No Place Like Home

By: Delilah

EMAIL: Delilah

 

Notes: Happy Birthday fic for the wonderful GP, thanks C! Thanks to Lyn for the beta and for the putting up with multiple, misused ellipses. *g* Just a piece of fluff actually. And a lot of SGA fanon clichés. But it was fun to try my hand. Hope it’s at least a fraction as fun to read. Sorry for the sucky title. I think I inherited the sucky-title gene from my dad … after what he insisted on naming me, I’m pretty sure this is his fault.

 

 

As far as Earths went, it wasn’t bad – not as creepily pleasing as the Earth that had been made from his memories, and definitely not one he could direct with his mind, which was – oddly – reassuring. Not that he hadn’t tried, hard actually, but money did not miraculously appear in his pocket the minute he wished for it. Unlike even Atlantis, doors unequipped with electric eyes did not swish open at just a thought. So, all in all, thoroughly Earth.

Just not his.

It had taken him about five minutes after he’d tumbled unceremoniously onto the hard and decidedly filthy pavement to figure out it was Earth… some Earth, at least. Not all that hard a deduction when he’d last been testing the firmness of the crumbling wall that Rodney had insisted was necessary to stand not just beside, but slightly under – a demand that, given the way the rickety-looking edifice jutted forward under the strain of several hundred years’ accumulation of silt, looked to be one of McKay’s more dubious decisions. He was sure he’d just brushed against one of the squat gray stones when… whoosh, he’d been sliding belly-first into what looked like a two-week-old garbage strike.

Shortly afterward he’d brushed himself off and started palming everything in sight as if he’d luck into touching just the right thing and find himself back with a leaning levee, a slightly cross astrophysicist and, best of all, a stargate to send him back home.

A few minutes after that, he’d checked out the license plates of the vehicles scuttling by the entrance to the alley he’d found himself in and rapidly deduced he was in DC – not exactly the best town to materialize in without a cent to your name. And 1500 miles from Colorado Springs where he might – or might not – find a ‘gate.

He’d heard Rodney mention quantum mirrors once – with that usual delighted hypothetical glint in his eye – muttering about symmetries and energy conservation. John hadn’t seen anything that looked like a mirror, but he was here and he figured the same convoluted physics probably applied.

He’d stuffed his vest and weapon in one of the overflowing garbage bins before he left the relative haven of the alley, clad fairly unobtrusively in his black t-shirt and dark uniform pants, though the heavy boots might take a bit of explaining. Then he stood on a nearby corner to get his bearings, kicking bits of crumbling concrete off the curb. He triangulated on the point of Washington’s tallest erection and started walking.

*****

When he stopped to get his bearings and noticed the inscribed plaque, the Library of Congress suddenly seemed a good place to look for help. So he went in and hovered self-consciously above the highly polished wood of the round information desk, coughed softly in the hush, and said – without giving it much serious thought, "If you’d excuse me, I’m looking for a physicist."

The gray head, bent over a stack of fragile looking atlases, never rose. "Living or dead?"

"Preferably living," he whispered back.

"Name? Field of study?"

Rodney McKay – self-proclaimed genius and expert on alien-built stargates. He doubted that description would get him anything more than thrown out.

"McKay, Rodney… something." He wondered if McKay even had a middle name -- and did he even want to know what it was if he did? "Maybe astrophysics. Might be connected with the military."

"One physicist, possibly astro – Rodney No-Middle-Initial McKay. Currently living. That all you’ve got?"

She sounded just enough like one snarky science geek for his lips to twitch.

"That’s it."

A finger almost disturbingly Wraithlike in its pointiness poked past him toward a cluster of well-polished reading tables. "Take a seat, young man."

"Yes, sir… uh, ma’am," he corrected, waving off the frown now faced in his direction. "I’ll just be…" he gestured toward the empty chair, "… there."

So he sat.

And calculated cube roots.

 

******

"So you’re a calculator." Rodney’s fingers accidentally brushed against his chest as he waved dismissively. "Big whoop. I’m SO impressed. The Chudnovskys built ‘It’ in an apartment with the proceeds of two Visa cards and ‘It’ has got you beat. Way beat. But even ‘It’ can’t do this…" Rodney twirled a knob, glided a thumbnail against a switch, then snapped his fingers at what looked to John like nothing so much as a metallic loaf of pre-sliced bread – the insides of which obediently hummed to life with a kind of put-upon coppery whine. "Behold, the power of the McKay mind."

"Not quite the power level I’d hoped for," admitted Rodney with a frown a few seconds later, the vertical line between his brows growing deeper.

John reached out, squinted just a bit as he thought really hard, and, just before picturing the apex of his electrical crescendo, snapped thumb to middle finger.

The Ancient loaf-thing screamed in metallic pain and a brief, scorching flame burned a trail across the lab counter.

"Fuck!" Rodney quickly beat out the mini-campfire glowing on the countertop. Then he rounded on Sheppard, twisting the smoldering cloth menacingly. "You. Get." His body pounded each word into the Atlantis floor as he advanced. "Out. Of. My. Lab. You ham-handed grunt!"

John got.

******

"McKay, Rodney. Astrophysics. Undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Toronto. Post-graduate work at MIT."

