She let the blade barely scratch her skin, just enough to see a mark, but not enough to draw blood. She moved the blade down her arm a couple of more inches and did it again. She looked at the two marks and thought, "This is how I'll do it," and scratched a long line lengthwise down her arm connecting them. But as she sat there staring at the fading scratches, a little spark ignited in a part of her brain that she hadn't used in a very long time.
She slammed the door in Samantha Carter's face when she arrived unexpectedly to discuss the math proof Jeannie had submitted. Kaleb was due home any minute and she was terrified that he would find them there and consequentially find out what she had done without telling him.
Her brother, Meredith, however, took a much more direct route than Sam and just had her beamed aboard an orbiting ship.
The instant she saw the big blue marble that was Earth far below them, she knew that there was no place there for her now. But maybe she could find a new place for herself on Atlantis and if not, there was always her original plan.
They beamed her back down and she quickly made list of what she wanted to take with her. What she couldn't leave behind.
Sam found Rodney in the lab. He was quiet and staring intently at a piece of math on the white-board that he could do in his sleep.
Quietly from the doorway she asked, "Everything alright?"
Rodney turned towards Sam and she could see the pure sadness on his face. It was unexpected.
"Just thinking about my sister. She looked awful earlier."
"I can't imagine losing a child."
"I think it's more than just losing Madison. There's something else going on with her."
"Maybe this project and the time away will be good for her."
"Yeah. I just thought... it's been almost two years, I thought she'd been doing better by now."
"Maybe you can get her to talk to Doctor Heightmeyer while she's on Atlantis."
"That's a good idea, thanks, Sam."
Sam reached over and gave his forearm a little pat and replied, "You're welcome."
Rodney looked down at her hand with a smirk. As she pulled it away she said teasingly, "Forget it, McKay. I'm still not sleeping with you."
His body was still thrumming with the energy of the hunt and the kill. He turned the shower on as hot as the water would go but didn't get in. Instead he let the room fill with warm steam and turned off the lights to sit naked on the toilet in the dark, just breathing in the heavy, moisture laden air. He hadn't told anyone about this particular urge of his; it would probably just lead to questions he didn't have answers for and tests he didn't want being performed on him.
He let the steam clean him inside and out, settling his mind, before lowering the water temperature to a normal level and stepping into the shower to quickly scrub off the mission grime.
He dressed in a loose, non-binding tunic and pants that Teyla had found for him off-world. They were some of the few pieces of clothing that he had found that didn't rub on his scales and irritate.
He rifled through his food stores and found something to eat, making a mental note to send the mess hall an email with a list of things to restock his room with. He never ate in the mess any more.
He took his food and went and sat out on the balcony. The sight of the sky and the ocean still thankfully brought him peace.
He tried to further quiet himself through the meditation that Teyla had taught him, and though it worked somewhat for his mind, it didn't work for the instinctual urges of his changed body. With a near-physical need he couldn't articulate, he wanted a hive, with others like him around him, and he wanted a queen to serve and young to protect. He didn't want to be alone, but yet he was, and as he was unique, he would always be.
Jeannie had asked for a week to get her things in order. With a shaking hand she left the divorce papers and her wedding ring on the kitchen table for Kaleb. She startled when Rodney beamed down into her living room. He took a quick look at the couple of plastic totes and one giant suitcase she had packed before looking at her directly.
"What's all this?"
"It's what I need to bring with me."
"Are you all right?"
Flatly she replied, "I haven't been alright in a really long time, Mer, but I am ready to go."
Feeling awkward and not knowing what to say, Rodney hit his radio and informed the Daedalus that they were ready to beam up.
He didn't notice the bittersweet way Jeannie looked around what used to be her happy home one final time.
Jeannie and Rodney bickered and squabbled the entire trip to Atlantis. It was good in a way, when he was focused on work he wasn't hassling her about what was bothering her or how she was feeling.
Her arrival on Atlantis was warmer than she had expected as she was introduced in person to Radek as well as Doctor Weir and Colonel Lorne. They were all excited to meet her and welcomed her wholeheartedly. She tried to put on a happy face, but it was all a little overwhelming.
As Jeannie was whisked away to a lab, no one noticed John observing from the shadows of the corridor- he had wanted to see McKay's sister. In another time he would have been the one to greet her with a smile as she beamed down, but not now. He stuck to the shadows, not wanting to freak her out her first day on the city, his appearance not for the fainthearted. He ticked his head to the side as he watched her with Lorne and Radek, she was putting on a good front but he could see how fragile it was and the pain that seemed to be permanently etched around her eyes. He was itching to smell her, to imprint on her like he had every other member of the expedition, but it wasn't the right time for that and he slipped back through the corridors to his quarters.
The door to her quarters closed behind her and she let out an enormous sigh of relief. She was tired, interacting with people for such an extended amount of time was exhausting.
Her brother had taken her request to be housed in as empty a part of the city as possible seriously and according to Radek there was only one other person in the same section as her, that being Colonel Sheppard.
Jeannie wondered when she would get to meet him. Rodney had explained in hushed whispers about Sheppard on board the Daedalus and though she hated to admit it to herself, she was curious about him.
She kicked off her shoes and walked out onto the balcony, letting the night breeze wash over her.
John was sitting on the floor of his own balcony, his back resting against the railing wall, his long legs stretched out in front of him. No one could see him and he spent many, many hours alone on his balcony reading late into the night, his eyesight just as keen by night as it was by day. He had long since finished War and Peace and had moved onto Crime and Punishment. He often thought wryly to himself that he was going to be the most well-read hermit in the galaxy.
His ears picked up the sound of the balcony door to the quarters next to his opening and a moment later the gentle breeze blew a completely unfamiliar scent in his direction. He inhaled deeply and let his mind catalog it. There was something appealing about it, and he felt a stirring of attraction in him that he hadn't felt since his transformation. He wondered what that meant in the grand scheme. He thought about standing up and introducing himself, but decided against it, the sight of him popping up on his balcony likely to scare her and ruin the moment.
Jeannie fell asleep with her balcony door open and from his perch on his own balcony, John had heard her softly cry herself to sleep.
When he was sure she was sleeping, he hopped over to her balcony from his with stealthy ease. He stood in the open doorway and looked at her sleeping in the moonlight. He watched her for a few minutes, noting how she appeared unhappy even in her sleep. He frowned, steeling himself against the urge to go to her and hold her close and somehow take away her pain.
She shifted in her sleep and rolled over and John took that as his cue to leave. With the same effortless leap that had got him to her balcony, he landed on his own and went inside to go to bed.
He woke with a start a couple of hours later from the throes of an unexpected erotic dream in which he was wholly human again and passionately making love with a happy and smiling Jeannie. As he blinked in the dark and oriented himself, he realized that he was hard, something that happened only rarely since his transformation. He reached for his dick deciding not to waste the opportunity, but he caught a glimpse of his claw-like hand in the moonlight and it killed the moment for him entirely. He pounded the mattress in frustration with his fists and when that didn't help, his bedside lamp went flying across the room to shatter with a satisfying crunch against the wall. It wasn't the first, or even the tenth, lamp that had suffered a similar fate.
The days blurred into weeks as they worked on the bridge device. Jeannie had fallen into a routine, albeit it one that her brother wasn't particularly supportive of given that she worked all day and hid in her quarters all evening, refusing to even eat meals with anyone in the mess hall.
Jeannie caught glimpses of John Sheppard but never had the opportunity to speak with him directly, it was almost as if he were avoiding her on purpose.
Her quarters became her refuge, a place she could escape to and be alone and not have to be pleasant or cheerful or even polite if she didn't want to be.
Her routine included a stop in the mess hall on the way back to her quarters for her evening meal. The kitchen staff had started including many more vegetarian friendly dishes since her arrival. Jeannie didn't know that it was Rodney's doing, that he had traded favors and DVDs and promises of good porn in the next data burst with the kitchen staff to make her feel more at home.
Tonight's entree was a spicy vegetable casserole with a wonderful nutty rice on the side, someone in the kitchen had gotten creative with the native offerings. It smelled wonderful and Jeannie was actually looking forward to trying it.
She kicked off her shoes and took her tray out onto the balcony to enjoy the sunset as she ate; it was always beautiful and she found it brought her a modicum of peace.
Jeannie situated her tray on the little table she had put out on the balcony and startled as she glanced around and saw someone sitting in chair on the balcony next to hers, a thick book in hand. His back was to her and he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, hiding his features. It only took Jeannie a heartbeat to realize that the unexpected stranger had to be the elusive John Sheppard.
He didn't turn or acknowledge her although she hadn't been quiet as she had settled herself on her balcony and she wondered if he were listening to an mp3 player or something. Her stomach growled and she picked up her fork with a shrug.
The spicy dish was as good as it smelled and she ate heartily. She was chewing a bite of rice when a low voice said from the hooded figure, "That smells good."
Jeannie struggled not to have her rice go down the wrong pipe as she found the words to say after she finished swallowing, "It is. If you like spicy food."
"I do, but they never sent me any," was his reply.
Jeannie sipped some water and chided automatically, as if she were talking to her brother, "Have you even asked?"
He snorted and answered simply, "No."
"Well there you go. I'm Jeannie by the way. Mer... I mean Rodney's sister."
"I know. I'm John. John Sheppard."
It was a weird sort of introduction as he still hadn't turned around.
"I figured since Radek told me you were the only other person living in this section of the city."
"It's quiet out here, no one bothers you."
"For which I am eternally grateful."
John abruptly got to his feet and stepped over to the door to his quarters. He paused in the doorway and said, "I'll let you eat in peace then."
Before Jeannie could answer he went inside and door closed behind him. A moment later, his blinds were drawn tightly shut.
Jeannie finished her dinner as she stewed about whether or not she had somehow insulted him or something. She hadn't meant to chase him off his own balcony.
Later that night John sent an email to the mess hall with his list of food requests, on the top of the list was a big container of whatever the spicy dish was that they had served Jeannie.
As he lay in bed trying to sleep, John grinned to himself thinking about how Jeannie had zinged him back without hesitation. It had been a long time since anyone had treated him that normally. Even Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla, the three people he was closest to, often walked on eggshells around him.
The next day was stressful for Jeannie, the data burst from Earth brought an email from her lawyer and an electronic copy of her finalized divorce papers. It had been quick and uncontested. She was now a completely free woman and her last remaining tie to Earth severed.
She didn't tell anyone that it was finalized, in fact, she hadn't even told Rodney that she had started the divorce proceedings.
She wasn't hungry and skipped going to the mess hall that evening. Once home in her quarters she sat on the edge of the bed and opened her nightstand drawer. She pulled out the shiny razor blade that she had brought with her all the way from Canada and stared at it for a long moment. She pushed up her sleeve and could see that her last set of marks had long since healed and faded.
With a determined set to her jaw, Jeannie began her ritual. She let the blade barely scratch her skin, just enough to see a mark, but not enough to draw blood. She moved the blade down her arm a couple of more inches and did it again. She looked at the two marks and thought, "This is how I'll do it," and scratched a long line lengthwise down her arm connecting them.
She pressed a little too hard though on that final mark, and little beads of crimson quickly popped up. She dropped the blade back in the drawer and grabbed a tissue to blot it. She wasn't a cutter, she got no release from the actual breaking and marking of her skin. The marks she made were to remind her of her options, that if the weight of everything got to be too much to bear that she still had a final out.
When the bleeding stopped, she made herself a cup of tea and headed for the balcony to brood.
She was surprised to see John sitting there, his back again to her, and the heavy scent of hot spicy food on the air.
Jeannie settled herself down and said simply, "Hi."
It only took a moment for John's sensitive sense of smell to pick up her scent and the scent of blood. At first he thought he was imaging it, the spicy food playing havoc with his nose, but the longer she was out there, the more defined the scent of blood became. It wasn't menstrual, he had long since learned to differentiate that with the number of women there were on the expedition, and it wasn't a lot of blood, but she was definitely bleeding somewhere.
"Hi," he replied.
"So you were able to get some of that vegetable casserole from yesterday?"
"Yeah, it's good. Nice change."
The blood scent was kicking in instinctual urges in him, and his brain was starting to scream at him that his queen was injured and that he needed to act. A still-human part of his brain was trying to figure out exactly when he had fixated on Jeannie being his queen.
"I didn't mean to run you off last night," Jeannie said after a long moment.
He finally couldn't take it anymore and abruptly asked, "Are you hurt? You're bleeding."
Jeannie felt a wave of irritation wash over her, had he been watching her somehow? "How do you know that?"
"I can... I can smell it."
His reply was honest and it settled her irritation. "Oh. It's just a scratch, nothing major." At least it wasn't until the day she decided to make it major.
That helped to quiet the urges in John and he finished eating his food in silence. Jeannie sipped her tea and enjoyed the quiet.
John put his dish down with a little clank and asked, "You're not eating tonight?"
"I'm not really hungry."
"Can you keep a secret? Even from my brother?"
"Yes," he replied without hesitation, he would for her.
"I got an email from my lawyer earlier in the data burst. My divorce is finalized."
"I didn't know. Rodney never mentioned it."
"I didn't tell him."
"It was just... something I had to do before I came to Atlantis."
"You okay with it?"
"Yeah," she said with more confidence than she felt.
"Rodney told me about your daughter. I'm... sorry."
She stood suddenly and walked to her door. "Not as sorry as I am."
As she went inside and closed the blinds, mirroring his actions from the night before, John wanted to kick himself for saying the wrong thing.
John didn't go out on his balcony for several days, hoping to let what had occurred between them fade. He was out there with his dinner and a magazine when Jeannie came out onto her balcony with her own dinner.
"Hi," she said hesitantly to his back.
She put her tray on the table and sat down.
"Heard you guys took out a hive ship today," Jeannie offered.
"Yeah. It was a good day."
They ate quietly for a few minutes when John asked, "How's your project?"
John grinned to himself as Jeannie began rambling at light speed reminding him that she was, in fact, a McKay. He made the same appropriate grunts and affirmations that he used with Rodney when he was going off on a technical jaunt. And like Rodney, it seemed to please Jeannie.
He wished he were able to see her face and watch her while they talked, but he was afraid that he would scare her off and these little clandestine balcony meetings were something he had begun looking forward to.
Dinners long since eaten and the planet's moons climbing in the night sky, Jeannie stood and said, "I think I'm going to call it a night."
John also stood and moved towards his door, still skillfully keeping his back to her. As he was about to go inside, Jeannie called his name. "John?"
"Yeah?" he replied, pausing in his movements.
"You don't... you don't have to hide from me. Mer explained everything. I promise I won't freak out."
He turned towards her a bit, just enough for her to see the profile of his face in the hood but no detail. "Okay. G'night, Jeannie."
She gave him a little grin. "Goodnight, John."
