Jul. 22nd, 2008 08:50 am
Characters: Rodney McKay
Warnings: Language, dark fic, spoilers for 4.20
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Word Count: 2,096
Beta: mgbutterfly, who completes me. And my fics.
Summary: Everything has a price. Rodney can't pay this one.
Author's Note: Because I can't stop thinking about time paradoxes, and how they never work out well. Also, I blame the preview for Watchmen for this completely, somehow.
The pang of regret as he tosses another notebook into the roaring fireplace is a surprise.
Rodney hadn't expected to feel regret, but there it is, a dull throb beneath the exhaustion and the determination that have kept him going this long. For a moment he pauses, staring at the orange flames licking around blackening paper, watching equations in his own cramped handwriting as they dissolve to ash.
There is a beauty to the math, even as it is consumed. Rodney can read the application, just looking at it he can grasp its shape and purpose, though he doubts anyone else could. It's impressive, what he's managed to do in the one short year since he threw himself headlong onto this course.
Rodney turns back to look at the other him, the man still staring in shocked disbelief in the doorway to this cramped little house. The heat of the flames warms Rodney's back and he waves the other him impatiently in, distracted when he says, "I was wondering when you'd get home. Your schedule says your last class ended at five."
The other him looks worn down, they are mirrors of each other in that as well. The dark circles under his eyes, the deepening lines around his mouth, the hunch of his shoulders, it is all identical. The other him steps in and closes the door, staring around his trashed house, mouth working before he manages to say, "I had office hours afterwards. Who are you? What are you doing?"
Rodney shrugs, "It's a long story," he rights one of the chairs that he had upended earlier to make sure the other him wasn't hiding any formulas under the seat. "Sit down," and then, before he forgets, "Did you bring in any outside consultants? Have you sent any of your work to Jeannie?"
For a moment the other him just stares, and then the man sits down, tugging his tie loose and rubbing his forehead when he says, "No, I—I barely have an idea of what I'm trying to do, yet. Anyone else would just be a distraction." He looks tired enough to fall asleep in the chair.
Rodney nods, and then tosses the hard drives he had found around the house into the flames. The other him is out of his seat in a second, shouting, "What the hell do you think you—" When Rodney sighs and draws his sidearm, leveling it on the other him's forehead, the man goes silent.
They just stare at each other, the other him not matching Rodney's tight smile. He's surprised to find that his glare really is kind of intimidating, blue eyes gone cold and hard when the other him grinds out, "I don't know what the fuck you think you're doing, but that information you're destroying? Is highly important and—"
"And it's to bring Sheppard back, isn't it?"
The other him's mouth snaps shut, and the wash of pain across his features is not hidden or fast. The man crosses his arms, looking to the side and then back, voice rough, "Yes. And if you know that then I don't understand why you're destroying it."
Rodney blinks, because he'd thought that it would be obvious. It's annoying to have to explain things to the one other person that should be able to keep up with him. "Because you can't. Bring him back."
The other him jerks forward a step and Rodney tilts his head to the side, finger tightening on the trigger. He twists his mouth up into the best smile he can manage, just so the other man doesn't think that it's anything personal.
When the other him speaks, he's all anger and frustration, "Yes, I can. I mean, I'm just in the beginning stages, and I know it's going to take time, but I can do it. I have to do it." The man shakes his head, rubbing at his eyes, going on like he can't stop himself, like it's a litany, "It's the only way. It's the only way to save them all."
Rodney laughs. He doesn't mean to, but he can't seem to stop himself. After all that he's done, after all he's seen, after everything that's happened to drive him here, to realize that the other him doesn't understand at all is too much.
By the time he contains himself, the other him is staring at Rodney like he's crazy. Rodney might be. He rubs his cheek against his shoulder, his voice coming out flat and tight, "You can't save them. They died, and you can't bring them back, not really. Neither can I. No one can. And trying? Trying is a big mistake. You should have listened to Jennifer."
The other him stares, eyes huge, face drained of color. He's echoing Rodney's tone when he speaks, "You don't know that."
Rodney laughs again. There's all this pressure in his chest with nowhere else to go, an impossible weight that's been crushing down on him for so damn long. "But I do. I know everything. Because, you see, while you were watching Ronon and Teyla and Jennifer die over here? I was watching Ronon and Teyla and Jennifer and Sam and Carson and Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy die over there."
For a beat there's silence, and then the other him says, frowning, "I don't understand."
Rodney sighs, gestures with his free hand, looking for the words. He'd rehearsed everything about this so many times inside his head, except for this part. He hadn't wanted there to be a 'this part'. He should have come at night, while the other man was sleeping, but that hadn't seemed right, and he hadn't been able to make himself go through with it.
