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AU, Week 1: Self Sacrifice

Title: Self-Sacrifice
Author: jem
Genre: AU (although technically I used alternate timelines instead of alternate universes)
Prompt: Unsung heroes
Word Count: ~6,000
Rating: PG-13.
Warnings: Um . . . deals with characters from three different timelines (including the canon one) which can't coexist, so . . . there's character death of a sort.
Summary: This isn't exactly Rodney's forte. He must convince a recalcitrant listener that some very important people are worth saving, when Rodney has never even articulated to them just how important they are to him. In other words, he must talk about his feelings. And the person he must convince is a very stubborn, very selfish scientist by the name of Rodney McKay . . .
Notes: When this started out, it was going to be a humor piece. Definitely took a sharp left turn somewhere in there.




The day Rodney McKay's life turned upside down had, on the whole, been a very good one. In fact, if he'd managed to get through ten more minutes, it would have been one of the best days of his life.

Instead, at 11:50 pm, he came into the kitchen to get a couple of very alcoholic drinks for himself and a very beautiful woman who was waiting in his bedroom and ran into himself.

“Rodney!” his doppelgänger cried, obviously relieved and happy. “Oh, thank god. It worked!”

What the hell? was Rodney's first thought. His second was, My god, did I invent time travel? Not entirely ludicrous, to his credit, but right on the heels of that came the conclusion he knew was the correct one. “Okay, very funny, Holfield. What is this, a projection?” He went over and waved a hand through duplicate Rodney's body while the double looked very put out.

“Huh. No wave interruption. All right, I'll give you impressive. How'd you do it?” He looked around the room. “I know you're watching. Creepy, by the way—can you at least keep your juvenile practical jokes confined to the lab, and not, you know, my private residence?”

“Rodney,” said the other Rodney.

“Okay, joke's over,” said Rodney a little louder.

“Rodney,” the projection, or whatever it was, said again.

“Rodney?”

“What?” snapped Rodney, and immediately cursed himself. Clarissa was standing in the doorway in a silken bed robe, her short blond hair slightly tousled and very perfect. “Oh—hey—look, I'm so sorry, it's this guy at the lab, he keeps playing these really stupid pranks, if you ask me it's just professional jealousy—”

She shrugged, apparently mollified. “I thought I heard you shouting at someone. Come back to bed.”

“Bed?” said a strangled voice behind Rodney, and he realized, annoyed, that he had momentarily forgotten about the stupid joke projection thing. “She's sleeping with you? With me? Or, us, or—wow, you have got—”

“Okay, joke's over!” Rodney snapped. He turned back to Clarissa, very irritated now and trying not to show it. It wasn't as if he expected her to walk out on him, but still, she was gorgeous and leggy and even though Rodney didn't really have any trouble getting women at this point, not since his last publishing deal had made him a fairly rich man, that didn't mean he wanted this one to walk out on him. Especially not after everything had been going so well a moment ago. “Look, let me deal with this; I'll be in in just a second.”

“Oh, can't it wait until morning?” she asked, pouting very sexily. She left off leaning on the door frame to sway towards him, her robe falling open just a little tantalizingly—

She walked right through faux-Rodney, who gaped and snatched his hands into the air. “I didn't touch! I swear I didn't touch. Not that I can actually feel, and granted, okay, she's already sleeping with you, apparently, and you're really me, but—”

“Wait a second,” said Rodney, starting to feel a little panicked. “You don't see—”

“Of course she can't see me,” said his twin, and that's when everything went straight to hell.

***


“Look, I need to talk to you,” Rodney Number Two said for about the seventh time. Rodney had just gotten rid of a very ticked off Clarissa—not that Rodney was too happy about it either; the woman did yoga, for crying out loud, and now would probably never sleep with him again—but he couldn't exactly have gone back to bed with Holfield doing some voyeur thing that was getting creepier by the minute.

