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Fic: The Minstrel Boy (Part 2/2) (McKay/Sheppard)

Title: The Minstrel Boy
Author: busaikko
Pairing: (Rodney McKay/John Sheppard)^2 (um, warning: the pairings in this story made my beta cry. . . not your usual McShep)
Rating: NC17
For mdime
Spoilers: 'Common Ground' and 'McKay and Mrs. Miller'
Summary: Mensa-verse crossover. It warmed Rod's heart to know that the whole leave no man behind thing extended all the way to include alternate realities.

The Minstrel Boy - Part 1



After the second month, Rodney got used to the strange rearrangement of life on Atlantis. The SGC had replaced John with Sam Carter, much to Caldwell's disgust. Sam in turn performed some kind of military sleight-of-hand and made Sheppard an Air Force major assigned to a second-contact gate team, which meant that he probably protected beans from weevils and put band-aids on skinned alien knees.

Rodney had asked for Sheppard to be assigned to Science, but Sam apparently wanted to keep an eye on him herself. Rodney suspected that this was because Sam had her own experiences with Sam Carters from other dimensions, and she felt some kind of maternal protective instinct. She'd insisted Sheppard learn to fly the jumpers, and for a few weeks every sentence Sheppard said was Colonel Carter this or Colonel Carter that. It got old really quickly. Sheppard hung out with Miko, who was working on the naquadah problem. Rodney heard they'd started a band, or something. At least it wasn't Mensa: he really wouldn't forgive that.

The way their schedules were arranged, Rodney didn't see Sheppard often, outside of the incessant science staff meetings. He found that each time they ran into each other, Sheppard was more like his own person and less like a warped copy of John. Sometimes he was afraid that he was forgetting John, who was one of his best friends ever and who had saved his life countless times and who wasn't dead; just gone.

When that happened, when he found he had trouble picturing John without glasses, when Sheppard said something sly and devastatingly funny, Rodney became even more vicious to everyone, but especially to Sheppard. After a few days, Teyla would take him aside and beat him with sticks, which usually made the impotent rage fade into background noise again. Usually.

Now though, in the middle of the party, he was feeling the anger coming on again. Fortunately, he was pre-emptively blissed-out by the cause of celebration: he and Radek had finally got two empty ZPMs to initiate the recharging sequence, based on Sheppard's recollection of the Ancient technique. The rate of recharge was pitifully low -- we'll use up the energy created faster than we can create it, Radek had said, scowling and raking his hair up in handfuls. Sheppard was trying to slave more empties to the two recharging ZPMs: he had a theory, which Rodney had grudgingly and ungraciously admitted might be right, that this would increase energy flow, though that seemed counterintuitive. Even with his new calculations, however, they were looking at a minimum of two years, seven months, and eleven days per refilled ZPM: but still, refilled ZPM. That was, as John might have said, pretty cool.

The Athosians had showed up for the bash with alcohol and a fifteen-person dance band. When they finally took a break, after a complex circle dance that had, surprise surprise, involved leaping over clacking sticks, Sheppard appeared on the stage with Miko and Teyla, who should have known better, or at least been winded by all the exercise. Sheppard had his guitar -- had John's guitar, Rodney corrected, and apparently he had stolen John's cool and his friends as well. There was a smattering of applause from the people who weren't stampeding for drinks and food. Sheppard pulled up a chair and sat down; Miko produced a microphone; and with no introduction, they launched into their set.

Sheppard couldn't play anything without making it sound like country. It was funny, especially when Teyla was singing Celine Dion in Athosian. For the final song, the Athosian band got back on stage and the whole mess hall sang and swayed in boozy camaraderie, all bongo drums and love and peace and unity. If Atlantis hadn't had such stringent smoking regs, there would have been lighters waved. Rodney felt his throat begin to reflexively tighten: he despised this kind of blatant emotional manipulation. He crossed his arms and glared, first at Teyla, then at Miko, and finally at Sheppard.

Sheppard just happened to glance up and meet his eye. We shall be as one echoed off Atlantis' walls and Rodney couldn't stand it any more. He pushed his way out of the hall and started for the transporter.

"McKay -- wait up. Damn it. Hey!"

Rodney supposed that it was childish to make Sheppard run after him, but -- he was drunk! If that wasn't license to act even more pettily than he usually did, he didn't know what was.

Sheppard skidded through the transporter doors just as they were sliding shut, and leaned against the wall. He looked well pleased with himself, and ignored the way Rodney was ignoring him.

"I just wanted to say thank you," Sheppard said, not even having the grace to breathe hard. He smiled wide, succeeding in looking very drunk himself. The doors slid open and he waved Rodney through first, an odd irruption of gentlemanly behavior that put Rodney off balance. "You're -- I really -- you've -- thank you," he said, dogging Rodney's heels.

Rodney stopped in front of his door and turned around to glare. "You're welcome," he said, with false solemn gravity. "Your incoherence moves me. Good night."

"McKay." There was enough of a plea in the way Sheppard drew his name out that he recalled John's voice in a vivid auditory flashback which made Rodney see red, literally. He grabbed fistfuls of Sheppard's jacket and slammed him backwards into the wall.

"I also wanted to say I'm sorry," Sheppard said, pushing his glasses up his nose as if being pinned to the wall was no big deal. "I am so, so sorry that I took John away from you."

Rodney shook him by the shoulders, and Sheppard must have been pickled, because he was as limp as a kitten. "You should be, you bastard. He was my best friend."

"I will bring him back," Sheppard said, with all the steel conviction of his mantra, leaving no man behind.

"And then I'll lose you," Rodney blurted out, and shook Sheppard again, because -- damn it -- this was his fault. "You or him. Him, but not you. He and I have been through so much -- if we hadn't loved each other we'd have killed each other long ago. And by love I mean like the way friends do," he added, because Sheppard looked like the floor'd just dropped out from under his feet. "Even if he hadn't been a Captain Kirk clone, he's not my type. You," Rodney said, letting Sheppard go and looking off down the corridor, "you -- gah!"

He slapped his door open, deciding that it wasn't running away, it was a tactical retreat; except that Sheppard followed him in, and locked the door behind him.

"Out," Rodney said, and made little shooing motions with his hands.

"Am I your type?" Sheppard asked, voice low. Rodney cast about for something he could throw at Sheppard's head.

"I'm not Rod McKay," he shouted, grabbing yesterday's t-shirt from the chair, balling and flinging it. He followed with an enamel mug stolen from the mess, which scored a solid hit on Sheppard's shoulder. "I'm not your do-over chance -- do you have any idea how pathetic it feels to be a poor second to yourself?"

