Recipient: for outsideth3box
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, stargates, or puddlejumpers.
Author's Notes: Hope you have a great holiday season!
Summary: John comes back from an off-world mission pregnant. The responsible thing to do, of course, is to give up everything he loves.
Think about something so much (You should know me better than that)
Start to slide out of touch (You should know me better than that)
Tell yourself it's all you know (You should know me better than that)
Learn to appreciate the void (You should know me better than that)
I should live in salt for leaving you behind
The National - I Should Live in Salt
The mission to P8S-771 was entirely uneventful. A researcher Janus had praised in his recently-deciphered journals had had a lab there, but when Rodney finally broke into the building all they found was the dust of centuries. John helped Rodney get his equipment set up and the emergency power on, and then wandered around with Ronon and Teyla like bored tourists for the next five hours while Rodney hacked into the facility's computer system and then tried to coax out its digital secrets. The place looked mostly like a health clinic, with waiting areas and exam beds. They found a pharmacy which John figured Carson would want to see, even though all the bottles and pills were past the expiration date by thousands of years. There was also a cute holographic display of a man whose internal organs and circulatory system lit up when buttons on a panel were pushed. They killed a good half hour trying to name all the organs. Ronon won; John bet he'd helped Melena practice for her exams back on Sateda.
When Rodney was finally done downloading everything useful, straightening up from his keyboard dusty and disgruntled, he insisted on taking a walk around the facility himself. Ronon and Teyla immediately volunteered to carry all his crap back to the jumper, so John squared his shoulders and led the tour. Broken Ancient bathrooms, exam rooms, a series of labs with decaying equipment, waiting areas with crumbling sofas and blank wall panels which had probably been TVs, or maybe terrible art. John even showed Rodney the cashier's desk, which he'd thought was the most interesting find here. Proof that the Ancients did have some form of currency, and also installment plans, as demonstrated by a tasteful pastel plaque on the wall.
"This place sucks," Rodney said mournfully. "I hate Janus." He'd already broken the news that there was no super-weapon research in the data. John wasn't exactly heartbroken. Biomedical methods of Wraith eradication had never worked well for anyone. They were pretty much all deals with different devils.
"He probably got treated here for ulcers or something," John offered. "And then told all his friends."
Rodney made a scoffing noise. "I don't think he had friends. He was probably trying to trick his staff into surprise medical check-ups. They probably hated him, too." He followed John back towards the exit, grumbling. There was one brief moment of excitement when Rodney spotted a transporter and burbled gleefully about secret laboratories, but the transporter had no internal controls, so Rodney made John be his guinea pig while he stayed outside to poke at all the buttons. The doors shut and opened and John could confirm that it was pretty damn dark inside, not to mention boring -- though for all they knew, he could have been transported into a pit of giant spiders, which would not have brightened up his day. Boring was fine, boring was good. Finally Rodney let him out, pronouncing it a glorified closet -- hardly the great discovery they'd traveled all this way to make.
"At least we didn't get attacked by Asgard this time," John pointed out, steering Rodney away towards the exit. "Look on the bright side."
"The bright side would be lots of useful weapons and no more Wraith. Didn't your president tell you that eliminating the Wraith was Atlantis' top priority? Wasn't that a condition of your promotion?"
John winced. He'd heard this particular gripe from every scientist at least twice, and while he was sorry that departments like xenobotany and anthropology had been scaled back, at least Atlantis had been sent back to Pegasus ASAP to carry out the presidential orders.
He knew from experience that this discussion with Rodney could go nowhere good. So, diversion. "Brighter side," John said, walking faster, so Rodney had to stop dawdling to keep up. "I hear dinner's going to be fake pad thai again. With those kind of onion things."
"What are they really?" Rodney asked, and they got into another loud argument about food.
Sooner or later, Rodney was going to figure out that John hated talking about what had happened back on Earth. John would settle for later.
"You're fucking kidding me," was the first thing John said, followed immediately by, "Get it out of me. Right the fuck now."
"If that's what you want," Carson said, voice professionally level, as if he was pointedly being the better man and ignoring the cursing. John hated that.
John paced, arms crossed so hard he felt the strain in his elbows. "Post-mission scanners pick up hangnails. How did they miss this?"
Carson huffed out a loud breath, the first crack in his professional facade, showing that he was angry, too. "They didn't. They just filed all the appropriate data where the Ancients would have put it, and not being Ancient I had no, pardon my language, fucking idea I was missing anything. Male surrogate pregnancy was apparently commonplace. I now know."
John unclenched one hand enough to jab an accusatory finger at Carson's chest. He was grateful they were having the conversation in the Carson's office, with the door locked and the privacy curtain pulled across the windows. John'd been certain he knew what news Carson had -- his last birthday, John'd turned the same age his mother had been when she died, and cancer ran in families, right? He'd been keyed up when he got here, and still felt like he was in the middle of a firefight.
"You said three months."
"Yes." Carson toyed with the mouse on his computer, and then shoved to his feet, shoulders going back like John'd called him out on the playground. "At half nine this morning, the Ancient medical benefits system sent me the surrogacy certificate for you to file, to get reduced work hours and so on. I was... horrified, John. That I overlooked something so huge -- that this had been done to you."
"I guess you know what it's like." John didn't want to stop being angry, but he wasn't unreasonable. Carson -- both the Carsons -- had been screwed over by the Pegasus Galaxy.
"Aye." Carson spread his hands. "I'm sorry, John."
Sorry didn't solve anything or make John feel better, but he made a face at Carson to indicate he appreciated the sentiment. "What now?"