“Dammit, Nicolas, I know it's you,” Rodney muttered, heading into his study and tossing it for all the old equipment he'd brought back from the lab at different points. He was Rodney McKay, for god's sake, and he was not going to be out-physicisted (not that he was sure that was really a word, but screw it).

“I'm not Nicolas Holfield,” the other Rodney insisted. Rodney hadn't listened to him the first few times he'd denied it and listened even less now. “And stop trying to look for the power source. I'm not a hologram. I'm you.”

“Ha ha, very funny, what are you, the Ghost of Physics Past?” demanded Rodney absently, bringing his laptop out of standby.

“No, I'm you from an alternate timeline. I managed to hook into my own consciousness using Sam's research on entropic cascade failure—I mean, granted, it was my admittedly brilliant ideas that adapted it, as this is an alternate timeline rather than an alternate reality. Which means we are, in all scientific respects, the exact same person.” He grinned. “And, wow, before we fix this I definitely have to pick your brain about what life experiences you've had that enable you to snag a hot blonde like that one, because—”

“This wasn't funny to begin with,” Rodney cut in shortly. “And it's getting even less funny now.”

Not-Rodney sobered. “Look, what'll convince you? Um—okay, things might be different here, but when you were a kid, did you play the piano?”

Rodney's hands stilled suddenly on the computer, abruptly and viscerally remembering the feeling of a very different keyboard beneath them.

The other Rodney sighed dramatically. “Yes, yes, look, it's written all over your face. My god, do I look like that?” His voice changed a little, became more brittle, covered with a veneer of forced lightness. “One of the most painful memories of our childhood, wasn't it? The day Mr. Herschlag said that?”

Rodney refused to acknowledge him.

The apparition went on, annoyingly ignoring that Rodney was ignoring him. “I had a woman say to me once—she said she didn't understand.” His voice cracked just a little bit. “She said, Rodney, you're the most stubborn person alive, and you shout down anyone's opinions you disagree with—except she said it more diplomatically than that, because she was like, a diplomat, and was like that—she said, how could you let one person's opinion stop you from doing something you truly loved.” He cleared his throat. “And you know, I had never thought of that. Not once. And then she asked me if I ever played anymore, just for fun, and—I had never thought of that, either. It was always all or nothing for us, you know? Be the best by lightyears or don't be.”

“Does this have a point?” Rodney ground out, something twisting deep inside him. His work. He'd concentrate on that. He was looking for the power source. But how could Holfield have known . . . ?

“I, uh, I seem to have veered off from the point, which is that I am you.”

For the first time in his very successful life, Rodney didn't know what to do. He felt as if he were trapped in a nightmare.

“But I want to finish telling you this, because Teyla—that was her name, Teyla—a few weeks later she came and sat me down at some alien musical instrument she had found that was really remarkably like a piano, and you know, I protested the whole way, for god's sake I hadn't even touched one in thirty years, but, um, when Teyla sets her mind to—I mean—she was stubborn. And a little dangerous,” he admitted. “And so I played, and it wasn't—it wasn't perfect, I mean, it was a whole different instrument and I hadn't even looked at music in
decades, so who could blame me, but Teyla—she just sat and listened. And she—she could listen. With her whole body. You knew she was absorbing every note. And at the end she said, 'That was beautiful, Rodney. You are exceptionally talented.' And you know, I felt prouder in that moment than I had for any of my near-constant major scientific breakthroughs. Absurd, huh?”

“Very,” Rodney got out through his teeth.

“She's dead.”

“What?”

The alternate Rodney cleared his throat. “She—somebody changed the timeline. Sheppard and Teyla and Ronon and I, we were—we ended up stuck outside the timestream, long story, that sort of stuff always seems to happen to us. But without us—the Genii nuclear program backfired; they woke the Wraith, and the Wraith—they weren't happy. The retaliation left Pegasus a wasteland. They killed—well. All of Teyla's people were gone.”

