Rodney asked, though his small smile had changed to one of pleasure at the admission.
"Not a thing." John grinned over at him before putting the jumper through another series of acrobatic maneuvers. "I kinda miss G-force," he decided.
"If the Daedalus was in, we could get you a ride in one of the F-302s, but no, that would mean weíd need to explain this to Caldwell and... No, just no."
"Caldwell? Not someone you want to share the news with, I take it?"
"Exactly," Rodney nodded. "Heís the commander of the Daedalusóan intergalactic spaceship. He wants Johnís job here; if you must know, my biggest fear is him finding out about our relationship and using it against john."
John shook his head at that reminder of the weird regulations in this universeís military. "Well, obviously you matter enough to him to take that risk."
"It doesnít stop me from worrying about it."
"And Iím sure thatís part of why heís willing to take it."
Rodney cleared his throat and looked away again. "We should probably head back to the city now."
"Yeah, I guess this isnít helping get me back where I belong and getting you your Sheppard back." John sent the jumper speeding back toward the planetís atmosphere.
"Yes, that needs to be the number one priority here," Rodney murmured.
"Yeah, I know you want him back."
"That and I want you to get to work on getting to your Atlantis."
John smiled crookedly but didnít reply, simply concentrating on feeling the difference in atmospheric flight until Rodney couldnít take the quiet any longer. "Thatís not to say that you canít enjoy your time here until then; even for me, figuring a way to get you back wonít be an overnight occurrence, so weíll have to find you things to do while youíre here, and oh, a place to stay."
John nodded, realizing that Rodney would want to be able to go to Sheppardís quarters. "Anythingís good for me; Iím used to military housing."
"I suppose you could use Johnís old rooms," Rodney mused. "He doesnít use them much any longer, and it might feel at least a bit familiar to youóunless you donít like Johnny Cash?"
"Who doesnít like the Man in Black?" John scoffed, and Rodney groaned in response. "Oh, come on, heís classic."
"Tchaikovsky is a classic. Mozart is a classic. Even Liszt is a classic, but country?" Rodney shuddered.
"Not country, Cash. Heís amazing."
"Weíre going to have to agree to disagree on this; Iíve had this argument too many times, and I know how it turns out."
John laughed. "You donít know what youíre missing."
"Trust me, if I hear one more verse of ĎI Walk the Lineí, Iíll scream," Rodney chuckled.
Johnís face lit up. "Tell me he has the movie here."
"Iíll get you his laptop when we get back."
"Youíre my hero!"
"And youíll be mine if you donít ask me to watch it with you!"
John cast him a sad look. "I wouldnít impose on you."
"I hate that look," Rodney groaned.
"I have no idea what you mean," John replied innocently.
"If I fall asleep and snore and you poke me to wake me up, Iím going to make you pay."
John just beamed at him.
"No, you wonít." John smirked as he brought the jumper back into the bay.
"And why do you say that?" Rodney asked, scowling at him as he stood.
"Because Iím charming, and you love the guy I look like."
"Wonderful," Rodney grumbled, "I get the smugness without the fringe benefits."
John laughed at him, and Rodney actually growled. "I hope Ronon runs you into the ground tomorrow morning."
"Will you visit me in my sickbed?"
"Hah! If youíre lucky, I wonít ask Carson to take a gallon of blood for his nefarious purposes."
"I knew it; youíre his Renfield!"
"If youíre suggesting I eat cockroaches, youíre very wrong," Rodney sniffed as they walked out of the jumper.
John snickered. "Leave it to you to focus on the diet."
"And you say you donít know me."
"Iím picking up a few details here and there."
"Concentrate on the world-saving-genius aspect."
"Ah, but thereís more to you than that."
"Just like thereís more to you than a laid-back flyboy."
John smiled crookedly. "Shh, youíll blow my cover."
"Hate to tell you but most people here have figured that out."
"Yet another difference between our realities."
"Well, you arenít here yet in yours." Rodney shot him a pointed look.
"Damn, youíre pushy." John smiled wryly.
"Yes, another thing youíve figured out about me. Now Iíve got to head back to the lab; would you like me to take you to Elizabethís office?"
"Oh. Um, yeah, I guess."
"Unless youíd rather come to the lab with me?" Rodney offered.
"That would be more interesting," John said hopefully.
Rodney glanced over at him, his eyebrows raised. "Well, thereís a difference between the two of you."
"He likes to sit and discuss administrative stuff with Dr. Weir?" John looked horrified.
"No! Not in the least, heíd rather be doing almost anything else than sitting in the lab with meówell, unless heís trying to drag me out," Rodney chuckled. "If youíd rather do something else, I could call Maj. Lorne or Ronon or Teyla."
"Look, if youíre trying to get rid of me, just say so."
"Why would I be trying to do that?"
John shrugged. "Because I make you uncomfortable? In the last minute, youíve suggested sending me off with just about every person Iíve met here."
Rodney sighed and stopped walking. "You do make me uncomfortable, because it seems to be very easy for me to forget that you arenít my John, and if I forget that... He paused and rubbed that back of his neck. "Well, that would certainly be embarrassing, but that isnít why I was asking if you wanted to do something else; I simply didnít want you to become bored."
John shrugged again. "Iíll speak up if I am, but I feel like I know you a little now. Iíd rather not be with strangers."
"All right, and some time today Elizabeth needs to make the announcement that you arenít Col. Sheppard, which will solve some issues and create others."
John nodded. "I hope people donít blame me for his disappearance."
"Why would they do that?"
John shrugged. "Iím here; heís not."
"If theyíre going to blame anyone, itís going to be Kavanagh."
"You mentioned him earlier. Not your favorite person obviously." Johnís expression was curious.
"Not anyoneís favorite person, actually," Rodney commented as they walked into the lab.
"So whatís he doing here?"
"He must have some in with the SGC because Iíve tried to get him out of here numerous times."
"Sounds like a cockroach," John replied, sounding amused.
"Thatís as good a description of him as Iíve heard."
"And he sounds like someone I donít really want to meet."
Rodney nodded at that. "Iíll try to keep the two of you apart; heís not Johnís favorite person ever since he tried to leave us stuck in a gate in a jumper."
"Oh, heís a real prince, I see. But couldnít you just back out of the gate?" John asked curiously.
"No, we were wedged in it because the engine pods wouldnít retractóand at the time, John had a bug stuck on his neck that was sucking the life out of him." Rodney sighed and rubbed his face at the memory. "That was the longest half hour of my life."
"Just half an hour? Thatís not so bad... well, aside from the life-sucking bug, of course."
"Did I mention the jumper was stuck in an active stargate and that once thirty-eight minutes was up, the gate would have shut off, leaving us in open vacuum?"
Johnís eyebrow rose sharply. "No, you left that part out."
"Ah, well, it was a slightly stressful time; luckily Radek was here as well."
"So this Kavanagh guy wanted to let you both die?"
"He thought it would endanger Atlantis to try to get us back," Rodney shrugged as he picked up his datapad and started to scroll through the data heíd downloaded earlier. "Oh, if you want to, sit; this might take a while."
"Is there anything I can do?" John offered, dropping the subject of Kavanagh while deciding to avoid the man if at all possible.
"Umm..." Rodney glanced around the lab. "This is why John doesnít likeóoh wait, why donít you see what you can do with this?" He picked up a multi-colored mass of crystals and handed it over to John.
The moment John touched it, it lit up, sending a scintillating cascade of rainbows over the room. "Cool!" John exclaimed, staring at it in stunned fascination.
Rodney watched him for a moment, smiling slightly before turning back to his work.
After a little while, John realized that the crystals didnít do anything aside from flash lights in a variety of patterns. He quickly grew bored after finding all the possibilities and began prowling around the lab, gingerly starting to poke at different things to see what they did.
"Donít touch that," Rodney commented without looking up from his screen.
John jerked his hand back, casting a guilty look in Rodneyís direction. "Well, it shouldnít just be sitting out in the open if itís dangerous."
"Itís not; I just wanted to see if youíd listen."
John glared at his back. "Smart ass!"
"Sometimes, it is something dangerous, and having you think it on would be very, very bad," Rodney shrugged.
"Then it shouldnít be lying out where anyone could do that," John repeated, defiantly placing a hand on the object and jumping a little when it hummed.
Rodney sighed and looked up at him. "Major, we live in a city that was created by beings so advanced that even I can only understand a fraction of their work. Weíre still exploring labs that havenít been opened in ten thousand years, and sometimes things get activated that shouldnít be, and then people die; what Iím trying to tell you is donít think anything on."
"I didnít think anything!" John protested.
"Then donít poke at anything!" Rodney sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Iím sorry, thatís something I keep telling myself, and it spilled over."
"Maybe I should go get out of your way," John said reluctantly.
"No, no, stay, Major. Thereís nothing here thatís dangerous, I promise. If you want, I can pull up some old mission reports if youíd like to read them."
John nodded. "Thatíd be good. Itíll save you writing some of those notes about what to do or not do."
"Iíll still write them; I tend to be obsessive-compulsive about things like that." Rodney chuckled ironically as he reached for his laptop and entered a few commands, then passed it over to John. "Here you go."
"Thanks." John sat down in front of the laptop and starting reading, quickly losing track of time. These were official reports, but he could read between the lines, and he was engrossed in the trials and achievements of the people of Atlantis.
Rodney continued to work as well, but from time to time his gaze strayed to the man sitting nearby, and he had to tell himself again and again that this wasnít his John. Finally, the majorís presence became too much of a distraction, and he saved the latest calculations based on the scans heíd done of this John earlier. "So?"
John looked up, and it clearly took him a moment to pull himself out of what heíd been reading. "This place..." he trailed off. "Itís incredible and amazing and awful all at once. What youíve all managed is amazing."
"The fact that we survived is amazing, but even as terrifying as itís been, I wouldnít have traded any of it for anything."
John nodded slowly. "You people have built something here. And I can see how much he cares about you. Itís clear in the way he writes, the things he says... and doesnít say."
"I can only hope the SGC isnít as astute," Rodney murmured.
"I know him," John replied simply. "No one else would see it."
"Then you can see how every death cuts into him; Iím betting you feel the same way about them."
John winced. "He does what he has to, to protect everyone here."
"Youíre right," Rodney nodded, sighing as he rubbed at his forehead. "And I understand it; some of the things heís doneóthings that no one else has been strong enough to do." His eyes went dark, and he rubbed his right forearm.
John eyes followed the motion, and having read that report, his own expression darkened. "He wanted to kill the bastard for that. Thatís a kill he wouldnít have regretted," he said with absolutely certainty.
"I wouldnít have either," Rodney admitted, "not then or the next time we met him."
John nodded. "Sheppard should have shot him."
"He wanted to, but he didnít, to save us."
"Yeah. Maybe heíll get another chance. Or has he already?" John knew heíd only scratched the surface of the events in Atlantis.