The next night Jeannie was fuming as she entered her quarters, fresh from an argument with Rodney over her self-imposed hermit habits. She stormed out onto the balcony to get some air, still cursing under her breath. It took her a moment to realize that John was on his balcony, and on his balcony facing her.
She stopped in her tracks and blinked. He was wearing the hooded sweatshirt again along with leather gloves, hiding a lot of his features. He also had on a pair of yellow-lensed aviator glasses. His reptilian eyes were still visible, but the yellow lenses softened the striking difference.
He was statue still, awaiting her response. She said simply, "Hi," as it had worked well in the past.
"Hi," John replied hesitantly.
She gave him an impish grin and asked lightly, "Can I ask you something? Something, that as a scientist, will drive me crazy?"
He cocked his head and answered cautiously, "Sure."
"Do you need the yellow lenses or are they more for aesthetics?"
"Both. My eyes are more sensitive to light now."
"Ah. Good to know."
Jeannie plunked down in her chair and put her feet up on the little table.
John went and leaned on his railing, looking out over the water. He was surprised to be so relieved at her non-reaction to his appearance. He could tell she had other questions she wanted to ask but there still a streak of annoyance in her that she had first come out on the balcony with and he wondered if there was something he could do about that.
"So who were you swearing at?" he asked.
Jeannie snorted in irritation. "My brother."
"What did he do now?"
"He's been using my subcutaneous transmitter as LowJack and keeping track of my every move. He knows everywhere I've been on the city and who I've been with."
"They do that to me."
"I'm so annoyed, you have no idea. You should be too."
John turned towards her and asked, "Do you trust me?"
Jeanie raised an eyebrow and replied, "Is there a reason I shouldn't?"
John ticked his head to the side a little and said, "I know a place. Where the sensors can't find you."
Jeannie's eyes grew wide. "Really?"
John nodded. "I could... show you."
Jeannie stood up quickly. "I'll meet you in the hallway."
And meet her in the hallway outside their quarters he did. John stepped out of his quarters with a life-signs detector in one gloved hand and a flashlight in the other that he handed to Jeannie. "You'll need this."
"Okay. Lead the way."
They skulked around the city taking three different transporters and thanks to the life-signs detector, they avoided everyone. They ended up on a far, uninhabited part of the city, a section that had been sacrificed to the water when the expedition first arrived. John opened an access hatch in the floor revealing a narrow stairway going down into a dark area.
The stairway didn't descend into a room of any kind, instead it was an enormous culvert, at least ten meters in diameter.
Jeannie lit the flashlight and looked around. There was evidence of water on the walls but the culvert itself was currently dry. She felt a hint of a breeze blowing from down around a far bend where she could also see a faint light.
"This way," John said, heading towards the bend.
It was a goodly walk once they got beyond the bend, but well worth it as the end of the culvert simply opened up to the open ocean.
Jean walked within a few meters of the edge, her eyes wide and taking in the view.
"You can't come down here when it rains."
"Okay. So this is like a big storm drain?"
"Yeah. Gets rid of the run-off from the piers."
"And the sensor's can't see us?"
John handed her the life-signs detector. There were no indications of life in their current location.
Jeannie looked up from the little screen with a grin. "Is it wrong for me to be so excited that they can't find us?"
John shook his head. "No. Nobody wants to feel like a lab rat all the time."
"Did they do that to you?" Jeannie asked gently.
John turned and stepped a little closer to the edge of the culvert and without looking at her, replied sadly, "Yes."
They stayed down in the culvert, sitting across from each other talking sporadically until the sky was pitch black and the moonlight was reflecting off the water.
Jeannie quickly got used to John's short answers, although she did wonder if he had always talked like that or if it were just another part of his transformation.
John was surprised at how easy it was to be around Jeannie. She wasn't demanding or nosy, just curious and trying to get to know him and not just his metamorphosed shell.
She surprised him again when they got up to leave.
Jeannie looked down the long dark culvert and teased, "Wow, it's a little creepy now that I know it's nighttime."
"I'll keep you safe," was John's earnest reply.
What she said and did next made his chest try to tighten and expand all at the same time.
"I never doubted that for a second," she said as she looped her arm around his.
Teyla's bantos stick made contact with John's thigh and he grunted. They both stepped back, twirling the sticks in their hands and took a break.
"You seem a little distracted today, John."
John shrugged and tucked the pair of sticks under one arm and grabbed a bottle of water.
"Is it something that I can assist you with?"
She could see him trying to put together the words, a small rarely-seen smile curling the corners of his mouth.
Teyla mopped her face with a towel and drank some water herself, not rushing John.
"Do you think a woman would ever... want... want to be with me now?"
Teyla gave him a smile and replied without hesitation, "Yes. I believe that if a woman truly gets to know you, that she will see what a remarkable man you are, John. And once that happens, none of the things that you think to be a barrier between you will matter."
John thought about that for a moment but didn't say anything.
Teyla asked gently, "Is there someone in particular that you are interested in?"
"Maybe," was John's cryptic answer.
"And have you spoken with this woman?"
"And what is her reaction to your appearance?"
John shrugged. "Doesn't seem to bother her."
Teyla smiled and replied, "Well then, I believe that that is a very good start."
John was off-world on a mission with Ronon and Teyla and Jeannie found herself missing his quiet company out on the balcony. They had gotten oddly domestic in the evenings, even with the space between their balconies separating them. They ate together and John listened attentively to her rambling on about how the bridge project was going and the events of her day.
Their relationship was simple and complex all at the same time. It was easy to be in each other's company, there was no pressure or expectation. But there was also a sense that they were both holding themselves separate, keeping up the walls they had built around themselves even as they kept the space between their balconies.
Jeannie got ready for bed and as she did every night, she traced her fingertips gently across the picture of Madison on her night stand before turning off the light. As she snuggled down into the covers and drifted off to sleep she wondered for just a moment what it would be like to have John's solid body curled up around hers where she could feel his heartbeat. Then she wondered sadly if that was something he even wanted anymore.
John was back a couple of days later, their mission taking a bit longer than expected. Jeannie's smile was wide as she saw him come out onto his balcony with his dinner.
The tight-lipped grin she got in return was as blinding a smile as John gave these days. "Hi," he replied as he sat down facing her.
"How'd your mission go?"
"Good. Got the village moved before the dam broke."
"They were lucky. Will they be able to repair the dam?"
"Probably. Waiting for the mud to settle so they can see what they've got."
Jeannie saw John wiggling to scratch his back against the chair often while they ate and asked, "Something wrong with your back?"
John froze in his movements and said quietly, "Just an itch."
"You should put some lotion or something on it instead of digging it raw," she chided lightly.
John nodded in agreement but tried to change the subject, not wanting to share with her that it was one of his scales that was doing the itching. "How's your stuff going?"
"We're going to fire it up tomorrow."
Later on, after they had said their goodnights and headed into their respective quarters John was surprised to hear his door chime. He opened it to see Jeannie standing there with a tube of lotion in her hand.
"Here," she said, handing it to him, "try this, it should help."
He looked at the tube in his hand and held it back out to her. "Thanks, but it's okay. I can't... reach it."
With a roll of her eyes and a shake of her head that was reminiscent of Rodney, Jeannie took the tube and pushed past him into his quarters, the door closing behind her.
She headed for his bathroom and called out when he didn't follow, "C'mere and lift up your t-shirt. I'll put it on for you."
John walked to the bathroom but didn't enter. From the doorway he said, "You don't have to...."
"I know that. C'mon, you'll sleep better if you're not itchy."
When he still didn't move, she teased, "Okay, I'll sleep better if I know you're not itchy."
The corners of his mouth curled up involuntarily and he stepped into the bathroom. He turned around so his back was towards her and hesitated only a heartbeat before he lifted up his shirt.
Jeannie's touch was light on his back, but not hesitant. She leaned in closer to look and he could feel her breath against his skin. He forced himself not to shiver.
"Hmm," she said.
"I was expecting some sort of rash or bite, but this is different."
John turned towards the mirror and looked at Jeannie. "What is it? It happens a lot in that spot."
"It's like this, you've got scales overlapping skin. It's sort of like tectonic plates, where one is pushed down while the other slides over the top. But in this case, because of curve of your back muscle, it's making the sharp edge of the last scale dig into the soft skin underneath it. Lotion's not going to help."
John frowned. "So it's always going to be like that?"
Jeannie looked closely at the scale in question again and gently dragged her fingernail along its edge. "This edge is a lot like a fingernail, if I had really small scissors I could trim the sharp edge back so it didn't dig into the skin. It wouldn't be a permanent fix but it would do the job."
John nodded in the mirror.
Jeannie's brow was furrowed as she was thinking. "I don't have any cuticle scissors but we should be able to borrow something from the infirmary tomorrow. In the meantime, I could put a band-aid between the scale and your skin so it doesn't rub."
After pointing her to the first aid kit in his bathroom, she did just that and the relief was instant and intense. John hadn't realized just how much that had been bothering him.
John walked her back to her door afterward. Her door opened and she went to step inside.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
Jeanne reached over and gave his forearm a squeeze, her thumb gently stroking. "You're very welcome."
He woke hard and panting from another erotic dream of making love to Jeannie, only this time in the dream he was as he was now. His balls were drawn up tight to his body and his cock ached with needing release. His clawed hand closed around his erection and he began to squeeze and stroke. He came with Jeannie's name on his lips and as the come cooled on his belly, he wanted to hide from the realization that it was the first time he had been able to bring himself off since his transformation.
The device was turned on successfully and all the scientists in the room celebrated. Jeannie slipped away in the middle of the party. John found her down in the culvert sitting with her legs dangling over the edge. He watched from the shadow as she looked at her forearm and traced something there with her finger. He made a little noise to let her know he was there and she quickly pulled her sleeve down.
He went and sat next to her looking out at the ocean and asked, "Give up on the party?"
"Yeah, it just got to be... too much I guess."
He nodded but didn't say anything and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world a short time later when Jeannie rested her head against his shoulder to put his arm around her.
The sudden arrival of her brother's double from an alternate universe shook everything up. Their bridge project was a disaster threatening both universes.
The overly friendly Rod was setting Jeannie's nerves on edge as was her own brother's reaction to his twin. It all came to a head when they showed him to his quarters for the night and he said excitedly, "So, Jeannie, how many kids do you have in this universe?"
When Jeannie just stood there in shock not answering, Rod dug in his pocket continued, "You'll love this. I have a fairly recent picture of my sister and her three. Wanna see?"
Before Rodney could react and distract him, Rod tried to hand Jeannie a picture. She only glanced at it before her eyes welled. She quickly turned and ran off without a word.
Rod stood there, completely confused, with the picture still held in his outstretched hand.
"Shit, " Rodney said from behind him.
Rod turned and asked, "What did I say?"
Rodney's expression was sad as he replied, "In our universe Madison... died."
"Oh, god. When? How?"
"Two years ago. It was a car accident. Jeannie blames herself."
"But you said it was an accident?"
"Yeah, Jeannie was running late to pick up Kaleb after class and she hit a patch of black ice and lost control of the car. They ended up in the path of a semi that couldn't stop. Anyway, Jeannie walked away from it, but not Madison."
Rod's eyes fell to his Madison's shining face in the photo in his hand and he whispered, "I'm so sorry. I wouldn't have said anything if I had known."
"I know. Something else you should probably know, that she doesn’t know that I know, is that she just divorced Kaleb before she came to Atlantis."
"Wow. I would never have seen that one coming."
"Me either, but I got a fairly nasty email from my ex-brother-in-law. I don't think things were very civil between them before she left Earth."
"I should go find her."
"No. I'll take care of it."
Rodney left and pulled up the subcutaneous tracker program on his tablet as he walked. He couldn't find Jeannie. He knew that Jeannie had been highly pissed off about his use of her subcutaneous transmitter and she was definitely capable of building a jamming device and apparently had done so.
He hit his radio and tried to contact her but couldn't. He felt panic starting to rise and hit his radio again on the senior staff channel. "This is McKay. Has anyone seen Jeannie Miller in the last five minutes? I can't contact her and the sensors aren't picking up her transmitter."
A round of negatives came back over his earpiece and Rodney frowned. A seldom heard voice these days came over the channel next as Sheppard said simply, "I'll find her."
Rodney felt immediate relief, there was no one that knew the city better than Sheppard, especially since his own transponder mysteriously dropped off the scope occasionally. Rodney had long suspected that Sheppard did it on purpose.
John found Jeannie down in the culvert, just where he expected her to be. He heard her crying even before he saw her.
She was kneeling near the end of the culvert, her body shaking with the heartrending sobs that reverberated through the culvert.
John sat down next to her and pulled her in close, not saying anything, not knowing what to say or even what was wrong. He found out soon enough.
"His Jeannie has three kids," she croaked out against John's chest.
"Madison is alive there," she managed to get out a moment later.
A particularly harsh sob was followed by, "His Jeannie didn't kill her daughter."
John squeezed her even tighter and said softly, "You didn't either. It was an accident."
"I did. I did. It was my fault. I was late and we shouldn't have been there. If I had been on time she'd still alive. It's all my fault."
John let her cry against him and kept repeating, "It was an accident."
Even as she clung to John, she refused to let his words sooth her and she broke his heart more than a little when she thumped weakly on his chest with her fist and pleaded over and over again, "I want my daughter. I want my daughter."
A completely irrational wave of anger at the universe washed over John. This wasn't anything he could fix for her.
Eventually Jeannie's tears wore her out and she was quiet and still against his chest. Effortlessly he picked her up and carried her in his arms back towards their quarters. His hood was down and his gloves were off, which was an unusual sight in and of itself on the city and would have caused a stir all its own, but the sight of him carrying Jeannie through the corridors like that completely stopped people in their tracks.
Rodney had finally picked up on Jeannie and John's transmitters and was hovering in the corridor outside their quarters as John approached with a sleeping Jeannie in his arms.
Rodney took in the sight with more than a modicum of curiosity. He wasn't sure what to make of the situation.
John looked at Rodney with a defiant tilt to his chin, as if daring the man to say something.
There was something in John's demeanor that gave Rodney pause- there was a sense of protectiveness and possessiveness practically rolling off of John. He knew that the two of them had become acquainted, having seen their transmitters in very close proximity on his tracking program on several occasions, but he wondered now if it was more than that.
John paused outside the door to his quarters as Rodney stepped closer and whispered, "Is she okay?"
John's brow furrowed and he answered simply, "No," before opening his door and going inside, leaving a confused Rodney in the hall staring at the closed door.
John gently laid Jeannie down on his bed and slipped her shoes off. With one clawed finger he brushed the hair away from her face.
He went to move away and was surprised when Jeannie's hand flew out and closed around his wrist. "Please don't go," she implored.