Rodney had no idea what he was talking about.

“We tried to get to the time ship, but Sheppard—they all—none of them made it.” He cleared his throat again. “So Teyla's dead in this timeline, and the rea—I mean, my Teyla—she's dead, too.”

“And why should I care about your dead girlfriend?” shot Rodney, perhaps a little more hostilely than he intended.

“Not my girlfriend,” corrected the other Rodney without bitterness. “Teammate. No. Family. Like family. And you should care, because you are going to change the timeline to bring her back. Her and Sheppard and Ronon and everybody else.”

***


Rodney still wasn't sure this wasn't some elaborate practical joke someone was playing on him. He had planned to take the following day off to bask in his own glory, but he had to get to the lab to figure out what was going on with him. Without letting anyone else know he was hearing voices in his head.

As much as he thought he might like the adulation, the constant stream of congratulations started to annoy him about two steps into the building. Brown-nosers, all of them, trying to get in with the famous Dr. McKay. He locked himself inside the lab, terrorizing the post-docs until they fled and he was alone.

Not-Rodney was looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face. “You won the Nobel Prize?”

“Long overdue, if you ask me,” said Rodney grumpily, studiously not mentioning that when the call had come the day before it had been—well, probably the best moment of his whole life. Finally. The recognition he had deserved for so long. He ignored how empty its lack had made him feel, locked that away in the back of his enormous brain.

“It's just that I—well, I always—never mind,” said the double. “So, uh, about fixing the, the timeline.”

“No,” said Rodney. “I told you last night. No.”

“But you didn't hear me out!”

“Because I have no interest in hearing you out! I am a very busy man, a very successful man, which you clearly are not, and I have no interest in hearing any of your cockamamie nonsense about alternate timelines and other galaxies. This is all some elaborate farce, which brings me back to no.

“Haven't I already proven I'm you?”

Rodney decided that the best course of action would be to ignore him until he figured out what to do.

“Talked to Jeannie lately?”

Rodney spun around, mouth agape. Okay, that hadn't been in the plan of ignoring him. “I noticed every time she published,” said Rodney stiffly.

“Of course you did,” said his double sarcastically. “Jesus Christ, was I really this bad?” He shook his head almost condescendingly, which Rodney found very, very annoying. “Anyway, why didn't you get back in touch with her then? You know her work is brilliant.”

“And a completely theoretical construct. It's not even testable in the real world—it's like string theory! Physics you can't test—it might as well be fiction!”

“Actually, it works,” said the other Rodney, a funny note in his voice. “Works very well, in fact.”

“Oh, right. I forgot. You come from an alternate universe,” said Rodney sarcastically.

“Alternate timeline,” corrected the other with what was really insufferable smugness. “You of all people should know the difference between the two.”

“I do,” acknowledged Rodney. “And since—assuming that just for a moment I believe your completely ludicrous claims—this is an alternate timeline you want me to 'fix,' I will cease to exist at the moment it's done. You essentially want me to kill myself.”

The other Rodney looked uncomfortable. “You won't cease to exist. I'll be me instead of you.”

Rodney shot him the most malevolent look he could. “That argument is a house of cards and you know it. My brain—which is exceptional, by the way, I suspect orders of magnitude more than yours—”

“Now wait a minute—”

“My brain is structured partially by my life's experiences, which differ from yours, hence I am a different person. QED. And you want to kill me.”

“First of all,” said his doppelgänger, puffing out his chest a little in anger in a way that was patently ridiculous, “There is no way you are smarter than I am. If you're playing the 'different experiences' card, my brain is stimulated daily—hourly—by crises involving technology far beyond humanity that it is up to me to solve. And you, what—work in a university lab all day?” His words were laced with a faint sneer.

Rodney didn't know what his twin claimed to be doing in his alternate timeline, and didn't much care. “Have you won the Nobel Prize yet?” he shot back, already sure of the answer. “Because, oh, wait—I did.”

