After so many years working for the Stargate Program, Radek could safely say that he had seen everything a man in his position could see and more. He had worked on Goaul'd tech, had studied replicators, had witnessed the rise of the lost city of Atlantis from the depth of an alien ocean, almost got killed by an Ancient nanovirus and had seen life-sucking aliens up close. That last one, he could have done without...
There was one thing Radek could not get used to though: parallel universes. Radek knew the theory well enough, of course: for the same calculation, there was an infinite number of possible results. It made sense on paper. However, since his arrival in the Pegasus Galaxy, Radek had come to the conclusion that knowing and actually seeing were two different matters entirely.
His day had started off relatively normally - normal enough for Atlantis, that is. He had gone to the cafeteria for breakfast before heading to the lab where Rodney had already been hard at work. The man had made a jab at Radek for being late - which had absolutely not been the case - before showing him the results of the simulation that had run during the night. They had worked in relative calm for a couple hours before getting interrupted by Colonel Sheppard and his daily coffee delivery for Rodney - and no one else, but Radek was used to that weird courtship ritual of his and took no offense in the fact that Colonel Sheppard barely acknowledged anyone but Rodney when he came to the lab.
A couple hours later, the Colonel had come back - this time to drag Rodney to the cafeteria for lunch. Radek had skipped lunch that day, something he came to regret just an hour later when he found himself faced with not one but two Colonel Sheppards. For a second, Radek thought that his blood sugar had finally reached a critical low but upon further inspection, he realized that they were confronted with doppelgangers from a parallel universe. Again.
The other Colonel Sheppard was not their only visitor. Next to him was standing a petite blonde woman with bright blue eyes that seemed strangely familiar to Radek.
Rodney shook his head in disbelief.
"Jeannie?" Rodney asked, looking like he had just been slapped across the face.
Radek saw the woman's face morph into an expression of surprise. He also noticed that both versions of the Colonel had their hands on their thigh holsters.
"How do you know my sister?" the woman asked and Radek almost jumped in surprise.
The answer was already forming inside his mind even though he could not quite believe it yet. It was rather obvious actually, he realized as he studied the woman more closely. Radek could definitely see the resemblance in their facial features. The newcomer's hair was a bit lighter than Jeannie's though, and her eyes were strikingly blue - just like Rodney's.
"Your sister?" Rodney parroted.
The woman ignored the question and instead asked one of her own. "Who are you?"
"Doctor Rodney McKay. Who are you?"
"Doctor Meredith McKay."
Radek heard a squeak. He was pretty sure the noise had come from him. He could not help it. He truly hated parallel universes. The mere idea of it was already giving him a headache.
"Oh, would you relax already," Doctor Meredith McKay told both Sheppards, rolling her eyes at them.
The man besides her slowly lowered his hand, looking almost sheepish while their Sheppard followed suit, glancing at Rodney for direction. Radek stared at them. Both Sheppards were looking at their respective McKays the exact same way, like they expected them to have the answers to all their questions. Radek sighed. His day was just getting weirder and weirder.
"So… what's going on?" their Sheppard asked.
"Parallel universe," Rodney answered. "But how?"
Meredith rolled her eyes. "Way ahead of you," she said. "I'd say it has to do with the weird mirror I expressly told you not to touch!" she added, glaring at her Sheppard.
"You were the one holding the remote!"
"And you were the one stupid enough to touch the mirror, Mr. Mensa!"
"Ah, ah!" Rodney suddenly exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at their Sheppard.
The Colonel rolled his eyes. "Not this again, Rodney," Sheppard sighed.
Meredith frowned, looking at them both. "What is it?" she asked, curious.
"He took the test but never actually joined," Rodney explained as Sheppard glared.
"John!" Meredith exclaimed in shock.
The Colonel's eyes got comically wide at the outburst but he seemed to recover quickly enough. "Maybe we should make sure they really are who they say they are," he suggested. "You never know, they could be replicators-"
"Or evil twins," the other Sheppard added.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Please, that's the best you can come up with?"
"Hey!" the other Sheppard exclaimed, clearly taking offense at the jab.
Dear God, Radek thought. They even have the same pout.