"Give me a week. I have a lot of research to do." John wanted some instant fix, but... it wasn't like an extra week was going to make a difference at this point, he supposed. "You're mission ineligible as of now. If you do decide to terminate, I think we can avoid mentioning this to your superior officer."
John had the sudden horrible mental image of breaking the news to General Landry by belting out Papa Don't Preach.
"You should know," Carson went on, "it is in every way a perfectly normal fetus. No problems with the DNA or development, and the... necessary changes appear not to be harmful to you physically."
John swallowed. There was no graceful or subtle way to bring up that he hadn't had sex for well over three years, and certainly not three months ago; but he supposed surrogacy implied no sex was necessary. Trust the Ancients to find a way to make even reproduction as sterile as possible. "Any idea who the parents are?"
"You, of course." John felt perverse relief. "And Dr McKay." Carson's expression was exquisitely nonjudgmental. "The decision to tell him is, of course, up to you." The relief was followed by a rush of cold terror. Despite John's best efforts, something must have shown on his face, because Carson's expression turned sympathetic. "How are you feeling?"
Gut-punched, John wanted to say. He'd been more tired than usual lately, with random headaches and loss of appetite, but every mission scan had come back in the clear. He remembered coming home from school as a kid and having to be quiet because his mother was sleeping. That was how it had started, so he'd figured... well, Ancient scanners weren't perfect.
As he now knew too well.
"I'm fine," John said. He took a step back; he couldn't help himself. "You know there's nothing going on with me and McKay. Right?" Carson frowned, but John didn't want to hear him tiptoe around the stupid crush John'd accidentally admitted to years ago, or the ghastly conversation they'd had when the new Carson'd been rescued and John got to fill him in on Rodney's change of girlfriends. John unlocked the door, desperate to get away. "Never has been, never will be." He nodded for emphasis and edged out into the corridor, avoiding Carson's eyes. "See you in a week."
Carson told John he didn't need to take any precautions -- after all, he'd been using transporters, going through the gate, and flying jumpers for the past three months without causing any harm. Hell, he'd even engaged the Wraith a couple of times, and spent a night stuck in a tree on the planet of midget dinosaurs.
So John made himself get up and go running with Ronon, intent on being normal. But he flaked out just short of the south pier. Instead of pushing himself like he usually did, trying to outrun his age and old injuries, he came to a stop and leaned on the railing. He breathed hard and tried to think of what to say to Ronon, who'd turned and was jogging back.
"You okay?" Ronon asked, and offered John water from his flask. John took a sip. "Heard you saw Carson."
"I'm good." John wiped his mouth off on the shoulder of his t-shirt and passed the flask back. "Tell me about the Satedan resettlement. How's everyone doing?"
"In the two weeks since we were there?" Ronon asked, and gave John a look that said he knew perfectly well John was changing the subject. But he did his stretches and told John about the farmers putting in the first crops, and the salvage operations. The Satedan stargate had been set up just outside what had been a mid-sized rural town. Right now, rebuilding the cities would be too hard for the few dozens of Satedan survivors and other refugees looking for opportunity. The farmland was good, though, and the oceans were full of fish. "Opened a library, I hear," Ronon went on. "Couple of teachers hold a school there. Feels so small compared to how it was, but, you know."
John nodded. "You still want to be here?"
"Eh." Ronon rolled his shoulders back and then shook them loose. "I don't know about the future, but being there too long makes me think about what's gone." And who's gone, John thought, but he wasn't about to say the words out loud. "You ever want to live on Earth again?"
John shrugged. "You met my family."
"Yeah." Ronon straightened and looked down at John with a half-smile. "We walking back?"
"Power walking," John countered, and pretended that he was saving his dignity, somehow.
Atlantis was basically a small town, and John figured that if even Ronon had sussed out that John had some unspecified medical problem, then he should avoid as many people as possible. He stayed in his office, getting a lot of paperwork done and finishing another module in the training program Landry insisted he needed to complete. He went through all his mission reports for the past five months, but in retrospect he knew exactly when his life had gone off the rails. Stupid fucking Ancients with their stupid secret medical labs and fake transporters that beamed babies on board.
He dropped by Teyla's place a couple of times, meaning to ask circuitous questions but chickening out as soon as Teyla fixed him with that all-knowing stare of hers. Mostly he ended up on the floor playing farm animals and trucks with Torren. It was relaxing -- as long as he ignored the fact that Ronon must have told Teyla, because she treated him with a careful delicacy that made John feel like he really was dying.
John slept a lot. It freaked him out, how out-of-control his life had become, in less than a week. He knew what he wanted, and still couldn't make a decision that lasted longer than half an hour. At least when he was asleep, his mind stopped second-guessing itself.
The responsible thing was to bring Rodney with him to his meeting with Carson. Rodney, predictably, had a fit of drama. First he thought John was trying to tell him that he was sick, and panicked, and then when John snapped at him, his eyes went round and he looked wounded, like he had when Elizabeth died. Nothing improved when John finally got him into Carson's office. Rodney thought John and Carson had set the whole thing up as an elaborate prank, and was well into an angry rant when Carson manhandled him into the desk chair and yelled at him to look at the data, if he wouldn't even believe his oldest and dearest friends.
"Dearest," Rodney scoffed, but he narrowed his eyes and started reading. Carson stood at his elbow and offered a mix of snippish commentary and scientific enthusiasm -- apparently, a whole lot of specialized nanites were involved. For the first time since he got the news, John felt like he just might throw up, and took shallow breaths while looking at the bookshelves, the nick-knacks, the curtains -- anywhere but Rodney.
