Intersection

By GE Waldo

"We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed."

One shot. No slash...not much anyway. Strong friendship mostly.

Character death sort of...

SGASGASGASGASGASGASGA

"Are you sure just the side-arm is enough?" Rodney McKay asked pointing to the weapon Sheppard had slung at his thigh. A bead of sweat rolled down the crown of the scientist's head.

Sheppard noted that every year there seemed to be just a little bit less hair on Rodney's head than the previous one. Either that or the man had a new barber.

"I mean we really don't know this General that well," Rodney continued. "Maybe you should take Ronan with you? He's like a walking army disguised as a Teddy bear – well, a really big, always pissed-off looking, Sasquatch-like Teddy bear."

Sheppard smiled at that, just a little grin for his own amusement. It was hot as hell in the control room. McKay was right about the heat problems. Small wonder that the man, so intolerant of heat, was sweating. He already had Zelenka and a whole slew of his science pets working the problem at that very moment and Sheppard knew that as soon as he left, Rodney would be on their backs raising hell about why they hadn't yet pinned down the malfunction. Working under Rodney must be hell, he thought, still he wouldn't want anyone else on the job. Rodney was a bit nuts but he was genius level nuts and anyone Earth-side lucky enough to be chosen to work under the notoriously brilliant but perfectionist Doctor McKay could still count themselves lucky.

"Relax Rodney; I've met General Ammotto before. He used to be with the Genii, him and his folk are on our side now."

"Folk? Did you recently spend an evening with Lawrence Welk?"

Sheppard frowned. "Who?"

His uniform stripped down to just the pants and a thin tee-shirt Rodney shifted in the clothing, as though trying to shrug off the heat. "Never mind. If it weren't for these power fluctuations I'd come with you. Look – just keep your head down or whatever it is you soldiers say to each other alright? I only have one best friend you know, Mister Lone Ranger Who Almost got Himself Killed Last Week."

McKay always exaggerated but it did warm him a little to know the paranoid scientist was worried about him. "Yeah, I love you too Rodney. And it was just a bullet graze. I wasn't in any danger."

McKay just snorted and stood back to let Sheppard walk through the Stargate on his own. As his foot stepped through the miraculous puddle-like aperture, he could faintly hear warning beacons going off in the background - a control room warning to McKay no doubt to get his ass down to his labs and see what extra disasters his science geeks had wrought in his absence.

Sheppard heard McKay's voice fade and then abruptly stop. It was often like that when breaking the puddle, noise became distorted and then ended just like that but only for the tiniest fraction of a fraction of time as travel through a Stargate, despite the human mind's clever attempt to create the illusion of swooping through a tunnel at breakneck speed, was nearly instantaneous. Time and space didn't actually exist inside a wormhole as Rodney often liked to remind everyone.

But today he was in no hurry. For a change time was on his side.

XXX

Then Sheppard was stepping out back into Atlantis's gate room where the warning beacons were silent. "Shit." He looked around casually, and then up to the control room itself one tall floor above. It was strangely quiet. "McKay? Weir?" He used his ear bug, not wanting to waste time trudging up the stairs when all they had to do was redial. "Someone screwed up the address and the Gate sent me home. Chuck? Hellooo...?"

No one answered. Sheppard bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time.

No one was in the control room. He walked over to the various consoles - his fingers ghosting over buttons and panels, not pushing anything, curious what the problem was now. On them several lights flashed on and off like Christmas tree lights. "Hmph - This is Sheppard to anyone in Atlantis, I'm in the Control room, why is no one at their post? Respond please."

This felt frighteningly familiar. The air was no longer uncomfortably hot, so Rodney must have fixed the damn naquadah generators or whatever. "Anyone in Atlantis, please answer your radio. McKay? Rodney! - answer your damn radio."

"Sheppard?"

Sheppard breathed a sigh of relief. "Rodney. Where the hell are you? I was only gone a few seconds." It was not protocol to walk away before establishing that the traveller had actually gone through okay. Only then did you power down the Gate. "Get back here and dial the Gate for me again."

"Where are you?"

"In the Control room, where else would I be? And why is no one here? Are we having communication problems now?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do you mean what do you mean? I've been calling over the comm. for the last three minutes, no one's answering."

"Why the hell are you back here Sheppard?"

Sheppard pursed his lips. This was getting old fast. "Someone made a mistake dialing I guess and the damn Gate sent me back."

"What? That's impossible. The Gate doesn't work like that - you can't "make a mistake". I don't make mistakes either. The address either works or it doesn't."

"Well, here I am so maybe it doesn't." He was getting tired of the question game. "Just get back here Rodney. General Ammotto isn't going to wait forever."

Sheppard thought he could almost see Rodney's exasperation over the air waves. "Who? – look never mind, I'll be right there."

Not more than a minute later, Rodney jogged into sight. He'd somehow had a moment to change his from standard black uniform tee-shirt into his old - and no longer strictly regulation since he was both the Head scientific Advisor and on Off-world Team 1 - pale blue Sciences shirt. He seemed in almost a panic but came to a halt in front of Sheppard. "Now what happened exactly?"

"I told you," He explained as Rodney sat down at the Gate controls and redialed. The Gate once more sprung to life. "I walked through the puddle and I ended up right back here."

Rodney looked up at him with a frown, one so full of confusion that Sheppard was set a bit back on his heels. "But the address is one-way; you couldn't possibly be back here."

"What the hell are you talking about Rodney – "one way"? This is just a bi-yearly check-in with some allies. I plan on coming home tonight to the kitchen's equivalent to a steak sandwich and strawberry pie, there's no one-way about it, unless of course you're that sick of me."

Rodney swivelled in his chair and stared up at his companion. "Are you feeling all right Sheppard? Did you hit that thick head or something?"

"Are we going to start trading insults now?" He was getting mad. "Just dial the damn address again, Rodney, and I'll be out of your hair so you can get back to the heat problems or Radek's irritating stories about his poor childhood or whatever you have going on right now, and can we step on it? I'm in a bit of a hurry now."

McKay stared up at him as though his hair had sprouted daisies. "Heat problems? You did hit your head, there are no heat problems." But he dialed the Gate again. "Now just get going, Major, before we run out of time."

Sheppard, his right leg paused above the first step of the stairs, turned back around. He stared at Rodney for a few seconds as his slow to kick in senses told him that the place was just too damn empty. "Rodney, where is everyone anyway?" His heart began to beat faster as suddenly Rodney's impossibly fast change of clothing tickled in his brain saying: Too fast to have actually been possible idiot! "What's going on?"

