chelle

Atlantis

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Into This World Again

chelle

Title: Into This World Again

Author: chelle

Author's email: chelle@chelle.slashcity.org

Author's URL: http://chelle.slashcity.org/

Fandom: Atlantis

Archive: Ask first

Pairing: John/Rodney

Rating: NC 17

Notes: Written for Team Romance as part of McShep Match 2008 for the prompt of smoke and mirrors.

Summary: Rodney returns home and John finds things aren't the same.

Would he fly from heaven
To this world again
-Toad the Wet Sprocket

Rodney had been gone four months, three days, and fifteen hours when he finally stepped through the wormhole from the mid-way station into Atlantis.

Not that John had been counting.

Teyla was the first to hug him. Followed by Zelenka, whose hug had started out as a handshake. Ronon lifted Rodney off his feet.

Even Carter got into the act, hugging Rodney as tightly as the others had and a little too long for someone who was his boss.

John stood back and watched, and when Carter let go, his eyes met Rodney's. "Welcome back, Rodney," he said, hoping he only sounded choked to his own ears.

***

"Who are you?"

Rodney spun to look at her. A woman he'd never seen before stepped into the kitchen. She had a baby resting on her hip and her eyes were tight with a mixture of anger and fear.

"I'm Jeannie's brother Rodney. Is she here? She knew I was coming." He hadn't told her what time he'd be arriving, just the day.

Her eyes locked on him, the woman began backing toward one of the counters. Rodney could see a phone resting on it. "No one named Jeannie lives here."

"But—" Rodney looked around. It looked like Jeannie's kitchen, but the curtains were different, maybe, and there was a package of hamburger defrosting in the sink. "Is this 26 Sycamore?"

"Yes," the woman said warily.

"But Jeannie and Kaleb Miller don't live here?"

The woman shook her head and reached for the phone.

Holding up his hands, Rodney started for the door. "Clearly, I've made a mistake. I'll just be going now." He was out of the house before she could answer.

He had jogged across the lawn and out to the street before he turned and looked behind him. That was Jeannie's house. The Daedalus had beamed him down to the right coordinates.

Just not the right place.

Rodney shifted his weight from one foot to the other trying to stay warm as he waited for Jeannie to answer the door.

At least he hoped it'd be Jeannie. None of the numbers for the SGC had worked when he'd tried to call, but he'd found Jeannie McKay listed in the phone book. He'd been tempted to call, but his cell didn't work here, and he'd used up all his coins-- in the pay phone it had taken him nearly two hours to find-- trying to call the SGC.

The door opened. Jeannie looked much the same as she had the last time he'd seen her, even if this wasn't her house. "Hey," he said, smiling. "This is going to sound crazy, but--"

The door slammed shut.

He knocked again, louder. "Hey! Jeannie! It's me, Meredith!" His knuckles were sore by the time the door opened again.

"I don't know who you think you are," Jeannie said, "but this isn't funny."

Rodney gave her the only explanation he had, knowing it would make him sound insane. "I'm from another universe."

She stared at him for a long moment, then took a step back. "You'd better come in."

***

"What is it with you and other universes?" John asked as they headed for the mess. Carter was expecting a debrief, but not until tomorrow. Instead, she'd freed up Rodney to catch up with his team. Not for the first time, John was grateful that Carter got what it meant to be part of a gate team.

Radek had gone back to the lab, claiming he'd already had dinner. John knew that tomorrow he and Rodney would spend the entire day comparing notes.

Rodney shrugged.

John clapped him on the shoulder.

***

"Another universe," Jeannie said. She'd poured them each a drink, but now she was ignoring hers.

Rodney was busy taking in the differences. Jeannie's house was nothing like the one his Jeannie shared with Kaleb and Madison. That house felt like a home. This one felt more like one of Rodney's apartments with overstuffed bookshelves and scientific journals piled haphazardly on the coffee table.

"Yes. There was an accident with a teleporter, and--"

"Teleporter," Jeannie repeated.

"Yes, teleporter. Look, if you didn't believe me, why did you let me in?"

"My brother is dead," she said, shifting on the couch so that she was looking directly at him. "You look and sound just like him. Either you're a very carefully created impostor or you're telling the truth. I just don't know which is more improbable."

"I'm dead? How?"

"Car accident, four years ago."

"Car accident. A car accident? How could I die in something as pointless as a car accident?"

"Drunk driver. Ran a stop light, slammed into the driver's side of your car."

"I was killed by a drunk driver? That's just..." Rodney shook his head, trying to adjust to the sheer pointlessness of it all. "What about you? Where's Kaleb? Did you never meet him, or--?"

Jeannie frowned at him. "Kaleb Miller?''

Nodding, Rodney said, "In my universe you're married to him."

"Married?"

"You have a daughter, Madison. She's four. In Rod's universe, you have two boys as well."

"Rod's universe?"

"Another me. Obnoxious. Leather jacket. We met him when we were trying to create a power source that trapped zero point energy from another universe. Our experiment was destroying his universe so he came to tell us to stop it."

"Of course he did."

"Genes," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "That's how we made sure Rod was who he claimed to be. You must know a geneticist. Compare my genes to your Rodney's. Although they won't be exact because I was implanted with the ATA gene."

"ATA gene?"

"Ancient Technology Activation. It's a gene that lets you use Ancient tech."

"Ancient being?"

"The Ancients were an alien race that used to live on Earth. They built the stargates."

"Stargates. You do realize that you sound insane."

Rodney sighed. "Yes."

With a shake of her head, Jeannie rose from the couch and went over to a bookcase. Taking down a sealed vase, she turned toward Rodney. "We might be able to find enough genetic material for a comparison."

Rodney stood. "You had me cremated?"

"You were dead. You are dead. You--" Jeannie turned her head away.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said softly. He raised his hand to pat her shoulder. Then dropped it again, opening and closing his hand uselessly.

Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Jeannie said, "We'll go tomorrow."

"Okay," Rodney said. The other Rodney had been gone for four years, and Jeannie still missed him. It probably should have felt good, knowing the other him had been loved like that. It didn't. It didn't feel good at all.

***

"You know," Rodney said, picking up a dessert cup full of blue jello, "I didn't have any jello while I was gone."

"I find that hard to believe," John said.

"It's not as much fun when you have to make it yourself," Rodney said, sliding his tray along the serving line.

"It's not that hard," Ronon said from the other side of Rodney.

"How would you know?" Rodney said.

"Made it a couple of times."

Rodney turned toward John, who shrugged. Rodney grinned, and John felt something inside him finally start to relax.

He followed Rodney to their customary table, and the four of them settled around it. Rodney focused on his dinner, and John let him, wondering what else Rodney hadn't eaten while he was gone, other than the stuff they could get only in Pegasus. Meatloaf maybe. "You ate a lot of pizza, didn't you?" John asked.

Rodney nodded. "And take out Chinese."

"General Tso?"

"Yup."

***

"I believe you," Jeannie said, looking at Rodney over a piece of pepperoni pizza. The lack of tofu was the one advantage this universe seemed to have.

"You do?" Not that there wasn't any reason she shouldn't believe him, because he was telling the truth. But Jeannie was a scientist, like him, and her geneticist friend wouldn't have the results for another two days.

"Your imagination was never that good."

"Hey!"

"Aliens evolved from bugs and people that age you as they suck the life from you with their hands. Amish people with underground nuclear bunkers. Whales that aren't whales which send telepathic messages."

She had a point. "It all happened," Rodney said.

"I'm sure it did. The question now is, how do we get you back. Assuming you want to go back."

"I want to go home," Rodney said. He missed his work. He missed mess hall food. He missed Radek and his team. He missed John.

Jeannie nodded, but there was something in her eyes that made Rodney ask, "What was he like, your me? Were you close?"

"I worked in his lab at the university. We fought, the way only siblings can, but I always knew he loved me."

Rodney thought of his own Jeannie, of the time they'd wasted, the time he'd wasted. "That's good. That's really, really good."

"Not that you –he- couldn't be an arrogant prick sometimes."

"Jeannie's called me a lot of things over the years, but I don't think she's ever called me that."

"Are you close?" Jeannie asked.

"We are now. When her daughter was born she decided to stay home to raise her. I was angry. I didn't see why if one of them had to stay home it couldn't be Kaleb. He's a literature professor, it's not as if he might fail to make an earth-changing discovery because he's home changing diapers."

Jeannie smiled and Rodney got the feeling that she might actually agree with him, which made him feel a little hollow inside.

"Kaleb, you know him, don't you?" Rodney asked.

"We dated. It didn't work out."

"How come?"

Jeannie rose and scraped the remains of her pizza into the disposal. "You died. I didn't cope very well. He wanted to comfort me, but all I wanted to do was finish your work on quantum criticality."

"Did you?"

"You want to see the paper?"

"Of course I do."



"It's very good, brilliant, in fact," Rodney said, putting the journal down on the coffee table. "Obviously, we were a good team."

Jeannie was sitting in the chair closest to the couch, feet curled under her. "Yes, we were."

"I know it didn't work out with Kaleb, but is there someone else?"

She shook her head. "There isn't really time."

"You should make time. Other people matter. You can't do it all alone."

Rodney had hoped she'd understand, but all he could see in her face was sorrow. "You really aren't him," she said in a tone that made Rodney ache for her.

"No," Rodney said, because there wasn't anything else he could say.

"Is she happy? Your Jeannie?"

"I think so. She's started working again, helping me out on projects. She even came to Atlantis once. She loves her little girl, and Kaleb, even though he's a vegetarian, and a literature professor."

"The literature professor part really bothers you, doesn't it?"

"Not as much as the tofu."

Jeannie laughed.

"The first time I had dinner there, he served tofurkey."

***

Rodney ate quickly, just like always, but didn't seem inclined to leave the mess. Which was just as well since people kept coming up to welcome him home. Lorne and Miller were first, followed by what seemed to be the entire science staff, approaching in ones and twos.

Rodney surprised John by smiling at them all as though he'd genuinely missed them. Maybe he had.

John couldn't imagine what it would be like to be stuck in another universe, alone, without Rodney. Of course, Rodney had met another him, which was just too weird to contemplate.

***

"I found a mathematician, someone who might be able to help us," Jeannie said.

Rodney tucked the phone against his ear and opened the fridge. Jeannie's call was as good a reason as any to take a break. She usually called between classes. Classes full of undergraduates. The very thought made Rodney shudder.

