Victim of the Time

Bernice

Alpha Reader: millifiore who made some excellent suggestions, most of which I used. She's worth $50!

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"It makes happen… what has already happened," McKay said with a frown.

"What?"

"It makes happen… oh, look," Rodney snapped irritably. "We really need Elizabeth to translate this. She's better at translating Ancient than I am," McKay dismissed his lack of knowledge with an annoyed flick of his hand. Anything he didn't know he didn't consider worth knowing.

"Makes happen. What do you think that means?" Sheppard ran his hands over the odd, stasis-tube shaped artefact they were investigating.

"Well, it appears to be some kind of time machine – don't play with that! Stop touching it. And I'm assuming… by what's written here, it consolidates time lines. Leave it alone."

"Relax, McKay, it's not even on. It looks dead," Sheppard quirked a teasing eyebrow at McKay, as he continued to poke at the machine they'd found in the depths of Atlantis while McKay frowned at the writing on the walls. A time machine could be exactly what they needed to fight the Wraith. Perhaps it was similar to the one in the jumper that Elizabeth used to travel back ten thousand years. With something like that, John could get in and stop himself and Sumner waking the Wraith. Now that would be cool. "But what does consolidate time lines mean? Is it a time machine or not? Can we use it to go back and change the past?"

"No, not according to this. I'm not sure what the purpose of this machine is yet, if it's even still viable, like you said it could be inert. According to what I can make out here, it doesn't change anything, it simply… aligns… aligns the fates? Aligns the events? Why couldn't the Ancients make anything simple? Everything has to be so…"

"Complicated?" he stood inside the tube and watched McKay through the slightly opaque walls.

"I was going to say 'esoteric'. But yes, complicated works."

"So, I couldn't get in this, and say… travel back in time twenty years or so, Rodney?" John said, but by the time he got to 'Rodney' he wasn't in Atlantis anymore.


----

…"Rodney…?" Okay, so apparently it wasn't dead technology after all.

John turned in a full circle, surveying the dark bricks of the alley where he'd landed. "Twenty years?" he muttered to himself, "and how many light years across space?" because it was obvious he hadn't just gone back in time to Atlantis 18 years before they'd arrived, but he that was now back on earth. The rich smell of rising damp, distant pizza, and a nearby dumpster made it all too real to be an illusion or some kind of holographic projection.

But this wasn't anywhere he recognised. Twenty years ago he'd been… he couldn't actually remember which school he'd been in, since they rarely stayed anywhere more than a few months, but he was pretty sure he'd never been eighteen and standing in this particular dank alley.

Where he was, though, wasn't the biggest problem, but when. If he had, rather stupidly, sent himself back in time twenty years, the biggest problem was now how to get back.

And the worst of that was that the only person he knew that he could trust to get him to return to twenty years in the future was… twenty years in the future.

He walked into the noise and bustle of a main street, ignoring the people who looked at him askance in his uniform, and someone, obviously very confused, yelled out: "Hello, sailor!" and John nodded and smiled at them. Maybe they were drunk. He hoped he didn't meet anyone who demanded ID for his carrying a conspicuous side arm – already people were looking at that with nervous curiosity.

There were not a lot of possibilities that John could think of at the moment. He couldn’t go to the SGC, because he was pretty sure they didn't exist yet. Or, if they did, not only did he not know how to contact them, but he wasn't all that sure they'd believe him anyway. Daniel Jackson would probably believe him, but what use was a teenage anthropologist? Jack O'Neill, whatever rank he was at the current moment, would probably have him shot on sight.

The air force wouldn't recognise him, in fact most official organisations would probably just arrest him or lock him up for being insane. His family weren't an option, and he really didn't have any friends who'd be any use in this situation anyway. There was no way John could get back to Atlantis and get into the machine again, so he had to find a way to reverse the process. Somehow.

It all came down to Rodney McKay. As usual. John sighed to himself; he was placing his life and health in the hands of the same genius as always. All he could hope was that Rodney, even a Rodney who was probably only 16 years old, would be able to solve this problem. No matter how old, he was still probably the smartest guy on the planet. John tried to remember what he could of Rodney's childhood revelations – by 16 Rodney was… what? No, in year six Rodney had built an atomic bomb and ended up working for the FBI. Or was it CIA? CIA, John thought, wishing he'd paid more attention to Rodney's ramblings. But he wouldn't be actually working in the CIA at that point. At least John knew which school Rodney would be in; he'd seen the certificates on the wall. By 16 Rodney was working on a Ph.D or a masters or something, and he was, John hoped, at Northwestern University.

A few minutes in a phone booth with the phone book provided, and John had an address. Directions from some passers-by gave him the way to go, and within fifteen minutes, John was standing outside the University and asking at the main info desk for the Physics department. The fact he'd wound up so close to Rodney's University pretty much confirmed that he had, by saying 'twenty years or so, Rodney', wound up in Rodney's past, not his own. Those Ancient artefacts could be so picky.