John looked down at the row of black-and-white photos in what was apparently Who’s Who in Parallel Universe Physics. Same slightly rounded face. Same serious mouth, slightly marred by being goofily asymmetric. Definitely Rodney.

"Where can I find him?"

The scarily long and bony appendage tapped the fine print and he tore his eyes from the comforts of even the monochrome pixels of a familiar face to read Wingate Chair of Physics. Preston University. Philadelphia.

"Thank you," he said sincerely, turning on his best smile. "You may have just saved the universe."

She hmph’d briefly at him before folding the thick, leather-bound book back in her arms. John watched it close, watched his last glimpse of someone – anyone -- familiar be swallowed up in the press of the glossy pages.

Philadelphia.

Been a long time since he’d hitchhiked anywhere, but there was no time like the present. Good thing one of his strengths was his legs.

***

"Thanks, was thinking I was going to have to hike to Philadelphia."

The owner of the semi grunted at him, an abbreviation of the Neanderthal English that had taken him a second or so to translate above the whine of the engine grinding its waiting impatiently. Whuryagoin? and Haulyurassin.

John sat back against the seat and folded his arms across his chest, watching the dusk burn away the last of the light from the west and the headlights spark on in the oncoming lanes, and thought with a brief smile how McKay would have taken to hitching – not.

But then Rodney was the first to admit his strength was his mind. Well, that and a stubborn practical willfulness he hadn’t, at first, imagined the prickly scientist could possess. Rodney’s body – at least according to Rodney – always seemed to be more of an encumbrance.

******

"You don’t get this do you, Mr. Perfectly Athletic? It’s way beyond whether I’m only in the 42nd percentile of attractiveness and you’re in the 97th."

John’s eyebrows drew toward his hairline. "You *calculated* the percentile of our attractiveness?"

"Of course."

"You do this for everyone?"

Rodney drew out his "yessss" slowly.

"Elizabeth?" tested John.

Rodney’s hands rose and fell in expressive little balancing motions. "90th."

"Teyla?"

The right hand climbed higher has he mentally reweighed. "96th."

"Lt. Col. Carter?"

Both hands flew skyward. "99th."

John stopped. "*99th*?" he emphasized.

"She gets bonus points for her IQ."

"Okaaaay." This time it was John who stretched out his reply. He snapped his fingers. "Daniel Jackson?"

"99th also."

"The IQ thing again?"

At this, Rodney shoved his hands in his pockets and pushed up on his toes. "Yep."

"General O’Neill?"

"87th."

As much as he admired the general, it wasn’t really in him to find the man… attractive. "87th? What’s he get bonus points for?"

Rodney grinned crookedly. "Daniel Jackson."

"All right." John considered what would be the less frightening yet still amusing of the possibilities. "Beckett."

"92nd."

"There’s a serious flaw here, McKay. Where’s your normal distribution? You’re skewed." John scrunched up his face. "Beckett?" he repeated.

"Bonus points for the accent and negative points for the knees." Rodney shrugged under his astounded frown. "Have you not seen the man in his skirt?"

"Kilt," corrected John absently.

"Skirt, kilt, whatever."

"97th?" asked John, getting back to the really important data.

"You lose three points for congenital laziness and goofy hair."

John ran a self-conscious hand through the already disarrayed dark strands. "What started this conversation anyway?"

"You did. Hypoglycemia. Allergies. What you referred to as the ‘crappy’ state of my body," supplied Rodney. "The constant need to take in sugar and avoid lemons."

"And bees," John added absently.

"You have no idea what it’s like. Forget a snack and within twenty minutes I go from Einstein to Rainman. My brain literally powers down and you all think it’s *funny*."

******

The still steaming sidewalks released the nitrogen scent of the just-passed rain and there was something so achingly familiar and Earthlike about it that John had to stop a minute and consider that he did want to get home… did want to get back to Atlantis with its strange, not-quite-Earthlike beauties.

The campus was old – in the abbreviated oldness that America could muster. Stately and Georgian and probably what passed for Harvard or Princeton… he could see McKay here, ruling the roost, terrorizing staff and students to his heart’s content. He felt a small, odd pang to think that there’d be no Zelenka, McKay’s Czech shadow – matching brainpower in a skinny, compact, fast-talking package.

And suddenly he did want to get home, the scent of fresh rain on sidewalks not withstanding, so he squared his shoulders and stalked up the stairs to the physics building.

***

"Excuse me."

A dismissing hand was raised, waved and lowered without the typing output even missing a beat. "As I’ve told the last three of you math majors, the seminar has been rescheduled. Can you people not check your e-mail or does something without homological algebra in it simply fail to interest you?"

"Well, I am a major," admitted John, feeling relief at just finding a real live version of the man settle comfortingly in the pit of stomach, "just not the math kind."

"Ah," McKay quirked a slightly bitter smile. "Another minion of the US government." He glanced up. "Most of them haven’t looked like understudies for the part of Danny Zuko though."

John looked down at his dusty black pants and shirt and barely caught himself before his hand reached to rub more of the dirt into the fabric.

"Look, Rodney--"

"Do I know you well enough for you to call me Rodney?"

"Actually I know you well enough."

