McKay sent emails every time there was a data transmission between the SGC and Atlantis, almost all of them containing photos of Carson. About a month after they left, he sent one with a photo of the three of them standing in front of a bungalow style home in Colorado Springs with a sold sign in the front yard and a series of interior shots, as well. Each room was labeled with a designator– master bedroom, master bath, nursery, office, guest room. The last had an extra note in parenthesis that said, ‘bed and all, no couch required.’
Rodney’s emails talked about his new job, Katie’s work and how neither of them was happy with the daycare situation. As a result, Katie was applying for a position at The Colorado College so that she could be closer to home and until that went through she was cutting back to half time at the SGC to spend more time with Carson.
Rodney had had to go off-world twice, which didn’t please Katie too much, once for a piece of technology that SG5 had thought was Ancient but wasn’t, and once when the SGC’s Jumper was shot down during a covert operation and had to be repaired. Other than that, he’d been working to develop some new sensor equipment that the teams could use in the field that was modeled after the life signs detectors but didn’t require the ATA gene to operate. The Pentagon was expecting some results by the end of the year and given the lackluster group of fast-food worker rejects he had on his staff, Rodney was having to do most of the development himself. That meant long hours and several missed meals a week, which also wasn’t something that made Katie very happy.
A year after his accident, Sheppard was sent back to Earth to be reevaluated for medical clearance. True to his word, McKay met him at the gate, rocking back on his heels with a pleasant smile when John walked down the embarkation ramp.
“Colonel Sheppard,” Rodney greeted.
“Dr. McKay,” Sheppard drawled back.
“Welcome to Earth.”
“Thanks. It’s good to be here.” He shifted his bag, adjusting his weight to force his injured leg to take a little more. Amy had warned that if he favored the right one too much, he was going to screw up his gait permanently and he’d been working hard to retrain his body to do what it was supposed to do.
“Dr. Anderson wanted me to let you know that your first round of tests won’t be until this afternoon at thirteen hundred hours. So you’ve got a few hours to kill.”
Sheppard checked his watch and nodded. “Thanks for the update.”
“So, is there anything you need in the meantime?”
John dropped the formalities and grinned broadly. “I would kill for a cup of coffee right now.”
“I don’t really think it’s that big of a deal,” McKay was telling him as he took a bite of cake. “It’s just been a huge adjustment moving back here and I don’t think she realized exactly what it would entail.”
Sheppard pushed his own plate of chocolate crumbs back and glanced around the cafeteria of the SGC. Not much had changed since the last time he was here, that’s for sure. “Well, it’s definitely easy to get spoiled on Atlantis. Everything is right there in the hub of the city. It would definitely take getting used to a commute that involved more than a five minute walk to get home for dinner.”
“Exactly,” Rodney agreed fervently and shook his head. “She just needs to get used to it again. I mean, it’s almost an hour from the mountain to the house. I can’t be expected to drive an hour home, eat, and then drive another hour to come back up here. It’s not practical to do something like that. And I’m always home in time to play with Carson for a while before we put him to bed.”
“When was the last time you played with your wife?” John gave him an innocent look over the rim of his coffee cup when Rodney’s head popped up at the question.
“We play,” the man snapped. “We play plenty. I mean it changes after you have a baby. It changes a hell of a lot. But we still play.”
“Hey, I’m just asking.”
“Katie just needs to adjust to being back on Earth is all. Everything is fine.” Waving a hand, McKay changed the subject. “So what’s new on Atlantis? Any good gossip you haven’t told me about in your emails?”
“Well, I’m not sure if she wants me to tell you yet or not, but I’m sure you’ll hear soon enough. Teyla’s going to be leaving the team for a while soon.”
“Why?” Rodney asked in worry. “Is something wrong?”
“Depends on your definition of wrong. She’s pregnant.”
McKay’s blink of surprise pretty much matched the one John had given her and Ronon when they stood in his quarters and told him the news. “Pregnant? I didn’t even know she was seeing anyone.”
“She and Ronon kept it pretty quiet. Although, looking back now, it was pretty obvious what had been going on.”
“Ronon? Seriously?” Rodney considered the information for a few seconds before bobbling his head. “Although, you’re right. The signs were all there.” Thinking about it some more, McKay gave a slightly stunned laugh. “Teyla and Ronon having a baby. Who would have thought?”
“Who would’ve?” John seconded the notion with another sip of coffee.
“You know, I always thought that maybe, someday, you and Teyla might… you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sheppard admitted with a sigh. “But, hey, it wouldn’t have worked out if we had. She obviously wanted something that I’m not sure I do. So it’s worked out for the best. Besides, they seem happy, really happy. So, I’m happy for them. Although Ronon’s a little on the protective side; he nearly choked down a marine who accidentally backed his chair into Teyla in the cafeteria.”