Rodney stood and walked over to him, his face now scrunched up with concern. "Wow, you really did hit your head, didn't you?" impulsively reaching out one hand and, with surprising gentleness, brushing Sheppard's hair aside as though looking for a wound.

Sheppard shook him off by stepping back. "I did not hit my head. Now answer my question. Where's Elizabeth? For that matter where is anyone?"

Rodney searched his commander's eyes, now more and more confused himself. "Well, you know, they're through the Gate, they're safe, which is where you should be, Major."

Sheppard shook his head as though the cobwebs continued to gather no matter how often he tried to clear them. "Will you stop calling me that? I haven't been a Major in over two years." Sheppard stared back, irked by the smaller man's confusion, himself glancing at the man's head to see if he had hit his own noggin on something.

And that's when Sheppard noticed something odd. Rodney's hair had somehow lengthened during the moment he had been gone. It could not be but it was. In the time it took from when he had stepped through the Gate and back again McKay's receding hairline had somehow un-receded. It was longer, thicker, and had traveled back down his forehead. It looked fuller. It was even a bit lighter in color.

Sheppard had only once seen a photo of the much younger Meredith McKay, a faded Polaroid from his early years at MIT. A young man barely out of the slightness of youth looking off to the left of the camera's view, his eyes on a paper in his hand, no doubt some unintelligible mathematical formula Sheppard had guessed, one even his teachers would not have completely understood. A younger, fresher Rodney, his hair thicker, longer by an inch and ever-so-slightly curled at the ends. In the time he'd known him, Rodney's hair had, over the years, darkened, as dirty blondes often did. But in that one faded candid shot McKay had deigned to show him he could recall the almost blondness of the then McKay's youthful crown.

All the little clues that did not make sense a few seconds ago now jumbled up in his head into one fear-inspiring conclusion. The answer, if it was the one he was thinking, would explain the lack of personnel, the flashing consol lights, Rodney's lightning-fast change of clothing and the man's new-old hair. Only one question now he needed answered. "Rodney what year is it?"

McKay heard the seriousness in Sheppard's voice and answered back without his usual snipe. "Are you kidding me? It's two-thousand-four of course."

Sheppard took one, two breaths. "That can't be." Even though he had been down a similar road before, it had not been this road. "How long have you been here, Rodney - in Atlantis?"

Rodney had seated himself down at the consol with the flashing lights, staring at Sheppard and growing more annoyed. "You know how long we've been here. A few hours at most and it's all the time we'll probably ever have unless I can figure out a way to get the shield more power."

"So Elizabeth, Carson, Ford...?"

"Everyone's already gone, major. Ford flew the last of the evacuee's outta' here ten minutes ago, Elizabeth and Carson safe on MXY-656 with the rest of the expedition's contingent."

"And we're still underwater?"

"What do you mean still? Yes, we're still submerged and the shield's still failing...which means you need to go - now."

"And you're staying behind to try and fix the problem." This Sheppard said to himself and it was not a question.

"Of course, I'm the only one qualified to do it as you already know and even I might not be able to stop it." McKay stood up. "So now be a good Major and get your addled ass to safety."

Sheppard ignored him, whispering the things he remembered about the time and events he had never witnessed. The old Weir who had told them all the story of the First Time, or another time-line he guessed where the city had never raised itself from the bottom of the ocean and where only some had escaped death.

The time-line where Rodney had stayed behind trying to save them all.

And drowned.

Sheppard dropped into another chair a few feet away from the still breathing, un-drowned younger McKay. At this critical juncture it probably wouldn't do to let the doomed man in on his fate. Trying not to stare, Sheppard asked "How long until the shield fails?"

Rodney shrugged one shoulder. "An hour and that's only if I can get back to what I was doing before you hit your head and screwed my schedule all to hell."

"I haven't hit my head."

"Fine, fine, then how about you and your flyboys stop screwing with the scientist and get back through the Gate. Some of us have work to do."

Sheppard stared at the other man. "Look, Rodney, I know this may be hard to believe but it's the truth. First of all I am not screwing with you. Secondly I am not the Sheppard you know. That Sheppard is already dead, or will be, where-ever you sent him. And Ford...his Jumper crashes, killing all on board. Almost no one survives this."

Rodney stared at him, and Sheppard could see that the scientist was trying to decide whether to believe him or ignore him and go back to work. But maybe he had sounded sincere enough that Rodney opened his mouth. Nothing came out for a second and his eyes grew less self assured. "Maybe..."

"Maybe what?"

"Maybe you have a concussion."

"I do not have a concussion. Look Rodney, just tell me this - who assigned me to fly the shuttle?"

"You did. You insisted but then Ford took over at the last moment I guess."

"Why?"

"How should I know? You're the military guy."

This was getting them nowhere. "Rodney I'm telling you, I am not from here."

"Right – right, can I get back to work now? I'd like to prevent us from all getting, oh I don't know, dead."

"Come on McKay, you're in the lost city of Atlantis at the bottom of an ocean on an alien planet in the Pegasus galaxy. You got here by walking through what to me looks like a candy sprinkled donut standing on its edge with a worm-hole instead of a custard center and you're telling me that you won't even concede to the possibility that I'm telling you the truth?"

Rodney crossed him arms and swivelled his chair around to face him. "I suppose if we must play this game, we must." He looked at his watch and then waved an impatient hand to spur things on. "Go ahead."

"Good. Now did Ford check in when he cleared the city?"

Rodney paused this time. It wasn't much but it was encouraging. "Um no, he probably just got sidetracked trying to keep our people alive."

"Hopefully, or maybe he couldn't check in because they're all..."

But the scientist didn't say it. Sheppard bit his lip. Something wasn't adding up.

McKay shook his head. "Elizabeth wanted you to join the others on the planet. She insisted that you head through the Gate. She wanted..." Rodney suddenly realised something. "Hey, Elizabeth was on that Jumper. Is she...if you're not bullshitting me and I'm not saying I believe you but if you're not then is she...dead?"

Sheppard shook his head. "I honestly don't know Rodney." Because some of what Rodney was saying wasn't matching what the old Weir had told them. Elizabeth joined him on the Jumper. They both died in the crash. "I wish I did."

"And so you're from...where exactly?"