"So this is real," Rodney said finally, sounding put out, like the universe was once again conspiring to fuck up his life. He stared at John. "And I suppose you want to know if I want the baby. You have your dangerous military career, potential for transfer at any time, no indication at all you want to meet someone, settle down, have a family -- and you know that one of the many reasons Jennifer and I didn't work out was that I discovered I wanted -- want -- to pass on my genes. And wisdom. You've seen me with Madison and Torren."
"That, plus you're the father," John said, needling Rodney automatically while his thoughts went white.
"Rodney," Carson said, sounding strangled. "John hasn't decided yet whether to continue the pregnancy."
Rodney gave a tight little smile. "Yes, he has. Or I wouldn't be here." He tapped the laptop screen with an impatient finger. "You've got Ancient data on thousands of men and their healthy deliveries. You think you can do this safely, for Sheppard and for the baby?"
Carson looked close to erupting, and John didn't want to deal with that. "He can't promise that, McKay. But odds are we'll be fine." He poked a finger in Rodney's direction. "How sure are you?"
Rodney stilled, all his focus on John. "You can laugh and say it's my biological clock and I won't argue, but I don't like thinking I might never have the opportunity to be a father. It took me decades to come around to the idea. If you're seriously offering, yes. I want this baby."
Yeah, John thought. Me, too. Except... he'd never really thought about it until a week ago. What the hell would he do with a kid?
"So what's the plan?" Rodney asked. He looked between John and Carson expectantly.
John swallowed. "I have to break the news to Landry. Hopefully, I can get time off. I figured I'd go stay on Sateda." He bit his lip and sent a look of appeal toward Carson. "I don't want anyone besides us, and Ronon and Teyla, knowing. I can't stay here. I'm too old to mutate in front of the whole city again."
"Okay," Rodney said, and clapped his hands together decisively. "That works for me." His chin came up, a familiar stubborn glint in his eyes. "I'm here for you," he added seriously, and gave John a brave, supportive smile.
How could John say no to that?
The good thing about walking into Landry's office in full dress uniform, with Rodney on one side and Landry's daughter the doctor on his other, to submit his modified AFI 48-123 and announce his accidental pregnancy, was knowing that there could never be another more humiliating moment in John's life. Nothing else could possibly compare. John's ears burned.
But at least he wasn't fired. That was good. And Dr Lam had made a convincing argument that the SGC didn't have the facilities to deal with John's condition: he needed to stay in Pegasus.
It did kind of suck, John confided to Rodney as they made their way back to their assigned quarters, that Landry had been so quick to assure John he could be replaced easily for the next year.
Rodney gave him a sidelong look. "It's not like the Air Force plans on keeping you in Atlantis forever," he said, offhand. He was wearing a stylishly cut suit and a blue shirt that brought out his eyes, and John thought he looked like a stranger. "It might be good for someone else to get to know the place. Just in case."
"I guess," John said, and decided not to take Rodney with him on his trip to the mall the next day, before they gated back. There was such a thing as too much togetherness.
At the end of the month, Cam Mitchell and the rest of SG-1 showed up like touring rock stars. After giving Mitchell the tour of his office, John snuck down to the gate room. Ronon was there with John's suitcases, and no one paid much attention as they gated off-world.
John's new home away from home was a former hardware store about five kilometers south of the Satedan gate. The resettlers had cleared the building for habitation, meaning it was structurally sound and not infested with either giant snakes or giant land-octopuses -- Sateda was one of those planets that was always trying to kill people. John thought that explained a lot about the Satedans he'd met.
John had made sure, for Ronon's and his own peace of mind, that the Wraith hadn't murdered anyone in the shop. The resettlers took care of the scattered dead, recording DNA data before burial; respectful but also impersonal. Efficient. Ronon hated the way that dredged up his memories, so John liked that his house was free of the shadow of death and Wraith.
He had two rooms. The front had walls lined with tools, boxes of nails and screws, and huge reels of wire and chains. The worktables he re-purposed, shoving one to the front, what he thought of as his living room, and the other pushed up against the back wall, a combination desk and dinner table. Ronon had bought a dozen mismatched chairs from the resettlers, and John scattered them around to make the place seem welcoming. It kind of worked.
The back room had taken the most work to get habitable, and John felt proud of his handmade bed and brick wood-burning stove -- even if figuring out how to make edible food was an uphill battle. Teyla had given him a huge bundle of quilts and furs; half for housewarming and half, she said, as an apology for laughing as hard as she had when John told her about the Ancient baby transporter.
"Nothing to apologize for," John'd said, but she went ahead and piled his bed high.
"You'll probably feel the cold," Teyla said, standing on tiptoe to wind a fringed scarf into the anti-land-octopus grating that covered the window. "I did. It was most unpleasant."
"You should bring Torren sometime." John looked around, wondering what kind of havoc a two-year-old would get up to. Probably get a mouthful of wingnuts and swing an axe around. He should maybe tidy up some, if he was making the invitation. "Just... not Kanaan, okay? I like the guy, but..."
"I understand," Teyla said easily. John didn't think she did, not really. Nothing official had been announced about why John was taking a leave of absence; from what filtered through the grapevine to him, the top two theories were that he'd had some kind of mental breakdown, or an old injury had been acting up. While John was gone, Rodney was going to set up the cover story that he'd been contacted by a one-night stand he'd had off-world -- John didn't want to know what details Rodney had cooked up -- and agreed to adopt her baby. He'd show up in Atlantis with the baby, and that would be the truth Kanaan and everyone else would know. John needed that. He didn't think he could live and work in a place where he had to worry all the time about who knew the truth, and what thoughtless things they might say.