McKay sputtered laughter. “It may be the only pregnancy on record where there are more physical complications outside the womb than in it, and none of them related to the baby.”
John’s first round of tests finished up in time for the two of them to beat most of the staff traffic off the mountain. McKay opened the back of the X-Terra, tossing aside a combination of baby toys, roadside emergency kit, extra diapers, and scientific journals to make room for Sheppard’s duffle bag before tossing his own briefcase up into the empty car seat in the back seat.
“It’s incredible how much stuff you never realized you needed for a baby until you live a few blocks from a Babies R Us.”
Sheppard grinned at the observation. “Maybe I should take a catalog back for Teyla.”
“Oh! Good idea! Anything she wants, just let me know and I’ll get it over to her. They carry a really great breast pump. It was a Godsend when Katie went back to work…”
“Yeah, okay,” John winced at the topic, “you can discuss that with her yourself.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Jesus, don’t be such a prude. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural experience.”
“Fine. What say Katie just whips them out for me so I can watch tonight?”
McKay opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it before mumbling with a frown, “I’ll just mark it for Teyla in the catalog.”
The drive down to Colorado Springs was pleasant despite the length. It had been years since John had actually ridden in a car and it was kind of nice to watch the scenery pass by with music from the eighties station playing on the radio. Rodney pulled up in front of that same bungalow home he had sent pictures of a few months prior and led John down the walkway and up onto the porch.
Opening the door, Rodney called out, “Katie, you in here?”
“In the kitchen,” she answered back. “Is John with you?”
A pale gray cat with a chunk missing from one ear and a stubbed tail circled lazily around John’s feet and he shifted to keep from tripping over it, transferring almost all his weight to his bad leg in the process, which just upset his balance even more. Rodney grabbed him by the arm to steady him before nudging at the animal with his foot. “Kenny, move.”
“You know, from South Park. The damn thing’s gone through all nine lives and a few more she apparently managed to steal from some other cats. The shelter where we picked her up had a list… hit by a car, nearly drowned, electrocuted, you name it.”
“And this is the cat you chose?” Sheppard asked in amazement.
Rodney shrugged. “She reminded me of us.”
The cat suddenly darted to the opposite side of the room and John immediately saw why. Carson was crawling at top speed toward the animal, squealing happily when the cat pounced up on the window sill only to lose her balance and topple off.
“See?” McKay pointed out when the cat stood and shook its head dazedly. “What did I tell you? She could have been a member of the team.”
Rodney bent and scooped his son from the floor before he could snag the cat’s tail. “No, no. Kenny doesn’t like that. No, she doesn’t.”
Katie trailed out after the baby, a bottle in her hand. “Hi, you’re home early.” She exchanged a quick kiss with Rodney before smiling at Sheppard. “You should come back to Earth more often, John. I actually get to see my husband when you do.”
If McKay hadn’t have said anything earlier about how displeased Katie was with his work habits, John wouldn’t have thought anything of the comment given how lighthearted it sounded. But the smile on Rodney’s face faltered slightly and John felt he should step in and change the subject.
“Something smells great. I can’t remember the last time I had a home cooked meal… well, at least one made with ingredients I could recognize.”
“I hope you like it; I’m kind of using you as a guinea pig for a new recipe.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve been experimented on.”
Katie laughed, then handed Rodney the bottle. “Can you feed him? I need to get back to the stove.”
“Oh, can you give me five minutes? I promised Bill I’d email him a file as soon as I got home.”
“Rodney, you just walked through the door…”
Stepping in before McKay could make it worse on himself, John offered, “I’ll feed him.”
“See? There you go,” Rodney beamed happily at Sheppard even as he handed Carson over to him. Kissing Katie on the cheek, he promised, “I’ll be right back.”
Katie’s smile seemed a little more forced than it had when he first arrived, but she handed John the bottle. “Thank you, John.”
“Don’t mention it.” Making his way to the rocking chair by the window, John grinned when Carson went for the chain around his neck. “So you remember me after all, don’t you, kid?”
“Oh, your dog tags are the only way we can get him to lay still while we change his diaper,” Katie told him as she returned to the kitchen. “We keep them dangling over his changing table.”
“Well, then,” John grinned with a certain amount of pride, “glad I could be of service.”
Carson drifted off halfway through the bottle, fingers flexing sleepily around the thin pieces of metal hanging from Sheppard’s neck until they stilled and the blue eyes that had been studying John intently drifted closed. He had Rodney’s eyes, that was for damn sure. Narrowed in focus or opened wide in amazement of some new discovery, John had always been struck by how much the child could look like his father just because of those features alone. If the kid was lucky, he’d inherited Katie’s hairline… the color was definitely hers and so was his nose. Sheppard was just curious to see whose temperament won out in the end.