Sheppard stared back at the younger man, who at this juncture was someone he could not even refer to as a friend. They had hardly known each other then, that first day in Atlantis. Entirely new acquaintances. No shared meals or movies, no off-world missions together, no target practises or electric car races, no shared pain or grief. Here, right now, they were still strangers to each other. Blanks.

Sheppard let out a tension-filled breath. "I think I'm from the future."

XXX

"Let me get this straight - one possible future?" McKay repeated. "One possible future did you say?"

Sheppard nodded. "Yes. As far as I understand this stuff. Look, Rodney, I know it sounds insane but I can prove it."

McKay sat back and crossed his arms, the look on his face classic skeptical Rodney. "Remember that we're on the clock but what the hell. Go ahead McFly. Prove it to me."

"All right..." Sheppard racked his brain for things that he knew that were not from his time-line knowledge of Rodney but things that would still apply. "You have a sister named Jennie who is married to Caleb Miller, they have a daughter Madison."

"Give me a break. You could have Googled that stuff."

"Okay, give me a second will ya'? Um, your mother died when you were young, and your father was an asshole. Is that in your file?"

McKay didn't flinch but he looked less comfortable. "That could be just good guessing on your part. Lots of people have a jerk for a parent. I'll wager your dad was nothing to write home about either."

"Well, I'm not finished. Your first year at MIT you met a pretty physicist named Marcy with whom you lost your virginity-"

McKay sat up. "Now hold on..."

"And you once told me that it was fantastic, but later admitted that as sexual experiences went it had sucked."

McKay looked away, shifting in his seat. "That's just...good guessing too. First times always suck."

Sheppard shook his head, recalling his own first time. She'd had the longest legs... "Mm, no they don't."

McKay sat forward, not as doubtful now. "You could have called my sister."

Sheppard recognised a man grasping at straws. "In the last eight minutes? – No. And since when does a brother share his first sexual experience with his little sister?" Sheppard kept the last thing as the final topping of his little game of proof. Something McKay had revealed to him during one very drunk evening after stumbling across in the store-rooms a very rare find of Athosian beer and round-cakes which they had pilfered and consumed by themselves in Rodney's quarters. "As uncomfortable as this is for me to even repeat aloud - you like to have the insides of your thighs licked."

"Ewww gross." McKay declared yet he didn't voice a denial.

"Am I wrong?" Sheppard challenged. "Tell me I'm wrong."

"You're wrong." McKay looked away again. "I like to have them kissed," he countered, "not licked – kissed."

There was one more thing Sheppard knew. "And you got your cat from your sister as a birthday present and she told you she was leaving the work to get married. You were not happy. It was the last time you two have spoken in four years."

Rodney stared across the short space between them, his face defiant. "She left me." He said simply. "She married an English major for God's sake."

"I thought he was a diesel mechanic?" Sheppard asked and then shook his head. As much as he would have loved to hear the details behind McKay's mysterious words, time was short. "There is the theory that time is like a river – right? With back eddies and stuff. Well this must be one of them."

McKay scratched his chin. "That's a bit out-dated actually. Time is more like a highway with intersections, broken down off-ramps and abrupt dead-ends. In this context, you have entered an intersection. Atlantis could be like a hub, if what you say is true and I'm not entirely convinced it is but if it is then it's one of countless intersections. Atlantis just happens to be one where multiple divergences originate, some great highway where you and yours are just dandy or me, mine here and now which is, so far, not so great."

"From here all roads travel?"

"If what you're saying is true..."

"It's true."

"Well that remains to be seen, but we're running out of time."

Sheppard nodded. Finally! "Okay, so we're trying to stop Atlantis from flooding. What is there left to do?"

XXX

"No, counter-clock-wise, I said counter-clock-wise."

"You said clock-wise." Sheppard snarled back, exasperated with the younger physicist. "I distinctly heard you say clockwise."

Rodney crawled out from beneath the naquadah generator, one of a half dozen the scientist had himself installed when they had first come through the Gate to the sunken city. Rodney took a quick look at what Sheppard had his fingers on. "I said turn the outer ring clockwise and the inner ring counter-clockwise."

"No you didn't." Sheppard could see why every underling that worked with him ended up wanting a transfer or seeing a shrink. McKay was almost impossible to please. "You said nothing about the outer ring."

McKay huffed through his nose like a frustrated cat. "Fine - whatever - just do it the way I have now told you to do it okay?"

"Fine." Sheppard ground his teeth and did as instructed. Finally McKay scrambled up from his prone position beneath the generator where his bent at the knees legs had been sticking out for the last ten minutes. "That's it."

Sheppard was relieved to let go his tight grip on the specially designed torque wrenches. He shook cramped fingers out and then flexed them, encouraging circulation. "Now what?"

McKay gathered up his tools. "Now we do the same with the other five generators."

Sheppard realised that his being here was affording McKay the opportunity to complete repair tasks that, in the other doomed timeline, he had not had time to. Together they just might save this Atlantis too. Sheppard glanced at Rodney and decided not to share such optimistic thoughts just yet. Rodney McKay was a bit of a pessimist. Once when Sheppard had called him on it, asking him why he was always so doubtful of coming out on top even when the odds were in their favor, McKay had answered him with just one word: "Experience."

It had been food for thought, at least regarding the man's past. At the time Sheppard had wondered what series of events had occurred in the young scientist's life to evoke such a negative reaction. He then surmised that perhaps McKay had experienced a string of bad luck, the kind of disheartening events that had lead Sheppard himself, an ace Air Force pilot, into settling for flying choppers back and forth across the bottom of the world. It was then that Sheppard had got his first inkling that he and the prideful McKay were perhaps not that different after all. Who in their right mind and heart would choose Antarctica?

But then the Atlantis expedition had been revealed to him and Sheppard had taken that particular bit in his mouth and run with it as, he was certain, had McKay. For both it had been one last chance to make a difference, to be someone else, someone better than before. To do better.

In this time and place Sheppard decided that a little optimism was in order. "Rodney, we're going to do this, you know? We're going to fix this. Luck is on our side this time."

McKay looked over at him from his tool box. "Major if there's one thing I've learned over the years – luck has nothing to do with it."

Five generators later and they were back in the control room where McKay was making some final adjustments to the shield controls. "If this works, we should have enough power to raise the city. Whether we can figure out a way to keep it there long enough to..."

"You mean this is only giving us enough power to raise it but not to keep it at the surface?" Sheppard felt his hope slip a bit.

