Disclaimer - don't own them, wish I did. This is written for fun and the enjoyment of my friends, and I make no money off it.

Chapter 1

She looked away for a second, hating herself for it, knowing it for the cowardice it was. But she'd seen him suffer all her life, from the slings and arrows of envious schoolmates, from physical attacks of bullies, professional attacks from peers.

"They'll never believe it." Her brother's voice was weak, determined, as clear as if he were next to her, the images on the screen as sharp as the best high definition image back on Earth.

"You keep thinking that," the other replied. "For all intents and purposes, I am you. Genetically, physically...not emotionally, I'm much more advanced than you emotionally, but I can fake that..." He wandered over and crouched down, reaching out and lifting her brother's chin. "I can step in, make your life my own, the way it should be."

"You've suffered a terrible loss, Rod." The other stood and turned away, but Rodney kept talking. "I can't even imagine what it would do to me to lose everyone."

She glanced up at Sheppard at that, who met her eyes. She looked around the room, at Zelenka who was working with the rest of the science team to trace the origin of the image, and at the others who had come to mean so much to Rodney and, by extension, to her.

Her gaze returned to Sheppard. She knew he prided himself on his control, and even now, watching, he maintained an appearance of detached interest - but she could feel the tension in him, and see the muscles jumping along his stiff jaw. He was holding himself back by sheer will, she realized, eyes fixed on his friend as if he could give him strength through the viewscreen. Beside him, Ronan stood, glowering like a storm over water. Teyla stood easily, apparently relaxed, but her eyes were glistening.

They loved him, she realized, and they were suffering too, right along with her brother. She wanted to hug them all and comfort them, for one of the myriad lessons that being a mother had taught was that comforting the ones you loved brought comfort to oneself as well. She shook her head slightly, felt Sheppard's hand on her shoulder and realized that Ronan and Teyla had moved closer.

It wasn't a hug, but it would do.

Rod was talking again, talking with the flat assurance that differed from her brother's animation so enormously. It made her wonder that he thought he could mimic Rodney's mannerisms well enough to fool those closest to him. He'd made it clear, several times in the past hour or so, that he would get as much information from Rodney as he could before he bled out, and then take his place as Rodney McKay, arranging for someone to find poor, damaged 'Rod' dead, wrists slit, somewhere out on a remote pier.

And she'd felt sorry for him, at first. Rod had created a bridge of his own, set his ZPM to explode and send the pulse to destroy it once he'd passed, and he'd harboured no hope, this time, that it was not a one-way trip.

Weir hadn't known that, though, only recognized that the bridge was active, and their universe could again be in danger, and she'd dispatched Sheppard to pick her up.

Sheppard had awakened her in the middle of the night. There had been a cloaked jumper sitting on her front lawn, and less than two hours later she was back on Atlantis.

The banging at their door had mimicked her dreams. She'd been worried about Rodney ever since her return to earth. Officers on the doorstep were never good, but in her nightmares she woke and answered the door to a grieving Sheppard…and when she woke, those nights, she seldom slept again, instead writing long, emotional emails to her brother that she deleted by light of day. Her expression, when she finally nerved herself to open the door, must have been easy to read, for Sheppard had gaped a moment, before rapidly assuring her that "McKay's fine, Jeannie, but we need your knowledge. The bridge is open again."

And then, by the time they'd gotten back, the ZPM in the other universe had fired, the bridge was down, that crisis was over. Weir had suggested she stay for a day or so, promising to let Caleb know everything was fine.

But there was an extra McKay in their universe, now. For it was, indeed, Rod, 'their' Rod, broken and bereft, telling a tale of unimaginable loss. The Wraith drones getting through the gate, other hives with the co-ordinates for Earth, battling the Ori for domination of a small blue planet. 'We lost contact a month ago, but I know Jeannie and her family were killed.'

She should have twigged then, she realized, the way he looked at her, not with affection, but with calculation. The others had fallen in defense of the gate, he said, Sheppard sucked dry while Rod had watched, hidden, helpless...

Her brother groaned and she looked up. Rod was stepping back, Rodney curling over, Rod saying something about getting his attention.

"Bastard hit him," Ronan growled.

"Find him, Radek," Sheppard said tightly.

"Working." She knew how deeply Radek was concentrating by that one word. Zelenka hadn't even muttered in his own language, absorbed in tracking the signal that had made the scene appear abruptly on the screen earlier that morning in the gate control room. No one knew how it had been triggered, where it originated, and they hadn't even considered the thought that it might not be a live feed…

The scarlet puddle behind and beneath the chair was growing. Rodney sat, tied carefully so ligature marks wouldn't be evident, and he'd been dressed by Rod in his own usual black, Rod wearing Rodney's uniform awkwardly. The veins had just been nicked, Rod had said, so it would give them time for a good long chat, but death by blood loss was preceded by other physical issues - cold, trouble concentrating…

Sheppard's hand left her shoulder and she looked up as he scrubbed his hand across his chin. "Goddamnit!" he swore, spinning to the console again. "Zelenka, there has to be a faster way!"