The other Rodney's chin jutted out. “My work is classified.”

“Good excuse.”

“I've saved lives.”

“Just keep telling yourself that.”

“I've saved Earth.

“You know who says the same thing? Al Gore.”

“I have friends.” The other Rodney's mouth dropped open, as if he had just shocked himself. But then a malevolent gleam came into his eye. “I do. I have friends. I'm happy.”

It was on Rodney's lips to claim the same, but somehow, the words wouldn't come. Instead, he finally snapped, “What am I even doing, arguing with you? You're probably a figment of my imagination,” and turned away.

***


“Let me tell you about Sheppard.”

The voice was coming from behind Rodney, where he knew the apparition was leaning against a lab bench. He tried very hard to tune it out.

“He's—well, the man is ridiculous. He does some sort of awkward charming rakish flyboy thing and the alien women just flock to him. And he's—I don't know. He's the sort of man who—the number of suicide missions he tried to go on, against all of my advice—” The words cut off suddenly, as if they had been swallowed.

“Then there's Ronon,” the other Rodney picked up after a moment. Rodney felt funny. He wasn't that good with people, granted, but what he heard in the other man's voice, that was—well, grief, for lack of a less maudlin word for it. Jesus, the man couldn't even talk about this Sheppard guy.

Rodney was jealous. Not of the grief, per se, but of . . . perhaps of the capacity for it. Ruthlessly, he tried to quash that, to go on with his work.

“Ronon was—he's this big mountain of a man. The kind of man you're super afraid of right away because he could, like, crush you with his finger as if you were an ant. Really. He was—well, I tried to avoid him at first for very sane reasons, namely, hello, mountain man, but that was a little difficult because Sheppard went and put him on our team. And in no time it was like—well, if I was with Ronon, it was—really comforting, I guess. Like—if Ronon had my back, nothing could ever get me. He was like that. You knew that he would watch out for you,
always.” He cleared his throat. “This is—really weird; I'm not used to talking about my, you know, I guess 'feelings' about people would be the right word, but I, uh, I have to make you understand—” He cleared his throat again. “A few months after coming to Atlantis Ronon pulls me aside, and I think he's going to mash me to bits for some caveman reason, because, you know, he's kind of savage and all, but instead he just says, 'McKay, I'm going to teach you self-defense if it kills both of us,' and drags me off to the gym. And from then on—my god, he either had the patience of a saint or just really liked to hit me. Maybe both, actually, but—I don't know if I'm giving a picture here. But he would've put himself in front of bullets for me. Did. Multiple times. As bad as Sheppard.” He gave a little, humorless laugh. “And Teyla. I've mentioned her. Gorgeous, absolutely beautiful, and could kick my ass six ways from Sunday. Well, Sheppard's, too, really, and every marine's on the base. She's the kind of woman who could do anything and make it look absolutely effortless. God, she's from some agrarian Wraith-oppressed culture and it was just this year that I suddenly realized she had learned more about Atlantis and Earth technology than most of the military and probably half the science techs, and you know, these were Earth's best and brightest, but Teyla—yeah, anything she set her mind to. That's Teyla. And she put up with us—she kept us together, I sometimes think. It was like she was the best out of all of us—could kick ass like Sheppard and Ronon, could out-diplomacy Elizabeth even, and, well, like I said, if she'd had
proper schooling—she never seemed to realize it, but she was, well, smart. I mean in the actual intellect way. And coming from me, that's—that's something.” He paused for a moment, and then his voice took on a strange note. “You know, I—I don't think I ever told them all this. I—I think I should have.”

Rodney was trying to ignore him. He really, really was. He had already tried every type of scan he could to figure out what the apparition was, and couldn't. He was trapped working on a problem and he didn't see the answer, and he was beginning to panic, because that was not a position Rodney McKay found himself in. Ever.

“I'd die for them,” the other Rodney said suddenly.

