It was a laboratory like any other abandoned laboratory on Atlantis, with static sheets covering the few pieces of technology left behind on the bench set at the center, but what caught Rodney's attention was the mirror hanging on the wall. It looked innocuous enough but Rodney treated it with suspicion nonetheless. The last time anyone found a mirror, it turned out to be a Quantum mirror that allowed someone to cross into alternate universes. Of course, who else could it be but Daniel Jackson who'd ended up in the wrong universe with no immediate way of getting back? The man was as much of a trouble magnet as Sheppard.
Rodney backed away from the mirror and eyed it from what he hoped was a safe distance.
"Uh, uh, uh!" He waggled a finger when one of the latest arrivals from Earth rushed towards it. "No touching the shiny thing until we know what it is, and what it does."
Radek rolled his eyes but most of them had learned to exercise a little caution even around something that looked innocent enough on the surface.
"It's just a mirror," Jandle sneered.
"Perhaps if we'd found it hanging in a public restroom or some Ancient's bedroom then I might have agreed. But no. We are in a laboratory in a tower where the last shiny object tried to ascend me... by force."
Jandle rolled his eyes but stepped back, mumbling under his breath something Rodney could neither make out nor work up enough energy to actually care about. It was almost the end of the day and, from what he had heard on the Atlantis grapevine, Lorne's team had brought back a trade of those apple-nectarine like fruits that the cook liked to use in the most delicious tarts. Rodney wasn't going to miss out on getting at least three of them.
"Okay everyone. That's it for today. I want reports on all the finds by 09:00 tomorrow."
"And the mirror?" Jandle asked.
"I'm sure I can handle that one, Jingle."
"Jandle," the man muttered, and stomped away.
The tarts were delicious, though Rodney only managed to score two of them before the plague of locusts - mainly his minions - descended upon the mess hall. He glared at Ronon, who had managed to grab four of them, but then no one got between Ronon and food if they wanted to keep all their limbs intact. Reasoning with him about sharing equally only gained him a fatuous grin.
"Don't be so greedy. You already have two, Rodney," Jennifer stated.
"It's not greed... it's sharing. We are supposed to be a team and a team... shares."
"Like you shared the berries last week?" Jennifer raised both eyebrows, and Rodney sputtered.
"That was different," he insisted, and he had shared the berries - just not with Jennifer. John loved them but had been caught at a long meeting with Woolsey, and he would have been disappointed if he'd got to the mess hall and found them all gone.
"And what about these? Are you going to share yours?"
Rodney sighed and slid one of the precious tarts onto Jennifer's plate even though she'd had one or possibly even two of them already. If he didn't then she had a tendency to get even more snippy with him, and he did hope to have sex again some time this month. This last week had been a minefield because of those berries.
Biting back on his frustration, Rodney pushed up. "I still have work to do. Later?"
He looked at her hopefully but could tell from the tightness around her eyes that his gesture with the tart hadn't eclipsed her annoyance over the berries. He was still in the doghouse - a term that had delighted Ronon when Rodney had to explain what it meant.
"I'm a little busy tonight, Rodney."
"Fine. Then I'll see you tomorrow." He leaned down and kissed her cheek before busing his tray and hurrying away.
Within minutes of starting his search for the mirror on the Ancient database, Rodney had forgotten all about Jennifer and the tarts, so he was surprised when the aroma of freshly brewed coffee made him resurface to find not just a mug of coffee but two of the fruit tarts on a napkin beside it. Rodney looked around in surprise and quirked a smile when he found John leaning on the work bench barely three feet away.
John moved in closer. "So what you looking for?"
"Huh? Oh! Um... a mirror."
"Like a Quantum mirror?"
Rodney raised his eyebrows but he should have guessed that Sheppard would have read up on SG1's mission reports - and remembered most of the details. He was weird like that.
"Well..." John rubbed a hand on the back of his neck, striking a pose that always raised Rodney's blood pressure for all the wrong reasons. "I'd best be turning in now. Taking a few of the new marines through their paces tomorrow."
"Yes. Well. Just remember that most of them are almost half your age."
John grinned and walked away, and Rodney had to snap himself back when he realized his thoughts had drifted away with warm and fuzzy feelings towards his best friend. He sighed softly, smiling as he ate the first fruit tart in two bites.
"A magic mirror! As in the fairy tale?"