Sheppard's eyebrows squashed together. "Yes," he said, dragging the word out slowly, as if he couldn't believe Rodney was so dumb. "Rod might have mentioned that. And I think you bring it up, oh, in every single conversation we have." His mouth twisted. "I don't get you confused with him. Just so you know." He shrugged, and the motion put him off-balance. He did an awkward step-forward step-back, dropped his chin, and jerked his shoulder at the door. "I'll just be going, then."

"Don't," Rodney started, and Sheppard gave him the left half of a smile.

"Promise I won't leave this reality or plane of existence," he said. "Night, McKay."

"This is stupid," Rodney blurted out, and that earned him the other half of the smile. He threw his arms out to the sides in frustration, and Sheppard held a hand out to him, steady, palm up. The room felt like it was slowly revolving around that outstretched hand, and Rodney had to grab hold or be flung backwards. John had told him about being put in a human centrifuge for G-Loc training; that was probably why Sheppard was looking so calm, the bastard, he was used to this; but Rodney felt as if the breath was being squeezed out of him, as if all his blood was headed south, as if his brain might just shut down entirely.

"Come here," Sheppard said, and pulled. Two can play at that game, Rodney thought as he was reeled in, and put his other hand to the back of Sheppard's head, holding him still while Rodney kissed the corners of his mouth. But he didn't really get a taste of Sheppard's smile until he ran his tongue over his lips. Sheppard licked back, his tongue somehow managing to convey desperation as he traced the lines of his mouth. Rodney leaned closer and Sheppard opened to him immediately.

His head was still full of the battle between he wants me and he wants this, which were not the same things at all. But Sheppard had both hands sliding up the plane of Rodney's chest now, ostensibly removing his shirt, but with a circling of thumbs around his nipples that left Rodney gasping.

"Bed," Rodney said, and pointed it out, one of the few very rare Ancient double beds (he'd whined at Elizabeth for a week to get it; he'd do so again in a heartbeat, his comfort being far more important than his macho image). They were naked by the time they reached the bed, and it was brutally obvious that Sheppard and John were not the same person. Whatever Sheppard'd been through hadn't just taken his eye. He must have been nearly killed, several times over, and that was a hard thing to think about when you had someone naked in your bed.

"Does it matter?" Sheppard asked when Rodney ran the palm of his hand across from the older scars on his bicep to the raw new imprint of a Wraith's feeding hand. Sheppard was as quiet as a wild animal, ready to run at Rodney's slightest misstep. Which was unfair, because in a situation like this? Rodney was practically guaranteed to put his foot in his mouth, and not in a kinky Karma Sutra way.

"No," Rodney said, figuring monosyllabic was the way to go, and Sheppard kissed him and rolled him onto his back and climbed right on top of him.

"Let me," Sheppard said, doing something absolutely devastating with his hips that brought their dicks into alignment. Rodney couldn't help pushing up as Sheppard moved over him. He slid his hands down over Sheppard's bony ass, feeling every muscle that was in motion. Sheppard smirked down at him, and then ducked his head to lick his way slowly down Rodney's neck.

Rodney touched everywhere he could, from the short wiry hairs on Sheppard's legs to the soft bristles on his head, all the hard muscles and sharp bones and smooth scars, the unexpected softness of his lips and the heavy firmness of Sheppard's dick. There was no mistaking him in Rodney's head, though it was troublesome when he felt himself on the verge of coming.

"John," he said, arching up. Sheppard paused in his own exploration of Rodney's body and gave him a look: without his glasses, his eyes looked less focused, more vulnerable. "John Lee," he corrected; "Sheppard -- oh, fuck me," he snapped in frustration and came, the force of it sweeping sensation into his fingers and toes like a tsunami. He was still shaking with the force of it a minute later, and it took a moment to realize that the reason Sheppard was also shaking was that he was laughing. "Bastard," Rodney said. He shoved Sheppard off, and went down on him with such vindictive enthusiasm that Sheppard came with a shout on only his second hard swallow.

"So there," Rodney said, and Sheppard started laughing again, wrapping Rodney in his arms and kissing him lazily. They did the basking in the afterglow thing, which was so very cliche that Rodney wouldn't have admitted to liking it; but he didn't have to, because Sheppard didn't want to talk. They took turns in the bathroom and got back into bed with less than five words between them. Rodney felt as though he'd finally discovered the fast-forward from early-relationship awkwardness to mid-relationship comfort. If he could only market it, he'd be a millionaire.

Sheppard fell asleep with his arms over his head, crossed at the wrists, lying perfectly still. Rodney thought it was weird, not that he was any connoisseur of sleep positions, but Sheppard looked like he was tied up. Or maybe dead.

Rodney snuggled into his preferred sleeping position. He wasn't able to get his elbow just right, because there was a Sheppard in the way, and he dropped into sleep with a mild buzz of annoyance.

When he woke with a jerk, desperately needing a piss, he was alone in the bed. He sat up, noticed that Sheppard was working on his laptop, staggered into the bathroom, and when he was done stumbled out again.

"I thought you weren't an early riser," he said, peering over Sheppard's shoulder. "And I'm not sure I want naked men having their way with my data."

"Like I'd touch your data," Sheppard said, leaning his head back so that his hair brushed over Rodney's stomach. "Eww."

"Come back to bed," Rodney said. "The alarm won't go off for another hour or so."

Sheppard paused, looking up for one long moment with a slow smile working its way across his face. "Yeah," he said, and saved whatever he'd been working on.

In the end, Rodney didn't get any sleep at all, and Sheppard dropped off just five minutes before the alarm. Rodney told him he could stay, sleep some more, but Sheppard insisted on getting up, showering, and meeting Rodney in the mess after he'd swung by his own room for a change of clothes.

"I never sleep at night, anyway," Sheppard said, when Rodney eyed his third cup of coffee.

Rodney took the words as a promise of good things to come, at night, all night, every night, and spent the rest of the morning absently smiling in a way that made his colleagues give him a wide, wide berth.

Over the next two weeks they had sex in Sheppard's Spartan quarters and on Rodney's prescription mattress and in the shower and on the balcony (once, and Rodney wasn't even sure how it had happened, in a bright misting rain with Sheppard swallowing his dick down as if it was the answer to hunger). There was one point, on the ninth day, when Zelenka asked a question and Rodney answered what ZPM?, when Rodney thought he might be getting a little out of control.

But then, fifteen days and nineteen hours after Sheppard first kissed him, SGA-2/4 came in hot from a routine inspection of the algae farms on PX3-W21.

"Second-contact teams aren't supposed to run into trouble," Rodney yelled as he skidded into the gate room. He wasn't even breathless; his new nocturnal exercise program seemed to be doing him some good.

