RATING: T for language and violence and adult situations.

SEASON: Probably in the second half of the first season somewhere.

MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic), and most of their friends will make an appearance.

CATEGORY: Action/humor/angst- all of them eventually.

SUMMARY: Genetic manipulation, Smurf loogies, a broken McKay (sort of), an angsty Sheppard (sort of) and a WIP (sort of).

SPOILERS: There are a few hints, here and there but nothing gets spoiled, but everything in Season One is fair game.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, and they are probably pretty thankful for that.

NOTES: Although this is a POV story, it is not part of my POV series. It is part of the dictionary series I have going during the hiatus. In addition, I'm trying something new here, so concentrate for a minute. This is technically a WIP, however it has a twist. It will be made up of three parts- each part will be a stand alone story in a different genre and each will revolve around a common plot. They will build on each other but not necessarily be dependant on one another. First up is angst, next will be humor, and last will be the action/adventure to tie it all up with a pretty red bow.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This story has not been Beta-ed, mainly because I don't have one. So, all mistakes are mine. Thanks for all the reviews for my other stories, they seriously keep me going and are the only reason I keep spitting these things out! So, if you want more, let me know.


by liketheriver

Triptych (triptik) noun 1. a picture or carving on three panels, typically hinged together vertically and used as an altarpiece. 2. a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works.

Panel 1: Reflections

I've always found the simple act of gearing up to have a very calming effect. Some people find their center by meditating, I strap on my gear. It provides a kind of focus so that I don't find myself dwelling on what I am about to get myself into, or in this case, what I've just done.

I tie my bootlaces, absently thinking back to those first lessons as a kid. Make the tree, make the rabbit, the rabbit runs around the tree and into the hole. If only I could be that rabbit and find a nice deep hole right about now. I'd say six feet should be deep enough. No, not yet, but soon. See you soon, McKay, but not soon enough. For now, I'm like Alice following the white rabbit and there's no turning back from the twisted Wonderland I have found myself in this time. This time. The thought makes me laugh with all that it implies of a past and present that don't really exist; at least for me and Rodney. It's a one shot deal for us. One fucking shot.

No, not going there; back to my boots.

I double cinch the loops and tuck the ends into the top of the leather, last thing you need is to be tripping over shoe strings in the middle of a situation. The bad guys don't usually go for calling a time out in the middle of chasing your ass through the jungle or shooting at you around corners. I put my right foot on the floor, being careful where I place it while being just as careful not to look down. Yep, whatever you do, John, don't look down. Now, isn't that ironic; I've spent my entire Air Force career doing my damnedest to keep my feet firmly flying as high off the ground as possible and I can't even manage a peek at the floor six feet below without being overcome with a gut wrenching vertigo to put Hitchcock to shame.

I lift my left foot to my bed and repeat the process, then turn my attention to my vest. The check I make is cursory, no need to worry too much about supplies since this is going to be a quick trip. Not like I have a lot of time for sight seeing and lollygagging. Not like I have a lot of time period. I pull the extra ammo clips out, double checking to see that they are fully loaded. Satisfied, I put one back in my vest and the others in my pack, so that they rest comfortably on top of two sets of clothes. We came back dressed, which means they won't, unless I bring something along. McKay pointed that out. Never would have thought of that myself, but that's just Rodney for you. Here I am concerned with covering their asses with firepower and he's concerned with covering their asses with BVDs and BDUs. But it got me thinking and I add a few MREs, powerbars, and water. Who knows when they last ate? For good measure I toss in a couple of Snickers from my private stash; sugar for the quick pick-me-up and peanuts for the slow protein burn to sustain the high a little longer. Learned that from Rodney, too; leave it to a hypoglycemic to know which candy bars get the best bang for the buck.

I've learned a lot from McKay over the short time I've known him and the even shorter time that I've really gotten to know him. And I'm not just talking about the wormhole physics and naquedah generators and the Ancient's technology, or even the fact that although man cannot live on bread alone, evidently power bars are a different story. No, Rodney's lessons go deeper than that. I learned that the last person I ever thought capable of watching my back was the one that did it most passionately and, I have to admit, most accurately. I learned that a person can drive you crazy and keep you sane all at the same time. And I realized that friendship really can sneak up on you when you aren't looking for it or even wanting it.

