Radek stepped into Rodney’s shoes and John couldn’t say that he didn’t fill them competently. The bitching decreased and, eventually, so did the nervousness in the Czech. But regardless of how trustworthy Zelenka may have been, he wasn’t McKay, and a little bit of the… fun left the missions, as well.
Katie’s pregnancy progressed, and Rodney took to stopping by the cafeteria on his way home from the labs to pick her up a midnight snack. And John took to meeting him there for a cup of coffee before he headed home. They talked about the team’s latest mission, what Rodney was working on in the lab, Katie’s mood swings, John’s progress with that little blond chemist he’d had his eye on, the first time Rodney had felt the baby move, the drift of the Jumper after the latest maintenance, the ultrasound photos… the fifth appendage the photos showed.
“A boy?” John put his cup down and took the photo from Rodney, who’s face was practically about to split open with his smile.
“Way to donate that y-chromosome, McKay.” If possible, Rodney was grinning wider, and Sheppard couldn’t help but do the same. “A boy, damn. What’s Katie think about that?”
“Are you kidding? She comes from a family of all girls. Her father is going to burst into tears of joy when he hears the news.”
John laughter was joined by another set as Teyla and Ronon walked by, by the looks of it, they were returning from a sparring match at the gym. The two stopped and joined them and Sheppard handed over the photo so Rodney could point out the important parts.
“Wow, McKay, I didn’t know you had it in you,” Ronon teased and Teyla kicked him under the table.
“You are obviously very pleased, Rodney,” Teyla told him with a pointedly disapproving look at Ronon. “And all is progressing well with the pregnancy?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. Katie’s finally getting over the puking so she’s in a much better mood, and her appetite’s increasing.” Glancing at his watch, he stood. “Which reminds me that I should be getting home, or she’ll break into my powerbar stash again.”
“Give her my best,” Teyla instructed. “And let her know that I can introduce her to Harrek any time she would like to discuss the cradle she was wanting him to build.”
“I’ll let her know.” Gathering the sandwich he’d made, Rodney started to go, then stopped, looking back at the three of them with an almost longing expression before shaking his head and telling them, “Goodnight.”
Sheppard knew exactly how he felt, and even as he stayed and finished his cup of coffee, talking and laughing with Ronon and Teyla, he couldn’t shake the feeling that for a minute there, it had felt like the old days with the team back together.
But almost three months later, they were back together again, thanks to Sheppard, an open shaft, and an Ancient elevator that was threatening to crush John where he lay in agony on the ground.
He must have fallen a good twenty feet, impacting the sides of the metal lined passage on his way down as he grabbed and tangled then finally lost his grip on the cables. He heard the multiple snaps of his left leg on impact, blacked out almost instantly, and came to with Teyla calling to him while Ronon and Radek argued in the opening above about how precarious the lift was that was dangling up above him, that Ronon was too heavy, that what they needed was someone to open the access door on that bottom level the same time Radek reenergized the lift system. He tried to shift, felt white-hot pain course through his leg and promptly passed out again mid-scream.
The next time he woke, it was to the sound of McKay. “Easy, easy! What the fuck is it with you people? I said easy! Christ, you’re going to drop me right on top of him!” The voice got closer and a little calmer. “Okay, better. Just like that. Okay, I’m down.”
A flashlight was shining in John’s face and Rodney was looking at him in a combination of relief and concern. “Hey.”
“What are you doing here, McKay?”
“Saving your ass, that’s what.” He moved the light down to shine on Sheppard’s leg and let out a horrified, “Oh, Jesus.”
Following the light, John could see the bone protruding through his pant’s leg, and fought the threatening nausea that went with it. “Yeah, okay, that explains the excruciating pain.”
Yelling up at the opening, McKay ordered. “Get the medical team down to this level now! I want them waiting for us when we get out!”
“Rodney,” Radek explained calmly through the radio, “they cannot access that level until I power up the system and the doors open. And as you know, I do not dare do that…”
“Right, right, dangling elevator of doom. Got it. I want them moving as soon as the power is on.”
Lying back, John could just make out the lift that was hanging above them. “Rodney, that doesn’t look very stable up there.”
“It’s not, which is why I’m here.” The scientist was already prying the control panel open beside the small access door to the side. “Team member emeritus, remember?”
“It’s not safe.”
McKay didn’t stop working. “Once again, why I’m here.”
“But the baby, Katie…”
“Look, I’m doing Katie a huge favor here. She absolutely hates the name John. It reminds her of John Koviak, the football player that used to pick on her in seventh grade biology class because she was so smart.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Sheppard demanded, panting to keep from crying out again.