By asking questions around the Physics building John found that a lot of the people there, students and faculty, had heard of Rodney McKay, very few were surprised to find out the military was looking for him, even fewer seemed to like him, and most were content to believe that John was there to recruit McKay and take him out of the school and their lives and were happy to point out the dorm room where McKay was assigned.

Answering John's knock, though, was an enormously tall young man with curly black hair, who called himself 'Bobby' and looked John up and down with an almost clinical interest. When John asked where Rodney was, the man ducked back into the tiny, messy room he apparently shared with McKay, and wrote on a slip of paper the address for a street near the same damned alley where John had materialised in the first place.

"He's working."

That took John by surprise, he didn't think McKay would have ever needed to get some part time student type job, not the way he bragged about how smart he was. He'd always thought, if he'd even given it a thought, that McKay would have had a free ride on scholarships. "Do you have a business name? The shop where he works?"

"No. You'll see him. Just go there and wait. It's Tuesday and the judge usually drops him off around six," then the door was slammed shut in John's face.

So John ended up right back where he'd started, leaning against the wall near the entry to an alley way, with people walking past giving him weird looks. He tried to lean as nonchalantly as possible, smiling and nodding to those who stared, as if he had every right in the world to be there, but that just earned him more suspicious glares. It wasn't hard to work out why, either, as he was being approached, he thought, by just about every street walker in the city.

And quite a few people appeared to think he was a street walker, as well. As he was given the hairy eyeball, yet again, by some guy cruising slowly in a car, he snapped out: "What, the gun isn't a big enough clue? I'm not a hooker!" and the guy revved his engine and sped off.

John wondered whether he should look into the coffee shop across the road, although he couldn’t see McKay selling coffee. If anything, he'd drink all the profits, insult all the customers, stuff his pockets full of muffins and be fired within an hour of starting. There wasn't, as far as John could see, a computer supply shop or video store in the area, and those were the types of places he could envisage a young McKay hanging out. Insulting customers, still, but at least he'd enjoy what he was doing. Then again, John wondered, were there computer shops and video stores in the mid 80s? He tried to remember his own teenage years, and decided that those things were probably just becoming popular about the time he was in high school, and McKay was only a year or so younger than himself, so those things made sense.

He turned down yet another offer of company, as politely as he could manage through gritted teeth, and had just decided to be more proactive in his hunt, when he turned to catch sight of a car disgorging one of the skinniest teens he'd seen in a while. T-shirt sleeves rolled up in a style John had been happy to see left back in the 80s, acid wash jeans that did nothing to flatter someone so thin, blond hair in a scruffy do like something off M-TV.

It wasn't until the young man walked closer and looked directly at John, only one side of his face crumpling into a lopsided smile that John even recognised him.

"Woah… hey…" John stuttered in surprise. Had McKay ever been that thin? That blond? That… dominated by eyebrows? McKay had definitely grown into his eyebrows over the past twenty years, never mind at least doubled the width across his shoulders. He was kind of hot in a gawky, teen boy kind of way, not quite as markedly lopsided, but not quite… fully Rodney yet, John thought. Kind of proto-Rodney.

"Woah, hey, yourself," young Rodney said, looking John up and down and not losing the smile. And that was weird in itself, McKay never smiled that easily, and not at people he didn't know.

"I… uh… need to speak to you," John said, not quite over his surprise. It occurred to him that his brilliant idea of getting McKay's help probably wasn't so great. Sure, McKay had always told him that he'd been a genius even at this young age, but he looked so… different, with his knife edge cheekbones and full head of hair. There was no way this dishevelled young guy was going to be any help with Ancient Technology, time travel, or getting John back home.

Perhaps it was time John looked into living like a king in the past on gambling winnings from remembered sports games and fights. Who said Back to the Future couldn't teach important life lessons?

"Sure," McKay nodded, and jerked his head to one side. "This way. Unless you have a hotel room or a car…?"

"Er, no car," John said, casually, trying to maintain his cool at McKay's words. This wasn't good. He didn't want this in his head. Not this.

He made to catch up, but Rodney hissed at him: "Don't walk beside me, walk a few steps behind, you idiot," and he let himself lag, oddly comforted by the fact he'd just been called an idiot. Even twenty years in the past, Rodney was still Rodney.

He followed, the requested distance behind, into what appeared to be a deserted factory. The whole place was covered in graffiti, but at least it smelled fairly clean – it kind of looked like the type of place John expected would smell like pee.

McKay grinned at him again, grabbing his arm and pulling him into a room with no doors and incompetently boarded up windows. Other than a few dried up paint cans and a couple of foam mattresses, it was empty, with only a few shafts of light coming through the window in jagged lines, and walls that proclaimed that a great many people had 'been there', leaving phone numbers and badly illustrated pictures of primary sexual characteristics.

