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Give and Take

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blue-edged collage manip of old-Rodney on left, canon-age Rodney on right, and a hive ship orbiting over a planet between.

 

You put your life force in,
You pull your life force out,
You put your life force in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey
And you turn yourself around,
That's what it's all about.

(bastardized version of the "Hokey Pokey" song)

 

"What is this bullshit with the fancy dress?" grumbled Rodney, pulling at his overtight collar as he stepped off the Area 51 beaming platform.

Carter had provided the suit and tie so that he could change into them on the Daedalus before she delivered him planetside. The supply officer'd used his old SGC uniform measurements and the outfit was smart and quite flattering, but they'd obviously miscalculated - there was no way he'd put on this much weight around the neck. ("All that trekking around alien planets and running for the gate!" he'd protested to Teyla and Ronon. "Yeah, and all those tormack pastries," Ronon had shot back, grinning. Teyla had smiled. "You look very…dapper, Rodney.")

Radek glanced around uncomfortably. "It is the new dress code. The administration are very strict about it these days." He shrugged resignedly, looking mildly rumpled and, in Rodney's view, ridiculous, in a lightweight gray suit. It was like being at a conference but without any of the benefits – if he was going to look like a stuffed shirt he at least expected applause.

They started down the main hallway towards the labs. Rodney looked around but apart from a bunch of extra notices on the walls setting out new rules and penalties for infringements it seemed much the same. "Carter told me things had changed. Whose idiot idea was this, then?"

Two SFs strode past and Radek seemed to shrink back inside his suit. "Hush, Rodney, keep your voice down," he muttered. "It is a directive of the new Area 51 Head of Operations. Director Ba'al. He believes that higher sartorial standards will remind us all of the importance of the work we do here."

Rodney's eyes bugged out and Radek glared at him in warning. With an effort, Rodney kept his voice low, leaning in. "Ba'al? They're letting the president's pet sn–"

"Shhh!" hissed Radek, grabbing Rodney by the sleeve and dragging him down a side corridor then pushing him into a supply closet. "Is not safe to talk freely," he whispered. "Walls have ears!" Rodney peered at the dusty shelving and raised his eyebrows. Radek shrugged. "Well, possibly. We are not certain, but there are rumours."

"Are you sure this isn't just your old Eastern-bloc paranoia coming back again?" asked Rodney peevishly. "You always were something of a conspiracy nut." He brushed some dust off the sleeve of his suit, and sneezed.

Radek folded his arms and glowered. "No it is not a conspiracy theory. Things are going on here that are not…you remember the Wraith?"

"What, Todd? I thought you said in the transmission there was some new Wraith menace going on. Not more dramas with Ford's pet."

"Just because Major Ford named the Wraith he captured does not make it a pet," Radek admonished him. "I have no love for the creature, but Ba'al refuses to put it into stasis, and it is in a bad way. They say he likes to visit the Wraith and taunt it."

"That'd be a fun tête-à-tête, parasite to predator," said Rodney, making a face. "Sounds like a Stallone movie. Okay, so I'm to mind my ps and qs because Ba'al's in charge and he's a dick. Color me surprised. But why'd you drag my team all the way back here from Pegasus? Well, apart from Ford – he had to stay in Atlantis, being Sumner's 2IC. I'm sure Todd'll be very disappointed to miss seeing his 'blood brother' or whatever the hell they are."

"It is not to do with Todd, no. Come, we will go to my office, as long as you guard your tongue."

"Oh all right, whatever." Rodney sneezed again. "Let's get out of here – it's triggering my allergies."

They resumed walking down the main hallway. "So," said Radek after a while, "you know all about the battle with the Hive ship."

Rodney waved his hand. "Yes, yes. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Radek pursed his lips and Rodney canned the fake British accent. "Earth saved yet again by the F-302 flyboys, not to mention O'Neill in the Chair. Where is it, by the way, the Chair? Is it here? Can I see it? How did you restructure the interface after removing it from the Antarctic outpost, I–"

"Rodney," said Radek, exasperated. He opened the door to a small office and pushed Rodney in. "First we go over the data about possible Wraith killings, then maybe later you can see the Chair." He held up a warning hand. "See, mind you, not pull apart the interface because you believe you can do it better."

"I'll bet I can do it better," Rodney retorted, frowning. "Is there coffee?"

Radek waved at a coffee-maker against the wall. "Probably you could," he admitted, sounding weary. "But we do not have time for you to play with the Chair. There are other priorities."

Rodney poured himself a coffee from the carafe on the hotplate. "You really think there could be stray Wraith running around loose? Some that escaped the battle?"

Radek shrugged. "The deaths are distinctive and match reports from Pegasus. Nothing else kills like that." Rodney shifted restlessly, remembering bodies in culled villages, the stench of Hive ship cocoons. "Hopefully it is only one," Radek continued. "The pattern of victims to date seems to indicate one perpetrator. But there are anomalies, radioactive isotopes on all the bodies that we cannot explain."

Rodney looked up sharply. "What, the Wraith's radioactive? From the battle? Some kind of explosion it was caught in?" He shook his head. "No, that can't be. They self-heal, and it's feeding, not starving. It'd throw off any contamination – just grow new flesh, so it can't be from the battle….it must be…"

"Ano, now you see it," agreed Radek. "It must still be exposed to the radioactive source."

"Huh," muttered Rodney, setting aside his coffee mug so as to gesticulate. "Can't be from its dart ship – the technology's completely different. Something else it's exposed to." He looked up. "That's why the multiple feedings." Radek cocked his head, and Rodney drummed his fingers on the desk. "If it was constantly exposed to radioactive damage, it'd have to keep feeding to repair itself." He looked up at Radek. "They don't need to feed all that often and it's risking exposure leaving all these bodies around." He frowned. "Why isn't it hiding them?"

Radek shrugged. "It did try to hide them, before. Maybe more than we located. Vegas has many transients."

"Yes," said Rodney, "but why isn't it hiding them now?"

"If it is sick, perhaps it is becoming confused and careless?" suggested Radek.

Rodney grimaced. "Possible, but why is it sick, why the radioactivity? I don't like this. It's as though it doesn't care any more, because…" he stared up at Radek, intent. "Because there isn't much time left. Because it doesn't think it needs to hide much longer. Because it's working with something – something radioactive – that's nearly ready."

"A bomb?" asked Radek, brows furrowed. "It is planning revenge?"

Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "They don't think like that." He stared up at Radek, face pinched. "It won't be doing this just for itself. They're collective organisms. Whatever it's doing, it'll be for the Hives back in Pegasus."

Radek frowned. "We cannot be sure it is not making a bomb, Rodney, and that seems a more likely cause of radioactivity."

"Trust me, it's not," snapped Rodney. "I need all your data on the radioactive isotopes and where each of the bodies was found. You've run pattern-recognition algorithms to find the thing's likely location?"

Radek rolled his eyes. "This, I recall and do not miss – your stubborn insistence that you are right and all others are wrong. You never listen."

"I listen when people make sense," Rodney retorted, making grabbing motions at Radek's laptop. "And I almost always am right. Come on, gimme."

"Almost always," said Radek grimly, bringing over the laptop.

"Not that again," muttered Rodney, but he was already diving into the data, typing furiously.

-----------o0o-----------

"I'm still not convinced that  we should disclose anything to a civilian detective," said Woolsey. "He's not a good security risk – the debts, the drinking, and his military record–"

"Yes, yes, a big slap on the wrist," interjected Rodney. "Although frankly, being expelled from the armed forces is a point in his favor, in my view."

"On this issue, I'm not interested in your view, Dr. McKay," said Woolsey, frowning. "Sheppard's a loose cannon."

"Well, while smashing his way around the lower decks of Vegas he's made more progress in a few days than we have in the past week. I've got a bad feeling about this whole business, and it's not a damn bomb, no matter what Zelenka says. It's something worse. The isotope results are non-specific and the search algorithms are useless – there are just too many variables. We need to get Sheppard on board. Jesus, now you've got me doing nautical metaphors as well. Just give him the damned NDA and let's get cracking."

"I want it on record that this is against my advice," muttered Woolsey, tight-lipped. Rodney just crossed his arms and glared.

Of course, Sheppard turned out to be as paranoid as Woolsey, and refused to sign the NDA, so Rodney had to resort to even more tedious arguments before he got to see him.

Five minutes later Rodney was thinking longingly of Teyla, stuck up there on the Daedalus with Ronon because of Ba'al's policies prohibiting aliens in the Area 51 precinct – an irony not wasted on Rodney, although clearly a lot of the staff here had no idea their ultimate boss was a Goa'uld. Teyla would have gotten through to Sheppard, Rodney was sure. He glared at the unshaven detective across the table. Threats hadn't worked and Sheppard was insolent as ever, smirking at Rodney over the untouched packet of spearmint gum – a killer move, Rodney had thought, but Sheppard was almost as stubborn as Rodney himself. He was going to have to tell him the truth. Woolsey would burst a blood vessel.  

In fact, Rodney wanted to tell Sheppard. He'd talked with Teyla and Ronon about it on the tedious journey back to the Milky Way. He'd liked that other John Sheppard; they all had. Plus, as all stored military blood samples were checked for the gene these days, Woolsey's file on Sheppard showed he was an ATA-positive as strong as O'Neill. Okay, so this Sheppard wasn't a laid-back hero like his alternate-reality counterpart, but to hell with his record and his debts – the SGC dropped more on lab equipment any day of the week than it'd take to pay those off. If Sheppard hadn't put himself at the center of this hunt for the rogue Wraith, Rodney would still have wanted to see if their universe also had a John Sheppard, and if so, would have tried to track him down.

He leaned in, heartrate hiking up as it always did at the enormity of the whole damn thing. Aliens! Stargates! Spaceships! God, he loved his life - this was going to wipe the smirk right off Sheppard's face. "I don't expect you'll believe me at first," said Rodney intently. "I'm about to tell you some incredible things."

Sheppard raised an eyebrow.