I toss in my own 9mm and the GDO at the top of the pack then zip it closed. I pick up Rodney's sidearm from the bed, eject the magazine and reload the single missing bullet. See you soon, McKay. This one I keep for myself, securing it in the holster, which I then strap securely to my leg. Given that my P90 is always in hand, I rarely pull the smaller gun. Still, I've always found the solid weight against my thigh reassuring. It's really no different now, except for the reason I find it so comforting; it is the finality that it promises and the release it has already delivered.

I hook the clasps on my vest, tugging at the bottom and twisting it slightly until it sits snuggly in place, again taking a small comfort in the familiar weight of Kevlar and nylon. I give my P90 one final inspection before I loop it over my head and across my chest. I take a deep breath, dreading turning around, dreading taking that first step across the body of my best friend lying faceless, face down on my floor. Funny thing about a bullet to the back of the head, it makes a tiny little entrance but one hell of an exit. Now that I think about it, it's really not that funny after all.

I shoulder the pack, take the step, doing my best to avoid the blood, and reach the door.

"See you soon, McKay," I tell him once again, as if to reassure him, as if to reassure myself, then head for the Jumper bay.

It's late, so no one is in the halls to question why I'm dressed for a mission, although all that will change soon, when they realize Rodney is no longer in his bed in the infirmary. I manage to make it to the Jumper without running into anyone and this is when the first real pain hits me. I lean against the outside of the craft trying to breathe through the agony that has me doubled over and ready to puke. I probably would except I took care of that a few second after taking care of McKay. Up until now, the pain has been minor, manageable; a dull ache that never seems to leave in my lower back, an occasional sharp pain just below my rib cage, a throbbing behind my eyes that comes and goes without warning, but this…this is what Rodney had been enduring for the last two days and what I have to look forward to myself. But for just a while longer, then it will end.

The rolling wave in my gut lessens and I make my way to the pilot seat. I concentrate, bringing the ship to life and opening the bay doors to the gate room below. It's strange, actually having to work to activate the Jumper. It has always come so easy in the past, but now she's hesitant as if she's resisting my coaxing, not sure if she can trust the genetic code she's sensing. And for good reason; my DNA is breaking down, the cells are becoming unstable as the double helix untwists and unravels one protein at a time. That's another little visual courtesy of Rodney. Beckett described it as a disease, a highly aggressive cancer that is spreading through us and quickly eating away at all the internal organs it can get its tumorous hands on. He thinks it is a result of some alien probe that had been done to us on P4X882, my ultimate destination on this little trip. But once again, McKay figured out the real reason, although I can't say I was that surprised by his revelation. Somehow I knew, just like he did.

We had both experienced a moment of self awareness, an instant when we woke up and thought, "Here I am," that happened not in our childhoods but in a laboratory on an alien planet. We kept it to ourselves, knowing the others wouldn't believe it, might try to stop us from executing the rescue, would have sent another team and just put them in danger, as well. But by the time we finally admitted the reason to ourselves, Rodney was too far gone and I knew I would be flying solo on this mission.

I align the Jumper with the gate and dial the DHD in the cockpit. The gate tech on duty looks up in alarm as the chevrons begin to encode and attempts to call me on the radio I'm not wearing. He's confused, not sure what to do and I smile and wave, hoping he will just trust me because I'm who he thinks I am and let me go. Evidently protocol wins out and he activates the shield. Crap, this is going to be harder than I had hoped. I focus on the shield, willing it to shut down. A few weeks ago, this would have been nothing more than a passing thought to make it blink out of existence. But in reality, a few weeks ago, I wasn't even here at all.

The shield flickers, once, twice, then is gone and I shoot through the wormhole. The Jumper tilts sloppily and I guide it as best I can to the area I'm looking for. I spot the small copse of trees in the middle of the grasslands, and I thankfully put it down before my concentration falters and I lose control of the ship completely. I was expecting to eventually lose use of the gene, but didn't realize it would happen so suddenly. Funny thing, that was the first sign that something was wrong with McKay.

The team had arrived on this planet three weeks earlier. We were roaming through waist high grass while Rodney played hot and cold with his energy readings. He would take a few steps in one direction, stop, readjust and walk a few steps back in the other direction. I could almost hear the warmer, warmer, warmer, hot, hot, colder, colder clicking off in his head as he zigzagged his way across the prairie. The rest of us held back, just enough to let his meanderings normalize and reveal a much straighter path. Finally, after an hour, I'd had enough. Not that it wasn't entertaining watching him stagger around like a drunken freshman trying to find his way back to his dorm after his first kegger, but I realized he was actually walking twice the distance as the rest of us and that just meant the whining about the trek back to the Jumper would begin all the sooner.