McKay didn't look up at him. "Didn't I just say that?"

"How long do you think we can keep it afloat?"

McKay shrugged. "A few days maybe, a week at most. We need to locate a good ZedPM to really get the city back on its feet, or at least on its knees."

Sheppard cracked a half smile at that. Humor was also another bit of McKay that he had slowly discovered during those first few weeks. McKay possessed a wry, at times slightly twisted sense of fun, much like himself. "Well, when knees are involved, there's usually fun to be had for someone."

Rodney frowned at him. "You fly-boys, it's always sex, sex, sex."

"And with you science geeks it's always dreaming about sex, sex, sex."

"Hah - very funny." McKay huffed. "We're ready. Hang on, here we go..." He pressed a short series of controls and Sheppard felt a shudder beneath his feet. It grew more intense but all in all it didn't feel as though anything was getting out of control.

"Seems to be working." Sheppard said.

McKay said, allowing for the tiniest bit of optimism. "Yeah...it's good, so far, it's good." He clutched at the consol when another, far stronger shudder wracked the control room and the place seemed to lurch aside as in a drunken fit. "Shit!"

"What?" Sheppard grabbed onto the back of the chair he was standing behind. "What's wrong?"

McKay's fingers danced over the controls and his eyes raked the consol and the numbers his laptop was spitting out at him. "Give me a second! I'm not sure yet...this shouldn't be happening." Sheppard had the impression that Rodney was not just a math whizz, he was also a speed reader. His eyes seemed to miss nothing. "I accounted for the water in the desalinated tanks, I even accounted for your extra weight..." He muttered aloud, "we should be rising smoothly. This doesn't make sense."

Suddenly Sheppard had a thought. "Did you adjust the shield's range after the city had already taken on water?"

McKay spun in his chair and stared at him for a flash, his eyes were suddenly bigger. "Crap!" He spun back to his controls and hit a crystal button with a piece of green tape on it where someone had written "Emergency Ballast Purge". "Oh crap!" McKay said again. "Shit!"

Sheppard bit his lip. Even geniuses can have an off day. But maybe they could still reach the surface. The water was being pushed out of the leveling tanks now, but even Sheppard knew it was already too late.

A sudden lurch to the side and the floor beneath their feet tipped up several feet in under a second, throwing Sheppard to the floor in a tangle of flailing limbs and sending McKay rolling head over heels fast across the titled marble until he hit the nearest wall. Hard.

Finally the crazy lean of the city settled back to something closer to level and Sheppard, rubbing at a sore hip-bone where he had come down on the stone flooring, teetered his way over to where McKay lay in a heap, not moving.

"Rodney!" He turned the scientist over. A small bump was already swelling at the left side of his head and he had a bloody nose. Sheppard shook him. "Hey, Rodney, you still in there? Come on buddy, don't quit on me now."

McKay opened his eyes and sniffed, then groaned. He eyes squinted at the pain in his head as he wiped the blood from under his nose with the back of his hand. Looking up at Sheppard he asked "Please tell me we're at the surface."

Sheppard hated to say it "Don't think so. It feels like we're dropping again. Probably not as far this time 'cause the ballast tanks oughta' be empty now."

McKay looked defeated but got his feet under him and stood, swaying a bit. "Great," he griped, "I just created the Pegasus galaxy's first submarine!" Sheppard reached out to grab him but McKay shook him off. "I'm fine. I'm fine."

"Uh, you've got a goose-egg on your skull, so no you're not."

McKay ignored his head and the few drops of blood that had spattered his blue regulation shirt. He stumbled-walked his way back to the consol, grabbing at the back of the chair to steady himself. Staring down for a few seconds at the controls, he checked his laptop. "Doesn't matter now anyway, the generators are too depleted to try again." He sighed and slumped in the chair. "I forgot about the goddamn tanks."

Fishing out a square of gauze from a First Aid kit that had felt the awful lurch and been popped from its place beneath someone's work station, Sheppard pressed the folded cotton up against the physicists head. "There are no more generators?" Sheppard asked, guessing the answer. "No more power sources at all in the city?"

"If there were don't you think I'd had hooked them all up? We have one depleted ZedPM we located in a storage room. It has about four percent power generation capacity. That's less than the minimum required to power the shield for ten minutes never mind two hours."

"You said you didn't have a ZPM."

"I said we didn't have a good ZedPM. Let's face it Major – I fucked up. Atlantis is going down for good because I just made a very serious mistake."

Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, yeah ya' did." He had no idea what else to say. "I suppose there's no chance the ZPM could be hooked up to the generators?"

"No. The ZedPM is an altogether different power system. We can hook both up to different systems but that's not going to help us here."

There was no try-try again in this situation. "But you got everyone out of the city." Sheppard reminded him encouragingly. "They're all safe." This time they were. His appearance in this time-line had afforded all of the others to make good their escape. Sheppard would bet everything on it. "Come on, let's go."

"Where we going?"

"No point in staying here is there? The city's lost but your people are safe. No use you dying again."

It was too late to pull the words back. Sheppard could have kicked himself. "I mean..."

But McKay was staring at him, his blue eyes curious. And scared. "What do you mean again?" He asked quietly. "Again implies there was an original event, one where...where I died!"

Sheppard heard the terror in McKay's voice. In his own time-line, after years on the team his McKay had faced death a dozen times over or more and had grown used to dangerous situations. After enough scrapes with death, such days become almost blase', but with this Rodney, with this younger man who had not yet gone off-world, who had not yet faced the Wraith or the Genii or disease or the blood of others on his hands, who had not built up any mental or emotional defenses against the possibility of his own demise, this Rodney was still fresh from Antarctica, still new in the thrill of exploration, and as yet innocent to the myriad of ways a man could potentially meet his Maker in the Pegasus galaxy.

Sheppard decided that now was not the time to go into all that the dying Weir had told them about this time-line. Besides his very presence here was altering things, wasn't it? That's what he had gleaned from all of Zelenka and McKay's lunch-time chatter on the subject; that things were now going differently than they had that first time. The mere fact that he never piloted the shuttle with Weir and the others on board proved that, didn't it? This time Rodney did not have to die in a futile attempt to save the others. The others were already safe!

"Look, it's not important now because you don't need to die." He decided not to mention that Rodney's heroic feat had not saved the souls he had hoped it would. "I'll explain it all later but right now we need to get to the Gate and get to safety."