He nodded and quickly kicked off his own boots before climbing into bed behind her and pulling the blanket over them both.
Jeannie woke as the first fingers of dawn were poking into the room. She had turned around at some point in her sleep and was now facing John. She studied his face in the dim light and reached up to gently stroke his jawline with her fingers.
John was awake in an instant. Neither said anything for a long, intensely intimate moment. Jeannie's fingers traced his lips. Her mouth soon followed and she pressed a chaste kiss against his.
When she pulled back, she whispered a simple, "Thank you."
John swallowed hard and replied, "Welcome."
They were finally able to send Rod home, depleting their ZPM in the process. No one on Atlantis was sorry to see him go, Jeannie most of all. She had granted him absolution after he apologized non-stop, but she kept him at arm's length. The same arm's length she normally kept Rodney at.
John made a point of showing Jeannie the video Rodney had recorded during their first year. At the time Rodney had no way of knowing that Madison had died two months earlier and his message was one of wanting to reconnect with Jeannie and that he loved her and was looking forward to meeting his niece. It was an oddly hopeful message from the normally pessimistic Rodney and Jeannie sat on John's couch and watched it through several times, her face full of disbelief.
Jeannie rapped on the doorway to Rodney's lab with her knuckle. Rodney looked up and blinked. It was late and he was working furiously to try to find a new source of power for the city.
Jeannie stepped over to his desk and put down a sandwich and a brownie from the mess. "I'll willing to bet you skipped dinner."
Rodney shrugged. "Yeah, thanks."
Jeannie pulled another stool over and sat next to Rodney as he unwrapped the sandwich. Jeannie was looking at her hands in her lap as she said lightly, "So John showed me the video you recorded."
Rodney swallowed the bite of sandwich he was chewing. "He did?"
"Yeah. I think he thinks I need to cut you a little slack," she said with a little grin.
"Look, I know I haven't been there when you needed me, and I'm sorry for that. But I'm here now. And...I care, I do, I'm just not good at showing it."
Jeannie met his eyes and gave him a warm smile. "I know, Mer, I know. Um, there's something I need to tell you. About Kaleb."
"That you finally came to your senses and divorced his obnoxious, self-righteous, English-lit loving ass?"
"You knew?" Jeannie asked in disbelief.
"He sent me a nastygram in the last data burst. Something about filling your head with dreams of grandeur."
"So what are you going to do now? I can make some inquiries for you back on Earth, you know... if you'd want me to."
"Actually I was wondering if there was a place for me here, on Atlantis?"
"Yeah. You know, If that wouldn't be too weird for you."
Rodney stood and pulled Jeannie up into a bear hug and said emotionally near her ear, "No, that wouldn't be too weird for me."
Jeannie found John down in the culvert. He had been avoiding her the past couple of days and she wasn't sure why exactly.
His hypersensitive ears had heard her the moment she started down the stairs so he wasn't surprised when she approached from behind him. He was sitting with his feet dangling over the edge and without looking up at Jeannie, he raised his hand to help her sit down.
They sat quietly for a few minutes before Jeannie asked quietly, "Did I do or say something wrong? I've missed you the last couple days."
She saw his jaw clench tightly and it took a couple of heartbeats before he said softly, "You're leaving."
"Is that what this about?"
John's eyes remained locked on the ocean but he nodded.
"Oh. Well, if you hadn't been hiding from me, I could have told you the night before last that I'm staying on Atlantis. Mer got the approval from the SGC."
John swallowed hard and turned towards her slowly. "You're not leaving?"
Jeannie could see the pain deep in his eyes and she reached over and stroked his cheek as she replied gently, "I'm not leaving."
John and Rodney were walking through the forest towards a faint, but semi-interesting, energy reading Rodney's sensors were picking up. The planet was temperate and save for the near hummingbird-sized mosquitoes; it was a pleasant planet with beautiful scenery.
As they walked, Rodney began nervously, "So, um, you and Jeannie living next door to each other, is that working out okay? I mean she's not pestering you or anything is she?"
John turned his head slightly towards Rodney and frowned. "It's fine."
Rodney hadn't been able to figure out a way to talk to either of them about the night Sheppard brought Jeannie home. "So you two have gotten friendly...," he tried, realizing how lame it sounded the moment he said it and he braced himself for a sarcastic Sheppard reply.
"Yes," John answered, his eyes straight ahead.
The simple honestly of Sheppard's answer threw Rodney for a loop and he fell silent, not knowing how to answer.
The energy reading turned out to be a small, one-man ship that had crashed who knows when. There was no sign of an occupant. Its energy source was all but depleted and, disappointingly, its technology was not particularly advanced. Rodney decided to send a team back later to retrieve it, but it wasn't a priority.
John was enjoying the mission. The forest was old and close and teeming with plant and animal life. The lush vegetation made the air smell clean even to his overly-sensitive sense of smell. As they made their way back to the jumper to meet up with Teyla and Ronon, John picked up a perfect, football-sized pine cone and took it with them. Rodney gave him a look like he thought John was nuts, but didn't say anything.
It was late evening when they got back to Atlantis. They breezed through their post-mission medical exams and John headed for his quarters, the pine cone held carefully in his hand. He went past his door and stopped in front of Jeannie's and hesitated only a moment before passing his hand over the chime.
Jeannie answered the door in a pair of flannel pants and a t-shirt with the book she had been reading in her hand; she was ready for bed. She smiled seeing John and said, "Hi. How'd your mission go?"
"Quiet. Found a downed ship."
"No, we're sending a team back to get it."
He extended the pine cone out to her. "I brought you this."
Her smile was back in force. John had taken to bringing her back little souvenirs from his various missions, small things like interesting stones or colorful leaves, just little things. The pine cone, however, was impressive.
"Wow. Look at that. The trees must have been huge."
"Bigger than California redwoods."
"That would have been something to see."
John thought for a moment and said, "You could ask Rodney to put you on the retrieval team."
Jeannie's brow furrowed a little, she had been actively avoiding going off world much to her brother's dismay. "Oh. I don't know about that."
"I'm going. Because I know where the ship is."
"Hmm, maybe then. We'll see."
John's stomach growled loudly, lunch had been a long time ago. Jeannie looked at the noisy interloper with a grin. "Hungry?"
Jeannie stepped back further into the room and gestured for him to come inside. "C'mon, I've got food I can heat up for you."
She turned, not waiting to see if he complied, and went to her dresser to deposit the pine cone carefully among the other treasures he had given her. She tossed her book on her bed and went to the little refrigerator and pulled out a couple of containers.
John had walked hesitantly into the room. It was the first time he had been in her quarters.
Jeannie gestured towards her couch and John went and sat down.
Jeannie rambled on about her day while she prepared the food and John again made all the appropriate noises at the right times, but it was different, it was somehow more intimate, more personal than being separated by the air between their balconies.
John ate what she heated up for him as Jeannie curled up on the other end of the couch with a cup of herbal tea. She had been talking so much that the sudden silence in the room when she stopped was startling. John met her eyes and she grinned at him and said, "This is nice," as she gestured between them and around her quarters, "We should do this more often."
It was everything he wanted, everything that had been missing, but he didn't know how to express that to her so he simply replied, "Yeah."
"You know you could eat with us every once in a while," Rodney teased as he and Jeanie headed for a transporter.
Jeannie just leveled a playful glare at her brother. "Actually, I have plans tonight. I'm making dinner for someone."
Rodney looked at her in surprise. "Really? Who?"
"That," Jeannie said as she hit the button on the transporter, "Is none of your business."
A little later, while he was eating his own dinner in the mess hall, Rodney pulled up his subcutaneous transmitter tracking program. He found Jeannie where he expected her, in her quarters, but the only other person around her immediate vicinity was Sheppard. He stared at the screen with a furrowed brow and wondered again what exactly was going on between Sheppard and his sister.
John put on a pair of comfortable, faded jeans that were so well broken-in that they didn't bother his skin and the tunic top Teyla had procured for him. As he pulled on a thin pair of socks and slipped his feet into his sports sandals he grinned to himself. Jeannie had been adamant about not wanting to see any part of a uniform, insisting that they were just going to be two normal people having dinner and then watching a movie. In another time and place he might have teased her about her definition of "normal", but not now- now he craved their off-kilter version of normal.
Jeanie greeted him at her door wearing a brightly colored broom skirt and peasant blouse with her toes peeking out of a pair of well-worn leather sandals. Her hair was down and her soft curls gently framed her smiling face. It was the closest he had ever seen her to looking relaxed and... happy.
She had planned a spicy stir-fry for dinner and she talked and babbled as she chopped then cooked. John interjected things here and there and relaxed more as the time went by.
Dinner turned out well and John found himself trying to remember the last time anyone had cooked just for him; it made him a little sad when he couldn't.
After they ate they got comfortable next to each other on the couch and fired up a DVD on Jeannie's laptop. It was relatively recent political thriller that neither of them had seen. There was a military scene set in modern war-torn Afghanistan that made John snort.
"What?" Jeanie asked.
"That would never work, choppers can't get in that area."
"Yeah. I tried. Twice."
Jeannie frowned. "It's not really like the movies over there is it?"
"Will you tell me about it some time?"
John turned his head a little to look at Jeanie, they rarely talked about their pasts. "Yes."
They finished the movie, pausing in the middle to get their dessert.
When the movie was over, Jeanie stood and picked up their dessert plates and added them to the dirty dinner dishes on the table. John got up and stretched, and wandered over to look out her balcony door.
John heard Jeanie step up behind him and her voice was gentle as she asked hesitantly, "Are we dating?"
He swallowed hard and turned slowly to see Jeanie standing there nervously.
John didn't answer her. She stepped closer, asking again, "Are we?"
He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but no words came out.
Jeanie asked gently, "Is that even something you'd want?"
John's brow furrowed and his words came out in the barest of whispers, "It's everything I want."
Jeanie stepped closer and reached up to softly stroke his cheek before leaning in to kiss him softly. She pulled back a bit and admitted in a whisper, "Me, too."
"I... I have nothing to offer you anymore, Jeanie."
It was Jeanie's turn to swallow hard and she asked, "Do you care about me? And want to be with me? Even as broken and dysfunctional as I am on a good day?"
"Yes," he answered simply and without hesitation.
"Then you have everything to offer me, John. Everything."
He was reaching for her before he even realized it and his mouth claimed hers with a passion and a hunger that she readily returned.
Piece by piece their clothing was dropped into a pile on the floor until they stood naked in front of each other.
Jeanie didn't give John the chance to be self-conscious, she closed the distance between them with her hands and mouth moving purposefully against his skin.
He wanted to touch her in return but hesitated.
Jeanie trailed her hand down his arm and gently took his clawed hand in hers and lifted it to press against her bare breast. Against his skin she whispered, "You can touch me, too."
John's fingers were shaking and he said lowly, "I don't want to hurt you."
She looked up at his words and paused for a heartbeat before saying, "You won't."
When he still didn't move, she said, "I'll make you a promise. If anything is uncomfortable or not working for me, I'll tell you."
"I promise. But you have to promise me something too."
"If I say something's not working quite right, I don't want you to run away, okay? We'll adjust and figure it all out as we go. Together. Promise?"
"Promise," he voiced as he let the pad of his thumb brush across her nipple.
Jeanie hadn't quite known what to expect when John had removed his pants. She had seen his bare chest and back and knew that he was now a combination of still-soft, albeit blue-tinged, skin and sharp scales, but what his metamorphosing had done to the rest of him she just didn't know. When he was finally naked in front of her, it was evident. It appeared as if his body tried to armor itself. There were hard, thick scales on his arms and across his shoulders, with a thin line of them covering his spine. His ribs, outer thighs, and shins were also scaled. His stomach and groin and lower back and ass were all still soft skin however, and as Jeanie took in John's hard, heavy cock she found herself oddly grateful that that part of who he is hadn't been taken away from him.
At the moment though, the only part of John's body that mattered to her as she was lying on her back on the bed was the masterful tongue he was using between her thighs. She toed the edge of orgasm as she writhed and her hands pawed and pulled at the sheet under her. She couldn't even understand why she was so turned on, she as a rule had always disliked receiving oral sex, but there was no denying that this time was different.
John moved up and carefully entered her. He moved slowly, letting her body adjust to his size. His mouth found her nipple and he teased and tormented it as gently moved inside her.
Jeanie was wet, her sex sopping and wanting the hard cock John was pushing inside. There was no friction, but the size of it took her body a moment to adjust to. His mouth on her nipple was maddening and she whispered, "More. Please."
And more he gave her. They moved in perfect counterpoint, Jeanie taking everything he gave her. He felt the first flickers of her release and it was almost his own undoing, but he tamped it down and focused on Jeanie. Her orgasm started slowly, with soft, gentle waves that matched John's patient strokes. It built in intensity and she urged John along even as her body clamped down around his cock.
With a strangled cry that sounded like it bordered on pain, John's own release hit a moment later.
The sky outside was just starting to lighten with the dawn. John was lying on his back with Jeanie tucked under his arm, her head on his chest. Jeanie was asleep. As the room brightened and Jeannie shifted a little, John got a good long look at her wrist. The scratches on her skin were too straight, too precise, to be accidental and he wondered what they meant.
Their days were full as always, and with the change in their relationship, now so were their nights.
They ate dinner together every night that John wasn't off-world, sometimes out on the balcony, sometimes not. They watched DVDs and listened to music, and sometimes they just read quietly on opposite ends of the couch. It was a warm and pressure-free sort of domesticity.
Some nights they made love, other nights they just held onto each other and slept soundly in the in security of lying next to someone who cared about them.
For all outward intents and purposes, they were happy... for definitions of happy.
John was studying Jeannie as they ate out on his balcony. He had gotten back earlier from the mission to retrieve the downed abandoned ship, a mission that Jeannie had adamantly refused to go on and he wanted to know why.
"Why don't you want to go off world?" he asked directly. Theirs was a fairly frank and honest relationship and he wasn't about to start beating around the bush with her.
"I just didn't want to go, that's all," Jeannie replied quickly, but John noticed that she wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Nice non-answer. Wanna try again?"
Jeanie put down her plate and walked over to the railing wearing a pinched expression that he hadn't seen from her since they sent the other Rodney home. She stood there staring out but didn't answer.
John put his own plate down and went to lean on the railing next to her. Gently he said, "Please tell me, I can't fix it if I don't know what's wrong."
Her thumb was rubbing the scored marks on her wrist, John wasn't even sure if she was aware that she was doing it. She closed her eyes and let out a little sigh. "I don't... I don't know how to defend myself. And I don't want...I don't want anyone to die trying to protect me."
"That's our job."
Jeannie's thumb rubbed her wrist harder and she whispered, "I'm not worth it."
"What do you mean you're not worth it?" John demanded in disbelief.