“If you die down here, I’ll have no choice but to name my son after you and she’ll have to spend the rest of her life hating her own child’s name. And that hardly seems fair, now does it?” Checking the crystals, McKay keyed his radio. “Okay, Radek, we’re ready down here.”
“Very well, I’m going to reactivate the system now.”
“Copy that.” Turning his attention back to John, he told him, simply, “As soon as the power is back on I’m going to open the door and pull you out. And you know that’s… well, it’s going to…”
“Hurt like motherfucking hell? Yeah, I know.”
“I was going to say be very unpleasant, but you’re phasing is probably more accurate.”
John shrugged and tried for unconcerned, although the way his voice shook he seriously doubted he pulled it off. “I’m pretty much there already. If I’m lucky I’ll pass out again.”
“Here’s hoping,” Rodney agreed. With a hum, the power came on line, dim blue lights illuminating the shaft. And at the same time, the lift started moving again… down.
“Oh, shit. Radek! It’s moving!”
“It is not responding, Rodney,” Zelenka called back tensely.
“Rodney, go! Get the hell out of here!”
But McKay was ignoring him, too busy yelling into the radio. “Radek! When I tell you, shut it down! Turn it all off!”
Frantically swapping out crystals, Rodney also ignored the quickly approaching elevator. “McKay…” John ground out as the lift passed the opening he had fallen through in the first place.
“Radek, turn it off! Now!” Sheppard was yelling to be heard because there was no way he was going to let Rodney be squashed along with him. They would have to figure out some other way.
But Rodney called through the radio. “Not yet!” Two more crystals were pulled and replaced and the door slid open. “NOW!”
The power died instantly, the lift hanging less than ten feet above them, swinging in the shaft. McKay was breathing almost as hard as John was, but he looked over at Sheppard and smiled. “There. Piece of cake.”
Son of a bitch! Why did he have to say that? Because not two seconds after the words left his mouth, there was a groan of overextended cable and a metallic snap as the one of the left let go. The elevator jarred against the side of the shaft as the right side held. But both men knew that it wouldn’t for long.
“Shit, McKay, move!”
But the reminder wasn’t necessary as Rodney was already crawling toward the door, dragging John along with him. He’d been right about the pain level, he’d also been right about passing out again. John was floating in inky blackness by the time McKay had them both through the small opening. Somewhere in the distance he could hear a metallic crash, but closer he could feel Rodney’s chest behind him, his friend patting at Sheppard’s own chest, and a winded, “Like I said, piece of cake,” at his ear before even those faded away.
The next time he regained consciousness, he was in the infirmary back on Atlantis. McKay was there, and so was Katie.
“I’m going to stay for a while longer. Teyla’s coming by in a few hours and then I’ll be home.”
“I’ll stay with you, if you like,” Katie offered with a brush of her hand over Rodney’s hair.
“You’re exhausted,” McKay argued. “You brought me dinner, you’ve been sitting here for over an hour. You should go home and get some sleep. You two need it.” He rubbed an affectionate hand over his wife’s growing belly before leaning in and kissing it. “Hey, little guy. Why don’t you give your mommy a break tonight and ease up on the wiggling some so she can get some sleep?”
Rodney and baby talk was enough to have John wondering exactly what kind of drugs they were giving him. It was on par with picturing Darth Vader as a doting father. But Katie’s fond laugh removed all doubt that he was hallucinating the scene. It was so real and genuine and heartfelt that Sheppard suddenly knew Rodney was going to do everything in his power to be what both men had always wanted their own fathers to be but neither had been able to deliver on. And the fact that McKay was willing to attempt it, spoke more about the bravery of the man than sitting in the bottom of an elevator shaft ever would.
Glancing over, Katie noticed that John was awake and watching them. “Rodney.”
Looking up, McKay moved a little closer to the bed. “Hey, how are you feeling? Do you need any pain meds? The nurse said to call her if you were in any…”
But John kept staring at Katie and the hand she had resting on her bulging stomach. “You look beautiful,” he told her, his voice more than a little drunken. “You’re literally glowing.” Katie’s cheeks turned crimson and he turned his attention to Rodney. “Seriously, she is. I think it’s the morphine.”
“Why don’t you go find the nurse?” McKay suggested to his wife and she nodded.
But before she left, she leaned over and kissed John on the cheek. “You scared us. Don’t do it again.”
The two men watched her go and Sheppard mumbled to Rodney. “She must really hate the name John.”