To his credit, Zelenka did not snap back. "Wherever they are, they are no longer traceable by the city sensors. They must be in a damaged section. I am working through the channels, but it is slow."

Sheppard's face tightened, and he looked at the screen again. "What about the sensors in the jumpers? Can we broaden the footprint? We could mow the lawn over the outer piers, where we know the sensors are down. If we got them all up and running, we could be ready in a few minutes, Elizabeth…"

"He hears the jumpers, he'll kill Rodney," Ronon said flatly.

"So we fly high enough that he can't hear!"

"Could those sensor things pick him up then?"

Sheppard rounded on the taller man, furious. "Then you come up with something!"

Zelenka intervened as Ronon began to retort. "Colonel, if you cloak the jumper, is not the sound muted too?" He shook Sheppard's arm, demanding attention. The glare left Ronon and rested on him, but it took only a second for it to become considering.

"Yeah. It cuts down the accuracy, though, but it would be better than what we have now."

There was a brief pause, and she realized they were all waiting for the go-ahead from their leader, from Weir, who was nodding.

"Do it." She said it tightly, and there were people speaking all at once, suddenly. And she was on the outside, listening as a well-oiled machine of which she was no part (and that hurt, in some obscure way, she was surprised to note) sprang into action, orders she found confusing spoken to people she didn't know.

Being on the outside was new to her.

But staring at the image of her brother and his doppelganger on the screen, she took comfort in knowing the people that would try to save him truly cared about him, and it was all he'd ever really wanted in life, she knew, even though he tried to conceal that need beneath an exterior that was beyond crusty and irritating. These people had taken the time to see through it.

Almost as if her mind was being read, Teyla touched her arm gently. "Jeannie?"

She looked around. The room had half-emptied, scientists running for jumpers and every pilot scrambled. She knew John was the head pilot, but he was still there, as was Ronon, and they were watching with - was that worry? For her?

"We will find him, Jeannie." Ronon's voice was deep and resonant, and pleasant to listen to, and when he made a statement like that it was almost impossible not to believe him.

John just looked at her, and again she felt his pain because it mirrored her own. He had shared a life here with Rodney, as she had with him in the formative years. They were brothers, under the skin, and he was as scared as she for exactly the same reason - but he could do something about it. She managed a shaky smile, and a nod, and they were gone.

Chapter 2

Weir watched them go, and then stepped up beside her, shoulder to shoulder, and Zelenka worked with his team behind them. Together they watched the screen as Rodney began to speak.

Perhaps to buy time, perhaps because he could see no way out, her brother straightened slightly, painfully.

"Did you know I almost ascended a while ago?"

Rod snorted disbelief. "You, reach a higher plane of existence?"

"Well, I had a little help. There was a machine down in one of the formerly flooded sections, and it was kind of a genetic modifier…it was a bit scary, I gotta say. My mind evolved, like that Twilight Zone about the guy with six fingers? Did you have Twilight Zone over there?"

Rod nodded slightly. "Go on."

"Anyway, I invented a new math and I increased the ZPM's efficiency, and a lot of other stuff. But you know the most important thing? I learned I had friends who loved me. They actually said it. Of course, they thought I was dying at the time, or on the verge of ascending, but no one took it back when I figured out how to reverse the process about six seconds before I died…"

On the screen, he paused to take a breath, and Jeannie turned stricken eyes to Weir, who nodded a bit apologetically.

"And that's why I know either I'll ascend or I'll die, but my friends will never buy you as me. To love someone you have to know them, and they don't know you, my friend, no matter how much I tell you or how many reports you read. They will know it's not me. You won't have my life. You could have had a great life of your own, but you wanted mine, and they won't let you live it, especially if they find out you've killed me."

Rod seemed unimpressed. "Go on," he said. "This is all information I need."

"D'you know who helped me figure out how to bring my brain activity down so I could even hope to ascend? John. He spent six months in a time dilation field, with a group of Ancients trying to get there on their own, and for a long time I think he thought we'd abandoned him. He learned to meditate - or at least, he learned enough to help me."

"See, now, that never happened for us," Rod said. "This is good stuff. Do you have a Kolya?"

She listened as Rodney told of their encounters with the race called the Genii, and shuddered as he described being cut by the head of the invasion force during the storm, stepping in front of the gun, the final, desperate effort to save the city. Then he spoke of being stuck in a puddlejumper while his friend fought for life with a bug on his neck…

"Didn't even know we were all friends till then," he said, his words coming more slowly. He was shivering, too, the cold of the blood loss taking hold. "And Ford was there, not Ronon. I wonder what happened to Ford. We saw him later, he wouldn't give me the enzyme, he gave the others the enzyme but not me and then I took it, and it was like being a god, but I almost overdosed…"

His head dropped down, chin to chest, and she stopped breathing until Rod moved forward and peered into her brother's face. "Nope, you're good for a bit yet," he said, and slapped him lightly. "Come on. Tell me more. Tell me…tell me about that personal shield. You said it was drained?"