-----------o0o-----------

It wasn't until Sheppard saw the hanger full of darts that Rodney figured he got it. The Chair was impressive, but it did look a little like a swords and sorcery prop, like something out of Lord of the Rings. And Rodney couldn't actually let Sheppard sit in the damn thing – Christ knew what might happen. Carson had almost managed to nuke O'Neill's helicopter with a drone down in Antarctica and O'Neill was the only one who'd been able to use the Chair with any control. If Sheppard's ATA gene was as supercharged as the file said he'd probably blow up Vegas by accident.

No, it took the obviously alien semi-organic darts to hammer it home to Sheppard that all this stuff Rodney'd been telling him was true. He handled it better than most of the new recruits Rodney had inducted. Sheppard just gripped the gantry railing white-knuckled and made a crack about not being a science fiction fan. Right, thought Rodney grimly, let's see how you handle a real goddam alien then, and he took Sheppard down to see Todd.

Truth be told, Rodney had been avoiding Todd. He had enough Wraith problems back in Pegasus, thank you very much, and there'd been no reason to go anywhere near Todd's holding cell – it was Ford who had the weird relationship with Todd, not Rodney. So it was just as well that Sheppard was so caught up in his own revulsion and fascination, and didn’t notice Rodney quietly freaking out in the doorway behind him.

Todd was indeed in a "bad way" and Jesus, was that ever a euphemism. He was obviously starving, delirious to the point where his weird poetic utterances had slid into frank incoherence. It was pitiful. Rodney would almost have felt sorry for the thing if it hadn't been a certainty that without the polycarbonate-glass wall between them and the Wraith, he and Sheppard would be dinner in a heartbeat. But still, he could see what Radek meant. There was no damn point keeping Todd on display like this – the SGC should either execute him or stick him into stasis. Rodney felt sick at the thought that Ba'al was enjoying the Wraith's decline, that he kept Todd alive just to torture him. Moronic political power games: this was why Rodney preferred Pegasus.

Sheppard got sucked in of course, listening wide-eyed to disorganized bullshit about the desert, the harvest moon and the usual threats about Wraith being never-ending. Yeah, tell that to Ronon, thought Rodney defiantly. He's ended a fair few.

"Come inside," said Todd, staring at Sheppard. "I'll show you your destiny...John Sheppard."

Okay, time to nip that bullshit in the bud, thought Rodney. "They can get in your head," he explained, pulling Sheppard out of the room and watching him shake off the Wraith's feeble influence. Once Sheppard had recovered he was more cooperative, and they finally got to share intel about the other Wraith, the one that wasn't locked away safely at Area 51.

Rodney steered them back to the elevators, heading for the upper levels of the complex. The doors pinged open just as he was about to swipe his card, and Rodney stepped back, treading on Sheppard's toe. "Ow," complained Sheppard, as Rodney stumbled.

"Dr. McKay," said the man emerging from the elevator. Achingly sharp suit, neatly trimmed goatee.

Rodney swallowed and lifted his chin. "Ba'al," he replied warily.

Ba'al turned, eyes narrowing. "And who is your delicious companion?" He raised a brow, his gaze flicking hungrily over Sheppard, who scowled.

"Ah, Detective Sheppard, meet Ba'al," Rodney managed.

"Director Ba'al, if you please, Dr. McKay," said Ba'al, extending a hand. Sheppard didn’t take it. Ba'al tilted his head, pretending amusement. "Playing hard to get, Detective? A pity. You're very easy on the eyes, in a rough trade kind of way."

Sheppard's fists clenched, but his face slid into a blank, smirking mask. "Is that so?" he drawled. "Pity you're not my type."

Ba'al smiled thinly, locking eyes with Sheppard. "A pity indeed. If you ever get tired of arresting drunks, Detective, look me up. I could…use a man like you."

"Oh, no no no," Rodney squeaked, flailing and grabbing Sheppard by the arm, hustling him around Ba'al and into the elevator. "He's very busy solving a case. We're solving it together. The case. Very important, must go!" Ba'al stared at them suspiciously as the elevator doors whooshed shut.

"Who the hell was that?" asked Sheppard. He looked a little spooked.

"A space alien," snapped Rodney. God, he needed a coffee.

-----------o0o-----------

By the time he got the coffee he needed it even more. Another spat with Zelenka who would not give up his wrongheaded conviction that the Wraith was building a bomb, and would Zelenka never stop reminding him about the interdimensional rift accident? Christ on a bike.

Then there was Sheppard. Rodney was confident Sheppard had finally shared all he knew, or had guessed, about the Wraith, but they were no further forward – they still had no idea where the damn thing had holed up.

Sheppard even fessed up about having found some gambling winnings the Wraith had left behind –   as though Rodney gave a rat's ass about Monopoly money when the creature was doubtless trying to tell its buddies about this great all-you-can-eat buffet called Earth. Still, it showed a certain moral fiber and Rodney felt compelled to tell the detective about alt-Sheppard, heroic military commander and all-around role model. Sheppard had seemed somewhat nonplussed by that, and about Rodney knowing Sheppard had fucked up his military career because he wouldn't leave his medic friend to die in the desert.

Afterwards, Rodney was pretty sure he'd just made matters worse and probably pissed Sheppard off. Instead of sticking around to help them he'd probably decide Rodney was a know-it-all asshole and do a runner with the cash.

Then of course the whole goddam desert around Vegas turned out to be radioactive so that way of tracking the Wraith was a complete bust. Rodney rubbed his temples wearily and drank some more coffee. Woolsey and Zelenka were bonding about Star Trek: The Experience having closed down and really, Rodney just wanted to bang their stupid heads together.    

It was going so badly that he almost didn't believe it when Harriman put through the call from Sheppard, who had found the damn Wraith! Then the shit hit the fan, with whatever device the Wraith was powering up cutting off Sheppard's phone before Rodney could warn him to get the hell out of there. He'd probably be okay – he'd said he was no hero, after all.

Woolsey called in an air strike which blew up the Wraith but the damn thing got a transmission off anyway so a few terrifying minutes passed until Rodney could be certain the signal hadn't had a chance to get through to Pegasus. It had torn another interdimensional rift in space-time though, so the whereabouts of Earth had most likely reached the Wraith in some other benighted universe. Rodney tried to feel sorry for his counterpart there, but it was all too abstract. Even Woolsey said that he only cared about their own reality.

It was over. They'd stopped Earth from being destroyed yet again, but Rodney just felt numb. Then Harriman was badgering him again, the fool.

"What? Jesus, is there no end to the–"

"It's the Daedalus, Dr. McKay. Teyla Emmagan."

"Oh. Oh, yes, give it here…Teyla?"

"Rodney? Colonel Carter has been monitoring Air Force transmissions. The Wraith has been destroyed?"

"Yes, pretty sure it couldn't have survived that – we'll check, of course, but the device it was building is gone so there's time now for a careful clean-up."

"And John?"

"Who?"

"Detective Sheppard, Rodney. Colonel Carter said he located the Wraith. Is this universe's John Sheppard injured?"

Rodney bit his lip, feeling cold. "Ah, one minute." He put the phone down and turned to Woolsey who was on his mobile reporting to someone at the SGC. Rodney marched over, fighting down his own guilt, and wrenched the phone from Woolsey's hand. "Sheppard!" he snapped, fear making him angry. "Have you, have we sent paramedics, an ambulance, a rescue helicopter. Something!"

Woolsey blinked at him, annoyed. "Sheppard?" he repeated, then took his phone back from Rodney. "One moment, Colonel, I just have to–"

"Oh for Christ's sake!" Rodney shouted, whirling and grabbing up his phone again. "Teyla? Get Carter to check for any lifesigns near the strike zone. If there are any, beam him up to the Daedalus. And Teyla? Be careful – there's a tiny chance it could be the Wraith."

There were muted commands in the background, then Teyla's voice again. "It is done, any minute we should…they have a lock, but the lifesign is very weak." Raised voices now, and urgent commands. Rodney could faintly hear someone yelling for a gurney. There was an interminable pause while Rodney tried not to panic, then finally Teyla again. "Rodney? We have him. I am sorry but he is badly injured. I will let you know once they have stabilized him."

Rodney swallowed, feeling sick. "Yes, I. Yes, please. Hell. Teyla, there was so much happening, and we'd lost contact with him a while back. I was sure he'd taken off, that he'd gotten away."

"It seems he shares some characteristics with his counterpart," Teyla said thoughtfully. "Colonel Carter has told me the Daedalus's high-resolution scans of the area show evidence of a firefight before the air strike was called in. Doubtless that is when Detective Sheppard was shot and seriously wounded. By engaging the Wraith in combat, he may have bought Earth some valuable time. "

She signed off, and Rodney sat, his legs shaky. Woolsey and Zelenka were staring at him. "They got him," Rodney said. "The Daedalus. He's still alive."

"The Wraith?" asked Woolsey, alarmed. "But–"

"Not the fucking Wraith!" yelled Rodney. "Sheppard!" He put his head in his hands, unable to look at them. "We forgot all about him."

-----------o0o-----------

Sheppard wasn't going to make it. He was in the UMC Trauma Center in Vegas - not being SGC staff he hadn't been beamed down to Cheyenne Mountain from the Daedalus. Rodney had argued his way into the Trauma Center, flashing his government ID card, only to be brought up short by the sight of Sheppard, unconscious, sunken-eyed and pale as the sheet covering him. There were tubes everywhere, too many of them draining red-tinged fluids, and the hiss of the ventilator echoed in Rodney's head as he stared, aghast.

The doctors went on about how many times Sheppard had arrested, about cascading organ failure, blahblahblah. Their mouths moved uselessly but nothing sensible emerged, and finally he turned and rushed out, down the stairs and out the front doors, straight ahead until he ended up in a small grove of dusty trees where the air didn't smell of death and despair and he could lean against a tree trunk and have his panic attack in peace.

He slumped down onto the dry earth with a tree at his back and shook for a while until the worst passed, then called the Daedalus. There was nothing he could do here, and he had to keep busy. Had to do something to make Sheppard's sacrifice worthwhile. The site of the Wraith's demise had had an initial going over by Area 51 techs, but Rodney wanted to see it for himself. Carter agreed to beam Teyla and Ronon down to the strike zone where the Wraith's hideout had been. Rodney knew it was ridiculous, but he needed to see for himself that the Wraith and the device it had been building had been well and truly blown to pieces.

