unadrift: (clever)
[personal profile] unadrift
Title: You Might
Author: [livejournal.com profile] deltacephei
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: NC-17
Words: ~15000
Notes: This is an AU, starting from a missing scene for The Daedalus Variations, written for the Season 5 Tagathon on [livejournal.com profile] sga_episodefic.
This fic owes a lot to the cheerleading of [livejournal.com profile] tacittype and [livejournal.com profile] naye. They carried me along when it was beginning to look like this was going to be slightly longer than anything I've written so far.
The beta process was a little more extended than I was used to, too. [livejournal.com profile] naye, [livejournal.com profile] tacittype, and [livejournal.com profile] villainny did the most awesome job – all remaining mistakes are, of course, mine.

On top of everything-- I got the best birthday presents ever this year! [livejournal.com profile] naye made cover art for this story! Look:

(Click for full image)

Isn't this just-- *flails* Go and tell [livejournal.com profile] naye how awesome she is!

Rodney pored over the files he'd printed out. With every page he turned, this trip felt less and less like a sensible idea. Rodney had no trouble imagining the response he would get when he walked up to Sheppard, a millionaire, and suggested, 'Hey, how about you drop everything, leave your business and your huge mansion, and come with us to another galaxy, where you're probably going to die within a month or two? Are you in?"

When Rodney, in his endless ingenuity, figured out a way to get the Daedalus back to their own reality, it didn't seem enough to just announce this to the team over the radio. He made his way to the bridge, tablet in hand.

"Alright, I think I've got something," he said, or rather, that was what he had intended to say. The ship started shaking, and Rodney felt the drive engage in the middle of the sentence.

The searing white flash faded and Sheppard blinked several times. "Rodney?"

"That was fast," Rodney observed and accessed the data on the tablet.

"Yes, we noticed. But is it a problem?"

"I don't think so, but give me a goddamn minute and let me work," Rodney muttered. Surprisingly, Sheppard did.

"Where are we now?" Ronon asked, staring out the main window. Rodney looked up briefly and followed his eyes. The asteroid field was gone, with a planet in its place again.

An alarm sounded from the tactical station. Teyla moved over to it quickly, before Rodney could even form the idea of crossing the bridge to have a look. "A jumper approaches," she said and switched the scan results over to Sheppard's workstation.

Rodney had to admit that her sudden proficiency with technology made him a little uncomfortable. "What? With another us on board?" He leaned over Sheppard's shoulder to study the screen.

"That would be a safe bet." Sheppard shot him a thank-you-for-stating-the-obvious look. "They didn't take long."

"Maybe their jumper was already in orbit around the planet?" Teyla suggested.

Sheppard nodded slowly. "Okay. Rodney, how long until we jump again?"

Trust Sheppard to ask the trickiest questions. "I don't even know why we jumped so soon in the first place! Just like I told you before, I can't predict the exact--"

"The condensed version, please," Sheppard interrupted him with a pointed look.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "We should have fifteen more minutes here at least."

"They'll have boarded us by then," Ronon said.

"Well, we can't have that." Sheppard activated the communication system. "This is Colonel John Sheppard aboard the Daedalus. Do not board this ship. Repeat, do not try to board this ship."

There was a pause, then the radio crackled. "This is Colonel Edwards of Atlantis. May I ask who you--"

"You're from Earth, aren't you?" another voice cut in. "Oh, thank god, you've come to rescue us! And not a minute too late! The Hive ships will be on top of us in two days--"

"Wait, is that me?" Rodney said, pointing a finger at the ship on the screen.

"Huh," the voice answered after a moment, and then, "No. It's me. Hey-- are you me?"

Rodney remembered Rod, and his dead counterpart a few decks below, and he felt creeped out and relieved at the same time. "No," he said. "I'm me!"

"You sound like me."

Well, that was rich, coming from an alternate reality copy. "You sound like me!" Rodney shouted back.

"As fascinating as this conversation is," Sheppard cut in, clearly annoyed, "we're calling to warn you. As you might have noticed, we're from an alternate universe. This ship jumps between realities and we can't control it. If you come aboard, you'll be stuck with us."

"An alternate universe," Edwards repeated.

"Oh, an alternate reality drive," the other Rodney said brightly. "That is amazing. I always suspected that something like this could be built."

"No, you didn't," Rodney huffed. "Unfortunately, I-- we-- he screwed up. The Rodney McKay who built this." It was almost painful to say it out loud.

"Oh." The other Rodney seemed to share his distress.

"And now we keep shifting between realities. Which isn't half as much fun as you'd expect."

The alternate Rodney's snort was audible over the comm. "I wouldn't expect that to be fun at all."

"There you have it!"

"McKay!" Sheppard said warningly.