Despite himself, Rodney glanced up at him in surprise.

Alt-Rodney flushed a little. “I mean, you know, that wouldn't exactly be Plan A, and really it might not even be the best plan, since by any objective measure Atlantis depends on me more than on any one of them, but—” He shook his head suddenly. “No. That's wrong. Sheppard—without Sheppard, Atlantis would be—” And he did that weird little swallowing his words and shutting up thing, like he had the first time he'd talked about the man. Then he stared at his shoes as if they were a brand-new subatomic particle he were ferreting out.

“And now you want me to die for them,” said Rodney finally, not without bitterness.

The other Rodney raised his head and met his eyes firmly. “Yes. I do.”

***


Rodney still felt as if his brain were stuck figuring out how to react. It was as if he were in a play, saying some lines, reacting, and yet if he took a step back, everything was so ridiculous and absurd and he found himself cursing himself for getting drawn into the apparition's words.

“Come on, you must at least have some scientific curiosity about me!” the other Rodney was prodding annoyingly, after Rodney had spent a moderately successful half-hour ignoring him—only moderately successful, because his constant chatter was already driving Rodney insane. “Don't you want to know about all I've seen?” Not-Rodney ranted. “Alternate realities—the multiverse—real, testable string theory results—zero-point energy—artificial gravity—teleportation—wormhole technology, for crying out loud—aren't you the least bit intrigued?”

“You're not real,” insisted Rodney doggedly. Damn. And the ignoring thing had been going so well. Or at least sort of well.

“Well, it depends on what you mean by 'real,'” Alt-Rodney was responding blithely, apparently not even realizing how hard Rodney had been trying not to talk to him. “I mean, I'm a modified quantum reflection of your brain waves that are refracted, for lack of a better word, to be my brain waves instead, but no, I'm not an actual solid human being anymore, that's true. I kind of had to reenter the timestream for this to work, and come to think of it that should have made me a whole hell of a lot more nervous because it was just me left, and if I had disappeared completely upon reentry, who would have fixed the timeline? But you know, I had no way to get to Earth, no way to contact anybody, and well, I was just a little—feeling a little crazy. I think I kind of figured it had to work, and if it didn't, then—then it didn't matter.”

Rodney could feel his lip twisting. The other Rodney's story was moving into the realm of irrationality, all those things other people did that Rodney himself never understood. This Rodney was saying he had essentially killed himself—well, turned his real physical self into a brainwave reflection, and Rodney wasn't even sure that was possible—on the off chance he could get here and convince Rodney to make them both cease to exist completely. It was pure insanity. “Look,” said Rodney, slowly and distinctly, “I don't know your friends. I don't care about your friends. They're not my friends. If you're really what you say you are, you can go ahead and decouple yourself from my brainwaves and leave me in peace, because I am not going to help you.

The other Rodney's face tightened up, and he looked like he was chewing funnily on his words for a moment. Then he straightened up, crossed his arms across his chest, and said, “No.”

“No what?”

“No. I am not going to leave you alone. And good luck trying to figure out quantum cascade technology to get me out of your head without years of experience in the Stargate Program. Go ahead. I dare you.”

Rodney couldn't think what to say.

“In the meantime,” continued his double ruthlessly, “I will become the most annoying person possible. I already have lots of practice. I will not let you work. I will not let you sleep. I will make you go insane, and in three years' time people will talk about how the once-great Rodney McKay cracked once he got the Nobel and became a worthless husk who was lucky he had tenure. In ten years' time, you will be forgotten.”

This man was Rodney. And he knew how to make Rodney's worst nightmare come true. “You're me,” croaked Rodney, finally believing it. “And you—you'd do that to yourself? To yourself? All for these people?”

The other Rodney jutted out his chin and was silent. And Rodney had never been more desperately panic-stricken in his life.

***


It had been three days, and Not-Rodney had been as good as his word. Rodney was going mad.