"Energy sucking cloud creature. First time I ever found myself in the position where I could save the day. I always wanted to save the day, you know?" He looked up, face open and childish, and she could see the boy who showed her the wonders of a bumblebee's flight 'scientists say that they shouldn't be able to fly, Jeannie, but they can!' when they were still young.

"And I did - The cloud wouldn't go through, the MALP died, and I walked into it with the shield. I didn't know if I'd live or not, and I threw the generator into the wormhole and it followed, and I passed out. And when I woke up I saw John and Elizabeth, and I…don't think I'd ever been so happy. And it's been that way since, scary and amazing, and terrible and wonderful." He paused. "And if you do take my place, be good to them? Promise you'll be good to them?"

Rod nodded. "That's the only reason I'm doing this, Rodney. I'm the better version of Rodney McKay. I can take the best care of them this time. I won't let anything happen, I promise you."

They saw him approach again, and Jeannie stiffened, but this time he just touched her brother's neck.

"Not long now, Rodney," he said almost kindly. "Just rest now. Just go to sleep."

"Update." Weir spoke briskly into her com, only her eyes betraying any emotion.

"Thirty per cent of the outlying piers are covered. Proceeding." It wasn't John, and she was surprised.

Weir raised an eyebrow. "Rapidly, please, the situation is degenerating."

And then there was just the quiet on the screen, and the rapid keystrikes as Radek worked to find the source. Weir's jaw was firm, but her eyes were blazing, anger and fear and frustration, and Jeannie suspected she had much the same expression. Time dragged, there was no report for minutes...

And then John Sheppard was there, stepping into the image. He had his hands in his pockets, trying for casual. Rod stood quickly, moving away from the door, towards Rodney, slipping the knife into his sleeve.

"Elizabeth..." Jeannie said.

"I saw." She tapped her com. "John, the knife is in his left sleeve."

He didn't respond, gave no sign of hearing, but continued the steady pace.

"John, I'm glad you're here." Rod was improvising, "He attacked me, I had to tie him. He cut himself. Look, he's bleeding..." He looked down towards the floor but Sheppard didn't take the bait, just kept moving towards him.

"Rod, it's over," he said quietly. "Let us help Rodney. Just back off, you can still have a good life in this universe. Let us help him and you."

For an instant, it seemed as if Rod was going to comply, before something dark crossed his face and he darted back, dropping to one knee behind the chair with an arm wrapped around Rodney's neck, holding the knife. The threat was unmistakable.

"Back off." he said flatly. " And tell Ronon if he stuns me the charge will likely kill your Rodney."

Sheppard made eye contact with someone they couldn't see, and jerked his head.

"So, now what?"

"We wait," Rod replied. "When Rodney's dead, you'll need me to take his place." A smile spread over his face, all the more alarming for its normality, as if he wasn't engaged in murder. "Come on, it'll be fun! I'm easier to get along with and everything. And I'm just as smart."

Sheppard shifted, and Rod moved the knife a bit closer to Rodney's neck. "Ah, ah." he said. " Don't forget, I know how you think." He grinned. "Come on, it's not like you could shoot me, huh? Not Rodney. Not Meredith Rodney McKay. Oh, speaking of which, take your hands out of your pockets."

As he moved to so, they saw a brief flurry of activity to one side. So did Rod, and instinctively he swung towards it. It moved him far enough out from behind the chair that Sheppard had one opportunity, and he took it, pulling his hand free and sighting and firing his weapon in one smooth, unconflicted motion.

The impact drove Rod away from his hostage, and Ronon's gun spat, dropping the insane man to the floor. Gripping his gun tightly, John advanced cautiously, kicking the knife away and reaching down to feel the pulse.

He didn't comment aloud, but a flash of obscure pain crossed his face, and Jeannie knew that the wreck of the brilliant man Rod had been was gone.

Sheppard yelled "Clear!" and turned his back on the body, dismissing it, moving to Rodney. He carefully undid the bindings.

"John?" He didn't answer Weir's query right away, helping Carson with the quick bandaging, then they both stood back as Ronon stepped in and lifted her brother in his arms with as much effort as she used when lifting Madison.

"John?" Weir asked again.

He looked up at the monitor. "He's still alive. We're heading back." Then he waved his hand and the monitor went dark, and Elizabeth sagged against the panel slightly, eyes closed in relief. She opened them to see Jeannie staring at her, and nodded to herself. "Lieutenant," she beckoned a young soldier standing nearby, "please show Mrs. Miller to the infirmary waiting area. I'll be down myself as soon as I can," she added.