The two botanists, covered in muck to the knees, dripping fetid, bacteria-ridden water all over the floor, and grinning like loons, stepped to the side. The Marine whose name Rodney could never recall was holding Sheppard up. Sheppard just had to be an original: he was dripping blood, even though he looked just as deliriously happy.

"Merry Christmas, McKay," he said, and one of the botanists held out a filthy backpack. "Hope it's your size."

Rodney zipped it open and stared, slack-jawed, at the ZPM inside.

"We rock," Sheppard said happily. "Don't we?" He turned his head to look up at the Marine.

"Yes, sir," he said. "We totally rock. Sir."

"Good," Sheppard said, collapsing, and Rodney was definitely going to laugh at him later, because he had more fainting spells than a Regency romance. Periodic unconsciousness was not a trait Rodney found attractive in a boyfriend.

It wasn't until several hours later, when Sheppard was dozing in the infirmary and Rodney was making grandiose lists of all the things they could do with a ZPM at 38.7% capacity, that he realized this moved Sheppard's departure from some time vaguely two years hence to within the month (if the liquid naquadah worked). Rodney's heart froze for a moment, wanting John and wanting Sheppard, and he lowered his forehead to the cool laminate of his desk. Sheppard would say leaving was the right thing to do; not leaving John behind was the right thing to do. Rodney knew it was, too. He just wished it didn't hurt so much.



Rod had been Elizabeth's choice as babysitter for alternate-John simply because they'd saved the universe together a few times. But after the first few weeks, when it became apparent that alternate John was going to be with them for a while (six months, Rod said; no more than 3 years, 27 days, Miko said), Elizabeth insisted that life go on as normally as possible. Which meant that it was time for them to go their separate ways.

Rod and SGA-1/1 were cleared for off-world activities, Sheppard's place taken over by the exceedingly dull Major Harrington, from SG-17. He started working on some of the projects that had been back-burnered by all the crises of the past month. Major Sheppard was temporarily classified as MIA, much to Sumner's dismay: the SGC actually had a Standard Operating Procedure for losing personnel to alternate realities -- who would have guessed?

Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard had met with General O'Neill and a full house of very important people who knew little or nothing. He emerged after several days having resigned his (well, Sheppard's) commission in trade for a generic soap-opera cover story about a head injury and permission to stay and work in Atlantis until such time as he could return home. This meant that he didn't need to wear orange anymore. He wore a lot of black, instead, to match his mood.

Rod was on M35-LR2 when John was turned into a civilian. There was a manufacturing site there that looked as if it would yield some fascinating insights into Ancient technology. It took Rod five days to delegate everything that needed doing. When he got back, it was the Athosian festival of remembrance, and he accompanied Teyla and Sumner to the mainland. It was always tricky trying to get Sumner to be diplomatic without insulting the man: sometimes Rod thought that other-Atlantis might have had the right idea, to put Sheppard in charge. Even Sheppard couldn't be half as bad at liaising with aliens as Sumner was.

Sumner left Sheppard's name off the list of the Atlantean dead and missing that he read before the Athosian Council. Rod could see that this angered Teyla. Even though he didn't believe that these rituals actually helped lost souls find peace -- he didn't believe in souls or an afterlife himself, but he had the good sense to keep quiet about it -- he understood the importance of the ritual, of the remembering, to the Athosians. I will not remember you was one of the worst things you could say to someone. He sighed inwardly, adjusted his ceremonial robe, and wondered how long it would take him to iron out this gaffe.

The mainland transporter was housed in its own little concrete bunker a short walk from the Athosian settlement. Teyla was as dignified as always, but she made it a point to see them off personally. When she was out of view of her people, inside the windowless walls, she said to Sumner, "That was not well done."

"You hardly knew him," Sumner said, letting his eyes drop to the leather corset-thing Teyla wore over her robes.

"We were on the same team," she countered. "He was always honest with me. Perhaps you wouldn't dislike him so much if he hadn't so often been right when you were wrong."

"He's the one who woke the Wraith up," Sumner said, with a cruel smile. "He's responsible for nearly all the names you read tonight."

"He did it by accident, to save your life." Teyla looked at Sumner and then very obviously dismissed him. "Please give my regards to Dr Weir," she said to Rod. "I must return."

"Bitch," Sumner said before the door had even shut completely behind Teyla's back. "Trusting aliens is like having an armed enemy standing behind you. Are we going back, or do you plan to spend the night here?"

Rod punched in his key code, and the transporter doors opened. They made it all the way back to Atlantis in the silent blink of an eye, and Rod hoped that he could keep silent long enough to get away from Sumner. One of these days, the temptation to speak his mind would overwhelm him. Now that he no longer had Sheppard to act as a buffer, he found the military presence on Atlantis incredibly irritating.

"McKay," Sumner said, just as Rod was making his escape. "O'Neill's sent word that General Sheppard wants to talk to his son. You arrange it, however you like so long as there are no awkward questions."

"Joy," Rod said. "You want him to impersonate Major Sheppard."

"They're the same damn person," Sumner said. "Just make sure he toes the line."

Which really wasn't that easy.

"You're fucking kidding me," John said. The glare he turned on Rod was dark and without the undercurrent of humor that Rod thought of as typically John. "No. Hell no. Let my bastard father rot."

"Look," Rod said, putting a hand on John's shoulder and steering him into the mess. He grabbed two coffees and some whole-wheat biscuits, and pointed to a window-side table far away from everyone else. "I don't know anything about Sheppard's family -- I don't know anything about your family. He never says anything. I don't talk about my parents, either, and my sisters are the same. Meredith hasn't seen them in years, and Jeannie says they'd be bad for the kids."

He shrugged, and offered John a biscuit. John refused.

"But you, you're kind of undercover here. On Atlantis, there's a place for a John Sheppard from another reality. Not on Earth -- there, there's only one." John looked stubborn; Rod changed tactics. "And you wouldn't be doing it just because your dad's giving O'Neill a hassle. You'd be doing it because John Sheppard's been reported head injured and he's no longer in the Air Force and he can't go home. Maybe your dad wouldn't worry, but his obviously does."

"Oh, thanks for the guilt," John said. He wrapped both his hands around his coffee mug and stared out the window.

"He's been injured before," Rod said, and wondered why he felt as if he were betraying Sheppard's confidence. "He doesn't talk about it, but -- "

"He's missing an eye, and he nearly lost an arm to bone death." John's eyes flicked to Rod and then away again. "Which I can't really imagine."

"He nearly died. So just call his father and let him know he's okay."

"It's a hell of a lot easier to say no to my McKay when he makes insane demands," John said, with a put-upon sigh.