"So," Rodney said, tilting his head in a coquettish manner that the adult McKay could certainly never pull off as he pulled John to sit down on the mattresses with him. "You wanted to… talk?"

"Yeah, so, this is going to sound kind of crazy…" John started.

"That's fine, I have no problem with crazy. Fifty dollars."

"Fifty dollars?"

"Yeah, you can get as crazy as you want, you know, but well, not totally crazy, I mean, you can't start punching me or anything, and I'm not going to do everything, there are some limits, but yeah, fifty dollars. Up front."

John felt his stomach land in his boots, "I'd kind of been hoping you weren't a hustler."

"And I was kind of hoping that my parents would pay my school fees before all my of my university scholarships kicked in, but hey, we can't all get the pony we've always wished for, can we? Fifty dollars."

"Look, I just need to talk to you."

"Talk, suck, fuck, whatever, fifty dollars. You want to talk dirty, I can talk dirty, er, bitch."

"Don’t, Rodney. That just sounds weird coming from you."

"How did you know my name?" McKay suddenly shed his somewhat unconvincing 'streetwise' slouch, dropping his shoulders and lifting his chin nervously.

"I uh, okay, this is where the crazy comes in. I'm from the future."

McKay's eyes opened wide briefly, but he just nodded.

"We… know each other. In the future. I was sent back in time by accident, and I'm hoping that you can help me get back where I belong."

McKay continued to just look at him, interested and polite. It was freaky. McKay was never interested in or polite to other people.

"So, we… know each other," McKay put an emphasis on 'know' that could have been intended to be obscene, but from him just sounded sceptical.

McKay made a show of looking John up and down, eyes lingering on the gun.

"I'm in the air force. Lieutenant Colonel," John said, perfectly aware he sounded smug as he pointed to his Colonel stripes.

"I'm not," McKay said, pointedly.

"No, of course you're-"

"Because no matter how desperate I get, I'm not joining the military. I don’t care if they offer scholarships, I'd rather suck dick than join the army."

"Hey!" John was pretty offended by that. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to serve your country!"

"I'm just saying. If you're here to recruit me, forget it. I've told you guys before-"

"I'm not here to recruit you! But aren't you supposed to be working with the CIA or something by now?"

"How do you know about that?" McKay eyed him suspiciously.

"I told you, we know each other, we work together. You tell me stuff about yourself. Look, you're a genius, right?"

"Right," McKay gave him a brilliant smile at that. "Probably the most brilliant person you'll ever meet!"

"Yes, you are. Smartest person in two… in the world," John confirmed, content to flatter McKay's ego if it kept him on track. He knew he couldn't lose his temper and yell at young Rodney, or he would be out of here like a bullet from a gun.

"Cool!"

"You're an astrophysicist, specialising in Ancient… in all sorts of things, with multiple doctorates…"

"I do? I mean, not that I believe this bulldust, but you know, it's still good to hear. Just in case it's real. Because, you know, I am somewhat concerned, I mean, I know I'm smart enough to do it, but just trying to get the money together to pay all the fees and food and rent and stuff until the scholarships come through, and I don't know why they have to make me wait for them, it's not like I'm getting any younger here, and it was hard enough making the money to pay my undergraduate fees, because no one will give a well paying job to a twelve year old, and I mean, I'm almost sixteen and I should have finished my Doctorate by now, but no, they keep jerking me around and-"

"And you're probably the only person who can figure out how to get me back to my time, okay?"

Rodney pointed his fingers at John. "Okay, so you're the hot air force Colonel, and I'm the brilliant astrophysicist."

"Yes!" John said triumphantly.

"Fifty dollars."

"What?"

"Whatever game you want to play, it's fifty dollars. I don't have a white coat or whatever, I mean, I do, but it's back at the school, but you're already in costume, so hey, we can pretend, right? I'm not so great at role play, I usually start to laugh inappropriately, and I get this twitch, but-"

"Rodney! This isn't a sex game! I'm serious! I'm stuck back twenty years in the past and I have no idea how to get back to my own time and if I don't get back there the space vampires will probably kill everyone."

"Space vampires?" McKay looked almost sad as John said something so outrageous no one could role play it.

"Yes. Okay, they're not actually vampires, they suck the life out of people, but yeah, okay, that was probably too much information all at once, so just ignore that, but I'm stuck here. Look," John dug out his wallet and found the small amount of cash he kept there on the possibility he would go back to earth sometime, and maybe need a taxi from the SGC or just to get some junk food, but mostly because it was just habit to always have a few greenbacks in his pocket. "Here's $20. I'll give you the rest when you help me, okay?"

"Cool!" McKay grabbed the money and jammed it into his jeans pocket eagerly, eyeing the few bills that remained in John's wallet.

"Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope!" John tried, making puppy dog eyes at McKay.