Carter's engineers had scanned the area and reported low levels of radioactivity, but they said a brief check on the site would be safe if they stayed less than an hour. The whole area had been cordoned off and was awaiting a final, thorough examination by Area 51 techs in anti-radiation suits.

Rodney took the government car he'd commandeered at Area 51 to get to the hospital, and drove out to meet his team at the GPS coordinates Zelenka had pinpointed. He had to get Woolsey on the phone to bully his way past a police blockade a kilometer out from the site, but finally he was there, and in a shimmer of light, so were Teyla and Ronon.

Teyla came straight up to him and took his shoulders in her hands, resting her forehead against his.

"I am so sorry, Rodney. I gather Detective Sheppard's condition remains critical."

Rodney swallowed and pulled back to nod, unable to meet her gaze. "He's dying, basically. Some sort of shock syndrome from the trauma and blood loss; I don't know."

Ronon was scanning the area, narrow-eyed, hand on his blaster. There was debris everywhere and a car riddled with bullet holes: probably Sheppard's. No sign of the trailer the thing had been living in, just a wide blackened scorch mark on the desert and twisted scraps of metal all around.

Ronon kicked at them with a booted foot. "Reckon they got it good, McKay – there's nothing left but junk."

They looked, anyway, but Ronon was right: there was no trace of the alien device. Rodney found the place where Sheppard's blood had soaked into the sand on the side of the wrecked car away from the scorch mark, and had to stumble away.

Teyla found him, leaning on a stunted tree, and a moment later Ronon gave up kicking through the shrapnel and joined them. "I sense no Wraith hereabouts, now," Teyla said. "Which is not to say–"

"No, no, of course there's a limit to your ability to, you know," muttered Rodney, nodding meaningfully and tapping his temple. "Do you know how far it…?"

"Not really," Teyla said. "If they are in orbit I can tell, but with the bulk of the planet between us, I'm not sure. And with Todd–"

"Yes, of course, he's a confounding factor." Rodney nodded, glad to be distracted. "Still, might be a good thing if the Daedalus did a couple of orbits before we head back…"

"Yes," said Teyla. "That would be–" and then a shimmering split opened just over the blackened mark where the Wraith had exploded, flickering in a nauseating, hard-to-watch way like a mirage, and a man carrying a blocky case stepped through from nowhere and stood blinking on the scorched dirt.

The rift winked out and everything was still, just the three of them gaping at this unexpected visitor. Rodney felt his pulse hammering, hyper-aware of his surroundings: the dusty desert air, the lingering stench of carbon and petrol.

The man turned and saw them. He raised a hand to shield his face from the sun and called uncertainly "Hello? Is someone there?" Ronon stepped out of the dappled shade of the tree, blaster raised. The man stopped dead. "Ronon?"

Teyla gasped and clutched Rodney's arm as he squinted into the harsh light. It looked like? But no, it couldn't be.

"McKay?" asked Ronon suspiciously.

"Yes?" Rodney and the guy with the case said, simultaneously, and that was too weird. Rodney took a step back and raised a hand as though to ward off…something, but the other guy was picking his way through the debris towards them, hefting the dark, solid case.

"A little help here would be appreciated, Ronon," huffed the guy, looking annoyed. "I'm not as young as I used to be." And Jesus fucking Christ, it was him, Rodney, but about thirty years older, his hair gray. At least he still had some hair, Rodney noted, feeling dazed.

"Stop there," Ronon growled, looking to and fro between Rodney and this weird older version of himself.

"Oh for god's sake, it's me," said old-Rodney irritably. But he stopped where he was and put the case down. "What the hell happened here?" He wiped a hand across his sweaty brow, squinting around at the strike zone. "Did you set off something that tore an uncontrolled rift?"

That was directed at Rodney, and okay, he'd had enough of people carping on about the rift disaster. Rodney crossed his arms. "I'd say you're the one with some explaining to do," he said angrily. "Since you've just come through a rift yourself."

"No, actually," his gray-haired alter snapped. "Since the uncontrolled rift someone opened to my reality let through a transmission to a Wraith Hive in Pegasus with the coordinates of Earth, I think it's you idiots who need to explain why you've just doomed my version of Earth to yet another goddamned culling!" He was trembling now, fists clenched, and Teyla reached out and pushed Ronon's gun-hand down, stepping forward.

"Dr. McKay?" She walked right up to him, even though they didn't know the first thing about this other McKay. He could be a replicator, he could be–

Teyla reached out and placed her hands on his forearms, drawing him into the Athosian embrace. The fight went out of the old guy and he sagged towards her, resting his brow against hers with apparent relief. "Teyla," he murmured. "Really glad you guys are here as well."

-----------o0o-----------

Colonel Carter looked between old-Rodney and Rodney (himself, the real Rodney. God, this was doing his head in.) They'd all been beamed back on board the Daedalus and were in the main conference room.

"Let me get this straight," Carter said to his gray-haired version. "You’ve developed the technology to create space-time rifts in a controlled way?"

"Ha!" muttered Rodney under his breath. "I knew it was possible. You make one small mistake and they shut you down before you can say–" He noticed Carter frowning at him and mimed zipping his lips. She rolled her eyes. 

"Yes," said old-Rodney, sipping a glass of water. Apparently he wasn't allowed coffee; something about a heart attack. Rodney found it difficult to credit that he'd developed cutting edge space-time technology without benefit of caffeine, but it was hard to argue when it materialized before your eyes. "The power drain's enormous, of course."

Carter nodded. "So you brought a ZPM with you?"

The old guy patted the case sitting on the table, and Rodney eyed it covetously; apparently it was nearly full. "It's good for two more rifts between this reality and my own – they're very close, dimensionally."

That made sense – the Wraith's accidental rift would have taken the path of least resistance to one of their closest neighbors. But wait: Rodney frowned. "It can't be all that close, though," he objected. "I mean, look at us." Rodney flicked his hand between the two of them and lifted an eyebrow.  "You must be, what, about seventy? Thirty years is a massive temporal shift right there."

Old-Rodney gave him a withering look. "I'm forty-one years old, McKay."

Rodney went cold. "What? But that means–"

Old-Rodney nodded. "Yeah. I was fed on by a Wraith." He turned back to Carter. "It's complicated, but in my universe a Hive ship already found Earth. We've been fighting them."

Carter nodded. "Yes, we recently fought off a Hive and destroyed it. That's why the accidental rift happened – a rogue Wraith who'd crash-landed in the desert. He managed to survive, laid low and built the transmission device. Luckily for us the device malfunctioned – the Wraith was under attack by our fighters, and Detective Sheppard lured him away from the controls so he was careless. Unluckily for your universe, the transmission went through the rift."

"Sheppard?" Old-Rodney brightened and he looked years younger. "John Sheppard's here? Can I see him?" 

"That may not be..." Carter trailed off unhappily. Down the other end of the table, Woolsey shook his head. Carter had beamed him up for the meeting, and he'd been taking notes on a tablet.

Teyla leaned forward. "I am sorry, Dr. McKay, but our John Sheppard is gravely ill. The Wraith shot him, and he is not responding well to treatment. He lost a great deal of blood."

Old-Rodney looked pinched and tired again. "Oh. Guess I should have expected that, knowing John." He looked up at Teyla. "I was on his gate team, with you and Ronon. What did you call him? A detective?" He shook his head. "He was a Major in the USAF with us, based on Atlantis, in Pegasus. Well, we were, but John flew the city to Earth to try and stop the Wraith. We've been here a year now, fighting the Hive – and it's a damn good thing the Hives are so greedy and competitive they tend to come claim a new feeding ground without broadcasting the address to the other Wraith. Otherwise we'd be doomed."

Carter nodded agreement. "Yes, that was how the Hive we destroyed recently operated, too. We don't think they let slip Earth's whereabouts - well, apart from this rogue Wraith who sent the transmission. How did you defeat the Hive in your reality, in the end?"

"John finally took it out with my rift-tech piggybacked on a drone," said old-Rodney. "But it's been pretty gruelling, and there are still a lot of Wraith on Earth being hunted down. The last big battle was the worst, but we won. It's all clean-up, now." He sank his face into his hands. "Or it was, until that fucking transmission got through. Now we have to do it all over again." The room fell silent and Rodney felt vaguely guilty, which made no sense – he hadn't opened the rift to this guy's dimension.

Old-Rodney blinked rapidly, his eyes bright, and Rodney looked away, embarrassed. Jesus, the guy was an open book – was he that easy to read? Old-Rodney sighed. "Not to mention that my Sheppard died in that last big fight. He killed the Wraith that was feeding on me and Ronon dragged me to safety, but we lost John. And Todd as well, so there was no allied Wraith to restore me." He looked at Rodney a little defiantly. "Which matters, especially if we have to take on another goddam Hive. The tech I've developed is crucial in fighting them, and since I've been fed on I've got very little time." He gestured at his chest. "It's not just years they take, it's your health as well. My heart's not good, and Earth can't afford to lose me. Not yet." He looked back at Carter. "So I came through the rift. I had to make sure there weren't going to be more transmissions, and if there's any chance I can be restored by a friendly Wraith in your reality, well." He shrugged. "Even a few more years might make the difference."

"A friendly Wraith?" asked Rodney, incredulous. "Todd was on your side?"

"Yeah," said old-Rodney. "He and Sheppard had some blood-brother thing going since he fed on John then restored him." He noticed Ronon glaring and held up a hand. "Sheppard wasn't a Wraith worshipper, never that. The Genii kept Todd prisoner and used him to torture John so they could try to extort stuff from the city – weapons, explosives. They escaped, and then Todd gave John back what he'd been forced to take."

Teyla nodded. "Something not dissimilar happened here, but it was Aiden Ford who bonded with Todd, as John Sheppard was unknown to us until very recently."

"Huh," said Old-Rodney. "Okay, that's different. And Ford…" He looked sad. "Well, we lost him, too." He sighed and spread his hands. "So, anyway, eventually Todd was ostracised by the other Wraith, and he threw his lot in with us."