"Oh great, are you people bugging me again? Because whatever emanations you hear coming out of my house are the copyrighted property of me, myself and I, and I’m not losing the Nobel Prize because some government lackey hears me muttering in the middle of the night and suddenly steals the idea of 12th dimension N-fold space."

"That wouldn’t have anything to do with parallel universes, would it?" ventured John.

"Uh, no, not exactly unless you assume from the…" The typing stopped. "Parallel universes?"

"New hobby of mine." John looked around at the fairly cushy office. Plaques on the walls. An obviously not-camera-shy Rodney with a host of bigwigs. Some John recognized. Some John didn’t. "Started very recently actually."

Rodney was still eyeing him and he settled into parade-rest, probably more out of the familiarity of the movement than anything else.

"All right. What would you do if I were to tell you that I think I fell, from another universe, through a quantum mirror and landed in an alley in Washington, DC." John checked his watch. "About sixteen hours ago."

Rodney frowned. "Is that something you’re likely to tell me?"

"I think I just did."

*****

"So you’re saying you fell, through some kind of manmade singularity, from one Earth--"

"An Ancient-made singularity and not Earth," interrupted John, "a planet in the Pegasus galaxy."

Rodney’s head cocked slightly to the right as he considered him. "And what year did you say it was?"

"Same one as here, I think."

"Then how in the hell did you get to the… Pegasus," he rechecked. "Peg DIG or Peg II?"

"How the hell should I know," John responded, "the one at the end of the Stargate. Daniel Jackson—"

"Doctor Daniel Jackson?" Rodney’s face pinched. "The nut over at Chicago who thinks the aliens built the pyramids?"

"He’s not a nut. At least not in my universe."

"Well, he’s a nut here."

"Maybe," John challenged, "you just don’t know what’s going on."

"So why tell me this?"

He hadn’t really thought about it. Not consciously. He’d never thought about seeking out Weir or Ford. Couldn’t imagine the looks that would have met him if he’d come in – a perfect stranger – babbling about quantum mirrors and creepy bluish aliens that sucked your life out with their palms. John just shrugged. "It seemed like the thing to do."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Okay, assuming I give you the benefit of some kind of doubt…" The scientist got up from his seat then abruptly thumped back into it, looking a bit familiarly pasty.

"When’d you eat last?" asked John.

"Fucking hypoglycemia," Rodney groused as he dug into a drawer.

"I know," said John, earning himself another puzzled stare. "Hence the question: when did you eat last, McKay?"

******

"Rodney, you have a medical condition."

One side of Rodney’s mouth quirked up as if it were, somehow, something he was just a little proud of. "Several."

"Okay, several. I’m not sure Weir realized they were this bad, but, hey, we all kept our little secrets from the powers that were. So, you have a medical condition that requires you eat, like, every three hours, which is… annoying and really not too good if we happen to get detained somewhere, but all-in-all it’s just another trade-off. Just like Beckett when he gets nervous and you can’t understand a word he says."

Rodney grinned, slumping his shoulders into a stressed-Beckett-like position. "Aye, laddie, we’ll nay be landing this wean if ya dinna take over."

"Exactly." John grinned at him. "And we have to protect you from otherwise harmless fruit, but, hey, other than that—"

******

"Are you fucking insane?" The other-universal Rodney hissed over his half-eaten slice of college cafeteria-issued pizza -- which tasted pretty damn fine to John, given he hadn’t had any in months. Well, not counting the whole fake-Earth thing. "If everything you say is true, why would you want to get back there? I wouldn’t go back there."

"You live there, too, McKay." He waved off the raised eyebrow. "Well, a version of you does."

Rodney resnagged the piece, chewing with his usual obvious abandon. "An obviously inferior specimen."

"A brave man," countered John.

******

Rodney paced the three feet to the left and three feet to the right that their current accommodations allowed. He had his arms crossed across his chest, hands tucked up under his arms and John knew they were trembling.

"So the great McKay is scared. I hate to break this to you, Rodney, but everyone is scared."

Whatever he’d expected from this pronouncement, it wasn’t the bowed head and whispered reply that met him.

"Not like I am. Not paralyzed with fear that not only am I going to die, I’m going to lose control of my bladder long before then." One hand, only slightly tremoring, flew free to gesture a wild, emphatic arc. "I *am* the only one that understands how truly fucked we are." He gazed at him suspiciously. "Unless you do. You know it, don’t you? You calculate the probabilities because you just can’t help it. You’re one of us, Major, even if you try to avoid it. You know how likely it is that we’ll fail. Know just how many times you get to cheat before the math catches up with you. And we’re way overdue."

"We’ll get out of here, Rodney. Ford and Teyla will think of something."

"Maybe this time." The trembling hand was stuffed pointedly back under an armpit. "But even if we do, we’re one step closer to getting the bad ball in the urn problem."

"The *urn* problem?"

"The classic example of a hypergeometric distribution," responded Rodney automatically before giving him a scathing look. "You just *do* this stuff, but you don’t know the names for it?"

******

"So I …" Rodney coughed softly, the familiar look of embarrassment – the one that sometimes John thought only he saw -- flashed barely visible on the physicist’s face before he corrected himself, "he goes out and shoots aliens."

"Well, not on a daily basis."

"With a gun," verified Rodney, looking interested.

"A honkin’ big gun," grinned John, holding out his hands to encompass the imaginary barrel and stock.