"Don't eat all the chicken. Save some for dinner," Jeannie said.

For a moment, Rodney wondered how she knew he was eating. Then he pushed the thought aside. "Who is he and is he any good?" Rodney asked, piling two of the remaining six pieces of fried chicken onto a plate.

"He published a very interesting paper in The International Journal of Mathematics on multiple universes a few months ago. He's a tenured professor at UC Santa Cruz."

"Santa Cruz? What's a mathematician doing at Santa Cruz?"

"I'm sure they teach math there, too, Rodney."

"How good can he be if he's at Santa Cruz?"

"Just pack your bag. I booked us two seats on a red eye."

"Fine." Rodney knew he shouldn't be cranky. After all, Jeannie had been supporting him for nearly two weeks while trying to help him find a way home and still handling a full teaching load. Now that they'd hit a wall, she had found someone who might be able to help, and she was willing to pay for the flight. He softened his tone. "I'll see you in a few hours, and I won't eat all the chicken." He wasn't making any promises about the left over mashed potatoes, though.

"See you in a few hours."

"Bye." Rodney hung up the phone and glared down at the equations covering Jeannie's table. Santa Cruz. John would probably love it. If he wasn't in an entirely different universe.

***

The mess was empty, everyone else finally having given up. It was late enough that the moon had risen. Not quite ready to let Rodney go, John had offered to get them both coffee.

He counted out the four teaspoonfuls of sugar that Rodney preferred, though he'd drink it black if he had to, and carried the cups back to the table.

"So, what was I like?" John asked, sitting and picking up his cup.

***

Jeannie parked the rental in front of a small wooden bungalow. "Kind of small for a tenured professor," Rodney said.

"Do you have any idea what housing prices are like this close to the ocean?" Jeannie answered, opening the driver's side door.

Rodney didn't, and he didn't really care to, but he got out of the car anyway and followed her up the steps.

The man who opened the door was wearing khaki shorts that came to his knees and a black t-shirt. Jeannie immediately held out her hand. "I'm Jeannie McKay. We spoke on the phone. This is--" She turned toward Rodney, but before she could introduce him, Rodney cut her off.

"Why aren't you in the Air Force?"

John Sheppard, this universe's John Sheppard, turned to look at him. "How did you know about that?"

"Because in my universe, you're a lieutenant colonel."

Sheppard's eyebrows were apparently just as mobile in this universe, because they went up, way up. "Your universe."

"This is my brother Rodney," Jeannie said. "Except he's not really my brother; my brother died four years ago. He's another version of my brother."

"From another universe," Sheppard said.

Jeannie nodded.

"So," Sheppard cocked his head slightly and looked Rodney up and down. "I guess that makes you the brother from another universe."

"Oh, very funny." Rodney said. He tried to sound snide, but found himself smiling instead.

He'd found John.

***

"You were a lot like you, only not military," Rodney said.

John frowned. He couldn't imagine not being in the military, who he'd be if he wasn't a pilot.

"He looked like you, and he laughed like you. Only..." Rodney paused, and for a moment John wasn't sure if he was going to continue. "He laughed a lot more often."

That made sense, so John simply nodded.

***

Rodney watched impatiently while Sheppard poured them each a glass of ice tea from a tall blue pitcher that didn't quite match the glasses. They were sitting around a wooden table under a big green umbrella on the patio in Sheppard's backyard.

Rodney tried to imagine his Sheppard in a place like this, was startled when it wasn't hard to picture at all.

"Why aren't you in the Air Force?" Rodney asked as Sheppard finished distributing the glasses and sat in the chair opposite Rodney's.

"That's a little personal, don't you think?" Sheppard took a sip of iced tea.

"In another universe, I've seen you naked. Okay, half-naked. So, no, I don't think it's too personal a question."

Sheppard laughed. "Which half?"

"The—" Rodney gestured at John's chest. "Top half."

"So because you saw another me in another universe without his shirt on, you want me to tell you why I didn't join the Air Force."

"Yes."

Sheppard tilted his head to the side, his smile just this side of sly. "I'm gay."

***

"There were some differences, obviously," Rodney said, waving his hand dismissively.

"Like what?"

Rodney's gaze shifted away from John's face. "Little things. He often rests his foot on his knee when he sits, and his chess game isn't as good as yours, and he doesn't like Back to the Future."

"You brainwashed him, didn't you?" John said. How could anyone who wasn't Rodney not like a time-traveling DeLorean?

"I didn't brainwash him. He just doesn't like it. As fascinating as it is to compare Sheppards, I'd really like to get some sleep. So--" Rodney rose from his seat.

"Sure," John said, standing as well.

They left the mess together. Rodney brushed the wall with the back of his hand as they walked. John kept quiet, letting him enjoy being back in Atlantis.

Enjoying having Rodney back in Atlantis.

They reached Rodney's quarters and John followed him in. Rodney had picked up a picture of Jeannie with Kaleb and Madison, and was rubbing the edge of it with his thumb. "Everything's the same as when you left," John said. "When we got word you were coming back, Teyla and I came in and dusted, changed the sheets."

"Thanks." Rodney looked up from the picture.

"Look, I just..." Unable to find the words, John just looked, let himself drink in the reality of Rodney rumpled and tired and just a few feet away. "I'm glad you're back," he said at last.

"Yeah," Rodney said, putting the photograph down, "Me too."

***

Gay. This Sheppard was gay. And looking at Rodney expectantly. "Oh, well, that would explain it, I guess," Rodney said, then took a drink of his tea.

"Yup." Sheppard leaned back in his chair, an odd sort of challenge in his eyes.

Oh, great, Rodney was going to have to learn another set of obtuse Sheppard facial expressions. "I suppose you still have women throwing themselves at you."

Sheppard gave him the maddening grin.

"You," Rodney said, pointing at him. "Are a flirt."

If anything Sheppard's grin got even more maddening.

"Maybe," Jeannie said, glancing between them, "we should tell you why we're here."

"You want my help, probably with the mathematics necessary to figure out how to get Rodney here back to his own universe."

"Duh," Rodney said, and Jeannie kicked him under the table.

***

John walked back to his quarters smiling the entire way. For the first time in months he was looking forward to going to bed, because for the first time in months he wasn't going to be lying awake wondering if Rodney was alive or dead, if he needed John's help, if he was ever going to find his way home.

For the first time in months John slept like he didn't have a care in the universe.

***

"I fly spaceships," Sheppard said, sounding just like Rodney imagined his Sheppard would, if he'd just been told he flew spaceships.

Shaking his head at the weirdness of the thought, Rodney said, "I fly them, too." For some reason he added, "I'm not as good at it as you are."

"I have a pilot's license. I can fly planes, small ones anyway, but spaceships..."

"You fly a lot of things, helicopters, fighters, X-302s, those are fighters the SGC built by reverse engineering some alien tech and combining it with what we already had."

"And alien ships built by Ancients," Sheppard said.

Rodney nodded.

Sheppard grinned and for a moment Rodney felt like he was home. "Tell me the truth, do you really know how this wormhole thing works?"

Rodney folded his arms and glared at him. Sheppard merely picked up his beer and took a drink. They were sitting around Sheppard's small kitchen table, which was still cluttered with the remains of dinner. Sheppard had grilled steaks, and now that Rodney knew Sheppard knew his way around a grill, he was seriously considering buying John one for Christmas.

"Of course I know how wormholes work, but that doesn't matter, because I didn't get here via wormhole."

"Right," Sheppard said. "You were teleported here by a teleporter."

"Teleporting people is what a teleporter does, yes."

Sheppard nodded, but his expression had turned inward. "So how are we going to find your universe, and once we do, how are we going to send you back?"

"I have a transponder in my arm. Once we find my universe, we'll simply boost the signal."

Sheppard's eyebrows went straight up. "And send the signal into another universe."

"Precisely," Rodney said, pleased that he'd caught on. "They'll pick it up and teleport me back."

Sheppard shook his head, as if it was a crazy idea and he hadn't just suggested it himself.

"It's entirely possible," Rodney said. "The teleporter error that sent me here will have weakened the boundary between the universes."

"You think."

"Yes, fine. It's what I think, but given that I am sitting in your living room in a universe in which I am supposed to be dead, what I think is most likely right."

Sheppard shrugged. "I didn't say it wasn't." He smiled at Jeannie. "So, do you two want to stay here tonight?"



Despite his protests about his back, Jeannie ended up in the guest room while Rodney got the couch. It was long, long enough for Sheppard to lay down on it without his feet hanging off, and it was surprisingly comfortable. More comfortable than the guest bed at Jeannie's, actually.

Still, Rodney shifted from his side onto his back and then onto his other side.

He'd found John, or rather Jeannie had found John. Except he wasn't John. He wasn't even in the Air Force. He was a mathematician, a gay mathematician. He didn't do any of the things John did.

It was crazy for Rodney to feel better just because he'd found another John Sheppard, but he did.

Not for the first time, he wondered what his John was doing, if he was safe in his bed or out fighting the bad guys, maybe doing some work. Or getting beaten up by Ronon.

Rodney didn't get that. Yeah, sure, okay, John needed to practice, but Ronon beat him every single time and yet John still sparred with him.

John was weird.

Rodney ached inside every time he thought of him.

***

"Hey, Rodney, you want to get some lunch?"

Rodney looked up from the laptop he and Zelenka were bent over. It wasn't any wonder that Rodney needed a prescription mattress with his posture. Rodney waved a sandwich at him, and John sighed.

"Dinner?" he asked.

"Sure," Rodney said, shifting his attention back to the laptop.

***

"We should get ready to go. Our flight leaves in two hours," Jeannie said.

Leaning back in his chair, Rodney rubbed his eyes. They'd made some real progress, but they were nowhere near finding his universe, let alone being able to target a message to it.

Sheppard glanced from Jeannie to Rodney. "Look, I'm on sabbatical so I've got some free time. You could stay here for a few days, and we could keep working on it."

"I have classes to teach in the morning," Jeannie said.

"I don't," Rodney said, torn. He wanted to spend time with Jeannie. He liked being around her, and he was pretty sure she was lonely. But he wanted to go home, and he and Sheppard were on to something.

"We can change your ticket when we get to the airport," Jeannie said.

Jeannie really was the best sister ever, both of them were.



"Here," Sheppard said, drawing a line through Rodney's equation and writing a new, slightly varied one beneath it.

"That's..." Rodney studied the equation. "A really good idea."