"Oh, you're kidding me," McKay gave him a dirty look. "I'm supposed to fall for a line like that?"

"What? I know you love that stuff. No, wait, you prefer Star Trek, right? Hey, look," John turned his head to the side, "Pointy ears!" What the heck, Rodney was always teasing him about his Vulcan ears, why not cash in on them to try and get McKay's trust.

"Yes, yes, very cute. Put those away before you put someone's eye out. So, talk, I'm going to need more information if I'm to help you with your crazy, wacked out delusion and get the rest of the money you owe me."

"Oh, you're just as sweet and polite now as you are in my time. I bet you get a lot of repeat customers!"

"Oh, low blow!" McKay looked genuinely offended. "I'll have you know I'm very good at everything I do!"

"Oh, sure. I bet you're still a virgin."

"Hey, look at the size of my mouth," McKay pointed and grimaced widely, "I can suck a dick sideways!"

"Argh," John stuck his fingers in his ears, "I don't need to hear that, McKay! I have to work with you in the future! Don't tell me things like that! I'm having enough trouble dealing with the fact you're a… you know… as it is."

"Prostitute?"

"Yes, thanks for being so blunt. I thought you liked women, anyway!"

"How many women do you see lining up to pay for sex?" McKay waved his arms around to point out the complete lack of horny women with open cheque books. "I like women just fine," McKay illustrated a basic hour glass shape in the air, heavy on the boobs, "but I like guys, too. They're… enthusiastic."

"Okay, I don't need to hear too much of this, thanks. You know, this is going to make things so awkward if I ever manage to get back to Atlantis."

"Atlantis? Atlantic City? Delta Hub? Great airport? Home of Coca Cola?"

"No, Atlantis, sunken city, Pegasus Galaxy. Home of aliens and, um, stuff."

"Oh, sure, you're not insane at all!"

"McKay-" Sheppard tried to put some threat into his voice, something that usually got McKay's attention.

"And the other reason I know that you're either insane or lying, which is a shame as you're really hot for a nut job, is because if you were from the future," McKay said, obviously not caring at all about John's attempt at sounding threatening, "you wouldn't tell me these things, because it would probably change the future!"

"You watch too much science fiction TV, McKay. From what I understood of what you told me before I came here, it doesn't matter what I do, because I've already done it. If I tell you anything that influences your future choices, that's okay, because you made those choices and got to the future where I came from because of them, so… yeah."

"Oh, how convenient, so you have complete carte blanch to change my future? What if… what if I was going to invent something really important, like a new clean energy source or something that saves thousands of lives!"

"You will."

"I will?" McKay suddenly looked a bit more interested in what Sheppard had to say. Of course, Sheppard realised, playing to McKay's ego was probably going to be the best way to go to get his co-operation.

"Yes. In the future you will be incredibly important to a lot of people. So will I. It's vital that I get back to the future so that you and I can continue being important and saving people's lives, okay?"

"Okay, so say I believe you and I’m not just humouring you because you're really hot and I want the rest of the money you owe me, how did you get here anyway?"

"Well, there was this device-"

"Did I build it?"

"No, you haven't invented a time machine. Yet. You found this one."

"So who did build it?"

"Right, well, this might be a bit hard to believe," John said, although he had a feeling that Rodney was pretty much on the same page as John now, despite his continuing protests, because something like this would be just irresistible to a mind as hungry for knowledge and new ideas as Rodney's.

"Because everything you've said has been so incredibly plausible up until now." Of course, John thought, Rodney still had to mouth off. Time for the big guns.

"You're allergic to citrus, you like cats, you used to have a dog but your father wouldn't pay for a licence and it got lost, you have a sister called Jeanie but you're not really all that close to her, and you used to play the piano but quit because you didn't think you were good enough and all that stuff about having 'no art' is utter crap because I know you and you're as much an artist as anyone I've ever known, you just can't stand not being the best at something. I know about you! I've worked with you for years, McKay. I know this sounds crazy, but just listen okay?"

McKay looked at him like he'd grown two heads, but he just muttered under his breath, "Still not buying it, but whatever."

"Thanks for giving in so gracefully. Anyway, there are these guys we call the Ancients. They were around about 10,000 years ago."

"The Neanderthals?"

"No, Homo sapiens like us, but from another galaxy."

"Oh sure, yeah, evolution be damned, hmm?"

"Shut up, McKay, we're the second evolution. Or something."

"So humans existed before humans existed, right, got it."

"Yeah, well, something like that," Sheppard rubbed his temples where he could feel a headache starting. "So they had all this cool technology. We use it to travel to other planets and we've just found out how to get to another galaxy."

"Cool space ships?"

"Oh yeah, seriously cool."

"Aliens?"

"Yep, lots."

"How many heads?"