McKay looked around, as though not wishing to abandon the city so quickly. Sheppard understood. He hated to bow out of a fight before it was over too, but this time he knew how it ended, at least how it had ended. But screw that, Sheppard was determined they were both going to walk out of this one, a bit sore maybe, but upright and in one piece. Still Atlantis deserved one last hurrah. "Hey, how much time before the shield completely fails?"

McKay glanced at the numbers on his laptop. "About thirty minutes give or take."

"Give or take? So we have maybe fifteen minutes where we don't have to panic?"

McKay nodded. "Yeah, about that. Why?"

"Are any of the store rooms protected by the shield?"

McKay crossed his arms, a bit miffed at Sheppard's twenty questions game. "All of them and again I ask why?"

Sheppard smiled just a bit. It felt good. "Because I have an idea - wait here."

"Hey! –what...?" But the Major was gone.

In only minutes he was back carrying something in his hand.

Rodney lifted his eyebrows. "Alcohol?"

"Not just alcohol." Sheppard said with a knowing smile. "Kentucky bourbon."

"So you want to get drunk? Why not just build a camp-fire and sing songs too?" McKay said.

Sheppard unscrewed the cap and sniffed. "No need. This is the best kind of fire there is." He held the bottle out to the stubborn physicist. "Come Rodney, Atlantis deserves a drink at least doesn't she? Before she goes to her watery grave?"

McKay finally got the point and accepted the bottle. He sniffed warily and then took a sip. It burned its way down to his gullet. He coughed a bit. "Oh god, that's awful!" He handed it back.

Sheppard took a large satisfying swig and felt the fire spreading to his fingertips and toes. He also coughed but what delight there was in it. "I take it you don't drink much?" He asked.

Rodney lifted his chin. "Alcohol dulls the mind. And I might be a bit allergic to it. I tend to get drunk quickly."

"On one swig?"

"No, but three o-or four sometimes will usually do it."

Sheppard looked at him pitifully. "Three or four? You poor bastard. What happens?"

"I talk a lot and then throw up." But McKay held out his hand for the bottle anyway. He stood and raised it high. "To Atlantis. She was ours for a while."

Sheppard added "And she will be again." He smiled as Rodney took another drink then he took the bottle back again, upending the bottle for a last mouthful of his own. "May she rest in peace."

McKay blinked his eyes, the booze clearly already affecting his senses. "I can't believe I forgot about th-"

McKay's words were cut off when a claxon sounded. Sheppard dropped the bottle and put his hands over his ears. He yelled over the din. "Rodney what-?"

"The shield is beginning to fail in sections from the outer rim to the center." McKay yelled back. "We don't have much time left now. We need to dial the Gate!"

"Okay!" Sheppard bellowed back and followed him to the control consol where McKay sat and began drawing up information on his laptop.

"Can you turn off the damn siren?!" Sheppard yelled and McKay sheepishly reached over and pressed a control. When the room was finally silent - "Sorry." He muttered.

Sheppard, his ears still ringing could now hear the distant sound of rushing water. The outer-reaches of the city were flooding where the shield was failing, letting the surrounding ocean in.

Rodney ignored the sound and looked up at him. "What's the address?" He asked.

Sheppard looked down at him, not certain he heard him right. "What do you mean – I thought you knew."

McKay's eyes widened. "How in the hell should I know where – excuse me when - it is you came from? The Gate works on coordinates in space not dates on a calendar. You're telling me you have no idea at all how you got here?"

"Sure I have an idea, I came through the Gate. To the address you – the other Rodney – dialed in for me."

McKay stared up at him. "Well was there a solar flare or some sort of anomaly happening with the Gate?"

"No. He dialed, I stepped through - here I am. End of story."

"Well, I need more, Sheppard, some idea of what went wrong to send you back in time and to this time-line. Give me something – anything - did a big whirly whoopy thing-a-ma-jiggy appear right before you went through?"

"No. All I remember is there was some kind of problem with the city's heating and an alarm sounded just as I stepped through the puddle. That's it."

"That's it?"

"That's it, Rodney, I'm telling you – nothing weird happened."

"Terrific! Only there are no alarms for when the heaters screw up."

"Oh."

"So what did the alarm sound like?"

"Well, not unlike that ear-splitting thing you just turned off a second ago, but different, like a pulse."

McKay reached over to an amber coloured control on the consol. "Did it sound something like this?" He depressed it. Not covering his ears this time Sheppard nodded, "Yeah, yeah that's the one. It went off just as I was stepping through the Gate from my Atlantis."

Rodney looked crestfallen. "Well that's not a warning for 'A Killer Solar Flare is Imminent; Apply Two Billion Sun-block' but it is the warning for 'Hey the Stargate's About to Collapse in on Itself; Stand Clear!'"

Sheppard didn't even have to ask. Rodney kept talking. "On rare occasions a Gate can, for lack of a better word, telescope in on itself. It happens when the power feeding it destabilizes and creates a state of surge – like a million times or so the power necessary and that happens when the energy from the ZedPM that is being fed into the wormhole also telescopes back on itself by as I said, a million times. What it means is your Gate entered a state of intussusception. It turned back on itself and became like a worm hole within a wormhole. And because time and space do not exist inside a wormhole, instead of sending you to where you needed to be in your space and time, it sent you backward into its own past existence. In other words: here."

"Okay, that sorta' makes sense but what about the stuff I remember that isn't happening here, like me never piloting the last shuttle outta' Dodge?"

"That very fact that you're here means things already began to alter the way they went in my timeline originally, or the way they were supposed to go. The instant you showed up where you were never supposed to, things began to change hence we - meaning you and me - are together creating an entirely new time-line right here, right now."

"So you're telling me that your Sheppard didn't take the last Shuttle?"

"No, it just means if he did that act is now erased like it never happened. I mean, I don't even actually remember him, only whatever you've told me about him and that's pretty weird if you think about it, not that I knew the guy all that well anyway, so as far as I'm concerned in this time line you're my Sheppard."

Aware that Rodney had no idea how his words had warmed him, Sheppard just smiled a little. "Good to know."

But McKay, in either time-line it seemed, was never finished. "Or your presence here might have flashed him out of existence or to another existence or -"

"Made him dead?"

Rodney tilted his head in a micro-fit of mock patience. "Maybe. Look - a lot of this is just theory okay? I don't exactly have time right now to test my hypotheses."

"Okay, whatever. Let's just figure out how we can dial the Gate with the added surge and get us home, or me home and you to an Atlantis where you don't die."