That's the thing about McKay, self preservation goes out the window if he's onto something. It's as if his psyche has the ability to justify away the need for even the most basic physical essentials. 'Food?' it rationalizes, 'who needs a meal when I am being sustained by the wonder of scientific discovery? Sleep? My magnificent brainwaves are the equivalent of mental cold fusion and are self perpetuating without the need for regenerative rest. Physical strain? Major, let's hike ten miles in subtropical, bug-infested heat because I think I detect a nine-volt battery buried somewhere in that dung heap.' And then, when the bubble bursts, when the discovery is a dud and you're up to your arm pits in alien shit with nothing to show for it, what happens then? 'Sheppard, do you have an extra power bar? Major, are you planning on taking a break soon or is it your goal to recreate the Bataan Death March? What do you mean it's a four hour walk back to the Jumper?' Thanks, but no thanks. I had no plans to fight that battle that day.

"McKay, hold up." He stopped in his path, clearly pissed that I had interrupted his search for the ultimate power source. I jogged up to him, lifting my knees high to make it over the piles of bent grass. "What the hell's going on?"

He punched buttons, always with the button punching, without even looking up. I couldn't tell if it was a way to avoid answering the question or he legitimately needed to push those damned buttons. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I know you can't fly in a straight line, but I didn't think that carried over to walking." I pointed out the undulating path of crushed grass that led back to Ford and Teyla.

He gave an uncommitted, "Huh," in response.

Who knew a single syllable could be so infuriating? "Huh?" I demanded incredulously.

He looked at me in annoyed confusion. "What?"

"What?" I knew my expression mirrored his own.

"I asked you first."

I shook my head, refusing to get drawn in any deeper. "Rodney, is there anything here or not?"

He punched more buttons and I was tempted to take the detector away and fling it as far across the grassy plain as I could. Finally, he answered my question, sort of. "It's underground."


"Major want a cracker? Are you trying to sound like a parrot on purpose or does Carson need to check your hearing when we get back?"

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…"What is underground?"

"The power source, or I should say, sources. I've picked up several since we left the Jumper."

"So by underground, you mean buried power lines or something?"

"Power lines? Seriously, Sheppard, have you ever seen a power outlet since we've arrived in Pegasus? No, they're distinct signatures. I think we're walking above an underground complex or facility of some kind."

That got the ole' Spidey senses tingling. "An active complex or abandoned?" There had been no signs of indigenous people since our arrival on the planet. In fact, there were no signs of civilization at all; just grass and more grass and the occasional trees in the middle of more grass, as far as the eyes could see. But the last time we had run into an underground complex, the people hadn't been as friendly as I had hoped; Old McDonald by day, Dr. Strangelove by night.

"I can't tell. I'm not getting any life signs readings, but I don't know if that means the facility is buried too deeply to read them or there aren't any life signs to detect."

I considered our options then nodded my head. "All right, let's see if we can find the entrance, see if it looks like it's been used lately."

"See if this race was smart enough to lock their secret underground base?" Obviously I wasn't the only one who had thought of the Genii.

"Exactly. Hopefully, these guys don't have as big a mine-shaft gap fixation as Cowen did."

I signaled for Ford and Teyla and briefed them on the plan. We split up, McKay and I to the north, Ford and Teyla to the south, looking for the entrance. We had been walking about forty-five minutes, following the random signals, when we reached the edge of the grass at a stand of trees. It had been about ten minutes since anything had shown up on the detector and Rodney had just suggested we backtrack and see if we could pick up something again when I heard the grass rustle behind me.

I raised my P90, scanning across the overgrown meadow as it swayed in the breeze. McKay froze with my action, then hesitantly called out a quiet "Major?" when nothing appeared.

I lowered the gun, deciding I must have just heard a small animal. I shook my head, "Guess it was nothing," I told him then was knocked to the ground and into unconsciousness by an invisible force.