Rodney shook his head at that. "No, not yet, but when he does, Iíll be leading the cheering section."
John chuckled dryly. "I can imagine. At least the Wraith are alien. Heís just a sick fuck."
"Exactly; and I didnít give you the reports to show you the horrible things here, though there are a lot of them..."
"Youíll have to give me a list of them and how to avoid them," John said, suddenly aware that sometime in the last while heíd accepted that he was going home and he was going to find a way to Atlantis.
"Actually, the primary world to avoid is Proculus."
This time John laughed. "I donít really plan to have a fling with her. I prefer my partners to be corporeal."
"Good answer," Rodney chuckled. "And I think I have a good set of base energy variables that differ between us."
"So now you just need to find a universe with the same variable?"
"And open a doorway to it; Jeannieís bridge equation helps, but thereís the minor issue that no one could survive the energy flow without one of the shields..."
"That could be a problem. I kind of prefer being alive."
"Exactly." Rodney gave a wry smile. "And Iíd prefer to keep the both of you alive as well."
"Iím sure I speak for both of us when I say thatís very appreciated."
"So, even this different Sheppard distracts you from real work," came a voice from the doorway.
Without looking in that direction, Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, Radek, my libido is held captive by the fact that he looks like John."
John snickered, drawing the newcomerís attention.
"Many people were surprised by Dr. Weirís announcement," Radek said, "but it is strange enough to be normal for Atlantis." He peered at the messy-haired Air Force officer. "You look the same."
"Should I paint a stripe on my face so you can tell us apart?" John asked dryly.
"I do not intend to be inspecting you that closely. Oh, and I am Radek Zelenka; I am the one the colonel looks to, to help keep Rodney in line."
"What?!" Rodney sputtered.
"I knew there had to be someone," John laughed.
"Excuse me, but no one keeps me in line!"
John grinned at him, and Radek snorted while Rodney growled. "Wonderful, all the abuse and none of the perks."
"You already said that," John pointed out, trying not to laugh.
"Yes, well, now Iím repeating it!" Rodney snapped.
Radek sighed heavily. "Only a kiss calms him down at this stage."
"And since I donít want to kiss either of you, perhaps Iíll just leave you to chortle together, and Iíll go do something productive!" As he spoke, Rodney was gathering up his datapad and laptop, making an unwieldy pile.
"Aw, come on, Rodney, donít be like that," John nearly whined.
"Mad," John said, looking pitiful while Radek tried not to laugh.
"And why shouldnít I be annoyed?"
"We were just fooling around."
"Oh, so you know Radek for all of what? Two minutes? And you want to fool around with him?"
Hazel eyes met blue without any pretence. "Do you really want me to answer that honestly?"
"I donít know; do you want him to answer, Radek?" Rodney challenged.
Watching the major carefully, Radek shook his head. "I donít think you do, my friend."
"You know, Iím busy here trying to get our John back, and I really donít have the time to play babysitter. Radek, from now on, thatís your job. Major, Iím sure the two of you will get along well." Rodney grabbed his electronics and started out of the lab.
John opened his mouth but then slumped on his stool, watching Rodney leave without saying a word. Radek walked over and placed a comforting hand on the majorís shoulder.
"He feels the same, Major, but he knows itís wrong, for him and for the colonel."
John laughed bitterly. "Just one more thing Iíve fucked up."
Rodney was able to avoid thinking about the situation until the evening meal; heíd managed to get half of his food down before the sight of the major sitting with Radek, looking lost but covering it up wellóif you didnít know himóbrought it back to mind. Lurching to his feet, he walked over, feeling like a child brought into the principalís office. "Iíd like to apologize for my behavior this afternoon. Itís simply that IíveóThis is a stressful time for all of us, and I shouldnít have taken that out on you."
John shrugged, not looking up. "I know Iím just a poor substitute for the real thing. Iíll keep out of your hair."
"No!" Rodney looked shocked that he would think that. "No, you arenít, and... thatís the problem."
John finally raised his eyes to meet Rodneyís. "Look, you donít have to play nice with me. I get it. Iíll leave you alone to get your work done and get your Sheppard back." He pushed his tray away and rose to his feet, clearly intent on returning to the room heíd been assigned, the one belonging to the Ďrealí Sheppard.
"Damnit, MajóJohn, Iím not playing nice; ask anyone; theyíll tell you I donít play nice! I justóyouóyouíre him, and heís my best friend, and I think we could be friends, but thereís so much more that Iím trying to deal with, not the least of it being that you probably think Iím some sick stalker!"
"Stalker? Where the hell did you come up with that? Iím the one trying to take advantage of your feelings for a guy I happen to look like," John replied bitterly. "The shrinks would have a field day with me."
"Take advantage ofówhat the hell are you talking about?"
John glared at him, and Radek shook his head pityingly. "Be thankful there are dozens of people watching," he gritted out, "or Iíd show you!"
"That what? You think Iím insane?"
Radek banged his head on the table, and Rodney barely stopped himself from smacking Radek on the back of the head. "Fine, Iím insane, but weíre finishing this discussion somewhere else."
"Fine!" John bit out, gesturing to the scientist. "After you."
"Fine!" Rodney snarled, stomping out of the mess ahead of him while Radek shook his head.
"Even with a different Sheppard, is just the same."
John followed Rodney without paying attention to where they where going, not that it would have a made a difference since heíd already gotten lost four times that day, and once they were inside a room with the door shut, he growled at Rodney, "Do you always have to push everything?"
"Push what?! I came over to apologize to you!"
John let out a wordless growl of frustration and caught Rodneyís face between his hands before kissing him deeply.
"Now do you get it?" he demanded. "Iím the one who should be apologizing to you!"
Rodney looked up at him, blue eyes full of shattered realization. "Why?" he whispered.
"Because you believe in me. Because you look at me like Iím not nothing or a piece of crap. And I know itís not me you see, but him, but that doesnít seem to matter," John replied almost angrily.
"No," Rodney whispered, "I see you too, and thatís the problem. If it was just transference, it wouldnít be a problem, but I look at you and I see you, not just him, and how Iím ever going to explain this to him when he gets back, I donít know."
John laughed sadly. "I have a feeling heíll understand if the other McKay is anything like you." The hand still cupping Rodneyís cheek moved in a gentle caress before falling back to Johnís side.
"He may have a harder time explaining it to me," Rodney sighed. "Convincing you of all this was somewhat easier given the fact that I had the city." Heíd tilted his head as John stroked his cheek and finally straightened up.
"Heíll manage," John replied confidently. "And then heíll be back here with you and Atlantis, and Iíll be back in McMurdo." Suddenly his existence seemed very bleak. "Even if they manage to find the stargate and get something started, theyíll never let someone like me into it."
"Donít think like that," Rodney snapped. "Donít you dare sell yourself short like that. When you go back, I have every reason to think heíll be there, and togetheróIím not going to be modest and deny that together you can perform miracles. Iím sure John will tell him the same things Iím telling you, so you can bet heíll fight to keep you."
John stared at him and took a deep breath before nodding slowly. "Okay, I just hope youíre right, Rodney. To lose all this now that I know itís possible..." He shook his head.
"Youíve got the gene, John, plus youíve been to Atlantis already. Add that to the fact that youíd give your life for anyone in your care, and it means that youíre the best person for the job here. I know it and heíll know it. Since the gate hasnít been found in your universe, you and he can be the Jack OíNeill and Samantha Carter of the SGCóthough you may want to find Jackson and get his input..."
"Weíll find a way," John vowed, accepting Rodneyís words. "Weíll get here, and weíll find Ronon too. It wonít be the same, but itíll be ours. And maybe weíll even be able to talk to you sometimes," he added wistfully.
"Youíre doubting that I can find a way to manage that?"
John laughed, albeit somewhat shakily. "Far be it for me to doubt your awesome powers. But you might be a little busy with the Wraith... and your Sheppard."
"Are you saying you doubt that I can do it?" Rodney sniffed.
John rolled his eyes. "Iím saying you might be a little distracted."
"And you wonít be, what with forming the SGC and all?"
Johnís expression turned wistful. "But you already have your Sheppard. I... Iíll remember you."
"No matter how much you share, you arenít him, John, andóand I like you too," Rodney admitted.
"I wish Rodney and I had already met in our universe," John said in a near whisper.
"I hope heís happier in your universe than I was here," Rodney murmured.
"If not, judging by you, finding the stargate and Atlantis will make him incredibly happy," John said wryly.
"As will meeting you." The last was said in an undertone, but Rodney knew John had heard him, and John smiled faintly.
"I hope so. I hope heís like you."
"Well, youíre very much like the colonel, so I would imagine he is."
"I guess Iíll find out soon enough." But Johnís gaze on Rodney was wistful.
Rodney chewed on his lower lip, finally having to look away from Johnís eyes. "Iím sorry; I know this is hard for you too."
"At least I donít actually know what Iím missing," John replied after a moment. "And Iím sorry too; I realize Iím making this worse for you."
"No," Rodney shook his head, "worse would be having no idea where he was, and I wouldnít have met you."
"That might have been better for both of us."
"Less confusing perhaps, but not better."
John started to reach him before abruptly turning around and pacing over to the window. "Thank you for that."
Rodney took a step toward him but pulled up, crossing his arms over his chest. "Itís the truth," he sighed.
"I think that might actually make this harder. Youíre everything I could want," John whispered to the window.
"John," Rodneyís voice was hoarse, but John refused to turn around, knowing he wouldnít be able to keep his hands off Rodney if he looked at him.
"You should go," he gritted out, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"I should." Rodney took a step backward. "I should go."
John nodded. "Iíll stop by the lab tomorrow afternoon to see if you need me for anything."
"I should go," Rodney repeated, rubbing his hands together. "Ió" He broke and took a step forward, resting his hand on Johnís shoulder.
John inhaled sharply, leaning slightly into the touch. It had been so long, and he realized that he craved the simple contact with another person who gave a damn about him, even if he still believed Rodney had him confused with the other Sheppard. Rodney swallowed thickly and turned John around, enfolding him in an embrace, his eyes wet as he pressed his face into the other manís neck.
Johnís arms slowly rose to wrap around the man pressed to him, and he closed his eyes, taking this moment for himself. "I wish I was him."
"Donít wish that," Rodney whispered.
"I know; you want the real thing."
"Stop that!" Rodney demanded, pulling back and glaring up at John. "You may not be the John Sheppard from this universe, but youíre the real thing!" he snapped.
"But not for you," John replied with a crooked smile. "Heís the one you love, and I need to get home before I forget that."
"John." Rodney waited until John focused on him, then Rodney kissed him. "Shut up."
John could only groan into the kiss, his arms tightening around Rodney, who shivered and held him close.
"I shouldnít be here," John whispered.