"Thank you. And with that I think we've earned a break, maybe some lunch."

"A break?" Rodney protested, watching Sheppard rise from his seat at the kitchen table and open the refrigerator. "We've only been at it for--" He looked at the clock. They'd gotten up early and gone straight to work, and now the afternoon was half gone. "Six hours."

Sheppard was piling packages of cold cuts on the counter next to the refrigerator.

"I could go for a sandwich," Rodney said.



"So," Sheppard said, putting down his sandwich and picking up his lemonade. "How many times have you seen the other me naked?"

"It was half-naked and once."

"Uh-huh."

"We're friends. Straight friends." Rodney had no idea why Sheppard's implication that they might be something else bothered him.

"I'm sure you are." There was a teasing note in Sheppard's voice that reminded Rodney of his John. "You talk about him a lot."

"He's my best friend." Maybe Sheppard had a point. There hadn't really been any reason to tell Sheppard about John's attempts to order turkey sandwiches from Ancient equipment in the vain hope of finding a food replicator while they were making lunch. Uncomfortable with the thought that he talked about John for no discernible reason, Rodney said, "So how did you end up gay?"

"I like penises."

"You like penises."

"That is pretty much the definition of being a gay man, Rodney."

"Now you're being tautological."

"How did you decide to become straight?" Sheppard asked.

"I didn't become straight. I've just always liked women. Preferably blond women with short hair and nice breasts."

Sheppard raised his eyebrows and did that little head tilt thing. Another expression the two Sheppards had in common.

"Fine, fine, I get your point. It wasn't something you decided."

"It kind of was," Sheppard said. "I've had sex with women. It was nice. But sex with men is better."

"Better how?" Rodney asked, because he honestly wanted to know. Two men, same DNA, different universes, one gay and one straight. That pretty much blew the idea that sexual preference was primarily genetic out of the water as far as Rodney was concerned. Unless his John was secretly gay, which Rodney was pretty sure he wasn't.

"Well, there's the penises," Sheppard said.

But then he leaned back in his chair and his expression shifted from teasing to thoughtful. "I guess I just connect with men better. I like women. I have female friends, but the people I've been most drawn to, intellectually, emotionally, physically have all been men."

"I have terrible relationships with women," Rodney confessed. "I love women's bodies; they're soft and curvy and I like the way women smell, the way they taste. But I just don't get the things that are important to them." Remembering how things had been with Katie, Rodney said, "They make me nervous. I have to be on my best behavior. I can't just be me. Which, okay, I can be petty and not terribly nice, and for a long time I put my work ahead of everything else. But, still--"

Sheppard nodded. "I could never be myself with women either."

"Really?"

"I think it's the face. With the way I look women always seemed to expect me to be a certain way, and when I wasn't it caused problems."

"How did they expect you to be?" Rodney asked, genuinely curious.

"Cool."

"You are cool."

"I have a model of Darth Vader's head in my living room."

"Yes, and?"

Sheppard laughed. "No wonder you and the other me are friends."

Unexpectedly warmed by Sheppard's comment, Rodney said, "Was that every season of Babylon 5 I saw on your shelf?"

***

Rodney didn't show for dinner. Teyla suggested that he was probably working, and John knew she was right.

That didn't make him feel any better.

***

Rodney felt bad about living with someone when he didn't have any money to pay for his share of the expenses. He wouldn't have felt bad if it had been his Sheppard he was living with, but this wasn't his Sheppard, so Rodney got up early and cleaned the bathroom.

He was rinsing cleanser from the sides of the bathtub when Sheppard walked in. "My tub not clean enough for you, McKay?"

Rodney jumped, then he glared at Sheppard over his shoulder. "What?"

"The tub," Sheppard said, pointing at where Rodney was rinsing.

"I just wanted to help out. My bank account is kind of tough access, since it's in another universe, and you've fed me and given me a place to stay. It seemed like I should do something."

"Cool," Sheppard said, scratching his stomach. Didn't the man have any t-shirts that actually fit instead of stretching tight across his chest? He was still in his boxers and you were supposed to wear loose, over-sized t-shirts with boxers. Rodney was pretty sure it was a rule. "My car needs to be washed, and vacuumed, if you're looking for something else to do."

Rodney threw a wet sponge at him.



It didn't take him long to finish the tub, and he walked into the kitchen just as Sheppard was sprinkling shredded cheese over an omelet full of chopped ham, onions and peppers. Rodney leaned over Sheppard's shoulder and inhaled. "If I can't go home, I'm marrying you."

"You'll have to court me first."

"I can do that," Rodney said. For food this good, he could do just about anything.



"Come on, Rodney," Sheppard said. He had Rodney's sneakers in his hand and he nudged Rodney's thigh with them.

"Working," Rodney said. He'd let Sheppard clean up from breakfast. After all, he'd cleaned the bathroom while Sheppard was still in bed.

"Put on your shoes."

"Why?" Rodney said, turning to look at him.

Sheppard was standing next to him wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt that was practically sheer, and looked way too soft. "We're going for a walk."

"Why would I want to go for a walk?"

"Because you've been here for two weeks and all you've done is work."

"I need to finish this." It wasn't as if Rodney was working on a paper; he was trying to find his way home.

"I know, but you also need to give your brain a rest and your body some exercise. Come on. It'll be good for you."

Rodney sighed. He'd only known this Sheppard for a couple of weeks, but he knew him well enough to know that when he was determined to get his way, he'd get it. Just like John. "Fine," he muttered, taking the shoes.

***

"Want to play some golf later?" John asked. He knew he'd never get Rodney out on a real course, but virtual golf was its own kind of fun, and it was John's day off.

Rodney shook his head. "Can't," he said, dipping his spoon into his oatmeal. "Too much to do."

"Okay," John said, but it didn't feel okay. It didn't feel okay at all.

***

"We are not going to the surfing museum," Rodney said as John locked and closed his front door.

"But, Rodney, it's educational," John said, heading down the steps, Rodney beside him.

Rodney snorted.

"It has exhibits on the entire history of surfing in California. Without surfing, there'd be no Beach Boys. And without the Beach Boys there'd be no--"

"Surf music?" Rodney said.

Sheppard laughed. That strange, honking laugh both Sheppards had. Rodney wondered if anyone was making his John laugh, now that he wasn't there. That thought wouldn't get him anywhere so he shoved it aside.

"So how many real universities did you turn down so you could come here and surf?" Rodney asked.

"UCSC is a real university. It was modeled on Oxford, you know."

"The key word being 'modeled.'"

They'd reached the sidewalk and Sheppard nudged Rodney with his elbow. "Come on, Rodney, let's go have some fun."



"An amusement park, I should've known." Rodney could hear the screams and they weren't even close to the entrance yet.

"The boardwalk isn't just any old amusement park. It's a landmark."

"Uh-huh."

"It'll be fun," Sheppard said, bumping Rodney's shoulder with his own. "Just the thing to take your mind off your troubles."

"I don't have troubles, unless you count being trapped in another universe where I'm technically dead."

Sheppard grinned and wiggled his eyebrows, and Rodney knew he was doomed.



"We beat 'em," Rodney said, smiling so broadly he could feel it stretch his face.

"Yup," Sheppard said, smiling back.

They'd been in line for laser tag when the boasting of the teenagers behind them had gotten on Rodney's nerves, and he'd challenged them to a little war, two-on-two. He and Sheppard had kicked their butts.

"How'd you get so good, anyway?" Sheppard asked.

"After the mouse, I spent a lot of time on the firing range."

"Mouse?" Sheppard asked, removing his vest and handing his gun to the guy behind the counter.

Rodney didn't answer until they were outside. Blinking against the reflection of the sun off the water, he said, "It was a rescue mission. I heard something, so I turned and fired. It was a mouse."

"At least it wasn't someone from your side."

"I was edgy," Rodney said, because it wasn't as if there hadn't been extenuating circumstances. "You were... John was... We'd gone in to rescue John."

"And you did," Sheppard said.

"Kind of. He pretty much rescued himself, which is typical. He had help from a wraith, although the wraith had actually fed on him while he was tied to a chair, completely helpless. The guy who'd captured him? He sent us live video. We got to watch as that thing sucked John's life away." Rodney could see it, even without closing his eyes, John bound, the life draining from him.

"It didn't kill him," Sheppard said quietly, sounding less convinced that the other him had come out okay.

"No. It was a prisoner, too. After they escaped together it gave John his life back."

"All's well that ends well," Sheppard said, squeezing his shoulder.

"Yeah," Rodney said, giving himself a mental shake. "Want to get something to eat? All that running around made me hungry."

"Sure." Sheppard dropped his hand, and Rodney's shoulder suddenly felt cold.

***

"Come on, Rodney, just a little break," John wheedled. "I'm bored."

"So go fly a kite, that's what my mother used to tell me to do."

"Did you?"

"Actually, I built several. I was testing some theories about aerodynamics."

"We can build one together," John suggested.

"Fine. I'll play one game of chess with you." Rodney held up his finger. "One."

"You say that now, but you know you'll ask for a rematch after I kick your ass."

"In your dreams," Rodney said, leaving his work and following John from the lab.

***

"What is it with Sheppards and rides?"

"The Great Dipper isn't just any ride."

"It's a landmark. Yes, yes, I saw the sign."

"It opened in 1924," Sheppard said, watching as a train full of screaming people came careening down the lift hill.

"It's 84 years old. It's due for a break down."

"You live in a city that's more than ten thousand years old."

"Yes, well, they had better engineers."

But Rodney was just going through the motions, and he knew it. In the end Sheppard would smile at him, and even with Sheppard's eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, Rodney would give in.

It didn't matter the universe, Rodney had few defenses against a smiling Sheppard.

***

"Good game," Rodney said, pushing himself away from the table.

"Want to go again?" John had won and Rodney never walked away from the table after losing, not if he could demand a rematch.

"Can't. There's work." Rodney pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "In the lab. And I should really get back to it. I'll see you later."

Rodney practically ran from the mess, leaving John staring after him.

***

"Hold still," Sheppard said, brushing the side of Rodney's mouth with his thumb.

The unexpected touch sent a shock straight through him, and Rodney held still as Sheppard held his thumb out for Rodney to inspect.

"Mustard." Sheppard raised his thumb to his mouth. He slid the thumb free, a slow smile spreading across his face.