"But, but what does he eat?" spluttered Rodney. "Surely you don't–"

"Feed him spare humans we've gotten sick of?" snapped old-Rodney, glaring at him. "Thanks for thinking we're all sociopaths, McKay."

"What? It's a valid point!" protested Rodney, raising his hands.

"I am sure Rodney did not mean to–" said Teyla soothingly, giving Rodney one of her quelling looks.

"Anyway, Todd's almost dead as well," said Rodney, rather meanly. Old-Rodney's face fell again and Rodney felt a little guilty to be dashing the guy's hopes repeatedly. "Ba'al's been keeping him locked up with no food, so he's starving." He waved a hand. "He should have been put in stasis of course, but that's not what's happened. I'd like to say it's because we're not sociopaths either, but in Ba'al's case–"

Woolsey froze, and Carter fixed Rodney with a hard look. "Rodney," she said, warningly.

"Oh, what, don't tell me the Daedalus is bugged as well? How'd you let that happen?"

Carter lifted one shoulder in an unhappy half-shrug. "No, we sweep for listening devices so I'm sure it's not, but I can't be certain of the entire crew." She took a breath and looked around the table. "You're safe inside this room, though."

"Jesus," said old-Rodney, wide-eyed. "And I thought my reality had problems. You've got a snake in charge? Ba'al? Really?"

Carter waggled a hand. "He's supposedly turned over a new leaf and allied himself with Earth against the other Goa'uld." Old-Rodney snorted disbelievingly and Carter sighed, nodding.

Woolsey leaned forward. "Ba'al's got powerful friends. He's very wealthy and generous with his funding, and he's close to the President." He frowned. "Believe me, there are plenty of us who're unhappy about that, but we need a little more time to deal with him, and gather proof. Meanwhile–"

"Meanwhile," interrupted Rodney, "he's running Area 51, where Todd's being held. And from what I hear, he likes tormenting Todd, who's barely coherent these days. It's pretty sick, yes."

Old-Rodney clasped his hands on the table and stared down at them. "I still want to see them," he said quietly, then looked up. "John. And Todd."

"There's no point," said Rodney, slashing an impatient hand through the air. "We told you, Sheppard's in a coma and Todd couldn't heal a hamster, he's so starved and crazy."

"I don't care," said old-Rodney stubbornly, glaring at him across the table. "They, I never." He sucked in a breath. "I never got to say goodbye, okay? I need to see them."

"But they're not–" said Rodney, because it made no sense at all, they weren't old-Rodney's Sheppard and Todd; they'd never even met him.

"Not gonna do any harm," said Ronon, and shrugged. "I'll go with him."

"As will I," added Teyla, giving Rodney a look. And right, they were playing the Team card, so Rodney threw up his hands. "Oh for fuck's sake, all right!" He turned to Carter, then Woolsey. "Beam us back to my car and we'll take him into town. Better do Sheppard first; he's got less time left than Todd."

Woolsey nodded. "He was still alive when we started the meeting." He snapped open his briefcase and stowed the tablet, then pulled out a pad of official forms and wrote a couple of authorizations for them to see Todd and Sheppard, signing them and passing the papers across to Rodney. "To get past the guards on Todd's cell and Sheppard's room."

Rodney raised his eyebrows. "Sheppard needs guards? But the Wraith's dead."

Woolsey shot a look at Carter, who frowned and shifted in her seat, then shrugged. "It's probably better they know."

"There's a…situation with Ba'al." Woolsey said carefully. "You're going to Area 51 so you'll need to be careful." He looked around the table. "We have, in fact, gathered evidence about Ba'al's activities, and the FBI's about to move in. We think he's been importing Goa'uld larvae – he might even have some mature parasites. He's planning to create minor Goa'uld, to make hosts of key people so as to control them. Unfortunately, we don't yet know where Ba'al's keeping the larvae. We're still looking."

"He's going to snake the president?" Rodney yelped. Old-Rodney looked vindicated.

Woolsey grimaced. "Probably. It hasn't happened yet – the president's scanned at regular intervals –  but it's only a matter of time. So we're closing in on Ba'al as soon as we can." He frowned at Rodney. "Odds are that Ba'al's suspicious – he's got informants everywhere." Woolsey leaned in. "This is highly confidential. Under no circumstances are you to disclose what we know about Ba'al, or the FBI operation. Understood?"

"Yes, yes." Rodney waved a hand. "We'll tread carefully, but we're off to UMC first, anyway."

"Actually, no," said old-Rodney. "I know it's a risk to postpone visiting Sheppard, but I need to see Todd first. I can't come through the rift and deplete a whole ZPM then return with nothing but bad news. Todd might still…there might be a way. A way to restore him." He held up a hand. "None of your people are going to get fed on, trust me, but there might be something I could try. I won't know until I see him." He fixed Rodney with a hard stare. "And if it works, then maybe Todd can heal Sheppard as well as me. Unless you have a sarcophagus? Or the Tok'ra can help?"

Carter shook her head. "We're on the outs with the Tok'ra at present – they're not taking our calls. And there's no sarcophagus on Earth in our universe. Anyway, I'm not sure we'd be doing Detective Sheppard any favors, using one of those on him."

"And you can't let Ba'al anywhere near him with a Goa'uld healing device, under the circumstances," said old-Rodney, nodding. "You can't operate one yourself?"

"Why would I be able to–?" began Carter, then her eyes widened. "Oh my god, in your universe I was snaked?"

Old-Rodney spread his hands apologetically. "Just for a while. So was O'Neill."

"God," said Carter faintly, looking sick.

Rodney stood up. "Right," he said briskly. "Chop, chop, let's get this show on the road." He turned to Carter. "Forget the car, just beam us straight down to Area 51, Sc–"

"Don't call me Scotty," snapped Carter.

-----------o0o-----------

They kept a sharp eye out for Ba'al but there were just the usual scientists and security personnel striding busily to and fro in the hallways at Area 51. Old-Rodney insisted on lugging along the ZPM in its case, and yeah, Rodney wouldn't have let it out of his sight either, if it was his.

Woolsey's authorization got them past the guard in the anteroom outside Todd's holding cell. "You'd better brace yourself," Rodney said to the old guy, because he wasn't that much of a jerk. "He's pretty far gone." Old-Rodney's mouth set in a tight, unhappy line, and he nodded, but he still went pale when they got to the glass-walled pen where Todd was trapped.

"Ah, Todd?" tried Rodney. "Are you, um, well, no, of course you're not all right. But–"

"Rod…ney Mc…Kay," croaked Todd, his voice a harsh whisper. He was slumped against the back wall of the room. His usually greenish skin was muddy and gray and his eyes were shut.

Old-Rodney stepped forward, peering through the glass. "This is more than just starvation – that'd take far longer to kill him. What have you been doing to him?"

Rodney bristled. "We haven't been doing anything, thank you very much!"

"Well you haven't stopped Ba'al from almost killing him!" snapped old-Rodney.

Inside the cell, Todd's eyes fluttered open. "McKays are endless," he hissed and made a terrible noise. Rodney thought it was a death-rattle until he realized Todd was laughing. "Doctors two, how do you do…" Todd trailed off into a painful hacking cough.

"Great," muttered Rodney. "He's regressed into doggerel." He raised his voice. "Ah, Todd, care to tell us what Ba'al's been up to?"

Todd grimaced. "Pain is cold fire, and I cannot…" he subsided into incoherent mumbling. Then his eyes opened again. "Old life…coiling…I hunger." His eyes shut. "Thirsty…" he whispered. "Hurts…"

"I think Ba'al's been torturing him," said Rodney, frowning. "I mean, not just by taunting and starving him."

"A hand-weapon?" asked old-Rodney, his nose pressed against the glass.

"Yes, precisely," said Rodney. "And Todd can't heal the damage to his nervous system because he's starving."

"This is most cruel," said Teyla softly. "Even an enemy deserves a clean death. And Todd has helped us at times, or at least, helped Aiden."

"Still a Wraith," muttered Ronon, standing by the door, one hand on his blaster and his eyes fixed on Todd. "Can't trust him."

"Actually, he does have his own ethical code," said old-Rodney. "It's just a bit different to ours." He shrugged. "We got on pretty well there, at the end, and he's smart, unlike some of those morons the SGC foisted off on me." He turned and paced in a tight circle.

"How can y–?" asked Rodney.

Old-Rodney held up a peremptory hand. "Working." He paced some more, then stopped and lifted his chin. "Okay, he's worse than I expected, but I have to do something. It may not be enough, but…well, I have to try."

He pulled an object out of his pocket and Rodney leaned over to peer at it. More like a remote control than a scanner. "What's th–"

"It's the rift control. I just need to configure it so it's drawing from the ZPM." He hit a couple of controls on the remote.

"Wait one second – you're going to open a rift here?" Rodney asked, panic rising. "But we're inside the complex, and, and underground, and there are–"

Old Rodney snorted and fixed him with a jaundiced eye. "Space-time's space-time, wherever we are. I told you, it's a controlled rift. It won't be more than a meter high and there'll be very little distortion of the adjacent space. It's perfectly safe."

Rodney could feel himself sweating. "Wait, no, this is–" but his counterpart had already pushed a big red button on the remote and a shimmering, greasy slit was materializing in the middle of the room, in front of Todd's glass prison. Rodney backed away, pulling Teyla by the arm. Behind them, Ronon stood tensely in the doorway.

Old-Rodney actually leaned in towards the hard-to-look-at rift in the fabric of everything. "Radek?" he called. "Do you copy?"

"Rodney?" came Zelenka's voice, as though from another room. "Are you ready to return? Did you–?"

"Not yet," said old-Rodney into the rift. "The Todd here's sick; he's been tortured. I need a clone to restore him. Actually, you'd better make that two: he's pretty starved."

"But Rodney, you know that means–" Zelenka's voice was doubtful.

Old-Rodney made a frustrated gesture. "Yes, yes, I know, but it can't be helped. Sheppard's here too and he's been shot. I need Todd to help heal him."