I opened my eyes, slowly, and stared up onto a dimly lit ceiling. I blinked one, twice, trying to remember what exactly happened. It was hazy at first, everything, then with a force like the one that had knocked me for a loop, the memories came back, vivid and clear. And I mean every memory; from my first grade teacher's name to my first time in the cockpit to the first time I learned what a stargate was. It was like someone was flipping a book, the pages moving so fast that I could feel the air being raised by the motion. Then, it settled down and they all faded into the comfortable or uncomfortable place they had always held in my mind. I sat up quickly, expecting a head rush, but finding I felt pretty good. Actually, better than good; I felt damn good, rested, rejuvenated, invigorated even. The best I had felt in weeks. I looked around and saw that I was in a hallway and by the lack of windows and the cool temperature, I figured I was inside the complex we had been searching for. Beside me was my pack, my vest, even my P90, still loaded. Whoever had brought us here hadn't bothered to disarm me. Us. There had been an us. McKay!

I jumped up, surprised that my legs felt so wobbly given how great I felt otherwise. I leaned a hand against the wall to steady myself, then took a tentative step forward. It felt jello-ish, like Bambi on a bender, as if the muscles didn't know exactly what to do, then after a few more steps, they seemed to catch on and I was able to move with little trouble to the lump I saw down the hall.

When I reached him, he was staring up at the ceiling, in much the same way that I had. "Rodney?" My voice cracked like I was fourteen and I cleared my throat.

He tilted his head toward me. "Major?" he squeaked and it was good to see I wasn't the only one reliving puberty.

I offered him a hand up and steadied him when his legs seemed as unstable as mine had been upon first standing. "What happened?" he asked.

"I was hoping you might be able to answer that," I told him honestly. "I think we're inside the complex."

He nodded his head in agreement as he studied the surroundings. "Maybe we stumbled across some sort of transporter device." He bent and picked up the life signs detector from where it lay on the floor, pushed a few buttons then whacked it roughly on the side with his open palm. "Well, wherever we are, the detector isn't working."

He handed it to me, as if in explanation. I took it and watched two blips appear. "Looks like it's working fine to me."

He crinkled his brow and in true Rodney form, yanked it out of my hand. He shook his head and turned it toward me with a roll of his eyes. "Major, it is not working."

I yanked it back and shoved it in his face when the blips reappeared. "Yes, it is."

Even in the low light, I could see him pale slightly. Then it dawned on me. It was working for me but it wasn't working for him. It was no longer responding to his little test-tube-created gene. I didn't know what that meant exactly, but I was beginning to think that we hadn't gotten away as unscathed as I had originally thought. "Maybe there is some kind of shielding here that's keeping you from being able to use it. After all, my genes are far superior to yours and just might be able to overcome it." I tried for lighthearted but it just came across as desperate.

"Maybe," he conceded, but the single-word answer spoke volumes.

"Look, I know the plan was to get in here, but I'm just picking up some weird vibes from this place."

"By weird vibes, do you mean we were rendered unconscious by some unknown means and by some strange coincidence my gene therapy just decided to stop working?"

I grimaced at his bluntness, "That's part of it." He regarded me blandly. "Okay, that's all of it. I think we should just get out of here, get to the surface and make sure we're okay. If we find the way out, then we'll be able to find our way back in if we need to, with the entire team." I had no way of knowing if Ford and Teyla were down here somewhere or still on the surface and I wanted to find out.

He sighed, torn between tracking down the power signatures and worry that something was wrong, then nodded in silent agreement. I kept the detector, fortunately catching myself before I tried to hand it back to him, then scanned the hallway. I could make out the two blips that represented us, and two others further down the hall to the left. I led us right, away from anyone who might want to stop us from leaving. We walked no more than five minutes, past a couple of locked doors, with no other signs of life before we found an access ladder that led to a hinged hatch that opened onto the surface. I swear I've had a more difficult time walking the corridors of Atlantis than I did finding our way out of the complex. Whoever or whatever had taken us down there had meant for us to get out and get out quick.

I peeked my head out, seeing that we were within throwing distance of the small stand of trees where we had originally been taken. I climbed out, offering a hand to McKay when he reached the top. The hatch had grass growing over it. We could have wandered around aimlessly for hours and never found it from the surface. It kind of made me wonder how many others we had unknowingly walked across.

Rodney climbed into the grass and without a word he thrust out his hand, fingers beckoning in a silent demand for the detector. I handed it to him and watched as he closed his eyes in concentration. He opened them again, sighed, then regarded the ground as he turned the blank screen back for my inspection.