Teyla did bring Torren the next time she visited, and John's guitar as well. She made both of them stay outside in the yard while she made absolutely sure the house was kid-proof, John trying to keep Torren entertained with half-remembered children's songs and all-too-well remembered hits of the eighties. Torren seemed uninterested in Johnny Cash songs, except the one about dinosaurs, and nearly ate a plump yellow beetle while John was trying to remember the chords to Don't Take Your Guns to Town.
John didn't tell Teyla that part. He didn't want to get in trouble.
Rodney made a point of dropping by every week or so to check up on John and bitch about the long walk from the stargate, even though he knew perfectly well why John was keeping his distance from the local people apart from the local guerrilla cells he was advising, unofficially. John'd managed to be fairly cool with the idea of being knocked up when his body was still mostly his own, but after he hit month five even sweatpants and oversized t-shirts couldn't really hide the baby bump. Carson brought John books and suggested diet and exercise plans when he came for scheduled prenatal exams, and John always had to repress the urge to punch him in the face. He didn't deal well with being coddled or with having his body go haywire. He was positive that this was a reasonable way to think, and not the result of nanite-induced hormones.
Rodney was easier to deal with. John didn't expect him to be tactful or kind, and it was kind of funny when Rodney suddenly remembered that John was doing him the enormous favor of carrying his child. Not that Rodney apologized for getting on John's case about his bad taste in maternity clothes, flip-flops, terrible cooking, or anything else. He'd level a baleful accusatory stare in John's direction, like somehow John had tricked him into being obnoxious.
It was familiar, and comforting, in its own way. John liked watching Rodney think, the mobility of his face and hands, and in a way Rodney was right. John did get a kick out of winding him up.
Today, though, he hadn't meant to screw up. Every so often John got kind of stir crazy, the way he'd felt trapped and abandoned in the time dilation bubble. Still, Sateda wasn't a prison, and the population wasn't big enough that gate travel was restricted. So John had grabbed his towel, walked into town, and gated to his favorite beach planet. The water was perfect, and he swam until his whole body was loose, a satisfying tiredness. The baby liked to kick him awake all night, but when John was moving it settled down. He figured it felt like being rocked to sleep. He stayed out in the water until he got too hungry to ignore the grumbling in his stomach. He made his way up the beach to towel off and eat a sandwich, and then trekked back to the gate.
He felt really good the whole walk home, comfortable in his skin despite the fact that the baby bump was big enough now that he had to shove the waistband of his sweatpants down under it. Ronon had loaned him a flannel shirt he'd bought on Earth, and it did a fair job of disguising what John's t-shirt couldn't. With the bonus that John liked the idea of wearing another man's clothes. He'd been half-hopeful when DADT was taken off the books that something would change for him, but nothing had, really, at least not on Atlantis. But a guy could dream.
Rodney was waiting for John on his doorstep. Literally, having dragged a chair outside to sit outside the door while glaring down the road with an expression terrifyingly like John's father's when he'd been in big trouble.
John tugged on the ends of the towel slung around his neck and put on a fake smile. He waited until he was at the front yard to say, "Hey," hoping Rodney would take the hint to not make a big issue out of John having a life.
Rodney's face was red, though that might have been sunburn. "I know you're having a wonderful time playing at rustic self-reliance, but would it kill you to leave a note on the table saying where you are and when you'll be back?"
Oh, John did not need this. "I wrote where I was going on the gatehouse board," he countered, letting his anger speak for him, and then realized he should have kept his mouth shut.
"You were off-world?"
John shifted his weight onto one hip and weighed the consequences of fighting versus just walking away. All he wanted was a shower to wash off the salt and sand, a big glass of tea, and some quiet to finish off the chapter he was working his way through. He didn't mind visitors; he liked having someone around to talk to, he'd discovered. But he really didn't do well with anyone trying to put him in his place.
He turned and headed around the side of the building. There was a locked gate that led to the back patio, where he'd cleared away a junk pile to add in bath and laundry facilities, once he got the pump working. He wasn't carrying his key, but it was easy enough to climb over the low brick wall. The shopkeeper had probably been more worried about creepy-crawlies than burglars.
John dropped down on the other side and had to grab the wall to keep his balance, thanks to his shifted center of balance. The peace of mind he'd managed to get back at the beach faded away like a dream, and he was back to irritated restlessness. He pulled clean clothes off the clothesline, stripped, and scrubbed as fast as he could, before the hot water in the tank gave out.
Rodney was making a mess in John's tiny kitchen area when he walked into the house, damp but clean. A pot was bubbling on the stove, and Rodney was assembling some kind of salad, heavy on the greens and garnished with what looked like bacon.
"Put the soup on the table," Rodney said, waving a fork vaguely. "I brought you Coca-Cola, it's in my backpack. Where did you hide the spoons this time?"
John took the Athosian basket of spoons down from the shelf and busied himself setting the table. He considered hoarding his soda, but then decided that if he wasn't fighting with Rodney, he ought to be a good host.
They got halfway through the meal without talking about anything besides the food, and the weather, and the new throw pillows that Teyla had brought. Sometimes, John suspected them of proliferating at night, like gremlins. He swore he didn't use to have so many.
John was starting to relax and think this visit might not be entirely fucked after all, when Rodney leaned back in his seat gingerly, as if he didn't trust it not to collapse. "We worry about you," he said simply. "Me and Ronon and Teyla."
John looked at the tabletop, the stains and scars that made up its history. "You know how sometimes you can get in so deep, you forget there's supposed to be a way out?"