"Oh, really," Rod snapped back. "Because I got the impression that your McKay talked you into any number of dangerous situations, and that it was easy for him because you refused to make use of whatever intelligence you purportedly have."

"You just talked me into this and now you insult me," John said, and pushed his chair back from the table. "You want more coffee?"

"You should eat something," Rod said automatically. "You're losing weight." He paused, almost stopping himself from speaking before John moved away. "Are you doing okay? Are you happy here?"

John looked as if he wanted to say something flip and sarcastic, but then the anger about him seemed to ebb and he just looked weary. He made a just getting coffee, be right back gesture. When he returned he had a bag of taco chips and lines between his eyes.

"Sometimes I pretend that I really am head injured," John said, dangling a chip temptingly in front of Rod's face. Rod caught it with two fingers and ate it in one bite. "Then all the gaps between what's real and what I know are just like things I forgot. I spend half my time here studying to find a way home, and half trying to find a place for myself here. The cognitive dissonance. . . is wearing."

"I'm sorry," Rod said. He stole more chips from the bag. "I thought you'd be more popular than our Sheppard."

John raised an eyebrow. "Except I kind of think of him as a little brother, so I want to punch anyone who badmouths him."

Rod fiddled with the zip on his jacket. "That would be me, then."

John grinned. "I only want to punch you a little, though. Sumner I want to pulverize."

"Get in line," Rod said, and then glowered at John and stole the whole bag of chips. "You bring out the worst in me."

"I'm making an honest man of you, McKay." John raised his mug in a toast. "Can we make the stupid phone call right now?"

Rod craned over the table to read Sheppard's watch. "We could make the afternoon dial-in. If you're sure. . . "

"Just break the transmission if I start foaming at the mouth, is all I ask."

"Oh, ha very ha," Rod said, but when they were in the comm cubicle with the word connecting flashing in the centre of the monitor, John shot him such a desperate look when he made to leave that Rod realized he'd been serious.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Rod said, leaning back against the wall and crossing his arms.

John didn't get a chance to answer; the call patched through, and Rod found himself staring over John's shoulder at a grey-haired man in an ugly yellow plaid shirt. The conversation was stilted, generic questions that John answered shortly, or with meaningless phrases. I'm fine, everything's fine, no really, it's fine, and hey, the weather's fine, too. It was awkward to the point of pain, and finally John cracked.

"Do we even like each other? Because. . . I remember fighting."

Sheppard's father grimaced and shifted as if he wanted to reach out. "We fight like devils, Johnny, but I'm too old to think I've got a lot of second chances left. And of course your mother won't quiet up until we mend our fences."

John's hands wrapped around the edge of the desk, white-knuckled. "Mom's alive?" he asked. He sounded broken, and Rod knew how very hard it was to break John Sheppard. He straightened, not sure what he should do, or even whether he should do anything.

"She's making a pie or somesuch," Sheppard's father said. His face had gone very still. "Right over there in the kitchen, Johnny -- honey, the flour don't matter none, come talk to the boy."

"Can he hear me?" A woman walked in front of the camera, putting on her glasses and getting flour on her nose. "Lord, I don't understand these things at all." Sheppard's father turned her so that she could see the monitor, and she smiled. Her fingers left ghostly trails across the screen. "Sweetheart, what have you done with your hair?" she said, smiling with Sheppard's smile and giving the last word too many syllables and vowels.

John was so still that Rod didn't realize anything was wrong until John covered his face with his hands. The instant he let go of the table, he started shaking.

"Okay," Rod said, moving into the camera field himself. He settled one hand on John's shoulder and gave Sheppard's parents a smile that was meant to be compassionately reassuring: he doubted it worked. They looked confused and distressed. "I'm Dr. Rod McKay, I work with John," he said, and he kept smiling as he lied to them about temporary memory loss and stress and John's healthy appetite.

It was ghastly, and John didn't help any. Finally, Rod said that while sending pies to Sheppard's APO was probably a bad idea, e-mail was always welcome, and the Sheppards told him to take good care of their son. John managed to say goodbye all by himself; Rod rubbed small circles idly at the centre of John's back, the way he did with his sisters when they got hormonal, and caught Sheppard's father's eye by accident as he hit the disconnect.

"You just outed your Sheppard to his parents," John said, dragging the hem of his shirt up to clean his face. He still looked shocky.

"I did, didn't I," Rod said. "This is bad."

John twitched a shrug and pushed himself up. "They didn't seem to mind. Maybe they knew everything except about the overprotective boyfriend in black leather."

Rod muttered something very rude at John's back as he followed him out, and then remembered that he was supposed to be sympathetic. "I'm sorry about your mother. I mean -- in your reality, I'm guessing she died."

"Don't," John said, with a quick chopping motion of his hand.

"Do you want to go get dinner?" Rod asked, hearing his own words the way an outsider might hear them. They way Sheppard had probably heard them. "Oh, God. I am such the overprotective boyfriend."

"Honesty's a bitch, isn't it?" John said, and jerked his head at the transporter. "I've got to clear my head, I'll see you. . . when I see you." He didn't even wave, just turned on his heel and left.

Rod didn't see John in the mess, even though he walked by, or through, once every twenty minutes or so until hot meal services stopped at half eight. He went by John's quarters shortly after nine. There was no answer, but he'd had the forethought to bring a life-signs detector, which proved that John wasn't home. John wasn't in the jumper bay, either, or in the gym, or watching Sex and the City with the others in the rec lounge.

On impulse, Rod walked down to Sheppard's lab. He got a life-sign blip, and he keyed himself in without knocking. It was a habit.

"There you are," he said, and John spun his chair halfway around to give him a look.

"Here I am," John agreed, somehow implying, And what do you want, Dr. States the Obvious?

"Look," Rod said, crossing to the desk and leaning down to look at the equations on John's computer. They were easier to confront than John's still bruised-looking face. "Back there -- today -- I realized something."

"Me, too," John said, and Rod had to face him, then, because that was pretty much the perfect invitation. When he twisted sideways he was close enough that he just needed to tilt his head and lean and he was kissing John.

Pretty much perfect, he thought. He liked the longer hair that he could thread his fingers through, and he liked the way John spoke his name into the kiss as he opened his mouth. He liked the way John's eyelashes settled when he shut his eyes -- and, oh, but John shutting his eyes to be kissed was the hottest thing, ever. One of John's hands slid around his waist between his jacket and his shirt, and Rod felt himself shiver. He was not the sort of person who shivered and came undone -- especially not in a lab.

"Come with me to my room?" he asked, still holding on to John, their foreheads pressed together. "Please," he said; "please."

"I figured out what Sheppard did wrong," John said, and he pulled away and looked at the computer. He was breathing hard. Rod slid a hand down and felt the way John's chest rose and fell, the way his heart was beating as if he'd been running.