 

******

"You know how to use that?"

Rodney firmed his grip and clicked off the safety, grinning just a little. "Had a BB gun when I was nine. My father wanted me to be more normal. I used it to figure out the conservation of momentum equation: the target impact being equal to the force of the recoil. Good ol’ One-half MV squared."

"You’re normal, Rodney. Just in an… odd way."

"You have a BB gun, Major?"

"Oh yeah, and a mini-motorbike. Used to take potshots at street signs while going a whopping 15 miles per hour."

Rodney snorted softly. "I can see that. A spike-haired, eight-year-old juvenile delinquent who grew up to chase aliens in the Pegasus galaxy." He fingered the P-90, looking around the darkened control center of their brand new home. "Who’d have thought we’d ever get here?"

"Not my father," said John quietly.

The grin on Rodney’s face spread, lighting-fast and blinding. "Not mine either, pretty cool, huh?"

******

Rodney palmed the top of the desk and leaned over it. "What is it exactly you expect me to do?"

"Get me out of this. Save the day," replied John simply. Because it was what he expected, was what Rodney did – day in and day out.

"This is what you expect of him? Just – save the day."

"He’s done it many a time."

"You say that like it’s reasonable," protested Rodney.

******

"I will try, but despite what everyone may think, I am not Superman."

"Was anyone seriously thinking that?" smirked John.

John watched Rodney shuffle a little in discomfort at the retort before getting back to half-heartedly snarking with Zelenka. A little petty and childish, but it felt good to put the man in his place occasionally. It wasn’t like the functioning of the entire city rested on his shoulders. He had staff. Had Zelenka and Grodin and a host of other brainy types.

No one was irreplaceable. Not Sumner. Not him.

Not even God’s-gift-to-Atlantis: Rodney McKay.

He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck and glanced around to see who had him under surveillance. Rodney’s blue eyes only met his for a second but in that short time he could see the gaze was injured. But then McKay turned and snapped at Zelenka and they were off bouncing ideas back and forth faster than John could be bothered to follow.

******

"Got somewhere to sleep for the night?"

John stretched against the hard back of the chair. "Is that an invitation, McKay?"

"You want me to help find this mirror, fine, but I don’t think crawling down dark alleys in the middle of the night is going to help. I say we get some sleep and head down to DC in the morning."

"So it’s an invitation."

This Rodney gave John the same unamused gaze that his own Rodney would have bestowed. His Rodney? He pressed the heel of his hand into a throbbing temple. He must be more tired than he’d thought.

"Come on," the professor prodded gruffly. "Let’s go home."

******

"So how come you got the bachelor pad out of Playboy and I got stood up for a date?"

"Your mind, McKay," John shrugged. "He said we could have whatever reality we wanted."

"You think I *wanted* to be stood up?"

"Ask Heitmeyer, she’s got her little fingers in your subconscious."

"Hey," an unexpected grip pincered him above the elbow and John was swung around hard, "you’re not supposed to use that against me."

John blinked into the sudden blue hardness of Rodney’s gaze. "It was a joke, Rodney."

Rodney pulled back, both hands palmed up in submission. "Sorry. You’re right. I’m tired. Cranky. Blood sugar…"

"It’s okay, McKay. It takes guts to see the shrink. I don’t hold it against you."

Rodney’s shoulders slumped a little more. "I’ll just go get a snack. See ya around, Major."

And John had stood and watched him go.

******

He’d never thought about what Rodney’s Earth-bound living space must have looked like, but it looked like Rodney: comfortable, masculine leather sofa and loveseat, strewn with half-read journals and half-eaten bags of chips. A moldering carton of dip sat congealing on a low coffee table and a distinctive protest was meowed when John sat down on what he thought was a rather furry throw.

"Let me guess," said John raising his hips, "Schrödinger?"

"Far too stereotypical, Major. Her name is Alpha."

Even though he was used to the quirky ways of the McKay mind, this didn’t register. "Alpha?"

"Carol Brewster. Cat Women of the Moon. 1953." Rodney collapsed on the sofa and picked up one of the chip bags, digging a hand in. "Can’t believe you haven’t seen it."

"Must have missed that one." John settled back against the cushions. "We’re a little short of entertainment in the Pegasus Galaxy. We only got to bring a handful of personal items."

"Whaddid I bring?" mumbled Rodney through a mouthful of chips.

"A case of assorted snacks and the entire 1975 season of Dr. Who."

"Mmm, I rather liked William Hartnell myself." Having devoured the bag he was working on, Rodney stretched for another crumpled specimen. "What did you bring?"

John shrugged. "A videotape of the 1984 Miami / Boston College game and a copy of War and Peace."

"Rather eclectic, aren’t you?"

"Part of my charm."

He found himself being observed in a manner he could only call "slightly predatory." Which from McKay…

"Um, well, I guess we ought to settle down for the night. I assume you don’t have an extra bedroom," John found himself looking down a darkened hallway, and hastened to add, "so, I can just sack out on the couch."

"If that’s what you want," conceded McKay while John tried not to think the man looked… disappointed. He really wanted his Rodney back.

***

"So, you and him, you’re not--" Rodney’s hand gave a little shaking back and forth motion.