"One of the many reasons I hate advising doctoral students." Rodney made a gesture that John caught out of the corner of his eye. "They hate being told to stop researching and start writing." Rodney tapped his fingers on the table impatiently. "So you really are doing the Walden thing here? I mean, it's not just the baby, it's the whole midlife crisis slash search for the meaning of life, the universe and everything?"
"Fuck off," John snapped, and shoved his chair back, fighting the urge to get away. "You -- for months, ever since Earth, all you can talk about is getting rid of me. According to you, I can't even be a father to my own kid because God only knows where I'm going or if I'll even be alive in a year or two. So I guess it's good for me, to get used to -- " John tossed a hand out to encompass the room, the house, the lack of neighbors who gave a damn about him.
"The baby is all of you that I can hold onto and keep safe," Rodney said. John's eyes flicked to him involuntarily, and then he had to look away, because Rodney's expression was wide open, devastated. "How many times have I had to say goodbye to you, John? Do you have any idea what it was like, hearing you tell Carter your last words? I try not to remember, for my own health and sanity. But deep down I know that, fundamentally, you -- " and he jabbed a finger in John's direction -- "will fight for anyone but yourself. You know how some people settle down when they get older." He framed the words in angry air quotes, and wham, there was John's simmering anger surfacing again. "It's taken me this long to realize that's never going to be you."
"I don't exactly have girlfriends lining up at my door," John said. "I'm not you."
Rodney's chin went up. "I suppose that's fair. Not nice, but fair. Do you want me... to leave you alone?"
"I just want this to be enough," John muttered, hating the ache he felt at the thought that Rodney might go and not come back. "You can't make me want more, when I still can't have it."
Rodney threw his hands up. "And you can't get what you want if you never ask for it."
"You're straight," John said, forcing his breathing even as clockwork and his voice toneless, because he wasn't whining and he didn't want Rodney to think he was hurting. He wasn't; he was just fine. "I'm not going to fuck up our friendship. We're... having a kid together, I can't..." He focused on the next breath. "I don't want to fight."
"I'm not your parents," Rodney said, sounding appalled and wounded. "I'm not going to kick you out or give you ultimatums, we fight all the time, it's our thing." He paused, and even though John was staring at the kitchen doorway and thinking of running, not looking at Rodney, he could tell that Rodney was having a eureka moment. "Wait. Did you just admit you're gay and hit on me in the same sentence? The world must be ending."
"I'm glad you think it's funny," John said, throat closing. He had to get out. He was fairly sure he could outrun Rodney even now, but he had nowhere to go. The pounding of his heart in his ears sounded like the surf, and the kid shifted around inside him, a horrible alien feeling that fuck his life felt familiar now. He had to clench his hands into fists to keep from rubbing the bump to try and soothe away the baby's restlessness.
"Oh, no no no," Rodney said, shaking his head. "Just about as far from funny as possible, actually." He took a deep breath. "I've thought about it a lot over the years. Wondering if that was the reason you never dated, but then the military laws changed and you still acted like celibacy was a sport you were really into."
"No," John managed to get out.
"No," Rodney agreed. And just sat there, like something had been settled, or proved.
But I didn't run away, did I, John thought, hanging on to the thought for strength. He thought about the second talk he'd had with Landry at the SGC, when it had just been the two of them. He had asked for what he wanted. He had put everything on the line, and had stood his ground no matter how Landry yelled -- partly because John'd already run his plan to retire in Pegasus past General O'Neill and hadn't been told it was impossible, and partly because Dr Lam had told him in confidence that Landry was secretly a big soft-hearted teddy bear inside.
Landry had let John return to Atlantis, even though the smart thing would have been to lock him up somewhere on Earth. John counted that as a victory; something he'd fought for, for himself.
"I," John started, and then had to cough because his voice wasn't working properly. "I've got another two to four years on Atlantis, and then I'm retiring." He spun a finger in the air to indicate his house. "Here. If I can. Stay and fight the Wraith. That's in the works. If they don't let me... I'll run. I'm not going back to Earth."
Rodney was wide-eyed; he obviously hadn't expected John to say that. John shrugged, trying to loosen his shoulders up, and stretched his legs out.
"So. Rodney. You want me to ask?" John tried to smile, but stopped when he suspected it came out mean. "Stay with me. Sleep with me. And don't leave me alone."
John usually relished the few occasions he managed to strike Rodney speechless. He didn't now; he wished Rodney would say something, anything, to break the silence that grew between them. John never knew the right words to say, and he'd obviously gone too far and said the wrong thing now. He hoped Rodney could forgive him, or at least let him place the blame on nanite-synthesized hormones. John was obviously not in his right mind. He got up and started clearing the table and was not haunted by visions of Rodney letting the kid call his next girlfriend mom.
It was going to suck, but it was going to happen no matter what John thought, so he should just... not let it get to him. He pumped water into the dishpan, grabbed the sponge, and immediately dropped it. His hands were shaking.
"In my defense," Rodney said, and John startled, spinning halfway around instinctively, before he remembered that he didn't want to see Rodney's face, "I don't have much practice with you telling me what you want. Unless it's an order to kill you, or to save everyone's lives." Now John was the one who was tongue-tied; he tilted his head to the side, to indicate he was listening, but more was impossible. "So. Yes?" Rodney shrugged. "I've been told it's rude when someone comes out to me to mention my own grad school experimentation, and I feel like that should apply double to marriage proposals, but I'm not scared off by the idea of sex. You know you're hot. Even knocked-up and scruffy."
John nearly protested that he hadn't proposed... but he kind of had. And he'd meant it.
"If this goes wrong, I'm going to lose my closest and oldest friend," Rodney went on. "But that's where we were heading anyway, apparently. Still, we must have been doing something right to have stayed friends all these years. No one drives me crazy like you. Vice versa also applies, I'm sure."