"Neither should I," Rodney nodded, finally forcing himself to let go of John and step back away from him. "I thoughtóIím sorry, I made it even worse, didnít I?"
"Harder, maybe, but not worse," John said with a wry smile.
"Are we speaking about the situation or other things?"
John laughed. "Both, I suppose. But I guess it would be best if I kept my distance while Iím here."
"We just need to make sure weíre not alone, and we should be able to behave." Rodney nodded as if trying to convince himself of this.
John laughed again. "So who gets to be our chaperone?"
"I think theyíll have to take turns, though Ronon is large enough to physically separate us if needed."
"Now I know how dogs feel when they get a hose turned on them!"
Rodney had to chuckle at that. "Letís hope it doesnít come to that; now, do you want me to walk you back to your quarters?"
"Since thatís probably the only way Iíll find them in the next week, I think youíd better."
"Donít take this the wrong way, but Iím not going to go inside with you."
John nodded. "Thatís best. Um, maybe tomorrow we could play chess in the mess hall? After youíre done with work, that is."
"Right, after work," Rodney nodded, backing up to open the door behind him and stepping out into the corridor, waiting for John to follow. "And chess?"
"Yeah, you know, game of strategy, black and white, kings, queens, knights, pawns, chess?"
"Yes, I know chess," Rodney snapped. "Itís simply thatóyes, chess would be nice."
John eyed him. "You have something against chess?"
"No, not in the least; I enjoy chess, though even here itís hard to find opponents who can challenge me."
John looked surprised for a moment. "Well, maybe you can spot me a handicap," he said innocently.
Rodney stopped walking and looked at John, his eyebrows raised. "Do I look I have the word pushover written on my forehead?"
"Well, if Iím no challenge to you..."
"Did I say that? Fine, weíll play, and prepare to be soundly beaten."
"Whatever you say," John said with a smirk.
"I say that by this time tomorrow youíre going to be crying in your Wheaties," Rodney smirked.
"Care to bet on that?"
"And just what do you plan on betting?"
John shrugged. "Well, Iím sure your colonelís surviving using my bank account, so turnaboutís fair play."
"We really donít need money here," Rodney commented.
"I donít think trading sexual favors is really going to help either of us."
Rodney cleared his throat at that. "Yes, well, thatís true, so perhaps weíll just play for fun."
"Thatís probably best," John agreed.
They reached Johnís room, and Rodney waved the door open, giving a lopsided smile. "Well, here you are," he murmured.
"Thanks." John gave him a faint smile. "Iíll see tomorrow evening then." He took a step back toward the room.
"Get some rest, Major," Rodney whispered, moving back as well.
John nodded and stepped back, allowing the door to shut between them before either of them could do something they would regret. Once it was closed, Rodney sighed, scrubbing at his face with his hands before giving himself a shake. "What is wrong with me?" he whispered, turning and heading toward the lab, knowing he wasnít going to sleep that night.
"So, make any progress today?" John asked the next evening as he sat down opposite Rodney at a table in the mess hall and placed a chess set to one side.
"I believe so," Rodney nodded. "Iím working on a way to reconfigure the wormhole the gate produces to create a small rift between your universe and ours; once I get that done, we can run some tests, then hopefully resolve all this."
John nodded. "And then everyone can get back where we belong."
"Yes." Rodney nodded, picking up a white bishop and twisting it in his fingers. "And then you can start your own adventure."
"I hope so," John replied, playing with the black queen.
"I know so."
"Then I guess Iíd better make sure it happens so you donít come kick my ass."
Rodney quirked a crooked grin at that. "Damn right, after all, itís still going to be sore from getting it kicked tonight in chess."
"Dream on, McKay. Eat your dinner so I can wipe the floor with you."
"In your dreams," Rodney snorted, tossing the rook back into the box and picking up his fork again. "So, what did you do today?" he asked, in between bites of his pseudo chicken.
"I got a new high score on one of the games on the colonelís laptop," John said with a shrug. "And read another yearís worth of reports."
"Any questions I can answer about them?"
"Did you really go into a virtual reality with a Wraith, when the Daedalus was ready to fire on the ship, just to get the colonel out?"
"Well, of course, and let me tell you, the Ancients leave a lot to be desired when it comes to uniform design."
John snickered. "I saw some of the colonelís comments in his own files. White pajamas, huh?"
"Exactly," Rodney laughed. "I wish we could have learned more from them."
"Well, who knows? If there was one ship, there might still be others out there. You might have better luck with the next ones."
"And maybe theyíll even want to stay a while, give a little information on what not to touch here."
"It sounds like thatís most things," John said. "Iím surprised people are still willing to go through doors."
"You have to," Rodney shrugged. "Even I learned that you canít live in fear."
"Iíve read the reports. The two of you are a lot better together than apart."
"Yes, we are, and you will be too."
"I hope youíre right." John mused that this Rodney was going to be a tough act to follow.
Rodney smirked at that. "Of course I am; I always am."
John snorted. Seeing that Rodney had finished inhaling his meal, John pushed his tray aside and began setting up the pieces, Rodney helping once he managed to grab some of the pieces from under Johnís hands.
"Black or white?" he asked once they were done.
"You tell me," John said, picking up one piece of each color and sliding his hands under the table for a moment before holding his clenched fists toward Rodney.
"Right," Rodney announced, tapping Johnís closed fist, which the major opened to reveal the white piece. He placed both back on the board and spun it so that the white pieces were on Rodneyís side.
From where they were watching at another table, Radek shook his head and glanced at Carson and Elizabeth. "This will be quite the evening, I think."
Elizabeth was frowning. "If I didnít know better, Iíd say that was our John. Rodney seems to be treating him as if he were."
"I hope he doesnít forget that either," Carson commented.
"Rodney or the major?" Radek asked dryly.
"Either of them, but mostly Rodney." Carson glanced at them again and shook his head. "The major seems to genuinely like him, but I dinna know if Rodney sees him or the colonel when theyíre together."
"That sounds like a recipe for disaster," Elizabeth murmured.
"I wonder if the colonel has found that realityís Rodney," Radek mused.
"I hope so; I wager heís having a more difficult time there than the major is here." Carson looked toward the other table again when a burst of laughter sounded from the two men.
"Though perhaps not with Rodney," Elizabeth said. "They connected from the first moment they met back in Antarctica. Thereís no reason to think it wouldnít be the same."
Carson nodded again. "Aye, that they did."
"I only hope they donít do much more connecting, or things may be difficult when we get the colonel back," Radek added.
"On both sides," Elizabeth said as more laughter came from the table across the room.
"Perhaps we had best hope that we get the colonel back quickly," Carson sighed.
"It is all Rodney is working on. If the Wraith were to attack now, I think he might find a way to destroy them instantly out of outrage that they interrupted him," Radek said.
Elizabeth chuckled quietly at that. "Well, Iíd rather not test that hypothesis, so hopefully we can concentrate on this one crisis and avoid any others."
"That would be good." Radek nodded. "They seem to be enjoying their game."
"I wonder if they even care who wins."
"This is McKay and Sheppard," Radek laughed. "Of course they care. They are each determined to win."
"I just hope I donít have to mediate a peace treaty," Elizabeth chuckled.
"It would be a true test of your skills," Carson agreed laughingly.
"I think Iíd rather have you slip them a sedative in their drinks."
"I donít normally like to abuse my position," Carson mused, "but in this case, I might make an exception."
Radek glanced at the other two and smiled. "Perhaps you would give us all samples to administer as necessary."
"I dinna want them in a coma!"
"They could be low dosages," Radek countered.
"No," Carson replied emphatically, but the blue eyes were sparkling with amusement, and Elizabeth nodded.
"I think we can find a way to handle the situation without resorting to drugs."
"Tempting though they may be," Carson admitted. "We need Rodney awake and working to fix this."
"But after itís fixed?" Radek suggested.
"You still canít drug him," Carson replied repressively before chuckling. "Besides, I doubt youíll be able to get them out of their room for a week."
"I hope for their sake that there arenít any emergencies in that week." Elizabeth looked toward them again when an argument broke out, then dissolved into laughter.
"If there are, pity the person responsible for them."
"Iím not sure which of them would be more dangerous in that case," Carson nodded.
"Both," Elizabeth decided. "Neither would make a good enemy."
"The colonel might shoot you, but Rodney would plan something that would be painful and lingering," Radek said with a shudder.
"They make a terrifying combination."
"And we wouldnít want anyone else on our side."
"No," Elizabeth agreed. "Iím not sure any of us would have survived that first year without both of them."
"Though they wouldnít have survived without us either," Radek put in.
"We all needed each other," Carson said.
"Thatís why we work so well together."
"Even when Rodneyís pretending not to remember your name," Elizabeth replied with a chuckle.
"That I am pretending not to remember as well."
Elizabeth and Carson both laughed, and Rodney glanced over at them, frowning slightly. "I should be worried about that," he commented as he studied the few pieces left in play on the board.
"I think you should be more worried about this," John replied, gesturing at the board.
"Why? Because you think you have me in a vulnerable position?" Rodney chuckled, shifting his remaining knight toward Johnís single rook.
John smirked and moved a piece, and Rodney scowled, glaring at the board as if it was the wooden gridís fault that he was three moves from being check-mated.
"Itís your move," John said helpfully.
"Why thank you, I had no idea," Rodney sniffed.
"I thought so. Thatís why I told you."
Rodneyís gaze drifted to the discarded pieces near his elbow, and he considered throwing one at John.
Following his gaze, John chuckled. "Now, now, weíre all adults here."
"Speak for yourself."
"You wouldnít want everyone to see you throw a chess piece at a visitor, would you?"
"Compared to some of the things Iíve done, itíll be considered a love tap."
"I think weíre back to spousal abuse," John said, sounding amused.
"Homosexual couples canít get married in the United States, so it canít be called that," Rodney murmured.
"Close enough," John retorted. "Are you ever planning to move, or are you going to concede?"
Growling, Rodney glared at the board again, then shoved his queen forward. "Check."
John grinned and moved, and Rodney cursed.
"You know you have to," John said, smirking.
"I hate you," Rodney muttered as he made the only move open and waited for what came next.
"No, you donít. And check mate."
"Yes, I do and I know; thereís no need to rub it in."
"Hey, the rules say I have to say it." John smirked at him. "And no, you donít."
"Now you can read minds?"
"I donít need to."
"I think thatís the difference between our universes; you all are telepaths, and thatís how you beat me!"
John snickered. "Good try, but you lost fair and square."
"Tell me what number Iím thinking of!"
"How the hell should I know?" John laughed.
"Faker," Rodney sniffed.
"Itíll serve you right when he beats the pants off you too."
Rodneyís smile turned sad at that, and he nodded. "Yes, it will."
John reached across, placing a hand on Rodneyís wrist. "Youíll figure it out soon."
"Well, of course I will." Rodney turned his hand enough to close it over Johnís and squeeze it. "For all our sakes."