Rodney took the boy and put him down in his crib when he was sure he was out for the count, showed John his room, then offered him a beer while Katie finished up the meal and they played a game of chess. The three of them ate, Carson waking from his nap toward the end of dinner and he sat eating cheerios off the tray of his highchair while Katie opened a couple of jars of baby food. Rodney fed Carson butternut squash and chicken with rice and Carson fed Rodney slightly soggy cheerios between bites and then the two of them practically split the jar of apricot baby food.
And for a few hours, John was able to pretend that nothing had changed. He could pretend that they were back in Rodney and Katie’s apartment on Atlantis and he had just come over for Thursday night dinner and he’d see McKay the next morning at the staff meeting and later Rodney and Carson would join him at PT... But he knew that wasn’t the case, and for the first time since he stepped through his first stargate, John Sheppard dreaded the time he would have to go back to Atlantis.
The time came three days later. The final verdict on his leg from the SGC was close but no cigar. But they agreed to reevaluate it again in two months. Rodney did his best to seem disappointed but then he couldn’t stop smiling when he pointed out it would be Carson’s first birthday and Sheppard decided maybe two more months wouldn’t be so bad.
Back on Atlantis, John was feeling the presence of happy couples all around him, even the one in another galaxy. That went a long way in explaining how he became involved with Dr. Jessica Bell, a linguist that had arrived in the city about a month before. Jessica was that odd combination of the type of girl in public you take home to your parents and the type of woman that did things to you in private you hoped like hell your mother didn’t know anything about. She was smart, funny, pretty, and hard to say no to. And when John woke up in her bed in the morning instead of slipping out in the middle of the night, and then did the same the next night, he realized he might actually have a girlfriend. And he had to admit, it was actually kind of nice.
Two months after his last visit, he was back on Earth, loaded down with birthday presents from various people on Atlantis. Katie’s parents came in and Jeannie called and John got to say hello and hear about the plans for Christmas when Rodney was taking his family up to Canada for a visit. Carson had his father’s sweet tooth, as well, digging into his cake with both hands and dropping large glops of it on the floor for Kenny to lick at curiously.
The strain was still present between Katie and Rodney if you knew to look for it, and Sheppard offered to watch Carson one night while the two of them went out.
“Wow, a real honest to God date with my wife? I’m not sure I know how to do that.” Turning with a grin to Katie he asked, “So is dinner and movie enough for you to put out or does it take more than that these days?”
Katie had swatted his head with a dishtowel where he sat eating his breakfast, causing him to slosh his coffee, but she smiled happily. “Tell the man yes and thank you, Rodney.”
“Yes and thank you… very, very much.”
It was nearly two in the morning before they got home. Once Carson was in bed, John had fallen asleep on the couch watching television. He’d honestly spent most of the night just flipping channels, amazed at the number of choices that were out there before dozing off watching ESPN Classics. Rodney shook his foot to wake him and a slow grin spread across Sheppard’s face when he noticed that McKay’s shirt collar was askew and the buttons were misaligned and fastened one off.
“Evidently dinner and a movie is enough.”
Rodney’s eyes rolled but he couldn’t hide his grin. “It makes it kind of hard to thank you when you act like an ass.”
“You’re welcome.” Sitting up he stretched with a broad yawn.
“Makes me wish you were here more often so we could take frequent advantage of your babysitting skills.”
“A lack of cheap labor, now there’s a reason to be missed.”
“That’s the least of the reasons for missing you,” Rodney admitted, his grin turning a little melancholy. “So, this Jessica woman, will I like her?”
“She’s smart, sexy, sophisticated… totally not your type.”
“Will she like me?”
“Oh, hell no. Not a chance.”
“Sounds like a good match for you, then.” With a final grin he headed down the hall toward his bedroom. “Goodnight, Sheppard.”
“ ‘Night, McKay.”
It had taken fourteen months, but Sheppard was finally, finally, cleared for full duty. It felt good to be back in the field, although when he was getting back out there, Teyla was starting to stay back, only going to the home world of established allies and trading partners. John pulled in a young marine, Lt. Scott Utiger, to take her place and between Radek’s Czech accent and Utiger’s Bronx one, Sheppard could barely understand what anyone on his team was saying. But the kid was a straight shot and kept a level head in any situation and had dimples that could charm paint off the walls.
But returning to the field had its drawbacks, as well. Jessica realized that watching John leave on dangerous missions day in and day out may have been something she could handle but it wasn’t something she wanted to have to handle. And what could John say? He wasn’t going to voluntarily leave the field like McKay had and given the problems that he saw in Rodney and Katie’s marriage, he knew he should be glad that she had been up front about it before they became too serious. But it still sucked out loud that it had to end and he was once again on the dating circuit.