The phone was ringing off the hook with the Nobel publicity storm, and Rodney eventually stopped answering after the fifth time he'd tried to graciously accept congratulations and negotiate new grants with his double shouting in his ear. He called in sick to the university and locked himself in at home. This was supposed to be the best week of his life, and he was spending it holed up with a pillow over his head while an apparition from another timeline tried to drive him insane.

Finally he threw himself up from the bed and flung the pillow with all the force he could muster at the other Rodney. It flew right through him and into a lamp, which crashed to the floor with a terrific smash, but Rodney didn't hear it because he was shouting, “Will you just SHUT UP!

For a wonder, the other Rodney did. For a second. Then he said, “Does this mean I win?”

“Why?” demanded Rodney brokenly. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“I told you why,” said the doppelgänger stubbornly.

He was a monster, Rodney thought. “You say you'd die for these friends of yours,” said Rodney slowly. “You think that makes you a good man. But you'd kill for them, too.”

Alt-Rodney's eyes darted away for a moment. “Maybe,” he admitted.

“It's what you're doing to me.”

Other Rodney fixed his face stubbornly in that supremely annoying way of his. “Then, yeah. I guess I would.”

“Do you think they would want that?” Rodney demanded sarcastically. “These vaunted, righteous friends of yours? Would they?”

If possible, the stubborn look grew worse. “I don't care,” said the double. “I'm making this decision. And it's not like you are some innocent kid on the street I'm gunning down. You're me. I have as much right to your life as you do.”

“That's absurd,” Rodney got out faintly.

“You say you want your life back. Well, I want mine back, too. Why do you get priority?”

“Because I'm real now,” said Rodney, feeling as if he had somehow lost the argument.

***


“Teyla's dead. You know where Ronon is?”

Instead of simply being annoying, the alternate Rodney seemed to have decided that it was story hour. Rodney thought it might have been easier to ignore than the pure noise the man had dedicated himself to before, but despite himself, his traitor brain wouldn't stop listening.

“He was a Runner when we found him. That means the Wraith implanted a tracker in his back, let him go, and chased him. For seven years.” Rodney was trying not to listen. Really, he was. “Sheppard and Carson got the tracker out before Ronon joined us. You know where he is in this timeline? Still running. I know they haven't captured him yet, because hell, he's Ronon, but it's going on a decade now, and he's going from planet to planet, stealing scraps of food because if he's seen with anyone the Wraith will kill that person, wipe out the whole town, and he's being hunted. That's what his life is like in this timeline.”

Rodney wanted to ask why he should care, but in a way, he did. The way the other Rodney described this man, he was—well, everything Rodney wasn't. And yet, in that alternate timeline, they had become friends. Protectors of each other. Rodney didn't like to think about this guy being hunted by life-sucking vampires. “What about the other guy? Sheppard?” Rodney said then, partly to be just a tiny bit mean, and partly because he actually sort of maybe wanted to know.

Alt-Rodney glanced at him. “Sheppard? Sheppard was—well—he had this ridiculous nobility complex, you know? He . . . back in the Air Force, and don't get me started on the stupidity of military decisions, but Sheppard had some sort of black mark because he flew in to rescue some other military guys who were behind enemy lines, or something like that. He—they had him flying helicopters as a glorified courier in Antarctica. One of America's most brilliant pilots, and I mean brilliant, and he's stuck as a chauffeur, stewing in his own failures, because, never tell Sheppard I said this, but he's . . . he expects himself to be superhuman. And we—I think in a funny way, we all depend on him to be. It's like Batman. Everyone expects him to be able to solve everything, do anything, and he even expects that of himself, and it—well, it can destroy him.” He paused and made a face. “Uh, too melodramatic? Well, anyway, that—that's Sheppard. It's funny, though, because as many times as he saved our lives—saved all of our lives—the reason I, the thing about him I really, I mean—he liked me.” Not-Rodney spit the words out fast, as if they might get lost otherwise, and glanced towards Rodney, his eyes quick and uncertain. “He—it was never—with everyone else, you could feel it. The constant judging, always—and I had to—had to be the best, had to solve everything, because that was who I was, and without it, well—that was it.”

