Part 3 Prologue

John Sheppard was dying. He could feel his body shutting down, getting weaker by the day. The lights in the infirmary flickered again and John sighed. Too weak to leave the bed, he was unable to help – not that there was anything to be done. The city was faltering, the beam from the Replicator satellite consuming every bit of energy Atlantis had. It was almost as if the city knew he was dying and had decided she would not be able to go on without him. John snorted. Well, if he couldn't indulge in delusions of grandeur on his deathbed, when could he?

John looked to the left where Teyla sat in a chair, sleeping. He had tried to get her to go back to their quarters for some real sleep but she had refused to leave. Secretly he was glad she was there. Her presence soothed him – as it always had.

John had always suspected he would die on Atlantis – die for Atlantis. Lord knows he had come close a dozen times. But he always thought he would die on his feet defending her – not wasting away in a bed, felled by an overgrown flu bug.

When they had first discovered he had been infected with a mutated strain of the Hoffan virus, they had tried to talk him into going into the status chamber. He had argued against it knowing that once he was there, he might as well be dead. As his organs began to shut down there was a break-though. Keller had finally found a way to eradicate the virus – unfortunately it was too late for him. While there were no traces of the virus left in John's body, the damage to his lungs and kidneys had been too extensive.

Rodney had tried to talk him into using Nanites to repair the damage but he had refused. After what happened with Elizabeth, John was determined never to have them in his system – no matter the cost. He had made Teyla swear that they wouldn't do that to him – and because she understood him better than anybody, she had agreed.

The morphine drip had helped with the pain but it left him fuzzy and confused much of the time. John wiped the blood from his lips as he tried to stifle the cough he felt coming. However, Teyla was a light sleeper and was awake instantly.

Reaching over, Teyla ran her hand through John's hair and let it rest on his cheek.

"Is there anything I can get you," she asked tenderly.

"I'm good," John replied weakly, wishing he could voice all the feelings that ran through him when she looked at him that way. Instead, he said, "You should go get something real to eat . . ."

"I am not hungry but I would be happy to bring you something." She replied with a smile.

John grimaced at the thought of food. "No, I . . ."

"I've got it!" Rodney McKay's voice boomed across the infirmary.

"But what did you do with it?" John asked sardonically. He really wasn't in the mood to fight off another one of McKay's crazy "We're going to save you come hell or high water" schemes.

"What?" Rodney stopped, confused for a moment. He looked at Teyla. "Is he lucid?"

Teyla smiled. "Yes, Rodney. What have you found?"

"The answer to all our problems."

"What now?" John asked. "An instantaneous ascension machine? A personal shield that works from the inside out? How about a mutant gene that will make me indestructible?" John thought for a moment. "You know I always thought it would be cool to be Wolverine."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Well, while your hair and personal hygiene often remind me of a wolf – or other assorted wild animals, nothing so complex. An alternate universe."

John glanced at Teyla – maybe he had missed something. At her look of confusion, he guessed not.

"An alternate universe." John prompted.

"Yes. We'll send you to an alternate universe. One where they can get you to SGC and Carson will know what to do – assuming he's there and even if he's not, I'm sure they have some sort of Asgard Technology that can rebuild you."

"Make me better than I was before? Better, Stronger, Faster?" John replied teasingly. He had learned that it was better to let McKay's latest idea run its full course before poking enough holes in it that he had to let it go.

"Oh no you don't," Rodney said, instantly realizing the tactic. "This is going to work."

John looked over at Teyla. "Maybe I could use a cup of coffee – just don't tell Jennifer."

"Of course. I will also stop to check on Torran. If he is awake, I'll bring him back down with me," Teyla said, leaning down to kiss John's cheek before leaving the two friends alone. She knew John needed to speak to Rodney privately – that John was the only one who could bring Rodney back from the edge he had been walking since he had found out that John was dying.

As soon as Teyla left, John spoke, "Rodney, I appreciate . . ."

"Just shut up and listen to me," Rodney huffed. Pacing by John's bed, hands flying, he continued. "The shield is only going to last another couple of hours. We are going to have to evacuate. You know that the alpha site doesn't have the equipment to . . .you know . . ."

"Keep me alive?" John filled in gently. Rodney blinked dumbly at John but after a moment continued.

"Yes, right. So, here's what we do. We send you to an alternate universe. We still have enough power to create a fracture in the time/space continuum using the multiverse bridge and I have calculated that if you return within 11 days, the damage to the universe will be minimal."

"And what happens when I transport to a universe where there is no SGC or no Earth or hell, I don't know, humans have all been turned into giant shrimp?"

"No, no, no, no, no. I have already solved that little dilemma. By controlling the force of the exotic particle steam intersecting the tear, we will be able to send you to a universe where the differences will be minute." Rodney smiled triumphantly. "I am so going to get a Nobel for this!"