Despite himself, John smiled. "Maybe."
"Well," Rodney said. "Now that that's decided, you should make the first move."
John didn't think that made any kind of logical sense, but he found Rodney's nervousness reassuring. He wasn't the only one taking the risk, and that did make it easier. He took a step forward and reached for Rodney's hand, lacing their fingers together. He had a flash of wondering what it would be like to walk with Rodney hand in hand like this, a silent declaration that anyone could see. Rodney used his hands expressively; John could imagine being pulled by the hand into a lively discussion. Or into bed.
John tugged Rodney closer and told himself that kissing him wouldn't be any worse than wading into the cold ocean, and it was just as necessary for him to get what he wanted. He leaned in, tightening his fingers around Rodney's, scared right until the moment their lips touched that Rodney would pull away. But Rodney didn't, and John kissed him again, then again, feather-light, dizzy and uncertain. Rodney shifted, moving closer, his free hand curling warm over the back of John's neck. John's mouth opened in the rush of relief from fear, and Rodney took that as an invitation to deepen the kiss. John wanted to touch Rodney, hold him, and it took a few minutes for him to realize he could. He brushed his fingers lightly over Rodney's arm, and then his waist, half-frozen with his own audacity.
"I'm not going anywhere," Rodney said, sounding a little breathless. He met John's eyes and gave a quirked smile. "And despite my own PR, I don't damage that easily."
"I've known that for years," John told him. "It's just..."
"This is new and different." Rodney's fingers curled into John's hair. "I want to see you naked. Would that be moving too fast?"
John was suddenly and acutely aware of the baby bump, of the stretchmarks that Carson cheerfully told him would fade in a few years, of his scars -- of how hard he was just from kissing and touching. He swallowed. "Your turn to go first."
Rodney shrugged, like it didn't make that much difference, and let John go so he could unbutton his shirt. With a twist of familiar unwanted jealousy, John recalled that Rodney had a lot more recent experience undressing for a partner than he did.
"Voila," Rodney said, pulling his shirt off and tossing it onto one of the chairs that had migrated into the back room. "You do realize you're getting a middle-aged physicist and the physique thereof, yes?"
John dragged his eyes up, taking in the comfortable stomach, hard nipples surrounded by a dusting of pale hair, and strong broad shoulders. He hoped Rodney could see how he felt on his face, but what he said was, "Hey, the language of love. Is that a Canadian thing?"
Rodney grinned. "Non." He reached over and tugged at the hem of John's t-shirt. "Off."
"It's weird," John warned him. He pulled the collar up over his head as smoothly as he could, balling the shirt in his hand.
"You act like I've never seen a pregnant person before." Rodney reached out and ran a curious hand over the baby bump. "I remember being surprised at how hard Teyla's stomach was -- and how much it took over. You're not as big as she was," he added, spanning his fingers like he was taking measurements. "But I suppose being taller makes a difference."
"Give it another couple months." Not that John wanted to win the competition, but he'd seen pictures. The third trimester was hardcore.
Rodney gave him a conflicted look. "Now I feel like the kid's watching me."
John shook his head and caught Rodney's hand again. "It only wakes up when I'm not moving around." He stole a kiss just because he could and then started steering Rodney over to the bed. "So keep me busy."
He expected their first time to be awkward. They were both scared that this would also be the last time, and of course Rodney's bravado about his sexual history didn't translate into confidence in bed -- but John wasn't any smoother, given his own inexperience and nerves and being hugely, weirdly pregnant. Rodney was clumsy when he meant to be careful, and John came almost as soon as Rodney touched his dick. John only managed to give Rodney half a blowjob before his lower back protested the position. He ended up bringing Rodney off with his hand, his mouth on Rodney's, because the one thing they were good at was kissing. John didn't want to give up kissing Rodney, not ever.
Sex apparently did not make Rodney drowsy, because as soon as his breathing was back to normal and they'd cleaned up as best as possible with John's t-shirt, he propped himself up on his elbow and gave John a proprietary grin. "We're going to have to work on a few things," he announced, his free hand going to John's hip, heavy and warm. "It might take some time."
"Years," John suggested, trying not to hope.
"I'll need to collect more data." Rodney leaned down and kissed the corners of John's mouth. John caught him with a hand at the back of his head and held him still for a proper kiss. When Rodney continued, doggedly, he looked ravaged. "Practice. More of it and as often as possible."
"So suave really is your middle name," John said, shifting to get rid of the pillows he'd ended up lying on. "I always wondered." He shoved one of the pillows under his head and closed his eyes, the universal signal that he was going to take a post-orgasm nap.
"I could be completely wrong," Rodney started. John repressed a sigh. "I probably am. But did you start... being interested in me because of the pregnancy?"
John smushed a hand into his face and tried not to wake up any further. "No?" he said, hoping he'd parsed the question right and chosen the answer that would let Rodney leave him alone.
"But you wouldn't have said anything." There was a hint of accusation in the statement that John -- for his own peace of mind -- wasn't even going to acknowledge.
"Nope." John pulled another pillow over his head in self-defense. "Shut up. I love you. But I love sleep more."
He was pretty sure Rodney didn't say anything in reply. John felt a hand stroking his hair, slow and gentle, and drifted off to sleep between one thought and the next.
"There's pushing," Rodney was saying when they arrived at the clinic on P8S-771. He was holding John's arm for support as if he was feeling faint, even though John was the one short of breath after the walk from the jumper. The baby had taken over all the space usually occupied by his other organs, like his lungs. He was not going to miss being pregnant. "And breathing. Don't forget to breathe."
