"Still not speaking to you."
Sheppard caught Zelenka's attempt to hide a smile and grinned at him.
"Come on, McKay. I'm the one that spent the past two days in the infirmary. Besides, it's just hair. It'll grow back."
"Oh, that's rich, coming from you."
Radek coughed, trying unsuccessfully to disguise a chuckle as the Rodney McKay death glare nailed him. "Laugh it up, Zelenka. I believe the shield on that kid planet needs more maintenance."
At the clanging of metal, Rodney swiveled to find Sheppard untangling his crutches from one of the stools. "Would you at least try to be careful? That equipment is valuable."
"Your concern is touching, McKay. Look, I'm tired of paperwork, and you're always cajoling me to activate some new toy you've found. Now I'm here voluntarily. Put me to work."
"We're not to the activating part yet, Colonel. We're still cataloguing. Go bother Teyla; leave me and Radek to work in peace."
"Teyla's visiting her people, and Ronon's not due back for another couple of days."
Radek pulled a dust cover off a piece of equipment about the size of an old typewriter. "Rodney, what do you think this might be?"
McKay and Sheppard joined Zelenka around the worktable and peered over his shoulder. John could almost see the wheels turning in McKay's head as he looked at the device. "It seems familiar, but I can't quite place it. Add it to the list of items to search for in the database."
McKay pivoted but stopped abruptly. Too abruptly for Sheppard to do anything but fall. Crutches went one direction, and the pilot went the other, arms flailing.
"Don't touch it!"
Rodney's warning was too late. As soon as John's hand brushed the apparatus, it lit up like a Christmas tree, and the room was enveloped in a blinding light.
John's head hit the corner of the table as he fell. His vision grayed a bit while blood trickled down the side of his face. He opened his eyes to find McKay hovering over him.
"What just happened?"
"You hit your head when fell. And I think you activated that device."
Sheppard blinked in an attempt to clear his vision. Zelenka stood behind McKay, his attention on something across the room, disbelief etched on his features. Radek's voice echoed distinctly through the lab even though his mouth didn't move.
"Dammit, Sheppard! I told you not to touch that."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Zelenka. It was an accident."
Rodney whirled at the response. Standing across the room was another Zelenka, this one with an athlete's physique and a buzz cut. But the man with him couldn't possibly be Sheppard. This man was pudgy with shaggy, unkept hair and coke bottle glasses.
A slight movement caught Rodney's eye. An identical Rodney McKay stood nearby, except this one was wearing a doctor's lab coat replete with stethoscope and pen light. "Freaky, isn't it?" he smiled gently. "Dr. Meredith McKay."
The two men across the room wheeled at the sound. Zelenka's face reddened as he yelled at the pudgy man. "You idiot! Can't you do anything right?"
The man ducked his head and hunched his shoulders at the rebuke. "I said I was sorry," he whined. "We should hurry before Weir and her goons get here."
Meredith sighed and glanced at the two men. "Dr. Sheppard's right, Radek. You two fix that machine while I take a look at this guy."
He knelt down next to Sheppard and examined the gash on his head. John's eyes darted between the two McKays.
"This has to be hell, right? I killed us, and we're in hell."
"No, Colonel. I think you sent us to an alternate reality. At least that's what I hope this is."
Meredith nodded at Rodney's words as he tended to the wound. "You are the fifth group of people to end up here. The last group that came through were Wraith worshippers led by a Lt. Colonel Lorne and another guy named Ronon."
Rodney stammered, "Ronon? A Wraith worshipper? That can't be right."
Meredith frowned as he bandaged John's head. "We don't have a Ronon here so I don't have a frame of reference." He flashed the penlight in the pilot's eyes. "Good. No apparent concussion, but you'll need to be monitored for a while. McKay, are you a doctor in your reality?"
"Of astrophysics. Certainly not of voodoo. I leave that to Carson."
"Dr. Carson Beckett, our Chief of Medicine."
"Oh. My wife, Nancy, is the Chief of Medicine here. We don't have a Beckett either."
John winced as Rodney's voice rose. "McKay, not so loud. Now, help me up."
The two McKays got Sheppard up and seated on a stool. John braced himself against the table, taking a deep breath that caught when he glimpsed the two men across the room.
"Another Zelenka and another you, well, sort of."
"Oh, God." John groaned as his chin dropped to his chest. Turning his attention to Meredith, he said, "Now, I heard someone mention Weir. Is she coming?"
Meredith's countenance soured. "God, I hope not. Colonel Weir is a Class-A bitch. She'll have her two lapdogs toss you in a holding cell, especially after last time."