Johnís smile faded slightly. "Right. Another game?"
"What?" Rodney frowned.
"Chess, do you want to play another game?"
"Not that, the other thing."
John smiled wryly, having realized the attempt to deflect Rodney was futile even while he tried it. "I just... donít actually want to go back," he admitted. "But I know I have to. Even if I stayed, I couldnít have what I want."
"Oh." Rodney stared at John for a long moment. "I wish I could have you both, but that wouldnít be fair to any of us, would it?" The last was asked in a wistful tone.
"I could learn to live with it, but I doubt heíd be willing to share you when he already has you," John replied, his eyes running over Rodneyís face.
"Plus my heart couldnít take suicide attempts from two of you." Rodney tried to smile at that.
John chuckled. "Itís not suicide if youíre trying to save peopleís lives."
"It is when youíre looking at it from the other end."
"Heís not going to stop doing whateverís necessary to keep you alive."
Rodney sighed at that but nodded. "I know, and I wonít ask him to."
That made John laugh. "Sure you wonít."
"Well, Iíll try to remember not to."
"That at least sounds remotely possible."
Rodney gave a soft laugh. "Remotely."
"About as likely as winning the lottery, huh?"
"You probably have a better chance at that."
"Iím sure he appreciates the concern."
"We usually end up fighting about it," Rodney shrugged.
"And then you make up. Thatís the best part."
"If one or both of us isnít in the infirmary."
"Why do I think that happens much too often, and seeing you there bothers him a lot more than landing up there himself?" John said.
"Probably because youíve read the mission reports and because I feel the same way." Rodney picked up the chess pieces and began putting them back in the box.
John didnít bother to correct Rodneyís assumption with the truth, which was that he knew it because heíd always hated seeing someone he loved hurt and, like the colonel, would do anything to prevent it.
"Dex and Mitch used to yell at me about that too."
Rodney quirked a small smile at that. "And did you enjoy the making up after it?"
"Yeah, we did. We were good together."
"Iím sorry you lost them," Rodney said quietly.
"Me too," John said sadly. "But I guess maybe itís time to move on."
"Thatís a positive attitude."
"Well, Iím being reminded that Iím still alive," John replied.
Rodney nodded at that. "And that youíve got a lot to do."
"Now I just need to get back where I belong and quit thinking about things I shouldnít."
"Johnó" Rodney began, before shaking his head and putting the lid on the chess set with more force than necessary, making the major wince.
"Sorry, Iím trying, but things just keep slipping out."
"From both of us."
John sighed and slumped in his seat. "I guess this wasnít such a good idea. Iíll keep away."
"Donít." Rodney bit his lip and raised his head to meet Johnís eyes. "I donít think that will help andóI like talking with you."
"This isnít fair," John said bitterly.
"No, it isnít," Rodney sighed. "If weíd met first..."
"But we didnít, and youíre his, and I keep wanting to steal his life."
"Why?" Rodney asked suddenly.
"Why didnít we meet first? Thereís the minor issue of being from different universes."
"I know that," Rodney growled. "I mean, why me?"
"Why you what?"
Rodney stared at him for a long moment. "And they call me oblivious. Why me? IóI know why Iím attracted to you, and donít you dare say itís all because of the colonel!óbut why me?"
John gawked at him. "Why would I fall for you? Youíre hot, youíre smart, funny, caring, and you look at me like... Well, anyway, why wouldnít I?"
"Hot?" Rodney stammered, stuck on that word.
John stared at him. "Yes, hot. I know you have a mirror; you shave."
John shook his head in disbelief. "How can you not know how much I want you?"
"I understand the how; itís the why Iím stuck on. The colonel and I have history; it grew from friendship, and IóIím not the kind of person people fall in lust with at first sight."
"Hereís one vote for the opposition," John said.
"But why?" Rodney pleaded, not caring who heard him.
"Rodney, despite what you seem to think, youíre a very attractive man, and youíre warm and funny, and you actually see me."
Rodney sighed at that. "And this is why it isnít easy to say no."
"And why I keep wanting to push you to say yes."
"John, IóI wish I could say yes."
"Me too. I could almost hate him for having you."
"Donít." Rodney looked away at that.
"No," John said quietly. "I know. Itís more envy than anything else. What the two of you have is pretty special."
"There is another version of me in your universe," Rodney pointed out once heíd regained his composure.
"Just like Iím not him, heís not you."
"Maybe heís the one you should have met," Rodney countered.
"But I didnít. Oh, Iím going to hope that we hit it off when we do meet," John said, "but once again Iím going to be following in your colonelís footsteps."
"I think youíll manage to hold your own; after all, he has to fill my shoes too, doesnít he?" Rodney smiled slightly at that.
"And those are big ones to fill." John gave him a wry smile in response. "Please tell me this is the weirdest thing thatís happened to you?"
"That depends; do you think this is weirder than having a female Marine trapped in your head?"
John gaped at him. "This place is nuts!"
"And then she made me kiss Carson."
"You kissed Carson?"
"Cadman kissed Carson; I was just along for the rideóhijacked in my own body," Rodney grumbled. "And she made me kiss a botanist."
"A physician and a botanist? Not even real scientistsóoh, the horror of it," John laughed, having read enough mission reports to know Rodneyís opinion of the soft sciences.
"Oh ha ha, it was very traumatizing at the time," Rodney sniffed.
"Iím willing to bet the colonel didnít like it very much either."
"We werenít together then."
"So what finally got you together?"
Rodney chuckled at that and rubbed at his chin. "I got tired of waiting."
"Lucky colonel," John said, chuckling.
"Blame it on his military; Iím not normally quite so forceful."
"Thereís nothing wrong with being forceful."
"Iím not arguing that; I just donít tend to do it in situations when it might get my face beaten in."
"I really doubt that was ever an issue with him."
"No, it wasnít," Rodney admitted, "but I didnít want him to throw away his career."
"That is so stupid," John muttered. "But since thatís the way it is, quit worrying about it; he obviously has."
"I canít," Rodney shrugged. "I worry; itís what I do."
John looked at him quizzically. "With all the crazy shit you deal with here, Iíd think you wouldnít waste time on it."
"You have to be kidding."
"I guess not," John laughed.
"I worry; itís what I do," he repeated.
Rodney grinned. "Good answer."
"I aim to please."
"You aim to yank my chain."
John shrugged before grinning. "Itís fun."
"Iím so glad to provide you with entertainment."
"See, youíre an all Ďround nice guy."
"In what parallel universe?" Rodney snorted.
"This one," John replied wryly.
"I am not a nice man; ask anyone."
"How Ďbout I ask your colonel? Or Dr. Weir or Dr. Beckett or Zelenka?"
"Theyíll agree; I know it."
"I doubt that very much."
"Let me go talk to them first."
John laughed. "I donít think so."
"Chicken," Rodney sniffed.
"For not letting you skew the data? I call that smart."
"You donít trust me?"
"I trust you to do what you have to, to win," John retorted.
"And you donít?"
"I never said that." Johnís grin widened.
"You donít have to."
"Maybe we should call this one a draw."
"Thatís probably safer." Rodney glanced around the now deserted mess and shook his head. "It must be getting late."
"Oh, I guess so. I should let you get to bed so you can work tomorrow." John reluctantly pushed back from the table.
"Yes." Rodney nodded as he stood, picking up the chess set and holding it out to John. "Best two out of three tomorrow?"
"You still think you have a chance?" John teased.
"I went easy on you tonight," Rodney sniffed.
"Of course you did," John said soothingly. "I never thought otherwise."
"Youíre placating me."
"Would I do that?"
Rodney just looked at him, and John snickered.
"I think Iíd better say goodnight before you push me off a balcony."
"Can you find your way back to your room?"
"Yeah, I think Iíve got that down now."
"And it only took you a day; Iím impressed." Rodney chuckled. "Are you going running with Ronon in the morning?"
John nodded. "Yeah, heís going to stop by when he starts in the morning. Itíll be good to be able to run where windows can open."
"Better than arctic wastes?" Rodney chuckled.
"Itís a lot more comfortable."
Rodney smiled crookedly at that. "Yes, well, sleep well, Major, and enjoy your run."
"Iíll see you tomorrow evening to beat you at chess. Again."
"In your dreams."
"You keep telling yourself that."
"I will, and try not to cry when I beat you."
"Dream on," John retorted as they stepped into the transporter.
"Is that supposed to scare me?" Rodney asked as they walked out into another hallway.
"Naw, itís more fun to destroy my opponents when they think they have a chance."
"Yes, yes, keep thinking that way; it will console you when youíre weeping on the floor," Rodney smirked before stopping when they reached a ĎTí junction. "Well, my roomís that way," he said after a moment.
"Right." John nodded, staring at him before squaring his shoulders and stepping back to offer an overly bright smile. "Well, I guess Iíll see you for dinner tomorrow."
"Yes." Rodney stopped from moving, and his crooked grin didnít reach his eyes. "Good night, John. Have a good day tomorrow."
John nodded again, but despite their words, neither of them moved, both their expressions miserable as they watched each other. "I wish..." Rodney whispered before turning and hurrying down the hall, almost knocking over several soldiers in his haste.
"Me too," John murmured, watching until Rodney vanished around a corner before finally continuing toward his own room.
John faced the next day in a better mood after a five mile run with Ronon and hearing from Maj. Lorne, who suggested a tour of the armory and weapons practice. "After all," the major pointed out, "you need to get in practice. Gate missions never go as planned."
After his shower, John headed toward the mess hall to meet Lorne for breakfast.
"Good morning, Major," Telya greeted him as they passed each other outside the mess. "I hope you are doing well."
"I am, thanks. Everyoneís been very helpful, even if some of them are obviously weirded out by me."
"Strange occurrences are quite commonplace here," she observed before smiling.
"I guess you get used to it," John said, thinking that it was odd to know that the very attractive woman standing in front of him was an alien.
"Perhaps it is better to say we adapt to dealing with them. You seem to be doing that yourself; this must be quite different from your reality."
"It is," John agreed, "but things are so amazing here. Even with all the different threats you face, this is so much better."
"There is the chance that you can come to your Atlantis, is there not?" she asked.
"I hope so. But things will be so different," John mused. "Weíre starting from zero in my world."
"I would think that would make it more exciting. I also wanted to ask you if you would wish to learn stick-fighting."
"I would like that. Iíd also like to learn more about your culture if youíre willing to teach me. Iím hoping to be able to meet the Athosians in my own universe."
"I would be more than happy to." She smiled again before gently grasping his arms and tilting her head toward his until he leaned in as well, then touched their foreheads together.
"Thank you. I hope I get to meet you again, Teyla."
"I am sure you will, John." She stepped back and nodded at him before continuing on her way.