"How do I die by the way, or did or...will have?"

"Not that it matters now because you won't, but you drown."

"Really? Hmmm, not a surprise I guess. I can't swim."

"Didn't you grow up near the Great Lakes? The biggest lakes in the world?"

"I never had time, okay Aqua-man? I was in school; we travelled a lot, besides my allergies kept me inside every summer."

Every summer indoors. Sheppard resolved to go a little easier on his Rodney's bottomless cornucopia of sun blocks and rash ointments. He had no idea Rodney'd been a constant itchy-hives-case. He was suddenly proud of how well Rodney did during off-world missions considering the variety of weather, plant and bug-life he consented to expose himself to every time he stepped through the Gate.

"So how do we do this Rodney?"

"Not easily." He griped. "Look the only possibility of maybe perhaps causing an exponential over-load of whatever power remains in our depleted ZedPM is tuning it to the worm-hole itself and letting the negative space-time there-in suck power directly from whatever universe's Zero Point Field it latches onto, which means of course there is a risk that it could latch onto the very space-time, or time-line you or rather we will be trying to return to, and that's still a big If."

A big mouth-full too. "How much risk?"

"Impossible to calculate."

"Try."

"Somewhere between fifty-fifty and infinity."

Sheppard rubbed his eyes. "Just...will it work?"

Rodney's voice began to rise as it always did when the finale' of the show was on his shoulders. "I wish I could say yes, John, but the best I can give you is maybe. I'm sorry, I cannot calculate for infinite variables."

It came to him that sometimes you didn't have to weigh the odds. Sometimes the universe just did what turned out to be the best for all concerned. Like causing him to run into, of all people, Rodney McKay here in this time line, right now in these few but very crucial hours before the shield failed and the walls of water inundated Atlantis and took everyone away forever. So was this providence or an accident? "I'm sure you'll do your best."

"I always do my best and sometimes," he preened, "I do what's amazing."

Sheppard decided to overlook the self-aggrandizing of his little friend. It was weirdly comforting. "Let's get to work."

XXX

Sheppard looked with approval at the fast, though what appeared to be clunky, work of his genius pal. Rodney, with his assistance, had several long, thick coils of what he assumed to be ancient hardware connected to the back of each of the Gate's chevrons with each of the other ends were hooked into what Rodney had called a "power nodule", a thing he had watched him jury-rig on the spot! Other than do his McKay the favour of occasionally dropping into the lab to help the scientist turn on some new piece of ancient junk he had found on a mission, or just glancing over his shoulder at some crucial bit of calculations necessary to save the day, Sheppard had never really spent any quality time observing Rodney work.

But inside of fifteen minutes Rodney had assembled the nodule from what Sheppard had been certain was junk. And when Rodney had made all the connections between it, the Gate chevrons and the ZedPM, everything sprang to life and hummed in their ears. "Jesus, Rodney, you really are a genius."

"You sound like you doubted me or, rather, your McKay."

"Just now and then." Mostly the social side of things, Sheppard mused. Genetics seemed to account for a lot when it came to brains and maybe even talent but evidently there was no gene for manners.

McKay surveyed his handiwork. "Ready? – and remember, this is a one-shot deal."

"What do you mean?"

"Didn't I mention it? We can only try this once. The power of this thing will most likely destroy the Gate and probably this whole city."

Sheppard took a deep breath. "No, Rodney, you didn't mention that part. How long do we have before oblivion?"

"Three or four minutes, plenty enough time for me to activate the Gate from the Control consol so the two of us can make good our escape."

"So no test runs."

"No. I still have to set up the auto-dial but that'll only take a minute."

"Okay." Sheppard slapped Rodney on his shoulder. "Great work."

"Thanks – hey I'm curious..."

But his words were cut off by yet another alarm. Rodney raced up the stairs to the control consol. He called down to Sheppard. "Ah, its okay, the shield weakened in another section of the city. We're still good to go."

Rodney spent a few more seconds bent over the controls until Sheppard grew a little antsy. "Come on Rod', let's not cut this too closely."

McKay looked down at him. "Uh, sure, hang on." He entered a few commands. "Just m-making sure of something here..."

Sheppard watched anxiously as McKay finish and descend the steps with what Sheppard assumed was a small remote control device in his hand. But the scientist's feet were not quite as swift as Sheppard would have liked. "Are you trying to make an entrance? Let's go."

Rodney stood before him. "Oh hey, just on the off chance that this doesn't work, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"If it's a fast one."

"Does your Rodney ever do anything significant in Atlantis, I mean besides running the hardware and fixing the plumbing – boring stuff? Does he ever do, you know, more important things?"

Sheppard was glad to admit it. "He's saved all our asses on a regular basis."

McKay's eyebrows climbed his forehead. "Really?"

"Really. He's one- well now two of a kind. If you're worried about what sort of place you'll have in my Atlantis...how 'bout we just get there first and we'll figure it out. You'll probably have to go Earth-side or something but with your brains it'd be a prestigious posting I'm sure." Sheppard very deliberately left out the part where his McKay had been all but banished to the Antarctic Station due to transgressions his scientist friend had never revealed to him.

"Two Rodney McKay's are better than one huh?"

"Hell - why not?" Sheppard didn't mind the idea. One to spare entered unbidden into his thoughts and he did not know why that made him suddenly uneasy.

McKay searched Sheppard's brown eyes, as though looking for the lie. "Yeah...why not?"

Then Rodney did something altogether unexpected, he jumped forward, right into Sheppard's personal space and kissed him hard on the lips. He released him and, while Sheppard was still in shock from the kiss, placed strong hands on Sheppard's shoulders and pushed him hard so he lost his balance, landing on his ass on the hard marble floor. McKay stepped back two yards and punched something on his remote control.

The mini-dome of a shield appeared around him and the Gate, leaving Rodney a distorted figure standing on the other side. Sheppard scrambled to his feet. "Rodney – what the hell are you doing?"

McKay's head still sported the lump from his tumble, and his eye was beginning to show a bit of a shiner on that side. "Last question: Did you and me, I mean the other Rodney," McKay jerked his thumb over his own shoulder as though the other McKay were standing in a nearby corner, "ever become friends? I mean more than just casual ones; more than work-mates?"

Sheppard wished he could take the time to enjoy and share some of the flood of memories that affirmed it. "What the hell is this McKay?"

"Just answer the question."

" Yes." He said, "We become best buddies actually - not the kissing kind but..."