"Oh, no, they all look human. Well, not all, mostly though. I mean, there were these guys all made of mist, and we've met a few odd ones. Actually, there are also these snake guys, but that's not important, yeah, most are human looking."

"I bet they're all really hot and speak English, too."

"Um, yeah, something like that. I'm not sure about the English thing, though, it's something to do with going through the Stargate, it changes your brain so that you understand what other people are saying."

"Not a universal translator, then? Or a babble fish in the ear?"

"You're never going to believe me, are you?" John sighed.

"Nope, probably not. Maybe. I mean, it's really cool, though, even if it's nuts. At least you're not asking to spank me or something, though. But we've been at this a while, I think your $20 is starting to run out and no, I still don’t really believe any of this. You know how utterly improbable it all is? Time travelling air force pilots who talk to aliens and snakes that walk through galaxy gates? Not exactly making a lot of scientific sense here."

"You're the one who understands this stuff, not me! I just… go along with it. Anything I need to know about the Stargates or how it all works I just ask you. You're the expert in this stuff!"

"I am?" Even if he claimed didn't believe it, McKay was perking up at being called an expert in something. John was sure he had Rodney hooked now.

"Foremost expert in Ancient technology on Earth, yes. That's why… I mean, you have to have some propensity for understanding this stuff even if you don't believe me. You love this stuff, you take to all these alien technologies like a duck to water, I just need… some sort of insight or I don't know, just try, okay?"

McKay silently held out his hands, showing them empty, no technology, no science at his finger tips, nothing that he could offer John in the way of aid.

"I'm stuck, aren't I?" John finally said. "I guess… I do know how a lot of football games play out in the future, I could gamble on those, get some fake ID. Maybe this is what's meant to be. Maybe this is what really happened, I never do go back. Maybe I just stay here, stop you selling yourself, get you on the right track or something."

"I'm on the right track! I'm doing fine. What I do is none of your business!"

"Sorry, I don't mean to sound judgemental, I'm sure you're doing what you have to in order to survive. But seriously, McKay, why don’t you get a job in McDonald's or something?"

"What, at three dollars an hour? Do you know how brilliant I am? I'm not wasting my brains on something like that! I have a few steady clients and I can make $200 an hour catering to a couple of kinky old guys with a schoolboy uniform fetish, although I've got to say that streetwalking can be a major waste of my valuable time," Rodney gave John a snide look, "so you don't get to judge me and what I do. I survive and if anything you've said is true then I'm going to be very important one day!"

"Yes, that's true, but do you know the damage syphilis will do to your brain? AIDS? You do know about AIDS, right?"

"Oh, be serious, I know how to use a condom, Colonel. I'm not a complete idiot."

"Yeah, it's none of my business, I guess." John sat quietly for a moment and thought about how much time he'd spent here and how hungry he was. If he was hungry, McKay would be about ready to eat his head. "Hey, can I buy you a burger?"

"Oh sure", McKay jumped to his feet. "That's the only thing you've said that doesn't sound completely nuts!"

John stood to follow him. "I just … I shouldn't have been playing with the time tube thing, I suppose. Maybe this will teach me listen when you tell me not to touch things."

"Hah, well, thirty more dollars and you can touch whatever you want," McKay winked over his shoulder. "Hey, are you my boyfriend in the future?"

"What? No!"

Rodney looked pissed at John's shocked denial, so John continued hastily. "I mean… I thought you were straight, anyway. You're always talking about this one woman…"

"What's she like?" Rodney asked eagerly.

"Tall, blonde, brilliant…"

"Oh, wow! Are we married? Are there kids? I don't like kids, really, but I think with a brain like mine I'm kind of obligated to pass on my genes for the benefit of society."

"No… actually, not to disappoint you, but I think it's all a bit one sided. You're a lot more keen on her than she is on you."

"Oh, well, that sucks. Am I like fat or something?"

"No, no, you're um…" John made a vague gesture. "Big shoulders. Big… You know. Arms."

"And you don’t go for guys with big shoulders?" Rodney asked with a grin.

"No, well, it's not just that, I mean, I like women. And anyway, the military doesn't-"

"Still? Even in the future? Well, that's disappointing. I always hoped that things would be better in the future, but I suppose racism and homophobia and violence and all that bad stuff, that's just part and parcel of humanity, isn't it? That's why people like me, brilliant people, should be encouraged more and supported, and not wasting our time having to support ourselves like this so that we have more time to solve all of humanity's problems."

"Well, I suppose if anyone is going to solve humanity's problems, it'd be you, Rodney," John said with a smirk.

"Stop humouring me, Colonel. It's completely unnecessary. I'm fully aware of my value."

"Fifty dollars."

"Shut up. Anyway, it's a shame your time tube thing didn't have a remote control or something. You'd think that people who travelled the galaxies would have some sort of fail safe involved."

"Most of their stuff did, I guess I didn't notice this time."