Rodney had a queer feeling in his gut. His own value—he had always measured it by the breakthroughs, by the recognition, but without that—his greatest fear, the one that woke him in a sweat nights, sometimes, was that without that, he was nothing. And if he ever failed—if he ever even made the slightest mistake in the lab—well, like the other Rodney said, it was all he was, and it was all anybody ever saw him as. Including himself.

“Sheppard,” his double was saying softly. “Sheppard was—he was different, and I don't think he even realized it, it was just the way he related to people. Hell, I didn't even realize it, not until long afterwards. But he—he wanted me on his team. Me. The guy nobody could get along with and only called if they needed something fixed.” He gave a short, hollow laugh. “He talked to me like—like a guy, an actual guy, not just as a tool, and he didn't let me just have my way, or even expect me to be right all the time. And then there were movies, and game nights, and Batman, and the remote-control airplanes we crashed into the North Tower, and—okay, it sounds really juvenile and everything when I put it like that, but he—he made me more than just the guy who can fix things and is . . . . is nothing otherwise. He didn't do it consciously, but he did it. And then, because he's Sheppard and he saw me that way, suddenly that's who I became to everyone else, too. Including—including me.”

Rodney swallowed, tasting ashes, his waiting Nobel Prize already tarnished and dull.

He wanted that life. Some part of him wanted to say, to hell with it all, I won't even feel anything, I'll help you put things back the way they were.

“I'll make you a deal,” he said finally, and wondered whether he were insane.

***


It was Faustian. Rodney was well aware of that.

But then, nobody would ever know. And it wasn't like it was really cheating, exactly. After all, the other Rodney's brain technically was his. And in ten years' time, they would try their best to erase this whole timeline anyway, so what if Rodney had his way with it until then?

“It won't matter to you when we change the timeline back,” he'd argued. “In ten years, with your knowledge—I'll surpass Einstein in the way I'll revolutionize physics.”

“Hey! My ideas!” the other Rodney had balked.

“You keep arguing that you're me. So, my ideas. You'll help me, and I'll help you.”

After a moment, Alt-Rodney had gotten a strange sort of little grin on his face. “You know, it will be kind of nice seeing my ideas get the recognition they deserve.” And then he got that evil little gleam in his eye, the one Rodney had already learned to loathe. “But you have to do something else for me.”

And that was how Rodney had ended up on Jeannie's doorstep in Vancouver, clutching a lame little pot of flowers and waiting for her to hear the doorbell.

He thought she was going to slap him. Instead, she flung her arms around him and started crying.

What made it all the worse was Not-Rodney standing there next to them, rocking back on his heels with that smug little grin on his face.

***


“Time's up,” said Alternate Rodney softly.

“I know,” said Rodney. His deal with the devil.

He didn't want to leave. These past ten years—the scientific community had ended up prostrate before him, but he found that wasn't even what he really cared about. He and Jeannie were close again. He'd been able to watch Bradley grow up, and Robbie had his middle name (Rodney, not Meredith, thank god). And he himself felt more whole than he ever had. He'd fallen in love for what he now knew was the first time in his life, and had his heart broken, and healed. He played the piano every so often, just for fun. And he had collaborators now, and friends, too, and chief among them, oddly enough, was that devil from another time who had come to kill him, and who still intended to. That devil who was himself.

“I'm not ready,” he whispered.

“I don't know if I am, either,” Alt-Rodney confessed. “It's been—well—you're not a bad guy, you know.”

“Would you release me from our deal, if I asked?”

Alt-Rodney was silent for a moment. “You could renege, if you really wanted to. You could refuse to help me put it back.” He paused. “Are you going to?”