Rodney managed to find three excuses to come to Atlantis that year… to use a particular piece of equipment or find a spare part for something an SG team had found in the Milky Way and Sheppard had to go back to Earth twice, so every couple of months they had a chance to see each other face to face instead of just through emails.
One of McKay’s trips to the city took place a few weeks after Chira, Teyla and Ronon’s baby girl, was born and he dragged two extra suitcases with him filled with baby paraphernalia. Some of it was hand me downs of things Carson had outgrown and others with the Babies R Us price tags still on them.
Rodney had sat on the couch beside Teyla and smiled down at the tiny bundle in her arms. “Wow, she’s gorgeous. It’s hard to believe Carson was ever this small.”
“Perhaps you and Katie should consider having another,” Teyla suggested. “Carson would probably like to have a baby brother or sister.”
“Yeah, well, maybe,” McKay shrugged awkwardly confirming what John had been picking up subtly through the visits and the letters from the scientist. “Besides, Carson has hit the terrible twos and practically considers himself the center of the universe.”
“Like father, like son,” Sheppard noted dryly.
“And exactly where we deserve to be,” Rodney snorted, already holding open his arms, anxious to get his hands on the baby. “Can I hold her?”
Before Teyla could hand her over, Ronon grabbed him by the wrist. In confusion, Rodney looked up at the Satedan in time to see him squirt some hand sanitizer in McKay’s palm. John’s lips twitched at the action and Rodney rubbed his hands together under the watchful eye of the protective father.
“Sorry, what was I thinking?”
Once he’d met the sanitation requirements of holding the newborn, he took the infant and handled her like a pro. “Hey, there, cutie. Maybe when you’re older you can come play with Carson. I think he’d like that.” Teyla smiled dotingly at the child and Rodney told her excitedly, “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if years from now Carson and Chira got married and we were in-laws?”
Teyla grinned at the prospect but Ronon only frowned. “Keep your delinquent son away from my daughter.”
“Ronon!” Teyla chastised and the large man shifted under the disapproving glare of his mate.
“Well, I guess there could be worse choices out there for her,” Ronon conceded
John raised his eyebrows. “I don’t envy the teenage boys that will have to meet you on a first date.”
Afterwards, Sheppard and McKay stopped by the cafeteria.
“We’re in couple’s therapy,” Rodney admitted morosely as he rolled his coffee cup between his palms. “And I thought going through that ordeal with Cadman had been bad.”
“Therapy can be good,” John offered, but he wasn’t even fooling himself much less McKay.
“She just doesn’t get it. I can’t give up any more. I mean, I know she had to walk away from Atlantis the same as I did. But in her mind, she was going home… and I was leaving it.”
“She wants you to leave the SGC?”
“At first she suggested teaching. Me, teaching.” Rodney shook his head in disbelief. “Can you see me with a bunch of freshman physics students?”
“Christ, McKay, you’ll either turn them into a bunch of bed wetters or groom them into the next generation of Bond villains.”
Ignoring the comment, Rodney continued. “So then she suggested private industry. She thinks I’d have a more regular work schedule, be home more.” McKay leaned forward to tell Sheppard intently, “I can’t walk away from the SGC, not knowing what I do, knowing what’s out there hovering, waiting to strike. The best way to keep them safe is through my research. But Katie just doesn’t see it that way.”
“You’re working on it, going to therapy; that has to count for something in her eyes. Right?”
McKay sighed, studied the steam rising from his cup. “I don’t want Carson growing up in a home like I did where the parents stay together for the kids and in the process make the kid’s lives miserable. Jeannie and I survived that, but I want better for my son. And I don’t want Katie hating me for the choices I make and I don’t want to resent her for making me do something I don’t want to do. I love her too much for that.”
“So what do you do?”
Rodney shrugged at John’s question. “Keep going to counseling until one of us caves or we finally realize it’s just not going to work.”
“And if it doesn’t work out?”
“Katie’s up for tenure soon and she seems to like Colorado Springs, so I think she’d be willing to stay there.”
Sheppard nodded before offering, “You know, if you ever want to come back here, there’s always a spot for you on the team.”
Rodney looked up and blinked. “I can’t… I mean, not that I wouldn’t want to, because I would, I really, really would, but Carson… I can’t not see him for months at a time…”
John’s raised his hand to stop the rambling. “I didn’t think you’d actually take me up on it. I just wanted you to know the offer’s on the table.”
“I know,” McKay told him and took another sip of coffee.
* * * *
After four and a half years, Katie Brown-McKay had finally had enough. The split was amicable, if nothing else, with a joint custody agreement between the two. Rodney rented an apartment a few blocks away so that he could still come by and see his son almost every night and managed to stick to his promise to be home on weekends so Carson could stay with him then.