Radek blinked in surprise. "Elizabeth Weir, the diplomat?"
Meredith smiled ruefully. "She's a diplomat in your world? Lucky you. Marine Corps hard-ass here."
Sheppard choked. "A jar-head? Wow. So who are the lapdogs you mentioned?"
"Aiden Ford and Acastus Kolya."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "Seriously? You let Kolya join you?"
"Why not? The Genii are our closest allies."
"What happened to the Athosians?"
"Are you kidding? Those maniacs? We avoid them at all cost, especially their leader, Teyla Something. She's crazy."
John and Rodney exchanged glances. "We've got to get home, McKay. Can you help them?"
Meredith placed a restraining hand on Rodney's arm. "I wouldn't if I were you." He grinned at the irony then continued. "Zelenka knows what he's doing. You'll only piss him off by interfering. He's returned all the other groups so far."
Rodney pulled on his smuggest face. "Well, you aren't me." He strode over to the two scientists.
At his approach, Zelenka yelled, "You can just go back where you came from. We will have this fixed in a minute."
"Now, wait just a-"
"I do not require nor want your help. Sheppard here is incompetent, but at least he understands how this machine works. It will take more time than we have for me to explain it to you. Now leave."
McKay considered arguing until he noticed Dr. Sheppard. Rodney was used to the calm, controlled mask of Lt. Col. John Sheppard. This Sheppard's face, though, reflected every emotion. Humiliation, anger and frustration radiated from him. He finally met Rodney's gaze, eyes pleading with him to just walk away. The dichotomy between the two Sheppards staggered McKay. And in a moment of clarity, he realized where he'd seen that expression before. It appeared regularly on Radek Zelenka's face. McKay clamped his mouth shut and nodded. The hazel eyes almost obscured beneath the thick lenses shone with gratitude and relief. Rodney retreated back to where his double stood talking to Sheppard and Radek.
"Really? You have kids?"
"Yep. Nancy's carrying our third. The twins turned two last month."
Sheppard's mouth twisted in a smirk. He glanced up at Rodney in amusement. McKay couldn't keep the horror off his face. "Kids? Are you serious?"
Meredith looked at him in surprise. "Yeah. I love kids. You don't have any?"
"Oh, God no. Can't stand them."
The physician chuckled. "You don't know what you're missing. I hope you change your mind one day."
Sheppard's voice sounded across the room. "I think that's it! Give it a try now, Dr. Zelenka."
The piece of equipment they had been tinkering with began to glow. Zelenka flipped a couple of switches. "Finally! OK, you three need to stand next to your own device and make sure it is still active then concentrate on your reality. We will do the same with ours. McKay, get over here."
Meredith shook hands with the three as wished them well; then he joined the two scientists.
Rodney and Radek helped Sheppard hobble to the machine. At John's touch, it came to life.
The doors to the lab opened suddenly. Weir entered, dressed in desert camouflage BDUs, her face hard and unyielding. Kolya and Ford appeared behind her, P90s ready. Surprise flittered across her face as her gaze swept over them, and she did a double take when she got to Sheppard. After a beat, she looked across the room at her people. "Zelenka, what is the meaning of this?"
Zelenka flinched, and Dr. Sheppard's shoulders slumped. "We were going to send them back."
"Before we could interrogate them? Against my direct orders?"
"Yes," he whispered.
As she continued berating Zelenka, Meredith leaned over to Sheppard. Whatever he said startled the scientist. He glanced furtively around before slowly reaching back to touch the machine. He looked at the Air Force pilot and nodded ever so slightly.
John got the message. He placed his hand on their device, closed his eyes and thought about Atlantis, his Atlantis with his people – Teyla, the gracious Athosian leader; Elizabeth the diplomat; Ronon the warrior. A brilliant light enveloped them. John opened his eyes to find the lab empty except for the three of them. He scanned the room and smiled. "We're home."
"Are you sure?"
John reached to pick up his crutches. "Right where I left them."
Radek frowned. "Do you think that they will be OK?"
Doubt clouded McKay's expression. "I don't know. She looked really pissed." His eyes lost focus for a moment. "That was just weird. They were us, but not."
Sheppard snorted. "Yeah. Imagine you as a physician with a wife and three kids. Not to mention being compassionate and gentle. Kinda scary."
"And you! That guy couldn't stand up in a stiff wind. No backbone whatsoever. Not to mention Attila-the-Hun Zelenka there."
"Nothing alike. Wonder where we diverged to make us so different. What did you think, Dr. Z?"
"I think that I will spend more time in the gym." Zelenka smiled. "And that it is good to be home."