"I'm not," she said again and turned to go back inside.
"Wait," John said and took her arm. He didn't hurt her, he was positive that he hadn't squeezed too tightly, but his action caused a look of pure terror to cross Jeannie's face. It stunned him and he let her pull away without resistance.
She said quietly as she went inside, "I think I want to be alone tonight."
And without another word or waiting for his reply, she left his quarters and went to her own.
John slumped into a chair and tried to process what had just happened. Jeannie had thought he was going to hit her, to cause her pain. It hurt him more than he thought possible to know that she was afraid of him deep down inside.
The sky was dark and the moons rising when something finally clicked in John's mind. Jeannie's reaction had been reflexive, instinctual even. And coupling that with her fear of not knowing how to defend herself, John had a picture forming in his head that he didn't like.
He stood and deftly leaped over to her balcony. Her balcony door was open a crack and he pushed it open further. Jeannie was lying in bed in the darkened room. He could tell by her breathing that she wasn't asleep and he asked quietly, "Can I come in?"
He saw her nod and he made his way over to sit on the edge of the bed. He could see that she had been crying. His hand reached out and he gently stroked her hair and asked, "What happened with Kaleb?"
Jeannie took a breath and rearranged herself on the bed so her head was resting on John's thigh. "It was all my fault."
"I doubt that."
"It was. He was so... angry after Madison died. He blamed the truck driver, and the booster seat, and the city for not sanding the roads. But most of all he blamed me."
John's hand was resting on her arm, his thumb rubbing in soothing little circles.
"I was in a fog after the funeral. A lot of days I didn't even get out of bed, When I did, we did nothing but argue. Eventually the arguing turned physical for him and I just didn't care, didn't fight back."
John jaw was clenched tightly. He doubted that Rodney knew any of this.
"I was numb and I didn't care if he killed me. It would have been a relief."
John hand moved down to her wrist and one clawed finger ghosted over the marks there. He said plainly, "You wanted to die."
"I thought it would take away the pain."
"Do you still think about doing... that?" he asked past the sudden lump in his throat.
"Not since I came to Atlantis."
"So why keep making the marks?"
Jeannie pressed closer against John's thigh and replied, "To remind me that I always have that final option."
That was all that was said and they sat there together for quite a while before John finally slipped under the covers and pulled her in close to sleep.
In the wee hours John awoke from a nightmare of walking into Jeannie's quarters and finding her lying there dead with her wrist slashed. He struggled to calm his breathing and not wake the sleeping Jeanie beside him. In the dark he begged in a whisper, "Please don't leave me alone."
It took them a week to get back on an even keel.
John dragged Jeannie to the gym one evening after telling to her put on her sweats. Laura Cadman was waiting for them there.
John made the introductions as Laura had just arrived back on the city in the crew rotation and hadn't met Jeannie yet.
Jeannie said to Laura, "Oh, you're the one that was stuck in Mer's head. I'm sorry."
Laura laughed. "He and I both agreed to pretend that never happened. It's less traumatic for both of us that way."
John slipped away while the women were making small talk, leaving them alone.
Laura broached the reason they were there. "So Sheppard asked me to give you some self-defense basics, have you had any instruction at all?"
Jeannie gulped but answered honestly, "No. And other than my brother, I've never hit another person."
Laura grinned and said encouragingly, "Excellent, a clean slate to work with. I won't have to un-train you first."
That made Jeannie relax and they started.
After her lesson, Jeannie was hot and sweaty and needing a shower but she wanted to find John first.
Not seeing him on the life-signs detector, she headed for the culvert. Sure enough, he was sitting towards the end with his back curved against the wall, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
Jeanie approached with smirk. "You are a very sneaky man, John Sheppard."
"I try. How did it go with Cadman?" he replied.
She plunked down next to him. "Good. We're going to meet a few times a week until I'm comfortable with it."
The heavy smell of Jeannie's sweat and body odor was registering with John's brain and embarrassingly, it was turning him on in an extreme manner. Without thinking he had to reach down and adjust himself.
Jeannie caught the action and teased, "Something you'd like to share?"
He looked towards the culvert end sheepishly, but answered, "You smell good."
Jeannie giggled. "I stink and need a shower."
He turned towards her, the lust evident on his face, and said, "Exactly."
Jeannie opened her mouth to say something but just as quickly closed it again, instead choosing to straddle John's thighs instead and kissing him deeply.
The kiss led to clothing being hastily shed and with John's tougher skin against the rough surface of the culvert, Jeannie rode him wantonly. She was never shy with him in bed, but this was different somehow, she was empowered and in control as she purposely moved up and down on his hard cock. When she threw back her head and pinched a nipple with one hand while the fingers of the other slipped between them to tease them both, John felt her orgasm starting. When it fully hit, he would have sworn his cock was in a vise, yet still she kept moving, drawing it out. John finally couldn't take it anymore and his clawed hands carefully squeezed her hips as he pressed upwards and came with a grunt.
John flopped back to the ground panting, Jeanne on his chest. He heard her swallow and try to find some moisture in her mouth and her words came out in a whisper, "I made an appointment with Doctor Heightmeyer."
John nodded and bent his neck to press a kiss to her head. "Good," was his only reply.
Their lives went on, and as the weeks went by, slowly but surely Jeannie's three times a week sessions with Kate and twice a week sessions with Laura started lifting the enormous self-imposed weight she had on her shoulders. John couldn't help but notice that Jeannie had started smiling more and had taken to teasing him playfully and even roughhousing a little with him. He was glad for her, but terrified at the same time, wondering when she would come to realize that she deserved someone in her life that had more to offer than him.
Three months into her therapy with Kate, Jeannie had stopped making the marks on her arm.
Rodney had browbeaten Jeannie into going to the mess with him for lunch. They had quickly grabbed sandwiches and fruit before heading for a table near a far window.
Rodney looked out at the perfect sunny day outside with a sad expression on his face.
Jeannie picked up on it right away and prodded. "What's the matter?"
Rodney turned his attention back to his sandwich, shaking his head as he did. "Nothing."
"Liar, liar, pants on fire," Jeannie teased before taking a big bite of her cheese sandwich.
"It's just... you and... Sheppard. I..."
"What about me and John?" she asked defensively.
"Nothing... everything. I just don't know how to take it that's all. You're my sister and he is... was my best friend."
"You talk like he's dead or something, Mer. He's not."
"I know that, but he just..."
"Spit it out already."
"I miss him, okay? He won't hang out with me any more. He doesn't want anything to do with me outside of missions. And then you show up and suddenly he's mister social again."
Jeannie's eyebrow raised in amusement. "You're jealous."
"I am not."
"Are you going to stamp your feet next like you did when we were kids?" Jeannie teased.
Rodney just threw her a flat glare in return.
Jeannie was sitting on one end of the couch mending a tear in one of John's tunic tops. John occupied the other end studying a field report about a planet they hoped to use as a research site. They had some soft blues playing in the background.
She took a breath and hesitated a moment before saying casually, "So... Mer thinks you don't want to spend time with him any more. Is that true?"
John's brow furrowed and he frowned before turning slowly to look at her. "No."
"So why don't you?"
"So? Nothing's ever simple. So tell me."
John hesitated, they never talked about his transformation, about his body then versus now. Jeannie had just accepted him the was he is and he was loath to bring attention to anything that might change that.
Jeanie could see his discomfort and reached over to give his forearm a squeeze. "Tell me," she asked again gently.
John swallowed and lifted his clawed hand. "They don't work for remote-controlled cars. Or computer golf. Or even the Xbox. I can't do any of the things he and I used to do for fun and there's nothing to replace them with."
"Why didn't you tell him any of this? He thinks he said or did something wrong. He misses you."
John looked away and replied in a low voice, "I miss him, too."
The chime at his door surprised John. He opened his door to see Rodney standing here with a plastic crate in his hands.
Without waiting for an invitation, Rodney pushed past John and started babbling nervously. "Remind to tell you at great length sometime just how big of an idiot you can be at times."
Rodney paused in his babbling and pulled something out of the crate. "Here. See if that works for you."
John looked down at what had been thrust into his hands. At its core it looked like a remote-control to one of their cars, but it had been modified. Modified to be user-friendly to John's transformed hands.
John looked up to see Rodney waiting expectantly a wide grin on his face. When John couldn't say anything past the sudden lump of emotion in his throat, Rodney took the initiative. "Do you know how many engineering minions I have working for me? Your new Xbox controller will be ready tomorrow."
John asked quietly, "You did this for me?"
Rodney sobered a little and said honestly, "No. I did this for us. Our friendship is... it's important to me and I refuse to let a few bits of the wrong-sized plastic take it away."
John swallowed again and his voice was hoarse as he tried to put into words what he was feeling. "Rodney..."
Rodney ticked his off to the side nonchalantly and tried to diffuse the tense moment with a little levity. "I know. You can thank me later... preferably with chocolate. Now what do you say we go try that thing out?"
John nodded eagerly and grabbed his hooded sweatshirt. "'Kay."
They left John's quarters heading for their favorite makeshift race track with Rodney's old, familiar babbling echoing around them in the corridor. Rodney babbled on about a lot of random topics, but he never mentioned that it had been Jeannie who dropped the modified controller on his desk and told him to use it to bridge the gap between he and John. He also didn't mention that Jeannie had promised to have the Xbox controller finished tomorrow. Rodney had been shocked to find out that it had been something so stupid as John's hands not being able to work things that had made the other man withdraw; he also kicked himself more than a little for not noticing it himself.
Five months after Jeannie began seeing Kate, she woke John in the middle of the night.
He blinked awake instantly in the moonlit room, seeing Jeannie sitting on the edge of the bed. He reached out and stroked her back. "Everything okay?"
A glint of moonlight reflected off of something she held in her hand: a razor blade.
John's heart skipped more than one beat before she replied quietly, "They weren't for a really long time. But now..."
"Now?" John prodded hesitantly, half afraid of the answer.
"Now I'm here on Atlantis. I'm doing important work that I enjoy. My brother and I are closer than we've been since we were kids. And to top it all off, I'm in a relationship with someone who I care about so much it scares me sometimes," Jeannie paused, sniffed hard, lifted the razor, and continued, "I don't need this anymore. Will you come with me?"
John's only reply was to nod and gently brush her hair away from her face.
They left Jeanie's quarters and made their way down to their culvert. The sound of the ocean filled the space as Jeanie looked down at the blade lying on her palm one final time before slowly tipping her hand and letting it fall into the oblivion of the sea.
She stood there watching the water for a moment before turning and pressing herself into John's embrace. He squeezed her gently and tucked his nose into her hair. Her voice was quiet against his chest as she whispered, "I don't think I would still be here if it hadn't been for you, John. I know I haven't said it but please tell me you know that I love you. So much."
He pulled back a bit to see her face. He gently stoked her cheek with his clawed thumb, still surprised even after all their time together that she didn't flinch away from it. "I know you do. And so do I... you know that right?"
Jeannie smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I do."
John pressed a kiss to her forehead before pulling her back in tightly. He swallowed hard and replied simply, "Good."
Jeannie pressed a playful kiss to John's mouth and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "I'm getting some water, want some?"
John was mellow and sleepy in that post-orgasmic place and watched through heavy eyelids as Jeannie slipped on a t-shirt and pajama pants. They had learned after their first night together that there needed to be a layer between Jeannie's soft skin and his rough scales while they slept as she had woken up full of tiny scratches that first time. He shook his head at her request and gave into his eyes desire to close.
A minute or so later Jeannie was crawling back into bed beside him, wide awake. She curled up under the arm he lifted for her and settled herself against his chest.
"Tell me something about you that nobody else knows?" Jeanie asked in a playful whisper.
He cracked his eyes a little and asked, "Now or... before?"
"Okay," he replied then paused to think a moment. "I.. I like to go sit in the bathroom in the steam. Now I mean; it wasn't something I used to do."
"Oh. Like a sauna? I love a good sauna. I'm surprised there isn't a steam room here on the city."
John blinked in surprise, glad that she wasn't looking at his face at the moment. He hadn't even thought about it like that; he had just thought it was a weird new quirk of his transformed body.
"I never looked for one."
"I bet there's one hidden away somewhere. I'll check the database tomorrow."
John was quiet and she prodded, "Okay, so that's now, what about something from before?"
"You can never tell your brother this," John replied.
Jeanie chuckled. "Oh, this must really be good. I won't tell a soul."
"I won the science fair in sixth grade."
Jeanie leaned up and turned so she could see his face and asked, "Really?"
"What was your project?"
"I compared bird wings to plane wings and how man-made flight works."
"I should have guessed it had something to do with flying. Did you always want to be a pilot?"
"Yeah. But I wanted to build planes too."
"Somehow I'm betting that the puddlejumpers have spoiled you for all other planes, huh?"
"They are the coolest thing I've ever flown, 302 comes close though."
"I haven't been in one of those."
"Next time the Daedalus comes for a supply run I'll get you a ride in one. Lorne always needs flight hours."
Jeanie yawned and replied, "That sounds like fun."
John made an affirmative noise and fell into a contented sleep.
John looked at the beautiful, intricate necklace made from hand-carved wooden beads, leather cording, and pieces of amber-colored glass, and found himself speechless. He had seen another piece by the same artisan that Teyla wore often and had asked her to see about trading for another that he could give Jeannie for her upcoming birthday.
"Do you like it, John?"
"It's beautiful. But it's worth so much more than what I gave you to trade for it." At Teyla's suggestion he had requisitioned a new, large covered stock pot from the expedition supplies that he then gave to Teyla to use to trade for the necklace.
Teyla smiled. "Actually she was thrilled with the exchange, John. Her four sons are growing into young men with ravenous appetites and the new soup pot was most welcome. So do you think Jeannie will like the necklace? I thought the warm colors would look very nice on her."
John nodded. "She'll love it," he said as he carefully laid the necklace back down on the table on top of the cloth it had been wrapped in. He met Teyla's eyes and found himself a little overwhelmed emotionally. "Teyla... thank you... for doing that for me... I...."
Teyla smiled gently at his hesitation and reached over to clasp his forearms. Unconsciously he leaned his head forward towards hers to have his forehead meet hers in the familiar gesture.
"You are most welcome, John."
John looked around his quarters, everything appeared to be ready. He slipped his sandals on and carefully picked up a fragile purple flower wrapped in parchment.