They finally made their way to the infirmary where Keller - after recovering from her surprise - assured them that the Colonel's DNA was a match and that Meredith's DNA seemed to indicate she was somehow related to Rodney. Woolsey - who had clearly seemed weird out by the whole situation - had given them the all clear to try and send the two visitors back to their own universe. Radek, Rodney, Meredith and the two Sheppards went back to the lab to take a better look at the mirror that had been standing there the whole time, amongst other unidentified Ancient pieces of tech.
"We should have known it was a quantum mirror," Radek pointed out. “But we didn’t find any remote.”
"Yes, thank you Radek for this unvaluable analysis," Rodney barked. "This thing has no power left," he said as he ran a detector over the matt surface of the mirror.
Meredith frowned. "You're sure about that?" she asked and immediately started reading the measurements over Rodney's shoulder.
"Yes, of course, I'm sure!" Rodney huffed. "Would you just-"
He waved his hand at her, shooing her away, and Meredith glared at him.
They even had the same glare, Radek noticed. How would they survive having two McKays on Atlantis? Then again, they had survived Rod's visit all those years ago. To this day, Radek was not quite sure how.
"What about the-" Rodney started and Meredith handed him the remote before he even finished his sentence.
Rodney scanned the device and frowned. "It's completely empty."
"Maybe it only had power for one trip," their Sheppard suggested.
Rodney rolled his eyes as Meredith said, "He's got a point, you know." She took another look at the readings and sighed. "Now we just need a way to get the power back on."
Radek sighed. That was easier said than done.
Rodney tried to ignore his doppelganger as they worked side by side in the lab. Meeting Rod had made Rodney reevaluate his relationship with his teammates and his sister. Meeting Meredith was making him reevaluate everything else.
"Look," Meredith started while Rodney kept his eyes on the monitor in front of him. "You mentioned Jeannie earlier and I-"
Rodney rolled his eyes and finally turned to face the woman.
"What about it?"
"I guess I was just wondering how's your relationship with her."
Rodney frowned. Rod and Jeannie had been very close in their universe. He wondered what their relationship was like in Meredith's universe.
"She married an English teacher, right?" Rodney finally said. Meredith nodded slowly.
Rodney hated talking about his relationship with his sister. Even now that they got along, it was still a sore subject for him. However, Meredith was basically him, and Rodney guessed he could make an effort just this once.
"And it felt like a betrayal," he added.
Rodney's opinion about Jeannie's choices had drastically changed over the years. Thinking back on it, Rodney could have taken the easy way out and blame his parents for not providing him with a healthy environment and pin his decision to choose his career over his personal life on them. He had resented Jeannie for her choices and the way she had so easily let go of her career to pursue her idea of happiness. At the time, Rodney and Jeannie had had very different ideas of what exactly constituted a fulfilling life and now, years later, Rodney often came to regret the harshness and narrowness of mind that had cost him his relationship with his sister and her family. He even envied her sometimes. At least she was surrounded by people who loved her unconditionally.
"I haven't talked to her in years," Meredith admitted.
Rodney sighed. "It's been hard making up with her. But we're good now, I think. She even came here a couple times."
Meredith shook her head. "I can't," she said. "I can't let her know she's been right all along."
Rodney scoffed. "I wouldn't say she was right. Wait- Don't tell me-" he stopped, his eyes widening in disbelief.
Rodney could feel Radek's eyes on them as Meredith reached inside her jacket and took out a picture.
"Don't freak out," she told him but it was too late, Rodney's whole world had suddenly shifted.
God, he was not even surprised. Rodney had had his suspicion about them as soon as he had seen them together.
"She has Sheppard's hair," he croaked, looking at the picture. "Poor girl."
The girl in the picture, who must not have been more than four years old, was perched on Sheppard's shoulders, smiling openly like only little kids could. Both of them were in swimming suits, standing in front of the sea. The girl had bright blue eyes and the damp black mop of hair on her head had somehow been made worse by the sea water and wind. The picture could have been taken on a beach in California or anywhere in the Pegasus Galaxy and Rodney did not ask about it.
"What's her name?" he asked instead.