“She’s just glad you’re okay. We all are.” Lowering his voice, he confessed, “Plus, I didn’t tell her everything that happened. She doesn’t know about the whole…” He winced and used his hands to pantomime the elevator crashing.
“Shhhhhhh. It’s our secret,” John told him with a giddy grin because now Rodney was glowing around the edges, too.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Rodney. You have to watch out for yourself, for them.”
“I couldn’t just let you die, Sheppard. I couldn’t just sit and not help you, of all people. After all you’ve done… some things are worth a few risks.”
“Your son having a dad is more important.”
“What’s the point of being a dad if I can’t teach him how valuable some things are? How can I expect my son to grow up into a good person if I don’t try to be one myself?”
“You’re good. Hell, it took Anakin Skywalker six movies to finally redeem himself and Luke turned out fine.” A thought suddenly occurred to Sheppard. “Oh, God, you’re not naming the baby Luke, are you?”
“No.” McKay’s forehead crinkled in confusion.
“Shit, not Dick Grayson. Please, Rodney, you can’t do that to the kid.”
“Are you insane? Name a child Dick? That’s paramount to child abuse or reckless endangerment in the very least.”
The nurse came in then, checking over John, and he answered her questions as Rodney sat beside him and filled in when words wouldn’t seem to come to John. A few minutes later, Katie came in with a cup of coffee.
“I figured you might need this. I have a feeling you’re going to be here a while.”
By the time Katie and the nurse had left, John was exhausted. He tried to talk with McKay, asked about his injuries, tried to listen as Rodney explained about multiple fractures, metal rods and pins and practically rebuilding his leg. But his thoughts kept drifting and growing fuzzier until finally Rodney put an end to the conversation when John asked if he was going to have super speed like the Bionic Man when he ran.
“Go to sleep, Sheppard. You’re not going to remember this conversation in the morning, anyway.”
John thought that was a mighty fine idea. And why wouldn’t it be, McKay was a genius after all. But as he yawned broadly, he remembered what he had been meaning to ask Rodney since he first showed up in that shaft.
“So, since I didn’t die, what are you going to name the baby?”
When Rodney didn’t answer immediately, John cracked his eyelids open again to see the man studying his coffee. With an inhaled breath, McKay looked around the infirmary, a melancholy smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, before finally meeting Sheppard’s eyes.
“Carson. We’re naming him Carson.”
* * * *
Carson James McKay gave his parents mild fits before he finally graced Atlantis with his presence. Katie’s blood pressure shot up her last month and she was put on bed rest, then she started having false labor pains that brought them to the infirmary twice only to be sent back home again. Rodney’s excited calls to everyone had them all rushing to the medical bay only to return to their work stations or quarters once again less than an hour later.
Sheppard was somewhat fortunate in that he was still in the infirmary during those first two times. It didn’t take long for John to realize why Katie had given him the kiss on his cheek that night. With his leg injury he was out of commission for a while… a long, long, while. Which meant Rodney wasn’t going to go running off-world to save him anytime soon. Nearly four weeks after the accident and two surgeries later, John was sent back to his quarters with more metal inside him than he typically carried in his field gear. Then two weeks after that he was back in the infirmary with a blood clot. The downside to that was that he basically just lay around in bed while they pumped him full of blood thinners. The upside was that everyone just came and hung out in his room while they waited for Rodney and Katie to show up again and tell them it had been a false alarm.
McKay came by to visit a couple of times a day, more if Katie was down having her blood pressure monitored. He seemed more frazzled every time he showed up, finally telling John the day he was being released yet again, that the baby wasn’t turning and the doctors felt it would be best to schedule a c-section.
“So, when’s the big day?” John asked as he hobbled along as best he could on the crutches he was still getting used to.
“Tomorrow?” Sheppard blinked, seeing as her due date was still a couple of weeks away.
“Yes, tomorrow. As in the day after today. Tomorrow. That’s what I said, isn’t it? Christ, do you have blood clots in your ears, too?” Rodney was more than a little wild eyed and John stopped his progress down the hall. “What? What is it? Are you okay? Do we need to go back to the infirmary? What?”
“Rodney, everything is going to be fine.”
At first John was afraid McKay was going to argue the point, then he was even more afraid the man was going to curl into a ball in the floor and start sucking his thumb. “It’s just you with the leg and Katie with the blood pressure and a fucking subroutine in the shielding system that won’t respond to anything I do and then you with the goddamn leg again and the baby turned wrong and now Katie with the surgery. My nerves are shot! Every time someone calls me on the radio I’m afraid they’re going to tell me you’ve had another complication. Every time Katie moves in bed I’m darting to grab her bag. I’m not made out for this kind of stress. I have hives on my chest, Sheppard. Hives!”