Earlier in the day John had made a surprise appearance in the botany lab and sought out Katie Brown. In nervous, strained sentences he had managed to ask if they had any flowers that he could have. The lab itself was full of green plants in every shade, but surprisingly devoid of flowers. Katie had thought for a moment before saying with an impish grin, "I have an idea." She had grabbed a pair of snips and gestured for John to follow. They had taken a transporter to an odd corner of the city where the botany department had recently replanted a decorative alcove, and there, amid a sea of green, was one lone, violently purple tiger lily-like flower. Without hesitation, Katie had clipped it and brought it back to the botany lab. She had meandered the lab and snipped off interesting sprigs of greens here and there and soon had a small bouquet with the purple lily as its centerpiece. She had wrapped it carefully in a piece of the parchment they used to dry specimens on and tied it with a piece of twine. She had handed it to him with a gentle smile and said, "I hope Jeannie likes it." He hadn't even questioned how she knew it was for Jeannie, most of the expedition knew, even if they didn't understand it, that they were a couple.
John went next door to Jeanie's quarters and rang the chime. She opened the door and he held out the flower. "Happy birthday."
Jeanie's expression was one of surprise as she sniffed the flower. "You remembered my birthday?"
John nodded. "Yeah... and... come next door, there's more."
Jeanie smiled and looped her arm around his.
Candles were burning all over the room, adding a warm and intimate ambiance. John's small dining table had a crisp white tablecloth on it and was elegantly set for two.
Jeannie stepped closer to the table and ran her fingertips over the cloth. She swallowed hard and asked in a low voice, "You did all this for me?"
"Yeah, I've been planning it for a while."
She turned and looked at John, tears in her eyes threatening to fall. John quickly stepped closer and brushed her cheek with a finger. "Hey, no crying on your birthday."
"It's just... nobody's remembered my birthday in a long time."
"I kinda figured."
Jeannie leaned up on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to John's mouth and said, "Thank you."
John winked at her. "Welcome. Now... hungry? I bribed the mess hall to make that nut and rice casserole you like so much."
Jeannie finally smiled. "Starving actually and you know that's my favorite."
John pulled out a chair for her and she sat.
The reheated casserole and salad John put out along with a bottle of wine he had been saving made for a wonderful dinner.
After dinner they were sitting on the couch with the last of the bottle of wine when John pulled out a simply wrapped gift box and handed it Jeannie.
Jeannie put down her wine glass and looked at the gift with a gleeful glint in her eyes. When she unwrapped the necklace, her jaw dropped in surprise. "Oh, John, it's beautiful."
"You like it?"
"No," she teased, "I love it."
She quickly took off the pendant she was wearing and swapped it for her new necklace. "What do you think?" she asked.
John smiled. "It's almost as beautiful as the woman wearing it."
Jeannie blushed and gently fingered the necklace.
They made love that was achingly slow and tender, leaving both of them a sweaty, sated pile of mush on the bed. After a shared shower Jeannie put on a baggy pair of John's sweats and climbed into bed, curling up next to him.
John settled himself around Jeannie, reveling in feeling of having her warm body next to his just like he did every time they fell asleep together. It always felt right to him, like this was how things were supposed to be, and the words left his normally reticent mouth before he realized. "I think you should move in with me."
Jeannie turned around so she could see his face. "Do you mean that?"
He swallowed hard and answered. "Yeah, I do."
She thought about it for a moment, her expression unreadable, before she finally nodded and replied, "Okay."
Jeannie pressed a kiss to John's stunned mouth and rolled back over, snuggling closer to John.
"Okay," John repeated softly and squeezed her a little closer to him.
John and Rodney were in the locker area gearing up for their mission the next day. Rodney finished first and was about to head for the gate room when John said, "McKay, got a minute?"
Rodney paused and turned back towards John. He watched as John got into his tac vest and struggled like he always did to get it fastened correctly with his transformed hands.
"Something wrong?" Rodney asked.
"No," John said without making eye contact, "I just wanted to tell you something before you hear it from someone else."
"Oh, god. You're breaking up with Jeannie," Rodney replied with a groan.
John's head snapped up and he vehemently shook his head. "No. Just... no."
"Oh... good. So if it's not that, then what?"
John swallowed nervously and quickly said, "I asked Jeannie to move in with me."
Rodney stared at him blankly for a moment then shook his head. "O...kay... you two practically live together anyway."
"Yeah, but now it's going to be official and I need your... approval."
"Ah... oh... wait. Did you tell her about the thing?"
"No, I thought you had."
"No, I didn't."
"I should probably be the one to tell her."
Rodney nodded. "Yeah, not to sound like I'm copping out, even though I totally am, but it really should come from you."
John sighed. "I'll tell her tonight."
"Good. Oh, and about my "approval"," Rodney said with rolling eyes and air quotes, "You know you have it. Part of my brain is screaming at me that there are at least five hundred different ways this could go horribly wrong, but then there is another part that's telling the first part to shut up because you both seem really... you know... happy."
"We are, Rodney."
"I know. Just promise me you'll do what you can to keep it that way."
Jeannie was pulling her clothes out of drawers and piling them on her bed when John entered her quarters.
She paused with a pile in hand and gave John a peck on the lips. John sat on the edge of the bed and reached out to snag her hand after she deposited her clothes on top of the others already on the bed.
"Can we talk for a sec?" he asked quietly.
Jeannie's expression became one of concern. "What is it? Did you change your mind? Do you not want me to move in?"
John pulled her to sit beside him. "No. I mean, yes, I still want you to move in."
"Oh, okay then. What is it?"
John's brow furrowed and he hesitated before answering. "There's something I need to tell you, something I should've told you a long time ago."
"Right, well... after my transformation and treatment, no one knew what to do with me. They finally decided I could stay on Atlantis but only if I had a legal guardian here on the city."
"A legal guardian? I don't understand. You're not incompetent."
"They didn't care. It was either that or go back to Earth and live in a cell somewhere."
"They didn't really give you much of a choice did they?"
"No, and I had nightmares about becoming someone's lab rat."
"Oh, god," Jeannie said in horror.
"Yeah, so, I accepted a guardian. I'm pretty much free to do what I want, but anything official or that needs signing-off on has to go through...," John trailed off.
"My brother," Jeannie finished for him.
Jeannie closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. "Is he okay with us moving in together?"
"Seems to be. Said we seemed happy and made me promise to keep it that way."
Jeannie chuckled. "So any other big secrets I should know about?"
John looked down at his clawed hand and said quietly, "No, you already know the other big one."
Shortly after they had become sexually intimate they had had a frank discussion about John's inability to have children. His transformation had rendered him sterile, which, in the grand scheme of his mutated DNA, was a backhanded blessing.
Jeannie looped her arm around John and cuddled her cheek against his shoulder. "Yeah, I know."
"So knowing all that, you still want to move in with me?"
"Yep," she replied lightly.
"So I should probably go clean out some drawers?" he asked as he stood, taking Jeannie with him.
Jeannie pushed up her sleeves and looked the piles on the bed. "Yep."
John chuckled and headed for the door. It had just opened at his approach when she called out, "You know I love you no matter what, right?"
John winked at her and replied, "Yep."
John looked over Jeannie's tac vest with a critical eye. "Looks fine. Ready?"
Jeannie nodded a bit nervously, this was her first off-world mission. "Mer said this was a cake walk. I'm just checking on the naquadah generator we gave to the villagers."
John nodded. "They are our allies. Good people."
"Ronon and I will both be there. You don't have to worry."
Jeannie grinned. "I'm fine. Really. I think I'm more excited than I am nervous."
The planet was a dry world. Vegetation was sparse and the animal life thin and low in number. If it had not been for the vast mineral deposits on the planet that the villagers mined and traded off-world for food, they would have quickly starved to death. Atlantis had found that the planet had a deep aquifer and helped the village to drill a well to it and provided them with a naquadah generator to power the necessary pump to get the water to the surface. It had instantly increased the quality of life for the villagers who were now able to grow their own crops through a carefully planned irrigation system.
Their team was welcomed exuberantly as always, several of the children clamoring for Ronon's attention of all people. He had patiently shown some of the older boys how to craft better snares and traps to catch desert rodents and lizards their last visit and they were eager to show off their efforts.
The villagers did not shy away from John, having seen him on several occasions now, but neither did they really know how to approach him. The distance they kept was clear.
Jeannie quickly found several new friends that were excited to meet another person from Atlantis. John watched her with a gentle expression as she smiled and made animated small talk with the villagers. It was a good first off-world mission for her, a chance for her to see the best of what Pegasus had to offer and not the worst.
The check on the generator didn't take very long at all. The villagers religiously followed the instructions Rodney had left for them regarding its use and did all they could to keep both it and the well pump running as intended.
All too soon, it was time for the team to head back to Atlantis.
In the locker room, John and Jeannie shucked their vests and gear. With a grin, Jeannie pressed a quick kiss to John's mouth.
"What was that for?"
"For pushing me to go off-world, today was amazing."
John ticked his head and replied, "I knew you'd like it."
"You know me very well, John Sheppard. Now let's get through our medical check and go get something to eat in the mess, I'm starving," she replied as she took his hand.
John swallowed hard at the entrance to the mess. He had been in the mess since his transformation but was always in and out as fast as he could grab something to eat to take with him. He hadn't actually sat and eaten a meal in the mess since his transformation.
"Oh...," Jeannie said beside him, "It smells like chili tonight. I hope they made some vegetarian."
She tugged on his hand that she hadn't let go of since the locker room and they got in line.
With trays soon loaded with food and a distinct lack of fanfare on the part of the mess hall staff, Jeannie headed for far table near a window.
John sat across from her, his back to the majority of the room. Jeannie dug into her chili with a groan of delight. "Oh, this is good. I should have listened to Mer about always bringing extra Powerbars when you go on missions, I'm starving."
John nodded but didn't say anything and he also didn't start eating.
Before Jeannie could say anything to that, they were joined by Ronon and Rodney and then Lorne and Sam.
"Hey," Rodney said as he plunked his tray down on the table and sat down, "How did the mission go?"
"Fine. No problems with the generator. It looks like they really follow your instructions."
"Good, now only if everyone else did," Rodney groused as he dug into his food.
John sat quietly, not talking and not eating even though his stomach was growling. He hadn't eaten in front of anyone other than Jeannie since his transformation.
Ronon ripped off a chunk of bread and dipped it in his chili. He popped it in his mouth and chewed slowly, all the while observing John. He swallowed and took a swig of milk before nudging John's elbow and ordering simply, "Eat."
John frowned at Ronon but picked up his spoon and hesitantly took a bite. When no one in the mess hall stopped and stared or snickered, John let himself relax a little and enjoy the meal with his friends. He met Ronon's eyes and Ronon replied with smirk that screamed, "Told you so."
Their meal ended and John and Jeannie headed home to their quarters. Jeannie was unusually quiet and it was about the time that they turned down their corridor that it all clicked into place in his mind. He stopped walking and turned to Jeannie with a raised eyebrow. "You set that whole thing up, didn't you?"
Jeannie's only reply was an honest little nod.
John stared at her for a long moment, his own expression unreadable, before he wagged a playful finger at her and teased by throwing her own words back at her, "You are a very sneaky woman, Jeannie Miller."
"I try. I hope you're not mad. It's just... well... they all miss you and want to spend time with you."
It was John's turn to nod as he started walking again.
While Jeannie was in the shower, John stood at the balcony railing staring out at the calm sea and made a decision. He hit the radio in his ear before he talk himself out of it.
The night was beautiful and they left the balcony door open when they went to bed. The gentle ocean sounds filled the room and were quickly lulling them to sleep. John stroked Jeannie's hair and whispered, "I made an appointment with Heightmeyer."
Jeannie snuggled closer and gave him a squeeze. "Good," was her simple reply.
When John started his twice a week visits with Kate he wasn't sure quite what to expect, but Kate just letting him ramble off on random tangents wasn't it. She listened as he talked about recent missions. She listened as he shared stories from his youth. She listened as he talked about his friendships with Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon. And she listened to him as he admitted hoarsely how much he loved Jeannie and needed her.
But he didn't talk about himself, or his transformation.
As the weeks went by missions came and went, and life went on as normal on the floating city. Normal with the exception that John now ate frequently with his team in the mess hall and was often seen here and there around the city with Rodney and their toys. Seeing John with his hood down and his hands ungloved became a more familiar sight for the city's residents. No one reacted badly, something John had been bracing himself for that just never came. In fact, it seemed quite the opposite, that people were glad to see him and not afraid of him.
Kate had been subtly nudging him to talk about his transformation. Two months into therapy she asked pointedly, "If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?"
She had hoped it would start a conversation about the circumstances around his transformation, but his answer took her completely by surprise and made her rethink everything she thought she knew about him.
John had been quiet all evening, something that happened sometimes on the days he met with Kate. Jeannie had her own days like that. She made them a quiet dinner and let him have the time he needed with his thoughts and emotions the same as he did for her on her bad nights.
Jeannie called it an early night and got ready for bed. John was sitting in a chair staring out the balcony door as Jeannie settled herself into bed. She traced her fingertips gently across the picture of Madison on her night stand, like she did every night before turning off the light.
John's voice was gruff in moonlit room as he said softly, "Kate asked me something today."
Jeannie rolled over and leaned up on her elbow, "Do you want to share?"
John nodded without looking at her. "She asked me if I could go back in time and change one thing what would it be. I don't think my answer was the one she was looking for."
"What did you say?" Jeannie asked warily.
John answered honestly, "That I'd have done anything to keep you and Madison out of that car."
Jeannie's sharp gasp echoed in the quiet room, not quite stifled by the hand she clasped over her mouth.
"Like I said, not the answer she expected, or you I guess," John said and turned towards her. "I'd give anything to give her back to you. Anything. I could live out the rest of my life alone as a bug if I knew you were back on Earth with Madison safe and sound."
Jeannie tried to breathe though her chest was tight as a drum at his words. "John...."
"I mean it, Jeannie. It's important to me that you know that."
Jeannie sniffed hard and slipped out of bed. She approached John and without hesitation climbed into his lap and embraced him tightly with his arms quickly following suit to wrap around her. With her face tucked in the crook of his neck she said, "You are without a doubt the most self-sacrificing person I've ever met, John Sheppard and I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you. Nothing. I love you."
Jeannie pulled back a little and met his eyes. "Say that last part again?"
John swallowed hard and replied, "I love you."
The tears in her eyes that had been threatening to fall started in earnest as she passionately kissed John in response.
Without another word said between them, John stood with Jeannie in his arms and moved to the bed. There was a reverence in the room as they both stripped each other to their skin. Her hands mapped his body, gliding over scales and skin alike even has his hot mouth moved on her skin. Slowly and carefully he did something he had never done before as he slipped his finger between her folds. Jeannie cried out his name as he gently used the pad of his finger to bring her to the edge of orgasm. When his mouth moved to her breast again and sucked her nipple in, Jeannie arched suddenly and cried out her almost violent release. He kept his mouth and fingers working until he felt it wane. When it did, he shifted position and slid himself inside her making both of them gasp. Her warm and wet sex was still twitching with the effects of her release and it felt incredible on his cock. Jeannie wrapped her legs around him, urging him in deeper to which he readily complied. John slid his arms under her to hold her close as he set an excruciatingly slow pace to his thrusts. In and out moved, his cock and body buffeted by a myriad of sensations. Jeannie's scent was all around him, just as her arms and legs surrounded him. That he was buried inside his queen flared in his mind, and as that realization hit him, so did his release.