"What?" Rodney and his counterpart answered in unison, and yes, it was slightly creepy to hear his own voice in tandem with, well, his own voice.

"May I ask who you are, Colonel?" Edwards sounded impatient. "And where did this ship come from? The Prometheus was destroyed two years ago."

"Does this mean that you've re-established contact to Earth in your universe?" the other Rodney cut in. "How? It's been almost a year and we haven't found anything that might--"

"Stop," Rodney said. "Stop. What do you mean, almost a year? We're well into our fifth year in Pegasus."

There was a moment of silence, then Edwards asked, "I guess the expedition wasn't postponed twice in your-- your universe?"

"Postponed?" Sheppard exchanged a glance with Rodney. "No. Yours was?"

"Yes. We had some trouble with the Ancient gene."

"Or the lack thereof," the alternate Rodney added. "They wouldn't let us embark without a gene carrier with a certain level of control over the Ancient technology."

Rodney frowned. They'd had a carrier served to them on a silver platter in their universe. "So you haven't met John Sheppard, ATA wonderboy, then?"

"Don't you listen? We've never heard of him."

Sheppard had gone disturbingly quiet. Rodney could relate. He had difficulty imagining an Atlantis without Sheppard, too. The tablet in Rodney's hand beeped.

"Now you listen, our time's almost up. When you get back to Earth, find John Sheppard. S-H-E-P-P-A-R-D. He'll be a-- a major in the Air Force, probably. He's got a brother named Dave. His father owns some kind of big business. It's a-- a--" He gestured at Sheppard, who just sat there, staring at him.

"Sheppard Utilities," Ronon supplied.

"Yes. Sheppard Utilities. Find John Sheppard. Convince him to join. You need him. You really, really need him."

"Are you serious?" the other Rodney asked. "You're serious!"

"Very." The alternate Rodney had no idea how serious. "Stun him and drag him with you if you must."

Sheppard made an as if kind of face, but strangely didn't protest. Rodney looked down at his tablet. The capacitor was 99 percent charged.

"There are Hive ships approaching our position," Colonel Edwards reminded them. "This is the least of our--"

"You'll get through that." Rodney waved his free hand dismissively. "We did, too."

"Just remember this," Teyla said. "It is possible to turn the city's shield into a cloak, as easily as one can turn a jumper's cloak into a shield."

The last thing Rodney saw before everything went blindingly white was her self-satisfied smile.

* * *

Rodney blinked, and the ship was gone. This was just their luck. A seemingly abandoned spaceship (albeit a little scorched) appeared on their doorstep just when they needed it the most. Of course it turned out to be jumping uncontrollably between alternate universes.

"That was different," Edwards said and steered the gateship back towards the planet in a wide arc. "You're going to write up this report, McKay."

Rodney snorted. "I'll put it on my agenda, right after Have life sucked out by Wraith."

"Was that my voice?" Teyla moved to stand behind the pilot's seat.

"That depends." Rodney raised his eyebrows at her. "Do you know what you were talking about?"

"No," she admitted.

"Then it probably wasn't you."

Teyla tilted her head. She looked like she was trying to find a flaw in his logic – which was impossible, of course. "I see your point. Although there seem to have been significant differences between our universes even on first glance."

"Yeah. Why shouldn't she know about this stuff in another universe?" Ford asked from the backseat.

It said a lot about the things they'd seen in the Pegasus galaxy that none of them batted an eye at the mention of alternate realities.

"Okay, fine," Rodney said. "Let's get back to the city and see what we can do with your precious piece of information. It didn't sound completely useless."

The Daedalus appeared on Atlantis's sensors again an hour later. Before they had a chance to get their hopes up or a jumper in the air, the signal was gone again.

Two days later Teyla's 'precious piece of information' saved their collective asses from the Wraith, and of course Rodney claimed that he had recognized its limitless value right from the beginning.

Rodney almost choked in surprise when he laid eyes on the Daedalus for the first time – because it was actually the second time. Their Daedalus was a lot shinier than the alternate one. So their universe was on a different time schedule. Who cared? Against all odds, they were alive, and in possession of one beautiful, sufficiently charged ZPM. Even though Rodney was dead on his feet already, he managed to work for another day on the power distribution systems before Elizabeth had Carson sedate him for twenty-two hours of uninterrupted sleep, which, yes, turned out to be complete bliss. When Rodney re-joined the land of the conscious, people were still walking around in a disbelieving why-are-we-even-alive daze, and Jesus, everyone should just get a grip already.

Earth was suddenly only one gate trip away – an opportunity that Rodney was forced to seize. He grudgingly accompanied Edwards, Elizabeth, and Carson to brief the IOA.

Actually, the others went to brief the IOA. Rodney had other plans.