"Okay, that's it, we're heading back," I told him, more than a little panicked that this was happening and keying my radio. "Ford, Teyla, report."

"Major!" Ford exclaimed across the radio, "Where have you been? We've been trying to contact you for over five hours. There's one search team already here and another on the way from Atlantis now."

Five hours? Five? As in the number after four? As in five is right out? Okay, needed to let that little tidbit settle in. By the wide-eyed look McKay gave me, so did he. I didn't even want to think about what could have been done to us in five hours. The Super Bowl doesn't last five hours. The Academy Awards don't last five hours. Hell, most of the relationships I've been in haven't lasted five hours, unless I fell asleep afterwards. "We're heading back to the Jumper now. We'll meet you there and explain."

Of course I had no idea what we were going to explain. The whole situation could be summed up in three sentences. We were looking. We were taken. Rodney's broken. I just hoped to hell Carson could fix him.

Ends up Carson couldn't fix him. In fact, it took almost a week before Carson was really convinced he was broken. Other than the inability to use his ATA gene, everything else looked fine, on both of us. Of course, Beckett couldn't really explain the loss of Rodney's abilities either until he finished up a complete genetic workup of McKay.

"It's as if your DNA decided it wanted to reject the ATA gene it had already accepted," he explained as we sat with Weir in the briefing room.

Elizabeth leaned forward with a frown. "Is that normal, Doctor?"

"Not necessarily. It's not unheard of, but gene therapy is such a new field of study, we've yet to work all the kinks out of the system."

"Great, I'm a kink." Rodney smiled weakly at Carson then regarded me with a head bobble, "I've yet to be worked out."

I placed a restraining hand on his arm before he could throw it up in exasperation. The past week had been rough for all of us, but none more than McKay. His work came to a screeching halt since he was no longer able to manipulate all the little Ancient toys he had been playing with. I had stepped in, offering my services as the official guinea pig that he was always pestering me to be, but it seemed to almost frustrate him more that I could still do the things he couldn't. Add to that the battery of medical tests Carson was running on the two of us and we had both become pricklier than the pincushions we felt like.

Rodney let out a frustrated sigh, but I felt him relax and I loosened my grip on his arm, then immediately retightened it with Carson's next statement.

"There's more." It was quiet, sad, and said while looking anywhere except at McKay. He took a breath, as if to steel his resolve, then continued. "I was looking at your scans and medical images and the ones from yesterday show something that wasn't there when you first arrived back." Finally he raised his eyes to look at Rodney. "There are growths, several of them, on pretty much every one of your organs."

Rodney sat stone faced, not blinking, not moving, nothing. Finally, since he didn't seem capable of asking any questions, I did. "Is this related to his DNA rejecting the gene?"


"Possibly?" I think I may have actually started to rise from my seat. "What the hell, Carson? Do you know the answer to anything?"

"No, Major, I don't. I've never seen anything like this before. I've never seen a cancer spread so rapidly and extensively in a matter of days. I have no clue what is causing it or how to stop it and I'm bloody well at my wits end as to how to proceed. But every fiber of my being says it's related to your abduction on the planet." He clamped his mouth shut and flushed in embarrassment at how emotional his outburst had been.

"Major, you're cutting off my circulation." I looked over and realized I was white-knuckling McKay's arm and released my grip. How the hell was he being so calm? The man who would find a reason to reduce a lab tech to tears just because they had run out of Mac and Cheese in the chow hall, was sitting there like we were discussing whether or not there was a chance that it would rain today instead of whether or not he had a chance in hell of surviving through the week.

"Now, let's approach this rationally. Carson, have you seen anything in any of my tests to indicate that something was done to us during our five hours of lost time?"

"No, nothing, but my gut feeling."

"Oh, good, next you'll be determining my course of treatment by reading Athosian tea leaves. If all else fails I'm sure you can just perform an exorcism and cast out my demons."

Beckett hung his head and Elizabeth stepped in. "Rodney, I have to agree with Dr. Beckett. It just seems too much of a coincidence that this all happened after your abduction."

"Great, maybe you can sit in on his next séance." He wiggled his fingers spookily. "Maybe two true believers can contact the spirit world faster than one."

"Rodney," she started but he cut her off with an upraised hand.

