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Identity Crisis

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Rodney's furious when he discovers the John Sheppard he's been treating like his best friend is actually a John Sheppard from another reality with an evil plan.

He has burly Marines throw the wrong John into a holding cell, alerts Sam, and uses his radio to tell the mess to serve the prisoner nothing but reconstituted spinach and baked beans, both of which John loathes. Rodney pops open his laptop and clicks on the playlist of music which he has scientifically calculated to induce maximum unusual cruelty. Madonna's Material Girl sounds terrible on his crappy sound system; he turns it up.

"Hey," Sheppard says. His expression is congealed, like he's trying to look friendly and ingratiating despite seething with anger under the surface. He's not pacing, and his arms are crossed, but his pose is still defiant. A very dangerous man.

"Who are you, why are you here, how did you get here, and where's John Sheppard," Rodney repeats. He asked Sheppard the same questions two times, at increasing volume, while the burly Marines were hauling Sheppard out of John's room.

"Why do you think I'm not who I am?" Sheppard asks, in a grating fake-reasonable tone.

Rodney shrugs and flips a finger up for each point. "One, our Sheppard never ties his shoes. Two, his Iratus lovebite scar isn't that low on his neck. Three, he's not about to forget the name of his own racing car or have a Hello Kitty sticker on his tac vest."

Sheppard raises one eyebrow as if to show how unimpressed he was. "Still took you a while to figure it out."

Rodney frowns. The time problem has been niggling at his brain. Fake Sheppard hadn't been up to anything, as far as Rodney and Zelenka have been able to tell. He arrived a day or two ago, sliding into John's life and then...doing nothing. Attending meetings, filing paperwork, sparring and running and playing video games, nothing nefarious that Rodney could tell.

"Has it been enough time for my reality's Sheppard to do whatever he's doing?" Rodney asks.

Sheppard spreads his hands. "I came here to steal a ZPM. My Atlantis is dying, and my McKay figured out how to make a puddlejumper go sideways in reality." He squints at Rodney as if expecting to be taken to task for the dumbed-down explanation. When Rodney stays silent, Sheppard's shoulders slump. "Your Sheppard caught me -- he's a paranoid bastard. He said he'd take care of it and be back when he's done so I can get home to my wife and kids."

"He's a stupid bastard," Rodney corrects, and snaps the laptop shut, silencing The Village People. Rodney's head hurts. "As if he'd let you go on a dangerous mission when you've got a family. He's got a thing about that." Sheppard shifts his weight to one hip, restless, and suddenly Rodney knows that his John was set up and entrapped, that this Sheppard plotted with cold deliberation to force John to take all the risks. "You make me ill," Rodney says, in a light conversational tone that is utterly false. Sheppard looks momentarily off-balance, but not guilty enough in Rodney's mind.

Rodney turns on his heel and walks out, leaving Sheppard alone to contemplate returning to his city and his family an utter coward.

Neither Sam nor Zelenka can figure out how to find the right John Sheppard, but Rodney has them work in shifts while he supervises, though he doesn't exactly call it that to Sam's face.

He doesn't go again to see Sheppard in the cell, but he really hopes the nasty diet is disagreeing with his digestion.

The third day after the impersonation was uncovered, an unknown puddlejumper appears on the west pier. Rodney takes stairs and transporters, collecting Ronon and Teyla on the way, and runs down and out along the pier until he can see John, walking carefully around the jumper, one hand trailing over scorch marks from weapons fire and suspicious dings in the drive pods.

John pauses and then turns quickly, his face lighting when he sees his team.

"Hey," he says, grin wide despite the way his face is bruised all along the left side.

"Hey yourself," Ronon says, and Teyla pulls John down into a formal embrace.

Rodney's all of a sudden furious, a wash of red going over his vision, and he says, "Oh, it's you. Again." John gives him a mocking wave, and Rodney turns on his heel and starts the long walk back.

He doesn't go with John and Ronon and Teyla to collect the wrong Sheppard and send him home. He's busy working in his lab, and snaps at Sam when she drops by to check up on him. John picked up a ZPM for her as well, while he was out risking his life.

"How thoughtful," Rodney says, his tone making it clear that this is an insult. Sam shakes her head, either amused or frustrated, and leaves him to stew in his anger.

He knows John will probably wait for him in his room; John's not one to hide from problems. But Rodney still stops short just inside his door when he sees John sitting there on the edge of his bed.

He glares. "Out."

John leans back on his hands. His bruises look even worse in the bad light. "Nope." He nods sideways towards the desk. "Got you something at Wal-Mart."

Rodney looks between his shiny new ZPM and John twice, slowly. "It's a good bribe," he admits. "But I still want to strangle you with my bare hands."

John raises a shoulder lazily. "Go for it."

"Tell me you didn't just risk your life in place of Colonel Picket-fence Two-point-five-kids."

John's eyes narrow. "If I hadn't made it back he'd never have seen his family again."

"If you hadn't made it back," Rodney throws the words back, twisting them, "I'd never have seen you again."

John has the grace to flinch at that.

"I thought Carter would say no." John looks tired and sounds like that's the bald truth. "Figured I'd ask for forgiveness instead of permission."

Rodney snorts and goes to sit down heavily next to John. "You thought we wouldn't notice you weren't yourself."

"It took longer than I planned," John admits. He looks sideways at Rodney. "Did you sleep with him?"

"Yes," Rodney says. "Right here in this bed, three times a day before meals to work up an appetite, and down in the holding cell, of course, because nothing says hot like you in restraints."

"I'm sorry," John says, and sits up so he can put one hand on Rodney's shoulder, warm and comforting despite everything.

"You're not a Replicator, right?" Rodney asks. "Because I assume that's where you went, the other-Sheppard Replicator homeworld. Hope you started a war while you were visiting," he adds, even though most of his anger and fear is bleeding away now. Damn John and his ability to defuse a righteous snit.

"Keller scanned and probed me pretty thoroughly," John says with a grimace. "No nanites."

"You can't do this again," Rodney says. "People trust you."

"He was me," John says. He sounds a little lost. "I thought I could trust myself." He leaned close to rest his forehead against Rodney's shoulder. "I am sorry."

"Fine," Rodney says. "I'm going to bed." He shakes John off and stands to strip down to his boxers, and then gestures for John to get out of his way. John gets up and sticks his thumbs in his pockets awkwardly, obviously not wanting to go unless Rodney wants him gone. "Fine," Rodney says, with a put-upon sigh, and turns the lights off. "I guess you can stay. No stealing the covers," he adds, and listens to John moving about in the dark. He likes to think that he knows John well; that he knows the sounds of John undressing, and the feel of John settling into bed next to him, and the possessive way John's hand rests on his stomach.

But maybe all John Sheppards are like that. Maybe this one isn't unique, or special. Maybe this one's wrong in such a subtle way that Rodney hasn't realized yet, or may never realize.

John sighs, and moves closer, his mouth pressing a kiss to Rodney's cheek and then to the corner of his mouth. "Love you," John says, the way he always does, weirdly suspicious as if he has no idea why he feels this way.

"Whatever," Rodney snaps in return, which earns him another kiss before John pillows his head on Rodney's shoulder and starts breathing like he's already asleep.

the end