"But Rodney, what about your own–" came Zelenka's voice, worried and tinged with something very like compassion.

"We'll have to see, Radek. Maybe with two of them there'll be enough for us both."

Even through the rift, they could hear Zelenka sigh. "I understand, but Rodney – we need you back, please do not…" He trailed off and there was a long pause. "Carson is here. He has brought them. I do not know how you will manage the balancing, Rodney, so I will not send more than two. On that I am resolved."

"Understood," said Rodney. He looked tired and bleak. "It'll have to do. Send them now, and Radek? Thanks."

"You are welcome, my friend. Sending now."

Old-Rodney turned to the door. "Ronon, can you help me? They'll be heavy." Ronon frowned but stepped forward to stand beside him.

A second later something came through the shimmering slit between realities. Feet. Rodney almost lost it, and had to suppress a bout of hysterical giggling. Teyla's hand gripping his arm helped to anchor him. The feet emerged gradually and old-Rodney stepped forward and grabbed them, pulling a little and gesturing to Ronon. It was a body. Ronon had his arms under the thing now, and he and old-Rodney were lowering it to the floor. It looked dead.

"Send the next one," called old-Rodney, pulling Ronon back to the rift. Another set of feet began to emerge.

Rodney edged gingerly over to the thing on the floor. It was humanoid but the genital area was smooth and doll-like and the facial features were unformed, mere bumps and shallow depressions. Under Old-Rodney's supervision, Ronon manhandled the second thing – the clone? – to lie beside the first. The rift popped out of existence.

Old-Rodney straightened. "Ow, my back. Damn they're heavy – no muscle control, you see." He looked around at Rodney, Ronon and Teyla, waving his hands rather defensively. "Look, I know they're really creepy, but they're just bodies, no consciousness. Empty shells, but they do have life force. Carson developed them as a way to feed Todd without…you know." Evidently none of them looked too keen on the idea. "It's legal! Back in my reality the president issued a special directive authorizing it, what with Todd being so crucial to the war effort. He's lived off these clones for the past few years. He says they taste like nothing, like cardboard, but they keep him from starving." Old-Rodney's face crumpled. "Kept him from starving, I mean, until…"

Teyla was gazing down at the clones, her face troubled. "So you propose to allow Todd to feed off these…bodies?" she asked. She looked across the where Todd was still slumped, his eyes shut. "And this will restore him?"

"Well, not fully. I mean they're only a few years old, so there's not all that much life force in each of them. But if he drains them both, fully…" Old-Rodney's eyes flicked across them all again. Ronon's face was mask-like. "I promise you, they're not conscious. They're not even animals, just empty living shells, less sentient than a tree."

Ronon narrowed his eyes, then glared at the glass cage. "How're we gonna get them inside there?"

Rodney looked back at the door to the ante-room. "The guard must have a key, or the door code."

The guard did know the access codes, but he didn't want to let them in. "It's Director Ba'al's orders," he protested. "Visitors, yes, but no one goes inside. He says the Wraith's too dangerous."

"The Wraith's almost dead, thanks to Director Ba'al's tender ministrations," snapped Rodney, glaring.

The guard's square-jawed face darkened. "Don't talk about the Director that way. I'll report you for insubordination!"

"Yeah, yeah," sneered Rodney, "and that might possibly bother me if I was Ba'al's subordinate, but, oh wait, I'm not! You've seen Woolsey's letter, so give us the damn access code!"

The guard's eyes suddenly glowed and his voice deepened. "Do not speak of Lord Ba'al that way, insolent stranger. You are nothing, a mere bug to be crushed under–" which was when Ronon stunned him.

"Okay," said Rodney a little shakily. "I guess Woolsey and Carter were right about Ba'al making himself some minions."

Ronon began trussing the guard up with some plastic cuffs from the desk drawer. "He was going for this," Ronon said, pulling a zat out from under the desk and sticking it through his belt.

"Jesus." Rodney sat down in the swivel chair and started flicking through various network screens. "At least he was still logged-in so that saves some time. And, oh look, a file on the goddam desktop labelled 'passwords'. Thank Christ for idiots." He rummaged through the file. "Right, this looks like it."  Rodney frowned and swivelled around to face Ronon. "I guess we'll have to round up anyone Ba'al's snaked and get the SGC to take them to Thor's Hammer. I wish the IOA hadn't pissed off the Tok'ra." Ronon trussed the guard up tightly and stashed him in a storage cupboard.

"He has not moved," said Teyla when they re-entered Todd's holding area. "I can barely sense his presence."

Rodney jerked his head at old-Rodney who stepped up to the cell with him and rapped on the glass wall. Todd's eyes flickered open, unfocused at first, then he drew a rasping breath. "Mc-Kays…still two…" He subsided into mumbling, then roused himself. "Brothers…across space…time. The clock is ticking…"

Old-Rodney winced. "Yes, well, then let's get on with it." He snapped his fingers a few times. "Hello? Todd? Look, I've brought food for you. It's not going to taste good, but it should at least partially restore you."

Todd did the death-rattle chuckle again. "Tricks and…lies. There is…only pain."

"No, I'm really not lying, you idiot. Wake up and take notice – I've half-depleted a ZPM for you!"

Todd sneered but pulled himself up a little. "What do you…want…two-faced Mc-Kay?"

"I want you to feed off these cloned bodies we've brought, at a truly horrific cost, I might add, and then I want you to agree to heal John Sheppard." He paused. "And to give me a few years back as well, if there are any left over."

Todd peered blearily through the glass. "You have brought…food?"

"Yes, but you have to give me your word you'll heal Sheppard."

"Heal…John Sheppard," The Wraith whispered. "As Sheppard…healed me…"

"Yes, that's right," said old-Rodney eagerly. "He did, in my reality. He healed you and then you returned the favor."

Teyla tilted her head. "Todd is aware of other realities? Because he is so close to the veil of death?"

"Oh for fuck's sake," snapped old-Rodney. "No, it's quantum physics, not, not metaphysics. He's…oh, never mind, let's just get this done." He turned back to Todd. "No food until you give me your word to heal John, and then me as well, if possible. Well?"

Todd smiled, exposing rows of teeth. "You have my word…if possible."

Rodney entered the access code and Ronon dragged the clones into the room, then pushed one up closer to Todd with his foot. He stepped back smartly and slipped out the door, and Rodney made sure it was locked again.

Todd pushed himself across the floor to the nearest clone. His brow furrowed. "These are not…and yet there is something there." He looked up at old-Rodney. "No tricks…two-face?"

"No tricks," agreed old-Rodney. He made flapping, 'go ahead' motions. Todd placed his feeding hand on the clone's chest and dug in his claws. It took longer than most feedings Rodney'd had the misfortune to witness, but the clone slowly shrivelled up and desiccated.

Todd raised his head, eyes bright and alert. "Unexciting pap," he said, but his voice was resonant and his skin glistened pale green, no longer muddy gray. "But a great deal better than nothing. I thank you." He stood, still a little shaky, and stared down at the second clone. "They taste…artificial, but they do contain some sustenance." He dropped to one knee and slapped his hand down on the last clone's chest. Small trickles of blood seeped from where his claws pierced the pallid skin, and Rodney looked away, swallowing. When he looked back, the second clone was a dry husk and Todd was rising to his feet, no longer unsteady. He opened his mouth and emitted a loud belch, then grinned, wide and toothy.

"Yeah, and you can quit the unnecessary dramatics," snapped Rodney, glaring at the Wraith, hands on hips. "Jesus."

"Was it enough?" old-Rodney asked anxiously. "For Sheppard?"

"Perhaps," said Todd. "Probably. But I cannot promise…" He cocked his head and smirked at old-Rodney. "We are the joke, are we not, McKay? I am half-full, and you are half-empty."

"Yeah, well, we'll see about that," said Rodney grimly. He opened the door to Todd's cell. "Ronon, can you? With the zat?" said Rodney. He gestured at the dried up clone-husks and Ronon zatted them until they disappeared.

Ronon and Teyla moved to flank Todd as he emerged. Todd grinned sardonically, but acquiesced to the guard.

"Now for Sheppard," said old-Rodney. Rodney nodded and keyed his transponder, signalling Carter to beam them all up.

-----------o0o-----------

"Come on," said Rodney, heading off down the street towards UMC. Old-Rodney trotted beside him, squinting in the sunlight as they emerged from the dusty grove of trees where Rodney had recuperated after the first time he'd visited Sheppard. It had been the only nearby and reasonably private place he'd been able to think of, for Carter to beam them down. The others were still up on the Daedalus. They had no disguise for Todd so he'd have to be beamed right into Sheppard's room, once the Rodneys had cleared it of staff or other visitors.

The Trauma Center staff weren't impressed by Woolsey's authorization for them to see Sheppard. Rodney didn't recognize any of the staff from his earlier visit, and his government ID card and the official letter were brushed aside.

"Family only," said the large African-American woman ruling the reception desk, frowning at them from behind her counter. Her name badge read 'Angelina'.

"Look," began Rodney, giving her his best 'beating up the scientists' glare, "We–"

"We are family," cut in old-Rodney, treading hard on his foot. Rodney swallowed a squeak of pain and turned to glare at his...what? Older brother?

"I'm his father – his step-father," continued old-Rodney smoothly. He gestured at Rodney. "And Rodney here is John's brother." He produced an ingratiating smile which Rodney thought patently false, but the receptionist seemed to buy it. "We've traveled a very long way to be with John, so please..." He steadied himself on the counter, some of his real concern for Sheppard showing in his face, which looked drawn and exhausted.

Angelina visibly mellowed, leaning across the counter to pat his hand. "All right there, honey, you can go on through. But only two visitors at a time, and his other brother's with him at the moment, so you'll have to wait until he leaves. There's some chairs down the end there, just by Mr. Sheppard's room. You can wait there."

Old-Rodney managed not to react to the news about Sheppard's 'other brother', except to say. "Ah, we wondered if any of the…family would be here. I'm afraid I have several sons – did he give a name?"

Angelina thought, then shook her head. "I can't recall it, sorry." She gestured at her face. "He had one of those lil' chin beards. Looked like a businessman?"