They dragged the blankets over the top of themselves, neither having the wherewithal to get up, let alone find pajamas. The smell of sex was heavy in the room and John oddly found it both settling and sad. On the one hand, it was his scent mixed with his queen's and that was right and as it should be, but on the other, no young would come of it and no matter how much they would want it, there never would be.
Jeannie kissed him and settled herself in the crook of his arm. "I love you," she whispered sleepily.
John pressed a kiss to the top of her head and closed his eyes as he replied, "I love you, too."
"So are you ever going to ask Katie to marry you?" Jeannie asked Rodney as they stood staring at a set of computations on a white board.
"What? Where did that come from? I mean... you think I should?" Rodney responded with equal parts horror and nervousness.
"Yes, I really think you should. She's a great person and for some strange reason she really loves you."
Rodney turned and made a face at his sister.
Jeannie grinned at him. "What? Let's face it, Mer, you're not the easiest person in the universe to love."
"Ha, ha. To be honest I have been thinking about it lately," Rodney replied casually as he turned back to the board.
"Good, don't hesitate. I can see myself an aunt sometime in the near future."
Rodney froze in place, a look of pure terror on his face that made Jeannie giggle.
"So I think my brother is finally going to ask Katie to marry him," Jeannie said with a grin as they ate dinner out on the balcony.
John snorted. "Not that I don't wish them well, but I'll believe that when I see it."
Jeannie nodded and sipped her water. "I know. But she is really nice and I think somehow she really does love him, even with all his quirks."
"Isn't that what marriage is supposed be all about?" John teased in return.
Later that night they were sharing a shower with John indulging in the intimacy of washing Jeannie's hair for her. His clawed hands, so useless for so many things, were gentle and thorough as he massaged her scalp.
The steam was thick and Jeannie had her eyes closed, enjoying the sensual touch. Hesitantly she said, "So I've been thinking...."
When she didn't finish, John prodded. "About what?"
Jeannie swallowed nervously and said, "I think we should get married."
"Jeannie...," John started to protest.
Jeannie turned around and met his eyes. "You said that marriage was all about loving someone even with all their quirks. Well, people don't get quirkier than us and we love each other in spite of it. So I think you should marry me."
"I told you a long time ago that I don't have anything to offer you anymore... maybe before I got turned into this," he said as he gestured down his body, "but not now."
Jeannie quickly rinsed her hair and got the soap out of her eyes giving the emotional moment between them a brief respite.
Hair rinsed, she turned back to face him and said, "Back when you said that I asked if you cared about me and wanted to be with me even as broken and dysfunctional as I am on a good day. And when you said yes, I told you that then you have everything to offer me. I meant it then, John, and I mean it now. I love you, and I want to be with you. No matter what the future holds, that's never going to change."
"What about...," John started and trailed off.
"What about what?"
"Children. I can't... I can never...," John ground out between clenched teeth.
Jeannie reached up and stroked his tense jaw. "I know. And I'm fine with that. Honest. Being married isn't all about having children, John, it's about wanting to grow old with someone and to know that there is someone there for you no matter what happens."
John put his hand over top hers and said sadly, "You deserve someone better than me."
Jeannie raised her eyebrow and stated firmly, "What I deserve is to be with someone who loves me just the way I am. And so do you."
John kept his eyes locked on hers for a long moment, his expression unreadable. Finally, he swallowed hard and said softly, "Ask me again."
Jeannie's smile was wide and instant as she said, "Marry me?"
"Okay," was John's simple reply.
Rodney's eyes grew wider by the second as Jeannie talked. After she had laid out that she and John wanted to get married she sat back to await Rodney's inevitable explosion.
"Should I check for contaminants in the water or something? What's with the getting married thing lately? Seems like everybody suddenly wants to get married."
Jeannie grinned. "Actually Kate and I talked about that in one of my sessions and what it boils down to is that living in a war zone surrounded by danger all the time makes people want to do things sooner rather than later."
Rodney sighed. "Yeah, that makes sense I guess. So... I don't even know what to say about you and Sheppard."
"I love him, Mer, and he loves me. That's all that matters."
Rodney held up his hands in surrender, seeing his sister's hackles going up. "Strangely enough, I get that part. But have you thought about the future? About Earth? About not having k... a family? All that?"
Jeannie shrugged. "He can't go back to Earth and I've got nothing to go back to Earth for, Mer, so that's a moot point. And if something happens to Atlantis, we'll just go live off-world somewhere. John's certainly not going back to Earth to live in a cell to be poked and prodded."
Rodney nodded. "I had nightmares about him becoming someone's lab experiment at Area 51. That's why I became his legal guardian, to protect him the only way I could and keep him away from them."
Jeannie reached over and squeezed Rodney's hand. "I know, and so does he. We both want your blessing, Mer, not just as his guardian, but because you're important to both of us."
Rodney turned his hand over and squeezed back. "You have it."
The ceremony was small with Sam officiating. The handful of witnesses included Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney of course, along with Katie, Lorne, Zelenka, Carson, and Laura Cadman of all people.
John and Jeannie exchanged simple vows and John slipped a plain platinum band on Jeannie's finger. A ring wouldn't have worked on John's transformed hand, so Jeannie had brainstormed and decided upon a smooth, hinged band bracelet that she closed around his wrist with a little click.
Their friends had brought food and drink for a small party after the ceremony and the little gathering had quickly gotten boisterous.
John and Jeannie slipped away in the middle of it, and headed not for their quarters, but rather down to their culvert.
Jeannie stood at the edge of the culvert, John behind her with his arms wrapped around her and his chin tucked on her shoulder. She reached up and gently stroked his hand. Lightly she asked, "Remember the first time you brought me down here?"
"Mm-hm," John murdered in response.
"I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing to you while we sat here."
Jeannie turned around in John's embrace and kissed him fiercely before saying, "Well, I for one am glad that neither of us said the wrong thing that night."
John rested his forehead on hers and grinned. "So am I."
Jeannie giggled playfully and said, "Good. Now I think we should go back to our quarters so you can take me to bed, husband."
Jeannie squealed in surprise as John scooped her up in a flash and headed down the culvert with purpose.
A couple of months later Jeannie kissed John goodbye and told him to have fun on the day's mission, and to not kill her brother no matter how tempting it might be.
And tempting it would be given that Sheppard and team would be escorting Katie Brown on a second contact mission. Katie coming along would have as a rule make Rodney and his showing off almost unbearable to live with, but now that she was his fiancee' as he had finally worked up the nerve to ask her, his being unbearable was expected to reach new heights.
Second contact missions weren't quite as dangerous as first contact but they still held surprises, and not all of them good. Friends of Teyla had introduced Atlantis to the people of this village. They had botanicals that made both the medical and botany departments extremely excited. The first contact mission had gone without incident, and this followup mission included Katie for her expertise.
They were greeted warmly by the townspeople and introductions were made all around. A very pregnant young woman named Tiet was captivated by Katie. She herself was an herbalist and as close to a scientist as was to be found among their people. Katie found Tiet to be very intelligent and enjoyed the young woman's company. A large mid-day meal had been prepared and it was a loud and festive thing. It got even more boisterous when Tiet's water broke in the middle of it.
As everyone gathered outside the home of Tiet and her husband, John hovered around the fringe, his own envious and jealous emotions surprising him at the birth of a much wanted child.
After a relatively easy birth, Tiet had a son. She asked for Katie and the rest of the Atlantis team and they obliged. John could see that the smile on Katie's face was genuine as was the combination of wonder and terror on Rodney's as they took in the baby in Tiet's arms.
"He's beautiful. What are you going to name him?" Katie asked.
Tiet and her husband exchanged worried looks and Tiet explained, "We do not name our children until after the Touching ceremony."
"Oh. What's that?"
"It is our oldest custom. All children born must go through it." They were not very forthcoming on the details and Katie didn't press.
Tiet asked, "The ceremony is always performed at nightfall on the day of the child's birth. Will you stay and bear witness?"
There was something about this ceremony that was making John uneasy but Rodney agreed that they would stay.
Later, the visitors from Atlantis and the townspeople gathered in the village square as night fell. Tiet was sitting on a bench with the baby in her arms. The town's elder came forth through the crowd carrying a staff with an odd, familiar-looking orb secured to it with coarse twine.
Everyone from Atlantis recognized the orb as being some sort of Ancient tech. What it was exactly they didn't know. They watched curiously as Tiet opened up the blanket holding her son and the elder gently touched the orb to the baby's chest.
The orb lit up and flashed its lights in an interesting pattern, but nothing else appeared to happen. But apparently what did happen was significant to the townspeople as a hushed cry of shock rippled through them. Without another word Tiet bundled the baby back up and she and her husband quickly left the square and headed towards the forest bordering the village.
"What just happened here?" Rodney asked the elder.
There was genuine sadness in the old man's eyes as he said, "The child failed the Touching ceremony."
Rodney shook his head, "How exactly did he fail?"
The elder laid his hand on the orb and nothing happened. "As you see I have not been cursed with the blood of those who draw the Wraith to them."
Everyone from Atlantis quickly put two and two together realizing that the child must have the Ancient gene.
"What will happen to the baby?" Katie asked quietly.
The elder replied firmly, without an ounce of emotion, "It will be taken deep into the forest and left to die. Our laws permit no one with cursed blood to remain in the village."
Before anyone could say another word, John reached out and grasped the orb. As expected, it lit up beautifully just as it had down for the baby.
The elder gasped and shouted, "You are cursed. Begone from here and never return."
John didn't reply, but those that knew him could see the anger he was struggling to contain. With only a little flex of his jaw belying the effort it took, John crushed the orb with his bare hand.
The elder recoiled in horror even as the other villagers armed themselves. Ronon immediately pushed Katie behind him and drew his weapon. Teyla likewise took a defensive posture.
The elder ordered, "You all will leave now and never return. Go."
Rodney saw that the situation was about to go bad in ways that could have significant consequences for John. One of the IOA's biggest fears about John was an inability to control him off-world, and there were those monitoring John that were just waiting for him to hurt someone unprovoked off-world so they could be justified in recalling him back to Earth to live out his days in a cell. Seeing the rage building in John, Rodney reached over and laid a hand on his arm, "C'mon, it's time to go."
John dropped the staff with the now destroyed orb on the ground and looked around at the crowd of villagers with disdain before meeting Rodney's for a long moment. None of them really wanted to leave, but it was the best course of action, especially with civilian Katie along.
They started for the gate and were just about there when John stopped dead in his tracks and cocked his head, listening for something coming from the surrounding forest. It was the baby's hearty cry, too faint for anyone else to hear- but John could. And as if it flipped a switch inside of him, John's instinctual urge was to protect that helpless young at all costs.
In the blink of an eye John shoved the three villagers that were escorting him out of his way and disappeared into the forest. The rest of the team attempted to follow but the villagers would not allow them to. In a quick huddle, Rodney whispered, "Let's go through the gate, we'll get Lorne and a recovery team and come back in a jumper to find Sheppard. There's no way we can catch him on foot in the dark."
Ronon and Teyla reluctantly agree and they quickly dialed and stepped through the gate even as the village elder was ordering men to go after John.
Back on Atlantis Lorne had a team of soldiers ready and in the jumper in under two minutes. Another team was geared up to go through on foot and hold the gate. They dialed the gate and flew through it, immediately heading in the direction they had seen John run off in.
John was not responding to their radio hails. Rodney's tracking program found John's transmitter deep in the forest and moving back toward the gate faster than any normal human could have traveled.
The tree cover made it impossible to land the jumper, but they followed John's progress back to the gate. As he got closer, on the tracking screen they saw a large group of villagers converging on his location.
Lorne ordered the men at the gate to get Atlantis dialed up and an IDC sent through so they could all make a hasty exit.
"Sheppard, respond," Lorne ordered.
A group of five villagers closed around John on the screen and in the space of a few heartbeats all were quickly pushed back to an unmoving circle around John.
"Unconscious or dead?" Lorne asked.
Their life-signs were solid, but they were not making any further moves towards John. "Unconscious," Rodney confirmed.
A crackling on the comm system let them know that John had activated his radio. Lorne repeated his order for John to respond, but got nothing. Then a baby's cry very clearly came through the radio.
Rodney closed the radio channel and said to Lorne, "Now it all makes sense. He went back for the baby."
Lorne nodded, "Yeah, but why isn't he responding?"
Rodney shrugged, "I don't know. But tell our guys to stay out of his way at the gate."
Lorne frowned. "Is he safe to let back on the city?"
"I honestly don't know. But my gut is telling me yes. I think all this was about saving that baby."
Lorne clicked over to a secure channel and briefed Sam who agreed with their assessment. He then clicked over to another channel and briefed the man in charge of the men holding the gate and ordered them to not to interfere with John.
Lorne hit his radio a final time, connecting with the still open channel John had open. "Sheppard, this is Lorne. The gate is open back to Atlantis is and the IDC has been sent. You are clear to go through. Please acknowledge."
It was a painfully long moment before John's voice was heard questioning in odd broken syllables, "M...kay, safe?"
Rodney and Lorne shared a look. Both men had dealt with John towards the end of his transformation before Carson had found a way to halt it and reverse the majority of its mental effects and they both recognized in horror that John's speech seemed to have reverted back.
Rodney clicked his radio, "Yes, Sheppard, it's safe. We're in a jumper and will follow you home. Our men are on the gate, they won't try to stop you."
It was another long pause and a muffled cry from the baby before John responded, "Home," and cut his channel.
They watched his movements on the tracking program as he quickly headed for the gate.
A few seconds later the lead man at the gate radioed Lorne. "Sir, Sheppard is through the gate."
"Acknowledged. Any problems?"
"No, sir. He was moving too fast. Almost a blur, but, sir, he was covered in blood and had a baby in his arms."
"Acknowledged. Get your men through the gate, we're right behind you."
"Yes, sir," he replied and cut the radio.
Lorne sighed and said to Rodney, "Well, this should be interesting."
Jeannie had returned home to their quarters for the day with a bag of clean laundry in hand that she dropped on the bed. She was just about to kick off her shoes and put it away when John frantically burst into the room covered in blood and holding a squalling infant.
"John?" she cried out in confusion.
John looked around quickly, as if assessing the situation. His eyes finally landed on Jeannie and he visibly relaxed an iota.
He stepped towards Jeannie and thrust the baby at her. He nodded to her as he did and said, "I... protect... young. Safe."