"Elizabeth, the last thing I need right now is speculation or conjecture or instinct. What I need is data, hard and fast, something I can work with so that I can come up with a plan of attack. Now, Major Sheppard was there with me the entire time and he is fine. Not that I'm wishing any ill will on him, but shouldn't he be having the same symptoms that I am if it is related?"

No one said anything until I finally volunteered. "Run the tests on me. The same ones you ran on McKay. You only did about half of what you did to him to me. Maybe something will show up that can at least point us in the right direction."

So, they ran the tests and something did show up; my own set of tumors, smaller than McKay's, but still there and just as wide spread.

I exit the Jumper and dry swallow two of the pain killers Carson gave me when my small aches and pains started. I know it won't do much good against the stronger attacks, but hopefully it will keep me going without knocking me off my feet. Just a little longer, I tell myself, and I hope that's all I'll need. I walk back and forth searching the area for the hatch. I had hoped that the area would still be disturbed by our footprints, but the grasslands have healed since we were here last. Sure is a bitch Rodney and I haven't done the same. Then, I notice a tuff of grass that is bent at an odd angle, like it's being held down. I squat and see that it's folded over and trapped inside the latch. I feel around until I find the edge and peel back the entrance to the facility.

I climb down, ignoring the growing pain in my back, then the sudden sharp pain that disappears just as quickly in my chest. I pull out the life signs detector, throwing everything I have into getting it to work. It blinks to life, showing me and two other signs down the hall we had used to exit. I smile, hoping that the conclusion that I had reached much too late was accurate.

I work my way down the hall, noting the growing strength of the signals and the absence of anything or anyone else. I know why Rodney and I were able to escape so easily last time. We were meant to leave. But now, I would have thought someone would be guarding their prisoners a little closer. Maybe they are and I just can't detect them. Maybe they got what they need and have abandoned them. Maybe they don't really care one way or the other if they stay or go. It doesn't matter. I'll take care of what presents itself when the time comes. McKay and I had our one shot, I plan to give them theirs. That's all I can do.

Another burning pain tears through my stomach and I lean against the wall and clutch my middle. This time I can't stop the nausea and throw up on the tile floor, noting the dark red in the dim light. Rodney puked blood for two days. I know; I held the bedpan for him for most of that time. But there's no one here to hold it for me, so the floor will just have to do. I lean my head against the wall, feeling the cool surface against the sweat on my forehead. I look down at the detector in my hand, it flickers and I concentrate again until it stabilizes. Not much further, not much longer. See you soon, McKay.

Once the wave passes, I stumble on down the hall until I reach a door and the blips on the detector are blinking as strongly as my own life sign. Either I'm fading or I've found them or a little of both. I try the door and it's locked. I concentrate, placing my hand on the frame, not knowing if it will work, but figuring it's worth a try before I break out the C-4. I feel it waver under my touch, then slide open. I walk into the room and stop, unable to make my legs move further now that I'm here. The room is dark, unlit, except for the glow from the tanks.

If I close my eyes and think about it, I can smell the flat bread being grilled with olive oil and sumac in the markets of Afghanistan. I can taste the warm metallic bite of water from my canteen as it washes down the sand from the Saudi desert. I can feel the way the air in Antarctica burns my lungs when I leave the shelters and breathe in that first frozen breath. I can hear the distinctive hum of an Apache rotating to life. I can see the Nevada desert rolling away under me as I tilt the controls and head towards the Sheep Range in the distance. I have so many recollections and yet I have experienced none of them; a lifetime on an Earth that I have never stepped foot on. Thirty-seven years of false memories condensed into three weeks of existence.

I look down into the tanks, see McKay lying in one, see myself in the other. No, not really us; them, the originals, the blue prints. We are just reflections in glass, weak copies, and whether by defect or design, we didn't last.

But there are some memories that I have that the original John Sheppard doesn't, like watching Rodney McKay's amazing brain explode brilliantly across my dresser. And isn't the other John the lucky bastard to have missed out on so much.

I was sitting with Rodney this morning, listening to him brief Zelenka, give his final orders to his troops before the pain meds dulled that incredible thought process of his into oblivion. I was tired, so goddamned tired; tired from sitting in that chair for days on end, tired of watching Rodney die before my eyes, tired of knowing I was just behind him. I leaned forward in my chair, crossed my arms on the edge of McKay's bed and put my head down. Just for a minute, I thought. But as I listened to the two scientists drone on, the sound of their technobabble was so soothing that I could pretend it was just an ordinary day and I had walked into the lab and found them comparing notes or arguing over results. It all sounded so normal that I relaxed into nothingness and actually slept.