“Shit, McKay, when did they last check your blood pressure?”
Scrubbing at his face, Rodney whined, “I can’t do this, Sheppard. I can’t. What was I thinking? I’m going to screw this kid up so fucking bad, it’s going to be incredible. And, I get to start tomorrow. Yippee.” A finger twirled haphazardly in the air, and John used one of his crutches to swat McKay in the ass.
“Cafeteria. You need to eat. You need to have a cup of coffee and just calm the hell down.”
“Caffeine’s a stimulant, Colonel,” Rodney pointed out, but he started toward the chow hall, nonetheless. “How, exactly, is that supposed to calm me down?”
“That’s the wonder of a cup of coffee, McKay. It’s pretty much a multi purpose cure all, especially for someone like you who’s managed to somehow incorporate it into your DNA.”
“Katie says I should cut back. She thinks that’s why I’ve been so on edge lately.”
“Eh. What does she know?”
“Helllloooo. Love of my life, mother of my unborn son you’re talking about here.”
Sheppard nudged McKay with the crutch once again. “Jesus, Rodney, I’m not suggesting you conceive a child with the coffee, just drink it and take the edge off.”
After an hour, and three cups of coffee later, even Rodney couldn’t deny that he felt at least a little better. And John raised his mug in recognition of the therapeutic properties of coffee and everything that went along with it… conversation, comfort, friendship, all condensed into a cup of dark liquid.
The next morning at eight twenty-three a.m. local Atlantean time, Rodney introduced his friends…his family… to their newest member. Still dressed in the scrubs from the OR, he carried the small bundle as if it were more valuable than a thousand ZPMs. And by the enamored and slightly dazed look on the new father’s face as he cradled the baby in his arms, that’s exactly what it was.
Teyla was reaching a finger toward the baby when Rodney pulled him back snug against his chest. “There’s hand sanitizer on the table over there.”
“We are aware,” the Athosian told him with a raised eyebrow, “the nurse brought it to us before you came out.”
“I don’t know why we had to use it. I just showered an hour ago,” Ronon grumbled but Teyla elbowed him. “What? I used it didn’t I?”
“Oh… well… good.” Satisfied that no one was going to pass on the bubonic plague to his son, McKay opened his arms again to let everyone see him.
“Welcome, little one.” Teyla’s greeting was accompanied by a bright smile that just grew when the baby wrapped a tiny hand around her finger.
“Hey, it looks like he’s got a pretty good grip,” Ronon noted as he leaned over Teyla’s shoulder. “I may actually have a chance to teach this one a few moves… unlike his father.”
Teyla frowned back at the Satedan, who was grinning at his joke, before saying, “I see much of Katie in his features.”
“I don’t know,” John countered in the hushed voice that seemed to be called for around newborns, “he’s got Rodney’s chin.”
McKay seemed thrilled by the comment. “Really? You think so?”
“Sure,” Sheppard assured, “he’s the most arrogant looking baby I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Rodney rolled his eyes at the smirk on John’s face, but even the smartass comment wasn’t enough to remove the absolute joy from McKay’s expression.
“How’s Katie doing?” Elizabeth asked.
“Great. They were just finishing up so I should probably be getting back in there so this little guy can get to spend some time with his mommy.”
Rodney was looking into his son’s face as he spoke and John wasn’t sure the man was going to be inclined to look any place else, ever again.
“Give her our best regards,” Radek instructed and it seemed to pull Rodney out of the rapture he was caught up in.
“Yeah, of course. I’m sure she’ll want to see all of you herself once she’s settled in and all.” With a final look at the people gathered around him, Rodney sighed happily. “So we’ll see you guys later. Say, bye-bye, Carson. Bye-bye.”
Sheppard decided that babies evidently held some malicious power over adults, because every one of them waved and called bye-bye back to the child as if in some sort of trance. Rodney turned to go and before he disappeared back into the infirmary John came out of the infant-induced stupor and called to him.
“Hey, McKay. You did good.”
Rodney’s smile spoke volumes more than anything he could ever say. But when did the man ever remain silent? “Yeah,” he agreed, “I did.”
* * * *
The McKay’s didn’t settle into parenthood as easily as they had hoped. Rodney’s already heightened sense of paranoia and propensity for hypochondria became pretty much all encompassing when it came to his child. The first week they were home alone, Rodney made a frantic call for a medical team to his quarters. John had sent Teyla and Ronon on ahead, so that they could at least report back to him what the problem was as he made his way at a much slower pace behind them thanks to the crutches.