Realizing he was staring, Rodney jerked his gaze away, looking out over the bay. It looked nothing like the Atlantis ocean. The city was floating in deep water, which was completely different from the soft blue of the coast. Rodney wished they'd brought some binoculars so he could see farther out, maybe catch sight of some whales. "When do the whales migrate?"

"The grays come through in winter, late December, early January. The humpbacks are usually here in May."

Rodney nodded. He'd missed them both then. Even with his Moby Dick issues, he would have liked to have seen them.

Sheppard crumpled the paper his hot dog had been wrapped in and settled a little closer, his shoulder pressed against Rodney's. There was plenty of room on the bench. Sheppard didn't need to sit so close.

Rodney could have shifted away, but he didn't.



"So what's the attraction?" Rodney asked, as they watched a surfer being propelled toward shore by the force of the water behind him.

"Partly it's the challenge. It's hard to catch a wave just right. It takes skill, timing, practice, but when you do it's like nothing else. The water just carries you along. A raw force of nature, something that can wear down continents, and you're riding it. It's pure freedom," John said, staring out at the ocean, sounding almost pensive.

Wanting to be free, to be swept up in a force that he couldn't control, could only balance on, that was John Sheppard, all right.

"I started surfing after my parents split. My mother moved to California. Dave and I would come out during the summers."

Rodney wondered if that had happened to his John, too. "How come you didn't stay with her all the time?"

"My father had better lawyers."

"John, my John, almost never talks about his family. I know he and his father didn't have the best relationship."

"No, I don't imagine they would have," Sheppard said, looking out at the rolling waves. "My father hated the idea of me going into the Air Force. When I came out, it was the one thing he was pleased about. No more Air Force, except it meant his eldest was queer and wouldn't be carrying on the Sheppard name. I was already refusing to carry on the Sheppard business."

"He didn't support you?" From what little Rodney knew of John's father, he had no reason to believe Sheppard senior would have been supportive, but he hated the idea of anyone being rejected for being gay, especially John, Sheppard, both of them.

"He told me to use condoms and get a job with good health insurance."

"Lovely," Rodney said.

"He was a lovely guy."

"No, he wasn't," Rodney said. "But you are."

Sheppard brushed the back of Rodney's hand with his own. Rodney didn't know if it was an accident or on purpose, but it happened a couple more times as they walked along the beach, watching the sunset.

***

Looking over his shoulder to make certain that no one was within earshot, and that Rodney hadn't arrived in the mess while John wasn't looking, John leaned toward his teammates, seated on the other side of the table. "Do you think Rodney's been acting a little weird since he got back?"

"McKay's always weird," Ronon said.

Teyla gave Ronon a look, and then turned her attention to John. "In what way do you believe he is being weird?"

John shrugged. "He's always in his lab. He never wants to hang out. Every time I try to spend time with him, he has something else to do."

"He was away for a long time," Teyla said.

John leaned back in his chair. She was right. Rodney was probably trying to just catch up on his work. Heaven forbid Zelenka might know something Rodney didn't, but John couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else going on.

"Or maybe it's you," Ronon said, fingers digging into the peel on his orange.

Teyla shot him another look.

"Maybe it was the other me," John said, pointing at Ronon as the pieces clicked into place. "Maybe he was a jerk." John knew he wasn't always the nicest guy in the world, and who knew what some beach bum mathematician John Sheppard had been like.

"Who's a jerk?" Rodney asked, taking the seat next to John's and picking up his fork.

"The other me," John said.

"What?" Rodney asked, a forkful of scrambled eggs an inch from his mouth.

"The John Sheppard from the other universe, he was a jerk, right? That's why you've been avoiding me."

"First of all, why would I avoid you if he was a jerk? Secondly, he wasn't a jerk. And third, I haven't been avoiding you. I'm just busy." Rodney spoke without meeting his eyes, and John knew he was lying. He just didn't know which part was the lie.

***

Rodney woke to a smell that was suspiciously close to bacon. Rolling from the bed, he followed his nose into the kitchen where Sheppard was standing at the stove, wearing nothing but a pair of worn blue boxers.

Rodney stopped in the doorway and just stared. Sheppard's shoulders looked broader from the back. The tapered line from his shoulders to his waist was, well, elegant was the word that came to mind.

His skin was a rich golden color, and Rodney could see the play of muscles in his back as he lifted a pair of tongs to flip the bacon.

Sheppard looked over his shoulder at Rodney and smiled. "'Bout time you got up."

"I was tired." Crossing to the counter, Rodney pulled a mug down from the shelf and reached for the coffee pot just as Sheppard leaned past him to reach for the toaster.

For just a moment, Sheppard was pressed against him, warm and smelling of breakfast.

It was possible that Rodney may have pressed back.

***

He'd thought about it all afternoon, how to get Rodney to admit that he'd been lying at lunch and tell John exactly what he'd been lying about. Maybe Rodney had a good reason for whatever he was trying to hide. Maybe it was none of John's business.

Whatever it was, it was keeping Rodney away from him, and that made it John's business.

At least he thought it did.

Rodney was in his lab, hunched over his laptop, his entire body saying, 'go away now.' This time John wasn't going to go away.

Drawing in a deep breath, he approached Rodney's lab bench, determined not to be deterred. When Rodney looked up at him and said, "Working," John placed his hands on his hips, and said, "Tell me why you're avoiding me."

"I'm not avoiding you. I'm working. Why would I avoid you?" Rodney didn't look up as he answered.

There were at least a dozen answers John could give, but he settled on, "Just tell me what I did, so I can apologize and we can get back to normal."

It must've been the right thing to say, because Rodney actually looked at him. "You didn't do anything."

Dropping his hands from his hips, John took a step closer to the table. "Rodney."

"It's not your fault. It's nothing you can fix. I just need some time." Rodney made a shooing motion with his hand as if that would be enough to make John go away.

"Time for what?"

Once again focused on his laptop, Rodney shook his head. "Nothing. Coming home, it takes a little getting used to, that's all."

"You aren't having trouble getting used to Radek, or Teyla, or Ronon. Just me. If I didn't do something then he did."

"He didn't do..." Rodney stopped. "He didn't hurt me. We were friends. He even told me about why he likes to surf, his father, lots of things."

Things John didn't usually talk about; things Rodney apparently wanted to know about, even though he'd never said he wanted to know. "You liked him."

"Yes, I liked him. Now go away." Rodney made a shooing motion with his hands.

If Rodney had been friends with the other him, why didn't he want to be around John? "What aren't you telling me?"

"Did it ever occur to you that there are parts of my life that are none of your business?"

"No," John said. He crossed his arms. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me."

Rodney looked up at him, and John, who thought he'd seen every possible emotion on Rodney's expressive face, realized he hadn't. He'd seen Rodney grieve, but he'd never seen loss in Rodney's eyes before, not like this. "He was gay," Rodney said, his voice steady and low, too steady.

The other him was gay. Rodney had liked the other him, and could barely stand to look at John... "You slept with him."

"Yes."

It felt like the hardest punch John had ever taken, that one word. Yes. Yes, Rodney had had sex with another John Sheppard. Yes, Rodney had been naked with him, kissed him, touched him, been touched in return.

John could picture it, Rodney's face turned up for a kiss, the delight in his expression.

The affection in his eyes.

Turning around, John walked away. He didn't stop until he was back in his quarters where he leaned against the wall, breathing hard.

***

"Can I kiss you?"

Rodney froze, a handful of popcorn halfway to his mouth, and turned from the screen, where Sheldon was saying something that was meant to be outrageous but would undoubtedly make perfect sense to Rodney, to look at Sheppard. "You? Really?"

Sheppard nodded.

Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise. He knew Sheppard liked men, and they'd been in and out of each other's space for the last couple of days, ever since their afternoon off, and maybe Rodney had stared at Sheppard's bare chest over breakfast.

"Breathe, Rodney."

Rodney sucked in a breath and dropped the popcorn back into the nearly empty bowl. Leaning down, he placed it on the floor next to the couch and brushed his hands together trying to clean them of salt. Darting his tongue around his teeth, he searched for any stray bits of popcorn that might've gotten stuck. "Okay."

The corners of Sheppard's lips curled up just a little. It was a soft smile, one he didn't think he'd seen on either Sheppard before. "I didn't think you'd say 'yes.'"

"Well, I did, so you should--" Rodney gestured between them. His heart was starting to pound and Sheppard-- John-- if they were kissing Rodney should probably think of him as John, except John was his John-- should do this before Rodney chickened out.

John leaned toward him. Rodney held his breath until John's lips brushed his, a soft, not-quite-teasing kiss that was over far too soon.

Focused on the fleeting trace of the kiss, Rodney kept his eyes closed.

"Rodney?"

Opening his eyes, Rodney smiled. "Can I kiss you?"

Shrugging a single shoulder, John ducked his head. "Sure."

Resting a hand on John's cheek, Rodney brushed John's lips with his thumb. They were curvy and soft, and Rodney couldn't believe he'd never noticed how curvy they were until now. Drawing in a breath, he pressed his lips to John's.

John pressed back and shifted closer, one arm going around Rodney's neck.

Neither of them bothered to ask permission for the next kiss.

Or the one after that.



The kisses got deeper and wilder until they weren't just kissing anymore, they were touching. Rodney had no idea how he'd gotten his hands under John's shirt, or managed to lose his own entirely, and he really didn't care.

John was stretched out on top of him, his erection rubbing Rodney's through their jeans.

Rodney kissed his way along the side of John's neck, tasting his skin, lingering when he felt John's breath hitch.

With his hands he stroked John's back, drinking in the feel of warm, smooth skin and shifting muscle.

"Knew you'd be good at this," John whispered.

Rodney didn't feel good at it. He felt overwhelmed, in way over his head, but completely unwilling to stop. Searching for something to say, he drew back far enough so he could see John's face. Before he could find the words, any words, John kissed him again.

John's kisses stopped his breath, stopped his brain, made him want to spread his legs, made him want to flip John onto his back, strip off his clothes, do whatever John would let him.

As big as John's couch was, it wasn't quite big enough for that. "Can we... Maybe we should..." Rodney suggested.

"Maybe we should what?" John asked in a tone that would have made Rodney's cock stand up and take notice if it hadn't already been trying to force its way out of Rodney's jeans.

Rodney swallowed. "Go into the bedroom."

John smiled, and there wasn't anything sexual in it. Nothing dirty or lascivious, or even suggestive. Rodney was pretty sure it was the most erotic smile he'd ever seen. "Okay."