"Tomorrow," Rod said, "tomorrow morning," and he rubbed his cheek against the side of John's head.

"He suspended the naquadah in a vertical matrix," John said in a voice that sounded too much like sex. "He made it two-way, you see?" Rod wasn't looking at the screen: he'd found a nipple beneath John's shirt to play with. "But it'd be a hell of a lot easier to just roll the naquadah out flat -- like a pie crust," John said, catching Rod's hand and squeezing it in reprimand. "Stop that." John called up a schematic. "Fuck vertical, horizontal is the way we want to go."

"The sad thing is, I don't think you meant that as innuendo," Rod said. "Seriously -- the work'll be here tomorrow."

"I would go through, set up a sister device on the other side, and send Sheppard back," John said. "Nested one-way tickets."

"John," Rod said.

"I can't do this," John said, sounding agonized. "I can't steal Sheppard's mother, and the guy he has a crush on, and his research. That's not fair. It's not right. What I want doesn't make a difference. What you want -- " John returned Rod's hand, very gently, to his side. "Well. You want what you want."

"I kind of hate that one of the things I love about you is your loyalty," Rod said, but he straightened up and crossed and uncrossed his arms. "Give me what you have, let's see how much you've learnt. You're probably wrong about everything." He pulled over another chair and shoved John out of the way.

"Ha," John said, hours later. "Not too shabby for only a Master's degree."

"Don't even talk to me," Rod said. "Football metaphors in the physics, that's grounds for capital punishment in most civilized nations. And don't get me started on quantum mechanics -- no, wait, don't get you started. Where'd you learn physics, one of those For Idiots books?"

"Let's call it a night," John said. "My ass has gone numb and I'm seeing double."

"Do not talk to me about your ass," Rod said, and yawned.

"Beddie bye time," John said, hauling Rod up out of the chair and propelling him towards the door.

"Alone?" Rod said, and John tipped his head sideways -- agreement and apology all rolled into one.

Rod spent the next week feeling like the heroine of a Gothic novel, complete with random deep sighing at the memory of that one forbidden kiss. John didn't seem affected at all, but he was kept busy running errands, and Rod only saw him coming or going.

Finally, there were three last diagnostics to run on what John had dubbed the quantum puddle before it could be connected to the ZPM. John stretched out on one of the lab tables to wait, with his head pillowed on Rod's jacket (which he had totally stolen) and his arms illustrating their discussion of B movies in two realities.

Right now, John's arms were demonstrating zombie-killing techniques. "You don't have Return of the Living Dead?" he asked, incredulous. "Brain-eating zombies! Make love 'til we die!"

"Rapist of the Dead," Rod replied, keeping one eye on the scrolling data. "Ima D. Cappa, 1994. Co-eds stumble into a necrophilia cult."

"Aww, man," John said appreciatively. "I gotta see that before I go."

Rod gave him a glare that hopefully said, You'd rather watch Ima bounce around topless than sleep with me? Infidel! John apparently didn't get it, and started talking about possessed bowling alleys, but Rod had noticed that there was something very ominously wrong with Atlantis.

"What?" John said, rolling upright in one smooth motion and hopping off the table like the reanimated dead. "What's wrong?"

"Shut up," Rod said, trying to listen to his headset while projecting all life-signs onto the all-floors display. He made all the blips that had appeared in the past two minutes glow red instead of Atlantis blue. "Darts over the city. No, wait," and he grabbed at John, who had made for the door. "There are already gateshipss shooting at them, okay? It's not the darts, it's whoever they just beamed down. And where they are, and -- fuck -- what they're doing."

Sheppard was following the fighting on the all-floors. "They don't move like Wraith."

"I know," Rod said, and pulled up the menus for recalibrating the LSDs. It was taking too long. "We need Sheppard. He knows the city's defenses backwards and forwards and has secret weapons and traps and possibly even a few nukes squirreled away. Oh, good, good, there we go, finally." He changed the parameters with rapidfire taps on the keyboard.

"Hey," John said. "All the life signs on our floor just went out."

"It's a Sheppard trick," Rod said. "Only life forms with a mass greater than 200kg will get blipped. Which means we are effectively invisible."

"So are they," John said, and then winced as the headsets buzzed with static, and then a scratchy voice.

"Major Sheppard -- you haven't learnt any new tricks since the last time we visited, have you?"

"Kolya," John hissed. Rod had never seen him look murderous before: it was a look he associated with Sheppard, who did crazy a little too well.

"We have Dr. Weir, Major. I understand that she is important to you. I'm willing to trade her life for yours. What do you say?"

Rod was frantically texting messages to control. He tilted the screen, so that John could read: Sumner shot -- Genii barricaded in SE-17 -- Weir confirmed taken -- Lorne assuming command but trapped in the mess hall. John pushed Rod to the side and hijacked the keyboard, sending terse, unpunctuated messages to Lorne.

"Why are you doing this, Kolya?" John said, sounding almost conversational.

"Why do you think, Major? We know what you're up to on M9U-KL2, and we know about the weapons platform that you found in the Bane asteroid belt. I think you and I parted ways too hastily last time. I'd like to. . . chat." Kolya coughed. "Stop stalling. Do you think I'm not serious? Perhaps I should start sending Dr Weir out piece by piece."

Confirmed, Lorne wrote, and John said, "Okay. We'll trade, her for me."

"Are you fucking insane?" Rod hissed, barely remembering to make sure his radio wasn't on 'send'. John was agreeing to something, making mm-hm and uh-huh noises, as if he were getting ready for a blind date and not more torture at the hands of a psychopath.

"Stay with me, McKay," John said, tapping his own microphone off. "Oh, sorry -- I forgot, you don't hyperventilate under pressure."

"You can't do this," Rod said.

John shrugged. "It will buy us the time we need for you to go get the other Sheppard and bring him back here. I'll be fine -- I don't know any of the stuff Kolya wants from Sheppard, anyway."

"That won't stop him from sticking pins under your fingernails," Rod snapped. "He's already had you killed once."

"Then get your ass in gear," John snarled back, grabbing Rod's jacket and tossing it to him. He studied the all-floors one last time, probably trying to memorize the Genii whereabouts. They were, unfortunately, in an easily defensible position. "You're the expert at alternate realities, go."

"One last thing," Rod said, as John glanced at his watch and turned to go. He reached out, grabbed a fistful of John's shirt, and pulled John into a kiss. It was desperate and over far too quickly. "Try not to die for the next hour or so."

John touched his mouth unconsciously. "You, too, McKay." He looked as if there were things he wanted to say, but instead he turned and left, already running before the door slid shut.