McKay cocked his head, looking for the lie. "Yeah? Best bud's? Really?"

"Really." Sheppard was fuming but his eyes were sincere. It was after all true. "Now what the hell are you doing?"

"I wish I could go with you, John." McKay said his eyes suddenly sad for all that he was going to miss. "But that section of shield that just buckled means the Gate won't stay open on Auto', I'll have to Dead-man switch it so you can go through."

"Bull shit! Come on Rodney. Just drop this barrier and we'll figure out something together."

McKay bit his lip and turned away. "There's no time. I've got to dial the Gate or we're both dead."

"Rodney, you can't do this! My McKay would never have given up this easily."

"I'll bet he wasn't fighting the clock."

Sheppard skimmed his eyes all over the tiny shield that had him trapped, wondering how in the hell McKay had pulled it off at the last possible minute and then remembering that they, which had amounted to many people over the years, never called Rodney a genius to feed his already swollen ego. It just so happened to be true.

Sheppard saw no weakness in the steady shimmer of the field which contained him, preventing him from hoisting McKay over his shoulder and dragging him through the Gate to safety as well. "Rodney, you shut this damn thing off right now. That's an order!"

"I'm not your Rodney, John." He reminded him and turned back with an expression wistful of the fondness that might have been, had Fate lent a hand. Already that thread of familiarity and of friendship was blossoming in his eyes and reaching out its tendrils between the two men. "But it's nice to know I might have been. Thanks for being your Rodney's friend. He may not say it much, but I bet he really loves you a lot only, you know, maybe not in the kissing way."

Sheppard tried to swallow the coarse lump that had suddenly lodged in his throat. "Rodney please don't do this." He had watched his friend in that other place and time slowly dying from invading parasites, bullets, ancient ascension machines gone wild and once, just once, had spent agonising hours trying not to imagine him slowly being suffocated and crushed in a downed Jumper on the bottom of the ocean. His Rodney had escaped drowning that time by only minutes. Minutes!

It takes no time at all to go out that way, and it is not a pleasant way. Alone, cold, scared out of your mind, wishing only for rescue while fighting the hopelessness that seeps in from every crack in your armour. "McKay – Rodney! – goddamnit! Please listen to m-"

"No time John." McKay was once again at the control room consol. "The shield is about to fail. I'm activating the Gate."

Behind him the Gate whirled to life and John watched at the ZedPM get sucked into the glassy puddle, that flat illusion of water that was in fact the demarcation between time and here, and timeless and - if he was lucky or if this Rodney's miracle-work had been done correctly -

Home.

"Stop stalling John and get your ass moving! Can't you hear it – the shield is failing all over the city now exponentially! The water's going to-"

Just at Rodney's word, a wall of icy ocean smashed through the beautiful stained glass that flanked the Control room, and Rodney ducked to avoid the flying shards and gripped at the consol with all his might to keep from being washed from his feet so he could keep the Gate open another precious few seconds.

Sheppard watched helplessly as his old-new friend stared down at him with resignation. There was something else, too, in the expression that Sheppard could now place. Death was coming for the scientist he could call his friend and in that moment it came to Sheppard in a flash that in any universe or time-line or chance turning of the cards he and Rodney McKay would have ended up that way; closer than family, more cared over than brothers, each willing to go to any lengths for the other.

Willing to die.

Rodney smiled a bit ironically, waving down to Sheppard before the water took him away in a surge of a hundred white, frothy paws.

Feeling like he had somehow let his friend down by living, Sheppard never-the-less waved and turned his face to the Gate. Rodney had looked at peace.

The shield around him suddenly dropped and Sheppard, fighting back the urge to scream at the top of his lungs and seeing the water rushing down the stairs like a mad beast, grinding all chairs, tables and equipment in its maw and gunning its death-dealing hands at him too, stepped back through the Gate...

And was home.

He turned and stared back at the puddle he had just stepped through from near death into life and tried to remember.

Surprisingly he could. All of it. Every talk, each nervous look at the clock, every twitch of his wispy eyebrows, the defiant lift of his chin, or the self satisfied smirk of his upturned mouth. All of his words, spoken in what had come to be their oh-so-familiar diction and tone were still present with him. The perpetually impatient, full-speed-ahead, chocolate loving, sleep deprived, enough nervous energy to fry a ZPM little blue-eyed scientist with the mouth that never stopped moving lived inside him right now.

But that Rodney was gone. Drowned like he had drowned once before, as though he hadn't mattered at all. But he had mattered; a very great deal he had mattered. He still did.

"Fuck you, you bitch." Sheppard said softly to Fate and her blood-thirsty wiles.

"Excuse me?" Someone said and Sheppard turned to face a wiry young fellow looking at him with some worry.

"Ah...nothing, nothing." Sheppard assured him with his patented smile of that said I'm cool-you're cool-everything's cool.

"Hey," he asked the young fellow, "Do you happen to know where Rodney is?"

The young man frowned but recognising the rank insignia on Sheppard's shirt spoke with a bit more formality than initially. "I'm sorry - who, sir?"

"Rodney McKay." When the young man continued to frown and then shook his head, Sheppard tried harder. "Doctor Rodney McKay." He held out his hand to the height of his own nose. "About yay high, blue eyes, always carrying a laptop..." He stopped when a terrible thought struck him. Suppose Rodney dying there meant something here was now other than it should be? Suppose the things that had been changed because of him being in the other time-line meant some things here had also changed because of his absence? "Never mind." Checking his watch Sheppard started walking to where he knew Rodney would most likely be this time of day.

The young fellow turned when Elizabeth Weir approached. "Was that Colonel Sheppard?"

He looked fresh faced and Weir realised he was nervous. "Um, yes, I mean I think it was him." He asked "Do you know A Doctor McKay? He was asking about him."

"Oh," Weir nodded, "You're new here aren't you?"

"Yes ma'am. I just transferred this afternoon."

"I see. Well to answer your question we do have a Doctor McKay, yes, plus a host of other scientists you'll soon come to know an possibly choose to avoid." She smiled at her own joke but when he didn't laugh she cleared her throat. "Yes, well, I guess you'll have to have been here a while to appreciate...um, never mind. Carry on."

XXX

Sheppard passed people in the corridors who knew who he was and so spoke this or that greeting to him. Sheppard nodded to some but then hurried his steps a bit. Atlantis seemed bigger than he remembered. Others called out his name and he ignored them.