They walked together out of the building, and John followed McKay toward what he guessed was McKay's favourite diner.

"So how does their stuff usually work?"

"Well, usually I just think at it. Like, I think 'on' and it turns on, it responds to thoughts."

"Ah, voodoo, wand-waving, pseudo-science, no wonder you ended up stranded," Rodney said with a wave of his hand that said stupid things like that wouldn't happen if he was in charge of inventing the time machines. "Well, maybe that's all you have to do this time. I mean, maybe you don't have the technology in your hand, maybe it still responds to your thoughts. Maybe all you have to do is click your ruby heels together and think 'there's no place like home' and…"

John closed his eyes, listening to the pitch and squeak of McKay's voice and thought about that same voice a little deeper, and the room he'd been in, and smacked his face into something that wasn't quite plexiglass…

----

"Colonel!" Lieutenant Keller's voice was sharply surprised and obviously relieved.

John opened the door properly and stepped out of the time tube into the same laboratory in Atlantis.

"I'm home? I'm home." He gave a small wave to Lieutenant Keller and looked around, breathing a sigh of relief. "How long was I gone?"

"A few hours, Colonel, everyone's been panicking. McKay and the other scientists have been tearing through the data base trying to find a way to get you home again. I'll let everyone know you're back."

The Lieutenant started talking into his radio, announcing John's return. Zelenka skated into the lab followed by several relieved looking white coats. No sign of McKay, though. John wanted to see him, to make sure he hadn't actually changed anything with his unexpected trip through time, but he had an idea that might have to wait.

"How did you get back?" Zelenka snapped.

"Good to see you, too, Radek. I just went and found young McKay, asked him how to return to this time. He told me how, so now I'm back."

"Just like that?"

"Yep, just like that."

"So you return how?"

"Just had to think about it. Simple, really. Trust McKay to work that out, huh? Lieutenant Keller? I'm going to the infirmary, check out that this trip didn't do any damage, and I want you to post a guard on this lab. No one gets in or out under any circumstances, not even Doctor McKay, understood?"

"Understood, sir."

----

It didn't take too long to get released from Carson's lair and he put off the inevitable talk with Elizabeth about the military benefits of the Time Tube (and there had been some arguments over his calling it that, but he used it first so he got to name it) until later on the excuse he was just too tired after his trip to go into things in any great detail.

He also just wasn't all that sure this thing would be of great help. If all it did was let things be exactly as they already were, then it was almost impossible to tell when it would be needed, never mind find a way to use it against the Wraith. John's trip certainly hadn't seemed to have changed anything, although of course he was sure Rodney would tell him how if the future had been changed, maybe he wouldn't even recognise that it had been or something equally mind bending about time paradoxes.

Except that he hadn't seen McKay since he'd returned. That wasn't at all surprising. It was likely that McKay was having completely paranoid fits about the kind of knowledge that John now had. Did McKay remember his visit, and if so, why hadn't he recognised John from before his trip? Or had he? These were things they could discuss later, once McKay had calmed down and realised that John wasn't going to use this against him in their ongoing mutual torment sessions. He couldn't raise his usual level of glee about teasing McKay over this. Whenever he thought what great blackmail material this could be, he flashed back to how young and vulnerable Rodney had been, and all he could feel was fury that any family would leave a sixteen year old kid to fend for himself like that, specially someone as special as McKay. No wonder he'd grown up so… unusual.

He wanted to believe he would be above using something like this to torment or tease McKay, but certainly the knowledge was eating at him. There was just no way he could let…

No. It wasn't any of his business. He turned to pace the tiny space of his room, door to window.

What would Johnny Cash do? he asked himself, stopping to stare at the poster over his bed. "What do you think, Johnny? The poor and the beaten down, livin' in the hopeless and hungry side of town?"

He flipped open his lap top, and set up an email cc'd to every member of the military on the base.

"Out in front, there ought to be a man in black," he sang softly to himself as he carefully composed his note.

John fussed over every word, requesting complete confidentially and any cash that any of them had brought with them. He figured that a lot of the people who came on the expedition would be like himself, comfortable knowing they had a few dollars to make getting around a bit easier when returning to the SGC; a couple of bucks to get something from a candy vending machine, buy a cup of coffee, rent a no-questions-asked hotel room while on leave.

He gave his word that all cash would be refunded as soon as John could arrange it, and within minutes there were knocks at his door, marines with their game faces on to hide their curiosity, handing over crisp new notes or rumpled and dirty wads of cash. He spent some time counting it, writing down every name so he could repay it all later. He couldn't help noticing 'Best of luck!' written on a hundred dollar note and wondered if that had come from some mother or father, someone left behind in another galaxy who had no idea that money was going to be no good where their child was headed. He counted and noted and said thank you until his hands were black with the ink and muck of all the accumulated cash.