“John, all is well,” Teyla reported before he was even halfway there. “Everyone is fine. Carson evidently… sneezed.”
“Twice!” Rodney justified through his own radio. “He sneezed twice!”
John had stopped, leaned back against the wall and gulped air. Christ, he was getting too old for this shit to be dealing with false alarms on top of everything else.
When it happened again the following week, this time because Carson had puked up what Rodney was sure was enough to instantly dehydrate the baby, Katie had taken John aside as soon as he hobbled into their apartment.
“You need to take him out of here,” she told Sheppard with desperation in her dark-rimmed eyes. Katie looked like she hadn’t showered in several days, much less even attempted to do more than pull her hair back in a sloppy ponytail.
“The baby?” John asked in confusion as the medical team packed up their things and started heading toward the door. Because how the hell was he supposed to take care of a baby, one that spit up gallons of fluids if you listened to Rodney, so that she could get a little rest and a shower when he could barely walk down the hall?
“No, not the baby,” she snapped with thinning patience. “Rodney.” With an almost paranoid glance over to where her husband stood holding their son, she hissed, “He obsesses over everything… every sound, every movement, every poop, every lack of poop. He’s driving me insane. I’ve never been around him this much for such a long stretch of time, ever. He hasn’t gone to the lab in over nine days. Nine straight, never ending days with Rodney. Do you understand now what I’m talking about?”
Patting the hand that was gripping his arm so tight it was cutting off the circulation, John gave Katie a sympathetic nod of his head. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you,” she told him hoarsely, tears of gratitude welling in her eyes.
“McKay,” John called, “I could use your help.”
“What? What is it? I’m kind of busy here.” He seemed to be measuring the temperature and humidity in the immediate vicinity of the basinet. “Katie, I think you should put something a little thinner on him. Maybe overheating is what’s causing the vomiting.”
“His clothes are fine, Rodney.” With a purposeful stride pretty damn impressive for a woman recovering from a cesarean, she closed the distance between McKay and herself, taking Carson from him. “And he wasn’t vomiting, he spit up. That’s what babies do, they spit up and they cry, and sometimes they poop twice a day and others times just once. And if they do, it isn’t cause for an emergency medical response.”
“But, he was…”
“Rodney, enough!” McKay actually took a step back from his wife as she bounced the crying baby in her arms. Sheppard was tempted to do the same, but she pulled herself back under control. “Now, John obviously needs your help seeing as he came all the way down here to ask for it. So, I think you should go with him.”
She gave him a shove toward the door, but Rodney hesitated. “Are you sure? I mean this would be the first time I left you two alone…”
“Yes, I know,” she told him in exasperation and with another push. “We’ll be fine for a few hours. Just… go. Now.”
“Okay, if you say so.” Once outside the door, Rodney turned to remind his wife, “The log is sitting on the table. I recorded his last diaper change so you should…” The door closed abruptly in his face and he turned to Sheppard. “I guess she knows what to do.”
“Yeaaaaah, I’d say that’s a safe bet.”
“So, what is it that you needed help with anyway?”
“The torture chamber.”
Physical therapy was, in Sheppard’s opinion, probably worse than the initial injury. If he stopped to really think about it, he knew that wasn’t true… completely. He had never passed out from the pain during PT, but things had gone a little fuzzy around the periphery from time to time. And the therapist, known as that evil bitch from hell to her patients, and Amy to everyone else, didn’t seem to let a little red-faced attempt to hold in the screams keep her from doing her job.
Rodney liked her instantly and after he helped out for a few sessions, John was secretly referring to McKay as that evil son of a bitch from hell. But despite his Spanish Inquisition-like zeal for torture, having Rodney there was actually a help. He’d push, taunt, insult, and piss Sheppard the hell off, which just made John push himself a little further. And even Amy had to admit that John was making remarkable progress… for his age. That little zinger wasn’t even meant as an insult, but the fact of the matter was, men in their forties didn’t heal like ten-year-old boys.
When he had broken his arm as a kid attempting a one eighty on his skateboard the last day of fourth grade, he’d had the cast off and actually gotten in a few rounds of golf before he had to go back to school in the fall. Now, he knew he was looking at months before he would be walking without crutches, probably over a year before he was back to one hundred percent. So if McKay could help him shave a month or two off of that by being a malicious, smartass, piece of shit, all the better.