He tried hard to convince them, but their superiors were not partial to the idea of a wild goose chase for a total stranger to bring him into the program. Not even Elizabeth backed him up. Maybe this was due to the fact that the information had originated from a two minute radio conversation with a McKay from an alternate reality.

Well, Rodney had faith in himself.

The IT security at the SGC was a joke, at least by Rodney's standards, and by the end of the last day of neverending briefings Rodney had gotten all the information he needed – even more than that. Sam Carter was distracted enough by Rodney's cleverly orchestrated advances that she didn't notice the empty space on her lab table where a piece of Ancient technology had been a minute before. It was small enough to fit in Rodney's pocket. He passed the security check by being extremely unpleasant, so that the guards wanted to be rid of him as soon as possible. It wasn't much of a challenge and it worked like a charm.

Rodney didn't enlighten the SGC about his destination. They had granted him three weeks of leisure time and assumed that he wanted to spend them lazing around on a beach somewhere, or arguing with his sister. He really didn't. Instead, he booked a flight to Washington and stuffed everything he needed into a single backpack. Rodney had never been one for traveling light, but Atlantis seemed to have changed him in ways he hadn't anticipated.

Several thousand meters above the ground Rodney pored over the files he'd printed out. The first page was a photograph of a handsome man in his late thirties, with unruly dark hair, and eyes that were listed as 'hazel' in his personal data. But actually, the color wasn't anything Rodney could define, no matter from what angle he squinted at the picture. Sheppard was wearing a black suit and an almost-smirk. It was easy to imagine him in uniform. Rodney knew enough flyboys to recognize the cocky, laid-back attitude even from a snapshot like this. He put the picture aside.

With every new page he turned, this trip felt less and less like a sensible idea. In this universe, John Sheppard had never joined the Air Force. He had had a brother named Dave, but he had died in a car crash at the age of fourteen. Sheppard, aged seventeen, had been driving. After college, Sheppard had gotten his masters in mathematics and economics and joined the family business. When his father had remarried and retired to Hawaii five years ago, Sheppard had taken over the family business. The big, successful family business. Sheppard managed to increase the annual turnover by a two digit percentage in the course of three years. It was quite impressive.

Rodney had no trouble imagining the response he would get when he walked up to Sheppard, a millionaire, and suggested, "Hey, how about you drop everything, leave your business and your huge mansion, and come with us to another galaxy, where you're probably going to die within a month or two? Are you in?" But Rodney was on the plane already, and Washington didn't have anything else to offer for him. He might as well try and see what it was they supposedly needed so desperately from John Sheppard.

* * *

Meeting John Sheppard turned out to be a much bigger challenge than Rodney had expected. He didn't even manage to get past the threshold of the horrible example of modern architecture that was the four story home office of Sheppard Utilities. Well, he got as far as the receptionist – Mrs Denton, her name plate read. With her tight bun and the conservative big glasses she made Rodney feel like a third grader again. He was defenseless against her reprimanding so-you-do-not-have-an-appointment stare.

"Fine," he said. "Give me an appointment then."

"On what matter?"

For a moment Rodney entertained the thought of filling her in, in detail, about everything. Her face would be priceless, but so would the sight of him being dragged out of the building in a straight jacket. "It's personal."

"This is a business," she emphasized slowly, exactly like she was talking to a seven year old.

Rodney managed to stare her down. He was quite pleased with himself.

"The first open slot is on May 13, at ten thirty a.m. Shall I pencil you in?" she asked with practised politeness.

"May?! That's in three months! Seriously, the man can't be that busy."

She opened her mouth, no doubt to say something very polite.

"Oh, forget it. Thanks a lot for your help," Rodney said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Any time," she answered, not smiling.

Rodney found a parking space labeled J. Sheppard by the side of the building. It was currently occupied by a classy black Mercedes Benz. Spotting a small coffee shop on the opposite side of the street, Rodney risked using the restroom, leaving the car unobserved for a few minutes, then got himself a cup of coffee and a muffin, and settled down on a chair by the window to wait for Sheppard to emerge.

For three hours nothing memorable happened – except for the citrus cake assassination attempt, the annoying brat spilling her cocoa over Rodney's backpack, and the brunette bimbo who tricked him into paying her tab (one moccachino and a croissant).

He was on his fifth cup of coffee and seriously considering another restroom break when Sheppard pushed through the doors of the main entrance.

Rodney barely noticed the cars that honked at him repeatedly as he crossed the street at a run. "John Sheppard?" The man turned to Rodney with his hand on the open car door. Wow, he looked even more striking than his photos had. The pin-striped suit with the green tie looked good on him. It was really unfair – rich and good-looking.

Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "Tell Friedman no matter how many lawyers he sends after me, I'm not going to sell any part of my business to him. Tell him to fuck off. You may use those exact words."