Pushing himself up and off of the couch, John stood and held out a hand.

Rodney looked at it for a moment before placing his hand in John's and allowing himself to be tugged to his feet.

John didn't let go, even after Rodney was standing. So Rodney let himself be led by the hand into John's bedroom.

Even though he'd been living at John's for more than two weeks, Rodney had only gotten peeks inside John's room. He didn't look around now. He had better things to look at, like John pulling his own t-shirt off and dropping it to the floor, like John's hand sliding down the center of Rodney's chest, and John's mouth before it came to rest against his.

Rodney kissed John as if there was something missing deep inside him that John's lips could somehow fill. It caught him off guard, this hungry need, but he didn't back away from it, he simply slid his arms around John's shoulders and pulled him closer, groaning at the feel of John's naked chest against his.

He groaned again when John worked a hand in between them and undid the button on Rodney's jeans.

John lowered Rodney's zipper and Rodney shuddered when John cupped him through his boxers.

Not wanting John to get too far ahead of him, he tugged on John's jeans, surprised when the buttons came free with just a couple of tugs. John's cock was right there, pushing forward, tenting John's boxers.

Rodney closed his hand around it, thinking the heat might burn his palm.

It didn't.

He kissed John again, sliding his other hand down to the small of John's back, urging him closer.

"This might be easier on the bed," John whispered. "And with fewer clothes."

"Right." The bed, fewer clothes, that was why he'd suggested coming in here in the first place. But to get on the bed he'd have to let go of John's cock. Of course if he did that, he'd be able to touch John without the boxers in the way, and that would be good.

John released his cock and tugged Rodney's jeans down past his hips. Then John eased his boxers down, careful not to catch the elastic on Rodney's cock. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Rodney pulled his pants and boxers the rest of the way off.

Reaching out, he took John's hand and pulled him closer, until John was standing between his legs. Taking hold of John's jeans and boxers, Rodney pushed them toward the floor. John helped, and between them they had John standing naked in front of him in no time.

He was gorgeous, lean and muscular. Even the hair was attractive. As was John's cock which was standing straight out, clearly looking to be touched. So Rodney slid his fingers along it lightly, experimentally. John smiled at him, warm and pleased, so Rodney did it again.

John kissed him, easing Rodney back onto the bed. Rodney went, not releasing John's mouth even as he wiggled up into the center of the bed.

Unable to get enough of the way John tasted, Rodney slid his hand into John's hair, holding him still as Rodney kissed him again and again.

A small, tiny part of his brain wondered if his John would ever let Rodney do this, would ever stretch out naked beside him and let Rodney kiss, let Rodney slide his hands over all the skin he could reach.

John drew back, lifting himself up on his hands and looking down, not just at Rodney, but between them, at Rodney in all his naked glory.

Rodney resisted the urge to cover himself with his hands.

"You're hot. Really, really hot," John said.

"Really?" Rodney asked, flushing with pleasure, even as he considered the possibility that John just might be a little deranged.

"Broad shoulders, strong arms, nice, solid cock." John's fingers closed around Rodney's cock as he spoke. "Fantastic ass. You're definitely hot."

"Huh." Realizing how that sounded, Rodney added, "Not that I, I mean I always knew that I was handsome. Women certainly seemed to think so, but hot, well, that's--" John's broadening smile made him stutter to a halt, ready to defend himself with all manner of verbal evisceration.

Except he didn't need to. There was amusement in John's smile, but it wasn't mocking. It was warm, maybe even affectionate. Rodney felt his face heating.

Then John stroked his cock and Rodney forgot about everything else.



Rodney's bladder forced him awake and he lifted himself up to glance at the clock on John's side of the bed. 0300.

John had rolled onto his side in his sleep. He was facing away from Rodney but still close enough to touch.

Rodney started to reach for him, but his bladder was having none of it. Suppressing a sigh, Rodney slipped from the bed. He made his way to the bathroom as quietly as he could, gently closing the door behind him.

Bladder taken care of, he washed his hands, staring at his own reflection in the mirror. He didn't look any different, not that he should. Still, there wasn't anything in his appearance that said, "I had sex with a man." And not just any man. John Sheppard, ace mathematician.

Leaning over the sink, Rodney's gaze narrowed. Nothing except for the small bruise where his neck met his shoulder. Rodney touched it lightly, tracing the edge. It didn't hurt.

It made him feel kind of, well, sexy.

Right. Clearly he needed more sleep. Since he was up, he might as well brush his teeth.

Teeth cleaned, Rodney crept back into John's room. John was still lying on his side, with his bottom leg bent and the other straight. He'd kicked off the blankets and the moonlight was hitting the bed just right, giving Rodney a clear view of everything.

John was beautiful.

His skin didn't just feel warm, it looked warm, burnished by the sun. The dark hair that shouldn't have been attractive to a theoretically straight guy like Rodney seemed to be asking Rodney to touch it, to slide his fingers through it, before curling his palms around the muscles beneath.

John's face was half buried in his pillow, but Rodney didn't need to see it to know what he looked like. Some days he felt like he'd been looking at that face his entire life.

Except this wasn't that John. This was a different John. A John who talked to Rodney about real things, things that mattered, who told Rodney about his life.

Who kissed Rodney and stripped him of his clothes. Who touched him like Rodney's body was the most interesting discovery he'd made in a long time.

Rodney swallowed hard against the sudden pang of longing.

John stirred, opened his eyes. "Rodney?"

"I was just..." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the door. "Bathroom."

"Come back to bed," John said, shifting toward the center of the bed and opening his arms.

Rodney slid into them, but instead of sleeping, he shifted John onto his back and slid his fingertips through the hair on John's chest, molded his palms to the lean curve of John's thighs, and pressed his lips to the arch of John's ear.

When John squirmed beneath him, Rodney kissed his way lower, mouthing the skin along Rodney's collarbone, sucking teasingly on a nipple, tasting the sharp salt of dried come-- his and John's-- on John's stomach.

Then he touched his lips to the head of John's cock, stroked the shaft with his hand. John gasped and Rodney opened his mouth, taking him inside.

***

Cranky with lack of sleep, John cradled his coffee mug in his hand and kept his mind carefully blank. Apparently having caught his mood, Ronon wasn't speaking, just concentrating on his food.

He knew the moment Rodney entered the mess. He felt Rodney's eyes on him, felt Rodney turn away.

He tried not to watch as Rodney poured himself a cup of coffee and carried it from the room.

***

"Hey." Coming up behind him, John slid his arms around Rodney's shoulders.

"Hey, yourself," Rodney answered, turning toward John and getting a kiss for his efforts.

"You okay?" John asked. Letting go, he walked from the kitchen table to the counter and poured himself a cup of coffee. "You're up pretty early."

"I'm not freaking out," Rodney said, looking up from his equations.

"You're not."

Rodney shook his head. "If you remember, I was the one who put his mouth on your cock."

"I definitely remember." Everything in the way John said it reeked of sex, and Rodney heard himself say, "Then what are you doing way over there?"

***

"You must speak to him," Teyla said.

Speaking to him was what had gotten John into this mess in the first place. "It'll blow over," John said, lifting his sticks, ready to fight.

But Teyla didn't strike. "The team cannot function if you and Rodney cannot look at one another."

Sighing, John lowered the sticks. "There's just some stuff I need to get used to." Like the images of Rodney naked and being touched by a hand that looked like his but wasn't. "Rodney, too. We'll be fine."

"Very well," Teyla said, in a tone that made it clear if there wasn't any improvement, soon, they'd be having this conversation again, and it would be much less pleasant the second time around.

***

"What did you think of the power estimates I sent you?" Jeannie asked.

It was the third of their four times a week phone calls. In theory they needed to talk about the signal booster Rodney had designed and Jeannie was building. But they did most of that through email. The truth was, Rodney liked hearing about her day. Plus, the stupidity of undergraduates was always entertaining.

Holding the phone between his shoulder and ear, Rodney carried a plate of steaks out to John who was standing next to the grill, fork in hand. "I haven't looked at them yet."

"I sent them two days ago."

"I haven't had time." John took the plate and Rodney headed back into the kitchen. It was his turn to make the salad.

"What do you mean you haven't had time? It's not like you have anything else to do."

There was no way Rodney was going to explain that he'd spent yesterday afternoon learning all the ways he could slide his cock into John's ass. "John and I have had stuff to do, that's all."

"I swear you've been getting weirder by the day."

Sex with John was not making him weird. "I have not."

"Spill."

"We've just... I've been... He's, you know..."

"Oh my god, you're sleeping with him."

"What? How did you know?"

"You're distracted, and the last few times I've called you've been downright upbeat. You even sound happy."

"I am," Rodney confessed, because he didn't have anyone else to confess to.

Jeannie was quiet for a moment. "Are you thinking about staying?"

"This isn't my universe," Rodney said, but he kind of wished it was.



Rodney had heard once that the best thing about being involved with another man was a sex drive that matched your own. He'd never actually been in a relationship long enough for the sex to taper off, but he was still enjoying the way John wanted him as much as he wanted John.

Which was to say, all the time.

They had sex at night, and sex in the morning, and most days sex somewhere in between. There had been a couple of days that were pretty much just sex, with food and sleep to break up the monotony.

Letting go of John's cock, Rodney slid up the length of him, pausing to tease a nipple and press a kiss to the base of John's throat before claiming his mouth.

John returned his kiss, as hungry as Rodney was. Realizing John's hand was floundering for the lube, Rodney reached out and snagged it, all without breaking their kiss. If there was one thing Rodney could do, it was multi-task.

But before Rodney could pop the lid open, John pushed Rodney onto his back and took the lube. John straddled his hips and Rodney smiled. They'd done it this way before and it was hot, incendiary even. Watching John ride him had been better than the best porn Rodney had ever seen. When he'd said that, John had chuckled and wrapped his hand around his own cock, which had pretty much short-circuited Rodney's brain.

Rodney held out his hand and wiggled his fingers, waiting for John to squirt some lube onto them. John shook his head and with the dirtiest grin imaginable applied the lube to his own fingers.

"Oh, god," Rodney said, hands gripping John's thighs as John reached between his own legs and the fingers slid from view.

He couldn't see John's fingers very well, but seeing the motion of his arm and knowing what John was doing, right there, was enough. It was more than enough.

Except maybe...

Rodney held out his hand again. John's eyes widened slightly, but he tipped the bottle of lube up and squeezed some out onto Rodney's finger. Rodney spread it with his thumb and then reached back.