Rod was fairly sure that he wouldn't be demolecularized when he stepped into the puddle. That would have to be good enough. He diverted power from the ZPM through wastewater treatment, the dental clinic, and three other locations before feeding it into the puddle. He could hear Genii squawk on his headset as the power levels dipped and rose across the city, but it cut off abruptly the second he took a naquadah dive.

Other-Atlantis looked exactly the same. The hardest part of being there was that everyone wanted to shake Rod's hand and chat, to catch up, inquire after his health and his Atlantis. After the tenth time he had to politely explain that he was really rather busy now and repress the need to add a courteous and how have you been?, he was sorely tempted to just shout.

Rodney and Sheppard intercepted him before he reached critical irritation, thankfully. Rodney had a smug, successful glow to him, as if he were getting regular sex or had found a love nest of ZPMs. Sheppard looked as if someone'd beaten him, with bruises on his face and a limp. Rod wanted to file a complaint: we took good care of your Sheppard, look what you did to ours! (He'd leave out the part about the brig. . . and maybe the hostage thing meant there were certain stones he wasn't supposed to be throwing first). Sheppard was dressed with a sloppiness Rod associated with John: boots undone, shirt untucked and open over a t-shirt that was identical to one Rod owned.

"What's wrong?" Sheppard said with reflexively sharp suspicion, and that was it. He sounded perfectly like himself and not like John at all. Rod rocked on his heels and began to explain.




"I cannot believe you needed me to do this," Sheppard said, talking to Rod as if he'd just asked to have his shoelaces tied and his nose wiped. "Why the hell did you let them fuck with the quarantine system?" He waved a finger in angry circles at the all-floors. "You've got Marines boxed up in six different locations, all useless. Here," he said, and Ancient flashed across the monitor. "We go in through the ducts and gas the Genii, here and here and here."

"They have Sheppard," Rod said. He sounded genuinely worried; Rodney gave him points for that.

"It's not poison gas," Sheppard said, rolling his eyes. "Hm. We'd need to rappel down to level 6 and go over the walkway."

"We have to get John out before Kolya kills him. Again," Rodney added. Sheppard gave him a sharp look, then shrugged.

"Fine. We can create a diversion here -- " he tapped the zoology lab -- "and take the wastewater main through to the galley."

"That'll work," Rod said, and handed Rodney a harness. "Let's do it."

Rodney hated Rod at all-new levels for being able to pull of a phrase like let's do it while sliding on safety glasses with a kind of Terminator-cool.

He had tagged along on this insane mission because a) John was in trouble, and b) Sheppard was going, and c) he hated the idea of being the only one in their foursome who hadn't seen both realities. He'd known he'd look pathetic in proximity to Rod, but he had sworn to himself that he wouldn't complain -- not even when it became apparent that he'd be taking home a whole new array of new phobias from this inter-reality jaunt. The rappelling hadn't felt quite as much like certain death as crossing the walkway's roof ten stories above sea level, with the wind plastering his clothes to his body.

Sheppard's idea of a diversion was to fiddle with the life-signs system again, this time making it register anything weighing over 20 grams and then letting loose every cage of exotic insect and rodent that zoology had. It was like the creeping circle of hell and reminded Rodney too much of the way his skin had crawled in the Iratus nest.

They just made it into the pipe (the sewer, Rodney thought with disgust: disused for ten thousand years, yes, but still. . . eww) when a dozen or so Genii raced by. Rod had an uncorrupted LSD, and he made an encouraging hand gesture: onwards and upward. Sheppard dropped two gas canisters down, and they ran.

Kolya liked to interrogate prisoners in relative privacy. Rodney suspected he didn't really want it getting out about how much he enjoyed causing pain. He had holed up in a disused storage room. There were two guards on the door, two more still figures in the room -- more guards -- and one pacing. The only life sign in Atlantis blue was still, flanked by guards.

Sheppard and Rod really had the snappy hand-signal communication thing down pat. Rodney was more than happy to let them lead. He'd thought that the outer guards would be taken out with gas; he hadn't quite recalled that none of them had gas masks. Rod shoved the access grating up, and Sheppard shot both of the guards efficiently with some kind of energy weapon.

Rod cuffed the guards and dragged their bodies off to the side. The outer room secured, they now needed to worry about how to get inside. It would be stupid to simply walk in through the door; Rodney figured everyone knew that, even Sheppard.

But apparently, no.

Rodney scrambled to copy what Rod was doing, moving swiftly to back Sheppard up. He could tell by Rod's expression that Rod thought Sheppard had cracked his nut, too; but then again, when the man who'd killed you (in two realities) had you prisoner and was trying to torture you into revealing information you didn't actually have -- well, Rodney supposed that if anything was an extenuating circumstance, that was.

"Ah," Kolya said, smiling like the host of a successful party. "I was worried you'd suffered brain damage. Your brother?" he asked, waving a hand airily at John, who was tied to what looked like a coat rack. He looked both furious and drugged, but thankfully not too damaged.

"Tell your men to stand down," Sheppard said. He kept the green dot of his laser sight absolutely motionless against Kolya's shirt.

Rodney had no doubt that Rod would prove to be an ace shot. But it still felt a bit too much like stalemate. Three of them versus three of us.

"This feels like a game of klappen oggie," Kolya said; Rodney assumed he meant musical chairs, or fruit basket, or maybe Red Rover. "You may stay, Major. Your brother can leave with your friends."

"No," Sheppard said.

Kolya shrugged as if were no matter. But apparently the radiation had made the Genii military stupid, because one of the guards took that as a sign that he ought to shoot John. In the back.

Time all of a sudden sped up and slowed down, simultaneously. At the time, however, Rodney didn't even think of all the implications for physics. He saw Rod shoot the guard and Kolya collapse in dramatic slow motion, and he might have shot the other guard. It was hard to tell, with all the gunfire, but the guard ended up twitching on the floor one way or another.

Rod shoved Rodney towards the outer room, half-shouting orders to get the goddamned doors open and the transporters running. Rodney would have argued, but it would have only been for form -- bad form, under the circumstances. And the circumstances were that Rod had to cut John down from the rack, getting horribly, brilliantly bloody as he did so, while Sheppard called for Carson and Lorne and stood, every muscle tense, over Kolya's motionless form with his gun aimed at his heart, for what felt like hours.

When his own hands had stopped shaking, Rodney looked up from the mess of code that the Genii had hacked in. "John," he said, and it was amazing how hard it was to sound properly exasperated. "John. The doors?"