"But, but, I'm not a--" Rodney started, but Sheppard was already in his car and on the street before he could even finish the sentence. Rodney looked down at himself. He didn't look like a lawyer. Since when did he look like a lawyer? He wasn't even wearing a tie.

Rodney hailed a taxi and even said, "Follow that car," which earned him a dubious look from the driver. "No, really," Rodney insisted, gesturing, "Follow the car. I mean it," and handed him a twenty. When they entered the freeway, Rodney had to tip the driver another fifty to match Sheppard's breakneck speed.

"You do not sue me in case of accident," the driver – his license read Dimitri – said.

"At this velocity I wouldn't live to do so," Rodney muttered.

Sheppard wasn't on his way home, that much was obvious soon enough. Rodney was glad that he'd gone for pursuit rather than trying to catch up with Sheppard at his house. The Mercedes pulled into a parking lot, and Rodney had the driver stop the taxi.

"It was interesting experience," Dimitri said, grinning.

"Yes, yes, and an expensive one, too." Rodney handed over another thirty dollars.

He followed Sheppard down two blocks and into a bar. Rodney had never been good at stealth, so he wasn't surprised when Sheppard said, without turning around on the bar stool, "I thought I made myself clear before."

"I'm not a lawyer. And I don't know who this-- this-- Friedberg is."

"Okay," Sheppard said. His voice clearly implied the unspoken if you say so.

Rodney sat down on the stool next to Sheppard's and caught the bartender's eye. "Give me a beer. A real beer, not this--" He gestured vaguely at Sheppard's glass.

The bartender raised his eyebrows at him. "Right. Real beer, coming up."

"Canadian, are you?" Sheppard said, sounding amused.

"Yes. How did you-- Never mind. Dr. Rodney McKay." He offered his hand.

Sheppard shook it with a firm grip. "Doctor?"

"In science, not medicine. Astrophysics and mechanical engineering."

"Two doctorates. That's impressive."

"Yes, well, I'm a genius."

"And modest, too."

"And you're a comedian," Rodney said snidely. "Good for you." A glass was placed in front of him. Rodney took a sip.

Sheppard rested an elbow on the bar and turned to him. He had gotten rid of his tie at some point, and the first two buttons of his shirt were open. "Are you gonna tell me why you're stalking me?"

Rodney swallowed hastily. "Stalking? I am not stalking you!"

"You're following me around, what do you call it?"

It finally registered with Rodney that Sheppard looked amused rather than pissed off. "Well, thank your receptionist for that. She refused to let me through."

Sheppard nodded seriously. "She would. Gladys is worth her weight in gold. Even though she really scares me most of the time."

"Tell me about it."

They shared a grin. Rodney couldn't remember the last time when he'd talked this non-awkwardly, this easily to a stranger. It was weird.

Sheppard raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him. "So?"

"Oh. Yes. I've got something to discuss with you. An-- offer, if you will. But not here. Someplace a little more private?"

Sheppard just looked at him for a moment, assessing him with a piercing stare of his hazel – green? – eyes. He took another sip of his beer. "My house isn't far from here," he said slowly. "And I've got a car outside. But you knew that already, didn't you?"

"Yes," Rodney answered in a tone that said Duh! quite loudly, too. "I do believe in careful preparation."

"That is a very useful quality, especially in certain situations," Sheppard said cryptically and smiled in a sort of-- distracting way.

Even though Sheppard had just spoken god's honest truth – and didn't Rodney know this from not dying repeatedly over the past year – Rodney couldn't really make sense of the remark. He shrugged it off as a Sheppardian oddity.

"Great!" Rodney said and meant it. He'd really get a chance to explain. This was going better than Rodney had expected. "Just excuse me for a minute. Too much coffee before." When he was half-way to the restrooms he turned back to the bar and pointed a finger at Sheppard. "Don't go away. Don't. I'll be right back."

Sheppard did the exact opposite of going away. Two minutes later he was standing next to the sink when Rodney washed his hands.

"It occurred to me that this could be considered more private," he said, smirking.

"Right," Rodney said and dried his hands. Because Sheppard was right, and because Rodney had been dying to try this for days – hell, he'd been dreaming about this – he suddenly couldn't wait a minute longer.

"Take this," Rodney said and held out the Ancient device to Sheppard on his open palm, "and think about where we are in the solar system."

Sheppard looked a little taken aback. "What?"

"Our position in the solar system? Come on, it's not that difficult."

Another thirty seconds went by, during which interesting things happened on Sheppard's face, before he actually reached out and took the object. Then it was instant, soundless symphony. The shabby restroom was lit with planets, moons, comets and their trajectories, rotating slowly, and illuminating Sheppard's face in a flattering blue.

Sheppard looked dazed. "Did I do that?"

"Oh my god," Rodney said, in awe. "It took Carson a week to control this. A week!"