"Ah," said old-Rodney, feigning pleasure, as cold fear gripped Rodney. "That'll be Baa– Bill. My son, Bill. Not to worry. We'll take turns and make sure not to tire John out."

Angelina glanced at her patient status screen and grimaced sympathetically. "I'm afraid John's not…awake, sir. Shall I call his nurse so you can get an update about his condition?"

Rodney was desperate to check on Sheppard. Fucking Ba'al was in there with him! He tugged on his 'father''s sleeve impatiently. Old-Rodney turned to follow him, leaning back towards Angelina. "No thanks, we'd like to see him first, then we'll come and find a nurse," he said, as Rodney dragged him down towards Sheppard's room.

There were no guards at all on the door, just a couple of vacant chairs, a discarded Car and Driver magazine and an empty Starbucks cup. Rodney frowned at old-Rodney, who went to pull open the door to the room.

"Wait," said Rodney. "He may be armed."

Old-Rodney threw up his hands. "Of course he's going to be armed! But we still have to–"

"I just want a better idea of what we're up against," said Rodney, noticing a door labelled 'Mobility Toilet' opposite Sheppard's room. He strode over and pulled the sliding door aside. Two men in dark security uniforms were slumped on the floor in a heap. "Shit!" said Rodney, bending over them. Old-Rodney peered in through the doorway behind him. "Just stunned, I think," Rodney muttered. "Damn. He must have a zat."

"Get them to beam down here," old-Rodney said urgently. "Ronon's got a zat too, and the blaster."

"Yes, yes, on it," muttered Rodney, pushing the unconscious guards as close to the far wall as he could, and keying his transponder. He looked around, but the old guy had vanished. Shit. "Hey! Rodney!" he hissed, the name strange on his tongue. No way was he going to call him 'Dad', though. No answer. "Fucking geriatric moron!" Rodney cursed, because of course the old fool had gone in there with a fucking heart condition, unarmed, to take on a Goa'uld.

A shimmer and the mobility toilet was jam-packed as Ronon and Teyla appeared, gripping Todd between them.

"Ba'al's here – he zatted the guards," snapped Rodney. "And my idiotic older version's gone in there anyway. Come on!" He flapped an arm at them to move them out the door, jammed in a corner beside the toilet bowl as he was. "Keep your head down," he told Todd, and the Wraith smiled thinly and complied. Hopefully they were far enough away from the bustling hub down by reception to slip into Sheppard's room unnoticed.

Outside Sheppard's door Ronon paused. "Me and Teyla first," he muttered, then opened the door and slid in. Teyla followed. Rodney pushed Todd in after them and crowded in behind, pulling the door shut.

Inside, the blinds were down, shutting out the bright Vegas day beyond the window. Sheppard was immobile, deathly pale and still linked up to various tubes and intravenous lines, although now off the ventilator. His stubble-shadowed face was lit by a lamp over the bed and for a second all was still, a frozen tableau. On the far side of the bed Ba'al crouched, leaning over Sheppard, a zat on the bed beside him. Teyla gave a cry and dropped to her knees where old-Rodney lay on the floor, convulsing.

Ronon fired at Ba'al, who sneered as the blast exposed a shimmering blue shield around him. Ronon cursed and dropped the zat, pulling his blaster, but the shield held, flaring red where the blast struck, across Ba'al's chest.

Ba'al smiled more widely and raised his own zat, unhurriedly, training it on Ronon. Rodney scrambled to the floor, where Teyla was frantically checking old-Rodney who had stopped twitching and was deathly still. "He has no pulse!" she hissed, and began chest compressions. All gate teams had to undergo training in CPR – they needed it all too often.

Rodney glanced upwards, to see Ronon succumb to the zat blast, collapsing like a felled tree. Ba'al zatted Todd, who had reared back, snarling, and Todd fell heavily across Ronon.

Oh my god oh my god oh my god. Rodney stayed down, his thoughts spiralling into panic. Ronon's zat was on the floor, but with Ba'al's shield it was useless. He glanced up, and Ba'al was leaning across the bed, grinning down with gold-glowing eyes. "Ah, Dr. McKay, and the alien woman," he said, his voice harshly resonant. "And is that a relative of yours who attacked me earlier? Really, I'm disappointed at your lack of forward planning, McKay."

"What the fuck are you doing with Sheppard?" snarled Rodney, scooting back away from Ba'al until the room's wall was at his back. Teyla knelt beside old-Rodney, keeping up her compressions and occasional breaths. Admirable, but there was no real point, Rodney thought desperately. Ba'al was going to kill them all, to cover his tracks.

"I thought I might try a change of scene," said Ba'al, fake cheer incongruous in that deep metallic voice. "Your Mr. Woolsey's been extremely irritating and my plans here have not…matured…quite as I'd hoped. I gather the Pegasus galaxy's recruiting ATA-positive geneholders and Atlantis sounds like a perfect base of operations – captive population, used to strong leadership, and a very pleasant setting just waiting to be made suitably opulent. Not to mention all that lovely Ancient technology at my fingertips, once I take Sheppard as my host."

"No!" gasped Rodney, aghast. "You can't!"

"Oh but I most certainly can, Dr. McKay." Ba'al gestured around with the zat. "Your pathetic rescue attempt has failed. Anyway, you should be happy for Sheppard. He was dying – is dying. I'll heal him in no time – well, it'll take a little while, but by then you'll all be dead and your atoms dispersed. No one to tell tales, and John Sheppard will make a miraculous recovery and join the SGC. They'll be only too delighted to recruit him for Atlantis."

"No, no, no!" protested Rodney, waving his hands wildly. "Woolsey and Carter are up on the Daedalus. They know we're here, they won't let you get away with–"

"Ah," said Ba'al, narrowing his eyes. "Thank you for that information."

Rodney stared at him, stricken. Shit, he hadn't meant…

Ba'al continued. "Plan B, then. Once you and your friends are dead and gone – and really, McKay, you're working with a Wraith? Your taste in allies leaves much to be desired. At least these other two aliens are physically attractive - in fact they'd make ideal hosts if they had the ATA gene." He glanced down at Todd's unconscious form. "Our sessions exploring Wraith pain tolerances were interesting, though. Remarkable, really, but he was dying when I left him. Who did you feed to him to save his life, Doctor?"

"No one!" snapped Rodney. "We're not monsters like you!"

"Silence," snarled Ba'al, all humor vanished. "Do not lie to me, McKay. When you are all disposed of and Sheppard has begun healing I will call my Jaffa and they will take me to Area 51 to see for myself. The Daedalus will not last long when I am finally in the Chair, and a few drones dropped on major cities will keep Earth's authorities far too busy to stop me from seizing the Mountain and gating to Atlantis. I will 'go out with a bang', as they say." He smirked coldly and his eyes flashed.

"Woolsey said you were making Jaffa, and minor Goa'uld," Rodney muttered, despairing.

"Yes. Not so many yet, but it will not take many as they're embedded strategically. I'm looking forward to taking my entourage to Pegasus – it's time for a change of management in Atlantis. The SGC really hasn't exploited the city's full potential, you know." He grinned again, and trained the zat on Rodney and Teyla. "Stay there and be silent, both of you. I think I'd like Sheppard to kill you himself. It's not as though you're friends, from what I've heard, but he still won't enjoy it, and that will be amusing."

"Rodney, take over," gritted Teyla, and launched herself across the bed, managing to knock Ba'al to the side with her sudden attack. Rodney took over the chest compressions, peering desperately over Sheppard's unconscious form, but a second later Ba'al stood, lifting Teyla off the floor with one hand around her throat. He shook her like a rag doll, then flung her casually against the wall beside Rodney. She slid down, immobile – had he broken her neck? Rodney twisted around, in an agony of indecision about whether to try and save old-Rodney or Teyla, but old-Rodney was probably a goner and Teyla was team, so he stopped the CPR and slid over to her just as she drew a ragged breath. He grabbed her wrist to find a pulse and yes, there it was. Not dead, then. He lurched back to old-Rodney, checking him in turn, but damn, there was still nothing, so he went on with the futile resuscitation. His arms ached atrociously, but it was one small thing he could do and it kept him from panicking.

"That was foolish," grated Ba'al, his face dark. "And doomed to futility. You cannot touch me, shielded as I am." Some Gou'ald device, thought Rodney slightly hysterically. Not an Ancient shield, not yet.

Ba'al turned back to Sheppard and Rodney watched, appalled, continuing the chest compressions on autopilot as Ba'al bent over the bed and opened his mouth. The Goa'uld emerged in a horrid mess of blood-stained foam and writhing legs, hanging from Ba'al's host's lips for a second, poised above Sheppard's slack-jawed face. Then all hell broke loose.

It took a moment for Rodney to understand that Todd had erupted from where he'd presumably been feigning unconsciousness, leaping across the room. His feeding hand flashed out to grasp the parasite as Ba'al's old body collapsed lifeless on the floor. The Goa'uld shrieked almost subliminally and Todd threw back his head and bared his teeth, shuddering in what looked disturbingly like ecstasy as he fed.

The Gou'ald was tiny in his hand, but Rodney realized that it must hold a vast life force – Ba'al's own thousands of years, and the essence of all his forebears. It took far longer to drain the Goa'uld than the Wraith would have needed for a human, but finally Todd threw the small shriveled thing down on the shell of its old host, and stretched luxuriously. "Extremely satisfying, on a number of levels," he remarked, and licked his lips.

"Will you get over here?" gasped Rodney. His arms were slabs of pain and he wasn't going to be able to keep up the compressions much longer. "Ol– um, Rodney's not going to make it unless you keep your bargain and restore him. That zat blast from Ba'al has pretty much done for him. Please!"

Todd took in his trembling arms and the desperation in his voice. He nodded once. "As you say, Rodney McKay, I gave my word." He stepped around the bed and gazed down at old-Rodney, while Rodney scooted back out of the way. Teyla had pushed up the old guy's shirt and undershirt and his pale chest was still, no signs of life, just reddish bruising from the CPR. Todd went to one knee and pressed his hand to old-Rodney's chest. Rodney closed his eyes.