Stiff from a night on the too-short sofa and bereft of caffeine, which he could, thankfully, smell percolating from the kitchen, John scrubbed a hand through his hair and squinted up at the Rodney that was definitely not his Rodney.

Nervousness had sped up his speech and caused him to bounce – just slightly – on the balls of bare feet. A lot like his Rodney, but…

"No," he said firmly.

"So you’re straight."

"Not necessarily," John conceded. Where was that damn coffee when you needed it?

"So… he’s straight." This seemed to flummox him a bit, or at least it put a stop to the bouncing. "I hadn’t considered that." Rodney made a little humming noise as he did so.

John stumbled up and followed the siren scent of dark roast to the kitchen. "Ever heard of a Samantha Carter?"

"No."

"She works for the Air Force, very smart astrophysicist, and you… well, he’s got the serious hots for her." Pulling open doors until a mug presented itself, John wrapped a hand around the handle and shuffled for the coffee pot. The brew was near boiling, overly rich and just perfect. "Tall, blonde, legs up to," John put a hand mid-chest, "here."

"Go in for the tall, dark-haired, athletic type myself. Well," Rodney conceded, snagging his own cup, "brains don’t hurt."

"This…" John took another swallow of coffee for courage, "…this conversation is creeping me out, McKay."

"Mmm," Rodney shrugged and took another sip, "can’t blame a man for trying." He put the cup down and rubbed his hands together in a familiar gesture. "So let’s go look for this mirror of yours."

John didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.

***

"So, I wasn’t even worth a second try?"

"Third. You weren’t worth a third," corrected Rodney.

John realized that he’d never driven with the excitable physicist except in a jumper and he was beginning to realize that what he thought was a lack of flying skills was apparently just the way Rodney McKay treated a moving vehicle. Any moving vehicle.

"You are in his…" John couldn’t help himself, he reached and gave the steering wheel a right-hand tug, "…lane!"

"Excuse me? I believe I’m driving this vehicle."

"Not very well. I’m the one that taught you to fly, McKay. If I’d seen what your driving was like I would never have let you near a jumper. And what you do mean I wasn’t worth a third try?"

Rodney lifted a hand that had previously at least been gripping the wheel, albeit ineffectually in John’s opinion, and began counting and John had to grab the edges of the bucket seat to keep from throwing a guiding hand on the two-o’clock position of the steering wheel.

"One, you ignored my best come-hither stare last night. Two, this morning you said I was ‘creeping you out.’ Two hints are my limit. People usually figure it out by then."

"I had it figured out!"

"Hence the limit," retorted McKay slowly in a professorial tone that made John grimace.

"You threw me. I never thought Rodney was gay."

"Maybe he isn’t. Maybe you’re not interested. Maybe we’re going to find this contraption of yours. Indeterminacy has us in its grip."

John blanched as they squeaked past an on-coming semi with about a quarter-inch to spare. "Watch the road, would ya?"

******

"He’s got no talent."

"Don’t tell that to him," grinned Elizabeth before she clasped her hands in front of her and her tone changed to one of command. "You will train him anyway. We need all the pilots we can get."

"He’s almost as bad as Beckett."

Elizabeth snorted softly. "They’re not military, John."

"They’re not even military rejects."

"They didn’t expect this, Major. Anymore than you expected to be negotiating for foodstuffs. But they’re some of the smartest people in the world. They’ll learn. Think about Dr. Jackson."

"O’Neill had eight years to shape him up. I’ve had three weeks."

"I’m not expecting miracles here," soothed Elizabeth.

"And you’re not getting them, trust me."

******

"This should be right up your alley, McKay."

"Your alley," corrected Rodney, standing hands-on-hips and turning a slow circle. If he’d had a life signs detector and a khaki jacket he would have been the spitting image…

John shut that thought down, refusing to think of the Atlantean version as "his Rodney" another time. It was… odd. It was, in fact, damned inappropriate.

"Why would you put a quantum mirror in an alley anyway?"

"You were thinking the Jefferson Memorial would be more appropriate?" John threw back.

Rodney shot him an achingly recognizable I-am-so-not-amused look and John quickly clamped down on that remembrance as well.

"Where did you land?"

John refocused and pointed to a dent in the mound of untouched refuse.

"Gross." The scientist wrinkled his nose.

"Gross? You think you could come up with a more intelligent observation?"

"Yuck?" offered Rodney, hunkering down to get another angle. "So you came from there." He pointed across the crumbling strip of asphalt. "Because a body in motion remains in straight-line motion unless acted upon by other forces. And it looks like the only forces acting on you were gravity and an overflowing dumpster. And," he concluded,"from the look of your knees – friction." He made gliding hand motions, gauging the trajectory. "Has to be that wall. How far did you drop?"

***

"For someone so skinny, you certainly are," Rodney grunted under the pressure, "…heavy."

"Hey, I took off the boots."

"Big help, Major."

******

"Big help, Major. If I needed someone to blow up the lab I could have called Kavanaugh."

John looked helplessly at Elizabeth and Carson. "I didn’t blow it up. Just singed it a little. They hand me things, I look at them and think ‘on’. I don’t expect them to explode."

"It *looked* like a hand grenade," Rodney jabbed a finger in the direction of his chest, just where the singeing was worst, and John jerked backward slightly. "Sorry." But he didn’t seem all that contrite about it.