Jeannie was trying to process everything that was going on, even as her arms gently closed around the crying baby. Without even thinking she tucked the baby close to her and patted it soothingly. The baby quickly quieted in her arms and Jeannie turned her attention back to John.
"John, what is going on? Whose baby is this? And what is all that blood? Are you hurt? Is the baby hurt? Talk to me please."
John looked down at his blood-soaked clothes and back to Jeannie. "Lion... killed... protect young."
In the beginning of their relationship John had spoken in very short sentences, but nothing like this. Jeannie nodded. "Okay. So you killed a lion to protect the baby?"
John nodded then turned to go to the door. He hurled his fist at the door controls, smashing them. He then proceeded to push furniture in front of the door to block it. All the while he was muttering, "Protect... protect... protect," like a mantra.
"John, where did you get this baby?" Jeannie asked calmly, trying to make sense out of his behavior.
John paused in his furniture moving and replied, "Left... woods... for lion."
Jeannie translated that in her mind and her expression grew horrified. "They left a baby in the woods for a lion? Why? Why would they do that?" she asked as she clutched the baby protectively.
"Has... gene," was John answer.
"So the baby has the Ancient gene? And they would kill it for that?"
"Yes... think cursed."
"So they think it's cursed. Okay. John, do the others know you have the baby, that you came here? Shouldn't you have taken the baby to the infirmary?"
His vehement, "NO," surprised Jeannie as did his followup, "Protect young... protect queen."
Jeannie shook her head, not understanding, "Queen?"
John expression grew pained and said softly, "My queen," before looking away in shame.
Jeanie shifted the baby a little to free up an arm and she reached over to squeeze John's arm. "You think I'm your queen?"
Jeannie nodded as pieces fell into place in her mind. Something instinctual had been triggered in John, something no one could have predicted.
Jeannie's radio chirped on the table and they both looked at it. Gently she said to John, "I need to answer that, John. My brother is probably worried about us both, okay?"
John nodded and went to stand at the ready near the door.
Jeannie quickly put the radio in her ear and opened the channel.
"Jeannie, oh thank god, are you okay? Is the baby okay? And Sheppard?" Rodney asked quickly.
"We're all fine, Mer. From what I can make out, John saved the baby from a lion."
"That explains the blood."
"He's not lucid is he?"
"I'm not sure exactly what's going on," she replied then added hoping to both give Rodney some information as well as put John a little more at ease, "but he protected the young and brought it to his queen like he was supposed to."
"Queen? He thinks you're his queen?"
Rodney sighed. "Okay. Let me talk to Carson, see what he thinks."
Rodney closed the channel and Jeannie took a deep breath, trying to figure out what to do next. The baby fussing in her arms did that for her. Jeannie moved to the bed and laid the baby down gently. She unwrapped the coarse, bloody blanket it was wrapped in. The soft linen diaper the baby was wearing underneath was soaked.
John watched her care for the baby from across the room, his expression unreadable.
Jeannie quickly divested the baby of the wet diaper and grinned in spite of the circumstances. "Ahh, you're a little boy," she said softly to the baby. Not knowing if John would let her take the baby out of his sight, even just to the bathroom, Jeannie grabbed a washcloth out of the clean laundry and the half-empty bottle of water from her nightstand and used them to clean the baby as best she could. She grabbed the first clean t-shirt out of the bag, one of John's by chance, and made a makeshift diaper out of it. Next she grabbed her favorite denim shirt, the one that was so old and worn it felt like flannel, and used it to wrap the baby in.
Now fairly clean, warm and dry, the baby was much more content. He was probably starving, Jeannie thought, but there wasn't anything she could do about that at the moment. She picked him up and cuddled him close.
"John, the baby is safe. You can relax. No one here is going to hurt a baby. You know that."
John nodded ever so slightly.
"Good. We really need to have Carson take a look at the baby, John, and get him some formula. I know Carson has formula and diapers. The baby needs those things, John."
"Not safe," John replied.
"Nobody's going to hurt him."
"Take... from you."
Jeannie ticked her head and let that sink in for a moment. "You're afraid they are going to take the baby away from me?"
John nodded and pointed to the baby. "They no want... left for lion... you want young... can't give you... you keep this young."
As her brain filled in the missing words and meaning she stood and went to where John was standing. She reached out and stroked his tense cheek. "Oh, John...."
Jeannie's radio along with John's chirped and they both answered it. Rodney was the other end. "It's me. Listen I'm on my way to your quarters. Just me. I'm unarmed, and Carson is sending some stuff with me for the baby. Will you let me in when I get there?"
John nodded at Jeannie, and she replied to Rodney, "Yeah, Mer, but the door controls are broken on this side, you'll have to open it from the outside."
"Okay, give me a few minutes."
He disconnected and Jeannie gave John a little grin. "Everything is going to be okay, we'll get this all sorted out, I promise."
John nodded, but his furrowed brow screamed that he didn't truly believe her.
Ten minutes later their door slid open. Rodney looked at the furniture still blocking his way and said lightly, "Can I come in?"
John nodded and moved to push the furniture out of Rodney's way.
Rodney slowly entered their quarters with a knapsack in hand. He held it out to John and said, "Carson sent stuff for the baby. You, know diapers, bottles, formula, that sort of thing."
John took the bag warily and opened it. He inspected the contents carefully, even sniffing things deeply to be sure they weren't hiding anything. Finally he handed it over to Jeannie.
Rodney looked to Jeannie. "Carson wants you to radio him when you can, he just wants you to check a few things with the baby to make sure he's doing okay."
Jeannie nodded. "I will."
Rodney turned back to John. "So... we haven't seen you like this since... well you know. Anyway... Carson, Biro, and Heightmeyer all seem to think that the situation on the planet with the baby triggered some sort of biochemical reaction in you. Like some sort of a nesting or paternal reaction, only one that seems to be on steroids. They think it will dissipate in time as you realize the baby is safe. So the plan is to give you that time without interference, but, and it's a big but, Sheppard, you have to look me in the eye and promise me that you're not going to hurt Jeannie, the baby, or anyone else on the city. If you can't promise me that then all bets are off. Do you understand?"
John nodded and replied slowly, "No hurt... if not take young."
"No one will try to take the baby, you have my word on that. Carson wants to know if you will let him take some blood from you so they can see if they are right about the biochemical reaction. He'd also like to check on the baby personally if you'll let him."
John didn't respond, but looked towards Jeannie. Jeannie let out a little breath and said to John, "I think you should let him. You know Carson, you trust Carson, and so do I. He's our friend and won't do anything to hurt you or the baby."
John stood there with his eyes locked on Jeannie's for a long moment before he turned to Rodney and said, "Yes... Carson."
Rodney nodded enthusiastically. "Good, good. Okay. I'm gonna go now, but I'll come back later with Carson and," he ticked his head towards the door controls, "the parts to fix that."
Jeannie laid the baby down on the bed and set the knapsack down next to him. She pulled out a real diaper, baby wipes, and even a tiny undershirt. She quickly got the baby changed and wrapped in a soft baby blanket that looked to be of Pegasus design.
There were packets of formula and a couple of baby bottles in the bag. Leaving the baby in the middle of the bed, Jeannie said lightly to John, "Watch him for a minute while I make up a bottle?"
John nodded and moved closer to the bed, still keeping himself between the door and the baby.
Jeannie quickly prepared the bottle, trying not to let the sense memories overtake her when the smell of formula hit her nose.
When she returned, John was staring down at the baby, his expression angry. Jeannie reached out hesitantly and laid her hand on John's arm. "He's safe, John."
John nodded. "Know... but... left for lion."
"Yeah. That is really unbelievable," she replied and sat on the bed to pick up the baby.
"Broke orb... no more test."
Jeannie settled the baby in the crook of her arm and offered him the bottle as she tried to process what he said. The baby ate hungrily.
"They were using some sort of orb to test babies for the gene? Ancient tech?"
"And you broke it so they can't do it any more?"
John's expression changed to what might be called an evil grin and said, "Crushed... like bug."
Jeannie grinned back. "Good."
They both fell silent and watched the baby eat his fill. Jeannie gently burped him and the little one promptly fell asleep in her arms.
Jeannie stood and moved to their dresser and began to pull out clean clothes for John one-handed.
She turned to John and said quietly, "C'mon you need a shower before Carson and my brother get here. We'll come with you into the bathroom."
Jeannie could see the internal struggle behind John's eyes and added, "We're safe here, John. You know that down deep. So c'mon and get cleaned up."
John acquiesced and they went into the bathroom. He stripped and got under the hot spray, his eyes never leaving Jeannie and the baby as she sat on the toilet with his clean clothes in her lap. He took a quick and efficient shower, one any drill sergeant would have approved of, getting rid of the blood and sweat.
He dried off quickly and took the clean t-shirt Jeannie offered him with a little grin. "Better?" she asked.
John nodded and put on the shirt and the rest of his clothes.
They moved back out into the main living area and Jeanie looked at the overturned couch amid the pile John had piled near the door.
John was standing in their kitchenette posed for any intrusion into their quarters.
"John," Jeanne said quietly and continued when he turned to look at her, "Can you maybe put the couch back for me so I have a place to sit with the baby."
John stared at her for a long moment and processed what she was asking. Finally he nodded and effortlessly righted the couch and slid it back where it belonged.
Jeannie grabbed a pillow from the bed and made herself comfortable in a corner of the couch. The baby woke and was fussy but she quickly tucked him close and began to hum softly. Soon enough, the baby was back asleep.
John watched Jeannie's interactions with baby and visibly relaxed yet another iota. Softly he asked, "Is... he... okay?"
Jeannie met his eyes and nodded. "Yeah, I think so. He's just had a really long day."
She grinned. "Can I get back to you on that? This is all a lot for me to take in."
"Mad... me... because baby?"
"What? Oh, god, no, John. No matter what else, I think you did the right thing in saving the baby. Everything else we'll deal with together, alright?"
A quiet hour later Rodney and Carson arrived. As he did before, John carefully inspected everything they brought with them starting with Rodney's bag.
When John was done with his bag, Rodney immediately took it and started working on repairing the door controls.
When John handed Carson back his medical kit, Carson asked pleasantly, "So, would you like me to look at the babe first or do your blood work?"
In response, John pointed to the baby that Jeannie had laid in the middle of their bed.
"I actually hoped you'd say that, John. I'm more than a little concerned about him. I canno' believe that they left him out in the woods to die." Carson's words had a tinge of righteous anger at the villagers.
John said softly as Carson walked past him, "Safe... now."
Carson turned back to John and grinned, "Aye, you certainly saw to that."
Rodney snorted. "They earned it."
Carson's examine of the baby was thorough. When he was through he said to other three as he fished around in his kit, "Perfect health. Lungs are strong and clear, heart sounds all normal. I don't think he's any worse for the wear given his adventure today other than being hungry and exhausted," he paused a moment and held up a hypodermic needle then said, "I would really like to give him his first vaccinations now, especially since he's starting out on formula. Better safe than sorry on that, but, John, he's going to cry, they always cry. Are you going to be able to handle that, lad?"
John nodded solemnly. "No want him... sick. Give...vaccine."
True to form, the baby squalled when Carson gave him the vaccine but quickly quieted down when Jeannie cuddled him close.
John's fists had balled of their own accord when the baby cried out in pain, but they relaxed when the baby was once again tucked safely in his queen's arms.
John caught the oddly tender expression on Rodney's face as he watched his sister soothe the baby. Sometimes they all forgot that even with all his bluster that down deep that Rodney really was a kindhearted man.
Carson put the needle away and said, "The wee one's all set for now. Jeannie, you'll call me immediately if he has any problems?"
"Of course I will."
Carson turned to John. "Your turn, lad."
John raised an eyebrow and said, "Won't... cry."
That made everyone chuckle and reassured them that their John was still in there somewhere.
"Good to know. Now let me ask you this- this change in you, was it gradual on the planet or sudden?"
"Did something in particular trigger it that you remember?"
John nodded. "Were leaving... heard baby cry... had to save."
"So you were leaving and heard the baby's cry and it triggered the change?"
"Did it make you want to kill the villagers?"
John shook his head vehemently. "No. Want baby safe...only hurt when try to stop."
"So defensive and not offensive?" Rodney asked thoughtfully.
"Yes. Like no hurt our people... if not take baby."
"Got it. That's what Lorne and I figured out in the jumper. You weren't going out of your way to hurt anyone, just the ones that tried to stop you."
Carson nodded. "And it fits with our hypothesis as well. John, is the urge lessening now that you are here on Atlantis?"
"Good. Well then, let's get that blood sample so we can analyze it and see exactly what's going on. We'll take another one in a few hours to compare the two. If it's bio-chemical like we think it is, the comparison should tell us how long it will take to work out of your system and get you back to normal."
Carson soon had John's blood drawn without incident and packed up his kit. "Alright, I'm going to this analysis started. Call me if you need me or anything for the baby."
"Thank you, Carson," Jeannie responded.
Carson left, leaving Rodney behind.
"Okay, well... I guess we'll know more once Carson gets that blood analyzed. But we're good... right? For now?"
Jeannie nodded. "Yeah, Mer, we're good. I think we all could just use some peace and quiet. The baby especially, he's exhausted."
Rodney scrubbed his tired eyes. "He's not the only one that needs a nap," he replied before turning to John and asking, "Okay, so Carson and I don't seem to set off your protective instincts. Is there anyone else you would trust in case we can't get here?"
John looked to Jeanie for a moment before turning back to Rodney. "Teyla... Ronon... Cadman." he answered then added, "Kate."
"Okay. Teyla, Ronon, Heightmeyer, and Cadman it is," he gestured towards the door, "I'm gonna head out. My radio will be on if you need me."
"G'night, Mer," Jeannie replied.
Rodney headed for the door and paused when John said, "McKay..."
Rodney turned towards John who finished his sentence, "Thanks."
Rodney grinned tiredly and nodded before turning and leaving.
Their first night with the baby was relatively quiet. Jeannie took catnaps in between caring for the baby while John didn't sleep at all and just sat vigilantly on the couch waiting for... anything.
Carson, on the other hand, spent an exciting night with Dr. Biro as they analyzed John's blood. What they found shocked them both and they ran the tests three times to confirm it.
John and Jeannie's radios chirped at the same time. It was about four o'clock in the morning and Jeannie had just finished giving the baby a bottle.
It was Rodney calling to tell them that he and Carson were coming out and that Carson had found something in John's blood.
Jeannie left the baby under John's watchful eye and went into the bathroom to wash her face and attempt to wake up a little. In the mirror, she caught sight of a spot of dried baby spittle on her shirt. With a shaking finger she reached up and traced the little stain. All night she had refused to let herself sink into her own head, focusing instead on John and the baby's immediate needs. John, through no fault of his own, was not himself and she had to be the strong, together half of their whole. There would be time to dwell on her own feelings later. She sniffed hard and squared her shoulders before turning and leaving the safety of the bathroom.