"Welcome back, Dr. McKay," said Todd.

Rodney's eyes snapped open. Old-Rodney was blinking up at Todd, but Rodney was going to have to find another name – his face was youthful again. "Oh, what, you gave him more years back than the other Wraith took?" Rodney demanded, taken aback to see a younger version of himself staring up at Todd. His face was thinner now and he had quite a lot more hair. Not a day over thirty, thought Rodney a little enviously.

Todd shrugged. "I am feeling generous – Ba'al was a very tasty treat. For months he tormented me, as much with the presence of so much life force just beyond my reach, as with his words and his pain-weapon. To finally sup that essence was delicious, and a fitting outcome." He stood and regarded Teyla and Ronon, both still unconscious. "Shall I heal your friends as well? Since I am in such an excellent humor?"

"I, no. I don't think they'd appreciate…" He slid over to Teyla and felt for her pulse again. It was steady, and her breathing was even. As he touched Teyla's neck, her eyes opened, then dilated, flicking to and fro. "It's all right," Rodney reassured her. "Ba'al's dead. Todd killed him. Are you badly hurt?"

She raised a hand to the back of her head, and winced. "My throat is a little bruised, and there is a lump on my head. He threw me across the room?" Rodney nodded. "I have a headache, and possibly mild concussion, but I think it is not serious." She clutched Rodney's arm. "But what of Ronon?"

"I think he's just stunned from Ba'al's zat. He only took one hit though – he should be coming around." Rodney crawled over and shook Ronon by the shoulder. Ronon groaned and muttered something that sounded like a Satedan curse. "Ronon?" Rodney tried again.

"Fuck off, McKay," groaned Ronon, sounding slurred.

"You want Todd to give you some life force so you heal faster?" Rodney asked, edging away, just in case.

Ronon whipped up into a crouch, teeth bared as he glared at the Wraith who was leaning hip-shot against the opposite wall, arms crossed, one eyebrow raised in amusement. "Keep the fuck away from me," Ronon snarled. Todd inclined his head in acquiescence, then turned to Teyla. "And you, daughter of Athos? Do you require my assistance to speed your recovery? I have fed expansively, and am happy to oblige."

Teyla smiled tightly. "I too would prefer to let nature take its course. But I thank you for the offer." She looked across to where Ba'al's old host had collapsed. "What of the man the Goa'uld was using as a host? Can he be saved?"

"Um," said Rodney, feeling like a heel. "I assumed he was dead. Can you tell, Todd?"

"He did not survive," said Todd. "Ba'al did not - as you humans say - share well. I probed the Goa'uld's mind when it visited me. There was no other consciousness there, other than Ba'al."

"Okay," said Rodney, scrambling to his feet. "So can you get on with helping Sheppard then? Please? He doesn't look so hot." He made shooing motions in Sheppard's general direction, and Todd bowed his head and crossed to the bed.

"So, John Sheppard, again we are brothers," Todd said softly, pulling down the thin hospital scrub top and laying his hand on Sheppard's chest. He dug his claws in and closed his eyes, face briefly contorted in concentration, or pain.

"It hurts them to give it back," said Rodney's alternate quietly at his shoulder, watching anxiously. "Or so our Todd said. Even when it doesn't really harm them, it's still painful." Rodney glanced across at – ah, fuck it, he was going to call him alt-Rodney. His eyes were very blue, fixed intently on the man in the bed. Behind them, Ronon was helping Teyla up and checking his weapons.  

"It's working," said alt-Rodney breathlessly, and yes, Sheppard's face wasn't sunken any more, and his breathing wasn't laboured. His eyelids flickered, then flew open and he gasped, his back arching involuntarily up under Todd's hand. As Rodney watched, the years and lines faded away, leaving a slender, clean-jawed face and almost movie-star-like good looks, especially with the beard growth which now resembled designer stubble.

Todd lifted his hand and stepped back. He smirked at alt-Rodney. "It seemed only fair to restore Sheppard to the same degree that I restored you."

"What the fuck was that?" gasped Sheppard from the bed. "Man, that was a rush, almost better than my first F-16 flight." He looked around, puzzled. "Where am I, a hospital? But I feel fine–"

He noticed Todd looming beside alt-Rodney and flinched away. "The Wraith! McKay? What's the goddam Wraith doing here? I thought they blew it to pieces?" He trailed off. "Wait, It's not the same one, is it?" He peered around at them all. "What's going on? Who're all these…" Then he focused in on Rodney and alt-Rodney and did a double-take. "Whoa, there are two of you, McKay? Or you got a younger brother?" Sheppard looked baffled, and like his brain hurt. "Someone care to explain? McKay?"

Alt-Rodney stepped forward. "It's good to see you again, John." He grabbed Sheppard's hand and pumped it vigorously. Sheppard stared down at their hands, then up at Rodney, who patted his hand then released it, slightly flustered. "Um, yes. I know we haven't met before, but even so." He turned to Todd. "Thank you." Todd inclined his head graciously.

"Okay, look," said Rodney. "The staff are going to come check on Sheppard any time now, so I suggest we clean up the mess and get Carter to beam us all up. I'm sure the SGC'd rather hush up a patient going AWOL than have to explain away Sheppard's miracle cure. Ronon, can you do the honors again?" Ronon nodded and zatted Ba'al's host body and the dried up Goa'uld into oblivion.

They unhooked Sheppard from his various tubes. "Ouch!" Sheppard yelped, hands clamped protectively to his groin. "No, seriously, guys, that one's in a very sensitive place so fuck right off with pulling it out, ow!" Ronon unsheathed a giant knife and sliced the catheter tubing clean through.

Sheppard's jaw dropped and he winced away, wide-eyed. Rodney flapped at him, impatient. "For god's sake, the Daedalus's doctor can remove it properly," he said, then remembered that Sheppard had never even seen Ronon before, or Teyla. "Oh. Um, Sheppard? This is Ronon and Teyla." Ronon grunted and wiped his knife on the bed cover. Teyla smiled and nodded.

Sheppard looked from one to the other, open-mouthed. "Are you in a show on the strip? Like, exotic dancers, or something?"

Rodney groaned. "Jesus. Let's get everyone up to the Daedalus so we can fill you in before Ronon does use that knife on you, or Teyla finds some bantos rods."

He keyed his transponder.

-----------o0o-----------

Of course, that was far from the end of the whole affair, but other people got to sort out the rest of the mess, to Rodney's relief. His arms ached dreadfully for a day or two, even with the Daedalus medic's frankly underpowered pain killers. But Teyla needed an MRI and she and Ronon were kept in the sick bay overnight, so he couldn't complain. Sheppard and alt-Rodney got off scot-free, with glowing bills of health. It hardly seemed fair.

Woolsey set to with a will, rooting out Ba'al's nest of minor Goa'uld and Jaffa – in Area 51, and in Cheyenne Mountain, even a few in Washington. Special scans to detect the parasites were instituted, disguised as a new form of mandatory drug testing. The tank of Goa'uld larvae was finally found in a luxury Vegas apartment owned by Ba'al under a false name, and after negotiation, Todd was permitted to make free with them, under supervision.

"Christ, that's disgusting," said Sheppard from a safe distance, peering at the tank where wriggling larvae swam frantically to and fro trying to escape Todd's claws. "They look kind of like shrimp, only not."

Todd grinned toothily. "I find that I am fond of these 'shrimp'. Although infants such as these are as nothing compared to Ba'al. Morsels, but tasty."

"Never gonna be able to eat shrimp again," muttered Sheppard, shaking his head. He backed away and joined Teyla and Ronon and the Rodneys who were lounging on Ba'al's plush leather couches.

Sheppard raised his eyebrows at the gilded antique furniture, the heavy brocade curtains and gold-patterned wallpaper. "What's with the overblown décor?" he muttered, grabbing a beer off the gold-and-crystal coffee table.

"It is pretty over the top," agreed Rodney, "but that's the Goa'uld for you. Weird that they're millennia old but their taste's still relentlessly nouveau-riche." He looked at alt-Rodney. "You have Goa'uld in your universe, McKay?" They'd had a small argument about names (I don't see why I have to be alt-Rodney – you're alt-Rodney as far as I'm concerned!) and had compromised on 'McKay'.

"Yes, but we defeated them years ago." His counterpart shrugged. "There are still a few around the outskirts of the Milky Way, but they keep well clear of the Earth and our allies."

"A pity," said Todd, who'd polished off the last of the larvae and joined them in the seating area. "My brethren might be persuaded to forgo human prey, if they had…shrimp…to feast upon." He grinned.

Alt-Rodney leaned forward. "Yes, and speaking of your brethren, I have to go home." He looked up at them, his slimmer face and shock of brown hair still startlingly youthful. "We've got an invasion to fight off, and we don't have our Sheppard any more to work the Chair or fly the city into battle. Or our Todd to listen in on the invaders and tell us their plans."

Todd looked thoughtful. "My alternate self allied with your forces? With humanity, against the Hives?"

"Yes," said alt-Rodney. He shrugged. "In my reality you'd burned your bridges with the Wraith – they turned against you. It took a while, but we forged an alliance in the end. Even got to be friends, of a sort. And you and Sheppard had already done the life force give and take thing, so you were blood brothers or some such."

Sheppard looked up sharply. "What?"

"It is true, John Sheppard." Todd said. "The giving of essence creates a tie that cannot be broken. I am now bonded in brotherhood with you." He nodded at alt-Rodney. "And with McKay, here." Rodney felt obscurely excluded. But really, this was a club he had no wish to join.

"It is the same for you and our Aiden Ford, is it not?" asked Teyla. Ronon scowled and drank more beer.

Todd nodded, and Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Kind of promiscuous with the old life force there, Todd?" The Wraith smirked, but said nothing.

"So," tried alt-Rodney again, "about my going home. It's not that easy."

"Don't you just dial up Zelenka and step through the rift?" asked Rodney. "You said your ZPM had enough juice for two rifts, so there should be one left, right?"