"You're being ridiculous," Carson snapped, as they followed Ronon and Teyla to the baby transporter room. "And giving bad advice. Go... pace in the corridor. Stop being a distraction."
John thought it was unfair that he was about to be giving birth assisted by millennia-old technology and a doctor who couldn't read the instruction manual without a dictionary, but Rodney was getting all the attention. Not that John wanted attention. John just wanted the day to be over: to be able to look down and see his dick again.
Thank goodness for Ronon, who dropped his arm over Rodney's shoulders and told him everything would be cool; and for Teyla, who handed Rodney a bag and announced that they needed to put the bedding on the cot in the reception transporter and set out the baby's towels and clothes. John heard Rodney protesting that everything needed to be sterile as he was steered gently away.
"He's gone," John said, feeling shell-shocked. "Now's your chance, doc."
"Here." Carson opened up a box on the table and pulled out a gown, which he handed to John.
Someone had been coming to the clinic regularly; there were homely little touches like labels in English next to control panels, whole and clean furniture (with more damn throw pillows), and every surface shone like it had been polished. John suspected Carson was equipped to perform field surgery in an emergency, but he really hoped nothing went wrong. He'd made it this far without Atlantis finding out.
John realized he'd been spacing out when Carson coughed. "Do you need help changing?"
Even if John did, he'd never admit it, so he shook his head and started stripping. At least Carson made a point of not looking as John shucked his clothes and tied the gown on awkwardly. When John said he was ready, Carson turned back and escorted him to the baby transporter.
"You should sit down," Carson said, and gestured apologetically at the floor. "Nothing in any of the medical files actually describes how the removal process feels. But there might be dizziness or discomfort." He gave John a look. "The nanites in your system should be programmed to disperse as soon as the baby has been removed."
"Here's to scientific progress," John said, and stepped inside. Carson waited to close the door until he'd levered himself awkwardly down into a sitting position that -- combined with the gown -- left very little to the imagination.
The lights in the transporter were on this time, and if it wasn't for the terrified pounding of his heart John might have enjoyed the peace and quiet. John breathed as deeply as he could, and waited.
There was no warning signal. One moment his hands were resting on top of the baby bump, the next his whole body went feverishly warm and his hands fell to his thighs. Even knowing it was coming, John yelped in surprise.
The warmth coalesced unpleasantly in his stomach -- he wasn't in pain, but he could feel his body being rearranged, pulled tight from the inside, and he'd have bet dollars to doughnuts that the Ancients had done this procedure under anesthetic. No way anyone would want to be awake through something like this. He had no idea how fast time was passing, but when the heat reached its peak and abruptly shut off, he was suddenly drenched in sweat and freezing cold, the gown sticking to his skin and his teeth chattering despite his best efforts.
He closed his eyes and hoped the kid was doing okay. After half a year refusing to let Carson tell him whether it was a boy or a girl, he really wanted to know. Quick, before Rodney decided on a name all by himself, and John ended up with a kid called Mr Fluff, just like Rodney's cat back on Earth. Or Ms Fluff, John supposed.
When Carson opened the door, John didn't even notice at first, dazed and half-drowsing. Carson was angry with him, he thought muzzily as he was hauled up, stripped naked, and wrangled into his clean, warm, dry clothes. Carson sat John down and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, making John hold the edges together in front while he checked him over.
"Hey," John said, when he finally got his tongue to cooperate. "What...?"
Carson stopped puttering with his scanner. "Everything's fine," he said. He was smiling, and John smiled back, and it was like getting stuck in a feedback loop of smiling, at least until Carson pulled a powerbar out of his pocket and insisted John eat it all. "Teyla's giving the baby a bath, they should be here in a short bit. She wants to know if you're keeping the placenta."
John chewed faster and swallowed. "Should I?" he asked, unsure, voice sticky with dried fruit.
Carson got up and fetched John a bottle of water, watched him like a hawk as he drank, and then put it back in the box. "Maybe we'll let Teyla decide. How are you feeling?"
"Like I just got over the flu," John admitted. "Sleepy."
"No sleeping until you've held the baby." John's head came up at that, and he tried to sit up straight but found he'd stiffened into his slouch. Teyla was hovering at Rodney's side like she didn't trust him, but Rodney was... glowing. Clutching a blanket-wrapped bundle with both arms, he crossed the room, looking happier than John'd ever seen him. "Catch."
Teyla's hands came up automatically before she realized Rodney was teasing; John guessed that maybe Rodney wasn't entirely unaware of her over-protectiveness. John let go of his own blanket and reached up, and for one long moment he and Rodney were both holding their child, heads bowed down together, like they were witnessing a miracle.
John thought it was miraculous, and also that he was way too loopy to be trusted with a baby.
"Don't let me drop -- " he started, and Rodney's hands folded around his own, tucking the little head in the crook of his elbow, resting the weight of the baby along his arm. John had held Torren like this, he recalled, flying a Wraith dart to safety.
"Your daughter," Rodney said, making the introduction. "Hey, look at this." He pushed the baby's hat back just enough for John to see dark downy hair that stuck up in all directions. "Sheppard genes!"
"Hat," Ronon rumbled, and leaned around Rodney to replace it.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Apparently Satedans believe in lucky baby headgear, and the size of the luck is proportional to the size of the pompoms. Don't argue. He's at the top of our babysitter list."
John nodded. "Cool."
Rodney twisted around to wave Carson over. "Is he okay? Did you drug him?"
"Childbirth isn't a simple stroll through the park," Carson said. "Not even with the technology. The nanites had to repair the changes they'd made before they self-destructed. Not as stressful as a Caesarian, of course, but not entirely different." Rodney opened his mouth, and Carson brandished a camera at him. "Sit down next to John and the baby and smile."