"Annie. Well, it’s Annabelle Teyla McKay-Sheppard, but we call her Annie."
Rodney nodded. Truth be told, he was feeling less freaked out than he would have thought.
"Was she planned or-" he asked before he could stop himself.
Meredith froze suddenly and that was the only answer Rodney needed.
"Not exactly," she finally said.
Rodney winced. Somehow, he knew that Meredith would never call her own child a mistake. They both knew how deeply these particular words could cut.
Rodney glanced one last time at the picture, his heart clenching painfully at the sight of John's carefree smile. It hurt, knowing that he would never be Rodney's, not the way Rodney wanted him to be.
"We're going to find a way to send you back," he promised.
The pictures were what had finally done Sheppard in. He was an Air Force Colonel for God's sake. He should be able to keep a cool head in any situation. Unfortunately, they had not covered parallel universes at the Academy.
Meeting Rod had been an… experience - to say the least. John had immediately taken to the man. Rod was a level-headed kind of guy. He even played golf, for crying out loud. However, Rod had been way too nice and all in all, he simply had not been Rodney.
Meredith was harder to grasp for John. The first thing he had noticed was just how pretty she was. She had nothing on Rodney, though, but John knew he was bias in this particular area. Meredith seemed smart and from the moment she had opened her mouth, John had known that she was just as infuriating and socially inept as Rodney. In fact, she was so much like Rodney that it hurt, especially now that John knew they were together. Their doppelgangers had a kid together. John could not wrap his head around it.
While Rodney and Meredith were scooped up in the lab, John and his doppelganger had decided to go to the cafeteria to grab some dinner. There, they had met Ronon and Teyla who were just coming back from a trip to the mainland. His doppelganger had asked Teyla about Torren and that was where the pictures had come into play.
John's doppelganger had a couple pictures of Torren and Annie playing together and another, older, picture of Meredith napping with a newborn Annie safely tucked in her arms. John was pretty sure of having blacked out for a second and when he finally got a grip on himself, he realized that Ronon was giving him a weird look.
"You're going to finish that?" Ronon asked, pointing at John's plate.
John found he had suddenly lost his appetite and pushed his tray towards Ronon.
"I should get some food to the lab," John's doppelganger said. "Meredith always forgets to eat when she's working on something big."
Teyla nodded. "Yes, Rodney is the same. John usually has to drag him out of the lab."
John glared at her as his doppelganger grinned. Teyla simply shrugged.
Teyla and Ronon simply did not get it. How could they? John was starting to understand what Rodney had been feeling while Rod had been there.
As it turned out, Meredith and Rodney finally made their way to the cafeteria before John’s doppelganger decided to leave.
"Rodney, Meredith," Teyla greeted. "Come and join us."
"Don't mind if we do," Meredith said, sitting down next to her John. "I'm starving."
John's doppelganger grinned at her before suddenly turning to Rodney who had squeezed himself between John and Ronon.
"Ronon told me you almost married Katie," he said with a smirk.
Rodney groaned. "Here we go again. You know, I'm really starting to get déjà-vu here."
"Rod," John pointed out, nodding.
"Who's Rod?" Meredith asked around a mouthful of chicken sandwich.
"Another McKay from another parallel universe", John explained.
"A douchebag," Rodney added for good measure.
"You were just jealous," John replied at once and Rodney scoffed.
"There's no need to be jealous, Rodney," Teyla assured him with a gentle smile. "As I said before, you are our friend."
Rodney rolled his eyes but John knew Teyla's words had reached him.
"Yeah," John could not help but add, "you know we love you just the way you are, Meredith."
"Oh, I hate you."
Meredith frowned. "Wait- did they? Really?"
"They did," Rodney nodded.
"Well, it is a family name."
"What's going on?" John's doppelganger asked.
"His real name is actually Meredith," John explained, smirking.
"No way," his doppelganger exclaimed before breaking into a grin.
Rodney glared at them both. "Yes, yes, laugh it up. Oh, that's just typical."
"Wait," Meredith said once both her husband and his doppelganger had stopped laughing. "Did you say he was going to marry Katie?" she asked. "Katie Brown?" she exclaimed in disbelief.