Sheppard didn't say anything, but Rodney saw him holster his gun after a long moment. That was one less thing to worry about. Rodney wasn't all that worried about Kolya, and he knew that he (and probably Rod) wouldn't have said anything, but Sheppard didn't need to do that to himself. Rodney made room for Sheppard in front of the terminal. He didn't say anything, but after a minute Sheppard started denigrating the intelligence of the entire Genii military. Rodney didn't disagree. There was no all-floor display here, just the one hacked terminal, so Rodney had to talk constantly back and forth with Carson to figure out which doors were open and which weren't, and which transporters Sheppard had got on line again. Time was being measured in the flow of blood, and there was too little of the first and too much of the second.

Finally Carson was there with lots of sturdy young men, and time stuttered back into normalcy as John was examined and the prisoners were taken away and the investigation of the whole disaster began. Carson whisked John off to the infirmary, and he made Sheppard come along. Sheppard followed with such a look of grim determination that Rodney wondered if he thought Carson wanted a kidney or a lung instead of a few vials of blood. And then he started worrying himself that John might actually need spare organs. Gunshot wounds were bad, he knew that. Though he really didn't want to think about it.

Thankfully, it seemed every Atlantis in chaos needed the firm guidance of a McKay. Rodney realized that most of the jobs sent his way were intended for Rod, but Rod had gone all round-eyed and vulnerable-looking. Rodney told himself that he only felt sorry for Rod because he looked so much like Jeannie, with that bearing-up-well twist to his mouth. He refused to even consider that he himself might ever look like that. He just. . . wouldn't. Ever.

He supposed Rod was probably the sort of person who remembered people's birthdays, and sent condolence cards (for deaths, not recent publications), and donated sick days so co-workers could nurse sick children. Rod probably hand-made Christmas presents for his assorted nieces and nephews.

But Rodney's heart stuttered every time a call came over the radio. He might not make a production of it, but worrying about John -- and John -- was his prerogative.

When a call finally did come from Carson, Rodney literally dropped the entire crystal array he'd been reconfiguring into the hands of the nearest person. The work had allowed him not to think; he didn't need it any more.

He didn't need Rod following him, either.

""You don't need to come," Rodney said. "You're not a medical doctor, you know."

"Thank you," Rod said, and Rodney half-turned around, disconcerted. Rod clapped him on the shoulder. "We did a good job, I think. The best we could have, anyway." Rod was wearing his leather jacket with nothing underneath: the zip was down far enough that there was a strip of chest and chest hair showing. Rodney would have accused him of being a poseur, except that he knew Rod had used his shirt as a makeshift bandage. It would have to be binned: it was very hard to get blood out of cotton.

"It's what we do," Rodney said, his hands making loops through the air. "Travel to other universes, save the day, be heroes." He felt his face twist. "I think I fell in love with your Sheppard. I'm really. . . going to miss him, so if you could maybe take care of him. He's prickly all the way through, but that's because he's used to being hurt." Rodney frowned. "He's going to get hurt here, isn't he?" He supposed that was how he would remember this day: the day the Sheppards got hurt.

Rod shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'm pretty sure he won't be thrown in prison. I don't know if he'll be able to rejoin the Air Force, but really, why would he want to? We told his parents he had amnesia from a head injury."

"You suck at being reassuring," Rodney said. "What, are you sleeping with my Sheppard or something?" Rod's expression of wounded vulnerability increased a hundredfold. "Oh my God, you so are. I told you he was an intergalactic slut, but would you listen? No-o."

"We haven't actually done anything yet," Rod said, stiffly. "He said it felt like he was stealing his brother's boyfriend, or something."

"Sheppard is totally over you," Rodney said. He paused and took a deep breath. "He'll be fine, really. John -- my reality's John. I've seen him die, you know, so many times. So. I know. . . I know, okay? And I still believe that he'll be fine. When he does really die, it'll be something stupid like falling down the stairs or autoerotic asphyxiation or choking on his chewing gum."

"Thank you," Rod said again, with an odd almost-smile. "You mean well, don't you?"

Rodney was saved from trying to figure out whether this was a compliment or an insult by their arrival at the infirmary. Sheppard was standing next to John's bed. They both looked as if they had the right number of lungs and kidneys and things, though Rodney knew he wasn't the most observant person when it came to that. John was conscious; Sheppard had his back half-turned away from everyone and was leaning over John, speaking too low to be heard. John raised the hand that wasn't hooked up to IVs and monitors and made a feeble de nada gesture. Sheppard reached out and squeezed his hand.

Rod coughed -- on purpose, Rodney thought -- and both Sheppards looked up. Sheppard said something final, and then walked over. He looked pale, and Rodney wondered how much blood Carson had taken.

"He wants to talk to you," Sheppard said to Rodney.

"Hey," Rod said, and Sheppard gave him a look that was somber and sympathetic.

"You can see him afterwards," Sheppard said, and bit his lip. "He's saying his goodbyes."

Genius meant that Rodney understood instantly what that meant.

"John," he said, and Sheppard rolled his eyes and shoved him in the direction of the bed with an exasperated, "Go."

"Hey," Rodney said, awkwardly, and tried not to look at the bandages.

"Hey yourself," John said, or more like whispered. Rodney didn't think he was in pain, but he looked so damaged, and also as if he was fading away.

"You always make the big dumb sacrifices, you know," Rodney said. "I just want to say thank you. For being there. I really liked knowing. . . that you were there."

"Be happy," John said. "I am. Really." His eyes were shining, and despite all the tubes and gadgets he managed to raise his hand a few inches. "Trying for a manly hug here," he said, and Rodney put John's hand in his. He put his other hand on John's shoulder and leaned forward for an Athosian head-bump; and then he kissed John, because if you couldn't kiss your best friend at a time like this, then you were way too much of a coward. John smiled, a little, and his hand slipped free.

"John?" Rodney said.

John's eyes drifted shut.

Rodney took a breath, and another just because he could. He straightened his shoulders. And then he did the hardest thing he'd ever done: he turned his back, walked out, didn't even look behind to make sure he was followed. He went down to the gate room, where they'd set up the puddle. No one talked to him; no one said a word. They established the quantum puddle, and one by one they each stepped through.

He didn't realize until he was on the other side that he was crying. There was a flurry of activity that he barely registered. Elizabeth was there, and Sam Carter, asking what was wrong, and he had to tell them.

"I left John behind," he said. "I left John behind and I brought John home."

He knew he wasn't exactly coherent, so he tried to explain while he cleaned his face on his sleeve.

"You did the right thing," Sam said. "The biggest danger inherent in these infinite universes is that you second-guess yourself, knowing that somewhere other choices are being lived out. You doubt your ability to make decisions. Don't doubt this, McKay."

"Give me some time," he said, and reached out blindly, catching the fabric of John's jacket tightly and holding on as if it were a lifeline.