His hand bumped against John's, and Rodney felt his way along it, to the place where John's fingers were sliding in and out. He touched John's opening, felt the way it stretched around John's fingers. But when he pushed, John took him in.

Rodney could feel two of John's fingers alongside his. He moved his finger back and then in again.

John groaned.

"John, you..."

John shook his head, leaned down to kiss Rodney. "Not me," he whispered. "Us."



John had fallen asleep with his head on Rodney's shoulder, which was pretty much Rodney's favorite position for John to fall asleep in. He hadn't examined that too closely and he wasn't going to. But when John had rolled onto his other side not long after he'd fallen asleep, Rodney had let him go.

Us.

Rodney had never had an us like this before. Never had someone who could share his work, laugh at him in a way that didn't hurt, and then strip him bare for the dirtiest, hottest, most loving sex Rodney had ever known.

His John -the other John, the one from his universe- was the only other person who could laugh at Rodney in a way that felt good instead of bad, and they had shared their work, in a completely different, life-risking way.

But that John, his other John, only told Rodney about himself when he couldn't avoid it, and he'd never kissed Rodney. Rodney couldn't even remember a hug, although it seemed as though there should have been a hug, with all of the almost dying that they did.

They hadn't even hugged when Carson had died, or Elizabeth, or John's father.

Maybe John was hugging someone right now.

Except Rodney knew he wasn't. He was probably in his room, alone, reading or fiddling with his guitar, possibly sleeping.

Or maybe he was in the middle of a pitched battle, fighting for his life.

Rodney wished he knew. It'd be a lot easier to sleep if he knew.

***

John stopped outside the door to Rodney's lab, not that he needed to gather his courage. He just needed to breathe, that's all.

He slid his hand over the device everyone called the bell, but which wasn't a bell at all since it actually opened the door. The door opened and John stepped inside.

Rodney was at his bench, bent over some object. It was good to see him playing with Ancient tech again, his wide, nimble fingers feeling it out. Rodney would probably never admit it, but a good part of his work was actually tactile.

John shook his head. Rodney's hands were not what he needed to be thinking about right now.

"Hey," he said, stepping close to Rodney's bench.

"Colonel," Rodney answered with the barest glance in his direction.

"What are you working on?"

"They found this in one of the labs out by the east pier while I was gone. None of them could figure out what it did, so..." Rodney pointed at his temple.

"Have you?"

"I just started."

John grinned at the familiar mix of annoyance and defensiveness. "Listen, I think we should talk."

"Let me guess, you realize homophobia is wrong and you're not going to let my newfound fondness for penises get in the way of our working relationship."

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm not a homophobe."

"Of course not, that's why when I told you I'd had sex with a man, you turned around and left. And, oh yes, have barely spoken two words to me since."

"That doesn't make me a homophobe, McKay," John hissed leaning over the bench, trying to make sure he wasn't overheard by any of the other scientists in the lab, who John was sure had their ears wide open.

"Oh, really."

John had spent so much time missing Rodney, worrying about Rodney, tying himself up in knots over Rodney that he'd forgotten just how annoying Rodney could be. "Yes, really. Maybe I had other reasons for being upset, like the fact that you had sex with another me. Bet you never thought about that, did you?"

"Well, no," Rodney admitted.

John leaned a little closer, pressing his advantage. "How would you have felt if I'd slept with Rod?"

"Did you?" Rodney asked, and John could hear the uneasiness in his voice.

"No." Drawing back, he said again, "No, I didn't."

Rodney was staring at him, and John knew there were things showing on his own face that he didn't want anyone to see. Turning away, he left without another word.

***

"I never went to these things, even when I was faculty," Rodney said to John's reflection.

John was standing behind him, straightening his collar in the mirror. "There'll be food."

"We could have food at home."

"It'll be fun," John said, brushing his hand across Rodney's ass.

Turning, Rodney pointed a finger at John's chest. "No ass grabbing. I'm serious. Grab my ass in public and you won't be grabbing it in private."

John grinned.

Rodney suspected his ass was in serious trouble.



"Dean Nason."

"John, it's good to see you. How is your sabbatical going?"

"I've been hard at work, haven't I, Rodney?"

Rodney smiled at the strikingly attractive and disarmingly tall black woman who was evidently the dean of something. "He's been a regular worker bee."

"Rodney," John said, placing a hand on the small of Rodney's back. "This is Sonia Nason. She's dean of biological and physical sciences. Sonia, this is Rodney McKay."

Rodney obediently held out his hand. She had a firm handshake, not aggressive but solid. It reminded Rodney of Elizabeth. "Nice to meet you."

"You as well." She gave John a speculative look, but he simply smiled.

"I hear Grodin's research is progressing by leaps and bounds," John said.

The smile Rodney had forced to his lips faded. "Peter Grodin? You didn't tell me you worked with Peter Grodin."

"You never asked."

"Do you know Peter?" Sonia asked.

"I-- No." Rodney looked around the room. There he was. Just a few meters away. Peter turned and Rodney could see the side of his face. He was speaking and Rodney could almost hear him. Rodney knew exactly what that voice would sound like, even after all this time. "Excuse me." Shoving his plate of finger food at John, Rodney started for the door, walking as fast as he could without running.

He didn't stop, didn't slow down until he was 30 meters from the building, where he rested a hand on the nearest tree and tried to breathe.

Peter was alive.

He shouldn't be freaking out. He'd dealt with this, just like he'd dealt with Carson and Elizabeth, Gaul, Dumais, all of them.

Of course, on Atlantis dealing pretty much meant stuffing your feelings as far down as you could just so you could keep going. When they retired, if they retired, Rodney was pretty sure everything they'd buried was going to come bubbling up and turn them all into gibbering idiots.

"Rodney."

Rodney didn't turn around, just waved his hand. "Sorry, I needed a minute."

John circled the tree until he was standing in front of Rodney. "How do you know Peter Grodin?"

"I don't. Not any more. He's dead."

"How?"

"There was a siege the first year we were in Atlantis. The Ancients had left behind a satellite. It was an energy weapon capable of destroying a hive ship. It wasn't working, so we went out to fix it-- Grodin, Lt. Miller, and myself."

John nodded.

"There were damaged circuits. We couldn't get power from the buffer to the weapon. We couldn't bypass them from inside so we drew straws. I lost. Which is pretty ironic when you think about it. I drew the short stick and Peter died."

"Rodney," John said, squeezing his shoulder.

Rodney shook off the touch. "I had to do a spacewalk from the jumper, which is not as cool as it looks on TV. Miller was piloting the jumper, which left Grodin inside."

"When I rerouted the power, I inadvertently cut off power to the docking bay. We couldn't get Peter out. The ships were approaching and Peter told me to leave without him, come pick him up when it was over."

Closing his eyes against the bright California sun, Rodney said, "Grodin fired the weapon, took out one of the hive ships, but the weapon failed. I ordered Miller to go back for him, but there wasn't enough time. And Grodin, he told us to stay where we were, which was just stupid. "

"Jesus."

"They blew up the satellite." Rodney looked away from the sympathy in John's eyes.

John slid his hand into Rodney's and tugged gently. "Come on."

"I can't go back in there,"

"We're not going back. We're going home."



"How about I order us a pizza? Or would you rather have Chinese?" John asked.

"Either's fine." Rodney didn't turn away from the passenger side window, from the changing images of palm trees and bicyclists that had suddenly become surreal.

"Pizza then."



As they got back to John's, Rodney went straight to John's computer and booted it up. Pulling up Google, he typed "Elizabeth Weir."

He got back nearly a thousand hits.

Elizabeth was alive. She was in Africa, brokering talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He hoped she was having more luck than his Elizabeth had had with Geldar and Halona.

There was a YouTube video of her speaking at the United Nations.

Rodney watched for maybe a minute and a half before clicking back to Google. This time he typed "Dr. Carson Beckett." There weren't as many hits, but there was a photo of Carson when he was appointed to a research position at the Institute for Biological Sciences in Ottawa. There were publications, a copy of his vita.

Clicking back to Google, Rodney typed, "Dr. Brendan Gaul."



"Rodney," John said from the doorway. "Pizza's here."

Rodney waved him away.



Rodney was on his third viewing of Elizabeth's speech when John squatted down next to his chair.

"That's Elizabeth," Rodney said without taking his eyes from the screen. "She was the leader of the expedition. We lost her last year. She was injured, dying and there were nanites in her blood that could fix her, but there was a chance they'd also reveal our position to the enemy. We'd deactivated them months before, when she was first infected. I turned them on again, against John's orders. I'd never disobeyed one of his orders before."

John laced his fingers with Rodney's.

"It wasn't enough. She died anyway. Not right then. Still, she died. Like Carson, Brendan, so many others. Carson was my best friend, other than you, the other you. And Brendan--" Rodney pulled in a shaky breath. "Brendan shot himself right in front of me with a gun I'd given him. That brilliant brain of his went everywhere."

"Jesus, Rodney."

"He's alive. Here, in this universe, they're all alive. I'm dead and they're alive. There's justice in that. Karma or something, right?"

John wrapped his arm around Rodney's neck, hugging him over the side of the chair, the fingers of his other hand still clasping Rodney's. "Don't go back," he whispered, pressing his cheek to Rodney's. "Don't go back."

Rodney wrapped an arm around him, tried to pull him closer.

But he didn't answer.

***

"Hurt," Rodney said.

John turned just enough to see Rodney approaching on his left. He stopped when he was standing beside John, staring through the glass at the array of alien fish swimming around Atlantis.

"That's how I would've felt if you'd slept with Rod."

Tightening his lips, John nodded once. "Did you love him?" he asked, watching a darkly colored fish with bulbous eyes swim slowly past.

"I think so," Rodney said, his voice soft.

Anyone else probably would have demanded a yes or no answer, but John knew just how complicated the whole love thing could be. Figuring out feelings was hard, and neither of them were very good at it. Although it sounded like the other John had done okay.

"What did you do together?" John asked, his hands tightening on the railing in front of them as the fish changed direction.

"You mean..."

"Yeah," John said, knowing Rodney was probably going to ask why he wanted to know, not knowing how he was going to explain that he couldn't stop thinking about it, couldn't stop picturing it, Rodney and the other him, together.

"Everything, I guess. Nothing kinky, but..."

Part of him wanted to press for details, but John figured he knew enough.