"And how do I get back?"

"Well, assuming there is anything to come back to," John grimaced as Rodney went on. "We will set up a time on the tenth day when you dial the gate and I will intersect it on our side to bring you back home."

"No."

"No? What do you mean no?" Rodney asked with frustration.

"I mean it's too dangerous and I'm not leaving in the middle of a siege – I'm not leaving you all here to try and save my own ass."

Rodney suddenly lunged at John and grabbed both his shoulders forcefully. "Listen to me you stubborn son of a bitch. You are going through that gate and you are going to find some way to fix yourself otherwise you aren't the only one who's going to die. I'm not leaving you here alone and I know Teyla won't either. So either you are going to do this or you are taking the two of us down with you. Would you really leave your son an orphan?"

John's eyes instantly burned, his throat convulsing as fought down the pain. He glared at his best friend, anger and frustration evident in his voice. "You bastard, that was low – even for you."

Rodney abruptly released him, turning his back to John in an effort to get his own feelings back under control. "Yes, well, the truth hurts." Rodney croaked out. Clearing his voice, he turned back. "John this is the only way. In fact, you will probably be in a safer place than we will."

John's mind raced. He knew that Teyla had said that she wouldn't leave his side but he hoped it had been comforting nonsense. If the shield really was hours from collapsing then the only alternative to McKay's plan was suicide before the shield fell. If he were already dead, Teyla would have no choice but to leave with Torren. Unfortunately, John had no idea where his pistol was and knew he was too weak to find it much less figure out another way to kill himself.

"John, do you trust me?" Rodney asked quietly. John looked up into his best friend's eyes, burning with the bright blue of determination.

"Oohh man . . . . you know I do."

"Then trust me on this."

The silence between the two men stretched out for several long minutes as John's mind flailed about looking for any alternative. Pulling the whole trust thing out had been even lower that the orphan comment.

"Okay! Fine!" John said disgustedly. "We'll do it."

Rodney's eyes lit up but he kept himself from actually pumping his fist in the air and yelling yes, yes, yes. He did strangle out a "Great!"

"On one condition," John continued.

"What? What condition?"

"If you are really sure that the universe you send me to will be safer then I'm not going alone – you guys are coming with me"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "John,"

"No! I mean it Rodney! I'm not leaving you or Teyla or Torren or anyone else behind to face the replicators. If this works, then we maybe can transport back before the replicators hit the city. Maybe if I'm well and you aren't wasting your time trying to save me, we can find a way to stop them."

Rodney pressed his lips into a fine line. He knew John's mind was muddled with the drugs and he didn't really understand what Rodney had explained to him. Maybe John wouldn't realize his mistake before Rodney could get him through the gate.

"Fine! Okay? Yes, we will all go with you like your own little band of merry men. Happy?"

John leaned back against the pillows exhausted. "Yes," he whispered.

Rodney turned, intent on getting away from John as soon as he could and finishing the preparations. He had never been good at lying – especially to John - and wasn't sure if he could pull it off if he hung around.

"Rodney?" John's weak voice called out.

Oh shit, Rodney thought trying to come up with an explanation that John would buy. "Yes?"

"Thanks," John muttered quietly as he fell off to sleep. Rodney released the breath he was holding and hurried out of the infirmary.

SGASGASGASGASGASGASGASGASGA

Rodney was in the control room with Radek making the final adjustments to the console under the DHD. Teyla had gathered together with the last remaining members of the expedition team - a group of marines, Major Lorne, Halling and her son and was waiting in front of the gate beside John's litter. John was thankfully unconscious.

The Czech scientist swore in his native tongue. "Rodney, we are out of time. They have to go through now."

"Not helping." Rodney replied through clenched teeth. "Okay, we're ready. Head on down."

"No," Radek replied, "I'm staying here with you."

"Oh no you're not!"

"There is no time to argue. Shield failure in 43 seconds."

"Damn, Dialing!" Rodney yelled as the chevrons began to activate. As agreed upon, Bates as the ranking military officer put through his IDC number and the team held their breath as they waited for a response.

When the response came, the team hardly heard, transfixed by the sight outside the stain glass windows. The beam of red death that had pushed its way through the shield had hit the outskirts of the city and was slowly moving towards the control tower.

As power conduits began to blow, Rodney yelled over the intercom. " I don't know how long I can hold it. You have to go now."

Luckily, Bates had just received word that the iris was disengaged and he shouted to the front of the team, "Go! Go!"

Teyla turned to look up at the control center, "Rodney!" she shouted as the marines pushed her from behind. Rodney smiled that crooked smile of his and waved a little. That was the last thing she saw before she was blown forward through the gate by the replicator weapon.