This was fantastic, this was the best thing ever, and Rodney had been so right, and Sheppard was what they needed, desperately, and Rodney could have kissed him for it. When the hologram faded out of existence, Rodney realized that he actually had. On the mouth. Sheppard looked even more dazed than before. "Uh, sorry," Rodney said, just a little panicky, and released his grip on Sheppard's arms. "It's just that this is-- You are--"

"What was that?"

"It's a long story. And as nice as this location is, I'd suggest we continue this somewhere else." Rodney took the device from him and shoved Sheppard in the direction of the door.

* * *

"Are you even fit to drive?" The thought came a little late, when Sheppard was already changing lanes like crazy on the freeway.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Oh, maybe because of your first intimate contact with alien technology?"

"Alien?" Sheppard's head jerked around to him. "You never said anything about alien!"

"Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road!" Rodney squeaked, and Sheppard narrowly missed running into another car.

"See?" Rodney said, pointing out the windshield. "That's what I mean! No more discussion of this until we're moving at less than ten miles per hour."

"Fine," Sheppard said in a careful, humor-the-crazy-guy tone. Rodney couldn't blame him, since aliens really were a lot to take in for the unsuspecting, normal guy off the street.

"Tell me something about you," Sheppard demanded then. "You seem to know an awful lot about me already."

"Okay," Rodney agreed, blinking at the sudden turn in their conversation. "If you must know, I am--"

"And not about your academic career. I can look that up on the internet. About you."

"That's unfair. My information on you is purely professional, too."

"I like Ferris Wheels, college football, and everything that goes over two hundred miles per hour." Sheppard made a so there gesture with his right hand.

"I'd never have guessed," Rodney muttered, which caused Sheppard to grin and put his foot down a little heavier on the gas.

"You're going to kill yourself like this one day," Rodney said and clawed his fingers into the arm rest. "I'd prefer it if you didn't take me with you. Really, thank you for not killing me!"

Sheppard went still. His jaw muscles were working restlessly as he clenched his teeth.

"Oh," Rodney said. "I didn't mean to-- I know the accident wasn't your fault."

Even the muscles in Sheppard's jaw stilled now. "How do you even know about--" Sheppard hissed. For a moment Rodney expected him to slam on the brakes and throw Rodney out of the car, or maybe he wouldn't even slow down to do it.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to-- I-- Um. Careful preparation?" Rodney offered awkwardly. "And it's not like it's a state secret."

"Right," Sheppard said tightly. "Fine."

"So. Um. Why are you doing this?" Rodney gestured at the landmarks that rushed by outside with god knew how many miles per hour. "To challenge fate?"

Sheppard's lips twisted into a humorless smile and he relaxed his tight grip on the steering wheel. "Funny. Nancy always asks me the same thing."

Nancy? Rodney didn't remember reading about a Nancy in the files. "Your girlfriend?"

"No. She's my second in command in the business, so to speak." Sheppard cast him a curious glance. "Are you even aware of the fact that you practically picked me up in a gay bar half an hour ago?"

"Of c-- What?" Gay bar? Really? Rodney hadn't noticed. He frantically replayed their conversation in his head and decided that, yes, viewed from a certain angle, it could be interpreted that way. They'd even kissed. Sort of.

"Oh. Oh. You let me pick you up. Even before you knew about-- Oh!" Now the cryptic remarks made sense, and the weird looks Sheppard had given him. "But-- but why?"

"Why not? You seemed like an interesting guy. You have gorgeous eyes. And a great ass."

"Um," Rodney said.

"You're straight, aren't you?"

"Actually-- yes."

"Shame," Sheppard said.

* * *

The Sheppard mansion wasn't even a mansion. It was more like a normal house, really. Rodney would have expected it to be bigger and spacier and a lot less welcoming than it seemed when they entered. Rodney followed Sheppard into the living room.

"Do you want a drink?" Sheppard asked. "God knows I need one."

"Just give me whatever you're having."

Rodney scanned the room, and his eyes were immediately drawn to the painting over the fireplace. It showed a fighter plane in flight. A painting of a fighter plane. Air Force, Rodney thought. In another universe Sheppard had joined the Air Force.

Framed photographs were on display on the mantlepiece. Rodney walked closer. A faded wedding picture, probably of John's parents. A family of four in front of the great pyramids in Gizeh. Two smiling boys in what was obviously a self-portrait. The angle was a little off – Dave's chin hadn't quite made it into the picture.

"My brother." Sheppard handed Rodney a glass. "Fourteen is much too young to die," he said, with a carefully blank expression, and downed his drink.

There was nothing Rodney could add to that statement. He didn't do deep and meaningful, but he didn't do shallow, either. "You're a pilot?" he asked instead, pointing at the next photograph.