And as soon as his session was over, Rodney would take him to celebrate. For the first few weeks it was over a beer or two… or six. As the number of bottles started increasing, Rodney saw what was happening. Sheppard did too, at least subconsciously. But the injury hurt, on several levels, and he was willing to numb the pain any way he could. The pins, the PT, the fact that he wasn’t going off-world and wouldn’t for a while… codeine and a cold brew went a long way in rounding the sharp edges off his life. But McKay had no intentions of letting him dull his way into oblivion and offered up an alternative.
John came to a stop as he tottered on his crutches beside the man. “Coffee?”
“Or you can have a milkshake. You’re supposed to be getting extra calcium, right?”
“A milkshake? I don’t want a milkshake. I want a beer.”
“Beer isn’t a choice. Coffee or a milkshake.”
Sheppard shook his head with a small laugh. “Rodney, I’ve been looking forward to that beer ever since my session started over an hour ago.”
“Yes, I know.” Arms crossed in inflexible defiance and McKay told him meaningfully, “Which is why you have a choice of coffee or a milkshake.”
John’s frown was met by one of McKay’s and the two men stood in the hallway measuring each other up. And Sheppard knew he was screwed because Rodney was more stubborn than he was, and more belligerent, and stronger. Because if John wasn’t so weak, he wouldn’t be wanting that beer so badly right then. And he’d be damned if he let Rodney think he was the strong one.
Looking away, Sheppard sighed in irritation. “What flavor of milkshake?”
A smug grin angled across McKay’s face and he fell into step beside John as they went toward the cafeteria instead of John’s quarters. “Any flavor you want.”
That’s the way their routine went for the next several months. John tried every combination of milkshake they could think up over that time, and occasionally Rodney skipped the coffee and had a shake himself. McKay also fell into a more sensible routine as a father as he became more comfortable with the fact that babies were more resilient than they looked.
When Katie went back to work on a part-time basis, McKay would sometimes bring Carson with him to the sessions and the coffee afterwards. Sheppard thought he never would adjust to the sight of Rodney with a baby carrier strapped to the front of him, still ranting and raving but with a slight bounce to his knees to keep the child soothed. He was like some bizarre cross between a kangaroo and the Marquis de Sade. Carson actually seemed to enjoy the sound of his father’s griping, usually falling asleep nestled against Rodney’s chest where the complaints rattled and reverberated against the baby’s ear.
McKay’s vocabulary started to change, as well.
“And if Palmer wasn’t such a spectacular doo-doo head, he might possibly make a decent engineer.”
John’s eyebrows rose as he looked across the table where Rodney sipped at his cup of coffee. “Doo-doo head? Does he have cooties, too?”
McKay sighed and he hitched his chin toward the baby who was standing and bouncing in Sheppard’s lap while John supported him under his arms. Carson was tugging at the chain to his dog tags; the kid was fascinated by them and gummed them any chance he got. It spoke volumes as to how far Rodney had come that he wasn’t trying to sanitize John and the tags every time Carson got near them. And it said almost as much about John that he no longer grimaced at the line of drool that usually accompanied the gnawing.
“Katie says I need to watch my language around Carson. She’s right… I guess.”
“You guess? That doesn’t sound like you’re terribly convinced.” When the baby started flailing the tags happily and was on the verge of putting both his and Sheppard’s eye out, John slipped the chain from around his neck and sat Carson in his lap to chew on them, bouncing him on his good leg.
“Well, honestly, he doesn’t understand words at this point, just the tone of voice. Isn’t that right, buddy?” When his father addressed him, Carson started flailing happily again. Continuing on in the same cadence and slightly goofy voice, Rodney told him, “I could call your Uncle John a goat fucking son of a bitch with shit for brains and you wouldn’t care, would you?”
Sheppard held the baby a little tighter seeing as Carson seemed to be on the verge of attempting flight the way his arms were flapping excitedly, even as he frowned. “No, but I might.”
McKay leaned back and shook his head. “Well, I can’t do it anyway. It’s one of the reasons Katie won’t let me take him to the lab with me. Evidently the physics staff is known for its collective potty mouth.”
“The lab? Why the hel… heck would you want to do that anyway?” Sheppard figured he might as well get into the habit of biting his tongue, too.
“Katie takes him to her lab; I should be able to take him to mine.”
John rolled his eyes. “Katie’s lab is a glorified green house, it’s the kind of place preschoolers go on field trips. Yours is more like a minefield.”
“Now you sound like Katie,” McKay frowned harder.
“Well, evidently she’s a sensible woman despite the fact that she married you.”
“So you don’t think I’m capable of keeping my family safe, either?”
Carson wasn’t the only one that could pick up on his father’s tone. John heard something more in McKay’s last statement. “What’s going on?”