"I hope youíre still alive there for it to happen," John murmured under his breath, watching her leave. He shook off the mood and headed into the mess hall, seeing Maj. Lorne sitting at table near the window. He waved to let the other man know heíd seen him and went to get his food.
"And how are you today, Major?" Carson asked, coming up behind him.
"Fine thanks," John said. "Iím finding this almost too easy to get used to."
"I would say Iím glad for you, but will that make it difficult for you to return home?"
"I think thatís inevitable," John admitted. "But thatís where I belong. You already have a John Sheppard."
"Aye, and I have the feeling your universe would be a poorer place without you." As he spoke, Carson gathered up his breakfast. "Not to say you shouldnít enjoy your time here."
"I plan to," John said. "Just not too much, I hope," he added in a mutter.
Carson nodded at the first comment as he poured himself a mug of coffee and set it on his tray. "Iím glad to hear it; if youíd ever like to talk more, let me know, lad." He smiled and walked over to a table to sit with Radek and several other members of the science and medical staff.
John finally sat down opposite Lorne and took a long, appreciative swallow of his coffee.
"Never guess it was local grown, would you?" the other man asked.
"Really? Make sure you tell me where you got it so I can make sure we donít miss it when I get back."
"Iíll write down the coordinates," Lorne chuckled.
"It helps to be friends with a botanist; you get the lowdown on the good products."
"Astrophysicists are pretty good for different things too," John said, smiling.
"You mean McKay?"
"Heíd say heís the only one who matters."
"Youíve got that right, and, considering how many times heís saved our asses, I wonít argue it."
"It seems like youíre lucky to have him here."
Lorne groaned at that. "Promise me you wonít go telling him that; weíll never hear the end of it!"
John grinned. "Whatís it worth to you?"
"You want those coordinates?"
"You play dirty, Major."
"You learn to when dealing with scientists, Major," Lorne shot back.
"Yeah, I can see where it would be a survival skill."
"Weíll make sure you get a lot of practice before you head back; youíll need it."
"At least Iíll be a step ahead; Iíll already know McKayís foibles."
"And compared to him, the rest are pussycats," Lorne promised between bites of his meal. "And word to the wise, carry power bars or chocolate on your missions and youíll be golden."
"Well, thatís simple enough. And good for me too." John ate more of his eggs. "Do I want to know what kind of eggs these are?"
"Probably not, sometimes itís better to live in ignorance."
"Iím so not asking," John muttered, pausing with his fork over the bacon before he cut a piece and ate it.
"Good answer," Lorne chuckled. "And when weíre done, Iíll show you some things you can ask questions about."
"Cool!" John grinned at him. "Big booms?"
"Very big booms."
"I love this place," John said happily.
"Weíll just try to keep you away from bugs; they seem to like the colonel much too much."
"Having read the mission reports, Iím very thankful to avoid them. I have no desire to turn into a bug."
"Good." Lorne scraped the remains of his food from his plate and looked over at John. "Ready to see just what the armory has to offer?"
"Damn right." John gulped down a last bite and stood up, picking up his tray. "After you."
"Considering you donít know where youíre going, thatís a good idea."
"I often have them." John grinned as they disposed of their trays and headed into the transporter.
"So, tired of this place yet?" Rodney asked several days later as he and John met for their nightly chess game.
"Are you kidding? I wish I could stay forever."
Rodneyís smile slipped a tiny bit at that but only momentarily. "I meant staying here in the city; Iíve been discussing the possibility of taking you out to one of the cleared sites."
"Really?" Johnís face lit up. "I can go through the gate?"
"Possibly," Rodney repeated.
"Iíll kiss your feet if you get me something to do."
Rodney stared at him for a moment before chuckling. "Going stir-crazy, are you?"
"Yes! Iím completely useless here."
"No, you arenít!"
"Rodney, I canít do his work, and I just rattle around here, waiting for you to find a way to send me home. Thatís the absolute definition of useless."
"IóI hadnít thought of it that way." Rodney paused and looked down at the chess board. "Without a ZPM, itís proving more difficult than Iíd thought."
"Youíre not giving up, are you?" Despite his words, John wondered if heíd really mind if Rodney did, if he had to stay here with Rodney.
"Of course not! I simply have to reformulate the equations to account for less power." Rodney stopped and slumped in his seat, his gaze focused on something far off. "A lot less power."
"Can it be done?"
Rodney re-focused on him with an almost audible snap. "Of course it can be done!"
"Sorry, didnít mean to insult you," John said, sounding amused.
"And you should be," Rodney sniffed. "See if I take you through the gate now."
"Hey!" John brought out the puppy dog eyes.
"You would think Iíd be immune to those by now," Rodney grumbled.
"Nope." John was careful not to smirk in his victory.
"Oh, just shut up and move."
John snickered as he nudged a pawn forward, and Rodneyís eyes narrowed as he watched him closely.
"Are you letting me win?"
John snorted. "Did someone drug your coffee?"
"If anyone did, it would have been you," Rodney sniffed before moving his knight.
"Then I can only assume from that comment that you suffered from a reality break then." John made his move while still snickering.
The sputtering that engendered left Rodney unable to speak, and he looked around before deliberately picking up one of the fried tubers the cooks were trying to pass off as potato chips and threw it at John, who burst into laughter.
"Sore loser," he chuckled.
"Excuse me? I havenít lost anything yet!"
"Yet being the key word," John retorted smugly.
Rodney scowled and eyed the board before shifting his queen over one space and settling back, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Check."
John frowned at the board, now paying more attention to the game, and after a moment shifted a bishop to a spot protected by a pawn, blocking Rodneyís queen from his king and making her vulnerable to attack from Johnís knight.
Ignoring his queenís vulnerability, Rodney moved his own knight and smirked again. "And check."
The hazel eyes narrowed as John contemplated the board, and after a moment he moved his other knight, taking Rodneyís. "So, tell me more about this mission I might get to go on."
"Itís not quite a mission; itís more checking out an Ancient outpost weíve looked at before; itís a nice quiet planet." Rodney studied the board again and shifted his queen. "Checkóagain."
John shifted a piece to block the attack. "Whatís so special about this outpost? Any interesting research?"
"We didnít think so at the time, but they were working on weather control, so there might be information there that would benefit us all the next time a storm hits."
John nodded before returning to the topic that most interested him. "I know youíve been concentrating on getting us back where we belong, but do you have any idea how it happened in the first place? Am I going to have to worry about flipping to new universes unexpectedly for the rest of my life?"
"IóI donít know." It was plain how much having to admit that annoyed Rodney. "Iíve gone over all the data we have from the night before you changed places with the colonel, and nothingís shown up as anomalous."
"This does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling."
"And you think I like it?" Rodney snapped. "Iím doing the best I can!" He took a deep breath and calmed himself. "Iím sorry, IóthereóI shouldnít have yelled at you."
"You donít say that very often, do you?" John observed, amused. "Itís okay; I know Iím far from the only person affected by this. I actually came out ahead."
"Well, of course you are; youíre with me," Rodney sniffed. "If anyone can solve this, I can."
John laughed. "Well, youíre definitely not lacking in self confidence."
"Sometimes itís all that keeps you alive," Rodney shrugged before moving a pawn. "Check."
John shifted a piece, gradually edging Rodney into the position he wanted him in. "It seems itís kept everyone alive here."
"And me in a state of hypertension much of the time."
"I think you thrive on stress."
"Hmm, possibly," Rodney murmured, frowning at the board before nudging his queen over.
John bit back a smirk as he moved his own queen for the first time in a while, and Rodneyís frown turned into a scowl as he studied the board. "You bastard!"
John smiled beatifically. "Is something wrong?"
"Oh, go to hell."
"Have I mentioned that youíre a really sore loser?" John laughed.
"Tell me something I donít know," Rodney sniffed.
John snickered. "Well, just think, if you ever do beat me, youíll have a real sense of achievement."
"I think you distract me on purpose!"
John shook his head. "Donít need to. Iíve been playing at master level since I was eight," he admitted.
"Really?" Rodney looked surprised. "Thatís quite the surprise, not that you play that well but that youówell, Iíd assumed you were busy with football."
John shrugged. "I did both. And made sure that no one at school knew about the chess or math."
"Heaven forbid you taint the jock image," Rodney chuckled.
"It was easier in school if I didnít," John said with a shrug.
"I can imagine it was," Rodney nodded.
"Itís easier if you fit into one group and donít confuse the lines."
"Or if you donít worry about fitting in at all, though youíll find the lines blur here at times, so you donít have to play dumb grunt." Rodney scowled at the board before making the only move possible. "Yes, yes, I know; check-mate."
John smirked. "You owe me another dessert."
"You can have my lime jello."
"You want chocolate jello?!"
"No, I want something chocolate from you, not something you couldnít eat anyway."
"Bah, sore winner," Rodney sniffed. "And fine, I have some in my quarters if youíre demanding payment right now."
"I think Iíd better, or youíll claim you already paid me, and Iíll never see my spoils of victory."
"Are you claiming I would cheat, Major?" Rodney asked as he stood, his chin jutting out mutinously.
"No, Iím saying you have a convenient memory sometimes," John said, trying not to laugh.
Rodney had to smirk at that. "When itís convenient."
"I rest my case," John said, giving in to his laughter as they stepped into the transporter to go get the chocolate.
"Well, telling homicidal psychopaths the truth isnít always the best thing to doóunless of course they decide they want to play cuisenart with you."
"Is this one of those stories Iím better off not knowing?"
"I believe that you read the mission report of the storm here our first year," Rodney commented, leading the major down the corridor to his room and walking inside.
"Ah, Kolya." John looked at him. "You did the right thing, you know. You survived, and you helped keep Dr. Weir alive."
"Thatís what the colonel told me."
"Heís obviously a very smart man," John replied.
"Well, you would know that as well, Iím sure." Rodney crouched down to dig in a drawer, then glanced back over his shoulder. "Have a seat if you want."
"Thanks." John perched on the edge of Rodneyís bed and watched him rummage. "Lots of awards," he observed after glancing around to distract himself from staring at Rodneyís ass.
"Which really mean shit-all out here, but they remind me of my worth when I feel self-doubt, not that that happens too often. Plain or crunchy?"
"Peanuts, almonds or rice crispies in the crunchy?"
"The latter." Rodney turned, a candy bar in each hand. "Choose wisely."
"Rice crispies? Gimme!"
"How did I guess?" Rodney chuckled, tossing him the bar.
"Youíre a genius," John replied with a grin, catching the treat and weighing it in his hand as he debated whether to tear into it right away.
"If you eat it now, you wonít have any to enjoy later."
"Good point." John stuck the candy into a pocket. "Wanna try to redeem yourself?" he asked, nodding toward the chess set Rodney had placed on the table.
"Itís getting somewhat late," Rodney hedged, glancing around the room and then at John again.
"Oh, of course." John got to his feet and moved toward the door. "Good night, then."