"I missed you," Rodney said, his voice quiet. "I thought about you every day, wondered if you were okay. I was terrified something would happen to Atlantis that I could've prevented if I'd been here, that I'd come back to find you all gone. I worried about everyone, but, well, I worried about you more."

"I wasn't sure you were alive," John said. The words sounded like they'd been forced to the surface from somewhere deep inside him. "They wouldn't let me go to Earth to look for you, not that I could've helped really--."

"John." Rodney placed a hand on his arm, at the inside curve of his elbow.

John turned to look at him. Rodney's other arm was extended out a few inches from his side, and John moved forward, accepting Rodney's silent invitation. Strong arms closed around him as John hung onto Rodney's shoulders, pressing his face into the curve of Rodney's neck.

"I'm here," Rodney whispered. "I came home."

***

"I want to feel you inside me."

John looked up, letting Rodney's cock slide from his mouth.

"Please," Rodney added, because he wasn't sure John was going to say yes.

Pressing a soft kiss to Rodney's belly, John reached for the lube.



There were little points of intensity, like pinpricks, where John was stretching him. They didn't feel good, but they didn't hurt either.

"Okay?" John asked softly.

"Never better," Rodney said, even though his cock had softened some and his heart hurt in ways John couldn't soothe.

John rested his weight on one hand and used the other for soft, sweeping touches along Rodney's side, across his chest, down over his belly.

He brushed Rodney's lower lip with his thumb, kissed him like he was never going to stop, and moved inside him with such care that all Rodney could do was let himself be loved.



"You're not going to stay."

It wasn't a question, so Rodney didn't answer. He just curled himself more tightly around John and held on.

***

John nodded, because Rodney was home, and it finally, finally felt like it. "I missed you."

"Me, too."

For an instant, John thought about pointing out that Rodney had had John 2.0 for company with his mad math skills, and his willingness to talk about his feelings, and his gayness. But that John didn't belong here, not between them.

John turned his head, just enough so that his lips brushed skin.

Rodney went absolutely still.

John did it again, a firmer touch, deliberate this time.

"John?" Rodney asked.

Heart pounding, John kissed Rodney's neck a third time, a little higher up. Rodney didn't say a word, so John did it again, then again. Five kisses in total, enough for him to reach Rodney's jaw.

Rodney moved then, drew back enough that John could see his face. His eyes were wide, the way they got when Rodney was afraid or amazed. John wondered which it was this time.

Then Rodney tilted his head to the side, and John was sure it took at least half his lifetime for Rodney's lips to touch his.

Relief washed over him, and John let it take him, parting his lips enough to deepen the kiss, unsure if he was trying to draw more of Rodney into him or give Rodney more of himself.

They parted and John looked at Rodney for a long moment, trying to take it all in, what they'd just done, what they were about to do. Then he gave up and kissed Rodney again.

Rodney's body was strong and solid against his. His cock was hard, bumping against John's as one kiss led seamlessly to another.

"We should take this someplace more private," Rodney whispered.

Reluctantly letting go, John stepped back. The viewing area was secluded but it wasn't private. Anyone could walk by. See them. John kind of liked the idea of being seen with Rodney, but not enough to risk his career.

Neither of them said a word as they made their way to John's quarters. John was pretty sure it was the first time they'd ever walked together without talking. Usually Rodney would twist his body to the side as they walked so he could see John, hands waving. Sometimes John would disagree with him just so the hands would wave a little more.

Rodney wasn't waving his hands, and John wasn't teasing him. They were both keeping their eyes straight ahead and it was weird as hell.

They reached John's quarters and he brushed his hand over the lock, causing the door to slide open. Locking the door behind them, John turned to face Rodney, his eyes somehow landing on Rodney's erection, which hadn't softened during their walk. It was a really good thing no one had seen them, because the two of them walking to John's quarters with visible hard-ons would have been difficult to explain.

Not knowing what to say, John lifted his leg slightly and began undoing his thigh holster. He draped the holster over his desk chair and stood, looking at Rodney, whose eyes seemed to still be on his thigh, or maybe something close to his thigh. "Rodney," John said, because the thought of Rodney looking where Rodney was looking was making his head spin.

Rodney raised his gaze to John's face. "What do you want?"

The Air Force had never bothered to ask John what he wanted; neither had his parents, or his ex-wife. It was just as well, because there were a thousand different answers he could give to that question. In the end, they all seemed to point in the same direction.

"You."

"Okay," Rodney said, his quiet tone throwing John off-guard. The one thing Rodney had never been was accepting.

"Talk to me, Rodney," John said, stepping close.

Rodney looked at him, and then his eyes flicked away. "Being with him was the best relationship I've ever had," Rodney said. To John it felt like a confession.

Rodney had left him, that other John, to come back here, where his life was in constant danger and friends and colleagues seemed to drop like flies around him. For the first time since Rodney had come home, John didn't resent the other him. "That's good, right?"

"Yeah," Rodney said, then more firmly, "Yes." There was a small pause before Rodney spoke again. "It wasn't just the sex. He liked me just the way I was. I didn't have to try and be on my best behavior all the time. And he trusted me with parts of himself. No one's ever really done that before."

Including me, John thought. "You don't have to be on your best behavior around me. I like you just the way you are," John said, leaning in to rest his forehead against Rodney's. "And I trust you with my life."

"I know," Rodney said.

"And I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you." John wished his voice hadn't sounded quite so rough, but there was no way he was taking the words back, not ever, not with the way they made Rodney light up from the inside.

Not with the way John felt lighter just for saying them.

Rodney cupped the back of John's neck in his hands, holding John's forehead to his. "Really?"

"Yeah."

"We should have sex now," Rodney said.

Chuckling softly, John kissed him. This time he kept on kissing, one kiss following another. He didn't know how to stop. Didn't want to.

The searing tenderness slipped away, replaced by an almost dizzying lust that had John gasping and pressing his body into Rodney's.

Rodney pressed back.

It was Rodney who pulled away, breathing hard as he reached for the top button on John's shirt. John dropped his hands to his sides, standing still as Rodney undid button after button. He tugged the shirt free of John's pants and finally pushed it from John's shoulders.

Before Rodney could reach for his t-shirt, John took a step back and bent to untie his boots. He got them off, along with his socks, and then stood, his hands going to the top button on Rodney's uniform shirt.

There was a soft gray t-shirt beneath Rodney's uniform shirt, but when he reached for it, Rodney took hold of one of his hands and pointed at the floor. "Boots."

John knelt and untied one of Rodney's boots.

"I was going to do it myself," Rodney said.

John untied the second boot.

"Do you have any idea how hot that is?" Rodney asked, and John grinned up at him.

Standing, he took a step back. "You can do the rest."

With one hand on John's shoulder, Rodney toed off his boots, then bent down to tug his socks off. Both feet on the floor, he wiggled his liberated toes.

John smiled and shook his head. Rodney was the only person he knew who could go from arrogant to silly without missing a beat.

And he had cute toes.

Rodney rubbed the side of John's neck with his thumb, and John looked up from the toes. "I'm really sure," John said, knowing Rodney would know what he was sure about.

"Good," Rodney said, but it his smile was huge. John kissed him again. It was an 'I'm going to get you naked very soon' kiss, but Rodney upped the ante by tugging at John's t-shirt.

John reached for Rodney's, and they stopped kissing long enough to get the shirts off and drop them on the floor.

This time there was naked skin with the kissing. Lots of naked skin, pressed against his own, which was enough to make John forget all about Rodney's toes.

Rodney's back was smooth and solid beneath his hands and John moved them slowly over it, up, down, across, not so much trying to caress Rodney as learn the feel of him.

Rodney kissed the side of John's neck and John tilted his head to the side, letting out a gentle groan when the kiss became a tug.

Resting his forehead on Rodney's shoulder, John whispered, "What do you want?"

"I want to suck you," Rodney whispered back. "I want to make you come. I want to taste it and feel it, feel you."

"Oh," John said, his spiraling arousal making him press closer to Rodney.

"I want to finger you," Rodney whispered, his voice low and urgent and raw. "I want to touch you in places you didn't know you could be touched. I want to come with you inside me."

This time it was John who clutched at Rodney. "Jesus."

"I want to rim you. I've never done that for anyone before, but I'd do it for you."

The thought of Rodney doing that, of the sheer intimacy of it, made John turn his head and press his face into Rodney's neck. "Is there anything you don't want to do?"

"With you? No."

John nuzzled Rodney's neck.

"Except watersports."

Startled, John laughed. "I'm good with that." John slid a hand down Rodney's back. Then stopped. "The other me wasn't into that was he?"

"No. I read some internet porn. It was traumatizing."

John chuckled into Rodney's skin.

"It was."

"I promise to never ask you to pee on me. Or to pee on you."

"Good. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Rodney." As John spoke he slid his mouth up the side of Rodney's neck to his ear, where he captured the lobe, sucking softly.

"Oh."

John sucked a little harder. While Rodney was distracted he slipped his hand in between them and undid the first button on Rodney's BDUs. He'd long ago mastered undoing them with one hand, but it was harder to do on someone else, and he stopped what he was doing with Rodney's ear to focus on the buttons.

The back of his hand rubbed Rodney's erection as he went from one button to the next.

Rodney was holding on to John's upper arms like he needed help staying upright. His lips were parted in invitation, and John stopped working on the buttons long enough to press a slow, sweet kiss to Rodney's lips.

Then he undid the last two buttons and reached inside Rodney's boxers. There was a cock pressed against his palm. Rodney's cock. It wasn't weird, not even a little. It was good, especially when Rodney gasped and leaned into him. John moved his hand, stroking him as well as he could with Rodney's boxers in the way.

"That feels--" Rodney whispered.

"Good?"

"You have to stop. We're not even undressed yet, and I'll come if you don't stop."

"Okay, okay." John let go, but he was already thinking about touching Rodney again. Rodney's cock had felt good against his palm, smooth and firm, and John wanted to feel more of it. He wanted to feel all of it.

He tugged at Rodney's pants, lowering himself to his knees as he pulled them down.

Rodney stepped out of his pants, but John didn't stand. Rodney's cock was right there, thick and hard, and John had to touch it. Wrapping his hand around the base, he gave it a long, slow stroke.

Rodney clutched at his shoulders.

Holding it up so that his knuckles brushed Rodney's belly, John looked at the underside, following a vein with his eyes, noticing the small 'v' where the head dipped down. He rubbed the 'v' with his thumb, was rewarded with a gasp.