Rodney's mouth feels dry when he finally collects his thoughts, "That's okay. I didn't either. Not at first. Sheppard didn't...didn't tell me what had happened in your world. Not until after they all died." Rodney has to close his eyes briefly at the thought of the conversation, Sheppard trying to explain as Rodney tried to keep the broken Apollo together long enough for them to limp back to the Milky Way.
When Rodney opens his eyes, the other him is a step closer, hand extended towards the gun, and Rodney tsks, shaking his finger. The other him opens his mouth, Rodney talks over him, "But that doesn't matter. I'd already suspected where you went wrong. It was an honest mistake. I'm not surprised you missed it."
"What are you talking about? If you know a mistake you should have just told me, and I could have corrected the design, there was no need to, to, to burn everything." The other him has his hands balled up into fists, a bead of sweat running down the side of his face. They really do look a lot alike. Two sides of the same coin, dark and light, destruction and rebirth. Rodney wonders, absently, if they would meld into one being if they touched. He doesn't try to test the theory.
Rodney shakes his head, "No, you aren't listening. Sending John back was the mistake."
For a long time there's silence, save for the hungry crackling of the flames. The other him is staring at him, wide eyed, mouth open. Rodney feels sorry for him, maybe even feels empathy for him somewhere. They've both lost so much.
The other him finally manages, "What? No, I have to send John back. I can tell him where Teyla is, and we can save her, we can save all of them and—"
"Teyla dies in an attack on Atlantis a month after she did in your universe. She had been checking out a weird sound, and went out of radio contact. When we found her they'd already cored her." Rodney can still see her eyes, wide open and blank. He can still smell the sour-salty scent of her blood, the even fouler smell of her shredded organs.
Now the other him is just gaping, mouth hanging open. Rodney fills the silence, feeling so tired it's hard to keep the gun up, "Sam dies in an explosion from a piece of Ancient tech that was supposed to be dormant back on Earth. Ronon gets fed on by a Wraith. Jennifer dies of a fast moving cancer. You didn't save them, you just postponed their deaths, and ended up killing a whole bunch of other people along the way."
The other him sits down heavily in the chair, raising one hand to cover his mouth. His voice is muffled, thick and tormented, "Oh, God." When he looks up his eyes are shiny, and he looks like he might be about to get sick. He sounds it too, "We can—we can send more information with John, we can still save them."
Rodney barks out a laugh, sharp and cut off in his chest, "No! Aren't you listening? They die, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. Believe me, I know how hard that is to accept. I've—it doesn't matter." He pulls the hammer back on the gun, "I can't let you send John back."
The other him shakes his head, croaks out, "But it's John," like that explains everything, and, because they're the same person, it does.
Rodney jerks his chin up, squeezing his eyes shut for a long moment, fighting for each word around the pressure in his throat, "I know." His eyes burn when he opens them.
For a moment they stare at each other, and then the other him rubs a hand over his face, gesturing with his other hand, already trying to come up with a plan, "But if they...if we can't save them anyway, can't we at least save him? If they die anyway, can't we..." He trails off, staring down at his hands, the crescents he's dug into his palms with his nails.
Rodney readjusts his grip on the gun, gone loose in his sweaty palm, "No. No, we can't. Because the John you send back? It isn't my John. It's—he's from your universe. He doesn't belong in mine, he's not shaped right to fit the space for him. He..." Rodney waves the gun, trying to find the words he needs, "He warps things. He doesn't follow the same laws that govern everything else. He can—" Rodney cuts himself off, squeezing his eyes shut briefly and breathing through the tension in his chest. "He can't be there. His presence already destroyed the Pegasus galaxy. And most of the Milky Way. The few of us left are holed up on Earth, but we're not going to last. The world will burn."
When the other him looks up, his expression is set and stubborn, his voice angry, "Then let it burn."
All Rodney can do is stare, seeing all the death and destruction he's waded through to get this far. They've lost billions. He can feel each death dragging down on his shoulders. His voice is flat. "I can't. I won't. If you'd seen the flames, you wouldn't either."
There's silence. Something in the fireplace burns with a tight whine. The other him finally sighs, and pushes to his feet, crossing his arms and raising his chin, sneering, "And what? Now you're going to kill me? Abandon John to a slow death of dehydration? And how exactly do you plan to live with yourself after that?"
Rodney blinks, and then shrugs, "Who said I was planning to live through this? We're too dangerous. Someone might get it into their head to make me bring him back. I might lose my mind and decide to do it myself. It's a risk I won't take."
"You're insane." The words are faint, almost disbelieving. Rodney thinks they might be true. But he feels sane, he's felt sane since the Pegasus fell behind them, the universe folding up on itself, trying to catch John between the collapsing folds.
Rodney manages another tight smile, "For what it's worth, I'm sorry it had to be like this."
The other him says, voice breaking around the words, "Please, just put the gun down."
And Rodney whispers, "No." And pulls the trigger.
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