A small smile tugged on the corners of Sheppard's mouth. "Yes. I'm a pilot."

"Flying what? Company planes?"

As fast as the smile had appeared, it was wiped off Sheppard's face again. "Nothing." Sheppard didn't take his eyes off the photograph of him in front of a small plane – a Cessna? "Not since I-- Not anymore."

"I see," Rodney said, and he did. There wasn't much time for hobbies when you were running a company that operated world-wide. And somewhere, in some alternate reality, under different circumstances, a John Sheppard had made his entire life about flying.

Sheppard tore his eyes away from the picture and turned to Rodney again. "I believe there was a story you wanted to tell me."

When Rodney sat down on the sofa, with Sheppard's attention focused on him, he didn't know where to begin. He put the Ancient image projector on the coffee table between them and figured that the Ancients and the origin of humanity were as good a place to start as any.

Revisiting the first year of their expedition, let alone the history of the entire stargate program, didn't go as smoothly and linearly as Rodney had planned. He should have made a flowchart, an Excel sheet, something. He kept forgetting things and had to insert them at a later time. To add to the confusion, Sheppard asked questions that steered them off path. Intelligent questions, even.

With his degrees and his current position it was a given that Sheppard couldn't be completely stupid, Rodney had known that from the start. But he was a lot more than not completely stupid. He could identify large prime numbers, which Rodney discovered while elaborating on the raging stupidity of his staff.

"Really," Rodney said, "Tell either of them 'forty-five thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine' and they stare at you as if you've grown another head."

"It's prime," Sheppard offered, shrugging.

It really, really wasn't fair for him to be rich, good-looking, and smart. Life was such a bitch.

When Rodney's tale reached the encounter with the alternate reality Daedalus, everything was already a jumbled mess of information about people, places, and events Sheppard had never encountered, seen, or experienced, and he looked like his head might explode any moment.

"Wait. Alternate universes? That's it! We're taking a break." Sheppard rose from the sofa. "Are you hungry? This calls for pizza."

"I'm starving, actually," Rodney said, frowning. Sheppard seemed surprisingly untouched by this. "How can you think about food now?" And huh, Rodney hadn't expected that question to ever come out of his mouth.

"Easily. You could as well have re-told the first season of Star Trek to me. It just-- doesn't feel real yet." Sheppard vanished into the kitchen. "Ask me again tomorrow. Is mushrooms, peppers, and salami okay with you?" he shouted.

For a moment Rodney felt like he was very slow on the uptake. Which he knew he wasn't. "Uh, yes. Just no citrus. I'm really deathly allergic to citrus!"

Sheppard stuck his head through the kitchen door, the phone already to his ear. "I'm pretty sure they don't put citrus on pizza-- Oh, hi, I want to place an order--" He vanished again and came back a few minutes later, wearing jeans and a faded t-shirt, and carrying two bottles. "Sorry, no real beer," he said unapologetically.

"Yes, well, one can't expect any taste from you Americans."

"So you don't want it, then? That's fine with me."

"Oh, for god's sake." Rodney grabbed the bottle from his hand.

Sheppard flopped down next to him on the sofa. "What do you want to do now?"

"What do you mean, what do I want to do now? Don't you want to know more about--"

"No. I've had enough for today. Really," Sheppard drank down half of his beer in one go. "It's a lot to take in."

"Oh. Okay. I should probably-- You know, go find a hotel then." Up to now Rodney hadn't even thought about where he was going to spend the night. That was disorganized, even for him.

"Don't be ridiculous," Sheppard said with surprising vehemence. "Our pizza is on the way, I assume that your backpack holds all your stuff, and I've got two guest rooms. You can even choose."

"I'm a total stranger and you'd let me stay at your house?"

"I've got a good feeling about you, Rodney," Sheppard said lightly, but his eyes suggested that he really wasn't joking.

"Um," Rodney said. "I could say the same about you. John." Which was true. He could. On some level, they clicked, and that never happened to Rodney. Rodney just didn't meet people he clicked with.

John flashed him a grin. "It gets even better. I've got Star Trek on DVD."

"Oh, great!" Rodney rubbed his hands together in glee. This was clicking on a cosmic level. "Bring it on."

When Horta had saved her children, their pizza arrived. Rodney insisted that he pay the delivery guy. It was the least he could do.

"Aww," John said as he pried the box open. "You're buying me dinner. I've been known to put out for less, you know."

Rodney just shot him a look. "As much fun as the classics are, have you got anything new?" he asked, gesturing at the TV with his piece of pizza. "I've been gone for a year."

"Sure." John put on The Sarah Connor Chronicles and produced the bottle of scotch again.

They watched the pilot, then the credits were rolling, and the next thing Rodney knew, John was shaking him awake. "Rodney, come on. Let's get you to bed."

