"So, this looks good, huh?" Rodney sat across from John and Martouf, setting down his tray with a decisive thunk and grinning at them both, then at Dave who was sitting beside him. Rodney rubbed his hands together, then gave a happy little hum and started eating like it was his first meal in days.
Dave looked at Rodney, then at John and Martouf. "Who spiked his Wheaties?"
"He is excited about our team being among those chosen to go with the Atlantis expedition," Martouf said quietly. He was sitting with his hands clasped on the table, his head down, deep blue eyes pensive and sad.
"Atlantis?" John looked at Rodney, then at Dave. "Is that the thing with the..." He looked at Martouf for help, but Martouf was still looking at the table. "The thing?" John looked back at Dave and Rodney. "The thing," he amended. "In Antarctica."
"Yeah." Rodney nodded vigorously, grinning more widely. "The Antarctic base. They're pretty sure it's going to reveal the address of Atlantis! Can you believe it? The fabled city of the Ancients!" He stuffed a forkful of his lunch into his mouth and smiled around it while he chewed.
"They will require us to visit the base, to familiarize ourselves with the scientists and other military personnel who will be going," Martouf said. "And to see if any of us have the ATA gene."
"ATA gene?" John asked. He took a sip of coffee, looking at Rodney with his eyebrows raised.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "You did go to the briefing, right?" He shook his head. "Never mind. I know what you were doing."
John blushed. Dave smirked. Martouf flashed a tiny smile.
"The ATA gene allows you to make Ancient dohickies work," Dave said, nodding seriously. "Like O'Neill can."
"Huh," John said. "So that's what they were talking about." He gave a single, slow nod. "Cool."
"Oh, yeah." Rodney was practically beaming around his latest mouthful. He pointed his fork at John. "I'm sure I've got the gene, too."
"Yeah?" Dave looked at him curiously. "Why's that, genius?"
Rodney shrugged, still smiling. "Precisely."
Martouf looked up just long enough to smile at Rodney, less fleetingly, though it was still very sad. "I am sure that you have the ATA gene, Rodney."
Rodney blinked at Martouf, then looked at Dave. "What's wrong with him?"
"Oh," Dave shook his head, raising a hand and waving it dismissively, vaguely in Martouf's direction. "Don't mind him. He's just got his panties in a bunch because of that shaman guy on MX wherever the fuck we were yesterday. He'll be fine."
"The shaman guy?" Rodney looked back at Martouf. "The old crusty guy who wanted to talk to you and Dixon? I thought that was about the trade agreement."
"And your beautiful blue eyes," John added, grinning.
Again there was the barest flicker of a smile from Martouf. "It was mostly about the trade agreement, yes. But..." He took a breath, then raised his head again, and now his smile was obviously forced. "The Colonel is right--it's nothing."
Rodney looked back at Dave. "What the hell is he going on about?"
"Ah, it's crap," Dave said. "The shaman guy was just telling Marty here about all the alternate realities where he bought the farm."
"What?" John looked at Martouf, startled. "Alternate realities? Like, alternate to this one?"
"Well, sure," Rodney said immediately. "SG1 already proved that there are literally thousands of alternate realities to the one we live in, probably millions--each choice we make pretty much automatically creates a different universe, where a different choice was made, or resulted in a different outcome."
John blinked. "Cool."
"Apparently," Martouf said, "the majority of other possible outcomes resulted in my death."
"Wow," John said sympathetically. "That sucks."
Martouf nodded miserably. "Yes."
"Don't worry about it, Marty," Dave said. "So what if you kicked the bucket a zillion times already? This is the only reality that counts, right?" He looked at Rodney. "The shaman guy said that in another reality I was still leading SG13, and you got shipped to Siberia for pissing off Carter."
Rodney's eyes widened. "That really happened? They did that?"
Dave grinned evilly. "Yep."
"Suck it up, McKay." John leaned forward. "What about me?"
"Oh, nothing big," Dave said. "You were some dumbass chopper-jockey out at McMurdo." He shrugged happily. "So this reality is the good one, see? Who gives a shit what happened to some other Dixon or Sheppard?"
"Or Martouf," John added. He smiled at Martouf, who tried to smile back but didn't really manage it. "So, how many other realities did you die in, anyway?"
Martouf looked away. "All of them."
John's eyes bugged. "All of them?"
"Holy fuck!" Rodney was gaping. "Who the hell did you piss off?"
"Ladies, ladies..." Dave held up his hands. "We have to concentrate on the bright side, here. Like the fact that in this reality, Marty's still breathing."
"For the moment," Martouf said.
"Hey, a little optimism Marty!" Dave exclaimed. "Didn't the shaman guy say that you'd already outlasted all the other Martoufs by, what? Five years or something?"
"This is true," Martouf said, though his smile was still weak. "But I fear that it's only a matter of time before this reality conforms to all the others."
"Naw." Dave waved a hand again. "Not gonna happen. Lantic'll keep you good."
"So," John asked. "What was the weirdest reality that wasn't this one?"
Martouf brightened slightly. "There was one where I was a woman," he said. His face fell. "Of course, I also died."
"Freaky," John said. "What else?"
"There was one where I was some kinda mercenary with a thing for knives," Dave said. He gestured at John with his chin. "You were a surfer dude somewhere..." He turned to Martouf. "Where was that?"
"Ipanema," Martouf said. "And Doctor McKay had been abducted from Vancouver by aliens."
Rodney nearly did a spit-take across the table. "What?"
"Asguard." Dave shrugged. "No big deal."
"Oh," Rodney said sarcastically. "Well then. Did they bring me back, at least?"
Dave shrugged again. "Didn't ask."
"Ipanema?" John said. "You can surf in Ipanema?"
"Apparently," Dave said. "Like I'd the fuck know."
"I died," Martouf said. He sighed, and leaned his chin on his palm.
"Hey," Rodney said suddenly. "Is there a reality where Colonel Carter and I get it on?"
"Hey!" John scowled at him.
"Well, it's not like it's relevant to our reality," Rodney said defensively. He looked at Martouf again. "Well?"
"Yes." Martouf nodded. "One. But she was Doctor Samuel Carter, civilian, and you were Major Victoria McKay."
"Victoria McKay." John shuddered. "That's just wrong."
"It was the name my parents would have given me if I was a girl, okay?" Rodney glowered at John. "It's a perfectly respectable name."
"Yeah," Dave said. "Like 'Rodney'." He shook his head. "Your parents suck. I would've named you Chucky."
Rodney goggled at Dave. "That's... Really disturbing."
"I think it's a great name!" Dave said gleefully. "In fact, I think I'm gonna call you Chucky from now on. How 'bout it, Chucky?"
Rodney narrowed his eyes. "How about I never actually respond to you ever again?"
Dave grinned. "Promise?"
"Guys, guys." John raised his hands. "There's still the fact that Martouf's a little worried he's going to die in this reality, just like he did in all the other ones. I think we need to make him feel better."
"You still all freaked about that, Marty?" Dave asked him. "Ah, you worry too much," Dave said when Martouf nodded. "You're gonna be fine." He looked from John to Rodney. "Ain't that right, girls? He'll be fine."
"Of course." John nodded seriously.
"Sure." Rodney shrugged, then went back to eating.
"Sure he will," Dave said decisively. "I mean, hey—-we're gonna go to Atlantis, right? Wherever the hell that is. City of the Ancients, right? How dangerous could that be?"
Martouf swore softly in Goa'uld, and buried his face in his hands.