The email he sent John with his new address didn’t include cheerful pictures of his new place but he did mention that he’d set up a futon in his office and if his back could take it, Sheppard was more than welcome to crash there whenever he was back on Earth. Teyla decided to stay off the team except for the occasional trip to friendly territory because the thought of Chira losing both parents on a dangerous mission was more than Ronon could stand. John was actually glad she’d agreed with the decision since it was really more than he could stand, too.
It was weird for Sheppard, seeing the vulnerability of Ronon Dex. He had always considered the Satedan nigh invincible. Nothing could stop him, nothing could bring him down. But the moment John saw those massive arms cradling his tiny daughter, the image changed. And just like with McKay, Ronon was suddenly more than just a friend and teammate. He was also a father and a husband and John sometimes felt like he was watching the backs three men when they were together instead of just one.
When the Wraith attacked the city once again, Sheppard tried to order Ronon through the gate with the other evacuees heading for Earth, including Teyla and Chira, but he refused… even his family wasn’t enough for him to pass up the opportunity to kill a butt load of Wraith. Although, in the end, he didn’t really get too much of a chance seeing as the battle was fought in orbit above the city.
Sheppard left Lorne in the chair room to control the drones in case their plan failed while he went up in the Daedalus, which had come as soon as the Hive ships were detected on the long-range scanners.
Rodney’s work on the new detection equipment at the SGC had actually led to a rather handy discovery on the side. The equipment worked by using a type of sonar location… McKay had never gotten over his fascination with the giant whale-like fish on Atlantis… sending out a burst at a frequency that modulated until it found a receptor transmitting on the same frequency and fed back information. The down side was that with the changing frequency, the information on the scanner couldn’t lock onto any one item for long. The up side, Rodney realized, was that it could cut through the Wraith shields like they were tissue paper.
McKay had been working with very subtle variations in the frequencies of biologic material, which was exactly how the Wraith produced and modulated their shields. So when his transmitters were used, they could eventually detect and feedback the correct frequency of the shielding that was constantly changing. More than that, they could pick up the subtle changes as they were happening, which would allow a nuke to be delivered to the Hive ship via the Asgard beams.
The problem was the range was still incredibly short and it required you to be practically sitting on top of the shield when you scanned it. And that’s where Sheppard and the F302 he was to be piloting came in. It would all come down to keeping clear of the Darts trying to shoot him while staying close enough to the shield to bounce frequencies off of it without bouncing off of it himself.
“Five minutes,” Rodney told him tensely through the final transmission between Atlantis and the SGC. “It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to get a lock on the correct frequency.”
“Are you sure about that?”
The expression on McKay’s face said Sheppard was an idiot for asking such a stupid questions. “Of course I’m not sure about that. This has never even been tested on anything more than computer simulations. Which begs the question, oh, by the way, are you a complete lunatic for attempting this with a device that isn’t even out of the R&D phase or is there a chance that massive amounts of antipsychotic drugs might cure you of these delusions of grandeur and misperceptions of invincibility?”
“Five minutes,” Sheppard considered with a frown. “Piece of cake.”
Ronon stepped in front of the screen then, thankfully changing the subject away from Sheppard’s mental stability, because, given the way Rodney was throwing up his arms in absolute frustration, John was starting to question it himself. “McKay, make sure Teyla and Chira are taken care of and have a decent place to bunk.”
“What? Do I look like the night clerk at the Airport Holiday Inn?”
“Just look out for them,” Ronon stressed.
Leaning forward as if that would keep the rest of the control room from hearing him, McKay admitted, “I already stole the key to the VIP quarters just for them.”
“Colonel Sheppard,” the communications officer from the Daedalus hailed through the radio. “We’re ready to beam you up.”
“Copy that.” Turning to Ronon he told the man, “If this doesn’t work and they overwhelm the drones, Elizabeth and Radek are prepared to blow the city. You get as many of the remaining personnel through the gate and get the hell out yourself.”
“Five minutes, Sheppard,” Rodney called one last time. “If you can’t lock on in that amount of time, pull back because chances are it won’t work.”
“Then I’ll be talking to you in ten minutes, Rodney. Sheppard out.”
The next thing he knew, he was standing in the flight hangar on the Daedalus. Five minutes, that wasn’t really that long. But the five minutes wouldn’t start until he was within range and five minutes in the middle of a space battle can seem like a goddamn eternity. The six-ship escort he had when he left the Daedalus was down to three by the time he made his first pass of the Hive and he still didn’t have a lock. He lost another by the time he completed the second sweep and he was down to less than two minutes on the clock.
“Come on, come on,” he mumbled as he watched the numbers on the scanner flutter rapidly on the screen before him. When the clock reached thirty seconds, he thought he had a lock, but a Dart had him climbing away from the Hive and the device didn’t have enough time to calibrate onto the modulation pattern to get a precise frequency. “Son of a bitch!”