Time seemed to be marching too slowly. He began to jog.

Then he ran.

XXX

Rounding the corner and into his lab, out of breath and his face as pale as his powdered donut, Sheppard skidded to a halt.

Rodney looked up from his laptop to see the colonel staring at him, his eyes fixed, his limbs unmoving. The side-arm was still strapped to his pants and his uniform was still off-world issue but now wrinkled and stained with sweat. "Uh, hi." Rodney said and took a bite of what the kitchen staff had promised would be "authentic tasting sugar donuts". McKay begged to differ but they weren't all bad either. "Wah-ub?" He asked through a mouth-full of sweet cake goodness.

Sheppard swallowed, took a breath and straightened his feet into something more resembling Sheppard casual. "Uh, nothing. I...I just got back."

Rodney frowned. "Mmm hm." He held out the sugary half-eaten thing to the flustered looking Sheppard "Wan-sum?" He managed a hard and hearty swallow. "They're pretty good."

Sheppard shook his head. "No thanks. " He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "I think I'll go do the post mission check thing and maybe see you in a bit."

Rodney nodded. "Okay." But at Sheppard's quickened breaths a suspicious frown creased his powder-sprinkled face. "Mission go okay?"

Sheppard nodded but it was difficult to look at Rodney at that moment. In his mind the other's face...but that had all happened a long time ago. Didn't it? "Yeah, sure...no big deal. Say, you maybe wanna' grab some dinner, after my mission briefing? Say at eighteen-hundred in my quarters?"

Rodney nodded. "In your quarters?" The suspicious face was back.

"Sure. Why not?" Sheppard cleared his throat as the pounding in his chest receded to the background. "Something wrong with my quarters?" That was better. More authentically Sheppard. "Besides I've got a bottle of the good stuff hidden away somewhere." The one he had stumbled upon and pilfered a few months ago from one of the storage units. A bottle of bourbon someone had ordered in from Earth and then forgotten about and over which he hadn't been able to resist a taste, and since it was open, well, he couldn't very well put it back. So he'd moved it to a better hiding place, Colonel's privilege after all, one that was not his quarters.

Now not so suspiciously - "Oh. What's the occasion?"

Sheppard blinked. "You need a reason? Okay...how about, mm...Atlantis...life...good days...good friends...?"

"Fine-fine, you sold me but can we make it eighteen-thirty? I've got to finish this."

Sheppard had to ask "What are you working on?" My genius friend. My very, very good friend.

"I figured a way to strengthen the shield beneath Atlantis, keep the water back in case a storm surge swamps the city."

"That's a good idea Rodney."

Rodney perked up and talked more, as he did whenever anyone made the mistake of showing the faintest interest in his projects. "Only thing is I gotta' find a way to distribute the shield to do that without compromising the ZedPM's reserves."

Sheppard nodded, the ach in his heart at the other Rodney's death easing at this Rodney's full-blooded lust for life. "You'll find a way, Rodney. You always do."

That seemed to startle his Rodney just a little as though the complement was so out of left field he would never have expected it or seen it coming. "Well...thanks."

Sheppard nodded. "I'll see you later."

XXX

"Let me get this straight. Instead of meeting the General, you got sent to another Atlantis and met another Rodney McKay? The McKay who drowned, just like old-lady Weir told us?"

"In a nutshell." Sheppard was feeling good. "And ya' might want to not use the term "old-lady" around our Elizabeth." The bottle was half gone and they had only just finished eating steak. Not actual beef steak but something that approximated enough to have been juicy and delicious.

Rodney had finished off his plate first and was now scarfing down on another powdered-sugar donut. "Weird."

Sheppard yawned. "Not so much weird as..." He considered. "Yeah, weird fits it I guess."

"What was the other Rodney like besides being the hero and dying trying to save everyone?"

"Other than that, a lot like you."

"Very funny." Rodney seemed disappointed and Sheppard spoke quickly to dispel it. "Trust me, Rodney, that's a good thing. He was younger than you of course 'cause by our calendar this all happened a long time ago, so he had more hair, and weighed a bit less."

A bit jealous of his other, younger self - "I have to sit on my job a lot."

"I know. Anyway, it's all in my report."

"So he couldn't save himself huh? Did he fuck it up really badly?"

"Maybe just a little for a minute or two, but don't hold it against him, he saved my life." Sheppard had kept the best for last. "He was brilliant and - I'm pretty sure - gay."

Rodney's mouth dropped to a new low. "What? I am not!"

"Him, Rodney, not you."

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, with all the possible scenarios playing out across time, I suppose one gay Rodney is to be expected."

"That part is not in my report." Sheppard agreed.

"Thank God for that."

"And neither is the part where Rodney McKay is a good kisser." Sheppard said and yawned, leaned back in his stuffed chair and clasped his hands behind his head. Relaxing after a good meal with his best friend in the ancient lost city of Atlantis on an alien planet in the Pegasus galaxy. Sometimes, not often, but just sometimes life was that good. "I mean him, not you."

Rodney's eyes bugged out of their sockets so much Sheppard would have bet against them ever returning to their nests. "He kissed you?" Rodney exclaimed. His voice had gone up a full octave.

Sheppard grinned wickedly. "What can I say Rodney, but then who wouldn't?"

"Oh please."

A strangely comfortable quiet settled around them. Rodney looked around once, looked at his wrist watch and coughed. He then stood up though making no move toward the door. "Sorry. I guess I've kept you up late talking about this. Well, glad you're back safe. See you tomorrow."

"Thanks Rodney." Sheppard heaved himself to sore feet and saw his friend to his door. "Hey Rodney..." His Rodney, his friend, his buddy who had saved his life, who had died for him. Rodney McKay, his best friend for all time.

Times.

"Yeah?"

For the first time ever, Sheppard took his best friend into a bear hug and let him know for certain that they were not just acquaintances, not just work-mates or team-mates. Each was one part, at least one remarkably meshed part, of the other. Both knew it, even though neither had ever said it aloud. But Sheppard knew it, possibly for the first time since they had met, that they were for each other in death and in life. They were for real. They were for lives-long. In any event of life or loss each would be there for each other.

Or either would die trying to be.

If there were genetics to explain genius or even dark, rakish good looks Sheppard had no idea. He wasn't sure and it didn't matter. "I'm glad you were there, buddy." He said.

But of one thing he now felt certain. No doubt about it at all...

There was a gene for loyalty.

XXX END