"Oh, but, um," was the pathetic extent of Rodney's protest. It was entirely possible that he'd had one glass too many of the scotch.

"Relax, your virtue is safe with me," John said, chuckling.

"You say that now, but once you've got me on a bed, you'll sing a different tune," Rodney mumbled, hanging heavily onto John's shoulder as they climbed the stairs. "You're still trying to get in my pants, aren't you?"

"Yes," John said honestly.

"Oh," Rodney said, not really awake enough to give that statement the answer it deserved – whatever that was.

Rodney flopped down on the bed in the guest room and let John tug off his shoes. When John tried to start on the buttons of Rodney's shirt, Rodney batted his hands away. "Cut that out! I can undress myself." His fingers struggled with the complicated mechanism, and he frowned in concentration. "Have been doing so since I was five."

"Okay," John said, clearly amused, and stepped back. "Goodnight, Rodney." He closed the door behind him.

* * *

It must have been the smell of coffee that had woken Rodney up, because it wasn't even eight o'clock yet when he ambled down the stairs, with a headache as if a rhino had tapdanced on his forehead while he'd been sleeping. He found John cluttering up the kitchen.

"You look like hell," Rodney observed and headed straight for the coffee pot.

"Good morning to you too," John answered sarcastically. "You're no shining beauty yourself."

Rodney snorted. Right. As if he ever was. "Did you sleep at all last night?"

"Not much. I kept thinking about comets on collision course, out-of-control singularities, life-sucking aliens, and how close we've all come to dying. Repeatedly." He sounded just that little bit accusing.

"Welcome to my world," Rodney said unsympathetically and took a sip of the delicious coffee.

"Oh, it's great to be here," John answered moodily. "I'd be tempted to call you a liar and get some undisturbed sleep tonight, if I hadn't seen that image projector thing. Come here and chop this."

Rodney hadn't cooked himself a meal in-- forever. But handling a knife should come back naturally. Maybe? "Okay. But I'm holding you responsible for any serious injury originating from this task."

John raised an eyebrow at him. "We're preparing an omelet, not disarming a bomb."

"Well, a bomb would be easy."

When John got out the frying pan, Rodney started rummaging through the cupboards. He opened a drawer in search for forks and found-- something. He held it up. "Do you even know what this is for?"

"Oh for-- Here, you watch the omelet, I'll set the table," John said, visibly fighting a smile. "And for your information, this is a garlic crusher."

In the end, when Rodney shoveled the omelet onto their plates, it looked more like scrambled eggs than anything else.

"I warned you," Rodney said defensively.

"Not exactly. But I should have seen it coming when you almost chopped off your thumb."

"Funny. Don't you have to go to work today?" Rodney grumbled.

"I called in sick. More coffee?"

"That is a rhetorical question, right?"

They ate and even cleared the dishes away afterwards. Leaning on the kitchen counter, John watched Rodney gulp down two aspirin followed by his third cup of coffee. "I've learned that you're addicted to coffee, deathly allergic to citrus, and that you like Star Trek. What else is there to know about you? Family? Spouse?"

"Wouldn't you rather-- You must have a million questions about--" Rodney made a vague sky-ward gesture.

"Yes, I do. Made a list, actually. But I want to hear about you first."

"Really? Why?" If Rodney had the choice between hearing about the secrets of the universe and hearing about Rodney McKay, the secrets of the universe would win, hands down. But then again, Rodney knew himself already. "Wait-- You made a list?"

"I can fetch it later. Stop changing the topic." John crossed his arms in determination.

"Okay, fine." Rodney ticked the points off on his fingers. "Both my parents died over ten years ago. I've got a sister in Vancouver. There's no spouse now and no spouse-to-be in sight. I save Atlantis every day and twice on Sundays, and I never even get a 'thank you'. My science team calls me Dr. McKay to my face and 'that asshole' behind my back. I don't know what my friends call me because I don't have any. End of presentation."

John tilted his head thoughtfully. "That doesn't sound like you're happy there."

It really didn't, Rodney realized. The thought had never even occurred to him. "Well, I'm-- a lot less unhappy on Atlantis than I was on Earth. That has to count for something." God, even to his own ears that sounded incredibly depressing. And it didn't exactly sell the idea of moving to the Pegasus galaxy.

"I'd imagine your friends would call you Rodney," John said finally.

Rodney pondered this. "You do."

That was a start.

* * *

"You know what I can't figure out?" John handed Rodney The List, which consisted of three sheets of paper. The first question on the first page had been underlined twice with a red marker and read 'Why me?'.

"If this gene is so rare, how did you know that I'm a carrier?" John settled down onto the sofa next to Rodney. "You stalked me. Don't tell me you didn't know for sure."

"Not for sure. I strongly suspected. If you'd let me continue with the alternate reality story yesterday, you'd already know."