"The thing that looked like a dumbbell turned out to be personal grooming product. You can’t tell by the way things *look*," protested John a final time.

"As long as you’re all right, Major." Elizabeth gave a little pat to his knee. "We’ll assign you temporary workspace, Rodney. Just," she assured him when he looked pained, "until we can get all the glass cleaned up."

Rodney growled, shaking the tension out of his fingers in fast, jerky movements. "All right, fine. I can be… forgiving."

"You can?" inquired a nonplussed Beckett, earning himself a laser-sharp stare.

"Zelenkus loves me," insisted Rodney.

"Right," drawled John, "I’m sure he does."

******

"I would have noticed if I dropped this far." John tried to keep steady on the twisting shoulders as Rodney’s steps wavered.

"Trajectory, Major. Trajectory doesn’t lie."

John heaved a sigh and reached for the next stone. Tap. Tap. Tap.

"The problem with you, Major –"

Tap. Tap. Splush.

And before he could think much more than that splush wasn’t a sound walls normally made, he was flat on his back.

"Major!"

And there was Rodney – his Rodney-- in blue and khaki, huffing from exertion and, frankly, scared out of his rather astounding mind, looking for all the world like he did when John was lying there having the life sucked out of him from a tick-gone-Wraith.

"Thank God."

Said, as it was, with bowed head, Rodney looked almost reverent, penitent even.

"Thought you didn’t believe in God."

John’s hand was trembling slightly and Rodney’s, when it gripped it, was clammy from worry.

"I’m thinking of changing my mind," admitted the physicist, his other hand brushing along John’s ribs, down his shoulder and arm, in search of broken bones.

"Don’t change it; I need it. Need you."

Rodney frowned. He had started to tug John upright, but he softened the pull and John sank back to the ground with a low groan. "Are you sure you’re all right, Major?"

"A little crispy," John admitted, fingering a singe on his jacket. He tested his legs, bending his toes. "But everything seems to be in one piece." Then he looked up at Rodney, narrowing his eyes. "You’re something else, you know that?"

"Major?" The blue eyes were wide with concern. They widened further as John poked an empathic finger in his chest.

"You. You spout off how brilliant you are to everyone in earshot, but somebody you care about gives you a sincere compliment and you think they’ve got to be ill or…" the finger waved and Rodney’s gaze followed it hypnotically, "… something. You’re an idiot," he followed up decisively.

"I thought I was a genius."

"Definitely an idiot."

John’s head started a sharp descent to the floor and Rodney quickly cupped his palm around the crown, cushioning the fall.

"We’re getting you to Beckett." He reached for the radio with his free hand. "Ford? I found him."

***

"Slight concussion, wee bit of dehydration. We’ll get some fluids into ya, fix ya right up."

The thing about Beckett was that – in his domain – he was steady and reassuring, his warm hands competent and gentle: Rodney’s exact opposite – all people-skill and absolutely no talent with any machinery past a pipette and a microscope.

Carson noticed the gleam in John’s eyes. "Something amusing you, Major?"

"The parallel universe – it had a parallel Rodney."

"And what was he like?" inquired Carson, gathering supplies from a nearby drawer.

"He was like… Rodney."

Beckett swabbed the inner crook of his arm then deftly inserted the needle, taping it down with a gentle precision. "You wouldna think there could be more than one of those," he observed, but his smile was fond.

"Hypochondria and all."

"You know it’s not all hypochondria, don’t you?" Carson’s gaze had turned serious. "Some is, ‘tis true, but not all. The citrus really could kill him and he really does faint if—"

"Pass out," John interjected with a defensiveness that made Beckett grin.

"All right, pass out," he conceded. "But the hypoglycemia isna life threatening."

"Only if you work for him," mused John.

"Aye, that’s why they keep a stash of power bars in the lab."

"Wait, that’s where all the chocolate chip ones went?"

Carson shrugged. "It was a sacrifice Elizabeth thought should be made."

"We coddle him too much," John decided.

He only winced a little when Rodney’s voice filtered through the curtain. "That’s because I’m the one keeping the power going."

"Och," sighed Carson, shaking his head.

John peered around him to a smirking McKay who was bouncing on his toes in self-congratulation. "How much of that did you hear?"

"Just the ‘coddle’ stuff." Rodney crossed his arms across his chest and bounced again. "There was more?"

"Just about your tendency to faint."

"Pass out," corrected Rodney automatically.

"There you go." John gestured with his untethered arm.

"He okay?" worried Rodney, catching sight of the IV.

Carson smiled down in fond exasperation. "Slight knock on the head, bit o’ dehydration. Just giving him a bit of glucose, he’s fine."

"So that could cause…" Rodney fumbled, looking for the right word. He blinked in irritation as both men just looked at him expectantly. "He was acting… he seemed so glad to see me."

"I’d just fallen out of another universe, Rodney. Of course I was glad to see you."

"Oh." Rodney pondered this for a moment. "I guess that could explain it." One side of his mouth twitched and his shoulders sank a little, one booted foot scuffing at the infirmary floor. "Well I’ve… I’ve got lots of Ancient stuff in my lab that they’ll never decipher without me." He looked back up briefly. "I’m glad you’re okay, Major."