She paused in the doorway seeing John sitting on the bed next to the baby. He was gently stroking the baby's cheek with the back of one of his clawed fingers. In that moment, Jeannie had never felt more selfish in her life, never once in their relationship had she ever asked John if he had wanted children, had wanted to be a father. How could she never have asked?
John looked up at her approach. Softly he said, "Was crying."
She placed a warm hand on John's shoulder. "They do that. Sometimes for no reason at all."
John looked back down to the baby and nodded. "Needs name."
"Yep. Any thoughts?"
John nodded and replied, "Aiden."
John had told Jeannie all about the enthusiastic young Lieutenant Ford and what Pegasus had done to him. Aiden Ford's fate weighed in heavily in the personal load of guilt and regret John carried. And because of that, the name did not surprise her.
Jeannie pressed a kiss to John's temple. "He looks like an Aiden. Good choice."
The door chimed announcing Carson and Rodney.
"So Biro and I analyzed your blood three times to be sure we were seeing what we thought we were seeing."
"Which is?" Jeannie asked patiently.
"This change in you has nothing, well almost nothing, to do with your transformation and everything to do with your Ancient gene. The minute we input the results the Ancient database started spitting out information. This protective drive was very common among the Ancients and the production of the endorphin your body is flooded with was triggered by that drive."
"How does his transformation fit into this?" Jeannie asked.
It was Rodney that replied, "Remember when I said we though it was like a paternal reaction on steroids?"
"Well it turns out I was right."
Carson explained, "The changes in John's body and specifically his endocrine system brought about by his transformation ramped up the production of this Ancient endorphin by almost five hundred percent and it's interacting with some of the other unique proteins and enzymes in his system causing the effects we're seeing."
"So what does all this mean for John?" Jeanie replied.
"According to the database, it will flush from his system naturally with time. Obviously, with the incredible amount in his system, it will take a bit longer than the database suggests, but there shouldn't be any lasting repercussions."
"Could... happen again?"
Carson sighed. "Perhaps- if there was another child in danger. All of this has made me wonder about those reports back on Earth about parents lifting cars off their children after an accident and things. I'd be willing to bet that if we were to test them that they would come back positive for the Ancient gene."
"Can you... stop?"
"I honestly don't know. Biro is still reading through everything the database gave us. The Ancients may have had a way to suppress the drive. I promise you that we'll keep working on it, John."
John nodded then asked, "If... this Ancient could...," he gestured towards his body, "some be... from Ancient?"
Carson parsed that for a moment and paled. "We never looked at your transformation from that angle. We focused on the Wraith retro-virus changes to your DNA, not specifically how your Ancient gene might have reacted and accelerated it or interacted with our attempted cure."
"I'm no geneticist but if this is an example of how those two parts of his DNA work together, I think it may be safe to say that his Ancient gene probably did affect his transformation," Rodney added dryly.
"Aye, and it might explain why I could never completely reverse his transformation. We never factored in that his Ancient gene might have had mind all its own," Carson stood up in a hurry, "I've got to get to my lab, I've got work to do."
Carson had just reached the door when Rodney called out, "Didn't you want another blood sample?"
Flustered, Carson turned around quickly and pulled the blood draw kit out of his pocket. "Thanks for reminding me, Rodney. We'll run the comparison on this sample and see how much of the endorphin has metabolized."
The room was quiet as Carson deftly drew John's blood and then headed back to his lab with Rodney in tow.
When they were gone, Jeannie dimmed the lights and tugged on John's sleeve. "C'mon. Let's go stretch out and see if we can catch a little nap."
Their eyes met for long moment before John nodded and stood.
Three days later John was sitting on a chaise out on the balcony enjoying the late morning sun with Aiden snuggled contently against his chest. He glanced towards the door to the inside and could see Jeannie sitting at their table with Kate talking, his yellow glasses painting the two women with a warm glow.
The endorphin running rampant in his system was slowing working out of his system and he was beginning to feel like he was almost back to normal. Jeannie had been adamantly refusing to talk about her feelings at all. She expertly took care of the baby and John and went on like nothing was abnormal about the situation in the least. At least she had until earlier this morning when John had found her in the bathroom trying to muffle her sobs with a towel. He was enough of himself to know that she needed Kate and had made the radio call himself to get Kate to come to their quarters.
Aiden yawned and rubbed his little nose with his fist. John often stared in amazement at exactly how tiny Aiden's little hands were and now was no different. His own big, clumsy, clawed hand was gently cupping Aiden's diaper-padded behind in stark contrast. Aiden's reaction to him honestly surprised John. While he was quite content in Jeannie's arms for the most part, if he were fussy it was John that could soothe him instantly. The idea that the fragile young felt safe with him filled John with an odd sense of satisfaction.
John's eyes had been closed when Jeannie opened the balcony door. He opened them and looked at Jeannie as she stepped over to chaise and sat on the edge. Her expression was unreadable as she reached out and gently stroked Aiden's back.
"Better?" John asked simply.
Jeannie nodded. "Yeah. Look, I know I freaked you out this morning and I'm sorry. I've just been so worried about you and I haven't gotten a lot of sleep the past few days and... I kind of hit an emotional wall earlier. That's all."
"I'm getting better," John said, slowly, but without the stilted feel of two days ago.
Jeannie grinned and reached up to run her fingers along his cheek. "I know. And I am so relieved. It's just been a couple of very stressful days. Kate and I talked some things out."
"My worries about you. The stress of caring for a newborn. Then trying to deal with my own emotions over the baby."
Jeannie asked softly, "Why didn't you ever tell me that you still wanted children."
John's brow furrowed instantly and his speech was halted again as he replied, "Makes... sad."
"Oh, John. Just because you think something might make me sad isn't a reason not to talk about such an important thing."
John looked away from her to stare out at the sea. "Not... you. Makes me sad. And was nothing I could do about it. Had to... accept"
Jeannie's surprise was evident on her face. "Oh. Now I understand. I'm sorry."
John met her eyes again. "Not your fault. Just is."
Jeannie nodded and stifled a yawn. "Sorry."
John reached over and pulled Jeannie carefully into a one-armed hug. "Love you. Sorry for the... stress."
"I love you, too. Thanks for calling Kate," Jeannie replied with another yawn.
"Why don't you... take nap. Aiden and me go visit Teyla."
Jeannie's eyes widened in surprise, John hadn't stepped foot outside their quarters since he brought the baby there.
Jeannie stood up with a grin. "I'll pack you a diaper bag to take with you."
A half-hour later John was standing in front of the door to Teyla's quarters with Aiden. There had been some interesting stares from people as they watched him walking around Atlantis with the baby tucked carefully in the crook of his arm.
Teyla opened the door and smiled widely upon seeing John standing there.
"Jeannie needed... nap. Can we... visit?"
Teyla nodded and gestured for John to enter. "I will make us some tea."
Aiden was quiet in the sling against Jeannie's chest as they sat and waited for Carson on one of the infirmary beds. It had been two weeks since the incident on the planet and John was back to feeling completely like himself. While he was still protective of Jeannie and Aiden, it was a level that Jeannie and Kate had both assured him was completely normal for a new father.
Father... a word he had never thought to associate with himself since his transformation. John and Kate had talked for a good long while a couple of days ago with her chiding him mildly over not mentioning how significant the issue was to him. Kate also made him talk about his instinctual urges a little. He had long been afraid that the others would think him insane and lock him away and because of it had never shared this part of his transformation with anyone before. But he tried in halting words to share with her what he felt for his queen and his young. To hear her say that none of it was unexpected came as a surprise. Also a surprise was her revelation that the doctors and scientists privy to John's full records had actually long expected some of John's hive-like behavior and had been very surprised when he had displayed none.
He and Jeannie had also done a joint session with Kate and sorted out all sorts of doubts and fears they both had. It had made John sad to hear that Jeannie still thought she was incompetent as a mother, in his opinion, she took care of Aiden effortlessly with the combined skills of a hundred generations of women before her and not an iota of incompetence to be found.
Sam and Rodney had dealt with the IOA regarding the baby's status as well as John's. It involved a lot of yelling on Rodney's part- a lot of yelling. In the end the IOA grudgingly agreed to allow John and Jeannie to formally adopt Aiden. Rodney would not tell either of them what it had cost him in the end.
And now they were waiting for Carson and the results of his further investigation into John's transformation.
Carson was smiling as he approached. John tried not to read too much into that, Carson tended to grin like a loon whenever Aiden was in his immediate vicinity, but a little sliver of hope crept into his mind.
Hope that was soon vindicated as Carson started the conversation by saying, "I have some good news."
The lights in their quarters were dim as Jeannie had just laid a sleeping Aiden in his bassinet. John was staring out of the window at the play of the city's lights off the water. It was something he use to sit alone and watch for hours immediately after his transformation. He could sit and stare and think out his problems before making a final decision. Back then he only ever had to think about himself in his decisions. Now, he had a wife and child to consider and he didn't know what to do.
Jeannie's arms slipped around him and she pressed her cheek to his shoulder. "Hey. He's asleep. Wanna slip out on the balcony for the conversation that we both know we need to have?"
John placed his clawed hand top of Jeannie's. "Yeah."
The moved outside, Jeannie went and leaned on the railing looking out. "So... you've been really quiet since we talked to Carson. Wanna tell me what you're thinking?"
John didn't know how to answer. Carson's news that he had discovered that John's Ancient gene had in fact interacted with the Wraith retro-virus and had been what caused the reversal to abort was most welcome. It was the missing answer that had stymied them all for so long. Welcome, too, was the news that they had been able to formulate yet another retro-virus that would complete John's transformation back to being completely human. The down side to all of it, however, was that there was a fifty-fifty chance that John would not survive.
John moved alongside Jeannie. With a little sigh he said quietly, "It's too risky."
"But do you want to try?" Jeannie countered.
"I might have... before you and Aiden. Now... it's too risky."
"You take a risk of not coming home every time you go on a mission, John. Same odds."
Without meeting her eyes, John reached over and rubbed the pad of his thumb over the area of her wrist that Jeannie used to mark. "Too risky," he repeated.
Jeannie put her hand over his and squeezed. "Hey... you know when we first started out I used to worry all the time. But you're a solider and I had to accept that. I'm...," she hesitated.
"What?" John prompted meeting her eyes.
"I'm not the same broken woman who came to Atlantis, John. I'm stronger now and that final option I had been so desperately holding onto just isn't an option any more. Don't turn down the treatment because you think I wouldn't be able to handle a bad outcome."
John nodded and looked back out to the sea. "I'm afraid."
"No... that... you said it, I'm a soldier, I'm used to that. It just... if it works... everything's going to change. Everything."
Jeannie pressed closer to John. He put his arm around her, tucking her in tightly next to him. "Like what?" she asked.
He didn't answer so she answered for him. "You're still going go gear up and fight the Wraith to protect this city. You're still going to come home to me and listen to me babble on about my projects while we have dinner. You're still going to hold Aiden and make him feel safe. And you're still going to sleep beside me and wake up next to me every morning. None of that will change and everything else is just incidental."
John didn't say anything but his squeezing her a little closer let Jeannie know that she had hit upon some of his biggest concerns.
"John... I love you. Nothing will ever change that."
Her words kept echoing through John's head later on as he tried to fall asleep. Jeannie was asleep next to him and he leaned up to watch her sleep in the moonlight. Softly he whispered, "Still too risky,” as he softly brushed a curl away from her face.
Jeannie was running late in getting home for the evening, one of her projects deciding to go bottom up at the last minute. It had been six months since John brought Aiden home and they had managed to hammer out a fairly normal routine for their little household.
It was well after their normal dinner time when she entered their quarters. There was some soft Johnny Cash playing on John's open laptop and Aiden's diaper bag was on the bed, but she didn't immediately see John or the baby. The sound of running water caught her attention and she opened the bathroom door.
She smiled seeing John holding a giggling Aiden as they stood under the warm spray.
“Hi,” she said as she closed the door behind her to keep the heat in.
“Hey. We ate with the others. Ronon gave him a chocolate cupcake. This was the easiest way to get the sticky off of both of us.”
Jeannie chuckled. “We really should make him babysit sometime.”
“Grab a towel?” John asked as he opened the glass door.
Jeannie unfolded a fluffy white towel and John passed off a now-clean Aiden to her. She wrapped the warm towel around the baby and kissed his head. “Hi, sweetie. I missed you today.”
John grabbed a towel of his own and wiped his face.
Jeannie took a step closer to John and went up on tip-toe to give him a quick kiss. “I'll go get him in his pajamas.”
“Okay,” he replied as he started to dry his body off.
She had almost closed the door behind her when she paused and stuck her head back in the room to ask playfully, “Can I talk you into another shower once he's asleep?”
“Might take some convincing,” he said with a grin.
“I'm sure I can come up with something,” she replied with a wag of her eyebrows as she closed the door.
John chuckled to himself, intimate time together had become a premium since Aiden had arrived. He turned towards the mirror and looked at his reflection, still surprised after all this time. He wrapped the towel around his hips and left the bathroom.
Hours later, as Aiden slept soundly in his crib behind the room divider, John and Jeannie lay cuddled together in a sleepy, sated pile on their bed.
John's hand was running softly up and down Jeannie's back, alternately smoothing and mussing the soft cotton of her nightgown. He whispered, “I found us a place to go, if we ever need it.”
Jeannie chuckled lowly into his chest. “You've said that three times before.”
“Yeah, but this one is perfect,” he replied as he took his free hand and intertwined their fingers. Her fingers looked so small compared to his own chunky clawed fingers.
“And what makes this one so perfect?”
“Not all of the people living there are... human. I... um...,”
“You wouldn't stand out so much?” Jeannie finished for him.
Jeannie shifted around so she could see his face. He had declined Carson's treatment seemingly without a single regret six months ago. Since then, however, they had had many serious conversations about where they would go and what they would do if they absolutely had to leave Atlantis. John had taken to scouting out planets during his missions, trying to find a safe, accepting place where they could live out their lives in peace. They had a couple of emergency bags packed with essentials ready to go on a moment's notice and a list of safe gate addresses memorized. It was all they could do.
Jeanie leaned up and softly kissed his lips. “I'll add it to our list.”
She settled back down next to him and quickly nodded off.
John lay awake a while longer, savoring the feel and the scent of his queen on his skin. He had never second-guessed his decision to decline the treatment. His life was full, complete even. He had a wife and child who loved him, and friends who supported him. And most importantly, they were happy... for anyone's definition of happy, and no one in their right mind second-guesses that.