"So? Get on with it?"

"Okay. This may sound a little weird, but there was a John Sheppard on the alternate reality Daedalus. I heard his voice. Your voice. "

"Right," John said slowly. "That is weird. Did I-- did he say how he ended up in another galaxy?"

Rodney hesitated. "Apparently, in their universe your brother is alive, and you-- their John Sheppard joined the Air Force."

John stared at the photograph on the mantlepiece, then at the painting above it. "Yeah. He would have."

"His gene is strong. Your gene. Much stronger than in anyone we have ever tested, from what I've seen so far. My counterpart said that we needed you, and I knew that I wouldn't lie to myself."

John made a face. "This alternate reality thing seriously freaks me out."

Rodney found it-- intriguing. "I think it's kind of-- cool?"

"Cool?" John repeated. "You know, coming out of your mouth, that sounds really-- uncool. Interesting."

"Oh, funny. I don't see why--" Rodney was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. "Are you expecting--" He was stopped by John's pointed look. "Of course you're not expecting anyone."

John went to get the door. He said, "Nancy? What are you doing here?" just loud enough for Rodney to understand. Of course Rodney tip toed around the corner to steal a glance at her.

"You haven't called in sick in five years. I figured for that to happen you must practically be on your death bed." Nancy was an attractive woman in her mid-thirties. She was wearing a business suit, and her long brown hair was tied back into a ponytail. She eyed John curiously. "But as it turns out--"

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I--"

Rodney had never been good at hide and seek, so naturally she spotted him behind the potted plant. "Oh. Oh!" she said, and raised a hand at him. "Hi, I'm Nancy."

"Um, hi," Rodney said, waving back awkwardly. "Rodney."

John glared at him. "Nancy, this isn't what it looks like. Really."

She grinned mischievously. "Oh, I hope this is exactly what it looks like. I'll leave you two to it, then." She kissed him on the cheek. "John, you're allowed to live a little. Nice meeting you, Rodney!"

John closed the door behind her.

"So, um, that was Nancy?" Rodney asked.

"Yes, that was Nancy. Who now thinks that I skipped work in favor of fucking you senseless."

Rodney didn't bat an eyelid at that. "She doesn't seem to mind."

"Well, I mind."

"Hey, I'm not that bad a catch."

John's mouth opened and closed a few times without a sound coming out. "Your ego is really something. It's a miracle you both fit in the same room. Don't you care what she thinks? You're straight!"

"And I'll probably never meet her again, so why worry?"

John made a frustrated sound and stalked up the stairs.

Rodney counted this one as a win before he realized that he didn't even know what kind of competition they were in.

* * *

Rodney looked up from his laptop and almost breathed a sigh of relief when John appeared in the living room door again. He wasn't looking pissed off anymore, more like-- withdrawn? A little wary?

"We're going out tonight," Rodney announced to him. "Uh, you don't mind me using your wireless, do you?"

If Rodney had taken a minute to think about it – which he didn't – he would have had to ponder the astonishing extent to which he'd made himself at home in a stranger's house barely twenty-four hours after meeting him.

"My wireless?" John asked. "But that's protected by a--"

Rodney raised his eyebrows at him.

"Never mind. What do you mean, we're going out? As in a date?"

"No, as in going to the symphony and then having something to eat. I haven't been to the symphony in over a year."

"And you figured that, naturally, I'd be totally on board with the symphony," John said sarcastically.

"No, but I figured you'd be totally on board with the steak and the beer you're going to get afterwards."

"If you put it that way. What exactly do you have in mind?"

Two hours later, showered and changed, they were almost ready to head towards DC. When John casually walked down the stairs, Rodney stared openly. John was wearing a goddamn tuxedo, and it looked fantastic on him.

"It's the symphony. We're supposed to dress up, aren't we?" John said, smirking.

Rodney finally managed to pick his jaw off the floor. "Nonono," he protested. "I didn't even bring a suit! I'd look like a tramp next to you. Go, change into something less-- less--" Gorgeous, Rodney thought, but he would bite his tongue off before he'd say it.

John took pity on him. "Okay, fine. Be back in a sec."

Why did Rodney have the feeling that John had arranged this fashion show on purpose?

So, another change of clothes later, they actually were on their way to DC. Rodney had offered to call a cab for them, but John wouldn't have it. Fortunately, he behaved himself on the road this time, apart from fiddling with the radio a lot.

"Keep your eyes on the road!" Rodney batted John's hand away from the controls for the third time. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "it's funny how little we talk about Atlantis. There are a million things you need to--"

"Not tonight, okay?" John interrupted, glancing over at him. "Can't this be-- just us?"

Rodney studied his profile for a moment. "Okay," he said.

He'd like that, actually.

Part Two

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