Skimming back down near the surface of the shield, he saw another F302 burst into flames. But the scanner had gone back to the last frequencies it had almost been successful with and this time the lock held. “We have a lock,” Sheppard reported back to the Daedalus, “Transmitting frequency pattern now.”
And that’s when the Dart got off a shot that hit his starboard wing. The F302 started careening wildly and he struggled for control of the ship even as he struggled to call the mayday. This close to the Hive, if he didn’t regain control, he’d impact against the shield. So instead of trying to fight it, he cut all primary propulsion power, hoping like hell his current trajectory was away from the Wraith ship and he’d float out into open space and the Daedalus could beam him out. Yeah, lots of goddamn hoping. That sounded like a fucking brilliant plan.
And of course, when he got his bearings back, he saw that he was heading toward the Hive. John tried to fire her up again, but got no response, and as the plane of the shield approached at an alarming rate, he said the famous last words of most pilots in a doomed craft.
And then he passed right through. It took him a second to realize that the scanner was still transmitting at the captured frequency, which would convince the shield he was nothing more than a Dart returning home. Now that that moment of near death was passed he had about ten second to avoid the next… the hull of the Hive itself.
“Stand by, Colonel, we’re beaming the nuke now.”
Oh, well then, he could stop worrying about crashing into the Hive since he’d be vaporized in a nuclear blast instead. That made all the difference in the world.
Trying once again to restart the F302, he finally caught a damn break and it came to life, even though he still had almost no control. Pulling hard on the stick, he managed to pull the nose up enough that he could bounce the belly his ship off the hull of the Hive like a stone skipping across a lake. The first impact felt like it knocked the fillings out of his back molars, the second like his neck was going to break, the third had his head slamming into the controls and by the fourth he was starting to roll. He felt more than heard the snap in his leg, then saw more than felt the glow of what could only be the missile exploding. And after that, he didn’t see anything at all.
“What the fuck happened?”
Rodney’s voice was cutting into the blackness and why was McKay in the F302? Because that’s where John still was, wasn’t he? Rolling along the outside of a Hive ship. That’s what it felt like, like he was just rolling along.
“His ship crashed.” Now Ronon was there and where the hell was he sitting? In McKay’s lap? The F302s only had two seats, after all. “They beamed him out at the last second then beamed him down to Atlantis so we could bring him through the gate.”
“Ronon?” Teyla and, by the crying he could hear, the baby. Jesus, what was he flying, a goddamn minivan? Her tone changed from questioning concern to all out worry. “John?”
“He found the frequency,” Ronon was explaining. “They destroyed the Hives.”
“All hail the conquering hero as he’s wheeled into surgery, yet again,” Rodney grumbled but John knew that was just worry, too.
And as disconcerting as it was to think about it, to have the three of them floating somewhere in the thickening darkness, it felt just like old times.
* * * *
Jason was the physical therapist at the SGC and he made Amy look like a cupcake in comparison. Or maybe it was the fact that Sheppard was back to rehabilitating the same leg yet again.
“Great job, Colonel, you’re almost finished.”
John let out a noise that was something between a grunt and a whimper, but what he was thinking was, ‘you sick, sadistic, fucker. Do I look like I need a cheerleader?’ He hoped like hell that the man was fluent in the secret language of torture victims.
“Okay, all done, Colonel.”
Sheppard lay panting as he stared up at the ceiling of the PT room, wondering if the therapist was intentionally using his new title today to try to make up for the extra agony he had put John through. Full bird colonel, who would have thought? Evidently nearly getting yourself killed by a nuclear weapon saving the city of Atlantis was good for your career seeing as both times he’d done it he’d ended up promoted.
But with rank comes responsibility, which in his case meant he wasn’t allowed to go out and play anymore. That and the fact that chances were pretty damn slim that he’d ever get medical clearance to be on an SG team again thanks to his leg. So he’d been given a desk job instead. Hell, he should be flattered; they even created the position just for him. It seemed that over the years the away teams stationed in Atlantis and those stationed at the SGC had kind of branched off from one another. On the one hand, that allowed those teams stationed in a particular location to become specialized. On the hand, it limited the deployment capabilities of the SGC. The guys with stars on their shoulders decided they wanted the flexibility of integrating teams from Earth and Atlantis when the need arose while still maintaining the level of proficiency of each team required for the specialized needs in each galaxy. John had been assigned to oversee this integration and cross-training.
It wouldn’t have been his first choice, but as far as desk jobs went, it was a good one. He still got to run training missions, he got to move between Atlantis and Earth, and even occasionally still got to fly. And eventually, when he managed to get off of the crutches and walking on his own once again, he’d never have to see Herr Jason ever again.