Rodney's balls were right there, too, nestled in their sac, and John cupped them in his free hand, learning the weight of them.

He kissed the base of Rodney's shaft. It felt good so he did it again, slightly higher up.

"John."

He looked up. Rodney was gazing down at him, the openness in his eyes almost enough to make John gasp.

Rodney had never been good at hiding what he was feeling. John wasn't even sure he tried, which had confused John at first. But then he'd grown to like Rodney's openness, even admire it.

Now, though, now he was lost in it. In a mix of affection and desire and fear that felt as though someone had reached inside John, pulled his feelings out, and stuck them inside Rodney.

His gaze on Rodney's, John leaned forward until his mouth was near Rodney's cock, then he closed his lips around it, sucking softly.

"Oh god, stop."

John stopped. "What's wrong?" he asked, trying to hide the sting that came with being told to stop as soon as he'd started.

"Your mouth, and your knees, and do you want me to come before you've even gotten your pants off?"

"I guess not," John admitted, grinning lopsidedly.

"You guess not. Get up here and get those damn pants off. I haven't even gotten to touch yet."

"All right, all right," John said, standing and undoing the buttons on his pants with a quick tug.

Rodney pointed at John's opened pants. "That should not be hot."

"It's all in the wrist," John confided, leaning close and whispering the words into Rodney's ear.

Rodney grabbed the waistband of John's pants. "That's it. Naked. Now."

John was happy to oblige, pushing his pants to the floor and stepping out of them. Backing toward the bed, he settled into the center of it, legs slightly parted, his eyes on Rodney's.

Kneeling with one leg between John's legs, Rodney placed his hand on John's stomach, moved it slowly upwards. When his hand reached the small, round scar on John's shoulder, Rodney stopped. "This is where I shot you."

"In your defense, I was possessed by a homicidal alien."

Rodney shook his head, and John realized that this wasn't about Rodney having shot him. This was about the other John, the one who didn't have a bullet hole in his shoulder.

"I think I'd fall for them all," Rodney said.

John covered Rodney's hand with his own. "All who?"

"All the yous, every John Sheppard in every universe. They're all variations on a theme, people you might have become."

But you'd love me best, John wanted to say.

"I think it was so easy for me to love him because I already loved you," Rodney said.

Sitting up, John touched the side of Rodney's cheek, pressed a soft kiss to Rodney's lips. "Thank you," John whispered.

"For what?"

"For coming home."

***

"We're ready to try," Rodney said. Jeannie had finished the booster for the radio signal two weeks ago. They'd just needed John and Rodney to finish figuring out where to aim it. "I think we should try from Vancouver, since that's where I landed."

"Is John coming with you?" Jeannie asked.

Rodney swallowed. "Yeah. He says he has to see how it ends."

Jeannie was quiet for a moment. "When are you getting in?"

"Four o'clock tomorrow afternoon." Tomorrow was Friday, so they'd have the weekend to try.

"I'll see you at the airport."

"Thanks."



The flight was shorter than Rodney remembered, even though halfway through it, he had slipped his hand into John's.

Dinner was supposed to be a celebration. There was a tightness around John's eyes and he didn't smile once. Jeannie looked like she was about to cry.

Rodney ate as if it was his last meal. He even ordered dessert. But he didn't taste a thing.



"You did a good job," Rodney told Jeannie, looking over the signal booster.

"Thanks." She was standing a couple of feet away, arms folded across her chest.

"You and John, you should do something with this work, turn it into a paper. Who knows, you might even get a Nobel."

She smiled, but Rodney could tell it was forced. "And who doesn't want one of those?"

"Exactly."



There was no way Rodney could keep from touching John that night, even if they were in Jeannie's guest room. Rodney kissed John like he'd never kissed anyone before, reaching inside himself for things to pull out and give John, offering himself up.

John took it. Took everything Rodney had to give. They were clumsy, arms and wrists bumping as they jerked each other off.

Rodney fought his orgasm when he felt it coming, but it took him anyway, leaving him cold and hollow as he pulled John close.



He mapped John's body with his hands, as if he hadn't already memorized the curve of each muscle, the soft brush of hair against his fingertips. He kissed the tips of John's fingers, and stroked the soft skin where thigh met groin.

He turned on the light so he could watch as he slid his fingers into John's body.

When John told him to sit with his back against the headboard, Rodney did.

When John slid down onto him, Rodney pressed his groan to John's lips.

When John came, Rodney whispered, "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."



"Here goes," Rodney said, turning on the booster. "It's picking up my transponder signal." He flipped the switch that would send the boosted signal out into space. "It's working." There was nothing to do now but wait for the Daedalus to pick up the signal and beam him back.

He turned toward Jeannie, because he couldn't look at John. Her eyes were wet. Rodney swallowed. "Listen, Jeannie. The thing is, you're brilliant. Really brilliant. But don't let it define you, because you're other things, too, and you deserve to have someone who sees and appreciates all of those things. Don't bury yourself in your work, because that's not a life. Let other people love you."

She nodded, openly crying now, and Rodney pulled her into his arms, squeezing her until she pushed him gently away, stepping back and wiping her eyes.

Which left only John, who was watching them with that stoic expression Rodney knew so well. During the few hours John had slept, Rodney had thought about what he wanted to say, the things John deserved to hear. Now he just needed to say them.

"I talk a lot, but there are a lot of things I don't say because I don't know how," Rodney said.

John moved his head slightly, a motion that might have been agreement, and Rodney took a step closer, close enough that he could touch. He kept his hands at his sides. "Being with you, it's the happiest I've ever been. I'd stay if I could. There are people who depend on me, who need me. If something happens to them that I could have prevented-- " Rodney would never know, not if he stayed here, not if he reached over and turned off the power, stepped into John's arms. "I save lives. Out there. I never told you about the super volcano, did I? I saved a ship full of people, not a jumper either, a great big ship. I--"

"Rodney."

"I can't turn my back on them." It was a plea, for understanding. For absolution.

Cupping Rodney's cheek in his hand, John said, "I wouldn't love you if you could."

"John, I--"

The world shimmered and Rodney found himself standing on the bridge of the Daedalus. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.

"Bringing you back, Doctor," Colonel Caldwell said, rising from his command chair.

"Yes, well, you could have better timing," Rodney said, striding toward the communications console in front of Caldwell. "Send the signal," he ordered.

The officer seated at the console looked up at Caldwell. "What signal?"

"The signal to let the people back there know I made it here," Rodney answered, reaching over the console to send the signal himself.

"What people?" Caldwell asked.

"Jeannie and John. Do you think I found my way back from another universe by myself? A universe to which you sent me, by the way."

"I have orders to teleport you to the SGC immediately."

"Oh, no, not after last time," Rodney said, holding up his hands, but the world dissolved again.

"Hello, Doctor," General Landry said. "Welcome back."

Rodney took a deep breath and began composing what he was going to say at the debriefing.



The debriefing had to wait until after the medical exam, the unnecessarily thorough medical exam. They'd even checked him for a symbiont which, given that he'd spent the last four months on a planet that didn't have a Stargate, was a complete waste of time.

The debrief ended with him promising to reconstruct all of the work he and John had done. He had a complete copy on the flash drive in his pocket, of course, and he'd share it eventually.

Jeannie cried when he called. Rodney promised to visit as soon as he could.

Madison got on the phone long enough to say 'hi, Uncle Rodney,' and tell him a convoluted story about her teddy bear, who was named, for reasons Rodney couldn't fathom, Ronald.

Then, 5 hours and 22 minutes after he'd been teleported from the other Jeannie's house, Rodney stood at the foot of the ramp, watching the gate turn and the chevrons lock.

He was going home.

***

Epilogue

"Carson asked me to go away with him for a long weekend," Jeannie said, leaning back in her desk chair and putting her feet up on the desk, ankles crossed. She shifted the phone into a more comfortable position against her ear.

"Where?" John asked.

"Scotland."

"He's taking you home to meet the family."

Jeannie crinkled her nose. "I'm scared of his mother."

John chuckled, and Jeannie moved the phone a little further from her ear. "You'll be fine," John said

"Easy for you to say. So any big plans for the weekend?" Jeannie asked, because she was nervous enough without John telling her how fine she'd be.

"Surfing. Sleeping. Date on Saturday."

It had been six months since Rodney had left, and this was the first time John had mentioned a date. Jeannie was glad for him, but it made her wistful at the same time, even though they both knew he was never coming back. "Who is he?"

"His name's Roland. He owns a surf shop."

"Let me guess, you met him at the beach. Does he fill out his Speedos nicely?" Jeannie teased.

"We can't all go to Europe with doctors, and yes, he does."

"Just as long as you stay away from literature professors."

"I intend to," John said.

"Make sure that you do. Speaking of idiots, did you read Wilkerson's comments on our paper?"

"Yup. Although I'm not sure I'd call him an idiot. He raised some valid points."

"He's jealous."

John laughed again. "And people think you're the nice one."

"I may be a woman, but I'm still a McKay." And McKays didn't tolerate fools gladly. Or anyone with an I.Q. less than 160, really.

"That you are," John said.

"What are the chances you might have some free time in the next weeks?"

"Pretty good." John's voice went up just enough to make it a question.

"I was thinking of coming down for a visit, bringing Carson."

"I can teach him to surf."

The idea of Carson on a surfboard was enough to startle a laugh from her, which probably didn't make her the world's best girlfriend. "I think you'd have had a better chance of getting Rodney on a surfboard than Carson."

"Well, yeah, with Rodney I'd have used my manly wiles."

"You mean you'd have taken off your shirt."

"I have other wiles."

"Of course you do," Jeannie said in a tone which meant the exact opposite.

"Careful, or I'll tell Carson all the stories Rodney told me."

"Stories? What stories? And besides those stories happened to the other Jeannie."

"Oh, I'm sure there's some overlap."

Jeannie was too, but she was going to bring Carson to meet John anyway. "I've got class in ten minutes. I should go."

"Call me when you get back from Scotland."

"Will do."

"Have a safe trip."

"I will," Jeannie said. "Don't do anything with Roland that I wouldn't do."

"Everything I do with men is stuff you wouldn't do."

"Not kissing, or blowjobs, or--"

"Hanging up now," John said, and did just that.

Standing, Jeannie closed her phone and grabbed her notes, smiling to herself the whole time. Sometimes John was just too easy.