He stuffed it all into a gym bag, piled on some chocolate bars, a few of his new shirts and a pair of socks, anything he thought he could spare. Then he changed his mind and took out the shirts and socks, because there was a point at which charity became patronising. Besides, comfortable socks were damned hard to find in the Pegasus Galaxy.

Lieutenant Slaviat saluted him smartly as he returned to the lab with the Time Tube, and he locked the door behind him. "Twenty years ago Rodney McKay," he said again and marvelled at how smooth the trip seemed to be. There wasn't a moment of disorientation, he just found himself standing on a street again, watching some guy in a crumpled business suit press McKay up against a wall.

McKay was grinning at the guy, apparently trying to organise payment terms, and the business man was furtively checking out the area while he ran a hand up McKay's arms and asked him what John considered to be very inappropriate questions for a man of that age to be asking a teenage boy.

"Move along, sir" John said, his voice calm.

"Hey, man, you can't come here telling me what to do…" but the man shut up really quickly when John calmly pushed the barrel of his gun into the man's cheek. "I'm moving, I'm moving…"

"You…" McKay looked at him, eyes huge and blue. "You you…"

"Don't call me a 'you you'," John said and smirked his most charming smirk.

"You vanished! You just vanished into thin air!"

"Yep. It worked. You were right, I just had to think myself back to my own time. Thanks for that."

"Vanished!"

"Yep, got that. Time travel, McKay, remember what I told you?"

"Time travel, stargates, aliens…" McKay wasn't quite babbling.

"Yep. All that and more. There are many wonders awaiting you in the future, McKay, and I don't want to sound like an after school special here, but seriously, you deserve better than… than doing this!" Sheppard waved a hand up and down the street in general.

"Oh, sure," McKay drew himself up to his full height. "The whole world owes me a living because I'm brilliant and apparently have a wonderful future fighting space vampires to look forward to. Do you have any idea how expensive my education is? Believe me, Mr Hot Air Force guy, if I had a choice, I wouldn't be out here, but this is the most logical option I have at this time. Anyway, it's probably only going to be like this for a few more months, then I hope to get at least two of my scholarships coming in, and there's a chance the CIA will actually start funding me properly, at least enough to cover my rent and I don’t see what business this is of yours, but um, how did you vanish anyway?"

John grinned as the outraged rant changed to the eager seeking of knowledge. "Don't worry about the space vampires, and I'm sure you'll work out the whole time travel thing once you get a chance to take that machine apart. Come on, let's go get that burger I promised you."

"Yeah, and the thirty dollars. Also, you just chased away that guy and he was so into me, so that makes eighty you owe me now."

"Okay."

"Okay?" McKay started leading him back to the burger joint, just as led by his stomach at this age as he was in John's time. "Because seriously, I need that to make my rent this week. I don't want to have to work tomorrow night as well, I've got way too much stuff to do to be out here wasting my time."

"Of course."

"Well, yes, I mean, if you work with me in the future you obviously know how important I am. Going to be. I am, right? You said I was. Going to be."

"You are. Very."

"Oh. Cool." McKay grinned widely. "Here. They do good burgers here. Hey, does your money have like dates from the future on it? Be careful where you pass that, then, you don’t want people thinking you're passing counterfeit."

"Hey, you!" the woman behind the counter shouted angrily at them. "I told you never to come in here again! I'm going to call the police!"

"He's paying!" McKay said, and John obediently handed over payment upfront for the massive quantity of food that McKay ordered, which pacified her, but she still gave him a filthy look, which John supposed was to be expected for a guy in his late thirties who hung around with someone like McKay.

"Sorry about that, Colonel. Sometimes I do a runner from these places."

"Rodney," John leaned forward as they waited for their food to arrive. "The way you're living… you're not on drugs, are you?"

"Excuse me? Extremely valuable brain here!" McKay pointed to his head. "I'm hardly going to do something that stupid. Frying my brain would totally negate all the work I've had to do to get here in the first place!"

"Well, that's good to hear."

Food appeared and disappeared pretty quickly, Rodney shovelling it with the same enthusiasm that Ronon had shown when they'd first brought him aboard. John had to agree, these were pretty good burgers. At least he was getting some good food out of this weird trip.

"You know, Rodney. I always pictured you… growing up… pampered or something. Like your parents would have been… very protective."

"Really," McKay said, giving John a disbelieving eyebrow quirk, mouthful of fries on display.

"Yeah. I mean, when I first met you, you didn't seem… you were… I don't know. I just didn't see you being such an alley cat."

McKay grinned, apparently flattered at the allusion. "Huh. I'm full of surprises. So what's your name, anyway? You never did tell me."

"You'll find out. In about twenty years." John didn't overlook how Rodney had shifted attention away from himself, but he didn't push it. "I'm thinking, when I get back, I'm going to try to disable the Time Tube. It would be just too much of a temptation. Then again, I don't know. I'll have to talk to you about it when I get back. Get your input, you'll probably have a better idea of how to utilise it."