John watched him shuffle out, all trace of the cocky bounce gone in a flash. "He’s an idiot," he concluded, his fingers awkwardly plying at the tape holding the needle firm against this skin. He swung himself upright.

"Now just where do ya think you’re goin’?" Carson put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"After him."

"It can wait til the mornin’."

"Did you see him? He looked like I’d just kicked his puppy."

"It can wait til the mornin’," Beckett repeated. "Rodney’s a big lad."

"I hurt his feelings after he’d helped me." John yawned involuntarily and he looked at Carson with suspicion. "Well, not him but …" His eyelids shut and he blinked them open again with effort, "whaddid you give me?"

Carson straightened the covers. "Just a little something ta help you sleep. He’ll still be there tomorrow. But I’ll check on him, just in case."

"’kay," mumbled John, curling slightly on his side. "Thanks."

"Any time, lad. Any time."

***

Rodney frowned at the plate stuck unceremoniously under his nose. "What is that?"

"Peace offering."

"No," he took the dish, "I mean what is that?"

John shrugged, taking in the wary gaze Rodney gave him as he pointedly jabbed the offering with a discriminating finger.

"Ford said it was good."

"Ford will eat anything."

"So will you," John pointed out.

"True." Rodney picked up the fork. "What are you apologizing for?" He shoveled a piece of the dark cake in his mouth. "Not bad," he mumbled.

"Rodney."

Cheeks puffed from the mouthful of cake, he stared down at the hand that had wrapped itself around his wrist.

"Rodney, look at me, please. I need to say this – before I lose my nerve, before you say something snarky and distract me."

Swallowing hard, Rodney started to open his mouth.

"Uh uh." John gently put two fingers on the solid edge of his chin and pressed upward. "No talking, McKay. I know that’s difficult, but just this once…"

To his surprise, Rodney nodded mutely, putting down the plate.

"We talked." John gestured between them. "You and me. Well, me and him. We talked a lot, trying to figure out the mirror-thing. Look, when you’re a few universes over, some things become clearer."

"That’s all very nice, Major." Not-talking having lasted about the fifteen seconds of silence John that thought he could expect. "But that wasn’t me. That was him."

"That’s the point. I didn’t want him. I wanted you. He just made me realize that. Who’d I go find when I got stranded? Not Elizabeth, not Ford, not Beckett. You. Nobody else even entered my mind."

"Nobody else would have had the foggiest idea what you were talking about," dismissed Rodney, "you wanted to borrow my brain, who doesn’t?"

"Don’t care about your brain, McKay. Well, except that it kind of needs to be in your body or we wouldn’t get very far. But you could lose a few IQ points and it wouldn’t make any difference."

Rodney squinted at him. "Really? How many?"

"Mmm … sixty?" gauged John.

"And drop me down to 160?"

John smiled at the appalled look on the physicist’s face. "They’d still let you in Mensa. The point is that I’m not in love with your brain, Rodney. Other than the fact it animates the rest of you. I’m kind of in this for the whole … package."

Rodney sighed and not in a heartfelt way. "I’m not sure what to say here, Major."

"Who says you need to say anything? Although if you’d stop calling me ‘Major’ it might help."

"Help?"

"Help when I do this …"

He palmed the sides of Rodney’s face, grinning when Rodney’s eyes fluttered closed and he tentatively pursed his lips in preparation. When flesh came to flesh, though, it was obvious Rodney knew what he was doing. John moaned as an insistent tongue brushed between his lips and he suddenly found himself with an armload of enthusiastic physicist.

"Rod—" he broke off as his mouth was recaptured.

"Been a while," panted Rodney a little apologetically.

John raised his chin to give better access to the nips being taken down the tender jut of his Adam’s Apple. "Wouldn’t have guessed." He shrugged helpfully as sure hands divested him of his t-shirt.

"Not my brain," murmured Rodney happily, tucking into the brown button of nipple.

John jolted as a frisson of pleasure arrowed straight to his groin. "Not entirely, no, Mmmmm…" Wet warmth surrounded the sensitive nub. "Mmm," he murmured again, all semblance of actual English going the way of the majority of his blood supply. "Oh God, Rodney, that’s good. That’s… that’s…."

He, embarrassingly, came before Rodney had made it past his pelvis.

***

"So, the other me, he wasn’t as…"

John rolled to his back, letting the cool sheet drape over him. "Snarky? Allergic? Irritating?"

"I was thinking ‘sexy’. So," led Rodney, "he wasn’t as sexy…"

"He was a nice guy. Okay, I take that back, he was you so ‘nice’ might not be the right adjective."

Rodney gave him a little eye-roll and one hand fluttered in an impatient hurry-up motion.

"He envied you," John supplied.

"Me? I thought you said he was cozy with the movers and shakers, had some kind of cushy chair at an Ivy League."

"Well, their version of the Ivy League, yeah."

"So what’s to envy? I’m stuck in a galaxy far, far away with aliens that suck the life out of you, eating MREs and alien kumquats."

"Kumquats?"

"Those little yellow fruity things Teyla keeps bringing in. She calls them hesemas or something."

"Oh," John shook his head, "those. He had a kind of jones for the gun-thing."

Rodney’s hand stopped mid-flip. "The gun-thing is kind of cool."