I woke with the feeling of eyes on me, my own flew open while my body remained stone still. Zelenka was gone and McKay was staring at me, his blue eyes glassy from the drugs, bloodshot from the pain, but intent on me. "They did a pretty amazing job in just five hours."

I thought he was talking about the way whoever it was had managed to fuck up our systems so completely and irrevocably in such a short amount of time. I closed my eyes again, feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny of his gaze, but still comfortable enough that I didn't want to move from the bed. "Yeah, one bang up job."

"I mean, just look at the detail. They even got the freckle by your ear right."

I reopened my eyes and gave him a confused look. "What?"

He shook his head and I could see a glimmer in those eyes of his. "Oh, you know. You have to know. We're not real."

"It's one hell of a bad dream if we're not."

His hands started moving then, as if trying to pull the words from the air. "We're real enough; flesh and blood and mangled DNA. But we're not the originals. We're decoys, the smoke and mirrors, the reflection in glass to pull the audience's attention away from what's really happening back on that planet."

"And just what is happening back there?" I placated, figuring the pain killers were talking more than him.

He shrugged. "How the hell should I know? I'm just a clone."

"Rodney?" I asked in shock that he would say something so ridiculous, but there was a part of me that didn't think it was ridiculous at all.

He leaned in closer, lowering his voice to a whisper. "We woke up in the hallway and stayed in the hallway until we came back to the surface. But, I remember being in a lab."

I stared at him, wishing I could tell him he was crazy, that the drugs were freaking him out and me along with him. Instead, I turned my head and spoke into the mattress. "So do I."

It was hazy, not like the memories that had come crashing down on me in the hall, but I had a distinct memory… of a lab, brightly lit, white and sanitary, a brush of fabric against my arm as someone walked by, muffled voices, the buzz of machinery. But that wasn't the strange part; that could have just been them making a DNA Omelet out of our genetic code. What was weird was that it had all felt so…new. Like each sensation was being written on a totally blank page. I had tried to ignore it, pretend it was just a confused dream, but now… As absolutely psychotic as it sounded to say we were clones, every instinct in me was screaming that it was true.

Obviously encouraged by my confession, he continued in an excited whisper. "They're still back there."

"Who?" I squeezed my eyes closed in the mattress. Don't say it, don't say it, don't say it…

"Us, I mean the original us, Sheppard and McKay number one." Dammit, he said it. "And we need to bring them back."

I finally lifted my head. "We need to bring them back?"

He dismissed my comment with a flick of his hand. "Fine, you need to bring them back. The point is, they need help or they would be back already."

He was right, of course. The son of a bitch was always right. If we…they were being held and could have escaped, they would have by now. Let's face it, the John and Rodney Variety Show had already pulled off some pretty incredible feats. Working together, a simple prison break would have been a snap for us…them. Damn this was confusing. Rodney would have popped open some panels, John would have bashed a few heads, there would have been a mad dash for the gate followed by drinks on the balcony at the end of the day. Throw in the surly banter and the witty repartee and you had just described most of the team's missions. But that hadn't happened, which brought up an entirely different question.

"How do you even know they're still alive?"

"Why go to all the trouble of making copies to send back if you are just…just going to destroy…the originals? Oh, god…here we go…again."

I knew what that meant and yelled, "Carson!" while grabbing the bedpan off the table. As many times as I had seen it, I still broke out in a sweat every time he retched. Beckett jogged in, followed by a nurse who took the container from me. I put a hand on Rodney's back, feeling the muscles spasm with the pain and puking. Carson injected the morphine into the IV and a few seconds later the muscles relaxed under my palm. I helped ease him back against his propped pillow, leaving a hand on the back of his neck until he took a few deep breaths and nodded a silent, yet snippy, 'I'm okay,' in my direction. The nurse cleaned him up with a damp cloth and Carson leaned in behind her.

"Sorry, lad. Is that better?"

"Heaven on Earth, Carson," he told him with genuine gratitude, "heaven on Earth."

After a cursory check, both Beckett and the nurse left; at this point they were strictly pain management and moral support. There was really nothing else for them to do. Or me for that matter, so I plopped back in my chair to wait.