"Because I'm brilliant," McKay said, slurping up the last of his chocolate shake loudly, already eyeing the pie behind the counter.

"You are. Now, I have to go back to my own time again, but before I go," John put the gym bag on the table. "I'm serious here, McKay. It doesn't matter if you think you can look after yourself, or if you think you're safe, you're not. This is not a healthy life style or a clever choice. You're better than this, okay? Just go back to school and focus on your studies and I'll see you in twenty years."

"What's in the bag? Is that for me? What am I better than? Hang on," Rodney stood as John got up to leave, "I have more questions!"

John shook his head and waved Rodney to sit down again and left the diner, easing down beside the building where no one could see him. He closed his eyes and concentrated…

----

… and stepped out of the Time Tube again.

He was tired now, not just faking it to get away from Carson, and kicked off his shoes as soon as he got to his room. It was late, he estimated that it was close to 3:00 a.m. Atlantis time now, but someone who obviously didn't read their watch knocked on his door. Groaning, he went to answer it.

"McKay," he wasn't sure if he was surprised to see McKay this quickly or not. But then McKay was never one for backing down from a confrontation. It was comforting, John thought, to see McKay fully grown into his eyebrows, shoulders like a football line backer, muscles where there had been bones before. Seeing Rodney as he was supposed to be filled John with a feeling of warm comfort. This was John's time and he was more comfortable here, with these people as they now were, in this place, than at any other time in his life. Space vampires and all.

McKay silently handed him a yellow envelope that looked like it had been carried around for a long time. He took it, raising a questioning eye brow before looking inside. He didn't have to count the notes there to know that he'd just been repaid all the money.

"I've been carrying that around for years. I didn't recognise you, though, until today. I mean, I remembered that some guy had given me that money, but it… he didn't have your face really. In my mind… it was like," McKay stuttered, trying to explain. "There was… you didn't look like…."

"It hadn't happened then, I think. Or something. I don’t know, McKay, you can probably explain it better than I can."

"Yeah, I'll have to… think about it or something. Anyway, I had to give you that. You always said you'd see me again in twenty years, so as soon as I could, I started saving the money so I could pay you back. I don't know how you managed to get that here, or why you'd carry so much cash around anyway, but I added some interest, and I didn't even take out the eighty dollars you owe me. You're not getting the chocolate back, though."

"Of course not," Sheppard grinned. Money they had plenty of and couldn't spend. Chocolate, though, was more precious than gold.

"I trust that…" McKay shuffled awkwardly, hands twisting, not meeting John's eyes. "What I did…"

"We all have to do things to survive that not everyone would understand."

"That's true, but-"

"Nothing I learned will ever go further than you and me."

"Thank you, Colonel." McKay still looked nervous, but he took that at face value and turned to go. "Oh, and Colonel?"

"Yes?"

"It… it really made a difference, okay? What you did."

"Good."

"It meant a lot to know that one day I'd know someone who would do something like that for me, even if it was just so I'd be able to save your life in this time. I was really looking forward to meeting him. You. You know. I can't believe I didn't recognise you."

John gave him a deliberately lopsided grin, "Goodnight, McKay."

"Yeah, uh, goodnight, and yeah, thanks again," McKay waved over his shoulder and entered the transporter.

"Goodnight, alley cat," John said once he'd vanished.



The End.



Author's Notes:

Why this story when it's just all so awfully unlikely? I was complaining to friends (while a little bit drunk) that SGA fandom is sadly short on the hoary old fandom classics of elf fic and prostitute fic. The Professionals was always full of elves, HP fandom is full of prostitutes and Lord of the Rings has loads of Prostitute Elves! So rosemending and edgehd and slashingthefox dared me to write this. There are no elves in this story. Despite John's ears.

Also, go look at photos of David Hewlett when he was a teenager. All eyebrows and legs. And blond hair. I think he looks better now, but he was kind of a hottie then, too. A geeky hottie.

When I first thought of this fic, I thought I'd write John going back in time to every bad time in Rodney's life pre-Atlantis and helping or just being there or whatever. You know, he asks Rodney for a list of 'dates' when Rodney thinks John might have helped him out or something. Except one time John gets there and it's a small Christmas party with Rodney and his friends and they have beer and play silly games and laugh a lot and when John gets back he's like 'What the…?' and Rodney says, 'hey, I haven't had a totally horrible life, I just thought you might like some fun for a change'. And the story would end with Rodney asking John for a list of his 'dates' and awwwwww.

But that would have taken forever to write, and I'm not prepared to invest that much time in crappy fic anymore.

Note on the story Title: From the Johnny Cash song that John sings in this story, "Man In Black". Isn't Johnny Cash just the shizzle now? He's so Emo! If he was born today, he'd be all about the eyeliner. Black eyeliner and lots of it.

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