Rodney opened his mouth to say something but closed it again and sighed. "Good night, Major."
John looked back at him. "Same time, same place tomorrow?"
"Iím sorry," Rodney whispered, scrubbing at his face with both hands. "I wish I could deal with this better."
"I wish I could make it easier for you," John said quietly. "And for myself. But I guess we just have to get through it. I borrowed his bed, his clothes and his life. Iím not taking anything else."
Rodney nodded and attempted a smile. "Youíre right, and Iím sorry Iím putting you through this."
"Despite everything, I wouldnít have missed this." John gave him a quick smile.
"That means you arenít insane." It was obvious that Rodney was trying for wry humor, but his tone missed the mark.
Responding to Rodneyís attempt to lighten the mood, John smiled quickly. "Can I get that in writing?"
"Hardly, and Iíll deny it if you bring it up again."
"Damn. Iím going to have to start wearing a wire."
"Very amusing, Major. Itís late; we probably should get some rest, especially if Elizabeth okays that mission."
"Good point. Let me know when you hear, hopefully before I go stir crazy." John thought the door open, something heíd quickly grown used to and enjoyed.
"Weíll think of something to keep you busy," Rodney promised.
"Thanks, Iím going to hold you to that." John waved briefly and was gone.
Rodney watched the doorway for a long moment, then sighed. "I wish I could let you, but thatís a recipe for disaster."
"Maj. Sheppard, would you please report to my office," Elizabeth asked over his headset. "We have a mission briefing."
"Yes!" John exclaimed, making Lorne grin.
"And just when I had you up to speed on how to check the armament inventory," Lorne chuckled.
"Oh damn, Iím so sorry to miss doing that," John retorted. "Find another sucker, Major."
"Iíll keep trying, Major, and watch out for the bugs out there."
John laughed. "That seems to be your colonelís thing, and I intend to make sure it stays that way." With a brief wave, he headed off to Elizabethís office, musing that it was going to be odd not to see these people every day once he got back to his own universe.
"So, youíre really paroling me?" he greeted Elizabeth as he walked into her office, for the moment ignoring Rodney, Teyla and Ronon.
She chuckled at that and nodded. "We all think having you here and not letting you learn as much as possible about the city and the galaxy would be a terrible waste, so, yes."
"Oh thank God, Iím not going to die of boredom."
"You could have asked Teyla to teach you to meditate," Ronon suggested dryly.
"I am not sure that would be any more successful than it was with the colonel," she murmured.
John grinned. "Not my thing." He turned back to Elizabeth hopefully. "About this mission?"
"Itís to check out the remains of an Ancient outpost," Elizabeth explained. "Thereís been no reported Wraith activity in the area, and the planet is mostly uninhabited."
"Do we bring a picnic lunch?" John asked brightly.
"Sure, if you call MREs a picnic," Rodney chuckled. "Just donít eat my spaghetti one."
"Not even if you paid me!"
"You donít like MREs?"
"Does anyone?" John asked with a shudder.
"McKay does," Ronon chuckled.
"Whatís wrong with them?" Rodney asked, frowning at the othersí amused expressions.
John shook his head. "Itís like eating flavored cardboard and plastic. Worse than airplane food even."
"Iím sure we can find you something else," Elizabeth laughed.
"Thank you!" John said fervently.
The four of them stood beside the inactive gate, and Rodney glanced at John. "Thereís nothing to worry about; itís quite painless, if a little cold."
"I kinda figured that from the fact that you go through fairly often," John admitted.
"What do you mean by that?"
John just grinned before looking up at the gate tech. "Weíre ready to go."
At Elizabethís nod, the Canadian sergeant dialed the gate, and John jumped slightly at the whoosh as it activated.
"Ready, Major?" Rodney asked as Teyla and Ronon walked through the event horizon.
"Hell yeah!" John beamed a happy smile at Rodney and walked up to the gate, pausing to inspect it curiously. "Cool!" he pronounced and stepped through.
"Cool, he says," Rodney muttered, smiling fondly as he followed the others, emerging in the early morning twilight of another world and shivering at the chill in the air.
"Areaís clear," Ronon reported.
"Iím on another world," John said, sounding stunned as he looked over his shoulder at the gate.
"In another galaxy," Rodney added.
"Yeah. I mean, I know I already was, but now I really know it."
"Take your time; get your bearings."
"If we wait for that, weíll never move," Ronon chuckled.
"There is nothing wrong with my sense of direction!"
"Of course there isnít, John," Teyla soothed. "Many people mistake the north pier for the eastern one."
"Everything in Atlantis looks alike," John grumbled.
"Itís all right, Major," Rodney chuckled, patting him on the shoulder. "You have other good qualities."
"Youíre too kind," John grumped. "So whereís this outpost?" he asked, looking around.
"I believe it is over the hill to the west." Teyla pointed in the direction.
"About half an hourís walk," Rodney elaborated.
"And we walk instead of taking a jumper why?"
"Because exercise is good for usóor so the colonel tells me time and time again."
"Well, thatís true," John admitted. "But I can walk anytime; I may never get another chance to fly a jumper."
"You will have the opportunity when you reach your Atlantis, Major," Teyla said with a calm certainty.
"Just donít lose as many as we have," Rodney chuckled.
"Iíll try to keep ours intact. And lock up the HG Wells one."
"Good idea; going traveling in time probably isnít the thing you want to be doing on top of everything else."
"No, that would be way too much. Weíll have enough to handle without adding those potential problems to the mix."
"Exactly," Rodney chuckled. "So, ready to start walking?"
"Well, since I donít really want to stand in this spot for a few hours and then go back, I guess so," John said, suiting action to words as he started off in the direction Teyla had indicated.
"Funny," Rodney murmured as they started toward their destination, "itís usually me complaining about having to walk somewhere."
"It is sometimes too easy to forget that the Major is not our John, but there are differences," Teyla observed.
"Just not his sense of direction," Ronon muttered, making John glare over his shoulder.
"I heard that!"
"So?" Ronon shrugged.
"Come along, Major," Rodney chuckled.
"You all think youíre so funny," John grumbled, and Rodney patted him on the back.
"Itís simply because we loólike you."
Johnís step hitched slightly. "I like you too." He looked over his shoulder at Teyla and Ronon. "I hope I can find them when I get back home."
Cursing himself for that slip, Rodney nodded. "Iím sure you will. Teyla at least will be easy; just go to Athos. Ronon... maybe you can talk to him about what he would have done if he hadnít joined us."
"Kept running from the Wraith, I guess." John frowned. "He might not even still be alive, although I hope he is."
"I think he will be," Rodney murmured. "I really do."
"Yeah, itís kind of hard to imagine anything, even the Wraith, getting the better of him. When I get back to Atlantis, Iíll look for him."
"Just stay away from bugs while youíre doing that, okay?"
John nodded emphatically. "Yeah, I plan to avoid that planet entirely."
"Actually, there are a couple of planets that fit that category."
"Youíll have to give me a list."
"I plan on it," Rodney promised as they crested the rise of a hill. "And thereís the outpost."
John eyed it. "It doesnít really look like much, does it?"
"What were you expecting, a miniature Atlantis?" Rodnye asked as they started down the hill toward the low, sand-colored buildings.
"Well, yeah," John admitted. "So is Atlantis unique then?"
"We found a city that was laid out like Atlantis," Rodney commented before cursing as he stumbled over a rock. John grabbed his arm to steady him and stayed close as they continued walking.
"But it wasnít the same?" John asked curiously.
"Aside from the fact that theyíd turned having the gene into what made you a noble and everyone else was a serf? Oh, and the fact that they wanted the colonel to have sex with their princess to propagate another generation of gene-bearing royal infantsónot really."
John stared at him. "This place just keeps getting weirder," he muttered, shaking his head. "I think Iíll skip that planet too."
"Thatís an excellent idea," Rodney nodded, frowning mightily, which made John chuckle.
"Was there anything at all worth the trip there?" he asked, wondering if someone other than him should visit it.
"They had a lot of drones," Rodney admitted.
"Which would be helpful. Weíll send someone without the gene to deal with them," John decided, not even realizing he was already making plans for when he got to Atlantis in his own reality. Somewhere along the line, heíd simply accepted it as a fait accompli.
"Though they didnít seem too interested in dealing with the rest of us," Rodney mused.
"So it needs the gene to get their attention? Well, we can send a female gene-carrier through with several big, strapping Marines to guard her."
"That might work," Rodney chuckled. "Just donít let any of them eat or drink anything there."
"Iím starting to think no one should ever eat or drink anything outside of Atlantis!"
Rodney considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Iíd trust what the Athosians give you."
"And no one else?" John asked, startled since heíd been kidding.
"Rodney believes that it is best to expect the worst," Teyla said.
"And itís saved our lives countless times!" Ronon snorted out a laugh, and Rodney scowled. "It has!"
"Iím sure it has," John replied soothingly, "and I hope the Rodney in my reality is as good at it as you."
"Well, no one could be as good as me," Rodney huffed, "but Iím sure heíll be close."
"I donít think Iíll share that comment with him," John laughed.
"Not if you donít want to hear about it for the rest of your life," Ronon laughed.
"I think I can live without that," John said, trying to keep a straight face when he noticed Rodneyís indignant expression.
"Ha ha, very amusing," Rodney grumbled, glowering at them all.
"We know." John grinned at Rodney, his arm twitching as he started to reach for the scientist to hug him and then restrained himself. Rodney caught the aborted motion, and he quickly looked away, focusing on the outpost.
"Yes, well, we should get down in there," he said quickly, starting for the building.
Teyla and Ronon exchanged a long look behind the two menís back, but neither commented, knowing that this was a problem that could only be solved by the majorís return to his own universe and the return of their own John.
John followed silently, mentally kicking himself for making things awkward again.
Once they reached the outpost, Rodney went into full tour guide mode, explaining what they had learned about the place the first time they had been there, then, noting Johnís expression, he stumbled to a halt, "but I suppose it would be more interesting if you were able to look around yourself."
Managing a crooked smile, John nodded. "Why donít you show me around and tell me what stuff does as we get to it. I might actually remember some of it that way."
Ronon groaned. "Iíll go check outside."
"I will join you," Teyla smiled.
"They donít know what theyíre missing," John told Rodney.
"Try telling them that," Rodney chuckled.
"Naw, I kind of like being alone with you," John admitted.
Rodney cleared his throat at that though he couldnít help but look pleased. "Yes, well, Iím sure youíll like being alone with the other me even more."
"You mean because we wonít be constantly frustrated and feeling guilty about it? I really hope so," John admitted. "I hope heís like you."
"Considering how much you and the colonel are alike, I would believe he would be."
John smiled faintly. "Then I guess weíll have to hit it off." As long he hasnít already fallen for your oh-so-wonderful colonel, he thought but didnít say.