McKay shook his head exhaustedly and shooed me weakly with his hands. "Nope, no more sitting around. You're not going to use me as an excuse to slack off any more. You have a mission to prepare for."

I started to protest, but realized he was right. If I was going to do this, then it had to be soon. It was just a matter of time before I was the one sitting where he was. Still, I hesitated because I knew it was also just a matter of time before he had another episode, puked red, and received another morphine push. Carson was monitoring that closely, afraid that Rodney would push so hard on the drug that he would just push himself over to the other side. Beckett was right to worry, given the chance, he would have. Instead, he had to come to me.

I find the control panel between the tanks and pray that I have the strength of my genes to do this one last task. I touch the controls and think one word, Wake. The blue liquid that encases them begins to drain, leaving a slimy residue on the glass and the bodies.

"That is so gross," I whisper and can only think of how disgusting it would be to be coated in snot. I manage not to hurl again, but just barely, then chuckle when I think about how McKay is going to react when he wakes up covered in a giant Smurf-colored loogey.

The liquid has drained and the tops of the tank lift with a whoosh. I watch for a few seconds. Nothing happens. Crap. It's times like this I really wish Rodney was here. Neither of them move, neither of them seems to even breathe, and I have a moment of panic that I may have killed them in the process of reviving them. I check the life signs detector and relax when I see their dots still blinking. A few seconds more and McKay starts to cough. He curls on his side and more of the blue goop drains from his mouth and nose. "Ewww." I shiver involuntarily at the sight but am satisfied that they are at least alive. I drop the pack and P90 on the floor and head for the door. I've done all I can do, the rest is up to them. Rodney and I had our shot, now I've given them theirs. The door closes behind me, effectively blocking out the sound of coughing and I head down the hall. Just one more thing to take care of; See you soon, McKay.

I was packing the clothes when Rodney came in my room. How the hell he had managed to walk from the infirmary to my quarters without being seen was absolutely beyond me. He took a few steps in, then leaned heavily on my dresser.

"McKay, what are you doing here?"

"I just came to say goodbye."

"I wouldn't have left without coming to see you first."

"That's not what I mean." And for the first time I noticed that he had stopped by his room on the way and brought his gun. He smiled when my eyes widened. "I didn't want to do it alone."

"Rodney, just give it to me." It was instinct, pure and simple; protect McKay. As the team lead, that was my job. As his best friend, that was my obligation.

He just shook his head. "Only if you promise to help me."

"Jesus, you can't think that I could…"

He held up a hand, slumping even further into the furniture in defeat. "John, I can't do this anymore. It's just getting worse and worse and worse. I won't last another day, if that. But I don't think I'll make it till you get back and I don't want to..." He took a breath, spoke with frustration. "Carson won't…he just won't. But I know I can depend on you."

I stood there, watching him, watching his face waver liquidly before me. Christ, I couldn't remember the last time I had cried. But I held out my hand and my fingers closed around the grip of the Berretta. He dropped to his knees, facing away from me. He was so calm about it, so goddamned calm. I lifted the gun, my hand shaking so hard I thought I was going to drop it.

"Fuck." I can't do this. I placed my left hand on his shoulder and pulled in a shuddering sob. I can't do this. "Fuck!"

I felt his hand enclose mine; it was cool and steady, everything I wasn't. "It's okay, John. I'll see you later. Okay?"

"Yeah. See you soon, McKay."

And I squeezed the trigger.

I round a corner and stop, figuring this is far enough. Far enough from what, I can't really say, just… far enough. I pull Rodney's sidearm from my holster. The weight is comforting in my steady hand because of the finality that it promises and the release it is about to deliver. I place the barrel in my mouth, bite down on the cold steel and close my eyes. See you soon, McKay.

I've never been a religious man, but as I squeeze the trigger, I can't help but wonder if clones have souls. I feel the bullet pass through my head; it doesn't hurt, just a split second of sensation then it is over. See you soon, McKay. It takes a few seconds for my heart to realize there is no reason to keep pumping blood and moving oxygen. But it finally does. See you soo…

I feel a hand on my shoulder, a gentle squeeze, and open my eyes to meet smiling blue ones. He stands and offers a hand to help me up with a simple, "Hey."

"Hey, McKay," I reply as I return the smile and take the hand. "It's good to see you."

(A/N Part 2 up soon!)