Realizing he’d said more than he meant to, Rodney waved a dismissive hand. “Nothing. It’s no big deal.”
With a sigh, Rodney admitted, “Katie’s starting to think Atlantis might not be the best place to raise a child. That it might be a little dangerous.”
Sheppard felt his stomach sink a little at the news. “She wants to move back to Earth?”
“She hasn’t said it… yet. Not in so many words. But she’s thinking it, I can tell.”
“You’d really move back to Earth?”
McKay looked at him like he’d just asked the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “Yes, I’d move back to Earth. What, am I just supposed to stay here and let them go without me?”
“No, of course not. It’s just…” Just what? What could he say to that? “I guess I never thought that was a possibility.”
“Yeah, well,” Rodney confessed despondently, “until recently, I never thought it was much of one, either.”
The subject didn’t come up again and Sheppard thought he might be home free, that maybe Katie’s jitters were subsiding as time went by and nothing devastating happened. The same week Carson turned six months old, John was allowed to start using a walking cast. Who would have thought that limping would feel like running in comparison to the crutches? It still wasn’t a release to full duty, but it was a huge step in the right direction. And a few weeks later when the Welnex showed up on their doorstep seeking sanctuary from the civil war on their home world, John had been able to oversee the entire move.
A group of forty-three refugees came through the gate and needed rooms until other arrangements could be made. Atlantis had first made contact with the planet about two years back and witnessed the apparent repression of the small religious minority group by the much more advanced Hemstads. Evidently the tensions had increased to the point that they had resorted to violence and the Hemstads easily overwhelmed the Welnex, resulting in them asking for assistance from their trading partners on Atlantis.
Weir had agreed while also trying to broker some sort of peaceful end to the violence. But Welnex leadership and a few key personnel were allowed to come to Atlantis as long as a cease-fire was called. They agreed to the terms and Sheppard suddenly found himself acting as a combination camp counsel and concierge to the delegation.
But something seemed a little odd from the get go with these people and the more John learned from the negotiations, the less at ease he felt with them being in the city. His fears were confirmed when a couple dozen men took the northwest wing of the city hostage. Ends up the Welnex were a radical religious group that felt the City of the Ancients didn’t belong in the hands of anyone who wasn’t an actual Ancient and the presence of the Earth expedition was blasphemy on the highest order.
John scrambled his strike teams as soon as word came about armed men taking hostages in the labs and he took up a position in control monitoring the city’s life signs detector with Elizabeth and Radek. A few minutes later, Rodney came running into the room.
“Where’s Ronon?” the scientist demanded and Sheppard breathed a sigh of relief that McKay hadn’t been in his lab at the time.
“Rodney,” Radek said in the same relief. “We thought perhaps you were in your lab…”
Ignoring the Czech, he demanded again, “Where the fuck is Ronon?”
“I sent him in with the teams…” Sheppard’s confusion as to why McKay was so anxious to find the Satedan suddenly cleared. “Oh, Christ, Katie’s in her lab with the baby, isn’t she?”
Rodney didn’t answer, simply keyed his earpiece. “Ronon, this is McKay, respond.”
“I’m kind of busy, McKay,” came the mumbled response.
“Katie and Carson are in the botany lab,” McKay informed him succinctly.
There was a pause before Ronon told him confidently, “They won’t be for much longer.”
A part of Sheppard, the ranking military officer on Atlantis part, was saying he shouldn’t waste a man going on a personal mission like this. Not when there were dozens more scientists in danger. But technically, Ronon wasn’t under his command, at least not in any legally binding way. And if the Satedan decided to do his own thing and help out a friend, John wasn’t going to stop him. In fact, he might even help him out a little. After all, Ronon on his own was at a disadvantage the other teams didn’t have– he didn’t have the ATA gene so he didn’t have a hand-held life signs detector to use.
“Ronon, there are two life signs just outside the transporter nearest the lab. If you can take them out you’ll have a clear shot to Katie.”
“I’m on it,” Ronon promised.
In the control room, they watched the dots on the screen. Rodney didn’t speak the entire time, ignored the hand Elizabeth placed on his shoulder, simply gripped the back of a chair until his knuckles turned white.
One dot vanished, then another, and when Ronon called through the radio, “Almost there,” McKay exhaled a stuttering breath.
A minute later, Ronon told them, “I’ve got them; they’re fine, McKay.”
Rodney just nodded wordlessly and Sheppard answered for him. “Thanks, Ronon.”
But then Zelenka was pointing at the screen where two more life signs appeared near the transporter. “Look. The attackers must be monitoring our radio frequency. They have been cut off from the transporter.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed as he studied the city layout. “There. If they take this access way down three levels they can reach the pier.”