Carson got pictures of everyone, singly and in groups, and John started to worry because the baby wasn't woken up by any of the commotion.
He asked Teyla, and she leaned down to press her forehead to his. "She is well and healthy. Carson looked her over head to toe. I think it is more likely that over the past months, the sound of Rodney's voice has become a comfort to her."
"You didn't warn me that could happen," Rodney yelped, eyes wide.
"Works for me, too," John said. He rubbed his daughter's cheek and she smacked her lips, looking pleased with herself, despite the hat and her parentage and everything.
The SGC was surprisingly -- shockingly -- willing to let John retire to Pegasus after he returned to Atlantis with Rodney, although he was immediately offered a position as a civilian contractor that he wasn't sure he was allowed to refuse. John suspected Cam Mitchell of leaning heavily on Landry. He was not only a huge fan of babies, but the first person to see through their flimsy cover story about Rodney's one night stand -- even though he got the truth all wrong. Which meant he was responsible for feeding the rumor mill the even more ludicrous story that John and Rodney had been together ever since Rodney broke up with Keller, and had had a planned surrogate pregnancy because they were just that crazy in love. He also suggested to several people, in confidence of course, that John had been doing an undercover op with the Satedan resistance for the past year, and was invaluable to good local relations.
All the enthusiastic misinformation made Rodney froth at the mouth, but John appreciated the results. No one on Atlantis knew what to believe, so they went with what they saw for themselves. Rodney had a baby; John was no longer a colonel and he was dividing his time between his gate team and the rebuilding of Sateda; they were living together and hadn't killed each other yet. Mitchell and SG1 headed back to Earth, and Abe Ellis took over the military command. This time around, he had the good sense to seek Teyla out for her insight, instead of sticking his feet in his mouth again.
The argument over what to name Baby Girl McKay wound up being a lot more painless than John had anticipated. Rodney tossed around names that sounded like he was planning the university applications already -- John nixed Olivia, Chloe, and Eleanor -- as well as the weird physics ones. In turn, Rodney refused any names that had ever been used for aircraft, even though John hadn't been serious about Huey. In the end, Ronon interrupted to announce that Lelin was a good name for a baby, boy or girl.
"Lelin Elizabeth?" John suggested, nodding off at the end of the sofa, shoved into the corner of the cramped common area of his new quarters. Teyla assured him that in half a year or so he'd be able to sleep through the night, and he wasn't sure he was going to survive that long.
Rodney fixed Ronon with a suspicious stare. "Lelin is the patron saint of what, exactly?"
Ronon grinned. "A poet. And a swordsmith. More famous than the historical Ronon was. Good name for a warrior."
"Fine," Rodney said. John blinked; he couldn't believe Rodney had finally agreed to a name he hadn't proposed himself. "On the condition that you eradicate the Wraith by her tenth birthday."
Ronon stuck out his hand like they were making a formal deal, and Rodney shook. John felt left out for a moment, but then the sound of snuffling cries came from the nursery.
"I'll go," he said, already on his feet and heading for the door, running on automatic. He wasn't as bad at baby stuff as he'd feared; having Torren to practice on had helped. He lifted his daughter up, careful of her neck as he settled her against his chest. "Hey, Lelin," he murmured, testing the name out. She snuffled and turned her face against his shirt, rooting instinctively for a breast. Fortunately, Rodney was already getting a bottle ready, showing off his perfect laboratory technique as he measured, mixed, and made sure the temperature was perfect. "I think she looks like a Lelin," he told Rodney. "Badass."
Rodney handed the bottle over. "She's wearing pajamas covered in purple elephants, and wearing a ridiculous hat."
John tried to explain. "Kind of like a boy named Sue." Lelin finally got a good grip on the nipple and began sucking loudly, grabbing John's little finger in a fist so he couldn't get away. "I could play you the song later."
"Please don't." Rodney put an arm around John's waist, and John leaned into him. Rodney was comfortable. "Teyla's offered to take her for the night. She says we could use the time off."
"I love Teyla," John said. "I mean. I love our kid, too. She's great. Just not so much at two and four and five in the morning, weeks on end."
"And we've got a new bed that's hardly been broken in at all." Rodney gave John a significant look. "You know what that means."
"Sleep," John said fervently. Rodney made an offended noise, and John kissed him loudly on the cheek. He could do things like that when no one was looking -- at least, no one who could tattle on him, he amended mentally, checking that Lelin was paying more attention to her dinner than her dads. "What, did you have other plans?"
"I've been doing some research," Rodney said, in an offhand way that made John's heart skip a beat. "If you think you could spare some time away from your busy sleeping schedule."
"Sure." John nodded agreeably. "I'm up for anything, so long as Ancient tech isn't involved."
Rodney was quiet for a long moment. "I wouldn't have either of you," he finally said, "if not for accidents with Ancient tech."
John wanted to touch him, hold him, but his hands were full. "Go pack Lelin an overnight bag," he said, pitching his voice low, needing to drive off the specter of that averted loss. "I'll bet I can show you things your research never even dreamed of."
Rodney's eyes went dark and purposeful. "You're on." He gave John a half hug, and stepped back. In the doorway, he turned back and said, cheeks flushed with determination, "Just so you know, I consider myself incredibly lucky." And then hurried off before John could reply.
John looked down at Lelin, whose eyes were nearly shut with the force of her concentration on food. "I think your daddy likes me," he told her, and found himself grinning ear to ear. "And between you and me, it's so crazy, I think it just might work."