"The gate-thing is kind of cool, too. And the ZPM-thing."

"But you left him the mirror," Rodney pointed out.

"Until the boys in black come and take it away."

"He’ll go with it," ventured Rodney, scoffing when John gave him a skeptical frown, "like I’d leave it in less competent hands?"

"They might go Ark-of-the-Covenant and just deep-six it."

"Right," snorted Rodney, "the US government has sense enough not to fiddle with things beyond their ken." He flipped over to observe his bedmate more closely. "You think you’re Indiana Jones, don’t you?"

"Nope, I’m Jock, the pilot. I’m just lying back fishing when some science geek comes running over the hill, screaming like a little girl because 200 angry indigenous planet-dwellers are chasing him."

"That was so not my fault. How was I to know there’s some lost tribe out there that worships electricity? All I did was take the grid down for two minutes so we could get a better track on those weird energy readings."

"When you have to," John chuckled, "you can move, McKay." He arced as a hand snaked under the covers and reawakened his waning cock. "Nice hands, too."

Rodney’s brow furrowed as he examined his free hand, arching and stretching the fingers. "Can’t reach a twelfth. Sviatoslav Richter could. He could play the last chord of the Schumann Toccata without arpeggiation."

"Arpegi-what?"

"Arpeggiation. Striking the notes of a chord in quick succession. Here…"

John nearly bolted upright as the pads of Rodney’s fingers brushed up a particularly sensitive region.

Rodney hummed softly. Presumably something classical.

*****

"You’re still here."

John rolled to his side and squinted up at Rodney who was seated naked and crosslegged on the other side of the bed. "Of course I’m still here. Where’d you think I’d go?"

"You had your fun; I figured… well, I figured this was just some kind of inter-universal shock that you needed to work out or something. That you needed a taste of home."

John’s mind boggled at how Rodney could apparently wake up in mid-thought and how that thought would be a logically constructed theory on why he was waking up alone. Which was beside the point, as he wasn’t waking up alone.

"A taste of home?"

"I was your touchstone: the only person you knew in both universes. You know," Rodney’s hand, the one that had just a few hours ago touched him with such art, made a dismissive gesture, "like when there’s… death and you just want to remind yourself that you’re still here."

"Rodney…"

He reached out but Rodney pulled away from his touch. "Look, to be perfectly honest, I just don’t think I can do this, Major."

"I thought it was ‘John’."

Rodney flopped back against his pillow with a groan. "Is this where you give me the ‘we can still be friends’ speech? Actually," he considered, "I ought to be grateful. Not very many people want to be friends with me at all. I mean," he said, looking at John earnestly, "I…"

"Rodney," John tried again.

"Oh, just forget it. We don’t have to be friends. I got along fine in Russia and nobody liked me. Besides, Carson tolerates me – feels it’s his medical duty and, hell, Heitmeyer is paid to play with me. Well, she’s paid if we ever get back to anywhere that takes money."

"Rodney." This time he put some force behind it.

"What?" asked the object of his attention distractedly.

"Shut up, Rodney or I’m going to make you shut up."

"Yeah? How?"

"Like this…" and John demonstrated.

"Oh," murmured Rodney before kissing back enthusiastically.

*****

Elizabeth closed her file folder. "So it’s not like we’ve got an Area 51 to lock this thing up in."

"We can’t just leave it there," Rodney protested.

"I’d rather not have it just lying here waiting for the Wraith in some other universe to decide the hunting is better over here," pressed John, making his point again.

"I worked in the room next to one of those for five years. Nothing even tried to come through it."

"Doesn’t mean they won’t," John countered.

The blue-eyed glare he received in return spoke of a couple lonely nights and then the bliss of make-up sex.

"Blow it up," agreed Elizabeth. "I’m sorry, Rodney."

Not as sorry as John was going to be.

*****

"Things go ‘boom’?" An acidic tinge just barely edged Rodney’s tone.

"Things went boom," John confirmed. He laid his hands on Rodney’s shoulders and gently kneaded out the tension there. "If there’d been another way..."

"I can’t help feeling we abandoned him."

"Who?" asked John, confused.

"Me. Him." A hand waved. "Whatever. What if he needed help?"

"Then he knew about Daniel Jackson. He knew about Colorado Springs." John settled next to the warm body on the couch. "I think he can handle it. He’s you after all."

"You put more trust in me than you should."

"What makes you say that?"

"I make mistakes."

"So do we all," consoled John.

"If you tell me ‘love means never having to say you’re sorry…’"

"Love means wanting to say you’re sorry."

"Hmm," Rodney gave a little laugh, "that’s pretty good actually. So that explains why I would never apologize to Kavanaugh."

"What about Zelenka?"

Rodney considered. "Yeah, I’d apologize to the little Czech."

"See, McKay, you do have friends."

"And lovers?" he asked, but there was an underlying slyness that made John grin.

He held out his hand. "And lovers… well, lover. If you’re into this multiple partner thing, we may have to have a talk."

"We could use the percentiles to sort potential partners," offered Rodney.

"With your percentiles, we’d be accepting everyone … except Kavanaugh."

"And that would be bad because?"

John shook his head. "Shut up, McKay."

And he got a wide, lopsided grin in return. "Make me."

So he did.

 

<end>

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