“So, are you ready to go? I have to pick up Carson early today; Katie has a seminar on Rocky Mountain fungus or something like that.”
“Yeah, sure, I’m ready.” John groaned from where he lay on the table.
“Well, then, chop chop. Enough of this laying around snoozing all day.”
The good news was that Rodney had found a place for Sheppard in his apartment complex so that McKay could drive him to the SGC. The bad news was that Rodney had found a place for Sheppard in his apartment complex so that McKay could drive him to the SGC.
Pushing himself up, he saw McKay already had his crutches waiting for him. “Jason missed you today. He had to yell at me to try harder all by himself. I think he almost lost his voice.”
“I’ll give him a throat lozenge tomorrow. I’ve got a briefing for the IOA I have to finish up this week and since I’m pulling extra kid duty for the next three days, I’ve got to get as much done here as I can.”
They made their way out into the hallway and an attractive, female officer smiled in greeting. “Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay.”
“Captain Fernandez,” Rodney responded awkwardly. “Thanks again for the help with the cart.”
“No problem, Doctor. Any time you need to use it, you know where it is.”
McKay seemed on the verge of bolting for the elevator. “Well, we need to get going. I’ll see you… around… here… somewhere.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will. Goodnight,” she smiled again before leaving them in the hall.
Rodney moved quickly to the elevator, pushing the button impatiently multiple times and John caught up to him a little more slowly. “What the hell was that?”
“What was what?”
“That pathetic attempt at whatever the hell that was.”
“It was nothing,” McKay insisted, pushing the button yet again.
“Well, there sure isn’t a word I can put to it, that’s for damn sure.”
Rodney sighed in exasperation. “If you must know, I needed to move some equipment between labs today and Vera let me borrow her cart.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, people do go by their first names, Sheppard.”
“You don’t,” John pointed out innocently.
“Or their middle names. Not everyone has to be referred to by their last name or title.”
“That’s the only way you refer to me.”
“You’re different,” McKay snapped, grumbling, “Finally,” when the elevator doors opened.
John hobbled his way into the elevator. “Why am I different?”
“Because you’re an ass who takes exceptional joy in tormenting me, that’s why.”
Sheppard considered the reasoning before shrugging. “Everybody needs a hobby.”
“Oh, shut the hell up. I’m only thankful that I can still call you Colonel despite your promotion. I don’t think I could handle another round of name that rank with you.”
“Don’t worry, Rodney, you’ve still got a few years until I make general.” John ignored the rolled blue eyes as the doors to the elevator slid shut. Instead, he told McKay, “You should ask her out.”
An hour and a half later, Rodney was stirring the foam into his mocha vende pansy-assed Earth coffee at the Starbucks that was around the corner from their apartments. Although John didn’t have too much room to poke fun seeing as he was drinking a caramel macchiato, partially because it was pretty damn tasty but mostly because it was fun to say.
“You really think I should ask her out?”
Carson was playing in the overstuffed chair behind Rodney, happily putting his stuffed lamb on the back, pushing it over the ledge and retrieving it to do it again. It was a favorite game of his and would keep him occupied for minutes at a time, which, Sheppard was learning, was quite a while on a toddler’s internal clock. Rodney claimed he was learning the basic concepts of gravity. John was reminded of those stories about cave men running herds of mammoth off of cliffs. Either way, it was definitely a McKay trait.
“Sure, why not? She’s cute, she’s in supply, which is handy, she’s obviously attracted to you.”
“Gee, she meets all the requirements you usually want in a woman, why don’t you ask her out?”
“Can’t. That whole fraternization rule. Otherwise I might consider it. She has a nice smile.”
Rodney considered the assessment then shook his head. “Dating. God, I haven’t dated in over five years. And even back then I sucked at it.”
Sipping at his drink, John shrugged. “You evidently weren’t that bad at it. You ended up with a wife and child out of the deal.”
“Yeah,” McKay snorted, “and look how well that worked out for me.”
Watching as Carson reached under the chair to retrieve his toy, Sheppard gave a small smile. “I’d say it worked out pretty well.”
Looking back over his shoulder, Rodney admitted, “Parts of it sure the heck did.”
“So, ask her out. It’s just a date.”
“Dates lead to… more.”
“And the possibility of more isn’t something you want?”
“Been there, done that. Once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once… You get the picture.”
John snorted at hearing his own words mimicked back at him all these years later. “I’ve lived the picture. But it doesn’t mean you have to become a monk.”
Rodney seemed to consider it, then asked a little reluctantly, “A date?”
“A simple date.”
“How? What do I say? Where do I take her?”
“Ask her out for coffee,” John suggested.
“What? You mean like this?”
Sheppard looked between them. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“Huh, all this time we’ve been dating and I never knew.”