Rodney rolled his eyes at Miko's excitement as her finger trailed down the ornate frame. Other than the loose translation, Rodney had found nothing to say it was at all harmful and as it was supposed to communicate with the person standing in front of it, he naturally assumed it was just a video interface.
Radek pushed his glasses up as he studied the mirror closer. "Yet the entry does not say it connects to another video device. Therefore, I do not believe it is simply another form of communication between individuals."
"Yes, yes, that and the fact that this is the first mirror we've found whereas I would expect a video comm system to be... everywhere."
"Perhaps it is the origin of the fairy story?" Miko looked back in excitement. "Every culture seems to have a story with a magic mirror."
Rodney scoffed. "It's simply an interface device."
Radek grinned. "You do not believe in fairy stories?"
"Oh yes, and we'll find Rapunzel at the top of one of the towers one of these days. It's an in..ter...face," he stressed, "Not a Magic Mirror."
"Are you so sure, Rodney?"
Rolling his eyes at the idiotic teasing, Rodney turned to the mirror and says, "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. Show me the one I love most of all," he stated sarcastically, not expecting any reaction.
The mirror turned misty, with a dark shadow forming, slowly filling. Only Rodney seemed shocked when the dark shape slowly formed into an image of John Sheppard...but it was not a static image. John was wearing full off-world gear and he frowned before silently yelling at someone. It wasn't the past or the future. It was the present, Rodney realized, recalling John mentioning that he was on a training exercise with the new marines this morning. John smiled suddenly and Rodney felt his heart stutter as he recalled the words he had used.
"Well.." He cleared his throat manfully when the word came out almost as a squeak, crossing his arms defensively. "Well, obviously it's broken."
"Are you so certain, Rodney?" Radek was grinning like a maniac, and Miko looked as if she was going to... swoon; hand clasped to her bosom.
"The mirror in the fairy stories never lied." Jandle looked pleased with himself, especially as Rodney could feel his face heating up even more in both anger and embarrassment.
Sputtering, Rodney pointed a finger between Radek and Jandle but couldn't think of what to say, then clicked his fingers rapidly as a thought came to him. "It's not me! It's not reading my mind. It's answering the question as itself." He could tell they were intrigued. "Who does Atlantis love most of all?" He looked frantically between them and threw his hands wide. "Sheppard!"
Jandle grinned. "In that case. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. Show me the one I love most of all."
The image of John faded, replaced with the face of someone Rodney could not recall seeing anywhere on Atlantis, though that wasn't saying much as Rodney had a terrible memory for names and faces. The background came into sharper focus - green and lush.
"My girlfriend, Maria. Looks like she's in the greenhouse."
Rodney felt his knees weaken, and his limbs go heavy. It really was reading his mind. The blood was rushing in his ears and he felt as if he was underwater, as if he was drowning, and all for the realization of a truth that he had worked so hard to deny. He was supposed to be in love with Jennifer. He was supposed to be asking for her hand in marriage. He'd even bought a new ring after Jeannie told him it was crass to use the one he'd originally bought for Katie.
Rodney pictured her face. She was smart and beautiful... but did he love her? He thought of John - his best friend, who brought him fresh coffee and the tarts he loved so much, who put up with his bad moods, even encouraged a few of his rants. The guy who always had his back even when he didn't deserve it, who would listen to his rants about Jennifer and commiserate as best he could. Racing cars, playing chess, or simply watching lame movies. If John found out about this then Rodney might lose it all, and the thought of losing John's friendship was a gaping chasm of doom compared to losing Jennifer.
"Oh my god! I'm in love with John."
The next thing he knew he was sitting on the dusty floor, his knees having buckled, and the concerned voices were muffled as if he was still underwater; still drowning. Suddenly John was there, right in front of him, and even though he was inadvertently the cause of Rodney's panic attack, the many years of Wraith and other life-threatening events left Rodney focusing on John. He felt the calm steal over him, drawing in deeper breaths until he felt the weight of imagined water lift off his chest. John turned away, voice hard and demanding.
"What the hell happened here?"
Radek looked a little shaken; his eyes flicked to the magic mirror. "I think Rodney had an Epiphany. It was joke. He asked magic mirror who he loved most of all... and it was not Jennifer."
"Was it me?" John straightened, nodding when no one denied it, leaving Rodney feeling sick inside.
But John held up a hand and looked at the mirror. "And who do I love most of all?" he asked the mirror.
The last of Rodney's panic and fear faded into pure happiness, reflected back from his image seen in the magic mirror on wall high above.