Epilogue




"Thank you, sir," John said, and snapped General O'Neill a crisp salute. "We'll be out of your hair real soon. Daniel said he had something to show us?"

"He said he had a homecoming present," Rodney corrected. "Really, we'd rather have cash." John elbowed him, glaring in his direction while at the same time trying to apologize to O'Neill with twists of his mouth and eyebrows. It was hilarious, but Rodney figured he shouldn't point that out.

O'Neill directed them to an elevator with a vague there there be geeks, and they descended well into the heart of the mountain. They found the right lab by asking every other person for Daniel.

The door was labeled 'Temporal Hazard - Extreme Caution - Authorized Personnel Only'. When Daniel let them in, the first thing Rodney saw was something that looked like a 1950s cabinet television -- like something salvaged from a Genii bunker, complete with dials and buttons that lit up. He would have pointed and laughed and asked whether this was Daniel's take on a time machine. . . except there was something about the monitor, which on close inspection seemed to be a layer of naquadah under plexiglass.

Daniel was annoyingly enigmatic about the device and its function, no matter how hard John tried to stare the information out of him. He -- Rodney wasn't sure what the proper verb was but went with the television analogy -- tuned it in with the biggest dial, and then the midsized dial, and finally with a series of thumb-switches. When it was aligned precisely to his specifications, he handed each of them a headset and whapped a big red button.

"I thought the SGC banned all experiments with alternate realities," John said, crossing his arms. Daniel smiled beatifically.

"For some," Daniel said. "It's not something we want our enemies to discover, but we have to assume they might." He shrugged and flipped up something that looked far too much like a bunny-ear antenna for Rodney's peace of mind. "Still. You don't know what this is, you've never been in this room, and we've never had this conversation."

"What conversation," Rodney said, crossing his arms, and that was when the screen came to life.

"Heya," John said, flickering into view. The picture was static-y and drifted between color and black and white. But it was still John, waving. "Surprise!"

"He's growing his hair," Rodney said, grabbing the nearest arm and pointing rather wildly. Daniel gently detached Rodney's hand and stepped prudently out of range. "Look, he's even more relaxed than he was before, which I hadn't realized was even humanly possible -- and he's standing upright all by himself."

"That's our boy," John -- Rodney's John -- said, and grinned wide at his counterpart's embarrassment. "Little Johnny, all grown up."

"I'm Canadian now," John said, and pulled his collar open enough to flash them with the flannel shirt he was wearing under his jacket. "Jeannie and Meredith gave me the whole secret Canadian initiation rites. Eh."

"You wouldn't believe what they got him to do with the maple syrup," Rod said, crossing his arms. "We put the videos on YouTube and got TOSed and deleted and banned for life."

"I blame the beer. There's too much good beer in Canada," John said. "So how are you two crazy kids? And you, too, Dr. Daniel."

"We're good," Rodney said. "Really. . . good."

"Adjusting?" John asked John, and John shrugged.

"We went with a memory-loss cover story. Sometimes I almost forget that your life wasn't mine."

"I know the feeling." John spread his arms wide. "Worth it, though."

"Ha," John said, tucking his chin down to give John a black look. "I had to re-earn my degrees while defeating the Wraith, and the don't ask, don't tell thing in your Atlantis sucks." He looked sideways, giving Daniel a knowing, Mensans, unite! kind of look. "Though we might not have to deal with that much longer."

"They really are doing well," Daniel said. "John's just been promoted." (John ducked his head and glowed.) "Rodney's yea close to mass-producing ZPMs. And I'm still alive and the right gender and age, which is something that keeps me going when things fall apart."

"You make such a cute little girl," Rod said.

John snorted and pointed in repeated accusation at Rod. "He bought you Archaeologist Barbie the last time we were on Earth. You killed it. Brutally."

"Speaking of which," Rodney said, and then stopped, waving his hands and hoping he didn't look as horrified as he felt. "Never mind." In a weird mirror moment, John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder just as Rod put a hand on John's. They stared at each other through the shimmer for the space of several deep breaths.

"I wanted to thank you," John said. "For leaving me here. Politeness is the Canadian way, or so I am told. I would have said something before you left, but I was -- "

"Yes, well," Rodney said. He really didn't want to get into the whole discussion of how and why he'd left John half-dead in another reality. Even if his John had been able to synthesize organic naquadah, they had both signed a ridiculous number of official documents promising that no, they wouldn't ever even think about other realities -- and oh, by the way, what other realities? In return, although it wasn't officially a bribe, the SGC made John what he referred to as a real boy: paychecks, driver's license, social security number. No matter how much they might have wanted to know, it had been impossible.

Rodney hated things that were impossible.

"I knew you'd think that way," John said, pointing with a sharp nod. "Which is why we combined our genius powers to rig up this interdimensional phone-vid system. Didn't want you to lose any more hair worrying."

"Hey," Rodney and Rod said in tandem.

"So don't worry," John said, reaching up to cover Rod's hand with his own. Rodney had thought it was a transmission glitch, but the weird blur on John's hand appeared to be a ring.

"Wait a minute -- did you two -- " he started. Rod's wide grin shut him up. "Oh, my God."

"Huh," John said, thankfully sounding more amused than, oh, angry or disturbed. "I'll have to get Daniel to figure out how to send you a toaster."

"We'll reciprocate with sex tips from the honeymoon," John said with a leer, and Daniel made a noise and his ears turned red.

"So you're not angry," Rodney said, because he really wanted to get this clear. "You're not lonely or pining and you don't hate me."

"I don't hate you," John said, and the picture began to break up, distorting into streaks. "Did you get that, Rodney? I don't hate you -- you'll always be my best friend."

"Even though we're far away," Rodney said, and nodded. "This is a repulsively sentimental misuse of the SGC's naquadah. You take care of him," he said, pointing at Rod. "And -- and be happy."

"Hey, you too," Rod said, but whatever he added next disappeared into static, a flurry of inter-reality snow, and then nothing.

"Sorry," Daniel said. "It's not exactly perfected yet. And the realities are drifting apart, which makes it really hard to hold on to a connection."

"No, no, it was good," Rodney said absently. "We said what needed saying. Do you think it'll still work the next time we get homeworld leave?"

"Maybe," Daniel said, doubtfully. "We harvested the naquadah from Gou'ald blood, though. A bit hard to get more."

John shuddered. "Thank you for not showing us anything during the time we were not in your lab. If you don't have anything else to not share with us, I'm going to take Dr. McKay back to his apartment and get to work on this happily ever after business. I'm feeling competitive."

"I so did not want to know that," Daniel said. "Go on then." He grinned. "I'll send you a toaster."


The End
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