"Yes, but there's a...complication," said his alternate, staring at his hands. "It's hard to explain without going into a lot of quantum physics–"

"Hey," said Rodney, annoyed. "You don't need to dumb it down for me!"

"No," agreed alt-Rodney, "you'd get it in the end–" Rodney glowered "–but I don't have much time." He looked around at them all. "The rift has to be balanced. The same number of people, or at least humanoids, because I don’t know that clones can exactly be called people – have to pass through each way." He sighed. "I knew it when I got Radek to send the two clones through – it's why he refused to send any more than two. It's going to be hard enough finding two people who want to come back with me and unless three of us go through, the rift will reset and whammo, back we are on this side again."

"Surely there are plenty of crazies out there who'd be falling over themselves to go to another universe?" asked Rodney, not entirely in jest. "Just put an ad in Craigslist!"

"That is surely not ethical, Rodney," objected Teyla. "Such individuals would have no real idea what they were doing – or are we to breach our non-disclosure agreements?"

"Point. And they'd be heading into a war zone," said Rodney. "That's really going to put a dampener on it, even if the powers that be let you recruit from within the SGC. Which I don't think is all that likely."

"No, I do not think Colonel O'Neill or Mr. Woolsey will support this plan," said Teyla doubtfully. "As you say, even though that universe is your home and you wish to return, a Hive ship is coming. It will be far more dangerous to go there, than to remain here."

"Yeah, thanks, Teyla. I'm feeling really encouraged, here," muttered alt-Rodney, head in hands.

"Could stay on this side," suggested Ronon, eyeing alt-Rodney across his beer. He grinned at Rodney. "Not that I want two McKays yammering in my ear."

"I do not–" spluttered Rodney.

"That's not an option," cut in his alternate, looking bleak. "For two reasons." He held up a finger. "One: my universe needs me. That's why I came here, remember? To get my years back so I can go on developing the rift-tech we need to fight the Wraith. Two: entropic cascade failure."

"What?" Rodney sat up. "I thought that only happened with the quantum mirror?"

"It happens when the same individuals from alternate realities coexist, no matter how they get there. In this case it'll affect me, as your reality gradually tries to expunge me as a foreign anomaly. I hate to use medical imagery, but it's like a transplanted organ being rejected." 

"Please, spare us the wetware analogies," sniffed Rodney. "But ECF comes on pretty fast, I thought. Like, after a couple of days? Why isn't it affecting you already?"

"Thanks for the sympathy, McKay," said alt-Rodney dryly. Rodney gestured impatiently: there was no time for sarcasm if this nonsense was true. Alt-Rodney continued. "It might start soon, I guess, but I think it's delayed as our realities are very similar, so the foreignness this reality perceives is considerably less. I've still probably only got a matter of days – hardly enough time to recruit two volunteers from within the SGC, even if O'Neill and Woolsey allowed it."

Sheppard frowned. "So what happens with this thing – what's it called again?"

"Entropic cascade failure," Rodney and alt-Rodney said in perfect unison.

"Okay, spooky synchronicity; stop that," said Sheppard. "But really, what does it cause?"

"The usual," said alt-Rodney grimly. "Convulsions, coma and death."

"Jesus," said Sheppard.

There was a long, gloomy pause before he spoke again. "Ah, McKay, you said 'your' Sheppard used to fly the whole city? Atlantis?"

"Yes," replied alt-Rodney. "The city's designed to be relocatable. It's actually a giant space-ship, given enough power."

"Speaking of power," put in Rodney. "You seem pretty free with your ZPMs. Did you take that one the Brotherhood had? Or find some more elsewhere?"

"It's the rift-tech," said alt-Rodney. "One spin-off is that I figured out how to recharge ZPMs."

Rodney dropped his beer. It hit the carpet and tipped sideways, falling and foaming out in a pool at his feet in the thick mustard shag pile. "You what?"

Alt-Rodney waved a hand. "I'll leave you the core equations. You should be able to develop it from there."

"Right. Thanks," said Rodney faintly. Christ, they were going to be able to recharge ZPMs. And use this rift-tech against the Wraith. He felt stunned.

"About this flying the city thing," Sheppard was saying to alt-Rodney. "And these little space ships –'puddlejumpers'? They go through the 'stargates' you told me about?" He tilted his head. "That's a great name for them, puddlejumper, by the way. But anyway. If I was to agree to come along with you, d'you reckon I could fly them?" He was staring at his hands, elaborately casual.

"Come along with me?" Alt-Rodney squinted at Sheppard. "You want to come back through the rift with me? You did hear the bit about the Wraith invasion coming?"

"Yeah, well," said Sheppard, slouching back on the couch, legs propped up on the delicate gilt table. He shrugged. "Thought I might. Like the idea of flying a whole damn city – sounds like a blast." He took another swig of beer, while they all stared at him, alt-Rodney with dawning hope, Todd with narrowed eyes, and Rodney, Teyla and Ronon frowning in consternation.

"But you could do most of that here," protested Rodney. "I mean, we've got the Chair, and gateships, and you could come to Atlantis."

"But not fly her," said Sheppard, quirking a brow. "Right?"

"Well, no," admitted Rodney. "We don't have enough ZPMs for that. Not yet," he added hastily. "But I'm sure that with the rift tech I've developed in the other univ–"

"Oh, please," said alt-Rodney, rolling his eyes. "You didn't develop it, I did."

"Same difference," said Rodney, brushing the objection aside. "No, really, Sheppard. You'd be much safer on this side."

"Yeah, thanks very much!" yelled alt-Rodney, waving his hands. "Convulsions, coma and death, remember? Quit trying to persuade him out of going!"

"Oh yeah," said Rodney, feeling guilty. "Um, sorry."

"But are you sure, Detective Sheppard?" asked Teyla. "That is not a safe universe, with a Hive ship on its way."

"I'm not big on playing it safe," Sheppard said, shrugging. "And I turned in my badge before that shit went down at the other Wraith's trailer. Wouldn't mind being in the military again, and that's sure not gonna happen here." He grimaced. "There's some people in Vegas I'd be happy to move to another universe to avoid, and I don't exactly have ties on this side any more…" He smirked at Todd and saluted him with his beer. "Apart from my bro here." Todd inclined his head solemnly. "So yeah, I'd be up for a fresh start."

"That would be…" words seemed to fail Rodney's alternate. "I can't tell you how much we need you, Sheppard. Just, thanks. Thanks."

Sheppard shrugged again, looking down at his beer, seeming embarrassed by alt-Rodney's intensity.

"Still need one more," Ronon said into the awkward pause.

Alt-Rodney glared at him. "Yeah, thanks for the buzz-kill, Ronon." Ronon lifted a shoulder, unperturbed.

"You used the term humanoid," Todd said, from his chair across the room. "Wraith are humanoid."

"Yes, but the Wraith was vaporized," Rodney reminded him. "And we don't have any captive ones in Pegasus, not that you'd want to drag a feral Wraith back with you, although I guess you could tie it up and then kill it on the other side as soon as you were…" He trailed off, aware that the others were frowning at him. Todd was scowling. "What? What did I say?"

"Todd is present," Teyla said with forced patience. "Your suggestions are…less than sensitive." Alt-Rodney rolled his eyes.

"No time to get a Wraith, anyway," Ronon added pragmatically. "Not before he goes boom." He waved at alt-Rodney and made an exploding gesture. Alt-Rodney groaned and flung himself back on the couch, one arm over his eyes. Teyla's frown deepened.

"I was not referring to another Wraith," said Todd, steepling his clawed fingers on his chest and crossing his ankles. "I was referring to myself."

"Whether you're humanoid?" asked Rodney, puzzled. "Well, yes, being a hybrid of human and Iratus, you must be, by definition."

"So this would work?" Todd asked alt-Rodney, who was looking equally baffled. Todd rolled his eyes. "I am offering to accompany you and John Sheppard, Dr. McKay," he clarified. "Perhaps I, too, wish for a fresh start, and this new rift technology interests me." He stared at them bleakly. "My brethren here have cast me out, as happened in your reality as well, and life here for the past several months has been…unpleasant. I would give a great deal not to face starvation again, and even though they are unexciting, your clones do provide nourishment." He grinned then, razor sharp. "Who knows, there may even be shrimp to be harvested, if I am lucky." He looked at alt-Rodney. "I ask again, would the rift accept me?"

"I, yes. I believe so," said alt-Rodney faintly.

"Great! Sure do love it when a plan comes together," said Sheppard brightly. He turned to Todd and said, "Hey, you'll like this. Why wouldn't the shrimp share his treasure?"

Todd raised a brow. "He would share it if I were there, Sheppard, because I would take it from him."

"Aw, you're no fun," said Sheppard. "It's a joke, see? Because he was a little shellfish!" He grinned and sucked on his beer. Todd looked puzzled.

Rodney screwed up his face. "Jesus. That's the worst…I can't even. You do realize, Sheppard, that shrimp are crustaceans, not shellfish?"

"Are they on a surf 'n turf platter?" demanded Sheppard. Rodney rolled his eyes. "They've got shells!" added Sheppard, triumphantly.

"I did not notice that Ba'al had a shell," said Todd thoughtfully. "But then, the experience was rather…intense," he smirked in recollection and shifted his hips suggestively.

"I've changed my mind," Rodney told his alternate. "You can have them both, and welcome."

"Gee, Rodney, I'm wounded," said Sheppard insincerely. Todd showed his teeth.

-----------o0o-----------

A while later, when alt-Rodney, Sheppard and Todd had wandered off to find a bar and discuss their next adventure, Rodney looked at Teyla and Ronon and felt a warm rush of affection. They were his team – familiar, loyal, and dependable. He even missed Ford. "Thank god that's all over," he said to them. "Now we can go home."

"Indeed, Rodney," agreed Teyla, smiling. "But we are in Las Vegas. First, we will go shopping." Rodney gaped at her, betrayed.

"Suck it up, McKay," said Ronon, grinning. "I wanna see those exotic dancers Sheppard was talking about."

"Yes," Teyla said excitedly, leaning forward. "I have heard that pole-dancing lessons are available. Is this similar to bantos-fighting?"

Rodney groaned.

 

- the end -