“I’m hurt, McKay. You’ve wounded me deeply.”
“I told you I sucked at this.”
“You’re the longest relationship I’ve ever been in in my life and you never knew?”
“What can I say; you’re not exactly my type. Not enough interesting bits above the belt line and way too many below.”
“And yet we’ve been dating for seven years. Go figure.”
“I think that proves my point.”
“Look, I’ll help you out; give you a few pointers if you want.”
McKay scoffed at John’s offer. “We’ve been dating seven years and you’ve never even made it to first base with me. What sort of advice can you give?”
John simply raised an eyebrow. “I got laid over the weekend. Did you?”
“You make a very compelling case. Tell me what I need to do.”
But before Sheppard could pass on his wealth of knowledge, Carson interrupted them.
“Dada, Baa is stuck.”
At his son’s complaint, Rodney squatted down beside where the boy was peering under the chair and pulled out the stuffed sheep. “Buddy, why don’t you give Baa a break and let him sit in the chair for a change.”
Carson didn’t even consider it an option, simply frowned at his father like he were an imbecile for suggesting such a thing, climbed back up and tipped the stuffed animal off again. Rodney just shook his head before sitting back in his seat and John didn’t have to wonder where that attitude had come from. The toy, however, was a different story.
“Where did he get that sheep anyway?” he asked in amusement.
McKay sighed dramatically. “Katie’s sister sent it to him and now he won’t play with anything else.”
“Your son… Carson… loves sheep? I think the correct term for that is poetic justice.”
“Or his namesake has a truly vindictive sense of humor.” Rodney gave an irritated shake of his head heavenward, as if speaking directly to the physician responsible for his son’s actions. Sheppard grinned but McKay admitted quietly with a wistful smile, “I still miss him, after all this time.” Shaking his head as if to clear it of unpleasant thoughts, he said a little louder, “But I miss Teyla and Ronon and Elizabeth and Radek, and everybody.”
“They miss you, too. Shoot, even I missed you now and again when I was there full time.”
“Now and again?”
“When I needed a Canadian to taunt. Chuck, the gate tech, wasn’t as open to the concept as you were.”
“So sorry you had to endure such hardships, Colonel.”
“Eh, I’m here now, so no worries.”
“Yeah,” Rodney agreed, “no worries.” And the man seemed torn by the news.
“What? You’d rather I was back on Atlantis?”
“No! No, nothing like that. I just sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I’d never started dating Katie in the first place. That’s all.”
“Well,” Sheppard considered philosophically. “You probably wouldn’t have left the team or left Atlantis. But if you hadn’t done that, then you might be dead now or you wouldn’t have devised the scanner that let us defeat the Wraith in the last attack, and you definitely wouldn’t have had Carson.”
“God, I can’t even imagine not having him. He’s just… incredible. It’s amazing to watch how he grows and learns and of course he’s smart, that goes without saying. But he’s funny, too, and he’s…”
“…licking the bottom of the table behind you,” Sheppard pointed out as he took another sip of coffee.
“What?” Rodney turned in alarm to see his son doing exactly what Sheppard had said he was. “Carson, no, stop that!”
“Oh, Christ, that’s disgusting.” Scooping the boy up, he handed him to John. “Here, hold him so I can see what else he might have sampled without him coming back for seconds.”
Sheppard sat the boy on the table in front of him and shook his head in mock disappointment. “We need to do something about your eating habits. Your father’s are bad enough without you trying to outdo him.”
“Doggies,” Carson demanded and John shook his head even as he took the tags from around his neck.
“I rest my case. You’ve been eating these since you were a few months old.”
Returning with a grimace from his inspection of the underside of the furniture, Rodney reclaimed his seat. “Well, unless he ate whatever was under there before I stopped him, I don’t think we’ll need a trip to the emergency room.”
“Too bad,” Sheppard mused, “that’s a good place to meet women.”
“Works for me.”
Rodney seemed to consider the possibility for a minute then shook his head. “No, ER visits don’t exactly rank high with the ex-wife. But I’ll keep that in mind the next time it can’t be avoided.”
“My wisdom is at your disposal.” John kept a stabilizing hand on Carson as the child slipped the chain over his own head and studied the tags closely. “Women also love a man in uniform, don’t forget that, Kiddo.”
Rodney watched the two of them for a few seconds before noting, “You know, some day, he’s going to come to me for dating advice and I won’t have a clue what to tell him.”
Carson looked up at John then, grinning crookedly at the way the tags dangled down to his knees. Yeah, there was a hell of a lot of Rodney in him, poor little guy. But the thought had Sheppard grinning in return.
“Don’t worry, kid. When you need dating advice, you just come to your Uncle John and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
And thirteen years later, John took him out for a frappachino and did just that.
|pebbles: Drop a pebble|