Rodney looked down at his hands. “No.” He paused. “I wish you could tell them. Tell Teyla and Ronon and Sheppard about—about all of this. About me.” It was selfish, but . . . he still wanted to be remembered, especially by them, Alt-Rodney's friends from that other timestream whom he almost felt like he knew himself, almost felt as if they were his friends, too. But if they succeeded, neither of them would remember. Neither of them would exist. Only one Rodney, a Rodney who had friends he would die and kill for, a Rodney who was an intergalactic explorer and who saved whole planets regularly.

Rodney envied that man. He liked to think that he himself would be becoming that Rodney, even though he knew he wouldn't.

“It's been a good ten years. The best of my life.” He cleared his throat. “Jeannie and her family. They're safe in your timeline? Safe and happy?” He knew the answer already; he'd heard the stories about Jeannie working as a consultant for the Stargate Program, traveling to other galaxies. Much as he loved her in this timeline, he couldn't deny her that.

“Safe and happy,” Alt-Rodney confirmed.

“Okay,” Rodney said, so calm he almost felt numb. “Let's get started.”

***


“MCKAY!”

“Yes, yes, if you shout at me I'll be able to stop what's already happened!” yelled Rodney sarcastically, still furiously concentrated on the Ancient interface. Maybe he wasn't too late. Maybe he could still fix this, still fix this—

The world seemed to shudder for a moment.

“McKay!” shouted Sheppard again.

Rodney looked back at the interface, suddenly thoroughly confused. “What?”

“What the hell is going on?”

Typical Sheppard rhetoric, Rodney thought, but only with half his mind—the other half was still on the interface in puzzlement. Sheppard and Teyla and Ronon all had their guns out, as much good as that would do . . .

“McKay!”

“Um, yeah.” He tried to figure out what could have happened. “The device, it's—well, the Ancient equivalent of shorted out.” He paused and licked his lips. “Has been for thousands of years.”

Sheppard turned quickly. “What?”

“Um, well—someone had to have gone back in time and sabotaged it, but we don't remember it being sabotaged before, because we're outside the timestream in here. It's the only explanation that makes sense.”

“You mean Hertak?” rumbled Ronon's voice.

“No, of course not. He was trying to stop us from ever coming to Pegasus. This effectively stopped him.”

“What?” said Sheppard again.

“The device has been busted for thousands of years. He couldn't have used it.”

“But we saw him—” began Teyla.

“Only because we were momentarily outside the timestream during the event that must have precipitated the sabotage! We're not outside it anymore, by the way, because this is nothing but a hunk of stone.” He pounded the dead interface with his fist. “Gone. Dead.”

“Wait, are you saying that because Hertak went back, one of us then went back and stopped him?” asked Sheppard, looking completely bewildered.

“Does that not lead to several logical paradoxes?” asked Teyla.

“Not if you do the math right,” said Rodney smugly.

“All right, kids,” said Sheppard. “Let's head on home. Crisis averted until another day. If McKay is sure this thing is safely dead, we can send a science team back.”

“I said it's dead, didn't I? And since when have I ever been wrong?” Rodney demanded as they started their hike back to the Stargate.

“You want me to list the times?” said Sheppard with an extremely annoying grin.

“Oh, ha ha, mock the genius. Well, Sheppard, it's dead. In fact, it's so completely and expertly dead that I bet it was me.”

“What was you?”

“I bet I was the one who went back in time and saved all of us.”

“If that's what you need to fulfill you, Rodney, you go for it. It was all you.”

“Now you're mocking me!”

“He would never do such a thing,” said Teyla, straight-faced, on Rodney's other side.

“She's a liar,” said Ronon, deadpan, as he dialed the gate. “We mock you all the time.”

“I hate all of you,” said Rodney unhappily.

“We know,” said Sheppard with another one of his annoying grins. “Let's go home.”
 
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