"Don't you like Katie?" Teyla asked pleasantly.
"I like Katie just fine. She's- nice, I guess. A little too nice, actually."
Her husband glanced at her. "That's what I said about Davis and you just laughed in my face."
Meredith rolled her eyes. "It's Dennis. And anyway, you were just jealous."
"I was not," her husband said at once.
John could deny it to his heart's content but Meredith knew the truth. After all, Dennis' proposal had been the kick in the pants both of them had needed to finally see what had been right in front of them the whole time. Well, that and being stranded on an alien planet for three weeks with no way of getting back to Atlantis other than wait for the Dedalus to come and pick them up. It had put things into perspective.
After dinner, the other John offered to walk them back to the quarters Woolsey had assigned to them earlier. There were so few differences between her husband and his doppelganger than Meredith had been sort of freaked out by it. Granted, she was well aware of her propension to panic but in this instance, the whole situation was another level of freaky.
When she had been dating Dennis, Meredith had not been able to decipher the looks of longing John had kept sending her way. She had been blind once but now she could see and what she saw was the exact same look on the other John's face when he looked at Rodney.
"Go ahead," she told her husband once they had reached their quarters. "I need to talk to John for a second."
Her John nodded and went inside as the other John tried to hide his surprise.
"Look," she said. “I don't mean to be noisy (John snorted) but I want to help you."
"Don't try to charm your way out of this one. I know you, okay? I've been through this once before and I don't want to see that look on your face ever again."
"Like you're pining your life away."
"I'm not pining."
"Please," she scoffed. "You're so much like my husband it's almost scary. I've been through this before, okay? The pining, the thinking you're not good enough."
"Are you talking about yourself or John, here?"
"Both. Either. My point is- Rodney's interested. I know it. And-" she added as John was about to protest. "Don't even try telling me that the fact he is a man changes things, because I know it doesn't."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"We're married, remember? Which means I know all about your history. I know about Andy and Joe and-"
"Alright!" John exclaimed. "I get your point. God, you're insufferable."
Meredith grinned. "Don't bother, I also know for a fact that you actually like it."
"Get out of my head," John said without heat.
"Look, I'm not saying it has been easy. We have issues like every couple. You're not big on communication (John nodded softly) and I know I have deep-rooted issues and frankly being the second Mrs. Sheppard is not helping but that one is on me, that's my problem to deal with.”
John frowned. "What are you saying exactly?"
Meredith took a deep breath. "What I'm trying to say is that you and Annie mean the world to me and I guess I just want my husband to be happy in every universe."
"You know that's statistically improbable," John said, going for lighthearted but Meredith had learnt to see right through his façade.
She shook her head. "Don't talk to me about statistics, Mr. Mensa."
John rolled his eyes but finally gave her a genuine smile. Meredith could not help but smile back.
"Look, Mer, if your John is anything like me then I guess he doesn't tell you how much he loves you nearly enough but-"
"I don't need-"
"But, more than loving him, I trust Rodney with my life. And the reason I don't talk about my feelings is because we went through so much together, he knows exactly what goes through my head most of the time. I’ve never had that with Nancy. You have nothing to feel threatened about, trust me."
For once in her life, Meredith was rendered utterly speechless.
"Thanks," she finally croaked. "So- will you talk to Rodney?"
"I'll think about it."
"Okay. Good night, John."
"Good night, Meredith."
When she entered her temporary quarters, Meredith found her husband lounging on the bed, skimming through a book on quantum physics he had probably gotten from Radek.
"Hey," she said softly as she made her way to him. "You know I love you, right?"
John looked up, surprised. He dropped the book on the bed and slowly got up to wrap his arms around her, kissing the side of her head.
"I love you too," he said quietly.
"I miss Annie. I hope she's doing okay."
"She's probably having a sleepover with Torren as we speak. I'm sure she's fine. Teyla will look after her until we make it back."
"I don't know how long it’ll take or if that's even possible-"
"You're the smartest person I know, and right now there's two of you. You'll find a way. I trust you."
Meredith buried her face in John's neck. Until that day, she had never fully grasped the true meaning behind those words but now she knew John really meant "I love you".