"Of course," Rodney smiled, before looking around the room. "So, youíd better get your look around while weíre here."
"So what am I looking at?" John asked, moving closer to peer over Rodneyís shoulder. "At least the inside looks more like Atlantis."
"Apparently this outpost was designed to manipulate the planetís weather, something we found out the first time we activated it," Rodney reminded him.
"Interesting but not particularly useful unless you happen to live here," John decided. "Or does the theory transfer to other planets?" he asked, remembering Rodney mentioning applying it to the storms that struck Atlantis.
"Only if they had the same set-up," Rodney commented. "And donít touch that panel to the right; itíll cause a rainstorm."
Remembering the fairly barren land theyíd trekked over for part of the way from the gate, John shuddered at the thought of the mud that would result from heavy rains. "No, that would be bad," he agreed, taking a step back.
Rodney chuckled at that but stayed well away from the panel as well. "Exactly. There is a console over here thatís virtual; you can see how different weather systems will shape the continent and world."
John looked over and then back at Rodney. "Why?"
"I have no idea, but the soft scientists enjoyed playing around with it," Rodney shrugged.
"Sounds dull." John started to hop up onto a counter, then paused. "Will this make Mount St. Helenís blow or anything if I sit on it?"
"That depends on how much the console likes it."
Johnís eyes widened, and he eyed it warily, then narrowed on Rodney. "Itís not nice to make fun of the new guy."
"Actually I was justó" Rodney shook his head quickly and tried a smile. "It was obviously a poor attempt at a joke."
John grinned. "Gotcha." He perched on the counter while Rodney watched him through narrowed eyes.
"So you did."
John smirked. "So, got anything else to show me?"
"Thereís more one level down, but Iím not sure I should show you after that," Rodney sniffed.
"Aw, come on, show me," John coaxed, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
Rodney groaned and shook his head. "Come on, Major."
"Right behind you." John stood up again and sauntered over to him.
"Just watch the stairs; theyíre worn," Rodney offered as he started down them, the passageway lighting up before him.
"Youíve never seen some of the staircases in Afghanistan," John retorted, but he did put a hand against the wall for balance.
"No, but I have seen some that probably stack up to them in Siberia," Rodney said, glancing back over his shoulder to grin at John.
"Gee, we did get to the vacation spots of the planet, didnít we?"
"I would call it luck, but I was sold there by your lovely government."
Johnís eyebrow rose sharply. "Iím pretty sure we outlawed slavery about a century and a half ago... unless thereís one hell of a big difference between our universes!"
"I was being facetious, Major. It was a trade because the Russians had something the SGC needed and, well, I wasnít a very popular person around there despite my genius."
Rodney shrugged as he reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into another large room. "Well, obviously theyíve learned what a mistake they made as Iím here."
"Which is a really good thing for me since nice as your world is, I want to get home again, and I think youíre not just my best bet, youíre probably my only bet."
"We will get you home, John, I promise." Rodney turned to look at him, hoping he appeared reassuring.
"I know," John replied simply.
Rodney took a step forward, almost stopped himself, then patted Johnís arm, and then frowned as the lights dimmed. Seeing the reaction, John looked concerned.
"The Ancients had brown outs?"
"Not generally, no." Even as he spoke, Rodney keyed his earpiece. "Teyla? Ronon? Whatís going on up there?"
Instead of a reassuring response, Rodney got silence, and John frowned. "Maybe we should head back up," he suggested.
"I totally agree." They turned toward the stairwell, and the lights blinked out, leaving them in total blackness. "I cannot believe this is happening!" Rodney hissed, grabbing for a scanner and turning it on, grateful for at least that small light.
"Why do I get the feeling that thereís no such thing as a quiet mission?" John asked, resignation clear in his voice.
"Probably because there isnít, but weíre fine, and Ronon and Teyla know where we are, and thereís plenty of air even if there isnít even any lightóI suppose you didnít just think that you were in need of a nap, did you?"
John laughed. "Sorry, no, Iím not responsible for this. I was curious to see whatís down here."
"Of course, it just a thought. Now, if we can get back to the stairs..."
"Well, we hadnít come very far. Turning around should get us back to them in a couple of minutes."
"If we donít fall and break our necks," Rodney muttered, holding the scanner in front of him as he turned, feeling John move closer to his side.
"Try thinking positive," John suggested. "This isnít so bad. Itís dark, but there arenít any enemies."
"And thereís no water."
"Rodney, weíve been here about five minutes. I donít think itís time to panic yet," John said. "Weíll go back upstairs, find out what happened to our radios, and head back to Atlantis."
"Yes, right, sorry, youíre right," Rodney said quickly as they carefully walked forward.
"Too bad Iím not your colonel. This would be a good excuse to stop and make out," John said, trying to distract him.
"Actually, heíd probably complain and ask me what I hit," Rodney said with a shaky chuckle.
"Hit things a lot, do you? Maybe I should be the one asking you what you did," John teased.
"I donít hit devices, only impertinent Air Force officersóand shouldnít we have found the stairs by now?"
John frowned. "Yes. We didnít walk this long. Are you sure weíre going the right way?"
"We turned one hundred and eighty degreesóall right, letís just find any wall and work our way around then."
John stretched his arm to the left, to the wall heíd brushed against on their way down, and he stilled, frowning more deeply. "Rodney? Whereíd the wall go?"
"If I knew that, weíd be at it and up the stairs by now!"
"The wall is gone! What the hell is going on here?" All ease was gone from Johnís voice as he tried to assess the area for threats.
Rodney took a deep breath and tried to calm himself, telling himself that this John wasnít used to the things the Pegasus galaxy routinely threw at them. "All right, something obviously got turned on by our presence, so try thinking a general Ďoffí."
"I never thought on!" John tried to do what Rodney suggested, with no visible results. "I thought you said youíd been here before?"
"Yes, but this never happened!" Rodney protested.
"Oh lucky me." John kept a firm grip on Rodneyís wrist, not wanting to lose him in this apparently vast, unlit chamber. "Are we even still in the same complex?" he asked, wondering if heíd been transported to yet another universe.
"How would I know?!" Rodney took a deep breath to try to calm himself, though he wasnít very successful. "All right, first thing we need to do is get some light; do you happen to have a flashlight?"
"I think so." The words were followed by rustling as John dug through the pockets on his vest, finally coming up with a small but powerful flashlight. He turned it on, glancing at Rodney and then at the inky blackness surrounding their tiny island of light. John pointed the light up and then down, then outward as he turned in a slow circle, and the only thing that he saw in all that was the floor. "This place is a fuck of a lot bigger than it was."
"Yes, it is." Their words echoed hollowly, and Rodney kept a secure hold on Johnís arm so they didnít lose each other. "I suppose we should try to find the edges."
"I wish I had bread crumbs to leave a trail."
"Of course, who knows what would come out of the walls to eat them then," Rodney shuddered.
"Oh, thank you for that lovely thought!" John took a firm grip on Rodneyís jacket and started forward.
"I hate to tell you, Major, but this is the Pegasus galaxy; that comment is thinking positive."
"Not helping, Rodney!"
"Itís not helping me either!" Rodney snapped, trying to keep from hyper-ventilating as the dark closed in around them.
John stopped walking, spun on his heel to face Rodney, and yanked him close, kissing him hard. "Weíre going to be fine."
Rodney sputtered out a gasp, then swallowed hard, and stared at John, his eyes wide and blue against his pale skin in the harsh illumination of the flashlight. "Th-thank you," he said after a moment. "It seems I was coming a bit unglued."
"It was my pleasure," John replied wryly. "Not to mention that we need that brain of yours in working order to get us out of here. Wherever here is."
"And to do that, we need to find something," Rodney nodded.
"Which means we walk." John took Rodneyís hand in a firm grip and started forward again, hoping he was still going in the same direction theyíd originally started out.
Rodneyís fingers tightened around his for a brief moment, then loosened, though Rodney kept hold of him as they continued walking, the circle of the flashlight illuminating the floor before them.
After a few minutes, John asked, "Just how long should we keep walking? Thereís still nothing in sight."
"I donít know," Rodney sighed before looking up and blinking. "Major, do you see what I do?" he asked slowly.
"I see a whole bunch of nothing," John started before noticing where Rodney was looking and following suit. "Okay, thatís weird. It doesnít feel like weíre outside, and it was early afternoon when we came in here, so how can there be stars above us?"
"Perhaps itís a simulation of some sort," Rodney murmured.
John stopped walking, causing Rodney to bang into him. "Youíre telling me that I came to another galaxy in another universe to go to the planetarium?" he asked incredulously.
"Itís simply a theory," Rodney protested.
"Which makes sense given what weíre seeing," John said with resignation. "So what, we watch the show and hope it sends the audience back where they came from when it ends?"
Rodney shrugged, his shoulder brushing against Johnís. "If only it could be that easy, but right now other than walking around here in the dark for hours and possibly falling in a bottomless cavern, I canít think of anything better to do."
"And you people do this every day? Youíre all nuts." John sighed. "Youíd think theyíd at least have seats to enjoy the show." Then he let out what most definitely was not a yelp when seats rose out of the floor behind them.
"Iím beginning to think that your estimation of this place is correct," Rodney gasped, clutching his hand to his chest before collapsing back in the surprisingly comfortable seat and feeling John sit down next to him.
"Comfy," John said, stilling when he realized they were pressed together from shoulder to knee. After a moment he said, "I guess this was a couples-only planetarium."
"So it seems," Rodney nodded, trying to shift over but finding that the seat curved around them. "I suppose we should just lie back and watch the show then."
"Right." John hoped heíd managed to keep his tone bland, but the prospect of half-lying there with Rodney pressed against him had his body taking a very inappropriate interest in the situation. "On with the show."
Rodney nodded, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to focus on the star patterns overhead when in reality all he was conscious of was the major sitting next to him and how if his John had been there, they probably wouldnít have been watching the stars at all.
"I wish I was him," John said quietly, pretty sure of what Rodney was thinking, based on how rigidly he was sitting.
"I wish I could be the type of person who doesnít care that you arenít," Rodney whispered back, "but that wouldnít be fair to any of us."
"I need to get home because Iím starting not to care."
Rodney hesitated a moment, then reached out to take hold of Johnís hand, twining their fingers together and squeezing them. After a moment John squeezed back and relaxed in his seat, letting his head fall back against the headrest as he watched the show above them.
"The same things I love about him I see in you," Rodney said suddenly, speaking to the darkness above them. "You arenít the same, but essentially you are."
"But you love him," John said quietly. "Iím just... another weird accident of the Pegasus Galaxy."
"No, you arenít!" Rodney turned to face him, moving closer to make out his face in the darkness, then groaning and leaning in and kissing him, his free hand coming up to cup the side of Johnís face.