“And we can pick them up with a Jumper,” Sheppard finished, already turning to go to the bay. “Radek, tell them how to get there.”
McKay slowed his pace, but just barely, to allow John to keep up with him. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard contradicted, “I do.”
They reached the ships and John wasted no time in starting it up. It had been a while since he’d been allowed to fly, and Sheppard almost ached with the welcome feel of it. Or maybe it was another ache he was feeling.
“When this is all over…” Rodney had triggered the roof opening and sunlight streamed in on them even as they lifted up into it.
“Yeah, I know.” Katie had been right about the dangers of the City; there was no way to deny that now. Hell, there had barely been any way to deny it before.
“It’ll be better… well, safer anyway.”
“Yeah,” John agreed… at least with the part that he could agree with. “Safer.”
John sat the Jumper down on the dock at the same moment Ronon led Katie, the baby, and three other biologists that had been working in the lab out the door, covering their escape as they darted to the open hatch. Rodney caught Katie in his arms shushing her as she cried in relief against his chest and Carson wiggled between the two of them. And this was exactly why Sheppard knew he was the one that needed to fly the Jumper. He’d spent the last six years watching McKay’s back and today was no exception, it didn’t matter that is was going to be one of the last days that he’d ever have to do it.
Three weeks later, the McKay family stepped through the gate to their new lives waiting at the SGC. They had had a little going away party the night before, laughed, chatted, tried to pretend it was no big deal, failed miserably at all of the above. The day they left, John had hugged Katie, then took Carson while she said goodbye to some of her coworkers in the biology department. Sheppard looked behind him to see Ronon lifting Rodney off his feet in a massive bear hug, grinned when the departing man grimaced and placed a hand to his lower back before Teyla stepped in and placed her head against his in a traditional Athosian goodbye.
Carson was tugging at the chain around John’s neck again, so he took it off and dangled them in front of the boy. “Here you go, kid, something to remember me by.” The baby giggled as the metal pieces jingled in the air before grabbing them and shoving them straight into his mouth.
“How in the heck is he ever going to become a brilliant astrophysicist like his father if he has a fetish for military paraphernalia?” McKay demanded as he moved to stand beside Sheppard.
“Didn’t slow you down any. He’s just getting a little bit of a jump start is all.”
“The curse of the DOD contractor,” Rodney admitted, opening his arms and offering to take the baby.
“He’s good,” John assured him, more than a little reluctant to let him go now that it was time.
“It’s not like you won’t be coming to Earth in a few months to have your leg reevaluated. You’re going to stay with us, right?”
“Depends. Do I have to sleep on your couch?”
“We have a realtor looking for a house for us now. We should be moved in by then… hopefully.”
“Dr. Rodney McKay, astrophysicist, genius, homeowner.” John snorted and gave a grin. “Do you even know how to use a lawnmower?”
“I know how to use the yellow pages to find a gardening service,” he justified. “At least until Carson here is old enough to do it for me.”
Sheppard shrugged. “That works, too.”
“It’s time to dial into the SGC,” Elizabeth told them as she walked up behind the two men. Rodney gave a brief nod of understanding and she gave him a warm hug. “Don’t be a stranger. And I expect periodic progress updates on this little guy.” She tickled Carson’s belly and received a string of babbling as the baby shook the dog tags in response.
“You got it,” McKay promised, taking his son when the gate burst to life.
“So, we’ll see you in a few months.” Rodney told Sheppard firmly, taking his hand and shaking it just as tightly.
“I’ll meet you at the gate,” John promised, finally, reluctantly, letting go of McKay’s hand.
Rodney joined Katie and he shouldered both his duffle bag and Carson’s diaper bag. “Say bye-bye, Carson.” He waved the baby’s hand toward all the people that had come to see them off, and just like that day seven moths prior when he was born, everyone of the adults waved bye-bye back.
Seven months. Shit, it seemed like seven days ago. Just like six years of friendship seemed like it was practically last week, and yet, it was getting harder to imagine a time when John didn’t know McKay. It seemed like he had always been there, always would be there… but not after today. With a final wave, the small family stepped through the gate.
“Atlantis, this is the SGC. Drs. McKay and Brown-McKay have arrived safely. We’re ready to receive your expedition reports.”
“Standby, Walter,” Elizabeth told him through her radio. “We’re beginning the transmission now.” She gave John a small smile. “Guess it’s time to get back to work.”
“Yeah, back to work.” And work seemed like the best thing to do right then.
* * * *