"I trust you too," she whispered.
Rodney had never been fond of small talk as he worked. When he was focusing on his work, everything around him faded in the distance and anyone who would even dare talk to him would get an earful for their trouble.
"I wonder if entropic cascade failure would affect us," Meredith told him. Rodney sighed. "It would probably affect John," she added. "But would it affect us in the same way?"
"We don't really have time to theorize about it. We should be focusing on getting you back as soon as possible," Rodney said. He could literally feel his blood pressure rising as Meredith kept talking.
"But really, think about it for a second," she went on. "Entropic cascade failure is caused by two identical bodies occupying the same space."
"Yes, I know that, thank you very much."
"But we're not the same! Genetically speaking."
"Can we focus here?"
"Do you like guys?" Meredith suddenly asked.
From the corner of his eyes, Rodney saw Radek sputtering into his mug of coffee.
"Excuse me?" Rodney exclaimed.
"It's just a question," Meredith said, shrugging innocently.
"Well, I- Can we just get back to work, please?"
"So that means yes, right?"
"God, you're insufferable."
"Part of my charm, I've been told."
"Who's been lying to you?" Rodney mumbled.
"Hey, it's okay," she said. "I like girls too, you know."
Radek spat out coffee all over his work station just as Sheppard made his way inside the room. Sheppard gave Radek a weird look before coming to a stop in front of Rodney's desk.
"Where's John?" Meredith asked at once.
Was it weird that both Rodney and Meredith could differentiate between their respective Johns when others could not?
"He's training with Ronon," Sheppard said.
Meredith winced. "Ouch."
"Hey," Sheppard exclaimed at once. "I'll have you know that I-"
Sheppard never finished his sentence, staring at them both instead. When Rodney turned to Meredith and saw the mix of exasperation and fondness on her face, Rodney knew he had the exact same look on his face. Was that really what he looked like when he looked at John?
"I've brought sustenance," Sheppard finally said, throwing a chocolate bar at Meredith, who caught it easily.
"My favorite," she said with a smile.
Sheppard grinned at her. "Yeah, I know."
No. No. That was just wrong on so many levels.
"She's married," Rodney felt the need to remind them both.
"Technically, she's married to me."
"Technically, she doesn't even belong in this universe."
Meredith glared at them both. "Technically, she's standing right there so stop talking about me like I'm not."
Rodney sighed and waved his arms around. "Just- go away, would you? Go shoot something- or spar with Ronon- or meditate with Teyla for all I care. Just- We're working, here."
Sheppard did not say anything, which - Rodney knew - was even worse than him getting angry. Rodney barely managed to catch the item Sheppard threw at him before he left.
When Rodney looked down, he realized he was holding a chocolate bar in his hand.
"Wow, I'm glad I'm not that dumb," Meredith noted.
Rodney and Meredith had finally found a way of powering back the remote and send Meredith and John's doppelganger in their own universe like John knew they would.
As Meredith took her husband's hand, getting closer to the mirror, Rodney made a point of not looking at John. John wondered how much time would pass before things between them got back to normal.
On the other side of the mirror, John could see Teyla's doppelganger holding the hand of a browned-haired girl John immediately recognized as the infamous Annie. When Meredith and her husband touched the mirror, they immediately found themselves on the other side. Annie tried jumping in the arms of her two parents at the same time and John could clearly imagine her squealing in joy as her parents hugged her.
From the other side, John's doppelganger waved at them. Meredith looked over and gave him one last encouraging smile before the mirror disconnected.
"Well," Radek said awkwardly when it appeared that neither John nor Rodney had anything to say. "It took time but we did it."
"Frankly, I'm surprised we did," Rodney said, finally turning away from the mirror.
"Well, I'm not," John replied. "I knew I could trust you on this."
Rodney held his gaze for a second too long before averting his eyes.
"So- lunch?" Rodney asked. "I'm starving."
John rolled his eyes. "When are you not?"
Rodney huffed in annoyance and the two of them kept bickering on their way to the cafeteria.
Maybe one day - soon, John would let Rodney know what he truly meant when he said he trusted him.