John moaned, desperation and hunger both coloring his tone, and he turned to face Rodney, deepening the kiss, and Rodney ate at his mouth, sliding his hand into Johnís hair and holding him in place. They both twisted on the bench, facing each other and pressing closer, neither noticing when the show ended until they were abruptly spilled to the floor, back in the hallway theyíd started from.
"Oh, um, it seems that weíre back where we began," Rodney said after swallowing hard and pulling back to tug at his jacket as he tried to sit up.
"I guess that other place does send you home when the showís over," John said, brushing himself off as he got to his feet, carefully not looking at Rodney, who was studying his sensor pad with intense interest.
"You have the right instincts," he commented, slowly getting to his feet as well. "Never let anyone tell you otherwiseóand never tell yourself I didnít know that was you back there."
Johnís eyes shot to his. "Rodney," he started, only to stop, not knowing what to say.
"I know," Rodney whispered, and with nothing else to say, they silently climbed the stairs back to the main level, looking toward the door when Ronon glanced in just after theyíd returned to the laboratory.
"Everything good in here?"
John stared at him. "Did you even notice we were gone?"
"You were gone?"
"Thanks for being attentive!" Rodney grumbled.
"Any idea what happened?" John asked Rodney.
"No, but Iím going to find out now." With that, Rodney turned to the console and studied it for a moment before pulling out a crystal tray, hooking his datapad to it and beginning to enter commands.
"You were gone?" Ronon repeated, staring closely at John.
"For a while. One minute we were here, which I know because I had my hand on the wall, and the next weíre in some weird, huge planetarium."
"The wall, thatís it!" Rodney exclaimed, rushing over to the wall and aiming his sensor at it. Ronon and John both stared at him.
"Yes, Rodney, thatís the wall. Very good. Maybe we should go back to Atlantis now," John suggested.
"You touched the wall, and that turned it on," Rodney explained impatiently.
"Havenít these people ever heard of on switches?"
"They did; they put them in their genes."
"Wonderful." Johnís growl was worthy of Ronon on a bad day.
"Youíll get used to it," Ronon chuckled.
"The Ancients were idiots," John stated.
"Tell me something I donít know," Rodney commented, going back to his datapad.
"Itís almost dinner time back on Atlantis," Ronon said.
"We brought MREs."
"Stew," Ronon countered while John watched in amusement.
Rodney shrugged. "The MRE version is just as good."
"Blue jello. And I heard someone say something about Oreos."
"Oreos?" Rodney looked up at that.
"Yup." Ronon didnít elaborate, knowing when he had a winner.
"I suppose we could simply enter the information about the planetarium in the database..." Rodney glanced over at John as he spoke.
"It could probably provide you with a lot more information about the planet," John agreed easily.
"Well then, just let me pack up everything here and we can be on our way."
Ronon looked at John. John looked at Ronon. Both of them looked around. "Pack what up?"
Rodney stared at them for a second. "The datapad and cables!" he finally sputtered.
"Ah." John eyed them and decided it should take approximately two seconds to shove those in a pack, but he already knew better than to make that observation to Rodney.
Ronon chuckled quietly and turned. "Iíll let Teyla know weíre heading out."
Once he was gone, John turned back to Rodney. "Should I apologize?" he asked quietly.
"I seem to recall it being me who was the one doing the mauling back there," Rodney said mildly.
"Then should I thank you?"
"IóI just want you to know that I donít regret it, and I donít want you to either."
"My only regret is that I didnít meet you first."
Rodney sighed and tried a half-hearted smile. "And now weíre back to me being selfish and wanting both of you."
John smiled crookedly in response. "Unless your colonelís a very different man, heís not going to share you." He started to reach for Rodney, hesitated, then very deliberately caught hold of Rodneyís hand and squeezed it. Rodney hesitated a moment, then pulled him forward, kissing him again.
"Maybe not, but I donít think heíll begrudge me that."
"I really donít care if he does," John admitted. "Well, aside from not wanting to mess things up for you."
"I really donít think that having two of you here would mess anything up for me, except perhaps my sleep schedule and ability to walk correctly," Rodney chuckled.
John laughed as well. "Walking is overrated."
"So youíre saying youíd carry me?"
"I could be motivated," John said. "Depends on the position."
"God, itís tempting," Rodney sighed.
"Yeah, it is, but neither of us would want to share you." John smiled crookedly. "Iíd try, to make you happy, and Iím sure he would too, but it wouldnít work. So Iím going to go home and hope the Rodney in my universe is just like you, and youíre going to continue your life with your colonel and forget all about me."
"Iím not going to forget you, John," Rodney said, catching his hand and holding on tightly. "But I hope he is like me, because that means heíll be perfect for you."
Johnís fingers tightened on Rodneyís. "Yeah, he will."
"Just donít let him boss you around," Rodney added with a slight smile.
"Well, maybe occasionally, under the right circumstances..." John waggled his eyebrows, trying for lascivious but achieving something closer to comical.
Rodney stared at him for a second, then burst into laughter.
"That reaction doesnít bode well for my future sex life," John grumbled, nearly pouting.
"Somehow I think youíll manage to convince him otherwise."
John grinned. "I sure hope so."
"Major? Rodney? We are ready to go," Teyla informed them over the headset.
"Well then, I suppose weíd better get going." Rodney glanced at John and gave a crooked grin.
"Never argue with a determined woman with a gun," John agreed, following Rodney toward the stairs.
"Unless sheís trying to kill youóor me!"
"I donít think Teylaís going to do that."
Rodney gave John a Ďwell duhí look and shook his head as they headed out of the building.
"Radek, I need you in the main lab."
A spate of Czech came over the radio before Radek switched to English. "And you do not think that maybe I am in the middle of something?"
"Do you or do you not want to help me with getting the major home and John back?!"
"Of course I do!" This was followed by more Czech, and shortly thereafter Radek arrived in the lab. "What is so immediately important?" he demanded.
"We canít open a tear into the majorís reality, correct?"
"Considering that he is still here and the colonel is not, I would say that was obvious!"
"Because we donít have the power," Rodney said, glowering at the other man. "And they have no way of finding us."
"Still stating the obvious," Radek pointed out.
"Ignoring you now," Rodney stated before continuing. "So what we need to do is give them something to look for, a homing beacon for the connection."
"Ah, yes. And since we know this, we send a signal?"
Rodney began applauding slowly and sarcastically.
Radekís eyes narrowed. "And you cannot do this yourself?"
"Did I say that?" Rodney blustered. "I think not! Itís just that it will go faster with both of us working on it."
"Ah, the great McKay needs assistance!"
John walked in carrying a tray with coffee and muffins, listened briefly, placed the tray on the table and headed back for the door before blood could be shed.
"Chicken," Rodney muttered.
John paused and looked over his shoulder. "I call it self preservation."
"See, Radek? You terrified the major. Donít be surprised if he tells the other me not to find the other you."
Radekís growl drowned out Johnís protest that he wasnít terrified.
Rodney looked to the ceiling and shook his head. "Are you going to work on this with me or not?"
"Of course, I am," Radek retorted, already looking over Rodneyís notes while Rodney glanced over at John, shooting him a triumphant grin before getting to work.
John shook his head, trying not to chuckle out loud, and he came back into the lab to sit and watch them work.
"All right; what I want to do is start ringing their doorbell," Rodney stated, pointing at a series of equations.
"And hope someoneís there to answer the door?" John continued the analogy.
"And hope theyíve figured out how to use the door knob."
"I have confidence in Rodney McKay in any universe," John replied.
Rodney beamed at him at that before glancing at Radek, his eyebrows raised. "See?"
Radek groaned. "Head will not fit through doors now!"
"Yes, yes, be jealous later; work now," Rodney commented, picking up a muffin and a mug of coffee, interspersing comments with snacking.
Watching them, John chuckled. "Iím practically on my way home."
Rodney nodded vaguely, continuing the half-sentence arguing with Radek that had produced some of their best work.
John listened to them in bemusement, amused by the way they interrupted each other and finished one anotherís sentences. "You sure youíre with the colonel and not Dr. Zelenka?" he finally chuckled.
"What?!" the pair of them squawked once what heíd said registered, making John snicker.
"Iím just saying. Itís usually married couples who finish each otherís sentences."
"You are as bad as the colonelóno worse!" Radek blustered.
"I think Iíll take that as a compliment."
Rodney groaned. "Oh wonderful!"
John laughed. "Just consider this incentive to get rid of me."
Rodneyís smile faded at that, and he nodded. "Yes, and then your real adventure will begin."
"And you can get back to yours after this unscheduled interruption."
Rodney nodded at that, sighed, and turned back to the computer, sipping idly at his coffee. Radek looked from one to the other, pushed his glasses up his nose, and pretended to ignore them, knowing that nothing could help.
"Well, here we go again," Rodney commented, glancing around the control room, then at John beside him as he entered the code to start the program running. For two weeks theyíd been sending out signals to the other Johnís universe at the same time each day, hoping for an answer.
"Are you sure youíre pinging the right door?" John asked yet again. As each day passed, he had to fight the idea that maybe he wasnít going back, that maybe he could stay here... with Rodney.
"Yes, I am," Rodney replied, his tone remarkably patient coming from him. "We just have to give them time to find a way to answer."
"Isnít two weeks..." John started, only to stop, his eyes widening, when there was an echo of their last ping.
Rodneyís gaze snapped to the empty gate, then back to the spiking readouts on the monitor, and his fingers flew over the keys as he fed as much power as he could into making a connection.
"I guess Iím going home after all," John said, an odd tone in his voice.
Rodney looked up from the laptop at that, a flash of guilt at his happiness crossing his face. "John, IóIíll miss you," he said.
"No, you wonít. But I appreciate the attempt. Tell your colonel heíd better appreciate what he has." John smiled crookedly.
"Yes, I will, damn it; donít you tell me otherwise," Rodney said stubbornly. "And you tell the other me to take care of you, got it?"
"Yes, sir!" John snapped off a salute.
"Good answer. Now, you have the flash drives, right?"
"Right here," John said, patting his vest pocket. He looked around. "Thanks for everything. Iím going to do my best to find you all in my universe. Youíre an amazing team."
"Take care of yourself, John," Elizabeth said warmly, stepping forward to give him a hug, her farewell followed by ones from the other members of the expedition heíd become close to.
The gate behind him rippled into life, a blue tear in the fabric of reality spilling into another one.
There was a long moment of silence, everyone seeming to hold their breath, and then a familiar voice came through. "Sheppard to Atlantis."
"John? Are you there?" Elizabethís spoke, her words 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.
"You should be able to." Rodney blinked when he heard the him on the other side of the rift voice the same words at the same time, then turned his gaze to John, offering a half-smile. "Look for me on the other side, Major."
"I will," John promised softly, taking a last look around at the people whoíd become friends, pausing for a long moment on Rodney. He smiled faintly and turned and walked through the gate as the other John announced, "Iím coming through!"
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